Henry is standing knee deep in ink and God knows what else when he makes up his mind. It’s a decision he should have made before turning on the Ink Machine, before coming to the studio, hell, before opening Joey Drew’s blasted letter.
It’s a decision he makes, simply, over the ominous creaking in his knees.
“All right, that’s enough for me,” Henry says, and turns right back around to get in the elevator again. In the corner, Boris tilts his head and twitches his nose questioningly. Henry pats him reassuringly on the shoulder.
“No need to worry, Boris.” He sighs and scrubs a gnarled hand through his hair. “I’ve just come to the realization that I’m much too old for these shenanigans.”
Boris perks his ears and wisely does not agree to Henry being old. Smart wolf.
“Come on then, let’s go talk to Ms. Angel about these ridiculous requests of hers.”
Boris decidedly does not like that plan.
“Come now, little errand boy, you can’t have collected my hearts so easily, could you? Maybe I’ll just have to take yours inst-”
“That’s enough of that nonsense, miss. Please come out here now, I’d like a word.”
Alice doesn’t reply for a moment but Henry can hear a faint indignant squawk before the intercom cuts off. After some time, the doors beneath the “She’s Quite a Gal” sign slide open just a crack. He can see her unearthly eye peering out at him. Her halo glows above her, casting Alice’s face into severe shadows.
Henry is far too tired to come off as half as terrified as he suspects Alice wants him to be.
“Excuse me?” Alice’s tone is dangerous and soft. “You think you can wander into my web and tell me what to do? The more you fight, little fly, the more pain-“
Henry levels an expression he used to use to get Joey to do what he wanted at her. She shuts her mouth with an audible click; after a moment Alice seems to be at a loss as to how to proceed, so Henry feels it safe to step in.
“Now, I need you to listen to what I’m saying, young lady.” She twitches, but his fatherly expression stops her from retreating. “I am much too old for all the hullabaloo that’s going on around this place. I figure if I keep going like this my heart’s just going to plum give out. My doctor told me I have to take it easy these days, you know?”
“Uh,” Alice replies, dumbfound. What is going on? This is not according to plan.
Henry stuffs his hands in his pockets and blows out an exaggerated breath. “Now, I’m thinking we’ve only got a few options here.”
This is the first time he’s heard Alice sound hesitant. “Options?”
“Well yes, as to how we’re all getting out of here,” Henry replies blithely. “Now, I do have a van, on account of never getting rid of it when my kids grew up and went off to college-remind me to show you some photographs, I’ve got them around here somewhere- so I can take maybe five? That’ll fit me, you, Boris of course, and three others. Maybe I could take the Butcher Gang? Hm, but I’d rather like to collect Bendy and Norman myself, I mean someone has to keep an eye on them. Sammy too, for that matter. I know there’s at least one company van left in the parking lot, and it looked like maybe it could still run if we jump started it- do you know how to drive?”
“What,” says Alice. The doors creak open more, revealing her in all her stained glory. Behind Henry, Boris cowers back, pulling his ears down over his eyes. She feels sick vindication at his fear slip through her veins like poison; but Henry doesn’t move.
“Do you know how to drive?” He repeats. “It’ll be much easier to get out if two of us could drive.”
“You-I- you want to leave…”
“That-That’s so stupid!”
Henry tilts his head at her. “Why?”
“We-I- everyone’s trying to kill you! We’re monsters.”
He looks distinctly unimpressed. “That’s a terrible argument, because I don’t agree with your self-assessment. Besides, I’m sure we can work things out with a nice, rational conversation later. Maybe over hot chocolate, that makes everything better. Now, are you ready to go?”
“But,” Alice glances around uncertainly, a little desperate. She feels like she’s grasping at straws here, like she’s trying to hold onto thoughts that slip through her fingers like water. Boris isn’t cowering anymore. “But why?”
“Oh honey,” Henry says, reaching out arthritic fingers to push her hair out of her face. Alice feels the cold husk in her chest thump once, twice, hard. “Did you think I’d leave without you all?”
Alice only looks a little out of place, standing between himself and Boris. After all the stuttering and wavering she did when he explained their escape plans, the wolf has lost a good bit of that unhealthy fear of the angel.
Not that Henry can blame her. Poor thing has been cooped up all alone in her tower for too long. And who knew how Joey had treated her before that. Young woman just needs some rest and a good talking to, to get her head on straight.
Henry figures he’s retired; he has enough free time on his hands to help with that.
“So, I think I heard Sammy rambling about a few floors up,” He says conversationally as the cage slides into position. “Shall we?”
A few Searchers flop and scramble forward before he even steps out. “None of that now, please,” Henry makes his tone sharp and authoritative. The Searchers stop, motionless. It looks like they turn their heads towards each other for a moment, before looking back at the animator, sightless and bewildered.
Henry looks at Alice. “You know these little guys more than me. Do you think there’s any way to help them out?”
The Searchers perk up at that. One face plants into Henry’s right knee and wraps its arms around his pant leg.
“I-“ Alice falters for a moment, wringing her hands. The sight softens Henry’s expression and Alice seems to find her voice. “I don’t think they can leave the Ink Machine. And they-they’re in pain. The voices in the ink…”
“Oh.” Henry tries to ignore the lump in his throat. All the pain Joey had caused-how much of it could have been avoided if he had been here to talk Drew down? “They’re hurting, aren’t they? And there’s only one way to stop it.”
Alice nods and shuts her eyes for a moment. Boris trembles, but pats her quickly on the shoulder. Memories of being in the ink were never good. “We’ll have to shut down the Machine.”
Henry nods, and gently passes his palm over the Searcher’s formless back. “I’m sorry, little buddy. It’ll be okay soon.” The Searcher nods and turns back to his friends, seeming to communicate soundlessly to them.
Two more Searchers wrap themselves around Henry’s knees before allowing them to move forward. Boris watches quietly as they faded back into the ink puddles.
“Sammy Lawrence, you stop that right now.”
Sammy jumps, fumbling with the paint brush and bucket of ink in his hands. Henry stands a few feet behind him, flanked by Alice and Boris. Sammy tries not to flinch at the sight of the angel. It has been a long time since he last saw her.
“Sheep!” He exclaims, preparing himself to leap forward.
“No.” Henry snaps, and Sammy deflates. “Now, that is no way to treat your workspace, and I‘d have thought a man as meticulous as you would be ashamed of such behavior.”
“I-I-”Sammy splutters for a moment, “I am doing this for my Demon Lord, so he knows that I serve him-“
“Hogwash,” Henry snorts. “You’re still just as overdramatic as usual, Sammy, although the man I knew at least knew how to retain his pride.”
“Now listen here, and listen good,” Henry interrupts again and good God of the Ink, the old animator never knew when to leave well enough alone did he, “I’m taking all of us out of this hellhole and I don’t want to hear any complaining. There are going to be a few rules, in fact.”
“What,” Sammy says, as Alice giggles unexpectedly. Boris bumps his shoulder into hers and grins. She’s not half as intimidating when she’s smiling, Sammy realizes vaguely.
Henry takes no notice of their childish behavior, and wags his finger at Sammy instead. “There will be no praying to demons, singing of hymns or giving sermons on this trip. You are not to antagonize or make the others uncomfortable with your worship and you are to tell me when you are upset instead of using idolizing Bendy as a terrible coping mechanism. And no calling anyone sheep. That’s just weird, Sammy.”
“I don’t know what you think you’re doing, sheep-“
He cuts himself off with one glance at Henry’s expression. Alice leans forward conspiratorially. “The Dad Look only gets worse, Lawrence. It’s best just to give in, trust me.”
“Huh,” Sammy says, feeling his ink receding from where it dripped down his mask. Henry smiles at him from over his spectacles. “Well then. Alright, Henry.”
Norman Polk was never a very loud man, which made his screeching as a projector monster just plain uncharacteristic, in Henry’s humble opinion.
“Oh, will you stop that racket,” Henry says, and the Projectionist obediently pulls up short before barreling into him. Ink still splashes onto his chest, though, and Henry mourns the loss of his favorite orange sweater. “Really Norman, what has gotten into you?”
“IIIInnnnkkk…” Howls the speaker in Norman’s chest.
“Alright,” Henry concedes, “That’s a fair point. Would you like some help with that?”
The speaker hums confusedly, increasing in pitch until Henry claps his hands over his ears. “Just a nod or a shake, please!”
The hum stops before- “Hennn-Hennn-rrr-eee?”
“Yes, old pal,” Henry says, “what say you we get outta here? You look like you could use a vacation. Or retirement, as it were.”
The Projectionist rears back, its light blinding Henry and for a moment he thinks maybe he misjudged this, that he’s going to get a face full of claws on behalf of someone who used to be a good friend-
The light dims, the Projectionist hunches back down, and his mechanical head dips twice. Before pulling back, Henry reaches out and lays his hand alongside the projector. The metal is warm. “Good. Let’s go home, then.”
The Butcher Gang huddles around a flaming barrel at the back of the toy warehouse, where the elevator doesn’t reach. By the time Henry has cleared all the stairs to get down there, he’s breathing a bit too heavily. He leans back on the banister and feels Boris place a worried hand on his shoulder.
“I’m fine, son,” Henry tells him, wincing a little and rubbing his chest. “Just not as spry as I used to be. Give me a minute.”
Alice is back to wringing her hands. “Did I- I made this happen, didn’t I?”
Henry levels a look at her over his glasses. “Don’t take responsibility for things out of your control. Father Time did this to me, Ms. Angel. And the war. Although I suppose the ink fumes I inhaled all my career didn’t help my asthma. Don’t get old, kids.”
“We can’t,” Sammy says helpfully. Henry would reply, but the Butcher Gang is approaching cautiously.
“Well now, who do we have here,” Henry says, opening his hands welcomingly. “Let an old man have a look at you three.”
The Butcher Gang veritably break his heat. Every one of them look in pain or misshapen, even worse than Alice or Sammy. Alice and Sammy don’t have fishing poles in their necks or wooden limbs. Alice and Sammy can speak.
Still, Henry didn’t hold title of Head Animator at the studio for nothing. “Well, this’ll take a good bit of work, I can tell you that. But all in all, I think it’s quite salvageable, don’t you? We’ll have to collect some ink to take home with us, but I think we can fix you up in no time.”
Edgar’s stitched together lips mouth the word ‘home,’ and Henry feels a twist in his chest. He smooths his fingers of Barley’s head and smiles kindly. “Yes, kiddos, home. You wanna get out of this place with us? I’ve got my own fireplace.”
Soon, Henry is swarmed by tiny toons all trying to climb into his arms. Henry laughs, kneeling and wrapping them all in a hug. They remind him not in small part of his own children when they were young. So eager to please, and so excited for a new playmate.
Boris catches Charley under the armpits and heaves him up onto his own hip. After a moment, Norman follows the wolf’s lead and swings both Edgar and Barley onto his broad shoulders. The toons shuffle a bit, glancing worriedly between the stairs back to the elevator and Henry. Alice holds out her hand to help Henry up from his position on the floor, and Sammy takes his other side with ease.
“Now, now,” Henry says, trying to keep a stern face, “you’re going to make a man feel old with all your fussing.”
The crowd that spills out of the elevator as it reaches his floor is not at all what Bendy expects to see when he rounds the corner. It’s a mess, a tangle of limbs and stumbling and loud screeching. Bendy stands stock-still and watches it all unfold out of the doors like a clown car. It’s almost awe-inspiring.
“What are you doing, you’re going to hurt him, hanging onto him like that,” says a voice Bendy is startled to realize is Alice, “you know his back is bad-“
“I’m not holding onto him, Barley is, he won’t let go of his sweater- come on, sheep-uh, kid, we’re trying to get out of here it’s super cramped-“
“Alright, alright everybody, settle down.” Henry’s voice booms. Bendy has never heard –doesn’t remember hearing from his time of being ink on a page, staring up into those warm eyes, wondering what he’ll do next, which adventure will his creator send him on- the animator speak so loudly. “Single file, and no stepping on anyone’s toes. That’s it now. Watch the inkwells, we don’t want to make another trip for those.”
When Boris sees him, he yelps and points wildly in Bendy’s direction. Strangely enough, he seems excited, rather than scared.
Henry finally pops into view, dusting himself off and running a hand ruefully through his ink-stained beard. “What’s that now, Boris?”
Bendy steps forward; he feels that old anger, that hatred for the traitor who left him here, left him to be tormented by the likes of Joey Drew, who didn’t even care to look back, rise to the surface.
Henry levels a look at him over his glasses, mouth pulled into a tight, thin line and sighs at him disappointedly. Bendy stops. Bendy stares. Bendy tells himself he is not intimidated.
“Uh-oh,” Sammy mutters from behind Norman somewhere, “I remember that look.” Norman nods.
“Hush, you interfering miscreant,” Henry says, and although his expression doesn’t change, his voice is warm. It’s surprisingly warm still when he addresses Bendy. “Now, what in heavens are we going to do with you, hm?”
Bendy feels the ink on his spine bristle into spikes. Alice shuffles like she wants to step back, but glances at Henry, and stays. On his other side, Boris plants his feet and pulls a lead pipe from out of nowhere. Norman looms, protective and hulking, behind Henry.
“Oh would you all be terribly disappointed if we left the posturing for the teenage boys?” Henry sounds exasperated. He steps forward, towards Bendy and Bendy- doesn’t know quite what to do. No one has ever come toward him, after all. They mostly run away screaming. His spikes recede.
Ink drips down over his (confused, anxious, hateful, hopeful) grin as Henry says, grandfatherly, “Would you let me have a look at you, son?”
Bendy almost backs away as Henry steps up to him, but he is a fearsome ink demon who has taken the lives of any who stepped foot in this hell. He does not run away from old men in ridiculous sweaters.
Henry reaches up, up, up and gently, oh so gently, lays a wrinkled palm just at the edge of his grin. Bendy can’t -won’t- read the warm look in his eyes. “Well, it has been a long time, hasn’t it old friend? I missed you.”
His palm is warm, and rough, and reassuringly heavy. Almost against his will, Bendy lowers his head to Henry’s level, looks at him from inches away, and sees Henry for the first time.
He is old- older than Joey Drew was when Bendy ripped his heart out, older than Sammy was when he became what he is, older than Alice ever was. And he is tired- Bendy can see it in the corners of his eyes, the way his back won’t straighten like he has an awful weight on it, the way his knees are forever bent just a little. And he is terribly, horribly sad.
“Joey really did a number on you, huh, buddy.” Henry says, and he is so quietly miserable, like he’s seen into Bendy’s (non-existent?) heart and shares his sorrow, “I never should have left you alone. I’m sorry, pal.”
Henry’s trembling fingers slip through the ink on Bendy’s face, slicking it away, and Bendy’s eyes see the light of day for the first time in thirty years. His first real sight, not plagued with ink, is his Creator’s solemn, hopeful smile.
Bendy feels like crying.
So he does, loud and quaking and right there in front of so many in the middle of the place he has been tortured in for years, where he’s killed so many for what they have done to him. Where he cannot- will not- kill his last Creator.
Henry pulls him forward, tucks his chin between Bendy’s horns, and rubs his back.
“It’s okay Bendy,” he hears Henry murmur, “You’re okay now. We’re gettin’ outta here, all of us. We’re going home. It’s going to be okay, you’ll see.”
Bendy curls around his Creator, clutches him close, and doesn’t let go for a long time.
Bendy shows them to the Ink Machine. It is, predictably, based near Joey’s old office. The last few yards, the hallway is lined with Searchers, all watching, sightless, as Henry follows the Ink Demon to where all of this began.
Henry and Bendy step into the Machine’s room, but Alice and Boris stop at the threshold. None of the others seem intent on coming with, so Henry smiles and nods understandingly.
This ends how it was started: with him and Bendy.
At the side of the room, connected to the Ink Machine with thick wires and tubes, is a simple switch labeled “POWER.” Joey was never one for subtlety, Henry ponders, faintly amused.
Before he has taken even a step towards the switch, Bendy lays a light hand on Henry’s arm. He holds up a terrifyingly large syringe filled with ink, and gestures toward Henry, then toward Joey’s office, then to the syringe and back to Henry.
Henry gets it. “Oh no, my boy, I’m much too old for that attempting to obtain immortality nonsense. Having bad knees for eternity? Count me out, thanks. Let’s just get this done, shall we?”
Bendy nods and lets out a low growling hum. Together they cross to the switch. Together they grasp it. Together they end the Ink Machine once and for all.
As it turns out, Sammy can drive still. Allegedly.
“I was the best driver here, Henry.” Sammy says, incredulous.
“You were the flashiest driver here,” Henry corrects as Norman nods vigorously, “and that car of yours was a deathtrap.”
“Beulah,” Sammy supplies wistfully, “I wish she were still around. But that doesn’t mean I can’t get us out of here and back to your house. I’ll even be following you! Easy-peasy.”
“Do you even have eyes? I don’t believe you can see the road, no matter what you say.”
“I can walk without bumping into things can’t I? It’ll be fine. Besides, it’s not like we have that many options here.”
Henry glances around; Alice is missing an eye (he can totally fix that, he’s already mentally set aside an inkwell for her), Boris is a wolf and it is questionable if he even knows what a car is, Bendy has six inch claws, the Butcher Gang is much too short and have between them only three or four defined eyes, and Norman- Norman is a projector.
He sighs. He sucks it up. He sends a quick prayer to anyone out there.
“Fine. But I’m gonna be having Alice check on you in the mirrors the entire time, got it?”
Sammy bounces on his heels and his mask moves as if he may be smiling.
Henry tugs on his beard once more and says, “Alright, here’s how we do it; Bendy, Alice and Boris are with me. Norman and the Butcher Gang will fit more comfortably together in the van with Sammy. Any questions?”
“Yes,” Alice says, raising her hand like they're in school. “How are we going to get the van running? It looks dead.”
Henry hadn’t thought of that passed the usual “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” reasoning.
“That,” he says, deadpan, “is a good question Ms. Angel.”
There’s a crash behind them. Henry spins, heart in his mouth, to see Norman pulling haphazardly at the wires connected to the back of his head.
“Norman!” Henry leaps forward, almost tripping over the curb before Bendy catches him around the waist. “What in the blazes are you-“
Paying no heed, Norman shoves his wiring into the van’s battery and flips an unseen switch on the back of his own head. His projector light dims a moment and then-
The engine sparks, trembles, and turns over.
“Huh,” Alice says faintly behind Henry. Boris whines happily.
“That’s convenient,” Sammy sounds cheerful, “all aboard then, right Henry?”
The drive out to Henry's home is a long one. He chats idly with Alice on the way, ignoring Boris's cold nose poking into his neck. The wolf's ears flap in the wind from the open window, but Boris is loving the smells of the outside world, so Henry doesn't have the heart to roll it up just yet.
"Who is this?" Alice asks, fingers brushing over a worn photo of his late wife in his wallet.
"Linda," Henry sighs with a bittersweet smile shot at her before turning back to the road. "My wife. She was a gem."
"She's very pretty," Alice murmurs softly.
Henry reaches out blindly, and smiles when her fingers wrap tightly around his. Her hand is cold, but that's alright; he's warm enough for them both.
"She was a spectacular woman. She would have wanted to save you just as much as I do. You would have loved her."
"She's-" Alice falters and Boris whines sadly, pressing his nose more firmly into the crook of Henry's neck from behind. "She's gone?"
"Human nature, honey," Henry says gently. "I'm alone now, but that's alright. I've made my peace with it."
Boris whines again. Sammy's lights flash in the rear-view mirror.
"You're not alone anymore, Creator," Alice says quietly. Henry squeezes her hand, catches Bendy's eye in the mirror, and grins.
"I guess not, huh?"
Bendy smiles back, softer now, content. From out of thin air, in the darkness and out of sight, his hands pull out that strange syringe. He turns it over in his fingers, watching his Creator lead them to safety, and contemplates immortality.