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Baby, It's Skulls Outside!

Chapter Text

The battery in the door chime definitely needs to be replaced soon; the sad, slow tone is more ominous than inviting. In a way it matches the purposefully eclectic atmosphere of the tattoo parlor. That doesn’t make it less annoying. As the receptionist you’re the one who has to sit and listen to it all afternoon and night. It’s your first day back from Thanksgiving break and you already can’t stand it anymore, vowing to change the battery the next day.

The whine is loud enough you can hear it from under the desk where you kneel untangling a few cords.

“Hey, there, do you have an appointment?” you ask as you pop up.

A very tall skeleton monster stands in the foyer of the shop looking around with open curiosity. The bright little lights in his eyes scan the decor and finally land on you.

“Heya,” the skeleton says, voice deep in his chest. “And nope, I’m here to purchase one of those gift cards.”

He brings a hand out of his hoodie pocket to gesture to the display on your right. The finger bones catch the light of the fluorescents above you, and you can see the sparkle of magic around his joints in his wrist holding him together.

“Sure!” you say, pulling yourself up and out from under the appointment station. “This tablet here has a lot of the info you probably need. Each artist is listed there with their bios, what kind of work they do, base prices, that sort of stuff. Let me know if you have questions, yeah? Take your time.”

As soon as he starts swiping through the screens, he’s fixated completely on the tablet, so he doesn’t notice you giving him a once over.

Well, let’s be honest. You’re staring and trying hard not to, but how can you not? He is gorgeous .

You’ve been around monsters your whole life, there are a few of them married into your extended family even, but you’ve never met one that resembles a human skeleton. The light sparkling off his magic draws you like a moth to a flame. His eye sockets are large, open, and full of vantablack except for the pair of bright green lights that seem to be his pupils. Where his nose would be is an opening in the shape of a smooth upside-down heart, much smaller than a human skull nasal cavity.

But, for all that he’s skeletal and whiter than an Irishman in winter, he looks incredibly human. You can’t make out individual joints, for example. His neck is made up of more than a few spindly vertebrae. There is a definite substance to him. From your seated position you have to look up to meet his eyes and from that you can tell he’s much taller than you, much taller than an average human in general. Where a human skeleton would have a permanent smile without the muscle and skin to create lips, this monster makes do with a bony alternative. It moves the same way the skin on a human’s face does.

The deep maroon of his hoodie, a beanie on what you assume is a bald skull, and his ripped black jeans look casual and comfortable on him. He looks very under dressed for the frigid weather outside.

“Aren’t you cold?”

He looks up. “What?”

“Cold. It’s probably below twenty degrees outside, this town is half in the mountains so it gets colder earlier, and you’re in a zip-up hoodie and jeans with more holes in them than there should be.”

“Kind of hard to get cold without skin, right?” The smile on his face looks Christmas came early.

“I walked into that one, didn’t I? Sorry if that was rude.”

“Nah, it’s all good.”

The monster turns back to the tablet to continue reading and looking at the pictures and video stored there, and you go back to trying to work. It’s simple answering questions on blog posts, emails, basic housekeeping items. So simple, your mind wanders a little as you work.

Monsters emerged from Mt. Ebott decades ago, way before you were born, and since then human children were found who had acute sensitivity to magic. You are one of them. It doesn’t mean you can manifest magic of your own, not like the human mages, but it’s like a seventh sense and you can’t imagine life without it. Neither of your parents had it, of course, they were born before the Barrier broke, and your dad had been thrilled all his children were able to experience it. Out of curiosity, you had searched for videos of the news reports that aired in the years following the release of monsters from under the mountain. The audio and visual quality of the clips reminded you how long it’d been that they were aboveground; tech had come so far in forty years.

At first the news was not taken well, since there were so many people who weren’t happy about the monsters in the first place. Scientists had theorized what was under Mt. Ebott for centuries since the discovery of the barrier when Lewis and Clark almost literally stumbled into it. But magic in humans? The idea was too much for some to wrap their heads around without getting violent.

But, as the years went on, occurrences of magic sensitive humans spread further than the Pacific Northwest, and it was far more frequent. There was a unit in your high school 21st Century social studies class that covered most of those first few years. It feels strange to wonder if the monsters had still been stuck under the mountain when you were born if you’d still have this ability or if it would have been described as something else.

You’re halfway lost in nostalgia after the monotony of your job, so when the skeleton steps back in front of you, you’re a little startled.

“This one here. Are they all digitized, or can I get a physical slip of paper for my buddy? They’re a bit old-fashioned.”

“Either one, I can print up a personalized card for you. It’ll just take a few minutes. Cool?”

“Yup, s’cool.”

It’s fascinating to watch his face move. What looks like hard bone bending and shaping itself like how human skin does over his teeth, even eyelids that appear when he blinks, and you try not to stare.

He tells you the total he wants to put on the card but doesn’t pick an artist. “They’ll know what they want better than me, I’m just the enabler here.”

“Fair enough.” A generous enabler, indeed, you think as he confirms the amount. You type up the rest of the information into the program, spin the monitor towards him, and hit print when he gives you two thumbs up. “Are you sure you don’t want to make an appointment for yourself while you’re here?”

His laugh is quick and infectious. “Bit hard to use a tattoo gun on bone s’what’s meant for human skin, my dude. Not calling you a numb skull or nothing but.” He shrugs, still chuckling.

“Figured I’d ask,” you say, smiling back at him. “Can’t assume.”

“Makes an ass out of you and me, from what I’ve heard.” His little eye lights remind you of two shiny Christmas lights, bright green and cheerful. Each one glows with mirth as he leans against the counter.

You want to keep him talking. The week had been so stressful and for the first time in days it feels like you’re laughing and smiling without forcing it. “How’d you hear about our shop?”

“Recommendation from a friend, said you guys serve everyone here. I think his aunt works here, Queenie?”

“Oh! God, I love Queenie. She’s not working tonight or I’d have you say hello if you know her. Yeah, she does great work. She did this piece on my elbow, see?” You pull your left arm out of your jacket and turn to show him the set of scales above your elbow.

“What are you a Libra or something like that? Trying to see if we’re compatible?”

That smile should be illegal . You hope the blush on your cheeks looks nice and not blotchy or something because it’s not like you can help it after that.

“Well, that’s part of it,” you admit, “but I’m in law school, almost done actually. Longest five years of my life, I’ll be happy to have my degree after next semester.”

He whistles, an impressed sound, and you wonder if it’s for Queenie’s work (which is stunning, no doubt about it) or your degree path. You kind of hope for both. The whistle adds another question to your growing list of how does this guy work? How much is magic and how much is physical? Does he have lungs, lips, how did he create or imitate a whistle? Your curiosity is bound to get you in deep trouble.

The printer sputters a few times next to you, giving up before it even tried. With an apologetic look at the skeleton monster, you slipped your arm back into its sleeve and dove beneath your station to fiddle with the wires again, finishing the task you were in the middle of when he walked in.

“So if you’re in law school how do you have time to work? Cousin of mine started law school before getting picked up by a, uh, a traveling company out west couple years ago. He said he wants to go back but he’s been so busy lately he said there’s no way he could work and go to school.”

His voice is muffled above you, and you can’t tell if he can see you or not, but just in case you sit on your heels so your butt isn’t in the air. As tempting as that is, even the idea is a little bold to you. You just met him!

“I’m part time, my family owns this place, actually. I help out up here a few days a week but yeah, if I worked a different job besides the one I’ve been doing since I was seventeen, it would be impossible. What about you?”

“I’m an Aquarius.”

You pop your head up for a second to smirk at him. “Good to know, but what do you do?”

He shrugs, a lazy smile on his face, playing with the business cards on the countertop while he waits. Taking one out, he spins it around and around. “This and that. Finished college years ago if that’s what you’re asking.”

Finally, the blasted printer hummed to life and printed an embossed and personalized gift card ready for a manager to sign. There are a few buttons on your desk that connect to the stations and rooms where the artists work in privacy, meant to alert them someone is about to walk in so you don’t startle them mid-ink.You motion to the monster to wait a second and press the button labelled ‘Ken’.

Your cousin, owner and manager of the parlor, is mid-session working on the shoulder piece on the back of a Madjick.

“I’ve got a gift certificate that needs to be signed,” you say as you draw the curtain back to cover the doorway behind you. “Oh, man, Ken, that looks wicked !”

“You can sign it, s’all good,” Ken says as he swipes a clean cloth over his work, checking where he wants to work next.

The room is heady with the smell of adrenaline and magic from the monster on the table who looked calmer than you’d ever seen her. A fairly regular customer, typically she was all over the place. You leave with a last once over to the blooming spirograph-style pattern that Ken had started the line work on a few months ago. A couple cameras pointed down on it so you knew he’d be editing the timelapse together for another post after the entire piece was finished, so you don’t feel like you’re missing much when you walk back out front. The heavy heels of your boots click on the tile, bringing the customer’s attention to you.

“Alright, I can sign it for you, just need to find a pen.”

The skeleton monster reaches inside of his hoodie and procures a pen before you’d even gotten back to your station. “Use mine.”

“Thanks!” Oh, that’s nice, the slip of ink to paper is almost too nice, and your signature glides onto the paper. Reluctantly you hand the pen back over, fingertips brushing the distal bones of his fingers.

Of course, now that it didn’t have anything to do with your major and everything to do with the customer you were currently staring at, you remembered things you needed for that anatomy exam back in high school. The brush of magic against your skin sent a field of goosebumps up your arm.

“Thank you,” he glances down at your signature, “________ Vancity. was nice to meet you.”

It is not fair how nice your name sounds in that voice. “You, too! Only fair I get to know your name since you know mine.”

When did you ever get this smooth? You blame him, he’s a bad influence, and you are a sucker for it.

He chuckles again; it’s a sound you could get used to. “It’s Luke. Be seeing you, ________.”

You didn’t even acknowledge the strange whine of the door chime as he walked out, too preoccupied with stopping yourself from checking him out on the way out the door.

Chapter Text

Christmas carols fill your apartment as you take your time making dinner. The snow outside and the spicy smell rising from the saucepan on the oven is almost enough to ease your anxiety over finals. Almost.

“... it’s the best time of the year. I don’t know if there’ll be snow but have a cup of cheer. The case made it’s way to the Supreme Court in the last session of 2034 and - oh, shit!

A splash of hot water hit your hand as you stirred the noodles a bit too vigorously. Using your other hand to open the tap to the right for cool water, you stuck your red finger underneath the stream and reached to flip the stove top off at the same time. Instead of singing carols and reciting facts from the textbook propped on the counter you should have paid closer attention to your cooking.

You turn off the music and wait as your television boots up Netflix to give your food time enough that you can eat it without burning your tongue, too. Books and papers are scattered around you. Carefully pushing them to side with a foot you get comfortable with your bowl of pasta, pulling the blanket from the back of the couch to cover up and settle in for dinner and an episode of something.

The burning question is do you watch something new and risk getting sucked into the plot, or an oldie but goodie that...yeah, that could suck you in, too. Netflix wasn’t the best choice in retrospect. You settle on a single episode of a cartoon from your childhood for nostalgia and laughs.

One episode turns into three, but when you acknowledge you are stalling before hitting the books again, you don’t feel too guilty. The episodes are only twenty minutes long, anyway.

Humming the theme song under your breath, you scrub the dishes and put your leftovers in the fridge to eat for lunch on campus the next day. You grit your teeth as the warm water hits the mild burn on your finger. With your arms elbow-deep in the steaming soapy water, you hear your phone buzzing on the counter behind you.

“Ugh, what now?” Toweling your hands dry after pulling the plug, you check the time on the oven clock and reach for your phone. Not many people called you this time of night. Your family lives on the other side of the country and are three hours ahead, and likely in bed.

A missed phone call followed immediately by a text lights up the screen. Before reading the text message your thumb slides the notification to call your cousin back. Switching it to speaker you set the phone on a shelf near you so that you can continue to put your dishes away. Ken doesn’t answer immediately on your first try. He’s notorious for this.

By the time you’re done setting the dishes to dry, Ken calls you back. You almost let it go to voicemail again just to give him a taste of his own medicine. Picking up your headphones to be able to walk and talk, you answer.

“What’s up, Ken?”

“You busy?”

The music in the background fades as he turns down the radio he keeps in his little office.

“Uh, yes. Finals around the corner.”

You can hear his chair squeak as he spins around. “Oh, shit, that’s why you’re blocked off on the calendar for a few days. Fuck, listen, I was hoping you’d have time to help me this weekend getting some of the tax documents for the shop ready for next year.”

“Are you actually getting ready ahead of time instead of waiting for the last minute? What did Rhett use to threaten you?”

“That’s not important.”

“Oh, so he’s threatening to withhold sex, gotcha.”

“Shove it, twerp.”

“So I’m right. What’s in this for me?” You wander around your room picking up dirty laundry from the week to throw in the hamper. Might as well do this while you bargain. Depending on how hard up - oh, that was so bad - Ken is for help, negotiating could take a minute and it’s hard for you to sit still when you’re on the phone with anyone.

“Uh, I’ll pay you? It’s time on the clock.”

“Mmhmm. And?”

Ken groans pitifully into the phone. “And...you love me? You would be happy to help?”

“Strike one.”

“Oh, my god, are you kidding me right now?”

“Nope.” You let the lid of the washer in your bathroom shut a little louder than you have to so he can hear it. “Strike two.”

“Beer? Food? A new paint job for that death trap you call a scooter?”

“All wonderful offers, I’ll take them. Meet you at yours around nine in the morning Saturday.”

Ken, even at the idea of getting up hours earlier than normal, sounds so relieved you almost feel bad for taking advantage. “You’re still scheduled for Thursday evening, too, so I’ll see you then. I’m taking Queenie’s shift since she’s going to watch the shop in my place while we have so much fun on Saturday. Seriously, thank you for this.”

“Alright. Yes, I know I’m awesome, you don’t need to thank me with your words. I’m gonna hang up now, gotta check which color I want my scooter to be this spring.”

“Whatever, just text me a picture of it so I can call the shop with my card details.”

“Hanging up before I change my mind. Bye, Ken!”

You shut the bathroom door behind you to contain the humming from the washing machine as you hit the end call button. With part of your Saturday spoken for now, you really needed to hit the books. Those finals wouldn’t take themselves. Too bad the magic sensitivity didn’t help you study, either. You hadn’t figured out many practical uses for it yet, except the overwhelming sense of knowing if something was made of magic or not. It’s something you and your sister, who was a mage, had tested all the time as kids.

Not that Rowan could do anything, either. Her red determination Soul just made her very lucky when it came to anything that was timed. She never, ever missed the bus, and always was in the right place at the right time. Not for lack of trying to forcibly use it, but it worked better when she just let it work naturally. As a firefighter back home she’s certain her Soul magic is the reason she always has enough time to save everyone from every call she goes to.

Oh, well. Can’t cry over spilled milk if you never had the milk in the first place.

After five years of near-constant studying you don’t want to let it all go down the tubes now, anyway, and you’ve wanted this for even longer than that. You moved out here when you were twenty-three for a reason, and you will see it through to the end.

Words blur together after another couple of hours re-reading case notes and working through centuries of law practices, everything blending together. You rub your eyes and untangle yourself from the study nest you’d built on the floor between your couch and coffee table. It’s close to midnight by now but it had gotten dark before dinnertime, messing with your sense of passing time.

“Damn, the laundry,” you mutter as you stand, stretching to crack you back and shake out the tingling feeling in your legs.

The monotonous task shows you how tired you really are as you move some of the clothes into the dryer and setting aside others to hang dry. Your eyes ache and itch, begging you to take out your contacts. It’s only Tuesday. You still have the better part of the week to study.

Fighting to stay awake with the steady hum of the dryer behind you, you dutifully hang the blouses and other business wear you had to wear to some classes to dry. The bathroom mirror slowly starts to fog from the heat of the drying mixing with the drying clothes, so you move quickly to take out your contacts, brush your teeth, and wash your face.

You don’t need the mirror to braid your hair up for bed, loosely tying it so you wouldn’t get a headache overnight but enough to keep it from tangling. It’s dark, for now, dyed a mix of blue-black and a red dark enough to be mistaken as black. Early greys runs in your family, and though the idea of rocking a head of salt and pepper hair doesn’t bother you, it wasn’t consistent enough yet to stop dyeing. You appreciate yourself in the mirror for a second. The self-love you feel took years to build up after several failed relationships and a cross-country move, but you’re happy with where you’re at now. Moving out on your own had helped you grow tremendously.

Already dressed in your pajamas, you take one look at the pile of work in the living room, and turn your back to head towards the bedroom. You live alone, not even any pets, so no one was around that could mess with it or care about a mess, anyway.

It takes a few minutes for you to get settled into bed. The sheets are cool to the touch and take some shimmying around to start to warm up. You’re also actively listening for the dryer buzzer to go off so it’s not running while you sleep, something your mother had warned you about when you were a kid. Though you’re sure the warning is an old wives tale you’re not bold enough to tempt fate. You tear the bed apart to burrito the covers around yourself, facing the window where the night sky opened up to the soft glow of a streetlamp.

The snow had mostly stopped flurrying outside. You wish it would stay crisp and white until morning, but it was more likely to be mostly melted to mush by the time your first alarm went off. Oh well, still plenty of time for a white Christmas, it isn’t even December yet.

As the fat, promising flakes fall outside illuminated by the streetlamp and you resist pulling out your phone before sleeping, your mind wanders. Against the night sky those flakes remind you of the strange lights inside of the skeleton monster’s, Luke’s, eye sockets. You supposed they acted like pupils or something. And the way his bones moved? Uncanny valley right there, without the creepiness factor. The white bone moved like human skin would, maybe even more malleable He even had defined lips that could completely cover his teeth. You kick yourself for not asking for his number.

You fall asleep thinking of how his body worked, your dreams full of fireflies and the charming smirks from skeleton monster men.

Chapter Text

You wipe away the condensation building on the door’s glass to make sure no one is walking up to the front before moving the step ladder closer. Battery in one hand and screwdriver between your teeth, you step up carefully to start fixing the door chime. If you’d been thinking you would have gotten something obnoxious to replace the tone, too, but you’d barely had enough time to make it from campus to the hardware store and the shop on time.

Next to the windows you can really feel how cold it is outside. When you drove your scooter around town you wore a set of overalls and boots with your helmet to keep warm and protect your clothes underneath from the slush on the concrete. So close to the glass you shiver a little as the cold works its way beneath your tights and dress. Thank goodness it’s a quick job.

The shop is in a slower season. Regular customers and appointments still trickle in but walk-ins are rare, on account of the weather. After growing up in New England you scoffed at the people here that freaked out over a little bit of snow, cancelling plans and holing up at home, running to the store for milk and bread. Really, winter happens every year . Same time, same place.

“Shit!”

You hear the curse before you feel the door knock into the bottom of your footstool. Throwing your hands wide, you catch yourself before falling, stepping down carefully to get away from the door.

It’s Luke, of course it’s Luke. He’s dressed much the same as the day he’d gotten the gift certificate and has someone walking in with him. Are you smoothing out your dress? Stop it!

You can tell by the level of static electricity across your skin that either the person with him was another monster or a human mage. The two stomp their boots clean on the rug by the door and move out of your way. Luke’s eye sockets are wide and his mouth is the closest you’ve seen to a frown yet.

“Heya, ________. Sorry about that.”

You wave your hand to show it wasn’t a big deal. Your heart is still racing, and you tell yourself it’s from the adrenaline of almost falling and most certainly not excitement at seeing him again so soon. Sparing you from having to say anything else just yet, the newcomer speaks up.

“I’ve got an appointment, this troublemaker conned me into getting a tattoo. Name’s Frisk.”

Their hand is outstretched, so you take it and shake it firmly, the exact way you’d learned in a court etiquette class a year ago. It feels a little calloused, and strong. Frisk is a full head shorter than you but the amount of energy pouring off of them is more than enough to make up for it. Etiquette training be damned, they shake your hand with gusto and there’s nothing you can do except go with it.

The new customer wears a strange mix of business casual and what you would expect your dad to wear on a tropical vacation: a bright patterned shirt below a tailor-cut tweed jacket, all offset by the khaki cargo pants covered in zippers. Those could definitely become shorts. All they were missing is socks with sandals.

Frisk steps back to stand next to Luke, making him look like a giant. Now that you were both standing on the same level, you can tell he’s a couple inches taller than you even in your boots. You aren’t that short so that meant he’s over six feet tall! Be still your beating heart.

“Your name is super familiar,” you start to say to Frisk. You’re aware your big mouth and curiosity has gotten you into trouble more than once, but it seems to be the right thing to have said, if the look on Frisk’s face is any indication.

“Should be, I’m famous!”

“Oh, my god,” Luke mumbles. He has one of his hands over his forehead, and you get the feeling this happens a lot .

Frisk nudges the monster with their shoulder. “Freed monsters. Ambassador for a few decades. I mean, I’m kind of a big deal.”

“Yeah, whatever, dude.”

You snap your fingers. “That’s where I recognize it! Frisk Dreemurr, you’re mentioned a bunch in my twenty-first century law texts.”

“Law texts? Yikes, that’s boring.”

The words aren’t the nicest but the tone of voice is endlessly teasing. Your grin only brightens. Maybe practicing law doesn’t sound the most exciting to someone who’d been the ambassador to all monsters for half their life, but you had wanted this since you were little. Moving back to your station, you sit on the swivel stool with your legs crossed.

“Who’s your appointment with today?” you ask.

“Queenie!” Frisk smiles wide as they lean on your counter, shaggy dark hair falling artfully around their forehead and brushing their shoulders.

It’s confirmed on your scheduling application, blocked for a three hour session. “Great, and you’ve never been here before, correct?”

“Nope! Flew in just for this.”

“Awesome! Okay, because this is procedure for all of our artists including her, please just go over this documentation and fill it out for me. Some of it has to do with the fact she is a monster, which I’m sure you knew, right?” Frisk nods enthusiastically. “Yeah, she uses magic with her techniques, a general understanding between customer and artist, all of that is in here. The last form, the one that’s a kind of green color, that’s Queenie’s personal form. Let me know if you have questions about anything in there, okay?”

After so much teasing and light hearted banter, you expect to have to really drill home that this form is important and to take it seriously. That’s definitely the future lawyer in you. However, once you started explaining a little of why it was necessary, Frisk’s grin softened a bit, and they took the clipboard from you with gravitas you didn’t expect. Settling into one of the comfy chairs in the lobby, Frisk plays with the pen attached by a chain to the clipboard, but takes their time actually reading the form instead of signing it as fast as they could.

“Every snow often they can surprise you.”

You look over at Luke with an impish smile. “At frost glance, they’re a little all over the place.”

“Pffft. Ice one, buddy.”

“Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all night.”

You walk out from behind the station when you can tell Frisk is going to take their time, pushing the stool over to the door again. The battery is replaced but the screws and cover for the chime are still in your pocket. Picking up the screwdriver from where it fell on the floor, you’re not ready when you stand up and Luke is right next to you, and you lose your balance in surprise on the slippery wet tile. Strong hands grab your upper arms from behind as you stumble, steadying you almost instantly. The fingers are warm even through the sleeves of the sweater you’re wearing over your dress.

He lets go of you once you’re steady, hands back in his hoodie pockets as if nothing happened.

“Thanks,” you say, going up the two small steps much more carefully this time.

Luke stands right under the door and at first you’re wondering if he’s trying to catch a peek up your skirt, though he’s too tall to do that at this angle, but you notice he’s facing outside. So sweet. He’s watching to make sure no one else walks into you like he did.

It’s quick work to finish what you started, and Frisk is still reading when you step down. This time Luke proffers his hand to help you down, even though it’s only two steps and you aren’t that clumsy, c’mon! Feeling his bones on your skin though, it made the fine hairs of your arms stand on end touching his magic again.

Other monsters, admittedly those with skin, didn’t have this effect on you, so you suspected it was the fact he was literally exposed to the bone . Even in your own head you admit that was pretty bad, a very bad pun. You blame him. The way his clothes hang on his body though, he doesn’t look like an overgrown, lanky Halloween decoration. His shoulders and chest are broad. There is something substantial underneath. Does he cover some kind of body with his clothes then?

Woah, way too personal, stop it, _________.

You take a minute to compose yourself and to stop thinking about what Luke might have under those clothes by putting the tools away in the back. By the time you’re back out front, Frisk is at your counter with the forms.

“Did you have any questions before starting?”

“Nope! I really enjoyed that, New York Times bestseller material, for sure.”

You can see Luke shaking his head from his seat in the lobby at the joke. He’s focused on the magazine in his hands, obviously reading the articles instead of skimming, or just looking very intently at the photos inside.

“I’ll call Queenie and then take you back there if she’s ready, okay?” You press the call button for Queenie’s nook, then start walking back to the largest artist suite in the parlor.

Giving her the largest room is necessary, as Queenie stands taller than an average human male by far, and the breadth of her multiple legs required a few demo projects within the building to allow her free range. An additional fire exit was built for her inside of her room that she hid behind curtains made of her web. She didn’t need to move her body around the room mid-session like the human artists did. Having six long-reaching arms helped that tremendously.

You’ve never met Muffet personally, but her image is on the cellophane wrapper of the mass produced snack cakes in the specialty section of the grocery store. When you’d first met Queenie as a little kid visiting your family from out of state, you’d thought she was the same spider monster. Even though where Muffet’s chitin was purple, Queenie’s was blue, the two monsters were spitting images of each other. Once, she’d explained that spiders rarely reached their size. Something about the amount of magic and where they were born in the Underground being so very warm. The details hadn’t stuck, but you remembered there were only a dozen or so spider monsters larger than humans still alive from their hatch.

She’s cleaning her equipment as you walk in, the last appointment long gone. Even in the larger room she fills it physically and with her personality.

“Darling~, is my next appointment ready?” Out of habit one of her hands reaches over to play with your hair, stray flyaways that fell out of your braid tucked back behind your ear.

“Yes. They completed the paperwork, too. And, honestly, you probably know them, did you see your print out this afternoon?”

“Oh, yes,” she said settling a clean sheet over her work table. “Frisk might not remember me, but I remember them.”

You return to the lobby to collect Frisk, leaving them to discuss what they wanted in private.

Luke is still in the lobby when you go back again reading the magazine. His legs are crossed in front of him, Converse-clad feet tapping to the beat of the music over the speakers. Was it weird to notice he had a strong jawline if you could see the bone that created that effect? Probably.

You have paperwork and appointment reminder calls to make, things to organize, things to clean, but try as you might you can’t really concentrate on any of that. Not when Luke is sitting in the lobby. With a sigh you push the papers on your desk back into a neat stack to look at later, reaching to put them in a file by your computer. You gasp when you look up and Luke is leaning on your counter.

How did he get so close without you noticing him? At this proximity you can smell his cologne or whatever it was that makes him smell really damned good. His smile is easy and almost lazy, the bright lights of his eyes the size of quarters in his sockets.

“I’ll admit I was disappointed you didn’t try to call or text me.”

“Uh...” You’re still trying to catch up from the surprise of looking up to see him right there. Seriously, how had he moved across the tile so quietly? “What?”

Good job, very smooth, _________!

Luke points to your monitor where a garden of sticky notes bloom. His fingertip makes a clack against the hard plastic.

There below the reminder to call the cleaning company about changing the day they came through is a little slip of paper with a phone number written on it. With numbers that are shaped so perfectly they look like a typewriter wrote them, it’s followed by a doodle of a skull. It’s obvious whose number it is.

You fumble for something to say when you turn back to him, starting to blush. Again. Damn it. The creases at the edge of his smile get deeper.

He has dimples. Is this what a swoon feels like?

“I honestly didn’t even notice that,” you admit, pulling it off the monitor immediately, reaching for the key to your desk on your lanyard. Your phone is locked away in your purse since you walk away so often.

“Was afraid you were giving me the cold shoulder there for a minute. Here,” he says, holding out his hand.

You can hear the camera app flip open, and he turns the front-facing camera towards himself, snapping a quick picture. There’s another phone on the counter you assume is his, which he confirms with a nod when you point to it.

“Fair’s fair,” you say before turning the camera on yourself. You stop before sticking your tongue out but you do make the silliest face you can manage without that, or the stupid kissy face your sister does in all of her Snapchats.

“That’s not a local number,” he says when he gets a text from you.

“Yours isn’t either, where’s that from?”

“Washington.”

“Oh, duh,” you say and laugh. Of course . Mt. Ebott is near the coast of the Pacific in Washington state, not far from the Canadian border. Of course his phone number would be from that state.

“Where’s 802?”

“Vermont. We’re the last state to only need the one, actually. There used to be more states like that but the population hasn’t changed much the last thirty years and it’s so small, area-wise, it wouldn’t make sense yet.”

And you’re rambling again, whoops. He doesn’t seem annoyed, though, he looks genuinely interested in what you have to say. Nodding to show he understands, he says, “Gotcha. Cool.”

“Did you rethink getting a tattoo of your own?”

“Ha, peer pressure, huh?” Luke winks and you’re mesmerized for a moment how the bone smoothly falls. You realize you’d never noticed him blink so the wink catches you off guard completely. “Nah, I don’t really have anywhere to put one, honestly, I’m all bone. And Frisk has just been waiting for an excuse to get one for a couple years now.”

That answers part of your question about what kind of body was underneath the hoodie and jeans.

_________. Stop. Calm the thirst. It has not been that long.

“You said this was a bet. Have they never gotten a tattoo before?”

“Nope, but they’ve been obsessed with the idea ever since my mom and Uncle Vince showed them theirs. They grew up together, close as siblings, so they had the name of their street tattooed in First Tongue, wingdings, on their collarbones.”

So many questions, most of them probably too personal, crop up. You can’t stop at least one from escaping. “So cool. I love monster tattoos. Did they get them in the Underground before the Barrier?”

Luke is still smiling, what seems to be his default look with only a thin line of his teeth showing beneath bony lips, but it’s not as cheeky as before. “They’re both human. They got ‘em done on the surface.”

Foot, meet mouth. Good job, _______. And everything was going so well!

As if he can read the horrified look on your face, mortified that you’d managed to offend him right after exchanging numbers, Luke is quick to add, “S’all good, fair assumption to make.”

“Yeah, but assuming makes an ass of you and me, remember?”

“Really. I promise, no harm done. There aren’t that many of us.”

Us. He means children of humans and monsters, you guess. A flood of words escapes before you can stop the dam.

“So is that why you kind of look like a human skeleton? Your mother is a human and your dad’s a monster, or your other mom, I don’t know how that works. And, I mean, you don’t look like a Halloween decoration or anything, you’re actually super handsome it’s not even fair.” Oh god. Why can’t you stop talking? “Wait am I objectifying you? Shit, forget I said anything. Let’s go back to the part where we exchanged numbers and I didn’t ask you a bunch of probably super personal questions.”

There’s a dusting of very light green below Luke’s eye sockets that goes over the bridge of his nose. His mouth is slack, the smile gone, and your mortification only gets worse. Taking a slow deep breath you try to make yourself look busy at your desk. But you’d put away everything that looked remotely important and are left to turn to your computer and pull up the inbox of the parlor, pretending there are unanswered emails.

“Hey.”

He hadn’t backed away slowly, then, even though you’d tried to give him that chance. “Yeah?”

“Just to prove to you there’s no hard feelings, will you let me take you out saturday night?”

And, you’re blushing again, what is this nonsense. At least your voice doesn’t squeak or do something else equally embarrassing when you say, “I work in the morning, pick me up at six?”

“Six. Don’t dress too fancy or anything. Deal?”

You nod, on autopilot. Your cheeks are starting to hurt from smiling so hard but you hardly notice. “Deal!”

Ken is going to give you so much shit when he finds out.

Chapter Text

“Oh, my god.”

“Hey, it’s not as bad as it was yesterday.”

You spin to look incredulously at Ken, turning you back to the home office. “This used to be worse ?”

Ken shrinks back from your nearly shrieked accusation. He runs his hands through his hair once, the blue and blonde mohawk messy on his head without copious hair product to force it to stand straight up.

“Well, yeah, do you know me? I refuse to allow Rhett in here to clean. If you don’t want to work in there we can go in the den, I think I have all of this year’s stuff in the boxes on top.”

“Den. Yep, I’d much rather be there than spend my morning in that cramped and dusty mess.”

Leaving Ken to sort himself out and move what you both would need to the small spare bedroom in his house, you make your way to his kitchenette to make coffee for the two of you. He prefers his black, so you kick yourself when you realize you forgot to bring your creamer with you. You don’t usually use it either but in December you were always a sucker for peppermint mocha and drank it until you were sick of the flavor for another year.

The coffee sputters and percolates slowly so you help yourself to one of the pieces of fruit on his countertop while you wait. You’d stayed up late last night to make sure you could spend this entire weekend not worrying about homework. And then you’d spent another hour in bed tossing and turning, trying to ignore the butterflies of anticipation for your date tonight.

Luke texted you after he and Frisk left the shop to get your address. Like the self-saboteur you can be, you’d asked if he was sure he wanted to hang out with you if his friend was in town. His response was almost immediate.

-Luke 11:32pm : frisk practically lives with my parents, i see them all the time. not getting cold feet are you? ;)

- You 11:35pm : I’ve got my warmest socks on, don’t worry :)

-Luke 11:49pm : awesome. i’ll pick you up at 6 tomorrow. sleep well.

Admittedly, not your best work, but as great as the chemistry is when you interact in person, texting is a whole new medium and you aren’t sure how far you could take that yet.

Ken walks into the kitchen as you’re staring down at your phone screen to scan through the brief conversation with Luke.

“What’s their name?”

“Cute puppy pictures,” you say, covering your lapse in judgement with a flick of your thumb to the last app you had open. The front page of Reddit’s baby animal gif forum fills your phone screen.

Ken hums like he doesn’t believe you but is dropping it anyway. He pours the two of you coffee into his largest mugs and jerks his head towards the room he set up in. His house is fairly small so the walk is quick. It used to be his grandmother’s, the one you weren’t related to, before she passed ten years ago. Ken’s parents, your father’s brother and sister-in-law, held onto the home until he was twenty-four and had finished school.

Of all your cousins he is the only single child and while you used to envy him for that when you were kids, now that the two of you were so close the notion of ‘the grass is always greener’ is clearer to you. You love Ken and it sucks how easily his parents ignored him to the point he still felt like an inconvenience on low days. Since meeting Rhett five years ago, the same year you’d moved to this side of the country for school, he was doing much better with self-worth.

The den is cosy in spite of the large windows. There’s frost around the edges since the sun hasn’t hit this side of the house yet, and you look for the patterns in the nice while you sip your coffee. Large comfortable furniture haphazardly fills the small space at the back of the house. Ken clicks a pen and hands it to you with a large clipboard you can put in your lap to write on, and you prepare yourself to sort through some of this year’s receipts for the upcoming tax season.

Hours pass more quickly than you’d dreaded, and it’s your stomach that tells you it’s time to take a break. The single piece of fruit you’d snagged earlier isn’t cutting it now, and Ken orders personal pizzas and salads to be delivered by drone to the house. You know the restaurant doesn’t make the best food in town but try telling that to an overgrown kid that just loves seeing his food get delivered by robot.

“So Rhett is going to take his CPA examination this month?”

Ken nods, mouth full of pizza. He swallows before he says, “Yeah, and with the almost fiasco last year, I already told the other accounting office we wouldn’t need them anymore.”

You wince. Ken doesn’t shy too much from confrontation, but you hate the idea of ‘firing’ someone like that, yourself. Especially when it’s family.

“How did Ian take that?”

“I’m pretty sure I’m not invited to Christmas at theirs this year.”

“Ha!” you can’t help the burst of laughter and fit of giggles that follows. “Dodged a freakin’ bullet with that one.”

“Yeah, no shit!” Ken tears into the rest of his food like a starved man, no different than how he acted as a teenager. “Mom’s side of the family are such Wonder Bread assholes, anyway. I was thinking of doing something here Christmas Eve, though, and you’re welcome to spend it with us. Rhett has a work thing that week and we’re doing Christmas day at his folk’s this year.”

Last year your parents and siblings had all flown out to see you and Ken for the holidays, staying for a week to visit, and though it had been so good to have everyone together, it was a huge cluster you were happy to not repeat. Next holiday season you’ll just go back to Vermont and take Ken and Rhett if they wanted to tag along. Maybe by then Rhett will have officially moved in with Ken.

“Sure, we doing dinner and the whole thing?”

“Absolutely. I mean, gifts are very optional. We’ll figure it out, see if anyone from work wants to drop by.”

“What about a White Elephant exchange? Set a price limit and everyone brings something, maybe set a rule for no liquor because that’s boring.”

Ken pretends to act affronted. “Are you besmirching my gift-giving skills?”

“All I’m saying is that we will have a hard time not breaking into the gift stash if all it is, is a bunch of liquor meant to impress everyone.” You flick a piece of lettuce at him that lands on his shoulder. He brushes it off with a napkin as he sticks his tongue out at you. After finishing another bite you think on who you could bring as your plus one to this. “Queenie is going to Ebott to visit her family, so she wouldn’t make it, but she should be home by the Parlor Party on New Year’s Eve.”

“That’s right.” Ken stands to take all the food garbage out of the den and you follow to wash the pizza sauce off of your hands in the kitchen. “Ugh. Enough fun stuff. I’m sure you have better things to do today than help with receipts.”

You refuse to rise to his bait. Your phone had been lighting up intermittently while working with a myriad of notifications, and if you smiled a little to yourself each time Luke’s name popped up, that couldn’t be helped. He hadn’t given you much to go on for your date that night besides asking you to wear shoes that were comfortable to walk in and a warm jacket.

By the time you’re throwing in the towel with the paperwork, Ken isn’t far behind. He’d never had much patience for this side of the business and viewed it as a necessary evil. You’re confident when you leave that things are more sorted than they were that morning and Rhett wouldn’t want to pull his hair out too much in a few months.

The ride from his neighborhood to your apartment complex is quick on your electric scooter, currently a worn color of robin’s egg blue you were looking forward to teasing Ken to get redone. As much as you appreciate him offering you knew you wouldn’t make him pay for that. You were happy to help him and the teasing would be payment enough.

Boots crunching on the bits of frost and ice clinging to the concrete, you pulled your scooter up to the shed with a lock you included with your rent to keep your scooter safe and indoors. The clock on the stove read a few minutes past two which gave you plenty of time to clean up and get ready for your date. Did you attempt to do more studying beforehand? You only had ten days, including today, left until finals week started.

Yeah, you feel guilty even thinking about not reviewing court dates and motions.

Instead of sitting down with more books and papers, you grab your headphones and pop them into your phone to listen to lectures. Most of the professors recorded each class both audio and visually and all you needed was a password to get into the ones you needed on the school’s website. You listen as you keep your hands busy with laundry, dishes, and other little cleaning tasks. If you left this little stuff until tomorrow you’d use it as an excuse to get out of doing more homework.

Your brain feels a bit waterlogged after thinking so much that day on top of the butterflies in your stomach as you watch the time slip away. Resigned that you’re not going to accomplish anything else that day you take your headphones out and get ready to shower.

Standing in a towel and bathrobe in front of your closet you fold your arms and scan your clothes. There’s...do you just own black? When did that start? There’s not any sort of uniform at the parlor besides what is required by safety standards, and you don’t have too many classes that ask you to dress as if you were going to court. Those pieces stand alone in the far left side of the closet, covered by crinkly plastic. But almost everything else that you like to wear is black.

“Whatever,” you say to yourself. “Old faithful it is, don’t get too fancy, he says. So specific.”

Old faithful is a pair of dark denim jeans with one of your favorite shirt combinations, a dark gold tank top under a loose navy blue cardigan. It’s too cold to go out without a winter coat on, so you grab your nicer one out of the closet and lay it on your bed with your scarf. A few sprays of Static Guard and a spritz of perfume on the fabric later and it’s ready to go. You still need to brush your hair and put your shoes on, and a glance at your phone for the time tells you that you need to stop lollygagging and get to it.

Makeup and everything else done - deodorant! Can’t forget that! Now, everything else done, you’re pouring yourself a glass of water when the door buzzer sounds in the hallway by the door. You slide in your socks across the kitchen floor and stumble before reaching the intercom.

“4C?” It’s your standard greeting, because you never know when your online shopping deliveries will show up, but you make sure to not sound like you just leaped halfway across your apartment to answer in case it’s Luke.

“Knock knock.”

This goof. You decide to play along. “Who’s there?”

“Art.”

“Art who?”

“R2-D2, of course.”

You stifle your laugh and keep your finger off the intercom so Luke can’t hear it. “Star Wars jokes. You’re lucky I like you, Luke. I’ll buzz you in.”

It takes a minute, and you’re slipping your other boot on and lacing it up when he knocks, this time for real. A last glance around your apartment before grabbing your keys and purse from the counter, and you go to the door.

“Hey,” you say as you open it.

Still dressed in black jeans, Luke traded the hoodie look today for a double-breasted wool coat that looks much more fitting to the weather. Dark boots that look like leather replace his Converse. A different beanie covers his skull and while you’re happy he’s not under dressed, you wish you could know the answer of what he had under there. He’s grinning, hands in his pockets, just as effortlessly handsome in your corridor as he was in the tattoo parlor.

A wave of electricity tingles over your scalp and sends goosebumps up your arms the second you open the door, and it only gets stronger the longer you stand near him. You have to take a slow breath in to calm your heartbeat after your reaction to his magic.

“Heya. You ready to go?”

“Just need to lock up.”

“Cool.” He takes his phone out of his pocket as you turn back to the door. Phones on dates are one of your pet peeves, but before your smile can even have a chance to fade he says, “i’ll call us a lyft, so by the time we go downstairs they’ll be here.”

“Lyft?” you ask as you walk with him to the elevator. “How did you get here?”

“Same way,” he shrugs. “I don’t own a car, usually get everywhere on two wheels but figured this would be more comfortable. It’s supposed to snow later.”

“Will snow be a problem for your date idea?” you ask innocently.

“Heh, nice try, doll. You’ll see when we get there.”

The ride from your apartment complex is smooth, both of you riding in the back of the Lyft car and asking each other the typical ‘how was your week’ type questions as you got to where you were going. You recognized the scenery outside in the light of the streetlamps. The university was sprawled out around this part of the city, the metropolis building itself up around the school built hundreds of years ago. Some of the older brick buildings you had your classes in were from the first years the school was founded and were tucked between much more modern additions.

Luke made conversation easy, turning his body towards yours on the other side of the backseat to give you his full attention. Inside of the car he’d unbuttoned his jacket and you could make out some sort of graphic on his t-shirt. It didn’t cling to anything below that looked remotely like ribs, but the hand on the seat near yours was definitely 100% skeletal.

“Is Frisk taking care of their tattoo?” you ask in a lull in the conversation.

“S’far as I know. They flew back home yesterday, no doubt to show anyone and everyone who will pay attention to them about their sick tat. Their words, not mine. My mom will make sure they do what they’re supposed to.”

The ‘sick tat’ in question Frisk had decided on was of a rune you recognized as the one for monster royalty and some kind of vine growing through it with yellow flowers. Or, they would be yellow the next time they came in, since only the line work was done right now. The piece covered Frisk’s upper arm as the beginning of what they had proclaimed as ‘the most radical sleeve anyone would ever see’. You still wanted to roll your eyes at the memory, all in good-humor of course.

“Hey, you can drop us at the front, man.”

“No problem, you got it.”

The Lyft driver pulled up in front of a building you hadn’t entered in over a year like Luke asked. Luke leaned forward to pat the man on the shoulder and thank him, handing him a few dollars cash instead of tipping on the app.

“Thanks again, Peter, five stars for sure, bud.”

“Thanks for using Lyft!”

Luke holds his door open for you so that you can scoot across the backset and out rather than try to open the door onto the busy street. One of his hands is ready to take yours as you step from the car to the curb, still slushy and icy like the area outside of your apartment building. The bones of his hand aren’t as smooth as you expected, and you can feel the hairs on your arm lift from the sudden charge of magic.

He’s a lot warmer to the touch than you expected, too, but you remember the moment he stopped you from falling again in the parlor and your cheeks heat up. You’d decided to wear your hair down tonight so it covered most of the blush as you stand on the sidewalk waiting for Luke. He taps the door after closing it so the driver knows he’s good to go.

“I hope you’re ready to get your butt kicked at DDR, skeleton man.”

Luke turns to look at you as you taunt, your hands in the pocket of your coat and your smile hidden beneath your scarf. He walks up the steps in front of the arcade until he’s eye level with you, still a few stairs beneath you. His face is...very close to yours. There’s a hint of that light green beneath his eyes again and at this distance you can smell his cologne, or whatever he’s using to smell so damned good. Maybe that’s just him.

“I’ll take my chances, doll.”

Chapter Text

“Aw, YEAH!” you shout, throwing a fist of victory into the air.

The skee ball machine spits out another armful of tickets and you work as quickly as you can to fold them up. There’s a mix of college kids like you, some parents and children, and a random pack of middle aged women without any young children of their own in sight milling around the arcade tonight. It’s Saturday, a prime time to go out in this university town, though you suspect with finals around the corner that the bars are a bit busier than the alcohol-free arcade.

Luke holds out the goodie bag you’d collected on your way in. Inside are the rest of the ticket’s you’d collected so far that night. It’s a great haul, if you do say so yourself. On the front you wrote your name in bold black permanent marker, your handwriting barely legible.

Without thinking, you’d signed your full name out of habit instead of sticking to just _________. Luke had chuckled, taken the marker, and signed his full name as well.

“Lucida Console Sans-Serif?” The letters are neat and easy to read, just like the numbers he’d left on a sticky note.

“It’s a family name thing,” he had explained. “All skeletons are named for the font we use to speak.”

He had proceeded to explain how magic worked differently for all monsters, which you knew about already. That was one of the first social studies classes you remembered from grade school. The teachers had simplified the idea in terms of seven colors so listening to him explain it from his point of view, and in that voice, kept your attention no problem.

“I’m different, right, because i’m not technically just a monster. Human mom, monster dad, all of that. My dad and uncle are skeletons, and I had another uncle I never met who was a sort of skeleton, too. All of ‘em are named after their font-speaks. Skeleton monsters existed thousands of years ago from what I’ve been told but we only just started showing up again in the last hundred years. The uncle I never met, he was the first one after a very long time and his font-speak was First Tongue, like wing dings on computers.”

“Wait, I remember something from high school when they taught us beginner’s First Tongue, the monster magic language like you said. Anyone who had any level of sensitivity to magic was required to take at least the freshman introductory course.” You pause, shrugging, hiding your embarrassment. “I really sucked at it, so I didn’t try taking any classes after that. I was always better at the history and literature parts of school.”

“First Tongue is...challenging. Don’t be sorry you had a hard time with it. It’s not the first language i learned, and i still have a hard time reading it. And I don’t think humans were technically designed to be able to speak it anyway if they aren’t mages.”

The two of you reach the coat room and Luke helps you shrug out of your jacket, paying the man taking them back in exchange for two numbered tags. He takes off his beanie, too, stuffing it in a coat pocket, revealing a completely bald skull underneath. You aren’t surprised - and it looks bad ass.

“What do you want to hit up first?” You lift your wrist and point to the neon paper band secured around it. Luke has a matching one on his wrist. “These are basically an all-access pass to fun except for tokens.”

“What’s your favorite?” he asks, lifting his head to look around at the rooms he could see.

Though everyone who lived in town called it the arcade, the building was much more. After an outcry from parents and students alike that there wasn’t a decent community center that wasn’t the YMCA, several companies worked together to buy up several unused warehouses. Converting them into an arcade, roller rink, laser tag center, and indoor mini golf did wonders with the value of the real estate around it. It was your favorite spot to hang out when you visited your family on the west coast, and your first job when you moved out here. When Ken asked you to help him run the parlor you’d been sad to quit but the place still held a place in your heart.

“I love the mini-golf but we have to wait until after seven thirty to go over there.”

Luke’s gaze follows where you point, to a doorway past the restaurant area. “Do they do blacklight?”

“Yes! It, uh, it looks a lot better with all the neon glowing, and there won’t be as many little kids with their parents because they don’t want to lose them in the dark.”

“Gotcha. We have about forty five minutes until then. Are you hungry or anything?”

“No, not really, I had a late lunch with Ken today. My cousin, the one who owns the parlor.”

Luke nods to show he knows who you’re talking about. He looks over your head and without missing a beat moves you closer to the wall, out of the path of several teenagers single-mindedly heading for the smells of greasy pizza and overcooked popcorn. The weight of his hand against your side makes those butterflies in your stomach start losing their minds. He drops it as soon as you’re both out of the way and you’re sad for the loss.

“Are you hungry?” you ask, trying to cover how flustered that made you.

“Nah,” he says, attention back on you. “Had a late lunch, too. Only thing I’m hungry for is enough tickets to get that sweet inflatable guitar at the prize booth over there.”

The shit-eating smirk on his face is wide enough you can see the sharp edges on the ends of a few of his teeth.

Not to be outdone, you say, “Oh, the one with the little angel wings and...unicorn horn, right? Rainbow strings?”

“The very one.”

He’s still standing very close to you after getting you out of the way of inconsiderate teens. Outside he was nose to nasal cavity to you - damn you needed to ask if the names of his parts were actually the same as a human’s or - FOCUS! Inside on the same level, and with you in flats today, he’s easily tall enough that if he were so inclined, he could easily rest his chin on the top of your head.

That thought, combined with the way he smells, makes you want to nuzzle up to his neck but you resist. So far his body language has shown he’s approachable but the contact doesn’t linger. You appreciate the respectful distance but also are curious to know how it would feel to hold his hand.

“Arcade, then?” you say. Damn, you sound a bit breathless. So much for holding the upper hand.

“Yes, let’s get some tokens.”

And that’s how you found yourselves fighting for the high score at multiple games, hundreds of tickets spitting out of the machines. You laugh at how terrible he is at the basketball game, barely managing to sink a single basket. The underhand throws at skee ball are much more his style. Neither of you have enough tokens to go another round on one of the bigger games so you decided to use the last few in the classic consoles scattered around the floor.

You throw your last couple tokens into the Space Invader’s game and make a valiant effort. It’s your favorite one even though you could never get past the first few stages, even when you worked here and had a chance to practice on your break time. Luke watches and gives encouragement the whole time, never getting frustrated when you make really risky moves that don’t pay off in the end.

Luke cracks his knuckles with a flourish, waggles his brow bones at you, and turned his focus on the Donkey Kong machine with a level of determination that made you giggle. Leaning against the machine at first to watch, you got another peek at what his face was like up close. The lights in his eye sockets dashed back and forth, watching the barrels fall and timing his jumps expertly. After a few minutes you could see a light green glow bloom from the side of his mouth right before he leaned back with a whoop. Was that a tongue, maybe? Oh, the implications…

He didn’t beat the high score but made it to the leader board. Taking his time to punch in the initials L-U-C into the console, Luke turns to you.

“I think it’s just about time for cosmic mini-golf.”

“Hell yeah it is!”

Out of instinct, you grab his hand before leading him over to the mini-golf area. The bags full of tickets hang comfortably from your arms, and you’d done such a good job folding them that you weren’t worried about losing any while you played a round. A short line waited at the booth where people pick the color and size of their clubs and balls. There’s a rainbow behind the man, a lot more colors than you remembered, but the place was flourishing and with the various sizes of monsters and humans attending the university, the extra sizes are necessary. A few tiny ones rest below the glass case, just the right size for whimsuns or the Tems.

The entire walk Luke kept hold of your hand. You kept your grip light in case he wanted to move away, but his thumb started slowly rubbing back and forth over the back of your hand.

“What made you decide to go into law?” he asks while you two wait.

“Oh, that’s a long story,” you say. “My family has always been in politics, law, that sort of stuff so I’m falling into a family business, kind of.”

“I understand that feeling,” Luke says. “But that wasn’t that long of a story.”

The two of you are next in line, the small group in front of you collecting their change from the teller and walking away. Feeling confident over how the night is going so far, you decide to be a little bold.

“We’ll just have to go on another date for me to tell you all about it, won’t we? Maybe you can tell me about yours then, too.”

Luke looks down at you with a softer smile, one that doesn’t show the sharp edges of his teeth, that light blush framing the upside-down heart of his nose.

“Right or left handed?” the worker asks, breaking the bubble of your moment.

“Right,” you say, as Luke says, “Left.”

After giving your heights, the man behind the counter hands Luke a club and ball both in a vivid lime color while you get a sea-green set. Another employee stands at the entrance to the mini-golf adventure section. Since it’s a Saturday night, the entire place is busy, even busier than you thought, and the employee is staggering groups to avoid crowding. You wait until the employee says it’s safe to go through.

Luke’s hand slips into yours. “I’ve never mini-golfed before so you’ll have to show me what to do,” Luke says before you walk in.

“You’re kidding me, right? I’m totally going to kick you butt at this, too.”

“It’s a fore -gone conclusion.”

You laugh, but bump into his arm in retaliation for the pun. “Now I really have to kick your butt.”

The employee pulls back the blackout curtain to let you into the course and you can’t help but gasp. Luke’s skull, his hands, every part of his bones that are exposed glow faintly from the black lights. It’s not as intense as the neon decorations spray painted on the walls or hanging from the ceilings, but he’s definitely glowing. The vantablack of his eye sockets seems deeper.

Glow my god!” he says.

“You’re beautiful!” you gasp.

Shit. Maybe because you both spoke at the same time he’d miss what you’d said, and it wouldn’t get super awkward. Focus on the pun. Focus on that dumb pun and not your mouth running away from you-

And there are skeleton lips on the side of your head. It happens so quickly you’re not sure what it was until it was over. Luke pulls away from the kiss, the light from his blush intensified by the fact his entire skull was like a pearly nightlight.

“Heh. Thanks, doll. You look amazing under these lights.”

You’re putty inside from the compliment and the effects of the chaste kiss. But instead of falling into a mushy trap right at the start of the mini-golf course, you try to play it off.

Before he has a chance to say anything else, you say, “Not half as bright as you, skeleton man. Let me show you how this game is really played!”

Luke follows your lead. Your hands separate so you can set your golf ball down on the green. “Are you sure your skills are still up to par ?”

“Only one way to find out.”

Neither of you keep track of your scores and end up giggling more than you hit the ball. Luke proves he knows far too many golf puns for someone who claimed to never have played mini-golf before. He even used the puppy-dog look on you to get you to “show him how to stroke the ball” which did nothing to help your laughing fit. You stand behind him and tried to guide his hands hitting the ball on hole five but you were both shaking with laughter so hard that he almost hit it clear across to hole eight in the opposite corner of the room.

That doesn’t mean you weren’t able to feel the outline of what was definitely a butt filling out the back of his pants, and not the hard edges of pelvic bones. Was it okay to act a little thirsty, inside of your own head at least, if you were on a date with him?

Yes. Yes, it is.

As unreal as that first moment on the course was, it feels good to get back to levity. It’s more natural to be joking with Luke, teasing each other even if you didn’t know for sure who was winning the game. That doesn’t mean you aren’t replaying that moment over and over in your head to make sure you would never forget it. The way your heart beats and your stomach fills with butterflies when you think of it, you are sure that if you were a wizard you could instantly produce a corporeal Patronus on that memory alone.

On the last hole, number nine, Luke sticks out that glowing green tongue you swore you saw earlier. Tongue confirmed. He concentrates on this last stroke, determined to make it through the glowing windmill blades on the first try like you had.

You lean against your golf club in the most asinine pose you can muster and watch as he times his stroke with the languid spinning. His ball barely clips the edge of a blade, rattling around inside of the windmill for a second before popping out the other side. Luke walks over to the other side in time to see his ball spin around the last hole a few times before coming to rest a few feet away.

“Better luck next time,” you say as he putts the ball into the hole.

“Hey, it takes a lot of balls to golf like i do.”

“Oh, my god, that had to be one of the worst ones yet.”

“Does that mean I’m starting to tee you off?”

“I’ve learned my lesson,” you say, trying so hard not to laugh. His puns are so bad, and he treats it like an art form! You hate to give him the satisfaction. “Never challenge Lucida Console Sans-Serif to prove he can make a worse pun.”

“Now you’re getting the swing of it.”

“Oh. My. God.”

Luke laughs, putting an arm around your shoulders as you walk through the end of the course together. He’s still chuckling and grinning wide enough to show the sharp edges of his teeth when you return your clubs and balls. Instead of an arm around you, he moves to take your hand again, swinging it back and forth just a little between you.

“I don’t know about you but I could eat soon.”

“Yes, I am starving! But we can’t eat here, the food is absolute shit. If we’re going to eat pizza I know just where to get it. Let’s turn in our tickets while the line is short.”

“Are you sure? I seem to recall a blatant challenge to play some DDR. your exact words were ‘i hope you’re ready to get your butt kicked’ and it has not been kicked yet, doll.”

“Ooh, cruisin’ for a bruisin’! You are going down , Luke!”

“I promise I’ll surprise you with this one.”

Eight tokens and a five minute wait later, the two of you are standing side by side at one of the several sets of DDR machines, tapping to go through the song choices. You flip through the list twice, passing a few great options to challenge before pausing.

Turning to Luke, whose eyes are on your screen, you say, “Unizon or head to head, skeleton man?”

“Unizon,” he says without hesitation.

“I was hoping you’d say that. You ready?”

“Abso-fucking-lutely.”

I still hear your voice when you sleep next to me

Everytime We Touch by Cascada is still by far your favorite song to play on DDR. Back home you used to do the tandem version with your younger sister over and over again until you perfected it. The steps are familiar to you and you’re glad Luke is taking the spot your sister usually did. You’d both tried to switch it up every now and again but this spot is your favorite.

You’re both so focused on the screens in front of you, when you brush past each other to hit the arrows on time, you don’t think twice about it.

It’s by no means a perfect score but damn it if it isn’t fun as hell. Both of you are doubled over trying to breathe through your laughter at the end, leaning on the rails behind you. Those two minutes were more of a workout than you’d gotten the last few weeks.

“Okay, now I’m definitely starving,” you say, stepping off the platform.

Luke picks up both of your bags and leads the way to the prize counter. True to his word, he has enough tickets to get the ridiculous inflatable guitar. You stand and dither for a little while looking at the prizes. Luke stands patiently while you wait, and you notice that the whole time you were inside, neither of you had stopped to look at your phones to do more than check the time or use the flashlight app to find the golf ball. It sends little warm fuzzies through you.

“You know what, I can’t pick. Are there any kids you can see that don’t have many tickets?”

Craning his neck, Luke looks over the crowd and gestures to where a small group of kids sit eating with their guardians. It looks like a kid’s birthday party is packing up. With a mixture of monster and human children it’s exactly what you were looking for. You rush over to one of the adults, handing them your bag of tickets, explaining they were for the kids to be able to pick out some prizes before they left. The mom thanked you and you waved her off as you walked back to Luke.

He’d already gotten your coats and holds yours out for you.

“S’really nice of you.”

“I guess. I just don’t want them to go to waste, you know? And I could stand there all night picking between the fairy wings or the Iron Man helmet and would end up sad neither of them fit me, anyway.”

“Fair enough,” Luke says. “Still looks like you made those kid’s nights.”

A glance over your shoulder confirms that the kids, who had looked tired but satisfied before, are currently mobbing the prize counter. You grin and shrug as you button up your coat. “I mean, it could also have been a ploy to win over my date with my chivalry.”

“Mission accomplished, doll. Want me to call a Lyft or is this pizza place in walking distance?”

“Let’s walk it,” you say.

The beanie is back on his head to keep him warm, but you want to see if the moonlight outside makes his bones glow like the black light before. And another excuse to hold his hand, gloves or no?

Definitely.

Chapter Text

You’re humming under your breath as you work, typing up a post for the parlor’s email subscription list for the December newsletter. Typically you do this each quarter, but the end of the year always felt special and wrapped up any changes in the parlor and what future plans there could be. It’s the third one you’ve done so you’re using a template from last year to make this one, to make your life easier.

The shop is closing soon so the only people there are you and a couple of the artists either finishing a piece or cleaning their station. Queenie was the busiest all day, getting appointments in before leaving on her trip back to Mt. Ebott. Almost all of her work involved magic in some way, so you can feel the charge in the air through the whole shop like the moment before lightning strikes during a storm.

A customer greets you as they walk towards the door, bundling back up to face the brisk wind outside. It’s a welcome distraction, since all you seem to do anymore is think about Luke, and finals, and Luke, and....

You think about Luke a lot .

After the arcade you had walked him to the food truck circle on the university campus, almost permanent staples this time of year. Open late on a Saturday, the smell of amazing fried food coming from the trucks was more than enough to make your mouth water. It was probably too cold to eat outside but the pizza slices were hot and there were dozens of other people sitting at the covered benches around you.

Luke called a Lyft to take you both home, again sitting in the backseat together. He’d held your hand and walked you to the main doors of your building, asking the Lyft to wait a minute for him.

“Tonight was a blast,” you had said with a smile.

Luke had smiled back. “Me, too, doll. Want me to walk you up?”

In another man, you’d suspect he was trying to get an invite inside your apartment, but the way he worded it and the tone of his voice feels much different. It’s an offer instead of a trick to guilt you.

“I’ll be good, the main doors are locked and it’s a quick elevator ride up. Thank you, though.” Your hands were still in his when you went up on tiptoe to kiss his cheek, a mimic of the chaste kiss he’d landed in the mini-golf course earlier. “I’d like to see you again, Luke.”

“Absolutely. I’ll call you?” You could get used to making him blush like that, it was only fair with how much he made you do it. And, watching his smile widen enough to show those canines again made heat pool in your stomach.

Riding high on endorphins, you had said, “Not if I call you first.”

He’d left, reluctantly, after that to go back to his Lyft. You’d waved as the car drove off, waiting until it was out of sight before doing a little happy dance on the front porch of your apartment building.

That was a few nights ago, and you cannot stop replaying your favorite moments of the night in your head. When the customer finishes bundling up and says good-bye, you return to the newsletter, giving it a once over before emailing it to Ken for final go-ahead. The first of the month was the next day and you wanted to make sure it went out on time.

You stand to make another round in the parlor to check if anyone needs help cleaning up to go home. It’s after midnight now and you were itching to get out of your work clothes. The closer you get to Queenie’s station the more pressure of magic you can feel in the air.

“Need any help in here, Queenie?” you ask.

The spider monster fixes all five eyes on you when you stand in her doorway.

“No, darling~,” she says. All seven feet of her moves fluidly around her room to prepare it for the next day. “I’ll be ready to go shortly.”

“No rush, you know. I’ll be at the front if you need to call me.”

One of Queenie’s six hands reaches over to squeeze your hand. “How are your studies coming along, _________? I feel like I never see you anymore.”

“I’m questioning my life choices and drinking far too much coffee,” you answer.

“But you’re still making time to go on dates, from what I hear.”

“I’m not dating-” you start to say, but Queenie gives you a knowing look, eyes blinking out of sync. “Fine. I am. How did you know?”

“You’re easier for me to read than you think, darling. I don’t have five eyes for nothing.”

“You had spiders spy on me didn’t you?”

Queenie grins a little wider but says nothing. That’s more than enough to confirm your suspicion. Since moving out to the west coast permanently, Queenie moved from casual acquaintance you worked with to something closer to second family.  The monster has a fierce sense of protectiveness that sometimes borders on helicopter territory, but you’d made her promise years ago she wouldn’t use spiders to spy on you in your own house because that was just weird. When she’d known about your one-night-stand a year ago before you having to say anything that’s when you drew the line.

“Was it the monster boy that was here with Frisk?”

You dither for a second, biting your lip before you give in. You’d been dying to talk to someone about him for days but it felt too early to call your sister or mom back home. Queenie is your best girlfriend on this side of the country so it feels right to indulge in some girl talk with her.

“Yes, oh, my god, his name is Luke and he’s so funny, and damn is he hot!”

Queenie settles into her work chair, giggling at your enthusiasm. “Tell me everything, darling~!”

And you do. Queenie listens to all the little details you can recall about him since he walked into the shop, the sly way he left his number and how silly you felt missing it. You told her how he took you on a really creative date and how he didn’t play around on his phone at all. At one point you lean against the wall but push off immediately to keep telling your story, too pent up, bouncing back and forth and gesturing with your hands.

“And when he called me last night we were on the phone for a couple hours.”

“Have you kissed yet?” Queenie asks, that knowing smile permanently fixed on her face.

“Not really, not yet. He kind of nuzzled me in the mini-golf area when I told him he was beautiful and when he took me home I kissed his cheek.” You bite your lip. “He’s so considerate. I think he’s, at least it feels like, maybe, he’s taking his time?”

“He sounds wonderful, _________. When are you seeing him again?”

You’re so worked up on positive energy, clapping your hands in excitement. “He picked the last place, so I figured it was my turn. I looked through a few ideas online that are local, since I’m not sure what part of the city he’s coming from. There’s a crafting class this Saturday morning I signed us up for. Christmasy shit, you know.”

Queenie leans her head on one of her many arms and regards you with a fond smile. The room is small enough that she easily reaches over to smooth your hair like always.

“I’m glad you’re having fun with this monster boy. School’s been dragging you down lately, sweet hummingbird, I can’t help but notice~. Are you sure everything’s alright?”

The pet name Queenie gave you years ago when you first moved here warms your heart. You don’t know where she came up with it, but she told you it suited your Soul without much more on the subject.

“Yes, I promise,” you say, reaching over to grab one of Queenie’s inactive hands. Even though she’s far taller than you, her hands are about the same size as yours. “Finals are this month, and I only have another semester before I have my JD, the Juris Doctor diploma, and then it's onto the bar exam.”

“Are you still looking for an internship at a law firm?” Queenie almost pouts as she asks this. Again, protective; she wants to keep the ones she counts as family close to her.

“My dad’s still trying to convince me to move back home and join their practice,” you say, wrinkling your nose at the idea. “And I keep coming up with nice, creative ways to say no. He doesn’t specialize in finance law, anyway.”

You left your family but you’d left the Northeast for many reasons, falling into the family business being one of them, like you’d told Luke. Well, sure, you are going to be a lawyer like your dad, but he works with your uncle who’s in Congress right now. Senate or House of Representatives, you can never remember without looking it up. There’s also your oldest brother, Trent, who is currently mayor of the town you grew up in...it’s all too close. You didn’t feel like an individual back home.

“I will be sad when you leave the parlor. The place is brighter with you here.”

“Thanks, Queenie.” You lean over to hug her and feel more than one arm squeeze you back. The chitin of her body is hardened like an armor to protect her, but you loved the feeling of her hugs, surrounded and protected.

“Is there...something else you wanted to talk about, darling?”

Queenie watches you with those five eyes with a soft expression. You’d been worrying over something the last couple days and felt she was the best person to ask.

“Are there any, uh, monster dating things I should know about? Luke’s half monster, half human, and I don’t want to do anything wrong or offensive.”

She sits quietly for a moment, taking your concerns seriously instead of laughing them off as something not to worry about.

“I think this is something you’ll need to talk to Luke about. Spider monsters go about things far differently than many of our monster kin, and skeleton habits weren’t something I was ever interested in. There weren’t many of them in the Underground, and our paths rarely crossed. My advice would be to spin a web with your intentions clearly marked within but I don’t think humans have evolved to spin webs.”

You laugh. “No, absolutely not.”

“I didn’t think so,” Queenie says with a laugh of her own. She gets a bit serious again, setting another of her hands on your cheek. “Monsters see the world a little differently, my darling. I’ve been on the surface almost forty years now and spent hundreds more under the mountains. Humans continue to surprise me every day. Monsters, though, are far more predictable. You do know what our Souls are made of, yes?”

“Magic,” you say automatically.

“Yes, but more than that. Human Souls have so many different traits, but monsters are made of three. Love, hope, and compassion.”

The fact is something you remember learning in school ages ago, but it rarely came up in your daily life. You knew, like all magic sensitive humans did, what your Soul color was. Yellow-gold, the color of Justice. But you didn’t think about that every day the same way you didn’t just think about your eye color all the time. It just...is.

“Just keep that in mind, darling~. And follow what feels right. Good things will come of that.”

“Thank you, Queenie.”

Against your will, your jaw cracks open in a hearty yawn. The time ran away from you and it’s close to one am. Definitely time to lock up. Your eyes are starting to itch from wearing your contacts all day.

You help Queenie finish, and lock her special-sized door behind her. She says she will wait in the parking lot until you come out just in case. A few flicks of the light switches, a turn in the lock, and you are outside all protected against the night air and headed towards your scooter. Queenie waves from her SUV once you’re started up and are ready to go.

You don’t waste time when you get home changing and getting ready for bed. It’s not a long trip from the parlor to your apartment but the nights are longer and much colder now. Hanging your coat in the closet you decide to make a cup of decaf tea to warm up before bed.

Pulling the kettle off the stove before the sharp whistle sounds, you pour the water into the oversized mug you only used for soup and tea. The faint whistle of the wind rustles outside your fourth floor window.

One of the things you miss about rural Vermont was the abundance of stars. In a populated college town you rarely had a chance to see many stars from the light pollution, especially this time of year. Every other home and business had their light displays up well before Thanksgiving. To get the maximum effect you rest on the edge of your couch with all the lights off, holding your tea in your lap as you look out the glass and try to find constellations in the handful of stars you can see.

Your mug is cold and almost empty when you wake up a couple hours later. Sitting in the dark on the couch when you’re tired, in retrospect, wasn’t your smartest plan. There’s a tightness in your neck and shoulders you know you’ll feel tomorrow after falling asleep sitting up. The display on your phone tells you it’s still a few hours before you have to officially wake up. There’s also a text message you’d missed from Luke from several hours ago. In a happy, drowsy daze, you press your thumb on the home key to unlock the messaging app.

-Luke 11:34pm : the dinosaur name we couldn’t think of yesterday was ‘archeopteryx’ and yes there are monsters that look like that, because i know you want to ask.

Late night conversations are common with the odd hours you kept working at the parlor, so a text past midnight wasn’t out of the ordinary. Part of you says to just go to bed. For some reason you can’t leave the message on read until the morning. Half-asleep, you giggle at your bad idea and type out the first pun that comes to mind.

-You 3:23am : Dino-mite memory, skeleton man.

Yes. Good joke. Now, time for sleep. You put the mug in the sink for ‘tomorrow-you’ to deal with and drag yourself down the hall to your bedroom.

When your phone buzzes on your mattress you know who it is before looking.

-Luke 3:34am : that joke is prehistoric.

Oh, skele-bro wants to play, does he? You’re loopy enough to be game. You start typing at the same time he does, the little blinking dots fuzzy in your vision because your face is half-smooshed against your pillow. You wait until his message comes through to think of a reply.

-Luke 3:35am : and you should probably be asleep

-You 3:35am : So should you, funny bones.

-Luke 3:36am : i didn’t think it was possible but your pun game is even weaker this late. it’s like you’re sleeping on the job.

-You 3:38am : My puns are so ill they’re Juras-sick.

-You 3:39am : Ok yeah that was pretty bad.

-Luke 3:40am : ;) talking to you is never a dino-snore.

-You 3:45am : Now I regret everything. Good night, Luke.

-Luke 3:52am : sleep well, doll.

You fall asleep with a foolish grin on your face.

Chapter Text

Ken puts a mug of hot chocolate in front of you as you study. You’re so focused on the work in front of you that only the rich smell of the drink makes you look up.

“Marshmallows!” you say, reverently picking up the steaming mug that might have more marshmallows than chocolate in it. Just like you like it.

“The last thing you need lately is a sugar high,” Ken says as he settles next to you with his own mug.

You can tell by the smell he put coffee in his. Without being asked, when he notices you looking at his mug, he offers you a sip. Coffee and Bailey’s, then. You don’t blame him for the indulgence.

“Mmm,” you hum. “Delicious.”

It’s a quiet Wednesday night at your flat, the odd weeknight the parlor is closed. Ken came over saying he needed your help writing up a follow-up email to the people on the newsletter list.

“So the shop has been really slow, and historically we don’t get much business over Christmas anyway, so I’m going to close up shop for a week and a half,” he explains. He sets his drink on a coaster next to him and pulls his laptop onto his knees. “And a few people asked for a few days off around the holiday, anyway. So...how about December 23rd through January 2nd?”

You perk up at the idea of a break after finals, even if you just used it to get ready for your last semester. “I mean, it’s your call, but I wouldn’t be mad for some time off. Queenie is gone longer than that anyway and she’s the main artist besides you.”

“True. Yeah, I think that’s what I’ll do. I’ll text everyone first and work on the newsletter. You sure you don’t mind I do this here?”

You nudge Ken’s thigh with the foot you have up on the couch, covered by a ridiculously fluffy Christmas sock. “When I mind, I tell you. Remember?”

Just to prove to him he’s welcome you offer a corner of the oversized blanket on your lap and nonchalantly return to studying. It takes him a second to get your meaning but you watch him over the rim of you mug of hot chocolate until he understood.

Ken smiles and rolls his eyes, accepting the offer. “Yeah, whatever. Love you, dingus.”

“Love you, brat.”

He presses his cold feet against your leg under the blanket, proving he is indeed, a brat.


 

Ken sends the newsletter the next day to the joy of all the artists in the shop. For a couple days, business kicks up with sessions getting rescheduled, so by the time Saturday rolls around you’re more than ready to spend a fun morning with Luke.

So far your questions about what he did for a living were answered pretty generically. You can’t tell if his explanations are purposefully vague, or what, but you are determined to find out. Since he’d picked the last date venue you had chosen this one. Instead of having him pick you up again, you asked him to meet you at the Michael’s craft store closest to your apartment, only giving him the place and the time to show up.

You were hoping to beat him there to see what he was talking about when he said he rolled on ‘two wheels’. Yeah, you drive a hearty little electric scooter, a vintage one, but you couldn’t really tell anyone about it. Only if they asked simple questions like how long it held a charge or what color it was, you could handle that. But you still felt a bit of kinship when he said he drove some sort of bike and a naughty part of you is hoping for a motorcycle.

There isn’t a roaring Harley to be seen when you park, but you’re early. The coffee shop next door to Michael’s in the cramped strip mall calls your name. With more than enough time to spare you walk in, peeling your gloves and scarf off as you get in line. You know this chain well enough that you don’t even need to look at the board.

“Hey! Large light roast with an extra shot, please? And a little of the seasonal creamer, please.”

The barista writes on the paper cup without looking up, focused on moving the customers through as efficiently as possible. “Gingerbread, almond, praline, peppermint-”

“That! Peppermint, please.”

“Name?”

“Can you just put ‘bird’ on it? Thanks.”

You swipe your loyalty card, pay, and head to the end of the counter where you can watch the beans in the espresso machine grind. While you wait you pull out your phone to answer a few texts from you parents and sister back home. They live in a time zone three hours ahead of you but usually wake up before you do on most days and especially weekends. Working late nights at the parlor made your sleep schedule a little odd compared to the rest of the world.

Today is special, though. You woke up much earlier to get ready. Ergo, coffee is a must.

As soon as you grab your cup of coffee, you groan. You should have texted Luke to see if he wanted one! Checking the time you see you still have a few minutes before your planned meeting time, so you take a sip of too-hot coffee and shoot him a text.

-You 9:43am : Do you rely on coffee to function as much as I do? I can grab you something.

The line is getting longer by the minute so you slide to the end with the hopes he responds fast enough you know his answer before reaching the front. Carrying a cup while in line makes you feel self-conscious so you stick to staring at your phone and glancing up just enough to keep pace with the line and not trip over anyone. Your toe taps in time to the upbeat folksy Christmas cover song that’s just loud enough to hear over the espresso machine and conversations around you.

There’s only two more people in front of you when you get a response from Luke. He politely declines and tells you he’s there.

To the confusion and happy surprise of the person in line behind you, you lock your phone, shove it in your pocket, and leave the line. It’s not much of a walk so you don’t bother putting your scarf and gloves back on, leaving them stuffed haphazardly in the bag you wear when riding your scooter.

He’s easy to spot as soon as you leave the coffee shop. His height alone makes him stand out in front of the Michael’s next to bins stuffed full of discount craft supplies slowing getting covered by a thin film of snow. As you approach, you call his name and wave to get his attention.

Oh god, do you hug him? How do you greet him now that you’ve been on a date and almost kissed? Don’t give him a handshake that would be the worst .

As you join him under the entrance to the store you skid to an awkward stop and just smile up at him like a huge dork. To try and avoid any odd half-hugs or accidentally dismissed cheek kisses you grab his hand with the one not holding your coffee. You tug him towards the automatic doors. Once the door slides open you’re hit with a wall of smells, all of them Christmasy, from the artificial trees and various knick knacks at the entrance. Everything looks like it’s covered in glitter.

“C’mon, we need to sign in for our class!” you insist.

“Do I get to know what we’re signed up for now?” Luke says, playing along as you tug his hand. He catches up so he can walk beside you through the store to the back.

“You’ll see.”

A short woman, dressed in an elf-like costume and who embodies the image of ‘manic pixie dream girl’, greets you as you head over, asking if you need help finding anything in the store. You tell her your name and that you’re signed up for that morning’s class. She looks between the two of you and the forced smile changes to something more genuine.

“Awesome! I’m leading the class today and we’re getting started soon so I’m glad you’re here. The room is getting full but I’m sure you two can find seats together somewhere, I need to grab a couple more supplies and one of the employees, a few people just kind of showed up but we try to anticipate that but we need more of us in there. Rules, ugh, right? Anyway. Especially with this time of year, you know? Christmas, Hannukah, all those holidays with people trying to get into the spirit and all of that by doing this sort of stuff. Okay. Yeah, um, can you sign in over here for me, please?”

“Uh...yeah, you got it!” you say. Everything she’d just said was spoken so fast you’re not sure if you caught every word but you do see the sign in sheet and latch on to what you understood.

When the employee scurries away down one of the aisles, Luke huffs with laughter. “I’ve never seen a human with that much energy. She reminds me of my Uncle Papyrus. Lot shorter, though.”

You offer the pen to him so he can neatly print his name beneath your scrawl. “Uncle Papyrus, huh? So the font name is definitely a thing!”

“Yes. My sister’s name is Corsiva, dad’s is Sans. And yeah, like Comic Sans.”

“That’s so cool ,” you say as you start to take your coat off.

Luke helps you automatically and you take it from him so he can remove his, too. Today he’s in a long-sleeve shirt that looks well loved, a grey that comes from washing a black shirt over and over, with jeans and his Converse again. You had only told him to wear something he didn’t mind getting messy. Over the phone you’d stumbled on the exact word to say. You’d almost said ‘dirty’ instead of messy which you were sure would have opened up a whole different can of worms that frankly excited you as much as it made you nervous. The way the shirt fits him does nothing to help those naughty thoughts.

Calm. Your. Thirst.

“Gingerbread houses?” Luke says, picking up the sign-in sheet. Cartoon shapes of gingerbread men and women cover the top of the sheet, all looking far too cheerful for things meant to be eaten.

“Yes! You mentioned how you’d never built one of these before and that’s just wrong, so we’re going to get in there and build the best gingerbread house ever.”

“I wasn’t aware this was another competition,” he says. “Is it really fair if we’re competing against...seven year olds?”

You glance at the craft room and wave your hand, making a pshaw sound. “Don’t underestimate them, they look pretty crafty to me.”

“Now I’m allowed to make as many craft puns as I want. No complaining.”

Luke tries to hold a serious face but you can see the way the corners of his lips twitch and try to pull into a smile. You take a long sip from your coffee to cover the fact you’re also trying not to smile, then turn to get a spot at one of the tables inside.

The room you enter is crowded with a disproportionate ratio of adults to children. A few parents stand at the sides, ready to bolt as soon as the employees came back to start the class so they could have an hour to themselves. You wince. A couple of the moms aren’t much older than you are, and you do not envy them. Kids? Awesome idea. Not right now, though.

You were much more interested in the making them part of the process and - STOP IT, focus on the gingerbread!

Manic Pixie Dream Girl is back almost dragging another employee. The assistant does not look as enthused about the situation, dressed in the standard black pants and red shirt with an apron rather than a Christmas themed outfit. He manages a smile you’re sure he’s practiced after working in retail and you can’t help but wince with sympathy. He looks miserable already and in your experience, kids can smell fear.

The girl claps her hands to get the attention of the dozen or so kids milling around to find seats, some of them arguing who got to sit by what sibling or who was closer to the supplies. She manages to do it without much effort, impressive to say the least, and everyone looks at her expectantly.

“Hey, elfin buddies! My name’s Miss Veronica and this is my helper Tyler. We’re going to help you guys make the best gingerbread houses that you can today. Does that sound like fun?”

A loud cheer rises up from the kids and it takes another half-minute to calm them down to listen to the rules. If anyone has to leave the room they have to ask Miss Veronica or Mr Tyler, and they can call their parents for them, too, the list goes on. You tune most of it out, honestly, since it applies to the kids and their chaperones more than it does you.

Next to you Luke looks a bit out of place, his height making him look like an adult sitting at a kindergarten table. It’s almost more adorable than you can handle. But from the look on his face he doesn’t look like he’s one bit uncomfortable as he reads the laminated instruction sheet that rests on every table. His green eye-lights scan it and you can tell when he looks up at the basket of supplies, flicking back down to the paper and up again. You’re not sure yet if it’s because of different lighting or not, but the green color is different today than it was when you were at the arcade. Come to think of it they changed shade more than that. Maybe that was connected to his mood? You frankly don’t know as much about monster souls as you’d like, but something tells you that it could have something to do with that. You make a mental note to pay better attention.

There’s a set of siblings sitting on the opposite side of your table across from you and Luke. The little boy accidentally kicks you under the table when he starts swinging his legs. That hurt! Was he wearing steel-toed boots? When you wince and hiss in pain, his face gets wide and his eyes start to shine with tears. The girl next to him looks over as soon as the boy makes the first whimpering sound.

“Bobby? You okay?” Her eyes quickly look over to you and Luke before returning to the emotional boy. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m sorry,” the little boy says to you, hiding most of his face in the neck of his sweater. It looks like he pulled his knees up into it as well, the tree design on the front getting stretched and warped. “I didn’t mean it.”

“Apology accepted,” you say, making sure to smile as you rub your shin below the table. “I know you didn’t mean to. You guys ready to make gingerbread houses?”

“Yeah,” Bobby sniffs, taking his head out of his sweater and slowly lowering his legs again.

Bobby looks incredibly relieved and the girl next to him, that you assume to be a cousin or sister, relaxes, too. She’s several years older than him by the looks of it. As the youngest child you recognize the look on her face well. You used to see it on your older brother and sister all the time, something protective and ready to come to their defense, because only they’re allowed to pick on them, got it?

You wonder if his chaperone is nearby or was one of the people who slipped out as soon as Veronica started talking.

At some point Veronica had opened a box at the front of the room, one that was identical to the ones on the tables around you, and kids were tearing into them like they were presents on Christmas morning. The few brave adults that stuck with the kids are starting to cave to the madness. Luke took over opening the one in front of you two and you keep an eye on the dark haired girl next to Bobby to see if they needed help. So far the kids had it covered.

“This was a very sweet idea, doll,” Luke says. “And I have a confection to make, I won’t sugar-coat it. I’ve got a terrible sweet tooth.”

“Those are candy puns, not crafting puns, that doesn’t count,” you say, nudging him under the table with your thigh.

He surprises you by leaning down to nuzzle the side of your head, landing a quick peck before pulling away with a chuckle. “The craft supplies are ninety percent sugar, it counts.”

Veronica weaves through the tables to check on the kids, assisting here and there, but when she gets to your table she giggles. Whether that’s just a thing she does constantly or she’s giggling at how red your cheeks are, you can’t tell.

“Great job, guys! I don’t think I have to worry about you but flag me down if you need help, okay? Awesome!”

Luke holds two pieces of factory stamped gingerbread together while you apply the frosting glue. The kids aren’t far behind you but they struggle when it comes to the roof. At one point the walls start to wobble but the girl catches it.

“What about gumdrops on the inside to hold the walls up, Chris?” Bobby says quietly.

You try not to eavesdrop on the two and turn to your date. But his attention is on the bag of gumdrops in the middle of the table now, the ridges on his face that serve as eyebrows raised a little..

“That’s a great idea, kid,” he says.

Bobby perks up and looks at the skeleton with surprise. “I didn’t know you could hear me. You don’t have ears.”

The girl, Chris, is scandalized. “Bobby! You can’t just talk about when people don’t have ears!”

Luke starts laughing so loud it cuts through the sound in the room and everyone turns to look at your table. Bobby threatens to shrink back into his sweater at the reprimand from Chris and all the sudden attention, but the girl whips her head around to stare right back at the rest of the room. You like her. She’s feisty.

“No harm done, kid, I promise. I don’t have ears like you do. I hear with magic .” He lifts his fingers and wiggles them which makes Bobby giggle.

It reminds you of all the intrusive questions you asked him when you first met and you wonder at his patience. He must put up with this from all sides all the time but he’s handling the kid’s potential insult with such grace. Your heart might be melting just a little bit.

“Not having them can get pretty ear -itating, let me tell you. Sunglasses? Can’t wear those.”

You keep working on the gingerbread house while Luke leans across the table, turning his head so Bobby can see where his jaw makes a seamless connection with the rest of his skull. The fluorescent lighting makes his bone-like skin extremely white. Chris is looking, too, now that the rest of the room is back to making their own craft projects and you weren’t the most interesting corner anymore.

You take Bobby’s suggestion and start to fortify the house on the inside with gumdrops secured with frosting and a well-placed candy cane. After a minute of Bobby slowly coming out of his shell - literally, he acted like a turtle with that sweater - he leans toward Luke across the table. Both boys were engrossed in a deep conversation on how Luke could smell without a nose and why he was bald like Bobby’s grandpa. You’d winced at that one, but Luke had just let Bobby rub his hands all over the top of his skull and explained he’d never had hair and could always wear a wig if he wanted.

There’s a dangerous level of affection blooming in your chest. You sit still while the frosting sets on the roof and watch Luke interact with Bobby, unaware of the stupid grin on your face.

Chris notices and doesn’t hesitate before speaking up. “You guys are just like our mom and dad.”

“What?” you say, glancing to see if Luke heard her, too.

Thank god, he was over by the craft supplies along the wall with Bobby so he probably didn’t hear any of it. He does catch your eye, though, and waves, but keeps his attention on whatever the suddenly vocal little boy is saying. Could he get any sweeter?

“All gross and stuff,” Chris says, reminding you of the hollow panic inside you. She sticks out her tongue as she carefully places red hot candies along a sugary path. “You look like my mom when she looks at my dad.”

“Oh. Luke’s not my boyfriend.” Ugh, what was that. Why did you say that.

Chris blinks at you and you have an internal crisis that seems to make any old stupid thing fall out of your mouth. She goes back to her work without a word but you can feel the “uh huh” in her gaze. The boys come back as you try to catch your breath and throw all your concentration into making the candy canes stand straight up on your foundation.

“Bobby, can you snap this candy cane for me, I want to make grandma’s porch in the front.”

Luke and Bobby return empty handed from the craft supplies but there are several holiday themed stickers all over the kid’s face. The grin on his face is dopey and adorable. It’s almost enough to snap you out of the thoughts you can’t stop barreling through your head. You try to take another sip of coffee but you’d already finished it, so you went back to working on the gingerbread.

“Everything good?” Luke asks as he settles back down in the chair next to you. “Sorry for up and leaving like that.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” you say. “I’m just glad you’re having fun.”

Luke’s little eye-lights are definitely brighter than they were when you first saw him this morning and he’s looking at you with a giddy smile. “Definitely am. And you’re killing it at this gingerbread house thing.”

“Used to make them every year with my family back home in Vermont.”

His hands come over to help you balance pieces of the chimney. Your fingers linger on each other’s while you wait for the frosting to set. Instead of looking over at the man next to you, you focus intently on the task at hand ignore what Chris had said. Queenie told you monster Souls were made of love, hope, and compassion. Had that been her way to warn you things might move a little faster than you were used to? Oh, god, you don’t know how long your cousins or other extended family dated their monster spouses before…

Way too early to think about that. Focus on the gingerbread.

“Do you visit them often?”

“Hmm?” you say after Luke speaks, so far in your own head you only half-heard him.

“Your family in Vermont, do you visit them often?”

You shrug, pulling your hands away from the house and holding your breath as the moment of truth comes up for that chimney. It holds.

“They all came out here last year to visit me and Ken. I mean, my parents, my older sister Rowan and my older brother Trent at least. I talk to them on the phone a lot but no, I don’t see them very often. How about you?”

Luke blinks like he’s confused at the question but recovers quickly. “I see my parents every week, actually. I’ve only got the one sister, and she’s younger than me.”

“Do they live around here then?”

“Nah, they’re all back in Ebott. Asgore’s there, too, and he’s my boss so I travel there all the time.”

“That’s really nice.”

He’d mentioned before that he worked for the King of Monsters but before you could ask more about what kind of work he did, Veronica called for the class’s attention.

“Alright, elfin buddies! You all did so well today, so much creativity in this room! For anyone interested I’ve got a camera and this backdrop here where we can take a snapshot of your masterpieces. Thank you for coming in today, we hope to see you again soon, and Happy Holidays from everyone at Michael’s!”

Chapter Text

Everything is hell and you regret your choices.

Well, not really. You’re over exaggerating because you’ve been stressing about this for far too long and to do anything else would feel anticlimactic.

Finals are finally - Luke would be so proud - here. The week of questioning everything you’ve ever studied, wringing your brain out like an oversaturated sponge, and writing until your hand cramped up. No matter how much you prepare you always get a little nauseous during finals week. You know you’ve got this but anxiety is not known to be logical.

Feeling every inch the stereotypical Northwest college student you roll your electric scooter up to the racks to lock it and pull your thermos of coffee out of your backpack. It’s still warm and the smell of peppermint fills your nose before you take a fortifying sip.

“Well,” you say to yourself as you stare up at the law building. “Here goes...something.”

The warning bite of cold and snowy weather from the weekend had stuck around and seemed like it was here to stay. You wish you’d gone down to storage to get your longer and heavier winter coat for the ride in on the scooter, but the idea of lugging it around inside all day was enough of an excuse to be lazy. Your coffee combined with your brisk walk up the building’s steps helped to warm you up enough to feel alive again, anyway.

With each classroom you exit that day the weight on your chest shifts. You’re relieved to be finished with more stepping stones to your goal, but there are still several days until your results are tallied. Taking a very short break between two exams, you bring out the lunch you packed and search for a secluded corner to eat. You don’t have enough time to make it across campus where the tastier and less expensive food is, so you’re happy you remembered to pack something for today besides the granola bar you’re pretty sure has been in the bottom of this knapsack for longer than it should have.

It’s been hours since you really looked at your phone so you bring it out while you pop grape after grape into your mouth. There’s a few dozen notifications and messages offering you support for your exams that day, mostly from your Facebook page. You take the time to go through and at least like all of the comments to thank the people stopping by to give you well-wishes.

There’s a good luck email from your uncle’s private email account that you’re pretty sure his secretary sent for him. You love him, but he’s so busy with government...things...that you hardly talk to him. Next are you texts. Mom. Dad. Rowan. Luke.

Luke.

You stare at the preview screen for a second, hesitating. The date at Michael’s was only a few days ago now, but what the little girl named Chris had said still resonated. What did you know about Luke, really? He knew so much about you already from your job to your school major, but all you knew about what he did was that he worked for the King of all Monsters. Sure, that probably meant the job was really important, just from his boss, but why didn’t he talk about it at all? You honestly hadn’t had time to think about any of this with finals around the corner but now, at the least appropriate time, you start to worry if you’re already moving too fast with someone you met not even a month ago.

It doesn’t feel like you are, and Queenie told you to trust your feelings, so why were you already trying to sabotage this? There’s nothing to get worked up over yet. You’ve gone on two dates, held hands, and you hadn’t kissed yet. But, damn did you want to.

That’s what scares you. How much you want to keep moving forward with this skeleton man you’d met by chance at work, and how ready you are to jump into the deeper end of the emotional swimming pool.

No time to think about this right now, you realize, checking the time before opening his message. You can tell from the preview it’s another well-wish anyway, so you shove away your anxiety, going back into hardcore test-taking mode. There’s one more exam today before you can get the hell out of dodge and devour the pint of ice cream you’d saved in your freezer for this exact purpose.


 

“Dad, no, I promise I’m alright. It’s just been a very long day with finals is all.”

On the other end of the line you can hear your mom chastising your dad in the background. You can’t catch every word but you do hear her asking him to let you relax and to stop worrying. It makes you smile, and you’re already planning on texting her after this to say thank you. 

You’re exhausted, laid out on the couch in a silent apartment with a blanket pulled over you. The exams went as well as you had expected, but you’re mentally and physically exhausted after running around campus doing nothing but finals. At least in some of the lectures you didn’t feel so wrung out at the end. You are ready to flip your phone over to do not disturb, make some tea, and maybe call in for delivery of some kind for dinner.

Two more days of follow up exams are ahead of you this week and you don’t even have work as a distraction. Ken knows you better. The last time you’d tried to work through finals week he was afraid you were having a mental breakdown. He insisted they could make do without you for a couple days.

After several minutes spent convincing yourself to stand up, you flop out from underneath the covers and make your way to the kitchen where all the takeout menus are on the fridge. You’ve got several options, all of them delicious and you knew what you would order from each one, but it is easier to decide what you want while looking through the menus. Leaning on the counter across from the fridge, you’re starting to zone out again when your phone buzzes in the pocket of your sweatpants.

-Luke 5:33pm: whenever i smell peppermint i think of you now. someone at work likes to drink the same kind of coffee

You hadn’t answered any of the texts he’d sent throughout the day, either too busy with class, driving, or flat out trying to sort out the knot of emotions blooming in your gut. There’s a happy flip in your chest when you see his name pop up. You’re still reading the message when another one comes through.

-Luke 5:35pm: you’re probably exhausted after today but i want you to know there’s no one that could be more prepared for those exams than you. you’ll have your degree before you know it.

-Luke 5:36pm: i’m out of town for work this week, but i’d like to take you out soon to celebrate the end of the semester. dinner? ice skating? i can look up places. what day is good for you?

A little negative part of your brain whispers that you should leave him on read and not entertain the idea of another date. It’s going far too well, after your track record. What about you would this monster find interesting enough to keep pursuing? Or, maybe he’s actually a weirdo or a criminal and that’s why he hasn’t told you much of his history or even what he does for a living.

There have only been a few people you’ve dated since moving to the west coast, and each one of them have dropped off the face of the earth for one reason or another. Most of them cited school, theirs or yours, as the main reason of the break up. You didn’t give them enough of your time. It got harder and harder to want to try when all your efforts turned up nothing. More than a year stands between the last person you could consider a serious date and Luke. You’ve come to love yourself more in that time than you ever had before, but all of the sudden the idea of a third date is bringing up all the old insecurities.

No. Self-sabotage. That’s all this is. Your therapist back home had been very clear that was one of your main drawbacks, as well as letting others walk all over you because of your sense of justice and fairness warring with your self-worth.

Just because you were scared of getting your heart broken that didn’t mean Luke wasn’t worth the risk.

-You 5:45pm: Hey, there, skeleton man. Your coworker has great taste in coffee. I got home about an hour ago and yeah, I’m super tired after finals :( Call you tomorrow after you’re out of work so we can see what day works?

The phone buzzes with a reply from Luke not long after, including the little skull emoticon you’ve learned he uses in place of the smiley-face. When he’d used that the first time you’d been taken aback since you’d only ever used that in relation to Halloween texts or saying you were ‘dead’ from laughter or exhaustion. Talking on the phone the next day he had clarified and apologized for not realizing how it could have been taken.

-Luke 5:58pm: take care of yourself, doll. i look forward to talking to you tomorrow. make sure you get enough sleep tonight.

-You 5:59pm: Thanks Luke :) And what, no puns? I’m surprised.

-Luke 6:01pm: hehehe i admit i’ve bean pro-caffiene-ating on purpose. don’t want to run these jokes into the ground.

-You 6:03pm: Much better, those were brew-tiful coffee puns.

-Luke 6:04pm: thank you, thank you, i milk them for all they’re worth, i don’t have a filter when it comes to puns.

-You 6:07pm: Nice, Luke. I’m gonna stop you there before decant stop. I gotta get some food, so I’ll ttyl. You make sure to get some sleep, too.

There. Done. You close the messenger app and dial the number to the pizza place nearby. At least this way you’ll be sure to have leftovers for tomorrow night in case you’re too tired to make dinner again.

While you wait for the pizza to arrive you decide to dedicate the next forty-five minutes to doing nothing related to studying at all to give your brain a break. After sorting through your favorite apps, checking the weather for the morning, and liking more baby animal pictures on Instagram than you’d ever admit, a thought strikes you. It’s intense enough that you rise up from laying flat on the couch into a seated position, just staring at your phone in surprise.

How have you not searched on the internet for any of the answers for this yet? The almighty power of Google is right there and you’ve neglected it. Switching to private browsing, because you never know, you make sure safe search is turned off and type out how to date a monster.

Maybe forty years ago the results would have been vastly different, but after so long with monsters on the surface, your search results pop up with actual potentially useful information. Reputable looking sites that don’t immediately fill your phone screen with ads give you hope. You do some browsing and lose yourself in the first steps of research until the buzzer for your door startled you. Jumping up and locking your phone screen before stuffing it in your pocket, you try to not act like you were doing something to be guilty of.

“4C, I’ll be right down!” you say into the intercom, not waiting for a reply.

It’s faster to go down the stairs than wait for the elevator but you take it back up after collecting your goodies from the delivery girl. You want to look more into the articles you found about tips on dating monsters. But, greasy pizza fingers and touch screen phones don’t go together, so you make sure to eat your fill before continuing. You wrap a couple pieces of pizza in tin foil that will be easy to grab in the morning and put in your lunchbag, wash your hands, and return to the couch to pull your throw blanket over your legs and settle in for a good old fashioned study session. There’s still plenty of time before bed to do this and study a little more for your exams tomorrow.

The first thing that comes up is a generic quiz on a magazine’s website to take to see Is He Really Into You ? You skip that one because good things never come from ten question magazine quizzes.

There’s a site you recognize as something that started in the Undernet rather than the surface internet, so you jump on it. Once you’ve started looking up articles it’s hard to stop poking around. This one gives a very rough overview of human souls versus monster souls, things you remember from classes in middle and high school. Human souls have a defining trait that can be associated with a color, changing the way their soul looked when outside of their bodies. Sometimes you wished you could pull out your Soul to look at it like your sister could, just to look at it. The last time you’d seen it you hadn’t been able to take your eyes away from the way the ghostly shape glowed with gold fire. The article continued to explain that all monster souls were completely white and looked like upside down hearts.

But Luke was part monster and part human. What did that mean for him? Did he have a color with his soul? There’s a heavy feeling in your stomach when you think of asking him about it. You don’t know how to even start that conversation and are insatiably curious, but also don’t want to accidentally offend him. Ugh. Paradoxes are a bitch.

There’s a video that’s well-edited but after a minute you switch it off. You don’t want to learn how best to catch a monster man for yourself. Technically, you’d done that without help, right? And the way the vlogger talked about it, like it was a game or a hunt, just made your skin crawl.

You’re almost bold enough to google whether skeleton monsters had sex or not, but thought better of that. Luke was proof enough they did, right? And, uh, if things progressed then you’d hopefully find out for yourself.

Contraception. Yeah. That’s important to look up...and there are so many different contradicting and clinical studies about monster reproduction that you get lost before you start. Another thing to file away as something to discuss with Luke. It feels like you’re getting ahead of yourself. You had learned once that most monsters didn’t feel attraction or lust the same way that humans do. And you stop yourself with that thought, closing the search tabs before you sink deeper. Curiosity wants you to punch in his name, too, to see what comes up but that feels like it’s going too far. There’s only so much you can tell yourself is purely research and a contingency plan before you don’t believe yourself.

You consider what Queenie said, about how monster souls are made of love, hope, and compassion exclusively. She hadn’t given an exact reason for what she said that night in the shop but the significance is unmistakable. Monsters move a bit faster than humans do.

Inspiration fills you and you leave your browser to look at one of your cousin’s social media pages. She lives in eastern Europe working for some environmental group whose name you can’t pronounce correctly because it’s in Greek. It takes some scrolling but you finally find a few posts of Cheryl and her now-wife on their honeymoon in Alaska. The two smile happily into the camera as a beautiful landscape rolls by in the background. One of the pictures shows her wife, Frula, trying to throw her arms around a massive tree, her impressive seven foot height nothing compared to the evergreen beside her.

Cheryl is from Ken’s side of the family, blonde hair and light eyes the prominent similarities, just like your dad and the rest of his siblings. Your mom’s side has a much more varied spectrum, not least of which because most of her siblings are adopted. But, you’re off track, you have data to collect.

It takes an hour or so and a notepad full of dates scribbled on it, but you sit back at the end of that hour reviewing your research with mixed emotions. From meeting to marriage the timeline is much shorter than you are comfortable with. Three months before engagement for one couple, maybe half a year for another, and you can’t tell for the last one since the two of them met and married while on military duty and didn’t post much anyway. This all was probably a very bad idea, given your track record of ruining things before they happened, but you can’t help it.

You like Luke. Like, really like Luke. You’ve been happily single and content in your life for a while now, so getting punched in the gut with something this intense threatens to knock you over like pins in a bowling alley. A perfect strike.

As you lay on your back facing the empty ceiling of your top floor apartment a little voice that sounds suspiciously like your sister, or Queenie, whispers to you. It tells you that you’re overthinking this and to try and sit back and just feel.

And really, content? Just content? Who wanted to live their life content. You set your jaw and get up off the couch, going to the bathroom to look yourself in the mirror for extra emphasis. It’s a trick your therapist had given you back when you lived in Vermont, the same one that gave you the courage to move across the country and do something for yourself. As you slip a little on the rug, your glasses slide down your nose so you push them back up with purpose. Setting your hands on your hips and looking yourself in the eye, you strike a stern pose that looks a lot like your mom’s scolding pose. You adjust yourself a little because that’s much too creepy to realize. The hair piled on top of your head wobbles comically.

“Listen here, friendo,” you say to yourself. “Stop worrying about little things and psyching yourself out...or up. Listen to what Queenie told you and follow what feels right. Leave the logic to the law degree. Got it? Good. Now get out there and to hell with it, you gotta live.”

It’s silly, but after a few more breaths looking into the mirror, you feel much better. Worrying means you suffer twice, and once is more than enough. No more giving into overthinking. At least you would try not to. No more waffling over what was okay to ask him and what wasn’t. The worst you could do is have to say you were sorry. If you want to get to know him then, by golly gosh, you will. You know how to respect boundaries. You know what it means to listen. You have got this!

Going to bed that night, instead of reading more ridiculous articles on how to catch your own monster man, you go back to liking pictures of small animals as you fall asleep. Just before you do, you text Luke good night with the skull emoji next to a crescent moon.


On the night before the last day of finals, a storm blows through the region dumping a few inches of wet snow on the town. When you wake up and peek outside you groan. There’s no way you can use your scooter in this, the roads haven’t even been cleared yet, and some schools for younger kids have delays. This part of the state gets more snow than any other because of its altitude, and the snow doesn’t always stick before the New Year, but this looks like it’s going to cling to the ground for at least a few days.

It’s early enough you have time to get ready and call Ken for a ride onto campus. He has a truck he only uses during the winter months and is close enough that you don’t have to wait long for him to be at your complex. Road crews cleaned up your lot and the roads at least a little by that time as well, but there was no way you’d be taking your scooter. Every car tire would potentially drench you in icy, dirty slush.

“You need to get a car,” he says as you pull open the passenger side door. The slouch in his shoulders is all you need to know about how tired he is.

You press the extra travel mug of coffee into his cup holder before buckling up. “Thanks for taking me in. I didn’t want to take exams covered in slush.”

“Mmmhmmm,” Ken mutters, picking up the mug for a hearty swallow. “Whatever. You’re lucky I hadn’t left to run errands yet.”

“Says the man still in his fleece pajama pants.”

“It’s fucking cold, and I’m tired, what do you want me to do?”

You stay silent, smirking at his grumpiness, drinking from the mug you made for yourself as Ken shifts to drive away. It’s slippery for sure but nothing the little pickup can’t handle. When he drops you off, you sneak a few dollars into his glove compartment for the trouble and tell him just to wash the mug and you can pick it up the next time you’re over. Ken won’t need to pick you up since there are enough public transport methods that you could get home easily. The solar-powered buses wouldn’t be running today but there were still the other electric powered ones. You just did not trust them to get you onto campus with enough time before the exams, the schedule was more of a guideline than actual rules. Now was not the time for taking risks.

Actually, the way you felt last night, you’re already taking risks. Make that no additional risk taking.

By the time you’re sitting in a seat on a bus headed towards your neighborhood, you’re wrung out again. The afternoon and evening stretch in front of you with the teasing notion of the longest and comfiest nap anyone has ever taken.

The cool glass of the window feels amazing on your flushed face. You had run across campus to catch the first possible bus away to start your holiday vacation as soon as possible. It keeps you from zoning out too much so you don’t miss your stop and completely ruin the reason you’d run through the snow in the first place. An elderly woman you recognize as a resident on the first floor of your building is waiting to get on at your stop. You help her take that first step from snowy sidewalk onto the bus and wave at her in the window as it drives away. Seeing her reminds you that you haven’t done your annual Christmas card delivery to all twenty residents in your building but you’re too tired to even consider that right now.

It’s early afternoon but that doesn’t matter to you when you switch from jeans to pajamas. Running your fingers through your hair to undo the braid you made last night, you slowly walk into the kitchen and contemplate warming up a few slices of that pizza. There isn’t much left and it’s a few days old but that hasn’t stopped you before. Making a decision you flipped the oven on and got a tray out.

Your phone, left forgotten on the counter when you went to change, buzzes twice. A voicemail reminder.

The screen shows a missed call and voicemail from your brother. You hadn’t expected him to call at all. Since getting elected mayor he rarely had time to chat on the phone, mostly sticking to emails and memes texted back and forth. Maybe your mom told him you were done with another semester this week. With the time difference it’s hard to tell with him. Your sister and parents are much better at remembering. Either way, you push the play button to listen to what he has to say while the oven warms up.

What’s up, little dude, you’re another step closer to your degree! That’s awesome. Mom said you wouldn’t be flying out to hang this Christmas so I mailed you your Christmas gift. Should be there in a couple days. Let me know as soon as you get it so you can tell me how good of a brother I am. Alright, _________, seriously I’m so proud of you. Talk to you later. I have to talk to some people about a budget or something now. Matthew! How much time do-

Cutting off as he started to talk to his secretary, the voicemail ends in garbled static. You smile and shoot him a quick text, calling him a dork of course, so he knows you got the message. He’s got a big ego but an even bigger heart, and the comment about the gift wasn’t even half-bluffing. No one could find a perfect and unique gift like Trent could.

Once you have a plate of pizza on your lap and are scrolling through television shows, the time slips away. Light fades quickly outside your window, the muted sunlight replaced seamlessly with the dull yellow glow of streetlamps below. It’s your last day of finals but you’re sure other degree programs on campus have classes all the way up to Friday afternoon. You don’t envy those students. No matter how many exams they had to take, focusing later on a Friday when the rest of the students are done or packing to leave their dorms for a few weeks is difficult.

Zoning out as you look out the window, it takes you a second to realize your phone is ringing as it buzzes against the coffee table.

“Hey, Luke,” you say as you answer. It’s hard to keep a smile off your face.

“Heya, doll. How did the last of your finals go?”

“Fine, I guess,” you say with a sigh. “The international trade and tax exam hung me out to dry, to be honest, and I can’t tell if I’m more relieved this semester is over or numb from anxiety over the final grades.”

There’s a shuffling sound on his end of the line as you talk, and there are voices in the background. It sounds like he opens a door and steps into a much larger empty room because his voice echoes when he speaks next. “Understandable. And I saw it snowed this morning near the campus, but not enough to cancel classes.”

“No, and Ken took me to campus so I wouldn’t drive my scooter in the slush,” you say.

The two of you fall into easy conversation where he lets you complain about the absolute dickish final essay question one of the professors assigned, and he throws a few law puns at you until you are smiling again. You’re curled up on your side under a blanket on your couch staring out the window at the few flakes falling from the grey skies above. A natural pause in conversation stretches on long enough for Luke to say your name to get your attention.

“Hmm? Sorry, I spaced out a little.”

“You did.” You can hear a smile in his voice. “Want me to let you go?”

“No. Maybe. Ugh, yeah, that’s probably a good idea. But...I like talking to you.”

“I like talking to you, too, ________.”

Your eyes shoot open. Soothed by his voice and the warmth of your cocoon, you’d been nodding off for an impromptu nap and didn’t realize you’d actually said that last bit out loud. Oh, well, no take backs now.

“Do you work tomorrow night?” you ask softly.

“I’ve got the entire weekend off,” he says, voice still echoey.

“Want to make good on your invitation to go ice-skating? I know the rink will be open because my university’s terrible hockey team will be out of town for an away game and it’s open to the public when they’re out.”

“Absolutely. Do you want to meet there? Promise I won’t flake out.”

You huff your breath out of your nose, too sleepy to fight the little giggle at the bad pun. “I didn’t think you would, but I’m gonna have to put you on ice if you keep making puns like that, skeleton man.”

“On ice, huh? Be careful, doll, my puns are a slippery slope , you’ll love-”

There’s more rustling and the sound of a door opening. Someone with a very loud and cheerful voice interrupts whatever he was going to say next.

“LUKE, ASGORE IS LOOKING FOR YOUR INPUT ON THE FOURTH QUARTER REPORT...OH, I DID NOT NOTICE THAT YOU ARE ON THE PHONE, I’LL TELL HIM YOU ARE BUSY.” The voice is boisterous and jarring through the phone speaker, as if someone were yelling right next to Luke.

He doesn’t seem phased by the interruption. “No, I’ll be right in, Papyrus.” The door shuts again in the background. “Sorry. Work beckons.”

“Don’t worry about it,” you say. “I’ll talk to you later, or tomorrow morning?”

“Definitely. And hey, _________, get some rest, okay? You deserve it after this week.”

“Thanks, Luke.”

“Good night, beautiful.”

You wonder if the heat from your cheeks is strong enough that he can feel it through the phone. Sleep takes you soon after, a smile still teasing at your face as you close your eyes.

Chapter Text

Swarms of people scurry around the lobby of the ice rink that Saturday afternoon, people and monsters of all shapes and sizes. When you arrived, the parking lot was nearly full, not even a miniature spot for your scooter, so you’re glad you took the public bus over. You hadn’t expected it to be this busy over the weekend, but you slap a hand to your forehead when you see a banner over the top of the entrance proudly proclaiming that the entire day would have free beginner lessons in the afternoon for all ages. You vaguely remember something about that on their website.

If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed a huge turnout in this college town, it’s free things. You get a sneaking suspicion that it’s a ploy for coaches to scope out the kids with talent and rope the parents into lessons that may or may not turn their child into the next Olympic gold medalist. Whatever the motive or outcome, it would definitely put a significant financial burden on the family.

A wave of noise and ambient magical energy hits you when the doors slide open. High levels of positive emotion around monsters, especially monster children like the dozens you can see around you, creates a feedback loop that puts your teeth on edge. It’s similar to feeling the steam from a boiling pot of water. It’s almost invisible to the naked eye unless you’re looking for it, and it acts like a warning of impending energy. Maybe it’s not the most elegant of analogies, but it’s the one a teacher used when you were first learning how to acknowledge and discard the feeling of excess magic dancing along your skin. It took years of practice but visualizing the feeling as steam helped you process this sort of overstimulation.

Walking into the lobby you spot Luke straightaway chatting with a monster you vaguely recognize from campus. A pair of ice skates pokes out of the top of her bag so it appears as though Luke ran into her on her way out. She’s not in your cohorts or even in the law program, you don’t think, but you definitely remember the bright green flames that make up her body and her face next to some beautiful photography pieces in the student art exhibits.

Luke catches sight of you almost as soon as you’re through the automatic doors. “Heya, _________!”

You wave as you head over to him. You’ve got little anxious butterflies in your stomach that feel suspiciously like jealousy, and you can’t help but notice the parallel to the color of the fire elemental and the lights of Luke’s eyes. Green, indeed. Now you were, too, for reasons you didn’t care to acknowledge. Luke’s face is turned towards you with a huge smile wide enough to create those adorable dimples in his bony cheeks. Did his eyelights change shape for a moment there? You’re too buzzed up on the jarring magic around you to notice. You’re starting to get a little dizzy, too. The jealous little feeling in your stomach gets a twist of satisfaction that he visibly lit up at seeing you.

Yeah. If you’re getting jealous like this, you’re in deep trouble with this skeleton man.

“Hey, Luke!” you say as you reach him.

As naturally as if it’s how he always greets you, he reaches his arm around your shoulders and pulls you into a half hug. For a brief moment you know your face is wide-eyed with happy surprise. He leans down to press a kiss to the top of your head, bones clacking a bit on the top of your earmuffs, then pulling away quick enough you didn’t know what was happening until afterwards. His arm remains on your shoulder with a pleasant weight. Yours snakes around his waist to rest against his hip, the pocket of his pants close enough you could slide your hand in if you felt bold enough. You don’t, but it’s an option! At his touch, some of the high frequency keening in your ears, another side effect of the magic around you, evens out and you feel like you can breathe again.

You’re positive the fire elemental caught every bit of it. His instant affection was so surprising but welcome there’s no doubt that was all over your face. The little smirk you can make out in her flames tells you all you need to know.

“________, this is Freya, one of my friends from back in Mt. Ebbott. Freya, I’d like you to meet ________.”

Freya holds out a hand made of flame towards you. Without hesitation you take your hand away from Luke’s waist, remove the glove, and grasp her hand in a friendly handshake. Keeping it on would feel rude, like you didn’t want to touch her. You’re aware of the fire licking around your skin but you don’t feel heat any stronger than if you shook hands with another human. The direct contact of magic, however, sends your Soul buzzing into overdrive so much that you can feel your muscles start to tremble, like you just stuck your hand way too close to the boiling water from your teacher’s analogy.

“Oh, you’re a Sensor! I’m sorry, I didn’t know. I didn’t mean to make you buzz like that, and there’s so much raw magic flying around in here.”

Freya sounds genuinely concerned, and you watch as her eyes look up at Luke then back to you, putting her hands behind her back. Her voice reminds you of the soothing tones of a campfire, her consonants ending with audible pops and crackles. It could be soothing if you didn’t feel like you’d grabbed a live electric fence.

You put your now shaking hand into your coat pocket. “What did you call me?”

“Sensor, it’s just the slang term we use for humans that can sense magic. Or are you a mage?”

“No,” you say as you shake your head. It makes you dizzier so you stop. Good thing Luke is still flush against you, you’re not sure you’d be standing without it. Don’t show weakness, everything is fine, just keep talking! “My sister is and I think one of my baby cousins is showing the signs but I’m just sensitive to it. And what do you mean about raw magic?”

Luke pushes against you a little so people shuffling towards the bathrooms won’t bump into you, and gestures to the front of the lobby away from the throngs of people. “Here let’s move away from the doors for a sec. She means the kids, actually, they don’t have a good handle on their magic yet so they put out a lot of excess energy with no defined pattern.”

Freya nods sagely. “Exactly. It’s actually what my graduate thesis is about so if I start rambling you have to tell me to stop.”

“You’re a graduate student? I’ve seen you around campus a few times,” you say, trying to get a grip on the way your Soul and body are trembling without much success.

Both monsters notice, share a brief look, and nonchalantly move towards the entryway.

“Yes, I just started in the fall at this University. Got my first masters in mixed anthropology back in Ebott, but this is one of the few Universities outside of the immediate radius of the mountain that offers the kind of pre-doctorate course load I need.” Freya shrugs a jacket over her shoulders when a blast of cold air from outside follows a small family inside. “Dad wasn’t happy I wanted to leave Ebott, but I can’t just stay on the mountain, you know?”

As your Soul starts to calm down, both from Luke’s arm protectively draped over your shoulders and the distance from the buzzing group of monster children lacing up their skates, you can feel your teeth stop chattering. Watching Freya button up her coat you wonder how a fire elemental could feel cold and aren’t sure if it’s a rude question or not.

“What’s the difference between mixed and regular anthropology?” you ask, still muscling through your discomfort. It also keeps you from asking personal questions.

“I study humans and monsters. How about you? Are you in the law program?” she asks. “I think that’s where I remember you from, by the older part of campus.”

You nod, and she continues, starting to show signs of restlessness herself.

“I like to hang out there and sketch sometimes. Actually, with the snow, there should be some awesome opportunities to snap some photos for my Christmas e-cards. It was good catching up, Luke, and meeting you, ________, but I’m gonna scram before kids tear up the fresh snow and I lose too much light. Getting darker earlier every day, you know.”

And just like that, Freya makes a move like she wants to hug Luke or shake your hand again, thinks better of it because of your unintended negative reaction before, and does scram. The bag holding her ice skates bounces on her hip as she walks out of sight and towards the law buildings on campus.

“Are you okay, did you want to leave and go somewhere else?”

Luke’s question pierces through the haze in your mind created by the rising pressure of magic all around you. Everything feels a little floaty, like you’re dangerously close to tipping from pleasantly buzzed to “make-bad-decisions” drunk. His eyes search yours as you stand there quietly. They flick down very briefly towards the middle of your chest where you assume he can see your Soul. All monsters could do that without much effort, so maybe he’d inherited that, too. He looks genuinely worried and starts to move you towards the entrance again.

“No, no, I’m fine,” you manage to answer. “I want to try to skate, if you still do?”

“Yes, if you’re sure you’re fine. You know what...let’s sit and wait for the kids to go in, how about? Give your Soul a chance to level out,” Luke says, moving the two of you to a few benches on the other side of the lobby.

“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” you say, trying not to sound embarrassed. Had you insulted his friend in front of you? What did he think of you, that you couldn’t even keep it together after one handshake?

Silence didn’t always bother you, and there were plenty of times you’d sat in comfortable silence around Luke by now in person or on the phone, but your mind keeps turning over every little thing without stopping. Who was Freya to him? Why would he want to hang out with a boring mess of a human like you if he had friends that were literally made of fire? Is he just not into fire? What is he into, now that you think about it, you’ve never actually asked him. Shit, does he think you’re only into him because he’s half-human and half-monster so he’s some kind of novelty because that is not why! But have you really thought about that? You ask him so many questions about what life for monsters is like compared to human’s, things that you’re still afraid might be intrusive, but he answers each and every one. Shit shit shit you can’t keep doing this if that’s how you’re treating him, like some sort of Wikipedia on monster knowledge, it’s not fair and-

“Our dads are really close,” Luke says, leaning his back against the wall behind the two of you.

Your mind screeches to a halt at his words. The tips of your fingernails are biting into your palms. You’d been so stuck in your head for a moment there you hadn’t noticed the pain. White half-moons slowly return to the normal color of your palm when you release the tension. You consciously start to take deeper breaths.

When you look up at Luke, his eyelights are watching the people mill around you, though you swear you felt them on you a moment before. Maybe checking on your Soul again, but you can’t be sure. His arm is still around you, so you start to relax your shoulders into his touch again. He’d initiated it, so you’ll gladly respond, since the contact was definitely helping somehow.

“Your dad and Freya’s?” you ask, prompting him to keep talking.

“Yeah. They knew each other Underground, actually, for a long time before they left Mt. Ebott. So, she’s like an older sister to me since she was born just before the barrier fell. She babysat me while she was in college.”

You’re pretty sure Luke can’t read minds, but it’s like he’s in tune to know exactly what you need to hear. Maybe you’re still a little jealous, but the way he talks about Freya calms most of the jealous fire in your gut. The happy butterflies you’re getting used to having whenever you’re around him start to replace the sick feelings of self doubt, too.

“Monsters really do age differently,” you say. “She does not look or act like any over forty year old humans I know.”

“Heh, yeah, they do. My dad is like...shit he isn’t sure on the exact numbers, but he thinks he’s a couple hundred years old. Most of the monsters I know are very old by human standards, actually. Grillby, that’s Freya’s dad, he’s one of the oldest I know personally and he’s been around at least four hundred years.”

“Aren’t the king and queen...thousands of years old?”

“Yes. They remember life before the barrier was made, they’ve ruled for a very long time.”

The buzzing in your Soul has started to calm down to tolerable levels by now, the calm conversation distracting you from the energy around you. The haze you liken to drunkenness is nearly gone, too. You don’t notice in the moment, but later you will realize he’d started feeding you information to keep your mind off of how overwhelmed you’d gotten.

“You feeling better?”

His voice is soft and closer to your ear. He’d turned his body towards you, now openly looking between your eyes and your Soul. His mouth isn’t quite a frown but without a smile it looks very serious and you’re not sure you like how worried you made him.

“Much. I’m not shaking anymore, either.”

“Mmm. Nope. And you’re not buzzing like an out of tune guitar string anymore.”

“Wait, what?”

“Your Soul frequency, it was out of whack but it’s fine now. C’mon, let’s get some skates!”

Remembering your previous conundrum over worrying about asking him too many questions, you bite back the list of questions starting to bloom on the tip of your tongue and just nod. You’ve never heard of it called a frequency before. He helps you stand up and the two of you go through the motions of renting skates and getting a locker to put away your outermost layers and your purse. The rink is chilly, but not cold enough for all the layers you both have on. You’d started to get a little sweaty sitting in the lobby for so long with your coat on, to be honest. You’re sure your cheeks are flushed from the heat alone.

As you hand Luke your coat to put in the locker next to his, his face splits into a huge grin. “Hold on, what’s that on the front of that sweater you’re wearing, doll?”

You hold your arms out like a scarecrow so he can properly see the front of your sweater. A knit image of an alpaca is surrounded by trees and ornament designs, all underneath the words “Fleece Navidad”. Luke starts to chuckle and shows no sign of stopping.

“You’ve got me in stitches ,” he says with a wheezing laugh, faint green dusting his cheeks and under the hollows of his eye sockets. He slow claps, clearly impressed, and you do a little pose with your hands on your hips. Now, for your secret weapon.

“It’s not warm enough to wear outside but I thought these would look good out there on the ice.”

Luke moves aside as you dig into your bag hanging inside of the locker. He starts to take off his coat as well, so when you turn towards him holding two Santa hats, you see that he’s wearing a ridiculous Christmas sweater, too. The colors are the brightest you’ve ever seen him wear. Bright blue and white stitches depict an image of a machine you recognize from Star Wars, but you can’t remember the name of it. The words “Hoth Sweet Hoth” adorn the top.

“More Star Wars puns!” you say, not even trying to stop the flow of giggles now.

“Something you need to learn right away is that I dig space and sci-fi. My dad had the VHSs of a few of those movies in the Underground and Wookie I say, his love of intergalactic badassery sort of rubbed off on me, too.”

“Does your dad tell a lot of puns, too?”

Luke’s smile stretches so wide you can see the sharp ends of his teeth. “You have no idea.”


 

Sure, you walk around campus a lot, and it takes a lot of leg and core strength to ride your scooter most of the year, but you are not nearly in shape enough to skate for several hours on end.

At first you’re clinging to the edge of the rink for dear life, your mind full of the fear of falling and seriously injuring yourself. You like your teeth and nose the way they are, thank you very much. It takes a few laps and holding Luke’s hand to feel like you can move without holding onto the barriers around. Soon you’re too out of breath from laughing and trying to stay upright to worry.

There are two rinks inside the hockey stadium, something left over from the years the school’s team won national championships. When renting your skates for the two of you, Luke asked the cashier which rink had fewer kids, and took you to that one. A few kids are here with their parents or guardians, but it’s not nearly as overwhelming as the lobby earlier. You only notice the hum of magical energy in the air if you really pay attention to it.

During a break in skating, you catch your breath and take a drink from one of the bottles of water you’d purchased.

“The puff ball on your hat,” you say, reaching over to Luke, “it’s caught in the back of your sweater.”

“Get it for me?” he asks.

He’s leaning over to adjust the ties on his skates anyway so it gives you the perfect angle to work the end free. Your hand brushes the bare bones of his cervical vertebrae (yes you’ve been looking up some bone terminology) and a flare of that same magical burst rushes from the tips of your fingers right to your Soul like a bolt of lightning. It’s not nearly as jarring as shaking Freya’s hand before, but you know you’re exhausting yourself by attempting to keep the magical energy rolling off of you rather than directly affect you.  

Luke shudders a little at the contact, too, but it’s so brief you convince yourself you imagined it. “How are you feeling, by the way? Is your Soul still on a high wire?”

You cock your head. “I can’t tell if that’s a pun or not, but no. I’m just flushed and shaky from the exercise now, I think.” You shrug, chugging more water. “I haven’t done this in a long time. I wasn’t ever any good at it back home, either, to be honest. My dad tried to teach me when I was little but I couldn’t get the hang of it. How about you, ever skated before?”

“Heh, yeah. I broke my ankle skating when I was younger,” Luke says, grabbing his water bottle from the bench next to you. “Was messing around in the Underground and got a bit too cocky on the ice in Snowdin.”

“Is the Underground as beautiful as the pictures make it seem?” you ask quietly. You’re watching his face carefully for any signs you’re going too far.

Luke takes a moment to consider your question and answers, “Most of it, yes. Monsters...we all have mixed feelings about it.”

“Yeah, that makes sense. Sorry if I ask a lot of intrusive questions.”

“You don’t. You’re always considerate, and it makes sense to be curious.”

“Even that time I insinuated you might look like a Halloween decoration?”

Luke snorted in laughter, which was something you didn’t know he could do. “The way I remember it, you said I didn’t look like one, but I see how it is. I mean, if you’ve got it, haunt it, right?”

“Pfft, wrong season, skeleton man!” You giggle and warily lower your water bottle. Taking a sip while Luke was punning it up was probably a bad idea.

“Was gonna make a skeleton joke, but looks like you wouldn’t find it humerus .” He is far too pleased with himself for taking the low-hanging fruit of that one.

“That’s it, I’m going back to the rink. Your skele-punning bony butt coming with?”

“Right behind you, doll.”

“Gah! You and your puns are - I can’t even say it.”

Tearable !”

You try to pull yourself down the wall faster than you’d dared to go before, laughing and glancing over your shoulder to see if Luke is catching up. An undignified squeak leaves your lips as you catch the view of a hungry looking skeleton bearing down on you with wobbly legs and a spark in his eye lights that did naughty things to your imagination. Between your distraction and his velocity, the two of you tumble into a laughing mess in a corner of the rink, the rest of your time spent with Luke doing his best to drive you crazy with puns and jokes.


 

“I had a really great time today,” you say, walking up to your building’s door from the bus stop.

Luke took you out to one of the local monster-human food fusion restaurants after the both of you declared your bodies too sore to take another fall on the ice. Maybe practice makes perfect, but the two of you were dissolving into giggles and losing your balance more at the end than you had at the start. He insisted on accompanying you home since it was late and dark by now, fat flakes of snow starting to fall again, blurring the light from the streetlamp.

“Me too, doll,” Luke says. The lights in his eyes do look like Christmas lights up close.

As off as you’d felt at the start of the date, by now you’re buzzed on a totally different feeling. Your stomach hurts from laughing, and your body has that bittersweet ache that comes from pushing yourself while exercising, sending endorphins through your body like mad. You can’t remember a time you’ve felt so peaceful and happy. Did it really have to end?

You reach up to brush bits of snow off of his shoulders, stalling before saying goodbye. There wouldn’t be another bus tonight, but he told you he’d do Lyft again. But he hasn’t taken out his phone to call a ride yet. His hands wiggle a bit inside of your coat pockets where they’d landed after a brief hug. The Santa hat crookedly leaned on his head, the puff ball falling into the back of his coat again.

“Here,” you whisper, moving your arms up to untangle the hat from the collar of his coat.

Snow crunches under your boots as you lift up on your tiptoes to get a better angle. You hold your breath because you’re trembling again, and the green eye lights are a lot closer than they were a moment ago and - there, the hat’s free again.

“Pesky little thing,” you say breathlessly, starting to lower down from your tiptoes.

But Luke’s face is still very close to yours, the heat from his body melting the snow falling into your hair, your heart is beating like a bomb in a birdcage, there’s an intake of breath then -

He’s kissing you.

His lips are smoother than you’d imagined. And softer. And warmer.

Your eyes slip closed and you follow his lead.

The first time he’d touched you, back when you stumbled at the parlor changing the battery, you could feel the heat of him through the arms of your sweater, but this was more than that. Direct contact to magic like this is intoxicating. This is more than holding hands, or standing close to him, or his arm draped over you. It’s nothing like the jarring shock you received from Freya at the rink, either. Magic from kissing Luke is like drinking champagne - the expensive kind your parents get for New Year’s - and the feeling of entering a warm room after being outside in the cold for hours. Heady, familiar, and welcome.

His hands cup your face and you feel your heartbeat get even faster. It rushes through your ears so there is only it and the sound of your mingled breathing. Luke is moving slowly against you before he starts to pull away. You can hear his breath shudder when his lips leave yours. The dry skin on your lips cling to his for a second as he puts a small amount of distance between the two of you. With a moment’s hesitation, you open your eyes to look at him, and you make up your mind. You pull him back towards you before his eyelids lift from the first kiss, taking initiative for the second one yourself.

You lose your balance a bit as your tiptoes give out on the slippery step, and you pull Luke down closer to you as your back gets closer to the brick wall of the building. There’s a little fumbling where he chuckles into your mouth and you smile enough that your teeth click against each other, but you both find your rhythm again. Slanted over you, Luke balances himself by pressing a hand against the wall beside your head, turning his head to deepen the kiss.

Huh. There’s that tongue. And damn does he know how to use it. It feels a lot different than kissing a human, since the magical green tongue mingling with yours leaves a very light feeling of tiny bubbles popping in your mouth. Definitely like champagne again. Every hair follicle on your body is reacting like you’re imbued with static electricity, little sparks crackling under your sleeves as Luke presses against you.

A soft green glow appears through your closed eyelids, barely bright enough to notice. This time you pull away slightly to catch your breath, witnessing the growing blush on Luke’s face that you’re surely mirroring.

“Woah,” you say, biting your lower lip. It feels slightly numb from the effect of the magic. A literal and figuratively magical kiss. If you weren’t so breathless you’d be giggling like a madwoman about that.

“Yeah.” Luke is staring at your mouth, the green in his eyes fuzzy at the edges and much larger than normal.

“I mean...I think I need more research but that might be one of the best first kisses I’ve - mmph!”

Luke obliged your request without question, and you lifted your arms around his shoulders to hold him close to you. With all the layers it’s a little uncomfortable and bulky, but it’s not enough to dull how amazing this feels. You don’t want to stop kissing him. You don’t want to say good-night just yet, but your feet are starting to get cold and you know you shouldn’t be doing this on the front step of your building that every resident has to use if they come or leave. Is it too much to ask him up for cocoa? It’s not that late yet, you’ve stayed up later on the phone with him before. Are you ready to even think about inviting him into your apartment, and how far do you want to take this?

Even as you start to overthink things, again, your stomach flutters like the moment after going over the highest part of a roller-coaster. Luke is still surrounding you and his teeth are starting to graze your lower lip, which god he was a great kisser holy shit , but something felt off. You couldn’t hear cars passing by on the street outside the complex, or feel the biting cold air on your cheeks.

You open your eyes as Luke boldly moves to kiss your jawline, making his way back towards your earlobe when -

“What the FUCK?”

Chapter Text

You’re in your apartment. Luke is pressing you against the door to your coat closet in the front hall of your apartment, four stories higher than you were before, and you know he’s not so good of a kisser you would forget taking that damned elevator!

“What the fuck, what the fuck!

“What’s wrong?” Luke shouts.

He’d sprung back from you when you started to screech profanities. Standing with his hands out and body slightly crouched, he looks ready for an attack with tendrils of green flame pouring from his eye sockets and the corners of his mouth. You can see that instead of just one set of canines like yours, he has several sharp teeth in the corners of his mouth. His jaw is tense as he bares his mouth like an animal.  It’s...terrifying. And also super fucking hot holy shit - but that’s not what’s important!

“You! What? We were just - downstairs! No elevator? How are you in here? How are WE up here?”

Your hands are shaking as you hold them out in front of you, spinning in a circle to make sure that yes, it is definitely your apartment. The glass you’d used to get a drink of water before leaving that day is still on the edge of the sink. Mail from the last few days that needs to be sorted is on the kitchen table. You can still smell the slightly sweet scent from the candle you lit earlier.

“_________. Uh. Hey.” Luke’s hands grasp your shoulders gently and turn you towards him. He has to bend a bit to look you in the eye. Before he speaks, he winces at your expression, how you’re getting closer to freaking the hell out if your Soul and face are any indication. “I know what happened. I need you to breathe with me first, okay?”

He guides you through a few deep inhales through your nose followed by extra-long exhales until you stop twitching so much.

“You wanna...you wanna sit?” he says as your breathing gets back to normal.

A hysterical burst of laughter erupts from you before you can stop it. Invited to sit in your own home? Not the oddest thing to happen in the last five minutes, but it’s the cherry on top of...whatever is happening. Shedding your coat before you start to suffocate from all the layers, you carefully hang it over the back of a kitchen chair, then turn to lift yourself up onto the countertop to sit. This way you’re still eye to eye with him.

One more breath in and out while you fight between insatiable curiosity and deep-seated discomfort, you fold your arms and fix Luke with a serious look, saying, “Spill.”

Luke blinks at you owlishly once. Twice. Taking a deep breath in and out before looking away, he rubs the top of his skull with a gloved hand, his hat pushed to the side. That bauble fell into the space between his collar and hood again, but you force yourself to ignore it.

“Long and short of it? I, uh, brought us up here? With magic? By accident?”

Eyebrows lifted, you don’t budge. “Magic. Way too broad of an explanation. Try again.”

“Yeah.” Luke winces, composes himself, and meets your gaze again. His hands gesture as he speaks, moving faster the more he talks. “It would take all night to explain the minute details of how it works but - and you have to promise not to tell anyone I told you about this, please. I’m on strict orders from Asgore not to use this or tell anyone about it, heh, but that’s shot to shit now. Uh, god this shouldn’t be this hard.”

You’re quiet and composed, but only a little, your foot jiggling as the wick of your patience starts to burn away.

“This is not the right term for it but...fuck it. I can teleport.”

“You can what ?” You didn’t expect that.

“Teleport. Move myself and, obviously, someone else through space-time?”

It’s your turn to blink slowly at him. “You teleported us up from the porch? How?”

“Mag-”

“Magic, yes, but how , or like, why ?”

Luke removes the Santa hat and starts to spin it between his hands so he’d have something to do with them besides clenching them into nervous fists or shoving them into his pockets. The light green blush on his cheeks leftover from your make out session is getting brighter and spreading further across his skull.

“...on accident?”

You believe him. You really do, but this is far too much to take in at once to try to reassure him of that. There are too many questions.

“Okay, I want to know everything about that because that is one of the coolest fucking superpowers I have ever heard of, holy shit, but why? Why now?”

Luke’s face is completely green by this point. “I usually have a great handle on it, don’t get me wrong, but magic works with intent and uh...that kiss was more than a little distracting, and I felt a pull from you so I followed it without thinking, and now we’re here?”

“A pull from me?”

“What - ahem - what were you thinking of right before you noticed we were up here?”

Now you’re blushing, and gripping the edges of the counter hard enough that your knuckles are white. “I was...thinking about if I wanted to invite you up for hot cocoa or something.” The green on his face gets darker and you lift your hands from the counter to hold them out in front of you, waving them a little frantically. “No! Not a euphemism! I was thinking about that before we were kissing, too! Are you saying because I was thinking of coming up to my apartment for probably innocent drinks that I caused you to teleport us up here?”

“Yep.” Luke sounds a little strangled, but the green starts to fade a little as he keeps talking. “I can’t go to places I either haven’t seen or addresses I don’t know, but I felt a little window open so I followed it without thinking.”

“I’m not even a mage! How could I use magic?”

“No, you didn’t, I did. It’s like...your magic showed me a picture of the inside of this apartment and I had the instinct that I was supposed to be there.”

You frown in concentration. “So if I were thinking of kissing you under the Eiffel Tower or something, you would have taken us there on accident?”

Luke grasps onto the discussion further away from probably innocent drinks, and chuckles. “No, I can’t go that far. Uh, I think it’s from being around so much magic all day. You can’t use magic yourself, but you’ve been kind of saturated in it all day so everything is a little heightened from that. Like too much caffeine?”

You’re nodding slowly to show you understand, though most of the concept is slipping through your hands like water. There is so much to consider! It’s devastatingly interesting and you want to grill him about every bit of it. Obviously there are limitations if you can’t zip across the globe, but how far can he go, then? Wait, does he even live around here? He said Asgore doesn’t want him to talk about it which makes you want to pout, but your brain fixates on something that makes you smile and laugh aloud, too. So hopped up on adrenaline, you even slap your thigh lightly and point at him while giggling.

“This is why you don’t own a car!”

Status quo in sight, Luke nods, one of his smirks back in place as he leans on the counter opposite you. His legs are long enough he can tuck his toes against the counter on your side, pressing against it to stay upright. “Correct. That and car puns can get a little exhausting , so I curbed the temptation, stopped before I started and everyone got tired -”

“I get it, I get it, please! I surrender!”

You clutch your side, the case of the giggles with no signs of stopping starting a stitch on top of all your other body aches. Maybe you should take a ibuprofen or something before bed to help with the soreness.

“See? Car puns really shift things into a place that’s hard to steer out of.”

“Holy shit, do you like, practice these in the mirror at home?”

Luke’s smile stretches into that almost-feral grin that you melt for. “Yeah, my rear view mirror .”

“Luke! Oh, my god!”

By now the two of you have dissolved into identical giggle fits, and you have to lean against the fridge to stay upright, catching your breath. All that laughing gives you the hiccups, and you groan when you realize that. You hop down to get a drink of water from your glass sitting on the counter from earlier, hoping to stop them before you end up unable to fall asleep from hiccuping every few seconds. You’re careful to avoid Luke’s legs as you hop down, but he moves them back at the same time to avoid collision.

“You want anything to drink?” you say, halfway through guzzling the full glass of water. You’re watching him carefully over the lip for any signs of punning. If he gets sprayed with water, it’s his own damn fault for making you laugh.

“No. I’m, uh, probably going to head home now, actually. I figured that little impromptu trip killed the mood.”

You glance at the stove clock. “I mean...if you want to hang out for a little bit, you’re already up here? And you obviously don’t have to drive home anywhere...or do you still need a Lyft? I’m fuzzy on how that whole ‘teleportation’ thing works.”

Luke shrugs, the material of his coat rustling loudly in the small kitchen. “I planned on taking a shortcut home, yeah, once you were inside. Wasn’t going to call Lyft.”

“I was going to wait outside with you until they came to get you,” you said. “I wouldn’t make you wait out in the cold for them to arrive. Unless...you don’t want to stay a little longer?”

“I will say yes if you ask me again.” There’s a heat in his words that reminds you what you two were doing on the front steps not fifteen minutes ago. “I don’t want to push you. The teleportation was not intended.”

You’re blushing again, staring at Luke across your kitchen where he stands still fully bundled up with body language you’re having a hard time reading. His shoulders are a little hunched like he’s trying to make himself smaller, like he’s ashamed. Your immediate instinct was to throw some banter back at him, maybe innuendo if you were so bold, but you take a different approach.

“Luke.” You step up to him to stand close enough to rest a hand on his chest. “You didn’t do it on purpose. I know you didn’t.  So…” you take a deep breath, “how about I make some hot cocoa while you pick out something to watch?”

Luke lets out the breath he was holding and smiles down at you, kissing your forehead. “You got it, doll.”

You take his coat and drape it over one of the kitchen chairs when he walks to the living room to rifle through the small collection of DVDs on the rack by the television.

“I’ve got a couple streaming services,” you say, getting a saucepan out from under the oven. The drawer clatters loudly as you push it back in with your foot.

“Huh?” Luke says, turning to face you. He’s sitting cross-legged on the floor and his sweater is riding up a bit, showing a strip of bright white underneath. You can’t tell if it’s an undershirt or just...him.

You swallow before repeating yourself. He throws you a thumbs up and picks up the remote to start looking. The heat lingers on your cheeks that has nothing to do with the action of warming up a mixture of monster and regular chocolate. Luke had said he can eat human food but shouldn’t eat too much of it without adding at least a little magic. He made some bad pun while explaining it, like it mostly went right through him. Something about no human digestive system?

And, now you want to ask him if he poops. Just. No. Not right now, brain. You’re in time-out.

The reveal of teleportation explained so much to you, questions you’d been skirting around after getting half-answers from him before. When you’d asked for a good place halfway between where you lived to hang out, he’d just said anywhere you pick is fine and he would meet you. And, how powerful of a monster hybrid is he? There are so few of them (you know, you’ve Googled) that not much is known about them yet. Your thoughts swirl until you feel Luke standing behind you.

“Mugs?” he asks, starting to peek into a cupboard here and there.

His side is pressed into yours because of the small size of the kitchen. You point to the cupboard on your right, and he rests a hand on your shoulder while reaching inside to grab two large mugs. He grabs the only one you own that has a pun on it, of course, a large white mug with a gold mustache on the bottom that says I MUSTACHE YOU A QUESTION in looping font.

“Ah, hair puns, the genre I’m denied,” Luke says solemnly. “Not that I give a follicle about any of that, but it would be hairy nice to at least have the option.”

“Luke, you are the worst. What did you pick to watch?”

“Would you believe me if I said Tangled .”

“No, I would not,” you say, tipping the saucepan contents into the mugs, divvying it up equally. “Outta my way, skeleton man, you stand between me and my whipped cream.”

With a few obnoxiously loud servings of canned whipped cream later, you manage to find a container of sprinkles from the last time you tried to bake someone at work a few cupcakes for their birthday. The bright rainbow of colors doesn’t look the most appropriate for the season, but you still think it looks cute enough to deserve a photo. You don’t post much to your Instagram page lately with school, focused more on maintaining the pages for the tattoo parlor, but it feels right. A little bit of filter, a little bit of posing the mugs, a couple tags and viola! Proof of holiday cheer.

Luke stands in the living room looking out the window to the snowy street below when you walk over with the hot chocolate. In the lights from your little Christmas tree, his face is illuminated softly, and you can’t stop your heart from squeezing at the sight. The opening scene for Die Hard plays on the TV, like your DVD had started autoplay on the movie.

“Let me just clean up and I’ll be all set,” you say, setting the drinks on coasters.

He waits until you’ve returned and sat on the couch before taking a seat, himself. One of his legs folds over the other so his stocking foot rests on one knee. Automatically, you’d rested so you were wedged into one of the corners so your arm rests on the armrest to your left and your feet faced the side Luke is on. It feels like it would be awkward to just...adjust now, but you find an opportunity in grabbing the remote to turn the volume up. This time you settle so you’re sitting straight up with your feet folded beneath you.

Silence hung between the two of you ever since you’d started sipping the hot chocolate, with Luke only saying thank you and that it is delicious. You’d teasingly replied that you knew that, but he hadn't said another word since. He has a faraway look as he watches the movie, like he’s not really seeing it, lifting the mug to his bony lips every minute or so.

“This is one of my all time favorite Christmas movies,” you say, hoping to start some kind of conversation. The awkwardness is thick enough to cut with a butter knife and you can’t tell if that’s just you or if you’re picking up on Luke’s mood. Hans Gruber starts to loudly take command of the Nakatomi holiday party in the background as you keep speaking. “What’s yours?”

“Hmm?”

You nudge him slightly, you foot covered by the lap blanket you always keep on the back of the couch. “Favorite Christmas movie?”

“Rudolph, the stop-motion animation version. What’s your favorite thing about the holidays?”

“Wrapping presents,” you say without hesitation. “Buying them is a hassle, but spending time to find something that everyone would like, then wrapping it up to make it a surprise, that’s the best. What about you? Any traditions you love?”

“Monsters celebrate Gyftmas, actually, but it’s not too unlike Christmas. I think the human version influenced the original traditions we had. But my favorite thing to do is when everyone in town brings gifts to the tree in the middle of the square. It’s a way to apologize to the Gyftrot that was covered in a bunch of baubles and debris hundreds of years ago in the Underground, a way to celebrate all the junk getting taken off its horns. When I read the book How the Grinch Stole Christmas , I was pretty amazed at how similar that was to Gyftmas compared to the Christian version of the holiday.”

“That’s really cool,” you say, turning to face Luke as he talks. “What happens to those presents afterward?”

Luke shifts so he’s facing you, too, leaning one arm on the armrest beside him. Some of the tension is out of his shoulders and he looks more relaxed overall. “They used to stay there for a while Underground, as decoration. The tree was in my dad’s hometown actually. Snowdin. Monsters would take the gifts to the orphanages in the capital. Now we give them to charity.”

“Great choice. I like that tradition.” You stand, throwing your blanket off to grab your empty mugs and rinse them in the sink. Luke offers to pause the movie as you head towards the bathroom, but you wave and say, “I’ve seen this so many times, and I’ll be right back.”

You recall the last time you had a pep talk with yourself in the mirror as you wash your hands. Self-consciously, you look at your hairbrush for a second before running it through your hair. Wearing it down for ice-skating wasn’t the best choice, and there are a couple knots to untangle. And, you figure while you’re at it, you might as well brush your teeth super quick, too. Feeling minty fresh and a touch more confident about sharing the couch with your...skele-friend? What is Luke exactly? It doesn’t feel like the right time to say anything so you shake the thought away, give yourself one more once-over, and walk back out.

Luke sits ramrod straight on one end of the couch, facing the television until he catches sight of you walking down the hall. He smiles softly, the barest hint of his dimples appearing.

He’d been getting more and more physically affectionate with you leading up to something you really wanted to repeat from earlier, and now he acts like he is walking on eggshells. Direct confrontation isn’t something you feel up for, still a little jittery over all the pesky feelings building over the last month or so, so you decide to park yourself a little closer to him on the couch. You leave a little space in case he feels skittish and wants to keep distance for whatever reason.

“Want some?” you ask, lifting the blanket off the cushions, intent on laying it over you again.

“Absolutely,” he says, gently pulling it over his own lap. As he adjusts, he lifts his arm, inviting you to snuggle close to him. You happily oblige.

As your arm rests on top of the blankets, hand on your knee, you feel Luke relax more and more as explosions and gunfire light up the screen. The climax of the movie is up soon and you can’t help laughing when Hans Gruber tries to repeat John McClane’s famous line, his accent butchering it. Luke’s chest vibrates pleasantly against your shoulder as he laughs along with you, the chuckle sounding far deeper with you pressed up against him. A thought comes to you, and before you can stop yourself, you’re speaking.

“Are you still worried about the teleportation thing?”

Laughter slowly dies in his throat, and you press on.

“I promise I’m okay. I...I trust you, you know? And...magic is all about intention, right? At least that’s what my sister says whenever I ask her about her abilities, that is, even if magic isn’t quite the same for mages or monsters. But you said it was like that for you, too, so...yeah. It’s totally fine.”

Luke is quiet for a moment, but you feel him turn his head and press one of his frequent forehead kisses into you. With his height it’s the easiest thing to do, and every time he does it you feel your heart melt a little more.

Yeah, you are definitely in trouble.

When he speaks the vibration through his chest is even more pleasant and soothing, lips still pressed to your hair close to your forehead. The arm around you holds you tighter for a second in a half-hug. “You’re amazing, did you know that?”

“I don’t know about all that,” you say, flustered, moving your arms to snake around his middle to return the hug. And to hide your face. You know your face is probably a blushing mess. “Just some boring human.”

“You don’t honestly see yourself that way, do you?”

Face pressed into his side, you lift a hand to trace the edges of one of the machines on his sweater. “I just don’t see how I’m all that interesting to you, is all.”

Luke sighs, but before you get a chance to feel any sort of hurt, he’s kissing down your face, starting from the top of your head. He moves you so he can nuzzle his face into your neck. The lack of a nose doesn’t stop him from delicately rubbing that little upside-down heart that serves as a nasal cavity against you. It sends goosebumps all over your body and you instinctively hold your breath at the contact. Your Soul hums with happiness and your heart beat picks up. Luke presses a little more into you as your pulse rockets up and down your neck.

“You’re intelligent, you work so hard at what you like to do, and you’re so kind,” he says. His voice sends shivers down through your body, heat starting to pool in your stomach. “And you’re beautiful, so gorgeous. And your Soul...stars, your Soul is incredible. Not a boring human at all.”

Trying to gain a little control over your emotions, you sigh a breathy laugh, tilting your neck a bit to give him better access for those kisses and say, “Okay, okay, not boring. I believe you just...keep doing that, please.”

You can feel Luke’s smirk against your neck before he pulls away to lightly pull at your earlobe. “My pleasure.”

Hard fingers press into your hip over top of the blanket still spread across your laps, pulling you closer to him. The arm around your shoulders pulls you as well, holds you snugly, and you’re glad for the support as you start to shiver, gripping the front of his shirt, squeezing your thighs together for a little friction. Now you’re really glad you brushed your teeth and hair. His lips move from your earlobe and back to yours, nipping a little at your lower lip before he starts to kiss you so gently you feel like crying out in frustration. The actions of his body and his lips war with each other. Under your palm you can feel him start to shake, too. It’s getting far too warm under this blanket.

Deciding to try and push a little, you tilt your head so you can press a little closer to Luke, making the kiss more forceful, and the change in angle forces him to sit back against the armrest a little more. If it’s digging into his back painfully, he doesn’t show it. You can feel your knee slip between the cushions of the couch and hit the wooden slats underneath but that’s not high on your list of priorities right now.

You shift and boldy slip yourself over him so you’re straddling his lap, knees pressing into the back of the couch, but you don’t go so far as pushing your hips up to his yet. Your arms move so your hands cup his head, the smooth bone underneath sending little pulsing shocks everywhere your skin comes into direct contact with him. The shockwaves get a little faster as you adjust yourself so you’re not putting your full weight on his legs. For a moment you feel him hesitate, not sure where to put his other hand now that it’s not on your shoulder anymore. You hum happily in the back of your throat when he settles on gripping your thighs, helping you sit up enough that your face is even with his, even a little above it. It’s...nice, since he’s so much taller, to be able to rest your forehead against his to catch your breath, his face looking up from under you.

“Is this okay,” you ask, eyes locked on his. He’d slipped his lids closed as you settled against him, and you can see the column of his throat move as he swallows, the lump of his Adam’s apple moving in time.

“Yes,” he says. His breath is hot against you, and the way he sounds sends a thrill through you right to your Soul. He sounds like he wants this as badly as you do.

“Tell me if you want me to stop, yeah?” you say.

“Keep going.”

The word ends in a slight groan as you repeat what he did to your neck earlier, pressing open mouthed kisses down the warm bone. Lips against his skin makes you heat up inside and out, and you let the heady feeling of touching him wash over you. In the background the movie is all but forgotten as the credits start to roll.

Luke grips your thighs tight enough that he feels when your legs start to shake from exertion. Definitely more exercise than you’re used to today. He puts a little pressure on you with his thumbs so you start to settle your weight against him fully. His thighs feel fuller than you expected from a man who looks like a skeleton, but you’d noticed he fills out the jeans he wears so it shouldn’t be a surprise. One of his fingers traces the skin between the top of your pants and your sweater as it starts to ride up.

“I’m not too heavy?” you ask against his neck, hiding your uncertainty with a few kisses to his clavicle.

Luke makes a sound somewhere between a growl and moan as you start to suck on the swell of bone beneath his strange skin. “No. You feel amazing like this.”

“Mmm, and you smell amazing.”

You pause to catch your breath after mimicking the actions of a love bite against his neck. You’re a little disappointed only a bit of green starts to bloom in the spot, nothing like the marks you usually like to leave in the heat of the moment. Resting your head on his shoulder you focus on breathing, playing with the ribs you can feel beneath his sweater as he continues to press you close to him. Several questions you had are answered as you feel a familiar pressure against the inside of your thigh, hot and hard and impossible to ignore. Since he can’t quite kiss you at this angle, his fingers massage up and down your thighs, the pressure exquisite even over your jeans.

Even with the way you both shake with desire, it’s all you can do just to hold onto each other. You shift a bit to get more comfortable and Luke sucks in air through his nasal cavity as that rubs you against the tent in his pants. By now the credits are long over for the movie and the same menu loop plays over and over behind you. You try to ignore that as the two of you mutually turn the heat down on the flame burning between you.

Luke’s magic starts a humming pur against you when you start to stroke the top of his sweater where his sternum is, and where you know his Soul rests underneath. You wonder if he can feel the way your heart hammers in your ribcage the same way you are slowly getting drunk on the rhythm of his magic all around you. You slide to the side so you’re cradled to his side, your legs draped over his.

“Woah,” you manage to say as your heart rate returns to a semblance of normal.

“Seconded,” Luke says, face pressed into your hair, breathing slowly.

He’s still hard beneath you, and you start to move your hand lower down his chest, closer to the belt at his waist, when his hand catches yours.

“Don’t think I don’t want you, because I do,” he says, hand gentle as he slips your fingers together, “but I want to wait. You’re so...your Soul is on fire right now after all that magic, and I want you clear-headed.”

You can’t help it, you whine in the back of your throat and have to stop yourself from rubbing up against him again, but he’s right. Light headed on top of incredibly horny, you’re still feeling the intoxicating effects of so much raw magic at the ice rink and then the direct contact of Luke’s skin to yours.

“Yeah...yeah, good point.”

The movie player and television click off automatically after another loop of the main menu, making the room much darker than it was before. Only the light from your tree remains, casting a glow throughout the room. Luke rests his head on top of yours as you just hold each other, starting to breathe in sync, watching the snow fall outside until you both fall asleep.

Chapter Text

“Are you free on Christmas Eve? I know it’s really last minute but Ken is having a small party at his house the night before for friends and a few family members. I should have asked you before but I kind of forgot about it until today.”

“I wouldn’t be intruding?”

“Nah,” you say, popping your headphones in so you could work and talk. “I’ve been advised I have to bring someone or suffer through the party playing bartender for everyone else.”

“A hidden talent, hmm?” Luke is smiling, you can tell by the tone of his voice over the phone. “What did the skeleton say when he walked into the bar?”

“Give me a beer and a mop! Ha, that one is so old, Luke!”

“I still got a laugh out of you, didn’t I, doll?”

“Ugh, stop it you smug punning skeleton.”

A bowl of cookie dough sits before you waiting for you to pick what candy chips to add this time. There’s already a dozen baking in the oven with butterscotch chips, Rhett’s favorite, so you decide it’s time to make a few with dark chocolate chunks for Ken. The tattoo parlor is closed until after the New Year’s holiday so you’ve spent the last few days baking up a frenzy, boxes open and ready for you to mail them across country to friends and family. A little last minute, but better late than never, right?

“Yes, I will go with you,” Luke says after telling a few more terrible drinking related puns and your cheeks hurt from trying not to laugh and give him the satisfaction. “Any dress code? What time should I show up?”

“Ugly sweaters because he plans on having a contest. And, well, I was thinking I’d go over there to help set things up, actually. Ken kind of already conned me into that.”

“I’d be happy to help, too,” he says. There’s a bit of rustling in the background and you can hear his uncle Papyrus talking and yelling at someone else (everything he says kind of sounds like yelling, honestly). “Are we still on for dinner tomorrow night, too?”

You start to scoop out equal-ish sized dollops of cookie dough and arrange them on the baking sheet. Still a few minutes until the other batch is ready to come out and start to cool. “Yeah! I picked up the tickets for the ice sculpture walk this afternoon, actually, when I was helping Ken lock up the shop. Closed until after New Year’s! I plan to marathon so many Netflix shows until term starts.”

“No, you won’t, you’ll spend at least half that time studying for your last semester.” Luke’s teasing warms you inside out. The truth of the statement isn’t lost on you. “You want me to pick you up after work?”

“By pick me up does that mean the phone-app way or...?”

You can almost feel him shrug and smirk at you. “Read into that what you will, doll. Text me the details for tomorrow night, please. I have t’get back to work.”

“Will do, skele-man. Have fun at work.”

“Always do.”

When the line goes dead, you pull your headphones out and turn the music back on from the holiday station on your favorite music streaming platform. Bing Crosby’s smooth voice picks back up where he left off and you start to hum along.

It’s been a week since you and Luke fell asleep together on your couch. As you bake you think back on the last time you’d seen him in person.

Waking up in the darkness while being held is not a common occurrence for you, so when your eyes open you’re on instant alert, and very aware of the skeleton beneath you. The two hadn’t moved much in your sleep. You blink a couple times to get your bearings and resist stretching. Every muscle is sore from ice-skating, but each place your body touches Luke’s you feel the comfortable heat of him radiating off and easing the soreness a bit. The next thing you’re aware of is the light green glow above your head.

“You awake?” you had whispered, shifting a little.

“Yeah.”

“Why didn’t you wake me up so you could move?”

The green glow gets a little brighter. “Didn’t want to move ya.”

“Hmm.” You had snuggled a little deeper into his sweater, close to falling back asleep now that you knew where you were and who is holding you.

“Hey, _______.”

You lifted your head to look up at him. “Hey, Luke.”

“I’m going to get going, want me to take you to bed?”

“Mmm, I’d love you to.”

Luke chuckled, slipping forward on the couch and putting his arms around you so he could carry you. “Not like that. Not yet. But I’m flattered.”

“You’re a dirty minded skeleton-man,” you slurred as he took you down the hall to your bedroom.

“And you’re exhausted,” he had said before tucking you in, pressing one more kiss to your cheek before leaving with a huff of air.

The next morning you had woken up to a handwritten note on your bedside table, that clean type-face Luke writes in wishing you a good morning and to check your kitchen. Sleepily rubbing at your eyes and yawning, you walk down your hallway absentmindedly pulling off the sweater from yesterday, leaving you in an undershirt and jeans. You hadn’t changed before falling asleep. On the counter by your fridge was a small poinsettia plant with another note sticking out of it. You had had a sneaking suspicion he snuck into your apartment while you were still sleeping to deliver them. It probably should have bothered you but...it’s Luke. It doesn’t bother you a bit. Luke apologized again in his note for scaring you and essentially breaking into your apartment, which you had texted him afterwards to tell him again to not worry about it.

Now the poinsettia sits in the center of your kitchen table, a little bit of holiday cheer as you bake cookies. You make sure each batch has at least two tablespoons of magical ingredients so if any monsters were to attend there would be a chance they can eat them. That, and the powder always makes the cookies sweeter. The synthetic dust is all the rage on cooking shows and in restaurants the world over.

You stare at the plant, biting your lip as you recall the memory of your last date. At some point over this week, the last week the shop would be open until closing for the two week break, you’d resolved yourself to what you’d wanted almost as soon as you met Luke. You want to jump that skeleton’s bones. Or, one bone in particular. If sitting in his lap the other night was any indication, he wants you back at least half as badly.

Licking the spatula you’d used to clean the mixing bowl, you catch yourself in a dirty thought and start to blush, but it just makes that naughty heat start up again in your stomach. Did magic cum taste sweet like synthetic magic dust?

This time, you don’t scold yourself for your thirst. It’s allowed, damn it!

Now, to seriously Google what kind of protection you’ll need for when the opportunity...arises. You stop and laugh for a second, anticipating all the bad sexual puns Luke might start making now. There’s fun in resisting the charm of the jokes, even if you do find them genuinely funny, but at least you know you’re a little better matched at dirty jokes. And, you know you’re clean, but you’ll have to make sure to ask him the same. Nothing sexier than consent and honesty.

You flip through web pages on your phone until the timer goes off for another batch of cookies and you have to take them out or risk burning them.


 

Some of the snow melted in the bright winter sun, so you take your scooter out of the shed to ride it to work. Ken had offered to pick you up on the way, but you didn’t want to take the nicer day for granted, and also didn’t want him to know you were meeting someone after work. You’re not ashamed of Luke, but Ken can be relentlessly teasing about people you date, and he’ll meet Luke tomorrow night anyway at his Christmas Eve party. Besides, he probably knows something is up because of your post with two mugs of hot chocolate instead of one, since he’d been one of the first to like the picture.

You can’t believe Christmas is around the corner. Finals helped the time pass but now that the holiday is here it feels like it snuck up on you. All the cookies you wanted to send home and to friends were mailed, even a few sent to Queenie in Ebott since you wouldn’t see her until New Year’s Eve and you know she appreciates the sentiment that you miss her.

Riding through the city in early afternoon proves to be a little dicey with all the holiday shoppers, but you manage. Walking to one of the back doors, you stomp off the salt and slush at the bottom of your overalls and boots. The ends of your hair are still damp from your shower after getting shoved into your hood, so you take a second to collect yourself in the employee bathroom, removing the protective clothing, and smirking to yourself. You hope Ken rolls his eyes at your Santa hat. There were a few customers tonight, but it’s the last night before closing shop so it’s a short one. Luke would meet you later to head to the ice sculpture show and, if you had your way, back to your apartment to scratch a mutual itch.

“Yeah, that’s what you’re wearing I guess,” Ken says as soon as he spots you walking down the hall. His sleeves are rolled up and he put in his gauges today.

“You have one red and one green gauge in, you’re one to talk.”

“I’m at least subtle,” he teases, reaching over to play with the end of the hat with the pencil in his hand, the bell inside jingling merrily.

“Hands off the goods, Waits!” You duck away from his second attempt and glare. “You’re impossible. Anyway, how many of us are there today, I brought over some cookies if anyone - besides you - wants to take them home.”

“Why can’t I?”

You put your purse into a drawer of your desk, lock it, and flip your lanyard over your neck as you roll your eyes at him. “Oh, my god, don’t whine, I made like six dozen to bring to the party tomorrow night, okay?”

Ken gives you two thumbs up as he walks away, pencil between his teeth. You roll your eyes again for good measure.

The afternoon passes very quickly, with only a couple of piercing walk ins and a few people purchasing gift cards. It reminds you of Luke each time someone starts looking through the tablet and it’s difficult to keep from smiling each time his dorky skeleton face crops up in your mind. All the appointments finished, the lobby tidied up, visible valuables locked away, and it’s already time to close a handful of hours later.

Hugging you before leaving, Ken asks you to call him if you have any issues locking up, and you promise you’re right behind him. He has to go to the store for last minute party items he doesn’t want to have to pick up the next day. Usually you don’t leave the parlor alone, for safety reasons, but when Ken’s headlights pull away down the side street, you hear light knocking on the front door.

Luke is bundled up similarly to how he was the first night you met, except with a heavier coat on over his zip-up hoodie. As soon as you open the door to let him in so he can wait for you in the warmth, he leans down for a kiss.

Oh, you could get used to these greetings. Mmm.

“Hey,” he breathes into your cheek, kissing it lightly once before pulling away. “Nice hat. It suits you.”

“That was a stretch, buddy, and you know it. How was work this week?” you ask, shutting the door behind Luke.

“Eh, you pun some, you lose some. Work was work, we had a lot to finish up before taking a few days off for the holiday. Most of the humans that work for us take time away for Christmas anyway, so there’s never much goin’ on this time of year.”

“Obviously, same here,” you say as you start to lock up. “I’m doing one more sweep, be right back.”

Luke salutes you as you disappear down the halls. All the lights that need to be off are off, your overalls from before are packed away in your backpack, and everything is locked up. Just the alarm is left before you walk out the door.

“Ready?” you ask. The tickets for the walk are sitting on the counter, so you move them into your purse for safe-keeping.

Luke holds the door handle until you give him a nod, the alarm beeping it’s thirty seconds warning as you skip to the front. You stand outside to listen and make sure the alarm doesn’t immediately start going off. Standing with his hands in his pockets, you don’t notice Luke warmly smiling at you until you turn around. Christmas lights on the shop fronts up and down the street make a beautiful background to the skeleton with his floppy beanie, dark coat, and warm smile. You try to imprint the image in your memory.

He holds out his hand to you and you take in a quick breath of anticipation, looking from it to his face and back again. The lights of his eyes almost twinkle as he says, “I did say I’d pick you up, tonight.”

Your cheeks hurt from smiling and the bit of cold wind rustling by. “Oh, hell yeah!”

There’s a sweeping movement under your legs as soon as you touch his hand, and your stomach flies around inside like it doesn’t know whether to go up into your throat or fall to your knees. Your eyes were closed as soon as you started moving. When you open them you hit Luke on the shoulder.

“You tease!” you say, wrapping your arms around his neck as he carries you. “That wasn’t funny!”

Luke is laughing hard enough his chest rumbles against your side, his head thrown back so you can see the multiple sharp teeth and void-black expanse inside of his mouth. He manages to calm down enough to say, “Worth it. Besides, your scooter is still here, yeah?”

“Oh, well, yeah it is.”

“Let’s get that, too.”

“Wait, what?”

He rounded the corner to your parking spot, leaned down so you were able to slip to your own two feet, and before you could blink he’d grabbed the handle of your bike and your arm with each hand. His face is blank and focused, holding your gaze without question. The little flutter you remember from the other night in your stomach makes you gasp, a little squeeze on your body that makes it feel impossible to breathe, and it’s over. You’re not in the back alley behind the shop anymore.

You also really want to throw up right now.

Hand over your mouth you turn away to the pile of snow leftover from the plows cleaning the parking lot, and you dry heave for a few seconds. You’re not someone with a weak stomach but that was disorienting as all hell.

Luke’s hand is on your back, holding your hair where it threatens to get stuck in your mouth. He’s making soothing sounds mixed with apologies as the hand rubs gentle circles up and down your spine. Even through the back of your jacket you can feel the heat his body naturally gives off.

“That...was so...awesome,” you pant out as you catch your breath. You grab a fistful of fresh snow off the ground and bring it close enough to your face to cool your burning cheeks but not close enough to wipe away your makeup.

“Awesome isn’t the word I thought you’d use,” Luke says. He’s laughing, but also breathing a sigh of relief.

“I just teleported with you! That’s...oh, boy, one second...that’s so cool!”

“I’m sorry you got sick. Last time you didn’t so, uh...must’ve miscalculated this time.”

You wave your hand at him dismissively as you try to stand up straight again. The nausea is dissipating from your stomach enough that you feel almost normal again.

“Still awesome. Let me store this thing.”

Luke holds the shed door open long enough for you to lock your scooter and come outside, locking the outside door, too, for good measure. After such a negative reaction the two of you decide to not do the teleportation thing to go from your apartment to the venue. You use the time it takes to go upstairs the mundane way to call a Lyft, leaving your bulky layers meant to drive in behind at the apartment.

Arriving at the university campus, you’re happy for the ride to completely collect your bearings, and the fact the two of you don’t have to configure parking tonight. It’s nearly as busy as the afternoon at the skating rink. For a moment you pause and feel out the atmosphere. Each day since the overwhelming effects of the monster children at the skating rink, you’ve made it a point to revisit your sensitivity exercises. You want to have full control of your faculties tonight. The exercises are small and very similar to yoga, which you’ve never really gotten the hang of, just a few basic poses and concepts. But, they help, and you’re rewarded for your efforts in real time.

“You okay?” Luke says.

“I’m great,” you say, going up on your tiptoes to request a kiss, which Luke provides without question. “No shivering from magical exposure tonight, just the cold.”

“If you’re feeling chilly I’ll just have to cold you close.”

Your stomach does a happy little flip, but you still push your hip into him with a sassy smile and say, “Smooth move, skele-dude.”

Luke grabs your hand in his, your gloves rubbing against each other’s in a way that sends more shivers up your arms. You bury your nose in the scarf you’d looped around your neck and pat yourself on the back for thinking to put your hair up this time. The static electricity combined with Luke’s magic already has the fine hairs on your arms and neck standing on end, you’d hate to wrestle the rest of your hair into submission after taking off your hat.

A ticketbooth blocks off the cordoned path where dozens of ice sculptures stand. None of them are larger than a few feet tall and are all done by local professionals and amateurs at the school, as stated by the wooden signs stuck into the snow. At one point the two of you spot Freya moving through the small crowd to snap pictures of the art. She offers to snap a picture of the two of you in front of a crude figure of a penguin. The two of you give the nod of approval and she promises to email it to Luke once she transfers it from the professional-grade camera to her computer.

“I really like Freya,” you say as the fire elemental walks down the path.

Her sleek black clothes cover every bit of her except her head, green flames styled into something sharper than what you’d seen back at the skating rink. You wonder how she manages to style flames like that. Her spark lights up the path long after you can truly make her out in the crowd.

“I’m glad,” Luke says.

“And you can meet some of my friends tomorrow night,” you say, looking up at him with a wide smile. “Queenie won’t be around again until New Year’s, I think she went home to visit her sister.”

Luke nods. “Yeah, I think I saw her hanging around the cafe this week. A lot of monsters are comin’ home for Christmas.”

“Like your sister, right? Corsiva?”

“Yeah, she flew in this weekend and is staying for a month at my parent’s.”

“She doesn’t teleport like you?”

“Nah,” Luke says, tugging you over to an open bench beneath a path of illuminated trees covered in thousands of lights. He holds you close to him as he keeps talking. “Each of us do something a little different.”

“So cool. Even if yours makes me want to hurl a little, it’s still cool. And don’t you dare apologize.”

“Truce, doll. Truce.”

The moment feels light and innocent, but the way his hand rests on your thigh does not. You kind of wish he’d be a little more overt but even the thought of an even more public display of affection makes you blush into your scarf. Leaning your head into him, you hug around his waist and slip your hand into his jacket pocket. It’s not a move meant to rile him up, but you can feel his intake of breath as your hand moves from his back, over his ribs, and down closer to his hip.

Opening your mouth right now feels impossible, your tongue heavy and afraid of pushing him too far. He’d set a very firm boundary the last time the two if you had gotten close to crossing a boundary you are very ready to cross, so you’re following his lead.

His hand increases pressure on your thigh for a moment, which feels heavenly right now. Soreness from skating no longer lingered in your muscles, so the contact feels more intimate than soothing, like it had the other night. You want to fill the silence between you before it gets too charged, or you lose control of your tongue and just ask him to forget the rest of the plans for the evening and take you home, so you latch onto something he’d mentioned before and hadn’t elaborated on.

“I did some research after you mentioned my Soul has a frequency,” you begin. “I’d never heard that term before, but really, it makes so much sense. There were a few studies I could find in the university’s database that talked about comparing Soul frequencies to the ones that deal with light and sound. I’m not a soul science major so I don’t understand a lot of it, but I thought it was really cool. Is that what you were talking about at the ice rink before?”

Luke nods against your head. “Exactly. It works a lot like Soul colors, I won’t lie to hue . And some Souls create harmony with each other while others are dissonant.”

You ignore his pun, missing it as your train of thought continues down it’s track. “Like music. I...I think I can feel that, when I touch monsters or people who have a lot of magic.”

“Yeah? That’s something monsters can do, too. Just naturally, when in the same room. Could be why you got so affected after shaking Freya’s hand.”

And every time I touch you , you think to yourself. Instead of dwelling on that, you ask, “Does it have anything to do with my Soul trait, justice?”

“Nah,” Luke says. He stretches his legs out in front of him after checking he wouldn’t block the path and accidentally trip someone. “That’s not locked onto one Soul color. It’s deeper than that, one of the most basic things monster kids learn. You sure you’re not a mage?”

“I’ve always been told I’m just on the sensitive spectrum, since I can’t do anything with magic deliberately.”

“Hmm. Intention is everything. Justice souls are one of the more common ones in humans, from the last surveys. My sister and Freya know more about the intricacies than I do. Hell, my dad wrote the book on a lot of that stuff.”

“Your dad sounds really cool,” you say, burrowing closer to Luke for warmth. And, if you’re being honest, to soak up more of that pleasant hum you feel whenever you’re around him. Now that you can identify it as a potential harmony, you let it wash over you without a hint of fighting the feeling. Why fight it at all? You want him to overwhelm you.

“He’s awesome, but not as cool as Papyrus.” It sounds like an inside joke, and Luke chuckles as he says it. “If you want, I could ask someone back home to look into your Soul file again, in case you are a mage after all. Could help with how easily you’re affected by raw magic.”

You furrow your brow as you think on his offer, sticking your face back inside of your scarf. All your life you’d sat resigned with the idea you were just lucky to have any affinity to magic at all. The idea it could be more is tempting, to say the least. The cold air is starting to chap your lips but getting chapstick out of your pocket would require taking off your gloves and letting go of Luke, two things you’re not interested in doing. Luke waits for your answer patiently but nudges you when you start to shiver a little.

“C’mon, doll. You’re freezing, let’s keep moving. Let’s go find a corner to stand in.”

At first it doesn’t sound like a joke so you move without answering, but it hits you. “Why, because they’re always 90 degrees?”

“Heh, of course!” Luke, no matter how poor the joke, always looks like it’s his birthday when you play along. It’s fun to refuse to laugh out loud when he really gets going, but that smile on his face, framed by the twinkling Christmas lights above, is too good to deny.

“Hey,” you say, tugging on his hand a little after passing the last sculpture in the exhibit. When he looks down at you, you ask, “You want to get out of here?”

If you weren’t watching his eyes closely, you might have missed the flash of the green discs in his sockets changing to shimmering hearts. Barely perceptible, you almost don’t believe it, and you bite your bottom lip at the sight. Luke traces the way your teeth run along your lips and takes a deep breath, letting it out shakily.

“I’ll get us a Lyft.”

Chapter Text

You almost ask Luke to take you up to your apartment via a shortcut once the Lyft driver disappeared around a corner. But, if you had, you would have missed the way he easily picks you up in the elevator car to press you against the wall, kissing feverishly into your neck. Your nickname feels very appropriate in this moment since he carries you as if your weight is no more than a doll. Legs wrapped around his hips, which easily find purchase on the tops of his iliums, you let him hold your weight against the wall.

The terms you googled about the names for the parts of his body start to rush back, because there’s no way you would have remembered ilium otherwise. There’s his phalanges holding underneath of your thighs, the edges of his floating ribs digging into your calves and knees, and something pressed between your pubic bones that you’re not sure qualifies as a bone, per se. Luke would probably argue otherwise if you had the breath to tell him your train of thought.

Four flights go by faster than you ever remember before. If anyone was outside the door when it opened you probably wouldn’t have cared, as long as Luke didn’t stop kissing you.

Luke put you back on your own feet so you could unlock the door to your apartment. Keys rattling in the lock, you hold it open long enough once to let Luke in before shutting it again, throwing the deadbolt into the locked position.

“Where were we?”

You don’t answer him, just jump. He’s ready to catch you, hands firmly gripping your ass as he turns to lean into your door. His height is one of the many things you find attractive about him, but just like the make-out session on the couch before, being able to look down at him makes the butterflies in your stomach start to breakdance. The apartment is dark except for your little Christmas tree and the glow from Luke’s tongue moving through your mouth. It starts to get hard to breathe, so you wriggle until you Luke lets you slide back to your feet. He groans and pulls you against him before you do, though, getting a little friction in the place you both want.

“Coat, take it off,” you say between gasps, unbuttoning your own jacket. Unceremoniously you throw it and your hat, gloves, purse, and scarf onto the kitchen table. It’s thankfully empty except the poinsettia from Luke, but you take care not to crush the plant. His outerwear follows suit. Both your shoes thunk unceremoniously on the welcome mat by the door.

His hands are quick to find the line of skin exposed between your shirt and pants, running his fingers along it hard enough to avoid tickling. You grab onto his biceps as he does, shivering from the touch now, instead of the cold. He’s wearing a button up with a sweater vest, bless him, so it’s hard to find a spot of skin to touch on him that’s not his hands, neck or face. You make do.

With careful steps, keeping in contact with languid kisses and hungry hands, the two of you move backwards towards the couch. Your knees hit the cushions, one of his arms goes behind your back, and he uses the same body strength he’d used to lift you earlier to lower the two of you onto the couch. He’s too tall to lay comfortably on it, so he bends his spine over you so you don’t get nearly the amount of contact that you’re craving. You take the chance to start pushing the sweater vest up, coaxing him to lift it over his head. Buttons next, you tell yourself.

“What kind of protection do we need?” You ask, keeping your eyes on the shirt unfolding in front of you. He really is bone-white all over. It’s also much easier to ask that question to his broad beautiful pectorals holy shit than his face. Necessary question! Still awkward.

“I’m clean,” he says, forehead pressed into yours. Seems he finds it easier to watch your hands work, too. It’s a beautifully awkward and honest moment. If you weren’t ready to fuck a skeleton before, you certainly are now. “And I brought protection.”

“Oh, thank god, I’m clean, too. And the last thing I want right now is to stop and wait for you to pop over to a pharmacy or something.”

“Oh, yeah? What do you want, doll?”

Your hands stutter on the last button as he growls into the spot below your ear. His tongue is at work again, tracing the sensitive places he found along your pulse point and your earlobe earlier. The man’s a quick study, determined to turn you into putty before your pants are even unbuttoned, it seems. Your legs rub together to try to gain friction from the seam of your jeans.

“Ohhh, fuck, I want that. I want...I want you, don’t stop.”

One of his hands holds onto the back of the couch to keep him hovering above you as the other presses you slightly into the couch. Your hands explore what you unwrapped, moving with purpose to avoid tickling him, too. Is he even ticklish? Doesn’t matter, he feels goddamned amazing against your fingertips. You want to move to your bedroom or turn on a light so you can see what you’re feeling, but that would mean stopping what he’s doing and that’s not an option yet. There’s a sweet spot on his lower back that makes him damned near pur when you apply pressure, so you keep that up in kneading, circular motions.

Every inch of him you’ve seen so far is covered in the same bony material that makes up his skull. It moves like skin does, but has a far different texture since he doesn’t have hair of any kind, anywhere. Instead of goosebumps you can feel when the surface gets little divots everywhere. Each bone is more pronounced, something you’d guessed. He still carries a broad weight to him, which is something you don’t understand. Your higher brain functions are a little preoccupied. A teasing voice that sounds ridiculously like Luke’s says maaaagic !

“This - you can’t be comfortable - hold on.” He makes it difficult to get an intelligible word in between kisses, but he moves away as soon as you say ‘hold on’. You sit up on the couch and slide out from under him. “C’mon, I know somewhere better.”

Luke’s eye lights follow you as you move. He looks a vision, with his green pupils dilated the widest you’ve seen yet, shirt unbuttoned and open, face flushed with the prettiest green you ever did see. It takes him a moment to catch your meaning, so you hold out your hand. He takes it, and though you half expect him to be a brat and pull you back down onto the couch, he follows.

You reach for your lightswitch after opening the door, but Luke reaches around you and puts your hand over the switch. Confused, you look back at him only to find a familiar shit-eating grin on his face.

“Doll...you turn me on .”

With that he turns the knob on your adjustable switch, the edges of his canines getting sharper with the shadow from the strings of lights above your bed.

“Pffft, damn it, Luke! You’re terrible!”

Luke just laughs, grabbing you by the hips before you can make a show of walking away from him. “I’m rotten. Let me prove it to you.”

His hands are more insistent now, moving to push your sweater up and over your head like you had with his vest. In each of his moves is a moment you recognize as your chance to stop him if it’s too far. You are stuck between groaning in frustration with his gentlemanly actions and falling harder for them. It’s so sweet but you don’t think you want sweet just now. You’re so close to quenching that damned thirst. Though the idea makes you blush with that same embarrassment from earlier while asking if he was clean, you don’t want to die from anticipation before the night is out, and you balls up.

“Luke.” His fingers stutter their movements, pulling away as if you’d said ‘stop’ instead of his name. He steps back, too, which tugs on your heartstrings a little. Why is he so unsure that you want him? Is he just that cautious?

Without waiting for him to ask what’s wrong, because nothing is wrong about this, you lift your sweater up and over your head. You probably could have done this a little sexier, honestly, but you’re rewarded with two eye lights fixed on the black bra you’d worn for the occasion. Yes, you had definitely been planning him to see your underwear tonight. It’s not lingerie by any means, you still wanted to be comfortable at work and walking around in the cold, but you could be wearing fine lace the way that Luke is gaping at you.

You move your hands to the button on your jeans as you keep speaking, drawing his eyes back up to your face. “Luke. I’ll tell you if I want to stop. Right now that’s the last thing I want.” You stop before unzipping your jeans, trying to let your hands relax at your sides even though you wish you were touching him instead. “I mean...you want this, right? I’m not assuming and convincing you to do something you don’t want to - mmph!”

Luke cuts you off with a kiss. Your mouth opens in a gasp as the heat of his chest gets closer to yours. He takes the opportunity to grab your tongue with his much more dextrous one, stealing any breath you were trying to take at the suddenness of his kiss. At some point during your short speech he’d removed his shirt. The humming you’d heard on the path under the Christmas lights is stronger the closer he gets to you. If he were hugging you close instead of resting his hands on your biceps you think your eyes could have rolled back in your head. The kiss ends as suddenly as it started.

“I don’t want anything more in this moment than you, _________.”

Your cheeks move from pink to red. “Say it again.”

Luke’s eyes flash into little hearts again, this time for more than a nanosecond. “________. You like it when I say your name, doll?”

“Yesssss.” Your breath comes out as a hiss, ending in a squeak as he picks you up and sets you on your bed.

The lights above your head give off enough light to illuminate the room, but still leave a soft yellow glow on Luke’s skin. You imagine he’d look radiant in the flourescent lights of the kitchen. Without his shirt you can see another spot that glows faintly green, just below his sternum. Luke pulls a breath through his teeth at the contact. The pleasant hum between you gets a little louder across your skin and in the back of your head, a little more persistent the more you touch skin on skin.

You pull away only so you can scoot further up on the bed, under the canopy you made of white lights and grey tulle, keeping eye contact with Luke the entire time. He follows you as if there’s a string between you. Your hair is still in a half-braided updo, and before laying back you search for the bobby pins keeping it together and set them on the nightstand by your phone. Speaking of, you flip that face down and make sure it’s on silent, as well. No interruptions tonight.

For the first time, Luke is able to put his arms on either side of you and rest some of his body weight on top of you, hips meeting hips and chest to chest. You can feel his breath on your clavicle and the top of your breasts over your bra. Carrying some of your boldness from earlier, you slip your hands past that happy place on his lower back to find the top of his pants. He’s not wearing a belt today so it’s easier to keep going, pushing at the waistband of what feels like boxer-briefs, caressing the top of his ass instead. Even a slight bit of pressure makes his hips move to grind into you a little more, which is the exact response you’d wanted.

Luke’s hands go beneath you, and you wonder if he’ll mirror your actions, before you feel yourself flip up and on top of him, your legs straddling his waist. His thumbs press into the space on the inside of your hip bones.

“Too many clothes,” he says, moving a hand to unzip your jeans. “Let’s fix that.”

You don’t bother answering, just take action. You move off of him so you can both shimmy out of your pants while laying flat on the bed. The way it creaks beneath you makes both of you giggle, and you’re glad that for however intense the literal heat is between the two of you, there’s still laughter. It makes this so much more comfortable and reminds you that this is Luke. The skeleton you’re unabashedly falling for and who you hope is about to fuck you into blissful oblivion. No expectations, just fervent hope.

He gets down to just his dark blue boxer briefs before you have your jeans off, and he helps you the rest of the way. All that remains between you is soft cotton, the black fabric of your thong and bra keeping the most sensitive parts of you from touching his bare skin just yet. With the hungry look Luke casts over you, you feel desired, wanted. And if you didn’t already know his Soul color is green for kindness, you’d believe it was determination because of that look. There isn’t a chance to admire the wonderful tent in his underwear before he’s leaning towards you.

“Come here,” he says.

You almost lose your balance as you overshoot just how much strength he put behind pulling you towards him. Your head just about hits the headboard behind him before you catch it with your hands, your knees somewhere around his upper chest. Before you get your bearings and scoot back down again, his hands are on your ass bringing you closer to his face.

Your grip on the headboard becomes a necessity.

With your thong still firmly over your carefully groomed slit (no expectations, you swear! Just fervent hope!) you can feel the way his nasal ridge is seeking the spots that make you melt. You don’t get much time to worry about how you look or smell, or if he’s attracted to the fleshy bits of you, even though he’d already shown a healthy amount of attraction to them. He’s using his hands to hold you hovering just above his mouth. You chance a look down and it’s one of the most sinful things you’ve experienced on god’s green earth.

He’s looking up at you, as if he were expecting you to take a peek and is thrilled you did. Bit of an exhibitionist streak, maybe? Plenty of time to figure that out. You lock onto his gaze as he keeps playing with you over your thong with his nose, his teeth, and occasionally his tongue. The blunt ends of your nails bite into the fabric of the headboard and your mouth falls open, trying to get more air into your lungs. Above all the spark in his eye lights is what does you in; he’s clearly enjoying what he’s doing and who are you to stand between a man and his happiness?

“Ohhh-holy shit yes,” you moan as his tongue dips beneath your completely soaked thong. Granted, it’s soaked by a combination of your efforts. You wouldn’t mind if he ripped them off of you right now, matching pair of underwear be damned. There are thousands more pairs of black thongs in the world and only one skeleton monster tongue-fucking you. Priorities.

Luke hums against the prize he’s found at the sounds you’re making above him. You start swiveling your hips with a steady rhythm against his face without thinking, following what your body is telling you that it needs. He keeps eye contact with you until he moves one of his arms beneath your thigh just enough that he can dip one long finger up into your wanting pussy. You inner muscles tense instantly, trying to pull him in further. His finger is harder than what you’ve experienced before but not unwelcome. Far from unwelcome. You’re wet enough there’s no resistance. By now, you’re shuddering, and trying very hard not to put all your weight onto his face.

As if he senses your reluctance, Luke growls into you, pushes the thong completely to the side and pulls you against him. His hand leaves, his finger leaving you with a satisfyingly wet pop , returning to gripping your shaking thighs. Now the light, champagne-like bubbles of his magic you feel whenever you French with Luke is blooming all over every part of your pussy and you can’t help the moans rising into breathy whines. Your head is thrown back, hair tickling your back each time you jerk from a particularly lovely move from the monster below you.

“Fuck, so good, so good don’t stop Luke don’t stoooop !”

Luke is definitely a quick study. Fifty points to whatever the fuck Hogwarts house he’s in.

He takes his time learning what you like best, and finds a pattern that is equal parts bliss and torture. Tongue in, pressure as he seeks out the sweet spot, tongue out, a circle or two around the hood of your clit, a long lick up and down on the outside before it repeats. You’re close, you’re so fucking close just a little more. Oh, god, the little ridge of his nasal cavity rubs against your clit with the kind of pressure you need there and Luke gets the memo, devoting his tongue to finding the spot inside of you that turns your whines into gasps and litanies of vulgar profanities.

Your orgasm hits with a burst of ferocity you didn’t expect after Luke carefully played all your strings correctly, and you don’t even try to stop yourself from squeezing your legs together around his head. Half-moons imprint into the headboard as you hold on for dear life. The sweet death, indeed.

As waves roll through you, body quivering, you feel Luke move you away from his face towards his stomach. Your eyes are heavy-lidded but you catch the glow of his tongue cleaning his mouth with a lewd hum of contentment. His erection pushes against the swell of your ass, but instead of pushing you further toward it, he sits up further and gathers you up in his arms.

“Holy shit, Luke,” you manage to say after a few minutes.

“Am I still terrible?” he asks, looking very pleased with himself. Good. He fucking earned that smirk.

“The absolute worst.”

Cuddling up to his warm chest feels heavenly against your bare skin. You can feel your heartbeat everywhere, especially between your thighs, and you appreciate the moment to catch your breath. One of your hands traces the dips and swells on his chest, noticing he doesn’t have nipples which makes you want to laugh, but you have no idea if he’s sensitive about that or not. There is still a defined shape of pectorals and a few abdominals, but his waist is narrower than what would look natural on a human, and his ribs press close to the surface. Each place your fingers trail you can feel a zip of energy just behind them. In the dim light in the room, he emits a faint green glow, an all-over blush.

“You don’t sweat,” you say.

“Not really,” he says, catching one of your hands to start kissing your palm, your knuckles, slow and sweet compared to the carnivorous way he was eating you out just minutes ago. “Not like humans do.”

The sweat on your skin is starting to cool from the lack of movement and orgasmic build up. Instead of pulling the covers up around you, you press a few kisses to his chest, moving your way up to his neck and jawline, licking the sweet chalky skin where his ear would be. There is a small raised ridge that mimics the shape of a human ear that you can see now that you’re this close, but it’s easy to miss because of his hats and height. Luke sighs in what sounds like relief as you begin to move again, the soothing movements of his hands returning to needy grips on anywhere he can find purchase.

“What do you want?” you ask, moving to straddle him again, resting against his tented underwear but not pressing into him just yet.

“Anything,” he says. “Everything. Please, touch me.”

“I can do that. Tell me if you need me to stop, ever, okay?”

“Mmmm ‘kay.”

The two of you are still on top of your duvet, so you do some maneuvering and remove the uppermost layer. He may not exactly sweat, but you sure do. Sheets are easier to wash than comforters, anyway. Luke slips down a bit so he’s not as upright against the headboard anymore, and you kneel between his knees, your hands on the thighs surrounding you. You thought you’d miss the feeling of hair under your palms but the texture of his bony skin more than makes up for that loss. There’s still a stratch against you that is distinctly male.

You tug at the top of his boxer briefs with a question in your eyes, and when he doesn’t stop you, you pull them down past what you’ve been imagining for longer than what’s probably appropriate. Luke moves to help you slip them all the way down his legs so he’s bare before you for the first time.

There were several ideas you had about this moment, and you’re pleasantly surprised by the reality. Instead of a green glowing cock that resembled his tongue, it's much more solid, like the skin covering the rest of his body like shrink-wrap. An experimental stroke with one hand, starting at the tip to bring down the natural lubricant, and you realize it feels more similar to a human’s penis than anything. Even if he doesn’t necessarily have a magical glowing cock, there is still that faint green glow you recognize as a blush all over him, and the skin before you is actually slightly darker than what’s next to it. Maybe the opposite effect of tanning, did he get whiter where the sun hit?

Not the time to ask, honestly, so to keep yourself from asking clinical questions about his anatomy you decide to fill your mouth with something else.

Oh god, it does taste a lot like synthetic magic powder. A little saltier, tangier, but still so much more pleasant than human precum. You almost miss the sound of his moan over the sound of your own. The vibrations against his cock from your moan make a muscle jump in his thigh under your hand. To steady yourself, you move that free hand up to the dip between his hips and the base of his cock, applying a little pressure as you do.

Luke’s hands hover over your head as it bobs up and down a little. You take your time pulling up, hollowing out your cheeks a bit as your tongue drags along the base. It’s foolish to try to swallow all of him tonight but you could work your way up to that another time. Judging by the way his fingers are starting to tangle in your hair and massage your scalp, you’re sure he’s enjoying himself, regardless.

“________,” Luke moans above you.

At the sound of your name leaving his lips with his voice like that, your hips push back at something that’s not there. You want to touch yourself but right now is about him. With his mouth otherwise occupied earlier, you didn’t get the benefit of his voice on top of all the other sensations, but just the thought of it makes you wet again.

You lift your lips off of him with a satisfying pop, a smirk on your lips as you blink away the few tears pricking at the edges of your eyes. Stupid gag reflex is out of practice. Your cheek rests nicely against the plane of his hips, your mouth leaving wanton kisses on the base of his cock and your tongue playing with his balls. Those you hadn’t expected, but they’re just as sensitive as a human male’s, so you’re on more familiar territory. At least you feel like you know what to do to make him feel good.

“You don’t have to - ohhhhhnnggg .” Luke tries to give you an out instead of continuing, but you have no intentions of doing so. You shut him up effectively by using your hands and mouth to find the places that really make him tick.

Catching your breath again, you look at him straight on, biting your lip before asking, “You were saying?”

“Stars, I didn’t say anything, ignore me please keep going.”

When you lean down, satisfied smirk firmly in place, you struggle against your bra strap that is determined to fall down at the most inopportune moment. Well, no time like now to get rid of the last few pieces of your clothing. Luke is way ahead of you in that department.

Combined with the heat given off by his body and magic, you feel the heat of his gaze watching you undress completely. You’re too fast for him to try to help, too single-minded in your effort to be as comfortable and naked as possible as you return to your happy task of blowing Luke’s mind. You lose track of time and yeah, your jaw starts to hurt a little after a bit, but you still attribute that to lack of practice. When you were sitting on Luke’s face you didn’t have quite the grasp on time either so, touche.

Luke’s hands found their way back into your hair at one point. His hips thrust up a bit like he wants to start ramming into your mouth, but stops whenever you try not to gag, holding back so you can keep going. The little lights in his eyes are absolutely, positively turning into hearts whenever you look up to make eye contact. Just when you think you need to take another break and use only your hands to work him, he starts to hiss nearly unintelligible words under his breath.

“Starsyes yesyes fucking hell yes, oh gods I’m close, doll, I’m going to - oh stars -”

And that’s all the warning you have before you make the decision to hold him in your mouth to catch every drop you can as he comes. It takes a couple swallows, but you drag your lips up like before to catch most of it, getting a satisfying moan of tortured ecstacy from the monster who’d you’d sucked off to completion. You think you’re allowed your own smug moment now. A buzzing feeling pools in your stomach and the high that starts to buoy you feels almost as good as your orgasm without the work. Raw magic that is harmonious with your Soul flows through you, lighting you up like a livewire inside out.

Using the back of your hand to discreetly wipe away some of the cum from the side of your mouth, you see that it’s a more vibrant color green than even his tongue, like the color of a freshly cracked glowstick. You can’t help it, you go to the little mirror you keep on your night stand, scrambling over Luke’s legs in your haste. Opening your mouth like you’re at the dentist you see exactly what you expected.

It looks like you’d dumped a broken glow stick into your mouth. When you open your mouth the reflection of the light from inside glows on your cheeks and in your pupils. A very satisfied smile is firmly on your face.

“Get over here, goofball,” Luke says to your right.

He’s still spread out on your bed, propped up on one elbow. His marble-white skin and only slightly non-human proportions make him look like a long lost statue from the era of Michelangelo or Da Vinci. With an arm stretched out towards you and his body unabashedly on display, you can’t decide if it’s your stomach fluttering or a more carnal response.

Setting the mirror down, you slip over the mattress to him as he makes room to pull you close. One of his feet brings the covers close enough to the two of you so he can grab them and wrap the two of you together. Your feet are cold after being exposed for so long, and little goosebumps are all over your body. Drawing yourself into a tight ball, you face him with the covers up to your chin. His eyelids are languid and blinking more often, a sign that he’s tired if you’ve ever seen one.

“Hi,” you say, a little too jazzed up to say much else, trying to warm up again.

“Heya.” His topmost hand reaches up to push your hair away from your slightly sweaty face. Without hesitation he leans into you for several drawn-out kisses, nuzzling against you in a way that makes you melt into the bed. “You’re amazing.”

“What, no pun for the occasion?” you say. Luke laughs a deep rumbling chuckle that you feel in the core of you. “But seriously, that was fucking incredible.”

Before you can stop it, a yawn threatens to split your face in half, and Luke laughs again, more tenderly this time. He nudges you until you turn over, pulling you up against him. Without your searing need and his blatant arousal, it feels delicate and innocent for him to hold you this close, even in the nude. You don’t notice his eye flash green or a little blue projectile flying towards your light switch before the room returns to darkness. Muted light from streetlamps outside give a noir glow that makes you sleepier.

With your back up against his chest, your skin near his Soul, it doesn’t take long for the pleasant hum emitted from between you two to lull you both into blissful sleep.

Chapter Text

Waking up is slow. You feel groggy and weighed down, warm, comfortable, and aren’t sure why you woke up in the first place. It doesn’t take long for your body to scream again that it needs to use the bathroom, refusing to be ignored.

Luke’s arm is resting on your waist, loosely holding you against him. Little puffs of breath hit your shoulders and neck each time he breathes out. Your phone is just within reach without moving his arm just yet, so you slip it along the mattress face down until you bring it up to your face. The display is thankfully dark except for the time, automatically going into overnight mode last night. You have no idea how long you’ve been asleep but it doesn’t feel like very long.

You begin the careful gymnastics of moving Luke’s arm back to him and slipping out from under the covers. A chill runs up your body from your bare feet to your spine. Outside of the cocoon of heat your bodies create under the duvet you feel far too exposed, so you grab the bathrobe that hangs on the back of your bedroom door and put on your house slippers before leaving the room. Luke stirs a little as you start to walk around the bed, turning to follow the noises you make. Two little green lights blink up at you like tiny night lights in the darkness. His sleepy confusion is almost too adorable.

“Hey, go back to sleep,” you say, grabbing the hand reaching towards you and pushing it back towards his chest. “Just going to the bathroom.”

“Mmmm. Hurry back.”

Oh, god, could he be any cuter right now? His face illuminated in the light from his eyes, a smile that is soft and genuine on his lips, facing you with groggy incomprehension? You kiss his knuckles before letting go, really urgently needing to pee by now.

You bump into the wall a couple times on your way down the hall. Once the bathroom door is closed and you’ve done what you needed to, you take stock of yourself. Instead of the harsh glare of the over-mirror lights, you opted to use only the night light plugged into the wall. You don’t see any traces of the green magic from Luke any more in your mouth, but you feel like you’re a little tipsy, like you’re about to start your third glass of champagne. There was no alcohol served at the sculpture walk last night, was there? No, not that you recall.

“Must be magic,” you giggle to yourself. In the privacy of your bathroom you do a little pose with jazz hands, feeling silly as soon as you do, but you don’t really care.

The walk back to the bedroom is steadier than the one to the bathroom. When you walk in the door, leaving it open behind you, you’re not sure if you should remove the robe and hang it back up, or take this opportunity to put on pajamas, or -

Luke’s expression makes that decision for you.

He hadn’t fallen back asleep when you’d left, as evident by the telltale glow from the lights in his otherwise vantablack eye sockets. The softness in his smile before lingers and you can’t help but feel wanted by the way he’s looking at you. You make the choice to, nonchalantly as possible of course, remove the robe to place it back on its hook, leaving the slippers there, too. In a dash you hope is more sexy and less I am fucking cold and a little self-conscious right now , you rush back under the covers with him.

Settling in after a bit of squirming to get comfortable, you face him with a timid little smile. “Hi.”

Luke kisses the tip of your nose, pressing your foreheads together. His eyelids close, effectively blocking off the steadiest light source in the room. “Heya.”

You press back into his forehead, rocking slowly from side to side to feel the ridges of your skull under the skin and muscle rub against his. You hands lazily trace from the place his clavicle turns into his shoulder. The closer you get, the warmer you are. As your thighs brush his you notice that he’s rock hard again. Green washes your face when his eyes open again at the touch of your hand against his hip, trailing closer to his cock.

“You said you brought protection?” you ask, emboldened by the low light and the heat still coiled in your belly.

Luke is gone and back in a blink of an eye. You think of teasing him for using fucking teleportation to go get the condom from his coat in the other room. But, when he returns and is back under the covers with you, the sense of urgency is appreciated. During your searches you’d uncovered the dozens of types of prophylactic and contraceptive methods monsters used. Thank goodness Luke brought one, you didn’t know if your pill would work against his magic.

He’s quick to pull you close to him again after the little plastic package is within reach. The slight heady feeling you’d discovered on your trip to the bathroom is doubled now, a rush of electricity across your skin everywhere Luke touches. It’s building you up faster and faster, until you’re both panting at the lack of oxygen from battling for dominance under the covers. Luke wins, pushing you into the bed with his greater height, though you’re sure he doesn't weigh that much more than you.

Supporting himself with one arm, he lifts the other to palm your breast, rubbing his thumb over your nipple in little motions to bring it to attention before rolling it between two fingers. Between you, his cock slides along your entrance, catching the wetness growing there for him. You moan into his mouth and he drinks every one of them in like a man dying of thirst. Your knees hold him to you, squeezing slightly each time he gets you to shudder, and he’s careful to keep sliding only on your outermost walls, though you can feel his resolve starting to crumble. As his mouth moves down to your shoulder, teeth scraping along your neck as he goes, you can’t stop your legs from falling open, allowing him better access.

Luke isn’t ready for your movement and slides into you with his next thrust, stopping both of you in your tracks. Blood rushes in your ears as you both hold your breath, neither daring to move yet. He moves away muttering the word condom in a strained voice and you lay there like you were struck by lightning.

Raw magic. Raw magic there oh god if you felt like you were swimming in a sea of magic from swallowing it that is nothing compared to the slide of him against your inner walls. At some point you’re aware you’d started to keen in his absence, grabbing the sheets next to your head, breathing harder until he’s on top of you again.

“You okay?” he asks, grabbing one of your thighs to bend your knee up by his hip.

“Yes, gods, please just - please, please, please,” you pant, fingernails trying to find purchase wherever they can, pulling him to lay on top of you so you can feel him everywhere.

This time he’s ready and stays outside of you. You can hear and feel him smile against you when he speaks. “Tell me what you want.”

“You, Luke, I want you - oh !”

First one, then two of his long fingers slips into you and still he keeps himself hovering above you, not giving you exactly what you want. He’s going to make you ask for it, beg for it, and with the little bit of sense you have left you graze your teeth on his shoulder and bite down gently in retaliation. As your teeth sink slightly into his shoulder his fingers stutter inside of you and you feel the tables are starting to turn to your advantage again. But it doesn’t last, his fingers pressing more urgently until they find the spot his tongue did the night before.

“What’s that, doll? Tell me, what would you like me to do to you?”

“Christ, Luke, please -”

Tell me, _________ .”

“Oh god, please fuck me, please!”

The word ends in a high pitched keen as he removes his fingers, lining up his covered cock, and starts to slide in deliberately. You can feel the way your pleas were cracking his resolve as he quivers above you, tension in every line of his body you can reach.

Coiled like a spring, you’re ready to break before he even starts moving. His breathing above you is quick and shallow, his lips lingering on your skin when he finds a slow pace. At once it’s too much and not enough. You’re enveloped in him, utterly consumed by the feeling of Luke above and inside and around and everywhere but you can’t find yourself in all of it. There’s a tremor under your sternum where your Soul senses your distress, sending a wave of calm through you, and you hold Luke even tighter to you, a buoy in the storm of your mind.

The headboard creaks behind you when he picks up his pace. Each drag and thrust of him inside you is pushing you closer to that precipice you don’t know if you’re ready to fall over yet. Luke’s arms are under your torso, hands pressed into your upper back to keep you close to him, face tucked into the crook of your neck to breathe against you as he thrusts. One arm leaves you to reach down and push up from under your lower back to bring you closer to him, your movements against him gaining more purchase and giving each one more power.

Against your neck his voice rumbles your name over and over, how beautiful you are, each word earnest and growing more frenzied. “You feel so good, doll. So damned good. Fuuuuuck!”

You’d squeezed your inner muscles as he slid forward and put a stutter in his rhythm. His reaction is exactly what you’d wanted because he picks up the pace again. You’re so close, just a little more -

“Please please please pleaseplease ,” you repeat over and over, pushing a hand between you to play with your clit as he thrusts, anything to get over that last little ridge and -

There.

His name is a prayer as you reach the peak, squeezing your knees around his hips like you had around his head a few hours ago. As much sensation you feel in your spasming muscles you can feel swelling into your Soul, rocketing your orgasm to new heights. No human has ever done this to you and it’s all you can do to ride the wave. You’re in bliss, holding onto Luke, and you can feel him starting to move more erratically and with far less finesse as he realizes you’ve cum.

With a roar muffled by the pillow and your shoulder, he jerks into you a couple more times before starting to pull away. For a split second you consider pulling him back to you to cum inside but you let him withdraw. Neither of you are ready for that conversation just yet. Luke pants, still lying partially on top of you as he fills the specialized condom, the bright neon green of his magic illuminating the space between the two of you.

Luke leaves to take care of himself, returning to the bedroom with a punch-drunk smile on his face. You’ve sat up and pulled the sheets up to cover your torso, though you’re sure he can see every outline of your breasts beneath the fabric. Checking the time on your phone once more, you beckon him back into bed to snuggle, something you and your Soul desperately need. Luke draws you close to him, playing big spoon again, holding you with one of his skeletal hands splayed over the place your Soul is hammering.

“So good,” you manage to say, the waves of pleasure replaced with waves of calm at his touch.

“Mmmm, you’re amazing,” he mutters into your neck, close to falling asleep now that he’s cum again. “Do we have time to sleep some more?”

“Yeah. We don’t need to get ready for the party for a few more hours.”

Luke hums his approval, getting comfortable against you as his breathing slows down. He leaves little kisses on the skin he can reach until he falls asleep, with you close behind.


You’re awake before him again, so you pry yourself away to put on the first pair of pajamas you can grab out of your dresser, heading to the kitchen to make coffee. The hot plate will keep it warm once it’s finished percolating so you multitask and head for the shower. It doesn’t take long to warm up, so before walking in you make sure to grab a clean towel and washcloth from the hall closet to set out for Luke. The water hitting your skin wakes you up even more, the bright smell of your shampoo mixing well with the scent of your body wash.

A slight blush rises in your skin that has nothing to do with the temperature of the water: the last time you’d showered you’d thought of Luke and that had lead to a very intimate moment with yourself. You’ve lived alone for a while, so you look around in a panic at your shower to make sure no lewd things are in plain sight. Thankfully past-you was prudent enough in her post-orgasm haze to put all of that away.

Aware that you have a guest and only one bathroom - though you’re still pretty sure Luke doesn’t have to use it like a human - you go through your routine quicker, wrapping a towel around your head, drying off, and wrapping the robe from last night around you.

Luke emerges from the bedroom to the kitchen wearing his jeans and undershirt from the night before. Even with a distinct lack of hair he looked every inch like a rumpled Abercrombie model.

A rotten pit forms in your stomach at the sight of him pulling his clothes on quickly. Of course. How could you be so stupid. He’d gotten exactly what he wanted out of this and was going to leave as quick as he could. He hasn’t even looked over at you yet. You’re brain focuses on the little pile of clean linens, spare toothbrush, and your largest pair of clean pajama pants that are waiting on the counter in the bathroom. Of course he’d see that and think you were being too clingy and crazy, stupid stupid stupid -

“I’m going to stop over at home to grab a few things,” he explains, pulling on his socks. You notice he leaves his shoes by the door. He comes over to kiss you on the bit of forehead showing underneath of your towel and you feel the claws of your panic release from your throat. “I’ll just be a minute.”

“You have any preference on breakfast?” you ask, covering up the wavering in your voice with what you hope is a benign question.

“I’ll have what- egger you’re having,” he says, winking at you as he disappears from your kitchen.

The air around him just before he left felt charged with static electricity, and now it smells a bit like ozone. You’re not surprised in the state he had you in last night you didn’t notice that feeling when he took a shortcut to the living room and back.

You’re so ready to sabotage yourself that you’d read incorrectly into his actions. It made sense he didn’t lug around a bunch of stuff since he could pop back home at a moment’s notice. So ready to find the worst in him already just to give yourself an excuse to throw it all away again. Didn’t you just promise yourself you’d take a chance, follow your heart with this one? You wish you could call Queenie and talk to her about it since she was the one who knew the most about how you felt, but she’s in the Underground without service. Besides, you don’t know how long Luke is going to be gone, so you sigh and square your shoulders against the negative words whispering in your head. Nothing a little coffee and breakfast with Luke won’t cure.


“Yeah, I’ll be over there in a little bit, is there any other last minute stuff you need me to grab?”

Your socks refuse to cooperate as you squish your phone between your shoulder and ear. You don’t notice your slip up from distraction until Ken asks, “Can you bring me a fifth of vodka, I don’t care if it’s the cheap stuff.”

Ken doesn’t like to drink unless he’s spoken to his parents, so immediately you ask, “What did they do?”

There’s a little scuffle on the other side of the phone as someone takes it from Ken. Rhett’s smooth voice takes over, British accent making everything better. “Hey, love, I’ve got this. Do not bring any liquor, but could you be a dear and stop for some double and triple A batteries? Need more for some decorations.”

“I can do that. I’ll text you when I’m at the store, okay? Take care of him for me until I can find out who needs their email subscribed to every congressional action forum ever.”

Rhett laughs and promises Ken is in good hands before disconnecting.

“I’m sorry I can’t help set up for the party like I promised,” Luke says as he walks into your bedroom. He’s buttoning up his shirt from last night, so you stand to help with the cuffs. “Seems even on Christmas Eve that Asgore has something for me to work on.”

It doesn’t phase you that Luke can’t come over earlier. You’re on cloud nine after...second breakfast.

Luke had more of those condoms peeking out of his pocket when you’d walked by his pants earlier. He’d seemed a little sheepish and almost apologized for assuming you’d want to go again, but your response of straddling him on the couch shut him right up. It made you feel desired, and helped to ignore the nagging thoughts from earlier in the morning. By now you can feel your skin buzzing from the magic contact high and nothing can phase you.

“Well, I look forward to hearing all about it at the party later, okay? No one should notice if you appear out of thin air into the park a few houses down then walk up. I’ll text you the address so you can pull it up in street view or something.”

Leaning over to kiss your forehead, Luke says, “That’s perfect. Like you.”

Cue the blush. “Hardly perfect, but you’re welcome. I’ll see you around seven, right?”

“Yeah, I’ll let you know if I’m runnin’ behind, but I’m sure Asgore won’t keep us longer than he has to.”

You say your goodbyes, and he steps back to flash away. The smell of ozone lingers in your bedroom after he’s gone.

The trip to the store results in more than a few batteries, and you warn Rhett halfway between him pleading with you to bring him ‘real coffee’ that you drive a scooter and you had a limit to what you could safely carry while driving. Besides, you had the clothes you were changing into for the party in your backpack, too, so even more limited space. Arriving to Ken and Rhett’s house, predictably without attempting to carry a precarious cardboard cup of coffee on a scooter on a four mile trip, he makes a show of pouting as he helps carry things in.

There’s only a few hours until the first few guests arrive so most of the work is done but you spot plenty of little tasks to polish everything up. After the rush of cold air on the ride you feel more awake and ready to go, but there’s still a prickle under your skin. You really hope you’re not getting sick. That’s the last thing you want on your Christmas vacation.

“Ken tells me you RSVP’d to our e-invite with a plus one,” Rhett says as the two of you unpack in the kitchen. He looks at you slyly as he opens the bubble pack of batteries, teeth bright white against his dark skin. “Mind telling me about them?”

“He’s a monster, first of all,” you start to explain.

Ken appears almost out of thin air behind you, crazy in-tune to gossip as always. “A monster! That’s awesome, is he coming tonight?”

“Kind of, he’s half monster! It’s so cool, I’m excited for you guys to meet him. He has to work today but yeah, he’ll be here later!”

“Ugh, working on Christmas Eve. Boss must be a real monster .” Rhett looks very pleased with himself.

“Oh, my god, not you, too. I can only handle one pun-master at a time!”

Ken waggles his eyebrows, the little silver piercing through one of them catching the light. “So you’ve handled him, huh?”

You’re pretty sure only dogs could hear your indignant scream. “We are not doing this right now! Besides, you need to tell me what those assholes said to you this time.”

An abrupt change in the atmosphere makes Ken’s wicked smile falter. Rhett reaches over to put his hand on his partner’s shoulder for support before leaving the kitchen to immediate family only. Ken makes himself busy by hand washing the dishes in the sink, so you grab a clean towel to start drying what he hands you.

“I called them to ask if they wanted to come over for the party,” Ken starts, focusing on the dishes instead of your face.

Your grip tightens on the mixing bowl in your hands but you say nothing.

“I know, it was a stupid idea, but things were getting better earlier this year. And they’re probably going to move south after this winter so I wanted to ask while they still lived close by. Dad asked if I was still with Rhett and I don’t even know if it’s racism or homophobia anymore. Maybe both. He said some awful stuff and I said some worse things back.”

With a sigh you lean your head onto Ken’s shoulder, wrapping him into a half hug. “He’s an asshole.”

“Understatement.”

“He’s a flaming hemorrhoid ridden asshole.”

Ken huffs a laugh through his nose, leaning his head over to rest on top of yours. “Closer.”

The two of you quietly finish cleaning up the kitchen. Ken tells you he’s going to stay home with Rhett for the holiday tomorrow, and when he invites you to come over for lunch, you agree.. Luke had plans with his family for the holiday, and you weren’t sore over not getting an invitation. You really didn’t want Christmas to be the first time you meet his parents and holidays are very sacred to some families. By the sounds of it, Christmas is something incredibly special to the Sans-Serifs.

By the time you get a chance to change in the guy’s bedroom, the first few guests are milling around. Tables in the living room and kitchen are weighed down with enough food to feed several dozen people, and they said they got back at least thirty RSVPs. Everyone arrives in a variety of sweaters, wandering over to the table that has three wrapped presents of the same size to see if they can figure out what the prizes are. One time the guys did this, top prize was a highly coveted year’s membership to a wine club. Rhett and Ken wouldn’t tell you what they’d cooked up this year.

The closer it gets to seven, the more you check your phone between greeting friends, coworkers, and other guests. You remove at least one drink from Ken’s hands, replacing it with an eggnog that is still spiked but isn’t straight liquor on the rocks. Rhett took over watching out for him after that so you take over more of the hostess duties. The prickling under your skin is back, but you hardly notice it with every sip of alcohol, numbing your nerves even as they start to alight from the literal magic in the air.

Luke sent you a text with his typical skull emoji and the promise he would be on time. You’d already sent the park’s address and Ken’s address, and were starting to get antsy. Thankfully there were enough humans and monsters at the party already that his showing up without a vehicle wouldn’t stand out.

Someone else spots him before you do. You hear one of the monster guests call his name and put two and two together. He’s easy to spot as you walk up from the little basement where guests are starting to make use of the karaoke machine.

Lonny, one of the cat-like monsters milling around the house, is chatting animatedly up at Luke with their tail flicking back and forth. When they’d walked in and you’d asked how they knew the hosts, Lonny explained they were also in the CPA program with Rhett. Is the monster world still that small that everyone knows everyone, or is Luke just that well known? You guess it has something to do with working for the King, it likely affords a little celebrity.

“Well, tell your mom and dad hello for me, will you?” Lonny waves an orange paw at Luke before you approach, headed towards the snack buffet.

He stands a head above most of the other guests, except for a few of the taller monsters like Lonny, so Luke’s obnoxious sweater is obvious before you get within hugging range.

“Holy shit, where did you get this?” you ask, playing with one of the little puff balls stuck to the sleeves. “I might be biased but I think it’s the best one I’ve seen all night.”

He looks like he poured glue all over the sweater then took a nosedive into the kid’s craft section at Michael’s. Right now your ancient oversized grandpa sweater and leggings combo feels downright chic.

“Would you believe my cousin made this for their own sweater party three years ago? It’s been passed around each year so now it’s my turn to take the crown.”

“It’s so bad it’s circled back to awesome...and might have circled back to bad again.”

Luke laughs and plants a kiss to the top of your head. Yet another monster calls over to him and walks up to say hello. It’s a moment you’re not sure how to react to yet, since you and Luke hadn’t spoken in any sort of official terms, so you let him take the lead. The drink you’d taken from Ken earlier makes your lips tingle and the little ball of anxiety in your stomach encourages you to pour another one, so you do and offer some to the monsters who both decline. The bottle isn’t one you recognize but the liquor inside smells and tastes like butterscotch, fizzing in your mouth.

“Hey, how’s things with the king?” the monster asks. Their head and body resemble a flowering tree, face almost indistinguishable in the bark.

“Can’t complain, Cory. There’s a lot to get prepped for inspections next year. This is _________, by the way.”

You take the proffered branch from Cory to shake, and get drawn away to the front door again to greet another set of guests. Excusing yourself, you hope you can get back to the conversation soon since you’d never heard Luke speak this much about his work before. Karaoke in the basement swells up from the stairwell so the guests upstairs, including Luke and Cory, move away from the noise towards other parts of the house. It takes longer than you’d like to get back to them, but they’re easy to spot in the corner by the tree when you can circle back around. How’d another drink end up in your hand?

A tinkle of breaking glass calls you from the kitchen instead, so you send an apologetic wince to Luke. You wave him off when he starts to come to help.

Thankfully it’s not one of the nice glasses that go with the punch bowl nearby that broke, just a regular water glass. You still have shoes on so you shoo everyone out of the kitchen to sweep it up, but one girl stays behind. She’s the one who broke the glass and is looking around guiltily. You haven’t seen her before, and she looks so nervous, so you decide to strike up conversation.

“It’s fine, you know. What’s your name? I haven’t seen you around before.”

“I’m Brandon’s plus one,” she says in a quiet voice. “One of the humans.”

Okay, not a necessary distinction at all. It puts you immediately on guard against this otherwise timid looking girl in a neon pink sweater vest, the prickling you’ve been ignoring all night rising exponentially at the veiled accusation. “Yeah okay, whatever. Hold the bag then if you’re going to say in here.”

She does, very reluctantly, lean down to help you. But with the buzzing under your skin you can’t seem to shake and her own likely drunk state you end up cutting your finger.

“What the fuck - ouch! Damn it.” You’d nicked yourself on the largest piece of glass. It’s bad enough you have to get up and go to the bathroom, even if you don’t want to take your eye off this potentially racist girl in the middle of a party full of monsters. You can feel your mood clouding over rapidly and you just want to have a good time with Luke, introduce him to Ken. Why all this shit?

You wave off help from anyone, just wanting to get the cut wrapped up as soon as possible. It’s probably the straight liquor you’d been sipping for hours by now, why you’re having such a hard time just putting one band-aid on and why the blood just won’t stop. Luke said monster kids were the ones who gave off raw magic that could make you sick so it has to just be the liquor, why your head won’t stop buzzing and how the world is off-kilter. You can’t remember the last time you got this drunk.

Going back to the kitchen you don’t see the woman but you plan to keep an eye out for her. Luke is gone again, but the house is small so you’re sure you’d see him soon enough. You want to make sure there’s no more glass on the floor and get a glass of water for yourself so back to the kitchen with you.

“How is it with Luke?”

The cat monster, Lonny, comes over to the sink next to you.

“I didn’t see him ever dating a human, actually, unless you’re a mage? That would explain it.” Lonny swirls their drink a little, taking a very hearty sip. “I don’t think it’s kosher to date your experiments, though. Advancement of the races and all that. More power to ‘im.”

“What are you talking about?” Your head is spinning. Why did you drink this much? What the hell kind of shitstorm is this party with racists and gibberish talking monsters that you wish you could focus on? Where’s Ken and Rhett or Luke? Why is the wallpaper moving?

“Oh, yeah, he gathers info on humans for the king. I don’t think Asgore really trusts humans yet, not after monsters being locked down under that mountain for thousands of years or whatever. Takes more’n forty to erase that. Aw, shit I’m not supposed to be talking about this.” Lonny looks down into his drink like he could blame it for all his problems. “He’s the best, though, at investigatin’ you guys. Looks similar enough. Smooth talker. Nabbed you pretty easy. Not the first one, either.”

Dark anxiety pools in your stomach like the blood in your palm. You’d squeezed so hard on the garbage bag in your hand your band-aid slipped. “You’re lying.”

Lonny blinks blearily up at you. “D’you know there’s a bunch of monster liquor here today? Potent shit.”

And that’s all you’re getting out of Lonny as he wanders away to the rest of the party like he didn’t just tell you your whole relationship was a lie from the start. You need air. You need to get outside.

You need to find Luke right now.

You can’t remember any of your exercises to let the persistent buzz of magic  roll off of you, instead pulling the excess energy directly into you like the greediest sponge.

You don’t notice the little smear of blood you leave on the wall as you go downstairs. You haven’t seen Luke in almost an hour now but your Soul knows exactly where he is. Not that he’s hard to spot in his god-awful sweater.

“Luke.”

Your voice feels fuzzy and your throat constricts like you’re crying. He shouldn’t have been able to hear you across the room and over the music and people screaming along to the song, but he does. Everything is too sharp down here and with the combined force of the alcohol and so much raw magic from the monsters, you feel ten times worse than you did at the skating rink.

There’s a pang in your Soul when you lock eyes with Luke across the room. His smile drops into a worried frown.

You can’t do this. You can’t face him and this bullshit connection you thought you had with him.

You run.

Chapter Text

The first thing you see when you open your eyes is an almost empty container of wine-flavored ice cream sitting on your coffee table with the spoon still in your hand. There’s a ring of condensation on the bottom of the ice cream that threatens to stain your table if you don’t move it soon, but you can’t be bothered right now.

Does your heart or your stomach or your brain hurt more? It’s a tough choice. At the moment your head is winning by sheer force of will.

When your eyes open the second time, it’s clear you fell back asleep by the change of light in the room. Bright mid-morning light streams merrily through the window, a beautiful Christmas promised in every beam of sunlight. You hate it. You tell it so, and feel ridiculous for cursing the sun the second the words leave your lips. There’s cotton in your mouth. The hangover, from a combined effort from the food you ate and the wine you had last night, hasn’t dissipated much, but it’s enough you feel like getting off the couch.

You wish you had school to distract you. You wish the shop wasn’t closed for another six days, leaving you plenty of time to wallow alone in your misery. You wish you’d thought of asking Luke weeks ago what he did for Asgore to avoid the heartache. Would he have been honest, though? Would he have told you he studied humans and occasionally dated them to get the full ‘experience’.

Well, he’d certainly gotten front row seats with you and you can’t wash off that feeling.

It’s too late and too expensive to fly home to see your family. They would know something is up if you made a surprise appearance at their New Year’s celebration, and that’s not something you want to even consider dealing with right now. Oh, yeah, dad I was seeing someone and let him fuck me six ways to Sunday before I found out what he did for a living, aren’t you proud?

Merry fucking Christmas.

While you’re thinking of it you send the necessary messages to your family out of state with way too many emojis to cover up your foul mood, and switch the phone to silent. Your mom might wonder why you texted instead of called, but she likely had enough to worry about with her other kids and grandkids, the kid on the other side of the country doesn’t need her attention.

A shower doesn’t help. A mug of coffee doesn’t help. Your head is pounding like it would after drinking cheap liquor at frat parties you would crash with your friends in undergrad. Nothing is helping.

Time crawls by as you sit despondent on the couch. You miss one, then two calls from Ken. Sorry, Ken, you’re not coming to lunch today. You’d blocked Luke’s number from your phone as soon as you’d gotten home.

How had you gotten home?

“Oh fuck,” you mutter, putting your head in your hands. You’d taken your scooter home. Drunk. That was a very, very bad choice. Drunk on liquor or magic or a combination of, it didn’t matter, you could have hurt or killed someone. Possibly yourself. Now you’re zero for two on terrible decisions made in the last forty-eight hours.

Might as well make it three.

Your laptop takes a few minutes to whir to life on the coffee table, the old but gold hardware and software stretching their metaphorical arms, like it’s annoyed you woke it up from vacation early. It gives you plenty of time to rethink your decision. You don’t. The music program opens up with a hopeful ping but you are in a ‘skip every song’ mood, so you close it.

There’s still a headache throbbing at your temples when you pull up your school’s homepage, logging into the student portal with practiced speed. Part of your tuition pays for access to thousands of records and database files in order to properly cite your work. Your fingers lay on the keys for a full minute as the cursor blinks in the search box, waiting for your entry, and you keep tapping the mousepad with your thumbs so the screen doesn’t go dark. Now that you’re standing at the gates, holding the apple of knowledge in your hand, you almost back away.

No. The last time you convinced yourself to look past what your gut was saying, you were played. Not again.

You type so fast you’re amazed you didn’t misspell Lucida Console Sans-Serif the first try. You’re used to sifting through hundreds or thousands of records and documentation, but when the search completes and turns up tens of thousands of documents, you’re skeptical. His name is a name of a font after all and sometimes these massive files cite even the font used in it’s preparation. You’re not sure how to weed that out without going to the advanced search and adding monster as a keyword.

That narrowed it down by half, at least. Sorting it by most recent, you start to dig.


 

By the time the sun sets and leaves only the light of your computer screen illuminating the living room, your headache has gotten worse and you’ve burned through three mugs of tea. At one point, after a painkiller barely touched the pain, you had stepped away from your Luke-sleuthing to see why you were still feeling like garbage, aside from the emotional pain icing the edges of your Soul.

Headache. Dizziness. Dry mouth when drinking cold liquids. All over body aches. A disorienting buzz in your chest you recognize is not your heartbeat, since your pulse is fine. You wish it were the flu, but everything points to magic deprivation. Figures. After spending so much time skin to skin with a monster-human hybrid, and literally ingesting magic, as well as monster liquor, you should have thought of it sooner. You recognize you wanted it to be a regular flu. The next mug of tea you drink you stir in a spoonful of the magic powder left over from your baking. Each sip made you feel more alive, confirming your suspicion.

Ken tried calling a total of six times before giving up around dinner time. Thankfully your family hadn’t tried the same; you hated dismissing calls from your parents and you just didn’t want them to be bothered by your problems on Christmas.

A cold mug of half-drank tea sits in your lap as you stare out the living room window. There are a few cars that come and go on the street outside, the headlights easy to pick out in the darkness between street lamps. The pieces of information puzzle together in your head as you take in the holiday tableau outside.

You’re certain it was a mistake to ignore your gut weeks ago, when you considered searching for his name in the first place. It’s an unfair advantage, the amount of material you have access to as a part of your degree program, and it still feels like you cheated a little by using those databases, but the amount of information feels worth it.

Luke has stood witness to no less than two dozen interspecies trials as an expert witness. You knew he’d already gotten his degree from the university in Ebott, but the facts he has a Masters in magiscience, a Bachelor’s in Political Science and is a licensed interpreter of First Tongue had eluded you. His official title with King Asgore and the Monster Royal Commission is ‘Liaison’, and nothing more. It screams secrecy to you but is never questioned directly by lawyers or judges in the transcripts. Reading that the first time turned your stomach. The word made you feel dirtier than you already did, official title or no.

His mother is a human, and after a little easy digging you find her name everywhere. Alice Sans-Serif. One of the two human mages turned ambassadors that broke the barrier, and Frisk’s twin. You’re kicking yourself you didn’t make the connection before. In the forty year old photo she stands next to a skeleton you recognize instantly as Papyrus, Luke’s uncle and former escort to the human ambassadors, and the king and queen of monsters. His father, Sans, is the shorter skeleton hiding in the back of most press release photos, only standing in the view of the photographer if his hand is in Alice’s. The two monsters look more like human skeletons than Luke does. If your calculation is right, and you’re sure it is after your snooping, then Luke and his sister Corsiva were born roughly ten years later.

Finding the birth announcement is laughably easy as well. The twin children were two of the first hybrids of humans and monsters, something that made headlines around the world. There are even dozens of paparazzi style photos of Alice walking with Sans through Ebott while she was pregnant, obviously taken without the couple’s consent. It feels too personal so you return to the court records for information specifically about Luke’s deceptive behavior towards you.

The expert testimony he provided in a few files showed his proficiency in his fields. Most of the court cases you have access to show his efforts to bring humans to justice that mistreat, demean, or otherwise discriminate against their monster employees. But there are several theses he references regarding the effect magic has on humans. You copy down the names of the ones mentioned most often and plug those into a scholarly search engine.

His full legal name is listed on the author section of all of them, along with a few other names you recognize from the field of magical research, and a few you don’t. Two names, Doctor Alphys and Doctor Sans Sans-Serif, were in almost all of the videos you’d watched as a preteen when learning what it meant to be magic sensitive, and what your teachers would be explaining to you. The theses go into dense explanations of human Souls and how different traits react to each other, as well as the differences between the prevalence of mages immediately following the barrier breaking and several decades into the future. What Lonny told you at the party makes you wonder how many of these humans were willing subjects or not.

You can’t follow a lot of the science since these papers were meant to be used within the magiscience community or by students, and there are several abbreviations and slang terms you have to stop and search for while reading. One of the papers you forced yourself to read almost all the way through was about several different interspecies couples that included scans of their Souls clearly released from medical records. It made your skin crawl. Two of the couples were left unnamed but you don’t think you’re reading too much into the one that lists a male hybrid with green kindness magic.

Did the human female get wooed just like you, or did she know about the testing and therefore corrupt the data? Was her orange bravery colored Soul more or less appealing to him than your Soul of justice? Were you just the next color in the rainbow to show up for him, and the next person he would target would have a green kindness Soul like him?

Still too personal. Back to court cases where you can disassociate a little.

After reading yet another case where a human was caught deliberately mistreating a monster, whether they were in their employment or not, you decide that’s enough reading for now. It’s not the same as your situation, but the thought still makes you sick. Wrapping up in your throw blanket, you shut your laptop down and slide it under your coffee table. You’re sure you have one more carton of wine ice cream to indulge in, but the thought of more alcohol makes your stomach churn again. You do need to eat something though, so you compromise with your lack of appetite and shaky stomach with a bowl of cereal.

Without music or television in the background, you apartment feels empty and depressing, and your thoughts get very loud. You switch on the first thing that’s suggested on Netflix and settle in to eat.

The show is one you’ve already seen most of the episodes of multiple times. It doesn't matter if you pay attention, the sound of four older women living their lives in a Florida home in front of a live studio audience is soothing. You even catch yourself smiling at one of the jokes that still carries an amazing punch over sixty years after its first airing.

You stop yourself from checking your phone again, the habit built in after spending most of your days the last month texting Luke on top of checking your notifications. The action of clearing your junk emails with a swipe feels wooden, and you absolutely avoid checking Facebook to see everyone elses posed happiness flooding your feed. At least you’d never added him on any social media platform besides Instagram, and that app made it easy to block him there, too.  

The familiar sounds of the opening credits song on your show eventually lulls you into a fitful sleep well after midnight.

Chapter Text

“Please?”

“No.”

“_________, I swear it will be a good time.”

“Leave me alone. I need to study.”

“Classes haven’t even started yet, and I know you already read that one. It’s got sticky notes from the tattoo parlor inside of it.”

You wish your glare had the power to wither Ken’s tenacity. Sometimes it did, but today he’s backed up by what he claims is a direct order from Rhett. There’s a small chance Rhett’s in the car waiting for him downstairs now.

“It’s a law degree, these things take actual work, and I’m in my last semester. I’m not fucking this up, too.”

“Ouch, low blow. Is my marketing degree not up to your standards?”

“Ken, you know what I mean-”

“No, you’re being a dick because you’re upset.” Ken’s still folding his arms, resting his elbows on your table.

For the last several minutes he’d run the gamut of his persuasive acumen, your own resolve reducing him to the insecure mess he was turning into now. You feel bad, playing his weaknesses like this, but you just want him to leave and will use any methods you can think of to do it. You’re not sure why you agreed to let him into the building in the first place. Once he’s gone you can go back to watching more gory movies on Netflix that have zero romance outside of the main hero kissing the girl 84% of the way through the runtime.

He picks at a thread on his sweater, one of his nicest ones. He’s dressed and ready to host the parlor’s New Year’s Eve party, sitting at your table begging you to make an appearance. You’re still in your pajamas that you can’t remember if you started wearing one or two nights ago.

“Will you please come to the party, _________? Queenie will be there and will ask where you are.”

You wince. That’s what you get for playing a low card, he’s allowed to use one of his own. “Ken. Please just leave me alone for a little while longer. Just...tell her I’m sick.”

“You know that won’t make it better. She’ll just come here.”

“Then tell her I’m...I dunno, planning a bank heist, I don’t give a fuck-”

“Then she’ll want to come help.”

“Damnit, Ken!” you shout, standing up from your chair hard enough it skitters backwards, scraping loudly against the linoleum. “Fine! I’ll go, but I’m driving myself.”

He levels an apologetic gaze at you. “Actually, after what happened on Christmas Eve, we thought it would be best to all ride together.”

Your cheeks flush hot at the memory of riding home drunk, and you storm off down to your bedroom, peeling away the layers of your pajamas as you go.

“Fine!” you shout down the hall through your open bedroom door, standing in your underwear. “I’m going. You happy now?”

“Yes!” Ken calls back. “Also, Jesus you need to go grocery shopping.”

“Get out of my fridge, Ken!”

You wrinkle your nose in frustration. The only pair of clean jeans you feel like wearing are the same ones you wore to your first date with Luke. Whatever. Time to make new memories with them. You rifile through the extensive collection of black clothes you have and settle on a black button up shirt with a red undershirt to make it look like you tried.

Walking down the hall towards Ken you hear him tut before you get to the kitchen.

“I know I’m asking a lot but will you at least brush your hair? Seriously. If you don’t want Queenie to know you spent the most of the last week hiding in this apartment you’re going to have to do better than that.”

“Fuck off, already, okay?” you shout, stomping down the hall back to the bathroom and slam the door. You don’t care if your downstairs neighbor heard that or not.

Standing in front of the mirror to tame your hair into something presentable, you start to cool off again and sigh. Leave it to Ken to get you moving through anger. He really didn’t deserve to be shouted at after how you treated him on Christmas Eve, but that doesn’t mean you like the way his tactics are dragging you in hook, line, and sinker. You just want to wallow a little while longer.

You sigh again. No, you don’t. Wallowing is just the easy answer, a way to avoid your feelings for another day and just feel sorry for yourself instead of moving forward. Maybe this party is the best thing for you right now. And, why not, you’d go a few steps further from brushing your hair and actually put a little product in it and style it. Some makeup, too? Yes. Jewelry? Hell yes. You deserve this. Fuck you, 2064. Time to leave the past in the past.


 

The ride to the parlor is less stilted than you expected after running out on the party drunk without an explanation. Rhett and Ken don’t recall seeing Luke at all in the crowd that showed up, far more than the number that RSVP’d. They were a bit miffed about that situation, obviously, and felt taken advantage of. Mostly they both wanted to make sure you were okay. You’d apparently texted Ken after getting home Christmas Eve so they knew you hadn’t crashed your bike but they both admonished you more gently than you deserved for your reckless decision.

“I want to strangle whoever dumped monster liquor into the punch,” Rhett says as he drives down the side street to the parlor. Several restaurants downtown were full to bursting with partygoers, but there were spots blocked off for parking for the tattoo shop’s employees and their guests. “It really threw a wrench into everything, didn’t it?”

“My guess is it was likely that asshole from your office that takes jokes too far,” Ken says bitterly.

“I bet you’re right,” Rhett mutters darkly. “If we do that next year we’ll have to be more careful.”

You let their conversation wash over you, ignoring the sound of your blood rushing in your ears as the shop comes into view. The last time you’d seen it, you’d met Luke to go on the ice sculpture tour, then back to your-

“Looks like Queenie made it back in time for the party,” you say, interrupting that train of thought.

The spider monster’s vehicle is parked in front of the building, one of the few you can recognize on sight. You pick at your fingernails nervously, both excited to see her again after her two week trip home, and nervous that she’ll pick up on the weight settled in your Soul. There’s little time to worry about that as Rhett parks next to her and Ken opens the back door for you.

Soft light from the windows illuminates the lingering snow and slush in front of the building, and the three of you hold hands walking up to the front door to avoid slipping and falling. Once inside the employees who noticed you cheered and raised whatever glass was in their hand. Ken disappears to grab more salt for the sidewalk, Rhett following him closely, leaving you alone to mingle. You know these people so well, and just standing in the same room as them, the familiarity of the shop, it’s enough to make you grin like an idiot. It’s a small gathering of employees and their spouses or close friends only, a quieter experience than the last party.

Queenie stands at the table with refreshments, pouring herself a glass of red wine and grabbing from the items marked ‘ baked with magic’ from trays nearby with another hand.

“Hey, Queenie,” you say as you approach, taking care not to startle her.

“Hello, hummingbird~,” she replies, settling the wine bottle down and stepping away from the table to make room. The top of her head chitin is barely a foot from the ceiling so she moves with caution.

Trying to head her off at the pass, you reach for one of the red reusable cups to make yourself a weak vodka soda, asking, “How was your Christmas?”

“I enjoyed my visit to see my family at home,” Queenie says. You follow as she walks to the lobby, slightly away from the other employees, sitting next to her on the largest couch. “Returning to the well of magic was invigorating, though we are close enough living here that I don’t feel as strained as my sister. Muffet travels so much it’s good she lives in Ebott to replenish herself often.”

“I guess I didn’t realize that being away from Mt. Ebott put magical strain on you guys.”

“Mmm, yes~. Monsters are made of magic, as you know, and after being secluded under that mountain for so long, it’s the only magic well that didn’t run completely dry. The others around the world still need more work to be viable again.”

“Where were the other wells?” You take a sip of your drink, and wave to someone who calls your name. As nice as it is to be around people you’ve been close to for the last five years you’re still happy when the other person doesn’t decide to come over and interrupt your conversation with Queenie. The distraction is so nice compared to the self-inflicted gloom you’ve lived in the last week.

When Queenie doesn’t respond, you turn to look at her. She has her body turned towards you and a small sad smile on her lips, which is fading fast. All five eyes are trained on your chest.

“My dear, are you doing alright? You Soul feels…” One of her hands twitches like it wants to rest against your sternum to properly take stock of the state of your Soul. “Do you wish to talk about anything?”

Protectively, you move the hand not holding your drink up to cover your sternum, your fingers playing with the charms on your necklace to cover the move from anyone watching you speak to Queenie. “I, um…” There’s something stuck in your throat, and it hurts to swallow past it. “Luke and I broke up.”

One of her hands rests on your shoulder, compensating with a human method of comfort rather than a monster one. “I’m sorry to hear that, hummingbird.”

“I mean...I should have asked him more about himself, I guess. Or trusted him? Whatever he does for Asgore makes me feel like he was using me, hiding something from me. It’s so much.”

“Did he hurt you?”

The edge to Queenie’s voice is as dangerous as a loaded gun, so you’re quick to follow up.

“Not really, not like how you’re thinking. He hid things from me, important things.”

Queenie leans over to press a dry kiss to the top of your head. The lump in your throat gets even harder to breathe around. Your brain betrays you by bringing up every memory of Luke kissing you the same way, and you have to cough into your hand to cover your desire to cry.

“I think you should talk to him dearie,” Queenie says, one hand on your shoulder and the other swiping a thumb across your cheekbone. A tiny glint shines as her hand pulls away and you realize a few tears had fallen out. “The way he made your Soul sing, any monster meeting you could see that. It’s not something we can ignore. But only when you’re ready, my sweet hummingbird.”

“He made my Soul sing?” you whisper against that tightness in your throat. You feel small, most of the anger deflated from you, and the drink in your hand tastes sour when you try to take a sip. Were you too rash? “I’m just gonna, uh, be right back.”

She gives you an understanding pat on the shoulder before letting go. When you walk through the small crowd towards the back door, you have to squeeze past a group watching some of the videos Ken edited this year to go up on the shop’s channel on a TV connected to your computer, and are glad for their distraction. No one spots you slip out the back to get some air.

There’s no more snowfall, it’s too cold to, and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. Leaning against the brick wall behind you, you can see the snowy peaks of the mountains behind your town blocking out some of the stars. A ski lodge still has their lights on, running people up and down the lift before the last call. It’s easier to breathe out here in the cool air. A passerby or two walks across the gap of the alleyway you’re in, headed to one of the crowded restaurants down the street. You can hear the thump of music from here. Watching other people who have nothing to do with your life live theirs gives you a bittersweet sense of sonder, and you cling to it.

You’ve struggled before with admitting when you’re wrong. One of the first critiques your first law professors gave you was to work on your ability to argue both sides. It’s one of the reasons you’d gravitated towards financial law, a bit more concrete and calculated sort of practice. The idea you could have acted on insufficient information makes your stomach churn like eating bad seafood.

You smell ozone before you see him walking down the street on the opposite side.

You’re positive he teleported in because of the smell, and the way he wasn’t there the last time your eyes swept over the snowy patio of the Italian restaurant. His head is bare so his skull almost glows in the dim light from storefronts and streetlights.

You’re not breathing. He’s walking towards you.

“_________?”

You turn your head to the open door on your other side where Ken is sticking his head out, a worried pucker between his eyebrows. He relaxes a little when he sees you but you stand there like a deer in headlights, unable to respond. There’s some gold streamers caught in his hair from a cracker or something, and he brushes it out with a quick swipe.

Ken closes the door behind him and walks over to you, carrying your coat. “Thought you’d be out here, so - uh, hi? Can I help you?”

Luke stands in the light on the sidewalk, hands in his pockets and looking small even accounting for the full head and shoulders he stands above you and Ken.

“I was hoping to talk to _________.”

In a flash, Ken puts two and two together to who Luke is. “Thought I recognized you. You’re the monster who came by to inspect Queenie’s working conditions. Did I miss a follow up appointment?”

Luke blinks slowly, and shakes his head. “This isn’t a business call.”

“So you say,” Ken says frostily. “And this is a place of business with a private party. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

You watch Luke through the exchange, and he keeps eye contact with Ken who moved to stand in front of you. He looks like shit. Dark smudges under his eyes that you suppose mean sleeplessness just like in humans, creases in the bone around his mouth and eyes that make him look older than he is, so many little tells that maybe he’d been as miserable as you the last week. You get a dark twist of satisfaction at that.

“Ken, I want to hear what he has to say,” you catch yourself saying before you can stop. Now that you’ve said it, you know it’s true. You want to hear his explanation. You want him to talk. You want to hear him tell you why he tried to use you for his little experiments.

Ken turns to look at you, still stony-faced from standing down Luke, and asks, “Are you sure?”

You nod. “Yeah. He and I need to talk some things out.”

Your cousin clenches his hands a little, looking back at Luke. He doesn’t know the whole story, you haven’t been able to talk to anyone about it yet, but he’s still aware this is the person that put you in a deep funk since his Friendmas party. “I will put 911 on speed dial and I will not hesitate to call if you try anything funny, okay?”

“Let’s walk the street,” you say to Luke before Ken can continue to threaten him. “Make sure we’re visible.”

Luke nods, looking between you and Ken. “Sounds perfect.”

You take your coat from Ken and give his hand a reassuring squeeze. “I’ve got my phone on me.”

“Use it,” Ken says, one last look over his shoulder before going back inside.

Watching him go, you sigh before turning to look at Luke. He hasn’t moved from the sidewalk, letting you come to him at your own pace. The cloak of darkness makes you feel safe, like he can’t see your face clearly when you speak first. Your skin prickles in his presence the longer you both stand there. There’s a moment you realize the pressure headache you’d had a hard time getting rid of the last week is fading a little. Figures. It’s like the radio dial was turned slightly so the channel that was barely coming through before is clearer.

“It’s really creepy of you to show up here tonight, you know that?”

Luke winces like you’d reached out to slap him instead of speaking quietly. “Yeah. I don’t have a good excuse for this.”

“I’m glad you’re here instead of showing up at my apartment, though.”

“Won’t lie and say I didn’t think about it.”

“Good thing you didn’t, I would have called the cops.” You roll your eyes and fold your arms, walking around Luke to sit down on the bench in front of the shop so Ken can see you. “God, what the fuck, Luke? You had to know I’d find out what your job is sooner or later.”

“It’s weak to say now, but I wanted to tell you more,” Luke says as he takes a seat on the other end of the bench, keeping a good foot of distance between your thighs. “I do work for Asgore. The long and the short of it is I’m one of the team of Royal Scientists, and most of what I do is bound to secrecy.”

“Does Asgore have you under a spell or something to keep you quiet?”

Luke’s face is blank for a moment. “Doll, you’re in law school. You don’t need to keep your client’s confidence under the force of spell, do you?”’

Your cheeks flush in embarrassment. There’s nothing you can say to that that won’t make you feel like a whiny kid so you lean into the bench and cross one leg over the other.

“Were you studying me?”

The question almost burns your tongue before you let it leave your lips. It feels too forward even as you say it, but it’s what’s been scalding your Soul for days now and you need to know.

“No.”

“I want to believe you, but-”

“_________.” Luke says your name and turns his body to face you, face earnest. “I promise. Yes, some of my work involves studying a variety of human and monster relationships and how their Souls are affected, but I would never use any of that without your consent. I didn’t even think of doing that. I want you for you, not the data I can get from your Soul.”

Your cheeks are starting to smart a little from the cold, but you barely feel it compared to focusing on Luke. The hum of your Soul in your chest feels better than it has for days from the sound of his words and his proximity. It feels a bit like hope.

“Is that why you ran from me at the party?” he asks softly.

“I didn’t know any of that then,” you answer, picking at a loose thread on the bottom of your coat. “I was already feeling really insecure since we had...you know, just had sex, and hadn’t really talked about what we were to each other, which I know isn’t really fair because I could have brought that up, too. But I hadn’t yet since everything was moving between us so fast I didn’t know what to do, but Queenie said to follow my gut, so I did. Then that monster, Lonny, he asked me if I was one of your experiments or something, and he made it sound like you’d been using me and -”

You stop to take a deep breath to cut off your rambling. There are wet tears stinging in your eyes and you wipe them away before they can freeze on your lashes.

“Why didn’t you talk to me?” Luke asks. His voice is full of pain; it shoots straight to your Soul, sharp and quick like a papercut.

“I don’t know. Everything felt like too much.”

You and Luke sit in silence for a little while. It’s long enough that you catch Ken out of the corner of your eye inside the shop checking on you. He lifts an eyebrow at you, and you’re sure you look a mess with red-rimmed eyes and rosy cheeks from the cold, but you wave him off.

“When was the last time you were checked for mage status?”

Luke is leaning over, arms resting on his knees as his eye lights scan the snow at his feet. The scarf around his neck is long enough it almost brushes the ground as he does. You cock your head to the side at his question.

“I told you, I’m not a mage. What does that have to do with anything?”

“You moved here five years ago for law school, a part of the country within radius of Mt. Ebott with the highest concentration of raw magic and monsters.” Luke sounds like he’s talking more to himself than you at this point, so you interrupt him to bring him back to the present.

“Luke. I’m not a mage, never have been.”

“Right, yes. But when I met you, before Frisk came for their first tattoo, didja show any signs of the kind of reaction to raw magic you had at the rink or even the party?”

“No, but that rink was full of little monster kids and you said they give off the most of that kind of magic, and the party had monster liquor instead of regular.”

“Luke, what does this have to do with us?”

“Everything, maybe,” he mutters. “Or nothing. Your proximity to the last well of magic may have heightened whatever sensitivity you already had. Whatever the result, my spending time with you seems to have been a catalyst of some kind.”

Seeming to realize he’s zoning out again, you stare at him blankly as he sits up again, rolling his shoulders as if to release tension. “Sorry. I got a bit off track there. I’m here because I want to apologize for making you feel like I am only interested in you as a test subject. Probably all our talk about Souls didn’t help that, did it?”

You shrug, starting to feel a little sheepish as the evening passes. You’re starting to notice a few things you could have done, too, instead of putting all the onus on him. “I feel like I asked most of the questions about that. I just...Luke I feel like I don’t know that much about you. The last month was amazing and terrifying.”

Trailing off, you look at him instead of studying the peeling lettering on the storefront across from you. He holds your gaze with an intensity that feels heavy with tension. The longer you sit next to him the more your Soul starts to hum, prodding you to sit closer to him, hold his hand, anything .

For the first time in weeks, your mind feels clear, unclouded by outside influences like the magic from Luke’s touch, monster alcohol, or raw magic from other monsters. You came to the party tonight ready to leave Luke and all he represented behind and move forward into a new year, fueled by anger and resentment. This feeling inside is nothing like that. It eats away those negative energies like sunlight melting snow. There were so many avoidable misunderstandings. It is easy to believe Luke, to hear the truth of his words, without your own self-sabotage getting in the way.

Your throat feels tight but your mouth has a mind of its own by now.

“I was falling in love with you and I wasn’t ready. I was looking for any excuse to prove my fear right or wrong, and when Lonny said those things, and I found more information about the kind of work you do...I panicked.”

Luke’s face is hard to read, and not just because he’s a skeleton. You can’t decide if you see pain or nerves, or something else entirely. You’re close enough to see his lips shake as he takes in his next breath. When did you scoot closer? Or did he? The pulse of your Soul and your heartbeat make you feel a little lightheaded.

“I’m still falling in love with you,” Luke says. One of his hands is resting on top of yours, so you can feel how much he’s trembling. “Can we try again? Please?”

You open your mouth and close it a couple times, Luke watching you with a delicate kind of hope in his bright green eyes. The sharp cold of the wind bites through your clothes now, and your teeth chatter a little from the cold and your nerves and the pressure building inside of you. Your breathing feels shallow as you try to get your heartbeat under control, but you know what you want to choose. Your Soul wouldn’t have it any other way.

Holding out your hand, you smile a little and say, “Hi. My name’s ________ Vancity. What’s yours?”

Like Atlas removing the world from his shoulders, the tension leaves Luke and he takes your hand in his to shake, kissing your knuckles. A spark of magic travels from him through your gloves. “Heya, doll. My name’s Lucida Console Sans-Serif.”

“Bit of a mouthful there, skeleton man,” you say, heart in your chest and butterflies in your stomach. His lips are much closer to yours now. You can hear the chanting inside the shop of the partygoers counting down to midnight. “Got any nicknames?”

“Luke.” The hot breath from his lips on your skin feels amazing.

You kiss him as the clock strikes midnight, feeling fireworks in your Soul, and hope for the future in your heart. The two of you linger there, foreheads pressed together and breathing as heavily as you both had after your first kiss. It’s like diving into a cool lake on a summer’s day. The first sip of warm coffee in the morning. The moment you wake up and realize you can sleep in because it’s your day off. Relief.

“Let’s promise to do better this time, yeah?” you whisper to him before another chaste kiss.

“Absolutely,” Luke says, taking another few small kisses before leaning away from you. “Let’s get you inside, it’s freezing out here.”

“I thought the cold went right through you?” you ask, slapping your hand over your mouth once you realized what you said.

The same sinful smile that made you melt for him at the start curls slowly up on his lips. “But baby, it’s skulls outside.”

“Oh, my god, that doesn’t even make sense !” you say, stomping your foot in the snow before following him into the party, facing the new year together with the promise to do better lifting the weight from both of your Souls.

Chapter Text

“...and then there’s this photo from when Luke and Corsiva were almost four years old. I swear I got my first grey hairs after this. This was around Christmas, too, come to think of it! Luke was already starting to get very skeptical about the whole Santa Claus thing and was determined to do his own research.”

“That definitely sounds like Luke,” you say, picking up your glass of wine before joining Alice Sans-Serif next to the fireplace.

Pictures are everywhere in the house and Luke’s mother has a hysterical or adorable story for each and every one of them. Since walking in the house for the first time a year ago you’d been treated to a new story every time. The two of you aren’t alone in the living room, but Papyrus is busy keeping the youngest cousin from grabbing presents with their name on it and running off to open them.

“Definitely,” Alice says. Her laughter is clear and honest, and very infectious. “Sans was going to dress as Sansta Claus, like he did every year for Gyftmas for decades, and couldn’t find his beard. Little did he know Luke had snuck into the attic and found the box with the suit on a top shelf. I don’t want to think about how he got up there, but next thing we knew we could hear crying on the rooftop. We had been looking for Luke for what felt like hours, but he was right there, sitting in the snow on the roof by the chimney spout, clutching the costume beard to his chest like a blanket and sobbing.”

You take the photo from Alice’s hand. A tiny skeleton sits in a thin layer of snow wearing elf footie pajamas, eyes wide and covered in green tear tracks. You feel bad for giggling but you can’t help it. He had clutched the beard to himself so he looked like a tiny old man.

“The ultimate betrayal!” you manage to say between your giggles.

“Right? Exactly! He was so distraught, inconsolable for a few weeks after Gyftmas. We had to talk to him before he started school that fall to not mention Santa Claus to any of the other children, since they might still believe, and it was rude to take away their wonder.” Alice looks down at the picture fondly before returning it to its place on the mantle.

“I can’t imagine future-scientist Luke took that well,” you say.

“Better than expected, actually. He was - still is - such a sweet kid.” Alice loses herself for a moment as she sips her wine and looks at photographs, and you allow her a moment of quiet recollection.

Luke’s mother is a full head shorter than you, but has a commanding presence in her home. It’s easy to spot without being told that she’s the matriarch of the family. You had had daydreams of what the ambassadors would be like if you ever met them, that they’d carry prestige and gravitas with them everywhere they go, but that isn’t the case.

Frisk...is Frisk. They’re content to live the rest of their days helping monsters however they can, still taking on ambassador duties when necessary, and spending time with their steadily growing family. Alice still carries a bit of that power you’d imagined when meeting the twins, but is one of the most approachable and kind people you’ve ever met. She dresses more simply than her twin, though that’s not exactly hard to do when your twin is Frisk, and doesn’t like to make a fuss over her own achievements, preferring to talk endlessly of the accomplishments of those she loves. There’s an undercurrent of strength and power in her you both envy and admire.

A voice on the other side of the room interrupts your musing.

“PRESENTS CAN WAIT UNTIL GYFTMAS MORNING. LET’S GO DECORATE MORE CHRISTMAS COOKIES, ROMAN!” Papyrus says, tempting the little monster child away from the presents again.

The skeleton, who stands even taller than Luke, has to bend a little to hold his child’s hand as he guides them into the kitchen. At six years old the boy, who looks more robotic like his dad Mettaton, is as tall as the average pre-teen human child. You’ve gotten used to the fact monsters are bigger than humans more often than not. It also took getting used to for you to understand the mechanics of how a skeleton and robot-ghost monster could have children, but that wasn’t the oddest thing to happen to you the last two years. Not even passing the bar exam on the first try could trump discovering that Luke’s hunch was right.

You are a mage.

Like your sister Rowan, the firefighter, you have passive magical powers that exceed the definition of sensitivity. Justice souls aren’t tied to any one element, like Integrity and gravity or space-time, and Kindness with healing prowess. The reason it flew under the radar for so long was that you have slowly come into the ability to exact a karmic debt towards those who act in distrustful ways around you. It certainly makes working as a financial lawyer a lot easier. When one business partner can’t lie about their intentions to the other, business restructurings and real estate disputes get very clean-cut.

There was a moment where you weren’t sure you’d still get your license to practice a year ago because of the implications of a human who could convince those around them to tell the truth with a look. You’re glad you aren’t in civil court situations since you’re sure your power could get a lot of evidence thrown out. The compulsion to tell the truth is only that, a deterrence from lying, you had no ability to convince anyone to do anything or outright say anything against their will. You’d tested that excessively with Sans and his lab partner Doctor Alphys.

For the summer and fall after you graduated with your juris doctorate, you’d visited Ebott almost every week with Luke. You’d met his friends, his family, and even taken a private tour through the Underground with permission from King Asgore. Then, after months of pushing the very low limits of your abilities, Luke had laughed himself silly when you made the comparison between what you can do and Veritaserum from the Harry Potter books. You’d had to threaten to smother him with a pillow before he’d stopped making Potter puns, and reminded him that he essentially Apparated everywhere. That had resulted in a midnight lecture on how his shortcuts work that only stopped when you’d palmed him over his pants. It’s still the surest way to distract him.

The going theory from Luke and his father, Sans, is that you just needed the extra nudge of magic that you got from moving across country and spending more time around monsters. Significantly, one monster in particular.

Yes, he puts ‘hybrid’ on all his census forms, but Luke knows he’s much more monster than human, not quite an even half and half. The distribution makes more sense when he stands next to his twin, Corsiva. Where Luke is very obviously part monster with his boneskin and skeletal appearance, Corsiva could pass as a human if you pass her in a crowded room without a second glance. Anyone watching closely could see the way her skin is a little too white, her eyes a bit too large, and her body stretched a bit out of proportion. And, of course, the fact she has alopecia, or ‘hereditary skeletal baldness’ as she refers to it.

But, that disproportionate distribution of human and monster traits between the twins meant you spent a good amount of your time around someone who is made of roughly 80% magic. This Christmas marks your third spent together, even if the first one was pretty rocky, by all accounts. And, well, it helps that he’s never been stingy when it comes to, uh, giving you more exposure to raw magic.

You blush when you catch yourself thinking of what you and Luke were doing at your house before driving over to his parent’s. Your legs still ache a little, and you know it’s silly, but you hope the monsters present can’t tell that your body is currently buzzing with an excess of magic directly supplied by Luke.

“I really appreciate you telling me all these embarrassing stories, Alice,” you say as you take a careful sip of wine. “Definitely makes it easier to tease him since he befriended my brother.”

Alice laughs again, moving to take a seat on the enormous couch that takes up most of the room, patting the seat next to her. “He’s told me about him. How’s his campaign going?”

You roll your eyes. “It’s a close race, if you talk to him, and I have to remind him that he has almost a year until voting day. I’m sure it’s going well. His secretary while he was mayor is his  manager and he’s probably one of the only people I know that can keep him on track.”

“And no governmental aspirations for you?” Alice asks, giving you a shrewd look over the rim of her glass as she takes a sip from her wine. When your face scrunches into a disgusted grimace at the thought, she has to stop herself from laughing or risk spraying red mulled wine all down her front. “Oh, stars, I don’t blame you, _______. Papyrus has always been the one for that in this house.”

“And he’s great at it,” Corsiva says as she walks through the room. It’s on the path from the kitchen to the dining room, so she’s walking through with a tray piled with cookies decorated with various levels of skill and passion. “Hey, ________!”

“Cori! I didn’t see you walk in!”

You set your glass down on a coaster and follow her into the dining room so you can give her a huge hug. She’s shorter than you, one of the traits she picked up from her parents rather than being a genetic height anomaly like her brother.

“Just pulled in the driveway with Vance, actually,” Corsiva explains. “I should go check to make sure one of my cousins hasn’t backed him into a corner and started asking a million questions.”

She hugs you again before leaving to save her husband, the quiet photojournalist ice elemental, from the hordes of family in the kitchen. You’re sure, after the long drive down through Canada from Alaska, the two of them are ready to crash in their spare room, so you grab your glass of wine from the living room and follow her to help provide a buffer.

The kitchen is equal parts a disaster zone and masterfully choreographed ballet. A mix of over a dozen monsters, humans, and everything in between fill every open space. Papyrus sits surrounded by the younger two of his four children, his husband Mettaton standing behind them as Papyrus demonstrates how to squeeze frosting onto a cookie to the youngest cousins in the room.

“Hello, _______, darling. It’s been an age.” Mettaton beckons you over so he can press a quick kiss to both your cheeks, which you return. “Love the sweater, by the way. Are your cousin Ken and his husband Rhett, on their way?”

“As far as I know,” you answer, leaning on the back of one of the only chairs not occupied. “Luke offered to pick them up, but Rhett had vertigo as a kid and really does not take well to shortcuts. They’re driving up and should be here tonight.”

“Wonderful. I look forward to seeing them again.”

“Thanks again for offering to house them while they’re here,” you start to say, but the robot monster cuts you off with a gentle hand on your arm.

“It’s nothing, darling. So many are coming up for the 500th Gyftmas celebration this year, and you have your parents and siblings staying with you. We are happy to have them.”

“Still, thank you. I’m sure Ken will try to play it cool but he is so excited to spend the weekend with you, you have no idea.”

The optics in Mettaton’s eyes widen and you swear they sparkle. Any mention of an adoring fan has him light up, almost literally. He’s still very much an international star of television, film, basically any medium he tries his hand at. But the presences he exudes in public is shed a little in private, allowing the metal man to relax and enjoy time with his family. You don’t get a chance to keep talking because Frisk walks into the kitchen from the back door, stomping snow from their boots as they do.

“Party’s here!”

“FRISK, THE PARTY ALREADY STARTED WITHOUT YOU!”

Frisk grins and tosses their head to get their hair out of their eyes. You can hear Alice make an annoyed noise somewhere behind you. “Nah, Paps, the party don’t start ‘til I walk in.”

“NYEH!”

There’s a lot of shuffling the next few minutes as everyone makes room for Frisk to sit and work on cookies. Corsiva eventually makes it over to Vance in the corner where the open bottles of wine wait next to empty glasses, sparing him from the chatty duo of Almendra and Tino, Papyrus and Mettaton’s older twin children. At first you’d marveled at the frequency of twins in this family, but Luke had explained that all skeleton children are born in pairs, and sometimes trios, but very rarely as a single child.

Speaking of Luke, you haven’t seen him in over an hour. Alice catches you looking through the crowd in her kitchen and puts a hand on your shoulder to get your attention in all the noise.

“I think he’s outside with Sans.”

“Thanks,” you say, giving her a smile before squeezing past everyone to the back door off the kitchen, putting your coat and boots on along the way.

Without the music, smells of baking, and overlapping conversation, the relative quiet of the Sans-Serif’s backyard is welcome. It’s higher in the mountains than the city you lived in for six years, so the air feels thin and cold, but you’ve gotten used to it over the last several months living with Luke. Some days you miss your fourth floor apartment in your college town, including the friends and family there. You’ll have to keep working to convince Ken to open a second franchise shop in Ebott, for totally selfish reasons, of course.

You don’t see Luke and Sans right away when you walk out. There’s a couple chairs around a small fire in the back of the property, and you can make out the shadows of the two from where you stand. Since you’ll have to hoof it a little across the snow, you set your empty glass down on the table on their deck, and reach down to tie your boots. The thin layer of crunchy snow beneath the fluffy new snowfall announces your presence long before you reach them.

“Hey, guys.”

“heya, _______. ice of you to join us.” Sans salutes you with a cheeky grin, a thin column of smoke rising from the lit cigarette between his fingers.

Everytime you see your boyfriend’s father, you’re amazed at how he can make anywhere look comfortable. His dark navy parka with faux fur trim covers him from neck to knee, black track pants and fluffy slippers stretched out towards the fire. His eye sockets are closed halfway like you’d woken him from a nap. If he were out here alone, you would have guessed that you did.

“Corsiva and Vance just got here,” you announce, stuffing your hands into your coat pockets. “And everyone is in the kitchen making cookies still. I don’t think we can possibly eat them all.”

“I’m sure mom will send each of us home with a few dozen each.” Luke opens his arms so you can sit on his lap, no other seat to offer you. You remember when the family took all the lawn furniture and put it in the shed, so you figure the guys had just grabbed one each.

“nah, take my seat, i should go back in anyway and see cori. been a few months since she’s visited. and thanks, luke, sometimes two skulls are better than one.” Sans stays long enough to extinguish his cigarette in the snow, excuse himself, and pop away.

You can smell the same ozone scent lingering in the air after he disappears the same way you can smell it before and after Luke does the same thing. Your boyfriend’s ability to teleport is much stronger than his father’s, since he’s able to go farther distances. But, you’ve seen some of what Sans can do and would never assume he’s less powerful than his child based on teleportation prowess alone. There’s a shadow by the back door before Sans walks into the kitchen the same way you left, and a brief swell of noise when the door slides open that’s cut off when he shuts it behind him.

“Heya, doll. Still want to sit on my lap?”

You grin and nod, taking the bait and cozying up into his arms, draping your legs over the arm of the chair. “Did I interrupt you guys?”

Luke nuzzles into the space between your hood and your hat, getting a faceful of your hair, though he never acts like he minds. “Nah. I was just keeping him company while he took a smoke break and found mom’s star.”

“You ever notice how your parents are like, the cutest couple ever?”

He chuckles and holds you closer. “What, we don’t give them a run for their money?”

“Luke,” you groan, heat rising to your cheeks as you hide your face with your hands.

His chest shakes beneath you with laughter, and he takes your hands gently away from your face. Pressing his lips to your temple, he starts kissing down your jawline until you face him, meeting his lips with your own. It’s a welcome respite from all the activity of the last few days, getting ready for everyone to come into town to visit for Christmas, finalizing paperwork for your license to practice in Washington as well as California, making sure you picked your parents and siblings up from the airport on time tomorrow morning...he helps you forget all of those stresses.

Before it gets too heated between you, you pull away and simply enjoy each other’s company beneath the stars, next to the dying campfire that provides more light than warmth. It’s so comforting to lose yourselves in this moment.

“________?”

“Hmm, yeah?”

“Ready to go in?”

You nod, reluctantly, and move to stand up, turning to offer him a hand up out of the low wooden lawn chair. But he’s not sitting when you turn to look at him.

He’s kneeling.

On one knee, specifically. With a box in his hands.

You take a slow breath in through your nose and bite your bottom lip, already light headed when you say, “Luke?”

“_______.”

Oh, god he’s shaking. Or are you shaking so much it looks like he’s shaking, too, and holy shit is this happening right now? You remember talking with him a while ago that you wouldn’t mind getting married soon. What do you do, where do you put your hands? Okay, he’s holding his hands out for yours so that makes sense, the box tucked back into his coat pocket. Damn, he is shaking, you don’t feel so bad for the way you’re vibrating now.

His lips are moving! He’s talking! And you haven’t listened to a single word he’s said past your name! When is it your turn to talk? Has he said anything you have to respond to yet? Focus, _______, focus because he is proposing to you right now dammit!

“...and there’s no one I want to share my Soul with more than you, doll. I love you.”

“Oh, stars, Luke, I love you, too.”

Your cheeks suddenly feel much colder in the crisp mountain air, which makes you realize you’re crying. A faint green glow at the edges of Luke’s eye sockets betray tears of his own. That just makes you cry harder! He doesn’t need to know yet that you’d likely missed a wonderful and heartfelt confession because your brain misfired as soon as you saw him kneeling. What matters is what happens next.

The little black box returns from safekeeping in his pocket, and he opens it slowly, like he’s afraid the ring will fall out into the snow. The gold band boasts several small colored gemstones, a small prism of color across the metal, but the lighting is too low for you to make out exactly what they are. It doesn’t make a difference. He could prank you with a ring from the prize booth at the arcade and your answer would be the same.

“Will you make one Soul harmony with me? Will you marry me, ________?”

The tears forced a lump in your throat, so for a suspended moment you can’t speak, only struggle to catch your breath. Until you can speak, you start to nod vigorously, and finally shout, “Yes!”

“SHE SAID YES! NYEH!”

“Papyrus!”

Like a deer in headlights, your head snaps towards the house at the sound. While you were engrossed with the cacophony of freaking out in your head and focusing on Luke, you’d missed the sound of literally every person in the house coming out onto the deck to watch the two of you from the short distance. Papyrus, easily the tallest, is jumping in the background with barely contained glee, his hands over his mouth as he squeals in delight. Alice is standing next to him shaking her head. Now that the jig is up, the whole family starts to cheer, whistle, clap, and generally make enough noise for a few lights to turn on in neighboring houses as Ebott residents come out to see what the fuss is about.

“Holy shit, did you plan this?” you ask, still dazed and floating on cloud nine. The ring is slowly warming up to your body temperature after Luke slipped it onto your left ring finger.

Luke stands, his hands reaching to grab yours again once he’s upright. “Proposing? Yes. For months. Ever since you agreed t’live with me. But, my entire family and part of yours watching me pop the question? Hell no. Pretty sure my mom and dad can be blamed for this.”

He’s right; your parents stand in the midst of the Sans-Serif clan next to your sister Rowan and brother, Trent. How did they hide an earlier flight from you? Bamboozlers! Ken and Rhett are there, too, adding to the cat-calling and whistling commotion.

Luke draws you into him for a tight hug, pressing his face into the top of your hat so you feel enveloped in his warm embrace. Safe. Loved. Cherished. You can still feel him shaking as he holds you, adrenaline and relief spiking through the resonance you can always perceive from his Soul when he’s nearby.

“Did your dad have anything to do with you suddenly finding the guts to ask me?”

“I mean, I still don’t have guts , but he and I had a little heart to heart so I would have the backbone to ask you.”

You reach up to punch his chest, no real malice or strength behind it, and bury your face in his coat to hide your ear to ear grin. “Insufferable. The both of you.”

A chant rises over the snow in the backyard of ‘ kiss, kiss, kiss,’ that the two of you firmly ignore. Some of the neighbors that came over to check things out are talking to Mettaton and Frisk, who are explaining what just happened with equally grandiose gestures the two of you can easily see across the distance.

“Are you ready to face them?” you ask, turning your face up to look at Luke. You want to kiss him, but also don’t want to give into the crowd’s chanting.

Fuck it. Going on your tiptoes, you prompt him to lean down to kiss you, slow and sweet. The responding cheer is almost as loud as the one after you said yes.

“Next to you I can do anything.”

“Okay, but that is so corny,” you say, feeling a blush creep into your cheeks and making its way down your neck.

Luke grins as he takes your hand, snuffing out the last bits of the campfire with a swipe of snow from his boot. “Don’t deny it, you love it.”

“I mean, I love you , so I guess.”

“I love you, too. Merry Christmas, doll.”

“...don’t you mean, marry me ?”

Surprised by your pun, Luke halts so fast in the snow he drags you backwards into him. You yelp at the jerk on your arm and start to giggle when you feel your feet go out from under you. He carries you the rest of the way across the backyard towards the dozens of humans, monsters, and hybrids ready to welcome the two of you back inside to celebrate your engagement, and the beginning of the next chapter of your lives.

~fin~