In a way, Flowey chose this. He chose it when he found a scrawny, listless human at the bottom of the drop-off, and decided to take him home. He chose it when he didn’t say anything, when he did what Chara wanted just so he wouldn’t be lonely, so Chara wouldn’t hate him, wouldn’t get bored and leave him alone like he’d always been before, alone and boring. He chose it when he saw them coming, his own death with all the inevitability of the sunrise up there, or lack of it down here, down where it’s dark and empty and cold like he is. He chose it when he made toys of them all, dancing like puppets on their strings for his whims, for his amusement, only he wasn’t very amused, not for long. He chose it when their hearts became his heart, beating as one and begging to be free so he freed it, he freed them, all of them, from this lightless prison, this empty cavern where his soul should be.
But none of that changed anything, did it? He’s still boring and bored both. He’s chosen this, this sitting and brooding and doing nothing till the end of time, which will inevitably come now because he chose that too, he chose to let time go on without him, to stay here and rot instead of live when he can’t die, because he can’t stand to live if he can’t live like them, live and die so he doesn’t have to watch them go, watch them die like Chara did.
Oh, yes, he had a choice. He had a choice the minute Frisk decided to wait, to come for him again with that sly half smile, so slight it might have gone unnoticed, to anyone but Flowey. Flowey knows that smile, though just a hint of it lingers in Frisk’s face, in the friend he should have had but doesn’t want, he just wants Chara, still, despite everything. Not the shovel, the little pot and all it promised, the tentative hands that reached for him to put him in it, to take him away and make him forget, make him leave all he ever was, all he ever cared about behind in a bed of flowers. After all, where else should he be? He’s one of them. One of the wilted, unfeeling plants with no purpose left but to guard the little grave, however silly and pointless it might seem now, because he can’t bring himself to do anything else, he doesn’t want anything else, not anymore, not ever.
So it’s not strange that he should send Frisk away, send him away but let the other stay, the strange one from another timeline, another universe he’s never seen, because he won’t make him do it, make Flowey leave this place or even try, he just wants to stand and talk and remind Flowey he’s not the only one in the universe, in the multiverse, apparently, or the least significant. Flowey matters, he’s a part of something, even if he is an anomaly he’s the good kind, the reformed kind who enacted, somehow, the perfect ending, the perfect timeline by his choices. He’ll never give Flowey anything, this stranger, never require anything but company, once in a while. Though he has plenty to give, plenty to offer that Flowey would’ve taken before, if he’d had the chance. But Flowey doesn’t want anything now, doesn’t want to be anything now but what he is, he’s got that down pat, being himself, being his unchanging, solitary, useless self with no value to anyone but this stranger, this thing that’s even more strange than he is and knows it.
He’s a mistake, he tells Flowey, and won’t keep existing once he’s done, once he’s done getting rid of all the other mistakes. And at first Flowey thinks that means he’s in danger, that he’ll need to kill or be killed after all, and he can’t decide which is worse. But Error has no intention of killing him, shouldn’t even be talking to him at all for fear of distorting him, of making him change, and Flowey laughs his harsh, dissonant laugh. “I won't be changing any time soon,” he assures him, this strangely self aware individual who doesn’t even argue, doesn’t even mind when Flowey calls him a smiley trashbag because he is one, he is and doesn’t deny it just like Flowey doesn’t, doesn’t lie about his own worthlessness. Only Error doesn’t like that, doesn’t like it that he thinks he’s worthless because he isn’t, nothing is worthless here, in this place, in this time that withstands even Error’s presence without buckling, without twisting into something it shouldn’t.
“I don’t know, bud, I think I’m pretty twisted. Why, you seen something worse?” And the little flower hunches forward with two leaves at his chin like he’s all ready for a story because he is, he’s ready for anything but this unending sameness as long as he isn’t involved, as long as he doesn’t change because he’s had enough of changing, changing hurts and he’s made enough earth-shattering choices for a thousand lifetimes and then some.
Error considers for long enough that Flowey thinks he might not tell him, that he won’t be willing to influence this world in even this harmless way. And it is a harmless way, Flowey is completely harmless now, no matter what theories he’s got in his head because they’ll never leave his head, just like he’ll never leave the Underground, he’ll never corrupt a perfect world with his presence ever again. But lucky Error did, lucky Error decided he could do that here, could talk to Flowey and not hurt anything, because Flowey can’t hurt anything, Fowey doesn’t matter anymore.
Slowly, Error gets down into a seated position, careful not to disturb even one blade of grass more than he has to.
“You’ve got stuff coming out of your eyes,” Flowey informs him cheerily, now he’s got a better look.
“I kn-know,” the stranger blips, and Fowey’s mouth quirks. With all those glitches and misplaced pixels he’ll never be entirely bored, listening to him talk, or watching him move.
“Alrighty, then!” Flowey claps another couple of leaves together and Error jumps. “Whoops! Little fidgety, aren’t cha?” Flowey backs up a bit and makes a couple of mental notes, about sudden moves and close proximity. Best to save that for when they’ve run out of interesting things to talk about. Which is likely to happen very soon.
He grins his best spidery grin and settles down again. “Okay, stranger! Tell me about the most twisted anomaly you know. I'm bored silly, so make it good.”
There’s a rope ladder, dangling just off one side of the tree. It belongs on a playground, this sort of thing. A boxy sort of room, braced high in the branches with the trunk going up through the middle. It’s gray, just like everything else here. Everything that isn’t brought in, that is. Ink really should do something about that but he never does. They’ve got their own system here, their own pace, and asked him respectfully to please stay out of it. Ink doesn’t need to be told twice. Any sudden changes might unsettle the inhabitants, and they’ve been unsettled enough as it is. Nobody can agree much on what should be done for the scenery, and so for the most part they do nothing at all.
Ink understands that.
So he keeps his creative instincts in check, if only in Omega. In fact, he doesn’t visit Omega much at all, when he can help it. And he probably could help it, today. He could wait, and keep helping, keep breathing life into what others create with his brush, absorbing the colors, the feelings coming off their souls as they make it, as they see it for the first time, that vision in their head, in their heart. But it’s only so satisfying, that pursuit. Their pursuits, and not his own, he doesn’t have any. He doesn’t have that kind of passion, nor the heart to keep it in. To make something new and see it all play out before his eyes, as an extension of himself, an expression of his being. He hasn’t any self to express, not that he’d care to see, not that anyone would care to see. So he just keeps helping and watching and gathering up their feelings in little jars so he can pretend to feel them later, to be someone later only he isn’t. He isn’t and he knows it and Error knows it, which is why he’s here, why he’s here instead of out there like he should be, doing his job. Staring dubiously at the little rope ladder where it leads up to something like a children’s playhouse at the top, and wondering if it will bear his weight.
It does, with a bit of creaking, or perhaps that’s just the whispering, the muttering coming from above. There’s actually quite a sizable room, up there. Made of wooden planks and nails, and cleaner than any treehouse Ink has ever heard of. There’s nothing inside, nothing at all but a child of about fourteen sitting in one corner, though even that is a rare thing, for him to be here anything like long enough at a time to take visitors. He was the one doing the muttering, Ink knows, though he’s fallen silent now, and turned his head a little to acknowledge Ink as he climbs up.
He doesn’t say anything, as Ink scrabbles over the edge and disentangles his feet from the ropes. Only watches, with deep shadows beneath one eye and a dark patch over the other. They haven’t spoken much, these two, mostly because they rarely stay in one place, in the same place, for long. In fact, this is the first time Ink has ever been in this place at all, let alone when Nightmare is in it too. For a moment, Ink hovers by the open wall. It’s not like him to worry over such things, how he should behave or where he should sit in pretty much anyone’s home, but this isn’t a home, not really, nor is Nightmare just anyone. Slowly, and a little stooped, Ink edges his way over until he’s right across from his host, who makes no move but to follow him with that single, purple eye-light. He’s still got his hood up over his head, a blanket turned cape getting a little short for him, now, though Ink’s never seen him with it off, not since he found it to begin with. Nightmare waits until Ink is seated, cross-legged, in front of him before shifting a little, with a flash of red.
“So…” His voice is hoarse, like he’s been speaking for a long time already. “The one who experiences negative emotions on purpose, right? Dunno why I’m surprised to see you.” His face softens in a smile and Ink feels himself relax just a little.
“Sometimes,” he concedes, fingering the bluish vials at his chest. “But you can’t feel my negative emotions.” He says it stiffly, warningly, as though to assure himself more than the boy, who raises a nonexistent eye-brow and drops his gaze back down to the floor.
“More like I can feel all of them at once. Which amounts to the same thing.” He flashes a grin, and there’s something unnerving about it. “Why are you here?”
Ink could ask him the same thing. Why he’s here instead of out there, regulating negativity like he’s supposed to, doing his job like Ink should be only he’s not, neither of them are.
“I dislike being around others,” Nightmare explains, as though reading his thoughts. “I come back here, when I need to be alone. Which I still do, so I’ll ask again, why are you here?”
“I want to be more normal.” There’s no point in beating around the bush, not now that he’s here. He stares cooly into Nightmare’s face, watching as he scrunches up his forehead and rubs at it as though it pains him to even consider the possibility.
“And you think talking to me is a good place to start?”
“I’ve spoken to Dream already.”
Nightmare barks a harsh, sudden laugh. “That’s even worse.”
Ink fails to see how that is amusing. Nothing is amusing about this, about his inability to understand why someone else would find this amusing. He doesn’t understand anything, he doesn’t feel anything the way other people do, and that’s the problem.
“Why’s this bothering you now, though?” Nightmare is asking him, no longer laughing but smiling still, a distant smile not meant for Ink, or anyone here, anymore.
And something about that irks him, makes him want to get angry because that’s the way Error gets when he’s trying to talk to him, when he doesn’t care about Ink’s feelings because Ink doesn’t, his own feelings aren’t real so they don’t matter. “That’s my business,” he gets out, and Nightmare shrugs, drawing that blanket tighter around him and leaning back against the wall.
“Well, can I see?” he asks, and it takes Ink a moment to realize what he means. Then he nods, slowly, and reaches for his vials. He was about to give him purple, but at the last moment he chooses blue, instead. Nightmare disentangles one small, gloved hand and takes it.
The paint inside flares to life at his touch, pulsing with iridescent light. “Whoa,” he breathes, and holds it up to gaze through at the gleaming, strangely translucent fluid. “That’s liquid sadness alright. Weird,” he murmurs, then glances hurriedly over the top at his companion. “I mean. Guess that’s not what you wanna hear right now, huh?”
Ink huffs impatiently. “Is it right?”
Nightmare lowers his hand back down with the vial, frowning a little. “What do you mean, is it right?”
“I mean is it… like everyone else’s? The feeling?”
“Oh.” Nightmare rests his chin on one hand and taps his fingers against the bone. Multiples of three. “Everyone has slightly different feelings. That’s why Dream can find me, whenever he wants. Or, vice versa. You get used to how a certain person processes emotion.” He looks down at the vial again. “If there’s anything especially different about this, I’d say… it’s so… concentrated. And… mixed? Like I’m feeling the sadness from a lot of different people at once. And maybe some of it is more… empathetic? Like… second hand?”
“I know it’s second hand. They belong to the creators. The feelings they get when they make things.”
“Ah. That’s interesting. Well.” He goes to hand it back.
Ink doesn’t take it. “So… what does that mean?”
Nightmare stirs as though he’s only just now begun to pay attention, and yawns a little. “What?”
Ink is near tears now, despite having just let go of their source. “It’s not mine at all, then, is it? Even you can feel that.”
Nightmare frowns. Squints, at the glass. “This is your vial, isn’t it?”
He holds it out again. “Then it’s yours.”
“But…” Ink is seriously reconsidering his decision to come here. He didn’t expect Nightmare to be so… imperceptive. He puts the vial back in its place on his chest and fidgets with the end of his brush.
“Look, I know it’s confusing. But if it’s in your head, you’re likely the one thinking it. Same with feelings. So… try not to stress too much.” Nightmare seems to think this conversation is over. He shifts until he’s more or less braced in the corner and draws his hood up a bit more, looking about ready to fall asleep.
“I’ve mixed them,” Ink blurts before he can. “I’ve watered them down, I’ve thickened them, I’ve put one color with another or taken a few at a time instead of all at once. How do I know, when I’ve got them all? What if there are some variations I’m incapable of, and I don’t know it?”
Nightmare rubs at his eye. “I mean, nobody’s capable of all of them,” he mutters absently. “That’s probably why people don’t understand each other. We can’t even understand ourselves.” He grins again, the distant one. “I mean, you felt something so terrible once you couldn’t even take it, right? That’s why you decided not to feel anything at all.” He laughs again, a distinctly ugly sound and rocks a little, hugging his knees. “Isn’t that funny. Now here you are trying to get it back again.”
Ink stiffens. He never even told Dream about that. So how…?
All at once it dawns on him. And he’s comfortably livid, seething with that familiar rage, the kind that makes him feel alive and normal, just like everyone else because it’s so strong he can’t control it, it’s just natural whether it’s second hand or not and he leaps to his feet. It’s been so long since he really felt it last, since Error started disappearing for days and leaving him to his thoughts, to his creation without even a fight most of the time, until Ink began to wonder if he ever felt anything real at all.
He glances down at the child before him. Nightmare hasn’t reacted except to continue on laughing softly and rocking himself there on the floor. It’s unkind, his laugh - and his words - but even Ink can tell none of it is meant for him. He doesn’t let it bother him this time.
He strides back over toward the opening, toward the ladder and lowers himself down. He’ll have to tell Dream to check in on his brother, while he’s out. He’d want to know if Nightmare came that unhinged. But for now, Ink has work to do.
Nightmare fell asleep. He didn’t mean to. He doesn’t, usually, if he can help it. He hates the silence, the stillness just before he drifts off. His drowsy mind unable to fill it, any longer, as he loses his grip on consciousness. And sometimes, when he returns to himself he can’t get there, out of his head, into his body. He’s left banging on the door of his own mind, unable to break through, to stop what is happening on the other side. And then with a rush of breath he starts awake, and there’s nothing happening at all, except it’s gone, some vital part of him he can’t place, that no stream of inner dialogue can replace. It takes a moment to remember, to realize all over again that he is alone, that he always was alone. For the thoughts to come back, to start again in that endless, silent cycle of imagined, assumed replies. And, when his own thoughts aren’t enough, he’ll speak aloud, just to listen to his voice. His own voice, so like and different from the one he longs to hear.
That’s what happens this morning, only he doesn’t get that far, to the part where he talks to himself, before the banging of a screen door interrupts him, even his thoughts, and he crawls to the edge of the little house in the tree. Blue is coming toward him, from across the back lawn. Yes, this is their tree, in their yard. He didn’t make it as far as he meant to, after all.
When he reaches the ladder, Blue grasps the third step and glares up at him. “Well,” he says hotly. “Are you coming down or do I have to come up there?”
Nightmare sighs and swings his legs over the edge. It’s too late to teleport, now. Blue is tapping his foot on the ground when he reaches the bottom, still glowering as only Blue can glower, with no subtleties in his expression, even if Nightmare couldn’t feel it coming off him, the anger and the hurt. “Morning, Blue,” he says tiredly, and waits for whatever verbal assault is forthcoming.
For a moment Blue just stares at him, mouth twitching. Then he surges forward, practically bowling Nightmare over in his arms, so that he sags in his grip. He doesn’t mind it, too much, when it’s Blue. He doesn’t even have to hug back, with his arms pinned like this.
“You look awful,” Blue chokes over his shoulder and Nightmare doesn’t argue. What with the ragged, mismatched color scheme and the near crippling fatigue, he’s looked better. Then again, he’s looked a lot worse too. But he can’t expect Blue to know about that. So he just closes his eyes, and lets Blue hold him up for a moment. Just a moment.
“We’ve been so worried,” Blue concludes at last, and draws back. Nightmare staggers and summons a couple of purple tentacles to help him regain his balance. And sap what little is left of his strength. He nearly goes down anyway.
Blue’s frown deepens, as well as his disapproval. He’s got his shoulder-plates on. Been training for the guard, or what passes for the guard in this place. He’s too young, still, but he’ll be ready when the time comes.
“Guess Dream’s not doing his job very well then,” Nightmare chuckles, with a grin. It’s not funny, that joke. And he doesn’t expect a laugh. Not from Blue.
“Dream’s been worried sick, too. You know he can’t find you when you… when you’re not…” He doesn’t finish. He doesn’t need to. “I saw the ladder,” he says instead. Blinking. And not for the first time, Nightmare wonders why he even uses it. He doesn’t need a ladder, not when he can get wherever he wants, with a little negativity. But he doesn’t like it when people like Dream or Papyrus pop right up into his room without warning. That’s what he tells himself, anyway. When he hangs that ladder over the edge right where Blue can see it. “When are you coming back to the house?” the little skeleton asks flatly.
And this is why Nightmare usually teleports, when he can, and doesn’t stay long. Why he wishes he didn’t use the ladder, and almost gets rid of it every time he comes. “Not ready yet,” he says curtly, and attempts to get by.
“Not - ” Blue catches him sharply by the arm, something very few would be willing to do. Even Dream would get shrugged off at this point, if he dared grab him to begin with. But somehow Blue always manages it, to disarm, to quell whatever instinct might rush to push him away. Which is why Nightmare can’t stand to be around him. He emits negative emotion as readily as positive, and never the convoluted, twisted kind. Always it is strong, sharp, and uncorrupted. No deception. A rush of darkness only to cradle the light, an undiluted rage formed purely for the sake of care, of devotion more fierce than the anger. Nightmare quakes before it, a balance he and his brother can only hope to approach, to attempt within the multiverse. “It’s been five years, Night. And you still...”
Slowly, Nightmare reaches a gloved hand up to the one holding him back, keeping him here even as he tries to go. “It’s not that simple,” he whispers. Because the years, the time might take it away, might dull the ache but it can’t shake the memory of the it, the fear that it will return, the inevitability of its return and Nightmare isn’t ready, he was never ready for any of it.
At the sound, the tone of his voice, Blue releases him, and they stand, shoulder to shoulder but still facing in opposite directions. “Why?” he gasps helplessly in the silence, with the tears starting in his eyes, and Nightmare turns his head so he doesn’t have to look, even if he has to feel it, he can’t help but feel things like that.
They’d be his family if he let them. All of them. And he knows they mean well, particularly Blue. But good intentions are the most dangerous kind.
He starts walking again, and this time Blue doesn’t stop him.
Ink tries everything. He helps to create ten new AUs inside of an hour. He chooses the brightest colors, the loudest features. He crams them together, encroaching on the void. He repairs damaged timelines, and restores them to working order. He puts up signs, in mock direction to Omega. And all with that burning, unquenchable fury coursing through him, driving him ever further toward the edge, the last remnants of his sanity when no one comes. When he’s still alone, surveying his work with little satisfaction, a whole kaleidoscope of universes all in a row, all in a gaudy, meaningless parade for his eyes alone. Briefly, he considers messing with Outertale, with Undernovela, in a last ditch effort to get his attention, to bring him here before Ink chokes on his own rage, and his inability to express it. But he can’t, he can’t change anything, same as he can’t destroy anything without abandoning what little self he has. They define him, his paints and the creators, the creations he had a hand in, and not even a hand but a brush.
But not Undertale. He had no part in that. He can’t go back on himself, change himself if he changes that because it isn’t his, it has nothing to do with him. And maybe it’s not the only world like that but it’s the most significant, isn’t it, by far the most important to Error. His golden timeline, the one instant of perfection in the whole multiverse of mistakes. It has meaning unlike Ink and everything to do with him, it matters and if it matters it can hurt, it can cause pain to those it matters to.
Ink doesn’t like to admit that’s why he goes, even to himself. That he has any intent to harm, to hurt anyone, even Error, by way of this timeline. He doesn’t know what he intends to do at all, or who he wants to meet until he’s there, seated crosslegged in a bed of golden flowers with his head in his hands. The anger is ebbing away now, because he’s likely used it up, got it all out of his system for the day, though even taking more doesn’t bring it back, he’s just so tired of it all, of trying to feel when it’s not worth it, the effort or the caring. His brush lies worn and idle at his side, abandoned before he can use it again, use it to distort and not create like he’s supposed to, like he’s done all day only it doesn’t matter. Nothing but life without a pulse, those universes, paint without color like he is, a true expression of himself after all and he’s ashamed, he hates them as he hates himself only it’s not an intense hatred, not a real one like he felt a moment ago, back when he could still feel if only for a while before it subsided, it died like every other part of him.
He replaces the red vial, nearly empty now, and rubs the moisture from his eyes. They’ll go away too, the tears, in a little while. He need only wait, like always. Like he always waited, for something to happen, for colors to fall on him because he hasn’t got them himself, he does nothing of his own volition because he doesn’t have any. He doesn’t even jump when Flowey pokes his head up before him with a pop.
“Hey, what’re you doing back so - ” He stops, stiffening with shock on his stem. “Wait, you’re not…”
Ink doesn’t answer but to sniff, pathetically, and sit up a bit straighter. He’s seen Flowey before - many Floweys. He’s helped to create him, all different versions of him, over the years. But this isn’t any of those Floweys, any of his Floweys, this is the base, the origin of them all and some part of him knows he should be maybe a little fascinated, if not reverent. But he can’t even muster a mild curiosity now. So he just sits and sniffs and plays with the end of his brush.
Meanwhile, Flowey seems very curious, and all but climbs in his lap looking closely over his vials, at his mismatched eyes and the brush he’s got in one hand. And then all at once he draws back, with a rustle of foliage, and surveys his visitor from a more reasonable distance, rising up a bit as his eyes widen in astonishment. “Holy smokes. You… You’re it, aren’t you?”
Ink frowns, a little perturbed despite himself. “I’m what?”
“Oh, this is priceless.” Flowey is doubling up, cackling as reflexive tears spray from his shifting eyes. “You… You’re the idiot who destroyed his own soul, aren’t you? The most twisted abomination in the entire multiverse?” Grotesque layers of laughter erupt from bared fangs, assaulting Ink’s senses along with that familiar, insufferable word ringing over and over in his head. He leaps to his feet, brush at the ready, all crosshair eyes and gleaming vials.
“Who told you that,” he demands in a voice like steel, only he doesn’t need to ask, he never needed to ask and he’s so furious he’s almost giddy, almost alive like he was earlier. But Flowey only cackles louder, heaving and wheezing on his stem. He seems to be enjoying this almost as much as Ink is, which makes sense if he thinks about it, though he doesn’t really want to, right now.
Error is a hypocrite. He’s set his abominable foot in a place not meant for it, in a world he dared not touch for fear of corrupting it, of changing it even a little. Well, two can play at this game. Ink slaps his brush on the ground. Picks up the pot that grows there, that sprouts there at his bidding, and just the perfect size.
“Oh, no! Oh no!” But Flowey can hardly manage even a vague dismay through his giggles, through his raucous amusement. “You’ve got to be kidding! That was too easy!”
Never mind it’s the story of a soulless creature who remains soulless, even at the end, at the true end, more right than any of the others. Error’s been talking to it, worshipping it more likely than not, and leaking Ink’s secrets like a broken faucet, because somehow this thing is valuable where Ink is worthless, has meaning where Ink falls short, he always falls short even of his own base code, of this base code that can’t feel anything either only he doesn’t have to, he’s done everything right in spite of it.
He doesn’t even struggle when Ink plops him in the pot, roots and all, and fills it up. Only grasps the edges of his prison with a couple of leaves and chuckles into silence, still grinning his best grin. “Gosh, you’re salty,” he remarks after a while, when Ink only keeps glaring down at him.
He sighs, and splats his brush on the ground again. “I know.”
Error made a mistake. He makes mistakes often because he is a mistake, and so should be used to it by now. But it’s very inconvenient.
He reaches through a fresh tear in spacetime and snags a seam ripper from some Toriel’s sewing table. He would’ve taken it out by hand, the thread, except the fabric got all bunched when he tried so now he’s had to resort to yet another theft. They’re not entirely worthless, AUs, at least not when he’s creating something of his own. Oh yes, Error loves making things. Little things, with his own hands. None of those sloppy, chaotic splatters Ink leaves all over the multiverse for someone else to come along and clean up. Error is all about the details. He stole a sewing machine, once, but tore it up not long after. It was fast, sure, but its slanted rows were as abominable as any skewed timeline. No, if you want something done right you should do it yourself. Slowly, and with care. Like Error does, laying one stitch after the other with precise consideration. And then, when he is finished, there is nothing half so satisfying as unmaking it, watching the stitches pop, the fabric tear and dissolve into nothing.
He’s never kept anything he made. Not even Blue, if he can count that as making. He certainly helped to form him, to mold him into what he was, at the end. Even if he didn’t mean to. Only Ink makes mistakes on purpose. Purpose, which should be reserved for fixing things, for controlling the damage and not causing it. Mistakes should only be made without meaning to; accidents of fate, that only concentrated, purposeful effort can destroy. And he did destroy him, Blue, on purpose, when he realized what he’d done, the mistake he’d made. Letting an already unnecessary life form warp into something even more despicable, something almost as despicable as Error himself, and Error can’t have that, one of him is enough, is far too much. He’d almost started to doubt, to change his mind, to accept his mistakes before Nightmare came along, before Nightmare started changing, started morphing into the worst and best part of himself, and Error returned to his senses. He remembers the rage, the inexplicable terror, the spike in his negative sensibilities that led to the destruction, the correction of his leniency regarding the swap timelines.
Mistakes aren’t friends, or allies. They aren’t useful, and they aren’t acceptable. That’s why Error cleans up after himself whenever he makes one. Why he would’ve cleaned up Nightmare, however beneficial his existence might have seemed, if he didn’t keep disappearing into that cesspool of unsolved problems known as Omega. Along with the only survivors, the remnants of the rampage Nightmare himself caused, if indirectly. They live together now, apparently. One big abominable family.
But Error doesn’t think about that. Not when he wants to relax, and sew. To watch his best creations unfold before his eyes only to ripple into meaningless nothing just hours later. Like every effort, every mistake he’s ever made. He’s an extra, a loose end, a part without a whole, that doesn’t fit into the whole. But even extras have a role a fill, if only for a while. Before they subside into whatever bittersweet, even tragic end already ordained for them. Flowey is one such extra, now, having played his part and vanished into the background, the past of his own story. The most flawless, most glorious representation of a job well done, a job finished that Error has ever seen. Flowey refuses to insert himself further into a tale that has no use for him, but only fades without protest into humble innocuousness.
Error knows that time will come for him, too, someday, when he is finished. If he is ever finished. If Ink ever lets him finish, or even catch up, with the mistakes he has made, the mistakes all of them have made. And perhaps that is why he so often watches, and now visits, his little golden idol - there, in the only universe worth keeping. They’re not friends, no, nor even allies. Error is unworthy to be called an ally, or a friend, to a being such as this. More like a supporter, and hopefully a follower, in time. And that’s what makes it alright, for him to visit. For him to set foot in a place not meant for him but for something like him, if only on the most basic level. Flowey has no part to play, anymore, in the doings of his universe, of the universe. And while even that is significant, is meaningful, especially to Error, he need not fear corrupting anything with his presence, so long as he is careful.
And that’s what he tells himself, as he visits time and time again until it’s a habit, a hinderance to his own work and he’s not doing it, he’s not accomplishing anything like what Flowey accomplished, and all so he can speak to one who did, so he can forget, for a time, that he never will.
But at least they are alike enough that Flowey gets it, that he reacts in all the right ways to Error’s stories, to his confessions. He understands, about eliminating mistakes, and correcting them. And though Error despises the comparison, the connection drawn between destruction and reset, he accepts it because it’s Flowey, and Flowey can make no errors, not ones that aren’t inherently valuable enough to somehow cease to be errors, once they are made, once they are corrected. Once they are enfolded into the whole, the unmistakably flawless tale that Error has no part in. Only once does Flowey give him pause, does he call into question that singular philosophy of correction that Error has striven after as long as he can remember.
“There is no perfect timeline,” he says, with a sudden, unusual sense of sobriety. “No perfect choices. Only ones you live with. When there’s nothing better.”
And Error has to think about that, has to puzzle over it for some time before it makes sense, before he sees that it doesn’t contradict him at all, that nothing is better, nothing surpasses the original and so he need not live with it, need not live with himself, in the end. And that’s when he nods vigorously, though Flowey isn’t looking at him anymore, only gazing vaguely off to one side, and his face is almost like the one before his death, before he gave it all up to be this, to be just as he is in this story that is finished, for him, and he need take no part in it anymore, either.
And then he snaps out of it, with a shake of his golden head, and smirks back up at Error where he glitches in the space before him. “See ya later? I’m a bit… tired.”
And Error is up in a moment, stumbling back out of the flowerbed, out of this place and back to his job, back to his purpose with a vengeance. And he doesn’t return, not for a few weeks at least. Something like ten new timelines have been added to the mix, to the conglomeration of unnecessary elements in the multiverse, and he has his hands full catching up. Even if Ink isn’t there to stop him. Ink is never there to stop him, not for the full month or so he spends putting things somewhat back in order, and at the end of it he begins to wonder if something is wrong. Or, right - if Ink really has finally given up on making, on protecting what he’s made.
And since apparently he has the time, and no one else he really cares to talk to, Error decides to go back, and see if Flowey has recovered from whatever lapse in judgement he seemed to be suffering from. After all, Error knows all about that. It’s just one more way in which they are similar, and the very idea sets Error to glowing with pride, even before he arrives, at the little cave at the bottom of the drop-off.
It’s quiet, and although the opening is slanted in such a way that you can’t see the sky from below, a little shaft of light still worms its way down, to find its reflection in the golden petals at the bottom. And in the splat of orange paint, just to the right of the flowerbed. Flowey is nowhere to be seen, even when he calls, when he all but digs down into the soil with a sweep of his strings. And he can’t help it, he’s in a panic, and the only one he hates more than Ink now is himself, the one who destroys everything he touches even this, even this sacred place he promised never to touch, for fear of the damage, the errors he could cause and never correct.
It’s not difficult to call, to summon the only real ally he ever had that still exists, the other mistake he couldn’t fix, though if he had he wouldn’t have to feel like this, to experience this kind of guilt without a cure. It doesn’t occur to him that he’s bringing yet another source of contamination here, right into this place he most wants to protect from it. He’s already done a good enough job himself, of ruining the one worthy timeline in existence, and so it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter anymore so long as he can fix it or try, and he isn’t alone in his trying.
It takes an endless moment for him to appear, for Nightmare to materialize before him in yet another splat of foreign liquid beside the first.
“Well, well, well,” he says, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. “What can I do for you?”
Dream dozed off on the couch again. Blue finds him curled on his side with one arm sticking out, fingers clenched in a fist like he’s still struggling, still grasping at consciousness even in his sleep. Blue didn’t even notice he was there, in his rush to get outside. And how very like Dream to miss Nightmare the one time he’s here, when he’s been looking for him all month. Blue straddles a dining room chair and waits for him to wake up. It is early, after all. And he doesn’t think he’ll get much work done anyway, after that.
He tries not to look irritable when Dream finally cracks open his eyes. And bolts into a seated position like he’s been caught, he’s been found out, which he has. Dream never sleeps in his bedroom, however much he’d like Blue to believe it. They added it, off the living room, his own space, and space enough for Nightmare if he ever decided to come back. Whenever he’s ready, like Papy said. Like Papy always says. Like Papy’s been saying since they were little, and Blue wanted Dream to smile more, to sleep more and be happy. When Blue tried to kick Nightmare out of his room just so he’d stop muttering to himself, stop tormenting himself with his own company. And that’s when Papy got him his own room to do it in, to carry on muttering and losing at chess, only he didn’t do it there, he left then because Blue kept glowering at him, Blue made him leave even though he really wanted him to stay and Nightmare wouldn’t stay, not really. He wasn’t there even when he was, so he might as well not be.
Blue cried for days when he left. When he moved the ten or so yards out to that tree. Seemed like a mile. There is a mile, and more, between them now. And maybe Dream didn’t go anywhere, he still sleeps in the house but he isn’t here either, not really, and not at all in his own room. He doesn’t like to be alone, he says, but he is alone, and by his own choice. He never tells Blue anything, never asks him for anything, only just drags himself onto the couch sometime past midnight and gets up before he’s caught, before he’s found like now when Blue came in from outside.
“H-Hey,” Dream stutters, and rubs at his eyes. “Didn’t realize it was so…”
“It’s not,” Blue snaps, deciding he’s not ready this time, to hear more excuses. “It’s not late, it’s early. I got up to see Nightmare.”
In a flash, Dream is wide awake. Attentive and alert, like he only ever is with Nightmare, and no one else. “Is he still here?” he asks breathlessly, scooting to the edge of his seat. Getting ready to dart toward the kitchen, the back door, where he can vanish, he can leave in a flash just like Nightmare did, and not come back till he’s ready, till he’s too tired for anything but vague explanations and Blue is left to pick up the pieces.
“Nope.” Blue can’t help the edge of satisfaction in his voice. “He left.”
And maybe Dream can hear it, can sense something in his tone because he tries not to look openly disappointed for long. It’s not exactly unexpected, after all. He smiles nervously, looking unsure of what to say next. Blue doesn’t leave him to wonder.
“When you going?”
Dream looks as though he’s been slapped. “Wha - ?”
“I said, when you going? You’ve slept, haven’t you? Like, four hours? That’s your usual, isn’t it?”
That deer-in-the-headlights look. Blue would feel guilty, if he wasn’t thoroughly tired of that feeling by now. Dream takes on a concerned expression, the one Blue should be wearing, and reaches a tentative hand for his where it rests on the back of the chair. “What happened? Did he say something mean?”
“Don’t pretend like you’d be on my side if he did. You’re just the same, the pair of you, though at least he’s honest about it. Doesn’t keep telling me he’s fine when he’s not, that he’ll be back when he won’t.” He pulls his hand away and wipes his eyes with it.
Dream has gone cold, and silent. That guarded, impassive look reserved for moments such as these, for hiding his own feelings while he attempts to read someone else’s, only he can’t read Blue’s right now because Blue is so thoroughly unhappy.
“I’m sorry, Blue,” he says simply, after a moment, and Blue just shakes his head. Looking away, at the wall, at the floor, at anything but Dream’s face because if he does he’ll believe him, he’ll let him get away with anything because he’s Dream, he’s his brother and he loves him even if Dream doesn’t care, doesn’t act like it.
“I thought we were family,” Blue gets out, as more tears spill. “Or were you lying about that, too.”
A sharp intake of breath tells him his words have hit their mark. That he couldn’t have done any better if he’d punched him, if he’d caught him in the chest with his fabled blue attack, an immobilizing feint. For so long Dream didn’t have a real family, didn’t have any family but Nightmare until he lost him, and then he brought him back, brought it all back here, the past and the trauma, made it a part of Blue’s family too. Only Blue was happy to take it, to accept it because it was a part of them, part of who they were and they couldn’t help it but he can, he can and he will because he can’t stand it, can’t stand to watch them hurt anymore, to be pushed away when he could stop it, he could change it if they let him.
“What’s goin’ on here?” Papyrus is on the stairs, first cig already lit between his teeth. And that’s another thing, he told Blue he’d quit smoking, that he’d quit… sleeping till all hours of the day years ago, and he’s only up now because Blue was yelling at Dream, because Blue’s not supposed to yell at Dream according to Papyrus, only let him do what he wants until he’s ready, until he’s never ready like Papyrus isn’t.
Well, that's it. Blue knows how this will go because they've done it before, they've fought before and he understands now. He understands they'll never change, that they'll keep right on doing whatever they want after they find some way to pacify him, after they make promises they have no intention of keeping. Well, let them do it, let them figure it out without him because he’s said plenty, he’s heard plenty of what they have to say and it’s all lacking.
The chair he was sitting on clatters to the ground and he doesn't even bother to pick it up, doesn't bother to say goodbye only slams the door behind him and starts walking.
Nightmare is a little relieved when he gets the summons. The sort of summons that only a few know to use for him, that only Dream does use for him, these days. But it’s not Dream, he doesn’t have to face Dream or anyone else who might worry about him, who might ask him if he’s alright and insist on making sure he is if he’s not.
Error doesn’t care if Nightmare is alright. Not unless he wants him to do something, which might very well be the case, if his seeming desperation is anything to go by. Tears streak his face, real tears, tracing through the tracks already made by his strings. Error signs blip all over him, with pixels missing here and overlapping there. Nightmare figures the only reason he hasn’t crashed already is that he can’t afford to, that whatever crisis he called Nightmare here to face is too dire even for that. But not, apparently, to distract him entirely from his job.
“Where’d all that goop come from?” Error demands, with all the mannerisms of an angry housekeeper, and one red and yellow finger trained on the ground.
Nightmare follows his gaze. It’s fading fast, melting back into the invisible strands of darkness interlacing the worlds. “My soul,” he explains. “Negativity. When I travel - ”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Just so long as it… goes,” Error snaps, and glowers down at it until it does, vanishing back into whatever wretched chasm it escaped from.
Nightmare isn’t particularly nervous. He might not be at his best, but he doesn’t think Error intends to hurt him. They’ve had their run-ins in the past, and at one point Error was determined to blot him out completely, along with his brother. But things have cooled down considerably since then, and for the most part, Error focuses on more relevant targets. Even if he will still take a swat at them, when they get in his way. Error always was a bit shortsighted. It doesn’t occur to him that Undertale itself might rely on an outside source for emotion. That it isn’t entirely self-sufficient. Dream and Nightmare might very well be abominations, copies of their true self. But Dreamtale existed long before they did. The world, and its tree. In fact, it bore very little resemblance to Undertale at all, before its little skeletal guardians came along. So whatever Error might think, whatever he might want, Nightmare has already spent his fair share of time here, goop or no goop, even if he has to admit it’s one of the more regulated universes in existence. And he can’t see how a missing or kidnapped Flowey could make much of a difference at this point. No, anything Nightmare does here would just be redundant by now, and that’s what he tells Error, as he gets ready to leave again.
“You know, the way I see it you and I are pretty similar.” Error’s words stop him cold.
“Oh yeah?” Nightmare is curious. He’s never known Error to speak so calmly, not when he’s just been denied a request.
Error nods. Hands at his sides. Eyes steady. No sign of aggression, or anger. “We’re both the b-bad guys.”
Nightmare frowns. He’s heard a lot worse, surely. But he’s never been much for those terms. “Come again?”
Error shrugs. “We both do pretty thankless jobs. For the greater g-good.”
Somehow, Nightmare can’t speak. He can’t even move, let alone prepare to travel. He can only listen, hanging on every word, every blip from the other’s mouth.
“They tell us we’re wr-wrong. That we’re b-bad. But they need us, don’t they? N-negative feelings. Leading to p-positives, over time. Isn’t that r-right? Your slogan, now.”
Nightmare only stares, and Error grins wide. He has his attention and he knows it. “While I d-destroy everything that shouldn’t exist. Doing them a f-favor. Ridding the multiverse of its m-mistakes.”
Nightmare finds his voice. “You just get rid of everything, Error.”
“Exactly.” And Error laughs. Is he crying again?
Nightmare smirks ruefully. “Even yourself?”
Error regains his composure. His eyes gleam gold but it’s a sickly, mirthless hue. “Someday.”
Nightmare looks away, down into those droopy flowers, long given up on seeing the sun. The goop may be gone now, but the paint remains. Shimmering, almost in defiance of the incensed individual before it. “We’re not similar at all,” he murmurs. Wanting nothing more than to forget, to be free of these thoughts, of the memories, and knowing he never will. “People like you are the ones who drive me away, time and again. Who label me unnecessary, because I don’t fit into some fake, idealized vision in their head. Who would reject themselves if it meant they didn’t have to change.” And now he really is going to leave, to get away if only for a little, from this conversation if nothing else, if not the silent one that never ends.
“You ever hear voices, in your head?”
Well, that’s a new one. With a deep, calming sigh Nightmare stops again, half turned and waiting for the punchline.
“You do, don’t you?” Error sounds desperate. Vulnerable. And no glitches at all. He takes a hesitant step closer. “You listen and you talk back, don’t you? I’ve… I’ve heard you.”
Everyone has heard him. But somehow this is different from mockery, from concern. He can sense it, Error’s misery. His shame. His terror, of being left alone. “What about it?” Nightmare’s voice comes hoarse and raspy. And still he doesn’t look at him.
It’s Error’s turn to fall silent. To look down, at the ordinary flowers and the extraordinary paint. “Look,” he says at last, and he sounds more like himself now. “I’ll make it w-worth your while. Whatever you want. Just please… help me. Help me f-fix this.”
Nightmare studies him. Shocked that he’s even considering this. Teaming up with Error, of all people. Last time he couldn’t help it, he wasn’t himself, and maybe that’s just it. It’s safer, somehow, than any other alliance he could make.
“Make me a new cape,” he says, on impulse. Turning around again and coming back.
Error seems unsure if he’s heard right. He backs up a bit, as Nightmare encroaches on his rather extensive personal space. “What?”
“You sew, right?”
He frowns. “Well, yeah, b-but…”
Nightmare stops and gestures down at the frayed ends of his cloak, dangling just above his knees. “Make me a new one of these and I’ll help you.”
“You…” Error eyes are filling with glitches. “Really?”
“Yeah.” Nightmare shrugs. “And don’t steal it,” he adds, intercepting that devious thought before it can form. “I want it just like this, only bigger.”
Error glowers blindly, disbelievingly at the ceiling. “Where am I supposed to get the materials then, genius?”
Nightmare thinks. “You can steal those. But just the materials, I want it right.”
“Got it.” Error seems to be restraining himself from taking a swipe at him after all.
The little guardian grins briefly, satisfied, before pacing away with a sigh and summoning a couple of tentacles. “Alright then.” On to business. “Where do we start?”
Nightmare is standing in the front yard, at the end of the path when Dream opens the door to go to work one morning. Just standing, and waiting. Leaning on one side of the little gray picket fence. For a moment Dream doesn’t believe his eyes, that his brother would come around to the front of the house at all, let alone wait in plain sight for him to come out. He is careful not to dash down the steps, to rush at him and scare him off. Nightmare isn’t much for company, these days, though he’ll tolerate Dream more readily than the others. And he’ll hug him too, if Dream gets close enough. But Dream doesn’t, today, though he thinks Nightmare would let him. There’s something strange, in his brother’s expression. Something too open and maybe… cheerful? It doesn’t sit right. He can’t recall the last time Nightmare looked that way, if ever. And stranger still, his feelings don’t deny it. He radiates positivity like a beacon, so that Dream is sure he would have felt it sooner, had he not been so convinced he wouldn’t.
Dream approaches cautiously, stopping a little short and studying him uncertainly. “…I’m not playing chess with you.”
He wishes he could see Nightmare smile like that every day. And laugh that giddy, surprised laugh that means he’s been caught off guard by genuine amusement. He lifts one gloved hand to wipe tears of mirth from his eye, and the underside of his cape ripples stark red against Omega’s gray backdrop. “Good, because I’d slaughter you,” he says at last, shaking his head.
Dream is a bit miffed despite himself. “Nuh-uh.”
“Yeah-huh,” Nightmare mimics his tone, crossing his arms again.
“Oh yeah? Then how come I won against…” He stops.
“You can say it, Dream.” Nightmare doesn’t react, with his face sort of fixed the way it was and betraying no sign of the receding positivity. “Really. I want… I want you to.”
But Dream can’t, not now. He’s ruined it, this meeting, just like he ruins everything for Nightmare. Like he always ruined everything for Nightmare, right from the beginning. Since before he broke him, he destroyed him and left him like this, alone and ruined and miserable, since before he brought him here, to be with even more people who rejected him, who pushed him away like the villagers did.
Sometimes, even now, Dream forgets that Nightmare can sense those sort of feelings. He ducks his head, embarrassed, and Nightmare sighs, coming a bit closer down the path. And now Dream does rush at him, dives into his arms so that he doesn’t have to see him cry like he always does, Dream has been crying for ages now though he hides it better these days, he can hide the tears if not the feelings, not from Nightmare.
“Did Blue say something?”
Dream shakes his head against his shoulder, and attempts to speak normally. “Not about you.” Blue hasn’t been saying much of anything at all, not since that day in the living room. And Dream keeps to his own room. Whether he sleeps or not.
Nightmare sighs. “I really didn’t wanna talk about this stuff today.”
“We don’t have to.” Dream pushes away from him and recovers himself hurriedly, trying to smile. “We don’t have to, I wasn’t trying to it just happened.” It always just happens. Which is probably why Nightmare avoids him, why he can’t stand to be around him most of the time. “I’ve been looking for you for a while, actually.”
Nightmare frowns, looking a bit frustrated. “You didn’t call.”
“Would you have come, if I did?”
Nightmare considers. “I don’t know,” he admits. “I think I would have.”
Dream can’t help but smile, a real one this time. Nightmare has gotten a lot better about lying. Not like back home, where he lied about everything, how he was doing or why he was hurt or if he fell down. Now he might avoid him, sure, or refuse to answer at all. But he doesn’t lie, not usually.
“Actually, uhm,” he says now, with that funny expression again, “I was wondering if you’ve seen much of Ink lately.”
“Ink?” Nightmare never asks about Ink. Never even thinks about Ink, that Dream can tell. “Why?”
He shrugs. “Just curious. He hasn’t been around for a while. He was acting kinda funny last time I saw him.”
“Oh, did he talk to you too?” Come to think of it, Dream hasn’t seen him in quite some time. Then again, Ink does keep a pretty sporadic schedule.
“About his vials, yeah. What’s up with that?”
Dream isn’t sure how much he should say. Ink is his friend, which means whatever he tells him, in confidence, should be treated with the utmost discretion. Ink doesn’t have many friends, or any at all, besides Dream, and so Dream is very careful, in how he models the position. “I’ll go see him today. Make sure he’s alright.”
“Yeah. And, Dream?”
“Can you let me know? What he says.”
And now Nightmare is asking flat out. Perhaps Ink’s visit shook him up more than he’d like to admit. Dream decides it’s a good sign, that Nightmare is showing real concern for someone other than the two of them, and tells him he will, if he can. After all, Ink probably won’t mind, since he went to Nightmare about it in the first place.
And just like that, the first conversation they’ve had in months is over.
“I’m bored,” Flowey sighs for the eighteenth time that evening. If it is evening. If it’s ever anything but evening in this place. He surprised himself, a little, with how eager he was to come here to begin with. He had thought that side of himself well and thoroughly cowed. The part of him that simply wanted to see what would happen, to derive twisted entertainment from another’s suffering, in their mishaps and frustrations. Perhaps it was how easily goaded, how completely demented Ink became, with just a little nudging, that made Flowey want to try it again, to keep needling him just to see what he would do.
Unfortunately, since they made it back to this place that Ink calls the Doodle Sphere, he has become perhaps the least interesting subject Flowey has ever worked with, and that’s saying something. He just sits there by the water, and messes with his paints. And Flowey left hanging over the edge of his pot to watch.
“You could always go off and explore. Not that there’s much else to find. I’ve blocked off the buckets so you won’t fall through even if you do fall in.”
“I told you, the ground feels weird,” Flowey whines, and sags so that he could almost touch the grass with a couple of leaves, if he wanted to. Which he doesn’t.
“Probably the paint.”
Flowey snorts. “All you do is mess with that paint.”
“I’m not messing with it, I’m adjusting it.”
Ink doesn’t say anything. He’s mostly quiet, when he’s not angry. In the days? weeks? since Flowey got here, he hasn’t spoken but to answer a few direct questions, and then only sparingly. He doesn’t seem to hate Flowey, nor particularly to like him. And the lack of interest is starting to wear Flowey down. He much prefers interacting with Error, and better still being left alone. He doesn’t think Ink intends to keep him here indefinitely, but with each passing day he grows more and more uneasy.
“So… what are we waiting for?” he says at last, with no attitude whatsoever. He wants an answer, not a retort.
“Error,” Ink says simply. Drizzling a gooey blue substance down through some kind of cloth filter.
“To notice. That you’re gone.”
“Seriously? How long will that take?”
Ink gazes out across the iridescent expanse of the water, off toward a dusky sky without sun to set. A couple of stars wink out of the purple, the deep blue bleeding down from above. “I don’t know. Hopefully not long.”
It’s already been long, to Flowey at least. And he might be more upset about it if it wasn’t becoming abundantly clear to him that he wasn’t the focus of this little scheme. It was all an act, a ploy from the very beginning, to get a reaction, to infuriate Ink’s nemesis. And this at once relieves and disappoints him.
“You don’t have to put on an act with me.”
Flowey blinks in astonishment, straightening a bit in his pot. Ink isn’t looking at him, and his expression hasn’t changed where he bends down over his work. “You think this is an act?” he splutters.
Ink shrugs. “It’s just… I thought you’d be more comfortable. Don’t have to pretend you’re like everyone else, here.”
Is that what he thinks? That Flowey is worried about his opinion? The little flower smirks. “Sorry, bud, but this is all me. Annoyed and bored as all get out. Not all of us like to just sit and wait for something to happen.”
“Huh.” Ink seems surprised, but he goes quiet again. “Thought that’s what you were doing back there in the flowerbed,” he adds after a while, and Flowey bristles.
“I wasn’t waiting for you, or anyone else. I did just fine on my own. I wanted to be left alone.”
“Then why’d you come with?”
Sheesh, he’s chatty all of a sudden. “Why’d you come and get me?” Flowey snaps, not really caring to hear the answer.
Ink sighs. “I told you, so that Error - ”
“- Would notice I’m gone, yeah, yeah. Man, you really hate that guy, huh?”
Ink doesn’t answer. Just keeps straining and mixing and filling. Perhaps because it’s too obvious to be worth the response. But Flowey’s had enough of the silence, the indifference, it reminds him of himself, that if he’d kept his mouth shut he wouldn’t be here, and wondering when he’ll not be here.
“How come?” he prods venomously. “What’d he ever to do you?”
Suddenly, Ink turns. It’s more of a reaction than Flowey hoped to get, and he’s almost a little excited. For a moment they stare at each other, multicolored eyes into black ones, and both sets as empty as the other. “He didn’t tell you?” And there’s something cold, something detached in his voice that makes Flowey almost afraid to ask, to know. Slowly, he shakes his head and Ink turns around again, back toward his work. “Figures,” he says, with a subtle, dry amusement. “Figures he’d tell you everything but that.”
“…Maybe he forgot.” He’s not sure why he says it except it would seem to infuriate Ink the most, if he took the bait.
But instead Ink gets this knowing look, like he understands the motivation behind Flowey’s words more than he does, and shakes his head. “Then I'll just have to remind him.”
There is a skeletal shape, sitting crosslegged in the void. All is white, empty space around and within him. Only his inverted soul, with its fragile pulse and subtle hints of color, betrays any sign of life. It throbs feebly within the hands of its owner, clinging to life even as it is taken, more afraid to claim than to lose it. The skeleton’s phalanges dig deep, searching for a weakness, a suitable place to tear, and from the hollows of his eyes, from fingers tipped in yellow spring chords of blue, perfect for choking, for cutting off this bit, this whole of himself he cannot embrace. They twine, swiftly, around the little heart, constricting, biting into the surface.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
A flower, with a face. Popping up through the floor of the nothingness, whether to warn or to mock, it isn’t clear. But he does warn, he does mock both and in the end, as the golden shape morphs and ripples Ink doesn’t know if it is Dream or it is Flowey, he only knows that he is Error, he is the destroyer no matter how far he might run, how much he might make, how much he might fake or try to change.
And when he awakens his hands are empty, grasping at nothing, at something that isn’t there because he touched it, he destroyed it long ago and all he’s left with are his paints, the little vials at his chest that he pretends contain his emotions, his being the way a soul should. Just like he pretends to be a creator when he’s anything but, he’s a destroyer, and more to blame for all his regrets, for all his losses than Error ever was. Just like he pretends to be a friend, when he doesn’t even know what a friend is, or what he did to get one. Not like enemies, he knows all about enemies because he’s always had one, he’s always been one even to himself. Enemies hurt each other, and Ink understands about being hurt, about hurting. It just happens, whether he means it or not, that he hurts others enough to want to hurt him back and so he’s just waiting, he’s just waiting for that to happen with Dream even though Dream is his friend, it’ll be easier when he’s an enemy, when they hurt each other because Ink knows how to do that, he doesn’t know how to be a friend.
That’s why he listens and watches closely, whenever Dream comes to see him. Why he doesn’t understand, doesn’t get it when Dream makes allowances for Ink’s feelings, when he maneuvers around them like they’re real, pretending they’re real, that they matter. Not like his brother, who tells it like he sees it, even if he is wrong and Ink’s feelings aren’t right, aren’t normal, he doesn’t pretend that they are, he really believes it even if he doesn’t care, he’ll use it against him if he can. Friends are a lot more complicated, a lot harder to predict because they’re liars, they’ll hurt you but for your good and not their own.
“Ink, did… did you make a new friend?” Dream tilts his head, blinking a few times when he sees the little flower up where Ink left him, by the biggest pool. Peering down into the water, with his bucket half tipped. Whatever he sees must displease him, because he rocks back with a snarl.
And what else should Dream think, when Ink never brings anyone here, never lets anyone here but him, but his friend because he trusts him, you’re supposed to be able to trust friends and not enemies. “Sort of,” Ink tells him, because Ink is sort of a friend, and he can lie too.
“Huh.” Dream frowns a little where he sits, crosslegged like Ink on the grass, and Ink looks at him sharply, searching for anger, for displeasure or envy. But Dream only seems worried, and not for himself but for Ink, because friends aren’t supposed to get jealous, to worry more for themselves than each other, which is why Ink isn’t a real friend. He’s more jealous of Dream than any other, of his ability to feel and express emotions, even fake ones like now, when he wants to ask where Flowey came from but he doesn’t. “How… how have you been feeling?” he asks instead, and Ink fights the urge to roll his eyes, to huff his disgust, his contempt at that question. He’s been feeling whatever he chose to feel, and nothing he couldn’t change if he didn’t want. Dream knows it. Ink knows that Dream knows it, and he hates playing at being real, at being normal, with Dream most of all.
“Fine,” he says, because even Ink knows how to respond, to act like a friend even though he isn’t.
But of course Dream isn’t satisfied, friends aren’t ever satisfied, with what you tell them. Because they know you lie as much as they do. “Nightmare… said you talked to him.”
There it is. Ink turns with renewed interest, and he can’t help that little twinge of excitement. “Oh?”
Dream scoots a bit closer and reaches for his hand. “Ink,” he says quietly, almost sternly, looking him full in the face. “You know you can tell me if something’s wrong. If you… need help with anything.”
“I’ll remember that.” And he will. Because friends are good at that, too. At remembering, at learning one another’s weaknesses, and exploiting them later.
Dream seems a little more at ease, and releases his hand. For a while they sit in silence, neither speaking, or doing very much either.
“So… So he asked about me, huh?”
Dream blinks. “Who?”
“Oh! Yeah, he… he was worried about you.”
Ink grins. Perhaps Nightmare is a friend after all. “What did you tell him?”
“Just that I’d make sure you’re okay. And let him know.”
“Yeah.” Ink nods, and he’s relieved, he’s happy for the first time in a month. “Yeah. Let him know, will you?”
“Do you remember what I was like, before?”
Error shoots Nightmare a glance through pristine lenses. The little guardian is huddled on the carpet, though there are plenty of more comfortable places to sit, and staring down at those tiny purple pieces like his life depends on it. It’s the only way Error can recognize it, can make the connection between what he was and what he is. “I guess. There’s a lotta things I d-don’t remember,” he remarks evasively, and Nightmare looks up.
“Stuff you want to forget, you mean.”
Error huffs an irritable sigh, shifts in his chair and jabs a couple of more stitches. “No, I mean s-stuff I don’t remember.”
Nightmare looks strangely disappointed as he turns back to his game, moving those the pieces around in a pattern only he can see. “Sometimes I think I’m changing too fast,” he says softly, and at the tone of his voice Error can’t help but soften, a little.
“Well, you’re still just as much of a know-it-all. Here, g-get up again.”
He complies wearily, stepping onto the little stool Error found in some closet or another. He didn’t much like the idea of bringing Nightmare to the anti-void. And the Toriel who owns this particular sewing room is on vacation somewhere. Wouldn’t notice a thing, even if he didn’t plan to destroy the place before she got back.
“Do you have to do it all by hand?” Nightmare grumbles, and sucks in a breath as the unfinished garment is draped over his shoulders.
“Look, kid, it’s b-bad enough I have to do this at all, least let me do it my own way. And stop moving,” he adds, searching the neckline for the stray pin.
“You keep sticking me!”
“I wouldn’t, if you’d hold still!” He finds it, and puts it in the cushion with the others. He’s never had an actual test subject before. He’s made accessories for his puppets, in the past. But puppets don’t have feelings. Not with their souls ripped out. He steps back, surveying his work critically. It hangs a bit long, even if Nightmare does have some more growing to do, but the hood looks fine. “Whatever happened, anyway?” He’s not sure why he asks. It’s not like him, to care much what happens to the anomalies, especially not after they become anomalies, and get in his way. But there are exceptions to everything.
Nightmare doesn’t answer him. He’s standing still now, in the middle of that drafty little room, and something in his expression, or lack of it, unnerves Error. Reminds him of things he’d rather not think about. “I don’t want to forget,” the child murmurs finally, and Error takes the cape back off him, ushering him down off the stool again and resuming his spot in the rocker by the fire.
“So, you saw Dream?” he asks lightly, by way of changing the subject. “What’d he s-say?”
“Ink’s back in the Doodle Sphere,” Nightmare replies with all the enthusiasm of a recording, dissolving the chess pieces and settling on the hearth with his knees drawn up. He looks even smaller without his blanket, which is draped over by the sewing machine, and almost as useless.
Nod. “And it’s open.”
Error jabs himself this time, with the needle. “It’s…?”
“Uh-huh. Anybody can get it. If they know where it is.”
Error does know where it is. And he can’t remember the last time it was open. Or, he can, and that’s the problem.
“Have you ever thought about maybe… just… talking it out with him?”
Error is surprised by the question. He’d have expected Nightmare of all people to know better, to understand. But then, Nightmare is young. His own conflicts were sorted relatively quickly. With none of the added weight, the bitterness that years can bring. “Th-that’lll never work,” he says shortly, and yanks the needle out of the soft bone his finger. He doesn’t bleed, but now it’s more than a little sore.
“…Have you tried?”
Error snaps. “Look, kid, we went through all that. Didn’t w-work.”
Nightmare is resting his head on his knees, face turned so he can watch Error at his work, which is getting increasingly sloppy. He’s going to have to rip it out, this seam, but he doesn’t feel like admitting it now. “You were friends?”
“Anomalies aren’t friends.” He says it like a mantra, like he’s said it to himself for years so he doesn’t forget, so he doesn’t have to forget again like he did with Blue. And it doesn’t occur to him at first, what affect those words could have on his current ally, on the little skeletal guardian sitting by the fireplace and waiting for him to finish, to finish the first thing he’s managed to create without any intent to destroy it afterwards.
“What don’t you remember, Error?” Nightmare asks quietly, and his face betrays not a hint of self-consciousness, of hurt, only a cool curiosity, like he’s already prepared, like he’s always been prepared to be discarded, to be abandoned after this little ordeal is over.
“If I kn-knew that I’d remember it just fine,” Error retorts. And unfurls the cape again, shaking for loose threads.
“Is it what happened with Ink?”
“It’s what happened with me.” The words come in a rush and he’s forgetting again, he’s forgetting that he doesn’t remember, that he doesn’t talk about what he doesn’t remember anymore. And maybe if he did he’d know what he was here for, he’d remember where he came from and how to get back there, only it might not be there anymore because he probably destroyed it, he must’ve destroyed it like he destroys everything else, so it’s easier not to know, not to try to go back when it’s too late, to pretend that he wants to when he doesn’t.
“You’re sorry.” It’s not a question. Or a guess. Nightmare doesn’t need to ask, or to guess, when he can sense that sort of thing, whether Error wants to hide it or not.
“People like me don’t have the luxury of being sorry,” he gasps. And he’s not sewing at all anymore, he’s just grasping the fabric, the needle in his hands because what’s the point, what’s the point if it’s all just going to fall apart someday anyway, whether by his hand or the even more merciless, relentless hand of time.
“It helps, sometimes.”
Helps, with what? With turning over a new leaf? With doing better? It doesn’t matter if he does better, it doesn’t matter if he’s sorry, if he regrets what he’s done because he’s still doing it, he’s going to keep on destroying until there’s nothing left to destroy, until there’s nothing left of him either and he can stop, he can forget everything he’s not sorry for.
“Have you told him?”
“Have you?” Error turns flaming scarlet eyes on him, and he can feel his whole body trembling with glitches, with errors because that’s what he is, that’s who he is just a mistake, just the sum of all the choices he can’t take back. “Have you tracked down that t-teacher, the one whose kid you t-tortured to death? Did you find him? And tell him you’re s-sorry?”
Nightmare’s expression doesn’t change. And Error is so sick of it, so sick of masked emotions and unbroken stares, easy reserve while he goes all to pieces on his own, baring his soul for all to see, or what’s left of it. “No, you d-didn’t, did you?” he goes on, heedless of the tears dripping down his face again, of the bunched fabric in his hands. “D-Didn’t tell him how you didn’t mean it, th-that he attacked first and m-made you do it, how his kid b-bullied you and d-deserved it. B-because none of that matters, d-does it? It d-doesn’t matter, you c-can’t take it back.”
Slowly, Nightmare turns his head, whether for Error’s sake or his own, the former isn’t certain. “You’re right,” he says finally, staring at the opposite wall. “I didn’t do any of that.”
But Error is hardly triumphant, hardly proud of himself now, as he wipes at his eyes with trembling fingers, and sets to work on ripping out that seam. Very soon he becomes absorbed in the task, with how much easier it is to take the stitches out than it was to put them in, even if he did do it wrong. He doesn’t even notice that Nightmare has gotten up, has come over to stand at his side and peer over his shoulder. Not until he speaks again.
“Did you know it was his? When you destroyed it.”
Error glitches so bad he can barely keep a hold on to his tools. “Y-Yes.” It feels good to say it, to acknowledge it especially now, when it’s too late to do anything about it.
Error looks down at his work, nearly finished now but for that seam. At his measly attempt at creation, that wouldn’t last forever even if he wanted it to. “Wasn’t fair,” he gets out.
“He had everything you wanted.”
“He could make everything I wanted.” And Error shoots out a couple of strings, twines them around the sewing machine. It dissolves in a soft puff of dust. “He could… fix things.”
And now Nightmare is silent because he gets it, he finally gets that Error isn’t a fixer after all, he doesn’t correct anything only ruins it like he ruined himself, like he ruined Blue and he ruined Flowey, like he ruins any universe he can get his hands on even the real one because he can’t change, he doesn’t want to be alone when they do. And maybe they all hate him, maybe they’ve always hated him but that’s better than caring, than hoping they won’t when they will.
“Even Papyrus?” A name that is very special to all Sanses, save the guardians of emotion. They don’t have a Papyrus, not one of their own, though they do have each other, and perhaps that is why they can understand, they've been able to learn the significance of that name, that presence in the many universes, both finished and unfinished.
“All of it,” Error manages, and swiftly, almost unconsciously he pushes Nightmare away, back a couple of steps from his chair, as though warding off pain itself. But Nightmare isn’t creating this pain, isn’t even aggravating it. He doesn’t need to. “C-Can you leave me alone now? I need to f-finish this.”
“Take your time.” And Nightmare smiles at him, before turning away again. “But, Error?”
“I’ll still be here, after it's done.”
Just felt like destroying something, huh? I know the feeling.
He’s been trying. He doesn’t know how long. His cold, white hands are stained with color.
You can only destroy the stuff that gets in the way. Corroded timelines, abandoned ones… But no people, okay?
A pale, yellowish gray. Flowey’s petals are wilting.
No, you’ll never run out! There are so many genocide timelines, ha-ha.
“You think I don’t know what you’ve been watering me with?”
Error? Error, I’m sorry. I won’t laugh about stuff like that anymore.
“You think just because you don’t have a soul you’re not responsible for your own actions?”
I thought you d-didn’t believe in interfering with the timelines.
“What makes you think I want to feel anything?”
I don’t. But… I have to try and fix this.
“You think I’m not responsible for all the killing I did?”
What if you can’t? L-Look, this AU isn’t even finished. I could just -
“What about that guy Error? He’s stark raving mad, ain’t he?”
They’re not people, Ink, they d-don’t even have…
“I knew somebody like you once. He didn’t think he deserved to exist, either. He hurt all of us.”
Ink, please talk to me. I didn’t mean that.
“You shut yourself away from everyone. You think it helps them but you’re just doing it for yourself.”
You haven’t m-made anything in months. Come on, you’re gonna g-get sick. Your vials will run out!
“Please don’t give me any more.”
You can’t f-fix everything. Don’t go back there again. I won’t - I won’t let you d-do this to yourself.
“I’m only doing this to help you, Flowey.”
I d-didn’t know it was yours, I swear. I just wanted you to l-let it go.
“You’re a liar.”
Ink, I’m sorry. I’m s-so sorry.
“You don’t care how I feel.”
I can’t even m-make something up. I can’t f-fix anything.
“You couldn’t help them and you can’t help me.”
I knew all the time, that’s why I did it. And you kn-know what else? I enjoyed it.
“Leave me alone now.”
I’m a d-destroyer, it’s what I do.
Stained hands, dangling listlessly at his sides. He hasn’t even the strength to make a portal. “I’ll take you back in the morning.”
I w-warned you. I warned you about me.
“It’s never morning here.”
Flowey is staring down into the largest pool, at only his reflection. “Is this where it was?” he asks Ink as he approaches, and the guardian stops.
“Are you ready to go?” he asks tonelessly.
Flowey searches his face for a long moment. He’s looked better. They both have. Slowly, almost a little uncertainly, the edge of his mouth twists in a smirk. “It’s not all bad, you know. Having feelings. I miss it, sometimes.”
No reaction. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Still pretending you don’t, huh?” Flowey huffs and digs his own way through the space, the ground between them. It doesn’t matter, now. With a pop he arrives at Ink’s feet, looking up with a rather different kind of smile. For a short, confused moment Ink only stares at him. Then, slowly, he reaches down a hand. Swiftly, as though that’s exactly what he expected, Flowey twines a couple of vines around the bones of his fingers, his arm. “What will you do?”
Ink glances at him where he’s nearly perched on his shoulder. “Nothing.”
“Oh, please,” Flowey sticks his tongue out. “Don’t tell me I’ve started to rub off on you?”
“Maybe.” And still he hasn’t made the portal, he can’t seem to summon the willpower.
“Well, you’ve rubbed off on me too,” Flowey tells him cheerily, shaking his slightly discolored petals.
Before Ink can ask what he means, there’s a crack like thunder and he’s here, just like Ink planned only he didn’t plan it like this, with Flowey on his arm and looking so much worse for wear. Or maybe it is, maybe this is exactly what he wanted only now he doesn’t care, he’s tired of caring and planning. So he just watches, unmoving, as Error approaches, glitching a little in the hazy, perpetually summer air. It’s been a long time since he last saw him here, since they last saw each other here. And for a moment neither one of them seems to know what to do, how to break the silence and the stillness. Ink sees the way his eyes flicker over Flowey, taking note of every flaw, every hint of unnatural color. Error always was good at identifying flaws, and weaknesses.
“W-Well?” Error says at last, when Ink makes no move either to challenge or to run. And that one word pierces something, undoes something within that hollow pit where Ink’s soul should be and he shudders, head bowing, arms dangling, knees buckling like a rag doll’s, and he falls with a sound like a wooden wind chime.
Frowning, and glitching like everything, Error takes a couple of hesitant steps closer. Flowey has deftly disentangled himself but he doesn’t go far, instead settling in the earth just to one side and looking up at his captor with strangely knowing eyes. Error is startled, a little, but he knows this expression, the faint gray cast to Ink’s bones, the drained strength. He’s dangerously low on paint, and by the looks of it he’s about the expel a great deal more from his eyes. And when the destroyer reaches out a trembling, pixelated hand he’s not sure what for, nor does he get the chance to find out before Flowey ducks and pops back up between them, taking up an oddly protective stance.
“Hey, play nice,” he cautions cheerily, and those crimson eye-lights send a ripple of unease down Error’s already trembling spine.
He grins warily, ruefully down at what has become of his idol. Whatever he might have hoped for, whatever he wants to believe, he knew at a glance that Flowey was not the same, will never be the same. And perhaps he’s beyond panic because he can’t seem to anymore, he can’t even fake it because Ink isn’t faking either, isn’t pretending this is all according to the plan because it can’t be, Error isn’t near panicked enough for that. He kneels calmly before the little flower, much like he did that first day in the Underground. “Are you alr-right?” he asks, and quick as a flash Flowey’s face changes.
“Never better!” He winks, and sticks his tongue out. “But ready to go.”
“I’ll t-take you back,” Error assures with some pride, since that’s what he came for after all, to try his hand at being guardian, only Flowey makes no move to join him. Instead he glances back, a little nervously, at his companion.
Ink has recovered enough to meet his gaze, with a cold, serene smile. “It’s fine. You can go.” And Error knows that expression too, the one he wears when there’s nothing you can do, nothing you can say to shake it. It’s easier to just agree with him, to go along with whatever he says, whatever he wants because he’s going to hate you either way. And Flowey does something funny then, twisting himself back up out of the ground again, enough that he can twine a couple of vines around the feeble skeleton in an unmistakable gesture. Ink blinks at him, at the little face just inches from his own. “Thought you couldn’t feel anything,” he rasps.
“Don’t need to,” Flowey singsongs, and releases him.
Just then there’s a rumble like canon fire and all attention is drawn to that hill, the sharp rise of land beyond the largest pool, and Flowey smirks. “Hey, something’s finally happening around here.”
Three guesses what.
Error puts a hand to his eyes and Flowey cackles, diving back down into the earth. “Be right back!” he calls cheerily, and is gone before either of them can stop him.
For a moment they sit in silence, something they haven’t done in many lifetimes. Not since silence became an awkward, undesirable thing filled with thoughts they don’t want to think and it became easier to yell, to attack if never hurt each other, since Ink has no soul to yank out, to manipulate and destroy, to truly hate him with and so he doesn’t, doesn’t really try to hurt Error, either. Not till now, when he still couldn’t manage it, could he? Flowey might be different but he’s alright, he’s free to go and Error to take him, and so there’s no reason at all, to sit here in silence, and no reason not to, either.
“You were right.” Ink speaks at last, in a voice unruffled as his face. He looks at him with eyes that aren’t red, or orange. Just a faded blue, almost white. “I couldn’t have fixed them.”
“What are you even t-talking about?” Error has given up all thought of combat at this point. Ink is just being weird, as only Ink can be, as he hasn’t been since before he started pretending to be normal, to hate Error like he should, like he deserves to be hated.
“It didn’t work.”
“Well, obviously. What’d y-you think, I’d go all t-to pieces?” Error crosses his arms, triumphant if a little guilty. Because he did go to pieces, hell - he is in pieces but he’s used to it by now, the lying, and Ink might have stopped but that doesn’t mean he has to, not completely. After all, Ink wanted him to, Ink wanted to see him suffer even if he didn’t go through with it, even if they both knew he wouldn’t because he’s not very good at this kind of thing, at hurting people even if he laughs when others do. And, “Don’t pull this kind of shit again,” Error snaps, rubbing it in because he can, because Error is good at this and so he might as well do it, he might as well make things worse because they’re gonna get worse either way and he’d rather be in control, he’d rather feel like there’s a reason. But Ink doesn’t snap back at him, doesn’t come alive at his words, but only slumps further and shudders as the tears, the paint begins to fall just like Error thought it would because Ink is different now, he’s been beaten too many times and he’s all out of weapons to fire.
“It wouldn’t have worked,” he gasps from behind his hands, and Error becomes distinctly uncomfortable as he realizes what he means, as he realizes they’re talking about it, talking and not fighting and he doesn’t know what to do, he doesn’t know how to make it better because he can’t even though he wants to, he’s always wanted to and that’s why he did it to begin with. “You were right, I ruin everything, I ruin everything, you were right,” Ink sobs and Error gets the sudden urge to slap him, to shake him out of it because it’s not true, Error’s never right about anything especially this, especially now when it’s so abundantly clear who ruins everything and still they must argue over it. I’ve never met anyone like me before, Ink told him, eyes wide when he first caught him destroying, corrupting the first of many timelines, because they were suffering, and he didn’t want them to suffer anymore even if he did. And perhaps it made sense, perhaps Ink had a point since he did break his own soul, he did reject his own feelings even if he didn’t do a very good job because he’s sobbing now, isn’t he, he’s sobbing while Error just sits here and watches.
“I’m n-not right, Ink, holy shit,” he stutters at last, and shuffles marginally closer. “Come on, y-you’re… You fix everything. You can d-do anything you feel like.”
And whatever he might tell himself, whatever envy might tell him he deserves that look Ink gives him, like he’s the biggest liar in the multiverse. He deserves it and so he takes it, he takes it with a grin and Ink looks more himself, like he might have some fight left after all. “I couldn’t… fix this.” Because this is bringing it all back, this is reminding him as Error hates to be reminded, as they both hate to be reminded though they remember, they remember that Flowey isn’t the first one Ink’s given paint to, that it didn’t work before either because they weren’t like him, none of them, they didn't do what Ink did. They hadn’t souls enough to die, though if they had they wouldn't need to, wouldn't want to be like Ink in all his failed attempts at living. Not a one of them would try to play at god and then to break it, their own soul to cross the barrier between created and creator only to emerge not as one or as the other but as neither, as a brush without paint, as paint without a brush. And so Error took care of it the way Error always takes care of it, by ending their misery, or lack of it, because that’s all Error knows to do, his first instinct though he doesn’t know why, he can’t know why because he destroyed that too, he blotted out the answers to his own questions as surely as anyone else’s because he doesn’t want to know, he doesn’t want to face them or to change.
“S-so… So you couldn’t fix it, so what? Least you didn’t… least you didn’t hurt anybody. R-Right?” But that’s no good because Ink wanted to hurt somebody, wanted to hurt him at least with all of this the way Error hurt him, the way he took away what mattered to him most in the hopes that it wouldn’t, that Ink wouldn’t care so much that it hurt him anymore.
“Why didn’t you just kill me.” He says it like it’s the most obvious thing in the world because it is, it makes more sense than what Error did, trying to help someone instead of kill them, instead of destroy them like he always does, like he practically did even so. And Ink's eyes are clear now, almost too clear, and more piercing than his words. “I wouldn’t have noticed. I wouldn’t have minded.”
“I w-would.” The words are out before he can stop them, before he knows he wants to stop them, and Ink laughs. Ink laughs and laughs and laughs, those last sparks of yellow dying slowly in their sockets.
“You got a funny way of showing it.”
Nightmare usually doesn’t sleep so much as wait to wake up. Nor is he completely convinced that Error has any intention of sleeping, tonight of all nights. And so the destroyer’s stipulation that they wouldn’t be leaving until they sleep seemed to cancel rather than postpone the attack. If it is an attack, which Nightmare is starting to question. A quick check in at the house back in Omega revealed that Dream wasn’t at home, and likely wouldn’t be if their last meeting was anything to go by. He’s been worried about Ink, and spends most of his time there now, keeping watch around the buckets.
So Nightmare isn’t particularly surprised when, after getting the go-ahead from Error some hours later, he arrives at the doodle sphere only to come face to face with his brother. He’s got his weapon out, arrow trained in the general direction of the portal. For a moment they stare at each other, remembering another day that, in Nightmare’s mind, was not so different from this one. They were both pawns then, too, just part of the schemes, the vendettas of two older, more ruthless players.
“Hey,” says Nightmare, and Dream lowers his bow.
“Hey,” he gasps, and Nightmare grins, pushing passed him out the portal and starting up the hill.
“Welp, see you.”
And that’s when Dream’s mind catches up with his eyes, his hands with his mind and he’s got his bow leveled at him again, Nightmare can feel it even from here. “Wait, how’d you get here?”
“Had some pretty good directions.” And he did, though it was his idea to split up, to deal with Dream if need be since they’ve got a job to do, and Error’s right about one thing, about it being easier to play your part, to do what’s expected than anything else, and that’s why he’s ready for it, he’s already laughing when Dream tackles him from behind and they both go down.
“Are you crazy?” his brother demands as he rolls him, still giggling, onto his back.
“You’re ruining my cape,” he protests, and disentangles himself enough to sit up. “And it’s still new!”
Dream glances over it quickly. It shimmers a little, in this light. “Seriously? You’re doing this for a cape?”
“My old one was too small!” And he’s up again, pushing Dream off him with a couple of tentacles and eliciting a hiss of pain at the negative magic.
“Night! Night, Error’s dangerous, he’s just gonna destroy you after this! He’ll destroy this whole place if he gets in.”
“Says Ink, you mean,” Nightmare returns over his shoulder, a little flippantly. “Actually,” he adds, “Error’s not that bad,” and Dream catches him from behind again, though he doesn’t drag him down the time. Just stops with his arms around him, holding him back.
“He’s not Sludge, Night,” he says gently over his shoulder. And that’s all it takes, Nightmare lashes at him with everything he has, for saying that name, for saying it aloud now when he wouldn’t say it before, he wouldn’t say it for years no matter how Nightmare longed to hear it.
“Fuck you,” he gets out as Dream narrowly avoids his blast, that beam of electric purple from his newly summoned blaster and stumbles to the ground. “Fuck you,” he says again as it dissipates, as his tentacles vanish because they’re not natural, they’re not his, are they, he’s lost them like he lost everything else. And then, “Oh god,” when he realizes what he’s done, what he’s almost done, that he almost added to the list of his losses, that he added to it long ago without even realizing. He’s on his knees, on his knees and gloved hands as he crawls over to a very shaken Dream, trembling on the ground. And finally, “I’m sorry,” as he gathers him in his arms, practically pinching him in his anger, in his desperation to not be angry, to keep fighting it off as he’s been fighting it off for years but he can’t, he can’t even hide it now after what he’s done, what he’s almost done.
“I don’t mind if you're mad at me,” Dream tells him, a little shakily, but he’s not crying at all. “I’m not afraid of it, Nightmare, I’m not afraid of you.”
And Dream’s shoulder is wet, is drenched with Nightmare’s tears, purple tears to soak through and burn but Dream doesn’t push him away only holds him tighter, only clutches him back and Nightmare is ashamed. “I’m such a c-coward,” he gasps.
“I love you,” Dream replies steadily, and Nightmare doesn’t know whether to laugh or not.
“God, I’m an idiot,” is all he can say, is all he can ever say, can ever think now that he’s alone, now that he’s made himself alone because he doesn’t want to be.
“So’s everybody else around here so don’t feel special.” And Flowey is right there beside them, as changed as Nightmare is unchanged, whatever he might’ve said, whatever he might be afraid of and that’s the problem.
Slowly, he lets go of his brother. “Well, that was easy,” he chokes out. “Didn’t need to look for you after all.”
“Gee, is that why you came?” Flowey cries in mock surprise. “To take me home?”
Nightmare thinks. Decides that’s close enough. “Yeah.”
“Uh-huh, you and the rest of them having meltdowns today.” But he doesn’t seem particularly irritated.
“Where’s Ink?” Dream asks him, and Flowey rolls his eyes.
“They’re having some kinda therapy session over here. Will one of you take me back?”
“I will,” Nightmare offers quickly and Dream gives him a skeptical look. “What, I’m not gonna do anything to him. Error really would kill me then.”
Dream doesn’t get up when he does. Only watches him with a face tight from not crying, as he takes a little, slightly crushed plastic pot from somewhere beneath his cape and helps the flower into it. “I’ll be right back,” Nightmare tells him without turning. And then, perhaps thinking better of it, he turns all the way around after all to look him in the eye. “Really, I promise.”
Dream looks away, up the hill toward the sky. Dark blue, and purple. Red, and gold. “Okay,” he says.
“There now. You can go wherever you want,” Nightmare tells him, after returning him to the flowerbed. The flowerbed that Flowey always does return to, whether he wants or not. And there’s something like envy in Nightmare’s voice, when he says that.There’s something like envy in all of their voices, envy and pity both. And that makes sense because Flowey envies, Flowey pities himself just the same, his old self if not his true self, anymore.
“People rarely do what they want, or what they feel like,” he replies petulantly. Not wanting to admit he’s afraid, that he wants things he never wanted before, that he always wanted and didn’t admit to wanting because he doesn’t want, he can’t want anything. “You didn’t kill Dream, did you?” he adds for good measure, as an example and nothing more.
And of course Nightmare looks outraged, he doesn’t need to say anything and Flowey can guess, can fill in the words he was going to say. Because, really, people spend a great deal more time forcing their feelings to align with their actions than the other away around. “Hey, I get it. I didn’t want to kill my brother, either.”
And that shuts him up before he can speak, before he can defend himself because he doesn’t need defending, not from Flowey when Flowey is the least defendable of any, especially from himself. So instead, Nightmare flops himself down beside him, not even trying to avoid crushing the other flowers the way Error does. And perhaps it’s that insensitivity that helps Flowey to look away, to look up and away from the ground, off toward that little shaft of golden light, untouched and untouchable both.
“So you’re a coward, huh?” he asks. Because he’s still bored, like always, because what better way to conquer his boredom than to stay in the same place, thinking the same thoughts and not feeling the same feelings.
Nightmare makes a frustrated sort of sound and rips up some grass. “You know, I kinda figured I’d got over that?” he mutters, and and Flowey laughs. The hissing, breathy sort of laugh he’s so good at.
“Nobody gets over anything.”
They subside for a time into silence. Flowey neither awaiting nor dreading his departure. Still looking to that light. Nightmare removes one glove, cautiously, and lowers his bare hand back down into the grass, to feel the coolness earth. Clearly more bored than Flowey ever was. And Flowey is fine with that, with him staying here with him if for no other purpose than to avoid the ones he doesn’t want to be with.
After a moment, Nightmare turns slightly. Flowey picks up on the movement but he doesn’t glance over. “Are you going to go back to them?” he asks finally.
“Why do you care?”
Nightmare follows his gaze, looking at it but not seeing it, that shaft of light. “There are few who don’t know your story.”
“Could say the same. And I don’t care about you one bit.”
“You’re not offended, are you?” Now Flowey does turn to him, grinning, and Nightmare shakes his head. “Didn’t think so.” Flowey refocuses on the far wall, the glistening rock. “Nobody much cares about you, do they? Who would want to feel that, they’d rather be like me, right? Mr. Negativity?” He cackles again. “I’m not offended either,” he tells him when the laughter, that learned expression of amusement he doesn’t even have is dying in his voice. “I’m not offended either.”
And Flowey decides he likes Nightmare, a lot. Perhaps if Frisk was like he is, Flowey wouldn’t have minded, wouldn’t have told him to leave when he came back. But he knows that’s not how it works, that if Frisk was like Nightmare he wouldn’t have come back at all and so it wouldn’t be an option. He wouldn’t have had any options. And that would’ve been easier, to not have to choose, but the soul is a fickle thing, more difficult to tame than to lose, and here Flowey has lost it so he doesn’t have to do any taming, he needn’t bother with harnessing it, with going around it in order to do what he likes because he can do what he likes just the same, even better, or worse, without it. And so he does have to choose, only without the feelings to tell him what.
“I lost somebody once, too,” Nightmare tells him, almost as if he cares. As if Flowey doesn’t know already he doesn’t care, that he can’t care anymore than Flowey does. “Just from getting close to him. So… I don’t blame you, for being scared.”
“Are you waiting for me to get brave just so you can.” Because these past weeks Flowey has been the puppet, has been following their whims and not his own, like a character in someone else’s story. And it doesn’t bother him as much as he thought it would, to be manipulated, to be told what to do and what to feel like his soul would tell him, if he had it.
“Maybe.” Nightmare surprises him with an honest answer, and Flowey looks at him with wide eyes. “Maybe I’m just… waiting for a sign. For a little voice to tell me…. It’s okay.” He grins, lopsided, at the flower and winks, reminding Flowey once again that he is indeed in the presence of yet another smiley trashbag.
Flowey looks down at the ground in which he is imbedded. At the empty, emotionless plants all gathered around him. At the way the earth slants down and away from him, creating a little, lifeless mound beneath his roots. “Let me know if you hear it, will you?” he asks, and Nightmare gets up.
“Sure thing,” he says.
He’s not as tall when you’re sitting next to him. He swings his legs over the edge of the drop off like a child, and fidgets like an old woman. His positivity glitches as much as he does, each rushing, flighty little wave receding with hurried uncertainty before it can take shape into any real, decipherable emotion. And Dream is tired of competing with these people, of being jealous of someone who isn’t even there, taking Nightmare away from him more surely now than he ever did when he was. And perhaps that’s why he lashed out, why he said what he did about Error, because Error is just like that, he's everything Dream isn't and so he can help Nightmare in a way that Dream can’t, even if he were to let him try. But that’s just selfish, he knows it is, and Nightmare would have felt that too if he wasn’t so wrapped up in his own feelings, if he wasn’t always so wrapped up in his own feelings that he didn’t notice Dream’s, not the ones that count. And that’s not fair because Nightmare can’t notice, can’t feel the ones that count, and so it only makes sense he wants to be with the people he can understand, people like this one sitting next to Dream in the doodle sphere and swinging his legs over the drop off.
They’re not very high up. But this place is a mess of little hills and ledges, rising up and dipping down so that every angle creates a different hue, a new variation of color in reflection of the sky. Error knows Dream is only waiting here to keep him from messing with it, from destroying it while Ink is away. There’s a determined pout sort of creasing his face as he sits with his knees drawn up, seeming almost coiled and ready to spring. And despite that faint golden glow and the sappy, goody-two-shoes act he puts on wherever he goes, his face is pinched in a way that suggests long, silent suffering. Which makes little sense, at this point. Unless…
“So, you… y-your brother’s mad at you, huh?”
Dream turns to him with the hard, intense kind of expression that Error knows well. And he thinks he understands, now, why Dream gets to spend so much time here.
“Yes,” Dream tells him, with an unnerving steadiness of tone.
And that makes him feel better, for some reason, that he hasn’t driven a new wedge between them at least. And all at once it makes sense to him, not only that Dream is here but that Nightmare isn’t. “Y-You changed him back.”
It’s not a question, and Dream doesn’t answer.
“Has he… W-Will he forgive you?”
Dream looks away, out over the violet and indigo fields. “I don’t know.”
But Error doesn’t like that answer, it’s empty, and too familiar. “Wh-what will you do then?”
When Dream turns to him again, just a bit of the softness has returned to his face. “What do you mean?”
And since Error isn’t used to that kind of a look and doesn’t even know what to do with it, he turns away this time. “N-Never mind.”
Time passes, or doesn’t. They wouldn’t be able to tell if it did. But it seems later, it seems longer before there’s a pop, and then another and Nightmare practically collapses to the ground just between them, where there’s just barely enough space for him, though he looks more comfortable, more truly at home than Dream has seen him in ages, notwithstanding the destroyer’s violent flinch and muttered curse at his arrival. “What have you guys been talking about?” he asks, sounding genuinely curious.
And Dream is ashamed, of begrudging him this, the confidence and ease with which he addresses them both together, even Error, who might not be Sludge but he’s somebody Nightmare likes and that’s progress. He leans against his brother, feeling strangely weary, and, “Nothing important,” he tells him because it’s true.
“Ink off… making something?”
“Fucking squid was practically d-dead on his feet.”
The other two fall silent at this, with Nightmare smiling a little and Dream frowning more, trying to figure out why that would be a bad thing, for Error. Then again, Ink did see fit to leave the destroyer here, unchecked while he went to refill his paints. And Dream hasn’t been right about much, today.
Ink must have teleported back in at a more remote point because when he finds them he’s just walking, practically creeping up from behind and to one side, clutching that brush in his hands like a comfort object. He looks a bit better, not as weak and the colors have returned to his eyes, along with the shapes. A golden star and bluish square, a lavender swirl and a green triangle.
“Uhm…,” he says when they turn, and a multicolored blush rises in his face. “Don’t you… Don’t you have anything better to do?”
“So, what’s Flowey gonna do?”
Nightmare watches the sky. Deep purple overhead, and a dusky orange at the horizon. “Not sure.”
“You’re not or he’s not?”
Dream falls silent, hugging his knees. Nightmare would’ve left, when Ink came back. He certainly felt like it after a day like today, and he was just about to only Dream asked where he was going and he couldn’t think of an answer. And he remembered his promise.
Promises don’t have anything to do with feelings.
So that’s why he’s lying spreadeagled in the grass, staring at a multicolored sky and talking to his brother.
“So...” He can tell by Dream’s tone that something’s coming, something that he’d rather avoid. “So... You lied to me.”
Nightmare closes his eyes. “Yeah.”
“Why?” He sounds more hurt than anything else, and Nightmare takes a moment to steel himself, to count ten because he’s angry, if only at himself. And he wants to tell the truth, he’s tried to but how can he when he doesn’t even know what it is?
“Why do I always lie,” he asks instead, half hoping for a real answer, whether it makes sense or not.
“You don’t. You don’t always lie, not anymore.”
And that stings, that hurts because it’s true, he’s not the same, he can never be the same, that person is gone, both of them, and no matter how he tries he can’t recover, he can’t be who he was before, who he was becoming before any of it happened, the stuff he blames Dream for only it isn’t Dream’s fault, it’s his and no one else’s. Because whatever he might have told himself, whatever he might tell himself now he’s just one, the one who changed and stayed the same.
There’s a rustle as Dream shifts. “You know,” he starts when he gets no response, and his voice is the kind of quiet that means whatever he’s about to say will be very loud. “You know, if you’d just talked to me, we could’ve… we could’ve…” What? Fixed things? There’s nothing to fix. Nothing Nightmare hasn’t already broken and destroyed beyond repair or recovery.
He finds Dream’s hand where it’s clenched tightly in the grass. “Dream, there’s… there’s no one to blame for any of this but me.” He can hear Dream’s protest before it leaves his mouth, and so he answers before it does. “If I’d just talked to you… Not now, I mean way back. Before any of this happened. Maybe… Maybe we could’ve made sense of it. This… This is way too late.”
“Not to me. What about Ink, and Error? They’re trying to do better now, aren’t they?” Dream’s voice quavers dangerously and Nightmare lets him go and sits up to follow his gaze out toward the pond, the biggest body of water in the doodle sphere. It’s clear and empty - an unobstructed, flawlessly reflective surface. They’re sitting right beside it, the destroyers, the creators, and looking away toward the horizon. Nightmare’s mouth twists.
“We’re not Ink and Error.”
“I know, they’re like way old,” Dream returns matter-of-factly, and Nightmare blinks. Sniggers.
“They are, aren’t they?”
Dream’s voice lowers conspiratorially. “Doesn’t Error remind you of like…”
And that’s it, Dream’s giggle becomes a snort and then a whole series of them, so that Nightmare has to cover his mouth, and even then the others notice and turn, scowling, which sends them both into another fit of giggles.
“I think we should go,” Dream titters, and Nightmare agrees. Only question is where. “Ink, we’re gonna head home,” Dream calls, and Nightmare’s chest tightens.
Ink has manners enough to get up, even if he only waits, perfectly still and silent, while they come back down the hill. That doesn’t stop Dream from finding his way into his arms, because Dream has never struggled very much with that, with being honest because he prefers it, he’s always preferred being honest and vulnerable than safe and a liar. And then he steps back, and doesn’t even ask, doesn’t even tell Nightmare where to go because it’s just expected, he trusts him to come without any urging, or maybe he just doesn’t want to do any more urging and so he stops, like Blue stopped, and doesn’t wait.
Nightmare follows him. To the corner just to the west of their inevitable destination, that Dream calls home. But they don’t start walking. Not yet.
“You’re right,” Dream tells him, and they’re not looking at each other. Only standing, side by side. Staring into the night that isn’t dark, or even that late.
“About Ink and Error. We’re not them, we’re me and you.”
He almost chokes on Dream’s sudden, piercing stab of anger.
“Easy, I was just joking.”
“No you weren’t.”
“I wasn’t but I wish I was. I want to be.” He laughs suddenly, that same old, high, cackling laugh from the tree. Some things never change. “Our job’s not that important, is it? It’s not like it matters, what we want, or what we feel.” Feelings won’t bring him back, won’t give him what he wants, won’t make him who he was or who he wants to be. Feelings don’t change anything at all, they only leave him miserable when he can’t, either. “You know,” he says aloud, “Sometimes I think he got the easy way out?”
He didn't mean to cry. He didn't choose to come apart, to feel the way he feels even if he did choose to wallow in it, to let it choose for him the way Sludge chose for him all that time ago and now he's left to do it on his own, to choose because he's the only one who can, whether to speak or fall silent, to feel or go numb, to be and keep being, to change and keep changing, even as he wants to and he doesn’t, both. Because he’s not there yet, he’s not better than this, he’s still not ready and maybe he never will be but he’s through with the waiting, he’s through with doing nothing until he is.
He didn't even notice Dream holding him until now he doesn't need it, until he's fine to start walking on his own and Dream with him. And maybe it's the wrong way, maybe he won't like what he finds at the end but he'll find out, he'll keep going even if he has to go back again, because changing does go both ways, sometimes. That's why he's back at the front door while Dream opens it, and putting one foot in front of the other even as he retreads the same steps.
“Blue?” Dream calls from within, because it’s still early, and Nightmare pokes his head through the doorway.
Sorry I lied, there will be a couple more chapters after this xD
“Damn kids,” Error mutters as soon as they leave, and unexpectedly Ink grins, ducking his head in a halfhearted attempt to hide it. But Ink isn’t being polite, Ink wouldn’t know how to be polite if his life depended on it, and sometimes it does. No, he’s not only amused but he’s let himself be amused, which is more startling still.
“Dream’s alright,” he says. “They both are,” he adds, with a bit more force, and looks up again with one eye closed and a star in the other. “What, you don’t like working with Nightmare?” And it’s almost a betrayal, that Error made another ally even after he said he never would, after he swore off abominations for good, and in the most vicious way possible.
“We aren’t w-working together, it was a one time th-thing,” he lies, but Ink only watches him, with his head tilted and that giant brush still clutched to his chest in both hands. Waiting for an answer. And Error knows from experience how piercingly uncomfortable Ink’s stares can get, when left unchecked. So, “It was alright,” he concedes, gruffly. And, “D-Doesn’t try to hug me.”
And that must be enough because Ink laughs, another shockingly unfettered expression, and his smile is fond. “I’ve gotten used to it. It’s not so bad, after a while.”
Error doesn’t know about that. But it’s just another way in which Ink has changed and he has not. And all at once he realizes that he doesn’t have to, that they’re not the only ones like them anymore, that they’ve grown beyond him, all of them, and they don’t need anything, not from him. Even Flowey has changed, and has managed to do so without any help, or hindrance, on Error’s part. He had no part to play in any of this, in anything significant, in any story worth telling, and so he can stay the same if he wants to, he doesn’t have to change and they won’t notice if he doesn’t. After all, It was what they both wanted, back then. When he’d finally had enough and lashed out for Ink’s soul, only to find his strings closed on nothing, falling limply to the ground like a heap of dead snakes.
“Oh! Trying to finish the job?” Ink asked him then, eyes eerily bright as he took in Error’s shocked expression. “To crush my soul and tie off all those pesky loose ends?” He stuck his tongue out, and when he opened his eyes they smoldered with a red and orange glow Error would become all too familiar with in the coming centuries. “Sorry, haven’t got one of those!” And he swung at him with that brush.
After months of steely silence and stony looks, it was like a dam burst open and they could move freely, speak freely if only they were hateful words, think freely if only they were hateful thoughts, and he told Ink what he thought of him, what he thought of himself because it didn’t matter, he could be himself and get away with it, he could make Ink hate him since Ink hated him already, and it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter and so he did.
“You know I haven’t got one either,” he blurts now, as if it only just happened, as if Ink just told him about it all over again.
And perhaps in a way he did because Ink doesn’t ask what he means, only turns again with that piercing stare, and Error reaches up one glitching hand to his own chest, trembling as he draws it out, a single, bloodied shard glowing sickly from where it floats behind his fingers. “N-not a proper one, anyway,” he gasps, even as the determination oozes out of it like pus from a wound because that’s what it is, just a broken fragment, a pathetic remnant of what it should be.
Ink isn’t saying anything. He isn’t even looking. Only fiddling with that damnable brush again. “Oh,” he says finally and Error lets what’s left of his soul sink back beneath his ribs, feeling angry and vulnerable and very, very ready to leave. It didn’t change anything, of course it didn’t change anything, Ink hasn’t got any soul at all and he hasn’t done what Error’s done, he hasn’t stolen other people’s souls just so they won’t have what he doesn’t, just so he won’t have to be alone, and Ink isn’t alone, is he, he has Dream because he didn’t do that.
“I’d s-say that’s why I’m like this but that w-wouldn’t be right, would it,” he gets out, nearly choking on the words and how much he hates to say them. “Y-You’re a whole lot n-nicer than m-me.” And he’s about to leave him to it, he’s about to disappear and never come back, never go back anywhere anymore because what’s the point, Undertale is just as changed as the others, just as corrupted and abnormal and it’s his fault, he destroyed it like everything else, like everyone else he ever cared about. But before he can get away, before he can destroy the only thing that was ever worth destroying Ink tries out that thing he’s just learned to do and hugs him, effectively freezing Error in place for a hideously long moment of stunned, abject horror.
“Sorry.” Error hears a voice more quavery than his own, and it sounds like it’s coming from a great distance away. Vaguely he becomes aware that he’s shaking with sobs that aren’t his own. Enlarged, jumbled letters swim illusively in his sockets, but he doesn’t need his sight to peel Ink off him. Great chunks of his hands blip out of place where he grasps his former friend by the arms.
“What the f-fuck, Squid,” he gets out around the static, and lets him go before he completely loses the feeling in his fingers.
“Sorry,” he says again, and Error blinks to clear his vision.
“What the fuck are you sorry for,” he demands, squinting.
Dimly, he makes out Ink’s helpless shrug. “I don’t know.”
“Well if you d-don’t know, I sure as hell don’t.” And he doesn’t want to know, he doesn’t want to hear it out loud, how things have changed, how Ink is sorry for what he was and turning into something else. Because they can never go back, they can never laugh like they did without resentment, fight like they did without remorse because they have both now and they can’t change that, they can’t change that or the time they spent pretending to be what they weren’t until they were and couldn’t do anything about it.
“You know, Nightmare says I don’t have to know,” Ink tells him, with the tears now drying on his face. He frowning intensely, and clutching at his vials. “About the paints. They’re just me, he says, even the ones I choose, so… so…” His eyes wander, as though searching the air for the rest of his sentence. Then he snaps his fingers, and grabs at his scarf for the first time since it happened, since he stopped checking it for things he didn’t want to remember. “So you can be whatever you choose,” he reads swiftly, like he hasn’t just said something utterly senseless. “No matter what you’ve chosen before.” He stops suddenly, and looks up like a deer in the headlights. “I mean...” He checks it again. “Yeah.” And tosses the end, so it tumbles back over his shoulder.
Forget what he thought, Error couldn’t stop laughing now if he tried, not after that. And he’s not sure if it’s the error signs or the tears, but he can’t see again. He can’t see and he can’t even begin to understand, why he’s laughing, why he’s crying, why he’s still here beside the empty pool and trying to hug Ink again when it hurts this much.
When Nightmare wakes up, Dream is asleep. And it takes him a moment to realize he can move, he’s not trapped in his own mind, he can get up and open the door just as soon as he wants to. He’s careful not to wake his brother, though, where he lies sprawled on his stomach with one arm hanging off the lower bunk. He sleeps little enough as it is.
The house is silent, though not dark. It’s never completely dark here. Through the swinging door into the immaculate kitchen, and he starts digging around in the cabinets. He knows there’s a pot in here somewhere. He finds one that’s a little too big and sets it on the burner, forgetting to turn it on, and looks for the cocoa. That’s what normal people do isn’t it, when they wake up in the middle of the night?
There’s a footstep behind him and he drops the canister with a crash. Thankfully it’s still shut.
“Easy,” Blue says drowsily, with one hand raised. He’s in his t-shirt and shorts, ambling over to Nightmare where he’s still decked out in his whole outfit and new cape. He bends down, embarrassed, to pick up the cocoa and sets it on the counter. He’s used to sensing their negative emotions long before anyone can sneak up on him. Blue must be feeling particularly positive.
Blue grabs the cocoa and begins scooping it into the pot without even asking. “Where’s Dream?” he asks, and Nightmare shakes his head mutely for a moment before clearing his throat.
Blue nods, reaching past him to put the chocolate back.“Yeah, best to just leave him then. He sleeps little enough as it is.”
And at that, Nightmare smiles, a real one before he can stop himself. He flushes as Blue catches it, staring at his face like he’s never seen it before. And he probably hasn’t, like this.
“Wait, what are you doing?” Blue takes the milk out of his hand. “Gotta add water first. Geez, didn’t you ever make - no, never mind. Here, let me…” And he’s reaching into the cabinet again, for a measuring pitcher this time, only he stops when he finds it, taking in the rather bereft look on Nightmare’s face and the way his hands hover empty and uncertain over the counter. “Here.” And he thrusts the pitcher at him. “Don’t make me do everything. Water’s in the… faucet.”
Nightmare can’t help giggling when he turns it on. And then Blue’s giggling too, and telling him to stop, that’s too much, and to turn on the burner or it’s going to be chocolate milk when they’re done. He stirs the cocoa, water, and sugar into a syrup, at Blue’s instruction, and watches it boil.
“So… who were you talking to then? Earlier, before I came in.”
Nightmare freezes. But only for a moment. You have to keep stirring or it burns. “Sludge,” he replies, because Blue has heard him talking to himself plenty of times, and it’s time he knew the name.
Or maybe Blue does know the name because he doesn’t ask who that is, only frowns slightly and asks, “Does he answer you?”
Nightmare can feel his face tighten. “No.”
“Hm. Why do you keep talking then?”
“Habit.” It’s been long enough. Blue pours the milk in, and tells him to keep stirring.
“You have a lot of habits,” he says a bit stiffly, and Nightmare huffs a quiet, innocuous little laugh with no real amusement in it.
“That’s why Dream let me have the upper bunk, ‘cause I’m so used to the treehouse.”
Blue is quiet for a bit, wiping up the drips and rinsing out the pitcher. He’s always been a clean freak, even if he wasn’t always a good cook. Nightmare eyes what will be the hot chocolate warily, hoping it doesn’t explode any time soon. Then again, he did help make it - though whether that should reassure him or not remains to be seen.
“Why’re you in here and not out there?” The question is measured, but not cautious. And Nightmare isn’t sure quite how to answer it. He only knows that he needs to.
He turns slightly, taking the spoon with him without thinking, and dripping all over the floor. “I’m trying to… make some new habits.”
“Uh-huh. Well, you can start by cleaning up that mess.” But Blue’s voice is teasing, and besides, Nightmare doesn’t need to be told twice.
“I’m not usually this messy,” he gasps. “I mean, Sludge would - and I didn’t - ” The words stop coming and he shakes his head.
But Blue doesn’t just let it go. “Take your time,” he says instead, and turns off the burner. “What didn't you like?”
“Uhm,” his voice is scratchy. “The… goop. On everything. But I got used to it.”
Blue watches him for a bit, motionless beside him at the stove. He tried to get the stains out of Nightmare’s clothes, back when he first got here. Then he wanted him to get new ones. Only Nightmare said he liked them just fine that way after all, and so he didn’t.
“You don’t have to get used to it,” he says finally. “We all tend to idolize the things we love, once they’re gone.”
Nightmare wants to be angry. But he can’t think of any just reason to be. And that’s another habit he’s trying to break. So he grabs a couple of mugs from the cabinet and watches Blue ladle out the drinks. “Do you ever wish you could go back?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Blue smiles. “I am home. Or… that’s what I’m supposed to say, isn’t it? That’s what Blue would say.”
Nightmare shrugs and take a sip. Hisses. Coughs.
“Whoops! You’re supposed to blow on it first, remember?” Blue sets his own cup down and Nightmare nods, inexplicable tears rising in his eyes. “Here,” Blue takes his drink, pushing past him to the freezer, and gets an ice cube. “Ahah, no need to cry about it,” he chides, and hands it back to him. “Those’re just reflex tears, anyway. You’re not used to burning your tongue, are you?”
“Sorry,” Nightmare says, and his face crumples in a way that is a distinctly different kind of reflex.
“Hey, hey.” Blue has him in a moment. Like he did on that first day. Like he hasn’t since that first day. “You’re okay,” he says, like Nightmare is any younger than he is, and gives him a squeeze before letting go. “Sit down,” he instructs, in full brother mode, and Nightmare complies, setting his mug on the table and slipping off his eyepatch to wipe at the tears. Blue puts a lid on the pot and sits down beside him.
“I never said thank you,” Nightmare blurts, watching the ice cube shrink. “For taking care of Dream. While I was…”
“I still tare care of Dream.” The words are unexpectedly sharp, and almost physically painful.
Blue looks a little sorry. He blows at his drink, and sips it cautiously. “Well, not so much lately,” he amends. “Kinda told him to… take care of himself,” he huffs sheepishly, as though expecting a rebuke. But Nightmare only shakes his head.
“That’s… fine. That’s good.”
“Is it?” Blue chuckles without mirth. “Sometimes I wonder.”
Nightmare traces the rim of his mug with one finger. “Dream is… Dream would be a lot more normal without me. Everything was perfect for him here, with you. And with me coming back he just… lost that again.”
Nightmare isn’t sure what he expected in response to that, but it wasn’t for Blue to burst out laughing. “Geez, is that what you think? No wonder you make yourselves so miserable.” He wipes at his eyes and shakes his head. “Nah, I had to figure that out with Papy. He’s got his own problems and I can only do so much. But he’d be an even bigger wreck without me. And me too.”
Nightmare drinks his hot chocolate.
Blue watches. “And, Dream hasn’t lost anything, Night,” he says at last. “Not here.”
“I have.” And it’s really selfish, to say that. But Blue only shrugs.
“That’s up to you.” He takes Nightmare’s empty cup and gets up to refill it.
The door creaks, and they both jump and turn, to find Dream with his head poking through the doorway, sleep still heavy in his face. His cape is all wrapped around his shoulders like a blanket and he’s squinting in the dim light.
“I thought you were asleep,” Nightmare says stupidly.
“I woke up.” And you weren’t there, he doesn’t say, but that’s what it amounts to, that he wanted to see if Nightmare was really ever there to begin with, since he so seldom is.
“Sit down, Dream, we’re having cocoa,” Blue tells him over his shoulder, and grabs another cup.
“Oh,” he says, and shuffles over beside Nightmare.
“So what’d you guys do for fun? I mean, before the whole chess thing,” Blue asks casually, returning to the table.
Dream reaches for his cup eagerly. “Blow on it first,” Nightmare mutters, and Dream nods.
“Well, Nightmare used to read to me,” he says, and takes a sip.
Nightmare scowls. “That wasn’t fun. You weren’t even listening.”
“No you weren’t. Name one book we read.”
“You didn’t read me the titles, Night.”
“What’s going on down here?” Papyrus comes over in his house-slippers and peers down into the pot on the stove.
“Nightmare’s gonna read us a story,” says Blue over his shoulder, and Nightmare gapes.
“Yeah-huh, or I won’t be able to fall back asleep.” Dream sticks his tongue out.
Blue frowns. “Is that why you never sleep?”
“See I told you he wasn’t listening, he just wants me to bore him to death.”
“Not to death, Night.”
Papyrus grins lazily, leaning back against the stove and blowing on his drink. “Regular party in here and I wasn’t even invited.”
“You hate parties,” Blue returns, rolling his eyes.
“Not the point.”
“Reading a book isn’t a party,” Nightmare mutters.
“Oh, so we are reading?” Dream gets up. “Blue, pick something good.”
“Wait, why does he get to pick?”
“They’re his books.”
“Have you guys read Fluffy Bunny?”
Nightmare closes his eyes. “Does it look like I’ve read Fluffy Bunny?”
Blue shrugs. “Maybe if you had you wouldn’t be so…”
“No, what were you going to say?”
“Let it go, Night.”
“Shut up, Dream. I wanna hear what he was gonna say.”
“Hey, kiddos, be nice,” Papyrus interjects, though he looks very unlikely to intervene. “I’ll get the book and you can read in the living room.”
How the couch makes room for them all, Nightmare doesn’t know. He only knows that he’s jammed in with Dream on one side and Blue on the other, and Papyrus on the end and listening as intently as the others while he reads about some do-gooder rabbit who lets everyone walk all over him.
“There’s no way they’d all be friends after all that.”
“Shh, Night, it’s just a story,” Dream murmurs, half asleep on his shoulder already.
“Well it’s a stupid one.”
“You’re a stupid one,” says Blue, and wrenches his childhood favorite out of Nightmare’s grasp.
And that sets them to giggling again, all of them, till Papyrus gets up and turns out the light, heading for the stairs. “Good night,” he says softly.
“No, he’s not,” Blue titters, and then Nightmare whacks him with a pillow to shut him up.
And when they finally settle down, all jumbled together in a heap on that couch, he wants to take a picture of it, of this evening, so he doesn’t forget. He wants to write it all down, to remember it so he can tell it later, even if no one’s listening. But he can’t do that now, with Blue on one side and Dream on the other, and all three of them needing to sleep. Besides, they might just do this again tomorrow. And the next night, too. Because he thinks, as he closes his eyes and listens to the sound of the silence, the receding echo of his mounting memories, that this is one habit he cannot wait to make.
In a way, Error chose this. He chose it when he awoke and destroyed them all, just so he wouldn’t have to watch them die, and this without even knowing why he cared. He chose it when he found a reason to care, to justify what he’d done to himself, preserving what was never his to preserve at the expense of what was never his to expend. He chose it when he tried to forget it, to let it go and forgive himself, to be someone other than himself since Ink would let him, back then. He chose it when he became comfortable in the lie, in the best of himself and the worst, in caring and destroying all over again and this time for keeps.
Only it wasn’t for keeps, was it? He’s been given a whole other chance now, to make it right only he can’t make it right, he can’t change now any more than he did then. And so he just sits and does nothing, because he doesn’t want to do something if it’s the wrong thing, whatever Ink says about choices. Because choices are great, when you make the right ones. And chances are fine, when you’re on your first or second. But it’d be some kind of joke to say Error is on his third. Even if it is still a chance, enough that he can take it, and a choice, enough that he can make it, to do the one thing he’s always done better than anyone else.
Oh yes, he has a plan. A plan to make things better, to make things right or as right as they can be, and all in a way that even he can’t mess up. And he might not have the guts to do it now, to finish the job but he’s halfway there, halfway gone even now by merely lurking in the shadows. Because, despite all the bright, welcome emptiness of the anti void he still prefers to dark, where he can see the stars.
Trouble is, he’s not the only one.
At the sound of his step, Error jumps and nearly finishes the job after all, nearly tumbles off the ledge he’s taken to sitting on. There’s a well-known rustle of new fabric, the highest quality even if he does say so himself, and Nightmare stops just behind and to right. “So…. Just gonna sit here by yourself, huh?”
“Not b-by myself,” he retorts irritably. But it makes sense he wants him to go away, he wants to be alone where he can only do damage to himself and probably will, someday. That he insists he hasn’t changed because he doesn’t want to, because he can’t, he can’t make himself care when his caring is what hurt everyone to begin with. And so he just sits, at the edge of the rise, at the edge of the Outertale timeline, at the edge of the end and still tries not to fall.
“True.” That infuriating, hypocritical reply and the kid is sitting beside him, feet swinging off the edge, sleek black robe glittering in the light of ten thousand stars. Nightmare catches his look and grins, an unnerving, Cheshire flash of teeth in the dark. “What, admiring your handiwork?”
Nightmare is undeterred. “Why don’t you make more things?” he asks suddenly, looking back up at the sky, and Error snorts derisively.
“This whole b-being nice thing doesn’t suit you.”
An equally unnerving laugh, to match his smile. “I know,” he says. “But I try.”
And Error’s heard enough about that, about trying, because trying isn’t enough and sooner or later you’re found out, for trying and not being, what you want to be.
“Really? Seems to me you’re already trying, or why else are you out here?”
Error bristles and scoots another few inches away from him. He doesn’t seem to notice. He wasn’t that close to begin with. “Wh-what the fuck are you t-talking about?”
Sigh. “You were muttering.”
Oh. Right. Between Nightmare’s ability to discern negative emotions and his own tendency to confer aloud with himself, Error might as well be an open book to him. It’s probably how he found him, now he thinks of it. “W-Well, I don’t need you to answer,” Error huffs, and folds his arms. “And I came out here to get away from d-dipshits like you, so leave me alone.”
Nightmare does no such thing, naturally. Not being a nosy pain in the ass isn’t on his list of abilities. “You know it’s not enough, Error.”
He doesn’t dignify this with a reply. Nightmare knows as well as he does that he knows it isn’t enough, which is why he’s out here and not there, on the edge and not trying to fall.
“Going away, I mean. It’s too easy.”
Well, he wasn’t expecting that. But it’s what he’s always done isn’t it, being what they want, doing what they expect and going away, staying away so they can be happy without him, with thinking of him that way and he doesn’t have to stop being that way, though he doesn’t know about easy.
Nightmare is looking down into the darkness below, and his face is in shadow beneath that glittering hood, beneath the glittering sky up above. “It’s like saying sorry, isn’t it,” he says softly. “It’s not enough, and they don’t want to hear it because it’s too easy, isn’t it, to say sorry and not change? To go away and pretend you’re doing it for them, to punish yourself so they can’t.” He looks up suddenly and grins again. “Sorry, bad habit. Did I say that out loud?”
He did. He did and he meant to, probably, but Error is too shaken to point it out. Instead, he reaches out a glitching, almost unconscious hand and touches it briefly to the top of the hood, to his own creation and the skull it fits perfectly. Nightmare doesn’t seem to mind being patted. He’s probably getting used to it, by now.
And then Error takes his hand back, massaging the feeling back into his fingers.
“Will it hurt for a while now?”
“Y-Yeah. It always does. But I…” don't mind, he doesn’t say. But Nightmare probably knows, anyway.
“Welp.” The kid gets up. “You’re right. I’m not very nice. I only came out here because Dream asked me, and you know I kind of owe him, after all that.”
Error frowns. “Why would D-Dream ask you?”
Nightmare laughs again, the creepy one. “And you say I’m a dipshit? You do realize Ink is his best friend, right?”
“So - ?” Error is too distracted by the insult to put it together himself.
“So, the squid said he’s gonna mess with Undertale again if you don’t show up. You aren’t exactly easy to find, for people like them.”
He wants to be bothered, he really does. But at this point it’s more of a chore, to look after Undertale. It looks after itself, for the most part, and whatever Ink does to it will likely be better than what Error could do for it, as he is. But still he goes. More out of habit than anything else. Because he’s made quite a few habits of his own, and it’s harder to break them than he thought.
“Oh.” Ink says, when he gets there. Just, “Oh.” And then, “Well that was easy.”
He looks better. Replenished paints, renewed motivation and not having to fight with Error do that for him, apparently. And is it his imagination, or is Ink even more... expressive? Almost like he was, before. The artist tilts his head a little, eyes wide and alive with a dizzying conglomeration of shifting colors and shapes. “Where you been?” he asks, and Error doesn’t know how to answer.
Ink does. “Nah, I get it. It’s easy to have the meltdown, harder to talk it out afterwards, right?” He lets his arms fall to his sides and looks at the ground almost listlessly. “That’s why I came back here, but… I think he’s left us behind.”
“Who?” The word cracks when he says it, and Ink’s eyes snap back up to his face.
“Wh-what do you mean, he’s - he’s gone?”
“Relax. I mean he went. With Frisk.”
Ah. Error wants to laugh again. But he doesn’t. Instead he just sinks to the ground, right on top of the flowers. There’s a neat little hole, in the ground just before him. Empty. “Ink, wha… what timeline even is this, anymore?”
Shrug. “I don’t know. Do you wanna just forget about it?”
There it is. The path that’s so easy to take that it’s hard. “N-No,” he says finally. “I don’t want to f-forget any of it.”
“Fair enough.” And it’s different today. No pent up emotions, clouding their judgement, provoking their words. Just reality, and all its ordinary, unadulterated numbness. “Just don’t…”
Error looks up at the uncertainty, the intensity in his voice.
“Just don’t… stay here too long.”
He thinks. “I won’t.”
Ink smiles, a funny, half sideways one. “What will you do?”
And Error knows how to answer that. All at once, like he’s been waiting for it. “Well I won’t try to f-fix it, that’s for sure.”
Ink does laugh. “No, I didn’t figure. Well, I’ll just… be going, now.”
“Right. And, s-squid?”
He turns. For a moment they stare at each other, and Error doesn’t now what to say, what he can say to make things right so he doesn’t bother, he just says what he wants, what he’s decided to say. “S-See you later.”
“Oh! Okay.” Just like that. And, “I’ll tell the others.” He waves and disappears, leaving Error alone again. Only now he knows that he won't be, once he decides to get up.
Thank you so much for reading this story <3