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Tipping the Scales

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Of all the things the Gang expected to see today — The Stars, the universe’s Sans or Undyne, the pathetic Guard, or even the human — a skeleton dragon was certainly not on that list. One that seemed hellbent on attacking them and only them even less so.

 

Dragons weren’t necessarily uncommon in the multiverse. There were plenty of AUs that had them, for better or worse. Skeleton dragons specifically weren’t even all that rare, considering how many Gaster Blasters (or just Blaster Sanses in transformation) were based around dragons a lot of the time. This particular AU, however, was notably not one of those. It was a random Underfell on the edge of the multiverse. Cross had checked it before they came in: the only variation was the fact the Papyrus was a little more kind. It didn’t even have a history of unethical experimentation, let alone entire mythical creatures.

 

It should have been an easy AU to fuck around with. This was certainly not planned.

 

“Shit!” Killer leapt out of the way from prying claws, barely making it in time to avoid ripping more than just his hoodie sleeve. The beast screeched, landing skillfully in the snow and whipping back to attack again. Dust threw up a blaster skull over the top of his comrade, giving Killer enough time to teleport away. The skull didn’t last long, anyway. Despite being nearly the same size as the dragon, it was easily torn apart with a few well placed scratches, dissipating in a burst of magic. 

 

All things considered, it was not a very big dragon. At least, not compared to the expected sizes Cross had seen in books or other AUs. If it stood straight up on all four feet, its head probably reached around Horror’s height, the tallest of the gang. Most of its body was covered in semi-clear ectoflesh, including long ears pinned back to its skull. Two spiked horns curled down and around them. The magic glowed a brilliant crimson that mixed with black, complementing the striking red of its eyelights as it glared at all four of them dangerously. The only exposed bones on its body were its face, claws, and the short spikes down its spine.

 

This shouldn’t be as hard to deal with as it was. They’d taken down foes twice this thing’s size easily! The fact this one had them panting and on the defense all by itself was beyond concerning. It was fast, quick to react, even quicker to attack, and for some reason, any kind of colored soul magic wouldn’t work on it. None of them could stop it in its tracks with blue magic, so they relied solely on weapons and attacks. Now, that was proving to not be enough. 

 

Though, a part of that was likely because they’d been messing with AUs most of that day previously, as well… They were already a bit drained. Perhaps they’d gotten a little cocky, going to this last universe while feeling as worn down as they did.

 

It certainly seemed happy to take advantage of that.

 

Wings flaring, the dragon shot toward Cross at a frightening speed. Eye sockets widening, the skeleton raised his large knife just in time to intercept the beast’s sharp fangs. It chomped down hard on the red blade, glaring scathingly over it and clawing at him in swift motions. Black liquid dripped from its mouth as its tail flicked behind it. With the sharpened arrow point at the tip, this jerky sweeping motion unfortunately kept his teammates away from helping him. 

 

Cross cursed as that dark liquid burnt through the snow and singed the ground below. It was dangerously close to his feet. Shoes would not protect him from that acid-like substance. The burn already on his arm (and many of the others as well) easily showed how this was not just inky saliva. 

 

That would be just as gross, but not nearly as painful.

 

Finally, the thing screeched and shot into the air with a beat of its wings, leaving a splatter of red magic. Killer had managed to stab a knife into its back leg — truthfully the first solid hit any of them had been able to land the whole time.

 

“Fuckin’ hell,” the murderer hissed, having been thrown to the ground abruptly in its departure. “The fuck is that thing?!”

 

“A dragon, idiot,” Horror grumbled, keeping his eyelight on the trees above them. They couldn’t see its red glow, but it was certainly still screaming its frustration. 

 

“I know that , but why is it so fucking strong?!”

 

“Cross, can you get us out of here?” Dust asked, readying a few bone attacks again. He was starting to sweat from exhaustion. The bones he managed to summon were noticeably shorter and duller than usual.

 

Cross was barely able to keep standing himself. “No… I don’t have the magic for that anymore. This thing is ruthless.”

 

“We should have had it taken care of ages ago,” Killer complained. “It just took my last fucking knife, the son of a bitch!”

 

“Can anyone contact Nightmare?” Ignoring his whining, Dust looked briefly around at all of them. “Or anyone , really. Even the Star Shits would be helpful here.”

 

“After the shit we caused today?” Horror scoffed. “They’d probably let us get dusted.”

 

“Well it’s worth a fucking shot, asshole! We can’t keep—!”

 

Shooting back into their small clearing, the dragon slammed right into Dust’s chest, using its curled horns like that of a ram. The skeleton shot back, crashing into a tree. The others barely had time to be concerned before it turned its attention on them. Wings flinging up to knock the knife from Cross’ hands and tail whipping out to trip Killer, it set its sights on Horror, who cautiously held out his axe. 

 

It narrowed its eye sockets and sped forward, skillfully dodging the rusted blade. 

 

As they continued to dance around each other, Cross crawled towards his fallen friend. Dust was still against the tree, magic seeping out from cracks in his skull and arms, but nothing seemed broken. He was still breathing, and though his eyelights were out, he was awake enough to groan as he got closer.

 

“We can’t handle this much longer,” Cross muttered dreadfully, mostly to himself. He turned around to look at the three still fighting, fearful to see both Killer and Horror being so quickly overwhelmed. He himself had no way of contacting anyone. Last he heard, Nightmare was going to meet up with Dream in a rare peaceful day for the duo. He had no idea what AU they were in, or if they were even close by. 

 

Stars, honestly, their only hope was either guardian sensing their panic. That wasn’t a very reliable method considering all the negativity they’d been causing in the last few hours could very well be masking their own. 

 

If he could get the thing to focus on him long enough, maybe the others could make it to Snowdin and get help. Underfell wasn’t exactly the most helpful , of course, but he was sure their Papyrus would be easily convinced, and therefore drag in the Pack and the Red lookalike. He doubted any of them could keep it back for much longer, but it might take its attention off the gang and buy them some time.

 

A rough plan, but it was better than sitting here and watching his family get dusted in front of him. They’ll likely kill him for it later, but Killer was mostly unarmed, Dust was down completely, and Horror barely had reliable energy reserves to begin with. He was the best choice.

 

Summoning a much smaller red knife, Cross stumbled to his feet and threw it right between where Killer and Horror stood. The small cover their bodies provided kept the dragon from properly seeing it in time. Even as it tried to sidestep away, the blade embedded itself between the radius and ulna of it’s right wing. Both the other skeletons jolted back as it screeched and flailed the limb.

 

Cross ran forward, shoving the two towards Dust’s downed form. “Go to Snowdin!” he instructed, summoning another small blade. “I’ll try to hold it off if you guys can get help!”

 

Killer looked at him like he was insane. “The hell?! Fuck off with your self sacrificial bull—!”

 

With another rumbling roar, the dragon snapped it’s jaws onto Cross’ cape, yanking him back and off his feet. He heard the others yell out his name as he was dragged back, his spine painfully hitting off hidden rocks and roots under the snow. He kept a firm grip on his weapon, reaching up to slice the fabric. His body tumbled a bit with the sudden loss of momentum. He rolled to a stop, dazed, but aware enough to quickly go to stand back up.

 

Unfortunately, it was back on top of him in a heartbeat, one clawed paw pinning the hand with the knife to the floor beside him and the other digging into his sternum. It glowered down at him, snarling viciously. From here, Cross caught the way its eyelights were shaped like red crosshairs, and there was a very familiar black splotch decorating its cheek. 

 

If anything, the sight just made him more confused.

 

Was this Ink’s creation? 

 

That may explain why it had no soul. Ink can’t create life.

 

Though why it was attacking them so viciously was far beyond him.

 

He didn’t get to think about it long. The dragon opened its mouth as if to screech again, but instead, rivers of that black liquid dripped down the bone, collecting along its teeth. Cross’ struggles heightened, trying to push the beast off of him, but it hardly budged. The first bit of that burning spit dripped onto his mouth cover, eating through the black fabric quickly. He cringed back, ready for the oncoming pain as it jolted down to bite—!

 

In a flash, the dragon was ripped off of his body. A few stray drops of its spit landed on either side of his skull, sizzling through the snow audibly. It thrashed and screamed in the air above him, held up by familiar blue strings tied tightly over its form. Wings safely pinned to its side and limbs tied together, it was kept far enough away for its tail and teeth to be of no danger anymore while also not endangering itself as it squirmed angrily.

 

“Cross!” Hands were immediately pulling him out from under it, helping him stand and lean against the smaller form. “Cross, stars, are you alright?!”

 

Dream. How was he—?

 

“What the hell did you fuckers do?!” Cross whipped around, unprepared for the molten glare of Error mere inches from his face. Glitches rippled along the Destroyer’s bones, flaring up around his shoulders in response to his anger.

 

The dragon screeched loudly, its tail whipping up to slice at the few strings it could reach. Error, barely even glancing at it, quickly pulled out more strings to rewrap what was lost. The beast snarled, turning that crimson gaze his way and opening its acid filled mouth to shriek once again. The dark skeleton made sure to tie up its muzzle as well.

 

Cross blinked in rapid confusion. “I… what—?”

 

“Don’t what me! What did you fucking idiots do?! How bad did you have to fuck up to get his attention like this?!”

 

“We didn’t do shit!” Killer hissed behind him, stomping forward to glare back at Error defiantly. Back down the trail Cross’ body left in the snow, both Nightmare and Horror were helping Dust walk up to the group, Blue fretting beside them. The Swap Sans had his hand cupping Dust’s cheek, glowing a slight green. He noted the cracks in his skull looked a little better.

 

Error whipped around to meet Killer head on. “Well, obviously you fucking did!”

 

“We fucked around in a couple AUs,” Horror intercepted, cutting off any nasty reply from the hate filled skeleton. “The hell does that have to do with a dragon coming to fucking kill us?”

 

“It’s certainly not something I’ve ever seen before,” Dream said, almost to himself. It was then Cross noticed both he and the other Guardian were dressed in everyday clothes rather than their usual outfit. Dream had a yellow sweater tucked into some jean shorts and a mustardy scarf instead of his cape. Nightmare didn’t look much different, his jeans, sweatshirt, and boots already covered in his goop anyway. Still, it was all the more of a reminder that they should be having a day together, not dealing with their bullshit. Those golden eyelights were pinned worriedly on the writhing dragon. “Is it a part of this AU?”

 

“No,” Nightmare grumbled back. “This should be a normal Underfell. Did it follow you from another universe?”

 

“I don’t think—”

 

“That’s not the fucking point!” Error yelled, glitches flaring up once again. He bared his teeth angrily, showing off surprisingly sharp fangs that Cross hadn’t noticed before. “How many fucking AUs did you mess with?!”

 

Cross blinked. “I, I don’t know! Seven or eight maybe?”

 

“More than that, I think,” Horror muttered.

 

“Why does that matter?”

 

Growling lowly, Error bent down the short distance between them to get close to Cross’ face without touching. “You messed with who the fuck knows how many AUs, potentially harming them beyond saving, or disrupting their fucking story too much , and you think it was going to go unnoticed?!”

 

“Who the fuck cares? You’re the fucking Destoryer, it’s not like—!”

 

“SHUT UP!” Whipping back to Killer, Error strung up a couple more strings to wrap around the other skeleton’s head and snap his mouth closed. “I keep a balance in the multiverse when I destroy an AU! Which I’ve already done recently! You idiots going around like stars damn children disrupted that balance , which is why—!”

 

Several snaps were heard above them as the dragon finally ripped out of its binds. Shaking free of the coils and clawing them from its mouth, it howled louder than ever. Its tail whipped out, breaking off several branches still holding it up. It fell gracefully to the floor, landing upright like a damn cat, wings spread in an intimidating stance as it took in its new opponents. 

 

Cross and the others readied themselves for another fight. Dust was hurriedly passed off to Blue, Nightmare herding both of them behind the rest of the group. 

 

Error, however, stepped forward with an angered purpose.

 

“The fuck is he doing?” Horror grumbled incredulously. 

 

Nightmare held up a hand in a placating gesture. “He obviously knows what this is. He likely knows how to handle it. Besides, Error is a god of the multiverse. He’ll have no issue with a small lizard.”

 

“Wow, thanks,” Killer muttered, still pulling the strings from his face so he could talk sarcastically once again. “That ‘lizard’ nearly dusted us.”

 

“I am aware.”

 

The dragon singled in on the dark skeleton immediately. Though Nightmare’s words eased most of Cross’ worries, he still couldn’t help but watch with an inkling of concern. This thing fought primarily at close range, the only exception being when he spat at them. Error was a long range fighter, being one to hate close contact. God or not, it was a very real and fairly easy weakness, if one could get past his blasters and strings. 

 

Based on the last five minutes alone, Cross knew that was very well possible for this thing. It was fast, fierce, and easily slipped through their attacks and defenses. But, then again, it had been fighting weakened mortals previously. Error was well rested and seemingly knew what he was doing. He also had two Guardians as back up, should things go wrong. Worst case scenario, they at least had enough energy to portal out now. 

 

Jaw practically leaking that dark fluid like a faucet, it screeched at its new opponent with its head low to the ground, ready to pounce.

 

Now, Cross was ready for some sort of quip from the Destroyer, or even just a tired groan of “Let’s get this over with,” probably referring to either the dragon, them, or all of the above as “abominations” of some sort.

 

But, to everyone’s shock and befuddlement, Error screeched back

 

The following seconds passed in what felt like slow motion. 

 

The dark skeleton grew taller, his bones crackling and popping from more than just his usual glitches. His feet and leg bones shifted and expanded to look more like the hind legs of an animal, long claws tearing through the slippers and socks he had on. Spikes poked out of his clothes all the way down his spine, extending onward as a boney tail of his own sprung out from underneath that stitched coat. A sharp blade-like bone snapped into being at the end of it, swiping at the snow with sharp precision. Horns that curled down and up grew from his skull, fading from black to red to yellow along the plated surfaces. Large, sharpened fangs snarled back at the beast in a warning, who seemed to be rather uncaring of it.

 

Whatever the fuck was happening, Cross was officially lost.

 

Spitting viciously, the dragon still leapt forward, teeth aimed for the throat. Error caught it easily (caught it, with his hands, how has he not crashed— ), snapping back at it with just as much force. They shared blow for blow, Error never letting it get any closer to the onlookers behind him as they watched in pure fear and absolute confusion .

 

Eventually, the glitched skeleton was able to get a good grip on the dragon’s neck, finally throwing it farther into the woods. It landed in a rolling heap but was quick to scramble back to its feet. Error dropped to a crouch with a rumbling snarl, ripping the rest of his jacket and scarf off to shoot into the forest after it. In a few loud moments, the two disappeared into the trees.

 

They could still hear their fight loud and clear, claws against bone and piercing roars echoing throughout the Underground. Really, it was surprising they hadn’t gained the attention of the AU’s residence anyway.

 

“Okay,” Killer spoke up after a moment, throwing his hands in front of him incredulously, “what the absolute fuck was that? Tell me I wasn’t the only one to see Mr. Windows Vista go all werewolf on us, right?”

 

No one really had an answer to that. Blinking, Cross stared into the thick trees in similar disbelief. Every so often he’d catch the flash of red or, somehow, yellow through the thick bushes and snow. He didn’t quite know how to process this. Instead, he chose to lean heavily into Dream’s hold, slowly letting exhaustion catch up to him. 

 

“You don’t think that was maybe another, um, person?” Blue suggested. “Error seemed to know them…”

 

“He did say ‘he’ when he was trying to interrogate you all,” Nightmare grumbled. He stepped back to help the Swap skeleton attend to Dust. The injured monster seemed to be better just from Blue’s assistance, though he still held his ribs cautiously. The fact he was able to stay awake at all, let alone look as baffled as the rest of them, was a small miracle in itself. At least he wasn’t hurt too badly to have blacked out or seriously injured his head.

 

When a quiet couple of seconds passed where no one could answer Blue’s inquiry, the silence filled only by the distant battle noises, something clicked in Cross’ mind. If they were concerned this was another monster, and Error was possibly another one, after what he saw… “Wait. Holy shit. Where’s Ink?”

 

Blinking up at him, Dream tilted his head. “Uh, I don’t know. I suppose… it is a bit strange he hadn’t taken notice to— oh. Oh.”  

 

The black and white skeleton looked down to meet his gaze. “That dragon had a splotch on its cheek and crosshair eyelights. Fucking hell, no wonder it freaked the fuck out on us. We messed with too many AUs...”

 

“Wait wait wait, are you saying that fuckin’ thing was Ink?” Absentmindedly rubbing the dark streaks from his cheeks, Killer pointed out vaguely towards where the two disappeared. “The hell, did anyone know about this?! ‘Cause this is news to me!”

 

“I-I didn’t,” Dream stuttered, furrowing his brow. “I’m… shocked he’d keep something like that from us…”

 

“I’m shocked he was able to keep something like that from anyone ,” Horror muttered, scratching at one of the burns on his cheek. 

 

“I… Yes, that too, I suppose…” Taking a little breath, Dream turned back to the tall skeleton he held up. Gently, he lowered Cross to the floor, sending a little glance towards Dust. “How is Dust? Was it bad?”

 

Nightmare huffed. “I’m mostly concerned about his magic levels. The cracks and burns are easy enough to heal, and he’s still awake, mostly. They’re all mainly exhausted.”

 

Nodding, Blue looked up for a moment to scan over Horror and Killer. “You two should sit down for a bit! I think, uh, Error has this, and if there’s any issues, we’ll take care of it now!”

 

The other Star nodded. His hand moved from supporting Cross’ shoulder to healing his arm. The warmth of his magic quickly soothed his aching bones. “He’s right. If push comes to shove, we can always call Comet or Lust as well. We have back up now, though I don’t think it’s needed anymore. We should really focus on making sure you’re all okay first and foremost.”

 

“I think I’m fine, starshine.”

 

“Killer, that thing nearly bit your arm off. Your entire sleeve was burnt in the process.”

 

“Horror, shut the fuck up.”

 

Cross sighed, rolling his eyes as he slouched forward a bit more. This entire situation was proving to be more than just physically taxing.

 

Truthfully, Cross was… worried. For a different reason than the others, really. If both Error and Ink had this strange dragon form, that usually meant a Gaster Blaster AU, and those were rarely very pretty. He didn’t know what kind of AU either of them originated from, since they both just seemed to exist outside of them all together. Honestly, he’d kind of just assumed that’s where they’d always been. Now that it’s being shoved into his face, he felt a bit bad for not thinking to ask. 

 

Not Error, of course. As close as they were because of Nightmare’s group and his connection to Ink, Cross definitely had more of a relationship with the artist. It was… a bit strained, recently, but still. They’d stayed together for so long, he really should have asked. Gods or not, even Reaper came from an AU, and those two definitely didn’t originate from Reapertale.

 

Then again, maybe it was for the best. If they really were from a Gaster Blaster universe, that couldn’t hold very good memories. Bringing them back up might have caused more issues than anything.

 

Not to mention he and Ink didn’t get along for the longest time...

 

Ugh, he couldn’t tell if he should feel guilty or not. 

 

“Holy shit!”

 

Jolting from his thoughts, Cross looked up to see what had Killer spooked. It turned out to have everyone stunned, and for a very understandable reason, if he was to have any opinion.

 

That was very obviously Error. Large dragon or not, the blue tear marks on top of dark bone was hard to misinterpret. His head was thicker and more jagged, horns stretching back almost the same length as his snout. He also had his ecto formed over most of his body, which was a dark blue, nearly black, with hardened yellow plates down his neck and belly. Sharp red and yellow spikes lined his red spine, which was just barely visible through his skin.

 

It seemed their battle had taken more to the sky — or, as much as they could within the confines of the Underground’s walls. Error’s large body, nearly three times as big as Ink’s, was perched upon the trees near the group of skeletons, dark wings flapping to keep him upright. The smaller red form zipped around him, trying and failing to dive in for swipes, always chased away by Error’s yellow teeth or claws. Every time the Destroyer opened his jaws, Cross swore he was hearing something straight out of Jurassic Park. Unlike Ink’s hissing and screeching, Error had a horribly deep and rumbling roar.

 

The sight was almost unreal, but the terror it sparked in Cross’s soul certainly wasn’t.

 

They were far too close for any kind of comfort. The longer they stared, the more the trees snapped and groaned under the beast’s weight. Suddenly, their little clearing they occupied for rest and healing didn’t feel safe anymore.

 

“Move!” he shouted, scrambling to his feet and pushing Dream back. Nightmare was already on it, his tentacles having wrapped around the four skeletons near himself, hurriedly moving them away from the clashing gods. Though they stumbled at first, all of them eventually righted themselves well enough to run back towards where, Cross thought, the Snowdin path was. 

 

He actually couldn’t remember which direction was which. Really, he just assumed Dream and Nightmare knew where they were going.

 

Thankfully, they were a fair distance away before he heard the telltale SNAP and crashes behind them, followed by frustrated roars of rage. 

 

Their movement, however, did catch the smaller beast’s attention.

 

In a flash of crimson, the dragon had dived down to land in front of Nightmare, his wings outspread in an intimidating fashion and tail whipping through the snow. The negative guardian barely had enough time to push Dust into Blue’s arms before Ink leapt at him and had a newly freed tentacle between his jaws. 

 

Meeting that vicious glare with one of his own, Nightmare was able to lift the dragon off the ground by his own biting grip and slam him into a nearby tree. Ink released him easily with a cry, spitting his toxic saliva along the ground. The goopy limb Nightmare pulled back looked mangled and burnt already, though the guardian didn’t seem to notice it at all.

 

Pushing Cross behind him, Dream was quick to summon his bow, nocking a cyan arrow to point at the downed skeleton. His brow furrowed uncertainly, likely all the more convinced this was Ink from the close up perspective of his skull. His stance was as confident as ever, though.

 

Red crosshairs zeroed in on the new weapon, teeth pulling up in a boney snarl. He was panting now, the fight finally starting to take its toll. Though he had no serious injuries, there were still plenty of scratches and tears in his ecto that dripped crimson magic like true blood, staining the white snow. Most noticeably was Killer’s knife, still firmly stabbed into his left thigh. 

 

Nightmare narrowed his socket, dropping his hold on Killer and Horror to have all his tentacles pointed and ready. “This is going nowhere for you,” he snapped. “Whether you’re Ink or not, you are outnumbered and overpowered.”

 

“I dunno if this thing speaks your language, boss,” Killer huffed, raising an eyebrow as he glanced between the two. “Maybe try growls and barks. That might get you somewhere.”

 

“Killer, for fucks sake,” Dust grumbled from behind. “Please shut the fuck up.”

 

“Come and make me, Dust Bunny.”

 

As much as Cross wanted to roll his eyes at their stupid antics at a time like this, he kept them firmly planted on the dragon before them. He was backed against a tree and still very pissed. Now was not the time to turn away.

 

“He has to be lost to some kind of instincts,” Blue suggested weakly. “I mean, that’s a thing that happens in Gaster Blaster AUs, right?”

 

“Sometimes,” Dream nodded shortly. 

 

“Then shouldn’t we be able to break him out of it?”

 

As wonderful as that sounded, Cross wasn’t too sure that would work. Judging by the uncertain glances the rest of them sent around, including Blue himself, no one else was either. 

 

It wasn’t so much the idea that didn’t appeal to him than it was the timing of it. Ink was feral, wounded, and backed into a corner. If he was going by some primal instincts alone, he imagined the Protector would act as any hurt and trapped animal would. That is, violently. As comfortable as he was with the skeletons around him, absolutely certain that they could all handle him now, he’d much rather not risk any further harm to either them or Ink. 

 

Plus, if someone actually did get seriously injured, more so than Dust, Cross would hate to imagine the guilt Ink would feel when he came back to his senses.

 

No, it was likely better to just keep him here until Error came back around and either handled it himself, or explained what to do.

 

But, it seemed not everyone had the same thought process as he did. After a moment’s hesitation, Dream had slowly lowered his bow. Though he eased the arrow a bit, he also didn’t relax it completely. The movement alone was enough for those crimson eyelights to snap back to him though, rumbling growl once again picking up. Without his weapon fully drawn, the positive skeleton took a step closer. Cross was quick to reach out and grab his arm.

 

“The hell are you doing?” he hissed, gaining another hiss of more ferocity from the threatened dragon. 

 

“I’m going to try and calm him down.”

 

“Dream, that’s insane.”

 

Golden eyes snapped up to him. “He feels cornered and angry. If I can just get a bit closer—”

 

The monochrome monster glared lightly. “This is Ink , you idiot. He has no soul to use your magic on! You can’t get him confused with other—”

 

Apparently sick of their dawdling, the smaller dragon snapped forward once again, sights set on Dream, who was now the closest to him. The guardian was able to back out of the way, but a splatter of black spit burnt through his sweater sleeves immediately. He yelped, stumbling back into Cross’ grip and holding onto his burnt humerus.

 

“Dammit!”

 

“Dream!”

 

Nightmare shot between the two just as the beast leapt forward again, though Ink didn’t seem to mind who he was biting so long as his teeth dug into something.

 

He was unable to, though, as much larger teeth suddenly snapped around him instead. 

 

 

Where Error had been or where he came from, Cross had no clue. All he could do was watch in bewilderment as the larger dragon locked his jaw around Ink’s body and yanked the writhing monster away from their proximity. For a moment, he was scared Error was going to actually hurt the other, but after a few short moments of him shaking his head just enough to stop Ink’s insistent squirming, it was clear there was nothing actually threatening about his hold on the smaller body.

 

Ink was just small enough to fit in the dragon’s mouth, one wing pinned to his side while the other flailed around. Error mostly had a hold of his torso and midriff, though his right front leg was definitely caught on one of his teeth. As much as the smaller clawed, scratched, and screeched, grabbing at any surface of bone he could, Error merely rolled his eyelights. Cross felt like he was treating this more like a child having a tantrum than a god going on a literal murderous rampage.

 

But, just like that, it was… done.

 

Error gave them a final tired, scathing glare before opening a portal three times the size Cross is used to and disappearing into what he assumed was the Anti-Void. As the glitchy gate closed behind his tail, the excessive hissing and screeching of the captured skeleton cut out completely. The others were left in complete silence for the first time in what seemed like hours. 

 

It was almost more deafening than anything.

 

Rather, the lack of any kind of explanation was what had Cross as perturbed as he was. Because of course, after all of that, the most Error would leave them with was an accusatory look, as if they were purposefully causing more work for him, and that was it.

 

If he had hair, he’d be pulling it out right now. Based on Killer’s wordless hand gestures, he wasn’t the only one.

 

“Should… should we help him?” Blue muttered, the first to actually speak afterwards.

 

“I think Error’s got this one,” Dust grumbled with an exasperated tone of voice.

 

“What the absolute fuck happened here?”

 

...As if things couldn’t get any more chaotic. 

 

With an officially done expression, Cross turned to glare at the Underfell copy skeleton brothers and the dog guards they’d brought with them. Each new monster looked baffled as they took in the unfamiliar Sanses and the extreme damage done to the area around them. 

 

Killer, his teeth straining into a tight, pissed off grin, narrowed his dark sockets dangerously as new waves of black hate ran rivers down his cheeks. “Oh, so now you all show up! Where were you dickwads thirty minutes ago when we were getting our asses handed to us by some red demon dragon maniac! You are the shittiest guards I have ever seen, and that’s saying a lot!”

 

Nightmare ran a hand down his face. “One normal day. I wanted one , singular, normal day.”

 

“Pretty sure this is normal for us,” Cross muttered lowly.

 

“A normal day by normal standards. Not whatever the fuck this is.”

 

“Is no one going to answer me?!” the ‘Fell Papyrus growled.

 

“No!”

 

-:(o):-

 

It was nearly an hour later when they all saw the Destroyer and Protector again. 

 

Nightmare had taken his boys back to his castle, allowing Blue and Dream temporary access for medical reasons. Not only were both skeletons far more experienced in healing magic, but Dream was also mildly injured. Guardian of Negativity or not, Nightmare was still set on making sure his entire family was taken care of. Thankfully, everyone was relatively still in one piece, with Dust having taken most of the damage. His skull had been cracked in the back and several of his ribs were broken, but it was all bandaged and healed well enough within the hour break they had. 

 

After Horror had been checked over, only having a few burns and scratches, he was quick to bring in leftover stew and some extra sandwiches to replenish the lost magic all around. The four bad Sanses were exhausted beyond belief, magic so drained it was bordering on dangerous for them, but the Stars were also using quite a bit of their own energy to heal. Overall, the small meal was very appreciated. When he was sure everyone was eating, the large skeleton took his seat on the couch again, pulling Dust into his lap protectively while Killer leaned into his side.

 

When they had all settled down, wrapped up and well fed once again, another glitchy portal opened in Nightmare’s living room.

 

Rather than coming back as his usual self, Error was still very much a large, winged beast. Though he had an uncaring expression on his face, he was still noticeably careful about where he put any of his limbs. His wings were tucked neatly into his sides, tail staying low to the ground, and every step of his feet was made deliberately to prevent his claws from catching on the rug. 

 

Cross mentally thanked the stars for the high ceilings throughout the entire castle. Error was probably around ten feet tall, but he still had a bit of space to breathe. This didn’t stop him from keeping to the far side of the living room, as small of a distance as that may have been. The room may be big, but it wasn’t enough for him to comfortably settle down without fear of touching any of them. Dream, helpful despite the bandages wrapped around his arm, vacated the armchair nearest to the dragon to sit further away. If Error noticed, he didn’t acknowledge it. He simply pushed the chair with his tail and laid down. 

 

Draped across his back like a saddle was very clearly Ink. Though he had been hard to recognize before, any doubts were thrown out the window now.

 

Not only did it seem he’d taken the time to grab his brown scarf back, but the once bright crimson ecto was now a marbling shade of yellows, pinks, emeralds, and violets. His eyelights were back to their ever changing shapes as well, the sun and swirl worn with a toothy smile on that long face. His ears were perked upward, tail swaying back and forth in a lazy pattern. 

 

He wiggled as Error plopped down, twitching his wings as if to wave while his paws kneaded the air. “Hey guys!” he chirped, making a couple of them jump. They honestly didn’t realize the duo would be able to talk like this. Cross supposed that wasn’t the smartest assumption, seeing as a lack of vocal chords wasn’t really an issue for skeletons in general, but they’d only heard a series of growls, roars, and hissing previously. As Ink’s eyelights scanned everyone, taking in their tired and patched up states, he tilted his head, one ear flopping down. “What happened?”

 

… The fucking audacity this skeleton had. He was forgetful, of course, but Cross couldn’t help but be a little pissed that he’d forget nearly killing them all.  

 

“Squid,” Error growled, glaring down at the smaller dragon.

 

“Hm?”

 

“The fuck did we just talk about.”

 

“I attacked someone!” Ink answered, his tone far too cheery. In a few moments, the connection seemed to kick in as his ears folded back and his ecto had a tinge of blue thrown into the mixture. “Oh.”

 

“I do hope you are here to talk,” Nightmare said, crossing his arms and curling his tentacles unpleasantly. 

 

That annoyed glare shifted from Ink to the Guardian. “Shut the fuck up, asshole. I’m pissed at you, too.”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

The bone of Error’s snout pulled up into a snarl. It was surprisingly more threatening, considering all of his teeth were on display anyway. “You fucking heard me! Thanks for the fucking help, dick.”

 

Nightmare’s hands shot down to grip at the armrests of his chair as he leaned forward and hissed, “And what the fuck are you so pissy about?! I was busy keeping the so called Protector from tearing these fools apart! Apologies if I do not know how to deal with a mini murder dragon!”

 

“I shouldn’t have to butt in to save your shitty ass hoard!”

 

“My — What?!”

 

“Okay, let’s calm down for a second!” Dream interjected, raising his hands in a calming gesture. It successfully kept the two quiet, but they continued to sneer at each other. “It’s clear we aren’t all on the same page here. Ink?”

 

Said skeleton perked up at being addressed. “Yeah?”

 

Dream smiled uncertainly. “Could you maybe shed some light on what happened? We’re all… a little confused…”

 

Horror scoffed, pulling Dust closer to his chest. “Tha’s an understatement…”

 

“... and I think Error’s a little too emotional right now.”

 

“Fuck off, you fuckin’ highlighter!”

 

Instead of complying, Ink once again tilted his head in confusion. His eyelights shifted between colors and shapes quickly, as if unable to decide on any one set. “Um, can’t you do it? I don’t really remember exactly what happened, heh.”

 

Blinking, the positive Guardian scratched his head. “Well, I don’t know what’s happening either? Error said the balance was uneven because the gang messed with too many AUs, but I don’t see what that has to do with your, um, dragonness?”

 

Both dragons stared at him incredulously, one more so than the other. It was starting to make Dream visibly uncomfortable when Error shook his head and closed his sockets. 

 

“I’m sorry, what?” he grumbled. Those molten eyelights encased in red flickered between Dream and Nightmare. “Why the hell are you both still denying shit? Are you really trying to pin this on just us?!”

 

“We don’t know what the fuck you are talking about, Destroyer,” Nightmare said lowly gritting his teeth. “Do not make me wring the fucking information out of you.”

 

“Okay, there’s no need to get violent!” Blue pleaded, smiling nervously. 

 

“You’re in Nightmare’s castle,” Killer shrugged, raising a brow. “‘Violent’ is how we solve everything.”

 

“Well, not right now!”

 

“How about we just start with the how, okay?” Cross was starting to feel bad for the smaller Guardian. Dream looked like he wanted to be anywhere but right here, and he couldn’t blame him. “How are you two dragons? Is that something you can explain?”

 

Once again, the duo just stared at Dream as if he were the strangest thing in the room at the moment. After a few seconds of watching Ink’s ecto swirl a dark green and purple, the Protector finally said, “Dream, it’s a balance thing.”

 

Silence settled over the room, neither side really knowing what to say to that. It took a moment for the words to click in Cross’ head, and suddenly the situation both made more sense, and got a lot more confusing.

 

He knew what the balances were, of course. They were the three major systems of the multiverse: Life versus Death, Creation versus Destruction, and Positivity versus Negativity. Regular monsters like him may not fully understand the intricacies of how they function or why they function, but he got the basics. Too much of one side would lead to the fall of the multiverse, one way or another. The idea of multiversal balance has long since been hammered into his skull, and for very practical reasons, considering he was around the gods and guardians of the very systems. Being a part of Nightmare’s group, he helped keep the negativity of the multiverse in check. 

 

He knew there was so much more to the multiverse’s inner workings than just the six immortals he was familiar with, but the former guard didn’t really need to know much more. He had his job, and he’d stick to it.

 

The insinuation that the two Guardians were also giant skeleton lizards was certainly not lost to him, however. That would definitely throw a wrench into their functions for a while.

 

When the information had finally sunk in and everyone seemed to catch up to why their previous attempt at conversation made absolutely no sense, Ink finally broke the silence by snorting. A warm yellow slowly seeped across his body as he struggled to keep a straight face until he was completely encased in the color. His attempts to stay quite very quickly failed. Suddenly, Cross was watching the smaller dragon absolutely cackle on Error’s shoulders. 

 

Error himself lowered his head slowly, covering his eyes with his paws and digging his talons into his skull. “Idiots. I am surrounded by clueless, useless idiots. This multiverse is fucked.”

 

Ink rolled onto his side, swiping his feet at nothing. “Th-This is— I can’t —  pffff, hahA oh my stars, how did you not know—!”

 

Dream frantically waved his hands back and forth. “Y-You must be mistaken! Nightmare and I are not—!”

 

He didn’t even get a chance to defend himself as Error’s large head shot up again to growl, “You both have hoards, your teeth and phalanges sharpen when you’re mad, I know for a fact you both have a heat cycle, you cuddly pieces of shit, and every fucker related to the three balances has it! If Ink, Reaper, Life, and I have to deal with this shit, you do too!”

 

Nightmare shot out of his chair, his goopy appendages curling angrily. (Upon closer inspection, Cross could confirm that yes, he did have fangs now. How had he never noticed those came and went? He always figured the skeleton just had them.) “Bullshit! I do not have a hoard of shit in my castle!”

 

The Destroyer snarled back at him once again, slamming his paw into the ground, glitches rippling down his form. It seemed he didn’t care about damaging the rug anymore. “You collect traumatized gremlin children, that’s your stars damned hoard! And you!” He jabbed the wrists of his wing towards the shorter Guardian. “Don’t think we don’t know about all the fuckin’ pillows and shit you have! You both have hoards! It comes with the shitty instincts!”

 

“I-I just—!” Dream buried his face in his hands, flushing a brilliant yellow. “It’s not— I’m not hoarding them!”

 

“You have like fifty blankets in your closet, how is that not hoarding!?”

 

Ink finally fell to the floor in his laughter, rolling off the dark dragon in a tangle of limbs and scarf. It seemed his amusement was starting to get contagious, as Killer snickered silently in the background as well. This additional noise merely added to the brother’s embarrassment, even getting a bit of a cyan tinge on Nightmare’s cheeks.

 

“How are we supposed to connect that with being a dragon shifter?!” the negative Guardian demanded. 

 

“You’re not! But you’re hundreds of years old, you damn octopus! How have neither of you shifted in that time?!”

 

“We didn’t know we could!”

 

“That’s not— That isn’t how it works, you idiot!”

 

This was getting ridiculous.

 

“Enough!” Cross yelled finally, startling everyone in the room (except Ink, who only snorted a few more times, giggles slowly quieting down). When everything went silent again and he was sure all eyelights were on him, he sighed and rubbed his head tiredly. “We’re getting absolutely nowhere with this. Can we please get back on the important topic? I would love to know why I was almost murdered today.”

 

“Oh! Yeah, you messed up too many AUs!” the Protector chirped, shifting to lay more comfortably on his back. How that was comfortable with the little spikes down his spine, Cross didn’t know, nor did he care at the moment. “Error got rid of a couple empty AUs earlier this week, so the multiverse was at a good point creation wise. You all damaged more universes beyond recovery and, whether they were copies or not, it threw the balance out of place!”

 

Out of all the people here, Cross honestly hadn’t expected Ink to be the helpful one. He was surprised the artist hadn’t already forgotten what the issue was. Then again, he always did have more of a grip on things when it came to his job.

 

...Well, usually. This was kind of information they already figured out. They knew why it happened, just not why it led to nearly getting mauled to death. 

 

Plus, didn’t he just tell Dream he couldn’t remember any of this?

 

Whatever. At least he was making sense and not beating around any bushes or yelling in their faces. It was a start.

 

“Okay, and why does that trigger… all of this?” He gestured to both dragon skeletons in the room vaguely.

 

“Instincts,” Error rumbled. “Think of it like an emergency system kind of thing. When we can’t control things normally, the multiverse is in danger, so our magic kinda handles things itself. In this case, that means being a little more violent.”

 

Dust blinked incredulously. “You call that a little? You broke my ribs!”

 

“You say that as if we haven’t been at each other’s throats before,” Ink snickered. “I know for a fact I’ve caused worse injuries! Though I suppose that it was the fatigue that was the most concerning, yeah? I’m surprised you guys lasted as—”

 

“Squid.”

 

“Sorry! Sorry. I’m sorry for attacking you. I’d say I won’t do it again, but I can’t really control that, so…”

 

“So don’t fuck with the AUs as severely,” Killer drawled, stretching out and leaning further into Horror’s side. “Duly noted.”

 

Nightmare sent all of his boys a tired glare, tentacles drooping. “I want to know why you were doing that in the first place. You all should know better than this.”

 

“Sorry, Dad!”

 

“Killer, I swear to god—”

 

“Horror and I both had LV spikes,” Dust muttered, hitting Killer with his elbow. “We had to do something. This idiot and Cross just said they’d help.”

 

The larger skeleton grumbled in acknowledgement. “Didn't realize we took it so far. Sorry.” 

 

Large eyelights flickering between the two, Error let out a huff of breath and flapped his wings a bit. “Just don’t do that again. Get into contact with me or Ink and we’ll either drop you into an AU you can let loose in, or spar with us.”

 

Ink perked up. “Ooh, yeah, I’m fine with that! You can’t really kill either of us, too, so it won’t add onto your stats either! Everyone’s happy!”

 

Laying his head down again, Error muttered a short, “Anything else, or can I leave?”

 

“Uh, can we ask how this happened?” Blue inquired, tilting his head a bit with an uncertain smile. “Not the thing with Ink, but why you guys can turn into dragons in the first place? If you don’t want to, that’s fine! It just seems a bit strange.”

 

Both gods stared at the little skeleton for a while. Ink’s ecto started to shift to a dark purple and blue, but it was drowned out quickly by a neutral orange and green. Cross barely had the time to wonder what that meant when Error huffed and looked away. “Reaper and Life were just made like this, and we don’t know about Ink or I.” After a moment, he rolled his eyes and continued, “Or these dipshits, ‘cause they were too stupid to know they could shift in the first damn place.”

 

Dream groaned, dropping his head again. “You don’t have to be so mean about it…”

 

“It is very funny though!” Ink snickered, rolling to lay on his belly as yellow overtook his ecto again. “I mean, you’ve never shifted on accident? At all? Do you know how many times Error and I have brawled it out before we made a truce? It just kinda happens sometimes.” He giggled lightly. “Here we thought you guys were just really stingy about it!”

 

“Thanks, Ink… That really helps…”

 

“Of course!”

 

The change in subject was blaringly obvious. The monochrome skeleton wasn’t sure if the others were just ignoring it for the two gods’ sake (which is hard to believe for the Trio, being the nosy bastards they were), or if they actually didn’t notice the blatant lie and deflection. Everyone seemed too focused on Ink’s teasing and the slowly raising mood of the room. Well, everyone but Nightmare and Error, both of whom shared a glance with him, the latter being more of a warning look than anything.

 

Cross merely blinked and looked away. If they wanted to keep secrets, he wasn’t going to pry. They likely had their reasons.

 

That didn’t stop the swell of concern from rising in his soul, but he crushed it down to indifference quickly. Just in case, considering Dream sat right beside him.

 

“Everyone satisfied? Can I leave?” Error muttered. His eyelights sweeped over the room for a moment, then he moved to stand up anyway. “Actually, don’t answer that. I don’t care. I’m done.” He shook himself off swiftly, not unlike a wet cat or dog. A glitchy white portal expanded to his full size behind him, which he was already stepping into. Just before his tail fully entered, he spun around and fixated stern eyelights on Dream and Nightmare. “Don’t lose track of your fucking hoard next time. I’m not saving their asses twice.”

 

Scoffing playfully, Ink flicked his tail towards the other dragon. “Yeah, he would.”

 

With an angry growl, Error snapped forward to grab the Protector by the back of his scarf, yanking him into the air and through the portal as well. Glitches and ERRORs rippled down his snout and ecto, but he stubbornly didn’t let go. Ink merely curled his feet forward, waved his wing with a grin, and shouted, “Call us if you need help shifting!” before the gateway closed with a staticky pop. 

 

“I didn’t think they could get any weirder,” Dust grumbled, mostly to himself. 

 

“You severely underestimate them,” Cross sighed.

 

Sitting up abruptly, Killer turned an intrigued smirk towards his boss. “So! Do we get to see some weredragon action from either of you now? The curiosity is overwhelming, I must admit. I wonder if either of you will be as large as our big boy Error, huh? We might need to get a bigger castle!” 

 

“Doubt it.” A slight smirk of his own pulled at Dust’s teeth. “Betcha they’re gonna be small. Not Ink small, but Boss’s pretty short.”

 

“Ah, yes, though I don’t think anyone could be Ink small.”

 

Blue pouted. “That’s just rude…”

 

“And who knows! Maybe it’s going by a different size reference—”

 

“No, we are not doing this right now.” Nightmare squinted at the dark eyed skeleton, though he only got a snarky smile back. He rubbed at what Cross could only assume was a growing headache. “You are all exhausted, and quite frankly, so am I. Everyone is going to bed. We will talk about this in the morning.”

 

“Aww, so we don’t get to cuddle up to scales and tails? That’s disappointing. Maybe your hoard is lonely, Nighty.”

 

“Sleep. Now.”

 

Dream huffed a small laugh behind his hand, standing up alongside the rest of them. He nodded in agreement. “We should all rest. Blue and I will leave you be. And I’ll, uh, talk with Ink tomorrow, sometime…” He clasped his hands in front of him, smiling nervously toward Nightmare. “It was nice to see you today, Night. Even if things got a little out of hand.”

 

Nightmare visibly relaxed, though his face was still as grumpy as ever. “Of course. Now we’ll have to meet up to discuss… other things.” Sighing heavily, he snapped out his tentacles to wrap around the Trio, jerking them towards the living room door. Cross was left alone, likely just assuming he’d follow. He’d be more offended if it weren’t completely true. “I trust you two can see yourselves out.”

 

Cross gave a small wave to the Stars as he trailed behind, rolling his eyelights at Killer, who made plenty of suggestive comments about being manhandled. 

 

As they walked down the hall, Cross couldn’t help but let his gaze wander along the extra appendages Nightmare had. They were such a normal sight to them now, but he knew they weren’t exactly natural. He just had to wonder how that would translate onto a dragon. 

 

That train of thought led to a thousand possibilities, for both Nightmare and Dream, flashing through his head. 

 

It would be an interesting day tomorrow, to say the least.

 

He watched the skeletons in front of him bicker with a slight smile under his burnt face mask. 

 

Well, he certainly couldn’t say his life was boring.

 

Chapter Text

Knowledge’s library was a place almost no mortal has ever seen. Truthfully, not many gods or guardians have either. It simply wasn’t there for anyone’s eyes besides her own, and despite being shy and fairly reserved, Knowledge was very adamant on policing that.

 

Her library had absolutely everything you could imagine written down in excruciating detail. If the information has been discovered, learned, and shared, Knowledge wrote it down. It didn’t matter what universe, who discovered it first, when, or even how, it was documented exactly as that, perhaps multiple times. There was no false information in any of her books, and they were all organized in a meticulous method only she truly understood.

 

Upon entering, you walk into a long, open center space with a lengthy table in the middle and some cushioned seating pushed off to the corners. This was the main room, used primarily for reading or adding onto what she already had. The floor was lined with white and blue tiles, creating a simple square pattern. On all sides, bookshelves nearly ten feet tall extended in a series of long, ever expanding aisles. Besides the few stacks of books that piled along the table or on the floor by a couch, every shelf was filled to the brim with books of every shape, size, and color, all looking just as new as the day they were first made. 

 

Looking up, you’d find this long reading room to extend upward as well, showing off the balconies of several upper floors that are filled with just as many shelved aisles. Intricate metal fences lined and decorated each one.

 

If it was known, it was here somewhere, which was exactly why Reaper thought his lovely Geno would enjoy such a place.

 

Pushing open the grand doors, the god smiled brightly at the sight. He didn’t come here often, as he rarely had the time off for just sitting around and reading, but when he did it was surprisingly enjoyable. There was something soothing about curling up on one of Knowledges mint green sofas and just devouring whatever new information she had stocked up in here somewhere. It was a strangely warm setting for a large space of mostly greys, greens, and blues. Perhaps that was due to the old, fancy candles that sat around the place. 

 

There were actual lights, of course. She was still an Alphys, obsessed with technological advancements of all kinds. Reaper just preferred to be a little old fashioned sometimes. 

 

“Holy shit,” Geno muttered mostly to himself behind Reaper, slowly stepping into the room. “That is… a lot of books.”

 

“Well, she is Knowledge itself. It’s gonna be a little overbooked. ” 

 

“Yeah, but… still. Jeez.” The smaller skeleton looked up to him a bit skeptically, fiddling with the red of his scarf. “And you’re sure I’m allowed in here? I feel like this is… a lot of power to give to a mortal.”

 

Reaper shrugged, leaning back to float in a more relaxed position. His cloak rippled around him in pleased fiery dances. “Yeah, I’m sure. I even asked , just for you, treasure.”

 

“Don’t call me that.”

 

He ignored the grumpy insistence, as always. “People are allowed within Knowledge’s library when you can give her information she doesn’t already have. It just so happens I learn quite a bit while on the job. It usually goes in her more… morbid, or medical sections, but that’s valuable all the same.”

 

Geno looked a little confused for a moment. “How does someone learn something the goddess of knowledge doesn’t know, exactly?”

 

“Simple. If you found out, but you never tell it to anyone, she won’t know it. There’s no use in knowledge if it’s never shared.” Geno still looked a little lost, so Reaper rolled to lay on his side, head propped up on his hand. “For example, let's say someone found out the best way to cook pasta, and everyone loved it, but they’re a stingy fucker and didn’t share their methods. No one would know, not even Knowledge. Or, more likely, someone figured out, say… a cure for cancer, yeah? But they died in a car accident before they could do anything about it. As far as the world knew, that cure never existed, so it wouldn’t be here.”

 

“Oh. I suppose that makes sense.” Pacified, he turned back to the library, taking a few more steps in. “Is there anywhere I’m not allowed? I mean, I don’t even know where to start, but knowing where I shouldn’t might help a little.”

 

Chuckling, Reaper shrugged lazily. “Not really, no. I can point you in the direction of astronomy or physics, if you wanted. Cosmology, astrophysics, astronautics, even Zodiac signs, if you were at all inspired after my wonderful example. I, myself, quite enjoy Cancer’s symbol.” At Geno’s annoyed look, he smirked back then floated over to his usual chair. “Al has everything here. There’s even joke books with puns from absolutely everywhere. She lets me add to them sometimes, isn’t that sweet?”

 

“I’d say it’s hard to picture the god of death sitting around writing down stupid jokes, but it really isn’t and that says something.”

 

“You love ‘em too,” Reaper purred, floating on his belly with his head on his hands. “Though, of course, I could always just check you out instead, if you’d rather.” 

 

Geno rolled his single eyelight, glitches flaring up in exasperation. He pointedly walked away, leaving the god pouting behind him. He immediately started sifting through the books that were already out on the table, trying not to ruin any sort of order in case Knowledge still needed them. A couple were open and spread out beside a chair and some pens (and a few empty candy wrappers). He assumed that meant she’d been adding on to the pages.

 

Intrigued, he poked around them briefly, vaguely aware of Reaper gliding up beside him. He was actually surprised to find a bright red cover labeled “LUSTFELL” underneath the slight mess. “There are books on the universes too?”

 

Humming in affirmative, Reaper leaned on the table to his right. “There’s a book on everything, G. Some are smaller than others, but she keeps all the originals on the shelves by the door.” He gestured to the wall of books surrounding the large doorway they entered from with a rare neutral expression. “I’ve browsed through them briefly, but sometimes it just feels a little intrusive when I’m around these people so often. Don’t really need to know all the skeletons in their closets, y’know?”

 

Geno’s eyelight was immediately stuck on the wall of books next to the door. “I just thought… there might be something useful in one of them. Would it be weird to read from my own?”

 

“Not weird at all, but maybe be a little cautious. You might not like everything you find.” Furrowing his brow, Reaper bent down to intercept Geno’s view of the shelves in question a bit, meeting his gaze. Raising a hand to cup the other’s cheek, he asked, “How about you do that another time, though? I brought you here to have fun, not stress yourself out more.”

 

They sat in silence for a moment, doubt and curiosity flickering through that one white eyelight. Eventually, he deflated and nodded, bringing a smile back to Reaper’s face.

 

He knew Geno wanted out of the Save Screen. It was a blaringly obvious fact. As much as Reaper didn’t want to cut him off from a chance to research into that, he also knew there wouldn’t be much to come from it. At least, not in a single day. There had been plenty of times Reaper himself came in here with the sole purpose of researching the Save Screen and possible ways out of it. He even brought Knowledge with him a few times, using her as both a verbal reference, or just someone to guide him in the right direction.

 

It was the reason he’d started coming in here in the first place, afterall. So far, he hadn’t found anything. Or, at least, nothing conclusive. As far as the multiverse knew, there just wasn’t a safe way to save a monster from dusting when time once again got a grip on their souls.

 

Geno was safe in the Save Screen, Void, Anti-Void, and select areas of Reapertale. That was it, unfortunately.

 

He’d hoped that Geno wouldn’t click onto that mindset so soon. Reaper would figure that out for him. It was no use stressing the little pale skeleton out even further.

 

“Here, I have something a little different that you might find interesting.” Grabbing Geno’s hand, the cloaked skeleton led him over to the wall anyway. He scanned it for a quick moment, passing by all the AU names printed along the spines, before finding the book he needed. It was fairly big, and maybe an inch or so thick. The cover was dyed in a galaxy of colors and framed in silver patterns. With great exaggeration, Reaper presented it to his boyfriend dramatically. “I present to you, the Book of Legends…”

 

Geno’s eyelight sparkled in hidden amusement, flickering from his snarky smirk, to the book title, then back up to him. “ The Multiverse: Structure and Laws, ” he read in a deadpanned voice. 

 

After a slight pause, Reaper shrugged loosely. “Eh, basically the same thing.”

 

“That is not the same thing.”

 

“I disagree! Some of the things in here are completely just legends and rumors.” Keeping it aimed towards the other, Reaper swiftly opened the book and began to flip through the pages. “Entire beings we’ve never seen before, both corporeal or not! An overpowered King, Fate, Destiny, Creators , it’s all described as well as it can be here, despite having never actually been discovered.” He flipped by their pages swiftly, letting paragraphs and images of faceless figures pass by in a blur. He noticed with great satisfaction that Geno’s tired gaze was quickly becoming a bit more interested. The multiverse was a fascinating place for many Sanses, especially now that so many of them actively traveled through it. However, despite that, many didn’t know all that much about it — at least, not in detail. 

 

They usually ask Ink for information, being the Protector and all. However, he wasn’t always the most reliable of sources. Honestly, Dream wasn’t either, having been in stone for so much of the multiverse’s existence. He’s still learning. Error and Nightmare mainly knew about their own roles and weren’t all too keen on sharing much else, and the gods of Reapertale were just overall hard to get into contact with.

 

Most people knew the basics, and that was it. He figured Geno would be interested in learning a little more than that.

 

“Knowledge didn’t write every single book in this library, you know,” the dark cloaked monster continued, smirking in a way that wasn’t, for once, suggestive. “We think there was a multiverse before this one —  before Reapertale or Dreamtale, before Error and Ink. The original universe always existed, yes, but what came before all of us copies, hm? There could have been entirely different gods and guardians based around someone other than Sans, since he hadn’t been born then. There had to have been, since so much of this library was already filled before Knowledge could even remember!”

 

Geno reached out a hand to stop him from turning the pages more, squinting up at him suspiciously. “You’re not just spouting nonsense, right? You tend to over exaggerate to try and impress me with your ‘ godly insight .’” 

 

Reaper gasped loudly. “How dare you insult me! I would never! You will never know the very deep, deep depths of my mind, you silly mortal skeleton!”

 

“...Exactly my point.”

 

Pouting, Reaper leaned over the book sadly. “Aww, Gene, why do’ya have to be so mean? I’m not lying! There really are a lot of mysterious mysteries within our own multiverse. Plus, that’s not all that’s in here! Legends aside, the entire thing is true — it explains all there is to know about the inner workings of the multiverse. Don’t tell me you’re not a little curious?”

 

The monster stared at him for a moment longer before letting his gaze fall back to the book in front of him. It was now open to a chapter titled “Multiversal Balances” in large black lettering. He scanned the paragraphs thoughtfully, dragging his distal phalanges along the pristine white paper. Finally, he sighed and rolled his eyelight. “Fine. I suppose it would be interesting to read something that wasn’t astronomy for once.”

 

Grinning happily, the god passed the book to Geno’s awaiting hands. “You could always bring some astronomy books back to the Save Screen when we leave!  As long as she knows where they are, and they aren’t something too dangerous, Knowledge doesn’t usually mind. Or we could just come back another time, of course.” 

 

“Hm. It would be nice to have something to do later, I guess.”

 

“Something that isn’t me?” Reaper purred, snorting as Geno fumbled with the book and flushed a bright crimson.

 

After a thorough scolding and plenty of halfhearted smacks, the two had settled onto Reaper’s favorite couch together with their books of choice. Despite his previous embarrassment, Geno had no issue leaning into the god’s side while they read. A couple candles were lit and flickering on the side table beside them, providing just enough light to read comfortably. 

 

Reaper almost had a hard time concentrating on his art history book (Ink had him wrapped up in the rabbit hole that was artwork over the centuries and he honestly couldn’t complain. It was especially interesting when it pointed out small differing details between universes). So much of his time with his boyfriend was usually spent watching a movie, bringing him gifts, or just chatting in the darkness of the Save Screen. They couldn’t often do much else. Not that he’d complain at all — any time spent with his treasure was well worth it.

 

However, it did make this time extra special to him: cuddled on a couch, just enjoying each other’s company in a place that wasn’t Geno’s dreary prison. As much as Reaper tried to liven it up with furniture and decorations, he still looked forward to the day that this was their normal.

 

A day that would come, he was sure of it.

 

But, until then, just the fact that they had Life’s Garden and Knowledge’s Library to expand their little world to was enough for the couple. Geno’s presence at his side was as distracting as ever. He couldn’t help but watch the other’s expression change as he flipped through the pages, illuminated by the flicker of the candles. The way Geno’s brow furrowed as he read something he found intriguing, how his teeth would twitch at some ridiculous information he didn’t quite believe, or the slight widening of his eye and flicker of glitches when something really caught his fancy — all extremely minuscule reactions that would be easy to miss if one wasn’t looking for them. It really was an addicting sight. He’d have to make this a more common date spot, afterall.

 

An hour or so passed by like this before Geno’s face scrunched in more obvious confusion. His gaze scanned over the pages for a long moment, then he raised a hand to poke at Reaper’s chest, not realizing he’d already had the god’s attention. “Hey, do you know anything about this part?” he asked. “I mean, it supposedly involves death, so…”

 

Blinking, Reaper shifted forward to get a better look at the section he was referring to. It seemed he got right back to the chapter on the balances. That was quite a bit into the book, if he was remembering right. They must have been here for longer than he thought. 

 

Along both pages were three depictions of dragons. They were simple, solid color pictures with little paragraphs beside them to explain their role and duty to the multiverse. The left featured Creation, Life, and Positivity, colored white, green, and yellow respectfully. The right had Destruction, Death, and Negativity in red, navy, and purple. They were noticeably sharper than the first three.

 

 

He tilted his head. “What do you mean? Doesn’t it explain it right here?” He gestured to the short paragraphs along the inside seam of the book. “It’s the three balances of our multiverse. Just keeps everything in check.”

 

“Yeah, I got that,” the smaller monster huffed. “It’s what you and Error and all them handle. I’m just confused on why you’re all represented as dragons, of all things. That just seems a little weird.”

 

After a moment’s pause, Reaper snorted, setting his book down to curl his arms around Geno’s torso. “Nahh, you’re thinking about it too hard, treasure! They’re just pictures.”

 

“Oddly specific pictures of people that are definitely not this?”

 

“Oh come on, G, how many cultures have some kind of animal in them to represent a person or power? Dragons specifically, really! Like I said, a lot of this book was made before all of us existed. It’s more likely that these were just made as placeholders since they didn’t know what we would actually look like. Or, honestly, it could just be like the whole Fate and Destiny thing — the balances aren’t actually corporeal forms, but they had to give some kind of imagery for them. So boom, dragons.” Geno gave him a disbelieving look. Reaper pouted. “What do you want me to say, babe? I’m obviously not a dragon! After all the bizarre things you’ve read in that book, you’re really gonna let this dragon you down?”

 

Successfully, Geno’s teeth quirked up a tad at the horrible, on-the-spot pun. He looked back down at the book. “Yeah, I guess. Still weird though.”

 

“Everything about this multiverse is weird, don’t worry so much!” He squeezed Geno to his chest, practically pulling him into his lap as he pressed his face into the scarf around his neck.

 

Doing his best not to drop the book, Geno rolled his eyelight and leaned his head away as far as he could, squirming a little bit before just accepting this new fate. “I wasn’t worried , it just didn’t make sense!” 

 

“You were so concerned for me and my nonexistent dragonness! It was so sweet, Gene!”

 

“Stars, get off of me.”

 

-:(o):-

 

He didn’t like lying to his treasure. 

 

He didn’t do it often, and for good reason. Geno makes him unbelievably happy and he didn’t want to even chance the possibility of losing him, through death or otherwise. If there was one thing for sure about their relationship, it was honesty between the two.

 

However, this wasn’t something he was really allowed to be honest about. Not yet, anyways.

 

Reaper floated well above the plants of Life’s garden, empty eye sockets scanning the flora for said goddess. After a few more hours of reading, he had eventually decided to take Geno home when the mortal skeleton started to yawn. He’d grabbed a couple science books he thought his treasure would like, picked up some food from Outertale’s Grillby’s, and left Geno to rest back in the Save Screen. As much as the god wanted to stay with him and take a nap, he knew he couldn’t. 

 

He only had a little while before he would be expected to do his job again, and he needed to have a word with Life.

 

He quickly found her sitting in a small grassy area beside a lively pond, happily thumbing the petals of some flowers. She was half shifted, her horns a little longer and ears reaching past her chest. A lengthy tail tipped with a poof of white curls was draped along the grass behind her, twitching in a calm, satisfied manner. Some of the plants were a bit tall around her, so Reaper had to really take care to maneuver around them. Life greeted him with a smile.

 

“Hello, Sans! It’s been a while since you’ve dropped by for a visit. Is everything alright?”

 

Hovering beside her with his legs crossed, he smiled warmly back. “Yeah, sorry about that. Got caught up in some other stuff.”

 

A corner of her lips quirked upward. “Of course of course. Perhaps I should’ve asked, is your hoard doing alright?”

 

He snorted. “Sleepin’ like a babybones.” That cocky grin slipped a little before he continued. “Though, he’s kinda why I’m here.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“I just…” Sighing, Reaper leaned back in the air. “I brought him to Knowledge’s library, and he loved it. Spent the whole day reading, barely even said a word to me ‘cause he was so enthralled. It was honestly adorable.”

 

Nodding, the large monster shifted to better face him, adjusting her dress to better cover her knees. “I’m sensing a ‘but’ here.”

 

“... But, he asked about the Balances. Specifically their dragon depictions.”

 

“Ah, I see the issue.” Life nodded, furrowing her brow a little. “What did you tell him?”

 

Huffing, Reaper crossed his arms. “Nonsense, which he accepted. Just makes me feel worse .”

 

“You know, I don’t think the others would fault you for telling him,” she said kindly, tilting her head a bit. “We all know it can’t stay a secret forever, especially not to family, friends, or otherwise.”

 

“Pretty sure Error would murder me, actually. Or, do his best to.”

 

“Ah, that would be an interesting fight. Almost makes me want to see it.”

 

“Great, thanks. I, too, want to see myself get my ass handed to me.”

 

Life laughed. “You don’t have a lot of faith in yourself for a god!”

 

He pouted, though seemed to be fighting back his own smile. “He’s, like, twice my size, Tor. He’d rip off my wings and use them as a chew toy.”

 

“Oh please. If Ink can handle him on a daily basis, I’m sure you’d manage as well.”

 

“Ink has the advantage of being his mate. I have the disadvantage of dating his adoptive brother.” The duo snickered for a moment more, enjoying the serene calmness of the garden in each other’s company. It was almost ironic how he tended to be the target of teasing when around Life, considering it was usually Reaper doing so to others. There was just something about the larger goddess that he couldn’t bring himself to pick on as easily. 

 

He still did , of course, it just wasn’t as often.

 

After they’d calmed down again, he rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. “But really, do you think they’d care? I mean, we don’t even know how Dream and Nightmare feel about all of this. I know it’s to keep people from panicking or whatever, but… it’s Geno.

 

With a soft smile, Life reached out to place a large paw on Reaper’s leg. “I can’t speak for them, of course. If you want an honest answer, you’ll have to find the four of them and ask yourself. I, however, don’t mind at all. I don’t think the individual universes should know, but we’ve gained enough trust and kindness from those close to us that telling them won’t be an issue.” She gained a thoughtful and amused look for a moment. “Quite honestly, I think Error would be more upset that it was Geno rather than any feeling of not being ready, simply because he’ll likely be mad at both of you for keeping it a secret.”

 

“So I’ll have a glitchy winged dinosaur and a glitchy gremlin out to kick my ass. Noted.” Laughing a bit, Reaper turned his gaze to the crystal waters of the nearby pond. “I just don’t want to wait forever and have him get even more mad because I lied months ago rather than just a couple days. At least if I can come clean faster, that’ll score some points.”

 

“Ah, you already sound like an old married couple.”

 

“That is the goal, yes.” 

 

“It’s quite cute to see you so domestic. What’s the current phrase? Being ‘whipped’?”

 

“Wow, do I hate that you know that.”

 

The goat monster laughed heartily, covering her snout with her paws. “Oh, you know I’m just kidding!”

 

He smirked playfully before stretching out and sitting up again. “Sorry for cutting things short, but I do have a job to do, unfortunately. If I were not terrified of the consequences of killing your plants, I’d give ya a hug.”

 

Rolling her eyes, Life maneuvered herself to stand up. She was usually taller than him, but her more animal-like hind legs certainly gave her several more inches. Even floating as he was, she had to pull him up to her height in order to properly wrap her arms around his ribs. Reaper’s smirk softened to a smile as he returned it gratefully.

 

“Remember to do some things for yourself, dear,” Life said by his skull, patting his back like a true mother. Considering she was like the mother of all living beings, it was both unsurprising and ironic that she fell into that role for him as well. “You deserve to be happy as well.”

 

“I am.”

 

“You’re starting to be.” She pulled away and held him at arm's length. “Whether the others agree or not, it is your call more than anything. You would be breaking no promise. Our silence on the subject was an unspoken agreement, nothing more.”

 

He raised a hand to place over her paw, smiling gratefully. “Thanks, Tor. Think I just needed someone to tell me that.”

 

“Well, I will gladly be your voice of reason. You certainly don’t seem to have one yourself very often.”

 

“Wow. Y’know, we were departing on a nice note.”

 

-:(o):-

 

“What the actual fuck?!”

 

When Reaper next visited his treasure, he did so fully shifted. 

 

Was it better to ease the little skeleton into it — to show him, perhaps, his halfway form first, or even just talk to him before showing him anything?

 

Yeah, probably. 

 

But this was far more fun. He had a flare for the dramatics, and this was a rare opportunity to be exactly that. What was it Life had said? “Do some things for yourself”? He can blame it on her.

 

Reaper’s dragon form was different from his fellow skeleton gods. Where their ecto summoned over the top of their bones, leaving faces and spikes exposed, his dark navy magic summoned underneath them instead. Half the time he didn’t even bother with it at all. Though it gave decent protection to their bare bodies, it was usually only used for flight as it filled out the webbing between their wing phalanges. But, he had feathered wings, so there just wasn’t much use to it.

 

Today, however, as he stepped through his dark portal in his full glory, the sparkly blue ecto on full display. His cloak, which usually molded to his body anyway, acting more like a thin sheet of smoke than actual fabric, simply shifted along with him. It wrapped around his neck and shoulders where the spines down his back were shortest, like a short cape that draped along his bones softly. It was held there by the usual rope, the blaster skull pendant resting on his chest. He waved his tail cockily, swiping the scythe-like bone at the end of it quick enough to hear it slice through the air. Holding his head up high and flaunting his wings, Reaper’s dark eye sockets immediately locked onto Geno’s wide one.

 

The Save Screen was still a vastly open space, stretching out forever in every direction. Try as he might, that unsettling aspect just couldn’t be completely removed. Still, the couch, additional seating, desk, bed, and a few other decorative furniture added a small, homey flair that he knew Geno appreciated. Reaper did as well, considering this had practically become his new home. He hadn’t moved much stuff in, but that bookshelf and dresser didn’t really have much purpose in his room back with Papyr— 

 

Oh. Well then.

 

While he was busy fluffing his feathers, it seemed Geno wasn’t as much of a fan of this new beast entering his home. At least, that’s what Reaper assumed from the semi-terrified look and three Gaster Blasters aimed his way.

 

What a nice welcoming gesture.

 

“Woah! Woah woah, Gene, no need to get so heated!” Reaper exclaimed with a laugh. Despite his calm nature, he still lowered his head and torso to the ground, leaving his hindquarters up in a peaceful, pacifying gesture. A shot from a blaster wouldn’t damage him in any way, but it would still hurt and make explaining things just a little harder. Geno visibly faltered, the glowing balls of energy cradled within the Blasters’ teeth flickering briefly. After catching Reaper’s amused smirk, they dissipated all together.

 

“Reaper?!”

 

“Hello, treasure,” he practically sang, slowly standing straight up again and folding his wings in. He took a few steps closer to where Geno sat on the couch. The smaller skeleton (much smaller, he should note, considering he was now over twice his usual size) seemed to have been reading the books the god had left, though many of them were scattered on the floor now. He felt a slight pang of guilt for scaring him so bad, but the look of befuddlement on that cute face was well worth it.

 

“I— You— What the fuck?!” Geno exclaimed. His single eyelight looked him up and down, making Reaper smirk wider.

 

“Checking me out, babe? How forward of you!”

“Shut the fuck up! What is this?! Why are you… how did—” He blinked rapidly before realization crossed his face, eye widening then squinting in anger. “You lied to me?!”

 

Oop. There it was. 

 

Reaper’s smirk dropped to a more sheepish smile. “Ah, sorry, G. I wanted to talk to some people before I just went ahead and told you anything. It’s not exactly just my secret, y’know?”

 

It took a short moment for that to really sink in. There was a sudden hint of betrayal in that eye socket that made Reaper panic a bit. “Oh... my stars. You both lied to me.”

 

Well, shit. This wasn’t going as he’d hoped.

 

… Maybe he should have thought this through a little more afterall. 

 

“Ah, Geno, no, babe!” He was quick to shift halfway, ecto dissipating and bones crackling as they rearranged themselves into the smaller form. Crouching down on animal-like legs, Reaper cupped Geno’s face in his clawed hands. He fanned out his wings a bit, letting them drape beside him on the floor. “I’m sorry, treasure. I wanted to tell you, but it’s a little more complicated than that.” His boyfriend gave him a doubtful look. He thumbed his cheek thoughtfully. “Imagine how the universes would react knowing the main gods and Guardians were not only large killing machines, but beasts with instincts that can take us over in an instant. It’s not always something we can control. It would cause a panic, and people like Ink or Dream could lose a lot of contacts. Nightmare could lose contacts — entire AUs as safe spaces and allies. Stars know they need them.”

 

“...It’s not as if I have many people to tell, Reaper.”

 

He huffed a humorless laugh. “That’s not the point. None of us has said anything since long before I found you, Gene. It’s safer, but also a habit. After a while, it was more how and when do I tell you than anything else. I wasn’t going to stay quiet forever, I swear. I just had to be sure it was okay.” Which, technically, he didn't. He couldn't get a hold of any of his fellow dragon skeletons, for some reason or another, so he was mainly riding on Life's word and his own desires.

 

But that was fine. He'll deal with the repercussions there later.

 

They stayed like that for a while, silently staring at each other while Reaper held his love in his hands. This wasn’t exactly going how he thought it would. He expected more yelling, some questions, maybe a pillow or two thrown his way, before getting to curl up with his hoard safely tucked under his wings. This heavy, quiet atmosphere that laid between them while Geno looked for further lies in his eyes was much more suffocating.

 

He didn’t blame the small skeleton. How could he? From the mortal’s point of view, Reaper didn’t trust him enough to tell him something huge about himself. Considering how much their relationship relied on trust and honesty, this wasn’t exactly a great revelation. Geno trusted Reaper every day to come back . He trusted him to stay, to bring him to places he wouldn’t immediately crumble to dust in, to bring him food, entertainment, and company. Geno put so much faith into Reaper, he’d want to know that faith was reciprocated.

 

Keeping big secrets wasn’t exactly very good proof of that.

 

And this was a big secret. As little as it seemed to affect him and his life on the outside, those instincts were bound to get in the way of things eventually. Whether it was losing control in an attempt to keep his side of the balance (a side effect he loathed to admit happened very often years and years ago, when he and Life certainly didn’t get along), to his deep need to keep his hoard safe. Add on the thousands of dragony habits and quirks he’d squished down painfully since he’d been around Geno? This undoubtedly would change a lot. 

 

And of course, that is what Geno would see. 

 

Reaper would just have to make his absolute trust in the mortal skeleton undeniably clear to him more so than ever.

 

Finally, after a long few minutes, Geno relaxed and sighed. “Okay,” he muttered, furrowing his brow and pushing the god’s hands away. He still seemed down, but at least that usual Geno grumpiness had returned to his face. He wasn’t completely convinced, but he was willing to listen, and that was all Reaper needed. “Just… ugh, okay. You can get off me now.”

 

Smiling brightly, Reaper did the exact opposite. He hopped onto the couch, practically sitting on Geno’s lap, and curled his wings, arms, and tail around the mortal, pressing his face into that red scarf. “Aww, I knew you loved me too much!”

 

“Reaper!”

 

“You’re so sweet, treasure! And much smaller now, too!”

 

“Shut up! I’m not smaller, you dick, now get off!”

 

“You’re so much smaller, but that’s alright! You’re fun sized , Gene! Bite sized, even!” He emphasized this point by nipping on the skeleton’s vertebrae, earning a surprised squeak and a kick to his pelvis.

 

“OFF!”

 

They wrestled back and forth on the cushions, with Reaper laughing and Geno struggling to get any kind of upper hand on the now heavier skeleton. The god did (finally) get a pillow shoved in his face, which he found hilarious until it hooked on his canines. Suddenly, it was Geno laughing while Reaper fell back, blinded by the tan fabric stuck to his face. 

 

The next few minutes went by in the same way until finally, any tension from before was gone. Geno was all too ready to use Reaper’s new limbs to his advantage, much to Reaper’s amusement and dismay. It was a lot harder to pin the other down when he was yanking on his horns or tail. 

 

Eventually, they settled down again, souls light in their respective ribcages. The larger skeleton had Geno pulled into his lap on the floor, back pressed against the couch. His wings curled around them protectively as he cuddled the mortal close. Geno took to running his fingers through the feathers nearest to him and watching his tail twitch like a satisfied cat.

 

They spent a while like that, comfortable drawing heat from each other. Reaper eventually explained things as best he could, answering all of his mate’s questions when they popped up (or telling him to ask Error later when he didn’t know the answer) until he was finally sated. From then on, they stayed there in silence. 

 

Reaper was going to take the little skeleton out to Life’s garden later, but Geno seemed far too content as he was. Perhaps this would just be a day spent inside instead.

 

“... I’m sorry.” The whispered words were almost too quiet for the god to hear. However, it was the only noise in the Save Screen aside from their breaths or the slight clinks of his tail on the floor. 

 

Reaper hummed questioningly. “Sorry? For what?”

 

“I overreacted. I should have known you and Error would have a good reason. I shouldn’t have expected to be some exception to your rules. So… sorry.”

 

“Oh, treasure, you don’t have to apologize.” He strengthened his hold on the other, bringing his wings in to curl around them tighter as if to protect Geno from the outside world. “I understand, don’t worry so much. I’m sorry for not going about this in a better way.”

 

“You mean walking into my sorta-home as a komodo corpse on steroids without any warning?”

 

Reaper barked a laugh, feathers fluffing out as he chuckled softly. “Yeah, that.”

 

Geno smiled, tilting his head to rest on the god’s chest comfortably. “It’s… fine. Scared the shit out of me, but I suppose that’s what you were going for.”

 

“You have cute expressions, what can I say?” He got a smack to the face for that, which he expected. Laughing, he pressed his skull in close again. “Love you too, treasure~.”

 

“... There’s no other world shattering secrets, right?”

 

He snorted. “If I think of anything, I’ll tell you.”

 

Geno scoffed, rolling his eyelight before closing his socket. “Ass...”

 

Chapter Text

Hoards were annoying.

 

Or, at least Error thought so.

 

All of them had some sort of tiring, negative aspect to them that he hated — even the “positive” sides of the balances, as harmless as they were.

 

Life’s garden was a bitch to maintain. She had countless plants everywhere all the time, from aquatic to land, indoors and outdoors, flowers, bushes, or trees. Error wasn’t sure if she had every plant imaginable, but he wouldn’t be surprised, really. Even being Life itself, he doubted keeping them all happy and healthy was an easy feat, though it likely helped. Of course, she liked the maintenance — she actually found it rather enjoyable and relaxing to do — but he still thought it was ridiculous.

 

Dream’s was more an issue with the instinct itself than handling it afterward. Stars knows how much gold he’d spent in AUs buying a new plush, pillow, or blanket, just because he saw it and felt the need to have it. Taking something from others wasn’t abnormal either, though he never really did so without asking. He certainly took some things from Error himself. He was lucky the Destroyer knew how shitty it was to deny those feelings and could just make himself new ones later.

 

Where the Guardian kept all these items afterwards, Error didn’t know. Surely there wasn't room in his house closets and cabinets anymore.

 

Ink’s was more annoying to him than it was to the artist. That would be because of the absolute mess he made with it not only in his Doodle Sphere home, but in the Anti-Void as well. It wasn’t uncommon to find paint, pencils, cups, sponges, paper, absolutely any kind of art supplies scattered everywhere. Error once found a pile of canvases of all sizes in his space before, and he had no idea why. He had no idea where they went later, as well — he just knew they were there one day and gone the next.

 

(Really, despite how he hated to clean up after his mate all the time, he never told Ink off for it. The dark skeleton would never admit it, but having all those things piled in his home only proved the true trust Ink had in him to keep it all safe. That meant something special, and Error appreciated it nonetheless.)

 

Reaper’s was rather obvious. Not being able to bring his hoard home tore him apart, Error could tell. After years of feeling empty without a hoard at all, he couldn’t imagine the frustration of Geno being locked away like he was. Hence why Reaper took to moving most of his own stuff into the Save Screen instead. If he couldn’t bring his hoard home, he’d bring that home to his hoard instead.

 

Then, of course, Nightmare’s boys were a pain in the ass as is. If they weren’t causing chaos and headaches at the castle, they were endangering themselves outside of it. It was a miracle they’d never gotten into so much trouble that Nightmare was forced to shift as is.

 

However, Error’s was the trickiest of them all. He wasn’t sure anyone else really realized this (besides maybe Ink), and he’d prefer to keep it that way.

 

When he’d first let his (at the time, very new) mate into his home, Ink had expected his hoard to be dolls and knitting supplies. He thought they would “match” in a way, with creative based hoarding tendencies. Error wished it was that simple. Being able to just blend their respective hoards into one big one would have been a lot easier.

 

But alas, his dumbass had to be difficult.

 

The web of strung up souls wasn’t for show. It wasn’t for some sick satisfaction of having trophies from all the destroyed AUs he’d demolished, not even back when he did it out of insanity rather than necessity. Honestly, half the time, he didn’t even like to look at it. 

 

Each and every soul, human and monster, of every color under the sun, was a part of his hoard. Maybe that didn’t seem as bad at first, considering his job, but it was, and he hated it.

 

How many times had he stopped himself from attacking someone that wasn’t meant to be at the receiving end of destruction, just because his instincts told him to collect?

 

How many times had he held back from ripping his claws into Fresh, Geno, Blue? From adding the unique apple shaped souls Dream and Nightmare had to his collection? From seeing if he could tear the soul out of a literal God of Death?

 

How many times had he looked at Sans the Classic Undertale Skeleton just a little too long?  

 

It’s why he stopped showing up to the Stars’ occasional meetups with the multiple Sanses that were allowed. As chaotic and fun as their little gatherings were, the temptations were too strong, and denying them was too painful. He’d slip up one day, and that slip up might just be the end of the entire multiverse as is.

 

The original AUs themselves were off limits. Classic was off limits. All of these Sanses usually showed up to those little get togethers. To his draconic instincts, that was a buffet just waiting for him to dig in.

 

Error just didn’t want to risk it.

 

So yeah. Hoards sucked. Error tried to keep as many people away as he could, especially from his Anti-Void. He actually had to request Geno and Fresh stay out, since being around his hoard and having possible additions nearby just seemed to make it worse.

 

They didn’t, of course, the fucking assholes. As… admittedly nice as it was that they refused to let him cut them off, he wasn’t exactly doing it to be a dick (even if he worded it like that).

 

He didn’t want to be around people for this reason. He couldn’t. Error didn’t know what he’d do if he came to his senses with one of his friends’ souls held between his claws.

 

… But, there was eventually one exception. 

 

Ink didn’t exactly have a soul to hoard, afterall. 

 

Maybe that was a large part in Error’s desire to be with him. Maybe it was only a perk. Maybe Ink recognized this later, as he looked at the colorful, glowing web above him, curled up around Error in his hammock of strings and pillows. If he did, he never mentioned it. He likely didn’t care. It didn’t really make a difference.

 

Either way, the Protector was the only one Error felt truly relaxed around. The anxieties that came with social interactions, the reasoning so very different from what was usually expected, were completely soothed in the artist’s winged embrace. 

 

When curled together like this, no matter what form either of them were in, Error took comfort in pressing close to Ink’s chest and listening to the silence that was within his ribs.

 

Despite having no soul, Ink was the one he kept closest, ironically enough. It was the only peaceful contact he’d had in a long time, and he’d hold onto that for as long as they lived.

Chapter Text

“You're thinking about it too much!”

 

“I think you are just not thinking about it enough!”

 

“It’s not that fucking hard!”

 

“Says the one who has been doing it for stars knows how long!”

 

Dream sighed heavily. For the last hour or so, the two Guardians had been trying for the first time to shift into their dragonic forms. Quite obviously, it wasn’t working. Error, as helpful as he had been in the first ten minutes, was now very frustrated with their failure thus far. Or, more, he was frustrated with Nightmare’s snappy attitude as the negative Guardian himself got frustrated. It was incredibly tiring and Dream just decided butting in to stop them was useless after the tenth time trying. He’d long since given up and resigned himself to sitting down on the sidelines. 

 

The others weren’t much help at all. Ink, Killer, and Dust thought all of this was hilarious. The trio watched the two darker skeletons bicker with large grins, snorting or giggling every so often. Blue and Cross had taken to just chatting with each other farther away, the former sometimes sending over concerned glances. Truely, Dream was very tempted to just go join them, had he not been afraid of how Error would react to him blatantly walking away. 

 

Error was acting a little strange, afterall. Perhaps he was having a bad day.

 

Horror… well, when he was here, Dream could feel waves of amusement and annoyance simultaneously coming from him, but he’d otherwise been unresponsive. Now, he said he went in to make dinner. Again, Dream wished he could have followed. He was sure Horror didn’t need help cooking, and might not even want it anyway, but at this point, anywhere was better than here.

 

“It’s not something you think about! You just have to feel it and fucking do it!”

 

“Ah yes, because that is great advice!”

 

The skeletons in question stood out in a grassy area by Nightmare’s castle. They mainly used it for training purposes, which made it perfect for this. They had a gym as well, but considering Error was a rather large dragon, they didn’t want to risk finding out that Dream or Nightmare were bigger and end up tearing down a wall or two by accident. 

 

Currently, the more worked up he got, the more Error shifted into a dragon like form. A “mid form” they’d called it. Wings devoid of their webbing flapped behind him with every shout, his tail, currently only a red spine and yellow arrow tip, snapping from side to side like a cat’s. His legs were shaped more like the back legs of a quadruped, the claws long since tearing apart the sandals he’d been wearing. His horns, teeth, and claws seemed to just get lengthier as time progressed, and he was definitely at least a foot taller than Nightmare at this point. 

 

It was mildly concerning, but only mildly. If Dream hadn’t seen the two bicker so often, he might actually be afraid for his counterpart’s life. As it was, he knew Error wouldn’t actually attack. Or, at the very least, he wouldn’t attack to kill.

 

It was rather sad that this was so normal, if he were honest. 

 

“Have you tried picturing yourself as a dragon?” Ink suggested with a cheeky grin, sat cross legged on the grass beside Killer.

 

Those molten red and yellow eyes snapped to the Creator. “You know damn well that’s not how it works, Squid!”

 

“Pff, heheh, yeah, but maybe it’ll work for them!”

 

“You aren’t helping!”

 

“At least he is giving some sort of plausible advice!” Nightmare snarked, his tentacles snapping with his tone. 

 

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

 

Dream sighed heavily once again, dropping his head into his hands. “We’re getting nowhere…”

 

“Hey, Boss?”

 

“What?!”

 

Nightmare whipped around, his glare aimed towards Horror, who just stepped back into the field. He seemed to realize a moment later that he yelled for nothing, as he took a deep breath, turned away from Error, and asked in a much calmer voice, “Yes, Horror?”

 

To his credit, the large skeleton didn’t seem all that affected. “We need ta do a supply run. Kitchen’s gettin’ a little… bare.”

 

There was a brief pause before Nightmare sighed and ran a hand down his face. “Alright. We will continue this later.”

 

Ink, surprisingly, popped up immediately with a wide smile. “Good idea!” He hopped over to Error’s side, who still had his gaze pinned directly on Nightmare, yellow teeth pulled up in a snarl. Ink grabbed his jacket sleeve and yanked him a bit. Glitches rippled up his figure, but he blinked and relaxed a little. “We should probably be going anyway! Ruru’s a little too worked up, as funny as this all was.”

 

“Fuck you, Squid,” the Destroyer grumbled.

 

Horror raised a brow toward the duo. “You don’t wanna stay? Free food.”

 

Ink glanced up to his tall mate, then smiled and shook his head. “Nah, we’d better go. You’ll just have to treat us the next time we come over!”

 

“Fuck that,” Error growled, his boney tail snapping. “Get fuckin’ Reaper to help your pathetic asses.”

 

“I am sure even death has more patience than you do,” Nightmare grumbled right back, meeting the resulting glare with one of his own. Dream finally stood up and made his way over to the negative skeleton, standing between the two with a tired look. 

 

His yellow gaze fell on Ink with a slight smile. It was a bit forced, he knew, but he was good at that anyway. “We’ll call you if we need you again, okay? Maybe next time we should just… go over the, um, instincts? What to expect. Shifting can come later.”

 

Ink pouted. “Aww, but I wanna see it!”

 

“Ink.”

 

“Fine! Fine. We’ll talk about the boring stuff.” He stuck out his tongue playfully before turning back to address the glitching monster. “C’mon, Ru! The nest awaits!”

 

Error sputtered. “It is not a nest!”

 

“Sure sure, of course, c’mon!”

 

Practically dragging him, Ink pulled the Destroyer away by his sleeve and scarf, ignoring all the staticky curses thrown his way as they disappeared into one of Error’s portals. As soon as they had left, Nightmare dragged his hands down his face and dropped to sit on the floor. Dream snorted and turned to look down at him. “Tired of all the yelling, Night?”

 

“Stars, he is unbearable.”

 

“Apologies, but I think you were the one who was unbearable this time.”

 

That cyan eyelight glared up at him, but Dream merely smiled. 

 

“Boss?”

 

Looking away, Nightmare focused his attention back on Horror. “Right… Dust, Killer, go with Horror to gather supplies.” He waved his hand dismissively. “Pick up whatever you want and whatever you need. Try to find some bandages and healing cream if you can. We used up a lot the other day.”

 

Cross perked up a bit from his spot a good distance away. “Can you grab some chocolate while you're out? If you can.”

 

Killer sent the skeleton a mock salute. “Gotcha, Criss Cross. Your order has been placed.”

 

With a couple of final words and a few last minute requests, the group had dispersed. The trio assigned for their mission left to gather anything they needed before leaving, and it seemed Blue actually had Cross wrapped up in a conversation still. Curious on what exactly could get the usually so straightlaced soldier feeling intrigued and amused, Dream almost walked over to join them.

 

However, one look at his opposite shot that curiosity down. Nightmare still looked stressed and aggravated, his arms crossed on his chest and eyelight glaring at the grass in front of him. His elbows were propped on his knees in a strangely recoiled position for the negative monster. Dream had assumed that once Error left, Nightmare would relax a bit. Obviously, that wasn’t it. There must be something else on his mind other than their failed attempt at shifting. 

 

Dream mentally kicked himself for not noticing sooner. He thought Nightmare was acting more riled up than usual...

 

Tilting his head, the Guardian stepped beside the dark skeleton and sat down on his patella beside him. “Nighty? Are you okay?”

 

“I’m fine.”

 

Dream stared at him for a few moments, catching the way his tentacles twitched with the lie. He raised a brow. “No you’re not. What’s wrong? Error didn’t bother you that much, did he?” 

 

At first, Dream thought the other Guardian wasn’t going to answer him. He was prepared to just sit there beside him in silence instead. If Night didn’t want to talk, he didn’t want to force him. However, after a brief pause, the larger monster let out a long, harsh sigh.

 

“I was thinking yesterday,” he muttered, almost too low for Dream to hear. The yellow clad skeleton shifted a few inches closer. “That glitchy buffoon said we had… hoards. And that mine were the boys.”

 

Dream nodded, a bit of a yellow tint crawling across his cheeks. “Ah, yes. Your boys and my, uh, collection. Of pillows. And such…”

 

The other huffed a short laugh, but continued without comment. “They are a part of my hoard, but we are all also… something.”

 

“You’re allowed to say boyfriends, Nighty.”

 

He ignored him, of course. If Dream were not an empath, he’d be sadly convinced his words had no effect on Nightmare with his high tier poker face. Alas, the spark of embarrassment, as brief as it was, was an amusing sign. “I cannot help but wonder how… I don’t know if... ugh, forget it. It’s stupid.”

 

“It’s not stupid, Nighty.” Dream laid a hand on the other’s shoulder, furrowing his brow. He hated seeing his opposite like this — so uncertain of his own emotions. He knew it was an unfortunate consequence from the years of bottling it up so much, not only when they were younger, but after the apple incident as well. It just made moments like this all the more important.

 

He wanted to understand, and he wanted to help Nightmare understand. At least to the best he could.

 

The dark skeleton growled to himself, fists clenching his sweater sleeves. He struggled with his words for a while as Dream waited patiently. He flickered his golden eyelights over to where Cross and Blue still were across the dark field, relieved to find them deep in conversation. Blue was dramatically splaying his arms wide with a large smile, thoroughly distracting both himself and his amused listener. The positive Guardian doubted Night wanted anyone else to see him so out of sorts. He was surprised enough that he was willing to let loose even just a little right now. He was a bit nervous doing this out in the open, but anything else may just draw attention to them anyway.

 

They could always portal away if he felt Nightmare needed more space.

 

Nightmare scrunched his eye socket closed angrily, though what that anger was directed at was unclear. “I just… do not know what is real, or what is just… this weird, dragon instinct shit. They explained it like it is not something we choose! I don’t like the idea that I did not choose my own lovers. If this all is just some fucked up dragon thing, how do I know whether I like them, or if all this… this protectiveness and happiness and complacency is just a result of this side of me I do not know marking them as mine.”

 

Dream blinked, tilting his head a bit. “I mean… is there a difference? You were drawn to them for a reason, weren’t you? I’d say that’s still real.” He had a hard time believing there was no choice in hoards at all, even if only subconsciously. There has to be some sort of emotional connection there.

 

“I don’t know though!” Nightmare hissed, a hand snapping up to claw at his skull. “All of this is new, Dream, and we do not know anything!”

 

Dream was suddenly regretting not asking more about hoards when Ink and Error were there. What did hoarding mean, exactly? What were their hoards? How did they choose them? What about Life and Reaper? He had a hard time picturing Reaper with anything besides maybe socks like a normal Sans. Were they tied to their personalities as well, or was it truly random?

 

No, they couldn’t be random. Dream was so sure of it. Even before all of this, he knew his attraction to soft items was for the comfort they brought him in hard times. They eased his anxieties and provided a space where he could relax without having to put up a positive front. They meant something. 

 

He just wasn’t sure if that was the same all around… 

 

Though, it was hard to not see a connection between Nightmare’s hoard and his personal experiences. He had four people to care for, all of whom had horrible fates. It was as if Night needed to be there for someone, since no one had been there for him.

 

...He’d clarify with someone later (perhaps Life instead of the other three, if today was anything to go by), but for now he focused on his fellow Guardian.

 

Dream shuffled forward a bit, reaching up to grab the other’s hand from where it dug into the liquid negativity on his head and clasping it between both of his own. “I can’t say I know the definite answer to that, I suppose,” he admitted, grimacing a bit. “I know just as much about all of this as you do. But, if there’s one thing I’m decent at, it’s understanding positive emotions. I’m quite certain that none of the feelings you feel when around your boys are fabricated or misplaced.” He smiled as reassuringly as he could. “You feel so much joy and comfort when you spend time around them, it practically leaves you glowing in my eyes. It’s nice to see you so happy for once, Night.

 

“Perhaps, instead of wondering about the realness of any of it, you could think about what this new information will mean for you all?” At Nightmare’s squinted gaze, Dream clarified, “You feel protective of them. Obviously, that could be for two reasons. Or, more likely, it’s for both reasons. Like you said, they are yours, but you are also theirs. You have a duty to them as their boss, their lover, and their keeper, now. As long as you don’t get carried away with it, I think that makes for a pretty good relationship.” He squeezed his hand and huffed a little chuckle. “Plus, I think you’ll find they’ll put the same effort into it as you do, Nighty.”

 

The duo stayed quiet for a while, allowing this to sink in. He knew it stuck at least a little bit when that swell of guilt and anxiety died down. It wasn’t gone. He didn’t expect it to disappear until someone could confirm or deny any suspicions they had. Until Nightmare was sure his hoarding was not connected to his heart, there would still be that twinge of doubt. However, until then, Dream would be sure to ease the other’s worries for now.

 

No matter what the answer, Night deserved to have this. He could afford to be a little selfish for once in his long life.

 

Finally, Nightmare dropped his eyelight down again, closing his socket to sigh softly. “This whole thing is utterly ridiculous.”

 

Dream hummed in agreement. “It’s certainly thrown things a little off track.” He smiled brightly, running his thumbs over Nightmare’s metacarpals. “But, it’s nothing we can’t handle! In a way, I’m looking forward to it. Can you imagine it, Nighty? Maybe we could learn how to fly!”

 

Nightmare snorted. “I think I will pass.”

 

“What?! No, Night! Don’t be so stubborn!”

 

“It has nothing to do with being stubborn. I am quite comfortable on the ground.”

 

“Boo, you’re boring!” Dream stuck out his tongue childishly. 

 

The other raised an eyebrow teasingly. “I can already imagine the amount of broken bones you will gather while trying to learn.”

 

“You have no faith in me at all!”

 

“No, I have no faith in the squidiot that is bound to be your teacher.”

 

Dream actually had to pause at that, leaning back on his feet. “That… is fair. I’ll have to go to Reaper then… or maybe Life?”

 

“Funny that you called me ‘unbearable,’ yet Error wasn’t your first, second, or third thought, despite clearly knowing how to fly.”

 

“I…” He rubbed his neck sheepishly. “He did not seem to be having a good day today.”

 

“Really? I couldn’t tell. He seems to act like that often.”

 

The duo laughed, relaxing as the world shifted into a darker setting, as it often did at night. They all only stayed out for a bit longer before it started to get too cold to remain outside. Dream happily basked in the rays of positivity that radiated from the skeletons around him, an oasis in the negative world that made it easier to stay around. They had a bit of time before the trio would come back from their small mission, but he didn't mind spending a little more time here anyway.

 

Things felt normal again. He'd gladly take that over the stress of everything else.

 

That all could wait a few days more.

Chapter Text

The castle has been quiet lately. That was always a bit strange to take note of, considering the skeletons that lived there. If Killer wasn’t having some sort of a prank war, usually ending up with either Cross, Nightmare, or Horror chasing him through the halls, then Dust was blowing something up in his shed or they were sparring in the gym. 

 

Now, it was silent. Cross found that fairly unnerving. 

 

Don’t get him wrong, he liked the peace every so often. It was the fact that it wasn’t very peaceful that had him on edge. 

 

It was always obvious when Nightmare wasn’t in a good mood in his own home. The empty, dark AU they resided in was always dreary and a bit depressing, as that was the most comfortable to the Guardian. It was straight out of every old, gothic horror story, with a constant night sky usually crowded with dark, stormy clouds. The four of them didn’t mind the darkness or never ending shadowed forests on all sides, and they certainly didn’t care much about the pillaged and destroyed villages scattered throughout the woods, long since overgrown with time. Nightmare had been here for years readying this once lively AU to be the perfect home for him, afterall, and they had grown used to it. The negativity never affected them. 

 

Or, it didn’t unless Nightmare was especially upset, that is. In those days, the weight of negativity pressed down on all of them, no matter how hard their boss tried to keep it at bay. Some days were worse than others, and his emotions could practically be tangible to all of his hoard. Thankfully, it wasn’t one of those days. 

 

Though an uneasy feeling drifted through the castle, Cross felt helpless to do anything about it. It wasn’t suffocating like it had been a few days ago, but it was still noticeable. They all knew what it was, but they couldn’t help if Nightmare wouldn’t let them. 

 

None of them could get him to talk. The dark skeleton waved their concerns off with a brisk, “I’m fine, I just need to think.” It was frustrating to say the least. With how often Nightmare preaches about them not bottling up their own emotions, he sure was quick to do it himself. 

 

Killer had long since disappeared into Nightmare’s office today with a determined look. Cross could only hope the monster could talk some sense into their stupid boyfriend. 

 

However, that all left the castle feeling abnormally empty. 

 

“God, it’s boring here.” Cross snorted, walking through the halls with his ghostly Chara floating by his left side. The human didn’t pop up very often anymore, which he was thankful for. He didn’t exactly enjoy them showing their face when he was having a moment with the others. However, he did enjoy the times they were around, as slim as they were. Most of the time at least. They were on good terms now, despite everything, but they still had arguments. 

 

The most common of such was usually Chara’s desire to take over their body and soul every so often, which Cross would allow on occasion. It was, after all, their soul, not just his, and though Chara seemed content to remain in this ghostly, not-quite-dead state, even they got restless. 

 

He looked forward to the day they could find a way to separate from each other so Chara could live on their own. That day just wasn’t now. 

 

The human squinted around the dimly lit rooms with a pouty frown, practically laying in the air. “Why’s everyone have to be a bummer right now?”

 

“There’s a lot of stress going around, Chara. You know that.”

 

“You make it sound like it’s a disease or something.” Chara sat up, crossing their arms over their chest. “And I know everyone’s all pissy. Doesn’t mean I have to like it. I don’t really get what the big deal is — dragons are cool as fuck. I used to know the coolest dragon monster in one of the first timelines, y’know. Badass as hell.”

 

Huffing a little amused laugh, Cross shrugged in a sort of agreement. “Yes, but it’s a big change, for everyone. And Nightmare’s really confused about it all right now. It’s best to just leave them be and help when they need it. Right now, I’m just going to get some food.”

 

Unsurprisingly, his companion perked up a bit. “Chocolate?”

 

“Probably something a little more filling than that, but also yes.”

 

Chara raised a brow questioningly. “Are you allowed in the kitchen right now?”

 

“Horror banned Dust this week for lighting a fire, but I think I’m good now. I don’t want to wake him up just to get a sandwich anyway.”

 

“I’m sure he wouldn’t mind helping out his widdle sowldier.”

 

The skeleton flushed a bit and glared at them, finally turning into the dining room. “Don’t call me that. Ever again.”

 

The human snickered. “Why not? It’s true. They’re all putty in your hands!”

 

“Shut up.”

 

“I don’t think I—“

 

“No, seriously, shut up.” Ignoring the purple tint that was bound to be on his face, Cross pointed over to the long dining table in the spacious room they entered. It was nearly clear of clutter besides a candelabra and a few used plates on top of the navy blue table cover. One still had some leftovers of a salad on its surface. Nightmare didn’t like them leaving anything out for very long, especially dirty dishes. The sight almost made him cringe. However, he was far more interested in the skeleton that sat at one of the chairs, bent forward uncomfortably and head resting on his arms. 

 

After a moment of silence, Chara tilted their head curiously. “What’s Dream doing in here?”

 

Cross slowly started making his way over to the Guardian. “I don’t know. Now shush.”

 

“Don’t shush me, idiot, it’s not like he can hear me!”

 

Cross didn’t bother answering them, stepping up beside the shorter skeleton with a concerned look. Dream had been staying at the castle often after their encounter with Ink so both he and his counterpart could focus on their dragon shifting issue. It wasn’t much of a big deal, considering he stayed over a few times before, but it was clear he wasn’t really doing it for himself. Cross supposed they should be a little more upset about Nightmare’s tendency to talk to Dream about his worries more than them (as rare as it was in the first place), but he really was just glad he was doing it at all. 

 

Still, finding Dream asleep on a table rather than his guest room or somewhere like the couch was more than a little troubling. He looked tired — more so than usual. Dark yellow bags hung under his eye sockets and his brow was a bit pinched. The magenta hoodie he wore was far too big on him, but at least the sleeves acted like the best pillow he could get at the moment. Perhaps the most strange of all, he didn’t even have his crown on. 

 

Something was up and he didn’t like it. Unfortunately, the negativity charged air didn’t ease his worries at all. 

 

“He looks like he passed out,” Chara muttered, leaning in close to study Dream’s face. Cross nodded in agreement. 

 

Reaching out, the skeleton placed a hand on the other’s shoulder, shaking him gently so as not to startle him. “Dream? Dream, are you alright?”

 

The guardian groaned a bit, scrunching his face in displeasure. Thankfully, though, he didn’t just go back to sleep. Those hazy golden eyelights were peaking up at him soon enough. 

 

“Hm?” The breathy response was so light they both almost missed it. 

 

“I asked if you were okay. You’re sleeping in the dining hall. Did you not sleep well last night?”

 

It took a few seconds for that to click in the Guardian’s head. He sat up lethargically, yawning and running sleeve-covered hands down his face. “Sorry, sorry. I’ll move… and, uh, clean up.”

 

“No, it’s alright. I was just making sure you were okay.”

 

“Yeah… I’m fine. Tired…”

 

“I can see that.” Cross smiled a bit, though it was hard to find anything humorous right now, all things considered. “Do you want to go to your room?”

 

Dream shook his head. “No, thank you. I’ll probably just move to the living room. Don’t worry.”

 

“It’s a little late for that. Can I ask what’s wrong?”

 

Dream didn’t answer him for a while, leaving the two of them (or three, but Dream probably didn’t know that) in a heavy silence. It was a familiar feeling. Nightmare also often left them hanging for a bit, usually before denying their offers. Cross expected this to not be any different, so it was surprising when the Guardian finally muttered a fatigued, “Don’t tell Nightmare…”

 

Blinking, Cross reached out to grab the chair next to him, pulling it out to sit down. Even Chara sat cross legged beside him. He had half the mind to tell the human to leave, but their presence was somewhat comforting. It wasn’t as if they had anyone to tell anyway. His hunger was completely forgotten for the moment. “That depends on what you say.”

 

Dream huffed a slight laugh, peaking at him from the corner of his sockets. “Great. Thanks.”

 

“We’re just looking out for you.”

 

“I know…” He took a deep breath, which turned into a yawn. His cheeks flushed a bit. It took him another moment to find the words he wanted. “It’s just… very… heavy here, right now…”

 

Brow furrowing in confusion, Cross asked, “Heavy?”

 

The other nodded. “I’m usually fine to be around here because you all have some sort of… positivity in you. Whether that’s humor and joy from a prank war, amusement and entertainment watching a movie, the thrill of sparring, or just your general affection with one another. It’s enough to keep me comfortable. That’s… not really present right now. It’s heavy.”

 

Oh. The former guard almost wanted to kick himself. He never really thought how this negativity would affect the literal Guardian of Positivity. It didn’t seem very healthy for him to stay around here, especially now. He remembered Night’s concern when Dream had first visited, wondering if the AU as it normally was would be too much for him, just as a place such as Candytale was too much for Nightmare. Usually that just gave Nightmare harsh headaches, though. “And that makes you tired?”

 

“It drains me a bit, yeah.” Dream rubbed his humeri a little, staring down at the smooth blue fabric over the table. “Last time I was in a world overrun by negativity, I uh. My, well, ‘soul’ turned me to stone to protect itself…”

 

Ah, so it really wasn’t healthy. Dully noted. 

 

“What?” Cross and Chara exclaimed at once. He jolted up, the panic in his own soul merely amplified by the atmosphere around them. He really didn’t like how casually Dream said that. They knew the basics of the story of Dreamtale, but he never knew why things happened as they did. The idea of that happening now, of all times…

 

Stars, they were stressed as it was. 

 

Clearly sensing his emotions, Dream sent him a calming smile. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to turn to stone now. I can still feel positivity, as little as it is. Dust must be experimenting in his room, because he at least seems to be enjoying himself. And Killer is certainly happy bugging Night in his study. It’s not deadly or anything. Just a little uncomfortable...”

 

“Why are you staying then?” 

 

Dream shrugged. “Mainly for Night… He’s not doing great — has some doubts. He’s been alive for over three hundred years, so this really pulled the rug from under him. We’re practically learning a whole new culture, and though some explanations for our strange habits are relieving, not knowing what to do, or how to even connect with this other side of ourselves… coupled with his usual stress, it’s wearing him down a bit.” He squinted, smiling sheepishly. “Ah, I suppose that’s a bit obvious though, sorry.”

 

It both was and wasn’t. Though the fact Night wasn’t very happy was glaringly obvious considering the state of the castle, exactly why wasn’t. Nightmare insisted they didn’t have to worry about it, which was blatantly wrong. Having any kind of insight was appreciated. He’d definitely have to talk to the negative skeleton later that day. 

 

“But, if I’m being honest…” The tired skeleton picked at his sleeves a bit, his smile fading quickly to a more somber frown. “I really just… don’t want to go back right now.”

 

“To your home?”

 

“That, and just my job in general, I suppose.”

 

Ah, that made sense. Chara grimaced beside him, muttering a quick “that’s fair.” Cross had been around while Dream was out “working,” if it could even be called that. It was more him being ordered around by sugar coated smiles, doing everyone’s work for them in order to make their own day a little easier. All of the Sanses they knew had tried to convince the Guardian to just tell these people no, that he wasn’t meant to be some errand boy, but Dream just had too much of a bleeding heart. He wanted to help. As admirable as that was, this just wasn’t how he should do it. 

 

Old habits are hard to kill. 

 

Thankfully, there were only a few dozen AUs that even knew about the multiverse, not counting the Omega Timeline (where, truthfully, most of the issues with these requests laid). Cross could imagine, if not him or the gang, then Nightmare and the other Stars would have long ago put their foot down had Dream been stretching himself out multiverse wide. 

 

Honestly, they might still have to, if even Dream was starting to question it. 

 

Though, while he was glad the Guardian was taking a break, this didn’t seem to be doing him any favors either. 

 

“You should go home,” he insisted, putting a hand on the other’s shoulder. “We can handle Night for a little while. You both should take a break anyway.”

 

“No no, Cross really, we’re—“

 

“You’re struggling to stay awake in the most uncomfortable of chairs, and the entire AU is suffering from Nightmare’s own current mental state. Neither one of you is okay, and that’s okay . Your dragon issues aren’t going anywhere. You lived your whole life without it, what’s a few more days?”

 

Dream didn’t seem to have much of an answer to that. Cross rubbed his scapula a bit. “Go home and get some actual sleep. Your own bed must be more comfortable. Don’t you have, like, a hoard? Pillows and all of that?”

 

He must have lost Dream there, as he looked away quite quickly and groaned. “I don’t even want to think about that. It’s so embarrassing…”

 

Cross scoffed good naturedly. “Embarrassing?”

 

“Stars, yes! It was flustering before, but now people keep offering me pillows and blankets and Error brought me stuffed animals and, ugggh!” He burrowed his head back into his arms on the table. “I can’t even say no , because they show it to me and I just, I just want it!”

 

“I mean, they are offering. It’s not like you’re stealing anything.”

 

Dream glared up at him. “This is Lust’s hoodie. He doesn’t even know about all of this. You think he offered it up?”

 

There was a beat of silence before Cross snorted, trying not to laugh at the poor skeleton. Unfortunately, covering it up with a cough didn’t work. Dream face planted back into the magenta sleeves. 

 

“Killer tried to give me his jacket,” the Guardian groaned. “His jacket , Cross. Not even one he wears around on a lazy day, or some kind of sleepwear. No, his blue, worn down, fluffy hooded jacket. And he did it with the most smug grin…!”

 

Chara was cackling off to the side, making it even harder for Cross to not at least snicker. “Did you take it?”

 

“Yes! Which is worse! But it’s so soft, dammit!”

 

He couldn’t help but laugh at that. He didn’t want to embarrass Dream anymore than he already was, but it was quite hilarious to think about Killer so flirtatiously giving up his main clothing item just to fluster the other skeleton, which was very obviously the real reasoning here. It was just something so very Killer -like, boyfriend or not. 

 

Cross wondered how Dream would react to him offering up his own jacket now, but decided that was something he’d have to do later. Dream looked enough like a lemon as it was now. 

 

However, after he calmed down a bit, he also noticed Dream looked a bit better. He was glaring at him, but the bags under his eyes had magically faded a bit and he wasn’t leaning into the table as heavily. 

 

Well, if the Guardian wasn’t going to take care of himself, at least Cross had an idea on how to make him feel a little better while he remained here. 

 

“How about this,” he started, smiling softly and pointedly ignoring the still laughing human beside him. “If you won’t leave, then we’ll just have to make this place more habitable for you here. We can just talk here. How does that sound?”

 

Dream’s expression softened to a light surprised look, his shoulders relaxing. “What?”

 

Cross shrugged. “I was going to grab something to eat and head into the living room for a bit. We can watch something in the background and just talk positive. Exchange funny stories and such. Sound good?”

 

The former guard was always reminded how screwed up both Dream and Nightmare’s childhood was when they looked so amazed by just the slightest bit of offered kindness. Even all these years later, they really shouldn’t be surprised when someone wants to look out for them. Still, it made Dream’s thankful smile all the more charming. 

 

“Yeah, sounds wonderful!”

 

-:(o):-

 

“Do you have any good memories from before, er, everything?”

 

Dream blinked, looking away from the television to glance at his companion. The duo had been relaxing in the living room for hours now, both sat on opposite sides of the couch. Dream had, reluctantly, retrieved a purple blanket from his guest room to curl up in while Cross finished his quickly made lunch. They’d both been enjoying some hot chocolate and crappy sci-fi movies, chatting over the top of it every so often. It was a nice distraction, and the positivity in the room made it a lot easier for Dream to breathe. 

 

The abruptness of the question didn’t surprise him as much as the question itself. On and off, they’d both been asking for silly stories or happy moments from each other’s life. Cross had told a plethora of funny pranks gone horribly wrong (or horribly right) in the castle, and Dream was quite content to talk about the Stars’ many sleepover adventures. 

 

Neither one of them had really dared to touch on each other’s universes, though. From the uncertain look on Cross’ face, it seemed he was hesitant to do so in the first place. 

 

“Sorry,” he eventually said afterward. “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. I just thought… well, I’ve heard a lot of bad things about your AU from Nightmare, but even I have good memories from Xtale. I just thought, since sometimes it’s nice for me, maybe you’d… stars, nevermind. That’s probably insensitive.” There was a brief pause as Dream tried to think of what to say, then Cross muttered a stern, “Shut up, Chara.”

 

Ah, so the little ghost was still there. Dream wondered if that had anything to do with the question as well. XChara always seemed to be a bit more nosy than Cross was. 

 

Still, he turned golden eyelights down to look at the remaining liquid in his mug. Good memories, huh? He never really let himself think too hard about everything before, since so much of it was just himself playing along with obviously manipulative monsters and humans that wanted to use him for one reason or another. Any happy memory in the village was always some sort of sugarcoated ulterior motive. 

 

But, then again, it doesn’t necessarily have to be about them

 

Smiling a bit, he absent mindedly swirled the cold leftovers of his beverage. “Yeah… yeah, there were.” Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Cross perk up a little in surprise and interest. “Nighty spent most of his time by the tree, but there were a few occasions I could drag him into the village with me. Not to hang out with anyone — he never wanted to, and really, neither did I. It was just days we could spend together, maybe pick up some indulgent pastries or a book for him to read.”

 

He huffed a laugh, turning to meet Cross’ eyes. “I find it hilarious that Night turns down Killer’s insistence on getting a cat, and that he so obviously avoids Dust’s room. The animals used to just adore him, Cross. We’d have loose chickens trailing behind us, pigs and sheep following along the fence line, cats and dogs that would rush to escape through an open doorway so they could rub along his feet.” He giggled at the memory, remembering the other Guardian’s face flushing a bright purple everytime some pet would beg at his heels, or his startled expression when a small cat would climb his pant legs like a tree trunk. He was so embarrassed by it, but would always cave to the animals' insistence for his attention. It was adorable  

 

Of course, the villagers always believed he bewitched them, or that he simply carried catnip and such in his pockets. Dream never understood that. What reason would there be for Night to do so?

 

(A stupid, naive question, he knew. Some believed he did it to look good — to trick them into letting their guard down. Some thought it was to be with “beasts of his own kind.” Dream even heard people talking about him making an animal army, which was so preposterous it was funny. No one said anything to him, of course, but being in the village as often as he was meant he overheard plenty of rumors.

 

But now was the time for happy memories, not that.)

 

“You know,” he started again, tilting his head with a slight smirk to his teeth, “I wonder if being dragons has anything to do with why lizards and salamanders liked him so much, too.”

 

Cross snorted. “Stars, really?”

 

“Oh yeah! Like I said, he stayed around the tree a lot. Well, there was a little creek nearby I think…” He paused for a moment. There was, wasn’t there? Or was it a river? Pond? It was hard to remember. It’d been so long. He supposed it didn’t matter now. Dream shook his head a bit and continued. “Sometimes I’d come home to him just covered in lizards of all colors. Usually he was still reading, just letting them crawl all over him, but sometimes he’d sit there and watch them run around his hands and in his sleeves.” He smiled wistfully. “I didn’t really understand the appeal for the longest time. Then he let me hold a couple and they just…”

 

He’d made eye contact with one just as it stuck it’s little tongue out, and it all made sense. They were very cute, and Nightmare seemed to like them a lot. They kept him company, he thought. 

 

For a moment, Dream wondered if his fellow Guardian remembered that at all. 

 

Truthfully, he wasn’t sure if this was all still true today. For all he knew, Nightmare’s corruption now terrified animals, and that could be why he was so adamant about avoiding them. He hoped that wasn’t true. He couldn’t imagine how that would feel to the other skeleton. 

 

Another thing Dream would just have to ask him when he got the time. 

 

“What I’m getting from all of this,” Cross spoke up, raising a brow amusedly, “is that Night was already used to taking care of slippery pests that like to crawl all over him. Maybe that’s why he ended up with us afterall, huh?”

 

Dream let out a surprised snort that quickly turned into a full chested laugh. “Oh, that’s adorable, Cross! You guys are like his little pack of lizards!” 

 

“A dragon that hoards lizards. Seems pretty fitting to me.” He leaned back into the cushions of the couch with a snicker. “I always saw myself as more of a dog guy, but whatever floats his boat, I guess.”

 

“Maybe we should start calling you all Nightmare’s Lounge instead of his gang. You all should get lizard onesies! Oh stars, he’d hate it, haha!”

 

“Okay, don’t go too far here.”

 

Despite his warning tone, the monochromatic skeleton was smiling wide. Amusement, joy, and affection rolled off of him in waves, which Dream happily basked in. He could feel his energy quickly come back to him, lighting up at least the room they were residing in. Maybe it would lure in some of the other occupants of the castle. They certainly wouldn’t complain.

 

He was glad he didn’t leave afterall. This was much more fun. 

Chapter Text

The pain was nearly blinding. 

 

It was the worst Ink had felt in a long time. Had he not been immortal in the first place, he’d be concerned the shift had caused irreparable damage.

 

(Well, he supposed the shift itself was irreparable damage in a way, wasn’t it?)

 

He did his best to ignore the scalding, crackling agony that washed over his bones like lava, a newly lengthened snout aimed toward the dark figure below him as they both plummeted. The world felt as if it were moving in slow motion even as the dark colors blurred around them. Despite the startling burn, Ink pulled his limbs in as much as he could, making his dragon body skinny and pointed, hoping beyond hope that he was quick enough to reach the other. 

 

The Protector struggled to focus on summoning an ecto body. He needed his wings right now — even if he had no idea how to actually use them. 

 

Within seconds, he was within arm’s length of the unconscious skeleton. Tears building up in his eyes, he reached out with desperate claws, nearly crying when they hooked onto the blue and black fabric of that long coat. He ignored the pain this simple action caused in his paws, stubbornly gripping as hard as he could and pulling Error to his chest.

 

(Was this how the Destroyer felt when he was touched? The contact was agonizing. He’d merely cradled the other in his arms, but it felt as if a sledgehammer just slammed into his sternum.)

 

Still, with Error in his grasp, he was able to focus more on the pressing need of his ecto. The ground was coming up far too quickly. Even with his wings spread out as they were, they were useless without the webbing. Air brushed between the phalanges with little to no resistance. Though the cool air felt nice against the aching joints, it did nothing to quell the rising panic in his empty chest.

 

As dark violet magic slowly spread across his bones, struggling to build up as the wind fought against it, he was quickly becoming aware of another pressing issue. 

 

Even in this dragon form, Ink was small.  

 

Should he be able to form his wings’ webbing on time — time that was quickly counting down as the rocky bottom grew closer and closer — there was no way he’d be able to stop their fall completely. Error’s loose, injured figure was nearly the same size as his own, minus the tail and wings of course. On a normal day, where he was not in danger of splattering all across the ground, this may have made the artist ecstatic. Now, it made the two of them far too heavy for him to handle.

 

He’d never even used his wings before. There was no way he’d catch himself and protect Error in his grasp.

 

Squeezing his eye sockets shut in terrified frustration, Ink folded his wings in long enough for the ecto to form without the pressing issue of the wind, then snapped them open again. As he hoped, the violet ecto immediately caught the air rushing by them, though a little too quickly. He cried at the sudden weight that jerked at his shoulders, surely dislocating a joint somewhere. 

 

However, it stalled their fall long enough for him to summon a dozen inky bone attacks, shooting them ahead toward the ground quickly. He really had to think fast, and Ink knew for certain that thinking was not his strong suit. 

 

It was much harder to make a portal without his Broomie, but Ink had no idea where the paintbrush was at the moment. Had he dropped it before he jumped? Was it falling with them somewhere? Did he even remember to grab it before coming to the battle? Stars know it wouldn’t be the first time he forgot. 

 

The bones hit the solid rock below and he willed them to liquify. It was a smaller puddle than he’d like, and the depth of it wasn’t nearly thick enough for comfort, but the Protector aimed for it anyway. It was the best he could do. He’d just have to pray it worked.

 

It wasn’t as if his pain could get much worse, right?

 

Just before diving in, he curled in all of his limbs to make himself as compact as possible, wrapping around Error as well as he could, and braced himself for either the shattering impact, or the startling shift in gravity.

 

(His inky remains would cushion Error’s fall, right?)

 

Thankfully, it was the latter.

 

They blasted through the puddle, shooting into the Doodle Sphere from the ground of a random floating island, far from his home. Immediately, their weight was pulled in the opposite direction, leaving the small dragon to spiral before falling backwards and crashing onto the grassy floor. Ink let out a pitiful wail, his body shaking so badly his bones rattled. On top of the still present agony left over from shifting, he’d obviously collected multiple broken and disjointed bones from the freefall, not to mention the plethora of wounds he’d no doubt gathered from fighting beforehand.

 

As he laid there, finally still, Ink was allowed to focus back on himself again, much to his dismay. The feeling was beyond anything he could really describe. The skeletal dragon was barely aware of his ecto dissipating once again, inky blood pooling underneath them. He panted and whined heavily, twitching helplessly as he tried to catch his breath. His paints were starting to wear thin. For once, the Protector was glad. A lack of emotions would be wonderful right now.

 

As his vision blurred from both tears and a drift in his consciousness, Ink curled his tail up and around the dark skeleton still cradled tightly to his chest.

 

-:(o):-

 

Awareness came back to the Destroyer slowly. It would have felt like coming out of a nice, peaceful nap, if not for the aching across his whole body. Added onto the fact he very clearly wasn’t laying on his bean bag or pillow mass? Something wasn’t quite right.

 

That didn’t mean he wasn’t surprisingly comfortable.

 

There was a slight warmth surrounding him. It wasn’t enough to think it was a blanket, though the way his limbs were so pressed together reminded him of a one nonetheless. 

 

It was… nice, but confusing.

 

Where was he, exactly?

 

Groaning softly, Error blinked open his eye sockets with a bit of difficulty. Immediately, the bright light that assaulted his eyelights had him scrunching them closed once again. That very well could be his Anti-Void then, but he still doubted it. The floor was too soft. It took a few tries, but he was eventually able to squint enough to see what was in front of him.

 

… Bones. 

 

More specifically, a sternum and ribcage of something that was certainly not just a normal skeleton monster. 

 

He was being held so closely to it that he couldn’t really tell exactly what it was. It wasn’t very large, but it’s entire boney body was curled protectively around his own, locking the Destroyer firmly in place. He nearly jolted out of it’s grip when he realized it was not only sleeping, but very injured.

 

His confusion was much more prominent now than it had been before.

 

What the fuck happened? Last he remembered, he was fighting alongside Nightmare’s gang… That, at the very least, explained why he was so sore. Someone likely hit him, possibly even knocked him out. How exactly did that lead to him becoming the teddy bear to some skeletal creature?

 

With a grunt, Error wiggled around until the beast’s grip loosened enough for him to stagger away. When he’d righted himself and brushed his clothes of the dirt, dust, and grass, he registered the dark stains along his coat and shirt. He would have thought it was his own blood if not for the distinct blackness of it rather than bright red. Blinking in confusion, he turned back to the thing that held him previously.

 

He was actually startled to see a skeleton dragon, laid on its side on grass stained in dark black blood. It had cuts and bruises all along its front legs, not to mention the plethora of cracks along it’s ribs. The wings, one pinned below itself at an awkward, very wrong angle and the other having been pushed aside so Error could stand, were practically drenched in the dark liquid despite only being disjointed in a few areas and cracked in others. 

 

Seeing another dragon was one thing, injured or not. Error hadn’t actually ever seen another beside himself and Reaper. It was strange, that was for sure, but it was not the reason his bones suddenly shivered and glitches sparked along his shoulders.

 

Grey and white bones, tattooed ribs, and a very distinct black splotch on the side of it’s skull.

 

That was unmistakingly Ink.

 

“What the fuck, Squid…” he muttered to himself, eyelights flickering along the Protector’s body. “The hell happened to you…?”

 

-:(o):-

 

Error was the first outcode Ink had ever met. He’d seen thousands of other monsters and humans, but never actually met any of them, since at first he felt he needed to observe rather than interact. Actually being able to talk to and be around another person was amazing, especially when it was Error. 

 

The glitchy skeleton was fascinating to him, even if he were destroying universes Ink had just barely discovered himself. No matter how many times they butted heads, harsh words thrown both ways alongside even harsher attacks, he could never bring himself to hate the other. Maybe that was a side effect of his soullessness and paints, but he really didn’t care either way.

 

Error was interesting . Some of the worlds could get a little repetitive, even for his forgetful mind, but this monster outside of universes all together added that little spice that kept Ink on his toes. It was fun to play the good guy and bad guy, afterall. It was exciting and, best of all, it was new, different, unique! Error could scream at him all he wanted — Ink just wanted to enjoy this for as long as it lasted.

 

However, there was nothing quite as new and exciting as the day Error showed up as a dragon , of all things. 

 

It was obviously him, from the dark, multicolored bones right down to the annoyed, yellow glare (and, of course, the glitches and ERROR signs were a huge giveaway as well). He was large and admittedly intimidating to Ink’s smaller figure. He didn’t seem to be completely there either, as he acted more like a rabid animal out for specifically the artist’s blood rather than the usual grumpy destroyer. That was likely a result of something Ink had done to anger him too much, though he really couldn’t remember what he’d done. He imagined it had something to do with Undernovela, maybe? He always got more violent when it came to his favorite show. 

 

And he was definitely more violent. That was the first time that Ink had actually been killed at the end of a fight. To say that was surprising was an understatement. 

 

While that wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience (somehow, he never forgot the suffocating darkness that enveloped him from all sides, unintelligible words shouted at him over and over and over combined with equally deafening whispers until he woke up in the Doodle Sphere once again), the fight itself was awesome enough that he’d actively searched for the glitch as soon as he was able to. He had so many questions! How long had he been like this? Was it a permanent change, or maybe a temporary curse of some sort? Did he have other dragon-like abilities, or was it more like a Gaster Blaster situation? And, most importantly, could Ink draw him like this?

 

When he did find him, Error wasn’t all too excited — in fact, he might have been a little frightened and, dare he say, guilty — but all of that washed away the minute Ink’s questions blew out of his mouth. Error immediately tried to deny it all together, and when it was clear Ink wouldn’t take that for an answer, he resulted to threatening the Protector instead. “Don’t you dare tell anyone about that!” he’d growled, teeth sharpening out into large yellow fangs. “Or I swear I’ll find a way to make you stay dead!”

 

While it was a shame he wasn’t allowed to paint a picture of the dragon form, of course Ink agreed! It wasn’t as if he had anyone to tell anyways, since he kept himself hidden from every character in the AUs. 

 

In fact, he was rather proud of himself for keeping quiet. Secrets seemed like they would be such a hassle, and he was scatterbrained as it was. Not mentioning it at first was fairly easy. The only one he could tell was Broomie, and he already knew. Later, though, it got a little more complicated.

 

It was extremely obvious when Nightmare joined the outcodes. A few AUs got corrupted, some had their stories turned for the worse unexpectedly, and the overall moral of the multiverse was starting to drift away from hopeful, happy endings. It was certainly strange, but he couldn’t really complain. He didn’t even do much about it, really. The Guardian wasn’t necessarily destroying the AUs, so what was the harm? If anything, his interferences, usually only minor, made the worlds more entertaining to watch. Who didn’t like a bit of drama and tragedy?

 

Even so, Nightmare didn’t like him, so they stayed away from each other for the most part. His battles were mostly limited to just the glitch, dragon or otherwise. 

 

The longer this went on, the more chances Ink was able to steal to talk with Error. As much as he enjoyed their spats, he also wanted to know why the dark skeleton hung out in Outertale, why he never seemed to bother many Underfells, and, of course, if he could see his large dragonic form outside of battle. In the end, he didn’t actually get answers to any of his questions (or requests) until much later, but he did notice how Error wasn’t as repulsed by his appearances. 

 

In fact, he now allowed the artist to sit beside him as long as he stayed quiet. It was from at least seven feet away, but that was still something! 

 

It was interesting enough to keep Ink satisfied, for a while. 

 

But eventually… it was… repetitive once again. 

 

It was all still fun, in it’s own way. But Ink wanted… more. He wanted someone else to talk to — someone else to quell his desire for creativity and entertainment. Error was nice, but they never really talked often. 

 

...It was around then that he found a lonely AU with a skeleton and two human children.

 

Now they were interesting.

 

-:(o):-

 

This strange Gaster was a quick friend of Ink’s.

 

Or, he supposed “friend” was a strong term right off the bat. Acquaintanceship? Work friends? A mentor-student relationship?

 

Ha, the last was likely pushing it. Whatever they were, Ink enjoyed popping over every so often when he got the time to see what XGaster had achieved with his strange Overwrite ability. Their chats were usually one sided after the tall monster gave his updates on his created timeline, but what could he say? Ink had a lot more going on, and certainly no one to tell it to. XGaster didn’t seem to mind at least, content to sit just outside of his little city and watch Ink tell his stories with grand gestures.

 

It was only a matter of time before Ink slipped up.

 

“— and then Error showed up after I helped make, like… I dunno, I can’t remember. It was a busy day! But he came in all dragon-like, totally pissed off and demolishing this new AU, so of course I had to step in!” He snorted a bit, leaning on Broomie. “It’s weird how intimidating he can be when he’s all big and scaly, y’know? And—!”

 

“Ah, I apologize, but,” XGaster looked a little uncertain for a moment, tilting his head, “I don’t think I do? You said Error was a skeleton before. When you say ‘dragon-like,’ do you mean that figuratively?”

 

There was a moment of silence as Ink registered the question, one of his eyelights shifting to a circular loading symbol. When it finally clicked, he jolted back, dropped his paintbrush companion, and threw up a mouthful of his namesake. After they both calmed down properly, Ink flailed his arms with an alarmed look.

 

“You didn’t hear that! Stars, Error would kill me! Uh, literally!”

 

This didn’t seem to ease XGaster’s concern nor confusion at all. “Why on earth would he be so worked up over a descriptor? He’s not an actual dragon, correct?”

 

Ink snapped his teeth shut, not really knowing what to say to that.

 

That lack of answer was answer enough, though, as the taller monster’s eyes grew wide. “I— b-but you said he was a skeleton monster!”

 

“And he is! He’s just… also a dragon? Somehow? Ahh, I don’t know, but you can’t say anything!”

 

Despite the befuddlement, XGaster snorted humorously. “And who exactly would I tell? It's not as if I’ve met anyone but you, nor do I really plan to.”

 

A bright grin spread across Ink’s cheeks. “That’s what I said!”

 

“In a way, I suppose your secret is safe with me. Though I am still drastically curious. Based on how you’ve described him before… what does a ‘dragon Error’ look like exactly?”

 

Ink lit up like a Giftmas tree on a holiday. 

 

There was definitely something special about XGaster that Ink never had with Error — conversations that XGaster actually paid attention to. Even with Ink’s quirks, even knowing a lot of what he said was probably a little exaggerated, the mortal listened to every word, actually interested. He’d later admit it was because seeing AUs was one thing, but actually listening to stories of them and outside of them gave him a lot of ideas and motivation to create things for his Chara and Frisk. Even if it was just in the form of a dragon stuffed animal or dragon based character in the city for now, it was incredible to Ink that someone actually listened. 

 

Not only that, but XGaster also seemed to know exactly what Ink liked to talk about . Mere seconds after the question left XGaster’s teeth, the artist had whipped out a sketchbook, (proceeded to forget what the question was), and started drawing Error’s dragon form in quick strokes. 

 

XGaster watched with rapt attention, a soft smile on his face while the smaller skeleton rambled on. 

 

-:(o):-

 

Unfortunately, with all good things comes an end. 

 

The more Ink came back, the more distant and tired XGaster was getting. He was so focused on this world (timeline after timeline, it was hard to keep track of) that he acted as if he had no more patience for Ink’s visits. Unless he needed something from the artist, the skeleton started to wave him away with a brisk “I’m busy.” Suddenly, those visits to check up on the AUs progress and have a good chat were becoming rare. And, when Ink was allowed, it was always in the company of that blank, cold Alphys, taking notes in his peripheral. 

 

He felt like he was being studied rather than welcomed. 

 

Ink likely would have been more hurt by this, had Dream and Blue not finally come into the picture. 

 

Dream was certainly a breath of fresh air. Around the time Nightmare had stolen his first of many dark Sanses (it was incredibly weird the first time Ink came across Horror in a world that was not Horrortale, even weirder when that burly monster turned his murderous sights on the artist), Dream’s centuries long curse had mysteriously been lifted. The positive Guardian was extremely lucky that Ink hadn’t been doing anything then, or he might have missed the change in Dreamtale altogether. 

 

Who knows what would have happened had Dream been left alone, confused, in the negative and empty world he once called his own?

 

Back then, Ink was almost sad he’d never get to know. It was a lost storyline he wanted to see play out. Oh well.

 

The duo had a long discussion about the where, what, and whens Dream had missed (as well as Ink could provide, at least), and Dream eventually came to a decision to try and get through to his opposite and protect the ones that needed it. A noble desire, Ink would give him that. He seemed to fall right into his helpful hero role once again, for better or worse. 

 

“Would you help me?” he had asked uncertainly. 

 

“Me? Uh, why?”

 

“Well, you said you already fight for the universes, right?” Dream smiled a bit, though it seemed a little forced. It was clear that all of this information so soon after waking up from a magical coma was taking its toll on him emotionally. Ink unconsciously wondered what that felt like. “You're the Protector? Maybe if we joined forces, we could help everyone. Two is better than one, right?”

 

Oh. 

 

He kinda liked the sound of that. “Protector,” huh?

 

Who was he to refuse an offer that promised even more fun?

 

And that’s all he thought he’d get out of this, as well. A bit of fun, maybe someone to hang around again. 

 

He didn’t think he’d end up in a trio of multiversal heroes, still adding even more members to their ranks. He didn’t think he’d be fighting side by side with two skeletons of actual good nature against the Guardian of Negativity and the now-officially-proclaimed Destroyer of Worlds (also, hilariously enough, dubbed by Dream.) He especially didn’t think he’d actually enjoy the time he spent with them in a way far beyond selfish amusement. 

 

It was like what he had with XGaster before, but so much better. 

 

Dream had his issues, it was obvious. He struggles with self doubt and pessimism while trying to keep up a happy facade. Ink swore he caught the other smoking in quiet AUs before, but never took the time to mention it as it wasn’t really any of his business. That was just too many emotions he didn’t know how to deal with. 

 

But, the Guardian was kind, considerate, and a wonderful listener. He not only sat through hours of Ink’s jumbled up talks, but also provided feedback when desired or needed. Whether that’s advice on how to handle a bad situation Ink got into, helping with emotions and things Ink couldn’t understand well, or even just lending an outside perspective on a new painting he’d started, Dream was more than the artist really felt he deserved. 

 

Blue was similar, when he later joined their Star Sans group. His bubbly confidence in not only himself, but his friends and everyone around him as well, was such a slap to the face for both Ink and Dream. He was their moral support — the glue that held the trio together. Surprisingly, he was also very good at stopping conflicts before they could even happen. 

 

Especially with Error. Which, by all means, was strange in itself considering Error kidnapping Blue was the reason Ink and Dream had met him in the first place. You’d think they wouldn’t have a very great relationship, but that just didn’t seem to be right. In fact, it was Blue’s strange tie with Error that led to Ink getting closer to the Destroyer. Not much, but it was noticeable. Error let him sit a whole six inches closer to him in their Outertale meetups!

 

Most importantly, though, meeting these two skeletons changed his very way of thinking — specifically for the multiverse. 

 

Ink had always fought for the multiverse as a whole. If a few AUs had to suffer for that, it didn’t matter. As long as more were being made, and he had something to do, he didn’t really care. 

 

Dream fought for the individual universes and their happiness in and of itself. He understood some would have to stay negative, as that was just how life worked, but as long as there was some hope left, and no AUs were in danger of complete erasure, he was satisfied. 

 

Blue fought for the monsters within the AUs. He understood what it was like to be a single soul in the vast multiverse, living life as best as he could, so he focused on the individuals. He wanted to save everyone, and he’d do his absolute best to ensure that. 

 

This selfless, kind, heroic, and so very genuine thought process from both sides was foreign to Ink, and his friends found that out very quickly. Working beside them, however, he was quick to follow along in their footsteps. 

 

Maybe it was the fact he was actually respected and cared for, maybe it was the help they provided regarding his vials and how to take them correctly, or maybe it was just a result of being around Dream’s aura so much. Whatever the reason, his friends got through to him in a way he never thought possible. He felt on his own. He had a personality that wasn’t controlled by his paints, but rather fueled or guided by them. It was weird, and it was hard sometimes, but he loved it.

 

...Still, suddenly, this experimental game he’d agreed to with XGaster was seen from another perspective — one that wasn’t completely emotionless, uncaring, and bored. 

 

He spent a while debating with himself on what to do. The intrigue of seeing it all play out just wasn’t present anymore, replaced with an uneasy sympathy for the monsters and humans suffering for it. Specifically, the two human children. Seeing so many versions of these kids get screwed over in every AU (mostly Fell verses), plus the innumerable amount of AUs where experimentation was such a leading cause to angst and despair, it made it a little hard to look at this combined soul as anything other than an unfortunate victim.

 

How was he supposed to see a project in them anymore? They weren’t a thing to be observed…

 

Besides, now he knew exactly what it was like to have XGaster watching your every move and writing it down.

 

This was, unfortunately, one of those moments where having emotions was hard. It wasn’t uncommon now for him to get lost in thought at random calm points, whether in the middle of a drawing or while out helping build an AU. It was starting to plague his mind with guilt and worry (what would his friends think if they knew he was doing something like this? He almost didn’t want to know), and the others were starting to notice. It was embarrassing how many times someone had to snap him out of his thoughts. Even Error intervened now and then, whacking Ink with the spike of his tail or yelling at him to quit losing focus and muttering.

 

Ink wanted to figure this out, move on, and never have to deal with this much guilt again. Then, maybe, everyone wouldn’t be so worried about him.

 

So far, he only had a few ideas: 

 

Just continuing with the plan was out of the question, as easy as that would be. For once, he didn’t want to be a part of a story, and he didn’t want to know how it would turn out.

 

He could just avoid it all together, pretend he had no foot in that story in the first place. There were many cons with that though, as he doubted it would remain ignored forever. Someone was bound to find it, or XGaster would find a way out and approach Ink himself. 

 

He could confront XGaster upfront, officially pull out of the plan and leave XTale to the mercy of the overpowered skeleton’s hands as he should have done in the first place. 

 

There was the… more violent option of letting Error destroy the world all together… That would not only put the entire timeline out of its misery, but would eliminate a large threat to the multiverse as well. Or, even better, he could contact Core beforehand! Maybe they’d be willing to evacuate the AU to the Omega Timeline, then Error could destroy the AU, XGaster and all.

 

...But could he really bring himself to do that? Images of a kind skeleton, eyes filled with wonder at the multiverse and amusement at Ink’s antics, came to his mind, sketchy as it was. 

 

Was that man really gone..?

 

… Having more realistic emotions really threw a wrench into his life, hadn’t it?

 

So, Ink did the one thing he always did when he had an issue: ask Dream.

 

That wasn’t very hard, considering the Guardian practically lived with him at this point. He’d have to make him his own little cabin in the Doodle Sphere one day, but, for now, Ink was fine with having more or less a temporary roommate.

 

“So…” he started abruptly one day while Dream read a book behind him in his studio. Ink had specifically made him a bean bag for those times when the duo just wanted to be in the same room together. Dream seemed to enjoy the quiet strokes of his brush or scratches of his pencil as background sounds to his reading. He would bury himself in a plethora of blankets piled on his lap, maybe grab a mug of some warm beverage, and curl up in the corner, uncaring of the messy environment. At his voice, the golden skeleton peaked up from his text with curious eyelights while Ink slowly swiveled his stool around. “Can I ask for an opinion real fast?”

 

Dream smiled. “Sure! Having issues picking colors again?”

 

“Oh, no, not an art opinion! … Well, yes, actually, I’m not sure if this is a good color combination with the background, it might need some darker hues, but— No, not right now!”

 

Humming in understanding, Dream plucked a bookmark from where he stashed it in the unread pages of his book and slid it into his current place. Closing it and setting the novel down, he turned his full attention to the artist. “What’s wrong?”

 

Ink used his toes to shift his stool from side to side, rubbing the back of his neck with a sheepish smile. His palette and paint lay forgotten in his lap for the moment. “So… I may have… screwed up a bit.”

 

“Okay…”

 

“And…” As much as he wanted the Guardian’s help, he also didn’t want to admit to the whole situation itself. Some faint part of him swirled with a gentle blue and bright violet, scared this would actually be Dream’s tipping point to leaving Ink alone. He fiddled with his brushes, trying to think of the right way to explain this without actually explaining it. It was difficult when every time he plucked a good string of words for a decent sentence, he’d forget it a moment after. 

 

“…And…?”

 

“… I would love some of your famous Dream Advice?”

 

When it was clear Ink wouldn’t clarify without further prompting, Dream nodded slowly and leaned forward a bit. “… Can you tell me what happened?”

 

Ink cringed a bit, eyelights blinking to a green swirl and navy square. He opened his mouth to say something, then closed it and leaned back a bit. One of his brushes rolled to the floor. He didn’t bother picking it up.

 

A flash of hurt crossed Dream’s face, further sparking Ink’s guilt. He didn’t want the other to think he didn’t trust him! His hands twitched to go for his yellow vial, but he held back. The look was gone quickly, replaced by a rather nervous smile. “That’s a no... Okay, uh, basics, at the very least? I can’t help much if I don’t know what the situation is, even if only vaguely.”

 

Okay, that he could work with, maybe? “Uhhhhh, well. I met… a person. And gave them some help.” Showing him the multiverse and trying to spark some inspiration counted as help, right? He thought so, especially at the time. “But it didn’t go well and now I’m a little too involved in an AU’s story, and it’s not really a good one.”

 

His friend’s face fell, as it always did when mentioning unfortunate AUs stuck in terrible situations. As much as he wanted to help, Dream was well aware he couldn’t do anything sometimes. The Protector couldn’t imagine the disappointment he likely felt knowing Ink had, in a way, influenced a universe down the negative path. “Ink…”

 

“In my defense, it was before I met you!”

 

Ink kind of hated the understanding that flickered across Dream’s face, as if that simple explanation was enough to excuse his bad judgement. But, at the same time, he appreciated that his friend was willing to give him a chance as well. A double edged sword, he supposed. It wasn’t as if the excuse was false.

 

That smile slowly came back, more soft than it was before. It was similar to one someone may give to a child trying to apologise for bad behavior, and really, Ink figured that was fitting. “So you want to, what, back out of it? I’m assuming it’s not as simple as just leaving it alone now, since you’re coming to me about it, yes?”

 

That was a little more considerate than Ink really deserved. There were plenty of times when he’d asked for help with something that had a very simple answer. Sometimes he just needed someone to tell him the very basic of logic, and he was very grateful Dream and Blue were fine being that someone.

 

Unfortunately, this wasn’t actually one of those times. “… Yeah, a little more complicated than that, I think”

 

Dream nodded. He shifted forward more, setting his book on the floor and pushing most of the blankets off of his lap. This allowed him to sit up straighter, folding his hands in his lap. “Are they a friend then?” he asked with a tilt to his head. “You care about what happens to them now and don’t want to just leave them on their own?”

 

“… Yes? No?” Despite having thought about it many times to himself, Ink was surprised to find it was actually rather hard to answer out loud. “I… don’t really know where they stand. They kind of, I mean I, uh... Hold on.” One of his eyelights flickered to a typical loading sign, his chest, surprisingly, feeling a bit heavy. “I’m pretty sure they only see me as a…” What’s the word he was looking for? XGaster’s cold stare came to mind, looking him up and down every time he showed up with a squinted gaze. His voice would get commanding, ordering Ink to speak or leave depending on his own mood, or it would remain nearly emotionless as he explained his plans in a condescending tone. There was never even a question of whether Ink could or would do something; he was merely assigned a part in this story now. “...a tool to get what they want.”

 

“… So not a friend,” Dream concluded, looking increasingly concerned with his words. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea afterall. The last thing Ink wanted was to worry the people close to himself.

 

“A previous friend, I guess. I think… I don’t remember much more than our interactions recently, but I’m pretty sure for a while he was…” he waved his hand around vaguely, “kind of like you. Nice and not judgemental, I mean. Listened to me ramble, looked at my sketchbooks, that kind of stuff. And I’d help give him inspiration, but it went a little far.”

 

“Inspiration for?”

 

“… A, uh, project. Yeah.”

 

“For his AU.”

 

It took Ink a moment to realize in his thoughtless talking, he’d accidentally said he instead of they . He supposed it wouldn’t do much damage, but it was still a mistake on his part. “… Yeah. Sorry.”

 

“It’s alright. I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but I…” Dream glanced down to the floor, staring at some of Ink’s many scattered drawings. A genuine, if not a little concerned smile crossed his face as he looked back up, eyes full of trust. “Ink, I know that if it was really dangerous, you’d tell me more, right?”

 

That, at the very least, Ink would be sure to guarantee. “Of course! It’s not going to affect the multiverse, just the AU. I just want to fix this mistake for them, you know?” He knew some part of XGaster’s plan involved leaving Xtale, if he remembered correctly (which wasn’t totally likely). However, whether he handled this right or not, Ink was the Protector now. He may not fight for individual AUs, but he was certainly determined to keep his mistake from threatening anyone else.

 

It was the very least he could do.

 

The Guardian beamed. “I’m glad to hear that! I’m sure it’ll be alright then. But, as for your dilemma…” He put a gloved finger to his chin thoughtfully. “Well, one thing’s for sure, and it’s that this person isn’t a very good friend anymore. You shouldn’t hold onto something that’s toxic now, even for sentimentality or wishful thinking of a better future. If he is only seeing you as a useful thing to him, you shouldn’t continue to see him as anything positive now. Ordinarily, I’d say you should cut ties, call him out on his behavior, and leave, but it seems this may be a little more complicated…”

 

He waved his hand a bit. “Hmm, I guess… talk to him, then. Tell him you’re backing out, and maybe try to convince him to see reason. It would be his only chance at redemption. If you can make him see the error of his ways, you both can fix it, and you can leave knowing things there are at least back onto their own track without outside interference.”

 

Ink nodded slowly. “And… if I can't?” He wasn’t sure he trusted himself to be able to get through all this without screwing up. He wasn’t exactly good with words or convincing people, especially when they didn’t want to be convinced. His rocky relationship with Error was proof of that.

 

“You can’t really do much more for it then, I suppose. Not unless the, um. Creator of the AU? As you call them? Specifically asks for help to change things.” Ah, the irony of those words. The only Creator of this world was the problem in the first place. Ink actually had to hold back a snort at that. “Or, we could both go talk to him! I may be able to help, if you truly want to save this world and the characters in it.”

 

Any amusement he previously held was gone in a moment. 

 

No. That was definitely not happening.

 

Ink was many things, and stupid was probably one of them, but he could, at the very least, recognize that XGaster was way too powerful for his own good. He had limitations, and Ink doubted he’d do anything to anyone outside of his AU unless it aligned with his plan, but if he felt cornered or threatened in any way? Let alone betrayed by Ink himself? The artist didn’t want Dream, Blue, Error, or anyone near him. 

 

He didn’t think the man could Overwrite anything outside of Xtale, but he certainly could sic quite a few powerful characters on them and manipulate the world in his favor all the while. His AU was his playground— his canvas, if you will. Ink had yet to see him fight. He didn’t want that first experience to be against him and his friends.

 

Plus the slight chance of Dream being used against him somehow…

 

No. Ink was an immortal creator of universes, and a Protector of the multiverse. He was a Star Sans with an infinite number of lives to respawn. He could handle this by himself!

 

He plastered on a bright smile, closing his sockets to prevent the Guardian from seeing the nervous colors of his eyes. “Thanks Dream! I think I know what I want to do!”

 

He hopped from his chair, dumping his leftover supplies to the floor, careful to cover his palette so the remaining paints didn’t dry out. The artist spared a bit of a pouting glance at his half finished painting, hoping that he wouldn’t forget about it later. Nonetheless, he put it to the side and moved to grab his Broomie, feeling Dream’s surprised gaze on him all the while.

 

“Oh— are you leaving right now?”

 

Ink nodded once, throwing his brush over his shoulder and placing a hand on his hip. “Yes, I want to do this before I forget!”

 

The other skeleton blinked, then laughed a little. “Of course! We can’t have that. I guess I better go as well.” He stood up in a quick movement, picking up his book and walking up to Ink swiftly. He gave the Protector a quick hug. “Tell me how it goes, okay?”

 

“You got it, Dreamboat!”

 

“I— Stars, you’re something. Good luck then!” 

 

-:(o):-

 

Ink went back to Xtale and to confront the tall skeleton uneasily. He had an entire plan of action mapped out on his scarf, right at the base of his neck for easy access like a student with a flashcard ready for their presentation, but it practically blew right out the window when he actually arrived. 

 

XGaster looked more fatigued than Ink had ever seen him. Heavy shadows hung under his eye sockets which drooped in both physical and mental exhaustion. He was leaning against a lone tree in a large, ivory field, holding his ribs as if he’d ran a marathon.

 

They were alone. That was rare nowadays. 

 

What had happened in the time Ink had been gone?

 

“...You look tired there, pal,” Ink said blatantly, staring uncertainly at this tall monster while apprehensive and vaguely concerned emotions welled up in his chest. 

 

“I have overdone myself this time. It’s nothing,” XGaster muttered, squinting his eyelights at the rising sun far off in the distance. It certainly didn’t look like nothing. Did his Overwrite power have a limit? Maybe that was for the better, really. It could make convincing him to stop this experiment a little easier. Before Ink could question it further, though, XGaster had already moved on, quick and to the point as he was. “The First Phase of our game is complete.”

 

Ah, this was suddenly awkward.

 

After all this time and effort, Ink felt almost bad that he came here to back out of it now of all times. It wasn’t as if… what was it called again? The X Event? It still sounded interesting. As a story. Seeing these characters for actual living, soul bearing people, however, made it seem so much more disturbing.

 

“I, uh, about that…” He rubbed the back of his neck, sinking his face down into his scarf a bit. “I don’t… maybe…?”

 

Those once soft white eyelights pinned him with a sharp stare, almost unnoticeable through the bright glare on his glasses. Ink sighed, eyelights shifting to a blue tear drop and teal leaf.

 

“Sorry, G, I don’t really wanna do this anymore,” he finally muttered, smiling sadly. “I’m pretty sure I got involved a little too much, anyways. It just… doesn’t feel right anymore, y’know?” He didn’t get a response. To fill the quietness, he coughed into his hand and added a useless, “... Sorry. Again.”

 

There was a long breath of silence between them where neither spoke nor moved. The sun casting a bright purple light across white grass dancing in the breeze was the only reason Ink hadn’t felt the need to twitch or shift around. The sight was pretty. Sometimes a simple view like this was nice to look at as well. He supposed he learned that from sitting beside Error in the same Outertale for hours on end. He could learn to enjoy the little things of the multiverse.

 

He wished there was more color, though. All this white made him uneasy.

 

“... So you’re turning your back on me as well?”

 

Ink blinked, looking back to the other skeleton. “Uh, I dunno if I’d say I’m turning my back on you, necessarily…” he tried, tilting his head and looking at the ground. 

 

XGaster turned away again, brows furrowed in annoyance. “And why, exactly, did you come to this decision?”

 

“... That I’m not turning my back on you?”

 

“For backing out of a plan I’ve worked on for ages .”

 

“Oh! Yeah, right — uh, right…” He cleared his throat, reaching up to fiddle with his scarf. “I’ve just been thinking a lot, is all. You’ve got a cool power and I’ve never seen something like it — well, besides my own, kinda — but now it just feels like it’s going a little too far? I mean, you’ve Overwritten how many times now?”

 

XGaster’s face pinched up a bit. “Nine.”

 

“Right. Nine timelines. Nine worlds that, from what I saw, er, remember , heh, and what you tell me, were pretty good. They were unique, self sustaining, full of life, and had a lot going for them.” Well, all of them but the recent few. Those didn’t sound like they had a lot going for them besides making spaces for XGaster to test the humans. “I guess… I don’t know what was so wrong with that?”

 

Those white eyelights landed on him again, but now he was actively glaring at the artist. “They weren’t what I wanted. They weren’t what I envisioned and what I strive for. They were tests.”

 

“Maybe not,” Ink nodded, his smile coming back, “but that’s the fun part of creativity! Making even the imperfections a part of the creation. Haven’t you ever heard that there’s no mistakes in art? You might have done something you weren’t completely happy with, or something didn’t go as you planned it, but the best thing to do would be improvise and go with it! Sometimes, I look at a drawing that’s not finished and think it’s horrible, but I’ll keep at it until it’s done and really like the end piece! You’ll end up restarting forever if you let that perfectionism overrun you.” Face lighting up, Ink leaned forward, “I said something similar to Error the other day, I think! He was knitting beside me, and I kept hearing him curse and grunt and growl in frustration. I think he was having issues, so I told him—!”

 

“I don’t care.”

 

The Protector actually faltered at that, recoiling back. XGaster didn’t give him a chance to speak again. He didn’t know what to say anyway.

 

“All you ever talk about is this destroyer,” XGaster growled, snapping his head toward the short monster. “A skeleton who constantly and consistently tears your work to shreds without remorse. It’s pathetic how wrapped up you are about him.”

 

“I…”

 

“You are better,” he hissed, pushing away from the tree to tower over Ink’s form. “You could have eradicated that nuisance long ago, but you choose not to, because you ‘like’ him. He’s entertaining. He’s interesting. Now you come to me, as if you have some moral highground after frolicing around playing hero with two lesser beings?!”

 

Ink flinched, stepping back a bit with wide eyes. The other just followed along.

 

“I admired you,” XGaster admitted, spitting out the words as if they were bitter on his tongue. “Everything you did and the places you had access to so easily. You had motivation and drive to do what you pleased with nothing to hold you back — not even your own emotions. Now you choose to let the words and actions of nobodies and a giant lizard dictate what you once enjoyed?”

 

Ink’s eyelights flashed red. Suddenly, any plan for a peaceful resolution to this issue was shattered. He’d have to apologize to Dream later. “He is not a lizard! And my friends are not nobodies!”

 

“Please. You are friends with a depressed antidepressant and a people pleasing child, and you like a sad excuse for a reptile colored by a five year old. You’ve created entire worlds, yet you tie yourself to creatures like that?”

 

“You can’t judge them! You’ve never even met them! At least they treat me like a person and not something you need to observe and write a report on!” Ink glared right back at the skeleton, pointing his finger to the other’s chest and clenching his opposite fist. “Even as the Destroyer, Error is a better person than you! He doesn’t do shitty things simply for joy and curiosity!” He hesitated, thinking back to when he first met Error, then hurriedly tacked on, “… Anymore!”

 

That probably didn’t help his case, but Ink has never claimed to be good with words. 

 

They stayed like that for a moment, staring each other down and practically shaking in mutual anger. Suddenly, Ink could care less about the scenery around them. If he never had to see this place again, he’d be happy as could be.

 

His friends were the best thing that happened to him. They brought colors into his world that he didn’t know he couldn’t see until then. He wasn’t going to stand back and let someone step all over them, even if he’d once seen that someone as a friend as well.

 

After a long, tense moment, it was XGaster who pulled back first. His expression stayed irritated, but his posture relaxed.

 

For some reason, that made Ink feel more tense than ever.

 

“Fine.” XGaster closed his sockets as if in thought. “You want to worship them so much? Be like them? Let me make things easier for you.”

 

Confusion melted into Ink’s posture. He stepped back a bit, opening his mouth to speak. He was planning on telling the other skeleton off, then was going to just leave. He said what he wanted to say, tried his best to do what Dream suggested, and he wanted nothing to do with these schemes anymore. In fact, at this point, he was almost willing to actually bring this AU to the attention of the others, specifically Error and Core. He was done shielding them from this man’s influence if it meant helping the ones he toys with so much. 

 

Suddenly, however, before he could make his exit, he felt Broomie’s weight disappear from his back. He whipped around, startled to find this world’s Alphys standing behind him with her usual cold, calculating stare. In place of the magic papers she usually held was his brush. “Hey!” 

 

“Unfortunately, I doubt I can do much for your lack of soul.” He jerked back around to XGaster, eyelights dropping down to his hand, now hovering over a glowing purple word. His eyelights shrunk to white pinpricks. “Perhaps your precious Destroyer would enjoy a playmate, though. Maybe he’d actually give you the time of day. That’s what you wanted, right?”

 

“You can’t Overwrite me!” Ink hissed, glaring hateful daggers at the monster before him. “I’m not a part of this universe! I’m not one of your creations!”

 

“No, but you still have code, and we are still within a timeline.” There was a slight quirk to his teeth now that made fear grip Ink’s chest. “Even at half power as I am, it should be more than enough. I can’t erase you — I don’t want to, anyway. You are still of use to me. I need you. My only purpose here was creating and testing the Overwrite button. This Second Phase depends on you and the experiment. I just need to make sure you know there’s no way out of this.”

 

He brought his hand down with finality, clicking the dreadful button.

 

It glitched and shook more than usual, making a horrible staticky sound. XGaster’s smile fell immediately as the effort of the Overwrite dragged at his already low reserves. For a moment, Ink wondered if that was it. XGaster, for once, miscalculated in his research and this half-baked plan would fail.

 

Then, his bones were on fire.

 

Not literally, of course. Or, he thought it wasn’t. It was so hard to focus through the burning, intense pain that engulfed his entire body. He dropped to the floor, listening to his bones rattle and crack, breaking and mending themselves over and over again as he writhed in the white grass. He clawed at his skull, seeking some sort of relief, but all he received were scratches in his head as his distal phalanges grew and sharpened unnaturally.

 

The artist barely had a moment of clarity to wonder how this was possible — both in functionality, how, exactly, this mortal could effect him so drastically, and how he was so stupid to let it happen in the first place — before all rational thought left his mind.

 

Faintly, Ink heard himself screaming.

 

Ink in pain as purple glitches ripple over his body, newly formed wings tearing his shirt and dark ink staining his clothes and bones. The background shows the blurry forms of XGaster and Alphys. Bottom panel is a close up of Ink's terrified face, fangs and horns slowly forming and arms growing unnaturally. Purple tears bead up in his eyes.

 

The world was starting to blur out around him. Anything outside of his own suffering, dark space was muddled as if deep underwater. 

 

Was someone talking? 

 

Who was there? Where was he? 

 

Why did it hurt so bad? 

 

He couldn’t remember. 

 

Pressure built up in his shoulders, pelvis and skull. Everything felt wrong. His body was forced onto his side, curled inward as he rolled to try and seek out the cool touch of the grass below him. Nothing lasted longer than a few moments before his own burning body heated up the ground anyway. 

 

Was something wet? Was he crying? Was he bleeding?

 

It hurt.

 

Stars, it hurt—!

 

Why wasn’t he home? Why didn’t he just stay home?

 

He wanted to be back in his cabin, curled up by Dream and Blue while they laughed at a Disney movie. He wanted to be wrapped up in a blanket Dream brings every time, feeling warm and soft and happy rather than hot and stressed and agonized. He wanted to press his face into Blue’s bandana and relax in the familiar smell of fruit and tacos. He wanted to lay down under the stars and doze off to the sound of clinking needles beside him. 

 

Fuck, he wanted anything more than this. 

 

Was he still screaming? It didn’t sound right anymore. It was more animalistic — deeper, rougher than his own voice. 

 

Actually, nothing about his body felt right. 

 

Ink clawed at the ivory grass with stiff phalanges, huffing and whimpering as the pain evened out to a bearable level. Or maybe he’d just gotten used to it. 

 

There was another voice again. It was closer than before (wasn’t it?), and he could actually make out its words a bit. Despite everything, they burned into his mind.

 

“I know something will happen in the future, so I’ll need you to hold onto this.”

 

His body, feeling uneven, long, and more awkward than he remembered, was pushed sideways as someone grabbed at his clothes. A jolt of pain shot up his back as if something bent wrongly. Those hands fiddled with his clothes near his chest (the fabric felt tight around his hips and shoulders. The bandolier was almost suffocating on his ribs, especially as this person pulled so carelessly at it. At least his scarf was a constant comfort). There was a clattering of objects by his skull. Bleary eyes barely recognized discarded brushes and pencils, the good ones he usually kept on him at all times.

 

“Be the hero, be the villain, it doesn’t matter, I don’t care. Just play their game until I decide to start Phase Three. That is your job here. I will not have you backing out now.”

 

After a few agonizing moments, they finally let go. Ink slumped to his side with a pitiful whine, curling into himself as much as he could. There might have been more words exchanged over the top of him, but he didn’t care. He couldn’t listen. All he knew was the aching pain, wetness, and, when he pried his sockets open, white. 

 

It felt like hours had passed before Ink could muster up the energy to crawl back to the Doodle Sphere. The inky mess below him served as good of a portal as ever. He didn’t know nor care what island he popped up on, not even bothering to find his little cabin. 

 

The Protector merely curled into a ball, wrapping himself in the new, boney limbs he purposefully refused to acknowledge, and waited for his paints to wear off. 

 

At the time, he didn’t notice the new, glowing vial added to his bandolier. 

 

In fact, for weeks, he hardly noticed anything at all. 

 

-:(o):-

 

Error didn’t like Ink. He didn’t like a lot of people, but especially Ink. That was saying something, considering he could tolerate the Protector now more than he ever has. 

 

In the past, he hated the damn soulless bastard. He never believed a word the other said, because he was convinced it was all a facade — a mask Ink wore to try and lure in whoever trusted him, and Error wasn’t going to be one of them. 

 

Truly, why would he think anything otherwise? Despite frolicking around playing the savior, the creator never actually helped anyone. He saved AUs from Error’s destruction, only to watch them kill each other from the inside anyway. If that was a lie, why expect anything else from the fucking squid?

 

This hatred only grew when Error came to his senses enough to recognize he was destroying decent AUs, not alternate, fucked up timelines, and that it was a good thing for the multiverse. Ink clearly wanted everything to crash and burn if he was trying to stop Error from keeping a very precarious balance. There had to be something more there, something the dark skeleton didn’t trust at all. Ink couldn’t possibly be so scatterbrained and naive as he pretended to be. 

 

… Hatred turned to annoyance when Error eventually realized there wasn’t any actual pretending. Ink really was just that stupid. 

 

He only started to tolerate the “Protector” when Blue came into the picture and gave him another perspective. Or, more, he gave Ink another perspective. Error saw the difference right away; how the artist started to really look at his creations, how he treated others as actual living beings and not just a show to watch, how his emotions stopped jumping around nonsensically like a froggit playing hopscotch and actually started behaving like a true, empathetic (if still a little too energetic) monster. 

 

Even from the other side of the battlefield, Error saw the drastic change as it took place over the last few years. 

 

That didn’t mean he liked the squid though. 

 

That did mean he was confused when he disappeared without a word. 

 

Now, Error wasn’t worried, really. He knew Ink, absent-minded as he was, could take care of himself. He lasted this long, hadn’t he?

 

Never mind his inability to die all together… yeah, the idiot was fine. At least, physically, he supposed. It was still weird that he was gone, though. 

 

Not once in nearly two weeks had the Protector shown up to bug him in Outertale. He didn’t show up to any fight, even if it were Error himself causing trouble. He’d been able to destroy dozens of AUs without much resistance as his main adversary was noticeably absent. Honestly, his main resistors were the monsters of the AUs themselves, as even the other two Stars were gone most of the time. He didn’t really think much of it, finding it almost funny since he just assumed Ink got distracted or forgot or something . It wouldn’t be the first time.

 

It was a little less funny when Blue asked him if Error had seen Ink anywhere. Blue didn’t often come to Error for help, usually keeping their interactions merely friendly and hopeful. Error didn’t really mind it so much. Blue was his in a way. 

 

Well, his soul was the only one of his hoard he hadn’t killed to obtain. It still belonged to him, according to his dragonic instincts, but he gave Blue some… freedom. Liberties. Not that the Swap Sans knew this, but that was fine. Error wasn’t upset that he saw them as sort of friends in a way. 

 

It meant Blue would come to him every so often, so Error could check up on his wayward hoard. 

 

Like now. 

 

Apparently, Ink’s Doodle Sphere was locked, and it had been for weeks. Error didn’t even know that was something the creator could do. 

 

“We’re really worried about him…” Blue said, wringing his hands and kicking up some dirt on the floor. He’d caught Error during a trip to Outertale, as he usually did. He supposed he was fairly predictable in that sense. “Dream’s been pacing a hole in my bedroom floor. He had a weird conversation with Ink before, asking for advice, and he left to handle it and never came back! Not even Core can tell us what’s happening. I… was kind of hoping you might know?”

 

“Why would I know anything? The fuckin idiot probably got lost in a drawing or something.”

 

“No, he’s done that a lot, but he’s never locked the Doodle Sphere before!” Error was a little shocked at the now frustrated expression on the other skeleton’s face, as if exasperated by his willingness to just brush it off. Did he honestly expect anything else? “Dream’s been with him for years, and he said this has never happened before. He’s never been cut off, especially not for so long. Something’s wrong…”

 

There was a pause between them as Blue continued to wear his gloves down. He’d never admit it, but Error couldn’t help but feel bad for the other. It was obvious he was stressed by not only the tightness of his voice, but the bags under his eye sockets. Really, it was weird. Ink was all over the place when it came to his actions, but he was never truly unpredictable and distant like this. 

 

He just had no idea what that had to do with him.

 

Maybe that was insensitive, but he really didn’t care much.

 

When he didn’t say anything in response, it seemed Blue had caught on to this as well. His expression fell to one of hopelessness, and he dropped to sit on the floor with a sigh, pulling his knees to his chest. “Sorry… I don’t know why I asked you, of all people…”

 

“I don’t know either.”

 

It was clear the conversation was over, yet Blue hadn’t left. Error turned back to the stars above them, mapping out the constellations out of force of habit. It wasn’t as if he wasn’t used to doing so with silent company.

 

It was a little strange without the scratching of a pencil beside him, though…

 

In the end, it didn’t matter. Error had nothing to do with Ink’s sudden disappearance, and that’s all Blue wanted to know. It wasn’t as if he could help besides providing this safe space as he was now. If the Swap Sans needed someone besides Dream to vent to, so be it. They both knew Error had no access to the Doodle Sphere anyway, locked or not. There was no point in asking for anything else.

 

They sat in silence for the rest of the night. Error had a sneaking suspicion Blue fell asleep somewhere in that time, but he said nothing. He just nodded in acknowledgement when the other skeleton eventually said his farewells, and left through his own portal once Blue had gone.

 

With a huff, he flopped onto his beanbag, glaring at his hoard above.

 

He’d keep an eye socket out, he supposed. He’d cleared out enough AUs to last the balance quite a while. If a new one popped up, then Ink was back. He’d just… drop a note in Underswap every so often. If that kept Blue from getting his ass — his soul — into trouble looking for the wayward artist, so be it.

 

Ugh. This was more work than he was willing to put into anything involving the Squid.

 

He should have just taken that little blue heart from that tiny ribcage when he had the chance. It would have caused him a lot less stress.

 

-:(o):-

 

In the end, they worried for nothing.

 

Ink returned within the next week, all smiles and helping build three new AUs in a matter of hours. Apparently, when asked what the fuck he was doing for three weeks, he’d looked confused, laughed, and said he had no idea. Neither Star could get anything out of him besides blank looks. 

 

It seemed his impeccable memory struck nothing once again.

 

What a waste of time.

 

-:(o):-

 

(“Where on earth have you been?!”)

 

Ink didn’t want to come back.

 

For once in his entire existence, he wanted nothing to do with the multiverse. If he could, he would have stayed there, curled up in a puddle of dried ink forever, refusing to move and refusing to leave. It would have been so easy. His paints had worn off within the day. By all means, he could have stayed there for an eternity, just as he would have done at the very beginning of his life. Alone, emotionless, and without any responsibility.

 

But alas, he did have responsibilities.

 

(“Hm? Oh, hey Dream! What’s wrong?”

 

“What’s—?! What’s wrong?! Ink, you’ve been gone for weeks!”

 

“I have?”)

 

He had friends who would worry friends that would eventually find a way through his subconsciously made lock one day. They were far too determined to just leave him alone forever. He had enemies that would take advantage of his absence and their distraction. He had worlds to make and people to help and a new, annoying moral conscience that wouldn’t let him stay there for long.

 

He also had an order now, apparently. A plan he didn’t want to be a part of, with consequences he was already suffering. That glowing vial hooked to his bandolier was garing proof of that.

 

So, in the end, Ink did get up. He just didn’t want to.

 

(“What happened?! Are you okay? Are you hurt? You’ve never done this before, Ink, we were worried sick!”

 

“Did you lose your vials? You’re not injured, are you?”

 

“Woah woah, calm down, hahah! What was the issue again?”)

 

He hadn’t meant to be gone for weeks. It both did and didn’t feel like it had been that long. Though time seemed to tick by his still, white eyelights forever, the Protector really expected it to have only been a handful of days. Time was confusing enough in the Doodle Sphere without adding on his emotionless state.

 

Alongside that, he wasn’t sure how much of that time was spent staring at the same floating piece of paper, and how long was spent just struggling to shift back into a normal skeleton like he’d seen Error do a handful of times. 

 

(“Stars, Ink…”

 

“You locked the Doodle Sphere. For three weeks. Three weeks, Ink!”

 

“Uh, oops?”

 

“You really have nothing to say to that?!”

 

“Sorry? I dunno, Dream, I don’t remember!”)

 

He knew exactly what happened the moment he was coherent enough, emotions or not. It was extremely obvious what XGaster had done to him. He wasn’t sure if it was impressive or not, considering he’d never met Error before for reference, as all his other creations needed. Maybe Ink talked more than he thought he did.

 

He figured it out, eventually. Thankfully, shifting back was something the taller skeleton remembered to include in this new “design.” It was a long, confusing process of trial and error and absolute frustration, but he figured it out. Ink was so very delighted to find that it was just as painful as it had been the other way around.

 

Maybe it wasn’t a very perfected design.

 

He couldn’t even enjoy his new form. Any half baked ideas to go surprise Error was blown out the window the moment he had been back on his knees, heaving up his namesake. 

 

Yeah, he wasn’t doing that again. If he were lucky, he’d forget it was a thing in the first place. Maybe that would stop this aching dread in his chest.

 

Of course, even for Ink, when you’ve set your mind on forgetting something, chances are it would never happen. Joy. That entire moment, all those harsh words exchanged and the memory of pain rippling through his bones were practically burned into his skull like pyrography on bone. 

 

(“Okay, okay, let’s calm down! We’re all… very emotional. Ink, I’m very glad you’re back. Can we maybe talk in your house for a bit? Clear whatever we can up?”

 

“Yeah, that’s fine!”

 

“Yes, that’s… that’s a good idea. Do you mind if I look around when we’re done?”

 

“For what?”

 

“...Never mind.”)

 

When he did show up, it was after chugging half a vial of yellow and preparing himself for the interrogation he’d undoubtedly face. He didn’t like lying to his friends, but the idea of telling them the truth cut him more than anything. Not only did the situation escalate far more than he wanted, but he also failed to do what he set out to do in the first place. Dream would be so disappointed. They’d all be frantic with worry, for the artist and for the multiverse. Plus, how was he supposed to explain this without exposing Error?

 

He’d just… have to figure this out himself. Again. Later.

 

Drowning in the fake wonders of joy, at least he could make a game out avoiding their questions. 

 

The hugs were nice at least.

 

Within a few days, Ink was right back into the swing of things. He noticed the glances the others gave him from the corner of his eye, along with the stares, worried tones, and constant questioning of his well being. He was well aware Dream was staying over more often than ever, and that Blue dropped by almost every day. Heck, even in the distracted zone he fell into while drawing, he couldn’t help but notice them interrupting him for food, water, and general breaks consistently. 

 

It was sweet. It made the weight of that half soul all the heavier on his bandolier. 

 

He sewed in a new pocket on the inner side for the little container, out of view of himself and everyone else.

 

He had to admit though, falling back into the swing of everything felt nice. It almost made it easier to forget he had a torturous dragon form. It distracted him from even looking at XTale’s paper. He didn’t want to know. A part of him hoped he never would have to. Was it too much to hope XGaster’s plans fell to shit, and he’d never have to do anything?

 

Stars, did he feel pathetic. The Protector of AUs shouldn’t submit like this to a fucking mortal. 

 

He supposed all he could do was wait. It seemed that was what he always ended up circling back to.

 

(“Ink, are you sure you’re okay?”

 

“I’m fine, Blue! Don’t worry so much!”)

 

-:(o):-

 

Months passed without incident. Ink easily molded back into his familiar routine with little resistance. Besides Blue and Dream’s fretting, only Error really acknowledged his absence, and that was mostly just to taunt him during and after battles. No one mentioned it, least of all himself, and his friends eventually moved on. Things went back to normal, and Ink felt like he could breathe again.

 

Well, mostly normal, at least. 

 

He had one less stop on his schedule now (if a messy To Do list counted as a schedule).

 

Avoiding XTale was surprisingly easy. Ink couldn’t exactly hide it or even move it to the very edge of the Doodle Sphere, but he did shove the paper behind his cabin. That way, he could sense anything weird, but also not have to look at it too often. 

 

It worked, for the most part.

 

He didn’t feel the need to chug his white paint and stare at the paper for hours on end anymore. Instead, he found himself sitting somewhere else, holding his hands down to keep them from shaking, and watching the multiverse for a long enough time that his paints wore off on their own. As unproductive as that was, he preferred it. Forcing his emotions to disappear was a lot more stressful than feeling them drain away bit by bit.

 

And in these times, he wanted them gone. As wonderful as it was to have feelings that were more his own without having to be forced or controlled by his vials, now he was finding it to be… not as fun. When his mind stopped to wonder too much, he’d start questioning himself: whether he was doing the right things, whether he should say something to the others about everything, or whether he should continue to keep Dream and Blue and everyone else as far away from XGaster as he could. He’d wonder if he could even handle this by himself, which would lead to a stinging inner hatred that wouldn’t go away. 

 

Suddenly, everyone’s teasing of him being a terrible Protector, both truly insulting and just friendly joking, hit his nonexistent soul harder than ever.

 

Then the fear would settle in. What if Ink didn’t do anything? What if he missed his cue all together? Could XGaster even leave XTale without his help? What would he do to him? To his friends?

 

What would they do when they found out? Was it worse for them to find out that way than from his own mouth? Would they leave? Would he be alone again?

 

He didn’t want to think about it.

 

He’d never been scared of anything before. What use was there of using the violet vial back then?

 

He didn’t like it.

 

Somehow, in all this time, no one had walked in on Ink in this unhealthy mindset yet. Dream was very close one day, coming to Ink’s cabin unannounced when he’d been lost in a daze. Thankfully, his paints hadn’t faded completely and he was able to pass it off as zoning out thinking about how to continue his drawing, which laid half done in his lap. Dream, unable to sense his watered down panic, hesitantly accepted his excuse and brought him inside to wrap them both up in a blanket and eat something.

 

Ink did his best to let it happen outside of the Doodle Sphere then. Whenever he felt panicked or overthought his predicament too much, he’d escape to a random, open AU and calm down there.

 

For now, that was Outertale. Maybe he should have expected that it wasn't the best place for existential crises. 

 

“What the fuck, Squid,” a glitchy voice hissed behind him, annoyed. “You’re not supposed to get here fucking first. I need some kind of time to myself before you show your ugly face.”

 

Blinking blankly, Ink peaked over his shoulder, white eyelights just peering over the rim of his scarf. Error stood a few yards back, a white portal glitching shut behind him. He was in his half form, the longer limbs making it easier to hold all the different fabrics and threads in his arms. He sneered at the artist with sharp yellow fangs, but clambered over to his usual spot against some boulders, a good distance from the other skeleton. 

 

His skeletal tail wrapped around himself as he settled in, claws scraping up the asteroid’s dirt and sand. Ink merely watched him emotionlessly, sights pinned on his horns and wings.

 

(Did he have a half form as well? He never really got the chance to check if there was any rhyme or reason to his shifting then, and he certainly wouldn’t now. He supposed it didn’t matter, then.)

 

After a few minutes, Error’s own gaze flickered up to meet his. He snarled. “What the fuck are you looking at?”

 

Ink didn’t respond.

 

“Tch. Whatever. Be weird then.” He looked away for a moment, hands picking up an unfinished doll and some thread, before those golden and blue eyelights turned back to him. Eye sockets narrowing, Ink watched as the Destroyer looked him up and down, studying his dull clothes and hunched figure, then snapping back to his own gaze. A bit of that defensive tenseness relaxed, but the suspicion never left his expression. “Okay, what the fuck. You off your paints or something? It's creepy.” 

 

Ink hummed, finally looking away. He went back to staring at the singular blue star far off in the distance, figuring Error would drop it and he could go back to unfeeling in peace.

 

Surprisingly, he didn’t.

 

“Hey, fucker, you didn’t answer me!”

 

Honestly, Ink was a little confused. Recently, Error would tend to avoid him more often than not. He seemed to be more annoyed and angry with the Protector than he had before the incident in XTale. Even their fights were a bit shorter, filled more with actual blasters to the face rather than scathing, amusing threats. It felt as if Error had been pushing him away, which was surprising considering the fact they weren’t really even friends.

 

So why did he seem to care now?

 

No, he supposed it wasn’t caring as much as it was curiosity.

 

… What was he thinking?

 

“Stars, you’re fucking stupid.”

 

Ink looked up to Error once again. The dark skeleton looked pissed, the materials in his lap forgotten. “Why the fuck are you like this, Squid,” he demanded more than asked, a growl to his tone. 

 

He blinked. “Don’t want to feel,” he said honestly. Apparently, this shocked the other, as Error flinched subtly. They were both silent for a moment before he narrowed his eyes again.

 

“And you’re just gonna sit around like this in the middle of fucking nowhere?” He leaned back and crossed his arms, ectoless wings twitching behind him. “You realize how much of a sitting duck you are right now, right? I could kill you easily and you wouldn’t even put up a fight. It’d almost be boring, but at least then I know you’d be out of my fucking scales for a day or two.”

 

Ink shrugged. Sure, he was right. But, even now, the idea of dying and coming back was more appealing than thinking about the stress and fear he’d inevitably go back to with his paints later. In fact, would that actually be better?

 

He didn’t get time to consider it. Error had gotten a weird look on his face, eyelights scanning over him a second time before pointedly turning away. He looked down at his supplies for a moment, back up at Ink, down again, then sighed loudly.

 

“Yeah, no, this is a lot fucking weirder when you’re like this,” he grumbled, dumping all of his stuff into a small portal back to his Anti-Void. He flapped his wings uselessly as he stood up on animal-like feet, readjusting his scarf and turning away. “Don’t like you staring at me like a creepy doll. At least you do something when you’re all hopped up on fake emotion shit. That’s more fuckin’ tolerable.”

 

With a swish of that sharp tail, the Destroyer was gone, leaving Ink alone once again.

 

There was a pang of… something in his chest. He looked down, surprised, but it went away as quick as it came.

 

Weird.

 

White pinpricks glanced around as if checking to make sure he was alone again. The asteroid Error usually resided on was far away from Outertale’s towns and cities. He couldn’t even see them from where he sat. His entire view was taken up by darkness swirling with blues and violets and pinks, dotted with a plethora of white and colored sparkles.

 

It was pretty. It was peaceful. It wasn’t white nothingness, and it certainly wasn’t white and purple and red.

 

He shuffled to a more comfortable sitting position, picked out that one, bright star, and went back to what he’d been doing before: nothing.

 

Not even a few minutes had passed before he heard the sound of a portal opening up behind him once again. Instead of heavy clawed footsteps, there were soft voices and a quiet shuffling. 

 

Arms wrapped around him from behind.

 

“I wish you’d talk to us…”

 

Ah, Blue was here.

 

The smaller skeleton rested his skull between Ink’s shoulder blades, sitting on the floor behind him. There was some more shuffling to his left as another, taller figure took the spot close beside him.

 

“Dream’s not answering his phone,” Lust sighed, glaring at his own device as he laid a hand on Ink’s knee. The Protector wasn’t all too shocked by the other’s appearance. He and Blue seemed to be hanging out a lot lately, and he was slowly being welcomed into the Stars’ activities anyways. 

 

“He’s probably still busy.”

 

“Busy getting ordered around like a servant.”

 

“Lust…”

 

“You and I both know it’s true.” His cell phone was tossed away and those magenta eyes turned to Ink instead. “Sorry, Sweetheart. Not the time.” He smiled warmly, but it didn’t quite reach his sockets. “You alright?”

 

Was he talking to Ink now? He couldn’t really tell. He didn’t answer anyway.

 

It seemed the question was, in fact, directed at him, as silence stretched between them for a while. Lust’s smile fell and Blue tightened his hug around his ribs. “Oh, hun…”

 

“Can you tell us what’s wrong?” the Swap Sans asked softly, shifting to prop his chin on Ink’s shoulder. Ink looked away from both of them. He felt Blue’s ribs expand in a sigh. “Why aren’t you taking your paints, Ink?”

 

He just repeated what he’d told Error, “Don’t want to feel.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“...Hurts.”

 

There was a long moment amongst them, the air thick as the other two exchanged a silent conversion with their eyes. Neither seemed to know exactly what to say, and Ink was fine with that. Despite everything, he did enjoy the feeling of his friends beside him again. There was no emotional tie to it, but he had been getting a little cold. Their warmth was certainly welcomed, even if he didn’t necessarily want them there.

 

Eventually, it was Lust who broke the quiet moment, scooting in to press his shoulder to Ink’s comfortingly. “Can you tell us why? We want to help, Sweetheart. We can’t do much if you don’t tell us what’s going on.”

 

No. 

 

The fear and anxiety may not be pulling at his ribs anymore, but he still knew he didn’t want to get them involved. If Overwrite worked on him, it would work on them. He didn’t need his paints to know that he didn’t want them getting hurt trying to help. 

 

Not to mention the very real possibility they’d leave knowing that he had any kind of part in this in the first place. All the people he just let be used as a tool, and who he continues to sit back and let suffer. 

 

Emotions weren’t necessary to know what he wanted at that moment. Saying anything wasn’t one of them.

 

He vaguely remembers a time Dream had scolded someone for holding themselves back like this. He’d argued that bottling up negative emotions and refusing to accept help was damaging to not only themself, but the people around them that cared. It didn’t make sense to him at the time. Why would someone drown themselves in the stress and negativity if they didn’t like it?

 

It seemed he was learning a lot recently.

 

The others didn’t bother him again, instead choosing to cuddle by his side and keep him company for a while more. Ink didn’t really mind. It didn’t make a difference in the end. Though, he wondered if they got bored sitting there silently. Neither one was really known for sitting still very long. Then again, Ink supposed he wasn’t either. 

 

He doesn’t remember getting home that day. In fact, he doesn’t remember a lot of that day at all.

 

-:(o):-

 

It all happened so quickly, Ink could hardly keep up.

 

Nightmare’s Gang, minus the Guardian himself, decided to raid a copy of Storyshift while Ink and Blue were on patrol. Error remained nearby on a swing of strings, watching the trio with annoyed boredom while they ransacked and killed the Waterfall citizens. Without Dream by their side, the two Stars were quick on the defense, much to the other skeletons’ enjoyment.

 

Ink wasn’t as concerned about them taking the items as he was about them hurting the AU any more than they had, and Error’s presence just further solidified that fear. Usually, the trio would steal supplies they need, raise a little hell, and leave. It was annoying, and sometimes harmed Dream, but otherwise rather harmless. However, on occasion, Nightmare would confer with the Destroyer to target an AU together, allowing his boys to do whatever damage they please as it would all be deleted immediately after.

 

It was for that reason neither Star wanted to lose this battle. That meant losing the AU altogether. Rather than splitting up, allowing Ink to handle two and Blue take on one, the duo chose to fight together instead. This in itself made things a little more confusing to Ink. He now not only had to watch his attacks, make sure he didn’t hit Blue, but also try to coordinate with the Swap Sans as well. It was a difficult balance for his forgetful memory, but one he played off fairly well, if he did say so himself. Despite being three on two, the duo was quick to gain the upper hand.

 

Then Error stepped in.

 

He clearly didn’t want to, grumbling to himself about this being a “waste of his time,” but Ink quickly found his limbs tangled in blue strings anyway. Nothing he couldn’t get out of, but enough to make him falter and give Killer a clean shot.

 

From there, the battle was more evenly matched. Waterfall’s walls and small venders or homes were rapidly falling apart around them. If they managed to save the universe, it would definitely need a Reset quickly.

 

The rest of the fight went by in a blur of bones, knives, and ink. It was nothing new. When it seemed thing may tip back to their side a bit, Ink attempted to contact Dream as best as he could. He was sure the three of them could drive the others out in a soulbeat.

 

In the end, he didn’t actually get to know if the Guardian actually answered. 

 

He barely saw the swing of Blue’s hammer, missing its intended target of Horror’s hulking form and slamming into Error’s chest instead.

 

There was a sickening crack as the Destroyer was thrown off course, just barely losing grip on his strings, and sending him careening into a wall. Ink watched with shrunken red and violet eyelights as the glitch fell into one of Waterfall’s many chasms.

 

He couldn’t really explain the fear that gripped his chest at that moment. Error, similarly to Ink, couldn’t really die. He could be injured and broken and hurt, but in the end, the glitchiness of his soul and form actually worked in his favor sometimes. He didn’t know how exactly, as Error never stuck around for Ink to find out, but he knew the skeleton would be back on his feet in less than a week.

 

That didn’t mean it didn’t hurt.

 

If Blue or any of the others tried to stop him, he had no idea. Ink just knows he was quick to follow Error off that cliffside, a vague plan half baked in his skull.

 

It wasn't his best save, by far. Dream and Blue would likely ream him out big time for it later. 

 

But, as his bloodied, clawed hands gripped onto that dark trench coat; as newly formed wings tore from his back and sent jolts of pain down his entire body; as he laid pathetically curled around the other skeleton in unnatural grass and blood and agony... 

 

Ink couldn’t bring himself to regret it.

 

-:(o):-

 

Awareness came back to him slowly, blearily. He couldn’t make out much around him — the world was just a blur of golds and teal and black. Vague, dim feelings circled through his chest, none strong enough to really make out properly. 

 

He felt… numb. Numb, but not quite emotionless yet. A physical numbness. It was strange, almost uncomfortable.

 

“Fuckin’ hell…”

 

He fidgeted a bit on the ground at the unexpected voice. It sounded far away, but, as two blurry feet stepped into view, he doubted that was entirely accurate. The vibrant red clashed with the soft tones of the background.

 

There was a faint sound of snapping fingers above him. He whined, curling further into himself.

 

“Fuck, don’t move, you idiot!”

 

… Ah. Error. His voice was much closer now, the static and familiar angry tone easily recognizable.

 

The Destroyer knelt down in front of him, face barely coming into view. He could just make out the squinted glare of his sockets pinning him to the floor more than the fatigue and numbness of his bones. He couldn’t remember what he’d done to make him mad this time… 

 

His vision started swimming again.

 

A loud sigh came from the other monster, followed by grumbles he couldn’t understand. Finally, Error stood abruptly. 

 

“Fine. We’ll talk when your more fucking coherent. Gotta figure out how to get outta here anyway…”

 

As if taking that for permission, Ink fell into unconsciousness once again.