The Mindscape splits when they are children.
Well, children in the loosest sense of the term, considering no one really knows how old they were, exactly. Janus thinks it was when Thomas was about thirteen, Remus cackles and names a different age every time, and Virgil refuses to answer the question, usually diverting their attention to something else. He’s good at that, Remus muses.
In the end, none of them quite remember when the Mindscape divided, or their age at the time, and for a very simple reason: Patton, who controls Thomas’ memories (and to some extent, their own) wants more than anything to forget it.
They just know the split was when they were small, small enough that the hand Remus — but he wasn’t Remus then, just Creativity — sets against the barrier between the halves is small, the nails not yet painted or jagged or covered in dirt. It is the hand of a child, the hand of a boy staring with horror across a rift in Thomas’ mind at his brother, his twin, his other half both figuratively and literally.
Creativity (not him, not the Green Creativity, a different boy wearing all reds and whites instead, his brother ) looks horrified too, but Morality, with his hand over his mouth and fear in his eyes, takes his hand and pulls him away. The not-but-also-him-Creativity follows. Logic presses his palm against the barrier too, his mouth wide in shock, glasses askew. Morality turns and calls for him.
“Go,” Creativity (the bad half, the scary half, the dark half) hears Anxiety say behind him, sad and solemn and scared all at once, and after a moment Logic nods, and waves, and turns to follow Morality.
“What happened?” Deceit asks, fast and scared and loud. “What did he do ?!”
“He didn’t mean to,” Anxiety says quietly, pulling Creativity (but is he Creativity? Who is Creativity? How can Thomas have two of them? Why isn’t he with his brother?) to his feet. Anxiety’s tug on him is gentle, but insistent, and soon Creativity-but-maybe-not finds himself trailing behind the other sides, his hand wrapped in Anxiety’s. “Morality has no idea what he’s doing, Dee, he’s got so much power and no idea how to control it.”
“He did this to me!” Deceit screams, gesturing to the yellow scales that have begun to emerge from his skin, the eye that looks more yellow every day, the pupil that’s already changing shape. “And now he’s shoved us into… into… here! Wherever this is!”
“The Dark Side,” Bad-Creativity (?) whispers, and Anxiety’s grip on his hand tightens, though he does not respond.
“Listen,” says Anxiety, who reaches out to grab Deceit’s hand as well, “it’s gonna be okay.”
“You don’t know that,” snaps Deceit, and Creativity-but-not-but-is-but-only-sorta can’t decide whether to laugh or cry, so he does both, tears streaking down his face even as a weak giggle escapes his throat.
“I do,” Anxiety answers, Anxiety who has always tried to care for and protect Thomas, and all of his sides, too. Kinda-Creativity understands, sort of, why he and Deceit were sent away (he supposes they had offended Morality’s sense of, well, morality ) but it doesn’t make any sense that Anxiety would get sent with them. He wonders briefly if it’s some sort of trick, and then looks at Anxiety and sees the tears threatening to spill from his eyes, and knows it isn’t. Anxiety thinks he’s all secretive and strong, but King Creativity (he had a name, Kinda-Creativity knows, the only one with a real name like Thomas, but he can’t seem to catch it) had always been able to read him. Now, so can Kinda-Creativity.
“We have each other,” Anxiety continues, “and I believe in you, and I believe in us. It’s going to be okay.”
“You promise?” Deceit asks, his voice small.
“I promise,” Anxiety nods, and Kinda-Creativity is being hugged, all three of them wrapped together. He feels Deceit’s tears mixing with his own, and Anxiety’s soft grey sweatshirt brushing against his neck, and he is not alone. He is not King Creativity, not anymore, and he does not have his brother, but he is not alone.
It gives him hope.
Anxiety takes care of them after that; he is the only one who will. Deceit is angry all the time, constantly scheming — trying to pass through the barrier, trying to talk to the other sides, trying to contact Thomas in any way — and he forgets to eat. And sleep. And Kinda-Creativity is pretty sure he’s scratching at his scales a little too much.
As for him, well… He’s Creativity. Kinda. But so is his brother. He can’t call himself that anymore, not really.
He thinks about ‘King’, but that isn’t right either. That was him, yes, but that was really all of Creativity, him and his red-white brother both. Prince feels wrong, more suited to the other half of him.
He considers others. They don’t feel right.
He goes to the barrier. He looks for his brother. He does not find him.
But apparently he isn’t taking care of himself as well as Anxiety would like, either, because he finds himself at the kitchen table with Deceit, grilled cheese and tomato soup shoved in front of them, glasses of water besides them, and Anxiety glaring at them menacingly from the other side of the counter.
“ Eat ,” he says.
As for Anxiety, well, he knows the other side goes to the barrier sometimes. He doesn’t know why. Kinda-Creativity hears him crying once, from the couch, when he’s pretty sure Anxiety thought the rest of them were asleep. He purposefully steps on the creaky part of the stairs, and Anxiety sits up, scrubbing at his eyes, until he looks almost normal. “Creativity?” he says, trying for a smile. “What’s up, bud?”
“I’m hungry,” Kinda-Creativity says, though he isn’t.
“Okay,” Anxiety nods. He’s smaller than Kinda-Creativity, is smaller than all of them as far as he can tell, but he still manages to look so old. “Let’s get you some toast.”
“With blood as jam!” Kinda-Creativity exclaims, but Anxiety laughs and shakes his head.
“How about regular butter and honey?” he asks, and smiles in the way that means he’s about to do some serious mischief. “You’ll never believe where honey comes from.”
Kinda-Creativity does believe, and torments Deceit with it for the next week. But Anxiety seems to forget why he was crying as they snicker together, and he thinks that’s good.
Anxiety takes care of them, guards and protects Deceit and Kinda-Creativity in the way he used to do for all of the sides.
But sometimes, he forgets to take care of himself, too. So Kinda-Creativity does it for him, makes sure Anxiety eats and drinks water and sleeps, even if these things aren’t technically necessary for them to survive. This is what Anxiety does for them, so it must be good.
And when Anxiety hears about his King dilemma and the list of titles Kinda-Creativity is considering, he says offhandedly, “Aren’t dukes always the evil bad guys in every story? That always seemed unfair.”
“And it sounds like dookie,” Deceit snickers from where Anxiety is tending to the growing scales, and the long scratch down his face.
“Well, I’m not a bad guy,” Kinda-Creativity says, “but I like the idea of being a duke-ie.”
He grins, and so do the other sides.
He’s Duke after that, and Anxiety and Deceit adjust to the new name quickly. Even his door in the hallway of the Dark Side (for that is what they have begun to call them, the Dark Side and the Light Side, names of Duke’s creation) changes to have his new name etched across it.
They are not evil. He knows that, and he knows Dee and Anx know it too.
He’s gonna prove the Light Sides wrong, and he’s not gonna do it as a King, or as a Prince, but as a Duke.
(Besides, Dee’s joke makes him laugh every time.)
One day, Anxiety finds a way across the barrier.
He says there’s a door. Duke and Deceit can’t see it, no matter how many times Anxiety tries to show them, but they see the results: Thomas listens to Anxiety now, knows of him and about him, and his influence is obvious.
Duke wonders how Morality feels about that. The thought makes him snicker with delight.
“Morality isn’t bad,” Anxiety has always insisted, “he doesn’t understand what he’s done. I’m sure he didn’t mean to.” Duke isn’t sure he believes that, but he trusts Anx, and so he doesn’t argue.
It is Anxiety’s belief in the Light Sides that leads neither Duke nor Deceit to think him crossing over to speak with both them and Thomas is a bad idea. When Anxiety returns one day and punches the table with a sickening crack that indicates something has broken (Duke hopes it is the table, even as he thinks about how cool broken bones are), eyes glowing black and fist coated in darkness, both realize that might not have been an entirely correct assumption.
“Anx?” says Dee, stepping forwards, and Anxiety turns. For a horrible, brief second, Duke thinks he’s going to hurt them, the ideas crawling into his mind once again that remind him he is something other than Creativity, something darker, something more intrusive.
Anxiety merely moves forwards, pulling both of them into a hug, the darkness around his fingers vanishing as he clings to his family.
“Yo, Anxie,” Duke mutters, far more scared than he feels like letting on, “what happened ?”
“You need to hide yourselves,” says Anxiety after a moment, arms dropping to his sides as he steps away.
“What?” Duke exchanges looks with Deceit, who looks equally confused.
“Dee, you can tell Thomas the two of you don’t exist.” Anxiety’s normal grey sweatshirt is streaked with black, a darkness that covers the whole surface with only hints of the grey poking through. As Duke watches in horrified fascination, the grey surfaces in lines, crossing the sweatshirt. “Listen to me, okay, because if you don’t, things are gonna be bad. ”
“What’s happening to you?” Deceit asks slowly, staring at Anxiety’s face, where darkness is beginning to drip from his eyes, coating his cheeks. “Anx-”
“Deceit, listen to me! ” Anxiety snaps, and his voice reverberates in a way Duke has never heard before. Even he seems shocked, his hand leaping to his mouth, but when the moment passes, Anxiety only looks more determined.
“We’re the Dark Sides to them,” he says, spreading his arms as if to show his new outfit. “The bad guys. And Thomas believes the others, of course he does, and the moment he saw me he decided I was bad, too.”
“You look like a monster,” Duke tells him, blunt and unfiltered as always, and Anxiety just laughs.
“I know,” he whispers, his hair straightening and darkening, falling over his eyes. “And I can’t let it happen to you.” He turns to Deceit, a plea in his storm-clouded eyes. “Hide yourselves. The barrier began to break when I crossed it, so make sure Thomas can’t find you unless he can accept you for who you are. Not you two, not any of the others on this side of the Mindscape.” He gestures to Deceit. “Look what happened the last time Morality profiled one of us. We can’t risk Thomas changing you forever.”
“But what will happen to you?” Dee asks, tears already leaking from his human eye. “We need you, Anx! You’re… you’re our brother , you’re supposed to take care of us!”
“You don’t,” Anxiety tells them, the darkness leaking from his eyes almost like tears of his own . “And I’m not. You’re going to be okay, alright?” He hesitates, and sighs. “I’m going to go back over there, try and get Thomas to listen to me, to… He knows about me now.”
“You’re leaving us,” Duke says, and Anxiety just nods. The room looks darker, now, especially around Anxiety, and he realizes distantly that the shadows are coming from the other side, like paint dripping from a canvas, like blood dripping from a wound.
“I have to,” he answers simply. “Dee, please.”
“That’s not okay,” Duke snaps, stepping towards him. “You promised everything would be okay, and that’s about as okay as tearing out our hearts with your bare hands and feeding them to kids, that’s like frying up our eyes with them still in our skulls, that’s like killing us! ”
“I’m sorry,” Anx whispers, though he is already backing away. “I’m so sorry, Du. I love you guys, okay? I love you so much. And I’m so, so sorry.” He looks past Duke then, at Deceit. “ Do it, Dee. ”
The final words sound like thunder, and before Duke knows it, Anxiety is sinking out, Deceit snapping his fingers in a quick, panicked motion, and a feeling of icy numbness washes over him, like he’s been erased.
“ Why would you do that? !” he screams, turning on Deceit, who looks far more scared now, snapping over and over, though nothing happens, nothing is fixed.
“I didn’t mean to!” Dee cries, and the shadows that he’d seen dripping off Anxiety swarm up both of them, changing them.
Anxiety never returns. But Duke and Deceit are alone after that, alone with the other sides who hide in the dark, the ones who were never their friend, not like Anxiety was.
Anxiety’s room is still in their side of the Mindscape, but it’s closer to the barrier now, almost phased between the two halves, and whenever Deceit and Duke try to enter or open the door, they’re thrown back into the common room with a noise like thunder. They don’t see Anxiety for years, after that, though they can sense his presence and they know he affects Thomas, influencing his decisions in ways the old Anxiety never would have condoned.
In the end, Anxiety’s sacrifice doesn’t mean anything at all. The other two are changed far less dramatically, but they are changed, and no longer have their friend, their brother , to keep them good.
They become the bad guys. They are the snake in the garden and the back-stabbing duke, and far away, they know Anxiety is the darkness in Thomas’ mind when they can’t be. It is an idea that makes Duke cackle with delight, that even when unable to speak to their host, they still scare him.
(Once upon a time, Duke would have worried for Anxiety, alone and hated by the Light Sides, but now he simply laughs. A part of him, a part that perseveres even when the shadows attempt to tear it out, wonders if this is a change for better or worse.)
Thomas begins making his videos a few years later, of his Light Sides, and of Anxiety too, who appears in one of the early episodes and never leaves. Duke and Deceit (though they have names, now, Remus and Janus, just like all the other sides have names) know of Sanders Sides , of course, for every side knows of such an important thing in Thomas’ life, and when Anxiety appears Remus rages. Thomas has only nightmares that night, full of awful things happening to his friends and failure and a grey sweatshirt dripping with darkness.
Janus, meanwhile, is quiet, the sort of silence that makes Remus think of the word plotting, as he watches the series progress and adjusts his new yellow gloves with a decisive hum. Remus does not ask about it, for he knows that Janus will likely include him in any plans he might make, and although he is impulsive and loud and spontaneous, Thomas’ Intrusive Thoughts can also be very, very patient.
The Dark Side is still full of shadows, ones that remain perfectly still and normal on most days, and that writhe and pulse and move about on others. They are tinged with the darkness now, him and Janus both, and sometimes Remus sees it seeping from under the door of Anxiety’s room, the shadows unable to fully escape but attempting to do so anyways.
“Only Thomas could get into that room,” Janus tells him when Remus starts planning to break the door down one day. “It’s not possible.”
Remus grumbles and eventually moves on to his next idea, for he never expects Thomas to actually need to enter Anxiety’s room.
When Anxiety (no, Virgil , he calls himself Virgil now, and how did they not know that?) ducks out, or tries to, everything changes. He’s accepted, by both halves of Thomas’ mind, and suddenly the divide between them seems weaker than it ever has been. Janus and Remus suddenly find themselves able to influence Thomas far more, the power that had hidden them weakened with Virgil’s newfound famILY.
( Make sure Thomas can’t find you unless he can accept you for who you are, Virgil had told them, so long ago. Thomas trusts Anxiety, now. He can trust them, too.)
It takes months, (far too many, in Remus’ opinion) but Thomas grows to know every facet of himself, including Janus and Remus. Virgil meets them once again, and he is angry and scared, and Remus’ heart breaks once more and reforms cold and angry.
It takes even more time, but eventually the barriers between the Mindscape dissolve, Remus and Janus’ rooms are suddenly along the same corridor as the so-called ‘Light Sides’, they have movie nights and meals and quiet mornings with the others, they are accepted by Thomas. They are no longer alone.
And so, one day, Remus finds himself walking down the stairs (for their home in the Mindscape, or the bottom floor, at least, mirrors Thomas’ own home nearly perfectly) and sees Virgil alone in the living room, doing something on his phone. The other side spots him, scrambles to his feet, is about to sink out, and something in Remus’ chest screams .
“We need to talk,” he says, uncharacteristically serious, and the contrast between the words and Remus’ usual personality has Virgil pause long enough for Remus to make it to the couch, perching on the armrest.
“I’m not gonna yell at you,” he tells Virgil, when the other side still looks to be on the verge (ha, verge! Patton would like that one) of sinking out. “Well, I might. I’m very mad. I just want to know why , okay? You left us, and you came over here, and…”
“I know,” Virgil sighs finally, sitting on the other arm rest, legs dangling off the side. The other side won’t make eye contact with Remus, instead glancing down at his short, bitten nails, but still, there is something in his voice that is purely Anxiety, no matter how much his body language isn’t. Or is , for though his behavior seems strange to Remus’ idea of the Anxiety he knew, it is quite typical of anxiety , lowercase edition. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry?” he blurts out, and he can feel the shadows seeping out from under his fingers, crawling across the couch, inching their way towards Virgil. For his part, the literal embodiment of Thomas’ fears and worries doesn’t seem scared by the darkness approaching him, only concerned, and so, so apologetic.
He hates that look on the other side’s face, and he’s pretty sure Virgil knows it.
“ You were more of a brother to me than my own brother ever was!” Remus tells him, voice approaching what can only be called screeching. “And then you just… You left, to try and help us, I get that, but then when everything was okay again, you chose him.”
“Yeah,” Virgil says, and reaches out to touch one of the shadows. It curls around his fingers, sinking into his skin, and he winces. “I thought I was protecting you from… this.”
“Well, you failed,” he snaps, merciless, cold.
“I know,” the other side nods, and Remus realizes his hands are shaking, that he-who-was-Anxiety is more nervous than he has ever seen him. “I am so, so sorry, Re, I…”
“It hurt, when you left,” Remus says after a moment, staring up at the ceiling and counting the cracks. “It was like you’d torn out our hearts and dumped gasoline all over them and set them on fire and then shoved them back into our chests. Spla-woosh. ”
“I fucked up,” Virgil says bluntly, and then hesitates. When he speaks again, his voice is far quieter, as if it could shatter at any loud noise. “I didn’t leave you for Ro, though. You’re my brother, too, Remus, or you were, I guess, and I… You’re always going to be important to me, okay? It’s not okay that I left, but I did think I was doing the right thing, and I never meant to choose the Light Sides over you guys, or anything like that. If I had known I had a choice, I would have chosen you, no matter what. And… I really am sorry.”
“...Stop saying you’re sorry,” Remus grumbles finally, breaking the silence that has settled between them after Virgil’s words. It is the closest to an admission of forgiveness Virgil will get, and they both know it. “Gotta save some for Jan, right?”
“I don’t think it’s possible to run out of apologies,” Virgil tells him, a hint of a grin playing at his lips. “And I am.”
“Yeah, I got that,” he rolls his eyes, and opens his arms wide, twisting so both of his muddy boots are on the couch cushions and he’s facing Virgil fully. “C’mere, emo nightmare.”
Virgil is staring at the stairs again, though, and Remus turns to look at them too, his neck cracking sickeningly as he does. Janus is there, his expression unreadable.
“I’m so sorry,” Virgil says once more, and Remus barely sees Janus move, only realizes he has when the other side collides with Virgil, tugging him into a hug, and using his extra arms to pull Remus in as well.
The hug isn’t exactly soft (Remus is still wearing his morningstar, and Virgil is all sharp edges) or warm (they’ve always tended more towards the cold, the two of them and Janus) or particularly nice (they are a jumbled mass of sides, and there’s a few too many arms in the equation for it to be entirely comfortable) but it is perfect, all the same.
These are Remus’ brothers, no matter what has happened between them. They have been for ages, for longer than they have been not , since he was created from the ashes of Creativity and since he lost his other half to the sides that now have accepted Remus, too. They always will be, he thinks, with Janus’ scales smooth against his cheek and Virgil’s hair tickling his neck.
He wouldn’t change that for the world.
The shadows don’t vanish immediately, or even fully. Thomas’ Mindscape reforms once more, and instead of darkness and light, they coexist in shades of grey. There are no Dark Sides anymore, and there are no Light Sides. There are just the different parts of Thomas, coexisting.
They are no longer the bad guys, the three who had been in the dark; there are no bad guys, anymore, and perhaps there never really were. There are just Remus and Janus and Virgil, (and the other sides too, Remus supposes) and they are the snake and the duke and the darkness, but that does not make them Dark Sides or villains or bad guys.
They are simply family, a family that found itself in the shadows. And Remus thinks — no, Remus knows — that with them by his side, his best friends and brethren and brothers, he can do anything.
Virgil, in the end, was right.
Everything turns out okay.