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It Was Never That Simple

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They followed Cross through several hallways. Each step ached horribly for three of them, though beyond somewhat labored breathing, and the soft drips of blood, nobody really knew. Reaper pushed Geno down the hall in his wheelchair. Not that Geno couldn't walk, but he barely seemed cognizant of the world around him. All the while, the conscious husbands glared at the back of Nightmare's most loyal second.

Just as one of them was about to say something, they reached a door that... looked strangely-

Reaper and Error hissed, with the former snarling, "Are you fucking kidding me?!"

It looked exactly like the front door of where their kids were at right now. Like their real home.

Instead of entering through the door, Cross turned around to face the small group. Despite his wounds, he still wore that damn emotionless mask that made him look so uncaring of everything taking place.

"These are your new quarters," he informed them, blatantly leaving the familiar door unaddressed. "Although you'll soon be allowed more freedom, you're to remain behind this door unless told otherwise, though there should be no reason for wishing to leave with everything you've been provided with. You have the rest of the night to rest, but tomorrow morning I'll be retrieving you as always. Any questions?"

"Yeah," Error growled, stepping forward, "I have questions, Cross. I have a lot of questions, actually. When you say you'll be retrieving us, who do you mean? Me, Ink, and Reaps? Or Geno, too?"

Eyes blank, the other second answered blandly, "Geno is to remain within your quarters. Nightmare has included a space for him to relax while he awaits your returns. He personalized it himself."

"I see..." Nodding in understanding, Error took another step closer. "Uh huh, okay. And will he be bothered while left alone? Actually, no, let me rephrase that."

Snarling, Error lunged forward and slammed Cross up against the door. "Are you going to fucking rape my brother when we're not there to stop it?!"

Cross met his gaze, seeming like he was piling his guard up more and more. "If you're planning to kill me, then just do it. Or go through Nightmare to request a formal fight-to-the-death with me." His voice dropped, "Surely, you'd want the second title all to yourself again? After all, Nightmare hasn't properly welcomed you back home." His eyes slid to Ink. "Besides, not sure how he'll take a death so close to him, " and he met Error's glare again, half-shrugging, "but it's all your choice."

Following Cross' gaze to Ink when the other second looked his first husband's way, Error faltered. Ink... Would dusting affecting Ink just like- he froze, gaze sliding back to Cross and the tightness of his neutral smile. He's still hurt.

And Error just slammed him against the wall with his empath husband right there.

Protectiveness for Ink surged to life, strong enough to twist his anger into worry. "Get out of here," he demanded, releasing Cross and stepping back to rejoin his family. "Just... leave. I'm sick of looking at your face."

Without so much of a blink, Cross smoothed out his wrinkled, torn shirt the best he could before turning on his heel and striding away. "See you tomorrow." he murmured just before turning the corner.

Growling under his breath, the destroyer turned to the door. *Hopefully, there's a first aid-" his thoughts stilled, eyes catching on the small purple smear left on the wood to the entrance. "...Inky, are you holding up okay?" he murmured, dragging his gaze from the blood to the shiny doorknob. "What about you, Reaps?"

Before either could answer, he pushed up the door, intent on searching out whatever supplies they were given to help his husband's with their wounds.

They were greeted with the opening to their house but... more sterile. It was as if it were freshly renovated, but everywhere they looked, it was renter's white with toxic green accents. A sick reflection of their true home.

None of them wanted to deal with this...

But still, Reaper murmured, "I'm..." he trailed off and looked to Ink.

"I'm more fine than you are Reaps, we need to get your wounds checked," the artist said.

"You have both of our-"

"I heal faster than the rest of you." Both the god and the destroyer suspected that was true, but- "Worry about yourselves first, okay? Please? I can manage, you two, and... and we have more important things to worry about." To make where his concern lied clear, Ink turned to look at Geno, anxiety visible in his eyes. "....It feels like he's trapped behind a veil...." he whispered.

A distressed noise slipped past Reaper's mouth, talons melding back into blunt phalanges as he reached out and gently cupped Geno's cheek. "Is... do you think we can bring him out of it...?" he questioned worriedly.

Gently ushering Reaper inside, Ink worked through the lingering pain of his copied wounds in order to take over pushing Geno. "I... I don't know, honey." The admission hurt, but it was the only truthful response Ink had. "It's- trying to sense him is like trying to find your way through the fog. I know what he's feeling, but... but I can't tell where he is."

"I... don't understand." The god murmured, knowing that Ink didn't mean where Geno was physically but still unsure of just what that actually meant. "Ink-"

Error pressed his palms into Reaper's chest, carefully pushing him backwards until he stood before the sofa. "If you're going to talk, then at least sit down, okay? Both of you. I... I'm going to find supplies."

"Check the bathroom, under the sink-" Ink blinked, glancing around and remembering that this wasn't really their home. The realization stung, though that may have just been the tears stringing his sockets as they fell from his eyes. "U-um... maybe we'll just use some towels...?" He pushed Geno closer to Reaper then carefully sat down next to him, letting out a soft whimper with the way his lower back shot pain through the rest of his body.

Error disappeared upstairs, and Reaper turned to Ink. "Inky... I'm-"

"Don't apologize," Ink forced a smile at Reaper, gaze soft yet blurred. "I would've been more upset with you if you didn't fight." Ink turned over one of his hands, showing Reaper the palm that had a cut the exact size and shape of Reaper's own. "You already know I feel emotions, hon, and that I see them. They're like... they're like colorful auras. Like, the air around and within you shimmers- um..." Ink's brows pursed together. "It's... like.... so what you're seeing now? Imagine a second layer, that's somehow on top, inside, and behind Geno. That second layer would be his emotions. I can't see anything in front of or behind him, only inside him. Like he's trapped inside."

Reaper stared at Geno, frowning slightly, then looked back to Ink. "I'm not sure I fully get it..."

"He's... it's like he's dreaming, but he's..." Ink looked down. "He's alive in there, but he's not aware of us? Or not fully aware? But wherever he is in his mind..." he stopped himself. Telling Reaper that Geno was scared wouldn't help any of them. Geno would still be scared, and Reaper would just beat himself up over being unable to help his first. He clenched his jaw, wincing at the pain in his tongue. "We'll help him find his way back to us, Reaps..."

Worry shown in Reaper's eyes. "...Inky, can... can you...?" he paused there, nauseated sorrow clogging his throat and sealing off his words.

Smiling reassuringly, Ink covered Reaper's split palm with his own and lightly held his hand. He didn't dare apply much pressure, but the intent to comfort was there. "Can I...?"

He wanted to tease. To ask if Ink wanted to try healing their tongues through a kiss or anything else that may lighten the mood. Reaper desperately wanted to joke or wave away the question lingering on his tongue.

He wanted to not have to ask at all.

"...Is... c-can... can you feel anything else?" he whispered. "I... I don't really know how your abilities work, but- if..." closing his eyes, he carefully squeezes the artists' hand. "...Can you feel if it’s true? I... stars, Inky, I'm sorry to ask, but I don't want to check. Fuck, I hate that we even have to."

A surprised blink and silence greeted Reaper's request, but... Ink thought about it.

"I thought you had shields to protect your heart..." Ink murmured, not seeming all that there as he leaned in over the blade to look Cross in the eye. "...but maybe I was wrong. All that good Dream thought was inside you...? Maybe it was a lie. Because I use to say shit like that when I didn't have a soul. Maybe you're being cruel because you don't have a fucking heart!"

Cross flinched back, his blade retreating with him. "I-"

Ink only stepped in closer, red tears fading into a deep, sorrowful blue as he followed Cross' retreat. "We're not done crying yet, Cross. For all we know, neither is Error. Heh, maybe Geno isn't-"

Fingers curled into his shirt, Geno weakly tugged him closer as he whimpered and cried, "P-please... please, p-please stay. D-don't... don't leave me a-alone. Please, d-don't leave m-me here. H-he'll come back! P-please, C-Cross, he'll come back! Please d-don't leave m-me!"

At once, Ink and Cross stumbled away from one another, their sockets wide and panicked as they stared each other down.

It wasn't Ink's shirt Geno was gripping and begging. It was Cross' shirt. Cross' memory.

Cross' blue.

Ink slowly looked over to Geno. To the icy white fear hidden behind that veil. He hadn't been able to see Cross' colors, but it hadn't seemed to matter... maybe he could...? N-no... no, if one or both of them had hurt, had t-touched Geno, Ink didn't want to see it...! Didn't want to feel it or experience-

He set his jaw. If Geno experienced it, then I- no, we need to know.

….Right…?

"Inky...? I-if you can't-"

"I think I can," he whispered. "I... I'm not sure... if I'm thinking about this right... the first time I did this, it was accidental, but..." he nodded. "I'm going to try-"

"Try what?" Error asked.

Reaper looked over to him, seeing his arms full of all sorts of bandages and anti-bacterial ointment. No anti-scarring creams though.

Ink's sockets were on Geno. "I'm going to discover the truth." He spoke with more certainty than he was voicing to Reaper just seconds ago.

Error followed his eyes, brows furrowed in confusion before the realization set in. "No!" he hissed, carefully nudging Geno back with his foot and stepping to hide his brother from Ink's sight. "Inky- Ink, no."

"Error-"

"NO!" the destroyer barked, glaring down at Ink with narrowed sockets full of fear. "Ink, I don't know what the fuck you think you're about to try, but... no. Just... just no. You're an empath, idiot. Not some- you're not a fucking fortune teller, or some shit like that. Just...leave him alone, idiot." his voice softened. "Please? I... stars, we can't risk it, okay? Whatever truth you're looking for in his emotions, we can't risk hurting him more to find it."

Emotions...? Ink's sockets widened slightly. Error didn't know. About the... the images? Visions? Whatever they really were, Ink was never able to inform his family about just what he actually saw. There was never any time to describe it. "Ru, I-"

"No."

"Error-"

"Ink, please," Error begged. "Just drop it, okay? Please?"

Reaper, though guilty for suggesting Ink's aid, tried to argue. "Ru, hon, we... we need to know if it's true. If they- if..." peering around Error, the god withheld a sob at the dull expression his first wore. "If he's actually pregnant, we have to know. It- it's Gen's baby, Ru." Geno's. Not Nightmare's, or Cross'. The baby was Geno's, because Reaper wasn't sure if he could handle thinking otherwise at the moment. "H-he'll need things, hon. Bigger meals, c-comfort... Ru, how else are we supposed to find out?"

"The old fashion way." Error hissed. "Check."

"Check for what, Error?" Ink cried out. "Bruises? Trauma?"

"Tch," Error turned towards his brother, murmuring an apology before gently lifting his shirt up.

To reveal Geno's ecto fully formed. As if readying to house a souling within it. Or... maybe there was a souling already inside? It was hard to tell with the saturation of Geno's ecto.

"It's... his ecto isn't being forced..." Reaper whispered.

Overcome with emotion, Error tightly closed his eyes and let his brother's shirt slip from his grasp. "...There's your answer, Reaps." he choked, the denial he unknowingly clung to crumbling in the face of evidence.

Reaper's voice failed him, what would have been a mournful noise dying before it even left his throat. "N...no..." No, no, no. Not their Geno. Not their Gen! "No, that- w-we..." his tears went unnoticed, the warmth of his sorrow buried under the layers of ice chilling him straight down to his core. "...We need to help him. I... I mean, he- Geno's-"

Ink gripped Reaper's hand tightly, the pain that bloomed from their cuts joining grounding him to the present he wasn't sure he wanted to live. "We'll take care of them, Reaps. B-both of them."

Error could bring himself to open his eyes. It was too early for Geno to show, but he couldn't look at his brother's face knowing that he failed him this badly. "...Both...?" he whispered, tears slipping pass clenched sockets. That wasn't their kid. Why should they-

But it's Geno's. And it- they were just a baby, too young to even form the shape of a soul. They weren't responsible for what happened to his brother, just a result of it.

A reminder of Geno's abuse.

But an innocent SOUL.

Ink shook his head, but bit back every denial he wanted to voice. He... he needed-

He needed to know for certain.

"Ink, please," Error begged. "Just drop it, okay? Please?"

He can't. But he rose from the couch and wheeled Geno into the dining room, murmuring to him, "We're gonna get Reaps patched up, then get you cozy in bed, okay hon...?" He knew he wouldn't get a response, but...

He turned back towards his other husbands, murmuring wearily, "C'mon... we've got some wounds to wrap..."

———

Their dinner wasn't very exciting. Just a simple and quick pasta dish that nobody really felt like eating. They showered, re-wrapped wounds, then got themselves situated in the same room. Nobody really bothered to check the other rooms, having run out of the mental energy to do so, so they picked the first room that was upstairs and set it up for the four of them. Error made hammocks for Reaper and Ink, being aware of their injuries, then a hammock for himself. Geno was tucked into the bed, though Reaper desperately wished his everything hurt less enough that he could hold his first. Lights went out fairly soon, and Ink watched the colors of his husbands soothe into the muted colors of sleep.

But he couldn't shut his mind down.

I need to know, I need to know, I need to know-

He took Geno's limp hand into his own bandaged one and closed his eyes. Okay... okay similar emotions... Stars, he had no idea what he was doing..! Maybe he should take Error's advice and-

He set his jaw. No. No, we need to know, before one of us does something drastic to him... Eyes dropping down to their hands, it occurred to Ink that this might be drastic, but he shook that thought aside. Instead, he focused on the icy white that was stronger, but still hidden behind the veil. Geno was so scared... but so was Ink. What if he does something to Geno and it actually does fuck him up? What if Geno never wakes up...? What if-?

Ink blinked, finding himself in a dark room with a single light. His mind felt heavier, and he held himself around the midsection. He found himself wondering what time it was, and where his husbands were. Were they even okay?

Oh... Ink blinked again-

"You won't say anything.”

Nightmare...!

"I know you won't." Ink couldn't see the bastard through the darkness though, but his voice continued, calling Geno's name with Error's, then Reaper's, then-

Ink growled, temporarily losing focus and being pulled away from the memory. He shook his head. White. White fear, not red anger. Each breath soothed his anger, until he let himself drift back into Geno's fear.

Fingers curled into his shirt, Geno weakly tugged Cross closer as he whimpered and cried, "P-please... please, p-please stay. D-don't... don't leave me a-alone. Please, d-don't leave m-me here. H-he'll come back! P-please, C-Cross, he'll come back! Please d-don't leave m-me!"

The same memory from Cross, but this time, it was from Geno's perspective. Stars, Cross' expression though. He looked... torn-

"Geno! Geno! Geno!!" the voice was so loud, yet... it felt so distant. Cross came into his vision, panic in his-

"The night's still young, Genocide..." Nightmare's voice purred, though Geno whimpered and inched away, "...why don't we have some FUN?"

Ink jolted out of the fear, gasping and sweating. He stumbled off the bed, crashing to the floor and crying out when his broken ribs shifted out of place.

Error was awake almost instantly. He whipped his gaze around, until it settled on Ink.

"Ink, you fucking-"

"Ru."

One word.

One name, and only half of the actual nickname at that.

Ink's mutter was so quiet that a whisper would have easily spoken over him, but Error heard him loud and clear. Heard the wet, breathy quality that hinted at pain paired with blood. You fucking idiot, he wanted to scream, but Reaper was lost in exhaustion and Ink...

Ink was crying.

"...Hey, no..." Error whispered, swallowing anger to let his softened voice flow. "Inky, please don't cry. I know it probably hurts like a bi-"

"It was Nightmare," Ink rasped, slumping forward to rest his head on Error's shoulder in a manner that jostled his out of place ribs. "I... I don't know a-about Cross for sure, but... b-but," a sob was muffled into his husband's shirt, "Nightmare hurt him, Ru."

"How... how do you-?"

"I tried to tell you..." he whispered. "It's.... I saw something... wh-when you... when our alarm- w-with Cross-"

"Ink..."

"Error, I... I thought I saw Geno clinging to my shirt, b-but it wasn't my shirt, it was h-his, and I just-"

He connected the dots pretty quickly. "You thought you might be able to see something with Geno...?"

"T-to know for sure... b-but it's... I still don't know...!" he cringed and looked down to his ribs, where his blood was already making a mess of his shirt. His first glanced down too, cursing softly.

Error helped Ink lean against the bed, muttering, "Don't move. At all." Ink shut his eyes, unbeknownst to him of the white and purple tears flowing from those closed sockets.

With his eyes closed, what little solace he had of being with his husbands was snatched away. In place of the darkness provided by his closed sockets, he saw the darkness of wherever it was that Geno's torment had taken place.

Dark... so, so dark... This type of shadow was a different hell than the blank whiteness Ink feared.

It was deep.

Unending.

So, so cold...

In a way, he almost preferred the blank anti-void.

There's no shadows to hide in there... There was no horror to conceal behind thick darkness.

"Ink...?" Error called.

"Geno!" Error shouted.

His eyes snapped open, chest heaving as reality and mockery merged for a brief, terrifying moment. Nightma-!

Error met his eyes with a frown, the wraps from the first aid kit held in his hands.

Ink shuddered, trying to control his breathing as his gaze focused on Error. "Fr-" he stopped. No... no special nicknames here. It wasn't something they'd discussed explicitly, but if Nightmare learned about them...

Error's gaze softened as understanding sunk into him, though his frustration that Ink didn't listen still lingered within him. He knelt down next to Ink, muttering, "If you had stayed in the hammock, your ribs probably would've healed already."

Softer than a whisper, Ink replied, "I think it's because Reaps and I are so close together..." Carefully, he lifted his shirt up and over his head. Error glanced at his sternum, where the marks mirroring Cross' injuries lay. Though Ink had taken what sounded like a hard fall onto his chest, his sternum wasn't bleeding. Just the floating ribs on one side.

Not that it mattered too much. As soon as Cross comes by tomorrow, Ink's gonna be in pain... Stars dammit...!

Ink covered Error's hand, "Ru. Honey, don't worry so much about me, okay...?" he tried for a smile that he couldn't feel.

"Shut up," Error muttered, looking at the ribs. "J-just.... why? Why do you have to be such an idiot...? Why can't you....?"

"Ru..." he squeezed Error's hand. "Hon, we... we all fell for it..."

"Yeah?" Error narrowed his eyes at his first. "Well, I should've seen it. I should've seen the game he was playing. All I saw was Geno in danger. I ignored the signs. I should have known! Because I was his fucking second! I... I failed you all."

Ink moved closer, cringing at the tugging in his ribs. He kissed Error softly, murmuring against his grin, "Error, you didn't fail us."

"Like hell I didn't." It wasn't a shout. Error's voice ever raised a single bit in volume, but the defeated tone made the words so much more impacting than screaming could ever manage. "I should have known, Ink. Out of everyone in this castle, I'm the one who had all the pieces they needed to figure out his plan. I know how he works, Ink. I... I know."

And that... that was the worst part of it. Error knew. He knew so much more than he was sure Ink realized. The disgusting, lewd comments, Nightmare's searching hands... he thought they were just to get a rise out of him, but he of all people should have known the difference between that disgusting creature toying with his prey and showing real, unnerving interest.

Ge, I'm sorry... He could have saved him. He should have saved him.

Error should have saved them all, damnit.

"I'm sorry..."

The wave of regret, self-loathing, exhaustion all left Ink sagging against the bed slightly. "...honey... please.... please don't beat yourself up. What's done is done. It's shitty and we have to deal with the consequences and the aftermath, but it's done. So, let's try and get Geno to wake up before we decide anything okay? But before that, maybe we should sle-"

"Like what you should've been doing?"

"Yeah," Ink took in a breath, and stared at the floor. "....Yeah.... but you're also the second, aren't you...? Why are we four still limited to a smaller area...?"

Unrolling the new bandages, Error took up the task of fitting Ink's two broken ribs back into place as gently as he could. To give Ink something to focus on beyond his own pain, he sighed and murmured, "...He doesn't trust us."

Ink frowned, "So...? Ru, he has to know we won't risk doing anything impulsive when he has-" his eyes flicked in Geno's direction. "...The same risk remain. Nightmare has the upper hand. So why limit us? Trust or no trust?"

"Ink," Error sighed, "if you were left alone for a hour and you were sure no one would catch you snooping, would you search for Geno's SOUL?"

Barely a second passed before his answer came. "Of course!"

Error shot him a deadpan look.

It took a second for Ink to catch up. "...oh...."

Error continued working on his ribs. "Exactly. You need to earn his trust. You-" You're going to have to go against everything you stand for... "...should stop worrying about it right now..."

I can't see you doing that, Inky... The destroyer watched Ink's expression fade into a contemplative but distant one. But I know you'll try... stars, why'd I fall for this dumbass...?

"About your eyes-"

Error tensed, shoulders brushing the side of his skull as he tried to brace for what he knew would come. Mockery, ridicule... his eyes were strange, he knew. Misshapen, mismatched... ugly, even.

"-they're so pretty! I've never seen anyone with eyes like yours!"

In the darkness of the bedroom, a light blush colored Error's cheeks, thankfully too soft for the glow to be noticeable. Idiot... he thought, expertly knotting the bandages before brushing away the tears that gathered on the protector's cheeks during his aid. "Get some rest, Inky. We have an early start tomorrow."

"I'll try..." he murmured, looking to him. There wasn't much to say beyond those words. Fairly quickly, they got themselves comfortable again and fell asleep.