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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.

Chapter Text

Error and Reaper woke up just before their alarm went off. Ink was sitting in the room, fiddling with an unsharpened pencil. He murmured a good morning when he felt their colors sharpen with awareness, but otherwise didn't turn towards them. "There's some snacks on the dresser. Cross should be coming by in another half hour."

"Did you sleep?" Error asked.

"Mmhmm!" Ink hummed confirmation. The other narrowed his sockets, not believing him.

"In-"

Reaper's soft, pained hiss saved Ink a lecture. For now. "Shit," the god cursed, a series of sharp pains shooting all across his upper back, centralized in his shoulders. "I-Inky? Ru? Can... can one of you help me?"

Shooting one last frown Ink's way, the destroyer turned to face Reaper and made the short walk to the god's side. "Hon? What's going on?" he asked, carefully coaxing the strings of the hammock to stretch to lower Reaper closer to the ground.

"J-just... just a side effect from yesterday, I think." Reaper breathed, wincing as his muscles protested the movement he made as he sat himself up with Error's aid. Gone was the electric-like shocks of pain. In their place, fire. "I... I shouldn't have called out my wings." Everything felt tense and torn, like his muscle was put through a shredder and whatever remained was tied into big, stiff knots. "Fuck, I... I can't tell if I need a massage or for something to crack."

"The wound was aggravated, Reaps," with Reaper's permission, Error pulled his shirt over his shoulders to take a look at the shoulder blade. "I'll try massaging around it, but it might not help, depending on what he wants us to do today."

Ink bit back his own cry at Reaper's pain. He moved away, whispering, "I'll try and find us some pain meds..."

Error nodded, setting to work on massaging out the tension with ecto formed around his hands.

Reaper winced, though the reaction had little to do with the prodding against his aching shoulders. When the door clicked shut behind Ink, he did his best not to wilt under the overwhelming weight of his own regret. "...I really should have been more careful..." No matter what Ink said, Reaper shouldn't have allowed himself to get as angry as he did. Wings, talons... Closing his eyes, he tried to make the way he relaxed into Error's hands look less like the defeated slump it was.

Error saw right through the attempt. "You know he doesn't blame you for what he's feeling, right?" With a murmured apology, he dug his fingertips into a large area of tension and coaxed the pseudo muscle there into a state of relaxation. "You did what you thought you had to do for us. Ink respects that, Reaps."

"I behaved like a child," the god denied, breath hitching in pain at the sharp yet helpful jabs against his back. "What I did? It was little more than a tantrum."

"You had every right to be pissed, hon."

"And I had every reason to control myself with Ink sitting right there," Reaper countered.

Error paused slightly, but continued his work. "And what would that have done? Prolonged them learning about Ink? Besides, he's been an empath for less than half a year. That's a long time, but it's still easy to forget, now that he's not talking colors."

"Ru, I should have-"

"Enough. Stop beating yourself up, okay? Because that's going to hurt the both of you more, and it isn't helpful for us now. You wanna wallow in self-pity? Forget about it."

Reaper glanced over his shoulder, seeing Error's serious face on. He looked back down to his lap. "You're beating yourself up, too. And so is Ink."

"..." Error sighed. "That might be true, but-"

"No, if I'm gonna stop, then you need to, too."

Error couldn't bring himself to agree. Everything he was hung up on? It was... different.

Then again, wasn't that always the excuse with these things?

With a quiet sigh, he worked out the last of the tension he could feel before leaning forward and pressing his teeth as close to the original wound as he dared. "...I'll try, Reaps. That's... that's really all I can offer. To try."

Eyes fluttering shut as teeth trailed over every soothed ache, Reaper trilled quietly and offered up an understanding nod. "Thanks, Ru." For the help. For agreeing to at least attempt giving himself a break.

Error rested his forehead just between Reaper's shoulders, willing himself to find the strength to continue the day. They didn't have much time before Cross collected them. Stars, he didn't want to do this...

He glanced over to where Geno still slumbered. "I'll check on him," Reaper murmured.

Nodding, Error helped Reaper put a new shirt on before wandering out into the hall. To find Ink staring at the kitchen area. His hands reached up to his chest, where his sash used to lay, but... he hadn't had it in weeks. All that was there was the single, light-colored shirt with Nightmare's insignia. Not even a jacket to comfort him. Hearing and sensing Error, he turned slightly and smiled, seeming to erase his earlier feelings with that grin.

Error knew better. Always did.

Closing the distance between them, Error stepped into Ink's space as much as his first wanted to allow and pressed their teeth together. Just once, barely long enough for the soft touch of teeth to register.

"You know..." Head falling back, he met the artist's eyes with a blank, tired expression. "...if you don't feel like smiling, then you don't have to Ink."

Ink's smile faltered, but ultimately remained.

Sighing, Error lightly bumped their hips together as he passed his protector, thankful for his terrible sight if only because the drawings pinned to the fridge were blurred. "You don't need to pretend for us, Inky." If anything, the pretending made them worry more.

Reaching into the fridge, he rummaged through what they had before pulling out a simple four-pack of yogurt. One for each of them. Perfect.

"I... can't bring myself to..." Ink glanced away, murmuring, "If I let myself feel what's brewing below the surface, it'll get Geno killed, and hurt you two, and I just..." he shook his head. "If I pretend I'm fine, I can get us to a place where we really will be fine."

Error slowly shut the door, fiddling with the tops of the yogurt. "Fake it 'til you make it?"

"Exactly."

Bullshit. It's complete bullshit, but he's not going to budge on it, is he...? Sighing, he turned around and passed Ink a yogurt cup. "Don't you dare try to hide your wounds from me. Last thing we need is you being an idiot and letting them get infected."

Ink took the cup but couldn't meet Error's eyes. "Like how my chest still isn't healed from Nightmare's claws...?"

Error inhale sharply, nausea burning at the back of his throat from a painful rush of memories. “...I’m going to ask for cream.” He decided.

Ink jolted, his eyes widening as he stared at Error in shocked disbelief. “Ru, you can’t-“

Practically growling the words, the destroyer cut in viciously, “I can and I will, damnit. Nightmare has us where he wants us, Ink. The toying around he’s doing? At this point, it’s just to rub his victory in our faces. But he made me second. Partially, but still. At the very least, I should be able to request some fucking healing for us, no matter what bullshit games doing so interferes with.”

Don’t, Ink wanted to beg. Don’t make us owe him. Don’t give more leverage, please. “Error, that’s-“

“Ink.” And there it was. The confident, commanding tone Error unknowingly slipped into when he earned his position back. “Let me do this? Honestly, at this point? The worst that asshole can do is rub his denial in our faces.” Glancing down at the packs remaining in his hands, Error sighed, “...For now, let’s go give these to Reaps and Ge. Think you handle being up there?”

Ink gently curled a pinky around Error's own. "Ru...." he whispered. "Ru, please don-"

"Can you handle it up there, Ink?"

"I can handle being with my husbands," came the careful reply.

Error curled his pinky around Ink's. A tiny substitute for actually holding hands, but neither of them could really bring themselves to that much contact at the moment. “Then let’s go.”

———

Right on time, Cross knocked on their door. Three knocks, before he invited himself in. Reaper, Ink, and Error stood on the other side of the door, waiting for him. Though two glared, Ink couldn't even bring himself to look at the second.

He didn't want to see the emotionless mask that matched the voice, "Follow me to the throne room for your mission."

No response came from the trio beyond nods and those two frigid stares.

Understanding that was all he would receive, Cross bravely turned his back to the small group and took just a few steps forward to allow them the space they needed to exit their personalized quarters. Pausing, he waited for the sound of the door clicking shut.

"We'll be back, Ge," Reaper murmured, words quiet that they would have gone overheard had the hallway not been silent.

Cross closed his eyes, turmoil hidden by a turned back and tightly clenched sockets. "...Come," he commanded once that click he was searching for sounded. "Before we're late."

The walk was silent, in stark contrast to the vivid, swirling emotions between the husbands. They went down a few halls until they arrived to the throne room doors. Cross squared his shoulders and opened them, stepping aside so the husbands could walk in first.

———

Spright and Respite agreed to watch the kids while Dream went out to visit Blue. It'd been a month since they'd last seen Ink and his husbands, and stars, it was starting to wear on Dream's morale. He figured Blue would have some good news, and even if he didn't, a half a day out of the house might do him some good.

He shut his eyes, counting to five, before knocking on Blue's door.

Slow, quiet footsteps were just forceful enough that Dream managed to hear them through the door. With every step, there was a strange noise that he realized was the sound of someone dragging their feet as he walked. Stretch then, he guessed, faintly recalling Blue often complaining of just how far his brother's lazy, sluggish personality made its way into everything the Papyrus did, including walking.

The overwhelming distrust he sensed on the other side of the door was also a dead give away.

When the door open, the scent of sugar and smoke filled Dream's senses.

"Hello, Stretch." he greeted, smiling even in the face of cigarette smoke being blown over his head. "Is Blue home?"

———

The trio of willing nightmares glanced in their direction as they entered, but all any of them offered up were simple nods with distrusting narrowed glares.

In Killer's case, he seemed especially wary as he eyed the three, his focus on Reaper more so than Ink this time as the memory of spreading decay flashed through his mind. You're dangerous, the look said, and I haven't decided how fun that is yet.

Annoyance flared in the husbands, though Ink was the only one that let it out with a single sound, "Tch."

Cross didn't bother addressing it. Instead, he silently ordered Reaper and Ink to stop by the willing nightmares before taking his place by Nightmare's throne. Unwillingly, Error followed suit, standing next to Cross.

———

Stretch took another long drag of his cigarette, exhaling it out before peering down at Dream with a deepening scowl. "No."

"No as in he's out in town? Or no as in he is home but you don't want me to come in?"

"...yeah."

Dream's smile grew taut. "Stretch, I'd really appreciate-"

"I'm gonna stop you there. The Protector is missing. And you're here to bother Blue, who is busy with his own shit here."

"His own...? Stretch what happened?"

He growled, "Get the fucking hint and leave, guardian."

"Papyrus," a low voice warned.

Stiffening, the tall, lanky skeleton muttered a curse and pinched the end of his cigarette between his fingers, faintly glowing embers singing the pad of his pointer and thumb as it extinguished. "Thought you were taking one of your rare naps, bro?" he murmured, waving lingering smoke away under the guise of greeting his brother.

Pointless, really. Stretch may be used to the scent of his poor habit, but that didn't make the smell of smoke and ash any less obvious to Blue. The Sans was well aware of his smoking. Had been for years. "Papyrus," Blue repeated, walking forward from the stairs with an unusually solemn expression. "Don't be mean to my friends."

Stretch faltered, "C'mon, bro. I was just-"

"Being mean," Blue interrupted with a tone that made it clear he would accept no more nonsense. At his brother's clear worry, he softened. "You don't need to protect me from my friends, Papy," When he turned to face Dream, the golden guardian took note of a faint, exhausted blue beneath his sockets. "Hi, Dream. Come in."

———

How long does he plan to make us wait this time? Error wondered, back straight and head held high confidently. He wished he was half as confident as he looked. An hour? Two? They were barely into the morning but he was already ready for this day to end.

Horror muttered something, pulling his axe out and resting his arms on it. Cross shot him a sharp look, but the other skeleton just ignored it.

Killer wanted to do the same but he was still healing from the beat down he got last time he disobeyed orders.

Endure stood tall and still. A statue to match his brother's doll, though Reaper wasn't sure if the Papyrus was even aware of it.

Ink closed his eyes against everyone's colors and pains, hoping that by not seeing them, he could not feel them for a bit. It didn't exactly work, but it did lessen the developing headache he had from certain colors resonating within everyone.

———

Dream stepped in, murmuring, "Hey Blue..."

Blue cracked a smile, though it was clear his feelings weren't reflected in the motion. "You look as tired as me."

Stretch frowned more, shooting suspicious looks to Dream and concerned ones to Blue. Both finally looked at him, with Blue saying, "Can you make us some food, Papy?"

Sighing, the taller skeleton made his way to the kitchen, rubbing the top of his brother's head on his way there.

Blue motioned for Dream to follow, and they walked into the basement where Blue sat heavily in his chair and dropped his head in his hands. Dream sat across from him in a tacky yellow and blue bean bag chair, waiting for Blue to speak.

Thankfully, it didn't take long. "So... neither Ink nor his husbands have appeared yet..." Blue mumbled from behind his hands. "And I don't have eyes on Nightmare's castle to see if they're still alive or not..."

Dream's shoulders slumped, but his voice was firm when he said, "They're still alive." At Blue's hopeful expression, he mustered up a small smile to ward off the disbelief hidden in the other's eyes. "I know my brother, Blue."

The rookie guardian still seemed unsure. "I... don't Dream. What do you know about him that makes you so certain? Because there's been nothing to hint at them being alive."

"Exactly. There's been nothing." Rubbing the heaviness from his sockets away, Dream fought off a yawn and situated himself a little uncomfortably on the surprisingly soft beanbag. The less comfort he had, the harder it would be to fall asleep. "Nightmare gloats, Blue. No matter how small the victory, he lords it over you until there's no questioning the fact you've lost. If he managed to take out Ink, we'd know. Nightmare would likely use his dust as confetti for a parade."

"That's morbid," Blue scolded.

Dream simply smiled apologetically. He didn't let Blue know that was actually a very real possibility should Ink ever fall by his brother's hands.

———

Like a demon preying on what little solace it's victim found, Nightmare entered the throne room just as Ink's headache was mere moments from settling down completely. With his appearance, the sharp colors of his husbands rage spiked and Ink's head began to throb painfully yet again.

Poisonous green flickered in his direction. When Nightmare smirked, Ink barely withheld a sneer.

He almost certain that Nightmare timed his entrance.

Tch... he didn't even know where to let his eyes rest. The safest bet was the floor...

Reaper shifted his weight slightly, too many emotions rolling through him. He glanced to Error, who seemed to be trying to look as bored and confident as possible. The anger was hard to shove down, so he didn't, but Error shoved the rest down.

Gracefully, Nightmare settled onto his throne and grinned down at them all. "Look at this... all my nightmares in one room. On time, dressed for success. Obedient." His eye flicked to Horror. "Mostly."

Horror blinked at him. A sigh later, and the axe was put away, his posture straightening slightly more.

"Hmm, better."

———

Stars, Ink... the thought of the missing husbands made tears start to prick at the corners of his sockets.

"Dreamy, what coffee are you having?" Reaper grinned at him.

Stifling a yawn, the guardian muttered, "Anything as long as it has an extra shot in it..."

He shut his eyes against the memory. His first date... taken away in the same day...

"My point is," Dream murmured, "He's not dead."

It was almost heartbreaking to watch Blue's fragile hope grow just to crumble in on itself all over again. He was more mature than most gave him credit for, but Blue was still young. Not the youngest Sans out there, but one who looked as if he were with his soft, rounded features.

"Dream..." Blue whispered, looking as defeated as Dream felt. Hesitant, he paused after getting his friend's name out before his worry grew too strong to ignore. "There's worse things than death, isn't there?"

Although he tried not to, Dream recalled Error's hysteria. The panic he worked himself into and the small, terrified voice he spoke in as the taller skeleton gasped I c-can't be his again, Dream. The words repeat in his head again and again, each time worse than before. Although it wasn't explicitly said, Dream's almost certain he knows just what Error meant. What being his brother's truly entitled.

There are things far worse than death, he doesn't say. Instead, tried for a wider smile. "Time heals, Blue. Whatever they're facing, we can fix." Hopefully. "Now, Stretch mentioned you had something going on? Is there anything you need my help for?"

———

It's childish, but there's a vindictive glee at the small error Horror made. The anger that Ink feels isn't entirely his own, but the red directed at Horror almost completely is.

And though it's a little frightening to admit, Ink is past the point of beating himself up over his rage.

The king of the castle took a moment to soak in their anger and hatred, smile growing wider. He licked his teeth, leaning forward in his throne with eagerness. "Ah, so our missions for today. It'll be... mostly a group activity." He glanced over to Killer and Horror again. "You two mentioned something about how we can trust our new family? I'll admit, I'm curious about that too." His eye slid over to Reaper and Ink. "Error has had a long history of listening to my words, but the two of you are newer than Endure."

Error tensed slightly, forcing his gaze to stay straight ahead.

Reaper and Ink stared back at Nightmare, frowning. What, does he want us to ask...?

"What would you have us do?" Reaper murmured.

"Oh, don't you worry god. You have a much more... sensitive reason to obey me," he purred.

Geno...

"But the artist?" Nightmare stood and sauntered over to Ink. "The artist is a different story... you punished Killer with no mercy. Impressive, I told you, but that was something you wanted to do, wasn't it?"

Softly, Ink croaked out, "Yes."

Nightmare trailed a tendril around the back of Ink's neck, tilting his head down to grin at him. "And what if I ordered you to do something you might be opposed to? Would you stick to the foolish ideals that landed you here, or would you follow my command?" He raised a hand when Ink opened his mouth. "Ah. That's what we're going to discover today. Actions speak louder than words, don't they?"

———

Nodding, Blue murmured, "Ink and his husbands aren't the only ones missing. There've been several missing monster cases across the multiverse, but..."

"But...?"

"Well, there's even one here, Dream..."

That... that wasn't possible. That shouldn't be possible. The eyes Blue had on the multiverse included his own world. For good measure, they were sure to tap into the cameras Undyne had scattered throughout the Swap Underground so that no corner went unobserved. Invasive? Yes, but required.

If the nightmares were the cause of this, Blue would have seen them. Should have, really.

"Blue-"

"I checked the footage, Dream." Blue interrupted with a quiet tone. "There's no sign of them anywhere, but only the nightmares would do something like this."

———

Actions speak louder than words, huh...? Swallowing what could have been a sentence or bile, Ink lowered his eyes and nodded in response to the king.

Pleased, Nightmare called his tendril back. Cold and slick, it caressed every bit of the nape of Ink's neck as it retreated. The ooze that remained on the back of his neck tingled.

"Now, there's just one little question to answer before we begin." Seating himself on the arm of his throne, Nightmare tapped his chin with a thoughtful finger. "Just what should this grand task for you be, artist? I'm open for suggestions, if anyone has anything of interest to say."

Silence.

Until a soft, "We can... play a game," came from Killer.

Always taking his time, Nightmare surveyed Killer and the several unbandaged injuries sporting every available uncovered surface on the drippy-eyed skeleton.

“What do you have in mind?” Nightmare questioned. Not a yes, but far from a no.

Killer’s sudden excitement left Ink feeling ill. That bright, gleeful yellow... stars, PJ lit up with that same golden hue in his eyes whenever his son was told he was going to learn a new skill. It was a childish sort of happiness. Pure. Around Killer, the kind hue was disturbing, especially with the bloodlust tainting the edges with shades of crimson.

“I need help figuring out which of my knives need sharpening.” At Nightmare’s unimpressed expression, he grinned wider and added, “And we have that one guest you wanted interrogated. Ya know, the one you think mighta saw something? It’s killing three birds with one stone, Boss. No, four! I get to see what knives need sharpening, the guest gets interrogated, the artist proves himself to us, and I get to have fun. Win-win situation, yeah?”

He let the emotions continue to sit between everyone. Stewing, festering, ripening. "Horror, Endure, grab our guest then go start preparing the dinner. Killer, grab your knives. Cross, find chairs for the god and the destroyer. Seems like our artist is going to create something beautiful for us today."

The nauseous green color that began with Ink just seemed to multiply with Error's and Reaper's colors mingling in. The fouled giddiness Killer felt simply increased as he practically squealed and ran out the room. Horror nodded for Endure to follow him, and they left down a hall. Cross glanced to Nightmare curiously, but the King just shook his head, "You'll need ropes for our guests, but our new members should have enough self-restraint that they won't need them. Grab them the chairs."

Ink's mouth felt dry. Interrogations...? He... he-

A bruise, a cut, a break. All with desperate, pained pants and muffled screams. "Wow, I thought Lust was the whore of the Multiverse! Turns out it's really the soulless wannabe-protector!"

"Did you know he can disconnect every single one of his bones without dying?" hands drift up his thighbones and Ink has to choke back a sob when the fingers scrape against the cuts they've made.

"No way!"

"Yes! And since he's not telling us where Core is..."

Laughter rings. "He's forming his ecto! He must be really excited!"

No! He sobs harder. No, it-! I'm not excited! I-it's a defense...! S-stop...!

A slice splits the pretty rainbow of his stomach open, "Sorry sweetie," the hand's owner sneers, "We're not going to stop-"

"INK!"

D-Dream...?!

"Ink," Error said again. Ink met his gaze, and his first looked... grim.

Ink forced a smile and nodded slightly to him.

In front of him, Endure was setting up the interrogation chair, though it looked a little odd... there were three pairs of armrests with locks, and locks around the legs. Horror came in moments later, dragging in-

———

"...how...?"

"I don't know... I... stars, Dream, I don't know...! I even increased surveillance, after..." he glanced away. "I don't know, Dream... I went over everything several times over. I even checked the system for foul play. Nothing, which means it was probably a shortcut."

Dream stared at the smaller Star. "Blue... Blue, who disappeared from here...?"

Weighed by exhaustion, Blue murmured, "That's part of the reason for Papy's poor greeting today. The person who's missing is-"

———

"Muffet," Ink breathed, horror in his eyes as he gazed upon the kind monster from Blue's world.

Chapter Text

"Focus, artist," Nightmare grumbled, "Or I'll let Killer give you a reason to focus."

Muffet was crying, but her tears fell faster when her eyes landed on Ink. She doesn't know him well, but she's seen him around often enough to recognize him as the friend of her favorite customer's brother. She's seen them laughing together from time to time. Once, Ink even crashed into her shop alongside Blue to drag Papyrus back home. She- he's good. She knows he is, and she's so, so relieved when she sees him standing there.

With wet, inky eyes full of hope, she begged, "H-help me. P-please, please help me!"

Swallowing, Ink looked away. He can't see her face, but he felt the way her hope shatters. "Wh..." his voice came out weak, so he cleared his throat. Play the game, he told himself, knowing full-well that this wasn't a game anymore. Yet still, play the game echoed in his mind. Play the game and we can go home… Games have characters, so he forced himself to stand tall and make sure his voice came out stronger when he tried to speak again. Right now, he isn't Ink. He's a nightmare. "What information do you want?"

Nightmare grinned, excited by his little display. "I admire your eagerness, but no details will be given until Killer returns with his tools. For now, why don't you let Cross show you how to properly tie a guest? It's a skill you'll need in the future."

Before he left with Endure to begin their second task, Horror had thrown Muffet into the interrogation chair. Despite no latches or ropes keeping her down, she sat in it instead of attempting to run. Not by choice, but due to the absolute terror reflected on her expression that made all her legs tremble too much to manage even a single step.

She's terrified... And Ink isn't going to be able to soothe that in any way. "Okay..."

He couldn't bring himself to look at either of his now seated husbands as he stepped up to the familiar captive with a blank expression contrasted by his expressive, wavering symbols. It didn't really matter. Hey could feel Reaper's frozen shock and horror, and Error's terrifying resignation. "Here." Cross murmured, handing him a long bundle of rope. The coarse, itchy texture was familiar in a terrible way that threatened to break Ink's already poor mask with panic. In an attempt to keep it down, he poured all his focus into Cross' voice; empty and cold, but… comforting in a fucked up way. "I'm going to lock her into the chair. See the metal cuffs? They go around her upper arms, forearms, and her wrist. For the legs, the cuffs go around her thighs and lower legs. The rope will ensure that whatever possible movement is left is taken away."

"Should we tie his legs? Fucker kicks hard."

"No, leave them- actually, yeah. Not together though. Keep 'em open so we don't have to bother with prying them open later."

Desperately forcing the feelings from the memory away, Ink swallowed his nausea and curled his hands tight around the rope. When the material bit into his hands, he simply clutched onto it tighter so that the purple of his pain grew stronger; grounding him to the present.

"This time, I'll do everything. You watch."

The first clasp jolted Muffet out from wherever she escaped to in her mind. At the feel of cold metal restricting her movement, her crying worsens; loud, ugly sobs echoing throughout the throne room. "P-please, I... I don't know anything! I p-promise I don't! I...I...I..."

"I, I, I," Killer mocked when he returns with a large box in his arms, "fuck, you sound like a broken record."

"Eyes on me." Cross quietly demanded, gaze flicking up to meet Ink's even as his hands never still in securing the captive. "Killer can be distracting, but ignore him for now."

"Well fuck you too, Cross!"

"Not interested."

This is normal for them, Ink realized. It seems like such a silly thought given who his company was, but the normality would mean... Eyes on Cross, he reminded himself, barely managing from tossing a horrified look Error's way. He... he can wonder about his first husband's possible experience with this later.

Getting the locks and rope around Muffet went by quickly. Although Cross tried to go slow so Ink can watch his movements, it's hard to shake the speed that comes with familiarity, and the task is finished in no time.

Apparently, it wasn't fast enough for Killer. "Finally done? Good. I have forty knives to test with the artist and it's going to take time."

Amused, Nightmare cleared his throat slightly. "And...?"

"Oh, and Boss wanted that information, like, yesterday." Killer added, the real reasoning behind the torture forgotten in his excitement. "Orders, Boss?"

"Simple, this time. I want to know everything she knows about us."

"I don't know anything!" Muffet shouted, desperation and fear raising her pitch. "I...I w-was just taking out the trash! I didn't- I made e-eye contact for a few s-seconds! Please, I- I didn't even k-know who you were!"

Ink had to bite back his words. She really doesn't know anything… stars, this… this is-

Nightmare ignored her claims. "If she doesn't answer by the time you've made it through every knife, then dispose of her. Also, let the artist lead the fun, Killer."

All the words seem to echo in Ink's mind. "I don't know anything. Let the artist lead the fun. He must be really excited! H-help me. P-please please help me!" Keep 'em open so we don't have to-

"Eyes on me."

Ink stared at Cross. The ex-royal guard was the only thing he could see and for that single moment, Cross knew exactly what the artist was thinking.

I c-can't do this, please... p-please I can't...!

Cross' sockets narrowed slightly and it-

...Error's do that...

....Error does that when... when he...

Ink shut his eyes. Understands. The next time the artist opened his eyes, he was giving a tired look to Killer, voice breaking slightly, "What do I do...?"

———

Once Muffet was killed and her dust cleaned up, Nightmare waved at Cross to take them back to Error's room. When it's just the four of them is when Cross glanced at Error and nodded to Ink, "You're probably going to have to carry-"

"I can walk," Ink whispered with a voice that had been screaming for hours, though he didn't utter a sound through the entire 'interrogation'. The four of them walked back to Error's old room, with Cross giving Ink a doubtful glance. His eyes flicked to the lavender bruises on his face that seemed to mirror what the Underswap Muffet endured. It's so light, it almost goes unnoticed.

But Cross was standing nearby to help prevent Killer's... enthusiasm from cutting into Ink. Cross noticed.

"Then keep up," Cross demanded. Error growled a warning note at his co-second, but Cross' eyes were already facing ahead. They walked down the halls in silence, until they reached the door. "You've been given two hours between now and dinner. Nightmare wants the three of you cleaned up. Nicer clothes will be provided. Make sure you wear them. I'll be by to escort you to dinner." When he got understanding nods in response, Cross turned and left.

Error and Reaper waited until the door was shut before their hands were on Ink, hugging him tightly, finding the bruises, and insisting on checking for more-

"N-no stop!" Ink flinched away from them "P-please... please not... g-give me a s-second...!"

Muffet's pain, Muffet's death, Reaper's healing injuries, Error's swirling mess of colors, the residual feelings from the nightmares and their boss, the m-memories...!

Ink gripped his arms, looking away from them. Her blood was on him... stars, i-it was splattered a-all over him...!

He couldn't stand the sight of it, but he couldn't bring himself to look away, either. He was trapped between the want to turn from the evidence of his terrible actions and the need to burn the sight of blood-stained hands and clothing into his mind as a reminder. A punishment, in a way. I did this. I did this and I should never be allowed to forg-

A jacket was dropped onto his head. It was warm and soft and smelled distinctively like Error. It... it....

It felt like a hug without the addition of emotions felt more intensely through touch. It... it felt like Error's hugs from before Ink gained a SOUL; before he grew too tall to be tucked under his first husband's chin where he could hide away from all his worries and every fear he ever had.

Crumpling to the floor, Ink lifted his hands to clutch at the jacket thrown over his head and sob. Every tear he spilled was hidden by the coat, but could be heard in his voice as he cried and sobbed and wailed, "I...I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" over and over again.

Hesitantly, something brushed against his hand. When he flinched, the sensation of touch fades. Concern... he doesn't deserve it. He doesn't- he...

"R-Reaps, what do we-"

"I... I don't-"

"We have to-"

He heard bits and pieces of their conversation, but he tried to tune it out. He doesn't want their comfort. He doesn't fucking deserve-

"He won't let us touch him, Ru!"

"Yeah, that's never stopped you guys from helping me!"

"That's different!"

"How?!"

"You always wanted help, even if you wouldn't ask for it!"

He thought he was still crying apologies, but Ink couldn't tell. When he heard a sharp intake of breath following Reaper's words- stars, why can't he block them out?! -he isn't sure it's from one of his gasping sobs or from someone else.

"...We need to do something! He- he's getting loud, Reaper. If someone hears-"

"-it'll be bad. I know, Ru. I just... fuck, let me try something, okay? I... I used to do this for Geno when his panic attacks got bad."

No, no, no! No, he doesn't want their help! Doesn't want-

Slowly, hesitantly, Reaper began to sing.

And Ink...

He couldn't describe it. In a lot of ways, it was similar to Reaper's birdsongs; wordless yet lovely with the pretty notes that danced so smoothly between the highest of trills and the lowest of coos. It was similar, but not the same. It was... it was sad. Sad and mournful, like the sound of sobs turned into music. It made him cry harder.

But... but it was different, this time. All the torment Ink felt seemed to be reflected in the song, or maybe it wasn't? Maybe it was a single note tune and he was pushing meaning into it himself? He... Ink really couldn't tell. Either way, it was... comforting. He didn't want the comfort, didn't deserve it, but it was... it was easier to accept, like this.

Hearing his sorrow reflected in the song made it feel like he wasn't drowning in it alone.

His cries died down to shaky sniffles and hiccups just to listen to Reaper's voice. "Ink...?" Error whispered, but the artist covered his face more with the jacket. I...I'm not ready... n-not ready yet...

"It's okay..."

Oh he said that aloud...? Ink slowly lifted his gaze to his husbands' as Reaper's voice faded. The shadows under Ink's sockets are much darker, and his face was splotchy from shoving his palms over his eyes. Reaper sat cross-legged a little ways away while Error knelt with hesitant hands just in front of him, but not quite touching. "It's okay..." Error repeated, more firmly. "It... hon, you need to forgive yourself. Anything we do under his orders is to protect Geno."

"E...Err....r.....ror... R....Rea...p....e...er......" his voice hesitated so much that he almost couldn't get the names out.

"We're not going to hold anything against-"

"It's not.......not just that...!" he whispered instead. "It's... I felt-"

"We know... we...." Reaper exchanged glances with Error before looking at Ink again, "Please, let us help you."

I don't want your concern. I don't want your pity, your fears, your... your...! Ink dropped his gaze. He lay the jacket in his lap so he could take the long-sleeve shirt off and-

Soft, horrified gasps.

"...I w-wasn't just f-feeling her p-pain... it- she was too close..." Ink was shivering, sockets wide and empty.

Every single cut that Ink and Killer inflicted on the Muffet was reflected on Ink's own body. They were paper-thin and the blood traveled with his engraved tattoos, which is why his shirt wasn't necessarily stained with it, but...

Stars... "Ink..." Error hesitated in reaching for his hand.

Again, Ink flinched away, whispering desperately, "Please don't..! I'm n-not ready.... m... my memories-" he snapped his jaw shut, expression going blank.

"Memories...?" His husbands exchanged glances before returning their gazes to him. Reaper murmured, "Inky, what...? What memories...?"

"Sorry?" Ink blinked and looked at him with a slightly confused tilt to his head.

It's forced... Error frowned at him. He's trying to mimic when he used to actually forget. He... doesn't want to talk about it. Error took Reaper's hand, murmuring, "Let's give him a break, okay? It's... stars, it's only been the first day."

"And it's still not over..." Reaper groaned, squeezing his hand.

Error searched the god's expression before looking to Ink. "Hon, the shower down the hall.... would you like help washing your back....?"

He dug his hands into Error's jacket, thinking. Yeah. He wanted to be alone with his thoughts and emotions but-

The hand dug into his split stomach ecto, reaching up until it hit his ribs. And in that moment, that's all he can feel. The hand, squirming inside his body, forcefully wrapping around a rib, then pulling-

Ink whimpered at the memory, shaking his head, "N-not alone... p-please..."

"Wow, he's really just a doll without those paints. As empty as that void he spent time in. As useless too. He doesn't remember a damn thing that grey child told him about our deity-"

"Let him feed the anti-void then."

Ink shuddered, hiding his face in Error's jacket again, whispering, "Not a-alone, please n-not a-alone... p-please don't..."

Reaper looked to Error. "I'm going too."

"Wasn't expecting our second threeway to be like this..." Error tried to smile, but...

What the hell memories did his idiot squid have to be triggered by-?

Oh...

Oh, Stars, Ink....

Hesitantly, Error murmured, "Inky... h-have you-"

Forcing another smile, Ink whispered, "I'm... not going to talk about this.... n-not here..."

....Fuck....

Reaper and Error exchanged glances, about to say something, but Ink was already struggling to his feet. "Shower time..." Ink tried for a sing-song voice, as if he were talking to the kids, but it came out half-silent.

Stars, Ink... Nodding with a smile that didn't reach his eyes, Error stepped in front of Ink and motioned to his husbands to follow after him. "If he's confining us to this hall, then no one else should be around. Still, Reaps? Can you grab whatever clothing looks like it's meant for Ink?"

Perfectly fake smile still in place, Ink opened his mouth to request something. Before he could, Error reached out and slid the jacket now around Ink's shoulders off. Luckily, little blood transferred onto the article of clothing. What did manage to get onto the jacket would be easily disguised by the dark color and a bit of cleaning. "You can wear this, too," the destroyer offered.

Ink's smile cracked slightly. How did he- Oh, what a stupid question.

Error knew him, of course. Despite all Ink was keeping from him and Reaper, Error knew him. Not everything, but nearly all the things that mattered, when it came down to it. "It won't fit," he whispered, even though he was about to ask for it anyway.

Error shrugged and folded his jacket over his arm. "Push the sleeves up and no one will be able to tell."

"Honestly, it'll just look like one of those fashionable cropped jackets," Reaper added, smiling through his worry and the painful throbbing in his skull unfortunately transferring to Ink. "You'll look like a model, babe. You're tall enough to be one, that is."

They're worried, their concern made his bones itch, but, deep down, he appreciated it. He still didn't feel like he deserved it, but... but Ink knew the concern was because they loved him, and he could accept that. Love...

At the end of the day, love was what all this was for…

Chapter Text

Ink was almost certain those three sharp knocks would be the sound in his sleep for a long time if he couldn't get himself and his husbands out of here.

Cross let himself in, bringing in some hangers of which Nightmare-selected clothes hung. Silently, he passed them to each of the husbands before leaving.

They exchanged glances and opened up the bags-

Ink stiffened at the immediate feel of fishnet mesh, but he slowly pulled out the dress and looked at it.

There was no accompanying slip for the dress, but there was a matching set of dark purple lingerie, and a pair of dark green heels with straps tying up the ankles. Nightmare's insignia shone brightly in toxic green on the delicate underthings and the heels of the shoes.

Reaper and Error glanced over, for a moment mistaking the dress to be spider cobwebs. The horror of their realizations made tears form in Ink's eyes.

He also couldn't hide any of his injuries... Though the black of the fishnet sort of helped...

Reaper and Error pulled out their own outfits, dread laced in with the movement. Again, Reaper was fitted for a snug suit, this time accented with toxic green and purple, like Ink's lingerie. Error, surprisingly, had a similar suit, with similar accents.

Hanging his suit on the back of main door to their private quarters, Error glanced at Reaper before turning to Ink with a soft expression. "Inky-"

"I... I'm going to get ready in the bathroom," Ink whispered, faintly trembling as he held up his so-called clothing and shoes. If I pretend, it'll just be me dressing up for you and Reaper.

Error went to argue, but the look in Ink's eyes stopped him. Something fragile shown in his symbols. Not quite broken, but a little cracked. "...We'll wait for you down here, hon. Bring Ge another blanket on your way down, okay?" He didn't look cold, but it would give Ink more time to collect himself.

Thankful for the escape Error allowed him, the artist clutched his things close before all but booking it up the stairs. Faintly, the door to the bathroom clicked shut, followed by the sound of a lock.

"...That dress isn't going to cover anything, Ru," Reaper murmured, worried as he watched the ceiling. They couldn't hear Ink walking, but that didn't stop either of them from worrying about what expression the artist might be wearing now that he was alone. "It's-"

"Black," Error interrupted, pulling out Reaper's dress shirt and motioning for the god to undress. The less he worked his shoulder, the better, so Error would help with his clothing. "If we're lucky, the fabric will be too dark to see anything through."

"It's black mesh, hon," And we're never lucky. Not here.

Deciding that Reaper talking meant he wasn't focused enough on undressing, Error stepped into his place and took over the process of undoing the clothing his husband already wore. Shirt off, he began working on Reaper's pants until nothing but carefully summoned ecto covered his bones.

"Not excited about my help?" he half-heartedly teased, barely glancing at the unveiled, uninterested magic the briefs he passed the taller skeleton were quick to cover.

"Heh, don't think there's much room in those pants for it to be any fun if I were," Reaper murmured, sliding his shirt on with Error's aid and buttoning it. When the pants were pressed into his hands, he was proved correct about the lack of room. Fitted. Tightly.

As time went on, the two fell into silence as they first finished with Reaper's fine, uncomfortable clothing before Error turned his focused onto his own suit. Once they were dressed, Ink still had yet to appear so they each claimed a spot on either side of Geno. Careful of their suits, Error curled his hand loosely around his brother's wrist while the god all but fitted himself around the small glitch.

By the time the sound of heels finally began clicking down the hall, then stairs, Reaper was halfway through the third birdsong he was crooning to Geno.

The song came to an abrupt halt when Ink came to a stop before them.

Lovely rainbow marred by wounds shown through the dress, barely concealed by the unhelpful fabric gluing itself to Ink's summoned form. When he tried for a smile and made a small turn, both aware husbands bore witness to the way the lingerie failed to fully conceal Ink’s ass. Facing them again, Ink nervously crossed his arms, though it only succeeded in propping up the small breast made fuller and more pronounced by what had to be a push up bra given what Error knew about his husband's body.

Had this mockery been their real home, seeing Ink in what he wore would have been sexy.

The knowledge of who else would see him paired with the humiliated expression Ink wore tore through any arousal that tried its damnedest to rise.

Before Ink could speak, Error was on his feet and stalking forward with a snarled out, "No."

"Error-"

"No," the destroyer hissed, trembling with the force of what he wished was only rage. When his eyes prickled from memories of the same humiliation he could see from Ink, he dragged the burn from his sockets as blue threads. "Spread your arms out at your sides."

"Error," Ink murmured, embarrassed and so damn defeated, "Honey, please-"

"We have less than thirty minutes," he growled. More, he needed more tears, so he clawed out every would-be droplet that wanted to fall. "Reaper, head upstairs and grab my coat and sash. Ink, I love you, but shut the fuck up. If I'm going to do this, I need to make sure it won't fall off."

Do this? Do what? "Error-"

But it was clear his first wasn't listening. So full of a rage Ink understood and an age-old pain the artist could only wonder about, Error blocked all noise out and set to work, uncaring of Ink and Reaper followed his orders or not.

They did.

———

Adjusting the tie around his neck for the umpteenth time since he first donned the damn thing, Cross finally decided that he wasted enough time stalling and stepped up to the one door in the entire castle he actually found imposing. Steeling himself, he knocked thrice.

"Enter."

Before Cross fully realized what he was doing, he was twisting the knob and pulling open the door, his brain still wired to that cold, commanding tone even after all these years. "Are you three-"

He paused, eye lights passing over Error and the god just to catch on Ink.

In place of the monstrosity he knew the artist ought to be wearing, Ink wore a tightly fitted dress that stretched from a modest neckline down to a handful of inches above his knees. Blue, the dress looked to made from cleanly cut and sewn fabric at first glance, but a closer looked proved that false.

The dress was made of strings.

Expertly, what had to be hundreds if not thousands of thin, criss-crossing lines formed an intimidation of a bandage-like pattern. Around and around Ink the threads went, a little messy in some places but overall a beautiful, impressive attempt at a dress.

And yet, the replacement gown didn't end there. Falling around the hem of the dress, Error's jacket was worn over what Cross was certain classified as a makeshift gown. For the most part, the jacket was left open, but a single latch held it close at Ink's waist with the yellow sash tied around to disguise the closed seal.

Almost mockingly, the heels were still green.

"...Nightmare isn't going to like this."

Error watched him eye Ink with cold, hateful glare, "I'll speak to him."

Ink shifted uncomfortably at Cross' eyes, stepping slightly behind Error, though his height even without the heels wouldn't have hid him much. He set his jaw, seeming to come to a decision with himself, he moved again to stand tall next to Error.

Reaper glanced to Geno, who wore a simple dark green skirt, a black button-up blouse, and thin purple leather belts that were more decorative than anything else. He wore black leather boots, though it was unlikely that Geno would be walking. He was still in an unresponsive state, and hadn't even budged when Reaper crooned to him or when Error changed his clothes.

Error caught the glance and scowled more. "Don't," he walked over and picked Geno up, bridal style, before turning his furious glare onto Cross again. "Are we going or what, Rookie?"

Cross sucked in a breath, getting ready to fall into his old complaints about not calling him that, but at the angry glares he was still receiving from the god, the co-second, and the narrowed, distrustful gaze from the artist, he let it out as a sigh, "Let's go."

Again, they walked silently. Error followed immediately after Cross, carrying his brother with Geno's head tucked under his chin. Ink followed after Error, trying not to fiddle with the dress or the coat. Reaper followed after Ink, desperately wishing his injuries were healed so he could carry Geno.

They reached the doors to the throne room, where Nightmare seemed to enjoy throwing feasts. For a moment, Ink froze, flashes of Muffet's blood and dust on his clothes and hands-

Cross pushed open the doors, leading the husbands through.

Spotless. As if a murder had never taken place within these four walls, the throne room was entirely spotless, so much so that Ink actually had to glance down to ensure the gleaming floors wouldn't reflect his underwear.

Thankfully, they didn't. It would have defeated the purpose of the new 'dress' he wore.

As they neared where the table stole away a sizeable portion of the area for itself, Ink faltered. His steps almost stopped completely, but a warning look thrown over Error's shoulder at the absence of noise from his heels had him walking again, though he had to close his eyes until he was sure he passed it.

Behind them, only a handful of feet away from the table, a purple-white, ghostly figure writhed in agony. An afterimage, like the one Ink once saw of his smallest husband.

Silently, guiltily, Ink decided he would sit so he faced away from it. Though, when he peered out at how the table was arranged, and at the willing nightmares as they walked in from the opposite side, he realized that he might not have a choice. He glanced again to the afterimage, seeing her screaming but not hearing anything.

At least, not if he didn't focus on it...

Small victories...?

He glanced up at the sound of dress shoes echoing against the floor. The willing nightmares wore the equivalent of business casual. All wore a light green button up dress shirt, though Horror and Endure wore black slacks while Killer wore khakis. No ties nor coats were visible, and Killer and Horror had both rolled up the sleeves of their shirts to just above their elbows.

Killer let his gaze drag up and down Ink's body, his grin turning dirty. "Shit, one tug and that would come loose."

Horror did the same, though he seemed to put more effort into his dirty thoughts and feelings. He chuckled, "You should lose the coat, artist. It clashes with-"

"I'm surprised you aren't whining about Killer not wearing a dress, Horror," Error spoke up. "Unless Nightmare got tired of you ripping them?"

Horror dragged his overlarge eye to Error, noticing Geno still in his arms. "I'm surprised you aren't ripping dear Inky's dress off. Unless you wanted us-?"

"That's enough," Cross ordered. "The artist is wearing a dress. Get over it."

Killer sneered, "Seems like someone else is, too~!" he eyed Geno. "Wow, boss chose something more modest for your date, Crossy?"

Impatience flashed in Cross' sockets, easily drowned out by coldness. "I suggest you shut up before you lose dinner rights for the next week."

Endure stood back and watched with barely concealed annoyance and disgust. He glanced away from the squabble as the doors opened-

And Nightmare walked in. Naturally, the fucker was late. Surprisingly?

He wore a white suit. With a purple tie.

Error grit his teeth. That purple perfectly matched the color of Ink's lingerie...!

So when Nightmare's eye glanced over to observe Ink, he was surprised that the dress he'd chosen for the artist wasn't the one hugging his body.

Positioned as he was in Error's arms, Geno passed for having fallen asleep sometime before their arrival into the throne room. Sooner or later, the truth of his brother's current state would come out. Likely, that would be the former with just how intently Horror was eying the glitch's limp form, but that was okay.

For now, Horror's suspicions were not yet confirmed. And that meant one less predator to poke and prod at his brother as if he were a fucking toy. Two, since Killer likely wouldn't realize anything was off unless either told by his lover or faced with blatant evidence.

Endure, he wasn't concerned about.

Still, Error wanted to keep Geno's current state a secret for as long as he could. Placing him in a chair would make it obvious with the way the glitch had to be positioned carefully to remain upright, and yet his first choice of who to hand his brother off to was injured, likewise with Ink.

Maintain his hold on Geno and risk leaving himself vulnerable or pass his brother to someone untrustworthy.

Yeah, fuck that. Holding Geno just a little closer, Error slid himself in front of Ink with an expression so bland it bordered on cold. "Nightmare."

Displeasure pulled what would have been a smug expression into a scowl. "Error. I see you're all starting the celebration off with a bit of a foolishness. Shame, I expected better after the obedience the artist showcased this morning."

"Foolishness?" As if confused, Error tilted his head. His frigid stare never lost it's contact with the lord of despair as he said, "How is maintaining that obedience you're boasting about foolish?"

Nightmare's eye narrowed. "Don't play me for a fool, Destroyer. Remember your place."

"My place," Error murmured, arms and stance protective as he guarded the brother in his embrace and the husbands at his back. "I remember my place well, Nightmare. Do you?"

"You-" Nightmare began in a hiss.

Error had the audacity to interrupt, "Have been reinstated as second. Even if my position is shared, it is only second to you, my king," he mocked, red hot rage somehow so cold in his eyes. "Cross' absence after the delivery of our clothing meant that, by right, the artist and god were mine to command. So I commanded. And do you know what they did?"

And despite looking as though he held an over-sized doll, despite being shorter than the man he was protecting, there was something almost regal about Error as he kept his head high and his icy, hateful gaze on the king before him.

Interest replaced Nightmare's displeasure, "Tell me, Error, what did they do?"

"They obeyed. So, with that cleared up, why don't we begin this celebration for the god?"

Killer let out a low whistle, delight widening his eyes. Nightmare stared at Error, a low chuckle sounding once he realized how serious Error was. "I see. In that case, it's a simple matter of seating arrangements." He glanced at the table. "Hmm... since we had that bonding activity earlier, Inky, why don't you sit between Killer and myself? Reapsy, on my other side. Horror, by the god. Endure between Cross and Killer. Oh, and Destroyer," Nightmare flicked his poisonous eye to Error, "Hand Cross his date. It's more romantic for them if Cross feeds sweet little Geno if he wakes up soon, don't you think?"

Reaper and Ink moved, ready to object, but the look Error shot them had them freezing in their tracks.

Ink's SOUL churned at the excitement boiling up within Nightmare. When it looked like the taller husbands wouldn't argue, Error shot another glare to Nightmare before turning and stalking up to Cross. The fury radiating off Error was almost tangible as he carefully handed Geno to Cross' arms.

"Now!" Nightmare clapped, grinning at them all, "Why don't we all sit down?"

Separating all of us, huh? Error grit his teeth, his anger still rising.

Ink had to take several deep breaths to try and keep that rage from reflecting in his eyes. Especially after he got comfortable and felt a tendril on his calf.

It was just a little harder to keep back the fear and self-hate at the writhing shade of an image that sat between himself and the king of the castle.

Distantly, he took note that yet another tendril was now curling around his waist, extending as it found the small of his back and began a slow slide-

Ink's breath hitched. The afterimage wasn't the cause.

His dress didn't have an open back. Even before the modifications made with Error's threads, the poor excuse for a gown he was gifted to wear hadn't been backless. To feel the tendril sliding up from his waist with nothing worming itself into his dress...

The second tendril wasn't on him.

Seated on Nightmare's other side, Reaper shifted uncomfortably at the slick appendage working itself higher beneath his shirt.

Error's glare on Nightmare turned to ice. Nightmare merely grinned, "We're here to celebrate the god's victory against our very own Cross. A nice little feast for him." He leaned slightly closer to Reaper, tendril wrapping around the bottom of his ribcage, "It's such an honor that you chose to join us," he purred, tightening the tendril slightly. Reaper sucked in a sharp breath at the ribs shifted slightly out of place again. Ink bit down on his own noise of pain.

Error wondered how much he could get away with if he snapped at Nightmare again. Probably, the deal with Ink's dress didn't help, but he knew the fucker was feeling them up...!

On Ink, the tendril on his calf circled up more, playing with the strings making up the bottom of his dress.

Nightmare glanced down the table to Cross. "Comfortable there with your lap warmer? Heh, he's a heavy sleeper isn't he?"

Cross mumbled, "We're fine, boss."

"Oh I'm glad!" He grinned, glancing to the willing nightmares. Surprisingly, none of them voiced any complaints about dinner being delayed yet again. It didn't exactly stop the annoyed scowls on their faces, but at least they weren't being vocal about it. "For a celebration, I appear to be the only one talking. I'd like to hear everyone's thoughts over dinner," he added, lifting the cover on his plate.

Taking that as a sign, the seconds lifted their covers as well, with the rest following suit.

A seafood dinner sat before them.

Haha. Because I'm a bird. I get it. Reaper tensed more at the tendril fondling the injured ribs. Ink squirmed in his own seat, trying to keep the tendril from moving any further up, but being unable to stop the one on Reaper.

A little desperate, Ink clamped his hand around the probing end of the appendage around his thigh. Slick as it was, his hand and fingers slid across the surface and the artist found himself containing a shiver of disgust at the feel of the tendril against his palm. Unhelpfully, comparisons of just what it felt like he was holding fluttered through his head-

“Pet~”

What? D-disgusting...! mentally shaking his head, Ink tightened his hold on the foul, wet thing. He discreetly tried to unwind it from his thigh all while grabbing his fork with his free hand.

Just as he was about to skewer a piece of shrimp, the tendril yanked, jerking Ink forward by his own hold and downward by the thigh so that his face met the table with a loud, painful thud barely an inch from his plate.

"Ink!" Chair scraping against the floor, Error shot to his feet.

Nightmare motioned for him to sit as he turned to the artist, helping him right himself. "My, my. What was that, artist? Not a fan of a seafood?" Mockingly, the very tendril responsible for the blood now on Ink's face retreated just to come around and pat his stained cheek. "Whatever that was, please be more careful in the future. This table is expensive."

Ink grit his teeth as he wiped the blood up, but he turned a charming smile to Nightmare, "I actually prefer octopus when it's completely fried, thank you."

Error refrained from slapping himself in the face.

Unholy glee made Nightmare's eye light gleam. "Do you now? Personally, I'm a fan of squid, though I do understand the appeal of octopus. Sometimes, certain foods are required to satisfy one's cravings. In fact, I seem to require Error over there being quite the glutton for... octopus."

Anger burned through Ink. What are you insinuating?

Nightmare continued speaking before he could foolishly ask that question. As he did so; however, more slick sensations ran across Ink's form, one around the lower portion of his leg and another settling low on his abdomen. Felt, but not actually there.

More phantom limbs. More tendrils on Reaper.

"Did you know..." Nightmare drawled, the tendril fiddling with Reaper's ribs seeking out his slowly healing shoulder. "...that some prefer eating octopus raw?"

When pressure was applied to the wound, a sharp screech emitted from Reaper's plate as he jerked with the touch, his fork scraping across the dishware. "I d-did," Ink forced out, vainly attempting to keep attention on himself despite the purple bringing sweat to his brow.

The pressure increased. Narrowing into a fine, pointed tip, the tendril bit into flesh until blood began wetting the back of Reaper's suit. Deeper and deeper it went, every agonizing bit of movement forcing Reaper's jaw clenched tightly to keep his scream within. When tendril dived into bone; however, a small noise escaped him.

When that same tendril touched magic, the flesh spread across Reaper's form flickered and died with a hastily cut off whimper.

The appendages around his ankle and abdomen jumped into action.

"Have you ever tried it for yourself, artist?" Nightmare questioned as if he never heard the sounds from Reaper and was blind to the clear pain Ink was failing to keep from his expression. "I heard that it's a strange sensation," restricted by Reaper's pants, the tendril around his ankle didn't get far. Unfortunately, nothing kept the other from creeping up higher, concealed as it drifted into Reaper's ribcage while the last kept itself against the god's wound. "It's writhes as it enters your mouth, apparently. I wonder..."

Stop! Ink wanted to beg. Please, just sto-

"Does it squirm as it makes it way into your throat?"

When the tendril pressing itself into Reaper's magic removed itself, the appendages in the god's ribcage kept it from forming. Mostly.

Reflexively, a throat snapped into place, Reaper choking as the end of a slick appendages forced itself up through his throat and into his sealed shut mouth, squirming and writhing against his tongue.

Killer groaned around a mouthful of his food. "C'mon, boss. That's fucking gross."

Horror frowned, "You coulda just told me the god wanted octopus, boss..."

Endure shuddered, a look of discomfort on his face. "I still fail to see the humor in such things...?"

"Eh, it's boss," Killer shrugged, discreetly pushing what looked like a tentacle from his plate. "You just learn to live with it."

Slowly, Nightmare slid his tendrils from Reaper, though the one still pressed against his shoulder stayed. "I was merely conversing with our artist."

Endure hummed acknowledgement, but continued to pick at the sides on his plate instead of the seafood.

"..." Ink glanced to Reaper. He knew how his husband was physically and emotionally... but he could only guess what kinds of thoughts were running through the god's mind. He took hold of the wine in front of him, downing it in one go. He set the glass down gently. "If the octopus is dead, then regardless if it's raw, it shouldn't be squirming."

Error glared at Ink. Fucking idiot, shut the fuck up...!

"True enough. But it's so fun-"

Cross slammed his fork down, green aflame on his cheeks. "Please... please..... for the love of what's left of my sanity... stop talking about eating live seafood."

Ink stared at him. Did you know you can bite into a tuna fresh out of a river and be fine? Stars, he wanted to ask that so so bad, and Error knew it. Instead, Ink forced a grin, "Sure thing Second."

"...What about sushi?" Horror asked, more than happy to eat the pieces of octopus and squid being passed his way from Killer's plate. Pointedly, he glanced at one of the covered trays seated in the middle of the table. In total, there were three, spread across the length of the table to be picked at if people wished. "It's raw, but not alive."

Curiously, Cross reached out for a fourth tray. Careful to avoid jostling the glitch on his lap, he grasped the cover and opened it.

The dead eyes of a fish stared at him, the decapitated head floating in a bowl of a soup.

Horror grinned. "Wrong tray, Cross."

Displaying an amazing amount of adult restraint, Cross slammed the cover back on it and threw a sharpened knife at Horror.

Who, of course, dodged it with his shit-eating grin still in place. Killer whined, "So, I'm still banned from throwing knives, but you're allowed?!"

"It's because you'd actually hit your target, Kills," Horror chuckled.

Cross' mask back in place, he readjusted his grip on Geno, checking to see if he'd awaken yet. Nope... Error watched Cross closely before turning his gaze onto Reaper. He couldn't see his god husband very well from across the table, but he knew Nightmare. Knew what being next to him entailed. Knew that, whatever it was, he'd probably have to redo any bandages Reaper was allowed.

Fuck... the healing creams...

Ink looked across the table to Error-

His vision jerked forward with Killer slamming his hand onto his shoulder, "I dunno, the artist has pretty good aim too!" Ink looked to him, seeing the wide grin. "Nice to see you in action on someone other than myself."

Not fear. Never fear from Killer. Admiration...? Maybe? Amusement and caution, for sure, but... did Killer actually admire Ink keeping his blank face...? Or was it more the brief control Killer had over Ink...?

"Um... thanks...?" Ink reached for a second glass of wine.

Nightmare smiled with what looked like genuine joy in the expression. His cold gaze spoke of the truth, however. Even if his own eye hadn't betrayed him, Ink would have known the expression to be fake.

There's nothing genuine about him. Nothing good or happy or kind. It was famil-

"It's wonderful to see you all getting along," As Ink drained his second glass and reached for another, the lord reached out and snatched the wine from his hand and directed it to his own mouth. "I trust that today's little bonding moment between two of our nightmares helped shoo away any remaining suspicions about their loyalty?"

Although Killer was quick to nod, Endure's own silent agree was clearly a reluctant one.

Horror, quite obviously, neither spoke or gestured his agreement. At the expectant look from Nightmare to explain himself, the forever-injured skeleton straightened. "I don't know, boss," he murmured, his amusement from his small prank on Cross lingering in his smile, but steadily becoming overwhelmed by something not quite suspicious, yet close. "If you ask me, the god should get his hands dirty, too," Slowly, his eye slid to the glitch on Cross' lap. "And what about him?"

The husbands tensed, but Nightmare spoke first, "Genocide is... special, Horror." His eye met Error's as he licked his teeth clean and grinned. "Very special. You don't need to worry about him."

"Then that just leaves the god," Horror frowned at Nightmare.

"What about me, Horror?" Reaper muttered. He'd tried to continue eating, but every bite he put in his mouth brought up the unpleasant, slimy and squirmy sensations that were there earlier. After only a few bites, he'd stopped, unable to get past that feeling. He turned his empty gaze to Horror.

"Indeed, what did you have in mind?" Nightmare smiled more.

Horror rested his skull on one hand, pushing his food around with his fork before picking up a forkful. His overlarge light met Reaper's empty one. "Ya know boss, we haven't had fun in an AU for a... really long time. Have the god destroy one, and I'd consider him loyal."

Again, the husbands tensed. Ink reached for the bottle of wine as memories of Aftertale's collapse echoed through his entire body. Reaper and Error each exchanged looks as memories of Ink's dust resurfaced in their minds.

And yet, Nightmare seemed bored with the suggestion. "Such a simple task, don't you think, Horror? To command Death to bring about the very thing he is? It's like asking a toddler to drool. They'll do so on their own, without command."

Nightmare's words brought little relief to the husbands. "...What would you have me do instead?" Reaper asked quietly, a hitch in his voice as the tendril over his wound adjusted.

"I've never owned a god before," Owned. Nightmare wasn't shy about naming them all his possessions, but the outright claim settled on Reaper's shoulders uncomfortably. "I want to... parade you around a bit, I think. Let others know divinity bows before me. What better way of doing so than to showcase the leash that leads to my hand?"

Frowning, Horror dragged the tray of off-putting soup to his side. Taking up one of the bowls, he questioned, "And what about proving himself? To me, it sounds like you just want to play with him," before taking up one of the fish heads and biting through scale and bone.

"Why not to both at once?" Came the king's counter. "I have a...package I want delivered, preferably before it gathers anymore dust. Horror, you will go with the god tomorrow as he delivers it. Watch, but do not interfere unless provoked. God," Nightmare caught Reaper's eye with a smile, "if any attempt to prevent the delivery, end them. If they draw attention to you, end them. If anyone so much as catches a single glimpse of you-"

"-end them." Reaper finished. In other words, don't be seen if I don't want to kill.

Smirking, Nightmare nodded and leaned back in seat. "The only creature allowed to live is the one the packaged is intended for."

"...I thought you wanted to show me off...?"

"I do," Nightmare chuckled. "To him. Will this mission be enough to satisfy you, Horror?"

After a moment’s thought, the skeleton in question offered up a nod, "Yeah."

"Good," Pleased, the king of the castle smiled. "Then let's continued with dinner. There's still time for dancing after our meal."

Ink paused with the bottle pouring wine into a new glass. He pushed the glass away slightly and set the bottle closer to himself. Error sighed heavily. Why the fuck are we going to dance afterwards....

Reaper lost himself in his thoughts for the moment. Any more dust...? He... didn't have a good feeling about this...

Killer patted Ink's shoulder again before continuing his own meal. The artist uncomfortably rolled his shoulders and crossed his legs. He looked down the table to Error, nervous about dancing in the dress he made. He didn't doubt Error's rushed handiwork, but he doubted the gentleness of his potential dance partners.

Wearily, Endure spoke up, "Might we be able to skip the dancing tonight, boss?"

"Are you still having doubts about our other nightmares?" Nightmare tilted his head. "I thought you said you didn't doubt their loyalties?"

"I don't," though that word of End's was laced with the doubt he was denying, he charged through, "I just... don't understand why we must dance-"

"We dance at celebrations, Newbie," Error interrupted. "It's how it's always been."

"Says the guy who had to be brought back?" Endure frowned at him. "As far as I understand it, you abandoned everyone here- actually, boss? Yeah. I do have doubts about this Second of yours."

Nightmare smiled cruelly, gaze meeting Error's. "I must have forgotten to tell all of you. Silly me. Error never left us, nightmares."

"...the fuck does that mean?" Killer frowned. "Of course he did! He... he literally just dipped out on-"

"On an undercover mission, given by yours truly," Nightmare smiled wider. "Ah yes, I should have planned a better celebration for you, destroyer."

Lies, Ink and Reaper thought simultaneously. That's... that's a fucking lie...

Error narrowed his sockets at Nightmare.

Horror looked between Nightmare and Error, his overblown eye full of suspicion. Like his fellow willing nightmares, he was doubtful of this new piece of information, and yet... He always was so eager to please the boss. An extended mission resulting in the capture of two major assets?

There's no way that wouldn't please Nightmare, if not in a different manner than what Error was not-so-secretly known to do.

Interesting... but still not entirely believed. "Prove it," Horror challenged, unsettling eye light settling on Error.

Eyes never once breaking the stare he was maintaining with Nightmare, Error barked, "I don't take orders from you, Horror." Anger in his eyes, he took a risk, "And if we're going to dance, then why not do it the old way, boss? The same partners, throughout the entire event."

Nightmare smiled, amused at the audacity he continued to show, "We have an odd number." He didn't push his reveal, but Error knew better than to think he would forget to mention it more.

"Endure doesn't want to dance? Fine, allow him to watch from the sidelines."

"And the partners you suggest?"

"Horror with Killer," Error replied instantly. "Reaper and Ink." I'm sorry, Geno, "Geno can dance with Cross, if he wakes. If not, then End will take his place if watching gets boring."

Error, you idiot. Ink thought, wanting nothing more than to lunge across the table to shake sense into his first. You're leaving yourself with-

"Eager to return to my side, are you?" Nightmare asked with a chuckle, "Then again, I suppose there is no reason to keep up our little act. And I'll admit, the last dance did remind me of just how much I missed having my true second near. Very well, Error. I'll accept this."

Horror scowled, “And that proved, what, exactly? That Error still yips out orders? I’m not buying it.”

Ink tilted back the bottle, but no more wine resided in its pits. Stars dammit... He leaned back in his chair, narrowing his eyes at the phantom pains he- oh... oh it’s my shoulder that's bleeding too... He squeezed his sockets shut, wanting nothing more than to throw a whole temper tantrum right there.

Nightmare, though delighting in the artist's darkening mood and the god’s self-conflict, shot a glare to Horror, “Are you doubting me now, Horror?”

A careless shrug, “Not at all, boss. Just trying to understand.”

Graciously, Nightmare motioned with his hand and offered the fresh bottle of wine passed to him to Ink who scowled, torn between rejecting the offered beverage he sought and downing it in a single go. I don't want a damn thing you have to offer, he would snarl, had he been drunker. Or drunk at all.

"I suppose I can't fault you for that," Setting the bottle between Ink's plate and his own, the king of the castle returned his full attention to Horror. "Still, it's quite simple, isn't it? How does one go about converting the multiverse's most dedicated protector? How would the protector, the most devoted of them all, be tempted to my side?"

Horror shrugged. "You tell me," he murmured, mind racing through possibilities.

"Easy," Nightmare purred, "you give him something else to devote himself to. Something he'd risk the very worlds he vowed to protect for. And oh, wasn't Error the perfect choice? Infamous and cruel as he is, all it took was an act of interest to draw in our artist. Not just him, but a god as well. Both of which who became attached not just to Error, but to Cross' sweet glitch."

Fuck it, Ink snatched the bottle of wine up. Finding it already uncorked, he tipped his head back and swallowed every last drop that flowed into his mouth. I'm too sober to listen to this bullshit.

Tilting his head, Horror thought over the small bit of information. "...You've been using Cross' little boyfriend as leverage over all of them, though."

Nightmare's smile was a wicked thing. "And who, exactly, do you think gave me that leverage, Horror? Or did you think it chance? A household usually so filled with life just so happened to be empty save for the weakest link on the day I decided we would strike? Luck, you could say. A coincidence." Chuckling darkly, he flashed a victorious smile at both the artist and god. "But in actuality, it was the result of a message sent my way. Just two simple words."

Bringing his half empty glass to his mouth, Nightmare murmured, quoting, "He's alone," before taking a sip.

Chapter Text

The bottle shattered in Ink's hand before he even processed it happening. Surprise was clear on his face as he watched the shards clatter onto the table and the plate before him. This drink isn't even going to touch me... For a brief moment, he longed for his paints.... "Tch..." he wrapped his hand in the napkin instead. He wasn't drunk. Not even tipsy. But he could play the part. He directed his next words to Horror, "Nosy ass."

Reaper avoided their gazes, staring hard at the still-full plate in front of him. It was hard to tell truth from lie with the king, and he didn't have a safe place to rest his gaze on, so he simply didn't. The turmoil within him grew against his control.

Cross sighed. Why were these idiots dragging this night so long...? He glanced sideways at Error, but found that he couldn't read the other second. Probably for the best, but... what the fuck are you doing...?

Error met his gaze, hate suddenly clear in those multicolored sockets. Cross kept the stare for another moment before glancing aside to pick up his own drink.

Horror raised a brow in Ink's direction. "Careful there, artist. Wouldn't want to slice open that dress of yours on one of those shards."

Words bunched together with a slight, purposeful slur, Ink muttered, "Shuddap, glory hole," before reaching for a glass. Water, not wine, but anyone in a drunken state would mistake the overly expensive crystal cup as a stemless wine glass.

Killer snorted, the sound as unattractive as the water that spouted from his nasal cavity. Laughing as he choked, he brought a napkin to his face even as he howled out, "G-glory hole?! Is... is it-" he wheezed, "is it because of the hole on his skull?"

Endure fidgeted uncomfortably at the joke and the sudden ruckus Killer was making.

"Yeah, don't wanna see any other glory holes he has," Ink drank from the glass, screwing his face up slightly before continuing to drink from it.

Nightmare chuckled at the spectacle before standing. "Well then, why don't we all get to dancing? The night is plenty young, after all."

———

The moment they made it back to their hall and the door shut behind them, Reaper bolted up the stairs to check on Geno while Ink whirled on Error, eyes flashing between reds and blues. "What the fuck was all that?!" he hissed.

Error shut his eyes, willing his tears to stay- nope, there they go. "Ink-"

His voice dropped more, "You let yourself get felt up all night for a fucking bottle of cream?!"

The destroyer's eyes snapped open. "To protect you! To heal Reaper! Ink!" Error took a step forward, darkness in his eyes, but desperation in his SOUL. "You expect me to fucking sit there knowing he was fondling-?!"

"Ru, you don't-"

"No! You don't understand, Ink-!"

Ink grabbed Error's jacket and yanked him close enough that his next words were no more than a whisper for the destroyer to hear, "I understand much more than you think I do. Something happened between you two. You got really hurt by him. Hurt enough that you-" you're scared of him "-you... but you still-" Ink dropped his hands to tangle their fingers together. "You got the healing cream? Good job. And what next? We use it for Reaper's wounds. He heals. Just for Nightmare to fuck him up again." Ink met Error's gaze, while his whole body started to shake. "He worsened Reaper's shoulder again. He couldn't keep his d-disgusting-" On your arms, your chest, your thighs... Again, Ink's voice was a whisper, "I know because I felt it, you dumbass."

Error tensed, staring up at Ink. "You... aren't you going to ask about-?"

"It's just a game," Ink murmured miserably. "It's just... you protecting us... with another horrible lie that's going to backlash sooner or later." He stared down at the floor and dropped Error's hands. "I... I need to sh-shower...." the more he thought about the phantom tendrils all over and inside his body, the more other memories started to crop up, and he didn't want to potentially have an episode in front of Error.

When he turned to leave, Error didn't try to stop him, nor did he call out. Instead, the destroyer stood stiffly with his eyes on the ground, listening as footsteps grew fainter with every soft tap until a distant door shut and muffled running water was heard.

Positive that he was alone for the moment, the destroyer quietly reached into his pocket and withdrew a small jar of healing cream.

His hands trembled.

Droplets of tears turned into a steady stream.

And Error broke.

Crumpling to the ground, he brought the healing cream close to his chest and curled around it as if it were something precious to protect. Voiceless, soundless, he sobbed. Idiot, idiot, idiot, he scolded, tearing himself down with that single word. The more he thought it, the less he heard his own voice.

Eventually, it was the low, purring drawl of Nightmare's voice in his ears. "Pathetic, Error. I'll admit that you have your uses, but what I saw from you today? Nothing but disappointment. Then again, that's your specialty, isn't it?" Crouching in front of him, Nightmare leaned in as he if planned to connect their mouths. "Being a disappointment. A burden." Softly, he whispered, "Worthless, really. Well, if it weren't for the way you make up for your mistakes so nicely, that is."

I just wanted to make you proud, The Error of the past thought.

Breathing raggedly, the destroyer of the present thought in relation to his husband, I just wanted to help. He couldn't heal. He couldn't protect them. He just...

"Failed," Nightmare hissed, "you failed me yet again."

Funny how 'me' sounded so much like 'them'.

"Ru...?" Reaper's worried coo broke through his thoughts. Error startled, tearing his gaze away from his godly husband as he approached cautiously. Reaper knelt next to him, and hesitated. "Error, honey, can I... may I... um..."

Error listened to Reaper move away, then come back-

Several blankets wrapped around Error. Reaper got himself comfortable next to him, and pulled Error into his embrace, wrapping his arms and crossing his legs loosely around him. Somehow, that made it worse, and Error dug his face into Reaper's chest, letting the silent but violent sobs out into the god's sleep shirt.

Whatever doubts Reaper had begun to have about Error actually betraying them were gone. There's no way he could fake these tears.

Unless he's just that good of an-

Error pulled away slightly, showing Reaper the bottle of cream. Curiously, Reaper took it and read the- oh... "Ru... oh honey, how did you-?" Error glanced away, and the god understood. He took in a deep breath, but his own tears still formed. "Thank you..." with a gentle nudge, Reaper pulled him back into his arms, nearly cradling him against the chest, and ignoring any and all pains it was causing him. He did that for us...

Though Reaper also thought about the cream being wasted on him, Error didn't have to do it. He didn't have to try.

It could all be an elaborate scheme... doubt whispered to the god. "Geno's still... out of it..." Reaper murmured, interrupting that negative voice in his mind. "I'm not sure what we can do to help him, but he doesn't seem any worse either..."

Error didn't say anything. Couldn't, even if he wanted to.

Gently, the god began rubbing a hand up and down the shorter skeleton's back through the blankets. He loves Geno, he reassured himself, discomforted by the small part of him that couldn't seem to latch onto the belief. "Do... do you want to help me make him a little more comfortable?"

He loves his brother, Ru wouldn't just give him up like that.

Again, that terrible, sly voice whispered, But they're not actually brothers, are they? Besides, what do you know about their relationship? How they even- "We can drag a mattress down there. Make a big nes- um, comfortable space for us on the floor. The four of us could cuddle, if you're up for it...?"

And, if Error was able, the four could do so, couldn't they? Because-

Reaper's gaze softened. Full of what Ink would have sighed over dreamily and called the softest shade of pink, the god pressed a kiss to Error's skull through the blankets around him. "Since you got me the cream, it won't hurt."

Error squeezed his sockets shut again, wriggling slightly to uncover his arms, he turned in the embrace and wrapped his arms around Reaper's middle. With his face pressed in Reaper's chest, and his voice still refusing to work, Error nodded once, shortly. He pulled away slightly to tug at the strings that had begun to pile uselessly in their laps, and he busied himself with making a large, room-sized hammock. Reaper watched patiently, humming a little tune to keep the bad thoughts at bay.

We made a vow. In sickness and health. The four of us held hands, swearing those words to each other. I... I heard them ring true for all of us. Error was still in his suit as he finished the hammock.

Reaper glanced up the stairs where the shower was still running. ...how long has it been running for...? "Um... Ru, why don't you change real quick and set up the... comfort space? I'll check on Ink real quick."

Error's lights glanced up to where the shower ran, a deep sadness and worry reflecting there. He nodded again, and the two walked up the stairs, with Error disappearing into the bedroom. Reaper knocked on the bathroom door. "Ink?"

Abruptly, the water shut off. "...Yeah?" Ink called back, voice bright in a way that meant he was faking his cheerfulness.

Already worried by Error's distressed silence and the tears soaking his clothing, the god curled his hand on the door, ready to barge in. First, he needed to ask permission. Nightmare took enough from them with every command he forced upon them. Reaper wasn't going to steal away anymore of his husband's rights. "Can I come in, hon?" silence. "Inky? Um, if not... do you want me to grab you some clothes?"

"...Yeah, hon," Again, the forced cheer, "to... to both things."

Luckily, gathering clothing for Ink to wear wasn't a difficult task. In less than a handful of minutes, Reaper had the softest pajamas he could find in Ink's size slung over an arm and was entering the bathroom.

Thread was the first thing he noticed. Yards and yards of blue string scattered across the floor alongside mesh and lingerie.

Reaper ignored it in favor of meeting the eyes that peer at him from around the shower's curtain.

Those wavering lights with the random colors and symbols. Reaper stepped closer, just for Ink to hide a little more behind the curtain. The god blinked, stopping, "Ink..."

"Y-yeah? That's me!" he smiled.

Reaper stared at him. "How hard were you scrubbing yourself...?"

The artist blinked, smile faltering. He glanced away and let the curtain open up more, and when Reaper took another step forward-

Stars... fresh scratches were visible all over Ink's bones, and the dark blood that flowed from them darkened the bottom of the tub until it almost looked like the tub was meant to be black. "Ink..."

The artist avoided his gaze. "It'll heal-"

"Just because it'll heal doesn't mean you should be hurting yourself like this...!"

Ink flinched, shrinking in on himself. the god moved closer, setting the new clothes on the back of the toilet before kneeling by the tub. "Inky, why...?"

"It wouldn't stop... it... none of it would...!" he shuddered, whispering, "I saw her the whole night."

Reaper tensed slightly. Muffet...

Ink stared ahead, gaze hollow. "H-he put himself in d-danger for the cre-"

"I know."

"He shouldn't have-!"

"He was trying to protect-"

"That's my-"

"Not here, it isn't, Ink," Reaper's hand rested on his shoulder. "Your knowledge about this place is severely limited only to what you remember of fights and your Star squad thing. Error has lived here. He understands this place better. Ink, you cannot protect us here. Hell, I can't either. I know even less than you do. Error-"

Ink shook his head sharply, growling, "He didn't betray us. He- I know Error. He wouldn't-" understanding dawned on Reaper's face.

Ink was doubting too... if just for a moment...

Self-hate flared in Ink's sockets just before he shut them. "He wouldn't betray us, but he would try to make it convincing for them... the idiot-"

"Says the pot calling the kettle black?" Reaper smiled faintly. "Hon, we need to trust each other."

Ink murmured, "What we need is-" a plan to get us all out of here... But without Geno's SOUL... He sighed, "We..."

"Need to all talk together some point soon. But right now? You need to get yourself cleaned up for some TLC-" Reaper's sockets had drifted down to the self-inflicted wounds- that had already healed. "Oh. Well, you still need to actually shower," He rose from his spot and started to leave, but Ink's voice stopped him momentarily:

"Can you... roll up the thread please...?" Can you stay a little longer...?

Reaper nodded.

———

When Ink and Reaper emerged after a short time, Error was already changed into his night clothes and had gotten Geno a little more comfortable in the hammock. He was trying to feed his brother some soft solids through some magic, which was thankfully working, but Geno's unresponsive form was still unnerving. The destroyer glanced up with tired eyes and motioned for the two of them to come over. You're getting this cream on your wounds, even if I have to tie you down to do it, his stubborn expression read.

Ink helped Reaper up onto the hammock before crawling on for himself. "Ru...?"

As Error applied the cream to Reaper's shoulder, he flicked his sockets to his first husband. Weary. Guarded. Uncertain. Maybe more of that desperation deep down, but-

Ink couldn't help the small smile at the pink that was still there. He wouldn't betray us. The artist dropped his gaze, "I'm sorry for-"

"Don't..." his voice was hoarse.

"Ru-"

"Don't, Ink. I...."

"You want an apology? Oh Error, I'm afraid you simply don't deserve one."

"...It's okay..." he murmured, no real anger aimed at Ink. "Can... can you grab more food...? Geno probably needs more than what I gave him..."

Because of the baby, he very pointedly did not add. He didn't want to think about that right now. Not with eerie phantom limbs stroking across his form.

It's not okay...! Ink wanted to scream. Actually, he wanted to take Error's title and absolutely destroy the place. He wanted to rip this entire castle to shreds- but... that wouldn't help right now. Shoulders slumping even more, Ink murmured, "I'll be right back..."

"Error... honey, you know we-"

"I don't want to talk, Reaps."

"Unless it's those pretty little sounds of yours, I don't want to hear a single thing from you for the rest of the night. Actually, the week. I tire of your poor excuses."

Practice stole the sound from his next sob. Thankfully, the few tears that fell were easily brushed away under the guise of grabbing more cream for Reaper's shoulder.

"Error..."

"Come now, don't tempt me with that pitiful expression of yours. You know your tears make me weak, lover." Too tight of a grasp took hold of his chin. "I simply adore the pitiful way you cry. Pathetic, yet appealing. Just like you, lover."

"N...not now..." Stop, stop. Please just... stop. "I... Not now, Reaps. Later, okay?" Later, when past touches and words didn't haunt him. When he could hear an apology and let himself accept it.

Watching as the last of the wounded bone melded together, Error double checked for any spots that may have been overlooked before focused on Reaper's ribs. They had to be nudged into place, but the god braved through what was becoming familiar pain for bone to align then come together under gentle fingers coated in tingling cream.

"Thanks, honey." For the cream and for the help.

Nodding, Error carefully scraped off what remained on his fingers back into the jar before sealing it and stashing it into his inventory. Suspiciously timed, Ink reappeared just then with a bowl of microwaved soup in his hands.

Ink paused, standing just next to the hammock, but staring almost helplessly as he tried to figure out how to crawl in without spilling any soup. Reaper noticed, and extended an arm out to take the bowl. The process to get everyone situated was much like that: a strange silence with them readjusting until they were comfortable.

Reaper took over for trying to feed Geno while Ink sat cross-legged near Error, looking at him uncertainly. Error stared at him, sighing heavily when it didn't seem like the artist was getting the hint. He lifted his own shirt slightly and pointed to Ink's shoulder. The artist shook his head, "I'm fine."

"Ink, just... stop trying to keep us from worrying," Reaper sent him a look. "Because it isn't working."

"I'm serious, I'm okay now..." he muttered, but still pulled his shirt over his shoulders.

The one that had reflected Reaper's injuries was completely clear, aside from the resulting scar. The tattoos surrounding it perfectly showed where the injury had been. Same for the broken ribs. Error blinked in surprise, but tugged at the shirt until it was completely off. Ink glanced at him, following his eyes to the-

Oh right... the puncture wounds from Nightmare's claws... they'd healed somewhat, but... not as fast as anything else. He sighed, laying back against the hammock to let Error pull the cream back out and swipe it across the punctures.

The injuries sustained from reflecting Muffet's and Reaper's pains were gone, leaving behind the faintest of scars that interrupted several of Ink's beautiful, swirling tattoos. Instead, it was the injury given by the king of the castle, and those sustained by Cross and Killer that were left. Though the latter two have mostly healed, whatever Nightmare held within his goop was making it annoyingly difficult to heal properly. Probably some sort of anti-healing bullshit...

Ink flinched at the tingling, shutting his sockets, even after it was over, and murmured, "Thank you, Ru."

Error shook his head, though Ink couldn't see. Don't thank me...

Same as when Reaper's wounds were finished being treated, Error carefully scraped off every last bit of excess cream that he could salvage before closing the jar tight. There was still quite a bit left, but who knew how long it would remain that way?

Once he had it safely put away, Error let himself fall back against the support of the hammock, though he was sure to move slowly enough that the bowl of soup Reaper held wouldn't spill. Geno and the thing-he-wasn't-thinking-about needed as much as they could get.

Ink reached down and took hold of Error's pinky with his own. "We're going to be okay," he murmured. "W-we're going to figure things out and we're going to be okay."

Neither of them said anything. Reaper continued to try and feed Geno as gently and slowly as he could. He took the time to blow on each spoonful before attempting, but still he tried.

Error on the other hand... he knew better. Maybe they would be fine, but it would only happen after Nightmare's had his fun. After he's wrung every positive feeling and memory from each of them, and even then, it still probably wouldn't get better.

Ink trembled slightly at their silence, but couldn't come up with any words to fill it.

Words...

Again, Ink let his eyes fall shut. Please... he begged. To who? He wasn't quite sure, but the plea helped fill the silence in his head even as the one within the room continued. Please, please just... just...

Heh, he didn't even know what to say. Safe in his own head and he still couldn't find a way to comfort himself, let alone his husbands. He just... he wanted them safe.

Happy.

Ink wanted everything good thing for his husbands that Nightmare would gladly rip away from them but he had no means of offering them...anything, really. Not comfort, or even a simple smile.

He... he couldn't reach one of them with words alone.

What kind of protector are you?

He curled in slightly on himself. A shitty one... a month.... a whole fucking month, and we dug ourselves a nice little grave here... Curling further, he clung to Error and buried his face in his husband's chest. I'm sorry... I'm sorry...!

But why was he sorry? It wasn't him that brought this down on them. It wasn't him that had watched his family for stars knows how long. It wasn't him who tortured and r-

Tears squeezed themselves free from Ink's tightly shut sockets. But I should've.... I should've stopped it somehow...! I should've known, right...?!

“He’s gone…! He’s gone…!

….who…who is gone?

I… I don’t-

No... he had no idea how bad Nightmare truly was. What limits he'd happily breach. What limits he did break. Ink had no fucking clue. About anything.

Feeling his shirt dampen, Error shuddered and wrapped his arms around Ink. Why are you crying...? There were so many reasons for Ink's tears, but he worried over which one was responsible. Inky...

Glancing at them, Reaper caught Error's eyes with a sad, troubled gaze. Dropping his stare down to the bowl held between his hands, he slumped. Half-full. A little more than half, actually...

But he couldn't get Geno to take in anymore.

Defeated, he dropped the soup into his inventory. He would have to remember to remove it before it spoiled, but he didn't want to leave their hammock at the moment to take care of it properly. Instead, he told himself he'd probably remember and let himself believe it.

"I'm gonna move you, Gen..." he murmured, carefully adjusting the glitch so that he would be sandwiched between both his husbands should Ink decide to unlatch himself from Error. "Should... should we try to sleep...?"

"Yeah... if I know that asshole, things are only going to get worse..."

Ink made a near whimpering noise, gripping Error tighter.

Reaper lay next to them, reaching one of his arms across them all to try and hold them together. Though it was horrible, he was glad the four of them were together again...

Five...

The god shut his sockets tightly. Geno's baby... it's Geno's baby... "Okay... okay let's try and sleep...."

Chapter Text

There was precious little he wanted to do anymore. Especially since the husbands- since Error was back. Everything was a bigger chore. A more and more difficult test of wills at every turn.

But now, he approached the door, letting three sharp knocks announce his presence.

"Enter," came the muffled voice. If he were being honest with himself, he hated that voice. Almost as much as he hated his own.

But here wasn't the place for honesty. Now wasn't either.

As far as everyone needed to be concerned, he worshiped the voice on the other side of the door.

When he says enter? Cross does.

Nightmare stood staring at two outfits, both equally stunning in their own rights. He glanced over, though no smile nor smirk graced his expression. "Cross," he greeted a little too familiarly.

What do you want me to respond with today...? Cross wondered. Instead, he inclined his head, keeping his hands behind his back, "My king."

When no tendrils whipped at him, he knew he chose the right title today.

Nightmare motioned to a nearby chair. "Sit, if you wish to do so. We have much to discuss and I'd hate for you to tire before we're through."

"No thank you, my king." Like a good little soldier, he'd remain on his feet; spine straight and eyes alert for any danger beyond the threat who smiled at him now. "If I may be so bold to ask... what orders do you have for me today, m'lord?"

The king's smile was equal parts amused and pleased. Out of every nightmare beneath his control, Cross was the one who confirmed to fit the roles assigned to him the best. Loyal second, dastardly villain, puny lackey... it didn't matter what it was. If Nightmare demanded Cross to play a part, then he played it. Perfectly.

"Your orders will be given soon enough. For now, I'd like your opinion on a few things. If you're willing to offer it, I mean."

Cross' gaze flickered to the clothing Nightmare was eyeing. Another outfit for Geno? he wondered, though he didn't dare voice his question. Nightmare was waiting for a response, after all. "Of course, my king. What is it you'd like my input on?"

"Well, I suppose it's less of an opinion and more a series of answers for a few yes or no questions. You see, Cross, I recall ordering all of my nightmares to dance last night after dinner. I did, correct?"

"Yes, my king."

Nightmare's gaze sharpened. "So, we agree that it was an order that everyone dance."

"Yes," Cross murmured, wariness expertly hidden behind a mask.

"And are orders optional?"

"No."

"I see..." A smile slithered onto Nightmare's face. "If that's the case, then answer me this, dear second... Why is it that you returned dear little Genocide to his room last night? We agree that I ordered everyone to dance. We also agreed that following my orders is not optional, and yet, did you not disobey me last night? Did tucking poor, slumbering Genocide into bed mean that, not one, but two of my nightmare's failed to abide by my rules?"

"Respectfully sir, it's my understanding that Genocide is following your doll command until otherwise commanded by you again," just barely refraining from fidgeting, Cross continued, "Therefore, it is just myself who failed to follow your command... myself and Endu-"

"Endure could have had a partner, if you returned promptly. Tell me, Cross, where did you go? Unless..." his smirk widened, "Did you perform a... dance of your own with my doll?" Clicking his tongue, Nightmare shook his head, "Dearest little second, I could have sworn we had a conversation about touching my things."

Unnerved, Cross took a shaky step back.

And just like that, he was a pathetically helpless rookie once more.

After already losing everything you knew and loved once before, you'd think that deciding on what really mattered in life would be easier. Friends, family, a roof over your head... Which was the most important? If you could only choose one at the cost of losing the others, then which should be selected? Which ones ought to be thrown away? Cross had them all ripped from him before, so getting to keep one now? It should have been a privilege.

And yet, the great loss he experienced made him greedy.

Friends, family, a roof over his head... those were only a few of the things he had to choose from in order to decide what to keep, but Cross didn't want to choose at all. After all his loss, he didn't want to have to give up a single thing he had now. Not his friends, not his room, not the safety provided by the castle walls...

But keeping all those things meant giving up something special.

Someone special, and he... he didn't know if he could do that. No matter how reluctant Cross was to part with everything he had come to know and claim for himself as a nightmare, he just... didn't know if keeping all of it was worth losing-

"There you are, Rookie."

"E-Error!" Cross yelped, whirling around with widened sockets. "What are- I thought-" Pausing, he glanced around them nervously. Hesitantly, he leaned forward and lowered his voice to a whisper. "Error, what the hell are you doing here? I... I thought you said you'd be out of the castle now?" For good.

"I was forgetting something... no..." Error stared at Cross, a near hesitation in his face, "S-someone. Cross..."

"Y-yeah....?" No way! N-no way, he... does he really have feelings for me too...? Cross tried to clamp down on his nervous excitement. He... he can't right? He's going off with-

"Will you come with me?" Error asked, hesitantly holding a hand out.

Feeling like he was floating, Cross felt his expression soften. "Y-yes." More firmly, he said, "Yes!"

"That's..." Error's face started to drip, and his hand tightened around Cross', "...so nice..." his voice distorted, and goop poured from Error's orifices, "...to hear..." and there stood Nightmare. A green glowing eye shone in his socket. "But... perhaps I heard this wrong?" he asked innocently. "You aren't running away with one of my toys, are you?" His voice mocked Error's as he added, "Rookie?"

No... no, no-!

Nightmare smiled knowingly, but didn't release Cross' hand. "Strange, isn't it? All these years as a nightmare and yet you've never once concealed yourself from me. Your emotions... I've always felt them, Crossy. Until recently, that is," If anything, that grip tightened, until a pain blossomed in the bones. "Even now, I cannot tell what you're thinking beyond the shock and fear in your eyes. I wonder what the reason is for that change is. I wonder who the reason is... I mean, had I not known better, I would have said that reason was Error, but we both know that couldn't be." Nightmare's gaze was sharp, glowing even brighter. "He's mine, after all. And I think you're smart enough to know that I'm not one to share."

"N-Night-"

"Oh you poor child, don't try to play innocent with me. He abandoned you. Abandoned us."

"N-no... you- you let him go-"

"Ah so you know about the five years?" Nightmare chuckled, pulling Cross in closer, wrapping his other arm tightly around the nightmare's waist. "How about... you and I make a deal now... since it would be such a shame to see you try to run off after my things."

"B-boss, I-"

Foul slick smeared across the surface of Cross' tongue as a tendril pushed past his teeth to silence him. Instinctively, Cross flinched back and screamed, but the tendril only slithered in deeper as Nightmare pulled the struggling skeleton closer with the restrictive arm around Cross' waist. Deeper and deeper the tendril went, stealing air and muffling screams as it forced itself as far as the nightmare could handle. And when that limit was reached and Cross began to choke and gag? Still the tendril pushed on until a throat formed around it and panicked tears prickled the other's sockets.

"You know..." Nightmare murmured, breath hot against Cross' summoned throat. "Without Error here to warm my bed, I worry that I may grow... lonely. Perhaps we should strive to fix that with our deal? I'd get the... company I do desire and you... Well, you'd have little strength left in your legs to run after my toy. Mmm, and you are so very fit..."

Teasingly, the king slid a hand beneath Cross' many layers. When he felt the smooth surface of magic made flesh, Nightmare smirked and blindly traced the faint outline of forming abs; a testament to the effort Cross often put into his training that often left him feeling prideful.

Now, with the king's slick palm flat against his abdomen, Cross only felt terror. He knew exactly what Nightmare's fondling could lead to. The hand beneath his shirt, the tendril creeping into the leg of his shorts... Cross knew what awaited him should the king choose to continue, and he feared it.

Through his rising panic, Cross briefly thought back to Error: "Rookie, if Nightmare ever comes onto you, you run. I don't care what the stakes are, or what the situation is. If he tries to get you into bed... Fuck, just run. Don't... don't make the same mistakes I did."

Don't let him hurt you too, Cross.

Nightmare must have seen the fear in his eyes, because he paused. Not out of mercy, but simply because the king wished to revel in the evidence that Cross feared him. "What's the matter, Crossy?" he purred, lazily grinding into the teary eyed, frightened rookie. "Could it be that you're not interested in the deal I proposed?"

Desperately, Cross shook his head.

"Pity..." Bored now, Nightmare released him; arm, tendrils, and wandering hand all withdrawing just as Cross' mouth was freed from the slick tendril muffling his sounds. "Well then-"

Air rushing in too quickly and panic too high, Cross doubled over and gagged. It was a foul sound quickly followed by a painful retch as black sludge was expelled from his mouth.

Expression one of displeasure, Nightmare frowned. "Clean that up once you're done. I don't want to continue conducting business with the scent of your sick soiling the air."

Watching as the rookie followed his command, a thought occurred to him. "There is the matter of a new Second I need to consider."

Terror gripped Cross tight, pausing his efforts to clean his mess, and that feeling only increased once one of Nightmare's tendrils cupped Cross' chin, tilting his head upwards towards the now smiling king. Despite the desire to not... conduct business there, he seemed to be... formulating something in his mind. "I could be convinced to let my precious Error stay wherever he ran off to if I had a suitable replacement...." smiling wider, Nightmare murmured, "Ah. How about... I make you my new Second. Follow my every command. My every will and whim. Oh, but you don't appear to be interested in warming my bed..." pretending to consider for a moment longer, Nightmare smirked, "You have five years. Condemn another to take Error's place, or see him back here. Understand?"

"Oh, Crossy," at once, the Second's attention was snapped back to the present. To the threat- to his boss in front of him. "You seem to be relaxing on following my orders lately," Nightmare purred. "You failed to find a new toy for me to play with, so I brought Error home. I found myself three new toys where you couldn't find a single one. And yet... so subtly, you're disobeying me. You're messing with my things again. Lusting after them, though your guard is even more impressive now."

Cross took another step back. Futile, when Nightmare grabbed him with tendrils around his wrists and held him midair. Dropping the hangers, Nightmare dragged Cross closer, resting a clawed hand upon his unformed chest. "Such an impressive guard... I never did try to break this little habit of yours."

"I-it's to protect y-you-"

"Protect me?" Nightmare barked out a laugh. When he spoke again, it was with Error's voice, "Rookie, you shouldn't be feeling such sweet, positive things. Not with me."

Cross stared at the king in dismay. "Nigh- my king," he hurried to correct.

Nightmare didn't ignore the slip. "Failures, disobedience, secrets, and now the audacity to refer to your king by name without permission? You're so very brave, Crossy," Carelessly, the king dropped him. "I hate that. Bravery is for knights, not nightmares. Rather than taking chances with my commands, I expect you to submit to my control and follow them. I already allow you quite a bit of leeway when it comes to mistakes. Don't make me regret that anymore than I already do. I don't tolerate errors, Cross," Nightmare smirked. "I fuck them."

"You... you-"

Nightmare's grin widened, "I what, Cross? Do you think you're immune to becoming an error? Hehehehe... Want to bet on that?"

"N-no, no my king..."

"Hmm... a waste then," Nightmare turned away. "Turns out, I don't need your opinion today. Run along, little Rookie. Go collect my toys to the throne room. Gather intel about the doll. I'll give more orders then. Dismissed."

Chapter Text

It was a restless night, where at least one or two of them were awake to check on Geno. By the time their alarm was to go off, they had decided to officially do a rotation to check on their shortest husband.

Geno still didn't wake.

Disheartened, the trio slid out of the over-sized hammock seconds before their alarm rang.

In a foul mood, Error slammed his hand down on the damn thing. Hard, but not enough to risk breaking the machine that was tied so closely to their well-being.

“Anyone need to shower?” He asked, helping Reaper ease Geno down and accepting his brother’s weight. “We need to be quick, so do it now and do it fast.”

Reaper paused with a thoughtful expression. A shower did sound nice, but... cringing slightly, he shook his head. “I... can take one after my mission...” he murmured, unsettled by the delivery he was tasked with making with Horror. Especially with the wording form last night that wouldn’t leave his head...

Anymore dust...

Reaper shuddered. I don’t like this.

Ink shook his head too, walking over to the closet to find their clothes. It had to be casual today, right? Or maybe business casual? Hell, did they even have anything more casual than pajamas?

Error watched Ink for several moments before turning his attention to Reaper and Geno. "I'll go grab us something quick for breakfast. Cereal, I think. It... isn't too difficult to eat, right? So one of us can try feeding it to Geno before we leave. Unless that soup you have is still good?"

Reaper blinked before pulling over his inventory to check. Had the soup been made with even the slightest hint of magic it would have still been steaming, but...

He cringed at the film spread across the cold soup. A human-made brand then. Technically still good, but not all that pleasing to look at after a night spent somewhere other than a fridge. "We can try the cereal. If anything, he should be able to drink the milk to fill him up and we'll just try feeding him a little extra for dinner later on today instead."

Nodding, Error passed his brother back to Reaper once he was settled on the floor. More than happy to hold his first close, the god took a seat and spent the time it took Ink and Error to dress keeping Geno warm with an embrace and murmuring to him softly. When Error left to pour them their quick meals, he still kept up his whispering and only really shifted to allow Ink the closeness he also desired with their smallest, blank eyed husband.

"Hon, you should get dressed before you eat," Ink gently interrupted. "I... I know you want to keep talking to him, but while we can always put aside food for later if we run late, getting dressed is a whole other matter." Going hungry wouldn't get them punished. Failure to meet Nightmare's standards of dress? That would.

Reaper frowned, shoulders sagging slightly. "Especially with my... mission today..."

"Especially..." Ink reached over, kissing Reaper on the cheek, before gently taking Geno into his own lap and holding him close. "We'll be right here, Reaps..."

Nodding, the god rose and started putting on the more formal casual of the clothing options. He just... had a feeling that Nightmare would prefer him in something like this. Tch... "Inky, I don't feel very hungry." he admittedly, gaze lowered with the excuse of doing up the buttons of his shirt.

"You should still try and eat, okay...?" Ink hesitantly smiled to him, "I'll try too."

Sealing up the rest of his black as a night shirt, Reaper rolled his shoulders to soothe out the remaining aches of his healed wounds and tried to grow accustomed once more to the discomfort of such tightly fitted clothing. "...Yeah, okay..." he sighed, stepping into the legs of his pants and pulling them up.

Pausing, he adjusted the pants over shirt so that when he buttoned them shut, the shirt remained tucked in. For good measure, he pulled his slacks up just a little higher so that they sat at an unflattering height.

Upon seeing the new look, Ink snorted; a small amused smile on his face as he did so. "Why are you wearing your shirt like that? And stars, why are your pants so high, hon? You're not planning to wear a jacket, are you? Because even if you do, it's not going to change the fact that I can see your scandalous ankles."

I just wanted to see you smile, Reaper thought, though he kept the words to himself. Out loud, he innocently asked, "What? Aren't high-waisted pants some sort of fad?" and smiled when Ink's next snort came with a small puff laughter.

"Oh, just fix your clothes, you dork."

Just as he went to untuck his shirt, Error walked in with four bowls of cereal balanced on a tray, took one look at him, and raised a brow. "...Nerd," Was all he said.

A light blush dusted his face. Ink he planned for seeing him like this. Error? Not so much. "Just for that, I'm tempted to leave everything like this."

"You're just missing a pencil or a-" Ink gasped teasingly, "A pocket protector! For your pens!"

"Tch, sounds like you're the nerd, Inky."

He shrugged, "It's a badge of honor, so thank you!"

Error shook his head, smiling slightly, "Both of you are nerds."

Ink turned to him, grinning wider. "Does that make you the theater geek? Or the jock?"

The former destroyer choked. ....of the four of us, probably?Then again, he knew how wild Ink's dramatics could get. Reaper's too, now that he thought about it.

Confused, Reaper mouthed 'pocket protector' to himself. What... what the hell was a pocket protector? Why did a pocket need protecting?

Mortals are weird, he decided, smoothing out his shirt once untucked and taking a seat at Ink's side. Accepting two bowls from Error, he carefully set one within reach at his side before taking the spoon offered to him and turning to Geno. Slowly, he scooped up a small amount of cereal and milk and brought it to Geno's empty smile in an attempt to feed him.

It... didn't seem to work.

"C'mon, honey..." He murmured worriedly, working around Ink's arms to press the smallest spoonful he could manage to Geno's teeth. As he tilted the spoon, the small puddle of milk steadily drained, but the cereal remained. "Geno..." Unintentionally, the name came out as a mournful croon.

Error watched with sad eyes mirrored by Ink's own sorrowful gaze. "...Looks like we're going to have to stick with easier meals..." he sighed, already compiling a list in his head based off of what he knew they had. "Things he won't have to chew will be best. We have a few packs of oatmeal?"

Reaper sighed and dug through Geno's cereal for more milk. "That can't be good for him though, right? Oatmeal isn't terrible, but what else is there? Broth and... and what? Yogurt? Pudding? Applesauce too, but... Gen is going to need more than that. Meats, fruits, vegetables... He needs nutrients, Ru." Things to keep him healthy and... and to help the baby grow.

"...There's a blender..." Ink hesitantly informed the two. Grinding food into mush didn't sound delicious, but it would give Geno more options.

Error and Reaper exchanged glances. They... really didn't have any better plans. Not until Geno came back, at least...

Decision made, Error nodded once in response to Ink's suggestion. "If we have the time, then we'll blend meals for Geno. If not, then we can resort to whatever is around that he'll be able to eat. Reaper's right though. He... t-they aren't going to get what they need from yogurt and pudding alone, so we need to make an effort to get him the nutrients he needs. J-just until he wakes up."

Until he wakes up, huh...? Gently, Ink pressed a kiss to Geno's skull before leaning his forehead against the glitch's. Softly, he murmured, "C'mon, hon... Come back to us soon, okay? ...Please?"

After that, they finished up their meal with a heavy silence broken only by suggestions for meals they could plan. With the tense air hanging over their heads and the seriousness behind their topic of discussion, time seemed to creep by slowly. And yet, all three felt as if the familiar three knocks on their door came all too soon. Sharing a displeased look and a sigh, Ink and Reaper took up the task of cleaning and nudged Error towards the door.

Error twitched, but didn't argue and rose to greet Cross. He opened the door, muttering a cold, "Rookie," and nothing else.

Cross bowed his head slightly in greeting, "Error."

Glancing behind him, the destroyer made sure that his husbands had Geno settled in comfortably on the sofa before he bothered stepping outside. As soon as he did, they were in line behind him and the door was being shut to block out Cross' view of the living room behind them.

More specifically, of Geno.

"Lead the way," Error demanded, voice quiet yet firm.

In it, there was no hint of the warmth that use to sneak it's way into Error's words whenever he would address Cross. Instead, there was only a hate so cold it burned.

It was a hatred that Cross was about to worsen very soon.

"Go fetch Error and the other toys, Cross. Be sure to gather data as you do. I want to start off today's meeting with a report."

"Data...? My apologies, Nightmare, but could you explain?"

Nightmare smiled, amused. "I want to know how my- oh, I mean how your little glitch is settling in. We worked hard on his special little room, after all, and it would very much be a shame for it to go unappreciated. At the very least, I want to ensure that they've found it. Maybe even get some opinions on what else it may need? Less lights, maybe?" he mused.

Closing his eyes, Cross allowed himself a single steadying breath before he addressed the three trailing behind him. "...Have you three gotten Geno settled into his room yet? I... I set it up with him in mind..."

Immediately, Ink hissed, "I thought you said Nightmare set it up personally?"

If only he didn't need to ask more questions. Data gathering? It was reminiscent of when Cross ordered Endure to gather intel about everyone at one of the celebrations so the Papyrus could make his own connections and opinions... and yet, while similar, it was not the same by any means.

This was different. So, so different.

"....We worked on it together," Cross supplied. It wasn't exactly a lie, either.

"Fascinating," Error spoke dryly. "So, are you two close?"

Cross allowed himself a glance back towards Error. With a hint of dread, he shrugged. We're not close. Not as close as he forced you to be with him, at least. Eyes forward once more, he murmured, "I'm his second. If he wills it, then we're a team." You're still not answering the question, idiot... but what good would answering really do? Nothing he said was meant to be the truth.

And Nightmare knew the information the unwilling nightmares had. Like Ink said, it was previously stated that Nightmare set the room up. There was no way the king forgot what game pieces he allowed his other players. So why mess up?

Why put Cross through all this bullshit if he knew the contradicting information just gave the second more hoops to jump through?

What are you doing, Nightmare? It was a question he found himself thinking more and more. Since the very first day the husbands arrived to save Geno, in fact.

As time went on, Cross found himself increasingly farther from the answers he sought.

"Well?" Error hissed.

Cross didn't turn to look at him again. "What do you want me to say? You wouldn't like the answers I have to give, Error, so why don't you just drop it?"

Unwillingly, a flare of protectiveness surged in Error's SOUL. Cross betrayal hurt. More than that, it pissed him off because... because Cross was his rookie, damnit. His friend. And Nightmare probably hurt him, didn't he? Shit, but how? Did he- he shut the thought down. Whatever history they had didn't matter. Cross hurt Geno and that shit wasn't forgivable.

A tiny, traitorous voice in Error's head whispered, Nightmare said he hurt Geno...Forcefully, he pushed it away.

"Tch, I'm a stubborn asshole, Rookie. Don't you remember that? So answer the fucking question. Unless... Oh, does he give you a little fucking script for when these scenarios crop up in your interactions with us? Do you get a list of pretty fucking bullshit to tell us?"

Cross let his silence answer that.

Error laughed, the disbelief in the sound born not from the answer but the fact that he was actually surprised by it. Of course Nightmare does. Why wouldn't he?

If there was one thing Nightmare loved than the torment he caused others, it was control.

"Figures," he sneered, sockets narrowed as he attempted to burn a hole in the back of Cross' skull with the heat of his glare alone. "What, you don't have the balls to speak for yourself? Can't think up your own words when you're given a question you don't have a scripted response to?" Snarling, he sped up so that he was just on Cross' heels. "Did you follow his fucking script to a T when you put your filthy fucking hands on my brother? Like a good, loyal second, did you follow orders and rape him, you fucker?!"

"...Wonder what you'll do when he orders you to, next time. When he wants to watch someone have fun with the poor, helpless glitch." Geno whispered.

Error slammed into Cross when the other second stopped in his tracks without warning. Expression unseen, Cross coldly growled, "You still have one other weapon that you hate, Error, though not as much as knives. Maybe I should request to train you on the usage of them?"

Reaper and Ink bristled. That was a fucking threat!

"You wouldn't-"

When Cross glanced over his shoulder, ice shone in his lights. "According to you, I absolutely would."

"Geno isn't here. I am-"

"Ass..."

Cross slashed his gaze to the artist. "Don't you mean soulless? Because I recall you labeling me as such." His gaze the flickered to Reaper. "And what about you? Do you have a little nickname for me? Perhaps, mutt? Mongrel? Slave? Whore?" Error flinched at the last one. And when none of them said anything else, Cross turned back around, "Let's go."

Ink glanced down at the pain in his hands, realizing that Cross had clenched is fists so tight, he drew blood. Why....?

The rest of their walk was made in silence. Stiff, awkward, tense.

Cold.

When they reached the throne room, the mild conversation going on between the three willing nightmares was such a stark contrast to their own heavy silence that it was almost jarring. In a way, the sound of voices was comforting.

Until Killer ruined it, as always.

"Where's your boyfriend, Crossy?" he asked with a grin. "Too sore to walk this morning after you tucked him into bed?"

The last few words of the question were spoken with air quotes, Killer's tone of voice and teasing grin making it very clear he assumed the absence Cross took during last night's dancing to return Geno to the husbands' quarters had been abused for carnal needs.

The purple pain flared slightly more in Ink's- Cross' palms. "Are you trying to live vicariously through me? Is Horror not enough for you?"

Endure choked on air as Horror sputtered and scowled darkly at the second. To which Cross ignored.

Ink tried to keep his expression neutral, but stars, why did he have to do that so close to him...? Why is he hurting himself right now...?!

Killer's sockets grew a little wide. Honestly, he expected a bit of teasing back. Maybe some flustering on Cross' part. Being snapped back at though...?

Slowly, his grin shifted into a smirk. "You totally didn't get any, did you? The fucking glitch didn't put out!"

"He has a name," Cross snarled, voice melding with Reaper's as the god spat out the same words. When Reaper looked at him in surprise; however, he ignored it. Again. "Nightmare will be here soon. Shut up, straighten up, and behave until he arrives."

"Yup, definitely didn't put out. You'd be in a much mood if he did."

Staring Killer in the eyes, Cross snapped his fingers. A fire burst to life in front of him, and above it-

Killer shrieked, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO MY BABIES?!"

"Did you know it takes quite a bit of heat to melt down knives?" Cross' glare sharpened. "I wonder how long it would take to-"

"OKAY!! FINE YOU FUCK-LESS PRICK!" when the box dropped lower, Killer cried out, "CROSS! CROSS OKAY, I'LL STOP!!"

"..."

"Alright Cross," Nightmare purred. "Give Killer his toys back."

"...pff." The fire vanished, and the air that swept in felt nearly icicle to the touch. Another snap of Cross' fingers, and the box of knives was gone. "Night."

The husbands barely refrained from sharing a look. What the fuck was that...?!

"Nice to see you all being so lively in the morning. Well," Nightmare glanced at the unwilling husbands, "most of you, I should say. But enough for now. Line up, nightmares. We have quite a bit to go over. Cross, did you get that data for today's little morning report?"

"..." For a moment, it seemed as if Cross wouldn't respond.

Slouched, he stood with his hands in his pockets, blank eyes seemly on the floor but focus on Nightmare as he watched him from the corner of his eye. And yet, his usual instant obedience was lacking that morning.

Nightmare's eye narrowed, "Cross."

"..." Sighing audibly, the most trusted second straightened and turned to face the king. "Geno hasn't yet been shown to the room we set up for him, boss."

"...I see." Slowly, the suspicion in the king's eye lessened, though it never died out completely. "Well then, I originally had no work planned for you and the artist, Error, but it seems as if I've found a small task for you two to accomplish on your free day. Explore your new quarters to the fullest. You'll find that Cross," he glanced at the second, "and I worked quite hard on that room for dear Genocide."

It's a fucked up version of a nursery, isn't it? Error guessed with a scowl.

"Now then, let's move on to your mission for today, my little bird."

Horror grinned widely and winked at Reaper, but the god stayed focused on the threat- their boss before him.

"As I've mentioned before, you will be delivering a package to a specific person. Any who come across you shall not live to tell the story, but leave the message receiver alive. Horror will be trailing you to make sure you do exactly that."

Glare sharp yet empty, Reaper rumbled, "Where will I be going?"

To drag out the silence following Reaper's question, Nightmare slowly stretched out before lounging on his throne in an artful, lazy manner. One leg on the floor and the other kicked out over the arm of the throne, he leaned back against the other and supported his head with his own tendrils. Once comfortable, he tossed a look Reaper's way.

"Sorry, could you repeat the question?"

Twin spots of irritation began to itch on Reaper's back. Had his wings been unfurled, they would have given away his irritation through rapid, uncontrollable movement. "Where will I be going?" he bit out.

"Tone, little bird. I'm sure you can manage something much lovelier than that irritation I hear."

"...Where will I be going, boss?"

Smiling, Nightmare nodded, approving of mention of his leadership. "You're going to visit my dear brother's little, perky apprentice. Oh wait, not just my brother's," he grinned at Ink, "that little start is yours too, isn't he?"

Ink kept his mouth shut. A panic grew within him. One that he snuffed out immediately with pride. "Yeah, boss..." Maybe just a hint of attitude was felt with that last word, but otherwise, Ink kept to himself. Reaper's destination though...

Underswap...

Stars, Ink hoped Reaper wouldn't come across Stretch...

Nightmare's smirk grew.

Killer grumbled. "And what about End and I? You expecting us to stand around? Look pretty? You probably expect Cross to do that."

Cross stared down at Killer, though didn't make a move yet.

Nightmare slid his gaze to Killer, his brow raised. “Strange, I could have sworn that these meetings ended with my dismissal. No, wait. They do. Which is why I’m a little confused about your whining, Killer. Did I say we were done?”

A hint of color touched Killer’s cheeks. Embarrassment.

Ink was honestly surprised the dripping eyed skeleton felt much of anything aside from his usual corrupted hues of yellow.

“Sorry, boss,” Killer muttered, cowed after being made the fool. “...but you are giving us something to do, right? Something out of the castle?”

He’s going to throw a fit when he’s told he’s meant to stay her-

“I am,” Nightmare reassured.

Purple stained the insides of Cross’ pockets as his fingers dug a little too deep into the cuts already formed from his earlier anger. Killer and Endure are supposed to be on cleaning duty today.

What was Nightmare fucking doing now?

"You're to pick up some more supplies," Motioning for Killer to step forward, Nightmare handed him a paper slip. "One of our new nightmares is getting a little... wider. Pick up some new clothes for him, and find me some of these specific fabrics."

Killer approached, perplexed, but he took the slip of paper from Nightmare's hand and nodded, nearly bolting out of there right away.

Turning his attention to Cross, the king murmured, "You're to accompany Ink and Error back to their home."

To their home. That doesn't mean inside.

"Make sure they're keeping it clean," Nightmare smiled. "I wouldn't want our hard work to go to waste."

Error scowled, “What, you gonna ask us to host a fucking tea party next?"

Nightmare chuckled, "Well, if you're offering, why not? I'm sure Cross would enjoy it. I gave you such a lovely kitchen. Not just that, but a dining room, too. Have fun, you three. Enjoy yourselves until dear Reapsy returns."

"...Am I to assume that means I'll be leaving for my mission now?" Reaper questioned dully.

After a glance over, Nightmare shook his head. "No. For now, return to your home. Cross, instead of returning to their quarters with our dear friends here, follow me to my special little closet for them. Horror, you're to join us. You'll be taking the god a change of clothes. A...uniform, of sorts." Pleased with this new order of plans, Nightmare smiled. "Cross, you can stay for tea after the god is dressed and on his way with Horror. Dismissed."

Eagerly, Killer grabbed Endure's hand and vanished through a portal. Horror and Cross stayed with Nightmare, and the unwilling nightmares made their way back down the hall to their home, with Error leading the way.

Once inside, Error had to restrain from clawing at his own face with frustration. Ink reached for him, but ultimately decided to grab for Reaper's hand instead. The god's shoulders slumped as he rest his forehead on Ink's shoulder and sighed. "I don't know what to do..."

"We don't really have a choice do we...?"

No, they didn't. Not with Nightmare dangling the well being of their husband over all of their heads. Only, that wasn't all there was to it, was there? Not anymore, at least.

They had Geno's unborn child to worry over too.

Stars, does... d-does he even know that he's...? Reaper shuddered, the small noise he muffled against Ink's shirt not the sound of a songbird, but a distressed, broken-hearted man. "Take care of Gen while I'm gone, okay? Ru too."

"I don't need babysitting, fucker," Error growled, the anger in his voice not meant for Reaper. With two harsh kicks, his shoes went flying into the wall just beside the door. No markings were left behind as evidence of the impact, but the small acts of violence seemed to make him somewhat happier. "...Be safe though, Reaps. If Horror tries anything against you-"

Pressing closer to leech Ink's warmth, Reaper cut in with a soft sigh breathed against the artist's neck that had Ink shuddering pleasantly, though this wasn't the time for that. "It's not me I'm worried about. It’s...if he purposely causes a commotion...."

"...You'll have to kill whoever comes to check things out," Ink whispered.

Reaper nodded, gripping Ink to him all the tighter. "I can try to keep us cloaked, but..." he sighed. "Yeah..." Gods, Ink knows the people of Underswap...! I'd.... I'd have to-

"Reaps..." Ink cupped his cheek to look at him. "Reaper, this is to protect Geno... At least, to try and protect him as much as we can now...."

Error glanced away from them, murmuring, "I'm going to check on Gen real quick."

Sparing Error a brief nod of acknowledgment, Reaper looked to Ink with a weak attempt at a smile while the destroyer made his way to the glitch in question. "I know, Inky..."

Reaper... he was Death. Although the title was shared with Respite, Reaper was the first god of their kind; the first Death in more than just name. Everything unfortunate enough to exist after his creation fell by his hands and it had been that way for years now. He was no stranger to his terrible duties.

And while he didn't partake in it himself, he was no stranger to murder either. He witnessed the first and many, many more since. Most likely, there were still more awaiting him in the future to view. His work wasn't kind, after all.

Reaper wasn't kind. Not like Respite was.

If it came down to it, he would murder to ensure the safety of his smallest husband. That's what it would be, too: Murder. Blackmail didn't change the ugly name of the deed.

Killing to keep Geno and the child safe didn't mean he wasn't still killing. But he would do it anyways. Not gladly, but not entirely unhappy either. It would be a job. Not his usual, but a job all the same.

You miss it. The monotonicity of your work. So many overdue clocks tick in your head and you're desperate to silence at least a few...whether it's their time or not, a nasty little voice whispered in Reaper's head.

He ignored it.

"I know," he murmured again, nuzzling closer into Ink. "I'll do whatever I can to keep him safe, Inky. You and Error too. I just..." You're afraid of how much you want conflict. An excuse. "...I don't want to hurt you, hon. If... if I run into someone you know..."

Ink tried for a smile. "...They'll come back, hon. Eventually." But that didn't mean he wouldn't be hurt. It didn't mean he wouldn't cry, or mourn.

That didn't mean you wouldn't feel their deaths... Reaper grit his teeth. But would he...? People die all the time and he doesn't seem too affected by it right now...

Dammit, his head hurt so much from this. If he hurt anybody, wouldn't it literally hurt Ink? Or would it just be the knowledge of-

Ink pulled him close and kissed him softly. "Reaps, please calm down... Please honey..." He tried for a smile. "D-Dream can help Blue...." reset Underswap.... He closed his eyes, trying to keep his emotions in a turmoil as he thought of something. Something... dangerous.

"...Reaper...?" he began hesitantly, voice as quiet of a whisper as he could manage. With his growing nerves, even his soft whispered seemed like his loudest scream. Heart racing, he tugged Reaper closer and lowered his head as if kissing the god. Are there cameras in here? He didn't know, so he kept the act up.

In actuality, his mouth was hair's breadth away from Reaper's grin.

"I-Ink-"

"Shhh," he interrupted, sure that Reaper saw him as a madman at the moment but too hyperfocused to soothe any concerns he may have. Making sure their intimate position looked natural, he slid an arm low around Reaper's lumbar. "If you speak, whisper. For now, I need you to listen. I... I think I have a plan. A stupidly dangerous plan that could-"

"Get Geno hurt?" Reaper hissed, teeth brushing Ink's as he stressed the words.

"Yes," There was no reason to deny it. "I... it's a risk, Reaper. One I'm not happy about taking, but... hon, this is our chance to get help. Reapsy, this could be our only chance. It puts Geno in danger, but only because trying something like this leaves us open to being caught. So..." he smiled shakily. "...please don't get caught?"

"I didn't agree to anything. I don't even know what this plan is, Ink."

"Please... Reaps please...!"

And how could Reaper say no to that desperation in Ink's whisper...?

Error came down the stairs minutes later, shoulders hunched slightly. "He's still not awake..."

Ink looked over to him. "I wouldn't expect it to be so quick, but we can still try-"

"We won't be able to when Cross comes over for..." Error's fists clenched tighter, "For tea."

You're the one who suggested it, no one said.

Error heard the words in their silence. "It was sarcasm, damnit!" he defended himself, arms crossed and head turned away to hide his bright, angry flush. I should have known better though. Fuck, I do know better. Knowing Nightmare and his dramatics, they probably had a tea set somewhere in the kitchen, too.

If they didn't, Cross would undoubtedly show with one in hand. That fucking lapdog...

Glancing at the clock pinned to the living room wall, Ink frowned. How much time...? "I'll be back." he promised, kissing Reaper and pausing by Error to do the same before practically bolting upstairs. I should at least be able to make up something small. Straight to the point too, I think.

I used to be that lapdog... Error frowned, watching Ink go up the stairs. Stars dammit... He looked to Reaper. "Are you okay, Reaps...?"

I will be- "You sure you want to ask me that....?"

Error glanced away. "I don't know what else to ask, Reaps... I don't know what else to do."

Hesitantly, Reaper approached him. It was hard to tell if the re-established destroyer was okay with touch or not, but he stopped just far enough away to allow the other to make the choice for himself. The god opened his arms, and the destroyer clung to him.

"Just... just get through today, hon," Reaper murmured, teeth pressed to the top of Error's skull. Savoring the feel of the other in his arms, he held him just a bit tighter and lightly swayed side to side. Not to dance, but simply to keep the stress of inactivity off his shoulders. "Get through today, then tomorrow... and every other day after that."

Always the pessimist, Error snorted. "Yeah, because it'll be that easy."

"It won't," Thinking otherwise wasn't just foolish. It was fatal. "But all we can really do is tackle things one day at a time." For who knows how long...

Error gripped the taller skeleton's robes tighter. "H-how... how can you... stay strong like this...?"

"Because I need to..." I don't know what else to do... "Because you all need me to."

Error took a shaky breath in. Is... is it so simple to think that way...? To just... stop planning for the future? "I... I'm not sure if I can-"

"You need to," Reaper murmured. "Please, gods, you need to, Ru."

It wasn't that easy. Not for Error. He- fuck, it was hard not to plan. To fear all that the future could possibly hold. This castle...

Error lost everything in this hellhole. He was trying to stop the same from happening to his family. After already failing his brother, it felt like he had to try harder. If Nightmare was months ahead of them, then he had to be light years ahead if he wanted to have the slightest chance of beating the asshole at whatever long lasting game they were trapped in.

But... stars, it was so exhausting. Worry, fear... they were constant. Most of the time, nausea accompanied them just because he felt everything so strongly. Every memory that haunted him amplified his dread and he- it was draining him. He was exhausted.

Error never handled weariness well.

Slowly, he reached out and took the outstretched hand.

A white, lying smile stretched wide. "Welcome to the nightmares, Error."

He didn't want to lead himself to another terrible decision simply because he took on too much to handle. Still, wanting to ease up his worry wouldn't make his concern for his family vanish. Nothing would.

But maybe that was okay. He could still worry, he just had to... go with it. Prepare for the events they faced daily instead of trying to plan for the uncertain future. That was... it... "Okay."

It seemed doable. Hard, but not… impossible…

Chapter Text

When Ink came back down, his palms were wrapped with gauze and sloppily tied.

And his lights were red.

"One of the rooms is dark. It's... it's pitch black, painted as such, and there's a single light in the middle of it."

That nausea Error felt bubbled up. The save screen... he- he made it into a room...?!

Reaper's high, echoing noise of agony informed the destroyer that he was not alone in realizing what the room was styled to be. "T-they..?" His eyes met Error's, well aware that, for all Ink's anger, he didn't quite realize the extend of just what kind of torture that would be for Geno.

Ink had never seen Geno in that hellhole. Not the haunting glitch Error first came across, or the one with the fear hidden in his smile that Reaper encountered years ago. Between their individual first encounters Geno had improved, but...

Geno spent years in the darkness of the save screen with a single measly beam of light to protect him from a seemly infinite void of dark shadow. No company, no comfort... just the darkness that seemed so menacing when alone and the flim-like nightmare of endless genocides to break it up. With all that he lived through, the glitch carried more scars than the ones carved into his bones.

Fluctuating nyctophobia was one such scar. Company when in darkness helped like a balm to soothe the aches of an old wound, but it didn't steal away Geno's fear.

A fear that Nightmare was playing with like it was a fucking toy.

Distress swiftly turned to anger. With twin snarls, Error and Reaper stormed passed Ink, headed for the stairs with anger in their eyes.

Ink swiftly grabbed their sleeves-

Knock knock knock

The three froze, glancing to the front door. Harshly, Ink whispered, "We're not allowed to destroy any of the rooms...!"

Error snarled, "As if I give a shit...?!" Despite his words, he didn't fight off Ink's hold to continue up the stairs.

Reaper's glare darkened as he gazed upon the door. "A day at a time," he murmured, the words a reminder for them all.

Waiting until the other two calmed down slightly more, Ink walked over to the door and opened it for Cross and Horror.

Unfortunately, neither were empty handed.

Held with a light grasp by one of Cross' hands was hanger in which Reaper's outfit for the morning hung from. With the god's mission in mind, it was fair to assume to that the clothing involved some form of a pant and top combo, but the protective bag around the outfit concealed just what was in store for the dark eyed skeleton. A small, hopeful voice in Reaper's head prayed for something casual. Something easy to move in.

Knowing Nightmare, it was likely he'd be overdressed in a restrictive three piece suit just to drive Reaper insane. Cross wasn't holding a shoe box, but that meant nothing when Reaper still had the pairs from the previous formal clothing he wore after Nightmare's commands.

Still... Please, please just be sweatpants. Even if they were in Nightmare's colors.

While most of Reaper's focus was on Cross' burden, Error's eyes were on Horror's. Standing between the door and his husbands, a crimson-eyed Ink also focused on the package all while blocking the willing nightmares' entrance into their living space with his body.

A box.

That's all it looked to be. Wrapped in glimmering black wrapping paper and adorn with a curly, bouncy bow made from green ribbon, it was about the size of a child's lunch box. Maybe even smaller, actually.

Ink...

Ink had no idea what was-

"Gonna let us inside?" Horror asked, grinning.

Clenching his jaw, Ink stepped aside slightly, watching Horror closely.

The larger skeleton walked in after Cross, murmuring to Ink, "You look at me any longer like ya wanna eat me, and I might just let you," with a foul smirk on his face.

Disgusted, Ink slammed the door shut and stormed towards his husbands. That overlarge eye light dropped down to Ink's wrapped hands, then to Cross', and he could barely contain his intrigue.

Cross ignored him in favor of approaching Reaper. "This'll be your outfit for the outing. Error may have to help you put it on-"

"Upstairs," Error ordered. "Ink, watch them."

The guard met Error's hateful gaze with his own icy indifference. "If you must." He glanced to Ink. "Mind getting some snacks for our tea ready in the meantime?"

Though it was phrased like a question, Ink knew better. "Sure thing," he spoke too lightly. His lights were still red.

He found the room, didn't he? Although the artist had plenty of reasons to direct his hate at Cross, it usually wasn't done through constant red eyes. They certainly made an appearance time to time, but he couldn't recall the color lingering this long in any of the hateful glares sent his way. "Horror, give the package to the artist. He can find a spot for it until the god returns."

Eyelight drawn in once more by those bloody bandages on Ink's hands, Horror smirked. "Sure that's a good idea, Cross? Wouldn't want him getting blood on the package. That's why you're not holding this, remember?"

"Better a little bloody than crinkled."

"I can be gentle."

"Which is why Killer is so often found limping like he broke a leg? If that's your gentle, then I'd hate to see your version of rough."

Smirk growing wider, Horror slid his eye from Ink's hands up to meet his eyes. Staring deep into the crimson targets, he said to Cross, slow and clear, "Just because I can be soft doesn't mean Kills wants me to be. Heh, I woulda thought you of all people would know that. You oughta know what masochist is, Crossy." His gaze never left Ink's. "I mean, considering who you're fucking and all. Dug up some interesting information when looking into that boyfriend of yours and," he whistled, impressed, "kind of freak, isn't he?"

"No freakier than that gloryhole in your head," Ink snatched the package from Horror and set it on the counter. "Though, I guess you would like the few brain cells you have left to be fucked out." Ink stared at Horror again.

And smiled.

"Oh, maybe you wanted Kills and I to have another round?" he purred. "Maybe you like watching that shit?" His voice dropped, "Do you want to see if he likes the way I wield his knives on him?"

A flash of fury heated Horror's magic, and Cross threw an arm in front of him, snapping at the both of them, "Enough." He frowned at Ink, once again thankful for the shield to hide his sudden fear of the artist. Logically, the guard knew he meant to torture Killer in front of Horror, but...

It was clear the castle's chef wasn't necessarily on that same page.

Targets and a singular eye light continued to clash despite Cross' intervention. Working around the guard, Horror and Ink maintained eye contact with hate burning within their gazes, the intensity of the emotion growing with every passing second. Along with it, the tension within the room skyrocketed, so thick you could cut it with a knife.

In place of the blade, a single echoing screech shattered the tension.

Reaper!

Horror's hateful expression twisted. Although the spiteful ire remained, corrupted joy and a sick sort of pleasure bled into the look on his face, pulling his snarl into a smile that looked more like a sneer. "Seems like the god found his present," he chuckled, his laughter full of spiteful glee.

Present...? Ink ignored the arm that came up to push him back. Had Cross deserved it, he would have admired the second's determination to keep this confrontation from happening. "What you laughing about?"

Instead of answering straight away, Horror continued with his laughter. The raspy quality of his voice grated on Ink's ears, but the disgusting tones of his amusement were worse to witness. "You know..." The second standing between them growled a warning. It went ignored as Horror stepped closer. "If Cross' little fuck buddy is a freak, then that god of yours? He's a fucking animal."

Fear.

Panic.

Shame.

At first, Ink found himself confused. He was angry. He knew he was. But where was the rage? Why... why was he painted in the wrong colors? The confusion persisted just long enough for Cross to push him back.

And then Reaper stumbled the stairs, outlined in every hue Ink was mistaking as his own. When he looked up, Ink lost the words he had on the tip of his tongue. He couldn't even remember what they were.

A muzzle.

Reaper was wearing a muzzle.

Made of what looked like leather, the muzzle covered Reaper’s face from the ridge of his nasal bone down to his chin where it fit against his mandible snugly, pulled tight by the thick straps that anchored it to his head and neck tightly. Too tightly, thought Ink, noting the way the bone visible around the edges of the muzzle was flushed blue—a sign of irritation from the no doubt too constricting material. There, marrow starting to seep into the leather too, and yet... Looking closer, Ink saw that it was on the loosest notch possible.

For just a moment, Ink blinked and saw deep blue running from Reaper's eyes. Tears.

When he blinked again, they were gone, but a dusting of color around his sockets told Ink they had been real. The matching hue of sorrow within Reaper whispered that he was holding them back now to keep from crying in front of Horror and Cross.

But fuck. He didn't look it, but Reaper felt so scared. The muzzle... he didn't just hate it. No, Reaper was afraid of it; ashamed of it for the way it reduced him down to less than what he was: A god. A person.

Ashamed of how it marked him as an animal, just like Horror mocked.

Because what made the mix of colors and the already terrible muzzle so much worse was the fact that the leather forming it wasn’t flat, or fit to mold to intricate curves of a skeleton’s face. Instead, the black material expanded outwards quite a few inches in a curve ending with a point. A beak.

The muzzle was shaped to look like a fucking beak.

Uncontrollably, Ink's very vision went red. The next thing he was aware of was Error and Cross pulling him back with Horror wheezing and gasping, coughing up his own blood.

And laughing.

"Guess he ain't the only animal out of you fuckers," Horror grinned widely, letting his blood trickle from his mouth. "What, is the little puppy upset? Are you wanting Nightmare to claim you too?"

"That's enough, Horror!" Cross snarled.

"Let go let go let go," Ink chanted under his breath, struggling against Error and Cross. His wild red eyes were still trained on Horror, though the injuries he inflicted on the bigger skeleton were already starting to reflect on his own body and face.

Error snapped, "Ink, drop it. He's not worth it."

"Yeah, boy, drop it. Drop it like a good little doggie does. Go heel by your master-"

CRACK!

A stunned silence fell over the room with Horror holding his jaw in place and staring up at Cross with wide sockets.

"What part of ‘enough’ did you not understand?" the second hissed lowly. "You have a job given to you by Nightmare to observe the god on his mission. Nothing less. Nothing more. If I've learned that you didn't follow my orders, I'll make sure you don't get healing cream for your jaw. Understand?"

Still shocked, Horror nodded mutely.

Cross turned on Error and Ink. "Pull out the supplies for our tea party later," he ordered. Looking up at Reaper, Cross continued, "Remember to not kill the person you're giving the gift to, but anyone else that sees you is to die by your hands, or by your blade. Now grab the package and go."

Horror struggled to his feet as Reaper shakily walked down the rest of the stairs and took the package. Ink opened his mouth to call to the god. To reassure him, to say advice, to whisper, "I love you", something, but Reaper wasn't even looking to them. He stared down at his bare feet, wearing a pair of snug black pants, a black long-sleeve shirt, all mostly covered by a long green robe, with Nightmare's insignia embroidered on the back of it. He held the package in one arm to flip the hood of the robe over his head, sending his entire face into shadow, except for the beak that peeked out.

Together, one limping and the other levitating slightly, the skeletons left for their mission.

Chapter Text

Once he couldn't feel either of them, Error let his first go.

Cross was right there, grabbing Ink’s shirt tightly. "The fuck are you trying to do?!" he hissed lowly.

Rage re-ignited in his sockets as Ink shoved Cross away. He spat inky blood on the floor and snarled through the pain, "What's it to you, second?"

Error stepped between them, growling to Ink, "Shut up, idiot." He glared at Cross. "What, are you going to punish Ink, too? Because Horror was running his mouth again? Or do you need to pull out your scrip-"

"Error," Cross spoke his name as if it were a command by itself. "I thought I told you two to start making tea." He glanced at Ink, "And don't forget to clean up your mess. It's rude to have blood staining the floor when you have guests over." With that, he turned and made himself comfortable on the couch, waiting.

"What, not going to demand Geno's presence, too?" Error muttered.

Cross stayed silent.

———

Mercifully, Reaper thought, Horror was quiet. The sound of that crack, and the way he held his jaw made Reaper think Cross had dislocated it, or at least cracked it painfully. He allowed himself a brief moment to worry about Ink before he regained focus on his task, and the package he was to deliver.

Unsurprisingly, Horror had them starting from perhaps the furthest possible place from where Blue was most likely at. Maybe he'll come to me instead...? He's got how many eyes on this world?

As if it would be that easy.

Glancing around, Reaper took note of the aged doorway behind him. Sealed shut, no possible means of entering unless opened from the other side. So... the very end of the ruins, which meant...

Shit, the end of the ruins.

I know Swap is different, but... This was where Geno mentioned always first seeing the human. They'd come through the doors and carry on with their genoci- fuck. If Geno would have been able to spot the human when they stood where he did...

"Y'gonna start or what?" Horror grumbled.

...that meant his husband's equivalent in this world may be able to see Reaper now. Fuck, who is it...? It's Swap so... the Papyrus of this world? Reaper couldn't remember his name. Something other than 'Ink's friend's brother,' he was sure.

But that didn't matter, did it? Names were meaningless if the one you called out to was dead. If the brother saw him, then he-

tick... tock... tick...

Would end up d e a d.

Unseen beneath the shadow of his hood, a cyan-encased pupil sparked to life in Reaper's socket. At his side, his fingers twitched before curling around air. It would be so easy to summon his infamous scythe... it would be oh so easy to linger where they stood... to wait until he was seen... Death awaits for all, in the end. This time, it would just be... literal. Purposeful.

It would be m u r d e r.

...But would that be so ba-

"Y'know, for someone who seemed so against this shit, you sure are takin' your sweet ass time, birdie." Every word was joined by a crackling pop from Horror's jaw as he spoke. Wincing, the willing nightmare scowled and took a hold of his own jaw. With a sharp movement and a growled out curse, he shifted it every so slightly. When he spoke again, the popping was gone. "Lookin' forward to a little murder there, Tweety?

Yes. "No," Reaper murmured. What are you doing, idiot? Fucking up here means that innocent people will die. He didn't discriminate between kind and cruel people, but Reaper didn't do early reapings. Souls were off limits until they were actively calling to him and, as far as he could tell, there were no such souls here now. Come on, move. If you're seen by that brother, then-

If he sees me. He...

Tick... tock... tick...

Well, Reaper could work with an if.

———

Childishly, Error flipped Cross the bird before spinning on his heel and urging Ink into the kitchen. At first, Ink didn't budge, but a sharp look and whispered hiss of his name had him following the destroyer into the other room.

No door to offer them privacy beyond what the walls could offer, Error kept his voice as a whisper even as he snarled, "What the fuck was that?!"

"You really expect me to stand by while they insult my husbands?!" Ink hissed back.

"I expect you to keep your damn temper on a leash! For Geno's sake, dammit!"

Frustrated tears burned in the corners of Ink's sockets. "Err-"

"I'm not done," Error snapped, gently taking his face to inspect the damage. Upon seeing Ink wince, the destroyer's angry scowl softened into a worried frown. Carefully, he applied pressure until there was an audible click of bone shifting back into place. "You fucking idiot... Don't you remember that you get hurt when others are-?"

Ink jerked his face away, staring spitefully at the counter, though Error watched those shoulders slump with defeat. "I didn't mean to make you worry, Ru..." he turned back towards his husband and hugged him tighter, just barely exhaling, "But now they won't suspect anything."

———

Behind him, he sensed the one SOUL in this world that he wouldn't mind reaping. Horror's. Maybe someday... For now, he made sure to silently cloak the other nightmare, before sticking to the shadows and making their way to Blue's house.

Feet already off the ground, he easily bypassed the branch attempting to cause trouble. Without looking, he caught it in as thin a layer of magic that he could manage and subtly pulled it out of Horror's path when the wounded skeleton went to stomp it in half.

He couldn't disguise the other's footprints or even the marrow dripping behind them in snow. At the very least; however, he could do this best to stop the other from purposely causing them trouble.

Hopefully, whoever was watching out for new arrivals wouldn't catch everything else.

Surprisingly, luck seemed on his side. As the bridge they walked across bled into the snowy forest floor, no encounters were made. No monsters were even seen. Luck, or something else...? Reaper didn't know, but he hoped whatever it was lasted... And that Horror would keep his hopefully still aching mouth shut.

Tick... tock... tick...

Deep down, a small part of him hoped for a different outcome to all this.

———

Error's eyes snapped up meet his gaze. Were any other person would have exclaimed something in confusion, he kept quiet. What are you...?

Subtly, Ink shook his head. It was barely twitch, yet the intent behind the motion was clear to his first. Not now. Crimson was slow to fade, but when it did, it left the symbols flashing through Ink's eyes pink. A soft, gentle hue instead of the almost toxic pink his paint could cause. A blink, and the shapes in his eyes briefly settled on a plus sign and a misshapen circle.

Error's scowled and looked away, but his arms slid around Ink's waist. A plus in place of the letter 't' and a wonky circle in place of a splotch of ink. It was an old signal.

He still remembered the meaning.

'Trust me.'

"Don't do it again," Error grumbled, nuzzling into his neck and sighing. When he pulled away, he muttered, "Go clean yourself and the blood up please... I'll make the damn tea and snacks. We don't need boss yellin' at us about the mess."

Ink nodded. "Yeah, you're right..." he squeezed Error's hands briefly and left the kitchen.

Cross hadn't moved from the couch, though his face was buried in his hands, and the palms seemed to be bleeding slightly again.

What's wrong? Ink almost asked. Instead, he ignored the other and went into the supply closet, pulling out the bleach and bucket.

———

Honestly... it was kinda creepy. Nobody? Really, nobody? Not even an accidental encounter?

Reaper had a bad feeling.

A bad feeling that got worse as they neared the town and heard a celebration going on.

...No. Nope, I'm not going straight through. Reaper retreated slightly, taking a turn into the still-silent forests and making his way around the north. He kept the celebration in view, but made sure to stick to the shadows.

Queen Toriel's birthday, huh? And she was supposed to swing down to Snowdin soon?

Gotta finish this delivery boy mission fast...

Tch... or carrier pigeon mission....

Think... If such an important celebration was going on, then the possibility of Blue attending was a very real obstacle to consider. He would have to go in town and there would be no avoiding senseless murder. Do I risk teleporting straight to his home...? But Reaper didn't know where the house was located.

When it came to genocides, no deaths ever occurred within the house. At least, not enough for him to be confident enough to try a jump straight there.

Sighing, he considered his options.

Swap...Swap... I want to stay out of Hotland. And... Well, everywhere preferably.

This was pointless. He was... fuck, he was going to have to take a risk.

Coming to a stop before a subtle gleam cleverly hidden in a tree, Reaper prayed the well-hidden camera was Blue's and dropped just his invisibility alone.

Then, like an idiot, he waved at the screen rapidly.

———

A rag moving against the floor, the clinking and clanking of dishes... and nothing else. Beyond those quiet sounds, nothing filled the near-silence of the house as Error and Ink worked on their assigned tasks. Even with no work of his own to complete, Cross offered no conversation. Just more silence.

Despite this, no one really heard it at first. There was little noise to disguise it, but the faint sound went unnoticed with everyone too focused on ignoring one another to realize there was something amiss.

...Creak... creak... creak...

Error cursed, the sound sudden but dying off faster than it sounded. Nursing a small cut on his thumb with his mouth, he glared at the apple he was in the middle of slicing. I should have just pulled out the canned shit.Fresh fruit was better, but who cared about serving the good shit when a bastard was the company they were hosting for?

...Creak, creak...creak...

Picking up the noise but dismissing it, he pushed the bloodstained apple to the side and grabbed what he had prepared. Tea and a plate of fruit. Did it go together? In all honesty, he didn't know but hoped that it didn't. Let Cross suffer.

...Creak, creak...creak...creak, creak, creak...

Absentmindedly, he twitched; annoyed. "Ink, what the fuck are you doing upstairs?"

"Hm?" Ink murmured, concentration breaking and symbols flickering to representing his confusion. "Ru, I'm not-"

...Creakcreakcreakcreakcreakcreak...

"...U...u-up..." Ink choked, suddenly unable to finish as his throat burned with violet. W-wha-

Porcelain was set down hard on the counter before Error ran upstairs, screaming his brother's name.

Cross was near instantly behind him. There shouldn't be anyone else here but us...!

Ink tried to follow, but found himself collapsing to his hands and knees, trying to unclog his throat. Although there was a part of him that understood it wasn't his pain, it was hard to force himself to breathe when his body and mind were fully convinced that his throat was obstructed. Gen... Geno...! He tried to say the name, but all he managed was a choke that melded into a fit of dry heaving.

At Ink's fall, Error faltered, but continued on his way when the empath weakly motioned for him to go. Throwing open the door to the bedroom, he ran to his struggling brother's side and quickly realized the problem. Carefully, he helped roll his blank eyed brother onto his side. At once, the new position made way for the vomit choking Geno to finally made its escape.

Once the smell hit, Cross thought that he might just be sick as well.

———

On the other side of the camera, Blue sat in his room, watching the celebration morosely. His friend had been taken a month ago, and it didn't feel right that everyone was celebrating... Logically, it wasn't Ink's capture they were celebrating, and Blue knew that...

But it still felt like it.

And Muffet is still missing too...

Something waving in one of the cameras caught his attention, and he peered closer at it. Blinked once. Twice. Wait.... isn't that... Reaper...? Blue… vaguely remembered Ink mentioning something about his godly husband, but he wasn’t sure. Did… did he dress up for the celebration...?

Painfully hopeful, albeit confused, Blue triggered the trap door there.

The ground beneath Reaper's and Horror's feet collapsed, and they found themselves yelping, tumbling dangerously close to each other until they both crashed into a slightly warmer, dirt floor. Horror recovered first, snarling and shoving the too close god away for him, thankful the god was almost entirely covered in cloth, "What do you think you're doin'?!"

"As if we can't get away quickly," Reaper scowled back, annoyed at how muffled his words were.

A different door opened, and Blue walked down the stairs cautiously. Once his gaze latched onto Horror, he froze there.

The willing nightmare met his gaze, foul mood adding a sharpness to his stare that had Blue stepping back in unease. At the sight of his clear fear, the wounded skeleton grinned; blood still in his teeth. "Hey there, little berry," he greeted. Anger left to fester made his words cold.

Reaper stepped in front of him. The movement was meant to keep Blue protected from Horror's stare, but...

Tick... tock... tick.... Tick... tock... tick...

Short as he was, Blue was able to gaze up beneath the hood that Reaper's wore. At the sight of voids alight with brightly burning magic, he stumbled back further; afraid. "W-what... what are you doing here? S-state your business! N-now!"

Reaper's own words probably didn't help Blue's fear. "Delivery," he murmured, voice severely muffled, but still understandable. "From... from Lord Nightmare."

———

Disgust sent Error's own stomach rolling uncomfortably, but he pushed through it, angling Geno to free his airway and rubbing his brother's back to comfort him through the process. "Just... just let it out..." he encouraged, gagging slightly at the next round of the slick, foul scented substance.

Shuddering, Cross turned and left the room. When he returned, he looked a little green, but wasn't empty handed. Instead, he carried a warm towel and a glass of water, both of which he passed to Error once the bouts of sickness finally seemed to fade. Error didn't offer any thanks for the supplies, but Cross didn't expect any.

But they were glad when it stopped.

———

"N-Night...mare...? R-Reaper, right? Wait! W-wait what do you-?"

Reaper interrupted by taking a few steps forward, unintentionally towering over the much smaller Sans. Please... please don't ask me anything else...! He offered the package, careful to hold it in a way that Blue could take it without touching him. Blue flinched at the closeness, but gingerly took the package. The moment the weight was off his hands, Reaper stepped back and muttered to Horror, "Let's go."

"What, and miss the fun? Or were you hoping to slaughter everyone on your way out, Death?" Horror sneered.

Tick... tock... tick.... Tick... tock... tick... Tick... tock... tick...

Blue tightened his grip on the package and stared up at the two skeletons, shaking slightly. A mistake... he made a mistake coming down here alone...! He was tempted to call for his brother, but that would only succeed in dragging Papyrus into this danger.

Reaper's head tilted. After a long moment of silence, he murmured, "The mission was to deliver the package with specific orders that I wasn't to be seen." That wasn't exactly true, but he didn't want to cause anymore distress than he already was. "I completed my mission, so let's go."

"And if I say no? If I decide I wanna stay and watch him open the-"

Cyan flaring even brighter in Reaper's eyes, magic encased Horror's SOUL; bright, blue, and frigid as the cool hue of the god's magic sank deep into Horror's SOUL, chilling him as only Death could, "I don't care what you want. We have orders, we completed them, and now we're leaving, so either direct us back or I'll find a way to do so. We have a report to give."

———

Left in the hall, Ink inhaled sharply and began to gasp and pant as he greedily sucked in all the air his mind was convinced he lacked. In the back of his throat, the lingering traces of acid still burned, but the pain was soothed by the rush of something cool. Water, he guessed, recalling Cross stepping around him minutes ago in a rush to grab a glass.

"...Ink?" Heh, speak of the devil.

Breathing finally under control, he lifted his head and gazed up at the unreadable eyes of... of what? Geno's second abuser? Their enemy? The more Cross showed his infuriating face, the less certain Ink was about his labels for the willing Nightmare.

And yet, confusion or not, his anger never seemed to fade whenever he saw that cold, concealed gazed. "...What?" he murmured.

Cross knelt just across from him, watching his expression closely. "...Are you okay...?"

…Why the fuck is his voice so soft…?!

"What, now you're worried about someone other than yourself? Are you planning on changing it if I say I'm fine?"

Impatience flashed briefly across his face, "Are you trying to get a reaction from me, Ink?"

"Don't..." he hissed. "Don't say my name. Y-you don't-"

"Deserve to say it?" Cross sighed. "You don't know anything, Ink..." He rose to his feet. “At least, you don’t know enough.”

"...The fuck is that supposed to mean...?"

———

Horror sneered at him. "Gonna tell boss on me? Trying to become his favorite, are you?"

Reaper glared down at him. Oh... I see... you're making a scene here on purpose. "Let's go."

Horror peered around the god to grin at Blue and wave his fingers, "Another day, perhaps, little blueberry~."

With a flash of magic, the two were teleported just outside the town. Reaper summoned his scythe, ready to open a portal back to Nightmare's castle.

"Mommy, look!"

Tick... tock... tick.... Tick... tock... tick.... Tick... tock... tick...

Reaper froze, hands trembling around the staff of his scythe. No.

Tick... tock... tick. Tick... tock... tick. Tick... tock... tick...

"Mommy? Mommy, c'mon! Lookie!"

Tick, tock, tick. Tick, tock, tick. Tick, tock, tick.

Oh gods, no.

Ticktocktickticktocktickticktocktick.

"A magic man, mommy! Two of them! They... they just appeared outta nowhere like... like whoosh! Look, look! Before they go away!"

Ticktocktickticktocktickticktocktickticktocktickticktocktick.

Slowly, mechanically, Reaper turned his head.

t i c k

The wide, frightened eyes of a monster met his shadowed gaze. Clinging to her leg and tugging at her shirt to get her attention, a child no older than five stood.

t o c k

Horror began to laugh. Low, it began as a chuckle that transitioned into a loud, rasping cackle. "Well lookie there, Death. Two perfect opportunities to become the favorite."

t i c k

———

Cross shook his head and turned away. "You should get up now. Error needs help cleaning and I have a feeling neither one of you want my help." Dully, he added, "Especially since Geno needs a bath."

Ink was on his feet in a instant, red returning to his gaze as he stepped forward and snarled, "Don't you dare-"

"Touch him?" Cross guessed. Pocketing his hands, he calmly began making his way down the hall to return back to the living room. "Wasn't planning to artist but, hey, look. You're on your feet."

Ink snarled at his back. "What are you even gaining from this?! Staying here, hurting Geno, seconding everyone around?"

Cross paused and sighed. "Just following a script."

"You should make your own fucking script."

"...You're right," Cross glanced back at Ink. "I think I'll tell Nightmare you three need better training, and I'd love to teach it to you."

There wasn't anything malicious in the way the words were said, nor the mostly relaxed, albeit bored posture the guard was keeping. But the words pissed Ink off more. And when Cross raised a brow, Ink saw it as a challenge. Are you going to fight me or are you going to clean up your damned mess?

Ink turned on his heel and helped Error.

———

"...I don't want to hurt you, hon. If... if I run into someone you know..."

Ink tried for a smile. "...They'll come back, hon. Eventually."

This... this child... they could easily be in the same class as Paperjam and Goth. And yet...

No.

This- no...! Gods, n-no...!

Trembling, Reaper watched the terrified mother and her oblivious child with wide, magic filled sockets. Subconsciously, he tightened his hold on his scythe; blind to the magic creeping across the blade and sharpening it to a wicked point. One slash... Yes, with just a single arch, he could get them both, though it would have to be diagonal on a downwards angle to account for the difference in height between the two. Still... it would be easy.

Slowly, Reaper abandoned Horror and his annoying cackling in favor of drifting closer to the unfortunate monsters. Expression blank behind his muzzle, Reaper raised his scythe-

"Mama, look! He's got a shiny weapon like Alphys! That's so cool! ...M-Mama...? Mama, what's wrong? Why are you crying?!

"Mommy...?" Goth called out.

Startled, Geno jerked away from where his face was hidden in Reaper's chest. Realizing his mistake, he quickly rubbed at his watery socket so that the little skeleton wouldn't see his tears. Unfortunately, he was too late and Goth gasped, quickly running into the room.

"Mommy!" Goth cried. With a struggle, he climbed onto his parent's bed and crawled onto Geno's lap. "Is mommy okay? Did... did you get a bad dream? I can help!" Determined, the little skeleton threw his arms around his mother. Smiling, Reaper did the same to the glitch. "I'm giving you my bestest hugs, so dun cry, okay mommy?"

-and then his scythe went swinging down.

Eyes cold, Reaper twisted and slashed open a portal. "We're going. Now."

Horror paused by the entrance, glancing back. "...Where's the dust?"

"They don't always dust when I kill them," Reaper murmured, annoyed. "What, do you actually care or are you stalling? 'Cause I thought you'd be itching to go see your partner by now? Oh... or is there trouble in paradise? What a shame."

The injured skeleton stood there, staring curiously at where the child and the mother were. At Reaper's words, however, he whirled around with a snarl. "The fuck are you-"

Reaper didn't wait for him to finish. Instead, he turned back around and stepped through the portal. Eventually, Horror followed after him with angry stomps.

After a moment, the portal shut...

...And the magic hiding away the duo faded. Alone in the forest, the mother broke down in tears, hugging her child tight.

Chapter Text

When Ink entered the bedroom, he was greeted not by his husband, but with a sharp, sour scent that rushed him the moment he stepped into the room. Instinctively, he jerked backwards and retreated out into the hall as his eyes watered and his expressed scrunched. Stars, that's... unpleasant,he thought, though unbearable might have been the better word.

Due to his... quirk, Ink wasn't exactly a stranger to vomit, but there was an undeniable difference between the mess that awaited him inside the bedroom and the ones he himself created. When Ink threw up it was, well, ink. It was just as messy, but a lot less unpleasant... and stinky. How in the hell was Error-

"Unless you're still dying in the fucking hall, get in here and help." After a pause, Error called out in worry. "You... you're not still dying, are you? Ink? ...Ink!"

Concern slowly giving way to fear. "I'm okay, Ru," Ink reassured. This time, he was better prepared for the sour air when he entered. It wasn't any less foul, but it was nothing he couldn't handle. "I just... wasn't ready to deal with this, I guess." Colored symbols looked over Geno with no small amount of concern. Thankfully, Error didn't comment on the hateful red of his gaze. If anything, he probably expected it if Ink's encounter with Cross was heard. "And... I- we weren't dying, Error. Just..."

"Choking." Although his tone was angry, Error's hands were nothing but gentle as he worked Geno out of his soiled clothing. By the looks of it, nothing the empty eyed glitch wore would be salvaged. "You were choking because Geno was choking. And you know what that leads to? Death. A slow, fucked up kind of death that neither of you should have been put in risk of."

"Error...?" White... The destroyer's fear was stronger, but not alone. Mingled within the blank, icy color were wisps of color that were far prettier than Ink thought was fair for such downtrodden colors to be. Anger, self-hatred, regret... Oh Error... "We're fine, Ru," Ink promised.

Even with a better understanding of emotion, Ink found that he couldn't quite decipher the expression Error tossed his way. "He was choking on his own fucking vomit, Ink. Geno may be okay now and all, but that's not okay, damnit. Choking isn't- it's..."

At first, it's easily overlooked. Overwhelmed as he is by teeth and tongue and roaming tendrils in place of hands, Error is far too busy losing himself to the sensations of carnal pleasure to realize that with every thrust into his pliant sex, air comes with just a little less ease. Every moan he makes gradually weakens and every pant between devouring kisses becomes a struggle. It's only really when he's on the edge that Error finally realizes that it's because he can't breathe. Not well, anyways. And yet, he trips into orgasm too quickly to voice his plight to Nightmare.

Admittedly, it's a good one, but the pleasure is soiled by panic. He can't breathe. He can't breathe, he can't breathe, he can't breathe...!

"N... N-nigh...t..." he chokes, clawing at the possessive tendril around his neck. "Ni... n-nigh...t...!" His voice, already weak from pleasured noises, is little more than a hoarse whisper. Had the room been silent, Error would have been heard, but the slick sounds of their coupling drown him out alongside Nightmare's own breathy moans and forceful grunts. "N...ght..."

The closer Nightmare gets to orgasm, the more the tendril stealing his breath tightens around him. Error tries for a scream, but it turns out to be a mistake when all the attempt serves to do is release what little air he has left within him. Terrified, Error tried digging his phalanges into the slick appendage, but he felt... tired. Weak. And so, so scared. It's enough to twist the once enjoyable weight of a body pressed over his own into pins and needles set aflame. He stops struggling, but his eyes flash with crowded text and crimson.

By the time Nightmare reaches his end and removes the tendril, Error is locked into one of the harshest crashes he's had in months.

"...It's really fucking scary, Ink," Error whispered, "and we left Geno up here to suffer alone."

What's going on in that head of yours, Fringe...?

"Geno," Error could easily handle the smaller skeleton if he had to, but he wasn't sure Geno would prefer his brother's aid in cleaning himself had the glitch been able to make the decision. "I cleaned what I could with a towel before taking him out of his clothes, but he's going to need a bath. You should brush his teeth too, though you'll-"

Ink smiled slightly at the worry in Error's colors. "Have to be careful. I know, hon." Rummaging through the closet, he dug out two of his own button up shirts and a pair of Error's shorts. For now, he draped one of the shirts over Geno to hide his naked form before carefully lifting him into his arms. "...If we want to keep an eye on him, then we're going to have to take him with us back downstairs."

Error looked away, busying himself with pulling the bedding off of the bed. Thankfully, nothing seeped through. "I know." Even if they propped him up, leaving Geno alone when another nausea spell could overcome him wasn't ideal. He had an idea on how to position Geno to keep his airway clear, but... Stars, what if they did it wrong? What if he started choking again and they weren't here, or simply ended up lounging in his own sick because they were unaware he threw up again? "Just... go bathe him. If I'm not done when you are, wait for me before going downstairs with him, okay?"

———

Upon entering the throne room, the willing nightmare and god were met with the sight of Nightmare lounging on his throne, expression amused as he finished up a conversation with Killer. Judging by Endure's presence at his side and the multitude of bags they both held, their return hadn't been made long ago. How much of what he purchased is actually wearable...? Even with Endure's presence during the trip, Reaper didn't have high hopes for the clothing Geno would be stuck with.

Worrying over the bags would have to wait though. "...My king," Reaper greeted, drawing Nightmare's attention away from the other two nightmares and instead to Reaper's hunched form and Horror's wide, excited grin. "...The package's delivered, boss..." the god murmured.

Mercifully, the king jumped straight into things. "Any witnesses besides the receiver?"

"None that survived."

Nightmare's bored gaze slid to Horror. Still grinning, he confirmed, "A poor mother and her brat were lucky enough to stumble into our path right before we left. Didn't recognize them, so my guess is that they were a buncha nobodies." Horror snickered, "Definitely a pair of *no-bodies* now. Ain't nothing left of them, boss. Honesty, it was kinda ruthless." He didn't seem disturbed by that.

"Impressive..." The king murmured, green gaze brightening as he peered at Reaper.

———

Admittedly a little pleased to be free of the smell, Ink nodded went through the hall and into the bathroom with his precious burden held in his grasp. Carefully, he readjusted Geno to one arm to turn the tub on and test the temperature of the water. It would have been easier to set him down, but the tub didn't take all that long to fill and Ink was more than happy to keep his husband close in the meantime.

"Let me just..." Once the tub was full, he tested the water once again to make sure no drastic changes took place. It was a little on the hot side, but no where near as what was considered dangerous for a skeleton. "Okay, we're good to go." With little effort, he placed the empty eyed glitch in the tub... and then proceeded to stare. It wasn't perverse by any means, just... sad. "I'm... sorry about this in advance, Ge. I... I don't think you'd mind or anything, but if you do... I'm really, really sorry."

As was quickly becoming the norm, there was no answer.

Sighing, Ink reached for a soft washcloth and some soap and quickly got to work. As he did so, he talked to the glitch currently under his care, explaining every new action he took and both warning Geno of and apologizing for cleaning near intimate areas. For most of the process, he was okay. His voice wavered and his eyes stung, but Ink was doing just fine... And then his emotions got the better of him, bubbling out of his sockets as silent tears that dripped into the tub.

"I'm sorry, Ge..." he choked, deep blue droplets hitting the water with small splashes. With every drop of color, the sad blue hue danced out in beautiful wisps of smoke-like azure before melding into the water. The more Ink cried however, the less the color dispersed; the bath soon losing it's colorless transparency and instead gaining a faint blue tint. "I'm so, so sorry..."

Hands gentle even as they shook, Ink ran the soft washcloth he held over Geno's stomach. It was still too early to show the famed roundness of pregnancy, but...

Knowing what to look for, Ink found the small speck happily housed within it's mother's womb.

His tears fell faster, racing to catch up with the rushed apologies that fell from his mouth. I'm sorry I didn't save you. I'm sorry I couldn't protect you. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorr-

Partially submerged in what was now a pool of Ink's deep blue sorrow, Geno began to cry.

———

Reaper shuddered, the reaction to the praise subtle but still seen. "...Happy to please..." he murmured, head bowed to keep his face shadowed.

Nightmare raised a brow. "Come closer, little bird. I'm afraid you're a bit difficult to hear with the... mask you're sporting."

He dispersed his scythe and walked across the floor. Don't raise your weapon against him. Don't try to levitate above him.

Reaper had no idea if Nightmare even cared about details like that... but he got quite a bit right with the mirrored house. It was likely he was remembering all of this.

He stopped in front of the king, face still shadowed.

———

Would Geno even want it...?

Would he be unable to... t-to get rid of it...?

Would Nightmare try to take it...?

Ink buried his face in his hands, trying hard to keep his sobs down. It's Geno's decision... Geno's body... but... b-but if Geno keeps it.... and it's Nightmare's or Cross'...?

His cries shuddered to a stop. No... no...! If... if we get out. If Geno keeps them. I f i t i s N i g h t m a r e ' s . . . ? Ink scrubbed his sockets. I'm not letting him have Geno's baby...

As it stood right now, Ink could barely sense the souling's magic, and it was way too soon to feel any emotions from it. A waiting game, huh...?

He looked back to Geno, double-taking with surprise at seeing tears dripping down his husband’s face. "Gen...?" He reached over and gently swiped at one of the tears with a thumb. "Geno...?"

An instinctual blink, but no response or recognition in his void socket. He... he's still lost somewhere in his head... but why was he crying?

Even with the murkiness of his emotions, Ink was well aware that, where ever he was inside his head, Geno was still afraid. Afraid and sad, but too far gone to express it. And yet, here he was crying. What changed?

Catching a few more tears with his thumb, Ink went to swipe them away just as he did with the rest only to freeze, just now noticing the color of Geno's bath water...

...and the matching hint of blue in Geno's tears.

———

"Kneel."

Obediently, Reaper lowered himself to a knee. In this position, Nightmare lorded over him with the advantage in height despite being seated in his throne; something he drew attention to by tipping Reaper's head back with a tendril so that his hood slid off and their gazes met, Reaper's forced to raise in order to meet Nightmare's eye.

"..." He said nothing, unsure of if anything was expected of him.

"What's the matter, songbird?" Nightmare questioned, stroking where leather cut into bone with the tendril angling Reaper's head. "Too shy to perform for your master? None of that now, okay? Repeat what it was you said that I couldn't hear."

Songbird...? At the thought of music, the ticking ever present in his ears grew louder; deeper, like the pounding of drums... or a heart racing in fear due to an ever nearing death. "...Happy to please..." Reaper said, voice muffled and strained, yet clear enough to understand.

Nightmare teasingly stroked the curve of the muzzle, as if praising him for the obedience. "Anything of interest to report?" Slowly, his touch slid down from the muzzle to Reaper's neck. Toying with the collar of his clothing, he worked around fabric to curl his hand around the back of the god's neck where he lightly massaged his nape. "Any other action, my pet?"

A screech was stuck in Reaper's throat. He begged it to remain there. "No."

"No what?"

"Bos-"

"No."

Reaper frowned, the expression hidden. "...My kin-"

Smirking, Nightmare shook his head. "Don't be such a bird brain, pet. Come now, think."

"...Master...?"

The hand around the back of his neck tightened. Not enough to hurt, but just firm enough to make Nightmare's silent message clear. You're mine. "There we go."

I'm not! I'm not, dammit...! But Reaper stayed silent. Waiting.

His smirk widened. "Impressive little birdie.... I'm sure you'd like to return to your nest, is that right?"

"...Yes... m-master..."

"Very good." But he didn't let the god up yet. Instead, he tilted his head this way and that, eye focused on the leather of the mask. "I'm impressed... it looks like you didn't try to pry it off, either."

"...It's... a little too tight...."

"Seems like it fits fine to me. If anything, we could probably go tighter. Don't want it falling off, do we?" At his spike in distress, the king chuckled and carried on to other business. "Once you've made it back to your room, tell Cross to come and see me." He grinned. "I'd like to know how Genocide is doing. Oh, that reminds me..." he motioned to the now forgotten bags Killer and Endure left behind. "Take the darling these, would you? He's sure to need them within time."

Reaper dropped his gaze, lest the magic threatened to light up. "Understood... m-master..."

Nightmare let him go, watching him walk away. He called out, "And work on not hesitating when you say my name, Reapsy. You'll hurt my feelings."

———

O-oh g-gods, I- Ink reached out and drained the tub, turning the shower on to a warm spray once the tainted water was gone. H-how did...? He washed out the tub, then washed off the soaps and tainted water on Geno. Meanwhile, he touched his own cheeks, where a trail of blue still resided. He pulled his fingers away and examined-

Noticing how similar to his paints it was....

He clenched his jaw. Dangerous... this... th-this is dangerous....! Once Geno was clean, he shut the water off and draped his shortest husband with the biggest towel they had. As with before, he murmured to Geno what he was doing, apologizing for going near intimate areas, before he swaddled Geno in the towel.

He.... he was affected by my tears…

Ink lifted Geno into his arms, suddenly feeling a pain cutting through his face. Reaps... Reaper's hom- Reaper is back...

A brief exchanged of words too quiet for Ink to really understand made it's way to his non-existent ears. Had the door been open, Ink might have been able to make out what Cross was saying, but Reaper's side of the conversation would have still been impossible to hear. He's still wearing the muzzle...?

Double-checking that his precious burden was secure in his arms, Ink crept to the bathroom door and slowly turned the handle to lessen any noise he might have made as he pulled it open. Pointless, it seemed, because once he had the door open and could hear the conversation, Ink realized that what he caught was the end of a goodbye from Cross.

Footsteps pounded up the stairs once he was gone.

Error was right behind Reaper. "Reaps, hon, let me take that thing off first...!"

Reaper's eyes had already caught onto Geno. Dropping the multitude of backs he held, he moved faster to get to the tallest and shortest skeletons of their little group. Once they were together, Ink gently set Geno in his arms, whispering, "He... had an accident. M-morning sickness!" Ink quickly added at Reaper's panicked expression. "He's fine, honey. W-we just had to clean him up a bit..." He reached up to the leather on the god's face and gently followed it around until he found the latch. Ink cringed with Reaper as he had to tighten it slightly before the buckle could come loose, and the mask fell into Ink's hands.

Burn it.

Ink shut his sockets, barely restraining himself from doing just that.

———

He was scared... he was so scared... what was Reaper doing...?! A-and... and with that symbol on the back of his robes...? He trembled as he speed-dialed the first person he knew who could help.

"Blue? Did you find him...?!"

"D-Dream..." Blue choked on a sob. "Dream p-please..." he stared at the package that he'd left on his blueprint table. He hadn't had the, he cringed, guts to open the damned thing without some sort of moral support, and if it was from Nightmare.... "Please come to my house Dream.... I... I really need your help..."

"...Give me ten minutes, Blue. At least."

Blue's breath quickened, "D-Dream please, I...I-"

"Blue," Although his voice was regretful, Dream's conviction on the time he needed was clear. He wasn't going to change his response. "Call your brother down, okay? I shouldn't take more than half an hour, but-"

"D-dunkle...?" Blue faintly heard. "I... c-can you read me a story? O-one of Mama's?"

Dream's voice grew distant and quiet. A little muffled, too. Most likely, he had his cell phone pulled away and covered with a hand, though his words were easy to make out with enough focus.

Blue's focus was shit at the moment. T-that... that's a little kid... Was it Ink's son, or...or... ...Reaper's child...?

"-ah, I'll be right there, Gothy," Dream’s voice became clearer as he focused back on the conversation with Blue. He murmured wearily, "I have responsibilities here. I'll try to get one of the children's uncles to return home soon, but I promised them a break today and I can't leave them without protection."

Blue hesitated. This... this was important. This being both the box he couldn't look at without trembling and the task Dream had. Papy was just upstairs... but... Blue would feel safer with both his brother and Dream. Maybe it wasn't appropriate with the business they had to discuss, but... well...

"C-can you bring them with? The children, I mean?" Please, please don't make me wait. I'm scared, Dream.

———

With the leather pulled free from his bone, cyan began to sluggishly drip down Reaper's face. He ignored it, sinking down to sit in the middle of the hall with the bundled up glitch on his lap. I... I just need a moment... For extra warmth, Reaper drew the excess material of the robe he wore around Geno, clinging as tight as he dared as he clenched his eyes shut hard against his tears.

Ink kissed his forehead lightly and looked up to Error. "Are... do you need help...? F-finishing anything?"

"No... it's all cleaned up, except for the kitchen. Reaps," Error called to his god. "I'm... I'm going to help Ink make something for us. What would you like?"

"..." Hiding his face, Reaper closed his eyes and tried to drown out the noise in his head. Almost too quietly to hear, he choked out a whispered, "Maybe a sandwich...?" Before curling over Geno as much as he could, desperate for the comfort his first always brought to him whenever the glitch was in his arms.

———

"...Blue, what happened?"

"I..." he whimpered. "I'm s-sorry Dream... I j-just..." I don't know what to do...? I don't- p-please...!

He tried his best to be gentle, "Blue, if you're scared about something, and you're asking me to bring the children, it's making me think that you're under duress. That it's a trap to capture them."

He... stars, Blue hadn't thought of that. "I'm not I- D-Dream, I saw Reaper... H-he gave me a package, s-said it's from Nightmare. I... I'm sc-scared to-"

"Okay hang on," A little quieter, Dream said, "Gothy go ahead and pick out the story with PJ, and give me just another minute, okay..?" Returning to the phone, Dream murmured, "Blue? Is... is he still there?"

Reaper... Dream didn't want to excite the kids... "N-no..."

"Leave the package wherever it is-"

"It's in m-my house..."

"...okay, just... just don't touch it. Go to where Stretch is and wait with him until I get there, okay? Distract yourself until I get there. Have a drink or make some food or something. J-just... we don't know what he's planning, so wait for me to get there before we open it okay?"

"Y-yeah..." Blue sniffed, trying to steel himself. "Yeah."

———

Two grins pressed kisses to Reaper's skull before heading downstairs to prepare the requested meal. Listening to his husbands' retreat, the god mentally counted the number of steps he knew it would take to make it down the stairs of their real home before lifting his head.

Tears ran down his face, undoubtedly felt by Ink from downstairs but at least not seen. Reaper loved the artist, but he needed privacy at the moment, even if it was just an illusion.

Quietly to keep from being heard, he pulled back the slightest bit to look to Geno and whispered, "H-hey, honey," with a pitiful expression. No answer of course, but just having Geno there helped. "I...I missed you while I was out..." Quieter, he admitted, "I miss you right now, too. I know you're right here, b-but... I just miss your voice, honey. And your pretty eye light too..."

More silence. Silence from Geno, silence in the hall... silence everywhere but within his pounding head...

Hugging Geno tighter, he closed his eyes and soaked up what comfort he could from his first, waiting out the tears that fell from his eyes. By the time they stopped, Geno was starting to shiver in his arms. Clothes... He needs clothes...

———

When the tired-eyed golden guardian appeared in the middle of their living room, Stretch nearly lunged at him. Nearly.

Blue's tight hold on his arm kept him still. "Guardian," he greeted coolly, smile tense. "Bit rude to make my bro wait an hour, don't you think?"

Dream didn't even spare him a glance. Any other day, he'd ease in around Stretch's frigid overprotectiveness. Not today. Not now, after having to ensure two sobbing children he wouldn't be gone for good so he could check out a package from his brother left in his apprentice's home. "Blue, where is it?" He'd apologize for any rudeness once he could muster up the care.

"D-downstairs...!"

Dream was there nearly before hearing Blue finish. He hovered hands over the package, but couldn't sense any magical traps laid by his brother or anyone else. Gently, he lifted it up, inspecting it for- oh...? He pulled a small folded piece of paper tucked between the ribbon and the wrapping paper. He tucked it into his robes, more focused on the box.

He formed a protective bubble around the box and his hand. In his other hand, he reached into the bubble with an arrow and shredded the paper.

If it explodes, my hand can regenerate...

It was a cardboard box. Slicing through the tape, Dream was frustrated to find another box, though this one was much more elaborate with swirling, tendril-like designs. Black on green. "Tch... going overboard for a prank again, aren't you-" he froze.

Inside the box was a grey sand and several dead spiders.

Sand...?

"That's part of the reason for Papy's poor greeting today. The person who's missing is... it's Muffet, Dream."

Gently, Dream shut the box. For better or worse, Muffet was found... He looked down at the paper, unfolding it to find-

Ink's handwriting...?

It was a lot messier than the artist usually preferred to write, but the message was clear: "game trap"

They.... stars, they were trapped there...?!

"What is it, guardian?" Stretch called impatiently from the top of the stairs.

At the footsteps, Dream murmured, "I'm not sure if this is something you're going to want to learn, Stretch."

———

"I'll get you warmed up hon... I... stars, I should've done that first, huh...?" He glanced to the stairs. How long does it take to make a sandwich...? Or is Ink trying to make sure I had this time for myself until I'm ready...?

The second option, no doubt.

Wiping the lingering traces of tears from his face, Reaper stood with Geno in his arms and made his way to the bedroom they all shared. While passing doors, he wondered... Which one of these is that room?

Geno shuddered, chilled by his lacking wardrobe. Urged on by his husband's needs, Reaper pushed his angering thoughts away and entered the room, careful as he set Geno down on what looked to be fresh sheets before rifling through the closet for something warm. "Let's get you dressed, honey..." Then, they would head down for food.

Hopefully, Ink and Error would still be willing to offer the comfort Reaper was now ready to accept.

———

A tall, thin shadow appeared over Dream and the wall before him. "Let me see," Stretch demanded.

Dream placed a hand over the box's lid, protective of the contents inside. "I'll only say this once, Stretch, so listen close: Think really hard on just how much you want in on this conversation."

"My broth-"

"Is an adult. Is a Star. Blue," he called to the figure still on the stairs, "you have the right to decide not to look but, as a Star, you need to know the contents. You, Stretch, aren't part of this, even if your relation to Blue makes you think you are. Put your protectiveness aside and think about how involved with our problems you want to be. Really think, and know that if you reacted rashly, I will put you down. Forcefully, if I must."

Dream didn't know if their relationship went beyond friends, but he knew that Stretch was fond of Muffet. He helped dragged him home from her establishment enough times to know their friendship was strong. If he saw the dust, there was a chance he would react poorly and try something stupid.

Bloodlust, the desire for revenge... They would only draw his brother's attention. Dream couldn't allow that.

Stretch stared down at Dream. "Your problems are involving my world and my brother again."

"And you're too easily angered," magic burned under Dream's sockets, though he still stood firmly between Stretch and the box. "It'd be too easy to twist you against the brother you love so much, so decide. Will you stay or will you make your way upstairs and focus on protecting the rest of Underswap?"

Stretch blinked at him, frowning. He took a drag of his cigarette before scowling and turning towards Blue. "I'll make you some snacks, bro. Looks like you're gonna need it." He shot another look to Dream before marching up the stairs.

———

With Error and Ink, they found it a little difficult to focus on the task at hand. They did get everything together, and a fresh tea pot steeping, but... no words were spoken between them.

Even when more tears fell from Ink's face that reflected Reaper's sorrow, the artist said nothing. Error moved to wipe the tears and hold him close, but that was it. Already, it had been a long day, and they still had to wait for the night's dinner...

Ink sat on the counter, watching Error set up the tea set they weren't able to use with Cross. Fancy, beautiful, swirling designs, with Nightmare's seal at the bottom of each cup. He had good taste... Ink was loathe to admit. The details of each of the cups were subtly different, but equally stunning. Error glanced to Ink, thinking, before he added four sugar cubes into the artist's tea and handing it to him.

Ink took it with a nod of thanks, but couldn't bring himself to try it yet. Or stir it. Even after Error spiced up his own drink, they stood and sat there in the kitchen, staring down into the cups. Feeling the pain in his face and behind his sockets getting closer, Ink set the cup aside and looked up.

Reaper held Geno in his arms. Both wore different clothes, and it looked like Reaper had tried cleaning up his face a bit. His shoulders were slumped over Geno slightly, and when he looked to the others-

Ink wrapped arms around the both of them, holding them close.

Reaper pressed his face into Ink's neck, Geno tucked away safely between their chests while the god sought out the affectionate comfort of their artist. "I got the package to-"

Ink shook his head, gently shushing the other. As much as he was dying to know just what went on during Reaper's mission, now wasn't the time to discuss some things. "Not now, hon. We can talk about it in a bit, okay?"

"...Okay." The shorted skeleton murmured, exhaustion clear.

Yeah, Reaper definitely could do with a small break.

Face stinging and throat still irritated from nausea not his own, Ink admitted in the privacy of his own mind that he could use one too. "We made... a lot of sandwiches. There's some soup too if you'd like some, honey, though it's really just broth." Light, for Geno.

———

Blue crept closer to Dream once his brother was gone, eyes full of worry and fear as he eyed the box still beneath the golden guardian's hand. "...It's her, isn't it...?" he whispered.

Dream blinked, surprised. "I... how did-"

The confirmation brought tears to the shorter skeleton's eyes. Usually so bright and cheerful, it was almost startling to realize how much older he looked when a large smile wasn't drawing attention to the soft, childish curves of his face. "You wouldn't have actually sent Papyrus away if it wasn't personal, Dream."

Solemnly, Dream nodded, opening his-

Blue flung himself into the other guardian's arms. With his face buried in Dream's chest, he could better control the volume of his sobs.

"D-did she... s-suffer...?"

"I don't know..." Dream whispered. And he really didn't. Maybe it was a quick execution to demonstrate to the husbands that Nightmare meant business. Or maybe it was dragged out for Nightmare to prove that he really meant business. Gently rubbing Blue's back, Dream continued, "I don't know, but I hope she didn't..." That's all they had, wasn't it...? Hope?

Until they come up with a plan...

Something tickled at the back of the guardian’s mind, but…

Dream shook his head, letting Blue soak up as much comfort as he needed. When the smaller skeleton pulled away, Dream murmured, "Which brings me to the next topic..." He passed the small paper over to Blue and waited for him to read it.

"...Ink...? Ink's- w-wait, he's-?!"

"Yeah. It seems like they're trapped there. I'm not sure how safe this assumption is, but we might need to assume that they're doing everything they can to protect each other in there, even if it hurts those out here... I..." Dream's shoulders slumped. "I can't even imagine what's going on there...."

———

"Thanks..." Reaper tilted his head and looked to Error.

"Do you want some tea?"

After a moment to think, he nodded. "Breakfast blend, or black, if they have it..."

They. Not we. This isn't our home.

Ink pressed a kiss to Reaper's cheek and murmured, "We'll bring everything out to the living room, if you and Ge want to get comfortable..."

Dining in the living room didn't sound bad, so Reaper nodded. With a kiss of his own given to Ink's stained cheek, he carried Geno over to the sofa and carefully set him down, forced to readjust him and supporting him pillows just to keep the glitch sitting straight.

...He's like a doll... It was an unsettling realization made worse by just how fitting the description was. Light enough to carry, posed whenever they set him down... Hesitantly, Reaper reached out and lifted Geno's arm. Not high, but just enough that when he released his hold, there was a soft thump as the limb fell back to the glitch's side; limp. Geno...

"Please wake up soon, honey," he begged.