Butters shook on his bed, holding himself. He knew he had done wrong - he forgot to put the milk away, and it was too late to go downstairs to fix it. He heard the car door outside slamming shut, and Butters knew it was over for him. His mom wasn't home, but even if she was, what difference would it make? She never cared, she always enabled Stephen. Butters was dead.
He heard his dad enter the house, and he could feel the anger before his father opened his mouth. Butters prayed to God for mercy, but he knew his relationship with God was strained. He closed his eyes, and tried to count to five. One, two…
The bark made his hair stand on end. Even if Butters wanted to move, he couldn't. He felt so tiny, folded up like paper on his bed. He squeezed his eyes shut, focusing on his breathing. It was going to be okay, Stephen would calm down soon. He tried to respond to his father, but he couldn't find his voice. Mistake.
He heard his father thud upstairs, and each step rattled in his ear drums. Butters’ door swung open, and Stephen stood at the door. His face was red, with a vein pulsing at his temple. It was something so stupid to get angry over, but Butters knew his father. Anger over the little things was the only thing Stephen Stotch was good at. Butters still could not speak.
“Speak when you're spoken to!” Stephen barked.
“I-- I-- yes, sir!” Butters managed to bumble out.
“Why is the milk out?”
Butters didn't have an answer - it just was. Stephen looked like a towering monster as he approached, and Butters burst into sobs. He shouldn't cry - that was a challenge to Stephen - but he couldn't stop.
“I-- I don't know,” he said. “I forgot to put it away. I'm sorry, Dad!”
“Sorry? Sorry isn't good enough!”
Stephen grabbed Butters by the wrist, hard enough that he thought it might snap. Butters was shaking in his grip, and his heart threatened to tear through his ribs. Don't move, go limp - but his body remained tense. This could not get any worse. Butters tried to close his eyes, but they refused to shut. All he could do was look at his father, whose face had twisted in anger.
Stephen pulled Butters from his bed and up on his feet. His legs threatened to give way under him, shaking under his weight. Stop crying , his brain begged, it just gets worse if you keep crying . Butters couldn't stop, and Stephen grew angrier. He raised his fist, and Butters felt the world stop. He closed his eyes and braced himself for impact.
When he opened his eyes, he was lying in darkness. His heart was cracking his ribs as it struggled to break free, his lungs fighting to take in just one breath. Butters gripped the fabric over his heart, grabbing his shirt in bunches. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to calm himself, but he felt tears prickle at the corner of his eyes.
Butters couldn't help himself. He let out a quiet, choked sob, curling in on himself. His body trembled, clutching his pillow. Calm down , he begged himself, just calm down.
A light clicked on beside him, and he opened an eye. He looked over, and Stan was there, frowning.
“I'm-- I'm sorry,” Butters whispered. “I didn't mean to wake you up.”
“I was already awake,” Stan said, though he knew that was a lie. “You okay?”
Normally, Butters would nod and roll over, instead sobbing quietly into a pillow. This time, he really needed the gentle touch. He shook his head, sniffling. Stan opened his arms, and Butters immediately crawled into his arms.
Stan smoothed his hair down, humming to soothe him. Though Butters was taller, he shuffled himself to bury his face in Stan's chest - he felt so small and so safe. Stan sighed and leaned his chin on the stop of Butters’ head.
“Do you wanna talk about it?” Stan asked.
Not really, no. It didn't do Butters any good to keep it all in, but it was too hard to talk about. He had promised his therapist he would open up more, and what better than to talk to Stan? He took a deep breath and closed his eyes again. He was shaking in Stan's arms, but he would soon calm down.
“My dad again,” Butters said.
Stan held him just a little tighter, enough to remind Butters he was here. Like he could forget. It had been years since he escaped his father, yet the nightmares didn't stop, no matter how long it had been. Time healed all wounds, but it felt like this one would never heal over.
“Your dad is an asshole, and you don't have to talk to him ever again,” Stan said.
Butters sighed, relieved. He knew he would never have to speak to Stephen again, but the reminder helped. Butters hadn't spoken to him since he was eighteen, the age Stephen decided Butters was a fully mature adult, able to navigate through life alone.
He wasn't. Even now, as he sobbed into Stan's arms, he still didn't feel like an adult.
It gave Butters an out from his family, and he took it with both hands. Now he was living his own life with Stan, and he was happy. Sometimes, he wished he could shove that in Stephen's face.
“Thank you,” Butters said. “I'm real sorry about waking you up, Stan. I didn't mean to.”
Stan shushed him, holding his head closer. “I don't care. I'd rather be awake to help.”
That was almost enough to set Butters off into tears again. He inhaled slowly, shuddering. Stan kissed the top of his head, his lips lingering. He rubbed Butters’ back in circles, and he could feel his body start to relax. Stan's heartbeat was a perfect metronome to Butters, and it gave him something to focus on.
“I appreciate it. Thanks, Stan.”
Butters was scared to go back to sleep, just in case he returned to the nightmare. But his body had other plans. Snuggled comfortably in Stan's arms, Butters drifted off into a much better sleep. This time, Stephen was not there.