You could hear footsteps downstairs. They were quiet, very quiet, but the small shuffling of feet or squeak of a smuppet alerted you that he was home. The fact that you knew he was home at all meant he wanted you to, Bro never was this loud for no reason. You knew the reason. He hadn't been home for weeks, out on another one of his random DJ puppet trips or whatever. You relished in that time, letting your sore muscles relax. When he was away it meant no more strifing for at least 5 days, letting fresh wounds heal instead of breaking them open every morning over and over again. It meant you could go downstairs for water without worrying about waking him up or being dragged up onto the roof. It meant you didn't have to starve, you could go out every night for food and not be yelled at or punched for leaving without permission he would have never gave you. During those times were when you had the right mind to wonder, maybe he just wanted to see you dead already. Or maybe, your head would snarl back, he wants you to have a long, drawn out, painful life so that your death will be more enjoyable.
When he was home, however, after one of his long disappearances, there was a 100% probability he would strife you sooner or later. He was always harder on you when he hadn't hurt you for a while. Maybe beating children into the ground was a hobby, or some sort of sick joke.
Lost in thought, you hadn't noticed that the sounds had suddenly diminished. That's definitely the only reason why a loud noise against your door suddenly had you still, your breath catching in your throat. You could feel your stomach roll over on itself like it was trying to do a shitty front flip, and your heart was trying to join in. That was the sound that initiated a strife. He was probably already on the roof waiting for you. If you took longer than five minutes he'd surely break a bone or two. Maybe three. No matter what, though, your room was always a safe haven. The rest of the house was fair hunting grounds.
You shudder, pulling at the neck of your t-shirt and rolling off your bed and onto your shaky feet. You probably shouldn't waste any more time being a baby. It's stupid to be scared, you remind yourself. Bro is cool, swords are cool, strifing is cool. Striders don't do uncool. They also don't do scared. So you straighten your shades, pushing them up your nose and captchaloging your sword from above your bed. Evening light shines through your window. Didn't Bro get back late afternoon? Has it already been that long?
You stop dwelling and open your door, flinching at the tiniest of creaks it makes. As you sneak quietly into the living room, you make a mental note to be more careful next time. You gently move aside some smuppets sitting in a small pile by the doorway to the roof, and step over a trashed numchuck. To your dismay, Cal isn't on his usual place on the kitchen counter. That means he's with Bro, and that also means he'll be joining the strife.
Not that there's anything wrong with Cal, of course. He's just a bit unsettling is all.
You climb the stairs. Your internal clock says it's been about two minutes, you're really slacking this time. Bro is probably gonna tease you for being too lazy or something. You hope he won't notice the way sweat already drips down your neck, or your shaking hands.
Your heart climbs into your throat when you reach the last step, sword held tightly with both hands. Opening the door with the tip of it, you step onto the hot pavement. You're lucky you left your shoes on earlier today after school, or your feet would probably burn again. It's hard to count the amount of times you were dumb and ended up getting hurt by it.
You finally stop looking at your feet and glance up, seeing what you had anticipated. Your Bro is standing there in all his ironically cool glory, his sword held lazily in one hand and Cal in the other. You copy his emotionless expression, breathing through your nose. It feels like someone filled your lungs with fuzz, making it hard to breathe. That always seems to happen when you strife.
You tense when he moves, slinging Cal over his shoulders and easily shifting his sword into position. You push one foot back behind the other without willing yourself too, your body trained for this. Autopilot clicks on as you stare at your Bro, waiting to see who will make the first strike. He doesn't move. It looks like it's your turn, it almost always is. No matter how much it makes you wanna puke. He probably knows this, so he's forcing you to go first to make you stronger. You're terrified of what would happen if you didn't go first when he wanted you too. He'd probably throw you off the roof and abandon your body for the crows.
This reality is suddenly all too plausible once you've realized that you hesitated for far too long. His lip curls up in what looks like distaste, and you scream at yourself in your head. You gasp as he's suddenly next to you, his shadow unable to keep up. You can't either, it seems, because in the next second he's pushed you to the ground with the blunt of his sword. You can feel skin scrape off of your hands and elbows as you quickly push yourself up, rolling out of the way of a second attack. Your on your feet again and you flashstep behind him and don't hesitate to swing your sword. Hesitation means death.
To your dismay, your sword hits thin air and you mutter a curse under your breath. You left your back open. You made a bad move, and now your gonna be forced to pay the consequences. You have no time to react when a foot slams into your back, and you land on your hip. You hiss in pain, but at least you fell properly. You raise your sword to block another attack, the impact vibrating up your arm and into your skull. When he moves his sword, it gives you enough time to flashstep again, this time aiming for his side.
Again, he gives you no openings and is there to parry your attack and push forwards towards you faster than what you can deal with. His sword strikes again, and you just barely dodge a serious hit as the blade grazes your arm and easily slicing the sleeve and skin. You can feel his accusing gaze bore into you as you stumble a bit, trying to regain yourself. You send a strike at him, but as you do so his face twists up in what seems to be annoyance and he drops his sword, grabbing your wrist roughly with his fingers.
You gasp in surprise, biting down on your tongue as he pulls you forward and kicks you with his foot. You stumble and fall, trying to scramble out of his way. He's really pissed. You probably spaced out one too many times, or did something you shouldn't have. Your performance wasn't at all top notch today, either.
Your scramble attempt is futile, and his foot connects harshly with your side. Another one lands itself on your back. He kicks you back each time you try to get up or move, and your body is throbbing by the time your back hits the wall and you know your probably going to be skipping school and forging absent notes for the next couple of days.
Bro leans down and grabs your throat, and you weakly try to push his hand off to no avail. He looks angry. He drags your body up and you gag, trying to force air through your lungs. Your sword had been abandoned quite some time ago after Bro had made it clear trying to block his kicks with it was fruitless.
"Worthless brat." you go still at the sound of his voice, looking at him desperately. "You're weak, pathetic. I'm ashamed to be even trying to train you at this point, you hit like a fucking toddler." His voice sounds steady and emotionless, like always, despite the look on his face. His hand tightens around your throat. Is this it, is he finally gonna kill you?
When you're unable to respond, he scoffs at you and drops your throat, letting you crumple to the ground and wheeze. He flickers, his sword suddenly in his hands. His next words feel like salt is being rubbed into your gaping wounds.
"Just fucking die already." He raises his sword, and you squeeze your eyes shut. This is it, the day your Bro finally fucking kills you. You'll never be able to say goodbye to John, or Rose, or even Jade. Oh god, Jade. You wonder what she's gonna think when your dead. Will she miss you? Your mind comes up with a blank as the sword is driven toward your chest, and a blank white noise fills your ears. You think you hear someone hastily scream. This is the day you finally leave this hell hole, this is the day you-
This is the day you wake up.
You gasp, flailing around in your blankets. Your clothes cling to your skin, drenching them in sweat. You can feel your heart pounding in your chest, threatening to break the skin and leave you. You curl in on yourself, holding back shaky sobs and clenching your fists around your blankets, trying and failing not to freak out. It was just a dream, it was just a dream, it was just a dream. You're safe, on the meteor, with your sister and her girlfriend and your friends and Bro is dead and you'll be fine. You'll definitely be fine. No more strifing, no more blood, no more death, and certainty no more pain.
You try to breathe again, your breath shaking as badly as your body. You can feel more tears slip down onto your already wet cheeks, and you grit your teeth. You run through a few mandatory breathing exercises to calm yourself down. Those were something you adapted around eight months ago on LoHaC, out of desperation. They help, sometimes.
You spend jegus knows how long laying there, running through pathetic breathing exercises and wiping an embarrassing amount of tears from your face until you finally get your shaking under control. When you finally feel like death isn't fast approaching and ready to haul your ass off to who knows where, you reach out and pat your desk down until your hand comes in contact with the cold metal of your phone. You bring it to your face and check the time, squinting. It's 2:09 am in meteor central time.
You gently nudge the phone back onto the desk and swap it out for your shades, slipping them on. You take a moment to enjoy the familiar feeling of the plastic pressing against the bridge of your nose before removing the sheet from your body. You could really use some water right now, your mouth is close to rivaling the fucking Atacama Desert.
Shaking your head to clear your thoughts, you slip out of bed and sneak to your door. This is reminding you all too much of your dream. The silence feels suffocating. You try not cringe at the way your door creaks as you push it open, or the way your bare feet carelessly shuffle on the ground. Trying to be quiet will only make your fear worse.
You spend the next 10 minutes or so walking down the halls of the dark, empty meteor searching for the kitchen. No one is awake at this time. It's probably only you. You eventually spot the familiar doorway leading to the kitchen. The art around it is...interesting. In a fit of boredom Rose and Kanaya had spent three hours painting flowers and eldritch tentacle monsters around the kitchen's outer walls, and they did a pretty good job. Kanaya even added a little Rainbow Drinker in the bottom biting someone's neck. It's a tad bit disturbing how those girls' minds work. Even Vriska is tamer than them when it comes to certain things, and that's saying something.
You reach up into a cabinet and grab a large, teal blue plastic cup. It's one of Terezi's. You turn on the faucet and hold the cup under it, spacing out slightly as the water line slowly rises. The dream you had...you don't want to dwell on it. Mainly because you can actually remember it. You remember the day you were 11, and your Bro had just gotten back home. You went up to the roof for a strife and it was the first time ever that you didn't strike first when it was obvious you should have. He didn't actually kill you after that, you're pretty sure the dream went a bit wild after he choked you, but the wounds he inflicted that day kept you home for two weeks. Your dream was generous in sparing most of the gory details of what went down during that strife. Maybe death would have been an easier way out for little Dave. Not this Dave though. In a way, you're really glad to be here. Things finally look like they're taking a turn for the bright side, and now the meteor is hurtling towards a universe you know very little about. You can only hope everyone makes it out alive.
"Dave?" A scratchy voice coming from behind you snaps you out of your thoughts. You realize you'd been standing there with the water rushing down the side of your cup for quite some time now. You quickly shut the water off and tip your cup, letting some of it rush down the drain. You turn to see an all too familiar troll face staring back at you. "Dave, what in the actual living fuck are you doing awake at *this* hour?"
You take a quick sip of your water so you don't sound like Karkat as you respond, annoyed at your dry throat. "I could ask the same, mister grumpy pants." Karkat doesn't look very good. He has a blanket clutched in one hand to keep himself warm in his early morning trek across a comet, and he's itching at red puffy eyes with his other. He looks like he hasn't slept for days. "You don't look the pinnacle of perfect health either, y'know."
A familiar scowl etches it's way into Karkat's features. Ah, there it is. The infamous Vantas scowl, rearing it's head once again. It really can't seem to stay away. You think it likes you.
"Answer the fucking question, Strider." Karkat crosses his arms over his small chest, the blanket going along for the ride. He bares his teeth and leans against the door frame, his eyes locked on your shades. "I am not in the mood to deal with your elusive, blubbering human bullshit and I'd rather get this unfortunate tragedy right to the point and move on with my pathetic life."
You try to hide a snicker, smirking back at him. You love the way Karkat gets 'angry' over the tiniest of things. It's easy to get caught in silly disputes with him and forget your problems. "A man needs his brooding time, Vantas. Can't you tell? Is brooding not a thing trolls do?"
He huffs at you, rolling his eyes and snapping back right on time. "I'd rather not spend the next two years and four months on this meteor waiting for you to stop being so goddamn ridiculous and cagey. What the withering maggotbeast is up with you? You look worse than me and that's saying something, shit stack."
You shrug, taking another large sip of your water. Your dry throat is feeling a little less dry now, thankfully. No point in trying to fuck with him, your still a little shaken up from all that happened a bit earlier. "Couldn't sleep. Gotta problem, Kitkat?"
His scowl doesn't disappear, but it visibly lessens. "Oh." He bites his lip, looking away as if almost embarrassed. "Yeah, uh, me neither." His body seems to tense and untense, like he's afraid of you judging. Oh shit.
"How long have you been awake?" You tilt your head at him, genuinely curious.
"Three days." He grumbles back, his voice seeming to drop in volume each time he speaks. You try not to be surprised. You've been hit with bouts of insomnia before, but you've never had it that bad. Sure, you would get an hour of sleep one night and only a few more the next, but you don't think you could handle staying up for three days straight. You feel a small ping of pity, but obviously don't let it show.
"Well," you start out, chugging the rest of your water quickly and tossing the cup in the sink. "What were you planning on doing?
He narrows his eyes at you, suspicious. "Why in the name of Gog would you give a single flipping fuck about where I'm sticking my nasty ass bulge? Don't humans know how to mind their own business?"
You huff at him, feigning an offending look and putting your hand on your chest. You stick your bottom lip out for extra measure. "I'm hurt, Karkles. You won't even let a fellow bro know what's crackin? What your getting up to in the empty halls of a meteor at the ass crack of hypothetical morning?"
He curls his lip at you, glaring. "It's not like it's any of your business, Strider, but if your so desperate to know what an obviously far superior person to you in every way is doing, I'm going to watch a goddamn movie or maybe binge a season or two of some show." he hesitates, before going a light shade of red and mumbling. "I suppose you wouldn't wanna join? I came to the kitchen to get popcorn."
You blink in surprise. You didn't at all expect him to offer you to join him, but now that you think of it...why not? It's likely you won't be going back to sleep any time soon, and scrolling through your phone for the entire morning is all kinds of boring. So you shrug, letting a small smirk slip onto your lips. "Sure, why not?"
He tries to feign his surprise as fake and scowls at you, his nose wrinkling up. "As expected, Strider. Can you grab the popcorn?"
You oblige, searching the disorganized shelf for the alchemized popcorn and pulling out two bags. You turn and toss them to Karkat, who is now standing by the microwave. You hold back a good intended snicker when he fails to catch one of the packets and bends down to pick it up, glaring at you as he does so. "Fuck off Strider, not everyone has perfect fucking balance like you."
"Are you calling me perfect?"
"NO you ass for brains retard!" He curls his lip in anger and throws a packet into the microwave, hitting the two minute button. "Just TRY not to make anymore stupid noises come out of your food flap until AFTER the movie, hear me?"
You both make minimal chat while the popcorn pops, and once both bags are done you argue for 3 minutes over if you should combine the bags or let each of you have one. You both eventually come to a begrudging agreement of pouring both bags into one large bowl. While walking down the hallway you both get into another argument over who carries the popcorn bowl, and you almost die laughing over the silliness of it all. By the time you've reached his room, where you both will be watching shit together, you're almost certain that you've left a trail of popcorn from the kitchen to his bed from pulling the bowl back and forth. Despite all the half-hearted bickering, the two of you are smiling and playfully pushing each other by the time you sit down.
Karkat pulls his husktop onto his lap and scrolls through a large list of downloaded movies and shows. "How about 10 Things I Hate About You? I've already watched it and it seems like the flaming pile of trash that is that movie has an endless pile of things I can make fun of it for." He seems genuinely serious and focused. This makes you smirk.
"A rom-com dude? Really? How about we watch that sitcom? Uh, friends or some shit. John forced me to watch it once and I got weirdly attached so maybe we can..." you trail off as you see the look he's giving you. It's like 'holy shit' 'are you kidding me' and 'what the fuck' all had a deformed baby together. "Uh..."
He interrupts you, a small excited clicking coming from the back of his throat. "Strider why the hell did you not tell me your taste in shows was spot fucking on? That show is the only true master piece of humanity. The only thing that could make it better were if it was a troll show, Dave. That's saying shit, too, you'd have to search far and wide for a compliment to your lame ass society you call humanity."
You roll your eyes, nudging his shoulder with yours. "Just play the thing already, Karkles."
He hisses at you and finds it in his overwhelmingly large collection of human and troll movies. "Here. Found it."
"Good now you click on it like that and you see the button that says play? Click on that."
"I know how to operate my own husktop!" he nudges you back with his shoulder harder than you did, and you complain as the episode loads. You try to talk when it starts, but he shushes you and mutters. "Just watch the fucking episode, Strider."
So you do. The two of watch episodes of F.R.I.E.N.D.S, your popcorn bowl slowly diminishing. Halfway through episode 7, you feel your eyes start to droop. You rest your head on Karkat's shoulder, tuning the movie out and dozing off.
When you first got on this meteor trip, you hated it. You hated the thought of being cooped up with your crazy annoying sister who, despite her good intents, always seemed to annoy you. You hated being stuck with two annoying, snarky trolls, a now ex, and a murderer. Not to mention Rose's girlfriend. You felt alone and scared and you still weren't over what happened to you, both in Sburb and within the walls of your own fucked up 'home.' Hell, you're sure you'll never be over it, but still...Sitting here, watching a stupid show with someone you were bound determined was trying to piss you off and make you snap every single time you saw him for the first few months makes a guy think.
And you've thought. You're certain now, that maybe this won't be the hell it's made out to be. You're not strong, you're a pathetic weak mess who doesn't want to accept the pity you know others will give. You're still only 14 but you feel so, so much older. Maybe, though, just maybe, you can become stronger by accepting this, and fighting back for once in your stupidly short life. Hell, you've already died a billion times over. You've seen friends die a billion times over, too.
So, as you doze off on the shoulder of a certain shouty and surprisingly cute troll, a small smile slips onto your lips and the world spins madly on.