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All The Little Things

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The fading glimmer of your ceiling stars cast a soft eerie glow against your monitor, dueling shades of varying reds and greens in sickening hues reflected back at you and you frowned at the design. Someone must have been high if they thought this jumbled combo of colors were complimentary to one another. With a derisive grunt, you leaned back in your desk chair and stretched your spine, not bothering to glance at the clock. Time had no meaning when you were working. Ear buds jammed uncomfortably into your ears, you hummed along with the current song on your playlist, a mishmash of genres you slapped together and labeled a cheerful, Keep Fucking Working Dumbass.

You adjusted your chair and scooted forward until the arm rests bumped against your desk and you picked up your stylus pen from its cradle. Tapping the end a few times, you studied the mess of a sketch in front of you before bringing your pen up and ignored the umpteenth yawn that traitorously slipped from your mouth.

You never did properly get back to bed after your partner dropped by for the weekend. It was a rarity to see them and you made sure to spend an ample amount of time with them. But, after falling asleep, you were still antsy, mind drifting to your various projects and the ludicrous deadline hovering over you. So you slipped away to your office to whittle away the time you should have been snuggling. Said office was the second bedroom of your apartment you had transformed into a semi work area. It doubled as junk room, art room, storage and whatever else you deemed necessary.

Taking a sip of your cold coffee, you flicked your tongue against your bottom teeth and thought about getting up to get yourself a new cup. Instead, you continued sketching, trying to make rhyme and reason out of the preliminary sketches you’d been sent. This was why you hated working off other people’s work. You couldn’t decide if you were looking at a third leg or someone was really overcompensating. Tilting your head, scrutinizing the shaky lines, you decided overcompensating.

Music blaring in your ears, you didn’t hear the faint ringtone that drifted from your bedroom. You had closed the door behind you in an effort to not wake your partner as you slunk off to make a pot of coffee and meander to your office in rumpled bedclothes and one of your favorite hoodies. If you had been more aware of your surroundings, you’d have heard your partner get up.

Brushing the sleep from her eyes, Jae squinted at her overly bright phone to check the time, the conversation still lingering in her sleep addled memory. She had been awoken, much too early and in her desire to go back to bed, had reached out for you only to find a cold, empty bed. Of course. With a light, amused roll of her eyes she wandered out of the bedroom in search of you. Your closed office door was her hint and instead of directly heading down the hall, she slipped off to the kitchen. The strong aroma of coffee helped perk her up as she poured a cup before filling the kettle you kept for her with water and set it on the stove to make tea.

“If you want to be my lover, you gotta get with my friends.” Rocking your nineties vibe, you missed your name being called in increasing exasperation, bobbing your head in time to your music and reached for your coffee cup without looking. Your fingers brushed against your paint cup, mistakenly grabbing the nearly identical mug. You brought it to your mouth only to have warm fingers press against your lips, halting the cup’s progress. The ear buds were gently tugged out of your ears and you look up surprised to have a quick kiss stolen from you. You melted under the sweetness, smiling against the mouth pressed lightly to yours and Jae lingered before straightening as you give her a goofy grin.

“Morning, babe.”

“It’s four in the morning.” Your partner tugged the paint mug from of your hand and set it down, pushing it toward your pile of dried out paintbrushes and gel pens.

“Still morning?” You tried to counter. Jae pressed the cup of coffee into your empty hands. “Aww, you treat me so fine.”

She gave an amused huff, drawing fingers through your hair and pushed back a faded green lock, tucking it over an ear. “One of these times I’ll let you drink from the paint cup.”

You batted your lashes and took a sip, humming appreciatively. “Then my insides will match my outward beauty.”

“Mmm yes, nothing says beautiful like lead poisoning.”

“This ain’t the nineteen forties,” you scoffed, trying to hide your growing smile as the fingers continued to play with your hair, nearly purring at the calming effect it had.

You and Jae had been together for almost three years, though the actual time you spent in each other’s company tallied up to far, far less. Just the deigns of life and your vastly different jobs kept you apart. Your partner was a senior executive consultant who traveled a lot, spoke four languages and was an extremely worldly individual. You worked as a graphic designer for a small gaming company and lived a very cave troll like lifestyle. It was rare to see each other, but you cherished the time you had together. She was also a great deal older than you, old enough to make occasional friend and rude stranger loft their eyebrow at, but decades meant nothing. You were both consenting adults and enjoyed each other.

You hugged the coffee cup close to you, leaching the warmth from it as Jae’s hands migrated from your head to your shoulders, kneading the tense sore muscles you always got from sitting hunched at your desk. You should have stood and stretched an hour ago but that would require actually moving and you were not about that right now. Dropping your head, you rolled your neck. “What are you doing up?”

Jae looked down at you, a sleepy smile catching the corners her mouth and you resisted the urge to draw your hand through the champagne blonde messy locks slipping from a messy updo. “I had the most amazing dream,” she hummed, smile lines deepening, “and I wanted to reenact it. But, oh dear, it seemed I was destined to wake up, cold and alone.” She paused and added in a deadpan tone. “Again.”

“Sorry, babe,” you returned apologetically, dragging your attention back to you work with an inward sigh. “I had to get some things done before I head into work later. Got that nasty deadline coming up Tuesday, and let me just say who the hell schedules a deadline on a Tuesday?” Switching your coffee for your stylus, you went back to staring at the scribbly art you were working on.

“What…?” You caught the hesitancy in your partner’s voice and cocked your head slightly to let them see your monitor better.

“Do you want the short or long version of it? Either way you’re going to come out more confused than how ya started. Believe me, I’ve been working on this project for months and I still don’t know what the hell it’s about.” You leaned forward and the light, tapping sounds of your pen filled the easy quiet before you continued sketching. Summarizing what you were drawing exactly took a little more work than you intended and you talked in broken, distracted fragments until the faint whistle of the kettle broke your train of thought.

Jae excused herself for a moment, taking the opportunity to escape the odd explanation of tentacles, space pirates and mechas, and you immediately lost yourself in the work. When Jae returned with a mug of tea, it took her resting her hand on your shoulder to draw your attention back to her.

“Huh, what?”

“I said,” she repeated with a wiry smile. “Preston called.”

“Oh?” You frowned at your screen, hating everything you’d done in the past hour and saved your work before flopping back to inwardly gripe at it, nearly losing your pen with your constant fiddling. You caught it before it could slip from your grasp and set it down in its dock. “What’d he want? I say as if I don’t know.”

“That I'm robbing the cradle and should be ashamed of myself.”

The snort of laughter that erupted from you hurt, but it was so worth it. “Jesus, Preston. Never change.” You sighed, slouching a little to glare at your screen. “What time is the manservant picking you up?”

You got a soft tap to your cheek, intended as a light chastisement but the warmth of the mug lingering in your partner’s palm only made you reflexively grin. “You know he hates it when you call him that.” Jae took a sip of her tea.

“In about an hour,” she answered, the fondness all but dropping from her tone. “Just enough time grab a shower and a nibble. I have to swing by the office to pick up some packets, pack a few things at the villa and then I’m leaving by noon.”

Maybe if you changed the design of the uniform a little bit and get rid of whatever you were trying to do in the top right corner. Your fingers itched to draw. “Where you going this time?”

“Rome apparently.”

You gave a low, appreciative whistle. “Nice. Pick me up a keychain or a tacky mug.”

“Dear.” You knew that tone and tipped your head up, resting elbows on your chair and swiveled slightly. Jae leaned against the desk, setting her cup down to look at you. “You know you can always come with me.”

It was a sweet gesture, one that you’d heard at least half a dozen times and would hear a dozen more. But, you couldn’t just up and drop everything for weeks at a time. “And lose out on this amazing apartment? Beside, how will I spend my time if I’m not locked away for days pinning for your return?”

The affectionate eye roll made you snicker and your partner twisted to pillage through your stack of bills that needed to be paid. “Rude.” Jae hummed at your accusation, shuffling through a few to set aside. “You know it’s a federal offense to look through someone else’s mail.”

“Uh huh.”

“No.”

“No, what?”

“I know what you’re thinking and no thanks. I got them handled.”

“How can I be a proper sugar mama if you wont let me take care of you?”

That got you to raise your eyebrows. Did your businesswoman mogul, occasional stick in the mud, partner just say what you think she said. “Did you just…”

The absolute pleased as punch look she gave you said yes, she did. Maybe your amazing humor were rubbing off on her. “I can make jokes, too.”

“So you’re saying I can waste my life lounging around in my underwear and eating chips?” You batted your lashes and clutched your hands over your heart.

“Don’t you do that anyways?”

“…Touché. And here I thought I could settle into the lap of luxury with a sweet piece of ass hanging off my arm.” The deserving flick to your head made you flinch. “Ow?”

Jae huffed and went back to riffling through the rest of your mail. You’d been meaning to get through and sort out the junk mail. You never seemed to quite get to it, resulting in the mini mountain of overflowing advertisements and credit card offers. It threatened to overtake the casual mess of your desk. A small, animated toy figure was slowly being nudged to the edge of a treacherous fall and you leaned over to push it back to the rest of the capsule toys you’d been hoarding. They were a mishmash of current anime trends, random mascots of Japanese brands and a very tiny squishie in a faintly phallic shape. Maybe you should probably clean up your art stuff, it’d give you more room to stretch out.

“I didn’t know you were thinking of adopting.”

Your knee jerk reaction had a half swallowed mouth of coffee splattered across your drawing screen and coughing painfully. “Shit,” you hissed when you finally got yourself under control, using the sleeve of your hoodie to mop up your mess. “What the actual hell, dude?”

Jae smirked and dangled a crumpled Bitty adoption flyer in front of your face. Eyes struggling to focus, you read over the text and relaxed, still not appreciating the teasing.

“Oh yeah, no. Hell no. They keep sending me shit in the mail ever since I volunteered at that shelter a while back.” It’d been a few years but the flyers hadn’t dwindled and you had to give them their tenacious props.

“Ah yes,” your partner replied, distractedly skimming the flyer’s contents. “The mandatory volunteered hours for, what was it again? Punching your coworker?”

“In the ball sack,” you finished, smugly.

Jae clucked her tongue disapprovingly, glancing over the flyer.

“Dude had it coming,” you argued. “He hit his service dog and I don’t give two shits your reasoning. You hit an animal, you get hit in the junk. Thems the rules. I don’t make them, I just abide by them.”

The huff through her nose sounded only vaguely derisive to your ears. “You have such a way with words.”

“Regular Zig Ziglar, I am.”

“I never know if you’re being serious or not.”

“I think you know the answer to that.” You picked up your pen, determined to finish making the messy sketch a slightly less messy sketch.

“Speaking of service animals, have you ever…” She left the question open and that annoyed you even more than her outright asking. You knew she meant well, but it irked you all the same.

“Yep.” You had thought it. “and nope.” You didn’t need one. “I get by just fine on my own.” You didn’t miss the subtle eyebrow raise and tried to school your features. “Don’t do that. My folks do that and I can’t stand it. Just say what you want to say.”

Jae set down the flyer, a hand catching the back of your chair to stop you from swiveling in it and turned it till you faced her. “I worry about you sometimes, my angry little, green haired artist.”

You desperately tried to keep from smiling because that would mean you were losing this argument.

“You live alone,” she continued. “and what if something happened and I’m not here? Can I not worry about my loved ones?”

You were not losing.

“And if not, then maybe one of those monster creatures. Some are used just like service animals without the stigma.”

You gave a weakly annoyed sigh. “I get what you’re trying to say babe, but Bitties aren’t pets. They’re not even animals. They’re people, just like you and me and that’s hella weird.” You trailed fingers along your partner’s hand resting atop of your chair, tugging it down and Jae brushed her thumb across your cheek, taking the hint. “Like trying to adopt a baby only that baby has adult motor functions and a vocab that’ll rival my own.”

“I think a talking parrot could rival your vocabulary.”

“Oh, haha.” You pushed her hand away, feigning annoyance to cover up your actual irritation about the whole conversation. There was just too many things to be bothered by and way too early for it.

Jae leaned away from the desk and you assumed she was heading off to take a shower when she stepped around you, leaning down to draw her hands down your arms, thumbs rubbing small, soothing little circles as she leaned back to cup your face. You followed her gentle nudge until you were looking up at her smiling, gaze still sleepy. There was a faint trace of smudge mascara under one eye and a little bit of a stray shadow above the other and your heart skipped a beat when she leaned down to capture your mouth in a slow, languid kiss. She tasted like mint.

“So that dream you had?” You whispered the moment she broke the kiss, giving a quick wiggle of your brows.

“Oooo dear, seems I’ve forgotten it.” She teased, crossing her arms around your shoulders loosely and gently rocked. “I unfortunately have to get ready now and I’ve spent too much time fraternizing.” Jae stood up, arms dragging away and you missed the warmth. “And you have work to finish, so hop to it.”

“Yes ma’am!” Saluting with mock seriousness, you swiveled back to get to work as your partner headed out. Oh that’s right. You yelled over your shoulder, “B T dubs, if you’re going to eat my pop tarts, at least have the common decency to leave me one.”

Chapter Text

Running fingertips along the long since healed mark, the tiny skeleton traced the edges of the number carved and burned into his humerus. Chipped bone caught along the raised surface and he idly wondered if he had always been two jagged lines that met at a slanted point. Seven. That was his name, right? Sitting slouched against the cage, the Lil Bro tucked a thin leg up and the tattered black pants he wore felt grimy, rubbing uncomfortably against greyed unhealthy bones. It was only slightly better than the threadbare shirt covering his ribs. Holes big enough to blush at made it more it of a tank top than anything. At least he had a pair of shoes to call his own, mismatching and ill fitting, he made them work by stuffing bits of torn up newspaper into the toes. He’d worn them for so long, the soles of his feet were black.

Behind him without having to look, were a number of identical cages filled with old and new Bitties alike. One could always tell the new ones, they cried. Some quietly in fear, others wailed in the injustice of their capture, just barely overheard over the growing crowds in the next room over. There were cheers, wild and raving with the occasional jeer as a fight ring was set up for a new battle. Seasoned Bitties remained silent, sharing the camaraderie of solidarity while the occasional few taunted the new ones, slinging insults and slurs to mask their own dread.

It’d been his fifth day, night, he couldn’t tell anymore, in the warehouse. It stank of an enclosed space, of mildew and spores and small things that rotted in the corners unnoticed. A fetid smell that rivaled the staleness of dust in the air. The Lil Bro hunkered further into his meager clothing, no match against the decaying cold that burrowed its way into his bones. The boarded up windows did little to let light or warmth through.

To the far right a bitty, a Cherry by the sound of it, started crying. Big, heaving sobs that the Lil Bro felt in his chest. Someone yelled at him to shut up, making them cry even louder.

“hey?”

The Bro swiveled his skull to look over at his next door neighbor and spotted a Button eyed Sans leaning against his own cage wall, back to him. He only recognized the other by the lopsided beanie he wore, a stupidly bright green color amidst the drabness.

“did you see the new guy?” He lofted a bandaged hand toward the lone cage that had been singled out on a different table and the Bro’s faded eye lights followed to where he pointed. He stared numbly for a moment before grunting. He didn’t care who it is. In the end it didn’t matter. His hands trembled. It never mattered.

Buttons kept talking, droning on about the sequestered Bitty in a cordial tone that felt out of place. Cujo. He recognized the name and rep, a real monster. Bitty Killer. The Bro glanced at the cage, keeping his head bowed and could just see the shape of the Horror Bitty as he stalked quietly. A single deep red eye light bobbed back and forth, eyeing cages as if they held his next meal. He looked feral, half starved, just like the rest of them.

The Cherry persisted in his sobbing, even as the heckling and name calling petered out and the Bitties voice was strained, gasping for air to cry. The Bro sighed before reaching above his head to pull himself up, tottering slightly to walk over to the other side of the cage. He had to keep hunched to avoid his head catching along the low grating, but he’d always been a little taller than the average Bro. The Cherry was a ways away but not so far he had to shout. Good. He didn’t like shouting.

Grabbing the other’s attention took little more than a hand wave and he watched the small skeleton shrink down. The Bro cleared his throat, rough from disuse and he croaked out a, “hey.” and tried not to wince at the foreign sound of his own voice. He tried for soothing but it only sounded strained in his ears. “what did the fish say to the whale? quit your blubbering.” The joke fell flat and he sighed, slumping a little. He slipped fingers around one of the cage’s bars, tightening until his knuckles ached. “crying makes you weak here, kindness makes you weaker, you gotta toughen up or you’re dust.”

Slowly the crying quieted, stiffled behind hands as the small Bitty tried to muffle himself, nodding through tears. That was as good as it was going to get with a Cherry. It’d have to do.

At the far end of the room, the faint click of a key in a lock silenced the entire floor, a dreadful hush falling across the cages in a thick wave before the door opened with a resounding bang. Owners filtered in, humans moving as one as they stalked cages, looking for theirs and laughed amongst themselves. Side wages were made, money exchanged under the table before the crowds could get their claws into them. They broke away, separating Bitties from cages. There was a scream, a snarl, arguing but even the strongest was nothing compared to a human. Like pilfering goods at a market, monsters were gathered up for the next round.

The Cherry was scooped up, having had to have been shaken out of his cage and he clung to the dirty fingers that squeezed him too tightly. He locked eyes with the Bro, desperation welling up in his sockets but he remained silent as he was hauled away. The humans left in the same fashion as they entered, moving as one like a pack until the room was silent again. Selfishly, the Bro was thankful he didn’t have to go up against the Cherry and slumped back down.

It was a short round and all too soon, humans flooded the room again. A craggy looking man with gaunt features and dirty brown hair grabbed the Bro’s cage and lofted it to bring it upward to face him. The Bitty clung to the walls, jamming a heel into the floor to keep from sliding any closer to the human. He coughed, breath foul and sprayed spittle everywhere.

“Knock ‘em dead,” he snarled. “Or I knock you. Get it?”

Curling away, the Bro tried to squeeze himself into a ball. “crystal clear.”

“Good.”

The cage was hauled, Bitty and all out the door and the Bro tried to look behind him at who was being coerced out of their own cages but it was too late as he was taken through the door and lead down a narrow hall. There was no gentle carefree walk for him. Not a Bitty. They were treated worse than animals. First hand the Bitty knew humans didn’t see them as anything. When they died, they were nothing but a pile of dusty clothes. Even an animal you’d have to eventually bury.

The Bro gripped the cage harder as it was swung around and he caught glimpses of the open warehouse, of the different fight rings set up. They were little more than bigger cages cobbled together from chicken wire, pallets and random pieces of wood pried from walls. The only addition that had been made were the magic disruptors run by spare car batteries. He didn’t know how it affected magic, he’d only ever heard about it in passing and couldn’t grasp the large technical jargon the humans used. He only understood when he couldn’t use his abilities to take a short cut, his own magic weakened to a pitiful response. People milled around different rings like drunken gods, yelling and screaming, pitting the smaller against one another gladiator style. Humans were awful.

The Bro’s world turned sideways as he was unceremoniously dumped out with a couple of harsh shakes. He dropped into the ring and stumbled a little, right leg giving some trouble but he was quick to mask it. He took a few flailing steps until he regained his balance and kicked up a dust of cloud. He tried not to breathe it in. The lights overhead were blinding, buzzing angrily and he had barely a moment to regroup and figure out what he was up against before he was ducking a wild swing. He nearly went down as he scrambled away and whirled around to dodge another punch.

It was a free for all fight. Bodies swarmed around him, moving too quickly to get a good bead on everyone. Cujo was apart of the brawl and dashed across the ring, lumbering after a small bitty in a feral lop. He howled as the gap was closed. A Boss Bitty who was currently trying to knock his skull off kept moving in a circle and hunkered low to keep his one functioning eye light from being a blind spot. Buttons, shit, Buttons was there too.

The Bro locked eyes with him and nodded quickly before he had to dodge another attack from the Boss. Sidestepping the taller monster, he swept to the right, spinning in the dust to sweep under a swinging fist and booked it toward Buttons. The Boss gave chase, silent and predatory before Cujo appeared, screaming wildly to tackle the Boss from the side. They went down quickly in a snarling heap.

An argument broke out amongst the owners, distracted from the Bitty fight as more attention was drawn to the three men. One jutted a hand in the other’s face, only for it to be slapped away. A third, an obvious friend of the first, shoved the second, knocking him into a woman. She stumbled into the caged dome, sending dirt and dust raining down on the little monsters below.

“we gotta get out of here!” Buttons offered an arm for the Bro as he lurched to a stop, limping on his right leg. He jerked back at the hand before realizing it was offered out of trust than malice but before he could take it, a scream of utter rage echoed behind them. They turned to see Cujo sink his fangs into the Boss’ neck, claws tearing into bone and ripping at the cervical spine.

The Bro felt his soul seize at the gush of marrow that stained the dirt floor and he stopped just shy of clawing at his own sternum. “and do what?”

Buttons shot the taller Bitty a confused look. “do what? live, be free! what the hell do you think?!”

The arguing escalated above them and more monsters were dumped into the ring by the handfuls, some confused and darted away while the rest rounded on each other. Buttons pulled the Bro to him as a Grimby went wild, setting fire to anyone he could reach, resulting in the smaller to smack at his arm to put out the small flicker of flames along his sleeve. That’d been close.

Several owners were not pleased with the additions and the dispute erupted into an actual fight. A large human was tossed against the cage and it sagged under his weight, the cheap metal creaking and buckling under the strain. The Grimby wasted no time in setting the man’s clothes on fire. People were already trying to back away from the growing fight. A woman shrieked above the building sounds of an agitated crowd, jarring the Bro. He grabbed Buttons and hauled him backwards away from the fire, the act an unspoken thanks for saving him earlier. The sentiment was appreciated even as the Bitty watched the Bro struggle to stand, a hand pressed to his chest.

Rising to his feet, Cujo attacked a passing by Bitty, tearing into his newest prey with gusto, seemingly oblivious to what was going on.

There was a sharp throbbing behind his ribs where his soul pulsed, the pain feeling like it was a struggle to breath and the Bro gasped against the numbness and he spat out through gritted teeth. “what makes you think it’s better out there than in here?”

“you can’t be serious?” Buttons rounded on the Bro, disbelief simmering in the glossy buttons that made up his eyes and he shoved the taller, venting frustration in the same manner as the humans. The Bro winched and Buttons mentally kicked himself. “i would rather die than stay here another day.” He sighed, trying to keep himself centered. “come on, we gotta look for a way out while we still got the chance.” Without waiting for a reply, Buttons took off in a direction, darting close to where the Grimby was still enjoying his fiery escapade.

The stabbing pressure only increased as the Bro could only stare blankly after where the other had gone. He hated this, hated when his body shut down and he wasn’t sure how long he stood there in open before he was driven to the floor by a body. He hit the ground hard, smashing his chin on the floor as he tried to catch himself. A knee went to his back, weighing him down as Cujo climbed atop of him, pinning him with a well placed hand to the back of his neck. He leaned down, smelling of dust and marrow to whisper against his skull.

“do ya want to be mine, tall one?”

The Bro tried not to shudder against the raspy voice, as he struggled against the added weight. Cujo may have been smaller than him, but he was a lot heavier, bones just as grey but healthy. It felt like a damn elephant was sitting on him.

“i can make ya mine and ya wouldn’t have to fight no more.” Cujo leaned down to lick a stripe up his prey’s skull and wheezed out a rough cruel chuckle. “would ya like that? would ya like to be mine to claim.” He laughed again, tipping his head and the Bro could hear something rattling around in the Bitty’s broken skull. With a deliberate slowness, the Horror monster rocked against him and dragged his pelvis against the enticing clothed tailbone.

get off me, you fucker!” The Bro renewed his struggling, phalanges grasped at the ground in front of him for purchase. The sharp pain was threatening to tear his ribs apart and he shuddered, trying not to suck in a lungful of dust. He tried to head butt the bitty backwards and his skull was shoved harshly to the floor, claws scraping the curve of it.

“i like it when your feisty.” With one hand on the Bro’s skull, pressing down with his full weight his other groped along the lower section of spine exposed in his struggling, running a clawed thumb down the notches and felt the minute shiver run through the body. Grinning, he pressed harder, digging sharply into the vertebrae and earned a beautiful scream from the monster beneath him as he struggled more. Cujo cackled, holding on to his bucking bronco, drawings his knees inward to keep the other at his mercy.

It was an awful, burning, piercing pain that stole his breath away and his entire lower half felt suddenly numb. He could only stare in frozen horror at the jagged, bleeding piece of lower rib the monster had torn it from him, was flung it in front of him like a piece of trash. The Bro could only stare at the bone as it crumbled into dust.

Cujo dragged his fingers through his mouth, eye light fluttering up in ecstasy. “you taste divine, tall one. i will enjoy you until you break.”

“get off him!” Buttons slammed into the Horror bitty, knocking him off the Bro and they tumbled across the open ground, limbs flailing

Chapter Text

The Lil Bro couldn’t tell if he was getting any air into him, magic stagnating around the agony of his spine. He dragged an arm under him, propping himself up on an elbow as he tried to roll to his back. His vision waned briefly, darkening as a cold chill ran through him as he fought against the darkness creeping into his vision. The first splat of water atop his skull went unnoticed even as it threatened to drown him and the world came back into a sharp focus. More water fell from above from the rusted sprinkler system that had been set off. A firm alarm screamed overhead, dully muted in pulsing waves. He wheezed for air, the sound whistling through an open mouth. People were quick to scatter, no one wanting to get caught if the police showed.

The Bro focused on getting up and braved a moment to reach underneath him, feeling the warmth of his marrow and the fighting ring swayed and tilted. Buttons screamed and it was a terrible sound, high pitched and full of pain when the Horror Bitty bit his hand, taking two fingers with a gurgled laugh. Making it to his knees felt like it took forever, his body alternating between freezing and burning hot and felt marrow seep into his dirty clothes. His soul pulsated in an odd off beat tempo in his skull, making it difficult to concentrate, another scream the only thing keeping him grounded.

He tried to conjure a construct and the brief outline of a bone flickered faintly before wisping out. He tried again, stumbling as his magic sparked painfully. “come on, come on,” he desperately wheezed, finding his footing.

Cujo cackled victoriously, shades of marrow and blood splattered around his muzzle, staining filthy teeth. The single red eye light narrowed into a pinprick of color, wavering in the large socket as he bite down on the Button’s face, gnawing at the smooth rounded jaw. He leaned up to avoid a weak punch and got the sharp end of a blue bone construct through the bottom of his mandible, coming up through the non working socket. His eye light guttered out and gave a soft gasp of laughter before he crumbled into dust.

Buttons gagged on the downpour of dust falling into his mouth, sockets and nasal cavity. Clothing pillowed atop of him, weighing heavy and the bitty grasped at the object that had been lodged inside the Horror’s head. A small, silver key. Ignoring his injuries, he grabbed the key with his good hand and struggled to sit up just as the Lil Bro staggered to him.

The Grimby wailed in agony as he lay dying, his flames demolished by the sprinklers and slowly he crumbled into ashes, clawing at his face. The Boss Bitty was still alive, gasping wetly with a spine nearly severed, one arm missing at the elbow. They had lost track of the others.

Helping the smaller monster up with a grunt, the key was shoved into the Bro’s hands and he stared at it, uncomprehending.

“go on,” Buttons panted, tucking his injured hand to his side, “i think it might be for the cage. i’ll get the boss.”

are you crazy?” Was that really him saying that out loud? “forget him.” That wasn’t something he would have said at all. It sounded like him but why was it so far away?

“no!” Buttons spat and pushed the Bro toward a nearby door. He faltered and caught himself before he could hit the ground and hesitated forward, arms curled protectively around the key. The smaller Bitty observed the swaying gait and ignored the blush of marrow that stained his palm. “you get that door open,” he commanded, “and you go.” Buttons stumbled in the direction of the boss, knowing there was nothing he could for the Grimby.

Fumbling with the key, the Lil Bro nearly dropped it as he sagged against a wire mesh door and sucked in a rough lungful of burning air. The ingenuity of the humans recycling old cages meant one key for everything, including the odd placement of doors. There was no way he or Buttons could climb the collapsing structure to the ceiling where they’d been dropped in. How the Horror Bitty even had the key in the first place proved he was just as smart as he was mad. He felt so little about the death of the bitty and there was an emptiness in place of feeling anything that he’d grown accustomed to.

Squeezing his arm through the grating, he felt for the lock and shoved the key into it. He tried to turn it and his hand slipped, jerking him hard into the mesh and his spine screamed back at him. He rasped through several breaths, waiting for the pain to subside. Woozily he tried again, pushing then tugging, trying to get the stubborn rusted metal to move.

The air had grown thicker with smoke, an acrid smell that overwhelmed the stagnate. The simple fire had spread to what the warehouse had been originally used for, devouring the stacked pallets and wooden crates of spoiled materials. They crackled and hissed, burning under the pitiful excuse of sprinkler system.

It was taking an agonizingly long time for Buttons to return and the Bro wished he was here now helping. His strength was leaching out of him in time to the sticky pulse of marrow and he clung to the mesh as his legs trembled with the effort of standing. He had one last try in him and shoved with a grunt nearly pitching forward when the key twisted in the lock. The door creaked open an inch before sticking. Freedom loomed drunkenly in the small space.

Hanging on the cage, he lofted an arm toward Buttons who reappeared, empty handed and coughing. He collapsed to his knees and The Bro lurched forward instinctively. “come on!”

Metal lurched above them, screeching painfully and both looked up to see one of the shoddily soldered support beams, made weaker by the fire and the bodies that had crushed it come loose. It caught on a wooden plank before it could come down. Scuffed black button eyes snapped to the Bro ambling toward him, hand outstretched. The burning wood gave, ambers rained down and the small bitty gave a wavering grin.

The structure collapsed in an awful wounded groan that shook the ground, burying Buttons under a pile of blackened timber and forcing the Bro to reel back to avoid being caught in the cave in. Disbelief roared in his skull and he crumpled jarring his spine as his tailbone met the ground with a heavy thump. The cage curved inward slowly, being dragged down by the heavy top and the support beams shifted further. The Bro stared at the rubble where the closest monster one could ever consider a friend in their world had been.

A deep ache settled in the middle of his chest, growing tighter until he forced himself to breath and his breath hitched on a dry sob. stupid idiot. Tears burned his sockets, agitated by the smoke. why did you go back. He brought his fist up to brush at his cheek, unable to look away from the smoldering pile. Ash tumbled toward him, barely registering the uncomfortable warmth and heady air.

There wasn’t anyone left in the ring with him. It was pointless, useless, what would he even do once he got out. He’d have sat there, waiting for the rest of the small world to come down around him but the snap of newly dislodged wood came down, flaring up embers as big as him and he scrambled backwards to avoid being burned.

Funny how self preservation worked like that.

Drawing a knee up, he numbly crawled a step and grasped at the ground, pulling himself toward the door. He dragged his other knee forward, the limb not quite keeping up and shoved himself to his feet. That was a little better and he swayed a step before taking another, then one more until he was squeezing sideways through the doorway.

i’m sorry.

As thin as he was, it took a little work to slip through and caught the ragged end of his bottom rib along it before he was free. Standing on the outside of the ring, the magic dampeners still clawing at his back he took a step forward and realized, he still needed to get out of the warehouse. Luckily for him, the humans had left a wide open berth to a large open doorway that lead to the outside world. It gaped like a dark open maw and the Bro grasped that it was night time.

Pressing a hand uselessly to his side, the Bro forced himself on and took a lurching step toward the exit. He could feel his magic bleeding back into him and the sudden rush left him dizzy, almost giddy at the swell of it. It allowed him to pick his feet up better and he was moving until all he could hear was the frantic clap of his shoes on the ground. The Bro short-cutted before he could wonder if he had the energy. The outside world swallowed him up as he ran, dashing across an open parking lot, unaware of anything around as he jumped again, landing in a patch of dried weeds.

It was agony, he couldn’t remember how far he’d run, single minded perusing a straight line away from the horrifying world he’d been forced to live. The Bro staggered, struggling to keep going but the pain slowed him down more and more. Buildings too big to decipher towered over him like hulking giants and he was sure he crossed at least three busy intersections where cars threatened to run him over. His limp had become more pronounced until it felt like he was dragging a weight behind him. His spine and ribs were on constant fire, each breath felt like it might be his last and he couldn’t tell it was his dust that sifted from his clothes or from the fire.

He had to stop.

Hauling himself over a broken curb, he sought out shelter in the nearest alley, bypassing the large trash receptacles and made him way toward the back before collapsing atop of a soggy pile of newspaper. He couldn’t move anymore, not even if his owner found him. Forcing another lungful of air into him, the smeared printed text swayed as he jammed an elbow under him before the world went back.

Chapter Text

“hey, wake up asshole.”

With a painful groan, the Lil Bro roused with the greatest of difficulties, finding himself laying face down on an old, soggy newspaper. He struggled for purchase, his hand sliding along the wet paper as it peeled and bunched under the slightest pressure. Faint ink stuck to the side of his skull, claiming him ‘riginal evid’ and part of a blurred picture near his socket. Every little movement felt like glass was being jammed in his spine and he gasped sharply. His limbs shook with each new wave of pain as he struggled to stop moving and could feel the prickles of panic wanting to set it, but exhaustion won out.

Blearily, he tilted his head to the side, cheek resting uncomfortably against the newspaper and breathed in the rancid smell of decaying garbage and paper. Slowly, he became more aware of himself as a light shiver set in. He was soaked to the bone and cold and everything sucked.

“ya can’t stay here.”

He thought he’d dreamt the rough, deep gravel voice but heard it again from somewhere above him. Eye lights flickered with the effort to focus and could only make out blurry shapes as he painstakingly inched a hand in front of his face. The movement pulled at his spine and his arm went limp to avoid agitating it more.

“didja hear me?” The voice had moved, drifting from somewhere behind him, still out of his blurry field of vision. “beat it!”

can’t,” the Bro mumbled, voice raspy, weak and tired. “can’t…”

Skeletal feet wrapped in dirty linen stepped in front of him, sharpened toes just shy of gouging his eyes out at how close they were. The monster labored to look up at the splotch of white against bigger smears of black and grey. The thrum of magic, however, was clear as day. The aggressive intent behind it was enough for him to weakly claw at the newspaper, tearing little gouges on it even as it swelled up around him.

“this is my place!” The Bitty growled and straightened to his full height of three inches and glared at the idiot in front of him. He snarled, the sound low and deep as he proceeded to make as much racket as possible. He kicked a loose piece of trash, sending it satisfyingly across the ground skirting close to the Lil Bro. Broken glass surrounded them in shards and the small monster heaved a part of it, letting it clink like a broken chime as it skidded away.

The Edgy bristled, eye lights awash in ruddy magic as he summed a sharpened bone construct. “get the fuck out!” He grabbed at the prone monster, grabbing a fistful of shirt and it ripped under the pressure as he hauled the Bro upward, lifting his head and shoulders completely off the ground.

The monster shuddered under the sudden jolt, a sound of pain eking out and marrow stained fingers grasped feebly at the surprisingly small hand that held him up with little effort. Was this a child? He tried to talk and tasted dust as more sifted from his tattered shirt.

A deep rumble from far off startled the Edgy and he automatically lofted his head skyward at the sliver of grey sky overhead. He made a quiet, annoyed sound and spat to the side of him to express it further. The threadbare shirt he wore threatened to slip off his frame and he shrugged in it, the large neck catching on a shoulder. It had once been a pristine white, nearly blinding him with its newness. Now it was ill fitting, old, dirty and stained, hanging more like a dress to his knees due to mass he’d lost over time. He didn’t like the look of the darker clouds creeping slowly in from the west. Another annoyed huff left him and he looked down at the monster sagging in his grasp, realizing too late the darkened sockets and limp form meant the guy had passed out.

“oi!” When the monster didn’t reply, he grumbled out loud and gave another heavy shake, the Bro swaying in his grip. “stupid, fuckin’, ugh.” Dropping the monster, he shook out his cramped fingers and checked over his shoulder down the alley at the faint sound of cars driving by. People walked by occasionally but he had picked this particular alley as it was a dead end to an old, condemned building. No one ever came down here. Most of the time it was used as a dumping ground for tires and mattresses and the rare time the garbage collectors came, they never bothered with the main dumpster in the back.

Dropping to his haunches to crouch over the Lil bro, the Edgy bent to look over the idiot who’d been dumb enough to stumble into his alley. Resting elbows on knees, he maintained a respectable distance just in case and flipped the bone construct around to poke at the taller Bitty. He poked extra hard at his skull a few more times than necessary before sniffing. “ya smell like shit.”

Dissolving the construct to maintain his magic, he brushed his bare legs off and stood quickly as the second rumble of thunder rang closer. Without sparing a glance at the unconscious body at his feet, he stalked toward a growing pile of rotten trash bags, the smell long since tolerated. He climbed up and slid down the back of them to the concealed pile of cinderblocks and red cement bricks behind a large dumpster that was more rust than metal. The blocks had been leftovers from an attempt to revitalize the building and make something of the abandoned shop, but had fallen to the wayside once the money petered out.

Shoving aside the makeshift tent door fashioned from a popato chisp bag, twine and string from some old balloons, the Edgy climbed into the top hole. It was a tight fit but he made due, inseting an old sock to take some of the chill out of the brick and add a touch of softness as he settled down. It had been a lucky find; the current block he dwelled in had been mostly upright and resting against the haphazard pile of others. It’d taken a little ingenuity and every ounce of his strength to get it upright. It was dark inside, the back partially blocked by other bricks leaving just enough space to squeeze out in case of trouble.

Huddling in a ball, he tucked his legs into his shirt and wrapped his arms around himself. It was starting to get cold again; more so at night and there was a nasty wind already picking up through the alley. It wasn’t exactly an ideal place, but it kept him safe and secure and most importantly out of the way. Another rumble of thunder, even closer tumbled through the air followed a short while later by a flash of lightning that lit up the darker, backward wording of the chisp bag. If he were lucky, it’d be another flash flood and wash that asshole out of his alley.

He griped inwardly. Why the fuck should he care? It was just another fucking Bitty. The guy looked like he was on the edge of dusting anyway. The Edgy huffed. He didn’t want anyone lurking in on his territory anyway. This was his place, fair and square; he claimed it and fought off alley cats and rats for his square of land. He earned every little battle scar and scratch and was proud of them all. He was tough as fuck and his will to live proved it. So what if the other Bitty didn’t have the will. Why should he help? What was in it for him?

The dull pitter-patter of rain atop of his cinderblock told him the rain had finally arrived. He curled further into a ball, pulling some of the sock around him to ward off the eminent cold and hunkered down for another quiet night. His stomach growled fiercely and he ignored the hollow gnaw of hunger. He’d look for food tomorrow.

The first odd noise had him tense and on high alert. His knees hit his chin as he sat up and scooted further back at the following dragging sound as something scrounged around. His magic fizzled, popping like candy rocks until he mentally got ahold of himself. Slowly, he stretched a leg out and crawled to his chisp bag door and peeked out to spot the Lil Bro on his hands and knees, dragging himself underneath the dumpster. It was a slow, painful, stuttering progress.

The Bro had woken up sputtering and choking when a big, fat raindrop nearly drowned him. He had flipped over to empty his skull of water, nearly seizing when his ribs moved against each other, rubbing wrongly at each hitched inhale and rough exhale. He knew they shouldn’t be doing that as he struggled to his knees and slowly crawled forward. By the grace of god, his spine felt numb and he was certain he could only move as much as he could due to the once sharp pain now lulled into a dull ache. He chuckled darkly, a wisp of air between teeth. Self-preservation was a bitch like that.

“yer not dust yet?” The Edgy scowled at the persistent fucker and looked around for anything to throw at him, coming up empty handed. The skull swiveled toward him, sockets unseeing. “pity.”

He might have laughed at the bodiless voice if he had the strength.

“ya smell like dust.”

Any pretense of amusement was gone and the Bro collapsed halfway under the dumpster, legs mercilessly pelted with more rain. This was it, as far as he could go. He was going to dust right here and now. Maybe, some of his dust would be washed away into the drains where he belonged.

“’m sorry buttons,” he whispered, as his soul grew heavy. “sorry…”

_________________________

He didn’t think he’d ever see the sun again and when pale eye lights flickered to existence, he stared confusedly at the grimy underside of the dumpster. Mottled green with shades of rust and debris, he wasn’t entirely sure what he was looking at. Something scuttled nearby, too many legs traipsing through trash and he felt something soft brush against his head, only realizing a second too late it was a large cockroach. Cold and numb, he couldn’t move as the feelers tickled over his skull.

“get outta here.” The Edgy’s voice barked from nearby and the insect scurried away. The Bitty grunted, scuffling noises drifted back and forth until there was a snap of something wooden. He tumbled to a knee and cursed loudly before grabbing the small transparent baggie full of odd and ends he’d collected and tugged it with him before where it snagged on the dumpster wheel could tear more.

A blurry off white shape filled the Lil Bro’s vision and he surmised it was the smaller Bitty standing over him.

The Edgy grunted. “yer awake.” Before the Bro could open his mouth, he barreled on, interrupting. “this don’t mean nuthin’, trash. ya were drawin’ in the bitch.” He grinned, a hazy jagged line. “alley cat, fat hag, hangs ‘round here a lot.”

t… tha… you.” The barely there words were whispered in a rough exhale. It felt like talking through rocks.

“don’t thank me,” the Edgy sneered. “i didn’t do nuthin’. i’d leftcha out there fer the bitch if it’d keep her off my back fer a night. here.” He stood to survey the area, short enough to stand under the dumpster without difficulties. “she can’t get ya, but damn,” he chuckled harshly. “did she try.”

The Bro shifted to look at him better, finding his hands and arms were a little less numb that he was awake and he wiggled fingers, ensuring he had all ten of them. They moved sluggishly. “i can’t feel my legs.”

“’cause ya ain’t got any.” There was a brief horrifying pause, then mean raucous laughter exploded from the bitty. “i’m fucking with ya, they’re still there, asshole.”

you’re kinda an asshole yourself.”

The Edgy had a snaggle tooth, enhancing the sudden shark grin. “ya gonna cry about it?”

Honestly, he felt like he should. He should be wailing at the top of his lungs, heaving big, dramatic breaths of air and emitting an unhealthy amount of snot. He had every justification for it but when he decided to, there was nothing but a blank numbness that pressed against his skull.

Watching the Bro scrunch his face up and then relax, he wasn’t sure how to react and the smaller bitty covered it up with a scoff. “whatever, i got shit ta do. if ya dust, can’t say it was nice knowin’ ya.”

“what’s your name?”

A subtle raise of his brow bone suggested the Bro caught him off guard with the simple question and the Edgy grinned tightly. “ain’t got one, don’t need one. don’t bother callin’ fer me. i ain’t yer mommy.”

does that mean,” he wheezed for enough air to talk. “i can call you daddy?”

The bitty gave another over exaggerated scoff, a faint stain of red touching his cheekbones before he stalked away. He stalked back a few steps to hurl a stuttered, “n-no!” before he was gone.

The Lil Bro cracked a faint smile and sighed slowly, pausing when his hand brushed against something and fingers touched something wet. A faint grimace surfaced as he dragged his hand toward his field of vision, the limb trembling as he lofted it to find phalanges covered in a moist tan cracker mush, a few flacks of salt clinging to it. Letting his skull fall to the side, he was gifted with the sight of a plastic bottle cap of relatively clean looking water beside him with half a cracker beside it.

Somewhere the Edgy was making a racket, having returned to whatever he was doing.

The cracker loomed next to him like fallen manna from the sky and it tugged at the hollowness of his stomach. He wanted to eat, but being awake this long had already zapped him of what little energy he clung to. Maybe, just maybe if he fell asleep, he could drift away. Wouldn’t that be nice.