You were tired of being timid.
Sweets told you it was nothing to be ashamed of - you weren’t the only one with a pale-green sweater in the shelter, after all - and that nobody was judging you on your color. That, of course, was a lie - everybody judged everybody else on their color. It was a way of knowing who to hang out with, and who to avoid. If you were Active, you wanted to be with the Brave or the Adventurous in order to climb the plastic replica of Mt. Ebott (complete with hidden tunnels and a twisty-turny slide painted like a waterfall). If you were a Clever, you hung out with the Curious to read books or play with the Reader-sized chess pieces (which took two Readers to push into place, but toppling the opposing sides pieces was so satisfying when you had to bodycheck it into submission).
And if you were a Timid...you hung out with yourself.
There was a stigma that hung around those clad in pale green. Timid Readers were rarely adopted, and it was thought that those who hung out around Timids would lose their chance to be adopted as well. Most didn’t avoid you to be mean, it was just...the way it was. You’d been here three months, and the only friend you’d made was Sweets.
Sweets was a compassionate Reader who had decided to stay at the shelter after her former owner, an elderly therapist, had passed away. She was young enough that the death of her Monster didn’t kill her, and with several years of being a therapy companion under her belt she managed to help in ways the shelter owner and others couldn’t. And since she didn’t want to be adopted, she wasn’t scared to hang out with you and your pale-green sweater.
In fact, Sweets was the only reason you were out of the yellow house today. It was the first Saturday of the month, meaning Adoption Day had arrived, and the shelter was swarming with curious monsters looking for the perfect companion. For the past two months you’d sheltered inside the various doll houses or in one of the plastic caves in the mountain whenever there were monsters about, but today you’d been stupid and made a promise . A promise to not hide inside while the monsters were there.
So you were huddled against the eighteen-inch wall that seperated the Pen from the rest of the shelter. The Pen was a fenced-off area of the shelter, taking up a whole third of the room to the left of the main door. It was filled with anything a Reader could want - several fully-furnished dollhouses, the plastic mountain, a closed little building full of showers and baths, a whole crate full of clothes, half-a-library of books stacked haphazardly on a long row of shelves, Reader-sized tables with pencils, papers, and art supplies, and enough pillows, blankets, and oversized stuffed animals to cure even the worst case of insomnia.
You’d chosen to curl up against the wall and observe your fellow Readers with your back to the larger part of the shelter, which was thriving with Monsters. It kept your promise to Sweets, but also kept you out of sight - the only way a Monster would see you was if they stood right at the wall and bent over, or if they stepped into the Pen itself. Sweets had caught your eye a few times, and while she didn't seem too happy about your clever hiding spot, she didn't say anything about it, just gave you a smile and rushed to help the next Reader find a forever home.
You picked at your stupid pale-green sweater and thought about mint leaves and baby fiddleheads and DOS screens and all the brighter, deeper shades of green that existed in the world. Some of those shades rushed by you in a tizzy, alongside all the colors in the rainbow that adorned every size of Reader, from charcoal-gray to palest yellow. A new wave of monsters had rushed in, coinciding with the 5 o'clock rush passing on the road outside of the shelter. Readers eager for a forever home moved to greet them, gathering around several ladders that led to the top of the wall. The wall itself was five inches thick across the top, giving the eager bitties plenty of room to sit or stand and talk with their prospective Monsters.
The door to the shelter burst open, a cacophony of bells announcing the arrival of someone who let out a loud, excited “MYEH-HEH-HEH!” as they trampled into the room. You flinched and scrunched farther against the wall, wrapping your arms around your knees, which you drew to your chest. Loud, sudden noises always made you jump. Sweets said you had ‘PTSD’ or something like that, from when you were formed. Unlike the majority of Readers, you’d had the misfortune of being born in the middle of a battlefield.
Not a real battlefield, of course - there were no battles on the mountain. No, you’d had the luck of being formed in the middle of mock skirmish being held by the Royal Guard, between the Tale and the Fell guards who had grown bored with no humans to hunt or lawbreakers to punish. The two sides had been going all out after months of stagnant patrols and routine paperwork, and only a handful had noticed the little swirl of magic and flash of light that heralded your birth.
You were lucky Readers were born fully physically developed, or there was no way you’d have survived. Despite being a bit dazed and trying to figure out how much air to pull in for a breath, you’d managed to scramble out of the way of a boot, and avoid the sharp end of a spear. Above the din of slurs and insults, someone had started yelling ‘STOP!’ and ‘CIVVY ON THE FIELD!’ but that had barely slowed the thundering feet around you. You tossed yourself to the side for the second time and spotted your salvation: a potted fern, sitting on a concrete porch at the end of the field. Beyond it was a building that exceeded the definition of ‘ginormous,’ filled with spectators. The path to the plant was clear, though, and without wasting a second to doubt you rushed towards it.
The frantic activity on the field began to calm as a monster wearing a red scarf began yelling about someone being in danger, soon accompanied by another tall monster wearing a similar scarf, only more tattered. You could feel eyes on you as the battle slowed, then stopped, from both the guards and the spectators but you didn’t care. All you cared about was the safety of the small space between the potted fern and the wall. A monster in white fur wearing a cape moved across the patio towards you, but you managed to scramble up on the concrete slab and dive behind the pot before his large mitts snatched you up.
The plant was set in a corner, where part of the more-than-ginormous building jutted out, creating a cozy cover for you to crouch in. Crouch you did, doubled over and clutching your hands to your chest, trying desperately to pull air into your brand new lungs. Screeching and screaming voices from the battlefield rolled over you like a wave, amplified by the concrete walls and terracotta pot, making you whine as your eardrums ached.
A new, booming voice flowed over the screams, leaving a deafening silence in its wake. Softer voices picked up, and the ground shook as the spectators began to leave the patio, alongside the warriors who had been fighting. You tipped back to sit against the wall, the concrete cold against your bare skin. In the panic before you hadn’t noticed, but at the moment you weren’t wearing a single scrap of clothing. The sudden realization almost had you giggling.
You’d just streaked across an active battlefield.
The giggles were quick to dissolve into soft, hiccuping sobs as feelings - new, terrifying, alien feelings - rushed over you, reminding you that you had just barely survived being stomped, skewered, and snatched. Fear, relief, terror, vertigo, unease, and confusion shoved its way into your SOUL, fighting for supremacy as you tried to gather your scattered thoughts. Darkness filtered over your little corner but you barely noticed it, too distracted in trying to keep your psyche from shattering. It vanished, and was replaced by pink.
Pink hair, pink eyes, pink sweater, pink cheeks, pink tennis shoes with hearts doodled on the white rubber toes - pink. Just...just pink. Pink made a disapproving cluck with her tongue and wrapped you in a large, fluffy bit of (thankfully not pink) fabric. She patted your head, rested her hands on your cheeks, and squished your face a bit, talking quickly to someone you couldn’t see about your STATs, whatever that was. You closed your eyes and listened to Pink’s rambling, and felt her hand began to stroke your hair back, the touch gentle and soothing.
That had been your first meeting with Pink, the first of many. After nearly an hour of soothing you and petting your hair and adjusting the not-pink fabric that was your only source of warmth she’d coaxed you from behind the plant and into the hands of a gray monster with antlers. Then you’d been swept away to the shelter, bathed and given a fuzzy sweater that turned a minty-green as soon as you’d touched it.
It wasn’t long after you arrived that you were spooked by your first monster - the owner of the shelter, who had stepped too close and sent you in a blind panic that had you running face-first into a wall and knocking yourself out for a solid five minutes. Sweets began talking with you after that, bringing you to her ‘office’ in the Yellow House (a yellow dollhouse with Victorian furniture that was surprisingly comfortable) and discussing your thoughts and feelings on Monsters. After a few weeks of nightmares, another handful of embarrassing (and sometimes painful) meetings with other Monsters, and two panic attacks that had you shut down completely for nearly an hour, Sweets declared you the lucky owner of a case of PTSD.
A timid Reader with PTSD. You were un-adoptable.
This led to your current predicament, three months later. Sweets had slowly prodded you to hang out around Monsters more, and had managed to extract a promise from you to sit in the Pen today, out of cover of the deepest cave in the plastic Mt. Ebott. So you sat against the wall, out of sight of the Monsters, and listened to the new comer with the ‘MYEH-HEH-HEH’ laugh bounce around the main room.
“Hello, shelter owner! I am seeking a companion!”
“Ah, I see my amazing endeavours have spread my name far and wide! Indeed, I am the Magnificent Sans!”
“...Yeah, sure, let’s go with that. You’re here to adopt?”
“Yes! I am in need of a magnificent companion!”
“Well if you’ll come with me we can take a look at the paperwork…”
The voices faded off, and conversation between other adopters and adoptees picked back up. You rested your head against the wall and blocked out the mindless chatter, imagining a cool, dark room with a comfy bed and the sound of rain hitting the roof. You just had to meditate until six, and the shelter would close and the monsters would be gone.
Thunder interrupted your mental rain as the Chatty-Cathy Monster returned, still talking in a too-loud voice about how excited he was. The shelter owner was gently coaching him to use a soft voice and a calmer demeanor, and it seemed to be working a little. The monster dropped his voice to a tolerable level as they came up to the Pen wall. Several curious Readers climbed onto the wall, whispering to each other as they moved to meet the new monster.
“Where do I step in?”
“Oh, Monster’s aren’t allowed in the Pen, sorry,” the owner apologized. “We have some Reader’s who are afraid of Monsters, or who don’t want to be adopted, and they stay in the Pen where it’s safe for them. The Reader’s who want to be adopted are up here, on the wall. Take a look, talk for awhile - but keep your voice down! - and let me know if you gentlemen click with any of them.”
“Sure thing, toots.”
“Excuse my brother’s rudeness, Miss Hart!”
“Sure thing, Mr. Sa - er, Bllue. Let me know if you need anything.”
So the loud Monster had a brother? Good for him. A set of bouncy steps moved farther down the wall, to the front of the store, where the ladder was set up and most of the Reader’s were congregated. The loud Monster began talking to them in a still-slightly-too-loud voice. You went back to imagining rain on rooftops, until something scraped against the wall above you.
Slowly, like a cornered protagonist in a bad horror movie, you tilted your head back to look up. You were spared any alien goop or fake blood, thank goodness. Instead, a Monster was staring down at your curiously. He (she? How could you tell with skeletons?) had a long face, lantern jaw, and rounded cheekbones. His (if this was the ‘brother’ then it was a he, right?) eyes were long, dark ovals set deep in his skull, and magic had dyed the bone beneath them, giving him a tired air. Despite not having pupils or irises, you knew he was looking at you. He rolled something in his mouth, and you realized a sucker stick was protruding from his teeth.
“Sorry kid, didn’t mean to scare you.” He apologized, shifting his arms to cross beneath his skull. He rested his chin on his forearms and tilted his head so he was watching the loud Monsters further down the wall.
Amazingly, you didn’t mind. The skeleton had acknowledged you (even apologized) and then proceeded to ignore your existence. The panic that had begun to edge its way into your SOUL slowly leaked away, and you dropped your chin to your chest with a silent sigh, trying to call back the room with rain. You just had it in your grasp, down to the stripes on your bedspread (every color except pale green), when screaming once again interrupted. It wasn’t a Monster this time, though - it was a Reader.
Specifically an Adventurous Reader, who had grown bored of climbing the fake Mt. Ebott and had decided to try his hand at scaling the side of the Yellow House freestyle, without any ways to keep him from slipping. He’d made it to the top before losing his footing, and was now dangling from the plastic rain gutter nearly five feet off the ground. If he fell it most likely wouldn’t kill him (Reader’s were oddly durable), but he would definitely break a few limbs and be in pain for weeks, if not months.
A blur of white and blue leapt over the wall further down and rushed across the Pen, placing his feet delicately but swiftly between the milling Readers. Without harming a single hair on any of their heads, he landed before the house (which was nearly as tall as he was) and reached up with flat palms to offer the Adventurer a place to stand. Face the definition of relief, the Reader dropped down and fell to his knees on the boney palms. You clutched your chest, startled by the sudden appearance, but he was far enough away that you didn’t start panicking.
“Are you alright, tiny Reader?” Mr. Blue asked, examining the Reader closely. The Reader weakly lifted an arm and gave a thumbs up, still trying to get his bearings after the scare. Slowly, Mr. Blue knelt and set his hands on the ground, allowing the Adventurer to slide off and stumble into the arms of a worried Compassionate, who helped him over to a cushion to sit.
“Mr. Blue,” the shelter owner had heard the commotion and swept over. The skeleton tensed, slowly turning his head and giving her a pleading look, eyes wide and pupils blown into star-shapes.
“Miss Hart, I am so, so, so sorry , I didn’t mean to break the rules…” He trailed off, and you could see the deer farther down the wall, holding her hand out to stop the small skeletons rambling.
“Mr. Blue,” she began again, “please make sure you do not sit or step on any of the Reader’s while you are in there. And don’t pick any of them up unless they ask.” She gave him a stern look, then turned and began attending to the remaining Monsters. After a moment, Mr. Blue fell back on his rear, a wide grin splitting his face. Within seconds he was swarmed with curious, grateful Readers, thanking him for saving one of their own and inquiring about himself.
Above you, the long-faced skeleton chuckled, and you tilted your head back ever-so-slightly to peek at him. “Heh,” he caught your eye and gave you a wink, “Isn’t my brother the coolest?” You glanced back down, blushing, and he chuckled again and went back to admiring his brother. It made sense, though - for him to be sitting with his chin and arms on the wall comfortably, he had to be pretty short, just like his brother.
The last half-hour of Adoption Day slowly wound down, Monsters leaving the store alongside new companions, while Readers were swept away into their new lives. Mr. Blue, surrounded by his adoring new entourage, chatted happily about everything under the sun with his audience. A pair of lazy Reader’s had actually gathered the strength to climb up his shirt and were sleeping in his bandana, well a plethora of active and excitable Readers were perched on his shoulders, knees, legs, and lap, all listening and adding their own two cents whenever possible. The Adventurous Reader he had saved was sitting in one of his hands, talking animatedly and waving his hands around like a madman, re-creating his harrowing experience and unexpected savior.
The skeleton above you, meanwhile, had fallen asleep and was snoring softly past his sucker stick. You were glad he didn’t drool - a sticky-sucker-spit-shower was the last thing you needed right now. You ignored his soft huffs in favor of watching the clock hung above the Pen slowly tick its way up to six. Five minutes. Four. Three. Two. One.
Six little chirps rung out as the shelter owner shooed the last of the non-skeletal Monsters out of the building. She let out a huff, and you could imagine the stack of paperwork she had balanced on her desk, waiting to be filled, filed, and forgotten. Everyone was always worn out after adoption day - it would be an easy dinner and an early night for many, you included.
“Mr. Blue.” Rivet had approached the Pen wall, and when you tilted your head up you could see her watching the skeleton with a fond yet exasperated expression, “I’m afraid the shelter is closed now.”
The Reader-covered skeleton carefully turned his head and gave her the undead version of puppy dog eyes. “But - But I haven’t chosen a Reader yet!”
“I’m sorry Mr. Blue, but I need to close up and get dinner served. You’re welcome to come back tomorrow and talk with them more.” She gave him a bright smile. “In fact, you’re welcome back any day - it seems most of them are really taken with you!”
Mr. Blue glanced down at the Reader’s covering him with a grin, a slight blue coloring his cheeks pale blue. Those on his legs beamed back before jumping to the ground, helping each other down before heading off to let the others know it was dinner time. Blue gently helped those on his shoulder down, and reluctantly woke the two Lazy’s sleeping in his scarf. The stretched and groaned and with a delighted expression, Blue compared them to his brother. Above you, the long-faced skeleton let go of an amused huff, opening one socket to watch as his brother sent the two sleepy Reader’s off with a little pat to their heads.
“Hey bro, did you meet this one yet?”
Just like that the day came crashing down. The brother was pointing down at you with one of his long fingers, a calm smile on his teeth. Mr. Blue turned his big eyes on you, curiosity lighting his face like a bonfire, and all at once your heart seized and decided it didn’t really need to work. Your lungs, sensing this, went on strike as well, and for what felt like an eternity you couldn’t breath. All you could see were his large sockets filled with curious blue lights, those same lights a shade close to the spear that had nearly impaled you when you were first born, and there was dirt in the air and people were screaming as footsteps shook the Earth beneath you and then
There was pink.
You choked a bit as air forced its way into your lungs, forcing them to expand and making you cringe in pain. Sweets was talking to you, chanting something in a low, soothing voice that sounded reassuring, even though you couldn’t make out the words. The two of you were walking somewhere - when had you gotten to your feet? - and the skeletons were nowhere in sight. Still muttering ‘It’s okay’ and ‘You’re safe’ right in your ear, Sweets led you into the Yellow House, to one of the bedrooms in the back. It was empty, and you faintly heard the music of utensils hitting plates as dinner was passed out in the Pen.
You were settled onto the bed and handed a glass of water. Sweets sat with you until your chest finished aching, and when you refused dinner she left a plate with some toast on it by your bed anyway and helped you wiggle under the covers. It took you feigning sleep for half an hour before the mother hen left, muttering angrily to herself about not paying attention and pushy skeletons who didn’t read the sweater pamphlets.
Eyes trained on the ceiling, you thought of the blue-eyed Mr. Blue, and the way the other Readers gravitated towards him, and how he was nothing but sweet and gentle and friendly. You thought of how happy all the others were in his presence - and how it was his mere presence that had set you off on yet another beautiful panic attack. With a groan you rolled over, pulling the extra pillow over your head to block out the sound of your own mind replaying the afternoon over and over, making one thing clear.
You were tired of being timid.