One Breakfast at a Time
(Rough Around the Edges, pt. 2)
Summary: The following morning…
Boris’s feet felt prickly.
The first thought that dredged up the wolf’s mind from the thick, murky mires of sleep was that there was a foreign, uncomfortable feeling in his toes. It wasn’t quite painful, but it was distracting. Which was a shame; quite honestly, as the rest of him felt like it was swaddled in a soft, warm cloud, like lying on a mountain of fleece. He was dreaming of sleeping on the back of a large, comfy sheep. Maybe if he moved his feet right, he could shoo the strange sensation away and get back to sinking completely into the wool.
His toes twitched, and the tingling feeling went up both his legs completely. That hurt.
“YIPE!” Boris yelped, knees hiking in alarm, eyes flying open.
The first thing that greeted him was strange visual tones and hues, blurred from the sleep in his eyes and the tingling in his feet. They were—oh, whadyacallems?—Blues. And Greens. Only lighter, greyer, faintly cast across the ceiling above him, making him squint. It followed the outline of a windowpane.
His foggy mind thought, not for the first time:
How long will it take before them colors look normal?
Motion at his side had him shaking his noggin, revealing the familiar heads of to his pals, moppy and disheveled from sleep. Alice muttered something under her breath—when had her halo hung itself up on that lamp?— and Bendy snuggled closer into the pillows, a bit of drool staining the soft cushion.
Recognition stumbled into his brain as his eyes adjusted to the dim early morning light.
He wasn’t sleeping on a bed of fleece. He was sharing a bed with Alice and Bendy, feeling mighty cozy in spite of being too long to rightly fit on the mattress length-wise, which explained why his feet weren’t under the covers. The tingling must’ve been because they’d been leaning over the end board all night.
Asleep, his feet were asleep. That’s what this feeling felt like. Except… it was much stronger than how it’d felt before, back in the world drenched in ink.
Dang, the real world felt strange.
Trying his best not to disturb the other two sleeping Toons, Boris slowly pulled his bare feet under the blankets, wincing as he flexed the tingling feeling out of them. They were cold to the touch, as were the ends of his ears and snout, a stark difference compared to the comfy warm bubble formed underneath the covers from his proximity to his friends. If he stayed still enough, curled up a ball, maybe he could go back his sweet, soft, monochromatic dreams…
The door creaked, and Boris was awake.
In the semi darkness, the wolf made out the shape of a figure entering the room, familiar in spite of his loss of Toonification. It was Henry.
Err. At least. Boris was pretty sure it was Henry.
The man had Henry’s almost square-ish head, large ears, surly set face and all, but in place of the man’s wrinkled light green shirt and brown slacks was a plaid patterned collared shirt, all blues and grays, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, and the bottom half of a dark grey jumpsuit, faded at the knees and the top half wrapped messily around his waist. His black work boots were word around the souls. It all smelled faintly of engine oil.
A change of clothes shouldn’t have been completely out of left field for the Toon (as he recalled, Bendy changed his wardrobe a number of times over a wide variety of episodes), but the old animator’s plainer duds had almost seemed glued to him. Seeing Henry in less plain-looking clothes felt like seeing a camel in a bunny onesie. Strange.
He silently watched Henry tread to the bedside table on Bendy’s side of the bed and leave a note next to the lamp. The man looked haggard, but clean. His hair was even combed.
Boris considered keeping his head down, pretending to be asleep. But then, just as it looked like he was about to leave, Henry stopped and turned around, looking back at the bed of Toons. Contemplating, eyes unfocused and glassy—from lack of sleep, perhaps?— grey circles under them. The wolf’s felt his heart clench, and he lifted his head.
“Henry?” he whispered.
Henry jumped and caught himself on the wall.
“JEEZ—” Henry breathed, forced his voice down. “Boris— scared the daylights outta me.”
“Sorry—!” Boris’s ears fell back. “Sorry.”
Henry put a hand to his chest and sighed. His eyes looked less glassy, more awake.
“Agh, I didn’t wake you up, did I?” Did Henry look guilty? Nah, it must’ve been Boris’s imagination.
“Nah,” said Boris, truthfully. “Feet fell asleep. Woke me up instead.”
The corners of Henry’s mouth twitched. If Boris didn’t know any better, he could almost mistake the man’s grimace as a smile. It almost met his eyes.
“Headin’ off somewhere?” said Boris, nodding towards the note.
“Just about,” whispered Henry.
He motioned for Boris to follow him out of the room, finger to his lips. Boris nodded, trying to be mindful of jostling the bed, so as not to rouse Alice or Bendy. The wolf was thankful for his thick coat of fur (ink?) once he was free from the blankets, as the room was fairly brisk without the protection. Boris swallowed a whine and followed after the grizzled animator.
On their way to the den, Henry grabbed a large, dark green jacket from one of the hampers in the hallway. He gave it a tentative sniff to check if it was clean, shrugged, and offered it to Boris. Boris sniffed as well. It smelled of Henry and mothballs. It would do. The sleeves came up an inch short of his wrists though.
“Gotta go plead to the powers that be that I don’t end up unemployed before the day’s end,” said Henry once they were a safe whisper-free distance from the bedroom, sighing and scratching his neck. “I, uh, took a few more vacation days than I’d originally planned.”
Boris’s stomach dropped, guiltily. The studio.
“Oh, golly… wha… that was our fault—”
“S’nobody’s fault,” said Henry, patting Boris’s shoulder. They passed the couch. It didn’t show any signs of Henry sleeping on it. “I might have to work a few extra shifts to make up for it though. My boss, Callum? Not exactly known for being forgiving, but he can be fair when he needs to be.”
Boris nodded, faint memories of his own past experiences with “unforgiving bosses” arising. His tail tucked between his legs, the wound from the harsh look on Joey’s face all those days ago in that office now fresh in his mind’s eye. When the air was thick with acetone and Henry’s open cartoon wounds. His nose twitched, feeling a little sick at the memory.
“M-Maybe I should come with ya,” said Boris, the weightlessness of Henry leaning on him ghosting along his shoulder. He gripped it. “Help explain a few things—”
“Boris,” said Henry. There was no harshness in his voice, but it was still firm. “I… I appreciate it, Pup. I really do. But… you need to stay here. All three of you. Lay low for a while.”
Boris tried his best not to look discouraged. Henry patted his shoulder again and gave it a squeeze. It felt odd, not having to look down on Henry as much as he had when the animator was still a Toon. Henry squared his shoulders, and Boris felt assured.
“It’s… too much, out there,” Henry nodded to the window. A car honked, followed by another, and across the way, some neighbors were opening windows to do laundry. A lady waved out a large red blanket, and Boris had to flinch at the brightness of the color, visible even in the dim early morning. “Too much to get used to all at once. Besides, I know Callum. I’ll be alright.”
Boris felt like crawling into an inkwell. He knew Henry was right, but it wrung his nerves like wet laundry. He felt so… useless. He was supposed to be the helper, the best buddy. He sighed.
A kettle whistled.
“Oh, shoot—” Henry rushed to the stove and turned the knob, using one of the dangling jumpsuit sleeves to take the metal pot from the heat when he couldn’t find his oven mitt, setting it on his oven mitt so the counter wouldn’t burn— ahh. Found the mitt. Hmm. “Sheesh… I, err, tried making something quick for breakfast for you all before I left, but, well. The mess. Heh. Wasn’t able to get as much done as I was hoping…”
Boris turned to the counter while Henry prepared a quick coffee for himself, and noticed, to his surprise, that the tower of bills and mail had been cleared off, leaving room for three sets of plates, bowls, forks and spoons of varying style and size. Each plate had a couple eggs, sunny-side up, glasses of water, and steaming hot bowls of oatmeal—with walnuts and molasses, from the looks of them. Bois sniffed the air above the biggest bowl (he hoped it was his) and licked his chops. It smelled pretty dang good.
Breakfast wasn’t the only change to the den. The mess from last night seemed to have all been pushed to the side, the floor for the most part cleared of debris, if still in need of a vacuuming. Trash bags sat stacked next to the door, ready for dumping, full of the empty bottles and boxes.
…How long had Henry been up, working on all of this?
“Ya didn’t have to…” said Boris, ears flopping back. “Dunno if we really need to eat.”
“A good breakfast might liven up the mood around here,” said Henry, smirking. At least this time it reached his eyes. He quickly downed the contents of the mug, grimacing. “Aghh, love the feeling of burnt tongue in the morning.”
“Ya do?” Boris laughed.
“Nope,” Henry laughed in turn. He set his mug in the sink, which was filled with other much dirtier mugs as well as pots and pans, and put a small tin reading Express-o, Coffee on the Go away. A cast iron skillet was all that was left on the stove, which looked surprisingly well cared for, considering the state of Henry’s other kitchen items. Guess that explained the eggs. He pointed to Boris. “Tea boxes are on the counter too, should be enough hot water between all of you. Don’t let Bendy drink my coffee. I’ll call you all when I’m on my way back. Don’t answer the phone for anyone else.”
“Wha?? Buh—how-how?” said Boris, getting whiplash.
Henry pointed to the other end of the den. A black, faintly dusty dial-up phone sat on the floor, next to the far wall, with a note taped to the wall over it. It read a variety of instructions in Henry’s chicken scrawl shorthand, and a blessedly legible phone number at the bottom. It looked as if it’d been dug up from one of Henry’s old boxes.
“I’ll call three times in a row. Only answer if you get three calls within a few seconds of each other,” said Henry, grabbing a toolbox next to the couch and as many of the trash bags as he could carry. “Other than that, just let it ring.”
“Whuh- wait, Henry!” said Boris, heart leaping in his throat. “I-I’m not so sure we…”
Boris turned to the window, grabbing the sleeve of the jacket. The sun was raising more and more, the world outside of them starting to wake up. Yellows mixed with grays, turning them brown and sandy. He was sorely missing his dreams, drenched in black and white.
“Hey, hey,” said Henry. His hand was back on Boris’s shoulder.
Boris turned to him, every inch of his face dropping, expecting to get one of Henry’s signature rigid, authoritative glares, waiting to be given the hard facts of their situation. Instead, he got a tired, yet… understanding smile. It was lopsided and rough around the edges, and looked wildly unsure.
“It’s ok,” said Henry, in a voice that, despite what his face betrayed, sounded pretty dang convincing.
The wolf felt something inside him—something that he’d kept bunched together throughout the drive, the climb to Henry’s apartment, the scary few minutes this morning where he first experienced his feet falling asleep in the real world and how real the real world felt and how he wasn’t really a wolf he wasn’t real was he?— unclench and, without thinking, he leaned his head on Henry’s shoulder, sagging weightily. Henry teetered, not used to the wolf having a third dimension’s worth of weight to him, but evened out, and wrapped an arm around Boris’s back, toolbox counterbalancing him.
“This is a lot to take in,” said Henry, gruff voice a welcome sound for the poor, overwhelmed wolf. “Don’t rush yourselves through it. Thing’s’ll get easier. I just…” His grip tightened, strong, grounding. “We just gotta make some things work first.”
The wolf whined.
“I just wanna help,” said Boris, voice feeling thicker than glue. “I ain’t much of a good helper though. I couldn’t even help you or Bendy or Alice when everything came crumblin’…”
“Now now, none of that,” Henry almost laughed.
Boris almost had enough nerve to get annoyed, if not for what Henry said next.
“That’s no way to talk about the guy who saved my life. And Bendy’s and Alice’s. And then mine again.” Henry stopped, smirking when he felt Boris quietly snort. “And Bendy’s, again, about, what? Five more times?”
“Mmmh, you’re just saying that…” Boris didn’t sound completely convinced, but the knot loosened a fraction. He pushed from Henry, trying to stand his full height. His cheeks had their old stylized blush back; his ears almost perking sincerely. Almost. He let them droop, eyes downcast. Henry sighed.
“For now… none of us know what we’re doing,” said Henry. “Not even me. And I’m from here. But we’ll figure it out.”
“…one breakfast at a time?” said Boris, trying to smile. It was shaky. Oh, he felt so shaky.
“One breakfast at a time,” said Henry. He reached up and scratched Boris between the ears, and Boris relaxed. He felt his tail wag, if only just a bit.
“But seriously,” Henry added. He was grinning, almost… devilishly. “Keep. Bendy. Away from my coffee. If I come back and find him bouncing off the walls, I’m hiring an exorcist.”
Boris was so taken aback, he couldn’t help himself. The thought alone was so ridiculous, but seeing Henry actually try to crack a joke? Utterly too much to comprehend. The wolf howled a laugh right out loud.
And it felt scarily, wonderfully real.
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA IT’S A HAPPY HOPEFUL ENDING TO THIS FIC. THIS IS MY WEAKNESS.
THIS IS ALL MY WEAKNESS. I LOVE THIS SO MUCH.