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being a ghost seems better to me

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Tommy finally vanishes from view, his expression fit to send pinpricks of discomfort down the back of Sam’s neck. A scowl of pure unadulterated fury that would have set Sam ablaze, only undercut by the tears pooling in Tommy’s eyes, betraying the intensity of an internal panic.

 

Ridiculous.

 

Ghostbur was just that - a ghost. Ghosts can’t die…

 

“Let me out! I’m going to revive him if you don’t let me out!”

 

Sam’s grip on his sword tightens.

 

Damn him. Damn Tommy. Why the fuck would Tommy of all people want to break Dream out?

 

“The book stated that I am not allowed to break Dream out of prison! And under no circumstances did that say that I couldn’t kill him!

 

A pressure builds and builds in his chest, one that crackles and pops, and smells acrid. Calm, a cacophony of voices seem to echo, those of fellow hybrids from his past, of bystanders who’d watched in fear as a buzz had vibrated through his chest. Of Po -

 

Calm, calm, calm. Sam lets out an irritated sigh, though it resonates around the room as more of a hiss, pressing gloved fingers into his temple. Calm. Don’t let your emotion hurt you, don’t let it hurt others. Yet another responsibility to shoulder.

 

Calm. A deep breath. Rational, be rational.

 

Liar. Tommy is known to be a thief and a liar. Tommy has to be lying…

 

Tommy’s face twisted in anger as he looked at Sam, drops of milk on his upper lip. The Axe of Peace was held in a white-knuckled grip - the same axe that had been swinging wildly for the prisoner but a minute prior.

 

Every time. Every time things began moving towards relative normality. Every time he let his guard down for even just a quarter of a minute - someone comes along to fuck it all up. He never learns…

 

“I will not allow Dream to be free,” he says to the empty entryway. A mantra. A reminder of everything he’s sacrificed for the prison, to keep the people of the server safe. He won’t allow those sacrifices to be in vain…

 

He can’t.

 

With a final sigh of frustration - he notes with slight pride that this one sounds more human - he sits at his desk, mind working at a hundred kilometers per hour. How could he stop people from sneaking in with invisibility pots?

 

‘Don’t let anyone visit’ is his first thought as he taps a quill against the table.

 

It is quickly shut down. He needs to let Quackity in.

 

They’re so close to getting the secret to revival. Too close to afford a halt of their efforts. Dream’s on his last leg -

 

If you don’t let me out, then I’ll revive him, and he’ll help me. Wilbur will help me.” 

 

Sam’s teeth clench and the quill snaps beneath his fingers.

 

Damn Tommy.

 

Damn Tommy for giving him hope.

 

They were so close. So close… now they’ll have to start again.

 

He drops the remains of the quill, picking up another, only for it to resume its tapping.

 

His leg bounces quickly as he thinks. Think think think think -

 

There’s another soft snap, and Sam sighs, letting the second broken quill fall to the table.

 

He stands, too restless to sit still, too furious to think properly, too focused on quelling the sparks in his chest to settle.

 

Do your rounds, clear your head, think while walking.

 

He double checks that the portal is closed, and with the shrill scrape of his chair against blackstone, he walks deeper into his haven.

 

.

 

There’s a soft, now familiar noise that echoes from behind him and bounces around the hall. It makes Sam freeze, then turn around, slowly, hesitantly.

 

Now? He’d nearly been done with his rounds, the final stretch of corridor beyond him. Another soft ‘clink’ sounds up beyond him, and he can see the small silver object bounce as it lands.

 

He nears, knowing already what they are. Two almond shaped objects, glinting in artificial light, gently picked up and cupped in a too large hand.

 

Ghast tears.

 

Another clink down the hallway, towards the warden’s prison exit.

 

Sam’s breath catches and he has to force himself to stay put.

 

“I don’t have time for this.” His voice rings down the corridor, all anger and betrayal drained, slunk to the dark corners of the mind and replaced by hoarse guilt.

 

Another soft echo.

 

He feels himself take a step forward.

 

The warden berates him. He needs to ensure that the prison is safe.

 

There’s just been a break-in.

 

The next clink is so soft that he can barely hear it.

 

Sam’s throat seizes up and he finds himself closer still.

 

The warden in him hisses, Don’t -

 

But he’s already running. Past identical blackstone walls, kneeling every few meters to pick up glistening solid tears.

 

They lead him to the end of the prison and out, past Bad’s mansion his stomach twists as he remembers the Red Banquet, Tommy’s house his mind rages with betrayal - is it his or Tommy’s? beyond buildings that all blur into one, and off the Prime Path, before he arrives at the L’Cast pond. The formerly well kept grass and flowers that have been abandoned are growing wild in HBomb’s absence, low hanging tree branches hovering over the pond, sticks, leaves, and water lilies left to float peacefully on the idle surface. There, kneeling next to the pool of water on the opposite side, is a figure, watching the wildlife within with a familiarly endearing intensity.

 

Sam’s pocket is weighted with the tears now, a phantom coldburn spreading from where they press against his side through coarse fabric. He takes a deep breath, pocketing the last ghast tear, before walking into the figure’s line of sight.

 

Ponk straightens upon Sam’s arrival, grin splitting his face as he waves. Sam waves back, hesitantly, watching as Ponk beckons him, sitting in a battered old boat in which two fishing rods and bait are neatly lined. Ponk’s smile widens when Sam approaches, paying no mind to the blue that spills from the corner of his lips,

 

“Sammy! You made it!”

 

Sam gulps, guilt crawling up his throat. “Yeah… I’m here.” He manages a small smile. “Hello, Ponk.”

 

Though, perhaps it isn't guilt. He remembers reading somewhere that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something that one has done or failed up against their values and feeling discomfort. One can learn from guilt - should and will. He knows that, no matter how painful, he won’t learn from this. Not in any constructive manner.

 

Perhaps it is shame, then. The intensely painful feeling and experience of believing that he is flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something that he’s done that makes him feel unworthy of connection. Then again, it was the flaw of his humanity that allowed Tommy to die -

 

He shakes his head. Now is not the time for such thoughts.

 

“Come!” Ponk’s smile is too warm. “Sit, sit! I thought we could go fishing. We haven’t done it in a while, since you’ve been all busy with the prison.” He scoots back, beckoning.

 

Sam’s feet move against his will, and he settles in the boat, taking the paddles. “Yeah…” Sam’s voice is a whisper. “Yeah, it’s been a while.”

 

Ponk’s smile grows, and he settles against the back of the boat, looking up at the big L’Cast sign floating above the adjacent hill, now overgrown with vibrant vines, water damage desaturating most of the crimson planks, a blatant contrast to the bright glowshrooms that line the letters.

 

“I cannot believe you managed to beat me when we did the interview. We seriously need a rematch - I bet that it was the Milkman, y’know?” Ponk smiles, readying his fishing rod as Sam silently rows them to the middle of the L’Cast pond. “What was the difference between us, again? Three points?”

 

“Four.” A gentle correction. Ponk pauses, considering, then gives Sam a cheeky smile.

 

“No, no, no. I’m sure it was three, stoopid.”

 

“... Sure Ponk, it was three.”

 

Ponk casts his line, a vindicated smile tugging at his lips. “Of course it was, I’m always right!”

 

Sam fishes in silence, listening as Ponk talks about everything and yet nothing. A bird he saw next to Prime that had strange white and red patterns decorating its feathers, the unusual amount of llamas he found by the entrance to the egg, some tunnels from years ago - now forgotten - that he found while chasing a cat.

 

Sam closes his eyes after a while, selfishly using Ponk’s voice to calm himself, letting it wrap itself around him like a blanket. A comfort he has no right to. They bask in the afternoon sun, the occasional splashes of hooks to water an accompaniment to the orchestra of gentle wind to leaves, waves lapping languidly against the boat, the song of birds perched in nearby trees.

 

The boat rocks gently with the breeze, and Sam allows himself a second to sink in all of the melodic peace, to lose all thoughts and simply… be.

 

.

 

His eyes open and the sun has drastically changed position, inching west, racing to hide its warmth behind the mountains on the meridian. Shit. He blinks a few times against the light. I must have dozed off. His head leans against something cold that’s almost intangible, and with a start he sits up, an apology dying on his tongue as a flare from the setting sun catches Ponk’s hair.

 

The subject of his speechlessness only quirks a lip. “Hey Sammy, have a nice rest?”

 

“... Yeah…” He blinks twice, realising with a pang that he'd abandoned Ponk to fish by himself. “I’m sorry - shit - we don’t get much time and -”

 

“Don’t apologise, Sam. You needed your rest. I’m just happy you could be here with me.” Ponk’s smile is gentle as he casts his final line. “I was honestly worried you were too busy - I saw Ghostbur and Tommy go into the prison earlier!”

 

At the reminder of the break-in, the anger resumes its simmer beneath Sam’s skin and his eyes narrow.

 

“Did you now?” His voice comes out harsher than intended, and Sam winces as Ponk flinches slightly.

 

“Ah, I’m sorry! Was I not supposed to see that?”

 

“No— I didn’t…” Sam sighs, combing a hand through his hair in frustration. “I’m sorry, it’s fine… Tommy and Ghostbur…” He looks up to see Ponk’s face, slight concern pinching his features, and that look fills Sam’s chest with warmth.

 

It shouldn’t. The warmth has an undertone of rot, a melting candle of gangrenous black. It emits the smell of decay - but Sam resolutely ignores it, even as the wax drips onto his heart and burns. He can still read Ponk, this Ponk, and he knows that the worry written into his face is not for the man himself. It’s for Sam.

 

Daring to be selfish ― for today, just for today let me be selfish ― he cups Ponk’s cheek. “Never mind Ponk, there’s no reason to worry about it.” Ponk’s brows furrow and he opens his mouth, cut off when Sam presses their foreheads together. “Really, don’t worry about it. I won’t let this get in the way of my goal. I swear.”

 

Ponk’s mouth closes, and Sam can feel the weight of black eyes on him, before they also close and Ponk leans into the touch. “He wants you to stop,” Ponk mutters after a minute, eyes blinking open to meet Sam’s. “He thinks you’re being stupid, y’know?”

 

Sam sighs, forcing himself to pull away from their pseudo-embrace. “You can think what you want… but I need to do this… I will never be able to forgive myself anyway, this is… some form of atonement.” He looks up at the setting sun, watching as the red and gold sky bathes the world in a warm glow before it’s plunged into darkness. “What about you?” he finally asks, fingers fiddling with the ghast tears in his pocket. “Do you think it’s stupid?”

 

“I don’t think you’ll like the answer,” Ponk whispers.

 

“Humour me.”

 

There’s a beat of silence. Then, “I don’t think you should, Sam.”

 

Sam whirls around, belatedly slowing his movements as the boat begins to sway dangerously. Ponk meets his gaze, softening as Sam’s voice breaks slightly. “Why?”

 

“You know why.”

 

The quiet returns, broken only by the evening harmonies of frogs and crickets.

 

“They do miss you.” Sam’s voice is hushed.

 

“Maybe they do… but this is nice. I’m… I’m at peace… I don’t… I don’t want to feel as I did… before.”

 

Shame returns to Sam’s chest with a vengeance.

 

Look at yourself! This isn't the Sam I know.

 

Can you not see the person you're turning into?

 

This isn't happening - this isn't happening, right? You're really doing this?

 

You can take my canon lives! You know why? Being a ghost seems better to me, than being alive and seeing you act like this―  

 

“Don’t.” Ponk’s voice breaks through the memory, and Sam returns from the now destroyed stone torture room back to the rickety old boat on the pond. Ponk’s cold hand holds onto his.

 

“I don’t blame you. Don’t blame yourself.”

 

Sam should argue. He should. But―

 

“The sun is setting,” he says instead, watching the last few rays of sun flare through the spaces between distant mountain peaks.

 

“It is.” Ponk sounds regretful, turning to Sam with the same smile that he had greeted him with. Too fond. “I’ll… see you soon.”

 

“See you soon, Ponk.”

 

“I love you,” Ponk tries.

 

Sam can’t bring himself to say it back, the words lay heavy on the tip of his tongue, heavier on his heart.

 

Then the sun is finally gone, and Ponk goes still, eyes unfocused.

 

Sam picks up the oars, rowing them back to shore in silence.

 

The boat’s keel hits the shore, and Ponk’s eyes come back into focus. There's a tense moment of stillness. He blinks. Once. Twice. Still getting his bearings. Then they latch onto Sam and the movement and noise is instantaneous.

 

“What the hell!?” Birds that rested on the water near the shore squawk with indignation at the sudden noise, taking off in flurries of feathers and water droplets.

 

Ponk scrambles out of the boat, summons his Supreme bat and points it at Sam, body tense and poised to fight.

 

“Hello, Ponk,” Sam says for the second time that day.

 

Ponk doesn’t return the greeting, eyes narrowed but still slightly glazed. Sam waits, patient, watching.

 

“What the hell,” Ponk repeats, then amends with a snarl, “What the fuck was that?”

 

“You wanted to go fishing.”

 

I sure as fuck didn’t. Not with you.” Ponk groans, pressing a translucent hand to his face, before startling. “The bastard took off my mask again―” His glare locks onto Sam, approaching menacingly. “Where did he put it?”

 

“I don’t know.” Ponk scoffs. “You already had it off when I arrived.” Ponk eyes him up and down, searching the boat around him. Finally, the bat lowers and Ponk backs away, cussing.

 

“That little shit.” He steps away from the boat, summoning a torch to search the surrounding flora. Upon his arrival to their agreed distance away, Sam leaves the boat, waiting silently. With a groan, Ponk gives up his search. “Fucker.”

 

“I can… help look for it, if you want -”

 

“I don’t need your help,” Ponk snaps, whirling to face Sam with a feral scowl. “Speaking of, we had a fucking agreement.”

 

Sam flinches, hand wrapping around the ghast tears, “I’m sorry… I -”

 

“Stop― Stop it! Stop apologising I don’t want to hear shit from you.” Sam’s mouths snaps shut. Ponk glares at him through bloodied eyes. “I thought we were on the same fucking page, you stop entertaining his requests. If he forces your hand, you fucking point to this―” Ponk gestures to himself, to the blue-bleeding wounds and burns that cover his entire body, to the translucent wrapped stump, blood still seeping and dripping through the bandages― “and you fucking tell him that this was you.”

 

“Ponk… every time I try, you don’t listen―”

 

“Fuck you. Try harder.” Ponk’s grin is mean as he approaches Sam. “You definitely put more effort in when you hunted me down and put a trident through my back.”

 

Sam flinches. “Ponk… I―”

 

“Not to mention all the time you spent making that chamber.” He straightens, deepening his voice, “‘This is your existence now. You and me, in here, until you give me the books,’” he drops the impression, eyes narrowing. “Now that I know what you’re letting Quackity do to Dream, who knows how much longer you would have continued for?”

 

“I wouldn’t” The words die on his tongue. Would he have kept Ponk for longer, had Ponk not given him the ten books back, had he not grabbed the final book and held it in his left hand? Would Sam have moved him to the prison with only a lonely enderchest as company until he broke, eyes listless and dull like Dream’s? His eyes gravitate towards Ponk’s ghostly blue-covered stump, and finds that he doesn’t know the answer to it.

 

“Yeah,” Ponk snorts, “right. I’m just surprised you didn’t take Tommy’s fucking legs for sneaking in.”

 

Sam stiffens at the mention of the teen, hands clenched. “I wouldn’t…

 

There’s a beat, a creeper explosion sounds off in the distance as if to emphasise it.

 

For a moment, Sam thinks that they’ve reached a stalemate. That Ponk will curse him out and leave as he always does when things get heated.

 

But Ponk stays.

 

His eyes fix on Sam’s wrist, where three healthy red hearts sit over the radial artery.

 

His lips twist into a scowl.

 

“Yeah no, you’d rather send the kid back to his own personal hell than kill the fucker that ruined everyone’s lives. You sure as hell didn’t hesitate doing it to me.”

 

.

 

“Sam!”

 

Sam blinked twice, heavy bags beneath his eyes. Las Nevadas was a tiresome project on a good day, one that took nearly everything out of him everytime he worked on it. The past week had not been a restful one ― the redstone in the casino was a menace.

 

Foolish stood before him, arms crossed, bearing an expression that Sam's topor-addled brain couldn't decipher.

 

“Oh, Foolish. Hello…” Sam sighed as his vision went blurry, adjusting his mask. “Look, whatever it is, can it wait? I’m really tired―”

 

“Sam… I’m not mad,” he prefaced, “but I need to know. Why did you do it?” Sam blinked again, focusing on Foolish once more. The Totem God’s face was pinched, hands tense where they rested on his forearms.

 

Sam sighed again. Whatever it was, hopefully he could resolve it quickly. “Be more specific ― why did I do what, Foolish?”

 

Foolish’s eyes widened in incredulity, before his brows snapped down and he straightened, taking a steadying breath. “You know what I’m talking about, Sam. Why did you kill Ponk?”

 

Oh, so that’s what it was about.

 

“Ponk stole some keycards to the prison, Foolish. He wouldn’t give them back. I couldn’t let him break Dream out.” Sam listed what he’d been telling himself over and over ever since… that day.

 

“As far as I’m aware,” Foolish said, searching Sam’s face, “those keycards were defunct. Why did you go after him again?”

 

“It was the intentions behind him having them.” Another repeat of words Sam had already said, ones he’d chanted to himself over and over like prayer. “At least now, he’ll never mess with the prison again.”

 

Foolish went silent for a long moment. Then he scoffed, walking briskly past Sam. “Yeah, you sure made sure of that.”

 

Sam watched him go, an uneasy tingle settling on the back of his neck. But it had been weeks since he had been home. Properly home, to his base ― to Fran  to rest.

 

So his legs took him directly to the Nether, into the heavy heat of the infernal world. He walked up to his packed ice bridge, glancing over the blue covering his boat chest, and chalked it up to Ghostbur.

 

He went through another portal, the stark change from torrid fire to dank, humid underground air was a mild shock, temporarily bringing him enough focus that he noticed the blue smeared all over the portal room. That unease returned tenfold. What would Ghostbur want with Sam of all people?

 

Leaning down, he wiped some of the blue from the ground, the fine powder staining his fingers as they pulled away from the floor. Just as the cogs of his thoughts began to turn, the shock wore off and lethargy returned.

 

His hand dropped to his side and he grabbed his trident. If it was important, Ghostbur could come find him again.

 

He entered the water elevator, closing his eyes and allowing himself the moment to enjoy the cold caress of the sea as soulsand  bubbles carried him towards the surface. Then, his eyes opened and he thrust his trident forward, the enchanted weapon warming in his hands as the runes carved into the metal glowed.

 

The twirling rush of movement kickstarted the beginnings of a migraine into overdrive, almost enough for him to land on shore and walk the rest of the distance.

 

But the sky was grey and overcast, fat droplets falling from the heavens, and the faster he could get to his base, the faster he could doze off his migraine, the faster he could curl up with Fran on his bed ―

Ponk slept with his head resting on Sam’s chest, breaths   quiet  and fluttering over Sam’s skin. Sam smiled gently down at him, running a hand through his hair, holding back a coo as Ponk unconsciously pressed against the fingers, a content sigh escaping his lips  ―  

 

…Maybe the couch would be a better option.

 

Sam gritted his teeth against the now almost icy cold of the rain and winds. Wandering thoughts won’t help. Stay focused, he reminded himself, preemptively summoning a water bucket for his arrival back home.

 

He landed with a semi amused, “He’s cracked, your honour,” one that was mumbled to the hill that fronted a complex base of redstone. Or at least, it should’ve been a hill. The entrance gaped at him, mocking, like the maw of a giant creature that lived in the fabled End. Tension straightened his back, held tauter than a bowstring, a glowing netherite sword illuminating an otherwise dimly lit entrance.

 

Heartbeat steady, he inched deeper into his base, ears strained for any sound, any indication that the intruder was still here. There’s a growl in the distance, and the steadiness of his heart dropped. Fran.

 

Abandoning all caution in favour of relatively controlled protective panic, he ran down his main hall, skidding into his and Ponk’s  room, sword raised and ready.

 

He spotted Fran playing with a toy he’d never seen before, tail wagging as she brought it up to the middle of the room, dropping it with a happy pant . Sam let out a sigh, lowering his sword. “What was that, girl? You scared me.”

 

Sam’s voice startled her, taking her attention away from the edge of the room and to the entrance. In an instant, she was running up to him, toy forgotten in lieu of jumping onto him, paws pressed against his chest plate to give him wet loving licks to the face. Sam laughed, sheathing his sword to hug her close, to let the knot that had formed in his chest loosen.

 

“I’m home,” he mumbled into her fur, ready to doze off right then and there.

 

But Fran pulled away, excitedly bounding to the middle of the room and looking up at… nothing? Whatever she was looking at seemed to move, as she picked up the toy and repeatedly put it back down, closer and closer to the room’s wall.

 

Sam’s eyes narrowed. “Who’s there?”

 

No response.

 

Fran looked between the invisible person and Sam, whining as whoever had been standing there stayed silent.

 

Sam took a step forward, and finally, there was a noise. The very faint sound of clothes rustling. It took all of Sam’s willpower not to bring out the Warden’s Will again, but Fran didn’t seem worried ― rather the opposite. Still, this was his base, and intruders were not welcome.

 

“If you don’t show yourself, we’re gonna have a problem,” Sam called across the room, taking another step forward.

 

Finally, a shaky sigh escaped the intruder, and Fran followed them back to the centre of the room, looking almost as if she was trying to push them towards Sam. Though, as the invisible figure passed through the space, Fran was, in fact, the only reason that Sam could tell that time was still passing. His first time in weeks that he’d returned home, and their his room  was the same as how he’d left it. His bed hadn’t been made, pyjamas messily scrunched up and tossed near the pillows, various books about redstone and farming on the nightstand, Ponk’s personal effects still strewn about every surface, he’d never been one about meticulous tidiness  ― a still image from what felt like hundreds of years ago.

 

Sam didn’t think he could ever bring himself to move anything now… Maybe he’d burn it, build himself a room with  no more traces of his― of Ponk.

 

Well, in any case, that was a problem for later. Sam was exhausted, and he had no energy for either problem. But one was likely to be less draining, and impeding his rest so―

 

“Do you have milk on you?” he demanded.

 

The figure was silent for another moment before―

 

“No…”

 

Ponk?!

 

Sam’s sword was instantly in his hand, Fran yelping as the blade was pointed at the invisible man. Any residual guilt from the week before was instantly trumped by suspicion. “What are you doing here.

 

“Um―'' Sam's brows furrowed, sword dropping slightly at Ponk’s tone, “I was just feeding and spending time with Fran! Cause you’ve been gone for a while, and your automated system is broken, and you never actually found someone new to do it after… well, I just didn’t want to leave her alone for too long, y’know?” Sam’s sword lowered until its point rested against the floor. What the— “But you’re home! That’s good! I’ve missed seeing you, y’know, but ah― yeah, I’m sure you don’t want to see me so I’ll just―”

 

“Ponk, why are you really here?” Sam hated that he sounded so tired. He hated that he was the reason he was so suspicious of Ponk.

 

“I― I’m not lying. I really am here for Fran.” Her ears were ruffled as if to prove the point.

 

Sam tried to read Ponk’s voice, but he’d never been the best at gleaning intentions or emotions, especially not from disembodied voices. So, instead, he shook his head and left the room, heading for his fridge.

 

He sighed, grabbing a glass and pouring some milk from a bucket into it. After taking a whiff and finding no sour notes, he turned back and faced the room to extend it to Ponk. “Drink this, show yourself.” It was more of a demand than an offer.

 

“I don’t think I should.” Ponk’s voice was hesitant ― why was it echoing like that? ― almost self-deprecating. “The past two times I showed myself to people, they looked really upset. I don’t wanna upset you again, Sam.”

 

“Ponk, I’m tired, I’m not in the mood. Show yourself, then get out.”

 

Ponk’s hesitance was tangible in the air, but Sam thrust the glass of milk in the direction of his voice, and a sigh swept through the room.

 

“Okay, if you’re sure.”

 

But instead of hearing footsteps indicating an approach, or feeling the cold glass of milk being taken from his hand, Sam felt a shiver run down his spine as a presence made itself known behind him. It felt wrong, unreal ― it didn’t feel like Ponk.

 

Sam turned slowly, free hand ready to summon the Warden’s Will, but stopped short.

 

Somewhere in the distance, lightning flashed, illuminating the figure in front of him from behind, and through him. A split second of light that seemed to last an eternity as it highlighted the phantom blue blood that dripped from his lips, the mess of burnt flesh that covered practically all visible skin, and the stump of his arm, wrapped in bandages that Sam himself had messily tied around it, stained permanently.

 

The figure’s face was bare, a face that very few people had been given the right to see in recent years. Ponk smiled at him, unsure, playing with the remains of his hoodie’s sleeve. He opened his mouth, but Sam couldn’t hear what he’d said. Ponk’s eyes were a bloodied blue, deep bags beneath them.

 

But what demanded Sam’s attention was Ponk’s neck. The bandages that used to cover it were gone, perhaps burned away during his… his torture, and there, underneath his jaw, sat three prominent hearts. All of them distorted, scratched out, colourless.

 

All of them dead.

 

“Ponk?” The word caught in his throat as his eyes focused on the blacked out lifemarks. Thunder had sounded just as he had spoken, and it drowned out the strangled nature of the question.

 

“See, I told you that people have been getting upset, stoopid.” Ponk huffed, taking no mind of the blue that dripped from his chin and down onto the remains of his tattered hoodie.

 

“Ho― How did this―” Ponk looked at him, and if anything so far hadn’t completely woken him up, then the icy realisation that had frozen all the blood in his veins certainly did. “I… I did this?”

 

“I mean... yeah…” He shrugged. “I don’t think anyone else cared enough about me to do this.”

 

Sam took a step back, eyes wide. “No― That wasn’t… I didn’t―”

 

No. No, no, no. This wasn’t right― This was wrong. This couldn’t be happening. Ponk couldn’t be…

 

Ponk shrugged again, his hoodie shifting to reveal three parallel holes in his chest, still oozing blue beneath the fabric.

 

No. No. Sam had only meant to take one. Only one, when had the other two―  

 

Sam ran around the debris of the Manburg festival, calling for any survivors. He had managed to get away, from the explosives, from Technoblade and the podium where Tubbo’s dead body had slumped against the back of his cage, a hole in his chest.

 

“Nikki? Ponk? Callahan?” His voice was hoarse as he called out his friends’ names, lifting cracked pieces of stone to uncover nothing but shattered chairs. Had they died? The thought caused shivers to run down his spine. Had they gotten away?   Had they respawned? He checked his communicator again, but it glitched, various error signs popping up all over the cracked screen. Useless .

 

“Bad? Quackity?” His eyes caught something red  in the distance, and he ran, tripping over upturned stone and rubble, crashing beside the slumped form of his friend. Ponk was out cold, eyes shut and face pallid. Sam’s eyes shifted from Ponk to the bed he had slumped against. Had he respawned? Had he died?   No , he rationalised, almost desperately, looking at the heavy trail of blood that led from the crater left by Techno’s rockets to where Ponk laid―

 

His breath hitched.

 

―where Ponk laid with his legs gone .

 

The bleeding had stopped by the time Sam had arrived. Bleeding from missing limbs didn’t just stop for no reason.

 

That had been…

 

Ponk had…

 

Sam flinched backwards, eyes glued to bionic legs that had joined Ponk in his incorporeal state, the occasional spark crackling softly whenever Ponk shifted his weight, the metal twisted and deformed in several places where lava had―  

 

Fuck.

 

“Ponk…”

 

“It’s fine, Sam.” Ponk smiled as Fran ran up to him, pressing herself against his legs.

 

“No! I didn’t mean―  I didn’t want―”

 

“It’s okay, Sam, really,” Ponk cut off gently. “I meant what I said that day. Y’know, ‘I’d rather be a ghost?’” Ponk gave Sam a helpless smile. “I mean, no one’s gonna miss me anyway, right? The server’s better off with me dead.”

 

Desperation climbed up Sam’s throat, and he stepped forward to grab see-through hands that felt like cold solid air. “Ponk, no, that’s―’

“Sam.” Ponk’s
sigh-like laugh was melancholy, pierced Sam right through the heart. “It’s alright. I mean it. It’s not like I was ever someone significant, someone that actually meant something to other people, right? Whenever I did, it wasn’t… for the best reasons.” His eyes became distant, but he shook his head and his eyes met Sam’s again. “And never for long. So this is fine, I’m glad you took my final lives.” He smiled, and it was far too sincere. “You kept your promise, Sammy. I can’t hurt the server now. I won’t be able to get in your way! Isn’t that great?”

 

“Ponk, you’re wrong, I never wanted to―  I didn’t mean… You meant―”

 

“No, I didn’t.” Sam would’ve expected the voice to be sad, bitter. But the words were matter-of-fact, almost relieved. “When Tommy died, the entire server knew within the day. We grieved, and it hurt so much. I saw what his death did to the others, to you, Sam. It broke you.

 

“But me? It’s been two weeks, and barely anyone knows about my final death. And it’s proof that this was good, don’t you see?” Ponk gently pulled his hands out of Sam’s, walking backwards to ruffle Fran’s ears. “You don’t have to be sad.” He straightened, tilting his head with a smile so bright that it had Sam falling to his knees before him, hands reaching but stopping short as Ponk’s next words echoed around the room. “You were always too good for me anyway. You deserved better, and now you can have it.” Ponk’s eyes closed and Sam choked back a sob. “You should be proud, Sam. You kept the server safe from me. You succeeded.”

 

Then Ponk was gone, a single ghast tear where he had been standing, and Sam was alone with Fran.

 

And Sam stayed still as a statue until his communicator fell out of his pocket, tousled by a whining dog urging him to move.

 

It had been silenced for his work in Las Nevadas, the distraction of conversation too tempting.

 

He slowly reached for it, scrolling up and up, back to two weeks prior.

 

Ponk was exsanguinated by Awesamdude using Warden’s Torment.

 

.

 

“‘I will take your last canon life, and I will hunt the ghost that remains.’ Sound familiar?”

 

Sam rouses out of the intrusive memory, and stays quiet.

 

Ponk’s smile is now bitter, a jarring contrast to the warmth of his earlier expression, blood spilling past sneering lips. “You made a similar threat to me after you cut my arm off, didn’t you?”

 

Sam, fingers tightening around the ghast tears, doesn’t trust his voice to not betray him. To betray that he could kill Ponk, but that he couldn’t kill Tommy. Betray him to who? What could Ponk possibly do with this information now?

 

“Except, that wasn’t quite right? Was it?” Ponk shakes his head violently, blue blood splattering on the ground below before dissipating. “No, that threat was supposed to be a warning! To dissuade me from ever messing with your precious prison again!” Ponk’s shrill laugh of incredulity and bitterness shoots straight through Sam. He feels it wrap around his lungs, vines and thorns dig into spongy flesh as they restrict and tighten, and he finds his breath being forced out — past his lips — that he can’t breathe anymore. He wants to cry, to fall before Ponk’s bitter ghost and beg for forgiveness…

 

But he doesn’t deserve it.

 

“And yet. Here we are, Sam. You never gave me a fucking chance… Tommy was right, you are corrupt.”

 

Sam’s shame burns, but his pride burns brighter, and his head snaps up to return Ponk’s glare. “I am not corrupt. Everything I did, I did to try and help―”

 

“Yeah, yeah, you spewed the same bullshit to Tommy.”

 

He takes a step forward. “It’s not bullshit!” Sam stops short.

 

Everything stills.

 

Ponk’s face steams, two sizzling blue lines clearly carving parallel down his cheeks, steam rising with every droplet that rolls over them. Eyes that had widened now narrow, scowl overtaking the brief flash of panic. Neither of them mention the fall, nor the scramble backwards.

 

“Fuck,” Ponk mutters, wiping at his face with a translucent sleeve, hissing as the tears go straight through the ghostly fabric and onto his skin.

 

Sam doesn’t offer a hand as Ponk stands, neither does he tenderly wipe the tears from Ponk’s face as he once would have as they continue their assault on semi-transparent flesh.

 

He lost that privilege.

 

“Fuck you, Sam,” Ponk says finally, shifting his glare from the steam rising from his remaining hand to Sam. “Stay away from me. Stay away from the thing that follows you around during the day. Just… stay away.” He snatches the fishing rods and turns around, walking a few steps before stopping short and summoning a trident the large SAMMY WAMMY 123 that had been etched in Ponk’s own scrawling handwriting is scratched out, almost to the point of being unintelligible.

 

Sam tenses, but makes no move to summon a weapon of his own. Is this it? Is this where I lose my first life? he wonders absentmindedly as Ponk adjusts his grip on the shaft. He feels his eyes flutter shut. Do it, he thinks, though the warden screams at him, as if Ponk could hear him. I won’t fight this… I deserve it.

 

There’s a tense moment, then a sudden rustle of clothing as Ponk turns, aims, and throws. Sam flinches minutely as the air next to his cheek moves, disturbed. Then there’s a squelch, a groan, and a thud behind him. Sam’s eyes open and Ponk is gone, the fish caught during their session left in a pile where he was standing.

 

Sam turns slowly, almost afraid, to see the collapsed corpse of a zombie but a meter from where he stands.

 

His throat goes dry and clenches simultaneously. It was a clean throw, right through the chest, no hesitation. “Thanks, Ponkie,” he whispers to the air, gingerly picking his way to the pile of fish.

 

A ghast tear sits on the very top.

 

It’s picked up so gently, with such tenderness, that one may have thought it were a precious jewel. Without another word, he puts it in his other pocket, separate from the previous ones, and collects the fish.

 

See you around, Ponk.

 

.

 

Ponk never liked showing his life marks. The three little hearts had been on the side of his neck, red and high enough to be clearly visible above his hoodie’s collar. Sam had seen them, years ago ― long before Wilbur and Tommy, and the wars that had followed their arrival. Before the fear of losing their lives became tangible with the slaughter of the L’Manburgians.

 

Ponk had started hiding them when he’d started wearing his balaclava.

 

“I just don’t like people staring at them, y’know?” Ponk had reasoned, rubbing the bandages that had been wrapped around his neck, keeping the amount of healthy life marks a secret.

 

It was a reasonable explanation. Most people had their lifemarks on their wrists, right above the radial artery— it is… it was rare to see people with marks above their carotid artery instead.

 

But it wasn’t Ponk’s  reason, not really.

 

Ponk said so himself, right after the Manburg festival that had taken Tubbo’s second life.

 

“People knowing how many lives I have is bad,” he muttered as he slipped on his left-leg’s liner, frowning as he felt an air bubble, and pulling it off of his residual limb to put it back on properly.

 

“How so?” Sam frowned, adding the finishing touches to Ponk’s  new bionic legs, the dull redstone light lazily seeping through the occasional gap in the metal.

 

“Well if I die, right? And ― I don’t know ― I only have one life left, people can try to use that against me.”

 

“Isn’t it best if you at least let someone know?”

 

“Nah, Sam. ‘Cause then I can be used against someone else, y’know? ‘Yar! Do this or Ponk gets it!’ ” Sam  looks up to see Ponk staring at his legs, eyes downcast and glazed with thought. He blinked twice and smiled, meeting Sam’s gaze. “I don’t wanna be a burden to myself or others that way. So,” he let the word drag on, “I keep ‘em hidden.”

 

“You’re not a burden Ponk,” Sam had said, frowning, handing the first bionic leg to the doctor when he reached for it.

 

“Hm, yeah that’s the point, stoopid,” Ponk hummed, wincing as he slipped his stump into the leg’s socket. “I also just really hate pity. I don’t need people treating me like glass cause I only got one life left. I mean, hell, I don’t have any legs, I can still beat yo’ ass.” He flicked Sam between his eyebrows as if to prove his point.

 

Sam had nodded then, agreeing easily, and found himself graced with one of Ponk’s smug smiles. It was then that Sam promised not to ask. To never treat Ponk as fragile.

 

To treat a mortal man as immortal.

 

.

 

“You should be careful,” Ponk mutters, eyes surveying Las Nevadas from where Sam is observing the schematic for the most recent casino game.

 

“I always am,” Sam responds, white pencil making final adjustments, quick calculations written in the margins.

 

“Not of me, not anymore.”

 

The pencil pauses, shoulders tensing minutely. “Should I be?” His voice is even, barely hiding the threatening undertones.

 

Ponk shrugs, hand reaching out from under the awning, fingers steaming and sizzling as the snow begins to coat them. “He really wants you to stop. He wants to stop you from trying to get the revival book from Dream. He hates what you’re doing.”

 

I’m not doing anything,” Sam sighs, walking over to Ponk and gently pulling his hand out from under the snow. “Besides, it’s… it’s necessary.”

 

“Did Quackity tell you that?” Ponk’s voice is humourless, the ghost a lot more subdued with the heavy weather. Sam tenses again, but Ponk shakes his head. “That’s not why I brought it up. I’m sure he’ll yell at you about our thoughts at some point. Just—” Ponk sighs a breath that should have been visible in the frigid air, one that Sam should have felt on the uncovered parts of his skin. “You’re under a lot of pressure. People under pressure don’t often make the best decisions. If you have a moment of quiet… reflect. Even if it hurts.”

 

“I’ll… I’ll try,” Sam whispers, though the words feel wrong, untrue. This Ponk, as always, looks at him with a maskless face, and shineless eyes. A ghostly shiver sneaks it’s way up Sam’s back, a manifestation of the deep emotion in Ponk’s eyes. The one that tells Sam that Ponk believes him about as much as he believes himself.

 

“I’m tired,” Ponk says finally, pulling his arm from Sam’s grasp. “I’ll leave you to your work.”

 

.

 

Sam traverses the intricately patterned path towards Foolish’s Summer Home.

 

“He’s probably on a building binge again,” Quackity complained, pocketing his communicator. The god hasn’t responded to any of his summons.

 

Sam, now apparently an errand boy, is pulled from his own project to go fetch him. “You need a break anyway.” Quackity grinned, golden tooth glinting in the just as golden evening light. Sam acquiesced, making no mention of the obvious reason why the one-eyed man wasn’t going himself.

 

Karl and Sapnap, after weeks of being holed up in Kinoko Kingdom, have recently been seen hanging around the community house.

 

The chill night air of the desert is a pleasant welcome after the Nether, and Foolish’s builds are exceptionally beautiful bathed in moonlight. They lessen Sam’s chagrin somewhat, at being kicked out of his own workshop because of Quackity’s pusillanimity.

 

You’re one to talk, a voice that sounds too much like a certain ghost echoes in his head.

 

He shakes it off. Get Foolish, enjoy the fresh air on your way back, and resume your work― he stops short.

 

A giant, red brick sits a ways off next to the giant nether portal. “suprE” is painted on its front, in bulky, uneven letters.

 

That… does not seem like something Foolish would build.

 

He tears his eyes away from the red concrete monstrosity, pushing down the feelings of familiarity that are blooming in his chest the longer he looks at it.

 

Two things: find Foolish, relay Quackity’s message. Then he can go.

 

As always, however, nothing ever comes easily. He checks the main temple, and finds no one. The large chamber is empty. He looks inside the side temple, still no one. He isn’t in the two-headed snake, or in the new “circle building”, or in the bed flanked by chests.

 

Sam frowns, padding through the village, quiet in an effort not to wake anyone. No. Foolish is nowhere to be seen.

 

Sam, after an hour of searching, gives up, resigned to go back to Las Nevadas and tell Quackity to either wait until Foolish looks at his communicator, or suck it up and go find the totem shark himself.

 

That is, until a light behind the “suprE” brick catches his eye. A small hut, asymmetrically built out of various types of wood, sits snugly on the top of the hill behind it, soft plumes of smoke drifting from its chimney.

 

There’s a light on inside, small rays seeping out into the darkness of night from the fringes of curtains. The light shifts, shadows moving from beyond the drapery.

 

Someone is inside.

 

Sam has known Foolish for only a few months, but this hut, much like the red brick, does not seem like something he’d build, rather, it doesn’t seem like anything most people on the server would build. Two people flash through his mind, one who builds with cobblestone, the other who lived to break the status quo.

 

An hour already wasted, Sam resigns himself to one more climb. Maybe whoever this newcomer is can relay his message.

 

The stairs up to the hut are clumsily placed, almost dangerously so, supported only by brittle glowstone. Clearly no concern for safety, Sam muses, water bucket ready in case the cobblestone collapses beneath his feet. He is almost surprised and mildly disappointed when he nears the offset door to the hut, and the stairs still stand.

 

The lights beyond the curtains shift again, a voice muffled by the wood speaks, and Sam straightens, ready to be cordial with whoever lies beyond the threshold. He raises his hand to knock and freezes as the voice comes closer to the door,

 

“That’s what I’m telling you, Foolish, dinosaurs weren’t real!”

 

A different voice chuckles, “Oh? Then all those bones that archeologists have found? They were just… placed there?”

 

“Exactly! Big Pharma companies faked them all. It’s just like the moon landing!”

 

“Moon land― what on Earth are you going on about?” The owner of the voice tries to sound exasperated, but he just sounds fond.

 

“Foolish, look. Big Pharma created dinosaurs — the perfect shapes to sell chicken nuggets! They’re evil, I tell you, evil! You can’t trust them!”

 

Foolish laughs again. “Uh huh. And the Amazon Rainforest was planted, right?”

 

“Yes! You’re getting it!” Sam can hear the grin in the echoing voice.

 

Knock knock.

 

The voices inside go quiet.

 

The door opens, and Foolish is standing there, back bent to accommodate his height in the two meter doorway, silhouetted by a warm firelight.

 

“Oh, Sam, hi.” Foolish’s smile is slight. “What’re you doing here at this time of night?”

 

“Hey Foolish, I have a message from Quackity…” There is movement behind Foolish, tense and rigid. Foolish blinks once, then nods, ducking outside of the hut.

 

“I’ll be right back!” he calls behind him, where Ponk stands leaning against a wall, arm folded over his chest. Sam is sure that if he still had both of them, they’d be tightly crossed.

 

Ponk glances between them, and gives a sharp nod, turning away and floating upstairs, out of sight.

 

Foolish sighs, and faces Sam, now standing at his full ‘shrunken’ height. Even in his more humanoid form, Foolish towers high over Sam. “So? What did the bossman want?”

 

“I don’t actually know. He just wants you to get to Las Nevadas as soon as possible. Probably something related to the highway.”

 

Foolish deadpans, raising a golden brow, “He couldn’t just wait until morning?”

 

Sam shrugs, hands raised helplessly. “You know how he is. ‘Las Nevadas never sleeps’ and all that.”

 

Foolish hums, taking out his communicator. “Well, thanks for telling me.” His brows shoot up in surprise as the abundance of messages from Quackity pop up across the screen.

 

“Yeah…” Sam starts to turn, but something stops him. He hesitates, and then, before he can stop himself, he asks, “What is Ponk doing here?”

 

Foolish’s hand stops scrolling, green eyes gliding from the screen to Sam, the intensity almost pinning.

 

“Well,” Foolish says finally, “Ponk and I made a bet before he died. He lost and so he had to build a Supreme fridge—” he gestures to the giant brick— “and then… well, you know what happened to him.” Sam suppresses a flinch. Foolish puts away his communicator and looks back towards the building. “He needed a place to stay. The desert is good for ghosts. It rarely rains, and... he was lonely.”

 

A pang resonates in Sam’s chest.

 

“Oh.”

 

“Yeah. He keeps me company while I build here at night. Vanishes during the day, but I’m sure you know better than me what he does then.” Foolish leans back against the hut, wood creaking.

 

Sam wordlessly nods, feeling the phantom touch of cold material air in his hand, of the ghast tears that Day Ponk always leaves for him.

 

The silence is loud, unbroken by still air and stiller surroundings. Finally, Foolish stretches, and ducks to reenter the hut.

 

“Well, tell Quackity I got his messages, and that I’ll be there in the morning, at a reasonable hour.”

 

“Ah— I don’t think he’ll like that.”

 

Foolish turns to regard him, unimpressed. “Quackity can deal for a few hours without me. Goodnight, Sam.”

 

Foolish ducks back into the hut, and the door shuts softly behind him.

 

“Ponk?” the god’s voice rings out from beyond the wood. “I’m back!”

 

“What did he want?” Ponk’s voice is cold.

 

“Relaying a message, nothing to worry about.”

 

“Hm… well, it’s late, maybe you should sleep.”

 

“And leave our riveting conspiracy conversation on a cliffhanger? Perish the thought.”

 

Ponk makes a sound, he― he laughs, beyond the door. A laugh that is warm and loud, one that his daytime self never has the energy to match.

 

Jealousy and grief wash over Sam in tandem, but his feet unconsciously take him towards the crumbling stair.

 

You’ve lost the right.

 

Behind him, the muffled voices fade out, leaving him back in that still, overwhelming silence.

 

.

 

“What’s up with you and Foolish?” Sam curses his big mouth as the question accidentally slips, blocks for the bank summoned in hand.

 

The ghost stops his humming, glancing over at Sam with wide, curious eyes. “I don’t really spend much time with him,” Ponk says after a moment, adding with a hum, “that’s mostly night me.”

 

“Do you… know why… ah, forget it.”

 

“Sam… are you jealous?”

 

“No!”

 

The lie is spoken easily, but the tightness of his chest sings the truth. He is jealous. Sam is jealous. Sam is a hypocrite.

 

“Night Ponk is going to hate that…” Ponk laughs, a quiet thing, twirling blond curls nervously around his fingers.

 

Sam groans. “Don’t tell him.”

 

“I won’t. But he knows now.”

 

.

 

Sam voiced his disapproval when Quackity suggested Foolish for Las Nevadas.

 

He isn’t a good person,” he said, recalling the lightning that struck his former friends, the violent look in his eyes as he summoned the storm from a clear desert sky.

 

Quackity still went ahead, of course. They needed more power.

 

Sam dealt with it. Foolish ― granted ― isn’t a bad guy. But Sam was and is unsure about his limits — and uncertainty leads to mistakes, miscalculations, and loss.

 

But now, as Foolish leaves the site for the day, and the setting of the sun brings forth the appearance of Ponk by his side, and the ghost greets him with closed, happy eyes, Sam can’t help but hate the man slightly.

 

It’s irrational, another flaw of the human side of him. Sam should be happy, in fact. Foolish is kind, helpful, empathetic. Everything Ponk needs… everything he deserves.

 

But, as Sam watches Ponk float lazily alongside the god, laughing about something Foolish said, he can’t help but think that that used to be him.

 

If Ponk hadn’t broken the rules, he’d still be alive, the voice of the warden echoes.

 

This time, Sam doesn’t shut it up. He lets it speak, he allows all of the hidden thoughts of blame become tangible in his mind.

 

And for the first time, he allows himself to fully blame Ponk.

 

.

 

“Ponk! Get back across the bridge — right fucking now!” Sam’s voice rattles his own bones, Quackity’s calculating narrow eyes shift between Dream, Ponk, and Sam — silent.

 

Blue drips from Ponk’s chin, and for but a moment, a split second, he sees Ghostbur, face steaming as he cries and begs—

 

“Ponk!” Sam’s voice grows more desperate as the ghost slips through the barrier and faces Dream, who watches him warily from the corner where Quackity left him.

 

Ponk regards the room, the crimson that coats the black floor and Dream’s orange prison outfit — long since having been soiled beyond repair. Even from his ledge, Sam can taste the metallic tang of blood in the air, permeating, long since having seeped into the cracked divots of the obsidian.

 

The ghost takes a step forward, stopping short as Dream flinches backwards, dull, green eyes wide.

 

“Ponk, if you don’t come back here right now, I will shoot you.”

 

Ponk ignores him, taking a step forward again. The prisoner watches warily, pressing himself as far as he can into the corner, still as death as Ponk finally stops before him. The ghost kneels down in front of him, and asks:

 

“Do you want me to end this?”

 

All is still. The prisoner doesn’t respond, and Ponk summons a knife. Upon the blade’s appearance, Dream’s breath hitches.

 

“No… I don’t want to die.” He bows his head, burying it in blood covered hands. “Prime, I don’t want to die.”

 

Sam watches, tense, as the knife is brought closer to Dream’s chest. He can feel Quackity’s eyes boring into his soul, curious and assessing. No, no, no, no. I can’t lose control. I need to be in control ―  

 

Sam wills himself to be apathetic again, summoning the Warden. His eyes harden, hand summoning  a bow, the other an arrow. Nocking the projectile into place, he draws it. “Last chance, Ponk! Step away from the prisoner!”

 

He hears fabric tear, and the arrow is released, meeting its mark in Ponk’s shoulder. Blue spurts, and he hears Ponk grunt, but the ghost makes no move to step away, hands working on—

 

“Is he—” Quackity cuts himself off, a small unreadable smile tugging at a scarred lip. “Huh.”

 

Dream hisses as Ponk presses an alcohol-soaked cotton ball to his wounds, fabric that had fused with his skin cut away. “Stop being a baby,” Ponk mutters, cleaning away clotted blood, a scowl visibly growing the more he cleans away, throwing red covered cotton after red covered cotton behind him.

 

The chamber is far too quiet, three pairs of eyes glued to the ghost as he works, one in pain, one in interest, and one numb.

 

The pile of blood and grime-soaked pads continues to grow, eventually joined by pus-covered swabs.

 

“That’s enough,” Sam orders as Ponk summons a needle and string, handing them to Dream to thread. A needle could be used as a weapon.

 

At his voice, Ponk turns, and Sam has to stop himself from flinching at the look of utter disgust that wrinkles translucent brows. “This.” His voice is quiet, but it echoes around the chamber as if it were a shout. “This is what you’ve become, Sam. Someone who enables murder and torture, who won’t even treat his own prisoner.”

 

“I’m doing what I have to—”

 

“Don’t give me that crap,” Ponk snaps, pulling the arrow from his shoulder. Blue splatters against black and red. “Quackity may have been able to infect your head with that fucked up rhetoric, but we both know it isn’t true.” Ponk’s eyes narrow, turning back to grab the needle and begin his work. Despite it, his voice still rings clear around the chamber. “You’re not the good guy, Warden. You’ve allowed the power to corrupt you.” He pauses, tying off the final stitch and snipping away the thread. He stands, and he turns, eyes ablaze. “You’re evil.”

 

With that, he tosses bandages to the prisoner, and vanishes.

 

Quackity, beside him, laughs.

 

.

 

“Well, that was just rude.” Ponk’s voice startles Sam out of his work, Warden’s Will poised and ready to strike.

 

Ponk looks at him, unimpressed. Movement to the side catches Sam’s attention, an arrow, spinning in Ponk’s hand… arrowhead stained blue.

 

“That—”

 

“Hm, yeah. The arrow you shot me with.”

 

“I’m…”

 

“Sorry?”

 

“I― No. No, I’m not… I… I can’t lose control, Ponk. You disobeyed— You broke the rules of the prison. I have to follow protocol, and you didn’t listen.”

 

“Hm. Well I did what I intended to do, regardless of injury.” The hole in his arm seeps blue. Sam wasn’t aware that ghosts can get injured by anything beyond water. He wonders if it hurts.

 

“What you intended to do?” Sam asks instead.

 

“Hm, yeah,” Ponk’s hummed affirmation is matter-of-fact, not angry, nor happy. “I… both of us wanted to help him.”

 

Help him—?

 

“No one deserves torture. Not even Dream.” Ponk’s remaining hand trails over the burns on his skin, and hovers over his stump. “I’m honestly surprised he’s still alive, the infections… They were bad, Sam.”

 

“I wouldn’t have let him die, Ponk. Not now.”

 

“A few more days and he may as well have been. He had a fever, a bad one.” Ponk shakes his head, hugging his knees to his chest, floating.

 

“I’d… I’d have dealt with it.”

 

A non-committal hum, lightless eyes distant and unfocused.

 

“...Are you alright?”

 

Ponk blinks, but no focus returns to his expression. “What, my arm?”

 

“No— Well, yes, but― You’ve been… off lately.” Sam settles in his work chair, watching as the ghost untangles himself from his own body.

 

“Oh, yeah… I don’t know… I think I’m Ponk’s... the more people do shitty things, the more tired I get, I think. It’s harder to stay awake.”

 

“...If I revive you, what will happen to your ghost?”

 

Ponk regards Sam through droopy eyes, a frown tugging at blue-stained lips. “Just don’t.”

 

“I can’t not try, Ponk.”

 

“Yes, you can.” Ponk’s voice raises in volume, the loudest he’s been in weeks. “Just don’t do it.”

 

Sam’s mouth opens, then closes. It repeats, and he’s sure he looks like a fish out of water.

 

There are a million things he can say. That Ponk is the only doctor, and without him people may die. That no one who knows about Ponk’s death look at him the same, not even Quackity. That it’s nearly summer and the lemon trees will be fruiting soon.

 

None of them would work.

 

He’s said them before.

 

“I’m going to bring you back, Ponk. No matter what.”

 

Ponk’s frown deepens. “That’s selfish.”

 

Sam pauses. The wind pulls at his hair, billowing through his workshop’s open window, and he ducks his head, a smile that feels too wide ― and too wrong ― growing. “It is, isn’t it? You both don’t want to come back, but I’ll do it anyway.”

 

Why―”

 

Because it was too soon!” The shout is a surprise to them both, accompanied by the screech and thud of Sam’s chair as it topples behind him. The ghost next to him regards the chair, then Sam, expression pinched. The urge to fall to his knees before his former lover returns ten fold. This Ponk has forgiven him. But this isn’t Ponk. Not really. The ghost that comes out at night ― he acts a lot more like the man that Sam knows… The one that Sam loves. And both of them deserves to live… to... “... Because I am selfish, and I can’t see you like this — broken and torn in two — anymore. It’s too much.”

 

A pregnant pause.

 

A sad smile.

 

“Don’t you do things for the server? You aren’t the only one who thought I was a… a problem. They don’t—”

 

No! Ponk, I know that you think the others don’t miss you, but— This isn’t about them.” Sam is another sad look away from actually crumbling. “You have to miss something, anything from being alive… let it out, please.”

 

 

Sam sighs, ready to go back to staring blankly at blueprint paper, when—

 

“I miss… food. Being able to taste sweet, salty, sour, and not just… ash.”

 

The cake that they shared on their picnic date.

 

“I miss the smell of lemons.”

 

The smell rained down from the trees, Ponk warm on his shoulder as he slept.

 

“I miss the warmth of the sun on my skin, and the feeling of the wind as it tousles my hair. I miss being able to feel how soft Fran’s fur is.”

 

The rain fell against their skin as they danced.

 

“I miss the days before L’Manburg, before everything went to shit, and I could plant my trees.”

 

 Dirt was smudged on Ponk’s nose, skin dark from working all day in the sun.

 

“I miss feeling happy, of not having this constant chill of fear and sadness, and the anger that Night Ponk’s carries—  Constantly fighting for control.”

 

Ponk laughed in glee as he showed Sam around the Oogway shrine.

 

“I miss feeling the warmth of someone hugging me ― of contact.”

 

Sam held Ponk’s bloody, unconscious form close, as if he could shield him from the universe with his arms. Protect him from any more harm.

 

Ponk pauses for a long moment, eyes blinking, focusing, darting all around the paper covered office. Then, he opens his mouth again and he can’t seem to stop.

 

“I miss being able to look at you without being scared shitless, or furious, or broken. I miss the quiet nights where it was just you, Fran, and me, where we’d talk about our days.” Tears build up, his voice becomes deeper, harsher. “I miss the days before that fucking prison, where you were free, and you didn’t feel the weight of the entire server’s dependence. I miss the days where you would never even consider hurting or killing me, Tommy, or— anyone.” His hands clench, twisting to glare at Sam. “I miss the days where you let yourself be kind, nothing could trump it, and you didn’t feel a need to bury it underneath all that fucking armour.” He glides forward, punching weakly at the netherite.

 

“I miss you, and I hate it!” Tears freely stream and steam down his cheeks now, burning away at grey skin. His voice cracks. “Why do I miss you? Why can’t I fucking move on? Why do I have to remember all the good and still see it in you? Why do I have to forgive you every day and then hate that choice at night? Why do I still need to protect you? Why can’t I just leave? Why do I always gravitate back to you? Why is it that every time I see you smile my heart still jumps and just for a fucking second I can actually feel something other than anger?

 

“Why do I still fucking love you?”

 

Silence rings.

 

Ponk stays right in front of Sam, fist pressed against his chestplate. His chest heaves, breathing heavily even as nothing goes in nor out.

 

The nothing stretches on. Elastic and heavy.

 

“I don’t know,” Sam whispers.

 

Neither of them move away from each other. Ponk’s fist flattens on Sam’s chest, resting on the thrumming metal softly.

 

“I don’t want to be dead…” Ponk whispers back. “But what happens when I come back? This will all be real again…”

 

Sam hesitates, then places a hand on the back of Ponk’s head, gentle. “I’ll help you… And if you don’t want that, you’ll have Foolish.”

 

Ponk pauses, then his head goes to join his hand on Sam’s torso…

 

“Fine… You can bring me back.” A weight, one that has become a part of his life for months, is lifted from Sam’s shoulders. His sigh of relief is unintentional, and it prompts Ponk to tense. “But you have to promise me… you won’t escalate. Stop… just don’t let it consume you any more than it already has.”

 

“I understand.”

 

“Do you?”

 

“Yes.” A small metal fish on a chain is pressed into Ponk’s hand. “And I promise.”

 

.

 

Ponk is one person again.

 

He spends most of his time with Foolish, chatting away, helping keep mobs away as the god works.

 

But he wears the fish, the metal out on display.

 

Their promise.

 

And, on occasion, he visits Sam.

 

For the first time in what feels like forever, things seem to be going right.

 

.

 

Ponk is waiting outside the prison, arm crossed over his chest protectively, as Sam leaves his post. Prisoner — prisoners — locked up.

 

Sam’s head feels light, elation vibrating through his entire body. He has the Blood God in his prison. He managed to get Technoblade ― the one person who posed the highest risk to the prison ― in the prison.

 

Today is a good day, he thinks as he nearly waltzes over to the ghost, a grin on his face.

 

Ponk rests in the shade of the broken down Woo Station, the morning sun casting pale rays of light over the surrounding grass.

 

He raises his head.

 

Sam falters for a second.

 

Ponk’s mask is on.

 

Sam stops in front of him, greeting dying on his tongue as Ponk stands abruptly, shoving the fish necklace back in his hand.

 

“Take it back,” he mutters, head bowed, voice weary.

 

A panic blooms inside Sam’s chest — the coolness of the metal almost painful in his hand.

 

“Wh— Ponk why? I thought— I thought you wanted to come back!”

 

“I thought I did too.” The ghost keeps his head down, his hand squeezing his arm tightly. “Because I thought you understood. But you didn’t.” He steps away, eyes downcast.

 

“No, no no—” Things are finally going right ― they are finally going right! It can’t go bad now ― not now. “Ponk, I understand—

 

“Do you?” Ponk’s eyes meet his, and there is no warmth. No cold either. Just… apathy. “You locked up a man who did no wrong ― who broke none of your rules ― today.”

 

“I needed to! Technoblade owed Dream a favour, he was probably here to do reconnaissance!” Sam holds back the urge to grab onto Ponk as the ghost backs away. “Have you forgotten the Manburg festival!?” Ponk’s bionic legs twitch. “He killed you! He killed Tubbo! He destroyed L’Manburg twice. He deserved to be in there!”

 

“As a man who stands for the law, you’re letting a lot of your personal biases affect this decision.” Sam flinches as Ponk speaks, no inflection or emotion to be heard.

 

“I did what I had to do, to ensure that the prison and server would be safe — as I’ve always done.” It’s the old response every time the argument comes up.

 

“That you’re using that excuse again proves that you still don’t understand.” Ponk shakes his head, stepping away and around Sam, towards the sea.

 

“Ponk—”

 

“You’re going to die for what you did today, Warden.” Ponk sounds so tired, so empty as he speaks. “Technoblade has many allies, you’ve made so many enemies ever since you lost yourself.” His mask shifts, eyes crinkling into a bitter smile. “You said ‘brains triumphed over strength today’, on the communicator. But it hasn’t.

 

“You are going to die. Quackity will be taken down — because that’s what happens to all of those who seek control over others on this server — who abuse their power. It happened to Wilbur, it happened to Schlatt, it’s still happening to Dream, and it will happen to the both of you.”

 

“Ponk—”

 

“You’ve passed the point of no return. I hope you don’t come to regret your decision,” Ponk whispers, stopping in front of the water.

 

“Wait! Where are you going?”

 

“Away. I can’t see you like this. I can’t watch you destroy yourself.” His eyes harden, and he turns to face Sam one last time. “You’re on your own in this.”

 

“Ponk—”

 

“Goodbye, Warden.”

 

And with the last rays of sun, and upon the crash of a large foaming wave onto shore, Ponk vanishes.