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The Gold of Your Heart

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Deceit pulled his cloak tighter around his shoulders. His footsteps echoed through the empty hallways, and he spent a brief bit of his lagging energy to curse Patton for putting the idea of a Mind Palace into Thomas’s head. Travel had been so much easier when everything was a moving jumbled mess.

All he had to do on days like these - when he was far too spent to simply appear wherever he wanted - was wait for a lie to cross Thomas’s thoughts and stroll right back into his room.

But no, the “light” sides had thought more organization would be better for Thomas. A constructive, well-ordered mind bred happiness. Deceit scoffed, ignoring the way that his form trembled and the chill crept into his bones. Well-ordered just meant that it was easier for lies to slip through the cracks. It meant more work for Deceit.

That wasn’t even scratching the surface of how they had messed with the border that Deceit carefully maintained in Thomas’s mind. It wasn’t Deceit’s fault that Thomas didn’t want to think about what other sort of Sides he could have. Frankly, Deceit would blame Roman and his ridiculously ominous naming. “Dark Sides,” ha.

They hadn’t complained about him hiding Virgil from Thomas until Thomas’s friends had cracked the wall. Self-deception only held on for so long. Virgil had slipped out in that time, and while everything had turned out alright in the end- 

Deceit shoved thoughts of the dark, growling figure that Anxiety had been from his mind.

It didn’t matter. 

Deceit would protect Thomas, now more than ever, as Virgil went soft. He could ignore the part of his mind that hissed Anxiety could never be soft; that hissed beware beware beware at him. All that mattered was doing his job, and for now that meant resting until he had to return to the crumbling sections of his wall. He needed to do something about the cold that made his limbs sluggish and his fingers tremble.

He wouldn’t be able to keep the Sides Thomas didn’t know about in the dark like this, let alone the other things that Thomas stuffed into the back of his mind.

He strode unsteadily towards the end of the hallway. Turning left would take him back to his room, where he could curl up under a heat lamp and too many blankets for the next couple of days. Right would take him to the clustered area that the other Sides spent most of their time in finding a safety in their numbers, Deceit supposed, rather than isolation and concealment.

He hesitated. He could recover in his room, slowly in the echoing silence. Or he could recover in the warmth of the commons. He felt better after spending time in the brightly lit area; he thought perhaps being closer to Thomas’s attention helped. Whatever the reason, a few hours curled up listening to the shuffling footsteps and conversations - to make sure he wouldn’t be discovered - of the other Sides worked wonders that his room never could.

He rolled his choices around in his head, a stone being worn smooth by a steady stream. Options playing out in his head over and over again. He wanted to go to his own room. It would be safe and comforting. Deceit sighed, and tugged his hat down over his eyes. 

He needed to get better as soon as possible to keep a repeat of the Anxiety Incident from happening. Which meant sucking things up and sneaking into the commons for a nap. It wouldn’t be the first time he had done so; it wouldn’t be hard. Deceit gritted his teeth, fingers curling around his hat even more.

He didn’t want to hear Virgil’s laughter. He didn’t want to think about the shivers it sent down his spine or the way that his hair stood on end. He refused to even acknowledge the lighter feelings that it brought. In fact, Deceit didn’t want to think about it at all. Perhaps he would be lucky enough to catch a time that Virgil was busy, or simply holed up in his room.

Deceit let go of his hat, breathing out carefully. He had a job to do, and if nothing else in his life was worth it, Deceit was going to do it well. He had no other reason to exist. He didn’t even have a name after all.

The bitter smirk on Deceit’s face fell away along with his form. Simply walking into the commons would be too obvious after all. Instead, a straw-colored snake made its way carefully down the hall. Slithering was easier than walking in the state he was anyways.

Deceit flicked his tongue out, tasting the air for the other sides. He hissed happily at the lack of them, carefully nudging the door open a little farther with his head. He could taste the cookies that Patton had in the oven; could hear the footsteps of Logan in the area above him. But the room itself was empty, even with a book propped up carefully on the coffee table.

Perfect.

He slid between the feet of the table and chairs until he found his favorite spot in the room. Logan’s favorite chair stood at the perfect height to cast enough shadows that Deceit could curl comfortably underneath it and still be hidden from sight. He curled around himself, over and over again, basking in the warmth slowly sliding across his scales.

He settled into place, not even flinching as the door slammed open. Deceit watched silently as Roman bound into the room. Roman moved past him without another glance, calling out to the others as he did so. Content that he wouldn’t be discovered this time either, Deceit let himself slip into a light doze.

Footsteps came and went around him, Deceit distantly aware of Logan taking a seat in the chair above him at one point. He didn’t bother paying attention to what they said. The bright tones of their voices meant nothing was out of hand; there was nothing to worry about. Occasionally, Roman’s laughter cut through the room, mixing with Patton’s soft giggles. Deceit felt himself melt into the floor, warm and content.

He’d have to go back to work soon, but for now, he’d rest.

Time drifted past much like clouds in the sky. Soft and undisturbed, Deceit let his mind wander as well, thinking about nothing at all. He would have to get back to work soon, whispering things from the shadows and making sure that everything was where it belonged. When his body felt less like a stretched rubber band and more like an actual snake again, then— and only then— would he move.

“Oh, well hello there.”

Deceit jerked back at the voice next to his head. A hiss rose in his throat before he could stop it as the world slammed back into place around him. Roman stared back at him, a gentle expression that Deceit had never seen on his face before. Deceit flinched back from the hand reaching for him, the hood around his neck spreading in warning.

“Come now, small friend,” Roman coaxed, “I’m not going to hurt you.”

Deceit hissed again. Yeah right. Roman’s eyes narrowed briefly before relaxing.

“Ah, I see, yes, it is scary out here, isn’t it?” What? “But if you come out, friend, I can take you home.” What? “I’m not sure how you got out in the first place, but you must be a clever one.”

Deceit’s hiss died down as he stared at Roman in confusion. Did- 

Did Roman not know who he was? 

Deceit relaxed his hood, struggling to think of a way out of the situation he found himself in. No one had noticed him before. Fear surged as Roman’s hand shot out. Deceit thrashed in his grip as Roman pulled him out from under the chair and up against his chest. Heat surrounded him, and Deceit struggled to remember that curling up in it when there was a danger wasn’t a good idea.

He couldn’t drop his guard. Not ever.

Roman let out a lone crooning noise, running a hand down the scales along the back of his neck. Deceit let out a hiss, half-pleasure and half-anger at the way his body melted at the touch. Why the fuck did Roman know that scratching him there would feel so good? 

“There we go,” Roman said gently, “Just like that, small friend, you can trust me. I’m going to take good care of you, gonna get you home where you belong.”

Deceit hissed again, the only protest he could make without giving himself away completely. Roman’s fingers continued their magic. Deceit didn’t know it was possible to relax as much as he did, going boneless in Roman’s grip.

He didn’t know it was possible to be scared of his own body in this way. Remus-

Deceit shook the thought off.

Roman stood up slowly. Deceit pressed against his chest as the ground disappeared, leaving him even more helpless than before. Warmth seeped through his scales, like his heating lamp but even better. He pressed even closer out of instinct. He loved it. He hated it. 

Deceit didn’t know what to do.

The world vibrated with every step that Roman took, and with it, Deceit’s panic grew. If Roman took him to the others, Virgil would know it was him almost instantly. At least, Deceit thought he would, and it was the last thing that he wanted or needed at the moment. Virgil would probably throw him out a window, and broken bones were a pain to heal.

Deceit watched as they strode past the other Sides’ rooms, and he sneered mentally at the clearly marked doors instead of focusing on his confusion. If anything happened, anyone would know where to find them. He would have thought that at least Virgil would know better, but it seemed not. Soft, trusting fools, the lot of them. Thomas was lucky to have him, or they all would have all been dead by now.

Roman’s door opened without a touch, and Deceit scoffed. Show off. Deceit’s room didn’t have a door and that’s the way he liked it. No one other than himself would enter it anyways, so he was the only one who needed to find it. Shrouded in shadows, unlike the light Roman bathed himself so willingly in.

Roman turned towards his closet door. Deceit tilted his head to the side. Roman threw the door open and Deceit reeled back at the sudden assault of light and smell that hit him as Roman strode through the door. His tail curled around Roman’s wrist, seeking some form of stability as everything seemed to spiral away from him once more. The Imagination. Shit.

Roman must have assumed he was a Construct that had escaped. Double shit. He wouldn’t survive that Hellscape in the state he was now. He avoided it as much as he could when visiting Remus, choosing instead to simply appear in Remus’ tower rather than risk discorporation.

The wind rolled over his scales, freezing compared to the warmth that came from Roman, and Deceit shivered. Leaves rustled around them, and in the distance Deceit thought he heard the call of a hawk. Deceit didn’t know how large the Imagination was, just that it bordered the Subconsciousness which had fallen under Virgil’s duty. The Wall that separated Remus and Roman didn't need much maintenance; they did that themselves just fine.

Roman shifted his hold, carefully pulling Deceit away from his warmth. Deceit felt relief flood his systems. Roman was going to let him go. He could slip back into the Mind Palace and get away, get back to work. The grass along his belly felt too soft to be real, but he didn’t stop to think about it. He made a break for the door that they had just come out of, intent on leaving.

Roman’s hands clamped around the back of his neck and Deceit let out a vicious hiss as he was lifted off the ground once more.

“Hey now,” Roman said, amusement clear in his voice, “You don’t belong out there. You’re perfectly safe here, I promise.”

Deceit turned his head to stare at Roman’s face. The grin on Roman’s face taunted him and his goal of freedom. Maybe Roman did know it was him and was messing with him in a twisted form of revenge. Remus and Roman had to be similar in some way. Deceit bared his fangs, anger rolling in his gut. 

Roman simply laughed. 

“You are a feisty one! A true warrior like all my subjects should be. You’re one of Hecate’s, aren’t you? She hasn’t ever won in our games, but if she has more minions like you, she might just stand a chance yet,” Roman said cheerfully. 

Hecate? Deceit wished he could blink so that he could convey to Roman just how confused he was. Hecate wasn’t a side; Deceit would know. But Constructs were simple scripted things. Weren’t they?

“Perhaps you need to be returned to her to be satisfied?” Roman asked, holding Deceit closer to his face. Deceit snapped at his nose in disagreement. All he got was more laughter in return. Moron. “Come now, the trip isn’t that far, we should have you home within the day. No need for the drama quite yet.”

Deceit wondered if strangling him would be too obvious. Roman lifted Deceit even higher and settled him around his shoulders. The chance was right there. No one would ever know if it was him. Sure, Roman would reform within the month, and Remus would probably skin him alive for hurting his brother, but Deceit would get that much needed break from both their voices.

His coils tightened slightly. It would be so simple. He could feel the steady heartbeat beneath his scales, pushing energy and life through all of Roman’s body. The skin that slid along his scales felt softer than he had expected, contrasting the sharp jut of Roman’s collar bones. Delicate vertebrae could snap under the strength of his muscles if he tried hard enough. If he moved fast enough not even Virgil would have been able to stop him from murdering Thomas’s “Good” Creativity.

Roman giggled. Deceit froze at the sound. Light and carefree in a way that reminded Deceit of Patton’s, seeing as they were all formed from the same person. But it was a sound that Deceit had never heard from Roman. No, Creativity was loud and boisterous and regal in all that he did. Always.

Roman’s hands curled gently around his coils, tugging him away from the neck in his grasp. 

“I know I’m warm, small friend,” Roman said, the terror of the close call that he should have absent from his voice, “But curling around my neck isn’t safe. You could do some real damage there.”

He knew. That was the point. Deceit hissed, hoping that his contempt would come across to the Side that carried him. All that he earned was another giggle. Deceit imagined the feel of Roman’s neck under his hands instead of coils. It didn’t make him feel better.

Then again, violence always had been more Virgil’s thing in the end. Virgil and Remus and, well. There was a reason that Thomas didn’t like to think about some of his sides. Remus showed that just as well. He could  hurt someone, or worse, hurt himself. Deceit snapped his jaw impatiently. He needed to get back to work as soon as possible.

“Perhaps Hecate can explain how you got out,” Roman mused out loud, reaching up to scratch Deceit’s scales once more. Deceit mentally sighed, allowing himself to relax at the touch. The reminder of the mysterious Hecate had him settling his head on Roman’s shoulder. Violence may not have been his preference but mysteries? Secrets that even he had missed?

Perhaps there would be something to be gained from sticking with Roman at the moment. No one else knew of this side of the Imagination as Roman did after all, meaning Deceit would only end up lost the farther in they traveled. It also meant that he would be seeing things none of the others ever had as well. Smugness shoved the last of his anger away.

Blackmail? Materials he could manipulate Creativity with? Secrets he could use to his advantage in the future? Something he could hold over Patton or Virgil’s head to watch them squirm?

Unraveling the mystery of Roman would only be a bonus.

Deceit shifted along Roman’s shoulders, looking out at the distant mountains covered with snow and the rising skyscrapers matched with parapets of a castle. It looked nothing like Remus’ smog filled desert. Instead, an endless rolling adventure stretched out in front of them. Madness and genius wrapped into one package. One huge glorious lie.

Deceit couldn’t wait.

Chapter Text

The air in the Imagination always felt different along Deceit’s scales than the rest of the Mindscape. Perhaps it was the wind. The idea of weather affecting him prickled along his spine and Deceit coiled around Roman a little tighter. If he could have changed back then he could shift himself warmer clothes, but he didn’t want to give himself away quite yet.

Perhaps it wasn’t the Imagination at all, and instead the feeling of Roman’s warmth along his belly. Deceit wouldn’t claim that he had never been touched before, or he would if he thought it would have benefited him, but at the moment it didn’t. Steady, warm contact that held no violence, badly hidden bitterness, or fragile madness; that was new.

Roman kept reaching up to scratch at his head as well. Deceit couldn’t decide if he liked it or if he felt patronized. He was no one’s pet; he had no desire to be treated with such condescending kindness. The only good thing Deceit could find was the fact that Roman could not shut up. It made Deceit wonder if that was literal, if Roman would die should he ever be truly silenced.

“Virgil would like you, you know,” Roman said brightly. Deceit rolled his eyes. He knew exactly how much Virgil liked him. It managed to be less than zero. “He has a thing for dark scary creatures. He’d like Hecate too. I like to think she’d like him as well, if they ever meet.”

The trees around them started to thin. Deceit wanted to sigh, because Roman’s estimate of taking less than a day would be wrong if they walked the whole way to- to wherever they were heading. But Roman seemed content to simply amble along the path he had chosen. For a man who spent a lot of time questing for dangerous beasts here, he certainly seemed to feel safe.

“Of course, I don’t know if inviting him to the Imagination would be any different from his- his invasions like before,” Roman said quietly, stopping at the edge of the forest. Deceit perked up. This, now this was something he could use. “Patton- well we had Patton visit once, you know? Emotions and morality could only go well with creativity and dreams. I mean, Virgil’s little incursions always ended with an influx of Nightmares.”

Deceit leaned forward, flicking his tongue out against Roman’s cheek. The distant look in Roman’s eyes faded slightly. A grin broke out in his direction instead. Deceit preened. A happy Roman was a talking Roman after all. Perhaps if Roman liked him in this form he could make use of it somehow. 

Roman scratched under his chin.

“I lost control of the borders,” Roman admitted. Deceit stared at him. The Roman he knew always denied mistakes, and Deceit knewexactly which mistake this was. Years ago, when they were still learning what puberty had done to them all. Deceit had assumed the chaos, the rampant nightmares, the wild mood swings had simply been part of the package of growing up. Had thought the way Thomas struggled enough for a friend to ask if he had anxiety was his fault.

It seemed that Virgil slipping through the cracks had more to the story, however.

“We got everything put back into order, but, well.” Roman glanced away. Deceit ran imaginary fingers over this new information before tucking it away in the back of his mind. It was too late to change anything, and in the end, it was his fault for letting Virgil escape in the chaos. He should have been better at his job. “It gets lonely, not risking it happening again. No one else ever comes here.”

Deceit snapped at him. He could correct Roman. He’d been to Remus’ side plenty of times and nothing had happened. Then again, Remus’ lived and breathed chaos; it could have gotten lost in everything else going on. A different sort of fear rose in his heart. Would he cause problems simply by being here as well? Being revealed to Thomas had already caused enough problems when it came to his job; Deceit would throw a fit.

Roman chuckled.

“Oh don’t you worry, small friend. I have plenty of friends who I can spend time with,” Roman said, and Deceit wanted to bash his head against a wall. Deceit thought that Patton was the one who was supposed to see the good in everything and be horribly oblivious. He settled for butting his head against Roman’s cheek and glaring reproachfully at him.

More laughter. Seriously, Deceit had never seen Roman laugh as much as he did now. Then again, Deceit had never bothered to worry about Roman, or even think about him all that much. An easy target, someone who believed every lie fed to him, and thus not on the list of threats that Deceit watched.

“Yes, I know it’s not the same, but I love all of you,” Roman said gently, running a hand down Deceit’s scales. Deceit headbutted him again. Moron. Deceit was going to die of idiocy and kindness before he managed to get back to work. Roman considering the playthings he made as friends was just pathetic.

At least Patton focused his obsession of love on things that were actually alive, and Remus made creative use of the ones he had.

Deceit eyed the small town that Roman started walking towards once more. A field of some sort stretched along the edges, but the buildings and roads didn’t match the medieval aesthetic that Deceit expected from Roman’s realm. Modern-day walls and roof, with people riding around on horses grew closer and closer. Deceit stared at it, taking in the idyllic atmosphere, so different from the heavy weight of his own realm.

Heads snapped up as soon as they approached, a voice calling out to Roman. Roman’s grin grew and he raised a hand in greeting as the fools below them scrambled in a rush to meet them. Deceit scoffed quietly. Of course, Roman would create Constructs whose only purpose was to love him. Desperate enough for attention to buy every lie that Deceit fed him.

“Roman!” Deceit stared at the man that looked exactly like Thomas. What the hell? The man waved, drawing Deceit’s eye to the jacket that he wore and the large Antagonist embroidered along the right side of the chest. 

“Anton!” Now that was a delight Deceit had heard before, even if it had never been directed at him. Roman opened his arms, sweeping Anton into a hug and spinning the two of them around in a hug. Deceit lurched on his shoulders. For a moment, he could have sworn that Anton stared at him, something heavy and distrusting in the man’s eyes before delight and worry buried it.

“Is something wrong? Do I need to get-”

Roman waved him off. Ice prickled down Deceit’s spine. He glanced around, meeting the eyes of yet another Thomas look alike. And here Deceit thought Roman was supposed to be Creativity. Two of them stood shoulder to shoulder, wearing the same jacket that Anton did, only with a stylized Sun and Moon on each of them. They stared at him, the same sort of darkness in their eyes that Anton showed, only they didn’t bother to hide it

“No, no everything’s fine!” Roman hooked an arm around Anton’s and started walking them towards the town. “No need to grab anyone, and I swear to god if you bother Remy when he’s actually working for once, I will make you watch a Disney marathon with me.”

Anton shoved at him.

“You wouldn’t dare!”

“Ah, but I’m a prince,” Roman said, tilting his head up, “I can do whatever I want. There’s nothing you can do to stop me. I could make it rain chocolate from cotton candy if I wanted it to.”

Deceit wished he had eyebrows he could squint, because nothing made sense. Deceit knew how things worked in his realm, knew that other than the Sides he hid nothing there was truly alive, for all it was all part of Thomas. They moved where directed, by him or Thomas. Even fueled by creativity there was no way that Roman could direct all of these Constructs. Then there was Remus.

Then again, all of the Constructs that Remus created were generally torn apart by something or other not long after their first breaths.

Anton chuckled, shuffling a little closer to Roman’s side a flower turning towards the sun. Deceit rolled his eyes. If he ever ended up that desperate or needy for someone else, he planned to throw himself into the Subconsciousness so that the darkness and dangers there could devour him alive.

“What, like that time you played Discord?” Anton teased. 

“I make a great villain!” Deceit hissed as Roman’s shoulders jostled him too much. The hand waving, in Deceit’s opinion, was ridiculous, and if Roman knocked him off Deceit would grow fangs to bite him in the ankles. Roman pouted at him. Deceit ignored the heavy weight of Anton’s gaze.

“Sure, Roman, sure,” Anton patted Roman on the arm, “But really, if you’re not here for your job, what’s up?” His eyes lit up, shoulders thrown back. Deceit lifted his head higher at the expression. Fascinating, the way a person would chase after the slightest bit of warmth. There had been a reason if Deceit needed something done he had defaulted to Patton. “Unless you have some free time?”

Roman’s shoulders tensed under Deceit’s coils. Deceit tensed in turn, eyes flickering around the area warily. Roman expressed his emotions like an open book, except not really. Just enough truth that when he needed to he could fool the other Sides into thinking he was fine. Truly a technique after Deceit’s heart unlike Patton’s blatant cries for help.

“Unfortunately not,” Roman said carefully, “I’ve got some work to do with the other sides, planning the next videos and songs, you know, the usual.” He didn’t meet the Construct’s eyes. Interesting. A hand scratched Deceit’s scales gently. “Just here to return this small guy and then it’s back to the grind for me.”

Anton frowned.

“You still haven’t talked to them,” he accused. Deceit froze carefully. Talked to who? About what? Truly, there was something to be gained here, in this space where Roman held no fear, and spoke freely. 

Anton’s eyes landed on him, before turning back to Roman’s ashamed expression. He held his hands up, palms facing out.

“Hey, I’m not going to bother you about it when that’s the bosses’ job. Just don’t come running to me when they start nagging you about it again,” Anton said. He hesitated, and Deceit’s unease from before grew. “So, where are you taking the little guy?”

Roman blinked.

“Hecate, I thought he was one of hers.”

“Ah,” Anton said, and paused. Deceit glared at him. There was no way to tell if the Construct truly knew who he was, but Deceit hadn’t survived this long by taking risks. Pointedly, he tightened his hold on Roman’s neck. Anton’s mouth snapped shut. The pulse under his coils didn’t change from its steady rhythm even as Roman reached up to tug Deceit looser.

The way Anton’s face paled tasted sweet in the back of Deceit’s throat.

“Come now, friend,” Roman coaxed. Deceit let Roman rearrange him into a more comfortable position, his eyes steady as he stared at Anton. “We talked about this, you could do some real damage cuddling there.” Deceit bared his teeth in a facsimile of a smile at the way Anton’s face lost even more color. 

“He’s a cuddler,” Roman said, focusing back on Anton. Deceit settled down, leaving his head resting on Roman’s steady pulse. A snap of the jaw would be enough to tear out the fragile skin even with the small teeth and fangs that Deceit possessed. “I think he’s just cold.”

Deceit grinned. Well, Roman wasn’t wrong. He nuzzled at the warm neck under him, enjoying the way it brushed against his scales as much as the heavy way Anton swallowed. Roman giggled at the sensation, an innocent sound unaware of the power plays at hand. Deceit could see the moment that Anton backed off, eyes going dark and lips twisting unhappily. 

Good.

“You, my friend,” Roman shoved at his head and Deceit hissed at him on instinct, “are a tickle monster. Is Hecate planning on defeating me through the power of laughter?” Deceit let him push his head to the shoulder instead of the neck. Fine, he had gotten what he wanted anyways.

“I’m-” Anton swallowed again. “I’m not sure he’s one of Hecate’s, but she’d be the one to know for sure. We can get you Lady so you can reach her lair before the sun sets?” The Construct turned towards the town, waving at Roman to follow him.

“It would be much appreciated,” Roman said brightly as he trailed after Anton. 

Deceit ignored the stares of the other Constructs; there wasn’t anything any of them could do about him at the moment. Unless Roman truly did know more than he was letting on, which Deceit doubted, he could continue along this little adventure for a bit longer.

Anton led them to a small stable in the center of the town. Deceit rolled his eyes at the pure white stallion that stood waiting for them. Subtle, clearly.

Roman swung onto the beast easily, even with one hand steadying Deceit. Deceit gritted his teeth as they swayed, the ground an alarming distance from him. Perhaps he should have let Anton reveal him, he had enough material to work with to wriggle his way free at the very least. The Constructs of the Imagination, the mysterious thing Roman needed to talk about, the aching loneliness that reminded Deceit of the hole in his own-

Deceit shook his head, curling around Roman’s shoulders even more as Roman directed the beast out of the stables. They pulled to a halt as Anton snagged the slack in the reins. Deceit watched warily, feeling Roman’s throat vibrate with a confused noise. Anton stared at the two of them, his eyes searching for something that Deceit couldn’t put a name to.

“Stay safe, Roman,” Anton said softly.

Roman threw his head back, and finally, the laughter that Deceit was used to, finally echoed through the air. Confident, on the edge of cocky, as loud as Creativity was bright. 

“When am I not?” Roman shot back, a grin stretching across his face as he spurred the horse forward. Anton took a step back, clear of the clattering hooves as Roman leaned forward over the neck of his steed.

Deceit buried his head in his own coils against the growing wind, watching the mountains that grew along the horizon. The Constructs could tell that he didn’t belong. He hummed in the back of his throat. What a delightful turn of events. Perhaps this wouldn’t be as boring as he had first thought. 

Deceit threw his head back, and for the first time in weeks, he let out a true, hissing laugh.

Chapter Text

Deceit would never admit to just how much delight he felt as he looked around the mountain they climbed. Snow fell around them; Deceit could feel it landing on his scales but the temperature never changed. The same steady warmth remained, from Roman and from the air around them. The white blanket lent an air of peace around the woods they traveled through, and Deceit would admit to wanting to just sit and watch the snow fall.

If this is what people meant when they talked about snow, Deceit would begrudgingly agree that it was gorgeous. If he could have enjoyed it without the crippling cold normally, then Deceit would have covered his own room and realm in it. Much better than the time Remus had taken an interest in hypothermia.

He stuck his tongue out curiously, catching a flake on it. Deceit had no doubt that the sweet, syrupy taste of the flake came from the Imagination. He hesitated before flicking his tongue out for a second taste; he wanted to know what flavor it was.

Deceit froze at the chuckle that cut through the muffled silence. His eyes darted over to Roman, whose face sparkled with mirth. Embarrassment crept down his spine and Deceit curled in on himself, away from the snow.

“Hey, hey, hey, no,” Roman whined, poking at his head. Deceit growled at him, snapping at Roman’s finger. “You were being adorable, don’t stop because of me.”

Deceit wondered if Roman could feel the heat in his glare. The epitome of deception was not meant to be adorable. Roman’s expression turned sheepish, his finger changing from poking at him to simply stroking the top of his head. Deceit sneered internally, because as good as it felt, something as simple as that wouldn’t make him act foolishly for a second time.

“You really are a new one, aren’t you?” Roman said softly. Deceit huffed; he was as old as Thomas, fuck you very much. “Anton was probably right about you not belonging to Hecate if you haven’t seen the snow before. Ah well, Logan says it’s always good to check, and I would like to see her again.”

Deceit wanted to scowl at the mention of Logan. In principle, he agreed; everything should be double checked for safety and efficiency. In practice, someone else double checking things usually made his job and goals that much harder.

“You are a grumpy little shit,” Roman added, sounding delighted about that fact. “Like Virgil but as a snake. Remy’s going to love you.”

Deceit took offence to the fact that anyone thought he was like Virgil. He was nothing like Virgil. He didn’t spend all his time taking his anger out on people, for one. And he preferred words to get what he wanted, for another, none of the intimidation posturing bullshit that Virgil tried to pull. Not to mention that if this Remy person would like Virgil he would no doubt hate Deceit.

That’s if he didn’t hate him for being in the Imagination and a danger to Roman.

Unless Roman meant Remus in which case Deceit would have to find a way to discorporate himself instead of listen to Remus laugh himself sick. 

“Which would be a good thing,” Roman mused, “considering that he’d be the one to get you settled in.”

...fuck. Not Remus then. Deceit set aside the thought of Remy having a name similar to Remus for a different time. Remus had expressed thoughts of missing his brother almost as often as murdering him. Perhaps Roman felt the same.

“Aha!” Roman said, nudging the horse forward, “Here we are! You’ll get to meet him soon enough.”

Deceit stared up at the cave that glowed through the snowfall. The steady yellow light gave off a warmth that Deceit realized came from the idea that coming in from the snow meant they should be getting warm. Even if they hadn’t actually gotten cold. Or perhaps it was something else? Deceit eyed the smoke that swirled as it rose out of the cave.

Roman dismounted, tying the beast up just inside the entrance before all but bouncing into the cave.

“Hecate!” Roman’s voice echoed along the stone. He followed the trail of smoke deeper into the lair, and Deceit knew that if Logan were here he’d have pointed out that smoke didn’t leave trail in a cave. Deceit watched the cave turn from bare stone to covered with curtains and paintings, and wondered if there was more to the fact that none of the other Sides had ever been there before than Roman claimed.

“Who dares disturb my slumb- oh, Roman!” Deceit flinched back from the voice that boomed through the cave. He craned his neck upwards until he could see one glittering red eye surrounded by pitch black scales. He felt something short circuit in his brain as he heard scales scrape along the stone.

The Dragon Witch.

Deceit jerked back. For a wild panicked moment, he thought about shifting back to his usual form and dragging Roman out of the cave before the fool got them both eaten. Spending weeks discorporated because of a whimsical adventure had never been on Deceit’s planner. The slow way that Hecate’s lips peeled back to show off row after row of fangs did not help his heart rate.

“Did you bring me a new friend?” A talon as long as him gripped him carefully, dragging him off of Roman’s neck. Deceit found no shame in the half shrieking hiss that escaped his throat. He thrashed in her grip, gleaming sharp fangs growing closer and closer. Her red eye shone with the same danger that Anton’s did: knowledge. “A wriggling little snake, who might make a good snack.”

“Hecate!” Roman’s voice scolded. A tiny speck below them that Deceit wanted to hiss at again. There was no point in getting them both eaten, the fool. “Now is not the time for your villain act! If he’s not yours, you can’t just eat him!”

Hot breath rolled over Deceit’s scales as the dragon huffed. Her red eye studied him again for a long moment. Deceit agreed with the disbelief he found there; after two Constructs recognized him as an intruder, Deceit would have thought Roman would catch on. Then again, Virgil had repeatedly told Roman Deceit was lying and Roman still thanked him for every “compliment”.

“Who said I was acting?” Hecate’s low voice sent vibrations through Deceit’s body. Roman stomped his foot.

“If you don’t want him then give him back!” 

Hecate rolled her eyes. Wind rushed past his ears and Deceit’s world spun for an awful moment before he realized that the talons that had held him spread out into smooth warm hands. Hecate held him tightly, a hand clamped around the back of his neck and the other the thickest point of his body.

“I never said I didn’t want him.” Deceit couldn't turn to see the look on her face but judging by the petulant tone her deep voice took, it wasn’t a pretty one. “I’ll gladly play with him for a good long time.”

“No,” Roman said, holding his hands out, “If he’s not yours then I’ll find out where he actually belongs.”

Deceit squirmed in Hecate’s hold, testing the strength of her grip and the chance he had to get back to Roman. The hand on his neck tightened in warning. Deceit froze and mentally cursed. He hadn’t learned quite enough for discorperation to be worth it, which meant waiting to see how this played out.

“You never come to play with me anymore,” Hecate whined. “Maybe I just want something fun to do.”

“Not with-”

“Not with another Construct,” Hecate cut him off, “I know, I know, but I’m so bored.”

“Maybe if, like, Daddy visited a little more, we’d all behave, like, a little better.” Deceit stiffened at the new voice that drawled careless words. It echoed differently from the other Constructs and Deceit cursed Roman’s power. How many of the damned things did he have? Let alone ones that seemed to be actually alive.

“Excuse you!” Roman shrieked, “I visit you all plenty!”

“Whatever you say, Daddy-o,” the voice said, each syllable dripping with sarcasm. Deceit hissed softly. He could put together the puzzle pieces; a Construct that would get along with Virgil, one who Roman had been certain that Deceit would meet. Hecate turned and Deceit found himself staring at Remy.

The Construct tilted his head, sunglasses sliding down his face as he stared right back at Deceit. The air hung differently around him, closer to the way that it twisted around Roman than Hecate. Almost like-

Oh. 

Deceit’s lips peeled back into a smug grin. Remy’s eyes traveled upwards to Hecate but Deceit didn’t care. The knowledge of just what Remy contained would be worth ending up discorporated a dozen times over. No wonder Roman didn’t take anyone else into the Imagination, with the most vulnerable part of himself wandering about.

“Whatcha got there, sis?” Remy asked. The casual tone to his voice made Deceit grin even wider, catching the slight lit of nervousness to it. “Can I see it?”

Deceit felt the way Hecate’s hands spasmed on his neck. He wanted to hum. That action told him more than any words could. The Constructs knew exactly what Remy was as well; no wonder Anton didn’t want Deceit to end up here. Loyal little puppets, which made Roman more dangerous than he probably realized. A built-in army to protect him.

Any regret he felt about this happening melted in the face of this new knowledge. All he had to do now was to decide what to do with this information. He had time to figure it out; he had all the time in the world now.

“If you’re sure,” Hecate said after a beat.

“Sure,” Remy said, his mouth lifting up into a smirk. 

“Hecate!” Roman whined, “You were supposed to give him to me!”

All three of them rolled their eyes, Remy and Hecate much more affectionately than Deceit did. They ignored the literal whine that escaped Roman’s throat as Hecate handed Deceit off to Remy. Deceit made note of the fact that they were willing to ignore Roman in the name of keeping him safe.

“You can help me with tea,” Hecate demanded once Deceit found himself cradled Remy’s arms. She hooked an arm around Roman’s and dragged him deeper into the cave. “Then you have to tell me all about how the talk with your family went.”

“Actually, um, I didn’t-”

“You didn’t talk to them?” Hecate hissed as they turned the corner. So it seemed that Roman needed to talk to the other sides about something, and wasn’t that interesting. Out of all of them, Deceit had assumed that Roman had the least to hide. Apparently, he had been wrong in the best way.

“Deception,” Remy said flatly. His hands disappeared, and Deceit fell to the floor painfully. Deceit hissed at him, already looking for a good place to hide as Remy crouched down. The darkness in his eyes didn’t match what something so tied to Roman’s Creativity should look like. “Come on, you little bitch, you should know, like, that trying to hide here will only end with Hecate eating you. Might as well try and use that silver tongue of yours.” 

Deceit glanced in the direction that Hecate and Roman had left. Remy rolled his eyes. The Construct flicked his wrist and grabbed the Starbucks that appeared. 

“What, don’t want him to figure you out?” Remy asked, a mocking lit to his tone. “Awwww, or is the poor wittle snakey afraid of the big bad dwagon?”

Deceit knew what he wanted, but to shapeshift here, to shapeshift now would give Remy the upper hand. A simple scream would be enough to bring the others running and it would turn into a race to see if Deceit could shapeshift back before the others returned. Even if he did, he could still be deemed as a danger as a snake. On the other hand, if Deceit didn’t shift back to human Remy would have a physical advantage over him.

Fuck. Lose-lose no matter what he did. At least as a human he could make use of his new knowledge.

Deceit took a deep breath and scowled at Remy, his newly human fingers spread out against the ground. Triumph wasn’t a good look for Remy, Deceit decided pettily. He would change that soon enough.

“Core,” Deceit greeted flatly. Remy’s face twitched at the word. Deceit straightened and adjusted his cape to give the Construct time to think about just how much he knew at this point. He studied his nails for a brief moment before looking up at Remy, barely a tilt to his head. “I knew that Roman was a fool, but it seems that even then I managed to overestimate him.”

Deceit took a step forward, relishing in the way that Remy took a skittering step back.

“After all, discorporation, that’s one thing. We’ve all had our forms torn apart at least once, but death,” Deceit mused pointedly, “Well, that would take being able to find the part of a Side that made them exist, the very core of them so to speak. To have it wandering around on its own…”

Deceit trailed off meaningfully, yellow eyes glinting in the torchlight. Remy’s jaw clenched at his words. Deceit’s smirk grew into a smug grin.

“Even you wouldn’t go, like, that far,” Remy threw out desperately, and Deceit’s grin fell into a scowl. He wouldn’t go that far, sure, but Remus would with ill-intent or a simple lack of understanding the consequences. That didn’t even mention the other parts of Thomas’ mind. Speaking it out loud would mean that Remy would know for certain that Deceit wasn’t a danger to him however, and Deceit would lose what little footing he still had.

“Oh?” Deceit crooked an eyebrow as he took another step towards Remy. He stepped lightly, crowding Remy against the wall. Remy’s shoulders slammed against a curtain, obscuring the picture it displayed of a small figure fighting a dragon. “Wouldn’t I? How would you know how far I would be willing to go? I’m here after all, for a reason that you don’t know.” His voice dropped to a whisper, “Can you truly be certain of my motivations, little Core?”

As close as he was, Deceit could see the fear and uncertainty in Remy’s eyes even through his sunglasses. Then, they hardened. Remy tilted his neck up in challenge.

“Yeah, I can be. I don’t think you’d, like, hurt Thomas or Roman in that way.”

Deceit growled and lunged forwards. He wrapped his hands around the stupid Construct’s neck; he could feel the way that Remy trembled under his hold. His pulse fluttered under Deceit’s hands, so much like how Roman’s had as well. Deceit hissed out a breath, but couldn’t bring himself to tighten past the light hold he had on Remy.

Remy and Roman would both deserve it, Deceit all but snarled in his head. Reckless idiots trusting that everyone had Thomas’s best interests at heart as soon as Virgil had gone soft. He would be in his rights to snap Remy’s neck here and now. The other Sides might even learn just how dangerous the world was from his action. Remus could cover the Creative aspect they needed.

But he wouldn’t be Hopes and Dreams.

Deceit dropped his hands. He slammed his fist into the stone near Remy’s head and took a step back, swearing under his breath. Remy was right. He couldn’t do that to Thomas, couldn’t curse him to a life without passion or confidence or hope. Roman’s soft laughter danced in his thoughts, and Deceit shoved it down. Viciously.

All he wanted was Thomas to be happy.

“Ha,” Remy said, a tremor in his voice. “I was right, bitch. Which means you have nothing over me. You have nothing over Roman.”

Deceit bared his teeth, anger at himself and at Remy rolling in his chest like a heavy stone. Virgil had gone soft, which meant that he couldn’t afford any weakness in his defense of Thomas. He planted a hand on Remy’s chest, right above the Construct’s heart. He leaned forward to whisper in Remy’s ear.

“Are you so sure about that?” He tapped Remy’s heart pointedly. Damage could be done in more than just a physical sense. Remy glared at him, but Deceit was done. He had nothing more to add to this wonderfully horrible conversation. He shifted back into a snake, coiling around himself. He stuck his head in the middle and refused to move.

He wasn’t going anywhere until Roman came back.

Chapter Text

Warm hands ran gently across Deceit’s scales. He hissed in the back of his throat and only relaxed at the low chuckle that Roman returned to him. A pained note in the noise pushed Deceit into lifting his head to look at Roman directly. 

A vicious hiss tore from his throat.

Deceit shoved his head at Roman’s face, trying to get a better look at his fellow Side’s red-rimmed eyes. Roman chuckled again, a watery smile spreading across his face as he leaned forward. He bumped his nose against Deceit’s. His smile grew a little stronger at the action, and anger and confusion warred in Deceit’s chest.

Roman didn’t cry. Deceit had thought that a fact as much as Logan hating puns. Roman was meant to be confident and regal, not on the edge of trembling. If Roman wasn’t dancing on the edge of Deceit’s nerves, if he wasn’t ridiculously trusting and kind, then Deceit had failed at his job. It meant that there was danger about that Deceit needed to take care of.

“Roman-” Hecate hissed.

“I said I didn’t want to talk about it,” Roman shot back, a waver in his voice.

“You have to talk about it sometime!” Deceit watched Hecate take a step towards them. He curled around Roman’s wrist and cursed inwardly. He had assumed they were only a danger to himself. He had assumed that loyalty meant safety, even though he himself would be proof against that.

“I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to,” Roman said. He scooped Deceit up off the ground and cradled him close. Deceit pressed into him and glared at Remy and Hecate. He was supposed to be the villain here, not them. He couldn’t have anyone upstaging him in that department.

Deceit flared his hood and hissed at them. Hecate narrowed her eyes, hissing back at him. Remy watched him with eyes hidden by sunglasses. Roman gripped him a little tighter. A hand ran down the back of his scales. His anger simmered but he let himself relax just a bit at the action.

“Look, we’re just worried for you-” Remy started. Deceit felt Roman’s grip on him tighten again, a tremor in his hands.

“I’m going to head home,” Roman cut him off. The Constructs flinched, Remy going so far as to take half a step forward. “And I’m going to keep this little guy with me too. Who knows, maybe he’ll be able to spend time with me without judging me at the same time.”

Well, that was patently untrue. Deceit just couldn’t voice his judgments.

“Roman, that’s unfair,” Hecate said, her jaw clenched even as she tried to speak. “We’re not judging you. We want you to be happy.”

“Yeah, well, it certainly doesn’t feel like that,” Roman muttered, glancing away. Insecurity, Deceit filed that thought away. Whatever Roman needed to talk to the other Sides about, it had to do with his increasingly obvious insecurity. “I don’t want to think about anything right now.”

“Fine, don’t think about it then,” Remy said, “At least stay a little longer. You just got here. Come on, gurl, we’ve missed spending time with you.”

“I need to get back to work,” Roman said, and Deceit rolled his eyes. Moron would feel better if he actually stayed to talk with someone, but it wasn’t like Deceit could shake him until he saw sense. There was a difference between an opening Deceit could exploit and something that could twist Roman into someone that he wasn’t. Things like this only gave birth to-

Deceit cut off that line of thought. The situation had been taken care of and that particular fragment wouldn’t hurt Thomas anymore. So long as he did his job, he didn’t have to worry about them.

“You should be glad,” Roman said in a mild tone that made Remy and Hecate wince. Deceit tensed in his hands, “I’m going home instead of to the school.”

What? Deceit tried not to feel unease at the way Remy’s hands spasmed around his drink enough that the cup crumpled. Considering the fact that Remy hadn’t reacted that badly to Deceit, he wondered if he needed to check out this school for himself soon. If he could prevent Roman from becoming part of his job, it would make his life so much easier.

“I should burn that place down,” Hecate hissed, her hands curling into fists by her sides. Even without knowing the whole truth, Deceit agreed. Anything that made Roman’s core react like that should be taken out with extreme prejudice. No hesitation and no regrets. 

“You will do no such thing,” Roman said sharply. “You can hate them all you want but any problems about it go through me first. Just like with the rest of you.”

“I wish I could hate them,” Remy muttered, taking a step closer to Roman, “Come on, Daddy-o, just a day or two, watch some Disney with us, or put on a musical, act something out. Anything you want, it’s yours, you know that. You’re wound tighter than a loaded spring. Let us help.”

Deceit knew, even with the way that Roman hesitated, that Roman would refuse. He mused softly on the puzzle he had been presented with as Roman shook his head. The picture he had of Roman lay shattered at his feet and even now Deceit felt like he was missing something critical.

“As delightful as that sounds,” Roman said, every line of his body stiff, “I really do need to get back to work. I think Virgil will have a heart attack if we don’t get working on the next video soon.”

“Well then fuck him!” Remy snapped. Deceit decided that Remy might not be as horrible as he first thought. “Let him discorporate or panic or whatever, I don’t care. You’re going to unravel at the seams at this rate, Roman!”

“Then at least I’ll have done something useful!” Roman shouted back. 

Silence fell.

Deceit didn’t know the emotion that sat heavy on him. Sharp and twisting much like anger, only it lacked the burn. The bite. It wasn’t sympathy, not only because Deceit didn’t do sympathy, but also because there was too much of a melancholic tinge to it. It reminded him of watching the snow fall, slow and steady and cold.

“Roman,” Hecate said softly. “You already have-”

“No, I haven’t!” Roman lifted one hand to run through his hair, and Deceit took the chance to coil around Roman’s arm, slithering back up to his shoulders. He could feel the tension in Roman’s shoulders, a different physical manifestation of self-hate than Deceit was used to. Remus simply lunged for the nearest fork. Remy said that Roman would unravel but Deceit thought it would be more likely that Roman would shatter.

Whatever was going on, no wonder they all pushed him to talk to the other Sides.

Deceit hummed in thought. He could make use of this. He wasn’t sure how yet, but he felt confident that he could figure it out.

“You wouldn’t- you wouldn’t understand,” Roman muttered, and Deceit agreed. 

The pressure of being a Side would be completely different from whatever a Construct or even a Function had to do. In the end, they didn’t live for themselves, or at least, that’s what Deceit believed, a common point of contention between him and Patton. Patton insisted that they deserved their own happiness, even as a part of Thomas. Deceit thought it was selfish to put Thomas at risk chasing after their own wants.

Deceit stared at Remy’s pale face. Out of everyone in the Imagination, Remy might have a chance to grasp the slightest bit of understanding. But Deceit doubted it. It would take a Side to understand a Side, but since he couldn’t throw Remus at Roman, he’d have to deal with it himself.

“Whatever, doesn’t matter in the end,” Roman muttered, “Thanks anyways guys, I’ll see you later.”

“Roman!” Remy shouted, but Roman had already turned on his heels. Deceit coiled a little tighter around Roman’s shoulders. He didn’t think Roman would stop for him if he fell now.

Roman swung onto his horse, barely pausing to slow down before they were off once more. Deceit huddled down against the growing wind, watching as the world passed them at a blur. He ducked his head against Roman’s neck as the chill around them grew. It bit into his scales and Deceit hated the way it reminded him of wandering outside the Mind Palace.

The world around him slowed. From the cold, or perhaps Roman had finally slowed down, Deceit couldn’t tell. He fell limp on Roman’s shoulders. Deceit hated the cold with a passion and pressed down to soak up Roman’s warmth even more. It left him unable to think, to plan, to act.

“Oh.” 

Deceit melted at the almost burning hand that ran down his scales. For a terrifying moment, all he could think was warmth , nuzzling up into the touch. Roman tugged him down off of his shoulders and settled Deceit against his chest. Coherent thought fled. All he knew was the heat that chased away the cold and the exhaustion that came with it.

“I’m sorry, small friend,” Roman said. It took Deceit a moment to realize that Roman meant him. He cared more about the hands and arms pressing him to Roman’s chest than anything else. “I forgot that you wouldn’t like the cold. Or is it that you don’t do well in the cold?”

Roman’s eyes narrowed. Deceit pressed into the warmth around him even more, trying to get his sluggish thoughts moving once more. He needed to do something. There was a point to this but Deceit couldn’t quite think of it yet. He would though; he always did. He was all he had.

Distantly, Deceit registered Roman moving. He should be concerned, but he wasn’t, not really. Roman didn’t know who he was, if anything Deceit was beginning to doubt Roman would ever put it together. Observation seemed to slip through Roman’s grasp. It certainly came in handy for Deceit.

The air swirled and Deceit sucked in a breath at the sudden jump in warmth. He turned his head and wanted to melt at the sight of the fire that Roman had started. He wriggled in Roman’s grasp, ignoring the way that Roman chuckled. When heat was a matter of survival, it no longer seemed amusing.

Roman set him carefully down on one of the rocks that circled the fire. Deceit spread out, careful to keep just enough distance from the flames and sparks to avoid getting burned. Heat came from all around him, and if he didn’t have work to do Deceit would have stayed there forever. Roman could claim this as his one use; Deceit wouldn’t complain.

Roman chuckled again, and Deceit rolled his eyes as Roman scratched just behind his eyes again. Touchy, touchy. If Deceit stuck around for too long, he might even get used to having someone touch him. Touch from Remus could end anywhere from a knife in his back to the plague. Better to avoid it.

“There you go,” Roman said softly as his hand pulled away. “You should be fine right here, small friend. I’ll come visit you again sometime later, alright?”

Wait, no. 

Deceit struck, snapping forward to wrap his jaw around Roman’s wrist before Roman could pull away completely. It took concentration not to snap down on it, and even then Deceit wasn’t sure he managed completely. If he gave Roman a few scratches in order to not be left here, Deceit could live with that. Roman yelped. His hand pulled away, but Deceit grimly held on.

“What the-?!” Deceit’s scales scraped against stone as Roman took a step back. Confusion colored Roman’s eyes, and Deceit took the chance to slither up Roman’s arm. Roman stumbled back another step but Deceit had spent long enough here already.

If Roman left without him, then Deceit had no guarantee that he’d ever get home. Or worse, Remy and the other Constructs would track him down without Roman there as leverage. Thomas would be in danger without Deceit there to keep him safe.

Deceit hissed at Roman, low and dark.

“What?” Roman demanded. “Are you not warm enough?” He waved his hand, and a nest of blankets appeared next to the fire. Deceit stared at him and shook his head, gripping Roman’s arm tighter. Moron. Deceit wondered if he could shift to a snake that could talk but that would give him away.

“Is that still not enough?” A building joined the nest, springing up around them. The warmth pressed at his resolve, but Deceit shook it off. Roman glared down at him. Ha! Good luck with scaring him, Deceit thought grimly. He was too used to glares to be phased by it, and Roman would never resort to the tactics that Remus used.

“If it’s not the warmth what is it?” Roman snapped. “I need to get back to work-”

Deceit hissed at him again. Roman reared back, blinking in surprise. 

“You-” Roman licked his lips. “You don’t want me to work?”

God, Deceit wanted to shake him. He shook his head again. Roman’s eyebrows drew together in confusion. It shouldn’t have been this hard for Roman to figure it out.

“You- no, come on, there’s no way that you want to stay with me,” Roman said. Finally. Deceit slithered up his arm and curled around his shoulders. Pointedly.

Deceit’s best chance at leaving was Roman. Like hell, he was going to let that go. He needed to get back to work himself; he wasn’t going to keep Roman from doing the one thing that Deceit agreed with. Work and Thomas, that was all that mattered.

“Oh.”

Roman’s voice cracked, and Deceit felt that he really should get used to being confused when it came to Roman. The knowledge that he knew nothing about his fellow Side stung, but then again, Deceit knew that he wouldn’t have wanted others to know about him like this either. He contemplated the idea that learning all of this was disrespectful.

Then tossed it aside. He was Deceit. If anyone had a secret, then surely Deceit should know about it.

“You- you want to stay with me,” Roman repeated, a dazed tone in his voice. Deceit’s frustration built, because yes, they had established that. Roman reached up to clutch him gently, and Deceit wondered why his hands were trembling. “You want to stay with me.”

Deceit’s dark thoughts cut off at the choked sob that tore from Roman’s throat. Alarm flared as Roman sunk down against the door of the impromptu hut. What the fuck? Roman buried his face against Deceit’s scales and Deceit squirmed in panic.

More crying. Roman wasn’t supposed to cry!

“No- no one wants- wants to stay with me,” Roman gasped out between sobs. Deceit called bullshit. He was the expert of it after all. Patton at the very least would jump at the chance to spend time with Roman, and that didn’t even start on the Constructs that clearly adored even the ground Roman walked on.

“Patton- Patton wants company, he doesn’t care if it’s me. He’s nice to everyone-” Deceit called bullshit on that too. Morality hated him. “-and I don’t want to burden him even more by thinking he has to take care of me too. Virgil deserves that more than me and- and- and-”

“Logan hates me, we can’t stand to be in the same room lately. Virgil thinks everything I do is stupid and useless, and Remy is practically required to love me and-”

The panic grew. Deceit had no idea how to comfort someone but it was clear that they weren’t going anywhere until Roman calmed down. Had they been in the Mind Palace, Deceit would have gone to Patton, insinuate he did something to Roman and watched as Patton took care of the rest. He couldn’t do that here.

Tears. The tears had to stop first. Deceit pressed his head against Roman’s face. He pulled away, wishing he could wrinkle his nose at the sticky feeling. Roman’s ramble of self-hatred cut off and Roman stared at him in surprise. Emboldened by the fact that something had changed, Deceit repeated the action.

Roman giggled, the sound mixed with half a sob which wouldn’t do. Roman could brood and sob on his own time, Deceit had shit to do. He hissed and pressed his nose against Roman’s in reprimand. Crying got nothing done; Roman had been the one to say he had work to do.

“Enough, enough!” Roman said, shoving at Deceit’s head gently. He grinned, a little wobbly but closer to the cocky smile he wore everywhere. “I get it, you want to stay, so no more tears.”

Not quite, but close enough. If it meant that Deceit didn’t have to deal with Roman crying anymore then he’d take it. Deceit hissed again in agreement, or as close as he would get. Roman swiped at his face, and Deceit leaned forward to bump him one more time. Just in case.

Roman laughed, throwing his head back. The house around them disappeared and Deceit hissed in surprise as they fell back. Between the branches of the trees, the setting sun painted the sky in brilliant pinks and golds. Deceit squirmed at the pressure Roman’s neck put on the back of his coils and Roman simply laughed even harder.

“You, my small friend,” Roman said brightly, looking down at him with a red blotchy face, “are a mystery. I think I’m going to keep you.”

Chapter Text

Roman took a deep breath, running a hand over his small friend’s scales. Honestly, it was more of a comfort for him than for the snake, but it wasn’t like there was anyone around to call him on it. He scrubbed a hand over his face one more time to make sure any sign of his tears remained gone. It wouldn’t do for the others to find out about his break down.

The snake - and if he was keeping him, he really needed to think of a name for his new friend - hissed at him. Right, right, he was a prince! He couldn’t put this off forever. Well, he could. Roman could lock himself in the Imagination and then he’d never have to face his fear of how the others really saw him. 

Only, Remy and Hecate would kick him out, and then he’d have to explain. Which didn’t even touch on what could happen to Thomas if Roman attempted something even close to ducking out like Virgil had. There was Remus to consider; Nightmares would be the least of their problems. Just another failure courtesy of Roman.

Roman threw his shoulders back. Chin up, back straight, Roman knew how to walk the walk. He knew how to project himself in a way that he hoped would make the others proud. The way Creativity was supposed to act. Confident and clean and chivalrous; everything Remus wasn’t. Roman knew the price of failure.

He took a step forward, leaving the Imagination and tried not to flinch at the sudden weight of reality. Even negated somewhat by his room, Roman hated the difference, the almost stifling air that no one else could feel. Rules and restrictions, limited though they were in Thomas’s mind always made Roman wonder how Thomas could stand living out in the real world.

“Alrighty,” Roman muttered, reaching up to soothe his small friend as the snake began to wiggle along his shoulders. Roman frowned, hoping that the Construct wasn’t reacting badly to being out of the Imagination. Remy was the only one to have left for an extended period of time so far, but Roman knew that they all reacted differently.

Not many did, but there were Constructs that would fall apart as soon as they stepped out of the Imagination.

“First things first!” Roman declared instead of dwelling on those thoughts. He tugged his small friend off of his shoulders and plopped him on the bed. Snakes like soft things right? Maybe he should stop by Logan’s to make sure he knew what he was doing. Then again Constructs didn’t exactly work off of correct biology. “If you’re going to be sticking around, you need a name!”

The snake stopped in his exploration of the bed, or at least Roman assumed that’s what he was doing, to stare at him. Rude, Roman knew exactly what he was doing. Most of the time. Sometimes. At least a third of his actions were thought through! More than Remus’ at the very least!

In any case, there was nothing strange about giving his new friend a name!

“Come on,” Roman coaxed, trying to keep half an eye on his door at the same time. He didn’t want one of the others to walk in and hear him talking like this. Soft was Patton’s corner, not his. “I can’t call you small friend forever, that’s not fair to you. A mighty warrior like you deserves a worthy name.”

The look the snake gave him said very clearly that he doubted Roman could come up with such a name. Honestly, Roman didn’t blame him. Look at the way he named the other Constructs. Anton insisted he didn’t mind his name, same with Nate and god, he named Brain Brian. Roman wondered if he should be concerned about one of them deciding to change their names one day.

Roman cast his eyes about for inspiration. His small friend acted too intelligently to be a pet, and deserved the respect that all of his Constructs did. That meant no half done name like Scales or Nagi. Roman wanted to give him a name.

“Anthony,” Roman said into the silence. Inspired by snake based characters, but not super obvious. Plus they were both characters that were more than they first appeared and Roman had a feeling that fit his new friend.

Anthony froze at the end of his bed, staring at Roman with wide eyes. Roman took that as a good sign, considering that Anthony hadn’t hissed at him yet or even snapped his jaw. He grinned, and reached down to scoop Anthony back up into his arms. Only then did Anthony hiss at him.

“Anthony it is!” Roman declared. “Your chance to disagree has passed, and from henceforth shall you be known as Anthony and there’s nothing you can do about it!” He cuddled Anthony close and headed for his door. “And don’t think that I missed that hiss! You’ll get a chance to poke around my room later but for now, we have a glorious quest to complete!”

His door swung open as he approached and Roman strode confidently down the hall. No one would be out and about this late, not unless something had gone really wrong and Virgil was needed. No, nights and dreams were Roman’s time. He loved watching the colors swirl in Thomas’s mind and know that he caused that.

He passed by Patton’s room, treading softer as he caught sight of the light under the door. Roman’s mouth twitched into a helplessly fond smile. Another night of binging sitcoms it seemed. Virgil’s door sat dark for once and Roman hoped he got a good night’s sleep. He’d pick a soft dream just to make sure it happened. 

Logan’s door though-

Roman winced at the open door. He didn’t think that there was much Logan had to organize tonight so Roman couldn’t think of why he’d be up and about at this time. He had been certain that other than getting the next idea of Thomas’s videos he had done everything right today. No Nightmares had made it past his border, he had dreams ready for the next several weeks, and the pep talk he gave Thomas had almost been acceptable if he said so himself.

The chances that Logan had gotten up to help felt laughable after their last several interactions. That didn’t stop Roman’s heart from skipping at the thought. He wanted Logan to help him. More than anything he wanted Logan, and even Virgil to be proud of what he did. He wanted to know that he did it right, did it well.

His steps slowed as he approached the kitchen, and the light clearly on in it. Logan wasn’t working then. Anthony hissed at him, questioning his actions Roman guessed. Roman waved a hand, not sure that Anthony would get what he meant by it. Not that Roman knew what he meant by it. Maybe reassurance? 

He inched towards the kitchen, and glanced in carefully. Logan sat at the table, a steaming mug of coffee at his elbow while he read. The quiet turn of a page filled the near empty room. Roman debated on simply sinking out and slipping past Logan instead of risking whatever confrontation would come from this. Roman took a deep breath; he wasn’t a coward.   

“Well, well, well!” Roman called out, not too loud with how late it was, and stepped into the kitchen. “I didn’t think we’d run into Low-key Sky-waker tonight, but clearly our adventure hasn’t ended!”

“Greetings, Roman,” Logan said, his book snapping shut. “I am pleased that you have returned from your quest without any harm to your person.”

Roman forced a snicker, ignoring the heavy weight of Anthony’s look and placement on his shoulder as he threw himself into a chair. Logan rolled his eyes, but slid the cup of tea towards him. Roman blinked at it, moving to wrap his hands around the warm drink anyways.

“You didn’t stop by for lunch today,” Logan said simply. “Tea will help to hydrate you as well as provide at least a few of the calories that you missed.” Logan’s eyes landed on Anthony, and it took all of Roman’s willpower to not angle away and cover his small friend from Logan’s piercing gaze. “Though I see that you’ve returned with a companion.”

“I am a prince after all,” Roman said, sweeping his hand grandly rather than comment on the fact that he hadn’t made lunch. He pulled Anthony off his shoulders, setting him down on the table. Logan reaching for him wasn’t a surprise. The outright hostile hiss from Anthony, on the other hand, caught Roman unprepared. Anthony flared his hood and pulled away from Logan’s hand as the two of them stared at him.

“Anthony!” 

Logan’s hand fell to the table as Roman hissed back at his small friend. Anthony glared at Logan before curling around himself and sticking his head in his coil. Honestly. If he hadn’t come from something connected to Roman, there would have been a question where all the drama came from.

“I don’t see how being a prince would make creatures like you more,” Logan finally said.

“Simple! We have the best voices!” Roman said, pulling Anthony a little closer to himself. He didn’t apologize. He couldn’t control Anthony; he didn’t want to in the first place. The darker part of himself crowed at the fact that the clearly picky snake liked him and couldn’t stand Logan at all.

“Preposterous,” Logan said flatly, and Roman hid a wince. “While there are studies that show the way you speak to an animal affects the way that it reacts to you, there is no proof that the actual voice changes anything-”

“Bah!” Roman cut him off. “Magic and destiny have no need of science!”

Logan stared at him, and Roman tried not to fidget under his gaze. The Imagination didn’t run off of science, and only parts of it ignored logic altogether, but Roman never knew how to explain that to Logan. That his presence wasn’t gone, just different. It never felt good enough though. He tried not to swallow thickly and pasted on a grin instead. God, he hoped it was confident.

Logan straightened, tension along the line of his shoulders and Roman fought the urge to close his eyes in resignation. One day, he wanted to open his mouth and be able to say something nice to Logan instead of some stupid defensive shit.

“Science is required for everything,” Logan snapped. “I doubt that your magic, which isn’t real might I remind you, could explain the way the sun moves or why everyone breathes. The change in season, and evolution. Everything revolves around science!”

“Then what about us?” Roman snapped right back, his blood boiling at the accusation that magic wasn’t real. Maybe not for Thomas, but they were under no such restrictions. “How would you explain us? How would your oh so precious science explain that, huh?”

“Simple,” Logan hissed, “Hallucinations brought on by the stress of Thomas’s life, a coping mechanism nothing more, nothing less-”

Roman jerked back as Anthony’s hiss cut through their rising voices. Anthony rose up, his hood flaring once more. He glared at the two of them, head snaking back and forth. His hiss rose once more, and Roman didn’t think he imagined the reprimand and contempt in the sound. Silence fell, and with it so did Anthony. He still glared at Roman, who scowled back down at him. So what if he started the fight? He hadn’t meant to!

Logan took a deep breath across from him and Roman mentally winced. So much for whatever Logan wanted tonight. Maybe if he moved quick enough he could flee- bravely- before the next fight started. Still though, Anthony’s stare bit into him, and Roman reminded himself that he wouldn’t end up completely alone no matter what happened.

“Sorry,” he muttered, ducking his head and staring down at the now cold tea that Logan had made him. Great, even more guilt. Maybe he really should stay in the Imagination for the rest of time.

“Likewise,” Logan said softly, and Roman glanced up at him through his bangs. Logan offered him a hesitant smile and Roman felt a matching one crawl up his face. Logan fiddled with his glasses, “I’m afraid that talking with you simply makes me more-” He paused, smile growing into a smirk, “More passionate than usual.”

Roman gasped, hand flying up to his chest. Warmth grew, and he let the fight fall to the wayside. It wouldn’t stay there for long, but Roman wanted to enjoy the moment while he could.

“What? Passion?” Roman drew out all the dramatics that he could, swaying in his seat. Logan rolled his eyes, fondness replacing the tension in his shoulders and Roman declared victory. “I have no idea where you would get such a thing! Such a bright, beautiful, bold, wondrous-”

“Enough, enough!” Logan chuckled, and Roman beamed at him. This. Moments just like this kept his mouth shut, because how could he ever take that glitter from Logan’s eyes? How could he replace it with pain and guilt and worry when it was all Roman’s fault in the end anyway? No, much better to stay silent by staying loud and proud. “You’ve made your point, in that your head has once again grown too large for your body.”

Roman squawked, his arms flailing through the air in offence. He shoved down the pang of worry that Logan meant his words and instead focused on not hitting Anthony as he jabbed his finger in Logan’s direction.

“How dare you!” Giddiness flooded his chest at the almost grin that Logan sent his way. God, he had missed this. “My head is perfect and handsome and you are simply jealous of my good looks!”

“We have the same face,” Logan pointed out, and Roman sniffed.

“Details, schmetails.”

“Ah, yes, I had forgotten that large things such as that count only has details,” Logan mused. “As such I’m sure that the details about your new pet-”

“Friend,” Roman cut in without thinking about it. Logan and Anthony both stared at him, and Roman felt heat creep up his neck. Fuck. He couldn’t just let Logan insult Anthony by comparing him to an animal but at the same time, Logan didn’t know how the Imagination worked. Roman kept that part of his work wrapped up tight, more so than even Virgil did.

He didn’t want a repeat of what happened with Patton and Virgil.

Thankfully, Logan didn’t push, though Anthony’s stare didn’t waver. A new Construct for sure then.

“Your new friend then,” Logan corrected. “If details don’t matter to you, then I’m sure you don’t want to hear more about him.”

“Maybe I don’t!” Roman paused. He fiddled with the mug in front of him. Anthony snapped at his fingers, and Logan watched him with amused and knowing eyes. He cracked swiftly. “What about him?”

Logan’s eyes brightened.

“A Malpolon moilensis, more colloquially known as a False Cobra.” Logan’s hands waved through the air, and Roman leaned forward to plant his chin in his hands. Anthony slithered between his eyes, watching Logan warily. 

“It’s called such because of the way that it imitates an actual cobra, with a flared hood and deeper hiss.” Roman glanced down at Anthony who bared his fangs. Awwwww, he wasn’t as dangerous as he pretended to be. “They have a distinctive mark from the cheek to the jaw and while venomous they’re not deadly. They’re not normally caught and kept as pets because they can range from docile and friendly to aggressive and defensive, hence the imitation of an actual cobra.”

Roman whistled and Logan brightened even further. 

“Native to North Africa and the Middle East, the fact that you can create one is fascinating!” Logan leaned forward, and his hands twitched in the telltale sign of wanting to touch a specimen. Well, Anthony wasn’t an experiment, though he had made that quite clear himself.

“He’s rather new,” Roman found himself admitting, running a hand down Anthony’s scales to comfort both of them. Nerves swirled in his gut at the thought of talking about any of his work, but Logan’s eyes stared at him with interest. Enough that his mouth kept going, “I haven’t figured out where in the Imagination he came from yet, but he’s smarter than a normal snake.”

“Astounding,” Logan breathed. “Are all animals in the Imagination like that?"

“Some of them” Roman admitted, “It depends on their creation and the story they’re meant to be a part of. My own steed is slightly above average but not to the point of Anthony. She doesn’t have an almost human personality. He probably came from a fairy tale, to be honest.”

Something about Anthony’s silence despite being the subject niggled at the back of Roman’s mind, but Logan’s words caught his attention and it faded. 

“Would-” He hesitated, and Roman tilted his head to the side. Logan licked his lips, “Would you tell me about them? Your realm?”

Roman froze. Fear curled in his stomach. Tell Logan about his greatest creations? About Hecate and Anton? Lady and Remy? Leave them open to the critique that Logan would no doubt level at him? Roman thought that if he heard Logan say something, even an offhand remark about how a mix of medieval and modern would never work, he’d fall apart then and there.

“Maybe,” Roman said as the silence stretched, “Maybe later?”

Hurt flashed through Logan’s eyes. It twisted Roman’s gut and he wanted to curl under the table and stick his head under his arms like Anthony did. Oh look at that, Roman had ruined the moment already.

“Very well then,” Logan said, and the way he tried to keep his voice from going stiff felt painfully obvious. Great job, Roman. “If we are changing the subject I meant to talk to you about Thomas’s next video-”

Nerves morphed into panic. Roman drowned for a brief second before he stood up abruptly. His chair scraped along the ground, and Roman distantly watched Logan flinch at the noise. He felt as robotic as Logan claimed to be. He smiled woodenly, picking Anthony up as he stepped back.

“I’m working on it.” Did he sound unsure? Roman couldn’t tell. His heartbeat covered anything else up, filling the empty space where an idea should be. “I’ll come up with something worth the wait.”

“Roman-”

“I have work to do,” Roman snapped, hating himself for the way that Logan drew up for another fight. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Couldn’t go five minutes without causing problems. “I’ll see you later, Specs.”

Roman turned and fled, ignoring Logan calling out for him. He didn’t want to see the disappointment on Logan’s face. His own crushed him enough.

Chapter Text

Deceit did not stare down the halls longingly. He did not think of the fact that if he managed to slip from Roman’s sight for just a moment he could sink out to his room and finally get back to work. He hissed softly as they turned a corner, trying not to think about the tight grip that Roman had on him.

Instead, he thought about what he had learned. The main Sides were even larger fools that he thought. No wonder Thomas was a mess when a simple wrong implication set off an argument. A few insinuations there, a whisper there, and someone could set off an explosion of an argument. Care and love shattered so easily in the face of hurt pride.

Frustration prickled under his scales. If the main Sides stayed this vulnerable then it would hurt Thomas, and everything Deceit did would be for nothing. Safety in numbers only worked if they trusted each other enough to bring up potential problems. Well, Deceit mentally narrowed his eyes as Roman came to a stop, if he got the chance perhaps he would just have to remind them of that.

Roman took a deep breath, reaching up to settle Deceit around his shoulders. Deceit let himself wonder for a brief moment if Roman would ever make up his mind on where Deceit would stay, his shoulders or his arms. Or, ideally, nowhere.

A fraction of the tension in Roman’s shoulders bled away as he placed a hand on the door in front of him. Deceit tilted his head to the side. The ornate wood opened up to a closet, if Deceit remembered correctly. He didn’t use it personally; he kept his supplies like Denial and Belief around his own room instead of where the other Sides could get into them.

“You wanna see something cool?” Roman whispered, his eyes bright. He grinned and pushed the door open. It swung smoothly open, without a sound, and Roman walked in like he owned the place. Deceit fought not to let his surprise show as he took in the sight before him, but even then smugness radiated from Roman’s frame. 

The wall to his right shone with row upon row of Emotions, the yarn hanging from hooks and casting enough light to banish shadows from even the far corners. The red of Anger, blue of Sadness, yellow Happiness, purple Pride, simple orange Excitement and more, shade after shade all blending together into a rainbow that Deceit knew Patton worked with. A part of him wanted to reach out and touch them, but he shoved it down with a mental scoff. 

He didn’t care what Patton did.

The smell of earth hung over everything. Deceit flicked his tongue out to get a better taste of it, and his eyes landed on the bags of soil and gardening equipment, carefully stacked on a shelf opposite to the yarn. The smell of earth mingled with pollen. Seeds and pressed flowers framed the duller tools; tulips, roses, lilacs, and more that Deceit couldn’t name all displayed the skill that Logan earned tending to Curiosity and Wonder.

The back wall, however, caught his attention and refused to let go. Unlike the stacks of yarn, or the pile of gardening equipment, only a dozen orbs sat nestled on red velvet pillows. The golden frills swayed even with the absence of a breeze. Deceit stared at the shapes, unsure if they were pearls or rounded gems or even some mix of the two. 

Roman reached out and caressed one with a grin. The swirling rainbow lights sparked at the action and Deceit marveled at the almost alive way that it danced under Roman’s palm. He preferred the one that swirled gold but even then- Deceit would never admit it out loud but each orb in front of him was a masterpiece, regardless of the colors.

“Not this one,” Roman said softly, “Remy designed this one, and chaos isn’t the goal.” He grinned even wider. “Soon though. Remy’s dreams are always magnificently fun.”

Dreams. Deceit’s eyes would have widened if they could. He made a point not to be out and about after Thomas had fallen asleep. He took the chance to rest and plan without the interference of the others. Sitting in his room, warm and dark as he went over the lies Thomas had told that day and whether they had furthered his goals.

Apparently, that had been a mistake.

Roman picked up a Dream that bled teal and royal purple, dotted with bright white and blues, a galaxy of colors. He held it up to Deceit’s face. It hummed in his hand, and Deceit swayed at the sound.

“This one,” Roman said confidently. “Thomas and Virgil will both sleep through the night and we, Anthony dear-” he winked- “will have some fun.”

Deceit’s curiosity stirred as Roman cradled the Dream close. He kept his eyes on it as Roman strode out of the closet and back towards the Mind Palace. A galaxy in a bottle, so to speak, if anyone could manage it, it would be Roman. Creativity could be such a powerful force.

Roman stopped just outside of the Mind Palace. He took a deep breath and the world shifted. Endless grey hallways unfolded into Thomas’s bedroom. Deceit’s sight wavered at the edges, blurring hard lines into something softer. Not quite to Thomas’s conscious thoughts but close. 

Roman held the Dream out in front of him and paused.

“And for the main event, which is significantly more magnificent than what I just showed you, hard to do, I know but-” Roman took a deep breath and breathed out over the orb. Deceit didn’t have a better way to describe the way it fell apart other than dissolved.

Blue, teal, purple, white, the colors dusted the room around them, and the already blurred edges lost all definition. Deceit shook his head to clear the disorienting image. Roman’s arms lifted; he took a step forward, then another, and Deceit wished he could blink for the millionth time as Roman executed a neat turn.

Deceit’s vision cleared, and Thomas’s room no longer lay before them. Roman laughed as his partner lead him around the ballroom. Music swooped and rose in the distance, the same music that had hummed from the Dream before, violins and cellos meshing into a soothing melody.

Deceit glanced around the room, looking past the embroidered curtains and tables with food that he couldn’t name. People swept past them in the flow of the dance, flowing dresses and frilled tuxedos matched together in equal measure. He caught sight of Thomas held close by a man that he didn’t recognize and had to stomp down on his instinctive urge to tear the two apart.

A Dream, he reminded himself. Thomas was in no danger here, not really, and whatever man he was with had to be fantasy material. Considering that was what he literally was.

Golden lights caught Deceit’s eye, and he watched in wonder as streaks of teal and purple floated through the air above them, unobserved by anyone else. The part of himself that went ignored more often than not wanted to reach up and run his fingers through them. He wanted to feel them, see if they were as soft as they looked or if they would scatter at his touch.

Roman laughed, his head thrown back enough that his hair brushed against Deceit's scales. Deceit scowled about his interrupted thoughts. He turned to focus on Roman and froze. 

Roman danced with his nameless partner, his rhythm impeccable as his feet stepped across the wooden floor. The lights played off his hair, and his grin stretched his cheeks far enough that his eyes wrinkled at the corners. Deceit relaxed on his shoulders; the music choice wasn’t that bad, and like this, with bright eyes and a grace in his movements, Roman didn’t look too horrible. Almost alright-

Deceit hissed. Roman flinched in surprise, but Deceit ignored him. Roman was a moron, he reminded himself. A reckless idiot, loud and foolish and cocky and stubborn. He refused to be fond of the other Side. Nothing good came of spending time with anyone else, and Deceit firmly decided that it was time to go.

He slithered off of Roman’s shoulders, down his arm, and fell to the hardwood floor with a slightly painful thump. Roman yelped above him, but Deceit didn’t care. He had enough of this farce. He had information that he could use; he had gotten his rest. It was time to get back to work.

He slid across the smooth floor, weaving between the ever moving feet and resolutely not looking at the dancers around him. He could find a way out on his own. He wouldn’t get distracted by the scene around him again. Sparkling lights, bright colors, and beautiful people, Deceit knew that all of it was meant to draw the people around it in.

A wondrous trap. A benign trap, but a trap all the same. 

Roman’s voice echoed behind him, worry in the call of his “name”. Deceit broke free of the dancers, eyeing the windows along the edge of the room. He drew close to one and hissed. The night sky glittered with stars, completely fake and not the exit that he needed. He doubted that Roman had dumped them in the Imagination, which to Deceit’s knowledge held the only sky in Thomas's mind.

He turned towards the tables of food that lined the back wall. If he couldn’t escape now, he could at least get some peace and quiet. If he was lucky, he could disappear and slip away once Roman gave up looking for him. Deceit hissed quietly, frustration coloring the sound.

He inched closer to the tables. The draped tablecloths might be enough to hide him, but they would also be one of the first places that Roman would check. Deceit slithered past the first table, the rows of drinks useless to him. There had to be something that he could hide among. Roman had no patience; Deceit could wait him out.

His tongue flickered out, and he tasted the heavy aromas in the air. The thick gravy smell coated the back of his throat enough that Deceit wished he could wrinkle his nose. He bet Roman thought it would be more romantic if the ballroom had duck instead of something reasonable, like chicken. He didn’t even want to know what sort of sides that Roman had picked out.

Well, he did. But only to know if their coloring matched his own.

He rolled his eyes, aware of the hurried footsteps behind him. Outrunning Roman like this would be a challenge, but possible, if he was smart about it. The table legs, for one, would be useful tools seeing as Deceit could duck around and under them in a way that Roman couldn’t. He took a deep breath, his muscles bunching as he prepared to evade Roman.

He froze for the second time that night.

In the back corner of the Dream, tucked away where Thomas would never notice it, Deceit stared at the four figures sitting frozen in a moment. Panic lanced through Deceit’s heart; he had never suspected that Roman could be any level of malicious. This matched Remus more than Roman. Hands closed around his coils, and Deceit thrashed, no longer caring as he was lifted into the air.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Roman tried to soothe. It didn’t sound like a lie. Deceit couldn’t afford to take that risk. “Anthony! Anthony, look. Come on, Tony, just look, it’s fine.”

Deceit breathed heavily, eyes skittering passed the scene in reluctant horror. He paused and looked again. The way Patton’s hands sat frozen in mid-clap, mouth stretching out into a wide shameless grin looked at first glance flawlessly in character. The second time around however, it lacked the necessary energy, the color of his eyes just a shade off, the freckles in the wrong spots.

Fake.

Deceit took in the scene before him. Virgil caught mid-throw, a roll sailing through the air towards a lunging Roman. The roll of Logan’s eyes counterpoint to the small smile tilting his lips up. Patton’s head thrown back in laughter. A picture perfect moment of domestic bliss. 

Roman’s hand scratched at his scales, just behind his eyes. 

“See?” Roman said. Deceit glanced up at him; Roman stared at the scene in front of them, something close to nostalgia in his eyes. Only the nostalgia had been dipped in something that looked a lot like wistfulness. Roman blinked and grinned down at him, the emotions fading like mist in the sun. “Nothing’s wrong. Bet it scared you to see Logan so still after meeting him.”

Scared, yeah, Deceit would go with scared instead of outright terrified. He hissed his indignation at Roman whose grin grew. Fuck him, Deceit demanded compensation for his terror. He’d take freedom.

Roman hesitated. His eyes locked on to the picture, and Deceit took the chance to try and wriggle his way out of Roman’s hold. He didn’t think Roman noticed the way that his grip tightened. Deceit wheezed at the pressure. His eyes cast around for a way to escape again.

They landed on a figure even farther back in the corner. Deceit felt his breath catch. There, almost hidden completely in the curtains, was himself. His eyes scanned over the almost perfect outfit, the amused smirk that played at the edges of his lips as he froze in the act of tugging his hat over his eyes. Why was he here? Roman may not have hated him like the others, but he certainly didn’t like him either.

Deceit wondered if he could find Remus too, if he looked hard enough.

“Anthony? Oh,” Roman snickered as he caught sight of what Deceit stared at. “Surprised to see someone else with scales? You and Hecate aren’t the only ones you know!” Deceit glared up at him. “What? I’m clearly the only one truly unique here in the Mindscape!”

Deceit snapped his jaw, and Roman, damn him, only laughed. The sound faded, and Roman’s eyes went distant as he stared at Deceit’s double.

“‘m not his biggest fan, I admit,” Roman said softly. “But it felt wrong to leave him out. He’s still one of us you know? Well no, you wouldn’t know-” Deceit felt an irrational anger rise and fall like the tide. “-but I just-”

Roman faltered.

“He can be kind!” Roman said, his voice insistent like he had said it before. Deceit scarcely breathed, caught by the passion in Roman’s voice. “He gives us compliments! It may not be- be right the way that he does it but he does try to protect Thomas like the rest of us!”

Silence.

“I just-” Roman’s voice could barely be heard. Deceit strained to catch his words. Roman scrubbed at his face. “I don’t want to make the same mistake we did with Virgil. I don’t want to claim him as a villain if that’s not what he is. He may not be good, but he can be kind, and that has to mean something right?”

A silence.

“Maybe they both can be.”

Deceit didn’t know what to do with the desperation in Roman’s voice. The Dream around them wavered. Roman’s chest shuddered with his next breath, and he shoved his face into Deceit’s coils. Deceit sighed and pressed back into Roman’s touch. Just this once, he told himself. He stared as the Dream fell apart, dropping them back into Roman’s room.

“We should-” Roman’s voice cracked. The sound vibrated along Deceit’s scales. “It’s late, we should head to bed before Specs does that magic of his and finds out we’re still awake. I think he can tell when there’s an opportunity to lecture someone.”

Deceit doubted it. He stayed still and quiet as Roman snapped his fingers, the room flipping from brightly lit to dim. The only light came from the fairy lights along the edge. It was almost soothing. Roman climbed into the bed, setting him down in the pillow next to his own.

Something popped in Roman’s arm as he stretched. Deceit watched with steady eyes. His moment approached. Roman yawned, settling himself down under the covers. He reached out to give Deceit one last pet.

“Night, Tony,” Roman mumbled his eyes slipping shut. His arm fell heavy over Deceit, who waited. Deceit waited until his breathing smoothed out, until the lights turned off completely. Bathed in shadows, Deceit slid out from under Roman’s arms. He fell to the floor with a soft thump, and paused. 

Roman turned over in his sleep.

Deceit breathed out. Just this once, he repeated, and rose. He adjusted his hat, staring down at Roman’s still form. His gold eye glinted even in the darkness. He reached out, his hand almost brushing the blankets that covered Roman. It dropped and Deceit turned away.

“You’re wrong,” he whispered.

He closed his eyes and disappeared.

Chapter Text

Deceit paced his room. He folded his hands behind his back and counted the steps between his walls. Thirty-five with a little room left over to spin on his heels and start all over. He hissed into the darkness, watching as little bits of Denial scattered at the sound. He breathed deeply and pinched the bridge of his nose.

Everything felt off balance. Nothing had felt right since he had gotten back from his little... adventure with Roman. Normally, Deceit would have blamed the damage to his Wall, the ever-present itch that came with the fact that he needed to fix it. But he had done that. Had shoved Denial and Lies and Belief into the cracks as much as it would let him.

God, if only Thomas would make up his mind about what he wanted to know, Deceit might be able to take an actual nap.

Nap or not, Deceit didn’t think it would help. The problem came from the fact that he couldn’t stop his mind from drifting over to Roman. He snarled and shoved all the papers off his desk. Plans scattered to the wind. It didn’t help him feel better at all. 

Roman didn’t feel included. Deceit refused to sympathize with that. Roman had a family, even if they argued with him. Roman had two families, if he could let himself reach out to Remus. The fools were going to drive themselves apart and the progress that Thomas had made lately would all fall apart. The stability Virgil had found would fall apart.

For a moment, Deceit thought he could feel burning hands on his throat and shoulders. Chasing on its heels, the sound of laughter.

His hands curled into fists. It would serve them right for their house of hypocrisy and lies to fall apart. They didn’t want his help; he didn’t have to give it to them. Let them rot like they had left him to. He didn’t think of the shade of himself hanging at the edges of Roman’s Dream. His chest heaved. They all lied.

What made them different from him?

A soft voice. A name.

Fuck.

Deceit spun, his form dropping away until the same cobra as before sat on the floor. He didn’t let himself think as he sunk out of his room. He rose up just outside of the commons and hissed to himself. 

He would stick around just long enough to shove the idiots in the right direction before leaving. A problem in the Imagination perhaps? One that would require Logic and Creativity to solve. They’d see how well they worked together, blame him for the problems, and almost everyone would go home happy. Simple. Easy. Deceit could do it in his sleep.

He probably wouldn’t even have to move before Roman came swooping in to pick him up.

Deceit settled down by the door, watching carefully for Roman leaving or returning. He waited. And waited. A warm draft blew through the crack in the door, and Deceit dozed lightly. Impatience rose in his throat. Where was Roman? He almost never stayed in his room all day.

Deceit nosed at the door, pushing it open carefully and slipping into the commons. It wasn’t likely but he could have missed the other Side already. He made his way past the coffee table, ignoring the mess of papers and books laid out on it. His mistake.

“Ah,” a voice said softly, and Deceit jumped. He hissed, drawing himself up and baring his fangs in threat. Logan looked down at him, blinking in surprise. “Well.” Logan stopped. Not a good sign. Deceit wondered if it was too late to duck out and leave. Fuck this, and fuck them, he didn’t have to give himself heart attacks like this.

“It seems Roman was right about you being a clever little thing,” Logan said finally. He crouched down slowly and held his hand out. “Though I would ask you not to repeat these actions without warning next time.” Deceit stared at him. “Roman- well, it would be more efficient to show you. I won’t hurt you.”

Deceit eyed him carefully, weighing the risks of Logan recognizing him against the ease of someone else taking him to Roman’s room. Disguises were his specialty. Virgil would be most likely to recognize him out of all the others, but Logan had the ability to force him back into his normal form should he suspect anything at all.

Then again, Logan didn’t know anything about Constructs. No one other than Roman and Remus did, and Roman was the one claiming that Deceit was such. Tension from fighting was one thing; trusting each other was another. Deceit knew, down to his bones he knew that the Main Sides trusted and loved each other more than anything else.

He slithered forward, wrapping gently around Logan’s wrist and then up his arm. Logan’s arm stayed rock steady the entire time as Deceit settled there. He moved smoothly, a precision that felt like a foil to Roman’s grace. Similar but different. God, they were both stupider than he thought if they thought they were meant to work against each other.

They could fuck right off with that; he had claimed that particular conflict for him and Patton.

Logan pulled him closer to his chest and strode towards Roman’s room. Deceit watched as they passed Virgil’s room, a low thumping of music turned too loud coming from it. He snapped his head away. No reason to worry about Virgil then, if he was too panicked about something to even leave his room. Patton on the other hand-

Deceit stared at Patton standing mournfully in front of Roman’s door.

“Any change?” Logan prompted.

“No,” Patton sighed. “I offered cookies, and he still didn’t open the door.” Deceit scoffed as Patton stared down at the plate in his hand with watery eyes. “I just wish he’d talk to us so we could help. Or even just! A hug! Something!”

“He can be particularly stubborn,” Logan said. His free hand came up to adjust his glasses. Nerd. “However, I do believe that I have something that could help.”

Logan raised the arm with Deceit on it up into the air, and Deceit hissed at him. He wasn’t something to show off. The only thing worse than that would be to end up stuck in Logan’s room being poked and prodded at. He knew he was different, he didn’t need it shoved into his face.

“Oh!” Patton squealed, his hands flying to his mouth. He clapped excitedly. Deceit and Logan both winced at the volume. “What a cute little guy! Look at his little face! The nose! Does he boop, can he boop?!”

“Most likely,” Logan said, his hand rubbing at his ear, “But Roman made it clear he’s not a pet, so I believe it would be rude to try and ask him to do so.”

Deceit bared his fangs at Patton. Oh, Patton would be more than welcome to try. Deceit would love the chance to sink his fangs into Patton’s hypocritical face if given the chance.

“Awww,” Patton pouted. “Alright, fine.” He wiggled a finger in Deceit’s face before dropping it; sadly before Deceit could close his jaws around it. “Feisty friend! But how’s he gonna help Roman?”

“Patton,” Logan said grandly as if he were unveiling the secrets of the universe. And he says he doesn’t do emotions, Deceit thought smugly, but that was defined pride right there. “Meet Anthony.”

“Ooooooh!” Patton’s eyes lit up. “The same Anthony that Roman is crying about?”

What? Deceit stared at them both. He had spent at most a day with Roman, and then disappeared. Crying seemed like an extreme reaction to his disappearance. Especially when one could assume that he had simply slipped back into the Imagination. 

Then again, it was Roman, and he didn’t do anything by halves.

Deceit sighed and tightened his hold on Logan’s arm to remind him that they had something to do. No point in drawing this out. He wanted to take care of this as soon as possible so that he could focus on his plan. Or as Roman would have put it, his evil diabolical plotting.

It did have a nice ring to it.

“The very same,” Logan said. “We shall simply return Anthony to him and all will be well.”

“Good,” Patton grinned and reached over to pat Logan’s shoulder. “That’s perfect Logan! You should be proud!”

Logan blushed. Deceit rolled his eyes. Logan shifted on his feet and fiddled with his glasses. “Ah, well-”

“And if that’s taken care of I should get back to work!” Patton clapped his hands together again. Logan’s hand fell from his face. Well, wasn’t that interesting. It seemed that Roman wasn’t the only one having problems in this slice of so-called heaven. “Thanks, Logan!”

Logan stared at Patton’s back for a long moment. Deceit hissed at him. Crisis later, work now. Out of all of them, he would have thought Logan agreed.

“You are quite correct,” Logan said, looking down at him. “Emotions can wait. You need to be returned to Roman, and I need-” his eyes drifted in the direction Patton had disappeared before shaking his head. “I shall get back to work. Hopefully, Roman will as well.”

Deceit hummed. Yes, that sounded ideal. Everyone working, Thomas safe. Emotions were simply… a means to an end, that was all. Happiness was the goal, which meant everything else could be pushed aside. Thomas’s happiness to be precise so it didn’t matter what happened to himself.

Logan turned and knocked on the door. Three quick raps echoed through the hall. Deceit wondered why he bothered, it would have been easiest to simply sink into Roman’s room. Knocking gave Roman the chance to refuse.

“Go away!”

See? Deceit stared at Logan as Roman’s muffled reply reached them. Logan sighed, adjusting his grip on Deceit before knocking again. Then again. And again. Deceit watching his unmoving face as he stubbornly remained in place. The immovable object against the unstoppable force. If he could get them to work together, perhaps there would be no need for him after all.

Logan would cover the darker shades of the world; he knew that morality was relative after all. Black and white didn’t exist, simply grey. 

Deceit would be able to hold back the Sides that needed to be hidden and nothing else. God, that sounded like paradise. He would almost never have to leave his room. Maybe check up on Remus from time to time, but for the most part he could nap in the heat.

The door swung open and Roman glared down at Logan. Deceit winced. Roman’s eyes were clearly red-rimmed again and it made him want to shake something. Confidence, Roman represented confidence and Deceit wasn’t seeing a whole lot of it in the last couple of days. Deceit grit his teeth. If that didn’t change soon, then he’d have to plan for the worst.

“What? Did you come to mock-” Roman snapped, only to trail off as Logan held Deceit up. Roman’s eyes widened at the sight of him, and Deceit wanted to roll his eyes. Roman got attached far too quickly. They had spent a day together and almost a week later he was still hung up about it.

“Anthony,” Roman breathed. Deceit allowed the transfer from Logan’s arms to Roman’s. Roman held him close, delicately, and the familiar warmth that radiated from him felt different than Logan. Deceit let himself melt into it; his mood good enough to allow Roman to bury his face in his coils. “Wha- where? You- you found him?”

“He had found his way out of the Mind Palace,” Logan said. Gently. Deceit tried to resist the urge to stare at him. Roman and crying. Logan and gentle. He needed to spend more time observing his fellow Sides at this rate. Not knowing his target meant he wouldn’t be able to manipulate them correctly. “I found him making his way back into the kitchen. I suspect he’d meant to make his way back to you.”

Roman’s breath shook.

“Thank you,” he whispered. Deceit watched as Logan’s eyes softened. He reached out to squeeze Roman’s shoulder.

“Of course,” he returned.

“No, really,” Roman insisted, and Logan’s eyes widened. That flush from before returned and Deceit rolled his eyes. Too much sweetness in the air, Deceit demanded a refund. They fought, but then again he supposed that if they didn’t care then his plan wouldn’t work at all, Thomas would fall apart at the seams and they’d all die. Fabulous.

“Thank you, Logan,” Roman repeated, looking up at Logan. “I- I owe you one.”

Logan cleared his throat, and adjusted his glasses. Nervous tick, Deceit noted. Something familiar to play with when he was unsure.

“I don’t believe that family ‘owes one’ to each other,” Logan said hesitantly. “You would do the same for me.”

“Of course,” Roman said without hesitation. “Anytime.”

Logan’s lips quirked upwards into something that could almost be a smile. Roman beamed right back at him. Deceit wondered if they’d notice if he took a nap. Logan reached out again and awkwardly patted Roman on the shoulder. 

“Anytime,” Logan echoed, and then reached up to adjust his tie. “I should, uh, resume my work. I am satisfied that you have recovered your congenial disposition. May it remain for as long as you wish.”

“I have no idea what you just said, but,” Roman’s grin softened. “Thanks, nerd.”

“Prep,” Logan said fondly. 

Morons, Deceit thought. 

He rolled his eyes as Roman closed the door. He felt the deep breath pushing Roman’s chest out and then back in. Logan safely out of sight, Roman’s hands began to tremble. He slid down to the floor and Deceit bit back another sigh. He leaned into Roman’s touch and told himself that it would get things moving quicker that way.

“You’re alive,” Roman breathed and Deceit’s thoughts screeched to a halt. He turned to stare at Roman, wondering just what would lead him to that sort of conclusion. Had his object permanence simply ceased to function? Maybe they needed Logan back in here, he’d be able to remind Roman that things remained even out of sight.

“You’re a Construct, Anthony,” Roman said softly. “You don’t- the only one that I’ve seen be able to survive long outside of the Imagination is Remy, and he’s- well, he’s Remy.”

Oh. Well.

Deceit hissed, even as he took note of that information. He had no doubt he’d be able to put it to use later, and if nothing else, the knowledge that Hecate would never be able to reach him eased some of the nerves Deceit refused to admit he had. Convincing Roman to let him come and go would be difficult with that in mind but Deceit felt confident he could pull it off.

Smoke and mirrors were all it would take.

“You can’t- you can’t do that again, Anthony! What if next time you really-”

Deceit hissed. In no way would he be told what to do. Thomas alone held his leash and Deceit refused to hand it to anyone else. He squirmed out of Roman’s hold ignoring the cry that it prompted. He dove under the bed and hissed again.

“Anthony!” Roman shouted. Deceit glared at the fraction of his head that appeared in the space between the bed frame and the floor. If he didn’t have such an elaborate bed he would have been able to reach Deceit. Ha, just another advantage for Deceit then. “You little shit, you can’t just- Anthony!”

Roman’s hand swept under the bed, and Deceit pulled away from it. 

“Oh come on,” Roman whined, “You can’t wander about on your own, you’ll die! Literally! Poof! Gone! No more annoying, stubborn snake who doesn’t listen to the one person who knows better than him!”

Fuck you, Deceit thought, hissing again.

“I don’t want to lose you!” Roman hissed back.

Deceit didn’t budge. He needed to be able to come and go. Half-baked plan or not, if he couldn’t leave when he wanted to “Anthony” really would die. He’d find a different way to get on the Main Sides nerves enough they started to get along. He had enough information about Roman he could do it.

“Fine! Be that way! See if I care!” Roman snapped, his face disappearing. Deceit settled down, watching Roman’s feet pace back and forth in front of him. Soft muttering that he couldn’t quite make out filled the room, and Deceit wanted to smirk. Logan might not be able to out-stubborn Roman, but Deceit wanted to bet that he could.

“-stubborn bastard,” Roman’s muttering and Deceit’s amusement grew. “So what if he wants to do something stupid and die. I don’t care. There are more Constructs. They care about me. I care about them. Fuck, I can’t just let him die, but I don’t want to cage him either. Fuuuuuck, what would Logan do?”

Deceit slithered closer to the edge of the bed. He peaked out the edge of the frame and snickered at the sight of Roman chewing on the edge of his thumb in thought. Another new expression from Roman, Deceit wondered if he could document them all for future reference.

“Fine. Fine!” Roman threw his hands in the air and turned back to the bed. He glared down at Deceit who slithered out to him. “You’re turning out to be more trouble than you’re worth. Two weeks. I can let you wander for a maximum of two weeks at a time, if you promise to come straight here the moment you suspect that something may be wrong.”

Deceit grinned smugly and nodded. Roman’s grumbling continued even as he scooped Deceit up off the floor.

“Bastard. Little shit. Stubborn, no good snake.”

Deceit preened. Why, yes. Yes, that was exactly what he was. Thank you for noticing.

Chapter Text

Returning to the Imagination felt like breathing flavored air. Deceit thought it novel and settled into a more comfortable position on Roman’s shoulders. The woods they entered didn’t change, and made Deceit wonder if there was a fixed point of entry like the Subconscious or if Roman choose where to appear. He could ask Remus but that would lead to a conversation Deceit would rather avoid.

Roman’s steed nickered in the distance, and Deceit found himself wondering if time passed different there as well. So much to learn before he could even think of putting together a plan. He knew that he had to know everything before starting one, or it could all fall apart with a snap of Roman’s finger. So much power, Deceit felt heady just thinking about it.

“Hey there, Lady,” Roman greeted, reaching a hand out. The horse nickered again and trotted over, butting at Roman’s hand. Well, if Deceit needed any proof that things were different here that would be it. Horses were bastards and that was that. Only a fake one would be so well behaved if someone cooed at them like Roman was doing.

“How’s my beautiful Lady doing anyways? Running strong, I bet, huh. Showing all those stallions that gender doesn’t matter, aren’t you? Gonna outrun them all and win all the lady horses for yourself.” Roman ran his hand along her flank and grinned. “Queer pride, girl, queer pride.”

Deceit snickered. Lady tossed her mane, and Roman grinned even wider at her. He leaned forward against her bulk.

“You both want to go on an adventure?” he whispered. Deceit mourned his inability to blink again; Lady pranced in her spot. The ground around them rumbled without actually moving and Deceit felt unnerved. The distant roar that cut through the air didn’t help. Roman’s eyes sparkled in a way that Deceit knew all too well. Excited and cocky.

Roman swung up onto Lady, a hand on Deceit to keep him steady. Along the horizon, Deceit recognized the wings that had to belong to Hecate cutting across the sky before diving down at something. 

“First Adventure,” Roman winked down at him, and Deceit felt his unease grow. “Mark that one down for the history books.” His voice dropped, from casual to something closer to the tone he used when acting. “Come, Lady! It seems the Dragon Witch is up to her old tricks and we must set out to stop her once more!”

Deceit felt lost as Lady broke into a gallop. She ate away at the trail that Roman had walked not that long ago with Deceit, and it felt like moments before they broke through the tree line. They barreled down towards Anton’s town and Deceit felt his jaw drop open. Flames and smoke hung heavy in the air, and there in the middle of it all, Anton flew above the scene cackling.

His robe snapped and shifted behind him in the wind. One of his hands pointed at one of the buildings still standing and it burst into flames. Deceit wondered if Roman had flipped the world on its head. Anton’s cackle drifted through the breeze, malicious and dark.

“I come bearing news of my Mistress!” Anton shouted. “The Great Dragon Witch has decided to bless this land with her presence! Bow to her and be spared! Or rebel and learn of her power!”

“Halt!” Roman shouted back, pulling Lady to a neat stop at the edge of the town. He drew his sword in a smooth motion and pointed it up at Anton. Scattered cries came from the fleeing villagers, relief and hope in their voices.

“The Prince!"

“Prince Roman’s come to save us!”

“The Prince will defeat them!"

“You are trespassing on this glorious land!”  Roman declared, “Surrender now to the laws of the land and its justice, or face the wrath of my sword!”

Anton threw his head back, and Deceit began to think that cackling was all he knew how to do. A snicker would spice things up. Or maybe a leer. Either way, some part of him felt offended that this was the sort of villains that Roman compared him too. He had more class than that.

“Fool! You truly think that you can defeat one such as I with a mere stick? My magic comes from my Mistress herself and her power is matched by none!” Anton swooped down closer to them. “I will defeat you and our power will spread across this land like a plague!”

Anton pointed in their direction and Deceit’s heart leapt to his throat. Fuck head-on confrontations, Deceit thought they should retreat and find the proper weaknesses before engaging. Roman on the other hand, clearly felt differently, spurring Lady into motion.

Deceit hissed a warning as Roman ducked under the ball of flames that flew over his head. Deceit could feel the heat of the flames as they passed. He swallowed thickly. Discorporation wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to them but it was unpleasant and led to a backlog of things they needed to do. Deceit preferred to avoid it when possible.

Roman swung his sword. Anton rose back up into the air, his robe fluttering as Roman’s sword brushed past it. Deceit wanted to say that he guessed that would happen, but that required unlodging his stomach from his throat. It wasn’t like anyone could tell what he felt or what he said anyways. He could panic all he wanted without losing face, seeing as he didn’t have one that could express that. Ha!

“Fool!” Anton yelled again. He swept his hand to the side, and the side of the building closest to them rumbled ominously. Deceit wondered why he wasn’t surprised as it collapsed towards them. No, he was more surprised at the way Lady charged at the wall opposite of it. She planted her hooves on it, and pushed off of it. They flew through the air for a split second.

Deceit hated his life.

Lady landed gracefully for all that Deceit could feel the impact rattle through his fangs. Anton flew back and away from them. Roman and Lady followed. Because of course they did. Deceit bit back a whimper.

He kept his eyes glued to Anton. Roman didn’t seem to notice the simple upward flick of a finger that Anton executed. Deceit didn’t think. He threw his whole weight to the side, tugging on Roman’s neck. Roman yelped, his body jerking with the action. His hands pulled on Lady’s reigns and she skittered to the side.

Just barely missing the spike of earth that shot up next to them.

Roman’s eyes widened, and Deceit breathed heavily. God, that was close. Lady found her hooves again and took off after the cackling Anton once more.

“How can you ever hope to beat me if you can’t reach me, Prince Roman?” Anton taunted. He tossed another fireball, one that Lady swerved around easily. “You are helpless against me! Nothing but a weak hero who will fail like all others before you!”

Deceit felt a growl in the back of his throat.

“Steady, Anthony,” Roman murmured, his eyes on Anton. Good, Roman wasn’t a complete idiot when it came to battle. Deceit longed to shift again, to dive at the threat with bared talons and beak opened in a scream. “Lady.” Roman pressed a hand to her neck and she nickered, tossing her mane.

Deceit’s eyes widened as Roman carefully, stood up in his stirrups. Shakily, his eyes on the villain above them as he kept his balance through what had to have been experience. Deceit glanced down at Lady. Her eyes were locked on the porch of the house in front of them, and Deceit swore that his heart stopped. 

He took a moment to concede that he had a good run, but they were all going to die now. 

Lady planted her hooves on the stairs. She propelled herself upwards and landed on the roof of the porch. She leaped into the air once more. In the same moment, Roman jumped. If he had a voice, Deceit liked to think he would have managed to swallow his scream. It wasn’t likely but denial was his thing.

They flew through the air, and time felt suspended. Roman reached out. His hand wrapped around Anton’s ankle. Deceit caught sight of Anton’s wide eyes before they all came crashing back down to the ground. 

Deceit landed hard. He slid away from Roman, scales scraping along the asphalt. He wasted a moment to curse Roman for wanting to mix modern and medieval. Pain radiated along his whole body. He could just… stay here. No need to move. Roman could deal with whatever the hell he had caused. It had sounded like he’d done it before.

Deceit groaned to himself. God, Roman had almost died twice already. Who was he kidding thinking that Roman could deal with something like this? His idea to get the flying wizard down was to throw himself at him. They were going to be lucky if Roman survived a week of this.

He shifted. A knife of pain cut through his side. He hissed as he turned to see what had happened to Roman. He could hear Lady’s hoofbeats in the distance. Roman lay not too far from him, struggling to push himself to his arms. Anton lay in a heap just past him. Deceit hissed, baring his fangs. 

A danger to Roman was a danger to Thomas. Deceit dealt with dangers. He knew just what to do with this one. 

He pushed his way towards Roman, who coughed and managed to make it to his knees. Nothing looked broken, and Deceit blamed Roman’s insane luck. Bruises and a couple of scrapes after that stunt seemed almost impossible. Though they were where impossible thrived, so perhaps it wasn’t that strange. Down that path of thought lay the idea that Roman knew more about what he was doing than it seemed, and that was a little too much for Deceit to contemplate at the moment. 

He wound around Roman’s ankles to double check that his ride home hadn’t crippled himself. Roman smiled down at him, the corners of his mouth tinged with pain. Good. If he was fine Deceit could do his job. Anton groaned and Deceit’s eyes snapped to him.

Years ago, Virgil had once told him that his eyes became truly frightening when he focused. Supposedly, they almost seemed to glow, the light catching off of the gold if he tilted his head just right. Deceit had learned how to drain the emotions from them, leaving just the chilling emptiness that helped him do his job.

Of course, it could have just been Virgil and his drama.

He hissed, quiet and low as he made his way towards Anton. He had been wrong about the Construct. No one loyal would have done this sort of thing to the person they cared about. His lips peeled back to let the light of the sun reflect off of his fangs. The other Sides had gone soft, weak, easily hurt. Deceit would make sure that never happened. 

Anton barely pushed himself up to his elbows as Deceit approached. Deceit could see the pain in his expression, the way blood drained out of his face as he caught sight of the snake approaching him. Good. Deceit’s hiss grew louder, and his muscles bunched underneath him. Antagonist. Betrayal had to have been written into his blood.

Deceit lunged. His jaw opened wide and his fangs ready. Venom in his glands begged to be used.

“Anthony!” 

Roman’s hands gripped him just behind his head, yanking him back before he could do his job. His hiss turned vicious and angry. He thrashed in Roman’s grip. Roman might believe in Anton, might think that he could be saved or converted or had a good reason for what he did. It was all rot. It was always all rotten to the core and there was nothing to be done.

Better to end it than to risk it.

“Anthony! Tony, calm down!” Roman’s grip on him slipped just slightly and Deceit jerked towards Anton. The Construct’s flinch tasted delicious. “Hey. Hey!” Roman’s grip tightened, not enough to truly injure him but a warning all the same. “Everything’s fine, Tony!”

It wasn’t but Deceit would make sure it was.

“Yaaaaay,” Remy’s flat voice cut through the air. “The Great Prince Roman has saved us. However shall we, like, repay him?” 

Deceit settled slowly in Roman’s hold. He turned to stare at Remy. Remy didn’t glare at him, but he still managed to send a general feeling of disdain in his direction. If Deceit didn’t hate his guts, he would have contemplated asking him how he managed that.

“Oh, I know,” Remy said, just as flat. He sounded more like he was reading from a script than celebrating Roman’s “victory.” He took a step closer. Deceit hissed at him, a warning not to get closer. Roman discorporating was one thing. Remy ending up hurt meant death. “I shall offer my, like, invaluable wisdom to his quest.”

He tilted his head down to stare at Roman from over his sunglasses.

“Wisdom, like, did Daddy inform the newest child what exactly is going on?”

Deceit’s unease bled into confusion. They knew what was going on? There was an explanation beyond Anton living up to his name? He glanced up at Roman, irritation joining his confusion as the tips of Roman’s ears turned a dull red.

He mumbled something. Anton sighed. Remy leaned closer.

“Sorry, missed that, Daddy-o. Could you repeat it?”

“I said!” Roman took a deep breath, “I thought it would have been funner if Anthony thought it was real?”

Anton groaned again, the sound coming from somewhere truly and deeply tested. Remy pinched the bridge of his nose as Roman shrugged and meet Remy’s eyes with a challenge. Deceit felt confusion fall away and understanding settle into its place. An act. It was all an act. 

“And what?” Anton closed his eyes, reaching up to rub at his temples, “Would you have done if he truly did something to hurt someone?”

“Anthony wouldn’t do that!”

Yes, he would.

“Yes, he would,” Remy said. He took another step closer. His posture softening just slightly. “Come on Roman, he looked, like, about ready to tear out Anton’s throat. You can’t throw someone into something that seems dangerous and, like, expect them to bare their throat and stomach.”

God, Deceit hated how right he was.

“Fine,” Roman muttered. He sulked for a moment, before looking down at Deceit. “Sorry, Tony.”

Remy tapped his foot. Roman sighed, visibly gritting his teeth. “Sorry, Anton.” Lady nudged at his shoulder. Deceit figured the only thing keeping him from throwing his hands in the air was the fact he still held Deceit. “Fine. Fine! Sorry Lady, and Remy, and everyone.”

Remy snickered.

“You let your horse, like, boss you around, so sure, whatever, apology accepted or something.”

“I’m a little shaken but it’s fine, Roman,” Anton said, standing up with a grin. He winced. “Though I will need a bit to get over you dragging me back down. I think I’m going to be bruised for weeks.”

Roman sniffed, tilting his head up. His hold on Deceit tightened. 

“I already apologized. And! I won, like I said I would! You still haven’t managed to beat me!”

Anton chuckled, nudging Roman with his shoulder as he walked past. 

“Naw, not yet, but I will, just you wait. Have fun with the rest of your Quest, Roman. Hecate has some fun things planned for you!” Deceit watched as Anton limped off into the town. The flames around them slowly died down and Deceit didn’t resist as Roman settled him around his shoulders once more.

“Sooooo,” Roman said hesitantly.

“Yeah, no, I’m, like, coming with after both of those stunts,” Remy cut him off. Deceit hated that he agreed. A sane man with a voice would be nice. He stopped and reconsidered. An almost sane man with an actual voice would be nice. 

“Fair enough,” Roman said, and ran a hand down Lady’s flank. He grinned at them all. “Onwards?”

Chapter Text

Deceit had expected them to confront Hecate that day. Roman didn’t exactly possess the world’s largest well of patience after all. If they had charged off to some tower or cave and confronted her now that Anton had been “defeated” Deceit wouldn’t have been surprised. At all. The pumping adrenaline, the adventure, seemed like something that would call to Roman.

Deceit really needed to stop making assumptions about Roman.

He watched, tucked up on Lady’s back, as Roman and Remy moved about the clearing. The sun set, turning the sky a deep orange between the trees. Roman had declared that they would make camp for the night and continue on “through greater challenges on the morrow.” 

Deceit felt torn. On one hand, the whole thing was an act. The Imagination playing at danger to entertain one of its masters. He felt safe in assuming that certain protections and failsafes were put in place to keep the worst from happening. However, Roman’s bruises and his own aching sides told him whatever was in place wasn’t perfect. Anyone could still get hurt.

Not to mention things that he’d seen on Remus’ side of the Imagination.

Remy and Roman’s bickering rolled across the clearing but Deceit tuned it out, letting the words fade into white noise. The small tent they set up didn't interest him, nor did the fire that Roman currently stood over trying to start. Instead, he thought about Hecate, about what a Dragon Witch could do and whether he should be trying to call this whole thing off.

A distant part of him murmured something about Roman getting hurt here being the perfect way to start having the others look into the Imagination and fix Roman and Logan’s relationship, but he ignored it.

Hecate seemed like the sort to go overboard, it was entirely possible that Roman could end up hurt-

“Ya know, you’re, like, pretty stupid for a snake,” Remy’s voice cut through Deceit’s musing. Deceit’s head rose and he glared at Remy. The Construct smirked back at him, leaning carefully against Lady’s bulk. She whined, and Remy rolled his eyes. Remy undercut his own annoyance however, with a simple twist of his wrist. Lady stomped one hoof happily and devoured the sugar cubes that Remy held out to her.

Remy watched Lady. Deceit watched Remy. The leaves rustled louder than Remy’s voice.

“If you think that, like, attacking Anton to pretend like you’re protecting Roman will win us over, you’re even more of, like, a moron than I ever thought.” Remy’s lips barely moved as he spoke, and Deceit bit back a hiss. Remy and what he thought didn’t matter beyond the fact they meant he was alive, and thus keeping Roman alive in turn.

Remy studied him out of the corner of his eyes, and, pointedly, Deceit settled down on Lady’s flank even more. Like hell he was going anywhere quite yet. A douchebag who wore sunglasses even after dusk wouldn’t be able to scare him away, not when Thomas could be at stake. Remy scowled at him.

“Tony! Remy!” Roman barreled through the tension without a second glance. He scooped Deceit up off Lady and set him around his shoulders. “Come! We celebrate our victory with the most golden of marshmallows and s’mores!”

Deceit sent him a look. 

“Look,” Roman pouted, “We don’t have to do things in any sort of organized fashion here. Horses are cool, so we have horses-” Lady nickered her agreement, and Roman beamed at her. “Castles are cool, so we have castles! Dragons and indoor plumbing and skyscrapers! Remind me to show you our space exploration because come on!” Remy rolled his eyes fondly as Roman threw his hands in the air. “Aliens! We have to have aliens!”

“So we’re having s’mores no matter how not knight-like it is,” Roman said firmly, grabbing Remy’s arm and dragging them to the fire pit. Deceit slipped off of his shoulders as Roman sat down and curled up in his lap.

Pleasantly warm, Deceit decided that he could stand Roman running a hand down his scales. The smooth repetitive motion felt nice anyways. Nice enough that Deceit could ignore the almost pet like aspect to it. Roman treated him like anyone else most of the time anyways, Tony could indulge the need for companionship and touch.

Remy snapped his fingers, and offered a bag of marshmallows and a roasting stick out to Roman. It wasn’t long before they both had marshmallows over the crackling flames. Deceit watched the orange and yellow flashing in front of his eyes. He wasn’t surprised when Remy caught his on fire and shoved the blackened mess into his mouth. 

He did startle when Roman presented him with the perfect golden brown marshmallow. He rolled his eyes when Remy plucked it out of Roman’s fingers. Smears of black and white sat along Remy’s mouth from his first marshmallow and Deceit didn’t care about the petty cruelty in taking another. Roman, on the other hand-

“Remy,” Roman whined, dragging Remy’s name out, “Remyyyyy.”

“What?” Remy asked, leaning back against a tree. “If he wants one he can make his own. ‘sides, you, gurl, make the best s’mores, how could I resist?”

“He doesn’t have arms!”

Roman kicked at Remy’s legs. Deceit hissed at him, his spot on Roman’s lap jostling at the movement. Roman scratched him just behind his eye ridge in apology, which was, in Deceit’s opinion, much better than a stupid marshmallow. He all but purred at the touch. If Remy glared at him for the reaction, it was a complete coincidence and Tony pled innocence about knowing that he’d react that way.

“We don’t even know if snakes can eat marshmallows,” Remy muttered, crossing his arms over his chest. Deceit could make out the sulk on his face. “I’d hate for our new friend to end up sick or poisoned.”

Deceit hissed at the sarcasm in his voice.

Roman tapped a finger against his cheek.

“A plague would be an interesting idea to explore,” he said, murmuring it to himself. Deceit’s eyes snapped up to meet Remy’s own panicked ones. Plagues should stay on Remus’ side of the Wall. Deceit didn’t want to stumble into another one.

“How ‘bout not, Daddy,” Remy said, a hysterical edge to his voice. “We can do zombies again. Yeah, let’s do flesh-eating monsters instead. Much more pleasant. More acting. Less chance someone ends up, like, dead on accident.”

Roman pouted.

“You sure?”

Deceit hissed at the same time Remy nodded rapidly. Remy leaned over and bumped his shoulder against Roman. Roman whined from the back of his throat, but slid down to pillow his head against Remy’s chest.

“But we’ve done zombies before,” Roman whined, “I wanna do something new.”

“Yeah, but, like, threat of death and unending pain. Sorry, it kinda beats out your bitchiness, bitch.” Remy’s hand drifted up to run through Roman’s hair. Deceit wondered what their relationship exactly was and bit back a hiss, something sharp and aching in his sides. He had a worse injury than he had first thought if the need to hiss brought pain.

“Nothing beats me at anything,” Roman mumbled. Deceit could feel Roman’s breath start to slow, matching the slow twinkle of stars above them. Not that stars were literally supposed to twinkle, but whatever. It added atmosphere. Deceit understood the power of presentation. “I’m the best.”

“Excuse you, gurl,” Remy scoffed, “We both know that you don’t mean that.”

“‘scuse you.” Roman’s words slurred as he slumped against Remy even more. Deceit hummed to himself as Roman’s hands rested on his coils. “Suppose to let me preten’.”

Remy rubbed his thumb along Roman’s temple. Deceit watched Remy watch Roman. The soft look in his eyes spoke of more than just a loyalty born of self-preservation. The question would be if Remy’s loyalty blinded him, or if he had a head on his shoulders. Both options were dangerous for very different reasons and to very different people.

“Not on your life,” Remy whispered into Roman’s hair. 

Deceit looked away when Remy pressed a kiss to Roman’s scalp. He knew where he lay when it came to soft intimacy like that. It was fine. He had better things to do. He stared at the dying fire, tracing the sparks flying into the air. Orange stars against a backdrop of white dots. Ones that died while the others thrived.

He didn’t know how long he watched the fire turn into coals. Roman’s hand didn’t move from on top of him. Even after they let go of him, they rested where they had been, heavy with sleep. Remy slumped against Roman. His cheek pressed against Roman’s hair, soft breaths blowing Roman’s hair back and forth.

If they were just going to fall asleep outside, Deceit didn’t know why they had bothered with the tents at all. Morons.

An owl hooted and the sound echoed through the forest around them. Wind blew through the trees, kicking up small sparks from the coals in front of them. Deceit hummed to himself. He could fall asleep with the others but something didn’t feel right. The knowledge that it was all an act meant that he could assume that they were safe to sleep through the night.

Something about Hecate’s childishness and Anton’s words said differently. 

Attacking in the middle of the night certainly would be a villain-like move. It was the sort of move that Deceit would approve of, so long as the maneuver was performed against people he didn’t care about. Crushing his enemies under the cover of darkness, destroying them before they could even have the inclination to scream did appeal to the dark dramatic part of him that he normally showed off around the other Sides.

Deceit knew that he couldn’t be trusted, and it was best that the other Sides knew that too. He was the worst bits of Thomas’ self-preservation and thoughts. Nothing more. Virgil and anxiety could be rationalized, could be useful in everyday decisions, granted that he was curbed by Logic. Deceit had no true use outside of emergencies.

Even Thomas himself lately had made that truth clear enough.

Deceit slid off of Roman’s lap, and carefully tugged the fallen roasting sticks away from the fire. The metal tasted bitter in his mouth, but it was better than whatever plan he decided to come up with to force the Sides into getting along ending simply because Roman got himself discorporated. He wouldn’t doubt that the moron would somehow manage it if Deceit wasn’t careful.

He slithered his way back to Roman’s lap. The space between Roman’s arms and chest warmed his scales better than the night air. He couldn’t afford the slow tired way the cold would affect his thoughts. He settled back into a comfortable position, one of Roman’s arms curled around him and Deceit’s head resting on his other wrist. 

He’d barely gotten comfortable when a branch snapped. Deceit’s head whipped up at the sound, eyes scanning the shadows around them. He shoved Roman’s arm away - again, he would have hissed in frustration about the timing if it wouldn’t have given his position away - and made his way towards the source of the sound.

He could hear the footsteps, a soft noise against the grass. It wouldn’t wake the other two. Deceit’s tongue flickered out, tasting the air around him. Very faintly, he picked up the smell of sweat. Human. Or in this case, a Construct.

If asked, Deceit didn’t know how to describe what he “saw” in the dark, sensing the heat of those around him. He imagined that it wasn’t quite the same as an actual snake, since his physiology was built off a mix of what Thomas knew and what Deceit filled in with assumptions - and corrections for his own ease. The closest he would get to the “image” that he was would be vague blurred colorless shapes, warmer things standing out against the background of the cooler ones.

It meant that he could make out the general area of the Construct that approached their camp as they got close. He slid towards the general idea of their legs. They moved slowly, to minimize sound, which worked to Deceit’s advantage. 

He lunged.

His fangs sunk into the Construct’s shin, just above the ankle. The taste of blood flooded his tongue. It took a conscious effort not to inject his venom as the Constructs shout echoed through the clearing. It was an act, Deceit had to remind himself of that. Roman wouldn’t like it if he permanently damaged one of his Constructs. Remy would probably just outright discorporate him.

He locked his jaw as the Construct kicked their leg out. The world spun around him in a blur of dark shapes. He still didn’t let go. The Construct stumbled back. Deceit counted himself lucky that he didn’t get stepped on. The Construct overbalanced, toppling to the side, and only then did Deceit release the grip he head on their shin.

He hissed darkly, and lunged again. A hand wrapped around Deceit’s neck and slammed him back to the ground. For a fraction of a second, he couldn’t breathe. The hand yanked him back up and Deceit lost track of his whereabouts in space for a second time. The Construct held him up, and through his spinning sight Deceit could barely make out the familiar sight of Thomas’s face.

A little deliriously, Deceit wondered if there were any other Constructs like Hecate and Lady. Ones that didn’t look and sound like everyone else.

“Wait, you’re-?” The confusion in the Construct’s voice racked Deceit’s heart rate up another notch. Right, they could tell he wasn’t one of them. An immune system identifying the intruder. One that didn’t know he was allowed- in a sense- to be here. Panic flooded his veins.

He couldn’t afford to be discorporated just yet.

He thrashed in the Construct’s grip. Instead of dropping him, their eyes widened and their grip on his neck tightened. Deceit wheezed at the sensation. He wanted to return to the ground now, please and thank you. He’d had one adventure in the air already and he was quickly learning to hate the sensation of nothing underneath his coils.

“Ah, yes, I see now why the Mistress was interested in you,” the Construct mused out loud. “Whatever I do to you will be nothing compared to what she has planned!”

Think! Think, fool, he hissed at himself as the Construct cackled to themself. He needed to get out of this before he ended up discorporated. This was why he hated physical confrontation. He couldn’t save himself and Deceit was better suited to manipulation and intrigue. Traps and bluff. He scrambled for a plan-

“Tony!” Roman’s shout drowned out whatever the rest of his panicked thoughts. To Deceit’s benefit or his detriment? He didn’t know.

Deceit couldn’t turn his head to look at Roman. It turned out to be fine; Deceit learned just what Roman had planned when a heavy weight slammed into the both of them. His stomach and the Construct’s grip dropped. Warm hands caught him before he could hit the ground.

Tony’s brain short-circuited.

Roman pulled him close, his arms sheltering him as Roman’s body rolled expertly away from the Construct. For a moment all Tony could think was thank god. Someone else had taken care of the problem for once and all he had to do was-

Deceit grabbed hold of his thoughts and yanked them all to a stop. He wasn’t Tony. He couldn’t be. Roman didn’t save Deceit; Roman didn’t save him. Roman never would have if he knew the truth. If Deceit got too caught up in this act, in his own lie, then he’d leave Thomas defenseless against the truth. 

Someone had to keep the truth from the lies that Thomas told himself. Deceit couldn’t do that if he was lying to himself. Truth and deception paralleled each other. Without a truth, there was no lie. 

Something like static filled Deceit’s head. Roman was burrowing under his skin and into his brain. Deceit couldn’t let him. Couldn’t get attached to anyone and let anyone get attached to him. It would just get in the way of his job. He’d seen how it ended already. Thomas needed someone who didn’t care about any except him, or the other Sides would run him to the ground. Selfishness kept people alive.

Not that morality would tell you that.

“Tony? Tony!”

Deceit ignored Roman’s worried calls. It made him an asshole, but Deceit already knew what he was. He had no desire to change. He couldn’t take a deep breath. Was Roman holding him that tight? A simple shift of his coils told him that Roman’s hands were looser than they ever had been. Then why couldn’t he breathe?

Roman pulled him even closer, and Deceit only caught a glimpse of Remy holding the other Construct at sword point. The darkness between Roman’s chest and arms swallowed him whole and Deceit sank into the familiar anonymity gratefully. Warm, shrouded in shadows, and the sounds of everything around him muffled, Deceit let himself fall apart in Roman’s arms and tried not to think about the fact that it felt safe.

Chapter Text

Roman didn’t know if snakes were supposed to tremble the way that Tony did. He tried to run his hand along the space behind Tony's eyes, the one that made him relax and melt without fail. If anything Tony stiffened even more at the touch. His small head burrowed int Roman’s side and worry burrowed in right along with him. Tony hadn’t reacted to anything like this before.

He reminded Roman of a mix of Virgil and Logan most days really, with some of Remy’s pettiness thrown in for kicks. All confidence and the sort of ‘I’m right’ attitude that bowled everyone else over, but without Patton’s brighter, softer way of looking at the world. Considering the way Tony had only left his side once Roman wondered if he had the same loyalty that all the other Constructs seemed to.

God, he didn’t want anything to happen to any of them, and now Roman worried that they were starting to truly hurt each other like he had tried so long to prevent. Prevent being like Remus. More than anything Roman wanted this to be a safe space for them all. Even if it meant it wasn’t for him, though it hadn’t reached that point quite yet.

He shoved aside worries that they only liked him in the end because he made them. 

Tony’s shaking didn’t stop, and Roman struggled to keep his worry from turning into anger. It probably wasn’t Toby’s fault. Roman stared at Toby’s form from where Remy held him at sword point. An ambush wasn’t uncommon and usually, no one got hurt during one. Then again, usually Roman went along with it to see what Hecate had planned for his daring escape.

Roman took a step forward and watched Remy and Toby’s head snap in his direction. Normally he relished in the feeling of being a director, in knowing that a single word from him would be leapt at to be followed. Such a different feeling than when with the other Sides. Roman shook his head and took another step forward. Focus, Logan always said he needed to focus more.

“What did you do?” Roman asked softly. The blood drained from Toby’s face. The wind shoved its way through the trees and Roman listened to the leaves yell their song out to the world. Remy stared at him, something considering in his eyes. Roman didn’t know what he was weighing behind his eyes, but if he needed to know Remy would tell him.

He took another step forward.

“Toby,” Roman tried to keep the worry and anger from his voice. He didn’t think he quite succeeded. “What happened?”

“Nothing, man!” Toby’s hands flew into the air to protest his innocence. “I was just doing my thing like I was supposed to and following the script. I didn’t even know he had noticed me until he was tearing up my leg! Ain’t nothing that I’ve done. He didn’t start freaking out until you two showed up.”

Roman let out a slow breath. Maybe it had been something else Tony had seen. Maybe Tony felt bad about biting Toby. He didn’t know, and that made something in the bottom of his stomach curl up and die. Hell, he shouldn’t be so attached to a Construct that had appeared only a week or so ago. Roman didn’t care.

Tony felt different from the others. Closer to Remy and that made Roman want to hold him close and never let go. To get to know him and pay him back for simply wanting to be around a mess like him. 

Roman tried not to flex his hands, still aware of the fact that Tony sat in them. He needed to play out the script. This was what he wanted after all. An adventure. If he called it off now, what sort of indecisive coward would he be? He tried to ignore his own panic and fear as he handed an almost limp Tony off to Remy.

Remy blinked at Tony, surprised for a reason that Roman didn’t understand. He’d ask after they played out this scene. He drew his own sword, and gestured for Remy to take a step back from Toby. A regal prince couldn’t worry about this. Wouldn’t worry about it more than he had to, and Roman stepped into the role gratefully. 

It felt wrong over his skin, but Roman tried it anyways.

“Villain,” Roman declared loudly, “You have been caught trespassing upon a royal encampment with malicious intent. What say you?”

Toby’s eyes flickered back towards Remy before landing on Roman again. Roman watched some of the tension fall from his shoulders as they returned to familiar ground. They’d probably wrecked most of Hecate’s plans but improv could be just as fun. It left Roman’s blood racing in a completely different way.

“I answer to but one,” Toby said, tilting his chin up. All Roman could think of was the way that Tony tossed his hood to express his displeasure and almost missed Toby’s last words. “And you are not my Mistress.”

Roman blinked at him. His mind scrambled to remember what his next line was supposed to be. He had done this a million times. He should be able to do this in his sleep. Part of him wanted to claw at his own skin and howl about yet another failure. He tightened his grip on his sword as the silence stretched.

“Well, you will answer to me, if you desire to see the morning sun outside of bars ever again.” The words felt awkward and forced in his mouth. He tried to take a deep breath and find his rhythm. His sword wavered, dipping away from Toby’s throat and back towards the ground. “You- shit I don’t think- is Tony alright?”

“Finish the scene, Ro,” Remy said softly. Roman wavered again, turning to look back at Remy. In the dark, Roman realized he had put his sunglasses back on and Roman couldn’t read his expression anymore. Remy’s lip quirked up into an almost smile. “Please, Daddy-o?”

Roman twisted his fingers around the hilt of his sword, trying to decide the best course of action. He took a deep breath and forced his shoulders to relax. He caught a glimpse of Remy’s smile as he turned back to Toby. He lifted his sword back up from where the tip brushed against the ground, careful not to nick Toby’s neck as he placed it just under Toby’s chin.

“I think you will find,” Roman said softly, not quite in the same character that was expected of him, but close enough to be considered improv, “that I am not in the mood for the Dragon Witch’s games today. State your purpose before I make you.”

“It’s cute,” Toby mused. Roman stiffened as his suspicions rose. “That you think this is a game. If it were, we both know that sending Seth or August would make more sense. They are much less… noticeable than I am.”

It took Roman a moment to parse out his meaning. His heart stopped and he spun on his heels. His eyes landed on the spot Remy had been standing. They landed on empty air. His breath caught and he whirled back to Toby.

“What have you done?” he hissed. His role felt like it was slipping through his fingers as he scanned the surrounding area for where they could have taken Remy and Tony. He took a step back, turning in a desperate circle to find them. He didn’t realize he was shaking until Toby’s hand reached out to steady the one on his sword.

“Roman,” Toby said gently. “They’re fine.”

“Right,” Roman said. His voice shook, saying something else entirely. He nodded, a simple jerk of his head. “Right, they’ll be fine. Hecate would never let anything happen to them.”

“You wouldn’t either, man,” Toby added, just as gentle. He pried Roman’s sword out of his hand and nudged him back towards Lady. Lady glanced up from her grazing and pranced forward to nudge at his shoulder. Roman reached out and wrapped his arms around her neck, burying his face in her face. She nickered softly, her muzzle resting against his back.

“You don’t want them hurt, and so nothing here will do any real damage.” Toby’s hand rested on his arm. “And the rest of us Constructs know better than to try and hurt someone. It would make you unhappy.”

“And it’s wrong,” Roman added, voice muffled by Lady’s neck. “Hurting people for real is wrong.”

“Oh, well, yeah, that too,” Toby allowed, and Roman turned to glare at him. He hated the unsteady way he felt, known only in moments like this when he felt inexplicably steadier at the comfort and teasing his friends offered. “It’s, like, wrong or something. But also it would probably make you cry.”

“Would not!” Roman protested. Toby snickered and bumped their shoulders together. Roman shoved at him, and immediately felt guilt well up as Toby stepped back with a wince.

“Fuck, your leg,” Roman reached out to help steady Toby. He ushered Toby to their campsite and all but shoved him to the ground to take the weight off of his leg. He swallowed thickly, and scrambled to find a first aid kit. His hands shook again, and Roman hated it, hated himself and the weakness that he couldn’t get rid of.

He shouldn’t. He needed to stop before it became something even worse. Something that would be Roman’s greatest failure.

He yanked the kit out of Lady’s saddle bags. Lady eyed him dolefully, trailing after him as he hurried back to Toby’s side. His knees slammed against the ground as he reached for Toby’s leg. He couldn’t quite see how bad it was in the dark, but the blood that stained his leg twisted around Roman’s heart.

Toby pulled his leg back and grabbed his wrist.

“Hey, Roman, man,” Toby said. He grinned at Roman and Roman couldn’t quite find the usual humor in the way Toby talked to him. Toby’s hand squeezed his wrist. It almost felt like he was trying to anchor Roman’s presence all on his own. “It’s chill. Nothing huge, all good. Be right as rain in like-”

“I didn’t tell him not to hurt you,” Roman cut him off, tone forceful and guilty. “You’re hurt and it’s my fault.”

“Cool,” Toby said casually, “Did Anton get this treatment earlier today?”

Roman winced. Toby let go of his wrist to whack his arm. He didn’t sigh like Anton or Remy did. Roman always loved that about him. He never felt patronized in any way. He could just- be himself, whatever the hell that meant. With no Virgil rolling his eyes at spontaneous music, no Logan correcting everything he did, no Patton-

Well, Patton was alright.

“You literally dragged him to the ground,” Toby pointed out. The serious look on his face rather fell apart when combined with the almost giggles in his tone. “You. Not a snake or anyone else, and you’re not blaming yourself for that one?”

“Shut up,” Roman said through gritted teeth and ignored the way that his face heated. Toby slammed a hand over his mouth to stifle even more giggles. Roman had half a mind to reach for his injured leg again, but shook the thought off. “That- that was expected. This is different.”

“Well that snake of yours sure is different,” Toby said. Roman blinked at him. Toby’s shoulders hiked up towards his ears, and a blush rose on his face to match Roman’s. If they swapped outfits they’d be identical, and huh wouldn’t Roman have to play with that idea one day. He almost wanted to prank the other Sides, but it would put Toby in danger to wander around for too long.

“He reminds me of Lady?” Roman added hesitantly. “A really weird mix of Lady and Remy.”

“Yeah, let’s go with that,” Toby said, nodding his head rapidly. “Perfect explanation.”

Roman reached for his leg again, and this time Toby let him pull the bloody mess closer to himself. Finally, he’d be able to wrap the damn thing up. He didn’t want to admit that he was stalling whatever it seemed Toby wanted to tell him. Toby never could keep his mouth shut in the end, too used to being noticed in the end.

“You want to know if I want to know what’s up with Tony,” Roman said softly. Toby stopped to think about what he said before he smiled weakly at him, and gave an awkward two finger salute. Roman breathed out heavily, prodding at Toby’s ankle gently before starting to wrap it up. It didn’t seem like Tony had done any permanent damage.

“Wouldn’t phrase it that way. But, like, yeah, you want the tea to be spilled, and I’ll dump it all over your lap, man,” Toby offered. “You know. Just in case you hadn’t noticed.”

Roman scowled at his ankle.

“I’m not completely blind!”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure, whatever you say,” Toby said cheerfully. His other foot tapped against the ground. “Should I bring up the Quest with the screaming bats-”

“We agreed never to talk about that!” Roman screeched. Toby threw his head back in laughter, and Roman realized that he felt truly settled for the first time since the disastrous moment with Anton and Tony. He scowled at Toby who grinned even wider at him. Damn all of them for knowing him so well. A true hero brooded for weeks at a time! 

“Ah, but Roman, man, it’s just too good a story to pass up.” Roman couldn’t ignore the warmth in his chest at the fact that everyone here cared about him. Didn’t care about his mistakes. If he didn’t think it would affect Thomas badly, he’d have run away and never came back. That and well, he’d miss the other Sides. Virgil’s snickers, and Logan’s smooth voice, and Patton’s hugs.

“I have seen the way that you gays react to Tony,” Roman said quietly, instead of dwelling on his own thoughts. He was fine. It was fine. “Three times isn’t a coincidence. It isn’t just because he’s new.”

“No,” Toby agreed before slamming his mouth shut.

Roman took a deep breath.

“I don’t want to know,” he said, and Toby let out a confused noise. Lady reminded them of her presence by nickering softly and nudging at Roman’s shoulders. Roman reached up to run gentle fingers through her thick mane. “He- he makes me happy, Toby. I don’t know why, but he does. Like Remy does. I don’t want to give that up quite yet.”

“He’s keeping secrets from you,” Toby warned just as soft. Roman laid his hand on Lady’s neck, feeling the warmth coming from her. He shook his head and smile a little bitterly at Toby.

“Who isn’t?” Toby pointed at his chest and Roman laughed quietly. “Yeah, you wouldn’t. But I’ll let Tony talk to me when he’s ready. I’d rather hear it from him, when the time comes. Maybe I’m a romantic, but- but I want to trust him.”

“Oh yeah, a completely hopeless one,” Toby teased. Lady tossed her head and stomped her hooves in agreement. Traitor. Toby stood on shaking legs and reached out to grip his shoulder. “It’s why we love you so much.”

“I’m going to let you all down one day,” Roman whispered, leaning into his touch.

“Naw,” Toby brushed him off, “I think that’s, like, impossible or something. You’re Roman. That’s all we need. Now, don’t you have some damsels in distress to save or something?”

“Remy would kill you if he heard you call him that,” Roman said. His lips pulled up into a grin that matched Toby’s own. Toby slugged him gently in the arm, again, and took a step away. Roman wanted him to come back. He didn’t want to do this alone. Lady stepped closer to him and Roman sucked in a breath. Right, he was never alone here.

“Naw, he loves me too much, I’m the favorite, don’t you know.” Toby bounced on the balls of his feet, face drawing tight with pain but stubbornly refusing to quit. “I always get picked first for dodgeball. And soccer. And doing chores.”

Roman chuckled, pulling himself up onto Lady’s saddle. Toby caught hold of the reins and meet his eyes. He looked for something, probably some sort of stress or happiness or just Roman’s emotions in general. It wasn’t like Roman tried all that hard to hide them.

“Hey, have fun, you know?” Toby said, letting go of Lady’s reigns. “This about letting you relax.”

Roman didn’t voice his doubt about that happening. He thought maybe Toby heard it anyways. All Roman wanted was to curl up with his friends and try not to think about the state of his family right now. Toby winked at him as Roman urged Lady forward, and wondered if this would be enough.

If just himself- if just Roman would ever be enough.

Chapter Text

Deceit was going to murder Remy. Sure, he’d have to find a way to separate the Construct from the Core, if that was even possible, before doing so but it would be worth it. Or maybe Deceit should just wreck his self-esteem. Figure out how to convince Remy that everyone around him hated him. The thought of it alone slipped down his throat like a cool glass of water and just as satisfying.

Because the moron stood there and did nothing while they were whisked away from Roman’s campsite. 

One of the Constructs that had dragged Remy away by the arm reached out for Remy again. Deceit snapped his jaw at them. The arm jerked away and Remy tugged him back with a scowl. Good. Deceit knew it was easier to hate people who hated him back. No need to care about what they thought about him.

It was why shaking Remus could be such a pain.

“You already, like, tore one of us up tonight,” Remy muttered at him. “Shit if I let you try again.”

Deceit hissed at him, low and dark. Only the unfamiliar woods kept him from trying to slip away. He had no way of knowing if he could find his way out, and he didn’t know if Roman would be able to tell if he sank out rather than literally left. He couldn’t make use of any plan if the other Sides figured out he had been hanging around Roman.

“Do- do you want us to take him?” One of the Constructs asked. Deceit didn’t care to know which one. He refused to even entertain an idea of becoming more attached to this stupid place. He couldn’t.

Panic and anger tightened around his coils, and Deceit gripped Remy’s arm until it started to turn white. He couldn’t afford to care about anyone other than Thomas, not even himself. His priority had always been Thomas. Would always be Thomas. If he cared about the other Sides, he wouldn’t be able to do his job if the day came that he needed to lock them away like all the others.

He would leave an opening, a chink in his armor, that those who wanted to take their anger out on him could exploit. Remus was enough of a problem. At least with him locked away, Deceit could lie to himself and others. He was just doing his job. Nothing more.

“Nope,” Remy said, popping the ‘p’ sound. “This bitch stickin’ with me. You gals can skedaddle now.”

The other Construct frowned at them. Deceit hissed at their face. Whatever they felt about him, it was mutual. If they wanted him to leave then too bad, he’d stick around just to be petty. Nobody got to tell him what to do. Thomas and himself were the two people that he’d listen to and no one else. Remy had only lasted this long because he was necessary to Thomas’ and Roman’s happiness.

“You sure, Rem?”

“I got this, ‘Gussy,” Remy said, reaching out to pat the Construct on the face. The Construct twitched, and Deceit fought down amusement. Amusement at what Remy did would lead to being fond and being fond was the last thing he wanted. “This slut can’t hurt me, but he can, like, kill you. So-” He waved his free hand at them, “Shoo.”

“Are you-”

“Remy-”

Both Constructs protested. Remy cut them off with another flick of his wrist.

“I said shoo, go do something, like, useful, bitches.”

Deceit stared at them, wondering what the other two would do. If they took after Roman, they’d do the stupid thing and leave him alone with the Core. He had no plans of hurting Remy, but they had no way of knowing that. Trusting him that easily would mean he had another thing to try and fix on top of his usual work.

God, why didn’t everyone just hole up in a safe corner somewhere and do their work alone?

It would make Deceit’s life so much easier.

The Constructs looked at each other, and Deceit finally noticed the names embroidered on their jackets. August and September. Ah yes, Thomas had done that month based short a few months back didn’t he? Deceit wondered if the one that had broken into their camp first was October. They all had names despite being humanized versions of an idea.

Now that was a thought, Deceit could distance himself from them the same way everyone distanced themselves from him. The lack of a name.

September frowned at Remy.

“Look, Remy,” September held his hands out pleadingly. “None of us want anything to happen to Roman, which means keeping an eye out for you no matter how much you dislike it. You can’t expect us to-”

“Can and do,” Remy cut him off again, looking down at them from over his sunglasses. “Thanks but no thanks. I don’t, like, need anything that your offering.” 

“It’s ridiculous!” August shouted, his finger jabbed in Deceit’s direction. Deceit obligingly gave his best grin as a snake. From the flush that rose on August’s face, it was perfectly smug and dangerous. “He’s Deception! You can’t trust him! He could be planning something and you’d never know!”

A Construct with some sense. Deceit tried not to like him. If only because he was planning something, what he didn’t know yet, but he’d figure it out. 

Remy sighed, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose.

“I don’t trust him,” Remy said flatly, “Which is why he’s with me and not Roman.” Rude. Or it would be if Deceit didn’t agree with avoiding Roman at the moment. Not that Remy needed to know that Roman was getting under his skin and not the other way around. “Because he’s, like, practically imprinted on the little shit. We’ll give him space and, like, talk him out of keeping him around or something.”

“That’s not good enough!” August practically ground his teeth. Deceit hoped he broke something, he’d probably yell about that too and it would be hilarious.

September reached out and placed a hand on August’s arm. The pinch between his eyebrows was the only sign of his own unhappiness. Deceit entertained the idea of the two of them doing a comedy routine. How October would fit in to be determined. 

God, it was so much easier to joke in his head than think about the panic that buzzed just at the edges of his thoughts.

“You’re going straight to Hecate?” September pressed.

“I prefer gay,” Remy waved off. “But yeah, sure, whatever. I’ll, like, power walk straight to my fave hoe.”

September nodded sharply. 

“Alright,” he said. He tugged on August’s arm. “Come on, Gus. Remy’s got this handled, and I wanna check on Toby.” August’s mouth opened up to protest again. September shoved something - a candy? - into his mouth and dragged him away. He called over his shoulder, “Don’t make me regret this, Remy!”

Remy rolled his eyes and stared down at Deceit. Deceit hissed at him. Nothing about this was his choice. He wanted to go home and probably never come back. At least that way he wouldn’t have to think about things like feelings and vulnerability. Life had been so much easier before this mess.

“You’re more trouble than, like, you’re worth,” Remy muttered, walking in the opposite direction than the other Constructs had left. Deceit agreed with him. If he thought he could find his way out of the Imagination and back to the Mind Palace, he’d even have Remy simply drop him then and there and leave.

Silence pushed at the panic that Deceit ignored. The crunch of leaves felt infinitely more interesting than his own thoughts and what had happened. The sky above them tinted an orange that spoke of morning approaching, and Deceit took a moment to wonder at the passage of time in the Imagination. No way that had been a full night.

Deceit pondered on if the Imagination could bend time in a sense, or if it just provided the illusion of it. Either way, Deceit could find a way to use it, clever idea that it was to at least mess with the perception of time to convince everyone in the Imagination that it was passing longer or faster than it actually was. He stiffened and shoved the thought down. 

Roman wasn’t clever. Roman could be lonely and Deceit would shove the others at him for Thomas’ happiness. But Deceit could not think of Roman as clever. Clever or kind or anything positive. Trusting was a weakness, not a strength, and Deceit’s distance from the others depended on that fact.

Deceit’s ability to do his job depended on that fact. If he couldn’t do his job, Thomas would fall apart. If Thomas fell apart, they’d all die with him. Balance was needed and Deceit provided a sort of balance between them by keeping certain things hidden. Nothing but the truth would drag everything and everyone into an implosion. Deceit needed to be able to lie, to hide what Thomas needed hidden, to put Thomas before everything else-

A sharp flick to the top of his head snapped him from his spiraling thoughts.

“Hoes like you being quiet means, like, really bad things,” Remy said, light as a breeze. “And normally I’d be, like, totally down for total chaos, except Roman’s, like, totally not up for that right now.”

Deceit stared at him. Not being up for chaos didn’t seem to stop Roman from causing it. Deceit glanced around them pointedly before glaring back up at Remy. Remy rolled his eyes, and with a flick of his wrist that damned drink fell into his hands. Deceit debated knocking it away. Remy would probably discorporate him but the satisfaction might be worth it.

“You know,” Remy said casually, “it would be easier to talk if you were, like, human and stuff instead of a noodle.”

Deceit reared back, a furious hiss cascading from his throat. He could feel Remy wince as his tightened around the Construct’s arm. No. Just no. Not only was there the risk that Roman stumble on them and see him like that, but Deceit didn’t want to mix up Tony and Deceit even more than he already had. Deceit, who he really was, his human form, didn’t belong in the Imagination. If he had his way, he would never set foot in this damned place again.

Remy shrugged and took a long drag from his drink.

“Suit yourself then,” Remy muttered. He peered down at Deceit over his sunglasses and Deceit felt unease prickle down his spine. He couldn’t do anything to Remy without hurting Thomas irreparably. The same thing couldn’t be said about Remy to him. 

“I could, like, yeet you off into the distance,” Remy said, even as he reached up to shove Deceit onto his shoulders instead of his arm. Deceit obliged if only because it meant he could hiss right in Remy’s ear if he got upset. “Only then I think you’d cause problems for, like, everyone else and then I’d have to, like, stalk your ass and not in the fun way.” 

Deceit wanted to wrinkle his nose at the thought; he hissed instead. Remy was the last person he’d be interested in. Deceit paused, and then corrected himself. Remy sat near the bottom of the list for completely different reasons than, say, Thomas.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Remy flapped his hand mockingly at Deceit, mimicking the action of talking. “You’re all talk and no bite, gurl.” He paused and Deceit bared his fangs. Oh, he bit alright, and in more ways than one. 

“You can’t do anything to hurt Thomas,” Remy said lowly, “But that doesn’t mean that you can’t, like, do it on accident.” Remy flicked Deceit’s nose again, and Deceit snapped at the appendage, fangs grazing his skin. Remy chuckled, a low dark sound. “Anxiety caused problems in his own quest to keep Thomas safe-”

Anger exploded in Deceit’s chest. He was nothing like Virgil. Like Anxiety. He didn’t force people into doing what he wanted. He didn’t try to take their choices away from them. Sure, he didn’t always tell them all their choices, but it wasn’t his fault they were all dumb as rocks.

Who needed them anyways? Virgil could run off and do what he wanted. Patton could run Thomas to the ground. Roman could tear himself apart to make others happy. Logan could hide his emotions all he wanted. It didn’t mean anything. Deceit didn’t need to fix any of their problems. He didn’t need to talk to them or be liked by them.

He didn’t need to like them at all so long as what needed to get done got done.

So what if none of them listened to him? So what if Roman deserved better and Patton would feel guilty if Thomas got hurt and Logan was inching towards a cliff more and more and Remus would probably kill himself impulsively if Deceit didn’t check on him and-

A gasp cut through his thoughts and Deceit jolted back to the world around him. He loosened his grip on Remy’s neck. Remy stumbled to the side, gripping the nearest tree for support as he took in gulps of air. Deceit gritted his teeth. Lashing out in anger wouldn’t help him, had never helped him. Not to mention he had almost hurt a core .

He needed to get out of here, more than ever.

“What-” Remy took a deep breath, “What the fucking hell?”

Deceit didn’t apologize, wouldn’t have even if he could. He twitched. He slid down Remy’s shoulder, wrapping around an arm instead. The only concession he would make. 

“Bitch,” Remy muttered.

Bastard, Deceit thought back at him. 

“Fuck, like, everything,” Remy continued, striding forward once more. He reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Between Roman’s bitchfest and your overall bitchiness, I’m gonna keel over. It’s like- like- like-” Remy let out an inarticulate noise of frustration.

Deceit agreed, and then frantically tried to backpedal. 

“God.” Remy let out a deep breath. “God, the more I learn about you hoes the more, like, grateful I am that I’m not directly connected to Thomas. Bitch must be a mess-”

Deceit lunged. It took all his self-control to not sink his fangs into the meat of Remy’s arm, but from the way that Remy flinched his warning came through loud and clear. Something flashed through Remy’s eyes before the Construct rolled them.

“Okay, okay, okay,” Remy poked at Deceit, “I got the tea. Talking bad about the bae is, like, a major turn off, sheesh.”

Deceit pulled back, careful not to scratch Remy’s arm as he did. He stared at Remy, searching for sincerity. Satisfied, his eyes dropped to the ring of bright red around Remy’s neck. He could see spots of it already starting to bruise. If Roman saw it then- Deceit gritted his teeth as he nudged at Remy’s neck. Remy froze.

He wasn’t doing anything for Roman, and certainly not out of guilt. Remy was a Core, which meant anything happening to him reflected on Thomas. Keeping him in one piece helped keep Thomas in one piece. That was Deceit’s only motivation.

At least, that’s what he repeated to himself.

He pressed up against the forming bruise and closed his eyes. Mind over matter ruled to a certain extent, being Thomas’ head. Being in charge of lies, it rang true for Deceit more than anyone else. Belief, or the want to believe a certain reality lay at the core of his very self. Meaning pushing a little bit of Belief that Remy was fine into the Construct wasn’t too hard. Exhausting, but not hard.

Remy sucked in a sharp breath. Deceit slumped against Remy’s arm, slipping down as his hold faltered. Remy caught him, one arm holding Deceit as the other brushed up against his now healed throat. Deceit hummed to himself. Not too bad of a job, especially for a rushed whim. He earned himself a day off and a nap under his heating lap for this.

Remy stared down at him.

“You just can’t, like, decide on how to act, can you?” Remy asked, sounding more like he spoke to himself than to Deceit.

Deceit rolled his eyes. Of course, he knew how to act.

Didn’t he?

Chapter Text

The bright torches that had lit up Hecate’s lair last time Deceit had been there weren’t on. A few bright spots pushed shadows to crawl up the wall. Deceit didn’t have enough energy to see if the shadows crawled literally or metaphorically. He watched passively from Remy’s arms as they walked deeper and deeper into the cave system.

A low roar echoed through the rooms. For a moment, Deceit thought he could feel the ground rumble, enough that it vibrated through Remy’s steps. Remy’s lips quirked up into a small smile. 

“Drama queen,” Remy said fondly. Deceit flicked his tail against Remy’s arm. He was one to speak, Deceit thought uncharitably, and ignored the chuckle that cut through the silence. Drama everywhere here. No one willing to just use their head and make things happen. God, it was like he had never left the Mind Palace.

“Remy!” Hecate’s low rumble shook the walls again. “Move!” Hecate almost seemed to appear from the shadows and Deceit jumped. Both Constructs ignored him. Hecate shoved at Remy’s back, ushering him forward at a faster rate.

“Move, move, move, move!” Hecate pushed Remy into a chair in the middle of the cavern she led them too and then darted around, muttering under her breath the whole time.

“Maybe, like, take a chill pill?” Remy suggested, and Hecate spun on her heel to scowl at him.

“You’re late!” she stomped her foot, and turned back to grab a length of rope from the wall. “You’re late, and Roman didn’t get captured, and it’s not fair! You walked, and Roman rode! He’s going to be here any moment and I’m not ready!”

“I still think you’ll, like, manage,” Remy drawled, slumping back in the chair. 

“Manage isn’t good enough!” 

“Wow, really takin’ after Daddy-o there.” Hecate scowled down at Remy and Deceit shifted in Remy’s lap. Hecate wrapped the rope around Remy’s shoulders and arms lightly, muttering under her breath the entire time. Deceit watched, eyes locked on Hecate’s form as she finished tying the knots and took a step back to survey her handiwork as she let one end of the rope trail against the floor. He really wanted this to be it, just a normal hostage situation.  

Knowing even the slightest bit about them meant he knew he wouldn't be that lucky.

Hecate nodded, almost to herself and snapped her fingers. The extra rope coiled and then shot upward, dragging the chair they were upwards. Deceit stared at the empty air beneath them. More time off the ground, great, just what he needed. He tried to dredge up the energy to care about if this all went wrong. 

He didn’t quite manage it.

Deceit stared at the way the ground immediately beneath them collapsed, giving way to a pit of lava. The lack of heat made him wonder if it was just an illusion. He mentally shrugged and figured if things went really wrong, he’d get discoroperated trying to keep Remy safe. For Thomas’ sake and nothing else. It would give away his game with Roman but better that than Roman dead.

“See?” Remy’s hand lay on Deceit’s coil, just behind his head, and tugged him into a more stable position on his lap. “You, like, managed it just fine, ‘cate.”

“Whatever you say, Mi-mi,” Hecate mocked. Deceit could feel Remy’s hand lift and then came back down. Deceit could guess what gesture Remy had made from the way Hecate rolled her eyes and flipped the bird right back at him. “If this goes wrong I’m blaming you.”

“Whatever helps you sleep at night.”

“I sleep like a baby knowing that you can’t-” Hecate froze and whirled on her heel towards the entrance. “He’s here!” Hecate flapped her hand in their direction. “Quick! Act terrified!”

“Oh no,” Remy deadpanned and Deceit simply stared at Hecate, “We’re in, like, such grave danger. Whatever shall we do.”

Hecate huffed and stomped her foot again.

“I hate you so much.”

“Naw,” Remy said casually, kicking his feet back and forth. Their chair swung back and forth with the motion, the rope creaking as it did. “You, like, loooooove me.”

“Do not,” Hecate hissed. Deceit approved. Hissing was how everyone should communicate when angry, it had just a lovely tone to it that got the displeasure across while unsettling everyone else in the room. He could hate Hecate the least out of everyone in this brilliant twisted spot of Thomas’ mind. Reptiles had to stick together; usually by the barest of threads because they were too big of assholes to actually be nice to each other but honor among thieves and all that rot.

Rushed footsteps echoed in the tunnels around them. Deceit lifted his head and tilted it to the side, listening as Roman drew closer. Remy’s hands tightened around his coils, just a bit, not enough for Deceit to be able to tell if it was meant as a warning or some sort of comfort. Why Remy would want to comfort him when their distaste of each other was clear alluded Deceit. 

Maybe some scheme to get him to leave Roman alone? Some attempt to make Roman happy?

Roman burst into the room, sword already drawn. Deceit took in his disheveled hair and wide eyes, and from the way that Hecate’s shoulders tensed so did she. Roman’s eyes swept around the room and landed on Remy and Deceit swinging in the air above them. Deceit felt Remy’s arm lift again and guessed from the complicated twirls of emotions on Roman’s face that he either waved or flipped Roman the bird. Both equally likely with Remy.

“Fiend!” Roman shouted and pointed his sword at Hecate. His voice cracked, and his sword wavered through the air. Deceit felt Remy flinch and the tension in the air skyrocketed. “You- I- You-”

“Oh, Roman,” Remy whispered.

“Roman,” Hecate echoed softly, taking a step forward. Roman took a step back and shook his head.

“You cannot- will not defeat me,” Roman tried to continue weakly, “I have come- come to rescue-” Hecate snapped her fingers, cutting Roman off sharply. Deceit’s stomach dropped as the chair did. The lava and hole closed up, and the rope slipped off, slithering like a snake. Deceit decided he was too exhausted to feel insulted about the possible comparison.

Roman’s sword drooped.

“Hecate,” Roman threw his shoulders back, but the lines of his mouth trembled. Deceit felt alarm course through him at the tone of Roman’s voice. It held something cracked long ago, right down the middle. Not in the way he had split with Remus; not in the way Remus had cracked and broken, leaving Deceit to hold the jagged edges until he bled.

Something different. Something on the edge of splintering but not quite there yet.

Deceit took that tone and thought about turning it over and over in his head as if it could smooth it out like a river stone, made easier to understand. Deceit set it aside, next to the other lines and hints that had been scattered at his feet.

He had a feeling he wouldn't like where they led.

"I need- I should-" Roman took a shuddering breath.

"Ro," Remy cut him off. He stood up, holding Deceit loosely in his arms. The lights flickered on, a soft light to go with his soft voice. "Forget about what you, like, feel like you should do. What do you want to do?"

Deceit watched the forced light in Roman's eyes fade slightly. No one said anything for a long endless moment. He wondered if the other Sides had ever had moments like this with Roman, where they saw something was wrong and made Roman talk it out. As much as he disliked the others, he needed to believe they helped each other in such a manner or everything he did would be for nothing. Roman’s sword hit the floor with a clatter.

Roman barely started to lift his arms before Hecate surged forward to gather him into a hug. Deceit sighed to himself, watching silently as Remy walked closer as well bringing Deceit closer at the same time. Deceit could see the way that Hecate’s robes wrinkled from the force Roman gripped her with as he buried his face in her shoulder. More worryingly was the way that Hecate pulled him back slightly to look him over, a hand brushing over Roman’s arm.

Deceit had done something similar with Anxiety. Once. Years ago before they realized just how much of an explosion their friendship was. A way to check for injuries without looking like it, to double check that there hadn’t been a run in with Remus. Roman didn’t seem like he had run into any problems on the way over though. Deceit wanted to narrow his eyes at the action, and wondered what she looked for. God, he really hoped it was just injuries.

Remy reached out and pressed a hand to Roman’s shoulder. Deceit twitched, resisting the urge to slither around that arm and settle around Roman’s shoulders himself. He wouldn’t let himself get any closer. He couldn’t risk falling for the lie of being Tony. He had a general idea of what was going on. Roman needed more support and understanding from the other Sides. Anything more than that was a distraction from his job.

He didn’t need to be a comforting weight on Roman’s shoulders. He didn’t want to be. He was the monster. The villain. He played his part well to make sure that what he needed to get done got done.

“‘m sorry, m’ sorry.” Roman pressed even closer to Hecate who reached up to run a hand through his hair. She shushed him gently and drew them all towards a couch that Deceit swore wasn’t there only a moment ago.

“Don’t apologize.” She held herself with the same confidence that threaded through her command. “We had fun with what we got to do. We can do something else later. You’re more important than any stupidface play.”

She shoved Roman onto the couch. Deceit squeaked as Remy dumped him on Roman’s lap. Warm arms encircled him, and Deceit squirmed at the feeling of Roman pressing his face against his coils. He glanced at Remy, who rolled his eyes. Nothing made sense anymore and Deceit wanted to scream at them all until it did. Remy didn’t trust him with Roman. Right?

Remy and Hecate settled on each side of Roman, and Deceit could feel the heat coming from all three of them. It took everything he had not to melt into the feeling right there. He tried to remind his traitorous body that he wasn’t safe. Roman wanted to keep Tony safe, not Deceit. Remy and Hecate would tear him apart the moment he made any sort of move that could be taken as malicious towards Roman.

“Can-” Roman took a deep breath. Deceit could feel the way that it shuddered through his entire body. He wondered idly what it would be like to feel it against a human body. He squashed that thought and brushed the remains off by marking it as another way to manipulate Roman into doing what was needed and nothing more. “Can we watch some movies?”

Roman’s voice wasn’t supposed to be small. It should be a rolling thunder through the room, not the trickle of a stream through the woods. Deceit wanted to reach up and shake him until he understood that. If Roman out of all of them unraveled, if Roman was lost then Thomas would likely die. Hopes, dreams, confidence, passion, without those Thomas would lose motivation to truly live, and with those came Depression who could be even worse for Anxiety than Deception could be.

Deceit took a deep breath. He had no proof of it though. It could just be a few off days. A hump that Roman was working past and not the worst case scenario. He could see Remy and Hecate stepping in to force Roman to talk to the other sides if it got that bad, and out of anyone that Deceit had seen Roman interact with, he would tell those two.

“I vote we watch, like, Oliver and Company,” Remy said as he slouched down on the couch. Deceit hissed at them all as Roman wriggled so that Remy could wrap an arm around his waist. Remy flicked at his tail while Roman scratched his scales. Rude, teaming up against him wasn’t fair.

“No!” Hecate flailed on Roman’s other side. “We always watch that on your night! You just want to watch a little shit like you be considered a good guy!”

“Bitch, please,” Remy laid his head against Roman’s shoulder. Deceit’s head swiveled between the two and then to the movie screen that rose from the ground. “If I wanted that I would, like, pick any Marvel movie with Loki in it.”

“Excuse you!” Hecate shrieked, “Loki is an anti-villain! You don’t get to take that away from me-!”

“I can take whatever the fuck I want, you hoe-”

You’re the hoe, don’t think I haven’t seen how many people’s houses you’ve come out of-”

“A man can’t get, like, a little love around here? You think that-”

Deceit let the bickering wash over him. From the way that Roman’s tension leaked out from under him, Roman let it do the same to him. Deceit’s tongue flickered out into the air for a moment as he thought. He wouldn’t get anything more about the situation as “Tony” really. If there was something serious going on, Remy would be able to keep him from learning about it. Roman might not be the brightest, but in choosing people like this to surround himself with, Deceit could almost think he was brilliant.

Alone though. Deceit settled into Roman’s lap until he was comfortable as Roman flicked his fingers and Aladdin started to play on the screen. It did nothing to pause the bickering between Hecate and Remy, even as they pressed even closer to Roman’s quiet form. Deceit hummed along with the opening. If he could get Roman alone, perhaps he could get a better idea of the full picture. He couldn’t manage it as “Tony”, but Deceit had a much better chance of cornering Roman.

A facsimile of a smile crossed his face. All he needed to do was get out of here and then wait for the right time to talk to Roman. From the way that Roman’s hands on his coils grew heavier and heavier, being able to slip out would be easy. He slithered down Roman’s leg and paused. Remy and Hecate’s voices covered the room, and Deceit rolled his eyes. So focused on protecting Roman that they failed to see a threat leaving the room. Their mistake and his gain.

Deceit made his way out of the lair. He stopped for a brief moment to enjoy the sight of the setting sun against the snow. He tried not to think about the fact that the sun was setting again already. He simply made a note to check on what day it was once he reached his room and turned towards the direction they had come from when Roman brought him here the first time.

Snow crunched under feet and Deceit’s head snapped up at the sound. Another Construct meandered towards the lair. The black jacket he wore looked like Remy’s but the black shirt he wore under it marked him as someone different. Well that, and the elegant script curling along the chest of the jacket. Slow Motion Crime Fighter.

Deceit couldn’t remember which vine or short he was from, but he did think about the fact that maybe Roman had been stretching it that day. Slow motion, stretching, heh. 

“Ah,” the Construct said, looking down and staring at Deceit for a long silent beat. Deceit felt annoyance stir as the Construct crouched down to look at him, every movement slow and precise. “You’re-” the Construct paused again, “Deceit.”

Deceit hissed at him. He didn’t have to put up with any of them any more. He would get the hell out of here, get what he needed from Roman, and then go back to his comfortable life alone. They didn’t like him; he didn’t want to like any of them. 

The Construct blinked at him, and even that motion was slow. Roman apparently hadn’t been joking in the slightest about this Construct’s name. The Construct’s head tilted to the side.

“Huh. You know,” the Construct blinked again. “I don’t think running’s ever been much help.” He paused. “For me at least.”

Deceit snapped at him, fangs clicking against each other. The Construct didn’t flinch; he didn’t even move. His hand reached out. Deceit could have moved out of the way but something in his eye held Deceit in place. The Construct ran his hand softly over Deceit’s head.

“The coolest way to fight crime,” the Construct’s whisper seemed to carry through the trees and the wind, “is to get rid of the reason for it to exist in the first place.”

What? Deceit stared at the Construct as he stood up. He shrugged and shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket. Deceit snarled at him, if he meant that Deceit could be stopped simply by getting help then he couldn’t be more wrong. Deceit wasn’t a criminal; he was the only one doing what needed to be done.

Fuck all this.

Deceit slithered between the Construct’s legs and towards the exit of the Imagination. He didn’t have to listen to any of them. He didn’t have to think about Remy’s words, or this Construct’s words, or the warmth of Roman’s hands on him. He didn’t need anything and anyone who thought otherwise could suck it.

He hissed again, and pretended that he couldn’t feel the heavy weight of the Construct’s eyes on him until he finally disappeared from sight.

Chapter Text

Deceit ran a hand against the Wall in front of him. The slight yellow tinge to it glowed in the dim light and Deceit let out a slow breath. It wasn’t in the best shape, but it would hold. He dragged his finger against a crack.

“It’s fine,” he whispered, the Lie sealing up the bricks until it looked as solid as the smooth walls around the rest of the Mindscape. Deceit felt the energy it took slip away from him, and he let out a slow breath. Something wasn’t right in the Mindscape. It had been long enough since they had reshuffled everything for the Palace and Patton’s bout of honesty regarding his feelings that things should have been settling down. Even Deceit’s own appearance wouldn’t have put this many dents in Thomas’ self-deceptions.

Deceit reached up to adjust his hat, and then cape. The whole Wall wouldn’t fall apart but if he didn’t do something soon, then something that shouldn’t mingle with the rest of the Mindscape could slip out. It hadn’t ended too badly when Virgil did it, but there was no guarantee that it would always end the same way. In fact, Deceit knew that Remus alone could cause problems, let alone-

He eyed the section in front of him critically. It would have to do. His gut told him that Roman’s secrets, whatever had him running scared would lead to his answer. Everything in the Mindscape connected after all; no one knew that better than Deceit if he did say so himself. If he found out what was wrong with Roman, then he could find out how to fix his Wall.

He refused to believe that he wanted to see Roman for the sake of seeing Roman. Besides the moment that he needed it for that reason was the day that Deceit locked himself into his room and refused to come out until the urge passed. Deceit worked alone and hated everyone. They all hated him in turn. It was how things worked and Deceit refused to mess with that.

He took a deep breath and turned away from the Wall. His cape billowed out behind him as he stalked down the hallways. Roman would be out working at this time as well. Hopefully. Roman hadn’t taken the adventure from a couple days ago well, so logic dictated that he’d be doing something else. If he refused to talk to the other Sides then well, that only left Roman doing what Deceit did.

Working alone until he could retreat to his room.

The only difference was that the other Sides were more likely to go looking for Roman than they were for him.

Deceit closed his eyes. The general feel he got from Thomas was that it was about midmorning. Not quite the time for Creativity, and no need for Passion quite yet. That left Confidence. Deceit felt a sharp smile pull up his cheeks. He knew where Roman would be working for that; Confidence and self-deception could go hand in hand in someone like Thomas.

He followed the Wall until it curved away from the normal sharp corners of the hallways. A prison of his own making that none would breach. Not that he had to be worried about that yet either. Remus and the other Sides in his care would behave themselves. 

He tucked his hands under his cape and turned away from his normal work. Roman wouldn’t be too far from here, in the space where the Wall crossed into the Imagination, and between the Subconsciousness. A dimly lit space that mixed the brightness of the Imagination- as Deceit has just learned- with the shadows of the Subconsciousness and the ambiguity of Deceit himself.

The place where Self-doubt grew before trying to break free and tear apart the Mindscape.

Deceit blinked at the sight of Roman sitting at the edge of the space. He narrowed his eyes and pulled to a stop to study the scene. Roman hunched in on himself, fiddling with something in his hand. His outfit looked rumpled and torn in a few places, and Deceit bit down on the inside of his cheek before he could storm over and demand to know what had happened. The grey of the space didn’t look all too different from the shade of Roman’s face.

Fuck.

Deceit pinched the bridge of his nose. A couple of days. He had stepped away from Roman for a couple of days and this happened. God, how was he supposed to work if this kept happening? Couldn’t Roman stay in one piece for five minutes? Even Remus gave him a week or so before doing something drastic. He cleared his throat, taking a step closer and watching as Roman’s head snapped up in his direction.

“Well don’t you look fabulous.” Deceit wanted it to come out as a purr; Roman responded better to positive encouragement after all. It came out more sarcastic than anything else. Roman’s lips still twitched upwards.

“Why, that’s rather kind of you Deceit, but I know that I’m rather- rather jittery right now and not all that glittery.”

Deceit clenched his jaw, at the fact that Roman misunderstood him as much as the fact that Roman’s voice still sounded subdued. Roman glanced away from him, fiddling with whatever he had in his hands again before speaking once more.

“I’m not up for your games right now however, so if you could just move along…”

Roman trailed off. Deceit tilted his head to the side. His footsteps echoed loudly in the hallway as he walked up to Roman. He leaned back against the wall and sunk down next to Roman. He bent his head up, feeling his hat press up against it as he did. Some of his bangs fell down against his face and he huffed in frustration.

“You’re not glittery,” Deceit said with a roll of his eyes, “You’re so not glittery that you’re practically mud, so why are you out here? If you didn’t want my games you wouldn’t wander so close to my space.”

Deceit watched as a tendon in Roman’s jaw jumped at the question. Tension hovered in the air and Deceit did nothing to relieve it. If he waited long enough then Roman would do it for him. Maybe he’d even get the truth.

“Excuse you,” Roman finally looked up to glare at him. The fire in his eyes brought a slight grin to Deceit’s face. “This isn’t your space! Your lair and gloomy territory is in that direction!” Roman waved a hand in the direction he had come from. “Some of us won’t hurt Thomas if we wander around where we want to! I don’t have to justify anything to you!”

Deceit’s slight grin thinned, his lips pressing together. The splinter of pain that ran down his chest at Roman’s word felt unexpected, though it really shouldn’t have been. None of the other Sides like him. Roman wouldn’t be any different, he had known that. Spending time with Roman as “Tony” didn’t change that.

He closed his eyes for a brief moment and couldn’t help the words that slipped out of his mouth.

“Why yes Roman, I’m certainly planning something, and there’s nothing any of you can do about it.”

Roman’s shoulder stiffened against his and Deceit cursed himself. He hadn’t realized they were so close. He couldn't keep his mouth shut. He should have stayed quiet until Roman started talking about whatever bothered him, he would have eventually. Time around Roman when he couldn’t talk seemed to have pushed him to speak his mind when he was around Roman.

Roman pushed off the wall and Deceit watched the flower that he had been holding fall to the floor. He ground his teeth together as Roman threw his shoulders back and glared down at him. As it should be, and Deceit tried not to question why the usual expression of disgust aimed at him hurt so much coming from Roman.

“Lies!” Roman clenched his hands into fists. “There is always something we can do! Good will triumph and whatever you’re planning to hurt Thomas will be foiled in a swift and righteous manner.” Roman scowled, “I don’t have to stay here and listen to this.”

Roman turned to walk away. Deceit’s hand shot out to wrap around his wrist and tug at him lightly. He couldn’t feel Roman’s warmth through his glove. Deceit didn’t know if it was an advantage or a disadvantage.

He needed to stop thinking about his time as “Tony”.

“Wait,” he said softly. He could feel the tension in Roman’s wrist, the muscles bunched up but not pulling away from him. Roman glanced down at him, the confusion in his eyes as clear as an empty blue sky. “You’re right,” Deceit continued, “I lied. I don’t have anything planned.”

For now at least.

Roman narrowed his eyes at him.

“And how do I know that for sure? How do I know that you’re not lying right now?”

Deceit chewed on the inside of his cheek. There was no way to prove he wasn’t lying, not for something like this. And even if he did have proof it didn’t mean that Roman would believe or trust him. It would be better in the long run; Deceit only needed Roman to talk to him until their problems were solved. All he had were words from Roman himself.

I don’t want to make the same mistake.

“You don’t,” Deceit finally admitted. He let go of Roman’s wrist but Roman didn’t step away from him. Deceit shrugged and adjusted his cape. “You have nothing but my word on my intentions and you’d be a fool to stick around.”

Roman wavered. Deceit could see it on his face. In the way that his eyes darted from Deceit to down the hall. In the way that his shoulders hunched upwards. In the shifting and rocking as Roman adjusted his center of balance while he thought. The way that Roman caught and chewed on his lower lip.

“I’ve long been told I’m a fool,” Roman said, taking a step towards Deceit. Deceit blinked at him. “You’re no different from the rest of them. Why are you here?” Roman reached out and with a flick of his wrist had his sword pointed at Deceit’s throat. Deceit lifted his chin up, feeling the cool metal against his skin. He stared at Roman. “Quickly now, before I decide that you’re more trouble than you’re worth.”

“You haven’t been yourself,” Deceit said, his tone as smooth as the cape he wore. “You’ve been uncertain for weeks now. You go out of your way to avoid the other Sides instead of seeking them out to brag about your adventures. You don’t insist on Disney for the movie night-”

“Enough!” Deceit’s breath caught as Roman’s sword dug a bit more into his throat. If he moved it would pierce the skin. It wouldn’t be the first time a Creativity slit his throat; Deceit ignored it. Roman blinked rapidly and Deceit could see the way his knuckles whitened on the hilt of his sword. “You’re lying again. There’s no way- How- I’m fine.”

“Oh sure,” Deceit agreed, rolling his eyes. He reached up and carefully nudged Roman’s sword away from him. It moved without any resistance. Another red flag against Roman. He studied the tips of his gloves. “There’s nothing wrong. You’re completely fine. You don’t want anyone to notice, and you haven’t been regretting recent decisions.”

Roman stared at him. Deceit sighed, and flicked his hat up away from his eyes to stare back at him. He waved a hand towards the spot next to him. Roman hesitated. Deceit’s lips thinned and he moved over half an inch so that there would be more space between them. Roman’s sword screeched against the ground before Roman picked it up higher and sank back down to his original spot.

Deceit reached out and picked up the flower Roman had dropped. A bright yellow tulip, the same size as his palm. He offered it out, careful not to brush against Roman as Roman took it back. Roman pulled it close to his chest, the yellow clear against the red of his sash.

He didn't make the same mistake again. They sat in a growing silence. Deceit picked at lint along his shoulders, keeping half an eye on Roman. Roman ran a finger along the petals of the flower, and Deceit watched as the yellow slowly bled into a bright orange. Another turn of the flower and the orange bled into red. Red to purple, purple to blue. Blue to green and then back to yellow. A casual show of creativity.

“They don’t trust me either,” Roman blurts. Deceit smothered a triumphant smirk. Roman’s hands wave through the air, the petals of the tulip waving with him. “Or at least, it feels that way! They don’t listen to my ideas! I’ve got! So many good ones!” Roman scowled, and threw the flower away from him. Deceit watched its slow descent.

Roman tugged a hand through his hair, growling under his breath.

“Nothing I do is good enough! I know Virgil said that no one hates me but sometimes it feels like they do! Patton is more concerned with doing what’s right than following Thomas’s dreams! And Virgil! Virgil would walk through the sun if that’s what Patton wants!” He laughed bitterly, and Deceit tilted his head to the side to show he was listening. Listened even as his stomach sank another inch with every word out of Roman’s mouth. “Doesn’t matter if it’s safe or fun or anything! What Patton says goes!”

Roman surged to his feet. Deceit pulled his legs in and sat cross-legged as Roman paced back and forth, a frantic energy filling the hallway. Deceit’s eyes darted towards the grey space they sat on the edge of. He tried to convince himself that the low growl he heard was a trick of the mind. 

“And Logan!” Roman continued, one of his hands doing circles and loops through the air. “Oh no, don’t get me started on Logic and Mr. ‘You can’t have Vampires in Space Roman it doesn’t make sense.’” A broken frustrated scream came from between Roman’s clenched teeth. “It’s change this and change that and why can’t I do any better?”

The energy around Roman just- stopped. Deceit sat up straighter as Roman just about collapsed in on himself.

“The worst part is that they’re all right,” Roman whispered, his arms coming around to hug himself. Sirens blared in Deceit’s mind as he stared at the diminished Creativity. “Patton’s morality, he knows what Thomas should do. Virgil would put a stop to anything truly bad, and Logan-” Roman sucked in a short breath. “Is it bad that all I wanted- He’s so smart. I just- I wanted him to think I could be too."

Roman dragged a hand down his face.

“God, why am I even telling you this?”

“Because you’re lying,” Deceit said, each word carefully shaped. They felt right and he nodded to himself. “They don’t think any of that, and you know it.” He tapped a finger against his thigh, feeling his annoyance grow at the fact that Patton, in particular, let it get to this point. Much further and it would take more than a pep talk to pull Roman back from an edge they all didn’t want to think of.

“Oh yeah?” Roman snapped and loomed over him. “How would you know?”

Deceit raised an eyebrow at him. Roman deflated again and closed his eyes. Deceit reached out and flicked him in the calf.

“Talk to Logan,” Deceit said, hating that he even suggested it. At least Logan would be the best out of a lot of horrible options. “He’ll tell you all about cognitive distortions and where you’re wrong about yourself. He’ll probably take great joy in it too.” 

In both being able to ramble and help Roman. 

Roman scoffed.

“Logan? Really?” He waved Deceit off, and Deceit scowled at him. Not living with them didn’t mean he knew nothing about them. “He wouldn’t know the first thing about this, not to mention the fact that he’ll just think I’m stupid for not being able to handle it myself.” He glanced at Deceit, who met him with a disbelieving stare.

“I just-” Roman ran his hands up and down his arms, “I’m tired of putting Thomas’ dreams aside but I don’t want them to think I’m being selfish. I don’t want them to think any differently about me. ”

“Maybe they need to,” Deceit muttered. He stood up and shoved his finger into Roman’s chest. “Listen,” he scowled even harder, “The only one who thinks you’re doing a bad job is you. And me but I think you’re all doing a bad job so you’re not special. Do what Thomas needs you to and you won’t hear a word from me.”

“Wha-”

Deceit jabbed him in the chest again.

“Get it together, Sanders. You’re good enough. Accept it, move on.” Deceit pulled back. Too much. Too honest. He needed distance, needed to make sure that Roman had no reason to like him in case he had to be locked away one day. He took a step back and crossed his arms, “Of course, a moron like you might not be able to do it.”

He turned and tried not to look like he was fleeing back to his room. He ignored Roman’s surprised call and sunk out as soon as he turned the corner. Roman wouldn’t be able to follow him that way. 

So Roman was lying to himself. Nothing too horribly new there. All Deceit needed to do was help Roman feel like Thomas’ dreams were progressing.

Easy. 

Not.


 Then the callback came, and it couldn’t have been timed better. Deceit could feel the triumphant grin cross his face already. Just what they needed. Just what Thomas needed.

He pulled them all into the trial.


Deceit rose up in his room after the absolute disaster and shoved everything off of his table angrily. They fell to his floor with a crash and he let out a scream of frustration. If they didn’t listen to him, why couldn’t they at least look at Roman? Roman who wanted so badly, only for his so-called family to rip it away from him. 

Worse; they made him rip it away from himself.

Deceit reached up blindly and ripped at the theater posters around his room. The mindless destruction helped. He stood in the middle of the mess, breathing hard. Fine. Fine . If they weren’t going to help, then he would. He’d piece Roman back together alone if he had to.

He growled and tugged his hat over his eyes. Roman needed a Tony? Fine. For Thomas’ sake, he’d be Tony.

Chapter Text

Roman closed his eyes as he rose back up into the Mind Palace. He took a deep breath, and threw his shoulders back before any of the others appeared as well. He wanted to run. If he made it back to his room, then he wouldn’t have to talk to any of them about what had just happened. The sound of his own voice, telling Thomas to go to the wedding, replayed in his head and he wanted to be sick.

A quick swipe at his eyes made sure that his eyes didn’t hold any tears. He forced his lips into a grin, one large enough that it would crinkle his eyes and hide how it didn’t reach them. When Patton rose up to his left, Roman felt ready. Lie, something that sounded like Deceit’s voice echoed in his head. He laughed to drown it out.

“Well!” Roman declared, wrapping an arm around Patton’s shoulders, “That was quite the adventure! Let’s not do it again!”

“Awwww,” Patton giggled leaning into his hold. Roman tried to pretend it was enough. “I thought it was quite fun! I mean, it could have been less….”

“Manipulative and horrible and all around gut-wrenching for everyone except Deceit?”

Virgil’s sharp voice almost managed to cut through Roman’s mask but he held strong. He turned to grin at Virgil as well, only his expression faltered at the look on Virgil’s face. The dark scowl Virgil aimed at the wall but it still felt like it dug into Roman’s heart. An accusation: how dare he side with Deceit when they all knew he was evil?

Roman wanted to ask when Virgil had changed his mind about second chances. Was it after he had his own, and decided no one else needed one?

He took a deep breath and shoved down the bitterness. Of course Virgil sided with Patton in this. It had been the right thing to do. Roman agreed in the end. Sort of. Patton had been the one to reach out to Virgil first, had trusted Virgil when no one else did. Of course Virgil trusted Patton in turn. The fact that neither of them thought about him didn’t sting.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Patton protested weakly. He hesitated, eyes flickering towards the door out of the Palace. Out to where Deceit lived. “But yeah we can go with that kid- Virge! It wasn’t all that nice is what it was.”

“Additional affirmation.” 

Roman winced as Logan appeared as well. He could hear the brittle tone in Logan’s voice, the same tone that he practiced hiding so that no one else heard it. Deceit had said it took a lair to know a liar. He had meant Virgil, but Roman wondered just how many of them were still lying to each other just here in this room.

“But it’s over now!” Patton threw his hands in the air, and Roman ducked to avoid getting hit in the face. “Oops, sorry there kiddo!” Roman felt a small part of himself relax. Patton didn’t mean anything by this. He could talk to Patton about it later maybe, and they’d all feel better. “And this Pop is going to pop out because he is pop -ed and ready for a nap.”

“Oh um Patton-”

Roman cut himself off as all three pairs of eyes turned to look at him. His words dried up in his throat. Remy wanted him to talk to them, any of them. Deceit had suggested Logan for some out of the blue reason. He should, he knew he should before this day cracked him right down the middle, but he found that he couldn’t. 

“Have a fabulous nap, Padre,” he said with a wink. His heart sank as Patton did with a giggle. He stared at the spot Patton had been, flexing his fingers over and over again.

“Roman?” Virgil’s hand brushed against his arm, and Roman jerked back before he could consciously realize what had happened. Roman glanced away from Virgil’s stunned face, before looking back again.

“Sorry, Back Better than Black,” Roman said with a laugh, “You startled me there!” 

The look on Virgil’s face said otherwise. Roman glanced in Logan’s direction in a desperate bid for help. Deceit’s suggestion to talk to him came back again at the calculated look on Logan’s face. He swallowed thickly. Logan might figure it out first, the way that Roman’s insecurities ate away at him. Roman focused back on Virgil.

Virgil stuffed his hands into the pockets of his hoodie and frowned.

“No offence, Ro, but I think it was more than that.”

“Yeah, well,” Roman waved a hand through the air, “You think that for everything, don’t you?” Silence fell like a hammer. Roman winced. “Wait, no- sorry, I don’t know what’s gotten over me. I’m less than my fabulous self and really for once I think the spotlight should be shone somewhere else.”

Virgil’s eyes grew dark and thunderous. 

“I know what it is,” he growled, “Deceit’s gotten into your head. Fuck him Roman, he’s not trying to help!” Roman shook his head, Deceit sitting and patiently listening to him vent hovering around the edge of his thoughts. Deceit admitting to a lie. “He just wants more control!” Virgil reached out and gripped his arm, eyes wide and desperate, “Promise me Roman, promise that you won’t listen to him!”

Roman stared down at Virgil, his heart breaking as he realized that Virgil had no idea what was going through his head. He didn’t have the slightest thought that Roman would have fought that hard for the callback without Deceit there pushing for it as well. A single sunbeam cut through his clouded thoughts. Virgil didn’t know him.

If Virgil didn’t know him, would the others as well? Did they have any idea how much his heart ached right now?

Roman took a shuddering breath and pulled his arm from Virgil’s grip.

“How is that any different from the rest of us?” he asked, his voice a gunshot through the room. Virgil gaped at him. Roman glanced at Logan, at the thin line of his lips, and wanted to cry. It wasn’t fair. He wanted to trust them, wanted to talk to them, but how could he trust people who didn’t trust him?

Roman cleared his throat.

“You got what you wanted today, Virgil.” He could see the full body flinch that wracked through Virgil’s body at the lack of a nickname. He nodded slowly in Logan’s direction. “Logan, my apologies for how I spoke to you today. I shall turn in and see you both in the morning.” 

“Roman wait-!”

Roman ignored Virgil’s shout and sank out of the room. Not to his bedroom, no they would go there for him immediately, or worse they’d come looking for him. If they looked for him now they’d find him crying and he had already let them know too much about how this affected him. He could feel the disappointment tearing through him. He needed a safe place to break down. Now.

He stumbled through the hallways of Thomas’ mind, sinking down against a wall and curling into a ball. The first sob cut through his lungs and the silence. He wrapped his arms around his legs and wished he had the sense to have at least run to the Imagination. Remy would have helped. Course, Remy would have also insisted on murdering Virgil and/or Deceit which wouldn’t help at all.

Another sob wracked his body. He had thought, hoped really, that maybe this time they would hear his cry. Deceit out of everyone had backed him up. Maybe that had been his downfall, trusting the villain to help. They trusted Deceit even less then they trusted him. The two of them together didn’t stand a chance. 

He could feel the warmth of his tears rolling down his face and soaking his pants as he shoved his face between his knees. His sobs drowned everything else out. He tried to believe that it would get better, that they’d have another opportunity like this another day but it felt impossible. A mountain he was climbing that had suddenly given way beneath him and left him in a free fall.

“Roman?”

Roman’s head snapped up and he met Deceit’s eyes. Deceit’s hat had gone missing at some point, his hair flying out in every direction. It made him look more open than Roman had ever seen him. Almost approachable.

“What do you want?” He winced at the way his voice croaked and cracked.

Deceit hesitated. Roman could see the gears turning behind his eyes and growled under his breath. He reached out and shoved Deceit. Deceit fell back, blinking at Roman.

“Forget about it,” Roman snapped, drawing himself into an even smaller ball. “It doesn’t matter, if you want something, manipulate someone else.”

Silence.

“I wanted to apologize.” Roman stared at the way Deceit pulled his cape tighter around himself. He froze and then let go of the cloth, straightening in a way that felt painfully familiar to Roman. “But since it’s clearly so welcome, I’ll just slither off.” He stood up and turned to go. The role reversal left Roman’s head spinning even if he couldn’t bring himself to reach out like Deceit had just yesterday.

“Wait,” Roman whispered. Deceit continued walking. “Wait!” Deceit’s steady steps faltered. “I’m sorry,” Roman’s fingers dug into his thighs, “You were right, and I messed the whole thing up.”

Deceit turned to face him, and crossed his arms.

“The self-aggrandizing is a pain,” Deceit snapped, “You are not the sole reason that Thomas made the decision he did today.”

“But-”

“Sssssilence,” Deceit hissed, “You listened to me all day and you will listen to me one more time. Patton, put pressure on Thomas putting others first. Virgil, put pressure not to trust me. Myself, took Logan out of the equation because I believed he needed no convincing. You, made the final decision, yes, but it was one of the two Patton and I tried to lead you too.”

“You suggested a compromise-”

“If I wanted a compromise, I would have kept Logan on the stand!” 

Roman blinked as Deceit rocked back on his heels from the force of his shout. Deceit’s hands curled into fists and Roman watched in surprised awe as he drew himself up to his full height. His lips peeled back into a snarl, tugging on his scales.

“I wanted to give you what you wanted, what Thomas wanted. To chase his dreams, to give him what would make him happy.” Deceit knelt down in front of him and his face twisted into a heavy frown. “I-” Roman waited as Deceit ran a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry, alright?”

Roman could feel something in him giving way at Deceit’s words but he ignored it. He lunged forward. He wrapped his arms around Deceit and pressed his face into Deceit’s shoulders to start sobbing all over again. He could feel the tension in Deceit’s muscles and the way that he froze at the contact but Roman didn’t care. The only other Side to try and see what Roman wanted was the one everyone hated.

Didn’t that say so much?

He gripped at Deceit’s back and wailed. He wailed for the relationships that he thought he had, for the lost opportunity. He sobbed for months of pain and doubt that suddenly seemed justified. A distant part of him felt self-doubt take root into Self-doubt, but he ignored it. He would deal with it in a little bit. For now, what mattered was the way that Deceit’s hands hesitantly touched his shoulders as he flew apart.

A roar echoed down the halls and Roman reluctantly pulled back. Deceit stared down the hallway as Roman tried to scrub his face clean of tears. He shoved at Deceit’s shoulder.

“Go,” he said, glad at the way that his voice didn’t crack again. “Self-doubt is my job. I’ll take care of it.” Deceit’s eyes raked over him and Roman bristled, “I can handle it! It’ll be in the Imagination soon anyways, and-” Roman stumbled over his words.

And I won’t be alone.

Tony. Remy. Hecate. Anton. Toby. Nate. He still had friends he could depend on. Roman heaved himself to his feet. He could do this. He offered his hand to Deceit, and as he hauled Deceit up to his feet, something in Deceit’s eyes agreed with him. Someone thought he could do this.

Roman didn’t know what to do with that.

Chapter Text

Deceit ducked around the corner and waited for Roman’s footsteps to start to fade before closing his eyes and letting his form fall away into the increasingly familiar feel of being a snake. Ironically, he hadn’t spent this much time as something else ever. Roman would never accept help from Deceit for an issue like this, but as Tony, at least Deceit could make sure that it ended well. 

It was the least he could do for something that was his fault.

Deceit sunk down as soon as he could, hoping that Roman had taken a moment to remember that he could sink down to his room as well instead of running. He landed on Roman’s bed with a soft thump, coiling into a ball just as the door slammed open. Tony’s head snapped up to meet Roman’s eyes. For a moment Roman’s eyes brightened from the resigned dullness they had been since the end of the trial, and Deceit knew that, for that alone, this was worth it.

“No time,” Roman said, scooping him up into his arms and Deceit wound his way around Roman’s shoulders. “We’ve got to go now, now, now, now.”

Deceit held on a little tighter as Roman dashed into the Imagination. Roman whistled loud and high, and Deceit winced at the sound. It carried through the forest and within moments the sound of pounding hooves and breaking twigs filled the air. Deceit felt Roman’s chest expand as he took a deep breath and took off running. 

Deceit twisted his head. He caught sight of Lady's white form weaving through the trees as she charged towards them. Roman lifted one arm as she drew near and she slowed down just enough for him to grab her reins and swing himself up onto her saddle. The wind whistled past them as Roman bent low and urged her to even faster speeds.

As they broke free of the woods, Roman whistled again, three short bursts. Deceit watched as the small town below them exploded into motion. As they drew closer, he could see the Constructs scrambling around each other. Some of them dragged armor from their homes, while others saddled up horses, and more still handed swords and guns and weapons out to those rushing by.  In the distance, Hecate’s roar spread over the land.

Lady skid to a stop at the edge of the organized chaos.

“Anton!” Roman shouted.

“My lord!” Anton’s cry cut through the noise. He held a bow in his hand as he hurried towards him. “We were breached just past the Swamp Monster’s hut and the creature is moving quickly towards the capital.” Anton hesitated, and swallowed thickly, “It looks like a bad one this time. Agile and large." 

Roman nodded sharply.

“Any casualties so far?”

Anton shook his head.

“The Swamp Monster doesn’t do border patrol, and the rest of us were focused on clean up after the latest Quest. This creature had the worst timing.”

“Or the best,” Roman muttered, nudging Lady into moving once more. “Have Hecate stand guard over the capital with Remy. Send a squad to the border to check the damage there, and get some mages ready to provide back up once the fight begins.”

“As you wish,” Anton bow quickly, “And you, Roman?”

Roman spurred Lady into a gallop once more. Deceit rolled his eyes at Anton’s question. There was only one place Roman would be headed. Deceit just didn’t know if it was a good thing or a bad thing.

“Where do you think?” Roman called over his shoulder as Lady picked up speed. Tony hissed in his ear as the world blurred around them. Lady nickered and Roman threw his head back into a laugh. It held a note that Deceit couldn’t read, and he felt unease rise about the whole situation. He didn’t think this was going to end well.


 They finally slowed at the edge of a swamp that stretched as far as the eye could see. Roman tugged at Lady’s reins and she swung around to pace at the point where dry land met wet. Deceit looked out at the trees that loomed over them, larger than the ones that filled the woods. The bright green reflected off the water, blending together with the moss until Deceit couldn’t tell where one started and the other ended.

He adored every inch of it.

Roman’s hand against his head snapped him out of his thoughts. He pulled back from where he realized he was leaning forward towards the swamp. Roman laughed quietly, and Deceit hissed at him, bumping his nose against Roman’s cheek to get him to stop. It only made Roman laugh even harder and Deceit changed his mind. He was going home; Roman could deal with this one his own and die for all Deceit cared.

“Like what you see?” Roman asked with a wink. Deceit snapped his fangs at him and Roman grinned even wider. His eyes drifted past Deceit and he tensed. Deceit followed his line of sight to the path of trees that had been snapped at the trunk. Something had toppled them over; something large. Roman nudged at Lady’s flank, inching them closer to the trail.

“We’ll have to save the swamp tour for later,” Roman said, his hands tightening around Lady’s reins. “Of course, it might be better that way. We can get Hecate to show you around then. She loves it almost as much as you’re guaranteed to. I think it might be a reptile thing? I haven’t asked Logan yet. Then again I wasn’t sure how to bring it up without also having to explain Hecate because you just know that nerd will ask why-”

Deceit let Roman’s rambling wash over him as he studied the destruction they drew close to. If Roman needed to talk to stay calm, Deceit wasn’t going to stop him. Better a talking Roman than a panicking one. Roman had done this before; Deceit figured if anyone knew what they were doing it was Roman.

Tony took in the splintered stumps and torn apart trunks. Jagged gashes run along the wood, on both felled trees and the ones that had survived the Self-doubt passing through. More concerning than the size, was the fact the gashes ran along them on varying levels. Deceit’s mind couldn’t picture the sort of creature that could cause that sort of damage.

He let out a soft hiss and glanced up at Roman. Roman’s words trailed off and his lips thinned as he looked around them. Deceit watched one of his hands reach out to run along Lady’s neck. She tossed her mane, ears flicking back and forth as they followed the trail away from the swamp.

“Well,” Roman said finally, “It’s not the worst I’ve seen.” The twist of his lips could barely be called a smile. “Starting to regret leaving Hecate at the capital.”

Deceit didn’t response. He agreed. A Dragon Witch would be more than helpful against something like this.

A shadow passed over them and Deceit stiffed. Roman pulled Lady to a stop, his head craning up to the sky. The shadows passed over them again with a rush of wind and Deceit looked up to see the spot circling overhead. It grew larger and larger. Well, speak of the devil. 

Hecate’s dragon form let out a low roar, and Deceit winced at the answering roar that echoed back. One deep and angry, the other just as deep only it sounded broken. Insane. Terrified and willing to do anything to end that terror. Deceit tried not to think about it too hard, or he’d start to question if they all really knew how the Mindscape worked and he’d had that existential crisis once already.

Hecate dropped low and landed not far in front of them. Lady pranced over in her direction, letting out a happy nicker even as Roman yelped in surprise at the sudden movement. Hecate turned a large eye in their direction and her chuckle rang out across the clearing that she had made. She nudged her snout gently at Lady who tossed her main happily at the action. Roman frowned at them all.

“I thought you were going to be at the capital,” he said, more accusation than question.

“Ah, you think you’d have learned by now Daddy-o.”

Deceit’s head snapped towards the sound of Remy’s voice as he slid off of Hecate’s back. He could feel the way that Roman’s shoulders tensed even more. Understandably. Hecate coming could be excused; Remy should stay as far away from the fighting as he could get. This wasn’t some play where everyone would be careful not to hurt him.

Roman’s words drowned out Deceit’s soft hiss.

“What are you doing here?” Roman glared down at Remy who shrugged and shoved a hand in one pocket. He held a drink in the other and looked at Roman from over his sunglasses.

“Just makin’ sure that, like, you don’t end up giving me even more work to do.”

“Mages for backup?” Hecate scoffed, her talons digging furrows into the ground. “Amateurs and weaklings. I’m the best around and you all know it.”

“Yes,” Roman said slowly, “Which is why I left you guarding Remy.”

“But that’s boring,” Hecate whined. Her tail swished behind her, “‘Sides! I’m still doing it! See? There’s Remy, and here’s me! He looks pretty guarded to me.”

Remy lifted his hands out as if to say ‘what can you do?’ and took a long sip from his drink. Neither of them looked all that repentant for going against Roman’s orders. Deceit felt torn between begrudging respect for the sort of arrogance that took and frustrated that they would put Roman’s core in danger like that.

“I can take care of myself!”

Silence met Roman’s shout. Remy lifted an eyebrow at the same time that Hecate dissolves into hysterical laughter. Roman set his jaw determinedly. Deceit wondered if they could just send Remy back but keep Hecate. It would make the most amount of sense. He hissed at Roman, tilting his head in Hecate’s direction.

“See?” Roman waved a hand through the air, “Tony agrees with me!” God, they were all going to die. At least life had been somewhat alright while it had lasted. Remy glanced at him and Deceit hissed at them all.

“Well then, like, it’s a good thing I don’t let a snake tell me what to do,” Remy said, stepping closer to them. Deceit wondered if it was too late to convince Thomas to write a will.

“You listen to me though.” Roman’s eyes drifted towards the direction the Self-doubt’s roar had come from. Remy chuckled. Hecate grinned, showing off sharp fangs. Lady pranced lightly in place and slowly Roman’s frown twitched up into a smile.

“Daddy-o, I don’t listen to anyone but myself.”

“Fine. Fine!” Roman threw his hand in the air. He jabbed his finger at Remy and then at Hecate. “The moment- and I mean the moment- you think things are spinning out of control I want you to flee like the hounds of hell themselves are on your heels.” Roman paused, “Oh alliteration, that’s awesome.”

“No!” Hecate flapped her wings and glared at Roman, “We won’t just leave you!”

“Yes!” Roman shouted back, dropping Lady’s reins to scowl at them. Deceit glanced at him, then back at Remy and Hecate. If he looked closer, he could see the tension that practically radiated off of them. He cursed internally. The more he looked, the more it seemed like Roman was on the edge of falling apart. Literally. Something it seemed, the other Sides had missed and Roman’s Constructs were all too aware off, though maybe not quite knowing how truly serious it would be if Roman reached that point.

Roman took a deep breath. 

“If I get hurt, I can come back. You guys can’t.”

“You mean if you die,” Remy said flatly. Roman shook his head.

“No. I’ll discorporate at worst. The only way that I’d die is-”

“-is if something happened to me,” Remy finished. His grip on his drink tightened, “That doesn’t make the times you’re gone, like, easier.”

Deceit rolled his eyes. It sounded like Remy wanted out of work more than anything else. Roman picked up his reins again with a sigh. Deceit hummed to himself. Sure, Remy’s past actions didn’t line up with that but the idea of someone caring if he discorporated just didn’t feel real. It got him out of the way for a little bit and that was that, right? Remus could stab him knowing that he’d be back within the week.

“Please,” Roman said quietly, and looked down at Deceit. Deceit jolted realizing that apparently he was included in this conversation. “I just- don’t want any of you to get hurt.”

“Ha!” Remy grinned at Roman, “That’s a good one. If anyone gets hurt it’s gonna be, like, you. We’re just gonna make sure to yeet you some help when you need it.”

Roman waved his hand through the air, and pointed in the direction of the trail the Self-doubt had left. Deceit eyed the large tracks interspersed with smaller ones and wondered how many legs the damned thing had. Too many that was for sure.

“If we’re done dawdling,” Roman said, tilting his chin into the air, “We have a kingdom to save.”

Remy bowed, somehow sarcastically, and stepped over to Hecate.

“Lead the way,” Remy said and Hecate snorted in amusement. Roman scowled at the both of them before urging Lady into a canter. Deceit glanced at them, noting the dark eyes they both watched him with, eyes that stayed the same as they turned to look in the direction of the Self-doubt. A part of Deceit wanted to see what they’d try to do if they knew that the other Sides were to blame for Roman’s recent mood.

Maybe he’d sic them on each other one day.

Deceit shoved that thought aside for later as Lady broke into a gallop and he had to focus on staying on Roman’s shoulders. He could hear the flap of Hecate’s wings as she flew above them. He kept his eyes trained ahead, watching as the large grey spot on the horizon grew. And grew, and grew, and grew, until he had to crane his head upwards to look at the spiked hide of Self-doubt. 

The monster towered over them, at least two stories tall, and the thought of Roman facing the thing alone suddenly seemed laughable. It would have squashed him in an instant. It’s bull-like head swung slowly in their direction as they approached. Roman’s sword appeared with a soft sound of metal against a sheath despite not being in one. Drama king.

They almost reached the leg when something small and black slammed into Lady’s flank. She reared back in panic and when it ran into her again, toppled over with something that sounded dangerously close to a scream. The world spun around Deceit as he flew from Roman’s shoulders and he landed hard. 

He shook his head to clear it of the stars and spun to find Roman. The black blur settled, and then blurred again, never quite solidifying into a form before scattering into something close to dust again. Black mixed with green and red and Deceit thought he saw some gray and blue mixed into the mess as well. It loomed over Roman and Deceit hissed at it. The smooth face turned his way and a shiver of fear ran down Deceit’s spine.

“Nightmare,” Roman breathed.

The Self-doubt roared above them, and the Nightmare made a low clicking sound as it took a step towards Roman.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

Hecate’s roar matched the Self-doubt’s as she barreled right into the side of it. Deceit didn’t look up to watch the two topple over, but the crashing of trees as they snapped them like twigs and rumble of the earth told him all he needed to know. He kept his eyes trained on the black figure that stood over Roman instead. 

Roman scrambled backwards, and Deceit wanted to hiss at him. That direction took him even farther away from his sword. Deceit slithered forwards slowly, trying to debate his options and what he needed to do. Shifting to something that would let him fight better would give himself away and something told him that breach of trust was the last thing that Roman needed right now.

Two quiet thumps, almost indistinguishable caught Deceit’s attention and the Nightmare spun away from Roman just in time to catch Remy’s sword in one of its hands. Its clicking twisted and turned into a crackling noise that made everyone in the area wince. Remy wrenched his sword back, stumbling away as the Nightmare jabbed at him with its other hand. 

Black claws glinted in the sunlight. 

The Nightmare’s head turned towards Roman as he dove for his sword, and Deceit let out a vicious hiss. The Nightmare turned towards him. Fear clawed at Deceit’s throat. He ignored it. This abomination had nothing on Virgil. He reared up and flared his hood at it. Its head tilted to the side. It sidestepped the swing of Roman’s sword. The fear suffocating Deceit faded. 

“Remy!” Roman snapped, all but dancing out of the way of the Nightmare’s slash. “Grab Tony and go!”

“Not yet!” Remy lunged forward with his own sword. The ground shuddered around them, and the pained roar from the Self-doubt drowned out any other noise. Deceit watched as the trunk of a nearby tree splintered and cracked. It crashed down next to Roman, brushing past him and throwing off the rhythm of all the combatant. 

“Remy! Now!”

Deceit hissed again as Remy’s hands wrapped around his coils, yanking him off of the ground. Lady pranced uneasily at the edge of it all. Remy pulled back next to her. They watched Roman and the Nightmare circle each other slowly. More trees cracked and fell with a crash around them. 

Deceit glanced up in time to see Hecate bury her fangs into the hide of the Self-doubt. Its paws scrambled at her sides and wings. It pushed her back, closer towards where Roman and the Nightmare fought as it struggled against her hold. Remy’s hands spasmed around him as they stopped only feet away from the smaller combatants.

Deceit squirmed in Remy’s hold. What he wouldn’t do for an opponent that he could try and talk around. Something told him these mindless beasts were just that. Mindless. They couldn’t be reasoned with, or manipulated because they didn’t have anything between their ears. Logicless, and wasn’t that ironic? No logic to twist around meant Deceit could do nothing.

The Nightmare slashed through the air with its claws. Roman parried with his sword. Deceit tried to remind himself that this wouldn’t be the first time Roman faced a creature like this. Roman’s feet shuffled back. The Nightmare pressed forward. Claws collided with sword with a ringing crash. Not unlike metal on metal.

“Come on,” Remy muttered under his breath. He took half a step forward that Deceit didn’t think was conscious. “Come on.”

Hecate’s tail lashed in the air above them. Deceit watched its path with bated breath. He glanced back down at Roman. Roman’s eyes darted to them and back to the Nightmare again. His sword caught the Nightmare’s claws. They strained against each other. Hecate's tail whistled as it swung downward. 

Deceit hissed at the same time Remy screamed in warning.

Roman disengaged. He threw himself backwards. Hecate’s tail slammed into the ground where he had stood. The Nightmare flew back. It slammed into a tree. Deceit thought the fact it already moved to get back up was cheating. Roman lay on the ground, clearly struggling before falling limp.

Lady charged forward before Remy could. Her hooves thundered against the ground. She clamped her teeth around Roman’s shirt and dragged him back. Deceit slithered up Remy’s arm. It freed Remy’s arms up to draw his own sword once more. 

“Go go go go go!” Remy urged Lady as he swung at the approaching Nightmare. Deceit hissed at the creature. It stared at the both of them. It’s smooth face tilted to the side, studying them without moving. The weight of its gaze felt cold and heavy, drowning in water while being completely dry on land.

Remy took a deep breath. He waved a hand. A tree groaned before creaking and falling between them and the Nightmare. Deceit fought the urge to glare at him. He could have done that before now. Remy turned and sprinted after Lady. Hecate’s roar split the air behind them. Deceit twisted to watch her breath a blue fire in the Self-doubt’s muzzle. It shook its head and staggered back.

At least one of them was managing.

Remy caught up to Lady and bent down to wrap one of Roman’s arms around his shoulders. Deceit squirmed away from them, balanced carefully on one of Remy’s arms. 

“Fuck,” Remy breathed, “Here, lemme-”

He held the arm out, and Deceit followed it to Lady’s flank. He wound himself around the horn of the saddle, watching as Remy braced Roman between the two of them. Lady walked slowly. Her ears flicked back and forth and she nickered softly.

“I know, I know,” Remy snapped, “It’s coming after us and-” His head whipped back over his shoulder. Deceit turned to look as well. The dark blur from before didn’t reemerge. Somehow, Deceit thought it felt more ominous, the slow creeping feeling of being pursued slowly. 

“Hecate will, like, take a while with the other one,” Remy gritted his teeth and glanced at Deceit, “Isn’t there, like, something you can do?”

Deceit breathed in. Then out. He stared in the direction the Nightmare approached from. He glanced over at Roman’s limp form. He breathing in again. He debated the amount of time it would take for Roman to recover. He compared it to the time it would take for the Nightmare to catch up to their slow pace. He could do what he did to heal Remy with Roman but he’d likely pass out and be useless. If anything else went wrong there’d be nothing he could do.

He hissed in frustration and unwound from the saddle’s horn. He glanced at Remy briefly and then threw himself off Lady entirely. He ignored her neigh of surprises at the sudden weight change. Remy’s yelp went unheeded as well. Instead, he focused on the feel of his body falling away from him again and what he wanted it to land as. 

Talons dug into the earth and Hecate matched his roar, echoing back a larger deeper sound.

“Holy shit,” Remy breathed behind him. Deceit lunged at the Nightmare, wings snapping out to help with his balance. Hecate faired well as a dragon; Deceit hoped that he would as well. 

Deceit’s fang snapped at the Nightmare. Its blurred form stumbled back from his attack. He pressed forward, slashing with his talons. They passed through it. Something chilled him to his bones. He broke out into a cold sweat and heard Remy curse behind him. Deceit growled at it, lips peeling back into a snarl as it froze and tilted its head again.

Anxiety would power a nightmare. Confidence and dreams could kill it. Deception could go either way. Deceit felt his heart sink. He couldn’t affect the damn thing alone. At most he’d be able to suppress it. If he could push a positive lie on it, then it would weaken, but if the Belief didn’t take it would backfire.

Fuck.

Thomas would know any Lie about how the missed callback being no big deal was just that, a lie. All Deceit’s lies would do was feed into the Self-doubt and Nightmare. He would only make the situation worse. The damned thing couldn’t think that high, probably. But it could tell that he couldn’t hurt it in the same way Roman could.

It took a step forward. Deceit held his ground. He crouched lower and snarled even more at it. It took another step. Deceit swiped at it. His claws phased through its blurred form again. He wanted to hit something. The only thing he could, would remain unaffected. Deceit cursed internally and took a step back. He tried to put his bulk between Remy, Roman, Lady, and the creature.

It stepped forward again and Deceit watched in horror as it stood in the middle of his paw.

Double fuck.

He reared back as it simply pressed forwards towards its true goal.

Deceit scrambled back to Remy and Roman. His fangs closed around Remy’s clothes and he hauled Remy up into the air.

“What the fuck-?” Deceit ignored Remy’s surprise and dropped him onto Lady’s saddle. He dropped his muzzle to catch Roman’s falling form and lashed his tail out. It still didn’t do anything against the Nightmare and Deceit wanted to scream in frustration. He nudged Roman to lean up against Lady more. 

Something crashed in the distance. Deceit hoped Hecate had managed to do something about the Self-doubt.

Roman groaned softly. Deceit’s head snapped in his direction. He dropped away from his dragon form, landing against the dirt. He slithered forward and up Roman’s leg. Roman shook his head, looking around. He blinked slowly. Deceit hissed at him, aware of how close the Nightmare had gotten.

“Tony?” Roman muttered.

“Roman!” Remy shouted in warning. 

Roman’s arm snapped up. Deceit felt something like awe stir. That had to be instinctive. The Nightmare’s claw clashed against Roman’s sword. Roman blinked again. He twisted his wrist. The Nightmare stumbled back. 

“Ah,” Roman said, flicking his sword through the air. “That’s right. We were in the middle of an epic showdown.” His mouth stretched out into a painfully fake grin. “Well then, we shan’t keep the evil waiting shall we? Good shall triumph and all that.”

Roman’s sword flashed through the air. Deceit settled on Roman’s neck as he pushed the Nightmare back and away from Remy. The Nightmare let out a low hiss. Roman’s grin softened into something more confident. His sword cut through the Nightmare’s side. Deceit let out a cackling hiss. Seeing the creature damaged coated the back of his throat in dark satisfaction.

Roman slashed again, and this time one of the Nightmare’s claws fell to the ground with a soft thump. It dissolved. Deceit would have let out a loud cackle if he could have. Roman’s laugh filled the air, harmony to his hissing. The Nightmare let out a rough clicking noise. Roman stepped forward. It stepped back.

See? Deceit wanted to crow. See what happens when Confidence reigns as he should?

Hecate’s triumphant roar filled the air, sending the last few birds in the area scattering through the air. The ground rolled beneath them as the Self-doubt fell with a mighty boom. Roman stumbled. The Nightmare blurred and its claws surged forward. 

Time seemed to slow.

Tony didn’t think. His head snapped forward. He focused his thoughts on a Lie.

It’s going to be fine.

Surprise didn’t have time to settle as his fangs sunk into the Nightmare’s wrist. The feeling escaped description. Deceit had bitten both a rock and a cloud at the same time. He locked his jaw. Distantly, he could hear Roman’s shout but the world spun away from him. Deceit didn’t know if it was from the Nightmare wrapping its other hand around his coil and ripping him off, or from the way everything blurred around him.

Thomas, broken and depressed, hovered in the corner of his eye. Anxiety’s eyes weighed on his back, a silent demand filling the room with tension. Wait, no, Deceit hadn’t been in a room. Patton’s not-glare filled his sight and Deceit wanted to whimper. He shook his head. No. He had let go of those expectations years ago.

Hadn’t he?

Tony!

Anxiety slammed him against the wall. He couldn’t breathe. Deceit kicked at the open air; he couldn’t reach Anxiety and his hands clawed at Anxiety’s wrist.

“Lie,” Anxiety hissed, “Fix this!”

TONY!

Roman’s disgust filled his face and Deceit didn’t know the expression could cut him through to the bone. His lips moved, saying something but Deceit couldn’t make it out. Didn’t want to make it out. He knew what Roman said all the same. Liar. Monster. Broken trust and hatred. The same thing he had always been and would always be.

It hurt more. Hearing it from Roman’s mouth, knowing that even Roman had finally given up on him-

“TONY!”

Tony’s breath rattled through his chest as air rushed into his lungs. Warmth. Someone held him close to their chest. He could feel the way their chest heaved up and down, up and down, up and down, a rapid beat that anchored Deceit to the here and now. He pressed closer to them, and could feel the way their next breath shook.

“Oh thank god,” Roman whispered. He pressed his face into Tony’s coils. “You’re alright. You’re alright.” Deceit hissed softly, feeling more like all he did was breath out. Roman trembled against him. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry-”

Deceit tuned out his apologies, squirming in Roman’s hold. As sickeningly sweet as the moment was, if Roman pulled it when they were still in danger Deceit was going to bite his neck. He glanced around them. Remy looked back at him with a pale face. Hecate stood next to Lady, a furious storm of anger in the way she held herself even as she ran a hand over Lady’s neck.

The Nightmare struggled against bonds made of twisted, darkened branches and roots of the trees around them. Deceit stared at the sight. Exhaustion pulled at his bones, and he knew that something about the image was wrong. It meant something bad, but he couldn’t get the gears in his brain to turn enough to figure out what.

Hecate flicked her fingers, sending a dagger flying at the Nightmare. Deceit watched it slump and then slowly begin to dissolve. Unconsciousness hovered at the edges of his vision. He clawed at it, struggling to stay coherent. He managed to turn and nuzzle at Roman’s cheek before the darkness swarmed him.

“Tony?” Roman’s voice cracked, and as Tony slipped away from consciousness, he could feel something else, deep in Thomas’ mind, crack in tandem. 


Dull grey eyes stared at the strangled filter of light in front of them. His lips twitched upwards before falling into a blank expression. He reached out, digging ragged nails into the brick. It crumbled away at his touch and a thrill of triumph raced through his veins. 

Soon, he thought.

Apathy dug into the Wall again and wriggled into the small opening. He stumbled into the grey hallways, blinking at the sudden light. He flexed his fingers. He could feel the warmth of Thomas’ conscious mind and beyond that the feeling of Passion fading. He tilted his head to the side. 

And very slowly, smiled.

It didn’t reach his eyes.

Chapter Text

Consciousness returned slowly. Tony remembered a hand on his head. A loud panicked voice being matched with a calmer one trying to talk over it. Something steady and cool being pressed against his coils. He thought he tried to leave and go back to work in one panicked, delirious moment. Someone had spoken soothing words even as he thrashed against the hands holding him down.

Tony came too with bleary thoughts and a puzzle of memories. He tried to remember what had happened, where he was, and jerked in place when he caught sight of the star chart across from him. Soft cloth fell away from him as he twisted in place. His eyes meet Logan’s and Tony felt his heart stop.

“Ah,” Logan snapped the book in his hands shut, “You are awake. Will you allow me to see if you are adequately healed?” 

Deceit stared at him, and Logan’s lips twitched downwards before smoothing out. He set his book to the side and simply stared back at Deceit. Deceit appreciated that; he used the time to try and piece together just why he was in Logan’s room. Had he been found out?

Logan stood up and took a step in his direction. Deceit shied away from him. Logan frowned again, a brief display of frustration before he retreated back to the lies he told himself. Deceit would have appreciated that under any other circumstances. For all that Logan could see through most of his lies, his self-deception reached lengths that not even Patton had managed.

“You have a most vexing timing,” Logan said simply, “Waking up when Roman has stepped out.” He held a hand out, palm out. “I believe that both of us would feel more secure if we could assure Roman of your continued health. Or am I incorrect in that assumption, Anthony?”

Deceit jolted at the name. Logan raised an eyebrow in his direction. Deceit felt something in him relax. He hadn’t been found out. Roman had brought him here for some reason after- Deceit searched his memories for how he had gotten hurt. All he could remember was scattered images of Anxiety.

He let out a soft hiss, slithering forward to bump Logan’s hand. Logan reached out to scratch behind his eyes and Deceit hissed at him. Logan froze and nodded. His hand retracted and he returned to holding it out, palm up.

“You do not wish to be pet.” Deceit nodded and fought back a scoff at the way Logan’s eyes lit up. He longed for Roman’s easy acceptance and warmth. He stopped and shoved that thought away. He couldn’t get attached. He ignored the part of himself that hissed he already failed at that.

“Would you at least allow me to perceive if the last of the nightmares have been banished?” 

Deceit tilted his head to the side. Logan’s mouth opened to explain and Deceit allowed himself one moment to be grateful that Logan at least understood his silent messages. While Roman’s assumptions were endearing, Deceit thrived on communication. Truths and lies blended together until he had the perfect relationship. Patton would have said the perfect relationship needed no lies. Deceit wanted some things to himself however, whatever the means it took to make that so.

“As it was explained to me,” Logan’s hand waved as he lectured. Deceit tracked the movement with annoyance. Roman’s gestures had more energy to them. “You assisted Roman in defeating a Nightmare that had been plaguing Thomas. However in the effort, you-” Logan paused, “You ingested a part of it, for lack of a better term. This caused an adverse reaction, that frankly surprised us when you survived.”

Deceit stared at him.

“Most Constructs would have fallen apart,” Logan said softly, “In my understanding of the brief explanation that Roman gave me, most of you are simply not made to hold up to much strain. The Imagination is a cocoon of sorts, that keeps you safe automatically.”

Ah. Deceit grinned to himself. As a Side, he would be much sturdier than a Construct. The Nightmare put him out of commission, but since he hadn’t discorporated, it couldn’t have been that bad. The backlog of work he’d have would be a pain though.

“Clearing the leftover nightmares from your system was simple once I knew what I was working with,” Logan finished, “Your makeup is surprisingly similar to our own.”

Deceit hummed. Good old trusting each other, he thought to himself. Logan had no reason to question Roman’s assertion that he was a Construct, which meant that he drew his own conclusions as to why Deceit seemed like a Side. Roman had no reason to believe he was anything other than a Construct and reasoned away anything different. He didn’t have to do anything to keep up the charade. They did it all themselves.

Something sharp and bitter panged against his heart. Deceit easily squashed it and settled down against the nest of blankets Logan had him in. He leaned forward and let Logan run his hands over his scales. Logan touched him lightly, almost nonexistent with the way his hands drifted and he pulled them away as soon as he was satisfied. He nodded to himself, and Deceit could have purred.

All he needed was to reassure himself that Roman was fine and then he could be off again. He could get back to work finally. Bringing him here meant that Roman trusted Logan. If Roman trusted Logan then he would open up about his insecurities and Roman would finally pull himself back from that edge. Deceit could drop the charade altogether.

Logan’s door slammed open. The perfect timing for Deceit to ignore why the thought of no longer spending time around Roman sat heavy on his chest. Roman all but flew into the room, a whirlwind of energy in the otherwise eye of the storm. He carried a tray of food that clattered loudly as he placed it not too gently on Logan’s desk.

“Patton made your favorite,” Roman said, his voice filling the room to the brim. “He’s trying to bribe you to leave your room, and didn’t seem too happy when I offered to take it to you? Of course it was more like he was torn tragically between being ecstatic that we’re spending time together without tearing each other’s heads off and frustrated that I’m encouraging you to stay in your room like a hermit crab, though if you were a hermit crab then wouldn’t keeping you in your shell be healthiest-”

“Roman,” Logan placed a hand on Roman’s which cut Roman off neatly. A solid technique that Tony filed away for later. Logan jerked his head in Deceit’s direction. Roman’s eyes followed the motion, and Deceit felt something warm and content wrap around him at the way that Roman practically shone when they met eyes.

“Tony,” Roman breathed. He just about teleported across the room, and Deceit preened at the feeling of Roman’s arms scooping him up. He pressed up against the warmth of Roman’s solid chest. He had kept Roman safe. Which meant that Thomas was safe by extension, Deceit added hastily. 

“You’re alright,” Roman said, the wonder in his voice so different from the panic that Deceit remembered in his voice last he had heard it. He stretched up to bump his nose against Roman’s cheek and the breathy giggle he got in return felt worth the loss of dignity. Not that he had much dignity left to lose at this point. For himself at least, technically so long as the others never learned that he was Tony then he’d never lose his standing with them.

If he could even call it a “standing” with them.

Roman turned back to Logan as Deceit wound his way around Roman’s neck. Logan watched them with a longing in his eyes; a longing Logan probably wasn’t aware of. He wanted to roll his eyes, or maybe growl to himself. For the main Sides of Thomas, all of them were blind idiots. At least Roman opening up to Logan would solve two birds with one stone and Deceit would be sitting pretty as he ate the fruits of his labor.

“Thank you,” Roman said, leaning his head over to press his cheek against Deceit’s scales. Deceit decided that this soft voice of Roman’s could stay. The other needed to die a fiery death the moment Deceit figured out how to do that. Logan fiddled with his glasses, a soft pleased smile crossing his face.

“Well, I am simply-” Logan paused, “I am gratified that you felt you could come to me for assistance.”

Roman blinked. Deceit fought the urge to shift back so he could shove the two at each other and shout at them to talk things out. He had a feeling it wouldn’t actually help anything.

“You did say-” Roman hesitated as well. Drama. Idiots. “You did say that family didn’t owe each other anything.”

“Which means that it is simply a pleasure to be of use,” Logan said simply. His smile faltered. “I do believe that you will be getting back to work now that the situation is resolved? I wish you well in your endeavors.”

Roman’s face fell as Logan turned away. Oh god, the morons were going to brush this all under the rug. Deceit hissed, long and loud enough that both Logan and Roman jumped. Roman reach up to scratch at his scales, an attempt to calm him that Tony refused to accept. He flopped off of Roman’s shoulders and ignored Roman’s surprised and half panicked yelp.

“Tony?”

He escaped under Logan’s bed and glared at their feet balefully. If they refused to do something about the situation then he would. Like he always did. God, why did he have to do all the work around here? If they would be honest to each other, then Thomas would be honest to himself and Deceit might actually get a full night’s sleep for the first time in months.

“You little shit,” Roman muttered under his breath as he crouched down to glare back at Tony. Deceit stuck his tongue out at Roman long enough that he could savour the scandalized look on Roman’s face before tucking himself back even further under Logan’s bed, out of Roman’s reach. “You can’t just have moments with people, can you? Are you allergic to nice feelings or something?”

“I don't believe that you can be allergic to feelings,” Logan offered, “He is likely trying to avoid something about such emotions that leads him to act like this.”

Deceit watched smugly as Roman’s face went through frustration, a sliver of understanding, and then resignation. Snake earns another point, and pulls ahead into infinity above the prince. Roman stood up slowly, leaving Deceit with only the view of their feet. Then Roman’s feet swung up and the bed creaked above him.

“That’s what I meant Specs,” Roman said, something in his voice sounding as exhausted as Deceit felt. Logan’s feet move hesitantly towards the bed.

“Ah, my apologies then.”

“You’re fine.”

Deceit could picture Roman’s hand waving through the air, literally waving Logan’s words off. He waved so much off, at least this one should be waved off. Deceit curled into a tighter knot, resting his head on his own coils. The silence that weighed over the room could be cut with a knife.

“You don’t want me to go,” Roman said finally. One day, Deceit would teach him to hold his tongue even when it got uncomfortable, but only after it was no longer useful to him.

“You don’t want to go,” Logan said back softly.

“No.”

The flippant answer would have set Virgil off, Deceit knew that. Logan took it in stride. Deceit wanted to shake them until they understood just how good working together would be for them. Baby steps for now. One day, they’d be unbeatable together, and Deceit would watch smugly from the shadows, but for now, he’d make sure they start to see the picture that he did.

“Would you-”

Logan cut himself off. Deceit hummed to himself. Too used to being cut off by others, he thought to himself. Another thing to correct once it stopped being useful to him. He stared at the far wall, trying to ignore a voice that sounded suspiciously like Roman that something like that shouldn’t be ignored until it was no longer useful. Deceit wanted to petulantly complain that if Logan listened to him more, he wouldn’t be cut off as much.

Head-Roman looked at him doubtfully and Deceit hissed to himself.

Stupid, do-gooder prince.

Logan cleared his throat.

“It has come to my attention that you seem to be- be struggling with coming up with an idea for Thomas’ next video.” Logan’s words came out rushed, jumbled together as he tried to get them out before Roman interrupted. “Would you be amiable to watching some Shakespeare and discussing it in order to inspire yourself?”

“Shakespeare, J. R. R. Token-Nerd?” The bed creaked and Deceit guessed that Roman reached out to shove at Logan’s arm, “Surely you can come up with something better than that for spending time together.”

“Well, excuse me if I’m not the embodiment of Creativity and a well of ideas.”

Roman laughed. Really, truly, laughed and Deceit settled into a more comfortable position. They’d be fine, he thought to himself as their bickering picked up. It almost reminded him of Remy and Hecate actually.

“You are Wonder though, don’t you ever ask questions, Lo-thello? That’s the start of every idea right there!”

“It’s not the same! Listen- no stop laughing! Listen to me, it’s much like the butterfly effect, a question may lead to an idea or it may lead to a less desirable outcome. We must think about where it leads.”

“Still just hearing more similarities to coming up with ideas!”

Deceit smiled to himself, and let the feeling of family wash over him like a warm blanket. Baby steps, he thought. Baby steps. They’d talk, and soon, they’d all be fine. Roman and Logan backing each other up would be able to match Virgil and Patton. They’d finally be able to take a stand against Thomas’ endless selflessness and make some progress helping Thomas instead of his friends.

It would be fine.

And for the first time in a while, the thought didn’t taste like a lie on the back of Deceit’s tongue.

Chapter Text

Deceit hummed an old show tune that Thomas had performed once to himself as he strode down the hallway. He almost wanted to conjure a cane to spin around his wrist as he walked but then he really would be the card-carrying villain that Roman accused him of being. He did have some class after all. He grinned and clicked his heels together landing with a step-step-tap that he vaguely remembered from the show’s choreography.

He was probably wrong, but that was Roman’s job to remember anyways.

Roman, who had Logan now. Deceit’s grin grew and he pushed his hat up out of his eyes. Another job well done and with no one the wiser as to his involvement in it. Logic and Creativity together could move mountains, it just made sense. He pushed back a bitter feeling of jealousy and started to whistle. He could finally get back to work, truly work to make sure that Thomas was at his best.

There’d be no more sneaking around the Mind Palace. No more worrying after Roman. No more glaring at Remy and trying to get his point across without saying a word. No more listening to Roman’s laughter and Remy’s sass. Deceit’s footsteps slowed and he shook his head. So what if he wouldn’t have those warm gentle touches anymore? All it meant was that the status quo had been restored.

Deceit clenched his hands into fists and shook his head. He could finally go back to spending time in his own room to relax and plotting ways for Thomas to take care of himself. Visiting Remus every once and awhile, being reminded of Roman every time. Deceit’s feet came to a stop, and he glared down at them, willing them to move forward once more. He didn’t care.

He didn’t care.

Deceit gritted his teeth. Everyone needed touch, he reasoned. After having been so used going without of course he’d gravitate towards the first person to provide it. He’d just have to get used to it again. He spent most of his time alone, and laughter could be seen as a sign that someone liked his presence. Deceit nodded to himself slowly. It wasn’t Roman per se but simply the fact that someone had been happy while he was in the area.

Remus didn’t count.

Novelty, and nothing more.

A bitter pill to swallow but one that he needed to in the end. Deceit didn’t like people; he couldn’t. He let out a slow breath and stalked towards the Wall, good mood shattered and lying in pieces at his feet. He needed to catch up on his work before something worse happened than a few cracks in the Wall. He couldn’t let another Anxiety happen, even if that had been more than a decade ago.

Fool him once, shame on them. Fool him twice, shame on him. He wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.

Deceit walked a little fast. He growled under his breath and tried to relax as the Wall came into view. He ran his hand over the brick, the tips of his fingers protected from the rough texture by his gloves. Some of his tension fled at the lack of the smaller cracks that had plagued him the past few weeks. Solid proof under his hand that Roman felt better.

Confidence made it so easy to lie to yourself after all.

Deceit traced his fingers over the seams of the brick as he trailed down the length of the Wall. He just started to feel like Roman had been the entire problem and with him connecting with Logan Deceit’s problems were over, when a jagged crack caught his eye. Deceit’s face twisted into a frown and he felt his scales itch at the sight of such damage to the Lies Thomas told himself. His eyes dropped to the floor and he followed the trail of plaster dust with a knotted gut.

He pulled his hand away from the Wall and picked up his pace. The crack zigzagged up and down, opening up to the width of his thump before closing back up again and then disappearing altogether. A rock sat on Deceit’s chest. He broke into a run.

Another crack emerged, deeper and running like a demented column through his life’s work. Deceit hissed under his breath and skid to a stop in front of it. He leaned forward and reached out to prod at it. Bits of plaster and brick crumbled away at his touch and he yanked his hand back like it had been burned. Looking at it up close, crack had been a generous estimate. A jagged gaping hole stared at him and Deceit stared right back. 

His heart beat through his chest as he reached out for the hole once more. Deceit didn’t touch the edges, his fingers hovering just above them as he estimated how deep it went. Shit. Too deep, that was for sure. He took a deep breath and tucked his cape around him. He glanced around the empty hallway. He closed his eyes. When he opened them again, Deceit set his shoulders back and started to wriggle his way through the gap.

His back scraped up against the brick. His cape got caught for one heart-stopping second before he could tug himself free. Deceit stumbled as he came through the other side. He blinked rapidly, trying to get his human eye to adjust to the dark. A bedroom sat before him. Deceit reached out and ran a finger over the nightstand next to him. 

It came back covered in dust.

He frowned to himself, eyes scanning the room. No posters along the walls he noted, and the bed hadn’t been made in some time. The clothes that lay across the floor could barely be called such, grey filthy rags would have fit them better for a name. Deceit felt something close to fear claw up his throat. He took a deep breath. It had been a while since he came back here. He could be jumping to conclusions.

Deceit waved his hand at the hole. He couldn’t repair it from this side, but he could make sure that if the occupant that lived here hadn’t escaped already they wouldn’t know that they could. He watched as the air around the hole shimmered, and then smoothed out as the hole closed up. Or at least looked like it did. It would have to do.

Deceit turned on his heel and strode towards the door. Even the doorknob was covered in dust, and Deceit winced at the way the door creaked as he pushed it open. Darkness covered every inch of the hallway he stepped out into. He rubbed his fingers together, feeling the dust grinding against itself even through his gloves, more pressure than any real texture.

His eyes darted back and forth, noting that the number of doors hadn’t changed since the last time he had checked up on his… charges. Deceit let out a slow breath. Perhaps he had been too hasty in coming to the worst conclusion. He let his eyes linger on each of the plaques on the doors. Envy. Insanity. Gluttony. He reached out and traced the letter of the one that he had come from.

Apathy.

“Apathy?” The low gravel of Envy’s voice pushed Deceit into action. He threw Apathy’s door open and slipped back inside. He would check up on the others later. He didn’t bother with the hole, sinking out and back to the other side of the Wall as only he could do. 

“Deceit.”

Deceit spun on his heels at the empty voice. Grey eyes met his own and Deceit schooled his face into a match indifference.

“Apathy,” he returned, shoving down his rising panic. Apathy had gotten out. Apathy was running around Thomas’ conscious mind. Apathy was running around Thomas’ conscious mind when Passion wasn’t in the best condition. Fuck. Fuck.

Deceit inched towards the hole in the Wall and Apathy kicked off from where he leaned against the Wall. His grey eyes didn’t waver, didn’t blink as he stared Deceit down. Creepy fucker. Logan’s insistence that he didn’t feel had nothing on Apathy. The greys of Apathy’s clothes almost blended in with the hallways around them and Deceit tried to keep track of his hands as the other Side moved.

“I’m not going back.”

“Because we both get such a say in whether that happens or not,” Deceit said dryly. Apathy’s lips twisted downwards, like lightning in a storm. There and gone again, seen only because Deceit was looking for it. 

“I’m out.” Deceit’s eyes flickered to the only sign of Apathy’s unease, the way that his fingers tightened around his threadbare sleeves. “Thomas wanted me out. I’m not going back.”

“Sure,” Deceit tried, the lie falling smoothly from his lips. He wanted to reach out, back through time, and shake the Main Sides. Again. They couldn’t leave well enough alone again, and Deceit had to be the one to deal with the fallout. God, Apathy could be as bad as Anxiety if this went south. Maybe worse. Virgil at least could work with the others, he was meant to be a part of Thomas.

Apathy on the other hand-

Deceit swallowed thickly and pasted a smile on his face. He spread his hands out slowly, aware of the way that Apathy watched him with the same weight Deceit watched him. He tilted his head to the side, trying to project comfort and acceptance when that was the furthest thing from his mind. He wanted to scream and stomp his foot and throw a temper tantrum. To scream I told you so! at Patton’s face. He wanted to throw himself into the swirling oblivion of Thomas’ subconscious and let the Main Sides deal with the problem for once.

“That would be my mistake,” Deceit continued. Half-truth. Apathy escaping was his mistake; it just didn’t mean it was a good one. “I must have misunderstood,” Deceit lied. He tried to mimic the smile he had seen Patton directing at the Main Sides, all warmth and acceptance and an innocence Deceit never bought. “Why don’t we see if we can find your new room together?”

Apathy still didn’t blink. He stood stiffly with his arms crossed. Deceit felt like his mind spun in circles, panic gradually rising as Apathy didn’t respond.

“You-” Apathy said slowly. His head tilted to the side and Deceit’s arms dropped. The smile slipped off Deceit’s face. “You are the reason I was stuck.” 

“Now I wouldn’t quite go that far-”

“You and Passion.” Apathy cut his lie off. Deceit buried a flinch. Roman would have a hand in Apathy not having the power to make it past the Wall normally. Passion and Hopes and Dreams and even Creativity to some extent ran almost exactly opposite to Apathy’s dull existence. The more confidence that Roman lived with, the less, well, apathy Apathy would be able to pump into Thomas. 

“R- Passion had nothing to do with this,” Deceit waved a hand through the air, shooing the accusation off the table. The entirely true accusation that left the panic in Deceit’s chest skittering over his skin. Every part of him screamed that this was bad, bad, bad, bad-

Apathy’s eyes narrowed a fraction.

“You spend time with Passion.” The new accusation punched Deceit in the gut. He grinned to hide his growing terror. 

“Now why would I ever do that?”

“You hate me.”

“Now that’s just untrue,” Deceit licked his lips, wondering if his lies would truly taste like honey one day. Honeyed words in a mind that adapted itself to phrases and how Thomas thought. A possibility Deceit didn’t know how to feel about. “I don’t hate anyone.” God, what he wouldn’t give to be dealing with the Main Sides obliviousness instead.

“Don’t lie to me,” Apathy’s voice cracked and Deceit stiffened. Emotion. Oh god, Apathy was showing emotion. He didn’t think. Deceit bolted. His footsteps echoed down the hallway, and he didn’t even reach the corner before something slammed into his back. 

He flew forward, a hand coming up to catch himself. He slammed into the wall with a groan, and a sharp crack filled the silence.  He slid down against the wall, cradling his most likely broken arm to his chest. Shit, shit, shit, shit-

Deceit rolled to the side as Apathy’s foot buried itself into the wall where he had been. He hissed under his breath as the movement jostled his arm. He stared at the cracks in the wall from where Apathy had cracked it. Cracked the walls, the foundation of Thomas’ mind. Deceit hadn’t thought that was possible.

“You-” Apathy paused. Tension hung in the air. Deceit tried to inch back, but Apathy’s heavy gaze pinned him in place. Those empty grey eyes filled with a spark Deceit knew he didn’t approve of. Cold and angry, Apathy took a step towards him. “You aren’t capable of caring for anyone. You left us there. Cold and dark and unloved. Dying.

“You didn’t want love,” Deceit said through gritted teeth. “Thomas didn’t want you. You didn’t even want each other. You’re not supposed to exist.”

“Lies,” Apathy hissed back. Deceit changed his mind, the cool hiss from Apathy’s mouth felt like nails on a chalkboard. Only reptiles were allowed to hiss from now on. Deceit totally made the rules for things like that.

“You wanted us gone, nothing more. You knew without us, Thomas would have no use for you and you would be Unmade.”

Deceit stared. Wow, Logan could take notes. Being locked away for years really did drive people mad. Save that for the history books. Etch it into the foundation of the world so nobody ever did it again. Not that it would stop Deceit from shoving Apathy right back into his cell.

“No more,” Apathy murmured. “Thomas wants me now.” His eyes twitched as they stared down at Deceit. “I won’t be forgotten any more. You won’t stop me. I’ll make you feel what I’ve felt.” Deceit dragged himself to his feet, using the wall for support. Apathy’s eyes widened and Deceit really didn’t like the wild-eyed look that took up his face.

“I’ll make sure Passion can’t keep me away any longer.” Deceit shuffled a step back as Apathy stepped forward. “I’ll Unmake you, the way you would have me Unmade.”

Deceit took a deep breath. He pressed his good hand against his broken arm, swallowing the scream that sore as he pressed against it. Belief, he reminded himself. Belief that he was fine would make him fine. Apathy’s eyes narrowed again at the sickening crack that filled the hallway.

Deceit rolled his wrist, a lingering ache that he knew from experience would be there for days making him scowl. He turned that scowl on Apathy and felt it deepen, pulling his scales down as he glared at his escaped charge.

“You just couldn’t stay put could you,” he muttered darkly. Apathy’s fingers flexed and Deceit watched them. He only had a general idea of what Apathy could do. Fuck. Well, no time to learn like the present. Deceit’s form fell away from him-

And he lunged.

Chapter Text

Virgil scrubbed a hand through his hair, hoping that if he got it settled down than Patton or Logan wouldn’t question the fact that he was up all night. Again. Neither of them liked it, despite the fact that it was a little hypocritical on Patton’s part. Virgil felt a grin inch its way onto his face at the thought of his best friend. Patton had probably been up just as late, which always made Virgil’s own sleep habits seem a little less awful.

It probably wasn’t on purpose, or at least for that reason, but it helped Virgil feel less self-conscious admitting his own late nights.

Roman was admittedly a little bit of a toss-up, but it was easy to tell when he had been up late on the days he made a beeline for the coffee. Logan slept at ten pm every day like clockwork. Virgil honestly didn’t know how he managed it, but at least one of them was responsible and probably the reason that Thomas got anything close to rest at all.

Virgil tossed his hoodie over his rumpled shirt and shuffled towards the kitchen. With any luck, Roman would be up already and coffee as black as his soul would be available to make him feel a little more human. Virgil still hadn’t figured out how the coffee maker worked, and the thought of asking one of the others about it made his skin crawl. No, better to just wait until one of the others made coffee and mooch from off of them.

It gave him reason to banter with Roman in the mornings anyways. Virgil wanted to enjoy it until one of them snapped and asked why he never made his own and he would have to admit just how stupid he was. Or well, Logan would think him stupid and Roman would think him a coward and-

Virgil took a deep breath. He couldn’t remember what sort of distortion Logan called it but he was mind-reading or future tripping or something or other and he needed to calm down. He ran his fingers along the inside of pockets, the soft material within helping to ground him as much as the heavy smell of coffee coming from the kitchen. It was the one thing from his old hoodie design that he had kept. A comfort as well as a reminder that Deceit could fake being kind as well as the rest of them actually were kind.

Virgil shook his head of the thought. He wouldn’t let Deceit ruin this for him too. Deceit’s tricks were in the past, along with the Anxiety-persona that Virgil used to be. His family wouldn’t let Deceit succeed in whatever plot he cooked up. Whatever power or influence that Deceit wanted would be denied in the end, because they knew who the villain was. 

Virgil craned his head around the corner of the doorway, peeking into the kitchen. He blinked at the sight of Logan and Roman standing side by side over the stove. Logan held a mug of coffee in his hand, and Virgil’s eyes raked over the rumpled clothes that Logan wore. Virgil knew that look; it was the look of a man who hadn’t changed his clothes at all last night, had maybe fallen asleep in them for a short while before dragging himself out of bed.

Roman almost knocked his own mug of coffee over as his arms spasmed through the air. He at least wore a baggy nightshirt, but his pants couldn’t have been all that comfortable to sleep in and his sash was nowhere to be seen. Virgil stared at the spatula in Roman’s hand, and the way that Logan reached out to gently guide him in flipping the pancake in front of both of them.

“Oh yes, Specs-tacular,” Roman said, and Virgil sucked in a sharp breath. “I absolutely need help in doing this simple task.”

Logan’s eyebrow quirked upwards and Virgil braced himself for the start of yet another early morning argument.

“Oh, here I thought the pancake that you got stuck to the ceiling provided evidence otherwise,” Logan said dryly as they flipped the pancake together. He paused and took a step back from Roman, “Or perhaps it was-” His hand waved up and down to encompass all of Roman, “That seemed incapable of the smallest endeavors.”

Roman laughed. Virgil felt his jaw drop. That wasn’t how this played out.

“You just gestured to my everything,” Roman said cheerfully. Virgil pinched himself. It stung and he stared at the red mark on his skin before looking up in time to see Roman bump Logan’s hip with his own. “I told you you would enjoy How to Train Your Dragon.”

“Ah yes, why ever would I enjoy the nerd of a group portrayed to be in the right, out-thinking his jock companions and find success in being lauded by his peers?”

“Embrace your destiny, Hiccup,” Roman slid the pancake onto a plate and handed it to Logan. “One day, our very lives will depend on your ability to tame the dragons around us.”

“Are you implying that you’re a dragon?” Logan took the plate and handed Roman the bowl of sugar in the same moment. “Previous experience shows that you are Snotlout at best.”

“Excuse you,” Roman drew himself to his full height as he dumped half the bowl of sugar into his coffee, “I am clearly Astrid! Capable, badass, and with fabulous hair!”

“My mistake,” Logan flashed a quicksilver grin at Roman and now Virgil knew he was dreaming. “I see who you really are-” Logan brought his own coffee up for a long sip. “The Gronckle.”

Silence. Virgil held his breath, surely this was the moment whatever strange truce they had reached fell apart. Roman stared at Logan, who somehow managed to spread butter over his pancakes without breaking eye contact. A breathless giggle from Roman’s mouth caught Virgil by surprise and he took a step back as Roman broke out into a full fit. Logan looked almost unnaturally pleased about it.

Virgil pinched himself again. He dug his nails into his skin and the weird Twilight Zone he had found himself in didn’t waver. Fuck, maybe someone had done something to the two of them? The most likely culprit was Deceit but what would he gain from Logan and Roman getting along? Virgil took a silent step back, and whirled on his heel.

He sprinted to Patton’s room. His fist froze moments before pounding on Patton’s door as a thought struck him. What if Patton wasn’t the same either? Logan and Roman were acting weird, what if Patton acted weird too? What if Patton didn’t listen to him anymore? What if this was all just to drive Virgil back out and away-

Patton’s door swung open before he could push himself into a full on panic attack.

“Virgil?” Patton’s hands still from where they adjusted his cat hoodie. “Is everything alright?”

Virgil. Still Virgil and not Anxiety. He swallowed thickly and let his hand drop to his side. He rocked back on his heels and tried to force words past the lump in his throat.

“No,” he managed to croak out. Patton stiffened and then relaxed. He held his arms out and Virgil dove into them. He buried his head in Patton’s neck, relishing the feel of Patton’s arms around his waist. This was still fine. Whatever had happened hadn’t touched Patton. He still had his best friend. They’d figure this out together.

“Did Roman get hurt making breakfast again?”

Virgil shook his head, feeling the drag of Patton’s hoodie against his face. He hadn’t put his eye shadow on yet, at least he wouldn’t be staining Patton’s clothes. He took a deep breath and stepped back. Patton gripped his arm, and Virgil wanted to cry from the anchoring touch. God, he never deserved Patton in any capacity.

“It-” Virgil winced at the way his voice cracked, “It would probably be best to see it yourself?”

Patton tilted his head to the side and shrugged. An easy acceptance that made Virgil’s knees weak with relief. Patton reached down to hold his hand and led the way to the kitchen. Virgil threw his shoulders back as they drew close and picked up his pace so that Patton stood just behind him. If something had happened to the others, the thing that did it would have to go through Virgil first before it could get at Patton. Whether by itself or through Roman and Logan.

They leaned into the room together. Virgil chewed on the bottom of his lip as he caught sight of Logan and Roman. Roman stood on one of the chairs, balanced precariously as he reached for the creamer in Logan’s hand. Logan, who stood on the table with a triumphant expression as he held the bottle out of Roman’s reach.

“Your center of mass will not allow you to stretch far enough to reach me,” Logan said, and Virgil didn’t even know that Logan could sound smug. “Admit it. The table is a better strategic place to hold against a long term siege on.”

“Never!” Roman’s lips twitched towards a smile as he hopped on his chair, fingers brushing against Logan’s arm. Virgil’s heart stopped as he wobbled slightly on his landing. “I’ve held a siege before! You want some ability for agility if you don’t have the supplies to hold out against your enemy! I will starve you out before you can wear me down!”

Virgil felt justified in waving his hands through the air at the scene. Especially when Logan laughed. Laughed! Virgil glanced up at the same moment Patton glanced down. Their eyes met. Virgil jabbed his finger at the two of them again for emphasis. Patton’s lips twitched up then down then up again, like he couldn’t decide how to feel about this. 

In the kitchen, Roman leaned too far forward reaching for Logan and he toppled over. Dishes crashed around them as his knees hit the table and his arm grabbed onto Logan’s shirt for support. Logan fell back and Roman’s face twisted into horror as his other hand reached for Logan as well. 

They all stared in silence at the sight of Logan balance precariously at the edge of the table, held up only by the grip Roman had on him. The creamer in his hand dripped backwards staining the tiles white as syrup and coffee rolled off the table to add to the mess below the two. Virgil sucked in a deep breath, fighting the urge to run forward and check on them as Roman’s shoulders clearly rippled from the strength he put into pulling Logan back to stable ground.

“Well then,” Logan said and then stopped. He blinked down at Roman. Roman stared back at him before breaking into a grin.

“Science is an organized study, isn’t that what you said Specs?”

Logan sniffed, tilting his head up.

“More organized than the absolute disaster you call your room. You use red string for no reason other than you like the color.”

“Falsehood!” Roman threw his hands in the air as Logan finally climbed off the table. Virgil stared at his chest, suddenly aware of the bandages Roman had on, wrapped up under his nightshirt. When had he gotten hurt? Virgil glanced back at Patton who bit the bottom of his lip. They slipped back and away, leaving Logan and Roman to their confusing interaction.

“See?” Virgil hissed. He waved his hand back in the direction of the kitchen as they retreated to Patton’s room. “There’s something up with them!”

Patton fiddled with the sleeves of the hoodie tied around his neck. His cheek indented, a clear sign of the way he chewed on it in thought. Virgil paced the edges of his room, the normally comforting golden light doing nothing to help. He tried to focus on his breathing.

“At least, they’re getting along?”

“Oh, and you sound so convinced of that,” Virgil’s fingers dug into his palm and winced at the flinch that wracked Patton’s body.

“It’s-” Patton hesitated, and Virgil hated everything about the situation. Why couldn’t Logan and Roman get along like normal human beings? Or at least take time to adjust from being enemies to friends? Patton sat on the edge of his bed and twisted his fingers in the covers. “I just wish that them getting along sounded nicer?”

“What if they’re not actually getting along?” Virgil chewed on the tip of his thumb, trying to figure out what would have prompted this change. The only thing that had happened recently was the callback. He could feel his skin tear as he yanked his thumb away from his teeth. He turned to Patton with wide eyes.

“Deceit,” he breathed.

Patton blinked.

“Huh?”

“The callback trial,” Virgil said, urgency pushing him into pacing the room again. He could feel drops of blood trickle down his hand. He curled it into a fist. “Think about it. Roman and Logan may not have been on his side but they agreed with him on some level. He could have used that!”

“I dunno Virgil,” Patton said, kicking his legs back and forth, “Why would Deceit want Lo and Ro to get along?”

“That’s what we have to find out,” he said grimly, the safety of his family settling around his shoulder like a cape. He had to keep them safe. “If they’re actually getting along at all.” Virgil glanced up at Patton. “We won’t let Deceit hurt them.”

Patton nodded, reaching out to wrap his hand around Virgil’s fists. He uncurled Virgil’s fingers and pressed his fingers to the ragged tear in his skin. Virgil felt the soft jolt of warmth as Patton healed his injury. A soft smile crossed Patton’s face as he leaned over to bump his forehead against Virgil’s shoulder.

“We will. We’ll take care of them and help Thomas be a good person and keep everyone safe at the same time!”

Virgil smiled back at him. 

“Together?”

Patton held out a fist in his direction.

“Together!"

Virgil pressed his knuckles against Patton’s, still feeling that small thrill at being accepted. Being listened to never got old. Being cared about was worth all the complexities and struggles that came with it. Being a family was all Virgil had ever wanted. He’d do whatever it took to keep that safe.

Whatever it took.

Chapter Text

Deceit had long mastered the ability to shift. It had always felt like breathing to him. He breathed in as a human, and breathed out as a lion. No pain, no fuss, and landed on the spot Apathy had been with sharpened claws and a roar that echoed through the hallways. Thank god none of the other Sides frequented this area or he’d risk them coming to investigate. Their oblivious asses would be an advantage for once.

Deceit really didn’t want to deal with them getting in the middle of this mess right now.

“You cause nothing but pain.” Apathy’s eyes trembled enough for the rest of his steady body. 

Deceit crouched low to the ground, his tail lashing behind him as he watched Apathy. Apathy flexed his fingers again and Deceit kept his eyes locked on his ragged fingernails. Not claws that could tear him apart, but then again, the most danger from other parts of Thomas’ mind came from their touch.

The emotions that Patton could instill in others. The fear and nightmares that Virgil dragged out. The nullification that Logan used, cancelling all others out. Roman’s conjuration didn’t need touch, and in a way that made him the most dangerous of them all. The images that Nightmares instilled in others. Keep out of reach of them, and Deceit could out think them in the end. It was so much harder to avoid something that could come from any direction.

“Better than you,” Deceit snapped, the words gravelly and broken coming from his inhuman throat. “Better pain than destruction. I may be the monster under the bed but you’re the disaster just outside the door.”

Apathy let out a broken howl and lunged at him. Deceit ducked under his arms. His form slipped away. A screech owl swiped at Apathy’s legs. Deceit dove and flew away as Apathy tried to stomp on him. He twisted through the air, wings flapping wildly. The ground shuddered around them. The Wall creaked ominously. Deceit scowled to himself. It wouldn’t hold up against Apathy’s attack.

And Deceit really didn’t want more things to be running around when and where they weren’t supposed to.

He flew down the hallways. A glance over his shoulder let him know that Apathy nipped at his heels. He hooted at Apathy. The way Apathy scowled let Deceit know that he took it as a mocking noise. Good. They needed to get away from here for now.

Deceit’s feathers brushed against the hallways as he banked on the turn. A breath in and claws landed on the floor with a quiet click clack. Lithe muscles bunched as Deceit relished the wind through a leopard's fur. He growled. Instinct pushed him to the side. He dug his claws into the wall and pushed off. 

He flew forwards. Apathy smashed into the spot he had just been. Deceit tripped over his own paws as the entire hallway trembled and bits of plaster fell from the ceiling above them. He slid against the floor. He scrambled to get up, Apathy’s fingers brushed against his fur as he barely moved out of the way.

Exhaustion slammed into him like a semi-truck. Deceit gasped for breath as his legs gave out from under him. He could see Apathy reach for him again out of the corner of his eye and panicked. He pushed his form outwards. Scales scraped against the floor, the walls, the ceiling, and even each other as Deceit bloomed into a hydra. He could feel Apathy slam into his side and then against the wall.

He dropped his form. His lungs heaved as he curled in on himself. Deceit shoved himself up to his elbows and glanced at Apathy. Blood smeared against the wall as Apathy pushed himself away. The unnatural dip in his ribs made Deceit smile, a bearing of teeth as he tried to pretend like he didn’t feel too stretched out and too tight in his own skin.

“How-” he sucked in a deep breath and managed to pull himself to his feet. He listed to the side, hip bumping against the wall. “How’d you like that?”

“I’m going to kill you,” Apathy hissed at him. Deceit couldn’t help it. The laughter that slipped from his lips shuddered with his breath but it still echoed through the hallway.

“Oh honey,” Deceit purred, “You’re not the first try. Try all you like but no one’s even found my room let alone my core.” He spread one arm out in a show of arrogance that he didn’t really feel. The trembling of his fingers caught his eyes. He dropped it, hoping that Apathy hadn’t seen it. “I wish you the best of luck. Please. Try your absolute best so I can laugh at just how badly you’ll fail.”

“I will tear you limb from limb.”

“You know for someone who supposedly doesn’t feel anything, you certainly sound angry,” Deceit mused. “Are we sure you’re not Wrath-hngk.” Deceit’s wrist flew up to claw at the arm Apathy hauled him into the air with. For a moment the hallway wavered, Deceit squeezed his eyes shut, trying to banish the image of Anxiety’s room.

“I don’t have to kill you,” Apathy finally said. Deceit dug his nails into Apathy’s skin. Apathy didn’t twitch. The empty iciness creeping into Apathy’s words ran down Deceit’s spine. He kicked through the air. His foot collided with Apathy’s abs. He dug his heel in. All he got was a ringing in his ears.

Oh. Apathy had slammed him against the wall. Wasn’t that just lovely.

“Killing you would go too fast.” Deceit barely heard the words over the pounding in his head. His chest heaved, desperate for air that it couldn’t get. “You, I will make you suffer over and over again. I will make you see. Death is a mercy.” 

Deceit let out a croak. The horror wrapped around his heart would never leave again, Deceit felt pretty sure about that. Death would never be a mercy, not when it came to Thomas. Deceit would rather die himself before letting that happen to Thomas.

Apathy’s fingers loosened their hold.

“Get-” Deceit sucked in a breath, lungs heaving as he could breathe. He reached up for his hat with trembling fingers. “Get fucked,” he hissed as dark as he could. 

His fingers wrapped around the brim of his hat. He threw it as hard as he could at Apathy’s face. Apathy’s hold on him slipped in surprise. Deceit kicked out again, less to hurt Apathy and more to propel himself backwards. Deceit slammed against the wall. Pain rattled through his skull. He ducked away from Apathy’s punch.

He dove between Apathy’s legs. Cheetahs were some of the fastest mammals on earth. They made the perfect escape. Deceit growled to himself as paws hit the ground and he sprinted for the end of the hall.

“Of course,” Apathy said, still in that ice cold ton. “Passion will have to die first.”

Deceit froze. No, he hissed at himself. Running now made the most strategic sense. Apathy had more strength than ever before, for reasons Deceit needed to find out. Escape and destroy the source of that power, that’s all he needed to do. If he played his cards right, he wouldn’t need to fight Apathy at all. An illusion, a trick of the light, a push to where Apathy got his powers, take the anchor that Deceit knew connected them, and Deceit could shove him right back into the pit where Apathy belonged.

“He would cause problems.” Deceit turned to Apathy. Apathy stared back at him. “I will kill him first. Get him out of the way. The sooner the better.”

“Ah.” Deceit tilted his head to the side. He didn’t remember turning back into a human. He flexed his fingers. He thought about Roman’s trust in opening up to him. He thought about Roman’s laughter as Remy talked. He felt his lips peel back and his muscles rippled. Shifting could be as easy as breathing.

They lived in Thomas’ head though, almost anything could happen. Sometimes-

Sometimes Deceit felt a little showmanship was necessary. 

“This is what it feels like to be baited,” Deceit’s voice dropped into a low rumble. He bent over himself curling his fingers as claws sprouted. He rolled his shoulders as wings sprouted from his back. His words curled over themselves as his teeth stretched into fangs as his tongue lengthened. “I don’t like it.”

His tail slammed into the wall and Deceit took a deep breath. His roar echoed down the hall as his scales hardened around him. He lunged. Apathy reached up and swatted at his hand bearing down. Deceit felt something in his hand snap at the force behind the blow. He snapped at Apathy. He could ignore the pain, at least for a little while.

Apathy skipped back from his fangs. Deceit grinned, fangs glinting with firelight. He breathed out, tasting coals and ash as fire filled the hallway. Apathy’s scream sounded like music to his wars. His mouth closed with a soft click and his tail scraped against the floor. He could feel it give way, and made a note to himself to fix it later.

He crouched low, keeping his broken hand off the floor. His claws twitched as he waited for the smoke to clear. He blinked slowly at the sight of Apathy curled up on the floor in front of him. He smirked to himself and shrunk back down to a human. He sauntered over.

He leaned over Apathy’s prone form. He nudged him with the tip of his shoe. Nothing. Huh, well. That had been easier than Deceit assumed. Perhaps Roman was right about brute strength being the answer time from time. He’d have to keep that in mind next time someone tried to escape from him.

He reached out. His fingers barely brushed against the ragged collar of the shirt Apathy wore. Pain bloomed in his stomach. Deceit’s eyes drifted down to the sight of Apathy’s wrist twisting in his stomach. Deceit gagged at the feeling and Apathy pulled his hand out of his body with a lingering squelch. The smell of blood and iron flooded his nose.

“You’re not the only one who can trick people,” Apathy whispered. Deceit’s hands drifted to his stomach, a futile effort to hold back the blood. He felt his knees buckle for the second time. He never hit the floor. Apathy gripped his hair and hauled him upwards painfully. His lips brushed against Deceit’s ear. “I will tear what little of a heart you have from your chest.”

Dark spots danced in Deceit’s vision. He could feel his form slipping away. He grasped at it, trying to hold onto sand that escaped from between his fingers.

“This will happen, again, and again, until you are broken. Like I was broken.”

Deceit hissed. He swiped at Apathy weakly. Apathy laughed, an empty sound. Deceit grunted as pain flared again, his shoulder skidding against the ground painfully. He squeezed his eyes shut and listened to Apathy take a step back.

“There’s nothing you can do.”

Deceit let out a breathless, pained laugh at that. He cracked his eyes open and lifted his chin defiantly. Apathy stared at him, and for a moment Deceit could have sworn he saw confusion and more than a little fear. Good. Let the little upstart bastard fear him. Like he should. Deceit would tear his heart out right back and show Apathy why Deceit stood guard over the rest of them.

“You-” Deceit choked on the taste of iron on the back of his tongue. He grinned, bloody and smug. “You’re wrong. I- I’ve already won.”

Apathy blinked. Deceit sunk out. He cackled at the sight of Apathy lunging for him. He would only grasp air, Deceit thought with a thrill of triumph as he landed in his own room. He didn’t feel himself land. His hand slid against his desk as he tried to hold himself up. The entire world spun beneath him. Oh.

He eased himself to the floor and breathed out softly. His vision tunneled around him and Deceit closed his eyes. He tried to relax. Discorporating sucked ass. He prayed he wasn’t gone too long, and Apathy didn’t get too much of the drop on him. 

His breath rattled in his chest. He closed his eyes and tried to relax. The world dropped out from underneath him-


 

Roman ran his hand over the jagged holes in the walls. He frowned. He pushed a little bit of conjuring energy into the area, watching as damage to Thomas’ mind closed up. Slower than he would have liked, but closing all the same. It left him uneasy. He couldn’t tell if it was him, and the almost pulsing damage he could feel all the way down to his core, or if it was whatever had caused this in the first place.

It looked like it had been a dragon. Roman knew marks like that after all, Hecate left them trailing behind her all the time. Only Hecate was in the Imagination. The other Sides were back in the common room. He couldn’t sense any Self-doubt or Nightmares and they were the only thing he knew of that could cause this sort of damage.

Roman’s eyes lingered on the spot of dried blood smeared on the wall, and then drifted to the puddle in the middle of the floor. He gritted his teeth. He’d check on the others, but they should be fine. And if they were fine, who’d been hurt?

And who’d hurt them?


Apathy watched Passion turn and walk away from the shadows. He smiled.

Chapter Text

Logan breathed out slowly. He curled his fingers around the book in his hands and reminded himself that evidence pointed towards Roman wanting to spend time with him. Roman wouldn’t have asked if he hadn’t wanted. Well, he might have if societal convention dictated that he should in order to be polite. Logan shook his head.

No, that was Patton, and possibly Virgil.

Logan felt a fond smile twitch on his face at the thought of them all. Things had not been- ideal lately, but Logan found the sudden connection with Roman comforting. He wanted to ask what had caused it, what had made Roman turn to him and put down walls that they had all resigned themselves to. It itched at his mind with every step he took, every day. The rest of him tried to smother the feeling.

He had no desire to lose this bond with Roman simply because he could not mind his own business. Roman would talk in his own time. He was not a deceptive person like Deceit, or even all that closed off like Virgil. And he certainly did not hide the way he felt like Patton did. Deflection, yes. Outright lying? No.

Logan took a deep breath again and knocked smartly on the door in front of him. Something crashed and he winced. The hurried footsteps made him smile again, only to try and tamp down on it. Roman would rub the expression in his face for days if he caught sight of it. Of course, such a prospect no longer felt as draining as it had been.

Roman threw his door open. Logan raised an eyebrow at his rumpled clothes and the sight that he could catch just beyond Roman of papers scattered on the floor. Roman grinned, an almost painfully bright expression as he clapped his hands together.

“Lo and Bro-hold!” He moved to the side and ushered Logan into his room. Logan noted the fact that Roman’s bed remained untouched through all of the chaos. He stepped carefully around Roman’s papers, catching a few video ideas, one for a written novel that Thomas would never complete, and the name Tony about seven times.

He sighed.

“I know it’s not the best at the moment,” Logan tuned into Roman’s ramble and tilted his head to the side. “But I do think we have a good idea for the next Sanders Sides video for Thomas. We’ll give you and Virgil a bit of the spotlight. The fans have been clamouring for more from you after all and Virgil is always a hit. Ha! I told him back then, everyone loves a villain, only I suppose he doesn’t quite count as a villain any more but tell me what you think of changing the setting to an office this time Specs-”

“Roman.”

Roman’s mouth snapped shut, and Logan simply watched as Roman rocked back on his heels. He pinched the bridge of his nose, and silently adjusted his glasses.

“When was the last time that you slept?” he asked quietly.

“Ah, a prince doesn’t need sleep!” Roman paced past him, reaching for one of his doodles. He pulled the paper from the stack and Logan lunged forward. He caught some of the toppling papers, and they watched the rest flutter to the floor. “Whoops. Anyways! The fans have also been really enjoying the costume changes so I figured if we could finally talk Thomas and Virgil into finally allowing one of us to wear a dress-”

“Roman!” Logan reached out and simply prodded at Roman’s side. Roman stumbled from the soft touch, reaching out to balance himself against the desk and sending even more papers to the floor. Logan reached out and placed a hesitant hand on Roman’s shoulder.

“Has- that is to say- are you-”

“I’m fine, Lo,” Roman snapped. Logan didn’t deign him with an answer, he simply stared. They both know how much of a falsehood that was. Roman visibly gritted his teeth and shrugged off his hand. “What do you want me to say? That Tony’s been gone for five days and it’s setting me on edge? That Virgil’s been staring at me like I’m going to start tearing into him again? The looks that Patton keeps giving us whenever we so much as talk?”

Roman threw his hands in the air. 

“I can’t find what damaged Thomas’ mind and if I hadn’t seen it myself I would have thought the whole thing was a goddamned fluke or mistake. Fog drifting away in the sunlight. I’m exhausted and frustrated and hey why not just let you all down and not get a video idea done at the exact same time! That sounds just so peachy keen to me!”

Logan reached out and pinched Roman’s arm. 

“Are you quite done?” he asked. Roman rubbed at his arm and pouted at the space over his shoulder. Logan nodded to himself. Roman had his heart in the right place, but running at full tilt all the time did him no good. “Thank you. Sit down, I feel like I am going to fall over just looking at you.”

Roman leaned back and pulled himself up on his desk. Logan suspected he just wanted to be difficult. A need for control when Roman felt like he had none. It didn’t make the annoyance Logan felt any less potent. He pressed his fingers together and focused on counting down from one hundred in his head. 

“I believe,” he said softly, “That you offered a night of literature and perhaps a Disney movie or two.” Roman’s head snapped up. If he hadn’t slept in the past few days, Roman having forgotten didn’t feel like a surprise. Logan squashed the disappointment stirring in his chest. Roman had a life outside of Logan.

“That’s tonight?” Roman’s voice pitched upwards and he scrambled for his phone. Logan blinked. “No, no that’s tomorrow! I had the whole thing planned out we were going to read- read-” Roman’s face crumpled. “It can’t be today!”

Ah. Logan reached out and gently steered Roman towards his bed. A soft push toppled him over onto the soft sheets and Roman wasted no time in wrapping them around himself.

“I’m sorry,” Roman’s voice drifted from under his new nest.

“Forgiven,” Logan said simply. “If I leave you to obtain food are you going to get back to work, or are you actually going to use some of the brain cells you possess and take a nap?”

Roman peaked out from under the cover.

“Big Hero Six after food?” Roman asked softly. Logan nodded, and Roman snuggled into his bed even more. “‘Kay,” he agreed softly. Logan gave his leg a pat and bent down to gather up the papers on the floor.

Logan cleaned up as best he could, organizing everything on Roman’s desk before turning to double check that he was asleep. He smiled at the sight of Roman’s face mashed against his pillow and his mouth slightly open as he slept. Logan ran a hand through his hair as he thought. There wasn’t much he could truly do to help.

Patton and Virgil were out of his control. Now more than ever, though Logan could attempt to talk to them. He had felt stares of his own whenever he talked to Roman. It was not- appreciated. Logan frowned down at the plans Roman had drawn up for a new video. He would have thought that Patton at the very least would have been grateful for their new relationship. The lack of fighting should have helped with Virgil’s anxiety as well.

Logan frowned even harder and set Roman’s papers down. A problem for another time then. One that he was determined to solve. It was also, regrettably, the only problem of Roman’s he could help with. Tony was a Construct and Logan could do nothing about that. Wherever the snake ended up was somewhere Logan couldn’t follow. 

He didn’t know what damage to Thomas’ mind Roman spoke of; it had been repaired already. Logan had his own work to take care of as well.

Logan sighed again and strode out of Roman’s room. He closed the door quietly behind himself and turned towards the kitchen. He could, at the very least, make sure that Roman took care of himself when trying to deal with everything. Logic and Emotion may be two of the biggest contributors to Thomas but Roman certainly covered a lot of ground. Most of Logan’s duties related to each other; Roman didn’t have the same lack of range.

Logan nudged their refrigerator open, frowning as he realized the leftovers from last night had disappeared. He had planned to give those to Roman. Ah, well he would make up a quick sandwich, and not one of those sugary monstrosities the others like to claim were meals. Logan shuffled around the room, picking up the bread, lettuce, meats, cheeses, vegetables, and condiments that he could need. 

He turned back to the counter and the plate of blue cheese in his hand clattered to the floor.

“Patton,” he breathed, and closed his eyes to try and steady his heart rate. “I didn’t see you there. My apologies for the startled reaction.”

Patton kicked his legs back and forth under the table. He propped his chin up on his hands, the picture perfect look of a child talking to their parent. Only Patton was no child and Logan no parent.

“No worries Lo!” Patton waved his hand and a new plate of blue cheese appeared next to the other food that Logan had gathered. “This Pop didn’t mean to pop in on you!” Logan groaned as Patton winked at him. “Just haven’t seen you much away from Roman.”

Logan’s hands stilled over the knives. He let out a slow breath and wrapped his fingers around a butter knife. He carefully didn’t let his hold on it tighten. Rational, he reminded himself, logical, and without the cloud that emotions would put over his thoughts. It was always so much harder to keep his composure around Patton who practically exuded emotions.

“Roman seems to have needed a lot of support lately,” Logan said simply. He met Patton’s eyes squarely, and didn’t like the look in them. Roman could have put a name to it, but all Logan knew was that it sent a chill down his spine and tightened his grip around the knife. He shoved the feeling back. This was Patton. Past evidence showed that while he could be misinformed, their Heart was always in the right place.

“Thomas missing the callback affected him,” Logan said pointedly.

Patton’s kicking stilled. Logan focused on the sandwiches in front of him. He spread the condiments over the bread and layered the ingredients carefully. Roman would eat it if distracted, which meant during the time they watched Big Hero Six. Logan’s lips twitched upwards at the thought and he reminded himself to make them drinks as well. Something with more calories seeing as Logan doubted Roman ate at all the past few days.

A juice of sorts perhaps?

“Thomas didn’t want to go,” Patton whispered.

“Falsehood,” Logan said, willing his fingers not to spasm around the bag of cheese in his hands. It didn’t quite work and Logan glared down at his traitorous body. “He wanted to go, Deceit proved that much-”

“Deceit!” Patton’s shout caught him off guard, and Logan dropped the grated cheddar cheese. He pressed his hands together. They didn’t tremble. They didn’t.

Logan glanced up at Patton, and flinched back from the dark look in his eyes. Patton met his eyes and the look softened. A moment of out of characterness didn’t mean anything, Logan told himself as he stared at the spilled cheese. Patton had never liked Deceit in the first place, and the trial had only solidified that. 

“Sorry,” Patton said, and Logan let his tense shoulders relax, “Deceit led us all on. He was- was- was a slimy snake making everything all slippery!”

Logan sighed and waved the mess on the floor away. He looked up at Patton, feeling tired.

“He manipulated the situation yes,” Logan gathered the sandwiches up on a plate, and after a moment of thought, grabbed a couple bags of chips as well. Roman would enjoy them. “However, he wasn’t creating a fabrication from nothing like he did in the first video he invaded. There was a truth in his words which allowed for the manipulation.”

“Thomas is a good person!”

Logan picked up the plates and simply waved his hands for the drinks. A juice would be good for Roman after a nap; it would increase his blood sugar levels to something approaching acceptable.

“No one is perfect, Patton,” Logan said gently. “Thomas didn’t want to go to the wedding. His hopes and dreams agreed with his anxiety to that point. He didn’t want to go to the point his deception and his morality felt the need to fight over it.” Logan picked up the plate. “The very idea of deception is dependent on the idea of an absolute truth, and with it an absolute morality. It would depend on the very subject of the study.”

Logan met Patton’s eyes.

“There is no true right or wrong,” he said, hating the way that Patton frowned at him. “The world is made up of shades of grey; it is the very reason that Deceit exists. The truth that we must accept is that Thomas wanted to go to the callback, and not going crushed his dreams. His morality is intact yes,” Logan nodded at Patton, trying to at least point out the positive to the situation, “and his anxiety about the resulting friendships settled. But-”

Logan tilted his head to the side.

“But his hopes and his logic are leaving him with a nagging feeling of if the right choice was truly the best choice for himself.”

“The right choice always is the best choice Logan,” Patton’s soft whisper felt like a whip-thin cord around Logan’s neck. He let out a shuddering breath. He summoned a tray to help him carry the food and drinks. He didn’t startle at the feeling of Patton’s hand brushing against his arm.

“I certainly hope that you are right,” Logan murmured back, even if he couldn’t shake the feeling that everything was about to go wrong.

“Here let me,” Patton murmured, taking the cups and walking towards Roman’s room. Logan let the silence linger, only pausing when Patton did in front of Roman’s door. Logan waited, standing still as Patton fiddled with the cups in his hands.

“I just want-” Patton licked his lips, “I just wish that everyone would be nice to each other.”

“We are,” Logan took the cups from Patton’s hands. “Just because you cannot see it doesn’t mean that it is not there, as you once told me. Our relationship may not run parallel to the one you have with Virgil but it works for us. Changing the equation could unbalance it.”

Patton stared at him with wide eyes.

“Like with us?”

Logan shook his head and nudged Patton gently. He eased Roman’s door open with his hip and looked at Patton, at the way Patton’s shoulders hunched towards his ears and the way he fiddled with the hoodie that Logan had given him. Logan felt something in his face soften at the sight.

“We are not unbalanced,” Logan said, “We may not get along but you have always been my friend, Patton. That has not changed.”

“Okay,” Patton said, sounding as small as he looked. Logan took a deep breath. One problem at a time. Roman needed more immediate care. He could talk to Patton after Roman had been settled. Logan nodded at Patton and slipped into Roman’s room. 

He shut the door quietly behind him, and distantly noted the way that Patton turned and fled to Virgil’s room.

Chapter Text

Tony sat up with a gasp. He rolled over, hitting the floor of his room with a thump as he coughed. He clutched at his chest. Pain radiated from everything. The brush of his clothes against his skin felt like too much and not enough all at once. Even the sound of his own breath and heartbeat echoed funny in his ears.

Discorporation sucked ass. Regeneration hurt. Deceit could never decide what he hated more.

He sucked in a shaky breath, unable to help running his hands over his stomach. He pressed down against the unbroken skin and squeezed his eyes shut. He gave himself one minute, a minute to be honest with himself. A sob caught in his throat and he curled into a ball, tugging his cape around his shoulders.

He tried to shake off the lingering feeling of something close to buzzing at the edge of his senses. The loneliness of being somewhat separate from the rest of Thomas clung to him, dirt that he could never clean off his skin and scales. Deceit drowned for that moment, in fear and pain and every negative emotion that he normally tried to ignore.

Then he shoved them all aside. 

He took a deep breath, and hauled himself up to his knees. He swiped at his face, running one thumb over his scales. Solid proof that he was a monster; Deceit wondered what deformity Remus had and where he hid it. It didn’t matter. If Thomas needed a monster than Deceit would be the monster under the bed, the one that everyone hated.

He pushed himself to his feet and staggered at the feeling of gravity. He leaned against his bed frame and flexed his fingers against the wood. Having a physical form, in a sense, was both a comfort and a pain. Perhaps Deceit could one day set up the Mindscape to work in his absence- 

He shook his head and straightened his back even as everything tilted just slightly to the left. If he gave up, or even thought in that sort of pattern, Apathy would win. Forwards was the only path he could take. Achingly, forever moving and pushing and pushing until Thomas got what he wanted. No matter the cost, to Deceit or to others; the only one that mattered was Thomas.

Which meant that he needed to check on the other Sides, he needed to check if Apathy had gotten to them while he was… away. Remus would be fine; he’d have torn Apathy apart if that’s where his escapee ended up. He ignored the part of him that hissed that he only wanted to see Roman. It would be unfortunate if his way into the Main Sides had been damaged but he didn’t care about Roman more than the others.

It sounded weak even in his own head.

Deceit let out a slow breath and rolled his shoulders. He wiggled his toes, flexed his fingers, and ran a hand over his hair. He committed to what being him felt like to memory. Shifting so soon after a regeneration was a risk, but one that he had to take if he wanted to take stock of the situation. He breathed in, and his breath out hissed through the room. Deceit wiggled his snake body and grinned to himself.

He still got it.

He sunk out of his room and into the hallway that led to the Mind Palace. His tongue flickered out, and his eyes darted across the grey walls. He relaxed when he didn’t catch sight of Apathy. No one laying in wait for him could be a good sign. He slithered forward and nudged the door open with his nose. The thick smell of chocolate socked him in the nose.

He reared back and hissed quietly at the smell. Chocolate chip cookies he could parse out, as well as hot cocoa, but just plain chocolate seemed to hang through the air. He eased forward, inching his way towards the soft murmuring he could barely make out.

Deceit peered around the corner and felt a part of him relax. All the other Sides sat around a puzzle, holding mugs or food in their hands. Not one seemed harmed. Deceit let out a slow breath, and inched even closer to double check. He slid to one of the side tables and watched Virgil reach out for a small piece and click it into the edge he stared intensely at.

Deceit raked his eyes over Virgil and nodded to himself. The bags under Virgil’s eyes never left, and the slight shake of his fingers spoke of late nights. Nothing unusual there though. The plate of cookies by his elbow had to be from Patton, and Deceit wondered how much Virgil had been eating. He took his thoughts and shook them. Virgil didn’t need his protection; Anxiety had made that more than clear enough.

He tore his eyes away and focused on the Side that would never need his help. Logan leaned back in his chair, cradling a mug in his hands as his eyes swept over the table. The snap click of four pieces being put into place in rapid succession filled the room, followed quickly by Patton’s claps and Virgil and Roman’s groans.

“I swear you’re cheating,” Virgil mumbled under his breath and glared at Logan’s smirk. Roman glared down at the table, and Deceit’s eyes skipped over him to Patton’s delighted grin. Not yet. Not yet.

“Hear, hear!” Roman’s voice ran down Deceit’s spine and he gritted his fangs as he tried to focus. “I say, who ever thought that making this a competition was-”

“You,” Virgil flicked the piece in his hand at Roman and Deceit tracked its arch. Roman pouted as it landed on his head.

“I didn’t think that Logan would get half the board done in under half an hour!” Deceit watched Roman’s hands wave through the air. The bags under his eyes didn’t quite match Virgil’s but screamed sleepless nights all the same. Deceit let out a slow breath and noted the way that Logan nudged at the plate of chocolate covered fruits by Roman as well. 

Their seating arrangement meant either the new dynamics were settling in faster than Deceit had thought they would, or that old ones were hard to shake. Logan and Patton sitting across from each other would have let them look each other in the eye and keep Roman and Virgil apart when things had been tense. Or it could be Logan and Patton struggling to sit next to each other after having stepped on each others toes one too many times.

Either way, the glance between the two of them still spoke volumes. Patton clapped his hands together again and grinned painfully wide. Deceit glared at the expression. Not a lie this time, but it still rubbed his scales the wrong way.

“I’ll refill everyone!” Patton scrambled to his feet gathering up plates and mugs and bouncing away to the kitchen. 

“Oh!” Roman surged to his feet as well and took the tilting plates from Patton’s hands. A solid idea before Patton dropped them and left broken shards everywhere. “A gallant knight would be more than glad to help.” 

Roman winked and Patton giggled. Patton bumped Roman’s hip with his own as they walked to the kitchen. Deceit tracked their progress and flinched back as a shadow covered him. Virgil towered over him and Deceit hissed at him as panic flooded his system. Virgil could recognize him; out of all of them Virgil had the best chance of knowing he wasn’t just a Construct.

Virgil narrowed his eyes.

“Hey Logan?” 

Logan glanced up from the puzzle clicking yet another piece into place.

“Yes Virgil?”

“How long has there been a snake in the Mind Palace?”

Logan stiffened and he stood up to look over Virgil’s shoulder. Deceit stared back at him and hissed at them both. He pressed back under the side table and knew that if Virgil wanted to attack him it would be a measly defense.

“Ah, it seems that Anthony has made a return. Roman will be glad to see his safe return.”

“Anthony?”

“Roman’s- well not a pet, he was quite clear on that, but a friend perhaps.” Logan crouched down and offered his hand. Deceit eyed Virgil for a long moment before slipping up Logan’s arm. He didn’t go near Logan’s neck. Not with the way that Virgil stared at him. “His first appearance to my knowledge was several weeks before the callback if that is what you are concerned about.”

Deceit noted the time of weeks. Regeneration taking a week wasn’t too uncommon. Deceit had managed faster in a pinch but at least he hadn’t been out for a month. Roman would have come looking for him, and without prior warning of Apathy, disaster would have struck them all.

Virgil’s shoulders relaxed a fraction. Not all the way, but the way they trusted each other worked in Deceit’s favor once more. Logan and Roman vouching for him would mean that unless something truly drastic happened Virgil would have to leave him alone, or break their trust. Anxiety had gone soft; dangerous for Thomas, but meant that Deceit could solve problems the way that he wanted to.

“Why’s he gold?”

“Likely for the same reason you distrust him on sight,” Logan said, something almost gentle in his voice. Ah, it seemed that Logan did have a soft spot. One that seemed obvious once spotted. Learning meant power to Logan, knowledge, safety. Explaining things to the others obviously meant he wanted to comfort them.

Logan didn’t pet him like Roman would have and part of Deceit appreciated it.

“Deceit has left an impact on the way that we all perceive snakes. Roman likely would have associated the gold with snakes so when he conjured one it held aspects that are similar to Deceit.” Logan steered them both back to the table as Patton’s laughter and Roman’s voice drifted from the kitchen. “Just as you associated a snake with Deceit and as such, distrust it upon sight.”

Virgil nodded slowly.

“Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a chance that Anthony doesn’t have a connection to Deceit, however I find it imperative to leave that up to Roman as several variables in this equation remain unknown and as such the answer remains inconclusive.”

Virgil blinked and slouched back into his chair.

“Yeah no, I only caught about half of that Lo. Layman’s terms?”

“Roman knows more than us,” Logan said dryly. “Anthony may be connected to Deceit but I will trust his judgement.”

“...you sure that’s a good idea?”

Deceit curled around Logan’s arm a little tighter. He didn’t want to remind them that Roman also considered him intelligent, and was right in that regard. The less attention he drew to himself here, the safer he’d be. The more information he gleaned from them, the more he could use. Against Apathy and against them as well.

Not that he’d hurt them, the annoying voice that sounded like Roman returned. Deceit wondered if he’d have to dig it out. It would be a pain and another problem he didn’t need at the moment.

Logan traced the edge of the puzzle closest to him with a finger. He nodded and gestured at his neck tie.

“Always.” He’s lips twitched upwards, “I am always correct. Have you not learned this by now?”

Virgil rolled his eyes, nudging Logan’s thigh with his socked toe. Logan’s nose wrinkled at the touch but he didn’t pull away. Huh. Deceit noted that he needed to pay more attention to the Main Sides. He knew their sore spots but it seemed the rest of them had changed. Nuance could be such a pain.

“It is with deepest pride and greatest pleasure that we welcome you tonight!” Roman’s voice cut through the air, and Deceit stared as Virgil stifled a snicker. Yes, nuances needed to be observed, though it could wait until Apathy had been dealt with. “And now, we invite you to relax, let us pull up a chair, as the dining room proudly presents-”

Roman swept into the room, and laid a plate in front of Logan and Virgil each.

“Your snacks.” He bowed low and winked at both of them. Logan rolled his eyes.

“And here I thought that you could get at least once thing correct.”

“What, a story about Stockholm syndrome?” Virgil cut in as Roman scowled at Logan. A flush rose on Roman’s cheeks as the two of them smirked at Roman. As amusing as watching them tease Roman would be, Deceit refused to spend the rest of the night next to Virgil. Being with Roman would mean there was a table between the two of them. He hissed and Roman’s eyes snapped to Logan’s arm, meaning, to him.

“Tony!”

Roman’s face lit up and Deceit preened as Roman made grabby hands in his direction. Logan handed him off gently and Roman settled him around his shoulders. Deceit could have purred at the familiar placement and warmth. Deceit leaned into Roman’s fingers running over his head. He gleefully ignored the way that Virgil stared at them.

“Awwww! Has your tiny friend come to visit again? Or is this a different one?”

“Same one, Padre,” Roman took a mug from Patton’s hand and took his place around the table again. Deceit leaned over his shoulder to get a better look at the puzzle they were working on. A thousand pieces it looked like, with Logan and Roman’s side being filled out the most. Virgil's had some progress. Patton had stacked his in “fun” patterns. “He’s a fierce one, not unlike a certain Dour Patch Kid that we all know.”

Virgil tossed another piece at Roman’s head. Patton giggled and reached out to waggle a finger at Deceit. Deceit hissed at him, but Virgil’s heavy eyes on him kept him from snapping at it instead.

“Sorry Pat,” Roman pulled Deceit away from him, “He can be a little picky about who he’s with.”

“Oh, no problem kiddo!” 

Deceit glanced around at the relaxed atmosphere. He noted the way that while Roman kept him away from Patton, Roman felt comfortable enough to prop his feet up on Patton’s lap. Deceit felt the sudden urge to shake him. He didn’t know why yet, but he’d figure it out. Patton ran a thumb in circles around Roman’s ankle.

A comfortable silence fell as they worked. Deceit sighed to himself and settled down to watch. Something told him moments like this would be far and between once he told Roman about Apathy-

Wait.

What?

“Ha! Jokes on you Virge! That piece is one I needed!”

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up, Ro.”

Logan smiled down at the puzzle. Deceit tried not to panic about the fact he wanted to tell Roman something. Voluntarily. He could get something out of it right? That’s why he wanted to tell Roman right? Right?

God, he couldn’t care about Roman, that’s what the other fools were for. Like right then! They showed they loved him that’s all Roman needed!

Right?

God, Deceit hated everything about this situation right now. He hissed to himself, and in a room full of love and comfort, tried his best not to panic.

Chapter Text

Deceit gritted his teeth and strode down the hall. Now wasn’t the time to keep lying to himself. Yes, liking Roman was a weakness that Apathy could take advantage of, but Apathy already had. Deceit’s hand drifted down towards his stomach before he yanked it back up to his hat. He curled his fingers along the brim and let out a low hiss.

He wouldn’t let that stop him.

Any weakness could be a strength if handled properly. Or at least, Deceit could make others think it was a strength but in this case the former could be true. Passion beat out Apathy. Every time. Roman could beat Apathy in ways that Deceit never would. Convincing Roman to work with him could be a strength in this case.

It would mean that Deceit could watch Roman’s back and make sure Apathy didn’t take him by surprise. Deceit could multitask and make sure that Roman really was fine at the same time. The two of them working together might even be able to take down Apathy even with the strange boost in power that he had gotten. The thought of it made Deceit’s teeth grind.

He didn’t know when Apathy had reached the point where he could stand equal to Deceit but it wasn’t a good sign. For Thomas or for the other Sides. Deceit functioned better out of direct confrontation but he didn’t think he was that far behind the Main Sides in power. He hissed again. He really didn’t want to test out if Apathy could match a Side. 

Better to make use of Roman; the two of them should be able to defeat Apathy and go back to the way things were.

Deceit threw his shoulders back and stalked towards the Mind Palace. He needed to find Roman, and find Roman alone because the moment that Virgil saw him near Roman the whole charade would fall apart. Deceit really didn’t want to get discoporated so soon after the last time. It wouldn’t help anyone, even if Virgil might feel better after the act.

At the very least, tracking Roman down would be easier than finding Apathy. Deceit had a general idea of where Roman would be unlike Apathy, who could have as easily slipped into the shadows of the Subconsciousness to hide or still be stalking the near endless halls of Thomas’ mind. There was the Library of Memories, supply closets like the one that Roman showed him, the Cliffs of Insanity, the Lines of Thoughts, and so much more. Deceit could look all day and not once run into a Main Side, let alone someone like Apathy.

Roman would likely be in the Imagination at this moment. Deceit knew that much. Talking to Logan likely helped him at least start to form an idea for Thomas’ next video, in which case he would go to the Constructs for help fleshing it out. Deceit narrowed his eyes. So it was a matter of getting to the Imagination without the others seeing him, and without the problems that Patton and Roman ran into the last time Roman had a visitor.

Deceit suspected that he could manage it. One could argue that the Imagination was one large lie in the end. Deceit simply had to convince it that he was another lie about reality that belonged there. Unless of course the whole problem in the first place had been Roman’s control, which should have settled over the years. Either way, Deceit felt confident he could slip in without causing even more havoc in Thomas’ mind.

Not to mention that Remus’ side of the Imagination always accepted him.

He stopped at the entrance of the Mind Palace and considered his options. He could simply sink down into Roman’s room but if anyone was there he wouldn't know until it was too late. He could enter as Tony but if Roman even let it slip that Deceit had shown up after Virgil had seen Tony then Deceit’s back door would be slammed shut. That just left-

Deceit felt a smirk crawl up his face. An old dog didn’t need to learn new tricks. He closed his eyes and when he opened them, Deceit reached up to adjust the glasses on his face. He tightened his tie and rocked back on his heels. Logan walked with confidence until someone approached him; he needed to remember that. Details, details, details, he couldn’t afford to be called out on his disguise this time.

Deceit opened the door to the Mind Palace carefully and walked towards Roman’s room with a straight back. He curled his fingers into a fist and then relaxed them. Nerves skittered down his spine and it took everything he had not to glance around and make sure he was alone. He could write the action off as Logan’s self-consciousness if called out. Probably.

“Logan?”

Fuck. Deceit turned to face Virgil, reaching up to shove the glasses on his face higher as he did.

“Virgil,” he inclined his head, and kept his voice steady. He could lie to Virgil. He had to, or Thomas would be lost. He gripped that thought tightly and tilted his head to the side as he stared at Virgil. Virgil rocked back on his heels and a small smile curled on his face. An expression Deceit had never seen directed at himself, and probably never would.

“Find what you were looking for in the Library already?”

“Correct,” Deceit stabbed blindly in the dark. He could only hope that Virgil didn’t approach Logan with this again later. “The memory is indeed one that should help Roman with our latest video. It has proved-” he paused to scrambled for a word that Logan would have used, “-adequate.”

Virgil blinked, and his eyes narrowed for a brief second. Deceit didn’t know if Logan would have noticed it. He didn’t say anything, letting the two of them drift off into silence. Deceit cleared his throat and fiddled with Logan's tie.

“Is there anything I can assist you with Virgil?”

“No,” Virgil said slowly. He sighed and reach up to run a hand through his hair. “It’s just-” He bit down on his thumb and finally glanced away. “Nothing, Lo. Tell Roman I said hi, or whatever.”

“If you are certain,” Deceit said, the words somewhat bitter in his mouth. He wanted to flee as far as he could, but his latest observations of Logan showed that Logan would have pushed the situation. It seemed to work because Virgil shook his head and waved him off.

“Have fun, and don’t murder each other,” Virgil said dryly.

“I shall endeavor to do so.” Deceit turned and fled as soon as he could. He didn’t bother to knock, simply threw Roman’s door open and slammed it behind him. He leaned against it and breathed out slowly. He could feel his heart pound against his chest and he placed a hand on it as if that could calm it down. His skin itched from the phantom weight of Virgil’s gaze. At least suspicion was better than the emptiness of Apathy’s eyes.

He glanced around Roman’s room, relaxing at the empty space. The golden flow of Roman’s fairy lights bathed the room in a calming atmosphere and Deceit let his disguise as Logan drop. Now all he had to do was find Roman in the Imagination.

Simple, he thought dryly. It wasn’t like the Constructs would be against it, or the Imagination itself could reject him. Nothing to worry about at all. Deceit adjusted his cape and tightened his gloves. Nothing he could do except push forward. Time was of the essence for every choice he made going forward.

Deceit eyed Roman’s closet. Because Roman hide the Imagination on his closet. Narnia-freak. Deceit shook the growing smile off of his face. He strode forward and placed his hand on the wooden doors. It seemed to hum against his touch.

He sighed and placed his forehead against the smooth grain. He could feel the energy of the Imagination and for a moment he could have sworn that it seemed to reach out to him. Bright lights dotted with black and and endless feeling, a full void that went on forever. A paradox in that it had borders but it felt like it didn’t. If the full force of it turned against him he wouldn’t need to reform, it would probably swallow him whole.

“I won’t hurt him,” He whispered to the entrance. The sincerity in his own voice caught him by surprise and he froze. He closed his eyes and resigned himself to the inevitable. “Promise.”

Tony straightened as the door swung open and he nodded his thanks. He took a deep breath. Spending time with others was bound to change him, he thought to himself. It was the whole reason he had avoided it in the first place. The changes Deceit had on Anxiety and vice versa hadn’t been positive. Deceit could only hope that Creativity and Deception meshed better. 

Deceit stepped into the Imagination and closed his eyes. He couldn't feel the energy of the place in the same way anymore; he suspected it was like being submerged into water. Being surrounded by all sides made it had to tell the difference. Deceit took a step forward and debated what to do. He could head to the nearby village and hope that Anton didn’t try and discoporate him. He could head to Hecate’s lair and hope the same. 

Remy would probably be his best bet in finding Roman, but that would require finding the Construct. Deceit bit back a sigh and rubbed his hand across his forehead. Why couldn't it have been Logan in this position? Deceit knew where to find Logan, he was either in his room or in the Library and the Library would have been easy to search for him. Of course, Logan would have been harder to convince but still.

Deceit shook his head of those thoughts and took a step forward. The village, then. It would be easiest with how close he was to it. He strode through the forest, his head tilted to the side. The usual bird song was gone, and a heavy stillness hang in the air. He could feel his shoulders begin to tense the longer the silence went on.

Something was wrong.

An arrow whistled past his ear, and Deceit whirled to face the direction it had come from. The sun reflected in Roman’s hair, making him seem to glow as he towered over Deceit. Lady nickered a soft greeting even as Roman leveled the bow in his hands at Deceit. 

“I didn't think even you would stoop so low as to this,” Roman said quietly.

Deceit held his hands up to show that he meant no harm. He blinked as he realized they didn’t shake. His heart didn’t jump to his throat like it had with Virgil and Apathy. He felt… calm.

Fuck.

Deceit closed his eyes.

“And what exactly am I stooping to?” he asked dryly. He could tell the difference from the way that he snarked at Apathy. It wasn’t poking and prodding for a weakness; it held a genuine curiosity that Deceit doubted Roman could read. Fuck.

“Invading a space like this,” Roman said simply, though the bow and arrow in his hands dipped downwards. 

“Ah,” Deceit tilted his head to the side. He waited and then shook his head, “No, I’m afraid that I don’t see how I’ve invaded quite yet. I’m not even sure why I’d want to.”

Roman wavered, and Deceit stared at him. He knew what he should be doing. He should take advantage of Roman’s confusion to talk him around to what he wanted. Push at the weakness that Roman displayed until Deceit had him wrapped around his fingers. He rocked back on his heels and waited.

“Then-” Roman bit his lip, “What?”

“Hmmmm?” Deceit raised an eyebrow at Roman, who stared at him. Slowly, Roman slide off of Lady and tucked his bow into Lady’s saddle. He shot Deceit looks the entire time, suspicion bleeding into confusion. Deceit waited patiently until Roman turned and crossed his arms.

“You’re acting weird,” Roman blurted. Deceit shrugged and blinked as Lady pranced over to him. She butted her head at his shoulder and he stumbled back. He reached up to pat her nuzzle and she nickered happily at the action. Deceit felt a small smile grow as he ran his glove down her nose.

“You’re a good lady, aren’t you?” he whispered. Lady tossed her mane and Deceit wished that he could understand her better. She’d be instrumental in keeping Roman safe when he couldn’t after all.

“Like that!” Roman pointed at the two of them, and Deceit pulled back from Lady sharply. He shoved his hand beneath his cape and ignored Lady’s unhappy whiny. “You- you-” Roman made a high pitched shriek, and threw his hands in the air.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Deceit said simply. He had a general idea, but he didn’t see the big deal. He shrugged. “It’s not like you know me. How am I being weird?”

Roman stared at him. Deceit stared back and raised his eyebrow again. This wasn’t how he had seen this encounter going, but he wouldn’t complain if it meant that he could talk to Roman about what he needed to. It felt low of him, but Deceit couldn't afford to take the high road.

Roman let out another wordless noise and pointed a finger at him. He dropped his hand and stomped his foot before turning around. Deceit watched in amusement as he whipped right back around and stomped up to Deceit. He scowled and tried to loom over Deceit despite them being the same height.

“What’s your game Deceit?” Roman jabbed a finger at his chest. “What do you want with me?”

Deceit opened his mouth. He knew a half a dozen lies he could throw out that Roman would buy. All he had to do was flatter Roman like he had at the trial and Roman would bend over backwards to do what he wanted.

“I need help,” came out. Soft and quiet, and Deceit felt his eyes slip closed. Of course. Liking someone often came with trusting them. Trusting someone made it hard to lie to them. Deceit didn’t know if Roman would ever trust him in turn, but in that moment, Deceit never wanted Roman to know just how much power Creativity had over Deception.

Roman drew back as Deceit opened his eyes and Deceit stared steadily over Roman’s shoulder, seeing the naked surprise on Roman’s face in the corner of his eye. His fingers curled around his elbows, and he felt safe in knowing that Roman wouldn’t see the action. He let out a slow breath and met Roman’s eyes.

“One of the charges, I-” He paused and searched for a good word, “-one of the charges, I keep watch on has slipped out. I can’t beat him, and if he runs around unchecked, Thomas is the one that will get hurt. Apathy-”

“Apathy?” Roman cut in. 

“Apathy,” he repeated dryly, “Because I would go to Passion and Hopes for dealing with Greed. No you idiot,” he hissed, “The trait that could be considered your opposite is causing problems which is why I came to you.”

Roman blinked at him. Deceit reached up to rub at his temples.

“Passion is needed to combat Apathy,” Deceit said slowly, “So I need your help. Apathy is too powerful for me, and I can’t figure out why. I need someone-” he choked back his next words.

I need someone I can trust.

“Someone you can manipulate,” Roman finished bitterly.

“If that’s what you want to believe,” Deceit said lightly. “But having the Side most handy with a sword seemed expedient after my latest run in with Apathy.”

Roman blinked, and shuffled in place.

“You think I’m best with a sword? You think I can handle this?”

Deceit wanted to strangle someone. Maybe Patton. Patton was always a good person to direct his disgust at. Wasn’t Emotions supposed to be feeding into Dreams? Not crushing them? Deceit let out a slow breath.

“No you moron,” Deceit said, his voice heavy with sarcasm. “I went to the Side I thought would help the least and asked them for help.” He watched the way Roman unfolded as he realized what Deceit meant, “I mean, clearly I’m going to torture myself by spending time with the Side that I least want to and who I’d think would immediately go blabbing to the others. Yes, that’s my first choice.”

Roman froze.

“You don’t want to tell the others?”

“You think they would believe me?” Deceit demanded. He could feel is indignation rise at the suggestion. Frustration poured out of his voice and he wanted Roman to understand. “I am all for pointing Anxiety at Apathy and watching the sparks fly but the moment I step into the room Virgil will insist it’s all a plot against Thomas.” He scoffed. “Because I want the person responsible for my existence in danger, obviously.”

“Alright,” Roman agreed, and Deceit felt his words flee at the sudden acceptance. He stared at Roman, something in his heart doing a flop at Roman just… agreeing with him. No real manipulations necessary. “But as soon as we can we tell them.”

“Deal,” Deceit cursed himself for the second slip up. He wanted to bash his head against the nearest tree. Letting the others know wasn’t ever on his to-do list, but now it would have to be. He hissed at himself mentally. Roman stuck his hand out and Deceit took it.

Deceit took a deep breath. He needed to accept what was going on. Roman had a power over him, and Deceit needed to adapt to it, or get washed away with the tide. He liked Roman. He trusted Roman. He was willing to work with Roman. He flexed his fingers and hoped that this wouldn’t backfire on the both of them.

Deceit- No. Tony let out the breath he had been holding and nodded at Roman.

Chapter Text

Logan slipped the book in his hands back on the shelf and took a step back. He glanced around the bookshelves that stretched endlessly on either side of him and part of him wanted to sink to the floor in warm contentment. Thomas had been researching new topics for his videos, for Cartoon Therapy especially and with every new book that Logan had to put into the Knowledge section for the Library, he wanted to ask Roman if that was what he aimed for when he suggested the series. It was a rather ingenious combination of their interests. 

Logan found himself humming under his breath as he reached for the newest stacks. Books of memories that Patton had given him to sort into Long Term memory. Logan wasn’t sure how Patton made them, but it wasn’t his part of the job. He preserved them and brought them out when necessary, nothing more. Patton created them, sometimes with Virgil’s help, much like he wove the Patchwork of Thomas’ relationships and emotions.

Logan held the stack carefully and headed towards the section that they would be needed to be stored in. He would be able to savour his alone time for the next couple of hours before searching for the memory that would help Roman out with the video idea he had. Then he’d be able to head back to the Mind Palace with a certainty that someone looked forward to his return.

A truly fortuitous event, one that Logan knew he should wish had happened differently, but. But even knowing that it was trouble that pushed Roman into finally reaching out to repair their relationship, Logan couldn’t regret it. A small, ignored part of him thought he should perhaps thank Deceit for the trial that caused Thomas’ Self-doubt which in turn hurt Tony which lead to Roman asking for help.

For the understanding finally reached between the two of them.

Logan turned into the Long Term shelving and got to work putting the books where they needed to go. He cross referenced the events to similar occurrences, the people that had been present for them, and then finally, perceived importance. He got through half the stack when something clattered in the distance.

Logan frowned and felt his brow furrow at the noise. He couldn’t think of any reason for one of the other Sides to visit him or the Library at the moment.

“Roman?” Logan called out. Roman might have gotten impatient waiting for Logan to finish working. It wouldn’t be the first time that it had happened, thought something about it rang false about the way Roman carried himself lately. Calmer, if a bit smaller in a way. “Roman, I told you-”

Something crashed. Logan’s shoulders stiffened and he broke into a run. Very few things could truly destroy the Library, but he could think of half a dozen apparitions that could corrupt the books Logan took care of. Sorting them out became near impossible if he didn’t do it immediately.

Logan skid to a stop and knelt down to examine the bookcase. Books scattered around it, some of them with bent spines and torn pages that pulled Logan’s mouth into a frown. The section on Dreams wasn’t the most important, but Logan did know that Roman referenced it for inspiration from time to time. Worse yet, it looked like someone had simply shoved it over. He ran a finger over the mostly undamaged wood and frowned even more.

The question then became: who did it?

Any of the apparitions or smaller creations in Thomas’ mind would have done more than just shove it. They wouldn’t have had the intelligence to choose one bookcase to damage over the others. Logan picked up one of the older books, a picture book of Thomas as a Disney Prince that had been in the Library for as long as Logan himself could remember.

Logically, that mean that a Side had been responsible for the damage. Deceit had sided with Roman in the last so-called-discussion, which meant he could be ruled out. Patton showed nothing but support and compassion for Roman’s ideas no matter how outlandish they became. Virgil might have complaints but he had grown past idle destruction and tantrums to get his way.

Deceit kept the Sides that Thomas didn’t want to acknowledge hidden away. If one had escaped, Logan couldn’t conceive of a situation where they managed to without drawing the attention of the rest of the Sides. Logan had seen the Wall that Deceit managed and it was, objectively, impressive even if Logan hated the fact that it existed.

Another crash echoed through the Library.

Logan’s head snapped up and he took a deep breath. His fingers tightened around the book he held, and he inched his way towards the source. The only conclusion he could draw was that whatever caused the destruction wasn’t friendly. Proceeding with caution would be his smartest approach. 

Logan wrapped his other hand around the book in his hands. He crouched closer to the ground and crept towards the source of the noise. As he drew closer he could hear a soft muttering, though he couldn’t make out the words being spoken. He craned his neck around the corner and very carefully did not startle at what he saw.

The Side kicked at the bookcase and Logan bite back a sharp cry of protest at the action. Their grey clothes seemed even more lifeless than the hallways that Logan traversed every day. Ragged and uncared for, even from a brief glance, this Side sent ice down Logan’s spine. He pulled back and breathed as quietly as he could, debating his options.

“Logic.”

Logan froze at the cold voice that echoed through the Library. His fingers spasmed against the book in his hands and he bolted before he could register just what had happened.

“I know you’re in here!”

Logan dove to the side as another shelf crashed to the ground. He bit down on his lip, hard enough that he drew blood. All his work scattered across the ground, and it would take him days to get it back in order. Not to mention the effect that it would have on Thomas. It was like the other Side didn’t care. Logan felt his dread rise at the thought.

He dashed to the side and scrambled in a certain direction. If the Side caused destruction without thought, Logan needed to reach a very specific book. 

He needed to get his core out of the Library before it got caught in the crossfire. 

“Stay still!” The Side’s snarl echoed through the shelves, impossibly. Logan wanted to argue that there was no realistic way for him to manage that. Of course, certain sections of Thomas’ mind defied logic.

Logan’s shoulder hit the wall with a muted thump and his eyes dropped to the bottom shelf closest to him. He let out a soft breath as he realized he had reached his destination. He tugged the book he housed his core in from the shelf and tucked it behind the one he already carried. A flimsy deception but better than nothing.

He held them both against his chest. Logan let out a shaky breath as another he crawled across the floor. There was a desk near the doorway, if he made it there he could slip out without being detected. He could have sunk out, but Logan didn’t know if the Side could follow him. The thought of leading someone this destructive to the others left a bitter taste in the back of his throat. Especially since Logan knew that Patton kept his own core in his room without any protection, and Virgil’s most likely was housed in his own room as well. He didn’t have any idea where Roman stored his but he didn’t want to risk more than he had to.

Losing one Side, even if it was Logic, would be better than losing up to three.

“There you are.” The voice sent adrenaline through his system. Logan scrambled to his feet, hand slipping against the floor as he bolted again. He clutched both books to his chest as he sprinted through the shelves. He ducked away and took a sharp turn, and then another as soon as he could. The other Side stayed on his heels no matter how he tried to shake him. 

Logan felt his ragged breath and cursed. Roman got the physical strength because Thomas perceived him that way. Logan was, in short, a nerd. He couldn’t change the way he presented himself in hopes that Thomas would see him differently because he’d too firmly entrenched himself as a professor like figure to Thomas at this point in time. Virgil got a boost from being fight or flight. The only one Logan could hope to match physically would be Patton.

Even Deceit would likely have an advantage over him in such a contest.

His legs burned from exertion. He hadn’t even made it halfway to the doorway. Most days Logan felt proud of the size of the Library. It only hindered him now.

The footsteps slowed. Logan dared to hope that he could slip out and warn the others of the Side causing havoc in Thomas’ mind. Something creaked behind them. Then a low crash, too soon for a bookcase to have hit the floor, and then another, and another and another. Logan risked a glance over his shoulder. His heart stopped.

Books rained down as the shelf before it crashed into the one next to it, bringing the whole aisle down. Logan dove to the floor. He curled his body around the books he carried and threw one arm over his head as the whole mess collapsed on top of him. Pain lanced through his shoulder and spine as everything darkened around him. Logan swallowed a whimper of pain.

Footsteps neared him and Logan tried to squeeze free of the books and shelves on top of him. The pain caught fire as he moved and Logan squeezed his eyes shut as he fell limp. He tightened his hold over the books in his arm and prayed that the Side wouldn't be able to tell the significance of what he carried. There was a small chance he survived this. At least if his core was destroyed it seemed like he wouldn’t be physical enough to feel the pain.

Light shone over his eyes as shelves that held him down were shoved to the side. Logan tried to drag himself away. A ragged cry tore from his throat as a foot pressed down on his back. Fingers buried themselves into his hair and yanked his head back. Tears gathered at the edge of Logan’s eyes as his fingers struggled to keep the precious books close to his chest and safe.

“This would be simpler if you stop fighting.” The voice that hissed near his ear felt cold. It held none of the desperation and energy that Deceit carried with him. None of the buried fear and worry that Virgil balanced. It was space; it was a vast emptiness that scraped at Logan’s mind and left him trembling.

“Now,” the voice continued into something that could almost be called mild. If Logan didn’t know better, if he couldn’t hear the void behind it all. “I’m going to talk and you’re going to listen.”

Logan breathed. He tried to keep it steady but found that it came out uneven and desperate, edging towards the same rhythm of Virgil’s panic attacks. The fingers in his hair tightened and His throat stretched as they pulled his head back even more.

“Agree.”

“Ye-yes,” Logan stammered out, licking his lips as the hold in his hair loosened at the word. Compliance. The message he read in that meant that compliance would keep him safe for moments longer at least. Logan squeezed his eyes shut. He needed to buy himself time. Long enough and Virgil would worry and come looking for him. He would.

“Good. You’re not the one that I want anyways.” Logan’s head jerked down as the Side let him go. He barely kept his chin from cracking against the floor. He took a shaking breath as the pressure on his back eased. “I’m going to do what should have been done years ago.”

What?

“I want what I deserve, what Thomas deserves,” the voice wavered between anger and that aching emptiness. Logan’s heart pounded in his chest. Listen, his mind demanded. Learn. Plan. He let out a shaking breath. “I would think you would agree with me, but it’s been too long. I won’t risk it.”

“And what exactly would I agree-”

The foot disappeared for a fraction. It slammed back down and Logan barely bit back a scream. He writhed on the ground and the silence above him hurt more than any gloating would have. Logan struggled against the urge to fight back. Careful. He needed to be careful, to learn what he was up again.

“I said to listen.”

Logan curled around his books as the foot retreated. He didn’t say anything. He trembled and tried to will himself to stop. He couldn’t. Fear battered at his senses, trying to take his rational from him. Cognitive distortions. Paranoia. He couldn’t fall prey to what ifs or assumptions. Wait, he told himself.

Wait.

“Good. You can learn.” The Side crouched down and Logan’s eyes cracked open to stare at him. The Side didn’t smile at him. “I am going to rid Thomas of his childish dreams.”

Logan’s heart seized.

Roman.

Wait .

The Side’s face twisted. Logan swallowed thickly at the anger that spasmed through the blank mask. Lightning against a black sky. He couldn’t feel his fingers, too tight against his core. The more the Side talked, the more he learned. He tried to focus on that rather than the desperate need to warn Roman. To lunge at the Side and scream irrationally that no one would hurt his family.

“Only,” Logan’s heart skipped a beat at the clear frustration. Hope. “Only Deception-” The Side spat the name out like a curse and Logan blinked rapidly. “He would only hinder my goal. He would keep Passion alive and send me back where I came from if given the chance.” A finger reached out to brush against his cheek and Logan shivered.

“So you’re going to help me,” the Side whispered.

Logan shook his head. No. Never.

The Side gripped his hair again and Logan whimpered.

“You will,” he hissed. Logan, irrationally, missed Deceit’s hissing instead. He was incorrect in the way that he wanted to guide Thomas’ life, would keep Thomas ignorant and weak but at least he respected Logan in a sense. Pushing him out of every conversation showed that Deceit knew what Logan could do to his arguments. A knowledge that no other Side showed.

“You will,” the Side said, calmer now and all the more terrifying for it. “Because if you don’t I will do much worse than you could ever imagine.” Logan’s body went numb. His eyes widened at the Side smiled. “How much damage do you think I could do? Emotions trust so easily, I doubt he hides his core at all. Anxiety would be harder, could do some real damage but in the end, predictable-” Logan almost missed his next words as his heart beat in his ears. “-I could find that core as well in the end.”

“After all, you’ve done nothing to hide yourselves.”

“Please,” Logan flinched as he realized the broken word came from his own lips.

The Side’s smile didn’t waver. It didn’t reach his eyes either, an empty grey that Logan wanted to scratch out. He wanted to rage and scream and show the Side just who he had messed with. He wanted to ask how someone so willing to hurt others to hurt Thomas, could be a Side at all. Logan took a deep breath instead.

“You’re going to help me,” the Side repeated.

Logan stopped himself from nodding. Knowledge. He needed more than what he had. He licked his lips. A calculated risk might cause himself some pain but he needed to know.

“Childish dreams-” he tensed as the Side’s smile fell, “You- you just want to stop Thomas’ childish dream, right?”

“Yes.”

Logan swallowed again. A lie. A half-truth? He needed more to tell, but it rang false. Deceit would have hid it better. Had hid his motivations better. Logan still didn’t know what he wanted out of the trial.

“Alright,” he whispered. His eyes slipped shut and he breathed carefully. “Alright.”

The Side’s smile returned and Logan shivered.

“Good. First,” his hand reached out and Logan flinched back. He curled even tighter around his precious books but couldn’t stop the Side from ripping them from his hands. He cursed his physical strength. “Some insurance,” the Side said simply. His grey eyes glittered in the light as he ran his hands over the books. Logan shivered.

“You may call me Apathy,” the Side continued. Logan wrapped his arms around himself and stared at the books in Apathy’s hands. “You’re going to do what I say.”

Logan nodded shakily. He wanted to curl into a tighter ball and cover his ears from the poisonous words that spewed from Apathy’s mouth. He forced himself to listen and note each one down instead. He didn’t know how long they sat there.

But Virgil never came.

Chapter Text

Roman wasn’t quite sure where they were to be honest. He didn’t know if Deceit would be upset if he admitted that however. He dogged at Deceit’s heels as Deceit led him through the hallways of Thomas’ mind. He knew that they had gone past the Wall that Deceit maintained and towards the Tracks of Thought.

Deceit stopped abruptly and Roman slammed into his back. He could see the twitch of annoyance that went through Deceit’s shoulders, a familiar sight. Deceit said nothing however. A lie to manipulate him, or a kindness that Roman had forgotten that could be extended in his direction? He couldn’t tell.

“Here,” Deceit said sharply. Roman blinked at him. Deceit lips pulled downwards before smoothing out. Roman watched in fascination as he took a deep breath and rubbed his gloved hand across his forehead. “Do you have any idea what we’re doing here?”

“No?” Roman tried not to shuffle his feet. It would show his hesitancy. He wouldn’t have struggled to hide his insecurity from the others. Deceit made it hard. Maybe because he already laid it all out for him? Roman chewed on the inside of his cheek as Deceit stared at him.

“Did you listen to what I said at all?” Deceit’s voice was tinged with something and Roman smiled sheepishly at him. Roman almost wished he had spent more time with the snake so he could read him like the other Sides. It was hard to be what someone wanted if you didn’t know what the wanted in the first place.

“Not really?”

Deceit visible wrestled down whatever was on the tip of his tongue. It looked remarkably a lot like Virgil doing the same thing, and not for the first time Roman wondered what was between the two of them. The history between them shone like a flashlight through a blackened room. No wait, like a firefly in a starless night? That sounded a little better.

Deceit let out a low sigh that snapped Roman from his debate about what metaphor worked more. Roman rocked back at his heels as Deceit gesture at a section of the hallway around them. 

“We need a place that Apathy can’t find,” Deceit said quietly. “So that there’s no chance he can find our plans for him. It’s likely that he’s already found the Mind Place, seeing as none of you morons have done anything to hide it.”

“Hey!” Roman waved his hands through the air, “We never had to hide it! That was your job!”

Deceit blinked slowly at him, and Roman squinted. There was something behind that expression. He had to remind himself that he was working with a liar here. He couldn’t take anything Deceit said at face value. Roman mentally cursed himself for agreeing to this in the first place.

But Deceit had looked quietly delighted at Lady’s greeting. Lady had greeted him. And he had sounded sincere when he had asked for his help. Roman couldn’t turn away someone who needed help. It’s what Patton would have done in the end. Honor and Justice. A prince helped all his subjects. 

That, and Deceit had come to him. Not smart Logan, or strong Virgil, or accepting Patton. Just him. Had insinuated that Roman was his first choice. It could be a manipulation, but Roman couldn’t bring himself to step away from it. Not when he confidence stood on such shaky ground already. He gripped his arm and took a deep breath. He was fine for now, but he didn’t know how long it would last.

“Roman!”

Roman flinched at the shout and Deceit scowled at him.

“You didn’t hear a word I said, did you?”

“Uuuuh, we’re making a hiding place from Apathy?” Roman grinned at him, a brilliant expression that had always covered up his shame before. Deceit’s scowl faltered and he pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Alright,” Deceit all but breathed out. Another weird thing. Deceit had always seemed picture perfect before, an unshakable confidence much like-

Much like his own. Roman wondered if there was a similarity there.

“Where am I losing you?” Deceit murmured.

“What?” Roman ran a hand through his hair. “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Deceit said dryly, “that even a complete moron like you wouldn’t stop paying attention for no reason. You’re perfectly willing and able to memorize all the scripts that Thomas learns so you’re not listening to me for a reason. Where. Have. I. Lost. You.”

Roman stared at him. 

“Uuuuuh,” Roman blinked at him, stunned that Deceit would assume that it was his fault Roman wasn’t listening. Deceit scowled. He waved a gloved hand through the air.

“Forget that. Forget the why, just focus on the what and the how.” Deceit pointed at the wall. “You create a new room here, and I will hide it so that no one else will be able to find it.”

“You can do that?”

Deceit turned to him and leaned in. He smirked and Roman remembered the smooth voice that had rolled out throughout the trial. Gold and brown eyes glittered with smug pride.

“Oh, Roman,” Deceit purred, “I can do so much more than that.”

He pulled back abruptly and tugged at the edges of his cape. Roman swayed towards him. Deceit winced and took a visible step back. Roman bit back his questions, and stared at Deceit, wondering just how much of the other Side stayed locked up behind a wall like the one Thomas had. How much Deceit hid. How much was a part he played. 

Perhaps Roman would get to find out.

His lips twitched up into a grin, and he resisted the urge to roll up his sleeves. He didn’t need too and it would ruin ins aesthetic anyways. A Prince didn’t need to show that he put effort into things. He would be like a swan, graceful on the surface and drowning- paddling furiously underneath.

He took a deep breath and pictured the room that they would need. A large table, to plan things and keep notes that they took. A wall for his sword and any other weapon that Deceit might use. A bookshelf that could draw from the Library for information. A refrigerator because snacks were a must, and cot to crash on if they worked too hard. 

Roman held onto the image and pushed it into Creation with a snap of his fingers. 

He opened his eyes as a door shimmered into view in front of him. He felt a giddy grin cross his face. Deceit stepped forward and press his hand to the wood of the door. His head tilted to the side, and Roman could have sworn that Deceit’s snake eye glowed brighter, the brilliant gold of a dragon’s hoard before dimming. The door seemed to ripple for a moment, like a mirage and Deceit smirked at it.

“Perfect,” Deceit nodded and tugged the door open. His lips curled up into a smug grin. He swept his hat off and bowed in Roman’s direction, gesturing to the room. “Your Majesty.”

Sincere or mocking? It was always a coin flip with Deceit. Roman knew it was easiest to just assume mocking but took it as sincere. He hoped that it drove Deceit up the wall whenever he did that. So he threw his shoulders back and waggled his eyebrows in Deceit’s direction.

“Why it seems that one of my subjects knows their place,” he commented, and stepping into the space that he had Created. The carpet was a surprise, but there was always one or two details that Roman filled out without meaning too. A cozy room, for what could amount to war planning in a sense.

Deceit winked at him.

“It is my pleasure to serve you,” Deceit grinned at him, and Roman grinned right back. He sauntered over to one of the chairs, mentally congratulating himself on the plush seats and sunk into it gratefully. 

“That’s what all of my partners say.”

Deceit choked. He coughed, and something that sounded suspiciously like laughter filled the room as Deceit just about stalked forward like a tiger. He leaned against the table, fingers spreading out across the papers.

“Oh I’m sure they do,” Deceit purred, his scales glinting in the light. “I’m sure you leave them all satisfied.”

They both froze. Roman felt red creep up his face as all his blood rushed up to it. His heart skipped a beat and he let out a nervous laugh. Deceit stepped back from the table, and his hands disappeared behind his cape. Roman wanted them back for a brief moment, before he reminded himself that Deceit wasn’t a friend. He shouldn’t want anything from Deceit except for him to go away.

But it felt wrong like it had since Deceit ended up revealed to Thomas.

“That-” Deceit cleared his throat, “I apologize for crossing a line. That was a bit too far.” He pulled a chair out for himself and lounged in it. Roman winced at the way that Deceit’s face closed off. Such a far cry from the back and forth at the trial. Roman wished it would come back, and part of him hated that he wanted it at all.

Deceit reached out and spread several of the blank papers out in front of him. His eyes narrowed and he pressed his hands against them. Slowly they started to glow until a rough map of Thomas’ mindscape lay out in front of them. It wasn’t completely accurate; the Imagination was blank and it cut off at Deceit’s Wall. The hallways were more stable than before but they could still shift from time to time.

It would work as a start however. Roman just didn’t know what sort of start they were looking at.

“Apathy will-” Deceit paused and scowled down at the map. “Apathy has two things that he wants: you and me. Beyond that we have to treat him as unpredictable. He could be anywhere, doing anything.” He glanced up at and a dark smirk crossed his face before disappearing, “Do refrain from turning into Virgil about that. There are things not even he can do.”

“I wouldn’t!” Roman shot back, tilting his chin up. Honestly! As if he’d think like Virgil did. It sounded exhausting.

“Of course not,” Deceit said idly, tracing one of the hallways on the map, “But you wouldn’t work with me before either.” His gold eye met Roman’s and Roman felt frozen in place. Something in Deceit’s eyes spoke of knowledge that Roman had no idea of how he got. Deceit had read him better than the others ever had apparently. Maybe he simply meant Roman’s venting? “You are rather-” Deceit tilted his head to the side, “-lacking in confidence lately it seems. Any reason why?”

The casual sentence crashed through the almost comfort that Roman felt. He pressed his lips together and narrowed his eyes at Deceit. His fingers twitched against the armrests of his chair. He could name a dozen reasons why. Starting with failing Thomas and ending at failing Tony. The question that Roman never wanted Deceit to ask would be something along the lines of how bad it had gotten.

Bad. That was all Roman could say. It had gotten bad, and his hourglass was running out of sand.

“So we need to track down Apathy?” Roman clapped his hands together and leaned over the maps on the table. “Find his evil lair and smoke out the evil sorcerer?”

Silence.

Roman took a deep breath and glanced up at Deceit. Deceit’s fingers played with the edges of his cape as he stared at Roman. Roman could feel the tension rise like the tide. He couldn’t afford to drown quite yet.

“Any brilliant ideas on how?”

Deceit’s eyes narrowed for a fraction of a second before his face smoothed out.

“Later than,” Deceit said, and Roman winced. A concession that the other Sides rarely gave him. Either they pressed until Roman could answer in a way that pleased them, or he successfully deflected them. He swallowed thickly as Deceit waved a hand through the air. “And aren’t brilliant ideas what you do?”

Roman tapped his finger against his chin. He could give Deceit that. Brilliant ideas were Creativity's job. Roman just didn’t know if he could right now. Which spelled really bad things for him in the near future, but Roman hoped they could put it off until Apathy had been dealt with. It wasn’t like it would take that long after all.

“Wellllll,” He drew the sound out and delighted in the way that Deceit leaned towards him. “I do have one idea.”

Chapter Text

Roman had gone insane. Then again, Tony corrected himself, Roman would have to have been sane in the first place to go insane. Thinking about it in that sense meant Tony only had himself to blame for this predicament. Which was in a sense, fair, not that he would ever admit it out loud to anyone. Maybe Thomas if he needed to but on the other hand Tony would prefer if everything about this situation died in a deep dark hole.

He picked up his pace to try and keep up with Roman’s quick strides through the halls.

“You do realize,” he said dryly, “That your plan to find Apathy requires that you first find Apathy.”

“Bah!” Roman waved him off, and Tony fought down an amused grin. “Trust! That is what you lack! Trust in my brilliance and how it will pay off! I can make a way to track down Apathy wherever the villain goes! All it will take is a little blood!”

“Yeah,” Tony agreed, fingers twitching with the urge to prod at Roman’s side. They weren't like that. They weren’t friends. “Except, again, to get blood from Apathy you have to first find Apathy.”

“Simple!” Roman throw his hands in the air and paused at the crossroads they came too. “We need bait! My fabulous face should be enough. He will be like a moth attracted to my flame and light!”

“Meaning if we do manage to defeat Apathy when we find him, your brilliant idea won’t be needed?”

Roman’s footsteps faltered.

“Ah, yes, well-”

“We could consider the bait as your brilliant idea,” Tony mused, throwing him a bone. Roman perked up, almost like a puppy given a treat, and Tony wondered what Roman would look like with ears and a tail. It would be nice not to be the only one slightly inhumane. 

“Of course!” Roman sniffed and reached out to shove him in the arm. Tony kept his surprise carefully internal at the easy, casual way that Roman touched him. Of course, Roman had been like that with Tony as a snake too. It had been easy to write off as him being considered a Construct, but now Tony wondered if Roman was like that with everyone.

He thought about the way that Roman treated Virgil and changed his mind. Maybe this was how the older, accepting Roman treated people. He was so desperate to do things right after all Swinging back and forth based off what other people told him was best. Thomas’ dreams, Patton’s directions, Logan’s advice. He had hated Virgil with a fiery passion because he had felt he was supposed to.

Tony had spent years telling Roman that he wasn’t a bad guy. Only now was it taking root against the other’s words, because they hadn’t been right about Virgil either. Tony scowled into the distance. No, they had been right about Anxiety, but then Anxiety became Virgil. 

Like how he had become Tony.

Fuck. 

He was never letting Virgil know what had happened. Ever. He’d never hear the end of it, and that would be the best possible outcome to that situation.

“All of my ideas are brilliant!” Roman turned down a different corner, and Tony began to doubt that he had an actual destination in mind. Of course, playing bait would mean that they had to be visible and loud. Wandering around Thomas’ mind would accomplish one of those things. Which meant they needed to be loud.

“All of them? No exceptions?” Tony mused aloud, “I’m sure we could find one or two lumps of coal in the shining diamonds of your mind.”

Roman’s face twitched. Tony fought down another urge to reach out and touch. Distance. They had a distance between then that he needed to remember. He couldn’t fall into the habits he had formed as a snake. No one minded a full snake touching them, or at least no one in Thomas’ mind. Everyone minded a monster like him touching without permission.

“I’m not sure if I should take that as a compliment or an insult,” Roman shoved a finger in Tony’s direction. Tony stared at it, and very carefully did not snap at it. “Cease with your games fiend!” Roman’s hand reach towards the ceiling. “I will come out on top in the end!”

“Like how you came out on top in the discussion with Virgil about Disney.”

“Silence!” Roman’s voice boomed out across the hallway and Tony couldn’t stop the chuckle that came from the back of his throat. Then again, he couldn’t seem to stop a lot around Roman lately. He almost felt lighter than he ever had. He’d have called it comfort if it weren’t for the threat of Apathy hanging over their heads.

“But if I’m silent how shall I ever talk about the gems that your mind holds?” Tony’s grin grew as Roman wavered. “Like the idea that Dory is faking her memory loss in order to have an advantage in survival.”

Tony hummed under his breath as he waited for Roman to make the connection. He doubted that the idea was true, but well, there was a sort of fun in lies winding someone else up. False information could be used to entertain as Roman no doubt knew. The screech that drowned out all other noise filled Tony with triumph.

“How dare-!” Roman’s arms flew through the air as he pulled to an abrupt stop. Tony leaned back against the wall to watch the show. “She- you- Finding Nemo-!” Roman breathed out harshly and narrowed his eyes at Deceit. “How dare you insult such a wondrous movie!”

“Have you ever looked up what short term memory loss entails?” Tony asked. He rather wanted to know. Logan might have but Tony doubted that Roman had looked into.

“No! But she had no reason to trick them!”

Tony stretched his fingers out, studying he ends of his gloves. They didn’t need to be replaced quite yet, but maybe soon. He had a few extra pairs in his closet. The silence wound Roman up even further and Tony smirked.

“Survival.”

“They would have helped her anyways!”

“She had no way of knowing that!”

Roman’s hands sliced through the air in wild patterns. Tony wondered if he ever tried painting like that. Then again, abstract seemed more Remus’ thing. Roman would want it to be perfect and nothing abstract would fit into his definition of perfection. He’d rather copy all the great artists to find inspiration rather than let his feelings out. Tony hummed to himself and wondered if the other Sides had caught on to that yet.

“I- you-” Roman growled. He paced the hallway in front of Tony and ran a hand through his hair. “She agreed to help them out! She spent so long looking for her parents!”

“Survival,” Tony repeated, his voice liting into almost song.

“You can’t use that as your answer for everything!” Roman sounded like a meteor storm. Bright and loud and eye catching. Beautiful and deadly. Tony shook his head.

“Sure I can,” he pushed off of the wall and wandered down the hall. Baiting Apathy meant making sure that they spread their noise everywhere. They just had to be careful near the Mind Palace but Tony doubted Apathy would go there. Trying to face all four Sides would be suicide after all.

“I can use it to explain Wall-E too,” Tony called over his shoulder. Roman’s footsteps hurried behind him and Tony grinned into the distance. Honestly, if he were willing to think positively about Virgil he’d agree about the fact that winding Roman up like a top was the most entertainment he had in years.

Only Virgil wouldn't be about the winding up, or even agree that it was fun. Virgil would be too panicked about upsetting Roman to have fun with it. He argued because he disagreed. He insulted because he hated. Tony shook his head and took a sharp turn.

“Fiend!” Tony focused on Roman’s voice instead of his bitter thoughts. Anxiety was in the past. Creativity the present. “Don’t you dare ruin the foundations of Thomas’ childhood!”

“I wouldn’t be ruining it,” Tony said mildly, “Just explaining where they got all the food they ate in the movie.”

“Greenhouses!” Roman screeched, coming up to his side and looking fit to tear his hair out. “They had greenhouses that grew the plants!”

“But they didn’t know what plants looked like.”

“Don’t you dare! Fiend! Villain! Childhood ruiner!”

“Creative,” Tony hummed and adjusted his hat, bracing himself for what would come next. He spoke over Roman’s offended noise. “But if they don’t know what plants look like they had to have been using something else. There was only one other viable option on that ship-”

“I swear to all things we find holy-” Tony cackled as he dashed out of the way of Roman’s lunge. His cape fluttered just out of Roman’s reach, brushing against his fingertips. “-if you finish that sentence-”

“-is the passengers!” Tony shouted as he broke out into a run. “They had to have eaten-”

“Deceit! Stop!” Tony stuck his tongue out at Roman, “No really-!” 

The world tilted violently and Tony blinked the stars out of his eyes. Ah yes, there was a wall there. His hand brushed against the ground as he reached around to find his hat. He laid back and meet Roman’s concerned eyes. He took a deep breath and smirked at Roman before he could voice his question. Tony knew what he’d ask and he really didn’t want to know what would come out of his mouth if Roman asked if he was alright.

“I haven’t even started on Toy Story,” he said breathlessly, and the concern fled from Roman’s eyes as offence returned. Tony rolled out of the way of Roman’s tackle with a laugh. Roman’s hand clamped around his ankle and dragged him back.

“Oh no you don’t,” Roman growled. Tony kicked out of his grip and scrambled to his feet. Roman lunged at him again, colliding with his side. They rolled across the ground together until Roman straddled him triumphantly, grinning above him. “You’re dark conspiracy days are over Phantom of the Soap-opera!”

“Oh really?” Tony smirked, hooking his leg around Roman’s warm calf. His hands snapped out to grab Roman’s shoulders and with a heave, he rolled them over until he was the one on top. “And pray tell, how are you going to manage that?” he asked as he pinned Roman’s wrists to the floor. 

Their chests pressed together, his cape fanning out around them. Tony could feel Roman trying to hold back desperate giggles as he fought down a smile of his own. Roman’s legs kicked out, struggling against his hold but Tony held his ground. He smirked down at Roman’s flushed face.

“Simple,” Roman said breathlessly. “Apathy’s right there.”

Tony threw himself off of Roman and whirled around. His heart jumped to his throat and his fingers curled into claws instinctively. Apathy would get to Roman over his dead body. Thomas could get by without Deception; Creativity and Passion were needed so much more than him. His eyes scanned the empty hallway and he blinked slowly.

Roman’s giggled broke out into full on laughter.

“Oh my god,” Roman gasped out, “You should have seen your face!”

Tony pressed his lips together.

“Glad to see you taking this so seriously,” he growled out. He smoothed out his clothes. Frustration beat at the edges of his senses. Not at Roman, but at himself. He had let himself get distracted. Running around the halls like they had with Apathy on the loose was the height of stupidity. They wouldn’t have noticed Apathy until he was right on top of them.

He gritted his teeth and stalked down the hall. He could hear Roman scrambling to his feet behind him. Hurried footsteps didn’t slow Tony down at all.

“Wait, wait, wait!” Roman’s hand wrapped around his wrist. Tony yanked his hand away from the soft touch and tugged his sleeve down. It did nothing to help the pleasant tingles against his skin. He didn’t turn to look at Roman, but stopped where he was. 

“I’m sorry,” Roman said softly, “It was just a joke.”

“Oh, yeah, great joke.”

Tony glanced at the frown pulling at Roman’s face and looked away again. His hands curled into fists and he bit down on his tongue. Would it be better for Roman to know how dangerous this was? Would he even get it or would he assume that it wasn’t that bad no matter what Tony claimed?

“There’s no way he can be that dangerous,” Roman protested, and Tony scowled at the far wall. Roman’s voice grew insistent, “No way. Come on. We’ve got my fabulous and amazing self to start off with, and then we have your brilliance and illusions. There’s no way he’ll be able to top the two of us teaming up.”

“We did technically win the trial against the others,” Tony said slowly.

“We did!” Roman hesitated. “Is that a good example? I feel like that’s not a good example.”

Tony waved a hand through the air. Real Roman sounded a lot like his Head Roman. Concerned with right and wrong based off what Patton told him. Tony could push him to something more loose when it came to morals, but having someone to remind him when to back off a bit could be useful. 

“It’s a fine example,” Tony said. He leaned in a bit closer to Roman, not quite touching. He took a deep breath. Roman had a point though. They would do better together than alone. Tony had been the one to suggest a team up. He reached out hesitantly to press his hand against Roman’s arm.

“It’s fine, Roman, don’t worry about-”

His fingers tingled as they passed through Roman’s arm. It lasted a fraction of a second, enough that Tony almost thought he imagined it. The stricken look on Roman’s face said otherwise. Tony felt his eyes widen. The feeling like he had stuck his hand in a socket faded, the horror in Roman’s eyes didn’t.

“Roman,” he breathed, an understanding curling around his heart. Of course Apathy held such power. Passion was dying.

Roman took a step back, shaking his head. Tony reached out again, question on his lips, about when it had gotten this bad, about what Roman needed, about how long Roman had left. Roman spun on his heels and dashed down the hallways. Tony let his hand drop and tugged his hat over his eyes. 

It all added up. Roman lacked confidence. Without confidence, he couldn’t create as much as he used too. Passion would shrivel up without the inspiration, and with the way Thomas kept putting off his dreams. Tony gritted his teeth. Now with Apathy on the loose, Roman was being attacked on all sides. His physical form literally couldn’t keep up. He was starting to unravel. Literally.

No wonder Remy wanted Roman to talk to the others. A boost in confidence was needed. Desperately. Tony just didn’t know if the others could provide it at the moment. He let out a slow breath, eyes on the corner that Roman had disappeared around.

He needed to change his plans. Now. If Roman Unraveled completely it wouldn’t matter if Apathy was caught. 

Passion would be gone anyways.

Chapter Text

Patton hummed as he poked at the coffee maker in front of him. Logan had made a pot earlier but Roman and Virgil would appreciate it if there was enough coffee for them as well. Logan drank his black after all which used much more than Patton’s dash of coffee with sugar and cream, and if he was honest chocolate as well. He wasn’t much for the bitter taste but a dad had to do what he could to wake up in the morning!

Or well, late morning almost afternoon but still!

It wasn’t his fault that Parks and Recs was just so much fun to watch!

“Morning,” Virgil mumbled as he slid into the chair next to Logan. Logan nodded at Virgil as Patton slide a cup of coffee Virgil’s way. He couldn’t stop the grin from splitting across his face at the way that Virgil nodded back. All the needed was Roman and things would be perfect! Things had been a little tense lately but it was fine! They’d get through it like everything else.

“Good morning Virgil!” Patton greeted. The warm feeling in his chest at the smile Virgil gave him felt a little off but Patton figured it was because they hadn’t eaten yet. Or because Roman wasn’t there. Or maybe it was the fact he hadn’t put on socks this morning? He could just be cold!

“Hey Pat,” Virgil said softly, even as his eyes drifted back to Logan. Virgil’s lips curled downward and Patton’s heart dropped with the expression. He gripped the mug of coffee and cream in his hand a little tighter as Virgil stared at Logan.

“So how’s your talk with Ro go? You know from a couple days ago?” Virgil asked, something too casual in his voice. Patton blinked in surprise. What was different about Lo talking to Roman yesterday?

Logan looked up from the puzzle he was working, pen stilling against the paper. 

“Our talk in the Library?” Logan asked, something high and desperate in his voice. Virgil’s eyes narrowed and Patton’s hands turned white against his mug. His eyes darted back and forth between the two of them.

“No, the one in Roman’s room,” Virgil corrected darkly.

Logan hesitated. Patton felt his hands tremble. Logan hesitated very rarely, and the times when he did turned out well even less than when they did. A confident Logan was a better Logan. Even when they did butt heads. Patton preferred a Logan that yelled at him than a Logan that answered with quiet hesitance.

“Ah, yes, that correspondence,” Logan said carefully. He set his pen down. “Our talk about- our talk went well.” Logan said, too many pauses between his words. Patton’s hands jerked as he thought about Virgil's words of Deceit manipulating Logan and Roman. The hot liquid splashed across the table and his hands. Both of their heads snapped in his direction as he yelped.

“Whoops, clumsy me,” Patton smiled at them, trying to keep the expression from trembling. He jerked to his feet and reached for a paper towel to clean up the mess. His ears strained to listen to the conversation as he ducked his head.

“Are you alright?” Logan asked him, and Patton sent him a quick smile before hunching back down.

“Super duper! Promise!” his voice sounded a little too high to his own ears and Virgil’s foot brushed against his leg under the table in hidden comfort. Patton let out a slow breath. Well, they had wanted confirmation that Deceit was messing with them. At least it seemed like they had it? Patton swallowed thickly.

“The talk in the room or the talk in the Library?” Virgil challenged.

“Both,” Logan said stiffly, standing up abruptly, “If you excuse me, I have work to do.”

They watched his back as he strode out of the room, leaving his puzzle behind on the table next to his half full mug of coffee. Patton stared at the change in routine in concern. Even upset, most days Logan stormed off with his mug and puzzle. They helped him stay calm when he kept to his routine. Patton had asked about it once, and the fact that he hadn’t taken it with him sent red flags flying through the air.

“I ran into Logan yesterday,” Virgil said at last, that too casual tone of voice still in use. Patton winced and sat down next to Virgil. He kept his own mug on the table to keep from spilling it again. He leaned against Virgil’s shoulder as Virgil sighed and reached up to scrub at his face.

“He said that he was going to talk to Roman about a memory that Roman needed for inspiration, and then called it adequate,” Virgil picked at the edge of his table with his nails.

“That sounds like him,” Patton said. Virgil shook his head.

“He called finding the memory they needed adequate after being all jumpy about me being there. And just-” Virgil chewed on his lip, “It felt off. Like wouldn’t he be more excited about it? Proud of himself? Logan loves to lord what he does over Roman’s head.”

“That’s changed recently,” Patton offered weakly. He reached out to twist his fingers in Virgil’s shirt, taking comfort in the soft cloth.

“Face it, Patton,” Virgil said bitterly, “We’re gonna have to wreck their friendship because Deceit was behind it.”

“Maybe we don’t?” Patton glanced in the direction that Logan had left. “Maybe we can just figure out what Deceit wants so they can stay friends? They’re-” Patton struggled for words. “They’re still our family, Virgil.”

“Yeah and that’s why we can’t let the bastard snake sink his fangs into them.”

Patton nodded slowly. Virgil reached out and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. Patton closed his eyes and melted into the touch. He didn’t want to think about the things that Deceit had whispered into his own ears before Patton chased him off. The still damaging idea that all he had to do was smile. That all he could be was happy. Patton shivered and Virgil’s arm tightened around him

“We’re gonna make it work,” Virgil said and Patton took a deep breath.

“Yeah. We’re gonna do this.” 

They sat in silence, drinking in the comfort of the other's company for a long moment. Patton nuzzled into Virgil’s hold and wondered if they could just stay like this for the rest of the day. Time with his best friend always felt nice.

“We need to figure out how Deceit is manipulating them, and why,” Virgil broke the silence. Patton opened his eyes and stared at the puzzle on the table. 

“He pretended to be Logan,” Patton mused aloud. “Which would mean- mean- mean that he’s talking to them as each other?”

Virgil nodded in agreement.

“Maybe patching up damage the other did?” Patton continued, “Like when they don’t apologize to each other. Or- or- or maybe influencing the ideas they come up with?”

Virgil blinked.

“You think he’s messing with Roman’s next video idea?”

Patton shrugged and muttered darkly.

“Who knows what he’s doing. It’s not like he’s following any rules.”

Virgil’s fingers traced unknowable paths along his arm. They lapsed into silence again. Patton felt despair well up in his chest and he choked back a sob. They didn’t know enough and until they knew more, they couldn’t do anything to help. Tears pricked at the corners of his eyes and Patton pressed a hand to his mouth. He wanted to be sick. He wanted Deceit away from his family.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Virgil’s alarm didn’t help Patton’s feelings and he sobbed quietly. Virgil wrapped him into a hug, tucking Patton against his chest. His chin dug into Patton’s scalp and he rocked Patton back and forth. It helped a little. Patton dug his fingers into Virgil’s back.

“Why can’t he just leave us alone?” Patton wailed. He trembled in Virgil’s hold, a dark and ugly feeling building in his chest. “Why can’t he just stay away? He- he- he- he only makes things worse!”

“I know Pat, I know,” Virgil ran a hand through his hair and shushed him. “We’re not gonna let him this time. We’re gonna help Logan and Roman and Thomas like with the trial and the theater. We’re gonna keep them safe.” He pulled back to look Patton in the face. Patton sniffed and swiped at his face. He met Virgil’s eyes. “I promise,” Virgil said quietly, “It’s my job Patton, I’m going to keep each and every one of you safe, alright?”

Patton nodded miserably, wiping at his face again. Virgil’s thumb brushed against his cheek and Patton felt guilty about the miserable look in Virgil’s eyes. He put that there. He shook his head. No, Deceit put that there. This was Deceit’s fault.

“I trust you,” Patton said quietly.

“I trust you too Pat,” Virgil whispered. “More than anyone. Come on.” He tugged on Patton’s arm. “A warm shower will help, and then we’ll talk about what we can do.”

“We- we can keep an eye on both of them,” Patton offered. Virgil’s head tilted to the side as he thought about it. Patton took the chance to slip away from his hold and gather up the dishes from the table. Roman’s empty plate made his eyes water almost as much as Logan’s full one. Both so distant lately and Patton hated it. He missed the laughter that used to define breakfast.

“They’d notice if we suddenly started to follow them around,” Virgil chewed on his thumb, “Or worse, Deceit would notice and then he’d adjust his plans to account for that. We need to do this without any of the others finding out.”

Patton put the rest of the dishes in the sink and turned to frown at Virgil.

“We can’t tell them?”

Virgil shook his head again.

“Would they believe us?” Virgil asked bitterly. Patton wanted to say yes, every atom in his body screamed that they’d trust them and they could solve this together. His heart wanted to. His head reminded him of the look in Logan’s eyes when he pointed out that he thought Deceit had been right. Patton squeezed his eyes shut and tried to shake the image from his mind. “They want to get along Pat, and you know how they get when they want something.”

“They justify it anyway they can,” Patton whispered and opened his eyes to Virgil’s grimace.

“Yeah, and I really don’t want to find out if they would believe us and just not care.”

Patton felt a keen build in his throat at the thought.

“It’s not what Thomas would want,” Patton protested, “Thomas wants to be a good person. He doesn’t want to listen to Deceit.”

“Which is why we’ll catch him,” Virgil’s eyes darkened, brown turning almost black as he scowled. “Here’s what we’ll do. We give them space for the next week, let them relax, all three of them. And then we follow Roman. He’s the one that changed first. If we can figure out how Deceit got to him maybe we can figure out what he wants.”

Patton felt a frown twist his face, and his hands trembled.

“That sounds like a lie, Virgil.”

“Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire,” Virgil shot back. Patton chewed on the bottom of his lip and fiddled with his cat hoodie. More than anything, he wanted Logan’s cool logic to help smooth out the problem. It got hard when Logan was the problem but he wasn’t this time, right?

“Look,” Virgil reached out to tug his hands away from the sink and Patton followed willingly. Patton had hated the trial and the sick feeling that it had left him; this was so much worse. Virgil brushed another tear away from his face, “We can explain everything once it’s safe. They’ll understand. The ends justify the means, as Logan said once.”

Patton nodded slowly. He couldn’t remember when Logan had said that but he did remember Logan’s almost casual dismissal of morality when Deceit had been revealed to Thomas. The thought of the moment left a cold feeling in his chest, spreading out like roots of horror.

“Ok,” he whispered, his hands twisting in Virgil’s shirt. So bare without his hoodie, like seeing Virgil without his armor. “It’s only for a week right? It’s like- like a surprise party! We’ll- we’ll throw them a not so fun surprise party and then everything will be the way it's supposed to.”

“Yeah,” Virgil lead him out of the kitchen, shadows in his face that Patton thought they had finally banished. Patton clenched his jaw at the thought of Deceit bringing them back. No. They had worked too hard to help Virgil to let it end here. “Yeah, and then we’ll have a real party afterwards.”

“Yeah!” Patton took a deep breath and threw his hands in the air. It would be fine! He had Virgil and they had a plan! Not a Logan plan but still! He’d look on the positive side of this and hope that they’d all be closer after this adventure. “Let’s plan a real party for after all this is over! With balloons! And puppies and oh- oh- oh- oh we have to have cake!”

“Only if I get to shove Princey’s face in it,” Virgil said dryly and Patton gasped. He whacked Virgil’s arm lightly and delighted in the laugh that came spilling from Virgil's mouth. He grinned wide enough that his face hurt and slipped his fingers through Virgil’s own. 

“Cake is for eating!”

“Not all the time.”

Patton laughed and swung their hands back and forth. Together they could do anything. As a family they’d be unbeatable! Patton ignored the chill that ran down his arms. He felt as warm as he needed to be as long as he was with Virgil.

Chapter Text

Tony settled along Roman’s shoulders, his scales warming in the sun of the Imagination. He couldn’t confront Roman’s problem as a human quite yet, so he’d keep an eye on it as a snake. It doubled as letting him keep an eye out for Apathy. He didn’t think that the escapee knew how to get into the Imagination yet, but it could happen.

The easiest way in was Roman’s room, but someone who knew the Subconscious well enough could slip in from one of the borders. Tony wondered if Virgil had ever managed it back when he had that feud with Roman. The thought made him frown mentally.

Roman’s fingers scratching at his head snapped him from his thoughts and Tony melted into the feeling. He pressed up against Roman’s fingers and wondered if snakes could purr. He certainly felt like doing it. He could convince Apathy to stop his plans if he could bottle this feeling and throw it at the escapee’s face.

Or he could just throw a bottle at Apathy’s face and enjoy the sight of blood and glass shards running down Apathy’s face. Actually, that one sounded so much more appealing than sharing this feeling with anyone else. Tony could keep it all for himself that way; Remus would approve.

“What do you think, Tony?” Roman mused out loud. “Classic? We could go space pirates, or- or- oh! We could show you the dragon lands! I mean, technically Hecate is the only Dragon Witch that we have but we have other dragons. More scales than you can shake your tail at, you’d fit right in!”

Roman hummed and tilted his head to the side.

“Or maybe we could deal with some of the actual villains that have popped up lately,” Roman’s voice dropped at the sentence and Tony hissed. He tightened around Roman’s neck, not to bruise but in a silent reprimand. Roman shook his head and his fingers slid down from Tony’s head to stroke his coils. Tony relaxed. “No. No! You are right! Today is a day for adventure!”

Better. If this one actually went right, perhaps Roman could get a small boost to his confidence. It wouldn’t work as well as if Tony found a way to get the Main Sides to acknowledge what was wrong with Roman and help, but it would be a good start. God, he had to do everything around here.

“Come Tony the Brave-!” Tony snorted mentally at the title but watched from his perch on Roman’s shoulder as Roman strode through the forest. “-we shall head to the capital and see if there is any that need our help! We shall find a Quest worthy of our time!”

Roman whistled loud and clear and Tony hummed to himself. Lady would be there in a moment, handy mare that she was. Tony decided she could be his favorite. Any idiocy could be written off by the fact that she was horse, and any genius was thus even more impressive. Truly, someone Tony could predict and thus enjoy.

Tony wondered if all of Roman’s Quests were acts as they cantered past the village. Tony watched Anton wave in their direction and turned his head towards the skyscrapers on the horizon. The castle rose above them all impossibly, and Tony looked forward to see what marvels Roman had packed into that space. 

Witches flying around the same area as hover cars? Runes etched along every street corner where cars drove past? Carriages in the street passing by televisions in the windows? Tony didn’t have to wonder what the government was, at least he didn’t think he had to. Roman was a prince after all. It simply made Tony wonder who the king was.

“Hail and well met,” Remy’s voice called out as they approached the stone walls that covered the capital from Tony’s sight. Tony wanted to narrow his eyes at Remy as he tugged on his own horses reins to draw level with them. “Are you the Prince Roman that I have heard of? That is to say, of course you are.”

“Remy!” Roman whined and Remy snickered. Remy shrugged and dropped his reins. His horse kept stride with Lady anyways. He shoved his hand into jacket and stared at Roman. Or perhaps he stared at Tony and Tony couldn’t tell with the sunglasses.

“Chill, girl,” Remy soothed, “Nate’s gonna be along for the ride, and that bitch, like, knows how to play, as you know.” The drink he sipped from appeared from nowhere. “Toby may pop up, like, whack a mole. He’s, like, super-excited about this one. Nerd. And my fave hoe is gonna be holed up in her cave sulking for the next month or so. It’s chill.”

“Hecate’s not joining?”

Remy’s head tilted to the side and Tony eyed Roman. He could get them to bring Hecate along if Roman really wanted it. All it would take was a semi-threatening move and the Constructs would go running to make sure their strongest would be around to keep Roman safe.

“She’s, like, taking a chill pill. Like you should. I think she’s gonna, like, hibernate for the next week after the fight she had. You know.” Remy waved a hand, “Like-”

“Like you think I should,” Roman finished dryly. “Thank you for the input, Remy.”

“Just makin’ sure you like, know, Daddy-o.”

“Message received!” Roman made a clicking noise and poked his finger at empty air. Ah, like he was selecting something on a computer. “Ignored! Aaaaand-” Roman dragged his finger through the air and then dropped it with a scowled. “Deleted.”

“Wow, bitch much?”

“I am the drama queen,” Roman urged Lady through the gates looming over them. 

Tony’s head craned back to make out as much of the carved stones he could. The statues in front of it were clearly Thomas in the classic superhero poses, head turned up towards the sun even as he crouched. The heart and brain along the arch way made Tony suspect that Roman had the other’s logos carved into it.

Whatever Remy said next got lost in the sudden rush of noise. Tony felt his jaw drop and his eyes swept over the city, trying to keep track of everything. Honestly, he hadn’t known that Thomas had this many Constructs in his Imagination. A horse neighed as they passed it, and a swarm of fairies flew overhead chattering and carrying what looked like a postal bag.

Tony watched as one of the glass walls above them swung open, and the figure exiting floors above them stepped out into the air. Their foot landed on what looked like a ramp that appeared the moment that their foot landed. Even from this distance, Tony could see the joy they felt as they slid down to the ground. 

They weaved their way through the crowd of people; Tony watched humans and fantasy creatures alike hurry through the crowd. A carriage rattled past as a group of teens on hover bikes sped overhead with loud laughter. Tony could recognize some of the other creatures, elves, dwarves, what looked like half-dragons. Others weren’t so easy to place with messes of bright pink tentacles and what Tony thought was the body of a dog?

He didn’t get it.

“Travelers!” Tony didn’t know how the voice reached them over the din, but Roman and Remy both turned at the call. “Travelers wait!”

Tony eyed the young man that raced towards them. He bent over with his hands on his knees as he caught his breath and Tony hissed quietly. The boy didn’t feel like Apathy, but there were ways to hide. The boy looked up at them with a bright grin, and bounced on the balls of his feet. 

“The royal family is gathering travelers at the castle, sirs!” The boy pointed towards the towering structure. “I’ve been sent out to spread the word to all who wish for a chance of wealth.”

Roman reached out to ruffle the boy’s hair, and the way that the boy’s face lit up made Tony wonder if it was because it was Roman doing the ruffling. Here at least Roman was adored. Almost universally. Yet Roman couldn’t see it, probably thought it was from some sense of duty and Tony wanted to shake him at the thought. Even Tony could feel the way that the Imagination loved Roman, the way that it curled around Roman without a second thought.

Creativity helped this section of the mind thrive, that alone would have earned Roman gratitude. Roman watered the garden and then admired the beauty. That was what earned him the love. The fact that Roman appreciated each and every creation in turn. The excited way that Roman talked about each setting and each character only made the place and it inhabitants love him even more.

It made Tony wonder about Remus. About the destruction he wrought on the other side of the Wall. Tentacles and thorns and a smokey landscape with eyeballs that flew through the sky. Destruction led to creation, perhaps the Imagination loved him simply in a different way.

“And so our Quest begins!” Roman nudged Lady towards the castle. 

“Joy,” Remy said flatly, “I can’t wait to, like, see what Nate has cooked up.”

“Nate’s in charge this time?” Roman perked up and Tony wondered if he had met this Nate before. “And he’s coming along anyways?”

Remy rolled his eyes.

“Of course he is,” Remy sipped his drink and Tony noticed that he had never picked his horses reins back up. Well then. “Gurl wouldn’t, like, miss any chance to spend time with you. Not to mention that he, like, wants to double check everything he set up. Make sure no bitch gets, like, hurt along the way or sumthin.”

“Unlike you or Hecate,” Roman mused with a twinkle in his eyes, “Who just let things happen to see where it leads.”

Roman winced as Remy’s fist collided with his arm. The people around them seemed to brighten as Roman’s laughter filled the air. 

“You’re one to talk, Daddy-o,” Remy waved his drink in Roman’s direction, “You, like, want to do everything.”

“That’s because just about everything's worth doing!” Roman urged Lady forward even faster and she let out a happy nicker. Tony rolled his eyes at the enthusiasm that both of them displayed. He looked up and met Remy’s equally exasperated face. Realization that he agreed with Remy set in and both their heads snapped away from each other.

“Whatever,” Remy muttered.

Tony lost Roman’s reply as he stared up at the looming castle above them. He really needed to figure out his way around the place if he was going to keep Roman safe from Apathy. An assassination from the crowd would be possible if Apathy managed to hide himself from the Constructs. Tony doubted it, but it would be good to be prepared. Not to mention that knowing his own way around would only help later on.

That, and he’d stop losing track of the conversation because he was too busy staring at the ingenious architecture around him. He didn’t know if any of it was realistically possible but the stone castle certainly fit as the capital of the Imagination. Knowing Roman, there was at least on rocket landing pad in the sprawling mess of a building somewhere. Perhaps Tony would get to see it one day. But the red shingles caught the sunlight and glittered like scales, like Hecate's scales. 

The castle grounds weren’t as busy as the city proper, but Tony could still get lost in the mess of bodies running back and forth. Looking closer, Tony realized with a start that most of them didn’t have actual faces. The vague impressions of them, but no details, no actual eyes or nose or mouth. He reared back hard enough to bump up against Roman’s face and then flailed for a moment, struggling for balance.

“Tony?!”

Roman’s hand pressed against his head and Tony curled around Roman, hissing at the nearest Construct. The Construct blinked and took a step back. Roman’s hand pressed even more against him, pushing him away from the Construct as Roman slid off of Lady’s saddle. He gave Lady a gentle pat before nodding towards the gateway.

“Come on,” Roman stroked Tony’s head, “Maybe getting out of the crowd will help.” 

Tony watched the other Constructs, his head turning to follow them until the large doors to the castle shut with a bang. They stood in the empty hallway. Tony relaxed a bit, glancing around for anyone else.

“There,” Roman cooed, “Isn’t that better?”

Tony hissed his disagreement.

“I don’t think, like, that was the problem,” Remy translated. Tony twitched. On one hand, someone understanding him could be beneficial. On the other, it was Remy. The day Tony felt grateful to Remy for something was the day he gave up on being a villain. “You haven’t taken him like, to see any of the actual cities yet, right?”

“Right!” Roman nodded and slipped Tony off his shoulders into his arms. He pulled Tony close to his chest and spun in a circle. “The marvelous first time of wonder! He can stare at all we’ve accomplished with awe! He can-”

“Get, like, totally freaked by the fact that some of us don’t have faces or personality?” Remy prompted.

Roman froze.

“Oh,” Roman said quietly, shrinking in on himself. Tony hissed and bumped his nose against Roman’s collarbone. No sadness. Not when it could lead to something even worse. Roman couldn’t Unravel more than he already had. “But that’s just how you all start out!”

“Humanoid ones at least,” Remy muttered. Roman flapped a hand in his direction.

“My point still stands! I just-” he shrugged, “Never thought about the fact that it could be weird. It isn’t weird, it’s just how you work.”

“Which is why, like, we all love you,” Remy pointed out. Roman waved that off too. Tony rolled his eyes and glared at Roman. If he took everything in stride to the point where he forgot to tell Tony anything, he could at least take others’ affection in stride too.

“That! Is completely different and you know it!”

Tony didn't catch what Remy muttered but he could guess it was a disagreement. Remy rolled his eyes and threw his empty cup over his shoulder. It never hit the ground. Tony wondered if it disappeared or if someone caught it. Footsteps neared them and Tony’s head snapped to the other end of the hallway. Another Construct that looked just like Thomas made their way towards them. Something about them felt familiar.

“Whatever,” Remy said louder, “Let’s, like, get this over with so I can go back to yeeting Hecate’s idea of being a good video game player out of the world.”

“You’d have to beat her first,” a slow familiar voice and Tony’s jaw snapped shut. The Construct that had let him leave the Imagination came to a stop next to them all. “Which.”

Remy’s grin grew.

“I know you’re gonna finish that sentence if I, like, give you time, girl,” Remy butt in, “But I’m not gonna because we all know it’s a dirty filthy lie. You just like her better than me.”

“Nate!” Roman threw himself forward and Tony swallowed a surprised hiss. Roman latched on to the Construct and hauled him into the air spinning him around with a laugh. “It’s been forever! Too long! I thought I would die if I didn’t see you again!”

Nate chuckled and Tony stiffened as his eyes lingered on him in a way that the other Constructs had long stopped doing. The heavy weight of Nate’s eyes lifted as Nate tapped Roman’s arms.

“It’s chill, man.” Nate smile at them, a slow lopsided grin that took a minute to grow on his face. Slow motion seemed to pervade everything he did. “You ready for an adventure?”

“Am I?!”

Tony rolled his eyes as Roman bounced on the balls of his feet, dragging Remy and Nate into a half hug each. Tony could feel the way they all scrunched up into the hold and sighed. Another adventure. Oh joy. At least he knew that this one had a better chance of going the way it had been planned.

He hoped.

Chapter Text

Tony only listened with half an ear as Nate explained what their Quest was, his eyes trained on the shrinking capital behind them. He would have liked to explore it more. Maybe one day. Today they had a series of three tasks to complete to break an evil mirror that had taken over the kingdom, somehow. Tony resolved not to question it. That lay the way of madness. Madness and Logan.

He flinched when Roman tugged him off his shoulders. Trust meant that he had felt safe in tuning out what Roman said as he thought, and as he was handed off to Remy, Tony regretted that choice. He could trust Roman. He couldn’t trust the other two.

“Then it’s agreed!” Roman all but bounced in Lady’s saddle, his energy reflected in the way that she started to prance in place. “Nate and I shall search out for the second task while Remy and Tony take care of the first!” 

“Joy,” Remy said and Roman pointed a finger at both of them.

“No cheating!” Roman tugged on Lady’s reins. “We’ll meet up at the location of the third puzzle! Come, Nate! We shall show that we can complete our task faster than they can!”

“If you say so,” Nate agreed mildly. Roman urged Lady into a canter. Nate glanced over his shoulder at them and Tony hissed. Nate’s lips quirked up and he nodded at Remy. Tony took offence to the fact that they had clearly planned something while he wasn’t paying attention. That was his job, thank you very much.

Nate turned back to Roman and didn’t urge his horse faster at all. Tony wondered at the comedy act that all of them made as Roman started to yell for Nate to get a move on. Apathy wouldn’t have to kill any of them, they’d just get themselves killed in creative and embarrassing ways instead. Tony hissed softly as Nate and Roman finally disappeared from view.

“So,” Remy said, something dangerous in his casual tone, “If I ask to talk to you today, are you gonna, like, pitch another hissy fit or what?”

Tony hissed at him. He had practically asked for it anyways. Remy scoffed and dropped him on the front of the saddle. Remy rolled his eyes and Tony wanted to snap that he returned the sentiment. He took a deep breath and stared out over the head of Remy’s horse. No.

No, he wouldn’t fall into the same trap that Logan and Roman did.

They could work together to keep Roman safe; it was what they both wanted. Tony would set his anger aside for that, but that didn’t mean they had to be friends. Tony didn’t have to talk to him at all in order to work with Remy.

The saddle disappeared beneath him, and Tony let out the closest thing to a yelp he could as he fell to the ground. He hit the ground with a muted thump and he shook the brief stars out of his eyes. He glared up at Remy. Remy leaned against the front of his saddle with a smug smirk.

“Oh no,” Remy sad, too much amusement in his voice, “Looks like you’ll be left behind.” Remy’s horse walked forward and Tony hissed at him darkly. Now that was cheating and Roman had said no cheating. Tony tried hard not to feel amused at an action that he would have pulled should they have been in the other’s place.

He knew what Remy wanted. He could get what he wanted without giving Remy what he wanted in turn. He had long mastered this sort of game.

Tony let out a low whine and shook his mane at the stunned look on Remy’s face. He stomped his hooves against the ground and trotted past Remy’s horse. He tossed Remy a smug look as he overtook Remy. His ears flicked back towards Remy at the scoff Remy made and he nickered his amusement. 

“Oh, you wanna play? We can play bitch,” Remy called and Tony broke out into a gallop. He had no idea where they were going but he had a feeling that neither did Remy. He could catch Remy’s snickers as his horse caught up and Tony strained to keep up the pace. The next shift happened with only half a thought.

Remy growled at him, and Tony growled back, showing off his new teeth. His lean muscles pushed him easily next to the horse. A cheetah could easily out strip the stallion that Remy rode. Tony let out a barking sort of laugh at the disgruntled expression that crossed Remy’s face. Disgruntlement turned to horror.

Tony's head snapped forward. Remy yanked on his reins and Tony scrambled to pull himself to a stop. The cliff in front of them that neither of them had been paying attention to loomed close. Paying attention to the road apparently applied even when Tony wasn’t driving. Who would have thought.

Tony’s claws dug into the ground and he whined at how close to the edge he came. He snapped out as Remy and his horse careened over the edge. His teeth dug into Remy’s jacket and he yanked Remy back as fast as he could. Remy’s hand snapped out and he squeezed his eyes shut. The horse disappeared just like his cup had. No sickening thump as it hit the bottom.

Tony stared at the edge in horror.

“Oh come off,” Remy muttered, tugging at his jacket, “It wasn’t, like, alive like Lady is. It didn’t have a thought outside of, like, being a really obedient horse. Like the faceless Constructs. There to fill in space.”

Tony growled and dropped Remy. Remy hit the ground with a thump and a groan. Revenge was sweet. Remy rolled over to his back and stared up at the sky. Tony rolled his eyes and stretched his legs and paws. He wanted to get moving but it didn’t look like Remy was going to be moving anytime soon.

Remy hummed to himself. 

“We got time, bitch, keep your hoes on,” Remy waved a hand lazily through the air before letting it drop to the ground. “Nate’s gonna, like, take forever just to keep up with Roman. Gloriously slow bastard. Roman’s too nice to leave him behind.”

Great. That just meant more time for Remy to try and grill him. The only question Tony would answer, were ones coming from Roman’s mouth. He growled and found a different option. He bent down and gripped Remy’s jacket with his teeth again. Remy flinched at the contact and Tony ignored it. He narrowed his eyes and then picked Remy up like an errant kitten.

He glared at the trees in front of him, trying to get the hang of walking with Remy dangling from his mouth.

“Oh wow.” Tony ignored Remy’s voice. “I didn’t know you could, like, balloon yourself like this. Does your new size extend to your dick t-” Tony took great relish in dropping Remy again. He roared and Remy rolled his eyes. “I get it, I get it, no dick jokes.” Tony picked him back up again just in time to hear Remy mutter under his breath. “Prude.”

Tony shook him. Not hard enough to injure but enough to rattle Remy. There was an advantage to being bigger than before. He huffed as silence finally fell and started back towards the path they had been following. He could get along with Remy but the bastard just made it so hard to.

“So, uh,” Remy said. Tony’s eyes darted downwards before back up. Damned man had another drink. “I feel like I should warn you and like, be responsible and shit. Or maybe just laugh at your expression but like, you do know that this is where Roman likes to face the Impossibly Big Bears right? Caps included.”

Tony blinked. A growling filled the air. It wasn’t him. Tony hated everything about his life that had brought him to this point. He could feel the way Remy’s jacket shifted as he shrugged and took another long sip of his drink.

“Just you know, like, so you can know.”

Tony’s eyes darted around the forest. The growling grew louder and several tree branches snapped to his left. Impossibly Big Bears. Tony closed his eyes and prayed for strength. Of course Roman couldn’t have just bears, no, he had to have something that would be easily defeated if Tony shifted to a dragon but Roman would definitely notice that and come running. So much for his cover.

He had moments before the Bear found them. Tony shifted, feeling his bone protest the fact that he had done so again. Four times in ten minutes was pushing it but he ignored the feeling. He ignored the way Remy’s eyes widened behind his sunglasses and shoved Remy into the shadow of the nearest tree. They weren’t as large as he would have liked for this trick, but they’d work.

“Don’t move,” Tony hissed. He yanked his hat off his head and glared down at it. His cape worked better, but it took longer to imbue with the Belief that he needed. He let out a slow breath and ghosted his hand over the brim of his hat. He dressed for the aesthetic yes. He dressed as a form of armor against the others; nothing showing meant nothing they could read  or bond with. 

He also dressed for this very reason.

He pushed Belief into his hat, a very specific Belief. 

You can’t see me.

It wasn’t perfect but it would do. Tony shoved his hat onto Remy’s head and ignored the squawk of protest that came from Remy in turn. Remy being out of the way would keep him safer than Tony trying to juggle him in the middle of combat. If they both hid, the Bear would find them through scent or something like that. 

“Don’t. Move.” Tony repeated again and nodded sharply at Remy. He turned on his heels before Remy could protest and shifted again. 

Impossibly Big Bears sounded like bears but bigger. And probably aggressive because Roman was Like That. Tony groaned internally at the thought. He blinked and the ground fell away from him. He dug his new claws into the ground. He flapped his wings a couple of times as he caught sight of the Bear stumbling in their direction. He needed big but not bigger. Speed would be his advantage.

A caw left his throat as he took to the air. Griffins could beat a bear. He just didn’t know if they could beat an Impposibl- Fuck that, he was going to call them IBBs. Easier and faster. He needed to direct the IBB away from Remy, and then either kill it or drive it away.

Simple unless Roman gave them fire breathing or something equally ridiculous.

Tony threw himself into the air and at the IBB’s face. He met its eyes and snarled as it roared. He dove to the right as one of its huge paws rose into the air and smashed back down. It didn’t tower over the trees, but its head brushed up against the tops of them. Of course Roman came up with something large and dangerous and still couldn’t be seen coming from a mile away. Tony didn’t want to find out if it could discorporate either of them.

He narrowed his eyes and drew in close. He flexed his talons and reached out. The IBB’s thick fur took a moment to get through to rake his talons across the flesh beneath before he snapped his wings out and flew up even higher. The roar that echoed from the IBB shook the trees and Tony’s eyes darted to where Remy was. Nothing so far; they were safe.

The IBB turned in the direction that Tony scratched, huge paw coming up to swipe at him again. Tony cawed his challenge and darted through the air as it lumbered after him. He wobbled at the breeze the IBB created but held steady. He shook his head and focused. He knew what he had to do. He darted forwards and swiped at the IBB with his talons again, this time near the head rather than the side.

He jerked back as the IBB snapped at him. White teeth glittered in the sunlight. Tony growled right back at it. They had enough problems without having to deal with a fucking stupid bear. He flew back and hovered in the air. All he needed was to draw it a few more steps forward. The large eyes stayed locked on him, angry as they were. Good. It wouldn't notice until too late.

“Tony!” Tony’s head snapped in Remy’s direction. He could barely make out the way that Remy waved and pointed at him. He blinked, trying to figure out what Remy wanted-

The paw slammed into him and sent him into the trees. He screamed as his wing snapped against a particularly large branch and Tony scrambled to hold on instead of falling. His talons dug into the bark. Pain screamed along his side and his wings. He shook his head, trying to clear the spots.

He let go, dropping another few feet as the IBB took off the top of the tree. Tony scrambled to reach the ground and safety. The roaring mixed with the ringing in his head. Well, if Roman wasn’t heading their way before, he certainly was now. Tony wondered if he should be grateful or resigned to that fact.

At least he wouldn’t be stuck alone with Remy and his interrogation anymore.

He winced as his talons and paws hit the ground. He staggered and ignored the blood that dripped from his side. He must have gotten caught by one of the IBB’s claws. Either that or the tree had been sturdier than he thought. Tony stumbled forward. He had to keep Roman safe. He had to keep Remy safe so Roman could be safe.

He blinked and the IBB disappeared. Invisibility? Teleportation? What the fuck had Roman given-

“Well that got, like, way out of hand,” Remy muttered as he strode over. Oh, right. Tony blinked slowly as Remy frowned. Remy could do that, right. Probably would have been smarter to get him to do that in the first place.

“Didn’t think you’d, like, pull a Roman and charge the damn thing,” Remy reached out and pushed Tony’s flank until he thumped down into a sitting position. It didn’t help with the way the world spun. “You even had the fucking gall to shove me out of the way first too. Bitch. Only Roman gets to, like, do that.”

Tony let out a slow breath. The pain of the broken wing disappeared when the wing did, though he knew he’d have a spectacular bruise along his back for the next week or so. His hand pressed against the cut along his waist and he glared up at Remy.

“My hat,” he said flatly. “I would like it back now.”

“Of course you fucking do,” Remy rolled his eyes and tossed it back at him. “What you, like, do to it anyways? Not to mention that, like, I thought you’d do it to yourself as well.”

“Fuck you too,” Tony shot back, and bit his lower lip to keep the groan of pain internal as he reached forward to grab his hat. “You must have gotten all of Roman’s idiocy if you thought getting attacked by a bear was a good idea to get me to talk.”

Remy shrugged and sat down next to him. Fucking bastard. Remy smirked and crossed his legs. He propped his chin on his hands and smirked.

“Worked, didn’t it?”

“I hate you.”

“No you don’t!” Remy looked way too pleased about the fact and Tony hissed at him. Remy reached out to pat his thigh and Tony would have pulled away from the touch except movement hurt. He felt like one large bruise. “You, you glorious bitch, are the world’s secret softie. You like finally made up your mind to care and now you’re gonna like bitch about it forever, you mother hen.”

“Will not,” Tony hissed.

“Will too,” Remy sing-songed, “Mr. Don’t move so you stay safe as I throw myself into danger. Honestly. You’re like the unholy offspring of Roman and Hecate. You, my good hoe, have made my entire life a million times more hilarious.”

“Well if that’s the way you’re going be,” Tony narrowed his eyes at Remy and bared his teeth, “If I care so much then you wouldn’t mind telling me what the fuck is wrong with Roman.”

The humor fled from Remy’s eyes so fast that Tony wasn’t sure if he wanted to punch something or laugh. Then again, if he started laughing now he wasn’t sure he was going to stop. Hysteria did that.

“Nothing’s wrong,” Remy said flatly.

“He’s unraveling, you imbecilic joker,” Tony hissed back, “He can’t hold his physical form together anymore. That’s not nothing.”

Remy didn’t say anything. The silence hung between the two of them and Tony let out a slow breath. He closed his eyes and tried to rein in his anger. Honestly. Everyone he worked with was so blind. Why couldn’t the see anything going on around them?

“What would happen?” Remy asked quietly, “If he did unravel? I thought, like, as long as I’m fine…”

Remy trailed off at Tony’s glare. 

“This,” Tony hissed, “Is why it’s not recommended to stick your core in something alive.” Remy flinched and Tony ignored it. “Thomas’ Creativity isn’t dying. The core you house is fine. It’s Roman that’s in danger. If he can’t reflect the aspect that he’s supposed to, Thomas’ mind will no longer have a use for him. It’s just shedding excess at that point.”

Remy’s hands clenched into fists and Tony pushed ruthlessly forward.

You’ll be fine. And I imagine that the Imagination will continue on without him just fine. But Roman will fall apart, and he won’t be put back together. Thomas’ Creativity will be directed automatically, or who knows, maybe we’ll get a new one that we’ll have to break into everything he has to do. Maybe it will even be you since you have the core-”

The slap echoed through the woods. A few of the remaining birds around them took to the air. Tony’s cheek stung but he turned his eyes back to Remy. Remy’s chest heaved but Tony stared at him without pity.

“Shut up,” Remy whispered, “Stop- stop- stop-”

“What?” Tony asked flatly, “Acting like I don’t care? Like it won’t matter if it happens?” He sneered, “It won’t . Thomas’ mind will push on like it always has. Adapt and overcome.” Remy flinched again, curling into himself. “The only ones it will affect will be the ones who cared about Roman.”

“So not you,” Remy tried to snap back, but Tony could hear how weak it sounded.

“Oh, fuck you,” Tony shot back, “You don’t get to pull an act like this to make me admit I care and then change your mind the moment you hear something you don’t like. You can’t ignore reality to make it better.”

Remy let out a painful sounding laugh.

“Is that how you seduce all your hoes?”

“Lying to others can be beneficial,” Tony shrugged and flinched at the pain that raced up his side at the action. “Lying to yourself only gives them a weakness to exploit.” He raised an eyebrow in Remy’s direction. “The question is then, Remy, Sleep-”

Tony met Remy’s eyes and tilted his chin up in defiance.

“What are you going to do to change reality?”

Chapter Text

Roman felt lighter than he had in a while. He hummed under his breath as he rocked back and forth in his saddle. Nate had fallen behind again and impatience snapped at Roman’s heels. He only had so much time left. He struggled to ignore it. He only had so much time left, which is why he wanted to savor what he could with his friends. 

He glanced over his shoulder to gauge how far back Nate was and deemed it far enough. He rolled up his left sleeve and stared down at the mess of his arm. He could see Lady’s saddle through it. Little bits of static jumped back and forth in the empty space. It felt distant and empty, like it wasn’t really there to begin with.

Roman closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Out of all the options of what could happen to him, at least it was the one that would affect Thomas the least. Roman shoved his sleeve back down as he heard Nate’s horse trot up to Lady and he plastered a grin on his face.

“We can take a break,” Nate said idly, and Roman felt his grin slid off his face. Of course Nate saw through him. Roman shrugged with one shoulder and looked away. He watched Nate reach out in the corner of his eye. Slowly, carefully and deliberately. Like everything that Nate did. Nate pressed a hand to his shoulder. “Or we can go back. We don’t have to do this alone.”

Roman whined in the back of his throat. 

“I want them to get along though!”

Nate shrugged.

“You can’t rush things.”

“You say that about everything!” Roman turned to point a finger at his chest. “If you had your fiendish ways we’d take a nap everyday instead of adventuring!”

“That does sound nice,” Nate agreed with a nod, mischief twinkling in his eyes. Roman threw his hands into the air and muttered under his breath about friends that did nothing but torture him. “Toby said no though. Remy agreed with him.”

“Of course they did,” Roman said fondly, his hands dropping back to his side. “I doubt you’d do anything without them.”

“Or you,” Nate added casually. “So might as well get the others.”

“Oh alright,” Roman’s lips twitched into a sincere grin this time and Nate matched him with one of his own, “You win you Superman, let’s go back to the others so we can meet up with Toby as a group.” He shoved at Nate’s arm and relished in the slow chuckle it drew out, “Curse you for looking out for us.”

Lady nickered her agreement and swung around to face the way they had come. Roman hummed under his breath and wondered if Remy and Tony had managed to get anything done. He kinda doubted it. Remy wasn’t one for effort and Tony couldn’t do much as a snake. He could see about doing something about that, an exoskeleton maybe? He’d have to check with Tony first.

Nate’s soft humming joined his own and Roman’s heart soared. He had at least one thing in his life he hadn’t completely failed. He owed them all so much. Roman soaked in Nate’s presence as they meandered through the forest. 

“-now that’s like cheating,” Remy’s voice brought an even wider grin to Roman’s face as they drew close. “Listen bastard you don’t get to like, hide away like that on me when-” Remy’s head snapped up as they broke into the small clearing and Roman blinked. “Oh,” Remy muttered, holding Tony awkwardly in his hands. 

Tony hissed and Roman felt his surprise grow as Tony wrapped himself around Remy’s waist under his jacket and laid his head on Remy’s shoulder.

“Bastard,” Remy repeated. The fond tone he said it with sounded familiar and it took Roman a moment to place it as the tone that Remy talked about Nate and Toby and Hecate with. Remy shrugged and stood up, brushing off his pants. “The prince has finally come to rescue us.”

“What happened?!” Roman asked, noting the lack of horse and the bandage wrapped around Tony’s coils.

“Oh you know,” Remy waved a hand through the air, “Had a, like, party with an Ibby, fun times all around.”

“Nice,” Nate chimed in as Roman felt his eyes widened. 

“You fought an Incredibly Big Bear?!”

“God no,” Remy said, “I, like, snapped my fingers to make it gone. Like hell I was gonna put that much effort into, like, anything. Caught us by surprise was all. We’re fine, gurl, deep breaths.”

Roman swallowed thickly and tried not to think about Remy and Tony staring down one of his Bears. They were fun when he was alone, but thinking about one of his friends against one sent a shiver down his spine. They weren't the most dangerous thing in the Imagination, and Remy and Tony had helped against the Self-doubt and Nightmare which were infinitely worse, but still!

“Lost the horse over the cliff,” Remy mused and Roman tried not to think about how that happened, “Think you could, like, whip is up another ride?”

“I don't know,” Roman said lightly, “Are you going to wreck this one too? It’s like giving a teenager a phone or a car. You never show that you’re responsible with it, so maybe I shouldn’t.”

“Ah, see that doesn’t work with me, Daddy-o,” a smile played along Remy’s lips and Tony let out a light hissing noise that sounded like laughter. Roman wanted to know when they had gotten to that point. Then again, life and death situations made bonding possible between anyone! “Cause I don’t, like, care enough. You don’t give me one and I’ll just, like, take a nice nap here. Nate, gurl, you are more than welcome to join.”

“I mean-”

“No!” Roman cut Nate off and pouted at the laughter that filled the clearing. He crossed his arms and tried not to feel too jealous at the easy way that Tony nudged at Remy’s jaw. Tony could spend time with whoever he wanted to. “We’re going on this adventure, and that’s that!”

“Would be a shame if all that work went to nothing,” Nate agreed easily.

“You’d agree like, to anything Nate,” Remy said, striding over to hem. He held his hand out and Roman blinked. “Come on, gurl,” Remy grinned at him, “We all know that like, he likes you better.”

Tony slide up Remy’s arm and tilted his head. Roman’s irritation eased and he reached out for Tony. Tony’s eyes brightened. Roman giggled at the feeling of Tony’s scales against his skin as Tony took his place along Roman’s shoulders. The weight a comfort after so long without it.

Remy waggled his eyebrows and sauntered over to Nate.

“Nate, my good bitch, you wanna give this glorious ass a ride?”

“Alright,” Nate agreed easily and offered a hand to Remy. Remy clambered up onto Nate’s horse, settling in behind him. Roman rolled his eyes at the way Remy wrapped his arms around Nate’s waist and hooked his chin over Nate’s shoulder. 

“I knew you were, like, my favorite for a reason.”

“Thanks,” Nate agreed easily, “Don’t let Toby hear you talk like that.”

“Awwww, hoe loves me, doesn’t he?”

“Just about everyone loves you.”

“Sweet talker.” Remy waggled his eyebrows in Roman’s direction again. 

Roman rolled his eyes and tried to comfort in the fact that Remy would clearly be fine after he was gone. They’d all be fine. He didn’t know how to feel about that. It stung against his already broken heart but knowing that he wouldn’t hurt the people he cared about even more settled around the ache like a cool balm.

Tony hissed in his ear, snapping him from his spiraling thoughts. Roman reached up to scratch just behind Tony’s eye ridge but Tony ducked away from the touch. He bumped up against Roman’s cheek and hissed again. He wasn’t human, but Roman could hear the indignation that Tony managed to wrap into the sound anyways.

“Alright, alright,” he agreed with a quiet laugh, “No bad thoughts when with friends.”

“Damn straight.”

Roman startled and glanced back at Remy and Nate. Remy frowned heavily at him, but it was Nate’s soft compassion that made Roman look away. He cleared his throat and gripped Lady’s reins tightly. He wasn't fine, but he could pretend to be at least. He needed to. He couldn’t let the other Sides know what had happened to him.

Deceit knowing was bad enough.

He swallowed thickly. 

“Well!” Roman said loudly, his voice a pitch too high even to his own ears. “The gang’s almost all here! Might as well go find Toby and start the Quest from there.” He scowled at both of them as they grinned. Tony had the nerve to hiss his agreement.

“A pox on you all,” Roman muttered, turning Lady in the direction of the nearest town. He bet Toby waited to meet up with them there. Of course, Toby probably expected to only help them out with the last task and not all of them. Roman tried to ignore the pang of hesitance around his heart at that thought. Toby wouldn’t judge him for that. He wouldn’t.

“You know you love us!” Remy singsonged.

“Love you too,” Nate said, and Roman’s scowl deepened. He turned away from them and looked down at Tony instead. The snake stared back at him. 

“You’re my new favorite,” he declared loudly, “At least you don’t talk back at me.”

Tony rolled his eyes and Roman scoffed in disbelief. Even Tony had turned against him! He bit down on his bottom lip and narrowed his eyes.

“Fine then! Lady will be my new favorite! I don’t need any of you!”

Lady tossed her mane helpfully. Tony hissed and Remy scoffed. Roman smirked at both of them, patting Lady’s neck. She nickered at the affection, and Roman noted the way that Tony glared down at her. He couldn’t help the small giggle that escaped from his throat. Tony could pretend all he wanted that he was above things like this but Roman still remembered their first day together.

Tony wanted to be around him and that meant more than anything Roman could say.

“Lady is a good favorite,” Nate agreed.

“Nate!” Remy hissed, “Don’t agree with that!”

“I agree with everything,” Nate reminded him, glancing at Roman. Roman’s giggles turned into full blown laughter at the mischief in them.

“You, my good sir,” Roman managed to gasp out, “Truly are the coolest among us.”

Nate nodded his head in agreement. Remy scowled at them. Tony hissed his laughter and Roman decided that today was a good day. The tension in his shoulders relaxed, and Roman could feel the way that Tony relaxed in turn. This time when Roman reached up to give his scales a scratch, Tony leaned into the feeling. Roman smiled softly as Nate and Remy bickered in the background. Or well, Remy bickered and Nate let it roll off him as he always did.

Roman tilted his head back to feel the sunlight against his face. Yeah, today was a good day. Happiness beat in his chest, covering the failures that never left. The only thing that would make it better would be if he could spend time with his family as well. Roman let his eyes slip shut; Lady could guide them to the town herself. Patton’s laughter and Logan’s smile and Virgil’s voice. The only things that could make an already good day perfect.

Even with the tension between them all. They’d get over it, they always did. Some way or another it always worked out. Because they were good. The good guys always won.

“Huh,” Remy commented quietly, looking around them, “Toby would normally, you know, drop in by this point.”

Nate tilted his head to the side and frowned. Roman glanced around as well, noting the lack of bird songs. He could write it off as a result of the Incredibly Big Bear’s attack but even that, thinking about it now, had been weird. Nate wouldn’t have put something like that into his Quest. He preferred either a quiet puzzle Quest, or the large explosions and actions of their superhero based ones.

Roman pulled Lady to a stop and frowned at the forest around them. 

“He would, wouldn’t he?” Roman murmured to himself. Tony nudged him gently. Roman appreciated the gesture but he didn’t relax. “Nothing’s breached the border lately, and even if he was told to stay at the village he just loves getting into things.” Roman narrowed his eyes and tapped his fingers against the reins. “We’ve had a number of villains popping up lately haven’t we?”

Tension slammed into the group.

“Things normally don’t, like, get that dark here,” Remy tried to point out darkly.

“Normally,” Nate said softly. He met Roman’s eyes. Nate glanced at Tony and then back up at him. “But things haven’t been normal lately.”

“No,” Roman agreed slowly, “No, they haven’t.” He thought about Deceit’s words about Apathy and how the Side had seemed strangely strong. Tony stayed silent, watching them all carefully. Roman gave him a soft pat and nodded to himself.

“It could be nothing,” Roman allowed, even if he didn’t really believe it.

A branch cracked. They all jumped. Tony hissed darkly as their heads whipped around to stare in the direction the sound had come from. Nothing. Roman just started to relax when the twang of a bowstring reached his ears.

“Down!” he shouted and urged Lady forward. He ducked close to her neck, hearing the air whistle as arrows flew overhead. Remy’s surprised yelp drew a wince from Roman. Tony nudged at him and Roman turned his head in the direction that Tony pointed with his head. It was adorable. Roman tried really hard not to be distracted by the action.

His eyes narrowed at the shadows moving in the bushes. Villains. Real villains, not the ones that Roman acted and bonded with. Real, actual villains. They lurked at the edges of his towns and the Imagination itself. Some of them had teamed up with Nightmares at one point or another and had to be put down. Permanently.

Roman scowled, as much as he would have liked it if every part of Thomas’ Imagination could be good and light at heart. Unfortunately, as Deceit would have pointed out, Thomas wasn’t the picture perfect image of morality and happiness. Those dark spots had to go somewhere. Roman just made sure to direct them to the villains. Villains and the more twisted dangerous parts of the Imagination.

Well, then. Time to do some spring cleaning. It would line up with finding a way to defeat Apathy. One villain down meant one less ally that Apathy could potentially have. Every spot of darkness chased off a victory for good and pushing against the dark tide that threatened to overwhelm Thomas. Roman may not have long left but if he was going to go out, it was going to be fighting as hard as he could.

He pulled his sword from his sheath, the sound ringing out through the woods. Showy, considering that Roman could summon it instantly, but well, a man could afford some showy in his life. Everyone froze. Roman grinned and pointed his blade in the direction the hidden villains. 

“Challenge me will you?” Roman called out, and Tony hissed his agreement. “Let me show you just who owns this realm and why!”

Lady reared up and Roman tightened his grip on her with his legs. She landed hard and with a war cry of her own-

They charged.

Chapter Text

Tony tightened his grip around Roman’s shoulders as Lady plunged into the brush. Cries rang out as the villains scattered away from them. Tony hissed. Roman’s sword flashed. Tony jolted back in surprise as blood splattered across the trees. A body hit the ground with a muted thump. Tony hadn’t thought that Roman would ever go that far, but then again, no one ever thought Deception could be kind.

The more you know.

Roman swung Lady around to chase after one of the fleeing villains. Out of the corner of his eye, Tony caught sight of Nate and Remy. Remy gripped his sword once more, and strangely, one arm around Nate’s waist so he could hold onto the reins of the horse. Nate leveled a crossbow on his shoulder. The arrowhead caught the sunlight, point glittering dangerously.

It shot out and Tony felt a grin crossing his face at the wet gurgle that followed.

No danger to Thomas outside of if Remy got hurt? Free reign to destroy his enemies utterly and completely? Roman starting to laugh in his ear? Remy looking torn between excited and terrified? Perfection.

It was the chaos of Remus’ realm without the threat of discorporation.

Tony let out a hissing laugh of his own as he slipped from Roman’s shoulders. He ignored Roman’s yelp. The brush brushed against his scales as he slithered through it. Footsteps pounded around him. The air reeked of sweat. Tony’s tongue flicked out and he eyed one of the villains running past him. 

He lunged.

His fangs sunk into the ankle of the passing villain. Iron flooded his mouth. The villain screamed and Tony wanted to laugh. He hadn’t used his venom on the Construct he had bitten, but he certainly used it now. His disguise as a fake cobra was near perfect. Near. Being the key word. Like hell he’d wander around Thomas’s mind without some sort of protection.

His venom wasn’t deadly, but it was painful. And fast acting. It would wear off pretty quick but leave his victim with the shakes for hours after. Meaning if Tony could bite enough of them he’d give the others an advantage. He lunged at the unfamiliar hand reaching for him and sunk his teeth into it as well. Granted, he’d only give them that if he didn’t get caught.

He disappeared into the brush once more and glanced around. He caught sight of a dozen unknown figures running through the brush, a couple of them on horses. Distantly, he noted that the trees seemed to have thinned, and chalked that up to Roman’s doing. Either that or the Imagination itself. The longer he spent there the less he knew if it controlled itself or just reacted to Roman’s wants.

Each villain looked almost identical, with wild eyes and hair and rugged beards. The hair and eyes Tony got, the beards eluded him. Their stained leather may have looked disgusting but Tony knew that it offered more protection than the cloth that the others wore, at least as far as he knew. He wouldn’t put it past Roman to have thought of that, clever man that he was.

Tony took a deep breath, taking stock. Remy had lost his sword, instead wrapping his arms all the way around Nate’s waist and focusing on directing the horse when they needed it to go. Nate leveled his crossbow again, bolt whistling through the air as he shot. Tony approved of the wild grin growing on his face. Someone who appreciated destroying their enemies as well.

His eyes slid past them to Roman. Roman who laughed in the face of violence. Tony wondered what Patton would think of him now, so similar to his brother. He shoved the thought aside as unhelpful to the entirety of the Roman situation. Roman swung his sword at one of the villains on a horse, the clash of steel ringing through the clearing.

Because now it was a clearing, and Tony had a feeling that his little hide away brush would be gone soon too. God, he loved this place, as frustrating as if could be. It never grew dull.

A villain ran past and he took his chance. He lunged forward again. He left the villain screaming on the ground. A crossbow bolt buried itself in the writhing man’s chest and Tony grinned with all his bloody fangs. He thought it bore repeating:

God, he loved this place.

Hoof beats thundered near him, and Tony looked up as Nate and Remy drew near. Nate slung his crossbow over his back and leaned over to scoop Tony off the ground. He held Tony to his chest and smiled down at him.

“Found a different path, I see,” he murmured. Tony hissed at him.

“I agree with the bitch,” Remy shouted, yanking on the reins as a flood of arrows landed in front of them. The horse reared up. Tony wrapped himself around Nate’s arm as Nate’s hand snapped back to hold onto Remy. “Less wisdom! More action! We need to like, do something about those archers.”

“Slow down,” Nate said, drawing a groan from Remy, “There’s always time for wisdom.” He tilted his head to the side, “That and we need to find where the archers are first.”

“Fuck you,” Remy muttered, his head swinging around. Tony kept his eyes on Roman. Roman swung his sword, knocking a villain’s weapon away from him. Lady slammed into the villain’s horse. Roman swung as it staggered. The villain fell from it slowly, dead. Roman reached up to wipe at the blood on his face. Tony wondered if he could get away with moving here. 

He paused. Oh god, Roman had turned him into an adrenaline junkie.

“Yeah,” Remy muttered when Tony turned to look up at him in horror. Nate had the nerve to just laugh. “You get you used to it.”

“Well then,” Roman said breathlessly, “I believe that’s the last of them other than the arche-”

“I wouldn’t go quite that far, your highness.”

They turned to look at the edge of the clearing. Tony felt Nate stiffen. Tony narrowed his eyes as best he could, which admittedly as a snake wasn’t a lot, at the sight that greeted them. The villain that stood there wasn’t like the rest. His black cloak fluttered in a breeze that Tony couldn't feel. He let out a low hiss that matched the mumbles and groans of the Construct in the villain’s hands. The glint of the knife against his throat spoke the threat the villain wanted to send loud and clear.

“Toby!”

Tony winced at the three voices that called out in varying tones of panic. Tony noted that Roman’s sounded the worst for later. He knew what it caused, he just didn’t know what caused it. Roman’s Unraveling needed to be stopped as soon as possible.

“Not another step,” the villain sneered, pressing the tip of the blade against Toby’s throat ever more. 

Tony let out a slow hiss, closer to a breath than anything else. Carefully, he slid down Nate’s arm. Nate’s eyes darted down to him. Tony stared back. A slow nod. Tony tried not to think about the amount of trust that all these Imagination dwellers gave him. Roman. Remy. Now, Nate. If he had grown up here, would he have been different? He shook his head.

It didn’t matter. He grew into what Thomas needed and nothing more.

Slithering down the horse’s leg without gaining attention was harder than he thought and Tony would allow that Nate’s gentle pets along the animal’s neck was probably the only reason that it worked. Still, he managed to make it to the ground and slither towards the edge of the clearing closest to him. The shadows of the bushes and grass wrapped around him.

“You see, your highness,” Tony glared into the distance at the tone the villain used when addressing Roman, “We all know that you’re weak-” Tony fantasized the way he was going to murder this man. This sort of talk would only set Roman back. “-and incapable of truly ruling us. You hoard all the power and treasure for yourself.”

“Wait,” Remy’s voice cut in and Tony found himself torn between rolling his eyes and smirking. “Is he weak or does he, like, hoard power? Can’t have it both ways.” There was a slight pause. Tony slide forward carefully. He couldn’t let the leaves rustle to show his movement. “Hoe.”

The villain sputtered. Tony risked raising his head up just high enough to check out the situation. The villain’s face turned a bright red. Remy raised one eyebrow. Roman pressed a hand to his face to hide his growing smile. Even Toby seemed to relax a bit more at Remy’s words. Huh, worried more about Roman than himself? Tony could use that if it were true.

“Luke,” Roman called out, “Put Toby down. It doesn’t have to be like this.”

“It does!” Luke shouted. Tony rolled his eyes and pressed forwards. He was almost there. “You’re not like us! What would you ever know about what we need?”

“Oh, plenty,” Nate cut in this time, voice mild and smooth. “He feeds me and walks me. Gave me a name and a bed. Oh, he plays with me too-”

“We are not pets!” Luke’s voice reached a near screech. Tony reached his leg. He nudged at Toby’s leg. Toby’s eyes dropped to him and widened. Tony inched past his leg carefully. “We’re people! He has ulterior motives in taking care of us!”

Silence. Even Tony stopped to stare at the insane construct. Of course Roman had ulterior motives, said motives could be summed up as taking care of Thomas which was his job. And honestly, most of them seemed to forget that it was a matter of self-preservation as well. The better off Thomas was, the better off all of them were. Tony had heard more than enough. He lunged.

Pain bloomed along his cut side. He let out a vicious hiss, writhing against the foot pressing down on him. He heard Luke hiss back at him and Tony had enough. He was going to patent that sound and no one else in the Mindscape would be allowed to use it without his permission. Goddamnit, they all made it sound worse than it would be! How dare then ruin his aesthetic like this.

“Tony!” Ah right yes, pain, danger, all the things that had just about tripled in his life because of Roman. 

“Don’t get me started on the snake,” Tony could hear the sneer in Luke’s voice. 

He twisted, trying to get out from under Luke’s foot, but the pressure increased and he wheezed. He caught sight of Remy stiffening and Nate leveling his crossbow at Luke’s face. Right, Luke knew that he wasn’t a Construct and unlike the others had no vested interest in keeping Roman happy by keeping it a secret.

Fuck. Losing Roman’s trust now would be the worst possible timing.

Tony heard the thud of feet on grass as Roman threw himself off of Lady’s back. Roman pointed his sword in Luke’s direction and in the moment that Luke’s eyes left him, Tony twisted. His bone structure was meant to bend in this form. Stretching like this pushed the limit, but it let him sink his fangs into Luke’s ankle.

Luke shrieked and the world blurred as Luke kicked him. Tony rolled to a stop and shook his head slowly. Everything ached. Yeah. Another couple of days hiding the fact that he was injured so the others didn’t catch onto the ruse. His eyes focused on Roman’s sword knocking Luke’s flailing knife away from Toby’s throat. Tony didn’t have any venom left to inject but a bleeding ankle was still a handicap.

Tony winced at the feeling of blood seeping against his scales. He hunkered down, confident that in a physical match like this Roman would be the one to come out on top. Thomas’ belief in Roman would see to that. His tongue flickered out and he almost wanted to laugh in amusement as Roman sent the knife in Luke’s hand spinning away. 

Toby leaned against a nearby tree, content even in his bonds as Roman did his thing. Tony glanced back at Remy and Nate. Remy slumped against Nate his eyes close. Bastard taking a nap right now, Tony wasn’t sure if he wanted to shake him or wanted to cackle at the audacity. Nate at least had his crossbow out, even it was settled across his lap. Hopefully Luke could read the room and realize just how little they all thought of him. 

Tony watched as Roman pressed his sword to Luke’s throat.

“I believe that I’ve heard enough from you,” Roman said lightly. Tony debated about moving closer, but Roman had it well in hand and moving hurt. “Surrender, and face justice with a fair trial. Or don’t, and face my blade. Your choice.”

Luke’s face twisted.

“I’ll never bow to you,” Luke hissed, “I didn’t ask for my existence, it isn’t a crime.”

“It isn’t,” Roman agreed with a shallow dip of his head. Tony wanted to hum to himself, thinking about politics in a world where everyone’s position had already been decided for them. Luke didn’t have a leg to stand on. Tony was a villain. He had to be and he accepted that. Roman accepted Hecate and Anton regardless of their roles. It was what they did when not working that showed a person’s true character.

This Luke didn’t have one at all.

“But seeking out others to harm is,” Roman continued, “As per my oath to keep all of this lands inhabitants safe, it is my duty-”

There wasn’t a sound. Later, Tony would think that was the worst part. Roman’s face twisted in something like surprise, or confusion, but no pain. A silent betrayal as his hand just- Tony stared in horror as Roman’s hand flickered and jumped like a glitched computer and his sword dropped to the ground. 

Tony moved before he was conscious of the fact. Roman stumbled back, gripping at his arm, eyes wide with horror. Luke barely made it a step before a crossbow bolt had buried itself into his leg. Tony heard feet hit the ground running, most likely Remy but he didn’t turn to look. Tony wrapped himself around Roman’s leg and made his way up Roman’s body to take a closer look.

Unraveling wouldn’t be instant. It took weeks, months, maybe years to build up. It could take just as much time to be a death knell if they managed it right. Tony stared at Roman’s arm, ignoring Nate brushing past them to deal with Luke, and Remy’s half panicked babbling and Roman’s replies.

Tony leaned in to nudge carefully at Roman’s arm. He paused and hissed to himself at the lack of reaction. Roman’s speech didn’t stumble, his breath didn’t hitch; he didn’t wince or flinch. If Roman felt Tony’s prodding, he gave no sign of it. Tony didn’t think it was within Roman’s acting skills, but the past month had shown him not to underestimate Roman. He practically shoved his nose into the mess of Roman’s arm.

He reared back and sneezed. Roman’s arm left tingles running down his face and Tony tried to scowl down at it. It didn’t really exist anymore for the lack of a better word to explain what was happening to Roman. Roman’s hold on himself was slipping at a subconscious level. Tony took a deep breath. 

That breath stuttered and he hissed at the feeling of Roman’s fingers running gently over his scales.

“You’re hurt.” Roman frowned down at him.

“He’s hurt?” Remy’s voice reached for incredulous, it landed closer to hysterical. “He’s hurt? What about your fucking arm?”

“Well that’s not going to change anytime soon.” Roman waved his good arm through the air, “Might as well-”

“How do you know?” Tony tilted his head and realized that the voice sounded familiar. It sounded like- Ah. Toby. October. This was the Construct that he bit. Well then. Roman turned to face Toby who clenched his jaw and tilted his chin up. “How do you know that your arm isn’t going to change? You haven’t tried anything to help it.”

“Well,” Roman hesitated.

Tony rolled his eyes. He turned his head to look at Lady and the saddlebags slung over her flank. He knew of at least one thing he could try. He slipped off of Roman, wincing at the way hitting the ground pulled at his injury. He ignored Roman’s yelp and the weight of the Constructs' eyes on his back.

He hissed up at Lady and wanted to grin as she knelt helpfully on the ground so he could stick his head into the saddlebags. Forget Roman or any of the others, Lady was his goddamn favorite. He wrapped his jaw around a roll of bandages and pulled it back out carefully. He did it slow enough that he could imbue the cloth with just enough Belief. 

Belief that Roman could hold himself together a little bit longer.

It wouldn’t solve the issue, but hopefully it would help. He held the bandages out to Roman, who stared at them with wide eyes. Tony braced himself for the accusations and questions. If this did out him, at least it would be in an attempt to help Roman.

“Deceit,” Roman breathed. He reached out and ran a hand over the bandages, “But when did he-?”

“America explain,” Remy snapped.

“He- These- It- These should help,” Roman said softly, swallowing audibly. “They’re, well, I guess they’re magical.” He ran a hand over Tony’s head, so soft he almost didn’t touch Tony’s scales, “I guess he did it because he figured out what was going on but-”

Tony rolled his eyes and bumped his head against Roman’s hand. Less speculation, more wrapping himself up. Roman blinked at him and flushed.

“Right, someone help me with-?” Roman waved his hand through the air. Toby waved his hand through the air. He sat down next to Roman, taking the bandages from Tony. He winked and Tony stared at him. 

“Thank you, Toby-with-an-N.” Tony narrowed his eyes at Toby, but allowed it. He’d have to find a chance to call him Tony with a B at some point. Moron would probably find it funny. The thought had too much amusement for the monster under the bed that Tony was supposed to be. 

He contemplated what these fools were turning him into as Roman scooped him up with his good hand. Tony relaxed into the feeling of Roman’s hand stroking down his scales and watched as Toby wrapped Roman’s arm up carefully. Gradually he realized that Roman was spreading Creativity over his scales, making new skin and scales to heal his wound.

Tony let out a soft huff of amusement and curled into Roman’s lap. He could see Remy leaning against Nate out of the corner of his eye and wondered what they thought of this. Remy looked at him and nodded once, slowly and just barely visible. Tony curled into a tighter ball. At least he had an ally in his stupid, probably futile quest to keep Roman alive.

Maybe between them all they’d manage to survive.

A part of him wanted to laugh wildly at the thought of having gathered his own group like the Sides. He’d have to leave them all one day, when the lies came out, but for now Tony would bask in the feeling. Maybe the other Sides had a point with their teamwork-family-shtick. 

Not that Tony would ever admit it out loud.

Chapter Text

Tony rolled his shoulders, watching the hallway quietly. Roman had wanted to meet out of their room for some reason. It made him nervous, waiting around where Apathy or any of the other Sides could find them. He didn’t doubt that any of them would be upset about their little team up. Tony felt his lips twist up into a bitter smile. They had made it quite clear what they thought of his help.

Well, all of them except Roman.

Tony hunkered down at the sound of footsteps, pulling his cape a little tighter around his shoulders. He had imbued it with the same trick he had hid Remy with earlier. Handy thing when he wasn’t sure who he’d run into while working. 

“Pssssst, Deceit,” Roman’s head appeared around the corner. Tony took in his well combed hair and the long sleeves that he wore. It wouldn’t raise too much attention, Tony knew, since Roman usually wore long sleeves. He doubted the others would notice the white just under the already white sleeves unless they were looking for it. “Deceit! Pssst, you here?”

“No,” he said dryly stepping forward, and tipping his hat up to watch the brilliant grin grow on Roman’s face. “I decided to step out to grab some lunch. This is a complete coincidence.”

Roman scrunched his nose up and then his face smoothed out. He snapped his fingers and grinned even wider. He pointed at Tony, bouncing on the balls of his heels. 

“That was a lie!” Tony wrestled down a small smile at the delight in Roman’s voice at picking that up. Tony raised an eyebrow at him, and Roman faltered. “At least I think?”

“God help us the day you need to fool someone,” Tony said dryly before pausing, “No, correction. You act marvelously when you need to-” Tony noted the way that Roman’s grin softened at the compliment. “God help us the day you need to be subtle. It was more sarcasm than a lie really.”

“Theater is about acting to the back of the crowd!” Roman declared with a wave of his hand. “You must be grand and loud in order to reach the most people! They have all paid for the honor of seeing me act after all.”

Tony hummed.

“And such an honor it is,” Tony mused, thinking about Roman’s ability to deflect the others and hide his insecurities. “I shall have to see when I can see such talent at work, and in such an entertaining fashion too.” Not that watching Roman run circles around the other Sides wasn’t amusing in a way, but it had gone too far now. Besides, he would like to watch some theater with real talent.

Roman lit up and Tony wondered how often the others encouraged Roman’s interests. His good mood evaporated and he struggled to keep his face unaffected at the thought. The image of Roman acting to an empty theater, or worse a full one with three reserved seats being the only ones painfully empty, danced behind his eyes and Tony shoved it away. He’d fix what the others had broken, like he usually did.

“Until we have time for that though,” Tony cut in swiftly before Roman could offer to put on a show for him. The thought left a warm spot behind his sternum, but Tony wouldn’t relax until he knew that Apathy had been taken care of. “What is this?” He waved his hands at the hallway. “You wanted to meet here for a reason.”

Roman clapped his hands together.

“Right, yes! See Logan said that he thought he saw one of us wandering around this area on the way to the Library a couple days ago,” Roman bounced on his heels, looking for all the world like a puppy eager to fetch the stick thrown for him. “Only! Only I know that Virgil and Patton were watching a movie together at that time and you were with me, which only leaves-!”

He cut himself off dramatically and Tony felt a grin stretch across his face.

“Apathy,” he breathed, and Roman spread his arms out wide.

“I am,” Roman said grandly, “Amazing.”

“Why, yes,” Tony said mildly, kicking off the wall, “Yes, you are.”

Roman blinked, red dotting his cheeks. His hands dropped and he scratched at his cheek for a bashful moment before yanking his hand back like it had been burned. He laughed awkwardly and Tony raised an eyebrow at him.

“Of course I am!” Roman coughed and pointed down the hallway, “He would have been heading that way, if Logan only glimpsed him on the way to the Library.”

“Clever,” Tony bumped his shoulder against Roman’s, if only because the way that Roman stumbled over every compliment was hilarious. He’d have to do it more then, and Roman made it so easy. Roman made everything feel easy, well that or impossibly hard. Tony wrote it off as Roman being Hopes and Dreams. “Lead the way, my liege.”

Roman barked out a laugh. He reached out and Tony startled as Roman wrapped his arm around Tony’s and dragged him forward. He stumbled to keep up and then fell into a rhythm, listening to Roman ramble about how Logan needed to get out more. He shifted so that he could adjust his arm into a more comfortable position, so that they were hooked together at the elbow.

“Well, you could take him places,” Tony pointed out dryly, “I’ve seen what you have in your closet, just take him to Narnia-”

“I can’t.”

Tony didn’t draw up sharp, but it’s a near thing. He’d been keeping an eye on Logan’s relationship with Roman; Roman’s relationship with the others was more important than even now after all. They could ground him better than Tony ever would. He thought he had read things right, with the way that Roman gravitated to Logan now, the way that Logan stared at Roman’s back like he was trying to figure out why the sun had come out of the clouds now.

“Ah,” Tony said slowly, “You don’t trust him.”

“No!” 

Tony smirked at the way Roman’s shout echoed through the hall and raised an eyebrow at Roman.

“I mean- that’s not- I trust Logan!” Roman protested, his free hand flying through the air. “He’s family! He wants what’s best for me like all of them! We work together to keep Thomas safe and- and- and-”

“And you don’t trust him enough to take him to the Imagination.”

Roman shook his head, and Tony felt a pang of regret at the way Roman’s face twisted in pain. He slipped his arm out of Roman’s and made sure that his posture didn’t change as he strode forward, keeping half an eye out for Apathy. But Roman needed to know where he thought Logan stood with him. If Roman trusted Logan enough to take him to the Imagination, then Tony could start pushing Roman to talk to Logan about the fact he was Unraveling.

“What if-” Tony tilted his head at the soft tone of Roman’s voice, “What if he doesn’t like it? It’s not- the Imagination isn’t quite- there isn’t logic.”

“Everything has logic,” Tony said sharply, “Whether it’s good logic or not is debatable, but there’s logic in everything. A path of reasoning that you could follow to reach point B from point A.” He turned to meet Roman’s eye, “You can disagree with someone’s logic but know that it’s there. Logan is Thomas’ Logic, not yours, which is why you disagree. He just struggles to see yours.” Tony waved his hand through the air lazily. “So show him it. Teach him how your logic works.”

“The best stories always have a consistent internal logic anyways,” Tony said idly, turning away from Roman to glance down the crossroads they had reached. He wanted to scoff at how everything looked the same. At least he knew where they were, “You and Logan should be the best team we have.”

He narrowed his eyes at the right hallway. It lead down to the Cliffs of Insanity. Apathy was insane, maybe he felt their call. Tony rolled his eyes. He knew Logan’s logical thinking, he wished he knew the way that Apathy’s logic worked. Maybe then he could figure out where he’d go. 

Tony stumbled as something slammed into his back. He lifted his arms awkwardly, squawking as Roman hugged him from behind. Roman buried his head between Tony’s shoulder blades and Tony righted himself as Roman mumbled something into his cape. 

“Hey!” Tony snapped, squirming in Roman’s hold. He had an image to uphold when he was human. He couldn’t be seen snuggling up to Roman. Virgil would do worse than just murder him if he saw this.

“You really think Logan and I would be a good team?”

Tony froze and sighed. He dropped his arms, but didn’t lean back against Roman. He ran his hand along the brim of his hat, straightening it carefully. 

“No,” he said dryly, “I think that you’re insane and have no rational thought and should be directed on what to create and what to want.” A memory of Remus, cackling as he dove off a cliff crossed his mind. Even then, Tony couldn’t bring himself to say that Remus should be put down. Taught a better way to cope, yes. Changed? Never. He scoffed, “As if Creativity can be so easily shackled. All that ends in is-”

His teeth clicked together as he slammed his mouth shut. He didn’t want Roman to run off on him again, and hinting at his Unraveling would do just that. Roman’s arms around his waist tightened a fraction and then the one that Tony knew was wrapped up in bandages let go. He stood stock still as Roman hooked his head over his shoulder to stare at it.

“I never did thank you for these,” Roman mused, and Tony’s heart stopped. Too close. The reminder that Roman still didn’t know he was Tony buzzed under his skin. If Roman learned then he’d never trust Tony again. Tony couldn’t afford to lose that now. He never wanted to, but he could feel the inevitability of it hanging over his head.

His own Sword of Damocles.

He shoved his elbow back against Roman’s sternum, just enough to make Roman wheeze and let him go. He stepped away from Roman, crossing his arms. He fought against the urge to scratch at his skin. His gloves would keep him from doing any real damage but it would still be noticeable. Notice was the last thing that he wanted right now.

“I don't know what you’re talking about,” Tony said stiffly. He took a quick skittering step back when Roman reached for him again. He narrowed his eyes at Roman’s raised eyebrow. 

“You don’t?” Roman waved his arm, and Tony traced its path through the air. Roman’s sleeve slipped down just enough that he could see the bandages. Belief clung to them, and Tony hoped that it wasn’t as noticeable to others as it felt to him. He would need to imbue more in order to keep holding Roman to together, especially as it got worse-

“So one of the other Sides could do something like this?” Roman’s words cut of Tony’s thoughts. He took a step forward. Tony took another step back. “Someone else could deal with Belief like us and know what’s going on with me? Enough to know that I need preventative measures?”

“Maybe,” Tony snapped back, spinning on his heels. He hated that he trusted Roman enough to put his back to him even in moments like these. He had the sudden urge to flee to his room until everything went back to normal. Being lonely was hell, but at least it was an understandable hell.

“I don’t know everyone’s abilities.” Tony scowled down the hall and turned the corner. 

He froze. 

He met Apathy’s eyes and for a moment he couldn't breath. Pain bloomed in his chest, and his hand flew up to make sure that Apathy hadn’t punched through it again. He pressed down against warm flesh and glared at the way Apathy’s lips twitched upwards at the action.

“No,” Apathy said softly, ice cold voice freezing the words against Tony’s throat. “You really don’t, do you?

“Deceit-? Apathy!” Roman turned the corner and pointed his finger at the Side staring at them. Tony wished Apathy’d quirk an eyebrow up or something. Something more than the creepy staring that could give way to flaming hot anger at any moment. Out of everything and everyone, why did Apathy have to be the one to escape?

“Hello, Passion,” Apathy said tonelessly.

“Oh is that who you both are?” Tony couldn’t help but mutter under his breath, “I hadn’t noticed. Now that we’re all appropriately introduced, can we get this over with?”

“I agree!” Roman pulled his sword from nowhere, or however he did it. Did he create a new one every time or did he have it stored in a pocket space somewhere? Tony shook his head and narrowed his eyes at Apathy. Something wasn’t right. “Return from whence you came, villain! Do so quickly and no one will get hurt!”

“Oh.” Tony tensed as Apathy tilted his head to the side, “Is that what Deceit told you?”

Oh fuck no.

“Why don’t we ask you Passion?” Apathy asked quietly, “Do you think I’m a villain? What do you even know about me?”

“Sssssshut up,” Tony hissed, stepping between Apathy and Roman. “I’m the one who manipulates people here.”

“You do, don’t you?” Apathy’s foot tapped against the floor and Tony wanted to claw at his blank unmoving face. “You manipulate everyone around you and never listen to what they want. How do you even know what Thomas wants?”

“Because I lisssten to him,” Tony’s fists curled into fists and he could feel his form twitched, wanting to snap into a shape that could better reflect his anger, “Better than you ever could.”

“Is that what you tell them all?”

“I’ve heard enough,” Tony struggled to smooth his voice out of the anger that rolled in his gut, “If you won’t go back yourself than I’ll just do my job and drag you back by your hair.” He twitched, “I’ll even enjoy it.”

“Please,” Apathy raised and hand and his fingers twitched, beckoning Tony to come closer, “You may try.”

Tony let out a howl, his new paws hitting the ground as he dashed at Apathy. Distantly, he heard Roman’s surprised call behind him. He ignored it in favor of sprinting after Apathy as Apathy spun on his heels and disappeared down the hallways. He wouldn’t get away this time. Tony would enjoy the sound of Apathy’s screams. He was going to shred him to pieces for threatening Thomas and Roman.

The monster under the bed always got what he wanted in the end.

Chapter Text

Roman cursed as Deceit and Apathy both disappeared into the hallways of Thomas’ mind. He thought the whole reason Deceit needed him was for help. Help didn’t mean running off as soon as their target appeared! He dashed down the halls, following the sound of Deceit’s roars and the skittering of claws on the smooth floor.

Something about Deceit shifting to an animal niggled at the back of his mind, but Roman brushed it off for another time.

He glanced around and noted the feeling of the halls around them. Everything outside of the Imagination didn’t have any significant markers and it drove Roman up the wall. Where was the aesthetics? The decoration? The pizazz and life? The only way to tell where they were was the general feeling that all Sides got. Or maybe all parts of Thomas’ mind? Self-doubts always seemed to be able to find him even in the Imagination.

Not that he’d ever managed to get them to slow down enough to ask.

“Deceit!” He yelled, awkwardly cupping his hands around his mouth and hoped that the sound would reach, “He’s heading for the Rivers of Depression!”

The muted thump and shouted curse that he heard meant that his message had been received. He smiled grimly to himself and drew his sword from its sheath once more. Apathy being drawn to depression made sense. He might even be able to draw power from the waters and then they’d be screwed. If they couldn’t cut him off, they’d have to back off and regroup.

Or that’s what Logan would probably suggest at least.

Roman scowled and picked up his pace, his feet pounding as he rounded the corner. The flooring underneath his feet gave way into a softer material, not yet the sand that wound around the Rivers of Depression but close. He would never catch up to them at this rate. Roman took a deep breath. They were both stronger than him. 

It took everything he had not to stagger at that thought. 

His good hand reached over to grip at the bandages that kept his arm together. It wasn't an unsurprising thought but it still shook him to his core. He used to be able to stand up to Virgil on a day to day basis and now he wondered if Virgil would knock him over with a simple shove. Roman squeezed his eyes shut and dug his fingers into the soft cloth that made up the bandages Deceit had given him. He knew that, regardless of Deceit's denials. He probably just didn't want to admit that he wasn't as bad as he seemed. Like Virgil way back when. 

Roman let out a sharp breath. Deceit still needed help. Roman would help like Deceit had helped him. He would be the hero and the prince and do his job. Passion had to banish Apathy, more than Deceit had to shove him away. 

Roman just…

wasn't sure he could actually managed it 

He knelt down and prodded at his own legs. He couldn't do as much here as in the Imagination but he was Creativity. His only limits were himself. He pressed his hands against his thighs and Hoped. He Hoped that he could move fast enough to keep up with them. He Hoped that he'd be able to help and that he would be able to hold himself together long enough to help against Apathy. 

It wasn’t the full spark that sat in his chest, and it wasn't anywhere near the potential that it could reach but it helped. 

He straightened (as much as a man as gay as him could ha!) and took a step forward. A wild cackle rose in his throat as he almost ran into the far wall with how fast he moved. He turned and dashed down the hall, quickly gaining the ground that he lost. 

Roman caught sight of Deceit and Apathy ahead of him, so close to the Rivers of Depression but not quite there. Another turn perhaps, but Roman wouldn't let that happen. His laughter filled the room and he jumped over Deceit's panther form. He landed lightly on his feet and slid past Apathy in a clean flank. 

"Well hello there again," he said with a cheeky grin, pointing his sword at Apathy, "I believe that you left before we could really get to know each other." 

"We don't need to," Apathy said flatly. Something about his tone of voice felt like fingers down a chalkboard. There was nothing in it. Nothing at all and something in Roman just ached to fill it. "You are going to die. Nothing more. It will be for the benefit of Thomas." 

Roman blinked slowly. Well, someone had been reading his nightmare diary. He didn't think that anyone would actually come out and tell him his greatest fear to his face. Thomas would be better without him. 

Deceit let out a roar and Roman tried to shake of Apathy's words as Apathy backhanded Deceit against the wall. Roman winced at the crack that sounded. No wonder Deceit asked for help. Roman wasn't sure he could though. He felt his grip on his sword waver as Apathy turned to look at him again. 

"You are dying," Apathy said simply, "Either by my hand or your own." 

Roman blinked and Apathy was there. Roman tried to stumble back but Apathy gripped his shirt, up in Roman's face. Roman could feel Apathy's breath fanning out against his face and he could see the white's in Apathy's grey eyes. The only thing in Apathy's eyes. The whites and the greys. 

"It is simply a matter of when," Apathy whispered, "As Passion gives up, my rise is inevitable. Give up. I will keep Thomas safe in the only true way we can." 

"Oh yes, why don't you tell him how safe you'll keep Thomas?" Deceit's voice cut through Apathy's bitterly. Dark and pained, Roman's eyes snapped his direction. Roman let out a slow breath at the way that Deceit leaned against the wall, careful to keep pressure off of his left leg. A trickle of blood ran down Deceit's face. His face twisted into a deep scowl, made even more intimidating by the way the light turned his yellow eye an almost molten gold. 

"What, don't have anything to say to that, Apathy?" Deceit spat. 

“I am well aware of what you think of my plan." 

Roman dropped his sword. He could feel his legs give way. Or more accurately, he could feel the way that Apathy's words tugged at his already fragile hold on himself and now he couldn't feel his own left leg. At least he matched Deceit. He palmed a dagger. 

"Because it's a fucking stupid plan!" Deceit shouted, hobbling a step in his direction, "Thomas doesn't want you. He never wanted you." 

"Lies!" Roman stumbled as Apathy dropped him. He barely caught himself from slamming head first into the ground. He reached down and tried not to shudder as his hand passed through where his leg should have been. He gripped the dagger in his hand, feeling blood drip down his palm. They couldn't beat him. 

But Roman knew how they'd be able to at least find him later. 

Deceit ducked away from Apathy's lunge, taking flight as a small parrot. 

"Insane!" Deceit cawed, "Insane and stupid! Insane and stupid!" 

"You speak in nothing but lies!" Apathy howled. "I will be Thomas' salvation! I will save him from the pain that none of you will!”

Roman pushed himself up to a better sitting position and eyed Deceit swooping circles around Apathy. For a moment, Roman thought that Deceit glanced at him but he wrote it off. Even as nice as Deceit had been lately, Deceit would never put him first. Deceit barely even liked him, for all his words of support. It was almost freeing in a way.

He gripped his dagger and putting as much of his back into it as possible, Roman threw it at Apathy's back. 

It didn't connect but it didn't need to. The dagger cut through Apathy's side, a shallow cut but a cut nonetheless. Apathy's attention swapped abruptly from Deceit to him and Roman shivered at the attention, drawing himself up as best he could to glare Apathy down.

He might be on his last legs but he wouldn't go down without a fight. Not to a villain like this at least. He met Apathy's scowl with one of his own.

"Roll over and die," Apathy said flatly. He reached out and caught Deceit from the air. Deceit let out a quiet squawk as he struggled to escape from Apathy's grip. Another cracked filled the air and Roman watched in horror as Deceit fell to the ground, limp as Apathy dropped him.

Roman didn't think he had ever seen Deceit hurt, let alone vulnerable like this.

Apathy stalked towards him and Roman scrambled to reach his sword. He held it with shaky hands and pointed it in Apathy's direction.

“Stay back!" Apathy didn't stop, and Roman swallowed thickly, blinking back tears rapidly, "I said stay back!"

"If you won't stay out of the way," Apathy said, brushing Roman's sword aside and out of Roman's grip. Roman's wrist twinged but the fear as Apathy gripped his sash covered the pain, "Then I shall make sure you won't ruin what I want ever again."

"Fiend!" Roman reached up to claw at Apathy's grip on his sash, but without the leverage his legs gave him, he couldn't get a good angle on it. He writhed against Apathy's hold as he was dragged against the ground. He realized with a muted horror that they were headed towards the Rivers.

"You won't get away with this!" he shouted, holding on to Apathy's hand as tight as he could. "The others will notice I'm gone and come looking for me. They'd find you, and there's nothing you can do against them."

Apathy paused and raised an eyebrow at him.

"Nothing? Is that what you think?" Apathy's lips twitched upwards the first change of expression that Roman saw outside of his sudden switch to furious and it terrified him more than anything else he had seen so far. "When I have already managed to make sure that one of them will never be a threat?"

"What?" Roman whispered.

He never got an answer. 

Deceit barreled into Apathy's side. Roman yelped in surprise as he fell to the floor, Apathy's hold on his sash slipping. 

"Deceit!" he yelled. 

Deceit snarled, wrenching Apathy's arms above his head. 

"You’re the absolute worst," Deceit spat. 

"I think we all know that's you," Apathy said. The simple fact in his tone sent shivers down Roman's spine and he took a gulping breath as he tried to lever himself into standing. Deceit's pale face screamed that he needed help before he got hurt even worse. Even if Roman didn't know what exactly was wrong with him. 

"But I find it funny that you think you can fight me," Apathy said, "I am inevitable. Inevitable and you have not only a broken leg but I cracked two of your ribs." 

Apathy's leg rose in a blur. Deceit gasped as it collided with his chest and Roman's eyes widened as Deceit's hat went flying. Deceit curled around his chest but Apathy yanked his head up by the hair. Deceit hissed. Roman couldn't tell if it was in pain or defiance. 

"I will settle for getting you out of my way once more." 

Apathy dragged Deceit in the same direction that he had Roman just moments before. Deceit didn't say anything. Roman's heart dropped to his feet. He couldn't help but think about the blood that had been smeared over the walls weeks ago. 

I need help, Deceit had said. 

Deceit wouldn't have asked anyone for help if it wasn't desperate. If he wasn't certain that he couldn't defeat Apathy on his own. If he hadn't at least tried once. 

Roman's stomach rolled. He thought he might finally know where the blood and damage came from. 

Roman shoved himself up against the wall taking a shaky stand. He wouldn't let Deceit get hurt even more. Deceit wasn't supposed to look pale and hurt and almost resigned as Apathy dragged him away. Roman staggered after them. Deceit needed help. He needed Roman- 

Apathy smirked, and tossed Deceit, broken ribs, and a broken leg- and honestly Roman wouldn't be surprised if he had a concussion too- into the Rivers of Depression. 

"No!" Roman screamed. 

He dashed past Apathy, ignoring the unhinged laughter that echoed through the space. He dove head first into the murky water, where he had seen Deceit disappear into the currents. The gentle water tugged at him, a slow current but heavier than what Roman knew normal water felt like. He could feel it hanging off of him, attempting to drag him down and under. 

The Rivers weren't fast running, they didn't have white water rapids or dangerous currents that would whisk Deceit away from his grip. No, instead they'd hook into his muscles and sap away his strength. Roman screwed up his face, lungs burning as he glanced around the murky water. Deceit would never surface again on his own. And if he discorporated here, then he'd reform here as well. Weak and disoriented, Deceit would drown again. 

Again, and again, and again- 

Roman kicked harder, shaking his head of those thoughts. His eye caught a flash of black. There! He swam towards the sight and gripped Deceit's cape in his hand. He kicked upwards and surfaced with a pained gasp. He breathed heavily, glancing at the bank. 

Apathy was gone. 

He shuddered and hauled Deceit's head up above the surface as well. Deceit's head lolled to the side and Roman squeezed his eyes shut as he tried to figure out what to do. He wouldn't manage to get them both to shore without his leg- 

Roman let out a surprised noise as he kicked through the water with his legs. Solid and real, both of them worked in tandem to keep them up. He was rapidly tiring he knew, but they were there. He had no idea when or why they came back but he couldn't help the relief that flooded his system. He could try at least. He could get them both close. 

Roman heaved Deceit a little close, carefully settling him against his side and started a slow and tiring journey back to the shore. His feet kicked through water that felt thicker and harder to make it through with every stroke. Roman's lungs burned more even though he could breathe air. He could feel his limbs going numb but he pushed forward anyways. He was Passion. He was confidence. He was Dream and Hopes and that stupid stubborn part of Thomas that never really died in the face of pure logic. 

He wasn't the best at his job but god dammit he had it for a reason. 

Roman couldn't feel his grip on Deceit anymore. He glanced back in panic and felt a part of him relax at the sight of Deceit still at his side. A mistake. He faltered and they both plunged under again. Roman gasped, closing his mouth as fast as he could. He glanced wildly around for Deceit. Deceit sank slowly, hair waving in the gentle current. Roman grabbed for him again, this time, tearing off Deceit's cape to lighten the load. He pulled them both above the surface and he wheezed. 

"You are just- just-" Roman sucked in a breath, "Give me a- a- a- minute and I'll- I'll come up with a witty insult. You gotta- you gotta make it to hear it." 

Roman's free arm sliced through the water, and Roman shoved down the horror at not feeling his legs anymore. Either they were there and helping or they weren't and it didn't matter. What mattered was that Deceit at least, got to shore so he could catch Apathy and put a stop to everything. Roman was going to die one way or another, but he wouldn't let Apathy have the last laugh about it. 

Roman's hand closed around sand, he thought he felt his feet bump against the shore. He dragged himself and Deceit bonelessly forward. He flopped to the ground with a gasp. The water lapped at his feet and legs. 

Roman let out a broken chuckle. It quickly grew into a hysterical laugh. He clutched at his side and laughed until he couldn't breath. He laughed until he sobbed, curled around himself and realizing just how useless he really was. 

All he had done was let Apathy get to him until he Unraveled even more. He got Deceit hurt. Deceit almost drowned because Roman couldn't even fucking stand on his own two legs. Deceit- 

Deceit! 

Roman rolled over and crawled to Deceit as best he could, exhausted limbs finally making themselves known as they burned with every movement. Roman ignored them and reached for Deceit's arm with a shaky hand. He pressed against Deceit's wrist and let out a shaky breath as he found Deceit's pulse. He let out another broken laugh. 

"You bastard," Roman breathed, flopping down to his back next to Deceit. "You absolute bastard." He dragged his arm over his face. "Who gave you the right to try and save me? Who gave you-" his voice cracked, "Who gave you the right to almost die for me?" 

Roman trembled. He gave himself one moment. Then he gathered himself together. They couldn't stay here when Apathy might come back for them. He heaved himself to his feet and listed to the side. God, he was exhausted. 

Roman bent down and wrapped his arms around Deceit. He staggered under Deceit's weight and changed his mind. No princess carry for the bastard. He wrapped one of Deceit's arms around his shoulders and half dragged Deceit towards their hideout. Deceit's head rolled in his direction. 

"R'm'n?" Deceit slurred. 

"I'm fine," Roman replied, automatic and most certainly a lie. He could feel Deceit's eyelashes flutter against his cheek and for a moment, in the corner of his eye he thought he saw a pleased smile cross Deceit's face before it slackened. 

"Good," Deceit breathed, relaxing. Roman almost dropped him at the sudden extra weight. "Good." 

Roman stopped to stare at him.

"God," Roman whispered, "You're so weird." Roman was beginning to think that it wasn't so bad. Deceit's weirdness. He could even learn to love it.

Chapter Text

Tony groaned as the pain in his head made itself known. He threw his arm over his head and desperately prayed for it to go away. He could stay in bed today. Thomas' mind would probably fall apart at the seams and they would all die, but at least he wouldn't have to work with what felt like a migraine. 

"Deceit?" 

Tony jerked in surprise at the sound of Roman's voice. He turned and fell off of the small cot, realizing abruptly that he wasn't in his room. Good, he tried to calm his breathing. Better that he ended up here somehow than the absolute terror of Roman somehow having found his sanctuary. 

"Careful!" Roman's arms wrapped around his biceps and helped haul him back to sitting on the cot. “I splinted your leg. I wasn't sure if you would be comfortable with me healing it, but it's looking pretty good already. We heal fast after all, and it looks like you've been taking care of yourself which will help-" 

Tony closed his eyes and let Roman's words wash over him. Close. That has been too close. Tony didn't know if Roman would actually reform if he discorporated, and if Apathy had thrown him in the River it would have most certainly happened. Roman hadn't been in the state of mind to fight against the water of the Rivers.

Tony paused.

"Wait," he said slowly, "What happened?"

Tony opened his eyes and stared at Roman's frozen form. Roman scratched at his cheek before pulling himself up as high as he could. Tony noted distantly that the bandages along his arm were starting to fall off and would need to be replaced soon. Roman threw his arms out and the need became even more pronounced.

"Isn't it obvious?" Roman's lips twitched upwards, into a grin that wasn't quite real. "I valiantly came to your rescue. You may thank me at any point as I bravely risked-"

"Thank you," Tony said, and blinked at the way that Roman froze again. Roman’s arms dropped and the stunned look on his face made Tony want to punch something.

"Oh, um- I mean! You are very welcome!" Roman bounced closer to him. Tony rolled his eyes.

"You don't have to lie," Tony said dryly, leaning back against the wall. He poked at his leg and debated how much trouble it would give him if he stood up. "I'm not the person you wanted to save its fine-"

"No!"

Tony blinked and looked up at Roman's shout.

"I mean- that is to say-" Roman's arms flapped through the air and Tony felt his lips tug upwards at the sight, "That! That right there! Stop that! It's weird! You're being weird again! You're not supposed to like me!"

"Oh yes, it's in my job description to hate you all," Tony snarked, carefully placing his splinted leg on the floor. He tested his weight, wondering if it would hold all of it. The twinges of pain hurt, but were ultimately ignorable. 

Roman let out a frustrated screech.

"Well you certainly acted like that until recently!"

"Yes," Tony said blandly, "And I pulled off diabolical plans, instead of just doing my job."

Roman scowled at him, but still waved his hand and conjured a crutch for Tony to lean on.

"Oh," Tony blinked at it, "Thank you."

"Stop it! No one thanks-" Roman slammed his mouth shut and Tony rolled his eyes. He got to his feet and hobbled over to the table with their plans.

"Well maybe they should," he muttered under his breath, "Especially when you managed to work past your impulse to be a moron and pull off the plans that I know you can."

"...I can't tell if that's a compliment or an insult."

"And you'll never know," Tony said, running his finger over their half done map of the Mindscape. He narrowed his eyes. "Why the River? What was his goal?" 

"Huh?"

"Apathy," Tony said carefully, leaning even more against his crutch. "He knew we were coming. He wanted us there for a reason. Either that or he wanted something from that area. What? He was there twice, that isn't a coincidence."

"Well, I can't answer that-" Tony glance up to glare at Roman who grinned broadly at him, "-but I can make something that will tell you a general idea of where he is now."

Tony blinked at him, slow and taking a moment to process what Roman just told him. He knew that he shouldn't feel the surprise that welled up in his chest but it still buoyed up like a balloon. It expanded into something close to pride.

"And pray tell, how are you going to manage that?" Tony crossed his arms. He tilted unevenly as he lost his balance and winced as he caught himself with his crutch. Roman giggled and with a flourish presented the dagger that he had thrown at Apathy.

Tony stared at it for a moment and then it hit him. A thought, not the dagger. Roman had said that he could make a way to track Apathy with his blood. Tony had dismissed the idea because in order to get blood they had to find Apathy in the first place which defeated the entire idea of what they needed. The loop of needing to find Apathy in order to find Apathy.

Well then.

Shows who the moron between the two of them was.

It was totally still Roman, but Tony would admit that Roman had clever ideas when he let him fly free.

Tony felt a smirk rise on his face and he raised an eyebrow in Roman's direction.

"Why that's a little kinky for the fact that we've never been on a date before now," he purred. Roman's check practically glowed red as he fumbled with his grip on the dagger. It fell to the table with a soft clatter and Tony snickered. "Clever," he added, "Very well done."

Roman's cheeks didn't lose their red but his lips did twitch up onto a wide smile. Tony hummed in the back of his mind at the expression. That. That right there is what Roman needed. If Roman needed cheesy flirting and compliments then Tony would provide.

Tony would also have to make sure that Roman didn't kill himself recklessly since it seemed that Logan couldn't do it. Well, if he was honest with himself Logan probably did do it, he just couldn't do it when Tony had made Roman keep their meetings a secret and no one knew where Roman was- and thinking about that sounded like a really stupid idea, wow. Tony needed to rethink his strategy should this ever happen again.

Dear god, please never let a situation like this crop up again.

"Well I am a prince," Roman said gladly. "It is my job to protect my subjects and be all around awesome."

"And you do it so marvelously," Tony said with a grin, just to see Roman's fingers slip on the hilt of the dagger.

"Well- I mean- well," Roman stuttered, "Yes of course, it is the least that is expected of me."

Tony rolled his eyes at the sheepish expression and way that Roman phrased his words. It was actually an incredibly high bar that only Roman held himself too. And perhaps Tony just the slightest bit, but Tony always expected the other Sides to fall short of the bar that he set, so he figured that it evened out. Roman thought he could actually reach that ridiculous standard alone. 

"Not really, but I appreciate the enthusiasm," he brushed off. They could talk about it later. Or better yet, Roman would finally listen to him and open up to Logan. Logan would tell him what an idiot he was being and drag the other two to help fix the situation. The Logan in Tony's head was so much more helpful than the real one, Tony would admit. Maybe one day that bar would be reached too.

God, Logan reached the dubious honor of being the other almost sensible Side. Why couldn't Tony have ended up with him?

"So, my liege," Tony said with a smirk, "What is the plan now? Wave your hand and conjure something that will let us track Apathy? Use your dazzling wit and looks and powers to wow me so much that I forget what our entire purpose and goal is in the first place? Put that pretty little head to work?"

Tony winced at the words that spilled from his mouth but Roman unfurled at them. At least there wasn't anyone else to witness this embarrassment. Roman could be his one exception; Tony could learn to enjoy that.

"Well!" Roman bounced on the balls of his heels and all but skipped to Tony's side. "For my first magic trick! We shall both have to disappear! From here and to my room. I need to head to the Imagination and my room has enough creative energy in it that you will probably heal faster there too."

Tony blanched.

"No," he snapped "No way. I will not make myself a sitting duck to the morons you call friends by waiting for you to come back in the open space you call a room. Anyone can walk into it at any time. It's not secure in any way."

"It has a lock on it!"

"Oh so helpful when we can pretty much teleport," Tony scoffed. "No, no I'm going with you if you're going to the Imagination."

"You can't!" Roman's hands ran through his hair and Tony raised an eyebrow. "Things- things go wrong when other Sides go there!"

"Like the last time I went there?" Tony asked dryly

"Exactly!"

"Ah, and remind me what went wrong?"

"It- The thing- It uh," Roman's moment came to a screeching halt. Tony almost thought he heard a cat yowling in the background to finish that mental image. A true train wreck that matched Roman over all. It was kind of adorable. "What did go wrong?"

"I don't know," Tony said smugly, "But if you can't think of anything then probably nothing."

"But that doesn't make sense! Something always went wrong! With Virgil and with Patton! The Imagination twisted itself up!"

"I am a lie," Tony studied his nails, "Slipping into places that I shouldn't be is my specialty. Deception. Illusions, making people think that I'm something else. It's all in the job description, I could read it to you one day."

"You lied," Roman eyed him in disbelief which rude. Tony was very good at what he did. That and Tony had no plans to tell him that Tony had talked the Imagination into accepting him as a visitor rather than an intruder. He could work it in a different angle though.

One that might help Roman in the end.

"Or who knows," Toy shrugged, "Maybe you've just grown in control since the last time a Side entered your space. When was it? High school when Anxiety really made a nuisance of himself?"

"That was when you started to make a nuisance of yourself too," Roman grumbled, but Tony could make out the thoughtful look in his eye and the way that his fingers picked at his sash. Food for thought, and some that would hopefully give Roman a confidence boost. 

"Excuse you," Tony pressed a hand to his chest and gasped. "That was when you first noticed me as a nuisance. I was plenty active before then as well!"

"Whatever!" Roman said cheerfully and pressing into Tony's space. "We have things to do! Sights to see! People to introduce you to!"

Tony half nodded before he froze.

"Wait what was that last part-"

He stumbled against Roman as Roman grabbed his arm and sunk out of the room. The world spun around him as they landed in Roman's room and Tony landed hard. He thought he caught a flash of blue but then he turned to find it. All he saw were the posters up on Roman's wall. Too much Disney and not enough theater. 

"Come, my companion!" Roman swept him up and Tony couldn't help the startled hiss that escaped his throat. He struggled against Roman's hold sending Roman stumbling hard enough to rattle the closet when they collided.

"Put me down," Tony hissed at him, one hand clutching Roman's bicep with a near bruising grip. "I am not- not- not some invalid who needs help!"

"Too bad!" Roman said cheerfully, opening his closet door with a look and striding through. "You get the special treatment anyways! And we're meeting new people because I don't know enough magic to make the compass myself."

Tony narrowed his eyes.

“That doesn't make sense, you're Creativity, you make the rules about whatever magic that exists in Thomas' head. You should know all about it."

"You would think," Roman's smile was a little bit self deprecating and amused. "But Thomas is the boss man who has the final say. I'm a prince, not a sorcerer. Logan might be able to get away with it if- well, that's not going to happen so we go to a witch that will most certainly help us instead!"

Tony crossed his arms, and completely forgot to look around to sell the idea that he had never been there before. Instead he glared up at Roman and scowled.

"Logan would love to visit," he said bluntly, "Make it happen."

"I think you’re insane," Roman said without looking down at him, "In fact I'm putting everything that I don't like hearing down as stress over the Apathy situation and counting as you not knowing what you talk about."

Tony pinched his arm as hard as he could. He relished in Roman's yelp even if Roman almost dropped him. It would have been worth it even if he ended up on the ground. Roman was too comfortable. He didn't need to tease Tony in such a fashion.

"You're getting uppity," Tony scowled at him, "Clearly you’re too comfortable with me."

"And who's fault is that?" Roman waggled his eyebrows at him, and Tony debated just burning his elbow in Roman's gut. He wouldn't get a good enough leverage to cause damage at this angle, and sure Roman would probably drop him but god would it be satisfying.

"Yours," Tony snapped. Roman laughed and Tony felt some of the tension in his shoulders drop at the sound. Fine. He gave up. Roman could be as comfortable as he wanted. At least the other Sides wouldn't see this. Tony held onto that thought. The other Sides wouldn't see this.

It would all fall apart the moment they did anyways.

Roman set him down on the grass at the edge of the forest near a tree and Tony watched intrigued as Roman lifted two fingers to his lips. The whistle that echoed across the land didn’t have the same pitch as the one that Roman used to call Lady. The lower pitch carried through the wind and Tony leaned back against the tree Roman had set him by. He could picture the notes of the whistle literally being carried by the wind, little black flecks dancing throughout the land that Roman had cultivated. 

A loud roar answered Roman’s call.

Tony’s eyes snapped open and he watched a dot in the distance grow larger. His stomach dropped. A witch, Roman said he needed the help of a witch, of fucking course, Roman only had one witch that he would turn to, or at least, Tony knew which one he’d turn to at first. Wing beats filled the air and Tony wished that it could have been Remy. Or Toby. Toby and his crew were hilarious and not all that likely to eat him.

Hecate the Dragon Witch landed in front of them with a soft thud. Her black scales caught the light, flickers of colors coming off of them as her eyes raked over both of them. She crouched down, her muzzle as tall as Roman was. She let out a snort of smoke, sending Roman stumbling back a step. She smiled. Her tail hit the ground with a thump and her gleaming white fangs tied knots in Tony’s chest.

“Why hello boys,” she purred, her eyes locked with Tony’s, “What can I do for you today?”

Chapter Text

Tony tucked his hands underneath his cape so that Hecate wouldn't be able to see the way that they curled into unsteady fists. He let out a slow breath and met her eyes carefully as Roman let out a booming laugh. He wouldn't be intimidated by her. He was a welcome visitor this time.

"Hecate!" Roman cheered, and threw himself forward. Hecate chuckled as Roman's arms wrapped ineffectually around her muzzle. They didn't even come to half way. 

Tony hauled himself up into a standing position, leaning against the tree. God, he wished his leg would heal even faster.

"Hecate, this is Deceit," Roman waved his hand back, and Tony waggled his fingers in Hecate's direction. Hecate's eyes narrowed. Tony couldn't help the little smirk that he gave her. Just a tinge smug about the fact that there was nothing Hecate could do about him being here right now.

"We need your help," Roman held out the dagger, covered in Apathy's blood. "You see there's this-"

"No."

Roman blinked slowly. Tony sighed. He probably should have seen this coming. She had tried to eat him when he first appeared on this side of the Imagination after all. He reached up and ran his fingers across the brim of his hat. 

"Well then," Tony said dryly. "You have been the most helpful person I could have imagined."

"Oh you are very welcome," Hecate returned, her fangs gleaming in the sunlight.

"Hecate?" Roman reached out to run his fingers over her scales. She narrowed her eyes at Tony before letting out a soft huff.

"I'm not going to help him." Her tail flicked in Tony's direction and it took everything he had to not flinch away from the large appendage's approach. It didn't touch him, but he could feel the breeze it created ruffle his cape. "Not here, not now. You're my friend but he isn't."

"What a coincidence," Tony rolled his eyes, "Because you aren't mine either. Clearly, it was my idea to ask you for help." Tony waved a hand through the air. He turned away from them, ignoring the way at that Hecate growled at the action. "I'll wait in the usual spot, let me know when you're done."

"But Deceeeeeit," Roman whined and Tony fought down a flinch. He sucked in a deep breath and very carefully didn't look over his shoulder. Don't give in, don't give in, don't give in-

"Deceeeeeeit," Roman whined again and Tony closed his eyes in defeat. He gripped his hat with one hand and he turned around to glare at Roman. Roman clasped two hands in front of his face and pouted. "It's more fuuuuun with you."

Tony twitched. He tried not to look at Hecate. Then again, her dragon form was large enough, he could see the way that her slit pupils glanced between them, something close to amusement growing. Not good. The last thing that he needed was for her to be amused.

"Because you having fun is absolutely our goal."

Roman brightened.

"I'm glad that you agree!" Roman's arm shot out and Tony yelped and stumbled as Roman dragged him towards Hecate. Hecate's smile felt more like a threat than anything else.

"You know when I'm lying," Tony hissed, "You've proven you can tell the difference at least some of the time."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Roman sung and shoved him in front of Hecate. Tony swallowed thickly. Well, it had been a good run. He was going to spend the rest of his life inside a Construct until Apathy got Thomas killed. At least it wouldn't last long.

Tony tipped his hat and rolled his eyes as it covered them.

"It's my pleasure," he hissed. Roman's foot nudged the back of his and he whirled around to just straight up hiss at him. He swiped at Roman, hating the way that Roman laughing and dancing away made something in him relax. God, he had let too many walls fall already. At least the most important one still stood.

"Well," Hecate mused and Tony stood as straight as a rod. Not that he was straight. He rather did like a good rainbow. Her nuzzle came too close to his body and Tony clenched his jaw in pain as he took a step back. Hecate's chuckle rang through the clearing, "You are the first person from the outside that Roman's introduced to me-" She sounded too gleeful about whatever she was thinking about, Tony would gut her if she implied anything- "-so as his best friend I suppose that it is my job to vet his other best friend."

"I'm not his best friend," Tony hissed at her at the exact moment that Roman cheered.

"Yes! Genius as always! Friends should be friends!"

"I'm not your friend," Tony protested half heartedly.

"Oh keep telling yourself that, pretty boy," Hecate purred, "It might get through either of your brains one of these days."

"And what is that supposed to mean?" Tony hissed as Roman picked him up again. He hissed outright at Roman as they made their way around Hecate's side. He needed to see his opponent's eyes! He needed to be able to read the emotions in them!

"Oh I'm sure you know," Hecate said breezily, "Being an honest person and all that rot. You clearly know yourself inside and out. Do you look at yourself in the mirror and think about yourself to have that sort of awareness?"

"I will rip your scales from your form one by one," Tony narrowed his eyes as Roman dumped him on Hecate's back. He flexed his fingers, feeling the way that his gloves shifted at the movement. He debated if it was worth tearing them shifting his nails into claws. They would do more damage that way though.

"I'm so glad you guys get along!" Roman said cheerfully as he settled in next to Tony. Hecate's wings started to beat, slow and then fast. "You fit together even better than I thought!"

Hecate's rhythm faltered, and Tony froze.

"We do not!" They shouted at the same time. Hecate's roar echoed through the air. Roman raised an eyebrow and waved a hand between the two of them. 

"It means nothing," Tony crossed his arms and looked away from Roman. 

"Awwww, Dee, I think it's great that you can make friends," Roman teased, and Tony inched away from him. He didn't have to take any of this. Hecate took to the air, large enough that Tony felt only a slight tilt as she moved. He could get used to this sort of travel if it weren't for the company.

"Deceit," Roman poked at his arm and Tony turned away again. "Dee, don't be like that. You don't hate everyone and that's not bad!" Another poke and Tony swatted at the digit.

"Ha!" Roman cheered, "See? You can't even ignore me for a full minute! You love us that much!"

"I loathe you with the entirety of my being," Tony muttered, hunching under his cape. It was so much easier when he didn't want to be friends with Roman. Isolation felt safer than whatever the hell was going on now. 

"Now, that, pretty boy," Hecate said as she circled her lair, "Is the worst lie you've told so far."

"Oh like you'd know," Tony slapped a hand on her back, doubting that she'd feel it. It made him feel better than. "We just met."

"Ha!" Hecate barked, so close to the sound that Roman made. Tony liked Roman's better, he thought pettily. "You know, for a manipulative snake, you're some of the most fun that I've had so far!"

"I am not an amusement."

"Sure you are," Hecate said as she landed in front of her cave. "You're either an amusement or a snack." Her head snaked around and Tony got a face full of her fangs, "I think you should think carefully about your next reply because I am rather hungry, and you look mighty fine pretty boy."

"Hecate!" Roman shouted, "You can't eat another Side! I don't even let you eat my brother!"

Tony winced and Hecate's amusement faded.

“Oh, one of these days you will," Hecate muttered as Roman slide off her back, "He'd be disgusting but it would be worth it."

"No," Roman said firmly, holding his hand out. It took Tony a moment to realize that Roman meant for him to take it. Tony wrapped his hand around Roman's and blinked as Roman helped him off of Hecate's back. As soon as they were gone, Hecate shifted to her human form. 

She crossed her arms and pouted.

"I said no," Roman repeated. Tony leaned against him, realizing that Roman didn't replace his crutch. Or bring it with them. He doubted his leg was still broken but it hurt like a bitch to put pressure on it. It would take until the next day to heal then. Tony frowned at it and wanted to strangle everyone that let Apathy get that strong.

"Fine," Hecate huffed, "But don't expect me to be happy about it. That's the one good thing pretty boy's for at least, keeping that distance."

"I do a good job," Tony murmured, hobbling after her as she stalked into her lair. Roman wrapped an arm around his waist and Tony leaned into it gratefully. He wanted to get this done and get out of here already. "Thank you for validating my existence."

"Don't expect it to happen again!"

"So," Roman glanced down at him with a wide grin, "Pretty boy."

"I'm gay," Tony said automatically. Roman cackled and Tony debated if the pain of walking on his own would be worth elbowing Roman in the gut. Probably. He dug his elbow back and relished in the way that Roman yelped. His breath hissed out from between his teeth but he forced himself to take a step forward anyways.

"Hey, hey Deceit wait!"

"I'm fine!" Tony snapped, trying to stalk after Hecate. He succeeded in limping at least. He made his way down the hall, ignoring the way that Roman hurried after him.

"Come on Dee, you'll hurt yourself!" Roman prodded at his arm and Tony glared at him. "I know that you're gay! We all are! Full rainbow all the time! A beautiful kaleidoscope of colors that can not be matched- hey." Roman paused. "Have you ever thought about the fact that we make a rainbow together-"

"Yeah," Tony muttered, "Because Thomas is gay, and he thinks of himself as a rainbow and we reflect that. Like how we reflect everything that he thinks. It's not new Roman."

"Play nice!" Hecate called back. "I'd hate to get hungry at the worst moment!"

"I hate her," Tony muttered, but finally let himself lean against Roman's offered support. "I hate you both. Why am I even here?"

"Because you make things better!" Roman declared, throwing one hand in the air.

"Ha!" Tony let out a bark. "I'm not Virgil, but that was a nice try. I don't make anything. All I do is put in a stopgap until one of you can deal with it. Why do you think I got someone more capable like you in the first place?"

Silence.

Well, at least Tony knew that he could shut Roman up completely by calling him competent now. He limped forward without Roman's help and shuffled into the chamber that Hecate beckoned towards. He glanced around, taking in the aesthetic that she had clearly been trying to build. Not quite as sinister as he would have thought though.

Dried herbs hung along the far wall, all of varying degrees of greens and shapes and sizes that Tony couldn't recognize. They hung in clumps that Tony figured had been sorted. The bubbling pot off to the corner could only be a witch's brew, or a potion and he wondered what poor creature went into it this time. A cat? A newt? Some other reptile? Maybe he should be worried about ending up in a pot than being eaten.

The earthy smell that hung from the room made Tony's nose twitch as he stepped a little more into the room. He let out a slow breath, running a hand over the soft curtains that hung from no point in particular. The shelf of books next to a jar of something, Tony couldn't tell what, reminded him of the closet that Roman showed him all that time ago.

No wonder Roman felt at home no matter where he went, even Tony could see the pieces that he was seeing. Logan's fingerprints could have been all over this room. Tony wouldn't have questioned it if Roman said that Logan set it up.

He let out a slow breath and leaned back against the wall as Roman and Hecate made their way over to the table in the middle of the room. Hecate swept the piles of paper on it off and onto the floor. Roman set the dagger he held into the center of it and Hecate frowned down at it.

"Is there someone that you want this tuned to? Like a thing or one of you?" Hecate asked. Tony wanted to know what she meant. Roman tilted his head to the side. 

"I think us," he said, "So that it doesn't have the chance of being taken or lost."

Hecate hummed, reaching over to the shelf of jars and knives and pulled three out. Tony felt his shoulders hunch upwards at the action and he watched the first blade trace a path across the table. Slowly she carved runes into the wood in front of her.

A slow looping pattern emerged and Tony found himself entranced by the repetitive motion.

“-ceit? Deceit!" Tony blinked at Roman's voice and glanced up. "I said, are you alright? Do you need to sit down?"

Tony shook his head, letting his eyes settle on a patchwork of cloaks that hung behind Hecate rather than the motion of her hand.

"I'm fine," Tony said carefully, "I don't need to sit."

"Lie, pretty boy," Hecate muttered as the knife scraped endlessly. Roman frowned at him.

"Yeah," Roman said softly, "I was gonna call you on that one. Come one, getting a chair for this won't get in the way. You'll be able to enjoy it more."

"I'm gonna blow you away, pretty boy," Hecate glanced up briefly with a smirk. "You won't be able to look at me the same way ever again after this."

"I don't think I can already," Tony said under his breath as Roman wandered off. Hecate's eyes darted up again, checking to make sure that Roman really was gone, Tony realized before she said.

"Oh, I think we both knew that already," Hecate said, her knife resting in place. She narrowed her eyes at him, and Tony stiffened. "Here's the thing. Deceit. Remy may think that you can help, but I'm holding back judgement. We've managed to help Roman just fine in the part."

"Ah,” Tony said slowly, "You're jealous."

"I am not!" Hecate screeched, "Who would be jealous of a snake like you?!"

"Who indeed," Tony mused.

"You're a lying liar who lies," Hecate hissed, "It would take a miracle of self-sacrifice to convince me that this isn't just some long con you're playing on him."

"Oh dear," Tony raised a hand to his cheek, "Whatever shall I do, my diabolical plan has been discovered! I guess I should just give up now! There's no way that I'd-"

Tony mouth slammed shut as Roman's hum hit his ears. He dropped his hand and watched as Hecate ducked back towards the table.

"Found one!" Roman declared, dragging the chair in behind him. "Praise me!"

"Praise, praise to his Highness," Tony waved his hand half heartedly through the air and Roman laughed. Tony shook his head of Hecate's words and sank gratefully into the cushioned seat. He didn't think about what he had almost blurted.

He already knew that he'd be willing to die for Roman. Creativity, Passion, Hopes and Dreams. Roman was needed more than Deception ever could be.

He let out a soft sigh. Hecate took a step back from the table and set her knife down. She grinned wickedly at them.

"There, done. Now I just need to slice you both open."

"What." Tony said flatly.

"You mean cut our hands so the spell can be attuned to us?" Roman said, poking Tony's shoulder. Ah, yes that made much more sense. Hecate pouted, and stomped her foot.

“Roman!" She whined. "I wanted to scare him!"

"You've done plenty of that," Roman crossed his arms. Then blinked as Hecate rolled her eyes.

"Fine," she muttered, "Also that position doesn't work when you have to give me your hand now."

Roman pouted back at her but uncrossed his arms and offered his hand to her. Tony watched as she grabbed the second knife and drew it carefully across Roman's hand. She urged him forwards and dragged his hand across a certain rune carved into the table. His blood smeared and then seemed to move to fill in the cracks. Tony stared at it. 

Well, it wasn't the creepiest thing he had seen, but still.

"Alright," Hecate held her hand out in his direction, and Tony drew back out of habit. "Your turn, pretty boy."

Tony clenched his hand into a fist. He had to do this. It would help them find Apathy before someone else got hurt. Before Thomas got hurt. Tony let out a slow breath and pulled his left glove off of his hand. He held it out to her.

Hecate stared down at it for a long moment. Tony stared back at her, refusing to let his hand shake. He knew that the scales that wrapped around the back of his hand and wrist weren't pretty to look at it. They didn't match the smooth and handsome aesthetic of almost all the other sides.

"Well it seems that you have one redeemable feature," Hecate murmured, running a finger over his scales. Tony jerked back from her touch, the sudden burn of her body warmth too much for parts of his body that got by only by him covering it up to conserve heat. He hissed at her and she raised her hands into the air. "Ok, ok, I get it, don't touch the scales. I can respect that, pretty boy."

Tony watched her warily as she flipped his hand over and sliced a thin cut along his palm. She pulled him forward and he limped towards the table. He pressed his hand against the smooth grain of the table, and winced at the way the movement pulled at his new cut. Thankfully one that would only take moments to heal.

He took a step back and just about collapsed into the chair Roman had gotten him. He slipped his glove back on, keeping his eyes away from Roman. He didn't want to see the look on Roman's face at the reminder that he spent time with the "slimy snake". Not even the other dark sides looked like him. Only him.

Only Deception.

Tony wondered if Thomas just hated him more than the others.

He took a deep breath and turned his focus back on to what Hecate was doing. She lay a circle of dried herbs around the edge of the table and then leaned forward. She placed her hands on two runes and let out a slow breath. Her eyes slid shut and she breathed in just as deliberately.

The language that rolled from her tongue didn't strike a chord in Deceit, and he assumed that the deep litting language was made up by the inhabitants of the Imagination. The torches in the room flickered by an unseen wind. One that pushed Hecate's coat back and caught on Tony's cape. The torches sputtered out. 

Light flooded the room from the center of the table, and Hecate's eyes snapped open. They glowed the same red light that the runes did and Tony felt his jaw drop just slightly as the runes that Hecate had carved rose from the table and circled around the room. He couldn't help the urge to reach out and run a finger through one of them. It barely flickered and moved on.

Hecate's deep voice filled the room and then in a flash, everything disappeared. Hecate let out a low huff, and Tony blinked as a flame came from her mouth, lighting the torches in the room once more. Two small compasses sat in the center of the table where the dagger once sat.

Hecate turned back to him, long hair plastered to her forehead and a wild grin on her face.

"And how was that, pretty boy? Impressed yet?"

Chapter Text

Logan clenched his hands into fists. He hated the crawling feeling that lay just under his skin even here at home. He knew that theoretically he was safe if he was with another Side to some extent. Apathy wouldn't risk catching Deceit's attention this soon.

It didn't mean that Logan didn't feel like walking on eggshells around everything and everyone.

He let out a slow breath and closed his eyes. He would find a way out of this. He had half a plan already, he just needed to figure out where he could get the support he needed without Apathy noticing. Logan flexed his fingers and hoped, well calculated, the odds of Roman surviving whatever Apathy had planned on the wild goose chase he had Logan send Roman on, and found them not really pleasing, but passable.

Roman was stronger than most of them gave him credit for. His creative streak would get him away from whatever uninspired plan that Apathy had come up with. Colors and passion always won out over grey and emotionlessness in the end. Logan's lips quirked upwards as he pulled to a stop in front of Roman's room once more.

It was a lesson he was learning for himself.

He tapped on the door lightly and felt his heart sink at the lack of reply. He sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly. He couldn't put this off much longer. He glanced around, an irrational hope that Virgil or Patton would walk by and give him a flimsy out.

Silence.

Logan clenched his jaw and shoved the door to Roman's room open. He inched into it and closed the door behind him quietly. It latched shut without a sound. The soft lights of Roman's fairy lights lit up the room, and Logan's breath caught at the soft carpet under his feet.

Never before had stepping into this room felt like a violation like this. Logan took a hesitant step forward, and scanned the room. If what he was looking for was here, Roman would have stashed it into a secret compartment, or a vault of some sort. Some puzzle and riddle benefiting his love of Quests.

God, Logan hoped that it wasn't in here.

He poked at Roman's shelf half-heartedly and a flash of white and black in the corner of his eye left him diving for the side of Roman's bed. Logan bit back a cry as his palm caught Roman's carpet as Roman’s voice echoed through the room.

"Come, my companion!" 

Logan's head peeked up over Roman's bed just in time to catch sight of Roman's sash disappearing into his closet. Logan blinked. He waited for a long moment. It felt somewhat like a joke. 

A prank played at his expense. 

He stood up slowly and inched towards the closet. He prodded at it. He yanked his hand back at the inexhaustible feeling of Creativity coming from it. Ah. His eyes slid shut. That must be where Roman was hiding the Imagination. Logan took a deep breath. It was likely- It was more likely that was where Roman kept his core than in his room. 

Well then. Logan mentally, and somewhat gleefully washed his hands of the issue. He certainly couldn't go looking for it in there now. Not when he could run into Roman. He could tell Apathy that and put this off just a little bit long. Logan felt his lips quirk upwards just slightly. 

Clever Roman. Unpredictable Roman. Good for him. 

Logan rolled his shoulders and went to dig through Roman's drawers and poke behind his posters for an undeniable alibi about what he was doing. Why no Apathy, he didn't find Roman's core, he didn't have any other ideas of where to look for it. The Imagination? Nothing, Roman would never show Logic a place like that- 

Logan's hands faltered and he lunged to grab the poster before it hit the ground in a large crash. He breathed out slowly and hung it back up. He straightened his tie and ran a hand through his hair. Roman would never let Logic into the Imagination, but Logan. Perhaps he would let Logan have a peak now that they had a growing relationship. 

Logan closed his eyes and shoved that thought aside. 

It didn't matter right now. Logan had more important things to worry about. Not to mention there was no guarantee that it would hold, past data showed that it wouldn't actually. Roman wouldn't invite him simply to avoid what had happened when Patton had been invited. Or whenever Virgil used to make his way in to hinder Roman's efforts of creation. 

Only, Logan tilted his head to the side, and folded Roman's clothes to put back into the drawers. Roman had taken someone in with him. Logan tapped his finger against the wood of Roman's vanity and narrowed his eyes. Who had he taken in with him? Tony? Another Construct? A Side? Logan shook his head. 

No, Roman wouldn't risk taking one of the others in without discussing it with him- oh who was he kidding? Of course Roman would take that chance; Logan just didn't think that Roman had a Side that he wanted and felt comfortable taking there yet. Maybe one day he would take Logan, but the stiffness between Roman and Patton and Virgil, as well as the obvious secrets that Roman still held spoke otherwise. 

Logan let out a slow breath. He was stalling. He needed to move on and get to work. His little "assignment" from Apathy was complete. He would craft a reason for why he hadn't checked out the closet and stall for even more time. Logan stared down at the notes stacked carefully on Roman's vanity and felt a soft smile cross his face. He traced the words with a careful finger and drifted it down to the messy sketches of costumes that Roman had included. 

"He won't get to you," Logan whispered to the empty room. "I'll make sure of it." 

Logan turned and strode out of the room, closing the door carefully behind him. Roman would never know that he was there. Or maybe he would. Logan didn't know what Roman would think if he found out about it, and he was loathe to ruin the growing trust between them. At the same time, that same broken trust could save Roman's life while Logan struggled to find a way out of Apathy's thumb. 

He let out a tired sigh and turned towards his room. 

"Logan?" Logan jumped and whirled around at Virgil's voice. Virgil narrowed his eyes at him, and Logan reached up to fiddle with his tie. The smooth fabric underneath his fingers felt comforting as he noted the darker eyeshadow under Virgil's eyes. 

"Greetings," Logan inclined his head, "What may I assist you with today Virgil?" 

Virgil's shoulders didn't relax but his lips did twitch up into a half smile before falling again. He shrugged, a half movement that made Logan's fingers twitch. He wanted to remind Virgil that hunched over posture could ruin his back and joints, only as Virgil would remind him in turn, it wouldn't actually affect any of them permanently. 

"Nothin," Virgil muttered, "Just spending time with Patton and-" he bit his lip. 

Logan raised an eyebrow. He waited. He could guess what Virgil wanted, but Virgil voicing what he wanted was an important small step in feeling comfortable with them. Yes, they were past that point, but it never hurt to re-enforce small positive habits. Virgil shrugged again and shoved his hands into his hoodie pockets. 

"I wanted to seeifyouwantedtobakesomethingwithus," Virgil said in a rush. 

Logan smiled softly at him. A proud moment indeed with how on edge Virgil had seemed lately. As upset by their reaction to his friendship with Roman made Logan, he still cared for them. Spending time with them was one of the bright spots of his day. 

"It would be a pleasure," Logan said with an incline of his head. He could even make sure that Patton used the correct amounts for once as well.

Logan trailed after Virgil, watching the way that Virgil's shoulders seemed to rise even higher the closer to the kitchen they got. Logan rolled the thought over and over in his head but couldn't figure out what could have set Virgil so on edge.

Had he given too much away? Did Virgil know about Apathy somehow? Logan's heart stopped. Had Apathy gotten to Virgil as well? He couldn't quite picture Virgil rolling over for Apathy in the same way that he had but if Apathy had gotten to him after Logan's core was in hand, Virgil would have done anything Apathy said.

Virgil was the protector after all. He considered it his job to keep them all safe. He would have done anything to keep Logan alive. Logan fiddled with the edge of his shirt and sucked in a sharp breath.

"Virgil," Logan approached carefully, "Is- is everything alright-"

Logan blinked as Virgil threw open the door to the kitchen. The silence bogged down Logan's thought and he tried to figure out why exactly it felt so off. Patton stepped around the chairs in the kitchen and stirred the bowl in his hand carefully. Something about the whole scene felt off.

"Hey, Pat," Virgil muttered. Logan twitched again. He wanted answers, it seemed that he wouldn't be getting any from anyone any time soon. He let out a slow breath.

"Salutations Patton," he greeted. Patton glanced up at both of them and smiled. Logan blinked. It wasn't a grin. Had he done something to upset Patton as well?

"Hey kiddos!" Patton looked back at the bowl in his hands. "Just making some cupcakes."

Cupcakes. Not cookies. If it weren't for Apathy on the loose, and the fact that Deceit would most certainly be busy trying to track him down, Logan would have accused Patton of being a fake then and there.

"Ah," Logan said slowly. He stepped into the kitchen, and found himself keeping the kitchen island between himself and his friends. He hated himself just a bit for that caution. "And how have the events of the week been for you?"

"Oh fine,” Patton said, looking up and them back down again. "We watched some Disney. Made some cookies. It's been fun."

"It doesn't sound like it," Logan said carefully.

"Oh, I mean it hadn't been," Patton's brow furrowed. "I'm fine. Things have been fine. It's been fun."

"We haven't seen Roman in a while," Virgil said, something dark in his voice, "Maybe that has something to do with it?"

"Maybe," Patton murmured, "I want to make cupcakes though."

"So make cupcakes," Virgil shrugged, and glanced back at Logan. His eyes narrowed, and Logan shifted uncomfortably at Virgil's scrutiny. It felt like Anxiety for one moment. Which was preposterous because Anxiety and Virgil weren't separate entities and Virgil was simply on edge for some reason. "You haven't seen Roman have you? You've been all buddy buddy lately."

"It is true that Roman and I have been spending more time together," Logan acquiesced and pushed his glassed up on his nose. "But I have been busy with work and have not seen him at all recently."

Virgil grunted, and then slowly his shoulders relaxed.

"Alright, sorry Lo'," Virgil said softly. "Things have just been- weird lately and I don't like it." He made a lopsided, self deprecating smile, "Changes you know?"

"Ah yes," Logan nodded, something close to relief loosening around his chest at the explanation, "That makes perfect sense. You prefer a routine and we haven't been following one lately. Would it help if we reestablished a weekly time to spend as a family once more?"

Virgil glanced at Patton.

"Yeah," he said softly, "I would like that."

Patton shrugged, "Sure, why not?"

Logan winced at Patton's almost noncommittal agreement. He would have to look into the reason for that as well. If Patton was feeling off, most likely something had happened to Thomas. Logan would be remiss not to double check that things were fine. His problems, while prudent, weren't the only ones in the Mindscape.

"Very well then," Logan said with a small smile, "I shall bring it up with Roman and we shall have a scheduled dinner once a week once more. Perhaps the same time as our monthly puzzle night?"

"Sounds good," Virgil leaned against the counter, "You do you teach, I'll be chill as long as it happens."

"Yes, yes," Logan agreed, their schedules and Thomas' running through the back of his mind. There was a good time that they could all meet, he was sure. He just had to make sure that it wasn't a time that they'd be vulnerable to Apathy.

"I will make sure that it happens, is there anything else I can assist you with Virgil?" 

Virgil grinned at him, lopsided and warm. 

"Making and then eating these cupcakes?" Virgil motioned towards Patton, who looked up and blinked at them both. Logan wondered if Patton was simply tired. He didn't have a set sleep schedule after all.

"Very well," Logan agreed, rolling up his sleeves, "Tell me what preparation step we’re on, and I shall get started."

"Stirring!" Patton cheered and Logan let out a sigh. 

"I will need more information than that," Logan said, stepping around the counter to reach for their recipe. He shook the flour off the paper and scanned it over. Virgil leaned over his shoulder, hip pressed up against Logan's as he read as well.

"Maybe this time, we won't burn down the kitchen," Vigil asked.

"Oh yes," Logan said dryly, "Because that would be the lowest of the bars we set for ourselves. No fire. Perhaps we can push it a little bit higher to edible cupcakes. Frosting may have to wait until Roman appears if you want something artistic."

"It doesn't matter," Patton said, and Logan flinched. He stared at Patton. "We can do it without him." Logan felt his jaw clenched and he glanced back at Vigil. The slow blink he got meant that Virgil heard nothing wrong with that sentence. Logan tried to let out a deep breath but found that he couldn't quite breath out all the way.

"Very well them" he said softly, noting Patton's brush off of Roman for later. Had Roman and Patton gotten into a fight? He would have to ask Roman the next time they spent together. "Shall we get started then?"

"Sure," Virgil agreed.

"Yeah," Patton said.

Logan smiled softly. It would be fine. It was entirely possible he was misreading things. Emotions weren't his specialty after all. He'd check with Roman later and it would be fine. He could indulge in spending some time with his family for the next little while.

Logan shoved Virgil with a flour covered hand and laughed at the squawk that came from Virgil's mouth. They'd be fine.

Chapter Text

Roman hummed to himself as he skipped down the hall. He needed to meet up with Deceit today and he had actually managed to sneak some food out of the kitchen too. Leftover cupcakes and pasta from dinner last night. He had missed it but he couldn't bring himself to regret it. Deceit meeting Hecate had gone so much better than even he could have hoped. 

"Dee!" Roman called out, skidding down the hall and throwing the door to their hideout open.

"Why hello Roman," Deceit muttered, "No, I wasn't doing anything important, don't worry about interrupting me."

Roman skipped over to him and leaned over his shoulder, chest pressed against Deceit’s back as he looked at the places that Deceit had marked on their map of the Mindscape. 

"Whatcha doing?" Roman asked, setting his basket of food down on the table.

"Apathy has a pattern," Deceit murmured, "He's not quite capable of the same complex thought that we are. He's- incomplete in a sense. There's a method to his madness. We need to figure it out."

"Cool, cool, cool," Roman nodded his head rapidly. Then he reached out and swept the whole mess away from Deceit. He ignored the glare and squawk that came from Deceit. It was like dealing with a more prickly Virgil! Who was paradoxically also friendlier! It was weird. Deceit was weird, Roman had decided, but he wasn't a bad weird.

"Anyways! Set that aside for now!"

"No," Deceit said dryly, "Or I mean, sure I'll set aside trying to figure out the plot off the man who is literally trying to kill you. I'm sure that will turn out fine."

Lie, Roman thought to himself. Or more accurately sarcasm. Ha! He could pick out Deceit's sarcasm now! Time to move on to being able to read all of his lies! He was the best! Well not the best but at least in a good mood today.

"That can wait," Roman waved off, "If he's planning something than he needed so complete whatever plan it is before being a danger to us right?"

"I feel like I should say no," Deceit said.

"Bah! I'm right and you know it!" Roman hopped up onto the table and sat down. He kicked his legs back and forth. "Fine, fine, fine how about this? If we want to be able to face him we need to be stronger, right?"

Deceit eyed him warily. Rude.

"Yes," Deceit said slowly.

"Wellllllll, if we rest then we'll recover more strength, right?"

"Yes, that's how resting works."

"Then! If we want to get stronger, then we need to rest so!" Roman held up the picnic basket that he had dug out from under his bed and swung it around. "We go on a picnic! Rest for a little bit so that when we face Apathy we're in tip top shape!"

Roman remembered the first time he had conjured this basket. He had wanted so bad to take Patton and Logan out to the Imagination and show them around. Have a picnic, enjoy being their friends and have them bask in what he could do. Then it had all fallen apart. He tried not to sigh, or let just how eager he was to show someone around the Imagination show.

Deceit stared at him. Roman shifted uncomfortably under his gaze.

"Or is that-”

"Well, well, well," Deceit cut him off, "And here I thought I was supposed to be the selfish manipulative one." He spread his hands out, "Very well. It seems that if I say no, then I'm hurting my chances of doing my job, as you have so eloquently put it. Relaxing is something we must do."

Deceit reached up and gave his cheek a soft pat. His gloves were smoother than Roman would have thought. Softer too. He froze at the touch. He scrambled to think of a time that Deceit had reached out to touch him instead of the other way around.

"But it was rather clumsy," Deceit mused, "A solid first attempt. Perhaps we'll make a master manipulator out of you yet." Deceit smirked at him, and Roman felt himself flush. "A picnic under the sun with a clever handsome man, just how could I say no?"

Roman choked, reminded himself that he was the suave flirty side and he wouldn't take this lying down. Deceit's teasing went too far!

"You can't!" Roman declared, hopping off the table. "So come come come! Off to a world of adventure and magic we go!" 

Deceit grinned at him, and Roman grinned back. He would enjoy this, he was sure! Maybe he could introduce Deceit to Remy. They were both bastards. They'd probably get along like a house on fire. Actually, on second thought, no, he didn't want to them to meet. They'd gang up on him and make him take care of himself.

"Wait," Deceit snagged his sleeve and hauled him back. "First." Deceit hauled him back to the cot in the back corner and shoved him down. Roman sputtered until Deceit rolled the sleeve of his bad arm up and stared at the now greyish bandages wrapped there. "The Belief is fading, and the bandages are loosening," Deceit murmured.

Oh. Yes, that made more sense than Deceit trying-

Roman felt his face heat and he shoved that thought down. The image of Deceit’s fingers pulling off his cape sensually rose in his head and Roman fought down a squeak as Deceit’s fingers drifted over his arms. What the hell? Breathe, just breathe Roman, Deceit was a friend. This was normal. Thinking thoughts about your friend like this was normal. Everyone got curious every once and awhile.

Yeah, that was it. Sure.

“Stay still,” Deceit snapped, and Roman froze. Deceit carefully wound the bandages off of his arm and they both stared down at the way that it immediately glitched and jumped like a broken computer screen. Roman winced and pulled it closer to himself. He froze again at the force of Deceit’s glare. 

Deceit waved his hand and a new roll of fresh white cloth fell into his hands. Deceit held his hand out and Roman hesitantly held his non-existent arm out. He could feel tingles in it the moment that Deceit wrapped the first roll around his wrist. His hand solidified and he could feel the smooth texture of Deceit’s gloves.

Only the rustle of cloth filled the room as Deceit tightened the bandage, just enough to be felt but not too tight, and then gently started to wind it around the rest of Roman’s arm. Roman watched the action in silence marveling at how gentle the motion was. Just as gentle as when Toby had done it, only this was Deceit.

Deceit was the villain. Only more and more, Roman couldn't bring himself to think that. They were friends. Almost more so than Roman had even been with Virgil. No, that wasn't true. Roman closed his eyes and swayed towards Deceit's hands. Deceit wasn't like Virgil. He was just- different.

"Alright," Deceit said softly, pinning the end of the bandage into place. "That should last for a while. Now, show me where else."

"What?" Roman said with a nervous laugh. Deceit stared at him, bandages in one hand and a steady look in his eyes. Something told Roman that Deceit wasn't going to move until he learned where else Roman was having problems.

"You're Unraveling," Deceit said, simple and in a way that Roman didn't think even Logan would have managed. "You're falling apart. You haven't done anything to address the problem. So it's still affecting you. Where. Else?"

Roman winced, and ducked his head. He knew that if he talked to Logan, then Logan would clear the whole problem up. Or confirm Roman's worst fears. That he wasn't enough. The Original Creativity hadn't been. Remus didn't match Thomas' expectations and had been cast out for it. Roman wasn't who they needed, and it wasn't only a matter of time before something happened to him too.

Maybe being Creativity was a cursed position. Like the DADA professor; he really should look into th-

Roman yelp at the feeling of Deceit pinching his thigh.

"Roman," Deceit ground out.

"You know," Roman said idly, "You always call me by name, but I never get to use yours. I don't think that's fair."

Deceit stared at him. Something flat and pained in his eyes for a moment, before Deceit's hat covered his view. Roman bit his lip as Deceit stood up.

"Very well, Creativity," Deceit said slowly, "If we're done."

Roman's heart stopped. And he grabbed wildly at Deceit’s cape.

"Wait, no that's not what I meant-"

"I know what you meant," Deceit snapped, "And I don't-" Deceit's jaw clenched, "Not yet. I can't tell you my name yet."

Truth. Something in Roman knew that this more than anything was the undeniable truth.

"Well, then," Roman waggled his eyebrows and dragged Deceit back down to his level. "How about a nickname then? You can call me Ro like I call you Dee or something."

"Ro," Deceit said, and Roman winced at the flat refusal, "I'm not going to call you what the rest of them do." Roman's lips dropped downwards and he felt Deceit's eyes on him. "But-" Roman perked back up and stared at him with wide eyes. "'Ty." Deceit said softly.

"I'll use 'Ty."

"Awwwwww," Roman cooed, "That's adorable."

Deceit scowled at him.

"But only with us," Deceit hissed. "The others will never catch wind of this. Deal?"

"Deal!" Roman declared happily. A nickname from Deceit and a successful deflection by yours truly. He was on a roll-!

"Now show me where else you're having problems," Deceit demanded and Roman pouted.  He sighed and carefully reached down to pull his shirt up. He glanced down at the path just above his hip that rippled with static. He closed his eyes and wondered how long it would take to spread from the back down to his leg.

He'd already lost it once already and had no idea how he had gotten it back after all. Deceit hissed and reached out to prod at it. Roman watched Deceit's fingers pass through the missing spot of his hip and felt nothing. Not a speck of feeling, and that was the weirdest part of it.

"Alright," Deceit said softly, "We'll just have to wrap the whole of your waist. Might keep it from spreading, who knows?"

"You?" Roman teased and Deceit snorted.

Again, Deceit's movements were steady and gentle as he wrapped the soft cloth around Roman's body. Roman relished in the almost hug that he got each time that Deceit had to reach around his back to grab the roll. Deceit's cape brushed up against his clothes and for a moment Roman wondered if he could get Deceit to be more tactile with him. He always did love a good hug from his friends.

Maybe Deceit would benefit from it too. God knew how much contact the snake got with his isolation and insistence on playing villain. Really, he was worse than Virgil with that.

"There," Deceit said, and Roman bit back a whine as Deceit stepped back. He wanted it to last longer. "Now, I believe that you have a picnic that you promised me?"

"Yes!" Roman cheered, disappointment forgotten. He had just the spot picked out for them too. "Come! To a land of adventure and beauty!"

Deceit grinned, a quicksilver expression as he handed the picnic basket back to Roman. Roman slung it over his arm, and then impulsively, reached out to wrap his other around Deceit's arm. He dragged Deceit towards the door and laughed. Deceit stumbled slightly but quickly righted and caught up.

"Well, I suppose that I can spare some time for a place so great." Deceit winked, "And clearly if the land is as breathtaking as you claim then the creator must be more so."

"Ha!" Roman laughed and nudged Deceit's hip with his own. "I am fabulous, aren't I?" Roman's eyes drifted to the distance and he felt his expression soften. "Yeah, the Imagination is the one thing that I'm proud of."

Deceit stared at him for a beat and then rolled his eyes.

"And here I thought that you helping get Virgil back would be worthy of pride."

"Well, yeah but-"

"Ah or perhaps you shouldn't be proud of the videos that you help Thomas create."

"I mean, no but-"

Deceit raised an eyebrow at him.

"But what? You can't-" Deceit froze, his mouth snapping shut. Roman tilted his head to the side and realized just what had gotten Deceit's attention. Footsteps sounded through the hallways, and Roman thought that he could hear a soft muttering along with it. Purple rounded the corner and Roman's heart stopped.

Virgil stared at them, and tilted his head to the side.

"Roman? Dude, what are you doing out here with a picnic basket?"

Roman glanced down at his arm, and then to his side. Nothing. Deceit had vanished. Roman squashed the disappointment growing in his chest and tried to keep it from his face. Of course. He'd never get to actually have fun with the one person he could take to the Imagination, and with Deceit spooked by Virgil there was no way he'd see him for the rest of the day either.

"Oh you know," Roman said lightly, trying to brush the question off, "There are some sights to see and enjoy out here."

"Really," Virgil said flatly, "Like what?"

"The Rivers-" Roman's voice caught in his throat, remembering the way that Deceit vanished beneath the water before he shook the memory off. "The Rivers! You can sit at the edge and pretend that it's a lake or an ocean or any kind of beach!"

"Right," Virgil said slowly. "And the picnic basket?"

"Well you can't have a picnic at the beach without a basket!" Roman rocked back on his heels. "I was scouting out the best place to take the rest of you! Logan mentioned wanted to start family dinners again and I thought what a better idea than to have adventures when doing it too-"

"Roman," Virgil snapped, and Roman flinched. Virgil's eyes scanned the hallway and he scowled. "If you don't want to tell me just say that. You don't have to lie to me." 

The sneer in Virgil's voice pulled another flinched from Roman and he gripped the handle of his basket in a white knuckle grip. He hoped that Deceit had left completely and wasn't just hiding. Something in Roman's heart ached about the thought of Deceit hearing the disdain in Virgil's voice. He didn't want Deceit to- 

To be scared off? To think that Roman agreed with Virgil about it? To change his mind about getting Roman's help? He didn't know. 

"Come on," Virgil grunted, shoving his hands into his pockets. Roman trailed along behind him silently. "We can have a picnic in the living room if you want. Just-" Virgil glanced over his shoulder and studied the hallway with narrowed eyes. "Just not here." 

"Ok," Roman said softly. He didn't want to argue and draw attention to the situation. He closed his eyes briefly and fell into step beside Virgil. 

"Hey," Virgil poked him in the arm "You're-" Virgil hesitated, and Roman made sure to quirk a smile in his direction. "Everyone's chill right? Nothing's changed?" 

Roman blinked at him. He wasn't the best liar, he knew that and time with Deceit had only made that even more clear. He wore his heart on his sleeve, and maybe that was fine. But that didn't mean that Roman told the truth all that often either. 

"Why?" Roman joked, nudging Virgil's hip with his own and forcing a laugh. He threw his head back and made it long and loud, "Worried about little old me? I'm a prince who doesn't need any help!" He paused, "But the thought is appreciated Virgil. Now! Tell me what the valiant Logan has made us tonight?" 

"Not Patton?" 

"Patton caught the kitchen on fire," Roman reminded him, "Logan's the only one allowed to cook right now." 

"Right," Virgil muttered. Roman blinked as he glanced back once more. "Hey, Ro-" Roman did his best not to stiffen at the tone of Virgil's voice and the narrowed eyes that turned his way. "You'd- you'd tell us if something had changed right?" 

Roman laughed again and turned his back firmly to the hallway. A part of him ached for Deceit by his side. For Tony around his shoulder. For a moment, despite one of his best friends walking next to him, Roman never felt more alone. 

"Is that even a question?" he deflected. 

"No," Virgil said softly. "No, I suppose it isn't." 

Roman didn't ask if he meant that he could trust Roman. Or if he couldn't. He wasn't sure he could stomach the answer. 

Chapter Text

Roman tapped his fingers against his arm. Tony’s cool scales brushed against his waist, and Roman fought to keep a straight face at the sensation. 

The last thing that Roman wanted was for Virgil to see Tony so soon after the near miss in the hallway. It had only been a few days, but Virgil held a long memory when it came to distrust. But at the same time, Roman was so so thankful that Tony was there. The silence hung over their group as Logan read over the rules for Monopoly. 

The tension in the air felt thick enough to cut through with a knife. Roman wanted to hum but it felt wrong in the heavy atmosphere. He glanced over at Patton, who simply sat there. 

It felt wrong, and he made a note to ask Deceit about it they next time the met up. Maybe Deceit knew something about it? Either because of something Patton didn't want to talk about or something Thomas was repressing or maybe Apathy? 

Roman closed his eyes and rocked back in his chair. Tony shifted again, a smooth reminder that something was still alright. Virgil's finger tapped against the table. No one said anything. 

Roman desperately wanted to stand up and pace but he couldn't shake the feeling that if he shoved the tension in the wrong way everything would explode. He wasn't quite in the mood to see fireworks yet. He shifted in his seat and tried to keep his breathing steady. He tapped his foot against the floor. 

"Alright," Logan said, his smooth voice a crack shot through the silence. If Logan felt the awkwardness between everyone he certainly didn't show it. Roman wanted to commend him on his acting. "It seems like we need to hand the funds out first and then pick pieces-" 

"I think we all know this, Lo," Virgil muttered. Logan fell silent. Roman winced and glanced at Logan. Logan closed his eyes and took a deep breath. 

"You are correct," he said stiffly, and Roman winced again. He nudged at Logan's leg under the table in support and sent Logan a grin when he glanced his way. Logan's lips quirked upwards in response and Roman's shoulders relaxed. He tried not to glance at Virgil. The weight of Virgil's eyes on his shoulders was enough. 

"I'll take the car," Logan said calmly. Roman wanted his composure. Virgil shrugged and grabbed the piece closest to him, the shoe. Patton blinked slowly and Roman reached out to poke him. Patton's head rose slowly and he smiled at him. It felt off in a way, and Roman fought down a shiver. 

"Dog for you, I'm guessing, Padre?" 

"Alright," Patton said mildly, and took the piece. Affable, but not excited. Roman had the sudden urge to shake him and ask what he did wrong. Where his mistake had been made for Patton to feel this way. What he heeded to do to fix it. 

"Then the crown for me!" 

"There isn't a crown," Virgil snapped. 

"There is now!" Roman snapped his fingers and put the silver crown piece on the board. Virgil's eye twitched. Roman tried to ignore it. 

"Then we shall begin." Logan rolled the dice. 

Roman tapped his foot again as the silence returned. His eyes darted towards Virgil periodically, but Virgil didn't look up from the board. His shoulders almost reached his ears and his hoodie hung loose and rumpled on his form. 

So obviously bothered and Roman wanted to pry, to make sure that Virgil hadn't caught on to Deceit. It left a squirming worm in his stomach at the thought. Though Roman couldn't tell if it was the fact that he had made Virgil feel that way or the fact that Virgil could find out about Deceit. He wanted to tell the truth, but he didn't trust them to follow his lead. 

You don't trust him enough

Deceit's voice rang through his head and Roman shook it to clear it. He wanted time to think but lately there wasn't enough. He wanted to keep Deceit as a friend. He couldn't if he wanted to keep his family. His hand wavered over his piece and he swallowed thickly. He didn't want anything to change. 

"Roman?" Logan promoted. 

"Ah yes right!" Roman nudged his piece across the board. Logan's hand twitched in his direction but didn't actually move. Roman's heart ached and he wanted. He wanted Patton to chatter excitedly in his ear. He wanted Logan to trust him; he wanted Virgil's dry commentary. 

Not this- 

This farce of their bond. 

He shoved his trembling hands under the table. It was his fault. He had caused this. If he had just marched forward with the status quo nothing would have changed. He wouldn't have tried to bond with Logan and made things awkward. He wouldn't have bonded with Deceit and made things tense. 

Tony shifted under his shirt again and Roman's eyes twitched as he fought not to squeeze them shut. Don't give it away, don't give it away, don't give it away- 

He lost feeling in his thigh, and Roman fought down a wince. Well then. He wondered if he would be able to stand when this was done or if he'd have to sink down once they were finished. Could he stand on his leg if only his thigh had vanished? 

"So," Logan attempted. Roman wished him the best of luck. Logan trailed off. 

"So," Roman parroted back, a teasing lit in his voice. Logan's lips twitched upwards again, and Roman counted it as a victory. "So, so, so, so. Marvelous word isn't it?" 

"A contraction," Logan replied, "Lengthening the structure of a sentence to allow for a more rhythmic flow and increase in ideas." 

"Flow?" Roman blinked, "Like a song?" 

“Oh yes," Logan said, his head nodding up and down. Roman leaned forward, and felt Tony's fangs brush across his chest in protest at the sudden movement. Whoops. 

"Sentence structure is exactly like a song. Different lengths and clauses can hold meanings unto themselves. It's why you're supposed to vary your lengths-" 

"As fascinating as this is," Virgil cut in and Roman mourned the way that Logan's mouth slammed shut. "Can we focus on the game?" 

"Why, Not-So-Starry-Knight," Roman said lightly, "We don't mean any harm." 

"Don't you?" Virgil snipped and Roman flinched. 

"Virgil," Logan said sharply. Virgil glared at them both. 

"What," he said flatly, "It should be a simple answer. Either he does or doesn't." 

"Virgil," Logan repeated, sharper this time, "What brought this on?" 

"I don't know, why don't I ask you that?" Virgil's hands slipped underneath the table as well. Roman shifted back slightly at the action. A sliver of hurt flashed through Virgil's eyes before he bared his teeth at them both. "What's with the sudden change in relationship? The sudden disappearances? You're either out or together, and you're never here anymore." 

"I have-" Logan adjusted his tie. "I've been busy with work. It can't be helped." 

"I honestly don't know what you're talking about," Roman said lightly, foot tapping faster under the table. He wanted to run away. He wanted to disappear. He wanted the ground to swallow him up and take this whole problem away. He glanced at Patton, the usual mediator in fights like this and was met with a slow blink in return. Well, that wasn't creepy at all. 

"Oh yeah? Then I'm sure you have nothing to hide, Mister-Picnic basket out in the middle of nowhere," Virgil narrowed his eyes, "What was it that you didn't want to tell me?" 

"Well, if I wanted to tell you," Roman struggled to keep his voice casual, but failed. He braced his hands on the table and stared back at Virgil, "Then I would have told you. Is it a crime to keep secrets now, Breaking Sad?" 

"I don't know is it?" 

"That isn't an answer," Roman snapped back. 

"Well neither was yours!" 

"Virgil! Roman!" Logan snapped, "Cease and desist. We are meant to be getting along right now-" 

"Oh yes, because these nights were always so peaceful when it was you and Roman snipping at each other-" 

"That is not what I meant- " 

"Because you always mean what you say, yet can never pick up on figurative language- " 

"Oh is it my turn?" They all froze at the sound of Patton's voice. 

"What the hell?" Roman muttered under his breath. Virgil kicked him and Roman winced. Well. That answered the question of whether he could still feel his shin without his thigh at least. 

"Yeah." Virgil said. A sudden one eighty as his voice softened and he reached out to place a gentle hand on Patton's arm. "It's your turn, Pat." He glared at both of them. Oh. Roman clenched his jaw. Maybe whatever was up with Patton was his fault. "You want to roll the dice, Pat?" 

Patton reached out and rolled it. A slow smile spread across his face, and Roman wanted to cry. If he left now, Virgil would hate him even more. Logan would know that something was up and want to talk about it. God, for a moment Roman missed Deceit with an ache that couldn't be matched. 

He had accepted that it may not be an act, he realized. He trusted Deceit and when things went wrong he wanted to turn to him. Patton would be so disappointed in him. 

You enjoy those knights and fantastic heroes, don't ya? What would they do?

Face any and every challenge with courage and honesty.

And he tried . But Roman could never meet the expectations they set for him. He met nothing but failure. All he could do was fall for lies and like the wrong people and hate the ones who he should like. He couldn't do what was needed. Useless and gullible and- 

Logan nudged him underneath the table and Roman sucked in a sharp breath. Tony hissed, soft and comforting as he slithered up to his neck. Two comforting presences as Roman tried not to drown. He let out a slow breath. 

"I believe that it is your turn." Logan said softly. 

Roman nodded at him and grinned. He tried not to make it too grateful, but from the way that Logan nudged him again, he failed. Ah well, there were worse things to do than let Logan know that he loved him. 

Tony poked his nose out of his collar and watched the pieces move across the board. Virgil tapped at the table once more, silent and sullen. Roman winced at the way that he slouched in his chair and didn't look at any of them. Patton didn't hum. Logan stared intently at the board. Everything felt stifled and painful.

“And now the snake’s here,” Virgil muttered. Roman's hand jumped up to cup around Tony's head protectively. He didn't like the venom that lurked in Virgil's eyes as he glared at Tony. He glared right back.

"Yes," he said flatly. Out of the corner of his head, Logan's head snapped up to stare at him. "The snake’s back."

Virgil scowled and kicked back and away from the table.

"Oh, so now it's more important than us? Is that it Princey? You care more about that thing then your family?"

"He's not a thing!" Roman hissed.

"It's not alive!" Virgil shouted, and Roman jerked back. Virgil's fists shook at his side and his voice warped and twisted over itself. "It's not alive and you're spending more time with it than with us! Are we not good enough for you? Need a reminder of someone who will give you everything you want even if it's wrong?!"

Roman shook, a ringing in his ears as Virgil stepped closer to him. Distantly, he realized that scraping against the floor was his own chair, him standing up to meet Virgil chest to chest.

"Oh?" he said lightly. Something about his own tone reminded him of Deceit's golden eyes, the defiance that Deceit had met Apathy with. If he could be even half as brave and confident as the so-called-snake, then maybe he'd be able to hold himself together. "And there's something wrong with getting what I want?" Roman smirked, a heated and angry look as the next word slipped out of his mouth.

"Anxiety?"

Virgil jerked, lunging forward and stopping as if he has reached the end of his puppet strings. He snarled and took a step back, pacing back and forth for a moment.

"Whatever he's said to you before," Virgil tugged at the zippers of his hoodie sleeves. The near ripping noise filled the room. "It was a lie. You're only hearing what you want to. Patton is right. Deceit won't help us. You can't trust him."

"And I can trust you?" Roman crossed his arms, aware of Tony near his cheek and staring at Virgil with a slitted gaze. "When you don't trust me?"

"I trust you!" Virgil's voice came out strangled between his teeth, "It's just-"

"It's just you don't trust me," Roman singsonged, and bounced on the balls of his heels.“You think I'm working with Deceit and that I'm easily manipulated and that I'm going to fail at everything I do!"

For a moment, the anger in Virgil's eyes dissipated as his hand twitched forward.

"Roman, that's not- not what I meant. It's just, you're playing pretend and you need to-”

"To what?" Roman took a step back. "To tell what's real and what's not? To be able to tell what's reality and do my job? I need to get a hold of myself? Do better? Oh come up with a great idea Roman, but do it in the way that we say and even better do it without ever actually leaving the room!"

"You're not listening to me!"

"And you never listen to me!" Roman's chest heaved as silence filled the room. It took everything he had not to press down against the bandages wrapped around his hip. To try and touch his missing thigh.

"Roman," Logan said softly.

Roman pasted a shaky smile on his face, and he knew they all heard the bitterness in his voice as he parroted what he always said.

"I'm fine, no need to worry about me." He threw his hands into the air, "I'm a Prince! I don't need help!"

"No," Virgil took a step back and glared at him, "No, but you seemed to have found help already."

Roman's hands dropped as Virgil spun on his heel and stalked out of the room. Roman's eyes slid shut and he felt Logan press a hand to his arm. Tony hissed softly and nudged at his cheek. 

He wanted to go home. Only home was a warm cave and deep laughter and the smell of green tea. A distant whiney. He wanted this to be his home but Roman admitted to himself that really, the Imagination had everything he ever wanted.

He dug his fingernails into his wrist. Maybe he'd visit the School again. Remind himself why he stuck around. Thomas needed him.

Right?

"Is-"

"I'm fine," he cut Logan off. He knew that Logan didn't believe him, but he'd played his part for too long. The mask had sealed over his face and Roman didn't know how to peel it off without leaving a bloody mess behind. He smiled at Logan, the same fake one that he had used for so long. Only this time Logan flinched back and away from it.

Patton stood up, a vacant smile on his face and wandered out of the room. Roman traced his path and wondered what he felt. If it felt better than the way he felt right now. Maybe they had both been hollowed out and Thomas was doomed to fall apart.

He closed his eyes and briefly leaned into Logan's touch.

"I should get back to work," he whispered.

"You don't have to," Logan said sharply.

"Yeah," Roman reached up to run a finger down Tony's head. Tony leaned into the touch, a cool reminder of the people who would support him. Who needed him in some form even if it wasn't what he wanted. "Yeah I do."

Roman sunk out and to his room. The last thing he saw was Logan watching him with regret shining behind his glasses. Roman wished he could tell him that it wasn't his fault.

It was all Roman.

It had always been all him.

Chapter Text

Tony wondered if he could get away with just discorporating all the other Sides for a while. Virgil and Patton would be out of the way. He could talk to Roman without fear and take care of Apathy without worrying about what they were doing or what they thought. Logan would be a regret to take out but sacrifices had to be made.

Roman, of course, would be free to do as he wished. Whether it was help or run around the Imagination. Tony stared down at his gloves and sighed. Sadly, what Roman would most likely do would be to discorporate Tony in revenge and then promptly get murdered by Apathy.

Then Remus would be the last one left standing, and really that was a worst case scenario.

Tony just hadn't decided if it was worse than Apathy being the last one standing.

He really wanted a drink.

Tony rubbed at his temple and tried to decide what to do. He thought he had caught sight of Apathy near the library, but hadn't been able to find anything. If Apathy angled for Logan, then Tony would scream. 

He had turned into a snake to take a look around. Then Logan had found him, and taken him out before he had found anything. At the very least it meant that he had kept Logan away from Apathy. Even if Virgil had glared at him when Logan walked past. Roman's grin at the sight of him had been more than worth it though.

It left a warm smug feeling in Tony's chest.

His only regret was that he couldn't rub it in Virgil's face. 

The door slammed open and Tony fought down a grin. Roman threw himself into the chair next to him. It spun in a circle. Tony was pretty sure that it didn't originally, but who was he to tell Roman that it shouldn't?

"Well, it seems that His liege is being stingy," he gestured at his own chair.

"Oh fuck off you bastard," Roman said cheerfully, "You can make that chair whatever you want on your own."

"Ah, but your craftsmanship is clearly superior." Tony leaned forward again, poking at the various notes on the table. He wished that he could see if Apathy had messed with any of the books in the Library, but Logan would skin him alive for even stepping foot in there. His eyes darted up to catch the pleased smile on Roman's face before he glanced back down.

"After all, it is what you specialize in-" Tony tripped up over his words, his tongue catching on a simple syllable. It didn't mean anything, but still- "Ty."

Roman's face lit up like a Christmas tree and he spun around again.

"Well if that's the case!"

Tony held back a giggle as his chair suddenly softened into a proper seat. The cushions were some of the highest quality he felt, and leaning back he found that the back of his chair went with him. He hummed in delight and couldn’t resist giving it one spin just like Roman had.

"Well, then" Tony said with a grin, “It seems that you just continue to prove me right."

Roman swatted at him.

"If you would stop being so smart, maybe you'd be wrong more often," Roman teased.

"Ah, but then who would tell you what a delight you are?" Tony mused and tipped out of his chair with a laugh to duck away from Roman's second swat. His laughter cut off as Roman scooped up his notes. "Don't you dare-!"

Roman wagged a finger at him and danced lightly towards the door. 

"Ah, ah, ah!" Roman tucked the papers under his arms. Tony rubbed at his temples, amusement draining as he held his hand out.

"Roman, I'm serious."

"And so am I!" Roman ducked away from his lunge and held the papers above his head. Tony stood on his toes reaching for them. Roman must have shifted to a taller height. Clever moron. Tony was going to leave him tied up to a chair in revenge for this.

"You've been working yourself down to the bone for the last couple of days," Roman said grandly, "So we're going to take a break, before you climb right out of your skin."

"I'm a snake," Tony hissed at him, jumping just a bit and cursing as his finger only just brushed his papers. "It's natural. What's not natural is Apathy and, Ty I swear to god if you don't-"

"Nope!" Roman popped his 'P' and slid towards the door. "I'm only going to give them back if you agree to come relax with me. I've got the perfect thing."

Tony let his hands drop and crossed his arms. He glared at Roman. His scowl pulled at his face, and he tried not to show the way that everything about him ached now that he was standing. Huh, he must have been in that chair longer than he had thought. He'd need to go check up on the Wall soon to make sure that it hadn't gotten worse in his absence.

"No," he snapped, "I already took a break with you. And you wanted a picnic and you can't risk trying for one so soon after being caught by Virgil and-"

"Not a picnic," Roman cajoled, "And we won't take the Hallways this time. Just straight to my room and then into the Imagination where there's no risk of the others seeing you. Just you and me and the others I want to introduce you too. I've the perfect thing. Come on, Dee. Trust me."

Tony flinched. He needed to figure out what was going on with Apathy. He couldn't let this go on much longer. But refusing now would imply that he didn't trust Roman and he had worked too hard to give Roman this relationship to back out of it now.

"I'm taking my papers with me," he snarled, snatching them back as Roman whooped in victory. Roman's arm wrapped around his shoulder and Tony let out a sigh. He would indulge Roman this once and get back to work.

Even if the thought felt like a lie hovering around the back of his throat. After all, he kept indulging Roman. Even when he said he wouldn't.

At least there were worse things to lie about.

"Come on, come on, come on, come on-" Roman chanted as he dragged Tony closer and sunk out into his room. Tony let Roman drag him into the closet and through to the Imagination. The welcome buzz of it washed over him and Tony closed his eyes to breathe deeply as the fresh air of the woods hit him.

"Onwards to adventure!" Roman let him go to whistle for Lady and Tony leaned back against the tree to simply watch Roman bounce in place. He looked-

Tony didn't want to say better, but steadier. The bandages they used had expanded to his thigh but not much farther. Tony wanted to strangle Virgil for the incident at the table, but sadly discorporation was the last thing he needed right now. At least Roman seemed to have found a peace of sorts.

Not the one that Tony wanted him too, but at least one that didn't have him spiraling down into insecurity and unraveling.

Lady came galloping out of the woods and made a beeline straight to Tony. Tony blinked and took a step back as she butted her muzzle against his shoulder. He reached out and ran a hand down her soft velvet, wondering what it was that she wanted.

"Lady," Roman whined. Lady nickered, bumping Tony again. She glanced at Roman and then back at him.

"Oh," Tony breathed, and let out a soft huff of a laugh. "That's not something you have to thank me for. Moron needs all the help he can get."

"Hey!"

Tony gave Lady one last pat as she trotted over to Roman and gave him a nudge too. 

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Roman muttered even as he leaned into her flank, "I see right through you. You just want to butter him up to give you more gifts. Well no sugar cubes for you."

Lady nickered, and Tony made a note to give her all the sugar cubes she could ever want just to spite Roman's words. Roman lifted himself up into the saddle and held his hand out to Tony. Tony hesitated.

"She can fit two people?" he asked dubiously.

"Three actually," Roman said cheerfully, "If it's an emergency and she doesn't have to go far. She's a treasure like that," he leaned over to rub at Lady’s neck, "Aren't ya girl?"

Lady tossed her mane and whinnied, prancing closer to him. Tony narrowed his eyes but accepted it. If they both thought it was fine, Tony wouldn't argue. He took Roman's hand and let Roman settle him in front. It wasn't the most comfortable position-

Roman's arms wrapped around his waist to grip the reigns and Tony was bracketed by two solid pieces of warmth. Never mind. He melted into the feeling, burrowing down into the glorious warmth. This was perfect. They could just go for a ride like this for the next long while and Tony wouldn't complain. He'd probably drift off, surrounded by Roman's warmth and the comfort of the Imagination around him.

Roman giggled, tightening his grip for a moment before urging Lady forward. Tony hummed to himself. Screw appearances. He'd gladly die to just stay like this for the next hour or so. He could simply deal with anyone who saw him later.

"We don't have that far to go," Roman said cheerfully, "Anton has something set up for us, and he does the best work."

"Anton," Tony murmured, thinking back to the cloaked figure he had met first. Someone with common sense. Perhaps this would actually be relaxing.

"Yeah! He was originally the antagonist character from Thomas' short. They generally have a lot more character than the average Construct," Roman said and Tony blinked. Huh, he never thought about how they differed from the others. Tony figured that they were the norm. 

"Of course, being from thirty seconds at most, a lot of them sort of fill in the rest of the blanks themselves. It changes depending on where they were formed and where they decided to stay, and a little bit of how both the fans and Thomas perceive them."

"Huh," Tony said thoughtfully, "So it's not just you?"

Roman pulled a face, his cheeks screwing up in displeasure. His fingers on the reigns tightened before relaxing.

"It's never just me, but here I have," Roman paused and chewed on his lips, "We could say majority rule. I outvote most people, Thomas being the only exception. What I want goes, unless Thomas says otherwise."

"Mmmm." Tony tilted his head to the side. "Sounds nice."

A haven of sorts. An equivalent to Tony's room. A place where Roman didn't have to worry about anything or anyone and just be himself. And he had let Tony wander into it. Something warm and soft wrapped around his heart, a more pleasant feeling than even Roman's body warmth and Tony melted just a little bit more.

"Yeah," Roman said softly, as they broke free of the words and the now familiar sight of Anton's village came into view. "Yeah, it is. Best things I could ever have."

"Roman!" Tony blinked sluggishly as Anton waved at the two of them. Anton, to his credit, barely hesitated. "Who's this?"

"Anton!" Roman swept his hand out and Tony bit back a whine at the loss of warmth. "This is Deceit! Deceit, Anton!"

"Pleasure," Tony said dryly, holding his hand out for Anton to shake. Anton took it and Tony caught the brief narrow of eyes only because he was looking for it.

"Likewise." He glanced back up at Roman, "You said that you wanted some place to relax? We have the hot springs all set up for you." A crooked smile crossed his face, "Though I'm afraid that Hecate and Remy may have caught wind of your visit and- commandeered it for themselves."

"They what?" Roman shouted over Tony's snickers. Anton's eyes darted to him in surprise before returning to Roman. He shrugged.

"You know how they are." He reached up to pat Roman's arm.  "Toby and Nate may be by as well. And with Toby comes Seth and August as you know. So uh, it may get a little full today. I'll do my best but Nate said that there was some movement from the Imps around the border that I'm going to check out."

Roman pouted. Tony ran a hand over his mouth slowly to hide the grin growing on his face. This. This is the sort of place that Roman needed and Tony would admit in his heart of hearts was the sort of place that he wouldn't mind spending time at.

"Fine," Roman grumbled, sliding off of Lady and holding his hand out for Tony to take. Anton's eyebrow rose and Tony glared at him. He bit back a hiss. Roman didn't like fighting among his Constructs. But if Anton breathed so much as a word about this to anyone, Tony would find some sort of revenge to enact on him. Maybe replace all his salt with sugar, see how the bastard likes everything being too sweet.

Roman turned towards the hot springs, at least Tony presumed that. Tony let the chattering wash over him, waiting just a moment to catch Anton by the arm as Roman's back was turned.

"Don't go alone," he hissed softly. Anton's eyebrow twitched as if he tried to raise it even more but he couldn't.

"And why should I listen to you?" Anton asked softly. "We may have agreed to keep your secret, but I'm not happy about it. You're leaving the two of you open-"

"I know that!" Tony snapped his mouth shut and took a deep breath. "You think I don't know that?" He said, struggling to keep his voice even, "I'm Deception you fool. I know exactly what the weakness in this is."

Anton didn't say anything. Tony glanced back at Roman. Roman and Lady strode towards the stables together and Tony turned his attention back to Anton.

"Just, listen," Tony said, gripping Anton's arm a little tighter, "Stay and talk to Remy if you have to. Get whatever the hell confirmation you need to feel good about my advice." Tony leaned in and shook Anton's arm for emphasis.

"But don’t go scouting alone. Take someone, anyone with you."

Anton stared at him for a long moment.

"I'll expect an explanation," he said slowly.

"Eventually," Tony bit out, "If that's what it takes."

Anton nodded slowly and Tony let go of his arm. Anton rubbed at the spot that Tony had held and Tony bit back an apology. He wouldn't apologize for probably saving the Construct’s life. Not because he cared, but because Roman would be devastated if anything happened to him.

"I can see if Nate would like to join me," Anton said, thoughtfully. "And since he’s already making his way here, it would be a waste to go looking for him."

Tension bled out of Tony's shoulders.

"Yeah, yes, whatever works for you," He straightened his cape and let out another slow breath. He hesitated, and then under his breath. "Thank you."

"What?" Tony didn't respond to Anton's question, turning and striding carefully back to Roman's side. The eyes on him felt like the first him he had arrived, only- not quite.

Tony just couldn't put his finger on why.

"What was that?" Roman glanced back at him, and Tony nudged at his hat. He set it properly at his head and thought about trust. He thought about trust and friendship and a long forgotten argument about whether it was better to lie to a friend to save their feelings and to keep them safe or if it was better to tell the truth.

Tony hesitated.

"I'll tell you later," he murmured.

No need to decide now. He had a little bit of time to figure it out. Not much, but Tony would hold on to what he had with his nails and claws and teeth.

It wasn't much but it was his.

And more than anything Tony was selfish.

Chapter Text

Roman hummed to himself as he ushered Tony towards the Hot Springs. Tony would admit that this was a relaxing idea that he could look forward to. Warmth. Warmth everywhere and the possibility of Roman's singing voice filling the room.

Now if only he could get something similar in his own room and then he'd know true perfection.

Roman simply pulled the door open and strode into the small building that sat at the edge of town. Tony eyed it for a long moment. He had almost expected it to be eastern inspired, but it looked the same way that all the other buildings did. Modern western construction, with a small sign hanging over it.

He chuckled, flicking at the pool of water with steam coming off it. The only image on the sign. Adorable.

He strode in after Roman, and braced himself.

"Well, well, well." Tony turned slowly at the sound of Hecate’s voice. "If it isn't pretty boy."

"Oh dear," Tony said flatly, "Roman, it seems that your springs have a reptile infestation. You may need to call pest control."

Hecate bared her teeth, still sharp and gleaming even as a human.

"Oh but aren't you a reptile, pretty boy?" Her hair swung behind her, an almost tail that Tony wasn't jealous of, he wasn't. "We'd need to get rid of you as well. You want to take it outside? We can take it outsi-"

"You’re both, like, absolutely ridiculous," Remy cut in, sliding between the two of them. He took a long sip from the drink in his hands and looked at Tony from over his glasses. "Aren't you, like, exhausted from being so childish?"

"He started it!"

"I'm not a child!"

Remy hummed. 

"Certainly sounds like it to me. Whatever."

He drifted away again. Tony scowled at his back, and then at Hecate.

"I don't know why I ever thought-"

"Thought what?" Roman reappeared at his elbow and Tony jumped. He skittered back and something flashed in Roman's eyes. "Sorry." He held his hand out, and with it a soft fluffy towel, "Just wanted to grab what you'd need for the most perfect, amazing Imagination Hot Springs experience."

Tony took the towel carefully and eyed it. It hit him, suddenly, that Roman intended for them all to get undressed for this hot springs visit. He felt like a fool for not thinking about it before. These weren't private baths. This was him, baring himself for everyone here.

Tony's hand spasmed around the towel and he smiled tightly at Roman. He pulled the towel closely to his chest and nodded silently at Roman. Roman stared at him for a long moment, eyes narrowing.

"Well, come on!" Roman said, grabbing him by the wrist and dragging him towards the changing room. Tony yelped, and dug his feet into the floor on instinct. Everything down to his toes screamed no. He couldn't be that trusting around anyone.

Roman stumbled at his sudden stop and Hecate and Remy's eyes on Tony's back felt heavy.

"I've changed my mind," he said stiffly. "I'll enjoy the view from the roof-" weak, he knew it was a weak alternative, but he wasn't thinking clearly, "-have an enjoyable time-"

Tony turned and ran into Hecate's chest. She was as muscled as she looked. Tony stumbled back and blinked. She quirked an eyebrow up at him.

"Awwww, is pretty boy sensitive about sharing a bath with a woman?" She poked at him, and Tony swatted at her hand. He could feel the tips of his ears turning red, thankfully covered by his hat. He felt fragile enough to break.

"Yes," he ground out, "That is exactly it. And I'd hate to get in the way of your bonding, so if you excuse me-"

He stepped around Hecate to meet Remy's eyes.

"Lie," Roman said softly from behind him.

"Now, why would you, like, lie to our faces at this stage?" Remy said casually, taking a step forward. Tony took a step back. They bracket around him, and Tony gripped the edges of his cape, eyes darting around for an escape.

"I think I can tell you why," Hecate mused, tapping a finger on her chin. "Pretty boy didn't want to take his glove off either."

"Oh," Roman said. He reached out, and Tony flinched away from his touch. "Dee, come on." Tony blinked at Roman's expression. Something soft and understanding as he tugged him towards the changing room once more. "And you two!" Roman's eyes cut to Remy and Hecate. 

Hecate rocked back on her heels and whistled. Remy took a sip from his drink. Roman jabbed a finger in their direction.

"You both stay out here! I mean it! Your mischief means the cracking foundation of this very country and I won't stand for it! I simply-"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, we get it, Daddy-o, go woo your man or whatever," Remy said, sunglasses tipping down to wink at both of them. Roman sputtered and Tony glared.

"I hate you!" Roman shrieked. “And I’m not wooing him!”

"Love you too!" Hecate called as Roman dragged Tony away. Roman slammed the door behind him and scrubbed at his face.

"My deepest apologies for them. I know they can be a bit-" Roman chewed on his lips and rocked on his heels. Identical to the way that Hecate did. "Much."

"And we have no idea where they got it from," Tony said dryly.

"Exactly!" Roman threw his hands in the air. "Wait."

Tony smirked at him. Roman growled and shoved his hat down using the brim and Tony's snickers burst into full blown laughter. He straightened his hat and the look in Roman's eyes froze him.

"You don't want to show your scales," Roman said. Tony's fingers tightened around his hat, and he took a step back. He tried not to turn and flee in the other direction.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Tony said lightly. Roman rolled his eyes.

"Sure you don't," Roman said, "Then you wouldn't mind if I just-"

His fingers reached for his face. Tony jerked back, a hiss slipping from his lips as Roman reached for the most vulnerable part of himself. For the most hated.

"That," Roman said with a triumphant grin, "Is not not being bothered by it."

"I hate you," Tony hissed.

"No, you don't," Roman brushed off. Tony wanted to feel warm at Roman's certainty of that, but everything ached too much. He wanted to relax, not whatever the hell this was.

"Come on, Dee," Roman said hands held out, palms up. "No one's going to judge you here. I mean, you've seen Hecate, she walks around horns full display. Remy will still have his sunglasses and drink, even in the springs when he's really not supposed too. Nate will show up and at one point probably almost drown because he falls asleep in the bath, and Toby will-"

"It's not the same," Tony whispered.

"Isn't it?" Roman challenged. He took a step forward. "You don't get to choose what you look like. What Thomas thinks of you like. Any more than I get to decide if I'm a prince or a king, or Patton a dad, or Virgil whatever the hell type of raccoon he is."

Tony bit back a snicker. Roman took another step forward.

"Toby will have the Halloween tree down his back, " Roman said softly, “and you'll fit right in with the rest of us misfits." Roman's hand shook as it reached up again. "The Imagination is supposed to be a sanctuary from reality. I keep everyone here safe. Visitors included. You can relax, Dee. I promise."

Tony took a deep breath, and carefully, gently, leaned his scaled cheek into Roman's hand. Roman rubbed his thumb against the smooth scales, and Tony shivered at the sudden assault of warmth against one of his few snake bits that wasn't properly covered at all times.

Roman's hand dropped away and he grinned.

“You can always dunk someone in the water if it gets to be too much," Roman suggested cheerfully. Tony's answering chuckle felt like dried fall leaves. Too much crackle and pain and the slightest pressure on it would cause it to shatter.

"And what would Patton think of you indulging in such mischief?" Tony mused. Roman waved him away.

"Well, Padre isn't here right now, you are." Roman winked at him and reached for the edges of his own shirt. "So it seems I know which part of Thomas I'll be listening to today."

Tony pressed a hand to his mouth to cover the soft grin that crossed his face. He tugged his hat down to obscure his expression. He tracked the way that Roman pulled his shirt up over his head, all lean muscle and white scar tissue.

"You'll want to leave the bandages on," Tony said softly, eyes tracking the white on Roman's arm, hip, and legs. So much of it. Not too much yet, and still, more than Tony would have ever liked to see at the same time.

"It's not the same!" Roman  pouted. 

"Closer than if you didn't though," Tony snapped. He hesitated, fingers tracing the brim of his hat before he plucked it off his head. He shoved it over Roman's head and rolled his eyes at Roman's yelp. "At least you'll be able to feel the water with them on. Moron."

He carefully pulled his cape off as Roman nudged the hat up over his head.

"Fine," Roman grumbled. "But I don't have to be happy about it."

"You don't have to be happy about anything," Tony agreed. He undressed as quickly as he could and wrapped the towel that Roman had given him around his waist. He could feel Roman's eyes on his back as he sauntered towards the hot springs, "And yet, you choose to do it anyways. Everything’s a choice, Roman. You've already made yours."

"That's cheating!" Roman shouted. Tony smirked at the hurried footsteps that followed him. He watched Roman out of the corner of his eye, the skin of his biceps clear as Roman reached for him. Tony wondered what Roman saw. If the scales that ran down Tony' back and arms meant anything to him.

Or if Tony truly did fit in with this bunch of misfits.

"Ah, and pretty boy deigns to join us!"

Tony changed his mind. He was going home.

"Awwww, don't be like that," Hecate whined, leaning back against the rocks that edges the springs. Tony eyed her carefully as he eased into the springs himself. The warm water felt heavenly against his aching muscles and cool scales.

"Us reptiles have to stick together," Hecate said, kicking her legs under the water and sending little splashes of waves up against the edge.

"And here I thought the goal was to eat me."

"Oh, you know," Hecate flashed him a fanged grin. "Either or."

Tony rolled his eyes and sunk in up to is neck, letting out a soft sigh as he relaxed. Well, Roman had been right about it being perfect. Tony knew that he shouldn't be surprised but somehow Roman managed to pull that emotion from him time and again.

"Yooo!" Tony felt his lips twitched up at the sound of Toby's voice. "You party people start with you us?"

"I feel like I should be jealous of that reaction," Remy shoved at his shoulder and Tony cracked an eye open to hiss at him. "Here I thought I was your favorite."

"If anyone wassss," Tony hissed, "It would be Roman, not one of you jokerssssss."

"Ha!" Roman punched a fist into the air, and slid into the water next to him. Tony rolled his eyes and sent a splash of water in his direction. "Hey!"

"You're just the best of a bad lot," Tony said dryly. "The top of the bottom stack."

"You're just saying that," Hecate sing-songed.

"I agree with the Dragon Queen," Toby cut in and Tony tilted his head back to look at him. He bit down on his Tony-with-a-B remark, but from the way that Toby's face lit up, he heard it all the same.

"For the bottom of the stack, you somehow spend a lot of time with us." Toby said cheerfully. He winced, and Tony's gaze cut to Remy. Remy shrugged slightly. 

"A lot of time with us?" Roman blinked.

"For a loner," Remy cut in, "The snake man spends, like, all his time with us compared to what he spends with anyone else."

"True!" Roman pointed at Tony and jabbed a finger at his chest. "You do! You claim to hate us but you were the one that snuck into here first! You came to me for help."

"Coincidence," Tony said flatly, "You are building with clouds and hope."

"Well that is what I do."

"You loooove us," Hecate sing-songed. "You love Roooooman."

"I can still tear your wings from the base of your spine," Tony told her mildly. A threat that did nothing considering the fact that Hecate simple burst into laughter. Insane woman, Tony thought fondly.

"I'd like to see you try, pretty boy," Hecate challenged, raising one hand out of the water to gesture at him. Tony flipped her the bird right back and enjoyed the cackles that he received in turn.

"No fighting in the Springs!" Roman's voice cracked, and Tony sighed.

"Oh dear," he muttered, "And here I thought that I was going to duel her to the death."

"Sounds like work," Remy agreed.

"And I would never want to do that."

"My kinda man," Remy nodded. "We can just, like, live here now." Tony sunk back into the water even more in agreement, letting the water lap at his hair. "It would be like, peaceful and all that shit.”

"You'd get bored so quick," Roman protested. Remy took a long sip from his drink before putting up on the edge. He tilted his head to the side, and-

"Nah."

Roman's sputtering met with laughter from the rest and Hecate yelled something that Tony drowned out but dunking his head under the water. He wanted to purr with how warm and perfect it all felt. His chest felt lighter than it ever had. If a hot springs did this, Tony needed to install one into his room.

Only he didn't think that it was just the hot springs.

He surface and shook the water from his face.

"Look," Toby said raising his hands in a placating gesture, "I'm just saying that if Roman, man, if he wants to enjoy some more kinky subjects-"

"What," Tony said flatly. They were edging dangerously close to Remus territory, which meant a hard abort.

"I'm just saying," Toby said with a grin, "That the amount of staring and touching that goes on between the two of you-"

Tony felt no guilt in reaching over and shoving Toby's head under the water. He let him go and glared as Toby sputtered and blew water from his lungs. Hecate's laughter grew even louder.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Tony hissed.

"Oh?" Toby said, a gleam growing in his eyes.

"Roman," Tony said flatly. He held out his hand, “Ty, my friend, I need a water gun so that I may drown your Construct."

"That's cheating!" Toby shouted, inching away from him

"Sssssnake, my friend," Tony hissed with a smirk, "Cheating is what I do." He lunged and Toby dove away from him with shrieking laughter. Hecate let out a roar and Tony glanced up to watch the wall of hot water about to come cascading down around him.

It wasn't sitting and soaking in the bath, Tony thought as Roman's shouts and challenges added to the crescendo. Remy screamed as his drink went into the water. Toby sent a swirl of water in Tony's direction. A wild grin climbed over Tony's face.

But it was the most relaxing thing that he'd ever done.

Chapter Text

Logan turned the page to his book. He glanced up simply to check on Roman, curled up in his bed and then turned back to his novel. It wasn't one that he believed that Thomas had ever actually read, only heard about. There were several blank pages in the middle of it, and others that matched Thomas' writing tone more than the actual authors.

Still a rather stunning read however. Considering that most of it was made up by Thomas' vague recollection and Roman filling in the rest. An enjoyable read that Logan wouldn't find anywhere else.

Though he would rather like to read the original eventually.

He leaned back against his chair and ran a hand through his hair. Things were-

Not alright.

They would be, he knew that, but for the moment, the situation was not ideal. Apathy pushed for him to search the Imagination. The friction between Roman and the others only grew. Something would give way soon, if it hadn't already.

Logan closed his eyes and thought about the accusations that Virgil had hurled at Roman. Nothing quite explicit yet, but the paranoia was there. The suspicions. That Roman had left them for Deceit.

Logan thought about the flash of black he had seen Roman take to the Imagination. He shook his head. No. Roman would either have a good reason for working with Deceit, or it had been something else. Allowing doubt to creep in about Roman at this moment would leave him isolated, and even more vulnerable than he already was.

Logan could not allow that to happen.

"Specs?" Roman asked and Logan opened his eyes to look at him. "Having trouble with your homework?" Roman teased.

"In a sense," Logan murmured. "Though not this exact assignment."

Roman snorted, the closest to a laugh that Logan had heard in days.

"Only you," Roman said, and Logan felt a flicker of pride at being able to pick out the affection in his tone, "Would call your work homework or an assignment."

"Is it not an accurate description of what I am to accomplish?"

"Sure, but it's so boring."

Logan rolled his eyes.

"For you perhaps, I find it quite satisfying." 

Roman grinned at him, and stretched. He settled back into a more comfortable position on Logan's bed. Logan tilted his head to the side and debated offering Roman a poetry book to read. He seemed content simply laying there for the time being but Logan wasn't entirely sure.

"Whatever floats your boat," Roman murmured. Logan stared at him for a while longer before turning back to his book. So long as Roman was happy with the arrangement then Logan felt content. There was something about simply sitting in his room sharing Roman's presence that left a happy chemical reaction in his brain.

Logan also gave it about ten minutes before Roman tried to bring up some conversation.

It would be best if it was about Virgil's accusation or whatever had been plaguing Roman lately. But Logan doubted that Roman would bring it up. It had taken the near death of a friend that Logan had barely knew existed before Roman had reached out to him.

Who knew what it would take for Roman to ask for help for himself?

Logan made it through another chapter and quietly slipped a bookmark into the pages as Roman shifted on his bed. Logan turned to look at him and Roman chewed on the bottom of his lip.

"Hey Specs?"

"Yes Roman?" Logan asked, turning to face Roman fully. Roman tightened his hands in his sash and his eyes skittered to the back corner of the room.

"Can I-" Logan waited patiently as he visibly wavered in whatever he wanted to ask. Logan carefully pushed aside any assumptions and held his breath.

"Can I ask you something?"

"I am always willing to attempt an answer," Logan said softly.

"Not always," Roman said with a pained smile. "But I get what you're trying to say."

Logan waited as Roman shifted again. He moved from his comfortable sprawl into a stiffer sitting position. A tell that Roman didn't believe this conversation would go well. Roman took a deep breath.

"What-" He swallowed and Logan very carefully kept his hands on his thighs. "What do you know about Deceit?"

Logan narrowed his eyes and tilted his head to the side. He reached up to push his glasses up the bridge of his nose. An interesting question, considering all that had happened.

"What exactly are you looking to learn?" Logan said simply.

Roman shrugged, knuckles turning white as his fingers got twisted up in his sash. Logan twitched and reached out to untangle them before Roman could harm himself. Coping was one thing; possible self-harm while coping was another.

"I dunno," Roman mumbled, "What you think of him? If he could be any good? If he's-" Roman wrinkled his nose, "If he's closer to my brother and better off ignored."

Logan slid his book away and shifted the scant distance between his chair and his bed to sit down next to Roman. He reached out to press a hand to Roman's arm and studied Roman's expression.

"Am I permitted to ask what brought this questioning on?"

"You know-" Roman shrugged his shoulders and glanced away, "It's just...."

"Virgil's accusation?" Logan tested.

Roman nodded. Once and short.

"Regardless of Virgil's current state of distress," Logan said primly, "You are a trustworthy and good individual. If for any reason you decide to trust Deceit, than I trust that you have a good reason for it."

Or that Deceit had crossed a line and it was not Roman's fault in the slightest, Logan thought to himself. He had a feeling that it wasn't what Roman needed to hear however. Roman sighed and leaned against his shoulder. Logan let out a deep breath.

"However, if it will help to ease your stress than I can attempt to articulate my own observations of our fellow Side and his actions."

"Please," Roman whispered.

Logan nodded and tightened his tie. He threaded his fingers together and shifted so that Roman's head on his shoulder felt a little bit more comfortable.

"Morality, as anyone sees it, is subjective," Logan said steadily. "Patton is Thomas' idea of Morality and as such would disagree with someone else on very frequent occasions. There is no real universal idea of good ." 

"We must take that into context when truly taking a look at Deceit." Logan shifted and laid a hand on Roman's thigh. "He serves a purpose for Thomas just as we all do. I object to his method majority of the time, however. He hides the truth, in a misguided attempt to keep others safe. He pushes for what he believes, much in the same manner that Patton does."

Logan let his eyes drift to the model of the solar system that Roman had made him, the stack of cards that Patton had given him over the years, the newest addition of Virgil's tattered notes about conspiracy theories. A warmth in his room that he doubted that Deceit possessed.

"He isolates himself, believing that he is the only one who can be trusted," Logan said gently. Roman shifted at the words and Logan's eyes cut to him. He couldn't discern the emotion in Roman's eyes, but he made a note of it for later. 

"Which is to say," Logan took a deep breath, "He can be useful, in select situations and with the proper guidance, but as he stands now, he would never ask for such. He is much like Vigil in a way, I suppose. He believes that he must manipulate others in order to get what he wants."

"Maybe one day, he could be trusted," Logan mused, "But there would always be that seed of doubt sown by his very function. If it is what Thomas wished, he would deceive us and that is no foundation for a relationship."

"So you think he's not worth the effort?" Roman murmured.

"On the contrary," Logan said sharply. "I believe that he has a use. I simply believe that it is limited. He obscures logic and truth and knowledge. I may not oppose him as much as Patton does, but the methods that he chooses to employ are distasteful."

"Ah," Roman said. His eyes dropped to the floor and Logan felt for a moment a gulf opening up between them. A stumbling block that would take them back to where they started. Logan scrambled to find a bridge.

"That isn't what you wanted to hear."

Roman's lips twisted up into a bitter smile.

"No," he said, pulling away from Logan, "No, I don't think it was. I just-" Roman ran a hand through his hair and looked at Logan with wide eyes, "I don't want to make the same mistake again, you know?"

"Oh." Logan felt like someone had knocked the air out of his chest. Virgil had fought and kicked and screamed to be listened to. The methods he had employed hadn't been the best-

Logan let out a small huff of breath as his own words echoed back at him.

He reached out and poked Roman in the waist. Roman yelped and Logan grinned at him.

"I will repeat it if you like," Logan said softly, hand reaching out to wrap around Roman's wrist. He didn't squeeze it, but he wanted to ground Roman and have him listen to what Logan meant. "I will trust you. If you believe that there is part of Deceit worth trusting then I will follow your lead."

Roman stared at him with wide eyes, looking more fragile than Logan had ever seen him. Logan grinned even wider and did squeeze Roman's wrist.

"You are my friend, Roman," Logan said simply, "And more than that you are part of my family. There is nothing more in the world I want than to make you happy."

Roman swallowed thickly and tipped forward just a bit. Logan let him bury his head in his shoulder. Logan reached up to wrap his arms around Roman's waist and breathed slowly and carefully to help with Roman's stuttering breaths.

"You are a good man, Roman," Logan said, "And a good friend. It would be remiss of me not to return that favor."

Roman let out a wet laugh and pulled away just enough to wipe at his face. Logan's eyes caught on a bandage, wrapped around his arm. Strange. Roman hadn't gone on any quests recently to Logan's knowledge.

"Not recently I haven't," Roman protested, "All I do is call you names and mess up your schedules and-"

"And push Thomas to follow his dreams so that he can be happy. You try to give Thomas the spark in his life that I cannot." Logan reached out and flicked Roman in the forehead. "Don't sell yourself short, Roman. We are complementary, not the opposite."

Roman’s chuckle still sounded a little pained but it wasn't shattering. He wiped at his face once more and then pulled a grin over his face. Logan wished he wouldn't but considered that Roman needed the armor.

"So you were trying to warn me away from Deceit when you mentioned seeing him around the Library? Not bringing him up as a point of conversation?"

Logan's blood froze in his veins.

"As a matter of fact," Logan said stiffly. "I was."

Had Roman gone looking for Apathy? Likely. Apathy wanted him to tell Roman in order to get Roman alone. What had happened? Had Roman not followed through? That didn't match his usual patterns of habits. Had Roman emerged triumphant? More probable, but the odds from what Logan had observed of Apathy were stacked against Roman-

"Specs?" Roman snapped his fingers, "Hello? Figure of Teach? Anyone home?"

"My apologies," Logan said, fingers twitching up to fiddle with his tie, "What did you say Roman?"

"I said, there wasn't anyone ever there when I looked, so you must be seeing things."

Nothing. Logan wanted to cry for a brief heart-wrenching moment. Roman hadn't seen anything. He had been safe. He stretched a smile out over his face and murmured.

"Perhaps I have been working too hard lately." His eyes narrowed and he saw an opportunity. "As have you, I see."

"Hmmm?" Roman hummed, blinking at the sudden change of subject. "I have?"

"You are out at odd hours," Logan reasoned, "And you are constantly wrapped in those bandages-" Logan poked his finger at Roman's arm. He flinched at the way that Roman jerked back from the touch, shoving his sleeve down to hide the cloth from view.

Roman laughed, a shaky and nervous sound.

Logan narrowed his eyes further and stood up. Roman stood up as well, skittering back from his reach.

"Oh well, you know me," Roman said tightly, "Up at all hours of the day. Creativity never sleeps! Gotta hand Thomas that new idea as soon as it strikes!"

"Yes," Logan said slowly, "But that would not explain your injuries."

“It's- it's an experiment?" Roman tried, "Too uh, see- to see-"

"Falsehood," Logan said sharply. Roman's shoulders bumped against Logan's closet. "There is no experiment." 

He held out his hand.

"What?"

"Show me," Logan demanded. Roman drew his arm up to his chest, and shook his head. Logan clenched his teeth. Either Roman had gotten himself badly injured, in which case, he needed outside help that he didn't want to accept, or-

Logan's mouth went dry. Or he was hiding that arm for a reason.

I do nothing but fail.

All Logan was certain of was that Roman needed help. Logan just didn't know how much help he needed yet. He prayed that it wasn't to the self-harming levels.

"Roman," Logan said, steel in his voice. "Show me."

"Oh look at the time," Roman said quickly, his words running together, "Back to work, I really gotta go."

Logan snapped his fingers and locked his door as Roman tried to dive past him.

"Roman!" He shouted, "Just-" He grabbed Roman's other arm as he darted past and scowled as Roman ripped away. "Just show me!"

"Nope!" Roman singsonged, dancing away from his grasp. "I'm fine, really truly, fine, nothing to see here!"

"If there's nothing to see then-" Logan lunged and wheezed as he collided with his chair rather than Roman. "Then you won't mind me taking a look."

"Still a no!" Roman reached for his door.

"Please," Logan said, a stone on his chest and a fire in his throat. He watched Roman's hand flinch away from the doorknob. "I want to appraise you to make sure that everything is alright."

"Logan," Roman said softly, turning back to him.

Checkmate. 

Logan tackled Roman to the ground. He straddled Roman's waist to keep him from using his legs for leverage and pinned Roman's arm to the ground.

"Ha!" Logan crowed. "Now you won't-"

He blinked as Roman vanished. Logan's door clicked open and Roman poked his head back in with a wild grin.

"It really was marvelous spending time with you Lo', please let me know when you want to do this again, just you know, minus the whole wrestling me to the ground bit." He waggled his fingers. "Ta-ta now!"

"Roman!" Logan shouted, scrambling to his feet and racing out the door. He ran straight into Virgil.

"Whoa, whoa there," Virgil gripped his arms, "Where's the fire Lo?"

"Roman," Logan said tightly, "He's hurt and he won't tell me how it happened. He-" Logan's mouth snapped shut. Telling Virgil about Roman's question about Deceit would only throw oil onto this fire. From the way that Virgil's eyes darkened, Logan already had.

He closed his eyes and sent a silent apology in Roman's direction.

"Did he?" Virgil growled, "Well, we'll just have to correct that then, won't we?"

Virgil grabbed Logan's arm and dragged him towards the living room. Logan distantly hoped that Roman had fled to his room and not the living room. A distant unlikely hope, but that was what Roman specialized in.

Logan met Roman's eyes as Virgil slammed the door open, and Roman blinked. Logan shook his head and Roman's eyes darted to Virgil.

"Roman," Virgil's voice echoed through the room. "What's going on?"

Roman took a deep breath. Logan held his. Roman's eyes flickered up to him for a brief glance, and the apology that Logan read in them sent his heart to the floor. Roman turned back to Virgil and crossed his arms.

"I don't see how that's any of your business," Roman said grandly.

So of course, all hell broke loose.

Chapter Text

None of his business. None. Of. His. Business. Virgil felt something dark and angry curl around his chest at the words and he growled at Roman’s smug expression.

"I think it's all of our business," Virgil hissed. He ground his teeth together as Roman pulled one hand out of his crossed arms to study his nails. He hummed lightly and Virgil took a deep breath. Roman knew how to be a petty bastard, it wasn't anything new.

"I really don't think it is," Roman said mildly. "Seeing as whatever I do is my own business, and what you do is your own and nothing more."

"That's not how this works and you know it," Virgil snarled, "Everything we do affects Thomas and that affects each other."

Roman stilled. His smile turned sharp and pained.

"Ah, so you think that you have to monitor everything I do in order to protect Thomas?"

"I don't know!" Virgil shouted, taking a step in Roman's direction. "You're certainly acting like I should lately! What the hell's gotten into you?"

"Gotten into me?" Roman's smile fell entirely, "Gotten into me?!" His hands waved through the air, and he took a step towards Virgil. He towered over Virgil and Virgil's hand twitched. They curled into fists.

"What's gotten into you!" Roman sliced a hand through the air, waving at the entirety of Virgil's body. "You've fallen back into being nothing more than a paranoid wreck!"

Virgil sucked in a sharp breath.

"Well maybe if you hadn't gone back to being an asshole who judges everyone around him, I wouldn't have," Virgil reached out and shoved Roman's chest. Roman took a step back and his hand twitched. Virgil flinched waiting for Roman's sword to fall into his hands.

Roman curled his hand into a fist and let out a deep breath.

"No, I don't have to waste any more breath on you," Roman scowled and took a step back. Wildly, even under his anger, the fear that Roman would leave for good surged through Virgil’s veins. Virgil had to keep him there. No matter what it took.

"What," Virgil spat, a part of him screaming for him to stop before he did damage that he could never undo. "Running off to lick Deceit's boots?"

Silence.

Roman turned slowly and tilted his head to the side.

"Walk away Virgil," Roman said quietly. "You don't want to do this."

"Maybe I do! You don't get to tell me what to do, you asshole!"

"Oh, but you get to tell me? Wonderful set of morals there, I wonder what Patton would say-"

"Leave him out of this!"

"So we're not bringing other Sides into it? I thought that's what we were doing, Game of the Fear! You're the one who won't back the hell off!" Roman surged forward again, hands digging into Virgil's collar. "You can't just-"

"Roman! Virgil!"

Virgil stumbled back as Logan wrenched them away from each other, eyes darting between the two of them.

"I don't know what's gotten into you two, but cease this foolishness immediately!" Logan planted himself between Virgil and Roman and pushed his glasses back up his face. "You two are friends."

"Are we?" Roman muttered under his breath. And it stung. God, it stung in a place that Virgil had wrapped over with their better relationship. Virgil trembled and bared his teeth at Roman. He didn't want to lose the place he had found, but he could feel it slipping away from him.

You couldn't hold the wind in place. Warm and pleasant as the summer breeze could be, it would always run its own course. Just like Roman. And god, did that scare Virgil. He wanted to wrap Roman up until he knew exactly what he would do and what Virgil could do to keep him there.

"Of course we are," Virgil tried to keep hold of his thoughts. He wanted Patton. He wanted to tell Patton all about his fears and worries and have a hand run through his hair. He wanted Logan to reason his fears away and for Roman to- to- to-

He sucked in a sharp breath.

"Look-"

"It's fine," Roman said sharply, and Virgil thought back to the last time they had exploded at each other. Roman needed help. He kept saying things were fine when they weren't. He could be spending time with Deceit.

Virgil wrapped his arms around his waist and stared at Roman with wide eyes. Roman was spending time with Deceit. Deceit had all the time in the world to whisper in Roman's ears. Roman didn't know what he was doing because Deceit was obscuring his vision.

Part of the tension in Virgil's shoulders relaxed. Roman didn't actually want to leave them. He was being manipulated into this. Virgil could do something about that. Virgil had dealt with Deceit for years; he knew how the snake played his games.

"No, it's not." Virgil breathed out. "But it will be."

"Oh yeah," Roman said bitterly, "It will be once I do what you say, right?"

"Roman," Virgil snapped, frustration growing. It was probably just Roman parroting back Deceit's words but it still dug claws into his chest. "I just want to help!"

"Help like you used to," Roman glared down at him, and Logan looked tensely between the two of them. Logan rocked back on his heels and Virgil wanted to reassure him that he had figured it out. He knew what was going on and that it would all be ok.

He just needed to find where Deceit had been influencing Roman.

A quiet hiss broke through the tension and Virgil's eyes flickered down to the damned snake that had been hanging off of Roman's shoulders. Virgil sucked in a sharp breath. Of course. 

Logan had said that it was Roman's thinking of Deceit, but surely it would work the other way around. Deceit had talked Roman into creating a snake. Or maybe the snake had been created by Roman but Deceit had messed with it. Virgil knew that Deceit could do things with Belief that rivaled Roman's own Creative power.

So long as Thomas was willing to believe, then Deceit could do it. And there was so much Thomas would believe they could do in the Mindscape. Deceit could bring something to life perhaps, or alter something that had been given life by someone else.

Virgil stepped forward with barely a thought. Adrenaline sung through his blood and heart as his foot caught the snake's tail. It reared back and hissed at him.

"Virgil," Logan said, eyes darting between him and the snake. "There is no reason to behave irrationally."

"I'm not," he said, ringing in his ears and feeling distant from himself. "It makes perfect sense."

Roman blinked at the two of them. He glanced at the snake and his face lit up. That was their smile. The smile that Roman was supposed to give them when he came back from a quest. The look that he gave Virgil during Disney Marathons and Patton for baking and Logan for poetry.

It didn't belong to Deceit. It didn't belong to this snake.

Virgil pressed down harder and the snake's hiss increase in pitch. It lunged at his ankle but Virgil was fast. Virgil was fight or flight and this thing held nothing to that.

His hand darted down and he slammed it right behind the head. The hissing fell silent.

Virgil barely had the chance to pick the damned thing up before Roman slammed into him. The breath rushed out of his chest as they both stumbled back. Roman had experience on his side. He fought Self-doubts and Nightmares and even Virgil himself on a handful of occasions.

Virgil held the power of simply being himself. He was the protector. Adrenaline pure and strong as Thomas reacted to an event. He jammed his knee upwards as Roman's hands grasped for the snake. Not hard enough to break Roman's ribs, he didn't want to hurt Roman, but enough to get Roman to back off.

"I don't trust him, " Virgil said slowly. "I don't think I can trust you right now either."

"Oh great, thanks," Roman wheezed, clutching at his chest, "Feeling's mutual. Put. Him. Down."

"It's not alive," Virgil shook the snake, watching as it writhed in his grasp. The ringing in his ears was still there. It drowned out whatever Roman and Logan shouted. He could see Logan stepping forward out of the corner of his eye.

A small part of him screamed that Patton wouldn't approve of this. He'd break Roman's heart. Logan would never trust him again. It felt distant. Distant like Patton and Roman had been. Cold like Logan's face settled into these days. 

He wanted his family back.

That's all he wanted.

Deceit had taken it from him. Virgil knew that with a bone deep certainty. A certainty that matched Patton's vacant expression.

"It's not alive," Virgil repeated, more to himself as he tightened his grip on the snake's neck. It thrashed harder, jaw snapping futilely to try and sink its fangs into his fingers but it couldn't reach him. He could feel the scales dig into his palm hard enough to cut. Virgil didn’t care, at least it hurt the thing more than it hurt him. 

The snake let out a half strangled shriek as his grip creaked.

Virgil blinked as cold steel pressed against his throat.

"I said, Virgil. Put. Him. Down." Roman's eyes glittered in the room, bleeding into a brilliant gem brown that caught Virgil's breath in his throat. For a moment, they weren't Virgil and Roman. They were Anxiety and Creativity standing at the edge of the Imagination. Hurling insults and attacks at each other until Anxiety limped home.

"I don't want to do this, Virge," Roman said, anger making his voice tight and pained, "But you leave me no choice. If you don't put Tony down, I will be forced to make you."

"Why?" Virgil whispered. “I don't-"

"I don't have to explain anything to you." Roman's sword pressed against his throat even harder. Virgil fought not to swallow, fearing that the slightest movement would draw blood. He let go of the snake, watching distantly as it fell to the ground with a thump.

Logan swooped in to scoop it off the ground. He cradled the thing in his arms and stared at Virgil with an unreadable expression. He took several steps back and as soon as he did Roman's sword dropped. 

In fact, Roman turned his back to Virgil altogether, dismissing him entirely. Virgil stared at Roman's back, hurt and angry and lonely as Roman fussed over a snake. A snake that he had threatened his family over.

Virgil swallowed. He felt like he stood over a cliff and he didn't know which way to go. He pulled his arms around himself and watched as Roman cradled the snake up to his face. The snake nudged at Roman's cheek with its tongue.

"I'm taking him back," Roman told Logan, "I want to make sure that no damage was done, and the Imagination would be the best place to let him heal."

"Very well," Logan said with a nod, "Remain safe."

Roman barked out a laugh.

"When am I ever Specs?"

Roman sunk out, disappearing from the room and Virgil's eyes dropped to the floor. Logan walked to him, footsteps echoing in the silence.

"I did not believe you capable of such violence," Logan murmured, "At least, not when it concerned us."

"It's Deceit," Virgil snapped, head whirling to meet Logan's eyes. "He's done something to Roman. Turned him against us. Gotten into his head or, or, or-”

Logan’s eyes widened, and for a moment, the same look that Logan wore when he completed a puzzle crossed his face. Thoughtful and triumphant all at once. Then his expression shuttered shut and he stared at Virgil once more, radiating disapproval. He cleared his throat and Virgil winced. He picked at the scales that stuck in his palm, pulling them out one by one.

“Regardless of your beliefs on the situation,” Logan said, “That is no reason to go as far as you did.”

“Figures,” Virgil muttered, pulled his hood up over his head, “When it comes down to it, you take Princey’s side.”

“I am on Thomas’ side,” Logan said, head tilting up sharply. “This distrusting of each other is accomplishing nothing. We must maintain rationality or lose ourselves completely.”

“You don’t believe me,” Virgil glared at him, and rocked back on his heels. Logan thought he was insane. Logan thought he was making things up and going completely off the rails. Virgil flicked one of the scales in his hand. The faintest feeling came from it and Virgil froze. He knew that feeling.

The Belief was all but dead, but Virgil knew what Deceit’s powers felt like.

“I’ll prove it to you,” Virgil met Logan’s eyes. “I can prove it to you.”

Logan raised an eyebrow. Virgil spun on his heel and stalked away before Logan could say anything else. He broke into a run and slammed the door to Roman’s room open. His eyes scanned the area, and he scowled at the lack of Roman. 

He reached up and ripped at Roman’s posters. Nothing. He scowled at the bare walls. Roman would have come here. It was where Roman disappeared to before every Quest. He must have hidden his entrance here. If Virgil tried to get to the Imagination from the Subconsciousness Roman would be aware of it and Virgil would never get the truth.

He tore through Roman’s vanity and stripped the bed of its covers. The blankets fluttered to the ground, sending papers into the air. He could feel blood drip down his hand from where the snake’s scales had cut him. He turned to the closet. He stepped over Roman’s scattered papers and torn posters, and snapped his fingers. Roman’s room flew back into order.

Virgil yanked the closet door open. Birdsong and a warm breeze reached him. He grinned and took a step forward. The door swung shut behind him.

Chapter Text

Tony curled his fingers around the mug of tea and leaned back against the tree behind him. He closed his eyes and breathed in slowly. He relished the moment to just calm down. Especially with the way that his neck and shoulders ached.

It was a good thing that his collar and cape covered the bruises that Virgil had left behind.

"It's just not fair!" Roman kicked at the ground. Tony tracked the way that he paced back and forth for the dozenth time. "Virgil is just-!" Roman let out a wordless scream and threw himself down onto the picnic blanket.

Tony had thought it best to pull out the big guns after what had happened with Virgil. A picnic with the Constructs on their way to help cheer him up as well, Tony thought they could keep Roman from sliding further into his own self-destruction. He breathed out slowly as Roman kicked out like a child throwing a tantrum.

"He hurt Tony!" Roman glared, turning his head up to stare at Tony. Hearing himself referred to in the third person still felt strange. Tony wondered if he'd ever get used to it; he should if he ever planned on pretending to be another Side ever again.

"He just!" Roman let out a sharp breath and Tony sighed. He balanced his mug on his legs and stared down at Roman.

"You need to calm down," he said simply, "You can't form words the way you're acting."

"He thinks that you can't be trusted!" Roman shouted, and Tony blinked. Roman rolled over from his back to his stomach and pushed himself up to his elbows. "He thinks that all you want to do is gain power!"

"Oh that's what I've always wanted."

"Lie!" Roman reached out to whack his leg lightly. "Don't lie to me right now. You want to help Thomas and you want to help me."

Tony didn't say anything, reaching for his mug and taking a slow sip instead of answering the implied question. He wanted to help. He just didn't want anyone to know that he wanted that. He needed a certain scare factor in order to operate well.

They shouldn't trust him. Tony knew that better than even Virgil. He couldn't be trusted in the end.

"Oh don't give me that look," Roman wiggled his way over to lean against Tony's leg. Tony sighed, and reached out to run his hands through Roman's hair. Roman squirmed some more to settle into a comfortable position. He helpfully waved his hand and Tony's tea reheated. Tony inclined his head in thanks and waited.

"I just-" Roman licked his lips. "I want things to go back to the way they were." Tony blinked slowly to hide his internal flinch. Back to the way things were wouldn't include him. Virgil would never welcome him. "When we all got along and I could think about opening up to them and spend time with them without everything turning into a huge screaming match."

Tony thought to himself, spinning Roman's hair between his fingers. He wondered if it was a soft and silky as it looked. He'd have to take his gloves off to find out, and he wasn't ready for that show of trust.

"What do you want?" he asked softly. "What about Logan?"

"Logan's been great," Roman tapped his fingers against the blanket, and reached out to pluck a dandelion from the nearby grass. He tugged at its petals and stared out at the woods rolled out underneath them. Truly, the view that Roman picked was spectacular.

"He's been listening to me," Roman said softly, "But there's something up with him. And there's the thing that Apathy said. That he'd made sure that one of them would never be a threat." He craned his head up to look at Tony. "Can we trust any of them with that?"

Tony ran his fingers through Roman's hair again, scratching at Roman's scalp. He thought about Virgil's paranoia, and Patton's silence.

"I would say that's the source of your problems."

Roman fell silent.

"You're lying to me," his voice wavered. "It's a good thought but they-"

"Care about you." Tony flicked his finger against Roman's forehead. "Logan came to your rescue. Virgil screams only when he's scared for someone else. Patton's-" Tony clenched his jaw, "Patton's most likely the most susceptible to Apathy's powers. It's not their fault."

Roman breathed out, shaky and on the verge of tears.  Tony wanted to storm over to where Apathy was and tear his throat out. He wanted to sic Remus on the damned thing so that Apathy could learn real pain, but he didn't trust Remus to not damage Roman.

And Roman was already so fragile.

Tony let out another slow breath. A part of him wanted to go shout at the main Sides. How could they be so blind? Why couldn't they see what was right in front of their faces? They'd only blame him and Tony didn't need them on his back.

"Thanks," Roman whispered, pressing into Tony's thigh a little bit more, "I don't know if you're lying or not but- thanks."

"And here I thought you had become the master of reading me," Tony said dryly. "Are you saying that I have some skill in what I do?"

"You have all the skill!" Roman's hands flew into the air, the dandelion stalk drifting away as Roman let it go. "You scare everyone in the mindscape and keep things hidden that even I don't know about and honestly, Dee, I would have thought that I was the one who didn't feel good about himself in this relationship-"

Tony chuckled, rolling his eyes affectionately.

"Ah, but I have to give you something to do, don't I?"

Roman sniffed and his head dug into Tony's flesh as he tilted his chin into the air.

"Excuse you, I am the master of sitting there and looking pretty."

"And acting," Tony said, watching as the speck in the distance grew larger. "And creating and being brave and looking pretty. You have many talents Roman. You've just hidden them behind the stage curtain."

Roman let out a laugh and sat up. He shoved at Tony's arm and grinned.

"If you say so," Roman brushed off and Tony wanted to shake him. Shake him until he saw that not everyone learned from their mistakes. That the others would never trust Tony or listen to him despite what happened with Virgil. 

That it took a core of strength and kindness to look at someone you assumed was an enemy asking for help and accept.

"One day," Tony said lightly," "I will literally smother you in good feelings and Patton will murder me for taking his materials."

"Oooooh!" Roman grinned even wider, "A feel good Mabel sweater does sound pretty awesome."'

Tony sniffed.

"It would be a Bill Cipher sweater."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, Drama king," Roman stood up as Hecate came into view and waved at the small figures on her back. Tony took another sip from his tea, letting the warm lavender curl around his tongue. He watched as Roman dashed towards where Hecate landed, the warmth drifting down from his throat to his chest.

He wouldn't mind staying here, just like this for the rest of his life. The peaceful atmosphere that Roman created hung in the leaves and the grass the stars and the very people that crossed his lands.

It made Tony's room feel almost empty by comparison. Warm and safe, but empty.

"So," Tony tilted his head up as Remy slide into the spot next to him. "How, like, bad is Daddy-o really feeling?"

"Well, he'd never admit to anything," Tony said dryly.

"Ah, so the master of lies can't tell when someone is lying to him?" Remy raised an eyebrow.

"I will dump this over your head," Tony said, fighting back a hiss. Remy grinned at him, leaning against his shoulder. Tony watched Toby tackle Roman, and the two of them went rolling down the hill.

"Bad," Tony said softly. "It's pretty bad." He set his mug down, listening to the soft clink of porcelain on porcelain. "He built himself up around pleasing them because he wants to please Thomas, and, in the end, we are Thomas. He has no confidence in himself."

Tony felt a bitter smile creep up his lips. Hecate's deep chuckle rolled out over him. She glanced their way and Tony flipped her the bird. Hecate's laughter grew louder. Nate and Anton had disappeared, and Tony hoped that the two of them would be enough for whatever trouble there was. 

Hopefully, he was wrong and it wasn't Apathy at all.

"He would literally die rather than talk to them," Tony let out a sharp laugh. He pushed his mug away from himself and tilted his hat up for a better view of August and Seth joining in on the impromptu wrestling match. Three against one, and Roman was still winning.

"Well, I suspect that if someone else were in danger he'd pull himself together, because he doesn't want to fail anyone."

Remy blinked.

"So, like, what's killing him is what could save him?"

"Who knows," Tony said softly. “He won’t talk to Logan because he thinks he can't trust any of them."

"Fuck Apathy," Remy muttered.

"Yeah," Tony said. Roman pulled away from the Months and ran towards the flowers growing at the edge of the hill they sat on. He glanced up and waved at them. Tony waved back.

"You got it bad, gurl," Remy said with a snicker.

"There is Apathy to think about," Tony agreed, "Apathy and Virgil and Roman's Unraveling, of course things are bad."

Remy pulled back to stare at him.

"Gurl," he breathed, "You did not."

Tony shrugged.

"It's the truth of the matter."

Remy punched him in the arm.

"I'm going to laugh at you," Remy said sharply, "When, like, you finally figure it out, I'm going to choke laughing. I'll die, and then Roman will die, and then you'll die of heartbreak."

"Please don't die," Tony said dryly, "I would hate for all my hard work to fall apart because you can't keep calm."

"I, like, never have any chill. At, like, all," Remy rolled his eyes. A drink appeared in his hand. He rolled his eyes as Hecate flopped down next to him.

"Are you gossiping?" she demanded, "You can't gossip without me."

"I can do whatever I want," Tony said, throwing his leg out to kick her in the side. "I want to leave you out of everything."

"Awww, pretty boy," Hecate grinned at him, all sharp teeth, "You love me and you know it."

"I have no idea what you're talking about." Tony hissed, "You're the absolute worst."

"Liar, liar, pants on fire!"

"I'm going to murder you now."

Hecate rolled away from him with a laugh. Tony's head snapped up as something landed on his head. Roman grinned at him, sporting a flower crown and adjusting the one that he lay around Tony's hat.

"There!" He rocked back on his heels, another small bouquet of flowers in his hand. "Now you really are a Drama King."

"And here I thought that was you," Tony reached up to pull his hat off. He spun it around to look at the yellow daisies that now lined it. He plucked it off carefully and set it on his own head. The brightening of Roman's smile was worth the soft snicker that came from Hecate.

Not that Tony would ever do anything like this shit around the other Sides.

"You can, like, both be drama kings," Remy declared, flopping to the side. He curled up in Hecate's side. "You can rule together or, like, divide the kingdom between the two of them."

"Ooooh, dibs on pretty boy's side!"

"Oh, fuck you too," Tony muttered at her. Roman gaped at her. He pressed a hand to his chest and swooned dramatically. 

"Hecate! Here I thought you loved me!"

"Of course I do," Hecate said, wrapping an arm around Remy's waist. "I’ll be your double agent."

"Not if I figure that out," Tony shot out.

"Or maybe I'm a triple agent? Neither of you will ever know."

"You just think that like, T- Dee's side would be more interesting," Remy mumbled. Tony wondered if he was drifting off to sleep right there.

“Damn straight!" Hecate crowed, "Roman's all swinging swords and magic, which is fun, but pretty boy would be all politics and backstabbing. Entertainment for days ."

"Yeah, I definitely hate you."

"Love you too, pretty boy," Hecate cooed.

"We can rule together!" Roman threw himself between Remy and Tony. One of his legs rested over Remy's and Tony blinked as Roman pressed up against his side. "We shall rule the most fabulous kingdom in all the land."

"So swords and magic and political backstabbing? Is that what I'm hearing?" Tony asked.

Roman waved a hand through the air, and then, in an afterthought, shoved the bouquet of yellow tulips at him. Tony took them, watching in bemusement as Roman threw himself into a description of what their kingdom would be like. Tony, apparently, would be the best political adviser and be able to make everyone happy while Roman kept them all safe from threats.

Unrealistic, but fascinating to think about. Tony ran a finger over the soft petals of one of the tulips and felt his lips quirk upwards as Roman's hands flew through the air. He leaned into Roman's touch, just slightly. He didn't think that Roman really noticed, except for the fact that Roman leaned even more into him.

Tony let his eyes slip shut. He could feel the rolling energy of the Imagination beneath him. Roman's words wrapped around him like a soft blanket. Hecate's chuckle added to the background music and Tony thought he could almost hear Remy's soft breathing. He relaxed, inch by inch. His hat slipped off his legs. He tightened his grip on the flowers in his hand.

He thought he felt fingers run through his hair, a ghost of the action he had done for Roman just minutes ago. He leaned into the touch, chasing the warmth as the world drifted away from him. He curled into the feeling of being loved and trusted.

Tony fell asleep, feeling comfortable and safe outside of his room for the first time in years.

(Art done by Imyasart!)

Chapter Text

Roman hummed to himself as he strode down the hall. He hadn't run into Virgil or Patton yet, and he didn't know how he felt about that. But at the very least, the weight of Deceit leaning against his side hung on to him, and Hecate's laughter still rang in his ears.

It wasn't perfect, but Roman felt like it was enough for now. He curled his fingers around his arms, and pretended that the bandages weren't still there. Like the love of his friends was actually enough. He needed his family, but Roman didn't know how to get them back.

He let out a slow breath and ambled towards the kitchen. He needed to get something to eat, make sure he was in tip top shape before he and Deceit went looking for Apathy the next morning. Patton's baking had gotten better over the last couple of days actually.

Roman didn't know what to make of it.

He blinked at the light that came from the kitchen and wondered who was still up. Virgil and Patton were both strong contenders. Deceit wouldn't risk being found and likely had his own stock of food. Roman paused and make a note to double check that Deceit had his own stock of food.

Logan- Roman wanted to say that Logan wouldn't be, but something had felt off on all of them lately, and Logan had been pulling later and later nights. He let out a slow breath

He hadn't seen Virgil or Patton. It was most likely Logan. Logan wasn't actively avoiding anyone else after their latest blow up. Roman sauntered into the kitchen, making a beeline for the cookie jar.

"So Specs-" Roman froze as the side that shared the room with him sank in.

Apathy stared back at him, hand holding a plate of food. Leftovers, Roman noted somewhat hysterically. Apathy had shown up in their kitchen to make off with their leftovers.

"Passion," Apathy said, dull voice running over Roman's ears like nails on a chalkboard. Roman shied away from him, and his hand scrambled on the counter for the nearest weapon he could grasp. The knife that his fingers closed around lengthened into a short sword and Roman pointed it in Apathy's direction.

"Apathy," Roman said, forcing cheer into his voice. "Fancy seeing you here. I would have never guessed."

"You wouldn't have," Apathy said flatly, "You are not capable of much."

Roman bit down on his lip to hold back the flinch that wanted to wrack his body at that.

"Well, we can hardly call you the expert, can we?"

Apathy tilted his head to the side, dull grey eyes boring into his soul.

"Aren't I?"

Roman blinked.

"I am the absence of you," Apathy continued. "You must have failed somewhere in order for me to exist in the first place."

"That's not how Sides work," Roman said, aware of how his voice pitched up in distress. He tightened his grip on his short sword. "I don't have to listen to you."

Apathy blinked, slow and languid.

"Did Deceit tell you that I was a Side?"

"What? What does that matter?"

"He lies," Apathy said, taking a step forward. "Deceit does nothing but lie. He lied about me. He lied to me. He lied to you. You can not trust him."

Roman skittered a step back.

"Don't come any closer!"

Apathy tilted his head to the side.

"I can prove it," he said softly, sending ice down Roman's spine. "I can prove at least one place where he's lied to you." He leaned forward, and Roman leaned back. Apathy's lip twitched and he blinked again. "I'm not a Side."

"Wha- no, that doesn't- you-"

Apathy pulled back. Roman's hand shook, and his sword shook with it.

"I will be," Apathy continued. "Once you are gone, I will take your place. It would be easier if you accept that."

Roman swallowed thickly. He thought about Deceit laughing with him. Deceit dunking Toby in the hot springs. Deceit accepting a flower crown from him. No one would play that long of a game, right?

Right?

"I don't believe you," Roman whispered.

"You will," Apathy said. He took a step back and as he came into the kitchen light a little better, Roman realized that he had rope wrapped around his waist as well. "You will die, or you will believe me. Perhaps both. It is inevitable."

"Nothing about you is inevitable!" Roman straightened, trying to feel the confidence that had long left him. Confident or not, Roman knew one thing. That he couldn't leave Thomas in the clutches of this villain. "Side or not, I will defeat you! You will not win!" 

Apathy took another step back, this time out of the light. 

"Won't I?" apathy murmured. "After all, you can barely hold yourself together." 

The sword in his hands clattered to the ground. Roman staggered as Apathy disappeared, and he braced himself against the table. He took a gasping breath and realized that he couldn't feel his chest at all. He reached up to press a hand against it and felt nothing. His fingers brushed through thin air. Roman felt his knees buckle. He barely kept himself from crashing to the ground and everything trembled. 

He couldn't feel his heartbeat. If he didn't have a heart was he even alive? If he wasn't alive how could he hold himself together? If he lost it here, then Apathy would win. He couldn't- He needed- 

"Deceit," he gasped, reaching with everything that he had left. A soft whoosh sounded behind him as he curled into a ball. 

"-man?" Roman pressed his head against the tile and tried to remember what he had been trying to do. Why was he here? 

"Ty!" A hand pressed against his shoulder. Something like electricity coursed through his veins and Roman bit back a cry. He trembled and took a gasping breath as feeling flooded him. His chest felt like it was on fire, but it was there. He pressed a hand against it and looked up to meet Deceit's wide eyes. 

"Ty," Deceit's hand spasmed on his shoulder and dragged him to a chair. Roman collapsed into it as Deceit's hands flit over his body. Deceit settled on grabbing his chin and pulling it up to force Roman to look him in the eye. "What the hell happened?!" 

"Apathy," Roman whispered, and Deceit froze. Roman felt Deceit's hand twitch on his face. He wondered if Deceit was worried about what Apathy could reveal. He shook his head of that thought. 

"That bastard," Deceit hissed. In the low light, his snake eye gleaned and his scales shadowing his face. Roman leaned into his touch. Just briefly. "I'm going to rip him apart.” 

"The last time you tried you lost," Roman muttered. Deceit blinked. 

Roman tried to shove bitterness and distrust down. Apathy wanted to divide and conquer. He didn't want Roman to work with Deceit so that he could take them both out. 

I'm not a Side.  

But in the end, could Roman truly trust Deceit? If after all of this was done, would Deceit remain his friend or would he leave? Would he go back to being the isolated snake he was before, snapping and hissing at everything unless he needed something? 

Roman tried to swallow. It felt bitter and pained. He didn't want that to happen. He feared that he'd have to accept it. 

"Ty?" Deceit prodded at his shoulder. "Roman, you need to hold it together. Listen-" Deceit's head snapped up. "Someone's coming," he whispered. Roman blinked as Deceit whipped to face him. For a moment, Deceit's hand reached out hand brushed against his cheek. He pressed something, small and warm into his hand. 

"Stay safe," Deceit whispered, and vanished. Roman took a deep breath, staring at the spot that Deceit had been. He ached all over. His fingers still trembled. He wanted to curl up in his bed and not leave it for the next week. He drew his knees up to his chest and curled into a ball on the chair. 

He ran his finger over the soft cloth that Deceit had given him. It practically radiated Belief. He wondered what Deceit thought it could do. Roman took a deep breath and shoved it into his pocket as someone flipped the rest of the kitchen lights on. 

Logan stared at him. 

"Roman?" Logan stepped into the room, his eyes drifting over the shadows for a moment. He crouched down to Roman's height and placed a hand on his knees. "Is everything adequate?" 

Roman let out a broken laugh and leaned into Logan's touch. For a heart stopping moment, he wanted to spill everything. He wanted to tell Logan all about Apathy and Deceit and the gaps in himself. He wanted Logan to tell him the best way to fix this spiraling mess he found himself in. 

Deceit's smile drifted over his eyelids and Roman fought back a sob. He didn't want to lose anything. He wanted both. God, he was so selfish to want both. He couldn't have his family and Deceit at the same time. He could barely have his family and his friends at the same time. Virgil didn't even think that his friends were alive. 

Logan's hand drifted up from his knee to his face. Logan pressed a hand to his face, a mirror of what Deceit had just done. Roman broke down, uncurling himself to fling himself at Logan. Logan's arms settled around his shoulders. 

"It will be alright,” Logan said steadily. "Things will work out." 

Roman sobbed even harder, digging his fingers into Logan's shirt. He wanted to know how. Logan didn't even know what was wrong. Logan didn't know anything. He let himself believe though. Make believe is what he did best. 

Logan's hand drifted up to his head and settled there. There was no soothing fingers curling through his hair. No laughter of his friends. Roman wanted and he wanted and he wanted and he wanted

He could never have it though. 

He should just-

Roman jolted as the cloth that Deceit gave him drifted from his pocket. His hand twitched for it but he couldn’t uncurl fast enough to grab it before it hit the floor. Logan’s eyes landed on it and dread twisted Roman’s stomach. Logan would figure out where it was from. He had said he’d trust Roman, but hypotheticals and reality were two different things.

It would be hard to trust the reason they were all falling apart. Roman wanted to with every inch of his heart. He wanted Deceit’s giggle and touches and support to be real. Logan would never see it that way.

Logan picked up the cloth and rolls it around in his fingers. Roman eyed him warily, not quite ready to scrub his tears away with the palm of his hand yet. The black cloth looked almost like silk in Logan’s hand, fancy and well taken care of. Roman wondered what Deceit used it for before handing it off to him.

Logan tucked it back into his pocket. Roman stared at him. Logan raised an eyebrow.

“Do you want me to ask?” Logan asked, prim and the look in his eyes stating that he already knew the answer. Roman shook his head and Logan nodded. “That’s what I thought. I trust you Roman. You’ll tell me when you’re ready.”

Logan took his arm and rolled his sleeve back up gently, running a hand over the bandages there. Roman felt too exhausted to push him away. He would, if Logan picked at them, but until then, Logan had already seen them. No point in hiding them any more.

“I’m glad,” Logan said quietly, fingers tracing constellations into Roman’s arm, “That there is someone who will take care of you.”

A broken noise came from between Roman’s teeth.

“It was me-”

Logan rolled his eyes.

“Oh, I’m certain it wasn’t,” Logan’s lips twitched towards a smile, “There is a level intelligence in these that I find lacking in you.”

“You’re supposed to be comforting me,” Roman said, his voice cracking down the middle. Logan grinned at him. Cheater. Roman felt warmth pool in his chest and around his arm. It wasn’t fair that Logan knew how to cheer him up so well.

“Am I not?” Logan asked, “I can change tactics if that would please you.”

Roman shook his head.

Logan pushed him back gently and looked him in the eye. Roman scrubbed his cheeks. He rubbed at his eyes until the only sign of his sobbing was the redness of his eyes. He shot Logan a trembling smile. Logan's lips thinned. 

"It will be alright," Logan repeated. The steel in his eyes reminded Roman of the skyscrapers towering over the Imagination. It took years to build but once they were set, nothing could move them. Much like Logic. 

Roman always thought that Logan was the best of them. 

It was why he wanted Logan's approval so bad. 

Logan pulled away just enough to grip his arms. Roman flinched at the bruising grip as Logan stared at him even more. Logan's jaw jumped, and then quietly Logan started to speak. 

"It's hard now," Logan said softly. Roman had to lean in to hear his voice. "But it will get better. I know how to make it better. This will get hard, but it will work out." He shook Roman's arm gently. "Remember-" Logan took a deep breath, his eyes drifting away before settling on Roman's face again. 

"Remember," Logan repeated, more force behind his words, "You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and more loved than you can possibly imagine." 

Logan leaned forward and pressed a kiss to his forehead, barely a brush of the lips against his skin. Roman felt frozen. He scrambled to figure out what Logan meant. He knew. But he knew what? 

"The sun will shine on us again, brother," Logan murmured, and then much like Deceit and Apathy before him, vanished. Roman grasped at the air he had been in, sudden terror flooding his veins. 

Logan was gone. 

What had Logan meant? Winnie the Pooh and the Avengers. Did he mean anything by it or was he trying to communicate the way that Roman did? What was the point? Roman trembled, wrapping his arms around himself. He staggered as he stood up. He barely took a step before he decided that walking was too much. 

It was all too much. 

He curled in on himself as he sunk away. He jumped right over stopping by his room. He slipped past his own defenses of the Imagination and landed in Hecate's lair. 

"Daddy-o?" Remy's voice echoed through the cave and Roman didn't say anything. He reached out, and Remy was there. Remy was always there. Roman trembled in his hold and tried not to fall apart. Hecate's heat joined Remy's wrapping around his back. 

Roman let himself fall. 

His friends would catch him. 

But even then, it didn't feel quite right. Roman choked back another sob. Even surrounded by people who loved him it didn't feel like enough. He wanted Logan and Virgil and Patton and even Deceit. He wanted Deceit, but he didn't even know if he had him. Remy and Hecate hugged him even tighter. He was in the land of his own creation. He had everything he ever wanted at his fingertips. 

He had never felt more alone.

Chapter Text

Tony brushed his hands against the Wall, feeling the way that the cracks under his fingertips sealed up. There wasn't too much damage, but Tony had to keep what Thomas didn't want to know away from him. He let out a slow breath. Moments like these were hard to come by lately.

If it wasn't tracking Apathy, it was spending time with Roman. If it wasn't that, it was something to do with the Imagination. Tony felt stretched out in all directions. Though for once, it felt like a pleasant ache. A job well done.

It would be even better if he could get Apathy dealt with.

Tony frowned at the Wall and drew away. He couldn't keep Apathy sealed up much longer. Even if they got Apathy stuffed back into his cage so to speak, he'd only break out once more. He needed a way to deal with Apathy permanently.

Tony flexed his fingers.

He knew of one way, but it was a last resort. Kept only if there was no other choice. Tony didn't think they had sunk that low quite yet.

He turned away from the Wall and stalked towards the hideout. He'd go over what he knew about Apathy one more time. Maybe he'd see something new after having spent some time away from it. The Wall would hold up for another few days without his attention.

Tony slid into the hideout and blinked. Roman tapped his fingers on the various notes that Tony had left scattered about the room.

"Well, well, well," Tony said, stepping more fully into the room. Something felt off in the way that Roman's head didn't immediately snap up to face him. Tony frowned and tilted his head up just a bit to get a better look at Roman. He didn't look on the verge of flying apart like he had last night, but he didn't look much better either.

"Roman," Tony said softly, reaching out. Roman leaned away from his touch, and Tony let his hand drop. The action stung. He swallowed thickly and tried to ignore it.

"What happened?" He asked.

"I don't know," Roman said flatly, looking up to glare at him. Tony clenched his jaw and narrowed his eyes. "Why don't you tell me?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Tony bit back a hiss. Roman was emotional. Tony knew this. Apathy had rattled him last night. It would pass.

"Oh, I'm sure you don't," Roman said darkly, "After all you tried so hard to hide it from me."

Tony's heart skipped a beat. Had Roman finally figured it out? Was this the moment that everything fell apart? It was too soon. Tony needed to be able to keep an eye on him just a little bit longer. He'd give up the place he found in the Imagination as soon as he knew that Roman was safe.

"And?" Tony said, his face settling into a blank slate. It didn't hurt, he lied to himself. It had been inevitable. He knew that Roman would no longer trust him once he learned of Tony's disguise. "What would that be?"

"Don't act like you don't know!" Roman shoved the papers off the table, and Tony stared at him. Steady in a way that he didn't feel on the inside. He didn't move as Roman stalked closer to him. "Apathy told me everything!"

"Apathy did, did he?" Tony said, tilting his head to the side, "And you'd trust him over me?"

Roman's breath hissed out from between his teeth. He ran a hand through his hair. Tony caught sight of the bandages on his arm, and his fingers twitched to reach forward and check them. Roman had almost fallen apart completely last night. He wanted to make sure that they would hold. He doubted that Roman would let him right now.

"He certainly seemed more certain of things than you are," Roman accused. He dug a finger into Tony’s chest and scowled. "When were you going to tell me that Apathy wasn't a Side?!"

Oh.

Oh.

Tony felt a heat rise in his chest. That bastard. Tony's eye twitched and he pushed Roman's finger away from his chest. He clenched his jaw and crossed his arms.

"It wasn't important."

"Lie," Roman hissed, "Stop lying to me!"

"I'm deception," Tony said sharply, "What more would you expect from me?"

Roman drew back. Tony blinked slowly at him. He wouldn't let his pain and guilt and anger show. He'd been nothing but himself with Roman. He'd bared his soul and knew exactly where it would lead. This. This moment here. He lied and he lied, and Roman needed to know that's what he did.

It would never last.

Deception didn't earn friends.

All it earned was safety of self, and the knowledge that isolation was the best way to move forward.

"I- Why can't you-?" Roman choked back some words that Tony didn't understand and paced the room. "Why can't you just trust me?! You were supposed to-"

"Oh no," Tony said, fingers digging into his arm as Roman turned to glare at him, "Please. Tell me what I was supposed to do, your highness." He dug as much sarcasm into the title as possible. He hadn't expected it to fall apart now, but at least this way he wouldn't lose his way of keeping an eye on Roman.

His chest ached. It hurt to breathe. At least he wouldn't break Roman's heart even more than he thought he would. This way Tony would throw himself at Apathy without worry of Roman getting hurt. Passion would have helped, but the risk of Roman wasn't worth it.

"You were supposed to be my friend," Roman finally whispered. Tony closed his eyes and let out a slow breath.

"Then tell me," he said slowly, "Why this negates that fact."

"Friends don't lie to each other!" Roman's hands curled into fists and Tony felt his own anger surge.

"Oh," he hissed, taking a step forward, "Don't they? I suppose the other Sides aren't your friends then?"

Roman took a step back and Tony felt that dark ugly part of himself unfurl. The voice he had been following, the one that had sounded like Roman, shied away from it. Tony shoved himself down. Deceit towered over Roman and his eye caught the light.

"You lie to them," Deceit hissed, dark and insidious. "You do nothing but lie all day long. You're fine. Nothing to worry about. You can trust them. You do trust them. Look here but don't look to close, isn't that right Creativity?"

Deceit took another step forward and Roman took a step back.

"Are you going to lie to me as well? The one who saw through your charade? Tell me, Creativity, what you think your relation with them would be like if you didn’t lie."

"Better," Roman spat out, "Because then at least I'd never have met you."

Deceit let out a low chuckle and he grinned.

"Oh, Princey, you would have never met me. You would fight with Logan but at least you'd still get along with Patton and Virgil isn't that right?" He reached out, and pain lanced through his hand as Roman smacked it away. Good. As things should be.

The monster under the bed had no friends.

"You would have told them about me," Deceit continued, watching the way that Roman shook. "Isn't that what a hero is supposed to do?"

"Stop it," Roman said, his voice cracking down the middle, "You're lying. You have no way of knowing how things would have changed."

"Don't I?" Deceit spread his hands wide. "I care for you Roman, you can't deny that now. I would die for you."

Truth, that dark part of him hissed, truth so that his lies would slip past.

"So yes," Deceit said dully, "Apathy isn't a Side. What does that matter? What matters more is the fact that you heard one lie and decided that you couldn't trust me. Why it makes one think that you never trusted me in the first place."

Ignore the pain. It didn't hurt.

Deceit pulled his hat over his face, eyes sliding away from Roman's. He let the action hide the way his shoulders slumped, glad that his cape would help hide the way he held himself. His lips curled up into a smirk that he didn't feel.

Roman's hands clenched and unclenched. Deceit almost thought he could hear the way that Roman's teeth ground together.

"Then what was all this?" Roman demanded. He took a step forward, and Tony took a step back. They were a pendulum swinging back and forth, but never quite meeting. "You showed that you cared! You took time to make me feel better!"

Tony's hands twitched. He could feel the way his fists pressed against his arms. His lips thinned and he looked at a spot over Roman's shoulder.

"Oh that," he said, trying for breezy. The dryness of his throat made it sound hoarse instead. "A necessity. Thomas is our center. I can't let anything happen to him."

"Why-!" Roman's hands reached up to tear at his own hair. Tony pressed his hands even further into his arms to resist the urge to drag Roman's hands away from his hair with a snappy retort about how someone so clever could be so dumb. He wanted Roman to stop hurting himself.

He wanted to stop hurting Roman.

"A lie," Tony tried to say.

"That! That's a lie!" Tony angled himself away from Roman as Roman strode towards him. "Why can't you just say what you mean?"

"And what?" Tony finally hissed, snapping to meet Roman's eyes. Roman froze as Tony stared at him, "Pray tell, what do I mean, Ty? What can you see in me that I don't? A pretty little liar? Someone who needs you? Do you just want to be needed so bad that you can't listen to what I'm trying to say?"

Roman scowled at him.

"Stop twisting my words around!"

"Oh, Roman," Tony said, mocking and soft as he placed a hand on his cheek. It could hide the fact that it trembled. "He needs to be needed so much that he pretends that the local monster needs him."

"Stop it!" Roman's hands slammed against the table and Tony's face turned blank.

"Well," Tony said softly, "It seems that this isn't going to work any more." Roman stared at him and Tony let a sharp smile crawl up his face. He took another step back. Better to cut ties now. Before he was the one to cause Roman to unravel.

"It would be better to just part ways," Tony said simply. Roman's hands curled into fists on the table, and Tony felt justified in Roman's silence. "Your help was appreciated," Tony tried to paint the words in the sarcasm he was known for, "Truly and deeply. I would ask for it again, but I know how that will go over."

Tony tipped his hat.

"No need to worry about Apathy, he is my job after all," Tony said, and then, to make sure, dug the knife into Roman’s chest a little deeper, "Something that some of us care about."

Certain that Roman wouldn't follow him, Tony turned on his heel and strode out of the room. The door clicked shut behind him, and as soon as he was out of sight, Tony's careful facade crumbled. He stumbled to the side and slide down the wall.

He curled into himself and it took all his energy to sink out of the hallway. The familiar shadows of his room wrapped around him. Tony stumbled over to his bed. His hands wouldn't stop shaking. The back of his throat burned. He wanted to say that he had hope.

But that would have meant that he hadn't seen this coming.

Patton had said it best, as loathe as Tony was to admit it. Sometimes lying to your friends made everything worse. Only Roman was no longer his friend. Tony tried to look on the bright side. At least now he had no reason to feel guilty lying to Roman.

Somehow that only hurt even worse.

Tony pulled his blankets up over his head. The silence in the room, normally so soothing, felt like salt being pressed into his wounds. He debated, for a half a second, going to the Imagination to talk to Remy. He dismissed it.

Remy would kill him as soon as he heard about what happened with Roman. Remy knew about the Tony secret, but not about Apathy. Remy would kill him for putting Roman in danger, for not telling the whole truth.

The truth that so many people wanted from him. Tony wanted to give it to them. He wanted to open himself up to someone so that when the time came, when he had to pull yet another mask on, lie to yet another person. Tell Thomas with a straight face that he had no idea what he was talking about-

Tony wanted to be able to find himself in the end. Tony wanted to be himself , not the monster under the bed. Tony wanted laughter and jokes and banter and he wanted friends.

But he could never have it.

He knew that. He accepted it. It just-

It still hurt.

Tony didn't know if it would ever stop hurting.

Chapter Text

Roman kicked at the hallway, cursing the fact that there were no stones for him to kick at. It ruined the aesthetic of his sulking. He knew- He knew that this was a stupid idea. But he couldn't exactly run it by Logan.

Though, why he hadn't told Logan about Deceit yet alluded him. A hunch. An instinct. Maybe a selfish need to prove to himself that he could deal with this himself. A need to hoard something all for himself-

Roman shook his head and slammed his fist against the wall.

Deceit had told him the truth. Or something close to it at least. In a way. Or perhaps Roman wasn't as good at reading him as he thought. Whatever the reason was, Deceit had turned tail and run. Roman still felt the anger seething under his skin, boiling his blood.

But he hadn't seen Deceit in days, and the anger rolled around with worry.

Roman wanted to shake Deceit until the truth and understanding came rattling out. Until Roman made him see that part of why Roman felt so furious was the way that he talked about himself. Dismissed his own kindness and genuine moments for a trick when Roman knew- just knew- that they were more than that.

He scowled at the far wall. He could wander a little longer, but any longer and he's risk running into Virgil when he returned. He didn't want to break the tense silence between them quite yet. Not when he knew that it would end in more shouting.

Roman stalked towards the Wall. He hoped- no he Hoped that Deceit would be there at this time. He had checked the hideout but all of Deceit's papers had vanished. Roman wanted to scream.

It wasn't fair. He lost Deceit, trying not to lose Deceit. Deceit lied to him about lying. Roman felt vaguely like he should have seen this coming, but then again Deceit made it so hard to follow him.

Well too bad for him, Roman was a stubborn and dense motherfucker. He would cling stubbornly to Deceit's coattails the moment that he had an inkling that Deceit would validate him. That Deceit would support and care for him. A parasite that wouldn't let go.

Roman let out a harsh breath.

He just wanted to know, was that so bad?

He turned the corner and froze.

There, in the middle of the hall, Deceit stood, staring at a patch of what looked like flowers growing from the Wall. Roman didn't recognize them, but he could feel the same sort of sickly energy that came from Self-doubt hovering around them like a thick cloud.

Roman watched as Deceit scowled at them.

Deceit took a step forward, and Roman watched as vines spread out from the flowers reaching forwards and blooming even more flowers until they seemed to choke the entire area. They never touched Deceit.

Roman winced as whispers filled the hallway.

“Monster," the flower whispered, and Roman's jaw dropped as Deceit brushed it off.

"Monster," another repeated, louder this time.

"You never help anyone," a third piped up.

"You can't do anything right."

"Thomas will always hate you."

"Thomas has always hated you."

"Unneeded."

“Ugly."

"Mean."

"Liar.”

"Liar."

"Liar."

Roman took a step forward, his fists curling. His fingernails dug into his palms. How dare they? How dare they? Whatever the hell those things were, they had no right. Deceit may be a bastard, but that wasn't anything close to the words they whispered. Even if Deceit didn't acknowledge them, words still hurt.

Deceit didn't deserve any of that.

"Hey!" Roman barked, his voice shattering the almost fragile feel of the hallway.

Deceit's head snapped up. Roman's eyes met his. He saw the way that Deceit's eyes widened. For a moment, Roman watched the way that Deceit's lips wrapped around a word. He couldn't tell what it was.

Then the flowers snapped forwards.

"He hates you!" One of them shrieked, wrapping around Deceit's arm. Deceit dove away, hand scrambling at the vine as it wrapped even tighter around his arm. Roman hit the ground running. His heart jumped to his throat as another vine slithered up Deceit's leg.

"You deserve everything that he says to you!"

Deceit stumbled as the vine tightened enough that Roman could see the way that rapidly growing thorns ripped at his pants. Deceit's mouth twisted into a pained frown.

"You'll lose him!" 

Roman's sword dropped into his hand and he sliced at the nearest vine. The flower closest to him turned to face him. Its flowers rustled and Roman felt his blood freeze as it whispered-

"Nothing you do is enough."

"Sssssshut up.” Deceit's hiss drowned out the whisper. The flower turned to face him instead. Roman's hand shook as he looked at Deceit. The vines had crawled up both his legs and had one arm pinned to his side. A trickle of blood ran down his leg. Deceit's pale face would be glued behind Roman's eyelids for the next long while.

Deceit's eyes darted up to him for a heart beat and then back to the flowers.

"You know nothing about him," Deceit hissed.

"He knows nothing about you," the flower almost seemed to echo back, and Deceit trembled. The flowers converged, and for a moment, Roman could make out the vague impression of a face.

The vines tightened, and Roman inched around them, searching for the best angle to help. Deceit's eyes stayed glued on the flowers. Roman hated the way that his lips trembled. He was meant to be confident. Cool and collected at all times.

"Roman," the flowers breathed, and Roman froze. Deceit's chest heaved. "Your only friend." Deceit squeezed his eyes shut. "He will never stay your friend." The flowers moved, and they wrapped up Deceit's torso. 

Roman sucked in a deep breath. He tried to ignore the words they were whispering, but they felt like little pockets of air. If he breathed, he would hear them. Being near them meant he heard every word.

"He'll learn your deepest secrets," the flowers whispered, "and hate you. He'll see what you already know. That you're not worth any care. That any relationship between the two of you is doomed to end in failure."

Roman's hand tightened around his sword. His eyes narrowed at the way that Deceit's trembling increased. He took a step forward, his feet hovering just at the edges of the vines covering the floor. He needed to do something. He needed to do something now.

The vines crept up Deceit's chest to wrap around his neck.

"You’re a monster," The flower hissed, something dark and victorious in the words, "He could never like a monster. He will die. You will fail. You’re nothing but a failure-!"

"He's not!" Roman couldn't help but shout. Deceit's gasps echoed in the hallway as the flowers turned to face him. Roman swallowed, and stood up as straight as he could. The anger he felt at Deceit simmer under his skin, but he stood by his own thoughts.

He didn't hate Deceit.

He didn't think he could ever hate Deceit at this point.

"He's not a failure," Roman said, taking a step into the vines. He could feel them curl around his leg. He struggled to think about what to do. What would Deceit do. He sucked in a deep breath, and lied. Well, not quite lied, but Roman could act to save a life. Hell, Roman could act even when a life wasn't on the line.

He plastered on his most confident grin and felt the way the vines hold on him loosened. He took a step forward.

"Deceit," Roman said, staring at not the flowers, but Deceit's face. Deceit had wedged his free hand under the vine trying to buy himself as much air as possible. Good, Roman needed all the time they could buy Deceit.

"He's-" Roman struggled for words. He looked at Deceit's wide eyes. The gold and the brown. He thought about the quick way that Deceit had brushed everything off as done and over with. It hurt, of course it hurt.

It hurt them both.

"He's a friend," Roman said, dropping his sword. He had a feeling that he didn't need it. He reached out and the vines parted around his touch. "He's important, and valued, and worth more than whatever the hell you are ever could be."

He meet Deceit's wide eyes and smiled. It warmed Roman down to his toes, like soft newly made caramel.

"He's important to me, and nothing is going to change that." Roman stepped close enough that he could press his hand to Deceit's cheek. The snake scales under his palm felt cool and smooth. He didn't pay attention to the way that the vines slither away from them both.

"You're my best friend," Roman told Deceit. "You don't get to run away from me that easily." Deceit sucked in a sharp breath and Roman held his arms open, catching Deceit as his legs gave out beneath him.

He took a deep breath and Deceit held up a hand. He levered himself up, using Roman's arm as a support. Roman could feel the way that Deceit still shook.

"You're loved," Deceit whispered, and Roman felt the Belief laced into the words. The vines shuddered and disappeared behind the Wall. "You are always loved."

Roman watched with smug pleasure as the flowers and vines vanished. Deceit slumped against him, and Roman spent one moment to glare at the Wall before turning his attention to Deceit.

"Oh my god," Roman breathed, hurrying to prop Deceit up against the nearest normal wall and take a look at his legs. The thorns has shredded the skin underneath his pants and Deceit winced as Roman prodded at the injuries.

"Why-" Roman felt a shout build in his throat.

He swallowed it down and pressed his hand to Deceit's leg instead. He pushed Creative power around it, creating new skin and pants for Deceit's legs. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

"Why do you always hurt yourself?"

Roman felt Deceit's leg jerk under his palm. Roman pressed down against it, struggling to keep Deceit from running away from him again.

"No," Roman said, steel that he learned from Logan in his voice. "You're not doing this again. You're going to talk to me."

Deceit hissed. 

"I don't have to do anything!"

"No," Roman said steadily, "You don't." He met Deceit's eyes, "But pretending that you don't want to after what I just heard is the highest form of bullshit you'd ever try to pull off. And the worst."

Deceit glared at him. Roman stared back. He watched the fight drain from Deceit's shoulders, the way that Deceit curled in on himself. Deceit sighed, and Roman twitched as Deceit reached up to pull his hat off his head.

"Fine," Deceit muttered, "You're just a goddamn stupid moron that you can't take a hint. Fine. Let's talk."

Roman felt a grin bubble up on his face. He scooched over so that he could press his shoulder against Deceit's and the world felt like it slotted back into place as Deceit leaned into the touch.

"I keep secrets," Deceit said bluntly. Roman eyed the way that Deceit picked at his gloves and wouldn't meet his eyes. "It's my job, Ty-" Roman's heart soared at the nickname, used not in a mocking lit, but in this moment of vulnerability.

"It's my literal job, to keep secrets," Deceit repeated, "It's habit and I'm always going to have secrets."

"More than the Apathy thing?" Roman asked.

Deceit rolled his eyes. Roman couldn't tear his eyes away from the fact that Deceit pulled his gloves off slowly. 

"Dozens more," Deceit said dryly. Roman chuckled sheepishly. He glanced up to catch Deceit rolling his eyes again and the warmth from before spread all the way through his body.

"I can't tell you everything," Deceit said, his voice dropping into something soft, "And sometimes, I will lie to you. Sometimes I'll have to shut you up. It's what Thomas requires of me. It's what I was made to do."

"Do you want to?" Roman asked.

Deceit fell silent. Roman watched him turn the gloves over in his hands, and he wanted to reach out and touch the scales on the back of Deceit's left hand.

"No," Deceit said, soft as a breath on the wind, "Not with you at least."

Roman grinned, bursting with love and pride. He nudged at Deceit's shoulder. He reached out and plucked Deceit's gloves from him, running a finger over the tears to seal them up with a burst of Creativity.

"Then we're good!" Roman said, looking up at Deceit. His breath caught. Deceit blinked at him, and Roman stared at the way Deceit's hair curled around his forehead. The almost bare way that Deceit looked without his hat.

He loved him.

Oh.

Roman let out a soft breath.

Oh.

"You're not going to get rid of me that easily," Roman breathed, and Deceit rolled his eyes again. He took his gloves back, and Roman mourned the way that Deceit covered his hands up again.

"You don't know what I'm hiding from you," Deceit reminded.

"I trust you," Roman said, and hooked his arm around Deceit's. His heart raced, and he wanted to sit here forever. Deceit flicking his thigh and muttering under his breath about him being a moron, and Roman felt fit to bursting. They would be alright.

He would make them be alright.

Because he loved Deceit.

Because he loved him.

Roman felt the sudden urge to go scream into his pillow and then go running across a field of flowers. He needed to talk to Remy. Wait no, not Remy. Remy would tell him to just tell Deceit. Hecate maybe. Someone. Roman would find someone to help him plan out the best way to woo Deceit.

Yes.

"You shouldn't trust me," Deceit said softly

"Well, lucky for you" Roman said brightly, "You don't get a choice in that matter."

Deceit let out a soft huff, amused and frustrated all at once. Roman dared to lean against his side even more, and felt the coolness of Deceit's clothes against his own. Soft, Roman thought. Softer than it looked.

"Fine," Deceit said, but Roman could see the way that his lips twitched up onto a fond smile. "But don't say that I didn't warn you. You can hang around like the parasite you are."

"Ha!" Roman threw his hands into the air. "I was right!"

Deceit blinked at him.

"What?"

"You would think of me as a parasite! I owe myself ten bucks!"

Well not that he had made a bet, more that he had used the same metaphor. Whatever. It meant that they were compatible! Right? Right?!

Deceit shoved his arm and Roman laughed. It felt loud and bright. Everything felt lighter and brighter and better . He was in love. His best friend wasn't going to leave him. His best friend didn't want to leave him.

"You dealt with the Self-hatred better than I expected," Deceit muttered.

"Is that what that was?

"Yes," Deceit said with a short nod. "Self-hatred. It blooms every once in a while, but not too often. The best way I've found to deal with it, is with a firm belief and the occasion lie."

"So then why did it catch you then?"

Deceit hesitated.

"It found-" Deceit cleared his throat. "It found a weak point." Roman watched Deceit fiddle with his hat. It dawned on him slowly, and his grin grew. It spread across his face, and he ignored the shove that Deceit threw his way.

"Don't look so happy about it," Deceit hissed, "It's not what you think."

“You want to be my friend!" Roman singsonged. "You want to be my friend! For all your talking about necessity and lies and not actually caring, you hate the idea of losing me!"

"I'm never talking to you again," Deceit grumbled.

Roman wrapped his arm around Deceit's shoulder. He could count the eyelashes on Deceit's face. He wanted to trace the curve of his eyes and cheeks. His hand twitched and he managed to refrain.

"Nothing to be ashamed of, my friend," Roman declared grandly. He threw his hand out in front of them to keep from touching Deceit even more. "We are the most epic of friendship! Bonded through life or death! Brought together by challenges greater than we could ever face alone! A bond like that is unbreakable!"

Deceit chuckled.

"Well then,” Roman felt his knees go weak at the low rumble of Deceit’s voice. Thank god they were still sitting on the ground. "Who am I to argue with prose like that?"

"You really think it's good prose?" Roman's words burst from his mouth.

Deceit reached up and for a moment, his hand patted Roman's face. Roman wondered if it was possible to combust from love. Or die of embarrassment. Or something. The skin where Deceit touch burned.

"Darling," Deceit drawled, completely unaware of the way that Roman practically melted at the pet name, "Everything you do is beautiful."

Deceit stood up and Roman watched him go with a dreamy look. He planted his chin in his hand a sighed. His eyes roamed downward, taking in every inch of Deceit. Every perfect, glorious inch. Deceit glanced back at him, and Roman’s chin fell from his hand. He scrambled to sit up straight as Deceit raised an eyebrow.

“You coming?”

“Yes- right- of course- yes!” Roman threw himself to his feet and rushed to Deceit’s side. He wrapped an arm around Deceit’s elbow and grinned as wide as he could. He never wanted to leave Deceit’s side. Never wanted to leave this brilliant, sharp but kind man.

Maybe, if he played his cards right, that would be a dream that could come true.

Chapter Text

Roman hummed as he dug the lemons out of the refrigerator. He wanted a fresh cup of lemonade before he got to work. He wanted to blame Apathy for the fact that they were out. Petty, and probably not true but it made him feel better.

Roman swung his hips as he crossed the kitchen, laying lemons and sugar out on the table. All he needed was a pitch of water, and he's be good to go. Maybe he'd be able to take a couple of glasses with him, and offer some to Deceit as well.

Roman felt a grin split across his face. In fact, maybe he should bake something. He could make a batch of cupcakes. Cupcakes and a cup of lemonade left at the table that Deceit's note were once again scattered across.

Roman bit back a giggle at the thought of Deceit taking a bite out of his baking. Better yet, the grin that would cross Deceit's face. Or, if Roman felt particularly bold- and didn't mind a flush rising up his face- he could picture Deceit licking his fingers of frosting-

"Well you seem to be in a good mood," Roman whirled around at Logan's voice, and threw his hands into the air.

"Teacher of the Deep!" Roman cheered, and threw himself at Logan. He reached out and spun Logan around, ignoring the surprised sputtering that came from the action. "Today is a glorious day is it not?"

Logan eyed him, smoothing down his shirt from where Roman had hauled him into the air. He adjusted his glasses. A small smile crossed his face.

"Yes, I believe it is," Logan nodded his head. "May I help?" He gestured at the half made lemonade on the counter.

"Of course!" Roman turned to finish squeezing the lemons as Logan measured out the sugar.

"May I inquire as to why it's a good day?"

"Why wouldn't it be?!" Roman twirled in a circle. "Do we have yellow food coloring- oh who am I kidding I can just make some if we don't." He skipped over to the counter and rooted around for what he needed. He could just conjure the food, but it never tasted quite the same.

Patton claimed that it lacked true love and care that made all the food taste better.

Perhaps that was why all of Patton's food felt off recently.

Roman shook his head. No! He refused to think about such things right now! Right now he was going to bask in his own feelings and revelations! Make plans! Woo the man of his dreams! And then, well, go to work.

The cupcake pan clattered against the counter.

"Well," Logan said, taking the lemon juice from him and dumping it into the pitcher, "You are quite effuse on the best days, but there is a-" Logan paused and reached for the cards in his back pocket. "You are quite lit today?"

"Not quite but I'll take it!" Roman pointed at Logan briefly, and grinned. Logan rolled his eyes and noted the correction on his card. Roman twirled one more time, wondering if Deceit would like him in a skirt. Maybe he should wear one just to feel Deceit stare at him. Oh, he hoped that Deceit stared.

"Just!" Roman waved his hands to watch the ingredients dance across the counter.  "Is it not a great day when you feel love for someone?"

Logan raised an eyebrow at him.

"Love?"

"Yes, love! That wonderful emotion!" Roman bounced on the balls of his feet. "The one that a section of the population craves! Not that those who don't are any lesser, in fact, they are just as great as the rest of us and-"

"Roman," Logan cut off, fond amusement in his voice.

"Right, right, right," Roman nodded his head and reached out to crack the eggs. He wanted these to be perfect. "I just-!" Roman waved his free hand through the air. "I love so much, you know? It's a warm feeling."

Logan stared at him for a long moment.

"Roman, if that's the way you feel about me-"

"Oh, ew no!" Roman shoved at Logan's shoulder and, when Logan chuckled, flicked flour in his direction to draw out that lighter wheezing laughter. He grinned even wider. "I love you but I don't love you, egomaniac."

"Well good," Logan brushed the flour off his shirt. "You are an enjoyable part of my day as well, but you are closer to my brother than anything else."

Roman wiggled his hips and snapped his fingers to spread the batter evenly throughout his pan. He slid it into the over. Perfect! Everything was just! So! Perfect. Roman grinned and glanced up to meet Logan's soft eyes.

He reached out. 

"Hey Bro-etry, you're my brother too, you know."

"Indeed," Logan cleared his throat. "Well then, I believe that we both have work to get done today. I shall keep an eye out for you tonight?"

"Poetry!" Roman cheered. For a moment he thought about Logan's cryptic words, about strength and hope. His hands dropped down. He shook his shoulders, like a duck shaking off water. It didn't matter right now. 

He was the master of avoidance. He didn't know what Logan knew, and until Logan brought it up he could ignore it. Of course, ignoring things had lead to him needed to wrap up about half his body to hold it together but that had been turning out alright so far!

Logan nodded at him. He poured himself a glass of lemonade, and swiped one of Roman's cupcakes. Roman whacked his arm, but Logan ducked out of the way.

"Have a pleasant day at work!" Logan called over his shoulder. He took a smug bite out of the cupcake in his hand before disappearing out the door

"I hate you!" Roman shouted at him. He smiled, shaking his head. He reached out to spread the frosting over the plate of cupcakes. It hadn't taken too long, but he was still a little behind where he should be for the day. He'd have to double check the grey area around the border of the Imagination to make sure that everything was alright.

It should be though. He hadn't felt much stirrings from that border for the past few weeks. There had been the deal with the Imps, but Nate and Anton had left to deal with that. Roman scooped up a plate of the cupcakes, and two glasses of lemonade.

He hummed to himself and all but skipped out the door. He didn't know if this would catch Deceit's attention in the way he wanted, but Roman was going to try. Deceit deserved to know that Roman wasn’t going to leave him. No matter what happened, they were at the very least friends.

Maybe one day, hopefully more.

Roman hurried down the hall and slipped into the hideout. He pouted at the lack of Deceit but left the plate of cupcakes on the table next to Deceit's notes. He waved his hand and left a small note for Deceit as well, sealing it with a heart and a flush that crept up his cheeks. 

Roman hurried out of the room, slight bravery fleeing him. He wanted to stick around for when Deceit showed up to see the look on his face. But he also didn't. He felt confident that Deceit would like them. But he didn't know if Deceit would love them.

Roman shook his head.

Later. He'd worry about it later, even if getting Deceit off his mind wasn't easy. He felt like he had sprouted wings. He wanted to fly away. Preferably to the perfect perch that he could watch Deceit enjoy himself for the next week or so. Roman strode towards the grey area. 

He wanted to bask in Deceit's smiles and his laughter and-

Roman forcefully shook himself again. Work now, pining later. He couldn't woo his prince if he died by being worse than careless. He reached down and laid his hand on the sheath that appeared as he crossed from the hallways into the grey area.

He really needed to come up with a name for this area. Where Self-Doubt and Nightmares spawned. It wasn't quite the Subconsciousness that Virgil maintained, but it was close. The final edge of the triangle so to speak. Roman hoped that Virgil was doing something else and their paths didn't cross.

It wasn't often, but Roman's luck tended to be a pendulum these days.

He inched forward, tilting his head to the side to keep an ear out for any clicking claws or low growls. He relaxed at the silence. He blinked, but continued forward nonetheless. If nothing was appearing then it meant Roman would have an easy week. He could put forth more effort in helping Deceit track down Apathy.

They'd been following the compasses, but the twisting of Thomas' mind made it hard to pinpoint him exactly. Roman narrowed his eyes at the grey murkiness around him. He felt like this place had been the inspiration for the fog that covered Remus’ part of the Imagination.

An empty feeling spouted from this place. Roman hated it. He let go of his sword and paced all the way to the border of the Imagination. The shimmering white wall looked nothing like the intimidating brick of deception that Deceit maintained, but it was his own way of keeping a barrier in place.

Roman trailed his fingers against it lightly. It gave way beneath him, but he could feel the tug of it under his sternum. Not meant to keep others out so much as it was to warn them away. Roman nodded to himself. Only Virgil had crossed it over the years; he'd spawned a Nightmare that had taken forever to defeat and chase out.

Roman still wasn't sure if it hadn't just fled to Remus' kingdom. Either way, Roman knew that the others wouldn't dare to cross his makeshift line in the sand at least. That was one thing that they would never do.

Roman nodded to himself and turned around. He froze. His eyes trailed up to fairly small Self-Doubt that loomed over him. He took note of the rope hanging off its neck in the half second he had.

Its paw wasn't as large as him. It still felt like being run over by a car when it slammed into his side. Roman tried to roll with the momentum. He succeeded in sliding along the ground and groaning. He coughed, and pressed his hands against his ribs.

Definitely broken.

Fuck.

He shoved himself to his feet, and didn't bother to turn around. He dashed away from the beast. He needed a better battlefield. A strategy. To not have three broken ribs and what felt like an ankle that he had lucked in not quite being twisted. Joy.

Roman heard the thundering footsteps behind him as he rushed towards the hallways. He couldn't let it get out. The fact that it hadn't made a break for the Imagination was weird enough. He didn't want to see if it would go after any of the others when it hadn't before.

Roman slid to the side. He ducked down and let the claws brush over his head. He whirled around and focused the creative power in his hands. He leapt forward and planted them against the ground. It rumbled.

He breathed out slowly. He might be able to manage this alone. It wasn't the largest Self-Doubt he'd ever seen.

Roman choked at the pain that danced through his leg. He tore his leg away from the grip of the Self-Doubt's claws. Blood splattered across the grey, startling bright. A spot of color in a place that lacked it completely.

The ground shot up around him, forming the cage that Roman had pictured. The Self-Doubt rammed against the edges. Roman stuck his tongue out at it, and hobbled away as quickly as he could. He paused, and sighed. Scarlet drops tracked his steps, but Roman turned to face the Self-Doubt. 

He pulled a bow from nothingness. The wood felt familiar in his hands and he leveled it at the Self-Doubt. He dug through himself for the Confidence that he felt in short supply for so long. A small glowing arrow formed at the tip if his fingers and Roman pulled back.

He shot true. The rope that had dangled from the Self-Doubt's neck dropped to the floor. Roman staggered to the side and shook his head. It looked vaguely familiar, but that would wait until he wasn't in danger of discorporation. Roman limped out of the area.

He pressed a hand to the side of the hallway as he exited the grey space. His eyes darted back and forth. He didn't- He swallowed thickly. He could go back and get help from Logan, only Logan wasn't at home. He'd have to find Logan in the Library, and Roman didn't want to risk damaging the books.

Virgil and Patton might be there, but Roman-

Roman didn't want to know what they'd say to this. His feet turned without a thought. Fire lanced up his leg and ricocheted around his chest. He wrapped his free hand around his ribs, reminding himself that oh yeah, they'd been broken. 

Self-Doubt didn't hit a lot, but it hit hard. Roman let out a shaky breath. He just needed- He'd be safe in the hideout. He could treat himself there. It would be fine. Roman pressed a bloody hand against the door.

He stumbled into the room. A sharp intake of breath cut through the fog. Oh, he was there already. Roman blinked slowly and looked up to meet mismatched brown and gold eyes.

Deceit's arms wrapped around his shoulder and dragged him over to the cot.

"Roman?" Deceit reached down and Roman jerked at the pain that lanced through his leg. Deceit scowled at him.

"Don't move, you need to put pressure on this, not walk around-" Deceit breathed in sharply, "What the hell were you thinking?"

"Couldn't-" Roman hissed, his vision wavering again, "Couldn't tell Virgil, Patton's- weird. Wouldn't find Logan."

"So you came here," Deceit said flatly, "At least tell me that you didn't come all the way from the Imagination." Deceit pulled his hand back slightly and hissed. "I don't have enough Belief right now to treat this. I used most on the Wall."

"'s alright," Roman slurred, "Was going to happen one of these days anyways."

Deceit reached up and flicked him in the forehead.

"Moron," Deceit said flatly, "I've put too much work into this to let it go to waste now." Something flashed through his eyes. "Alright, come here."

Deceit wrapped Roman's arm around his shoulders and pulled him into a half standing position. Roman hummed and buried his nose into Deceit’s neck. Everything felt floaty and the pain slipped away from him. The floor did too. Wait no, that was Deceit sinking them both out of the room.

He blinked and glanced around. Deceit shoved him onto the bed. Roman's eyes drifted over the dark room, the theater posters on the wall, the cape slung on a chair in the back corner.

"This is your room," Roman breathed. Deceit paused.

"Yes," he said softly, "This is my room. Now don't move, I'm getting my supply of Belief. If you bleed out on my bed, I'm going to kill you myself."

Roman hummed happily. He flopped back against the bed, and dragged the pillow to his chest. It hurt to move but the ability to shove his face into the soft cotton that Deceit used was worth it.

Logan would disapprove but Roman repeated the thought to himself. It had been worth it.

Chapter Text

Tony cursed under his breath, dragging out the boxes from his closet. He only had so much Belief to use at a time. Thomas only thought in certain patterns for so long and could only change so much at a time. He didn't have a near infinite well like Creativity.

He dipped his hands into the yellow sand-like substance and shuddered. The sudden rush that crawled along his skin always made him shake his shoulders and let out a sharp breath.

He turned sharply and stared down at Roman's form on his bed.

"Idiot," Tony muttered under his breath, and shoved at Roman's uninjured leg, "Don't fall asleep," he said sharply, "Are you hurt anywhere else?" Tony pressed his hand against Roman's bleeding thigh and Believed that it was healed.

Roman sucked in a breath and squirmed under his touch.

"That feels weird," Roman muttered.

"It's not as perfect as Creativity," Deceit said, "And you didn't answer my question."

"Ribs," Roman said under his breath, "I think it broke my ribs."

Tony sighed. He gestured at Roman. Roman scooched closer, almost eager as Tony pressed his hands against Roman's chest. He spread his fingers across the plains of Roman's abs and pushed Belief into that as well. Roman shuddered again, and Tony let out a relieved breath.

Roman leaned into his touch,. Tony let his hands skate over the shirt, making sure that Roman really was healed. They drifted down to Roman's leg, feeling the smooth unbroken skin there. He would prefer it if Roman could keep himself in one piece.

"I'm going to get a cloth to wash off the blood," Tony said stiffly. Roman’s hand caught his wrist and Tony froze.

"Hey, thanks Dee," Roman said softly. Tony rolled his eyes. He carefully pulled Roman's hand off his wrist and pointed at his bed again.

"Stay still," Tony said firmly, "I'm not the miracle worker that you are."

Tony felt smug at the way that Roman's face dotted with a light flush and a soft grin. Tony scanned his eyes over his room. Everything had its place, and everything was in its place. He let out a slow breath.

He had a sink in here, in the back corner. Actually, he had a small kitchenette so that he could spend days without leaving the safety of his room. Tony reached for his normal handkerchief and his hand froze over his pocket.

Right. He had given it to Roman. With the Belief that he'd be able to hold together. It would help in an emergency, hopefully. No. Hope was Roman's thing. Tony Believed that it would help when it was needed.

He waved his hands and conjured a small white cloth that he wet down carefully. He turned back to Roman and scowled. Roman reached up to run his hand over the theater posters on the wall.

"Oh sit down!" Tony snapped and Roman jumped guiltily.

"You wouldn't happen to have copies of those?" Roman asked as Tony ushered him back to the bed. Tony rolled his eyes again. He nudged Roman's leg and ran the cloth down the lines of blood that still stained Roman's skin and pants. He kept his movements smooth and gentle.

He didn't want to hurt Roman. Even by antagonizing his sensitive new skin, or by reopening the wound.

"No," Tony said amusement leaking into his tone, "You can't have them."

"But Deeeee," Roman whined.

"Ty," Tony parroted back. "I spent a month and a half getting those, I'm not handing them over just like that."

Roman poked his arm. Tony whacked at it. Roman grinned at him. Tony knew the moment that Roman's eyes caught on the cloth in his hands. 

"That's-"

"Don't," Tony said stiffly. He didn't want to think about the cloth and what Roman did with it. Why he had given it way.

"Thank you," Roman said, hand ghosting over his shoulder. "It's meant to help, right?"

"Sure," Tony said dryly, tossing his white cloth over his shoulder. It stood out in his doom, all the dark cool tones different from the warmth of Roman's room. Roman leaned forward, and Tony stood up.

"You'll want to stay off your leg as much as possible for the rest of the day."

"So I'm stuck here then?" Roman didn't sound too upset about that possibility. Tony scowled at him. He shoved at Roman's arm and slopped onto his own bed.

"No," Tony said dryly, "You're stuck here because you've miraculously forgotten how else to travel through Thomas's mind."

"Well, if you say so, then it must be true," Roman said smugly, and Tony sputtered. Roman cackled, rolling away from Tony's prodding fingers. He paused, and Tony followed his line of sight. Nothing seemed off to him.

"Oh," Roman breathed, "You kept them."

Tony blinked and stared at his desk. Ah. His eyes finally  settled on the small vase of flowers. The yellow tulips sat in a clear vase. Yes, he had kept them. He still wasn't sure why.

Roman frowned.

"They're not going to last long like that-" He stood up and strode easily over to the desk. He moved around Tony's room like he belonged there. Tony stared at the white against the black. The way that Roman cupped the flower gently and conjured a heat lamp for it, coaxing the flower back into full growth.

Tony realized, abruptly, that Roman was in his room. The room that no one had even been in before. Not Virgil. Not Remus. Not Thomas. No one that had been even sort of mildly important to him before had ever seen his room. To the point that Remus had convinced himself that Tony didn't have one. He had an… interesting room in his tower just for Tony because if it.

Tony stood up. Roman startled, and Tony gripped his arm.

"The others will notice if you're gone too long," Tony said. He hoped that Roman couldn't feel the way that his hands shook under his gloves. "I'll take you back."

"Dee? Are you alright?"

"Don't worry about it," Tony said without a thought and sunk them both out. He let go of Roman's arm as they reached Roman's room. He turned on his heel and sunk out before Roman could say anything else. He spent a moment to make sure that the illusions and protections on his rooms still held.

No one would ever find it.

He let out a slow breath and yanked his hat off of his head. What the hell was wrong with him? Why had he brought Roman here of all places? He clenched his teeth and sunk out once more.

He glanced behind him and he caught sight of Roman curling up on his bed. He slipped into Roman's closet, and broke into a run. He knew where to go. His feet took him there without a thought. The travel felt shorter than it should have. Maybe the Imagination liked him.

Tony came to a gasping halt, the mouth of Hecate's lair gaping wide in front of him. He didn't even know if they were in. He didn't know why he had come here of all places. Tony leaned against the wall and slide down to curl into a ball.

Lie.

He knew why he was here. His only other option of talking was Roman- which just no when it came to this, or even worse. Remus. Remus wouldn't help. Remus would likely make things worse trying to help. He couldn't talk to Logan; Patton and Virgil would tear him apart.

Tony dug his hands into his shins and tucked his hat around himself so that he could stay in the shadows. He should have stayed in his room. He felt safe there. He could feel himself there, knew that he was safe and himself. He tried not to think about the fact that the Imagination felt safe to him now.

"De- Tony?"

Tony didn't move as footsteps echoed in the cave around him.

"Bitch," Remy said, prodding him with a foot. Tony twitched, and wished he'd go away. "Hey-" Remy's tone changed and Tony listened to the rustle of cloth. A hand pressed against his shoulder.

Tony glanced up in surprise and met Remy's concerned eyes.

"Are you, like, alright?"

"Yes," Tony said, and winced at the way his voice cracked. Remy snorted and tugged at his cape. Tony forced himself to stand up with the motion so he didn't lose the damn thing to Remy. He had no doubt that he wouldn't get it back if it came to that.

"Yeah, like, you may be the master of lies, but that," Remy rolled his eyes and dragged him deeper into the lair, "That was, like, the worst flop I've ever seen, and like trust me, I've seen a lot. Like the fish that flopped all over when Roman tried to go fishing."

Tony snorted, tugging his cap out of Remy's grasp to tug it tighter around himself. Remy ushered him into a brightly lit room with a table and cabinets. Tony blinked, taking in the stove as Remy pushed him into a chair and realized that Remy had taken him to the kitchen.

He eyed the way that Remy made a beeline for the kettle.

"Really?"

"Hey!" Remy snapped his fingers, and pointed vaguely in Tony's direction, "Tea is the nectar that God gave this green earth. You, like, diss it and I'm throwing you out on your ass."

"I hate tea," Tony said dryly. Remy scowled at him and flipped him off. He, however, made no move to actually force Tony out.

They sat in silence as Remy heated up the water and dumped the bags into them. Tony didn't ask why he made them instead of snapping it into existence. Tony figured that he'd spent enough time around Roman. Making food just tasted different than conjuring it.

Remy slid the mug towards him, and Tony wrapped his hand around it. He breathed in and blinked down at his mug. The soothing scent of chamomile wrapped around him. He took a small sip and knew that his surprise showed on his face when Remy smirked.

"Hell yeah," Remy stirred his own mug, "Not the most impressive of my like, superpowers but telling how people like their drinks is, like, my favorite."

Tony snorted again. He held the mug close to himself and stared at the table. Remy stared at him. Tony could feel his eyes against his skin.

"I brought Roman to my room today," Tony said softly.

"Oooookay," Remy drawled, "So did you two, like, finally get it on or-"

"Not like that!" Tony snapped. The tea spilled on his hand and he winced at the heat. He wiped it off and tried to breathe out. It came out shaky and pained. "We didn't- It was just-"

"Hey, hey, hey," Remy kicked his shin lightly under the table. "You don't have to, like, talk about anything you don't want to. We can just Netflix and chill without, like, the implications behind it."

"Can we?" Tony muttered. "Am I really allowed to do that?"

"Um, yes?"

Tony shook his head. He could hear the ringing in his ears. There was a hand reaching out for his shoulder. He didn't shrug them off. All he could hear was the beating of his heart.

"I love Roman," he whispered. "I care for you. I shouldn't. I can't. I can't put anyone before Thomas. If I don't put Thomas first who will?"

Someone tried to talk to him, but Tony gripped the mug in his hand tighter. He felt the panic well up inside of him. The tide had receded and now the tsunami came crashing in. The fear of Apathy, the shame of his mistakes, the terror of losing Roman, the paralyzing, horrifying thought that he could fail Thomas all slammed into his chest.

He wheezed.

"I took Roman to my Room. I never take anyone to my room. I want him to be happy. What if making him happy makes Thomas unhappy? What can I do? I need-"

"I need-" He couldn’t breathe.

A hand slapped him. Tony's head snapped to the side and he took a shuddering breath.

"You need to breathe, pretty boy," Hecate said sharply. Tony turned and stared at her. She crouched down, her towering height diminishing as she laid her hand on his head. Her lips twisted, the eternal amusement at him seemingly gone.

"You won't help anyone spiraling away into nothingness," Hecate said sharply, "And we have enough to deal with when Roman's trying to do that. I won't stand for two of you disappearing where I can't follow."

Tony took another shuddering breath. Remy's chair creaked as he stood up. He took a sip of his own drink, and Tony mirrored him without thought. The warmth of the tea felt offset by the smug smirk that Remy sent his way.

"You both suck at comforting people," Tony muttered. Hecate whacked his arm and Remy's smirk only grew.

"We spend time with Roman, like, what did you expect?"

"Anything other than this," Tony set his mug down and stared at his gloves.

"I love Roman," he said, shaping the words and feeling them along his tongue.

"Hell yeah you do," Remy agreed. Hecate reached out to whack him too. "What?! He's the one that said it!"

"I love Roman." The words tasted sweet. Tony would have thought they'd be more bitter. 

"Well," Hecate hesitated, "It was kind of obvious-"

Remy kicked her and she yelped.

"If I can't do it you can't either," Remy hissed.

"Yeah, well maybe I just do it better!"

Tony huffed. He rolled his eyes and finished off his tea.

"The distracting banter may work for Roman," Tony said, "But I doubt that it will here." He rolled his finger along the edge of his mug. "I love Roman." He closed his eyes.

"You asked if you were, like, allowed," Tony's head snapped up and he met Remy's steady eyes. "If doing things with us, if having friends was allowed.” Remy took a sip of his own tea. "What I'd say to that is, well, like, that's just stupid."

"You're a part of Thomas too. Anything that you do that like, makes you happy would make a part of Thomas happy too, right? Like making Roman happy too would only be like, a bonus. So of course you're allowed to like, do what you want. You're allowed to be happy." Remy paused again. "Bitch."

Tony's hands trembled.

"But it never works like that," He hissed. "I make the other's unhappy trying to make Thomas happy." Tony clenched his jaw, "I worked up Patton and Virgil trying to make Roman happy, we're never in harmony -"

"That's not your fault," Hecate cut in. Tony looked at her dubiously. She rolled her eyes. "Well, not all the time. We didn't know you before you started hanging out with Roman. You're always going to be our favorite outside of Roman." Hecate kicked him lightly and tugged him to his feet.

"We're a little biased," Hecate said grandly.

"Sue us," Remy chimed in.

"Falling in love with Roman made you happy," Hecate said sharply, "It made Roman happy. Fuck what the others think. If they're not happy that you're happy-" She grinned with all her teeth. "-I'll eat them."

"No eating the other Sides," Tony muttered as Hecate wrapped a blanket around his shoulders and Remy shoved him into the couch. He knew this scene. He had seen this scene when the had comforted Roman. “I thought I was the one you wanted to eat.”

“Eh, that options not off the table yet.” Hecate settled on his left and Remy on his right. Their words washed over him and Tony leaned back to bask in the feeling. Remy's hand ghosted over his arm, known only by the pressure over the blanket.

"You're allowed to try for what you want," Remy whispered, "It's, like, what you do anyways right?"

Tony let out a slow breath.

"Right," he whispered, and in a way, opening himself up more to these Construct than he had anyone else. "I'm the one that goes for what Thomas wants. No matter what."

Remy grinned.

"Then fuck everyone else. Go get your man, bitch. We'll, like, sit here with popcorn and laugh when you fail at it."

Tony shoved him. It took some wriggling to get his hands out of the blanket Hecate had wrapped him in. But Remy's laughter meant that Tony could shove him off the couch with ease.

"I hate you all," he said grandly.

"No, you don't," Hecate said, her teeth glinting in the torch light as she pulled up some theater recordings. Damn her for figuring out what he liked. Tony's only consolation was that she didn't know his favorites yet.

"No, I don't," Tony agreed, tired and leaning in against her side. Remy threw himself over both their legs and Tony sighed. He didn’t know why he liked them but he did.

"No, I don't."

Chapter Text

Tony made a note that Apathy had been near the Rivers again. They hadn't caught up to him, but Tony wouldn't have been surprised if Apathy was making constant trips there. He needed the water for some reason. Tony just needed to figure out what for.

Damn compasses that Hecate made worked just fine. They pointed in the direction that Apathy was. Only problem was they pointed in a straight line and Thomas's mind wasn't straight. It was rather gay actually.

That and the hallways twisted around each other with twists and turns. It made following the compass a pain.

But it was also the best they had at the moment.

Tony leaned back in his chair and sighed. He wanted this over with already. The faster they dealt with Apathy the faster Tony could move on to dealing with Roman's Unraveling. Then maybe he could-

Tony shook his head.

Tony's eyes drifted to where Roman lay on the cot. He hadn't said anything, simply watching quietly as Tony worked. Tony knew that if Roman had been having a good day he would have offered ideas or thoughts, or anything to fill the silence.

Nothing.

Tony shoved his chair back and watched the way that Roman flinched at the noise. He strode over and knelt down by the cot. He searched Roman’s eyes. He reached out and wrapped his hand around Roman's.

"Are-" He hesitated. "Did something happen?"

"No," Roman said, a bitter sort of laugh coming from his throat. "No just-"

Tony waited. Roman's face scrunched up. Tony fought back the urge to run his thumb across Roman's forehead to smooth out the wrinkles there. No one would see him, but Tony didn't want to scare Roman away by crossing boundary lines.

"Can I show you something?" Roman asked, abrupt and cutting off Tony's thoughts of how to ask Roman. Tony pulled back slightly to stare at the way Roman's lips twisted down. He nodded sharply. 

Roman's lips lifted, but the expression didn't hold any more joy to it than it did before. Bitter and pained, and Tony thought he picked up bits of shame in it too. He held out his hand. Roman took it and leaned against his side. They sunk out into Roman's room, and vanished into the Imagination. Roman paused as they stepped into the woods. He gripped Tony's arm.

"Lady will-" Roman chewed on his bottom lip. Tony did his best not to stare. He focused his eyes on Roman's face, his ears, his nose. "Lady won't like this."

"Well that doesn't sound ominous at all," Tony said dryly. "Should I be letting you do this?"

"Probably not," Roman admitted with a shrug, "But I've been doing it for years now so-" he shrugged, "Nothing much can stop me now."

Tony eyed him. He could feel Roman's grip on his arm tighten. He narrowed his eyes.

"Years?"

"Right around when Vine started," Roman admitted. Then his nose scrunched up and he tilted his hand, “Well I mean, kinda? That’s the time that it took the form that it is now, like we did except with the way Thomas believes we’ve always been like this, so in a sense we have but-”

Roman sucked in a deep breath. 

“It’s just- easier. Easier to show you.”

Tony narrowed his eyes but nodded. He needed to see what Roman was talking about. More than the venting that Roman opened up to him about, this could be a way to approach Roman's unraveling. A possible solution? A symptom?  Tony wasn't sure but he didn't know that if Roman thought he shouldn't do it-

Well, then. Tony would probably have to talk him out of doing it again. Just like trying to coax him into talking to Logan. God, why was Tony the only one with any sense around here?

Roman's whistle cut through the air, and Tony smiled at Lady. She cantered up to Roman, and Roman let out a soft huff of breath that could barely be considered a laugh at the touch. Tony felt his smile falter. Lady tossed her main and glanced at him. Tony shrugged.

"Alrighty," Roman said, petting a hand down her neck, "I think you know where to go, Lady."

Lady whinnied and pranced back away from Roman. Tony raised an eyebrow. Well, that was a first. Roman took a step forward and Lady took a step back.

"So," Tony said conversationally, watching both heads snap over to him. Lady dashed over to him, as if she could hide behind him. Tony bit back a remark about how as a horse she was at least twice as large at him. His head barely came up to her flank. "That bad."

Roman grimace.

"I won't stay for long," Roman said, directing the words over Tony at Lady, "I just want to- to show him."

Tony studied his nails and leaned back against Lady.

"Half-lie. You want to go, and showing me is a good excuse."

"I haven't-" Roman bit his lip, "I haven't been in months, that's an improvement."

Tony studied Roman's distressed face from under the brim of his hat. He reached out and laid a hand on Lady's neck. She was warm. Warm and solid in a way that helped Roman more than anything else could.

"What do you think?" He murmured, "I feel like I need to see whatever this is." He tilted his head to the side and glanced up at Lady. "I can make sure it's an in and out sort of situation." 

Lady knickered unhappily. She pressed her hooves into the dirt but didn't move. Roman took a step forward, hand out and Lady tossed her mane. She stomped her hooves again but pressed her muzzle into Roman's hand. Tension dropped from Roman's frame.

"Thank you," he whispered.

"Don't thank me yet," Tony snapped. "Because if she's against it, as an intelligent horse, then I'm sure as hell against it without even knowing what it is."

Roman's smile trembled and Tony wanted to shake him. He wanted to throw Logan at him, and demand that Logic fix him in the way that only Logan really could. Roman would listen to him, but it would be so much harder to internalize words from a new friend than someone who had been family forever.

Tony slung himself up onto Lady and waited as Roman did the same. He hesitated but carefully wrapped his arms around Roman's waist. He could feel the way that Roman stiffened at the action.

"Is this-?"

"It's fine-!" Roman said quickly. Tony hummed and leaned into the warmth that came from Roman's back. Roman made a choked off noise. Embarrassment? Surprise? Tony felt a smirk crawl up his face and he pressed just a little bit closer.

"We should- we uh-" Roman coughed, and Tony wished he could see the expression on his face. "We're going to just go now."

"Alright," Tony said, burying his face into Roman's back. He knew that he wouldn't have this for long but he'd savor what he had. For however long he had it. He would miss Roman and Remy and Hecate and Lady when they chased him off, but until then-

Tony reached up to catch his hat from flying off his head as Lady galloped away. Tony bit the inside of his cheek. He twisted his wrist and let the garment vanish back to his room. The wind blew through his hair, a sensation that Tony wasn't sure he had ever felt before. He leaned back away from Roman and closed his eyes to relish in it.

They didn't have far to go it seemed. Tony opened his eyes and glanced around. They pulled to a stop at a large building. Tony turned in the saddle to glanced back. Anton's village was still in sight, albeit rather small. He could make out the walls of the capital in the other direction, and smoke from Hecate's lair not much farther to the west.

A point in the middle of the most important places to Roman.

Tony slipped over Lady's back. He gave her an absent minded pat as she shifted nervously. He scanned the imposing building, taking in the wings and windows that dotted it. He counted at least three separate halls. A college. What would be so bad about a college?

"Come on," Roman said. His shoulders inched towards his shoulders, and his footsteps were too hurried as he headed through the gate. Tony's frown deepened.

"An hour," he whispered to Lady, "Feel free to drag him out if we take longer than that."

Lady nickered her agreement, and Tony strode after Roman. He took in the way that Roman's hands twisted around his sash. He glanced up to meet Roman's wide eyes. Tony reached out to place a hand on Roman's arm.

"We don't have to," he said softly. Roman shook his head and pried open the large double doors at the front of the building. Tony trailed behind him as Roman entered the echoing halls.

Tony tilted his head to the side. The grey hallways felt familiar. It clicked. They were what Thomas's mind would look like if they were more school based. Roman took a right turn with confidence and Tony hurried so that he wouldn't fall behind.

"Wait." Roman held his arm out and crowded Tony back towards the wall. A bell rang around him. Tony blinked as figures piled out of the doors around them. A college indeed. Or at least a school of some sort. Most of the beings around him were faceless, the filler constructs, and the noise didn't make any sense.

But dotted in there, once or twice students with actually face, with actual characters brushed past them, giving Roman a nod as they passed. Tony wanted to ask what was so bad about this place.

Roman took him by the forearm and led him to a specific room. Tony took a step inside. He froze. His Belief kicked in on instinct. He vanish.

"Dee," Roman yelped. Tony bit back a hiss, and crowded into a corner. He stared at Logan reading some papers on the desk, and wondered if Roman had actually figured out the fact that he paraded as a snake. His heart pounded in his chest and he barely dared to breathe.

"Dee," Roman hissed, "It's not-"

"Kiddo?" Patton poked his head through the door, and Tony shrunk down into the corner. Great. Another one. Logan, Tony could handle. He might even be willing to reason with Logan. Patton would be a nightmare beaten only by-

"Yo," Tony's eyes swung to the sight of Virgil lounged out on a desk. Only. Tony narrowed his eyes. Virgil wore his old jacket. If Virgil meant to taunt him with their past, Tony would wring his neck.

See how that felt from the other end.

Roman sighed, and rubbed at his temples. The three of them froze.

"They're not the others," Roman whispered, and Tony waited. "They're-" Roman visibly struggled. His hand waved at all three of them before twisting around his sash again. "They're the shorts characters? The uh, Dad, Teacher, and Anxiety. Prince is around occasionally, but mostly he wanders on Quests. Like uh-"

Roman cleared his throat.

“Like me. They're-" Tony took a step forward as Roman licked his lips. "They're what Thomas based us off of? In a way? But they're also based off of us? It's a weird- just- yeah."

Tony let his illusion drop and he stared at Roman.

"Why come here?" he crossed his arms and stared Roman down. Roman shrunk and his eyes dropped to the floor.

"Because-" Roman's voice cracked, "Because sometimes it feels-"

"Better?"

Roman shook his head, hard enough that Tony reached out to stop him. He placed his hands on Roman's cheeks and pulled Roman's head up gently. They met eyes.

"Because I need to remind myself that I can't have them," Roman finally whispered, his eyes fluttering rapidly.

Tony scoffed.

"Well that's the biggest load of bullshit I've ever heard."

"Is it?" Roman tried to pull away from Tony's hold. Tony tightened his grip just enough that Roman stopped. Not enough to hurt though. He'd done enough of that, and he'd do it again eventually but for now.

For now, he could wrap around bandage around this.

"What? You think that Virgil hates you now?" Roman trembled. Tony rolled his eyes. "And Patton too, I guess. It would be a struggle, but somewhere in your moronic brain I bet you think that Logan's going to leave as well."

A tear fell from Roman's eye and he squeezed them shut. Tony brushed it away with his thumb and stepped closer. He let his voice drop into something soft and comforting.

"Haven't I told you? For someone so clever, you can be a bit of a moron, moron." Tony took a deep breath. "Virgil hates me. He cares for you more than anything in the world. Patton would never shut up about your ideas. Logan would rather spend time with you than either of them right now."

His lip quirked upwards. He knew that words meant nothing in the face of something like this. This clearly self destructive behavior that Roman had engaged in. Rubbing salt on his own wounds.

"You wanted to pretend," Tony whispered, "That you could have everything you wanted. Only this wasn't what you wanted, so it only hurt. They accepted you without question, but they were never quite right. And it hurt. But you did anyways."

Roman shuddered with a sob. Tony's hands slid down from Roman's face to wrap around his shoulders. Tony sighed as Roman tried to burrow into him, holding on to Tony's back with all his might. He could feel the way that Roman's fingers dug into his back.

Tony hesitated, but reached up to run a hand through Roman's hair.

"But-" Tony said, "It was a lie. And not even a good one. Every lie has to face the truth. I know that better than anyone." He twisted Roman’s hair between his fingers, watching the locks drift down one by one. “You are so absolutely adored, it isn’t even funny. I honestly think Virgil would murder me for you.”

Roman made a choked noise against his shoulder.

“I’m not joking,” Tony insisted, even as a grin stretched across his face. “Anyone of them would kill me if it meant your happiness. Thomas went against Logic to listen to you. He started Vine and Youtube and followed his dreams because of you.”

You’re my hero,” Tony mimicked.

“You’re my hero,” he repeated, in his own voice. He stared out at the caricatures of the other Sides. He glanced away from them dismissing them, as easily as a stray leaf. They didn’t mean anything beyond the way that Roman fell apart in his arms.

“You’re their hero,” Tony added, and let Roman sob as long as he needed.

Chapter Text

Tony shrugged his cape off and wrapped it around Roman's shoulders. He carefully steered Roman out of the room. Sounds of movement resumed as they left, but Tony ignored it. The fragile way that Roman held himself felt more important. Tony curled a hand around Roman's shoulder and made a beeline for the door. 

"I'm alright," Roman whispered. 

"Oh, that's a good one," Tony said sarcastically. "Really, you've picked up the art of lying from me." 

Roman scowled at him. Tony wheezed as Roman elbowed him, but Roman still leaned into his touch. Tony sighed and held Roman a little bit tighter. 

"Come on," Tony muttered, "The faster we leave the better I'll feel." 

"Oh the better you'll feel?" 

"Clearly I'm the one that matters here," Tony said, shoving the doors open and squinting at the sunlight. Lady neighed at the sight of them. Tony waved at her. "Not you in any way shape or form. No concern here, nope, nada-" 

Roman rolled his eyes. 

"You've made your point, bastard. You can stop now." 

"Mmmmm," Tony hummed, "No." 

“Why-!" Roman shoved at him. "I'm the one with the horse! I'll leave you here!" 

"I'm Lady's favorite now," Tony said, reaching out to brush a hand against her neck, "Isn't that right girl? Who's the smartest horse around? Is it you? It's definitely you." 

Lady nickered and tossed her mane. She shoved at Roman's shoulder. Roman stumbled back but let out a breathy giggle. 

"Alright, alright." 

"Well, now that you've seen the light," Tony said, tugging them both to the shade of the wall around the School. As much as he wanted to leave the rotten place behind already, he wanted to check on Roman. "For the most important thing." 

"Oh, it's not you?" Roman asked. Tony felt a slight flush crawl up his cheek at the teasing tone. Not flirting, he told himself, just their usual banter. He needed it to be their usual banter. Not when he couldn't tell Roman the truth yet. 

"Now, doll," Tony drawled back, "We all know that's you." 

Roman's giggles turned into full blown laughter and he let Tony push him into a sitting position on the grass. Tony crouched down next to him and ran a hand over his bandaged arm. 

"Anything new?" Tony asked softly. Roman tilted his head to the side. Tony stared at him, watching for tells that would let him know if Roman was lying. Not a twitched passed over Roman's face.

"No," Roman said simply. "I'm doing-" Tony flicked him. Roman scowled. "Not fine, but I'm on solid ground." 

"Well," Tony said primly, unwinding the bandages on Roman's arm. "That's solid I guess." 

Roman groaned. 

"No puns! I hear enough from Patton and Logan." 

"Not my fault that you don't like clever word play," Tony narrowed his eyes at the way that Roman's arm flickered and dropped away from his touch. A little further up, just reaching the end of his forearm now. But not moving as fast as it had before. Good. 

"It's not clever!" Roman protested. "It's one of the simplest jokes that you can make!" 

"Oh is it?" Tony said, taking another roll of Belief infused bandages from his pocket. Well, more accurately manifesting it from his room, but it was close enough. "If it's so simple you should be able to make them without any problems." 

"I can! I'm a punny guy!" 

Tony snickered. 

"That was one of the most well known ones, you have to do better than that." 

Roman rolled his hand as Tony let it go, eyeing the fresh bandages with soft eyes. He reached out to run a hand over them, soft and carefully. He wanted to make sure that there wouldn't be any snags when Roman ran around. 

And maybe he wanted an excuse to touch. Bite him. 

Roman's retort faltered and his eyes watched the path that Tony trailed over his arm. Tony curled his fingers around Roman's wrist, taking in the steady beat of Roman's heart for a long moment. 

"Alright," he said, snatching his hand back as he realized how long it had lingered. "Now take off your shirt so I can do the rest." 

"Why Dee," Roman waggled his eyebrows, "I didn't know you could be so forward." 

Tony rolled his eyes. He did let them linger as Roman pulled off his shirt though. He took in all the rolling muscles and scars that dotted Roman's body. A sculpture that Tony's hands twitched to not run his hands over. He wanted to take in the soft curves and the firm muscles equally. 

"Oh doll," Tony purred again, reaching out to ghost his fingers over Roman's bandages. There might have been distant screaming in the back of his mind. He ignored it. "You'd have to take me to dinner first. I don't put out on the first date." 

"A dinner?" Roman perked up, "With flowers and candles?" 

"And at least one dance," Tony added idly, picturing the Dream that Roman had shown Thomas so long ago. He wouldn't mind having a date in a place like that. He tugged at Roman's bandages, and blinked at Roman's silence. 

"What plots are going through your head?" Tony glanced up at Roman's thoughtful looks. 

"Excuse you," Roman sat still as Tony carefully redid the bandages around his waist. "You plot. I plan." 

"Oh yes," Tony nodded grandly, "Nuances, how could I forget about those. The most important things when it comes to telling a story." 

"Damn gay," Roman agreed. He faltered as Tony reached out with the new roll of bandages. A steady flush climbed up his face, and Tony did his best to ignore it. Ignore both of their faces, because he refused to believe that he was blushing over something he'd already done once.

He pressed closer to wrap his arms around Roman's waist and grab the bandage. He could feel the way that Roman's breath shuddered at the action. They sat pressed chest to chest as Tony quietly wrapped the bandages around Roman's waist and hip. He pinned it into place and again his fingers lingered for a moment, making sure that Roman was real and solid before he pulled away.

Roman's hand reached out to snatch his wrist, holding him in place and Tony blinked at him.

"You haven't-" Roman swallowed, "You haven't told me to tell Logan about this. Why not?"

Tony blinked again. Once, and then twice. He rolled the question around in his head and sighed. He pulled his hand from Roman's grip.

"I rather think it would help," he said, and stood up. He offered his hand to Roman. "But I also rather doubt you'd listen to me about it."

"What?"

"You would either run away screaming," Tony said dryly, "Or agree and then carefully put off ever actually telling Logan about the fact that you're Unraveling. Which is, sure, your usual method of dealing with problems despite the fact that Logan could probably fix your doubts and problems in a handful of words."

Tony held up his hand to stall Roman's reply.

"But-" he said sharply, "But I know that you won't do that. So not only would it be a waste of our time, but it would only push you away." Tony reached out to drift his fingers over the sleeve that covered the bandages on Roman's arm. "I want you to be able to turn to at least one person," he added quietly.

"Dee," Roman whispered in turn. Tony straightened and cleared his throat.

"Anyways," he said hastily, "It's nice to have something to hold over that know-it-all's head. Knowing something that he doesn't. I can rub it in his face one day."

"Sure," Roman said indulgently. He reached out and threaded his fingers through Tony's. Tony glanced away and summoned his hat to cover his face. "If that's what you want to tell yourself."

"It's what I want to tell you," Tony protested.

Roman laughed and tugged him towards Lady. Already so much more cheerful than before. Tony watched his back carefully. He bounced back so quickly. He couldn't find any traces that it was an act. No tense shoulders or stiff movements.

Good.

Maybe Roman would bounce back from Tony's lies as well.

He took a deep breath and let Roman climb up onto Lady's back. Roman held a hand out to him, and Tony grabbed it. He settled in behind Roman on Lady, wrapping his arms around Roman's waist again. He knew they had to get back to work, now that Roman felt better.

"Oh hey, Dee," Roman said conversationally, "You haven't seen that much of the Imagination yet right?"

Tony hesitated.

"Not really," he said vaguely. He'd seen a good chunk of it so far. More than Roman thought at least. But if it was anything like Remus' land there was so much more to see and do. Roman had mentioned a space base at least once too.

"Well," Roman glanced back at him with a wide grin. "How'd you like the grand tour? Featuring commentary from the best source, aka me!"

Tony knew that he should say no. He knew that Apathy was planning something and they needed to be ready. Virgil and Patton could figure out they were working together and everything could fall apart. Roman only had a limited amount of time. Tony had so many reasons to say no.

Roman grinned at him, hope and pride shining in his eyes.

"Well how could I turn such an offer down?" Tony found himself saying. He cursed internally as Roman cheered. Lady tossed her mane in celebration and Roman was off. Tony leaned against his back, feeling the vibrations of Roman's voice.

"We'll go see the Capital first, you haven't seen architecture until you see the Palace! And then we can swing by the Gardens and the science research and- oh oh oh you'd love the Thieves’ den!"

Tony closed his eyes as Roman rambled, talking about lands high and low. He really did wish that he could see them all one day. He'd get to see at least some of them now. A wind ruffled his hair, and Tony let it pick up his hat and fly it away. He wouldn't need it for another long while anyways.

Not here.

Not with Roman.


Nate shoved his hands into his pockets and trailed after Anton. Several days of walking was exhausting. He wanted to take a nap, but Anton wouldn’t quit now and the fact that Tony had given a warning meant they were on guard more than they normally would for something like this. 

If they did get into trouble Nate hoped that it was the explosion kind. Explosions were cool. Almost as cool as Roman.

Imps were kinda boring as Remy would have put it. Not quite Nightmares, but not quite Constructs either. A weird mix of Thomas and Roman’s insecurities mixing together in the way only the Imagination could influence things. It was enough to make Nate wonder if the world that Thomas lived in was just another Imagination and they didn’t know it.

The universe could just be one big thing of those Russian dolls that went in each other. Getting bigger and bigger and bigger-

“You’re thinking those thoughts again,” Anton cut in, and Nate grinned at him.

“They’re cool thoughts.”

“They’re going to send you into a spiral of existential crisis,” Anton shot back. He slowed his pace to walk level with Nate’s slower pace. Nate’s grin widened. “You can fool everyone else with your bullshit about being wise, but I know the truth.”

“And what truth would that be?” Nate drawled slowly as they came to the edge of the Imagination. The fact that they hadn’t seen anything so far, felt off. He glanced around, eyes narrowing. His hand drifted up to the crossbow slung over his back.

“That you’re always about one bad day away from a break down?”

“Ah, that I take after Dad,” Nate nodded sagely. Anton snorted, his hands flaring with flames. The shimmering barrier that marked the edge of their home cast shadows over Anton’s face. He looked remarkably like the villain he often played. 

“You and Remy, I swear. Roman’s not our dad.”

“Ah, but the real question is, do you want him to be?”

“Nope,” Anton said loudly, stepping towards the barrier, “You’re not getting me with your questions and probing vague statements. I am perfectly content the way that I am.” Anton tilted his head to the side, “Very nice call with Tony however.”

Nate shrugged, slinging his crossbow off his back in the same movement. He stuck to Anton’s back as they stepped out of the Imagination. The grey fog wrapped around their ankles and obscured their vision. 

“I didn’t do much.”

“Believing in someone can do more than you know,” Anton argued. He held up a hand and they both froze. A shadow crossed over their faces. Nate felt his jaw drop open. 

“That’s not an Imp,” he whispered. A low growling shook him down to his bones. Anton’s hand wrapped around his arm and dragged him away as the ground shook.

“Run!”

Chapter Text

Roman dashed around the room, chewing on his fingertips as he took in the scene. Table off to the side, with the candle stand in the middle. Food carefully kept warm and under those presentation bowl things. The ballroom would be absolutely filled tonight, but this room here would only have the two of them.

Hopefully.

God, Roman hadn't even asked Deceit yet. But Deceit had mentioned a dinner and a dance. Roman wanted to give him that. Maybe show that he hadn't been joking entirely when it came to everything he said.

Hell, Roman was pretty sure he hadn't been joking at all.

"Lookin' good, Daddy-o," Remy commented from the side.

"You think? There could be more flowers, and the dessert isn't done yet. What if he doesn't have the proper sort of outfit for something like this-"

"Then you'll just, like, make him one right?" Remy kicked off the wall and glanced around. "Too bad Nate can't be here. I'm losing my usual hoe. I'll have to like, find someone else. Hey you think August will like, enjoy this?"

"Not August," Roman said quickly, "Someone who will get along with Dee."

Remy chuckled, and tilted his sunglasses up over his face.

"Chill, Daddy-o. If you haven't managed to, like, scare him off by now, I don't think anything will."

"Virgil would disagree with you," Roman muttered, giving everything one last once over. "You really think it's alright?"

"I think it's, like, perfection given form, soooo," Remy dragged out the sound and dropped his sunglasses back over his eyes. "Go get ‘em, tiger."

Roman laughed and shoved Remy's arm before sinking out and away. He had a pretty good idea of where Deceit would be anyways. Something about that made his heart feel all warm and gushy. Deceit of all Sides trusted him enough to give him a rough outline of where he'd be. 

Roman hit the hallways and had to hold himself back from a run. Desperate rushes weren't romantic. Roman needed to be cool. Collected. For a moment, the old Valentines day episode came to mind. Make them feel special but show them that he's awesome. 

Simple.

Yeah, simple.

Roman wondered what Deceit would have said about wooing someone you loved.

Roman threw open the door to the hideout and frowned at the lack of Deceit. He turned on his heel and headed towards the Wall. If more Self-Hatred popped up, Roman would see if it was possible to set them on fire. No one talked to his love like that!

Well, his hopefully love. His best friend at the very least.

Roman's footsteps echoed through the hallways, and he bit back the urge to skip towards the Wall. He paused for a moment to straighten his sash and conjured a mirror to check his hair. A touch up or two, and then he was perfect. Or as perfect as he was going to be.

"Dee!" Roman called as he wandered by the Wall. "Dee! Dee-lightful!"

"Yes?"

Roman jumped into the air at the sudden voice behind him. He pouted at the sound of Deceit's snickers. He turned and fought down another blush as Deceit raised an eyebrow at him, showing off his eyes.

They were such pretty eyes, gold and brown complimenting each other. Maybe Roman could write poetry about them?

"Bastard," Roman complained. He shoved Deceit for the excuse to touch him. Deceit snickered some more and took a step closer. If Roman took a step as well he could feel the cooler body heat of Deceit. Well, no one had ever called him subtle. Roman stepped carefully into Deceit's space.

He let out a mental sigh of relief as Deceit didn't show any signs of discomfort, or lean away.

"And here I thought you were looking for me Ty," Deceit said, "I was just being helpful."

"You were being an ass," Roman said. He rocked back on his heels. He bit his lips and tried to screw up his courage. Deceit's eyebrow rose even more.

"There's a ball tonight," Roman blurted.

Deceit's eyebrow lowered.

"That's nice," he said slowly.

"Not the with other Sides," Roman babbled, words rushing out in a nervous rush, "But like, in the Imagination. We're holding a ball at the Palace. There's going to be food and dancing and music and it's amazing to see and I wanted to know if you wanted to come. You don't have to, of course, but it's nice to show someone else and-"

"Roman," Deceit cut him off. Roman sucked in a sharp breath and stared at him. The smile that spread across Deceit's face took away whatever breath Roman had left in his lungs. He fought back a love-sick sigh at the expression.

"There are things that we need to do," Deceit said, but Roman could hear the regret in his voice. He knew from the way that Deceit tugged at his gloves that Deceit just needed a simple push. He was selfish, they both were.

"Please?" Roman clasped his hands together and widened his eyes into his best puppy dog look. "You agreed that relaxing was good for us and this would be so much fun. You won't regret it I promise!"

Deceit wavered, and folded like a house of cards.

"Well then," Deceit said, as Roman punched the air. Plan: Woo The Snake was a go! "I suppose we can spare one night."

"Damn gay! You won't regret this I super duper promise!"

"As you've told me," Deceit said dryly. "Is there a dress code?"

"Formal!" Roman waved his hands through the air, "Time period doesn't really matter, but it's like that super formal with frills sort of thing normally. Royalty basically, considering that Mwah is going to be there. I can make you something if you don't have anything."

Roman stared at him. Please don't have anything, please don't have anything, please don't have anything-

Deceit rolled his eyes.

"I doubt anything I have will fit as well as something that you make," Deceit said. "I'll just see what lovely thing you come up with, Ty."

Roman bit back a squeal. Yes! He could already picture the perfect thing for Deceit. One of those long formal overcoats, with the dove tails. Black on the outside with gold on the inside. Lean pants and a dapper top hat. A gold undershirt, of course, with a black handkerchief in as an accent. High boots, something that Deceit would really slay in, and a gold pocket watch and cane to really pull the whole ensemble together.

Roman blinked. Deceit stared down at the new gold silk gloves that covered his hands and turned them over. He pushed the top hat away from his eyes and raised his eyebrows.

"So I take it the Ball is now?”

Roman felt the flush invade his face. He pressed a hand to his cheek to try and hide some of the redness. He could hope that Deceit took it as embarrassment and not the fact that Roman couldn't look away from the way that the outfit accented Deceit's figure. Lean and mean took on a whole new meaning.

"I uh-" Roman cleared his throat. He waved his hands through the air and summoned his own outfit. It wasn't that much different from his usual outfit, only with more bells and whistles. Some extra gold tassels, thicker boots, and a cape that trailed down to the floor. 

It just about matched Deceit's outfit, Roman realized, with a growing giddiness. Black and white. They'd complement each other on the dance floor. Maybe next time he'd wear a dress instead. Or maybe he could talk Deceit into it. If there was a next time.

Deceit held his arm out and Roman took it.

"It is now," Roman said grandly. "Time is only an illusion after all."

"Everything is a societal construct," Tony agreed. Roman laughed and it sounded a lot like a cackle. He sunk them both out, this time skipping right over his own wards. He felt the tug in his sternum letting him know that someone had breached the Imagination.

He ignored it; he knew that Deceit had entered it. He tightened his grip on Deceit’s elbow as they rose up in the front garden of the palace. He felt a giddy grin cross his face. The stars above glittered like diamonds in the mines. Deceit's head craned up to look at them.

Roman took the moment to watch the way the low light played off of Deceit's scales.

"They're gorgeous," Deceit murmured. Roman swallowed. His eyes drifted down Deceit's face to the pale skin of his neck and the slight dotting of scales just barely visible under his collar. Roman wondered how far down they went. He tried not to think too hard about Deceit in the springs, stripped down to almost nothing.

"Yeah," Roman agreed, "It really is."

Deceit glanced down at him and raised an eyebrow. "Well, then? Are we heading in?" Deceit paused, and a devious smirk crossed his face. "My Prince?"

Roman choked. Breathe, Roman! He reminded himself. Breathe you gay disaster. Roman nodded frantically. He let Deceit lead them through the doors, following the line of other visitors to the ball. Roman leaned against Deceit's side, bold as he dared as he pointed out different fashion styles and where in the Imagination they had come from. The dress from the desert, with it's lighter flowing skirts. The suits from outer space, with the way they shimmered and the cloth seemed to move on its own.

Deceit hummed in appreciation, but his eyes never drifted far from Roman's face. It was glorious. Roman tried to convince himself that he wasn't just deluding himself with hope. But by god, he wanted.

They stepped into the ballroom. The music swelled around them, and they drifted with the flow of the crowd around them. Roman eyed the door to where the dinner he had set up waited. He glanced back at Deceit. His mouth snapped shut at the soft, almost longing look in Deceit's eyes.

Roman followed his gaze to the group of dancers in the middle of the floor. Roman watched the pairs twirl together, skirts and dresses mixing with the heavy steps of boots and shoes. Men, women, and everything in between mixed and switched places and partners. A beautiful display of color and athletics and love.

He swallowed his offer for a romantic time between the two of them.

"Dee," Roman said, pressing his hand on Deceit's arm down even harder. Deceit's gaze snapped away from the dancers. Roman smiled at him, as inviting as he could make it. "Dance with me?"

He didn't wait for Deceit's answer. It would be something defensive and hiding that softness at his core anyways. Roman wouldn't stand for it. Not when Deceit so clearly wanted this. He dragged them to the dance floor. He grabbed Deceit's hands, tugging one to his waist and gripping the other tightly.

Deceit's eyes widened but he fell into the simple steps easily. Roman felt his grin grow, and he dared to wraps his arm a little bit more around Deceit's shoulder.

"Well," Roman said breathlessly, as they swept across the dance floor. Deceit's brow furrowed in concentration. Roman fought back the urge to kiss the adorable sight. Slowly, he reminded himself. Wooing and seducing and showering Deceit in the love he deserves. "Is it as fabulous as I promised?"

"Oh, I don't know," Deceit drawled. Roman tried to step on his foot in retaliation, but Deceit led him into an elegant spin. Roman felt a laughter bubble up from his chest. Deceit grinned back at him and Roman tightened his grip on the hand he had in his grasp.

"Stunning," Deceit said softly, "A masterpiece. Truly, you've outdone yourself with this."

Roman twirled once more, glad that the exertion could hide just how red the words made his ears.

"Well, you know," he said lightly. "You have to admit that I am-"

"Yes.” Deceit said sharply, “You are more talented than you could ever know.”

Roman’s jaw dropped. Muscle memory carried him through the last couple of steps. He gripped Deceit’s arm as Deceit dipped him. Roman’s heart pounded in his chest. For one dazzling moment all he could see was the brightness of Deceit’s eyes, and the way the lights played through Deceit’s hair. He took a shuddering breath. Deceit’s chest pressed against his own, and Roman wanted to stay like this forever.

Deceit straightened them, and took a step back. Roman struggled to keep the pout and disappointment from his face. Deceit reached down, and in a smooth movement, brought one of Roman’s hands up to his lips. Roman could feel the exact second that his heart stopped. It was right around the point that Deceit brushed his lips across his knuckles.

“Thank you for the dance,” Deceit said, pulling away even more. Roman wanted more. He knew that he was greedy, and likely to go too fast. Deceit probably wouldn’t even want a Side like him, one on the verge of falling apart. It would be cruel to ask someone to commit to him in any form.

But Deceit made him feel like it was alright to reach out with that little bit of selfishness.

“Dinner!” Roman blurted. Deceit tilted his head to the side. Roman waved a hand at the door that lead to his set up. The words he wanted to say tangled up and over themselves. Everything that came out of his mouth felt mangled. “Food for us and- and if we want space.”

Roman offered his arm out to Deceit in the same way that Deceit had escorted him. Deceit’s eyes scanned over the golden lights, and the crowd of Constructs that moved around them. Roman wondered if his eyes lingered on Remy and Hecate, leaning over the alcohol and giggling. Or maybe August and Seth, looking slightly off balanced without Toby. 

Roman felt fit to bursting with love. Love of his friends. Love for his realm. Love for Deceit. It only grew as Deceit slipped his hand around his elbow. Roman’s grinned made his cheeks ache as Deceit stepped closer once more.

“I wouldn’t say no to a good dinner,” Deceit said casually. Roman fought back a squeal. He let himself bounce on his heels just a little bit. Just enough to relish in the fond amusement that Deceit stared at him with. He dragged Deceit towards the door. Deceit loved him.

Now all Roman had to do was turn that platonic love into romantic and everything would be perfect.

Chapter Text

“You’re joking,” Tony said.

He picked up the glass in front of him. The music from the ball drifted softly through the room, and despite the fact that Tony expected there to be chatter was well, there was none. He leaned back in his chair, his top hat perched on the back of it. Firelight from the candles flickered around them, casting just enough light that he could see it play off of Roman's face but not enough to take Tony from the comfort of the shadows.

He could feel the way that the atmosphere brought his shoulders down from their defensive hunch. He swirled his glass of wine- blood red, because Roman was a romantic- and watched Roman's face split into a wide grin.

"I'm not!" He leaned forward, shoving their empty plates aside as his arms braced on the table. "I'm telling you, Virgil stood there, covered in flour, bent over in laughter while Patton tried to get up from the eggs. Logan banned them from the kitchen for months!"

Tony's lips twitched upwards as he took a sip from his wine.

"I'm not sure I see it," he said, setting his glass down. "Virgil? Really?"

"I mean, he did also sort of, well," Roman's grin grew even more. Tony admired the way that the flames danced through Roman's brown eyes. He wouldn't mind sitting here forever and just watch the expressions that Roman danced through, "He replaced Logan's pillow with a pile of feathers in relation soooooo."

“Ah, yes," Tony murmured, "That sounds more like the Virgil that I know."

Roman fell silent. Tony sighed, running his fingers across the bottom of his glass. He looked beyond Roman and took in the paintings that lined the walls. He wondered what this room was used for normally, before Roman had cleared it out for this dinner.

"You want to know," Tony said. The violins from the music of the ball swelled. Roman waved his hands through the air. Tony's upturned lips morphed into a full blown grin. His finger drifted up from the bottom of his glass up to the rim of it, sending a low vibration through the room.

"Well I mean, duh!" Roman sputtered, "But you don't have to talk about it if you don't-"

"I didn't-" Tony swallowed thickly and watched Roman freeze out of the corner of his eye. He focused on the shifting shadows as the candles flickered back and forth. Safe. Calm. Roman had opened up to him about his darkest secrets. Tony could tell him about this.

"I didn't know Virgil really as Virgil," Tony said softly. His words wrapped around the room, filling it despite their volume. He wondered if Roman was doing something to them, or perhaps a subconscious Belief from himself. Wanting Roman to hear this no matter what.

"The dark sides- we-" Tony scowled as he struggled for words. "The others-" he settled on, "Those of us that Thomas doesn't work with, we cling to our function. When the center doesn't want you to even exist in some form, but knows that you're needed, names are less important."

Roman's hands settled on the table, his eyes wide. Tony's eyes skittered past him. Roman felt impossibly more brave now. Being able to spill his feelings across the void so simply and easily after bottling them up for so long. Not in the way that Patton did, not as a function, but simply as a person.

"You hold onto what you are with tooth and nail and claw and whatever you have," Tony said, thinking on darker days. Days when he was younger and could almost say he had friends. "If you don't, then you'll lose sight of yourself. Deception. Anxiety. Creativity. All of it is needed, all of it could be argued as essential to a balanced human being. But it’s so easy to lose control of.”

Tony picked up and swirled his glass. He watched the liquid splash back and forth. He could picture them all now. Virgil with his bangs hanging over his eyes, wearing all black and scowling at anything that moved. Remus, going through a pirate phase, wearing an eye patch over one eye that Tony was still pretty certain he had actually carved out, and waving a cutlass around. Himself, with a longer cape, no hat yet and wearing the Phantom of the Opera’s mask, and that nostalgic feeling of being able to duck behind the black curtain of his own making.

“Looking back on it now,” Tony continued, “It’s rather obvious where it all went wrong. The golden bricks of good intentions that led straight to hell.” His smile turned bitter. “And oh, what a hell it was.” He glanced up at Roman through his lashes, “There’s a very good reason that Virgil hates me.”

Roman’s face twisted through a series of expressions. Pulling down into a frown of disbelief, the widening of his eyes in denial, the way that his lips pinched together as he thought his words over. Tony could see why Virgil had rolled over to bare his belly, the way that Roman’s face smoothed out into acceptance made him want to blunt his own fangs and venom for Roman’s own safety.

“Well, I’m sure that you had a very good reason for it,” Roman said stubbornly. Tony barked out a laugh. He threw back most of his wine and grinned at Roman. The expression felt familiar, an old worn jacket that he hadn’t put on for months. Roman inched back from the sharp edges of the expression, inching away from the layers that Tony had buried away but never got rid of.

No, he’d never be able to get rid of them.

“At what point does the ends justify the means?” Tony mused, “How much does good intentions weigh in the scale of good or bad? Patton hates those sort of questions, or at least he’s never been open to debating me. He knows there’s no easy answers and he much prefers things to be black and white.” 

Tony’s grin grew. 

“Don’t we all have good reasons for what we do? Where’s the line in the sand? Is it a line or an endless shade of grey that we stumble through, until we find ourselves standing in the darkness, wondering how we got there?” He spread his palms out. A magician showing off his act. Or perhaps a sinner in supplication. Tony didn’t know anymore.

“I said,” Roman scowled at him, “That you don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to.”

Tony blinked at him. His hands dropped to the table and he threw his head back in laughter. He wheezed for a moment, wiping away the tears in his eyes. Roman’s scowl deepened. Tony felt wild and torn, like he balanced on a tightrope and the only thing keeping him from falling was Roman.

“Oh, doll,” he drawled, “That’s not it at all.”

“Then what is it?!”

“I-” Tony’s mouth slammed shut. He growled to himself and tapped his fingers against the table. Roman reached out and Tony stared as Roman placed his hand over his fingers. Roman brushed around the edge of his glove in a silent question. Tony nodded, glancing away as Roman pulled his glove off and started to run his thumb along the scales that covered his wrist.

What could he say?

That he didn’t want Roman to think less of him? To realize just the sort of person he was and finally turn tail and run? That the people he talked to already knew of the past and understood it? Tony certainly didn’t have to tell Remus any of this.

That he still didn’t really know how he felt about Virgil and saying anything out loud meant that he’d have to confront himself?

“Anxiety,” Tony whispered instead, “feeds into deception. The urge to hide the truth, to run away from consequences, to stay safe, to stay within what you know. That very same deception, heightens anxiety with the fear of being found out, the fear of forgetting the deception, the fear of being judged for lying. Spiraling around and around, until both are bitter and out of control."

“Sounds fun,” Roman said sarcastically.

“It could be, at times.” 

Tony closed his eyes and thought about Anxiety perched on the counter, waving a spatula at Remus to keep him away while Deceit cooked. The way that the normally dark eyes brightened at the sight of not burnt mac and cheese. He thought about a dark cackle. He thought about horror movie marathons that ended with Remus holding Deceit up with a tentacle by the ankle and Anxiety pelting popcorn at him.

“At others, not so much.” 

A pressure at his throat until he croaked out a lie that could calm Anxiety. The steady rolling hatred that grew day by day and manifested as dark cutting words. Physical violence matched with emotional until Remus discorporated them both in a fit of insanity. Anxiety towering over Deceit until Deceit tried to cut him off at the knees. Tears and screaming and unspoken apologies.

Apologies that never reached each other.

“There are details that are not mine to share,” Tony said, opening his eyes again. He tried to focus on the feeling of Roman’s thumb stroking the back of his palm instead of how it felt to shove Anxiety behind him to keep Remus’ attention on him. He wanted to focus on the present and not remember the way Anxiety’s own fingers had skimmed across bandages on days when he couldn’t quite ignore Remus entirely.

“But-” Tony tried to find words that didn’t get tangled up in the thorns of the past. “I-” He tried to find a way to explain just what it meant to live in that time. The fierce way that they clung to each other. The way that claws and words would dig through soft flesh, and they forgave, because they had to, but they never really forgot.

“We had our moments,” Tony finally managed to get out, “A push and pull that we matched stride for stride. If Anxiety helped me, then I helped him. If I was calm, then Anxiety was open to hang out.” Tony wished that he could end it there, could relax in the way that Roman’s shoulders did. It wouldn’t be the truth, but Tony was Deception. No one could blame him for lying.

Except for himself. He’d always know that he’d hung back. He’d never be able to forget the fact that he had this moment to see Roman’s reaction, to see if Roman would stick around. His hope could stay in his heart, but it would never grow.

“But when we pushed.” Tony’s free hand traced his wine glass again. He could see it shaking. The truth was so much harder than a lie. “For every bruise that Anxiety gave, Deceit tore his self esteem down a little bit more. For every manipulation that Deceit pulled, Anxiety left him with another sleepless night.”

Tony’s smile didn’t hold much mirth in it. He wished he could forget the horror unfolding on Roman’s face. He took his words about the others, about Remus, about the orange that could hover in the corner of his vision, and he tucked them away for later. Virgil was enough for now.

“We pushed until we couldn’t push anymore. We didn’t-” Tony swallowed, “It would be easy. To say that we were children, that we didn’t have a positive influence. We didn’t know the proper way to love each other.” Roman’s grip on his hand tightened. “But I think- I think we just weren’t meant for each other.”

“You said there were good moments,” Roman said, something desperate in his tone. Tony turned to meet his eyes. He took in their positions, Roman leaning in, bathed in light. Himself, caught between the reflection that Roman gave off and the shadows behind him. Tony wondered if Roman needed to know that Virgil had good in him, reminded that Virgil had grown beyond Anxiety no matter how he acted lately.

Or perhaps he simply wanted proof that Deceit could do good.

Tony swallowed. He closed his eyes again. For a moment, he thought about telling Roman how it all ended. The flames of hatred in Anxiety’s eyes as he stalked away forever. The bitter failure that rolled down Deceit’s throat. The way that Anxiety had chafed at being held back and hidden away until he saw his moment to break his chains.

Tony remembered tracking him down. Deceit had stared Anxiety down in the hall, thinking that it would be like all the times before. The way that his heart had rebelled when he realized that it wasn’t. To this day he couldn’t figure out if he had been broken, terrified that Anxiety would leave him forever.

Or rejoicing that he’d never have to see him again.

Anxiety had beat him down like never before, leaving him broken and bleeding on the ground. Tony tasted iron in the back of his throat. It matched the poison that he had spewed at Anxiety’s retreating back.

You think you can help? You don’t even have a color. Black swallows everything up and all you’ll do is remind them how much better than you they are! You’re a villain, Anxiety! Nothing more!

“I think I miss him, sometimes,” Tony said instead. He let the past slide away from him. Roman didn’t need to know the nitty gritty details yet. Roman’s Imagination looked nothing like Remus’ side. He wanted Roman to believe in a world where even the villains had a place to stay. Friends to lean on. Times of laughter and fun.

A world where even villains had moments when they could be considered good.

Tony opened his mouth, and thought of flowers and rainbows. He thought about how an open hand and kind word could change so much. About how the right button could do the exact opposite. He could oh so easily pull back the curtains, show Roman the dark side that resided in the ones that he had named as such.

“Well,” Tony started, “There was this time, when Anxiety decided to glue every one of Remus’ clothes to the ceiling. Coincidentally, that was the time that we learned Remus had no problem running around naked-”

Tony thought he rather liked Roman’s view of the world better.

Chapter Text

Patton's room felt grey. He sat on the bed and stared up at the ceiling. His limbs felt heavy. Cotton filled his head. Patton blinked slowly and tilted his head to the side as the door creaked open. He watched without comment as the grey covered man strode towards him.

Patton blinked again. The man's face didn't move, emotionless and silent. Patton didn't twitch as he placed a hand over his shoulder. The cotton and slight buzzing in the back of his head grew heavier. Something in the back of his mind, buried underneath the feeling of nothingness screamed.

The grey man drew his hand away and a shimmering light came away with it. The man frowned, holding tight to the squirming light. It slipped away from his fingers and the soft curse echoed through Patton's room as the light fell to the floor and slithered away.

The man raced after it. Patton’s eyes traced the light as it fled from his room. Something in him wanted to reach out for it. Another part wanted it to flee until it couldn’t flee anymore. He didn’t know what he wanted. He tried to think, but as soon as he tried to focus the black nothingness swallowed up his thoughts.

So Patton sat there.

The man frowned as he returned, before his face smoothed out. His fingers ghosted over Patton’s cheek, light and barely there. Patton didn’t move.

"It doesn’t matter. I will have what I want either way. Soon. I'm almost ready. Then you-"

"Patton?"

Patton blinked awake at the sound of Virgil's voice. He turned at the call of his voice. The dream drifted away from him. He didn't know where it came from, or even when he had reached the kitchen.

He looked at Virgil. Virgil's hands reached out and wrapped around one of his arm. Virgil's mouth tightened into a dark frown.

"Are you feeling better?"

Patton stared at him. Virgil's frown deepened even more. His grip on his arm bruised. Patton would have dark splotches there later. He made no move to pull away from the grip.

"I'm sorry," Virgil's voice cracked, "I couldn't keep any of you safe from Deceit. But it's going to be fine soon. I figured it out. Come on, I'll show you."

Virgil's eyes darted across Patton's face. Patton wondered idly what he was looking for before the thought dried up in the mist. He followed Virgil willingly, a soft voice encouraging him against the fluff in the rest of his head.

It was warm, and not at all like the cold voice.

"Roman would notice if we went in any other way," Virgil muttered, "But I found his normal entrance and he didn't ward it. I would warn him against that but it works in our favor for once. As soon as this is over, I'll have suggestions so he can keep himself even safer. God, this is probably how Deceit got in in the first place."

Virgil sucked in a sharp breath as they approached Roman's room. The cold voice in Patton's head sat up. It didn't say anything but the heavy presence weighed against his own. Virgil rocked back on his feet and chewed on his thumb. Patton waited.

"Ok, ok, it'll be fine," Virgil muttered to himself. "It'll all be fine."

He shoved the door to Roman's room open, and ushered Patton in. Patton's footsteps echoed through the room. Patton wondered if Roman’s room was meant to be grey too. If the lack of color meant anything. Perhaps it was just him.

Not here, the cold voice whispered. Farther. Find it.

"There's this- god, I still can't-" Virgil's voice cracked. "Come on." Virgil's arm gripped his once more and Patton moved like a doll for the amount of protest he put up against Virgil's tugging.

They slipped through the door in Roman's closet. Patton's head turned to stare at the trees suddenly around them. He thought, perhaps, that he should feel something. He waited. Nothing rose up in his chest, so Patton looked back at Virgil. Virgil paused to stare at him. Patton stared back. Virgil chewed on his bottom lip, picking at the hem of his shirt.

"It's not right," Virgil muttered again, "You're not alright, and Roman's not alright and Logan's constantly missing and-" Virgil took a deep breath. His shoulders still trembled even as he tried to pull himself together.

"Something's wrong," Virgil said, pulling Patton forward again. "But I know how to fix it. Yeah, I can fix this. I can-" Virgil stumbled. "God, I can't fix anything, but I have to try."

Patton tilted his head to the side as they skirted past a small village. His head turned towards the mountains, and then back at Virgil. Virgil's mutterings didn't stop. Patton blinked slowly. Virgil let go of him, but Patton trailed after him anyways. Virgil picked at his fingernails, eyes darting back and forth.

Blood welled up from around his nails, torn free in Virgil's anxiety.

Virgil pulled to a stop and stared at the large imposing building that he strode in front of. A stone wall wrapped around its edges, but the gate in front of it opened easily enough. Patton’s head craned up as he stared down the imposing building. A school of some sort. The cold voice didn’t say anything but he could feel its interest.

"I could have checked it out myself," Virgil whispered, "But something about it felt off and-" Virgil's eyes darted back to him and then away again. "It didn't- something-" Virgil chewed on his thumb again. "It didn't feel right. I wanted someone else. But I can't tell Roman, and Logan's on his side, and I'm sorry for dragging you out here."

Virgil's hand shot out and wrapped around his arm again. More bruises for later. 

"This is alright, right?" Virgil's voice pitched upwards. "You'd say something if I was doing the wrong things right?!" 

Patton's tongue felt heavy in his mouth. His lips twitched but didn't move more than that. Everything felt distant. Like he watched Virgil through a tunnel, his voice echoing and wrong.

"Yeah, yeah you would," Virgil nodded to himself. "This is fine. We're fine. I'll make it better." 

Virgil grabbed him once more and they plunged into the building. Patton's eyes drifted past the lockers that lined the halls and the doors that alternated on each side. The grey that pervaded the building felt like home. Like the hallways? His room? The man-

Virgil hissed and tugged them both into the nearest room as the bell rang. Patton stumbled and righted himself as Virgil slammed the door shut. Virgil's breath filled the emptiness with a shaky noise and shaking hands.

"They could tell Deceit," Virgil said, "If they see us, they could tell Deceit and then we'll never help Roman. Roman could- Deceit could hurt him, or Roman could hurt himself or Roman could do something even stupider-"

Virgil sucked in a sharp breath. He glanced at him once more. His shaking hand came up and it felt warm against Patton's cheek. Patton wanted to lean into the touch. The warm voice from before wanted to latch onto Virgil and never let go.

He didn't move.

"Is this what Deceit wanted?" Virgil asked harshly. "Whatever's wrong with you, is that what his goal was? What the hell does Logan and Roman have to do with it?"

Virgil's teeth ground together and his hand dropped. The warm voice faded without his touch. Patton stared at the door behind him.

"I can figure this out." Virgil's foot tapped against the floor. "Wait, no, ok, if we can find some sort of proof to show Logan. Logan will figure it out." Virgil shook his head. "Unless Deceit got to him too. We can't- we need someone we can trust."

Virgil turned towards the door and cracked open the door. Silence greeted them. He took a deep breath. Patton tilted his head to the side again.

"Ok, we're in the clear."

They rushed down the hallway once more. Or Virgil rushed down the hallway and Patton ambled after him. Patton into Virgil's side as Virgil froze. Virgil's face paled. More than it already had been. Patton turned to face the direction that Virgil's eyes face. His hand lifted and he pointed at the person in front of the classroom.

"Logan," Patton's hoarse voice croaked through the silence.

No, the cold voice said, something gleeful in it. Not him, something better.

"That's not him," Virgil snarled, "That's not-" Virgil whirled on his heel and he raced down the hall. His footsteps echoed through Patton's head. Patton walked slowly in the direction that he had left. He caught sight of light blue and for a moment met his own eyes.

The cheerful Dad that looked just like him waved, before gathering up the plate of cookies and wandering off. A couple of children greeted him with delighted yells. Patton watched them run around each other. Smiles stretched across their faces and laughter attempted to punch through the numb cloud that surrounded him.

Patton waited for Virgil to come back.

"That bastard!" Virgil's voice roared through the area. He appeared around the corner. His eyes wild and hands twitching. 

"We've got our proof, let's go," Virgil hissed. Patton's feet stumbled at the pace that Virgil set but he did his best to keep up.

"Deceit that- I'm going to kill him!" Virgil raged as they ducked out of the building. Patton wished he knew what was going on. Cotton wrapped around that thought and stole it away. His curiosity faded into nothing.

"He's been using us," Virgil said, "Deceit probably hijacked Roman's creations or made them himself or something because they'd be able to get into Roman's head! Make him think things about us that aren't true!" Virgil's voice shook with anger and something close to grief.

"He had-" Virgil stopped and let him go. The tree creaked as Virgil's fist slammed into it. Bark cracked and Virgil shook out his hand, glaring into the distance. "He had me as Anxiety. The old me. I'm different. I’ve changed. I’m better now." Virgil spun to face him, vulnerable once more.

Mood swings, the warm part of him whispered. That's important. He's important.

"You know that right? You believe me."

Patton wanted to. He had something he needed to say. There was something-

Not yet, the dark voice crooned, and Patton's thoughts scattered. We're so close.

"Patton," Virgil's voice cracked. "Please, just- just say something. Anything. I'm terrified that I'm doing the wrong things and- and-" Virgil's eyelids fluttered and he wiped at his face. He took another breath. "And I'm going to make it better."

Virgil's hand wrapped around him, not his arm, but his hand. Patton's eyes dropped to stare at the action.

"We need Logan," Virgil whispered. "We’ll show him, and Logan will be able to fix this," Virgil said firmly. "He'll know what happened and what to do."

Oh yes, the cold voice said, and the small part of Patton that could still feel felt drenched in ice. Yes, tell him everything. Put the last few pieces together.

Patton opened his mouth That small remaining part clawed at the cotton. He needed to warn Virgil. Something wasn't right. He couldn't let this go on-

Sleep, the cold voice crooned, and Patton felt his eyes glaze over, It will be over soon, puppet. Just sleep.

"Yes," Patton heard himself murmur without emotion. “Logan."

What little control he had over himself slipped away. He watched as Virgil relaxed and nodded. That warm voice fled. Patton thought he saw some more of that light slip from his fingers to Virgil. Darkness inched around the corners of his eyes.

"Alright. Yes, alright, we'll go get Logan and show him this. Then we can make everything better."

Virgil tugged Patton towards the exit. They felt farther and farther away as they walked. Patton balanced over a cliff, and he fell, plunging into the darkness. Virgil said something else, but he couldn’t hear it any more. Patton reached out, but his hands closed over nothing. He opened his mouth to scream, even knowing that Virgil wouldn’t be able to hear him.

And then-

The world vanished into greys.

Chapter Text

Logan's finger tapped against his elbow. His lips pressed together into a tight frown as he watched Thomas throw different video ideas around with Joan. He should feel glad that Thomas operated as normal. It was a good sign.

It was a strange sign.

Thomas laughed at something Joan said and Logan's frown deepened. Patton's emotion turmoil was nowhere to be seen in Thomas' face. Logan couldn't sense Deceit hovering at the edges of the moment, so Thomas couldn't be lying to himself either.

Which meant that Thomas' emotional capabilities were functioning as they should. Despite the lethargic way that Patton carried himself. Logan took a deep breath and tried to focus on the fact that Thomas would remain unaffected by the chaos in the Mindscape.

Thomas glanced up, and Logan froze.

"Oh, hey, give me a minute?" Thomas asked Joan. Joan waved him off, and Logan trailed after Thomas as he left the office. Thomas closed the door behind him carefully. He tilted his head up to feel the fall breeze.

"It is not optimal to be outside without a sweater right now," Logan said, stepping to Thomas' side. Thomas grinned at him, and Logan knew that the warm settled part of him that grew at the expression would never change.

He would look after his center for that expression alone.

"I thought I felt you hanging around," Thomas said.

"Is something up?"

Logan shook his head.

"No, I was simply," He hesitated, "Checking in as it were. It helps my efficiency to know that you are well."

"Awww, Logan," Thomas's grin grew. "I love you too buddy."

Logan dipped his head in a nod. He felt his lips twitch up into a crooked smile. Thomas slugged him gently in the arm and Logan rubbed at the spot. As much as he would have liked to spend time with Thomas, now wasn't the time.

"Unfortunately, this is not the best place to hold a conversation," Logan said primly. "Joan will be looking for you soon, and they won't wait long when you are working." He glanced around, "That and we are in a place where anyone could come across you, and being seen talking to yourself could ruin your reputation."

Thomas chuckled.

"Alright, alright, but we need an ‘us’ session sometime soon."

"I look forward to it," Logan said softly, watching as Thomas stepped inside. Logan closed his eyes and let himself fade back into the mindscape. He rolled the new information about in his head, trying to see where it clicked with everything else he knew. He was only a few pieces off from the full puzzle he knew.

He had the solution, he just needed to know how to implement it.

"Logan!"

Logan spun in his heel at Vigil's shout.

"Virgil?" He held his arms out as Virgil all but barreled into him. "Where is Patton? Are you alright?"

"No!" Virgil blurted, "I found proof! You have to-! Come on- there's-!"

"Virgil!" Logan said, steel in his tone as Virgil's breath picked up. Emotions rolled out of Virgil's form, even more so than usual when he got worked up like this. Ah. Logan felt the piece click into place.

Clever Patton.

"You need to take a deep breath," Logan continued, "And continue speaking when you can complete a sentence." He gripped Virgil's arm lightly. "Breath along with me Virgil."

"We- time-"

"We have plenty of time," Logan said softly. "And if not, then I assure you, I can make it so that we do. Now breathe in."

Virgil sucked in a gasping breath. Logan coached him until he couldn't feel Virgil's arm shaking under his touch. He looked over Virgil with a critical eye, taking in his wild eyes and the stiffness of his shoulders. The way that Virgil's hands curled into fists once he had calmed down.

"I need to show you something!" Virgil blurted. Logan pressed his fingers together, and didn't glance over his shoulder. He wondered where Roman was.

"Something vitally important? I am behind on my work at the moment." Fucking Apathy. Logan would take weeks to catch up now. It was almost as offensive as the danger that Apathy put Thomas and Roman in.

"Yes!" Virgil snapped, "Vitally important! And the sort of vitally important that you will agree with and not like, me overthinking things!"

Logan eyed him for a moment, before he inclined his head. He winced as Virgil gripped his arm. He prided himself from Virgil's grasp. He had no desire to end up with bruises for the next week because Virgil could not control himself.

Logan glanced at Patton, noting the way that Patton simply trailed after them. The glazed look in Patton's eyes made Logan's heart ache. He wanted to reach out and explain, to reason away the problem like he always did.

As long as Apathy held his core, he could not.

Virgil shifted back and forth on his feet, waiting for them in front of Roman's room. Logan frowned. His heartbeat kicked up a notch as adrenaline hit him. This would not go well.

"Virgil," Logan said warningly.

"It's fine," Virgil hissed. "Look, it’ll be quick and Roman will never know we were here. In and out. Simple as that. It's important alright?"

Logan clenched his jaw. The slight echo in Virgil's voice left him loathe to disagree, if only so he could head off whatever conclusions that Virgil would jump to. He didn't want there to be even more damage in Roman's room than there had been already. He had a better chance of stopping whatever foolishness this was if he was present, then letting Virgil run off alone. 

"Alright," Logan said, adjusting his tie. "But I suspend the right to leave at my say so." 

"Whatever gets you in the room," Virgil muttered, throwing Roman's door open and shoving Logan in. Logan glanced around but he didn't see anything different from the last time that he had entered it. Another conclusion that Virgil had jumped too- 

Logan's heart sank as Virgil staked towards the closet. He swallowed thickly and fiddled with his glasses. His uneasy feeling doubled. He could still remember Virgil's words about Tony, and he didn't think this would end well. 

"Virgil," he said softly, warningly. 

"It's fine," Virgil insisted throwing Roman's closet doors open. Logan could feel the breeze from the Imagination from here. He winced. He had avoided going there so far. If he went and found Roman's core- 

He swallowed again, but forced his feet to follow Virgil. It was possible that he could find the help that he needed there as well. He had to make sure that Virgil didn't cause any major problems that he would regret later. Logan watched Patton's ambling form out of the corner of his eye. 

"Perhaps Patton should stay behind?" Logan offered, stalling for all the time that he could. 

"Oh," Virgil blinked and turned to look at Patton's blank face. "I mean, it could be dangerous, and he is out of it, but if he's out of it and someone isn't around to look after him-" 

"I believe that as long as he remains in the Mind Palace," Logan cut Virgil's tirade off. He felt- He felt too tired to listen to all of Virgil's rambling fears at the moment. He wanted this over with. He wanted to get back to work and have time to relax with his family after this. 

He wanted his family to be fine. 

Virgil eyed him dubiously. 

"Roman has warded the place," Logan said reasonably, "And it has been thoroughly marked as our territory. There hasn't been an attack by any other parts of Thomas' mind since it has been built. Patton will be fine here." 

"Alright," Virgil nodded sharply. "Why don't you watch a movie, Pat?" 

Patton stared at them for a long moment. Logan felt the hair on his arm rise as Patton's eyes lingered on him. They felt too much like Apathy's in that moment. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes as Patton shuffled away. Soon. He could do something about all of this as soon as he found someone to help him with his plan. 

Logan wrapped his arms around himself and hurried after Virgil. Virgil didn't turn to watch him as they rushed through Roman's forests. Logan's head craned around to look at the flora around them. Logan could point out the ones based on real life, and the ones that Roman had made up and he longed to hear the explanation behind each one. 

Roman seemed like he was building up to offer to show Logan the Imagination. As soon as he figured out a way around his mistakes from inviting Patton last time. Logan adjusted his tie nervously again. Logically, they wouldn't cause any problems here if they hadn't already. 

Logan just didn't like the idea that they may be on the verge of cutting themselves off of ever being shown Roman's greatest works properly. 

Logan's eyes caught on the small village that sat just outside the words. He tracked the people walking there, and hope rose in his heart. They would know Roman, Logan thought. If they knew Roman then they'd be willing to help. Tony proved that Constructs could exist for a time outside of the Imagination, and a time was all Logan needed. 

"Logan!" Virgil snapped, and Logan's head turned to him. "Come on!" 

Logan sighed, picking up his pace to fall in behind Virgil. The sooner they got this over with the better he'd feel. They came to a stop just in front of a large stone building and Logan paused to catch his breath. He cursed the fact that Thomas saw him as the out of shape nerd despite the fact that he had the best self-care out of all of them. 

One day, he'd change Thomas' mind about that. 

"We're almost there," Virgil muttered, and Logan wanted to ask what exactly they were going to find here. Roman had set up a school. That in and of itself should be lauded. Roman and schools had never really mixed. 

Perhaps that should have been a larger red flag for him. 

Virgil lead him through the hallways, and Logan dared to imagine asking Roman to show him around this all of learning. Wondered what sort of subjects they taught and what Roman would have it set up like, and if perhaps Logan could make a few suggestions. Virgil pulled to a stop in front of a classroom. He shoved his hands into his pockets and nodded his head at the door. Logan raised an eyebrow. 

"Well?" he asked. 

"It's in there," Virgil said gruffly. "I think Deceit created it to manipulate Roman.”

Logan sighed and pushed the door open. He blinked once. He blinked twice. A carbon copy of himself grinned back at him and waved. The gears of Logan’s mind ground to a halt. He tried to reconcile the sight of himself, here in the heart of Roman’s home. He let out a choked noise and shut the door quietly.

He could make out the cheerful joking voice of the teacher as he spoke to his students. Almost carelessly. So easily bonding with people. Logan doubted that it was Deceit’s work. He almost wished it were. Something told him that it would hurt less.

Was that how Roman wished him to be?

Logan turned mechanically back to Virgil. Virgil raised an eyebrow at him, waving a hand through the air as if asking for Logan’s thoughts. A small bitter part of Logan wanted to ask if he had been so upset about the changes going through the Mindscape that he just wanted to tear them all apart. He tried to take a deep breath. He found he couldn’t.

“Excuse me,” he said, voice cracking. He turned on his heel and ignored Virgil’s call. He needed space. He needed to think about something other than what Roman might want him to be. Logan ducked around a corner, and watched as Virgil raced off in the direction that Logan had been headed. 

Logan could talk to Roman about it later. He had to hold on to that thought, or his emotions would get the best of him. That was the last thing the Mindscape needed right now. 

Logan left the School silently, and headed in the direction he remembered the village being in. He needed to talk to someone. He needed this whole damned charade to be over with. He needed help.

Logan inched to the edge of the village and grabbed the arm of the first Construct that walked by. He tugged them into the shadows and took in the jacket. August. He would have to do. August’s face turned red and Logan cut the Constructs words off with a figurative knife to the throat.

“Roman needs your help,” he said, steel threaded through his core. He could bend, but he’d never break. Logic held the backbone of their livelihood, pushed the heart to beat, refined creativity to the best that it could be, gripped the leash on anxiety, and no one knew that better than Logan. “If you don’t listen to me, he’ll die.”

The Construct’s mouth slammed shut.

Good.

Logan had work to do.

Chapter Text

Tony trailed after Roman, watching the way that Roman just about skipped down the path they were on. The Imagination’s sun shone overhead and in the distance a dragon's roar echoed over the land. Tony closed his eyes and listened to Roman’s cheerful hum.

Perfect.

Roman wanted to work, and it was one of the few things Tony didn't need to be talked into following along with when Roman turned to ask for help. Tony knew just how dangerous some of Roman's jobs could be and it was easier to help out as a person than as a snake. He would need to find a time to show up as Tony soon though, before Roman got too concerned.

"Alright! We're almost there!" Roman turned and crossed his hands behind his head as he grinned at Tony.

"Does that mean I finally get to know what we're doing?" Tony asked dryly.

"No!" Roman said jumping into the air to click his heels together as he turned around. Tony rolled his eyes, but allowed himself a moment to stare at the way the sun caught on Roman's hair, the way that it bounced with his steps. He just admired the way that Roman looked.

A warm hand wrapped around his wrist and Tony stumbled as Roman tugged him up to his side. Roman's fingers slipped down from Tony's wrist and gripped his hand lightly.

"Come on!" Roman insisted, "You're going to want to see this and not miss a thing! You can't dawdle back there!"

Tony raised an eyebrow at the red dotting Roman's cheek. He knew an excuse when he heard one, but Roman's fingers on his were warm. Tony tightened his grip and glanced away. Silence covered them, and Tony knew that he missed his chance for a smooth flirtatious line that would have smoothed the whole situation out.

Something about it felt more genuine thought.

He tightened his grip on Roman's hand just enough that he knew he had done it. His jaw clenched as Roman squeezed back and he realized that it hadn't been light enough to keep Roman from feeling it. He tugged his hat over his face, refusing to face Roman as Roman pointed towards a small cottage in the woods.

"Oh, we're playing Hansel and Gretel now?" Tony asked, trying to break the weird weight that hung around them. Roman laughed, the sound a musical note in the open air. Tony's shoulders dropped and a small grin crossed his face.

"Not quite!" Roman said cheerfully. He shoved the door open and tugged Tony in along with him. Tony's jaw dropped open and he turned to look at the sudden soft lights that covered the room.

Lines of blues and greens and reds and oranges, the whole damn rainbow, danced along the ceiling like the lights of the north. Tony watched what could have been fireflies zip around the room. He took in the table distantly, the pieces of round glass sitting on it seemed to vanish compared to the soft shadows that covered the floor.

"Dreams," Roman said softly, something impossibly proud in his voice. "Are my job, but technically can be done by anyone." He grinned and he let go of Tony's hand. Tony tried not to miss it. Roman prodded his arm and nodded towards the table.

"You wanna try?"

Tony bit down on the enthusiastic yes that wanted to spring from his lips. He wanted to see Roman work as much as he wanted to do it himself. He trailed behind Roman and watched as Roman picked up one of the pieces of glass. The half globe sat perfectly in his palm.

Tony watched Roman's long fingers spin around the edge gracefully. Calluses that he knew by heart at this point reached up to pluck one of the lights from the ceiling, the light wriggling and wrapping around his wrist like a friendly snake. Tony felt a light flush start to creep up his face. He willed it away as Roman's fingers twirled and pressed the orange light into the globe where it settled quietly.

"Dee," Tony blinked rapidly and his eyes snapped up to Roman's face. Roman's smile looked horribly amused at his distraction. "Did you hear anything I just said?"

"Yes," Tony lied. Roman laughed and set his globe down on the table. He strode over and ushered Tony right up next to the table.

"Dreams are simple," Roman said, the smooth roll of his voice reminding Tony that he was a storyteller. Tony shoved away the thought of listening to Roman tell a story and tried to focus on the instructions. "Like I said anyone can do them, but the materials for them show up here in the Imagination so I'm the one who does them most of the time. Remy helps out from time to time."

Tony also knew that there were probably a handful that Remus made as well, but he bit down on his tongue to keep from mentioning that.

Roman's hands ghosted over his own, and Tony watched those long fingers wrap around his own. Roman stepped even closer and his voice dropped to a breath on the wind.

"Focus on a picture, something that you want to see. A place, a person, a piece of art, or even a word. It can be anything at all." Tony closed his eyes. For a moment, he drowned in the bright gems of Roman's eyes. Roman tugged his arms up, and Tony's eyes snapped open once more.

"Now reach out for the ones that come to you," Roman whispered. Reds and pinks danced around them, the lights and fireflies spinning around Tony's fingers. "Pick the one that feels right."

Tony brushed his fingers over a dark pink strand and gasped. The soft warmth that surged in his chest was an old friend. It was the way that Roman smiled, it was Roman's laughter, it was Tony's drive to keep Roman safe. Roman's chest pressed up against his back, warm and secure.

"Good, that's a good one," Roman said, and Tony could see the smile on his face out of the corner of his eye. Roman didn't let go of his wrist as Tony's fingers closed around the light. He guided Tony back to the globe and pressed the light into it.

"Now, focus on how you want Thomas to feel during the Dream," Roman murmured. Tony thought about pride and confidence and happiness. Yellows and oranges and purples swirled in a dance that Tony wanted to watch forever. He plucked a purple from the air before Roman could say anything and held it carefully.

He watched the small firefly bump against his cupped hands. The surge of pride and strength could only be something that came from Roman's lands. Tony grinned. He tilted his head to the side and stared at the other half of the globe that Roman held out to him. He slipped the little light inside.

Roman picked up the two halves and stepped away. Only he didn't step away completely. His shoulders still brushed up against Tony's and Tony leaned into the touch. Roman pressed the halves together and eyed the lights in the room with a critical air. He beckoned to a blue that wrapped around the globe and a bright flash of light filled the room.

Tony blinked the spots out of his eyes. Roman cradled the globe against his chest, a soft smile on his face. The lights played off of Roman’s face and clothes. Tony’s breath caught at the sight. Roman looked like he had stepped out of a rainbow. The shadows rounded out his face, and Tony wrestled down the urge to reach out and brush his thumb across Roman’s cheek. 

“It’s a good one!” Roman held it out to him. “Loving but bold. Dare I say it, it fits you.”

Tony reached out and took the Dream from Roman's hand. He stared down at the purple and pink swirling lights inside of it. He wondered what the dream would look like when Roman gave it to Thomas. A smile crossed his lips. Something he had made Thomas that wasn't on the edge of some moral debate.

"Hey," Roman said softly. Tony tore his gaze away from the dream. He set it down on the table next to the ones that Roman had already made and blinked. Roman's grin grew even more and he reached out to take Tony's hands again.

Tony scowled at him.

"You keep touching me," he pointed out sharply. "More than you normally do." 

Roman squeezed his hands and for a moment his fingers lingered. Then Roman's right hand reached up and took Tony’s hat off. Tony breathed in sharply as Roman twirled the hat in his hand and slowly got down on one knee.

Tony's heart stopped.

He knew that Roman was a romantic. He knew that Roman adored Disney. He hadn't thought that Roman would be the type to jump straight to marriage though. Tony's hands jerked, trying to pull away, but Roman's grip on his hand tightened.

Roman pressed the bowler hat to his chest and stared up at Tony with adoring eyes. Tony felt the heat rising on his face. Embarrassment fighting with the way that Roman's lips looked as the pink lights centered around them. 

"Just- Just listen for a moment, please," Roman said, not moving from his spot on the floor.

"I appreciate the aesthetic, doll," Tony said, his voice edging on hysteria. He wasn't ready. He might be willing to admit that he loved Roman, and he might be willing to see where it went but this was too much too fast. For a moment, Tony wondered if he could throw Remus as Roman until Roman had heard all the downsides and terrors of marriage. 

Virgil would have been a better option, but Virgil wouldn't be willing to do that anymore. Actually, Virgil might do it, just not for Tony-

"Darling," Roman pressed his lips to Tony's knuckles. "You're starting to look like Virgil with the panic on your face. Though I must admit that it looks much better with the scales- never tell Virgil I said that. In fact, forget that I compared you to Virgil at all. Just remember that I think you’re beautiful. "

Tony let out a wild laugh.

"I just-" Roman swallowed thickly. "Dee, you've been there for me, listened to me, understood me when my family didn’t. You helped me find not one, but two best friends who have helped me last as long as I have."

"I know it's selfish," Roman whispered, "Considering the fact that I have no idea if I'll-"

"Stop," Tony said sharply. "You're going to be fine. We're not done yet. I’m going to save you."

Roman's grin turned blinding.

"See that? That right there is why I love you."

Tony couldn't breathe. His eyes widened, and for a moment he knew that if he opened his mouth to return the sentiment he would be swept off his feet into happily ever after. Roman would do his damn best to charm him, to shower him in love, and they'd be buried in the joy of the Imagination. There’d be at least one huge party in celebration of them.

Apathy would still be out there.

Roman would still be falling apart.

"Roman," Tony whispered back.

"I know that- that you don't feel the same way," Roman continued, and Tony's heart shattered. He twisted his hand to grip Roman's and he crouched down so that he could be face to face with Roman. "But- but I know that you care about me," Roman's face turned to stubborn steel as he stared at Tony. "You're one of my best friends. You flirt with me. There's a potential there."

Roman's fingered dragged against his palm as they let go of his hand. He ran his fingers along Tony's hat and very carefully held it back out. His smile wobbled, and he blinked rapidly.

"Just- just give me a chance?" Roman asked. "Let me show you how much I love you. Let me court you."

Tony blinked rapidly. He reached for his hat. Remy's voice echoed in his head.

You're allowed to, like, do what you want. You're allowed to be happy.

He changed his mind. Tony reached past his hat and gripped Roman's wrist. He pulled Roman towards him. His hat flew off somewhere and they toppled over as Roman's weight hit his own. The floor of the cabin pressed against his back.

Tony stared up, his face bracketed by Roman's arms. Roman's face turned a bright red, and he sputtered. Tony smirked. The lights swirled and danced. Tony reached up and ran his hand down Roman's face.

"Doll," Tony said softly, just to see the way that Roman's face burned at the word. He couldn't spit the words out quite yet. Not now. But eventually.

All he wanted was for Roman to be happy.

Turning him down wouldn't make him happy.

"You really think that you can sweep me off my feet?" Tony challenged instead. Roman's eyes widened, and then they brightened. He leaned in, towering over Tony's position on the floor. Tony wanted to laugh, he wanted to pull Roman down and see what he tasted like. Roman's breath ghosted over the shell of his ear.

"I have no doubt." Roman said. The confidence in the words sent a shiver down Tony's spine. He wanted to scream about the fact that what had been missing from Roman so long had started its slow return back.

"Well then," Tony drawled as Roman pulled back up. Roman stood up and offered him a hand. Tony took it, letting Roman lever him back to his feet. He didn't let go. "I'm sure that a handsome man like you can come up with a thing or two to entertain me."

He leaned in and ran his finger over Roman's jaw. Roman's pupils dilated and Tony bit back a cackle. Knowing what he did now, meant that any flirting would be even more amusing than before. He could press those buttons of Roman's and get a pleasant response rather than a negative one.

Roman's throat bobbed up and down. Tony took a step back and smirk. He straightened his clothes out and adjusted his gloves, aware of the way that Roman's eyes lingered on him.

"I did mention a dinner and a dance," Tony mused out loud. He winked at Roman and bent down to pick up his hat. He set it back on his head, "I look forward to our next evening out, Ty. Do make sure that it's as enjoyable as this one has been."

Roman sputtered again behind him as Tony turned and swept out of the cabin. He could have sunk out but he didn't actually want to leave yet. He just didn't want Roman to see the flush that was overtaking his own ears and face.

He tugged his hat down a little lower. He listened to Roman's footsteps rushing after him. He grinned.

Tony laughed, loud and amused and held his hand out.

Roman took it, and for a moment, time stretched out into infinity. Thomas and Apathy and Remus and Virgil and all the world's problems didn't exist. Tony didn't shape the words, but as Roman's fingers twined through his own, he certainly thought them.

I love you.

Chapter Text

Tony raised an eyebrow as Roman tugged him towards the capital. Roman had insisted on walking to keep the surprise. Tony thought he just wanted an excuse to hold hands as they spent time just talking. It didn't really matter; Tony was willing to go along with it when it led to the bright smile that covered Roman's face.

"Remind me again," Tony took the chance to ask as they came to a stop just outside the walls. He watched the crowds heading into the capital themselves. Most of them were faceless, but more and more Constructs passed them by as well. "Why you haven't been home in a week and a half?"

"I told them I went on a Quest," Roman repeated stubbornly. "It wasn't a lie! You're my Quest! Wooing you and helping you! This way I can dedicate my time to capturing Apathy and-" 

Roman's mouth snapped shut. Tony hummed and leaned against Roman's side. Roman's face slowly gained red spots but Tony focused on the sounds that drifted from the other side of the wall.

He agreed with Roman's unspoken thought.

Once they defeated Apathy they could make everything official. Tony could return Roman's repeated words. It would be worth the wait. Tony tried to tell himself it was to minimize the distraction but well-

Roman squeezed his hand and dragged him into the crowd. Tony tugged his hat down over his head to hide his grin. He was already rather solidly distracted from his job. He just had to make sure that the distraction didn't mean it ended badly.

Roman waved at the guards. Tony blinked rapidly as they stepped into the capital. The streets, already so unique from the last time that Tony had seen them, held flags that were strung from every corner. Tony didn't know where the petals and confetti drifted from but it fell from the air all the same. Booths covered the edges of each street.

Tony watched a small child take cotton candy from one of the nearby vendors. His eyes drifted upwards to the booths that hung above the rest. Music swelled through the air. Tony didn't question where it came from, just wondered if it was prerecorded or it someone played it at a different location.

"Well?" Roman bounced on the balls of his heels, waving his hand out at the display. The street fair that stretched out in front of them. Knowing Roman and the Imagination it covered every corner of the Capital, the alleyways to the palace.

"Gorgeous," Tony said, but turned his head to look Roman in the eye as he did. Roman faltered. Stopping to duck his head and scratch at his cheek.

"Well, I mea-"

"Pretty boy!"

Tony's breath fled from his chest as Hecate crashed into him. "Roman!" Hecate scolded. Tony scrambled at her arms as she gripped him even tighter. "You didn't tell me that pretty boy would be here!"

"I didn't know if he'd say yes!"

"Well, like, I thought it was pretty obvious," Remy muttered as he slipped through the crowd to join them. "Are you, like, planning on murdering Dee, hoe?"

"Maybe," Hecate snapped. She dropped him and Tony took a wheezing breath. Air. Glorious air. At least with Remus he knew to expect random damage. He took a step away from Hecate, ignoring her pout and the smug look that crossed Roman's face as he pressed into his side.

"Remy, Hecate," Tony said neutrally.

"Nope, you don't get to be like that," Hecate said. "We had a movie night together and that means you have to use nicknames now!"

"You had a movie night without me?" Roman whined, his eyes widening as he looked down at Tony. Tony closed his eyes and prayed for strength.

"Is anyone else coming?" he muttered instead of answer that loaded question. He wasn't going to tell Roman that realizing he was in love had led to a panic attack. Remy eyed him, and took a long drag from his drink.

"Just, you know, the months," Remy said. "Seeing as Nate and Anton still haven't gotten back."

Roman frowned.

"Still?"

Remy shrugged. 

"It is, like, Nate. You know how he is."

"Yeah but still-" Roman cut himself off. "We'll give them another week before looking into it. They're probably fine." Tony felt a cold wind pass by them, as they all stared at each other

"Yo!" The tension broke as Toby shoulders through the crowd with his ever present companions. August and Seth waved at them as Toby barreled into Remy. Remy slung a causal arm over his shoulder.

“Hey, babe," Remy said.

"Are we going? Roman, man, congrats!" Toby bounced on the balls of his heels. "There's food and games and prizes and a magic show and fireworks and-!"

"Breathe," Seth said, a smile playing at the edges of his lips. Tony eyed August and the way that he hovered at the edge of the group. August scowled at him. Roman tugged on his arm and Tony looked away.

"Are you hungry?" Roman asked. Tony hummed. Food would be nice. But they had all day it seemed. A party. A date. Or as much of a date as it could get with the tagalongs.

"I heard something about games?" Tony responded.

"Ooooh," Hecate grinned, her pony tail sweeping back and forth. She looked down at Remy, "Betcha a weeks worth of dishes that I can beat more games than you."

"No deal," Remy muttered, pointing in the direction that they needed to go. Tony leaned into Roman's side as they wandered through the crowd.

"Fine! Bet you a week's worth of that herbal tea you always try to steal from me that I can win more prizes from you!"

Tony laughed as Remy straightened, his hand dropping from Toby. The two of them disappeared into the crowd, squabbling about the size of the prizes and whether one large one should be worth more than a several small. Toby nudged him in the side and winked as he took Seth's arm and headed towards the bottle toss.

Tony scowled at him.

His eyes drifted across the games. The dresses and suits and pants and everything in between. Everything bathed in colors and lights. Gorgeous. He hadn't been lying to Roman. His eyes drifted to Roman.

His breath caught. Even in the midst of all the color and fun, Roman shone like a star. The center stage of a painting.

"See anything you want to do?" Roman asked. Tony pointed blindly behind him, trying to pretend that he hadn't been staring at the expanse of skin along Roman's neck. Roman turned to follow his finger.

"Oh," Roman said softly, "That flower?"

Tony leaned over to see what he had pointed at. He stared at the small yellow tulip plush that hung above the darts booth. It looked remarkably similar to the one that still sat on his desk. Which explained Roman's face.

At least, it was something that Tony knew he'd end up keeping.

"Well then!" Roman marched over to the booth. Tony felt his smile soften as Roman slid some cash over to the vendor. "One prize coming right up!""

Tony leaned against the stall. He watched the way that Roman's face screwed up in concentration. The way that Roman's wrist flicked with each throw. The shape of his lips as he groaned in disappointment. His eyes drifted lower to Roman's biceps and the curve of his spine.

The world faded away. Tony relaxed. 

"Dee?" Roman called and Tony blinked. Tony leaned a little closer as Roman turned back to the darts. He scowled at the tares. Tony let his eyes drift down the curve of Roman's spine to Roman's ass. "You want to try?"

"No,” Tony said, eyes snapping up. "Just admiring the view."

Roman sputtered, his grip on the dart faltering as he threw it. Tony smirked at Romans bright red face. He sauntered closer and wrapped an arm around Roman's waist.

"I didn't want to miss anything," he purred, plucking the last dart from Roman's hand. He tossed it lightly where it stuck right next to Roman's throw. Bulls eye. The vendor handed Roman the yellow tulip but Tony reached up to pluck one of the small snake plushies from where they hung.

He wrapped it around Roman's neck, leaning in to stare at Roman's lips. He licked his own, and bumped his nose against Roman's. He let out a cackle as he pulled back abruptly Roman stumbled forwards just a bit, a glazed and dreamy look in his eyes.

Tony turned away from him, gripping his new plush tightly.

"I say we get some food next," he called out over his shoulder, sly and horribly amused. He swept away from Roman with a sway in his hips. Something they could share, he mused. Roman would appreciate that.

Roman's footsteps hurried after him and Tony wanted to laugh. It meant the world to him when Roman wrapped a hand around his fingers. His pouting fave entered the corner of Tony's eye.

"I wanted to win something for you!"

"And you did," Tony pointed out, "I just won something for you as well."

Roman shoved his face into the snake plush, and Tony felt a brief bout of irrational jealousy for something that wasn't even alive. A snake over Roman's shoulders was a snake over Roman's shoulders. Everyone knew what that meant. A subtle way of marking Roman as his own.

"Well," Roman's voice pitched higher, "Allow me to get you something to eat in return."

They wandered towards the food stalls. The laughter and chatter swirled around them. Tony simply picked out a thing of nachos, while Roman plucked a cone of bright pink cotton candy from the vendor simply handing them out.

"No charge?" Tony mused. Roman shook his head and scowled into the distance.

"No one should have to pay for food," he muttered. Tony hummed his agreement as they found a corner to settle down in. Tony sighed happily at the shadows, sticking his feet out to bask in the warmth of the sunlight as he melted into the chair that Roman picked.

Roman chuckled, plucking a piece off of his cotton candy. He plopped it into his mouth. Tony watched the action. He tried not to stare at the way that Roman's lips wrapped around his fingers. Romance. Roman wanted Romance.

Roman offered the cone out to him.

"Want some?"

Tony wanted to laugh. He grinned at Roman, and trailed his finger through the soft spun sugar. A carnival. Sharing food. Of course Roman had what would basically amount to a checklist of things to do. Tony bet they had a romantic location for the fire works later as well. Some place where they could cuddle up next to each other to ward off the chill.

Tony looked forward to it.

He took his bite of the cotton candy and picked at his nachos. The crunch drowned out everything else. Tony's eyes drifted through the crowd Toby and Seth passed by, waving at them and showing off their prizes by waving them in the air. Tony wondered how Remy and Hecate's competition went.

Tony picked up another chip from his nachos and waved it at Roman.

"Hungry?” he asked, trying to tamp down on the smirk that grew on his face.

"Don't mind if I do," Roman said, his hand reaching out. Tony caught his wrist with his free hand and held the chip that he held out to Roman. Roman's eyes widened. Tony could feel Roman's muscles twitch under his hold. Roman's eyes darted from him to the chip and then back to him again.

Tony held it out even more. Roman leaned forward to take a bit of it. He was careful not to get too close to Tony's fingers, but Tony could still feel the heat of his breath and the pressure of his eyes. Roman pulled away licking his lips.

"Perfect," Roman murmured, meeting his eyes.

"Cheater," Tony reached out and shoved his shoulder. "I already used that one."

Roman laughed and inched closer so that they sat side by side under the umbrella. Tony relaxed as they passed the food back and forth between the two of them, simply watching people as they passed by. Roman offered a word or story about the Constructs they saw and Tony simply watched and listened and fell in love with the man that sat next to him.

He closed his eyes. He breathed in, then out. It felt like time flew by, until the sun set behind them and Roman lead the way out to a small boat house next to the pond. Tony bit back a question about if Roman had watched Tangled recently. He took Roman's hand, holding him steady as he climbed into the boat tied to the dock.

Tony's head craned up to stare at the stars as Roman rowed them out to the center of the pond. Silence covered the land. A light mist hung over the water. Roman pulled a blanket out of the box on the boat, holding it aloft triumphantly.

"My hero," Tony said dryly. He shifted carefully so that Roman could sit down next to him. Roman wrapped the blanket around his shoulder, and the other end around himself. Tony leaned against his side.

"Well, I do try," Roman said grandly. "Only the best for the brightest star in all the Mindscape."

"Ah, so your self-care's improved then?"

"For you, darling? I'd change my whole life."

Roman's body heat seeped into Tony's side. Thigh pressed against thigh and Tony bumped Roman's shoulder with his own.

"Now," Roman pointed to the sky, "Let me show you something almost as spectacular as yourself."

"You mean you-?"

"Shhhhhh," Roman waved a hand at him, and then quickly adjusted the blanket before it could fall off of them. Tony huffed a soft laughter. He leaned in even closer as the first whistle broke the silent night air.

Blue exploded over the sky and Tony bit back a gasp. A clear sky with the colors that the Imagination managed felt like he had been watching fireworks from behind a screen this entire life. Like Thomas had never seen what a real show looked like. Lights flashed and even the loud bangs didn't distract from the beauty of it.

Tony leaned back, into Roman's shoulder. He let his head rest on Roman's collar, entranced by the sky above him. Roman's fingers twined through his own. Tony pressed as close as he dared, and let the prince of his dreams sweep him off his feet.

Not that it took much work, but Tony wasn't going to tell Roman that.

Let him think that he was making progress. It was one of the most adorable things Tony had seen. Roman leaned his head against Tony's and Tony sighed in satisfaction.

He'd never felt warmer in his life, inside and out.

Chapter Text

Roman twirled just to feel the soft cloth of his sundress against his knees. The bright red roses matched the red ribbon of his hat and the earrings that he had put on specifically for today. If Deceit was tulips, Roman decided, than he could be roses. They looked amazing together after all.

He glanced at his sandals, making sure that they were on tight enough before he leaned over to knock on the door that Deceit had slipped into.

"Darling!" he sang, "Are you ready?"

"No." Roman blinked at Deceit's muffled voice.

"I'm pretty sure that's a lie," Roman mused, leaning back against the wall. "Do you not want to see the gardens?"

A silence and then-

"No."

"Well if you want to see the gardens, then why-" Roman whacked himself as he remembered Deceit's hesitance in the hot springs. Good going, he thought to himself, pick out the perfect outfit for this and Deceit wouldn't even wear it.

"You don't have to wear the dress if you don't want to," Roman offered. "Just whatever you feel comfortable in! Not black though! It's going to be warm and-"

The door cracked open and Roman's mouth snapped shut. He met the one brown eye that Deceit peaked out of the door with. Deceit glared at him.

"You want me to wear something like this though."

"I mean, I thought it would be nice, but you can wear whatever you want-"

The door slammed shut and Roman winced. He could hear Deceit's voice in his head. Moron. Only it didn't sound as bitter as the normal voices in his head. More of a fond exasperation.

The door swung open and Roman straightened. Deceit strode out with his head held high.

"Let's go already," Deceit muttered. Roman felt his jaw drop open. It wasn't the matching sun dress that he had offered Deceit, but Roman thought that this might be even better. The pleated skirt swished around Deceit's knees, and Roman took in the scales dotting Deceit's legs as he stifled a laugh at the tennis shoes that Deceit wore.

Deceit shifted back and forth. Nerves, but Roman wondered if he felt uncomfortable in the casual shoes after years of wearing nothing but dress shoes. The Heathers shirt that hung loosely on his frame earned a huge A+ in Roman's grade book, the Are we gonna have a Problem? a perfect match for Deceit.

He offered Deceit the cap in his hand, and grinned when Deceit took it carefully and plopped it on his head. The whole outfit lacked the normal smooth style that Deceit normally oozed. Yellow and black plaid on the skirt didn’t quite go with the grey and red of his shirt in Roman’s opinion. The navy of the baseball cap might have matched the blue and gold sundress Roman had picked out, but it stood out against the already clashing colors.

It felt genuine. It felt soft. It felt open.

Roman found that he couldn’t look away.

“Beautiful,” he murmured. He reached out and wrapped his fingers around Deceit’s bare arm. Deceit's skin felt cool to the touch. Roman ran his fingers down Deceit's arm, stopping to grip his hand.

Deceit rolled his eyes.

"I mean it," Roman insisted. He pressed a kiss to the scales on the inside of Deceit's wrist, and then boldly, to the ones on his forearm as well. "It's a gift to see you like this. Stunning."

He savored the dots of red on Deceit's cheeks. The way that it disappeared into his scales. Unique and beautiful and something that matched Deceit alone. His fingers slipped down to hold Deceit's hand properly, and he felt the goofy grin split his face at the fact that no layer of clothes kept them separate for the time being.

"That is what you promised me," Deceit brushed off instead and Roman nudged him in silent reprimand. Deceit simply rolled his eyes again. "I have no doubt that your gardens are as spectacular as yourself, doll. It leaves me rushed to see them."

Roman felt his heart trip over itself. He laughed, leading Deceit towards the exit.

"I get it, I get it," Roman shoved the door open to let the sunlight spill out over them. Light caught on Deceit's hair and scales. They glittered and Roman struggled to keep his smooth speech. "You- you don't want me to compliment you, no matter how deserving."

"We have different ideas of deserving," Deceit said.

"Well considering that you're on my list-"

"And you on mine," Deceit butt in.

Roman stepped closer to him. The birds sang around them. Roman couldn't have created a better setting for them than this as they strolled along the rows between the flowers. Tulips and roses and sunflowers and forget-me-nots. Things that he had created from scratch like the vines that spun around the trellises and left arches of rainbow flowers behind them.

Art done by the wonderfulImyasart

"I do believe,” Roman said grandly, "That you think alright of yourself, but alright is not what you are. You are fabulous and spectacular and amazing and stunning and clever and witty and-"

"You wrote a list," Deceit accused. Roman shrugged. He had needed a little help from Logan to find the right words that he knew he'd want to describe his future love.  "Some of those are truly, stunningly personal."

"I can do personal," Roman insisted. He adjusted his sun hat and let his eyes skate down over Deceit's form. The swish of Deceit's skirt, the shadows that only brought out the brilliant color of his eyes. "Like-!"

Roman took a deep breath.

"Like the way that you care," he said softly. He felt Deceit stiffen next to him but he plowed forward. "You don't open up all that much but the people that you do have your utmost and utter loyalty. I have no doubt that even if you make mistakes in trying to accomplish it, you have Thomas'- Thomas' and my best interests at heart."

Roman stared at Deceit's face, watching the way that Deceit's eyes widened before they almost forcefully righted themselves. The soft core that he knew was there hiding itself away once more. He wondered what Deceit used for his actual Core but it didn't matter in the end, did it?

"Well," Deceit said, clearing his throat. Roman wanted to punch the air. But he would have to let go of Deceit's hand to do that and that was just unacceptable. "It seems that you do live up to your name of being the romantic side, Ty."

"Why, thank you," Roman bumped his hip against Deceit's, feeling the soft cloth of his own dress. The way that it tangled with Deceit's and Roman wanted to fly. He was lighter than air. Everything, for once, was right with the world.

"Of course," Deceit's eyes drifted towards the hedge maze. Roman blinked, "The chase is almost as thrilling as the kill isn't it?"

Roman blinked again, bewildered by the sudden change in subject. Deceit leaned in and pressed a finger to his nose before backing away.  The same finger pressed to his lips as Deceit backed up into the maze.

"How about some fun?" Deceit whispered, his voice echoing around even as he vanished. "A bet, with a prize at the end. Catch me if you can, Prince. You'll never know what you find in the shadows. Be it good or bad."

Roman adjusted his hat again, and narrowed his eyes.

"You want me to chase you?" he muttered to himself. He had a feeling that Deceit still thought he would leave, and if this is what it would take to convince Deceit that Roman wouldn't be shaken so easily, well. Roman was more than willing to go through a million hedge mazes with his only prize being Deceit's smile at the end of them.

"I most certainly can catch you!" Roman hollered at the hedges and plunged in after Deceit. He darted past turns, and narrowed his eyes at the flickering shadows. Deceit could have hidden himself away, and Roman didn't want to miss a single detail. Something moved in the corner of his eye and he dove after it. He wheeled wildly as he slammed face first into a hedge.

Deceit's giggle came from behind him.

"Bastard," Roman mutters to himself, brushing his dress off. His chest felt impossibly warm and fond at the noise.

"Awww, poor lost little Ty," Deceit taunted. "All alone in this maze."

"But I'm not alone?" Roman felt his eyes draw together in confusion. "I'm with you?"

Silence. Roman saw someone take a step back and took his chance. He lunged not around the corner but through it, willing the bushes to part for him. He slammed into Deceit's side, and the two of them tumbled over each other as Roman's momentum took him farther than he'd thought he could manage.

Well then. Love made anything possible it seemed.

"Got you!" Roman said triumphantly as they came to a stop. He pressed Deceit's wrist to the ground, breathing hard as he met Deceit's eyes. The bright red of Deceit's face made his heart stop. He stared for a long moment.

"You cheated," Deceit whined, "Sap. Moron. Romantic fool-"

Roman tuned out his insults as he took in their position. He felt the love that pushed his heart into beating grow even more as Deceit complained. As he could feel the way that Deceit relaxed even as Roman straddled him and kept him trapped. At the utmost trust that Deceit held in him.

Roman just-

He couldn't hold it back any more. He lunged forward, pressing his lips against Deceit's and swallowed up the words that spilled from them. The sudden warmth and salty taste of Deceit's sweat tasted sweeter than anything Roman had ever eaten.

He pulled back just as abruptly.

"Oh my god, I am so sorry-"

"Moron," Deceit said darkly. He wriggled one of his hands free and Roman blinked as it wrapped around one of the sleeves of his dress. Deceit let out a soft, somehow impossibly fond huff and dragged him down once more. Deceit slammed his lips against his own, and Roman melted into the feeling of it.

The gentle way that Deceit's lips moved against his. The slight coolness that came from Deceit's scales. The taste of Deceit's mint toothpaste and the feeling of Deceit's other hand coming up to curl through his hair.

Roman could barely focus on keeping himself upright, on making sure that he didn't just collapse on top of Deceit into a puddle of happy prince.

They pulled away. Deceit's breath fanned out over Roman's face as they both breathed harshly. Roman could feel the tremors in Deceit's chest, pressed up to each other as they were. The thickness of his dress did nothing to hide the feeling of Deceit’s hips, sharp as the rest of him. Deceit's fingers ran through his hair and then pulled back.

"I-" Deceit licked his lips. Roman watched the movement. The darker red that had overtaken Deceit's lips. He wanted to sink his teeth into them.

"Not quite yet," Deceit whispered, pressing against his chest. Roman let Deceit push him up. He reached out hesitantly, and Deceit curled into his side.

"Apathy?" Roman asked. Of course. Deceit put his job before everything else. He wanted Thomas safe. It was the whole reason they had been able to reach this point.

Roman wondered if it would be tacky to thank Apathy after they had run him through.

He gently pulled Deceit’s cap off, running his fingers through Deceit’s hair the way that Deceit had for him so many times. The smooth strands ran together and Roman loved the way that Deceit turned to stare up at him. Something crossed his face. A thought. A decision perhaps? Roman could almost taste the underlying hope in it before it vanished.

“But also-”

“Also?” Roman asked. He couldn’t think of anything else that they needed to get done. There was Apathy, and yeah they needed to do something about him Unraveling, but they had time for that. Deceit’s eyes studied his, darting back and forth. Roman wanted to know what he was looking for so he could lay it at his feet. 

“Say the word,” Roman promised, “Whatever it is, and I will take care of it. It will never bother you again.”

Deceit’s face bloomed into a bitter smile. It didn’t belong on the face that matched the flowers around them. Deceit’s hands reached up to cradle his cheeks, gentle, as if they were flower petals. He leaned in and Roman savored the feeling of Deceit’s lips on his once more. Soft and sweet, more of a chaste press of lips on lips than anything else.

Roman’s eyes blinked open as Deceit pulled back. He pressed their foreheads together. The wind brushed past them, pleasant as the feelings in Roman’s chest. Deceit’s hands didn’t drop away from his face.

“Thank you,” Deceit whispered. “Just- thank you.”

“Thank you? For what?” 

Deceit’s hands dropped. Roman ached for them to come back. He tilted his head to the side as Deceit fell silent again. Deceit stared out at the flowers that surrounded them. He smoothed out his skirt and stared at Roman once more.

“Later,” Deceit said firmly. His hand ghosted over Roman’s for a moment. Roman seized it before he could pull away. Something felt off in Deceit’s tone, but he couldn’t pick out what. “I’ll tell you- everything that I can. Just- just later.”

Roman pulled Deceit’s hand up to his mouth and kissed his wrist gently.

“I’ll hold you to it.”

Deceit’s smile held nothing positive in it.

“I know you will.”

Chapter Text

It felt a bit like prying his own arm off, but Tony fed Roman a half-hearted excuse about needing space and disappeared. He showed back up in snake form, and promptly got twirled around and treated to a gushing rant about himself. Part of him preened at the obvious affection. The rest twisted into knots at the reminder of what a shaky foundation their relationship sat on.

Lies and deception. 

Tony could only hope that when the time came, after Apathy had been dealt with, when Tony told Roman about himself, that Roman wouldn’t just cut him out completely.

Tony curled around Roman's neck just a little bit more. Roman reached up to scratch behind his eyeridge and Tony melted into the touch. He bumped against Roman's cheek. He relished in the laughter that the action drew.

He wouldn't say that he had faith. But there was a burning coal of hope that sat in his chest whenever he thought about. Maybe. Just perhaps! If he explained it well enough. If he laid his cards out on the table, all his cards, or all the ones that he could for the first time in his life-

Maybe, then. They could at least stay friends. Tony could keep this bright shining star in his life. Something for the monster under the bed to look out on through the window at least.

Tony hissed in time with Roman's humming, the best way that he could join in like this. Roman stepped out of the Imagination and glanced around. Tony tried not to let his gaze linger on the poetry that sat on the desk, doodled with hearts and a very telling D+R scribbled on them.

Roman strode out of his room, shutting the door silently behind him and glancing down the hall. He pressed a finger to his lips and crept towards the kitchen. Tony knew that Roman wanted a snack before heading out to work. He still thought that sinking out would be a better way of doing it but-

Well, that would be his fault, he supposed. Roman lived in the eternal hope of running into him while working and that chance vanished if Roman sunk out to reach his destination. Tony bumped Roman's cheek again, a silent warning to be careful. There was nothing about it he could do now.

At the very least, if the others did catch him Tony knew that they wouldn't go too far. Harsh words and disappointment that could crush Roman, but Tony had a foundation to combat that now. He knew that Logan would help as well. If he couldn't fix Roman right now, he could at least keep him on an even keel.

Roman stepped into the kitchen, and carefully pulled the fridge open. They both winced at the way that it creaked. Roman froze, glancing behind him. He relaxed when no one appeared and started poking at the leftovers in the fridge. There was less than Tony would have expected. 

Roman pulled out a slice of cake and turned back to the counter. Footsteps echoed towards them, and Roman froze again. Tony debated a moment for giving himself away and shielding them from the other Sides sight.

Logan's head peered around the corner, and they both relaxed.

"Ah, you have returned," Logan said. The bags under his eyes were barely nearly hidden under his glasses. Tony wasn't sure Roman noticed them. But Logan straighten and wandered into the kitchen as well. "Is there more of that?"

"I think so!" Roman turned around to shuffle through the fridge. Tony turned his head to stare at Logan. He noted the way that Logan's shoulders dropped as he stared at Roman, hand reaching up to fiddle with his tie. Nervous. Why? They had already worked things out between them.

Roman let out a triumphant noise and held a second piece of cake aloft. He held it out to Logan, who smiled weakly. Roman frowned at him.

"Everything good, teach?"

Logan flinched. Tony wanted to narrow his eyes, and instead stared even harder at Logan. Something was off. It didn't feel right. Tony tightened around Roman's neck, just enough to make sure that he was ready for anything.

"I am-" Logan bit his lip, "I am not well at the moment, but I shall improve in the future."

Roman slid into the seat next to him, and reached out. Tony hissed to himself as Logan tensed and then relaxed at Roman's touch.

"Is it something that I can help with?" Roman asked softly. Logan's eyes squeezed shut for a moment. His mouth opened, and then it closed. It opened again. Logan pulled away from Roman's touch.

"Roman," Logan said softly. "I'm sorry."

"What?" Roman tilted his head to the side, "Come on Lo Key, you know me, you gotta be a little bit clearer than that for-"

"Roman!" Virgil snapped and Roman's head whipped up. Tony's hiss spilled out from between his lips and he glared at Virgil's approaching form. Roman stood up, meeting Virgil's furious glare.

"You- you-" Virgil scrubbed at his head and paced around the kitchen counter. "Where have you been?!"

"On a quest," Roman said, warily watching Virgil's steps. He shuffled out of the way when Virgil passed by, and for a moment Tony wanted him to keep the counter between him and Virgil. He didn't sound like Virgil. He sounded like Anxiety. Tony winced at the way that Virgil's eyes landed heavily on him.

"A quest?" Virgil's voice pitched higher. "It's been two weeks! You're never gone for two weeks! What the hell were you doing?!"

"I don't think that's any of your business," Roman snapped back, crossing his arms. "Just because you've never seen it doesn't mean that it hasn't happened. You're rather new here after all."

Virgil snarled at him. Logan's chair scraped along the floor as he stood up. His fingers spread out over the counter as he stared them both down.

"Enough," Logan barked. "You-"

"Pat agrees with me!" Virgil said wildly, his hand waving towards the doorway. Tony turned to look at Patton, noting Logan's heavy flinch at the name. Patton stood woodenly at the door. He didn't blink. Tony felt his chest tangle up into knots. 

Patton walked over, swaying slightly as he stood next to Logan. Logan's shoulders rose slightly, stiff as a board as he stared at Patton. Patton pressed a hand against Logan's arm, and Tony watched in fascinated horror as Patton pushed Logan down to his chair again.

Roman stared at them.

"Logan?" he whispered.

"I-" Logan's eyes flickered to Patton.

Roman rounded on Virgil. "What the hell is going on here?"

"Look- Listen-" Virgil chewed on the pad of his thumb. Tony winced as blood dripped down it, and part of him wanted to reach out and pull Virgil's thumb away from his mouth. The rest of him coiled. Waiting. "You're just- you're not listening."

"I'm not listening?" Roman asked, throwing his hands into the air. "I'm not listening?! You never listen!"

"Deceit has his hook in you!" Virgil shouted, taking a step forward. "You're not thinking straight!"

"I never think straight, I'm gay," Roman muttered under his breath.

"No jokes!" Virgil shouted, slamming his hands down on the counter. Roman flinched back. Silence fell. Logan stiffened in his seat, his eyes flickering to Patton again. Virgil breathed heavily staring at Roman.

"You can't trust yourself," Virgil insisted, "We can't trust you. But we can help. Let us help you.”

Roman stared at him. He narrowed his eyes.

"And what exactly," he said, taking a slow step backwards.Tony approved. Roman inched towards the door. "Would this help include?"

"We need to get rid of everything he's using to manipulate you," Virgil muttered, "Clear out the things that he's infected."

"Infected?" Roman echoed hollowly. 

"Yeah," Virgil said, his hands finally leaving the counter to reach out towards the Roman. "The snake to start off with."

Roman's hand snapped up to cradle over Tony's head. Tony stiffened. Virgil hadn't recognized him, but he had sensed him. Tony knew. He knew that unless Roman could talk them out of this, or duck away, Virgil would follow him to the ends of the earth.

Utterly convinced that he'd be helping Roman when Roman couldn't help himself.

"No," Roman said softly, "You don't get to touch him."

"It!" Virgil snapped. "It is not one of yours anymore Roman! It's not alive! All it's doing it turning you against us!"

"I think you're managing that just fine," Roman said coldly. Virgil flinched, his hands wringing against his hoodie. Roman stepped into the doorway. "Now if you excuse me, I'm going to get back to work."

"Roman!" Virgil shouted. Roman strode back to his room, and swung the door open. He froze as Virgil's wild eyes meet his own. Tony hissed. Sinking out. Virgil cheated, and not in a way that Tony would approve of.

"I'm going to help," Virgil muttered, "I'm helping. Patton agreed that I'm helping."

"Get out of my room," Roman said flatly. "You aren't welcome here."

"You don't mean that," Virgil's muttering continued. "He doesn't meant that, it's not him, it's Deceit."

"Virgil," Roman hissed, "I am well aware of when I'm being manipulated. You need help, but I'm really not in the mood to offer it. Get. Out."

"Roman," Logan said softly. Tony twisted to look at him, even if Roman didn't. He hissed at the sight of Patton steering Logan towards them. The stiff way that Logan crossed his arms screamed distress. It was wrong. Everything about this was wrong and bad and Tony couldn't do anything about it without making things worse.

"Just-" Logan's exhausted voice rammed a rod through Roman's spine. Tony could feel it straighten. "Let him look at the snake. Get it over with."

"And here," Romans voice wavered, "I thought you of all people would have understood."

Tony watched Logan's eyelids fluttered rapidly at those words. Something really was wrong. Tony hissed, searching for Apathy but he couldn't find him. Patton's blank eyes stared back at him. An influence perhaps? But then why would Logan-

Roman shook his head, stepping away from Virgil's reaching hands.

Virgil slammed a hand down on Roman's desk.

"Don't make this worse than it is!" Tony watched in horror as Virgil froze, glancing down at the papers on Roman's desk. The doodled hearts and soft ideas and romancing that Roman had no doubt written down like he did everything. The absolute lack of video or work idea. Just Roman relaxing while whatever the hell happened to Virgil happened to Virgil.

"What-" Virgil's hands trembled as they gripped the papers, bringing them up. "What is this?"

"Nothing that I have to tell you about, Anxiety," Roman crossed his arms. "And I think you've overstayed your welcome."

"You've been- you've been dreaming about love, playing at having a crush, when- when- when-" Tony tensed. He knew the way that Virgil's teeth ground together. He recognized the way that Virgil threw the papers at Roman, a challenge and a disrespect all in one.

"You don't care do you?!" Virgil shouted, his voice warping over each other, "He's gotten so deep into your head that you don't care anymore! You're so stupid! How can you be so blind to-!"

"Me?! Blind?!" Roman roared back, "Take a look at yourself! Look at all of you! You're falling apart!"

"I am!" Virgil screamed. "You're the one who's not! Get out of your own head and look at reality!"

Roman flinched back, looking between Logan and Patton in the doorway, and Virgil who stood between them and the closet door. Trapped. Cornered in his own room. Tony felt Roman trembled under him. Anger, dark and bitter coursed through Tony's veins.

He knew what happened.

Apathy had torn apart Roman's family. But if it shattered completely, here and now, then Roman would lose himself. Tony could patch things up, he could make sure that Roman stayed strong. But the Main sides? The others were what kept Roman Roman. They were the reason that Roman even wanted to get better in the first place. They were just-

Roman's family was so much more important than the possibility of a love.

Tony watched in slow motion as Virgil's hand came up. He felt as Roman tensed, ready to dodge out of the way as best he could. He took in Logan's horrified look but lack of movement. Patton's lack of anything.

He knew who to blame even if they didn't.

He knew his job.

He kept them from things they didn't know. He made sure that they couldn't regret it. He got them what they wanted.

And what Roman wanted more than anything was for his family to be proud of him.

The choice was as easy as breathing.

Tony's feet landed on the ground in front of Roman. His hand snapped up and gripped Virgil's wrist. He tightened his grip to something bruising and when Virgil's eyes widened, he didn't smile. He smirked, smug and triumphant. In that sharp way that he knew Virgil would recognize.

In the way that he knew Virgil would hate.

"You never call, you never write," Tony purred, "One would think that you hate me."

"Dee-?" Roman asked, his voice soft as a whisper. It took all of Tony’s self control to not react to the call. He buried his flinch and his guilt and his hurt as far into himself as he could. He didn’t turn around even if he knew that Roman’s hands would be reaching up uselessly for the place that he had just been. 

The realization would sink in soon. The connection between his sudden appearance and the way that Roman’s favorite snake had disappeared. Tony could feel everything crumbling away at his feet. There would be no soft, understanding confession. No explanation, no truth. Tony didn’t close his eyes, though he wanted to. 

He didn’t dare look away from the rage overtaking Virgil’s face.

He didn’t take a deep breath. He didn’t wish that things could be different. He didn’t hope that there would be a chance for him to be Tony again. He knew his place. He knew his job. He knew what Roman needed.

Deceit spread his hands out, just like the showman that he was. He let lies spill from his lips, just like they always would. He took a hack saw to his relationships, just like he had when the last one had fallen apart.

“And here, I thought I’d almost gotten away with it too,” he said smoothly, ignoring the hitch of breath from Roman behind him, “Always too clever for your own good, aren’t you Anxiety?”

“Dee?” Roman asked again, and this time, he turned around. He grinned, letting nothing reach his eyes.

“Oh, Roman,” Deceit said mockingly. “You have no idea how easy you are to tug around.”

Devastation. Deceit could see it written in Roman’s eyes, in the way that he reached out in question. The trembling of his hand, the fluttering of his eyes. Such a different look from yesterday. A silent begging for all of this to be a lie. The slightest sign that it was a trick would mean that he could keep Roman. 

Virgil would see right through it.

Deceit did the cruelest thing he could think of.

He turned away.

Chapter Text

Roman couldn't breathe. Something rang in his ears as he stared at Deceit's back. He couldn't- He couldn't- he couldn't- He reached out, even despite the clear dismissal from Deceit. He couldn't give up. He was Hopes and Dreams, and Deceit had been his.

The hope and dream that he had wanted.

Roman ignored the warning snarl from Virgil. His focus narrowed down to Deceit's back. He wrapped his fingers around Deceit's cape. A child crying for their parents attention. A lover begging his partner not to leave him. A survivor gripping the last rope before he went overboard.

Deceit raised a hand, and with a flick of his wrist, Virgil went flying away. Roman flinched, remembering soft words about another old relationship. Was that true? How much had Deceit lied in that conversation?

Deceit turned back to him, eyes distant and amused.

"Dee," Roman repeated, he couldn't think of anything else. "What- what- you-"

Deceit stepped closer, pressing into his space. Somewhere behind them Virgil snapped something out, but all he could focus on was the way that Deceit's hand reached up to ghost against his cheek. The comfort in the motion. The way that he could hope that this was all a trick, that everything would go back to the soft kisses under the sunlight.

"Oh Roman," Deceit whispered, finger brushing against his lips and tilting his jaw up. Roman's eyes fluttered shut, and he basked in the gentle attention. He could hear Deceit lean forward, his breath warm against his face. Deceit pressed their cheeks together as he leaned into the shell of Roman's ear.

"If only there was someone who loved you," Deceit whispered, and Roman felt himself crack right down the middle. The warmth from Deceit's body vanished, leaving him cold and alone. His knees buckled, and Roman's eyes snapped open at the sudden pain of his knees hitting his bedroom floor.

"Stay away from him!" Virgil roar, spinning around as he searched for Deceit.

"Anxiety, Anxiety, Anxiety," Deceit's voice echoed around him. A flash of movement to the right. The flutter of a cape to his left. Roman's head spun as he tried to keep track of where Deceit stood. Virgil lunged for a shadow near his bed and tripped over nothing, landing head first against Roman's dresser.

Deceit's cackle smothered Roman's wounds, leaving him gasping for breath.

"Poor Roman, the one and lonely. All he wanted was a listening ear," Deceit appeared in the middle of the room. He also appeared behind Virgil, near Logan and Roman, one of him lounged on the bed. Virgil narrowed his eyes at them all.

"All it took was a kind word and an open hand," Deceit said, all baby talk and mocking. Roman dug his fingers into the bandages around his arm. It took more than that, he wanted to scream but he couldn't get the words past his throat. "Someone who showed him the love he wanted."

"Shut up!" Virgil screamed, lunging for the nearest Deceit. He passed through harmlessly, and Deceit tipped his hat at them all.

"Really, Anxiety, I would have thought you'd take care of this Creativity better than mine." Roman flinched at the separation, the claiming of Remus over him. "He’s almost as broken."

Roman's heart beat wildly. The ringing in his ears grew louder. He stared down at his arm as the bandages ran out of Belief and his arm vanished. He couldn't bring himself to care. His fingers passed through his arm and Roman let them hang. The smooth wood of the flooring taunted him.

Nothing felt smooth. Nothing felt real.

"He's not!" Virgil threw something at the Deceit near Logan and Patton and the image vanished. "You're the one who made him like this!"

"Oh did I?" Deceit cooed. The images shifted and spun. Roman's eyes watered and he blinked rapidly. He wouldn't allow Deceit the pleasure of seeing him cry. He wouldn't- he wouldn't-

A sob caught in his throat. He wrapped his arms around his waist, one intangible and the other gripping too tight. He needed to know. He wanted to know. He didn't understand.

"Why?" He croaked, "Why would you- what was the point?"

"Oh doll," Deceit purred, and Roman hated how his heart still flopped at the pet name. At the soft look in Deceit’s eyes. "It wasn't really about you. We all have our jobs to do, it wasn't anything personal. Thomas could hardly survive if you disappeared and well, we all know that I'm part of self-preservation. I just did what Virgil never had the nerve too."

Thomas. Roman dug his fingers into his waist even more, feeling bruised blossom under his touch. He gasped, doubling over. An act for Thomas.

"I'd do anything to save you," Deceit now, echoed the Deceit from back then and Roman shuddered violently. He bit down on his lip to hold back the scream that wanted to break free.

"It was oh so amusing," Deceit continued, "Like watching an adorable puppy bumble all over its own feet. But well, when you can't take care of a puppy anymore you give it back."

Roman felt numb. He couldn't feel his chest anymore. He didn't know if it was the heartbreak or his Unraveling. He couldn't bring himself to care. He wanted his Deceit back. He wanted snark and care and the soft core wrapped up in a defensive bristle.

He wanted Deceit's flirting and Deceit's carefully doled out truths. The way that Deceit stumbled over his words when he was open, when he wanted to tell Roman something new. Not this smooth villain. This slimy snake. Roman wanted anything but this.

"Leave him alone!" Virgil threw something else. Roman didn't bother to look. A hand fluttered over his shoulder and he flinched away from it.

"I do believe that you've said enough," Logan's voice sounded distant yet nearby. Right next to him, but right next to him through a train tunnel. Oh. That must have been the person reaching for him. Roan's hands came up to his chest, clutching at his heart. His chest was still there. His heart still existed.

Why did it hurt so bad?

He wrapped his fingers around the handkerchief that Deceit gave him and tried not to keen aloud. He wasn't sure that he manage it.

"Honestly," Deceit tsked, sliding out of the way of Virgil's next punch. Virgil's eye shadow darkened so much that it dripped down his face. Demented versions of tears, Roman thought hysterically. If only he hadn't been an asshole then maybe this wouldn't happen.

Roman would have preferred the pleasant lie to this.

"It was too easy to get between you," Deceit continued. "Amusing and easy and if Roman had been in the perfect place to help me out with a manipulation or too later well-" Deceit spread his arms out as if that was all he needed to say.

It looked too much like the gentle way Deceit had tried to show him things before and Roman felt sick to his stomach.

"Dee-" Roman tried again, swallowing thickly. Maybe they just misunderstood. Maybe he just-

"Ah, ah, ah," Deceit waggled his finger through the aid. Virgil's fist passed through his face. "Try again, Creativity."

"Dee-"

"That's not what I mean," Deceit snapped. His eyes darkened and Roman flinched back. Logan placed a comforting hand on his back. It didn't feel real. Roman didn't want it to be real. He wanted to wake up from this nightmare.

"Tony-" Roman's voice wavered, and Deceit hissed. The dark sound remind Roman of the way that Tony had hissed at the Self-doubt and Nightmares, the villains, Virgil and Logan and anyone that had hurt or seemed like they hurt Roman. Roman ached. A tear slipped down his cheek.

"Don't call me that," Deceit snarled. "That's not me."

"Tony," Roman said, stronger this time. Maybe it was Apathy. Maybe Apathy had done something to prompt this.

"What-" Deceit's hand shot out, and this time, instead of passing through, he backhanded Virgil. Virgil stumbled back, eyes wide and startled before he bared his teeth. They glinted in the low light and for a moment Roman wildly thought they looked sharper than normal.

"Say my name, Creativity,” Deceit demanded. He ducked under Virgil's swing, grabbing his arm and forcing it against Virgil's back. Virgil squirmed against the hold. He bucked his head back and only then did Deceit let him go.

"Dee-"

"Wrong!" Deceit singsonged, and vanished again.

Roman's breath stuttered. Another sob ripped from his throat. He knew that Deceit wanted. What would get him to leave and the pain to end. He knew as well as he knew that his heart lay shattered at his feet. As well as the fact that he knew that he couldn't let go of the scrap of black cloth in his hands.

"I'm not- You can't-" Roman stuttered out.

"Roman," Logan said softly, his hand skating down his back in comfort. It didn’t feel right. Too warm, Roman thought hysterically. Logan felt too warm. He wanted someone colder. Someone with cool scales and a dark laugh and sharp smiles.

He didn't want any of this. He didn't- He didn't-

Roman squeezed his eyes shut.

"Roman, oh Roman," Deceit chanted, and Roman lifted his hands up to press them against his ears, trying to block out the noise. The utter silence and disregard from Patton. Virgil's furious screams. Logan's smooth voice trying to bring order to a chaos that would never end.

Roman knew. He knew that there was no going back from this.

"He climbed up a wall," Deceit continued, "Oh, how he wished he could be so tall. What he didn’t know was how he’d fall."

"Stop," Roman croaked.

"Roman, oh Roman, a hopeful king," Deceit taunted, "Oh, what a heart that wanted to take wing. How much he wanted love, he’d even love an ugly thing."

"Stop!" Roman pleaded.

"Roman, oh Roman, with a crown on his head," Deceit's voice came from his left.

“He’d have rather left it on his bed." From the right. 

Roman shook his head, knowing how this rhyme would end. He didn't- he didn't- he knew how to make it stop. But to make it stop would be to give up the want to kiss. It meant giving up street carnivals and dream making and picnics and the way that Deceit had made Remy laugh.

The way he had made Roman laugh.

"He let that ugly thing wear it instead. Oh, how he didn’t expect the way that he bled."

"I said, stop it Deceit!" Roman roared, his hands flying away from his ears. He surged to a straighter position, eyes scanning the room wildly. He glared out at nothing.

“Very good, doll," Deceit's voice whispered from behind him. Roman thought he could feel Deceit's breath on his neck, and it made the hair on his arm stand up on end. "You can pick up on the occasional thing." 

Roman whirled around but silence met him. Nothing but the empty air. He twisted his fingers into the handkerchief and trembled. He felt like the slightest breeze could knock him over. His shoulders hiked up to his ears, and he bowed with the weight of everything.

His lost love, his broken trust. The cracks running down his family, and the cracks running through himself. He knew that if he took stock of himself, he'd be missing pieces. He was already missing such a big piece. He wanted it back.

He wanted the last five minutes to not exist. He wanted to have never seen that small little snake napping in the living room. He wanted Deceit to have never approached him. He wanted himself to have said no when Deceit asked for help.

He wanted his love and his time and his everything back.

Roman curled over the handkerchief, well aware of the fact that if they looked, the others could see what was wrong with him. The way that his arm jumped and glitched in place even as he tried to cradle the precious cloth close. He knew that they could comment, say something, do something. Anything.

Roman didn't want them too. A dark bitter part of him blamed them. Hated them for taking the small scrap of happiness he finally had away from him. He shook and he shook and he shook.

Logan's hand reached for him out of the corner of his eye. Roman flinched back, scrambling back as best he could. His leg gave away beneath him and Roman cursed the fact that he couldn't even hold himself together enough to walk. Stupid. Moron. Gullible.

Alone.

"No!" He shrieked, clutching the cloth to his chest. "Don't- you can't- You can't take this from me too!" He took a shuddering breath, pressing the handkerchief to his face as he started to sob.

"Roman-" Logan's heartbroken face seared itself to the back of his eyes. Well then, Logan should have done something. Anything. Some brother he was. Roman pulled away from him.

He couldn't lose this either.

He sunk away, feeling like he was in free fall. He landed in the Imagination, hard on his left side. He stumbled and crashed to the ground. The dirt scraped at his face, but Roman didn't care. He clutched at the small piece of Deceit that he had left. 

Fake or not, trick or not.

Roman never wanted to let him go.

Chapter Text

Tony kicked at the wall, cursing under his breath. He could feel his hands trembling and if he stopped to think about what happened long enough, he wondered if he'd start to unravel the same way that Roman-

He took a deep breath and ran a hand down his face. He glanced down at the compass in his hands. Roman would be fine. Tony had made sure to dance the line of his Unraveling. The handkerchief he gave him would bring him back to full, and his family would take care of the rest.

All Tony had to do was take out Apathy and Roman could have his happily ever after. Logan would talk Roman through his fear, Virgil would give him the banter he craved, and Patton would go back to that painfully endless well of support.

Tony turned left sharply, eyes on the compass.

He'd go back to being alone. Visiting the others from time to time, but mostly. Doing his job. As he always did. He'd keep the center balanced and happy and push for Thomas to do things for himself.

He didn't want to think about why the thought of doing that right now rang so hollow. He snarled to himself and shoved his hat down a little bit more. It didn't matter. It didn't matter.

Tony debated pushing a bit of Belief into himself to make the thought stick.

He decided against it.

He couldn't bring himself to give up the feelings of Roman in his chest, no matter how painful they were.

He turned right. His eyes narrowed as the compass pointed towards the grey area between the Subconscious and the Imagination. He knew that it was a bad sign. He didn't care. He stepped into the area and let the dull fog swallow him up. His eyes darted down to the compass from time to time, but he pressed forward, following the path it led him on.

"Deception," Apathy's cool voice rang out around him. "You're alone."

Tony narrowed his eyes and glared out at the fog.

"Bastard," he snapped, "That's my trick. It won't work on me."

Apathy's hum vibrated down to his bones. A dark, almost pleased sound. It held a single note. Not musical in anyway. Nothing like Roman or Remus.

"Passion has left you." Apathy murmured, "You no longer stand at his side. And," Apathy’s voice sounded clear, and present to his right. Tony whirled, hands raised with claws. Apathy caught them and stared at him.

"You are burning with a passion that will be your downfall."

Tony bit back a scream as his wrist snapped in Apathy's grip. Apathy dragged him one direction and then threw him in the other. Tony groaned as he hit the ground with a painful thud. He rolled to his feet and glanced wildly about.

"I am close," Apathy whispered, voice monotone and empty. "I will have what I want soon. I will be complete. You will not get in my way. Then. Then I will make you feel what I have felt for so long."

"You weren't even supposed to exist," Tony shouted.

"And whose fault was that?"

Tony shifted, dropping to the low quick form of a rabbit. He darted under Apathy's legs and drew the not-Side out of the fog. He broke through into the open hallways and cursed.

He took the form of a bear, spinning around and bringing his large paws crashing down on where Apathy appeared. Apathy stumbled to the side, and Tony didn't stop. He let his roar ring out and he swiped at Apathy again. Apathy grabbed his paw, but Tony wouldn't let him play the same trick twice.

He shifted again, throwing in an illusion this time. Belief that it would work flooded the hall. A hyena stalked forwards, flanked by three others. A low rumbling filled the hallway as Apathy eyed them dully.

"You are clever," Apathy murmured, "And strong. But you lack the power to take care of me. You lack anything but care for yourself."

Apathy spun as he kicked, phasing through two of the illusions. Tony ducked under it and lunged, clamping his jaws around Apathy's other leg. Apathy placed a hand on his head and squeezed. Tony whined, jaw unclenching as pain bloomed through his skull. Apathy tossed him again, this time against the wall.

Tony tried to slip to a different from. He needed- he needed-

The world spun around him. Apathy stepped closer and pressed a foot down on his ribs. Tony wheezed, and realized that he had reverted back to human. No wonder everything hurt.

"You can not beat me," Apathy said.  "Not when you are so selfish."

"Asshole," Tony spat out. "Motherfucker. You have no right to make these decisions. To do what you've done. Let them go -"

"Ah, I see that you've found my pawns. It is too late. I've moved into position for checkmate. And you-" Apathy leaned down. Tony felt his ribs creak in protest. Apathy pulled a dull kitchen knife out from behind his back.

"You are alone," Apathy said, and Tony whimpered as the pain increased. "Your lies have made it so. And your lies will also pave the path to my goal. You will die over and over and over again, knowing that the death of the one man you might have cared about was your fault."

"You- you- you- you-" Tony scrambled at the foot on his chest. "Liesssssss."

Apathy hummed slightly. 

"You would know better than anyone, wouldn't you?"

Apathy's foot moved. Tony tried to lunge to the side. The knife swung downward.

Tony let out a strangled scream as it dug through his side, pinning him to the wall. He twitched, hands flying to the handle. He couldn't get a good grip on it, one broken and the other too close. He squeezed his eyes shut and refused to cry.

"I will take my leave now," Apathy murmured. "Be good, and stay put until I come back for you."

Tony shuddered. In pain, and in fear. In failure and a million things. He tried to pull at the knife again, his good hand scrambling against the hilt. Pain flared and Tony let out a gasp. He knew what burning felt like, it wasn't quite like this but Tony almost wished for the flames.

At least then his nerves would have dulled.

He slumped against the blade and tried to think of a way out. He could shift. But he knew that his energy was rapidly draining. He needed to be able to do something when he got free so that he could fight Apathy.

He used to himself and slammed his good fist against the wall. The vibration jostled his broken limbs and his wound and he bit down on his lip to keep from screaming again.

Move, he ordered himself. Roman needs you, move you damn useless thing!

He took a deep breath. He pressed his hand around the knife. He knew what he could do. It wouldn't be pretty. It wouldn't be good. But he had just enough Belief to make it work. He'd only have a couple of shift or heals or anything really left for himself after this, but Apathy said he was moving into checkmate.

It was too soon. 

Roman would still be vulnerable.

Even if Roman hated him, Tony needed to make sure that he was alright.

Tony took a deep breath. He breathed in. Out. In. Out. In. Out. 

He braced himself.

In one solid movement, Tony wrenched himself forward. The pain staggered him to the floor. Blood dripped between his fingers. The world spun and black spots filled his vision. Tony pressed his hands down, digging thorns into his wound. He Believed that he wouldn't bleed out, that it would hold as long as he needed it.

The warmth between his fingers didn't stop, but it did slow.

Tony let out a shuddering breath. The Mind Palace. He needed to get to the Mind Palace to warn the others. Once they knew, Virgil would be able to protect Roman. If he got discorporated at this point it would almost be a gift.

He pressed against the wall, leaning for support and limped towards the Mind Palace. He left streaks of red behind him. He ignored it. Tony could ignore a lot; he would get what he needed to do done.

The world blurred at the edges and Tony kept walking. He blinked. There was- Red streaked before he had walked somewhere. Had he gone in circles already? Tony felt a cry build up in the back of his throat. He couldn't do this. He needed to do this. At this rate, he'd discorporate before-

A figure moved in the corner of his eye.

Tony stumbled back and hissed at it jostled his wounds. His eyes narrowed in on the form and his heart stopped. He knew that jacket. He didn't know everyone who wore them but there were only two Constructs that hadn't been seen in weeks.

"Nate," he breathed, and heaved himself over to the crumpled form. He fell to his knees at the Construct's side and reached out with a shaky hand. He rolled Nate's curled form over and breathed in sharply. Blood dripped down Nate's face, and his hands flopped off a line of claw marks that dragged down from his left shoulder to his right hip. 

Tony reached down and pressed Belief into the wound without a thought. Nate seized. He curled around the wound, and his hand snapped out to grab Tony's wrist. His eyes fluttered open and he let out a shuddering gasp. 

"T-Tony," Nate whispered. 

"Don't talk," Tony snapped, well aware of his own state. He pushed more Belief into Nate, scowling when it didn't do much. He needed more. He didn't know if he had time to get more. He could sink to his room, but he wouldn't be able to just appear in the Mind Palace. They had likely blocked it off from him at this point. 

Nate shook his head. A trickle of blood ran from his mouth. The glassy look in his eye made Tony's heart shrivel. 

"Good," Nate whispered, "Need- need to tell-" 

"I said," Tony hissed, tears pricking at the edges of his eyes. He lost Roman. By extension he had lost the rest of them too. But he could have taken comfort knowing they were safe at least. This wasn't safe. 

This wasn't right

His Belief surged for a short moment before shuddering back down. Nate breathed in deeply and sighed. 

"Better," he murmured, "Can talk now at least.” His grip on Tony's arm tightened and he tugged Tony's arm away. "Tony. Tony it's time." 

"I can- I can't- don't you dare-" Nate shook his head. 

"Listen," Nate whispered. "They- they weren't Imps. There was a grey man, gathering up Self-Doubt and Nightmares. More than-" Nate's chest shuddered. Another line of blood leaked from his mouth and he blinked slowly at Tony. "More than I've ever seen. Tell Roman. Help him." 

"He won't- he won't listen to me again," Tony whispered, fingers curling to fists as the horror hit him. He couldn't warn Roman because he'd lost his trust. 

And your lies will also pave the path to my goal

Nate smiled up at him, bloody and tired.

"Ha, man, I don't think-" Nate coughed and reached up with a shaking hand. Tony grabbed it and pulled it back down. Moron shouldn't be moving. Tony used the opportunity to push a little more Belief forward. He could feel exhaustion tugging at his own bones. 

"Stop that," Nate said softly. "I'm going to take the long nap, and it’ll- it’ll be the laziest I'll ever be. Roman's gonna hate me for it." 

"He would never hate you," Tony whispered, unsure if it was a lie or the truth. Nate's smile grew, he tugged his hand free again and pressed it against Tony's chest, smearing red along the black, barely visible. Never seen. Like the two of them. 

"He wouldn't hate you either," Nate whispered. 

"You-" Nate's voice cracked. "Found your path." He breathed out. His eyes dropped. "Told you- told you- villains. Crime. Kill the source, solve the-" 

Nate's hand dropped to the ground. Tony let out a soft keening noise as Nate's eyes dulled. He entire body slumped over. Then slowly, it started to crumple up and away. A paper ball being thrown away. Tony reached out, grasping at nothing. 

Nate vanished. 

Nate died

Tony stared at the bloody spot in horror. He blinked slowly. Trying to comprehend what had happened. Anton. Tony had sent Anton with Nate, and if Nate was- Nate gone. Roman in danger. Not the Mind Palace but the Imagination. 

Remy

Tony breathed in sharply. He stood up, the pain dulled as his anger flared. He bared his teeth at the far wall, bloody and angry and determined. Well then. 

Apathy wanted to play dirty? 

Tony could play dirty

The monster under the bed crawled out from the shadows, stretched its claws- 

and roared.

Chapter Text

Roman curled up in bed. He tugged the covers a little higher over his head and tried to drown out the world. He could hear the distant chatter of the marketplace, normally a soothing sound, but now all it reminded him of was the carnival and the carnival reminded him of- 

He whimpered. He curled in on himself a little bit more. His hand drifted around and through his left arm. At least he could feel the way it made his fingertips tingle. He doubted he could even get out of bed if he wanted too. His left leg didn’t exist anymore either, as well as a part of his chest. He almost wished that it had been his heart that disappeared.

Roman could get support. If he wanted to wander his lands, Remy and Hecate would only be the first to help him around. But he every inch of his land had been touched by Deceit. Hecate’s lair held whispers of Tony. His dream making reflected Deceit’s face covered in wonder. The gardens left a bitter taste on his tongue but a sweet one on his lips.

Soft footsteps broke through his heavy thoughts. Roman didn't move as the bed dipped underneath another person's weight. A hand pressed against his shoulder. Offering silent support that Roman didn't want. He wanted to fade away here. No love, no family, and in the end he wasn't needed was he? Remy could do his job. Remus would cover the ideas.

Thomas would be fine without him.

"Hecate's, like, got the perimeter covered," Remy said softly. "Dragon guarding her treasure, you know how that hoe gets. Toby's gathered, like, everyone to cover the border."

Silence. Roman wouldn't work up the energy to respond to Remy's words. The soft sigh that echoed throughout the room only made him feel worse. He wanted to plaster on a smile and tell Remy he was fine, but couldn't bring himself to lie.

"You could, like, at least tell us what's wrong," Remy said softly.

Roman screwed his eyes shut.

"Did you know?" The question slipped out, as bitter as the memory of Deceit turning his back on him.

"Know what?" Remy asked.

"Don't play dumb," Roman wanted to snap but he couldn't work up the anger. His fingers tightened around the handkerchief gripped against his chest. He wanted to let go. He never wanted to lose it. "You know what I mean," he whispered.

"No seriously, like what you mean?" Remy's voice sounded bewildered. "You showed up, like, out of nowhere, Daddy-o. We don't know what happened, which is why we're on the lookout." A hesitant beat. "Should we go looking for Dee-"

"No!" Roman surged into a sitting position, he whirled to glare at Remy. "Don't get him! I never-" Roman's voice cracked. His hands trembled. "I never-" he tried again, but couldn't get the words past his lips.

He wanted to see Deceit again. He wanted to so bad. He wanted to beg for a second chance, he wanted a better explanation. He wanted Deceit to look him in the eye and tell him that they could never actually be in love.

"Ah," Remy said, looked at him from over his sunglasses. "That, did you know." Remy sighed, and snapped his fingers. He took a slow sip of the drink he summoned. "Bitch left me with all the hard work, didn't he?"

"What?" Roman blinked slowly.

"Bitch," Remy repeated slowly, "Tony, like, really did leave me holding the bag."

"You did know," Roman whispered. Remy sighed again, inching closer to press his shoulder against Roman's. Roman leaned into the touch. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"We all knew," Remy said softly, "Can't, like, tell us there's a new Construct and then hold out, like, the equivalent of a virus in the Imagination. The Imagination recognizes its own."

"But you didn't say anything," Roman repeated.

"With the venom wrapped around your throat?" Remy pointed out. "He wasn't exactly in the, like, the most friendly position when he first showed up. But, like," Remy's voice softened and he looked out the window. "He didn't hurt you. He, like, threw himself in the way of everything that did. Try to hurt you, I mean. Bitch said one thing and did the other."

Roman swallowed thickly. The affection in Remy's voice weighed down on his shoulders. He tried to gather up the anger he should feel that Deceit had tricked his closest friends too. That Remy felt comfortable enough to call him a friend.

But more than anything it hurt to hear Remy call him Tony.

"He said-" Roman's voice cracked. He wrapped his arm around his waist again. He felt himself start to bow under the weight again. "He said- it was all for Thomas. He pretended to care to keep Thomas together."

Remy hummed lightly, looking at him carefully. Silence wrapped around them. Remy tapped his finger nail against the plastic of his drink.

"Did he say that he didn't love you?" Remy broke the growing weight.

“What?"

"Did he, like, actually say outright that he didn't love you?"

"He didn't need to! He made himself perfectly clear!" Roman felt his eyes flutter again, threatening a third round of sobbing. The dark words that Deceit had spat out, the mocking lit to each of them left scars of their own. "He doesn't care about me at all. Even if- even if-"

"Even if what?" Remy pressed forwards ruthlessly.

"It didn't feel real. When he started talking, nothing felt real," Roman whispered. He let go of himself to grip at Remy's arms. He couldn't let himself hope. If he hoped and it shattered again, it would take him with it. "But no matter how much I wanted it to be fake, it was right there."

"Well," Remy said, setting his drink down to place a hand over Roman's. "You knew him better than, like, I did. He told me things, but, like, he told you more. He opened up, like, every chance he got. Did he actually tell you that, like, he doesn't love you?"

“Yes,” Roman snapped. “He said- he said ‘if only there was someone who loved you.’ He quoted Hans, Remy! Hans! The Disney character that is known for literally faking his love to get what he wants!”

“Ok, like, first of all, rude. You and he both know that, like, Hecate and I love you.” Remy whacked his arm lightly. “That’s not including all the other hoes in your realm. You are, like, loved more than you think you are. Second, he lies. That’s what he does. And third, gurl-”

Remy reached out with his other hand to pull Roman close. He laughed and Roman felt his shoulders inch down just slightly at the sound. Wildly, for a moment, he thought that Remy was the best thing that ever came from him.

“You told me, like, all about those dark theories that he loves,” Remy said. “Wasn’t the trolls cursing Hans to, like, be evil one of those?” Roman jerked in Remy’s hold and Remy let him go. “So, like, Imma gonna ask again. Did he say, like, outright, that he doesn’t love you?”

"No," Roman croaked. He swallowed thickly, and closed his eyes. Tears slipped out once more and Roman shuddered. He thought about what Deceit said once more. 

All he wanted was a listening ear.

Someone who showed him the love he always wanted.

Oh, how he didn't know how he bled.

He could feel it. The hope catching spark on the ashes and coals it had left behind last time. Implication after implication. Understandings and pauses that he let them fill in with their anger and horror. Virgil's accusations providing the perfect base. Deceit could have said whatever he wanted and Roman knew they would have all come to the same conclusion.

"He-" Roman stumbled again. "But why? Why would he do that?"

"You tell me," Remy shot back. "I'm still, like, sitting in the dark here. No fuckin' clue what's going on. Only that, like, you're here falling to pieces, Tony's gone, and apparently you're no longer the sappy love hoes."

Roman winced.

"Virgil- I mean, the others- I-" Roman stumbled over his words. "I don't- they didn't seem like themselves. Virgil tried-" A lump grew in his throat. Virgil's hand flying up in the corner of his eye and the way that his horror had frozen him into place.

Virgil would never hit him.

Right?

Virgil was the protector. He went overboard at times, but he cared. Patton helped to soften his sharper edges and Logan helped calm him down. They worked better together. Roman wanted to crawl into a hole and never climb out at this rate. Nothing made sense.

Virgil attacking them all. Patton doing nothing. Logan making choices that didn't-

Oh.

Oh.

The hope caught flame, warming him to his very core.

"Apathy," Roman murmured to himself. Deceit's fury when faced with the escaped not-Side made sense now. Deceit knew what damage would come about. Deceit wanted to keep them together. Deceit did what he always did.

"He wanted to protect me," Roman whispered, and Remy smirked at him.

"Hoe played martyr again?"

"I- I hope so," Roman said. Then he shook his head. "No. No, I know it. He- I think he wanted to protect Virgil in a way, too. Protect us from things that we'd regret."

I’d do anything to save you.

"He wanted to protect us from his own mistakes too," Roman murmured. "But why in that way? Why does he think that-"

That he could give himself up in order for the rest of them to get by. He deserved to be happy as much as them. Roman wanted to understand.

"I dunno," Remy said. He pushed off the bed and picked up his cup once more. He wandered towards the balcony and the huge door sized windows there. He took a slow drink, and glanced back at Roman.

"What I do know is, like, Tony pretty much freaked out about being in love." Roman's heart flipped at the words. "Came crying to us, like, the moment he realized. Hecate ended up slappin’ a bitch to get him to calm down. I dunno a lot about him but, like, the one thing I do know is that-"

Remy's cup slipped from his fingers as he glanced out the window. It almost seemed to fall in slow motion. The tea spilled out across the carpet. Remy's words died and a horrified noise came from between his lips. Roman's blood froze in his veins.

He heaved himself out of bed and limped along, using the wall for support to see what had scared Remy.

"What the fuck," Remy whispered. " What the fuck."

Roman gripped his shoulder and used him for support. He looked out the window. His hold on Remy spasmed. His knee tried to buckle and Roman didn't know how he stayed standing as his eyes widened.

The horizon rolled with a storm. Only it wasn't quite a storm. Self-doubts filled the air and swamped the ground. Roman could make out Nightmares dotted between the monstrosities. They filled the sky, blocking out the sun. Deep grey scales blended together and Roman couldn’t count just how many ambled closer and closer to the Capital.

He could see more coming through the barrier that marked the edge of the Imagination.  He couldn’t see it, but he knew that long claws would be tearing through the landscape. All the flowers and trees that he had grown and designed as Thomas grew up dying at the hands of this attack. At the head of them, Roman could just make out a small figure riding one of the winged Self-Doubts.

Apathy amassed an army.

The handkerchief in Roman's hands slipped out of numb fingers, snatched away by the growing wind. Smoke rose through the air, and Roman realized the rolling in his gut wasn't horror from Tony's choices, but Apathy's forces crossing his wards. 

"Evacuate everyone," Roman choked out. "Start an evacuation now." He straightened, and his hand drifted down to his missing leg. "And find me a sword."

"Rom-"

"Now, Remy," Roman snapped. "We don't have time for this." 

"Fine," Remy snapped back. "But fuck you."

Roman watched Remy hurry out of the room, slamming the door behind him. He turned back to the army approaching his city and grimaced. In the distance, black fluttered away. Fitting in a sense. Tony wouldn't be here to help him this time. No one to pull Apathy's attention away from his main target.

He was alone.

Chapter Text

Logan didn't like this. He gritted his teeth and picked up his pace to keep up with Virgil. 

"Virgil," he snapped again. The Imagination's sky darkened above them, losing the color that made it so beautiful. He reached out to tug Virgil back, but Virgil yanked his arm away from his touch.

"What?!" Virgil shouted, turning to face him. It wasn't perfect, but at least it slowed him down from whatever monumental mistake he was about to make. 

"You are not in your right mind," Logan tried to say calmly. It mostly came out stiff. "We should not be here. We need to return to the Mindscape and wait until Roman returns."

"He won't," Virgil said, his feet shifting back and forth. He picked at the seems on his hoodie. Logan's gut tightened. "Deceit got to him, you saw that. Why aren't you listening to me?"

"I am," Logan snapped, "It's you who refuses to listen."

His fingers twitched. He could just reach out and-

Patton shuffled into view in the corner of his eye and Logan froze. He couldn't. Not yet. If he helped Virgil now, then Apathy would win. He needed Roman's help. He needed things in place but if he waited-

"You saw!" Virgil stomped his foot. A child-like action. "We need to make sure that Deceit's influence on Roman is gone! If we don't then we'll never get him back! Roman needs our help!"

"No," Logan said softly, "It is not Roman that needs help. Virgil, please, just trust me."

Virgil shook his head, his hand snapped out. Logan flinched at the motion. Virgil's hand wrapped around Patton's arm and dragged him forward.

"Fine," Virgil snapped. "Be that way. I don't need you. We don't need you. We'll get Roman back on our own. You can thank us later."

Logan felt his heart sink as Virgil turned away and strode forwards once more. He trailed after them, mind racing. He needed to do something. He didn't know what though. He needed to know what Virgil was going to do. He needed to know where Roman was. Where Deceit went. When Apathy planned to strike.

He had thought he could get through this, but-

Logan watched Virgil head for a familiar grey brick building and swallowed thickly.

More and more, it felt like he wouldn't manage it alone.

"Virgil, please," he begged one last time as Virgil gripped the iron gate in front of the School. No matter how much the place gave Logan chills, it wasn't their place to say anything about it. This was Roman's land.

Roman's creations. Roman's love.

If they crossed this line here, Logan wasn't sure what their relationship with Roman would look like later.

Virgil turned to stare at him. Hope rose in Logan's chest. He just needed to get Virgil to listen to him. Virgil trusted him. They could fix this problem without causing more.

"We can just go find Roman and talk about this," Logan said carefully. "Like you said, he needs our help. More so now than ever." Something roared in the distance and Logan resisted the urge to close his eyes in resignation. "We need to find him. Not- not whatever this is."

"You don't understand," Virgil's voice warped over itself. Patton's grey eyes glowed over Virgil's shoulders. Logan didn't need to turn to see that Apathy had chosen to strike now. Flanking Roman on both sides.

If Logan didn't act now than Roman wouldn't make it.

If he didn't act now, then it was likely that Virgil and Patton would be lost after Roman.

"We'll clear the Imagination of Deceit's taint," Virgil said, his own eyes glowing. Logan took a step back. "We'll save everyone. Deceit won't be able to hurt anyone ever again."

"You-" Logan felt his voice die in his throat. One of the Constructs wandered out of the School, and Virgil's eyes turned to it.

"Patton," he said softly. Patton held out his hand and a sword dropped into it. Grey and heavy, Logan recognized it as a long sword.

"Patton, no!" Logan reached out wildly as Patton dashed forward. Logan's fingers brushed against Patton's cardigan as he dashed forwards. Logan squeezed his eyes shut against the splash of blood. He tried not to clamp his hands over his ears as the screaming started.

He flinched away as a hand brushed against his cheek. He opened his eyes. Disgust rolled in his gut at the soft look in Virgil's eyes.

"What have you done?" Logan whispered.

"What we had to," Virgil said firmly. 

Logan swallowed thickly.

"No, no this isn't it," He said, spine straightening. "Virgil if you don't stop-"

"What?" Virgil snapped. "You'll do something about it? You?"

"Yes," Logan said. As Roman would have put it, he threaded steel through his voice and wrapped it around himself. He needed to stop this. For Roman and for Virgil and for Patton. For everyone. They would hate themselves later. "I would stop you."

"How?" Patton's soft hoarse voice, drew a flinch from Logan.

"Simple," he snapped. "By doing what you cannot."

Virgil blinked as Logan ripped away from his touch and dove towards the School. He rolled in through the door and looked at the Constructs panicking around him. He slammed the door shut, and pointed at the lockers. 

"I need a barricade. Quickly!" He slammed his back against the door as it shudders. No one moved. Logan felt like snarling at them all. "Now!" he shouted instead, watching as they leapt into action. 

He studied them, noting the ones without faces and the ones with. He didn't know names but he needed to get as many of them out as he could. One of the taller ones gathered a group and they dragged lockers towards the door. It shuddered again.

Logan closed his eyes and breathed out slowly.

Logically. He thought about. Logically, Virgil wouldn't be able to break through this door. Logan had help holding it now and the human body couldn't produce that much force. He could feel the Conclusion drip down his fingers and the door stopped shuddering.

Virgil's strength would break through soon, but it would buy them time. Logan moved away so they could shove the lockers in front of the door. He turned to meet their eyes or smooth faces. The Constructs stared back at him.

"Hello," he said primly. "My name is Logan. I'm Roman's brother. We're going to get you out of here. Is there another exit?"

"There is!" Logan turned at the voice and kept his face carefully neutral as his doppelganger pushed forwards. A class of children followed after him, fear on each other their faces. “There's a back door that we can use."

"Alright," Logan nodded, "Then in a calm manner please start to head in that direction. Children first. If anyone can fight, and is willing, I would suggest staying back to help buy time."

"But haven’t you blocked them off?" Patton's copy asked quietly. Logan gritted his teeth. A large bang echoed through the hallway and a few scattered screams echoed the sound.

"Not for long, I'm afraid," Logan said softly. "Now, please. Begin to evacuate."

Dad, Logan noted the name on his jacket gripped his arm.

"Thank you," he whispered, and started to usher the children down the hall. A familiar black form slid up to his side.

"So we're all gonna die right?"

"Anxiety, I presume," Logan said dryly. "And-" he paused, glancing over his shoulder as Constructs trickled out. "No, not everyone."

"Cool, cool, cool," Anxiety said darkly, shoving his hands into his pockets. "But you and me? The ones staying behind, yeah?"

Logan blinked at him.

"I would have thought you'd leave with the rest of them."

"You asked for fighters," Anxiety said, rocking on his heels. "I know that we're like- listen man, we're well aware that we're nothing compared to the new and improved versions, or in my case the original but Roman came to us for comfort."

A lump grew in Logan's throat.

"I don't think it worked," Anxiety said darkly,. "But still. He loved us anyways. Always came to visit." He meet Logan's eyes. "I'd like to make it up to him. For helping me exist at all. Even if it wasn't long, I wouldn't have existed at all if-"

Another bang echoed through the hallways. Lockers screeched as they gave an inch. Logan took a deep breath.

"Yup," Anxiety muttered, "We're gonna die. Nice to meet you I guess. Maybe I'll see you in hell."

"We're not going to hell." Logan said softly.

"No you're right, there's no afterlife for us, just non-existence." Anxiety paused. "Don't know if that's a comfort or not. Well, you asked for fighters and I'm the only one here. Maybe we'll save a couple of kids."

"Yes," Logan said. Habit had him reaching out to brush his fingers against Anxiety's. It wasn't Virgil, he knew that logically, but something in his heart ached for this Construct anyways.

Anxiety grinned at him, and Logan couldn't breath. Virgil's crooked grin stared at him. Anxiety shrugged.

"Well, always vaguely craved death. Scared now that it's here-" Another bang, more screeching. Logan's hands started to shake. They needed more time. "-pathetic right?"

(Art done by the wonderful Imyasart)

Anxiety held his hands out and a bow dropped into his hands. He held it out to Logan. Logan stared at it.

"Just take it man, I can only make one thing," Anxiety snapped. "I don't know if you'll use it but it's better than nothing."

Logan took a deep breath.

"Yes," he managed to croak out. He knew that he wouldn't be able to shoot Patton or Virgil, but he could- he could hope the threat of it bought more time. He wrapped his fingers around the wood and breathed in deeply. They faced the doors squarely as only the sounds of hurried sneakers on the floor filled the halls.

"If it helps," Logan murmured, rocking back on his heels, "It was a pleasure to meet you as well."

"Huh," Anxiety tilted his head to the side. "That's a first."

The door slammed open. Logan dove down to avoid the way that the lockers flew across the hall. Screams started up again. Logan closed his eyes and gripped the bow in his hands even tighter. He swung it up and pointed the arrow that appears in it at Virgil's face.

"I would suggest that you cease and desist," Logan said lowly. Virgil stared at him.

"Oh," Virgil said softly, "I get it. Deceit got to you too."

Logan let out a frustrated noise. 

"There is no threat from Deceit!" Logan snapped. "Why can't you-!"

He shout cut off as Anxiety barrel past him and slammed into Patton. Logan breathed, not letting his eyes stray from Virgil's stiff form. Anxiety would not make it. They both knew that. Logan would not win against Virgil. The goal was time. Stalling was all they could do.

"I'm sorry, Lo," Virgil said softly. "But once I finish this we'll help you next."

"If this is your way of helping, then I refuse," Logan said. His hands shook. The arrow wouldn't stay steady. He couldn't bring himself to pull back on the string. It wasn't Virgil. Not really. He knew that, but the terror that Virgil inspired was more than real enough for it.

Virgil took a step forward. Logan's braced himself. Virgil vanished. Logan's heart skipped a beat.

Pain slammed into his foot and the bow snapped. He flew to the side, slamming against the wall. Logan blinked stars away from his vision. Virgil towered over him, almost hovering.

"Don't get up," Virgil said, "I think I broke your leg. Just- just stay there and we'll make everything better. Promise." He hesitated. "I'm sorry."

Logan let his eyes slide shut as a strangled scream came from Anxiety. Logan's hands trembled even more.

"I know," Logan said softly, watching the way that Virgil relaxed at the words. "Which is why I can't let you do this."

Logically, he wasn't real. Which meant that his leg couldn't be broken. He had no leg to break. The Conclusion wrapped around his leg. Logan surged to his feet and dove past Virgil. Screams sounded out behind him, and he could only pray that some of the Constructs had escaped. He glanced back.

“Logan!” Virgil shouted, reaching for him. Logan shook his head. He turned his back on Virgil; he’d done all he could here. He needed to warn Roman about Patton and Virgil. Roman needed help. Logan needed Roman to help Virgil and Patton.

Logically, that meant that Logan needed to find Roman.

He needed to find Roman right now.

Blood splattered to his right, and Anxiety’s body hit the ground with a dull thud. Logan caught a glimpse of the wound that dug deep into his chest and the anger that twisted Anxiety’s face. Their eyes meet briefly, black and brown mixed in mutual fear, Anxiety's glazing over. Logan turned his head away. He blinked rapidly. He glanced back again and sucked in a deep breath. Anxiety’s body disappeared, but the puddle of smeared blood on the ground would haunt him.

Logan spun on his heel and sprinted away as fast as he could. He tuned out Virgil's shouts. He jumped over the steps of the building’s entrance and hit the ground running. He dug his fingers into the collar of his shirt and found the small communication device that he had hidden there.

"We need to move," he said into it, "We need to strike now. Get it and get out."

"You got it," the voice crackled back and Logan ripped the device out of his collar. He crushed it in his hand and let it drop. It disappeared into the ground. Logan sucked in a sharp breath. For a  moment he could have sworn he felt the Imagination rise up to wrap energy around him.

Logan shook his head again and turned towards the castle that hung in the distance. A distance that grew even smaller by the minute. Self-defense, Logan thought numbly. The Imagination trying to contain the damage by keeping it in as small an area as possible.

It worked in his favor at least. Logan knew, he didn't know how but he just knew that he could sprint to that castle. The castle that Roman would no doubt be in. Drama and crying in a tower fit with Roman's personality perfectly. A small black cloth fluttered past him, and Logan reached out to grab it.

The handkerchief that Deceit gave Roman. 

Logan's eyes darted to the approaching army of monsters. He didn't dare turn around to see if Virgil had followed him or the carnage that they'd be leaving behind. He tucked the black cloth into his pocket. He pushed himself to run even faster.

He'd find Roman.

He had too.

Chapter Text

Tony ripped his cape from his shoulders, and gripped it in his hands. He eyed the Self-Doubts passing him by as they strode into the Imagination. Apathy, no doubt ahead of them. He scowled darkly. He didn't have much Belief left but he could pull a few more tricks.

He pushed just enough to hide his presence into his cape and held it to his chest. He slid into the crowd around him and let them carry him into the Imagination. The golden light caressed him as he entered and he allowed himself one moment to bask in the feeling, in the quick surge of energy before the familiar feel of wind brushed against his cheek.

Tony glanced around, and noting grimly that they had entered near the swamp. He slipped away from the army and glanced around. He needed to do something about the numbers. Roman's forces would never be able to stand against all of these. The swamp could be something that he could use.

Maybe.

Tony eyed them all again once more. Ropes looped around their backs, each one of them. They shuffled forward single mindedly, just like-

Just like Patton.

Tony sucked in a sharp breath. Apathy had influenced them somehow. Tony narrowed his eyes. Apathy had been taking food and ropes from the Mind Palace, the waters from the River. That meant he needed them for something. Tony hung his cape over one shoulder and wadded into the deeper part of the swamp. Muck and water reached his thighs.

Tony closed his eyes and dipped a hand into the water. The Imagination thrummed around him. For a moment he could feel the curious tug of Remus, familiar as the connection that Tony had made with him. Tony shook his head and bared his teeth.

He could deal with this himself.

The feeling of Remus disappeared. The Imagination thrummed with fear and anger. 

"Use that," Tony whispered. He wanted to Believe. He Believed that the Imagination could hear him. He could remember the way that Roman made it tug Luke away into the depths. "Protect him. Protect yourself. You know you can."

Creativity thrived when encouraged. Tony know that intimately from two different Sides. He could feel the energy that both Remus and Roman had sunk into this section of Thomas' mind. He couldn't call it alive, but it could definitely act without direction from either of them.

Like the Constructs, only so much more vast and so much more simple. 

Tony simply gave it the push that it needed.

He bared his teeth triumphantly as the ground rolled underneath him. The feeling of the Imagination brushed around him like a comforting wind before it roared past him. Trees creaked as the ripped themselves from their roots. The water gurgled as it rose, a tentacled monster of its own.

The very land turned against the Self-Doubt that wanted to tear Roman down. Tony let out a triumphant cackle and turned his sight to the flying Self-Doubts that had already reached the Capital. He didn't know where Roman or Remy were, which meant that Apathy had the advantage over him. Apathy had more forces to look with. But.

Tony did know where Apathy was. He could do something about that. He tried to straighten and bit down on his lip to keep from crying out in pain from his wound. He pressed his hand against it and let out a slow breath. He didn't have too long, but he had to do this. He closed his eyes and braced himself.

Then he slogged through the swap and took to the skies.  The form that he twisted into felt strange and weird. The grey scales weighed down on him, but when in Rome, and all that shit. Tony felt dirty taking the form of a Self-Doubt, and he doubted that any true Side wouldn't be able to tell the difference. But it worked for him for now.

He let out a roar and dove towards the Capital. He slid past the warring defensive and offensive fighting, eyes fixed on Apathy's form standing on the back of the Self-Doubt hovering over the city. More of them circled Apathy, diving down into the City and bringing screams with them. He took a deep breath and took a risk. He shifted forms again, making a note of it in his mind. Four. He had four left.

His feet landed on the Self-Doubt that Apathy towered over. The beast was large enough that Tony barely felt the way that its wings flapped. He gasped as Apathy's hand snapped out and wrapped around his neck.

"I thought," Apathy said softly, "I told you to stay put."

"Yes-" Tony wheezed as Apathy's grip loosened just enough to let him talk, "But you see-" His eyes skittered over the city. The way that smokes started to rise as fires spread. Hecate roared and dove at one of the large Self-Doubts. More dragons rose over the horizon to meet the army. It wouldn't be enough. Or it might be.

It would be enough for the Self-Doubt but it wouldn't work if Roman died.

Tony took a deep breath.

"See, I think," Tony wheezed, "That you know the truth." He took a gamble. "That I never loved Roman." Apathy's head turned to him and tilted to the side. "But see-" He spasmed as Apathy's grip tightened for a moment.

"God, you have no sense of drama," Tony muttered, "But see, there's a reason I did the whole little lovey dovey song and dance. That idiot-" Tony swallowed as Apathy faced him fully, "I know where that idiot keeps his core now."

Apathy's eyes glowed.

"And I-" Apathy dropped him, and Tony fell to his knees with a cough. He rubbed his hand against his throat and took a shuddering breath. "I know when to jump a sinking ship. Can't beat them, join them. Just-" Tony hesitated. "Just keep Thomas alive."

"I will help Thomas the way that none of you have," Apathy said softly. Tony bit back a snarl at the implications. Bastard. Fucker would tear Thomas apart. He pressed his hands against the rough scales of the Self-Doubt, and bowed his head.

"You really are a snake," Apathy mused. Tony held himself steady. "Show me."

Tony felt his mouth twitch into a smile, hidden by his hat and bowed head.

“Gladly," he murmured. "It is to the east." He pointed away from the city. Away from the mountains. Away from where Roman and Remy would feasibly be. He just needed a Construct. Any would do.

Apathy nodded. He stomped his foot down on the Self-Doubt and it twisted, flying off in the direction that Tony had pointed.

"Know this," Apathy said softly, "That if you are lying, You will feel pain that you have never imagined."

"Oh," Tony muttered, "You don't have to worry about that."

He closed his eyes, feeling the way that the Imagination stretched around them. Longer and longer. They might even stretch into infinity, just the two of them, for the rest of time. Tony would probably get discorporated over and over again until he went insane, but at least Thomas' Passion- at least Roman would survive.

Then, suddenly- 

He felt it wrench.

He glanced down at the sudden road that appeared beneath them. His heart sank as he took in the two Constructs there. He would recognize the sunglasses anywhere.

"Well, then," Apathy whispered, "It seems for once you were telling the truth." Tony's stomach dropped as they swooped down. The Self-Doubt’s claws dug into the road as they landed. He met Remy's eyes as Seth pushed Remy behind him. Their faces paled and eyes widened.

Tony clenched his jaw. No turning back now. He oozed off of the Self-Doubt and sauntered forward.

"Well, well, well," Tony waved a hand at them, "Roman's core and his bodyguard.”

"Tony, what the hell-"

"I told you," Tony cut Remy off, raising his voice. "Though it seems that Roman's better at keeping his core safe than I thought." He sidled up next to Seth's wary gaze and grinned. He knew that it didn't reach his eyes. Behind his back, he crossed his fingers. He heard Remy breath in sharply.

"Don't you dare-" Remy muttered.

"See, I would have thought you'd be in some town," Tony said, looking Seth in the eye. "Roman does like to keep you in places that he can check up on and last I knew, you were in the town down the way there." He waved off into the distance. He had no idea if there was actually a town but, god, he needed Seth to play along.

He watched Seth’s throat bob. He could feel the way that Seth straightened under his arm. He met his eyes and nodded. Just enough that up close, Tony could see it, but Apathy on his towering Self-Doubt wouldn't.

"I was visiting Roman after you broke his heart," Seth accused quietly. An answer without being an answer. Tony almost wished that he had more time to get to know the Construct. At least now, he had no guilt throwing him to the wolves.

"Ah, well you know, things happen," Tony said breezily.

"Wait!" Remy shouted and Tony felt his face fall blank. Not now. He couldn't let Remy prove just how much he was like Roman right now. "He's not the core! That's-"

"Ah ah ah," Tony waggled his finger in Remy's direction. "I can't believe that you're trying to lie to me. Me! Master of lies. I do appreciate that Roman's instilled you all with the greater good. Makes it so much easier to trick you."

"You won't get away with this," Seth said quietly.

"Ah, darling," Tony patted his cheek. Half an apology and half an act. "I already have." He stepped away from Seth as Apathy towered over them. He swept his hat off in a bow and backed up as Seth stared Apathy down. He let his feet carry him back to Remy.

He swept his cape off and threw it over Remy's shoulders.

"Get ready,” he hissed.

"You," Apathy said and Tony did his best not to stiffen. Seth straightened his shoulders and met Apathy head on. Steady and reliable as the month he was named after. "Executing you will lead to my ultimate success."

"You won't get away with this either," Seth said. Tony grabbed Remy's arm and started to tug him away. Remy struggled against him for a moment. Tony glared at him.

"Now is not the time," Tony whispered. "If you die, Roman dies. Let Seth do this for the both of you."

Cruel. Tony watched the way that Remy flinched. He would be alright with losing Remy's friendship if it meant that he survived. He glanced over his shoulder and caught sight of Apathy placing a hand on the Self-Doubt’s scales. The Self-Doubt’s claws raised into the air.

He glanced away as it came down, catching the light as it did. Seth's screams rang through the air. Tony's jaw ached from how hard he clenched it but he didn't turn back. He tightened his grip on Remy's arm and lead Roman's true core farther and farther away from the danger.

Apathy would make it hurt. Apathy would make it last. Seth would die screaming and bloody but it would buy them much needed time. Tony took a deep breath, and pushed the image of Seth's arm dropping to the ground away. He wanted to forget the white of bone and how blood turned grey stone a brilliant red.

He felt the Imagination shift around them again. He let Remy go as they stood outside the ruins of the Capital’s walls. He turned to face Remy. Remy’s fist collided with his face. Tony let out a wheeze as he stumbled back. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to ride out the pain. Remy shouted something but he couldn’t make it out through the way that his ears rang.

“Bastard!” He caught and Tony breathed in sharply. “You had- you had no right!”

“Does it matter?” Tony snapped. Remy trembled in front of him. “You’re alive.”

“Just because you love Roman-”

“It’s not just about Roman!” Remy stared at him. Tony closed his eyes again and tried to steady himself.

“Thomas, then,” Remy said flatly.

“Oh my god,” Tony said, tilting his head up to the sky. “You’re as moronic about this as Roman. You think I would go out of my way for just anyone? I wouldn’t hurt you for Thomas but I don’t-” He slammed his mouth shut. He pressed his hand against the wall, feeling the rough texture of it. “Excuse me for choosing my best friend over a complete stranger.”

Tony pushed himself off the wall and looked away from Remy. 

“Keep the cape on,” he muttered, “It will keep you hidden. Find a safe place to hide. Once you’re in the shadows, no one will be able to find you. I need to-” He turned towards the Capital and the chaos inside. He needed to find Roman. He needed to make sure he was fine. Then he’d figure out how the hell he’d deal with Apathy.

Remy’s hand caught on his arm. Tony froze. He appreciated the fact that Remy didn’t grip his broken wrist.

“You don’t get to run away from this,” Remy said, his voice wavering. “You have to come back. You have to come back so I can kick your ass over your choices.”

Tony looked at him. He carefully pried Remy’s hand from his arm, and he smiled. He wondered what it looked like from Remy’s end, but he hoped that it was convincing. He knew of one way to defeat Apathy now. It might not come to it, but Tony didn’t survive this long on hope. He leaned in and pressed his forehead against Remy’s before pulling away.

“Of course,” he murmured, the lie sweet against his lips. “I’d never do anything else. Stay safe.”

He turned and vanished into the smoke before Remy could say anything else.

Chapter Text

Virgil gripped the knives in his hands hard enough that he couldn't feel his fingers. He left a trail of blood behind him as he stalked into the city. Those creatures swarmed above them, and Virgil bared his teeth at them. It was low of Deceit to attack Roman like this after already having torn his heart out. He was going to wring that fucking snakes's neck.

"Virgil," Patton murmured. His voice sounded wrong. Virgil twitched and faced him. "It would be faster to find Roman if we split up."

"Right, right, right," Virgil nodded. "We might find Logan too that way."

"Yes," Patton murmured.

"We need to- to- to-" Virgil wanted to scratch at his skin and the way that it crawled. Everything felt wrong. He was making things better but it didn't feel that way the longer this went one. He didn't know what to do. But Patton would stop him if he went too far.

Right?

His twitched as Logan's words came b