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Lamia Sans (LAU)

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“Make yourself at home, officer. Can I offer you a drink?”

The room smelled musty and sharp, like a bird cage that was well-overdue for a cleaning. Despite that, it was tastefully decorated and furnished, displaying its owner’s wealth without looking gaudy or overdone. Undyne grimaced. Of course, SHE would be picked to go check out the stupid rich guy based on some stupid complaint that couldn’t possibly be true. Scowling, she picked a little armchair and sank into it. The piece of furniture half-swallowed her with an agonized squeal as her weight overloaded the springs.

“A drink? Not while I’m working, skeleton,” she growled, wiggling around until only one or two hard, poky objects were sticking into her backside. This chair was NOT made for someone her size. “Let’s get right down to business.”

“You mean the noise complaints?” Edge reappeared, wearing a heavy scowl and carrying two glasses of amber liquid despite Undyne’s refusal. He set them on a small end-table and sat on the couch across from her. “My home is soundproofed, there is no possible-“

“No, not that. Apparently, you’ve got a-“ Undyne squirmed as something tickled her ankle. “Some sort of giant-AAAGH!”

Undyne leapt out of the chair as a flash of hot pain seared through her ankle, staggering into the end-table and knocking both glasses onto the carpet. She whirled, just in time to see the tip of a red tail slip out of sight beneath the chair.

“RED.” Edge said loudly, disapproval dripping off of his tone. “You know better than to bite strangers. Don’t worry, officer. He’s been de-fanged.”

“Then what the hell is this?!” Undyne shrieked, pressing a hand to the two, bleeding puncture-wounds in her leg.

“They’re false fangs, replacements made of gold,” Edge explained, pulling on a pair of long, leather gloves. “Red, come out here this INSTANT.

A pair of glowing, red eyes appeared under the chair, glittering as they looked up at Undyne.

“RED.”

Grudgingly, the head, arms, and upper body of a skeleton wearing a leather collar and a very dusty blue sweater appeared, followed by a thick, red tail formed of transluscent, scaled ecto-flesh. He hissed loudly at Undyne, then quickly skirted around her to cling petulantly to Edge’s ankle with both hands. Edge immediately tipped his head upward and slipped a thumb into the side of his mouth, ignoring the creature’s squeal of complaint as he examined his teeth.

“You’re going to bend your fangs if you keep ambushing my guests,” he scolded, slipping a finger around each golden fang as he checked for damage. Red snarled around his fingers, biting down on the leather of the glove and irritably shaking his head.

“I’m going to put you in the room if you don’t behave,” he said warningly, then withdrew his fingers. Red immediately slithered under another chair. Once safely concealed beneath the piece of furniture, he gave Undyne a filthy look and hissed loudly at her.

“That’s IT,” Edge spat, pointing down the hall. “Go on.”

Red whined, curling around himself as he shrank under the chair.

“Do I need to get the leash?”

Red wrapped his bony fingers around the legs of the chair, giving his master a defiant look. Edge rolled his eyes and pulled a long leather leash out of his pocket. Red hissed and struck at him when he reached under the chair to attach it. Edge seemed to be expecting the move and easily deflected the attempt, pushing his pet’s head aside to clip the leash into the collar.

“Don’t give ME that look, you’re the one who suddenly doesn’t remember his manners,” Edge scolded, tugging him out from under the chair and down the hall. Red whined and gave Undyne one, last, parting hiss before Edge pushed him into a room and locked the door.

“Sorry about that officer. Where were we?” Edge asked. The doorknob rattled, and an outraged squeal echoed down the hall when it refused to budge.

“What the HELL is that thing?!” Undyne finally demanded, voice pitched a little higher than she would have liked.

“He’s a lamia. Very rare, even more so because he’s male,” Edge said, expression suddenly intensely happy. “Most lamia are female, but-“ he broke off as a loud ripping sound emanated from the room that Red was locked in. “RED, IF YOU ARE TEARING UP MY PILLOWS AGAIN, I SWEAR…” Edge shouted, sprinting for the room.

Undyne stayed where she was, still clutching her ankle. This job had suddenly gotten a lot more complicated than ‘hey, we got some stupid complaints. Go make sure there isn’t a giant, man-eating snake in that guy’s house.

Shaking a little, she scooped one of the cups up off the floor. Miraculously, it still had a small measure of alcohol in the bottom. Taking a deep breath, she swallowed it down.

Chapter Text

Edge shut off the faucet, then experimentally ran his fingers through the water that almost filled the tub. Hmm, a little on the warm side…

Frowning, he turned the faucet back on and mixed cold water into the bath until the temperature was lukewarm. Perfect. Not too hot, and not too cold.

Satisfied, he dried his hands and glanced surreptitiously toward the door. A pair of red, slit-pupiled eyes were peering curiously at the preparations from behind the doorframe. As Edge watched, the eyes blinked once, then narrowed with sudden suspicion.

“Red, come in here,” Edge casually called.

The eyes immediately vanished.

“Red…”

The sound of a door slamming shut echoed down the hall. Edge sighed impatiently, then stood, stepping out of the bathroom. The tiled corridor was lined with rooms, and only one of them had a closed door.

“Red, you’ve never even had a bath before. How do you know you won’t like it?” Edge cajoled, walking up to the closed room. He opened it, eyelights flickering once around the small guest suite before fixing on the walk-in closet. The tip of a thin, scarlet tail was peeking out.

“Red, you are being ridiculous,” Edge declared, striding across the room and throwing back the closet door. Red recoiled from the light with a startled hiss, then dove deeper into the closet, burrowing under a pile of blankets until his entire body was concealed. Briskly, Edge reached under the pile, placed his hands under Red’s arms and lifted him. Red squealed as he was pulled out of the hiding place, dragging the blankets half out of the closet as his owner scooped him into a bridal carry.

“Oh, stop. We don’t need these,” Edge insisted, prying the cloth out of Red’s hands and letting it fall to the floor. The lamia reached down for them with an insistent squeal, then immediately switched to clutching the front of Edge’s dress shirt as his owner began carrying him back to the bathroom.

“Just look at your poor tail,” Edge grumbled, rubbing the side of Red’s scaled hip with his thumb. Out in the light, the paper-thin tags of snake skin covering his pet’s beautiful tail were blatantly visible. A stuck shed. This happened sometimes with snake species. A few days ago, Red’s body had suddenly decided that it was time to shed, and unfortunately, the skin had peeled off in strips instead of coming free in a nice even layer. The resulting mess made Red look like he was suffering from a bad case of peeling sunburn. Fortunately, the condition wasn’t serious. Just unsightly, and easy enough to care for.

Or at least it would be, if Red would just cooperate.

Red hunched his shoulders and curled his tail around Edge’s leg as his owner entered the bathroom, looking up at him with simmering resentment. Edge closed the door, then sat on the edge of the tub and pulled Red into his lap.

“All right, give these to me. They need to be washed anyway,” Edge said, deftly unbuckling the collar and tugging the hem of his pet's jacket up over his head. Red chuffed irritably as the fabric caught under his chin, then squealed with infuriated betrayal as the dust-caked garment was lifted away and set on the counter. He half pulled out of Edge’s grip, reaching for it with both hands, then immediately recoiled when Edge shifted his weight and swung him over the tub.

“Here we go,” Edge cooed, then lowered him into the water.

Red’s eyelights shrank to pinpricks and he leapt out of his owner’s arms, heaving himself out of the tub and slithering for the door more quickly than Edge had ever seen him move. He shrieked with outrage when Edge easily caught him, wrapping his hands and the end of his tail around Edge’s arm as his owner patiently lowered him back into the tub. Water splashed over the side as he scrabbled against the slippery basin, soaking Edge’s clothes and half the bathroom before he finally stopped moving, expression uncertain and chest heaving with short, sharp pants.

“See, it’s not so bad,” Edge hushed, holding him steady. If he could get Red to just sit here for twenty minutes or so, his shed should soften enough that it would be easy to pull free.

Red looked down at the water, expression more confused now than scared. Slowly, he stretched out, tentatively dipped the fingers of one hand into the bath, then yanked them back as though they had been burned. Edge chuckled as he tried again, this time completely lowering his hand into the water. After a moment, he released Edge’s arm and let his chest settle into the water, coiling his tail so it sat neatly in the tub. Edge carefully let him go, then sighed with relief when Red merely looked up at him curiously instead of making another bid for freedom.

“Stay,” he said firmly, collecting Red’s jacket and collar for the wash. Red ignored him, lowering his face into the water until only his eyes were above the surface. After a moment, he ducked under, swirling around underwater like a giant, red eel before resurfacing with a pleased expression.

“Be good,” Edge called, leaving the room. He turned, then started as he almost ran into his housemaid.

"OH!" she jumped, "S-sorry sir...is everything all right?" The small, rabbit woman looked like she badly hoped that it was. She was absolutely terrified of Edge’s new pet, in part because Red had recently made a habit of hiding in the kitchen cupboards and ambushing her when she opened them. Edge supposed he should discourage the behavior, but it was so refreshing to see Red actually doing something for a change, instead of lying around waiting to be fed like a lazy lump.

"Yes it is!" Edge declared, handing off Red’s collar and jacket. "Wash and dry these please. And make sure you're getting the areas behind the furniture vacuumed! I don't know where else he could be picking up so much dust!"

The rabbit woman accepted the garments with an expression of distaste, watching her employer walk down the hall with resignation. He was making dirty, wet footprints all down the floor she had just mopped. Gritting her teeth, she peeked into the bathroom. The entire room was soaked. As she watched, a pair of predatory, red eyes peeked over the rim of the tub, then vanished from view the second they noticed her looking.

"I need a new job," she muttered to herself, walking the spoiled snake's jacket down to the washing machine.

Chapter Text

The crate was about the size of a large boulder, waist high and made of thick planks of wood. It was definitely a bit big for Black, who’d always been fine-boned even though he was easily sixteen feet long from head to tail, but he’d stopped caring about his appalling accommodations a while ago.

Cold…

He’d never been cold before, not like this. His home was a wind-swept desert with a sun so merciless that the natives hid underground during the day. Daytime was the quiet time, the planning and waiting time. Night, with its warm breezes and silver moonlight, was for the hunt. For movement and action.

He didn’t know whether it was day or night now. His body felt heavy and weak, and his hands had gone numb. Everything seemed to blend into the low rumble of the truck’s engine and the occasional bump as the driver hit a pothole. He couldn’t sleep, and couldn’t stay awake…

Black slid forward a few inches as the truck came to a stop, reacting far too slowly to keep his face from thumping against the inner wall of the crate. He blinked woozily, unable to summon the energy to even press his bound hands to his aching forehead. It was so quiet now, without the rumble of the truck and the constant whistle of air blowing through the holes in the box. Quiet and still…

“It is FREEZING out here, and you brought him on the back of a truck?? Are you STUPID? Did your mother DROP you on your HEAD at BIRTH???”

“Mnnnhhh,” Black winced as the angry voice drove into his skull like a rusty piece of metal. The light vibration of his own voice sent a shiver through his tender mouth and sinuses, making pained tears well up in the corners of his eyes.

“What the fuck man, I’m just doing my job-HEY!!” The truck driver’s voice cut off with a loud bang as the box exploded around Black, sending splinters and fragments of red-tinged, magical bone high into the night sky. Black sat dazed in the center of the mess, head ringing as he looked up at the stars and dark, wispy clouds above him. So it was night…he could see the moon…

Warm, bony arms slipped themselves under his tail and behind his shoulders, pulling him close to a silk shirt that smelled like spices and sweat. Black moaned with relief as the warmth began to seep into his numbed body, eyesockets flickering closed and tail weakly curling around his rescuer’s body.

“Idiots,” the angry voice grumbled. “They didn’t even wait for you to heal, the greedy bastards.”

Black couldn’t understand the other monster’s words. The dirt-walkers had their own language and he’d never cared to learn it. The tone was soothing though, with just the right amount of concern and calm confidence. If he’d been more awake, he’d have promptly bitten this presumptuous creep for daring to pick him up and speak to him this way, but half frozen, exhausted, and aching from head to tail, he was desperately glad for the care.

“All right, here we go. It’s lucky for you that I, the Great and Terrible Edge, had enough foresight to set this up for you!”

His rescuer set him down on a surface that felt absurdly soft after days spent lying in a hard, wooden crate. Black keened softly, stretching out as the surface slowly began to warm. Heat…oh thank the sun, heat…

Something hissed at him and Black blearily opened his eyesockets, struggling to focus. A large red and black blur was coiled on the floor, several feet away from the queen-sized bed that he was lying on. Black blinked once, then flinched back as the blur resolved itself into another lamia with a thick, red tail and an aggressive glare.

“Mnnn,” Black whimpered anxiously as he tried to pull his tail into a protective curl and his cold body barely responded. Drawing up what little strength he had, he glared at the aggressor and hissed back. The sound was pitifully weak, and further muffled by a heavy leather muzzle covering half his face. The other lamia chuffed gleefully at his attempt, expression dark and predatory.

“Red! Be polite, our new guest has had a very rough time!” the dirt-walker snapped, turning back to Black. Black shrank away with a choked mewl as the other monster held up a knife, and hid his face behind his forearms. His hands had been tied together and thrust into a tight, leather pouch that kept him from using his fingers, leaving him painfully helpless and at a fatal disadvantage now that the dirt-walker had decided that he was going to hurt him.

"Oh, you poor thing..." Black shivered with fear as his hands were pulled away from his face, closing his eyes tightly. No, no, no, not again-

The dirt-walker cut the cord binding Black’s hands together, then pulled the pouch off of his hands. Black immediately pressed his newly-freed fingers over his abused mouth with low whimper. No more cutting, no more-

“Shhh, let me see,” Edge said, gently pushing his hands out of the way to loosen the muzzle. Black stared at the dirt-walker's huge hands as they delicately turned his head to the side, confused by the gentleness in his touch. Did the other monster simply not see him as a threat? Stretched out, he was easily taller than the dirt-walker, but Black's tail was long and slender, built for speed and endurance. In terms of sheer size, Edge was probably triple his weight.

“Ahnnn-“ Black sighed as the gag was pulled away. Slowly, Edge worked the thick pad of bloody gauze out of the little lamia's mouth with a sympathetic tut, eyeing the gouged bone around his mouth with open concern. Tenderly, Black pressed his fingers to his jaw, feeling an odd sense of loss. They’d done something to his fangs, the other monsters who’d trapped him and taken him away from the desert. They felt wrong now. Heavy, numb and so sore…

“Sir? There’s a man outside and-“

Black looked up as the voice cut off with a squeak, weakly focusing on the doorway. Another dirt-walker. This one had long, white ears, black eyes, a small, pink nose, and the strangest expression on her face. Black eyed her intensely, all other thoughts slipping out of his head as she stared back at him, wringing the hem of her apron.

Prey.

“Y-you found another one?” she finally asked weakly.

“Yes, and I had to buy him from the most unreputable dealers!” Edge declared grouchily, pushing the bloody gauze and Black’s fetters into her hands. “Burn these please, and leave this door locked! I don’t want Red pestering our new guest until he’s feeling better.”

“Guest?” Black heard the rabbit-woman mutter as the door swung shut.

Black sighed and let his head rest on the warm pad beneath him, relaxing into the heat and softness. There would be time for the prey dirt-walker later. Her and that other lamia who seemed to think that all of this was his territory.

Oh yes, there would be lots of time…

Chapter Text

Black pushed his arms beneath his chest, lifted himself up onto his elbows, and panted softly through his mouth. After a moment, he shakily lowered himself back down, closed his eyes, and rubbed his cheek against the carpet with a soft mewl. His entire mouth felt hot, and every time he moved, a sharp pinch flared across his soft palate, like a thorn or piece of bone was stabbing him from inside. Rubbing made it feel a little better, but his sinuses were so swollen that it was getting hard to breathe. He also needed to eat soon, but he had no idea where to start or how to proceed in this strange, overly soft world where nothing smelled familiar. He needed to travel, to pick a direction and move until he found his home again. And he would begin his travels, very soon…just as soon as he’d caught his breath…

The door opened and Black froze, panting lightly as a pair of black-booted feet walked into the room, turned slightly, and paused.

“Black? Where…”

Black weakly pulled his tail deeper into the space beneath the bed, glaring out as Edge knelt and peered down at him.

“Black? Why are you hiding under the bed? And…are you ill?”

“Nnnnn,” Black tried to growl through his stopped-up nose, feeling badly exposed. A proper daytime resting place would be much narrower and more enclosed than this soft, pseudo-crevice, but his options had been very limited at the time. For now, he would simply have to remain as far away from the entrances as possible, and make it PAINFUL if anything attempted to remove him. This dirtwalker would surely give up once he'd made it clear that unwelcome contact would result in missing fingers and a slow, painful death by envenomation.

“Mnghhhhhhhh,” came a low, threatening growl came from outside, followed by the sound of clawed phalanges raking at the door. Black glanced up irritably and tried to hiss, but his nose and throat were so sore that the sound came out as a quiet exhale.

“Black, do not pay attention to Red. He lacks manners, and because of that, he will not be allowed to visit you unsupervised," Edge grumbled over Red’s insistent squeal. "Now come on, it’s clear you are in distress. Come out so I can look at you.”

“Ffffff-thk!“ Black snarled as Edge reached for him, jerking back into the corner. Panicking, he began to pant harder, making light, frothy saliva collect at the corners of his mouth. This was bad. The dirtwalker’s arms were much longer than he’d first thought and even breathing was starting to hurt. He had to conserve his energy, wait until the right moment…

“Black, I would not ask you to come out, but I am VERY worried about your health. I will give you to the count of three, and if YOU do not come out, then I will come get you. Do you understand?”

Black narrowed his eyes, puzzled and slightly alarmed at the dirtwalker's sudden change in tone from cajoling to commanding.

“One.”

Black stared, wondering why the dirt walker was pointing up at the underside of the bed. There was nothing of interest there. Certainly nothing worth pointing at.

“Two.”

Now he was pointing with two fingers? Black glanced up at the underside of the bed, just long enough to verify that this dirtwalker was, indeed, an idiot. Well, at least he’d stopped reaching for him…

“Three.”

“NAAAAAA!!” Black screeched as the dirtwalker lunged forward and seized the heavy, leather collar buckled tightly around his neck. Spitting and thrashing, he clawed at the hands, resisting every inch of the way as he was pulled out of hiding. No, no, no NOOOOO!

“Calm down, there is no need for all this fuss-“

“NAANGK-“ Black shrieked, switching tactics and lunging forward. His phalanges scrabbled impotently over the gloves protecting Edge’s arms, unable to score the leather or reach anything that wasn’t protected.

“Black…”

“AAHNNN!”

“That is enough, I’m just trying to help!“

“CHK-“ Black spat, twisting around until he could snap at Edge’s hands. His teeth sank into the leather glove and came to an abrupt stop against something unyielding inside, making his mouth scream with agony. Eyesockets watering, he jerked away, gasping for breath and swaying in Edge’s grip as his entire world narrowed down to the intense, shooting pain slamming through his fangs. It dipped quickly, leaving him shaking as dark, cyan magic trickled over his tongue in a rush of coppery warmth.

“I did not want to have to resort to this,” Edge muttered, voice losing a little of it’s soothing tone. “But you are leaving me-ugh!”

Black wound his tail around one of the bedposts and pulled hard, pushing against Edge’s chest at the same time. The bed jolted into the middle of the floor, and Edge staggered forward, almost losing his balance.

“You are leaving me with no choice!”

“Nngh-“ Black choked, doubling over as icy coldness pressed into his soul. He reflexively curled his tail up close to his chest, then flailed as an unresistable, alien force lifted him into the air.

“NAAAAAAAA!” he screamed, gasping for breath as he struggled to reach something, ANYTHING to pull himself down with. Bad, wrong, too open, too high, run away run away run away-

“NNNNN,” he squealed furiously as Edge quickly pushed his arms down and firmly pinned them to his body with a large, soft blanket. Desperately, he writhed against the heavy fabric, too uncoordinated to put up much of a fight as his body and tail were tightly swaddled.

“Nnnnnn,” he gasped, finally falling limp as Edge neatly tucked in the ends of the blanket. It was no use. His entire body was burning with exhaustion, so underfed and weak from his recent capture that even that pitiful bit of fighting had completely drained him. Shaking badly, he twisted to keep Edge in view, terrified of what was coming next. Dirtwalkers didn’t always give the People the mercy of a quick death.

“Shhhhh, it’s ok. I am sorry, but it’s clear that you are ill. Now let me see if I can help...”

The cold pressure lifted, leaving him cradled in the dirtwalker's arms. Black flinched as Edge shifted him a little, then sat on the ground and pulled off one of his gloves.

“Mnnn!” Black squeaked in alarm as Edge tipped his face upward and rubbed lightly at the deep, oozing gouges around his mouth.

“Those bastards. I gave them more than enough to pay for a good veterinarian, but they just hacked you apart, didn’t they?”

“MNggkkk-“ Black wailed, freezing in terror as Edge firmly worked two fingers into his mouth and placed them on either side of the swollen flesh where his fangs were embedded. Not this again, anything but this-

“I know, I know,” Edge murmured as his hand began to glow a soft, vibrant green. Black flinched, tensing up as heat and an intense, tingling itch rippled across the roof of his mouth, like ants were crawling over his face, nose, and tongue.

"Mngh?" he whimpered around Edge’s fingers, relaxing a little as the sensation faded to a low buzz, then cut off with an inaudible pop. Cool air abruptly rushed through his sinuses, making involuntary tears slip down the sides of his face.

“There we go.”

Black inhaled deeply, then sneezed hard enough to throw his head back into Edge’s chest. He barely noticed when Edge gently rubbed the back of his head, too lost in the suddenness and intense relief of how normal his mouth and nose felt.

“Nn-aahhhhh,” he moaned, opening his mouth as wide as possible and shivering as the joints and magical ligaments he hadn’t been able to move for days opened up and stretched with a gloriously satisfying ache. Tentatively, he flexed his fangs, then churred with relief when the action caused him no pain.

“You see? Isn’t that much better?” Edge chuckled, then carefully set him on the floor. Black lay dazedly in the swaddle, still working his jaw back and forth. His fangs felt odd, but after everything that had happened, he wasn’t sure he remembered how they were supposed to feel anymore. At the moment, he was just glad they weren’t hurting.

“Well? How are you feeling now?” The dirtwalker asked smugly, then unwrapped the swaddle enough to give his shoulder a brief rub.

Oh right, he was in danger.

Black immediately jerked his arms free, whipped around, and froze in place. The dirtwalker just stared at him placidly, with a broad, satisfied grin on his big, stupid face.

“Chk-“ Black chuffed half-heartedly at him, then wiggled out of the blanket and scooted back under the bed. Once safely under cover, he shivered and stretched his jaw again, taking a deep, blissfully easy breath as he did. It felt so, SO much better…

“I’ll be back with food, and then perhaps Red can visit as well. You just rest for now, all right?”

Black blinked once, watching carefully as Edge opened the door.

"No, Red, we've already discussed this," Black heard him say sharply.

"MMM-NAAAA!" came the outraged reply.

"I said NO!"

The door closed, and Black set his chin onto his forearms with a confused, but deeply relieved sigh.

Chapter Text

Making a face, Edge gingerly lifted his guests’ meal out of a pan of lukewarm water and set it on a stack of paper towels to dry. No matter how many times he did this, the dead rodents always filled him with a sense of fascinated dread and disgust. Living creatures were not supposed to leave remains when they passed. It was utterly unnatural and ridiculously creepy.

Unsanitary as well, but that, at least, was what the rubber gloves were for. Both pairs of them.

“You get enough paper towels over there, or you need another roll?” Sylvie asked drily, peeking over his shoulder.

“I have QUITE ENOUGH, thank you,” Edge grumbled, fighting down a desire to gag as he prodded the little bodies to verify that they had fully thawed. “Unless YOU would like to start taking this chore after all?”

Sylvie quickly stepped back with a forced grin. “All yours sir. Besides, with my luck they’d take one look at one of those awful things and eat me instead.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. My guests are much too small to eat someone your size,” Edge grumbled.

“Stars, I sure hope so,” Sylvie giggled with a hint of hysteria, walking out of the kitchen. Edge tactfully decided to ignore her, and began carefully laying the rats on a blue, china plate with their heads and tails neatly lined up. There. Now they were more like…art, perhaps. Extremely disgusting and fundamentally flawed art. His brother would have approved if-

Edge forced himself to stop thinking about it.

“Ahn? Ahn? Ahn? Ahn?” Red chirped, twining around Edge’s ankles with a happy expression.

“Yes, yes, I have food,” Edge grumbled, carefully stepping around the excited lamia. “Come on, let’s get your companion.”

Edge opened the door to Black’s room and stepped inside. Red immediately hunkered down, looking at the open doorway with a sulky expression.

“Nnnnghhhhh…” he grumbled, reluctantly following Edge inside. Eyesockets narrowed, he slunk across the floor, tongue flicking rapidly and eyelights darting back and forth in search of his ‘companion.’

“CHK-” came an angry sound from under the bed. Red whipped around to face the sound, pulling himself into a defensive coil with an aggressive hiss.

“That is ENOUGH,” Edge said with exasperation, setting the plate on an end table and picking up a set of long, silver tongs. “I would make you apologize if I thought you’d mean it in the slightest. The least you can do is be polite.”

“Nnnghhhhh…”

Edge rolled his eyes, then pinched one of the rats’ tails in the tongs and held it out to Red. Red completely ignored it, staring fixedly at the space under the bed where Black was hiding. Edge sighed, then gently tapped his nose with the rat. Red started and snapped at the interruption with a fierce growl that quickly tapered off into a confused gurgle.

“I don’t want to hear it. It’s your fault for not paying attention while I’m feeding you,” Edge groused as Red looked down at his own mouth with a vaguely surprised expression. After a second, he tossed his head back, swallowed the rat in a single, smooth gulp, and looked back up with a happy burble.

“Oh, so NOW you want to be fed? A moment ago, all you wanted to do was to fight,” Edge chuckled, tonging up another rat.

“Ahn!” Red insisted, giving the underside of the bed a smug look.

Edge fed him two more rats, then grabbed the plate crouched down next to the bed. Black was pressed tightly against the wall, eyelights glittering dangerously and body tense and still. Edge hesitated. He wanted Black to come out into the open, but he’d been around Red enough to realize that Black would probably be so stressed out and scared by the action that he wouldn’t want to eat. Better to cater to his needs for a short while. At least until he’d become more relaxed around the household. There would be time for discipline later.

Sighing to himself, Edge shooed Red off, then picked up a rat and held it out to Black. Black stared at him as though he’d lost his mind, making no move to accept or decline the offering.

“Come now, I know you’re hungry,” Edge coaxed, bouncing the rat on the tongs a little. Black blinked once, then curled a little more tightly into his corner.

“Ahn?”

“No, Red, you’ve already had your fair share,” Edge said, sliding the plate out of Red’s reach. Red squealed indignantly, then turned to Black and hissed angrily at him.

“Stop that, Black is a friend,” Edge insisted, moving the plate again when Red tried to reach for it a second time. Black’s eyes followed it with a tentative tongue-flick, expression deeply confused.

“Nnnnn,” Red whined, staring pleadingly at Edge, then down at the plate.

“NO,” Edge said emphatically, turning to push him away. “They are not for…what?”

The plate had vanished. Edge stared dumbly at where it had been for a moment, then looked over at Black. The small, blue-tailed lamia was staring at him cautiously, one hand still wrapped around the edge of the plate. After a second, he let go, then looked down at the contents with a bewildered expression.

“It is food,” Edge explained helpfully.

“CHK!” Red spat, then lunged forward, heading right for Black.

“NO!” Edge snapped, grabbing him by the collar and yanking him short. “That is NOT proper behavior!”

“NAAAAAAA!” Red howled, staring with horror as Black nudged the remaining rats with his nose.

“Mmngh?” Black grumbled after a moment, looking between Red and the plate incredulously. Wrinkling his nose, he pushed the plate back into Edge’s reach and re-settled himself in the corner. Red immediately quieted, then cocked his head to one side.

“No, these are for you,” Edge insisted, awkwardly taking another rat off the plate with the tongs and pushing Red away at the same time. “I agree that they look terrible, but Red finds them quite-HEY!”

Red darted in and snatched the rat out of the tongs. Edge scrambled for his collar, cursing when Red neatly dodged to the side.

“God damn it Red-“ Edge began, then trailed off with a frown. Red wasn’t lunging forward, trying to eat his stolen rat, or even making that awful hissing sound. If anything, he looked a little tentative, almost reluctant as he wiggled further underneath the bed and closer to Black.

“Mmngh,” Red growled, shoving the rat within Black’s reach. Black wrinkled his nose, then reached out and delicately picked it up between two fingers.

“Ahn?” he asked incredulously.

“Mnnnn-naam,” Red said mockingly, opening his mouth, then shutting his teeth with a little snick. Black looked skeptical, but placed the rat into his mouth, shuddered, and swallowed hard.

“Ihhhh,” he groaned, flicking his tongue several times with a disgusted expression.

“Mm-mm-mm” Red chuckled darkly, then slithered back a few paces and looked up at Edge, then down at the plate, then back up at Edge again.

“Is that so? Very well, since we have YOUR approval now,” Edge grumbled, then picked up the tongs and tried to give Black a rat once again. Black stared at the rodent with a resigned sigh, then plucked the offering out of the tongs with his fingers and swallowed it down.

Chapter Text

Red eyed the stack of dirty towels and blankets waiting for the wash for a long moment, expression intense and focused. A waiting spot needed to be close to where the prey went about their business, and needed to comfortable to lie in for long periods of time. Perhaps he would be able to tell if he tried it out...

Red slipped his hands under the pile, wiggled his head underneath, then pulled his tail into a loose coil, circling slowly under the heavy stack of fabric. This was certainly comfortable. The dark, soft closeness of the linens around him was almost cozy enough to sleep in.

Was he hidden well enough though? The tip of his tail often stuck out of his hiding places. It had been a good thing in his rock-home, with its sturdy trees, sun-dappled meadows and towering cliff sides that held back the pounding salt water. There, the prey animals often mistook his tail for an easy snack, and let themselves be lured in close enough for a fatal bite.

But in his soft home, it only served to alert the prey dirt-walker to his presence. She had sharp ears and sharper eyes.

Fumbling a little, Red reached out from under the pile of towels and felt around until his fingers bumped into the end of his tail. With a pleased chuff, he pulled it under the towels and out of sight, settled himself with a little wiggle, then fell completely still.

The maid eyed the pile of booby-trapped laundry from the doorway, one eyebrow raised. Hiding his tail was a nice touch. If she hadn’t seen the whole thing, she probably would have fallen for it and gotten a new set of teeth-marks in her boot for the trouble. For a moment, she considered getting Edge to come deal with his spoiled pet, but her employer would only chuckle and praise the little brat for his ingenuity.

She was so done with lamias that wanted to eat her.

Silently, she picked up a broom with a long handle, then gave the pile of laundry a firm poke. Red exploded out of the pile with a startled hiss, then shot out of the room, skittered down the hall and into one of the unused guest rooms, slamming the door behind him with an outraged squeal.

“Teach you to hide in my laundry,” the maid muttered, gathering up an arm-load of towels and dumping them triumphantly in the wash.

Chapter Text

Edge snapped a binder-clip around a sheaf of paperwork, slipped it into the relevant slot in last year’s filing cabinet, and nudged the drawer shut with his boot. Scowling a little, he turned back to his computer and impulsively clicked the ‘save’ icon a few more times, just in case. He couldn’t deny that digital copies of his company’s records were immensely more convenient than rooms full to bursting paper, but he still couldn’t bring himself to trust it. The leap between ones and zeros and what he saw on a computer screen happened so quickly and invisibly that the darn thing probably ran on a forgotten branch of magic. An especially irritating one. But still…

You don’t gotta understand it boss. It’s kinda like a vaccum cleaner, you know? Nobody knows how it works, but it makes it easier to clean up so you use it. Just give it a try, yeah?

Edge sighed darkly, then tapped the last set of un-transcribed files into a neat stack. Well, he was giving it a try. He still didn’t have to like it though.

CRASH-

Edge jolted upright, coming dangerously close to scattering the forms as bone attacks sprang to life around him. Cursing softly, he dismissed them and strode toward the door. Had another human tried to break in? Why hadn’t the perimeter alarm been activated? Or failing that, the house’s security network?

BANG RATTLE SCREEEEEE-

Edge stumbled backward as a shin-height, ultramarine blur swept past him, overturning a small shelf and scattering a stack of National Geographic magazines across the tiles. It shot down the hall, then skidded around a corner, shoving an antique rug and an end-table against the wall as it scrambled for purchase.

“Black? What are you …?” Edge trailed off, staring down at the mess that the little lamia had left behind before looking up with a scowl. “Black, it is TWO IN THE MORNING. What on earth are you doing?” He demanded, jogging after his unruly guest. He heard several more crashes and excited squeals before the trail ended at the East Wing library. Already dreading the mess he was sure he’d find inside, Edge pushed open the door and turned on the light.

“Hnnnnn,” came a frustrated whine. Edge looked across the room, and saw Black lying sprawled over the floor, with his arm thrust deeply beneath a bookshelf. After a moment, he pulled back and pressed his nose into the space beneath the lowest shelf, flicking his tongue over the carpet with an intensely focused expression.

“I’m beginning to think you need an exercise wheel,” Edge grumbled, resisting the urge to straighten a reading chair that had been knocked askew. “Or perhaps a treadmill? Does either option sound appealing to you?”

“Mrrrr,” Black cooed, nosing insistently at the space beneath the shelf. Edge sighed, then crossed the room and gamely inspected the bookshelf. He couldn’t see anything of interest, but Black clearly believed something of value was underneath.

“Nnnnn,” Black mewled, reaching underneath the shelf again with a forlorn expression.

“Oh, very well,” Edge grumbled. “But I fully expect some peace and quiet after this. Sylvie is going to be very cross tomorrow morning when she sees the mess you’ve made, because I am certainly not dealing with it.”

Carefully, Edge stepped over Black’s head, tucked his fingers under the bookshelf and heaved. It was heavy enough that he couldn’t get it more than a few feet off the ground, but Black didn’t seem to mind. The second it was high enough, he lunged forward with both hands outstretched, scrabbled beneath the shelf for a moment, then slithered back to the middle of the floor with something clasped tightly in both hands.

“What…was something actually under there?” Edge frowned, setting the shelf down and walking over.

“Ooooooo,” Black purred, flicking his tongue over his closed fist. After a moment, he glanced up at Edge, then casually turned around and began to slither out of the room.

“Black, what have you got?” Edge asked, frowning down at the little lamia. Black tensed and began to move faster, carefully avoiding the messes as he slithered away.

“Black! Let me see,” Edge demanded, striding forward. Black squeaked, lunged into a nearby room, then slammed the door closed behind him.

“Black, that is a broom closet,” Edge informed him, opening the door and reaching inside.

“NAAAAA!” Black shrieked jerking away as Edge grabbed his collar and firmly pulled him out from under a pile of dustpans and mops.

“Oh, hush. Just let me make sure it isn’t something dangerous…” Edge murmured, fumbling for Black’s closed hand. Black writhed in his grip, screeching with outrage as Edge finally caught his wrist and unfolded his little fingers from the object.

“Oh,” Edge grimaced as a very dead, and very strangled mouse corpse fell to the floor. “I see. Are you not getting enough to eat? I could offer meals more frequently if that is what you require?”

“CHK!” Black spat, jerking his wrist away and giving Edge a venomous glare.

“Oh very well. I suppose if you must,” Edge shuddered, nudging the nasty little corpse toward him.

Black snatched it up, then dove past him, giving his leg a sharp nip on the way past before darting down the hall with a furious squeal. Edge sighed, pulled up his pant leg, and ran his fingers over the bone. No marks, so Black probably hadn’t bitten him hard enough to damage his fangs. Thank goodness. Inspecting Black’s mouth was always a struggle, no matter how kindly he tried to do it.

Tiredly, Edge smoothed his pant-leg down and began walking back to his office, trying not to look at the upturned furniture as he went. Black’s dietary needs surely weren’t being met if he was putting this much effort into hunting down wild vermin. Perhaps he required more variety? Edge shuddered at the thought of having to deal with more, or possibly more exotic varieties of animal corpses, but if it had to be done…

Edge swallowed hard and sat back down behind his computer. Perhaps it was time to hire someone to help.

===

Black skittered halfway across the mansion to an unused sitting room, glared down the hall in both directions to ensure he was alone, then slipped inside. Holding the mouse tightly to his chest, he nosed his way into the closet and shimmied underneath the pile of convenient, soft items that had previously been hanging in the space above him.

“Mmmmm-hmmmm,” he hummed to himself, digging the other small animals he’d caught that night out from under the pile. Two lizards, a small, oddly coloured snake, and three plump mice. It was small offering, but the dirtwalker provided so much pre-killed, hatchling food that the amount wasn’t important. They were fresh, they were healthy, and they weren’t strangely-coloured fur-prey. That would be enough.

“Ooooooo,” Black burbled to himself, gathering up the items and slithering out of the closet. He held them in one arm as he made his way to Red’s nest-place, keeping a careful watch in case the dirtwalker came back and tried to steal his offering again. Luckily, he seemed to have been scared off. For now.

“Ahn?” Black chirped at the threshold to Red’s room, then gently nudged the door open.

“Ahn?” came a bleary response. Slowly, a pair of tired, red eyes peeked out from behind a green, threadbare couch pushed up against the far wall. They blinked once, then narrowed with mild suspicion.

“N’nam” Black cooed reassuringly, setting the small pile of dead animals just over the threshold of the room, then slithering back into the hall and settling low to the ground with his chin resting on the backs of his hands. “Ahn?”

Slowly, Red came out from behind the couch and up to the door. He looked down at the offering with open confusion, then back up at Black. “Nnnn?”

Black stared at him, then slowly pushed himself up onto his forearms and blinked once. Red blinked back, then frowned down at the offering, like he was trying to remember something.

“N’am,” Black prompted him after a moment, bringing his teeth together with a soft click. “Ahn.”

Red’s expression abruptly cleared and he looked up at Black with a startled expression. “Nnnnn,” he mumbled uncertainly, flicking his tongue over the mice before looking up questioningly.

“Ahn,” Black replied encouragingly, setting his chin back onto the backs of his hands.

Slowly, delicately, Red picked up one of the mice and swallowed it. Then, as though trying to mimic something he only half remembered, he hesitantly picked up the snake and held it out to Black.

“Mnnnnn” Black churred happily, accepting the returned offering. He ate it whole, then slowly leaned forward and set his chin on Red’s shoulder. Red stiffened for a moment, then relaxed with a small sigh and pressed his cheek to Black’s. He was warm, and his thicker, sturdy frame felt wonderfully steady under Black's chin as he closed his eyes and let the calm happiness wash over him. It felt so good to be part of a pride again. Regardless of the circumstances, or the surroundings, it felt undeniably right.

"Mnnnnn," Red sighed happily beside him, and Black knew that the feeling was mutual.

Chapter Text

“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god…”

The pet-shop clerk peeked over the counter, then immediately ducked back behind it as the frantic squeaking from the mice tanks came to an abrupt silence. Fumbling badly, he rapidly punched a number into his phone, then held the device up to the side of his head with trembling fingers.

“911? Oh, god, P-PLEASE send someone. H-Happy Paws pet store, t-theres-”

Something tickled the back of his arm and the clerk froze.

“Sir? Sir, can you describe the problem? Sir?” the operator asked, voice tinny through the cheap speaker.

Very, very slowly, the pet-shop clerk looked down.

“Nnnfff-” Black hummed skeptically at the tall skeleton, tongue flicking in the air near his elbow. This dirt-walker looked quite similar to Edge, but the smell was all wrong. Sweet and vaguely timid, instead of spicy and brash. Black wasn’t sure whether he liked it or not. How strange…

The tall skeleton trembled lightly as Black slithered forward, loosely curling his tail around the dirt-walker’s middle. Curiously, he patted the other’s clothes, feeling for ribs and a spine underneath the long-sleeved shirt and apron.

“Shhhittt…” Not-Edge had closed his eyes very tightly and started sweating. Black tilted his head to one side, then experimentally pulled his coils a little tighter. His victim tensed up, but made no move to push him away or attack. Black chuffed happily. The pet shop wasn’t especially cold, but he still preferred higher temperatures whenever he had the choice, and Not-Edge was quite warm. The tall skeleton seemed safe enough for the time being, and he was holding still so obligingly.

Black settled into Not-Edge’s lap with a satisfied sigh, then tucked his arms underneath his body and pressed his head against the empty space below the bottom of the dirt-walker’s ribs. Those conveniently trapped mice hadn’t been hard to catch, but he’d eaten a lot of them and digesting always made him sleepy…

Slim stared rigidly at the wall, certain that he was about to die.

When several minutes passed and the aforementioned death didn’t happen, he dared to take a breath and very, VERY slowly looked down.

The terrifying snake monster was lying face down across his legs, tail wrapped so snugly around his waist that it had pulled his clothes against his spine. From the waist up, it looked like a petite skeleton, with a rounded skull, large eyesockets, and slender arms. Below the waist, the bones were encased by a translucent, indigo tail that slowly tapered down to the width of Slim’s index finger. It was long enough that the little lamia had managed to wrap it around his body twice.

And it was sleeping.

Slim swallowed hard, trying to remember everything he’d ever learned about lamia. Were they sentient? Intelligent enough to try and lure him into a false sense of security? That didn’t seem right, did it? Unless lamia had a habit of falling asleep on their food?

Slim slowly lifted his arm. His breath caught as the lamia’s eyesockets flickered, and he waited until they fell closed again before looking down at his phone. The screen was dark. Looked like the 911 operator had hung up.

“Mnffff,” Black grumbled, snuggling a little more tightly into Slim's body. This time, he managed not to flinch.

“H-heh…” Slim squeaked, then fell silent. His voice sounded about as high-pitched and hysterical as he’d expect it to be with a deadly animal curled up on his lap. Did this situation call for manic laughter or broken sobbing? Both seemed like reasonable responses to…

Wait a second…

Feeling like he was dreaming, Slim reached down and slipped a finger under a dark leather band buckled tightly around the little lamia’s neck.

“A collar?” he whispered incredulously, shifting it around. Black gave him a one-eyed, irritated look and a half-hearted growl as the tags attached to the supple leather jingled quietly.

Black

Property of Edge Skeleton

There was a phone number under the engraving. Holding his breath, Slim tapped it into his phone. To his numb surprise, it picked up on the first ring.

“Where are you?!” the voice on the other end demanded immediately in a sharp, infuriated tone. Slim winced and flinched back.

“H-Happy Paws P-Pet store?”

“Pet store?! I don’t know what you are trying to pull, but my guests ARE NOT bargaining chips in your stupid political game!”

Outside, a loud, red sports car screeched up to the front of the building. Without fanfare, an extremely irate skeleton leapt out, marched up to the pet store, and threw the door open so forcefully that it banged into the wall with a sharp crack. Black sat up with a start, then yawned widely, smoothed Slim’s trousers into a more comfortable pillow, and laid back down.

“And if you EVER decide to kidnap my-” the voice broke off, then grumbled, “where the hell are you?”

“B-back here,” Slim called weakly from behind the counter. “I, uh, didn’t kidnap your lamia, s-sir.”

Edge rounded the corner, then stopped dead in his tracks, expression going from deadly fury, to irritated confusion, and finally to relieved amusement.

“Indeed,” he chuckled as Black blinked up at him with a contented hum. “It seems he has kidnapped you.”

Chapter Text

“NAAAAA-“ Red wailed, then savagely sank his fangs into Slim’s arm.

“I know. Not very comfy at first, huh?” Slim murmured sympathetically.

“Ahn-nan-nan-nan-nan…” Red whined, punctuating each syllable with an unhappy chew on the leather glove protecting his handler’s arm.

“You’ll get used to it, I promise,” Slim replied sympathetically, fastening the last buckle on his charge’s vest and checking the fit. Snug, but he could still fit three fingers under each strap, so it definitely wasn’t too snug.

“Hnnnn,” Red whimpered, running his hands down the front of the smooth, red garment. He looked up, then mewled anxiously and held his hands out to the end-table where his customary, blue sweater had been placed.

“Ok then,” Slim nodded, handing the sweater over. The little lamia clutched it to his chest and curled his tail around it with a miserable exhale. “Don’t worry, you won’t have to wear the vest for long. Just until the fireworks are over and the boss says it’s ok to stop the lamia torturing.”

“I HEARD that,” Edge declared, dragging a hissing, spitting, and flailing Black into the room on the end of a leash. Unlike Red, who'd grudgingly decided to tolerate the indignity of being led around, Black made it a point to struggle like he was being tortured whenever anyone clipped a lead to his collar. “Thunder shirts are a well-researched method for keeping animals calm in disruptive environments. And that awful, excessively loud display that the humans make us suffer through every year qualifies as a disruptive environment!”

“Yes sir,” Slim agreed contritely.

Red slithered across the room, then flopped clumsily on the floor at Edge’ feet.

“Aaaahhhnnnnn…” he whined pathetically, then rolled over onto his back with a desperate expression.

“Chhhk-” Black gasped, glaring down at the other lamia with incredulous disgust. Deliberately, he twitched his tail as far away from his companion's supine form as possible, as though personally offended by such a blatant display of submission.

“Stop being so overdramatic Red. You are being soothed!” Edge declared. Imperiously, he handed Black over to Slim, then hefted Red into the air and set him upright. Red immediately rolled back over with an unhappy mewl.

“Ckk-“ Black snorted, then settled with low grumble as Slim gently began to knead the back of his neck.

“There will be time for that later! Those awful fireworks will be starting any moment now!” Edge groused over Black’s contented churring, pushing a mint-green vest into his employee’s hands

"Yes sir," Slim agreed, accepting the vest without pausing his massage.

"And make sure that they don't hurt themselves, I don't understand-" Edge began, then broke off with a groan when his phone rang in his pocket. “Who is calling me?? It is a HOLIDAY!! Yes, hello? Ah, officer Undyne. How nice to hear from you. Do they not give police officers THE DAY OFF?” he asked loudly, voice growing fainter as he walked out of the room and down the hall.

“Yes sir, whatever you say sir,” Slim repeated with a light smirk, looking down at Black. Slim wasn’t supposed to play favourites, but he secretly held a soft spot for the feisty little skele-snake that had taken him hostage and landed him the best job he’d ever had.

Well, no sense in delaying the inevitable.

Taking a deep breath, Slim gave Black one last rub, then pulled back and loosened the straps on the vest. Black looked up at him through half-closed eyes, still humming with blissful contentment.

“Sorry,” Slim apologized, then quickly tugged the vest down over his charge's head.

“Mmngh?” Black grumbled, holding his arms out stiffly as Slim tugged them through the arm-holes. “Ahn?”

“I know,” he said sympathetically, then pulled the buckles tight in one, quick motion. Black recoiled, eyes widening as he looked down at his upper body with betrayed shock.

“AAHHNNN!” he screeched, jerkily scooting himself backward on his hands and tail until he bumped into the wall.

“NAAAAAAAAA!” Red whined back, still lying miserably on the floor as though his arms and tail had both stopped working.

“AAAAAHHHHHHNNNNNNNNN!” Black screeched again, writhing on the floor as he tried to work his arms back through the snug garment. "AAAAaaaaAAAAAaaaaaAAAAAA..."

“Oh my, they sure look unhappy,” someone snickered from the doorway.

“Hello Sylvie,” Slim called, calmly holding out his hand out palm up to Black. The infuriated lamia lunged forward and clamped his teeth around his handler's gloved arm, growling furiously as he gnawed at the worn leather. “The vests are going to calm them down,” he added, nodding once toward the direction where Edge’ strident voice was still echoing down the hall. The rabbit maid smirked, looking down at the unhappy pair of lamia with a delighted expression.

“They sure calmed me down,” she snickered, then sauntered away.

Chapter Text

Red glanced guiltily over his shoulder, then scooted into the room and pulled the door shut. Once safely inside, he dropped down onto his belly and slithered across the floor, tongue flicking at the air inquisitively. He hadn’t gotten to explore this room yet. Edge was very insistent that he not go in here…

A loud scratching sound came from outside and Red jumped, then dove for the closet. With an anxious whine, he peeked out from his hiding place, watching as something fumbled clumsily at the door knob, then finally managed to open the door.

“Ahn?” Black chirped, both hands wrapped around the door knob as he peered curiously into the room.

“Chk-“ Red spat, trying to make him go away.

“Mmmm,” Black replied imperiously, flicking his tongue over the door frame. This was the prey dirt-walker’s room, he could tell. Her white, downy fur was stuck in the carpet, and the space practically reeked of flowery perfume and that delicious, sweat-and-vegetable scent unique to prey animals.

“Thfffff,” Red huffed anxiously, pulling his upper body out of the closet and eyeing the open door with a worried expression. Black ignored him, sitting squarely on the room's threshold as he crouched down and rubbed his cheek against the carpet. He liked this smell, it was a good masking scent for the hunt. He should-

Red darted forward, roughly pushed Black out of the room, and slammed the door in his face.

"NAAAAAAA-" Black shrieked from outside, then immediately quieted when Red opened the door with a panicked expression. "Ahn?"

"CHK-" Red spat with a venomous glare, then tugged his companion into the room by the arm and firmly shut the door behind him. Black jerked his arm away with a gleeful expression, watching smugly as his companion slithered back over to the closet with a low grumble.

"Mnn?" Black asked, tilting his head to one side.

"Mnngh…” Red grunted, pushing a hand into one of Sylvie’s work shoes, then holding it up with a baffled expression. Black stared intensely at the shoe, then reached forward and snatched it out of Red’s hands.

“Naaaaa-“ Red grumbled, then huffed dismissively and scooted deeper into the closet with a long-suffering sigh.

“Mnnn,” Black churred happily, taking no notice of Red’s displeasure as he dropped the shoe and rolled over onto it, wiggling his vertebrae over the worn canvas and rubber. This strange piece of clothing had an even better smell than the carpet, he was quite pleased with the intensity. Were there other objects like this in here? He hoped so.

“Hmm-mmm,” Red hummed to himself looking up at a row of hanging outfits above him. After a moment’s consideration, he stretched up onto the tip of his tail, wrapped his fingers around a low-hanging sleeve, and pulled. The cloth caught on the hanger and held for a long moment before popping free, knocking a few other outfits onto the floor as it fell. Deftly, Red sorted through the pile, discarding two skirts, a blouse, and a scarf before picking out a simple, red jacket that didn’t seem to match the other pieces. Chuckling to himself, he pressed it tight to his chest, then quickly slithered past Black and to the far side of the room.

“Ahn?” Black questioned, brow furrowed as he watched Red wiggle out of his current sweatshirt and trade it for the jacket.

“Mmnh,” Red hummed running his fingers over the soft fabric. He flexed his arms, then shook the piece of clothing off and held it up appraisingly, as though he were trying to make up his mind.

“Mmmm,” Black murmured, then picked up the scarf Red had discarded. Clumsily, he looped it around his waist and held it in place with his fingers.

“Eeeehhhhh,” he grimaced, squirming uncomfortably as the heavy cloth tickled this tail. He shook it off, then picked up the blouse and turned the silky, flower-printed garment over in his hands. “Ahn?”

“Mnnn,” Red replied dismissively, setting his sweatshirt on the ground. He wiggled into it head-first, then sat up and tugged the collar down below his chin before pushing both arms through the sleeves in one, smooth motion.

Black huffed uncertainly, then laid the blouse on the ground and wiggled his head into it, like he’d just seen Red do. He tried to get his arms in the sleeves next, but was only successful with one side.

“Naaaaa,” he complained, rolling his shoulders and plucking at the sleeve that his left arm hadn't made it into. Ugh, this was no good at all. It was far too big for him and it itched

The door swung open and both lamia jumped guiltily. Red immediately scooted under the bed, leaving Black out in the open with his blouse still half on and half off his torso.

“What the-“ Sylvie began, staring into the room with disbelief. “You...”

Black darted past her with a high-pitched squeak.

“OH NO YOU DON’T! GET BACK HERE WITH MY CLOTHES!” she howled, running after the escaping lamia. “EDGE!? EDGE, COME DEAL WITH YOUR PETS!”

Red peeked out from under the bed, then snickered quietly to himself. Carefully, he gathered up the red jacket, stuffed it down the front of his sweatshirt and slipped out of the room. With a quick glance down the hall to make sure he wasn’t being watched, he closed the door and triumphantly slithered away to one of the unused guest rooms with his prize.

Chapter Text

Black crept soundlessly around the outside of the mansion, keeping close to the cinderblock facade as he listened carefully to his surroundings. Night had fallen, leaving the grass under his tail noticeably damp and cool compared to the day-warmed walls of the mansion. Pleasant, but disappointingly silent. No prey to be found.

“Chk-” Black huffed, curling his fingertips restlessly into the grass. The continued presence of two lamia had permeated the mansion with his and Red’s scent, marking the area as blatantly dangerous to any potential prey items. Disgusting. This was why Black’s previous pride had never bedded down in the same place for more than one mating cycle. The People were made to migrate, to follow their prey across vast distances and settle where needed. This giant, sedentary, pseudo-den ran counter to every instinct Black had, pushing him to move, to take his new pride-mate and find a fresh hunting ground. And he would, but…

Silently, Black flicked his tongue in the air a few times, eyeing a line of bushes some distance away. There was a broad area of very short grass between the house and the nearest cover that stretched around the entire mansion. Red refused to cross it, and Black wouldn’t leave without him. Not permanently, anyway…

Black hunkered down and eyed the bushes. After a moment’s consideration, he tensed, then darted across the lawn and scooted into cover with a quiet rattle of disturbed foliage.

“Mmm-mmngh…” he hummed to himself, flicking his tongue again. NOW he was getting some prey-scents. Small rodents, mostly, but he wasn’t especially hungry and mice would be easy to share with his overgrown hatchling of a pride-mate. They would suffice.

Shoulders tense and eyelights elongating to slits, Black paused, then moved forward a little, then paused, then moved a little more. Every third or fourth pause, he flicked his tongue and adjusted his direction of travel, careful to approach the mouse-scents from a direction where the breeze wouldn’t blow his sent forward. The ground beneath his tail changed from grass, to hard-smooth-flat-stone, and back to grass again as he circled closer. Another house came into view, smaller than Edge’s mansion, but still generously sized. Its garage was open, and several plastic trash cans had been pushed up against one of the walls. The floor was covered with little bits of prey-food, and inside…

Black’s head snapped up as a quiet scritching sound came from behind the garbage bins. Very, very slowly, he crept up to the house and cocked his head, pinpointing the location of the sounds. Right a little, then outward, then forward, then forward again, then forward-NOW!

Black lunged forward with a blood-curdling hiss, fingers snapping closed around a warm, furry body. He felt something crunch, then tossed the newly-killed mouse aside and scrambled forward to snatch up a second and a third as they tried to escape. A fourth tried to dive behind the garbage bins and Black sprang after it, knocking the cans aside with a loud clatter as garbage and recyclables scattered across the floor.

“EEP!” the fourth mouse managed as Black triumphantly caught it and squeezed until he felt the little rodent fall still.

“Mmm-nnnnn” Black hummed contentedly, swallowing it down. Satisfied and panting lightly, he turned to gather the others…

“Ghhhk…?” he muttered as something tugged at the scales over his hip. Scowling, he backed out of the space between the garbage cans, half-tripping over his tail and falling back into the pile of garbage with another loud clatter when the annoying presence remained firmly stuck in place.

“I swear to god, if you guys are playing another FUCKING PRANK ON ME, I will FUCK YOU UP,“ someone shouted from inside the house. Black’s head snapped up, eyelights shrinking down to small circles at the speaker’s tone.

“Nnnnn,” he whimpered, trying to push the horrible, clinging piece of plastic off of his hip. He jerked his hand back when the stickiness threatened to trap his fingers as well with a confused mewl. Starting to panic, he squirmed in place, trying to scrape the object off on the ground.

“nnnNNAAA!” Black cried as the move revealed two similar pieces stuck to his tail. Shuddering with disgust, he crawled out of the garage, then manically lunged for the sticky-pad on his hip again. Get it off, get it off, getitoffgetitoffGETITOFF-

“AAAHHNNN!” he shrieked as the glue tore at his ecto-scales. Shivering, he tried to let go, then cried out again in dismay. His fingers had become trapped on the piece of plastic, and trying to pull them free hurt-

The garage light turned on and the door to the house slammed open, revealing a very angry-looking dirtwalker. Gasping for breath, Black backpedaled as quickly as he could, unable curl into a defensive coil with the glue-traps stuck to his tail.

“…the fuck?” the dirtwalker said hesitantly, eyes widening as they looked from Black’s tail, to the mess across the floor, then back to Black again. Black didn’t wait to see what their next reaction would be, scrambling for cover with desperate speed.

“Hnnn, hnnn, hnnn,” he whimpered, diving into the bushes surrounding Edge’s mansion.. Hands trembling, he pushed at the glue trap on his hip again, mewling with pain as he finally managed to tear his hand free. Hip stinging and overwhelmed by the sensation of the traps clinging to his tail, Black hunched inward on himself, both hands pressed over his mouth as loud footsteps stomped up to his hiding place.

“BLACK! HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I TOLD YOU THAT THE GROUNDS ARE OFF-LIMITS WITHOUT SUPERVISION?”

“HSSSSSSS!” Black snarled, lunging forward and clamping his teeth around his attacker’s forearm as a tall skeleton tried to reach into the bushes and pull him out.

“Really now? You should know better,” Edge scolded him gently, letting one of Black’s fangs pierce his radius without letting go of Black’s left arm. “Stop that, I’m not going to hurt you and you know it.”

Black’s breaths were cold and rapid against Edge’s bones as he insistently pressed against his charge’s forehead, encouraging the little lamia to release the bite. After a second, Black jerked away and tried to dive back under the bushes with a frightened mewl.

“What on earth has gotten into you…” Edge began, ignoring his bleeding arm. His eyes widened when he noticed the glue traps stuck to his charge’s tail, and he hissed sympathetically. “Oh, I see. Let’s get those off of you.”

Without another word, he deftly pulled Black close to his chest and walked back into the house, making a brief stop at the kitchen to grab some cooking oil.

“This is why you need to stay in the house,” he said matter-of-factly as he juggled Black’s tail and the jug of oil. “I can’t keep things from hurting you if you leave.”

Black’s skeleton half shivered in his arms, body tense and both hands pressed firmly to his mouth as Edge took him into a bathroom and closed the door.

“Shhh, it’s all right, let me see,” he murmured, gently taking hold of Black’s wrists.

“NAAAAA!” Black shrieked, thrashing and trying to scramble backwards when Edge dragged his hands away from his face. “AHN! AHN! AHN! AH-NNGHH!” he screamed, choking as Edge carefully worked a thumb into his mouth and tugged his fangs forward.

“GHHHK-” Black gurgled, eyesockets closing tightly as he jerked his head backward. Edge held him firmly, checking his gold, false fangs for damage. Luckily, both were intact and the cyan tissue around them looked healthy and sound. Sighing with relief, Edge extracted his fingers and let go of Black’s wrists. The little lamia immediately buried his face against the floor of the tub, clamping both hands over his mouth with a terrified whimper.

“I know, I’m sorry,” Edge murmured, moving his fingers in gentle circles against Black’s scapula for a moment before he reached for the bottle of oil and unscrewed the cap.

“Nnn-“ Black flinched when Edge began gently rubbing the oil around the scales stuck to the glue trap.

“There, you see? They come right off. Nothing to be concerned about,” Edge said soothingly, spending a few, patient minutes working the oil into the adhesive before carefully lifting the trap away.

“Good as new,” Edge declared, tossing the trap into the garbage. A few of Black’s scales were torn and leaking thick, cyan fluid, but the damage was superficial and would heal quickly. He would be ok, as soon as he calmed down. “Where on earth did you pick these up anyway?”

“Mnnnn,” Black shivered, voice muffled by his hands as Edge loosened the last two traps and tossed them in the garbage as well.

“I quite agree. I thought I told the gardener not to use glue traps around my mansion,” Edge grumbled, lifting his charge out of the tub and pulling him into his lap. Black sat against him stiffly, barely tolerating the contact as his owner soothingly rubbed the top of his head. “I shall have to check the grounds myself to make sure there aren’t any still lying around.”

The doorknob rattled and Black flinched, eyelights immediately fixing on the door.

“Ahn?” Red chirped, peeking inquisitively into the room. Black hunched his shoulders, body tense as Edge continued the gentle petting.

“Well, are you going to just sit there all night or are you going to come in?” Edge demanded when Red hesitated on the threshold. Red blinked once at him, then casually slithered over, curled up next to his owner’s side and rested his head on his forearms with a little sigh.

“Ghhhhh-“ Black growled at him, hands still pressed to his mouth.

Red yawned in response and blinked sleepily up at him. Black grumbled to himself and looked away, body slowly relaxing against Edge’s warm legs. His hip still stung a little, but it was a mild discomfort compared to those disgusting traps, and it WAS nice to have a place to warm up after spending all that time outside…

“Mmm…” Black sighed, reluctantly pulling his tail closer to Edge’s body. Might as well take advantage of the situation, even if these strange dirtwalkers couldn’t seem to decide whether they wanted to kill him or comfort him. This one, at least, seemed to be trustworthy. And warm.

“There you go,” Edge beamed as Black relaxed against him.

“Chk-” Black spat half-heartedly, letting his eyesockets fall half-closed as the gentle scratching against his skull continued.

Chapter Text

Sylvie sat back on her haunches with a little sigh and tossed her rag aside, surveying the floor around her. The kitchen was one of several places that Edge insisted be absolutely spotless, and that meant every day she spent a few hours scrubbing down the counters and waxing the floors until the linoleum shone like a mirror. She had to admit that the blue and white cheque pattern looked quite pretty once it was polished up, as did the granite countertops and various kitchen appliances. Almost like something out of a magazine. It almost made her aching knees worth the trouble. And her back, and her wrists, and the way that wax got all gummed up in her fur…

The cupboard flew open and a hissing, red blur shot out of the space with a loud rattle of displaced pots and pans. Sylvie screeched and leapt out of the way, landing neatly on the countertop in a feat of athleticism that she was absolutely certain was going to hurt tomorrow morning.

“For…FUCK’S…sake…” she gasped, one hand pressed over her chest as she willed her heart to stay inside her chest.

“Nnnnn?!”

“Don’t you even!” Sylvie groaned, both hands pressed over her face. “Can’t I even keep this place clean anymore without you…you PESTS trying to chew on me?!”

“NAAAAAAA!”

Sylvie glared out from between her hands, ready to call for her employer to come drag his infernal pets out of her kitchen. The little brat was still in here, probably trying to get another bite in…

“Hnnnn,” Red whimpered, hands and tail working frantically against the newly-waxed floor.

“Ahn?” Black asked, peeking in from around the hall where they’d agreed to ambush the prey-dirtwalker after Red had flushed her out.

“NAAAAAA!” Red screeched, bony fingers skittering off the frictionless floor. Black looked at him, then then down at the linoleum with a cautious expression. Carefully, he placed one hand on it, then slithered forward, keeping the end of his tail curled behind the wall where the floor was still safe. Red whimpered and pushed himself upright, fingers outstretched.

“Nngh” Black grunted, reaching out for Red’s hand. The larger lamia managed to grab hold, then accidentally yanked him away from the wall and out to the center of the floor.

“Naaa?!” Black spluttered, whipping his tail around as he tried to get enough purchase to slither back to safety. “Ahn!”

“NAAAAA!” Red howled, curling up into a miserable ball as Black flailed helplessly on the slippery floor. Sylvie stared at them with a dumbfounded expression. When it became apparent that they were well and truly stuck, she climbed down off the counter and picked up her mop, holding it tightly in both hands.

“You two better stay out of my kitchen if I help you, you hear?” she yelled. Black glared at her and hissed, then tried to scramble for the doorway.

“Yeah, fuck you too,” Sylvie grumbled, sticking out her mop to give his tail something to push against. Black stared back at her with incredulous disbelief, then used the implement to scramble forward and onto the carpet.

“Mmngh…” he mewled, looking between Red and the rabbit monster.

“Yeah, yeah, I got him too,” Sylvie grumbled, gently pushing the mop up against Red’s tail. Red stared at her for a long moment, then sprang away, knocking the mop out of her hands as he lunged for safety. Sylvie cursed and staggered backward, letting the mop fall to the floor with a loud clatter.

“CHK-” Black spat, smacking his pride-mate on the back of the head as soon as he was safe.

“AANGH-” Red screeched, pressing both hands to his head and lunging after his pride-mate as Black sprinted off down the hall.

“And stay out,” Sylvie grumbled, picking up her mop and staring at the floor thoughtfully. The little monsters had trouble with slippery surfaces, huh? That was interesting…

One hour later

Syvie?”

“Oh! Hello sir, is everything all right?” Sylvie asked cheerfully, leaning on her mop. The entire tiled floor of the mansion’s entryway sparkled under a fresh coat of wax, and smelled pleasantly of lavender and lemon.

“Yes! I was…merely surprised. To see you…down here? Without my asking?” Edge replied, looking pleased and slightly suspicious at the state of the floor. “But by all means, carry on.”

“Yes sir,” she replied pertly. Behind her employer, a pair of glowing eyes appeared around a doorframe. Upon seeing the extra-shiny floor, they glared, then disappeared from sight with an infuriated grumble.

Chapter Text

Blue wedged his small body against the lingering warmth of a concrete wall, curling his tail a little more tightly beneath his chin. With a weary huff, he watched the sun set over the tops of the buildings, coughing weakly every few minutes as the light faded. His chest-sickness was getting worse. He could feel it clinging heavily to his soul, making him slower, weaker and much, much hungrier.

A quiet jingle echoed through the alley. Trembling lightly, Blue looked up. A plump tabby cat with a bell on its collar sauntered across the top of an overfilled dumpster, ginger fur glowing yellow in the light of a street lamp. It flicked its tail once, then casually flopped over on its side and began fastidiously licking the space between its tiny, pink toes.

Blue’s mouth began to water, and he whimpered hungrily. The dirt-walkers didn't like it when the folk took their pets, so his pride mates had taught him to limit his hunting to pigeons, rodents, and other unprotected feral prey. They were savvy to his ways and harder to catch, but it wasn’t worth the trouble of being hunted down when his best defense against the omnipresent dirt-walkers was to go unnoticed.

But…

Slowly, Blue uncurled and slithered out into the open. The cat started, then settled, looking down at him with open curiosity.

He was so hungry…

“Ki-ki-ki-ki,” Blue rasped, imitating the sounds he’d heard dirt-walkers make when they called to these animals. “Ki-ki-ki-ki?”

The cat watched him get closer, only tensing when Blue grabbed the edge of the dumpster and slowly pulled his upper body onto the lid.

“Ki-ki-ki-ki,” he clucked, waiting for the cat to relax before slowly extending a hand. The cat butted its head against his fingers. Blue started, then swallowed hard. He was starving, he was sick, all it would take was one bite. His venom acted quickly, and this stupid house-pet was so small it probably wouldn’t even feel…

Blue slowly crumpled to the ground, eyesockets burning as he wrapped his arms around his aching chest. He couldn’t do it. Not with something that didn’t even realize he was a threat. Not with something that would willingly leap into his arms expecting affection when…

The cat hopped off the dumpster and rubbed itself imperiously against his side with a happy purr.

“NAAA!” Blue screeched, lunging angrily at the stupid house-pet. The cat leapt halfway up the wall with a startled yowl, then scrambled out of the alley and into the street with its ears back and furry tail poofed out like a bristle-brush.

Blue coughed again, then wearily dragged himself back into the corner. He felt sad, even though the stupid house-pet had been informed that he was a dangerous predator and had acted appropriately. Snuggles were something he didn’t get now that the rest of his pride mates had disappeared. He missed snuggles.

With a soft groan, he leaned back against the warm concrete, trying to get as much of his body in contact with the surface as possible. This place was spoiled for the hunt now, but the warmth soothed his aching chest. Just a few hours more, and then he would…

“Honey, have you seen the ca-HOLY SHIT!!” someone shrieked. Blue started, then ducked down behind the dumpster, praying that the dirt-walker had overlooked him.

“HOLY SHIT IT’S A GIANT SNAKE!”

Blue flinched as something shattered against the wall over his shoulder, showering his tail with broken glass. Angry footsteps came right up to his hiding place, and a tall, infuriated dirt-walker glared down at him. Panicking, Blue looped his tail around itself and rubbed the coils together, making a loud swooshing sound that only seemed to make the dirt-walker angrier.

“GET OUT!”

Blue yelped as as the second bottle glanced off his ribs, then lunged forward, sank his fangs into his aggressor's calf, and scrambled out of the alley. He didn’t make it far before he doubled over, coughing harshly with both hands pressed to his sternum. Behind him, the dirt-walker fell to their knees, clutching their leg and screaming obscenities as his venom started to spread.

“Unghhhh,” Blue groaned, then forced himself to crawl away, scooting awkwardly on his hands and tail as his sick and adrenalized body shook like a leaf. The aggressive dirt-walker wouldn’t be able to follow him, but they might have pride-mates, others who would hunt him down. He needed to find somewhere else to hide.

“Mnnnnn,” Blue whimpered with relief as he found another suitable alley nearby. His chest was burning, and his throat and nasal aperture were so clogged that he could barely breathe. His panic was rapidly fading into exhaustion, leaving him with just enough energy to slither under a pile of loose newspaper and miserably curl his arms around his own tail. Safe now…safe now…safe…

The newspapers rustled around him, lifting away from his face. Blearily, Blue slithered backward, then grunted when his scapula thumped against a wall. His eyesockets were gummed shut and felt sticky, the way they had been for the past few mornings as his chest-sickness had gotten worse. He couldn’t open them.

“Oh my…you’re so cute! Look at you! That other guy swore you were a hundred feet long and wanted to eat him.”

Blue coughed wetly, fretfully rubbing at his sticky eyesockets with the back of his hand. The voice didn’t sound angry. Was that a good thing? He’d never managed to fully understand the dirt-walker’s language. Too many syllables that all sounded the same.

“All right little guy, you’re going to come with me now and we’re going to take you somewhere nicer than this alley. Sound good?”

Blue finally managed to peel open his eyes, then froze as the image of a human dirt-walker carrying a long pole came into focus.

“Easy now, easy…”

The dirt-walker lowered the pole in front of him, and Blue choked as something cinched down over his cervical vertebrae and locked his neck to the end of the pole.

“NAAAAAA!” he shrieked, seizing the pole with both hands and jerking backward. The dirt-walker countered the movement by twisting the pole until his head was pinned to the ground. "AAHN! NAAAAAAAA,” he screamed, whipping his tail back and forth as he tried to lunge forward, scramble over the boxes next to him, escape deeper into the alley, something, ANYTHING.

“That’s it, get yourself all tired out,” The dirt-walker cooed over his shrieks, holding him down with practiced ease.

“AHK-,” Blue croaked, then broke into a coughing fit, wheezing as his body struggled to expel the gunk blocking up his nose and throat.

“Are you sick little guy? Oh, that’s no fun,” the handler said soothingly. Still murmuring to him, they tugged firmly on the pole, and slowly began to drag him forward.

“Hnnn, hnnn, hnnn, hnnn,” Blue whimpered as he was pulled out of the alley and into a street lined with curious onlookers. Bad, bad, bad, he had to hide, had to get away, too much, too open, no, no, no, no…

“There’s a good little…whatever you are,” the handler murmured as he sank to the pavement, gulping for air with his eyesockets shut tightly and tail curled close to his chest. “Come on now, I’ve got a nice, safe place for you to go…”

“Hnngh-“ Blue choked as his head was pushed forward, then held steady. After a moment, he tentatively opened his eyes. Just in front of him was a square opening that led into a dark, enclosed space. Desperately, he lunged forward, pressing his body tight to the back of the shallow crevice with a terrified mewl.

“Such a good boy,” the handler purred, and swung the wire door of the cage shut. Blue gasped as the cable was loosened, pulled over his head, and then carefully extracted from the cage. “Let’s get you off the street, you little troublemaker.”

Blue whimpered anxiously as his hiding space was lifted, carried a few feet, then loaded into the back of a van. He shrank away as dirt-walker’s face appeared past the wire door, pressing himself against the back of the cage with another soft whimper.

“Don’t go anywhere,” the handler said cheerfully, then slammed the doors shut, leaving Blue alone in the dark, cool interior.

For a long moment, Blue sat frozen in place, chest heaving as he struggled to catch his breath.

“Ahn?” he finally croaked, voice quavering. Tentatively, he scooted forward, curled his fingers through the cage door, and tried to push it open. It didn’t even budge.

“Hnnnn,” he whimpered anxiously, then yelped as the floor lurched beneath him and the van began to drive away.

===

“Good morning beauties and gentlebeauties! Before we begin with our regularly scheduled news, our brave correspondent found a particularly juicy story! A freak snake attack in downtown Even Newer Home that left a monster hospitalized last night appears to have been a lamia attack. Our fabulous cameraman caught footage of the little rascal as animal control took him away to be euthanised…”

“SYLVIE!” Edge bellowed, immediately abandoning his breakfast and the rest of Mettaton’s news broadcast as he sprinted down the hall. “SYLVIE, PREPARE THE CAR! QUICKLY!!!”

Chapter Text

Blue flicked his tongue through the door of the carrier with a miserable frown. He could taste the scent of more than a dozen animals in the air, so many that it was making him salivate and feel dizzy with hunger.

“Hnnnn…” he whimpered, threading his shaking fingers through the grille that formed the door of the cage. Underneath the musk of sweat and animal fur were hints of chemicals and desiccated meat, a clear signature of the food that the dirt-walkers used to feed their pets. It might as well have screamed that every animal in the building was off-limits.

Blue curled his tail around his chest and whined as his stomach growled unhappily. Stupid housepets. Why did they have to smell like food?

Frowning a little, he tugged at the door. It rattled loosely in its hinges, but stayed firmly closed.

“Hmmm-mmm,” he hummed to himself, flicking his tongue through the bars again. He could smell dirtwalkers too, both human and monster varieties. Normally, he would have stayed hidden until night-time in order to avoid them, but he didn’t think he could wait that long. He was so hungry that it was starting to make him feel weak, and that was very, very bad.

“Mnfff-“ Blue whined, eyelights darting around the quiet, darkened room. The walls of the carrier blocked most of his view, but what he did see was small and open. Nowhere for a sneaky ambush predator to hide. After a few seconds of internal debate, he finally sighed, braced himself, and dug his phalanges into the door.

“Mnngh,” he grunted, giving it a hard shove. The wire flexed a little under his fingers, but the cage stayed firmly closed.

“Chk-,” Blue spat with frustration, then awkwardly twisted around until his shoulders were pressed against the door. The rest of his body ended up in an awkward coil that immediately made his ninety-second and two-hundred and twelfth vertebrae cramp.

“Naaaaa-“ Blue grumbled impatiently, untangling his tail until it was arranged more neatly. Pressing his palms into the carrier’s sides, he pushed his shoulders into the door, straining against the metal and plastic with everything he had. After a long, tense moment, he collapsed, panting and unable to quell the light tremors running through his arms and the tip of his tail. No good, he wasn’t strong enough.

“Naaaaa!” Blue complained, curling his fingers through the door to grope at the edges of the plastic frame. The tip of one of his phalanges brushed over a little mechanism hidden behind a block of metal and he paused, fixing his eyelights on the spot intently.

“Mmmm?” he hummed to himself, folding his fingers around the device until one of them unintentionally pressed into a little lever on the front. The door shifted outward a fraction of an inch, then immediately popped back into place when he released the lever. Blue’s eyesockets widened, then narrowed into a glare as he pressed down on the lever and threw his weight into the metal grille at the same time-

“Eep!” he squeaked as the door finally broke open and dumped him onto the floor. Groaning, he doubled over with a violent cough, bracing his arms against the floor and wheezing between spasms as the rough hacking made his chest burn and eyesockets water.

“Ihhhh,” he finally groaned as the fit subsided, raising his upper body into the air to look around. The room was fairly small and almost empty, with a single door that had light shining through a gap near the floor. Frowning, Blue dropped to his belly, slithered forward, and experimentally stuffed his fingers into the gap.

“Hnghh,” he grumbled, bony fingertips slipping uselessly across the underside of the door. The heavy wooden barrier wiggled a little, but it seemed a lot stronger than the cage-

“…classified under city law as noxious pests. They’re supposed to be damn smart too, so watch yourself.”

Blue jerked his hand away as though he’d been burned, then scrambled backward and frantically scanned the room. Narrow shelves loaded with bottles and rolls of Slimer, a huge, plastic container with clear sides, and a small, blue toolbox. Nowhere that someone his size could hide.

“S-still seems like a s-shame,” another voice timidly mused. The door knob rattled and Blue froze in place as a soft click came from the handle. “There isn’t, l-like, a zoo? O-or a shelter or s-somewhere that would take it?”

Blue dove back into the carrier and yanked the door shut. Trembling, he pressed himself as close to the back as he could get, both hands clasped over his nose and mouth to suppress a second coughing fit as light flooded the room.

“Lamia don’t do well in zoos, they typically die within the first month anyway. Same if you try to relocate ‘em. They just keep wandering until they either get back to their old territory or starve to death,” the first voice said matter-of-factly.

Two sets of heavy boots appeared past the door. Blue held very still, careful to give the dirt-walkers no reason to suspect…

One of them ducked down and peeked curiously into the carrier. Blue flinched back with a terrified hiss, then swept his coils past each other to make the go-away sound. The cage was so small that his tail kept running into the walls and cutting the warning into little stutters, but thankfully, it seemed to work.

“Ooohhh, somebody’s feeling fresh today,” the looker snickered as they stepped out of view. Blue immediately quieted, pulling his body close with a little tremble. There was an odd, chemical smell in the air now. He didn’t know what it was.

“The real pain is going to be all the Slimerwork. The city wants a full write-up,” the first voice continued. “Give me a hand?”

Blue inhaled sharply as his hiding place was lifted, carried a short distance and set down behind a sheet of clear plastic. The sound of his slightly laboured breaths became echoed and magnified, like he was sitting in a giant bowl. Or a tub? Had they put his hiding place in that big, plastic tub he'd seen earlier?

“S-since it bit someone, you mean?” The second voice asked.

“Sort of? More because the city officials are worried about a lawsuit,” the first voice drawled. A shadow appeared over the carrier, and a loud click reverberated through the plastic. When the voices continued, they were heavily muffled. “It’ll look good that we took care of the problem right away, but there’s still hospital bills and treating snakebites is NOT cheap.”

Something dropped into the tub with a soft clatter. Cautiously, Blue lifted his head. A large, glass bottle stuffed with cotton was sitting on the floor just outside the carrier. The cotton inside looked...looked kind of like…like it was wet…?

Blue blinked hard, swaying back and forth as the strange chemical smell invaded his senses and left the inside of his mouth feeling tingly and swollen. Warmth was starting to seep through the floor of the carrier and into his tail, but instead of making him more alert, he felt disoriented and light-headed. The other voices were still talking, but he couldn’t make out the words. The whole world was spinning…

“Aaahhhnn?” he slurred, voice echoing strangely through his skull as the desire to lie down began to overpower his fear. It was so hard…to stay coiled…

“Mnnnnn,” he keened softly, falling to his elbows, then resting his chest against the comfortably warm plastic beneath him. Warm was good…hiding place with warm was so nice…nice and warm and so…so nice…

“T-that was quick,” the assistant commented, as Blue relaxed against the floor of the carrier with a long, soft exhale. “F-fast metabolism? T-that was more like a m-mammal than a reptile.”

“About what you’d expect from something that’s half monster and half animal,” the doctor grumbled, watching the face of a small timer. “Though I do wish my textbooks had more information on them.”

“Y-you actually found a textbook with information on lamia?!” the assistant asked incredulously. “W-what did it say?”

“Mostly that the entire species was supposed to be female and highly venomous,” she sighed, laying out tools on the linoleum floor. “I’ve been told that their bone-parts don’t dust when they die, but I’m not sure I trust my source for that one.”

The timer beeped, and the assistant jumped. The doctor didn’t seem to notice, busying herself with a small fan on the side of the anesthesia chamber that quickly vented away the gas. “All right, I’m going to need a hand with this again.”

She unsnapped the lid, then together they lifted the carrier back out of the chamber and set it on the floor. As they let go, the carrier's door swung open, creaking gently on its newly-bent hinges. The assistant stared at it, then gave a small, nervous giggle.

“H-highly venomous?” she asked swinging the little gate open with a shiver. “I w-wonder how long that was broken?”

“Weird, I’ll have to go yell at Animal Control,” the doctor frowned. She shook her head, then reached inside the cage, carefully slipped her hands under Blue’s arms, and pulled him out. His head lolled limply against her arm, eyesockets half closed and expression completely slack and lifeless.

“Bigger than you look,” the doctor commented, gently stretching him out full length on the floor next to a measuring tape. “Eighteen and a half feet long, and...” she paused, tipping his head back to examine his nasal aperture and cervical vertebrae. Both were crusted with a clear, blue gunk that glistened slightly over the ivory bones. “Some sort of upper respiratory infection and possibly an eye infection as well. No obvious mites or other parasites on the skeleton half. Keep ahold of that head please, I’d rather not visit the hospital today.”

Blue’s eyelights flickered deep in his sockets as something warm pressed against either side of his head. The floor was cold now. Cold and hard against his bare spine and tail. It made him feel a little sad. He wanted the warm floor back, it felt so nice…

“Not sure if we’re going to be able to get any venom for the lab. We’ll try it postmortem, but I have a feeling it’s not going to work,” the doctor continued, pressing her fingers behind Blue’s lower jaw to open his mouth, then manipulating his fangs with a slim, metal pick. “The hospital’s probably going to have to keep making do with carpet viper antivenom. See anything to add?”

“W-weak and a l-little emaciated?” the other voice added cautiously. “I-If the Checks are like other m-monsters, I mean. I-I-I don’t know f-for sure.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” the doctor replied, letting Blue’s mouth close. The little lamia took a shallow breath, numbly aware and unable to jerk away as a set of fingers pressed firmly down the length of his tail. His entire body felt cold and heavy, like someone had buried him beneath a mountain of wet sand. He couldn’t move…why couldn’t he move?

“…no obvious gender, something else to look into postmortem.” There was a pause, and then the doctor continued in an amused tone. “All right, help me out here, where the heck am I supposed to put the needle?”

“Between the cervical vertebrae,” the assistant said, voice sounding completely sure for once. Blue whimpered quietly as light glinted off something metallic, suddenly terrified by his body’s lack of responsiveness. Adrenaline shot through his soul in a panicked rush, giving him just enough energy to flinch away as something cold and sharp pressed into his neck. The warm pressure on either side of his head immediately tightened.

“D-did you see that?” the assistant asked, right before someone roughly squeezed his hand. They cursed softly when he tried to yank it away and the limb gave a feeble twitch.

“Yeah, looks like the isothesia didn’t cut it. Let's administer a second sedative, just in case. Trying ketamine...” the doctor muttered, setting the first syringe onto a tray. “Make a note in case we ever end up having to deal with another lamia.”

“Hnn-“ Blue whined as a sharp pinch flared through the space below his largest cervical vertebrae. Coldness radiated from the spot, making his breath quicken as his vision reduced to a single point of light and a wave of overwhelming anxiety broke over him. He tried to scream for his pride-mates, to let them know he was in danger and beg them to rescue him, but the only sound that escaped his throat was a thin croak. It felt more like he was drowning than falling asleep as his consciousness was sucked away…

“All right, crisis averted. We’ll give that a moment to sink in and then-“

BANG

“Who the hell are you?!” The doctor demanded, leaping to her feet as a tall, angular skeleton in a business suit stalked into the room. “Sir? Sir, stop! That animal can kill you, you can’t-“ she broke off with a curse as Edge wordlessly stomped past her, scooped Blue’s limp body into his arms, and walked out of the room. “Shit, security! Security, get the hell over here!” she shrieked, taking off down the hall in the opposite direction.

“W-wait! Y-you can’t j-just take him, h-he’s venomous!” the assistant cried, running after him.

Edge’s shoulders stiffened, and he paused. “What is it to you?” he snapped, continuing down the hall to the back door of the animal shelter.

“B-because he’s already bitten someone! H-he’s n-not a pet!” the assistant snapped, reaching out a hand to stop him. He shook her off without even breaking his stride.

“A-a-and sick! H-he’s sick!” she blurted out, unable to think of anything else that might knock some sense into the crazy skeleton. Edge halted, then turned around and fixed her with a sharp glare that made her shrink down in her scrubs until she felt about two feet tall.

“Sick? And who are you, to think you know so much?” he demanded scathingly, gently adjusting his grip around Blue’s unresponsive body.

“I-I-I…” the she stammered, then swallowed hard and continued in a tiny voice. “Alphys.”

“What?”

“I-I’m Alphys,” she repeated, voice slowly getting louder and angrier. “A-and unlike YOU, I-I know b-better than to t-take a s-sick and DANGEROUS animal out of a shelter! L-look at his face! See the residue around his nose and neck? That’s some sort of respiratory infection, and that’s serious for most reptile species. He could die without the right kind of treatment, and the infection could spread to other pets you have. You don’t know what you’re doing and the least that you’ll do is hurt yourself-

“ENOUGH,” Edge cut her off sharply, then continued with a carefully neutral expression. “Here.”

He shifted Blue into his left arm so he could hold something out to her with his right.

“W-wha-“ Alphys blinked, breaking off her tirade to blink down at the object in his hand. He was offering her a small, white card.

“Take it. I need a house veterinarian. My handler is…enthusiastic, but he is no doctor,” Edge sighed, shaking the card at her impatiently. “You will suffice for the position.”

“P-position? F-for…” Alphys stammered, accepting the item with a baffled expression. Was he seriously offering her a job? Right now?!

Edge scowled, then continued in a deeply patronizing tone. “If you’d like to make double your current annual salary, then call the number on that card. If not, well…” the skeleton turned, and nudged the back door open with his hip. “Then you should know that your chances for advancement in this field are rather slim. Or haven’t you noticed that all the doctors in this dump are human?”

Alphys didn’t say anything else as Edge left, feeling shocked to her core. She had noticed, but…well, she’d thought it was just because monsters didn’t typically get veterinary degrees. There had been very few monsters in her graduating class. Very few in the university too, if she remembered right. Was that really why...?

Numbly, she looked down at her hand. It was a business card, or, at least she thought that was what it was supposed to be. The font was so ornate and gaudy that it was impossible to read. Luckily, the number had been clearly printed beneath the mess, along with the name ‘Papyrus Skeleton.’

“An intruder? What, you mean the Miracle Pill guy? We’re not supposed to stop him, what the hell do you want me to do?!” A security dog growled, stalking down the hall with an intensely frustrated look on his face. “The guy gets free access to the whole damn place, that’s why! You don’t just stop someone who built the fund that shells out your goddamn paycheck! We're an animal shelter, not a missile silo!”

Miracle Pill?

Fingers shaking lightly, Alphys pulled out her phone, then typed in the words ‘miracle pill,’ and ‘Edge’ into a search engine. Anyone crazy enough to steal an exotic animal out of a shelter that they had (apparently??) established themselves had to be worth some research.

Chapter Text

Humming softly to herself, Sylvie sprayed some cleaner onto a paper towel, then stood on her toes and began wiping down a large, picture window. She worked from the top to the bottom in lazy swipes, paying minimal attention to the chore. There was no reason to get these windows perfect. The room they lit was only used for storage, and nobody ever really came down here. Just her and some peace and quiet…

Sylvie paused, squinting incredulously at the glass.

“Oh, for god’s sake,” she grumbled to herself, then sprayed a generous amount of cleaner directly onto the window and began to scrub at the lamia-sized fingerprints layered over the window pane. “How did you two even manage?” Her employer’s spoiled pets didn’t even have fingerprints, but apparently that didn’t stop them from leaving marks all over the place with their grubby little hands. It was like everything about them was specifically designed to annoy her…

“Sylvie,” Slim hissed loudly from somewhere behind her. “Sylvie, is that you?”

Sylvie paused, looking around the room with mild bemusement. Apparently, Edge’s exile for broken, old, and ugly furniture was more popular than she’d realized.

“Yeah, it’s me,” she responded, ears flicking around as she tried to locate her coworker in the maze of old chairs, dusty knickknacks, and plastic bins. “You in here somewhere Slim?”

“Over here! Behind the sofa.” Slim’s bony arm appeared from behind a lumpy, green sofa and beckoned her over. “Can you help me with something?”

“Uhhh,” Sylvie hedged, ears drooping as she tried to decide whether an outright refusal would be too rude. It wasn’t that she didn’t like the kid, just that the last time she’d ‘helped’ him, Black had almost bitten two of her fingers off.

“Syyyllllvieeee,” Slim called. “Come on, I need an extra hand. Please?”

“Oh, here we go” the rabbit maid muttered, curiosity getting the better of her common sense. Grimly, she set her cleaning supplies aside, then crossed the room and squatted down next to the couch. Edge wouldn’t hire another maid to help look after his huge mess of a house, oh no. But he WOULD hire some poor kid straight out of a pet store to play babysitter for his half-snakes. And that was absolutely fine with her, because she REFUSED to thaw out dead rats and entertain the little demons, thank you VERY much. She had more than enough work on her hands just trying to keep the place clean. “What are you on about…”

“Shhhh,” Slim whispered hurriedly, then scooted aside so she could join him behind the old piece of furniture. “Hold this.”

Slim lifted a torn flap of fabric, revealing a dark hole in the back of the sofa. Sylvie automatically moved to hold it in place, eyeing the hole apprehensively.

“Thanks!” the tall skeleton grinned, then pulled out his phone and thumbed over to the flashlight app.

“Mmnghhh,” something grumbled drowsily. Sylvie started, pinning her ears back with distress as the light revealed two sleepy-eyed lamias snuggled cozily inside the couch.

“They made a nest!” Slim whispered enthusiastically, turning his phone on its side to snap a picture.

“Good for them,” Sylvie said tightly, voice a little more high-pitched than normal as she carefully looked everywhere EXCEPT the snake-nest inside the couch.

“They probably like it for the smell,” Slim mused, leaning forward to get a better angle.

Sylvie could believe that, though she suspected that the couch smelled a lot stronger now that a pair of lamiae had built a nest in it. “You know, I think I have things? Lots of things. Very busy,” The rabbit maid squeaked, internally debating whether it would work better to sprint away as fast as possible, or hold very still and hope that Red and Black weren’t in a frisky mood.

“It’s ok, they won’t bother you. I fed them this morning, and they get super sleepy when they’re digesting,” Slim said casually, then pulled up the video app on his phone and pressed record. Grinning happily to himself, he panned over the interior of the den. “Hi guys. Did you make a nice nest inside the boss’s crappy, old couch?”

“Ahn?” came the bleary reply.

“You did? Aren't you scared he'll be mad if he finds out?”

“Thfffff…”

With a sort of morbid fascination, Sylvie turned and looked inside. As expected, Black was staring right at her. She cringed, expecting the brat to lunge at her for a quick bite-

"Hnfff," Black sighed, meekly resting his head on Red’s tail with a slow blink. Sylvie glanced over at Slim, then back into the nest. Huh, maybe he'd been right about them being sleepy...

“Industrious little buggers,” Sylvie muttered, glancing around the den with grudging respect. Most of the springs, cloth, and stuffing had been removed from the inside of the sofa, leaving just enough pieces of the frame and cushions to make the couch look normal from the outside.

“Yeah, I wonder where they put it all,” Slim mused, reaching inside to give Red’s shoulder a rub. Red responded with a placid yawn and rolled onto his front, humming contentedly as Slim rubbed his scapula. “Ha! Looks like they’ve found other stuff to replace it with though.”

“Mnnfff,” Red fussed as Slim reached around him, wiggled something out of the nest, and held it up to the light. “That’s definitely one of the boss’s nice dress shoes, yeah?”

“Probably,” Sylvie grumbled, giving her cleaning supplies a longing look.

“Naaaaa,” Red whined, looking from Slim, to the shoe, and back again with a wounded expression. Slim offered it to him, and the little lamia immediately snatched it back and shoved it underneath Black’s rib-cage with an irritated huff. Black squealed indignantly at the disturbance, gave Red a filthy look, then delicately removed the offending object and pushed it to the edge of the nest with a disgusted scowl. Slim broke into laughter.

“All right, all right, I won’t take your stuff. Well, Boss’s and Sylvie’s stuff, anyway,” he chuckled.

“Whoa, wait a minute, my stuff? They've got my stuff in there?!” Sylvie asked, looking back into the den with renewed attention.

“Yeah. Isn’t that the whisk that disappeared from the kitchen the other day? Damn, we need to get you guys some toys.”

“They’ve got my whisk in there?” Sylvie asked incredulously. “What else…” Her expression immediately shifted from mild discomfort to exasperation as she spotted a familiar, red sleeve half-buried beneath the two, scaly tails. “Oh my god, is that my jacket?!”

“SLIM!! SLIM, GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE!”

Sylvie jumped so hard she hit her elbow on the wall, then staggered out from behind the couch with a pained grunt. Slim quickly followed, then obediently jogged out of the room and toward Edge’s shouts. Sylvie gave the couch a dark glare, then followed her coworker with a heavy sigh. Might as well kiss that jacket goodbye. She’d never get the smell out anyway.

Slim made it halfway down the hall, then automatically stepped to one side as Edge came sprinting toward him, eyesockets so wide with panic it looked like they were about to leap out of his head.

“Slim!” his employer screeched, skidding to a stop. “THERE YOU ARE. Here!” Without missing a step, he shoved a large bundle into Slim’s hands and all but dragged him back through the house. “Put those on, Hurry!”

Slim unfolded the bundle as he stumbled along, revealing a pair of heavy, canvas coveralls and elbow-length leather gloves.

“What’s going on, sir?” Slim asked cautiously, hopping from foot to foot as he tried to follow his employer and put on the clothes at the same time.

“Something’s wrong and I don’t know what to do!” Edge said desperately. “I found another guest and we were halfway home and he just started panicking! In the back of my car!”

“A-another guest?” Slim asked, a little confused why Edge wanted him to help. “M-maybe he didn’t like the car?”

“No, because he is STILL panicking, and throwing himself around and screaming and hurting himself and I didn’t know what to do so I just drove back here from the animal shelter as fast as I could…”

“Wait, the animal shelter? You…you mean you found another lamia?” Slim asked, yanking the gloves on so quickly that they ended up on the wrong hands. He left them that way with a grimace, then sprinted forward to catch up to his employer. He'd forgotten that Edge insisted on referring to the lamias as 'his guests.'

“Yes I found another one! And he hasn’t been defanged yet, so don’t you dare get yourself bitten,” Edge added with an enraged glare, as though this fact were somehow Slim’s fault. “Unless you want me to kick your ass all the way to the fucking hospital!”

“N-no sir…” Slim stammered, jogging up the sleek, red sports-car parked in the garage. “Is he in here?”

His question was answered a second later as a skeletal face slammed sharply into the side window, leaving a light, blue smear on the glass.

“NAAAAAAA,” came a muffled scream from the backseat.

“Oh my,” Slim heard Sylvie murmur behind them.

“Oh my god, DON’T JUST STAND THERE, HELP HIM!” Edge screeched, looking close to tears as Slim hurried up to the car and looked inside. Blue was lying dazed across the seats, tail sprawled awkwardly across the floorboards and ribcage fluttering rapidly. After a moment, he shakily pushed himself upright and lunged for the window again. His skull thunked hollowly against the glass, leaving another pale, cyan smear on the barrier.

“NAAAAAAAA,” he screamed, hands pressed tightly to his face as he fell back against the seats and lay there with a small shudder. “Hnnn, hnnn…HNNNN…”

“OH MY GOD, WHAT AM I PAYING YOU FOR?!?! DO SOMETHING YOU WORTHLESS PIECE O-“ Edge was screaming in the background. Slim hunched his shoulders, walked quickly over to a set of shelves, and tore an old, fleece blanket out from under a stack of old magazines. When he turned around, Edge was still hurling insults at him, eyelights bright and face scarlet with rage. Slim hugged the blanket close to his chest and quailed, fixing his eyes on his shoes as he tried to shut out the barrage.

“P-please stop yelling at me,” he finally begged, hugging the blanket close to his chest.

“HRKKK-“ Papyrus choked, then balled his fists up, turned on his heel, and stomped out of the room. Sylvie carefully stepped out of his way as he stormed back into the house, then winced as a muffled scream came from the other room. A loud, expensive-sounding crash followed, along with a string of astonishingly creative expletives.

“And that’ll be all the good china,” Sylvie sighed, giving Slim a once-over as she walked out of the garage. “Hey, take a deep breath. You’ve got this kiddo.”

And with that, Slim was alone. After a moment, he sniffed hard, roughly rubbed his hand over his burning eyesockets and took a shaky breath.

“Haahhhh,” he growled, then angrily dropped the blanket, stripped his gloves off and put them on the correct hands. He flexed his fingers once, then picked up the blanket and spread it out. Dusty, but it didn’t have any holes, so it should work for what he had in mind.

Feeling a little better, he walked up to the car and peeked inside. Blue was lying on his front, face buried against the crack between the seats with his arms clamped to his sides and tail curled tightly around his body.

“Hey now, let’s get you out of here," Slim murmured, easing the door open. "Don’t mind the angry guy, I think he had a rough childhood." Slowly and carefully, Slim draped the blanket over Blue’s upper body. The little lamia didn't react, trembling lightly under the old fabric as Slim leaned over him and took a deep breath. “Sorry in advance for this, little buddy.”

Quickly, he wrapped the blanket around Blue’s torso, pinning the little lamia’s arms snugly to his sides. Blue inhaled sharply as he was pulled out of the car, twisting around to look up at his captor with horrified shock.

“NAAAAAAAAA!!” he howled, thrashing violently as Slim quickly sat on the ground held him firmly against his chest.

“Shhhh, I’ve got you, it’s ok…”

“AAHHH-haa, ah-akk-“ Blue coughed, body shaking in Slim’s arms. Slim used the opportunity to wrap the blanket more securely, scooping Blue’s tail into his lap to keep it from getting scraped on the concrete floor.

“...ahhh, ahhhh, AAAHHHHHNNNNN,” Blue wailed as soon as he’d caught his breath, thrashing back and forth with sharp, panicky jerks. “NAAAAAAAAA!!”

“It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok,” Slim murmured soothingly. After a few seconds of intense struggling, Blue gave one, final cry and slumped in Slim’s arms, gasping raggedly. Slim relaxed his grip, then absently rubbed his thumb over the little lamia’s shoulder.

“CHK-“ Blue snarled and savagely bit his fingers. Sticky venom dribbled over the leather glove and blanket, making Slim immensely glad for the protective gear.

"Yeah, I'm a big meanie, I know," he said sympathetically, resisting the urge to pull away as he felt Blue's teeth pinch him through the glove.

“Ghhk…naahn…ahhnnn” Blue growled, gnawing on the thick leather. When Slim didn’t immediately let him go, he shuddered and looked up with a tiny, pleading mewl.

“See? I’m not gonna hurt you,” Slim began, then swiftly tightened his grip when Blue tensed, eyelights darting around the room with open panic.

“NAAAAAAA!” he screeched again, trying to lunge out of Slim’s arms to escape something that only he could see.

“Did they give you something at the shelter?” Slim grunted, arms wrapped tightly around Blue’s torso. “I bet they did.” The pet shop where he worked occasionally carried kittens and puppies, and they sometimes acted like this after coming back from being fixed. Best thing for it was to put them somewhere soft and dark to keep them calm until it wore off, but a three-pound kitten was a lot easier to deal with than a 45-pound lamia.

“AHN! AHN! AHN! AHN!” Blue screamed, then collapsed, still crying out in what sounded startlingly like a plea for help. Slim loosened his grip and murmured comforting nothings as he looked around the garage for something he could use. He had the blanket, but ideally he needed some sort of crate, or box…

The door creaked open. Slim looked up just in time to see Sylvie’s white-furred face peek hesitantly into the room for half a second before she immediately pulled the door closed again.

“W-wait! Don't leave! Please, I need a favour,” Slim called desperately, then tightened his grip with a low curse as Blue shrieked and thrashed in his arms.

“I am NOT coming in there. I just wanted to make sure you were still alive,” Sylvie called emphatically from the other side of the door.

“T-that’s ok, you don’t have to come in! Just...can you get me a big cardboard box? And lots of blankets? Please?” Slim begged, loosening his grip again as Blue broke into another coughing fit. “My arms are getting really tired,” he added, then mentally kicked himself for it. Sylvie didn’t care about his arms.

“Blankets and a box? Yeah, I can do that, just a sec,” she said.

“Thanks,” Slim said weakly, still rubbing Blue’s shoulder.

“Nnnn, nnnn, nnnn, nnnn, nnnn,” the little lamia whined, trembling in place. Slim looked down, then hissed sympathetically when he saw a small crack in the bone around his charge's nasal aperture. Poor thing had probably broken it when he’d hit the window.

“Shhhh, just a little longer, ok?” Slim whispered, dabbing away the little dribble of cyan dripping from the crack. “We’ll get you all fixed up, don’t you worry…”

As though responding to his words, the door swung open. There was a short pause, and then a white-furred hand shoved a cardboard moving box inside, tossed a stack of blankets next to it, and immediately closed the door.

“That big enough?” Sylvie called.

“It’s perfect, thank you!” Slim called, then eyed the box grimly. Slowly and gently, he stood, keeping firm hold of his charge as he did. Blue shivered harder, tail blindly wrapping tightly around Slim’s leg as his handler walked across the room. Slim grimaced as the appendage squeezed his femur hard enough to make the bone creak, using one hand to pull the box open, then quickly pile a few blankets in the bottom.

“Ok, you have to let go now,” Slim grimaced, patiently unwinding Blue’s tail. Blue whimpered softly, eyelights shrinking to pinpricks as Slim gathered him up and set him back-first into the box. “See? We’ve got a nice, dark place for you to hide in...”

Blue flipped over with a grunt, then desperately wiggled out of Slim’s hands and burrowed into the box, not stopping until all that could be seen of him was a quivering pile of blankets. With a sigh of relief, Slim folded the top of the box closed and carefully lifted it up. Blue whimpered softly behind the cardboard, still sounding distressed, but not completely terrified.

"There you go," Slim grinned weakly, feeling oddly proud of himself. "It’s safe now Sylvie. Can you please let me in?”

Chapter Text

Blue held very still, hands curled tightly to his chest as the floor of his new den-place bobbed up and down. The nothing-noises were much quieter now, like the horrible, unimaginable creature making them had finally wandered off. He stayed quiet anyway, just in case. He had never felt so scared before, not even of the dirtwalkers that he’d spent his entire life hiding from. They, at least, could be evaded in the alleys and small green areas that dotted the city. They were scary, but no match for his hiding skills.

The nothing-noises were alien and nightmarish, with a presence like flickering shadows that could see into his very soul. It didn’t matter where he hid, how quiet he was, or how desperately he tried to calm himself down. They knew. Even now, he could hear them whispering as they circled his den-place, running their bone-thin fingers over the ground. Stop running little one. Come out and it will all be over soon…

“Nnn,” Blue whimpered as the box was set down with a soft thump.

“You doing all right in there?”

Blue tensed his body in preparation to strike as the top of the box was opened. When several moments passed and nothing tried to drag him into the open, he carefully lifted his head out of the blankets. He winced as light pressed into his oversensitive eyesockets, then squinted upward with a shaky exhale. The only thing he could see was a blurry square of white ceiling. It was blindingly lit, and the air flowing in tasted vaguely of newly-cut grass and soap. It was definitely nicer than the smell of garbage and dirty water, but still much too bright and open when those things were still out there. Eyesockets watering, he reached up and deftly tugged the box flaps closed. There, much better.

“What-? Oh,” came a muffled snicker. “Sorry little guy. I’ll keep it closed then.”

Blue froze, then slowly cocked his head to one side. When the speaker didn’t say anything else, he lifted his chin and flicked his tongue near the crack where the box flaps didn’t quite meet. A calm, Slimery scent warmed his tongue, something like the way autumn leaves smelled when they were newly-fallen to the ground. It was a pleasant smell, but it was interspersed with a set of darker notes that he knew all too well. It was a dirtwalker, and they were close.

Silently, Blue dipped back down, burying his face back under the blankets with a small, relieved sigh. Just a dirtwalker, not the nothing-noises. Thank the sun...

His nest place slowly tilted to one side, then the other. Something rubbed against the outside, and then heat began to seep through the floor. Blue shivered, then slowly uncurled as much as the box would allow, eyesockets fluttering as exhaustion began to overtake hunger. He needed to sleep and this place was safe, soft, and blessedly warm. He shouldn’t go to sleep without eating first, but it would be ok. He could leave as soon as the dirtwalker stopped scratching around outside…he could hunt and eat…very soon…just had to…had to wait…

Slim eyed his set-up, certain that he’d messed something up without realizing it. Slowly, ran through everything in his mind one more time, trying to find mistakes. Blue’s box had been propped up on a pair of hard-back dictionaries, leaving an inch of space between the bottom of the enclosure and the carpet. A heating pad had been slipped underneath the box, then gently pressed against the cardboard with a couple of old magazines to keep it off the carpet. The whole thing was out in the middle of the floor, away from the guest room’s double bed, dresser, night-stand, and alarmingly flammable-looking curtains.

Air space between the enclosure and the floor? Check. Heating pad on the lowest setting? Check. Away from things that could catch on fire? Hopefully check. Slim was still badly worried that somehow, the temperature would get too high and the box would catch on fire. Or worse, the whole house would catch on fire. Or WORSE-

Sighing, Slim rubbed his face with both hands, trying to banish the image of flames consuming his employer’s mansion AND the surrounding neighbourhood from his mind’s eye. Ideally, Blue needed a giant, glass terrarium with a fancy, temperature regulated, reptile-safe pad under half of the enclosure. Ideally, he needed to know what temperatures his new charge even preferred. Red seemed to be content at the house’s usual 75 degrees Fahrenheit, but Black actively sought out warmer spaces when given the choice. Would Blue be somewhere in between?

Groaning, Slim got to his feet, stretching out his sore arms and taking a deep breath to calm the anxiety. Ideally, he also needed to know when his charge had eaten last, and THAT, at least, he could do something about. Focusing on getting Blue some food, Slim walked across the room and opened the door, then staggered to one side as Black imperiously pushed past him.

“Black,” Slim gasped, scrambling to catch the curious lamia as he lifted his upper body into the air and flicked his tongue. “No, you can’t be in here. He’s sick and I don’t want you to catch whatever he’s got.”

“Mmmmm,” Black churred dismissively, ducking away from Slim’s hands and peering intently around the room. His eyelights slipped over Blue’s box, then darted back to it, head snapping to face the enclosure with a low hiss.

“No,” Slim said firmly, taking ahold of Black’s collar and pulling him toward the door.

“NAAAAAAAA!” Black shrieked, voice filled with deeply affronted outrage. Snarling, he clawed at Slim’s fingers, resisting every step of the way as his handler half led, half dragged him out of the room.

“Yeah, I know, I’m a terrible person,” Slim replied tiredly, closing the door and locking it before releasing Black’s collar.

“CHK-“ Black spat, then darted forward and gave Slim’s ankle a sharp, vengeful nip before skittering off down the hall.

“Really?” Slim grumbled, not even bothering to feel the bite. It wouldn’t be serious. Black had been mad, not scared, and the little lamia had an uncanny sense of how hard he could bite without inflicting real damage.

“Ahn?” another lamia chirped behind him.

“No, Red, you can’t go in either,” Slim sighed, rubbing his face with both hands. Red ignored him, slithering right up to the door and wrapping his fingers around the handle. He scowled when the knob didn’t turn, then chirped at Slim and gave it a demanding rattle.

“Oh, don’t give me that look. I’m just trying to make sure you don’t get sick, but what do I know…” Slim muttered to himself, heading off down the hall toward Sylvie’s kitchen.

“Ahn!” Red squawked, watching his handler walk away with infuriated disbelief. When his demands went unanswered, he grumbled darkly, then flopped onto his belly and flicked his tongue near the gap under the door. There was another one of the People hidden in this room, and he WANTED IN. This territory belonged to him and Black, and while the accommodations were plush and food was plentiful, one did not simply walk into another pride’s territory unannounced. Didn’t this interloper realize how RUDE that was?

“Mmngh,” Black muttered, slithering up behind Red.

“Naaaaa,” Red whined, sticking the tips of his fingers under the door. Black glared down the hall for a moment, then lifted himself up onto the tip of his tail and flicked his tongue. His eyesockets fell closed as he focused on the scents around him, sifting through the chemical messages for the ones belonging to the new lamia. The newcomer’s scent had a sour note to it. A hungry-tired-dirty-sick smell that made Black pause. It had been a very long time since he’d been a part of a pride, but he still remembered the smell of soul-sickness, and what it meant when a lamia had it.

“Hmm-mmm,” he finally murmured, then dropped to his belly and slithered up to a nearby room. Using both hands, he grabbed the doorknob and jerked it back and forth until the door popped open, then slithered inside.

“Ahn?” Red called, following him.

“Mmm,” Black replied, giving the window an appraising look. The newcomer may have entered his territory without permission, but it was an odd move for a soul-sick lamia. Something seemed off, but either way, this interloper had to be informed that they were trespassing. Thoughtfully, Black dragged the window open and shoved his hand through the bottom of the screen, popping the material out of its frame with a sharp pfft.

“Mnnngh…” Red grumbled, watching Black widen the opening and wiggle through into the colder air outdoors.

“Mmmm,” Black replied dismissively, dropping to the grass outside before turning and placing both hands on the windowsill. “Ahn,” he barked when Red turned to look longingly at the doorway behind him.

“Thfffff,” Red huffed irritably, then followed his pride-mate through the window and out of the house.

===

“You want what again?” Sylvie asked, giving Slim a sideways look as she rolled out a strip of dough and sprinkled it with brown sugar, dried cranberries, and pecans.

“Chicken liver,” Slim repeated. “I need-“

“No, I heard that part, what on earth do you need to be putting chicken liver in my good blender for?” Sylvie grumbled, rolling the dough around the filling to make a log.

“It helps when you have a snake that’s too weak to eat. They need food that's really nutritious and soft so they digest it easier. Please? I’ll wash it really well, I promise!” Slim begged. Bleach would be enough, wouldn’t it? Maybe if he didn’t dilute it as much as the bottle asked for? It would burn his hands, but if he was careful and let things soak-

Sylvie sighed deeply and wiped her hands on her apron. “So the dead rats in sandwich baggies weren’t bad enough,” she grumbled to herself, ducking low to rummage through a cupboard. “Here, use this one, and for god’s sake keep it,” she shuddered, holding out a small, battered food processor. “This’ll work better for making your snake food anyway. Now go on and don't leave a mess.”

“Thank you, I won't,” Slim said gratefully, gathering the processor in his arms.

“Yeah, yeah, just keep it out of my kitchen,” Sylvie said gruffly, and turned back to her cinnamon rolls.

There was a small kitchenette a few doors down that Slim had been using (at Sylvie’s insistence) to store and thaw out frozen rats to feed Red and Black. There wasn’t much in the room besides a freezer, a counter, and a heavy-duty deadbolt on the door. The lock was for Red. He'd already broken in once and scattered Slim's supplies across half of the mansion. It had literally taken three days to get everything picked up and back in place.

Taking a deep breath, Slim began unwrapping and cutting up chicken liver, chicken heart, and several pieces of dead rabbit (he REALLY hoped Sylvie never came in this room) and putting the meat into the food processor. After a few minutes puzzling over the apparently nonsensical symbols on the device, he managed to make it work. The processor roared to life, and quickly reduced the contents to an unappetizing, red-brown sludge and making him feel slightly deaf once the blades had whirled to a halt. Suddenly realizing why Sylvie had been so willing to part with this food processor, Slim rubbed the sides of his head, then poured the mixture into a bowl and stirred in an equal amount of water. He was pretty sure that was the right amount…

Or was he? Suddenly unsure, Slim frowned down at the sludge. Was it one part water to one part slurry, or a three parts to two? Something else? He half lifted the bowl over to the garbage disposal to dump it out, then hesitated, hating the idea of wasting so many expensive, albiet disgusting ingredients. Maybe he had made it correctly. Heck, Blue might not even end up needing it, if he would eat the rats that Slim had thawing on the counter for him, but he still wanted to have this on hand in case it was needed. And it NEEDED to be made correctly. He wasn't going to risk his new charge's health on his awful memory.

Taking a deep breath, Slim covered the bowl and set it in the refrigerator, trying to recall what the local library’s business hours were on Tuesdays. He was pretty sure they were open until six, and if he biked really fast, he might not be gone long enough to-

“AH! There you are!”

Slim jumped with a little squeak and whirled to face his employer. “C-c-c-c-c…” he stopped, closed his eyes and swallowed hard. “Do you need something sir?” he finally managed.

“Yes, I require an update on my newest guest. How is he settling in?”

“F-fine, I think. He’s much calmer and I have him apart from Black and Red for now. B-because he looked s-sick?” Slim trailed off, eyelights darting up to Edge’s face once before they settled on his employer's shoes.

“Well OBVIOUSLY he is sick. I am in the process of acquiring a house veterinarian, and in the meantime, I require YOU to look after him full time until then to ensure that his health does not deteriorate,” Edge replied with a hint of exasperation. He held out an envelope. “Half of your overtime wages up front, as recompense for the short notice,” he added in a softer tone as Slim hesitantly accepted it.

“B-b-b-but I…” Slim didn’t even look at the envelope. Stay here? Full time? But he had to... “I-I-I…I have t-t-to leave to s-study…f-for B-Blue…”

“NONSENSE, I need you here taking care of my newest guest.”

A quiet and deeply irritated part of Slim wanted to scream that he needed to LEAVE in order to take care of Edge’s new guest.

“B-b-b-b…” Slim closed his eyes and held a hand in front of his mouth, trying to calm down a little. “Library closes soon,” he finally managed. “I n-need to use a computer.”

“A COMPUTER? Is that ALL?” Edge demanded stared at Slim for a long moment. When the other skeleton didn’t immediately respond, he turned on his heel and began marching down the hall.

"Come with me!" Edge ordered. Slim jumped, then followed, keeping a few steps behind as his employer led him to a storage closet stacked to the ceiling with cardboard boxes marked 'FRAGILE, THIS SIDE UP.'

“Here we are,” Edge said. “I have extras of these that I purchase for my company. You are now part of my company, therefore you are entitled to one,” he declared, selecting a box from the stack and pushing it into Slim's arms. “These are complete employee-kits, so everything you need should be in here. It is yours, so you may take it home if you wish, but I will NOT replace anything if you break it or your children drool on the electrical components.”

Slim reflected that that was an oddly specific detail as he looked cautiously in the box. His eyesockets widened when he saw that it contained a laptop computer, a set of headphones, a mouse and mouse-pad, and a few other devices he didn’t immediately recognize. Everything was painted a deep, gaudy scarlet with a black symbol emblazoned on the flat surfaces, but the whole set-up still looked terrifyingly expensive despite the colour scheme.

“Will this suffice for your computer needs?”

“I-I think so?” Slim said, not sure if he was actually allowed to touch anything. He'd washed his hands, but he had just been chopping up raw liver.

“Excellent! I will be around later today, and my phone will remain on. I expect you to call me IMMEDIATELY if anything goes wrong, INCLUDING if things go wrong in the middle of the night. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes sir,” Slim said meekly, watching his employer walk out of the room before frowning down into the box. Had Edge seriously just GIVEN him a laptop computer? Slim...didn't want it. There was no way he could buy a replacement if this one broke, and being indebted to Edge was NOT something he wanted, especially after earlier today. WHAT AM I PAYING YOU FOR YOU WORTHLESS PIECE OF SHIT? Slim set the box down with a scowl and dug a hand into his pocket, pressing his phalanges against his cigarette lighter hard enough to make the bone sting a little. Apparently, he was being paid for whatever the hell Edge wanted him to do, but what else was new? Employers were all the same.

Slim waited a minute to make sure Edge wasn’t actually going to make sure he was using the laptop before quietly putting the box back with the others and sneaking out to the entrance of the mansion. It would only take him a few minutes to get to the library. If he hurried, nobody would even notice that he’d gone.

===

“Mmm,” Black hummed to himself, pausing in front of a window with a heavy shrub growing beneath it. He flicked his tongue at the glass a few times, then raised himself onto the tip of his tail and placed both hands firmly against the window screen. A series of quick shoves tore the fabric out of the frame, giving the little lamia access to the glass beneath.

“Mnngh…” Red muttered, shivering against the wall as he scanned the lawn below them with nervous energy. He felt badly exposed out here, and the late-afternoon sun beaming down on him was deeply uncomfortable. It brought to mind cages, loud noises, and chains...

“Mmm,” Black grunted digging his phalanges into the window seal. Slowly, he dragged the pane of glass backward, until there was a space large enough to squeeze through.

“Ahn?” Red repeated impatiently, curling his tail tightly around his body and lowering himself until only the tops of his eyesockets were visible above the coils.

“Mngh,” Black grunted, heaving himself up onto the windowsill and into the room. Red scrambled after him, all but leaping inside and landing in a clumsy heap and a relieved huff. He pushed himself upright, then scooted away from the window and out of the sunlight with a loud rustle of scales across carpet. Black gave him an irritated glare, then calmly slithered up to the large, cardboard box in the middle of the floor and circled it, growling softly under his breath.

“Mnn?” a little voice whimpered from inside.

Red growled, and Black ran the tips of his phalanges along one side of the box with a dark chuckle. The box’s owner hissed loudly, then made an odd, angry-sounding chirp. Black immediately jumped back, and Red froze, both lamia staring at the box with sudden understanding.

“Ahn?” Black asked hesitantly, slithering a little closer to the box and lifting his upper body to peer incredulously at the closed top. A den-space? This was the newcomer's den-space? This was an awful den-space, what were they thinking?

“Chk-” the box’s owner spat, then repeated the chirp. They still sounded insistent, but the anger had been replaced with a whisper of hesitant curiosity.

“Ahn,” Red chirped back, then dropped his upper body to the floor and tilted his head to one side. Slowly, a small, skeletal face pushed through the top of the box, followed by a pair of delicate hands that gripped the edge of the box so tightly that the cardboard bent under their fingers. They stared at Black with wide eyes, then flicked a pale, cyan tongue at him. Black hissed through his teeth and Red chuffed angrily, both lamia offended by the forward gesture. The newcomer quickly dropped back out of sight with a confused mewl, tugging the box closed behind him. Red blinked, then grumbled to himself and and relaxed with an indifferent sigh. This newcomer wasn't a threat, even if he was rude. Just sick, young, and very, very lonely.

“Mnnn...” Black chuffed, still feeling moderately offended as he crept up to the box and brushed his fingers against the heat-pad. Startled by the warmth, he paused, then then rubbed his face against the cardboard with a pleased chuckle. It was still many hours until the night-time, and this would do for a napping-place. Perhaps the runt had picked a good den-space after all, even if his social skills were badly lacking...

Imperiously, Black wrapped his tail around the box and settled his head onto his forearms with a sigh. Blue hissed warningly, and Black snarled back at him under his breath, putting no real malice into the sound. Den-spaces were sacred, especially in this case since the owner was soul-sick, so Black wouldn’t intrude. He just wanted to share the warmth, which felt so nice...

The newcomer rustled uneasily in their box, but didn't respond. Red stared at Black for another long moment, then looked away with a wide yawn and slithered over to the bed. Sleepily, he ducked under the covers and wiggled beneath them, pulling his body into a loose curl under the fabric. Eyes half closed, he let himself drift off, keeping an ear on Black in case something happened. After a long moment of silence, he heard a low, sleepy hum that almost sounded happy coming from the newcomer's box, and then everyone fell still.

Chapter Text

A cool breeze dried Slim's sweaty forehead as he rested his bicycle against the wall of Edge’s mansion and hurried inside. Turned out he had gotten the slurry ratio right. Better still, the internet articles had said that it didn’t really matter. He could even make it with more water if Blue had trouble swallowing, or if he started looking dehydrated. Slim had no idea what a half-skeleton, half snake creature would look like when dehydrated, but he would figure that out later. For now, he would just do some preventative care, and then start taking notes to keep track of Blue’s condition. That way, it would be more obvious if he started to decline or get better.

Still going over the plan in his head, Slim filled a coffee mug with slurry and warmed it in the microwave until it felt warm against his wrist bones. Cup in hand and arms preemptively sheathed in tough, leather gloves, he made his way to the bedroom where he’d left Blue and unlocked the door.

“Mrrrp?”

The cute little wake-up sound made him jump hard enough that some of the slurry sloshed over onto his hand.

“How…?” he gasped, staring down at Black as dread crept up the back of his neck. Unconcerned by his sudden panic, Black gave his arms a luxurious stretch, then pulled his coils a little more snugly against the sides of Blue’s box.

“Oh god…” Slim whispered, taking a half step into the room, then quickly ducking out into the hall and looking around. Nobody was around, and nobody had seen, so he could… No, it would be stupid to hide this, wouldn’t it? Edge would definitely want to know but telling him would be…

Slim unconsciously pulled his arms tight against his sides and hunched his shoulders. If Edge had flown off the handle over something that wasn’t even his fault, then how upset would he be about something that was his fault? Conflicted and a little desperate, Slim stared down at his hands, wondering how contagious and serious Blue’s cough and runny nose was. He knew from working in the pet shop that runny noses in reptiles were a really bad sign, but lamia didn’t always match up with their snake lookalikes. And hadn’t Edge said that he was already getting help for Blue? And if he was, then did he really have to know?

“Mmm?” Black inquired, pushing himself up onto his elbows and flicking his tongue in Slim’s direction. Slim stared at him numbly for a moment, then realized that the little monster was staring curiously at the mug of slurry.

“N-no. This isn’t for you,” Slim told him shakily, walking across the room and setting the cup on top of an oak wardrobe. Black gave him an appraising look, still flicking his tongue at Slim’s hands.

“Naa-aam?” he hummed hopefully, slithering a few paces closer. As he moved away, a muffled squeak came from the box, and the flaps slowly lifted as a pair of wide, round eyesockets peeked out, blinked once, then slowly disappeared again. Slim took a deep breath, holding out his hand as the spoiled lamia imperiously lifted himself up and nosed at the slurry that had spilled on his glove. What to do…Black would definitely get in the way, but if Slim just shoved him out of the room he would hang around and screech until he was let back in.

Unless…

“Black, I need to be alone with Blue for a little bit, so what if I run you a bath? Would you like that? Bath?” Slim asked, gently pushing Black away. Black’s gaze immediately fixed on his face with an attentive chirp.

“Bath? Bath!” Slim cajoled, trying to sound enthusiastic as he slowly backed out of the room and down the hall. Black followed him, gaining speed and eagerness as Slim unlocked the bathroom door and walked over to the tub.

“Aaath!” Black chirped happily, darting around Slim’s legs, then lifting his chin up over the edge of the tub to watch as Slim pulled the shower curtain back and jammed the plug into place.

“All right, there we go,” Slim muttered, turning on the water. Black immediately slid into the tub, cooing happily as he thrust his skull under the faucet and turned his face up into the running water.

“That ought to keep you out of trouble for a few minutes.” Slim muttered to himself, backing slowly out of the room as Black wiggled onto his back in the water and exposed a flash of electric-blue belly scales before he rolling back over with a delighted squeal.

The cup was still warm when he got back to it. Moving very quietly, Slim closed and locked the door, then sat heavily in front of Blue’s box with a long sigh.

“Oh boy, it’s been a long day. I’ve got some food for you buddy. Sorry about the rude welcome,” Slim murmured, slowly pulling the box flaps open. An odd, sizzling sound rattled out of the box, followed by a low, alien clicking noise that echoed off the walls like a warming. Slim pulled his hands back, then frowned down at the box. Strange. Red or Black had never made that noise before.

“Don’t be rude, come on now,” Slim murmured, keeping his voice steady as he reached into the box.

“CHK-“

Slim flinched as something slammed into his arm and gave it a sharp pinch. Wincing, he quickly clapped a hand over the back of Blue’s head, keeping the little lamia pinned in place as he slowly pulled him out of the box.

“MMMNNNN!” Blue shrieked around a mouthful of glove, fingers scrabbling weakly at Slim hand as he was drawn out into the open. Clear, sticky venom dribbled over the glove, but it was a much smaller amount than last time. Slim couldn’t help the little shiver as he remembered his employer promising to kick his ass all the way to the hospital if he screwed up and let himself get bitten. It probably wouldn't take much to make him seriously ill...

“Shhhh, you’re ok, it’s all right, I’m not going to hurt you,” Slim murmured, VERY carefully pressing Blue’s head into his coveralls, then fumbling the blanket out of the box to swaddle his upper body. Blue thrashed once, then doubled over, coughing hard enough to throw his shoulders back into Slim’s chest. Slim held him carefully until he was finished, then grabbed the mug of slurry and scooped a little up onto his fingers.

“Got a snack for you, help you fight off that nasty cold…”

“MNNnnph?!” Blue squeaked indignantly when Slim smeared the food into his mouth. He worked his jaw once, then spat the slurry out with a deeply offended expression and another fit of coughing.

“Oh…yeah, it probably doesn’t taste too good,” Slim sympathised, scooping up a little more. “Sorry about this buddy, but you won’t get better if you don’t eat.”

“Nn-ghhhk,” Blue gagged as Slim forced a little more slurry past his teeth, then kept a hand over his mouth until he felt him swallow.

“Ghhh-uk, kh-kh-kh” Blue gagged once his face was released, shuddering and coughing so hard that Slim was worried he might throw up. Why was he fighting him so hard over a little food? Was Slim doing something wrong? Damn it, he couldn’t go back to the library to check, they were closed...

“Na’am,” came a sleepy mumble from under the bed.

Ah. Apparently, just having Black break quarantine wasn’t bad enough. Mentally declaring himself the stupidest and most incompetent monster in existence, Slim bleakly looked up. Red slipped his head out from under the bed, flicked his tongue once, then slowly began to slide forwards. Slim tensed, ready to forcefully separate the two, when Red calmly stopped and lowered his chest to the floor.

“Na’am,” he repeated after another tongue-flick in Blue’s direction, bringing his teeth together with a quiet snick.

“Nnnn,” Blue protested weakly, trembling from his chin to the tip of his tail. Red just blinked at him without moving, glancing from the cup, to him, and then back to the cup again.

“What are you two saying?” Slim murmured, carefully scooping up a little more slurry and bringing it to Blue’s mouth. Maybe now that he was distracted…

“Mnnn-“ Blue choked, then shuddered and swallowed.

“Good! Very, very good,” Slim murmured encouragingly, trying again. Slowly, but surely, Blue let him spoon-feed him the slurry, matching each bite with a whimper of complaint and a light shudder. Red watched silently the entire time, but his posture was relaxed and passive, not tense like when he was stalking something. If Slim had to guess…he was letting Blue know the food was good? Or even that it was actually food? Well, whatever the message, it was working and Slim wasn’t about to question it too deeply.

“Good job, very good job. We’re all done,” Slim cooed when Blue swallowed the last of the slurry. “Now let’s get you…Red?”

Without looking at him, Red slowly raised his body upright until he could look directly into Blue’s eyesockets. Blue stared back, breath rattling a little as he kept his entire body tense and still in Slim’s arms. After a moment Red looked away, then dropped to the floor and slithered peacefully out of the room.

“What was that all about?” Slim muttered to himself as Blue went limp against his chest. Carefully, he reached into his pocket for a clean rag and began to dab at the mess on Blue's face. Blue squeaked and feebly twisted his head away, pulling his tail closer to his chest as Slim tenderly swabbed at the discharge around his eyesockets and nasal aperture. It was half-dried and gooey, so Slim could only do so much without water and proper cleaning supplies.

"All right, I'll stop bugging you for now," Slim sighed once Blue was a little cleaner, setting him back in the cardboard box. Blue mewled brokenly once he was released, then slowly pulled his arms up against his chest and laid still. Worried, Slim tucked the blanket over him, then turned off the light and stepped out of the room. He was about to lock it when the window caught his eye. More importantly, the open window without a screen, caught his eye. So that’s how Black and Red had gotten in. That was…concerningly smart of them. Slim frowned as he crossed the room and pulled the sash closed, trying to think of a way to secure the windows better in the future. Would they just break the glass if they couldn’t open it the usual way? They were definitely strong and determined enough.

Once outside with the door locked, he allowed himself a deep sigh and slid down the wall to the floor, pulling out a notepad and a pencil stub to make his first set of notes.

4:30 PM

Got Blu two eat a cup of meet, lever, and watter. Looks tierd and sick (runy nose and eyes and coffing). Red and Blak both got expoosed to him. Wurried they mite get sick two. Wurried about teling Slimyrs becaus hes a jerk.

“EEEEEEEEE!” Black squealed, tearing off down the hall and leaping onto a couch that was probably ridiculously expensive. Flecks of water pattered against the wall as he rubbed his entire body against the colourful brocade, then burrowed into the cushions and knocked them all to the ground before zooming off again. Slim smiled at him tiredly, and tucked the pad and pencil back in his pocket. Until he could find a way to block the windows, he’d have to physically guard the room to keep Red and Black out.

The sound of water splashing onto the floor caught his attention.

“Oh shit!” he spluttered, leaping to his feet and running back to the bathroom as water began to spill out over the threshold. The tub was overflowing. Scrambling and slipping on the wet floor, he turned the faucet off, then dropped his forehead onto the counter with a little groan. Behind him, Red made a displeased sound and gave the wet floor a wide berth before slipping into a guest room and pulling the door shut behind him.

“Yeah, you and me both buddy,” Slim mumbled into his hands.

Chapter Text

Alphys turned Edge’s business card over in her hands, half-listening as her supervisor continued to rant about what they were now calling ‘Mr. Edge’s surprise visit.’ After three official meetings and a dozen one-on-one shouting sessions, you’d think that she’d have let it go by now. It wasn’t like he’d broken anything, as the hospital director kept patiently telling her. And no, they weren’t going to stop accepting funding from Mr. Edge. Not if she wanted to keep getting her paycheck. Not if she wanted the place to stay open. No, there wasn't another source of funding, they’d been over this two times already and they really should get on with this meeting…

Alphys sighed and tucked the card back into her pocket. She hadn’t told anyone about Mr. Edge’s offer yet. Maybe she should? It was information about what had happened, so it kind of seemed like the right thing to do. He might be the founder and primary benefactor of the hospital, but that didn’t give him the right to come in and take whatever he wanted. Especially when it made her look this bad in front of everybody else, and especially not when she had such a promising career...

A chill crept down the back of Alphys’ neck as Edge’s voice echoed in her head, tone mocking, cynical, and deeply bitter. You should know that your chances for advancement in this field are rather slim. Or haven’t you noticed that all the doctors in this dump are human?”

It was uncanny, once it had been pointed out to her. There were lots of monster interns, like her, who assisted the doctors with surgeries and routine procedures. Monsters ran the front desk, cleaned the floors, fed the animals and fetched the mail. But security, the supervisors, and all the doctors? Anyone with more than an entry-level job?

Human.

Alphys shivered, looking around the table. She was the only monster at this meeting, and now that she’d noticed, it was making her chest feel tight and heavy. She’d never needed to care about her species before. It hadn't even been something she'd noticed, any more than that the sky was blue and pavement got wet when it rained. Maybe because all her life, she’d gone to school, shopped, and played in places where monsters outnumbered humans? In those places, it really didn't matter. No one had treated her any different because she was a yellow demi-dragon with a monsters' soul.

But now, the demographic had flipped, and humans were the ones holding all the best jobs. And if Edge was to be believed, then they were keeping it that way on purpose.

Alphys stared uneasily at her shoes. She shouldn’t think that. Even without saying it out loud, it made her feel sick that it might be true. She couldn’t imagine why Edge would say something like that, and stars, was she actually taking him seriously? Their first and only meeting, he’d insulted her, then carried a lethally venomous animal out the door to stars knew where. It was awful! And that was REALLY why she was feeling anxious. The poor thing was probably locked up in a cage somewhere. Or worse-

“No, lamia cannot be kept in captivity,” the hospital director sighed, as though responding to her thoughts. “We’ve tried. Recreated their habitats, copied their natural diets, provided companions. All of it. Nothing’s succeeded. They just starve themselves to death and waste away. Failure to thrive across the board, like Pilot whales. Most zoos won’t even try now.”

“Starvation? Really? But elapids are routinely force-fed after milking. That’s not an option?” One of the other doctors asked curiously. The director shook her head.

“They're just too territorial. If they don’t injure themselves, then they spend too much energy fighting off the handlers. It’s a shame, really. With more research we might have been able to convince the government to start reclamation efforts…

Alphys squirmed, thinking of that poor lamia wasting away. She hated when they had to euthanise animals, but she understood why. Some things were wild and couldn’t be kept safely around people. Others, like the domestic dogs and cats that were overrunning the city, needed care that they didn’t have the resources to provide. It was sad, but it was the real world. That was just the way it was.

Her fingers found the card again, and this time, they closed around it. She should call. Yes. She should call and investigate, if only to find out where the poor little thing was so it wouldn’t suffer. Edge might have enough money to buy out the hospital’s directors, but that didn’t make it right for him to be cruel like this. Nobody had that right.

Even if he might be right about...that other thing.

The meeting let out and her supervisor stormed out of the room. Alphys took a deep breath, then walked out to a stairwell that she knew would be empty. Once she was alone, she pulled out her phone and dialed the number on the card.

“Took you long enough!” came the immediate and irritated reply. “Write down this address and get your ass down here. NOW.”

===

BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEP-

Without opening his eyes, Slim shut off his phone and tiredly rubbed his face with both hands. He pulled on his gloves, stumbled to his feet, then walked into the bathroom and turned on the faucet. Once the water had warmed enough to feel comfortable against his elbow, he soaked a clean washcloth, pressed it lightly until it stopped dripping, then took it into the room where Blue was resting.

"Hey Blue. It's me again," he called softly. Earlier on in the night, he’d carefully rotated the box onto its side, in case its occupant got too hot and wanted to move to a cooler place. Looked like Blue had wanted to stay though. The box was still sitting undisturbed on its pedestal of dictionaries, magazines, and heating pad, flaps slightly ajar.

“Heyyyyy buddy. Feeling any better?” he called softly, kneeling next to the box and pulling open the flaps. Blue lay silently in the bottom, ribs hitching with short, shallow pants. His eyelights didn’t move from where they were loosely focused on something in the far distance, dull and slightly fuzzed around the edges. A light froth had formed at the corners of his mouth, and his nasal aperture, chin, and right cheekbone were shiny with slimy discharge. It was a very big, and very worrying difference from his fighting and posturing just a few hours earlier.

“All right, I'm just gonna lift your head up a little. Are you thirsty?” Slim murmured, gently working a gloved hand under Blue’s head. With the other, he pressed the pre-warmed washcloth against Blue’s teeth, letting a few drops of water seep into his mouth. Blue weakly lifted a hand and wrapped his fingers around Slim’s forearm, even as his mouth closed around the cloth to squeeze the water out. He didn’t have lips, and his forked tongue was useless for creating any sort of suction, but he still managed to swallow a few times before coughing weakly and turning away.

“Good. Very, very good,” Slim murmured, re-folding the cloth with one hand, then using the cleaner side to wipe the mucous away.

“Nnn-nnn-nnn-nnn,” Blue protested, scrunching up his eyesockets and blindly pushing Slim’s arm away. Slim carefully scooped both of his wrists up, holding them firmly out of the way until he'd finished and Blue's face was clean. Blue jerked his arms back as soon as he was done, pressing his hands over his nose and mouth in a gesture that was strikingly similar to the way Black would protect his own face after being handled. Slim stared down at him, feeling conflicted. He couldn't just leave his face a mess like that. Letting the goo build up and dry would irritate the underlying bone, and could even make it crack. And even though it was bothering the little guy to keep cleaning it off like this, but he didn't think there was any other way.

“Sorry, sorry, I'm done with your face now,” Slim murmured. "Let's see how your temp is doing."

Carefully, he placed one gloved hand in front of Blue's face, then wiggled the other glove loose, trapped the leather fingers under his leg, and pulled his arm free. Moving delicately and acutely aware of where Blue's head and venomous fangs were the entire time, he tested the temperature of the box and Blue’s tail with his bare wrist. Blue felt a little warm, and the box felt a little cool. Same as it had been for the past several hours.

“All right, I’ll leave you alone now. You’re going to be just fine,” Slim sighed, pulling his glove back on and digging out his notepad. He wished he believed himself. If Blue was a dog, cat, bird, or even a regular snake, then he would know what to do. Where to take a pulse, how to give fluids, how to make him more comfortable and most importantly, how to tell whether he was getting better or worset. Just going off of instinct, Blue was definitely not getting better, but he also wasn’t getting worse. At least not quickly. He was half-worried that the bi-hourly checkups might be pushing things in the wrong direction, but he was more worried that one of these times he was going to wake up and it would be too late. Especially since there wasn’t anybody he could call.

7:30 AM

Got Blu two drink a litle watter frum cloth agan. Tale still warmur then box. Coffing a litle, but week and not prowducktif (isnt coffing any thing up, sorry I cant spel wurth a dam). Lots of snot on face. He dusnt lik it wen I cleen him off (cuvers face with hands, stresst out). Not much chang frum earlyer. Defrent way two cleen face?

Yawning hugely, Slim pushed the box flaps back into place, locked the door, and went into the bathroom to wash up. His leather handler’s gloves were going to be completely ruined from all the soap, but he didn’t have anything else to put over them and he couldn’t risk an accidental bite. Besides, Edge had extras in one of his hall closets, so he could always swap them out later for a fresh pair. It would be worth it to kill any germs that might make the others sick.

“Ahn?” he heard Red call from the hall, followed by the rattling of a handle.

“Leave it,” Slim called quickly, reaching for the little packet of half-frozen mice he’d been keeping nearby and stepping out into the hall. Red looked at him petulantly, both hands still wrapped around the door handle.

“No. Leave it,” Slim insisted, pointing at the floor and keeping eye contact with his charge. Red made a small, grumbling noise under his breath and dropped back to the carpet.

“Good! Good leave it,” Slim said tiredly, setting a mouse on the floor nearby. Red scurried forward, snatched it up and zoomed off down the hall. At the far end was a rich, wood end-table with a floral tablecloth draped over the top. Red ducked underneath, then coiled his body until everything but the tip of his tail was out of sight. Slim saw his golden fangs glint as he swallowed his treat, then disappear beneath a pair of eyelights as he continued to patiently watch the hall. Slim smiled at him, then dropped to the floor with his back pressed against the Blue's door. Sleep. He needed more sleep…before the next alarm…

As he was drifting off, he felt a small hand reach out and lightly touch his femur. When he didn’t react, it was followed by a heavy, sliding pressure and a pleased hum as Black curled up on his lap, kneaded his pants into a more acceptable pillow, and rested his head contentedly on his shins. Slim sleepily hummed back, then dropped off to sleep.

Chapter Text

“Your destination will be on the right,” the GPS chirped helpfully.

Alphys stepped on the brake, feeling deeply intimidated as the mansion’s enormous shadow fell over her car with palpable weight.  This was…

Actually, this fit perfectly with what she knew of Edge. 

Bracing herself, Alphys leaned forward and looked up through her windshield.  An eye-watering amount of red, black and gold accents were splashed gaudily over the façade, completely filling her field of view.  There was so much fancy architecture that it looked more like a spoiled two-year-old’s monstrous birthday cake than a building.  But then she noticed the mansions flanking it on either side, realized that she couldn’t even see the roof from her vantage point, and the sheer size of it really hit her.  The word mansion didn’t do it justice.  Mansions were merely large, fancy buildings, most of which felt a bit vulgar, but harmlessly wasteful.  This somehow surpassed them all in size, vulgarity and wastefulness to achieve…something.  A part of her was resentfully impressed.  The rest of her was deeply confused.  She had a feeling that Edge was cultivating that impression, but she didn’t think he was smart enough to have done it on purpose.

Probably.

Someone rapped their knuckles on her window, making her jump.  “Your seat belt get stuck or something, hon?”

Alphys slammed down the door lock and had one hand on her pepper spray before realizing that her attacker was just a harmless-looking bunny woman in jeans and a blouse underneath a crisp apron.

“Easy hon, nobody’s trying anything,” she said drily, voice muffled by the window.  “I’m Sylvie.  You’re Miss Alphys, right?  Edge told me to expect you.”

Alphys blushed, simultaneously relieved and mortified to see a normal face past her hastily-locked door.  “Y-yes, that’s me.  I think this is where I’m supposed to be?  I got this card…”

She held up Edge's business card, and Sylvie glanced at it with a bemused smirk.  “Yeah, this is the right place.  You got anything with you?”

Alphys shook her head.

“All right then.  You go park over there out of the way and I’ll show you inside.  Mind the grass now.  The gardener will pitch a fit if he sees tire tracks in it.”

Alphys carefully drove over to the end of the driveway and shut off the engine, being extra careful to not even step on the immaculate grass as she walked back over to the house.  As she approached, Sylvie briefly looked her up and down, then shook her head disapprovingly.  “Barely out of stripes.  Stars, you new hires are making me feel old.  Come on in…”

“D-do you work here?”  Alphys stammered as Sylvie lead her inside and up a flight of stairs.  The entire space was so, absurdly expensive that it all blended together into an overstimulating mess of shiny objects, threatening to give her a migraine until she intentionally fixed her eyes on the floor.  Even that was covered with the plushest, most richly patterned carpet that she’d ever seen.  It took her a second to realize that the opulent weave was actually a full-length portrait of her new employer, and that she was standing right between his glaring, scarred eyesockets.

“I do the upkeep and a bit of cooking.  Help out with some fetching when needed,” Sylvie was saying.  “Though Edge is pretty self-sufficient.  Hardly eats anything for how much he works.  Not sure how he hasn’t wasted away to nothing yet, must be a skeleton thing.”

“I-I-I-Is Mr. Edge here today?”  Alphys squeaked, gingerly stepping off of the rug.

“Oh stars no.  The boss is rarely here during weekdays unless something’s wrong.  Just up here now, this is where…Slim!  Slim, wake up hon.  The veterinarian is here.”

Alphys looked up just in time to see an exhausted, poorly-dressed skeleton sitting in a crumpled ball on the floor like a pile of old laundry.  He jerked awake with a sharp inhale, then scrambled to his feet, blushing furiously.

“Slim’s been watching the little monsters all night, so you go easy on him now,” Sylvie said with a dark look at the door that Slim’s back had been pressed against.  “And he stutters worse than you, so don’t go talking over him.”

What followed was nearly a duet as both Alphys and Slim tried to spit out their own indignant retorts that she would never, and that he DIDN’T stutter.  Sylvie just chuckled and sauntered back down the hallway, looking immensely pleased with herself.  Alphys watched her go, irritation quickly fading to anxiety.  She had no idea how to get back to her car…

“Just ignore her, she’s always rude.  Here,” Slim grumbled, holding out a pair of leather gloves.  “He’s not b-b-been defanged, so be really careful.  B-better if I do most of the holding.  Just tell me what to do.”

Alphys stared at him for a few seconds, biting her lip.  The real reason she was here was to convince Edge to turn the poor thing over to the city, not to perform an examination.  She didn’t even have her kit with her..

Slim gave her a pleading look that looked pitifully desperate on his exhausted face.  Alphys bit her lip, resolving to demand that she see Edge the second that they were done, then accepted the gloves. 

“Ok,” she sighed, wiggling her fingers into the leather.  They were so stiff that she could barely flex her hands.  “Last time I saw him, he’d been given a pretty heavy dose of ketamine, but it looked like he had an upper respiratory infection?  Discharge, respiratory distress, emaciation?  Has any of that-“

“CHK!” Slim spat.  Alphys flinched, whipping out her pepper spray and stumbling back a step.  Something at floor-level screeched, then skittered away with a sound like scales rubbing over fabric.

“W-w-w-w-w?!!”  She squeaked, whirling around. 

“I-I-I’m so-so-so s-sorry, I didn’t see him come up.  I-is your ankle…?”

Alphys stared down at her ankle, which was covered by a boot and what HAD been her second-best pair of jeans.  The purple fabric now had a pair of holes punched into in it, right over her instep.

“Him?!  What do you mean…him…?”  Alphys trailed off, looking down the hall toward yet another outrageously fancy piece of furniture.  A pair of slit-pupiled eyelights were staring at her from underneath it, still and tense.

“That’s Red.  He’s b-b-been really pushy ever since we brought Blue in.  I should have warned you, I’m really sorry.”

“Is that another lamia?”  Alphys asked, completely dumbfounded.  Slim sighed deeply, then gave the end of the hallway a grim, long-suffering look.

“He sure is.  Here…just a sec…”

He fished a packet of dead mice out of his pocket, then held them up enticingly.  The eyelights under the end table flicked upward, wavering for a moment before returning to Alphys with hostile stillness.

“Alphys is here to help Blue.  She’s a friend,” Slim said very clearly, pulling a mouse out of the bag and holding it up by the tail.  The eyelights flicked back over to him, then slowly morphed from slits into small, hopeful dots.

“That’s it.  See?  No need to get all fussy,” Slim cooed, tossing the mouse a few feet away.  Alphys froze in place, entire body going cold as a scarlet-tailed lamia crept forward, arms tucked tightly over his chest and body moving with spine-chilling, predatory grace.  He came within reach of the mouse, drew his tail beneath his body, then spat and feinted toward Alphys.  Alphys stumbled back a step and Slim quickly stepped in front of her.

“A friend,” he insisted.  “If you can’t be nice, then no more treats.”

“Nnnn!” Red sniped, snatching up a mouse and gulping it down.

“Here,” Slim muttered, holding the bag of mice behind his back. 

“What do you want me to do with these?!”  Alphys whispered, snatching them up without looking away from Red.  Sweet stars, lamia were venomous, WHAT WAS IT DOING LOOSE IN THIS HOUSE?!  Should she keep staring?  Drop her eyes?  Would he interpret eye contact as aggression or attack the second she looked away?

“Toss them on the floor.  All of them,” Slim prompted her.

Alphys immediately threw the pouch, plastic and all, across the room.  It hit the far wall and bounced off with a sad little squelch, scattering dead mice across the floor.

“That’s not…” Slim sighed, breaking off as Red immediately scrambled for the treats.  The second he broke eye contact, Alphys opened the nearest room, lunged inside, and slammed the door shut behind her.  Panting raggedly, she fumbled for the light switch, unable to see much of her surroundings but immensely relieved to have a wall between her and that Class 1, dangerous animal.  That had been close-

shhhhhhh-shhhhhh

Alphys stiffened, then very, very slowly turned around.  Something glittered ominously in the darkness, like light reflecting off of glossy scales.  It paused, and then a pair of slit-pupiled eyelights appeared, right at eye-level.

“Oh stars on fucking fire…” she whimpered, fumbling shakily in her pocket for the pepper spray.  Where was it, where was it where was it?!

“CHK!” the second lamia spat-

Slim wrenched open the door and flicked on the light, springing forward just in time to catch the black and cyan-tailed lamia before it could strike at her face.

“NO!”  He yelled angrily.  “Alphys is a FRIEND.”

Alphys choked on a hysterical laugh, leaning heavily against the wall as Slim wrestled the screeching animal out of the room.  There were TWO… No, there were THREE.  Three Class 1 animals in this house.  How was that even possible?!  How had the neighbours not noticed? 

“NAAAAAAAAAAAA!” The second lamia screeched as Slim slammed the door in his face.

“I’m s-s-s-sorry, we’ve only had Black for a few months now.  He’s kind of territorial but I d-d-didn’t think he was here.  Are you ok?  Did he get you?  He doesn't have his venom, so it should b-b-be all right, but he can still b-b-break skin.”  Slim stammered.  Alphys stared at him, heartbeat pounding across her temples as his words slowly sank in.

“How long…did you say…?”  She finally managed.

“A few months?”  Slim repeated, giving the door an exasperated look.  “But Red's been here longer.  About a year, I think…”

Alphys slowly looked down at the holes in her jeans.  A year?  Impossible.  Lamia were supposed to starve themselves to death in captivity.  Professional facilities had failed to alter that outcome, even with the best possible care.  Nobody knew why they failed to thrive.  Nobody wanted to fund research to find out why.  That’s what the experts said.  That’s what everyone said...

“A-A-Alphys?  Are you…?”

“I’m…ok…” Alphys mumbled, right before she let her knees buckle.

===

Out in the hallway, Black scowled at the door, fixated on the intruder’s scent.  He didn’t even need to taste the air to differentiate her from the sweet/dry/chalky smell of the warm-lap dirtwalker.  She reeked of fear and anxiety, with a foreign hint of something unpleasantly spicy.  Almost like a poison.

“GHHHHHHH,” Black growled, slipping his fingertips underneath the door and giving it a vigorous rattle.  The intruder yelped and something crashed to the floor in the other room, but unfortunately, the door stayed firmly closed.

“Ahn,” Red chirped happily, nosing at Black’s shoulder.  “Mrrrrr….”

Black looked down, and Red carefully placed a double-handful of mice on the floor near his tail. 

“Mnffff-“ Black sniffed, imperiously returning his attention to the doorway.  The offer was appreciated, but there was an intruder.  Intruders took precedence over food sharing, especially when the pride was already so well-fed.  They could wait.

“Chk,” Red grumbled, settling onto his forearms and nosing the mice forlornly.  “Naaa.”

He nudged an odd little cylinder out of the pile of mice, flicked his tongue over it a few times, then made a soft gagging sound and pushed it forward.  Black blinked slowly, then leaned forward and delicately flicked his own tongue over the object.  The intruder’s toxic, spicy smell burned over his tongue, making his eyesockets water and mouth feel unpleasantly numb.  Gagging lightly, he flicked the cylinder away from the food before returning to his vigil at the door.  The intruder was plump and poorly muscled.  She wouldn’t be able to escape through the window without injuring herself, so she would almost certainly use this exit.  He would wait.  Even the warm-lap dirtwalker wouldn’t be able to shield her if he struck quickly.

“Mnghhhh,” Sans grumbled, scooping up the mice and hiding them beneath a convenient armchair before curling up on the floor in front of them with an impatient sigh.

Chapter Text

Black, Red, and Blue watched intently as a metal bar was wedged underneath the window-frame, then sharply pulled downward. Instead of breaking a lock or meeting some heavier resistance, the window merely popped open with a dusty squeak.

“Unlocked?” the intruder muttered into their collar, pulling the metal bar back. “Bug better have taken out the security system.”

There was a nearly inaudible, tinny sound as someone responded, distracting them for a critical moment. Slowly, Black moved forward into the point position. Simultaneously, Red slipped quietly to one side,then hid behind a rusty filing cabinet. After a moment’s hesitation, Blue moved to the other side, eyelights flicking between his pride-mates and the intruder. What Black was doing was much more direct than hunting prey, but the concept was the same. Flush the victim into the trap. Be ready to spring it closed.

The thief swung both legs over the windowsill and took a step into the room. Closer, closer… “You better be right about the Miracle Pill secret being in here-” they began, then stepped into position.

Black whipped his body up to his full, six-foot height and hissed loudly at the intruder.

“Holy shit?!”

Black struck at the thief’s shoulder, then lunged backward with a predatory screech. Red and Blue instantly leapt out of hiding, striking the thief repeatedly on the arms and legs as the dirtwalker screamed, fumbled for something, then fell back and scrambled backward into the wall. Red and Blue immediately darted back into cover and Black slipped into the shadows, watching the intruder with a low hiss.

“WHATTHEFUCKYOUDIDN’TSAYANYTHINGABOUTGIANTSNAKES!” The thief screamed into their collar, fumbling for something at their hip.

“They are not snakes.”

The thief gasped as a series of icy-cold, blue bones drove through their soul. A strange heaviness slammed through their body and pinned them to the floor, pressing on them so strongly that they let out a choked gasp. Coolly, Edge walked forward and contemptuously kicked the gun out of their hand.

“You DARE to break into my home? If this were a different time, I would make you pay for that with your life human,” Edge spat, making the word sound like a filthy insult. Flicking his wrist, he slammed them against the wall, then tore the small microphone off of their lapel.

“Remember this the next time you decide to send your lackeys to steal from the Great and Terrible Edge,” he snarled, then threw the human back through the open window and into the bushes at the edge of the property. Contemptuously, he tossed the mic onto the ground, crushed it beneath his heel, and slammed the window closed.

“Ahn?” Blue called curiously from the corner.

“AND WHAT HAVE I TOLD YOU ALL ABOUT BITING UNFAMILIAR PEOPLE??” Edge demanded, whirling around to face his three, ill-behaved guests.

“EEEP!” they squealed, then darted from the room. Edge chuckled to himself, then swept the remains of the thief’s microphone into the trash. He would have to check his guest’s fangs later, but it had been very worth it to see them handle an intruder so skillfully. Perhaps he should pay someone to come provide entertainment for them later…

Chapter Text

“There you are!”

Blue squeaked and darted for cover, soul pounding as he wedged himself tightly behind a convenient couch.

“Oh, for goodness sake, come out of there!” Edge grumbled, gently pulling the piece of furniture away from the wall. Blue stared up at him, eyesockets wide and upper body shivering hard enough to make his ribs rattle against each other.

“Hnn,” he flinched, backing into the wall as Edge leaned forward and gently scooped him into a bridal carry.

“There we are, you see? The Great Pap-OOF-” Edge grunted as Blue’s tail whipped around his waist and right leg in a semi-panicked death grip. “The Great and Terrible Papyrus has got you.”

“Mnnnn,” Blue whined, eyesockets fixed on the floor as he was carried into one of the mansion’s bigger living rooms.

I have told you several times that I am NOT going to drop you,” Edge insisted, limping a little as Blue’s tail squeezed his femur hard enough to make the bone creak. “You are being VERY unreasonable!”

“Nnn…nnn…nnn…nnn” Blue mewed, shoulders hunched and fingers dug tightly into the fabric of Edge’s shirt.

“Well if that’s the case…then next time don’t run away…when I say I have something to show you!” Edge gasped, carrying his guest into the center of the room.

“Ahn!” Red chirped, peeking out of a refrigerator-sized cardboard box.

“Red! That is NOT what you’re supposed to be playing with!” Edge scolded, dropping down to one knee so he could set Blue down more easily. Blue quickly wiggled away, then flinched back with a surprised squeak when he came face to face with a four-foot tall teddy bear.

“Go on, select something!” Edge declared when Blue curled his tail anxiously around his chest. “Slim informed me that you required playthings for enrichment purposes!”

Blue hesitantly looked around, holding his arms tight to his sides. The entire floor had been covered with toys. Some were clearly intended for dogs, birds, or cats, though the set of stuffed animals and plastic tea-set looked more like something one would give to a child. All had been arranged in a neat, spiral pattern and organized by type, size, and colour.

“Don’t be shy! There are no wrong answers, simply go with what you feel to be the most fun,” Edge encouraged, making little shooing motions with his hands. Blue blinked, eyesockets watering a little as he looked over the colourful spread. There was ONE thing he wanted…

“EXCEPT FOR THAT GODDAMN BOX, THAT IS A WRONG ANSWER,” Edge screeched when Blue darted over to his pridemates and peeked inside the cardboard box that they were playing with.

“Ahn?” Blue asked, flicking his tongue inquisitively.

“Khhhh,” Black huffed, glaring balefully at Red as he leaned on his tail again.

“Eeee!” Blue squeaked, happily squeezing into the box with his pridemates. Red chuckled and scooted to one side to make room for him, still staring up at his owner with only his eyes visible above the rim of the box. Edge stared back at him, then sighed heavily with a defeated expression.

“I give up,” he huffed, sitting down in the middle of his carefully arranged toys. Red made a gleeful little chuckling noise, then ducked down out of sight.

Chapter Text

Blue slithered forward, wiggling with excitement as Black’s subtle, musky scent grew stronger.  So THIS was the new hiding spot!  Blue already liked it.  Everything from the way his belly-scutes whispered over the tiles, to the pleasant hint of dampness to the air.  True, it was a little chilly, but the floor was open and clear of objects, perfect for playing or nest building.  Or both!  He could even help!!  There was a closet he'd found on the second floor where the best, softest bedding…

Blue paused, anticipation giving way to something a little more wary.  Black’s scent was strongest just ahead of him, inside a cupboard beneath a marble sink.  The sound of soft panting filtered through the door, too fast for sleeping-breaths, too strained for waiting-breaths, and much too loud for any breaths.  Why wasn’t Black trying to make them quieter?  He was hiding, he shouldn't be making so much noise...

“Ahn?” Blue called out with tentative concern.

“Chk-“ Black retorted weakly.

“Nnnn…?” Blue whimpered in dismayed confusion.  He backed off a step, then lifted his upper body off of the ground and flicked his tongue as close to the sink as he dared.  The smell of lemony bleach, dry wood, and plaster dust rippled over his palate, playing the usual, calm melody that he’d come to associate with the mansion.  He flicked his tongue again, then flinched backward when the sharper scents of stress and pain slid through the familiar notes, soft and insidious as a discordant whisper.

“Hnnnn,” Blue keened sympathetically, creeping forward. 

“CHK!” Black spat, and something thumped against the cabinet hard enough to make the doors rattle.  Blue jerked backward with a soft mewl, then nosed at the floor and flicked his tongue a third time.  The pain was still there, and now it was faintly accented with something sour and metallic.  He didn’t know what it was, but something about it made him feel very, very bad.

“Ahn…?” Blue half-whispered, pushing himself up with one arm.  There was no response from the cabinet this time.  Just more strained, laboured breathing. 

Thoroughly spooked, Blue dropped back onto his belly and rocketed off into the mansion.  There was danger.  Something was wrong with his pridemate, and he had to find Red and let him know…

The Giver’s scent warmed his tongue and Blue skittered to a halt.  Impulsively, he turned and slipped into the room where the smell was strongest, quickly finding the odd, half-Person on the floor with his dirtwalker legs crossed up in a knot and a noise-attention-box balanced on top of them.  Normally, this behaviour was an open invitation for lap-sitting, as the noise-attention-box would keep the Giver in his current position long enough for a pleasant nap.  Blue was tempted, but that awful, metallic tang still lingered on his tongue, like the memory of hidden predators lurking in the dark.

“Ahn!” he chirped anxiously, slithering up to the Giver.

“Hey Blue…” the Giver said distantly, fingers drumming on the noise-attention-box.  Blue watched him for a moment, then insistently tapped on the back of the box with his fingertips.  The Giver absently shooed him away, pulling the box a little closer to his body.  “Hang on buddy, I’ve just got a couple minutes left on this quiz…”

Blue grabbed the top of the box and gave it a hard tug, yanking it off of the Giver’s lap.  The Giver made a surprised noise and scrambled to save it, just managing to catch the strange object before it hit the floor.

“Chk!” he hissed loudly when Blue reached for it again.  Blue immediately backed off with an uneasy whine. 

“No.  No laptop grabbing.  This one isn’t mine,” the Giver said firmly, setting the box on his knees again.  Blue shivered a little, then glanced back at the door and flicked his tongue a few times.  He had to bring the Giver, had to show him the danger…

Blue lunged forward and grabbed the box with both hands.  The Giver hissed again and swiped at his fingers, but Blue was already zooming out of the room as fast as he could slither, box held firmly to his chest.  The Giver was right on his tail, shoes smacking loudly on the floor and tone layered with worry as he called for Blue to stop, drop it, leave it, please.  Blue sped on, barging into the room where Black was hiding before skidding across the tile and wrenching the cabinet door open.  Black whipped his head around with an enraged yowl that broke off into a confused grunt when Blue tossed the box in on top of him, squeaked a short apology, and slammed the doors shut.

---

“Blue, STAY!” Slim panted, yanking the bathroom door closed.  Blue guiltily slithered behind the toilet, pulling his tail into a protective curl and tucking his arms tight to his sides with a plaintive mewl.  Slim took a second to calm his breathing before kneeling down and slowly extending a hand. 

“No, I’m not mad.  I just want my laptop back, mister homework thief,” he scolded gently.  Blue tentatively flicked his tongue at Slim’s palm, raising his body up just enough to show that he no longer had the laptop.  Slim groaned and sat back on his heels.

“Ohhh boy.  Did you hide it?  You couldn’t have taken it far…”  Slim grumbled to himself, looking around the bathroom.  Goddamnit, that quiz was timed.  Would the teacher accept ‘the lamia stole my laptop’ as an excuse to let him retake it?  She'd already been so lenient about the tooth-marks in his homework.  And with the way his midterm project had been submitted with all its corners lovingly chewed off...

There was a loud rustle to his right.  Slim slowly looked over, and found himself face-to-face with the cabinet under the sink.  As he listened, another soft rustle, and then some muffled panting filtered out through the door.  What on earth…?

“Sans?  Black?  Is that one of you?”  He called softly, using two fingers to open the door.

“HSSSSSSS!” Black spat, shoving his upper body away from the light.  Slim held very still, taking in the scene with careful attention.  Black’s tail was pressed into the walls and looped around the piping under the sink in a cramped, twisted way that couldn’t be comfortable.  The laptop was (thank god) undamaged and currently wedged between Black’s coils and the u-bend, but Slim was quickly becoming more worried about his charge and less about missing a quiz.

“Easy buddy,” Slim said slowly, pulling the door open a little further.  “Let’s get this off of you…”

“Nnnnn,” Black fussed weakly, shivering as Slim slowly wiggled the laptop free, then set it on top of the towel rack to keep Blue from stealing it again.  That done, he crouched back down, pulled his phone out of his pocket, and activated the flashlight.

“Why are you hanging out in here?  Are you stuck?”  Slim asked softly, shining the light into the cabinet.  Black closed his eyes and pressed his back into a corner, rubbing his right cheek against the wall with a thin mewl.  Saliva shone on his chin and cervical vertebrae, and the tip of his tongue was sticking out from between his teeth.

“Oh…oh no.  Is your mouth hurting you?  Can I see?” Slim asked, tone soothing and gentle as he reached out to touch Black’s face.  Black jerked away with a soft whimper, burying his head in his coils with both hands pressed tightly over his mouth. 

“No, it’s ok, don’t hide.  I’m not going to hurt you, I just need to see…” Slim began, breaking off as the bathroom’s doorknob rattled, then clicked open.  When Slim looked over, the door was slowly swinging open, and Blue was hiding just outside the threshold with nothing but his eyes visible past the frame.

“It’s ok, Blue.  You’re not in trouble for telling me about Black,” Slim told him with a weary smile.  “Next time, let’s not steal the eight-hundred-dollar laptop that isn’t mine though.  You just about gave me a heart attack.”

“Ammm” Blue trilled softly, then ducked down out of sight.

“Fair enough,” Slim sighed, turning back to Black.  Black stared back at him, both hands pressed tightly over his mouth.  He was clearly in pain, but there was no snotty nose or crust around his eyesockets.  Just the drooling, which wasn't at all like the respiratory infection that Blue had come in with. 

“What’s up with you buddy?”  Slim asked softly.  Black silently blinked back, shoulders hitching as he continued to pant softly.  No, this probably wasn't a sickness, so…

Black turned his face into the corner, dropping his hands long enough to rub his cheek against the wall again with a little moan.  The scars above his mouth stood out in sharp relief, dark slashes on the bone made even darker by Slim’s cell-phone light.

“Something up with the old cuts?”  Slim murmured, resisting the urge to reach forward and see if Black would let him touch.  Slim knew very little about the procedure that had been used to replace Black’s natural fangs with gold replicas, but it had been one hell of a nasty hack job.  It'd be nice to get a better look before he called Alphys, just to make sure that this wasn’t something he could solve on his own, but Black would throw a fit if he tried.  Might as well only make it one time that they had to hold him down.  

And besides, Edge was always saying that he should call Alphys more often.  Apparently, she was on an EXCEPTIONALLY GENEROUS retainer and he was PAYING LOTS OF MONEY for her to take care of his guests.  Which he’d said while signing off on a multi-million dollar proposal to convert part of his mansion into what would essentially be an indoor, lamia paradise.

Giggling silently at the memory, Slim pulled out his phone and dialed the number.

Chapter Text

The mansion was shockingly huge.  True, she had seen some impressive houses in the monster colony where she grew up, like the king’s castle, the royal labs, and Mettaton’s theater.  But those were all important people.  Celebrities, royalty, and government officials with power and influence.  Edge was essentially a CEO, but somehow it still just seemed indecent to display this much wealth.  And dangerous.  Other than the cute strand of battered fairy lights hanging over the door, his entire house just felt like it was begging somebody to come steal from it.  Though those lights were just adorable, would anyone mind if she took a quick picture…?

“Eeee?!” Alphys squeaked, snatching her phone back to her chest as the door popped open.  Sylvie’s left foot appeared, followed by the rest of her as she edged over the threshold with a five-gallon bucket of dirty water.  Alphys rushed to hold the door open for her.

“Thank you,” Sylvie panted, dumping the bucket onto a patch of rose bushes.  “Don’t you bother with me though, you’d better get in there.  Slim decided to get things started early and whoo!  They're gonna make such a mess.”

“He…?” Alphys began, wondering what got things started meant.

“Go on, there’s a set of gloves in the hall,” Sylvie groaned, placing both hands in the small of her back with a pained expression.

“T-thank you!”  Alphys managed before slipping past her and heading inside.  The foyer, as usual, had several open coat hooks near the door where she came in.  The set of gloves Sylvie had mentioned were underneath the one that she’d used the last few times she’d visited.  She slipped them on and hurried inside, wondering tentatively where Slim had intended to meet her.  They usually used one of the ground-floor rooms for checkups, maybe he was there?

“NAAAAAAAAA!”

“Easy Blue.  He’s going to be ok.”

“AHN!  AHN!!”

A loud splash and more alarmed lamia screeches came from the opposite direction of the usual check-up room.  She followed them and quickly discovered Slim inside a guest suite’s bathroom, so drenched that his clothes were stuck flat to his bones.  Black was submerged in the tub, with nothing but his eyesockets visible above the water.  Blue was skirting anxiously around a puddle on the floor, making small whimpering noises and apparently trying to find a way to rescue Black without getting wet. 

“I-Isn't Black the one who’s sick?”  Alphys asked, sidling into the room.  Slim looked up at her with a relieved smile.

“Yeah, sorry.  It was the only way to get him to come out,” he explained sheepishly.  “He was scared and had his tail all wrapped around the pipes.”

“Bll-bbbbbbbb…” Black groaned, then ducked his head under the water.  Blue shrieked with alarm and placed a hand in the puddle before flinching backward and frantically shaking the offensive drops of liquid off his fingers.

“Blue, it’s ok,” Slim said soothingly over Blue’s continued cries.  “Alph, can you hand me those towels?”

“O-oh!”  Alphys started, looking away from Black long enough to find the stack of towels that Slim had mentioned and hand them over.  “Y-you’re s-sure he’s ok?  H-h-his head is under…?”

Slim laughed and started mopping up the water on the floor.  “Yep, he’ll come up when he needs to breathe.  He stays under for minutes sometimes.”

He finished drying the floor, then draped a towel over Blue’s body.  Blue backed up a few paces with an indignant squeal, but Slim bundled him up anyway, using the towel more to protect him from his wet shirt than for restraint.  Blue wiggled fitfully, then tried to lunge away when Slim pulled him into his lap and sat down on the edge of the tub.

“Easy," Slim told him softly, holding onto him tightly.  "See?  Black likes it.  This is practically his favourite thing.” 

Slim reached forward and gently rubbed Black’s scapula.  Blue stared into the water, making a high-pitched, anxious whine that slowly grew louder and more shrill until Black finally resurfaced.

“Nnnnnnn…” Blue pleaded, one hand half-outstretched.  Black looked up at him with a baffled expression, then closed his eyes and dipped his face back into the water.

“Nnnn!”  Blue squeaked, tentatively placing a hand on the side of the tub before snatching it back to his chest like he’d been burned.

“Mmmmmm…” Black groaned with relief, gently rocking his head from side to side to let the water swish through his mouth.  Blue stared back at him, expression changing from concern to scandalized outrage before he wiggled out of Slim’s arms.  He shook off the towel, gave Black a long, silent glare, then skittered out of the room with an angry chitter.

“Ahn?”  Red asked from the hallway.  Blue responded with a scandalized half-whisper, which Red responded to with a disgusted exhale.  Alphys stepped out of the bathroom, long enough to see Sans giving the bathtub a filthy look before slinking underneath the bed with disapproval oozing from his every movement.  Blue joined him a second later with a long, put-upon sigh.

“He’s the only one who likes water?”  Alphys asked with fascination, pulling out her notepad and rapidly jotting down her observations.  That was a fascinating display of pride dynamics!  If this was evidence of protective instincts (Blue truly trying to save Black from drowning), then it was unprecedented.  Black was older and arguably more dominant and experienced than the other two, so why would Blue have been so worried about him?

“Yep.  Red and Blue won’t touch it,” Slim said, laying out several towels on the floor.  “Though actually, Red does like it if you dump him in and keep him there for a few seconds.  Blue might be the same, but we haven’t had to give him a bath yet.”

Alphys finished her notes, then pulled out her camera and took a quick picture of Red and Blue.  Blue flicked his tongue at her with a curious glance at her phone.

“Feeling a bit better?”  Slim murmured behind her.  Black responded with a soft burble, and Slim giggled. 

“What did you notice was wrong?”  Alphys asked, putting her phone away and walking back over to the tub.

“Sore mouth and drooling,” Slim said, looking down at Black with a surprisingly grim expression.  “We’re gonna have to look inside his mouth, right?”

“W-w-well…yes, if that’s what was hurting him.”

“I was afraid of that.  He’s going to hate this,” Slim grumbled.

“O-oh?” Alphys asked, taking half a step back. 

“You’ll see,” he sighed, then dropped a towel over Black’s back.  Black blinked up at him in confusion, then keened with disappointment as he was pulled out of the tub and into Slim’s lap.  Slim carefully trapped his arms inside the now-wet towel, took a deep breath, then jammed his fingers into Black’s mouth and pried it open.  Black froze with shock, then shot out of Slim’s arms with a terrified shriek, throwing himself up onto the countertop hard enough to shatter the mirror and knock a shelf of toiletries off the wall.

“Shit!”  Slim said, quickly grabbing Black’s collar and trying to wrestle him back down.  Black screamed and twisted away, tail smashing a hole in the plaster wall and tearing the shower curtain off its rack.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Slim kept repeating, holding on tightly until Black fell still.

“CHK!”  Black spat at him between pants, layering the consonant with betrayed anger and fear. 

“I know,” Slim groaned before snatching up the shower curtain and wrapping it tightly around Black’s body.  Black screeched and started to thrash again, but his arms and a large part of his tail was now heavily immobilised by the thick vinyl.

“Can you open his mouth if I hold him like this?”  Slim panted, both arms wrapped around the struggling lamia. 

“I-I-I think so,” Alphys stuttered, gingerly stepping forward kneeling down in front of them.

“HSSSSSSSS!” Black snarled at her through his nose, trying to hide his face inside the shower curtain.  Gingerly at first, and then more firmly, Alphys pushed his head up and pried open his jaw, quickly noticing that the soft tissues on the roof of his mouth were swollen and seeping a dark, purplish fluid.  Black screamed and whipped his head away before she could get a better look.

“Can you hold his head?”  Alphys shouted, settling herself into a better position.  Slim grimaced, then wrapped a hand around Black’s forehead and pinned his skull back to his chest.  Black’s screams reached a louder, more terrified pitch as she worked his jaw open again, then gently palpated the roof of his mouth.  One side looked fine, but the other had swollen so much she couldn’t even see the fang.  Was it even still there-

Something grabbed her ankle and jerked her backward.  A sharp object stuck in her glove as her hand was ripped out of Black’s mouth, and her chin hit the floor hard enough that stars flickered across the tiles.

“Red!  Leave it!”  Slim shouted, still holding onto the still-screaming Black.  Something heavy pounced on her, then stabbed into her unprotected shoulder.  Alphys yelped, then instinctively curled into a ball, arms wrapped tightly around her head.  The weight was abruptly lifted, and then a door slammed.  A second later, Slim gently nudged her elbow.

“A-a-are you ok?”  he stammered.  When Alphys looked up, there were tears in his eyes.  She nodded stiffly, then uncurled and reached up to feel her shoulder.  As she did, something glinted on her glove, and she paused, turning her hand.  A perfect, golden fang was stuck in the index finger.

“I think he has an ingrown fang,” Alphys said with fascination, turning the golden replica around in the light.  “Maybe some infection as well.  Black may be a different subspecies that has more persistent regenerative abilities.  Or his body simply rejected the initial surgery…”

“I’m so sorry, if it had been Blue t-t-then…and this is already a HUGE mess, I’m SO SORRY…” Slim was sobbing.

“Perhaps a combination of both?  I wonder if his venom glands are regenerating as well…”  Alphys murmured to herself over Slim's fervent apologies, looking around the room.  Black was hiding in a corner with his mouth hidden behind both hands, shivering as he stared back at her with horror.  Automatically, she held out the fang to him as though to give it back, but he didn’t react.  Just kept panting and shaking.  She dropped her hand a second later, feeling a bit silly.

“Slim.  Slim!  We’re going to need to look one more time,”  Alphys interrupted her co-worker's next round of apologies.  “I think he regrew one of his old fangs and it got stuck under the false one.  As long as we caught it early enough, he should be fine now, but I need to make sure there’s no more foreign material stuck inside.  Just one more time, ok?”

Slim sniffed hard, but nodded and picked up the shower curtain.

===

The bathroom was a mess.

Black was hiding under a bed in an upstairs guest room.  Red and Blue had curled their tails protectively over their traumatised pridemate, and hissed at him whenever he came near.

This was his fault.

“WHAT HAPPENED?” Edge demanded, surveying the bathroom with open irritation.

But maybe not ALL his fault.

“I tried to TAKE CARE of your guests and almost got Alphys killed!”  Slim spat, unable to hold back the furious tears now running down his face.  “Because they’re not GUESTS!  They’re not guests, they’re lamiae and if we keep treating them like PEOPLE then this is just going to happen again and again and AGAIN!  Black got hurt, and Alphys got bitten today.  What if it had been Blue who bit her?!  She’d be dying in the hospital right now, and then nobody would be around taking care of your anyone, and it’s like you DON’T EVEN CARE, DO YOU?”

Edge’s expression went from irritation, to confusion, and then to mild surprise throughout the course of the tirade.  “Do you have a suggestion for how to fix this?” he asked once Slim had fallen silent.

“I-” Slim started, then Edge’s words registered and he broke off in surprise.  “W-wh-what?”

“Do you have a suggestion for how to avoid this,” Edge gestured to the room.  “For next time.”

Slim stammered, then swallowed hard and pressed his fingers to his lips.  Edge wasn’t yelling?  But last time he...Was he about fire him?  He was…

Slim took a short breath, then clenched his jaw and looked back up, focusing on the wall just past Edge's head.  Alphys had shrugged the bite off, but he could still see Black shivering in a corner, eyelights dim and full of pain from what should have been a simple task.  Even if he got fired over this, he still never, ever wanted that to happen again.

“Alphys s-said that we could probably train them for doctor visits.  So that we could tell them what to do.  The same way they do with animals in zoos.  She was going to introduce me to someone…”

His voice started to break and he stopped himself with a hard exhale.  He was going to get fired.  What did it matter if Alphys was going to introduce him to anyone?  Edge didn't...

“Very well,” Edge said thoughtfully.  Slim snapped his head up, unable to believe what he’d heard.  

“Yes, continue with this doctor training,” Edge repeated, running his fingers over a nasty hole in the wall.  One of Black’s scales had caught on the plaster and stuck there, along with a smear of dark, blue fluid.  “It’s apparent that I should have insisted on this before, and I fully expect Black to be much better behaved at his follow-up appointment to remove the other false fang.  This is unacceptable.”

Slim stared at him, only noticing a few seconds later that his mouth was moving without making any words.  “B-b-b-but that’s only two months away…”

“It is sixty days from now, to be precise.  And I said I expected IMPROVEMENT, Slim.  Not a miracle.  I…” Edge broke off, looking like he was trying to swallow something sharp and prickly.  “I do care, and I’m sorry,” he managed, “that you didn’t feel comfortable coming to me with this before.  Please do what you can.”

And with that he left the room, leaving Slim standing in the middle of the wreckage.

“Sixty days…” Slim repeated to himself.  He stood stupidly in the bathroom for a long moment, then turned on his heel and all but ran out of the mansion.  Oh god, he needed to do some research and find that zookeeper that Alphys had mentioned.  Fast.

Chapter Text

Day One

Thank stars for autocorrect.  Remedial English is kind of helping, but it’s hard and spelling sucks and writing with pencils makes my hand hurt.  Anyway, Alphys said to keep a log of all the training I do with the pride.  Maybe because she wants a reference for her master’s thesis but also maybe because that will help.  I’ve trained dogs a bit but that was just basic stuff, like sit, and stay, and don’t pee on carpets.  I told Alphys that and she gave me a phone number for

“Hello!!” someone said so enthusiastically that Slim jumped and his phone skittered across the floor.  “I am looking for Slim, who has told me that you require assistance training some class-one dangerous animals!”

“Goodness, did they stamp you all out with cookie-cutters?” Sylvie muttered as Slim scrambled for his phone.

“Pardon?”

“Nothing hon, don’t pay me any mind.  You can leave your jacket here, I’m sure Slim will be along- Ah, there he is.”

Slim skidded to a stop, belatedly trying to appear more confident and organized than he actually felt.  “Hi!” he managed, giving a little wave to the (oh god, he was a skeleton monster??) standing just inside the doorway.  “Y-y-y-y-” he broke off with an embarrassed flush and pressed a hand to his mouth, physically stopping himself from stuttering.  Oh god, why he was so stupid-

“Hello!” the skeleton monster enthused, hanging up windbreaker that was embroidered all over with pictures of basketballs wearing tiny sunglasses.  “I’m Papyrus, but you would know that already.  We were stamped by the same cookie-cutter!”

Sylvie broke into a startled laugh, and Slim felt his face go from mauve to five-alarm magenta at the implied innuendo.

“I do apologize, that was rude,” Sylvie chuckled over Slim’s fragmented attempts at producing a coherent word.  “You can call me Sylvie.  And even if they used the same cutter, y’all are definitely different cookies.”

“I suppose we are!  Even though we are clearly skeletons and not sugary confections,” Papyrus said gravely, then turned back to Slim.  “Shall we get started?”

“Shu-sh-sh-sh,” Slim choked, then clamped his teeth together and nodded stiffly. 

“I’ll leave you to it then.  Holler if you need anything, hon,” Sylvie said before heading back into the mansion.

“First cookies and now honey.  She must be a fan of sweets,” Papyrus said with a disapproving shake of his head.  “Is there a room where we can prepare some lamia approved treats and obtain protective wear?”

Talking was clearly too difficult at the moment, so Slim just nodded again.  Luckily, Papyrus didn’t seem to notice, and even toned himself down a little while Slim showed him the food prep room and handed off a pair of gloves, a handful of mice, and a set of leather coveralls.  By the time they were ready to head up to Black’s sanctuary room, Slim’s voice had graciously decided to cooperate long enough to describe what was going on and start answering Papyrus’ questions.

“T-they’ve been ha-ha-hanging out under the bed mostly,” he explained, pointing out the relevant room. 

“And in the hallway?”  Papyrus queried.  Slim turned and found him squatting on his heels, peering curiously underneath a gilded, end table with a lace tablecloth.  Slit-pupiled eyelights were peering out from underneath, unmoving and faintly hostile.  Slim tensed, about to intervene when the eyes blinked, and the pupils reformed themselves into round, inquisitive dots.

“Yep.  That’s B-b-b…” Slim broke off, consciously tried to relax his jaw, and tried again.  “That’s Blue.  He’s b-b-been following us.  Since the prep room.”

“Oh good!  Curiosity is a wonderful thing,” Papyrus enthused.  Without missing a beat, he stood and glanced critically at the room Slim had pointed to earlier. “This is where the one who was traumatised has been hiding?”

Slim nodded, and Papyrus continued.  “Could we work somewhere else then?  I prefer to let my trainees come to me, if at all possible.  It’s more polite that way.”

Slim blinked.  “Oh…u-u-um…” he stammered, half-turning, then pushing at random on an adjacent door.  It opened into a well-lit sun room, furnished with plushy arm-chairs, throw pillows, and a baroque, glass coffee table.  Two bay windows were set into the outer wall, framed by flowing, gauzy curtains.  It would have looked exactly like a picture out of a magazine, if someone with a fantastic sense of humour hadn’t pasted a bunch of whoopee cushion window-clings onto the leftmost window. 

“Perfect!”  Papyrus gushed, plopping himself into one of the chairs.  “Now we wait and let that wonderful curiosity do its work.  And in the meantime, we can make casual conversation to appear disinterested and tempt them into investigating!  So!!  How long have you been working with this pride of lamiae?”

Slim sat nearby, then took a deep breath and fixed his eyes on the floor just past Papyrus’ feet.  “Almost a year for Black.  Six months for Blue.  About two years for Red,” he said, focusing on the sun warming the side of his face.

 “And they’ve all been fine?”  Papyrus asked, tone extremely impressed.  “The zoo I work at tried to bring in a pride approximately a year ago, and it did NOT go well.  I wasn’t there, but I’m told that the poor things refused to eat and eventually had to be released back into the wild.”

As he was speaking, Blue’s eyelights appeared beside the doorframe, blinked, then disappeared.  Quiet, whispery chuckling and a few chirps came from outside, and then Red’s eyelights appeared in their place, narrowed in suspicion and deep disapproval.

“That’s what Alphys told me,” Slim acknowledged, keeping an eye on the doorway.  “And I don’t know what we did differently?  Blue didn’t want to eat at first either.”

“No?”

“Well, that was the weird thing.  Because he would let me feed him as long as Red was in the room with us and they could just…stare at each other?  Not once, either.  They did that every day for weeks, and then one day Blue started eating like normal.  I didn’t do anything different, it was all him,” he clarified with a shrug.

“They would stare at each other?”  Papyrus asked, sounding just as fascinated as Alphys.  “Like, a hostile sort of staring?  Eye contact is often a confrontational behaviour.”

Blue scurried across the room and dove underneath a chair, hastily tucking his entire body out of sight.  A few seconds later, his cyan-tinted tongue appeared, flicking out of the shadows as his eyelights focused intently on Papyrus’ boots.  At the same time, Red grouchily slunk into the room, skirting the open area in the center of the floor like it had suddenly turned into a pool of molten lava before slithering around to the far side of Slim’s chair.

“Hnnnnnnn,” he whined, glaring at Papyrus as though the unannounced intruder was a grievous, personal insult before nosing at Slim’s wrist.  Slim lifted his arm out of the way, and Red crawled up onto the armrest, kneaded Slim’s coveralls a few times, then slunk onto the properly prepared space with a crabby sigh. 

“Not hostile really, no,” Slim replied, rubbing the tips of his phalanges along Red’s coronal suture.  “Blue was pretty stressed out, but Red was always just…attentive?  In a nice way though, not in a mean way like right now.  Isn’t that right Mr. Snappy Scales?”

“Naaaaa!” Red griped, defensively curling his tail over his chest.  Papyrus burst out laughing, and Blue jumped, shrinking back under his chair with an alarmed expression.

“I’ve read EVERYTHING I could find, and several articles did mention that lamiae are highly social.  So little is known about them though!  Can you imagine?  Most of the information is about how deadly their bites are and what compounds their venom contains instead of what sort of habitat they live in or what their favourite colours are!  It’s a tragedy,” Papyrus declared, looking down at Red solemnly.  “Don’t you agree?”

“Chk-kk…kmm…mmm”  Red spat, trailing off into contented hums as Slim began to rub the vertebrae between his scapulae.  Papyrus snickered, then pulled a plastic, matchbox-sized rectangle out of his pocket.

“Now that Red is a bit more relaxed, we can get started.  This is a clicker, and it is going to become our new best friend!  For now, the important thing is to make sure that they aren’t scared of it, so I’m going to give you this one, since you are familiar to them and I am not.”

Papyrus held out the clicker, careful to keep his hand out of Red’s reach.  Slim stretched out and accepted it, holding the little device awkwardly over his lapful of lamia.

“To make a click, you press the center, like this,” Papyrus said, pulling out a second clicker and pressing the shiny, metallic button in the center.  It made a crisp, double-click, like an empty mug being set down on a glass table.  Red lifted his head off the armrest and flicked his tongue.  Blue peeked out from under his chair. 

“Yes!  A strange noise!”  Papyrus chuckled, clicking it again.  This time, both lamiae looked directly at his hand, laser-focused on the source of the sound. “They don’t look spooked, so you give it a try.  Eventually, we want them to associate the click with getting a treat, and not just with me, as wonderful as I am.” 

Slim grinned hesitantly, then worked his arm free of Red’s coils and made a click of his own.  Red whipped his head around, eyelights fixed on his hand.  Caution completely forgotten, Blue slithered out from under the chair and raised his upper body into the air, placing a hand on Slim’s knee for balance.

“See?  It’s a clicker and we want you to think it means treats,” Slim confided, holding out the piece of plastic for Blue to see.  Blue dutifully flicked his tongue over it, then glanced dubiously up at Red.

“Click a few more times,” Papyrus urged him, watching both lamiae with rapt attention.  Slim clicked again, and Blue swiftly refocused on his hand.

“Kk-k” he mimicked, tilting his head to one side.  “Kk-k?”  he reached out and tried to take it.  Slim quickly raised his arm and Red immediately raised his upper body into the air, flicking his tongue several times over Slim’s closed fist.

“Ahn?” he chirped, then started to pry at Slim’s fingers. 

“Oops!” Papyrus said, quickly making a click of his own.  Red and Blue’s heads snapped around, instantly refocused on him.

“Thanks,” Slim whispered, carefully working his hand out of Red’s distracted grip and stowing the clicker away in his pocket.

“You are welcome,” Papyrus replied with an enormous grin.

 

Day Two

Papyrus can only come two times a week, but he told me to start giving treats whenever I use the clicker.  So click, give treat, click, give treat, click, give treat, like that.  Red really likes this game.  Blue likes it too, but he gets bored really fast.  Black hisses at me, but he still eats the mice I give him after making a click, and then tries to hiss with his mouth full, so I think he likes it too.

 

Day Three

Blue stole my clicker.  He keeps clicking it and I can’t find him even though I can hear the clicks.  I don’t even know if it’s him saying the sound, or him clicking the clicker, because he’s gotten really good at mimicking it.  It’s really annoying.

 

Day Four

Got my clicker back!  Blue hid it under Black’s tail and I had to trade Black a mouse before he let me have it.  Papyrus is coming back tomorrow.  I hope I’ve been doing the click, treat, click, treat thing ok.

 

Day Five

“I’ve never seen a trainee pick this up so fast!”  Papyrus enthused, clicking and waiting fifteen seconds before tossing down a round of mice.  Blue and Red stared at him expectantly for the full wait, then gobbled up the treats as soon as they touched the floor.  “You must have done a really good job!”

Slim blushed, smiling in spite himself as Papyrus clicked again, then rewarded after a twenty-second pause.  He wished that he could have gotten Black out here since he was the one who needed this training the most, but the well-earned praise still made him feel warm and happy.

“All right, let’s see if we can add a behaviour now,” Papyrus said thoughtfully.  He gave the lamiae an appraising look, then folded his legs and sat on the ground.  Blue watched him curiously, and Red glanced at the doorway behind him before quickly refocusing on Papyrus’ face-

“Hey!” Slim belatedly yelped as Black appeared out of nowhere and shoved his arm into Papyrus’ black-and-yellow-striped treat pouch.

“Ah!  No pouch diving please,” Papyrus scolded him playfully, tugging the pouch away and rotating it into his lap.  Black leapt backward and scrambled into hiding underneath a chair, clutching a handful of stolen mice.

“Ahn?”  Red chirped as Black flicked his tongue over the treats.  Black blinked back at him, then glared up at Papyrus with a little snarl.  Red cocked his head, slithered over, and dropped his belly to the carpet.  Without taking his eyes off the loud and suspicious intruder, Black slowly passed him a mouse, then whipped his hand back toward his body.  Red gobbled it up with a gleeful wiggle, ignoring Blue’s affronted whine as he scurried over and also dropped to his belly.  Black chuffed at him, but carefully slid a mouse across the floor when Blue made a tiny, plaintive chirp.

“They share?” Papyrus breathed, watching Black with open fascination as he ate the remaining two mice. 

“I guess so?”  Slim replied with bemusement. 

“But why???”  he half whispered.  “No other animal I’ve EVER trained does this!  Sometimes with their own children, depending on the species and how happy they feel on that particular day, but these three are CLEARLY not parents and children.”

“Ahn?  Kk-k?”  Blue clicked, returning his attention to Papyrus when it became apparent that Black was out of treats.

“No.  You are very clever but only I get to make the clicking noise,” Papyrus told him distantly.

“Kk-k!”

 

Day Nine

Alphys told me I don’t have to keep track of all the days so I skipped until Papyrus is coming back which is today.  Edge wants to meet him so I’m waiting until Papyrus shows up with him.  I hope he comes soon.  Edge says he has an important meeting and he is very fidgety.

 

“FINALLY.  You are exactly THIRTY ONE SECONDS LATE.  SLIM??” Edge screeched the second that Papyrus walked through the door.  Papyrus’ eyesockets widened and he opened his mouth-

“It’s ok sir, we’ve got this under control,” Slim interjected before Papyrus could say anything.  “Don’t want to keep you from all those important meetings-”

“And they are VERY IMPORTANT!” Edge shrieked, blowing past Papyrus and sprinting down the front steps to the mansion.  “SLIM HAS YOUR PAYMENT.  I APOLOGIZE FOR NOT BEING HERE WHILE YOU COUNT IT IN FULL.”

Without missing a step, he leapt into an idling sports car, gunned the engine, and peeled out of the driveway like his pants were on fire and the nearest source of water was wherever his very important meetings were taking place.

“How thoughtful!” Papyrus beamed as Slim apologetically held out an envelope.  “Oh!  Thank you.  Should I count it?”

He tore the top open and removed the contents.  It contained a single, printed check with an enormous and extremely elaborate signature at the bottom.

“He is very strange,”  Papyrus declared as Slim clapped both hands over his mouth and sniggered into his fingers.  “Shall we get started?”

It took Slim a minute to stop laughing, but they made it up to the sun-room without further incident.  Black was already there, blinking sleepily at them from underneath a chair.  Slim internally cheered when he stretched and yawned, expression peaceful and not even slightly like he still hated him.

“Should I go get the others?”  Slim asked, glancing down the hallway.  They were probably nearby…

“Not yet.  Let’s see if Black wants to do some catch-up after missing all those days,” Papyrus said, pulling out his clicker.  Black immediately sat up, slithering forward with an eager trill.

“We have a taker!” Papyrus cheered, clicking and tossing him a mouse.  Black gulped it down, then pressed one hand to the ground and raised his upper body into the air.

“Kk-k,” he clicked, then looked down at the ground expectantly.

“Oh-ho!  No, that’s not how this works, smarty pants,” Papyrus chortled.  “You’ll need to earn treats, not ask me for them.  Let’s give this a try!”

Papyrus sat on the floor, placed a mouse between his index and middle fingers, then wordlessly pointed at the ground with those two fingers.  Black’s eyelights followed the movement closely.

“Ahn?  Kk-k,”  he chirped after a moment, slithering forward a few paces.  Papyrus placed a foot on the floor, using it to scoot backward before tapping on the floor again.  Black’s eyelights dilated, and he tensed slightly.  When Papyrus gestured to the ground again, he quickly moved forward, boldly placing a hand on Papyrus’ leg and reaching for the mouse with his free hand-

“HSSSSSSS!” Papyrus spat at him.  Black jerked backward with a little squeak, eyelights immediately shrinking back to their normal size.

“Manners please, it isn’t polite to take things I haven’t given you,” Papyrus gently chided him.  Black made a small, apologetic noise and dropped onto his belly, one hand partially outstretched.  Papyrus immediately clicked and tossed him the mouse.  Black stared at it for a moment in surprise, then snatched it up and gulped it down.

“Good.  Again,” Papyrus instructed, taking another mouse out of his pouch.  Black stared at it, edging forward a tiny bit before dropping onto his belly again with one hand outstretched.  Papyrus clicked and rewarded, then looked up at Slim while Black was eating his treat.

“Eventually, this can be shaped into a ‘down’ command, as in ‘lie down.’  We want to get the gesture first,” he pointed to the ground with two fingers, “and then add the verbal cue once that’s established.  Would you like to try?”

“Sure,” Slim said, sitting on the ground beside Papyrus and accepting a mouse.  “All right…” he gestured to the ground with two fingers.  Black stared at him imperiously for a moment, then slithered forward, reaching out to take the mouse-

“No…“ Slim warned him, pulling his hand back to his chest with an rueful glance at Papyrus.  “Sorry, I think I taught him some bad habits.”

“That’s fine, he’s smart.  He will learn new ones,” Papyrus said cheerfully.  “Try again.”

Slim tapped the ground again.  Black grumbled under his breath, staying perfectly still for a long moment before dropping onto his belly with one hand outstretched.  Slim immediately clicked and tossed him the treat, watching happily as Black gulped it down with a sing-song trill.

“Wonderful!” Papyrus enthused.  “A few more times before we go find the others?”

Slim blushed, picked up another mouse, and looked down at Black’s expectant face.

 

Day Ten

Papyrus told me to keep doing the ‘down’ command with them for a few short 5 to 10 minute sessions every day.  Black picked it up right away, but he keeps trying to cheat by sneaking forward when he thinks I’m not looking.  Blue got it pretty fast too, but he gets distracted really easy.  Red took a while, mostly because he is already down most of the time and he doesn’t want to get back up, but I think he understands what it means now too. 

 

Day Thirteen

All three lamiae were napping in the shade just underneath one of the windows in the sun-room, heaped over each other in a tangle of arms and tails when Slim and Papyrus walked in. 

“Who would like to do some training?”  Papyrus sang, holding up a dead mouse.  All three lamiae were instantly awake, scrambling over each other as they collectively disentangled themselves and rushed over. 

“Yes!  No more lazing about when there’s work to be done!”  Papyrus cackled, digging a few more mice out of his pouch.  “All right everyone.  Down.”

Black immediately dropped to his belly, and Papyrus clicked and tossed him a single mouse.  Blue and Red both automatically looked down at the ground when he clicked, then frantically began nosing at the floor in search of their own mice with disbelieving and indignant squeaks.  Black stared at them doubtfully for a moment, then dropped his chin close to the floor and flicked his tongue, as though expecting to find a few overlooked treats himself.

“Oh dear, looks like it’s time for a little tough love,” Papyrus said sympathetically as Blue began to whimper so pitifully it sounded like Slim had been starving him.  Which was NOT true.  “Clicks don’t always mean treats, I’m afraid.  This might get a little tricky, but if we can do group sessions then this will be MUCH more time efficient.  And if it doesn’t work out, then we can always go to solo sessions!  No harm done either way.”

Slim hesitated, then nodded slowly while Blue’s whimpering trailed off into a petulant whine.  If he never had to repeat that disaster with Black again, then a little bit of tough love would definitely be worth it.

“All right you two, I know you can do it!  Down,” Papyrus said cheerfully.  Black dropped to his belly again, and Papyrus immediately clicked and rewarded.  Black slapped a hand over his treat, flicked his tongue over it a few times, then slid it back toward his body. 

“Naaaaa…” Red whined at him.

“Fffffft,” Black churred softly, still looking up at Papyrus

“He’s saving his food?  Was he fed recently?”  Papyrus asked incredulously.

“Not since yesterday.  He probably wants to share, since Blue and Red didn’t get any,” Slim mused.  “They do that if I’m not careful about feeding them all at the same time.”

“Really?  They…”  Papyrus trailed off incredulously, then turned back to the lamiae.  “Down,” he said.  Black immediately complied.  Blue tensed, quivering as he stared at Black for a split second before hastily copying him, right down to his outstretched hand and the way his tail looped behind his body in a loose, relaxed S.

“Very good down!”  Papyrus enthused, clicking and tossing each lamiae a mouse.  Blue ate his with a joyful, full-mouthed mumble, and Black stuffed his out of sight with a little tremble, like he was physically trying to hold himself back from eating it on the spot.  Red sighed tetchily and settled onto his forearms, resting his belly on the floor.  Papyrus immediately clicked and tossed him a mouse, much to Red’s surprise and noisy delight as he gulped it down.

“All right, let’s do it on purpose now. I believe in you, Red!” Papyrus encouraged. “Down.”

This time, all three of them dropped onto their bellies, then looked up at him expectantly.

“Wonderful!”  Papyrus cheered, clicking and rewarding.  Instead of eating, Red and Blue both held onto their treats, flicking their tongues over their hands and glancing sidelong at each other.

“What are you all…?” Papyrus asked as they began to chirp and mewl at each other.  As a group, they quickly backed away and formed a little half-circle.

“Mmm-”  Black demanded, flicking his tongue over Blue’s hands.

“Nnnn,” Blue whined, reluctantly revealing his single mouse. 

“Thhhh,” Red responded, pushing his own mouse across the floor.  Black flicked his tongue over it, then pushed his own mice forward and nosed Blue’s shoulder.  Blue quickly took his own mouse back and ate it.  Red scooped up a pair, and Black took the remainder, swallowing them down with a blissful sigh.

“Nnnnnn,” he cooed happily, rubbing his cheek against Red’s shoulder.

“I cannot reiterate enough how strange it is that they DO that,” Papyrus breathed.  “With most animals it’s EXTREMELY ‘me first’ when it comes to food.  Are they always so cuddly afterward?” 

“Yes?  This is a bit more than they usually do though,” Slim giggled as Red hummed softly, and Blue briefly snuggled up against Black’s chest with a soft chirp. 

“Wowie!  That might be helpful, though I have absolutely no idea how!  It looks like they’ve just about got this command though, and usually I’d move onto another one.  Perhaps ‘set’ or ‘hold.’  Hold might be good…”  He trailed off, watching as Black and Blue slithered forward and stared up at him hopefully.  “Alphys mentioned that we were under a time crunch though, so it may be prudent to make the training a little more focused, is that correct?”

Black dropped onto his belly, then looked down at the floor expectantly.  After a second, Blue followed suit.  When Papyrus didn’t reward either of them, he sighed and rolled over onto his side, eyelights wandering idly around the room.

 “Yeah.  We’ve got forty-eight more days before Black gets another fang appointment.” Slim said heavily.  “We can use some sedatives to help relax him, but Alphys told me that it’s dangerous to completely put him under.  They don’t respond to the drugs like she expects them to.”

Blue’s eyelights fixed on the tip of Red’s tail, dilating to the size of silver dollars as he tensed, then pounced with a playful squeak.  Red snatched it away with an outraged howl, then leapt onto the smaller lamia and pinned him face-down to the floor. 

“Sedatives are a good idea,” Papyrus agreed over Blue’s surprised yelp.  “We can start some injection desensitizing, and target training is always helpful, so we’ll start on that too!”

“Target training?”  Slim asked, stepping backward as Blue flipped onto his back, pushing on Red’s shoulders and tail with both hands.  Red grumbled darkly at him, shifting his shorter, but thicker tail into a tight coil until Blue’s skeleton half and one of his arms was thoroughly pinned.  Blue gave a strained grunt and wiggled around, trying futilely to displace him.  After a few seconds, he fell still, ribs heaving and face bright cyan. 

“Yes!  It’s when you train an animal to touch a part of their body to a target, usually a stick or…hmm!  This would be much easier to show than to explain!  You should come to the zoo, and then I can demonstrate it for you,” Papyrus declared with an enthusiastic grin. 

“S-sure!”  Slim blurted out, then quickly backpedaled.  “If you have time, I mean…I know it’s your job and I don’t want to…if it’s too m-much trouble?” 

Red waited until Blue had remained motionless for a few seconds, then leaned forward and deliberately flicked his tongue at his captive’s nose.  Blue jerked his head away with an outraged squeal.  Red gleefully chirped back, then leapt upright and scurried out of the room.  Blue flipped over and rushed after him, scrambling over Black’s tail as he whisked past.  Black whipped around with an irritated hiss, then looked back up at Papyrus, chirped loudly, and settled himself onto his belly.

“No, only when I say,”  Papyrus told him gently before turning back to Slim.  “Of course I have time and don’t be silly!  It’s no trouble at all!  Would tomorrow around noon work?”

“Kk-k?”  Black clicked expectantly.

“No, down.”

Black immediately settled onto his belly.  Papyrus clicked and rewarded, then very deliberately put the clicker away.  Black nosed at the floor, then sighed heavily and looked over at the door.

“S-sure.  That works,” Slim said faintly as Black slithered off toward the outraged lamia noises coming from deeper inside the mansion.  “S-see you there.”