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Little Red

Chapter Text

 

He had to drive a good four hours to get to the nearest bitty store. He was just glad he lived close to a major city- he woulda been fucked if he’d lived more than five or six hours away. His patience wasn’t that long, he probably would have just gotten a cat or something.

Stan had told him multiple times that he should just spend a little bit of their savings and stay the night, but he’d shrugged his brother off as usual. Eight hours wasn’t bad, he’d thought. He’d lost plenty of night’s sleeps before, so this wasn’t much different. But, no, as it turned out, spending that many hours in a car was absolutely awful.

Rus made it to the city as tired as one could possibly be. As always, Stan had been right- he should have just brought enough money to snag a hotel for the night, but he hadn’t so now he had no choice.

Finding parking was shit. On his five block walk to the actual store he felt his spirits lift- he couldn’t deny he was excited as hell to get a pet. He’d been saving up for a bitty for months now, but the cheapest of the little shits were still over five hundred bucks. His brother had supported him fully, of course, like he always did. He’d even pitched in a little, despite all of Rus’s protests. His brother worked himself to the bone, gave all he had in everything he did. He’d said a bitty would be a good choice, if he got the right kind.

As his leisurely stroll brought him closer to the store, Rus found himself lost in thought. What kind would he get? He’d done a lot of research, all the stuff for the little guy was safe back in their apartment, but he had no idea what kind to get. He did like the prospect of the Edge’s, so tiny and filled with sass and anger. But did he really want to put up with that? He could go with something like a Sansy and get none of the anger but all of the sass, as well as some sick jokes from what he’d heard. But there were also the Papyrus’s, too. He could get a Papy, or a Boss, or a Lil Bro, or-

His ramblings brought him directly in front of the bitty store. It wasn’t big by any means, but then again, the things it sold rarely got taller than five or six inches, so it didn’t have to be. It was nestled between a coffee shop and what looked like a law firm. The front windows were clean and inviting, with pictures of some people and their bitties hanging inside. Russell smiled and hurried in, ducking his head because of his massive height.

The inside was just as nice as the outside. One of the walls was lined with supplies and cute little mini things, while the other had tanks filled with, well, bitties. There were a few of the little open enclosures pet stores had sometimes, but there were signs all over them that bitties were not to be picked up and children should be kept away at all times. That was a plus, at least.

“Hello! Welcome to Little Things. What can I help you with today?” the employee behind the counter asked, bustling over to Rus and giving him an enormous smile.

“I’m here to adopt, actually,” Rus said, looking over the guy’s head at all the tanks with bitties. Some were staring back at him, equally as intrigued.

“Absolutely!” the guy said, walking closer to the tanks and gesturing to them. “Did you have a particular bitty in mind?”

“Mm, nah, not really. Mind if I just look around for now?”

He straightened. “Of course! I’ll be behind the counter, if you have any questions or want to take one out just let me know,” he said, giving Rus another big grin. He scurried off and Rus was left alone, staring into the glass walls of the tanks to look at the bitties inside.

There sure were a lot of them looking at him. The nearest was an enclosure full of Papyrus-type bitties. Rus walked closer and leaned down to look. A Papy was staring up at him in wonder. It waved, and Rus couldn’t help but smile and wave back. God this was gonna be hard, they were all so tiny and cute. A Boss in the same tank shot him a look and he quickly moved on. Maybe not a Boss- he was kind of intimidating.

The bitties were all much the same. A Baby Blue came forward and jumped against the glass and waved while an Edge stood beside him with his arms crossed, eyeing Rus like he’d bomb the place.

“Hi!” the little pipsqueak of a bitty chirped, pressing his face to the glass. Baby Blue’s were a little too energetic for Rus, as far as he had read, but he knelt down closer to face level with the little thing and grinned.

“Heya, little dude.”

Baby Blue grinned, stars forming in his big ol eyes. “You’re so tall! Are you here to take somebody home?”

Rus smiled. He kind of reminded the human of his brother- short, round, and energetic to a fault.

“I might be. You got a sales pitch?”

The Baby Blue tilted his head. The angry little runt beside him groaned and turned away.

“C’mon, Blue, he wants to know why he should pick you,” the other explained. God their jackets were so small, this guy’s even had little tiny spikes on it.

The bitty clapped his hands together and looked back to Rus. “Oh! Well, I think you should pick whoever you like the most. Besides, I don’t want to get picked- then my friend would be lonely,” he said, reaching over and grabbing the other Sans bitty’s jacket. Rus’s heart melted even as the angry little thing screeched in indignity and shoved the little blue one away.

“Aww. Well, I can only afford one today, so I won’t pick either of you,” Rus said with another little grin. Baby Blue seemed surprised for a moment before he nodded and waved as the human began to walk away.

Rus continued to peruse the bitties. None of them seemed as eager to talk as the little Baby Blue had been, but he got some waves.

Once he was done looking at all the little guys in the tanks, he moved to the set ups in the middle of the store. One had an assortment of the much more exclusive (and expensive) non-skeleton bitties. A little Grillby bitty looked up at him. God he was a cutie- too bad Rus didn’t have the money for an exotic bitty. A Muffet gave him a wave with three of her hands as he gave them a parting “goodbye” and went to the next little open-topped enclosure.

He walked through, looking at all of his options, until he got to the back of the store. There was one little enclosure that was smaller than the rest- and it looked unoccupied. Rus hummed as he got closer and took a look. There was a little half-house thing in the pen, something that the others didn’t have. He leaned down and peeked inside, and sure enough, a little bitty was curled up in the farthest corner, back turned. Rus frowned. He heard delicate little sobs coming from the tiny dude.

“Ah, I’m sorry-” the store employee came around and stood beside the taller human, staring into the empty-looking enclosure. “You might not want this little guy…”

“Is he okay?” Rus asked. The sobbing quieted as they spoke.

“He’s, ah… he’s fine,” the employee said. “He gets overwhelmed by the others, so he stays on his own.”

Russell looked back into the little bitty house, but the tiny thing inside was turned away and curled up as tight as he could get. His frown deepened.

“Can I see him?”

The employee looked surprised. “You… want to hold him?”

“Yeah, if that’s okay.”

The kid seemed shocked, but he shook himself and reached forward into the house with only a moment’s pause. The sobbing escalated into hysterics. The guy shot Rus an apologetic look as he leaned down and began to coo.

“Shh, shh, it’s okay Red- somebody wants to see you, that’s all, don’t cry,” he said softly. Rus’s heart softened, and he was about to say it was okay, to leave the poor little guy in the house, but then the employee's hands were being pulled out, something unbelievably tiny clutched safely between them.

“Here- hold out your hands, not too high above the bedding, in case he gets spooked,” the guy instructed, and Rus complied immediately.

“Does he bite?”

“No no, he won’t bite, I promise. He’s, uh… he’s a little on the rough side, just make sure you don’t drop him,” the guy said as he laid his hand on top of Russell’s and gently, very gently deposited the little bitty into his upturned palms.

Rus wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but when the dude’s hands came away and he saw the little guy’s face, he nearly did drop the thing.

He was incredibly small- the smallest one he’d seen here, by far. But that wasn’t the awful part- his face was… oh jeez.

The little bitty stared up at the human, big red tears running down his face. The right side of his skull was fine, but the left…

A large, unsightly crack ran down his left eye socket. The socket- somehow, he had no idea how- had become deformed and droopy. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that the eyelight in the socket was enormous- bulgy, almost, like one of those black goldfish. It was ugly and kind of gross, if Rus was being honest.

“What the hell happened to him?” he asked immediately. The tiny thing weighed next to nothing, but warmed his palms. It hiccuped and pulled its hood up, good eye staring at Rus’s palms.

“He’s a rescue,” the employee explained softly. “His first owner was… not kind to him. We don’t know exactly what happened to his eye socket. He’s been back and forth for a good three years now… nobody that adopts him ever wants to keep him.”

Rus stared down at the bitty. It looked terrified, shaking like a leaf in his palms, large eye staring at nothing while the other unharmed one looked at anything that wasn’t Rus’s face. His jacket was long, a couple sizes too large by the looks of it, and his shorts were pulled up way too high. His hands were tucked in the front. Rus made a face.

“Is he, uh…?”

“Ah, no no, sorry- its for comfort. He always does that,” the guy said, reaching down and touching the unharmed side of the little dude’s skull.

“Is he a Cherry?”

“We don’t know. He could be an Edge or a Cherry. We, uh, we think he suffered considerable head trauma when he got hurt,” the guy explained softly, rubbing the side of the bitty’s skull for comfort. It seemed to help calm him down, but he was still shaking. It made Rus nervous- he didn’t want to drop the little dude.

“So what’s his name?”

“We call him Red.”

Rus nodded. He didn’t like looking at the little guys face for too long, god it was ugly, but he felt so bad for the thing.

He hesitantly shifted the little guy to one of his palms, where he easily fit, and brought his other up to replace the store employee’s. The bitty flinched at first, but he just rubbed the skull the same way the other guy had done, and eventually he seemed to relax.

“Don’t worry lil’ dude, I won’t hurt ya,” Rus said softly. “You’re pretty tiny, huh?”

Red looked up at him but didn’t say anything. He kept looking away, even going so far to to take his hands from his shorts and cover the wounded side of his face.

“Aww…” Rus breathed.

“... I think he likes you,” the guy said, warmly looking at the little dude. “He’s had it so hard- people keep bringing him back, they buy him out of pity but then come back for an exchange when they realize he isn’t like the other bitties.”

“That’s fuckin’ awful,” Rus said immediately, still rubbing the little guy’s skull. “How much is he?”

“Fifty dollars.”

Rus jerked his head up to look at the dude. “Wait… seriously?”

The clerk scratched his chin. “Don’t buy him just for the discount! Legally we’re not allowed to sell a rescue for anything over seventy five, but he’s just as much work as any other bitty. More, maybe.”

“So he’s only fifty bucks?” Rus asked, bringing the bitty closer to him. Once he got past the ugly little face, the thing was kind of cute… like a hairless cat. A little unconventional, but good nonetheless.

“He is. You’ll have to sign some papers, though- he isn’t allowed near children or other potentially dangerous housepets.”

Rus looked down at the little guy. His eyes were closed as he leaned gently into the touch of his finger.

“I’ll take him.”

Chapter Text

 

An hour of paperwork later, Russell stood with the little guy clutched in a take-home box. The store employee handed him a card and a little bag of things.

Rus said his goodbyes to the helpful guy. He seemed nervous yet apprehensive- and Rus could understand why. Who could say he wouldn’t bring the little guy back to the store, too? He kept the box with the bitty clutched tight to his chest as he walked back to his car. It was dark and cold out, so he hurried, just in case the little thing got chilly. He’d been given a little tiny water bottle and some food to eat on the way home, but Rus didn’t want him to get upset again.

He made it to his car without incident and quickly got in and turned the heat on. He wished he could take the bitty out of his box for the car ride home, but he had a feeling that wouldn’t go over well. He sat it on the car seat beside him and buckled it in before opening the top and peering down into it.

Red was huddled in the corner, still shaking, still looking absolutely terrified. He jerked his head up when he saw Rus looking down at him.

“Shh, it’s alright, don’t be scared. I’m just checking to make sure you’re okay. It’s a pretty long ride home, little dude, will you be okay?”

Red nodded before Rus was even finished speaking. The human frowned, but reached into the bag of things the employee had given him and drew out a little blanket.

“Here you go- in case you get cold. I’ll leave the top of the box open, alright? If you need anything just holler.”

The bitty didn’t do anything. His good eye darted up to look at Rus for a fraction of a second before he sunk further against the sides and looked away, pulling his hood up and hiding his face.

Rus made a quiet noise. He wondered what exactly he’d managed to get himself into.

 

The ride home was uneventful. Aside from the occasional quiet sniffle, Red didn’t speak a word. Rus pulled over every hour to check in on him and give him a five or ten minute break, in case the car ride scared him.

It gave him time to text his brother. Stan had promised to stay up until Rus got home, and he didn’t doubt his brother would do just that- or at least try to. He took the time to warn his bro about Red being a little… sensitive. And about his face, in case Stan was surprised like Rus had been and said something that would make Red upset.

The four hours gave him plenty of time to think about his decision. He did a lot of questioning, for sure. It was a nice idea, to give this little guy a good home when he’d been through so many bad ones, but was it really worth it? He could have gotten a perfectly healthy bitty like he’d originally intended… how fucked up was Red? He had no way of knowing.

He sighed. Well, in any case, if it didn’t work out he’d just take the little guy back like all the people before him. Stan seemed on board with it- excited that they’d be taking in a rescue. It gave them brownie points with the universe, at least.

When he finally, finally got home, he was hungry and exhausted. Going Friday night after work might not have been the best idea- it was past midnight by the time he walked back into the apartment, Red’s box in hand.

“Bro, I’m home,” he called as he kicked off his shoes. There was a groan of confirmation and before he could do more than make it to the little kitchen area to set the box down, his brother was emerging from the living room.

“How was the trip?” Stan asked, wiping his eyes. Rus smiled.

“Pretty alright. Thought you were gonna stay up till I got home?”

“I did! I was just resting my eyes for a bit.”

Rus chuckled. His brother was dressed in a blue tank top and black sweatpants, his little messy mohawk even more messy than it usually was. He yawned as he came over and inspected Red’s box, curiosity sparking in his eyes.

Rus went over and opened it up. Red was still inside, in the same place he was when he was placed in the thing. He glanced up at Rus for a moment before he began shaking with renewed vigor. Rus sighed but gently scooped him up, grabbing the blanket too and letting him hug it for comfort.

Red looked ready to pass out. He buried his face into Russell’s palm and before either could do anything he began crying again.

Stan looked up at Rus with sadness in his eyes before he gestured to the bitty, the universal sign of ‘do something.’

Rus kept his hands only a couple inches above the counter as he once again shifted the bitty to his one hand and rubbed his skull with the other.

“Hey now, it’s alright, bud.”

Red sobbed and pressed himself even further into Rus’s fingers, grabbing so tight it was painful. Rus looked at Stan, but his brother was already moving to take the bitty out of his hands.

“Shh shhh, it’s okay little guy,” Stan cooed. Rus moved the bitty to his brother’s hands. Stan was definitely the more comforting of the two- physically as well. He was short and chubby, where Rus was enormous and lanky. Stan brought the bitty against his chest and rocked him gently. “You’re okay. You can cry if you need to. We won’t hurt you.”

Rus went about getting the things he’d gotten from the store ready. He’d decided before ever going to the store that he’d set the bitty up in the living room- where the brother’s spent a majority of their time. He heard Stan continue to talk to Red as he got things ready.

“It’s alright, it’s okay,” he cooed gently. “We just have to get your things ready, then you can relax.” Rus walked back into the kitchen to see the bitty grabbing at his brother’s tank top, finally calming down. “You’re fine, see? It’s all good,” Stan said gently, rubbing the little thing’s back. He looked up at Rus and grimaced. Maybe he was starting to question the whole ‘rescue’ thing, too.

The two brother’s got the bitty situated in his house, setting him down on the big, fluffy pillow that doubled as a bed for the little guy. He curled up, still sniffling, but he was no longer in hysterics as he looked up at the two of them for just a second before averting his gaze and curling up tighter.

“There you go, little guy,” Rus said, reaching out and rubbing his skull. It was so tiny- he could probably crush it between two of his fingers, if he wanted to. He pushed the morbid thought away and continued rubbing the bitty. “You just relax for now, okay? I know it must be hard, but you just take your time and chill out, yeah?”

“I’m Stan, and this is Rus,” Stan introduced them, and Red looked up just long enough to see him point in turn. “We’re gonna look after you, okay? So if you need anything, just let us know.”

Red sniffled and pressed his face into the pillow. Rus grimaced at the thought of that nasty bulgy eye rubbing on the fabric, but he said nothing.

The two left Red to calm down. Rus chewed his lip, wondering if he’d made the right choice. Stan seemed worried as well. He beckoned his brother into his bedroom and closed the door behind him.

It wasn’t hard to tell when Stan was upset. He was as easy to read as a book- always had been. He threw himself onto his bed- which was covered in a space-themed comforter, and stared aimlessly at the wall.

“So… what d’ya think?” Rus asked, taking his usual seat on the edge. “I told you he was a little rough.”

“A little?” Stan asked, sitting up again and taking a seat next to his brother. He rubbed his eyes. “That poor thing…”

“Yeah… heard his first owner wasn’t nice.”

“He had to have been abused. There’s no other explanation for how he acts… could head trauma really make him like that?” Stan asked.

“I don’t know, bro. Maybe. We’d have to look into it,” Rus said, kicking his legs out and falling back on the bed. Stan followed suit with a sigh.

“Poor guy… he’s so scared. I wish there was more we could do.”

“I’m sure he’ll get better with time… he’s just stressed from changing homes, I bet.”

Stan made a soft noise of agreement. He yawned, and both seemed to remember that it was late and they had a Saturday of bitty-handling ahead of them.

Stan was the first to sit up, reaching around and under his shirt to undo his binder.

“C’mon, bro, you need to order a new one,” Rus said, leaning forward and giving him a hand when he couldn’t quite unclasp it. “You’ve had this one forever. I’ve read they aren’t great for you.”

“I’ll get to it one of these days…” he said, pulling it out from under his shirt.

“How long have you had it on today?” Rus asked. When his brother’s answer wasn’t immediate, he sat up and poked his side. “Stan…”

“I know, I know- too long. Since I left this morning.”

Stan. That’s more than twelve hours.”

He blushed. “I know! I just… it makes me feel better, is all.” He turned and gave his brother an apologetic look, round face scrunched up in a sort of grimace that said “I did something I shouldn’t have but at least I’m sorry about it.”

“It isn’t good for you… just don’t do it again if you can, aight?”

“I won’t, I promise,” he said. He yawned, and this time Rus did too.

They sat there for a bit longer, just relaxing, enjoying the quiet. Rus day dreamed of ways to save up the daunting amount of money it would take to get Stan top surgery. He also thought about Red, and how great it was that he’d been cheap, because it meant more money could go towards things they needed.

He hauled himself to his feet before he passed out on his brother’s bed. “I’ll go check on Red, you get some sleep,” he said, reaching over and ruffling Stan’s short hair.

Stan pushed his hands away with a smile. “Stop that- only the older brother’s get to ruffle hair.”

“Says who?”

“The law.”

Russel snickered. “You’re a dingus. And I’m still gonna mess up your mohawk every chance I get.”

“Just because your hair is a sloppy mess doesn’t mean everybody else’s has to be,” Stan said. He smiled until a yawn took it away and he proceeded to snuggle into his bed.

“I work hard to maintain my level of mess,” Rus said, grabbing Stan’s binder where he’d discarded it on the floor and setting it on his dresser. “G’night bro.”

“Night, Rus. Love you,” Stan said, eyes already closed and comforter pulled up around him like a space-themed cloud.

“Love you, too,” Rus said. He flicked on Stan’s rocket ship night light and headed out, closing the door behind him. Midnight was late for Stan- he was usually out by ten if he didn’t have anything to do. All about starting his days bright and early, catching all those worms and stuff.

The apartment was quiet when Stan was sleeping. Rus stood in the small dining room for a moment before the sound of little sobs drew his attention back to the bitty at hand.

Red was still curled up on the pillow, but he was crying. Rus stared at him from the open doorway to the living room, his heart aching but unsure of what to do. There really wasn’t anything he could say to comfort the little guy- nothing that he hadn’t already said. He stood there and listened to the sobs for a moment longer, able to make out Red’s shaking little frame from where he stood, before he turned and headed to his bedroom.

Tomorrow was going to be a long day.

Chapter Text

 

Rus was woken by Stan, who was already dressed and ready for the day. The younger brother groaned and looked up at his bro, who was looking down at him with a bit of a half-smile.

“Up and at ‘em, Rus- we’ve got a bitty to take care of today,” he said, thankfully keeping his voice down to compensate for Rus’s baby just-woke-up ears.

“Mm… ‘m up,” he said, rolling over and curling into the blanket tighter. God he was tired.

“Ohhh no… you don’t want me to come over there and tickle you, do you?” Stan threatened. Rus groaned again, twice as loud, but heaved himself up and rubbed his eyes.

“Okay… I’m up,” he said, stretching and yawning, his bones popping in an extremely pleasant way. Stan gave him a gentle thump on the shoulder and left the room again, flicking the light on as he went.

Rus sat for a moment, trying to wake up more fully. It was almost always the morning routine. Stan came in and got him up, cause he was always up at the crack of dawn like some ridiculous person with their life together. Rus sighed and stretched again, trying to prepare himself for Red.

He eventually hauled himself out of bed, dragging on an old shirt and some pajama pants. He wasn’t planning on leaving the apartment, so he didn’t bother getting dressed, but he should at least be presentable for the new addition to their family. He’d usually laze around in his boxers until lunch time and get scolded by his bro, but he conceded.

The smell of eggs and bacon hit him before he was even out of his room. The apartment was by no means large, but it was comfortable for just two people. The kitchen was the central area, where the door was, and there was a small table sat near one of the walls. Rus sat himself down at one of the two chairs and leaned over it, still a bit groggy.

“Need any help?” he offered, watching his brother juggle a couple of pans around their relatively small stove.

“No thank you!” Stan chirped. He had on one of his favorite aprons- a soft daisy-yellow piece of fabric that had a picture of a donut on it and read “I donut understand food puns!” on it. Stan loved aprons- he had a small collection of them.

Rus sighed and stood, going over to make coffee. That was the trade off- Stan made breakfast, Rus made coffee. It was a little unfair, but if Rus was left to cook they’d be having packets of oatmeal and freezer breakfast sandwiches every day.

“What kind d’ya want today?”

“Ohh…” Stan paused as he thought, holding his pan of bacon. “Hazelnut, please!”

“You got it.”

 

 

Another five minutes and everything was ready. Stan was setting the table, two big plates for the two of them, and a tiny little place for Red, who was being served in various bottle caps Stan had collected.

Rus went to see how the little guy was faring this morning. He stepped into the living room- separated from the kitchen by an open doorway- and stepped over to Red’s home.

He was just where they’d left him, curled up on the cushion, face pressed into the fabric. When he heard Rus approach, he jerked his head up and whined.

“Hey little dude,” Rus said as he crouched down a tad to be on eye level with Red. “You want some breakfast? We got it all ready at the table.”

Red stared at him for a moment before looking away. His bulgy eye nearly made Rus lose his appetite. He looked over and saw that Red hadn’t touched any of the things they’d left for him, not even the water. Rus frowned.

“You okay, little guy? You didn’t drink your water.”

Red shoved his head back into the pillow. Rus’s frown deepened as he opened the rather spacious cage and gently touched Red’s back.

He started shaking, and Rus withdrew immediately.

“I’m sorry, little dude…” Rus remembered what the employee had done at the store, and he gently rubbed the back of Red’s skull with one of his fingers, trying to trace soothing circles.

“You’re fine, little guy, I promise. But you need to eat… we don’t want you to go hungry. Is it okay if I pick you up?”

Red was still shaking, and Rus had a feeling he really didn’t want to be held, but he nodded anyways, after a good ten seconds of no response.

Rus went about gently, very very gently, picking the little guy up. He slid his hand underneath the bitty, and Red immediately clutched at his fingers as though he was going to be dropped. He heard a little whimper and stopped.

“Shh, hey, it’s okay- It’s fine, lil’ guy. I’m not gonna drop ya,” he said softly. It took a bit, but he eventually coaxed Red into his upturned palms, cradling him like an expensive glass vase.

He continued to rub the scared little skeleton’s head, keeping well away from that nasty eye and the hardened cracks that ran along his left side. When they made it to the kitchen, Stan sitting at the table and waiting in worry, Rus moved around to the third little set up Stan had made- complete with a little ‘table’ for Red, a tiny cup, and his bottle cap plates. The cutest addition might have been the bitty-sized fork and spoon that they’d bought.

Rus eased Red out of his palm, waiting for the little guy to get his footing before drawing away. It was the first time Rus had seen the little dude standing up. He knew that most bitties were three to five inches tall, but Red seemed to be smaller. Rus would guess two and a half, maybe a little more.

Red just stood there, looking back and forth between the brothers, hunched over and jacket pulled tight around him.

“Good morning, Red,” Stan said gently, giving him his best smile. “I made you some breakfast, if you want it.”

Red glanced at him, shifting his feet for a moment, before looking back down. Rus noticed the little tears beginning to form before Stan did.

He reached over and cupped his hand around Red, hoping to provide some sort of shelter. The bitty leaned back into his palm and tried to bury his face in his fluffy hood. His tiny sniffles were the only sound in the apartment, for a moment.

Rus looked at his brother. Stan had always been a worry-wart, but this time Rus completely understood. The bitty sniffled, and Rus could feel his little body shaking.

“Hey… it’s okay, Red. It’s just breakfast- as soon as you’re done you can go back to your house if you want to,” Rus said.

Red silenced himself, but there was no reply.

“We want you to be comfortable, but you have to eat… I promise it's good food!” Stan tried to reassure the bitty. “You don’t have to eat all of it, but you have to get something in those bones of yours… the last thing we want is for you to get ill or go hungry.”

Red did nothing, but after his moment’s pause he inched his way out of the curve of Rus’s palm and looked at the two in turn, hood still pulled up, big tears still gathered at the corners of his sockets. He looked at Rus in something that would have been close to curiosity, if it hadn’t been so plagued with fear and suspicion. He could only maintain eye contact for a moment before his good eye darted downward again, shifting his hood to cover the scarred and deformed side of his skull.

He was more receptive after that, but he still looked ready to jump out of his high-waisted and oversized shorts at any second. Rus kept his palm nearby, managing to eat his scrambled eggs with his non-dominant hand for Red’s sake.

The little bitty didn’t seem to know what to do with the silverware. It hurt Rus’s heart to think that he’d never had any, but it was evident that was the case. He picked up his tiny portion of eggs with his bare hands, nibbling at it. His eye lit up, and he dove in with more vigor. Stan beamed, reaching over and rubbing the side of his skull like he’d seen Rus do.

“I’m glad you like it, Red! Do you have any foods you really like? I’d be happy to make them for you,” Stan said. Red leaned a little into his finger and continued to chow down, but he shook his head.

It wasn’t a miracle, and he was still withdrawn and refused to speak, but after eating things seemed to improve, if only a little bit. The two brother’s finished up before the bitty and offered him a little wet paper towel to wipe his hands with. He seemed confused, so Stan demonstrated what to do.

Stan carried him back to the living room and sat him back down in his home. Technically it was a cage- but it felt wrong to call it that. It was large, certainly large enough for one undersized bitty, but it was also empty. They wanted to let the bitty decide how to spice it up, but it didn’t seem like Red would be giving input anytime soon. Besides, they left the bottom door open, and they were at floor level. It wasn’t meant as a place to trap Red, just to let him have a safe space.

The day passed by largely with the brothers sitting around and relaxing, as they usually did. They gave Red his lunch and dinner in his home, figuring that one meal a day outside of it was enough until he warmed up. He even got up and looked around for awhile, examining the doors and the bars and the other things they’d left for him.

It wasn’t much, but it was progress.

Chapter Text

 

Red’s improvement was like some kind of song and dance number; for every two steps forward he seemed to take another back- alternating between seemingly growing acquainted to the home and being terrified of everything that moved.

Throughout the week, he did make strides with the breakfast routine, though. While Stan worked nearly every day as the manager of a nearby grocery store, Rus only worked a couple of days a week as an assistant pharmacist. Usually the younger brother wouldn’t wake up to see Stan off every morning, but he’d been doing so, and hence he was up for breakfast with Red. The little guy had been doing better, and at the six day mark his tremors and sniffles finally seemed to be calming down.

It was late Saturday night, just over a week since Red had been brought home. Rus had been trying to keep a decent sleep schedule, but he still had his off days. This was definitely one of them- he’d laid down a few hours prior but had been woken up by God knew what. He groaned and looked over at his alarm- three in the morning. He laid there for a while, staring at the ceiling with an arm draped over his head, before he realized there wasn’t a chance in hell he was going to be able to fall asleep again.

One hefty heave later and he was upright, sitting on the edge of his bed and rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He grabbed his phone and checked his usual social media outlets for a bit, but nothing much of interest grabbed him. Better check on Red, he thought as he yawned.

Rus stood, stretched, and then walked out and flicked on the light to illuminate the kitchen/dining room combo. He didn’t expect to see Red standing near the entrance to the living room, staring up at him like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming eighteen-wheeler.

Rus opened his mouth to greet the bitty, trying to will away another yawn, but as soon as he raised his hand to wave the tiny thing had turned tail and darted back into the other room.

He blinked, unsure what had spooked him until he slapped his forehead and remembered that, duh, everything scared Red. He took a few slow steps forward and crossed the expanse of the kitchen, peaking around the corner.

“Red? You okay, bud?” he called gently. He reached over and turned on the lamp. It took his eyes a second to adjust and to find the shape of the skeleton curled on the floor near his cage. His voice died in his throat when he heard the shuddering sobs being pressed into the carpet.

For a second, he wasn’t quite sure what to do. He moved forward, but Red didn’t seem to be looking at him. His knees were drawn up and his head was tucked between them, those awful noises coming from the fluff of his hoodie.

“Hey… hey, Red, what’s wrong?” Rus asked, easing himself down to his knees beside the shaking thing. He reached out to touch him, but thought better of it. Was being caught out of his cage really all it took to scare him this bad?

Rus hardly registered the tiny words being filtered through his hood. He leaned down a bit closer, his heart in his stomach, but it sounded like Red was just mumbling to himself between sobs.

Rus frowned. He shifted slowly so he was sitting closeby, ready to help if he was needed. He thought about picking Red up, but he knew that wouldn’t help. He stared down at the trembling pile of bones with sad eyes.

He didn’t really know how long he sat there. It might have been ten minutes before Red’s hysteria began to fade, his bubbling sobs being replaced with sniffles and hiccups. Rus waited patiently. God he wished he could do more.

Eventually, Red uncurled enough to lift his head and expose only his good eye. He glanced up at Rus for a second before sucking in another breath and resuming his fetal position. He looked so small and helpless, curled in the middle of the living room floor.

“Shh, it’s okay…” Rus said as softly as he could. “Just breathe, little dude. I’m not gonna hurt ya.”

Red whined. Rus swallowed back a pitiful noise that threatened to leave his throat before he reached forward and softly scooped Red into his palm.

“Is this okay? Am I hurting you?” he asked, keeping his hand on the floor to allow Red to leave if he so wished. But instead the bitty curled up against his palm , wrapping his arms around his thumb and clinging to it for all he was worth.

Rus made sure his movements were slow and careful. He brought Red close to his chest and held him there, letting the bitty cry and bury his face in his shirt. He still didn’t speak- Rus was beginning to wonder if he even could. He used his other hand to gently rub his charge’s back, cooing little reassurances when the tiny thing wasn’t sniffling.

“There ya go, see? It’s all good, you’re okay,” he said. He’d been so worried about not being able to comfort the little guy, but as the days wore on it was all he really wanted to do. He felt each little notch in his spine as he thumbed it gently. “You’re allowed out of the cage, okay? You didn’t do anything wrong. That’s why we leave the bottom doors open, yeah?”

Red quickly nodded into his shirt. Russel felt small patches of moisture grow where the bitty’s face was pressed, but he ignored it and continued his ministrations.

It took a long time for Red to stop crying. Even then, he never stopped trembling, not even when Rus slowly stood and took him back to his cage and eased him onto his bed. He rubbed Red’s skull for a moment before he withdrew and gave the little guy his space.

“There ya go, all safe and sound,” Rus said with what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “You’re okay. I’m sorry I spooked you.”

Red looked over at him for a second, those big, sad red eyes meeting his for a fleeting moment before he turned back to his cushion and hid himself in it. He nodded into the fabric.

“I’m gonna be in the kitchen, okay? You can come get me if you need something, I promise you’re allowed anywhere in the apartment.”

Red nodded without looking up at the human.

Rus let out a quiet breath and stood. “Okay. We’re not gonna hurt ya, little guy, no matter what. Just remember that, kay?”

Another nod.

Rus went and got his phone from his bedroom and sat down at the kitchen table. The whole ordeal had lasted nearly twenty minutes, and all he’d done was walk out of his bedroom. He distracted himself by playing phone games.

It was mentally exhausting… but somehow, having something even more fucked up than him to take care of gave him motivation to be better. He stared down at his phone and the dull screen and the rest of the dark home, the only noise that of Red’s soft, barely audible sniffles.

Even if he was a lot of work, Rus knew he’d never take Red back.

Chapter Text

Rus spent the rest of that twilight time before Stan awoke thinking about Red’s little sniffles and the way his whole body looked like it’d rattle itself apart. Once his brother was awake, he went into his bedroom and quietly explained to him what had transpired the night before.

“Oh jeez…” Stan said softly, tugging on a clean pair of pants. Rus turned when he went to take his nightshirt off and put his binder on.

“Yeah, it was… it was pretty bad,” Rus said with a deep sigh as he stared at the wall. “He just sort of… broke, y’know? It was like he was barely there.”

“Binder,” Stan requested, and Rus turned back and helped his brother latch it. Stan looked deep in thought as he sifted through his drawers to find a suitable shirt.

“Psychosis, maybe?” he offered, picking up a few, giving them a look, and then putting them back. “It could be he’s just having very severe panic attacks.”

Rus leaned against the bedroom door, careful of the posters on it, and scratched his chin, noting that he’d have to shave soon- he was starting to get stubbly. “God, bro, all I did was walk out of my room…”

Stan finally found a shirt that tickled his fancy and pulled it over his head. It amazed Rus his brother could get dressed and ready as soon as he woke up even when he didn’t have to work.

“His bad owner might have punished him for leaving his cage,” Stan said thoughtfully, taking a seat on his bed and patting the mattress beside. Rus walked over and sat.

“That’s so fucking awful,” Rus mused.

“The employee at the store said that’s how he got his cracks, right?”

Rus nodded. His gut felt dark and sludgy at the thought of somebody hurting the little skeleton. What sort of fuckin’ sicko would do something like that? Red was absolutely helpless, couldn’t even begin to protect himself against something as big as a human.

“I hate it, too, but that’s the logical conclusion,” Stan said. He leaned his head on Rus’s shoulder and sighed. “That poor thing… how could anybody do that?”

“Some asshole with a huge complex and no morals, I guess.”

Stan hummed in agreement. “Well… he’s here now. We’re doing the best we can, and I think it’s helping, but… it’s going to take time.”

Rus wrapped his arm around his brother and gave him a side-hug. “Why can’t this stuff just… go away. I hate it.”

“Yeah. That’s how I’ve always felt about your depression.”

“Same with your dysphoria and stuff,” Rus said, pulling his brother tighter.

They stayed like that for a little bit. Rus could never express in words how much he loved and appreciated his brother- all the things Stan did for him, all while struggling himself. Things were more stable now, but even when they’d been awful, Stan had never wavered. They were the only family one another had. Rus rested his chin on his brother’s head.

“Love you,” he said softly.

“Love you too, Rus,” Stan replied at once.

“Why couldn’t we get good parents… why’d they have to be fuckin’ demons.”

Stan laughed and pushed his brother away. “They weren’t… entirely bad. Maybe…” Stan rubbed his neck. “... Okay, yeah, they were bad.”

“Any fuckin’ parent that kicks their kid out for being trans deserves to choke,” Rus said, letting his long-standing anger get the better of him like it always did. “I hope they rot in hell, honestly, like fuck them. I’m gonna send them a bag of my shit in the mail.”

Stan’s face scrunched in good-natured disgust as he punched his brother on the shoulder. “That’s just gross , brother.”

They’re gross. They deserve it. God I wish I could just…” Rus curled his hands into fists and huffed.

Stan patted his shoulder. “I know. How do you think I felt when they refused to take you to see a therapist?”

Rus groaned. “Ugh, yeah.” He pitched his voice in a mockery of their mother’s: “Just go outside! Hug a tree! Go for a jog! Medicine will change you, sweetie, you’ll never be the same, the devil will come and tickle your balls -”

Stan choked on a laugh and thumped his brother’s chest, which only made Rus start giggling.

“You’re so gross! ” Stan laughed, wiping a tear from his eye.

Rus calmed himself and grinned idly. Stan stood, offering Rus his hand, who took it and heaved himself to his feet.

“Well, all that matters is that they’re far away now, and we’re never gonna see them again,” Stan said with a nice sense of finality. “Let’s go make breakfast.”

“You got it, boss.”

 

 

They didn’t make Red join them for their morning meal. Stan made waffles, and the two brother’s ate their fill before preparing Red’s portion and setting all of it on a tiny plate. Rus gave him both milk and orange juice, and maybe a bigger piece of breakfast dessert chocolate than usual, to try and make him feel better.

“Hey Red, you hungry? You get breakfast in bed today,” Rus announced as he picked his way into the living room, careful not to spill the tiny cups of liquid. Stan was still cleaning up in the kitchen.

Red was curled on his bed, just as expected. He blinked up at Rus as he came closer, big dark bags under his eyes and dried tear tracks on his cheekbones. He shakily got to his feet as Rus crouched down to be more on-level with the bitty. It was like Godzilla looking into the window of an office building.

“Stan made waffles- I gave you some extra chocolate, and there’s milk and orange juice,” he said as he opened the top doors of the cage with one hand and gently deposited the little plate nearby.

Red stared at him. The human gave the bitty a small half-smile. He wished he knew what was going on in the little dude’s head.

Red looked at the food, and then back at Rus. His tiny hands were trembling.

Rus really didn’t expect him to say anything- he hadn’t said a word all week. But Red looked up at him as familiar tears gathered in his sockets.

“D-Did I… d-do something wrong?”

Rus’s heart went cold. That little voice- it was pathetic and hoarse and it made him feel some dark emotion he didn’t like.

“Wh.. what?” he asked, at a loss.

Red started crying. “I-I- I’m s-s-sorry for c-crying-” he whimpered. He glanced up at Rus but then quickly averted his gaze, favoring to hug himself instead. “P-Please don’t- p-p-please don’t…”

Rus didn’t know what to say. He waited for Red to continue, but the bitty just cried.

“Red… you didn’t do anything wrong,” Rus said, but his words just made Red cry harder, the tears splattering against the cage floor as he bent over himself and sobbed.

“I-I’m sorry- I won’t- I won’t c-cry anymore-” he said while crying. Maybe the irony would have been funny, but Rus felt like a boulder had settled in his got. Red sucked in a shuddering breath. “I w-won’t break- p-please don’t ma-ake me stay in here-”

Rus moved forward and pushed the plate of food aside, putting his hand around Red. “Hey, shh, Red it’s fine… you’re okay, buddy, just breathe.”

The bitty shut up at once but latched onto Rus’s hand, hugging it and crying and shaking.

Rus didn’t know what to do. He ran his thumb over Red’s skull- what had triggered this? Was it residual panic from last night?

“I-I’m sorry,” Red bawled. “I-I-I’m sorry-”

“Shh, it’s okay. It’s okay, Red, you didn’t do anything wrong, I promise,” Rus whispered. “What happened? Why do you think I’m mad at you?”

“B-Breakfast…” he whimpered, pressing his face into Rus’s hand. The bulgy eye was so far from Rus’s mind he didn’t even register it. “Y-You didn’t… t-take me out f-for food… I-I-I didn’t- mean to b-break la-ast night- pl-lease don’t be mad…”

Rus had a bit of trouble making out his words between the choking sobs, but he pieced it together enough for his heart to ache. It was overwhelming- it had already been hard enough when Red was silent, but now he was articulating how fucked up and scared he was, and it was so overwhelming.

“Aww, Red… that’s… that’s not why I didn’t take you out,” he said softly. “I didn’t want to stress you out again, after last night… it isn’t because I’m upset with you.”

Red sobbed. Rus was completely at a loss, so he just scooped Red up and held him close and rubbed his little back.

“Shh… deep breaths,” he reassured. “I’m not mad. You didn’t do anything wrong, I promise,” Rus repeated, hoping if he said it enough it would get through to the little bitty. “You’re okay.”

It was like the floodgates had opened. Red clung to his shirt for all he was worth and absolutely broke, sobbing and bawling and wailing.

“I-I’m- I-I’m scared-” he wept. “I’m scared-”

Rus’s chest was going to burst. He wasn’t qualified for this- God he wasn’t qualified for this. He just held Red and cooed little reassurances when he could speak around the lump in his throat.

Stan obviously heard the commotion. He hurried in and knelt down beside his brother. Red looked up at him for a second before going back to his shirt, curling up as much as physically possible.

Rus shared a worried look with his brother. Stan looked so badly like he wanted to help, to do something , but there was nothing either of them could do aside from talk to the poor guy.

“D-Don’t take me back- pl-ple-ase don’t- take me back-” Red whimpered. He was a snotty, stuttering mess. He refused to look at either of the brothers. “D-Don’t- please- don’t- I-I don’t w-want to be alone a-again-”

Tears were gathering in Stan’s eyes. He reached forward and cupped his hand against his brother’s, supporting the bitty however he could.

“Red, honey, it’s okay- you’re not going anywhere,” Stan reassured softly. He wiped his own tears away. “We’re not mad at you- nobody is mad at you, okay?”

“B-b-but I’m- I-I’m broken-” he sniffled. “I’m s-stupid and broken- and- and I- I’m so s-scared-” he cut himself off and whined. Rus’s shirt was soaked where his head was pressed, but he just clutched the bitty tighter and gave his brother a helpless look.

“You’re absolutely none of those things, Red,” Stan said, gently rubbing Red’s tiny skull, the pad of his index finger big enough to cover most of the surface. “You’re allowed to be scared, moving to a new home with new people is definitely scary- I’d be scared, too. But you’re safe here- okay? We won’t ever hurt you, or punish you, we just want you to feel safe.”

Red sniffled, but thankfully Stan’s words seemed to be getting through to him. He hesitantly pulled his head away from the fabric and looked up at Rus, and then to Stan.

“I-I’m… I-I-I’m sorry for c-crying, and...and being b-broken,” he said with a hiccup.

“You’re not broken, Red… you’ve just been through so much. And it’s okay to be scared because of that,” Stan soothed. “You’re gonna be okay, and you’re gonna stay right here with me and Russel, alright? We’d never send you away again.”

Rus was infinitely glad that his brother was so good at comforting people. He’d never be able to put it so eloquently.

Red nodded into Rus’s chest, still shaking like a leaf, but hopefully beginning to calm down. Rus stared down at him, a little bag of bones small enough to be clutched in his hands, and felt an overwhelming urge to protect him.

Stan helped Rus up, taking Red with the two of them, and guided everybody to the couch. Red didn’t say anything else, his hysteria ending as abruptly as it had begun. Rus held him in his lap, letting him rest against his belly while he calmed.

The brothers shared a look full of emotions. An unspoken agreement passed between them- they’d do whatever it took to help their bitty get better.

Chapter Text

It took him a while to calm down. Rus held him the entire time, rubbing his tiny little back and talking calmly with his brother, hoping to create a welcoming atmosphere for the bitty. Stan stayed beside him, reaching down and occasionally rubbing his skull and reassuring him with gentle words.

Rus noticed him going slack while he chatted with Stan about TV shows- he looked down at the bitty in his palms and saw his socket shut, curled up against his stomach, sleeping. The human couldn’t help but smile.

“Hey, Stan, look,” Rus whispered, nodding down at the bitty. Stan blinked and followed his gaze and he stifled a little squeal, hands coming up to cover his mouth.

It was a good sign, at least. The poor guy must have cried himself out- Rus was tired from just watching it, he couldn’t imagine how exhausted poor Red must have been.

As cute as it was, and as warm as it made his heart, Rus really would like to use his hands. He eased Red onto his lap, trying not to jostle him, but the movement was enough to rouse the bitty from his sleep. He blinked up at the human, a flash of fear in his eyes.

“Shh, you’re okay, just moving you to my lap,” Rus said at once, drawing his right hand away but leaving his left to rest atop the bitty. “You can go back to sleep, bud.”

“O-On… your lap?” Red said, before his mouth opened wide in a yawn. God, his voice- so quiet and rough, like it hadn’t been used in years.

“Wherever you want, little dude.”

Red touched one of Rus’s fingers, so small and gentle. Seemed like he was too shy to make eye contact again.

He was out in moments, too tired to do much more than snuggle into the warmth of the human’s palm. Stan was looking down at him with affectionate eyes, and he had to reach up and wipe a tear away before he leaned against his younger brother.

“That was rough,” Rus said quietly, not wanting to wake the bitty.

“It’s progress… hopefully after this, he’ll open up more.” Stan sighed. “Goodness, his little voice… why didn’t he talk to us before this? I didn’t even think he could…”

“You heard him, bro- he was scared,” Rus said. His heart ached. “God, he must have been terrified. No wonder he cried at breakfast.”

Stan sniffled. “He’s probably still scared… what if he thought he wasn’t supposed to talk?”

“Could be,” Rus mused, rubbing Red’s skull with his thumb. The bitty snuggled closer still, grabbing weak fistfuls of Rus’s pants.

“Should we find somebody to look at him? Like a doctor?” Stan pulled away from his brother and reached over to the arm of the couch to grab his cell phone. “Do they even have stuff like that for bitties?”

“I dunno, bro, better look it up.”

Stan clicked away on his phone, but his face was fallen. “I don’t know if we can afford it, even if they do…” Tears began to gather at his eyes again. “I just.. Want to do the best we can for him, he deserves that, after everything he’s been through…”

Rus used his free hand to reach over pull his brother into a side hug. “Even if we can’t afford it, we’re giving him more than his other owners ever did. He needs a steady home, with people he can trust- and that’s just what we’ll give him, right?”

“Of course!” Stan said, his usual enthusiasm muted by the subject and the sleeping bitty. “Of course, I want him to feel safe and happy here… he’s still afraid we’ll send him back to the store…”

“Course he is, that’s what everybody else did,” Rus reassured his brother. “But we’re not gonna do that- he’s had a shit life, we both had pretty shit lives, so maybe this was like… destiny? We understand what it’s like, when people you’re supposed to trust turn around and hurt you… so maybe we can help him through all the stuff he’s been through.”

Stan hugged his brother, gently, so not to wake Red. “That’s so corny, Rus! I love it,” Stan said, planting a chaste kiss on the side of his brother’s head.

Red made a tiny noise in his sleep. The brothers both looked down at their newest little responsibility and smiled.

 

It took Red a day or so to recharge from his episode and subsequent fit. Luckily, although Stan worked on Monday, Rus was free until the end of the week, so he could stay home with the little guy and make sure he was okay.

He stayed in his cage a lot, but when Rus offered, the bitty took to accompanying the human on the couch while he watched TV or browsed the internet. He mostly slept- which Rus couldn’t blame him for in the slightest- but on occasion the human did look down to find the skeleton watching along, eyes wide, as though he’d never watched TV before. Rus thought, sadly, that might have been true.

He was resting against Rus’s thigh while the human played a game on his phone. It was Monday afternoon- the apartment was quiet, the streets outside busy and bustling like usual, but it all felt distant. Rus felt little hands tighten in the fabric of his basketball shorts just a moment before he heard the squeaky little voice.

“U-Uhm… am I… allowed t-to talk?” he asked. Rus blinked and looked down at once, but Red was staring at his leg.

“Yeah- of course you are, lil dude. You can talk all you want.” he replied. Red nestled his face into his clothes again. Rus locked his phone and set it aside to put his hand against the bitty.

“I, uhm…” Red glanced up at Rus for only a moment before averting his gaze again. “I’m not… good at talking,” he said.

Rus frowned. “What do you mean?”

Red whined just a little bit. Rus rubbed his back, but decided not to press it.

“Hey- that’s okay, Red. You don’t have to be good at talking- but you’re still allowed to do it. Me ‘n Stan would love it if you talked to us. We wanna know how you’re feeling, and what we can do to make you feel better.”

“I… I uhm…” Red stuttered, but he stopped as his tiny frame started shaking. He was just so small- it felt like some kid’s toy, vibrating in his hand. It took Red a while to compose himself, but when he spoke again his voice trembled and he stumbled over his words.

“I don’t… I-I don’t want to bo… bother you,” he managed to say. It came out muffled, his face still pressed into Rus’s pants, but the human made it out alright.

“Aw, little dude… you won’t bother us. I promise.”

“I… last time… I bo- bothered them-” he sniffled, hunching his little back as he started crying. “Th-they took me… back.” He raised his little head, flushed red with magic from the tears, and cried. “I don’t… I-I don’t want to g-go back again.”

If hearts could burst, Rus’s would have by that point. He gently, so very gently, scooped Red up and held him close to his chest, hoping to impart some form of comfort to the sad little thing.

“You’re not going back,” Rus said, staring off at the window and the hazy afternoon sun. “I promise, yeah? No matter what, you’re gonna stay right here.”

“I-I… m’ scared…” he mumbled. “M’ scared, m-mister.”

Rus held him a little tighter. “I know… it’s okay to be scared, I understand,” he said, rubbing reassuring fingers along the bitty’s shuddering spine, the white of his bone standing out sharply against Rus’s dark skin. “But you’re safe here. You’re gonna be fine. No more getting hurt, or getting punished, or anything like that.” Rus looked down at the little thing and his dirty clothes and oversized shorts. “You can call me Rus, little guy.”

“R… Rus,” Red repeated with a hiccup. “R-Rus.”

Rus couldn’t help but smile. “That’s me.”

Red stayed quiet for a little while. Rus continued to rub him, trying his hardest to make him feel comfortable. He looked back out the window, listened to the traffic in the streets below.

He was drawn out his thoughts as Red tapped his chest. He looked down and saw that tiny face, the good eye wide, cheekbones flushed with crimson magic.

“U-Uhm… R-Rus?”

“What’s up?”

“C-Can… can I, uhm…” he looked away. “W-Would it be… okay… if I, uhm, if I… w-went back to the cage, and, and… and maybe t-took a nap…?”

“Of course- yeah, that’s more than okay.” Rus stood up slowly and walked over to fixture, gently depositing Red on the top floor near his bed. “I’m gonna go back to the couch and play some games, but the bottom doors are open,” Rus said, reaching forward and giving his skull one last soft pat. “You just holler if you need anything else, okay?”

Red, standing there, looking so small and fragile, nodded. He shuffled his feet for a moment, hands tucked into the front of his shorts, before he hiccuped again.

“Th-th-thank you, Ru-Rus,” he stammered.

“No problem, little guy,” the human said softly.

The bitty napped until Stan got home.

Chapter Text

“So… I don’t think there are doctors for bitties,” Stan said dejectedly.

Rus lazed back on his brother’s bed, staring up at the glow-in-the-dark stars Stan had put on the ceiling. “That’s no good…”

Stan tapped away at his laptop. “There are vets for physical damage, like broken legs or cracked skulls, but… nothing for mental health,” he said. Stan sighed. “Unfortunately, we can’t even afford the ones they do have. Just a check up is in the thousands.”

“Double no good,” Rus agreed. It was late, and Red had already gone to sleep, tucked into his little cushion bed with some snacks and a goodnight kiss from Stan.

“I guess all we can give him is time.” Stan fell back on the mattress and joined his brother in faux star-gazing.

“We should pretty up his cage, too,” Rus added, reaching over and papping his brother in the face. “Maybe take him to town, let him pick some stuff out from the craft store. That wouldn’t be too expensive, right?”

“With all the money you saved buying him instead of another bitty, we could build him a DIY castle!” Stan said, splaying out his arms and smiling at the idea. Rus snorted at his brother before Stan rested his hands on his belly. “Do you think he’d be okay in public like that?”

“Guess we can ask him tomorrow, if not we can just show him pictures and see what he’d like. Find out his aesthetic.”

“He needs new clothes, too,” Stan said. “I know bitties aren’t so… fluid-ful as humans, but he has been wearing his current outfit for who even knows how long.”

“He’s a stinky boy,” Rus said with a smile. “Lil Stinker.”

Stan giggled. “Maybe we can get him shorts with pockets, so he doesn’t have to tuck them in the front all the time.”

“Did I tell you that I thought he was masturbating, when I saw him doing that at the store?”

Stan turned over on the bed and thumped his brother’s chest. “Russel!”

Rus snickered and pushed his brother away. “Okay, c’mon, you know it kind of looks like it.”

Stan shook his head, his mohawk bouncing, unkempt after the day’s happenings. “You’ve just got your mind permanently stuck in the gutter. Maybe his hands are cold! I do that, too, when my fingers get chilly.”

“What, masturbate?”

Rus knew the thump was coming but did nothing to stop Stan’s hand from hitting his chest. He laughed, rolling over so he was almost on top of his brother.

“I’m joking, jeez, I know what you mean.”

Stan shoved Russel away with a huff, but Rus knew that face. He wanted to laugh, but his pride wouldn’t break to allow it.

They sat in silence for a moment, Rus idly smiling up at the ceiling.

“I mean, masturbating would warm you up-”

“Russel!”

 

 

Tuesday morning rolled around, and the brothers decided to switch up the breakfast routine. Russel popped the coffee into brew and went to get Red before Stan started cooking.

The bitty was still sleeping. Rus took a moment to look at him and notice how peaceful he looked in his sleep- so very different from when he was awake. He frowned at the sad thought.

“Hey, lil dude, time to get up,” Rus said quietly, crouching down to be on-level with the bitty.

Red’s eye cracked open, and it took him a moment to find his bearings. As soon as he saw Rus, he squeaked and jerked away, an unhealthy dose of fear crossing his face.

“Shh, s’okay, just me,” Rus reassured. Red’s bones rattled against the cardboard on the bottom of the cage, but it only took him a few moments to calm down. A few stray tears gathered at the socket of his bulgy eye, but he wiped them away.

“I-It’s… uhm…” Red began, but he grabbed his arm and looked away. His oversized jacket pooled around him as he stood, shaking. He took a shuddering breath before going on: “is… i-is bre’fast d-done?”

Rus shook his head. “Nope, thought we’d switch it up today- you wanna come help us decide what to make?”

Red blinked at him, scrubbing the sleep from his eyes with the sleeve of his jacket. “U-Uhm… uhm…”

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but me ‘n Stan thought it’d be nice for you to pick your own food sometime.” Rus opened the top doors of the cage and reached into rub the top of his skull. “Whaddaya think?”

Red clicked his teeth together for a second and shuffled his feet.

“U-Uhm… mm.” he mumbled with a nod.

Rus smiled. “That’s awesome, lil dude. I’m gonna pick you up, okay?”

Another nod and he was in Rus’s hands, being carried to the kitchen. Stan was seated at the table, sipping his coffee. He paused when his brother and their bitty entered and gave Red a big smile.

“Good morning, sleepy head!” Stan greeted, beaming.

Rus sat the skeleton down at his little area, and he promptly sat on the chair they had for him. He grabbed the edges and looked away for a moment.

“Good… g-good morning,” Red said softly. He blushed with red magic and glanced up at Stan. “Uhm… g-good morning, mister,” he said again, as though the first time wasn’t good enough.

Stan’s smile widened. “Aw, no need to be so formal- you can call me Stan!”

Red nodded at once. “S-Sorry, sorry… St-Stan,” he amended, peaking up at the elder human.

“No need to be sorry,” Stan said softly, reaching over and tapping Red’s chest. “You’re still figuring all of this stuff out, you’re allowed to make mistakes and ask questions.” Stan gave the bitty an affectionate smile. “How are you feeling this morning?”

Stan’s words seemed to put the bitty at ease, at least for now. He swung his legs a bit. “U-Uhm, I’m o-okay, mi- uhm, S-Stan,” he stammered, before swallowing hard.

“Did you sleep alright?” Stan went on. Red stammered out an answer, unsure of himself but seemingly alright with being made conversation with. Rus leaned his chin on his palm and listened. Red’s words came out too fast, or too slow, or with a strange stagger. He had trouble with longer words, Rus noted. If he hadn’t been allowed to talk before, it made sense his speech would be a bit delayed in development. Rus let his mind drift, wondering if maybe the talking problems were a result of his head trauma.

“Rus?” Stan asked, snapping the younger out of his focus.

“Huh?”

Stan giggled. “What planet were you on just now?”

Rus smirked and rolled his eyes. “Jupiter. What’d you ask?”

“I asked if you were ready to help me make breakfast!” he said. Red stared at the two as they bantered, his good eye wide and curious. “Red wants to try blueberry pancakes.”

“Oh man, we haven’t made those in forever,” Rus said. “You bet I’m ready.”

Blueberry pancakes weren’t that hard to make. It did require a quick run to the store down the street though- so Rus was left heating up the skillet and measuring out all of the stuff for the batter.

“You ever had pancakes before?” Rus asked, using a knife to level a cup of flour. Red was sitting on the counter nearby, watching in rapt attention. The bitty shook his head.

“N-No… a-are they go… good?”

“They’re amazing,” Rus affirmed. “They’re sweet and tasty, and you can cover them in butter and syrup to make them even better. And then add blueberries into the mix?” Rus shook his head. “Phew. Absolutely stellar.”

Red nodded along. Rus went back to his cooking, following the recipe exactly for fear that his lackluster cooking skills would ruin everything.

Russel was preoccupied with pouring milk into a measuring cup when he heard Red squeak.

“U-Uhm… a-are… a-are you and St-Stan… brothers?”

Rus paused what he was doing and looked down at Red, who was once again sheepishly averting his eyes.

“We sure are. He’s older by a few years, but we’re bros.”

“O-Older?” Red squeaked.

Rus went back to his preparations. “Yup. I’m twenty, Stan is twenty four. I’m the baby brother.” Rus smiled as he finished measuring the milk and glanced over at Red. “I guess you’re the baby now, though. How old even are you, bud?”

Red looked away, hands twined together and fidgeting. “I, u-uh… I-I dunno.”

Rus started mixing the batter together, but took a moment to reach over and boop Red’s skull. “Well, maybe when Stan gets back and we’re all full of pancakes, we can try to figure it out. Bitties grow up way different than us humans.”

Red nodded. He looked like an ingredient for the pancakes, sitting on the counter and being as tiny as he was. Rus thought about how funny it would be if he accidentally threw him in the batter, but decided the resulting mess would negate all the humor from it.

His thought process of Red-pancakes was disrupted as he heard the familiar noise of keys jingling in the door. Stan burst in a moment later, holding up a plastic bag.

“Blueberries ahoy!” he announced, kicking off his shoes and hurrying over. He took them from their plastic bag prison and sat them down on the counter beside Red.

“They any good?” Rus asked as his brother grabbed a couple and popped them in his mouth.

“They’re blue-ly delicious,” Stan said, then giggled at himself. Rus smirked at his awful pun as Red watched from the counter. Stan reached down and rubbed his skull with an affectionate smile on his face.

“You wanna try one, Red?”

The bitty nodded and held out his tiny hands. Rus suppressed a giggle at the adorable gesture as his brother took out a blueberry and put it into Red’s waiting palms. The scale was hilarious- the berry looked absolutely massive against his little skeleton frame.

To be fair, giving him a blueberry might not have been the best idea. Both brothers went back to their tasks, thinking nothing of giving the skeleton a bit of food to eat. Stan was already pouring the first pancake onto the skillet by the time either of them looked at the bitty.

He was covered in blueberry-innards. Rus slapped a hand over his face to stop from grinning, which caught Stan’s attention.

The little thing had blueberry all over his face, his hands, even his clothes, somehow. He looked up at Rus with big eyes, holding out his arms to either side to avoid the sticky situation.

“U-Uhm, I… S-Sorry,” he tittered, a red blush across his itty-bitty face. Rus was still attempting to stifle his laughter as Stan frowned.

“Ah, that’s okay, Red... how about you go with Rus and get cleaned up, and I’ll have the pancakes ready when you’re done?”

Red nodded, face relaxing as he realized he wasn’t in trouble. Rus chortled as he reached over and picked up the sticky mess of a bitty- god, how had he even managed to get this messy from a single blueberry?

Well, a bath had been on the to-do list for a number of days.

Chapter Text

Rus carried his bitty into the bathroom. Red was a sticky mess, but it wasn’t difficult to figure out why- he did have some pretty sharp chompers, it’d be like eating an apple with vampire fangs… the juice would absolutely go everywhere.

Bathing bitties was one of those activities that didn’t require any special set up. Rus had read all about it before purchasing Red- he’d been meaning to wash the stinker, but hadn’t wanted to disturb him in case he’d had bad experiences with baths before. Come to think of it…

“Hey, bud?” Rus asked, gently setting his hand on the bathroom counter and allowing Red to step off. The bitty stared up at him as he shuffled his feet.

“Y-Yeah?”

“You okay with me giving you a bath? I don’t want to make you upset or nothin’ if you’d rather do it yourself.”

Red played with his hands. “Uhm, n-no, it’s fine… baths a-are… mm… nice.” He rubbed his arm. Rus got the feeling he was maybe not one hundred percent okay, but he really did need a bath...

Rus reached down and rubbed his skull. “Alright, little dude. I’ll get some warm water goin’ for ya, you just relax for now, okay?”

Red nodded and took a hesitant seat, looking to the human for permission before fully lowering himself to the countertop. Rus scurried out of the room, back to the kitchen, where Stan was still in the process of making pancakes. His brother gave him a look as he went digging in the cupboards.

“How’s he doing?” Stan questioned.

“Says he’s fine with baths, which is great,” Rus murmured as he pulled out some plastic containers. Too deep, too shallow, ew, that one was a little stained…

“Try the baking cupboard,” Stan suggested, flipping a pancake over, the sizzling sound pleasant to the ears. “I keep the good ones in there.”

After upturning a muffin pan and a couple of well-loved mixing bowls, Rus found a suitable container for Red’s bath. Rus gave his brother a noogie as he went by again, taking a big inhale of the delicious pancake-smell.

“Thanks, bro,” Rus said. Stan slapped him away with his spatula with a noise of indignance, but as Rus returned to the bathroom he heard the other give an amused sigh.

Red was where he’d been left, sitting, staring around at the bathroom. Rus greeted him with a wave and plopped the container in the sink, turning on the water. Red watched with wide, nervous eyes.

His anxiety seemed to get the better of him as the water heated up and the container was filled. Rus watched from the corner of his eye as Red shifted, clacking his little teeth together and wringing his hands.

“You okay, bud?” Rus asked. The water was warm, but not hot- he set the makeshift bath beside the bitty and reached for the soap.

“I-I… uh…” he swallowed and glanced up at the human. “I’ve n-never, uh… d-done it myself.”

“Taken a bath?” Rus asked.

Red nodded. He looked a little embarrassed, which Rus set out to remedy as soon as possible.

“I’ll help, little dude- a lot of bitties like getting help with baths, it’s pretty normal,” he reassured, reaching over with his dry hand and rubbing Red’s skull. “We’ll get you all squeaky clean.”

Red nodded, still a little flush, as Rus swished the water around and got it all soapy. He figured he’d just run the bitty under the faucet when he was done, to get all the suds off- that seemed like the best way to go about it, seeing as they didn’t have a fancy bitty shower.

“I’ll get a towel for ya, okay? Go ahead and take your clothes off and get in if you want to.”

Rus waited to see Red nod in agreement before he turned and started rooting through the cupboards. It took him a while- the bathroom wasn’t exactly spacious, but most of their small washcloths were… less than pristine. Grimy, one might say.

He spent a good minute looking for the cleanest and softest one he could find, a blue cloth that had probably never been used, before he turned around and saw Red standing on the counter, naked.

His heart went still for a moment. His fist tightened around the washcloth in his hand.

He was covered in scars. His legs, which had been all but hidden by his socks and long shorts, were cut up to hell, and the rest of him wasn’t much better. Some ribs were cracked, some seemed to be missing chips, Rus’s eyes went wide as he got to the pelvis and saw parts of it were flat-out missing. The front- the ischium, his clouded mind placed- was gone .

Rus couldn’t move. He just stood, staring at the little bitty in horror. Red had his eyes averted, so he just shuffled his feet. It looked so awful- how had Rus not noticed the pelvis? All of the wounds? His mouth went dry.

“I-I, uhm, c-couldn’t get in by myself-” Red said, before he chanced a look up and saw Rus. He blinked and shrank away from the look the human was wearing.

“Wh-what? What- what’s wrong?” he squeaked, scampering back and shoving his little body into the corner. “D-Did- did- I-I do something wro-ong?”

Rus tried to say something, to maybe reassure him, but he felt like a boulder had settled in his chest. He couldn’t take his eyes off of the scars- all over his thighs- and his forearms- right where… right where…

“R...Rus? Wh-what did- what d-did I do?” Red whined, tears beginning to form in his eyes. He started to curl up, looking infinitely more miniscule now that he was naked. He had such a pleading look. “I-I-I’m sorry- I d- I didn’t mean-”

All over. They were just- everywhere. Were they recent? Had he been doing this to himself while he was in the apartment? Is that what he’d been doing in the kitchen that night? Rus’s mind wouldn’t stop to let him think anything through.

“I-I’m sorry- m’ sorry-” Red cried. “D-D-Don’t be- please- d-don’t be mad- I’m sorry ‘m ugly- I d-don’t know what I did-” Red’s volume rose along with the pitch of his voice as he got more worked up.

Rus knew he had to do something, just move , anything at all, but his ears were ringing and he just… couldn’t. He just couldn’t.

“Russel? Red? Is everything alright in there?”

Stan’s voice drew the human from his moment. The door to the bathroom was open- Stan peaked around and saw Rus standing there. His face fell.

“Rus?”

He couldn’t- he couldn’t stand to look at Red, not like this, not with- all of the scars. Rus bolted for the door before his brother could stop him, pushing past him and his worried look and darting for his bedroom. His mind was buzzing with thoughts he didn’t want to be thinking about, he knew he should have been there for Red but he just-

He slammed the door shut, locked it, and fell back. The way the wood rubbed his back as he slid to the ground did nothing to pull him from his horror.

He hid his face in his hands. He couldn’t. He just- he fucking couldn’t. He tried to still his shaking, hands rubbing up and down his thighs, fingers digging through his pajama pants to feel the scars beneath.

He put his head between his knees and cried.



 

Stan saw Rus run to his room and he knew something was wrong- he spotted Red near the sink, curled up in the corner, naked and rattling against the countertop.

Oh jeez. Stan took in the wounds and the disfigurement as quickly as he could, shaking himself from his brief horror. He hurried forward and gathered the pitiful little guy up in his hands, reaching for the towel Rus had dropped and wrapping the bitty up in it. It didn’t take long for him to piece together what had happened- Rus had probably seen the wounds and assumed the worst.

“I’m s-orry- m’sorry- I don’t- I didn’t-” Red gasped, barely getting the words out around his blubbering tears. He curled up into the warmth of the washcloth and sobbed.

“Shh, shh, it’s okay, everything’s fine,” Stan said at once, moving over and taking a seat on the edge of the tub. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“B-But- he- he looked-” Red broke off with a whine. “I-I-It’s my fault- I’m s-so ugly-”

“Aw, honey, that’s not it at all,” Stan soothed, running his fingers over the bitty. “You’re not ugly- you just… you’ve got a lot of scars, and Rus has… some bad experiences with these things.”

Red sniffled. “M’sorry…”

“It’s okay- I promise, it isn’t your fault,” Stan reassured. “But, Red… why didn’t you tell us you were hurt so badly?”

Red wiggled a hand free to wipe the tears from his face. “S-sorry… I’m s-sorry… I didn’t…” His voice broke- “I d-didn’t want you… t’know ‘m so ugly…”

Stan’s heart broke. He leaned down and kissed Red’s skull.

“Aw, buddy… even if you were ugly, it wouldn’t matter. You being happy and healthy is all that we care about.”

Red seemed to process the words. He didn’t stop shaking. Stan held him and gave him as much positive physical contact as he dared, thumbing his back and leaning down to give him gentle kisses every couple of minutes.

If Stan had known Red was this injured, he would have insisted on being the one to bathe him. It was morbid, but he was used to these types of things. Maybe not to this extent- gosh, Red’s poor pelvis- but when Rus had been younger… Stan had taken the time to look and to realize that none of Red’s wounds were recent- and, given their size, severity, and placement, it wasn’t likely they’d been from self harming. He’d only gotten a short look, but from all the research and studying he’d done during Rus’s truly low period, it was enough.

It was still troubling to see him so badly hurt, and to imagine all the pain he’d been through. But Stan had to be sure.

“Red? Can I ask you a question?” Stan asked softly. “I promise you’re not in trouble, I’m just worried about you.”

Red’s shaking had nearly died down by that point. He looked up at the human and nodded.

“Did you give yourself any of those scars?”

Red flinched. His good eye was averted immediately.

“N-n-no- no- i-it was… it was the bad guy,” he said. The mention of his first owner was clearly upsetting, so Stan decided to steer away from the topic.

“Okay- you don’t have to talk about it right now, I know it probably hurts to think about. I just wanted to make sure you weren’t hurting yourself.”

Red was quiet for a second. He was so small in Stan’s hands- the older brother felt him shifting around like a newborn kitten. A minute of silence passed before Red spoke.

“Is… i-is Rus o-okay?”

Stan let out a breath. He’d hoped that maybe Rus would return by now, but he knew to give his brother space. No doubt the event had been triggering, but Stan knew intervention would just make it worse. So he did what he could with Red.

“He will be. I don’t think he was expecting you to be as beat up as you are.”

“D-Did… uhm...  i-is it my fault he’s u-upset?” Red asked. He wiped the tears from his miniscule skull, goodness his hands were so tiny. Curled up against Stan’s chest, the bitty looked to vulnerable.

Stan shook his head. “It’s not your fault… Rus is, ah…” Stan thought of the best way to put it. “Rus has some scars that are very similar to the ones on your thighs,” Stan said gently. “And there were some… very unpleasant things that happened, and seeing those scars on other people without being prepared can make him very upset.”

“O-Oh…” Red said. “Di-id somebody h-hurt him?”

Stan frowned. He held Red a little tighter.

“No… he hurt himself.” Stan rested his hand against Red’s back. “He was in a very, very bad place, and some of the people in his life who were supposed to care about him…. Didn’t.” Stan felt a very familiar ache in his chest.

Red was quiet. Stan tried to push away all the awful memories. Rus joked about it now, but what their parents had put him through was abuse- there was no sugar coating it. They’d mentally abused him for years, shown him no sympathy, mocked him for self harming, until-

Stan felt tears gathering in his eyes. He balanced Red in one hand to wipe them away, which the bitty noticed.

“M’sorry- I- did I make you u-upset too?” Red panicked.

Stan smiled. “No, no, it’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay… Rus will be okay.” He readjusted Red, and the skeleton wiggled around again to find the best position in his washcloth burrito. “All that stuff was a long time ago! I just wanted you to know why he got upset, so you know that it wasn’t your fault.”

Red snuggled close. The two sat for a moment.

The smell of burnt something drifted into the bathroom.

“Oh my god, the pancakes!”

Chapter Text

Only one of the pancakes had been burned beyond saving- with Red in tow, Stan scraped the blackened and stinking remains of a once-great blueberry beauty into the trash can.

Red’s nerves were starting to settle. He wrapped himself tightly in his washcloth while Stan put foil over the cakes, to keep them warm, and went about washing Red’s clothes. He handed the bitty a wet wipe to scrub himself with- the rest could be put off until later.

The great thing about Red’s clothes being so tiny was that it only took Stan a few minutes of blasting them with the hair dryer to get them dry and toasty. It worked out well- Red managed to get all his stickiness off in the time it took to get his clothes in wearable condition.

Stan handed the bitty his things. Red seemed surprised to find that they were heated- he blinked up at Stan.

“Th.. They’re all warm,” Red said. Stan smiled.

“Fresh off the hair dryer,” he said, booping Red’s skull. “Want some help getting dressed?”

Although the atmosphere was still a bit melancholy, Stan had to admit that seeing Red’s awestruck expression upon being put into fresh clothes was heartwarming. He helped Red into his shorts- eyes falling sadly to his broken pelvis- his stained red shirt, and eventually his big fluffy jacket. The bitty stood on the counter, hugging himself, eyes closed as he took in the feeling.

“I-It’s so… so nice,” he said softly.

Stan eased the bitty into his hand, waiting for a nod of permission, and took him to the table with the pancakes.

“Haven’t you ever had your clothes washed before?” Stan asked. Red rubbed his arm through his coat.

“Uh huh, but… they were n-never warm.”

Stan went about getting Red’s tiny, tiny little pancakes all dressed up with syrup and a bit of butter. Red watched him raptly. The human had to be quick about it- lest the syrup soak into the pancake and turn it from a buttery piece of heaven to a soggy disappointment-disc.

It was absolutely too cute to watch Red slice them up with the miniscule fork the brothers had bought him. Throughout his residency, Stan had taught him how to use silverware, and which foods to eat with them, and which were okay to pluck with your bare hands like a savage. Rus was much more lenient with this policy, so Stan handled the table manners.

Red took the first bite. He made a little squeak of delight before plowing into his cakes. Stan regarded him with a soft, affectionate smile before picking up his phone and texting his brother.

Are you okay, Rus?

The response was almost immediate. Stan was well aware his brother was more comfortable writing his feelings than verbally speaking them when he got like this.

is red okay

Red’s fine, don’t worry. I got him cleaned up, he’s having a blast with the pancakes right now. I’m more worried about you, brother.

i didnt think hed be that bad

Neither did I. I asked him, to be sure, and the scars aren’t from self harming. It was his first owner.

god im so fuckin stupid

You’re not stupid. You had a perfectly valid reaction to the situation- I completely understand. Red does, too. He’s worried about you.

i shouldve asked and not just assumed and ran away like a fuckin baby

Russel.

i know, i just… i feel so bad. hes had it so much worse than me, ive got no right to just abandon him like that. fuck

It isn’t a competition, brother. You can’t become healthy overnight just because somebody less healthy came along. If anything, I think it really helps Red to know that he has something in common with you.

Stan’s message went without an immediate reply. He sat his phone down, face up so he could see any new messages, and went to make himself a plate of pancakes. Red was still working on his- the bitties face was once again a sticky mess, but it wasn’t anything a wet wipe couldn’t fix.

Red was getting his cleanup, his shirt a bit wet where Stan had wiped blueberry-juice from it, when the human’s phone went off. He finished by gently wiping off Red’s fingers before setting the cloth aside and picking up his phone. It was from Rus.

can you come in

Stan let out a breath. He should have been used to this by now, but every time his brother would get low, or triggered, or just sad in general, he’d always timidly text his older brother to come and comfort him. It made Stan’s heart ache, to see his baby brother so distraught.

I’ll be right in. Do you want me to bring Red?

i dont want him to see me like this

Okay. I’ll get him situated in his cage, then I’ll be in.

thanks bro

 

 

The door was still closed tight when Stan knocked on it. There was no response, so he eased it open and slipped inside. The sight that awaited him made a pang of sadness go through him.

Rus was curled up and leaning against the headboard of his bed, hugging a pillow to himself. The light was off, but the lamp beside him threw enough light for Stan to see his brother’s puffy, tired eyes. He glanced over at Stan, lower face hidden by the pillow, but quickly looked away.

It was usually like this. Stan went over and sat down next to his brother, keeping a few inches distance between them.

“Hey, bro,” Stan said softly.

Russel’s resolve to stay strong broke at the sound of Stan’s voice. He leaned over and rested his head on Stan’s shoulder with a sniffle.

No matter how many times this happened, it never got any easier to witness. Stan reached his arms around his sibling and pulled him into a hug, Rus’s longer legs laying over his own and his head buried in his chest.

“I’ve got you,” Stan whispered. He rubbed Russel’s back in soothing circles, trying to will all of his love for his brother into his movement and voice. He wished he could take it all away- he wished his hugs could make Russel better, maybe take away even an inch of his trauma, but he knew that wasn’t how it worked. And it hurt. It hurt so much.

Rus didn’t say anything for a long while, just nestled himself close to his brother and sniffled. Stan didn’t expect anything different. His brother always went nonverbal in situations like this. Five minutes, maybe more, passed by with only the quiet noise of Russel’s shaky breaths to be heard.

Stan knew what Rus was seeing, what his mind wasn’t letting him forget. It was nearly three years ago now, and the older brother still remembered every detail clear as day. He’d been the one to find Rus, after all. Lying on the bathroom floor, thighs sliced open countless times, blood just... everywhere. Stan hugged Rus a little tighter as the image flashed through his mind.

“M’sorry,” Rus finally mumbled, low and quiet.

“You don’t have anything to be sorry about,” Stan reassured. He patted Rus’s hair, leaning his head down to kiss the top of his head.

“I didn’t even think…” Rus went on in a voice thick with tears. “I didn’t think about who’d… find me.”

“It’s okay,” Stan said, trying to will the wetness out of his own voice. “You’re here now, and that’s all that matters.”

Rus went quiet- as quiet as somebody who was crying could be. He kept sniffling, sad little noises making their way out every once in awhile.

“Red’s okay?” Rus asked after a few minutes of silent tears. Stan wiped his own away and composed himself before he answered.

“Red’s fine, I promise. He’s in his cage right now, probably still enjoying his warm clothes. He really liked the pancakes.”

Rus let out a breath. “I… I don’t know if… if I’m fit to take care of him.” He hid his face in Stan’s shirt. “I hate making you pick up the slack…”

“Nonsense, brother, I want to help care for him. I love the little thing to bits.” Stan sighed. “And besides- you’re doing a wonderful job caring for him. Sure, there might be a few hiccups, but… that’s to be expected.”

Rus squeezed his brother one final time before leaving the embrace. Stan saw the fresh tear tracks before he wiped them away. He looked so dejected- his usual lazy smile was nowhere to be found. He looked at Stan for a moment before resuming his position against his side, leaning into his brother’s warmth. It was reassuring to feel him so close. It put all of Stan’s fears at ease- all of the awful images from the nightmares of waking up and finding Russel just… gone.

“Thanks, bro,” Russel said, wiping the tears and snot away one final time. His shaking was calming.

“Of course.” Stan turned his head and gave his little brother another kiss into his messy hair. “I love you, brother.”

“I love you too,” Rus said at once.

They sat for a while. It felt good to just be in one another’s presence, in the dim room, secluded from the rest of the world. Stan pushed all his thoughts of a life without Russel away- he wouldn’t think about the what-if’s.

His brother was here, he was alive, and he was healing. Stan could never ask for anything more.

Chapter Text

It took Rus a while to calm down. Stan stayed with him the whole time, lending him a shoulder to lean on and comforting words of reassurance.

He knew he had to go apologize to Red- the poor guy didn’t deserve what had happened, it was only right that Russel make it up to him, but god was it hard. He just wanted to curl up and sleep, he was exhausted.

“Are you ready to see Red? He’s worried about you,” Stan said gently, running a hand over his brother’s hair.

“This must happen more than I think… you know the routine better than I do,” Rus said with a bitter little smirk. “Sorry…”

Stan hugged him before standing up from the mattress and streching. “There’s no need to apologize, brother,” he said gently, popping his joints with a relieved sigh. “I’m always here for you if you need me, and I know you’d do the same.”

Rus followed his brother’s lead, standing and stretching a little to wake himself up. “Yeah… but I’m always the one that needs help.”

Stan reached over and noogied Rus’s messy hair. “You help me every day, brother.” Stan’s expression became wistful. “You’re one of the only people that actually respect me for who I am- you came with me when I moved out- you’re always looking out for me,” Stan said, counting on his fingers as he listed things off.

“That stuff’s all just… basic human decency,” Rus said, but he was blushing.

“Well, if I didn’t help my little brother, I wouldn’t be a decent human being, I don’t think.”

Rus couldn’t argue with that. He rubbed his arm- Stan always knew how to make him feel better. He gave his brother a little half-smile to show his gratitude, and Stan returned it in full.

Russel followed him out of the dimly lit bedroom and back out into the kitchen. He took a few deep breaths- the smell of pancakes wafted over, but he wasn’t very hungry after everything that had happened. Stan sat down at the table and started messing with his phone.

“I’m gonna go talk to Red,” Rus said after a long minute of trying to just breathe.

“Do you want me to come with you?”

“No, I’m… I’m okay. I feel like I should do this alone, y’know?”

Stan nodded. “Don’t beat yourself up- he’ll understand.”

The younger brother made a noise of agreement, trying to repeat the sentence and make himself believe it.

Rus crept quietly into the living room, hoping that maybe Red was sleeping, so he could put this off. All of his other options for procrastination had already been done by Stan- the kitchen was spotless, the living room was tidy, everything was in order and as it should be. Except for the one thing Rus was really nervous about righting.

Red was on his little cushion bed, but he wasn’t sleeping. As Rus took a few gentle steps forward, nerves building in his chest, Red’s head jerked up and he caught Russel’s eyes. The little guy looked tired, but not too worse for wear.

“R-Rus-” he breathed at once, scrambling up and hurrying to the closed cage door to lean against it. The human’s heart beat- that was a reaction he hadn’t been expecting. He stepped forward until he was in front of the cage and slowly opened the door.

“Hey, bud,” he greeted, reaching up a hand. Red latched onto it immediately and hugged it tight as his bones started rattling.

“M’sorry- m’sorry fer,,, m-making you up-upset-” Red blubbered. Rus gathered him up at once and lifted him from the cage, holding the little guy against him. There was an urgency in his chest to just… help. To make Red okay however he could.

“It’s okay, Red, it wasn’t your fault,” Rus said softly, running his fingers over Red’s back.

Red grabbed tiny fistfulls of fabric and pressed his face to Rus’s warmth. The human didn’t mind- it reassured him. It was good to know that Red wasn’t holding anything against him. He carefully took the bitty over as he sat on the couch, supporting the little guy with both of his hands.

“I’m sorry, Red,” Russel began. He had to swallow the tremor in his voice. “I… shouldn’t have ran away like I did. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

Red looked up at his face and saw the beginning of tears there. His eyes widened in distress.

“N-No- o-oh, don’t cry-” Red whined. “M’sorry, pl-please don’t cry.”

Rus shifted Red into one hand and wiped his eyes. “Sorry, bud, I’m… I’m just a bit of a mess. It’s not your fault.”

Red had tears in his sockets as well. He looked like he wanted to say something, but he didn’t know how to articulate it. After a long moment of Russel rubbing his tiny little back, Red collapsed against his chest again and snuggled into his palms.

“A-Are… you o-okay?” the bitty said quietly, words almost lost into Rus’s clothes.

Russel wanted to laugh. Red shouldn’t be worrying about him . He composed himself for a second.

“I wasn’t, but I am now,” he replied after a bit.

Red was curled up, tucked snug into Rus’s hands. The bigger continued to rub gentle fingers over the skeleton, cooing “you’re alright” to him every now and again. He was shaking like a leaf.

Neither of them really said anything for a long time. It felt good to hold him. It felt really, really good to just hold him, and to know he was there. Sunlight was shining through the window by that time, making everything a little brighter. Rus listened to the noises of the city outside and Red’s quiet, calming breaths.

It felt like hours before Red squirmed and shifted to look up at Rus’s face.

“U-Uhm… can... “ Red stopped to suck in a shaky breath. “C-Can I, uhm… can I-I see?”

Russel swallowed the lump that immediately formed in his throat. He remembered Stan’s words- this was a similarity that he and Red shared, even if the source of the scars was different between them. He inhaled deeply before he gently eased Red onto the couch cushion beside him. He stood and took off his pajama pants, the boxers underneath still long enough to reach his knees.

Red watched him with enormous sockets, wringing his hands in worry. Russel took a seat again, careful not to jostle the bitty, and offered one of his hands to him. Red climbed into it immediately, holding onto his thumb for support.

“Stan told you about how I got them?” Rus asked, free hand on the hem of his boxers.

The bitty nodded.

Rus let out one final, shaking breath. The only person he’d ever willingly shown his scars to was his brother. They were ugly and deep, and they made Rus feel… not whole. Imperfect. But this was Red, and Red needed to know that he wasn’t those things just because of his wounds.

He pulled up his boxers on his left leg until his whole upper thigh was exposed. Red gasped.

The little ones weren’t bad. They only looked like lines in his skin, as though somebody had taken a white pencil and drawn them in. It was hard to even feel those ones.

But there were nine deep, ragged scars that marred his skin like chasms. They stood out; Russel could feel them through his pants, they were hard and rough. There were seven more on the other thigh. If it hadn’t been for the stitches, he knew it would look so much worse.

Red stared. It made the human self conscious, but the deed was done. He sat the bitty on the still-clothed thigh and let him look, his own eyes averted to stare out of the window.

“D-Do… do they h-hurt?” Red said softly. With wide and glistening sockets he looked at all of the wounds.

“Not anymore,” Rus replied. He looked down at the floor for a second. “Do yours?”

Red shook his head.

There was a long moment where nothing was said. After it passed, he felt Red shift, and tiny hands grabbed his boxers in an attempt to drag them back down to cover the marks.

Rus made a sad little noise in his throat before he picked Red up once more and slid the fabric back down to cover himself. The bitty was crying. His shoulders shook as he whimpered.

“It’s okay,” Russel whispered, thumbing his back. “You’re okay, little dude.”

He had no way to know what the bitty was thinking, and Red didn’t seem keen on saying it. That was fine with the human- he didn’t think he could handle a conversation about it in that moment.

They sat there. The sunlight grew brighter as the day went on.

Chapter Text

The next couple of days were spent recharging; not just for Red, but for Russel as well. He called off work Wednesday so he could unwind after his little episode and be there for Red if he was needed. The days were spent lazing around the house, the heavy topics going untouched as the two sat around and waited for Stan to get back from work.

The bitty grew more accustomed to being out of his cage. In the days following the bath-time incident, as Rus was now calling it, he went out more and asked to be put back in less. Russel made him a mini couch out of wrapped up t-shirts and towels that he placed on the coffee table in front of the big “human” couch, but more often than not Red was content to rest in Rus’s lap or in his palms. It was endearing. When Stan came home Wednesday to find Red conked out, cradled against his brother’s chest, his resulting squeal nearly woke the bitty up.

Saturday morning came soon enough. Russel, Stan, and Red were eating their breakfast as usual when the elder brother snapped his fingers, mouth full of egg.

“Oh! Rus, we should take Red to the craft store so he can pick out decor for his cage!”

Russel paused with a bite of scrambled egg halfway to his lips. Red did the same, though his eggs were clutched in his palms. The little ruffian.

“Oh, hey, we’ve been meaning to do that,” Russel said, fork clinking against the plate as he sat it down to look at Red. “What do you say, little dude?”

“L-Leave? The h… the house?” He swallowed.

“The apartment,” Stan corrected gently, but then he smiled. “It’ll just be for a while, and Russel and I will be there the whole time. You can pick out some stuff for your cage!”

“Pick out… what?” the confused bitty asked, putting his eggs back down and frowning.

“Like… some paper for your walls ‘n shit like that,” Rus said. Stan reached over and slapped his shoulder.

“Russel! Don’t swear around Red.”

“Why? He’s not a kid.”

The brothers looked at eachother for a moment, and then down at the bitty in question. Red wrung his hands and stared between the two.

“Hey Red, how old are you, anyways?”

The bitty looked visibly uncomfortable. He curled in on himself and rubbed his arm.

“Uhm, I-I… I don’t r-remember…”

“That’s a little concerning,” Stan said, putting his fork down. “Do you forget a lot of things, Red?”

“Uhm, I… I, uh…” Red glanced up at Stan, blushed, and very gently touched the crack that ran down his skull and through his eye socket.

“Ohh,” Stan breathed, reaching out to comfort the little thing. “Do you have a hard time remembering things before the crack?”

Red nodded shyly. Rus made a sad little noise in his throat, but Stan was already stroking Red’s skull and giving him lots of love.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Red… we’ll have to pick out a birthday for you!”

“A-a… birth-d-day?” he asked.

“Oh, that’s actually a really good idea,” Russel added with a smile. “Maybe it could be the day we adopted you?”

Red’s little eye twinkled. “That was a… a-a good day,” he admitted shyly.

The brother’s smiled.

 

Getting to the actual craft store wasn’t hard. Russel bundled Red up in his clothes and added an extra layer of scarf to make sure the little guy wouldn’t catch cold, and Red seemed content in his burrito, snuggled up under Russel’s chin.

They took the bus to the nearby mall, Stan leading the way and trying to prevent people from seeing Red. It was common for people to take their bitties out- in fact, on the way, Russel saw somebody with a Muffet bitty perched on their shoulder. The little girl waved at him from her vantage point, and Rus smiled.

“You okay, bud?” Stan asked, leaning forward and rubbing Red’s skull. The bitty had his face pressed to Rus’s shirt, timid, but he was still looking around the bus at all of the strangers. Thankfully he didn’t seem too overwhelmed. He nodded and hid his face in the fabric of the scarf.

The three made it to the craft store without incident, aside from a few curious people asking about the bitty. Stan turned them away with a smile- said Red was shy, which wasn’t false.

“O-Oh…” Red breathed as you entered the automatic doors, good eye wide and staring at all of the merchandise. Russel smiled and rubbed his skull.

“You ever been to a store like this, little dude?”

“N-No- mm-mm,” he said, shaking his head. He eyed the variety of fake flowers with a bit of wonder in his eye.

“Oh, oh! First let’s take him to the doll section- they might have some little furniture for him!” Stan exclaimed, rushing into the clean building. There were a few patrons, but none seemed keen on interacting, which Rus was glad for.

They found Red a table and a chair, and even a proper little bed! The mattress was sadly not up for the task of somebody sleeping on it, but they could easily sew him something much better. Stan was buzzing with excitement at the prospect.

“Oh Red, this is going to be so much fun!” he said happily, booping the bitty’s ‘nose’ as he picked out a few little things for him.

Red seemed too dazed by the idea of things being bought for him to properly reply. He nodded before his eye went to something sitting up on the top shelf.

“O-Oh…”

Russel lifted his gaze along with Stan as they saw it- an enormous, two story, furnished dollhouse.

“Oh, wow,” Stan breathed. He stared at it for a moment before his eyes went wide and lit up, grabbing his brother’s free hand. “We have to get it, Russel! It’s so perfect!”

God, what Rus wouldn’t give. With a heavy heart, he reached up on his tip toes and touched the price tag.

Stan’s face fell at once. “Oh…”

“C-Can we g-get it?” Red asked, still looking up.

“Sorry, bud… it’s, uh, a little out of our price range,” Rus said softly. It hurt to turn Red down, because God the little thing deserved the world, but the thing cost half a month’s rent.

“Oh, okay,” Red said, but he didn’t seem at all unhappy. He snuggled back in. “That’s o-okay, sir.”

Stan gave Russel the absolute saddest look he could. Rus frowned.

“We’ll just have to save up, won’t we little guy?” Stan amended, petting the top of his skull with a smile. “Soon we’ll be able to pay for it, but for now, let’s go get some paper to put in your house back home!”

Red nodded. Russel supposed that was the good thing, about him coming from nothing- he didn’t expect more than the bare minimum. He should, though. And the brother’s would make sure he knew how much he was worth.

He picked out some pink and red polka-dotted crafting paper, along with a little red flower he seemed enamored with. Their purchase, in total, was almost one hundred dollars, but it was a hundred bucks well spent. Their spending money would be hurting for a while, but that was nothing new.

The person behind the register rung everything up while Stan finished paying with his card. She looked at him with a smile before that damned word slipped out of her mouth.

“Is that all, ma’am?”

Stan froze. Russel bristled, ready to go on the offensive, while Red shifted in his scarf.

“Ah- y-yes, that’s… that’s all-” Stan began in a small, sad voice.

“Sir,” Russel corrected. He stared the lady down.

“I’m sorry?”

“It’s sir ,” Rus said, trying to keep the edge from his voice but failing. Could have been an honest mistake, but by the sound of it...

“Oh, uh… sir,” she said, but a look went over her face and she threw Stan a nasty eye that said it all.

Russel glared at her as he hurried Stan out of the store, their things in tow. His brother had all but deflated- like a balloon whose air had escaped. Russel lead him over to a quiet corner of the street and shifted Red so he could give him a hug.

There were tears building in his eyes. No, that wouldn’t do. That absolutely wouldn’t do.

“Hey, bro, don’t listen to that bitch,” he said, pulling away and using his thumb to wipe Stan’s growing tears away. “You see that look she gave you? She did it on purpose.”

“It’s okay… I’m okay,” Stan said softly, sniffling. “It happens.”

Yes, it did. Far, far more often than Rus would ever like it to. He always knew when it happened, too- when Stan would come home from work dragging his feet, or go straight to bed, or leave his binder on for far, far too long.

Red didn’t say a word, but he saw Stan’s tears. He whimpered and reached out, and Rus held him up so he could lay a soft hand on Stan’s cheek.

They hurried home, Rus’s arm hung over his brother’s shoulder.

The bus ride back was spent in sad silence. Nobody bothered them- they probably looked too melancholy for conversation. Red kept casting confused glances at Stan, and then up at Russel, and then back.

As soon as the door closed, Rus deposited Red on the counter and hugged his brother for all he was worth.

“Russel, I’m fine … I promise.”

“I know. Seeing you upset makes me upset.”

Stan laughed a little bit and hugged him back. “I’m used to it, Rus. I’m okay.”

It was still early in the day. Russel led his brother to the couch and sat down, Red in tow. The bitty looked so out of it and lost. He hesitantly clamored over Rus’s lap and up onto Stan's.

“Y-Y-You’re… y-you’re sad,” he said, frowning. “D-Don’t be sad, s-sir.”

Stan laughed, but there wasn’t the usual joy behind it. He sat up from his slouch, careful to ease Red into his lap while Russel sat close beside.

“How’d you know I was a boy?” Stan asked, holding Red close against his bound chest.

Red looked hopelessly lost. He frowned. “Y-You’re… b-because you are?”

Stan smiled. “Yeah, but I’m… you know. I’m trans.”

“Wh-what’s… trans?”

“It means when he was born, they told him he was a girl,” Russel said when Stan didn’t answer.

“B-But… why?”

Russel didn’t say anything. It wasn’t his place- he wasn’t the one that had to go through this. He patted his brother’s shoulder, but Red was quickly handed to him as Stan reached around and undid his binder.

Red seemed confused as Stan took it off and sat it aside. He took Red again and held him against his chest.

“It doesn’t matter, little guy,” Stan said. Maybe someday he could explain, in detail, but he just looked so tired. Russel understood.

Red still seemed confused, but he cuddled against Stan’s boobs and sighed.

“A-Am… am I-I a boy?”

“You can be whatever you want to be,” Stan said softly. “So if you want to be a boy- then you’re a boy.”

Red snuggled closer while Russel smiled. “I-I want to b-be like… like y-you and R-Rus.”

That was enough to lift some of the sadness in Stan’s eyes. Maybe once Red understood gender more, the topic could be revisited, but for now… he was their little dude.

 

Chapter Text

It was one of those rare days where Rus actually made it to work. The pharmacy he worked for- as a tech- knew that he was still recovering from depression, so when he called off they didn’t fire him, which was a huge relief. He only worked a couple days a week, so it wasn’t that much of a strain, but it also meant that Stan was the breadwinner for their household with his fancy grocery store management position.

All that aside, Rus came home, shrugged off his coat, and cupped his hands against his mouth.

“I’m home!”

There was no reply. Rus didn’t think much of it- Stan wouldn’t be home for another three hours, and Red was… well. Red.

Russel made his way to the living room, hoping to find the bitty in his cage, but… it was empty.

“Red?” the human asked, reaching inside and flipping over his cushion and his bed. No skeletons. He looked around the room, under the couch, and in the closet, but there was not a bitty to be seen.

He checked everywhere. The bathroom, the kitchen, under everything he could find, calling for his bitty the whole time, but there was no sign of him.

“Oh no, Red… Red, where are you, buddy?”

No response.

Russel whipped out his phone and called Stan at his work number. It was only for emergencies- he could count on one hand how many times he’d dialed it.

“Hello, Corner Convenience Groceries, how can I help you?”

“U-Uhm, hi, is Stan there? Stan Fuente?” Russel asked, nervous, but his panic outweighed his nerves.

“Yes, I’ll go and get him right away. Can I have your name, please?”

“It’s Russel. I’m his brother.”

“Oh! Yes, right away, sir.”

God, if Stan had been talking about him at work again… Russel didn’t have much time to consider it before the phone was being fumbled and Stan’s panicked voice came over the line.

“Rus! What’s wrong?” Stan knew Russel didn’t interrupt him at work for nothing.

“Red’s gone- I can’t find him in the apartment.”

There was a moment of silence, followed by some hushed whispering between Stan and the assumed person near him.

“Thanks, Mary- okay, Rus, I’m heading home now. Was the apartment locked?”

“Yeah.”

“Shoot… I’m on my way. Keep looking for him, okay? I’ll ask the neighbors on my way up.”

“Okay. Please hurry. I’m, uh… I’m like ten seconds away from a P.A.”

Stan made a sad little noise. P.A. was their code for panic attack.

“Just breathe, I’m sure he’s somewhere. We’ll find him, brother, don’t worry.”

Russel’s throat tightened. All he could manage was a quiet noise of agreement before he hung up.

He couldn’t just be gone … had he ran away? Why would he do that? Rus tried to think of something he or his brother could have done wrong, something to drive Red away, but… things had been getting better.

What if he’s dead-

Rus’s heart tightened painfully. No, he couldn’t be- there was… no way…

“Red, please come out,” he called, voice wet. The thought of anything bad happening to the poor little guy was enough to make tears well up in his eyes.

He checked and double checked everywhere. His bedroom, Stan’s bedroom, the bathroom, anywhere Red could possibly fit he was down on his knees with his phone flashlight, shining it in and hoping to see the frame of a little skeleton hiding within. But there wasn’t one.

“Red? C’mon, Red, I’m really worried,” he said, scrubbing at his eyes. He made it back to the living room, where Red’s cage was, and gave it a fourth look. Still, no Red.

He turned, and that’s when he saw it. One of the decorative boxes Stan loved so much, the ones that were always open, was shut.

Russel bolted over and got on his knees, sending up a quick prayer to a God he barely believed in before reaching forward and tilting open the lid of the box.

A palpable wave of relief went through him. A familiar little body was tucked up against one of the corners, huddled in the fetal position.

“Red,” Russel breathed. He didn’t manage much more before he noticed that Red was… not okay.

His good eye was burning with red magic, the usual soft glow replaced with a harsh light. He was flushed and shaking so hard he nearly rattled against the box.

Russel reached out for him. He gently laid a finger on his shoulder.

Red’s reaction was immediate. He yelped and lashed out, scratching Rus’s finger. The human withdrew with a quiet ‘ow’ as Red curled up tighter, hands thrown over his head.

His hand started bleeding. Rus’s stomach flipped.

“D-D-Don’t- don’-t do-don’t don’t-”

“Red…” Russel began, but it was like the bitty couldn’t hear him. He barely got enough air into his tiny little body as he hyperventilated and cried.

“Please don’t- pl-please do-on’t-” he sobbed, words broken by sniffles and shuddering breaths. He wasn’t looking at Rus.

“Red, it’s me…” Russel tried, holding his finger. It wasn’t hurt very badly- just a cat scratch, really. But even that night in the middle of the living room carpet, Red hadn’t been this bad.

“I-I’ll be- be g-good, please- please please don’t please-”

“Can you hear me, Red?”

The bitty didn’t respond, just whined and sobbed, magic flaring and flickering, pleading.

Russel watched, tears falling gently from his eyes as his bitty suffered and he could do nothing to help. Red continued to babble and plead and beg for a couple of minutes before he quieted down.

One of his little clawed hands reached up and he whined as he began to tears at his crack, right above his injured eye.

Russel moved forward and grabbed him at once, which elicited more screams from the bitty. He held Red with both hands against his chest, wincing as his claws dug into his skin and broke it, leaving little bloody trails as the bitty thrashed and kicked and wailed.

“Stop- hurts- stop please! Pl-please! S-stop! Stop stop stop!”

Russel whimpered. His head was spinning, he was triggered beyond all hell, but he couldn’t let Red hurt himself. He just kept seeing flashes of red- red from his blood, red from Red’s eye- it was too much red.

“Shh, it’s okay… it’s okay, Red. I’ve got you,” Russel tried to soothe, voice tight. He attempted to stroke the bitty’s skull and back, but that just seemed to upset him more.

“D-Don’t hurt me please don’t hurt me-”

“Shh… Red, please…” Russel cried, holding him tightly so he couldn’t wound himself. He could feel droplets of his own blood running down his hand.

Eventually, after what seemed like years, Red tired himself out. His struggling grew weak, his claws no longer strong enough to break Russel’s skin.

“Shh… shh, you’re okay. You’re fine- everything’s fine,” Russel cooed. He’d give anything for his brother to be here.

Red gasped for breath, little ribcage rising and falling. He began to calm as his breathing slowed.

There was a moment where he went still. Then, with a small groan, the familiar glow came back to his eyes as he pushed Russel’s hands away and looked up at him

“R… Ru-Rus?”

Russel bit back a sob. His head had smears of blood on it- so did his sweater, and his shorts, and his legs and arms…

“Y-Yeah, little guy. It’s me.”

“I th… I thought you… were…” Red’s voice trailed off. He caught sight of the many red lines on Rus’s hands.

A moment of silence passed. Red’s eye went wide and scared as he looked up at the human again.

“I… d-did… d-d-did… I…?”

“It’s fine. Just a couple of scratches,” Rus said, shifting Red to one palm so he could use an un-bloody part of his hand to wipe his still-falling tears away.

More tears welled in the bitty’s eyes. He looked scared, and horrified, and worried.

Stan burst into the apartment just then.

“Russel! Did you find him-”

Stan froze in the living room doorway. His whole body went stiff- he must have seen the blood.

“Russel! Oh my god, what happened, are you okay-”

“I’m fine,” he said, still crying, hands stinging. He felt like his chest was trying to collapse in on itself.

Stan nearly skidded along the carpet as he went down on his knees, hands up as though to do something. Russel handed Red to him- he didn’t want to get anymore blood on the little guy.

“R-Rus… Rus…” Red began to sob again, tears falling. “M’ s-sorry, m’sorry-”

Russel finally got the chance to look at his hands, now that the adrenaline was fading and Red wasn’t clutched between them. They were scratched up to hell. A few of the lines, the ones from his claws, were deep enough to let trickles of blood slowly ooze down his skin, dripping onto his pants.

He stared at it. His blood.

Stan went to work at once. He stood and quickly put Red in his cage, shutting the doors so the little bitty couldn’t get out. Red whined, pressed to the bars as Stan went over to Russel and helped him up.

“It’s just blood, you’re fine. A few scratches.”

Russel stared down at his big brother.

“Russel, nod if you’re okay.”

Rus sniffled, but managed that at least.

Stan nodded back. “Okay. Red, you wait there, you’re not in trouble, everybody just… stay calm,” Stan said, his brotherly instinct kicking in. Rus just stared at the trickling blood and swallowed the lump in his throat.

Stan cleaned him up really well. Russel went along with it without saying a word, only wincing as the water stung his cuts.

“You’re okay, Rus,” Stan said as he dried off the scratches, trying for a smile. “Just breathe. It’s just blood.”

Rus had seen far too much of his own for it to be “just” blood.

Chapter Text

    It had happened a number of times. Once, he’d been on his way home from work, and he’d tried to pet an alley cat. Another time, he’d been helping Stan chop some vegetables for dinner. The outcome was always the same.

    Stan bandaged the myriad of scratches with patience. He didn’t know what had happened, but by the size, he could guess. He didn’t ask questions, because he knew Russel was in no position to explain. His brother just stared down until all of the wounds were covered, his eyes practically glazed over.

    “Brother? Can you nod for me?”

    Russel did it, eyes catching his older brother’s for a moment. He opened his mouth like he wanted to talk, but when nothing came out, he promptly closed it again.

    “You’re okay, don’t try to talk,” Stan said at once, wiping up the last of the blood and putting a bandaid over the scratch. “You’re all cleaned up.”

    Russel blinked and looked at his hands. Without a word, he dug in his hoodie pocket and quickly pulled out his phone.

    Stan waited patiently. It took a bit longer, because of all of the bandages and gauze, but eventually his own phone pinged.

    red had an episode, tried scratching his head. held him to stop him, n he scratched me. little dude wasn’t himself.

    “Okay,” Stan said, tucking his phone away. “I’ll go and talk to him. You go rest, okay?”

    Russel scrubbed at his eyes again as he put his cell phone away, but he nodded. Between a full day of work and an episode like this, he was probably exhausted.

    Stan took a moment to calm himself as his brother retreated to his bedroom. He stood from the table, taking a deep breath. His binder inhibited the motion to an extent, so with an exasperated huff he reached around and fiddled with it until it was unhooked. He pulled it out from under his shirt and threw it on the table before walking over and peaking into the living room to look at Red, still where they’d left him, still crying.

    “Shh shh it’s okay, don’t cry,” Stan tried, hurrying over to the cage and quickly opening the doors. He stuck his hand in and offered it to the little guy.

    Red didn’t move. He stared up at Stan, tears spilling from his eyes.

    “P-Pl-ease d-don’t send m-me ba-ack,” he sobbed.

    Stan felt tears beginning to well in his own eyes. There was a deep, profound sadness in his voice, like he knew he was going to be returned. Stan just shook his head.

    “Red, honey… we’re not sending you back,” Stan said gently, composing himself. “We’re never going to send you back, okay buddy?”

    Red sniffled and wiped the snot from his face. He hesitantly moved forward to Stan’s offered palm and clutched it tightly. The human quickly picked him up and held him against his chest.

    “I-I didn’t- d-didn’t mean to- to- to scratch hi-im-” Red sobbed. “I c-couldn’t- couldn’t see-”

    “I know you didn’t mean to hurt Russel, it’s okay,” Stan said gently. “They’re just scratches- he’s gonna be okay. Okay, Red?”

    The bitty was a snotty, teary mess, but he nodded against Stan’s hand. He winced, one of his hands going up to touch his crack.

    “Why did you scratch him, Red?” Stan asked softly.

    It took a while, and his words were so broken and wet Stan could barely make them out, but eventually Red managed to tell him.

    His old owner, his first owner, would put him in a box as punishment. Sometimes for an hour, sometimes for days. And when the lid came off, there was always pain. Flicking, cutting, sometimes worse.

    “I-I th-though- thought- i-it was him,” Red cried, finally beginning to calm after explaining so much. “E-Everyth-ing hu-urt, I c-couldn’t… couldn’t s-see…”

    Stan had to let it all sink in. This was the first time he’d heard Red talk about his first owner, and the fear … it was enough to make his chest tighten and his stomach turn. He stroked Red’s spine and leaned down to give him a kiss.

    “It’s going to be okay,” Stan said gently. “How’d you end up in the box, honey?”

    Red whined. “I… I-I was ch-chasing a la-ady bug…”

    That would be so cute if not for the circumstances. Stan kissed him again.

    “We’ll get rid of the boxes, okay? That way this won’t happen again.”

    Red nodded. His miniscule fingers clutched at Stan’s clothes.

    “M’ s… ‘m so-orry I’m b-broken.”

    “Shh, Red… you’re not broken, baby,” Stan reassured. “You’ve been through so much, so much pain and fear and… and none of it was your fault. But it’s okay to be a little rough- just like Russel.”

    Red was quiet. After a second, he sobbed.

    “I-Is he… is he… uhm, m-mad…”

    “He’s not mad at all, he’s just worried,” Stan explained. “He gets really worked up when he sees his own blood, because of some things that happened to him in the past. But that doesn’t mean he’s broken, right?”

    Red shook his head.

    “Then you’re not broken, either. You got triggered and had an episode, and… and it’s scary, but that happens,” Stan said, trying so hard to explain. “It happens to Russel, and it might happen to you.”

    “But… b-but I d-don’t wa-ant to hurt h-him again…”

    “You won’t,” Stan said, giving Red another smooch. “Next time, we’ll be prepared- we’ll still be here, we’ll always be here for you, little guy.”

    Red whined, but his tremors were starting to calm. Stan was glad.

    “From now on, you can chase as many ladybugs as you want, but please watch where you’re going, okay?”

    Red nodded. He looked up at the human, finally, his good eye wide and still filled with fear.

    “A-Am… a-am I bad?”

    Stan thought his chest would implode. He shook his head, shifting Red to one palm so he could wipe his own tears away.

    “Of course you’re not bad- Red, you’re a wonderful little bitty, and Russel and I are both so happy to have you here.”

    “C-Can… c-can… y-you promise?”

    “Promise what, Red?”

    “N-Not… n-not to send me… s-send me a-away…”

    Stan held the bitty up, momentarily forgetting his own pitiful tears and looking Red right in the eyes.

    “Red, I promise. Russel promises. You’re a part of our family now.”

    “F… family…” Red repeated softly.

    “That’s right. You’re our littlest brother now, and we love you so much. And we’ll never, ever send you away.”

    That seemed to reassure the bitty. Red nodded, crying, and Stan pressed him back to his chest.

    Stan’s family had thrown him away like trash. For so long, Russel was all he’d had. Now this new, scared little thing had been thrown into their lives, and he would sooner die than abandon Red like his parents had abandoned him.

   

Chapter Text

“Russel? Can we come in?”

Rus was in his usual position, sat up against the headboard of his messy bed, a pillow clutched to his chest. He sniffled and gave the loudest “mhmm” he could manage.

The door creaked open, and Stan walked in, Red clutched against his chest. Russel scooted over as his brother and the bitty sat down beside him.

“H… Hey, Red,” Russel said quietly, wiping the residual tear tracks from his face. “You doin’ better, little bud?”

Red pushed against Stan’s chest until the brother grasped him safely and handed him to Russel. The younger brother took Red without pause and held him close, running hands down his back as the tears started up again.

“M’sorry- m’s-sorry, Rus,” Red cried as he grabbed as much of the human as he could with his miniscule arms.

“S’okay, bud,” Russel cried with a sad smile. “You’re fine. I’m… I’m okay.”

They all stayed like that for a while. Stan leaned his head over against Rus’s shoulder with a deep sigh, and Russel looped his free arm around Stan’s shoulder while he held the shivering bitty.

It was nice to just sit and bask in one another’s company. Russel snuggled close to his brother while Red snuggled close to him while they all three just… sat. It felt good to hear them breathe.

“I’m thinking some kind of comfort food for dinner… how do you boys feel about big, greasy cheeseburgers?”

Russel nodded along with his bitty while Stan rummaged in the cupboards. Red hadn’t parted from him in the two hours they’d all just relaxed- it was like the little thing was glued to Russel’s chest.

“C-Can- I… uhm,” Red began, only to stop and give Rus’s shirt a squeeze.

“Go ahead, buddy,” Rus encouraged with a little finger noogie.

“I… i-if it’s o-okay, I… c-can I… have a ba-bath first?”

The brother’s had cleaned off most of the blood from Red’s little body, but that didn’t sound like a bad idea. Stan took the meat from the freezer and smiled.

“Absolutely, Red, that’s a great idea,” he said as he went about putting it in the microwave to thaw. “Russel, are you okay helping him?”

“Yeah, lets go get you all squeaky clean, lil bro,” Russel said as he stood from the table. Red flushed at the endearing term.

Red hadn’t really had a bath- not since the first botched attempt. He just hadn’t been dirty, really. It wasn’t like the little guy got sweaty, so there wasn’t as pressing of a need. Rus turned on the hot water to fill up the little tub while Red hesitantly grabbed the hem of his shirt.

“Is… I-Is it okay?” he asked, playing with the fabric. He was looking away, sheepish.

Rus nodded. “You need help?”

Red lifted up his arms in a wordless ‘yes’ and Russel helped him out of his tiny little sweater, followed by his pants. He knew what to expect this time, so the cracked and missing portion of his pelvis didn’t scare him. Red looked worried, so Rus leaned down to the bathroom counter and planted a kiss on his tiny little skull.

“How’s the water, feelin’ warm enough?” Russel asked as he lifted the little naked thing up so he could touch the warm water in the container. Red touched it, shivered, and then nodded.

“Alright, in ya go,” Russel said, holding him under the arms as he deposited the bitty into the warm, soapy liquid.

Red gasped as he was submerged, all but his skull underneath the water. Russel smiled as the bitty all but melted into his hand, which he’d stuck in as well.

“Feel good?” Russel asked, though he hardly needed to.

“I-It’s… so- so warm,” Red sighed.

Russel smiled.

The tiny skeleton soaked in the water for a while as Rus went about washing his clothes. It didn’t take long- they dried super fast underneath the blow from the hairdryer. As his sweater dried, Rus looked over to the see the little guy attempting to swim in his little bath, a rare, happy smile on his face. It made Rus grin.

Red seemed to be having the time of his life. Rus held him and used a washcloth to wipe down his bones, cleaning his skull and his spine and his arms and legs until the bitty was spotless. Red’s body was limp in his grasp, little sighs and happy noises making their way out of his mouth. It was a contrast from the scared whimpers he’d made during his episode, but it was one Russel wouldn’t protest in the least.

The human avoided his pelvis, for the most part. He didn’t know if it was still sensitive, and he didn’t want to make the bitty uncomfortable. He’d read that bitties could feel sexual pleasure- even manifest things down there- but with Red’s broken pelvis he wasn’t sure if the little dude could. Either way, he avoided it, and Red didn't seem to mind.

    Drying the little thing off didn't take long. The human swaddled Red up in a blanket burrito, the bitty all but purring as he was rubbed and petted. It was nice to see him so relaxed in Rus’s grasp and to know he was comfortable being coddled like this.

    “Hey, Red?” Russel asked gently, holding the bitty against his chest.

    He mumbled and looked up, eyes sleepy.

    “I love ya, little dude.”

    Red blinked. He smiled- the gesture thankfully becoming less rare as time went on- and snuggled himself into Rus’s chest.

    “I… I l-love y-you…” Red gulped, suddenly shy. “Th-thank you f-for saving m-me…”

    Russel held him close and nodded.

    The cheeseburgers were done by the time the two broken boys finally parted.

 

Chapter Text

It was very dark. There was nothing but Red, Russel, and Stan, the two humans towering over him like enormous monsters. They looked angry- at him. It had to be at him.

“We’re taking you back to the store.”

Red’s soul stuttered. Why couldn’t he talk?

“We can’t have you hurting Russel anymore. You’re more trouble than you’re worth, and we’re tired of taking care of you.”

No. No no no. Red held up his arms, moving them through what felt like sludge, wanting them to hold him. They… they were the first people to ever care about him, to make him feel safe. He didn’t want to go back- back to being alone, back to being called ugly, back to- Russel laughed at him.

“You’re so stupid. Needy, stupid, and ugly. We’re finally getting rid of you.”

Red couldn’t even whimper, couldn’t move. Russel raised his foot in the air, right over Red.

“Bye bye, little guy.”

 

Red woke up to the sound of his own wailing. He shut himself up at once, scared of angering the brothers, and curled into a fetal position on his bed.

It wasn’t the first time he’d had that nightmare. It wouldn’t be the last.

“Red, hun? Are you okay?” came a soft voice from the doorway. Red whined and wished he could have silenced himself sooner- Stan came in, wiping the sleep from his eyes, and went right to Red’s cage.

The familiar pang of fear went through him, but he did his best to quell it. It was just a dream, Stan wasn’t going to hurt him. He had to tell himself that.

He sniffled, and Stan picked him up at once, holding the bitty to his chest and cooing.

“Shh, shh, it’s okay. It was just a nightmare, little bug, you’re okay,” he said softly, his big, warm hands running along Red’s spine.

“F… felt real,” Red whimpered.

Stan took him over to the couch. He felt so bad. What a mess, what a bother he was, waking one of his owners up with his stupid, stupid nightmares. He deserved to be sent back to the store, he deserved to be hurt, he deserved-

“Just a nightmare, Red, you’re gonna be okay,” Stan continued to soothe him, petting away at his skull and back, gentle and caring. “I’m right here. I’ve got you.”

Red curled himself into the warmth and ignored the voice in his head, the ever-present part of him that told him he didn’t deserve this, that he was stupid and ugly and bad, a bad bitty. He had to tell it to shut up and leave him alone.

“M...Mis-Mister?”

“Hmm?”

“I…” Red’s voice broke and he had to wait a moment to continue. “I… can-can I… sl-sleep with y-you?”

“Of course you can, little bud,” Stan confirmed. He held Red carefully as he shifted to lay on the couch before setting the bitty on his chest. “How’s that?”

“Mm… good,” Red said, curling into the soft warmth and pressing his face into the fabric. “Th-Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome, hun,” Stan said softly. “You just let me know if you need anything else, okay?”

“Mm,” Red agreed. It felt so nice… he could feel Stan’s heart beating, steady and comforting in its rhythm. The human hadn’t even questioned him, hadn’t made him feel stupid for having nightmares like a baby, he was… he was just there. Stan was here, and he was holding him, and he… maybe he didn’t hate Red.

Maybe… maybe he did deserve this.

Red fell asleep, and the nightmares stayed away for the rest of the night.

 

Chapter Text

Red was woken by Stan shifting underneath him. He started, scared for a moment, before he remembered where he was.

“Fall asleep on the couch?” came Russel’s low, soothing voice. Red looked up and saw the human standing by the end of the couch. He reached out and offered his hand to the bitty, and Red quickly scooted into his palm and as soon as he was able to, curled himself up against his chest.

“Mm.. ‘m up,” Stan mumbled, yawning and stretching. Red idly patted Rus’s shirt, feeling the soft fabric. It felt good to just feel, after last night. To know Russel was here and not mad at him. The gentle fingers rubbing the back of his rib cage reminded him of that.

“You like my shirt, lil dude?”

Red drew his hand away and stared up at Russel, afraid he’d angered the human with his actions. But Russel only smiled and pet him. Red let out a shaky breath he’d been holding.

“You’ve had that thing forever,” Stan commented, wiping his eyes and standing up to stretch out his legs. “I remember you wearing it when you were in high school.”

“Heh, yeah, haven’t done a lot of growing since the growth spurt of eleventh grade,” he said. Eleventh grade? Red didn’t question it, though he wanted to. Maybe…

“Wh…” his courage wavered as Rus stared down at him, but he swallowed and went on, determined.

“What… what is… high-school?”

“Oh!” Stan said as Russel blinked. “It’s where you go to learn when you’re young!”

“Oh… okay,” Red said, curling back into Russel’s hold, content. Asking questions was okay, it seemed. They never got mad at him for asking questions. Maybe he’d ask more of them.

“What’s the plan, Stan?” Rus asked as he stroked away at Red’s back and skull.

“I got paid this morning, so it’s shopping time!” Stan said with a grin. “Our birthdays are in about a week, after all.”

“Huh, really? November’s gone by fast,” Russel said. “What day is it?”

“It’s the 12th today,” Stan said.

“Birth...days?” Red asked, looking up again at the two as they spoke.

“Birthdays!” Stan said happily. “Mine is on the 18th, and Russel’s is the 21st, so we always celebrate on the 19th of November and exchange presents and have a nice night in!”

Red stared up at them. “Presents?”

“Yeah, we get each other presents. Gifts, you know,” Russel explained. “We’ll get you some stuff too, bud, don’t worry. We wouldn’t leave our favorite little guy out of the birthday fun, even though yours is in September. Well… even though we made yours in September.”

“I-It’s… it’s okay, I don’t- uhm- I don’t…” Red tried to protest, staring up at Russel. “I don’t… need… m-more…”

“Well, you might not need more, but it's fun to open presents with the people you love!” Stan said happily. “You’ll see, little guy. It’ll be fun.”

Red nodded.

“Well, you and Red can go out shopping, if you want to,” Russel said with a sly smile. “I already got you guys presents.”

“Russel!” Stan said, thumping him gently on the arm, conscious of Red being held in his hands.

Rus laughed. “Heh, what? I came prepared this year. Thought you and little Red could have a nice day out together while I catch up on some Z’s.”

“Out?” Red parroted, questioning.

“Out n about on the town- you know, like a little date.” Russel smiled down at the bitty, holding him away from his body and supporting him with both hands.

“You’re sure you don’t want to tag along, brother?” Stan asked, looking concerned.

Russel shook his head while Red looked between them. “Nope, I’m gonna nap the day away. Besides, you and Red need to get some bonding in- you’re working so much the two of you only ever get to hang on the weekends. Go have some bro time.”

Stan blinked for a moment, but then nodded with a determined grin. “Okay! What do you say to a fun day out with your big brother Stan, Red?”

Red nodded. Of course he was okay with that. He loved Stan.

 

Finding a safe position for Red in the car was a task in itself. They didn’t make safety seats for bitties… or, if they did, Stan had never seen one. He made a mental note to check it out before too long. In the meantime, he stashed Red away in his front shirt pocket and drove five miles under the limit at all times, staying hyper vigilant to avoid accidents.

Red seemed cozy against his bound chest, nestling into the warmth and mumbling gently as they rode. It wasn’t a long trip to the store they were heading to- Stan had a vague idea what he wanted to get Russel for his birthday this year.

“So, I think I’m going to get him some Magic cards,” Stan said, mostly to himself, but Red perked up at his voice and peaked out of the pocket.

“M...Magic?”

“It’s a card game he used to play when he was younger, when we…” Stan trailed off. Lived with their parents. He shook himself. “When he was younger. We used to play together!”

“Can… I pl-play too?”

Stan giggled. “Well, the cards might be a little too big for you, but we can certainly help you out, hun.”

Red hummed and went back to his curled up position in Stan’s pocket.

Russel had been really into Magic the Gathering in his high school years. Stan didn’t much understand it, he only knew the basics, but he liked to play with Russel and hear him talk about the different cards and what they did. Their parents had “confiscated” Russel’s cards after he’d “exhibited bad behavior” so he hadn’t had them in years- Stan had thought about it the other day at the supermarket when a teen had sheepishly checked a pack of Pokemon cards. It seemed like a great present! He could get them both some cards, enough to play with, and they could have a big ol’ dose of nostalgia!

He didn’t want to bring up any sore thoughts, though. The “bad behavior” Russel had done was self harm. They’d taken away one of his only sources of joy because he’d cut himself… the thought made Stan clench the steering wheel and frown, but he dismissed it at once. He couldn’t think about that, they’d started their life over, and now Russel could play as much Magic: The Gathering as he wanted to!

They got the mall without a hitch. The card store wasn’t very populated, so Stan zipped in and bought a few things with what little money he had to spare, he he was out of there. Red stayed in his pocket the whole time, content but curious as Stan walked around the mall.

“You wanna go into any of the stores?” Stan asked the bitty. It was like he had a headset on and was talking to somebody that nobody else could see. His little pocket friend.

“Uhm… I don’t… uh… know.”

“How about the pet store! We can look at all the fish and the puppies, does that sound like fun?”

Red seemed confused, but nodded. Stan was glad bitties were only sold at specialty stores- Red liked to watch videos of kittens and little animals playing, and they could go see some for free here! But it would be weird to take a bitty to cruise around a bitty store, or anywhere where they were sold, for that matter.

“You’ll love it, little bug, they’ve got kittens and birds and sometimes even chinchillas! Have you ever seen a chinchilla before?”

Stan had a hard time seeing all of his little reactions, so he gently drew the bitty out of his pocket, asking if it was okay first. Red seemed concerned, but allowed the human to do it. He looked around the mall and all the people with a wide eye and open mouth.

“Big…” he said.

“It is! Big and cool- the mall is an awesome place to hang out.”

Red nodded, curling up against Stan as the human held him steady in one palm, letting the bitty use his fingers as leverage.

“Have you ever been to a mall before, Red?” Stan asked as they walked, avoiding the big swaths of people wherever he could.

Red shook his head.

“Do you like it?”

“Nn… Nobody is… staring at me.” His tiny hands clutched Stan’s shirt a little tighter.

“They’ve all got their own things to think about. Some of them probably have bitties of their own with them! Look, over there- see that person in the red shirt? They’ve got a bitty on their shoulder!”

Indeed they did. As they walked by, the human took no notice of them, but the Baby Blue on their shoulder waved happily down to Red, eyes bright and shining.

Red clutched at Stan’s shirt as though scared. Stan didn’t blame him, just held him with his other hand and cooed.

“It’s okay- nobody is going to hurt you, hun. We’re safe.”

“Mm… mm.” Red snuggled close.

The pet store came up quick enough. Stan walked into the brightly lit area with Red in tow, picking out a few animals as soon as they entered.

“Oh…” Red breathed as he spotted the little glass enclosures with puppies playing inside. The wall was covered with them. Stan took the bitty over and held him up to see.

“P...Puppies,” Red said softly. Stan shifted so he could see Red’s face, a little weiner dog catching him off guard as it jumped at the glass and pressed its little black nose to it.

A rare, wonderful little smile lit Red’s face as he stared at the dogs.

The cats got him to giggle, even, as one of the kittens attempted to bat at Stan’s fingers through the wire of the cage. It was a golden little noise, one Stan hoped he’d hear more and more frequently as time passed.

“What… are those, o-over there?” Red asked, pointing. A little enclosure in the middle of the floor had a group of three long, furry bodies romping around in it.

“Ferrets!” Stan explained with a grin. “They’re stinky.”

“Stin...ky,” Red parroted. He seemed to do that a lot- Stan didn’t question it. If repeating his words made Red feel better, he was free to do it as much as he liked.

“And look, Red!” Stan said excitedly, nearly tripping over his own feet to get to the parakeet cage. “Birds!”

Red gasped as he saw a group of zebra finches fluttering about their home, flitting this way and that.

They continued to peruse the pet store for nearly half an hour. Red seemed to love it- he requested to go back to the puppies the most, and Stan even found him an old, sleeping cat to pet through the cage. He did so with stars in his eyes, miniscule fingers running through the soft fur.

“May I help you, ma’am?”

Stan’s mood was so high, even being misgendered wasn’t enough to break it. He looked at the young lady and smiled.

“I’m actually a ‘sir’, if it’s not too much trouble,” Stan said sheepishly.

Russel didn’t like it when he corrected people himself- the worry wart was afraid some bigot would retaliate with violence. But he wasn’t here, and Stan always saw the good in people before the bad. What was the worst that could happen?

“Oh! I’m so sorry, sir,” she said at once, then her eyes went to Red. “Oh my gosh! What a cute little bitty!”

Red blushed and clung to Stan’s sweater.

“His name’s Red,” Stan said, smiling. “And it’s fine! No harm done, thank you for being so understanding.”

The tag on her uniform said “Rachel.” Stan gave her a big grin. She apologized again, Stan reassured her it was fine, and then they were on their way through the store.

Stan had saved the back wall for last. Red has glanced at it now and again, the soft blue light drawing his eyes, but Stan insisted they wait until they were about to leave.

Red’s eyes went wide as Stan took him to look at the fish. The human held the little thing up and let him put his hands on the glass, staring at the goldfish in wonder.

“Wh...what are they?” Red asked, turning to look at Stan. “A...Aren’t they… d-drowning?”

“They’re fish,” Stan said, happy to explain new things to the bitty. “They breathe underwater. Isn’t that cool?”

“W...Woah,” Red said, turning his attention back to the fish in the tank. He pressed his face to it with a ‘clank’ and took in their waving fins and big, buggy eyes.

They left the pet store after Red had his fill of everything in it. A few people commented on the bitty, but thankfully nobody said anything mean to him. Red took the compliments with a blush and stutter, curling against the fabric of Stan’s sweater to hide his face.

They stopped at the food court, grabbing some Chinese food. Red liked the noodles, though Stan had to cut them up into little pieces for him to eat them properly. Rice was easier for him to handle, he just grabbed the grains in his little hands and popped them in his mouth like candies.

“Uhm… mm. Stan?” Red asked as they sat at the table, full and content.

“Yes?”

“Am… a-am I trans, too?”

Stan blinked down at the bitty sat on a napkin, who was looking away.

“Well, little bug, I… I don’t know.” Stan rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m not sure bitties have the same definition of trans as humans do…”

“O-Oh…” Red looked down and grabbed the hem of his blue hoodie they’d bought him a couple weeks ago.

“Why do you ask?”

“I-I don’t… I uhm… mm,” Red mumbled something soft and looked in his lap, hands twisting in the fabric.

“What was that, bug?”

“I don’t… like it. When people, uhm… make… make you sad.” Red sucked in a shuddering breath before he went on. “A-And I don’t… I don’t know why… p-people… make you sad.”

Stan sighed, reaching over and cupping his hand around the bitty. “Aww, Red… it’s okay, honey, I’m not sad right now! The lady in the store didn’t mean to misgender me, she apologized, everything is okay… how could I be sad when I’m hanging out with my favorite bitty in the whole world?”

Red blushed and buried his face in Stan’s skin, the off-white of his bones standing out starkly from the human's own dark composure.

“Sometimes… people call me a girl. And that hurts, because I’m not a girl, and I don’t like being called something that I’m not!” Stan explained. He tried to put it into words that Red would understand. “It reminds me of when I had to pretend I was somebody I wasn’t. Not being myself hurts… have you ever had to pretend you were somebody you weren’t?”

Red stared up at Stan for a moment before he nodded.

“I, uhm, I… nobody, uhm… nobody liked it wh-when I… was myself,” Red said quietly, so quiet that the thrum of conversation around them nearly drowned him out. “Nobody… e-except you and- and Russel.”

Stan made a sad noise, squeezing the bitty with his hand in a semblance of an embrace. “That doesn’t feel good, does it? When people don’t like you for who you are?”

Red sniffled, but nodded.

“That’s why I get sad sometimes.” Stan smiled through the sadness and rubbed Red’s skull with his thumb. “But I have you, and Russel, and some of my friends from work- and you guys all make me feel better.”

Red nodded again, wiping the beginnings of tears from his socket.

“So don’t be sad when it happens, okay? It’s just something we have to deal with- maybe until I get top surgery, or maybe forever…” Stan stared off into space for a while before he sighed. “But as long as I have people who love me for me, then I’ll be okay. Do you feel the same?”

Another nod.

Stan smiled and leaned down to kiss Red’s tiny head.

Chapter Text

Russel was woken on their shared birthday celebration day by Stan, who shook him awake with exuberance, Red clutched in one hand while assaulting Russel with the other.

“Pre-Christmas is here! Wake up Russel!” Stan shouted. Russel groaned and rolled over, throwing an arm over his head.

“Russel! It’s Red’s first Fuente-Birthday Day! And it’s 9 am!”

“It’s Saturday, bro… c’mon…” Russel moaned.

“Wake up, lazy!” Stan shouted again. Russel chuckled a bit, but it tapered off into a tired sigh.

“Ugh, okay. I’m up, I’m up.”

Stan grinned. Russel gave Red a tired smile as the bitty watched the two brothers interact.

“G’mornin’ Red,” Russel greeted as he sat up and stretched his arms up over his head. He was in his boxers, of course, like he always was when he slept. Too lazy for pajamas, he’d just take off everything but his undies and go with the flow.

“Uhm… good-good morning.” Red greeted in return.

Russel got up and put on a shirt. This was their yearly celebration, apart from Christmas, where they got up the Saturday morning that best fit their birthdays and had a fun time exchanging gifts.

They had pancakes for breakfast, per Red’s request. The more Russel woke up, the more excited he became. He was so pumped to share his gifts with the two of them, to share their weird little personal holiday with Red.

“Okay, me first!” Stan said, giving Red a pat. He quickly cleared the table off, throwing the dishes in the sink for later and wiping the surface down.

Red looked up at Russel.

“Uhm… I m… made p-presents… they’re in- in my cage.”

Russel blinked. “You wanna go grab them?”

Red nodded. “I d… drew you… guys… pictures…”

“Oh! Oh my goodness!” Stan exclaimed, reaching forward and gently scooping Red into his hands. “Of course you can go get them, I’ll come with you!”

Russel waited at the table, heart swelled with happiness. Stan and Red returned momentarily, Red carrying two pieces of folded paper in his hands and Stan with two little gift bags.

“Okay, me first! Ahh I’m so excited!” Stan squealed, running to his room.

Red looked to the taller human, who just laughed and reached over to rub his back.

“He’s always like this on Birthday Day.”

Red relaxed into Russel’s gentle touches and nodded.

When Stan returned, he had two presents under his arms. He was grinning like a big idiot, which made Russel’s heart swell even more. One of the presents was very small- like one of those little boxes of four assorted chocolates. Maybe that’s what it actually was.

“Okay, okay, Red first!”

Red looked to Russel for permission before he left his palm and stood in the middle of the table, Stan practically humming with happiness and excitement as he slid his little present across the table before him.

Red looked at the snowman-wrapped bitty-sized gift box before looking up at Russel, and then Stan.

“You tear off the paper with your hands,” Stan explained.

Red nodded. Russel had to suppress laughter as he so very, very gently took the paper off, tearing it as little as possible, taking his good ass time. Russel didn’t mind, it was adorable. Stan looked like he was ready to reach over and start ripping it for the bitty.

When the paper was off and Red had his hands on the lid of the box, he looked to the humans for permission again.

“Go ahead, it’s for you!” Stan said. “From me!”

Red nodded again before carefully lifting the lid off of the box.

He gasped, hands going up to cover his mouth. He looked up at Stan before looking back into the little box, then back at Stan.

It was a tiny little stuffed dog, maybe two inches at most. It looked to be made of felt or something.

“It… it’s for me?” Red asked, looking up at Stan.

“It’s for you!” Stan exclaimed. “It’s your very own little puppy plushie! I have one just like it from when I was little!”

Red stared up at him, a little tear in his good socket, before he hastily wiped it away and grabbed the little stuffed dog to hug it against himself.

“Do you like it?” Stan asked, looking a little nervous.

“I l… I love him,” Red blubbered.

“I got something for ya too, bud,” Russel said, finally leaving the table to go get his own presents. He ran into his room, grabbed the two gift bags, and hurried back out.

Red was quick to open the gift bag. His eye went wide as he picked up the new hoodie- a blue one- and held it up.

Red started crying. Truthfully, Russel had expected nothing less.

“Aww, shh, it’s okay Red,” he soothed, grabbing the bitty and holding him against his chest.

“I-I love- love them-” he sobbed, pressing his face against Russel’s chest. Stan reached over and rubbed Red’s back.

“Thank you,” Red cried, looking at each human in turn. “Th-Thank you.”

“You’re more than welcome, little guy,” Stan said softly. “We love you!”

Red nodded. It took him a few minutes to calm down, but when sat back down on the table, he hugged his new hoodie and his puppy tight and snuggled into them.

Russel and Stan shared a happy look. Their bitty deserved to be this happy all the time.

“Okay, okay, now it’s Russel’s turn for presents!” Stan announced.

Red gave his puppy one last squeeze before setting his presents down and grabbing one of the tiny folded pieces of paper. He had to peek inside to be sure, but then he nodded and held it out to Russel.

“Th-This one’s for… for you,” he said. He sounded nervous.

Russel gently accepted the paper from his outstretched hands. When he opened it up, he was greeted with a picture of himself and Red… it was poorly drawn, Rus’s hands looked like spike-balls, his smile crooked and his eyes uneven… but it made the human’s heart swell up and a grin spread on his face.

“Do… d-do you like it?” Red asked hesitantly, shifting around on his feet.

“I love it. I fuckin’ love it, Red,” Russel said at once, still smiling. “I think this needs a spot on the fridge ASAP, don’t you think, Stan?”

Russel held the picture over for Stan to see. The elder brother beamed and stood at once.

“Absolutely! Only the best drawings go on the fridge, and this is certainly one of them!”

Red looked awed by their enthusiasm, that rare little smile touching his face as they used a magnet to pin the artwork to the refrigerator.

Stan’s present was next. A sizable box, about as big as a shoebox, was put in front of him, wrapped in snowman wrapping paper.

Russel tore into it at once, blinking down as he saw the familiar logo and characters on the box.

“They’re Magic cards!” Stan all but shouted, clapping his hands.

They sure were. Russel smiled wide as he finished unwrapping them and held them up.

“It’s two decks- I read online they aren’t very good, but we should still be able to play with them!”

“This is tight as hell. Aw, man, bro, thank you so much,” Russel said, running a hand along the plastic part of the box. “I haven’t had any Magic cards in ages…”

“I know! That’s why it’s so exciting, we can play together like we used to!”

Russel wasted little time in opening the box itself and examining the cards inside. It was indeed two decks of cards- nothing special, but certainly an awesome present. It was so nostalgic. He’d lost all his cards when he’d moved out to live with Stan… he shook himself out of his thoughts, not wanting to go down a darker path.

“Now it’s your turn, bro,” Russel said with a grin.

Stan flapped his hands and squealed.

First came Red’s drawing- it was another crudely drawn image of Stan and the bitty, both holding flowers and smiling. Stan nearly cried and complimented Red before putting it up right beside Russel’s gift on the fridge. Then came Russel’s turn to give his brother a gift.

Russel slid him his present- poorly wrapped in the same snowman wrapping paper from last Christmas- and waited.

“Ohh… another sweater?” Stan mused as he gently tore the paper. “Or is it like that one year you taped a gift card to a box and made me think it was something bigger?”

Russel sat back in his chair and smiled. “Nah, just open it, bro.”

And so Stan did. He finished ripping off the paper and flipped open the lid of the box.

“Aha! It Is a… sweater…” Stan trailed off as he held up the black piece of clothing.

He put it down, stars in his eyes, before holding it up again.

“Is this…?” he questioned.

“It’s a tank top binder. I read they’re a lot safer than the one you’re using now,” Russel explained. “If it doesn’t fit, it’s a free switcheroo.”

“Russel!” Stan cried, getting out of his chair and practically flinging himself into his brother’s arms. He gave Rus a hard squeeze before pulling away, tears threatening to spill over before he wiped them away and grinned.

“Thank you! Aaa, thank you thank you thank you!” he said, grabbing the binder and hugging it to himself. “I’m gonna go try it on! Oooh! This is so exciting, I’ll be right back!”

Rus chuckled as Stan ran to his room, binder in tow.

“Wh...What’s a binder?” Red asked as Stan shuffled around, unseen, in his room.

“It’s what keeps Stan’s chest flat- it’s just a piece of clothing, really,” Russel explained.

“Oh… o-okay.”

Soon Stan was back, wearing his PJ pants and nothing but the binder.

“How’s it look?” Stan asked, twisting this way and that and feeling his hands over his chest.

“Looks awesome, dude,” Russel said, giving him a thumbs up. “Works even better than the old one, I think.”

Stan was back to flapping, still grinning like a big ol happy idiot. “It’s perfect! Russel!” he cheered again, running over and giving his brother yet another hug. “Thank you!”

“No prob, Bob,” Russel said with a laugh. “You should check the rest of the box, though.”

Stan gave him a curious look before he went back to the table and rooted around in the paper.

His eyes went wide.

“Russel…?”

“Don’t you even think about trying to give it back,” Russel said, holding up his hands.

It was all the money he’d saved by getting Red instead of a more costly bitty. Over three hundred dollars.

“Russel, I can’t-” Stan began to protest, as predicted.

“Put it towards the top surgery fund, okay?” Russel said, giving him the softest smile he could. “I want you to have it.”

Stan was crying. Once again, Russel had expected nothing less.

Chapter Text

Something was… not right.

Red felt it in his chest, at first. His soul felt… heavy. Heavy and strange. He looked around, making sure Russel and Stan were in bed, before he hesitantly drew it from his chest and held it.

It was glowing brightly, a white light that shone through his fingers and made him flinch and quickly tuck it back into his rib cage. He got underneath his blankets and took it out again, ignoring the cracks and chips missing from it and thumbing it softly. His own hands did nothing against the strange, magic construct- they were a part of him, after all.

Red gulped. His soul pulsed and he grit his teeth- ow. That had hurt. Why had that hurt?

It did it again. The pain came and went in waves, over a period of several minutes.

There was a memory tickling the back of Red’s mind. Of this feeling good. But back then he hadn’t been himself, back then he’d been… the other person. Before his crack. Now it only left him breathless with pain, instead of the raw, carnal pleasure it had in a life that felt a million miles away.

It was a heat. He remembered the word, but he… hadn’t had a heat in years. He couldn’t remember the last time... He winced and held his poor, pulsing soul tighter and felt the tears well up.

This couldn’t be happening. He remembered how angry He had gotten, in that life long past, when he’d gone into heat. Back when it had felt good. Why did it hurt? Why was he in pain? It certainly didn't feel good now, in any way; It felt like his magic was pooling fast in his core and he could do nothing to ease the pressure. And god, did it hurt.

Russel and Stan would be mad. They’d be mad at him for waking them up… right? He held back a yelp as the flood of painful magic hit his bones. It stayed away from his pelvis- the broken bone was useless, now. He had no way to expend his magic- he couldn't use it, that was out of the question. So how…?

He squeezed his soul tightly, unable to hold back the whine that escaped him as it flowed through him again. It was too much… too much, and it hurt so bad!

It ebbed. He caught his breath in the seconds where it let him breathe, before it came back.

Red couldn't hold back his scream.

 

Russel was in his room, caught up in an internet video, when he heard the scream. He pulled the single earbud from his ear and listened- only to hear quiet, stifled crying. He was up in a moment, hurrying out to the living room to find Red… doing something…?

“Red?” Russel asked, because the pulsing little white light was unfamiliar to him. It shone from underneath the blanket like a beacon.

“No no no- don’t-”

“Hey, Red, it’s me. It’s just Russel- what’s goin on under there, bud?”

“Don’t-! Don’t...! Ah-” Red yelped and hissed from under his blanket.

“What’s happening, Red? What’s wrong?”

“Hh… hurts-” Red whimpered. Russel could hear the tears in his voice and it made his heart hurt.

“Bud… I gotta take the blanket off, okay? You’re hurting…”

Red didn’t protest further, only cried as Russel gently reached into the open cage doors and grabbed the corner of the blanket, drawing it away from the skeleton.

Red was laying there, curled up in the fetal position, clinging to his… his soul. Rus had never seen it before- it was the tiniest little upside down heart he could imagine, so small he could hold it on the tip of one finger. It was pulsing and glowing a bright, shining light that lit up the cage and Red’s pained face.

Russel was a little horrified by how broken and battered the minuscule thing was. It had chips missing from it, cracks going through it... a testament to how broken Red was, he supposed. Red was in pain, though, so Russel turned his attention from the soul to the bitty's face.

“Red…” Russel breathed.

“M… M’sorry,” Red cried, tears running down his cheekbones, face contorted. “I-I… I’m sorry-”

“Shh, hey, hey…” Russel said gently, reaching forward, but drawing back at the last moment. Was this a heat? He’d read that bitties went through them, that it made their souls glow, but they weren’t supposed to hurt like this… right?

“Red… are you… is… are you in heat?”

Red sobbed, curling tighter around his center. “I-I don’t- I don’t know- it hhh… hurts. It hurts, Rus... I c-can’t… I…”

Russel gulped. He’d… been hoping that Red wouldn’t go into heat, for obvious reasons. But one glance showed him that, no, nothing had manifested down there, nor anywhere else, as Russel had extensively read about. It was just… his soul. That couldn't be good...

“Okay… shh, it’s okay, I’m here. Can I pick you up?”

Red nodded, opening his eye long enough to give Russel the most pathetic look he’d ever seen.

Russel reached forward. His fingers curled around the bitty. Without meaning to, one brushed the exposed soul.

 

He was tied up, soul out. He screamed and begged but through his gag there was nothing to be done.

“Hmm. Little thing, ain’t it? Thought it’d be bigger.”

Red cried and thrashed. A rough, unloving hand grabbed his soul and it stuttered, overwhelmed by the hatred and disgust radiating from the human. It hurt- it hurt so so bad, for it to be held in that grip, for every negative emotion to be absorbed and amplified by his tiny, helpless soul.

“Huh. Feels like silly putty,” he said as he played with it. “Ugly little thing, with all the cracks.”

The man’s face was blurred and crossed out. Even in Red’s memory, it was too painful to think about.

The man grasped it between thumb and forefinger and squeezed.

 

Russel gasped and lurched backwards, letting go of Red and falling on his ass.

“What the fuck, what the… what just…?” he asked, holding his head.

“Sorry m’sorry m’sorry Rus m’sorry-” Red wailed. Russel stood up as quick as his spinning head allowed and saw Red there on his bed, wailing and screaming and contorted in pain.

“Red, shh, what… what just happened? Was that… was that…?”

Stan barged into the room as Red continued to yelp and cry, thrashing and sobbing around his exposed soul. He stopped to process the light and Red’s status before he hurried forward and grabbed the bitty.

“D-Don’t touch his soul-” Russel warned, because god that memory- that memory alone was enough to make him wince and grab at his chest, where his own soul gave a beat.

“Okay, I’m not, I’m not,” Stan said, wrapping Red up in his blanket so his flesh wasn’t close to the exposed magic. “Red, baby, deep breaths- calm down.”

“I-I-It hhh- hhhurts it hurts,” Red wailed between stuttering breaths.

“Stan, it… I was in his memories… when I touched it,” Russel said softly, grabbing his head, which was still spinning a little bit. “His old owner… touched it, and it hurt him…”

“Red,” Stan said after considering Russel’s words, turning back to the bitty. “Red, little bug, you have to try and stay calm. I know it hurts- we’re going to help you, okay?”

Red whined but nodded, chest heaving.

“Did it hurt when Russel touched your soul?”

Red shook his head.

Stan let out a breath. “I’ve read… from some people online, rescue bitty people, that when a bitty can’t… express their heats, this happens… they said the best thing to do is release the excess magic from their soul.”

“You read that and didn’t tell me?” Russel accused.

“I didn’t know he was going to go into heat!” Stan defended himself, holding Red close. “I just… all I know is that he’s hurting, Russel. We need to help him, and if we can’t, take him to a vet...”

“How do we… release the magic?” the younger questioned.

“I don’t know,” Stan said. He shushed Red, who was starting to calm but was still jolting and hiccuping from the pain. “Red, can you use your magic?”

“No n-n… nn- no, no,” Red breathed, shaking his head. “No I… I can’t, I can’t d-do it, don't make me, please…”

“Can…” Russel stood up again, standing over his brother. “Can we… touch his soul? Would that help?”

“What?!” Stan asked, looking up incredulously at his brother. A bitty’s soul was their core, the very center of their being! To touch it was taboo, even humans knew that…

“Red, you said it didn’t hurt when I touched it, right? And you can feel what we feel, when we touch it?”

“How do you…?” Stan questioned, but Russel ignored him. He’d experienced it when he’d brushed Red’s soul- the feelings from the old owner being transferred.

“Mm,” Red said with a shaky nod. He looked up at the two brothers. “I… please… m-make it stop,” he cried.

Russel gulped, nervous as hell, but determined. He could… do something. He didn’t know what, but it felt like this was the right thing to do. His own soul was pulsing, like it wanted to reach out and coddle Red’s, make him know he was going to be okay.

Russel reached out to where Red laid in his brother’s hands. Stan watched in concerned fascination as his brother moved forward.

There was a moment’s pause before Russel gently, very gently, touched Red’s soul with his outstretched pointer finger.

There was no flow of memory like last time. Red’s face scrunched for a moment, but after that he just stared up at Russel with a big eye, shivering.

Russel could feel it. He felt how fucking scared Red was- scared of himself, scared of Russel and Stan, scared of… everything. He felt the loneliness and the fear and the isolation and it made his heart ache.

“Mm…” Red sighed, his seized up body finally relaxing into Stan’s hold. His eyes shut as Russel willed his own emotions into Red. How much he loved the bitty, and how much he wanted to make him better. Make him okay.

“H-How’s that feel?” Russel stuttered. The sensation of connecting himself with another being was foreign and strange, but… good, in an intimate way. Like holding Stan in an embrace, or having late night talks about their goals and dreams.

“It f… feels…” Red let out a shaking breath. Tears welled in his sockets. “Feels n-not bad…”

“Do you want Stan to try, too?” Russel asked.

“Mm,” Red murmured as he nodded, eye closing again as the tears spilled over. But it didn’t look like he was in pain anymore- he was relaxed, face still a bit scrunched up, but from some other kind of sensation.

Russel broke the contact, Stan gulped, looking to his brother for a moment before he shifted Red around and put his finger up to Red’s glowing little core.

He did the same thing Russel did. The younger felt… energized. He must have absorbed some of Red’s excess magic, because he hadn’t felt this awake in… damn, months, maybe.

It lasted for about a minute. Then Stan let out a breath at the same time Red did and pulled away.

The bitty stared up at the two of them as he cried. He hurriedly reached up a sleeve and scrubbed at his sockets.

“How… do you feel, Red?” Stan asked.

The bitty looked away for a moment.

“I f... feel..." he didn't continue, just sniffled as the tears continued to spill and he looked up at the brothers. "Y...You love m-me?”

Russel blinked at the question, but Red’s mouth was flapping before he or Stan could process and reply.

“Wh-when you… touched my so-soul, I f… I felt it… you… you were saying… you love me.” Red looked up at them, still crying, his sleeves doing nothing to quell the flow of tears. “A-And you… care? About… me?”

“Course we do,” Rus whispered.

“We love you so much, little bug,” Stan said, tears falling down his own cheeks at that point. “We just want you to get better, and feel better…”

“I thought… I-I-I thought you were lying,” Red cried. “B-Before- when… wh-when you’d say it,” he sniffled.

“We wouldn’t lie to you, Red,” Russel reassured him, reaching up to rub his skull. “And we can’t lie from our hearts, right? And you felt it?”

Red gave a teary nod.

“Well, there you go,” Stan said. “Now you know, deep deep down, we both love you with all our souls,” he said softly, using his free hand to rub Red’s back through the cloth he was held in. “How do you feel, though, bug? Are you still hurting?”

Red shook his head. With shaking hands, he held his soul and sent it back to the inside of his rib cage where it belonged. He sighed, a deep, deep sigh, before hiccuping and reaching his hands out to the two humans.

“I… I’m still… scared.”

Russel rubbed his skull and the bitty clung to his fingers. “We know, buddy,” Russel said. “It’s okay to be scared. But you’re safe here, yeah? You take as long as you need to to… to get not scared anymore,” Russel said lamely, but it felt right.

“You’ll always have us, Red. We won’t ever send you away again, and we love you so much. You’re the best little bitty in the whole world,” Stan said with a teary smile.

Red sniffled and nodded.

 

It took only minutes for the bitty to fall back asleep, apparently exhausted from his outflow of magic and the outburst. Russel and Stan stayed in the living room nearby, Stan’s head on his brother’s shoulder as the two sat.

“I’m glad it wasn’t a sexual heat, at least,” Russel finally said.

“That probably would have been easier to handle… poor little guy was hurting so bad…” Stan argued.

“Dude gave me a boost, at least. I couldn’t sleep even if I wanted to, and ya know how big of a fan I am of sleeping.”

Stan snuggled closer to his brother with a sigh. “Poor Red… I didn’t know he was still so scared of us…”

“When I accidentally brushed his soul… I saw some of his memories,” Russel began quietly. He looked over at the sleeping bitty, who looked much more peaceful now than half an hour ago. “His… his old owner.” Russel shuddered before he continued. “His old owner would play with his soul, squeeze it and shit… he’d tie Red up…” Russel couldn’t go on about it. “If he had to go through that for… for who knows how long…”
Stan hugged his brother. “It’s okay, Rus. He’s here now, that’s all that matters.”

“I thought we had it bad, man,” Russel said, wiping up the tears from his eyes. “He was just some dude’s plaything, some little tiny doll to abuse.”

They fell into a silence for a while, both lost in their own separate thoughts.

“We should take him to the vet when we get the money,” Stan said. “Maybe after Christmas…? Just to make sure there’s nothing wrong with how we handled the excess of magic… I wouldn’t want to hurt him more than help him.”

“That sounds like a plan, Stan the man,” Russel joked, which earned him a soft slap on the shoulder and a small giggle.

They lapsed into a comfortable silence.

Chapter Text

Red was put back into his cage-home after he’d rested in Rus’s lap for a while, where he then slept well into the afternoon. Rus checked on him throughout the day while Stan worked, but the dude seemed to have tuckered himself out completely. He was out like a light until Stan got home from his shift at 3 pm.

“I’m home,” he called. Rus mumbled and sat up, wiping the sleep from his eyes. He’d been on the couch, to be sure that Red could get him if he needed anything, and had aptly dozed off. He smiled as Stan entered the room, still in his work attire though quickly undressing, flinging his shirt off and throwing it at Russel’s face with a giggle.

“Ew, smells like you,” Rus joked, grabbing it out of the air before it could hit him and tossing it right back at Stan, who batted it out of the way.

“How’s Red doing today?” Stan asked.

“He hasn’t woken up yet- oh,” Rus said, looking over and seeing their little dude stirring on his pillow with a large yawn. The taller human stood and walked over to his cage, reaching inside and offering Red his palm. The sleepy bitty snuggled into it without hesitation, and it immediately made Rus feel better to know he was safe.

“Mm… m-morning,” Red stuttered, reaching his arms up and stretching as Russel lifted him to his chest and held him there.

“It’s actually the afternoon, bud,” Russel said with a smile. “You slept an awful lot. Tired?”

“Mm…” Red nodded. He shyly glanced over at Stan, who had taken his new binder off over his head and was putting his shirt back over top to cover his nudity. “Did I, uhm… did I sleep… too late?”

“Nope!” Stan reassured as he came over, chest finally freed for the day, and gave Red a pat on the head. “You slept the perfect amount- I imagine last night tuckered you out.”

“Yeah…” Red said, looking away. His little body curled up a bit tighter, but he didn’t seem upset. He even glanced up at the two of them with the tiniest, barest smile on his face, which made both of the humans smile in turn.

“I know you just woke up, but would you like to talk about what happened?” Stan offered, reaching out and moving to take Red himself. Russel let him, depositing their charge into Stan’s palms. Stan was a few shades darker brown than Russel- always had been. He’d gotten more of their dad’s complexion, like pine bark after rain, while Russel had the more sun-kissed “I have Latinx heritage” look. But compared to the near-white of Red’s little bones, they both looked dark as all hell.

Red pondered the question for a moment before he nodded. Stan nodded back, and the three made their way to the table.

“Let’s talk about it over some late lunch, okay? You must be pretty hungry, little one.”

Red smiled at the endearing name. God, Rus thought, it was so good to see that smile happen more and more often. Maybe the whole “touching his soul” thing had gotten through to him, because he seemed marginally better this morning.

Stan whipped up some pancaked from the box mix in the cupboard, taking the easy route versus mixing up homemade batter. Though the quality may suffer for it, Russel knew he was probably very hungry as well, and between he and Red they could use a quick fix.

“So, Red…” Russel began as they sat at the table and waited for their pancakes. Red looked up at him. “Last night was the first time you’ve had a heat?”

“Uh, mm… since, uh, since…” Red trailed off, but he reached up and pointed to his crack.

“Oh… I see,” Stan said from the stove top as he flipped a flapjack. “Since your pelvis was broken, too?”

Red nodded.

“Okay… hmm.” Russel scratched his chin, noting he’d have to shave. “So it wouldn’t really do much good to ask how often they happen, then, since you probably don’t know…”

Red shook his little head.

“That’s fine. Are you feeling alright now, except for being hungry?”

“I’m… I’m a little… sleepy,” Red admitted. “B-But other… other than th-that, I’m, uhm, I’m… I’m okay.”

“That’s good, I’m glad,” Russel said as he reached over and began to thumb down Red’s back through his miniscule blue hoodie he’d gotten for their birthday extravaganza.

There was silence for a little while. Stan and Russel had discussed what they wanted to ask Red, after thinking the whole episode over, but it was a question that neither really wanted to ask for fear of upsetting their bitty. It was Stan who finally cleared his throat and walked to the table with the plate of pancakes.

“So, Red… I want to ask you something, and I don’t want you to get upset… if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay, but… last night, you said you didn’t want to use your magic… does that mean that you can ?”

Red went stiff a little at the mention of it. He looked up at Stan as though wounded, but he was quick to look away and huddle against Russel’s palm.

“Uhm…” he said. That was all he said before he started shaking.

“Aw, bud… it’s okay, shh, don’t cry,” Rus said as he noticed the tears start to fall.

“Magic… magic is bad …” Red sniffled. He looked up at the two brothers as he wiped his tears away. “Only… only bad bitties u-use magic”

Rus blinked. He looked up at his older brother for a moment, head tilted, who seemed equally perplexed.

Stan sat his plate on the table, which startled Red for a moment.

“Red, baby… that’s…” Stan frowned and bit his lip. “Red, all bitties can use magic. Magic is… how bitties express themselves! Why do you think only bad bitties use magic?”

Red whined. He curled up into Russel’s hand and pressed his face into his skin.

“Is that what He told you?” Rus asked.

Red nodded. He was shaking, so the human scooped him up and held him close to his chest, where he was most safe.

“Oh, honey,” Stan began, reaching over and rubbing along his spine like his little brother had been doing a moment ago, “I understand. But I think the… well… let’s not call it a heat, but, the thing that happened last night, I think it happened because you haven’t been using your magic. I’ve read that that can happen to bitties.”

“But- but-” Red wiped his tears away and looked up at Stan with the most pathetic little face. “I don’t… I-I don’t want to… d… don’t make me…”

“Nobody will make you do anything,” Russel said at once. Stan nodded along as they comforted their little guy. “But… but last night, you were hurtin’ real bad, Red… you don’t want that to happen again, do you?”

Red shook his head, but then he nodded, then feverishly shook his head again.

“I-I do-on’t know!” he cried. “I… I’m…” He finally broke and sobbed a little bit. “I’m scared…”

“Don’t be scared, little bug, everything’s fine,” Stan said, running his fingers over his neck and back and gently petting his head. Russel held him in his open palm. “We just want what’s best for you, and your health, but we…” Stan looked away. “We don’t really know what’s best for you.”

Red wiped his eyes and glanced up. “But… but, uhm… you guys kn-know every… everything.”

That made both brothers smile.

“Red, as much as I wished that was true, it’s very much not,” Stan said with a little laugh. “The truth is, we’re both new to having a bittybones in the house! And as much as we want to be able to do it all on our own, the fact is… we might need a little help.”

Red seemed apprehensive at the mention of such a thing. “What… what do you… what do you mean?”

“Would you be open to going to see a bitty specialist, Red?” Rus chimed in to ask.

Red stared up at him. “What’s… what’s that?”

“It’s a person that knows a shit load about bitties and can help you, me and Stan all learn about how to best take care of you. Stan and I looked into it- there’s one about half an hour away, and a consultation is within our price range. She’d just give you a physical exam, talk to you for a bit, and then let all three of us know how to go forward from here in taking care of you.”

“It would only be for an hour or so,” Stan said, “and nothing would change about your situation here at home- you’d still be our little Red, and we’ll both love you so, so much, all that would change is… how we look after you! The specialist would let us know if we’re doing anything wrong, and how to help you heal quicker and faster than you already are!”

Red stared up at them. He blinked a few times before turning his attention down to Russel’s palm.

“But… b-but… you’re… already doing so much…”

“But you deserve the world, hun,” Stan said with a smile. “And we want to give that to you! We want to do everything we possibly can to make your life the best it can be, and this specialist can help us do that! Like Russel said, it’s not far from here, and she’ll just give us some tips. Like, if we’re feeding you the right kind of foods, for example! Or if we should get you a different house, or different kinds of clothes, stuff like that.”

“Right. It’ll be a time for us to ask questions about bitties, about your specific breed and type of bitty, so we can be the best owners we can.”

Red seemed to consider it for a moment. His good eyes was wide, but he wasn’t shaking anymore.

Eventually, he gave a hesitant nod.

“Awesome!” Stan said, clapping his hands together gently. “I promise, it won’t be scary, and Russel and I will be there the entire time to help you through it, you won’t leave our sides for a second! And if you do get scared and want to leave, you just let us know and we can go whenever. Does that sound okay?”

Red nodded again.

The brothers smiled.

Chapter Text

Russel hated phone calls, he really honestly did. He dialed the number for the specialist- Jessie was their name, he read on their website- and hovered his thumb over the ‘call’ button. He could do this… he was a big boy now… and adult. Phone calls shouldn’t be scary, right?

They were terrifying , actually.

With one thought of poor little Red out in the living room, Russel steeled himself and pressed the button. The phone rung a few times before somebody picked up. A cheery voice on the other line answered:

“Hello! Tiny Treasures Bitty Rehabilitation Center here, this is Jessie, my receptionist is out today. How may I help you?”

“Uh, yeah, hi,” Russel started lamely, then smacked himself on the forehead. He pressed on. “My name’s Russel, uh, Fuente. Russel… Fuente. I was calling to schedule an appointment for my bitty named Red?”

“Absolutely! Is this an emergency call or just a check-up?”

“Just a check-up, we got him a while back and he hasn’t seen anybody yet, we uh… we being my brother and I, we’ve never had a bittybones before, so we’re going in kinda blind, and Red’s got some, uh… well… he’s got a few injuries? Like, old ones that aren’t hurting him, not that he’s told us, but I figure they should get looked at to be sure…”

“Mmhmm,” Jessie mumbled, and Russel could hear the clicking of keys on the other end of the line. “What sort of injuries does Red have?”

“Well, uhm… he’s got a big ‘ol crack down his face, and the eye on that side is a little bulgy and the magic is wonky…” Russel internally cringed at his very technical descriptions. “And, uhm… he’s got lots of scars, his old owner was real abusive and bad, he’s a rescue, and… part of his pelvis is missing, like the front bits of it.”

“Aww, the poor thing! Is he having troubles expressing his heats, because of his missing pelvis?”

Wow, so Jessie knew what they were talking about. Russel nodded, remembered Jessie couldn’t see a nod through the phone, and then began speaking again.

“Yeah, actually, that’s why we got pressed to bring him in.”

“Absolutely, absolutely. Well, one of my regulars cancelled their appointment this Thursday at 4 in the afternoon, would that work for you Mr. Fuente?”

“Yeah, whatever’s closest to now, uh, that’d be great. Thank you.”

More clicking of keys. “Sure thing! Anything else I can help you with today?”

“Uh, no, I don’t think so. Thank you, though.”

“You’re very welcome, and thank you for giving me the chance to meet your special little bitty! I look forward to your visit, take care!”

“Yeah, you too, bye,” Russel said, then hung up. It was like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders as he sighed and stretched out on his bed. Thursday, 4 pm. He immediately got into his phone and made a note of that so he wouldn’t forget.



“Are… are you sure they won’t… be upset?”

“About?”

“M...Me…”

Russel gave Red a sad smile as he held the bitty and stroked along his spine. It was Thursday now, 2 pm, and they were going to be leaving shortly. Red was dressed in his new favorite blue hoodie and gray sweatpants, ready to leave in half an hour when they’d scheduled their departure.

“This person we’re going to see has seen hundreds of bitties, little one,” Stan commented as he got ready, brushing his hair. “I’m sure they’re not going to be upset. What is there to be upset about? That you’re just so darn cute?”

That made Red blush and hide his face in Russel’s shirt. The younger brother had dressed up to the best of his ability- he was wearing jeans instead of basketball or khaki shorts, at least. Rus leaned down and gave Red a smooch on the top of his skull. It felt like a lifetime ago that he worried about touching or being touched by Red’s bulgy eye.

“Stan’s right, bud, everything will be fine. Dr. Jameson is just going to give you a looksie and they’re going to be very, very gentle. They were real nice on the phone, called me ‘Mister’ and everything.”

“Oh...Okay,” Red said eventually.

They chilled out and kept Red relaxed up until it was time to go. Stan had gotten the other manager to cover his shift so that he could go with Russel and Red to see the bitty specialist. It was a big occasion, and Red needed the support.

It was a bit of a walk to where the car was parked- usually, when they weren’t using it, it sat in a lot they paid twenty dollars a month to own a space in. The little city where they lived wasn’t exactly the most bustling place, so they were able to afford parking for their awful looking little car. It had seen better days, but it ran fine and had passed inspection, so… it sufficed.

December had hit, and with it came the cold. Russel kept Red bundled up in the scarf he’d worn just for the bitty to be bundled in, making sure to check that Red was warm enough every few minutes.

Everything went smoothly. Stan drove, Russel held Red, and the three were on their way in no time, eating up the half hour distance with ease.

The problems began when they pulled into the parking lot. Russel noticed it first, obviously, because he was holding the bitty. Red was shaking like a leaf.

“Aw, hey, you’re fine,” Russel said softly, drawing him out of the scarf now that they were parked and rubbing the top of his skull.

“A-Are we- are we- there?” Red whined.

“Yup, we’re here, and everything’s fine,” Russel reassured him. “See? Me ‘n Stan are both right here with ya, and we have the car, so as soon as you feel overwhelmed and want to leave, we can hit the road.”

“I’m scared,” Red whimpered, grabbing at the air for Russel’s palm. The human obliged without hesitation, allowing the pitiful thing to cry into his skin.

“There’s nothing to be scared of, baby!” Stan said, reaching over to rub his backbone. “I know it’s scary, but I promise, Jessie is a very nice person and only wants what’s best for you.”

“Wh-What if- what- what if they- they- take me a-away,” Red cried. As though his own words upset him further, he grabbed tighter at Russel’s hand. “What if- what if-”

“Honey, shh, shhh,” Stan calmed him, still petting at his back. “Red, you know we wouldn’t let them take you- and nobody will! You’re ours- legally, too! We have the papers and everything with us- nobody can take you away from us.”

“You know I’d fight tooth ‘n fuckin’ nail for ya, Red,” Russel contributed. “Ain’t nobody gonna take our little Red.”

The words seemed to get through to him, but they still had to sit there for a good five minutes before the crying subsided. That’s exactly why they’d showed up an hour early.

“Are you ready to go in? We still have another forty five minutes until our appointment time, so we can just sit in the waiting room and chill out. Does that sound like a plan?”

Red sniffled but nodded.

“Can…” he trailed off, clutching at Russel’s scarf, which he’d been safely deposited back into.

“Go ahead, bud,” Stan coaxed.

“Can w-we… watch some, uhm… some kitty videos?”
“Of course! That’s such a great idea, Red,” Stan said as he clapped his hands. He put his hand to the door handle and looked at Red for permission. “It’s probably warmer inside, too.”

“Okay… okay… I’m, uhm… I’m ready,” Red finally squeaked.

They exited the car and Stan locked it behind them. The three boys hurried into the warmth of the little building- it looked like a house somebody had converted into a business, with cheery pink curtains on the inside and a well-kempt sign that read the business’s name.

The inside was just as nice as the outside. Russel’s eyes went a little big at the sight- one side of the waiting room had the standard set up of chairs, but the other half was outfitted specifically for bitties. There was even a bitty sized playground, swings and all, as well as a modified toy house for the little guys to play in. There were a couple of bitties running around, sliding down the slides and playing pretend in the house.

“Oh, wow!” Stan exclaimed. Red’s nerves seemed forgotten for just a moment as he looked with stars in his socket at all the wonderful little bitty-sized accoutrements. But when he caught sight of the other bitties, he quickly hid himself back in the scarf.

“Hello! How may I help you?” came an unfamiliar voice. Russel walked up to the little window for take-ins and saw a girl who couldn’t be older than Stan, not by much, with dyed pink hair and a couple piercings.

“I’m Russel Fuente, we’ve got an appointment for Red at 4,” Rus spoke. It was nice to not be on the phone.

“Awesome, I’m Rachel by the way,” she said, pointing to her nametag, which Russel hadn’t even noticed. She looked over the computer, clicked the mouse a few times, and then looked back up at the two boys and grinned. “Alright, you’re all set! I’ll let you know when Dr. Jameson is ready, feel free to let Red play on the playground in the meantime.”

“I love your hair!” Stan blurted. Rachel’s hair was cut in a mohawk similar to Stan’s.

Rachel gave him an earnest smile, not that the last few had been fake, and reached up to run a hand through her hair. “Thanks, I like yours, too!”

“Thank you!”

Russel smirked at his brother and his antics as he went and took a seat with Red in tow. The bitty was looking back at the receptionist with a wide eye.

“Her… her hair was… pink,” he said in awe.

“Yeah, humans can dye their hair any color they want, isn’t that cool?”

“Ohhh…” Red said with a tiny little smile. “I wish… I-I wish I had hair…”

“Really? Hmm… wonder if they make little wigs for bitties.” Russel pictured what they would look like in his mind and gave a chuckle. “Maybe we could get you a pink hoodie instead? Draw on your skull with a pink sharpie?”

Red nodded against the material of the scarf. He still seemed apprehensive, but less so as he realized nobody was going to hurt him or be mean to him. The other couple of human patrons in the place were minding their own business, on their phones or overseeing their bitties playing in the indoor bitty park.

Stan was still chatting up the receptionist, who seemed happy to have something to do. Russel loved that about his brother- he could make friends anywhere he went. They were talking about hairstyles and how hard it was to dye black hair.

As the time passed, the other two patrons went into the back room as Rachel waved them in, and left in turn. The minutes ticked by rather quickly as Stan talked with Rachel about the weather, bitties, etc, and Russel showed Red his favorite videos of kittens.

They were on “where’s the babies” when Rachel cleared her throat and called Russel’s name.

“Dr. Jameson is ready to see you!”

 

Chapter Text

Dr. Jameson sat at their desk. One side of the room seemed to be a sort of office area, with filing cabinets and a couple of chairs, while the other had tile floor and was outfitted to be a doctor’s office for bitties (which is why it took up so little room.)

They raised their head as Russel and Stan walked into the room, Red held in Rus’s palms. They looked to be around 35, maybe 40, with braided brown hair and colorful scrubs on.

They stood up as the two made their way over, a smile on their face.

“Hello! Russel Fuente, I assume?”

“Yeah, and this is my big brother Stan,” Russel introduced. He then held up the bitty in his palm a bit. “And this is Red.”

Jessie flashed their bright white teeth again and sat back down. “Please, sit, since this is your first time here I’d like to get to know you and your bitty a little better.”

The two boys did as they were told. Red was looking around the room timidly, but once he got a feel for his space he curled back into Russel’s palms and did his best to hide himself from the world.

The first portion of the intake was just the Fuente’s talking to Dr. Jameson and telling them about Red. How long they’d had him, how he was doing, his medical issues, his mannerisms, everything they could tell. Red didn’t seem too upset by anything, though he shook faintly.

Eventually, Dr. Jameson reached behind their desk and pulled out a bitty-sized chair, which they sat on the other end of the desk, closer to the visitors. “If he’s okay with it, I’d like to talk to Red- do you think he could have a seat here?”

“Uh… what do you think, Red? You wanna talk to Jessie?”

Red curled up a little closer.

“You’re more than welcome to keep your hands nearby, or even around him, whatever works best,” Jessie said gently. “The last thing I’d want to do is make him uncomfortable.”

“Hear that, Red?” Stan asked, reaching over to rub his back. “They just want to help, Russel’s hands will be there the whole time.”

Red looked over at the other human. Jessie had a kind look about their long, defined face. Maybe he found something in their eyes, because he nodded weakly and allowed himself to be deposited into the chair, Russel’s hand sat close by.

“Hello, Red,” Jessie began, “I’m sure you overheard, but my name is Dr. Jameson. I have a few questions I’d like to ask you, and I need you to be honest with me, alright?”

Red nodded obediently.

“Does your wounded eye ever hurt you?”

Red shook his head. Jessie nodded and wrote something on their notepad.

“What about your pelvis, when not in heat? Do you ever experience any pain there?”

Another shake.

“Are you happy living with Russel and Stan?”

This time Red nodded, staring up at the unfamiliar human.

“Th...They l-love me…”

That made Jessie’s lips tug up into a soft smile. They sat their notepad down after writing something in it.

“Would you mind if I did a physical examination?” they asked. “Just to be sure nothing is out of place- I trust that you’re telling the truth, of course, but there could be complications even you don’t know about.”

Red looked back at Russel and Stan, a bit of worry in his socket.

“C...Can… uhm… R-Rus and… Stan…” he trailed off, wringing his hands and looking away.

“Would you be more comfortable if they were there with you?” Jessie asked. Though there was a professional atmosphere, it wasn’t hard to see the sadness in their eyes.

Red nodded, tearing up a little bit.

Russel rubbed the top of his head with one finger. “Shh, it’s okay bud, we’re right here with ya.”

Jessie stood and moved over to the white, pristine part of the space, where a small counter sat in the middle and an array of bitty-sized medical equipment lined the walls. Russel eased Red into his palm and followed them, Stan right behind.

“Just set him down on the counter, feel free to continue to support him as much as he needs- I’ll just get my things ready. Red, are you comfortable undressing?”

Red whined a bit and looked up at Russel.

“It’s okay,” Rus reassured, stroking up and down his back as he sat him down on the countertop. “Everything’s fine, bud. He’ll get a little gown, right?”

“Absolutely!” Jessie said, fiddling around with some cotton balls and swabs before abandoning them to reach into a drawer and pull out a tiny, bitty-sized medical gown. “I wouldn’t ask you to stand there naked for the examination.”

Red seemed hesitant, but he nodded.

They undressed the bitty. Jessie didn’t comment on the scars, or the missing pelvis, only waited patiently for him to finish before gently helping him into the gown. He looked like the teeniest patient in the world- the thing was a few sizes too big, so his collarbones and shoulders poked out.

“I’m sorry, that’s the smallest size I have,” Dr. Jameson said, though they looked endeared to see him in such oversized clothes.

“It… it’s uhm… okay,” Red said. He seemed like he was getting used to Dr. Jameson’s presence, though he rubbed his arms and shifted in place.

“Would it be okay if I picked you up, Red?” Jessie asked.

Red seemed a little nervous about the proposition. He looked back at Russel with a wide, scared eye.

“It’s okay, they just want to help, remember?” Russel comforted, rubbing at his back, hand never leaving him. “They’re not going to hurt you, I promise.”

“Absolutely not,” Dr. Jameson said, holding up their hands. “If anything I do ever hurts you, you tell me at once and I’ll stop. And if you get overwhelmed I’ll hand you back to Russel- does that sound like a plan?”

Red still seemed justifiably nervous… but he relented.

Jessie reached over with both hands and lifted the bitty gently into their palms. Red seemed worried to be more than a few inches from Russel and Stan, but he allowed it, shifting nervously in Dr. Jameson’s fingers. Tears were welling in his sockets and his shaking grew more vigorous.

“The physical examination won’t take long. Are you okay with Russel and Stan being present or would you like them to leave the-”

“No- no you said- you said th-they could stay!!” Red yelped, starting to struggle and try to free himself from the foreign hands.

Russel, ignoring everything but his bitty, went right over to Jessie’s side of the counter where Red could see him better. He reached out and touched his shoulder, which Dr. Jameson allowed freely.

“Red, shh, if you don’t want us to leave we won’t.”

“I’m scared,” Red whimpered, shaking in Jessie’s hands. “Rus- I-I’m scared-”

“I’m sorry, is it okay if-?”

“By all means,” Jessie said, handing Red to Russel at once. They had a look in their eyes- a look that was sort of familiar. Like sadness and… a faint anger, all at once. Anger that somebody could do this to a bitty.

Red curled up against Russel’s chest as the human pressed him to it, Stan close by and rubbing at his back where he could.

“It’s okay, little one,” Stan said softly. “It’s okay to be scared, you’re okay. We promised we wouldn’t go anywhere, and we’re going to stick to that!”

“I-I’m s-sorry,” Red cried, grabbing at Russel’s shirt and rubbing his face against the fabric to dry his tears.

“Shh… shh,” Russel shushed him gently.

“If it’s too much for Red, we don’t have to have an examination,” Jessie offered. “We can go back to the desk and talk some more, about his previous heat and whatnot. I don’t want to overwhelm the poor thing, especially on his first visit.”

“Ya hear that, little bud? You wanna just talk some more instead?”

Red sniffled and nodded into the fabric.

“I’m… ‘m sorry… I tried…” Red cried, looking up at Russel. Rus made a soft noise in his throat and leaned down to kiss his skull.

“You did, I’m so proud of you,” Russel said softly. “You’re our brave little man, huh?”

“The littlest and the bravest,” Stan added.

They returned to the office part of the room, Red deciding that he didn’t want to sit in the chair and would rather speak from Russel’s chest. Dr. Jameson didn’t protest, in fact, they seemed more than willing to accommodate the bitty. They moved their own desk chair over to Stan and Russel’s side so they could hear the bitty better.

“Red, when you had your heat, is there a reason you didn’t just use your magic to output energy? Do you know how to form bone attacks?”

Red tensed. His little body went rigid and he curled up tighter against the shirt.

“Bad. It’s bad. O-Only… only bad bitties… use magic,” Red said, the same thing as he’d said the other day.

“Magic is completely natural for bitties,” Dr. Jameson said. “Who told you that only bad bitties use magic?”

Red sniffled a little and began shaking anew. “Hh… He did…”

“He?”

“His old owner,” Stan supplied. “The one who… hurt him.”

“Ah.” Jessie sat back in their chair, lost in thought for a moment. “I see. Red, why do you think he told you that?”

“I… I don’t kn-know…”

“He was trying to control you. What he said isn’t true- almost all bitties can use magic, and it’s completely fine for them to do so.”

“But what i-if he comes back- what if… what if he sees …” Red cried, looking over at Jessie with a wide eye. “I don’t- I don’t… want to hurt again…”

Russel wanted so badly to tell him no, fuck that, he’d never see that asshole again, but he kept quiet, only rubbed his back as Jessie continued..

They nodded along to what Red said. They thought for a moment before they responded: “do you think Russel and Stan would let that happen?”

It was Red’s turn to be quiet.

“The man who hurt you is gone. He isn’t ever going to hurt you again, Red. Do you trust your new caretakers?”

Red nodded at once.

“Then you should trust that they’re telling the truth. Magic is natural- you won’t be punished if you use it, especially to prevent the pain of an unexpressed heat. I understand your hesitance, and it’s going to be a process. But I want you to consider using your magic, alright? Nobody is going to force you, this is your choice.”

Red didn’t say much of anything. He curled up closer to Russel, as close as he could possibly get.

“Doctor, is there anything else we should be doing?” Stan asked, trying to give Red some time to think about Jessie’s words. “As far as taking care of him… we’re going in pretty blind to all of this.”

“I think you’re doing a remarkable job caring for Red,” Jessie said with a sad smile. “There will be some… challenges along the way, but he trusts you. Earning a bitty’s trust is half the battle. I’m sure you’re aware that these things take time, and that recovery is a process.”

Stan and Rus nodded.

“Good. I would recommend, however, that he come in a couple times a month to see a therapist- how comfortable is he around other bitties?”

“You mean like… group therapy?” Russel asked.

Dr. Jameson smiled. “No, though that could be an option later down the line. I mean a bitty therapist.”

“You have those?” Stan asked, a little incredulous.

The atmosphere lightened as Jessie laughed. “We do indeed!” Their voice took on the more chipper tone Russel had heard on the phone. “My own bitty, Pepper, had an interest in helping other bitties with me here at the clinic, so I taught him everything I know.”

“That’s so cool,” Russel said, imagining a little bitty lounger and a little bitty clipboard. “What do you think, Red? You wanna talk to another bitty about stuff?”

“Uhm… is… is h-he nice?”

“Yes!” Jessie said, seemingly excited to talk about their own bitty. “Pepper’s the best of the best- calm, cool, and collected, he’s an excellent listener, and in my experience it’s so much better for a bitty to talk to another bitty versus a human.”

Red thought about it for a moment, running his hands over the fabric of Rus’s shirt. “Uhm… o...okay. Okay. Now?”

“Not now, I’m afraid, he’s in a session,” Dr. Jameson said. “But we could schedule you for sometime next week, if you’d like!”

“How’s that all sound to you, Red? You wanna give it a try?” Stan asked.

“Will…” Red gulped. “Will… will you be there?”

Stan looked up at Jessie.

“You’re more than welcome to sit in for as many sessions as you need to until Red gets comfortable around Pepper,” the doctor reassured.

They all looked at Red.

“Uhm… uh… o-okay… okay,” Red conceded.

“Wonderful! They’ll get you scheduled out front. For now, to the two of you humans, I would suggest working with Red on his magic and, in all honesty, continue doing what you’re doing. Once he’s spoken with Pepper we can look into possibly getting him medicated, should he need it, and what options would be best as far as psychotherapy goes. And, down the line, maybe we can have that physical exam. Do you have any questions? I wouldn’t want to keep you too long or overwhelm you for the first visit.”

Rus looked at Stan for a moment, and then back at Jessie.

“Uhm… this might not be an appropriate question…” Stan said sheepishly,” but… how much will therapy cost on a regular basis? We aren’t… uhm, how should I say it…”

“We don’t have a lot of money to spare right now,” Russel supplied.

Dr. Jameson nodded. “After today’s session, which is already in the books and will need to be paid for, I’m willing to take Red on as a client pro bono.”

“... Are you serious?” Russel asked. Stan’s hands were at his mouth, his eyes wide.

“Very much so! It’s been a long while since a bitty like Red has been in my care, and I’m more than willing to do this for the two of you and make your lives that much easier.”

“Oh, oh my gosh, thank you!” Stan said, standing up and reaching out to shake Jessie’s hand. “Thank you so much!”

Jessie laughed and took it. “Not a problem! I strive to maintain this business while also being as generous as I can- it’s what every healthcare practitioner should strive to do, in my opinion.”

“Wh...what’s p-pro bone-o?” Red whispered up at Russel.

“It means your therapy won’t cost us anything,” he responded, a happy smile on his face.

Red blinked. “R-Really?”

“Really,” Jessie responded for Rus. “Now, I’m afraid our time is running short, but you’re more than welcome to email or call if you have anymore questions- it was so nice to meet you, Red.”

Red ducked his head.

“And it was so nice to meet the two of you, as well!” Jessie said with a grin. “Would you like me to walk you out?”

“We can find our way, you don’t have to,” Stan said, still smiling, wiping a happy tear from his eye. “Thank you again!”

“You’re welcome again!”

They left, hope in their hearts and Red snuggled into Russel’s scarf.

Chapter Text

Red didn’t improve after his first meeting with Jessie, per say, but he didn’t seem phased by it. Rus worked Friday so Red was left alone in the apartment, and when Stan got home he found the little dude coloring away on the loose paper they’d cut up for him.

Stan greeted the bitty with a smile, quickly taking off his new, awesome binder, mindful of the medical issues wearing it for too long could cause. He’d worked eight hours that day- he needed to take it off, and he did so in the middle of the living room.

Red abandoned his paper at once. He was on the lower level of his cage- the thing had two floors, and since the top level was his ‘bedroom’ of sorts, decorated with paper and some other knicknacks, the bottom was where he colored and played with the toys they had bought for him. His stuffed puppy (named Puppy) was clutched in his arms as he came over and stepped out of the home, looking up at Stan.

“W...Welcome home,” he said, a little shy. Stan tugged his shirt back on over his now-freed chest and hurried over to pick Red up. 

“How’s my little trooper doing?” Stan asked, giving his skull a kiss. “Did you have fun while we were away?” He sat down beside the cage, on the living room floor.

“Mm… mhmm- I, uhm… I was drawing.”

“Awesome!” Stan said, setting Red back down now that he’d been given his little smooch. “Would you like to show me? I’d love to see.”

Red nodded, hugging his puppy tight. He ran back into the house, grabbed some pieces of paper, and then hurried right on back, plush dog still held in one hand by its paw.

“Uhm- uhm- I drew… I drew Puppy.” He held out the piece of paper, looking away as Stan took it and gave it a looksie.

“Oh wow! You even colored him- this looks great, Red!”

Red flushed with magic and shifted his feet.

“Th… thank you…”

“Can I put it on the fridge?” Stan asked, looking at the crudely drawn dog with a smile.

“Mmhm,” Red affirmed with a nod.

“What else did you do today? Anything fun?” Stan knew Russel had left for his shift at noon, meaning Red had been alone for a few hours.

“Uhm, I… I just played with Puppy…”

Stan smiled as he reached down to pet along Red’s spine. Stan really didn’t know how maturely to treat Red- he sort of acted like a kid, but physically he seemed older, and he was certainly able to understand more complex topics- Stan just wasn’t sure if he was genuinely young, if this was just how he behaved normally, or if the damage from his injury had caused him to act like this. Not that it really mattered, of course, he loved Red regardless.

“How is Puppy?”

“Soft…” Red said, setting the papers down to hug his toy. “Uhm…” he trailed off.

“Hmm?” Stan touched the top of his skull. “What’s up?”

“Uhm, can… can we, uhm… go see… the real puppies again?” he asked sheepishly, hugging his dog a little tighter.

“Oh, Red, of course we can!” Stan said as he scooped the little thing up to hold him, unable to resist. “We can go tomorrow- I’m working morning shift so we can go in the afternoon!”

“R...Really?” Red breathed, snuggling himself and his toy against Stan’s chest, peering up at the human.

“Really! We can go back to the store we went to before- see all the puppies and kittens, the fish… whatever you’d like, Red!”

Red nodded. Stan held the bitty, staring down at him with love in his heart. The little thing was just too precious, he loved animals so much, Stan felt so bad he couldn’t have one…

Stan blinked. Wait a second...

Chapter Text

Stan talked to Russel that night, and a plan was made. Russel seemed just as stoked about it as Stan was, so they pooled their money together and, when Saturday rolled around, they helped Red get ready for their outing with smiles on their faces.

“Uhm, uhm, will there be… white puppies?” Red asked as he tugged on his freshly-washed blue hoodie and gray sweatpants. He was having trouble getting his legs up high enough, so Russel helped him into the pants. The younger human hoped it was just a bitty thing, and not a result of his broken pelvis. He’d have to ask Jessie next time they met. 

“Might be, they come in lots of colors. Except, like, purple,” Russel said as Red adjusted his pants up way too high. Russel smiled at that- whatever made the bitty comfortable was fine by him. 

“I like the- the, uhm… the videos of, the, the puppies that… that bark at their- their r...reflections,” Red stuttered. He was shaking a bit, but he didn’t seem phased by getting ready- on the contrary, he seemed… excited? That was new and, well, exciting.

“Those are so good,” Stan agreed, getting ready himself. He finished brushing his hair with a flourish before giving Red a boop on his skull. “What about the ones where the kittens jump up in the air to get the toys?”

“Good… those are, they’re, uhm… good, too,” Red said with a tiny little smile. He was hugging his plush doggy tight, snuggling into its felt fur. 

“Well, are we all ready to go?” Russel asked, slipping his dirty old sneakers on and wiggling his toes. Stan picked Red up gently and held him in his hands. It was still very cold outside, so they had to be conscious of Red and his tiny exposed bones. They didn’t really make gloves for bittybones, not that Russel or Stan had ever found, so they made do with keeping him bundled in a scarf. It was Stan’s turn to wear it, not that either really minded the accessory. 

Red nodded, snuggling into his scarf while Stan supporting him with a palm from below, just in case the fabric shifted and he were to fall. 

They made their way to the bus stop, Stan and Russel exchanging excited grins. 

 

The mall was just as happening as it always was, but Red wasn’t bothered by it. He stayed curled up in Stan’s scarf, sometimes poking his head out of his little hammock of sorts to look around before his curiosity was sated.

The three boys reached the pet store without a hitch. Stan removed Red from his scarf and handed him to Russel, who was much taller, offering the bitty a better view. Russel hadn’t been to the pet store with Red yet- Stan was excited for him to see the bitty’s enthusiasm. 

“Oh…” he breathed, leaning on Russel’s fingers to look out over the wall of glass cages that held the puppies and kittens. Russel held him right up to the glass when he could, the crowd wasn’t too bad, but Red didn’t like being close to other people so Russel had to be extra conscious of him. 

“Look- look- this one is a German Shepherd puppy,” Stan explained, pointing to the puppy chewing on a toy in front of them. “Do you know any breeds of dogs, Red?”

Red was enamored with the puppy, little bony hands splayed out against the glass. He shook his head.

“It’s kind of like with bitties,” Russel said, “how there are Sans and Papyrus and Muffet types- but these are dogs.”

“Oh,” Red said, thinking about that. He pointed to the glass-fronted enclosure beside the German Shepherd. “What… what kind is- is this one?”

“That’s a Poodle!” 

“Poodle…” Red parroted. “It’s… it’s white…”

“Yup, a lot of Poodles are! But they can be black, too, and I think other colors… it depends!” Stan said happily. “And over here there’s a couple Shiba Inus- they come from Japan, which is very far away. Aren’t they cute?”

“Y-Yeah, oh, she-she’s ador-ador… cute.” Red smiled at the Shiba Inu pup as it romped around with its likely litter mate. He went back to Russel’s palm, snuggling against his chest. “Can- can we… we look at the uhm… the uhm… kitties?”

“Sure thing, little dude,” Russel said.

The kittens weren’t as active as the puppies were- many were sleeping in piles, and the store didn’t have that many in general, so although Red loved them, he was quick to go back to the puppies as they played and barked and yipped. Eventually, they made their way to the birds again- today they had a cockatiel and the exhibit of finches they always did. 

“Ohhh,” Red breathed, pressed up against the glass of the zebra finch enclosure, watching with wide eyes and awe as they flittered around from branch to branch and nest to nest. Red seemed absolutely enamored with them.

“Aren’t they cool? I love birds,” Russel remarked as he held the bitty up.

“How-how… how do they… do that?”

“Do what?”

“F...Fly…”

“Oh! Well, their bones are hollow, so they’re very very light and their wings can lift them!” Stan explained.

Red jerked and stared back at Stan. “Hollow?” he asked, a little shaken.

“Don’t worry lil bro, they’re born like that, it’s all good. That’s just how birds are," Russel chipped in.

“Oh…” Red said, his worry melting away. “My… my bones… are-aren’t hollow.”

“Neither are ours!” Stan said with a smile. 

Red smiled back- such a good little sight- before he twisted around and stared at the wall of fish tanks.

“Can we… uhm… look at the fish now?”

Both brothers sent one another a look before they smiled and nodded. 

The wall glowed a nice blue. Red had a lot to say about all of the fish now that he wasn’t concerned with them drowning, as he had been last visit. He asked about all of them- they made their way from the more exotic to the less exotic, so he asked about the shrimp, the angelfish, the sea urchins, the marimo moss balls, and everything in between. 

They eventually made their way to the goldfish tank.

“These- these ones… are nice…” he said, little fingers clacking against the glass quietly as he was held up to look.

“You like these guys?” Stan asked, shooting Russel a grin.

Red nodded, happy to observe the fish.

“Well… do you think you’d like to have one at home?”

Red turned around to look up at the brother, before looking down at Stan. 

“What… what do you mean?”

“Well, we were thinking that maybe you’d like to have a pet!” Stan announced with glee, flapping for a moment. “And a fish seems like the perfect fit! What do you think?”

Red had all but the stars in his socket. He gulped, looked back to the fish, and then at the brothers once again.

“We… we can take- take one… home?” he breathed.

“I set up a secret tank this morning,” Russel admitted with a sly grin. “I think we’re all good to take one home with us.”

“Now?” Red said, a little louder. He looked like Stan and Russel had just plucked the sun from the sky.

“Yes indeed!” Stan said happily. “You can pick out the fish you’d like- it has to be a goldfish in this tank, because that’s what we’re all set up for, but! It’s going to be your own little fishy! You can name it and look at it anytime you’d like! Does that sound fun?”

Russel held Red, still up at the glass. Tears welled in his eyes, but… he flapped his hands a little bit, made the cutest little squealing noise, and hugged Russel’s thumb. The human brought him against his chest and held him close, rubbing his back as he sobbed into the scarf. 

“Y-You’re- you’re serious? You’re n-not j-joking?” he cried.

“Of course we’re serious,” Russel said, giving Stan a happy grin as their bitty happily cried. “Stan and I are allowed to have a ten gallon tank, and we thought you’d like this little surprise.”

“You’ve been so brave lately, Red,” Stan went on, reaching up to touch the bitty as well. “Going to the doctors and letting people in can be really, really scary! And Russel and I are so proud of you for being the bravest little bitty in the world- we thought this would be a good present.”

Red sniffled and nodded. He seemed entirely overwhelmed. He alternated between crying and thanking them and asking if they were for real.

A few people looked at them as they stood in front of the tank. Eventually an employee came over to them with a smile.

“Can I help you?” he asked. He caught sight of the bitty and his smile widened.

“Yes, actually!” Stan said. “We’d like to pick out a goldfish!”

“Absolutely,” he said, and went about getting things ready to get a fish out.

“You have an idea of which one you’d like?” Russel asked, moving the bitty away from him so he could peer at the fish once more.

“Oh, it’s for your bitty?” the employee asked, holding the little green net. 

“It is!” Stan replied happily. “Well, it’s going to be a family pet, but, you know…”

“That’s adorable,” he commented. “Which one would you like, little guy?” he asked, addressing Red.

Even the new person in the mix wasn’t enough to deter the bitty. He was back to pressing himself to the glass, eyes flicking from fish to fish.

“Uhm… uhm… I want the… the black one… in the back…”

Russel hadn’t even noticed it, but there was indeed a little black goldfish in the back of the tank- with puffy eyes and a few little gold spots.

“The one with the eyes?” The employee asked, just to be sure.

Red looked up at Russel, his big bulgy eye so visible in the harsh light of the tanks.

“Is… is that one okay?”

“It’s perfect,” he said, pulling Red up to nuzzle him against his cheek. 



Chapter Text

 

Thursday rolled around eventually, though it was an exciting week, with Star being introduced into the household.

Red had picked out the name on the way home, as he’d stared at the fish in the plastic baggy and remarked that the little flecks of gold that shone through the black pigmentation looked like stars. It was an adorable name- Russel had been expecting about the level of creativity that had gone into Puppy’s name, but it was a pleasant surprise that Red picked out, like, an actual name. 

He’d been inseparable from his new pet. The tank was kept on the floor next to Red’s cage so he could see the fish, which was living the good life. It’s own castle, a bubble chest, plants, the works. The little thing didn’t do much, because, well… it was a fish. It idly swam from corner to corner and Red would lay in front of the tank and watch it for hours. Russel and Stan had taken charge of feeding it, because neither wanted Red to have access to the water in case of the horrible chance he fell in and couldn’t get back out. But he helped some days, when they got home from work and Red excitedly asked if he could help feed Star. He loved watching the thing go after the flakes that were dropped in.

Red was even using Star as a bit of a coping mechanism- he reported one morning that, through the night, he’d gotten a little sad, but had turned Star’s light on and watched the fish swim around, and it has calmed him. Russel and his brother were ecstatic to hear that their bitty was getting something out of his new pet. 

But, where Red was going, Star couldn’t follow. It wasn’t as dramatic as it sounded- it was time for his first appointment with the bitty therapist, and he obviously couldn’t bring a fish with him, even if it did qualify as a little bitty ESA.

“Bye bye, Star,” Red said, pressing his hand up against the glass. The fish took no notice, of course, just produced a bubble from its mouth and swam in and out of its castle. 

“We wont’ be long- Star will be right here when we get back!” Stan said, bending down to offer Red his hand. The bitty nodded, crawling into his palm, and was lifted to his chest. 

“I’ll miss him,” Red remarked. “When… when we get home, could we, uhm, feed him?”

“Sure thing, my man,” Russel said, pulling on his shoes and jacket. “And you know, Puppy can always come with you.”

“Really?” 

“Of course he can,” Russel tugged some gloves on and picked up the toy from the bottom floor of Red’s house. He handed it to Red, who happily accepted, cuddling close to the felt toy.

“Now you and Puppy stay in the scarf until we get to the car and it heats up a bit- the last thing we want is for you to get frost-bite,” Stan said, depositing Red into the material that was looped around his neck and supporting him from below with a free hand. 

“Yes, sir,” Red said, and just like that he disappeared into the fabric.

The trip was uneventful. Red fell asleep, so when they arrived and Stan drew him out of the scarf, he was letting out tiny little snores as he cuddled with Puppy. Russel and his brother shared a happy look before they woke the bitty up and went inside. 

Stan chatted idly with Rachel while Russel held Red. They sat near the indoor bitty playground, where another lone bitty was using the monkey bars. Red stared at the little bitty with big eyes.

“You wanna go play, bud?” Rus asked.

“I’m, uhm… I’m not sure that, uhm… they’d like me,” Red whispered, casting his eyes down.

“Want me to ask? They look pretty friendly,” Russel quietly remarked. The bitty hadn’t noticed them watching, just giggled as they fell into the soft material on the ground and ran back to the bars. It looked like a Baby Blue bitty- bright blue eyes, short stature, energetic. Russel knew they were a particularly kind breed of bitty, so he wasn’t too worried about Red playing with them. 

“Uhm… o-okay…” Red squeaked, holding his puppy close.

Russel looked around the room and saw another person sitting there- she, he assumed, looked pretty young, and was reading a book while her bitty played. Rus leaned forward and raised his hand a little to get her attention.

“Excuse me, sorry,” he said. “Would you mind if my bitty played with yours? He’s a little shy and wanted me to ask.”

She gave him a big smile and closed her book. She looked nice enough- pretty, blue-dyed dreads fell down her shoulders and back, and her eyes were a warm brown. 

“Oh, sure! Sky, hun, would you mind if uhm…” she looked at Russel.

“Red,” he supplied.

“Would you mind if Red joined you?” 

The bitty stopped his playing and looked up at the woman. He hopped in place and looked to Russel expectantly, spying Red sitting in his palms.

“Oh, that would be great!” Sky said in a happy, chipper little voice. 

“You sure you’re okay, Red?” Russel asked, holding the bitty up. He looked nervous, but he nodded. 

Rus sat him down and Sky immediately hurried over. When Russel’s hands came away and Red’s face was revealed, Sky halted for only a moment. Then he was back to hurrying over and offering Red his hand.

“Hi Red, I’m Sky!” the bitty greeted. 

“Oh… uhm… hi,” Red said. He looked up at Russel.

“Go ahead, little bug, shout if you need me. I’ll be right here watching.”
The bitties shook hands.

“Come on, Red! Have you ever done the monkey bars? They’re my favorite- I do them every week!”

Red shook his head and hesitantly followed Sky over.

Russel smiled as he watched the two play. Sky’s owner scootched her chair over and watched with him.

“Sky gets along with just about anybody,” she said, “as long as they don’t mind getting their ear chewed off.”

“Red isn’t much of a talker, so they might balance each other out,” Rus replied. 

“I’m Deidre, by the way,” she introduced with a smile. “Sky comes here for therapy with Dr. Jameson. What about your little one?”

“This is his first visit with Pepper for therapy,” Russel said, keeping his eyes on Red but glancing politely at Deidre when necessary. Sky was enamored with Puppy, who was still clutched in Red’s arms.

“How long have you had him?”

“A handful of months now,” Russel answered. “We would have brought him in sooner, but… he’s still very scared. He didn’t even get through the physical exam with Dr. Jameson.”

“The poor thing… his eye…?”

“Old owner. Got him as a rescue,” Russel said quietly, not wanting Red to overhear. 

“What about you and Sky?”

“I’ve had Sky for almost three years now- he comes in once a week to talk to Dr. J.”

Russel nodded. Sky was swinging on the monkey bars while Red watched from below. 

Russel’s name was called before long. Red seemed happy to say his goodbyes and crawl back into Russel’s palms, but he didn’t seem any worse for wear. 

“Thanks for letting Red play with Sky- maybe I’ll see you around sometime,” Russel said, waving goodbye to Deidre. 

“No problem, thanks to you as well!”

Therapy time.

 

Pepper’s office was… different.

A table stood in the middle, not far from the floor at all, but enough to keep straying feet from stamping where they shouldn’t. On the table was a little… well, therapy set up! A tiny little one- complete with a desk, a little couch for patients to sit on, and even a miniature cactus in a miniature pot. By the entrance to the room were also a couple of chairs for humans.

At the therapy set up sat a rather tall bitty, red-eyed and sharp-fanged, tapping something into the cell phone that was propped to the side of his desk. Pepper, Russel assumed. As the pair of humans and their bitty came in, he looked up and gave a nod and small smile.

“Please, come in and sit however is comfortable.”

The three of them did so. Russel and Stan got situated in the human chairs beside the table before Rus looked down at Red.

“Wanna try sitting on the couch, bud?”

“Uhm… okay. Could… could you keep your, uhm, hand with me…?”

“Sure thing, little guy.”

“That’s more than alright,” Pepper said, adjusting his- oh gosh- little tie. He really was a working bitty. It was kind of adorable, still. “Welcome, Red. These are your humans, I assume?”

“Yeah,” Red squeaked. “Russel and- and Stan.”

“Well, welcome all three of you. Now-”

The first part of the session was just some paperwork. Between the two humans and Red signing papers and Pepper reading out the terms and making sure everything was understood, it didn’t take long. Nothing like human therapy- Russel should know. 

“Phew, glad that’s over. That’s the worst part of the first session,” Pepper said. He was a sharp-looking little Boss bitty, dressed in a black button down shirt and red tie. Red sat on the couch, legs drawn up a bit and looking to the side. “So, Red, what brings you to our practice?”

“O-Oh, uhm…” Red looked back at Russel and Stan. They gave him little nods of encouragement, Russel’s hand moving to rub along his back as much as possible. Red took a shaky breath.

“Well, uhm… I, I had a… heat? But, uhm… my pelvis… isn’t… there? A-And it hurt, and I’m… a little broken…”

Pepper gave Red his full attention, hands crossed over his face. 

“Nothing that’s broken can’t be put back together again,” Pepper said, writing something on a bitty-sized pad of paper. “Or, at the very least, haphazardly glued. Some parts may remain broken, but I wouldn’t worry about that just yet. Dr. Jameson gave me a report of your heat and physical conditions, but it seems like your humans helped you deal with it well, yes?”

“Mm. Y-Yeah, they did.”

“That’s wonderful. How do you like living with Stan and Russel?”

“They’re- they’re good. Uhm. I… love them,” Red said, wringing his hands a little bit.

“Good! In my time as a therapist, I’ve learned that any human willing to bring their bitty to a practice like this instead of suffering alone loves them very much. I don’t doubt that applies to Russel and Stan, as well.” Pepper looked up at the two of you and smiled.

“They’re- they’re my fav-f-favorite people,” Red said. “Uhm…”

“Please, continue, if you wish.”

“Russel is… Kind, uhm, he’s… real good. Stan’s Brave. They got me… Puppy,” Red said, hugging his plush dog, which remained in his arms. “And Star, Star is, uhm, he’s my fish.”

“They seem to love you very much,” Pepper remarked. “I’m glad to hear that.”

There was quiet for a moment. Red shifted on the couch, idly feeling Puppy’s felt.

“Red, what sort of symptoms brought you here, aside from your heat? Is there something wrong in your life, would you say?”

“Oh, uhm… well… sometimes, uhm…” Red hugged Puppy and laid a hand on Russel’s nearby hand. “I’m happy now… but… but I wasn’t when I was… uhm… with him.”

“Him?”

“Y-Yeah… my, uhm, my old… owner.”

“What did he do?”

“He… hurt me. A lot. Uhm…” Red sniffled a bit. He reached up and touched his crack.

“He cracked your skull?”

“Mmhm,” Red mumbled. “He… uhm. He didn’t… like me.”

“I’m sorry to hear this happened to you, Red.”

“It… uhm. It still hurts.”

“The crack?” Pepper asked.

“The… no, uhm, I mean, no… what… what he did…”

“Well, I completely understand that. The pain of abuse doesn’t go away on its own, as much as time heals. But, hopefully, we can work through some of the trauma while you’re here and help you recover. Does that sound like a plan?”

“Y-Yeah… yeah,” Red agreed.

Pepper gave Red a smile.

“Well, all that darn paperwork left us without much time this first visit, but that’s hardly an exception to the norm. I’m glad you’re here as my client, Red, and I hope I see you again next week. Do you think this time will work again?”

“Uhmm…” Red looked back at Russel and Stan.

“It should, yes,” Stan supplied.

“Wonderful. I’ll put you in, then,” Pepper said as he went about tap-tapping on the cell phone. “Thank you so much for coming, all three of you.”

Red hugged Puppy as Russel reached forward and carefully took Red into his hands.

“Thank you, Pepper,” Russel said.

“Yes, thank you!” Stan chirped. 

Pepper nodded. “You’re more than welcome.”

The two humans and their bitty left after that, signing out with the receptionist and settling their debts from the last visit. Red seemed tuckered out, hiding away in the scarf with Puppy and content to get away from the world.

Stan shared a look with his brother as they walked to the car. They were both so very proud of their bitty.

 

Chapter Text

Soon it was Christmas time. The Fuente’s didn’t make a huge deal of it- a small tree in the living room, some decorations here and there, nothing too fancy.

“So… so you buy… presents? Again?”

“Well, yes, but it’s also about spending time with the people you care about,” Stan explained. It was he and Red for the afternoon while Russel went to work. December 23rd was as good a day as any to explain Christmas to Red.

“Uhm… well… but, I’m- I get to… I see you guys every day,” Red said from his position on Stan’s chest. They were lying on the couch together, Red curled up and relaxed as Stan decompressed from his morning at the store. 

“Aww… well, sometimes it involves seeing your extended family, your friends… people like that! But Russel and I don’t really have anybody- nobody who lives close. So we just spend the holiday together!”

“Oh… okay,” Red conceded. He snuggled against Stan’s palm. 

“Of course, you don’t have to worry about getting Russel or I anything- you’re the best present we’ve ever gotten,” Stan said with a grin, rubbing the side of Red’s skull. The bitty leaned into the touch. “We don’t get as into the holiday as some folks do! People go crazy over Christmas- they put up lights, decorate the trees with popcorn, a million decorations, some people even set up these miniature villages! It’s all very well and good, but we’re more relaxed.”

Red nodded.

Stan smiled at the bitty, but he was sleepy from an early morning of hard work and little sleep the night before. It wasn’t long before they both drifted off.

Russel arrived home to find his brother and Red asleep on the couch. He smiled at the sight and stretched, feet hurting from a day at the pharmacy, and went over to the kitchen table and sat his stuff down. 

He let them be. He was happy his brother wasn’t awake to snoop- he could take his bags to his room in peace and hide them in his closet for wrapping the following day. He suspected Stan had done the same that morning- or earlier. Sure, they never made a huge deal of Christmas, since their birthdays were essentially within the month, but it never hurt to get somebody a little gift. 

Russel tried not to think about past Christmases. It was rough sometimes, thinking about family parties and the people who they no longer spoke to. The people who had abandoned them. He knew Stan felt guilty- guilty that, because of him, Russel couldn’t be around his family. It wasn’t true, of course- Russel didn’t want to be around his family, and Stan had nothing to do with that. 

He sighed and sat at his computer chair. Whatever. Things were rough, but they were going to do their best to make this a good day for Red. 

 

Christmas came without a hitch. Russel was woken by Stan shaking him awake, as he always was, at far too early an hour. He groaned and opened his eyes to see his brother’s excited face staring down at him.

“Get up, lazy! It’s almost 9!”

“God forbid we get any rest in this house,” Russel moaned, and Stan gave him a playful slap.

“Come on, don’t be like that,” Stan chastised. “It’s Red’s first Christmas with us! We have to make it special!”

“Okay, just guilt trip me, that’s fine, that’s all good,” Russel muttered as he heaved himself out of bed. “I’m up.”

“Let’s get Red together!”

“Sounds good, let me put some damn pants on. No Dick December.”

Stan shot him a look like ice before hurrying out of the door. He was in a set of pajamas with little be-hatted puppies on them. 

They met in the kitchen, both in their PJs, and walked into the living room to find Red sleeping soundly in his house. Stan gave his brother a grin before hurrying over and opening the top doors.

The noise woke the bitty, who blearily opened his eye and found the two humans standing over him, excitement buzzing in the air. 

“Good morning, little bug,” Stan greeted. “You ready for Christmas?”

Red seemed a little hesitant, but he nodded. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and gave the tiniest little yawn. 

Russel reached in and offered his hand. Red climbed into it and was against the younger brother’s shirt in an instant, rubbing at the soft fabric as he worked on waking up a bit.

“Okay bud, you wait on the couch while I go get the presents, okay?” Russel said softly.

“Mm,” Red agreed as he was put onto the worn surface. He stared down at his feet.

Russel went to his room and found the haphazardly wrapped gifts, grabbing them in his arms and walking back to deposit them under the Christmas tree.There were four- two for Red and two for Stan. His brother wasn’t far behind, appearing in the living room doorway with a few small things in boxes. He grinned like a madman as he practically threw them on the floor beside Russel’s present pile and went to pick up Red. The skeleton was staring at the pile intently, a contemplative look on his face. 

“Okay, let’s start!”

They always organized Christmas presents in such a way that one person opened one present at a time. Stan got one of his, Red one, and Russel one. The two humans shared a look before they began to tear into the paper.

“Oh my gosh!” Stan exclaimed, holding up the sweater Russel had got him. It was a turquoise-green color with a big pink heart in the middle- hand-knit. Not by Russel, of course, but somebody did it!

“Bro,” Russel said, opening the little gift box to find a six month subscription to his favorite video game. 

They both looked at each other and smiled, only to look down and see Red staring at his present.

“Go ahead and open it, Red!” Stan urged. “That one is from me!”

“Uhm…”

“Something wrong, bud?” Russel asked, seeing the hesitation on his face.

“I… I don’t know,” Red said. “I don’t… I’m…”

Without too much warning, Red was crying. He shook his head and wiped at the tears with his sleeve, hiccuping as he was scooped up by Russel, who was the closer of the two.

“I-I’m sorry- ‘m sorry-”

“Aw, bud, nothing to be sorry about,” Russel said, sharing a look of concern with Stan. “What’s going on? Is something the matter?”

“I… I don’t…”

He mumbled something into Russel’s shirt. The human couldn’t make it out for the life of him.

“I’m sorry, Red, I didn’t head what ya said…”

“I don’t… like Christmas…” Red whispered sadly. 

Russel was caught off guard. He blinked. Stan did the same.

“Red… you don’t like Christmas?” Stan asked.

Red shook his head. 

“How come, little dude? Did we do something?”

“No! N-no, I’m… I’m sorry, I didn’t… I thought… I didn’t want you guys… I didn’t wanna… ruin it,” Red whimpered.

“Well, bud… if something’s wrong, you gotta tell us- the last thing we want to do is make you upset!” Stan explained. “Did something happen?”

Red nodded. He sniffled.

“I… uhm. Back- back at the… the store. E-Everybody else… would leave.”

“Leave?” Rus asked.

“Get… a-adopted. And… sometimes… me too.”

Russel rubbed Red’s back, hoping he could urge him to continue.

“And… a-and I’d… go somewhere. A-And it was- it… it was scary. ‘N they’d… they- they would put me in a box… and they’d… give me… uhm. As a… a present.”

The brothers shared a look. 

“I hate b-boxes,” Red whined, huddling against Russel’s chest.

“Oh my gosh, Red… little bug, I’m so sorry,” Stan said.

Red was crying profusely, but he continued:

“I wasn’t- I was… w-wasn’t a good present… I got… scared. I was real scared…”

“Red,” Russel said softly, stroking the bitty’s back. “Buddy… why didn’t you tell us this? We didn’t have to do all this- we thought you’d like it.”

“Didn’t- d...didn’t want you to be mad,” Red sniffled, still hiding his face away.

“Of course we wouldn’t be mad,” Stan explained. “Red, if you don’t like Christmas because of your past, we don’t have to celebrate it! That’s perfectly okay- Russel and I can go without, easy peasy!”

“B-but I don’t want that!” Red cried. “I want- I want… to be good. I wanna be… a-a good bitty…”

“You are a good bitty,” Russel comforted. “Having triggers and fears doesn’t change that.” He leaned down and gave Red a kiss. “What about this is making you upset?”

Red shook his head for a moment. Eventually he went ahead:

“The… paper.”

“Okay- here, I’ll take all the presents and go unwrap them. And we won’t call it Christmas!” Stan said. “Would that make it a little better?”

Red nodded.

Stan grabbed all of the paper in sight and took it to the kitchen. Russel held Red, rubbing at his back and giving him little kisses. His crying petered off after a little bit, though he still shook. 

Stan came back with an armful of unwrapped gifts, depositing them on the floor.

“What about the tree? Does that make you upset?” Russel asked.

Red shook his head. 

“N-no… just… just the paper ‘n the b-boxes…”

“Do you still want your gifts?” Stan asked.

“Uhm… n… not right now…”

“That’s okay! I’ll take them and put them in my closet- we can give them to you another day.”

Red nodded, only to wipe his eye socket with his sleeve and look up at the two brothers with a sad eye. 

“I’m… ‘m real sorry…”

“Don’t be, not even for a second,” Stan said with a comforting smile, wiping the bitty’s tears. “Everything is fine!”

“Totally cool,” Russel agreed. 

Red stared at them for a moment before he hiccuped and nodded.

Chapter Text

Red opened his presents later that day, after he’d calmed down for a while. He was still a little melancholy, so the brothers figured that a gift would cheer him up.

“Here, Red! I thought you’d like this, I saw it at the store!” Stan exclaimed, handing him an unwrapped gift. It was a little plastic toy- a panda bear- that was small enough for Red to handle pretty easily. 

“Oh… oh, it’s cute,” he said softly. He was sitting on the couch again, all of the boxes and wrapping paper removed, while Stan and Russel sat on the floor and let him see their gifts. “Wh… what is it?”

“It’s a panda- they’re a type of bear,” Russel explained.

“I love it,” Red said, holding it close for a moment before setting it beside him, where Puppy also sat. 

“I got ya these,” Russel said, reaching behind himself to grab the miniature glass jar he’d filled with tiny erasers shaped like fruit, topped with a loose cork. The bottle looked huge in Red’s hands, but his eye glowed as he uncorked it and reached inside to grab a fruit. The erasers were so tiny he could hold it in one hand- it was adorable. 

“Th-thank you,” he stuttered.

“And we both ended up getting you some new clothes!” Stan said happily, reaching into his hoodie pocket and drawing out some black bitty jeans and a pink t-shirt. He held them up with a smile, and Red blushed at the attention.

“Thank you…”

“Our pleasure,” Russel said, reaching up and giving the bitty a little pet. Red was handed the clothes, and he hugged them tight, giving them a sniff and setting them beside the other things. 

And that was their Christmas, really.

 

The following days were spent in the general monotony of life. The days between Christmas and New Years were always a bit odd, sort of a gray area in time. Russel didn’t work, so he and Red watched a lot of cartoons in their downtime. He even took Red into his room so the bitty could watch him play some video games on his PC. He really enjoyed Minecraft. 

New Years Eve rolled around without a hitch. The brothers were sure to ask Red if he had any issues with this holiday, to which his reply was no. So Stan picked up a bottle of wine and the three of them had their little family party.

“Wh...what’s that?” Red asked. It was around ten, and Russel had let Red sip at some coffee earlier in the evening so he could stay up to watch the ball drop and celebrate the new year.

“It’s alcohol,” Stan said, pouring himself a glass of the sweet, fruity wine. “Wine, to be exact! They take grapes and get the juice out and make it really old and gross.”

“Why… are you drinking it?”

“It gives you a bit of a buzz! Like… a fuzzy feeling, but a good one!” Stan said, taking a swig.

The three sat at the kitchen table, Red on the surface and Stan and Russel sat in the chairs around it. Rus drank some Mountain Dew- he didn’t usually drink the stuff, but it was an occasion- he could splurge.

Red looked at Russel. “Is… is that alcohol, too?”

Russel shook his head. “Nah, I’m not allowed to have alcohol- messes with my antidepressants. This is just soda- real sugary.”

“Oh, okay,” Red said, sitting, legs crossed, on the table. “It… it probably tastes better than, uhm, that stuff earlier…”

Russel snickered. “Coffee? Yeah, it can be a little bitter… but it gives you a boost.”

“That’s why I like mine with so much cream and sugar!” Stan said, throwing back the rest of his glass of wine and going straight for another. 

Red looked at the bottle, a curious expression on his face. When Stan had finished pouring his drink, Red sheepishly cleared his throat.

“Can I… uhm… is it okay if… maybe I try some?”

Stan paused his drinking. Russel looked down at the bitty, too. The humans exchanged a glance before Russel shrugged and nodded, grabbing Red’s little cup, which was currently filled with apple juice.

“Russel!”

“What? I’ve read bitties can have a little alcohol- a sip won’t hurt him.”

“Well, no, but…” Stan was starting to flush from the effects. He had always been a lightweight. “What if he isn’t of legal drinking age?”

Russel chortled. “Bro, he’s a bitty- there isn’t a legal drinking age for bitties. Besides, you know I drank when I was, like, 15, right?”

Red shuffled his little socked feet on the table as he sat. “I, uhm… I don’t have to, if… if it’s bad…”

“No, no, honey! If you want to try a bit of it, that’s alright,” Stan caved at once. Russel rolled his eyes at his brother before drinking the rest of Red’s apple juice and pouring a tiny bit of the wine into the cup instead. He handed the cup back to the bitty, who sniffed it and made a face.

“You don’t have to drink it, bud,” Russel said with a little smile. Red shook his head.

“No, n-no, it just… smells weird.”

“Tastes weird, too,” Rus said.

Red seemed hesitant to drink it, but eventually he put the cup to his mouth and tipped it back, taking a sip. He spluttered a little and pulled away, but after a moment of heavy contemplation, swallowed it down. He seemed to sit there and think about it for a moment before going back in for another small mouthful of wine.

“How is it?” Stan asked, drinking his own. 

“It’s, uhm… not very good, but… not bad?”

“Eloquently put!” Stan agreed with a grin. He was clearly starting to feel the effects of his drinking, which wasn’t surprising given his inhalation of the stuff. Russel chuckled at the two as they continued to sip at their alcoholic beverages.

It took just a couple of minutes before Red seemed to feel the effects. He blinked a little after he’d finished his cup, setting it down on the table, and looked around.

“I feel… weird.”

“Bad weird?” Rus asked. Stan paused his drinking to look at the bitty.

“No… just… weird.”

“It’s called being drunk,” Stan explained with a hiccup. “It’s not good to get drunk a lot, but once in a while isn’t that much of an issue!”

Red nodded, underestimating the weight of his head and nearly falling over. Russel snickered.

Red went to stand, and he really would have fallen over if Russel hadn’t shot his hand out to steady the little thing.

“Woah there, Red, where ya goin?”

“Just… wanna be held…'' he said, snuggling into Russel’s palm. The human smiled at that and gently picked the bitty up to hold against his chest. Red immediately curled up like a kitten and pressed himself as close as he could into Russel’s shirt.

“Mm… you’re warm…”

“98.6 degrees, to be exact,” Russel commented. Stan leaned over the counter on his elbows, hands cupping his chin, a soft expression winning out over his usual dopey-looking drunken face.

“You’re just the cutest, Red,” Stan observed with a grin. Ah, there it was.

“Mm… m’not…”

“You are!” Stan argued with a chuckle. “It might be hard to see it, but you really are! Anybody who knows you would agree!”

“Cutie pie,” Russel affirmed. 

Red whined in embarrassment before snuggling closer to hide his blushing little face. 

“Y-You guys… make me feel nice.”

“Yeah?” Russel said, thumbing along Red’s back.

“Yeah… I l…” Red paused for a moment to clumsily move in a way so he could look up at Russel’s face. “I… love you guys…”

“Aw, little bug, we love you, too,” Russel said while Stan grinned and reached across from his seat to pat Red’s skull. 

“Sooo much,” Stan agreed.

Red seemed content with that answer. He went back to cuddling against Russel’s shirt while Stan started blabbering about his day at work shortly thereafter, knowing that Red knew he was loved.

Red and Stan talked about a lot in their drunken states, after Red had gotten his fill of cuddles and went back to the table. 

“You watched Russel play Minecraft?”

“Mhmm,” Red nodded, smiling a little. God, what a precious little smile, Russel thought. 

“What was your favorite part?” Stan asked.

“The… the pretty house… a-and the chickens…”

“Maybe we can get it for mobile and you can play on one of our phones,” Russel said, lost in thought of how cute a Red-centered little minecraft world would be. 

“Really? I-I could?” Red asked.

“No harm trying it out- we’ll do that some other day, okay?”

Red nodded. It was 11:30. The boys and their bitty relocated to the living room shortly thereafter, turning the TV on so they could watch the ball drop in Times Square. Red didn’t know where that was, so a good five minutes of their remaining time was spent pulling up a map and explaining geography to Red, and where New York was in relation to their location.

“When… when the ball drops, can, can I wish…Star a Happy New Year?” Red asked, sitting on the couch between the two brothers. 

“For sure, little bud,” Russel said. 

“That’s a wonderful idea, so thoughtful!” Stan agreed. He was pretty drunk at that point, but manageably so. 

“Mm… Rus?”

“What’s up, Red?” 

“Can… can you hold me again…”

“Of course,” Russel said with a smile, picking the bitty up and holding him close. He was much less reserved about asking for things when he was drunk, which was a welcome change- Russel wished he would be so upfront when sober, but he supposed Red would get there in due time.

The time came for the countdown. Stan got up from the couch and was flapping in excitement while Russel and Red both watched while sitting, happy to enjoy it on their asses. Well- Red’s ass was in Rus’s palm, but it still counted.

“Five! Four! Three! Two! One!”

The ball dropped, lights and confetti flew everywhere on screen, and Stan cheered and whooped loudly right beside them. Red stared in awe as Stan did a dumb little dance and immediately went back to the couch to kiss his brother on the top of the head, right into his messy hair, and Red clumsily on the skull.

“Happy New Year, Russel and Red!” Stan shouted.

“Happy New Year, bros,” Russel said with a laugh at Stan’s behavior.

“Happy… happy New Year,” Red said. He tapped Russel’s hand and Russel took Red down to Star’s tank, sitting on the floor, and the bitty pressed himself against the glass.

“Happy New Year, Star,” Red said. The fish made a bubble and swam around aimlessly.

They all snuggled onto the couch to watch the rest of the program, but it wasn’t long before Red and Stan both fell asleep, the wine taking its toll on their ability to stay awake. Russel watched them with a happy, fond feeling in his chest. 

It was a new year. Hopefully this one brought about even more happy changes to their lives, but he doubted things could live up to the year prior. After all, last year had brought Red- nothing could ever top that.

Chapter Text

Things were good.

Russel and Stan did as they were told to do by Pepper and Dr. Jameson, who Red continued to see frequently. He hadn’t quite progressed to being alone with the other bitty, his therapist, but Russel didn’t mind sitting in for his sessions.

The little thing was making improvements by leaps and bounds, as could be seen just from being around him and from how he talked to Pepper. Both brothers were more than proud of him in every sense of the word, and they showed this by spoiling the shit out of the little bugger. Red got everything he wanted- which, when it came down to it, wasn’t a lot. He didn’t ask for anything, actually, but that didn’t stop Russel and Stan from giving him anything he showed interest in, when they had the money to spare. Red had Puppy, and Star, and a lot of art supplies he liked to dabble in. He had more clothes, he had more things in his house, and they’d hooked up a little bitty shower in the bathroom, though he almost always preferred to be bathed by one of the brothers. 

He never changed, though. He never acted spoiled. His speech was improving with help from Stan, and he was well into the process of learning to read and write. 

There were still rough patches, of course. Russel knew, from sitting in with him during therapy, that some things would never go away. He and Stan could never take away that pain, but they could help heal it, and teach Red that he was worthy of love.

Months went by. January, February, March, into April. Red loved the warmer weather April brought, and they frequented the park, where he simply sat in one of his humans' laps and enjoyed everything around him. 

The only thing Red didn’t improve on, for the most part, was his magic. He refused to use it, not that Stan or Rus ever pressed him or tried to make him. When he did have an infrequent heat, they simply helped him relieve the pressure of magic like they had the first time. Gentle persuasion would eventually win out, they figured, and time to heal would no doubt help. 

In all, though, he was doing well. He was healing. He was happy.

 

It was late April. Stan let out a deep sigh as he sat down in the driver’s seat of the car and turned it on. He was out of their small town running a few errands, alone for the day. 

It took him a moment to actually make steps toward leaving the parking lot of the grocery store. He rubbed the steering wheel to ground himself, blinking back the tears that threatened to spill. 

He’d already been upset about a couple of stores not having the brand of cereal he was looking for. He was frustrated about their lack of money. He was, all around, just having a bad day, and he wasn’t even at home to get comfort from his brother or their bitty. So, of course, the cashier had to misgender him. Of course!

He looked down at his chest, bound, and the movement of his head let the tears fall. He looked around to make sure nobody was around the car before he sniffled and sat his head on the steering wheel, the car still in park. 

He stayed like that for a while, just wallowing. He didn’t hate himself, he was just… having a bad day. That’s what he told himself. His body was just… not his. It didn’t feel like his. Most days he could ignore it, he could pretend it was fine, but it wasn’t! It…

Stan shook his head and pushed himself back up. Dysphoria be damned, he was not just going to sit in his car and cry. He was slowly saving up for top surgery- he was halfway there! He had a loving, caring family waiting for him at home. Red and Russel would make him feel better. He looked in the rear-view mirror, the sun still high in the sky and thankfully providing enough light to see by.

He was about to back out of the lot and go home when he saw a group of teenage boys rounding the corner beside the little grocery store he was parked at, back into an alley between two buildings. He squinted as they went, and the last one had a mason jar… with a bitty in it.

Stan blinked, leaning forward, but he only caught a glimpse of the little thing banging its fists against the glass before the group had disappeared. 

All common sense and rules of self preservation told him to just leave. But his heart wouldn’t let him. He turned the ignition off and got out of the car, clutching his shoulder bag to him. He shook a little as he followed them around the corner, doing a little half-jog to catch up.

He peeked into the alley.

They were throwing the jar back and forth between them. Stan froze as he saw the bitty inside- a Papyrus-type bitty of some sort, he could tell from the height- being flung against the sides, heard the muffled cries of pain. 

“Wh- hey! Stop that!” Stan blurted, coming around.

The boys all froze. They looked to him, the jar forgotten as it fell to the ground and shattered.

They ran out of the other end of the alley, clearly caught off guard and frightened, like the sick cowards they were. Stan didn’t care- he dashed forward and fell to his knees amidst the broken glass, praying that he didn’t find dust, god, please don’t let there be dust-

The boys were long gone by the time he flipped over the lid and found a shaking, injured bitty underneath.

“Oh my god- oh god, are you hurt? Are you okay?” Stan gasped, shaking hands reaching to grab the poor thing.

The bitty reacted at once, backing up as much as he could, legs scrambling as he formed a weak bone attack that shimmered and faded almost at once.

“D-Don’t touch me-” he pleaded, only to jostle his arm and yelp.Tears spilled from the bitty’s sockets as he stared Stan down with the most pitiful little face the human had ever seen.

“Okay, I won’t- I won’t.” Stan took just a moment to take in the bitty. He was tall and slender, probably almost twice as tall as Red, with a gold tooth and a ripped up orange shirt and black shorts on. Stan blinked at the little thing, his mind not functioning to place what sort of bitty he was. He looked a bit like a Boss, but… not? Maybe a Lil Bro? Stan shook himself and double checked that the boys had left.

“They’re gone, good. Are you okay?” Stan asked, putting his hands on his knees so he didn’t scare the bitty further. 

“No…” the bitty said with a shiver, looking up at Stan with scared eyes. “My arm…”

“Can I look at it? I promise I’m not going to hurt you, little one, I want to help. I’m so sorry they were being cruel to you.”

The bitty stared him down. Searching. He found something, he must have, because he nodded and held out his injured arm as much as possible.

Stan didn’t touch it, only leaned down and looked, like he’d said. It didn’t look broken, but the bone was cracked a bit along the ulna. Stan gulped and nodded.

“It’s cracked… did that happen just now?”

He nodded, using the other arm to wipe at his tears.

“Okay… okay. What’s your name, hun?”

“Copper...,” the bitty explained. He pulled his arm back to his body and looked at Stan with sad eyes. “Thank you for… saving me.”

“Of course, honey. Do you have an owner? Can I take you back to them?”

Copper looked away and sniffled. 

“I don’t know where she is. I don’t know where I am… I’m, uh... I'm lost."

“Aw, oh no…” Stan frowned. “How about you come home with me for now- I can bandage up that arm and maybe we can find your owner… I don’t want to leave you out here.”

Copper seemed a little unsure, blinking up at Stan with unease in his sockets as well as tears.

“I’m not going to hurt you- I swear. We- my brother and I- we have a bitty at home. His name is Red- I wouldn’t ever hurt you.”

Copper nodded, breaking, and held out his good arm to Stan. The human lifted him up as gently as he could, minding his arm and bruised joints, and held him to his chest while the bitty cried and clung to his shirt.

Stan only realized halfway home what he’d managed to get himself into.

 

Chapter Text

Copper didn’t let go of him on the ride home, he only cried. Stan tried to console him as much as he could, but the little thing didn’t seem to feel like talking. He couldn’t blame the bitty.

He parked and sat in the car for a moment, holding the little skeleton. 

“I don’t want you to be alarmed or overwhelmed when we go inside,” Stan began softly, “but my brother is home, he’s very tall, and also our bitty, Red. I haven’t been able to message them about what happened.”

Copper nodded, wiping his tears and jolting as his arm was jostled.

Stan made his way inside, bitty in tow. He kicked off his shoes, seeing nobody in the kitchen or living room. He went to the counter and sat Copper down as gently as he could, mindful of his injuries. 

“I’m going to get my brother, you wait right here, okay? I’ll be back in just a moment.”

Copper nodded, looking away.

Stan hurried over to Russel’s door and gave it a knock.

“Russel? Is Red in there with you?”

“Yeah, bro, we’re playing minecraft.”

“Could you guys come out here please?”

There was a moment of fumbling before Russel appeared, Red in his hands, a smile on his face.

It fell into a look of confusion and shock as he saw Copper sitting on the kitchen counter, holding his injured arm, not daring to look up at the humans. Red saw, too, and his eye went wide.

“Uhhhh…” Russel began.

Stan hurried back to Copper, digging around in the cupboard for the bitty first-aid kit they’d bought a couple months ago.

“Copper, this is my brother, Russel, and our bitty, Red,” Stan introduced. He motioned to Copper as he sat the kit down and rummaged through it. “Russel, Red, this is Copper.”

“Hey…” Russel said, a bit at a loss, while Red blinked. 

“Some kids had stuffed him in a jar and were throwing it around- I thought I’d bring him home and get him patched up,” Stan explained, pulling out the tiny bandages.

“Oh man, that sucks,” Russel said, coming closer to stand beside his brother, taking in the new bitty, who didn’t say anything, only stared down at the counter. “You doin’ okay, little guy?”

“I’m okay…” Copper said softly. “My, uh… my arm is cracked, but...”

Red and Copper met gazes for a moment. Red didn’t seem to know how to react to their visitor. He hugged Russel’s thumb.

“Okay, hun, can I see the crack again?” Stan asked. 

Copper held up his arm without hesitation. Stan looked at it.

“Okay, it doesn’t look too bad… I know most people online say cracks like this aren’t vet-worthy, if you bandage them and keep them clean they’ll heal fine on their own. Are you okay with me cleaning it up a little and doing that?”

Copper nodded. He chanced a glance up at Red again, just for a moment, before averting his eyes.

Stan set to work at once, Russel there for emotional support. Cleaning it was easy, he dabbed a cotton swab in some warm water mixed with soap and made sure to get it as clean as he could. Copper put on a brave face, but winced when it was tightly bandaged.

Stan secured the binding in place, giving it a once over before nodding at his work.

“Okay, little one, that should start to heal soon… are you hungry?”

“Uh… yeah,” Copper replied. He seemed a little overwhelmed by the situation.

“Alright, let’s get you something to eat- you won’t heal without something for your magic to absorb.”

They all settled at the table, Copper munching on some cereal, Red nearby, watching him. Stan and Russel let the injured bitty eat a bit before their curiosity got the better of them.

“Copper,” Stan began, “I don’t mean to pry, but… you said before that you don’t know where you are, or where your owner is… do you feel like talking about that?”

The bitty seemed hesitant still, but after everything that had happened he was beginning to warm up. He nodded.

“I, uh… I was just at home… I lived in a house with my owner- her name’s Sophie- and her parents… some guys broke in, when I tried to fight them off they shoved me in a box and took me… that was… a month ago…?” Copper played with the bottom of his shirt. “I remember being in a car for a long time, and other bitties, but eventually I played real nice and caught them off guard and escaped… I was on the street…”

“Do you remember what city you lived in?” Russel asked. “I’m sure we could track Sophie down and let her know you turned up here.”

“Yeah, it was outside of, uhm, Columbus. I don’t remember the address. I used to have a little patch, uh, that went on my hoodie, but… I lost that.” Copper sniffled.

“We’re a good eight hours from Columbus by car,” Stan remarked, “but if we find Sophie we could meet her halfway and get you back to her!”

Copper seemed a little overwhelmed, but nodded along.

“Thank you…” he said. 

“Hey, no problem at all, lil guy,” Russel said. “Happy to help.”

“In the meantime, we can get you set up here- hopefully it won’t take more than a few days to find your owner, but we want you to be comfortable nonetheless!” Stan said with a smile. “And of course, we want that arm to heal, too.”

“M…”

They all looked at Red. He seemed to be working up the nerve to speak. He looked down at Copper from Russel’s hands.

“My… my people are r-really nice,” he said. “They’ll f-find your… your person soon. They’re real- real smart.”

Copper nodded again while Rus and Stan smiled.

 

 

Finding Sophie was harder than they’d thought.

She wasn’t on Facebook- Copper said she was too young. Her last name was Smith- and the common nature of it didn’t help. Her parents didn’t have Facebook, or LinkedIn, or Twitter, or anything. 

Stan and Russel searched all over the internet, checked every online phonebook available, but there was neither a Sophie Smith nor a missing bitty report. 

Copper was a little withdrawn his first couple of days, but settled in well, even helped with the search. He and Red didn’t interact much beyond greeting one another.

It was day three of searching when Copper’s hope finally began to fade.

They were all at the kitchen table, Stan on his laptop and Russel on his phone. It was later in the afternoon, Stan had just got home from work. 

“Why wouldn’t she try to find me…” Copper said sadly.

“I’m sure she’s trying, hun,” Stan consoled. “But it’s a big world, and you ended up so far away… I’m sure we’ll find her! Even if we have to call every Sophie Smith in Ohio! Her parents, too!”

Copper played with the bandage on his arm. It was healing well. Red sat nearby him, looking at it curiously.

“If nothing else, after a couple more days, we can put up our own missing bitty post,” Russel said, tapping away on his device. “I’ve seen posts like that get some traction on Twitter and Facebook, and if we specify you’re from the Columbus area and get people from there to share it, hopefully it’ll reach somebody.”

Copper nodded. Red scooted over to him, getting bolder with the new bitty by the day, and looked up at the much larger skeleton.

“Uhm… Copper…”

“Yeah?” 

“What, uhm… what sort of- of bitty are you?”

That made Copper’s little fangs twitch upwards into a bit of a smile.

“I’m a mutt,” he explained. “My dads were a Boss and a Lil Bro… usually I guess the children would just be either of those kinds of bitties, but, for whatever reason… they got me.”

“Ohh…” Red breathed. “That’s cool.”

Copper snorted. “Cool?”

Red withdrew a little, looking away. “I- uhm, not… I didn’t…”

Copper’s little eyelights shone with sadness for just a moment before he shook his head. He was still getting used to Red’s timid nature.

“It’s fine. Makes me unique, I guess?”

Red nodded. “Y-Yeah, I like, uhm… I like y-your fangs.”

“Thanks. You’re an Edgy, right? What happened to yours?” Copper asked good-naturedly. He pointed to Red’s dull teeth.

Red went quiet. Stan and Russel listened intently- they honestly had never known if Red was an Edgy or a Cherry… not that there was a huge difference.

“My, uh… first owner. He didn’t… like them.”

“Oh…” Copper said. “Sorry.”

Red gave himself a little shake before looking back up at Copper. The new skeleton really was enormous compared to Red- he was just a big bitty, probably seven or eight inches tall. 

“It’s okay, he’s g-gone, and… and I don’t mind n-not having them.”
Copper crossed his legs. Stan gave his brother a happy look, and Russel returned it. It was nice to see them interacting, finally.

“Nah, even without ‘em, you still look pretty badass. That crack is wicked.”

Red blushed and put a tiny hand up to the crack that ran above and below his bad eye.

“My dad- the Boss bitty- he had a pretty cool crack, too, wasn’t as big, though,” Copper said.

“You kn-knew your… your parents?”

That made Copper smile for real. He nodded.

“My dads live with Sophie’s aunt. They’re her bitties- rescues, I guess… Sophie would come over to visit a lot, and she was real nice to me when I was little… we kind of bonded, I guess.” Copper scratched at the back of his neck with a shy smile. “So I went to live with her, instead.”

Red nodded along. Stan and Russel listened intently, too.

“That’s super cool,” Stan finally butted in. “So you get to see your dads a lot, then?”

Copper nodded. “Yeah.”

“I’ve read bitties usually don’t know their parents, at least… not bitties from stores,” Russel added. “They get separated and cared for by humans pretty early on… it’s a big issue.”

“They’re scared the bitties will bond to each other more than their humans,” Copper reported. “It’s shitty.”

Stan frowned. He’d never really thought about it like that, but it was true, wasn’t it? It really didn’t seem right to remove a bitty from their parents…

“The bitties at bitty stores are bred just to be sold,” Copper went on. “It’s a bad process. There are a lot of bitties on the streets that could use good homes… but they’re not as docile and nice as the ones from stores, so nobody rescues them.”

“That’s horrible,” Stan said, heart aching. 

“Yeah, that really sucks.” Russel added.

“Sophie’s parents are pretty big into bitty rights stuff,” Copper explained. “They know a lot more than I do.”

Stan blinked. Bitty rights stuff! That sounded really interesting and cool. Russel seemed to think the same thing, cause he put a hand on the table close to Copper.

“Hey, man, that’s really cool. Maybe you could teach me ‘n my bro some stuff about it while you’re here? We kind of went in blind with Red, beyond the basics… but bitties definitely deserve more respect and rights ‘n shit than they get.”

Copper brightened further at the topic. 

“I agree completely,” Stan added. “I’ve never really thought about the logistics of bitty stores and whatnot, but I don’t want to turn a blind eye if there are injustices going on- bitties are people! You guys are just… small, that’s all!” Stan stared fondly at Red, reaching to give him a little boop on the head. “Red’s taught us a lot.”

Red nodded.

Copper’s happiness faded soon enough, though. He looked down at the table with a sigh.

“I wonder if any of them miss me…”

“D...Do you miss them?” Red asked, scootching closer still to the new bitty, even daring to lay a hand on his shoulder. It was a bit of a reach for the little guy.

Copper nodded. 

“Then… I-I’m sure they miss you, too.” Red nodded definitively at his own statement. “It-it’s not like you were-were a bad bitty.”

“True…” Copper conceded, putting his own hand down to pat Red’s head. “You make a good point.”

Red brightened at the touch. Stan and Russel smiled at the bittys’ interaction. 

“How about we take a break to eat some dinner,” Stan suggested, “and then work on making our own missing bitty post. Does that sound like a plan?”

“Yeah… heh.” Copper chuckled a bit. “Sounds like a plan, Stan the man…”

Stan rolled his eyes, unable to keep the smile from his face.

Chapter Text

A missing post of their own was made and sent out on Russel’s twitter and Facebook the following day. The first time they got a call was the worst of the lot- the person on the line couldn’t say the first thing about Copper, nor did they identify themselves as Sophie. After that, and Copper’s crestfallen, broken hope, they made every caller say their name before anything else.

A week went by. All things considered, Copper was settling in well. He liked to play with Red when he had the energy, and when he didn’t he was napping in his open-topped cardboard box that he called home. And, on bad days, he could be found wallowing.

Stan found him on one such day.

Russel was asleep, having taken a nap after his own shift at work, so when Stan got home a few hours later he found Red and Copper in Copper’s box.

The sight of Copper holding Red in his lap might have been cute, if the bigger bitty wasn’t also crying.

“Aw, hun…” Stan said gently, and that pulled Red and Copper from whatever moment they were having. Red didn’t budge from his position, but he looked up at Stan with big, confused eyes. Copper did his best to wipe away his tears as he looked away. 

Stan reached in and offered them his hand. They were both quick to climb into it and get hoisted up to his chest, unbound now that he was home. 

“Sorry…” Copper said, huddling up as near to Stan’s soul as he could get. 

“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” Stan said, and he took the bitties to the couch and had a seat there, careful not to jostle either of them too much.

“Do you want to talk about it, Cop?” Stan asked softly, after a moment’s pause.

“What is there to talk about?” he said, and then laughed. A sad little laugh. “I obviously wasn’t wanted.”

Stan rubbed his back while Red made a sad noise and patted Copper’s shoulder.

“Copper…”

“What? You know it’s true. If I was- she would have tried to find me by now- God, why hasn’t she tried to find me…” he muttered, tears coming fresh. He tried to wipe them away, but it was no use. 

“Did she ever make you feel like you weren’t wanted?” Stan asked. 

“No- no! That’s why it fuckin’ hurts so much,” he cried. Red force-wiggled his way into Copper’s hold, and Copper was quick to grab the little bitty up in a hug, holding him tight as he sniffled.

Stan let out a deep breath. “We can’t quite give up hope yet… the post we made is still circulating, it's getting a lot of shares, it might not have made its way to Ohio yet. I’m sorry this is taking so long, Copper.”

“It’s not your fault…” he said with a little hiccup. Red clacked his skull against Copper’s chest and hugged him a bit firmer. 

“From everything you’ve said… I don’t think Sophie wanted rid of you. I don’t think she would abandon you.”

“How would you know?” Copper asked. It wasn’t accusatory- just… a question.

“Well… I suppose I don’t know her. But I do know what it’s like to be abandoned.”

Copper rubbed at Stan’s shirt, the same way Red did when he was grounding himself. 

“Red told me… you got kicked out. For being trans.”

“Yeah. Russel came with me.”

“I’m sorry.”

Stan smiled sadly down at the bitty, who he hoisted up, Red in tow, to kiss gently on the skull.

“If it isn’t my fault your person hasn’t reached out, then it’s no fault of yours that I was kicked out.”

“Yeah, I know, but… felt like the right thing to say,” Copper said. He and Red untangled themselves and Red gave him another shoulder-pat.

“We’ll find her, Copper. I know we will,” Stan said. “Even if we have to drive to Ohio and find the neighborhood you lived in, we will. When we have the gas money,” he added on.

“I wouldn’t even know where to start… I wish I’d just memorized the fuckin’ address, I was stupid-”

“No, you weren’t- you just didn’t expect to get kidnapped, which is… valid, dare I say it,” Stan said. “I wouldn’t expect that, either.”

There was silence for a moment. 

“Thank you guys for takin’ me in,” Copper said, his tears thankfully calming now. 

“You’re very welcome. I wouldn’t want any bitty to go without a home. Besides, I think Red likes having the company,” Stan said, giving his bitty a little noogie. Red giggled and reached out to hold Copper’s arm.

“Hopefully… we find Sophie s-soon,” Red said. “But-but until we do, you’re, uhm… you’re always welcome here.”

“Finely put,” Stan said. 

Copper nodded, and Stan gave he and Red little smooches on the skull.

“How about we order something really indulgent for dinner? Nothing makes me feel better like some comfort food,” Stan said. 

“I like Mexican,” Copper piped up. Stan smiled down at him.

“Red? How would you feel about some Mexican food, like the tacos we had a few weeks ago?”

Red looked up at the human with his bulgy eye and the little thing smiled, so warm and happy.

“I l-like tacos. Whatever Cop-Copper wants.”

“We don’t have to if you guys don’t have the money,” Copper said. He rubbed the back of his skull and looked away. “I don’t wanna be a nuisance.”

“Nonsense!” Stan exclaimed, petting Copper’s back a little. “We can make it work. Don’t you worry about it, hun. It isn’t like you and Red eat a lot anyways,” Stan said with a smile and a wink. 

“Y-Yeah, we… we just want you to be-be happy,” Red said, giving Copper one last hug.

The bitty smiled a little, still looking a bit downtrodden, but cheering up considerably given the situation. 

“Okay. Thanks, guys.”

“No problem, how about we go wake that lazy brother of mine?” 

“He’s been a-asleep for… three hours,” Red reported. “Copper and I… went to-to check to see if he was- dead- but he… snores so loud…”

Copper and Stan snickered.

Chapter Text

Red didn’t like this.

The two bitties were in the living room, the humans away picking up some groceries. Copper had a bone conjured, spinning it idly in the air. 

“It’s just a little magic, Red. Nothin’ to be scared of.”

Red stood a ways away from his friend. He eyed the bone cautiously before shuffling his feet and looking away. No, there was everything to be scared of. 

“Have you ever used an attack like this before?”

“No,” Red said quickly. At least, he thought it was true- maybe before, but not since…

“Using your magic is the only way to use it up and make sure those, uh… heats aren’t so bad,” Copper said. He flushed at the mention of such things.

“I know,” Red replied. He looked up at Copper for a moment, saw the bone, and then looked away. “Y-You… do you just have… regular ones…?”

“Heats?” Copper asked, flustered.

“Yeah…”

“Well- I mean- I… sometimes… not a lot, uh, y’know, they’re… heats, y’know?” Copper stuttered, rubbing at his neck, face flushed the same color as his eyelights. He let out a sigh and sent the bone construct away, coming over to Red where the smaller bitty sat against the couch and sitting with him.

“You know it isn’t true that only bad bitties use magic, right?” Copper asked, clearly intent to change the subject.

“I… I know…”

“So why not give it a try? Just one little bone?”

Red put his head in his knees, hiding his face.

“It doesn’t hurt or anything. You know your people won’t get upset,” Copper reassured, putting a hand on Red’s shoulder and giving it a squeeze.

“I’m scared,” Red said quietly, raising his head so that Copper could see his tears. 

“Of what?” The bigger asked. He was so calm and cool and collected- Red really liked him, he was a good friend, but he… he didn’t understand.

“Every time I’d use magic before, he’d… I’d get… punished.” Red shivered at the mention of it. “A-And I know Rus and… and Stan, they’re not like that, but…”

“Nobody’s gonna hurt you. You got two enormous, fleshy, powerful humans and a super strong bitty protecting you.”

“I’m afraid I’ll get bad,” Red explained.

“...Bad?” Copper asked, gathering Red up in his arms so the bitty could sit in his lap. Red was quick to curl up into it and bury himself in Copper’s ribs.

“I got bad once, here… with Russel. I didn’t know where I was, I couldn’t see, i-it was dark and scary and I thought I was b-back… with him.” Red sniffled. “I hurt Russel… scratched him r-real bad…”

“Oh…” Copper said, stroking Red’s back. “It sounds like it wasn’t your fault, though.”

“That’s what he said, but…” Red shuddered. “I don’t want it to happen e-ever again… I never want to hurt anybody again.”

“Do you think using your magic might make it get bad again?”

Red stared at Copper’s shirt, feeling the fabric, trying to ground himself.

“Wh-when I was… getting adopted by people… I got bad. A lot.” Red didn’t like talking or thinking about this. “It’s… why I got s-sent back to the… the store so much. I would get bad, a-and I’d be confused and scared, and… and I’d hurt people.”

“Aw…”

“I didn’t m-mean to,” Red all but whined, lost in memories. “I didn’t ever mean t-to but… it didn’t matter…”

Copper stayed silent, waiting for the littler skeleton to continue.

“It only happened h-here the one time… but… but… I’m scared if… if I st-start using magic, a-and I can’t control it, I’m… I’m scared I’ll hurt them.”

“I’m sorry, bud,” Copper said, giving Red a squeeze. “But… they’re just bone attacks- even if it comes to that, humans have so much HP, you probably wouldn’t do that much damage. Plus, like… your heats hurt you , yeah?”

“Y… Yeah…”

“And your therapist and doctor think this is a good idea, yeah?”

“...Yeah…”

“And Russel and Stan think it is, too?”

“Yeah…”

Copper pulled Red away to look at him a little, wiping up some of his tears. “Well, I think you should bring this up with Rus ‘n Stan so they can be prepared in case things go south, but we all care about you not hurting anymore. I’m sure it doesn’t feel great for things to be bad, but… they might be good too, yknow?”

Red sniffled. Copper was right, but he was still scared. The other bitty must have picked up on his fear, because he brought Red closer to him again.

“But you don’t have to do it right now, of course. Maybe bring this all up with your people, and your therapist, see what they think. See if there’s anything you can do to make sure things don’t get bad, or to minimize the badness. Baby steps, yeah?”

“Yeah… you’re r-right…”

There was a peaceful silence for a little while. Copper’s steady thrum of magic, the beating of his soul, it was nice to take in. 

“Copper?”

“Sup?”

“We’ll… w-we’ll still be friends when you… go home, right?”

“Heh… of course. If I ever do.”

That was good enough for Red. Copper yawned and adjusted Red so they were both lying down. They fell asleep not long after.

 

 

Things were brought up. Red’s therapist advised a calm place for Red to go after trying his magic out, somewhere he could collect himself should things start getting bad. Stan and Russel were made aware of the situation, which they’d seemed to already know, and Copper was nothing but supportive. 

Russel could tell his bitty was still scared. They were all sitting in the living room, waiting patiently. Copper and Red were leaning against Stan’s leg, who was in turn leaning against Russel’s side. 

“There’s obviously a lot of stuff you can do with magic- like, these bone attacks are really easy, but there’s blue magic, and karmic retribution, those are a little advanced but… I think making a bone is a great place to start,” Copper explained. He got to his feet and conjured up a few bones that floated gently in the air around him. Russel had never really seen a bitty use magic before- it was kind of cool. 

“And, when you’re done, you just- poof. Away they go,” he said, sending the constructs away again. He smiled at Red. “If a lazybones like me can do it, I’m sure you won’t have any problems.”

Red nodded. He looked up at Stan, and then Russel, as though for permission. When they both nodded, he got to his feet and stepped over to Copper. He was visibly shaking, Russel noted. A pair of gloves sat by the human’s side- last time Red had gotten bad, it had resulted in some pretty cut up hands. They came prepared this time around.

For a while, Red just stood, catching his breath and steadying himself. Nobody coaxed him further- they wanted this to be on Red’s terms as much as possible. Russel watched and waited until-

Red held out his hand, palm up, and a little white bone fluttered to life above it. 

“That’s wonderful!” Stan said happily.

“Good job, buddy,” Russel said. His smile turned to a frown as he noticed Red just… looking at it. Not doing anything. The eyelight in his good eye was small. He looked more frightened than before.

“Hey, that’s great, a perfect little bone,” Copper began, coming up to Red’s side and laying a gentle hand on his shoulder.

The reaction was immediate. Red yelped as though hit and flung his attack at Copper. The bigger bitty fell on his ass and gasped, holding his chest.

Stan was closer. He reached down and scooped Copper up, away from the scared bitty, checking him over to make sure he wasn’t hurt too badly. Russel went to Red.

The littler of the two was still standing on the carpet, eyelight wild, another attack conjured in his hand. Russel winced at the sight- it’d been so long since Red had looked like this. It didn’t get any easier.

“Hey bud, you’re okay-” Russel said softly. “Everything’s okay- stay here for me, yeah? You’re safe. Nothin’ bad happened. You’re safe.”

Red’s breathing was heavy and uneven. He was crying, but as his eyes found Russel’s he seemed to come out of it.

Red’s eyes welled with tears. Russel offered the bitty his hand, and he went to cuddle into it… until he saw Stan holding Copper.

Red must have Checked his friend, because his eye went wide and he stumbled back, away from all of them.

“Wh-what did I-I do?” he stammered. “He’s hurt- h-he-”

“I’m okay,” Copper tried to say, but he winced in Stan’s hands. 

Red sobbed, and- well. One moment he was there, and the next…

Russel blinked, looking at Stan in confusion.

“He teleported,” Copper explained. “Lotsa Sanses can do that…”

“Are you okay, baby?” Stan asked. 

“Yeah, I’m… I’m okay,” Copper said, pulling up his sweatshirt to reveal a little mark underneath. “Nothin’ life threatening, I won’t dust.”

“I’m gonna go find Red,” Russel said, getting to his feet. “You should stay here with Copper,” he advised his brother.

“Yeah… would he have teleported outside of the apartment?”

“I doubt he had the energy for that,” Copper said. 

Russel nodded. 

 

Red scratched at his socket, unable to get enough breath into his little body. He’d hurt Copper- he’d hurt him bad , a third of his HP was gone! If he’d- what if he’d-

He was bad. Things were bad, everything was bad - he could have killed his friend, and he could’ve hurt Russel, he was a bad bitty- Red sobbed harder.

 

Russel found him soon enough, curled up in a half-open shoebox in his closet. Red didn’t seem to hear him sit down beside it- his crying continued unabated. 

“Hey, bud,” Russel tried softly. Red yelped.

“No, g-go… go away...”

“I’m not leaving you here, little guy,” Russel said sadly. “I’m just sitting out here, okay? I won’t touch you. Are you… are you there? Do you know who I am?”

That made Red cry harder, but a sad, sad little “Russel” came drifting out of the box.

“Buddy, Copper’s okay- you roughed him up a bit, but he’s gonna be fine. He’s not mad. Nobody’s mad.”

Red didn’t say anything. Russel sighed.

“We shouldn’t have let Copper be near you- that was our fault. We thought he could help, and we forgot how frail you guys are… that was me and Stan’s mistake. This isn’t your fault, Red.”

Red sniffled, but he seemed to be calming down somewhat.

“You wanna come out of that stinky old shoe box?” Russel asked.

“I don’t… I d-don’t want to hurt you…”

“You’re here- you’re okay… I know you'd never mean to hurt me."

Red poked his head out of the box, looking so incredibly sad. Russel was quick to scoop him up and bring him to his chest.

Red was so small. Russel knew that, but sometimes he was really struck with it. Red’s tiny body was wracked with sobs and shuddering breaths.

“You take all the time you need- we can sit right in here, okay?” Russel said softly, stroking Red’s back with his thumb. “I’ve got you. You’re okay. You’re safe.”

Red cried.

Chapter Text

Hey everybody who followed this fanfic, I know it's a little bit sad (and I kinda wish I'd gotten on the ball and finished this story) but I wanted to post a chapter to officially say this fic is discontinued.

I appreciate everybody who read this and left comments, y'all were genuinely SO kind and I loved hearing from you! This story was pretty out there and barely counted as undertale fanfiction, so it was heartwarming to still get readers and commenters despite it being pretty far removed from any undertale ""canon""

It's because the story was pretty out there that I decided to rework it and carry it on as an original story, with some tweaks and changes to Stan and Russel and a complete design change to Red, as well as a total overhaul of the story itself. I hoped I could still finish the fic as well as work on the original story, but truly and honestly I know in my heart this fanfiction isn't going to get updated again, but I wanted to say something since it was one of my more popular fics!!

As far as how this story was going to end, it was pretty close to it anyhow- the resolution to the end of the last chapter was Red apologizing and Copper saying not to worry about it, and then the two work on Red's magic together whenever it's safe. Copper's owner eventually finds out he's with the brothers (she is a younger trans girl who Copper only ever knew by Sophie, but whose name was not legally changed yet, which is why it was so hard to find a Sophie Smith anywhere. And Sophie was not looking for Copper because the people who stole him, being bitty thieves doing some kind of illegal operation, knew to put dust. Sophie thought poor Copper was dead.) After a teary phone call where Sophie, not daring to hope, asks if they really have Copper, the two are reunited and Sophie's parents arrange for her older sibling to drive her to the boys to get Copper. Stan, Russel, and Red are sad to see Copper go, but very happy for him, and Copper promises Red they'll keep in touch and he'll come back to visit soon. When Sophie arrives with her older sibling (I don't think I ever picked out a concrete name for them so we'll call them Reagan, I believe I intended for them to be based on underfell Sans as in 'canon' and to be a bit of a rough-around-the-edges, crass person) she showers Copper in kisses and snuggles and she and Reagan thank the bros profusely for looking out for him and going to such lengths to get him home. Reagan and Stan kind of hit it off (listen. listen. YES i've still got some remnant of cherryberry brain worms, please don't disrespect me) and Reagan hands the two a check from their parents, for all of the expenses for taking care of Copper. Stan and Russel try to refuse, but they're insistent, saying that their parents are "pretty fuckin' loaded, so don't worry about it.' Meanwhile, Copper is introducing Sophie to Red, who is a little overwhelmed by the situation but Sophie is very nice and gentle, she doesn't even try to pick him up or call him ugly so she's an angel by Red's standards. Sophie thanks Red for taking such good care of Copper and promises the two will keep in touch. 

The two humans leave, with Copper in tow, and things slow down for a while. Red and Copper do indeed keep in touch via Russel's phone, and Stan and Reagan also keep in touch. About a month passes when Russel gets a call from Sophie's mother- she thanks the brothers again for their help with Copper, saying that the bitty has been a huge help to Sophie and was part of their family, and losing him was very hard on her. She's clearly a very caring woman who loves her daughter and wants nothing but the best for her- it stirs up some bittersweet feelings in Russel, and Stan, who joins the conversation via speakerphone. Sophie's mom says Copper has been telling them a lot about Stan and Russel, and she offers to pay for the expenses of Stan's top surgery. Stan is shocked, absolutely bamboozled, and cries immediately, asking Sophie's mom (who I can't be bothered to give a name to i'm so sorry) if she's sure, it's so much money, they only did what was right, etc etc etc but she insists, saying she talked it over with Sophie and her husband and they all felt it was a proper way of saying thank you to the people who saved Copper. 

The end of the story was going to then be pretty open ended- the brothers are happy, Stan is scheduling the top surgery and is SO excited, Red makes strides with his magic and continues to heal, and Russel and Stan both get a bit of relief on the financial front, no longer working so hard to pay for expenses and save up for Stan's surgery. Reagan even mentions to Stan (they've been chatting, of course, and I would have put a hint or two in that they're maybe crushing on one another a little bit) that Sophie's aunt (AGAIN IM SORRY i was going to think of a name for these ppl but now its not really worth it) is working on putting together a bitty rescue/resource center, and that she is an eccentric but caring older lady who was going to reach out to Russel and Stan to see if they'd want to work for her. The story would have ended with the three brothers together and healing and happy, dealing with life as it came, probably cuddling on the couch or something.

 

And uhhh yeah that was essentially gonna be the story! Thought you guys deserved to know how it would have played out, sorry I didn't get to write it for ya! but if anybody IS interested in the original rework, I made a blog to post art and talk about it sometimes, its called Littleredstory on tumblr! There's no obligation to follow, but if you wanted to keep up with these guys, that's where you can do that.

Thank y'all and have a great day mwuah mwuah xoxoxoxo 

(ps i know i haven't posted anything here in a long time, sorry for that, i haven't been writing nearly as much! maybe burnout, maybe lack of energy, who knows! but thank you guys for having read my stories, it means the world <3 i'm double sorry to anybody who clicked on this like OH SWEET A NEW LITTLE RED CHAPTER and only got this, IM SORRY ILY MWUAH)