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You’re staring at an empty wine bottle in the trash can.

 

    It's from months ago, you know this, but the sick feeling in your stomach makes it feel like yesterday. Have you seriously not cleared out this trash can in months? Is this the only thing in there? Why the fuck was it still there? And why does looking at it and looking at the water in your hand still make you want the wine more?

    “Can you move? I’m sure you’re having a shit ton of important thought monologues right now, but I kinda need to throw away my AJ and you’re smack fucking dab in front of the can.”

    Of course Dave is here. Of course he is, and throwing away his apple juice in the one trash can that’s apparently been left untouched for months. Of course. “Isn’t there another one you can throw it away in,” you say without thinking, and Dave scoffs.

    “Are you seriously so entranced by a fucking trash can that you can’t move for one second to let me throw away my sweet juice boy,” Dave says, and your chest tightens. “Just lemme-“

    “Wait-“

    “Are you seriously-“

    “Dave-“

    Rose -“ He pushes at your shoulder lightly, not enough to hurt you but enough to move you, and you’re so tense that it actually works. “It’s a fucking trash can, why-“

 

    His words die off, and you can’t seem to breathe for a moment.

   

    “Oh,” he says, and you’re not sure if you’ve ever heard his voice so soft. “I, uh- I wonder if that weird clown bitch put that in there for kicks.”

    You shrug, because you don’t know the answer, only that there is an empty bottle of wine that you had finished off in the span of one day just a few months ago. The sick feeling in your stomach gets stronger.

    “I’m, uh,” he starts, scratching at the back of his neck, “I’m sorry, I didn’t-“

    “It’s fine,” you say, because it is. It has to be. “I was just- spacing out.”

    He nods a bit, taking another step back, before tossing his empty bottle into the can. You take this opportunity to slink away to the couch, but to your chagrin, he follows you and takes a seat at the other end.  “Hey, Rose,” hey says, and you turn towards him a bit. “Can I ask you something?”

    “Go ahead,” you say. Answering questions is an easy way to distract yourself- despite your best efforts, the euphoria of being right about things is still your number one cure-all for problems.

    “Did you actually hate your mom?”

    You look towards him sharply, preparing a response, but for once- for once, you find your voice is stuck in your throat.

    He tilts his head, trying to catch your eye, but all you see is the light bouncing off his shades. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t- I mean, shit, I’m not tryin’ to like, pressure you or something.”

    “No,” you say, clearing your throat, and one of Dave’s eyebrows raises. “No, I’m...fine. Your question just caught me slightly off guard, that’s all.” You can tell Dave is trying to resist a witty remark, and you silently praise his efforts.

    “You used to talk about her a lot,” he says, drumming his fingers against his thigh. “I always kinda thought your shit about the wizards and irony and all that was sorta- uh, how do I put this without being a dick-“

    “Far-fetched?”

    “Yeah, that.”

    You take a sip of your water, and try to ignore the shame that twists in your gut when you realize that you still miss the sting of alcohol against your tongue. “I know,” you sigh, “I think I’m past that. Maybe she really did just love fucking wizards.”

    “Wizards are dope,” Dave says solemnly, nodding his head. “But, I just- you really seemed pissed at her for so long, I- I guess I don’t get it.”

    More guilt. You spent so much time bitching about your mother, for years, when your friends- when your brother - had it so much worse than you. “I had no right to be so upset about the wizards,” you say carefully, hoping to avoid the next question that you know Dave will probably ask, because he’s perceptive enough to know when someone doesn’t want to talk about something that should be talked about.

    “The wizards,” he echoes, and you look down into your cup as to avoid his gaze. “If it wasn’t the wizards, then what was it?”

    You know he knows already, he must know, everyone fucking knows, so why is he pressing you? Is he pressing you? Or is he just asking? You don’t know the difference anymore- every conversation you’ve ever had has been at least partially devoted to picking apart their brain.

    “Okay, I lied,” Dave says suddenly, and you risk a glance at him. With a start, you realize he’s taken off his shades, which are now cradled in the palms of his hands as if they would shatter with a single touch. “I know I said you didn’t have to talk about it if you didn’t want to, but I think you should. If I told you shit about my- about bro, then I think you can unload a bit about your mom.”

    “It’s not fair to you,” you say, shaking your head, because it’s true. You can only guess based off of Dave’s snippets of confessions to you over the weeks how bad the abuse from his brother was, and your experience with your mother doesn’t even come close in terms of trauma. Sure, she was distant, and she drank, and she was erratic the few times you talked, but she didn’t beat you. She didn’t hurt you. She loved you.

    “Listen, Rose,” he says, and you notice your hands are trembling slightly against your glass, so you clench it harder. “There was this term or something you used a while back- shit, what was it, it was like, in relation to some show you had watched, and you were talking about the homoerotic subtext between the two main girls, which like, didn’t really make sense then, but now I kinda see it? I mean, half of what you had been saying was obvious projection of your latent gayness, but after you explained it in detail for like, two hours, I started to get it, especially when Karkat came in and started saying how the girls were, ‘obviously vacillating between pale and red’, which I still don’t really understand, but-“

    “Dave, I don’t mean to be rude,” you interrupt, and he jumps a bit in surprise. Without his shades, he is ridiculously expressive, with large, childlike eyes and ever-shifting eyebrows. “Does this tangent have a point?”

    “Uh, right,” he says, cheeks tinged a slight red, “The term that you had used. One of the girls had gone through like, serious, world-ending shit, and the other hadn’t, but she did have divorced parents and one of them was a smoker or something, and you said she felt guilty about feeling bad about her life when the other girl had been through something way shittier.” You remember this discussion, and you know what term he’s trying to think of.

    “Minimizing trauma,” you say, “The one who went through the, ‘world-ending shit’, didn’t minimize her trauma.”

    “Yeah, that,” he says, and his voice is too soft for your comfort. “What I’m trying to say is, my bro was absolute shit. He was the worst. But just because bro was shitty, doesn’t mean you can’t feel shitty about the things that happened to you. I’m not gonna, like, minimize your trauma or anything.”

    You can’t look at him, because you know if you look at him, you will cry, and you can’t afford to cry right now. “My mother loved me,” you start instead, voice sticky in your mouth, “But I’m not sure she should’ve been a parent. She was, as you know, a dreadful alcoholic.” Dave nods, and you take a breath. “It was so much easier, to- to focus on the wizards, instead of everything else.”

    “Like me and the puppets,” Dave says, “Except I pretended to really fucking love the puppets.”

“Yes, like you and the puppets,” you say. “I’ve never- I’ve never really talked about the extent of my mother’s addiction, but I…” You take another breath, then another, and you realize it’s suddenly a bit harder to breathe. You push forward. “I remember multiple times where my mother would be passed out for hours after drinking, but there was this one time where it just- it really stuck with me, I suppose.”

Dave twists one of his hands into the fabric of his pant leg, and you can see some emotion akin to pity- sympathy, maybe?- in his huge eyes. God, he looks so different without his shades. So young. “What happened?”

“I was about seven, I think, maybe- maybe younger,” you start, and dammit, your voice can’t be wobbly already. “She had drunken herself into a stupor and passed out on the couch, spilling her drink all over the carpet. I kept waiting for her to wake up, because I was seven, and I hadn’t eaten yet, but she didn’t, not for hours, and I remember trying desperately to wake her. Slapped her, shook her, splashed water in her face, you know. It always worked in movies. When she didn’t wake up, through, I wanted to call someone, anyone , but I- I was too young and too small to reach the phone on the counter.”

“Shit,” Dave breathes, and he puts his hand atop yours gingerly. “Was she…”

“She woke up after a few more hours,” you manage to choke out, “And I don’t think I stopped crying the entire time.” You aren’t looking at him, your face is buried in your knee propped up against the side of the couch, but the vice grip you have on his hand is better than eye contact. “After the next two times, I realized that she wasn’t going to stop and I needed to learn how to make my own dinner.”

“Jesus,” Dave whispers, “I didn’t- I mean, that’s...shit, man.”

“It doesn’t matter now,” you say, even though your bones feel hollow and your heart hurts. “She loved me, and now she’s dead, so. It doesn’t matter anymore."

"Fuck that," Dave says, "Fuck that right out of here." You can feel that his grip has gotten tighter as well, and you don't say anything. "She should've known better than to do that shit when she had a fucking kid. That's bullshit. I get that she loved you, but that doesn't make it okay."

"I managed fine," you whisper, and your voice is too thin. Too quiet. Not enough like you.

"Rose, I really, really don't wanna sound like an ass, but no. You didn't." He scoots closer to you on the couch, and you let him. "You started drinking just so you could feel closer to her. Isn't that fucked up? Isn't that total batshit, that that's the first thing you could think of?"

It was, in his words, total batshit, but admitting that means confronting a bigger problem that you don't feel like confronting. "I was stupid," you say instead, and he makes a frustrated whine.

"God, Rose, no, you weren't. You were a kid. You are a kid. We're fucking kids, and this shit is fucked up, and your mom being such an alcoholic that you took it up too was just the cherry on top of the shitmaster sundae."

"On the-" You try not to sound like you're crying. "On the what?"

"You heard me," Dave says, and you let out a wet laugh. "Rose, I'm gonna suggest something wack, and I want you to really think about your response to this question I'm about to fucking propose to you."

"I'll think about it," you sniff, and fuck, he surely knows you're crying now. Fuck.

"Do you want a hug?"

You pause. "What?" You lift your head up from your knee sharply, and fuck it if he can see your tear stains, what?

"I said, do you want a hug?" He's meeting your eyes- a rare move for him. When you look at him, you realize that he's right- you're kids, goddammit, you're fucking kids. You are fifteen, about to be sixteen, and you are still just a kid. And sometimes, even kids- even you- need to be hugged.

"Okay," you say, and you hear your voice crack. "Okay."

He shifts closer to you, and gingerly fits his arms around your shoulders. You aren’t used to receiving hugs, and you get the sense Dave isn’t used to giving them, so you aren’t exactly sure how to respond. Not knowing what else to do, you fit your head into the crook of his neck, and bring your arms around his waist. The instant you do this, you know that you made the right choice in saying yes- you can feel from the way Dave’s arms tighten around you that you aren’t the only one who needs this.

“This is so fucked up, isn’t it,” he says, and his voice sounds so tired, so resigned, so small. “We should be in fucking- school or some shit, I dunno. Shouldn’t be on some rock hurtling towards doom or whatever.”

“It is what it is,” you murmur, but you agree with him. This journey was not meant for kids. This was sick, and twisted, and while you couldn’t be more grateful for the people you’ve met, you wish the circumstances weren’t so dire.

“Maybe in some universe, we’re all humans, or trolls, or whatever, and we’re all classmates or something,” Dave says, and you let out the slightest hint of a laugh. “And in that universe, bro isn’t a shitwad, and your mom isn’t an alcoholic, and Jade’s grandpa isn’t dead or whatever, and John’s- actually, uh, I think John’s dad was cool.” He hums to himself for a moment before continuing. “Yeah, John’s dad is still the same. And me and Karkat are lab partners, and you and Kanaya are in some fashion design class, and the gay energy is just fucking palpable without any impending doom or murder clowns hounding us.”

“I think I’d like that universe,” you say, and you mean it. You really, really mean it. You don’t think you’ve ever wanted something so bad in your life. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For being here.”

“Shit, man,” Dave says, and he rests his head against yours. “I’ve already had a fucked up family, I’d like to keep the one that I’ve got right now tight-knit as fuck.”

“Was the knitting pun intentional?”

A pause.

“Fuck, I wish.”

You laugh- really laugh, without sounding like you’re about to sob- and you can feel Dave’s cheeks pull into a smile against your head. “You’re a good brother, you know that?”

“Don’t know how that happened,” he snorts, “It’s not like I had the best role model.” He loosens his grip around you, but he doesn’t let go. “Uh, for the record,” he says, “You’re a good sister, too. I mean, I’ve never had a sister before, obviously, but I’m taking a shot in the dark and landing on bullseye when I say I’m glad it’s you.”

Fuck, you’re tearing up again. You think he might be, too, but he would never admit it, even now. “I’m glad it’s you, too,” you say, and you smile despite the tears caught in your eyes. “I’m really glad it’s you.”