“What’s on your mind?” Aster timidly asked his husband, while the other kept quietly nursing the long-empty cup of chamomile tea.
Gaster watched the starry sky in silence, sometimes fiddling with the bone spikes on the sleeves of his spouse’s jacket. Between the two of them, Aster was the one to lose himself in dreams and thoughts, and, apparently, he’d finally managed to infect his favorite circus magician with that same habit.
“Gaster?” the skeleton persisted, poking at the monster’s cheek.
“Hm?” Gaster screwed up his eyes, taking a moment to return from his thinking to reality. Slowly opening his eyes, he tentatively turned to face Aster’s reproachful and wary gaze and gave him a warm smile. “What’s wrong, my angel?”
“You’ve been drinking from an empty cup ten minutes now.”
“That’s not right.” Gaster looked surprised. “The cup’s not at all empty.”
Aster gave the monster a skeptical look, to which the other snorted, pretended to take another sip and gave the cup to his husband: Come on, see for yourself.
“I’m serious, there’s nothing in it.” Aster took the magician’s cup, looking a bit morose.
The moment the cup ended up in the skeleton’s hands, a purple cloud swirled out of it with a characteristic “poof”, and a bouquet of asters popped up. Aster gasped.
“You’re impossible,” the skeleton grumbled, picking up the bouquet and taking in the sweet aroma. “Still, what are you thinking of oh so inconspicuously?”
“Ah, nothing really!” Gaster smiled, squinting. “I was just listening.”
Aster gave his husband a small nod and carefully leaned against his shoulder.
Without noticing, the skeleton started to listening too. All was silent in their universe of Zephyrtop — no wind, no birdsong.
“It’s so quiet,” Aster uttered, when listening to the complete silence stopped being comfortable. “It feels kind of… soul-crushing, in a way?”
“Quiet…” Gaster echoed his husband, then chuckled joylessly. “That’s the thing, my dear! For the first time in so long we can fully enjoy some silence.”
And Aster nodded again, knowing just what his spouse meant.
Whenever Ink visited his “dads”, his entrance alone turned the routine family life upside down. The artist could suddenly “swim” out of the grass when the husbands were resting outdoors. Or he could burst into the house, slamming the door loud enough to make them both jump. Or — the naughty artist’s favorite entrance yet — he could pop up in the air all of a sudden and drop onto one of the husbands.
Despite it all, both Gaster and Aster loved Ink. Back in their respective universes no one was waiting for them — perhaps, they were completely forgotten. But they were never forgotten by the skeleton with the worst memory in the Multiverse, who compensated for his flaw with frequent visits and entertaining stories, which the artist had in abundance. Ink could go for hours, excitedly describing a new alternative universe, its peculiarities and characters, or telling stories of the adventures of alternate versions of himself, or retelling how, in a fight with a less than sociable monster, he mixed up his paints and ended up with an off-putting emotional amalgam.
“Ink hasn’t visited in a few days,” Aster voiced his thoughts after a few minutes of silence and added, concerned, “What if something’s happened to him?”
“Something always happens to him, Astie,” Gaster laughed, embracing his husband tightly. “He’s not the type to stay put — and that won’t ever change.”
“You’re right. But that conviction of his — that everything always goes according to a script — could work against him, so I can’t help thinking something bad could’ve happened to him.”
“Nah, you’re worried about nothing!” came an enthusiastic call from behind their backs.
Both lovebirds flinched in surprise, bumped their foreheads together, cursed and looked behind them to see the unexpected guest.
Aster looked him over and gasped; his husband’s expression darkened: the artist was barely standing, and his body was decorated with numerous abrasions that were quite literally bleeding ink.
The artist ineptly pretended to be standing on his own and not using Broomy for support. Despite his beat-up look, he was beaming. Seeing the concerned and sullen looks on Gasters’ faces, he grinned wider, straightened up — which made something crack — put his free hand on his hip and proudly took a couple of steps towards them.
“See? Nothing bad’s happened! All of the bones are in their proper places! I think…” Ink’s sly smile turned stupid.
Gaster shook his head and stood up to meet his “son”, which, apparently, the skeleton was counting on, since he immediately pretended to fall over.
“Yes,of course, that changes everything.” The magician was holding up the pleased artist like one would a child. “But tell me, please, where have you managed to get so many…” he gestured at Ink’s face, “... so many ‘decorations’?”
Formerly silent Aster nodded to show he wanted to know the answer to that as well and started examining the wounds of the mess of a skeleton.
“Oh! I’ve met a skeleton for the first time, and this is the aftermath!” Ink declared, squinting a bit. “We had a nice talk. Not a long one though. Basically, it all started when I felt something weird. Like when Creators want to abandon their universe, but it felt a little different. Somewhat… artificial?” The artist gave it some thought. “Well, or something like that. You know how hard it it for a soulless to pick the right definition. So, what was I talking about?”
“How you got your wounds after meeting a skeleton,” Gaster sighed, aware that at this pace the conversation might take a while. As usual.
“Yeah! Ri-i-ight!” Ink hummed. “So, I came to that universe — it’s usually all quiet and peaceful — and I saw that there was nothing left but the final hall. And in the middle of it stood a skeleton — a strange one, with black bones. So, he stands with his back to me, and then — bam! And I’m already hanging in some sort of strings right in front of him! I admit, he felt dangerous. And I expected anything — but I didn’t expect that he, apparently, doesn’t know who I am at all…”
To everyone’s — including his own — surprise, the mischievous skeleton managed to tell his “fathers” the story of his new adventure and the fascinating meeting that followed without referring to his scarf once. Ink remembered every detail, which had him overjoyed — and that excitement kept getting in the way of Aster treating his wounds. Ink spoke of how he flowed through the strings wrapped around him as ink and appeared behind the stranger; how that very stranger — whether from surprise or from anger — started to “disappear” in odd flickering, emitting scratchy noises; how he was forced to spend a while just avoiding red bones and blasters. How, as the black skeleton was leaving through an odd portal, nursing his injured arm, he promised they’d meet again very soon — since, he assumed, the artist had already revealed what he was capable of.
Afterwards, when the healing paint mixed with the one he’d drank before the fight, Ink ended up wrapped head to toe in a blanket and blissfully asleep in his “fathers’” bed. The lovebirds were sitting by his side.
Aster sighed heavily, watching the eternal child, and muttered:
“I’m sure that strange skeleton would cause Ink some trouble yet. And Ink, in turn, would do that to us, if he keeps visiting fresh from the fight, forgetting to heal himself first.”
“Right,” Gaster responded grimly, getting off the bed.
The magician lowered his head; his top head slid down over his face, preventing the spectrum of his emotions from being seen. Aster felt his husband’s magic boiling, like water in a kettle.
“Ink must’ve made up his mind already. His curiosity often borders on obsession, and this time won’t be an exception.” Gaster started to walk around the room in circles, not lifting his head. “And to satisfy that curiosity, he’ll start seeking out that blackboned acquaintance of his. Let him…”
Aster’s eye-sockets grew wide, and he was ready to protest, when the magician stopped right in front of him and squatted to look at his beloved from below. His eyelights were glowing lilac and smoking a bit in a show of boiling anger.
“I’m ready to do whatever it takes to ensure our concerns will never become a reality.” Gaster squinted. “I believe in Ink, despite always worrying for him. And for you. But we have to stay vigilant now. That nameless skeleton could very well end up here one day, and I doubt he’d agree to talk over chamomile tea first.”
Aster leaned towards his husband, carefully wrapping his arms around the other’s neck. The magician hesitated but returned the embrace, calming down. Ink and Aster meant the world to him — his family, much like the one he couldn’t keep safe in his own universe. In reality, his boiling anger was a cover for the overwhelming fear.
Tiny arms lay on both monsters’ shoulders, attempting to embrace them, but the limbs just weren’t long enough. Ink, whose sleep lasted for only the few minutes required for the paints to mix in his system, timidly apologized to his “fathers”, promising to do everything he could to ensure they wouldn’t have to worry about him.
And then he leaped over Gasters’ heads and onto the floor and shouted:
“Ri-i-ight! I’ve almost forgot to tell you how I met this one skeleton!”
After that the universe of Zephyrtop was deprived of silence for a long time, which, however, its two inhabitants were pretty happy about.