On their way to school, one chilly morning on October, Rose stops walking, letting go of Mordecai's gloved hand and heaving a deep, decided sigh that moves her whole little body.
"My feet hurt."
Mordecai stops first, a pace ahead of her, and Esther continues on, though she dawdles by swinging her legs and bouncing on her toes. Rose folds in on herself, bending her knees and clamping her tiny hands down on the toes of her shoes. Cramped inside them, her toes curl and wiggle feebly in the meager space they're allowed. Mordecai doesn't understand why she's complaining.
"You walk to school every day, you're feet can't hurt that badly. Come on."
He beckons, but Rose doesn't see it.
"They hurt," she says again, squeezing her feet, "They're squished and they hurt and I have blisters. I don't wanna wear my shoes today. Can't I - ?"
"No. You have to wear your shoes, Rose - "
"That is an absurd question. You're too old for that nonsense, you are fully aware of why you have to wear your shoes," Mordecai snaps, "It's freezing out here, and I rather think you're fond of keeping all of your toes. And it goes without saying that this street is filthy, you're not walking barefooted, Rose, you're not, that's unhygienic - "
"Oh, borednik, shut up," Esther sighs, rolling her eyes, "Rose, take them off if you want - "
Rose immediately yanks her left shoe off.
"No - Rose!"
Mordecai grabs her under the armpits and lifts her off the ground before she can put her foot down. Grimacing, Rose struggles in his grip, trying to reach her other shoe as her brother's arms tighten around her middle. Esther drops her school books to watch the fun.
"Stop it! Put your shoe back on!"
"No! You're socks are clean! This street is filthy!"
"They do not suddenly hurt, you're being difficult, Rose. I spent all night washing the laundry, you're not - it's disgusting - "
"I'll take my socks off, too, then, grumpnik, I - "
"THAT DOES NOT MAKE IT ACCEPTABLE, THIS STREET IT FILTHY, YOU AREN'T TAKING YOUR SOCKS OFF AND WALKING ON THIS STREET! It's disgusting, disgusting, there's no telling what sort - what - it's - it's - "
Mordecai is so indignant at the idea of what might have possibly come into contact with the sidewalk that he cannot even form the words and simply redoubles his effort to grab Rose's flailing ankle and her other shoe, and keep her off the offending ground. Esther smiles all too smugly, hands on her hips, tail curling. Rose wildly swings her shoe, hitting Mordecai in the ear with the heal of it. She throws the shoe aside and slides out of his grip when it loosens and a startled passerby shirks out of the way at the violent Yiddish swear that comes out of Mordecai's mouth.
Esther is even more delightfully smug - borednik never swears.
He'll hate himself later for getting so mad, she thinks, and goes to retrieve Rose's shoe from the street before it gets run over. When she steps back up onto the sidewalk, Mordecai has forsaken all propriety and has thrown himself to the ground, as well, and is attempting to wrestle Rose, who is kicking and shouting every foreign word she knows at him regardless of whether they're swears or not (though Esther has to admit, they've very colorful), into his lap so that he had put her shoe back on. Helpfully, Esther hands him the shoe; Rose kicks her feet even harder, thrashing on the ground.
"Stop that, you're being ridiculous!" Mordecai says angrily, grabbing the sleeves of her coat and hauling her back upright.
Breathing hard through her nose, Rose stops struggling, tears forming in her eyes.
"They - they hurt," she gasps, rubbing her face, as Mordecai undoes the knot she inadvertently tightened when she pulled the shoe off earlier, "They've hurt a while. They pinch my -my toes and they're smuh-small and they huh-huh-hurt my f-feet, Mordecai!"
She starts crying in earnest, sitting on the ground between his knees, and Mordecai stops tugging at the laces. He frowns, brow creasing, from the shoe in his hand, to Rose's feet, and suddenly he can't remember when they bought these shoes. They're fairly worn - the sole is starting to come away at the front and they're scuffed and stained. It's been a year or longer and Rose has definitely gotten taller in the past year. Without commenting, he grabs her socked foot, but doesn't trying to put her shoe on.
Instead, he presses the bottom of her shoe against the bottom of her foot.
And it is painfully obvious that her shoe is too small.
Her feet do undoubtedly hurt, but Rose has been dressing herself for ages, now, and he silently berates himself for not thinking to check the size of her shoes. Mordecai drops his hands into his lap, his ears laying back.
"Why didn't you say anything sooner?" he asks, and busies himself with untying her other shoe.
"I dih-didn't think about it," Rose gasps, wiping her face, "I dunno."
Mordecai tugs off her remaining shoe.
"Well, you can't be expected to wear these," he says, setting them neatly aside.
He doesn't get up, though, and sits, frowning in thought, his tail twitching. Esther crouches beside them, her arms around her knees, and chews on her lip while her brother mulls something over in his brain and Rose finishes crying, wiggling her toes. Finally, realizing just how long they've stalled, Esther pipes up, even though it isn't the biggest concern, "We're gonna be late." This pulls Mordecai out of his reverie.
"Alright," he says, "Come on."
Standing, he picks Rose up and sets her on her feet, and proceeds to smack every inch of her off because she's been rolling on the ground like a maniac. He holds off tidying himself up in favor of kneeling to untie his own shoes, and Esther frowns at him, raising an eyebrow.
"What're you doing...?"
"You're taking my shoes," Mordecai says without looking up, "Take off yours and give them to Rose. It's too cold out here, she has to wear shoes."
"You've got toes, too, nudnik," Esther points out, but takes off her shoes all the same, "And your socks will get dirty."
Mordecai grimaces, but is thinking far less of the disgraceful state his socks will be in afterwards than he is of how expensive shoes for Rose are going to be. They switch shoes, Rose stepping into Esther's and having to knot the laces extra tight because they are several sizes too big, but are still better than her too-small ones; and Esther tying up Mordecai's, which are only a size and a half bigger than her own shoes. Meanwhile, Mordecai pats the dirt off himself, whether it's there or not, and compulsively straightens his clothes until Rose takes his hand again.
He goes without shoes for a week and a half before their mother can save up enough to by some decent second-hand shoes.
(A/n) Just a little random silly something. I was going to save this and squeeze it somewhere into the gigantic Mordecai fic I'm slowly working on, but obviously I decided against that because I haven't really posted anything really Mordecai and I like the thought of him begrudgingly filling those "older brother shoes". It's... endearing. (Also, apparently Mordecai is everyone's favorite soo maybe I did him justice (I'm going to be hanged if I haven't. Damn!).)