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Until Next Time

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Kris turns the Dealmaker over and over slowly in their gloved hands, their mind blank as they watch the way the light reflects off the empty lenses. The glasses are garbage, really, bent and scratched and obviously cheap, and would be completely unremarkable if not for the unique lenses: one yellow, one bubblegum pink. And yet Kris can feel the magic humming within the knockoff frames, whispering promises of money, of freedom.

Freedom that neither Kris nor Spamton will ever have.

With a sigh, Kris folds the glasses and sets them on the table by their bed. Here in their room in Ralsei’s home in Castle Town, they can finally enjoy some peace and quiet. Away from fluffy boys and mean girls and overprotective mothers, with only a warm, almost-forgotten glow in their chest to keep them company, a constant reminder that they're never truly alone.

They should be enjoying it.

They are enjoying it. They’ve always been an introvert, after all.

And yet.

They can’t stop thinking about Spamton.

Finally, they’d met someone like them. A nobody, his life utterly fucked by forces beyond his control or comprehension, tossed about like a pawn between players vying for control on a vast, cosmic chessboard. He’d offered Kris a deal, a way to break free, to look into [HEAVEN], but when the moment of truth had arrived—

CRASH.

The hollow, mechanical thud of the last string cut still rings in Kris’s mind.

For once in their life, they weren’t alone. But now here they are, again, left with only the knowledge that perhaps the one and only person capable of understanding them is gone, and the memory of a connection they’re not even allowed to mourn.

Because that would be ridiculous. They barely knew Spamton for a day, during which the salesman attacked, defrauded, and used them for his own purposes before trying to murder them. It makes no sense for Kris to feel this way now.

Besides, it wasn’t supposed to happen, was it? They were never supposed to find that little shop, tucked away in a strange pocket dimension in the trash. They weren’t supposed to talk to the strange, diminutive man with the unsettling grin and obvious mental health problems who’d nonetheless made them snort with surprised laughter at his antics. They weren’t supposed to take that deal, to bring that loaded disk to the basement with scarcely a word to Susie and Ralsei, lest they attempt to talk Kris out of what was very obviously a bad idea.

But part of Kris had wanted it, hadn’t they? Part of them had trusted the salesman, even when he was looming over them with cannon outstretched, a nightmare of tattered wings and scrap metal held up by thick green cords, crazed smile lighting his eyes behind those ridiculous candy-colored lenses.

If Susie and Ralsei hadn’t come—if Kris had let him—

Would they have tasted Heaven, together?

But no, Kris thinks, they can’t think about that. They can’t, or they’ll lose their mind, like Spamton. None of it was supposed to happen, after all. They were never supposed to be anything but the hero, come to bring light to the darkness. That is their destiny, the role they were meant to play.

Their choices don’t matter.

And what they want definitely doesn’t matter.

“Kris?”

A soft voice sounds from behind the half-closed door. Kris gives a grunt that could be roughly translated as Come in, and the door creaks the rest of the way open to reveal a small, fluffy, green-robed figure.

“There you are!” says Ralsei, smiling that warm, genuine smile that has never quite been enough to hide the ever-present nervous glint in his eyes. “Susie’s looking for you. She wants to know when you’re going to come back and work on your group project. She’s being very insistent, for some reason.”

What Susie must have told Ralsei were study plans are actually plans to play Space Pinball and marathon giant human movies, but Ralsei doesn’t need to know that. Kris nods and sits up, swinging their legs over the side of the bed.

“Coming,” they say, and their voice is low and hoarse from disuse.

Ralsei’s fluffy white eyebrows knit together. “Kris?” he says after a moment. “Are you quite all right?”

Kris nods. “I’m fine.”

When Ralsei is gone, leaving the door wide open behind him, Kris sighs again and rests their forehead against their palms, their elbows on their knees. Of course, they can’t tell Ralsei what’s on their mind.

Kris loves their friends, they really do. They never thought they would even have friends, after all, much less friends like this. They would trust Susie with their life, and trust Ralsei with . . . most things, but still, Kris can’t talk to them about this. Susie would freak out and demand to know what was going on, Ralsei would say something comforting and evasive, and Kris would be unable to explain what was wrong. How could they, when they don’t even understand it themselves?

So they stand up instead, sigh, and pick up the battered shades on the bedside table.

Spamton had said, Let me become your strength.

Become their strength . . . how? By winning them a few more Dark Dollars after a battle? How was that supposed to help? The Dark Fountains, their parents, Asriel, Dess, the alien soul in their chest, the Knight whispering dark promises in their ear and puppeteering their body at night—how did a cheap pair of glasses with a little magic in them change a goddamn thing?

They didn’t, that was how.

You left, Kris wants to scream, as the hand holding the glasses shakes slightly. You were the only one who understood, and you left me.

Left them, just like Asriel had. Like everyone would eventually, Susie and Ralsei and Noelle and their parents and the soul in their chest and—

They freeze.

As they were raising their hand to throw the glasses at the wall, they saw something reflected within the lenses. Something almost like . . .

No fucking way.

A smile.

A very unsettling, very familiar smile.

Heart racing, Kris turns the glasses over in their hands again, trying to catch another glimpse of the fleeting image.

No, they think, it’s impossible. It was just an illusion, a trick of the light and their own mind making them see what they so desperately hoped to see. Spamton was dead, after all, or as dead as a Darkner could be, turned into an inanimate object even in the Dark World.

And yet . . .

They have to be sure. With trembling hands, Kris slides the glasses onto their nose.

At first, all they see is pink and yellow. They haven’t done this in a while; despite the admittedly nice monetary bonus, wearing the Dealmaker reminded them too much of things they’d rather not remember. Susie said they creeped her out, anyway.

As Kris’s eyes adjust, pink and yellow melt together to cast the room in a fruity shade of sunset orange. It turns out that Spamton’s glasses are prescription—who knew a puppet could be nearsighted?—but not so strong that Kris can’t wear them, though they might trigger a headache with prolonged use. Still, they distort everything slightly, making Kris feel as if they’re looking at the world from the inside of an amber glass bottle. Again, they feel the hum of magic within the glasses, buzzing against their skin like carbonation, like telephone static.

A few popups flicker across the lenses. Kris swipes them away impatiently, their gaze scouring the empty room to find . . .

Nothing.

Of course. Why would they expect anything different?

Shaking their head at their own stupid, desperate hope, they turn to leave the room and find Susie.

Then—

“KRIS?”

Kris’s heart—the regular, boring, blood-pumping one—leaps to their throat. Slowly, they turn to face the source of the familiar voice behind them.

He looks the same, mostly, painted white face and slicked-back hair and rumpled business suit and permanent shit-eating grin. A bit less grimy, maybe, the smell of garbage no longer clinging to his skin. He’s wearing his glasses, which is confusing, but Kris doesn’t have time to consider the implications of that, because they’re too busy running forward and seizing Spamton by the collar and shoving him against the wall, nearly lifting him off the floor.

“ACK!” Spamton gasps, voice garbled and staticky and breathless with Kris’s hands on his throat. “HANDS OFF THE MERCHANDISE, KID!”

At the sound of his voice, Kris remembers where they are, the sudden fight-or-flight reaction draining out of them as quickly as it took hold. They release Spamton’s collar, letting him slump to the floor in a heap of puppet limbs and oversized suit, and turn away, hiding their face in their hands.

"HOLY [Cungadero], KID," Spamton gasps, wheezing.

“Where have you—” Kris chokes out, their voice catching. They swallow, shake their head and try again. “Where have you been?”

“HEY-HEY-HEY! YOU ALL RIGHT, KID?” Spamton booms, seemingly incapable as ever at regulating his speaking volume even as his tone indicates he probably means his words to be comforting. “DO I NEED TO CALL THE [24-Hour Crisis Hotline?]”

“No, it’s . . . fine.”

Kris hesitates before lowering their hands, afraid to look at Spamton again, lest he disappear. He’s still there, though, watching Kris with a confused frown creasing his plasticine features.

“It’s just,” Kris says haltingly, “I thought you were dead.”

“WHAT? ME?” says Spamton with a disbelieving laugh. “KRIS! I WOULD NEVER LEAVE YOU WITH THOSE [Half-Price] [Windows 98] CHUMPS. I STILL HAVE TO SEE YOU BECOME A BIG SHOT, REMEMBER? DON’T YOU HAVE ANY FAITH IN YOUR OLD PAL SPAMTON?”

“But the strings . . . I thought . . .”

“I JUST NEEDED A LITTLE TIME TO RECUPERATE,” says Spamton. “WHAT, CAN’T A GUY TAKE A LITTLE VACATION EVERY NOW AND THEN?”

Kris just stares, unable to believe what they’re seeing. Spamton pays them no mind, carrying on in his loud, warbling voice (Ralsei will hear him, surely, though that’s the least of Kris’s concerns at the moment).

“OF COURSE, YOU’LL HAVE TO WEAR MY [Designer Shades] WHEN YOU WANT TO TALK TO ME,” he goes on. “I’M STILL A LITTLE [Feeling under the weather?] BESIDES, IT’S AWFULLY COZY IN THAT INVENTORY OF YOURS. BETTER THAN MY PREVIOUS [Prime Real Estate], THAT’S FOR SURE!”

“So you’re . . . in the glasses?” says Kris, frowning. “Ralsei or Susie can’t see you, then?”

“THAT’S RIGHT!”

“Then why couldn’t I see you before?” says Kris. “This isn’t the first time I’ve worn your glasses.”

“LIKE I SAID, I NEEDED A NAP,” says Spamton. “YOU KIDS REALLY GAVE ME A [High-Intensity Workout Course.] Besides . . .” He pauses, static darkening his glasses as he lowers his gaze. “I WASN’T SURE. IF YOU WOULD WANT ME AROUND. AFTER EVERYTHING.”

“Of course I want you around!” Kris bursts out, resisting the urge to grab Spamton by the lapels again. “You’re the only one . . . the only one who can . . .”

They trail off, their face warming in the beginnings of a dark blue blush at the look on Spamton’s face. It’s the most serious expression Kris has ever seen on the puppet, surprised and knowing and sad and dangerous all at once. It makes Kris think of a cold basement, of bicolored lenses glinting in the dark, the rattling of rollercoaster cars and the smell of rotten glass. Of hearts and strings and [[Hyperlink Blocked.]]

The thing is, Kris isn’t sure it’s an entirely bad memory.

“I just mean,” they say slowly, “I still need your help to become a big shot.”

Spamton’s face lights up, his intense expression vanishing. “YES!” he shouts, scuttling toward Kris on his short, crab-like legs. His fingers wrap around Kris’s wrists, cool and wooden with hinged metal joints, fascinatingly bizarre. “YES, KRIS! YOU AND ME! WE’LL SHOW THOSE [Schmoes and Daves] WHO’S BOSS!”

“Sounds good,” says Kris, unable to contain their smile any longer. “Just don’t try to take my soul again, okay?”

“IT’S A DEAL!”

As Spamton's next words break up into excited, glitchy noise, Kris shakes their head and sighs, still smiling. Beyond the overwhelming, inexpressible relief of knowing they’re not the only one fighting invisible strings, they feel a wave of genuine fondness for the strange little puppet as well. Spamton is . . . well, a handful would be an understatement, but there’s an earnestness about him that puts Kris strangely at ease, when they’re not worried he’s going to rip their soul out of their chest and leave their body in a Dumpster. Thankfully, Kris doesn’t think they need to worry about that anymore.

Still, there's one more detail bothering them. “Can I ask you a question?”

“YOU CAN [AND GET ANOTHER FOR HALF PRICE!]”

“Right,” says Kris awkwardly. “I was just wondering, after the battle . . . you were speaking normally. I thought that maybe you were . . . fixed.”

They wince immediately at their own choice of words, knowing all too well what it’s like to feel broken. Spamton seems unbothered, though, giving another high-pitched, glitchy laugh.

“SORRY, KID!” he says. “I WAS BROKEN FROM THE BEGINNING! WHAT YOU SEE IS FACTORY SETTINGS SPAMTON. I DON’T HEAR THE [RINGING] [RINGING] [RINGING] AN YMORE, THOUGH. IT STOPPED WHEN I [Restart Your Computer.] MICROSOFT SOLUTION, BABY!” He studies Kris’s face, and his expression turns serious again. “I GUESS I CAN THANK YOU FOR THAT.”

Kris isn’t entirely sure what he’s talking about (Spamton will have a lot to explain, later), but they think they can relate. It seems that they’re not alone anymore. The thought makes their throat tighten and their eyes burn unexpectedly.

“KRIS?” says Spamton. “WHAT—"

On impulse, Kris reaches out and yanks him into a hug. Spamton stiffens and squeaks in surprise; then, slowly, he relaxes, and Kris doesn't miss the way he shivers and sighs and leans into the touch. They remember what Ralsei said, about Darkners needing Lightners to feel fulfilled. How must have Spamton felt, they wonder, abandoned and forgotten in the trash for so long? No wonder he seems starved for attention. They hug him tighter, pressing their face to his shoulder, and earn a muffled sniffle in response.

Well. Kris needed a hug, too.

“No,” they mutter. “Thank you.”

It smells like apples and old pennies.

*

Later, when they've returned to Hometown, Susie asks them why they’re still wearing those creepy-ass shades. Kris just smiles, and tells her they’ll explain later.