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Children of the World, Dream in Peace

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It was one of those nights again.

By now, 'those nights' were every night. Deceit groaned, blearily opening his eyes as he heard indiscernible chaos in the distance. He attempted not to yawn and to sit up from his too cold bed. The heavy blankets slipped from his shoulders after he finally did, and he shivered, head hanging low, rubbing the goosebumps on his arms. His eyelids were as heavy as lead, and he merely sat there, almost forgetting what awakened him.

But Remus screeched again in the distance, and he promptly stood, dismissing the sudden positional vertigo by blinking rapidly, forgoing changing or putting on his shoes, even abandoning his gloves on the nightstand, shivering again when his feet landed upon the freezing, ashen floor. But he was still for too long, and he wouldn't stop now. "Coming," he mumbled, his stomach sinking when yet another scream echoed in the whole Dark Mindscape. He found himself grateful that Virgil wasn't here, suffering another sleepless night like the both of them

He violently shook his head, forcing him out of his thoughts. Deceit didn't miss him. He wasn't lonely without him, he was honestly glad Virgil wasn't there anymore.

He sighed. That wasn't forcing him out of his thoughts.

He unlocked the door with trembling, numb hands. He stopped himself from counting the hours, the days without sleep. After all, the one who never slept was Remus, whether he shrieked or not. He pushed the heavy door open, grimacing at its own screech. But the grimace only grew when the pure darkness and the piercing cold struck him like a bullet. Gasped when he smelled the iron, acrid enough to make him nauseous.

He felt Remus flinch more than saw it, his screams undeterred, but now they were edging into laughter. Deceit never knew which one was worse. He immediately left the room to get gauze and stitches, then ran back into the cell. He wasn't frightened by it, he'd visited it all his life. His shudders were merely because of the cold.

"Remus," he murmured, not wanting to add to the havoc before him at all. He hesitated, then lowered to his knees, gently lifting his head and checking his limbs. He winced, realizing Remus must've had conjured a knife or a razor. Sometimes the confines this cell enforced weren't enough to keep him subdued. Deceit's blood ran colder than it already was. He was becoming too powerful, to the point that he could probably take Thomas' attention from all the way down here. 

"Remus, I'm here." He swallowed bile at the sight of the deep cuts all over the other's arms, the wide gash on his throat. Remus couldn't die from his own imagination, but he could certainly leave scars if his...fantasies remained untreated.

It was always hard to remember, though, that his life could never be threatened.

He looked up, searching for the weapon that caused all those wounds, fearing that Remus would attempt to stab him again, but his breath stopped short when his gaze landed upon the bloodied rope hanging from the ceiling. 

His grip tightened on Remus, earning a yelp from the other man. But the screaming was gone...replaced by hyperventilation. He instantly let go, realizing he was adding onto Remus' claustrophobia. "Remus, hey, hey. Whatever you're seeing, it's not real."

Unfocused, glazed eyes looked up to him. His chest was moving so quickly, but Remus reached out and gripped Deceit's arm tight enough to bruise. A lazy, slightly relieved smile spread through his pale features splattered with crimson and colored with dark circles under his eyes. "Dee," he breathed. 

Seeing a non-deranged smile on Remus finally allowed him to breathe again. "Remus, you're going to be alright."

"What day is it?" the other whispered, seemingly deaf to Deceit's words.

"Night," he corrected. "It's...it's still 2017. July 15th." That lie stung, but he somehow couldn't bear to admit to himself it's been three months. Three months since someone left, since it became too silent and cold—

No. It wasn't silent and cold, and it certainly wasn't lonely. He had Remus.

"Dates don't matter, Remus, just breathe. You certainly won't die from lack of oxygen at this point." He tried to smirk, tried to give his tone the sarcasm it needed to distract the manic side.

Remus grinned too widely, and Deceit ignored the way his hairs stood on end at the sight. "Why don't we have some fun, Dee?"

"Remus," Deceit sighed. "You need to sleep. In fact, you know what would be fun? Eating that soup I made you."

Remus' grip tightened even more on his arm, and his other hand clawed into Deceit's scarred scales. He was proud at his practiced lack of reaction at the sharp pain that garnered. "Virgil would want to play!" Remus raved. 

Deceit smiled back, ignoring how painful it felt. "I bet he would, and I do too, but we need to sleep, Remus." He controlled himself from saying how awful he looked, and merely focused on taking the stitches with his free hand. "I need to treat your wounds. Can you let go of my arm?"

The grip was drawing blood, he was sure. But after a few seconds of silence, Remus owlishly blinked, and released his arm. Deceit didn't risk another second of superficial peace to stare, and set to work, first focusing on his neck, stopping himself from gagging with a practiced control.

"Where's my brother?" Remus gurgled, unbothered by the sewing on his flesh right where his vocal chords resided.

Deceit always wretchedly hesitated when Roman was mentioned. "Sleeping."

"Where?"

"In his room."

Deceit knew they were the wrong words when Remus giggled, coughing up blood. "What does it look like?"

"Dreadful. Worse than here."

Horror flashed through Remus' eyes now.

"Don't worry—Roman is fine." Why was his heart beating so fast? He wasn't scared of Remus, or of lying. Furthermore, he was supposed to have more strength than this unbearable weight on his shoulders, the uncontrollable quivering of his hands. Deceit could handle more than a few weeks of barely any sleep, so why did he feel so exhausted?

He shook his head out of his thoughts again. "Remus, what did you see this time?"

Remus grinned again, but his lips were trembling with the exertion. "Patton was so sweet, saying I was better off dead," he breathed with faux serenity, staring unseeing my above him.

Deceit clenched his eyes shut. That didn't hit home. He didn't empathize with that at all.

"And then my brother was beating me up." Remus was staring at thin air with wonder, eyes delirious, but his nails were digging even more into Deceit's scaled cheek.

He finished on Remus' throat, moving on to disinfecting his arms. Remus hissed, but he seemed to enjoy it either way. 

Deceit had no words for Remus' hallucinations. He couldn't find a sweet lie for them, nor an easy truth. And his thoughts reeled, imagining Patton and Roman doing said horrid deeds. He never meant to settle into silence when Remus was coherent enough to speak of what he saw, yet he always did.

Strangely and rarely enough, Remus settled into silence, an almost catatonic state. It wasn't terrifying.

"He can't die, Deceit," he whispered to himself. Remus didn't even blink at the quiet sound. The silence was so thick in here, but that didn't disturb him.

The hand holding onto his face fell limp, and he sighed in relief, stopping himself from reaching out to his bruising, stinging cheek, nor to Remus. He hoped this state would allow him to sleep. But as he slowly, heavily stood, vision tunneling at the change in position again, Remus whimpered. He fell back on his knees, this time not hesitating from cupping Remus' cheek.

"Sleep. I know you're tired. I'll be back in the morning."

"I'm not tired," the other murmured desperately, frantically shaking his head. He reached out and held onto Deceit once more, this time his shoulder and his collar. "We should play. It's boring to sleep, and—and to stay here."

Deceit sighed heavily. "It's boring outside. Trust me."

"Don't lie to me," Remus hissed, eyes becoming more animalistic by the second. Deceit's skin shivered. The hold on his shoulder was painful—it wasn't. 

"Remus, we'll have fun in the morning. I promise."

"You always say that." His voice was breaking, his eyes were brimming with tears, but his gaze could burn Deceit's soul.

"I'll be back. I'll always be back." He ripped Remus' hands off him, quickly picked up the first aid tools, and all but ran from the cell. The freezing darkness was...doing something to him. He grunted from effort as he shut the door.

"Don't leave me here!" The merging of the demonic roar and high-pitched screech startled him, and he jumped away from the door. 

Great. Deceit was leaving him worse than when he entered.

He closed his tired eyes and hung his head. Just for a few seconds. He was so tired.

 


Deceit was sitting on his bed, unable to drown out Remus' sobs and demonic threats to his life. The forbidden thought—the wish to change how they lived—intruded his thoughts for the umpteenth time.

Just wait, and see

Just sit, and breathe

Your life's unimportant,

Your ego's distorted,

Just let what is, be

He swayed on the bed, vainly gathering the strength to stand. He glanced at the clock. 9:39am. He was alright. Thomas was never awake at this hour.

Who was he kidding? He could never reach Thomas anyway.

He wondered how it looked like in the Mindscape where the others lived. How the sun would shine over the living quarters, through the windows and curtains of every room. He barely remembered how it felt, the heat upon his skin.

He shook his head. He didn't miss the light or warmth at all.

He didn't know what day it was. He was tempted to think it was still 2017. He stood, groaning, his legs shaking under the weight, and checked the calendar on his wall. It was December 25th. A chill settled into him then. It was Christmas. Christmas Eve for him was watching Remus fruitlessly attempting suicide.

Deceit took a trembling breath. He had even less chance to make himself heard today. Wait—he shouldn't be heard. Thomas couldn't know he existed. 

Delusions of control, how's the wool feel?

Pre-decision doesn't mean that this is not real

Why throw away what you've been given just to spite it?

What will be, will be

He tried not to think of all the knowledge he had—all the human trafficking, guerrillas, dictatorships, the companies bleeding the poor dry, murders, rapes—because that was what Christmas was about. Ignoring the suffering, believing the world was hopeful and full of selflessness.

Children of the world, dream in peace

The fourth will watch over you

Sleep and you'll know the truth

Deceit sighed in frustration, digging the heels of his palms onto his eyes, attempting to focus. He needed to distract himself from these thoughts. Thomas wasn't in danger, not actively suffering because of society. He was just...a little stuck. Society wanted him that way, but it was alright. No need to worry about that.

With that in mind, he changed clothes, slipping on his much needed gloves, shuddering at the memory of touching Remus with bare hands. He hadn't even noticed. He didn't know why. Then he sat before his rotting wooden desk, writing plans and arguments, knowing full well he'd never use them.

Children of the world, dream in peace

Here, rebuild in solitude,

Under Denver calling you

Days passed like this, with no hitch or change in schedule—or lack thereof—except his visits to Remus to feed and heal him. Many times just comforting him. He hated that childlike mindset Remus had, thinking that they could play just because he'd be free from his prison. Nobody could play here. It was too cold and dark. Virgil was proof that this wasn't the most...homely place to live in.

He bared his teeth, growling at himself. He didn't care. Virgil wasn't worth thinking about. He was pathetic like the others.

But a hissing voice in his head told him he was the pathetic one. Thinking about belonging there, being heard on Christmas. What an idiotic thought.

He ignored his growing exhaustion from that thought alone, and kept on working.

 


Leaving Remus' cell, he was gasping, his mind reeling like never before. February 3rd. He lasted seven months and two weeks without Virgil. He was certainly pathetic, then, but that didn't matter. He couldn't handle seeing Remus like this another day.

You're not alone; your truth is wrong, his thoughts whispered, stopping him in his tracks. But this wasn't about him, it never was. Thomas was hurting himself by driving Remus insane. Or rather, he was hurting Thomas by keeping Remus here.

It's best to accept it, no sense in resisting,

Just let what is, be

He ran towards his room, muttering to himself, hoping against hope the words weren't a lie: "I can make it right. I can make it right."

He snatched his studies, facts, arguments, trying to come up with a strategy, something to finally reach them but not be immediately thrown out.

He went slack, letting the many papers fall, displacing the ashes below them. Maybe...

It would be unexpected. Ironic. The best way to sneak in.

Pretending to be honest. He laughed emptily at the thought. Now that he considered it, he realized Thomas lived his whole life doing that. Made Deceit live like that. Society lived like that.

How hard could it be?

He stood before the mirror, conditioning himself not to look nor react towards his scars and scales. He closed his eyes, forced his frazzled mind to quieten, and focused. He was honest, he was caring, he was invincible, he was loving, he was happy, he was innocent, he was childish, he was ignorant, he was honest, he was honest, he was honest—

He opened his eyes, and he giggled like a child. He looked just like Patton, but his eyes were too dull. He practiced smiling and laughing again, committed some puns to memory, reread his philosophers, and forced himself to breath. He was honest. He loved the others. Honesty was best for Thomas. But he'd nudge him in the right direction.

Warmth bloomed in his chest, and he forced himself not to smile this time. He wouldn't allow himself to be hopeful.

I can make it right. Stay strong, Remus. I can make it right.

 


They were obviously not easy to convince.

He forced a smile and a high-pitched voice, but Virgil stared at him with suspicion. And frankly, he was beginning to feel desperate. Roman, even, wasn't comfortable with lying anymore.

He knew he should just reveal himself, do something to finally have the freedom and permission from Thomas to unleash himself and Remus, but Thomas looked at him with patience and...and care. Deceit hadn't seen Thomas since he was eight years old, and even then, Thomas never bothered looking at him. At any of them—he pretended the voices he heard weren't real back then.

Roman cared about how 'strenuous' the practice of lying was to him. Thomas argued for him to be the director. Logan was debating and providing information about lies with no discomfort whatsoever, and even commended Deceit—Patton—for knowing about philosophy. Virgil looked at him, asked for his opinion. Trusted him right off the bat.

They gave him a voice.

But now Virgil was glaring at him. 

"Come on, guys, let's not give up now!" Deceit heard himself exclaiming. He hated how his anxiety was edging into his voice. Time to make emotion even more childish. He looked at Thomas, his host staring at him in deep thought. "Thomas, you don't wanna make Joan mad at you, do you?" He forced himself to pout to get the message across.

But Logan and Roman decided to bring consent into watching theatrics, like that was an excuse to not lie. And Thomas—curse Patton and his damn guilt for a white lie!

He turned to Virgil, fighting the grimace from forming as he watched his suspicious, hateful gaze. Everything would fall apart because of him. He'd never be able to pretend to be Patton, never be free, all because of him.

But Remus' unfocused eyes, haunted beyond imagination, dilated and bloodshot, and his wounds and scars, and his screeches, and his pleadings to go outside, to feel the light on his skin, made his smile crumble. But the temptation to continue lying, soak in on all the attention, all the trust, was still too strong.

"Virgil, buddy," he began, hearing how pathetic he sounded, "I-I know you weren't too keen at it at first, but..." How could he prove he was Patton to the one man who knew all the ways he could lie? "Come on! Could you stand to lose one of Thomas' friends?" Like I could stand to lose you?

Virgil shut him up.

Shit.

He knew.

"Virgil..." He was so glad he could finally, really drop the smile. He felt so free to not force his expression, just his voice. He was honest, he was honest. "It's me. Aren't we friends?"

Virgil looked away, sarcasm rolling off him. He learned from the best. "I'm not so sure we are."

He tried to catch his breath. Thomas wanted to remain honest. The best course of action is convincing him to lie while still not existing in Thomas' conscience. It was what the world would have wanted.

Listen, follow orders, buy, consume, sell

Stay on the surface, it's okay to trust the system

Tried and tested, they know best, they know the outcome

What will be, will be

He whirled back to his host. "Thomas, I know this sounds backwards, but, sometimes...!" He forced on a smile again. This was a joke—this was the truth. "Lying is good!"

"Hmm, but you've said before—"

"I know what I said!" It was almost impossible not to glare at Roman. "It doesn't matter. In this situation, it is the right thing to do, period." 

How could Patton pretend he was honest and joyful so easily?

"Patton, no..." Thomas began, pity in his eyes.

He loathed that name so much. Remus was probably pleading at his imagined brother not to kill him, trapped in the hell that he created for him. But Deceit didn't care about Remus, or Thomas, or anyone. What mattered was being listened to.

"Yes!"

"You're wrong about this one, buddy."

...Of course.

He thought Patton wasn't here. But he was looking right at his slave. Thomas, his host, prisoner to society.

Exhaustion settled deep into his bones. His inner mantra couldn't keep the light-heartedness and innocence and honesty any longer. 

So he stopped pretending.

The idiot couldn't figure out anything in his life, and the others stalled, reluctantly telling Thomas there was a dark side of him.

"Would you like learning something new about yourself, Thomas?" Roman asked, fear in his eyes, making his voice weaker as he queried. Deceit glared at Roman. All the lies he tried to tell Remus that his brother cared were never enough to justify this monster.

"I...don't know," Thomas answered, wary.

He felt bitterness rise in his throat like bile. For God's sake. Say yes already! The image of Remus bloodied and ashen came to his mind again. He shivered, but focused on his bitterness. "Oh, I don't know either, Thomas!" he mocked, hands in faux fear covering his mouth like a child. "You might not like what you find!" He made sure his sneer was arrogant enough.

He succeeded. Thomas huffed in annoyance. "Fine, tell me!"

He couldn't describe the imposible weight lifting from his shoulders, the sudden disappearance of adrenaline, the first real breath to be taken in six months, when Logan uttered his name. When the truth he was losing sight of finally came full-front.

He was Deceit.

 


He didn't bother closing the heavy door behind him, holding Remus like an infant against his chest, stopping himself from grimacing whenever Remus would shudder or gasp at any given sound or dim light, burying his face into the crook of Deceit's neck. He lay Remus on the couch of the commons, drained from carrying him the two dozen feet that he did. In this light, the other side looked even more disturbing.

No, no. He wasn't disturbed. But Remus always unlocked something forbidden that he tried desperately to bury. 

He wiped at his cheeks, frustrated with himself. It took him twenty-two years to realize what a mistake it was to give Thomas the voice. He was basically allowing Patton and Roman to steal his own voice from him.

Children of the world, dream in peace

The fourth will watch over you; 

Sleep, and you'll know the truth

He shook his head from the intrusive thoughts. He was force-fed that mindset, wasn't he? Or did he convince himself of this? He focused on Remus and the fact that he was too quiet, instead. He was too shaken from those questions.

"Remus?" Deceit shook his shoulder gently, but Remus had his eyes clenched shut. He whimpered, reaching to cover his ears. "Remus, hey, listen to me."

"So loud," he whispered, trembling violently now. "Too bright." His lips slowly lifted, though his brows were furrowed in fear. "I'll behead the vultures. Then they'll cease their chirping."

He pressed his palm down on Remus' chest, forcing him down as soon as he tried to sit up. "Rest. Please." Remus looked paler than he'd ever seen him, and the dark circles under his eyes accented his protruding cheekbones. His eyes.

Those eyes always gave him nightmares when he could finally fall asleep.

"I want to play with my brother now," Remus grinned, but his eyes were poisoned with fury. Fuck. He was right when he thought no lie could protect Roman. "Let me go, Dee."

"We'll play with him later, but you never slept during the nights all these years. Now you have to sleep here."

Remus shuddered, still grinning. "You make it look like I never left."

Deceit's lip wobbled. "You're right." He took another breath. The last real one he took was when Logan screamed his name. He missed that day—it was merely a couple days ago. "We can never leave."

Children of the world, dream in peace

Here, rebuild in solitude, 

Under Denver calling you

 


Remus was not coping with his 'freedom' well.

He flinched and screamed at every shadow, every color, every sound, every smell and taste, everything. Everything just overwhelmed him.

Deceit pulled Remus close to him again, holding him tight. He had no energy to run after him if he escaped again. How long has it been? Two months? More? He blearily glanced at the calendar on his wall. April 14th. So, it's been...three months, then? No matter how much Remus fought or how long it's been, Deceit still could never let him reach Thomas with both in this state. 

Remus, though, was breathing heavily, clawing at his arm like an animal.

"Let me go, Dee." He sounded strangled. Deceit couldn't give much thought to it. He was too tired to think.

"Remus, please, just stay," Deceit whispered. His eyelids couldn't stay open for more than seconds. He felt like his heart couldn't pump blood for much longer, like his brain would shut down. He lost count of the days, of the sleepless nights. "It's two in the morning. Roman can't get you here," he slurred.

But Remus never ran out of frenzied energy, no matter the eternity he went through without resting. "I can't. STAY." He freed his arm from Deceit's weak hold, and bashed his head with a bat. Deceit saw colors and stars he could never see down here. He felt mildly grateful.

He blacked out.

 


 

When he woke, the clock struck three in the afternoon. He bolted upright, cursing under his breath. As soon as he left the room, nausea hit him like a truck.

A trail of teeth, nails, fingers and eyeballs lead into the living quarters.

He fought off his instinctual gags, swallowed the rising bile, and slowly walked forward, balancing himself by leaning onto the wall, avoiding the detached organs and bones, reminding himself to breathe. How could he be so stupid, sleeping through the night, not supervising Remus?

What if Remus was with Thomas?

He broke off into an unstable sprint, but stopped short when he reached the living quarters.

Remus was squinting, his eyes filled with tears, as if the dim light was enough to bring such pain to his sight. He was curled up, wound up like a robot, on the floor, leaning on the rickety couch behind him. He stared straight through him, unseeing. There was gore everywhere here—on the walls, on the furniture, on the dozens of knives laying around like traps, and dripping from the ceiling. 

Deceit was merely frozen, feeling so small at the sight.

"Here to play?" sobbed Remus hoarsely, breathing heavily. He was now staring at him. His damned eyes were always so horrifying.

He tentatively walked, avoiding the knives and making any sudden moves. Then he kicked away the knives closest to Remus, and knelt before him. "What did you do last night?"

Remus chuckled wearily. "Just murdered some people. But it stopped being fun." At Deceit's probably fearful gaze, a ghost of a mischievous smirk spread through his split, lavender lips. "Conjured people, mind you." He paused, before continuing, quieter, breaking eye contact. "I thought you were dead."

Deceit furrowed his brows. "Why?"

"You didn't move. I screamed at you until I couldn't speak. But you never woke up." He was shaking violently now. "I thought I killed you."

Deceit sighed. Remus attempted to murder him before, but now he was terrified of it. He could never understand him. "I'm alright, see?"

"Don't lie." Remus blinked for too long, a tear slipping through. "You were dead for fourteen hours."

"I wasn't dead. I'm fine."

"Dee!" Remus pulled him by his hair, eliciting a ragged gasp from him. Remus was furious again. "Stop it." Somehow, his deep, silent growl was more terrifying than his screams. Deceit could merely stare at him, frozen. "I want to see my brother," he breathed, eyes weakening. "I want for everything to just stop. I want to see Thomas, and Virgil again."

"I know, Remus," Deceit answered hesitantly.

"Don't you miss them?!" Deceit's ears rung from the abrupt demonic screech.

He shook his head, struggling for words. "I...I-I don't care about them."

He was violently thrown back, rolling from the momentum. He hissed, his shoulder blade screaming at him. A knife buried itself in it. He cradled his arm and tried to get on his knees without the help of balance from his arms, fighting his light-headedness, blinking rapidly.

Remus covered his ears again, shivering. "How can you live with so many fucking sensations?!" He was hyperventilating. 

Somehow, after fourteen hours of unwilling unconsciousness, Deceit was still drained. Did he really have to deal with this again?

He shakily stood and quickly left the room, narrowly missing Remus' homing knives by throwing shut the door of his room as a shield—locking it desperately. 

He realized his adrenaline wasn't dwindling, and he breathed too heavily. He coughed on the dust that seemed concentrated in this room.

...Wait—

He turned around, seeing the empty, dark, eerie room before him. Spider webs and abandoned, burned out candles stared back at him. The black wallpaper was still there, just like the artificially bloodied rug.

He hunched, walked as far as he could from this room, but remained against the door. Remus was still very unstable outside. He pressed a palm against his chest, against his pounding heart, and vainly attempted to control his breathing.

It's been eight months. Eight months since this room was vacant. Eight months to gather dust, for the paint to fade, for everything to feel even more stifling here, not only because of the anxious atmosphere. But his mind screamed to get rid of the knife and treat his wound before he died from blood loss, and screamed distract himself from the thought of him.

He bit his tongue until he drew blood, muffling his groan, then his scream of pain, as he blindly pulled out the knife from his shoulder blade.

The pain made him throw up. But it was only bile. He hadn't eaten much in the last week, he was too focused on keeping Remus and Thomas in check. But he kept gagging for ten minutes, waves of the unbearable pain dulling his senses and tunneling his vision. He felt small in this room, unbearably pathetic and vulnerable, bleeding profusely, but the fear leaving him frozen from getting up and dealing with it. There aren't any appliances for first aid here anyway, his mind vaguely supplied. Virgil took them with him.

He'd be fine staying here. He was stronger than this, stronger than the 'power' of this room. He couldn't die from blood loss. It didn't matter if it scarred. It wasn't painful, it wasn't real, nothing hurt while being here, bleeding. 

He blinked, unable to tell which was the lie and which was the truth in those sentences.

 


Every day was pure exhaustion and paranoia after Remus' and Deceit's 'freedom', and every night was watching an insomniac who pretended not to sob as he cut the fingers of a conjured little girl with a large knife. After all, he must've learned from the best. Pretending to be happy was way too easy in the Dark Mindscape.

Remus kept calling it The Upside Down.

The way he compared this place to the parallel dimension from Stranger Things was...Deceit wasn't sure how to describe what it induced within him. But it wasn't a great sensation, when he thought about the monsters that belonged there, when he thought about how the childish heroes were always more powerful, always capable of casting the Demogorgon and the Mind Flayer away.

Remus always said Deceit was the Mind Flayer, the creature possessing and manipulating everyone in its path to gain control of the real world, build his world in the brighter one.

That didn't sting. Not at all.

After all, what he did was necessary. After a thousand mistakes, his purpose now was the right one. But he wouldn't be heard anyway.

They're more than we

They hold the keys

They live in the silence

Just offer compliance

And what will be, will be

 


Deceit felt like tearing his hair out. His insides were thrumming, and the urge to strangle Remus was very persuasive.

"I told you," he muttered through gritted teeth, "to not overdo it. To remain on the surface. Not. To give him an identity crisis!"

"Well, it's not my fault they couldn't handle me!" Remus screamed back. Strangely enough, this was the most coherent Deceit had ever seen him. "I did remain on the surface—the worst I said was acid sex zombies. Can you believe that?!" Remus looked as ragged and furious as Deceit felt. "And they said I was scary." He slumped then and there, eyes horrified. "I'm scary to them."

Deceit was never going to admit he really was.

"Remus, what did you tell him?" He feared the worst. This was just his luck. After nine months and two weeks of Virgil's escape, just when Thomas finally, blessedly let him stay, listened to him, admitted he was a liar. He waited three months and two days of peace, and then he allowed Remus to finally run free. Deceit shivered, realizing he was so, so stupid, to allow himself to be a slave, to corrupt Remus the way he had, to acquiescing to Remus' desperate pleads. And now, Remus was evidently ruled by his vendettas far worse than he was, and that was saying a lot.

Roman taken out with a mace, Virgil paranoid about his own host, Patton desperately hiding the ugly truth the way he always obediently did—the way the Moralities of the world taught him—and Thomas left believing he was insane. How ironic that the man Deceit dismissed and ignored when he wanted to shine three months ago, was the man who saved them all from Thomas' impending mental doom.

"I told him that he had a deal because of me," Remus growled, eyes twitching madly. "I told him he was repressing me. I told him he should stop lying to himself. But he didn't listen!"

Deceit was beginning to see red, and he was losing sight of why he felt like his chest was burning, why his jaw was locked, why he was seeing red to begin with. "It's clear I made a mistake in trusting you," Deceit spat. "You've left us back to square one. It's a miracle I don't have to lock you up again—"

He choked. There was an unnatural force in his chest, a second of numbness, and then pure agony. Remus was before him, features dark and sinister, slowly twitching to mad glee. "Go ahead, then. Lock me up again." Deceit looked down to his chest, saw the dagger plunged there, and felt all his senses blur. He coughed, splattering blood upon Remus' snowhite face, but the latter didn't seem to care. He only pushed the knife further.

Deceit let out a strangled, gurgling scream, hacking more and more gore. The knife twisted, playfully incised through his ribs like his organs and bones were Remus' own masterpiece, somehow slicing through them like butter, slitting open his lungs, trailing along his heart. Remus kept smiling, eyes ablaze. He leaned into him, whispering in his ear.

"If I'm scary, so be it. Thomas will not repress me anymore, and neither will you. The gate is open now."

He tore the knife out, and Deceit collapsed to his knees, excruciation making him forget his own name, unleashing tears he couldn't hold back.

The blurry silhouette of Remus convulsed, smile crumbling. Gleeful eyes dawned in horror. "Dee."

He couldn't see, couldn't hear. He was underwater, sinking further in a crimson ocean, drowning in his own blood. He coughed again, wheezing, and cried out in pain when he couldn't choke back a sob.

"Dee."

Maybe this was necessary. More than anything. Right?

He deserved to die. But he couldn't die—no, he could, and he deserved it. Right?!

"Dee!"

Everything faded away. Ashes. Pitch black. Screams could be heard in the distance.

He really was in The Upside Down.

He screamed, Remus before him, gripping his arm with a bruising grip and an apathetic gaze, mace in his other hand held high. Deceit pulled, almost dislocating his arm with the force, straining and shouting at a dead, rotting Remus to let. Him. Go! And in a split second, that's what he did. At the same time that Deceit wrenched his arm away. The momentum sent him crashing down, but the floor never came, and time became so, so, so slow. 

Flashes of blood, broken bones, Roman's empty, sinister grin, a hanging noose, Virgil screaming silently and gripping his head, Thomas crying himself to sleep, a flurry of ashes, penises, decapitated doves, drowning, darkness, crimson lightning—distorted, faraway, glitching, reversed echoes of screams, sobs, metal screeching, clattering of plates, choking in strangling holds—

And suddenly, his head hit the ground, and everything went blissfully black, and quiet.

 


Deceit woke, and with a start he felt a prickle beneath him, tickling his back and the back of his neck and head, his bare arms and fingers. He felt a gentle breeze caressing his face, ruffling his hair. He lay there, where it wasn't warm or freezing, too bright nor too dark, but just right. It was paradise. And finally, after slowly realizing he shouldn't be...wherever he was, he opened his eyes. And startled, sitting up too quickly, his vision tunneling.

He sat in the middle of a dark forest. He saw the trees, seemingly innocent, their leaves waving slightly with the calm breeze. The canopy hid the sunlight from view, casting shadows beneath its leaves, but a few rebellious rays shone through the cracks of the armor. He crawled to the light, sighing in relief as the warmth settled upon his skin. The most light he'd felt, throughout his life, was artificial, even while pretending to be Patton. Real light was truly rare after Thomas' ninth birthday. In fact, it just didn't exist. 

He lay there, soaking in on the few, dim rays that lit up some of his features and spots on his arms. But then he hissed and jumped away from the light. It had begun to sting. He sat up, clutching his injured chest and moaning, but he looked down to see no blood, no tear in his clothes. He gently pushed down on his chest. Though it throbbed heavily, he could breathe freely, his ribs were still protecting his fragile organs. How long had he been out? Where was he? 

He glanced up, and found a small clearing where the trees allowed light to shine through. A little boy was playing there, running around freely, a wide smile on his dirty face. He had chestnut, unruly hair, royal attire, stars in his eyes. His clothes were a palette of ebony and ivory, scarlet and emerald. "And the Dragon Witch could not handle the divine sword the Prince plunged into her!" the small boy effervesced. 

"Creativity?" Deceit whispered, disbelieving.

"Oh, she bleeds and screams!" the boy continued, deaf to Deceit's words, blind to his presence. "And our Queen is saved! She comes into our arms—now she can return to her King." The boy was wild and thrumming with energy, but there was a kindness and gentleness to him, as he held the hand of the Queen of his mind. He bowed kissed her hand in intrinsic royal manner, and she smiled gracefully. A carriage arrived, and he helped her climb aboard it. Once the carriage disappeared into the trees, he beamed, jumping eagerly, but then calming into royal maturity once more, all for the sake of the one-man play. "The faraway kingdom thanks us and celebrates her return, and our people cry out in our courtyard: 'Long live the King! Long live King Creativity!'"

Deceit watched on, his chest somehow in even more pain from the sight. "Thomas!" a distant voice called. "You have to eat, come down from your room." 

The lively boy dulled immediately, glancing at a new boy, with the same features, but different aura, wearing a simple, worn Pokémon shirt. The new boy startled, as if awoken from a dream. "Coming, mom!" Thomas replied. Deceit stood to his feet slowly, careful not to bring more pain to his already actively throbbing sternum, shuffled forward, reached out to touch Thomas. He was six, and his eyes were bright, there wasn't a care in the world in his features. Oh, how ignorant he was. Another light invaded in the distance, and he realized, in his lack of focus, Creativity and Thomas had faded to dust. The kind of dust that shone the brightest when the light hit it just right. But the cracks of the canopy closed up above him, leaving him in the shadows, and watching the dispersing of the leaves in the distance.

Now he saw Roman and Remus as he neared, his brows furrowed in confusion. They were newly torn apart, the latter pleading, the former hesitant. Roman was always reluctant for Remus' ideas, but too guilty to voice his discomfort. It was always the most uncharacteristic side of him, and it was always inspired by his brother. 

The others were there, including Virgil. Even himself. Deceit couldn't help but stare at that child, with heterochromatic eyes that buried everything under dull sarcasm even then, dressed in a black and yellow coat with a matching childish cape, looking like he dressed for Halloween. Small, harmless scales decorated the side of his face. There were no scars to speak of. The child before him, who seemed to share almost all attributes with his older counterpart, somehow seemed nervous, quiet, avoiding looking into Patton and Roman's eyes. Deceit didn't remember being so self-conscious. The few times he spoke up, Virgil would glare at him or stare at his scales fearfully; Roman would hesitantly say that it was better to imagine his ideas than carry them out; Logan would point out all the inconsistencies and consequences to deception; Patton always said it was just plain wrong. Deceit always held his head high, hissed, snapped, looked at them from his scales side just to spite them, whenever someone reacted accordingly to their spectrum of response of lies. Remus, though, always upgraded the plots of deception with even more disturbing, useless imagination. 

Those were the rare, ancient years, when they could all be in the same room, discussing what was best for Thomas, voting on and arguing for decisions, like pretending to be small politicians, though the tensions still ran high, and their host's problems seemed terrifying back then. Now Deceit wished he could deal with those inconveniences again. Deceit shook his head, never wanting to remain in the past for so long. It was dead and gone, it couldn't haunt him. He was always invincible.

"Duke, we need to study for a test," Virgil snapped, his patience already wearing thin. It was strange how a child could look so weary and stressed as Virgil, like his years were wasting away. "You don't want him flunking and repeating the year, do you?" 

"No," answered Roman for his brother, staring at Remus to try to convince him. "If we flunk the test, we won't get a chance to play. We don't wish to be grounded." It was even stranger when both siblings always spoke for both of them, as if they shared the same mind. Perhaps at that point, they almost did. 

All signs pointed to the fact that their disconnection was all but unnatural.

"But I just wanna know what it feels like to live without a head!" the fidgeting brother raved, smiling at Roman. His smile was...not real, but much more adorable. Deceit pushed the memory of Remus' grin, his sinister glower, the knife in his chest— 

He clutched his chest, snapping himself out of his thoughts with mere pain. "We're both curious, aren't we?" continued Remus, obviously oblivious to Deceit's invisible presence. 

"It's impossible, Duke," Logan countered, adjusting his tiny, smudged glasses. "That information—which isn't even real or possible, for we cannot live without our brain—won't be helpful to us. Especially when we have a test tomorrow morning." 

Younger Deceit sighed, exasperated. "You know, we're never going to learn anything at this point, and our grades don't even matter for our future right now—"

"Knowledge always matters, Deceit." Logan didn't need to look at him for that comment, already reading up a conjured book.

"We'll develop knowledge, by learning the answers on the actual test." Deceit rolled his eyes, his voice young yet frustrated, though it was masked enough that the others either didn't notice or merely ignored it.

"Are you saying we should cheat?" Patton asked, his face falling in reproach. "We shouldn't do that, Mom and Dad taught us better than that."

"Oh, and you're what?" Deceit snapped, unable to bottle up the bitterness any longer. "You're just exactly what your parents want! That's pathetic! You just want to be perfect so you won't be abandoned." He pouted along with his toxically sweet voice, and then gasped over-dramatically. Then he dropped all pretenses. "Stop lying to yourself and just let him cheat on the test already. The world isn't gonna end because of it."

Patton stared, hurt spreading across his shocked features.

Remus chortled in surprise, conjuring green and red popcorn, like this was a reality TV show. 

"Well…" Patton struggled in silence. But his eyes were aflame like never before. Deceit shrunk back, Virgil stared with wide eyes, and Remus was eating up the scandal. "Well, maybe you should ask yourself why Thomas always listens to me, why I never get in trouble, and why I have no actual threat of being abandoned, kiddo."

Present Deceit clutched his chest tighter, taking deep breaths, closing his eyes.

"Don't worry, Patton," Virgil muttered, glancing at Deceit's scales in pure disgruntlement, "he's just jealous."

Remus popped a popcorn into his mouth. Roman scrunched up his nose in disgust, wrenching the bag away.

"This is serious, Remus, achievements and fun are slipping away if we keep wasting time! Don't eat bloodcorn—our freedom is slipping from our hands."

"Indeed," agreed Logan. "And what even explains the verbal violence?"

"You guys are never any fun!" Remus waved at them dismissively, but an idea bloomed in his eyes. He then cupped his mouth with both hands, a mischievous glint in his eye. "Thomas!" he yelled. "You know you want to imagine yourself—" 

Deceit's younger self couldn't hide his panic and swiveled his hand into a fist. Remus slapped his hand onto his mouth, with wide eyes. "What are you doing?" Deceit hissed. "You know Thomas is too young to know about any of us." 

Remus groaned and whined, still muffled by his own palm. 

Thomas, who was rubbing his eyelids with his fists, snapped his head up at the vociferation of his name, looking around. "Dad?" he called, his voice confused. "Did you call me?" 

"No, kiddo! Maybe your brother?" a voice answered in the distance. 

"Okay..." Thomas stared at the far end of the unseen room, where they all stood, where Deceit himself stood, but the host's eyes were unseeing. Deceit watched the tense, young sides; Remus seething, Roman guilty, Patton torn, Logan resigned, Virgil breathing shallowly, and himself, youthful, childish, ungrateful, knuckles white from fisting his hands tightly—until second by second, they were all fading away. 

Deceit kept walking, stumbling over the roots of the giant trees, which were beginning to seem more sinister. The wind was picking up slightly, carrying dirt, dust, and even the occasional cinder. The roots curled unnaturally beneath him, too large, and some were even starting to rot. He rubbed his aching chest, feeling numbness in his fingers and legs. Perhaps it was the growing cold, or the fact that he hadn't slept in God knows how long, or the effect of the scene from minutes ago when they were all together, trying...something. 

Another light in the distance, and there, innocent Patton glanced disappointedly at Remus, but if Deceit looked closely, nearing the vision, he saw apprehension in his youthful features. "Now, now, kiddo, why would you say that?" His smile wasn't as bright as it usually was, which was a feat. Patton was the happiest child Deceit had ever seen in the entire world. 

"What do you mean?" Remus answered innocuously, his eyes wide with disturbing wonder. "It's interesting, no?" 

"Having...that, with a dog is..." Patton struggled for a sugarcoated word, but his features instinctively molded to revulsion. "...gross. And, it's wrong to think about that, so, just throw that thought away." Patton demonstrated by waving his hand, smiling encouragingly.

Remus was so perplexed Deceit winced. "Why?" 

"You heard him, Duke," Virgil interrupted, not guilty by showing how disgusted he was. "Just shut up. Never mention that again. Thomas doesn't need it, as Logan said. And if Thomas said it, everyone would hate us." 

"But just imagine how that would—" 

"Stop!" Virgil snapped, his anxiety kicking in full-force. Thomas covered his ears, whimpering. Remus and Virgil's palms immediately covered their mouths. Deceit's younger self looked ready to murder both of them. 

They faded away, and Deceit instantly heard a female voice tinged with disappointment. "Thomas, why did you draw this?" It was his mother, holding his book of imagination. The page she showed him was the only one in which Roman let his brother draw, so long as the others didn't know. It depicted Thomas, electrifying his brother.

"Tell him your brother drew it as a prank, Thomas," Deceit's child self hissed, and Thomas' eyes snapped to the far end again, but they quickly returned to his mother. 

"I thought it would be cool..." Thomas admitted, now looking at the floor. 

"No!" eight-year-old Deceit yelled, but Thomas shook his head. 

"You know this is wrong, Thomas," their host's mother reproached, shaking her head. "You're grounded for today to consider what you've done." She placed her hand on his shoulder when he slouched. "Imagine if that actually happened to your brother. Would you be happy with that?" Patton, Virgil, Roman, and Thomas whimpered simultaneously. Remus rolled his eyes, for he'd already imagined it before making Thomas draw it. Logan's face was riddled with the annoyance of how highly unlikely that was. Deceit's younger self merely glared at Thomas. His mother left the room, taking Thomas' book with her, and shut the door. 

"Alright, so brother, do you want to play—?" 

"You've gotta be kidding me, kiddo!" Patton exclaimed at Remus, gesturing harshly at Thomas and the door where the mother left. "You weren't bothered by that?" 

Remus shrugged, grinning widely. "She said it's wrong, but it's not like it'll actually happen." Virgil grunted in disagreement, eyes shadowed by his hair and hoodie, but his stiffened posture was telling enough. "What's there to be bothered about?"

"Brother," Roman began, flourishing his arms gently towards Remus, taking a short breath, "don't you think you're taking this too far?" 

Remus recoiled. And stared. "W-what?" 

"There seems to be no use for Thomas in the things he's imagining," pondered Logan, holding his chin with his hand. "All he's been doing is getting us in trouble." 

"Exactly," yelled Virgil to the ceiling, clearly frustrated. "So now you listen to me." 

"Thomas, what if you could travel in time to where zombies are devastating the world?!" Remus squealed, thrumming with anxiety. But his attempts at distraction were making Thomas shudder, staring unseeing, unblinkingly at where Remus should be. "Wouldn't that be fun?!" 

"Dad?" Thomas yelled, his voice quivering. Patton, for the first time in all their existence, was glaring at Remus, his disappointment merging with anger. His seething silence made everyone hunch into themselves. But Remus hid behind Roman to avoid the glare, peeking behind his shoulder. 

Thomas' father entered the room, smiling gently. "Yes, Thomas?" 

"Is it weird if I'm imagining...scary things?" Remus flinched at the word, clutching Roman's shoulders tighter, hiding further behind him. Roman glanced at his brother, hesitantly placing his hand over Remus'.

The older man hesitated. "What kinds of things, Thomas?" 

"Don't," threatened the juvenile Deceit. Patton was now glaring at him. He ignored it. "Keep it vague. It's for your own good, you're in enough trouble as it is." 

"I...I don't know," Thomas answered, uncertain. "I just...is it weird? Am I the only one thinking them? I mean, everyone in class looks at me weirdly when I accidentally say something that comes to my head." 

"Well, I think you should just speak to kids you trust, those who make you comfortable. They'll accept you, I'm sure." 

"But even those I like look at me like I'm crazy," Thomas whined, tears in his eyes threatening to spill. 

"Okay..." His father was clearly uncomfortable. "Well, son, these thoughts may come to you, but maybe all you gotta do is not voice them, or to ignore them and talk about something else." 

"Lie," both Deceits whispered. Both he and his past self knew; the latter sensing it, and the former remembering too clearly what Thomas decided to admit. "Please, don't say it." 

"Dad, I keep..." Tears were now slowly slipping from his eyes, dripping down his cheeks in deceptive peace. Virgil and Patton seemed equally scared, the latter now raptured on Thomas' words. Meanwhile, Virgil rubbed his arms quickly as he stared at Remus, then at Deceit. 

"I..." Thomas took a shaky breath. "I keep hearing voices. And they keep telling me to do things. Things I don't want to do." The father paled. He swallowed, but he placed his hand on Thomas' shoulder gently, the other on his son's cheek, wiping the tears away. 

"Was that a lie?" Patton queried, his wobbly smile uncertain. Young Deceit closed his eyes in resignation, shaking his head. 

"He shouldn't be able to listen to us," Virgil whimpered. He was shaking. "No kid is supposed to really listen to us, or—or their 'own' us—he—he shouldn't—" 

"Well then," the father started, but his eyes were fearful. "Maybe...that's just the devil. You know his job is to tell you lies, make you believe things that aren't true, and tell you to do things he wants. Just tell him to shut up, kiddo. You have power over him, just with your voice, and your will." Deceit had never known his younger self could look so haunted at those words, his features going slack as Thomas' father continued. "And he won't tempt you to do...scary stuff." Deceit told himself it was just a stupid strategy he used when he was an inexperienced liar, a manipulation technique to throw the others off. He didn't care what the world had to say about him. He never did.

Thomas sniffled. "Really?" 

The older, gentle man nodded. "Really." 

"You're actually believing this crap, Thomas?" youthful Deceit yelled disbelievingly. Thomas flinched, glanced at somewhere he obviously couldn't see.

"Christianity is not crap," Patton argued, hurt. "You think Thomas' parents are 'crap' for believing it, too?"

"Thomas!" Remus sang, dismissing everyone, eyes wild in panic. Roman cringed, moving away from Remus, pleading with his eyes. Remus payed him no heed. "Let's think of—" 

"Remus," warned Deceit, then turned back to Thomas. "Don't you dare believe your father. He's biased." 

"You are biased," responded Logan, raising his eyebrows. 

"Don't trust the voice that's telling you to lie," Virgil pleaded desperately to Thomas. 

"It's wrong!" Patton agreed. "Parents always know best." 

"No—" Deceit began. 

"Waterboard your father!" Remus raved, breaking off all who tried to speak at once. 

"Just shut up!" screamed Thomas. Everyone froze, then a palm abruptly covered each of their mouths. Deceit covered his own, nails digging into his skin. He looked so young there, so terrified of doing wrong by Thomas. 

He was so ignorant too. They all were.

They all faded away, the forest becoming darker and darker, rare and far-in-between ashes billowing through the branches, floating through the now blackened canopy. If he looked through the small clearings, there, in the horizon, a red and black storm raged in the distance, where all the ashes violently blew in all directions. Its wind and darkness reached where Deceit stood, making him shiver, and his chest flare in even more pain. Even the sun seemed dim and lifeless in the distance, from this vantage point. The sky was blue, but the clear, light color didn't seem real, or even there.

Remus, his frame silhouetted even in the now artificial light, hid behind a wall, eavesdropping as Patton spoke to the younger Deceit. Deceit remembered this one all too clearly. Twenty-two years ago.

"Kiddo, you gotta do what Thomas wants," Patton commented, arms akimbo, though he didn't look too sure himself. "If everyone says the same thing, then it must be true."

"I know," Deceit sighed.

"You're good at hiding things. It's your job, so maybe keep the Duke in check? I'm sure you can figure it all out. And," he added, raising his hand with his index finger outstretched, "if you and Virgil don't give Thomas too much stress, you can stay."

The young Deceit widened his eyes, his lips twitching with hope. "Really?"

"You fool," the older Deceit whispered, shaking his head. How could he have been so gullible?

"Yeah, really," Patton answered, giggling a bit too forcedly. "Just remember Thomas matters most, kiddo."

"Of course, I'll always remember that," the child promised, nodding enthusiastically. Deceit remembered vaguely how joyful he felt. But his eyes trailed to Remus, whose forehead fell limp against the wall, eyes wide in disbelief. "I'll deal with the Duke."

"Thanks, kiddo. Thomas is gonna be very grateful, I promise." Patton smiled, its shine back, watching as Deceit walked away.

They faded away, but their disappearing voices still resounded in the echoes of the wind, the rustle of the trees, the cry of the storm. They faded and returned, flowing in the surroundings, beleaguering his thoughts as if they were his own.

What are you gonna do to me?

Nothing. I promise. I lied.

Roman won't let you, you...know. Together, we're unstoppable!

I'm sure you are...

Remus, do you want to play...hide and seek?

Why of course! I'll get—

No, it'll be just...

The voices were gone.

Deceit reached the end of the forest.

Because the trees were collapsed, rotten, lifeless. The sky was tainted crimson, inked black, the storm right before him raging, scarlet lightning flashing in the towering ebony clouds. The wind pushed against him, ruffled his hair and clothes violently. He felt inky droplets on his face and arms. And cinders burned through, flying like a tornado themselves. 

Deceit knew he needed to keep walking.

Remus was counting in the red light, fidgeting in his excitement to finally play. So very young. So damn ignorant. "One, two—a hundred! I'm hunting you!" He tore through rooms, unbothered by the fact that he was seeking in the Dark Mindscape. The disembodied voices returned, louder than the crying winds and the crack of thunder.

It's fun hiding in the dark, isn't it?

Finally, someone gets me! Not even brother dearest does anymore!

Remus giggled to himself, searching around, and gasped softly when he saw a bolted, heavy, metal door. His face fell into dark mischief. He flung the door open, the rusty metal screeching. "Are you here, Deceit?" It was an almost mocking question. He entered the small room, deeper within, never disturbed. 

And the youthful guilty, treacherous, traitorous Deceit slipped out silently, like a snake. And crashed the door shut behind him, breathing shallowly, his hands pushing the door back. Though there was no resistance.

Remus still found this a game.

"How cunning, Dee!" Remus yelled, muffled. "It's my turn to count again, since I'm sure you reached the safe zone already." A beat of silence. Deceit, young as he seemed, still breathed shallowly, frozen in place. But he tried to keep his expression cold.

"How moronic, Remus," he mocked with stale, artificial sympathy. "You really thought Thomas wanted you to play whenever you wanted. You'll take Virgil's and my place away if you continue, and you know it."

"Dee?" Remus' voice was now wavering, stuck between giggling and yelping in shock. "Very—very funny—"

"You belong here. It's what Thomas wants. He gave me no choice."

Deceit covered his face, ignoring the screaming of his chest. He took a ragged breath. He did this. Oh, what a great liar he was. Placing the blame so perfectly. A child leaving a child in torture.

"Dee!" Now, desperation came clear through the vague distance of Remus' voice. "Let me out, you promised to play. You promised you—you wouldn't hurt me!"

Deceit couldn't choke back a sob. He was in the eye of the storm, nothing in sight but darkness and crimson, and the faded frame of his younger self; nothing to be felt but ashes and the bitter winds, leaving him numb. He barely felt the couple tears that escaped his eyes. Now past and present mirrored each other.

The child couldn't control his heavy breathing, desperately wiping the few stray tears from his cheeks, his eyes fighting their haunted horror as he listened to Remus kick and plead and scream and curse him. The older Deceit tiredly closed his eyes, covering his ears.

And just like that, Deceit opened his eyes, to see Remus' features inches from his, staring in pure exhaustion. Remus smirked in satisfaction. "Thought that would wake you up."

Deceit gasped for breath, the pain of his chest coming back full-force. He pushed his hand down the whining sternum, and sat up, biting his tongue against the scream of pain ripping through his throat. He was sitting in something soft—a bed. He realized there was pure silence here, and though it was too dark, the crimson lightning and the dark clouds were gone. No light shone and there weren't any younger sides. Eight-year-old Remus wasn't screaming to be freed anymore. "H-how long...?" The words died on Deceit's tongue when he finally looked back at Remus.

"Seventy-five hours," Remus replied easily, staring now at his fidgeting fingers.

"Did—did you—?"

"Yes, isn't it nice to remember the good old days, before everything went to shit? You should've walked in my mind far too long ago." Remus was too subdued. The calm before the storm, Deceit feared. "Perhaps you'll think twice before throwing those words to control me after twenty-two years of just that."

"Remus—" Deceit tried, but shriveled under Remus' immediate invasion of personal space, inches from him again.

"Oh no, don't you Remus me," he mocked, that same artificial sweetness Deceit had used on him so long ago. "You had it coming."

He did. He really did.

But at the silence, Remus crumbled so fast Deceit winced. The storm was supposed to be a blind rage, not a breakdown. But Remus collapsed over him now, embraced him, sobbing into the crook of his neck, holding him and gasping like there was no tomorrow.

"I was s-scary, Dee," he wept, breath hitching. "I lost c-control, I don't know h-how—I'm sorry, I'm s-so sorry—"

Tears were sliding down his own cheeks now.

Remus was always so damn moronic.

He pushed Remus away forcefully, finally breathing once the weight was gone from his chest, wiping his tears furiously. "I had it coming," he spat venomously. "So don't you dare do this. Don't think we're close, o-or that we're fucking friends—we're not."

Remus glared through his tears, shaking his head in disbelief. He sobbed quietly, hugging himself. "You're un-fucking-believable," he hissed. The storm was picking up again. Red lightning flashed across the dark room, lighting it up, reflecting on swords, knives, maces, and halberds that levitated in the air. The weapons were beginning to move, taking aim at Deceit.

With a start, he realized he'd slept in Remus' room. He'd slept in Remus' room for three days.

He felt like reality was slipping already, his mind chaotic.

Remus slapped him with the force of a truck, sending Deceit toppling to the floor.

"So it was all a lie?!" Remus screeched, the demonic screech of the storm echoing. "All your shitty display, chucking your dignity out the window, all so you could play with me again?!"

A sword flew from its position in the air, tearing straight through Deceit's collarbone, trapping him against the wall. He couldn't gasp in time, couldn't keep from screaming in agony when it abruptly twisted, breaking the bone. 

"What the hell are you doing?"

Deceit froze, then laughed, all too hysterically. So this is what Remus went through when he hallucinated his brother.

Remus himself stopped short, rage directed at the intruder, but then it evaporated into stupefaction. "Virgil?" he whispered.

Deceit shook his head, unable to rein in his cackling as the agony increased. He isn't there, idiot.

But Virgil's panicked eyes were now before him, as he kneeled inches away from him, stopping himself from reaching out, and gagged at the sight of the sword lodged in his skin and bone. "So this is why Thomas has been a mess?" he mumbled to himself, shocked. He raised his voice, boring his eyes into Deceit's. "You really lost control of him, didn't you?"

Deceit glared, grimacing in pain. But a giggle tore from him.

Virgil turned to Remus, the side of his face visible from this position. It wasn't pale as he stared at the seething, twitching side. "Stop it, Remus." The pain of the past, the bitterness of trauma, somehow left no space for fear in his features, in his voice. Virgil seemed so strong, commanding the uncontrollable force. 

Remus glowered, his eyes flashing in hatred, but Virgil didn't seem to budge. Then the visage of loathing cracked, revealing what Deceit buried deep, deep down. "You miss the old times, don't you?" he mumbled at the unexpected visitor. The sword disappeared, and Deceit collapsed forward. Into Virgil's arms. How stupid to look like this before Virgil. Was this Remus' game? To torture him? Make him vulnerable and pathetic, trusting, before the traitor?

Virgil hushed him gently, rubbing his back, steering clear of the wound, somehow reading his thoughts. "I'm bringing both of you to Thomas. You're out of control, and it really fucking shows."

Deceit, stiff in Virgil's arms, finally fell limp.

Of course, Thomas wanted to see him at the best, most prepared, absolutely perfect day for him.

 


An assortment of heavy gasps and stares were thrown all around. Thomas himself seemed about to be sick as he stared at Deceit's gaping wound. He didn't bother to heal it, nor let Virgil treat it either. It would fade eventually, but few seemed aware of that at the moment.

Deceit sighed, squinting against the sudden brightness, feeling perspiration breaking out on his skin from the heat already. Great. This was just what they all needed.

Everybody except the three newcomers gaped at the gaping laceration, and Deceit merely covered it with his cape, scoffing. "What did you need, Thomas? I never thought I'd see the day when both of us would be summoned."

He actually obsessed over that day, or at least the day in which they'd be looked at like they'd looked at him when he pretended to be honest. But he knew it'd never come true.

"I think you know full-well why you're here," deadpanned Thomas. He looked awful, like he hadn't slept well in a long time.

"Roman's been thinking pretty awful things for a while," Virgil explained, looking at Remus pointedly.

Remus scoffed. "Oh, so creative freedom on anyone who isn't me, is my fault." He grinned, spreading his arms widely. "You have no idea how fun it is, though."

"It isn't," spat Roman. He looked awful, like death warmed over.

Logan adjusted his glasses, sighing. "You still have a strange connection, like those clichés of twins sharing sensations or premonitions. It's like you haven't fully separated. But if balance is lacking, one or the other suffers." He gestured towards Remus, single eyebrow raised. "Therefore, if you could cease from taking power over Roman, it would be...appreciated."

Remus had that terrifying glint in his eyes again. "Sure! Since everyone wants everything to go back to the way it was..." He glanced at Deceit with that glint. The latter gulped.

"Brother," sighed Roman, apprehensive of whatever would unfold, "I don't know why it's so difficult for you to just let me breathe. Don't you know..." He waved semi-wildly, his grace all but gone, "...this is for the good of Thomas?"

Patton, who's been silent until now, cleared his throat, clearly disturbed at everything that unfolded. "Dee, kiddo, can you tell me why you...unleashed Remus the way you did?"

Deceit was invincible to that look of disappointment. And they couldn't handle the whole truth, especially with Thomas in this state. He said the best for everyone. "Thomas couldn't keep lying to himself or hiding every side of himself. Our host shouldn't be ignorant."

Though he was leaving them ignorant as to the situation right now.

Virgil glared with suspicion at Deceit, which was tragically becoming the norm. It was almost better to not see him at all. "Can you tell me why the hell you two were playing murder just now?"

Remus brightened considerably, though his eyes held a tinge of darkness. "It was an enlightening conversation, mind you!"

"Okay..." Thomas cut in, holding his arms up and glaring at Remus much like Virgil was. "Just tell me what changed. Even when you first visited, I didn't feel...like this."

"I thought Logan said it was our fault that day," Patton gently said, seeming guilty.

"Yes, that was established, but a new dilemma seems to be causing...this," Logan informed, quizzically eyeing both Remus and Deceit.

This was not how he imagined being looked at, when they were all finally together again.

A flash of them as children intruded his sight. Back when they were young, and uncomfortable, yet trying.

What were they trying so hard to do?

Patton sighed. "Well, I think you see now, Deceit, that your plan didn't...work out so well. So, can you, um..." He trailed off, and raised his arms awkwardly, vainly trying to lighten up the thick atmosphere, "...reverse it?"

"No!" Remus screeched, voice completely demonic, his eyes narrowed into slits. "You won't reverse anything!"

Virgil flinched for the first time in Remus' presence in two years—as far as Deceit knew—his fear renewed.

Patton held his hands up placatingly. "Now now, Remus, I don't know what was done, but you gotta know that Thomas is the priority here. He hasn't slept, he's more stressed than usual—"

"His friends are suspicious and will probably think he's going insane," Virgil interrupted venomously, hugging his arms tightly.

"And Remus, kiddo, we've all made mistakes before, that hurt Thomas," Patton continued, eyes slightly sympathetic, but he was still innocent. "And we all had to learn to sacrifice something for his own good." 

Of course Patton didn't know what Deceit had done.

"I'm sure we can reach a compromise, Remus, one that is beneficial to everybody," Logan agreed.

"And please, cease the torture," Roman dramatically pleaded, almost praying to the ceiling.

Remus glanced at Deceit in fear. Only Virgil seemed to notice, glancing uncertainly at him, then at Deceit.

Struggling with the truth, now, are you, Virgil?

"Well?" urged Thomas impatiently.

"I..." What should he say? The urge to just do as Thomas said was so tempting, but his chest constricted. He convinced himself it was just the pain. The truth was alluring, but fading from his sight. Was it better to just lock Remus back up? For Thomas? And then...would it be better if his only job were warden of the insane, hiding himself from Thomas?

It worked so far, didn't it? He merely became selfish, bit off more than he could chew, and paid for it. Thomas paid for it.

"I'll deal with the Duke," he said numbly, feeling the echoes of lack of breath, of his throat closing up, of his heart pounding.

He felt like a weak, stupid child again, guilty to do what was right.

"No. No no no no no no, Dee, come on." Remus was downright horrified, all rage and darkness gone, and there remained the child in those eyes, chuckling in denial, his eyes as haunted as the day that Deceit decided he couldn't take it anymore.

And deep, deep down...he couldn't take it anymore.

Just wait, and see

Just sit, and breathe

Your life's unimportant

Your ego's distorted

Just let what is, be

Deceit shuddered, and everyone stared back, confused, except for Remus' horror, Virgil's growing guilt.

But Deceit didn't care. This was best for Thomas.

No, it wasn't.

Delusions of control, how's the wool feel?

Pre-decision doesn't mean that this is not real

Why throw away what you've been given just to spite it?

What will be, will be

"Deceit," Logan tested, brows furrowed, "can you answer honestly how you're faring?"

"What's on your mind, kiddo?" Patton asked, anxiety in his eyes.

He didn't care, he didn't care, nobody here cared, Thomas was the priority, this was the right thing to do.

It was, it was.

"Deceit!" Roman snapped, eyes flaming. "You did this, you ruined everything, what harm is there for you to fix it?"

Remus jerked like a machine malfunctioning, murderous glare set on Roman. Deceit knew the lighter Creativity had seconds before he'd be attacked.

Virgil's eyes snapped between Remus and Deceit, guilty. He took a deep breath. "Just...think of Thomas, Deceit. I know the choice sucks, but..." Virgil looked away, perplexed himself.

Children of the world, dream in peace

The fourth will watch over you

Sleep and you'll know the truth

"No!" Remus screeched, crossed through the room in seconds, suddenly gripping Virgil's hair violently, slamming his head against the wall before Virgil could inhale to scream. Remus slammed his head with every word that he roared. "You. Fucking. Traitor. Hypocrite. Coward." 

Roman tackled him to the floor and remained on top of him, holding him down as the other clawed Roman's arms desperately. Both trembled violently, but Remus soon crumbled under him, sobbing. Roman was whimpering along, tears dripping onto his brother's pale features.

Logan ran to Virgil, cradling him and assessing for injuries. Virgil was unconscious, bleeding profusely. Logan seemed at a loss for what to do.

Patton was covering his mouth, frozen in place, tears streaming as he gasped for breath.

Thomas was shell-shocked, watching Remus, who began convulsing.

Deceit felt like he wasn't even here.

He was so numb, like there was nothing within him. As if he were wading through honey.

Patton was suddenly before him. "Hey, h-hey, you alright?" Patton couldn't smile, though he tried. "Hey, it's okay, Lo will f-figure out what to do." He turned to look at Logan, who held Virgil against his chest, like he was as fragile as glass. "R-right, Lo?"

Logan looked on helplessly.

He wasn't here, he wasn't here, he didn't care, he didn't care this wasn't real this wasn't real—

"Lo!" Deceit heard everything from so far away, his vision tunneling, blurring. Time was so slow. His head was wrapped in cotton. "Help him...going into shock!"

He was merely a watcher, like when he watched them as children. He couldn't act, couldn't change a thing. He was a watcher as Patton now kneeled before Virgil, and Logan stood before himself.

He couldn't feel his shoulders, nor when Logan placed his hands on them.

"I'm going...need you...answer some... What is your name?" 

He blinked. He couldn't answer. He was physically unable to. This wasn't real. He was just watching.

"Your...our name is Deceit. Deceit, can you hear me...? ...eed you to take...deep breaths." 

He wasn't breathing. He didn't need to.

He was apparently shaken, for the world shifted and tilted violently, and he shut his eyes. His ears were ringing.

"Deceit, open your eyes." There was silence until he did so. He saw too many bright colors and the wide irises of Logan's before him. His gaze traveled back to Virgil, breathing shallowly. "Look at me, only at me. Focus on nothing else. Do you feel my hands? They're on your shoulders." Another pause, but Deceit was speechless. "What do you feel, Deceit?"

His mouth opened and closed. His vision blurred even more. "Nothing," he choked out.

Why are you focusing on me? Why do you act like you care about me?

Logan's blurry, artificial-looking eyes seemed a fraction more concerned. "You are going to be alright. You're merely suffering from an episode of depersonalization or derealization. It'll come to an end. Repeat your name back to me."

Remus and Virgil always suffered more than me. I'm fine.

"Repeat your name back to me," Logan repeated, patient.

"D...D-Deceit."

Logan nodded, his lips twitching in relief. But Deceit could barely comprehend the emotion. There was a wall between them.

Children of the world, dream in peace

Here, rebuild in solitude

Under Denver calling you

"Yes, Deceit, focus on me, but also the fact that you breathed to say your name. You're here, with me. Take a deep breath, alright?"

He complied, following Logan's demonstration, but it was choppier and hitched compared to the other man's. 

Logan nodded again. "Good, keep breathing." They both breathed deeply, one calm and the other dull. "What do you feel, Deceit, as you breath?"

He sensed himself shudder. "My ch-chest hurts...it..." He sighed sharply, the feeling eluding him. 

"Take your time, Deceit."

"It fills too much, and it hurts. Like air d-doesn't...doesn't belong there."

"Okay. No matter how much it hurts, don't dismiss that sensation, for it'll worsen otherwise. Feel it for what it is right now, and accept it, as objectively as you can."

Deceit breathed again, fighting off his yelps of stabbing pain. He thought the wound would fade by now, after seventy-five hours. It shouldn't be real, after all—the knife was conjured, like the sword that stabbed him afterwards. So why—?

"I know what you're thinking." Logan's stare bored into Deceit's gaze so profoundly, verging on empathy. "Don't think of what's supposed to be, but what is. And you'll see that everything will be alright."

Deceit nodded numbly, attempting to breathe deeply once more.

"What else are you feeling, Deceit?"

"I..." he breathed, at a loss for words. "It's like I'm...underwater."

Logan hummed noncommittally. "Elaborate."

"It's d-difficult to move, and—and I can't hear well. You look strange."

"Can you feel something in your shoulders, despite that sensation?" 

"Why?" Deceit hissed, shaking his head in disbelief. "Why do you even bother? Thomas is the priority—Virgil is unconscious, Remus is..." He stared at said side, who twitched madly and shuddered like a glitching code under Roman's weakening hold.

Logan sighed. "I know, but Thomas can't...he's in shock, and in a state where I can't think of a solution for that. Right now, you're the priority. Thomas shouldn't be in this state because of your own state, but he is. Both of you are in denial."

Deceit shook his head, weakly escaping Logan's gentle grip. "Heal Virgil."

Patton covered his face with his hands, shaking.

Logan closed his eyes. "Thomas, this isn't real," he called to the host. Thomas didn't react. 

"Feels real to me," mumbled Patton behind his palms, gasping. Then he lowered his hands, holding Virgil's tightly. The left side of Virgil's face was crushed into a bloodied pulp, the other side black and purple, with scarlet streaks dribbling down his right temple, his chin, his jaw.

Roman still held Remus down, looking at Logan in despair. 

"Deceit," Logan began, eyes lost, "you're causing this."

"I'm not. I'm fine."

"Which is exactly what's leaving Thomas in a crisis." He was staring emotionlessly, reticently, as if Deceit would attack him any second. "Deceit, you are in denial; stop silencing me."

"I am not silencing you."

"Stop lying!" All who were awake flinched at Logan's yell. He took a deep breath, massaging his temples. He closed his eyes, but the impartiality was gone when they opened, replaced with pain. "You are either the problem or the solution, leaving me useless or functional, depending on what you choose to be. This is your decision."

"What happened?" Roman begged, ceasing his hold on Remus. He's been limp for a while. "I don't remember him...either of you like this."

Patton asked the same with his eyes.

Deceit merely stared back.

Why is the truth so painful?

"How old is your host?" Logan unexpectedly queried.

The memory of eight-year-old Thomas flashed in Deceit's vision. He tried to gulp, but his throat was dry. "Th-thirty."

"Where have we lived our whole lives?"

"...Florida."

"What is your purpose?"

Deceit clenched his eyes shut, hit with a wave of emptiness. That wretched question.

There's no use for you, asshole.

Kiddo, maybe you should, just stick to taking care of Remus. It's useful, I swear!

Pretending is merely for art, not for dishonorable deeds such as yours.

Maybe I shouldn't have chosen to know about you. Everything was fine until you showed up, you and the Duke.

"I have no purpose." Deceit opened his eyes again, wondering whether his memories were trustworthy. Of course they were. He merely felt disconnected, unreal.

Logan's eyes widened and he opened his mouth to speak.

"What did you do to Remus when I asked you to deal with him? All those years ago?" Patton already had frightened eyes. He held on to Virgil like a lifeline. "What did you do to cause all this?"

"Patton—"

Everything faded away as Deceit wheezed, unable to catch air, stuck in time. He felt small and weak again, his back and palms pushing against the heavy, freezing door, flinching at the kicks, punches, pleads, curses, threats, screams. He was breathless and helpless again, unable to ward off the tears, back in the dark and the cold, coughing on the ashes, not sobbing, convincing himself it was the right decision, that it would give him a voice, a choice, a chance.

Foolish, foolish, foolish—

A sob tore through him, but his hand snapped to cover his mouth, muffling his breaths. He choked back the following sobs that threatened to burst out.

"I didn't mean to hurt him," whimpered a far, far voice. "I swear I don't know what's going on."

I'm sorry.

"Patton, you must know something."

"I don't! He never told me how, just that he'd deal with him!"

I'm sorry.

"And you never questioned how he did it?! My brother hasn't been seen for decades, and you never knew—?"

"I'm sorry," he breathed, strained.

He felt a physical second skin over his own, like a machine's costume covering the terrifying endoskeleton, but there were hands over his arms, holding his chin, moving his head gently. Deceit faintly realized he'd collapsed.

"I'm sorry, too," the far voice whispered.

"Deceit, I need you to breathe once more. Can you do that?" 

The silhouette of Logan was before him, but Deceit felt blind. He gasped for breath, hearing Remus' neverending screeches the first night he tried to sleep. He couldn't, trembling under the covers, covering his ears, whispering to himself it was right.

His eyes were opened against his will, a light shining on them. "He's still conscious, but next time, you don't interrogate him when he's not recovered from a psychological episode."

"My brother just broke down like china, and all that seemed to cause it was Deceit accepting to 'dealing' with him minutes ago. Aren't you curious?!"

"Roman, I need your silence. Deceit—"

"Lo, please..." Deceit struggled to open his eyes, squinting at the blaring light over him. Patton seemed absolutely drained, his voice thick and broken. "I know you're trying to solve this, but..." He took a small, trembling breath. "Truth is so hazy right now," he sobbed. "Don't you feel the same way?"

Logan merely trembled, staring at the floor. It was answer enough.

"Thomas. Hey, Thomas." Patton didn't even try to smile when his host finally looked at him. "Call Joan."

Deceit's throat constricted.

"Tell them to come as soon as possible. They'll understand, they'll come quickly, and they'll...help us find the way, pave the path. Just call them, Thomas."

Thomas blinked slowly, analyzing Patton's words like Morse code. Then, he nodded slowly. "Okay..." He took out his phone lethargically, with trembling hands. No anxiety pushed him forward, brought alertness or focus to the situation. No hope or dream seemed to brighten him a small amount, nor a stable, logical comfort. He was just numb. And holding back his tears. He pulled his phone on his ear, waiting in silence, hugging himself with his free arm. He took a breath. "Hello? Hey, Joan..." His voice was monotone, like a doll running out of battery.

Deceit felt like a critic, dissecting and scrutinizing what unfolded before him like a film. It wasn't real.

"Yeah, I'm good, just tired. Wanted to check up on you."

Patton glanced at Deceit, wearily shaking his head. Deceit curled up against the wall he was propped against.

"Actually...I'm not feeling so hot, Joan." Thomas rubbed his face wearily. "I'm sorry for bothering you with this, but would it be too much trouble for you to come by? As soon as you're available, of course."

Deceit frowned vacantly. Thomas sounded slightly anxious. He couldn't understand why.

"Thanks." Thomas hung up, collapsing on the couch immediately after standing in shock for too long, a fraction of relief in his empty eyes. "They said they're on their way in five minutes."

Patton nodded, but didn't comment. He just sat there, staring at the wall, clutching his heart. Logan vainly fisted his trembling hands, taking measured breaths, more and more terrified by his lack of answers. Roman now held a limp Virgil in an embrace, eyes shut, features impassive. Remus merely curled up on himself, into a small ball, like he always did in his cell. 

Forever seemed to have passed, but then there were knocks at the door. Thomas opened the door and welcomed Joan, but didn't speak of much else.

"What's up?" Joan asked hesitantly once they were both seated on the couch, after indefinite silence. "You don't look good at all."

Thomas wouldn't make eye contact with Joan; he stared at the floor. "I...I don't know."

Logan got even closer to Deceit than earlier, sat beside him, hand firmly on his arm. "Deceit," he whispered, seeming so vulnerable now, "just let go."

Deceit felt everything hidden and closed up within him. He didn't know what was in his head, what was the truth, but no matter what, the idea of letting go seemed impossible.

"I know how it feels," Logan continued. "I know how terrifying it is to feel out of control, undignified; the truth is something everyone idolizes yet never shows. But just let go. Just let go."

New tears slid down Deceit's cheeks, and sobs ripped out of his throat, inconsolable. He didn't want to let go, but instead of sinking, he felt a new freedom on his chest as soon as he lost control of it all.

Thomas broke down the same way, buried in the comfort of Joan, in their embrace.

 


"Start from the beginning," Logan encouraged, exhausted but calm as he usually was. "Tell us the truth. What was done to Remus?"

Deceit couldn't say. His answers and truths kept mixing up. Joan definitely helped, but it seemed everything was all one big lie caused by him, and everyone fell for it. Even himself.

"I simply gave him an Imagination to play with in the Dark Mindscape," Deceit easily said, unblinking.

Remus embraced himself in the corner, muscles spasming, loathing eyes glued to Deceit.

"Please don't lie," Virgil mumbled, peeling skin away mindlessly with his nails. He trembled as well, his face still bruised and wounded, but something seemed to have awakened in his eyes after waking from his short injury-induced coma—something that mirrored Deceit's eyes when he could see himself in the mirror, and even Patton's eyes. But compared to Patton's innocence, Virgil's irises were so much more haunted.

The three darker sides remained in their silence, too burdened with the truth. 

Patton and Logan sighed simultaneously, while Roman groaned loudly. "Why can't you answer a simple question?!" Roman shouted dramatically.

"It's not simple at all!" the three yelled back with varying degrees of rage. But they were all too weary to continue fighting, and returned to their silence once more.

"Kiddos," Patton began, placing a placating hand on Roman's stiff shoulder. "I know this is hard on you, but please. Thomas needs the truth. We all do. And we can't help you without it."

Logan nodded. "No solution can be attempted when the problem isn't even known. And, frankly, this problem has reached unspeakable levels I didn't expect to ever reach. Therefore, if you will, one of you can speak."

"Remus has always been like this, you wanted him gone, I made sure you'd never see him again. What more do you want?" Deceit snapped.

Logan agitatedly adjusted his glasses, breathing deeply. "You didn't inform how you got rid of him, presented a falsehood that Remus was unstable to the point of repeated murder attempts from the very beginning, and you omitted the reason why you let Thomas see Remus again after all these years."

Virgil drew blood in his palms, but didn't react. "Look, guys, we did horrible stuff, but we did it for the good of Thomas... Or...what we thought was for the good of Thomas."

"Did Dee convince you of that?" queried Patton, concerned, staring at Virgil's fidgeting hands.

Virgil hesitated. Then shrugged. Then shook his head. "I don't know."

Remus gleefully and numbly grinned at the ceiling, almost unaware of the conversation. "Do you guys think that angels get tortured for deciding to become demons? Thinking they could have a better life in Hell, and falling into their own trap?"

Deceit and Virgil shuddered. Remus' grin faltered as well, for the accidental metaphor reached them all.

"Brother..." Roman tried to appear strong and indifferent, but his eyes shone with tears, his features were riddled with pain. He could barely make eye contact, but he seemed to make an uncanny effort to keep it to continue speaking. "What happened to you? You...you weren't like this. Sure, you exceeded me with energy and lack of focus, and obviously disturbing thoughts, but..." Roman shook his head, questioning Deceit with his eyes, then Remus. "Please, stop hiding from me and—" He began crumbling as well. "And stop pretending I'm perfect and worthy, or something to be jealous for, and reason enough to hide the ugly truth from me..." He swatted away his tears, but his terror wouldn't leave. "Aren't we brothers?"

Remus burst into hysterical laughter, as if he'd heard that Roman was once an elephant, suspicious tears immediately sliding down his cheeks, and immediately everything became dark, freezing, filled with ashes—but everything reverted to normalcy as quickly as snapping one's fingers.

Every Light Side shivered profusely, perplexed with the sudden horrific surroundings, unaccustomed to the freezing temperatures the other three lived in all their lives. Virgil barely reacted, behaving like it was still his home.

Remus laughed through his tears again, but now the laughter was poisoned with bitterness. "Come to my room, and you'll see."

His room, filled with dust and vacancy, darkness, the ceasing of time, storms and weapons. His room, that left Deceit off-kilter even days after leaving it. Sleeping in Remus' room for seventy-five hours was no good. And he wouldn't ever let the others be brought there.

"Just...just tell us the truth, Remus," Roman argued vaguely, lacking his usual strength and valor. "This isn't the time to play."

Remus languidly shook his head, curling tighter into himself. "I'm not inviting you to play." 

Flashes of blood, broken bones; reversed, glitching echoes of screams— 

"Truth cannot be revealed like that, brother," Remus continued, his face ghostly, a spectre of an empty smile twisting his pale lips. "Words do not exist to describe them, the...things my mind has done, in...the darkness." Remus really was struggling with words, eyes tinged in perplexity themselves. "We're not capable of connection, not like an eternity ago, and you won't ever wrap your head around it, not like this." In the blink of an eye, both brothers were inches away, Remus smiling through his tears while Roman balked, still wiping his own away. "Are you really prepared for that? For realizing that no matter how much you and Daddy Dearest hold on to the past, I evolved, far worse than you could stomach?"

Roman was silent. But before Remus could swivel away in satisfaction, he grabbed the other's arm, and nodded, determination shining in his eye.

"The fact that you're my brother hasn't changed, no matter how much you have transformed. But you're capable of telling the truth. I know you are. I hide everything—you—you don't."

Remus grinned harshly, laughing with a cruelty Deceit had never thought he'd hear. "Oh brother. I'm not the problem here. You simply lack imagination." Remus now gripped Roman's arm tightly, pulling him with him. "So come to my room—and don't lose your shit—I've only been in there for four days total after we've last seen each other, twenty-two years ago."

Roman's brows furrowed in confusion, and he glanced worriedly at Logan and Patton, who merely mirrored the expression. Logan stepped forward, nudging Patton to follow without glancing at him.

Deceit glanced at Virgil, who was now as wound up as a bowstring, breathing shallowly, watching vacantly as Remus tugged Roman along, beginning to sink, but glaring when Roman hesitated.

"Whatever comes now," Roman began, his gaze so earnest, pulling Remus to his level with the same strength he was pulled down with, "I will do my best to trust your truth. Please, do not deceive me. And remember, that…" Roman took a heavy, trembling breath, like he was trying to stay afloat in an eternal sea. "I missed you. And I'm so sorry I never even looked for you all these—" His breath hitched, hunching into himself, but he fearfully glanced up at Remus.

Who stared back as if he'd seen a ghost.

Roman sobbed quietly, placing his hands on Remus' shoulders and squeezing them. He spoke like his time was running out, like he couldn't waste his breath before death anymore. "I'm aware that apologies aren't enough and that you're doubting their credibility, but please mark my words, that I always knew I wasn't worthy of anything because I allowed you to be left behind." He did run out of breath, for he fell limp into Remus' frozen arms, hiding his face in the crook of his next, and sobbed, and sobbed and sobbed.

Deceit felt like he had blood on his hands. He'd murdered a brotherhood. He'd murdered the innocence of not one, but two children with stars in their eyes.

He didn't feel any remorse for that.

Remus attempted to grin, seemed to try his hardest to conjure bitterness or hatred, but in the end shut his eyes tightly and held Roman as close as he could, smelling his brother's hair, dissolving into his own uncontrollable sobs.

They were nothing like the sobs of guilt when the knowledge of harming Deceit the way he did dawned on him.

Nor like the sobs of terror and delirium in his cell.

Nor like the sobs of overwhelming sensations and stimuli he hadn't felt or sensed since he was merely a child.

Nor like the sobs coming from the thought that he'd be imprisoned again.

These were the sobs of a child, holding on to another child's broken weeping, finally baring what they've stunted and buried all this time.

Virgil grimaced and began devouring his nails. Deceit knew that was a really bad sign. A habit that only showed itself under immense emotional turmoil—and more importantly, under that unbearable guilt and confusion that came to him whenever he saw Remus weep in that cell, during those days that Deceit begged manipulated him to visit.

But Virgil still didn't know Remus' tears like Deceit did.

Logan and Patton watched both siblings sob, holding each other as if they were each other's lifeline. Patton shed tears expressionlessly. Logan's hands twitched, and he crossed his arms to conceal it, but his eyes were thoroughly concerned.

How funny. Nobody else was used to Remus' tears.

He never could get used to them either.

But this truthfulness and vulnerability he only showcased in mania and panic and meltdowns were nothing so...gorgeous and tragic, and... honest, as right now.

And that made him sink out, forgetting all plans to stop them from reaching Remus' room. 

When he reached his room, no reinforced thoughts that he didn't care or that he still did the right thing could stop him from throwing up.

 


 

"Dee."

Deceit startled. He'd thought there was nobody in his room, but even worse, it wasn't Remus' voice that hesitantly called for him.

Deceit slowly turned, seeing Virgil leaning on the doorway of his room, lingering, never in and never out. It was always how he approached Deceit and Remus in those confusing days, when Deceit asked himself who Virgil thought he was, when he remained more with the Light Sides than in his own home.

"Yes?" Deceit responded, nailing nonchalance perfectly, though in truth he didn't feel calm with Virgil here. He could tell the other wasn't either.

Virgil played and rubbed with his hands, tearing and flaking dry skin without a thought. He broke eye contact, staring around the room and its disaster; at the covered and broken mirrors, at the torn bed, at the pool of blood on the floor, at the holes on the walls—all the stories between Deceit and Remus in this very room after the latter's 'freedom'—and then he settled on staring at the cleanest corner of the floor. "Should we tell them?"

"No," he answered immediately. "And I thought Remus already showed his dear brother the truth." It's been days now. You'd think someone would've come clean by now. But never Deceit.

Even though it was consuming him like a virus, drowning his lungs and rotting his heart.

"We've all…" Virgil tore his hands apart to make a noncommittal gesture, and shrugged. "We've all kind of been at a standstill. Remus didn't do anything—in fact, he's too calm now. It's too quiet here."

Like they don't wish to break anything with sudden moves, like they're afraid of shattering anything by trying to fix it.

Deceit saw the flash of children again. Trying.

"Then it's better to keep it that way," Deceit responded, and turned his back on Virgil, wishing thinking the problem was solved. But he heard a sigh.

When he turned around, Virgil was five feet away from him, standing slightly taller, making eye contact once more. "Dee…"

"Haven't heard that one in a while. Do you think a nickname could manipulate me nowadays?" he mocked.

Virgil sighed deeper. "Thomas is...really not good. You know that, more than anyone. You always cared too much about him, no matter how much you pretended otherwise. And—a-and I know the truth is terrifying, but…" Virgil trailed off, looking to the floor again. "This all blew up in our faces, and we can't keep hiding it. Remus hasn't said anything because of you. I can't say anything because of you. Logan is unstable, and Patton is tearing himself apart trying to figure out what happened when he told you to deal with Remus, and Dee, the truth is the only thing that can heal us right now."

"It will tear us apart," Deceit spat.

Virgil was unfazed. In fact, he looked at Deceit with pity. "It will. But sometimes it's necessary to break to rebuild, instead of bending like a damn palm tree during a hurricane. Every other plant that was blown away or left broken is reborn in green. But the palm tree is still bent, with its leaves hanging, and it remains uglier than everything else." 

Deceit glared, not wishing to answer all that. Virgil was staring earnestly as he continued. "Logan was right, you know, when he made you let go. He told me, asked me if it was the right thing." He closed the distance with small, quiet steps, and slowly took Deceit's hand, the one that clutched at his chest, even though the wounds have healed. "Let go of the truth. It'll do the opposite of what you think, I swear." His eyes dimmed. "And we really need to fucking say it, or I'm gonna scream myself one day. God knows how you haven't broken down yet."

He had. Twice. And he hated it.

"Virgil, stop being a coward and blaming me for not wishing to tell the truth."

Virgil grimaced. "I know it's all our fault, and I know I should come out and say it, but I wanna do it with you. And Remus is still scared of you. That's why he won't say it. You have our mouths gagged, but we don't wanna tear it off. You're…" 

"Virgil, just leave me alone," he almost pleaded, the mocking, bitter façade almost crumbling. He tried to snatch his hand away from Virgil's gentle grip.

Virgil easily let go of Deceit's hand, gripping his head with both of his own, shutting his eyes tightly. "You're right, but maybe you're wrong, because neither of us are really good with truths. And I'm sorry for leaving you, a-and...and for...forcing myself to hate you." Virgil was beginning to tremble, but he forced his eyes open. They were brimming with tears. "But damn it, Dee, this is my olive branch. We need to do this together. We're all at fault here—and even if Remus isn't, he did ruin a lot of stuff and was apparently very happy to torture you for what you did to him."

You had it coming.

"What are you getting at here?"

"What I'm getting at…" Virgil exhaled and inhaled, trying to calm himself, but his eyes still had an edge of fear. "...Is that we could try to start over. Come clean, and maybe fall together instead of me throwing you both under the bus this time. And... I don't know how they'll react, but if the others really forgave me, then I…" The terror was bleeding into his eyes now. "I hope…"

Deceit placed his hands on Virgil's shoulders, turned him around, and pushed him out of his room. "You've been here for too long. You're spewing lies like there's no tomorrow."

Virgil jerked out of his hands and turned around again. His eyes were now a mixture of fear and exasperation, a tinge of desperation. He spoke quickly, like he was tearing the words out of his chest. "I don't know what'll happen, I don't know if they really forgave me, I don't know if I am even a good person at all, I don't know if this is even a good decision, but what I do know is that I won't pretend that I don't miss you anymore, and that we're gonna do something together, even if it's for the last time. I know that I hate myself as much as you do, I know that we both helped ruin Remus' and Thomas' lives, I know that I can't do anything else than tell the truth without going insane." He held out his hand. 

Deceit stepped back into his room, shaking his head.

But Virgil grabbed his wrist and pulled harshly. "You've been in there far too long, too. You can't even listen to my truth. Deceit, what is your purpose?"

Deceit stiffened. "I…"

"You know. What is your purpose?"

Deceit shook his head again, digging his nails onto his chest.

Virgil pulled him further towards him, cupping his scales and scars so uncharacteristically gently, without so much as a grimace or a flinch. "Answer me. Ignore what your damn head is telling you, listen to what you really know, deep, deep down. Trust me, I know it's hard, but just stop listening to that asshole inside you that keeps cursing you for all you did, and tell me what you're here for!"

Deceit closed his eyes, took a heavy, quivering breath. He saw his younger self crying himself to sleep, telling himself he would protect Thomas, help Thomas see the lies he was being taught, take off his palm off his mouth and tell him he existed for a reason.

"I am Thomas' self-preservation," he whispered.

Virgil nodded, two tears escaping his eyes. "Say it again." 

Deceit stared.

You really are useless.

I just wish you weren't here! I wish I was honest!

Kiddo, can you stop tempting him to win?

Leave that for theatre, reptile.

You had it coming.

"Dee, say it again," he repeated, eyes wide.

"I...I am Thomas' self-preservation."

"That's it." Virgil threw himself onto Deceit, embracing him tightly, burying his face into Deceit's chest. Deceit stiffened, arms frozen midair. Virgil was hugging him—but it wasn't earnest. He was merely pretending to care. Right?

But why would he? How did Virgil benefit from this embrace, this pep talk?

Virgil's voice was breaking, and Deceit felt a dampness in his chest. "That's the Deceit I know."

He felt tears brimming in his own eyes.

 


Virgil had led him to the commons again, and he hissed at the abrupt brightness of the Light Mindscape, squinting, already beginning to break out in a sweat. 

"Don't worry," reassured Virgil, "you'll get used to it."

Deceit nodded doubtfully.

Remus jumped on him not unlike Virgil had earlier. "My sweet reptile!" He realized Deceit had flinched at his tackling and screeching, and pulled away to look him over. He grinned anyway, ignoring how disheveled Deceit knew he looked. "Coming from the Upside Down, I see."

"And you've been sorely missed, you and your chaos," Deceit derided with too much sweetness.

"Yeah, we all decided you two should sleep, but insomnia apparently runs in the family," Virgil muttered.

Deceit frowned at Virgil. "I've been sleeping."

Virgil deadpanned.

"So have I!" raved Remus, but then his energy dropped, only to heighten again as he spoke. "Well, I slept a few hours, for mainly I was playing with Roman!"

Said side rose up, groaning all the way, considerably weary, but not as much as the last time Deceit had seen him. "What do you want from me this time? I swear, I don't remember it being so draining spending time with you." His gaze landed on Deceit, and he seemed to become only slightly glad. "Oh, Deceit, please tell me how in the stars you could handle him all this time."

Deceit, Remus, and Virgil hunched, flinched, and grimaced respectively.

Roman covered his mouth as soon as the words left his mouth. "I apologize, I didn't mean—"

"Wait," Deceit cut in, holding a hand out, feeling a wave of nausea over him. He glanced at Virgil for certainty, but Virgil seemed as terrified as he felt. "I think I should…" He exhaled sharply. "...I should actually...answer that question. Bring Thomas and the others here."

Roman stared at Deceit in surprise, but he swirled his arms gracefully with no need for further prodding. And in one split second, Logan and Patton rose. They seemed disturbed at seeing all the others already gathered, Patton more than Logan. Logan seemed purely perplexed.

But they also seemed glad. Of what, Deceit wasn't sure.

"Uh, Thomas?" Logan called. "It appears you are needed here. Do you wish for us to come to you?"

They all felt the permission within them, like an instinct, and they all sank out at the same time.

Deceit closed his eyes, and opened them once he felt the change in his surroundings. Another kind of light-headedness reached him. "Those travels are always very pleasant," he drawled.

Virgil grunted, rubbing his eyes. "Tell me about it."

"It's like a non-gravitational rollercoaster!" Remus squealed, clapping excitedly, though he did look greenish at the edges.

Thomas deadpanned at the obviously unwelcome sides. "Well? What happened a week ago? Are you finally gonna spit it out?"

Virgil fidgeted, but he slowly reached out, then pulled back, then reached out again to place his hand on Deceit's shoulder. Deceit hesitantly placed his own hand on the other's back. He knew both felt relieved with the contact "The three of us are gonna spit it out, Thomas…"

Remus was preoccupied mixing fingers in a cup with a spoon, but froze, then threw the cup behind him, eyes drawn in confusion. "We are?"

"You are?" everyone else echoed with varying degrees of shock.

Virgil now glanced at Deceit, ashen. "It's kinda like a band-aid," he whispered. "Do we just do it?"

"Do you know about the Denver airport, Thomas?" Deceit queried instead.

Thomas scoffed, rolling his eyes. "What does this have to do with anything?"

"Do you?"

"Well, what about the airport?"

"Wait," Virgil mumbled, doubtful. "You're talking about the conspiracy?"

Remus giggled excitedly. "I adore scary stories that may be true!"

"You may have heard of the statue of the blue horse there nicknamed Blucifer," he continued, ignoring the others, focused on Thomas, like he always has been. "Or the mural that claims 'Children of the world dream of peace'." 

"You're seriously—"

"Thomas," Virgil warned. "I know it sounds crazy, but maybe listen?"

Deceit glanced at Virgil, furrowing his brows. But Virgil merely squeezed his shoulder.

"As...I was saying, I'm not saying we should believe any theory or conspiracy that takes our feeling of safety, but Thomas, why does it sound so possible? So terrifying?"

Virgil shuddered slightly. "God knows…"

"Deceit, I—" Thomas sighed, rubbing his head. "I still don't get it."

Deceit raised his eyebrows mockingly. "Because you don't wish to analyze this. I implore you to just think for a minute here. There is no evidence that the supposed multiple references to Satanism or a New World Order in the art hints at anything more than artistic freedom, or most importantly, that a five-level underground government bunker exists to shelter the rich and powerful. But then again, you never wish to accept the fact that anything is possible in this world." He raised his arms and shrugged. "Therefore let's ignore how we're nearing a possible nuclear war or a possible natural disasters capable of taking more than half of the global population. And that some people are selfish enough to leave ordinary people like you to rot for their own benefit."

"And the government and powerful do lie about those things," Virgil agreed, solemn.

"Again, as Thomas has said before," Patton finally spoke, respectfully but exasperatedly interrupting both of them, "this has to do with our situation how?"

Remus rolled his eyes while smiling, twirling a dagger in his left hand and swirling nun-chucks in the other.

Deceit inhaled, then looked back at Thomas, who merely seemed disturbed, but silent. "Thomas, I may very well be a monster, but I am a monster molded from the truths you never faced. You're utter proof of it right now, you and Patton, and—" He took a quick glance at Virgil. "And Virgil, once upon a time."

Virgil bit his lip.

"Patton—" Suddenly breath was as unreachable as the heat in his home, but he still inhaled again. "You told me to deal with Remus, and that if I did, and if Virgil and I weren't a bother, we could stay. We could be heard. Now." His voice instinctually molded to mockery again, though he felt his chest beginning to constrict once more. "I know I don't know anything about words, but I'm sure that if I know something, it's that you broke yours."

Patton's features were frozen in absolute horror. And then yelped as a dagger landed on the wall, cutting a couple errands of his chestnut hair.

Remus was grinning, but then scowled darkly. "I missed."

Roman immediately took the nun-chucks away from Remus, chucking them as far as he could.

"Logan," Deceit continued. "You never seemed to question the truth either."

A flash of rage bled into Logan's eyes, but it evaporated in seconds. He crossed his arms, furrowing his brows. "I merely thought it was under control, and that it was a mutual, willing choice. Besides, while Patton may have ordered, you were the one who carried out the deed, and it is evidenced that the deed was worse than Patton meant."

Deceit shut his eyes, feeling the child crawling in his chest and throat for the umpteenth time, but he opened them again.

"Thomas." He blinked. His voice seemed almost like a plead. "Listen. You never questioned how after you shut us up, twenty-two years ago, you lost all memory and knowledge of the three of us. Virgil was the first to tear through, and invaded your carefully built lie. A lie I built because…" He was running out of breath, but Thomas seemed enraptured.

"Because it seemed best for Thomas to believe that fantasy," Roman whispered, eyes dulling in shock. "But we all fooled ourselves." He reached for Remus' arm blindly.

Remus couldn't keep the smile on his face when he gripped his brother back.

Deceit nodded. "Y-yes."

Virgil sighed, stepping closer to Deceit. "I was sick of the lies, Thomas, the ones that couldn't stop telling me I was useless." His voice had become vulnerable at that wretched word. "But I was so desperate I built another lie for myself. That's why I-I never t-told you I was..."

"One of us," sneered Remus.

Thomas was speechless, mouth ajar. He looked to Logan, then at Patton for answers.

Logan adjusted his glasses uncomfortably. "It seems a better solution to listen. This situation cannot be dragged any longer, anyway."

Patton stared at the floor, not noticing the glances that lingered on him. His eyes were haunted now. Almost like Virgil’s. 

"Deceit," Thomas tried, holding his hand up, eyes fearful of the answer to his question to come. The dreaded question that made Deceit wish to sleep and never wake up. "How did… How did you deal with Remus?"

Virgil tightened his grip on Deceit's shoulder reassuringly. 

"...I… I pretended to play hide-and-seek with him." He was beginning to feel numb once more. It started at his fingertips, his shoulders, his cheekbones, but he couldn't seem to shut up now. Nothing seemed to hold him back anymore, not even Patton. It was only himself.

Remus cracked his neck by tilting his head with literal breakneck speed. His eyes were a storm. Like the storm Deceit walked in, the storm within Remus' own mind.

"I-I hid in a dark, small cell, snuck out when he searched there, and just…" Deceit felt his lungs and heart being stabbed and punctured like those two weeks ago—they felt like an eternity ago, yet forever ingrained in his mind like a nightmare that could never go away.

You had it coming.

"Go to my room," blurted Remus, so serious and dark, with those terrifying, glitching irises. "Thomas, go to my room."

"We don't need to enhance Thomas' chaotic thoughts—they're chaotic enough as is," Logan argued.

"Remus, all we need to do is say it," Virgil assured solemnly.

"There are no words to explain it! None!"

"I shut the heavy door on him." It was merely a whisper, but after they were uttered, there was dead silence. He tried to raise his voice, but it was hoarse. "And Remus couldn't believe I was going to keep him there. Keep him because it wasn't a game."

"You promised," Remus hissed, tears finally brimming in his chaotic eyes. "You made me feel like I was safe with you and no one else. You made me feel like not even my brother could accept me like you could." His voice was deepening and heightening, branching into different ones, until the tell-tale demonic trait of his rage grew in it. "Not five minutes passed after that promise, and I was your prisoner."

Logan's eyes widened, mouth hanging. Patton gasped heavily, hand covering his mouth. His eyes were already brimming with tears. Roman stared at his brother in horror. Thomas stared at Deceit in disbelief.

Deceit covered his face, feeling warmth in his cheeks. Virgil held onto him tightly.

"I visited you," Virgil murmured, "but not nearly as much as him. You terrified me, and you always made me see awful things." Virgil's breath shook. "You have no idea how many times I thought Roman would strangle me because of that day. How many nightmares I had."

"Oh! Well, if we were having a competition, just multiply your suffering ten times, and you'll know how I felt!"

It was freezing again.

He felt the cinders caressing his skin.

He peered through the cracks of his hands, to see utter darkness. "No… No no, no no no no no!"

Remus' glazed, demented eyes stared back at him. Inches away. And his arm was gripped painfully again. Echoes of screams and panicked questions and shocked statements overlapped in this horrifying place.

What's happening?!

This is illogical...this is illogical…

W-where are we? Kiddo?! Can someone hear…?

Brother!

LET ME GO!

At the exact same time the last screech was heard, Deceit yanked his arm away.

And began falling again.

Hanging nooses, bloodied knives, Remus shrieking, strangling, bullet wounds, fantasies of murder, Roman sneering darkly, Virgil sobbing as he bled, orgies, Deceit busting into tears, the taste of sunlight scorching his skin, the penumbra and shadows dancing, insects and snakes living in stomachs, detached fingers, tortured little girls—

He gasped, whiplash leaving him numb and trembling, but the light and heat were back, the ashes gone. He swallowed the freeing air as much as he could, like he returned from the depths of the ocean, from drowning endlessly.

Thomas had his eyes shut, his ears covered with trembling hands. Patton was shivering violently, frightened beyond any hope of stability. Logan was frozen, hunched, irises glazed over. Virgil clung to Deceit, hyperventilating, his palpitating heart felt by Deceit's own chest. Roman was vaguely gleeful, though tears streamed down his face.

And Remus was sobbing again. Giggling again. And the cycle continued.

Deceit gently guided Virgil along with him, but he pulled Remus with his free arm into an embrace. The last one they had was when he'd apologized for merely being scary, for hurting him the way he had.

This time, he was accepting the embrace, and all the things it symbolized, that he never thought he deserved.

"I'm sorry," he whispered in Remus' ear, now realizing his body was being wracked with sobs as well. Virgil soon followed with his own frightened sobs. Deceit's breath hitched and his sobs interrupted his racing words. "I'm so sorry. I know—I don't deserve any forgiveness—and that I'm a monster—and that I only thought of myself, and not what—was best for all of us. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

Remus returned the embrace, holding him even tighter, sobbing even heavier. 

The three who embraced collapsed onto the floor, clutching each other almost desperately. 

"I'm sorry," sobbed Virgil, voice thick with tears. "I n-never did anything though it was obvious you were s-suffering and I'm such a coward."

An unknown hand caressed his hair, and he blearily opened his eyes, tears slipping through, to see Roman, weeping quietly, brushing away the sweaty, stray strands of Remus' hair away from his pale forehead, then doing the same to Virgil. His eyes were haunted.

Deceit knew it was a curse of the truth.

"Brother," Roman breathed, "I never knew anything, and I didn't bother to find the truth. I… I couldn't have acted more dishonorable."

"You're not the only one, Roman," Logan murmured, eyes plagued with guilt.

Patton sniffed, cradling himself, tearful eyes frozen in horror. "I couldn't have been a worse Morality," he whimpered.

Thomas, his irises frenzied, stared at them all. "Why am I like this? What did I do wrong?"

Deceit took a heavy, trembling breath, and straightened to face Thomas. "Society. You just followed their siren song. You slept to avoid the truth, because they told you it would be there. They made you trust the system and bury your identity for it. Happiness is perfection after all. I know this because I convinced myself of it, instead of listening to that instinct. Instead of going against your will and showing you the truth."

Comprehension dawned on Thomas' face. A deep sadness settled in his features. "The world taught us to hate you, the three of you. And in turn, I hated that side of myself. And you convinced yourself you had to sacrifice all your freedom, and the others' too, so I could be 'happy'." He inhaled, exhaled, seemingly a new man. "We fell for the trap. Like almost everyone else."

"Like Mom and Dad?" Patton whispered. 

"I don't think they fully fell for that 'trap'," Logan pondered. "They followed their beliefs, their sense of right and wrong. Society, on the other hand, is merely obsessed with control. They force-fed us their skewed sense of right and wrong. What they were already forced to believe in their youth, throughout their lives." Logan embraced himself. It was as if he was seeing himself in a terribly flawed light for the first time. "And we willingly gave it away, our freedom. Didn't we?" 

Virgil sighed shakily, finally calming somewhat, but still clinging onto Deceit. "Complacency seems safe, but…" He rubbed his hands, leaning his head upon Deceit's shoulder. "I guess we just need to be mindful of all its stupid propaganda, huh?"

"Dee, Remus, Virgil, kiddos," Patton began, a new determination and pain in his eyes. "I still think we're all very different, and I may lose sight of you, even if you're wrong sometimes. But… Don't ever let me keep living forgetting to listen to you. Just tell me whenever you don't feel heard, o-or, when you feel like you shouldn't tell me the truth."

"I used to shut you both up all the time," admitted Virgil to Deceit and Remus, tracing his fingers along the floor now, eyes shadowed by his hair. "So extend that to me, too."

"I don't wish to practice ignorance to that level either." Logan barely concealed a shudder, but his eyes were earnest. "If I ever behave foolishly like we did as children, communication is key to reach another solution. After all, it's all for the good of Thomas."

"Indeed," murmured Roman, smiling at Remus timidly. "I can't believe I convinced myself it was better with you gone." His smile dropped. "But please accept some boundaries."

"Yeah, I won't change everything about me in literally two minutes," Thomas finally spoke. He shook his head in disbelief, arms akimbo. "I'm sorry I pushed you away, guys, or shut you up. I did it more than once to all of you, and none of you deserve it."

"You were a child, Thomas," assured Deceit. "You were scared...as was I."

"Yeah, but I grew up! It's very different telling you that we shouldn't lie to people unless it's like, an emergency, and to accept that I'm not perfect like the world wants me to be. But I just kept lying to myself and kept you hidden. Isn't your job unveiling the harsh truth so I don't fall for it?"

Deceit blinked, wracking his head for his memories. He found nothing that proved it correct, nor otherwise. He really was a failure. "I believe so."

"I'll help you separate the lies from the truth, kiddo," Patton said gently. He brightened. "And hey, maybe we could join forces."

Deceit furrowed his brows. "Why? We're opposites."

"Well, that's kinda the point! If we both care about Thomas in such different ways, well, Logan keeps talking about compromise!" He gestured enthusiastically to Logan, who nodded proudly, a ghost of a smile on his lips. "What if self-preservation and empathy worked together?"

"Balance would be achieved." Logan smiled fully this time. "Astute, Patton."

Deceit felt his lips twitch. He didn't wish to acknowledge the warmth in his chest. 

Patton ducked his head shyly, but he seemed glad.

"Well, in that case!" Both brothers exclaimed, glancing excitedly at each other. But then they faltered, looking for Thomas for permission.

Thomas smirked and sighed, nodding. "Alright, I'll explore more stuff in my content, I'll still keep it safe." Remus squealed and Roman laughed, the former hugging the latter almost violently. Deceit wondered how they could've grown so close again after only a week. But it seemed they were that desperate, deep, deep down, to be reunited. Deceit knew it in the way Remus obsessed over his brother, clung to his hallucinations, delusions, and memories of him...but he a!ways thought Roman was glad to never see him again. 

He was wrong. Roman was never a monster. He was just a child doing what he thought best, who grew up with a self-imposed lie in his heart. Like everyone else. Like...himself.

There was something stranger in his chest now, his throat closing up again. He wasn't a monster...was he?

"But please let me sleep at night, Remus!" Thomas pleaded as an afterthought. "I don't wanna think or dream about disturbing thoughts!"

Remus grinned, that tell-tale glint of mischief in his eye. "No promises."

He ignored the lingering question in his mind, tabled it for another day. For now, everyone seemed...better. Thomas seemed calmer. Roman and Remus were ecstatic that they could have creative freedom together, like old times, even if with a few limitations. Logan seemed stable and centered once more. Patton, though duller than Deceit remembered, didn't seem so haunted or as guilty as he was ten minutes ago. Virgil smiled, perturbation gone for now.

It appeared they did reach a solution. One for whatever they searched for, what they were desperately trying to do so long ago.

And Deceit was looking forward to having a voice, working alongside Patton, making life bearable and exposed for Thomas, while the fatherly one would make sure to keep the inner child and kindness alive.

Deceit finally allowed himself to grin.