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Blood of the Covenant

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                It was a beautiful day.

                Birds were singing, flowers were blooming.

                And on days like these, kids like them…

                … S h o u l d  b e —

                “Wakey wakey, sunshine!”

                Frisk grunts sharply, jumping awake from a nightmare they’re too familiar with to be too phased, anymore. Lifting their face from the pillow, they throw a bleary-eyed glare across the room, at the desk sitting in front of their window. On the desk, sitting directly in the light of the rising sun coming through the glass, sits a flowerpot, with a single golden-petaled flower inside.

                “Howdy, sleepyhead,” Flowey flashes an all-too-wide grin over at Frisk, tilting his face to a slight angle as his petals bob. “Happy Monday morning! Guess what time it is?”

                Glancing at their nightstand, Frisk’s stomach sinks as they realize their phone isn’t there. With a groan, they look at their desk, and – lo and behold – it seems they’d made the terrible mistake of leaving the device within Flowey’s two-foot radius, last night.

                Clambering clumsily out of bed as the plant cackles in unbridled glee, Frisk snatches up their phone and unlocks it with a practiced swipe.

                Their face scrunches into an unamused frown at their new background photo; a rather dynamic selfie Flowey had taken of the most twisted grin he could muster.

                Despite the comment Frisk is preparing to sign in Flowey’s direction, their stomach sinks again when they notice the time.

                “Eight AM on a Monday morning!” Flowey sings, swaying in place and swinging his leaves. “What a shame your alarm didn’t go off! Don’t your classes start in an hour?”

                Scowling, Frisk makes a hurried ‘up yours’ sign to the flower, eliciting another cackle from him as they throw their phone onto the bed and rip off their nightshirt.

                Flowey freezes, deadpanning. “What are you doing.”

                Frisk tears off their pajama pants and heads for the dresser, right across the room from the desk, digging inside for some fresh clothes.

                “Oh, god.” Flowey winces, straining to bring his leaves up and cover his eyes. “No, no no no no, don’t, agh! For the love of god, put your clothes on!”

                Clearly triumphant, Frisk turns around with a t-shirt and a fresh pair of shorts in their hand. After tossing those onto the bed, they wiggle their hips, and sign fiercely.

                ‘Vengeance!’

                Grumbling, Flowey turns away pointedly to stare out the window as Frisk pulls on their clothes. After taking a moment to comb their messy hair into something resembling decency, Frisk snatches up their backpack and heads for the door.

                “Wait!!”

                The human pauses, halfway through the doorway, and languidly turns to look over their shoulder at the flower. For a moment, Frisk feels bad for bothering him; he looks sad, lost, almost even afraid as he sits morosely on the desk, staring at Frisk with eyes that seem somehow different from his usual, dead-eyed gaze.

                Eyes that remind Frisk of a charming, soft laugh, and a lost soul sitting in a golden flowerbed.

                “Can you… Can you take me to the kitchen, before you go?” Flowey winces, and can’t bring himself to meet Frisk’s eyes. “There’s, um, more going on out there, and there’s some nice sunlight in there all day…” His voice grows quieter as he speaks, until it trails off completely.

                Visibly relaxing, Frisk smiles, and nods, walking toward Flowey to pick up his pot. The flower remains quiet as Frisk carries him out the door, down the short hallway, and into the kitchen, setting him gingerly on the windowsill behind the sink.

                “Oh, good morning, dear,” Toriel calls from the sitting-room, which is only cut off from the kitchen by a breakfast bar, “You seem to have overslept; I would have awoken you earlier, but –“

                Cutting her off with a dismissive wave, Frisk smiles at the boss monster, and signs in turn, ‘I’m fine, mom, just didn’t hear my alarm, is all.’ Flowey bristles in annoyance at his prank being dismissed.

                “Sounds like you were bone tired, kiddo.”

                Frisk gives a quiet huff of laughter and turns to look at Sans, who has just emerged from the hallway, his eyesockets drooping tiredly, but his permanent grin fixed in place same as always. Waving, Frisk shoulders their backpack, and heads for the door, leaning their back against it to quickly wave goodbye as they slip out into the hallway, down the stairs, and into the apartment building’s lobby.

                “hOI,” shouts the receptionist, and Frisk waves ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ simultaneously as they run for the door.

                “bOI,” the receptionist shouts again, as Frisk leaves. “Hav gud DAY!”

 

~*~

 

                Sans shakes his head and chuckles as Frisk bolts out the door; the poor kid looks like they barely woke up, and he doesn’t envy them having to run off at this ungodly hour. Barely stifling a yawn behind his bony hand, he shuffles into the kitchen to fix some coffee, and glances over to Toriel, where she sits on the couch.

                “Shouldn’t you be gettin’ to work about now?” He asks, pouring water into the tank before shoving the mug under the spout and tapping a button.

                She chuckles in response, waving a paw at him. “I wish. However, I have had to call today off, for an appointment.”

                “More embassy stuff, I take it?”

                “Mm,” she nods, taking a sip of her tea, and the machine next to Sans gives a soft ding. He takes his cup, eyeing the flower on the windowsill as he takes a swig of the scalding drink.

                He doesn’t know if he’ll ever understand why Frisk insisted on going back to dig up the little bastard and bring him home, yet while Flowey’s been more of a pain in the ass than most people would put up with, Frisk insisted on keeping him in their room, and watching over him themselves. Sans almost hates to admit it, but he’s grown used to the little thing over the four years they’ve had him.

                Strangely enough, Papyrus seems to like Flowey just fine, even after everything else.

                “Is something the matter, Sans?” Toriel asks, and the worry in her tone drives a spike through his soul.

                “Nah, sorry, T.” He shrugs, walking into the living room. “Guess I’m just pretty empty-headed, today.”

                Flowey gives a small groan, and Toriel chuckles.

                “Is that so? And here I always thought you were hard-headed.” She lifts a paw and gently raps on his cranium with her furred knuckles.

                The grin on Sans’s face could have outshined the sun as he laughed in turn. He plops onto the sofa next to her, and takes another deep sip of coffee.

                “Actually, it is good that you got up before I had to leave,” Toriel goes on, and Sans lifts his gaze to look at her properly, trying not to get distracted by how the light from the kitchen window seems to have gilded her fur in gold dust. “There is a favor I need to ask of you, Sans.”

                “Anything for you, su-“ he blanches, and catches himself, “Ah, Tori.”

                He stretches his grin in an attempt to hide what he knows is blush on his cheekbones as she glances down at him, smiling that soft smile that turns his ribs to jelly.

                If she notices anything, she elects to ignore it, and simply goes on. “There is a Parent-Teacher Association meeting happening tonight at Frisk’s school. While I would love to go, I fear this appointment with the local representatives might take longer than anticipated. Would you mind going in my stead?”

                Sans pauses. This meeting sounds like work, like effort, like something that goes against every grain of his personality, but that look in Toriel’s copper eyes is making him want to squirm.

                As if she senses his inner struggle – god, does she have a knack for that – she goes on to add, “It should not be too big of a hassle, most of the other parents seem to handle the discussion on their own. You might even get a nap in.”

                “Well, shit, Tori, you drive a hard bargain.” Sighing, he leans back into the couch cushions and shuts his eyesockets, resting for a beat before shrugging. “Aw, sure, what the heck, Tori. What’s the worst that could happen?”

                She gives an audible sigh of relief that has Sans questioning the wisdom of this promise.

                “You have my utmost gratitude, dear.” Her weight shifts on the couch, and he distinctly feels the warm, fuzzy sensation of a snout booping against his forehead. “I will make it up to you, I promise.”

                Sans can only respond with a sound similar to a clearing of the throat and a nervous laugh.

                Without much warning, Toriel glances at the clock, and rises to her feet. “Goodness, I have spent far too long dallying!” She drains her tea, and sets the cup on the coffee table as Sans wills himself to open his eyes again, staring up at her from where he’s retreated into the hood of his jacket. “Now remember,” she turns back to him, and he feels himself sweating just looking at her, “the meeting starts at five, and should go on until seven at the latest. Thank you again, Sans.”

                Toriel smiled brightly at him, and he reciprocated as best he could.

                “Yep. You got it, T. I’m on it.”

                With a giggle and a small wave of her large paw, Toriel was out the door, and Sans was alone in the apartment with the flower in the windowsill, who rolled his eyes dramatically and mimed a gagging motion before turning his attention back to the sunlight outside the window.

                A shadow flickered near the hallway, grabbing Sans’s attention.

                Welp, he thought, mostly alone.

 

~*~

 

                The shadows hum quietly in this apartment, and the sound is not unwelcome. He sighs, softly, feeling the tension melt from his shoulders as he relaxes into his now-natural hunch. He spies the eyes watching him from the couch, and lifts a hollowed hand to wave a greeting.

                Sans waves back subtly after casting a watchful glance at the flower once again, making sure he isn’t watching. He then returns his attention to his half-finished coffee.

                Deciding it’s best to leave him be for now, the figure in the hallway slinks back, passing through wall and across floor until they reach the child’s room.

                No, not a child anymore, the figure reminds himself, but not quite an adult; a lovely young person, making a way for themself. A swell of pride bubbles in his chest, and he casts the dim lights of his cracked eyes over the room.

                Frisk had awoken in a hurry, this morning, and the figure feels displeased that he could not distract the flower from guarding the phone all night long enough to fix the alarm. Then again, he reminds himself with a twinge, he isn’t sure what would happen if he touched it in the first place.

                Glancing at the desk, he looks over the things lying across it; a few pens, an absentminded doodle of the downstairs receptionist (quite detailed, might he add), two empty teacups – he will have to remember to wash out the dregs later, when everyone is gone – and…

                Oh dear.

                He lifts a hand to his now-downturned mouth, picking up the singular piece of paper with the utmost care. It shifts startlingly in his grip, nearly making it impossible to read, but he has grown far too used to such things, he fears. He can make out the typed-out problems, and the well-thought-out, written responses beneath, as well as the name scrawled in pencil at the top – Frisk Dreemurr.

                He sighs. One would think the person who saved the Underground could remember to take their homework to class. One would be mistaken.

                He sets the paper down, leaving it in full view on the center of the desk, and scoops up the cups in his long-fingered, hollow hands, shifting toward the wall adjacent to the bathroom. He pokes his head through, and upon finding it empty, sets to washing out the long-cold dregs of tea from their insides.

                Though he knows the flower can’t see him, he doesn’t like being near it longer than he has to. The thing is almost as unnatural as he is, now, and that’s saying something.

                Once he’s contented with the cups, he returns them to Frisk’s desk, stacking them neatly within one another, and moves to the nightstand, where he spots a yellow post-it note he hadn’t noticed the previous night. He stoops slightly to read it, finding that observing things without touching them is the best way for him, these days. It reads:

                Thanks for the tea, Grandpa G. You tell the best stories! – Frisk

                His chest quite literally bubbles with affection, this time, and an inky, black tear rolls from his eye-socket. Gingerly picking the note off the table with his spindly fingers, he tucks it inside the roiling mass his body has become, like he does with all the rest.

                Maybe one day, Gaster thinks, the pretty notes his found grandchild leaves him will bring some color to his existence.

 

~*~

 

                Damn it, Frisk just knew they’d left something at home, today. 

Chapter Text

~*~

                “Hey, um, Frisk, you got a minute?”

                The teen in question stops mid-step in their trek to the cafeteria, and twirls about to face the voice that reaches their ears – he’s a taller teen, with pale skin and freckles, and a nervous grin. Frisk smiles, and gives a small wave as greeting. ‘Hi, Benny,’ their sign for him is the letter B, with a short bob of the hand – like a bunny. ‘What’s up?’

                Benny Hubbard is probably a couple months older than Frisk, at most, and is pretty well-known throughout their class as one of the smarter – and nicer – kids. They’re decent friends, but the way he’s shuffling his feet and stumbling over his breath has Frisk feeling slightly apprehensive. “Yeah, um, well… I was wondering, if, ah…”

                Oh, boy. Frisk sets a smile on their lips – one they’ve probably learned from their favorite dunkle – and give Benny a patient nod.

                “Well, um, there’s a, ah, jazz ensemble that’s gonna perform at the park later,” Benny half-mumbles, trying his damnedest to maintain eye contact, but somehow not pulling it off very well. “I was wondering, if, well, if you wanted to…”

                Frisk bites back a sigh. It isn’t too uncommon for their friends to ask them out – especially since they have the odd habit of getting out of fights by nonchalantly flirting with the other student until they’re left alone. It had worked so well for them in the Underground, but lately, things have just been getting awkward. Sure, the dates are generally enjoyable, but Frisk can’t help but feel bad for not being able to reciprocate any of the feelings, even on the best outings.

                They barely manage to catch the end of Benny’s question: “… with me? Tonight? Around six?”

                Though they start to shake their head ‘no,’ Frisk pauses at the look in Benny’s eye. He looks so determined, Frisk can’t help but to be impressed. Nobody can be as determined as they are, but damn, if he isn’t giving it a good try.

                They give a little shrug, and a slight grin. ‘Sure. See you then.’

                Benny chokes on nothing for a moment, his eyes wide and his face looking clammy. “R-really? Wow, oh my gosh, uh, wow!” His grin nearly cleaves his face in two, all braces and gums, and Frisk giggles quietly; it’s adorable. “Yeah, s-see ya then! I’ll bring ya home around eight!”

                He gives Frisk a quick, kind of awkward hug before dashing off, undoubtedly to tell his friends about his success.

                Left alone with their thoughts, Frisk lets that sigh out now, and resumes walking toward the cafeteria. They’re too hungry for this crap. Who knows, though? Maybe it’ll be fun. Maybe they’ll feel different, this time around.

                Frowning, Frisk finds they sincerely doubt it.

                Today is cheeseburger day at lunch, and Frisk finds themself wishing they’d taken the extra few minutes to prepare something at home before rushing out the door. They can almost kick themself for letting Flowey get under their skin like that; they had even left their history homework at home and everything, and Mr. Graham had been very disappointed in second period.

                A welcome voice nudges Frisk from their thoughts. “Yo! Frisk, over here!”

                Lifting their head, Frisk finds themself smiling brightly at the sight of their good friend Kid, already seated at one of the tables, and excitedly patting the seat next to them with their tail. Kid, like Frisk, had grown out of the striped shirts (“Stripes are for kids and weenies!”), and today they were wearing a lime-green tube-top with an ochre ruffled skirt; it was cute, even if the colors clashed slightly with their scales.

                Beaming, Frisk takes the offered seat, glad that Kid remembered to move their tail beforehand. ‘Nice to see you, Kid. Have any trouble getting your lunch, today?’

                “Nah, I’m getting better at holding stuff!” Kid grins, lifting their long tail and giving the prehensile tip a few flexes as demonstration. As Frisk chuckles and picks up their burger, Kid frowns slightly. “Hey, wait a sec… is that cheese?”

                Frisk nods, sighing, and pulls off the top bun, beginning the infuriating process of picking off the melty slice.

                “They didn’t let you order one without cheese, did they?” When Frisk shakes their head in confirmation, Kid lets out a huff and scans their eyes over Frisk’s tray. Cheeseburger, orange slices, some sad-looking corn… and a milk carton. “What, no juice!?”

                Frisk shrugs. ‘They were out when I got there.’

                “That’s baloney.” Kid scowls.

                ‘No,’ Frisk cocks an eyebrow, and points dramatically at their burger, ‘this is beef.’

                They share a laugh for a moment, and the yellow-scaled monster wipes a giddy tear from their eye with the tip of their tail. “You’ve been hanging out with Sans too much!”

                ‘No such thing as ‘too much,’ dunkle Sans-‘ his sign is the letter S held over their mouth and swung in the shape of a grin ‘- is the best.’

                “Nuh uh! Your uncle Papyrus is the coolest!”

                ‘Oh, right, definitely,’ Frisk nods emphatically, ‘but Sans is pretty chill.’ They stress the sign on the last word with a broad smile and a wink.

                Kid groans, rolling their eyes dramatically. “Yeah, no, definitely too much time around him.” Without skipping a beat, they snap their gaze back to Frisk, and ask, “So, how’s the Plan going? Have he and your mom…?”

                Sighing once again, Frisk gives the biggest shrug they’ve given all day. ‘No luck.’

                “Awww,” Kid pouts, “that’s no fun! Why’re they bein’ so weird about it? If they like each other, they should just kiss and stuff! That’s what people do, right…?”

                Frisk moves to nod in agreement, then pauses, brows furrowed as they stare vacantly in thought.

                That is what people do, isn’t it? If they like each other?

                Suddenly feeling uncomfortable and slightly self-conscious, Frisk decides to steer the subject away. ‘So, Benny asked me out, just a few minutes ago.’

                Kid’s tail flicks suddenly as they read Frisk’s signs, and an orangs slice flies off their fork and across the room. Nobody seems to care. “O-oh?” The monster’s voice is slightly higher-pitched, and they’re working to keep a straight face. “Really? What’d you say?”

                ‘Well, I didn’t say anything-‘

                “You know what I mean, dork!”

                Frisk laughs quietly, and goes on. ‘I told him ‘sure,’ and he got all excited and stuff. I guess I’m going on another date, tonight.’

                “Yeah, guess so.” Kid falls quiet, looking down at their tray, suddenly not feeling too hungry. “Hey, um, let me know how it goes, okay? I wanna know if I gotta beat ‘em up for hurting my bestie!”

                They both laugh, this time, and Frisk promises to keep in touch. Somehow, knowing that Kid has their back makes them feel better about the whole deal.

                As the end-of-lunch bell rings, Frisk grabs their stuff and waves goodbye to Kid. Walking down the hall to their next class they find themself filled with determination.

~*~

                Four o’clock rolls by all too quickly, as Sans pulls his electric-blue motorcycle into the high school’s parking lot. It’s a bit off-putting, seeing so few cars in the spaces, especially when most of them scream ‘suburban mom,’ with bumper stickers like “my child is an honor student” or “go team!” He sighs, pulling off his helmet and strapping it to the handlebars as he flicks down the kickstand with a foot and lets his baby recline against it. After sliding off the seat, he gives it a couple possessive pats before shoving his keys in his pockets and making his way for the building.

                Once he enters, he pulls out his phone to check the message Toriel sent him with the room number: 218, right, near the cafeteria. Some kind of faculty room, used for meetings, she’d told him.

                He stashes his phone away before he can get distracted by her contact picture.

                In little time at all, he finds the room in question, and sees that a few other parents are gathered outside the door. Quirking a brow, he slips his phone from his pocket to check the time – 4:03, someone must be late. Someone with the keys.

                He shrugs to himself; might as well make the most of the situation.

                “Heya, folks,” he calls casually, waving a bony hand to the other parents. Some of them flinch as they look up and spot him, but the rest seem cheerful in turn.

                “Oh, hello!” One of the women, a mousy sort of human with a brunette bob and thin, dainty reading glasses – one of the humans who’d flinched at seeing him, he notes – steps forward and extends a hand, the other holding a covered dish laden with brownies. “I’m Helen Snyder, vice-president of the PTA.” She smiles, and it brings to mind the scent of concentrated vanilla, straight from the bottle. Normally, he likes stuff straight from the bottle, but something about this imagery makes him want to gag.

                “Sans,” he replies, doing his best to maintain a friendly form of his grin, “Sans the skeleton. Nice to meetcha.”

                “The pleasure is all ours,” Helen replies, and man if she doesn’t lay it on thick. “Are you a new parent, here?”

                Sans shuffles his weight between his feet, taking back his hand and stuffing it in a pocket. “Eh, kinda. I’m fillin’ in for Toriel today.”

                “Oh.” It’s easy to tell from the looks that the other parents exchange that most of them are either off-put by the change, or outright disappointed. He tries not to let it bother him. “You’re Frisk’s… father, then?” He can’t help noticing the revulsion she’s barely masking in her tone. A few of the others shuffle awkwardly behind her.

                He lets his eye-sockets slide halfway closed, and grins a bit more at the confused looks from some of the humans. It never gets old, seeing new humans baffled by how his face works. “Nah, I’m their dunkle. They picked the title, not me.”

                “Ah, I see.” Helen gives a curt smile. “Well, she’s a bright girl, despite what might go on at home.”

                Before he can ask what exactly she meant by that, another woman comes trotting down the hallway in obnoxiously-loud heels, and fumbles with the keys in her hand to unlock the door. “So sorry, ladies and gentlemen,” the newcomer drawls, opening the door with a flourish, “we can get started once everyone is ready.” She flashes a bleached-white smile at the others, who all file in quietly, setting their various containers of snacks on a side table just inside the door.

                Sans forgets himself momentarily, and the features on his skull shift into something resembling intense dubiousness as he regards this new woman; he can’t tell what’s more blinding, her unnaturally-white teeth, or her bottle-blonde hair, tied neatly into a compact bun. Before she turns her gaze to him, he snaps his expression back to the lazy, default smile, and shuffles forward to find a seat at the meeting table.

                “Oh, a new face!” Her enthusiasm is blatantly false, but he decides it’s not worth mentioning just yet. “Who might you be?”

                He introduces himself quickly, and grabs some snacks and settles into a seat before sugar-queen has a chance to get a word in. She does a fantastic job of pretending she isn’t offended, and takes her proclaimed seat at the head of the table, with Helen at her right-hand.

                “Welcome, everyone, and sorry for my tardiness! Robert had a little… issue, at home.” Sans took mental note of the others whose eyes visibly rolled at this. “For those of you who are new, today,” her eyes locked pointedly with his, and Sans held his ground valiantly, “my name is Linda Smith, and I’m the PTA president.” Helen begins clapping politely, and one or two others half-heartedly join in.

                “Please, please,” Linda does a fantastic job at acting shy, but Sans doesn’t buy it for a second. “We’re already running a bit late as it is, so I’d like to go ahead and get started. The first item on today’s agenda is an issue that has been brought up by some… other parents.” She cleared her throat, a soft little hem-hem sound. “Some people are complaining about the school lunches, saying that their children can’t ‘tolerate’ the options provided, the milk, the cheese, the trail mix… So on.”

                “Well, my son, Benny?” Another woman pipes up, one with long, dark hair tied back in a loose ponytail, “he says he gets tummy problems when he drinks the milk here, and I tell him to make sure he checks the dates on the carton, but he says-“

                “Carol,” Linda cuts her off, looking tired, “how many times do we have to tell you that milk can’t cause stomach issues?”

                “Yeah,” Helen pipes in, and Sans finds himself jarred by the difference between Linda’s and Helen’s voices, “we all know these kids will do anything for attention. They’re probably making all this up to get some attention.”

                Linda looks around the table expectantly, and nobody else moves to speak. The man sitting next to Sans coughs lightly.

                Are these people freakin’ kidding, Sans marvels. Linda has already started talking again before he can muster a word, but he raises his voice over hers, cutting her off.

                “No, hold on just a moment, Lin.” All eyes are suddenly on him, and he gets a sense that this doesn’t happen too often. “Let’s… de-Linda-berate the issue, here.”

                The man next to him snorts, and everyone else exchanges baffled looks.

                “You and Helen here are saying that the kids are makin’ up stuff to get attention, whatever,” he goes on, barely skipping a beat, “but I know for a fact that Frisk has a hard time eating even a little bit of cheese. Heck, I took ‘em out for burgers when I first met ‘em, back when they were little, and the poor kid was sick for hours after the fact. They have to bring their lunches, most days.”

                “Well, it isn’t our fault that children are so picky,” Helen scoffs, examining her bright-red nails, “Frisk should learn to eat what she’s served, and not to complain so much.”

                Her words are met with a sudden gagging sound, and all eyes are on Sans again, who has just taken a bite out of one of the brownies he’s grabbed; he’s looking at the thing like it tried to shoot him.

                “Oh my god,” he coughs, “Helen, did you bake these brownies?”

                “Why yes!”

                “I thought so,” he sets it on the far corner of his paper plate, “’Cause they sure taste like they’ve burned for eternity.”

                The man on his right is shaking with the effort it takes not to laugh. Everyone else is shocked.

                In an effort to avoid further conflict, Linda hurriedly moves to the next issue, leaving the first one unresolved.

                Sans leans back in his seat and smirks to himself, letting his eye-sockets slide closed as he pretends to sleep; he might not actually be getting a nap anytime soon, but he sure as hell is having more fun than he would be sitting at home.

Chapter Text

~*~

                It’s been a long, long day.

                Studio workers bustle here and there, and the robot ends up having to push people aside in his haste to reach his dressing room before his batteries completely run out. Mettaton simply refuses to find pictures of his prone, unconscious form on the internet again.

                When he reaches his dressing room, he slips inside without a word to his producer – who he spies in his peripheral sensory, approaching with a clipboard and a nervous expression – and stumbles to the sofa on the far end of the room, muttering a few choice curses under his metaphorical breath. With his last bits of energy, he fumbles with the charge cable coming from the wall until he manages to plug it into the jack on the back of his neck.

                He sighs heavily with relief at the rush of charge, and reclines on his side, letting his eyes slide shut. Though he doesn’t “sleep” like most monsters, the robot finds that his batteries tend to charge more quickly when he lies still and keeps his visual sensors offline. With his body in this kind of standby mode, his ‘vision’ returns faintly, as he gathers the magic of his soul within the small chamber at his midsection.

                Allowing the bulk of his essence to rest against one side of the chamber – taking care not to phase through it – he regards his dressing-room with a half-lidded gaze, only halfway paying attention to his surroundings. He loves the spotlight, the attention, the fans. Who wouldn’t? It’s a life worth dying for.

                However, there are times like these where he simply has to take some time for himself.

                A loud knock at the door rouses him from his rest, and he barely manages to surge his essence back into his metal body before the door flies open entirely with a bang.

                “METTATON!” His visuals aren’t quite online yet, but god, if that isn’t just the voice he wants to hear about now.

                “Papyrus, darling,” the robot croons, his eyes finally sliding open, and a smile stretching his synthetic lips. “It’s so wonderful to see you~! What’s the occasion?”

                The tall, lanky skeleton is wearing his usual outfit – his ‘battle body, if Mettaton remembers correctly – and strikes a heroic pose, his red-orange cape flapping in some unknown breeze. “I, BEING THE WONDERFUL AND GENEROUS BOYFRIEND I AM, HAVE ELECTED TO TREAT YOU TODAY, AFTER A LONG DAY’S WORK, WITH AN IMPROMPTU DATE!”

                There’s a soft whirring sound, and Mettaton’s face grows a shade pinker. “Oh, sweetheart, you shouldn’t have…!”

                “NONSENSE,” Papyrus declares, crossing the room with only three swift strides, before taking a seat beside Mettaton on the sofa (more like he sits on the very edge of the sofa, his hip against the robot’s), “I know how tiring it is, being great all the time. From firsthand experience, might I add!” His voice has lowered to a more acceptable volume as he’s grown closer, and in that moment Mettaton realizes just how badly his audio receivers have been reacting after a full day’s use.

                Putting a gloved hand on Papyrus’s radius, he smiles gently. “Thank you, Papy, darling. You really are the greatest.”

                Papyrus’s cheekbones glow a soft orange, and he averts the gaze of his eye-sockets bashfully. “Oh, you…!”

                “You should know I really meant that,” Mettaton sighs, taking a half-second to check his battery level; he might be able to make it to wherever Papyrus has in mind, if he reverts to his normal form. “So where are we going, my lovely sugar-skull?”

                Papyrus brings his gaze back to the robot, and his eye-sockets are aglitter with orange sparks. “Somewhere very special to me, where I spend a lot of time…!”

~*~

                Sans can’t believe how well that went, considering.

                The meeting has ended a bit later than Toriel predicted, at about a quarter-‘til-seven, and he has a pretty good feeling that had something to do with him.

                Shortly after shutting down Helen with the (brilliant) pun about hell-burnt brownies, he noticed some of the other people in the room had been willing to speak up against both her and Linda. He’d learned their names pretty quickly, too: Carol was a nice lady, if perhaps a bit prone to overthinking; David was a History teacher who coached the football team, and Sans had quickly gotten the feeling that nothing but sports could really get the man’s attention; Deb was an older woman who taught English, and though her voice was quiet and nasally, she seemed to have a good head on her shoulders; and finally, there was Stuart, a single father with a bit of a stutter, but who sincerely liked Sans’s jokes. He made extra sure to get Stuart’s phone number after the meeting.

                Sans sighs, enjoying the cool evening wind rushing past him as he made the ride back to the apartment, feeling pretty content with the turn of events.

                As he pulls into his parking space and pulls off his helmet, he lifts his gaze to see a now all-too-familiar blonde bun trotting down the sidewalk toward his building.

                “No freakin’ way,” he mutters, and breathes a breath of relief when Linda doesn’t hear him.

                He follows her inside, keeping his pace even with hers and staying a few feet back, small beads of sweat gathering on the back of his skull as she walks right into the building – his building – and makes for the elevator. The doors begin to shut, and she hasn’t noticed him yet.

                A wicked smirk crosses his face, and he just so happens to find a shortcut into the elevator.

                “You goin’ to the third floor too, Lin?”

                The shriek that erupts from her is worth every icy stare he endured from across the table. As she calms down and fixes him with a fresh glare, he simply shrugs, hands in his pockets, and chuckles lowly.

                The elevator ride passes in silence, and he makes a show of letting her exit first, complete with a theatrical bow and an “After you, ma’am” on his part. She’s clopping down the hallway without a word, and he follows leisurely – not to spy on her, but simply because their apartments seem to be in the same direction from the elevator.

                She reaches her door before he reaches his, and though he doesn’t look at her as he passes, he can feel her eyes watching him warily as he saunters toward his own door. She doesn’t stop staring until he opens the door and heads inside.

                “AH, GOOD EVENING, BROTHER!” Sans’s smile warms at the sight of Papyrus on the sofa, and hitches slightly when he sees a familiar pair of hot-pink boots kicked up onto the opposing armrest. “I HOPE YOU DON’T MIND, I INVITED METTATON OVER FOR A DATE!”

                “Hey, bro, ‘sall good,” he chuckled, shaking the tension from his face and hanging his keys on a nearby wall hook, “hope you two are havin’ a Metta-ton of fun.”

                Papyrus sighs roughly, and Mettaton stifles an almost musical giggle. “Good one, Sans,” the robot laughs.

                “YOU are only saying that because he used your name!” Papyrus chides him, but wraps an arm about his chest all the same. Both of the others in the room can see he’s smiling.

                Sans pauses, about to ask if either of the two have seen Toriel, but as his gaze falls back on his little brother reclining on the sofa, one hand casually stroking Mettaton’s hair while the robot slowly wraps his fingers around the other, he can’t bring himself to bother them. They look so content, so at ease.

                A part of him is envious of what they have, and he makes himself look away.

                He shuffles into the kitchen and retrieves one of several ketchup bottles from the fridge, popping up the cap so he can take a swig. Some of the goodies at the PTA meeting were decent, but most had left a bitter taste in his mouth.

                “Ugh, how can you stand that crap?” Flowey’s voice almost – almost – manages to startle him.

                “With my feet,” Sans observes, kicking up a slipper to illustrate. “You, however, can’t stand at all.”

                Flowey groans furiously and slams his face into the windowpane. He then pulls himself back, and repeats the process three more times.

                “Hey, the sun’s still out; lighten up, bucko.”

                “Can you please just not,” Flowey’s voice is venom, but Sans only laughs.

                Fortunately for the plant, Sans is distracted from his next quip by a buzz from his pocket. Pulling out his phone, he swipes down the notifications, to see two new texts: one is from Toriel, and one is from Frisk.

                He checks Toriel’s, first: Sans, this meeting is going to run later than I feared. I hope things went well at the PTA. I want to hear all about it, when you get the chance. Please make sure Frisk does their homework before bed. Sincerely, Toriel.

                He laughs quietly; god, it’s cute how she never stopped signing her texts.

                No prob, T, I got this down. I think I might go more often. They love me, there. It’s great.

                A moment passes, and she doesn’t yet reply. Presuming she’s busy, Sans moves on to the message from Frisk.

                Hey, dunkle sans! I’m going out on another date tonight, this time with Benny Hubbard. Couldn’t say no to that face of his, haha. I’ll be home around eight! Love you.

                Sans gives a heavy sigh. “Dammit, kiddo, tryin’ to kill me,” he grumbles, as he types his reply.

                You better, or Benny boy is gonna be havin’ a bad time.

                Omg no, no bad times for anybody!!! I’ll see you at home

                Ok.

                He stuffs his phone away, and rolls his shoulders, humming in mild relief as the joints crack lightly. After tossing another glance at the two snuggling on the couch, he lets his smile relax into something warm, and makes his way to the hall.

                “Welp, you two have fun in here.” He pauses, turning to fake-scowl over his shoulder and waggle a finger at Papyrus, “And no hanky-panky.”

                “AUGH!” His brother scowls, gesturing at the TV. “Sans, you’re interrupting the best part!”

                “Heh, sorry, bro.” Shaking his head, the shorter skeleton makes his way to the room he shares with his brother, and heads inside.

                Papyrus had made sure to divide the room neatly down the middle with a masking-tape line when they moved in. Papyrus’s half includes the closet, and Sans’s half includes the window, so they both agree on it being a fair trade. As expected, Papyrus keeps his half of the room neat and tidy, and sometimes can’t help but clean Sans’s side, as well.

                Hey, less work for him.

                He plods his way to his bed and deposits himself there without a second thought, enjoying the sensation of letting the mattress take over the effort of holding him up. In the back of his mind, he reminds himself he needs to make sure Frisk does their homework when they get home.

Frankly, he can’t make himself give a damn when he’s already halfway asleep.

~*~

                Today has been a boatload of heavy sighs and disappointment, and Frisk can’t bring themself to pretend they aren’t feeling down.

                The concert itself had been pretty good. They enjoyed the music, and Benny had even managed to get up and dance with them a couple of times, but when the concert had ended and they had begun the drive home, Frisk couldn’t help the guilty feelings that started rising.

                Benny had walked them to the door of the building, and there was a moment of awkward standing as Benny seemed to be summoning up his willpower to make a move, and Frisk raced to find the right way to let him down easy.

                So much for that, Frisk sighs to themself as they pad through their apartment door. The look on Benny’s face is still fresh in their mind, and they sincerely hope the awkward period doesn’t last too long, this time.

                Looking around, they spot Papyrus sitting on the couch with Mettaton; the skeleton is fast asleep – a rare sight to see him in – and the robot is casually running his gloved fingers over Papyrus’s cranium, staring languidly at the TV while he charges. On spotting Frisk, he waves his other hand and flashes a smile, not wanting to wake Papyrus.

                Frisk waves in turn, offering a small smile back, and begins to head down the hallway. They pause at the hall’s entrance, and glance at the windowsill in the kitchen.

                If Flowey noticed them enter, he’s ignoring them.

                With a bit of a shrug, Frisk plods down to the end of the hall and pushes open the door to their room. It’s much neater than they had left it this morning, that much is visible right away: their bed is made, their laundry is folded and put away, and it even seems like someone washed last night’s teacups.

                Some of the shadows in the corner wobble uncertainly, and Frisk lifts their gaze to smile in that direction.

                They don’t pause for long, and drop their backpack in front of their desk before taking a seat. Pulling out their homework and their phone, they pull up the text log with Kid, and send them the scoop.

                Home from the date. It was fun, but things are probably gonna be awkward.

                Kid’s response is nearly immediate. Frisk smiles as they remember they showed Kid the talk-to-text feature.

                Do I got to beat him up
                I’ll do it
                I’ll beat him up

                Shaking their head, Frisk replies, Nah, go easy on him. He seemed kind of bummed. I got homework, night, buddy.

                Night yo sleep good

                Frisk re-sets the alarm, and tosses their phone to their nightstand. Staring at their homework, they feel a sense of unease gripping at their stomach, and they find they don’t quite have the heart to bother with math at the moment.

                A light, gentle touch on their shoulder draws their attention to a tall, shadowy figure standing beside them and smiling down with a cracked, almost sorrowful visage.

                ‘Hi, grandpa G,’ Frisk signs, doing their best to offer another smile.

                ‘Hello, young one,’ Gaster signs in turn, moving back far enough so his stooping to their level won’t shove his face directly into their own. ‘I would ask if you had a good day, but your manner illustrates clearly to the opposite.’

                ‘Not like it was bad. I just have a lot on my mind.’

                Gaster chuckles, his voice like static popping. ‘What is ‘a lot’ to one who bears infinitude? You may tell me.’

                The smile comes more easily to Frisk, this time, but it still doesn’t quite reach their eyes. ‘It’s… hard, sometimes. I don’t know if I can be who everyone wants me to be.’

                ‘Why should you be? Is who you are not good enough?’

                ‘… Yeah?’ Frisk shakes their head. ‘No? I don’t know. It’s hard.’

                With a soft, fracturing sigh, Gaster shifts forward and wraps his hollow hands and dripping arms around the young human, enveloping them in his ethereal, semi-solid embrace. Frisk returns the hug almost immediately, and he can feel them shaking slightly, fighting back some emotion they can’t quite understand. Gently, he pats their back, rubbing little circles with his fingers. When he feels Frisk lift their head from his shoulder, another pair of spindly hands appear behind him, signing so Frisk can see.

                ‘You are always good enough, young one. Do not forget this. I will be here when you figure out what needs to be said, and how to say it.’

                Frisk just manages to bite back the whimper in their throat, and Gaster pretends he doesn’t hear the strangled sound, for their sake. He lets them go as they pull away, and sign him a sincere ‘thank you, grandpa.’

                He offers a smile of his own, broken as it is. ‘Would you like some tea, tonight?’

                They shake their head. ‘I’m really tired, and I have a lot of homework. How about tomorrow?’

                Nodding, he assents. ‘I will hold you to this. Good night, young one.’ Just like that, he melts back into the shadows, and it’s almost as if he were never there.

                Sighing, Frisk settles into their desk chair once again, and sets to scribbling down answers to math problems, determined to get it done before it gets too late.

~*~

                The flower on the windowsill can’t complain about the view he has of the moon, tonight, but that won’t stop him from chucking ‘friendliness pellets’ at the two crashing on the couch when they snore too loudly for his tastes.

Chapter Text

~*~

                It’s the middle of August, two weeks after Frisk’s ill-fated date with their classmate, and the sun has elected to use today to show just how ungodly hot it can make the world be.

                The once-king of monsters wipes the sweat from his fuzzy brow, his golden mane tied back in some semblance of a bun in a valiant attempt to keep it out of his eyes so he can concentrate on the hedge he’s trimming. A surge of pride swells his soul as he recalls how just that morning, he nearly bumped into the school’s principal on the way in, and the man had informed him on just what a fine job he’s doing with the school grounds.

                “Best damn work I’ve ever seen,” He’d said.

                Satisfied with the evenness of his cut, Asgore straightens to his full height, grunting a bit as he rolls the tension from his hunched shoulders. Nine feet of fluffy white boss monster is nothing to sneeze at, but he is content in knowing that very few people he runs across are actually intimidated by him. Not that he ever really does anything intimidating, except maybe to the shrubs.

                He turns about, casting his gaze back to the lawn around him. He’s already been here for about three hours, trimming the grass and grooming the shrubs, tending the flowers and blowing debris off the walkways. Some people might marvel about how one man can do all that work in such time, but such a feat is pretty simple business when one is a centuries-old monster with plenty of gardening experience under his belt.

                As he’s marveling at his handiwork, and debating whether he should head home for tea before his next job, his phone rings. He answers it cheerily, forgetting to check for who is calling. “Howdy, Asgore, here! How can I-”

                “Good morning, Dreemurr.”

                Chills wrack his soul, and he nearly drops the phone when he hears that familiar voice. “Oh! Um, howdy, Tori – Toriel.” He makes sure he’s quick to correct himself. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

                She sighs into the receiver, and he feels a rush of relief that it isn’t an angry one. He doesn’t know if he could handle her ire, today. “I am calling to remind you about that conference with the governor, on Tuesday. Frisk needs to be there at three. Are you sure you are okay to drive them there?”

                “Oh, yes, absolutely.” Asgore feels the nervous knot slipping away at the thought of his responsibility. “I was thinking of taking them for dinner, afterward, if that is all right with you.”

                He can almost hear the soft smile in her voice. “Of course, I am sure Frisk would enjoy the time with you.”

                “It has been too long since we were able to spend some time, together. How are they doing, by the by?”

                “Oh, you know how teenagers are.” Asgore bit his cheek. No, he doesn’t, really, but he isn’t about to reopen that wound with Toriel on the line. “They have their moods now and again, but for the most part, they are willing to talk things out, in their way.”

                “Good to hear,” he sighs. “Do you know if any of the other children are giving them trouble?” He hangs his dirty gloves on his belt, and begins heading for his car.

                “No, not that I know of. Oh, they did go on another date, just a couple weeks ago. I do not think it went very well.”

                “Pity.” This time, he doesn’t bother to mask the relief in his tone. He isn’t sure how he would feel if Frisk were to start an actual relationship. “I should send them a textual message, sometime soon, to work out the details of our outing.”

                “Asgore…” Toriel sighs his name, and he winces, trying his best not to let the heat rise to his face in spite of himself, “It is called a ‘text,’ stop speaking like a goober.”

                “I do not know what a ‘goober’ is, but it sounds unpleasant.” He clears his throat slightly, tugging at the collar of his shirt. “I will let you go, Toriel. Thank you for the reminder.”

                “Of course. Goodbye, Dreemurr.”

                The line disconnects, thankfully, a fraction of a second before Asgore mutters “Love you” into the receiver. He stares at his phone’s screen until it goes blank, and then returns it to his pocket.

                Even after all these years, there’s so many centuries he can’t let go of.

~*~

                It’s about half-past-noon; the apartment is empty, save for a solitary skeleton, still tangled in his bedsheets and snoring loudly. Well, there’s him, and the shadowy figure sitting gingerly on the other bed across the room, watching him with a pensive frown.

                Aside from the raucous snores, the room remains quiet for several long moments. Gaster shifts inadvertently in his seat, more of an effect of his semi-existence than any actual nervous habit. He can’t recall how many times he’s watched over his sons or even young Frisk while they’ve slept, for that matter. All he knows is that he can tell what kinds of dreams any of them are having by the small mumbles, the facial twitches, the slinging of limbs.

                Judging by the current state of Sans’s entanglement with his sheets, he’s not having a very good time.

                Rising from his seat, Gaster seems to glide effortlessly over the floor, slowing considerably as he reaches Sans’s side. The smaller skeleton is writhing, sweating almost literal bullets that melt into the sheets in a way that makes the older monster think of himself. He isn’t given much time to dwell on this reminder, for a sharply-blue glow begins to spark to life in Sans’s left eye-socket, the light trickling around his squeezed-shut ‘lid’ like licks of flame.

                You were never supposed to be hurting like this.

                A long, hollow hand places itself gently on the skeleton’s sweaty skull, and despite the initial flinching at the contact, Sans seems to settle down, the death-grip on his blanket becoming something more relaxed. The joints of his phalanges creak slightly as the tension is released.

                I did the best I could, but I suppose that is not always enough.

                Thick, neon-blue tears bead at the corner of Sans’s eyes, and are quickly wiped away by shuddering fingertips. A soft, distorted warble cuts the silence of the mid-afternoon haze, and Gaster brings a hand to his mouth, one he summoned for this purpose from the infinitude of his body, never once taking his original hands from Sans’s pained, sleeping face.

                You were never supposed to suffer. You, or your brother.

                No matter how he tries to bite them back, to will them deeper within himself, within the endless instances his being encompasses at once, several streams of black, inky tears leak from Gaster’s own hollow sockets, and the wavering crescent of his mouth curves to a grimace of despair.

                I wanted so badly to save you. Everyone. All of you. But I only made things worse.

                A bitter laugh escapes his throat, though to anyone that can hear him, it sounds more like a harsh hiss of static.

                It seems I was never the one destined to save our kind, after all.

                The tears keep falling, damn them, and before he quite knows what he’s doing, he’s climbed up onto the bed, gently untangling the still-sleeping skeleton from his sheets. Leaning his back against the wall – despite the effort it takes to will himself into something more substantial – he wraps up his charge in a many-limbed embrace, cradling him to his chest like he used to, what felt like eons ago, back when that skull was smaller than his fist, with eye-lights so bright the surface would swear there were two new stars. Focusing intently, he finds himself wishing his voice hadn’t suffered so harshly, so he could hum a gentle tune, something the boys had always asked to hear when they’d come shuffling to his study in the middle of the night from a bad dream.

                Though he lost track of how long he sat in place, comforting his son in all the ways he had left, Gaster almost felt eternity itself slow down to allow him time for this moment.

                When at last, Sans seems to relax entirely, and his sleep grows peaceful and somber once more, the old monster carefully returns him to a more natural resting position, and makes sure to pull the covers up over his shoulder. Pardoning one more gentle pat on the sleeping ulna, Gaster shifts back toward the shadows in the corner, feeling exhausted from the effort of manifesting himself, but contented.

                “’Night, dad.”

                The sleepy voice catches him off-guard, and his form rapidly snaps and splits almost nearly in two before he can compose himself. That almost hadn’t sounded like the deep-voiced, lazy-bones Sans who lived there, but rather like someone Gaster had known before his fall, someone he found himself missing greatly, in spite of being so close to him.

                He turns, and sure enough, Sans is dead to the world, grinning – dare he say – dreamily in his slumber.

                ‘Good night, my son,’ he signs to the sleeping form, before letting himself dissipate.

~*~

                “It’s been a pleasure speaking with you, Miss Dreemurr, and thank you again for coming by on such short notice.”

                Frisk stiffens reflexively, but does their best to put on a placating smile and shake the man’s damn hand. Despite the relative smoothness that monsters have had assimilating into human society, tension is tangibly high, especially in these ridiculous political situations.

                They hold their smile throughout several rounds of hand-shaking and picture taking, and they hope that the irritation they’re feeling at all this posturing doesn’t quite make it to their face. The meeting itself had been long, far longer than they would have hoped for on a school night, but this lengthy photo-op is at least a veritable sign that this endeavor is almost done, for the night.

                And for that, Frisk is more than excited: their dad promised them dinner, after all.

                As the journalists begin to disperse, and the politicians take their leave, Frisk turns to face the large monster standing a few yards behind them, sitting gingerly on a chair that is far too small for his stature.

                ‘You ready to go, dad?’ They sign excitedly as they bob toward him.

                “Absolutely,” Asgore sighs heavily, and stands extra carefully from his precarious seat, looking visibly relieved when there’s no sign of damage. “This building is so small.”

                ‘Everything’s small, to you!’

                He only chuckles. “You have got me, there, my child.” He ruffles Frisk’s hair with his large paw, making them squirm in only a semblance of protest. “Are you ready for dinner?”

                Nodding, Frisk puts on a dramatic pout. ‘If I get any emptier, I might start looking like dunkle Sans.’

                At this, Asgore grins, and together, they walk outside to clamber into his car.

                “Do not forget to textify your mother,” Asgore reminds the teenager as he buckles into the driver’s seat of his (admittedly massive) SUV.

                Frisk rolls their eyes from the passenger’s seat. ‘It’s called a ‘text,’ dad.’ They even make the effort to spell the word out for him, one letter at a time.

                “Well! That would make for the second time I have been reminded of this, this week alone.” He chuckles again, his laugh deep and rumbling, almost like the kick of a powerful bass. “Perhaps I will remember on my own before too long!”

                Frisk’s phone pings with a new text, and they pull up the new text to show Asgore: it’s from Toriel.

                Make sure your father knows to bring you home before nine. And that if anything happens to you, it is on his head.

                The boss monster winces. “Oh. She ah, knows how to really put on the pressure.” They both share a laugh.

                The short ride downtown is spent in amiable silence. Frisk recognizes that people can’t easily pay attention to their signs while driving, and passes the minutes by watching the street lights streak past the window. Before too long, Asgore parks in front of a cozy little storefront, painted a charming lilac and decorated with spiderwebs. Frisk feels their soul bounce in their chest upon reading the sign hanging over the door: “Muffet’s Bakery – Made by spiders, for spiders, with spiders!”

                Frisk leads the way inside with a flourish, and the two are greeted by a familiar, silky voice. “Ahuhuhu~! Welcome, dearies! My, it has been awhile since we’ve seen your lovely faces around here, hasn’t it, my pet?”

                Muffet directs this query to the large, mandible-jawed cupcake monster sleeping on the counter, who merely opens a single eye and gives a little warble.

                “Howdy! We will have two of your finest pastries, if you please, and some cider.” Asgore makes the exchange, while Frisk darts about the counter to pick out the goodies. With treats in hand, they claim a seat at one of the outside tables, where they can enjoy the evening air and watch the people go by.

                Asgore seems to forget about his pastry about halfway through it, his attention arrested by the darkening sky. Every time he sees it, and he sees it many times every day, he can’t help but think that it’s just as beautiful now as it was before the war.

                Before he can get too lost in his thoughts, however, a tap on his forearm brings his attention back to Frisk, who he sees is pointing emphatically up and behind themself. He follows the direction they point with his gaze, back up to the sky, until he sees a single, shimmering star sitting low on the horizon.

                ‘First star of the evening,’ they sign quickly, beaming at him, ‘you gotta make a wish!’

                He smiles, and finds he doesn’t have the heart to tell that face that all of his real wishes have already come true. Well… most all of them. “Are we sharing them, or are they secrets?”

                Frisk shrugs. ‘I wished for a good grade on the math test next week.’

                “Well! It is good to see you set your standards high.” His teasing is rewarded with a poking-out of the tongue from Frisk, and a silent giggle. “I, however, shall wish for my family to stay happy.”

                Frisk’s giggles sober a bit, and they look at Asgore with an expression he can’t completely place. ‘That goes for you, too, right?’

                “Of course,” he says resolutely, returning Frisk’s expression with a warm smile. “If my family is happy, I can be happy, too.”

                Half an hour, two pastries, and two tall glasses of tart cider later, and Asgore is driving leisurely through the streets to take his child back to their home, humming to himself as Frisk dozes off in the passenger seat.

~*~

                ‘Dad made a wish, for his family to be happy.’

                “Well, that should be easy for you guys, with your goody-goody sappy schtick.”

                Frisk eyes the flower on their desk. ‘I think that should extend to his whole family, bro.’

                For the first time in a while, Flowey can’t think of something to snap back with right away, and Frisk rolls over in bed to go to sleep.

                “… You’re such a bleeding heart.”

                His voice sounds less like his own, and once again, more like that lost soul in the flowerbed.

Chapter Text

~*~

                “NGGAAHHH!!! YOU CALL THAT A SHOT!? THROW YOUR HEART INTO THAT KICK, HUBBARD!!!”

                The scraggly redhead, sweating profusely and grimacing hard, nods emphatically at the fish-woman’s shouts, and swings his foot toward the ball with all the strength he can muster. The kick connects with a solid thwack, and the ball is sent soaring across the field toward the goal. Or, well, in the general direction of the goal; it sails quite majestically far to the right of the net. Benny groans, running a hand through his sweaty hair, but before he can manage an apology, the raucous laugh of the soccer coach cuts him off.

                “FUFUFUFU! WHAT’D I TELL YA, PUNK!? LOOK AT THAT PASSION!” She’s crossed the field in a matter of a few strides, and Benny finds himself coughing, with the wind knocked out of him from the sportsmanly clap on the back he’s just received. “We’ll make a proper kicker out of you yet!”

                “Y-you think so, Coach Undyne? I mean, I kinda… sent it way off course…”

                “NAH!” Her proclamation is so sudden, it makes the poor kid jump nearly out of his shoes. “IT’S JUST FINDING ITS OWN WAY IN LIFE!!”

                Her laugh bellows over the field, and Benny finds himself laughing along with his classmates. Undyne sends him back to stand with the others, and calls up the next kid – who so happens to be Kid.

                The scaly yellow monster bounds up to stand beside their childhood hero, grinning toothily and bouncing on their toes. “I’m ready, coach!”

                “That’s the spirit, punk!!” Undyne guffaws, and slams down another soccer ball in front of Kid’s feet. “I want you to OBLITERATE that goal with EVERYTHING YOU GOT, KID!! Can ya do that?!”

                “Heck yeah!!” Kid lifts their tail, holding it steady behind themself for balance, and brings back their leg for the kick. With all their might, they swing, uttering the strongest, most passionate yell they can muster.

                The kick connects.

                The ball hops forward a few feet, and bounces listlessly a couple times before coming to a halt.

                Silence.

                “… Kid.”

                Their clawed feet are kneading small gouges in the turf. “Uh, yeah, coach?”

                “That.” She runs a hand over her head, brushing back the crimson fins she couldn’t tie out of her face. “Was.” She turns the gaze of her one yellow eye to the young monster before her, and places a hand on their back.

                “AWESOME!!!” Her grin is wide, her jagged teeth like yellowed knives. “I could FEEL the passion in your SOUL! We gotta work a little on the execution, but MAN!” She belts out another laugh, “We GOTTA see more of that! Keep it up, punk!” Giving them a playful shove back toward the class, Undyne calls for the next student.

                Kid tries their damnedest not to hang their head as they scurry back to their place among the other students, and – more specifically – next to Frisk, who already demonstrated their kicking potential just ten minutes prior. Frisk nudges them playfully as they resume their spot, and Kid lifts their eyes to read Frisk’s signs.

                ‘You did good. Better than I did.’

                At this, Kid has to chuckle. “Yeah, haha, you didn’t even hit the ball! How do you manage that, anyway?”

                ‘I’m really, really good at dodging.’ Frisk puffs up their chest proudly.

                Kid rolls their eyes, and shakes their head, still grinning. A moment of silence falls between the two as they both watch a few other classmates try their hands (or rather, feet) at kicking the soccer ball at the goal – a few of them succeed, but most everyone falls short or misses entirely, leaving Kid feeling less bad about their own attempt.

                Presently, their attention shifts to their friend, who is standing quietly, arms folded around themself and giving the slightest frown, as if deep in thought. Kid might be clumsy, but they aren’t dumb; they can see the bags that have been growing under Frisk’s eyes the past couple of weeks, the chewed-back fingernails, the dry, cracked lips.

                “Yo, Frisk… are you doin’ okay, lately?”

                Frisk seems taken off-guard by the question, and for a moment, the look in their eyes is something bordering panic. Kid watches them force a grin and shrug before signing, ‘Yeah sure, feeling Frisky as ever!’

                Though Kid wants to smile, they can’t quite bring themself to. “Yo, you’re really kind of a crappy liar. We’ve been friends for, yo, what, eight years? You can talk to me, Frisk.” Their tail curls up, the tip twisting anxiously at the hem of their shirt.

                Heaving a sigh, Frisk seems to realize when they’ve been defeated. ‘Not now,’ they sign, keeping the motions more subtle than normal, and Kid almost has to squint to read them right. ‘Later. I’ll text you.’

                “Okay,” Kid relents, glancing Frisk over with a wary look, “but you better realize I’m gonna hold you to that.”

 

                Frisk only responds with a weak smile and a thumbs-up, and the bell rings for class dismissal.

~*~

                Undyne hums an energetic tune to herself as she gathers up the scattered soccer balls, tossing them back into the bin from varying distances the second she picks them up. People can say all they want about thankless work, but the best part of each and every day for Undyne is getting to coach the PE class for all these little punks.

                Well, maybe the second-best part of every day.

                Her phone rings with the loud and peppy tune of the opening from a certain someone’s favorite anime, and she answers it before it even has a chance to reach the chorus, grinning like the devil.

                “Hey, hot stuff.”

                Her grin only widens at the sound of sputtering from the other end. “U-Undyne!!!! What if the k-kids hear you!?”

                “Relax, babycakes, I’m out in the field, all the nerds are headed back to class.” Undyne strolls back to the ball cart, flipping the lid down and dragging it behind her on the way back to the school building. “What’s up? Aren’t you gettin’ ready for some nerds to come your way? Aren’t you guys doin’ something with fire, today?”

                “Uh, well, yeah, I mean,” Undyne swears she can hear her girlfriend sweating, “I just, y-y’know, wanted to ask a favor.”

                “Shoot, hon.”

                “Well, there’s a meeting on Monday, w-with the P-p-p-PTA –“

                “Alphys, stop right there,” Undyne pauses in her trek, her smile growing a bit softer. “You know I can handle those schmucks any day. What’s the issue, and who do I take it up with?”

                “God, Undyne, you’re a freakin’ angel,” Alphys wheezes into the phone, before erupting into a rapid-fire tirade on the issue of school funding, and how little to none of it is actually going toward academics.

                The fish-warrior smiles warmly and holds the phone to her ear-fin with her shoulder as she resumes her walk, her girlfriend’s passionate tirade washing over her like cool waves, making her gills tingle.

                As Alphys reaches the end of her spiel, Undyne gives a low chuckle, leaning against the door to the storage closet. “You know, Alph, I love it when you get worked up about things.”

                More sputtering. A clattering sound, and the scrabbling of claws on linoleum. “D-d-damn it, Undyne, you m-made me drop the phone!”

                “Love you too, honeybuns!” Undyne sings, shoving the ball cart back into the closet and locking the door. “Don’t worry, I’ll give those snobs at the next meeting a piece of our minds. I’ll catch ya later, Alph! Have fun with your nerds in class, doin’ nerd shit!”

                “L-l-language, oh my god!!!!” Alphys is doing a fantastic job of stifling her laughter.

                “FINE!” Undyne laughs enough for the both of them. “FUCKIN’ nerd shit!” With a cackle, she hangs up, and makes her way back to her office, a fresh spring in her step.

                Yeah, every time she hears that wonderful voice is the new best moment of every day.

~*~

                The second the end-of-the-day bell rings Kid is out of their seat like a bullet and making a beeline for where they know Frisk’s last class is, nearly on the other side of the building. Fortunately for them, they hit quite the growth spurt in the years following the breaking of the Barrier, sporting gangly legs and a long tail, and now can easily look over the heads of most of their peers without having to stand on tiptoes. Frisk, however, got the short end of that stick, pun unintended, and barely gained half a foot in height.

                Nonetheless, Kid still easily spots their friend coming out of their last class, looking somehow even more worn out than they had earlier that day. As Kid begins to up their pace, however, someone approaches Frisk, a large someone with broad shoulders and a swarthy grin.

                Kid’s gut curls in all kinds of knots as none other than Ricky Snyder swaggers up to Frisk’s side and puts an arm over their shoulders. The swarm of excited teenagers eager for the weekend makes Kid’s progress slow, and by the time they reach Frisk, Ricky has left.

                “Wh-what’d he want?” Kid asks breathlessly, struggling to keep their cool.

                Frisk only shrugs, and Kid decides not to push the issue, even though every magical fiber of their being is screaming for them to push it to the ends of the earth.

                They walk together in companionable silence, but when they reach the buses – where Kid normally parts ways with their friend to head home – they pause, before turning to Frisk again.

                “Yo, you… you mind if I wait here with you?” They shift their weight between their feet, their schoolbag weighing heavy on their back.

                When Frisk gives them a curious look, Kid quickly adds, “Y-you know, I don’t want you bein’ alone, and all, with how tired you look.” They manage a grin. “What if your ride comes by and you’re fast asleep? Gotta have a spotter, yo.”

                Giggling quietly, Frisk shrugs. ‘Sure. Thanks, Kid.’

                “Yeah, no sweat.” The two find a good spot by the front of the school, well in view of both the front doors and the parking lot, so they can watch for the cars rolling by. Several other kids pass by as their rides arrive, but Frisk doesn’t pay much attention to any of them. After a few moments, Kid fishes their phone out of a side pocket on their bag, and, while holding it coiled in their tail, make a few swift taps with their tail-tip.

                “Yo, mom, I’m gonna be late comin’ home, gotta wait on Frisk’s ride with ‘em.” After giving the transcribed text a once-over, they tap the send button and stash their phone away once more. They spend a few moments staring at the grass they’re sitting on next to Frisk, and feel a soft warmth in their cheeks. Their tail slaps rhythmically on the ground for a few moments, before they hear another sound joining in with a supplemental beat. Glancing over, he sees Frisk drumming lightly on their crossed legs with their hands, and smiling over at him.

                They jam together for several minutes, Kid making a valiant – if ill-advised – attempt at beatboxing, before they both dissolve into giggles and elect to quit while they’re ahead. Around this point, someone approaches, a tall shadow falling over the both of them.

                “Hey, weirdo. Sup, Frisk?”

                Kid feels something icy grip their soul as they look up at the smirking face of Ricky Snyder, damn him to heck. He looks down at the two with something between distaste and smugness, and focuses his gaze on Frisk, who is pointedly staring at the grass between their shoes. He reaches down, offering a hand to help Frisk up, but they continue to ignore him.

                His grin tightens into something forced, and Kid feels sparks going off in their head. “Hey, Frisky, you, ah, thought any more about that date I asked you on?”

                Frisk’s only response is to scowl deeply, and shake their head firmly.

                “Well, that’s too bad, I was askin’ nicely, too.” Ricky spits off to the side. “Don’t know why I bothered. Mom was right, you’re just a dirty little tease.”

                Kid grits their teeth, just barely holding back, and glances over to look at Frisk – just in time to see tears leaking from their tired eyes; too tired to move, too tired to act.

                Kid’s brow furrows, and they stand with remarkable swiftness, despite their lack of arms.

                “Yo,” they growl, and faint memories of a past time they protected Frisk come to mind. “If you wanna mess with my friend, you’re gonna have to go through me.”

                Ricky turns to look at Kid fully, and Kid remembers several things all at once. First, humans are stronger than monsters, by nature; second, Ricky is a couple inches taller than Kid, and much broader; third, Kid hasn’t fought anyone in their life, not really – heck, they don’t even know what their magic is like.

                “What’re you gonna do, glare me to death?” Ricky glowers, bringing his fist to his hand and cracking his knuckles sharply. “You don’t scare me, punk. Now scram, before I change my mind on playin’ nice.”

                “Nuh uh,” Kid sidesteps to stand directly between Frisk and the taller human. “No way, yo.”

                There’s a long moment of deep tension, lessened only when Kid hears a gentle, almost-silent whimper from behind them; their will to fight buckles entirely, and Kid fixes Ricky with a steely gaze.

                “Look, yo, just back off. Frisk obviously isn’t interested.”

                Another moment of thickness in the air, and Ricky turns, scoffing, to walk away. “Not even worth my time,” he mumbles, and with that, the worst is past.

                Kid drops to their knees before another second can tick by, shuffling over to get a better look at Frisk. “Sh-shit, yo, are you okay? I’m sorry, I know you get scared –“

                Frisk slaps a hand over Kid’s mouth, and their eyes lock for a poignant second before Frisk retrieves their hand to sign again.

                ‘Thank you. For sticking up for me.’ After swallowing at the lump in their throat, Frisk goes on. ‘I’m just… I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t here.’

                “Yo, don’t even start to sweat it,” Kid smiles, their eyes glittering slightly with copper sparkles. “That’s what friends are for, right? Stickin’ out for each other?”

                Frisk nods, and hardly a beat passes before they’ve grabbed Kid by the torso and pulled them tight for a hug. Neither for the first nor the last time, Kid furiously wishes they had arms to hug back with. As it is, they make do with wrapping their long tail around their friend’s back, curling the tip over their shoulder.

                Kid feels lightheaded and giddy from the moment Frisk lets go, to the moment they both pile into the back of Toriel’s van for the ride home. They’re still grinning like a toothy idiot when Toriel drops them off at their house, and homework hardly seems that bad when their shirt still kind of smells like Frisk’s shampoo.

~*~

Chapter Text

~*~

                To put it in terms that are PG at best, Sans is Pretty Frickin’ Peeved.

                Frisk’s story about what happened in front of the school the previous day plays on a loop in his head, and his grin is set with a fierceness he hasn’t let seep into his expression in quite some time. He reaches the school in record time, and though he mentally chides himself for having ridden so fast, he can’t really feel sorry about it; to him, it’s worth the risk to have arrived early at the school.

                Hands in his pockets and grin set firmly on his face, he takes two steps away from his bike – and rounds the corner to approach the meeting room for the PTA. He’s about ten minutes early, which is fine by him; for once, he’s aching to get something done.

                As he approaches the room, he gives it a quick once-over; the door is open, but nobody is here, yet. Linda’s briefcase is sitting at the head of the table, and Sans can see the plate of Helen’s hell-brownies on the snack table.

                Good, he smirks, now I only need to wait.

                He slips behind the open door, leaning his weight against the wall and letting his eye-sockets slide closed, looking in all appearances to be asleep where he stands, when in reality he’s listening hard for the sounds of footsteps. Presently, they come, and his grin twitches when he realizes it’s not the brisk, harsh clopping of Linda’s heels, but a wider, more firm gait.

                One eye-socket cracks open just in time to spot Helen marching into the room and taking her usual seat. Still grinning, Sans gently pushes the door, pleased to find the hinges well-oiled and silent.

                Helen jumps nearly out of her skin as the door loudly clicks shut – not quite a slam, but a heavy, sudden sound nonetheless.

                “’Sup,” Sans utters, his voice the very epitome of nonchalance, but he stares unblinkingly at Helen as he takes his seat at the end of the table directly opposing Linda’s chair.

                “Hello, Sans,” Helen responds flatly, looking sour. “Isn’t it a bit early for you to be here?”

                “Normally, I’d say yes,” the skeleton shrugs, hands still in his pockets. “It’s a nice evening.”

                The human begins to shift uncomfortably, as if she’s suddenly realized that they’re alone in the room, and the door is shut.

                “Now, normally this would be the time where I’d cut the tension with a joke, or make some comment about your baking prowess, but to be honest, Helen?” His grin even looks strained, now. “I ain’t really feelin’ it.”

                Helen squirms, and begins to speak, but he resumes before her breath can leave her throat.

                “I’m gonna assume you heard about the little incident that happened between your son, my kid, and their friend.” He pauses, watching her intently; he hasn’t broken eye contact since taking his seat.

                “That thing attacked my baby!” Helen scoffs, “All he did was ask Frisk on a date, and she loosed her little pet on him!”

                “That right?” Sans phrases it like a question, but his tone is like ice. “I’m not gonna argue with ya on the whats and hows, yeah? I’m just gonna put it to ya simple.” He leans forward, finally removing his hands from his pockets, and folding his forearms on the table. “If your kid so much as touches Frisk again, he’s gonna be in for a bad time.”

                Helen goes pale for a moment, then flushes brilliantly crimson in sudden fury. “Sans, did you just threaten my son?!”

                “Hey, I don’t make threats,” he shrugs. “But all I know is, us monsters can get really protective when someone we love is in distress.” His eyes go dark, and Helen shrinks away, the color vanishing from her face as quickly as it came. “I can’t promise Kid won’t do something about it.”

                A beat passes for the words to sink in, but right as the lights return to Sans’s eyes, the door opens slightly, and the tired face of a middle-aged man peeks in.

                “Oh, h-have we started…?” Stuart asks, his words trailing off.

                “Nah, buddy, c’mon in, have a seat.” Sans shows no signs of his earlier seriousness, and pats the spot to his right. “Don’t stand there pullin’ your chair out.”

                Stuart snickers as he takes his usual spot, and Helen sits on her hands, looking like she’s seen a ghost. Before too much longer, Linda returns, and the other PTA members begin to trickle in, as well. Sans notices a few new faces – some of whom are monsters, much to his pleasure – and takes extra care to toss a friendly smile to each one as they enter.

                At ten-after-four, Linda shuffles her stack of papers and clears her throat daintily. “If everyone’s ready, I think it’s about time we-“

                WHAM.

                Everyone’s attention has turned to the door, which has nearly erupted from its hinges, revealing none other than the PE coach, grinning widely, her jackknife teeth glimmering in the dim office light.

                “SUP, NERDS!” Undyne cackles, throwing the door shut behind her and dragging over a spare chair from the corner, pulling it up to sit near Sans. “Hope I’m not late!”

                “Erm, no, Ms. Undyne,” Linda looks a bit nauseous, “We were just about to begin.”

                “FanTASTIC!” She slams her hand on the table, and her fingers leave indentations in the wood. “I’ve got an issue to propose.” Her gaze is intense, and the room goes deathly quiet for a moment.

                “Well, by all means, coach,” a man grumbles from his seat next to Helen, “what’s this about?”

                “Glad you asked, Dave,” Undyne’s grin turns sweet, almost viciously so, “because your precious little pet project is part of the issue!” She doesn’t allow anyone a moment to ask questions, and goes on. “See, the school gets all this funding, right? It comes from the state, from the donors, whatever. Where does that shit go???”

                “Well,” Linda starts slowly, “we try to balance out the spending of funds between academics, sports, upkeep of school grounds, the arts department—“

                Undyne guffaws outright. “Really!? Huh. I guess Dr. Alphys called me earlier complaining about the dangerously out-of-date lab equipment for no reason, then! Glad to have that settled!” She snorts, and her laugh becomes a snarl. “But wait a minute, didn’t the football team all get new uniforms, or something?”

                “Cleats,” Dave interjects, his face reddening, and a tendon in his neck twitching, “my boys got cleats.”

                “Right. Spike shoes, so you can run better.” Undyne lets the sharp gaze of her yellow eye fall on the man, sizing up his suspenders and his buzz-cut with a discerning sneer. “You mind telling me how spike shoes are more important than gas burners that don’t leak?”

                Sans’s grin is stretched almost painfully wide, and he and Stuart are subtly nudging each other throughout the exchange to keep from bursting into laughter.

                “I’m sorry,” Dave sputters, “I don’t  --“

                “No, no you really don’t,” the fish monster goes on. “Earlier today, one of the kids nearly lit a gas main on fire. You know what happens when something like that goes down? I didn’t, at first either, until Alphys explained it to me.” She leans forward, shoving herself between Sans and a veiled woman with half-moon glasses to rest her elbows on the table. “You see, the kid’s gotta make a little spark to light the burner, which is connected to the gas valve. Except, you know, sometimes these old valves, they leak, right? And you know kids, they love playing with fire! You put two and two together, and suddenly you got a jet of flame going across the whole classroom!” She grins, but her eye is narrowed nearly to a slit. “Sounds pretty frickin’ sweet, right? Except, you know, those are your kids in there. There’s a huge chance they could all be dead right now.”

                After a moment of heavy silence, during which Dave continues to sputter slightly and grow redder by the second, Undyne finishes with a smack of her hands on the table, and a few words.

                “Long story short, fix the god damn funding, or those kids’ blood will be on your hands.” She directs her gaze at Dave, and then at Linda, where it lingers, before she sits back in her chair. Sans offers her a subtle low-five under the table, and she accepts as quietly as she can muster.

                The matter is put to a vote, and the agreement to re-evaluate the budget in the next meeting is almost unanimous; the only voice of dissent is Dave Graham, who mutters bitterly under his breath and then refuses to speak for the remainder of the meeting, his face bordering on purple and a vein bulging clearly in his forehead.

                With Undyne there, the meeting is pretty lively, but mostly because she ends up abusing the poor table with her fists or palms in her excitement. Sans couldn’t nap even if he tried, but he doesn’t really care.

                He glances at Helen, and when she looks back, he winks coolly, and feels a twinge of satisfaction at the horror in her eyes.

                He’s accomplished what he’s come here to do, tonight.

~*~

                “GOOD EVENING, FRIENDS AND FAMILY, THE GREAT PAPYRUS HAS ARRIVED!”

                His voice is practically a song in and of itself as he tosses his keys onto the wall hook and deftly kicks the door shut behind him. Swaggering into the living room, the skeleton strikes a triumphant pose, with his boot propped on the edge of the coffee table.

                After holding it for a few seconds, he comes to realize that nobody has greeted him in turn. Frowning, he opens his eyes and glances about the room, only to have his vision confirm what his hearing has told him.

                “HELLO?” he calls, “IS ANYONE HOME?”

                He waits for a response, but nobody came.

                Sighing, he hauls his boot back to the floor, and makes his way to his and Sans’ shared room. He scowls slightly at the myriad of socks on the left side of the tape “barrier,” and swerves to the right, sitting heavily upon his racecar bed, where he removes his work boots and deposits them near the foot of the bed.

                Setting his jaw, he decides to do one of the many things he’s good at, and make the best of the situation.

                Without another moment of hesitation, he begins shimmying out of his uniform to change into something more comfortable. As he hangs up the dark blue button-up with the badge on the chest, he feels a little surge of pride somewhere in his ribcage; it might not be the Royal Guard, but working as a security officer at the local mall definitely has its good points. He gets to help lost children find their parents, direct visitors to the best stores, operate the lost-and-found, and even apprehend the occasional shoplifter.

                Admittedly, he doesn’t like that last part very much. Most humans don’t understand how blue attacks work, and even though it rarely happens, it breaks him up a bit inside to see a human pass out from hurting themselves on the blue bone-cages he conjures to catch them. Most of the time, they listen when he tells them to stay still, but once in awhile, they begin to genuinely panic, and he never quite knows what to do when that happens.

                “Now you’ve done it, Papyrus,” he mutters, a sound rarely heard when others are around, “now you’ve gone and made yourself sad.”

                Reaching into his closet, he procures a particularly comfortable outfit – a pair of grey sweatpants and a blue t-shirt with the words “rad time” scrawled on the front. He smiles at the shirt as he puts it on and studies himself in the mirror; the shirt had been a gift from Sans that past Christmas, and Papyrus was fairly certain from the handwriting that his brother had made the improvements himself.

                With the sad thoughts pushed out of mind for the time being, Papyrus stretches and rolls his shoulders, giving a small, relieved nyeh as a few of his joints crack. He sticks his head through the door, and checks up and down the hallway before beginning to head for the bathroom for a shower.

                He’s kind of relieved that nobody’s home; he gets to sing as loudly as he pleases while he scrubs, and nobody will complain about it.

                Once he’s clean and fresh, Papyrus saunters out of the bathroom and begins to head for the kitchen, when he hears the chirp of his cellphone from his room.

                “OH SHOOT,” he gasps, realizing he hasn’t checked for messages from anyone, and dashes to his nightstand to check the device.

                Five messages; two from Toriel, one from Sans, and two from Frisk. He checks Sans’s message, first.

                Hey, bro. Going out with Stu and Undyne after the PTA thingy. See ya later.

                Figures. Papyrus can’t help but wonder why his brother never offers to go out with him, much, anymore. At the very least, he decides he can be happy that Sans is getting out of the house; since he lost his last job, the shorter skeleton has been a bit of a homebody.

                Shaking his head, Papyrus reminds Sans to be responsible, and then moves on to Frisk’s messages.

                Uncle Pap, I’m going over to Kid’s place to do some homework, and we’re gonna watch that new show that comes out tonight. I texted Mom and Dunkle Sans, too, don’t worry.

                After that, they sent a series of happy emojis with a few “ok” hand signs.

                Papyrus responds with a similar string of hand sign emojis and several variations of happy faces, then checks Toriel’s messages.

                Papyrus dear, I am going out to buy groceries. I wanted to wait until you got home, since Sans is out until later and Frisk is staying at Kid’s house, but I will admit, I got hungry. I hope you are comfortable while I am gone, and I hope to be home soon. Love, Toriel.

                That one was sent about forty minutes ago; Papyrus wastes no time in reading the next one, which turns out to be the new notification he’s just heard.

                Help! I have picked out too many things to carry home on foot! Can you bring your car by the supermarket? Thank you in advance, Toriel.

                “NYEH HEH HEH!” Papyrus cackles to himself, and responds with a quick “ON MY WAY!” before dashing for the door, snatching the keys to his sporty car from the wall hook, and making his way downstairs.

                Two short car rides and a lengthy bout of retrieving groceries later, the kitchen has been re-supplied, and Papyrus has planted himself on the sofa per Toriel’s request.

                “HONESTLY, YOUR HIGHNESS, I DON’T MIND –“

                “Nonsense, dear,” Toriel cuts him off with her kind, warm tone, and flashes him a fanged smile from the kitchen, where she is preparing two cups of tea. “It is the least I can do for having left you alone in the house.”

                Papyrus shuffles in his seat, looking thoughtful for a moment, and Toriel quirks an eyebrow at him. “Is everything all right, Papyrus?”

                “OF COURSE!” He smiles brilliantly at her, but she can tell by the way his eye-sockets sag ever so slightly that the smile isn’t as real as he’d like her to believe. “IT HAS BEEN A SPLENDIFEROUS DAY.”

                The boss monster isn’t quite sure how to react; she’s used to Sans faking smiles, though she still hasn’t learned exactly why, but seeing Papyrus like this is… disconcerting, to say the least. “Well,” she says, after a short and only slightly uncomfortable pause, “I hope to make your day even better, with some refreshing chamomile.”

                She brings the two cups of piping-hot tea over to the coffee table, and takes a seat beside the lanky skeleton, setting his drink before him. He thanks her with another smile, and picks up the cup, cradling it in his long, slender phalanges. For a couple minutes, there’s silence, with Toriel sipping at her tea and Papyrus just staring into the depths of his cup like it might have answers. Just as the boss monster shifts to face him better, and opens her mouth to speak, to ask him what’s got him down, Papyrus brightens, and breaks the silence.

                “YOUR MAJESTY, THERE IS SOMETHING I WOULD LIKE TO ASK YOU.”

                “Papyrus, you know you can just call me Toriel,” she smiles gently, feeling relieved that he seems back to normal for now.

                “RIGHT! OF COURSE, YOUR MAJESTY.” She sighs, and he goes on. “IT HAS COME TO MY ATTENTION THAT YOU AND MY BROTHER MUST SPEND A GOOD DEAL OF TIME TOGETHER.”

                “Well, I do not know about that,” she averts her gaze, and Papyrus listens intently, leaning forward a bit as if to see her better. “We both have been pretty busy, with my job at the elementary school, and him working so hard with the Parent-Teacher Association…”

                “YES, IT SEEMS EVERYONE HAS BEEN VERY BUSY AS OF LATE.” Toriel frowns a bit as a tinge of uncertainty creeps back into his voice, but it’s gone as he continues on. “BUT! DON’T THINK I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT IS GOING ON, HERE!”

                “What?” Toriel bleats, completely at a loss.

                “OH YES, THERE ARE SOME SERIOUSLY COMPLICATED FEELINGS AT WORK, HERE,” His grin turns smug, and Toriel realizes she didn’t think that was even possible. “THE JOY OF FINDING SOMEONE WHO APPRECIATES THE SAME SUB-PAR HUMOR, THE HAPPINESS AT LIVING WITH SOMEONE WHO CAN MAKE YOU SMILE… IT’S CLEAR, YOU KNOW.”

                Toriel puts a paw to her cheek, unable to bring herself to look at him at this point. She feels like her face is on fire. “Is it that obvious…?”

                “TO THOSE WHO KNOW WHAT TO LOOK FOR. WHICH IS TO SAY, EVERYONE!” Papyrus laughs. “BUT DON’T WORRY, YOUR MAJESTY, I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, WILL HELP YOU WORK THROUGH THESE COMPLICATED FEELINGS.”

                “Are you… are you sure you are okay with that?” Toriel finally looks at him, her small teacup trembling in her enormous paws, her copper eyes wide like saucers.

                Papyrus shrugs. “WHO AM I TO DENY MY BROTHER HAPPINESS? HE WASN’T EXACTLY THRILLED ABOUT METTATON WHEN THAT HAPPENED, BUT HE STILL LET ME PURSUE MY FEELINGS. AND WHILE I MIGHT BE… APPREHENSIVE, ABOUT SOME ASPECTS… I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW THAT WE BOTH KNOW THAT YOU BOTH WILL BE HAPPIER, WHEN EVERYTHING IS OUT IN THE OPEN.” He finishes with another brilliant smile, and Toriel can’t help giggling.

                “Well, thank you, Papyrus. I am glad to know I at least have your blessing, in this.”

                “OH, NOT JUST MINE! THE HUMAN HAS EXPRESSED TO SEVERAL OF OUR FRIENDS AN ADAMANT DESIRE TO GET YOU TWO TO CANOODLE, ONE WAY OR ANOTHER!”

                The fur on Toriel’s face is tinged pink from the power of her blush. “Oh, dear…”

                Papyrus laughs again, and Toriel, though still embarrassed, finds herself relaxing. She’s glad to know that she won’t be infringing on some unspoken brotherly barrier if she decides to make a move, but deep down, she knows she can’t quite find the wherewithal to think of an idea as to how.

                For now, she decides, as she drains her tea and goes to make herself some more, she’ll enjoy this quality time with Papyrus. Something tells her that he could certainly use it.

~*~

                He watches from the entrance of the hallway, peeking around the corner and letting the cracked grin on his face grow as he listens to their conversation. He claps his hollow hands together with unbridled glee when Toriel doesn’t deny her feelings, and warbles a strangled sound of excitement when Papyrus tells her he’ll help out how he can.

                He doubts he could ever be more proud of his sons than he is right now.

Chapter Text

~*~

                October is nearing, and in addition to stores bringing out the Halloween décor and jacking up prices on candy, whispers begin going around the school, surrounding one of the singular most important dates of most teenagers’ school year.

                Homecoming.

                Everywhere Frisk turns, they can hear their peers gossiping excitedly about who’s going with who, who’s going to wear what, and if they’re even going to the game or not. When some of these questions get turned to Frisk, they smile and laugh and play along, but don’t offer any input of their own. Honestly, they don’t have anything to add.

                “So, Frisk! Do you have anybody you’re going with?”

                The question throws Frisk for a loop, and for several long moments, they can only stare blankly at the one who asked, Bethany Van Hausen, a nice girl with dark hair and thick glasses. Frisk had hung out with her on a few occasions, especially since her dad and Sans had started hanging out after PTA meetings.

                “…Frisk? You there? Earth to Frisk!”

                Blinking, Frisk shakes their head and smiles from under their messy bangs. ‘Sorry,’ they sign. ‘You guys want to know who I’m going to the dance with?’

                Everyone in the immediate vicinity nods eagerly, and Frisk closes their eyes for a moment, allowing a grin to grow on their face.

                They hold up their hands like they’re going to sign something big and dramatic, then simply point to themself.

                When they were greeted with stunned silence, they pointed again, emphatically. ‘Me. It’s me. I’m going with me.’

                “What!?” The hallway erupts into baffled cries of “Aw, come on!” and “Told you so!” and every variant in between. Vindicated by the ensuing chaos, Frisk shoves their unneeded books into their locker, and makes a hasty escape toward the front of the school to catch their ride. Word travels dangerously fast, though, they find, as every few steps, someone tries to stop them to ask if they’re really going to Homecoming alone.

                Frisk eventually stops acknowledging them at all, and half-runs out the doors, not stopping until they reach the curb, where they toss their backpack to the ground and begin pacing in front of it, wringing their hands together as they try to expel the nervous energy.

                Why is it such a big deal? Why does anyone care? It’s not like anybody has exclusive rights to Frisk, or anything. They pause, suddenly, as a thought hits them.

                They’ve already gone on several dates with different people, this year, and each time it went about the same. They’d go out, meet up with the person and usually end up having a good time. Then they would head home after letting their date down as gently as possible. Every time, Frisk had been reminded of when they had gone on that “date” with Papyrus while they were in the Underground, how Papyrus had been so unwilling to hurt their feelings that he had agreed to go on a date with them.

                Frisk gives a bitter chuckle; they know all too well how that feels, now.

                It’s never like Frisk doesn’t like the person they go on a date with, it’s simply that they can’t find the same kind of attraction for that person that they clearly hold for them. Ever since the last date they had, the one with Benny, Frisk has felt more and more like there’s something wrong with them, like they might be broken, and it’s eating them up inside.

                “Hey, Frisky bits.”

                With a hoarse, startled yelp, Frisk wheels about to face the speaker, and immediately wishes they’d kept ignoring him – Ricky Snyder smirks down at them, leaning against a nearby pillar.

                “Hah, didn’t think you’d answer to that. Guess you like your new nickname already, huh?” Frisk only gives him a sour expression in reply, and he shrugs. “Whatever. Hey, I saw you all alone over here, and I was thinkin’…”

                Frisk’s stomach clenches. They don’t like how this is sounding.

                “You know, I heard this crazy rumor going around that you don’t have a date for Homecoming –“

                ‘I do,’ Frisk signs firmly, ‘it’s me.’

                Ricky glances at their hands for hardly a moment before continuing; he either can’t understand, or doesn’t care. “And anyway, I thought, how great would it be if I let you come with me? I’ll pay for your ticket, rent you a nice dress, take you to dinner…”

                ‘What makes you think I want to wear a dress?’ Frisk scowls, and again, Ricky doesn’t acknowledge their signs.

                “Whaddya say, sweet cheeks? I promise you won’t regret it.”

                Frisk doubts that very much, and shakes their head firmly, stooping to snatch up their backpack.

                Ricky is silent for a moment, as if honestly surprised, and then his features settle into something dark. “Yeah? Not even gonna respect me enough to tell me ‘no’ out loud? Wow. You really are a heartless bitch.”

                From their peripherals, Frisk sees him take a step forward, and his hand shoot out to reach for their wrist; without thinking, they hop backwards, just out of his reach, and step to one side, putting as much distance between them as they can in two short movements. Ricky looks absolutely stunned.

                “Get back here, you little –“

                Frisk half-blinks, and there’s someone standing directly between them and Ricky.

                “Heya, kiddos,” Sans drawls, his voice as low and calm as ever, “nice day out, isn’t it?” He turns to glance over his shoulder at Frisk. “I parked in the usual spot, bucko. Spare helmet’s on the seat. I’ll join ya in a minute.” He winks, and Frisk dashes off toward the electric-blue motorcycle, looking a bit rattled.

                With Frisk out of range, Sans turns to regard the young human before him. Tall, thickly built, pretty strong-looking, for a kid his age. He smiles, and lets his shoulders relax casually, giving off an air of indifference. “You must be the Ricky I’ve heard so much about. I’m Sans, Frisk’s dunkle, nice to meetcha, kid.”

                Ricky raises an eyebrow. “Frisk talks about me?”

                “Oh yeah, sure, all the time.” Sans rests the lights of his eyes directly on Ricky’s face, much like he had to the boy’s mother just the other day. “They’re always telling me about this snot-nosed little brat who throws a tantrum when he doesn’t get his way. Frankly, I’m disappointed that they weren’t exaggerating.”

                Frisk hadn’t exaggerated; if anything, they had underemphasized the whole deal.

                Ricky grows red-faced, and starts to talk back, when rapid footsteps come running up from behind him. He spares a glance over his shoulder, mutters a soft – yet panicked – “oh, shit,” and dashes away.

                “Sans!” Kid just manages to skid to a halt without falling on their face. “Yo, am I glad I caught ya before you got away!”

                “Nice to see you too, buddy,” Sans gives a genuine, relaxed smile. “To what do I owe the pleasure, kiddo?”

                Kid bounces on their clawed toes for a second, glancing around. “Is, um, Frisk around?”

                “Nah, they’re with the bike. You want me to call ‘em?”

                “No! No, no, it’s cool, I, ah, don’t want them to hear about this.” Kid leans in a little, crouching slightly so they can whisper to Sans. “Do you, uh, know anybody who can help me learn magic…?”

                This catches the skeleton off guard, and he quirks a single brow. “Why’re ya askin’?”

                “It’s just…” Kid puffs their cheeks for a moment, casting their gaze at the asphalt. “Frisk can’t fight – or rather, they refuse to, and, well, I wanna help ‘em.” They swallow, and continue, “Because, y’know, not everybody will always drop the issue when things get bad, but, I-I’m weak, I can’t even hit a soccer ball, Sans, and Undyne’s got her spears and she can bench press like seven kids, and Papyrus has his cool bone attacks and all the other monsters have their own magic, and mine’s just—“

                “Whoa, whoa! Kiddo, slow down a tic.” Sans puts a hand on Kid’s shoulder, bringing the younger monster’s attention back to him. “So you wanna protect Frisk, ‘s that what I’m hearin’ you say?”

                The yellow-scaled monster nods their head. “Yeah. Like, better than anybody.”

                Smiling, Sans returns his hand to his pocket and nods in turn. “Yep, I think I know just the guy to teach you to fight.”

                Kid’s eyes light up with literal sparkles, much in the same way Papyrus’s do; the magical glittering is a bright, lime green color, and Sans chuckles in spite of himself. “Whoa! R-really!? Who is it? Is it Papyrus?” They gasp suddenly, shooting up straight, a distant, star-struck look in their eyes. “Oh, my, god! Am I gonna learn how to do magic from Papyrus?! Holy crap, he’s so strong, and so cool, this is gonna be great!!”

                “Yeah, my bro is pretty great,” Sans laughs warmly, shaking his head. He doesn’t want to spoil the surprise. “Come by the apartment tomorrow afternoon, after lunch. Bring some monster snacks.”

                “Ha-HA! Yessir!” Kid jumps in the air; if they had arms, they’d likely be pumping their fists in excitement. “I’ll seeya!” With a wave of their tail, they scamper off, leaving Sans alone to chuckle to himself as he heads toward Frisk and his bike.

                “Eyup,” he mutters, letting his eyes slide closed. “You sure will, buckaroo.”

~*~

                “I don’t understand,” Kid ducks under a branch that Sans passed by easily, “why are we out in the middle of nowhere?”

                “You wanna learn how to use magic, right?” Sans keeps up his leisurely pace, seemingly unperturbed by the tangled roots and underbrush that Kid stumbles over constantly. “Welp, out here is simply the best place to practice, kiddo.”

                Presently, they pass out of the trees and into a wide, open clearing, littered with fallen leaves and surrounded on all sides by a ring of trees. The clouds are wispy and thin overhead, and the chatter of wildlife drowns out any silence. Kid follows Sans wordlessly into the heart of the clearing, taking in their surroundings; the leaves are scattered sparsely in places, and where they don’t see grass, they see… scorch marks?

                “Yo, do a lot of monsters come out here to train?” Kid asks, looking at the back of Sans’s skull. He’s staring up at the sky, as if taking in the blue expanse for the first time.

                For a few seconds, Sans doesn’t respond, but when he does, his voice is contemplative.

                “It’s a beautiful day outside. Birds are singing, the leaves are changing, and on days like these, kids like you…”

                He turns pointedly on his heel, the lights in his eye-sockets piercingly bright.

                “… Learn how to dunk on some fuckboys.”

                He doesn’t wait for his words’ effect. His left eye flashes dangerously blue, with flames licking out of the socket. Raising his left hand from his pocket, revealing it to be encased in the same blue flame as his eye, he gestures suddenly out to the side, and Kid gives a yelp as they suddenly go flying to the right, as if pulled by some unseen force. They land heavily on the ground, but not hard enough to hurt, and when they lift their head, their eyes go wide at the display.

                Bones rise from the ground in rolling waves, dotted with small, green platforms that dance over the mock-surface. Hovering above the skeletal sea are two large skull-like shapes, with glowing white lights in their eye-sockets, and unnaturally-hinged jaws that gape and flex, as if panting.

                Standing before it all is Sans, grinning just as casually as always, with one eye flaring blue, and the other sporting a white pinprick of light.

                “Yeah, my bro’s pretty cool and all, and he’s really strong,” Sans says conversationally, closing his eyes and letting the magic behind him dissipate, “but he ain’t the only bag of bones that can pack a punch.”

                Kid sits among the leaves, their jaw practically on the ground, eyes wide and glittering again with green sparks.

                “So cool,” they breathe, and Sans can’t help but laugh.

                “You flatter me, Kid,” the skeleton approaches and helps them to their feet, “but, y’know, I would prefer if you kept all this just between you and me. A guy’s got a reputation to uphold, yeah?”

                “Oh! Yeah! Um, sure thing, yo!” Kid nods excitedly, and starts bouncing in place. “So, um, what’s first?”

                “First,” Sans chuckles, “you’re gonna learn how to dodge.”

~*~

                Several hours later, Kid returns home completely exhausted, but none the worse for wear. Dodging was probably the hardest part of the lesson, with Kid’s inherent clumsiness; they found themselves pretty thankful that Sans’s attacks actually didn’t seem to hurt all that much.

                When they asked him why that was, he had gone quiet for a moment, before turning his head to one side, and saying something about his magic only being especially potent against souls with lots of LOVE.

                “But I love all my friends!” Kid had protested.

                “Ain’t that kind of love, Kid,” Sans’s response had been flat, and the subject had been dropped.

                Pausing a moment in the living room to stretch, Kid announces their arrival to their mother, who calls a cheerful greeting in return.

                “Did you have fun, today, dear? I heard you were getting some special tutoring for your magic!”

                “You betcha, ma!” Kid grins. “My coach is the best! He’s so cool!”

                Their mother laughs, and Kid retreats to their room, flopping onto their bed and fishing their phone out of their pocket. Gripping it in their tail, they wriggle the tip around to tap a few buttons before pulling up a new text to Frisk. After mashing the little microphone button and waiting for the blip, they recite their message.

                “Yo Frisk, I just got home from the thing.”

                They double-check the message before sending. Punctuation is a small loss in exchange for accessibility.

                Frisk texts back within the minute. Yeah, Dunkle Sans just got home, too. You guys went out for awhile, huh?

                “You betcha. We’re gonna go again next weekend, cause we had a lot of fun!” Kid feels slightly bad for lying, but Sans had asked them to keep it on the down-low.

                Aww, you too? Man, it stinks being out of the loop. Oh well, I guess you guys will tell me eventually.

                Ouch. “Sorry, yo. Maybe, uh, maybe I can make it up to ya.”

                There’s a longer wait before Frisk’s message arrives. … Not you, too.

                Kid winces. “No! Not like that, no! Just like, hang out. Watch some dumb shows. You know, like we haven’t had a chance to for awhile, since you’ve been busy and stuff.”

                Oh. Phew. Yeah, I’d like that. How about you come over tomorrow for lunch? Mom’s gonna make pie and stuff.

                “Yeah! I’ll be there!” Kid mashes the send button with their tail-tip before they can even think to utter the phrase “It’s a date!”

                Because it’s not a date. Kid flops their tail to the side, still gripping their phone, and stares at the popcorn ceiling. They’ve realized they had it bad for Frisk for months, now, ever since this past summer, but after seeing how Frisk has reacted to being on dates before… no, Kid doesn’t want to do that to their best friend.

                “Hah, like I’d ever have the nerve to ask, anyways,” they sigh bitterly.

                A buzz in their tail catches their attention, and they swipe to view the message from Frisk.

                See ya then, buddy. Night!

                “G’night,” Kid mumbles into the microphone, and once the message is sent, they collapse into their mattress and will themself to sleep.

~*~

                Frisk sets their phone on their nightstand, smiling more brightly than they have in weeks.

                “What’re you so giddy about?”

                Glancing up at Flowey, they shrug, and sign, ‘I have a friend coming over tomorrow. It’s been awhile since we hung out, and I’m looking forward to it.’

                Flowey rolls his eyes. “Yeah, a friend, okay. You have lots of those. But you don’t get all goo-goo-eyed over those.”

                Frisk glares at him indignantly. ‘I am not!’

                “Wow, you’re a bad liar. Whatever, I don’t have to listen to this. Go to sleep already.” He turns away, staring out the window at the rising moon.

                After sticking out their tongue vindictively at the plant, Frisk rolls over in their bed and yanks up the covers under their chin, closing their eyes and huffing out a breath.

                They aren’t lying, they tell themself. But somehow, they can quell the tiniest hint of curiosity: what if they are?

Chapter Text

~*~

                Tomorrow arrives swiftly, and a pair of excited and clawed feet comes trotting down the hallway.  Kid can hardly contain themself, letting their tail swing and allowing the smallest of skips in their steps as they walk. It’s been too long since Frisk has invited them over, and they just hope they brought enough for their hangout.

                Not a date, Kid reminds themself sternly, letting a scowl of concentration overtake their features for half a moment.

                Before too long, they stand in front of the door, shifting their weight from foot to foot and chewing gingerly at their bottom lip. Several times, they lift their tail momentarily to knock, but find they can’t quite bring themself to. What if Frisk changes their mind, and asks them to leave? What if they make an idiot of themself, in front of Frisk’s entire family?

                A minute passes, maybe more, and Kid is about to chicken out entirely, when the door abruptly flies open before them.

                “FAREWELL, HUMAN, I AM OFF TO MEET WITH-“ Papyrus pauses, having turned about just in time to spot Kid standing there, looking like they’re about to crumble to dust on the spot. “OH! HUMAN! YOUR FRIEND HAS ARRIVED!” He claps Kid on the shoulder, and they give a startled yelp. “HAVE FUN, YOU TWO!” Before Kid can say anything, they’re pushed through the door and into the living room, and Papyrus slings the door shut as he makes his escape.

                The first sight that meets Kid’s eyes is Frisk grinning over at them from the couch, and Kid’s brain completely shuts down for a good ten seconds, before another voice draws them back to the present.

                “Goodness, it has been awhile since we have had you over!” Toriel’s voice is warm and sweet, just like the scent of the pie she’s baking. “Do make yourself comfortable, my child. Lunch will be ready within the hour.”

                “Um! Ah, thanks, Ms. Toriel!” Kid looks over their shoulder to flash a toothy grin at the boss monster, who smiles back in kind, and returns to her cooking. Taking a moment to clear their throat, Kid approaches the couch, slips their bag off their shoulders, and flops down next to Frisk, leaving a comfortable distance between them, of course.

                “Yo! You got the show picked out?”

                Frisk shrugs, and looks defeated. ‘Nothing good’s on, today.’

                Grinning triumphantly, Kid wraps their tail around one of the straps of their bag, and hauls it onto their lap. “Haha! That’s why I decided I’d come-“

                The bag loses balance, and spills open onto the floor, revealing far too many plastic movie cases and bags of chips.

                “Uh, I came prepared,” they finish their thought, half-mumbling, their face burning.

                Frisk only laughs, and slides off the couch to begin stacking the movie cases on the coffee table. Occasionally, they lift a title so Kid can see and shoot them a questioning glance, and Kid rattles off a quick explanation as to why they brought it, or what it’s about. Before too long, the shows and movies are stacked in five neat piles before the two, and they’re looking over their options, faces scrunched in pensive frowns.

                At length, Frisk picks up one case, and holds it out questioningly to Kid; it’s Rise of the Guardians.

                “Yo, that’s a good one.” Kid grins. “You wanna watch it?”

                Frisk nods, and without a moment’s hesitation bounds off the couch and slips the disk into the blu-ray player. They snatch the remote off the table as they return to their seat, and also retrieve a bag of Bugles off the floor. After squeezing the bag until it pops open, they fish out a fistful of the hollow cone chips, and hand one to Kid.

                “Aw, thanks, yo,” Kid grins, and leans forward to take it, not really thinking. Only when they bite down on the chip and feel their lip brush against something warm and soft do they realize how this looks.

                “Mm, thanks,” they mumble as they chew, directly avoiding eye contact with Frisk, who simply giggles and starts the movie.

                The two friends settle into a comfortable half-silence as the movie starts, only breaking it now and again for Kid to make the occasional comment, or for Frisk to sign a rapid reaction; either action usually causes the two to dissolve into frenzied giggles.

                So what if it’s not a date? Kid is having the time of their life, right now.

~*~

                Copper eyes watch the two from over the breakfast bar, and Toriel doesn’t bother to hide the grin seeping onto her muzzle as her child and their friend bust into laughter at the on-screen antics. Toriel thinks back on this morning, when Frisk came stumbling out of their room at an unusually-early hour, half-dressed in their pajamas and signing excitedly about Kid coming over for lunch. Not that she would have in the first place, but Toriel can hardly ever say ‘no’ to that face when Frisk is that excited about something.

                If she’s honest with herself, she admits she’s relieved. It has been weeks since Frisk has smiled this much.

                Turning her attention back to the task at hand, Toriel carefully stirs the contents of the saucepan before her, lifting the wooden spoon to gingerly taste the sauce, ultimately deeming it sufficient. It’s spaghetti – that’s about all that ever really gets cooked (and eaten) in this household, but she’s thankful that Papyrus has a date today, so she can at least make it edible. Nothing against Papyrus – bless his soul for eternity – but his tastes are… eccentric, at best.

                She glances up at the teenagers on the couch once more, and she can’t help smiling yet again. They’ve propped up the bag of chips between them, snacking away as they’re engrossed by the movie. Frisk seems to have developed an automatic pattern with their arm: a chip for themself, a chip for Kid, a chip for themself, a chip for Kid. Kid opens their mouth automatically each time Frisk’s hand comes near with the snack, and the gentleness with which they accept the crunchy bit of corn and flavoring reminds Toriel of mornings spent having tea with someone else on that same sofa before she heads to work, sharing ridiculously stupid jokes and laughing, really laughing, with no care as to who hears or sees.

                The sauce bubbles almost pointedly in the pan, and she hurriedly stirs it to make sure it doesn’t burn. Her attempt to ignore the buzzing in her cheeks is an admirable feat, indeed.

                A sharp ringing from the counter beside her catches her attention, and she flicks off the timer with a quick gesture of her hand before stepping back to check the oven. As she opens it a crack, a fresh burst of sweet scent billows into the air, and she sighs contentedly before slipping on her mitts and pulling it out. Fire magic would make all of this easier, she knows, but sometimes a lady likes to take the time to cook in conventional methods, just for the sake of doing something.

                With the pie cooling on a pot coaster and the noodles boiling on the stovetop, Toriel finds her attention shifting back to the two on the couch; the movie is approaching the end, and while glittering, golden dust dances across the screen, Frisk and Kid seem to have wordlessly scooted closer to one another, watching silently. When Frisk reaches over absently, wrapping their arm around Kid’s back to hook onto their shoulder, Kid doesn’t outwardly respond, and simply leans into the touch until their head is just resting on Frisk’s shoulder.

                Toriel bites her tongue to keep from saying anything, pointedly returns to her cooking, and absolutely forbids herself from taking a picture.

~*~

                Sans almost wishes he hadn’t agreed to help Kid out with their magic. He can hardly keep his eye-sockets open, he nearly forgot to put a shirt on, and his slippers drag the carpet as he makes his way for the door. It’s Monday afternoon, after all, and the PTA won’t go to itself.

                He grumbles blearily to himself at the sorry excuse for a joke his bran just told, and reaches absently for his keys.

                “Heavens above, Sans, where are you going?”

                Nearly falling over from the force with which his skull snaps about to face the voice, he doesn’t recognize Toriel for several seconds. “Oh, hey, T, I was just…” he gives a massive yawn, “y’know, headin’ to the meeting.”

                “Ohh, no,” Toriel’s gaze turns firm, “you are not riding that dust-trap in your current state. You need to sleep, dear. I will go, tonight.”

                “Nuh uh, nope, no can do,” Sans shakes his head emphatically, rubbing at his sockets. “I gotta be there, somebody’s gotta keep those crazy humans in line with top-quality… uh, big-word-for-wordplay.”

                Her expression softens, and she sighs. “Well, at least let me go with you. You are not fit to drive in your current state, and I would hate for something to happen to you.”

                Too tired to even pretend to resist, Sans shrugs. “Sure, T, I think I can live, with that.”

                She stands, and begins to gather her handbag and her keys, when she pauses, and rounds her gaze on him again. Slowly, she mouths the words he’d just spoken, and her face slowly brightens with realization. “You…!”

                “Eyup, I went there.” He winks, and stumbles in place. “We gonna go, or not?”

                Though she nods, she reaches a large paw to rest on his shoulder, holding him steady. His gaze shifts unblinkingly down to the paw in question, and his tired mind finds endless fascination with the countless individual follicles of her fur. She leads him out the door and down the hallway. As they wait for the elevator, another door opens, and loud heels click briskly toward them.

                Toriel lifts her eyes to the person approaching, a middle-aged human woman with tight lips, bright-blonde hair done back in a tight bun, and cold, green eyes. At first appearances, Toriel is inclined to dislike the woman, but something about her seems off; her mascara is slightly smudged, the rouge on her cheeks uneven. The boss monster opens her mouth to ask the human if she is okay, but the glare she suddenly receives from those eyes is enough to shut it again.

                “Ugh, of course there’s more of you here,” the woman mutters, tearing her gaze away and folding her arms, scowling at the elevator doors.

                “Aw, geez, Lin, it’s nice to see you, too.” Sans yawns again, and this time he deigns to cover his toothy grin with a boney hand. He leans into Toriel’s grip; she realizes that her claws are digging slightly into the padding of his jacket.

                The elevator thankfully arrives only a few seconds later, and the ride down is short, silent, and tense. Linda is the first to leave, all but bolting out the second the doors are open, leaving Toriel to quietly guide the half-asleep skeleton to her van.

                “Hey T,” he asks, regarding her with half-closed eyelids as she buckles him into the passenger seat, “whaddya call a tall lady with a big van?”

                “I do not know, Sans,” she chuckles softly, shaking her head; he’s on the verge of passing out, she can tell. “What do you call a tall lady with a big van?”

                He gives an exaggerated wink. “Cute.” And then he’s slumped over in his seat, eye-sockets closed, and dead to the world.

                Toriel pauses, her skin almost unbearably hot beneath the fur on her face, and she gives a sigh. No, she can’t let him go to the meeting like this. He’s clearly overworked himself – somehow – and she doesn’t exactly trust that he’ll take care of himself without her there. She comes to a solution quickly, unbuckles him from the seat, and gently picks him up in her broad arms. He’s lighter than she had thought, and the magic in his bones carries an alien kind of warmth, not as warm as a fleshier monster, but not cold, either. She closes the car door as quietly as possible with a bump of her hip, and begins the trip back to the apartment.

                He shifts in his sleep as she walks, and one of his hands finds its way to the neck of her sweater, his phalanges hooking into the hem lazily, not pulling, but simply holding on. His face nuzzles into the crook of her arm, and he mumbles absently, something about nutmeg and quiches.

                Sighing, Toriel shakes her head, but she’s smiling warmly as she brings him to his room and deposits him in bed.

~*~

                He knows how important these afternoon meetings are to his son; sometimes, on the rare chances they’ve had to actually talk, Sans has spent most of the conversation complaining about the school’s idiot policies or the idiot humans he has to deal with.

                So when Toriel brings Sans back to bed, with the skeleton fast asleep and the boss monster having no inclinations of leaving, Gaster decides to take matters into his own hands.

                With all of eternity at the tips of his phalanges, it is a simple task to locate the meeting-place Sans has described to him numerous times. The door is shut when he arrives, but such physical barriers are but trifles to him, anymore. He passes through without a problem, and pauses at the sight that greets him.

                A single, long, oval table rests in the middle of the room, surrounded on all sides by numerous chairs. There are a few monster parents present, but most of the PTA members are humans, just as Sans informed him. Sans’s usual seat at the foot of the table nearest the door is empty, but at the far end sits a human woman with a tight bun and tighter lips. Linda, if he remembers correctly. On her right sits another woman, with thin glasses and a dark bob – Helen – and on her left sits a man with short hair, his default expression set into a tight grimace – Dave.

                When it becomes apparent that no-one has noticed his appearance, Gaster shrugs to himself – a listless heave of the area where his shoulders once were – and assumes Sans’s seat at the table, next to a fidgety-looking man with glasses.

                The chair shifts slightly as he sits, and a sharp silence falls over the table, all eyes locked on his position.

                He blinks, slowly, and his curved mouth stretches into a grin.

They still can’t see him.

When Linda clears her throat and quickly continues talking, Gaster folds his hollow hands together and waits, listening in.

                “Now, as I’m sure you’re all aware, Homecoming is going to be coming up on us very soon, and we need to settle on a theme for this year. I was thinking something like… oh say, Arabian Nights! Something exotic.”

                Gaster notices the veiled woman to his left shifting uncomfortably, but she doesn’t speak. A few other parents – noticeably, the ones sitting closer to Linda – give their own ideas, and Gaster, while he doesn’t understand most of the things they refer to, can tell that some of the parents on his end of the table are growing more uncomfortable, but don’t seem to be able to speak up.

                He quickly grows to understand why his son values being here to stick up for them so much.

                “… So, I think we all can agree that Vegas Nights is the best theme for the dance, yeah?” Helen’s voice anchors him to the present, and he immediately sees the clenched jaws and the wincing eyebrows of all the silent voices in the room. He scowls, intensely frustrated; if these people could only see him…

                His eye-sockets widen suddenly, and he has an idea.

                The chair he’s sitting in suddenly rockets out from under the table as he stands up, stunning everyone in the room to silence once again.

                They may not see me, but they can see this.

                Gaster reaches across the table to grab a pen from in front of one woman – who shrieks as the thing floats off the paper before her and drifts in a jagged, shifting path toward the empty seat – and gently takes the agenda from in front of Stuart, flipping it quickly so the blank back is facing upward. He takes a moment to concentrate on this one instance, to steadying his hand, and scribbles a quick message onto the back of the paper, which he then flings into the middle of the table before collapsing into a heap on the floor, dropping the pen and catching his breath from the exertion.

                Helen shakily picks up the paper, and nearly drops it again as she reads the message, written in shaky, but elegant script.

                “Perhaps you should learn to play nicely with others. You are familiar with what happens to bullies, are you not?”

                Helen, Linda, and Dave glance toward the end of the table, and Gaster, in a moment of inspiration, focuses everything he has in flashing them the most triumphant smirk he can muster.

                The paleness of their faces is a testament to how much the half-second of materialization has paid off.

                Hardly a moment later, Linda calls an adjournment to the meeting and gallops from the room, and the rest of the parents, looking unnerved and slightly sweaty, follow suit. Gaster notices that, in her haste, Linda left her meeting notes at her seat, and he glides through the table, and twists about to read them properly.

                Oh, no, this will not do, he tuts to himself, and the clicking is rapid and mechanical, like the grating of machinery. He presses a hollow hand to the pages, and slides his eyes half-shut, humming off-key in concentration.

                Fatigue be damned. This is important to him, now, too.

~*~

                At the following PTA meeting, Sans shows up, still feeling tired from his weekend training with Kid, but more awake. The tea Toriel had given him definitely helps with that.

                He plasters a strained smile on his skeletal face and prepares himself to be bombarded with bullshit, but when he receives his copy of the agenda, he finds himself confused; it looks to be a copy of last week’s agenda – the one he missed – with notes scrawled all over it.

                … Notes in very familiar handwriting.

                Today’s meeting only lasts about fifteen minutes, and everyone in the room seems eager to leave once Linda calls the adjournment. Sans is still reeling from how damn smoothly it had run; everyone had agreed on the Homecoming theme, the DJ to be hired, the catering company, and even the dress code, or in this case, lack thereof. Sans grips the meeting agenda in his fist for the whole ride home, completely baffled at the entire situation, but no less happy with the outcome.

                “I’ll have to thank the old man when I get home,” he chuckles to himself, shaking his head.

Chapter Text

~*~

                It’s Friday evening, and two individuals are reclining on a ridiculously large and plush sofa, watching reality shows and occasionally throwing popcorn at the screen.

                Well, the rectangular fellow with the noodly arms is throwing popcorn; his ghostly cousin, sitting quietly with a far-off expression, isn’t doing much of anything.

                “Can you BELIEVE she just did that!?” Mettaton gasps, chucking another fistful of the buttery snack at the seventy-two-inch plasma flat-screen, “oh. My. God!”

                “I…. I didn’t think it was that bad….” The ghost shuffles in their seat – or rather, where they’re hovering about two inches off the surface of the sofa, curled in a ‘sitting’ position – and adjusts the headphones hanging around their neck-area.

                Mettaton nearly shrieks, throwing his hands in the air and upending the popcorn bowl all over the floor. “Not that bad!? Blooky, darling, she just ruined Vanessa’s entire. Wardrobe.

                Shuffling about a bit more, Napstablook starts to look a bit uncertain. “Um…. Aren’t they like…. Loaded, or something……?”

                “That’s not the POINT!!”

                Before the argument can proceed, there’s a shrill ring from the buzzer by the door, and a voice comes through, all but garbled by static. “Mr. Mettaton, sir? There’s a woman here to see you.”

                The robot sighs, his digital voice cracking in resignation. “Very well, Alyssa, send her up.” As the buzzer sounds again, Mettaton all but flings himself off the sofa, crunching discarded popcorn under-wheel as he rolls into the entryway. Napstablook only groans heavily, and sinks further into the sofa, almost disappearing into it entirely; everything below their headphones has disappeared into the cushion, and their body grows slowly more transparent, until their form can barely be made out.

                Neither of them makes a move to clean up the mess Mettaton made on the living room floor.

                Just a little over a minute passes, and a sharp knocking sounds at the door. Mettaton spins about on his wheel to ask if his cousin is comfortable, but all he sees are the headphones lying on the sofa cushion. With another digital sigh, he turns back toward the door and begins sashaying down the entry hall. “Coming, gorgeous~!”

                He swings open the door without bothering to glance through the peephole – he can’t reach it anyway, at his current height – and gives a dramatic gasp, slapping his cartoonish, gloved hands to either side of his chassis in a show of surprise, the lights of his display flashing a large exclamation point in red. “Oh my~, a human! Come in, darling, make yourself comfortable!”

                He rolls to one side, giving a sweeping gesture of one arm to beckon the wincing blonde woman inside. “Thank you,” she mutters, and the smile she flashes him is nearly as tight-looking as the bun on her head.

                Mettaton lets his display flash in the best semblance of a cheery myriad of red-and-yellow squares he can muster, and casually shuts the door behind her. “Why don’t you take a seat in the living room, gorgeous? Would you like anything to drink?”

                “Ah, no, thank you,” She responds, a bit too quickly, and though she takes a few steps toward the sofa, she hesitates on seeing the popcorn scattered across the floor. “Erm, have I interrupted something?”

                “Don’t worry your pretty head about it,” Mettaton laughs, the sound light and airy, and waves a hand dismissively as he resumes his previous seat on the sofa. More popcorn is ruthlessly ground into the carpet on the way. “Now, tell me, gorgeous, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit, today?”

                The human, suddenly looking mortified at having forgotten her manners, flashes a slightly-more-genuine smile at Mettaton, and laughs nervously. “Ah, yes, o-of course. My name is Linda Smith, and I’m the president of the PTA at the high school.”

                “Oh! You don’t say!” Mettaton reclines a bit on the sofa, and if he could smile in this form, he would be smirking. “Well, color me flattered to be receiving such an esteemed visitor!”

                Linda pauses, and makes a heroic effort to not sound strained. “We – the PTA members – have recently decided that we would like for your little group to perform at our Homecoming dance, two weeks from today. We can pay you about-“

                “Now hold on a moment,” Mettaton interrupts her, his display shifting to solid red, and his tone audibly deadpanning. She stiffens, and clutches her handbag in a white-knuckled grip. “You’re telling me, the one-and-only Mettaton,” his display flashes a brilliant yellow M for half a moment, then goes all red once again, “that a bunch of human parents at a local high school want me to perform for their little dance.”

                Linda stammers, and manages to bleat, “Well, I-“

                “THAT’S A BRILLIANT IDEA!!” Confetti seems to erupt from the robot’s hands as he throws them in the air, and Linda looks like she’s about to faint. “Not only will I get to perform for real, live humans, but I’ll get to meet all my lovely young fans, too! Doesn’t that sound wonderful, Blooky?”

                The ghost’s head rematerializes within the rounded frame of their headphones, sitting on the couch, and Linda yelps outright. “O-oh…. I’m sorry, um… yeah, Mettaton, that sounds……. Great…” Napstablook shifts their watery gaze back and forth between their metallic cousin and the pale, shivering human, before rising out of the cushion and hovering over the sofa. “Oh, no, did I startle you….? I’m sorry, I should…. Just…. Go…..”

                “NONSENSE, Blooky! Mrs. Smith just adores you!” Mettaton claps animatedly. “Everyone adores you! That’s why you’re going to help me out by DJ’ing for the event, prior to my big performance!”

                “Really….?” Napstablook’s eyes widen a bit, and they look at Mettaton like they’ve been handed the key to heaven.

                “Of course!”

                Linda shuffles, and clears her throat, “I-I’m sorry, gentlemen, but… The school can’t afford –“

                “Don’t be ridiculous! Blooky here is part of my ensemble already, and they –“ he emphasizes the pronoun harshly “- just so happen to be an extraordinary DJ in their own right. Isn’t that right, cousin?”

                Napstablook’s face seems to have flushed a stark shade of grayish-blue, and they don’t outwardly respond.

                “So it’s settled! We’ll entertain at your little dance, Linda, darling, and my agent will get with the school shortly to discuss compensation.” He holds up his hand in front of his display, as if examining his fingernails. Which don’t exist, because his hands are just rubber “gloves” cast over mechanical fingers. “Is there anything else?”

                “No, I think that’s-“

                “Great!” Mettaton waves, flashing his display, “I trust you can see yourself out, gorgeous.”

                She does just that, leaving the two sitting on the couch once more while human women rant about the relative fakeness of their hair on the television in the background. A calm silence falls between them, and Napstablook sinks back to their more-or-less sitting position.

                “….. I’m hungry,” they announce, after a moment.

                “There should be a ghost sandwich in the fridge,” Mettaton hums. “Want to share it?”

                Napstablook nods. “And then we can….”

                “Lay on the floor and feel like garbage?” The two finish the question together, and Mettaton’s display brightens while Napstablook lets the tiniest grin upturn the curve of their mouth.

                “I’ll get the pillows, darling!”

                “I’ll grab…. The food.”

~*~

                A wave of bones rolls over the grass, and yellow scales flash in the sunlight as the younger monster hops lightly from one platform to another. The bones recede, and the monster is slung to the ground; they land shakily on their feet, and a momentary flash prompts them to jump as high as they can. The moment their feet leave the ground, more bones rise beneath them, and they just barely manage to avoid touching the bones’ white-hot surface. They’re thrown to one side, and the process repeats, then another, and another, and by the time the assault is over, they’re panting, but still standing.

                Kid lifts their eyes to meet the hollow gaze of their instructor. He comes about to their midriff in height, just a bit higher up than their best friend, but damn if he hasn’t given them the ride of their life in these past few training sessions. Within the span of what amounts to only about half a day’s work, Kid has found their reflexes getting sharper, and their clumsiness beginning to recede. They’ve only been hit a few times, this time around, and it’s already been a few hours since practice started for the day.

                After taking a couple of moments to assess themself mentally, they realize that their mentor is simply smiling casually across the field at them, bouncing on his toes with his hands in his pockets. He’s waiting, watching closely with his half-lidded eye-sockets for what Kid will do, now.

                Kid gives a grin of their own, and it’s matched by a flash of green in their eyes.

                It’s their turn, now!

~*~

                “My child, you are going to have to remain still.”

                Frisk huffs a breath and pouts, but resigns themself to standing stock still on a chair, with their feet shoulder-width apart and their arms stretched outright. Toriel flits around them, holding a tape measure, making measurements and jotting down numbers quickly on a notepad. All in all, it is definitely not how Frisk would have chosen to spend their Saturday afternoon, but their mother had been very insistent. After what feels like hours of standing in place, but is more realistically just a few minutes, Toriel gives them a gentle pat on the shoulder, and they relax.

                ‘I still don’t know what this is all about,’ they pout up at their mom after hopping off the chair.

                “Well, dear, the dance is soon, is it not? I want you to look your best.” She flashes a bright smile, and Frisk feels their cheeks burn at the thought of their mom getting their clothes for them. “Do not worry, my child, no one has to know one way or the other. Now, what kind of outfit are you thinking of wearing?”

                Frisk thinks for a few moments. It isn’t like they’ve spent a lot of time dwelling on the subject; if anything, they’ve been trying not to dwell on the subject too much, at all. After trying to think of something, they eventually sigh and shrug heavily, casting their gaze to the side.

                Toriel only chuckles warmly. “Do not worry, my child. I have several ideas in mind, already.” She gently takes Frisk by the shoulder, and guides them to her room.

                It isn’t much unlike her room back in the Ruins; there’s a desk against the wall just to the right of the door, a lofty dresser topped with ornamental snail figurines, a grand armoire, and her large bed, situated underneath the window. Toriel sets Frisk down on the bed and searches through her nightstand, procuring a spiral-bound sketchbook. She flips it open, and begins showing the contents to Frisk.

                Their eyes brighten.

                “Now, my child,” Toriel beams, “let us get down to business. Tell me, which parts of these designs do you like best…?”

~*~

                The week before Homecoming itself seems to drag on forever, and yet take so little time to pass, all at once.

                Before they fully realize it, it’s Friday, and Frisk is sitting in their History class, staring straight ahead of themself as Coach Graham rambles on about the upcoming game. He mentions something about how everyone who brings in their ticket stub from the game will get bonus points on the next quiz, and Frisk can’t help the frown that works itself onto their face. They don’t even like football, but History isn’t necessarily their strong suit. Not human history, anyway.

                While they sit and contemplate if suffering through a sport they have little to no interest in is worth an extra five points on their next quiz grade, the lunch bell rings, and they pack up their things to head for the cafeteria. The hallway is crowded as ever, and Frisk thanks their past self quietly for electing to wear their favorite purple tunic, today; the long sleeves and the comfy cloth are just enough to help them feel more secure as they push past their peers. As they enter the cafeteria and smell the distinctive scent of melty cheese and greasy bread, they doubly thank their past self for remembering to bring lunch.

                They assume their normal seat, and pull out the paper bag containing their meal – a leftover slice of snail pie, which they waste no time in digging into. They can’t remember when exactly they started actually sharing their mother’s taste for cooked mollusks instead of placating her.

                Only when their meal is half-finished does Frisk notice their table is awfully quiet. Sitting up and looking around, they find no sign of Kid anywhere: no flash of yellow scales; no wide, toothy grin; no bright eyes and swinging tail bouncing toward them in whatever eccentric outfit they may have chosen for the day.

                Frisk frowns lightly, and stares at the pie in front of them. Since that Sunday they spent together watching movies on Frisk’s couch, Kid has been acting weird, even distant, almost. They flinch away when Frisk touches them, and Frisk often has to tap their shoulder to get their attention in the first place.

                Maybe if I just wait a bit, they’ll come and sit with me. The thought passes, and Frisk finds themself doubting even this.

                Lunch passes in silence, and Frisk moves on to their next class filled with despondence.

Chapter Text

~*~

                They stand at the start of the hallway, just inside the lunchroom, with frogs in their throat and sweat on their scales. Their knees shake, their toe-claws clatter on the tile. They bite their lip.

                I can’t do it.

                Kid can see them, sitting in the usual spot, picking at their food with a plastic fork and scowling. They’re upset, Kid can tell, and they’re about one hundred and fifty percent positive that Frisk is upset with them. They overstepped their bounds that Sunday, they know they did, they know how Frisk feels about dates and the people they go on them with, and Kid still did it anyway.

                I couldn’t help it.

                Frisk had looked so darn cute sitting there with their eyes wide and fixed on the screen, silently mouthing the words along with the character speaking. Kid had wondered if they’d ever hear what Frisk’s voice sounds like, but the thought was fleeting as their eyes had fallen to watch their lips move, and the butterflies fluttering in Kid’s stomach the whole day had suddenly turned into roiling snakes, and not for the first or the last time, they wondered what kissing was like. They’d seen it in movies, with other kids in the hallways, heck, they’d seen Undyne kiss her girlfriend when they saw each other on campus.

                I’m so stupid.

                It hadn’t even been on the mouth; just a small, tiny, itsy-bitsy brush of their lips against Frisk’s cheek, and then they had retreated back to their curled-up spot at Frisk’s side. Kid still feels mortified, just thinking about it. They knew, they knew all of that stuff, and they still couldn’t help themself. And Frisk has been acting like nothing happened, like they couldn’t care less. How can they not care, when all Kid has heard on the subject is just how little Frisk actually cares about any of it at all?

                I gotta talk to them.

                Kid takes a step forward, worrying their bottom lip between their teeth as they begin to make their way over, to apologize, to make amends, to stop being a wuss and just do something.

                Three steps, and their resolve falters. They can’t. They can’t do it. They messed up, they went too far, and Frisk is too nice to say anything about it.

                Kid bites back the tears they feel coming, on, determined not to cry, not here, not in front of their classmates. They turn on their heel, and run away, barreling down the halls and out one of the side doors, not even bothering to tell anyone they’re leaving.

                I can’t believe I’m such an idiot.

~*~

                The sound of a heavy backpack landing on the nearby mattress rouses him from his slumber. He lifts up slightly, stretching his stem and flexing his leaves, giving his roots the smallest bit of a wiggle in the cool, wet dirt of his simple, clay pot. Opening his eyes greets him with a somewhat familiar sight – Frisk, lying face-down on their bed, with the pillow over their head.

                “Well, this is new.” He tilts his smirking face to a slight angle. The sun filtering through the window beside him is warm and inviting, but he’s too amused to be so easily distracted.

                Frisk grunts, clearly too preoccupied with trying to disappear to lift their hands and sign.

                Flowey cackles in turn. “You’ve got yourself a little problem, don’t you? Anything to do with that armless weirdo you keep hanging around?”

                Shifting the pillow and turning their head to the side, Frisk shoots Flowey the dirtiest look they can muster, which really isn’t saying a lot, to be honest.

                “Called it,” he sings, and lowers himself so he can rest his chin in his leaves on the edge of the flowerpot. “They’re mad at you, aren’t they?” He flashes one of his twisted smiles, his eyes turning dark, “They won’t talk to you, because you hurt them, didn’t you?”

                He does this, and he does it often, poking at Frisk’s insecurities, their weak points, trying to get them to crack. It never works; Frisk is determined, more so than Flowey will ever be – and he’s literally made of the stuff.

                That being said, it’s no small amount of surprise to him when Frisk’s sour expression wobbles, contorts into something outright anguished, and they throw their face into the mattress, dragging the pillow back over their head as they sob.

                “…. What.” He blinks, dumbfounded. He should be happy. He should be celebrating, he should be giddy as a housecat with an open door. But he isn’t. He only feels confused.

                Snuffling, Frisk sits upright suddenly, their hair mussed, their cheeks red and their eyelids puffy. They lift their shaking hands, and sign slowly.

                ‘I think I did do something wrong. But I don’t know what. I want to fix it, but Kid won’t talk to me.’

                “Oh, jeez.” Flowey groans. “Look, I’m not… No, don’t… don’t talk to me about this.”

                ‘They didn’t even come to lunch today, how am I supposed to talk to them when they keep avoiding me?’ Frisk doesn’t seem to be in a listening mood.

                Groaning all the louder, Flowey flings himself backwards, hanging exasperatedly out of his flowerpot. “Oh my GOD, will you give it a rest!? I don’t even know why you think I can help you here.”

                Flowey can hear the soft flapping of their hands as they keep signing, punctuated by the sharp smack of skin on skin as some more emphatic signs are made. Then a pause, then more signs.

                Scowling in confusion, Flowey lifts himself back upright, and sees that Frisk is staring blankly at something in the middle of the room, watching what seems to be empty air for several moments, before the smallest hint of a smile touches their lips. They still look sad, but a bit of that determination is back in their eyes.

                ‘Thanks, grandpa G. You always know what to say.’ They stand, throw their arms around… nothing? And then they’re out of the room and down the hallway.

                “... A bit old for imaginary friends,” he mutters to himself, shaking his head and turning back to the inviting sunlight from the window.

                The sudden flapping of paper in his direction catches his attention, and he snaps around with an intimidating, drippy snarl.

                “You watch who you’re sneaking up on, you little-“ he breaks off, finding absolutely nobody else in the room with him. That being said, there’s a sheet of paper on the desk, folded neatly into a tent, with the side facing him bearing elegant, yet jagged, handwriting.

                “Eavesdropping is rude. – G”

                Flowey feels his roots crawling uncomfortably, and he stares back out the window.

~*~

                Yo metta, did Ice Queen come by yet?

                She sure did. You were right, she really does have a stick up her ass.

                She didn’t cause ya too much trouble, did she?

                Of course not! It was nothing I couldn’t handle, darling.

                Good. Sans chuckles, as he finishes typing, because I’d hate tibia the one to patella Papyrus that his bone companion bit the dust.

                There’s a long pause before Sans gets a response.

                That is three bone puns too many for one sentence.

                The short skeleton only snickers. ‘s not my fault there’s only so many ways to crack a joke.

                Mettaton doesn’t respond, and Sans settles into the couch, content with the exchange, and aiming to get a little snooze before the big event.

~*~

                Just half an hour before the dance, Frisk is sitting at the kitchen table, letting Toriel run a comb through their hair and coat it with a light spray, ensuring it will stay in place. Once the boss monster is satisfied with her child’s appearance, she helps Frisk stand, and directs them to the bathroom mirror.

                “Tell me what you think, my child.”

                Frisk grins, and trots into the tiled room, turning to face the floor-length mirror across from the shower. They almost don’t recognize themself, aside from their dark hair and their amber skin. The outfit Toriel has designed for them is like something out of a dream: it’s a saree, custom-crafted from a rich, silky material dyed with deep mulberry hues and gilded with metallic, golden flowers. The choli – the dress part – reaches down to just above Frisk’s knees, with an asymmetrical neckline boasting only one full sleeve on the right side, while the left side dips under Frisk’s arm, gripping snugly against their skin. Under the choli, they’re wearing a pair of loose-fitting lilac-colored pants that cinch loosely about the ankles, and upon their feet they’re sporting a pair of comfortable sandals, adorned with golden flowers that match the pattern on the choli. The sari itself is crafted from a darker shade of mauve, and the flowers it boasts are larger and more widely interspersed, with lavender stems and leaves, and shimmering golden petals. Beaming, Frisk turns that way and this, admiring how the light, fluttery cloth flows elegantly about them as they pose.

                After enough posing to rival even Mettaton himself, Frisk emerges from the bathroom, cheeks flushed with excitement, and face plastered with the brightest smile either Sans or Toriel have seen in some time.

                ‘Thanks, Mom! This is the best, I love it so much!’ Frisk’s signs are rapid and exuberant, and it’s almost hard to understand them. They launch themself at Toriel, and wrap her in a fierce hug.

                “It was my pleasure, my child.” Toriel returns the hug, then gasps and holds Frisk back at arm’s length. “Careful, dear, we do not want to get fur all over you!”

                “Yeah, that’d be a real hairy situation,” Sans chuckles, and Toriel giggles as well, brushing a few strands of her fur off of Frisk’s shoulders.

                ‘Please,’ Frisk rolls their eyes, quietly laughing. ‘Hurry, mom, you gotta get ready, too!’

                “Do not fret, my child.” Toriel grins, and turns to Sans. “What about you, are you going to get ready?”

                “Yeah, sure, I’ll meet you there, T. Wouldn’t miss chaperonin’ this shindig for anything.” He makes no move to leave his seat, nevertheless.

                By the time Frisk finishes grabbing a last-minute glass of water, and Toriel re-emerges from her room in her gown for the evening, Sans has disappeared. The two don’t bother to wonder about his disappearance – they have a dance to attend.

~*~

                She stands next to the snack table, hugging a clipboard to her chest. She’s more than a little apprehensive about the caterers – who wouldn’t be wary of a woman that looks like a spider, or a man that’s literally made of fire? – but for the most part, everything seems to be in order. The decorators have done a fine job of setting up the school’s cafeteria and courtyard with the chosen theme – starry nights. Everywhere she looks, there are silhouetted cityscapes along the walls, glowing, dotted false-stars across the ceiling, and even the lights on the dancefloor emulate a cool, serene evening. She can see the flamboyant robot and his shy, ghostly cousin setting up the indoor stage, and a few other parents arriving early to help set up.

                The preparations fly by before she has much of a chance to actually supervise, and she tries her hardest not to feel flustered by the swiftness of it all.

                Just like a woman to stand there and let everyone else handle the dirty work, a bitter voice growls in the back of her mind. Useless as ever. Will you ever change?

                “Hey, mom?”

                The voice jolts her from her thoughts, and she gives a relieved sigh at the sight of her son. “Yes, Billy, dear?”

                “People are starting to show up outside, should I unlock the doors?”

                Glancing around quickly, she notes that everything is already set in motion. The DJ has started up a fun, energetic song, and the only thing that seems to be missing from the scene is a crowd of excited and hormonal teenagers.

                “Of course, sweetie, let’s get this rollin’!” She flashes a wide smile, trying to get a similar response from her boy.

                He only rolls his eyes. “Okay, mom.” He departs to open the doors.

                See? Even your son thinks you’re trying too hard.

                Linda bites her cheek as hard as she dares, and sets her expression to something cool and reserved, retreating to the back of the room as the high schoolers begin to file inside.

~*~

                It’s only been twenty minutes into the event, but Frisk is already having a great time.

                Every other person they come across has a new compliment for their outfit, which Frisk always accepts with a bright grin and a signed ‘thank you,’ and Napstablook seems to have outdone themself with the music tonight. Whenever they can manage it, Frisk gives the ghost a huge double-thumbs-up from the crowd, and the ghost gives a shy little smile every time they see it.

                While they’re dancing and enjoying themself, Frisk can all but forget the nervous knots in the pit of their stomach at not seeing their best friend at all, today. They try not to worry about it; Kid’s a tough person, whatever happened can’t be that big of a deal, but Frisk still feels a bit saddened. Kid had told them they would be here, tonight, after all.

                Shaking their head, Frisk adjusts the silk over their shoulder and makes their way to the snack tables. Approaching Muffet’s goodie bar, they pour themself a plastic cup of spider cider and take a swig, shooting the spider monster a grin before walking off to find a table.

                They barely have time to get seated, when a flash of yellow grabs their attention from the corner of their eye. Turning their head quickly, they spot Kid, standing stock-still in what has to be the cutest outfit they’ve put together in a long time.

                The yellow-scaled monster stands there, wearing a short, cotton-candy pink and sleeveless dress with a white ribbon about the middle. The skirt is ruffled, and puffs out a bit from their hips and legs, reaching down to their mid-thigh. Under the skirt, they’re wearing lime green knee-length tights, and a loose, silk neck scarf of the same color wrapped about their armless shoulders.

                Good god, they’re adorable.

                Kid gives a shaky, nervous grin, and lifts up their tail to give a little waggle of the tip in a wave. “Yo, ah, hey, Frisk!” They laugh, and take a couple steps forward, looking a bit shaky on their feet. “Wow, you look great. Like, really great. Wow.”

                Frisk can’t even start to be upset, with how adorable Kid looks right now. ‘Thanks.’

                There’s a heavy silence, with Frisk sitting at the table while nursing their cider, and Kid standing in front of them, wringing the ruffles of their skirt with the tip of their tail and shuffling on their feet.

                “Frisk, there’s something I gotta-“

                ‘Kid I need to ask you-‘

                Kid stops talking, right as Frisk stops signing, both realizing they were trying to break the silence at the same time. Frisk lowers their hands, and nods for Kid to go first.

                Taking a deep breath, Kid rocks back on their heels for a moment, before nodding to a chair. “Yo, you mind if I sit…?” Frisk shakes their head, and Kid takes a seat.

                “I gotta start off by saying, yo, I’m sorry I ditched at lunch, today.” Kid can’t bring themself to meet their friend’s gaze, but they feel Frisk’s eyes on them, regardless. “I… well, I feel like I messed up a bit, on, um, a couple Sundays ago, at your place.”

                Frisk’s brows furrow slightly, as Kid continues. “I… I know how you feel about, you know, that kind of… stuff. And I wanna say I’m sorry. I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable, it was stupid, and it won’t happen again.”

                The silence returns, but it’s shorter this time, as Frisk brings up their hand to brush against their cheek. They remember it happening, but it had been so soft, barely even there, that until now, they were sure they had dreamed it. Lifting their hands, they start to sign, when they notice Kid still isn’t looking at them; they place their right hand on Kid’s knee, bringing the monster’s attention back to them.

                There’s a dark tinge of blush on those scaly cheeks, and Frisk tries to keep their smile even in spite of how dang cute it is.

                ‘Did you think I was going to be upset with you about that?’ Frisk signs slowly, clearly. ‘Because of… what’s happened with others?’

                The anxious furrows in Kid’s brow melt into something more like a cross between embarrassment and confusion. “Um… yeah?”

                Frisk can’t help it, that face is too much. They snort, and double over into a fit of quiet giggling, leaving Kid even more bewildered than before.

                When the giggles subside, Frisk resumes signing: ‘If I had minded, Kid, I’d have told you!’

                The monster’s scales flush darker, and all they can bring themself to do is utter “oh” so softly under their breath, it’s more of a sigh than a word.

                Frisk laughs, and drains their cider, before standing and beckoning for Kid to come with.

                “Y-yo, where we goin’?” Kid stands shakily, stumbling forward in their hurry to follow their shorter friend.

                ‘Dancing, dummy!’ Frisk beams at them, and Kid feels their soul burning all the brighter at the sight.

                “Yeah, right, duh!” They laugh, and follow Frisk onto the dance floor.

                For all of Kid’s recent training, and how great Frisk is at dodging on their own, they’re both incorrigibly awful dancers.

~*~

                Toriel watches the whole exchange between her child and their friend from a comfortable distance. She’s too far away to hear Kid’s words, but Frisk’s signs are clear as crystal to her, and she can’t help the contented bubbling in her chest as they both saunter toward the dance floor, grinning like everything is good with the world again.

                Whatever’s going on there, she’s sure those two will figure it out.

                Wresting her attention from Frisk’s sorry attempt at freestyle, Toriel scans the crowd. She frowns when she realizes the person she’s waiting for hasn’t showed yet. A part of her feels silly; she’s a centuries-old, grown woman chaperoning a high school event, and she shouldn’t be so concerned about the tardiness of any one individual. And yet, he had promised to be there, and that he would dress appropriately for the occasion; there’s a part of Toriel that’s dying to see how nicely he cleans up.

                She resigns herself to waiting, and moves to the refreshment tables to grab herself some punch.

~*~

                Sans feels like he can’t breathe. Not like he actually needs to, but his ribs feel tighter than he’s used to, and not just from the suit jacket he’s wearing.

                He’s pretty impressed with himself – it had taken a good bit of hunting to find a tailor that could accommodate him, especially on short notice, but the price was worth it to see his reflection decked in pinstripes and a little blue bowtie. If one didn’t know better, it would be as if he’s stepped out of some mafia flick.

                Even still, he’s absolutely floored by how Toriel looks, tonight. She’s wearing an elegant, fluttery gown, seemingly comprised of large, almost iridescent flower petals, each layer colored deep purple toward the top, and fading to a hot pink toward the bottom. Her fur is blindingly white against the bright color, and Sans feels like he’s sharing a room with the moon itself.

                He tugs at the cuffs of his sleeves, and watches her sigh and move to the punch bowl. He forces a deep breath – not out of necessity, but nerves – and calms himself.

                “Grow a little backbone, numbskull,” he mutters under his breath, and finds a shortcut through the crowd to stand beside her at the bowl.

                “Heya, T,” he says, hoping to whatever higher powers might be listening that he sounds as casual as he hopes, “Looks like you beat me to the punch, here.”

                She glances down at him, smiling as warm as ever, and giggles. “My, my, look who has decided to show up! Looks like you are not as spineless as I was beginning to think.”

                His smile grows warmer, and he laughs, deep and low. “Hey, gimme a break, you know how much polish it takes to spruce up these old bones?”

                Toriel shoots him a knowing look, and her grin broadens, all glittering fangs; he nearly forgets himself. “How much polish, Sans?”

                Chuckling, he winks. “A skele-ton.”

                They share a heartfelt laugh, and Toriel leans forward slightly, resting a paw on his shoulder. He looks up at her, admiring how the corners of her eyes crinkle slightly as they squeeze shut, how her lips pull back in that brilliant smile, how her cheeks look just a tinge more red than usual.

                Yup, he thinks to himself, pouring some punch and taking a sip, I’ve goat it bad.

~*~

                Good snacks, awful dancing, lively music, and blooming emotions.

                It’s all he could have hoped it to be.

                With a crooked smile and a contented warble, he finds his way back home through the shadows, happy to let his family enjoy their evening on their own.

~*~

                The sound of the door creaking open prompts Flowey to turn his gaze to the bed, where Frisk has just seated themself, grinning so wide their face might just crack.

                “Guess you had a good time, then?” He mulls, disinterested.

                Frisk nods emphatically, flopping backwards onto their pillow.

                “Congratulations,” he says flatly, turning his attention to the moonlight coming through the window. “Couldn’t be happier.”

                There’s a bit of shuffling of clothes being changed, followed by the distinct thunk of something being placed on the desk beside him. Frisk signs ‘good night, bro’ from the bed once more, before tugging the blanket over their shoulder and settling in for the night.

                Hesitantly, Flowey turns to face the object on the table, lifting a curious eyebrow.

                It’s a plastic cup, filled to the brim with monster pastries Frisk had undoubtedly snuck off the premises. On the side of the cup, written in permanent marker, is a little message.

                “Thought I’d bring you something! I didn’t know what you liked, so I got one of everything. Love you, bro! – Frisk.”

                Flowey is extra quiet that night, and anyone peeking into the room might just catch a glimpse of droopy, fuzzy ears, or a soft muzzle thoughtfully chewing the magical food, or even the small tears dropping into the soil within the flowerpot.

Chapter Text

~*~

                The air is tense at the small dining table, as two vastly oversized, white-furred monsters sit as delicately as possible in chairs positioned across from each other. Neither of them are quite making eye contact, simply looking the other over with a starkly different degrees of hesitation and scorn. A cup of tea sits before either of them, with a porcelain teapot perched at the center of the table, depicting snails and rosebuds: Toriel’s favorite.

                It’s she who breaks the silence first, lifting her teacup to her lips and taking a small sip before speaking flatly. “So, Asgore, do you mind informing me why you insisted on coming over while everyone else was out?”

                Initially, the larger of the two is inclined to say something that might be considered witty or charming, but that glint in Toriel’s copper eyes is like scalding flame, and he decides prudence is a commodity more valued in present company. “It is… nothing you might assume of me, I assure you, Toriel.” He casts his golden eyes downward, staring into the depths of his teacup, dwarfed as it is between his massive paws. “I am simply wishing to ask something of you.” His ears twitch at the sharp intake of her breath, and he winces, shaking his head. “No, nothing like that!”

                “You had better spit it out quickly, Dreemurr,” Toriel grumbles, gently kneading her teacup between her own paws, her gaze never shifting away from him.

                “Of course, I know.” Asgore lets out a deep breath, leaning back in his chair as far as he dares. His curved horns graze lightly against the ceiling, and he covers his tea with one paw to prevent any dust from falling in. He can’t quite bring himself to look directly into Toriel’s eyes, and so he settles for a spot on the middle of her snout; the fur there is smooth, and nondescript, good when one needs to focus on what one is saying. “As you know, Frisk and I have become closer in recent years. They have expressed interest in getting to know me better, and doing more than just having tea and going to talk to stubborn old humans. It has been… nice, having them around, more often.”

                Toriel’s brow furrows, but her gaze softens ever so slightly. She makes no move to interrupt, and so Asgore continues.

                “It has been, what, over a month since I took them out for treats at Muffet’s bakery? We have all been busy since then, with jobs or meetings or whatever else, but… the holidays are coming up again, and I was wondering… if maybe…” he scratches at his thick, blond beard, hesitating, before finishing his question: “if maybe I could come to your Christmas, this year, with everyone?”

                Toriel stiffens slightly, her grip on the handle of her teacup threatening to crack the porcelain, but she retains her poise. “It is a bit forward to invite yourself to others’ gatherings, do you not agree?”

                Asgore looks away, wincing. “Yes, Toriel, of course, I am sorry, I do not wish to intrude. It is just… It has been eight years,” Longer than that, he wants to add, but again, that wound is best left unopened, “and I have yet to see Frisk open the gifts I send them with my own eyes.” He takes a deep breath, closing his eyes tight against the tingling of tears he can feel. “I love them, Toriel, I know I do. I also know that I have done… unspeakable things. Unforgivable things…” His voice cracks, and he shuts his mouth as well, fearing that if he speaks any more, the façade of calm he’s built up will crumble.

                “… Asgore.”

                Her voice is like a pickaxe against the rough cracks of his façade, and his face twitches incomprehensibly as he glances toward her.

                Those copper eyes are still trained upon him, keener than a hawk’s and twice as sharp, but her lips are no longer pursed, and the crease on her brow more resembles sympathy than disdain. He isn’t sure which he prefers. “… I will discuss the issue with Frisk, Sans, and Papyrus, when they return home. It is their house, too, and I should hope to ensure that everyone is comfortable with the company I invite.”

                “Thank you, Toriel,” Asgore dares to let himself smile in relief; to be honest, he can’t really stop it.

                “Do not thank me,” she retorts, her lip twitching, baring a glistening fang for half a moment, “I will promise nothing.”

                “R-right.”

Silence falls between them once again, disturbed only as they take quiet sips from too-small teacups.

~*~

                Winter seems to be extra reclusive, this year. Light dribbles of rain patter from thick, grey clouds; it’s barely enough to warrant an umbrella, but those caught without find themselves shivering within moments. Not many people are out and about, downtown, but three in particular are walking together, two huddled under a single red umbrella, while the third strolls proudly alongside them, holding up the umbrella for the others.

                “Yo, you know I can hold it, right?” Kid stoops slightly to peek at Papyrus from under the umbrella’s edge. “I’ve been, you know, workin’ on my magic a bit, and now I can –“

                “I WON’T HAVE IT! YOU SHOULDN’T USE YOUR MAGIC FOR TRIVIAL THINGS! IT MIGHT WEAR YOU OUT!”

                “But how am I gonna get better if I don’t practice, yo!?” Kid pouts, and kicks at a puddle as they walk past.

                Papyrus laughs fondly, a softer ‘nyeh heh heh!’ than most of his cackles. “YOU SOUND ALMOST LIKE MY BROTHER, BACK WHEN HE WAS YOUR AGE.”

                Kid falls suddenly quiet, their face darkening, but neither Papyrus nor Frisk notice, for Frisk immediately tugs on the leg of Papyrus’s slacks. ‘Dunkle Sans used to do magic more?’

                “DAPSOTUTELY, HUMAN,” The skeleton laughs, “MOSTLY TO GRAB THINGS OFF THE HIGHER SHELF! IT GOT ESPECIALLY BAD AFTER I GOT TALLER THAN HIM, NYEH HEH HEH!”

                Frisk giggles in response, and the three continue their walk in comfortable quiet.

                All in all, it’s a generally pleasant day for Christmas shopping, despite the weather. Fewer people out means fewer people to give Kid and Papyrus trouble for being themselves, and better pickings on what’s in stock. After walking down a couple more blocks, Frisk points out a promising shop, a cozy corner store sporting Christmas décor all over the interior, and fake snow spray-painted onto the windows. Papyrus ushers the teens inside under the umbrella, and stands under the awning for a few moments to wring most of the rain from his clothes.

                Kid follows Frisk at a few paces back, giving their friend room to bounce between the shelves, while they themself marvel at the various knickknacks and treats. “You picked a good place, yo! It’s just like back home.”

                Frisk pauses, and gives Kid a strange look.

                “Y-y’know,” Kid winces a bit, realizing what they just said, “Snowdin.” They clear their throat gently, and take a couple steps forward, looking pointedly at a box on the shelf. “Yo, does that cocoa mix have cinnamon?”

                ‘Yeah, though I wish they had butterscotch, here, too.’ Frisk puts on a smile, and tries desperately to ignore the fact that, deep down, they recognize the toothy grin Kid has plastered onto their own face.

                They spend some time in the store, collecting a few things they feel would make good gifts for their friends and family, and after about an hour, Papyrus joins them, holding some bags that he has already purchased on his own.

                When Frisk and Kid ask what’s in the bags, he only shrieks “SECRETS!!!” in response.

                Kid pays for their things first, letting their bags hang from their tail as they step aside for Frisk to approach the counter. Frisk definitely has a lot more to handle than Kid, and before they completely realize it, a porcelain snail balancing over their arm tips over, and plummets to the floor.

                Frisk closes their eyes and winces, unable to simply drop their armloads of goodies to save the figurine, but when they don’t hear a crash upon the wooden floor, they peek down in confusion.

                An ethereal, lime-green hand is cupping the figurine in midair, having caught it in a way that cushions its fall. The digits are long and thin, with rounded claws for nails, and the limb fades into nothingness a few inches past the wrist. All four sets of eyes – Frisk, Papyrus, the shopkeeper, and Kid – stare blankly at the phantom hand, until Kid lets out a sharp, barking laugh.

                “H-holy crap!” they cry, standing impressively still in spite of their wide-eyed excitement, “Holy crap, yo, you guys are seein’ this, right?!”

                Frisk nods, the gravity of the situation slowly dawning on them as they recognize the color of the hand from Kid’s eye-sparkles. The shopkeeper gives a low, impressed whistle, and Papyrus looks like he might just explode.

                “WOWIE! YOU SURE WEREN’T KIDDING, WERE YOU?” He turns and slaps Kid on the back proudly, causing them to yelp; the green hand’s grip tightens on the figurine, but no damage is done.

                “H-here, let me just…” Shakily, the hand lifts up, and deposits the porcelain snail on the counter with a soft clunk. The second the object is released, Kid lets out a deep huff, looking fairly tired. “Man, that’s… a lot harder than it looks!”

                “WELL I, FOR ONE, AM VERY IMPRESSED!” Papyrus is beaming. “WHOEVER HAS BEEN TUTORING YOU LATELY IS SURE DOING A GOOD JOB! AND SO ARE YOU!”

                Frisk nods firmly in agreement, smiling at Kid with their arms full, not wanting to crowd the counter.

                “Hah,” Kid grins, and the smile is completely genuine, much to Frisk’s relief. “Thanks, guys.”

~*~

                “… And then I caught it!”

                “No kiddin,” Sans chuckles, watching Kid jump over another volley of bones like it’s nothing.

                “No, really! It was like, four feet away, and I was already holding my bags with my tail, but I caught it!!” Kid nearly sticks the landing, but stumbles onto their side at the last moment. They push themself upright without a second of hesitation, and scramble to their feet once more. “I had a hand!!

                The ridge of bone over Sans’s right eye-socket quirks upward. “Huh. How handy. What was it like, bud?” He relaxes his shoulders, his hands resting limp in his jacket pockets.

                Kid recognizes the signs of a break, and scurries forward to stand in front of their tutor. Sweat adds a thin sheen to their scales, but they’re grinning like it’s their birthday. “It was so weird, like, I could feel the little thing I was holding, all cool and slightly dusty, but hard, and… Whoa, you think I could do it again!?” Their eyes begin to sparkle once more.

                “You mean you haven’t tried since then?” Sans laughs.

                “No, I guess I didn’t think to…” Kid twists up their face in thought for a moment, then nods. “All right, I’m gonna try it!”

                Sans leans backward until he finds himself sitting down in the grass, watching Kid in mild amusement as they strain and growl. This goes on for a couple minutes, until Kid is looking kind of winded, and very frustrated with themself. Around this time, Sans hatches an idea.

                “Hey, bucko.” He lifts a finger.

                “Mm?” Kid glances over at him, clearly distracted.

                “Catch.” Sans flicks his finger forward, and a single bone shoots toward Kid out of thin air. It’s moving too fast for Kid to dodge on short notice, so the only way to avoid getting hit is to-

                Smack.

                It’s the solid sound of bone hitting flesh, but there’s no yelp of pain that comes with it; there it is again, the glowing green hand, with a fist clenched around the length of the bone, holding it in place, even as Sans tries to push it forward.

                “Not bad, bucko.” The skeleton grins, and lets the magic projectile dissipate. “Mind if I take a look-see?”

                Kid nods, staring at their own hand excitedly, and focuses hard on not letting it dissolve.

                That gets a bit hard to do when a pair of ethereal blue hands materialize on either side of it, and start poking and prodding at the green limb.

                “Those are mine, if you couldn’t tell,” Sans says with a wink. “Bit safer to handle new subjects like this with Kid gloves, after all.”

                “Oh my god,” Kid groans, and their hand wavers slightly in place, though they don’t let their focus fall entirely. One of Sans’s floating hands gently takes hold of Kid’s index finger, and pulls the hand over entirely, while the other hand traces fingers over the green palm. Kid shivers.

                “Why are they so cold?” They ask, glancing at Sans nervously. “They’re like ice water.”

                “Hah, funny, I was about to ask why yours is so hot.” Sans chuckles once more. “It’s like… if you could touch lava, without melting.”

                Kid falls quiet, watching Sans’s inspection of their own hand in silent fascination, until the older monster lets his phantom hands disappear with a snap of his fingers. Kid’s hand shudders and pops out of existence, and they fall to their knees, suddenly dizzy.

                Sans is at their side faster than they care to think about, holding what looks and smells like a cinnamon bunny. “Eat up, buddy. You’ve earned it.”

                And so they sit together in the wide clearing, eating monster snacks and watching the clouds roll overhead. It’s a good day, and Kid has hardly felt so pleased with themself in their entire life.

~*~

                It’s early December, holiday break is approaching, and Frisk is getting real damn tired of all the gossip.

                Ever since they spent Homecoming dancing with Kid and enjoying themself, all they hear in the hallways are frantic, hushed whispers about it. Frisk knows they’re popular, as if anyone would ever let them forget, but they never realized that their peers literally have no sense of decency.

                I sign because I don’t talk, not because I can’t hear. Frisk scowls at a pair of tittering girls as they pass by.

                It really shouldn’t bother Frisk that much, and they know that. Knowing doesn’t make it any easier to ignore the odd looks, the pointed frowns, the sneers of “well I heard those two were getting Frisky out by the dumpsters after the dance.”

                The last bit just makes Frisk sad whenever they hear it. They hope with everything they have that Kid doesn’t have to hear it, too.

                History class passes as a blur; something about the Romans, something about a war, something about a quiz next Friday, and the bell is already ringing for lunch. Frisk hardly unpacked their notebook, and so they’re one of the first out the door.

                They’re also the first to their lunch table, and Kid is surprised to see them sitting there.

                “Yo, what’s up with the face?” Kid takes their seat at Frisk’s side, curling their tail behind themself in uncertainty. Frisk can see a fresh bruise under Kid’s eye, but can’t bring themself to ask about it.

                No point in beating around the bush. ‘You heard what people have been saying lately?’

                “What, about Ricky?” Kid snorts. “I don’t care what anybody says, yo, I could kick his butt in two seconds.”

                Frisk chuckles, and pushes Kid lightly on the shoulder. ‘No, not that, about Homecoming.’

                Kid sighs, and looks away. “Yo, I should know better than to think you don’t hear that stuff, huh?” They shake their head. “I’m sorry, I don’t want to put you through any of that garbage. It’s bad enough you have everybody and their best friend crushing on you, you don’t need m—“ They wince, cough, and correct themself, “you don’t need this, on top of it.”

                Kid nearly falls off their seat from the force of the shove Frisk gives them. Turning to their friend in confusion, Frisk is already rapidly signing.

                ‘… to be happy, with me, with whatever it is we’re doing, and everybody else can go deal with it.’ Frisk sighs, and rests their hands on the table for a moment in contemplative silence, before lifting them once more to add, ‘I really care about you, you know that, right?’

                Speech is suddenly something Kid can’t bring themself to be capable of, so instead, they just nod slightly, staring at Frisk’s hands in dumb disbelief.

                There’s a beat of pause before Frisk giggles, and their hands begin to move once more. ‘You know, you’re really cute when you’re embarrassed.’

                “Sh-shut up!” Kid laughs anyway, bringing up their tail to cover their darkening face with momentarily, before opening one eye to grin back at Frisk, who’s nearly doubled over in a fit of giggles. Their tail lowers, and Kid swallows past the lump in their throat; their next words are out of their mouth before they can stop themself. “You’re one to talk, you’re cute all the time.”

                It’s Frisk’s turn to blush. Kid only realizes just how rare a sight that is now that they’re seeing it: those round and puffy cheeks stained red; the way Frisk can’t quite bring themself to meet Kid’s gaze; how their hands are flexing and wringing, before Frisk elects to just rest them on the table. Tentatively, Kid slides the tip of their tail next to Frisk’s hand, and gently curls it around the human’s palm, giving it a light squeeze.

                “Yo, do you mind this…?” They ask, hesitantly, and their voice brings Frisk’s eyes back to their own.

                Frisk smiles warmly, and shakes their head, curling their fingers around the tail in their hand.

They don’t mind at all.

~*~

                Frisk arrives home from school to find Toriel, Sans, and Papyrus all sitting in the living room. There’s a kind of palpable tension in the air, and the giddy smile on Frisk’s face falls into something more sober as they look between the other three.

                ‘Should I go…?’

                “Heavens, no, dear, please, we would have you join us.” Toriel pats a spot on the couch beside herself, and though Frisk takes the seat, they look no more comfortable with the situation.

                The silence that ensues only makes the air in the room grow heavier, to the point Papyrus is even starting to squirm in his seat. Toriel eventually breaks it with a sharp sigh, before beginning.

                “I am sorry, this is just… a difficult subject for me to breach.”

                Sans gives a nervous chuckle. “Gee, Tori, if I didn’t know better, I’d think somebody died.”

                The boss monster doesn’t meet his gaze, and her lip twitches dangerously. She takes a deep breath to calm herself, and continues. “Asgore spoke with me earlier this week, and asked me to ask something of the three of you.”

                “OH? HIS MAJESTY WAS HERE?” Papyrus’s eyes widen. “AND HE DIDN’T SAY HELLO TO US? THAT IS SO UNLIKE HIM!”

                “Perhaps,” Toriel mumbles, and continues. “He… wanted me to ask if he could come to Christmas, this year.”

                There’s a short pause.

                “Jeez, T, you had me thinkin’ this was a matter of-“

                “GRACIOUS, YOUR MAJESTY, IS THAT ALL?”

                “- we were all gonna bite it for sure –“

                “I WILL HAVE TO PREPARE MY MOST SPECIAL SPAGHETTI!”

                “- just gonna have Fluffybuns over for dinner.”

                “THIS WILL BE JUST WONDERFUL!”

                Toriel and Frisk both dart their eyes between the two skeletons as they talk. The contrast between Sans’s low rumble and Papyrus’s shrill, reedy cry is jarring, at best.

                “So, neither of you are opposed to this…?” There’s an almost imperceptibly small tinge of disappointment in her voice. She quickly turns her attention to Frisk. “What about you, my child?”

                Frisk thinks for a few moments. They know damn well that Toriel isn’t on good terms with her ex-husband, but they feel bad for the guy; since they’ve returned to the surface eight years ago, Asgore has been nothing but kind to every human he’s met, even the more threatening and hostile ones. There was a time, for the first several years of knowing him, that Frisk was still hesitant about the ex-king of monsters; he was large, and imposing, and Frisk still had definitive memories of dying at his hands. Yet they also had another memory, one where even after he’d been knocked down, he promised to take care of Frisk, and treat them as his own child.

                Frisk knows their own answer to Toriel’s question, but they don’t feel that is is the right time to give it, just yet.

                ‘One minute,’ they sign quickly, ‘I have to use the bathroom.’ They rush down the hall, leaving their family in bewilderment, and bypass the restroom entirely, slipping into their own room and staring at the flowerpot on their desk, but more specifically at its occupant.

                “Frisk,” Flowey sighs, hardly bothering to turn and look at them, “Don’t you have anything better to do?”

Chapter Text

~*~

                Tension hangs in the air like cool molasses. Frisk stares at the flower on their desk, hands half-raised, but not yet moving to sign. It’s hard to know for sure how long it’s been since they’ve seen Flowey like this – morose, despondent, beaten. Frisk takes a step closer to him, and though he still doesn’t move, he speaks.

                “I heard you talking out there,” his voice is hollow, slightly tinged with bitterness. “Looks like mom and dad are starting to make up, huh?” He’s still not looking at them, but Frisk decides their question can wait, especially if he seems to know it already. They lower their hands, and take a seat in their desk chair, watching him, listening. “I heard them talking the other day, too, when he came to ask. Hah, funny, that nobody seemed to think to ask me about this.” He flaps a leaf vaguely, gesturing. “About any of this.”

                Frisk bites their lip.

                “I know you’re gonna ask if I’m going to mind seeing them again, together, in the same room, whatever.” Flowey huffs, and shakes his head. “You don’t get it, do you? I don’t know what you expected when you came back and dug me out of the Ruins, but let’s get one thing clear.” He’s shaking. “When I said I couldn’t feel, I meant it. Everything’s numb. Hell, I don’t think I could care if I tried.”

                A beat of silence, and Frisk taps the desk; Flowey snaps his head around to look at their hands, not meeting their eyes; his own are hooded by his drooping petals.

                ‘Have you tried?’ Frisk signs slowly, and their question is greeted immediately by a sharp, spiteful laugh.

                “The fuck kind of question is that, Frisk?” He lifts his face to look them in the eyes, and Frisk blinks sharply to repress the double-take; it’s like his features are melting, his black smile dripping and his eyes hardly recognizable – like he can’t muster the willpower to form an adequate expression. “I gave up trying to feel a long, long time ago.”

                Damn if the tension doesn’t return, with Frisk sitting stock-still, watching the inky features of Flowey’s malleable face pool and muddle as he tries to fix them with a grimace. A long time ago, when Frisk first fell down the hole in the mountain, Flowey’s many faces had done wonders at scaring them shitless. Now, having seen who he really is, and having lived with him for so long, the fear is only a distant memory.

                “Stop looking at me like that!” he snaps, and his mouth gapes dangerously wide for half a second as he talks. “I don’t want your pity!”

                Frisk scowls lightly in turn. ‘You know I don’t give pity.’ When Flowey turns his head away in response, the human only hefts a sigh, and reaches out to pick up the flowerpot.

                Gently, they pull him into their arms and curl up in the chair, tucking their knees close as they hug him to their chest. He still refuses to meet their gaze, and now that they are closer, they can see the twisted vines and roots caking the surface of the dirt writhing in place, wringing about each other.

                “Why are you doing this?” He asks, though he doesn’t expect a response with Frisk’s hands occupied in holding his pot. The quiet lingers for a moment, until a soft sound disturbs it, like a breeze through pond reeds.

                “Someone’s gotta.”

                Petals prickling, he turns ever so slightly until he can fix his eyes on the human holding him; they’re looking at him with something soft in their eyes, something warm that brings out memories he tries so very hard to forget all the time, memories that somehow replay themselves in this new, not-quite familiar setting: hot pies on the windowsill; the sharp, telltale sounds of scissors and wrapping paper; and this, his sibling, offering a hug.

                He buries his face in Frisk’s purple tunic.

                “I’m sorry, Cha- … Frisk,” his voice is muffled by the fabric, wavering, but not quite broken. “You can… you can tell them Dad can come.”

                A gentle hand brushes over his stem, and Frisk holds him closer for a few moments. These moments pass, and Frisk moves to return him to his spot on the desk, but something holds him fast. Glancing down, they notice several vines have sprouted from the soil, twisting firmly around their shoulders and torso. The grip is tight, but not uncomfortably so, and there are no thorns on these vines that Frisk can see. When they look back to Flowey’s face, his features are solid once again, and though his smile is weak, it seems genuine.

                If those bronze eyes looking sheepishly at them are anything to go by, it is genuine.

                Smiling, Frisk pulls him close again for a bigger hug, and doesn’t let go until they feel the vines slide back into the pot.

                After the flower is back at his spot in the light of the window, and Frisk is about to head back to the living room, Flowey’s voice gives them pause for just a moment.

                “I still don’t understand you.”

                ‘You don’t have to,’ Frisk signs with another warm smile, and leaves the room.

~*~

                Two days pass, and it’s finally starting to feel like it could actually be winter. A short, stout figure trots quickly down the sidewalk, bundled in a thick, woolly black overcoat. She has her hands stuffed into her sleeves, arms folded over her chest, and one can just barely make out the end of her yellow snout between her oversized maroon scarf and the fuzzy white hat she has yanked down over her head – the hat itself sports a pair of kitty ears.

                Alphys stops short before a shop front, and tilts up her head to squint through her glasses at the sign overhead. “Rigby’s Parts and Repairs,” she mutters to herself, a puff of breath filtering through her scarf. With a short nod, she pushes open the door and steps inside, shaking her hands out of her sleeves, only to wring her claws together half a moment later.

                It’s a simple enough place, with a spacy entryway, walled in on three sides by display cases filled with old mechanical parts and bits of wiring, and on the fourth by the display window and the door. A human stands behind the counter, a screwdriver in one hand and some kind of gadget in the other. “’Afternoon,” he calls, not bothering to look up from his tinkering. “Take a look around.”

                “Th-thanks,” Alphys stammers, and she gives a sudden yelp as the door shuts on her tail. Furiously flushed and embarrassed, she scurries to one of the display cases and busies herself with examining the contents. Though she tries her hardest, it’s impossible to ignore the human’s snickering from the counter.

                Her claws click quietly as she taps them together, and she drowns out the store clerk’s laughter with the gentle sound and the repetitive motion. Tap, tap, tap, slow breaths in, slow breaths out, tap, tap, tap. She focuses her gaze on the different objects on the other side of the glass: pistons, joints, dials and circuit boards – is that a temperature gauge? Nice.

                “See somethin’ you like…?” The human calls, rousing her attention once more.

                “Ah, y-yes,” she begins to unwrap the scarf from her face, revealing her rounded teeth and her pronounced overbite as she attempts a grin that’s supposed to look more calm than she feels. “Er, well, n-no, actually, um…” She puffs her cheeks, closing her eyes a moment, and then lets out a breath. “I c-came here looking for s-s-something, actually. A gift, for, uh, a friend.”

                “That right?” The human leans forward, setting his gadget aside and resting his elbows on the counter. “What is it you’re lookin’ for, little miss?”

                Alphys blinks for a moment; it’s on the tip of her tongue, she knows what it is, why can’t she just – “Pseudo-metabolic ion stabilizer,” she blurts, eyes wide. “Or, u-um, you know, something kind of… like that. You know wh-what, I think I can… I can, f-find the parts to…” She wrings her claws all the more, darting about the shop to look at the things on display.

                She’s nearly a blur, dancing between the shelves and muttering calculations under her breath. Before too long, she turns to the man behind the counter, and points to the cabinets in general. “I know what I want to buy.”

                Five minutes, a sizeable chunk of cash, and one heavy bag later, Alphys leaves the store looking a bit more confident in herself. She takes a few steps down the sidewalk again, when a sound like a cat meowing comes from her pocket.

                She pulls out her phone without a second’s hesitation and checks the messages – one from Undyne.

                Sure you don’t need any help getting the goods?

                Alphys grins to herself, the most cocksure expression she’s ever mustered to date. In fact, she snaps a selfie to send to her paramour. Please. I got this, babe.

                There isn’t an immediate response, so Alphys strolls down the sidewalk a little ways before her phone meows at her again. She lifts the screen so she can read it, and stops dead in her tracks.

                Damn, girl, you should look at me like that more often. Can’t wait till you get home so I can show ya what it does to me >;D

                “O-oh, gosh,” Alphys mumbles, half-hiding her face behind one hand, gripping her phone dangerously tight with the other. Before she can bring herself together enough to type a reply, another message blips onscreen:

                Get ready to score yourself a one-way ticket to HANKY PANKY TOWN, nerd!!!!

                She shrieks, and buries her crimson face in her scarf.

~*~

                A ghost hovers in their kitchen, bobbing rhythmically to whatever music they have playing in their headphones. Their eyes are shut, and their tiny mouth is curled gently upward into a smile.

                Mettaton gives a contented sigh from his seat on the living room sofa; it’s been too long since he’s seen his cousin so content with themself.

                The scene is almost ruined by a sharp rapping on the apartment door; Mettaton flashes his display in its direction – who the hell doesn’t have the decency to check in with the damn receptionist? Casting a sideways glance toward his cousin, still blissfully enraptured in their little dance, he quietly slips off the sofa and cruises toward the door. Cracking it open, he hisses, “You better have a –“ and pauses in surprise. “… Alphys?”

                She grins at him, and holds out the shopping bag in her claws. “H-hi! M-m-merry Christmas! Early! Hah! Um, is it okay if I…”

                “Sure, sure thing,” the robot, slightly dazed, opens the door fully, rolling back to allow the stumpy yellow lizard monster some room to enter. “Ah, Merry Christmas to you, darling. Just, try to keep it down, Blooky’s in a good mood today, and I don’t want to bother them.”

                “Oh, yeah, sure, okay,” Alphys nods, her voice growing quieter with each word. “I just, ah, remembered you mentioning the- the other day, about, y-you know, you needed some help, w-with the, the um,” she makes a vague motion of her claws around her stomach-area.

                “Ohh. Right.” Mettaton finds that he’s glad he’s in his rectangular form, now; he’s far less emotive in this state, and he doesn’t know if he could handle Alphys seeing the blush that undoubtedly would have crept over his cheeks. “I didn’t realize you remembered that, darling.”

                She laughs nervously, “Haha, well, y-you know me, I can’t l-let go of anything!”

                A heavy silence falls between them, before Alphys clears her throat.

                “A-a-anyway, um, I could start on installing this new deal right away, i-if, um, we can, go… in?”

                Mettaton turns about to look into the kitchen, just in time to see Napstablook bob and twirl their way into their own room. He sighs in relief, and tugs Alphys further into the apartment by the hand. “Thank you for this, actually,” he says, loosening his grip once they reach the kitchen. “My other form is just so… inefficient.”

                “Y-yeah,” Alphys sets down the bag on the tiled floor, and looks at her hands. “Sorry I haven’t gotten around to f-fixing that sooner, Mettaton. It’s been, so, so busy, after the…”

                The robot sighs again. “Yes, with the barrier falling and everyone adapting to their new lives. It’s fine, Alphys, really. I’m just… glad we’re getting around to it.”

                Puffing her cheeks, she nods again, and begins pulling various mechanical parts and bits of wiring out of her bag. “Now, I-I’m gonna need you to turn around. I g-gotta flip your switch.”

                “Fine, fine.” He wheels about, and holds out his arms dramatically. “My body is ready, Alphys, darling.”

                She snorts. “You’ve been waiting to use that one.”

                “For too long,” he agrees. “Just hurry up and—Ohh, yes~!

                When the steam clears, he’s kneeling on the tile floor, throwing the thickest pout he can muster over his shoulder at Alphys. “Give a little warning next time, sweetheart.”

                “Hah, s-sorry,” Alphys grins sheepishly, and takes a screwdriver to the panel on his back. “This m-might twinge a bit…”

~*~

                During training one day, Kid mentions how sad they feel that there’s no snow on the surface this year, especially since they now have hands they can use to join in the snowball fights.

                Sans grits his teeth and keeps himself from mentioning how much he appreciates the difference between the climates.

~*~

                Asgore stands between the shelves, holding two different toys in either paw and beginning to sweat.

                “I have no idea what teenagers like,” he groans.

~*~

                Decorating for the holidays is probably one of the most important things in the household he lives in, but he’s beginning to find that this year, none of the others seem to have the time for it. Papyrus has been getting more hours at his work, Toriel has been having to deal with issues at the elementary school, Frisk has been spending time out of the house to finish up holiday shopping, and Sans…

                Well, he doesn’t quite know what to make of Sans, at the moment, seeing as the skeleton is currently slumped on the couch and staring blankly at the television.

                Gaster raises a hollow hand to his mouth and clears his throat – a sound like if one recorded sandpaper rubbing directly onto the microphone. Sans lifts his gaze slowly, the dim lights of his eyes resting on the old monster’s shadowy form.

                “Can I help ya with somethin’?” He asks.

                ‘You can, actually,’ Gaster signs quickly, before blinking to the other side of the room, behind the sofa. He waits until Sans – grudgingly – turns around, before continuing to sign. ‘Help me unpack these.’ He gestures to the boxes stacked against the wall, each one labeled “Christmas.”

                “Why?”

                ‘Someone has to,’ Gaster snorts – a sharp staticky buzz – and reaches for the nearest box. He has it on the floor in a second, and pulls off the lid, revealing strands of garland, stockings, and a couple rolled-up sets of colorful lights.

                Sans sighs, and pulls himself off the sofa, shuffling around the couch to tackle a box of his own.

                “You’re killlin’ me, here,” he mumbles, shaking his head at the shadowy figure currently working the top off another box.

                ‘No, I’m not killing you,’ Gaster responds, his face a complete deadpan, before his mouth curves upward into a shit-eating grin to rival Sans’ own on a good day, ‘I’m ‘grandpa,’ now, remember?’

                Sans tries desperately not to laugh, but ends up snorting and nearly falling into the box of decorations as he cackles. “Shit, nothing ever changes with you, does it?”

                Gaster grins all the wider. ‘What can I say? Constancy is my middle name.’

                “Your middle name is Dings, pops.”

                ‘That statement is false, my son.’ Gaster is splitting the air with his sharp, crackling laughter nonetheless.

                The two settle into a companionable atmosphere, exchanging increasingly terrible jokes and laughing all the more while fixing up the apartment with decorations.

                Gaster can’t help remembering the days so long gone when he would gather his boys together to decorate their old apartment in the Capital.

                Sans assures himself the tears in his eyes are from laughing so hard.

Chapter Text

~*~

                The dismissal bell on the last day of school brings with it not only a newfound freedom from homework and finals, but – as an added bonus – a gentle flurry of small, white snowflakes. In the space between the front doors and the car lot, time seems to have regressed to a point where several dozen hormonal teens have reverted into wide-eyed, bright-smiled children all over again, dancing in the flakes and catching them on their tongues.

                “’S crazy, how this stuff just falls from the sky up here,” Kid remarks, their head tilted back so they can squint up at the clouds. “I’ve seen it so much now, but… I donno, it takes some getting used to.”

                Frisk nods conversationally from where they’re standing next to Kid, sticking out their tongue and furrowing their brows.

                They catch each other’s gazes, and Frisk signs quickly, ‘You’re too tall. You steal all the snowflakes before they can get to me.’

                Kid laughs, but before they can respond, Frisk smirks, tongue back in their mouth, and add, ‘You gonna share?’

                “What?”

                Frisk’s grin grows devious, and they reach up, grabbing Kid by the collar of their blouse and pulling them down to face level. While Kid is frozen in confusion and surprise, Frisk kisses them gently on the cheek.

                They pull back, leaving Kid looking star-struck. ‘You had a snowflake right there,’ Frisk winks, touching their own cheek to emphasize.

                Lime-green sparkles dance in Kid’s eyes, and Frisk feels their smile grow all the brighter. They remember how Kid described their feelings, before – like butterflies in their stomach, with warmth bubbling in their chest every time they look at Frisk. “I know humans don’t do magic or whatever,” Kid had said once, “but when you, um, when we kiss or whatever, it’s… pretty darn close to what magic feels like.” Frisk hums warmly at the thought. They don’t exactly feel the same things, no butterflies, no nervous stutters, no weird tingles, but gosh diddly darn if it isn’t one of the best sights in the world, seeing Kid so happy and flustered.

                When Kid leans down again on their own accord to give Frisk their own peck on the cheek, Frisk finds they don’t mind their friend’s warm, wet lips at all. It’s comforting, safe, unassuming, and cuter than all hell. When they feel the tip of a scaly tail wrap gingerly around the palm of their hand, they grip it back without a second thought, and walk with Kid to find a comfortable place to wait on their rides.

                They sit in companionable silence for a moment, until Kid starts talking. “Yo, so, my big sister’s having this holiday party for friends and stuff in a few days, and I was, y’know, wondering if you’d like to come. It’s gonna be some kids from school, over at my place. Ma said it’d be okay and stuff, she and dad are going out for the weekend…” They laugh, a bit nervously. “So, um, wanna come?”

                ‘You better believe I’ll be there!’ Frisk is beaming. ‘Do I need to bring a gift?’

                “Nah, not for anyone specific, just bring a little thing for Dirty Santa, something small, maybe funny. It’ll be fun!” The monster laughs again, less nervous this time. “I’m glad you wanna come. It’s… it’s gonna be great.”

                ‘I’ll hold you to that.’ The dark-haired human leans against the taller monster, resting their head comfortably on the other’s shoulder. ‘If it’s not, we’re gonna have a problem, you and me.’

                Kid snorts. “Please. My big sis throws the best parties. And with- with you there, it’s bound to be a blast!”

                Gosh dangit, Frisk will never understand how monsters can blush so much without any actual blood, but they are steadily coming to the conclusion that Kid has the cutest blush out of any of them – a dusting of light green over their yellow scales, tinting them darker, and yet making the color all the more vivid. ‘Flatterer!’ Frisk signs, laughing softly.

                “Yo, that’s me, dishing out the compliments,” Kid shrugs their armless shoulders, “S-somebody’s gotta letcha know how great you are.”

                And so, their conversation devolves into an exchange of compliments and subtle jokes; the two end up laughing so hard, Toriel has to politely honk the horn of her minivan about three times before Frisk realizes it’s time to leave. Kid promises to text them the date and time for the party, and waves Frisk off with the tip of their tail.

                Frisk is beaming as they climb into the passenger seat of Toriel’s minivan.

                “And how was your last day of school, my child?” she asks.

                ‘Absolutely fantastic,’ Frisk replies.

~*~

                She unlocks her apartment door with a heavy sigh, doing her best to ignore the tall, white-furred monster woman and her short, teenaged child. How that custody battle was ever won, she’ll never know. As she slips inside her apartment and brings the door shut behind her, she’s greeted with a familiar hell.

                Not to say that the Smiths’ home is dirty, oh no, far from it. Everything – from the floors to the ceiling – is spotless. What’s glass glitters, and the wooden furniture shines like polished stone. Christmas decorations are already spread over the living-room and the kitchen, with a wreath hanging over the mantle, festive candles on the end tables and fireplace, a porcelain nativity scene set up neatly on the coffee table, and a fat, neatly-decorated tree in the far corner.

                She pauses in the entryway, slowly hanging her keys on the inside hook, and straining her ears to listen. Silence greets her, but that doesn’t mean anything. “Hon-“ her voice cracks halfway through the word, and she clears her throat to steady her nerves. “Honey, I’m home…!”

                “Welcome home,” comes the immediate response from down the hallway, and her heart sinks at the tiredness in Robert’s voice. From the sound alone, she can tell it’s been a long day at the firm, and that rarely bodes well at home. She fights to fix her best smile on her face as he keeps talking. “C’mon in here, Lin, and bring me a drink.”

                Linda takes a slow breath to steel herself, and walks into the kitchen, setting her purse upon the counter and opening the fridge. “Would you like some lemonade, sweetie?” she calls, willing the tremble in her voice somewhere far away.

                “You know what I want, Lin, don’t play dumb.”

                Sighing, she reaches toward the back of the fridge, and procures a glass bottle of beer; it’s cold in her hand, almost painfully so, but that isn’t all that causes the shudder to run down her spine as she regards it for a moment. On a whim, she glances back into the fridge before shutting it – this is the last bottle. At this revelation, she finds herself staring at the thing in her hand, debating how likely he might be to believe her if she could hide it away somewhere or throw it out, and tell him there isn’t any more.

                “What’s takin’ you so damn long?”

                The sudden closeness of her husband’s voice nearly causes Linda to drop the bottle in her hands, and her head snaps up to look at him properly. He’s changed out of his work clothes already, instead wearing a plaid red-and-green housecoat and some grey sweatpants. He eyes her coolly, and her grip on the bottle tightens.

                “You gonna give me that, Lin, or just stand there like a useless tart?”

                Her blood turns to ice, and she shakily hands him the bottle. “It’s lovely to see you too, dear,” she gives him a brilliant, too-wide smile, and her voice is sweet. “How was work?”

                Robert grunts in reply, flicking the cap off the bottle and throwing back a swig. “Legal aides are incompetent nowadays, can’t tell an affidavit from a goddamn subpoena anymore…” He scowls, and casts an eye over his wife, before turning and shuffling back toward their bedroom. “Not like you would, either.”

                Linda bites her lip and barely keeps herself from reminding him they met in law school.

                Before anything further can be said, Linda’s phone chimes in her purse, and she pulls it out to check the message – it’s from her son, Billy.

                Hey mom, there’s a Christmas party on Saturday at a friend’s house, everybody’s going, can me and Rach go?

                Linda’s lips purse into a fine line instinctively. Normally, she would like more than two to three days’ notice before her children ask to go somewhere, along with phone numbers, addresses, perhaps even a coffee date with the parents of her kids’ friends… but as she glances down the hallway in the direction Robert went, she thinks forward to the upcoming weekend…

                … She doesn’t think she wants her kids at home longer than they have to be.

                Another text comes in before she can reply. I’ll keep an eye on Rach and we’ll bring our own drinks and stuff, promise.

                Linda gives a weak smile, before texting back. Okay sweetie you can go. Just take care of your sister, and have fun.

                The next several texts that come in reply are the most genuinely-excited-sounding ones she’s received in a long time. Imagining her children’s smiling faces gives her the inner strength she needs to face the rest of this week.

                She hardly winces when Robert calls from the bedroom, asking why she’s home so early, in a tone that’s not even subtly assuming that she’s shirking her duties.

~*~

                Saturday arrives, and Frisk and Sans are the only ones home. Well, the only ones except for Flowey – currently sunbathing in the living room window, near the Christmas tree – and the odd, wriggling shadows in the corner.

                Sans watches the human bustle about for the better part of a half-hour, dashing between their bedroom, the bathroom, and the kitchen several times, before they finally come to a halt next to the couch, where he’s sitting, as usual.

                “Need somethin’, kiddo?” he asks, looking them up and down in mild amusement. They’ve put on the largest, ugliest holiday sweater they could find – a dark red one embroidered with white reindeer prancing in horizontal stripes across the midsection and speckled with snowflakes – and a pair of maroon leggings underneath, paired with grey, ankle-high boots. The sleeves of their sweater flop down past their fingertips, and they have to shake the sleeves back before they can sign.

                ‘Yeah, actually. Can you take me by the mall? I gotta pick up a Dirty Santa gift.’ Their eyes are bright, and their cheeks slightly flushed with excitement.

                Chuckling, Sans shrugs. “Well sure, bud, but I think that old Santa figure Tori put up on the mantle might just be dirty enough, with how long it’s been in the attic…”

                Frisk laughs quietly and swats at him with an oversized sleeve. ‘Not that kind of ‘dirty Santa,’ dunkle Sans!’

                “Welp, coulda’ fooled me.” He stands with a huff, and rolls his shoulders. “Tell ya what – it’s cold out, and Papyrus and Tori both took their cars out on errands and junk, so… What say you and I take a shortcut, today?”

                He winks, and he swears Frisk is eight years old again, looking at him with that excited grin and those bright eyes. Chuckling warmly at the image, he makes his way to the front door, grabbing his keys from the hook by the entryway. “C’mon, just down the hall here, and around the corner.”

                The two of them leave, with Sans locking the door behind himself. He leads Frisk down the hallway, and as they turn the corner that normally leads to the stairs going up, they both step into the food court at the mall, out of a hallway that leads to the bathrooms.

                He gingerly shakes the tingle of magic from his bones, and casts his grin in Frisk’s direction. They’re slightly taller than he is, now, though not by more than a few inches. “Fast shortcut, huh?”

                Frisk is giggling – they always giggle at the feeling. ‘Record speed. I think you’ve outdone yourself with this one!’

                “Shucks, kid, you’re gonna make me blush.” He laughs, and stuffs his hands in his pockets once more, fiddling his keys between his phalanges. “Lead the way, bucko.”

                And so he follows them through the mall, weaving between crowds and in and out of stores. Frisk looks determined as ever, worrying their lip between their teeth as they examine store shelves and clothing racks, but nothing seems to catch their attention. Only when they start to get frustrated does Sans chime in.

                “So, do you got an idea for what you want to get?”

                Frisk pauses, before setting down the ceramic coffee mug they’d been inspecting. ‘Kid said I could get anything, but I kind of want to go for something not so serious.’

                Sans’ grin widens, and his eye-sockets narrow mischievously. “Like… a gag gift?”

                They nod enthusiastically. ‘Can you help me out?’

                “Buddy.” Sans is shaking slightly, with the effort not to laugh. “Friendo. Buckaroo. Amigo friend chummy chum chum pal.” His bones are rattling softly, and he winks. “You, my homeslice breadslice dawg, have come to the right diddly darn skeleton.” He lets a chuckle break through and adds, “You and whoever ends up getting your little gift are in for a rad time.”

                Without another word, he turns and beckons for them to follow. Frisk does so, their grin nearly mirroring his own.

~*~

                He drops frisk off at Kid’s house about thirty minutes before the party starts, but he can see that some other people have started showing up early, as well. Before he can slip through another shortcut to head home, Frisk grabs his sleeve and tugs until he faces them. They start signing immediately, before he can get a word out.

                ‘Take mom somewhere special tonight.’

                It comes from so far out of left field that he has to blink for a moment, before the meaning sinks in, and he feels the hot buzz of his magic over his cheekbones. “That’s – I don’t… what?”

                ‘Don’t play dumb with me, dunkle Sans, you’ve wanted to smooch her since I was eight.’ The hot buzz on his cheekbones roars into a frenzied sizzle, and he ducks his head down into his hood. ‘Just go for it! Go have a fun time, lock it up.’ Frisk grins, gives him a playful nudge in the ribs, and then waves as they saunter into the house.

                Sans has to take a couple of minutes to calm down the rush of frantic thoughts before he can find another shortcut back home. If Frisk has known all this time, who else does…?

~*~

                Frisk can’t remember the last time they saw Kid’s house done up so nicely for the holidays. Then again, come to think of it, they hadn’t come to visit over the holidays very often, before. Several of their classmates and friends have already arrived; Benny is sitting with his younger sister, Lissa, and introducing her to Aaron’s son, Franco – the young monster looks more fish-like than his father, with little gills flapping on his equine cheeks, and dainty, soft-looking fins draping around his face, as his mane. Frisk smiles a bit, happy at the thought that Shyren and Aaron somehow hit it off. Across the room, Frisk spots the Smith kids, Billy and Rachel, chatting at the punch bowl with Kid’s older, adoptive sister, a rabbit monster named Mona. She catches Frisk’s eye as the short human trots through the door, and gives a friendly wave before turning back to her conversation.

                Mona is a senior now, and Frisk doesn’t see her very often around the school; they remember when she and Kid lived back in Snowdin, and the three of them would play with the other monster children, while Frisk was putting off the less-appealing parts of their adventure, staying with the skeleton brothers. Kid had told them then about how Mona’s parents had adopted them when they were really little, and how little monsters would sometimes just appear out in the woods, born from excess magic in the environment. Kid never seemed to mind being adopted.

                After only a moment of reflection, Frisk’s thoughts are interrupted as Kid trots up to them, wearing a bright, toothy grin. “Yo! You came early, that’s fantastic! Here, lemme show ya where to put your gift.”

                The pile of mystery presents on the dining room table grows steadily larger as more people show up, and before long, the party starts in earnest. Mona puts on some upbeat holiday remixes – some of which, Frisk notices, have Napstablook’s spooky influence all over them – and before they know it, people are dancing, punch is flowing, and everyone’s having a great time.

                Frisk isn’t introverted by a long shot, but they find themself hovering near Kid as much as they can nonetheless, all the while keeping up conversation as best they can with those around them. Kid attempts to translate for those who can’t read Frisk’s signs well, but being one of the hosts, the yellow-scaled monster is more often than not distracted with some activity or another.

                Their friend doesn’t mind at all; Frisk is having a great time.

                After about an hour, Mona and Kid call everyone to the dining room to start the Dirty Santa game. They stand at the doorway to the dining room, handing out little tickets with numbers on them to dictate who gets to pick first. The process of picking and opening presents goes smoothly enough, but when the stealing and swapping starts, it quickly becomes a kind of free-for-all, as the hosts have announced that gifts can only be stolen three times at most, and there will only be five minutes allotted for everyone to duke it out. By the end of it, Frisk has won a plastic gun that shoots bubbles, and they find the gift they brought – an oversized, hand-operated nutcracker with the phrase “I got nuttin’ for Xmas” emblazoned on the side – landed in the hands of Rachel Smith, who is outright cackling at the pun, and proclaiming she will cherish it forever.

                The excitement passes, and everyone begins to settle in various corners of the house’s first floor to check out their new gifts and chat, with one or two people from each group getting up now and again to fetch snacks and drinks. Frisk settles into the sofa and starts shooting bubbles at unsuspecting passerby, earning a laugh and some variation of “cut it out, Frisk” every time it happens. Kid sits beside them, sharing in the laughter, and also sharing some holiday snacks and cookies.

                “Yo, did I tell ya my sis and I spent all day baking these, yesterday?” Kid flicks their tail, launching another cookie toward their face, and catching it with a snap of their jaws. “I mean, it’s monster food, so it’s not like it was all that hard to make ‘em, y’know, magic, and stuff, but… still. We got a lot.”

                ‘They’re awesome,’ Frisk signs, matter-of-factly, and reaches for another – only to find the plate is empty. They pout at the plate for a moment, and Kid hardly takes half that moment to notice the dilemma.

                “I’ll go get some more.” They grin, coiling their tail under the plate and lifting it, balancing it like a practiced server. “You want some punch, while I’m up?”

                Frisk shakes their head, and Kid trots away. Leaning their head back, they amuse themself by shooting bubbles at the ceiling fan, and watching them pop on contact with the lazily spinning blades. They let their eyes close contentedly, and they relax into the couch cushions and the steady hum of the party around them. Everything feels wonderful. They doubt they could be happier.

                “Hey babe, nice party.”

                Well, if that doesn’t just ruin everything.

                Frowning slightly, Frisk opens one eye to regard the speaker, and their suspicions are confirmed – Ricky is hovering over them, leaning against the armrest, holding a plastic cup of punch in one hand and resting the other at his side, thumb hanging from his jeans pocket. “Crazy to think these weirdos have such nice digs, huh?”

                Rolling their eyes, Frisk signs, ‘What do you want, Ricky?’

                He goes on as if they never said anything. “Whatcha doing over here by yourself, anyway, babycakes? Thought your little boy-toy would be over here with ya.”

                Frisk scowls. ‘Kid isn’t a boy. And stop calling me ‘baby.’’

                “Ooh, I like that look on you, real feisty.” He winks, and Frisk resists the urge to vomit. There’s a beat of silence before Ricky speaks again. “Hey, why don’t we get out of here, this place is the pits.”

                ‘Who even talks like that anymore?’ Frisk sighs, remembering he still hasn’t bothered to try and understand what they’re saying, and shakes their head.

                His smirk falters, and his brows furrow. “Hey, that wasn’t exactly a request, babe, let’s get out of here.” He reaches down for Frisk’s hand, and they shuffle quickly to the other end of the couch, eyes widening at the sudden shift of his tone. He glares a bit harder, and approaches once again. “You’re gonna come with me, damn it.”

                His arm lifts up, and Frisk recoils into the cushion, closing their eyes tight. They feel the sharp buzz of magic in the air, hot and familiar, and the room goes silent.

                Hesitantly, Frisk opens one eye and looks up, to see Ricky staring at his wrist, where a lime-green, clawed, transparent hand has latched about his arm, holding him in place.

                “Yo, are you tryin’ to start shit again, buddy?”

                Frisk – and everyone else in the room, apparently – snaps their attention to the doorway into the kitchen, where Kid is standing stiffly, their gaze locked on Ricky. The plate of cookies lies forgotten at their feet, and they take a couple steps forward, somehow avoiding crushing magic cookies into the carpet. “I asked you nicely to back off once before,” Kid says, their voice dangerously low. “Don’t make me have to ask you again.”

                Ricky scoffs, yanking his wrist from the magic hand’s grip; it lets go, hovers, and then disappears. “What’re you gonna do, slap me with your magic hands?” He laughs, playing off the fact that he’s rubbing his wrist to get the circulation going again. “You’re pathetic. Half the other monsters have scarier magic than what you’ve got going. I’m not afraid of you.” Without waiting for Kid’s response, he turns back to Frisk. “Let’s go, already, get away from this weirdo.”

                Frisk fixes Ricky with an icy stare, even as he leans toward them. For half a moment, Frisk can hear a thought in the back of their mind – yeah, that’s right, push him a bit, he’ll fall on the table, won’t even know what hit him, grab one of the glass shards when it breaks, see if he calls you ‘babycakes’ when you’re –

                The thought is cut off when two green hands suddenly seize Ricky’s wrists, and a third materializes to grip his chin and pull his face around to make him face Kid, who has crossed the distance with a few long strides, and is glaring up into the taller teen’s eyes with magic sparks buzzing in their own.

                “Listen, pal,” Kid hisses, their lips curled into a snarl, “you’re askin’ for a bad time, here.”

                Frisk blinks, and something about this rings familiar.

                Ricky looks Kid up and down, and scoffs. “You wanna go so bad? Fine. We’ll take this out back.”

                The corners of Kid’s mouth curl into a smile, but combined with their snarl and the wild fury in their eyes, it’s likely the most blood-chilling expression they’ve ever made. “Sounds good to me, yo,” they hiss, and turn on their heel to lead the way out the back door.

                Only a moment of silence lingers until the house erupts into excited whispering. “Holy shit, are they gonna fight??” “Whoa, cool, I’ve never seen a monster fight before!” “Man, five bucks says Ricky’s gonna kick that tall lizard’s ass, he’s never lost a fight.”

                Frisk blinks, and then the gravity of the situation sinks in. They leap from the couch and dash outside, just managing to catch up with Kid before they step off the back porch and into the yard.

                ‘Kid, you can’t do this,’ they whimper softly as they sign, eyes wide in panic, ‘what if he hurts you, this is my fault, I have to deal with this, I can’t let you-‘

                “Look, buddy,” Kid’s voice stops them short, and Frisk looks up at their friend with watery eyes. “This isn’t about just you, anymore. That… that asshole thinks he can walk over anybody because he’s big and tough, right?” They puff out their chest a bit, and glance over at Ricky, who’s already cracking his knuckles and pacing in place, glaring daggers back at them. “Somebody’s gotta take him down a notch, yeah?”

                Frisk can see in Kid’s eyes that they’re determined to see it through. It’s an expression they’ve only seen in a couple of monsters before now – Undyne, specifically, and Flowey as well, and perhaps even Sans, when things got serious – but somehow it fits them. Sighing, Frisk nods slowly.

                ‘Just watch yourself.’

                Kid grins down at them. “Course I will. I’ve been training, remember?” They wink. “Besides – I’ve never lost a fight yet, either.”

                Frisk doesn’t have the heart to tell them it’s because they’ve never been in a fight.

                Everyone has gathered on the back porch, leaning on the railing and craning over each other to get a good look at the two now standing in the yard. The fence is high around them, blocking the view from the neighbors’ yards, and the atmosphere is heavy. Kid rolls their armless shoulders and bounces on their toes for a moment, swinging their tail and letting their energy crackle about them. Ricky cracks his neck, standing across the yard, and spits on the ground.

                “Whats the matter, you having cold feet, big shot?” he calls, holding up his fists to guard his face.

                “Nah,” Kid shrugs, tilting their head back to look up at the evening sky. “It’s a nice night out. Stars are shining, y’know, and the crickets are singing.”

                Frisk’s jaw suddenly drops. All those Saturdays where Sans has been “out and about,” Kid never naming their tutor, and now all these familiar signs…

                “On nights like this, kids like us, should be, you know, having a nice party inside, enjoying the holidays.” Kid lowers their gaze, eyes lidded, smile cool and collected. “Then you gotta come up in here, actin’ like an asshole.”

                Ricky stiffens, but Kid continues. “Look, yo, I’ve seen you tryin’ to hurt my friend, and yo, if you wanna try to keep that up…” Their eyes open fully, and their pupils are engulfed with a bright, lime-green glow.

“… You’re gonna have to go through me.”

                Scoffing, the larger teen redoubles his fighting stance, bouncing on his toes. “I-I’m not… Afraid of you.” He sounds like he might be trying to convince himself.

                Kid only laughs, the sound cool and slightly hollow. Frisk shivers as they recognize that sound from a nightmare they’ve had too many times to really fear, anymore. “Let’s do this,” they say, and with a slight jerk of their head, Ricky’s soul is pulled out, stretching to coat his body with a thick, orange glow, concentrated over his chest with a bright, cartoonish heart.

                Their audience gasps in unison, and Ricky reels for a moment, unused to the feeling. “What’s that, never fought a monster before in a fair fight?” Kid smirks, and crouches slightly, kneading their claws in the dirt and letting their tail lash. “Cool. This should be fun for all of us.”

                Ricky lunges forward, and the fight begins in earnest. Kid hops to the side, avoiding Ricky’s clumsy haymaker, and a flash of green sounds a sharp warning before a long, thin, claw-like blade slashes merely an inch from Ricky’s nose. Frisk finds that the color is nothing like the calming green of healing magic or the strong, steadfast green of Undyne’s magic, but bright and dangerous in its own sense, sharp and wild.

                A lot like Kid, themself, come to think of it.

                Kid almost seems to dance around Ricky as he throws punches and kicks, retaliating in rhythm with quick slashes of green magic. It isn’t hard to tell that Kid is actively avoiding seriously hurting Ricky, only ever catching the edges of his soul with their attacks. He winces and hisses in pain every time their strike hits, and Kid winces as well, though they set their jaw and try their best not to get distracted.

                It goes on like this for a few minutes, and each second that passes makes the crowd grow more nervous and excited, to the point various teens start shouting “Yeah! Get ‘em!” or “Slash ‘im! Right there!” at various intervals.

                Ricky growls, staggering back to avoid a nasty slash aimed at his right arm, and moves to throw a left hook at Kid; Kid hops to their left to dodge, but fail to notice Ricky already bringing up his right arm to fake them out.

                Frisk screams, their voice cracking in fear and disuse.

Chapter Text

~*~

                Everything suddenly hurts, but especially in the lower part of Kid’s abdomen. They stumble backwards and cough, wincing a bit as they see a soft, green wisp of something puff out of their mouth. They taste dust in their mouth, but only a bit.

                The backyard has gone silent, and Ricky’s face is all twisted up, like he isn’t sure if he should be proud of himself or alarmed. Everyone knows about how easy it is for a human to turn a monster to dust, if their will to harm is high enough, and for a harrowing moment, everyone fears that Kid is about to fall down – especially after Frisk’s ear-splitting scream.

                Nonetheless, Kid stays standing, digging their claws into the dirt once more, and straightening their stance.

                “Wow,” they say, shaking their head and looking over at Ricky, eyes raking him up and down. They keep their voice low, their words not meant for the crowd. “Maybe you aren’t so big and bad after all.”

                The human flushes beet red, and lunges at Kid again, but they hop out of his path just as easily as before. They continue to slice their magic at him, but to those who are paying close attention, they can see that Kid is no longer trying to harm him at all, just bringing the magic close enough to tingle, but not to hurt. Kid knows they don’t have to beat him, not in the usual sense, they just have to outlast him.

                And if there’s one thing Kid has plenty of, after years of tripping and falling on their face and getting up time and time again, it’s stamina.

                Unfortunately, natural clumsiness is not so easily trained away. In the middle of sidestepping to avoid the swing of Ricky’s fist, Kid loses their balance, and tumbles right into the human, bringing them both crashing to the ground.

                Kid rolls off quickly and scrambles to their feet. After a tense moment, they realize that Ricky is lying there, panting and huffing, too tired to move. Slowly, they crouch down, lowering their head so they can speak quietly to him.

                “Yo, do you… need a hand?” One of their green limbs appears and hovers over Ricky, holding open the hand to help him up.

                He looks from the monster to their magic hand for a moment, grimaces, and gives a heavy, defeated sigh. As he reaches up to take their hand, his soul slips back into his body, and the orange glow dies away.

                “What… was that, just now?” He gestures vaguely to himself, once he’s standing. His expression is softening, and he looks more ashamed than anything else.

                Kid shrugs. “I spared you, yo. And you accepted. Guess we can call it even now, huh?” They grin, and bump Ricky teasingly in the arm with their magic fist. “Just, you know, stop bein’ such a dick all the time, yeah?”

                “Sure,” Ricky nods, looking a bit lost. “Yeah, okay.”

                “First things first,” Kid fixes him with a steely glare, “you’re gonna apologize to Frisk. Then, we’ll see where it goes.” They steer him back toward the crowd, and everyone erupts into cheers and whoops. Frisk leans against the railing, looking like they’re going to pass out in their relief at seeing Kid in one piece.

                Before Ricky can even start to apologize, Frisk punches him in the face with everything they have. It isn’t much, but it’s enough to shock him. They then proceed to sign at him angrily for the better part of the next five minutes.

                Kid gives a small sigh, and wonders in the back of their mind how their tutor will react to hearing about their first fight.

~*~

                First thing Sans had done when he had gathered his breath and his composure in front of Kid’s house had been to head straight home and plant himself on the couch once more.

                Since then, he’s been silently panicking while wearing his best poker face, glancing up at the clock on the wall now and again and drumming his phalanges on the armrest. He has no idea when Toriel will be back, or where he should ask to take her, or even if she’d want to go. What if she’s tired? What if she doesn’t take it as the date it’s supposed to be? What if she laughs at him?

                The door opens, and he yelps, a high-pitched sound that is most unnatural for him. Whoever’s entered the apartment pauses, and slowly hangs their keys on the wall-hook.

                “… SANS…?” Papyrus’s concerned voice is a godsend to Sans’s shot and metaphorical nerves, and the shorter skeleton sinks into the couch with a heavy sigh.

                “Thank god it’s you, Paps,” he groans, rubbing at his eye-sockets. “You gotta help me, bro.”

                “WITH THE STATE YOU’RE IN, YOU MIGHT BE BEYOND HELP.” Papyrus vaults over the back of the couch and lands next to his brother, leaning his hands on his knees and turning to face him. “WHAT HAS YOU SO WORKED UP?”

                Sans turns to look back at Papyrus, and his smile is one of defeat. “Y’know Tori, right?”

                “YES, I KNOW TORIEL.”

                “Sweet, gorgeous, soft and nice Tori.”

                Papyrus narrows his eye-sockets. “GO ON…”

                “She’s so great, Pap. And… I donno, I’ve wanted to… You know?” He looks up at his brother helplessly. “But she’s just so great, and I’m not, and there’s no way she’d even think about it.”

                “… BROTHER. SANS. SANS BROTHER. BROTHER SANS.” Papyrus puts a hand on Sans’s shoulder and shakes his head. “DEAR BROTHER SANS, MY BROTHER, THE ONLY SANS, MY GREATEST BROTHER.”

                “Bro, your tone is startin’ to weird me out here, man,” Sans is very sweaty, and his grin is shaky at best.

“SANS,” Papyrus begins again, giving his brother’s shoulder a squeeze, “YOU ARE MY BROTHER, AND AS SUCH I DO NOT LIKE KEEPING SECRETS FROM YOU. HOWEVER!” He holds up his other hand, one finger extended, to pause whatever outburst Sans may or may not have been contemplating, and keeps going. “YOU WILL SIMPLY NEED TO TRUST ME ON THIS ONE, BROTHER-O-MINE, WHEN I SAY THAT YOU SHOULD ABSOLUTELY DAPSOLUTELY GO FOR IT.”

                Sans blinks slowly. “You… sure, about this?”

                “POSITUTLEY!!” Papyrus beams, and there’s nothing in the world that could defeat that smile.

                Sighing, Sans runs his hand over the back of his head. “All right, bro, I’ll take your word for it. But I’m not gonna be a happy camper if this is you getting back at me for all the pranks and jokes over the years.” He waggles a finger in Papyrus’s direction. “I mean it. I’ll be the unhappiest camper that ever camped. A sad camper.”

                “YOU WON’T BECOME A SAD CAMPER, SANS, GET AHOLD OF YOURSELF. NOW – WHERE ARE YOU TAKING HER?”

                “Erm.” Sans blinks again, and rubs at the back of his vertebrae. “Welp, I didn’t exactly get that far. Classy lady like her, y’know, deserves a classy night out, huh?”

                Papyrus tuts, and takes Sans by the wrist, dragging him to their shared room. “YOU AND I HAVE SOME PREPARING TO DO, BROTHER! HER MAJESTY COULD BE HOME ANY MINUTE NOW!!”

                Sans wonders briefly what he’s gotten himself roped into.

~*~

                Toriel gives a contented sigh as she steps into the apartment and takes a look around. She had been pleasantly surprised when she had come home the week before to find that Sans had decorated the place while he was home alone. Never in a thousand years had she imagined he would find the wherewithal to take on such a task by himself, but he had casually brushed off her compliments with a line about having to lift his holiday spirits – or something like that, she couldn’t quite remember.

                Still, it’s nice to come home to a nicely-lit and decorated tree, and stockings hanging from the mantle. There’s six of them, one each for herself, Sans, Papyrus, Frisk, and Flowey… the sixth, she’s unsure about. Maybe it’s because it would look uneven with only five stockings? She supposes that’s an answer that will have to work.

                Taking off her coat and draping it over the back of the sofa, she shuffles into the kitchen to heat up some water for tea. With her back to the rest of the room, she hums a gentle tune, contenting herself in watching the kettle heat up.

                A few moments pass, and she hears a door open and shut down the hallway, followed by frantic whispering. She recognizes the voices as Papyrus and Sans, though she can’t make out what they’re saying. Even Papyrus is being surprisingly soft-spoken. That is, until she hears him half-whisper “NOW GET ON OUT THERE AND LOCK IT UP,” promptly followed by a dull “oof” from Sans, and then the sounds of his short footsteps approaching the kitchen.

                “Yo, hey, T,” he gives a nervous laugh, and she feels her soul flutter at the nickname, “I see you’re uh… makin, some, some tea, there.” He laughs again. “Tea time for T, eh?”

                Wow, that’s bad, even by Sans’s standards. She raises a bemused eyebrow. “Are you feeling all right, Sans, dear?” When she turns to look at him, she has to fight to keep the surprise off her face.

                He’s wearing black slacks and a grey, button-up shirt, with a fur-lined black jacket tugged on over it. His cheekbones are dusted with a blue blush, and he can’t quite bring himself to look her in the eye for more than a second. “Better n’ ever, Tori.” He takes a deep breath, and she can hear the air whistle between his teeth; he doesn’t need to breathe, she knows that, but she’s learned it’s a calming thing for him to do.

                “Well, if that is the case, do you mind if I ask what all this is for?” She gestures at his outfit, and he stuffs his hands into his pockets, though they come higher up on this jacket than on his normal hoodie, and he looks slightly more uncomfortable.

                “Uhm,” the blue on his face deepens, and then he lifts his eyes to meet her gaze for a moment. Hesitantly, he pulls one hand from his pocket, and raps his knuckles on the wooden counter. “Knock knock.”

                Oh, this game! She likes this game. She beams at him. “Who is there?”

                “Wood.” His answer comes straight away, though his voice is a bit shaky.

                Her eyebrow arches again. “’Wood’ who?”

                Sans’s grin stretches a bit, and he winks, pointing finger-guns at her. “Would you like to go out somewhere, tonight?” He tries to keep it cool, but sweat begins to bead on his skull, and his voice cracks a bit higher at the end of his sentence.

                Toriel gasps softly, her ears perking up slightly. For a single instant, she thinks she may have heard him wrong, but a second look at how incredibly flustered he is already, at how he’s trying to hide his anxiousness behind a shaky smile and wide eye-sockets… no, she hasn’t misheard anything.

                She glances up at the hallway, where she sees Papyrus beaming encouragingly, and he gives her the biggest double-thumbs-up he can muster.

                “I… I would love to, Sans.” She smiles down at him, warm and soft.

                For a second, he looks like his mind has gone completely blank, and then he’s beaming up at her, the lights in his eyes brighter than ever. “Holy crap,” he whispers, completely awed.

                Toriel giggles, and starts to say something further, when the tea kettle gives an angry shriek from behind her. She hurries to take it off the heat, and pours it into her mug. Pausing a moment, she looks over her shoulder at Sans, still standing next to the counter and grinning so hard his jaw might fall off. “Would you like some tea, dear?”

                “I’d love me some T.” He winks, and then realizes what just came out of his mouth. His face goes blue faster than ever, and he nearly falls over. “I mean! I mean I’d like some…! Oh my god. I. Yes, please, thank you, ma’am.” He yanks his hood up and over his face, and darts for the couch.

                Toriel has to slap a paw over her mouth to stifle the fit of giggles. She prepares both cups of tea and brings them to the coffee table, making a miraculous effort to restrain more giggles as she sees Sans curled up on the far corner, looking absolutely mortified with himself.

                “Do try to calm down some,” She manages, her smile crooked and scheming, “We cannot very well have our date if you’re falling apart over there.”

                He lifts his head, still very flushed, and manages a grin of his own. “What can I say? I guess I’m easily rattled.” He gives a heavy shudder for good measure, and the rattling of his bones is only slightly muffled by his jacket.

                They both share a laugh, and start in on their tea – such is the start to a good date.

~*~

                Flowey sits in the living room window, pointedly ignoring the two on the couch as they finish their tea and make plans to head out for the evening. He isn’t quite sure how he feels about the situation, but he can’t say he didn’t see it coming.

                He only wishes somebody would have moved him, first.

~*~

                Back at Kid’s party, things seem to be calming down. Ricky’s apology has been awkwardly-worded, but sincere, as he manages to go out of his way to avoid encroaching Frisks’ personal space, as well as giving Kid a wide berth when he can help it. Kid, on the other hand, has been receiving some kind of hero’s treatment, with monsters and humans alike patting them on the back and raising glasses of (mercifully still un-spiked) punch to their bravery.

                Kid doesn’t quite know how to handle themself, to be honest. They eventually decide to wait it out by resuming their seat on the sofa next to Frisk, who is looking a lot more at ease than they had before. Even still, when Kid turns to them to strike up conversation, they catch Frisk glaring icy daggers across the room at Ricky.

                Presently, a small group approaches, and Kid looks up to see three humans – the Smith kids, with Ricky in tow. He looks abashed and can’t bring himself to meet anyone’s gaze, simply electing to stare at the floor instead. In contrast, Rachel flashes a friendly smile and plops down next to Kid.

                “Hey, guys,” she chirps, her voice bright and clear. “My big bro and I just wanted to let you know we’re… sorry, for any trouble we caused.” She winces.

                “Huh?” Kid blinks. “I… don’t know what you’re talkin’ about. You guys are great.”

                “Yeah,” Billy sighs, running a hand through his neatly-cropped hair, “but still, we’re… kind of the ones who invited Ricky in the first place. I mean, so many other people were coming, and we didn’t want him to be left out.”

                Ricky groans, looking even more embarrassed, if it’s even possible. “Look, guys, you don’t gotta feel bad, I’m the one comin’ in here and –“

                “Yo, relax,” Kid grins, looking over each of the others in turn. “Sure, that little deal in the backyard’s been… a long time comin’, but, look, let’s just let bygones be bygones, yeah? Enjoy the party.”

                “Damn straight,” Mona’s voice pipes up from behind the couch, and the lavender-furred rabbit monster leans over the cushion to ruffle her scaly sibling’s head. Her eyes snap up toward Ricky again, and she gives a wide smile. “But if anyone else causes trouble around here, the next monster they’ll have to fight is gonna be me.”

                Ricky swallows a nervous lump in his throat, and Mona leaves with a wave and a laugh, though not before giving Ricky the “I’m watching you” gesture.

                All in all, back to normalcy.

~*~

                “… And so I told ‘em, ‘look, pal, I just don’t have the guts for that kind of stunt!’”

                Toriel absolutely howls with delight as they walk down the sidewalk, and Sans casts his gaze up at her, marveling at how her fangs glimmer in the streetlights. He begins to think he might just be able to live on that sound.

                “Sans, you’re too much!” she gasps, and rests a paw on his shoulder, wiping giddy tears from her eye. The top of his skull reaches just above her hip, and she has to lean down slightly for her paw to sink onto him, but she does it all the same.

                “And you’re using contractions,” he notes, lifting up his hand to brush over the paw on his shoulder. Her fur is so soft, it’s like his phalanges are sinking into clouds.

                She opens a copper eye, and winks. He barely manages to not do a double-take when he sees her pupils just might be heart-shaped at the moment. “I’m allowed to relax now and again, am I not?”

                Before he can reply, her paw shifts under his phalanges, and his hand is suddenly encased by her furry, padded digits. He nearly trips, and his eye-sockets widen as he stares at their joined hands.

                “Is… is this all right?” There’s a note of concern in her voice, and he lifts his gaze to meet hers. His grin softens, and widens, all at once, and he winks.

                “Better than that,” he chuckles. “It’s Tori-ffic.”

                She giggles, and the copper in her eyes seems to sparkle. “Good. Because I personally find it Sans-tastic.”

                Yep, her pupils are heart-shaped, all right. And if he could see himself, he might just realize the pinpricks of light in his own eyes have shifted to match.

~*~

                Papyrus is sitting on his bed, holding his phone against his ear, grinning like a child in a candy store.

                “YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN THEM, METTATON, THEIR JOKES ONLY GOT WORSE AND WORSE BEFORE I HAD TO SHOVE THEM OUT OF THE HOUSE! IT WAS FANTASTIC!!”

                The shadows across the room, gathered on the corner of Sans’s bed, have to agree; it was a beautiful sight, Sans and Toriel sitting on the couch, their tea all but forgotten as they almost seemed to lose each other in the fact that they didn’t have to hide their feelings anymore.

                The whole situation had been ridiculous, he thinks. It was hilarious, maybe; adorable; even a tiny bit touching; but completely ridiculous.

                A hollow hand reaches out to absently smooth the blanket he’s sitting on, and Papyrus pauses mid-sentence to stare at the spot, his bony brow furrowed, before he shrugs it off and starts up again without missing a beat.

                Gaster smiles to himself, tired, but happy, and lets his body pool off the bed. He glides across the room, well aware his younger son can’t see him, and leans close to the phone, curious on what the voice at the other end has to say on the subject.

                “Well, darling, all of this is simply wonderful~ I’ll tell anyone, those two make a damned adorable couple. We’ll simply have to have them out for a double date sometime!”

                Papyrus and Gaster both gasp, simultaneously. “WOWIE, METTATON, THAT’S A GREAT IDEA! WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF—HELLO? ARE YOU THERE?” Papyrus glances at his phone quickly, and Gaster surges backward, his face flushed a dark grey – he hadn’t been able to contain the shrill whine of excitement that had escaped him, and it had caused some feedback in the phone’s receiver.

                Affirmative tones from the other end, followed by a question.

                “I’M NOT SURE…” Papyrus narrows his eye-sockets again, scanning the room and “hmm”ing to himself. He lowers his voice, “Maybe… there’s a ghost?”

                Mettaton’s voice is laden with sarcasm and false indignation.

                “NONSENSE! THE ONLY GHOST MY METAPHORICAL HEART HAS ROOM FOR IS YOU! AND MAYBE YOUR COUSIN, BUT THAT IS MORE IN A PLATONIC SENSE!”

                Gaster relaxes, and gives a staticky sigh. It’s good to see his boys so happy.

~*~

                Later that night, Frisk sits on the front steps of Kid’s house, staring up at the stars and swaying side to side, deep in thought. All the other guests have left, but Frisk was determined to help clean up at least some of the mess, until they got the text from Sans saying he was on the way to get them.

                They’ve asked how the date with their mom went. They haven’t gotten an answer.

                Presently, the door behind them opens, and Kid comes out, with a mug of cocoa coiled in their tail. They sit next to Frisk, and offer them the drink, which is accepted with a smile. The two sit in companionable silence, enjoying the peaceful night air.

                “So… you think your mom and Sans went on that date?”

                Frisk shrugs, and takes a sip of their cocoa. Kid chuckles, and the silence resumes.

                No sooner does Frisk finish their drink, than does a familiar mini-van pull around the corner and roll to a stop at the end of the driveway. The horn gives the slightest ‘beep.’ And the passenger side window rolls down, revealing Sans’s wide grin. “Yo, kiddo, you ready to roll out?”

                Frisk smiles, and nods, standing to allow Kid some room on the steps to do the same. They both pause for a moment, glancing at each other.

                “Yo, you got a Christmas deal with your family, yeah?” Frisk nods in response, and Kid smiles. “Well, keep me posted. I wanna hear all about the sick loot you get!”

                Frisk hands over the empty mug, and when Kid takes it back, they sign, ‘Same goes from me to you. Also, I have something of yours.’

                “What, really? Did I drop someth-“

                Frisk grabs them by the collar of their ridiculous Christmas tree sweater, pulls them down to their level, and pecks them on the cheek. They leave Kid a grinning mess on the steps, waving them off as they head toward the van.

                Sans and Toriel both laugh as Frisk slides into their seat and buckles in. “Wow, I gotta hand it to ya, bud, you sure got that whole flirting business down.” Sans chuckles a bit more, shaking his head.

                ‘Speaking of which,’ Frisk signs into the rearview mirror, getting Sans’s attention, ‘how’s ‘operation smooch-my-mom-already’ going?’

                Sans blushes a bit blue, and rests his hand on Toriel’s paw. “Pretty well I think, bucko.” He casts his gaze out the window, as Toriel directs the van down the street. “Pretty darn well.”

Chapter Text

~*~

                Frisk awakens to the feeling of something pelting against their cheek. They groan, waving an arm groggily, and roll over to their side, their back facing the rest of their room.

                There’s a quiet grumble from behind them, and something else pelts their back. Frisk scowls and shuts their eyes tighter, bracing themself for the onslaught of “friendliness pellets” from the plant on their desk, but they don’t come.

                Instead, there’s the distinct sound of a pot dragging itself across the wooden surface.

                Groaning again, Frisk sits upright and rolls about to face Flowey, who’s dragged himself halfway across the desk from his normal spot at the window. The moon is still out, and the alarm clock on Frisk’s nightstand reads 4:23 AM.

                ‘What?’ Frisk signs sharply, pouting.

                Flowey is regarding them with a strange expression, not only hard to read, but hard to make out in the dim light. “You’re the one who got them together, aren’t you?”

                ‘What are you talking about, bro?’ Frisk groans yet again. ‘It’s the middle of the night.’

                “Sans. And, and Mom,” Flowey cringes, and seems to have wrapped a couple vines around himself. “You got them to finally admit they liked each other, huh.” It’s not a question.

                Frisk shrugs. ‘Yeah, I did. They seem happier now.’

                “Yeah, well, I’m not!” Flowey grimaces. “You do remember what kinds of hell that smiley trashbag put me through – put us both through? And that’s … that’s Mom we’re talking about! How can you be okay with that?!”

                A frown pulls at the corners of Frisk’s mouth. They don’t like remembering those timelines, any timeline, really, besides the current. Redirecting the subject, they sign slowly, ‘Would you rather Mom be lonely?’

                “YES!” Flowey hisses, and then looks immediately taken aback. “I mean, no, of course not! Just… Why can’t she go back with Dad, then? At least they wouldn’t make me wish I could vomit.”

                Frisk shrugs. ‘You and I both know it’s going to be years before they’re even on proper speaking terms.’ They sigh, adding, ‘I just hope Christmas goes smoothly.’

                It’s Flowey’s turn to groan, and he turns about, snaking two vines out of his pot to begin the process of dragging himself back to his prior position. He mutters under his breath, settling into his spot without a further word to Frisk.

                Hefting a sigh, Frisk flops back onto the mattress and stares at their ceiling.

                They’re starting to have a few uncertain thoughts about this upcoming weekend.

~*~

                Papyrus loves his job. In fact, that’s probably an understatement; this is probably the best job he could ever have found on the surface. When the holidays come around, it only ever gets better. The mall is littered with oversized decorations, Christmas music plays over the PA, and just a short few yards from the food court, in the shadow of an absolutely gigantic Christmas tree, sits the coup d’grace.

                Santa.

                If Papyrus had flesh over his bones, his knuckles would be white from how tightly he’s gripping the handlebars of his Segway. He tries his hardest not to look for too long, but he ends up glancing over anyway. There’s a small child with curly blonde pigtails sitting on Santa’s lap, rattling off a long list of various things she wants for Christmas. He gives a deep-bellied laugh, and Papyrus sighs wistfully, turning his attention back to his patrol.

                It’s the same every year, he knows that. Some human who vaguely fits the part is hired to sit in a massive holiday throne, and get pictures taken with all the children. Papyrus remembers vaguely when Asgore used to do something similar with the kids in Snowdin, and he even remembers when he was one of those little kids.

                He frowns a little bit at the memory; this human has nothing on Asgore’s Santa. He isn’t anywhere near as big, fluffy, and huggable. Even still, somehow… it’s Santa.

                Sighing, he turns the corner and rolls off, leaving the massive tree and the holiday display far out of his view. No rest for the weary, he hums, and is only brought out of his reverie when he nearly runs over one of his fellow officers.

                She hops out of the way just in time, and he jerks his two-wheeled vehicle to a halt. “HUMAN!!” He cries, slapping a hand to his uniformed chest – the rattling of his ribs is audible through his clothes. “HUMAN, ARE YOU ALL RIGHT!?”

                “Yeah, Papyrus, I’m fine,” she laughs, brushing off her sleeve and grinning at him. She’s a shorter, stout woman, with dark hair and glasses. “You look kind of distracted. Something on your mind?”

                “NOTHING WHATSOEVER,” he claims, far too quickly. “CERTAINLY NOTHING TO DO WITH THE JOLLY FAT MAN SMILING AND TAKING PICTURES WITH THE HUMAN CHILDREN.” If he had cheeks, he would most certainly be puffing them.

                The human, her name badge naming her Emily, laughs to herself. “Is that so, big guy?”

                Papyrus glances back in her direction, rocking back and forth, the wheels of his Segway whirring softly as it follows his motion. “… NO, I’M SORRY, THAT WAS A LIE.” He huffs, and continues, “IT’S JUST THAT, EVERY YEAR, I KIND OF, SORT OF, WANT TO GO AND, YOU KNOW, GET MY OWN PICTURE DONE???? WITH SANTA????” He gives a small, nervous “nyeh,” “BECAUSE, WE USED TO HAVE SOMETHING LIKE THIS BACK UNDERGROUND, BUT IT STOPPED SHORTLY AFTER THE FIRST HUMAN FELL, AND I DON’T HAVE ANY OF THESE,” he shifts his gaze around almost furtively, leans closer to Emily’s ear, and stage-whispers, “PHOTOGRAPHS, OF THE EVENT.”

                His co-worker, and several passers-by, are all making valiant attempts not to laugh, or to smile too hard. “He always leaves before your shift is up, huh, buddy?”

                “YES!!” He’s back to full volume, throwing his hands up in the air. “IT’S UNFAIR!!!”

                Emily smiles to herself for a moment, rolling her lip between her teeth as she ponders. “You know what, Papyrus, here: let me take up the last part of your shift. I’ve had a light load today, and you work so hard all the time, you could use a break.”

                Papyrus balks, almost falling off the Segway. “WHAT!? BUT, HUMAN—“

                “No buts, buddy,” she laughs, waving off his protest. “Today’s your last day before you’re off, anyway, right? Go on, have some fun. She gives a little wink, and adds, “consider it my Christmas gift to you.”

                Orange stars glitter in Papyrus’s eye-sockets. “WOWIE…! THAT IS VERY KIND OF YOU!”

                She smiles. Papyrus doesn’t realize how much life he’s brought to this dull job since he’s been hired on, or how thankful some of his coworkers are that he’s got enthusiasm enough for all of them. She hopes that maybe this will help him realize. “Don’t worry about it, man. Just go have fun.”

                “I WILL! BUT OH!” He hops off the Segway, and pushes it gently toward her. “YOUR FEET WILL GET TIRED FROM ALL THE WALKING, HUMAN! PLEASE LET ME THANK YOU BY LETTING YOU BORROW MY SPECIAL NYOOM DEVICE!”

                “Thank you, Papyrus,” she says, breathless and trying not to laugh; he’s so precious. She steps onto the Segway, adjusts the handle to better fit her height, then waves and “nyoom”s away.

                Papyrus waves for a good minute, then whirls on his heel and jogs away to go clock out.

                He has an appointment with a jolly, smiling man.

~*~

                Sans is just stepping out of the bathroom, fresh and dressed from a shower, when the apartment door flies open, revealing Papyrus sporting the brightest grin Sans has seen in ages.

                “Sup, bro?”

                “FOR ONCE, YOU DON’T ACTUALLY KNOW WHAT’S ‘SUP,’ BROTHER!!!” Papyrus cackles loudly, his ‘nyeh-heh-heh!’ booming to the heavens. “FOR YOU SEE, I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, HAVE FULFILLED A DREAM OF MINE. A DREAM I HAVE HELD SINCE GAINING MY NEW MALL-SECURITY-ENFORCEMENT JOB. AT THE MALL.”

                Sans chuckles, and tilts his skull. “And what’s that, bro?”

                Papyrus brandishes a large envelope, whipping it out from under his arm, and hands it to the shorter skeleton with a look of utmost triumph. He says nothing, only nods for Sans to open it.

                When he does, and sees what’s inside, his eyes widen, and he almost feels like his soul is melting. Before him are photographs, in various sizes, of Papyrus sitting on the lap of a human Santa in his full mall cop uniform, grinning like a child.

                “Bro, these are fantastic,” Sans beams up at the taller skeleton, whose expression is mirroring the one he’s wearing in the photos. “I gotta go find a frame, we gotta stick this shit on the mantle where it belongs.”

                “MY THOUGHTS EXACTLY, BROTHER!”

~*~

                The automatic door to the building slides open coolly, admitting both a gust of chilly, late afternoon wind, and a large figure with long horns that arch backwards from his head. Asgore takes a hesitant step over the threshold, and inhales deeply. He’s even more nervous today than he had been on his last visit, just a couple of weeks ago. The bags of gifts in his hands weigh heavily, though their contents can’t be more than a few pounds at the most.

                After a few moments, the receptionist pops out from behind the counter, chirping a cheerful “hOI” before freezing in place, eyes bulging wide in excitement.

                “O!!” The receptionist cries, patting tiny white paws against fluffy white cheeks, “u… ASGOR!! wOA, such… BIG HONOR!!”

                With a short laugh, Asgore finally takes a few steps into the lobby. “Well, howdy, Temmie. I hope you’ve had a good holiday season so far.”

                The receptionist begins to vibrate, and smiles broadly. “Tem boss giv tem… sO MANY TEM FLAKE     S! Tem v hapy.”

                “Well, that is good to hear.” Asgore chuckles. “But what about your, erm, family? You live so far away.”

                “p…” The receptionist scoffs lightly, waving a paw as if to dismiss his concern, and then falls quiet. “Tem… Tem miss tem friends. B!!! Tat ok.” Lifting a paw to rub at one of the larger, dangling ears, the receptionist adds, “Tem also v allergic to tem friends.”

                As if to prove a point, there’s a tiny squeak, and a single, red hOIV appears on the receptionist’s face.

                “Tem betr of her,” the receptionist finishes, lifting another paw to begin vigorously patting at the hOIV in a valiant attempt to alleviate the itch.

                “Ahah, right.” Asgore grins, and sighs, rolling his shoulders and stepping toward the elevator. “Well, Temmie, you take care of yourself. And… Merry Christmas.”

                “MERR CHRISMUN!!!” The receptionist shrieks. The paw patting the hOIV is an indeterminable blur. “HAP HALL-DAY!!!”

                The boss monster crowds himself into the elevator and smiles. At the very least, he’s been able to make one monster’s holidays a little happier.

                Two humans hurry inside before the doors can slide shut, a disgruntled-looking brunette woman, and her tall, blond son. The woman refuses to look at Asgore, but the teen looks up at him and offers a quiet, nervous smile. Asgore returns it with a polite nod, and the elevator rumbles as they travel up to the same floor.

~*~

                Stockings are stuffed, the tree is lit, and there are several packets of cocoa waiting on the counter. A clock ticks somewhere in the room, but she’s trying to ignore it, staring down at her phone in disbelief.

                Sorry hun, called into the office last minute, huge break on a case, can’t wait. I left my gifts for the kids under the tree. I’ll see you all on Monday.

                No “I love you” or “Give the kids hugs from me.” Typical.

                Linda sets her jaw, and a part of her wishes she’d bought some actual wine for the occasion, instead of the non-alcoholic sparkling grape cider that’s clogging up space in the fridge. That part of her is silenced by the rest of her, as she reminds herself that Robert would have simply taken it with him for his weekend Firm Emergency.

                Huffing in agitation, she turns off her phone and shoves it into her handbag, which she takes with her into the kitchen. Any minute now, her kids will be coming out of their rooms in full Christmas Attire, and she’d better get the cocoa ready for when they do. She puts on the kettle to boil, and begins to retrieve mugs from a cupboard: one for her; two for her children; and two for their guests.

                She refuses to think about anything while she opens the packets and pours one into each mug, treating the task like it’s the singular, most important thing in her life at that moment. She refuses to acknowledge the dull aching in her chest, or the buzzing, hot feeling in her eyes.

                That is, until the packets are all empty, and she’s left standing in the silent kitchen on Christmas day, waiting for the damn kettle to boil, and gritting her teeth against the blaring fact in her mind that her husband genuinely doesn’t seem to give a shit about her or their children.

                She’s glad she invested in waterproof makeup.

                Once she gets the cocoas made and set out on the breakfast bar, and has dabbed the tears from her face with a paper towel, two doors down the hall open almost simultaneously, and a firm, rapping knock comes from the front door.

                “I’ll get it, mom!” Rachel beams, dashing past the breakfast bar with lights in her eyes. Her brother grabs two cocoas from the bar and flashes his mother a smile before shuffling into the living room to claim two seats on the couch.

                Linda leans against the bar and sighs, but a tired smile finds its way across her lips as the front door opens, and Helen and Ricky Snyder step inside, giving Rachel quick hugs before bustling into the apartment proper.

                “Merry Christmas, Linda, sweetie,” Helen chimes, wrapping the blonde woman in a gentle hug. Lowering her voice, she whispers, “You didn’t tell me there were monsters living on your floor…!”

                For half a second, Linda forgets that she hasn’t told her friend about her husband. Inside, she begins to laugh bitterly. “Yes, actually, I only realized it pretty recently myself. Would you believe Sans is one of them?”

                “No,” Helen gasps, looking genuinely mortified, and Linda lets herself giggle a bit at her friend’s expression. They both retrieve a cocoa, and join their children in the living room, Helen already starting in about her own husband, rambling about how her poor Paulie works himself so hard down at the supermarket, taking on extra hours for the holidays so his employees can go have Christmas with their families, “But that’s okay, y’know, because he already did presents with me and Ricky yesterday.”

                Linda sips cocoa through tight lips, and forces a smile. Robert left yesterday morning, before the kids were even awake, and never said a word until that text earlier today.

~*~

                Frisk hasn’t felt so nervous and excited since their last diplomatic meeting. In a sense, they feel like they’re going to have to play that part today, too, between Asgore and Toriel.

                Flowey sticks out his tongue as they pull their oversized sweater over their head. “Gross. Do you always have to change in front of me, you weirdo?”

                Rolling their eyes, they sign, ‘You’re perfectly capable of turning around, you know.’

                He scoffs. “Yeah, but it’s the principle, you freak.”

                They elect to ignore him. Crossing the room, they pick up his pot and head toward their door. As they step through and out into the living room, they see Asgore has already arrived.

                “Merry Christmas, my child,” He beams, and holds up his gift bags. “I, erm, brought these.”

                “Yes, of course,” Toriel says hurriedly, shuffling in from the kitchen and taking the bags. “I’ll set these under the tree.” Her voice is curt, but Frisk is relieved to see she’s at least trying to be civil.

                Frisk, with their hands full of Floweypot, can’t currently sign, so they flash a grin instead. They move to the living room, where the furniture has been shifted around to form a semi-circular seating arrangement, with the sofa against the wall across from the mantle, a two-cushioned loveseat sitting at the sofa’s right, with its back to the breakfast bar, and a large armchair across from the loveseat and next to the Christmas tree. Between the arm of the sofa and the armchair is an end table, and this becomes Flowey’s seat for the evening, as Frisk sets him down and slaps a shiny, festive ribbon onto his clay pot.

                “Ha, ha,” he rolls his eyes, looking embarrassed, “You’re hilarious.”

                He likes it, don’t let him lie to you. He’s always been one for frilly flair. Frisk giggles softly.

                Presently, everyone begins to settle in. Papyrus claims the seat closest to Flowey, insisting he wants to help him feel welcome (and even the plant can’t bring himself to say no to Papyrus’s charms), while Frisk sits beside him, in the middle of the sofa. Sans claims one half of the loveseat, and Asgore is gently ushered by Frisk’s darting gaze to the large, plush armchair by the tree. In his big, maroon sweater, he almost looks like Santa himself. Papyrus proclaims as much, and the ex-king of monsters gives a deep, jolly laugh.

                Yeah, ‘Mr. Dad Guy’ always made the best Santa, even if we all could see through his costume.

                Toriel enters the room with her famous butterscotch-cinnamon pie, and distributes a slice to everyone. Well, everyone but Flowey. As Toriel takes her seat, Frisk leans around Papyrus to ask if the plant wants a slice, but at seeing the expression on his face, they decide not to.

                He was always weird about that pie after the first accident. I kept telling him she never actually put buttercups in it. He said he didn’t care.

                Halfway through the pie, the front door flies open with a bang, and Undyne strolls into the room, wearing a bright red sweater with a lit-up Christmas tree – that actually lights up. She’s half-dragging a grinning Alphys behind her, and the scientist seems to be wearing a matching sweater, along with her fluffy white hat with the kitty ears. Behind the two of them are Mettaton, currently in his EX form and also wearing a god-awful sweater, much to everyone’s surprise, and Napstablook, who seems to have cried themself a pair of reindeer antlers, in the spirit of the holidays.

                Undyne plants herself by the tree, directly in front of the mantle, and pulls Alphys onto her lap. Mettaton shimmies himself between Papyrus and Frisk on the sofa, and Napstablook lowers themself directly at Frisk’s other side.

                Nobody seems to really notice that the entire rightmost cushion on the sofa is left wide open. Nobody, that is, except for Frisk and Sans, who can see the dripping mass of shadows pooled upon it, and the pale, smiling face scanning the room as he wrings his hollow hands with nervous energy. Only they can hear his contented buzzing.

                With everyone settled, Toriel claps her paws together, gathering everyone’s attention and quieting the pleasant hum of chatter in the room. “Well! Now that everyone is here, it’s time for presents. Now, why don’t we-“

                “PRESENTS!!!!!” Papyrus shrieks, throwing both arms in the air, nearly throwing Mettaton off the couch. “ME FIRST! ME ME ME! PLEASE, YOUR MAJESTY, PLEASE LET ME GO FIRST!!”

                Deep down, there’s a pang of jealousy in Frisk’s chest. What if we wanted to go first?  Frisk only giggles some more.

                “Of course, Papyrus, dear,” Toriel chuckles, sitting back and draping an arm over Sans’s shoulders, “you can go first. Then Mettaton will go, and then Frisk, and so on, around the room.”

                ‘I’ll pass the presents!’ Frisk signs excitedly, and leaps up from their seat to dash under the tree.

~*~

                You know, everything seems to be going so well! Mom and Dad are more-or-less getting along, everyone’s laughing… Hey, look, Undyne’s practically screaming over that meat tenderizer you got her. See? I told you the one that said “POUND THE F***ING BODY” on the handle was the best! You should listen to me, more.

                And you certainly love to enable those skeletons’ odd senses of style, don’t you? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. ‘Cool uncle’ and ‘cool nibling’ is probably the best matching-t-shirt present you could have gotten for Papyrus there. The tye-dye colors are a nice touch. … Hey, oh my god, Sans has been sitting there starry-eyed over his ‘#1 dunkle’ turtleneck for the past ten minutes; he keeps showing it to Mom and making faces like ‘I’m the #1 dunkle, Tori!’ I think it’s the font you chose. That really made the deal on that one.

                You could probably even say it was a slam dunk. Eh? Ehhhh?

                Aw, come on, you’re laughing on the inside.

                …

                ……..

                ………..

                You were so worried that today was going to be a disaster. It still could be, for all you know, but you keep on, content in the moment that maybe, just maybe, everything’s going to work out for the best.

                You know that there’s a way you can make sure it does work out for the best.

                Don’t get snide with me! It’s always an option. It’s just one you refuse to accept anymore. You like making your life harder on yourself, don’t you?

                You really should listen to me, more.

                …

                ………

                …………..

                Look at how he’s smiling. It’s just like Christmas back home. Look, look, he’s doing the King Dad pose, with that ridiculous smile! Oh, man, is Asriel seeing this!? Holy crap, he is! Look, his eyes are bronze again! Haha, what a sap.

                … What? Don’t look at me like that.

                …

                ………

                ……………..

                You know, everyone’s opened their presents already. Even you. You all got some neat stuff. Alphys seems really happy with those gloves you got her – they fit so nicely, and they match her hat, too! Mom is dying of laughter over there at the annotations we made in that pastry cookbook we got her, and Dad really seems to like that teacup we got him for his collection, the one with the snails and the flowers on it. Your uncle Mettaton is just swooning over that throw pillow with your picture on it. That was a stroke of genius you had there, those gaudy sunglasses, that pose, that face your making, and then the text at the bottom – “My #1 fan” – If he could, that robot would crap himself. You even got little Napstablook a new seat of headphones! They love ‘em.

                … Wait. We’re missing somebody…

~*~

                Indeed, all the gifts have been opened. The floor is a sea of wrapping paper, and those who are sitting close together seem to have given up on trying to keep their piles of presents separate from anyone else’s.

                Frisk is beaming, sitting between Mettaton and Napstablook, only half-listening to the banter and chatter around them as they focus on their own, internal dialogue. The other one has been a lot more talkative today; Frisk can only assume it has something to do with their old family all being in one room.

                … Wait. We’re missing somebody…

                Frisk flinches, and cranes their neck around Mettaton and Papyrus to look at Flowey. He’s been sitting in silence this whole time, wearing an unreadable expression as presents get passed out to everyone but him.

                He’s been skipped, every cycle.

                Frisk frowns, pursing their lips, and slips off the couch to crawl back under the tree. The conversation around them doesn’t miss a beat, and they don’t bother to check if anyone is watching.

                They’ve missed something. They’ve missed it, and they just have to – a-HA!

                They wriggle out from under the tree, hair mussed, but proudly holding a small, wrapped box in their hands. Wheeling about on their heel, they march toward Flowey, and set the gift in front of him.

                He stares at the box like it’s just insulted his existence. “What is this.”

                ‘A gift, what’s it look like?’ Frisk grins. ‘It’s for you.’

                Flowey looks up at them, grimacing. He keeps his voice low, not wanting to attract attention to himself; the others are still chattering between each other. “I don’t want your pity presents.”

                Frisk rolls their eyes so hard they might just crack the ceiling. ‘You know I don’t give pity, bro.’ They keep their signs small and subtle, following Flowey’s lead in not drawing attention to their exchange.

                “Whatever! Don’t patronize me, you weirdo,” he hisses, eyes going black, but Frisk isn’t phased.

                ‘Just open the damn thing, I promise you’ll like it,’ they insist.

                Huffing, Flowey snakes out a pair of vines, and picks up the package by wrapping one of them around it. He prods the box, and shakes it, only to hear a gentle rustling inside. Scowling, he proceeds to tear into the paper, and then yanking off the top flaps, to reveal…

                … A small stuffed bear, no larger than five inches, crafted of caramel-colored corduroy, and sporting purple button-eyes. He goes silent, lifting the bear out of the box and setting it gingerly on the table with his vines, before retracting them back into his pot and leaning down to get a better look at the thing. His face is inscrutable.

                Frisk waves their hand lightly to get his attention, and when he looks up at them, they sign slowly.

                ‘I had a little help, with this one.’ They pat their chest lightly, and Flowey’s eyes go wide.

                When he can’t bring himself to reply, Frisk picks up the bear and sets it down in the pot next to Flowey’s stem, letting it lean lightly against him in a sitting position. He glances down at it, then back up to Frisk, and they sign once more.

                ‘… They wanted to say ‘sorry,’ for leaving you all alone.’

                Frisk leaves him with a soft smile, and returns to their seat. Flowey sits for the rest of the evening with a straight face, slowly letting more of his vines coil around the bear at his side as time goes on.

~*~

                The evening grows later, and presently, the guests decide it’s time to leave. Mettaton and Napstablook are the first to go, but not before Mettaton demands that everyone huddle around the tree and the remnants of the presents for a group picture.

                After the cousins leave, Undyne snatches a photo frame off the mantle. “HOLY CRAP! Papyrus, is that you with mall Santa!?”

                “YOU BET YOUR FINE FRIENDY FINS IT IS!!!”

                “THAT’S AWESOME!!” She howls, and after the picture has made about three rounds around the room, Undyne returns it to its place on the mantle, and stretches.

                “Well, nerds, it’s been fun, but Alph and I gotta head home.” She grins, and gives her girlfriend a playful noogie. “There’s a couple holiday OVAs we need to catch!”

                As they make their way out, everyone else settles back into their seats. Papyrus chats with Asgore about their various gifts, Toriel is leaning over Sans, engrossed with showing him the heavily-and-hilariously-annotated pages of her new recipe-book (“oh my god, T, they added suggested snail substitutions for this tart, they thought of everything”), and Frisk is sitting back on the couch, their head tilted back and their eyes closed.

                So far, so good.

                A gentle tap on their shoulder catches their attention, and they open one eye slightly to see a pale, smiling face gazing down at them. Grinning back, they open their eyes the rest of the way and sit up, as hollow hands begin signing to them.

                ‘Thank you for telling me to come, young one. I have enjoyed myself.’

                Frisk beams, and signs back, keeping their gestures subtle to avoid catching anyone’s eye, ‘I’m glad you came. But you better stick around, later! I have something for you, too, grandpa.’

                Gaster’s face darkens across his distorted cheekbones, and he lets out a series of flustered chirps. ‘Goodness, for me? You shouldn’t have, young one, you know I can’t-‘

                Frisk shakes their head slightly, but firmly, and sign back, ‘Just come by my room, later. We’ll have tea, and I’ll give it to you then.’

                ‘… Very well.’ He smiles, and lets himself settle into the sofa. Frisk smiles, and follows suit.

                Yes, even still, a good day so far.

~*~

                Half an hour later, Asgore is making the short walk from the building’s door to where his SUV is parked, laden with a few bags of gifts, and feeling, overall, pretty pleased with how the evening has gone. Upon reaching his car, he unlocks the passenger side door and carefully arranges his gift bags in the seat and floorboard so nothing will fall and be broken. Right as he’s about to close the door, he hears soft, familiar footsteps approaching him across the parking lot.

                “Dreemurr.”

                His soul does leaps, and he makes a brave effort to act casual as he turns about to greet her. “Oh, howdy, Toriel. Did I leave something?”

                “No, actually, I came here to talk with you.” She comes to a halt a few feet away from him, and clasps her paws together. “I would like to thank you, for coming out. It was… a lot nicer, than I expected, having you here.” Before he can answer, she adds, “I would also like to apologize, for acting so coldly to you, before. It was wrong of me, to have held a grudge this long.” She sighs. “I … still cannot completely forgive what you’ve done, but I will try and get past that, for Frisk’s sake, if nothing else.”

                Asgore sighs, and nods. “Of course.”

                After a short silence, Toriel glances up at him, and begins slowly, “there is one more thing, Asgore.”

                “Hm?”

                “Did Frisk seem… strange, to you, today? Or the flower, even, for that matter?”

                He can’t tell if he feels relieved or unnerved. “I thought I had been the only one who noticed. I swear I saw the flower’s eyes change colors, once or twice.”

                Toriel nods, slowly. “And Frisk would sometimes laugh when no-one had said anything, and… once, I swear I saw them stare at you for a solid two minutes, looking… sad.”

                Asgore gives a bitter laugh, and looks at Toriel with tired eyes. “Yes, I saw that. For a moment, it was almost like…” His voice catches in his throat; he doesn’t want to say it. “It was almost like we had them back, for a moment.”

                He expects Toriel to get angry, to threaten him, anything; but what he doesn’t expect is how she nods slowly, and casts her gaze downward. “… I felt the same.”

                The wind howls softly between the apartment buildings, and neither of them can find the words to say.

~*~

                The door opens and closes again.

                “Ya catch ‘im, T?”

                “Yes,” she sighs, sitting heavily on the loveseat beside Sans, who hasn’t moved an inch since everyone else left the room. “I did. We… talked.”

                The skeleton leans his skull on her arm, looking up at her, trying to read her face. “And?”

                “He said he’d noticed the same things I had, tonight,” Toriel glances back down at Sans, and gives him a tired smile. “Really, you shouldn’t worry.”

                “Welp, too late,” he shrugs, “no bones about it, Tori, you are definitely on ol’ Sansy’s worry-list.”

                She gives a soft laugh, and nudges him playfully. “Well, is there any way I can get off said list?”

                He hardly skips a beat, but he doesn’t quite meet her eye, either. “Let me stay with you, tonight.”

                Her eyes widen, and her face begins to burn. “Sans! My goodness, and so bold…!”

                “No, nothing like,” he huffs, his skull almost entirely blue, “nothing… you know, nothing like that. Just… let me make sure you’re okay.”

                The smile is back as if it never left, and with a bit of a vengeance. “Well, if that is all, then I suppose I wouldn’t mind.”

                “Wow. Great. Cool, um.” His grin is mirroring her own. “Lemme just, uh, make sure Paps gets his bedtime story, and I’ll… meetcha in there, I guess…?” His voice cracks a bit, and pitches slightly higher.

                She giggles, and stands. “Of course. Wear something comfortable, dear.”

                Bluer than ever before, he mumbles dazedly, “eeyup, lemme just slide on into something more comfortable…” and beats a hasty retreat for his and Papyrus’s shared room.

                Toriel laughs to herself, and heads for her own room.

~*~

                Flowey had asked to be left in the kitchen windowsill after the Christmas festivities were over with, and so there he sits now, leaning his head against the pane and staring out at the moonlight.

                The small corduroy bear is no longer ensnared by his vines; instead, he simply runs a single vine over its head and down its back, letting the ridged texture of its fabric soothe his mind. After all this time, they still remembered how much he liked corduroy. He chuckles dryly.

                Despite everything, it’s still them.

~*~

                Frisk is glad their brother decided to spend the night in the kitchen window; it gives them some well-needed time with their favorite grandpa, without making them have to be the meanie and kick Flowey out.

                Gaster is sitting at their desk chair, and Frisk is sitting on their bed, and they both sip at their tea in companionable silence for several moments. Gaster finishes his, first, and sets the cup gently on the desk.

                ‘So, young one, you said earlier that you had something for me?’

                Frisk nods, grinning, and sets their cup on the nightstand, before hopping off their bed. They hold up one finger, before dashing out of the room. They return in less than half a minute, carrying a stocking in their hands. They set it on the desk beside Gaster’s empty teacup, and resume their cross-legged seat on their bed. ‘Well? Dump it out! See what you got!’

                Gaster’s smile goes wobbly for a moment. He had noticed the extra stocking that had been put up this year, but for whatever reason, he would never have expected it to have been for him. Gingerly, he picks up the glorified sock with his long, spindly fingers, and carefully pours its contents onto the desk before himself.

                … Photographs. Dozens of photographs, each one different from the others. He picks one up at random: Papyrus at the mall, giving a lost child a ride on his Segway. Flipping it over, he sees a sentence, written out in Frisk’s handwriting. “Always ask for help when you need it.”

                He picks up another. It’s of Toriel and Frisk, except Frisk is wearing a striped sweater, and looks smaller than they are now. They’re walking toward a large building, one Gaster recognizes as the elementary school Toriel works at. The back of this one reads, “It’s okay to be scared. You have people who can help you.”

                He keeps looking through the photos, and each one is a different scene, a different memory, with a different uplifting comment written on the back. He feels his shattered soul bubbling with warmth at each new one, and he starts placing them into his body, like he does with the little notes Frisk leaves him. Halfway through, his hands begin shaking. Three-fourths through, he’s emitting a low, trembling warble. By the time he reaches the last photo, there are black, inky tears leaking from his hollow eye-sockets.

                He holds the last picture carefully in his long phalanges, and focuses on holding himself steady enough to see it properly. When he does, his warbling becomes a low wail.

                It’s Frisk, Sans, and Papyrus, all beaming into the camera and bunched together on the sofa. But in the background, just over the top of Sans’s skull, an oblong, shadowy figure with a white face and hollowed hands can just be made out, turning a fond gaze toward the three main subjects.

                Gaster checks the back of the photograph, and covers his cracked, trembling mouth with one hand. He crumbles into haunting sobs, his voice sounding less distorted than ever, sounding like actual sobbing as opposed to static and screeches.

                “Thank you,” his words come out clear, spoken in a weak, breathy voice, only slightly buzzing around the edges. “Thank you, child.”

                Frisk says nothing, only stands from their seat and throwing their arms around the old, goopy skeleton. He hugs them back, continuing to gently sob against their shoulder, his thick, black tears rolling off the fabric of their shirt like oil off water.

                Though they know saying so might ruin the moment, it’s the most solid hug they’ve ever gotten from him.

                When finally they pull away from each other, Gaster still clutching the photograph as though his limited existence entirely depended on it, Frisk beams up at him, and signs, ‘Merry Christmas, Grandpa G.’

                “Merry Christmas, young one.” Gaster’s voice is still soft and clearer than ever, and he touches Frisk’s face, gently. “And thank you, so very, very much.”

                Frisk leans into his touch and smiles at him. Presently, he turns about and heads for the shadows, already feeling the drain from shifting to a more corporeal form. As Frisk crawls into bed, and Gaster prepares to slip into the darkness again, he takes one more look at the faces in the photo, smiles, and flips it over to read the back again.

                Only one word, this time: “Family.”

Chapter Text

~*~

                It’s the day before New Year’s Eve, about ten in the morning, and Frisk is sitting at one end of a long table, dressed sharply in a grey pin-striped blazer and matching slacks, with a pin over their chest bearing the Delta Rune. Asgore sits at their right-hand side, his paws folded neatly on the table before him as he alternates between looking over the various other humans at the table, and eyeing Frisk, seeing if they are all right.

                Frisk’s face is unreadable, at the moment, as they listen to one of the suited monkeys rattle off his spontaneous proposition.

                “Honestly, I’m really sick of it, and I feel my constituents would agree.” He sneers, his beady eyes hardly visible beneath his creased brow and his regrettable hairpiece. “For eight years, we’ve had to put up with these things running around like they think they’re people, taking jobs that belong to us, costing the government billions of dollars in welfare when they’re too lazy to get jobs, and now they want voting rights, too!?” Spittle sprays from his lips as he speaks.

                “Mr. Lump, with all due respect –“ a neatly-dressed female senator begins, but he cuts her off before she can speak another word.

                “The only ‘respect’ I’m interested in, Karen, is for these animals to respect our borders, and go back where they came from!” He rounds his beady-eyed gaze on Asgore, this time, and the boss monster winces visibly. One of his paws grips at the edge of the table, causing it to creak.

                There’s a poignant pause, which is broken after only a moment of silence by a slow clap.

                All eyes dart to Frisk, who’s smirking slightly and shaking their head as they deliver their sarcastic applause. After they’re sure they have everyone’s attention, they sign clearly, still wearing the smirk, and the woman at their left – appointed as a third-party translator – reads their signs aloud for the rest of the room to hear.

                “Ambassador Dreemurr would like to congratulate you, Mr. Lump, on letting the rest of us realize how much of a bigoted as—ahem, jerk, you are.” The woman looks slightly flushed, clearly mortified at the thought that this teenager was confident enough to use such language in a room full of stiffly-tailored bureaucrats.

                The man in question goes red in the face, and furious sweat beads on his forehead. “I’m sorry, little girl, what did you just call me?”

                Frisk resumes signing, locking eyes with the man, and their translator keeps talking, keeping her voice even. “The Ambassador is confident that you aren’t quite as stupid as you let on, Mr. Lump.” She swallows, eyes locked on Frisk’s hands, and continues, “Furthermore, they would like to remind you of two things, the first being that they are not a girl, and the second being that none of the people here have to listen to you, simply because you managed to buy your way in here.”

                The hairpiece is threatening to slide off the man’s head, with how much he’s sweating. He begins to sputter, absolutely fuming. “Now, now see here, little boy-“

                “Not a boy, either,” the translator interjects, without even a gesture from Frisk, and though she’s blushing furiously, she doesn’t back down.

                Mr. Lump shoots her a vicious sneer, before turning back to Frisk. “Whatever you are, you listen here. You better learn to respect your betters, or else things might get ugly for you.”

                Several of the other people in the room round scrutinizing glares on the man. “Mr. Lump, did you just threaten the ambassador?” The same senator from before is the one to speak.

                The next several moments erupt into chaos, as Mr. Lump tries to shrug out of the grip of the two security officers called in to remove him, and puts up a hell of a fuss as he’s eventually dragged from the room. As the door shuts in his wake, the table settles into a stunned silence, until Frisk raps on its surface with their knuckles to gain everyone’s attention.

                They sign, the woman at their left translates. “The Ambassador seems to think that he was trying to lump some trouble onto them.”

                The tension wavers in the room, and some of the politicians slap hands to their mouths to stifle the snickering.

                Frisk grins, and signs again, their translator barely managing to keep the laughter out of her voice: “They also believe that if he hadn’t been removed soon, there would be hell toupee…!

                And that’s when Frisk gets an entire conference room full of grown, professional adults to howl with laughter.

~*~

                Sans rocks on his heels, standing in the wide clearing he’s been using to train Kid in. It’s just a few minutes after noon. There’s a chill in the air he can feel brushing over his skull and his ankles with each gust of wind. His gaze is turned upward, watching the thin clouds drift overhead, marveling at how a chill can persist even when the sun is glaring down on the earth below.

                “Yo!”

                His grin quirks up at the corners. He turns about to face the younger monster as they approach. “Yo, yourself, Kid. How ya been? Haven’t seen you since Christmas.”

                Kid’s grin rivals his own. “I’ve been great! Yo, yo, did, did Frisk tell you already? About the thing?”

                Sans chuckles, “you’re gonna have to be more specific, kiddo.”

                “At the party!” Kid is bouncing on their toes, now. “There was this jerk, Ricky, Ricky Snyder-“

                “Wait a sec, Helen’s kid?” Sans’s eye-sockets narrow. “What was he doin’ there?”

                “The Smith kids invited him, but that’s not important!” Kid stops bouncing and kneads the cold dirt with their toe-claws. “Anyway, he was being a jerk, like, all up in Frisk’s space, and so I told him to knock it off. Course, he didn’t, so I did the thing.”

                Sans goes more still than normal. “… The thing…?”

                “The thing!!” Kid’s grin widens, and Sans has to take a moment to marvel at how sharp and pointy their chompers have grown to be. He can remember the days when they were shorter than him, and they looked more like an armless salamander than something so fierce. They continue, drawing him out of his momentary reverie, “I told ‘im, ‘Look, buddy, you wanna mess with my friend, you gotta get through me, yo!’”

                Sans blinks, processing the image in his mind, and he can’t even begin to stifle the swell of pride in his soul. “Wow, Kid, sounds like you were about to give ‘im a bad time.”

                “I did!! W-well, for, for a bit, y’know,” Kid shift their weight from foot to foot, “’cause, like, after a little bit, he actually managed to hit me. And it hurt! Like a lot! But, not as much as I expected it to, you know? Like it knocked the air out of me, and I think I coughed up a little something –“ Sans stiffens, but Kid keeps going, “- But I realized that yo, even though he’s been kind of a butt to everybody, and he was pretty mad, he didn’t actually really want to hurt me, you know? He was just trying to put up a front.”

Kid takes a moment to clear their throat, and goes on when they realize Sans isn’t about to interrupt them. “Yo, like, I kept going, but I didn’t try to hurt him as much. Kept up the act, like he was just barely able to dodge, but… then, I um, I tripped. And knocked him down, too. But then I helped him up, and he decided to be cool about it! He’s been nicer, since.”

The skeleton is quiet for a few moments longer, before his eye-sockets slide shut, and he lets out a soft, sober laugh. “Wow, buddy, I’m actually kind of glad you took to idolizing my brother for awhile.”

Kid furrows their brow. “… Why’s that?”

                For several seconds, there isn’t a response. Presently, Sans gives another laugh, this one sounding hollow and forced. “Kiddo, guys like me… we have a hard time seeing the good in a bad person. Especially someone who hurts people we love, yeah?” He lifts his gaze to Kid, and his eye-sockets are impossibly dark in the midday sunlight. “… I appreciate ya giving that sucker a bad time, Kid, but I think I’m gonna have to have a word with ‘im, myself.”

                The yellow-scaled monster stands quietly for a moment, staring wide-eyed at Sans with a small frown hiding most of their teeth, save for the longer ones in front that poke out just a bit. “Y-yo, just… don’t hurt him, ok?”

                Sans blinks, and the lights are back in his eyes. “Don’t worry, bucko, little Ricky ain’t in for the blasters. Nah, I think it’s just time for the Kid gloves to come off, make sure he got the message.”

                Kid deadpans, “Jeez, you know it’s bad when I’m starting to feel like you’re sounding more like Frisk, lately, than the other way around.”

                Laughing, the skeleton shrugs, hands still in his pockets, as they have been through the whole exchange. “That one was good, and you know it.”

~*~

                The following day, Frisk is waiting at the dining room table by the time Toriel emerges from her room for some morning tea.

                “Good morning, my child,” she offers them a warm smile, and they return it in kind. “Have you slept well?” She watches them as she fills the tea kettle from the faucet.

                Frisk nods their reply to her question. ‘Can I invite some friends over for New Year’s?’ They sign, lifting an eyebrow. Their hands move groggily, and they look to have slight bags under their eyes.

                A small crease of concern forms between Toriel’s brows. “Well, certainly, dear. Is… something the matter?”

                Smiling tiredly, Frisk replies with minimal gestures. ‘Up late. Friends texting me. They had trouble.’

                “I see.” Toriel picks out a teabag from the box of assortments, and drops it in her mug, waiting still for the water. “May I ask who they are?”

                Though they hesitate for a moment, they nod. ‘Kid. Also the Smith kids. And Ricky.’ They glance up at Toriel, ‘their parents are… really rough on them. Leaving them alone tonight. They really need someplace to go.’ They add, emphatically, ‘Please don’t tell dunkle Sans right away. Need to explain to him.’

                The boss monster purses her lips for a moment; Frisk hadn’t told any of them about the fight at Kid’s Christmas party, and it was only when Sans had come home after his outing with Kid the day before that it had even been brought up. As could be expected, he had been furious, and Toriel had to work doubly hard to calm him down.

                “He won’t like it,” she sighs, taking the kettle from the heat as it begins to whistle softly, “and I do not care for it much, either, but… if it will make you happy, my child, you may.” As Frisk begins to sign their thanks, Toriel holds up a paw, one digit extended, and shoots them a scathing look, “but you have to be the one to deal with your dunkle when he finds out.”

                ‘That was the plan.’ Frisk stands, and crosses the short distance to hug her about the waist. She smiles, in spite of herself, and pats them on the head. They break away, and sign to her, ‘thanks, Mom.’

                “Of course, dear,” she replies. A beat passes, and she hears the sound of a door opening down the hall, and recognizes the loud and heavy yawn of the skeleton making his way to the kitchen for coffee. When he rounds the corner, he looks almost worse than Frisk, rubbing at his eye-sockets and muttering something he seems to think sounds like ‘good morning,’ but in actuality sounds more like ‘great marrow.’

                The human and the boss monster exchange a look, and Frisk takes a deep breath before approaching their dunkle with some sensitive news.

~*~

                Judging by the tightness of his grin, he still isn’t too thrilled several hours later, when a gaggle of teenagers strolls into the apartment at ten in the evening. Everyone bustles about to put away some last-minute purchases – sparkling juice, cheap party hats, noisemakers, the essentials for any New Year’s party. Toriel and Papyrus facilitate the process, and before too much longer, everyone settles in the living room.

                Sans has claimed his now-usual position on one end of the loveseat, with Toriel beside him. Papyrus claims the armchair, and the teenagers find themselves all piling up on the sofa. Frisk and Kid are squished together at one end, near Papyrus; Bill and Rachel share the middle cushion with little trouble; and Ricky has ended up seated on the opposite end from Frisk, which is – unfortunately for him – the closest to skeleton in the blue sweatshirt.

                The same skeleton who has been giving him a cool, unblinking stare since he’s stepped through the door.

                Ricky drums his fingers on the armrest of the couch, doing his best to ignore the twin dots of light boring into his soul from the short skeleton’s hollow sockets. After a moment of heavy silence, the tall, white-furred monster clears her throat softly.

                “So, ah, Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone!” She offers a warm, if not slightly nervous, smile. Her words are met with a general chorus of “Happy New Year’s Eve” around the room, and when the noise dies down, she clasps her paws on her lap. “I must apologize for being ill-equipped for a party for so many people, we, ah, hadn’t been expecting visitors until this morning.”

                Sans grumbles at her side, and she chooses to ignore him.

                “Yeah, sorry, Miss Toriel,” Rachel sighs, pulling her knees up to her chest and resting her chin on them.  “Billy and I were gonna just stay home, this time around, while our folks went out.”

                “THEY WENT OUT?” Papyrus chimes in, looking genuinely surprised. “WITHOUT YOU?”

                “Yeah, they do this every year.” Bill shrugs, and runs a hand over the back of his head. “They go out with their friends, like Dad’s co-workers –“

                “And my parents,” Ricky adds quickly.

                “- Yeah, and Ricky’s folks. They go get plastered at some bar and leave us at home.”

                “As usual,” Rachel grimaces, finishing her brother’s thought, and he hangs his head a bit more.

                “I… see.” Toriel flexes one of her paws lightly, and then reaches over to rest her other paw on Sans’s hand. His fingers shift to twine with hers almost automatically – he still hasn’t taken his eyes off Ricky. With her free hand, she reaches for the remote, and turns on the TV, scrolling through channels until she reaches the New Year’s special, live from New York.

                “WOWIE, LOOK AT ALL THE LIGHTS!” Papyrus beams at the screen. “THEY JUST GET BETTER AND BETTER EVERY YEAR!”

                The tension in the room begins to unravel, and Papyrus dominates the scene, excitedly pointing out various celebrities as they are shown onscreen (“OOH! OOH, LOOKIE! FRISK! IT’S METTATON!! HE MADE IT, THIS YEAR!”). Conversation bubbles in between his outbursts, and soon, Rachel has migrated to sit on the floor next to his feet, and Bill has perched himself on the arm of the couch next to Kid, as Frisk lays their head in the monster’s lap and smiles placidly.

~*~

                Ricky sighs, unable to shake the chill crawling down his back. It’s about eleven, now, and from his peripherals, he can tell the skeleton to his right has hardly moved an inch, and is still fixing him with that steely gaze and that too-wide smile. Slowly, he turns his gaze to meet Sans’s.

                “Sup, buddy.” The skeleton speaks for the first time that evening, his grin tight, and his eyes unreadable.

                “Erm, hi,” the teen tries to offer a grin, but it wavers, and falls.

                Chuckling low in his chest, Sans leans casually against the armrest of the loveseat, and casts his gaze in the direction of the TV. “You know, pal, I heard about the little scuffle you and Kid over there had at the Christmas shindig.”

                Ricky winces, looking down and away. “… Oh.”

                “Yeah, ‘oh.’” The skeleton lets only the shortest pause linger. “You know, I’m the one who taught Kid how to fight.” Ricky looks up at him quickly, and he meets the teen’s gaze for a moment, allowing another chuckle to rumble through. “Yeah, up until a few months ago, Kid couldn’t even summon up their magic at all. I worked with ‘em for hours, every weekend, tryin’ to figure out what makes ‘em tick, ya know?

                “And it wasn’t like Kid was a bad fighter, either. Bucko’s got enough fire in ‘em to rival Undyne at that age. But fire wasn’t the ticket. Nah, I found out what that was the weekend after you first started messin’ with Frisk.” Sans’s gaze is locked on Ricky again, and his voice has grown low and soft, but dangerously so.

                Ricky swallows, trying to quell the dryness in his throat. Sans continues.

                “See, Frisk saved Kid’s life, a long time ago, back in the Underground. They’d have been dust if Frisk hadn’t acted quickly. Since that moment, Kid’s been determined to protect ‘em. First, from Undyne, then from wayward snowballs, and even takin’ the fall for some pranks at school, when they were younger.” His eye-sockets slide mostly closed, reducing them to dark crescents over his cheekbones. “You gettin’ the idea here, pal?”

                Ricky, having grown awfully pale, glances over at Kid. The monster looks relaxed at the moment, glancing between an excited Papyrus and the display on the TV. Their tail is curled around Frisk, who’s laying in their lap still, the tip slithering through the human’s hair like a curious snake. They look so happy and at ease, even with their sharp, large teeth displayed in a wide smile.

                Nothing like the angry monster brimming with righteous fury Ricky had faced down in their backyard, just a few weeks ago.

                “Yeah, I trained ‘em,” Sans drawls, and Ricky snaps back around to face him again, “taught ‘em to fight, how to use their magic, what to feel for and the like. But one thing Kid didn’t learn from me… is Mercy.” Sans shakes his head slightly, eye-sockets still mostly-shut. “Buddy. I hope you realize how lucky you are that Kid’s so understanding. Because if you ever hurt them or Frisk again…”

                He opens his eyes, and the sockets are darker than the space between the stars outside.

                “… You’re going to have to deal with me.

                Sweat trickles down the back of the teen’s neck, and he swallows again, his throat even drier than it had been before. “O-okay, sir. I, uh, I won’t.”

                “Good.” The lights are back in Sans’s eyes, and his smile seems more relaxed. “Now howzabout we enjoy the New Year, yeah? Seein’ as I shouldn’t have a bone to pick with you anymore.” He winks, and turns his attention to the rest of the room.

                Ricky sits back, looking almost shell-shocked, and takes a few minutes to stare at the ceiling.

~*~

                A bright, glittering ball of lights and glass sparkles on the TV screen, and Papyrus is bouncing so hard on the chair that his bones are rattling.

                “IT’S TIME!!!” He crows, slapping his hands to either side of his skull, orange sparkles dancing about his eyes. “WHO’S GOING FIRST, FOR THE RESOLUTIONS OF THE NEW YEAR!?”

                “I will.” Toriel smiles, and gives Sans’s hand a squeeze in her paw. “This year, I will resolve to be more … forgiving.” A look of distaste crosses her features for a moment, and then she turns to the skeleton with a smile. “Your turn, dear.”

                “Ok.” He leans his skull back, staring at the ceiling in thought. “This year… I resolve to tell more jokes.”

                “SANS!!” Papyrus cries, looking utterly defeated.

                “Better jokes,” Sans shoots his brother a wink.

                The taller skeleton squints, frowning. “I WILL BE THE JUDGE OF THIS.” He turns his attention to Ricky, and many eyes follow suit.

                “Uh,” the blond teen reddens a bit in the face. “Um, come back to me, I’m thinking.”

                There’s a general nodding, and the attention shifts to Frisk, who’s all but falling asleep on Kid’s lap. They lift up their hands, and with a warm smile stretching their face, they sign.

                ‘I’m gonna eat a lot of ice cream.’

                Everyone laughs a bit, and then Frisk’s face turns more serious. Determined, even.

                ‘I’m also gonna get monsters the right to vote.’

                The resolve in their expression leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that they intend to see it through.

                When Frisk looks up at Kid expectantly, the monster’s scaly cheeks darken a bit, and they look up and around the room. “I uh… yo, I’m gonna…” A grin slowly bares their teeth, “I’m gonna…. I’m gonna get better with my magic! And I’m gonna learn to write, and play sports, and stop falling down all the time!”

                Their exuberance is contagious. “Yeah!” Rachel cheers, clearly no longer caring about the order of things, “and I’m gonna join the basketball team, even if Mom thinks it’s not ladylike!”

                Bill grins a bit shakily. “Yeah, and, I’m gonna do gymnastics!”

                “WOWIE!! ALL OF THIS CONFIDENCE!!” Papyrus grins around the room, and his gaze falls on Ricky. “WHAT ABOUT YOU, BUFF HUMAN OF RUGGED PHYSIQUE? DO YOU HAVE A RESOLUTION YET?”

                Ricky blushes darkly at Papyrus’s compliment. “Oh. Well, yeah. I think so.” He grips his knee with one hand, contemplating the carpet for a moment, before a smile touches his lips. “Yeah. No more bossing people around. There’s enough jerks around here, who says I have to be another one?”

                Smiles abound at this, and as the countdown starts from the TV, all eyes shoot to Papyrus.

                “OH, SHOOT, IT’S MY TURN!” He begins to sweat. “WELL. UM. WOWIE.”

                Seven, six…

                “GOODNESS, I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT TO-“

                Two, one

                Whatever Papyrus ends up blurting out at the end, it’s lost in the din that erupts as noisemakers are blown and cheers resound in the crowded living room.

                He smiles, sitting back in the armchair and watching the others carry out the excitement he normally expresses on his own. For a few moments, here at the beginning of a new year, he’s content to let the world happen around him, to step back and enjoy the quiet that comes with taking himself out of the situation.

                For that moment, he almost sees a contented wriggling in the shadows of the hallway.

Chapter Text

~*~

                Pink and red cut-out heart-shapes and ribbons decorate every hallway at school, and Frisk has half a mind to casually inform every person they come across ‘this red heart is exactly what my soul looks like, you know.’ Somehow, they just manage to keep from doing so.

                Since the New Year’s blown over and the school year’s started back up, Frisk has known that this gaudy love-induced-vomit storm of a holiday has been approaching. Truth be known, they have little care for it one way or the other; the decorations are tacky and redundant at best, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with a day about telling people that you care about them.

                That’s what it’s about, right?

                “Frisk, I don’t get it,” Kid raises a dubious eyebrow as they watch their best friend methodically slide hand-folded notes into one locker at a time. “You barely know like, more than half of these guys.”

                Pausing just a moment in their efforts, Frisk raises an eyebrow right back at Kid, before gently pushing the last note inside. ‘So?’

                “So,” Kid goes on, “why are you giving them all Valentines?”

                They don’t answer right away. They’d made enough for every locker in the school, and spent the entire morning before classes and even a good hour and a half after school let out to finish this little project. Each note had a different message. ‘Don’t give up!’ ‘Somebody really cares about you!’ ‘I believe in you!’ So on, so forth. In the back of their mind, a few muted, haunting memories float forward – memories of a time when no-one did the same for them… or for them, either.

                ‘Somebody’s got to,’ they sign slowly, ‘or some of them might end up hurting.’ They don’t clarify how the verb is intended.

                “Well, okay.” Kid shuffles their feet, casting their glance around, before asking, “hey, well, I got you somethin’. Hold out your hand!”

                Frisk obliges, watching the taller monster. Kid manifests one of their ethereal green hands, and reaches the clawed fingers into the pocket of their dress (a dress with pockets, dear god, Frisk has got to know where Kid gets their clothes) and procures… punch cards?

                They drop the cards into Frisk’s palm, and their green hand dissipates with a soft hiss of magic. Kid is grinning like… well, a kid.

                “They’re Nice Cream punch cards, from, y’know, the stand, near the park. I thought we could go for a walk once you were done with your thing, today, yo.”

                Every damn time Frisk sees that grin on Kid’s face, even when it’s tinged with a bit of nerves like it is now, it makes them smile in turn, no matter how they’re feeling, or how hard they start gagging in the back of their mind. ‘I’d like that,’ Frisk nods, beaming.

                They just want you for themself.

                Frisk fights the frown until they’re walking next to Kid, and the monster is happily facing forward. No. They’re my friend. I thought you would like them more, since they saved us from that jerk at the party.

                Uh huh. ‘Friend.’ Right. If a disembodied voice could roll their eyes, they certainly are doing it now. And you know as well as I do that was jealousy, not courtesy. Don’t flatter yourself.

                With an eye-roll of their own, Frisk retorts, if anyone’s jealous, buddy, it’s you.

                That shuts them up for quite some time.

~*~

                Meanwhile, on the other side of the school, the conference room by the cafeteria is bustling with adults – monster and human alike – milling about a snack table and trading holiday gossip while a blonde human woman in a painfully-tight bun sits uncomfortably at the head of the table.

                Her makeup is immaculate as ever, contoured just so, with the slightest winged edge to her eyeliner that adds a bit of fierceness to her gaze. But that gaze is currently turned to the stack of meeting agenda notes gripped in her manicured hands, nearly shaking.

                Sans is watching her intently, his grin gone slack even as he slides quietly into his chair at the opposite end of the table. Ever since meeting her kids at the New Year’s party, he’s been trying to piece together a few things about the woman, but he can’t quite get the whole picture.

                Helen drops her heavy purse with a heavier sigh and takes her seat at Linda’s right-hand; the blonde flinches and blinks up at her. A brief pause ensues before she smiles, and lets her padded shoulders relax lightly. “Helen, so lovely to see you,” she says, quietly enough to not disrupt the hubbub around the snack table, but not quietly enough to escape the skeleton’s perception. “How are Paul and Ricky doing?”

                “Aw, Paulie’s landed another raise,” Helen gushes, considerably less quietly than her friend, earning herself a couple brief glances from the nearby snack crowd. “He just loves his job at the supermarket, you have no idea.”

                “How wonderful,” Linda smiles, but it’s clear to anyone really paying attention it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “And how about Ricky?”

                Helen’s expression shifts to something almost unreadable, and her nose wrinkles slightly. “My little Ricky’s been hanging out with that Dreemurr girl,” Sans’s bones prickle with magic at this, “and that disabled scaly monster boy that wears dresses all the time, what a freak.” She scoffs, oblivious to the heated gaze burning into the back of her head from Kid’s adoptive mother.

                “Really?” Linda’s eyes widen just a bit. “Heavens, why?”

                “Somethin’ about ‘monsters aren’t so bad’ and ‘the Dreemurrs are really nice folks’ and yadda yadda,” Helen waves a brownie about between two fingers as she talks, and her pout deepens. “I just donno when all of this started, I come back home after the New Years’ party and he’s been doin’ nothin’ but back-talk the whole time.”

                Sans glances down at his plate of snacks, pretending he wasn’t just staring intently at the two women across the table, and picks up a brownie. Burnt, hard as a rock, as usual. With a flick of his wrist, he tosses it over his skull and into the garbage can by the door, cracking a smug grin as he hears the satisfying thunk of success.

                Before he can tune back into Linda and Helen’s conversation, the two chairs on either side of him are suddenly occupied. “H-hey, Sans,” Stuart smiles at him from the left, “I take it you’ve met Terra before?”

                “We used to be neighbors, Sans and I,” the blue-furred rabbit monster grins, elbowing Sans sportingly. “Though we only ever really saw him at Grillby’s.”

                “What can I say, it’s the hottest spot to be!” Sans winks, but is met with a forced “ha” from Terra, and a confused look from Stuart.

                Terra catches the human’s eye, and rolls her own. “Grillby’s made of fire, dear.”

                “Oh.” Stuart snorts, grinning. “I-I get it.”

                “Don’t encourage him.” She grins sweetly, then turns her attention to Sans, the smile falling into something more bitter. In a low voice, she murmurs, “did you hear what that creature was saying about my baby?”

                Sans meets her eye, and nods. “Loud and clear.”

                “She called them a freak, Sans,” she hisses, “and the way she was talking about Frisk-“

                “I’m aware, Terra,” his voice is tight, and the rabbit flinches a bit, surprised. He barely pauses after he meets her eye. “Believe you me, I’ve got a bone to pick with her on the subject.”

                There’s a sudden tapping of pen against table, and their attention is brought from their conversation to the opposing end of the room, where Linda is now calling the meeting to order, with Helen casting her gaze around the gathered PTA members with something akin to distaste in her expression.

                Sans settles his smile into something akin to sickening politeness, and is actively the most attentive voice in the meeting. The air grows heavier as time goes on, mostly because everyone realizes something is very wrong at his lack of jokes.

~*~

                “Hey, kids! You guys want a Nice Cream? It’s the frozen treat that warms your heart!”

                Frisk grins up at the tall, thin bunny monster, watching his ears bounce as he all but dances behind his cart. They slap the three punch cards on top of the cart, and point at their flavor of choice – sour candy apple; they’re feeling daring today.

                “All righty! Comin’ right up,” the Nice Cream man flashes a brilliant grin, and glances over Frisk’s shoulder at the monster behind them. “What about you, pal?”

                “Orange n’ cream, please,” Kid’s voice is warm and bright as ever, and the rabbit monster nods, bobbing behind the cart to fetch the treats. While he works, Frisk chances a glance up at their friend, who’s watching the other monster work, smiling to themself and bouncing lightly on their toes.

                You know people will think you’re weird if you stare.

                Frisk grins a bit. What’s the matter, view making you dizzy?

                No. It’s a little too forceful of a statement to be entirely true. I’m just warning you. Folks don’t like being stared at.

                Kid glances down, catching Frisk’s eye for a moment, and a green blush darkens their cheeks. Their grin widens as they refocus on watching the Nice Cream man.

                Somehow, I don’t think they mind, Frisk chuckles softly in triumph, stuffing their hands into the pocket of their hoodie. The other doesn’t reply, and after a moment, Frisk’s hands are busied with holding two Nice Creams as they follow Kid’s lead down the dirt path.

                The wonderful thing about Nice Cream is that it never melts until it’s eaten, and then it goes down like most magic food does – smooth, more natural than drinking water – and best of all, there’s no sticky mess. It takes a lot of stress off the mind when one is walking to their destination, gives them time to enjoy the crisp winter evening with their best friend and favorite person.

                Time to hope their dunkle isn’t causing trouble at the PTA tonight.

~*~

                Overall, he’s pretty pleased with himself. The meeting ended ahead of schedule, thanks to his concise and effective input, and he’s taking his time in heaving himself out of his chair and tossing away his crumb-littered snack plate. By the time the paper plate flops into the trash can, everyone else has left – save for two women by the head of the table.

                He can feel the daggers they’re glaring at him, but he doesn’t give them the satisfaction of returning their gaze. Instead, he keeps his bright, overly-polite grin on his face with half-closed eye-sockets, as he saunters all the way back to his chair and takes a seat once more.

                “What’s the rush, ladies?” he asks casually, hands in his pockets, still not quite looking at them. “You don’t have somewhere to be, right now, do you?”

                Linda blinks, and starts, “Well, Helen and I were going to-“

                “Don’t you dare, Linda,” her friend cuts her off. She rounds on the skeleton, eyes like ice. “Listen here, you creep, you’ve been giving us shit all evening, and I’ve about had it with your smart mouth.”

                “Have you?” Sans asks, tilting his skull slightly, resting his chin on his knuckles. “Seems to me you could stand to hear a bit more, maybe it’ll rub off on ya.”

                Helen balks, and reddens in her fury. “I beg your pardon?

                “See,” he goes on, ignoring her indignant scoffing, “something really peculiar happened on New Year’s Eve. Normally, I spend it alone, at home, with my family,” he stresses the words exaggeratedly, and Linda looks away, wincing. “But that morning, Frisk got out of bed looking like they’d been run over by a steam train. They’d been up all night texting some of their friends, and the first thing they asked when they woke up was if they could invite some people over for New Year’s.”

                He finally looks up at the two women, and is pleased to see he has their full attention. He smirks a bit, the forced politeness melting from his expression entirely. “They were askin’ because, you know, these kids were gonna be alone all night, with their parents out, what was it again? At a party…?” He shrugs. “Hell if I know, sounded like a real lousy thing to do to your kids, if you ask me.” Helen’s sputtering doesn’t even start to stop him. “Look, long story short, that evening, me, my brother, my girlfriend, and I let three strangers into our home because they were gonna otherwise be alone at the start of the New Year.”

He flicks his gaze to Linda. “Lin, I just gotta say, your kids are fantastic. Rachel’s got an unbeatable spirit, and Bill’s got a brilliant head on his shoulders. Listen to ‘em.”

                While she stammers, Sans rolls his eyes toward Helen. “So, Hel, I was led to believe that the adults-only little New Year soiree was your idea?”

                Helen bleats, “Paulie had a good year at the supermarket-“

                “Not what I asked,” Sans holds up a bony hand for silence. “What did you even tell your son before you waltzed out of the house with your husband in tow?”

                Helen doesn’t answer straight away, and the skeleton’s smile grows tight, forced, even. “I know exactly what you told him, because he told me himself, while he was falling asleep on my living room couch.” Sans’s eye-sockets narrow, and the lights flicker out within them. He affects a shockingly bad high-pitched, New Jersey accent: “’Be a good boy, Ricky, don’t go out and don’t touch the liquor cabinet.’”

                Linda stares at her friend in shock, and Sans has to fight himself internally to keep from outright laughing at the look on Helen’s face; he never thought his god-awful impressions of people could ever outright induce horror in an audience, but Helen has proved him wrong.

                “Now look, pal,” he says, in a normal, casual tone, the lights returning to his eyes, “I’m not usually one to tell somebody how to raise their kids, but when my kid comes to me sayin’ one of their friends is hurting, I tend to want to know what the trouble is, ya dig?”

                He doesn’t get a response. Sighing, he stands and rolls his shoulders. “Welp, just so ya know, Ricky, Rach, and Bill are welcome at my place anytime.” He walks toward the door, and right before he steps out, he pauses, and looks up at the ceiling.

                “Huh, guess the Dreemurrs aren’t such bad folks, are they, Helen?” With a parting glance in her direction, he steps through the doorway and into the parking lot, right next to his motorcycle.

                It’s amazing he makes it home in one piece, he’s laughing so hard.

~*~

                Dinner has come and gone by the time Frisk makes it home. They’re smiling, assuring everyone they had a good time out with their friends – it seems Kid surprised them with a spontaneous group hangout at the park. It’s good, seeing them looking so carefree and bright after a long day out, much preferable to how heavy and tired they are after a day of delegations and political nonsense, or back when their peers from school kept insisting on taking them on date-dates.

                He catches their eye from the hallway entrance. Tea? They nod. He nods back, wobbly smile widening, and slips into their room to get everything ready.

                When they walk in, the tea’s already brewed and poured into two little cups on the desk, with Flowey staring at them and the matching teapot like they’re possessed. As far as he knows, they just might be. Frisk is quick to soothe him with some placating gestures and an offer to let him sit in the kitchen window and watch the stars – which he accepts quickly. Once he’s removed and Frisk has taken their seat at the desk, the shadows across the room shudder and congeal, until their grandfather is smiling at them.

                ‘It’s been awhile since we last talked,’ his spindly, hollow hands sign quickly and neatly, an observation.

                Frisk nods, tapping a finger against the side of their teacup for a moment. It’s still too hot to drink. ‘Too busy.’

                Gaster nods in turn, his smile closer to something somber. ‘Is there anything that’s been bothering you?’

                They smile at him, but he can see how tired they are. They’ve been acting differently, now and again, giving strange looks into the middle-distance, scowling at nothing, sometimes smiling far wider than should be normal. They can’t hide how they’re feeling from him, he sees too many possibilities at any given moment for that to be feasible, and they know it. Even so, even when he’s heard their words a thousand times over, in a million different phrasings, or even watched them storm out of the room in frustration when the words won’t come, he doesn’t push them. These things take time, he knows that.

                And it just so happens that he has all the time at his disposal.

                He watches quietly, taking his teacup in his bony fingers – they click against the porcelain, and he’s a lot less shaky with his grip today than he normally is – and tipping it against his mouth in a small sip. For a moment, he fears the liquid might run through him – but no, it stays inside, as it should, and he lets himself relax at its warmth. Frisk raises and lowers their hands several times, doing that thing again, where they stare into a nondescript point and frown to themself. They look to be so deep in thought, he can’t bring himself to bother them.

                Their hands move, suddenly, and the dim lights of his droopy eye-sockets snap to focus on them. ‘Grandpa… do you ever feel like there’s something wrong with you?’

                How does he even begin to answer a question like that? Somehow, he can’t recall answering one like it before. Somehow, he does, this time: ‘all the time, young one.’ He doesn’t know if they can appreciate the pun, but he chuckles inwardly nonetheless. ’I can assure you that there is nothing wrong with you, however.’

                ‘See, you can say that,’ Frisk goes on, still not quite meeting his eyes, ‘but there’s this… this feeling, that something’s wrong with me.’ When Gaster only waits for them to continue, they sigh softly and oblige. ‘I used to go on dates with people because I thought that’s what you’re supposed to do, that something would happen and I’d feel different about them. But I don’t! Even with Kid, I don’t feel much different about them than I did before.’

                ‘And how is that?’ He asks, his motions fluid and his expression curious. ‘How do you feel about them?’

                Frisk looks at him, meeting his eyes at last, and he can see it: the confusion, the uncertainty, but even through all that, the determination, the drive to get to the bottom of this problem. ‘They’re my best friend. I like doing everything with them, always have. I know they like me, in that way I can’t really understand, but…’ they pause, looking at their hands, before they look back up at Gaster and keep signing. ‘… That doesn’t matter, not to me. Sure, I kiss them now and stuff, but they’re always good about keeping things comfortable for me, and they just look so happy when I do, how couldn’t I?’ They shake their head. ‘Despite everything… it’s still Kid, and I’m still me.’

                The last of Gaster’s tea drains from his cup, and he sets it gently on his saucer; it only clatters a little bit. He holds Frisk’s gaze for a moment, before lifting his own hands. ‘Isn’t that all that should matter?’

                The human seems a bit confused. ‘I mean, yeah, but, everybody else is always saying there has to be more, that I’m supposed to want to do things like make out, and get married, and-‘

                He cuts them off with a small wave, signing, ‘but you aren’t everyone else.’ When his words are met with a blank stare, he goes on. ‘When I was younger, more… alive, as it would be… you and I were very similar.’ Frisk straightens. ‘I never found another monster to bond with, even in a platonic sense. Most monsters need the aid of another’s soul to birth another, new soul. When I grew older and decided to start a family, I simply… found another way.’ With a small shake of his head, he adds, ‘you may never desire to have a family beyond what you find for yourself, and you may eventually decide to live with another, in whatever sense you find pleasing – but those decisions are yours alone to make, and no-one can tell you otherwise.’

                Frisk takes the smallest sip of their tea. It’s cool enough to drink, now.

                ‘You aren’t broken,’ he signs, matter-of-fact, with a warm smile pulling at the cracks in his face. ‘There are more like us than you realize, I think.’

                Draining their own tea, Frisk rests their hands on their knees for a moment. ‘… How can you tell when you’ve made a mistake?’ They ask, hands trembling as they sign.

                Gaster’s smile falls, and the lights in his eyes flicker to darkness as he averts his gaze. ‘I have made far more than anyone could count, young one,’ he sighs deeply as his hands spell the words, ‘I would have to say that the easiest way to tell is to see if what you’ve done is hurting those you love… or yourself.’

                Nodding, the human taps at the desk with their fingers, drumming a gentle rhythm. ‘Guess I’ll have to think about it,’ they sign, dropping their hands to rest over their knees almost immediately.

                Gaster doesn’t reply. Instead, he slides forward, reaching out his hands to fold gently over his grandchild’s back, patting their shoulder comfortingly and pressing his dripping, cool body against them as best he can. His hugs aren’t exactly warm, but he can only hope they do the trick somehow. Frisk’s arms shake slightly as they drape over his own, misshapen shoulders, sinking slightly into his form. At first he thinks they’re shivering because of him, but before he can pull back, their fingers dig into his back, and a half-choked, hoarse sob wracks out of them. He shushes instinctively, carding his long fingers through the tangles in their dark, thick hair, and for a moment, it’s familiar to running those fingers in slow circles over a smooth skull as glowing cyan tears stained his sweater.

                He gives a low rattle, followed by a rapid, rhythmic clicking, the closest thing to a gentle hum he can muster. He doesn’t have anywhere else to go, at the moment, he’ll spare all the energy he has to.

                After all, he’s got all the time at his disposal.

~*~

                For the first time in months, he’s coming back home with a smile on his face.

                Ricky hadn’t expected the phone call from Kid earlier that afternoon, nor the monster’s hurried, whispered invitation to the park. “Be there around six, yo,” they’d said, and he’d arrived just in time to see Rachel and Billy fighting each other over what was left of some kind of weird, non-melty ice cream, and to see Kid and Frisk approaching from down the path.

                If Frisk had been surprised and delighted to see everyone there, then Ricky had been absolutely ecstatic. Friendship isn’t exactly easy to come by when your mom’s arguably the most vocal member of the PTA, and always introduces herself as “Helen Snyder, PTA vice president.”

                Dammit, he will not frown about this. His mom will not ruin the first good day he’s had in months.

                Well, that isn’t exactly fair. The Christmas party had been good, even if he did get his butt handed to him by somebody in a tacky sweater and a mini-skirt, and New Year’s had started out shitty, but meeting Frisk’s family and spending the night at their apartment had been pretty fun, lowkey threats from smiling skeletons notwithstanding. But today is on another level entirely, and he will be damned if he lets something so small as thinking about his mom’s… eccentricities… bring him down.

                He unlocks the door to his parents’ three-bedroom bungalow, and slides through the door. “Yo ma, I’m home,” he calls, hardly bothering to keep the brightness out of his tone. She’d no doubt want to hear all about his day – give or take a few details involving who he was hanging out with –

                “RICK MASON SNYDER, WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN!?” Even from the kitchen, her voice is loud and sharp enough to stop him dead in his tracks.

                Cold sweat runs down the back of his neck. “I w-was out, ma, with friends –“

                “With FREAKS, more like!” She rounds the corner into the living room, sporting a frilly pink apron, a spatula in her right hand, and a glare that could pierce steel. “You thought I wouldn’t hear about your little get-together with that Frisk tramp, and her little pet –“

                Ricky bristles, and one hand clenches into a fist. “Don’t, don’t talk about them that way!”

                “Did,” she stutters, looking absolutely aghast, “did, did you just back-talk me, son?”

                Ricky feels his sins crawling down his back. “M-ma, please, don’t,” he starts, but he hardly sees it coming.

                A white-hot pain sears across his right cheek, and he reaches up a trembling hand to touch the skin; it’s stinging still, and his mother’s hand is still raised from delivering the blow. “Don’t you ever back-talk me, young man,” she snarls. “And I don’t want you hanging around those… those animals.”

                “What- What are you saying, Ma?”

                Her eyes narrow, and she steps toward him – he steps back reflexively, pressed against the door. “You know damn well what I’m saying. No more days out, no more football, no more god damn study sessions, you are comin’ straight home after school, young man. Do you hear me?”

                He’s frozen. Weeks ago, this would have spelled the death blow on any fight he had left. No more extracurriculars? No more time out of the house? Fine. He’d just sit and fester, he’d become a leech on his parents’ backs, more than he already is. But now? Now, there’s more than just himself to think about. There’s Billy, and Rachel, and god damn if there isn’t Frisk and Kid, too. They’re the first friends he’s had in a long time, and the thought that this woman – his mother – who’s supposed to be the one looking out for him and acting in his best interests – would be willing to take that all away from him…

                It fills him with determination.

                Steeling his expression, he hitches his backpack higher on his shoulder, grips the doorknob behind him, and before his mother can act, he’s out the door and down the driveway.

                She scrambles out behind him, shrieking, “RICKY! RICK, YOU GET YOUR ASS BACK IN THIS HOUSE RIGHT NOW, OR YOU’RE GONNA BE SORRY!”

                What’s she gonna do, break his xbox? Throw out his comics? Small price to pay for freedom.

                “RICK! WHERE ARE YOU GOING!?”

                He’s halfway down the block by now. Everything tells him to just keep walking, not to say anything to her, she doesn’t even deserve the words he’d give her, but he can’t stop himself. He turns on his heel, walking backwards still as he shouts back.

                “I’m going somewhere I’m always welcome, Ma!”

                Helen can only watch in undisguised horror and indignation as her only child disappears down the sidewalk, too paralyzed to move.

~*~

                It’s been a long damn day. Dinner was good, Frisk had already eaten while they were out, and Toriel and Papyrus have already gone to bed. Sans is still sitting on the couch, occasionally making a genuine attempt at banter with the flower in the kitchen window. Flowey seems determined to ignore him, tonight.

                Better than being insulted, he supposes.

                Right as he’s beginning to think about trying to wrangle some shut-eye, himself, there’s a hesitant knock at the door. Instinctively, he glances at the clock – 11pm. Hardly a time for spontaneous visitors, he thinks, but he stands up and pushes his hands in his pockets anyway.

                There’s never a bad time for being a respectable host. He chuckles at the thought – he’ll have to remember that one.

                He opens the door, fully expecting a tall man in a trenchcoat with a handgun – but what he finds silences the words in his throat before they can even start to come out.

                A tall, broad-shouldered teenager, looking tired and slightly sweaty from what must have been a very long walk, fighting back tears and sniffling, wiping his nose hurriedly with the sleeve of his jacket.

                “Can I,” Ricky hiccups softly, looking absolutely miserable, “C-can I come in, Mr. Sans?”

Chapter Text

~*~

                There’s a thick moment of tense silence as the two stand on opposing sides of the doorway. Even hunched from the weight of his backpack and sniffling, Ricky stands at least a foot-and-a-half taller than Sans, but right now, the teen hardly seems capable of holding himself up.

                Stepping to one side, the skeleton beckons him in. “Jeez, kid, you look awful. Did’ja walk all the way here?”

                Ricky nods, shuffling through the door and down the short hallway until he’s standing awkwardly in the living room. The Christmas tree is still standing in the far corner, though all the decorations have been stashed away, save for a string of unplugged lights still twirled around the plastic and wire branches.

                The door clicks softly as Sans pulls it to, and he flicks the lock into place before turning and fumbling his hands in his pockets, taking a few slow steps toward the unexpected visitor.

                “Relax, kiddo,” he says, keeping his tone even and casual. “Take a load off.” He nods toward the sofa, and the teen walks over to it automatically, dropping his backpack onto the cushions and then flopping down beside it.

Almost immediately, Ricky buries his face in his hands, elbows propped against his knees, fingers gripping at his hair. He makes a small, strangled sound in the back of his throat, and Sans drops into the seat next to him, watching quietly with an unreadable expression.

“You wanna talk about it, bucko?” Ricky winces, and Sans raises a hand placatingly. “Don’t worry, kid, you don’t gotta talk until you’re ready.” Sighing, he closes one eye-socket and looks at Ricky through the corner of his eye. “You look beat. Why don’tcha grab a shower, and I’ll get you some blankets?”

                Ricky glances nervously at the monster, but Sans is all smiles – no surprise there. “Don’t worry, I’ll wake up Papyrus and see if we can wrangle up some clothes for you to borrow.” The skeleton is on his feet and off toward the hallway before his human guest can begin to protest. “There’s towels stacked on a rack in there, help yourself to the MTT products. Papyrus gets a, uh…” Sans pauses by the entrance to the hallway, casting his gaze upwards in thought, “… ‘friends and family’ discount, shall we say.” He winks over his shoulder at Ricky, and almost seems to vanish on the spot.

                The teen in question sits for a moment, blinking at the spot where Sans had just been standing, unsure if he’s wishing he’d waited until morning to run away, or if he’s just tired and overwhelmed. For now, he decides “fuck it” and heads for the bathroom, his memory of the Smith’s apartment proving just as useful as he hopes.

                He wastes no time in getting in the shower. Normally, he’d be intimidated by the various products arranged neatly on the hanging plastic shelves inside, but as it is, he simply grabs one of the pink bottles and lathers some into his short hair. It smells sweet, and yet slightly sour, like some kind of candy, and something about the smell is relaxing and invigorating all at once. “MTT brand Shower Power Glamour Wash,” the label reads. Ricky hardly registers it, and simply scrubs himself nearly to the bone with the stuff until his skin is tender and the water begins to run cold.

                He almost wishes he hadn’t – it’s easier to pretend everything’s fine when the water’s hot.

~*~

                “Bro, you gotta promise not to freak out.”

                Papyrus looks insulted, despite his grogginess. “THE GREAT PAPYRUS NEVER ‘FREAKS OUT.’” He adjusts the wool cap on his skull – it had threatened to slip off.

                “Pappers, trust me on this one. Calm voices.” Sans’s smile is slightly strained as he roots through his drawer. “Do you got any extra sweatpants?”

                “I HAVE HOTPANTS!” When Sans gives him a pointed look, Papyrus rolls his eye-sockets. “FINE, THIRD DRAWER, IN THE BACK.”

                With Sans preoccupied in rooting out the pants, his brother takes a moment to stretch his joints and stand up, stifling a yawn. “YOU SAY HE JUST SHOWED UP?”

                “Outta the blue,” Sans responds, his voice only slightly muffled by folded clothes. He emerges victorious, grey sweatpants in hand. “He barely said anything, besides ‘can I come in.’”

                Papyrus only ‘hmm’s in response, and retrieves a shirt from another dresser drawer – his old, worn Jogboy shirt – and tosses it to Sans, who catches it on top of the still-folded sweatpants. They leave their room, deposit the clothes just outside the bathroom door (they can still hear the water going; Papyrus tries to ignore the muffled sounds of distress coming from within), and head to the living room. Sans resumes his prior seat on the couch, and Papyrus claims the armchair, running his phalanges over the armrests and humming to himself.

                In the other room, the shower turns off, and the skeleton brothers exchange a quiet look before turning their attention to the hallway. After a moment, the teen appears, short blond hair sticking damply to his head, dressed in the baggy grey sweats and Papyrus’s Jogboy tee. The thing fits him rather well. He offers a small smile.

                “Thanks,” Ricky says, carrying his balled-up dirty clothes to his spot on the couch and taking his seat on the middle cushion, next to Sans. On closer inspection, his eyes are puffy and slightly red.

                Sans shrugs, hands in his pockets, feet kicked up on the coffee table. “Don’t sweat it, kiddo. Feelin’ better?”

                It’s Ricky’s turn to shrug. “I’m clean, I guess.”

                “CLEANLINESS IS THE FIRST STEP TO WELLNESS, OR AT LEAST SO I SAY,” Papyrus’s voice is alarmingly gentle, but still strong enough to carry a sense of presence. At any rate, it’s enough to make Ricky flinch, at first.

                Ricky smiles, but it’s watery, and it falls rather fast.

                Sans sighs, and looks at the coffee table with a tight grin and dim eye-lights. “Look, Ricky, I… I talked to your mom at the PTA today. Told her what I thought about how your folks did you on New Years’. I’m sorry if that did anything to-“

                “No, it wasn’t you,” Ricky says, flatly. “I’m, uh… glad that someone had the guts to tell her off. Metaphorically, you know?” He gives a weak laugh, and Sans joins in, looking a little relieved.

Silence hangs between the three of them, until Papyrus leans forward, intent in his gaze.

                “DO YOU FEEL LIKE TALKING…?”

                Looking between the two skeletons and taking in their different renditions of the same concerned expression, Ricky can’t help feeling he’s getting some kind of heart-to-heart time with two distant uncles he’s known all his life. He chuckles softly, rubbing at his eyes; it’s no wonder that Frisk thinks the world of them.

                “Yeah, I guess I should…”

~*~

                He wakes up far too early for a Saturday morning. His eyes open slowly, and his brow furrows as he blinks at his surroundings – it looks a lot like Ms. Linda’s place, but everything is backwards, and the Christmas tree is still standing in the corner.

                Why the heck is the Christmas tree still up?

                With a groan, he pushes himself into a more upright position, trying to roll the stiffness out of his back. A gentle knocking sound catches his attention, and he looks toward the entrance of the hallway, where somebody’s standing in oversized pajamas, with messy hair and a dubious expression, holding a flowerpot in one arm. There’s a small teddy bear sitting in the pot next to a golden flower.

                Holy shit, that’s Frisk!? Ricky balks and pointedly averts his eyes, feeling suddenly very ridiculous – how could he have forgotten that Frisk actually lives here.

                “Hey, uh, morning,” he stammers, looking anywhere but at them. “Nice, er, nice plant, you got there.”

                A high-pitched, almost cartoonish voice responds. “Golly, thanks, pal, it takes a lot of work to get these petals all bright and shiny.”

                Ricky’s gaze is back at the plant, who’s now smiling at him with a comically sweet expression. “Uh. It can talk?”

                “’It.’” The flower’s expression sours, and he swivels to look up at Frisk. “You don’t even bother to introduce me to your friends? I’m insulted.” Turning back to face Ricky, the scowling face is suddenly sporting a wide, sharp-toothed grin. “Don’t you know it’s rude to call people ‘it,’ buddy?

                While Ricky’s trying his hardest not to soil himself first thing in the morning, Frisk only rolls their eyes and flicks the flower in the forehead. He whines petulantly all the way to the kitchen windowsill, and a white pellet zings toward the back of Frisk’s head as they turn to shuffle into the living room. They dodge it without even looking.

                They flop down into the armchair, sizing Ricky up with groggy, lidded eyes. After a moment, they pull out their phone, tap away rapidly, and then set it on their leg. Ricky’s phone buzzes on the coffee table a couple seconds later. Gingerly, he picks it up, and flips open the new message. It’s from Frisk, wonder of wonders.

                Sorry about him. He’s pretty cranky some mornings, especially when it’s cloudy out.

                Chuckling in spite of himself, Ricky stammers a moment, unsure if he should text back or just speak out loud. “Ah, it’s, no big deal. I uh, didn’t know monsters, uh, came in flower.” He winces. “I mean…!”

                Frisk has already texted their response, and they’re giggling quietly at his fumbling. He’s not exactly a monster, really. Long story. He’s been through a lot, and he’s like that with everybody. A pause, and another text comes up on the screen. His name’s Flowey, by the way.

                “That’s… inventive.”

                He’s not so good at names. Gets it from Dad, I think.

                “He named himself?”

                “I’m right over here, you idiot,” Flowey grumbles from the kitchen window, shooting a glare across the room at them both, “don’t act like I can’t hear you plotting about me.”

                Frisk rolls their eyes, and signs something pointedly at the flower, who scoffs.

                “Who are you calling insecure?!” He shrieks. “I could kill you in one shot!

                Cocking an eyebrow, they sign something more.

                “I don’t need friends!” Flowey hisses, petals bristling, “I have… I have Beary!” A few vines wrap around the bear, lifting it up and giving it a shake for emphasis.

                Both humans are giving him a dubious look, and he squirms under their gazes. “… Beary?” Ricky repeats, a little overwhelmed.

                “Shut up!” The flower snarls, wrapping more vines protectively around his little corduroy friend, baring long, sharp teeth at the taller teen. As disturbing as a flower with teeth is, Ricky finds it hard to be intimidated when the thing is literally hugging a teddy bear. It’s like he’s getting the stink-eye from a petulant child.

                His phone buzzes in his hand, and he glances up at Frisk, who’s watching the flower with an odd, torn expression.

                He’s never gonna grow up.

                Though Ricky’s inclined to laugh, something about the glimmer of regret in Frisk’s eyes tells him not to.

~*~

                Why the hell is he here!?

                Frisk takes a sip of their morning tea. The others have long since gotten up for the day: their mother is currently baking something in the kitchen with fire magic; Papyrus is sitting on the counter by the sink, regaling his captive flower audience with some exaggeratedly exciting story about mall security shenanigans; and Sans is on the couch next to Ricky, his feet kicked up onto the coffee table, idly scrolling through channels on the television, making comments every now and again that make the teen next to him laugh.

                You need to lighten up, Frisk sighs into their cup, feeling the warm, fragrant steam puff over their cheeks and nose. It’s too early for that junk.

                Sure, okay, I’ll lighten up, the second we find out what the actual fuck he is doing here.

                Frisk closes their eyes, trying their hardest not to scowl at something nobody else can see. That’s all you’ve talked about all morning. I’m starting to wish you’d go quiet again.

                Now you know how I feel, with your goody-goody crap! The other sounds almost triumphant. Why are you okay with this? Did you forget that this asshole tried to molest you for a month and a half?

                They grimace at their tea. No, I didn’t forget.

                How are you okay with this!?

                They shrug, and when Sans glances over at them, they hurriedly disguise it with a little cough. Maybe I’m not. But everyone deserves a chance. I don’t know what he’s dealing with.

                You’re kidding. Even after all the shit you’ve seen up here, after all the assholes you’ve dealt with, you’re still going with that philosophy.

                Rolling their eyes, Frisk takes another sip of their tea. Flowey deserved it. And so did you.

                Being nice only gets you hurt, you know. You know that. People walk all over you, take you for granted. There’s something in their voice, something plaintive and hurt. You can’t get what you want by being nice.

                I want everyone to be happy. You can’t get that by not being nice. Frisk sighs, lowering their cup to their lap. The tea is still warm, pleasant against their palms. They can feel eyes watching them, but at the moment they don’t care. They’re too tired for this. I know what I’m doing. You have to trust me.

                Something shudders in their core. I’ve said that before. You know how that ended.

                Yeah, well I’m not you, and you’re not Asriel.

                “My child, is something wrong with your tea?”

                Frisk jolts upright, gripping their cup tightly so tea doesn’t spill everywhere. A smile pushes its way onto their mouth, and their eyes are open a little wider than normal. They open their mouth, as if to respond, and something inside them flinches violently at the realization. Trembling slightly, they set their cup on the end table, and lift their hands to sign.

                ‘I’m fine, Mom. Just a little tired.’

                Toriel smiles softly. “I understand, dear. Please do not fall asleep with the tea in your lap; I do not want you to burn yourself.”

                Frisk nods, still smiling, and picks up their cup again to busy their hands. They know somebody’s looking at them questioningly, but they don’t have the energy to lie to anyone else right now.

                You’re almost as good at lying to her as I am.

                Frisk barely keeps from scoffing out loud. That was all you, and you know it.

                The other shrugs, somewhere in the back of their mind. For a few minutes, there’s a calm quiet, and Frisk starts to finally relax.

                … But seriously, why in the ever-loving fuck is he here!?

                Frisk groans, and doesn’t bother hiding it.

~*~

                A man – a human man – stands before the apartment door, wringing his hands together and reading over the number on its front several times over. He hasn’t brought himself to knock yet, and he can hear voices inside. It’s about one in the afternoon, the earliest he could get off his shift at the supermarket, and he keeps glancing back toward the elevators, halfway wondering if he could make up some excuse one way or another; they weren’t home, they told me to leave… any number of excuses runs through his mind, but each of them is weaker than the last.

                Sighing, he brings a hand up and raps on the door with his knuckles. Oh, god, that sounded far more insistent than he’d intended.

                The door opens after only a moment, and a girl – boy…? A teenager looks up at him through thick bangs, and offers a friendly smile.

                “Er, hello,” he says, giving a feeble little wave. “Are, are your parents home?”

                The teen looks over their shoulder, then back at him, and nods.

                “Oh, good.” His relief only lasts a moment. “I ah, I was wondering if I could speak to them – Oh gracious heavens, pardon my manners!” He holds out a hand, and they shake it without a second thought. “Paul Snyder, it’s nice to meet you, erm…?”

                Holding up one finger on their free hand, they release Mr. Snyder’s handshake to fish out their phone. They type something into it, then hold it up to show him. My name is Frisk Dreemurr! It’s nice to meet you, too.

                “Frisk? Who is at the door?”

                The teenager is dwarfed by a tall, large woman covered from head to toe in white fur. Her bright, copper-colored eyes lock onto the older human straight away, and she offers him what he thinks may be a polite smile.

                “Oh, a guest. My name is Toriel, I am Frisk’s mother.” She holds out an enormous, furry paw for the man to shake, and he nearly balks at the sheer size of it. “And you are?”

                “P-Paul Snyder, ma’am,” he takes hold of her paw as best he can, trying not to gawk at how soft and warm they are, and offers a shaky smile. “My, uh, my wife sent me here.”

                The monster’s grip on his hand tightens, but only for a moment. She lets him go, smiling sweetly as ever. “Well, then, do come in. Frisk, please make sure he is comfortable while I make some tea. Would you like some tea, Mr. Snyder?” She’s turned about and is already in the kitchen, making herself busy with the kettle.

                He stammers a “yes, please” as the teenager steers him inside, takes his coat, and leads him to the living room. There’s two other people sitting on opposing ends of the couch – or, well, Paul assumes they’re human, until the taller one looks up at him and smiles brightly. Well, seeing as he’s a skeleton, the smile might be his default expression.

                “HELLO, NEW HUMAN!” The tall skeleton waves. “IT IS VERY NICE TO MEET YOU! I AM THE GREAT PAPYRUS, AND ALSO FRISK’S UNCLE!”

                Before Paul can stammer out a greeting, the other figure lifts his head – oh, god, he’s a skeleton, too. “Sup,” he nods, “name’s Sans. I’m Frisk’s dunkle.” He watches casually as his nibling gets Paul seated in the armchair. Once Frisk bounds off to help Toriel in the kitchen, both skeletons round their gazes on Paul. The human begins to sweat.

                “So, I… take it you know why I’m here.” Paul’s hoping he sounds more confident than he feels.

                “Donno,” the lights in Sans’s eye-sockets roll toward the taller skeleton, “do we, Papyrus?”

                Papyrus is frowning. Looks like his grin isn’t so default after all. “I BELIEVE WE DO, BROTHER.”

                “So you’re sayin’ we know that we know what we know-“

                “NOW IS NOT THE TIME, SANS.”

                The shorter skeleton chuckles, and winks an eye-socket at Paul. “Old habits. Anyways – you’re here for your kid, aint’cha?”

                Paul feels himself relax. “Is Ricky here? Helen said that he might have come here.”

                “He’s here, all right. Got here at eleven last night, looking like he was about to fall over. He probably didn’t get to sleep until three in the morning.” Sans keeps his gaze even and unblinking, watching Paul’s face intently. “Kid was very upset.”

                “He… he was?” Paul blinks, a frown tugging at the corners of his mouth and furrowing his brow.

                Both skeletons nod, and Paul rests his cheek on his hand, sighing. It’s a moment before he talks again. “… Helen didn’t tell me anything about what happened, just that Ricky ran off and wouldn’t answer his phone. Did…” he glances at the two on the couch, wincing slightly, “did he happen to tell either of you?”

                “He told both of us,” Sans shrugs, eye-sockets sliding half-shut, “your wife… really didn’t tell you anything?”

                Shaking his head, Paul says, “no, she only said that they had a fight, Ricky yelled, and then ran off.”

                Sans and Papyrus share a look, and Paul begins to feel like something is very, very wrong.

~*~

                He can hear them talking out in the living room, even through the closed bathroom door. He can’t hear what they’re saying, but he knows they’re talking about him. It never takes too long for him to ruffle his hair dry with the towel, but he takes a little extra time, anyway. Before long, he’s staring at his reflection in the mirror, wondering when his eyes started looking so drooped under his eyelids.

                There’s a knock at the door, gentle, but insistent.

                “Who-“ Ricky’s voice catches in his throat, and he’s glad he threw on the clothes Papyrus lent him, “who’s there?”

                No response, just another, slightly more insistent knock. He crosses the room and opens the door a crack, revealing Frisk, who’s looking up at him with concern in their eyes.

                “Shit, I thought you were…” he shakes his head, and opens the door further, “you, uh, need the bathroom?”

                They shake their head, and look at him questioningly. He regrets not bringing his phone into the room with him. A short silence hangs between them, before Frisk pats his arm to get his attention, and then jerks their thumb down the hallway, raising an eyebrow.

                “Uh, sure,” he mutters, tossing his towel into the bathroom hamper and following the shorter teen down the hall and to their bedroom. It’s pretty tame, especially if he compares it to glimpses he’s gotten of the Smith kids’ rooms when he’s visited their place. A bed with a nightstand, a desk, a dresser, and some assorted knickknacks scattered on each – including a tea set with two cups, and a scowling flower sitting in his pot on the windowsill.

                Flowey’s scowl deepens when he sees Ricky. “Great. First your friends start arriving unannounced, and now you’re inviting them into my personal space.”

                Frisk only rolls their eyes, taking the desk chair and gesturing toward the bed while looking at Ricky. He shuffles toward it and sits gingerly on the edge, thankful that they didn’t make him sit near the irate flower.

                Aside from Flowey’s grumbling, the silence is pretty comfortable, overall. Frisk scrolls through something on their phone, and Ricky eventually lets himself fall backward onto the bed so he can stare up at the ceiling, arms splayed to either side. He can only barely hear the voices in the living room, now, and he finds it easier to relax.

                After about half an hour, there comes a knock at the bedroom door. Ricky nearly vaults off the bed, but Frisk waves him off and answers the door themself.

                “Is, ah… Is he in here?” the voice on the other side is quiet, but a knot twists in Ricky’s stomach as he sits cross-legged on the bed. He watches Frisk nod, and they hold up one finger, before closing the door and crossing the room.

                They’re standing in front of him, slapping both hands onto his cheeks and staring him in the eyes. Though they don’t say anything – he doesn’t think they actually can say anything – he can see the glint in their eyes, irises a dark, ruddy brown, flecked with something distinctly red. Determined, that’s the only word for it, and somehow, in seeing it, he feels a little more determined, himself.

                “Thanks, Frisk.” He gives a little smile through his squished cheeks. “You can, um, send him in, I guess.

                Frisk beams at him, ruffling his head before trotting away to scoop Flowey off the desk and head out, leaving the door wide open, revealing the taller human standing outside, staring at his son and wringing his hands.

                Ricky’s smile becomes something of a grimace. “… Hey, dad.”

~*~

                Paul doesn’t know what to expect, when the skeletons and the tall, furry woman send him down the hallway, and when Frisk answers the door and then heads back inside for a moment, his mind conjures all sorts of horrors. What if Ricky was mugged on the way over? Beaten, bruised, broken a bone? He doesn’t know if he could handle it.

                When Frisk pushes gently past him and pats him on the arm, with their weird scowling flower in hand, he’s left facing an open doorway into the bedroom – and there, sitting on the bed and wincing in his direction, is his son.

                “… Hey, dad,” Ricky waves his hand lightly, letting it drop back to his knee listlessly. “So, I guess Mr. Sans and Mr. Papyrus told you everything.”

                “Actually, ah,” Paul rubs at the back of his neck, unsure if he should step inside yet or not, “they were both pretty vague on the whole matter. I think they wanted me to hear it from you.”

                His son sucks in a sharp breath and averts his eyes, and Paul finds himself wondering what exactly the teen is feeling. Is he angry? He certainly looks hurt, and his eyes are a bit puffy.

                “I had a good day, yesterday,” the teen’s voice is rough, wavering from held-back tears, “I was… I just got home, from hanging out with Frisk, Kid, Rachel, and Bill, you know? I was gonna tell Ma all about it, but the second I got in the door… I guess she heard, already.” He sniffles quickly, as if hoping his father doesn’t notice. “She, she got really mad, told me I wasn’t allowed to do sports, or anything after school, anymore. And, well, Mr. Sans and everyone were so nice at New Years’, so I just… came here.”

                Paul hovers in the doorway a moment, and then steps inside fully, closing the door behind himself. “Rick, son, can I be blunt with you?”

                The fear in his son’s eyes as he snaps his head up to look at him is enough to send a hot, sharp pain through his heart. “No, no no, you didn’t do anything wrong, Rick. Just… Listen, for a moment.”

                Ricky falls quiet, and watches as his father sits down at Frisk’s desk, smoothing his hands over the surface, before folding them together. He isn’t quite facing his son, but turns his head toward him slightly as he begins to speak.

                “Your mother is… of a strong opinion, regarding our new neighbors.” He sighs, pinching at the bridge of his nose. “It’s been eight years since they started moving to town, and she just… won’t let up. I deal with monsters every day, at the supermarket, and let me tell you, son, not a one of them has raised their voice at either me or my employees, unless they’re just excited about their purchase. Some of them tend to get excited, about all kinds of things.”

                He turns just a bit in his seat, enough to look at his son properly. “… I don’t really care what your mother said. If you want to stay here with these nice folks for awhile, and if they’ll let you stay, then it’s fine with me.” Ricky’s jaw hangs open, and Paul reaches over to clap his son on the shoulder. “I’ll go home, and have a talk with your mother. But first, let’s have a chat with Frisk’s family, okay?”

                Neither of them decide to mention the silent tears of relief running down Ricky’s face as they head back to the living room.

~*~

                “You did WHAT!?”

                Paul ducks under a book that comes flying across the room at him. “I let him stay,” he responds to his wife in a cool tone that sharply contrasts her burning rage. “He’s happy, there, with his friend.”

                “You mean, that, that…” Helen’s holding something else in her hand and gesturing wildly with it – Paul can’t quite tell if it’s another book or one of her collectible dishes, “that little harlot has my baby boy in her grimy little paws?!”

                “Frisk is a perfectly nice kid,” Paul is scowling, but his voice remains even, “and even if they didn’t like Ricky, the fact they’re willing to help him at all should speak volumes, Helen.”

                Another object flies dangerously close to Paul’s face, and from the shattering sound it makes as it hits the wall behind him, it was in fact one of Helen’s collectibles.

                Afternoon drags on into evening, and it continues in similar fashion. Things are thrown, words are said, and it’s easy to say that nothing good comes from any of it. Paul accuses Helen of blatant racism, and Helen fires back at Paul that he’s a coddling son of a bitch who’s spoiling their son. Helen demands to know why Paul even went to the New Years’ party, if he’s so upset about it. Paul explains through gritted teeth that he was trying to make her happy, that he always tries, and nothing is enough. More things are thrown. More words are shouted. By the time six o’clock rolls around, the living room is in shambles. Both of the house’s occupants are sitting across from each other, Paul in a beat-up armchair, and Helen perched on the end of the sofa. Neither are looking at the other, and from the tension in the air, they would still be yelling, if their throats weren’t aching from the effort.

                Wordlessly, Paul stands up and walks into the bedroom. Helen glances after him, scoffing under her breath and hugging her arms around herself. A few minutes of silence pass, and Paul re-emerges into the living room, wearing his coat and pulling a luggage bag behind himself.

                “Where the hell are you going?” Helen snaps, brows furrowed into a dark crease over her sharp eyes.

                Paul stops at the door, keys in hand, and looks at her over his shoulder. Pressing a hat over his head and throwing the door open, he responds, “Giving you some time alone to think about things.”

                His wife stammers, bleating, but he’s already shut the door between them. Now it’s just her, and the mess she’s made inside her empty house.

Chapter Text

~*~

 

    "No! No, no, babe, look, all I'm saying is, is that if you grab your opponent and throw them like this --"

    "Undyne, please , that tactic is so old." Alphys swirls the control stick in a circle and hits a button, deftly avoiding her girlfriend's on-screen attack. "See, what you gotta do is... this... a bit of this, and then--"

    The rest of her words are cut off by Undyne's shriek of disbelief as her character is sent flying offstage by Alphys's winning combo.

    "NGAAHH! How!? How do you keep doing that?!" Undyne runs a hand over her face, and it's apparent she's only barely managing to not throw the controller she has gripped in her shaking hand.

    Alphys coughs out a nervous laugh. "W-well, while you were spending all your time, you know, training-"

    "Getting HUGE, you mean!!"

    "- I spent most of my time playing video games."

    Undyne looks her girlfriend over, and then chuckles to herself. "Yeah, okay, I dig it. Little Miss Royal Scientist."

    Alphys's face flushes darkly, and she turns her gaze away. "... That was eight years ago, y-you know."

    The fish monster winces visibly. "Ugh, right, sorry. That was... rough."

    There's a moment of silence, where Alphys blankly stares ahead. "... Toriel could have been a l-l-little nicer about it." Her voice breaks a little toward the end, and she claps a clawed hand against her snout.

    "Shh, shh, babe," Undyne gently pulls Alphys to her chest, cradling the lizard's head in her muscular arms. "It's okay, Alph, I'm sorry I brought it up."

    Shaking her head as best she can despite her girlfriend's scaly embrace, Alphys stammers, "I'm-I'm sorry, I shouldn't, shouldn't b-b-be so worked up about it st-st-still..."

    A strong hand grabs her quivering chin, and pulls her to look up at her girlfriend. Alphys has to reach up to straighten her glasses on her teary eyes, and when she can focus correctly, she sees something warm and gentle in Undyne's good eye.

    "You can feel however the hell you want about it, babe," Undyne says gently, running her thumb over Alphys's cheek. "It was a really stressful time for you, I know, and... I know how you feel about yourself when it comes up, even still."

    Though Alphys tries to turn her head away, Undyne's hand holds her fast. "Don't you dare be ashamed of what you've been through. You are strong, you are brave. You are a god damned delight !!"

    This being said, she squishes Alphys's cheeks with her thumb and forefinger, puckering the lizard girl's lips in preparation for a swift peck.

    "A damned delight," Undyne grins.

    Alphys gives a shaky, small smie, and Undyne tweaks her cheek. "C'mon, don't make me dunk you in the trash again, nerd!" She laughs, and this gets a giggle out of her girlfriend as well. "Say it with me: 'I am a fucking delight.'"

    "I-I-I'm a f-f-f-fuck--"

    "LOUDER, NERD!!"

    "I-I-I-I'M A F-FUCKING DELIGHT???" Alphys squeaks.

    "THAT'S MORE LIKE IT!!" Undyne hoots, "ONE MORE TIME!!"

    "I'M A ... I'M A DELIGHT!"

    "No, nono, babe, you gotta add the 'fucking.' It's for emphasis. Trust me on this."

    "A FUCKING DELIGHT!!!" Alphys shrieks; there might be some tears leaking down her face, but she's smiling genuinely now.

    Undyne, on the other hand, is beaming. "GOOD!! A GOD DAMNED, FUCKING DELIGHT!!"

    They scream for the better part of half an hour. The neighbors may or may not be filing complaints, but neither of them can really bring themselves to care; they're both feeling a lot better about themselves.

    They're smiling.

 

~*~

 

    Frisk sits cross-legged on the sofa, curled into the corner of the plush cushions and leaning against the armrest while they read over their notes from history class. About four feet away on the floor beside the coffee table, Ricky chews on the end of his pencil as he works out some problems on a math worksheet.

    "How the heck do you get this done so fast?" He asks, glancing up from the page to see their reaction.

    They shrug, perhaps a bit deflectively, and flip to the next notebook page.

    Ricky narrows his eyes, and sets his pencil on the coffee table. "... You aren't done, are you." It's not a question.

    Frisk glances over at him, and though they try to keep a neutral expression, there's a suspicious amount of guilt in their eyes.

    "Oh my god, what are you even doing? You realize this stuff is extra points on the quiz tomorrow, right?"

    The shorter teen curls up on the couch, tucking their knees up inside their baggy tunic. Again, they shrug noncommittally, pulling out their phone and scrolling down the screen.

    Silence hangs over the two of them for several moments. Ricky eventually shakes his head and continues working on his homework, all the while Frisk continues to mess around on their phone. With every passing moment, the taller teen works up a little more desire to tell his friend just what he thinks of their attitude at the moment, when suddenly, his phone buzzes in his pocket. Without taking his eyes off Frisk, he pulls it from his back pocket and unlocks the screen, only taking his eyes off the surly teen on the couch when he can see what the notification is. It's a new text... From Frisk.

    Bad time sleeping lately. Stress. Big meeting on Saturday with the governor. Can't focus.

    Ricky winces, and let out a small sigh. "... Sorry, bud. It's probably dumb to say, but sometimes I forget you're a big hero, fighting to make a difference."

    Frisk starts to sign lazily, pauses when they recall Ricky still can't understand their hands, and tap out a new message on their phone.

    I'm not a hero. I'm just trying to make things right. But I'm just one kid.

    Holding the phone in his hand for a few moments, Ricky gnaws on the inside of his cheek, racking his brain for the right words. He isn't used to trying to help others feel better; he's realized that until recently, he's been the one making them feel badly in the first place. This is new ground for him, but... when he thinks about it, not really. Trying to keep his parents happy when their problems are with each other, and not with him... working to be a good son, in spite of everything... He's just one kid, too.

    "Look, I uh." He sets his homework aside and wrings his hands, pausing a moment to huff out a sigh. "I know what you do is tough, and you've been doing it for, like, years , and that's, that's gotta weigh on ya. But I just want to let you know... you might just be one kid, but to, um, all the folks out there you're helping? You're kind of a big deal."

    He waits for a response, but doesn't get one for several moments. It isn't until he hears a quiet sniffle that he lifts his eyes, just in time to see Frisk hurriedly scrubbing at their face with their sleeves. The two make eye contact once the scrubbing is done; Frisk's cheeks are ruddy, their eyes are puffy and reddened, their lips are trembling, and yet...

    They're smiling.

 

~*~

 

    A woman sits in her living room, staring idly at some soap opera on the television, swirling a half-empty glass of wine in her hand. Her brown hair is unkempt, framing her tear-stained face in a picture of despair. She's gone and done it this time. All those fights, all those warnings... God, why didn't she listen before?

    Helen glances at her cell phone, lying on the couch cushion beside her. She can't tell if she's waiting for someone to call her, or for the guts to call someone herself. Cheap wine and cheap television seem to make everything even more unclear than they already are.

    It's been a week. Maybe two? Damn, if she hasn't lost count. Her son walked out of her house, his home, and keeps sending her calls straight to voicemail. She must have left a dozen messages, saying she's sorry. Has he even listened to one of them? She doubts it, somehow. His father did the same, the very next day, only, when she looks at the remains of one of her favorite dishes, still lying shattered on the floor by the front door, she feels she can't honestly blame either of them.

    Twin streaks of hot wetness trace the trails running down her face, and she hardly notices through the blur of booze.

    Shifting her hazy gaze around the room, her attention settles on the hearth, where she's proudly displayed an assortment of family photos. Hers and Paul's wedding day. The day Ricky was born. Ricky's first softball game. Paul getting promoted to manager at the supermarket. All of these memories - and more - surround a singular photo in the center that holds her attention the most, even through her drunken stupor.

    Shakily, and with no little amount of effort, Helen stands from her slumped seat on the sofa, and wobbles across the room to brace herself upright against the mantle. She is eye-to-eye with the photo in question - one of those rare, professional-quality family photos, where everyone dresses up and pretends they're full of sunshine with varying degrees of success. She pickes it up and holds it so she can see it better, studying the faces of her family, but younger, with brighter eyes and darker hair. Ricky was about nine in this picture, if her memory serves well - but booze makes even something so surefire into something ungainly.

    This time, she doesn't have the added distraction of half-assed drama plots to keep her from recognizing the tears on her face, the knot choking at her throat. She can't stand looking at these faces, not now, why now, of all times, and even still, she can't look away.

    They're smiling.

 

~*~

 

    It's one of those nights again. One would think the nightmares would stop after nearly nine fucking years on the surface, but one would be sorely mistaken.

    Sans pinches the bridge of his nasal cavity, closing his eye-sockets and listening to the dull hum of the microwave. Hot cocoa always helps, even if only a little, and he isn't about to give up on a thing that works. A noise down the halllway makes him jump, eye-sockets snapping open, his left eye flashing even if only for half a moment as he looks toward the sound. ... Nothing.

    "God," he mumbles, raking his phalanges over his skull, then shoving his hands into the pockets of his housecoat.

    The microwave chooses that moment to start beeping, and he has his hand out and holding the damn thing in an aura of blue magic before he can stop himself. He can see the blue-yellow-blue flashing reflecting off the kitchen's chrome appliances, and for a moment he's almost impressed at how entrancing and yet terrifying it looks, the image of his own grimace mirrored back at him on the microwave door.

    Shaking his head, Sans sets the thing back down on the counter, releasing his magic and closing the offending eye-socket, rubbing his left hand over it absently as he carefully retrieves his mug. By some lucky miracle, he hasn't sloshed hot milk all over the inside of the microwave again - only a small spill this time, easily mopped up with a paper towel before he dumps the packet of cocoa into the mug.

    He watches the rest of the room as he quietly stirs the mug. Quiet. Empty. Safe. Just as always. Nothing new, nothing dangerous. He's fine. His family is fine. Nothing is out of the -

    Wait a moment.

    "Frisk?" He squints slightly, spying the definite form of a curled-up teenager at the end of the couch. "Is'sat you?"

    The figure sits up slightly, and the mess of brown hair on their head soothes his metaphorical - yet all too hypersensitive - nerves.

    "Stars, kiddo, don't scare me like that." He laughs hoarsely, stirring his drink a bit more for good measure. "You want some cocoa, while I'm in here?"

    "Tea, would be nice," a whisper comes back to him.

    "Yeah, sure thing," he reaches for the kettle.

    Wait.

    His eyes snap back up to the figure on the couch. They're sitting there, quiet, still, head leaned back against the cushion, eyes wide, staring up at the ceiling like they're trying to count each little speck of plaster stippling.

    "It's so quiet at night," they say, their voice hoarse and soft, catching slightly in their throat. "Nothing going on, just the sounds of the street outside and whatever the neighbors are up to..."

    Sans's hand trembles, hovering over the handle of the teakettle. "You're... F-Frisk, are you -"

    "Frisk is fine, they want you to know that," they say tiredly, raising a hand to brush some of their hair from their eyes.

    "Who are you?" The skeleton demands, his voice sharp, but even.

    He gets a slow, drawn-out sigh in response. Then the figure turns their head to face him, and he clutches the handle of the teapot as if for dear life; Frisk's eyes are never that wide-open, even though those eyes are somehow still theirs, still bright, still red.

    "Don't you know, Dunkle Sans?" They say, in Frisk's hoarse, unused voice, "It's me." They say this, and he can't deny what he hears, what he sees.

    They're smiling.

Chapter Text

~*~

 

    The only sound in the apartment is the quiet rattling of Sans's ribcage as he stands nearly frozen in shock, staring with dark sockets at the smiling face looking at him from the sofa.

    "Whoa, pal, what's the matter?" They giggle quietly, and the sound is so, so similar to Frisk's laugh that Sans shudders a bit harder, "you look like you've just seen a ghost."

    "A demon, more like," the skeleton wheezes, clutching at his chest, like he's making sure it's all there. "What... what the hell?"

    The teen on the couch sighs, and their smile softens into something less manic, more passive. "... You look concerned. I can tell - your eyes do this droopy thing in the sockets, and the lights start to flicker." They make a vague gesture with their fingers near their left eye. "That eye thing you do is really cool, by the way. Chills the blood something fierce."

    Sans... squints. "... You don't sound like you're about to whip out a knife and, you know, murder my entire family again."

    A dry, hoarse laugh comes in reply. "Buddy, you of all people should know that some of us have... bad times."

    "That's my phrase, you cut it out." Sans blinks. "And you can't possibly mean that you killed an entire population just because you were having a lousy day."

    The smile fades almost entirely, and they turn their gaze toward the coffee table. "... That wasn't all me, you know."

    "Come again?"

    They shrug. "How about that tea? I won't be able to tell you the whole story if my throat is sore."

    Grumbling, the skeleton drags the kettle to the faucet, filling it with water. "You know, you could just sign it."

    "That's... Frisk's thing." They wring their hands together, picking under the nails. "If I'm gonna be out - even if it is supposed to be secret - I want to be myself."

    "Suit yourself, dust mittens," Sans mutters, grudgingly pulling the box of tea bags from the cupboard. "Golden flower, I'm assuming?" He asks in a louder tone.

    "Like any other kind should even exist," they scoff, and he can't help chuckling.

    "Can't tell if you got that from Frisk, or vice versa."

    He doesn't get a response, and the silence that hangs between them is only broken by the low whistle of the kettle beginning to boil. Sans snatches it up before it gets any louder, and pours the water over the teabag - the liquid turns a golden-brown almost immediately, and he carries the cup in one hand and his own cocoa in the other, setting the former on the coffee table within the teen's reach.

    "Thanks, pal," they flash a smile at him that somehow doesn't quite make his spine tingle. They pull the cup in between their hands, wincing momentarily at the heat, and pulling up the sleeves of their nightshirt to protect their palms. He watches them take a sip, and their eyelids sink mostly closed, the smallest of contented smiles pulling at their lips, and for a moment, he thinks Frisk is back, that this was some weird dream induced by lack of sleep. Then their eyes are open wide again, and locked on him; nope, no dream.

    "How much do you remember from the other timelines?" The question is direct and to the point, no beating around the bush, like when Frisk wants to talk about it.

    Sans sets his jaw, trying not to grind his teeth. "Enough. Bits and pieces. Why?"

    "I remember everything." They lower their eyes to their mug. "Both of us do. Frisk tries not to, but how can't they, when they're the one who lived it directly?" After a short pause, they add, more softly, "... we both are."

    "You had better start making some sense soon," Sans says flatly, "my dunking hand is starting to get twitchy."

    "Fine, fine." They roll their eyes. "Where to start...?"

    "First off - where's Frisk, right now?"

    They laugh quietly, and tap their right temple. "In here, like I usually am. They've started doing this recently, when the nightmares get too bad." At Sans's sudden twitch, they nod. "Yes, nightmares. Probably as bad as what you get - or worse, depending on your perspective. Some of them about you."

    He wants to ask, he knows he does, but he finds he'd rather discuss it with Frisk, personally. "... Are they okay, right now?"

    "Of course. Stressed, not wanting to cause trouble, tired, but they're fine." They turn to look at the skeleton expectantly. "May I start now, or are you going to barrage me with questions that only make them start whining a little more in my head?"

    He makes a valiant effort at keeping a straight face. "... Go on."

    What he expects is another smile, something bright and wicked, like he's fallen right into their trap, right where they want him to be. What he gets is something pensive and introspective, with the slightest wrinkle of the nose, like they're tasting something unpleasant. They take another slow sip of their tea, letting it wash down their throat, likely to help with the croaking of their voice. Indeed, when they speak again, their words are much clearer.

    "... We'll have to start a long time ago, then. Back before any of this happened. Before your father's 'accident' or even before the souls were collected. Back to the day I died."

 

~*~

 

    You know about the child who fell into the mountain, who befriended the prince and enamored an entire nation. You've heard how the King and the Queen loved them like they were of their own magic and dust, even after everything the humans had done in the past. You realize just how much faith they put in their children, how they believed that the little human and the little monster could one day actually bridge the gap between their species for good.

    Even still, what nobody ever knew was why that child fell into the mountain in the first place. ... Only one person ever thought to ask, but that was only when they both had crossed the barrier together.

    "Why did you come down here?" Asriel asked me, as I was using our joined body to carry my corpse back to the place I'd once called 'home.' "You knew the stories."

    Of course I knew the stories. Those stories were why I'd gone. I wanted to disappear, to vanish, that way maybe I wouldn't have to care about anything anymore.

    ... Then I met him, and Mom and Dad, and I suppose - ironically - it made me care all the more.

    ...

    I'm not sure what I expected to do when we arrived at the human village. We knelt down and started to set my body in the flowers, but then the villagers came out, and they screamed, and cried, and started throwing things at us.

    I was used to hatred from these humans. Something more like apathy or utter disregard, even, but this? This was mad, blind fear. It left me frozen and confused, because just, just look at the Dreemurrs. Sure, they're big, but they're soft, fluffy, and white. There's nothing scary about them. ... Then I remembered it wasn't just Asriel in that body. I was there, too.

    And a monster's body is a reflection of the magic in their soul.

    While I was contemplating this, it gave Asriel the chance to act. He picked me back up, he set a smile on our fanged face, and turned around, walking exactly the way we came. ... I remember asking him where he thought he was going.

    "Home," he said. "We're going home."

    By normal standards, we should have been dust long before we arrived back in New Home. By that point, I was the only piece holding us together. We called for help, in a voice that was both ours, and also belonged to neither of us.

    By the time somebody came, Asriel was gone, and I - alone, vulnerable, unbreaking - I ran away.

    ...

    Mom and Dad fought about what to do. Mom left one night, while everyone else was sleeping. She crept into the basement and took what was left of me from my coffin. She brought me all the way Home, and she buried me in the largest patch of sunlight she could find.

    I watched the whole time, of course. I don't know how she didn't see me, didn't know I was there. Maybe I was too weak, too dimly lit. I used to be able to roam the Ruins - a lost soul, haunting the halls. Before too long, I was rooted to the patch of ground where my corpse lay.

    Eternity is a dull business when nobody comes to visit. Eventually, some of the golden flowers began to bloom over me, and it at least made the hollow cavern more comfortable, more homely.

    I saw other children fall down. Each one different from the last. Patience, Justice, Kindness, Bravery... strong souls, all of them, but I couldn't help feeling bitter that none of them were as strong as me. After the one in the tutu and the ballet shoes fell and moved on, I received my first real visitor.

    A flower. golden petals with a white core, like the others, but this one was alive, really alive, though he had no soul. He called himself Flowey, but the way he talked to me, like he knew I was there, like he knew me... I knew who he really was.

    He told me all the other children had died. That they had been captured, that Dad had killed them. He would cackle, and describe in gruesome detail how King Asgore Dreemurr ran his magical trident through the souls of six young children, and, I'll be honest, I laughed, too. Bitterly. Because what kind of ending would they really expect, after all that's happened?

    None of them had a chance at saving anyone. None of them had the willpower to do it. Idiots.

 

~*~

 

    For a moment, they fall quiet. They glance up from the screen of Frisk's phone - which they've been messing with absently as they talk - and contemplate Sans's expression.

    The skeleton stares back. "... So you were just... waiting, down there?"

    They shrug. "Not a lot else to do, when you're dead, but too determined to not just... stop existing."

    "Why didn't you Reset?"

    "Buddy," they give a short, hoarse laugh. "You think I didn't try? I knew I could Save, and Load. I did it all the time when Asriel and I played. It's how I learned the other monsters so well. But things weren't dangerous, then. Nobody tried to fight me, for real. I never died, before."

    "So... the first one who could Reset was -"

    "Flowey," they nod, finishing the thought for him. "And boy, did he use it. I felt each one. Not sure how much I could remember of them, seeing as I was rooted to one place for longer than I care to imagine, but he would come back, and talk to me after most of them. He never heard me talking back, never caught my comments or my criticism. He just got more and more bitter. More and more angry. I can't say I blame him - even I can't understand how it feels to be soulless."

    Sighing, they run their hands through their hair, and then drain their tea. Once the mug is empty, they hold it out to Sans. "Could I have some more? This throat is so scratchy. I promise, I'll keep going."

    With a nod, the skeleton takes their cup and heads to the kitchen. He only returns when a new cup of tea is freshly brewed, and he hands it to them directly, this time, before taking his seat.

    "So, how exactly did you and Frisk... meet, then?"

    They chuckle, and take a slow sip. "... Ah, this is the part that will get ya..."

 

~*~

 

    I sort of resigned myself to my fate, after a while. I settled down into one spot, shut off most of my senses, and decided I might as well try to die the rest of the way. Even still, no matter how hard I tried to let go, to tear myself in half, to give up, it was impossible. Eventually... I decided the next best thing was to simply... be. Just let everything keep going around me, and stop paying attention. For a long time, it worked. Flowey still visited, I still felt the bumps of each Reset, each Load he made.

    And then one day, I felt something crash down on me.

    Even as just a weak, festering soul, I felt the physical weight of something crash down onto my gilded grave. It jarred my senses back into action, brought my attention to the present, and there, lying limp and whimpering among the flowers, was a new child. One in a blue-and-purple striped sweater, with ombre skin and tear-streaked cheeks. They were broken and trembling, perhaps bleeding a little from their fall. With a stick in one hand, and a bandage on their elbow, they laid there for a moment, crying quietly in pain, or fear. I expected them to give up any moment, to lie down and let their soul wither.

    And then I felt it - a pulse, a click, something familiar, but not from myself, from this child in the flowers: a spark of Determination. They reached one hand out, the one holding the stick, and proceeded to try and drag themself forward, biting back the tears. When they reached the other one, the fingers looked too mangled to be of much use.

    "Looks like you could use a hand , pal," I said, without really thinking. And to my surprise, they paused, and lifted their head, trying to find the sound.

    Better yet - even though they were in crippling agony, and eight years old - they laughed.

    And that's when I got the idea. "You and me," I said, "we're both in a bind. I'm stuck here, and you're really hurt. I can help you, and you can help me. What do you say we team up?"

    They asked who I was. I said my name wasn't important. Even through their broken bones and throbbing headache, they said everyone is important, even ghosts. I told them that I'm no ghost, a lot of them are nicer than me, but I appreciated the sentiment anyway. Finally, they agreed, and I... joined them.

    I'm not sure how exactly it happened. We may have Reset right away, because the next thing I knew, they were sitting in the bed of flowers, whole and unhurt, and I was no longer rooted to the corpse beneath them, but surrounded by a warm fluttering, like a blanket, but hotter, and heavier.

    I had a body again, a real, human body, but it wasn't just mine. It took the two of us the better part of an hour of stumbling around to learn how to walk properly, and... well, let's just say, the first fight we got in, we both panicked.

    The first time we died, I finally felt death's cool, sweet embrace after waiting for what must have been centuries. But neither of us could settle for that. No... we refused.

    And woke back up in the bed of golden flowers.

    ...

    If Frisk were out right now, they would tell you that I helped them through most of the underground, because they're actually pretty shy around folks they've just met, but I can't help begging to differ. You see, I think we helped each other equally. While I was alive, I was too caught up being angry and bitter about the life I'd escaped to really enjoy the people that surrounded me, except for Asriel, and even then... I wasn't the greatest friend.

    I may have helped Frisk to act, but... Frisk helped me to care.

    Frisk loved the puzzles, and the games, and we both loved the jokes, and I even grew to care about the people we met. I encouraged Frisk to take the lead, but sometimes I would get a little carried away. We learned everything we could about everyone we met. We dodged, we befriended, we... fought. We made allies, and we made mistakes. But what baffled me the most was how quickly we were forgiven for nearly everything that happened.

    ...

    Every time, we would reach the end. We would beat Asgore, Flowey would capture the six souls, and become a horror beyond imagining. We would win the souls' trust, and they would help us beat him.

    ... The first time, when Flowey sat there wilted and defeated, Frisk was so angry, so scared after that hell of a fight, they slashed him clean in half out of sheer reflex. Most every other time, they did their best to forgive him, to let him go.

    Especially when we realized that it never really mattered.

    Every time we would defeat him, we would wander through a wide, empty blackness, until the phone would ring. Every time, it was you, Sans, telling us what had happened after we left. If there's one thing I appreciate about you, aside from your jokes... you're brutally honest about everything. We could hear you and the others fine, but none of you could hear Frisk.

    It was after about the thirtieth phone call of this caliber that I felt a familiar cold frustration growing in Frisk's heart. We tried again. Again, and again, and a fourth time. Nothing changed. We fought Flowey, he ran away, we got a phone call. Finally, I felt them say it, in our mind.

    "What if I do it different, this time?"

    I didn't know what they meant. We woke up in the bed of flowers, but they didn't even smile at Mom when she came to greet us. They beat the first Froggit we found senselessly to dust with their stick, but they didn't stop there, despite my confused silence. They stalked the halls of the ruins for what felt like hours, and though I had grown to love monsters far more than humans, I felt something with every kill, every new pile of dust that littered the floor.

    We were getting stronger. Even more so - I was getting stronger.

    ...

    You don't need the gritty details. You know what happened well enough, up to the point we met you in the judgement hall.

    Frisk didn't want to fight you, deep down, but at that point, we were in too deep. I felt more alive than I had in ages, and I was in control almost fully, now. I had been, since Snowdin. I could feel all the anger I'd kept inside through my childhood boiling in Frisk's blood, mixed with their own frustration at how trapped we'd been.

    And then you were in our way.

    Neither of us could understand how strong you were, and how fast. You have abilities unlike any other monster - or at least, beyond what other monsters are willing to do. We died. We died, we died, and we died.

    Yet finally, we didn't. And you fell asleep.

    ...

    We moved on. Flowey killed Asgore right in front of us, claimed he was trying to help us. But there was too much. Too much rage, too much power. He came to me for centuries and he told me about so many horrible things, and he - my best friend - turned into something beyond disgusting... I took the knife, and I chopped him to bits.

    And then it was just us. Me, and Frisk, alone, in the darkness. That same darkness we'd seen so many times before, but only now... I felt different. I felt new. I looked down, and I had hands, feet, legs... a body of my own.

    "Greetings," I said, and it was my voice. Frisk wheeled about to look at me, eyes wide in terror. "It's me."

 

~*~

 

    Again, they fall silent. Sans's cocoa sits forgotten on the end table, and the skeleton's eye-sockets are glued on the teenager. His phalanges are buried in the pockets of his housecoat, but it doesn't take much to notice that he's fidgeting with them as he listens. It's quiet. They sit together, unspeaking, letting the weight of the teenager's words hang in the air.

    "... It was like I got a second chance at the plan that I ruined, with Asriel, the first time," they whisper, and Sans almost has to strain to hear them. "I could finally have my vengeance, my restitution, everything could be wiped clean... I thought I had all the power, but... it turns out Frisk had some, too."

    When Sans doesn't respond right away, the teenager goes on. "I told them who I was, my name, how they had given me the power to manifest myself through the LOVE we collected, and then I told them to help me destroy the universe, to wipe the slate truly clean. That it was the only way."

    Sans's eye-sockets are wide, the lights within flickering dimly, but the human before him wearing Frisk's face and hair and pajamas shakes their head wearily, giving a dull, dry laugh. "Even so... they refused. They told me we made a mistake. That there has to be a better way... but before I could say anything, they grabbed that point, that distant point, so far back...

    "'Fix it,' they signed, whether to me or themself or to both of us, I'm still not sure, and they brought us back to the beginning."

    They pause, shifting the gaze of their crimson eyes back to the skeleton. "... That started the timeline you remember. This one. They shoved me away, pushed me deep into the recesses of their mind. They ignored me for the most part - I had already taught them everything they needed to know to survive the underground. I watched them go through the motions we'd repeated so many times... all the way until we fought asgore, then Flowey, until we got the phone call from you and the others... but then they waited. They waited for several minutes in that deep void, and right when I thought they might entertain the idea of another reset, of helping me feel my own body again, the way they had before... Flowey came back."

    "He told Frisk that there was another way, that we had to go back and befriend everyone. Frisk thought we had, and they were confused... until Flowey sent us back to the doorway of the throne room, and Frisk started walking back through the capital, through the Core, toward the resort - and the phone rang."

    There's a short pause, and the human waves their hand. "You know the rest of this, I think. Undyne and Alphys being incredibly inept with their feelings, some ridiculously fun roleplay-"

    "Roleplay?"

    "I love roleplay," they grin brightly at him. "And, well, not to mention an underground laboratory full of unnatural aberrations. Poor things. But, long story short... Frisk went back. We fought Flowey again, but... he was different. I'm unsure he would appreciate if I told you how ." They wring their hands slightly, and shake their head. "... Frisk was able to Save your souls, while he was trying to use you all to fight us... but they needed my help to Save someone else."

    "... Who was it?"

    "Someone you never knew." Their voice is quiet, and Sans's bony brow furrows in thought. "Needless to say," they continue abruptly, "we did it. Saved the day, broke the barrier, whoop-de-frickin-doo. But we couldn't save everyone, not really. Someone had to stay behind."

    "Who?"

    They don't answer him. Almost like they don't hear him. "I kept asking Frisk to go back. I think they thought for awhile that I wanted them to Reset, to do everything all over again, that I wanted to torment them, but... after seeing the sun again, after seeing that peace could be found in the face of injustice, I... I just wanted him to see and understand that, too."

    More quiet. A longer pause, this time. Sans studies the human's face as best he can, but somehow, those wide eyes and tight lips are even harder to read than Frisk's soft, neutral expression. "... They finally did it. Went back for him. None of you could undertand why they wanted to, and they couldn't really explain without telling you things that would hurt you... But I'm thankful, anyway. He deserves better than what he's been given."

    "... You're talking about Flowey, aren't you," Sans asks, quietly.

    They nod. "... He was my best friend, once, and sometimes I like to think he still is."

    Sans can feel the finality, the weight of this moment bearing down, and he realizes as the teen tucks their knees to their chest and cups their tea in their sleeved hands that this might be the last moment he gets with them. "... Can you tell me something?"

    "... Maybe," they say, glancing up at him. "What do you want to know?"

    "What's your name, kiddo?"

    They hesitate, and then give him a tired smile. Suddenly, their expression droops, and they turn to look at the tea in their hands. They lift one hand to rub at their eyes, and then set the cup on the coffee table. They rub absently at their throat, and then look at him, eyes mostly lidded, with the faintest hint of a smile on their thin lips. After a moment, they lift their hands.

    'They aren't comfortable sharing that, anymore.' Frisk signs, pausing to rub at their eyes again. 'Not after what almost happened last timeline.'

    "Oh." Sans blinks, unsure if he should feel relieved or disappointed. He relaxes, deciding to go with relieved. "It's... good to have ya back, bucko."

    'I didn't really go anywhere,' they shrug, but smile back at him nonetheless. 'But it's good to be back. They can be... a bit much.'

    "That's an understatement." Sans snorts. "You wanna watch some TV before goin back to bed?"

    Frisk nods, and Sans fishes the remote from somewhere under the cushions. Though there's a lot still running through both of their minds - all of their minds, if one is to count the other - the night seems to have gone over fairly well. Now and again, Sans thinks he sees the other come back, but he decides not to pay it any mind, until they do something wrong.

    After all, his brand of justice is a patient one.

 

~*~

 

    The bedroom door creaks open, and someone tiptoes inside, stepping over the sleeping bag on the floor where their lightly snoring classmate is dead asleep. The flower on the desk gives an irritable grumble, but his complaints are all but ignored as the person who's walked in flops onto the bed.

    He glances over, something akin to distaste curling his lip. "You'd better be glad I don't actually sleep, buddy."

    "Oh, stuff a sock in it, Asriel," the human mumbles, yanking the covers over their head and turning their back to him.

    Flowey stares at the human's back in various degrees of confusion and disbelief for the rest of the night.

Chapter Text

~*~

 

    “Evening, folks.”

    The response to Sans’s greeting is almost overwhelming tonight as he walks into New Grillby’s. In addition to the monster regulars, he spies the person he invited out for drinks after the PTA meeting - namely, Stuart Van Hausen, sitting alone at a booth in the back corner. Sans chuckles and shakes his head, making a casual beeline through the establishment toward the bedraggled human. It should be noted that the path he takes is closer to a literal beeline than the proverbial one, involving lots of looping around tables to say “hi” to everyone, and occasionally doubling back for seemingly no reason.

    It takes him two minutes from the time he walks through the door to slide into the seat across from Stuart. “What’samatter, Stu? You’re lookin’ like you’ve seen somethin’ spooky.”

    The human offers a grin; it’s a bit shaky at best, but what matters to Sans is that he’s trying. “Sorry, Sans, I’m just… thinkin’.”

    “What’s on your mind?” The skeleton rests his jaw in his hand, watching his human companion with a relaxed kind of stare.

    Stuart fidgets for a moment, wringing a napkin between his hands. “... You know, my daughter, Beth? She’s on the gymnastics team, right, and the other day, when I dropped her off at practice, I saw Linda’s kid, Billy, there. He was talkin’ to the coach, like he wanted to try out.”

    “No kiddin,” Sans chuckles. “Good for him.”

    “But, that’s not all,” Stuart sets the napkin aside and instead grabs his glass between both hands. “Linda showed up just a moment later, and I’ve never seen her so mortified. Not even when you made that joke about her and Helen at the meeting earlier.”

    Sans can’t help the snort that escapes him. In another life, Linda and Helen would make the perfect couple. Linda and Helen, however, vehemently disagree. “Real peeved, huh?”

    “Oh, yeah.” Stuart pauses to take a sip of his drink - root beer, by the looks of it. “She caused all kinds of a fuss, telling Billy how upset his father would be to find out his son was playing ‘girls’ sports’ --”

    “She said that?”

    “Mhm.”

    “Damn.” Sans swirls a drink in his hand thoughtfully. Stuart does a double take upon noticing it. “She only mentioned her husband being disappointed?”

    “F-from the sound of it, yeah,” the human nods, looking incredibly bewildered and staring at the drink in Sans’s hand.

    Sans, himself, rests the lip of the glass against his teeth, and gives it a slight tilt, taking a “sip.” There’s the distinctive wet plap of liquid hitting the faux leather seat.

    A moment of silence passes.

    Sans makes a sound like he’s smacking his lips.

    Stuart loses it.

   

~*~

 

    It’s been a couple weeks since Sans and the other had their little chat on the living room couch. Frisk, for the first few days, was a little hesitant around their Dunkle. That is, until Sans greeted them in the mornin with an enormous whoopie cushion snuck into their seat at the breakfast table. It was the hardest Sans had heard them laugh in some time. After that, things returned more or less to normal.

    On this afternoon in particular, Frisk is out in the small park just beside their apartment building, enjoying the late spring air with their best friend. The two sit at a little picnic table, eating a couple slices of pie that Toriel had sent down with them.

    “Y’know, Frisk,” Kid starts in, watching one of their conjured hands try to awkwardly twirl a fork between clawed fingers, “I think your mom’s getting better at making pie, somehow. What do you think?”

    Frisk giggles a bit. ‘ Sometimes I hear her and Dunkle Sans exchanging baking tips when they think nobody’s listening.

    “No way! Nerds .”

    The human nods, giggling all the more. They take another bite of their slice, smiling at the long-familiar tastes of cinnamon and butterscotch. They used to have a preference, long ago, but now it’s almost unheard-of for them to have one without the other.

    “Hey.”

    Frisk glances up at Kid, in time to see the yellow monster contemplating the hand they aren’t currently using to hold a fork. “Would you, ah… mind, if I…”

    The human raises a single questioning eyebrow.

    “Aw, this is gonna sound dumb. Or weird. Maybe just weird.” Kid shuffles in their seat, setting down the fork on their plate, and staring down at both of their ethereal, glowing hands. “Can I, like… touch your face?”

    They can’t help it: Frisk snorts, and barely tries to suppress their laughter.

    Kid winces, and their hands disappear. “I knew that would sound dumb,” they mumble, “f-forget it.”

    A small, soft hand gently pats their scaly cheek, and they look back up at Frisk, who’s smiling gently. Once they’re sure they have Kid’s attention, they remove their hand so they can sign. ‘ Go ahead, nerd.

    “Jeez,” Kid’s cheeks darken, and their lips pull into an awkward smile. A spark of green light flickers in their eyes, and the hands slowly return, shimmering into existence, clawed fingers barely inches from Frisk’s round cheeks.

    Feels warm, ’ Frisk signs.

    Kid blinks. “I, ah, haven’t touched you yet.”

    Smiling, Frisk reaches up with a single outstretched finger and touches the palm of one of the glowing green hands. It flinches backward. Frisk looks over at Kid, and the monster laughs nervously.

    “Tickles,” they say.

    With a laugh, the human lowers their hand, and the conjured hands before them inch closer. The warmth is intense, almost like sitting too close to a fire. Frisk tries their hardest not to pull a face, to scrunch their cheeks away from the impending burn, or to flinch, but then they feel the gently, buzzing pressure of magic against their face, and their eyes go wide.

    “Is… is it okay?” Kid murmurs, their own gaze darting around Frisk’s face.

    Frisk raises their hands to sign, taking in a deep breath.

    “What the FUCK is this supposed to be!?”

    Both teens nearly jump out of their skin. Kid’s hands are gone, disappearing suddenly with a small pop, while Frisk scrambles off the bench, looking around for the source of the shouting. A smaller, softer voice can be heard, saying something they can’t make out, and then -

    “Basketball was one thing, Lin, but now you’re pulling shit behind my back? Give me that, let me see!”

    Frisk grabs Kid’s shoulder, and points up at a window, one on the third floor, near the corner of the building. It’s wide open, and they both can make out two fairly tall humans standing inside. One is cowering slightly.

    “The fuck is -- another goddamn sign-up sheet? For gymnastics ? I will kill that boy!”

    “NO!”

    Both teenagers jump. Kid manages to bleat, “Is… is that--”

    “You will NOT harm my son, our son, Robert!”

    “God, woman, do you take everything I say seriously?”

    “It’s hard not to!” There’s a short pause. “Oh, damn it, Robert, the window-”

    “Fuck the window, Linda, I want to hear what you have to say.” His tone is dark.

    Linda responds in a shaky voice, “R-Robert, please, put that down…”

    “It sounds like you have a problem with the way I run my house, Lin. How about I remind you how things go around here?”

    She screams, and there’s the sound of shattering glass. Robert hisses something further, just loud enough for the sound of his speech to reach the teens in the yard below. Linda responds, her words equally intelligible. A moment of silence, and the window is shut from within.

    “Y-yo,” Kid gasps, eyes locked on the window in horror, “we, we gotta tell somebo--”

    Frisk grabs them by the shoulder, and hauls them inside, back to the apartment. They know exactly who to tell.

 

~*~

 

    Knock, knock .

    It isn’t too often he gets to rap his phalanges against someone’s door. It makes such a crisp, sharp sound, one he’s certain those inside can hear without too much trouble at all. He never goes to visit people that often, not unless he’s invited, or unless it’s something important, or unless maybe it’s Undyne’s place.

    “Who… Who’s there?” The voice inside is shaky; a human woman, by the tell of it.

    “IT IS I, YOUR NEIGHBOR, THE GREAT PAPYRUS,” he replies, his voice as bright and commanding as ever. “I HEARD YOU MAY BE IN SOME DISTRESS, SO I CAME TO-”

    “No, that’s quite all right,” the woman behind the door replies.

    “Oh.” The skeleton’s voice drops by a few decibels. “... Human, are you alone?”

    “Why?”

    “Are you safe ?”

    Silence.

    Papyrus shifts his weight between his feet, his bony brow creased with worry. After a moment, he crouches slightly and attempts to peer through his side of the peep-hole, to no avail. Hefting a heavy sigh, he folds his arms over his chest.

    “Human, my nibling and their friend are very worried about you, and by extension, I am also becoming very worried about you.” He taps his phalanges against his humerus, arms still folded. “Please, I will only be a moment.”

    There’s some muffled shuffling from the other side. Momentarily, he hears the telltale clicking of the door’s deadbolt, and then it swings slightly open, revealing a blonde woman, hair seeming to have been hastily pulled into a ponytail, and sunglasses over her eyes. She opens her mouth, balks, looks him up and down, no doubt taking in the sight of a skeleton in a hawaiian button-up shirt and what would have been a tight-fitting pair of sporty capris if they weren’t just dangling off his bones. She then gives a short, startled kind of laugh.

    “You’re… a lot taller than your brother.”

    Papyrus grins brightly. “NYEH HEH HEH! YES, HE WOULD GROW TALLER IF HE WOULD ONLY DRINK HIS MILK!”

    When all that greets him is stunned silence, he puts his fist to his teeth and clears his throat. “WELL, AH, MAY I -- oops, sorry,” he lowers his voice again, “may I come in?”

    Linda grimaces. Perhaps it’s an honest attempt at a smile, at this point. “Ah… sure. Just… Inside voices.”

    “Of course! The Great Papyrus can handle anything, inside voices being one of those anythings!”

    Sighing, Linda opens the door the rest of the way and shuffles to one side, ushering Papyrus through the short landing and into her living room.

    “Wowie! The Ricky human wasn’t lying when he said our apartment looked just like yours! Everything’s the same, but backwards!” He squints slightly, hands on his hips. “And cleaner…!”

    “Er… thank… you?” Linda stares at him for a moment, then quickly shuts the door. “Ah, make yourself comfortable.” She gestures vaguely at the sofa. “Would, would you like some tea? Or something?”

    “Milk, if you have some,” he smiles over at her as he softly lowers himself onto the middle cushion of the couch. “You know, my brother talks about you quite a bit!”

    “Does he, now.” It’s not stated as a question; with her back turned to him, Papyrus can’t see the way her lips are pursing.

    “Oh, yes! He’s always talking about how well put-together you are, and how strong and ambitious you’ve been in how you lead the PTA!”

    Linda pauses in unscrewing the cap from the milk jug. “... Oh?”

    Papyrus nods, elbows resting on his knees. “Indeed! He might not agree with you on a lot of things you talk about there - he doesn’t tell me much about that - but he cares, I can tell, because he talks about you so much. You, and your children - who are very nice, by the way! - and also Ricky.”

    Linda gnaws at the inside of her cheek, flexing her hands by her sides. She takes several deep breaths. Once she’s collected herself, she finishes pouring a tall glass of milk, returns the jug to the fridge, and brings the glass to her skeletal houseguest. The two exchange a smile, but she can’t bring herself to say anything.

    Papyrus doesn’t mind. Awkward silences are one of the many things that stand little chance in the face of such greatness.

    “SO,” he coughs lightly and tries again, “so, are you really okay? I noticed you are wearing sunglasses, while inside.”

    Linda’s breath hitches slightly. “I, uh, it’s bright, in here, right now.”

    The skeleton narrows his eye-sockets. “The lights are out in here, and you have all the curtains drawn.”

    She lets out a sigh like she’d been holding the north winds in her lungs. It hisses through her teeth, despite the dam of her clenched jaw. “... You’re very perceptive, aren’t you.”

    Papyrus only watches her, the slightest of frowns dampening his features. “... If you’re hurt, I can help.”

    Linda winces, and shakes her head. “No, it, it’s nothing. I-- It’s nothing.

    “It sounds a lot like something .” Papyrus sits back a bit, just enough to rest his palms on his knees. “Really, human, I, I know things like this are hard, but I can help.”

    Her hands tighten into fists, gripping her slacks. She sniffles, her face twisting into something anguished for just a moment. After about half a minute, she tears her sunglasses from her face and throws them on the coffee table, burying her face in her hands. She stands in place, shoulders trembling.

    Slowly, Papyrus stands, and gently takes her wrists in his hands. When she begins to pull away, he loosens his grip ever so slightly. “... Just let me see.”

    Linda parts her fingers just enough to look at the skeleton from between them. He’s smiling, in the way only a skeleton can. For a few seconds, she doesn’t even breathe. At length, she sighs heavily, and drops her hands away. Her left eye is bruised, and starting to swell, and her eyes are glassy, brimming with unshed tears.

    Her lips tremble, and her shoulders slump heavily. “... It just… It hurts, so much - he doesnt,” she wipes her uninjured eye hastily, “he doesn’t, he doesn’t mean it, he just, he wants so much, he c-cares --”

    “Shh,” Papyrus places his hands on her shoulders. “It’s okay, just breathe.”

    “I can’t,” she shakes her head, looking around the room, “I need to go, can’t, can’t be here when he comes back…!”

    Papyrus sets his jaw, and takes her gently by the arm. “It’s okay. Come with me.”

 

~*~

 

    It’s been a long day. Sans has been out and about far longer than he’d hoped, today. PTA meetings, sitting with friends at bars… He even had a job interview.

    “... At a hot dog stand!” He laughs into his cell phone reciever. “I know, T, ain’t it fantastic? I’ve always wanted to run my own hot dog stand. … Whaddya talkin’ about, I didn’t have one back underground. Nah, that was surveillance. One hundred percent important stuff, T, I promise.”

    He swings his keychain around on one phalange as he strolls up to his apartment door, chatting away to Toriel on the phone. As he does every time he comes home, he unlocks the door, steps through, and saunters into the living room.

    “Hey, kids n’ kiddos, I’m --”

    And finds himself at eye level with Linda Smith, holding a bag of frozen peas against one eye and looking incredibly uncomfortable on his living room sofa.

    “... Tori, I’m gonna have to call you back.” He hangs up, and slowly stuffs his phone into his pocket.

    A poignant silence hangs in the air.

    “Sans,” Linda says at length.    

    “Linda,” Sans says back, cool as ever.

    “Frisk,” Kid says, from the kitchen table.

    Kid ,’ Frisk signs, and pats them on the shoulder.

    “PAPYRUS!!” The tall skeleton seems to erupt from behind the kitchen bar. “WHO WANTS SPAGHETTI!?”

Chapter Text

~*~

 

    The dinner table is quite full, that evening. Toriel sits at one end of the table, with Sans to her right and Frisk to her left. Ricky is sitting beside Frisk, with just enough space between them for Flowey and his stool. Papyrus is sitting across from Ricky, next to his brother, and at the end of the table opposite from Toriel is Linda, still looking a bit disheveled, but her eye is no longer quite so swollen, thanks to the bag of peas, and a little bit of healing magic from Toriel.

    “It’s very nice to have you over for dinner, though I wish the circumstances were better,” the boss monster says, after what has felt like the longest and most strained of silences the dinner table has ever witnessed.

    “Yes,” Linda responds, a bit distractedly, twirling her noodles slowly on her fork. She looks at the pasta a bit more closely, and her nose wrinkles. “Um. Who made this--?”

    “IT WAS I, YOUR GREAT AND BENEVOLENT NEIGHBOR, PAPYRUS!”

    Linda’s expression shifts hastily into something more closely resembling a smile, but doesn’t quite make it there. “Oh. You, you did? I didn’t know you could cook.”

    “My brother’s a master spaghettore, Linda,” Sans chuckles. “G’head, give it a try.”

    The human casts her gaze around the table. Papyrus is beaming. Sans is… smirking? Does his smile even move like that? Toriel takes a sip of her tea, eyes closed; no help, there. Frisk is wolfing down their meal with gusto, and Ricky is in the middle of taking another bite. His gaze meets Linda’s; all he can offer is a shrug.

    She picks up her fork, gives the noodles a dubious half-smile, and takes her first bite.

    The taste is… indescribable.

    “Wh-what,” she coughs lightly, “what kinds of spices did you use, Papyrus…?”

    “ONLY THE SPICIEST KIND, NYEH HEH! THE KINDS THAT GIVE IT A REAL OOMPH !”

    “...’Oomph?’” She bleats back at him, more confused than before.

    “A TOUCH OF THE OLD RAZZLE DAZZLE!”

    Sans is fighting to hold back his laughter. “Yeah, you could say my bro’s a real wizard in the kitchen.”

    Toriel snorts and elbows him lightly. “Yes, he can certainly conjure up a great meal for us, even in a pinch.”

    Linda blinks.

    “BROTHER! YOUR MAJESTY! YOU’RE CONFUSING THE LINDA HUMAN! AND RIGHT AFTER I GOT HER TO TRY MY WORLD-FAMOUS SPAGHETTI, TOO!”

    “H-have I been poisoned…?” Linda asks nobody in particular, and her voice is soft, almost childlike, as she feels at her throat and chest, as if for any sign of imminent death.

    “Nonsense,” Toriel rolls her eyes a bit. “Goodness, and after we let you rest up a bit, no, that would be dreadful! No, see, this is monster food.” She holds up some noodles on her own fork for emphasis; in comparison to her paw, the utensil looks like it was meant for baby hands. “See, we monsters are made of magic, and as such, it takes a lot of extra effort to eat human food, especially for those of us who are…” she glances over at the two skeletons, “... less corporeal, than others. So, we make our meals using magic. Some monsters know how to magically cultivate ingredients that look and taste almost exactly like the real thing, and usually, that is what we use for cooking. Though, some of us like to add some… extra flair.”

    “OBSERVE!” Papyrus takes his phalanges, and delicately extracts what happens to be a literal, shiny blue sequin from his spaghetti sauce. “ISN’T IT FABULOUS?”

    Sans sighs, “Mettaton suggested you add those, didn’t he?”

    “YOU’D BETTER BELIEVE IT, BROTHER! HIS TASTE IS IMPECCABLE!”

    At this point, Linda’s confusion has escalated to horror. “I’ve been eating… Glitter? You’re feeding me-” She wheels to look at Ricky. “Have they been feeding you glitter, too!?”

    “No! No,” Ricky stammers, looking alarmed that he’s been brought into the conversation so suddenly, “No, usually we have pie or something. Toriel’s a really good cook-” when he catches the look of dismay on Papyrus’s face, he adds quickly, “A-and Papyrus is, too, usually. The glitter is, um, a bit much, sometimes. But I haven’t gotten sick once!”

    Frisk begins to sign excitedly. Sans translates: “Frisk says -” and here he puts on a higher inflection for his voice, almost painfully so, “monSTER FOOD IS SO GOOD FOR YOU, IT--”

    A balled-up napkin swooshes through his eye-socket at high velocity, knocks against the inside of his skull, and falls through his jaw to land on top of his plate - which hasn’t been touched. Chuckling, he clears his nonexistant throat, and continues in an only slightly higher-pitched voice than normal, “Monster food is good for you; it nourishes the soul, as well as providing nutrients for your body. Though, humans usually have to eat more of it for it to have the full effect of human food regarding hunger, it’s all perfectly healthy, no matter what it tastes like.”

    Frisk nods, punctuating their point.

    “I… see.” Linda picks a sequin out of her sauce with her fork, and squints at it dubiously. Immediately, she winces, and rubs at her temple with her other hand. “... Oh, what the hell,” she mutters, in a voice that she thinks is low enough for the teens at the table not to hear (they do), and eats it.

    Everyone watches in silence, gauging her expression, which proves to be… indescribable.

    “... Tastes like… dust. But, better?” She licks at her lips, and the way she leans back in her seat and seems to be pinching the air with her middle finger and her thumb is highly reminiscent of a wine tasting. “I know it, it’s on the tip of my tongue…”

    “IT’S STARDUST!!” Papyrus announces, throwing his hands in the air. “EVERYTHING’S A LITTLE BETTER WITH A PINCH OF STARDUST!!”

    “Yup, that’s my bro,” Sans pats his shoulder, “the biggest and best star, in my book.”

    “STARS DON’T LIVE IN BOOKS, SANS.”

    “Well I don’t see ya flyin' around just yet, Paps.”

    Papyrus responds with a drawn out tirade about how one day he’ll be the first skeleton to touch a star, just you wait and see, Ricky chimes in with something about how stars are giant burning balls of gas and touching one might be kind of lethal - and Sans subtly makes a meatball fly into his mouth before he can get to the “lethal” part. All in all, it’s a good dinner, and Linda finds some of the beliefs she’d been fighting to hold onto for so long crumbling right before her eyes.

    The only sense of unease she gets all evening is from the dead-eyed flower sitting on the stool next to Frisk, and how he occasionally glances over at her, blinks, and then offers a terrifyingly-bright smile for just a second.

 

~*~

 

    Later that evening, Linda finds herself sitting in the living room with Sans and Papyrus. The latter is regarding his reflection in the dark TV screen, adjusting a bright orange bowtie tied neatly in the collar of his grey button-up shirt. He doesn’t exactly fill out the shirt or the pinstriped black pants like one should, with him being a skeleton and all, and… quite unlike his brother, who almost seems to have something of a pot belly under his hoodie.

    “Quit starin’, Lin, that’s my brother you’re lookin’ at.”

    Linda flinches, realizing she had just been ogling the taller skeleton’s backside. Or, well, lack thereof. “I - No! Dear heavens, I was just-”

    “Hate to spell it for ya, Lin, but he’s spoken for,” Sans gives a sly wink, and folds his hands behind his head. “That’s a discussion you’d have to have with him and Mettaton.”

    Linda cannot recall ever being so embarrassed in her entire life. “N-no! That’s not… No! Papyrus, I’m sorry, I wasn’t-”

    “DO NOT FEAR, LINDA HUMAN, I KNOW MY BROTHER IS FULL OF JOKES!”

    She heaves a sigh of relief.

    “BUT I ALSO KNOW THAT FEW CAN RESIST THE ATTRACTIVE POWER OF MY RIPPLING BICEPS!! NYEH HEH HEH!!”

    All Linda can do is stare on in horror and disbelief as Papyrus - with the sleeves of his shirt rolled up to his elbows - proceeds to flex and pose in the middle of the living room, waggling his... Eyebrows? in a teasing manner.

    “Papyrus! I’m ready!”

    The skeleton in question drops his ridiculous facade in time for Ricky to emerge from the hallway, backpack slung over one shoulder.

    “Sure you’re ready to head out on us, bucko?” Sans asks, still reclined into the sofa.

    “Yeah, Dad’s got a place set up for us already, and he’s got all my clothes and stuff from Mom’s, so…” Ricky shrugs, and gives a smile. “Thank you guys so much for letting me crash here for awhile.”

    “IT’S NO PROBLEM!”

    “Yep, pleasure’s all ours,” Sans chuckles. “You and your pops should stop by and visit sometimes. I’m sure Tori would love the excuse to bake some more pie.”

    The teen laughs, and even Linda has to admit, it’s the brightest smile she’s ever seen on his face. “Sure thing, guys. You ready for your hot date, Papyrus?”

    “IT’S ONLY A DATE OF A SOMEWHAT LUKEWARM TEMPERATURE,” though the skeleton’s shifty eyes hint that maybe it’s not, “BUT YES! COME, I’LL BE DROPPING YOU OFF AT YOUR DAD’S ALONG THE WAY!”

    They head out, and Linda can hear them laughing all the way down the hall. The neighbors must love that. Before she can focus on it too long, the telltale prickling on the back of her neck alerts her to Sans’s intense gaze, focused directly on her.

    “So, Linda, you didn’t exactly explain what happened earlier, with the…” he vaguely gestures at his eye-socket, and it’s all the hint she needs.

    A lump wells in her throat, merely upon the simple reaction of remembering. She looks down, at her hands, her fingers, her feet, anything but back into that gaze she can feel boring into the side of her head even as she tries to hide herself from it. The lump grows hot, burning at her throat, threatening to explode, and reveal all the terrible things, how imperfect her life really is, how close she is to collapsing under the weight of it all.

    “I... I fell, into, into the bar,” she gestures vaguely at the kitchen bar, so very much like the one in her own apartment. “I wasn’t, p-paying attention,” she sniffles, wiping hurriedly at her nose with the back of her hand, “So clumsy, ha, clumsy, stupid, useless L-L-Linda-”

    “Whoa, Lin, slow down, there,” Sans starts, but it’s too late.

    “Always have to be nice, Linda. Never step out of line, never talk back, keep the house clean and neat, and always look out for his reputation. His! ” She snarls, and slams her fist into the arm of the chair she’s in. Sans flinches, sockets wide, but she doesn’t see him, not at the moment. “It’s not like I got him through law school, not like I wrote his stellar thesis papers, his contracts, his affidavits… No, no, of course it was all him, because what good was Linda, running off to play lawyer when she clearly was meant to s-s-s-serve her b- betters!?

    By this point, she’s slid off the chair, and is kneeling in a heap, pounding her fist on the floor and sobbing. Her mouth keeps moving, like she wants to say more, but no sound comes out past her choked cries.

    While Sans is sitting, frozen and horrified, on the sofa, Toriel barrels into the room and looks around, before her gaze lands on Linda crumpled on the floor.

    “Heavens, Sans, what did you do?”

    “Nothing! Honest,” Sans looks between the two, and he seems unsure of what exactly he should do with his hands. “I asked her what happened, and then-”

    “Fourteen years,” Linda wheezes, “fourteen years…

    Toriel approaches slowly, crouching down to gently pick the human up. Linda doesn’t object, and simply claps a hand to her mouth to try and fight back more tears. Setting her in the chair once more, Toriel backs away, paws clasped in front of her.

    “Linda, dear, I am going to make you some tea,” she says, calmly. “Is that alright?”

    The human opens her mouth to respond; when all that comes out is a kind of whine, she closes her mouth again, and simply nods.

    The room falls into a kind of silence for awhile, just the sounds of Linda’s occasional sniffling and the hum of the stove as Toriel heats the kettle to break the tension.

    Not really how any of them expected their evening to go, really.

 

~*~

 

    “Weird. Mom and Dad are usually home by now.”

    Rachel Smith looks up at her brother from the screen of her phone, and tosses him an upside-down smile from where she’s hanging off the sofa, head resting on the floor. “So? Maybe they went out on a date or something. Sure as heck could use one.”

    Billy grimaces, rolling his eyes and turning back to the television. “... Really didn’t want that image, sis.”

    “All I said was about a date. You filled in the rest, nasty.”

    “Shut up, ” he tosses a magazine at her, and she laughs as it hits her in the stomach.

    Cartoons on the TV, quiet in the apartment. Admittedly, the two teens had been dreading coming home from their respective after-school practices, but the silence that greeted them when they stepped through the door has been nothing if not a blessing. They sit - more or less - side-by-side on the sofa in the living room, enjoying some cartoons for the few moments they can spare before it’s time for homework.

    The afternoon drags on. The sunlight filtering through the kitchen window grows steadily dimmer, and their homework remains untouched in their backpacks. Rachel - still sweaty from basketball practice - falls asleep in her upside-down position, legs dangling over the back of the sofa. Billy - half awake, perhaps - scrolls through some pages on social media, eyes drooping closed even as he reads an article on the proper uses of a semicolon.

    His phone betrays him with a sudden shrill chime, and he barely manages not to throw it out of reflex. Rachel starts awake with a snort, right as he swipes the notification - to reveal a text.

    “Whoizzit?” Rachel asks, groggily pulling herself into a slightly more upright position, reclined against the arm of the couch.

    “Frisk,” Billy replies, brows furrowed. “They say we should come over. Said it’s important.” His phone beeps again, and his brows nearly disappear beneath his bangs. “... Mom’s over there.”

    “Shit.” Rachel is on her feet and halfway to the front door before her brother can even stand. If it weren’t for the tension in the air and the worry on their faces, it would almost be comical to watch them nearly stumble over each other at the door and barrel down the hallway to their neighbors’ apartment. They fumble at the doorknob for a moment, and then erupt inside with a barrage of pleas.

    “Mom, please don’t-”

    “Frisk is so nice, and their family is too-”

    “-We were gonna tell you we were hanging out with monsters, honest-”

    “-We’re so sorry, Mom-”

    “Children, please,” Toriel interjects from the sofa, where she’s sitting with an arm around Linda, who - now that the teens have a chance to actually look - is trembling a little, and fighting to wipe the tears from her face without being too obvious. Toriel smiles gently. “Inside voices.”

    “Wh…” Billy shakes his head. “What… what’s going on? What happened?”

    Toriel doesn’t respond right away. She gingerly strokes Linda’s hair with a paw, and when the human doesn’t object, she sighs. “I think it would be best if your mother explained what happened, but I will be here to assist.” She directs the last part more to Linda than to her children, but the effect seems to be a good one.

    Linda shifts out from under Toriel’s arm, and folds her hands on her lap after one last wipe at her cheek. “Billy, Rachel, I…” Her words catch in her throat, and she has to swallow before she can go on. “... I have some things to tell you, about… about your father.”

    Hesitantly, her kids claim spots on the loveseat, and listen intently as Linda begins to shakily explain what happened just hours earlier, while they were at practice.

 

~*~

 

    It's the middle of the night. A bang resounds across the entire floor as the Smiths’ apartment door flies open and slams against the wall. The smell of booze and sweat heralds the arrival of the man of the house, as he stumbles inside and haphazardly locks the door behind himself.

    “Lin,” he calls, his voice a husky slur, “Lin? Damn it, woman, you better not be cryin’.”

    No response. The apartment is quiet, save for the television. The kids’ backpacks are still sitting at the feet of the sofa, and he hardly bothers to hide his sneer.

    “Kids!” He bellows. “Pick up your shit!”

    Again, no response. Irritated, Robert Smith kicks his son’s schoolbag out of the way and plops into the middle of the couch, making a drunken attempt to drown himself in television… a feat that would be made easier if the television was actually playing anything; all he sees is static on the screen. He snatches up the remote from the coffee table, and tries to change the channel. Nothing. Still static.

    “What the hell is this…” he grumbles, and changes the channel again. And again, and again. Still nothing. If anything, the white noise hissing and whining from the television only seems to grow louder with each attempt. Finally, driven to growling and swearing under his breath, he turns the television off entirely.

    Except it doesn’t turn off. The sound it emits surges to a nearly-deafening wail, and he swears, for just a moment, he can make out what looks like a cracked, white face in the dead center of the screen. As suddenly as it happens, it’s gone, and he’s left in the darkness of his apartment with a ringing in his ears.

    By this point, he’s convinced he’s officially had too much to drink. Robert stands, and stumbles across the living room, down the hallway, and to his bedroom. He flicks on the light for a moment, and is simultaneously disappointed and infuriated to see that his wife isn’t lying in his bed, asleep.

    He flops onto the mattress and buries himself in the covers. After a moment, he grumbles, and fumbles on the nightstand for a remote, which he uses to turn on the television in here.

    Static. He growls again. At least the white noise isn’t so bad. In fact, he can almost make out slow little blips of speech. Neutral sounds, not quite a word, but insistent, no… accusatory.

    He squints at the screen. The black-and-white fuzz flickers, and goes black. Silence accompanies the blackness, but it feels heavy and hot, like the sweat rolling down his back. He grips at the comforter, grinding his teeth in apprehension. Nothing happens for the longest time. Right when he’s about to let himself relax, he hears that sound again, like a voice without words, etching speech into his ears at the same time white symbols begin to appear on his screen. He can’t read them at first - they only look like strange shapes and signs, but then, slowly, letters fade in over them, shaky, clear, and red.

    I know what you’ve done.

    You’re worse than the ‘monsters’ you hate so much.

    The broken face flashes on his screen once more, and his television clicks off with an audible snap somewhere in its mechanism. The subtle smell of hot metal fills the room as Robert sits upright in his bed, eyes wide, sweating bullets.

    When he finally gets to sleep, his dreams are plagued with spindly phalanges, hollow palms, and a cracked, merciless smile.

Chapter Text

~*~

 

    The first PTA meeting after Linda paid a visit to her monster neighbors starts off the same as always, for her. She arrives tremendously early - at least by half an hour - and claims her seat at the head of the meeting table after dropping off some cookies at the snack table. She didn’t have time to bake today, she rarely does, so these are store-bought snickerdoodles. People seem to like them well enough, usually, and she hopes it’s not so different today.

    Once she’s satisfied with the cookies’ position on the table, she sets her briefcase on her chair and procures a stack of papers from inside it, each one with today’s agenda printed on it. Each place at the meeting table gets a paper, and she neatly stacks the few extras in the middle, for any newcomers, or people who just want a clean copy in case they take notes.

    She pauses, hands resting on the back of the chair in front of her for a moment. She laughs, quietly. Who is she kidding? Nobody takes notes at these meetings.

    For a moment, she simply stands there and breathes, eyes closed, as the events of the past few days run through her mind. The fight, telling her kids to spend the weekend at Ms. Toriel’s house, and then…

    She opens her eyes, swallows at the dry lump in her throat, and straightens herself. No, best not to think of the rest of the weekend.

    “Linda! Look at you, sharp as ever!”

    The blonde only just manages to bring a smile to her face in time to look up at her long-time best friend standing in the doorway. “Hey, Helen, how are you?”

    “Fine!” She replies, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically. “Never been better! I have had just so much time to myself, while, y’know, Paulie and Ricky are out, having their man-time.”

    “Mm-hm,” Linda nods, slowly, suddenly realizing that yes, she had seen Ricky at the Dreemurr residence, and the significance of all she overheard.

    “Oh, of course! You wouldn’t believe how nice and quiet it is at home for a change!” Helen slides into her usual chair, and as Linda takes a seat beside her, she can’t help noticing the ghost of smudged mascara around her eyes, and a subtle aroma of stale liquor.

    “I’ll bet,” Linda nods, unsure if she should say anything further.

    Helen laughs, and then covers her mouth for a moment. “Oh! Linda, sweetie, we have got to hang out sometime, have some one-on-one, it could be a gal’s night! Don’tcha want to get out of the house or something?”

    “... You know, that does sound nice. It’s been too long since we’ve hung out.” Linda smiles. “How about Friday afternoon?”

    “Perfect.” Helen’s lip trembles, but she’s quick to deflect from it by brushing her hair behind her ears. “Great. Sure. I’ll clean up, and you can come over for drinks or something.”

    “Sounds great!” Linda offers Helen a smile. While Helen is trying to smile back like a normal human being, the door opens again, and the rest of the PTA members begin to file in.

    Linda watches everyone walk in, mill around the snack table, and progressively take their seats. She can see the usuals, humans, mostly, but a few more monsters mixed in than there were at the beginning of the year. If she’d seen this on Friday, she probably would have felt a twinge of disgust. Right now, all she feels is… intrigue.

    A quick check of her watch tells her she has five minutes until it’s time to start. A part of herself tells her to start earlier; the quicker she’s done, the quicker she can be home, the quicker she can get whatever Robert has in store for her over and done with.

    She clenches her fist under the table, and bites at the inside of her cheek. He can wait, damn it.

    “Sup, folks.”

    It’s amazing how the air in a room can tangibly shift when a certain person enters. The moment everyone hears Sans’ voice, there’s almost a collective sigh of relief. Though she almost hates to admit it, Linda feels herself starting to relax.

    He takes his usual seat across the table from her, glances up, gives her the most subtle wink in the history of subtle winking, and launches into a casual conversation with Stuart on his right. Linda checks her watch again - two minutes left. Maybe it won’t hurt to start a little early.

    “Well, since everyone’s here, why don’t we get started?” She smiles at the other parents and teachers gathered at the table; her gaze is met with calm acceptance, raised eyebrows, and the occasional eye-roll.

    One thing she notices quickly is just how attentive Sans is today, and how he tends to pass over every opportunity to toss a joke at her expense. Helen, however, remains a prime target for the thrashing.

    While Linda can’t support his behavior toward her friend… it feels nice to get a break.

 

~*~

 

    Frisk stands on a stool, arms outstretched, trying their best not to fall asleep in place. Toriel dances around them with a tape measure in her paws, sticking pins in various spots on their suit. For the hundredth time, Frisk lets out a heavy sigh.

    “I know you do not like this, my child,” Toriel sighs in turn, “but I swear, you keep growing more and more between these meetings. I have to let these sleeves out before Friday, or you might look like a monkey in that suit.”

    Frisk aquiesces with another, smaller sigh, and closes their eyes. They look tired already, though they haven’t had any meetings for months. Toriel has hoped they would use the opportunity to rest, but by the looks of things, they’ve done pretty much the opposite. Bags have begun to form under their eyes. It pains her to see them like this, but she knows there isn’t much she can say to help, not really. They’re determined, after all, to make things right for the people they love.

    Frisk opens one eye and cocks an eyebrow at their mother. Toriel shakes her head slightly, replacing her concerned expression with a smile, asking, “Frisk, dear, are you prepared for your meeting at city hall, tomorrow?”

    They nod in response, but the little grin on their face is more than enough to reassure her. “Good,” she sighs, turning back to her work, pinning away, “I am pleased to hear it.”

    A moment later, she declares she has everything she needs, and helps Frisk out of their suit so she can begin the alterations. She watches them shuffle down the hall, freshly changed into pajamas and looking ten times more tired than they had been just a minute ago.

    She sighs, and takes the pinned garments in her arms. Looks like tonight, she’ll have to show some determination of her own.

    Two days until the meeting, and her human child needs to look their best to impress these ignorant human bureaucrats.

 

~*~

 

    Coffee is something that brings people together. Alternately, so is alcohol.

    On this get-together in particular, Linda is infinitely grateful she knows where Helen’s coffee machine is, and how to use it. Otherwise, she fears she might have ended up like her friend - a sobbing mess slumped over on the couch in the middle of her filthy living room.

    “Liiiii-iiin??” In the kitchen, Linda nearly drops a mug full of hot, fresh coffee, and has to take a moment to recover her composure.

    “Hold on a moment, Helen, I’ll, I’ll be right in,” Linda calls back, taking a tentative sip from her cup. She takes a deep breath, grips her drink, and heads into the living room.

    God. It’s still not any easier to look at than when she first stepped in about half an hour ago. There’s chinese take-out containers and empty wine bottles strewn all over the floor and the coffee table, and a few piles of swept-up glass shards and other bits of debris. The kicker?

    “I s-swear, Lindy, I… I cleaned up this mess, like, two hours before you got here,” Helen babbles for about the third time from the couch, sniffling and wiping sloppily at her face.

    Linda sighs, cupping her mug between her hands and staring down at her friend, sprawled over the couch, cradling a bottle to her chest and fighting back drunken sobs. Her gaze flicks between Helen, the booze, and the astounding mess in the room around her for about a solid minute.

    When her gaze at last lands on Helen again, she hefts a heavier, more dismal sigh, and plants herself in an armchair. “Helen, how long has it been?”

    The brunette hiccups, averting her eyes and saying nothing.

    “Helen.”

    She winces. “Okay, okaaay, a few weeks.”

    “Months, more like.” Linda sniffs. “God, Helen, this room stinks ! There’s a, a smell in here, you know that?”

    “Yeah…?”

    “Sweat. Must? Oh, yes,” Linda sips her coffee, trying to keep her voice even, “despair.”

    Helen groans, grabbing a stained throw pillow and covering her face. “You even know what it’s like , Lin, losing everything ?”

    “Can’t imagine, Helen,” the blonde mutters, glaring into her mug, “not like my husband made me give up any lifelong dreams or anything.”

    The pillow hits the floor, and Helen hiccups again. “What you say?”

    “Nothing, sweetie, keep talking.” More coffee finds its way to Linda’s lips.

    Helen makes an attempt to take another swig from her bottle, only to find that it’s empty. She whimpers a bit, and then lets it topple to the floor. It lands on the carpet with a lifeless thud. “They just… they just left , Linny… first my boy, and then, and then my husband …” she hiccups again, louder this time, and her body jerks from the force of it. “And now Paulie says he doesn’t wanna talk, doesn’t wanna see me, I jus’, I jus’ don’geddit…”

    Linda huffs. “Helen, I know you’re upset, but you need to take a moment and breathe.”

    “Don’ wanna breathe, I wanna drink , ya bimbo…!”

    Rolling her eyes, Linda sets her coffee on a coaster and stands up. Crossing the living room, she stoops and grabs her friend by the shoulders.

    Helen tries to push her away, at first. “Lin, whaddya-”

    “Shut up, you’re drunk, I’m putting you to bed.” Linda doesn’t wait for clarification, and hauls her sloshed friend to her feet. They stumble around the couch and down the hall together, Linda struggling to keep her balance while having to half-drag a protesting Helen toward the bedroom.

    She has to pause for a moment when she pushes the door open - the room is immaculate, albeit for a fine layer of dust on the nightstands. It’s almost as if it hasn’t been touched in well over a month. Helen, leaning heavily against her shoulder, begins to cry all over again when she sees it, but Linda is not to be dissuaded.

    “Come on, in you go,” she grunts, hauling her friend into the room and onto the bed. Helen is done trying to escape, and meekly accepts her fate while melting into the pillow. Some way or another, Linda manages to wrestle the comforter out from under her best friend’s squirming form, and drape it over her in the gentlest way she can manage.

    “Now Helen,” she says, far more gently than her voice had sounded just a minute prior, “you’re going to take a nap, and don’t come out until you’re feeling right in the head, okay?”

    “Mm.”

    The blonde dons a matronly scowl. “Helen?”

    “Okay, Lindy.”

    “Good.” Linda sighs, and gently pets Helen’s cheek. “Just… get some rest, sweetie.”

    Helen doesn’t respond. She’s already asleep. Linda sighs again, out of relief, and steals her way out of the room.

    The transition in environment from the stale and unused bedroom to the rank and… over-used living room is jarring, to say the least. When she recovers, she retrieves her mug from its coaster on a side table and drains it of its contents.

    After looking around for a moment, she sets the mug down once more and reaches back to readjust her hair, tied back into a bun. Robert won’t be home from work until much later, if he comes home, and besides…

    Linda has a job of her own to do, now.

 

~*~

 

    Asgore never talks much during these meetings; he leaves all the real “speaking” to Frisk. They are the ambassador, after all. However, on days like this Friday in particular, he really wishes he could give these ignorant humans a piece of his mind.

    He stands on Frisk’s right, remaining painfully and dutifully silent as the short, red-headed interpreter on their left does her best to relay their signs to the city officials at the large desk in front of them.

    “The council would do well to remember that they gave their word to keep any and all appointments that the ambassador made with them in prior engagements,” she enunciates in a cool and businesslike tone, “and that those whom the ambassador represents have instigated no incidents or incited any ill-will toward your constituents.” Frisk signs something further, and she adds, “Also, let the council be reminded that these individuals may also become additional constituents in the future. It would do well for the council to --”

    “Begging the ambassador’s pardon ,” drawls a grey-haired man with beady eyes set under heavy brows, “but the council invited the ambassador here out of courtesy, not for a lecture.”

    There’s a pause, and even Frisk, through their usual calm demeanor in these meetings, is starting to look perplexed.

    The councilman continues. “Keep in mind that though this little charade is… admirable, amusing, and even downright adorable, that your being here is a privilege, Ms. Dreemurr.” He gives a short laugh. “Heck, I’m starting to wonder if you believe half of the things you’ve been ‘saying’ while you’ve been here, kid. Because it sure seems like your, ah, peers surely don’t.”

    Asgore doesn’t have to look; he can feel the rage starting to emanate off Frisk even as their interpreter asks on their behalf, “Could you explain, Councilman Ford?”

    “For all the passion you say your, ah, ‘people’ are feeling, Ms. Dreemurr --” Asgore’s paws curl into fists reflexively, but he bites his tongue, “-- there have been no petitions, no rallies, no … nothing!” He snorts. “Now, this has been… well, something, but you’ve wasted enough of our time, here. We have other things to attend to.”

    A little sound escapes Frisk’s throat. Their interpreter interjects, “Councilman, surely--”

    “That’s enough, you’re dismissed.”

    Asgore snorts, and he feels Frisk flinch at the hot smoke that puffs from his nostrils. He glances down at them, wincing apologetically. “Come, my child,” he sighs. “We are not wanted, here.”

    The three of them leave, and the next group files into the chamber in their wake. None of them say a word until they reach the parking lot, where Asgore pulls out his wallet to pay the interpreter. She puts a hand over his paw before he can get the money out.

    “Keep it,” she says, her voice seething with emotion. “After that circus show they call a council meeting? No, keep your money. If anyone should pay, it’s them.”

    “But you have supplied a service, and you should be --”

    “Keep. It.” She pauses a moment, breathing deliberately slow, and relinquishes his paw. “Tell you what, I know the perfect way you guys can pay me back.”

    After exchanging a quick glance with Frisk, Asgore begins to inquire, but is cut off.

    “Let me help you with the political stuff.” She looks between them. “Look, it’s pretty clear we’re going to have to start setting up a movement, here, to get anything done.”

    Panic rises in Asgore’s soul, but the second he opens his mouth to decline, Frisk stops him with a hand on his paw. He looks down just in time to see them sign, ‘You’re right. We have to fight back.’

    They look up at him. ‘Not actual fighting. We just have to get monsters and people who like monsters together to stand up and let these guys know we’re serious.’

    “That… sounds dangerous, my child,” Asgore says softly.

    ‘Everything is dangerous, dad.’ They sign back, but the determination in their eyes says it all.

    He looks between the two humans, and though he still fears for them, he realizes that they, in turn, fear for him , for all the monsters. After a moment, he turns to the redhead.

    “... Why do you want to do this, Shannon?”

    She shuffles in place, and turns her gaze to the sky, biting at her cheek. “My girlfriend is a monster,” she says, at length. “Laney, real, real pretty gal, she’s got, like,” she makes some vague gestures with her arms, “really cool tentacle arms, you know? And I just. I want her, and our friends, and you guys, I want everyone to be living in a better place, yeah?”

    Asgore can’t help smiling. “Well, whatever your reasons… We would be happy to have you helping us, wouldn’t we, Frisk?”

    They nod, and hold out a hand for Shannon to shake. Grinning, she takes it and gives it a firm shake, following suit with Asgore’s massive paw.

    “We have a lot of work ahead of us, but it is good to know we will not be alone.” Asgore smiles. “Welcome to the team, Miss Hargrove.”

    Asgore sleeps soundly that night, knowing that something good came out of that awful meeting.

 

~*~

 

    Who invited the sun? That bastard is just, WAY too bright to be coming through the window. What time is it? Ten? Oh, good, just a few hours. God, wouldn’t it be embarrassing if she’d passed out and slept all night when she was supposed to be hanging out with her bestie.

    Helen rubs at her eyes, groaning in protest at the sun’s insistence on shining into her room. Suddenly, she pauses.

    “Ten?” she bleats, taking a second long look at the clock on her nightstand. Sure enough, the glowing red digits read 10:01, with a tiny red AM in the lower-right corner.

    Shit.

    Not bothering to change, Helen stumbles out of the bedroom, and even from the hallway, something feels different. She smells fresh air, a tinge of lemon, and freshly-brewed coffee.

    As she shuffles her way into the living room, she hardly recognizes it. Her mountains of refuse are gone, she can see the surface of the coffee table again… the only thing that looks out of place is…

    “Lindy?” Helen balks, catching herself on the back of the couch. “Oh, oh my god, why are you still here?”

    Linda, sitting in the armchair, sipping from her mug and looking tired, but awake, smiles over at her friend. “Good morning to you, too, Helen. And honestly? Someone has to help you get your shit together.” She chuckles. “Get some coffee, you’re going to need it.”

    “Don’t have’ta tell me twice,” Helen mumbles, looking very overwhelmed as she totters into the kitchen to retrieve some coffee of her own. As she’s pouring, she calls, “Did you do all that? All of it? In there? Last night?”

    “You bet your hungover ass I did.”

    With coffee in hand, Helen meanders back into the living room, and sits down on the couch, staring dumbfoundedly at the blonde. “... Why?”

    Linda shrugs. “Sometimes when we’re in a bad place, we need a push to get help. And… it’s your turn, right now.”

    Somewhere outside the open window, a bird starts chirping. A breeze pushes at the tied-back curtains, and the sunlight seems brighter for just a moment. Tears brim in Helen’s eyes.

    All in all, it’s a good morning, at last.

Chapter Text

~*~

 

    Clouds hang low in the sky, with bloated, dark underbellies weighing the air with the threat of rain. Of course, today would be the day Frisk decided to walk down to the park with their friends and neighbors. Bill, at least, had been sensible enough to bring an umbrella along, just in case; Rachel, on the other hand, has been daring the sky to rain ever since Frisk pointed out the clouds about ten minutes ago.

    They follow their two friends by about three steps, watching Rachel tease her brother about the rain. “Ooh, Billy, I think I felt a drop!” “What!?” Fwoomp goes the umbrella, for the fifth time. “Gotcha, nerd!” “Lay off, will ya?”

    It’s fun. They don’t have to join in, either - those two could keep at this kind of thing for hours, and probably will. Frisk pulls out their phone for a moment, just to check what the weather says, when it buzzes in their hand. It’s a text from Kid, who’s recently started attempting to use their magic hands for texting. Frisk hopes they didn’t type this out near any kind of water.

    Sup, Frsk. Wan 2 hang l8r?

    The typing is cringeworthy, but Frisk smiles. Kid is trying their hardest. Sure , they text back. Wanted to talk about some stuff, anyways. Nothing bad! We could watch that new space show you’ve been going on about.

    They know it’ll be a bit before Kid replies, so they bring up the browser on their phone again. All indicators say that it’s going to rain any minute, but they still haven’t felt a drop, yet. Ahead of them, their friends have stopped at a crosswalk, and are waiting for the walk signal; Frisk stops just behind them, flipping down a feed on their phone.

    Air’s pretty heavy, isn’t it?

    It’s not a new text. Frisk closes their eyes for a moment, focusing on the all-too-familiar sensation of the other that shares their soul. They open their eyes again, and perhaps their irises have a slight, reddish tinge. They nod in answer, pretending to be engrossed in an article about bees.

    Good, I thought I was the only one who felt it. Which would be weird, since I’m feeling everything secondhand. You can walk, now.

    Frisk glances up, seeing that Rachel and Billy are already halfway across the street. They trot to catch up, and return to their phone screen. They pull up an empty text to nobody, and type in the box, How did you see that?

    Peripherals, buddy. You really should pay attention to those, more, be open to your surroundings.

    Frisk rolls their eyes.

    Ugh, stop that, it makes me dizzy when you do that without warning.

    They chuckle. Really? Is that why I feel slightly queasy sometimes when I do it extra hard?

    Maybe.

    “What are you giggling at? Who are you texting?” Rachel has slowed just a bit.

    Stuffing their phone into their pocket, Frisk signs, ‘Just Kid, they want to hang out later.’

    “Oh, cool!” Rachel grins. “Tell them ‘hi’ for us!”

    Frisk nods, and pulls out their phone again once Rachel turns back around. They quickly relay the message to Kid, who is undoubtedly still typing. Or something.

    Goody two-shoes.

    Frisk scowls to themself. I don’t like lying to my friends.

    Even over something so simple as this? Wow, sometimes I forget how soft you are. It’s a good thing I’m around.

    Frisk taps in an out of various apps absently. What do you mean?

    Don’t tell me you forgot we’re starting a movement. Jeez, you don’t actually think you can save the world by being a pushover, do you?

    They don’t respond, but they know they don’t have to. The other can hear their thoughts anyway, all the nervous interjections, the sinking fears, the underlying determination to keep pressing forward.

    … First meeting is next weekend. I’ll make sure you don’t forget.

    Frisk hums quietly. … Why all the interest?

    The other doesn’t respond for awhile. Frisk can’t help but wish they could read the other like they can read them . They sigh, and glance up to see their apartment complex coming up in the next couple blocks. Rachel looks back once more, and they offer a smile. She smiles back, and returns to joking with her brother. Looking up to the clouds, Frisk’s back tingles as they realize they’d nearly forgotten just how bloated the sky looks, looming darkly overhead.

    At this point, the little voice that shares their mind speaks up. … Let’s say I want to make up for past mistakes.

    For just a moment, Frisk feels a heaviness in their chest, one that doesn’t belong to them. It weighs like a thousand years of regret, like a crushing pressure of “what if”s and “if only”s. The feeling stops them in their tracks, and they reach with one hand to clutch at their chest, as if they could pull it out, but as soon as it’s there, it’s gone again.

    You weren’t supposed to see that.

    Frisk knows the sulky tone in their voice all too well, and isn’t surprised when they say nothing more for the rest of the walk home. Nonetheless, the ambassador can’t stop thinking about the sheer force of that weight they’d felt for half a second, and how much feeling was behind it.

    They want to help, now even more than before.

 

~*~

 

    Kid strolls into the apartment just a couple hours later, like they have on several occasions. It looks the same as ever, complete with their best friend lounging on the living room sofa and watching cartoons while stuffing popcorn into their face. Kid pauses by the entryway to look at them for a moment, before they’re noticed; Frisk’s eyes are bright, maybe a little brighter than normal, and there’s a faint smile hinting at dimples in their cheeks. Occasionally, they chuckle quietly, but it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with what’s on the show.

    Deciding to announce themself before this becomes creepy, Kid clears their throat. “Hey, Frisk, saw you left the door open, again. Don’t worry, it’s locked, now!”

    The human nearly vaults out of their seat, and their popcorn bowl clatters to the floor. They stare at Kid, wild-eyed, for just a moment, before they take a deep breath and calm themself. ‘Hey, Kid,’ they sign, a little shakily, and their eyes are a bit less bright when they open them again. ‘Sorry, I guess I lost track of time.’

    “Hey, it’s okay!” Kid trots into the living room proper, and kneels down to help gather up the spilled popcorn with their summoned hands. “I didn’t mean to sneak up on you like that, sorry.”

    Frisk waves vaguely and shakes their head, no big deal. After helping Kid pile the regrettably desecrated popcorn into the bowl, they take it to the kitchen and dump the contents in the trash. ‘I’ll make some more,’ they sign quickly, and procure another bag from the cupboard, which they toss into the microwave.

    “Take your time!” Kid settles into the seat on the sofa next to where Frisk had just been curled up. Frisk had claimed the corner seat, naturally, and the blanket they’d been wearing is crumpled up against the armrest. Through the nearby window, they can still easily see the fat, heavy clouds looming above the town. Kid shifts in their seat, and turns to look at Frisk.

    Words can hardly begin to describe what goes through their mind when they see Frisk. A kind of warmth rushes over their scales and lingers in their tail and in their toes, and their soul flutters, like innumerable wings aching to fly. Words linger just on the tip of their tongue, but no matter how they try, it’s impossible to say them.

    It’s been three months, now, maybe more. Probably more. Kid isn’t the best at keeping up with things like that. Three incredible months of their best friend and the object of their admiration letting them be openly affectionate and even, in cases, a bit protective.

    Frisk looks up from behind the kitchen bar, having put the bowl in the dishwasher, and Kid feels an intense heat in their cheeks. They look away, quickly, and stare blankly at the TV until Frisk walks by, carrying a fresh bowl of popcorn, and reclaims their seat in the corner.

    Silence. Even the TV doesn’t seem to be able to drown it out. If Kid’s hands were out, they’d be gripping their knees out of sheer nerves. Something in their soul is writhing, churning, pulling them toward something they aren’t even sure about.

    They glance at Frisk, sitting beside them. The human seems to have no cares in the world, already curled up with the blanket over their shoulders, bowl in their lap, munching away and grinning placidly at the mid-afternoon cartoons. God, the two of them have made so many memories on this couch, hanging out, doing homework, enjoying each other’s company. Even now, sitting in the same places they’ve sat together time and time again, for years, Kid can’t help but realize they want to try and make even more new memories here.

    Something warm drapes over their shoulders, and it takes a moment for them to realize Frisk has elected to share the blanket with them. When Kid looks over at them, they’re greeted with a fistful of popcorn practically shoved into their mouth. They manage to eat it while laughing, and then Frisk is leaning against their shoulder, eyes half-closed, looking content.

    Kid’s tail twitches, and that warm, tingly feeling is stronger even than ever. The monster chews absently at their lower lip, trying to distract themself. They can’t. They know Frisk doesn’t want that sort of thing, they know what will happen if they ask, they know they shouldn’t . And it’s tearing them apart, inside.

    “H-hey, Frisk?” Kid’s voice escapes them before they can stop it.

    Frisk’s head shifts against their shoulder, and Kid knows they have their friend’s full attention. Their mouth feels dry. They wrap their tail around their ankle to try and quell the trembling. Several times, they try to speak, but they can’t. At length, they sigh, and rest their head against the cushion behind them, staring at the ceiling.

    “... N-nevermind,” they mumble, “it’s… not important.”

    Frisk looks them over for a moment, then pats their thigh reassuringly, and resumes resting their head on the monster’s shoulder.

    Kid closes their eyes, and pretends they can’t feel the frustration in their soul, at themself, at the situation, at their feelings. Beside them, Frisk giggles quietly at nothing again. Kid can’t muster the energy to ask what’s so funny.

    In a way, they make a new memory here, after all, though it’s not one they want.

 

~*~

 

    Fifteen minutes away, on the other side of town, two women sit in a coffee shop. One is wearing sunglasses indoors on this overcast day, and the other, sitting across from her, has a healthy flush in her cheeks. Both of them have their hair tied back into ponytails, and are wearing similar tracksuits, though the blonde’s has pink accents, while the brunette’s has green. The blonde - the one wearing sunglasses - nurses her drink calmly with a quiet smile, while listening to her friend talk about something she read the paper.

    “... I just can’t believe they’re getting involved in politics, now,” Helen scoffs, glancing again at the paper in her hand. “Listen to this: ‘Earlier this week, Asgore Dreemurr, former ‘King of all monsters’ and current liaison for the monster ambassador, Frisk Dreemurr, issued a statement on behalf of the ambassador, stating that it is ‘time for some definitive action in the face of prejudice.’”

    “You say that like you just heard someone died,” Linda notes between small sips of coffee.

    Helen grimaces, and lowers her voice, “Well, Lindy, we all just might, if those things have their way.”

    Linda fights not to laugh. “Helen, listen to what you’re saying! When was the last time you heard of a monster picking fights of any kind?”

    Helen balks for a fraction of a second, and then her seedy gaze is narrowed on her friend. “... Linda, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you sound like you’re defending them…!”

    The blonde doesn’t deny it, busy as she is with yet another swig of iced coffee. How could she possibly tell her best friend of several years that she’s been willingly let her own children spend so much time with the neighbors that Helen so clearly detests, not even to mention that she’s seen Ricky with them time and time again? No, best to keep that under wraps, for the time being. “All I’m saying, Helen, is that I’ve seen people more willing to cause trouble than any monster I’ve yet to meet.”

    “What about Sans ?”

    Linda almost laughs, but manages to mask it with a cough. “Him? Oh, he’s harmless, Helen, dear, honestly. What’s the worst thing he’s done, besides ruffle our feathers? And he tends to make some good points, now and again.”

    Helen is deathly silent, and the growing pit in Linda’s stomach leads her to realize that, just maybe, she’s done something to upset her friend. However, after a few moments of painful silence, Helen sets the newspaper aside and directs the conversation toward the weather, about how bleak the clouds look outside, and how they seem to be about to burst at any moment.

    Linda sighs. Crisis averted, for now.

 

~*~

 

    None of them will readily admit to it, but monsters - in general - hate days like this. But no monster, however big or small or otherwise inclined, hates days like this more than Dr. Alphys.

    She’s sitting in her bedroom with the curtains drawn, but every source of light available turned on at full intensity. Her sandy-yellow scales contrast brilliantly against the short-cut, sleeveless dress with a blue-and-white flower pattern she’s wearing, and she sits on the end of her bed, eyes glued to a nature documentary she’s playing on her wide-screen TV. Her claws are digging into her knees slightly, but she’s smiling, perhaps a bit too hard.

    Through the closed door and the calm, relaxing voice of the documentary’s narrator, Alphys hears the door to her apartment open and shut. She winces at the sound, fishes the remote from the mass of sheets to her side, and cranks up the volume until she can no longer hear evidence of the world outside her bedroom.

    Faintly, beneath the rumbling of the narrator’s now-amplified voice, she can hear a knock at her door. A muffled voice. She ignores it. She keeps on ignoring it, right until it opens the door without her permission.

    “ALPHYS,” her girlfriend has to shout to be heard, “WHAT THE HELL?!”

    The lizard monster flinches, and covers her face with her claws. She stammers an apology, but none of her words are heard until Undyne grabs the remote and mutes the program.

    “-- just couldn’t take it, I can’t take it, Undyne, I’m s-s-s-sorry, It’s” she gasps for air, and with the tears streaming down her face, it’s like she’s drowning, “it’s too much like, like, l-like--”

    “Shh, Alph, it’s okay,” Undyne sits on the bed next to her, cradling the lizard monster’s face to her chest. “Calm down, take a breath. Real slow. That’s it.”

    Alphys takes a few moments to gulp for air, clinging to Undyne’s torso like a steel trap. “The Lab!” she blurts, once she’s calmed enough to form words. “God, Undyne, it’s just like the Lab! The air’s so heavy, and, and thick, and wet, but there’s no rain, and it’s so dark, I just--”

    “It’s okay,” the fish monster kisses Alphys’s forehead gently. “I know. We aren’t there, anymore, Alph. All that’s in the past, now.”

    This seems to mollify her for the moment, and her grip on Undyne’s torso relaxes enough so the fish monster can breathe comfortably. They watch the silent animals roam on the TV for awhile, until Alphys speaks up again.

    “Undyne… what if things get worse?”

    The scaly warrior has to think for a moment, before she can respond. “... Well, Alph, I guess at the very least, we’ll be together through whatever comes next.”

Chapter Text

~*~

 

    Three days later, and the clouds are heavier than ever. Even with summer break, there seems to be some kind of lull in the air. As members of the PTA, Linda Smith and Helen Snyder are thankful for this sort of break from the norm, and have been spending as much time as they can doing things that their busy schedules otherwise kept them from enjoying. One such thing happens to be pleasant walks through the park.

    Though, Linda has to admit she’d been hoping the sky would be clearer. She checks her purse one more time to make sure the pink umbrella is still tucked inside.

    “Relax, Lin,” Helen laughs from her side, “The weatherman said it’s not supposed to rain until Saturday at the earliest.”

    “That’s tomorrow, Helen,” the blonde points out, rolling her eyes. “Besides, we all know how reliable the weatherman is.”

    Helen takes a sip of the coffee she’d bought on the walk to the park, and gives a sagely nod. “‘Bout as reliable as a husband, eh?” She grins, and gives her friend a playful nudge.

    Linda forces a smile, and changes the subject. “I’ve never really come through here with the weather like this, before. It’s kind of beautiful.”

    ‘Beautiful’ is probably a subjective term. The city had planted rows of spruces and elms throughout the grounds, and the trees’ limbs tend to hang over the paved pathways. On clear days, the sunlight would filter through the leaves, casting shadows reminiscent of the mapped-out coastlines of exotic places long unknown. Today, however, these shadows are virtually nowhere to be seen, and the only real light comes from the haunting glows of street lamps placed every fifteen yards or so along the path. Sure, the sun is up, and just enough light is creeping through the thick clouds for them to know it isn’t nighttime, but if not for the street lamps, the two women may as well be walking through a shadowy haze. There’s something haunting and mesmerizing about walking around in the middle of the day and feeling like it should be long past dusk.

    “Eh,” Helen shrugs, looking around with a half-scowl on her face, “It’s somethin’, all right.”

    The two walk in relative silence for some time, occasionally pointing out a bird’s nest or a rogue squirrel scrambling for snacks. It’s been a long time since they’ve had time for themselves, either of them; it makes a nice change of pace. Presently, however, they begin to hear something. A deep voice, rumbling gently to some tune neither of them recognize. They glance at each other for a moment, and then press onward to find out who the voice belongs to.

    They step out of the wooded area and into an open space, with a large flower garden on their left, and an open field lined with picnic tables on the right. In the garden, a large, white-furred creature wearing a grey polo shirt and khaki shorts is crouched among the flowers, humming his strange song in his deep and sonorous voice. His back is to the two women, but they can still see his great horns peeking up and over his head, nestled in his mane of golden hair.

    Linda can’t help staring agape at him for a moment. She knew monsters could get big, but up until now, Toriel was the largest one she’d ever seen, at eight feet tall. This one is kneeling ; if he stood upright, he could easily be pushing ten feet. Even so, everything about him, his clothes, the way he’s handling the delicate blossoms with his massive paws, and the calm, pleasant tune he’s humming to himself, all of it just screams “Giant Sap” in her mind.

    “Eugh, look at it!” Helen wrinkles her nose. “How did it get in here? Are they,” she leans in closer to Linda, and lowers her voice, “Are they allowed on public property?”

    Linda feels heat rise to her face, and looks at her friend in shock. “Helen, what is wrong with you?! Of course they’re allowed , they live here!”

    “In the park!?

    “No! Jesus, Helen, they live in the city, with us! God, some of my neighbors are monsters, will you listen to what you’re saying!?”

    There’s a short, but heavy pause between the two. The weight of Linda’s statement hangs in the air. Neither of them realize that the large monster weeding the garden just eight yards away has stopped his work and is now staring at them, an expression of gentle concern wrinkling his brow. Helen’s hands slowly grip into fists, crumpling her now-empty paper coffee cup.

    “... Listen to me ?” She hisses, “listen to yourself ! Do you have any idea what you sound like?”

    Linda straightens herself, squaring her shoulders. “And just what is it I sound like, Helen?”

    Helen steps forward and jabs a finger square in the middle of her friend’s chest. “You’re starting to sound like that little Dreemurr brat!”

    The monster in the garden gives a little start, but neither women notice. “Well!” Linda glares down at her friend, using all two inches of height she has over her to her advantage. “I suppose if that means I’m starting to sound like a decent neighbor, then that’s fine by me!”

    “What!?” Helen shrieks, recoiling as if she’d touched something foul. “A what!?

    “You.. You heard me!” Linda can feel her eyes burning, but she refuses to back down. “I had dinner with the Dreemurrs, you know. And you know what? It was the nicest dinner I’ve ever been to!”

    Helen’s face is flushed, and her lips are pulled back into a sneer. “I thought I could smell animal musk on you. I can’t believe you, of all people , would associate yourself with those, those…”

    “Those what, Helen?”

    “Those beasts! ” Helen stomps her foot, and growls in frustration. “Do you know what those things did to my boy at the Christmas party, last year? Do you!? He came home all covered in bruises!”

    “You told me this,” Linda huffs, folding her arms, “you said he healed up after a day or two.”

    “That’s! Not! The point!” Helen takes a breath, growls it out, and then throws her mangled coffee cup on the ground at Linda’s feet. “I thought you cared about your kind! I thought you wanted to keep these animals from taking over, and now look, you’re, what, having dinner with them, being all buddy-buddy, and what’s next, you going to marry one, Linda!?”

    “I -- what!?” Linda blinks, reeling. “Where do you get the--”

    “Don’t think I haven’t noticed how you let Sans ride all over me at the last few meetings, Linda ,” Helen snarls. “What’d he do, Lindy, shove a bone up your ass?”

    “ What!?

    “Figures you’d be into freaky shit like that,” Helen laughs humorlessly, “Lord knows you haven’t hit the sack with your husband since Rachel was born.”

    By this point, Linda is completely red in the face, and visibly shaking from the effort it’s taking not to scream, or to stoop to Helen’s level. She takes a large, deep breath to try and calm herself. “You have… no idea what you’re talking about.”

    “Like hell I don’t!” Helen cackles. “I don’t have to remind you about the fact that my husband up and left me , do I?”

    Linda fights to keep her mouth shut. Otherwise, she’d be informing Helen on just how lucky she is that her husband just “up and left.” That she hasn’t had to deal with everything Linda has, herself.

    Helen laughs again, shaking her head. “... You’re too soft. Always have been. I should have figured you’d turn on humanity sooner or later.”

    She doesn’t wait for a response. Linda is left sputtering and shocked as Helen turns on her heel and storms back the way they came. The blonde stands still, staring after her friend, dumbfounded. Her face is hot. Her eyes are burning. Her breath is strangled.

    What… just happened?

    The world seems to be closing in on her. Everything feels heavy. Where’s all the air? What’s going on? Who’s --

    “Excuse me, human, are you alright?”

    Linda yelps, the air rushing back into her lungs in the subsequent gasp. Wheeling around, she finds herself face-to-fabric with a grey polo shirt.

    “Oh! Goodness, I am sorry,” the shirt takes a step back, revealing its wearer in full. He seems even larger, up close. Large, golden eyes are set into a soft, fuzzy face. Two sharp-looking fangs protrude from under the lips of his muzzle, but even with this in consideration, the monster doesn’t seem that scary. “I did not mean to startle you.”

    The blonde blinks, trying to ground herself. He’s talking to her. She should say something back, right? “You… look like Toriel.” Good. Normal human talking.

    He winces, and gives a nervous laugh. “Ah, ha, yes. That would be because she and I are the same kind of monster. But, ah, that is not important.” His brows crinkle together in concern. “I heard the fight you had with your friend. Are you alright?”

    She can’t tell. Everything is still kind of fuzzy. The only thing she can really see clearly right now is this large monster. God, he’s huge. “Uh… I’ve had better days.”

    He smiles gently. “I understand. Here, let us get you seated.”

    A large, warm paw settles on her back, and she lets herself be guided to a nearby bench. She sits down, resting her head in one hand. There’s a moment of silence, and the monster speaks up again.

    “Please take all the time you need.” His smile is so gentle. “Do you mind if I talk with you while I keep working?”

    “Oh. Um, sure.” She nods, staring in his general direction. She puts one hand on the bench, focusing on the texture of the wood. Faintly, she can hear the monster talking about the flowers, discussing the proper methods for planting and fertilizing, and when the peak blooming periods are. She takes a few deep breaths, and slowly her head begins to clear. Unfortunately, that means she has a full opportunity to ruminate on the myriad of emotions that are welling in her chest. It hurts. Linda decides she doesn’t want to think about it anymore. Looking over at the monster, she manages to catch the tail end of his spiel.

    “... And if you wait until about the end of April, you can really see all the effort pay off!” He laughs, a warm, deep chuckle, and looks over his shoulder at her. Genuine surprise raises his eyebrows. “Oh! I see you are feeling more present. May I come sit with you for a moment?”

    “Yes, please.” Linda smiles as the monster straightens and walks over. It’s hard for her to conceal her own surprise when he seats himself on the bench beside her, and the thing barely complains. She turns her attention back up to him; questioning him about his weight might be rude, after all. “I want to thank you, for sticking around. You didn’t have to.”

    “I know I did not have to, but I felt you could use the company.” He extends a paw toward her. “My name is Asgore, by the way. Asgore Dreemurr.”

    “Dreemurr…?” Linda’s eyes widen slowly. “Are you… related to Toriel, by any chance?”

    Asgore laughs. It’s another chuckle, at first, but quickly progresses into something like a howl. It continues for several moments, until he wipes a little tear from the corner of his eye and manages to reply, “In a manner of speaking, I suppose so! Tori - er, Toriel and I were married, once upon a time.”

    “What, really!?”

    “Indeed. That was… a lifetime ago, however, and things change.” He looks at her, still recovering from his laughter. “What about you, Linda? I ah, caught your name from when your friend was shouting. But how might you know Toriel, may I ask?”

    It’s Linda’s turn to laugh, though hers is more tame than Asgore’s had been. “Well, if you must know, I’m on the PTA with her husband, and our kids go to school together. We’re actually neighbors, as well.”

    Asgore’s eyes go very wide. “Oh! You are that Linda! Goodness, you are nothing like what Sans described you as.”

    “Is that so?”

    “Oh, yes, after his first few meetings, I overheard him describing you as a raging hell-bitch, if you will pardon my language.” He pauses, and taps his chin. “On second thought, I believe he may have been referring to your friend. The, um. The joke makes sense, there.”

    Linda snorts, and breaks into a fit of laughter. Asgore joins in, after a moment. The clouds are still dark overhead, the air is still heavy, but god damn it all if these two haven’t just made a new friend in each other.

 

~*~

 

    “Yo, Frisk! I’m here!” Kid pokes their head through their best friend’s bedroom door, which had been left slightly ajar. “You said you wanted my help with something important?”

    The human in question looks up from the middle of their floor, where they’re sitting with an assortment of pens and markers all around themself on the floor. Their gentle smile brightens into an outright grin upon seeing Kid peeking through the doorway, and they wave their friend inside with enthusiasm.

    Kid grins in turn, and picks their way over to sit beside Frisk on the floor. “Whatcha got here, yo?”

    Frisk leans over to grab a stack of loose papers, and sets them in front of Kid. ‘I’ve been trying to make logos,’ they sign, once the papers are on the floor, ‘for our movement.’

    “Whoa, really?” Kid hunches over to get a better look at the paper on top. It’s a fairly simple design, a round emblem with what looks like a Loox in the middle, with the letters M.O.N.S.T.E.R. making up its smile. “You got a name for it, already?”

    Frisk gives a sharp nod, and scribbles the full name down on a spare sheet of paper in red marker. Many Outstanding Neighbors Striving for Total Equality and Representation.

    “Whoa. Nice!” Kid looks back at Frisk. “You run that by the big guy, yet?”

    Frisk giggles, ‘yeah, he loved it. Got all teary-eyed and everything. Said it was better than anything he could do.’

    “No kidding,” Kid snorts, still grinning. “So, what kind of designs you got so far?”

    Frisk doesn’t bother signing anything more, and instead spreads the pile they’d set in front of Kid out on the floor. Some designs are very similar - there’s at least three variations on the Loox logo - but others include various kinds of monsters swirling around a central point, or more simplistic renditions of the caves the monsters had been trapped in for centuries.

    ‘Oh, no, not this one,’ Frisk snatches one design from the display, one that is supposed to represent the hole they fell down nearly a decade ago, ‘this one looks like a butthole. Can’t use it.’

    “Is that what a butthole looks like?” Kid cranes their neck to try and see it better, but Frisk only pulls it further out of their line of sight and flushes darkly.

    ‘Don’t be gross!’ They laugh, nonetheless, while tossing that particular design into their trash can.

    The two of them spend the better part of an hour piecing out the better parts of each design, discussing which ones work over others and why. By the time an hour has passed, they’ve narrowed it down to three designs that Frisk will be taking to the next meeting they have with Asgore and Shannon and some of their backers. Kid, however, can’t help but feel like they’d have had it done much sooner if they hadn’t been fighting back that surging warmth in their gut every time they looked at Frisk, or when Frisk would touch them, accidentally or otherwise. Chills run up and down their scales when they think about it too long, so they keep trying to distract themself with anything, anything else. The task at hand. One of the Mettaton posters on Frisk’s wall. The tea set on their desk. None of it works for more than a minute or two. Either Frisk gets their attention again so they can sign something, or Kids eyes end up wandering back to their best friend on their own. It’s too much. Just too much.

    ‘You want to come with me to the next meeting?’ Frisk asks them, ‘You’d love Shannon, she’s a super cool human.”

    Kid opens their mouth with a start. Their words catch in their throat, and their eyes are locked on Frisk’s face. Their warm eyes are so bright, and the gentle smile that tugs into dimples at their cheeks, and their hair that hangs in curtains around their face, god, it looks so soft…

    Frisk’s smile falters. If Kid didn’t know better, they’d say that something in their eyes flickers. ‘Are you okay?’ Their signs are slow and precise. ‘You’re looking at me strangely.’

    “S-sorry,” Kid gulps. Little beads of sweat run down the back of their head, grazing against their spines. “I just, uh.” Sparks are going off somewhere in their soul, they can feel it, and it’s driving them crazy. They fumble for the words.

    And then they’re kissing Frisk. Aggressively. It’s different than any other kiss they’ve had before, both in its intensity, and in the fact that it’s right on the mouth. It’s like fireworks in their head, like the greatest feeling to grace their soul, but at the same time, it’s not enough. They wriggle their way on top of Frisk, pushing their friend to the floor, shuddering when they feel hands pressing against them, parting their mouth to tell Frisk how gorgeous they are, how wonderful it all feels, finally --

    “Get… Off!”

    Shoved off and to the side, it takes Kid a second to process what exactly just happened. When they lift their head and look in Frisk’s direction, their scales pale and their eyes widen in terror.

    The crimson flecks in Frisk’s eyes have brightened, somehow, and seem to have expanded to take up most of the irises. Their mouth is curled into a snarl, thick brows furrowed over their red eyes, cheeks flushed with anger. Even as Kid looks them over, their hands - which have balled into fists - relax open again, and their furious expression melts into one of fear. Their eyes even seem to dim their brightness, back to the red-flecked maroon Kid is familiar with.

    Kid begins to tremble as they realize the weight of what they’ve just done. “I… Frisk, I’m, I’m sorry, I don’t, I didn’t--”

    “No,” Frisk whispers, the red in their eyes giving a sharp flicker as they shake their head. “No. Out. Go… Go away.”

    The monster scrambles to their feet. “I - oh, god, Frisk, I’m so sorry, please, let me, let me help you up --”

    “NO!” Frisk shrieks, scurrying toward their bed, as far away from Kid as they can. “Just…” They look at their hands, shaking all over, and, lowering their eyes to the floor, point to the door.

    Kid hesitates, just a moment, then bites their lip and leaves, the same way they came. For once, they’re truly glad that nobody else is home at the apartment. They don’t know what would happen, otherwise.

    It’s a lonely walk home, and not one they expect to enjoy when all they can think about is how royally they screwed up.

 

~*~

 

    … It’s okay, they’re gone now. Just us. It’s okay. I know that was… stressful. You can’t say I didn’t warn you, though.

    Yikes, okay okay, not necessary, I know. Sorry.

    It’s just… You’ve seen how they’ve been looking at you, lately. How they act when they come visit, or when you hang out. They know how you feel, where you stand on that kind of thing, and they still did this. What does that say to you?

    …

    Don’t get snappy with me, pal, I’ve known Kid just as long as you have. Kind of stuck in here, remember? And look, I’m not saying they’re a bad person. Stuff like this can… happen, I guess. Neither am I saying you have to forgive them --

    Oh? Right. I’m getting preachy again, aren’t I?

    … Look, I know you want some space right now, but I gotta remind you that the old man’s here, right now. He’s been in the corner since Kid came to visit. He always watches when you guys hang out, huh? Well… since you’ve stopped paying attention, he’s come closer. He’s on the chair. All over it. Is that sitting? Maybe? Your family is confusing.

    He… wants to know if you want some tea. No? Okay. Firm shake of the head should do the trick. … And he’s still there.

    Yeah, I know, he cares about you. But look, you’re hardly talking to me , and normally I can’t get you to shut up. You aren’t in the right state of mind to be around people. I… understand that. Look, you can take some time for yourself, let me hold down the fort awhile. Nobody will know.

    Okay, okay, calm down. You don’t have to. I’m just reminding you it’s an option.

    Oh, he’s talking again… Asking if you need a blanket. … How are we feeling? You mean you can’t… tell if you’re cold or not? Oh boy. Um, yeah, you could use a blanket, you’ve got like… what do they call it, ah, duck skin? Pluck bumps? … Goosebumps? Sure. Okay, accepting blanket. That’s… better already. Can you feel it getting warmer?

    … No?

    Oh.

    I… think he can tell something’s wrong. He just made this face, like he’s looking at something he can’t quite recognize. His… goop? It’s vibrating. He’s making a sound like a distorted teakettle. … He’s asking if we -- you -- are okay. He wants us -- you -- to look at him.

    Yeah, I know what happens with the eyes when this goes on. You think Kid didn’t see it? If this guy sees it, I don’t… know what will happen. I know he loves you. I know he’d do what he can to protect you. If he thinks I’m a threat… He can’t possibly know that…

    …

    Are… you sure?

    …

    You’ve never agreed before. Hell, just a minute ago you told me it would be a mistake.

    …

    You’re right. I’ll… I’ll do my best. Just take all the time you need. But, you know, not too much of it, because… your shoes are hard ones to fill.

 

~*~

 

    The human looks up, at length, giving the old monster resting on the chair a tired smile. Opening their mouth slowly, they speak in a cool, raspy voice. “Hey, Gramps.”

    The face set in black ooze gives a start, his less-damaged eye-socket going wide. His phalanges rise to cover his mouth.

    “We’re… I’m …” Looking back down at their hands, the human sighs, rubs at their throat, and then signs slowly, ‘It’s been a long day. I need some space to myself, please.’

    For a moment, it looks like the oozing monster on the chair might not comply, but when the human just puts their head back down on their knees, his shoulders slump, and he gives a heavy, discordant sigh. ‘... Be good, young one,’ he warbles, shifting back among the shadows of the room.

    Silence hangs in the room, a deep and comfortable silence. When the human lifts their head, their eyes fall on the dark, heavy clouds hanging out past the window. Somehow, the shaded sky makes the loneliness all the more profound. They blink, and in the instant they open their eyes again, they don’t see a floor littered with paper, or a desk, or walls, or a window; they see a wide, open chamber with pillars all around, light filtering from the distant ceiling, and a bed of soft flowers all about them. They see a young boy walking toward them, a boy with soft white fur and long, floppy ears. “Howdy!” he says, “Golly, you’re not from around here, are you?” They blink again, opening their mouth to reply, and they’re back in a room littered with paper, with a desk, and walls, and a window showing the dark sky outside. A sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach lets them know they aren’t as ready for this as they had thought they were.

    They sniffle softly. “F… Frisk?” They whisper, as if afraid of a response, or of a lack thereof. Nothing. No little voice in their head, no reassuring presence. Frisk is as distanced from them as they try to distance themself from Frisk, in most instances.

    “Maybe,” they mutter, hugging Frisk’s knees to Frisk’s chest with Frisk’s arms, while leaning against Frisk’s bed and staring up at Frisk’s ceiling, “maybe this was a bad idea.”

Chapter Text

~*~

 

    Flowey’s always found that the kitchen windowsill is a neutral place to spend his time. Those who come in the kitchen are normally too focused on food to pay him much attention, unless it’s Toriel sprinkling some water in the dirt, or Sans tossing a joke in his direction. Those who hang out in the living room are just out of range of possibly interacting with him directly, but still close enough he can listen in if he feels so inclined. When both rooms are empty, like they are now, he spends his time simply staring out the window, taking in the sunlight. Well, when there is sunlight. Even in spite of the fact that it’s now about eight in the evening, the clouds have been too thick for the sun to pierce through.

    There hasn’t been much light for over a week, now.

 

~*~

 

    Sans comes home just a few minutes after eight, keys jangling as he twirls them in his phalanges, whistling a jazzy tune through his teeth. The door creaks a weak-willed harmony to a note he holds out as it swings shut. He gives a soft laugh.

    “Yo, kiddos! I’m home!” He calls into the apartment. Hanging up his keys, he waits patiently for a reply. When none comes, he turns to look down the hallway. Frisk’s bedroom door is cracked open, and he can see some light peeking through.

    “Frisk?” he calls. “Kid? You two okay?”

    He gets a response, this time, but it only comes out as a frantic whimper. Alarms blare in Sans’ mind, and he rushes down the hallway, eye-sockets wide and eye-lights dim. He throws open the door, and is greeted by the sight of the human sitting curled up on the floor amid a mess of papers and pens. They don’t seem to have noticed he’s entered.

    “Hey, kiddo, are you…” Sans looks around, the thought trailing off. “What… happened?”

    They seem responsive, this time; their head snaps up into attentiveness, and they’re staring at him with wide, panic-stricken, bright red eyes. “S-Sans?” they whisper, as if unsure of what they’re looking at. “Are you…? You’re home…!”

    Sweat beads on the back of Sans’ skull. “... What are you doing out…?”

    “It’s,” they take a deep breath and swallow, rubbing at their throat, “Long story. Kid gone?”

    “They weren’t here when I got here.” Sans pushes aside some of the papers on the floor with one slippered foot, and then plops onto the cleared space on the floor. “If you’re out, I can only assume that means something happened.”

    “Mm,” is all they say, at first, still rubbing their throat. With a grunt of effort, they pick themself up off the floor and sit on the edge of the bed. Sans watches them; their movements are hesitant, unsure, and they keep pausing to look at their hands.

    Once seated, they begin to sign with slow, shaky hands. ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ It’s more of a vague series of gestures, directed at no-one.

    Sans sighs, pulls himself off the floor, and takes a seat in the desk chair. “I know it takes one to know one, but, ah, you look like a mess.”

    The human sighs, resting their hands in their lap. “I should explain what happened,” they whisper, keeping their voice soft and still rubbing at their throat. “Just, give me a minute, everything feels so, so weird, with Frisk just…”

    Sans’ expression melts into concern. “Whaddya mean?”

    “They’re…” They make a vague gesture around their chest. “Hiding. I can’t… hear them. Or feel them.”

    The air feels colder in the room, somehow.

    “Well,” the human sighs, leaning forward to rest on their elbows and get into the story, “at least I know how Frisk feels without me running my mouth all the time…”

 

~*~

 

    Downtown, a mini-van pulls into one of several parking spaces outside a squat, comfortable-looking apartment building. The side door slides open with a rush the second the engine is turned off, and two bright-eyed teenagers spill out of the van, sporting backpacks and chattering excitedly. Well, more specifically, one is chattering excitedly, while her brother grins and nods in response to everything she says.

    “Whoa, kids, hold on just a second!” Their mother laughs as she scrambles out of the driver’s seat in an attempt to intercept them. “Give me kisses before you go inside!”

    “Mom,” Billy groans in feigned protest as she wraps the both of them in a big hug, but her daughter just laughs.

    “Don’t worry about us, Mom, we’ll be good for Mr. Snyder,” Rachel says. “Thanks for letting us spend the night with him and Ricky again!”

    “Oh, don’t worry about it,” Linda smiles, and gives her two kids a pat on the head before stepping back from them. “Have fun, you two, and call me if you need anything !”

    “Sure thing,” the siblings chime in unison, and Linda marvels for a moment as she watches them race each other to the front door at how she somehow birthed twins a year apart from each other.

    They disappear into the building to spend the rest of the day and the evening with their friend. She turns back to the car, pulls herself inside, and sits in the driver’s seat for a minute or so, staring at her phone. She thinks about looking out the window, but decides against it; she knows the sky won’t look any different than it has for days.

    Her phone buzzes from inside her purse, and after giving the handbag a disgruntled look, she fishes the thing out of it and checks the message. It’s from a name she recognizes from just a few days prior, one she can associate with warm, white fur and eyes like honey on toast.

    We are still on for drinks at the park, are we not?

    Linda smiles, and as she is typing out her response, another message pops up onto the screen. It’s a picture, a close-up shot of a single honeybee working hard at gathering nectar from a golden-petaled flower whose name escapes her at the moment, framed on either side by the receding treeline, with the murky clouds serving as a backdrop. Immediately after comes another message: I thought you may like this. Just pretend the sun is out, today, like this bee has.

    Linda has to take a moment to stifle her laughter. Never in all her years had she imagined she’d be receiving cute phone pictures of bees and flowers from a monster, of all things, but here she is. Still smiling, she manages to finish typing out her response.

    Of course, I’ll see you in just a few minutes. And that is a lovely picture, by the way!

    She stuffs her phone into her purse, turns the ignition, and pulls her mini-van out of the parking lot. Her phone buzzes again when she’s halfway to the park, but she doesn’t risk checking it while she’s driving. Instead, she waits until she’s parked again before seeing the new message. By the time she’s able to safely check, it’s buzzed several more times.

    She’s smiling when she unlocks her phone, but that smile falters sharply when she reads what her husband has sent.

    Linda.

    Answer me.

    Where are my children, Linda?

    Why aren’t you answering me?

    So you’re going to be like that are you

    And then nothing more.

    Linda swallows, trying to moisten her dry throat. Her hands tremble, and she has to grip the phone tightly to keep from dropping it. She doesn’t get much time to think about that situation, for at that moment, she catches a glimpse of something large and white waving toward her.

    Some one , she chastises herself as she looks up to meet Asgore’s eye, and gives him a tentative wave back. Some one .

 

~*~

 

    Kid hadn’t wanted to hurt Frisk. On the contrary, they’d wanted anything but to hurt them. Still, the fact remains that they had done something unforgivable, and they know it. Sprawled on their bed and staring at their ceiling just a few hours after the fact, they can’t stop replaying the scene over and over in their head. Each time, they try harder and harder to understand just what had possessed them to do something so insensitive, so thoughtless, so invasive; each time, they’re left more frustrated than the last, with fewer and fewer answers.

    Now and again, a nagging thought comes up in the back of their mind, one that causes the churning in their gut to writhe like a thousand angry snakes, one they squash without a second’s contemplation every time it dares to rise.

    It can’t be that. They refuse for that to be true.

    Their mother knocks on their bedroom door, sticks her twitchy nose through the crack to ask if they’re hungry. They politely decline yet again, insisting they’re okay, and trying not to show just how disgusted they feel at the mere thought of food. Everything is hazy around them, swirling slowly into a mess of colors and shapes that are staring down on them in judgement. They know what they’ve done. They know they can’t fix it, not really. “Sorry” doesn’t cut it when you betray the trust of your best friend of nearly a decade.

    While Kid is contemplating just how they should fake their death and move very, very far away to prevent this happening ever again, their mother knocks again - this time, however, what she has to say rouses Kid from their wallowing with a jolt.

    “Kid, dear, Mr. Sans is here to see you. He says he’d like to talk.”

 

~*~

 

    Linda isn’t sure if she’d readily admit to it or not, but she loves having tea-time Asgore. Sure, it’s only been a few days since they’ve met, but between his gentle and calm demeanor and the similarities they share, it’s like talking with an old friend.

    “I have to ask, Asgore,” she says, dabbing at her upper lip with a cloth napkin he brought for the occasion, “how do you keep the tea so fresh and hot, exactly? You don’t exactly have a hot-plate to keep it on, or anything.”

    “Oh, that?” The boss monster smiles, and picks up the teapot, cupping it in his massive paw. “I am quite surprised you did not notice already. See, I do not need a heat platter or any such instrument, for I prefer to use old-fashioned fire magic. Observe!”

    Linda leans in a bit closer, and is just a bit surprised when she can feel a distinct flutter of heat against her face. “I… Well, that is certainly impressive…! Does it burn, though, to just hold it in your hand like that?”

    “Heavens, no!” Asgore chortles. “If you were to touch the flame openly, you would only feel it as warm to the touch. This is because I created it to heat, not to harm.”

    “Amazing…” Linda watches the teapot for a moment, all the while taking another sip of her brew. “What kind of tea did you say this was again? Golden Flower?”

    Asgore nods, humming in assent as he sets the teapot back on its coaster.

    “I haven’t heard of that kind, before.”

    “I would imagine not; from the looks of things, golden flowers have not been seen on the surface since…” His eyes mist over for a moment, his gentle smile fades, and just as quick as it faltered, it’s back, eyes closing in a contented hum. “... For a very long time. They grew in multitudes, underground. We think that someone…” His brows twitch a little, “that the wind must have carried their seeds into the cavern, before they died out topside.”

    “Aren’t those some, in the garden there?” Linda points them out, a tiny patch nestled among the lilies.

    Asgore nods, his honey-golden eyes drifting toward the flowers in question. “Yes. I brought some with me, when I moved up here. They have started to take over in my garden at home, so I thought I might bring some to spruce up the park, a bit.” He looks back at Linda, smiling again. “You do not seem the type to care a great deal about gardening, though. Is something on your mind, Mrs. Smith?”

    “I told you already, you can call me Linda,” she laughs, but the sound dies in her throat, his question reminding her of the messages she’d received as she arrived.

    Something small and cold lands on her shoulder, soaking into her blouse. She doesn’t notice it, even though Asgore glances up at the sky for a moment. Linda places one hand on her purse. “I… I don’t know if I should be here,” she muses aloud, staring at an indeterminate spot on the picnic table.

    Asgore’s attention is back on her, brows creased together. “What is it you mean?”

    “It’s just,” Linda shakes her head, laughing nervously. “Well, my husband had been trying to get ahold of me, but he’s been…” her voice dies in her throat, so she tries another approach. “I wanted, you know, some time to myself, to sit with a friend, but n-now, now I’m wondering if that was a good idea.”

    At this point, Asgore looks more confused than otherwise. “Well, it sounds like an excellent idea, to me.”

    “And it would be!” Linda gasps, suddenly having to fight back tears and a lump in her throat. “It w-would be! If, if Robert weren’t so… so…”

    “Lindy! I know you’re here, sweetheart!”

    Her blood curdles and freezes at the sound of Robert’s voice, thick with impatience and thinly-veiled malcontent. She looks up at Asgore, but she can’t quite see him, not through the tears welling in her panic.

    “I,” she wheezes, scrambling to stand, knocking her purse into the grass in the process, “I should, I should go…”

    A large, warm hand - paw - steadies her by the shoulder. “Slow down, Mrs. Smith, you are going to hurt yourself--!”

    “Oh, will ya LOOK at this!”

    Full panic. Something flashes in her brain, and Linda grabs at her wrists as if she’s trying to stifle her pulse. Nothing registers on her sensory, other than Robert’s here, he’s found me, how did he find me, but of course he found me…

    Vaguely, she’s aware of the conversation unfolding around her.

    “I take it you are Mr. Smith?” Asgore’s voice is as deep and calm as ever, but seems far less warm.

    Robert sniffs. “That’d be me. And who are you supposed to be?”

    “Asgore Dreemurr, pleased to make your--”

    “Don’t bullshit me, you furry bastard,” Robert growls, “You’re shaggin’ my wife, aren’t you?”

    “I… beg your pardon…?”

    “Don’t you play stupid, either! How didn’t I see this coming, all the sneaking around, letting the kids do whatever the hell they want, shit, she hasn’t bought me new beer in a month--”

    “Robert,” Linda gasps, some of her senses clearing, “you… you’ve been drinking, haven’t you?”

    The man laughs, shaking his head and slapping his leg. “Oh, my god , what the fuck do you think , Lin?” He steps toward her. “What am I supposed to do, when my kids are gone without a note, and my wife is nowhere to be found? Again ?!”

    “Release her,” Asgore growls, and only then does Linda fully recognize the steely grip crushing her wrist as her husband’s hand. She whimpers, unable to form a response through the mire of panic and pain.

    “Oh, what are you going to do about it, Casanova?” Robert spits, and yanks on Linda’s arm before letting her go. “Get your shit, woman, we’re leaving.”

    Linda collapses to the ground, using her right hand - the one that isn’t throbbing painfully - to gather the contents of her spilled purse, all the while clutching her left hand to her chest and biting back tears. Tears never help. Crying only makes it worse. Especially if she cries in public. That never goes well when they get home.

    When she picks up her phone, a furry white paw covers her hand, and she flinches away instinctively. Jerking her head up, she meets Asgore’s gaze, and for the first time in the last several minutes, she can see clearly. She sees the fear and concern in those honey-gold eyes. Fear and concern for her . Her grip tightens on her phone, and she turns slowly to look at Robert once more. Now that she can see clearly, she can tell he’s staggering in place, mouth curled into a snarl, eyelids heavy. It’s a miracle he drove out here and survived.

    Deliberately, phone still in hand, Linda stands, shaking, and dials a number on her phone, putting it on speaker.

    “What the fuck are you doing.” Robert steps forward, but Linda skitters backward.

    “9-1-1, what’s your emergency?” Comes a cool female voice over the phone.

    “M-my name is Linda Smith,” the blonde croaks, “I’m at Ebott central park, one of the, one of the picnic tables by the garden, and I - I need to report an assault.”

    Robert snarls even louder, “you whore--!

    “Stay back! ” The boss monster stands from the table, placing himself between Robert and Linda.

    “Ma’am?” The woman on the receiver sounds concerned, “Are you still there?”

    “Yes!” Linda gasps. “Please, it’s… it’s my husband. I, I have a friend here, but, but Robert’s d-drunk, and--”

    “It’s okay, Mrs. Smith, we’ve dispatched a unit to your location. Stay on the line with me, if you can.”

    Asgore looks over his shoulder to catch Linda’s eyes, and she finds it’s easier to breathe with a ten-foot horned monster standing between herself and the cause of her panic, even when she can hear Robert snarling obscenities still.

    She swallows, and manages a shaky smile, even as gentle raindrops begin to join the tears streaking down her cheeks. “Thank you,” she whispers.

    “Help is on the way,” the dispatch operator says, though the expression in her large friend’s regal eyes tells her it’s already here.

 

~*~

 

    Kid has never felt so uncomfortable in their own room, Sans knows that for a fact, but he can’t have this conversation anywhere else. He doesn’t need outside input, he doesn’t need added opinions, he doesn’t need assurances that “this will never, ever happen again, Mr. Skeleton.”

    No. Sans doesn’t need any of that. Nor does Kid. Nor, for that matter, does the human.

    “So,” he begins, letting the syllable hang on the air for a moment longer than entirely necessary, “I hear you’ve been up to trouble.”

    Kid winces. “You make it sound like --”

    “Shh,” the skeleton hisses, holding up one phalange, “I’m talking, you’re listening, capisce?”

    Kids mouth snaps shut, and Sans continues.

    “They told me all about what happened. You came over, you helped out with work, and then, what, you decided to make a move? Even after, y’know,” his eye-lights snuff out, “you knew all about how they feel about that sorta thing?”

    Kid curls in on themself, wrapping their tail around their ankle and averting their gaze. “I-I--”

    “Still talking,” Sans snaps. “It doesn’t matter why you did it. What matters is that it happened. You hurt Frisk, whether you meant to or not, and not only that, but you did the one thing you trained with me to prevent from happening to them.” He pauses, as if daring them to interrupt again. When they remain silent, he continues. “If it were my way, Kid, I’d bust your ass right here and now, and nobody would know what hit you. But, well, they told me not to. ‘No Dunking,’ they said, and, welp, I hate making promises, but after they’ve been so good for so long, I thought, hell, might as well give ‘em this one thing.

    “That being said, I’m not here to lecture you, either, though God knows I could.” He steps forward, and Kid finds themself compelled to meet the gaze of his hollow sockets. “You can’t make this up to Frisk. What you did has hurt them in a way even I can’t help them with. It’s going to take them time to recuperate, time to heal, and even then, this is something someone doesn’t just ‘get over,’ Kid. They may never want to be your friend again.”

    Tears well in the young monster’s eyes. Their lip trembles, and they bite it to keep from crying outright. Sans sighs heavily, eye-sockets sliding shut.

    “Look, I know you didn’t mean harm, but harm is what happened. I’m here to let you know a couple things. First: you’re not welcome at our home unless Frisk expressly says so, got it?”

    Kid nods.

    “Good. Second: if - and only if - Frisk by some stretch of the imagination decides to forgive you, you need to have thought real long and hard about whether or not you can live with being just friends , bucko.”

    Kid nods again, and Sans grunts softly. “Good. Welp, that’s my cue to leave. Oh, and Kid?”

    “Y-yeah…?”

    “As your mentor, I think it’d do you some good to reflect on who you are, in yourself, and not about where you stand in respect to folks you admire.”

    The skeleton doesn’t wait for a response, and simply leaves. Kid can hear him thanking their mother and apologizing for the late intrusion. He cracks a joke, she laughs, the front door closes, and Kid is left in silence again, save for the rhythmic drumming of heavy rain against their window.

 

~*~

 

    “What a sight for sore eyes,” the flower in the kitchen window mutters as he watches the rain come down. He likely thinks he’s by himself in the room, but he’s in for a surprise, if he turns around.

    The human is sitting cross-legged in the oversized armchair by the living room window, clear across the room from their floral brother. There’s a steady crash of water against the glass, and the dull roar of thunder not too far away every few minutes. If they lean a little to their right, the human can feel the cool air coming off the window, chilled by the rain. They really want to look outside, but they’re worried about what they’ll see; instead, they sit on the chair, hands clasped together over their folded ankles and staring straight ahead.

    It’s been about twenty minutes since Sans left, looking absolutely furious. They’d made him promise he wouldn’t hurt Kid - though they wanted him to, they knew Frisk wouldn’t. They don’t like being alone in their body. Feeling everything firsthand, hearing, smelling, tasting, seeing , it’s too much, it’s waves of everything washing over them with every passing second, and nothing seems to help. They whimper softly, bringing the sleeves of their sweater to their mouth and biting down on the fabric. It tastes bad. They can focus on that.

    “Golly, what’s your problem?”

    Their eyes dart upward to focus on the flower. He’s turned about on his stem so he can face them. Though his words seemed concerned, both his tone and his smirk indicate he’s likely being insincere. The human opens their mouth to reply, but - no, right, hands. They have to use hands.

    ‘You’d like to know,’ they sign jerkily, unused to making the motions on their own. God, it’s been so long since they had a body to themself. Too long. They don’t like it like they thought they would.

    The flower frowns. “You know, sometimes, I actually would.”

    Shaking their head, the human returns their gaze to the floor. They don’t want to talk to him. … They wish they could talk to him instead. He at least could pretend to be understanding, when they needed it.

    A key turns in the latch at the door, and the human jerks upright. Heavy footsteps pad inside, and their mother walks in, shaking moisture from her ears and letting out a breath.

    “Ooh, it is good to be home,” Toriel hums, hanging her keys on one of the hooks by the door. “Who would imagine it would finally begin to rain today ?” She laughs softly, and sets her handbag on the bar. Turning to the human on the chair, she stops dead in her tracks, the smile falling from her face.

    “My… my child, what is wrong?”

    Tears well up in their eyes. They want to tell her everything. How alone they are. How much being alive hurts, mom, how can you bear it every day? This awful bombardment of everything at once, how can you live and be happy?

    Instead, they shake their head wordlessly, pressing their hands against their cheeks through their sleeves, and the tears begin to creep out.

    “Oh - oh no,” Toriel gasps, and she dashes forward to scoop them into her arms. “Sans told me something happened, but I thought…” God, just like how they remember - warm, soft fur, the faint smell of cinnamon, safe, soft, home .

They grab fistfuls of fur on her shoulders and bury their face into her chest, hoping maybe it’ll muffle whatever sounds their traitorous throat is letting out. She hums softly, nuzzling the side of their head and stroking a paw down their spine, soothing, letting them know everything is okay, everything is safe.

    “It is alright, my child, you are safe here,” she whispers, and it sounds like she might not realize they can hear her. “I won’t let anyone hurt you, ever again.”

    “M-mom,” they whimper, though the word is drowned by rain on the window and their own sobs. They’ve wanted for so long to feel her embrace again, for themself, but… they can’t help wishing it would have been different.

 

~*~

 

    Flowey watches Toriel and the human for a few minutes longer, until Sans comes home with Papyrus in tow. He manages to catch the tail-end of Sans’ explanation of the day’s events to his brother, and then when Sans approaches Toriel, he manages to catch the gist of the matter in full between the two of them. Papyrus remains in the kitchen, quietly beginning to put on dinner.

    The flower looks over at him. “I had no idea they’d been through so much,” he says, quietly, gaining the skeleton’s immediate attention. “I tried to banter with ‘em, like normal, and they just… melted down on me.” He sighs, petals drooping. “It only got worse when Mom got home.”

    Papyrus quirks a brow. “... Mom?” he asks, keeping his voice down. He sounds alarmingly somber.

    Flowey bristles. “I mean. Toriel. You know.”

    Chuckling, Papyrus gives the flower a nudge with one phalange before wordlessly beginning to chop tomatoes.

    Grumbling, Flowey returns to staring out the window, watching the blurred shapes that the street-lights make through the water crashing against it. After spending his whole life underground, he never ceases to be impressed by rain up topside.

    Behind him, the human groans and sobs something intelligible.

    “Yep,” he mutters, shaking his head, “the waterworks really are something.”

    Even still, he misses the sunlight.

Chapter Text

 

~*~

 

     Ever since that evening, the rippling, burbling shadows have been a constant companion for the human. At first, they’d found it disconcerting, waking up in the dead of the night from another panicked nightmare, and the first sight greeting their eyes being the ghastly visage of the sad, melty skeleton. After about the third nightmare, they accepted his tentative offer of comfort, and found that even though most sensations are overwhelming for them anymore, the feel of his cool, dripping form is more relaxing than they’d expected.

     He rarely lets them out of his sight. He leaves them be only when they change or take a shower, and they can’t help but feel grateful for the attention. They don’t like feeling so alone, even though it’s something they’d wanted for hell knows how long. The company is more than welcome.

     Currently, they’re sitting cross-legged on Frisk’s bed, a blanket draped around their shoulders and a notebook in their lap. It’s one full of Frisk’s notes from last semester, and in the margins, the human is doing their damnedest at emulating Frisk’s handwriting with some of the more important-looking notes.

     It’s not going very well. Frisk’s writing is loose and rounded, whereas they have always had more of a chicken-scratch.

     “ It’s really their signature you should be more concerned about, ” the now-familiar warble of the old monster rouses their attention.

     They sigh, and look up from their work. “I know,” they mumble, keeping their voice down. “I guess they’re going to have to sign some paperwork, soon, huh…?”

     Frisk’s grandfather plants himself in - on? - the desk chair. “ Have you checked the schedule, recently?

     “Mm-hm,” they hum, pulling out Frisk’s phone from their sweatpants pocket and swiping the screen, “the first big rally for MONSTER is in a couple of days, and Frisk is just supposed to make a few statements with Shannon translating, and stick around to answer questions from folks.”

     There’s a sound like the faint buzzing of electricity, and the old monster’s floating hands tent at the fingertips. “ And you’re sure you can handle this?

     They laugh softly. “If there’s one thing the softie and I agree on, it’s about monsters. You guys deserve nothing less than utmost respect from humanity .” They almost spit the word.

     “ ... Just try not to sound too extreme. Frisk wouldn’t like their organization turning into one based on radicalism.

     “You think I don’t know that?” They shake their head, and set Frisk’s notebook and the pencil aside. “A lot of humans would think monsters wanting a normal place in society is radical enough in the first place… Nah, I’ll be careful. It’s about all I can do, without Frisk.”

     They look up, and meet Gaster’s gaze. His one good eye-socket has a faint, flickering light deep within it. His shaky smile seems to be held up by gossamer threads.

     The human offers him what they hope is a compassionate smile. “... I miss them too, old man.”

 

~*~

 

     They really start missing Frisk when the meeting actually happens. One would think that after about a month and a half of living without Frisk being remotely reachable by their consciousness, the human would have a relative grasp on reality and, well, humanity. The human themself - currently frozen in a wide-eyed panic in the passenger seat of Asgore’s SUV on their way to the most important speech they’ll be giving this year - would beg to differ.

     Somewhere in the back of their numbed mind, they’re thankful that Sans insisted on tagging along, even if he’s hardly dressed for the occasion. The sight of that slightly dirty blue hoodie is something that they can focus on, something familiar, something they can ground themself with. They think Sans recognizes that.

     “Now, Sans, are you sure you want to come up on stage with us?” Asgore asks again, and the human hears him as if through a filter. “This is not a comedy show, and I know you prefer to stay seated if possible…”

     “Nah, don’t worry about it, fluffybuns,” the skeleton replies. “I’m just here for support.”

     The human feels Asgore looking at them, and they sink further into their coat. Distantly, they’re aware that Asgore is saying something to try and comfort them. They smile automatically at him in response, and when they hear the car doors opening, they reach to open their own, but find their hand doesn’t quite work how it’s supposed to, all of a sudden.

     The door opens, and a cool, bony hand settles on their forearm. Blue fabric falls around the carpal bones, and the human lifts their eyes to meet glowing dim lights in hollow sockets.

     “Slow breaths,” the skeleton’s low hum of a voice tells them, “Nice and easy, kiddo. You’re doin’ great.”

     Each breath is agonizing, like their lungs have been fused shut. The air helps their senses settle, and the next thing they realize, they’re gripping the blue fabric of Sans’s sleeve with Frisk’s fingers, and the only remnant of their sudden attack is an echoing sense of hollowness.

     “You can do this,” Sans’ voice reaches them as if from miles away, and steadily draws them to the present. “You aren’t alone, kid.”

     Though their throat is thick, their breaths seem to be coming more easily, and they nod in spite of themself as their vision begins to clear. It’s okay. They’re okay. They aren’t alone.

     Right as they come to focus on Sans’ dim eye-lights, he says softly, “I’ll be right behind you on the stage, kid. Let me or Asgore know if you need a breather. But we believe in you , kid. Not just Frisk.”

     The human’s eyes dart behind Sans, where Asgore is busy talking with Shannon about the ensuing conference. Neither of them seem to be hearing what’s going on. Looking back at the skeleton in front of them, the human nods again, and lets out a deep breath.

     “I can do it,” they whisper. “Thanks.”

     Sans sighs, and pats them gently on the shoulder. “No problem, kiddo. Knock’em dead. Y’know, metaphorically, of course.”

     The human gives a breathy laugh, and Sans helps them out of the car. They take a moment to adjust their necktie, straighten their jacket, smooth out their pencil skirt…

     Yes. They can do this.

     A pulse in their chest, a chime in the back of their mind; a long-familiar thing, but it’s something they’ve never quite felt first-hand. From this point, they know there’s only good that can happen.

     No matter how many tries it takes, they sigh, casting an apologetic look at the back of the skeleton’s skull.

 

~*~

 

     I know how hard it is. Believe me, I do. I know you can’t hear me right now, but from what I can tell… You’re doing just fine.

     I still have to figure some things out. But you’re going to do okay while I’m gone. And when I come back, we’ll have a lot to talk about, you and me. I wish I could talk to you now, but…

     Well, you’re kind of busy with all those reporters, aren’t you…?

 

~*~

 

     “... In addition to access to citizenship and healthcare,” Shannon’s voice carries over the microphone, reading the Ambassador’s signs to the attentive crowd in the spacious gymnasium, “Ambassador Dreemurr seeks to shine light on the issues regarding Monsters’ housing districts, and help empower them to gain a voting right in this nation.”

     The human lets out a small breath they’d been holding. The speech had started out shakily, at first; they’d been having some issues making these hands cooperate properly, and once or twice they nearly lost their train of thought mid-sentence, but somehow, things have begun to get better.

     Like right now. They’re hardly having to concentrate at all on what their hands are doing - the thoughts are coming through freely. Like someone is feeding them the lines. Voting rights. Fairness. Equality between humans and Monsters. Justice. Patience. Kindness. Integrity. Bravery. Perseverance.

     “... And if we all work together, if we have the determination to do what is right, we will make a difference for the betterment of all.” Even with the emphasis the human’s signs had been delivered with, Shannon’s powerful voicing manages to drive the point home for the attending crowd. Applause ripples out, and it feels as if a massive weight rolls off the human’s shoulders.

     Politely, they step to one side, and Asgore assumes their place behind the podium, dwarfing it with his massive frame. “At this point, we will now be taking questions.” his voice rumbles warmly over the dying applause, and almost immediately, several reporters nearly leap out of their chairs and throw hands in the air, calling out in a clamor.

     The human finds themself smiling. You did well .

     “Me?” they whisper, doing their best to hide the sudden surprise that crawled up their spine. “Does that mean you…?:”

     Yep.

     The human sighs again, relaxing their features into a nondescript smile. So, are you coming back anytime soon?

     Yes. Just… we need to talk, first. Wait until we’re home.

     And just like that, they feel alone again, fumbling with their alien hands.


Chapter Text

~*~

 

     There’s only a week before the start of the school year, and while she’d much rather be helping her children pick out new notebooks for upcoming classes, Linda Smith is currently sitting in a police station, nursing a paper cup full of the world’s worst coffee while waiting for the officer taking her statement to come back to the desk. Looking around at the busy office, she can’t help but marvel at the fact they even followed up with her case, at all. Sure, it’s taken them two weeks to get to it, but with everything going on, it’s nothing short of a miracle.

     Staring back down into the dark contents of her paper cup, she can’t help wishing for the gentle warmth of a big, fuzzy paw on her back.

     “Sorry for the wait, Mrs. Smith,” a voice rouses her attention, and she looks up to see the tall, skinny officer from before smiling tiredly at her. “As you can see, it’s a pretty busy day. Now -” he flips through his forms, brow furrowing in concentration, “You called in about two weeks ago, reporting an assault.”

     “Yes,” Linda nods, her voice cracking slightly. “It was my husband. He - he was drunk, and angry.”

     “Right.” The officer - Lewis, the tag on his chest reads - nods slowly. “Tell me exactly what happened, that day, if you can.”

     Linda shivers. How could she forget? She’d just taken her children to hang out at their friend’s house, and had been looking forward to having tea with her good friend… She hadn’t wanted Robert to find out. She’d known how upset he’d be, on finding out. With a shaky voice, she recounts that day’s events, ones she’s gone over and over again in her mind since it all happened.

     … As she says it all out loud, though, she can’t help but feel lucky that it didn’t go worse. Now and again, she glances down at her phone’s lock screen, at the photo her friend sent her of the little bumblebee pollinating golden flowers, carrying on in spite of that day’s weather.

     Maybe, she, too, can carry on.

 

~*~

 

     Toriel is sitting in the big armchair in the living room, sipping a cup of tea and thumbing slowly through a novel. Flowey is sitting in the windowsill in the kitchen, adjusting his little corduroy bear with thin vines. The human glances occasionally between the two of them from their seat in the middle of the sofa, though they’re mostly staring blankly at the television screen, hardly paying attention to the show that’s on.

     It’s been two weeks. Two whole weeks since Frisk last spoke to them, since they said anything in their mind. The human’s had to struggle through two more important MONSTER meetings without Frisk, and to be honest, it’s wearing on them. School starts in just another week, and the possibility of facing the first day of school - let alone an entire school year - by themself… it’s terrifying.

     They grip at their knees, focusing on the pressure there to try and drive the other thoughts away. Maybe - maybe if they don’t panic, Frisk will come back. Frisk will come back, and then they can talk, like Frisk said they would, so things can go back to normal, and all of this can just -

     Things can’t ever really go back to normal, you know.

     The human flinches involuntarily, drawing Toriel’s attention from her novel. “Is everything all right, my child?” She asks, concern tinting her honey-sweet voice.

     Shaking their head, the human signs quickly, ‘just a shiver.’ Toriel nods and goes back to her book. The human waits, holding their breath, hardly daring to believe that they’d just heard something.

     … Yeah, I’m here. Maybe you should go ‘do homework.’

     A good suggestion. They think they’ll take them up on that. Standing, the human smiles tensely at Toriel. ‘Homework. Back later,’ they sign, starting for the hallway.

     “Let me know if you need any help, my child,” she calls gently after them, smiling. They only nod in reply, and half-sprint down the hall once they’re out of her line of sight.

     By some stroke of rational thought, they manage to not slam the door behind themself as they gallop into Frisk’s room. “Oh my god,” they whisper hoarsely, “I thought you were gone for good, again.”

     Sorry. It’s easy to lose track of time in here. Except when you’re freaking out. That’s pretty jarring.

     “Now you know how I felt,” The human gives a bitter laugh, flopping down onto the bed. “So - you’ve been thinking?”

     Yeah. Not much else to do when you’re shacked up in here. Frisk’s presence seems to pause. … Not the right words… whatever, you know what I mean. I think… I think I need to handle the situation with Kid.

     “You?” The human blinks, red eyes unfocused, staring toward the ceiling. “... I can tell you’re still shaken up about it. Are you sure that’s-”

     Letting things fester like this isn’t going to fix anything. Kid’s been my friend for years. … In case you didn’t know, I’m all about making and fixing friendships. Who do you think got all of monsterkind this far with humanity? They almost sound bitter. Sure as hell wasn’t you.

     The human scowls. Somehow, the emotional sting is much stronger with a body that has physical reactions as well. “That’s a bit harsh. I - I tried.”

     Sorry. I didn’t mean that. I’m just… frustrated. I feel like locking myself up was a mistake, like I should have faced everything myself. I… I put you through it all, instead. You weren’t ready.

     “No, I wasn’t. I’m still not.” They shudder, thinking again about the upcoming school year. “So… does that mean you’re coming back?”

     Yeah. I… don’t know how that’s going to affect us, though. You’ve never really had full control like this, before. Not in… this instance.

     “Don’t remind me,” the human mutters, closing their eyes.

     And even then, I never got control back from you. How’s that going to work?

     “You think I know?” they hiss, suddenly feeling anxious. “I’m just some dead kid who took one chance too many.”

     Frisk falls quiet in their mind, and for a second, they begin to panic, thinking they’ve chased them off again. … Are you ready to try this?

     “Hell, no,” the human whispers, eyes wide, face strained, relieved, but terrified.

     Me either.

     But they both try, regardless, to make things right with each other at long last. For the next few minutes, everything feels twisted, tangled, confused, and wrong , like they’re melting together and coming apart, all at once. Painful memories that burn behind their eyes like glowing coals, that freeze their shared heart in place with bitter chills; their friends, their families, both the ones they’ve made new, and the ones they ran from as children. They have so much in common, and yet they’re completely different - just like the people they hope to bring together, in the end.

     Still lying down on their bed, they slowly open their eyes, panting, slowly becoming aware of the cold sweat covering their body. They lift their hands, looking them over.

     “This… this feels…” the human whispers, staring at those hands, their hands, the ones they share, now.

     Those hands pause, and then sign fluidly, with a natural, practiced ease. ‘Feels like me.’

     Frisk - the human - both of them - share a quiet laugh, tears filling their rich, maroon eyes. Maybe things will be getting better, after all.

 

~*~

 

     Linda glances out the window of the SUV she’s riding in. The day is bright, with sunshine glinting off the windows of the shops they drive past. Hesitantly, she glances at her friend in the driver’s seat. “... Are - are you sure it’s okay if I--”

     “Of course it is,” Asgore chuckles, smiling warmly but not taking his eyes off the road. She still can’t figure out how he fits himself inside the car. “I would not have offered to drive you if it were not.”

     “... Thank you,” she says, sighing. “I hate to put this on you, driving me back and forth from the station, but Robert took the car, and my keys…”

     “I know.” Asgore’s voice is gentle, but his expression turns stern, nostrils flaring slightly as he huffs an agitated breath. “... I cannot believe someone who claims they love you would treat you such a way. It is… barbaric.” Stopping at a red light, he glances over at her in concern. “Are your children safe?”

     “Yes, I told them they could stay with Paul and Ricky for a bit. I’ll… be staying with them, too, once I get my things together.” She sighs. “Robert shouldn’t know where Paul’s place is, so I should be s-” she sputters, “I mean, he shouldn’t make any surprise visits.”

     Asgore is quiet for a moment, even as the light turns green and he resumes driving. “... You should not have to fear your spouse, Linda,” he says, softly.

     Linda doesn’t respond, only stares out the window, hands clasped in her lap.

     Frowning, the boss monster glances around at the shops they’re passing. “... Tell you what,” he says, eyes widening as he spies a particular shop, “there is a monster bakery here where they sell the most delightful treats. I take Frisk here sometimes, when they are feeling down.”

     “Really,” she bleats, looking at him, stammering, “You - you don’t have to--”

     “I know,” he says gently. “But monster food is good for the soul, and I mean that literally. It may do you well to get a pick-me-up, after all that has happened.” He smiles again. “Though, I understand if you would rather just go back and see your children.”

     Linda pauses, looking him over for a moment. “... Do you think we could get some, for them, too?”

     “Of course. I know the owner,” he winks, “I can get us a good deal.”

     Slowly, Linda smiles. “I think that sounds wonderful, then.”

     “Excellent!” Asgore laughs, a deep, jolly sound. “Now, I hope you are not too afraid of spiders…”

 

~*~

 

     That night, Toriel makes a big, sit-down dinner. Frisk - for the first time in weeks - eagerly comes out of their room when called, and helps set the table. She notices that their hands tremble on occasion, and once or twice she has to gently snap them out of a sort of trance as they rub their fingertips over the flowery filigree on the plates. Toriel notes she didn’t even ask them to get out the fancy tableware - they did it all on their own, and despite their occasional shakiness, they seem to be handling everything with the utmost care.

     Sans and Papyrus arrive home at about the same time, and upon seeing the table set nicely, and Frisk lighting some candles at the centerpiece, both skeletons pause.

     “Someone getting married?” Sans asks, glancing at Toriel, who blushes under her white fur.

     “I LOVE WEDDINGS!” Papyrus announces, looking delighted. “AND WHY DID NOBODY TELL ME? I WOULD HAVE PICKED OUT THE PRETTIEST DRESS!”

     “Papyrus, I don’t think it’s your wedding,” Sans laughs, eye-lights dancing toward his brother.

     “OH!” The taller skeleton deflates slightly. “THEN, WHOSE IS IT?”

     “Nobody, I believe,” Toriel hums, bringing a freshly-made pie to the table. “Frisk seems to be particularly inspired to use the fancy tableware tonight.”

     “That right?” Sans glances toward the human in question, and is surprised to see that their eyes seem darker - warmer - than they have in weeks; they’re definitely maroon, as opposed to bright, glaring red. “... Huh. What’s the deal, kiddo?”

     They look up at him, and something feels… different about their gaze. They smile, something between their natural, muted expression, and something brighter. ‘A surprise,’ they sign, winking at him. Without offering a further explanation, they bounce to the windowsill and deftly seize Flowey.

     “The - what?!” He balks, wrapping vines around his bear as he’s knocked off-balance. “What are you doing, idiot?”

     They simply shush him with a soft hiss and a finger to the lips, and set him at a spot on the table just to the right of their seat. By this time, Toriel has finished setting out the food, and there’s a general bustle for everyone to sit down.

     Frisk is the last to sit, standing at the head of the table for a moment, looking over their family. Their family. Their eyes go misty for a moment, and their smile looks like it might crack. Wiping hastily at their eyes with a sleeve, they begin to sign.

     ‘There’s something I want to tell you guys.’

     It’s very subtle, but they seem to be barely uttering the words under their breath even as they sign. Their lips hardly move, but if nobody else notices, Sans does, for sure. His sockets narrow in interest.

     “WELL?” Papyrus asks, hardly able to contain his curiosity. “IT MUST BE PRETTY BIG NEWS, IF YOU BROKE OUT THE FANCY DISHES AND EVERYTHING!”

     Frisk blinks, looking at everyone’s faces in turn. They seem to be hesitating, making up their mind on something important. After a moment, they blink rapidly, fighting back tears.

     “I…” Their voice is soft, barely used, but bright, and filled with emotion. “I love you.”

     There’s a beat of dead silence around the table, that is almost immediately interrupted as Papyrus throws his hands in the air and shrieks, “HOLY CANNOLI, YOU SPOKE! HUMAN! FRISK!!” Sparkles dance in his eye-sockets. “AND WE LOVE YOU, TOO! YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO GO TO THIS TROUBLE TO TELL US!”

     Toriel is silent, her eyes wide, mouth hanging slightly open. “Yeah, kiddo,” Sans chuckles, his smile bright and warm, nonetheless. “Way to make a big deal.”

     Frisk laughs quietly, shaking their head, and signing. ‘It is a big deal, to me.’ They finally sit at the table, and look around at their family once again. ‘Shall we eat, now?’

     Toriel laughs, at length, a short, bleating sound. “I - of, of course, my child,” she doesn’t seem to notice the tears running down her cheeks, as she hurries to serve up dinner.

     As everyone settles in to eat, Frisk glances down at Flowey, who’s staring at them with almost baleful eyes. They can almost make out a little snout, and tiny fangs at the corners of this mouth.

     “... You,” he says, quietly, so only they can hear. “You’re…”

     Frisk only smiles at him, and winks one maroon eye. So long as someone got the message, they’re perfectly happy.

 

~*~

 

     Though the past couple of weeks haven’t necessarily gotten better for Kid, they haven’t really gotten worse , either. Most days are spent walking around the neighborhood, getting some fresh air and thinking about things. Even now, so long after the fact, sitting on a swing in an empty playground with their tail curled around the chain, scuffing their clawed feet through the wood-chips, they can’t even begin to forgive themself for what they did.

     Still, memories of Sans’s parting words to them from that evening still echo in their mind. “As your mentor, I think it’d do you some good to reflect on who you are, in yourself, and not about where you stand in respect to folks you admire.”

     … How the heck can they even start to think of that, when all they feel about themself is how lousy of a friend they are?

     Footsteps approach, and Kid pulls themself out of their thoughts long enough to look up and see who it is. Their scales pale, and they wince, curling in on themself just a bit as they see who it is.

     “... Hey, Frisk,” they chuckle nervously, looking at the human in the oversized green sweater, looking at them with a thoughtful expression. “I didn’t, uh, expect to be seeing you anytime soon.

     Frisk nods slowly, fidgeting with the sleeves of their sweater. Kid can’t help thinking that green isn’t exactly their color. ‘I’ve been thinking a lot,’ they sign, though Kid can’t possibly begin to fathom the amount of thinking Frisk has actually done, as of late. ‘... I think we need to talk.’

     Kid nods, letting their tail relax, just a bit. “Yeah… I think you’re right.”

     Shuffling to the empty swing beside their friend, Frisk takes a seat, resting their hands in their lap for a moment. The sun is setting on the two of them, and the reddish glow of the sky almost seems to bring out the crimson tint in their maroon eyes. They look at Kid, who hasn’t taken their eyes off them, though the monster looks like they might slide right out of their scales and slither away if they shrink in on themself any more.

     Frisk smiles, and Kid sees a note of forgiveness in their gaze, something they hardly imagined they’d ever see. Even before the two of them even begin to talk about what happened, Kid makes a new vow, deep in their gut, one they’ll never even think to break again.

     They vow never to hurt this wonderful human ever again, even if it means their friendship will never be the same.

 

Chapter Text

~*~

 

    Late afternoon drags slowly into evening, the sky darkened all the more by the clouds overhead. The clouds had gathered quickly this evening, but thankfully, a certain tall fish monster had just enough warning to prepare a certain lizard monster with the proper setup. With her girlfriend safely inside, watching anime and eating noodles, Undyne is taking some time for herself, standing on the balcony of their shared apartment. She looks out over the small town of Ebott and takes slow, deep breaths of the humid air.

    For a moment, the scene about her is different. She sees the buildings below as tall, thick grass growing between dark subterranean cliffs; the streets between them as deep, rushing water; the streetlights are slender, glowing blue flowers that whisper the echoes of passerby, their multitudes of voices reverberating through the caverns.

    A small chirp snaps her back to the present, and her good eye locks onto the source of the sound - a finch, small and round, perched on the railing. Undyne blinks, taking a moment to process the bird’s significance.

    “... Hey, nerd,” she says, letting a little smile bare her teeth, “you think the sun’s coming out anytime soon?”

    The finch chirps again, and ruffles its wings. As it does, Undyne can’t help but chuckle. A moment later, the bird takes wing and disappears among the trees below.

    Undyne smiles to herself, and looks out over the town once again. A cold, wet drop hits her shoulder, followed by a second, and then a third, and soon more than she can count. All in all, she counts that as a very good sign.

 

~*~

 

    Two teens sit on the swingset, opening up again after what feels like a lifetime apart. The human signs with smooth motions and a heartfelt smile, and the monster listens intently, earnestly, like their life depends on it.

    When the conversation started, they were both hesitant, apprehensive, unsure of where things would go. Now, however, it’s beginning to seem like they’re more comfortable with each other again. Like things could start over.

    ‘... I hope you can understand how I’ve felt,’ Frisk signs, glancing between their hands and their friend, ‘and that I’ve needed this time away to come to terms with some things.’

    “No - for sure, I get it.” Kid nods, their tail wringing around the swing’s chain. “I… I hurt you. Something I said I’d never do.”

    Frisk regards their monster friend for a moment, and Kid takes the opportunity to continue.

    “What I did was… messed up. We had boundaries - you had boundaries, and I crossed ‘em. I should have talked to you about what I was feeling.” They meet Frisk’s gaze at length, their eyes darting between the human’s. “I’m sorry, Frisk.”

    Frisk doesn’t respond immediately, taking a few moments to internalize everything. Presently, they nod slowly, and sign with deliberate motions. ‘I forgive you.’

    Kid lets out a breath they hardly realize they’d been holding, and chuckles weakly. “Wuh - really? That… that easy, yo?”

    Frisk shrugs lightly. ‘What can I say - guess I’m a softie.’ They go on to add, with a more serious expression, ‘I don’t think things can go back to how they were. Not completely.’

    Kid winces, and sighs. “Yeah, no, I agree.” After a beat, they add, “Look, I’m not exactly in much of a position to ask for much, but… yo, I just want my friend back.”

    At this, Frisk smiles softly. ‘I’ve missed you too, Kid. Let’s start over, from before things started getting weird.’

    As they sign this, a few heavy raindrops start to patter on the woodchips around them. Kid glances skyward, and their eyes go wide. “Oh, crap, yo, when’d it get so dark?” They look at Frisk. “You need a ride home? My house is nearby, I can get my mom to --”

    Frisk waves them off with a smile. ‘Don’t worry about it. My Dunkle knows a shortcut.’ They pull out their phone and send a quick text.

    “Right! He does that, doesn’t he?” Kid laughs a bit, standing from the swing. “... Hey, thanks for stopping by. I… I’m glad we’re gonna work though this. I promise, yo, I won’t let you down again.”

    Frisk looks Kid dead in the eye, and something about the human’s gaze and the fierce confidence in their small smile roots the monster to the core. ‘I’ll hold you to that, buddy.’

    “Hey, kiddos.” Sans’s voice nearly startles Kid out of their scales. “You about ready to get out of this rain, Frisk?”

    While Kid is catching their breath, Frisk stands from the swing. They nod to the skeleton, and take a few steps toward him. Kid opens their mouth after a moment, to say something further, but finds the words escape them. They sit a moment longer, watching their friend walk off to head home.

    As Frisk and Sans are about to round the corner out of sight, the human pauses and turns to look at Kid. They smile again, a bit gentler this time, but they sign once more, even more deliberately this time: ‘we’ll hold you to that.’

    Kid watches them leave. Somehow, the way they signed ‘we’ doesn’t seem like they were referring to themself and Sans, in Kid’s mind.

 

~*~

 

    “Are you sure you would rather not be home?”

    It’s about the fifth time he’s asked within the past half hour, and Linda is starting to feel a little concerned. Asgore was the one who asked her to have drinks with him, after all. The rain is starting to really come down outside, and even the bartender’s fiery body isn’t enough to keep the wet chill from creeping into the establishment.

    “Really, Asgore, it’s fine,” Linda assures him, swirling her cider in one hand. “I told the kids I’d be out for a little while, Robert doesn’t have keys to the new locks, and they know to stay at Toriel’s if they get uncomfortable.”

    The large monster beside her smiles, but she can see it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “I appreciate the precautions you took, but I fear that is not where my own concerns lie.”

    “Oh?” Linda takes a sip of her drink; just the little taste of magic in the drink is enough to calm most of her own worries. “What’s on your mind, then?”

    “It is only…” he pauses, his furry brow creased in thought. He stares past the bar, at a spot on the cabinet below the displays of drinks on the wall. “... You have not spent much time at your home since your husband has moved out, even when you are not visiting friends.”

    Linda blinks, and doesn’t respond. When she doesn’t reply, Asgore looks at her in mild concern. “Am I mistaken?”

    “No, you’re right.” It’s Linda’s turn to stare at something nondescript. Damn his perceptions. “I just… don’t feel right being in that place, where everything went wrong.”

    Asgore’s brows raise slightly, then crease into something soft, something empathetic. “I… understand. More than you realize, perhaps.” He takes a sip of his own drink, and ponders the contents of the glass for just a moment. “If you and the children need a place to stay, my home is open to you.”

    Linda balks mid-sip, sputtering and nearly choking. She turns to look at him directly. “Wh-what? Really? Asgore, that’s hardly--”

    “I know Toriel’s home is perhaps closer and more convenient, but should you all need some time away from that place,” he speaks slowly and deliberately, not quite meeting her gaze, “I have a sizeable garden, and a couple of guest-rooms that go largely unused. It is a quiet neighborhood, close to the school, but far enough from the rest of town that the smog of civilization cannot harm the blooms.” He glances at her, and their eyes meet for a moment. “You need but say the word, and my door is open to you and your family.”

    There’s a short, pronounced silence between them as Linda gathers the full intent of his meaning. “Well, I… Thank you, Asgore. I’ll talk to the kids.”

    He smiles warmly, and that feeling in her chest bubbles up again, the one that’s grown so familiar at this point she only barely notices. “I am glad to hear it. The decision is entirely yours to come visit. Should you decide to, however, do give me a little notice; I would like to ensure I have enough goodies for everyone.”

    Linda grins in spite of herself; the sight of such a large, imposing figure uttering the word ‘goodies’ is almost too much. “Duly noted, Mr. Dreemurr.”

    He laughs, and his deep voice fills the room with genuine mirth. “Grillby, he calls to the bartender, who looks up from the one glass he’s been washing repeatedly and definitely not been eavesdropping over, “Another round for myself and the human, if you would.”

    Grillby nods and turns to procure the drinks. Linda buries her face behind another sip of what’s left in her glass, swallowing the end of a half-murmured sentence about divorce proceedings. Asgore only continues to smile, marvelling at how far things have come in such short time.

    A lifetime ago, he would never have considered befriending a human. Now, though he hardly dares to say it, he’s considering cohabiting with one.

 

~*~

 

    Though the fish-monster on the balcony can’t possibly realize, she’s got an audience of one on the other side of the sliding glass door. Alphys sits on the bed, a blanket over her shoulders and a half-empty bowl of ramen in her lap; normally, anime would hardly go unwatched, but the antics of magical girls can’t hardly compare to the view of her girlfriend in the rain.

    Watching Undyne let down her ponytail and relish in the rainfall out on the balcony only serves to remind Alphys of the time they met, back in the dump in Waterfall. Alphys had been digging for treasure in a particularly rich pile, and looked up just in time to see Undyne poised for a dive atop the cliff overhead.

    Undyne has always been majestic, especially in Alphys’s eyes. Living with her, getting to know her more and more with every passing day, sharing a space with that absolute specimen of a monster… It all only serves to brighten the image of Undyne’s shining star in Alphys’s timid lizard heart.

    She loves her. And to make things all the better, she knows deep in her soul that she loves her, too.

    Alphys smiles to herself, and lets out a wistful sigh. Rainy days be damned; from this day forward, rain, shine, or otherwise, things will only get better when they have each other.

Chapter Text

~*~

 

    Three days until school starts again. Only three damn days left, and Ricky never called her once to ask about back-to-school shopping, or his old clothes, or even his video games.

    Helen Snyder stands listlessly in the doorway to her son’s old bedroom, her hand still on the doorknob. It’s the first time she’s been able to look inside since Ricky walked out so many weeks ago. The room is… just as messy as it had been, then. Maybe more so, with the added dust glazing every surface.

    She rubs her eyes. She isn’t surprised to find they’re wet. Fumbling in the pocket of her housecoat, she pulls out her phone to check the screen. No calls. She hasn’t even heard from Linda , of all people - not since that incident in the park.

    Helen sighs, rubbing her face with one hand. For a second, she contemplates calling someone - Linda, her husband, hell, even Ricky - but she can’t bring herself to touch the call button. A pit forms in her gut, and she slides down the doorframe to sit on the floor.

    “Where did I go wrong?” she whimpers, her voice barely eking out past the lump in her throat, as she struggles not to cry again .

    Her phone falls from her hand, clattering on the floor beside her. As if answering her question, it lights up with a new text message. She snatches it up immediately, sliding open her inbox and reading the message three times over before the words register with her.

    It’s from Linda. Call me when you can - there’s a PTA matter that needs taking care of. Thanks.

    Helen chokes on her breath, and covers her lips with one trembling hand. More than likely, Linda’s going to kick her out, but honestly? She’ll take that over the radio silence she’s endured.

 

~*~

 

    Rachel Smith exchanges a dubious look with her brother, Billy, as they huddle over their lunch at the kitchen table on this particular Thursday afternoon.

    “They’re totally dating,” she whispers. She hardly stifles a snort as her brother nearly chokes on casserole.

    Rachel, that’s our mom!” he bleats, “I don’t want to think about that! Besides, he’s           right there, he can probably hear you!” He gestures toward the couch in the adjoining living area, where a very large, fluffy monster is enjoying some tea with their mother.

    “Lighten up, loser,” Rachel nudges him playfully, and he grumbles about it. She turns her attention to the two on the couch for a moment; the monster in question has such a warm and gentle voice, so unlike their father, and Rachel can’t honestly remember the last time her mother smiled this much - or let her hair down, for that matter.

    Rachel grins like the devil, and stuffs another mouthful of casserole into her mouth. “Totally dating,” she mumbles between chews.

    “What was that, dear?” Linda asks, wiping giddy tears from her eyes and glancing over at  her daughter.

    “Nothin’!” Rachel swallows her food, and turns back to her brother. Lowering her voice, she adds, “If they aren’t dating now, they will be.”

    Billy pulls a face like he’s smelled something rancid. “You’re disgusting.”

    “And you’re a prude.” Rachel steals a bite off his plate.

    Back on the couch, Linda redirects her attention from her kids’ whispering to her friend once more. “So - what was this about a new club?”

    “Ah, yes!” Asgore smiles, and sets his teacup on the coffee table with far more delicacy than his massive paws should be capable of. “Frisk was telling me of some of their ideas regarding their new MONSTER group, and they thought that jumpstarting a new club at the high school focused on building bridges between the youths of our species could prove beneficial. Naturally, they wouldn’t be able to head it themself, but they are more than willing to help anyone who wants to get involved. There is only the matter of getting such a thing approved.”

    “And that’s where the PTA comes in,” Linda nods slowly, understanding knitting her brows together.

    “Precisely. Frisk would have asked you themself, but they know you cannot understand them very well, yet. And, well, they are out getting supplies, today.” Asgore clears his throat. “I hate to impose upon you, Linda, but could you-”

    He pauses, his gaze falling on the phone in Linda’s hands. She hits send on a message, and looks up at him. “I just told Helen to call me the second she’s available. All our differences aside, she’s still the vice president, and I have to run new issues past her before they can go in the agenda.”

    Asgore blinks.

    Linda smiles. “Whatever she says, Asgore, I’ll make sure it’s brought up. I can’t imagine too many folks would be opposed.”

    “Oh! Very good. Thank you.” He smiles, looking relieved, and picks his tea back up. “Thank you again for allowing me to come visit on such short notice. It has been an eventful summer.”

    “You’re telling me,” Linda laughs. After a moment, she stands. “Tell you what - how would you like to go for cider? My treat.” She barely waits for him to finish saying “But of course” before she turns to her kids. “Billy, Rachel, dears, would you like to go for pastries?”

    Both of them pause mid-conversation, regarding their mother as if she grew a second head. “... But, we just had lunch…?” Billy offers, earning a rough elbow in the ribs from his sister.

    “Would we ever!” Rachel is on her feet in a second. “Where we going?”

    Linda exchanges a look with Asgore, who looks beyond delighted, before turning back to her daughter. “There’s a monster bakery downtown--”

    “You mean Muffet’s!?” Both teens exclaim.

    Linda laughs. She should have realized she was late to the craze.

 

~*~

 

    Supply shopping never really felt so important to them, before, but this is the first year that Toriel really let Frisk go and buy all their things for school without her there. They respect how hard it must have been for her, especially considering that they’ve stayed with her for most of their life, after the Underground, but it’s hard to dwell on that when they’re helping Kid and Ricky pick out new notebooks.

    “Naw, dude, go with the green,” Ricky shakes his head at the blue notebook Kid is squinting at. “The pattern fits you better.”

    Kid glances up at him. “You think so, yo?”

    “Hell yeah, I do. Check it out.” Ricky grabs the notebook in question and holds it up; it’s a bright lime green with jagged, pale yellow swirls.

    “What?! Yo, how’d I miss that one?” Kid bobs upright, grinning outright. They turn to Frisk. “Yo - what d’you think?” One of their magical hands materializes and gently tugs the notebook from Ricky’s grip, floating forward to hold it closer to Frisk.

    The human inspects the notebook and the hand, then nods appreciatively. ‘It’s like camouflage.’

    “Camouflage? Really?” Kid looks at it for themself, and then laughs. “Yo, you’re right! I could pull some neat pranks, with this! Look, you can hardly see my hand against it!”

    Ricky swells a bit with pride. “Told you.”

    “Yeah, no kidding! I should listen to you more, you got a real taste for design.” Kid grins at him, dropping the notebook into the cart that Ricky’s leaning against.

    The taller of the two humans grins sheepishly. “Naw, I donno about that…”

    As Kid goes on to argue with him on that point, Frisk smiles to themself. Just a few short months ago, these two would have been at each other’s throats; seeing them pal around like this over the little things reminds Frisk that maybe their efforts can pay off.

    Will pay off.

    Frisk squares their shoulders and turns to the shelves to pick themself a notebook.

 

~*~

 

    When one arguably doesn’t exist, existence tends to be a blur, in general. That being said, the three days before the first day of Frisk’s last year in high school are especially hazy.

    Words are exchanged. Tea is had. Meals are eaten. Life is lived, for the most part, without hiccups. It’s hard to say whether or not it’s the rising tensions that come with expectations for a new year, but Frisk’s grandfather finds his machinations growing all the more unstable with each passing moment. One second, he’s helping his grandchild decompress after a long day out, the next, he’s watching his older son struggle to wake up from a mid-morning nap before work. While observing Toriel’s dinner prep one evening, one of his hands spasms of its own volition, and knocks over her favorite salt-shaker. She eventually blames it on her own inattentiveness, but for a moment, he swears she looked right at him.

    The night before Frisk’s first day, he waits with the teapot at their desk, hoping for another chance to spend a moment with them. He keeps getting glimpses of other instances - phantoms of different iterations of his grandchild stepping into the room and flopping on their bed, coming to join him at the desk, or telling him they’re too tired tonight, can we do this tomorrow.

    He shakes his skull, forcing his perceptions to the present, to this present, and hefts a buzzing sigh of relief when Frisk steps through the door.

    They take a few steps in, and look at the teapot. After blinking for a moment, they elect to take a seat in the chair before the desk, and sit with their eyes to the ceiling, waiting. He stands - more or less - next to them, tapping his phalanges together intermittently, growing more anxious with each passing moment.

    Why haven’t they acknowledged him?

    He clears his throat experimentally. Frisk lifts their head, looks around the room, then shrugs and returns to admiring the ceiling. His mouth curls to a worried frown. He turns to the teapot, and reaches a hand toward it, to pick it up, to move it, anything.

    His phalanges phase through it like fog.

    He growls, his voice harsh like electricity, and tries again. And again. A fourth time - nothing. It’s as if he’s no longer there at all, like a nightmare he can’t awaken from.

    He loses track of how long he tries to touch anything - to feel the world around him. When he returns to his senses, the tea set is put away, and Frisk is asleep in their bed, their back to the rest of the room. On the desk lies a single sticky note, with a short message written on it in Frisk’s scrawl.

    I hope you feel better soon, Grandpa G.

    Gaster stares at the note for what feels like eternity, debating if he should bother trying to take it.

 

~*~

 

    Linda stands outside of Muffet’s cafe, listening to her estranged friend go on about, about something she can’t quite make out. Leave it to Helen to return a call two days late. If Linda’s entirely honest with herself, she wants to know what Asgore said to her kids that’s so funny, or why he looks so flustered about it. Frankly, she’d much rather be inside, finishing her cider and spending this time with her children and her friend , but…

    “Oh, Lindy, I’m - I don’t know what I’ll do without them,” Helen whines over the line, and Linda pinches her nose.

    “Helen, that’s - none of this is why I messaged you. I’ve gotten a request for the PTA to review and add a new club, and as vice president, it’s something you need to be aware of, too.”

    “I - what?” Helen sounds completely taken off-guard. “You mean, I’m not being--?”

    “No, you’re not being kicked out,” Linda sighs. “Honestly, you need to get a grip. Have you been drinking again?”

    Silence.

    Helen.

    “Fine! Alright? Just a little.”

    “Christ.” Linda sighs. “Alright, are you sure you can handle this like an adult?”

    “I’m a grown - a grown woman!”

    “If you say so.” Linda pauses for a moment, then elects to come out with it. “It’s a club for improving monster-human relations.”

    “WHAT!”

    “And,” Linda groans, “now that I’ve run it by you, I’m adding it to next week’s agenda. See you at the meeting, Helen.”

    She hangs up in the middle of Helen’s plaintive shrieking, and turns her phone on silent. Through the cafe window, she can see Rachel posing for a selfie with Asgore and her brother.

    Oh, hell no. She is not missing this. Smiling, Linda dashes back inside to crash the picture at the last possible moment.

 

~*~

 

    On the bus ride to school the next day, Rachel shows everyone she can the “terrible” picture of herself, her brother, and Asgore (“y’know, the King of all monsters?”) that her mom “ruined.”

    If the swarm of likes and comments on her Instagram feed have anything to say about it, it’s a wonderful pic.

Chapter Text

~*~

 

    The first week of senior year is something of a blur. Frisk meets up with friends they’ve had for the past several years, and meets some new ones as the days progress. They find out they share a lunch period with Ricky Snyder and Rachel Smith; they sit through the drawn-out and overdone process of going over the entire syllabus for each class; they listen with sympathetic ears to their classmates’ concerns and regrets regarding the ever-present threat of the dreaded case of Senioritis.

    Frisk goes through the motions. Of course, they’re determined to do well this year, teenage problems notwithstanding, but they’re beginning to find that perhaps their ambitions are overshadowing their desire to perform well, academically.

    They are still the monster ambassador, after all.

 

~*~

 

    Toriel pulls her van into the school’s parking lot on Friday afternoon, taking in a deep breath of the warm air fluttering through her open window. “Sans, are you sure you want to come with me on this one? I assure you, I can handle myself.”

    “I know you can, T,” the skeleton in her passenger seat smiles, as he always does. “Let’s just say I got used to coming along, and frankly, I kind of miss it. The hot dog stand will be okay if it’s not open for one night.”

    Toriel smiles at him, a bit tiredly. “As long as you are sure, dear. I am happy to have your company.”

    “Well, I’m happy to be here for ya,” Sans winks slowly, his grin seeming to grow, “No bones about it.”

    Toriel chuckles, and pulls her van into a parking spot. Sans is out of the vehicle almost immediately, retrieving the baked goods they’ve brought along from the back seat. Once everything is loaded up in their arms, Sans nods in an obscure direction. “C’mon this way, I can get us in quick.”

    With his girlfriend in tow, Sans steps around the front of a nearby SUV, and the two of them are rounding the corner down the hallway to the PTA’s designated meeting room. As fortune would have it, two figures are approaching them from the opposite end of the hall - Linda Smith, and a tired and bedraggled-looking Helen Snyder.

    Toriel remembers when the sharp tapping of Linda’s heels on the tile floor would make her fur bristle, but after the events of the past summer, she finds that instead of avoiding the human’s gaze, she’s offering an amiable smile in her direction. “Good evening, Linda!” She calls, a bit surprised with herself. “I had more treats to bring along this time than I could carry by myself, so Sans offered to help.”

    “Yeah, Tori said she needed someone with a little more backbone to get the job done.” He leans around the stack of covered dishes to smile at Linda as well. “Unfortunately, Papyrus is out tonight, so I guess it was up to me.”

    Linda smiles back at the two of them, and it’s easy to tell her eyes have gotten brighter after the last few weeks. “Oh, that’s wonderful! I can’t wait to try them. Let me get this door open.”

    As Linda sets to the lock, Toriel turns her attention to Helen. Despite everything she’s heard from Ricky and Paul about the situation, she can’t help feeling a bit for the human woman. She looks so downtrodden, so utterly defeated.

    “Hello, Helen,” she starts, a bit gentler and more reserved, “Would you like some--”

    “No, thank you ,” Helen snaps, cutting her off. She doesn’t even look at either of the monsters, and once the door is open, she cuts past them to take her seat at the meeting table.

    “Yikes,” Sans mutters, leaning over to nudge Toriel. “What’s eating her ?”

    For once, Toriel finds she doesn’t have the heart to offer a joke. She sighs, and heads inside to set her covered pies on the snack table. Sans joins her, only slightly sobered by her lack of response.

    More and more parents and teachers begin to file in, as the minutes progress. Sans and Toriel catch up with Stuart and some of the monster parents, while Linda and Helen set up their notes for the meeting with a terse silence between them.

    Presently, Linda calls everyone to order, and the chatter dies out, all eyes on her. Only a few folks seem to pick up on the subtle differences in Linda and Helen’s respective body language from last time to this time, but Linda doesn’t leave much time to contemplate.

    “Hello, everyone, and good evening.” She smiles, but with a warmth that was lacking in her features before. A few more people pick up on this. “I want to preface today’s meeting by sharing just a little bit about my summer.” When a few parents groan audibly in response, she holds up a hand defensively, adding, “I’ll keep it brief, I promise.” Clearing her throat, she continues. “Robert and I got a divorce.”

    There’s a chorus of general surprise, sprinkled with a few “oh no”s and “oh, you poor dear”s mixed in for flavor, but Linda waves it all off in stride.

    “No, honestly, it was for the best. He’s been… difficult throughout our entire marriage, and things finally came to full fruition over the summer. It’s been a long time coming.” She clears her throat. “My family is much happier now. We’ve gotten to know our neighbors a little better,” she smiles across the table at Toriel and Sans, a gesture which earns a lot of wide eyes and confused looks, “And as a result, I feel my horizons are broadening. That being said, I feel it’s time to bring up the first thing on the agenda.”

    Several eyes turn to the papers passed around the table, and there’s a bit of murmuring and the general raising and creasing of eyebrows.

    “MHA?” David Graham - the football coach-slash-history teacher blurts. “The hell kind of club is that, Mountain-Hiking Activities? You know that mountain is dangerous.”

    “All those dangerous holes have been filled up, Dave,” Sans rolls his eye-lights, “If you paid attention to current events, you’d know that.”

    “Gentlemen, please,” Linda says firmly, and both of the men look at her in mild surprise. She goes on without skipping a beat. “It’s come to my attention that some students are interested in forming a club based around learning more about Monster culture, and on harnessing a sense of harmony and understanding between Monsters and Humans.”

    “W-wait,” Stuart bleats, looking confused, “I, I don’t mean any offense by this, Linda, but… I thought you didn’t like Monsters?”

    “I didn’t,” Linda sighs. “But, like I said, it’s been a crazy summer, and if I’m completely honest, my neighbors Toriel and Sans, here, and even Asgore, whom I’ve never met until recently, have been better friends to me and my family than … some folks I’ve known for years.”

    She doesn’t look at Helen when she says this, but the way the brunette sinks down in her chair and stares at the table speaks volumes.

    “That being said, I’m in support of our school founding the Monster-Human Alliance.” She smiles. “I’d like to hear any opinions on the subject, however.”

    “One question,” One of the English teachers leans forward, wringing her hands on the table, “Who would be leading this club?”

    “As of right now, we don’t have a faculty sponsor in mind for overseeing the proceedings,” Linda says slowly, “But we do have a student who’s volunteered for being the first club president.”

    “Really,” Helen snorts, rolling her eyes and folding her arms. “Gosh, I wonder who that could possibly be.”

    Linda grins outright. “Helen, I’m surprised you hadn’t heard already.”

    Helen blinks, and finally looks at the blonde. “Heard - heard what, exactly…?”

 

~*~

 

    “Yo - are you sure?” Kid is fighting to keep the excitement out of their voice, but with Frisk bouncing in their seat beside them, it’s hard to keep the smile from betraying how they really feel.

    “Yeah, like,” Ricky shrugs across the table, where he’s sitting forward on his seat, elbows resting on the surface. “You’ve all done a lot for me this past year. I want to help out any way I can. Besides - this is important stuff.”

    Frisk nods emphatically, and Kid laughs. “Yeah, yo, you got no idea how important. You’re one of the most well-known guys in school, so if you’re helping us out with the club, then that’s already a giant step in the right direction.”

    “Yeah, all well and good,” Flowey drawls from the kitchen windowsill, flopped over backwards to cast an intimidating gaze in Ricky’s direction, “but is little Rick cut out for leadership? I mean, you guys do remember how he’s acted before when things don’t go his way, right?”

    Frisk glares across the room at the flower, but Ricky nods, sighing. “Yeah, I know, I’ve been a shithead. But I promise, all that’s behind me. I’m gonna do better. I want to do better.”

    Kid smiles at him. “For what it counts, yo, I believe you. We’re gonna do great stuff together.”

    They turn to look at Frisk. “Yo, you got the thing?”

    Frisk nods, and retrieves a little hand-sewn satchel from under the table, one bearing the Delta Rune.

    Ricky looks at it dubiously. “Hey, what’s all this?”

    “Your swag!” Kid grins, and one of their hands materializes to gently take the satchel from Frisk and bring it across the table to Ricky. “Go ahead - check it out!”

    He does so, accepting the bag from the glowing green digits, and tugs open the drawstrings. Inside he finds a sports towel, a keychain, and a t-shirt - all bearing the MONSTER logo on them - the Delta Rune, where the winged orb resembles the globe, and the three spikes underneath are actually typography for three words: Hope, Love, Mercy.

    He looks up at Frisk and Kid, both of whom are beaming at him. “I mean, we’ll be getting more swag as things progress, but for now, this is pretty much it.” Kid chuckles, and their hand - which had been resting on the table in front of them - reaches across the table in the gesture for a handshake. “Welcome to the cause, yo!”

    Ricky regards their hand for a moment, then shifts his bewildered grin to meet their gaze. “Aw, hell yes.” He claps his hand into theirs to shake firmly.

    Frisk claps excitedly, and jumps up from the table to dance victoriously. Kid laughs, shakes Ricky’s hand, and lets him go. “We’re glad to have you, if you can’t tell.”

    “Nah, I can tell.” Ricky grins. “By the way - your hands are really warm.”

    “I’ve been told.” Kid shrugs, and their hand disappears.

 

~*~

 

    All of these things are happening at once. It’s hard to pay attention. It’s good - he can tell things are good - but he can’t shake the impending dread he’s feeling.

    A garbled, wordless wail makes the TV in the living room buzz loudly for a moment. He’s come this far. It can’t be the end. Not yet.

 

~*~

 

    Club Roundup week rolls around to the school before the end of August, and Rachel Smith is excited to see what kinds of extracurriculars she can pick up, this year. Basketball season isn’t for another few months, but she meets up with the coach to get the paperwork ahead of time, regardless. With her bag over her shoulder and a bright grin on her face, she heads to the cafeteria to check out what exciting things her peers have to offer.

    The Art club poster is the easiest one to make out, followed closely by the Science club. They both look cool in their own rights, and she even sees Billy grabbing a flyer for the Science club, but they aren’t her cup of tea. She walks up and down the rows of tables and tri-folds, glancing over everything in turn, until a familiar face catches her by surprise.

    “Ricky?” She blinks, stalling to a halt in front of him and his tri-fold. “What’s all this -- where’d you get that kick-ass MONSTER shirt?!”

    Ricky beams at her from where he’s seated. “Hey, Rachel! How’d you like to join the Monster-Human Alliance?”

 

~*~

 

    Helen Snyder sits on her kitchen counter, staring at the unopened bottle of wine in her hands. She hasn’t been to a PTA meeting in two weeks, not since the first one. Hell, she’s hardly left the house.

    Her own son, advocating for those … creatures. How could he? How could Paulie - her Paulie - let him betray humanity like that?

    She shakes her head, and sets the wine on the counter beside her. No, there’s got to be a reason for this. Something she’s missing. Linda used to be just as wary of Monsters as she is, and now she’s practically canoodling with one. Helen’s seen them together, when she’s out on errands. She remembers when Linda used to look at Robert like that. … Those days were a long time ago.

    Helen looks at her phone. It’s 8:05pm, maybe a little late for a casual call, but she can’t shake the feeling that she has to do something. Anything.

    She pulls up his name in her contacts, and with a shaking finger, she sends the call. She leaves the phone on speaker and sets it on the counter beside the wine, hardly trusting her anxious hands to hold the damn thing.

    After three rings, there’s an answer. “Hello, Helen,” Paul sounds tired, likely just getting home from work. “Didn’t expect to hear from you.”

    Helen opens her mouth to demand he explain himself, how dare he continue to let their son fraternize with beasts , but her argument falters in her throat. “I… I wanted to talk, Paul.”

    “That hardly sounds like the Helen I know,” Paul’s voice is full of suspicion. “If you’re setting me up for another yelling match, I’m going to tell you right now--”

    “No, please, Paul,” Helen gasps, biting at her nails. “Look, I… I know I messed up, somewhere. I’ve been trying to figure it out for months , but I just don’t know how…”

    Paul is quiet for a moment, and she can faintly hear the drumming of his fingers on a table in the background. “... If you really want to talk things over, Helen, I’d like you to come meet with me and a friend or two next week. You free on Wednesday?”

    “Yes,” she says, apprehensive.

    “Good. Meet us at Grillby’s bar at 5pm. It’s downtown, a couple blocks from Muffet’s.”

    She doesn’t know either of those places, but scribbles the information on a paper towel nonetheless. “... Got it. Should I bring anything?”

    “Just enough for a couple drinks or some food. It’s a casual place. See you then.”

    Paul hangs up, and Helen is left staring at her phone for a moment, blinking.

    Did… her husband just ask her to go on a double-date…?

Chapter Text

~*~

 

    Helen pulls her sedan into the curbside parking space in front of what looks like a dive bar. She double-checks the address that Paul had sent her, and squints again at the name of the establishment. … Yep, that says ‘Grillby’s,’ all right.

    Hefting a nervous sigh, Helen steps out of her car and locks the door. She wonders if maybe she dressed up a little too much for the occasion; maybe this establishment doesn’t require heels. She elects not to think about it, and steps up to the door.

    Someone opens it before she can reach it, and she watches in mild alarm as two monsters walk out, laughing companionably. One of them looks like what can only be explained as a drunk bunny, and the other seems to resemble something between a horse and a hamster.

    She barely manages to mask the distaste crinkling her nose as the two monsters pass her by, and she stands hesitantly in front of the glass door. For a moment, she debates the merits of just cutting her losses and ditching. Then she sees Paul sitting in a booth near the window, talking to someone she can’t make out, just yet.

    Biting her lip, she enters the bar. The bell over the door jingles gently, and she takes a moment to look around before heading over to Paul’s table. There’s several tables and booths set up throughout, and a neat row of stools lining the bar. Behind the bar is a healthy collection of fancy-looking bottles, and a tall man with fiery red hair washing dishes.

    … Wait. No, that’s… actual fire, isn’t it.

    The bartender looks up at Helen, and though she can’t make out his eyes, she can feel him looking at her. He offers a small wave, and returns to his work. At this point, Paul looks up, and waves to get Helen’s attention.

    “Over here,” he calls, “There’s somebody I’d like you to meet.”

    Helen approaches hesitantly, and pauses once she reaches the table. Sitting across from Paul is a young woman with red hair and bright eyes. She looks up at Helen and offers a smile.

    “Ah, Helen, I’ve heard a lot about you.” She extends a hand for Helen to shake. “I’m Shannon Hargrove. I don’t know if you’ve heard of me.”

    “I… Can’t say I have.” Helen shakes her hand quickly, and at Paul’s beckoning, takes the seat beside him. Her stomach is coiling in knots. “I have to say - after seeing what kind of place this is, I thought Paul was having me meet… someone else.”

    “Oh?” Shannon raises a sharp eyebrow. “And what kind of establishment is this, exactly?”

    Helen blinks. “Oh, you know.”

    “No, I don’t.” Shannon looks at Paul. “What does she me--?”

    “A monster establishment,” Paul says flatly. “Helen is upset that I invited her to a monster bar.”

    Helen closes her mouth, but she doesn’t deny it.

    “Well.” Shannon smiles, almost wickedly. “That’s a real shame, Helen. I ordered you one of the best drinks and everything.”

    As Helen sits bolt upright, a young monster with purple skin and tentacles for arms and hair saunters over to their table, balancing a tray of drinks on one limb. “Thanks for waiting, here’s your starters - You guys want any food or anything?”

    “We’re good for now, Laney,” Shannon smiles brilliantly at the monster girl, who blushes lightly. “We’ll let you know if we need anything, okay?”

    “Sure thing, snookums,” Laney giggles, and after giving everyone their drinks, she leans down to give Shannon a quick kiss on the cheek. “Holler if you need me.”

    Helen watches her leave, looking mortified. While she’s still staring, Shannon continues.

    “Originally, I was just gonna talk with Paul about Ricky’s involvement with MONSTER and the MHA, but since you’re here, too, I figure it’s only fair to let you in on the details.”

    “What kinds of details are we talking, Shannon?” Paul frowns slightly. “Is - is my boy going to be in any danger?”

    Shannon shrugs. “I can’t say, Mr. Snyder. Anyone involved with a civil rights group like ours is going to be in some degree of danger, whether from the authorities, or bigots, or otherwise. Before we go any further, I want you both to understand that one of MONSTER’s highest concerns is the safety of everyone involved. We can’t very well run a movement if the folks helping us go forward are getting hurt.”

    Paul nods. Helen blinks, shakes her head, then stammers, “Wait, wait just a moment, did - did you let that monster kiss you ?”

    Shannon stares incredulously at Helen. “... Ma’am, it’s been almost nine years since monsters came into our society. Did you seriously never think that any of us humans would want to smooch one?”

    Helen balks. If she’s entirely honest, no, she didn’t. Shannon doesn’t wait for a response.

    “The main thing I want to talk to you guys about is the MHA. It’s a fairly low-risk endeavor, overall, but there’s some topics that our organization wants to suggest the MHA cover for its new members - some of which are ones that Ricky has some personal experience with.”

    When she’s met with anxious silence, she goes on. “Fights. As far as we know, Ricky is the only person in the area who’s been in a fair fight with a monster - one involving Souls.”

    “Souls?” Helen squeaks, turning pale. “What - what does that mean?”

    Shannon sighs and rubs at her temples. “Looks like I’ve got a lot of explaining to do…”

 

~*~

 

    Potluck mixers aren’t usually Sans’s cup of tea, but if he’s honest with himself, he loves the excuse to get out and eat terrible food. Not to say that all the food at these kinds of events is terrible - far to the contrary, he’d stand behind his quiche and Toriel’s pies until the day he dies - but he can’t get enough of those terrible dollar-store cookies and fizzy sodas that many of the humans from the PTA bring.

    Speaking of which, he spies Stuart carrying a homemade casserole in a wide glass pan toward the table. Sans saunters over to him, grinning as usual. “Hey, Stu, I didn’t know you could cook!”

    “I can’t,” the human admits, bashfully, “I asked my daughter to make this for me. In exchange, she gets to have a big sleepover this weekend.”

    “Sounds awesome. Can’t wait to try some.” Sans nods toward the food table. “You need some help getting that over there? That thing looks Casser swole .”

    Stuart blinks, caught off-guard by how bad that pun actually is. “Hah, nah, I got it, thanks!”

    “No sweat,” Sans winks. He motions to say more, but is interrupted by Stuart gasping loudly.

    “Holy smokes,” he says, nearly dropping his casserole, “Is - is that who I think it is?”

    Sans turns in the direction Stuart is staring, and finds himself surprised at what he sees. Linda’s finally arrived, and who else is standing behind her in a clean, button-up shirt and looking entirely lost but Asgore Dreemurr.

    Linda looks a little nervous, but she can’t stop smiling as she introduces everyone to Asgore, her “very good friend.” Asgore looks a little sheepish (though, Sans thinks, that just can’t be helped), but, given that he is used to large groups of people, takes each introduction in stride.

    Leaving them to it for now, Sans steps away from Stuart to find Toriel, who is pointedly busying herself with straightening out the displays of snacks on the table.

    “You sure you’re okay, being here with-?” Sans starts, but Toriel interrupts him.

    “Of course I am okay,” she says, smiling perhaps a little too much. “Linda may invite whomever she pleases, and Asgore is mature enough not to start any awkward conversation, at this point.”

    As soon as she says this, the introductions have reached Stuart himself, who sets down his casserole on the table in time to shake Asgore’s fluffy paw.

    “So, uh, weird question,” he begins, and Sans can feel his spine crawling in anticipation of the rest of the sentence, “But do you and Toriel know each other?”

    Sans glances over to see Asgore look over at Toriel and wince slightly at the look she’s undoubtedly giving him. “Ah, once upon a time, yes. But that is not a discussion for today. May I try some of that human casserole?”

    Sans lets out a breath through his teeth. Smart move, Fluffybuns.

 

~*~

 

    The last two weeks have been agonizing for the half-existent being formerly known as Dr. W.D. Gaster. In an effort to save his energy, he’s been slipping between realities in one space, watching a thousand different timelines play out all at once. In several of them, his older son is married to the old queen. In a few of those, they’re raising little monsters of their own - twins, if one would believe it. In other instances, Frisk is out traveling the world, studying abroad, gauging the reactions to the news of monsters in society in other places. In others still, Frisk never came to live with Toriel. She lives with Sans and Papyrus, content to tutor monster children in her home while the skeletons help out with chores.

    But those are other times, other places - not this one, not the one where Frisk is here . He struggles to focus on them, on his grandchild - the one who adopted him - is sitting on their bed, staring at the spot where he is, like they can almost just make something out.

    Presently, they leap to their feet in excitement, signing rapidly. ‘Grandpa G! You’re back! I was so worried!’

    He hefts a particularly crunchy sigh of relief. ‘Yes, child, it seems I am. Though if I am honest, I hardly left in the first place.’

    Frisk frowns slightly, and Gaster goes on.

    ‘I have been here, resting. While I was here, I saw… much. Other times. Other iterations. They are not important. I wanted to come back here, to my home.’

    The human sits on the edge of their bed once more, brow creased in worry. ‘Why were you… gone?’

    ‘There are a number of possibilities, young one. It has been nearly a decade since the barrier was broken, since we left the Underground - perhaps being so separated from the scene of my… the incident has weakened me over time. Perhaps my continued semi-existence has put a strain on the fabric of reality, and it is seeking to wipe me out. Perhaps…’

    He pauses in his conjecture, having looked up to see tears in Frisk’s eyes. Their lips are pressed tightly shut as they’re fighting back the waterworks, but he can see something resolute in their warm, reddish eyes. Something determined.

    ‘How can I help you?’

    Gaster sighs again, like the buzz of electricity through a speaker. ‘It is not so simple, my child.’

    ‘There has to be something.’

    The old, amorphous monster hesitates, his phalanges twitching in place. He has a couple of ideas, though… ‘... You will not like my hypotheses, child.’

    ‘I still want to know.’

    Gaster slumps, defeated. ‘I could return to the Underground. If my connection with our old prison is indeed what is jeopardizing what remains of my existence, then that should resolve the issue. Otherwise…’ here he pauses, hardly daring to say it. ‘... Otherwise, I may need a Soul.’

    Frisk’s eyes widen, and he goes on quickly.

    ‘Monsters can absorb human souls, and gain incredible power when they do. If I were to gain the power of a Soul, I could-’

    He’s stopped by Frisk’s sudden gasp, and them flapping their hands to get his attention. They look at him with a look in their eyes that would rival his own, back in the day, upon a great discovery.

    ‘I know just who to see!’

 

~*~

 

    Ricky sits on a stool at the head of the classroom, watching the other kids who’ve gathered before him. Three… no, five humans, including Billy and Rachel, and six monsters, including Kid. Kid shoots him a wink and a thumbs up with one phantom hand, and he can’t help smiling back.

    He glances over to his right, where Coach Undyne is sitting at the teacher’s desk with her combat boots propped up on it, looking each of the eleven kids over with her good eye. Presently, that eye shifts its gaze to Ricky, and she flashes him a proud grin.

    “You did good, punk,” she says, sounding impressed. “Think you should get started?”

    “Yeah,” Ricky straightens, and claps his hands together as he inhales, getting the others’ attention pretty quick. “Hey, guys. As you all probably know, I’m Ricky Snyder, former linebacker for the football team, and resident as-” he pauses, remembering he’s in school, “... bully.

    Several of the other teams exchange looks, and he nods. “Yeah, I know I’ve been a real piece of work in the past. A lot of things have happened over the last year to help me realize that. For example, Kid here kicked my butt at a Christmas party.”

    Several of the others round surprised looks at the armless monster, but they just laugh. “To be fair, yo, I kind of tripped us both up in the end. It was a tie.”

    “Naw, don’t sell yourself short. You could have whooped me something fierce if you wanted, Kid.” Ricky grins. “But that’s besides the point. Here at the MHA, I’m gonna help--”

    “I didn’t know monsters could fight!” One of the humans pipes up, a boy with streaks of green woven into his cornrows.

    “Heck yeah we can!” A young snowdrake responds, looking proud. “I can use icicle boomerangs!” He leans forward to look at Kid. “I didn’t know you had bullets yet, Kid! What’re they like?”

    “Bullets!?” A human girl with thick hair gasps. “That sounds dangerous!”

    “They can be!” Kid says, chuckling nervously, “but, uh, ‘Bullets’ are just another word for monster attacks. They don’t really, uh, hurt unless we’re in a real Fight.” When a few of the humans start to look unsure, Kid looks over at Ricky, then at Undyne. “Yo, Coach, can we, uh, do a demonstration?”

    “Eh, hell, why not?” Undyne cackles. “This should be fun.”

    “Is - is that okay with you, Ricky?” Kid asks the human in turn, looking concerned.

    “Nah, that’s cool.” Ricky grins at them, and stands from the stool to push it aside. “C’mon up here.”

    Kid stands from their desk, and everyone watches as they and Ricky stand about four paces apart at the front of the room. Kid summons a glowing magic hand on either side of themself, and Ricky rolls his shoulders.

    “Now, see, us humans,” Ricky begins, “we’re made of … physical stuff. Water, bones, meat, all that. But inside us, what makes us us , is our souls. Monsters have souls, too, you see, but the soul is most of what a monster is. Soul, magic, and dust.”

    “It’s right,” says a merhorse girl in the back of the room, “That’s how come we all look so different, but are still so compatible.”

    “And it’s also how come we’re so good with magic. Because, y’know, it’s literally what we are.” Kid smiles. “Each monster’s magic manifests in a different way, and sometimes it takes awhile to find out what kind of magic a monster has. Mine only… really manifested last year, shortly before our… Fight.”

    “Which brings us back to the point.” Ricky nods. “When us humans fight, we fight with fists, weapons, whatever we have, trying to damage the physical body. The thing about magic is that it doesn’t affect physical bodies and such as easily as you would think. So when monsters talk about fighting, they really mean Fighting,” he puts a bit more emphasis on the F, “With souls.” He turns to Kid. “You wanna demonstrate?”

    “If you’re sure.” Kid nods, and with a little jerk of their head, Ricky’s soul is pulled out - a cartoonish orange heart over his chest, acting as the focal point for a shimmering field of orange energy that coats his body.

    Every human in the room - except for Billy and Rachel - is on their feet.

    “Relax, I’ve done this before,” Ricky laughs, waving them off. “This is a soul. Mine’s… orange, I guess, for whatever that means, though I’ve been told every human has a different color. That’s another day, though - Fighting like this ensures that the monster and the human are on more even footing. Humans can still hurt monsters’ physical bodies pretty easily, but with the soul out like this, it’s the only way a monster can inflict real damage.”

    “I’m, not gonna hurt you though, yo,” Kid says, and as Ricky laughs in response, his soul disappears back inside his body.

    “So, any questions?” Ricky asks. A few hands shoot up, but Undyne hoots over them all.

    “YEAH - When do i get to watch you babies FIGHT!?”

    “Uh, coach,” Rachel chimes in at this point, “I don’t think that’s the point of the faculty liaison…”

    “It’s not?” Undyne snorts. “Then why am I doing this job???”

 

~*~

 

    Alphys sits at home in her softest robe, eating a bowl of instant noodles and catching up on some more recent animes. A part of her wishes Undyne were here to watch with her, but she knows that supervising the MHA at the high school is more important work.

    “Besides,” Undyne had told her, as she’d left earlier that afternoon, “you need some time for yourself, now and again, you dork!”

    She’s glad for it, too. After soaking in the sun out on the balcony and working on her latest fanfiction, Alphys is already feeling in brighter spirits than normal. Slurping up noodles and watching young superheroes come of age on the flat-screen TV in her living room; nothing could ruin the tranquility of this moment.

    The buzzer sounds for her door, and she nearly drops the noodles all over the floor. Well. There goes that.

    She sets the bowl down on the coffee table and hops up to get the door. She checks the video monitor, and sees that it’s Frisk, looking anxious. Something’s wrong with the feed, however; the video twitches and cuts at odd intervals, and there’s a haze of static over it.

    Weird. She’ll have to get that checked out.

    She hits the buzzer to open the main door, and heads to her apartment door to unlock it. A moment later, Frisk steps inside, panting a bit and looking even more excited in person.

    “H-hey, Frisk!” Alphys says, looking them up and down. “Did - d-d-did you run all the way here? You could have j-just texted me!”

    Frisk shakes their head. ‘No time - this is important.’

    The door closes behind them. Alphys is pretty sure she didn’t close it herself.

    “D-d-did you do that?” She asks, but they don’t answer her.

    They direct her attention to them, and ask her two questions. First: ‘Can you see him?’

    “Wh...who?” she can feel the color draining from her scales.

    They don’t answer. Second: ‘Do you have access to your notes on Soul research?’

    Alphys’s sins are crawling on her back. “Wh… F-f-f-frisk, what, what are you going to do with that?”

    ‘There’s someone I need to save.’

    The TV in the living room lets out a sharp whine, followed by the agitated hiss of static. Alphys yelps; if she weren’t so focused on the occurrence, she would have noticed Frisk signing insistently at nothing.

    “Frisk?” She whimpers, scooting closer to them. “Wh-wh-what’s g-going on?” She looks at them, scared, worried, and definitely no longer relaxed.

    Frisk pats her arm reassuringly. ‘It’s ok. He won’t hurt you.’

    “Who!?” She bleats, hardly reassured.

    Frisk sighs. ‘My… grandpa. He needs our help. Your help.’

    Alphys blinks slowly, and lets out a big sigh. “O-okay, Frisk. Anything f-for you.”

    ‘Thank you.’

    “Don’t t-thank me yet.” Alphys pulls her coat tighter around herself. “F-f-first, we gotta f-f-find those notes…”

Chapter Text

~*~

 

    Sans can tell something is off when he and Toriel return to the apartment after the potluck. The quiet is… too quiet. There’s no gentle buzzing in another room, no subtle ringing that’s too high-pitched for the others to hear. He glances down the hallway, and where he’d normally see Frisk’s desk through their open door, he sees… just the desk. No tea. No older, dripping monster having tea with Frisk.

    “Sans, dear?” Toriel asks, and he looks up at her, blinking. “Is everything all right?”

    “What? Yeah, T, it’s all peachy.” He smiles at her in a way that says it’s not a big deal, but it is. It is a very big deal.

    Neither his father nor Frisk is home, and something is happening.

 

~*~

 

Alphys remembers having mixed feelings about keeping all these files and records and thumb drives from her days as the Royal Scientist, especially with Toriel strongly suggesting she destroy them. When she sets the heavy box in front of Frisk, and they smile up at her with such gratitude, however, she finds that maybe she held onto it for some unknown reason.

    “Th-this should be everything,” She says. “I don’t know exactly wh-what you’re looking for, though.”

    Frisk doesn’t seem to be listening to her. They dove headfirst into the files, flipping through documents and folders, occasionally glancing up at something beside themself and signing something quickly, before turning back to their work.

    They had mentioned all this was for their grandfather. As far as Alphys knows and remembers, they don’t have a grandfather. Is it a human relative, from before their fall? If so, why wouldn’t Frisk have said anything about him before now? Alphys wrings her claws together; she’s teeming with questions, but hardly wants to burden them about it now, not when they look so focused.

    As the dam’s about to break, and she’s about to ask, Frisk looks up at her, and asks a question she was not expecting.

    ‘Can I go to your old lab?’

    “... Frisk,” she says, eyes wide, lip trembling. “F-frisk, why… why would you want to--?”

    ‘Please.’

    Alphys hesitates. She - and the other monsters, of course - have all learned that saying ‘no’ to Frisk in instances like this only delays the inevitable, but the thought of anyone going back to that place makes her scales crawl. “... Why?”

    ‘I need your old machine. The one that made Flowey.’

    Alphys’s claws rise to her face, and she grips her claws in shock. “I-I-I-I c-can’t let you go back there, Frisk! Y-you know what happened, w-with that machine! I… I hurt so many people!”

    ‘But now you can help someone!’ Frisk points at Alphys’s TV, which has been hissing with static for the past hour. ‘He’s the one making all the static, he’s the one I’ve been talking to, he’s --’

    Alphys blinks, and finds that Frisk’s signs are suddenly very hard to read, as if something is blurring their hands in her vision. She feels dizzy. She steadies herself on her desk, and Frisk stops, looking alarmed.

    She smiles placatingly at them. “I… I understand, I think.” She pauses. “W-well, not really, but, uh,” she sucks in a breath. “Tell you wh-what, Frisk, with these old schematics, I th… I think I could make a new machine. A better one. One that shouldn’t do so much d-... damage.”

    Frisk’s eyes light up, and Alphys holds up a claw. “B-b-but, uh, I can’t guarantee it’ll be done r-right away. H-how long does your… your grandpa have?”

    Frisk glances at nothing. There’s a beat where the static in the TV pulses quickly. Frisk turns back to her. They shrug, and add, ‘maybe a week, he says. Time is weird for him.’

    “R-right,” Alphys sighs. “I’ll need help, then. Do you know anyone who’s good at machines?”

    The static roars for a moment, and Frisk smiles. They nod.

 

~*~

 

    Temmie loves tem job.

    Temmie’s boss felt sorry for tem when he heard that Temmie was allergic to other Temmies, so he let Temmie work here, at the reception counter. He pays tem in Tem Flakes, and occasionally brings tem little gifts, like snowglobes and hot sauce packets.

    Temmie likes to watch the people who live in the building. There’s a few monsters, like old Mrs. Fluffybuns (she doesn’t like that,,,) and the two Mr. Skeltans, but there are lots and lots and LOTS of humans that come through. Sometimes they say hi to Temmie. Temmie always makes sure to say hOI back. Temmie’s favorite human is the one who sent Temmie’s friend to Cool Leg, back in the Underground, the human who let all the Temmies and the other monsters come out of the mountain.

    This human comes rushing back into the building well after dark, looking especially determined. They wave to Temmie nonetheless - they always say hi. Temmie squeals “hOI!” in response, vibrating as hard as tem can.

    The human leaves, but Temmie is very happy.

    Temmie loves tem job.

 

~*~

 

    Later that night, Sans and Toriel are sitting on the loveseat. The TV is playing, though neither of them are watching it. Frisk has just gone to their room - no doubt to text Alphys and let her know what Sans has just agreed to. What exactly that is, though, Toriel is unsure. The whole thing has her mind in knots.

    “... Sans, dear,” she says, slowly, “Can… we talk?”

    The skeleton beside her hardly moves. “Sure.”

    “What… exactly was all that, just now?” She shakes her head. “Frisk has … a grandfather? Your father?”

    “I wouldn’t expect you to remember him, T. Nobody does, except folks who can see him. I can, sometimes, and I usually pick up when he’s around, but Frisk? They can always see him, when he’s here. I used to be able to see him more, but a few years before Frisk fell, he got… fainter.”

    “... What happened to him, to make him like this?”

    Sans sighs. He looks dejected. “... He had an accident. I have no idea what caused it, and he would never tell me. After it happened, everyone who had known him before just kind of… forgot him. Asgore, you, hell, every monster, even Papyrus. Some of his lab assistants disappeared, too, but I’ve never seen them like I’ve seen him.” He shakes his skull. “It’s… it’s a whole mess. I… I tried to make a machine, back in the Underground, to, to bring him back, to fix everything but,” He wipes at his eyesockets with his sleeves, and Toriel covers her mouth with a paw, “but nothing I did mattered. I couldn’t do it. But now, now Frisk thinks we can save him.” he glances up at Toriel, and she can see the glow from his dim, wavering eye-lights casting a shimmering light in the blue tears gathering in his sockets. “We… we can bring him back.”

    Toriel smiles a bit, and though she can see the anxious joy in her partner’s face, she can’t figure out what he should say. Instead, she pulls him close and wraps him up in a soft, snuggly hug. He relaxes into her after a moment, nuzzling his skull deeper into the fluff of her chest. Only when she feels the tension ease out of his joints does she speak.

    “Goodness, meeting your father is a daunting prospect,” she keeps her voice soft, but smiles nonetheless. “Do you think he will like me?”

    Sans chuckles, his voice muffled by fur, “He loves you already, Tori, don’t even sweat it.”

    “Ah!” She grins outright, stroking his skull with one paw, “I see. So I do not have to pull out the good jokes for him?”

    “Oh no, by all means, do. He’s an even bigger goofball than I am.” She can almost hear the wink in his voice. “A real funnybones if you ever met one.”

    Toriel snorts, and lets him go. “Good! I cannot wait to meet him.”

    “Yeah,” Sans nods, wiping his eye sockets again. “Same.”

 

~*~

 

    Kid hadn’t intended on getting too heavily involved with the MHA in addition to working with Frisk on MONSTER stuff, but after that first meeting last week, they find the role of vice-president has been more or less thrust upon them. Not that they mind, especially; even in the four days the club has been officially active, they’ve seen a lot of improvement.

    As they’re walking down the hallway toward their English class, they catch sight of humans and monsters chatting more frequently than they had before. They catch bits of passing conversation - “What was life like in the Underground?” “What’s your magic like?” “How’s your family adjusting to life in the ‘burbs?” “Has anyone been picking on you?” … A lot of surprisingly thoughtful questions, in addition to some fairly ignorant ones.

    Nevertheless, progress is progress, and most monsters seem more than happy to answer. If Kid notices any monsters looking uncomfortable, they do their best to step in and interject, inviting the humans to stop by the MHA and learn some more.

    As they’re moving to intercede yet again on behalf of a tiny Whimsun, they find they’ve been beaten to the punch by a certain buff boy with a cocksure grin.

    They watch Ricky redirect the humans and hand them a printed-out flyer on yellow paper, and then turn to the Whimsun to make sure it’s okay. The Whimsun thanks him in a tiny voice, then drifts off. He locks eyes with Kid, smiles, and heads off to class.

    Kid looks after him for a moment, grinning. For a moment, it’s like looking at Frisk.

 

~*~

 

    It’s Wednesday afternoon, and Linda’s children will be getting out of school any second. Unfortunately, she can’t leave her home, on account of the banging on her door.

    “Open the damn door, woman!” Robert howls, clearly drunk again. “This is my house, and you are my wife!!”

    “You signed the damn papers, you dumbass!” She yells back, trying to make her hands stop shaking so she can call the police. “I’m not your wife anymore!”

    Distantly, she can hear Papyrus’s characteristic hollering from down the hall; Robert responds with a threatening, drunken growl, and she can hear the Dreemurrs’ door slam shut.

    So much for that. She stares down at her phone, swallowing past the lump in her throat, trying to focus.

    “Yo, Linda, need me to kick his ass?”

    She leaps to her feet, screaming and dropping her phone - only to see Sans rounding the corner from behind her kitchen bar, looking alarmed at having scared her.

    Jesus, Sans, how did you -”

    “Shortcuts, Lin, try to keep up,” he says, relieved she isn’t hurt, “I’ll ask again, should I dunk him or what?”

    “No, god, don’t hurt him, that’ll just put you in jail, just -” she takes a deep, calming breath. “Ask, ask Toriel to call the police. And, Sans, if you could, please get my kids from school. Take them to Asgore’s. Robert doesn’t know where he lives.”

    “Is it cool if I ask Paps to do it? I have to be somewhere like ten minutes ago. Real important monster business,” he winces.

    “Yes, that’s fine - thank you , Sans,” she gasps.

    “WHO THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING TO IN THERE,” Robert roars through the door.

    “Alright, ‘m goin’,” The skeleton sighs. “But if Tori tells me he’s still here in twenty minutes, I’m coming back to dunk him.”

    He steps around the bar again, and is gone. Linda heaves a sigh, and redoubles her efforts on her phone. Before she realizes, she’s hearing the voice of a young man over the receiver.

    “911, what is your emergency…?”

 

~*~

 

    Rachel and Billy have never ridden in a convertible, before, especially not a bright red one with racing stripes down the middle, and definitely never one that’s being driven by a seven-foot-tall skeleton with sunglasses taped to his skull.

    Papyrus assures them they’re going to have a grand time at Asgore’s house, on account of all the TEA and BOOKS and LOVELY FLOWERS he keeps, not to mention the fact that he’s a big fuzzy pushover.

    Rachel asks how come they aren’t going home. Papyrus says it’s because Linda wanted them to go to Asgore’s.

    Billy asks why they don’t just go to Papyrus’s house. Papyrus, beginning to sweat, says that Asgore’s house is far cooler, for sure.

    Rachel gives Papyrus a dubious look through the rearview mirror. She says it’s because their dad is there, isn’t it. Papyrus doesn’t meet her eyes, but his brow-bones furrow, and his teeth grind lightly. The two teens exchange a look, and ride on in silence.

    In Papyrus’s defense, they forget to worry in the slightest when they’re greeted at the door of the cozy bungalow by a warm, fuzzy smile, and are invited inside for tea. Papyrus exchanges a look with the ex-king of monsters, who mouths a ‘thank you’ to the skeleton before heading back inside.

    Papyrus puffs out his chest, and nods to himself. All in a day’s work, for the great Papyrus.

 

~*~

 

    Alphys would have never expected the short, lazy skeleton to be much good with machines. After looking over her prototype plans for just a few moments, Sans is quick to point out where some improvements can be made, and suggest a few local areas to look for materials.

    They head out together to gather what they need. After the first shortcut throws her for a loop, she manages to find her footing for the next few. Following a visit to a few hardware and computer stores, a quick trip to the dump, and a pit-stop at Muffet’s, the two begin the walk to Alphys’s apartment to begin their work.

    “And you’re sure Undyne is ok with all this?” Sans asks again. It’s the second time he’s asked, since he first got to her place.

    “She, uh, doesn’t get it, but she figures if it helps Frisk, then i-it can’t be too bad.” Nevertheless, Alphys worries the handle of her shopping bag between her claws. “I… I gotta ask, though, Sans, how do you… know all this stuff?”

    He doesn’t answer right away, looking at her with something unreadable in his gaze. Eventually, he looks away, up at the first twinkling stars of the evening.

    “I’ve tried, before.” He says. “I failed. A lot. But I think this time can be different.”

    Alphys nods slowly. Maybe the two of them have more in common than she realized.



   

Chapter Text

~*~

 

    Undyne stands in her kitchen, stirring a cup of tea and watching the other two monsters in her living room. They’re building a machine of some kind - Alphys tried to explain it to her, but the details went over her head. Sounded like nerd business. Undyne has more or less left them to it, so far, but it’s been five days, and they’re still hard at work. She’s never seen Sans this focused on anything - especially not his guard work, back underground.

    “You sure you nerds don’t need help?” Undyne asks, before she can really help herself.

    Sans lifts his skull to smile tiredly at her. “Just fine-tuning some finishing touches. Should be wrapped up before tonight, unless something goes-”

    A spring flies across the room, nearly missing his skull. Alphys stares after it with a lost expression. Sans sighs.

    “That’ll put us back a couple hours, though.” He shrugs. “Can’t be helped. Thanks for the offer, though, Undyne.”

    “Y-yeah, babe,” Alphys shoots her a small, wobbly smile. “We… we got this!”

    “Alright, if you’re sure.” Undyne sighs, leaning against the counter to sip her tea. She watches the two of them get back to work. What was it they were working on, again? Some kind of… determining machine? But why would something like that need a big needle? Or a capsule?

    It looks daunting, to say the least. But she’s sure they have their reasons. Alphys said it was a favor for Frisk. Sans mentioned something about ‘finally getting it done.’ All Undyne knows is that it’s making a huge mess out of her living room, and an even bigger mess out of her girlfriend.

 

~*~

 

    It’s the first major gathering as the official representative of their group since school has started, and Frisk is just starting to realize just how tired they are, looking at their reflection in the mirror. The lack of sleep is causing their eyes to bag ever so slightly; between prepping speeches and gathering notes, and all the homework their teachers are piling on, not to mention the issue their grandfather is having… Frisk has been having a hard time getting the rest they need.

    They take a step back from the bathroom mirror and glance around themself. Relieved at realizing they’re alone in the public restroom at city hall, they take another moment to make sure their hair is settled properly and to smooth out their blazer. Deep within them, there’s another pulse, and a sharp chime in their head. They wince.

    They thought they weren’t planning to do that.

    They insist it’s only as a back-up.

    Sighing, Frisk shakes the tension from their shoulders and strolls out of the bathroom. They step into a swarm of mingling representatives from various social and economic interest groups, all wearing badges and name-tags designating who they represent. They smile and wave politely to everyone who acknowledges them; unfortunately, a lot of these older (mostly white) folks don’t understand their signs, so Frisk makes a beeline to where they’d left Shannon by the punch bowl.

    Shannon is standing with a cool, polite smile on her face among a group of older human folks. As Frisk catches her eye, they notice the tension in her jaw, and pick up their pace a little to catch up.

    “... Really, it’s a shock how it’s all gone as far as it has,” one woman says, her badge identifying herself as one Marion Gliddings, representative for a group Frisk remembers to stand for ‘conservative teachings in public schools.’ “Giving these things a voice in our proceedings is only the beginning of the end, and that’s my opinion.”

    Frisk immediately gains a taste of the flavor of the conversation, and finds they don’t care for it a bit. They lift their hands to sign, and Shannon sucks in a breath to begin speaking for them, but an older gentleman chimes in.

    “I can’t agree more, Marion,” says Erwin Caldwell of the local chapter of the NRA, “next thing we know, they’re going to want to be full-fledged citizens, and we can’t have that.”

    Frisk’s hands twitch, and then one curls into a fist and raises up.

    Ah-hem.

    All eyes are on them, and having just cleared their throat, they offer a polite - if not icy - smile to the folks gathered around, and begin to sign.

    “Foremost, Ambassador Frisk Dreemurr, here on behalf of the MONSTER coalition, hopes you all are having a wonderful evening,” Shannon translates, and a few of the representatives raise their eyebrows in surprise. “Secondly, they wish to ask what exactly your fears are, regarding the integration of Monsters into society.”

    Some looks are exchanged, before Erwin says, “I mean, y’all seen them, right? Big scary varmints, with all kinds of magic powers , I just know they’re gonna cause trouble.”

    Frisk’s hands are like lightning, but Shannon keeps up with them easily enough. “The only monster attack that’s happened within the last year was an isolated incident, and done in defense of the ambassador themself. Both parties involved in the altercation are now among the ambassador’s closest friends.” Frisk nods to punctuate their point, and Shannon goes on to ask, “Any other concerns?”

    “How do we know we can trust them?” Marion demands. “They all look so… alien and otherworldly. Sneaky. Awful.”

    “The ambassador would like to remind you that the Monsters were locked away so many millennia ago because humans started a war against them, and won.” Shannon does her best to vocalize the tactful amount of venom in Frisk’s body language. “According to all recorded history, Monsters did nothing to provoke this war.”

    A few uneasy glances are exchanged at this, and Frisk smiles a bit.

    “Mx. Dreemurr hopes you all enjoy the rest of your evening before the conference begins,” Shannon translates. “And asks that you direct any further questions to them, should you wish to learn more.”

    Frisk and Shannon settle in to roaming the floor and giving their due greetings and such. In one of the short lulls between introductions, Shannon nudges Frisk gently to get their attention.

    They look up at her, and she smiles encouragingly at them.

    “It’s the little steps that count, Frisk. You’re doing great work, here.”

    Frisk smiles back. ‘So are you. Don’t forget that.’

 

~*~

 

    A little green plant in a colorful pot sits on the windowsill across the street. Flowey can see it every day, from where he sits in his own windowsill. Occasionally, a human will pull back the curtain so they can water it, trim its dead leaves, or take it down for a minute, and bring it back with fresh dirt. Frisk does that for him, sometimes. He can understand - more or less - why they do it for him, he’s… well, alive , for lack of better words. He can move, talk, interact with them - that plant, the one across the street? It doesn’t even have a bloom, most of the time. It just sits there, soaking up the sun, and does nothing.

    Why, then, does that human take care of it so much?

    He watches them as closely as he can, whenever he gets the chance. Sometimes they leave the curtains open, and he can see just barely into what looks like their living room. They have a family, from what he can tell. Friends come over, sometimes. They have a life, and responsibilities, and a whole world to go out and see and explore. But no matter how long they’re gone, they come back to this singular, insignificant plant, and tend to its needs.

    Why?

    He cannot wrap his head around it. No matter how much he tries and tries to puzzle it together, he simply can’t.

    On this evening in particular, he’s feeling extra frustrated about it. His vines coil and squeeze around the little teddy bear in his pot, and he grinds his teeth together as he watches the human in their apartment, clipping out dead leaves. It’s hard to read their exact expression from this distance, but he can see them smiling. Why? What’s so entertaining about a little stupid plant?

    He sighs. He wants to forget about it and go back to staring at the raccoons down the alley, but he can’t. Not until he figures this out, or until the human goes away.

    Sure enough, they do turn away, but they leave the curtains open. He can just make out some moving boxes in the room beyond. The ground around them looks bare, where he had seen a couch and a rug before. He watches for a few minutes longer. Some humans are taking boxes out of the building, and loading them into a large truck.

    They’re… moving?

    He watches and watches, and all the while, the plant is still there on the windowsill. Still there. He can’t see any boxes in the room beyond, but the plant is still there. His vines tug on Beary’s corduroy arms. He wants to scream, to tell them, to point it out, why is it still there, why are they just --

    And then the human reappears in the window, and picks up the little green plant. They laugh to themself, and give the flowerpot a little kiss, before taking the plant with them. Flowey waits for a minute, before seeing the human exit the building at the street below, still holding the plant, and climb into the passenger seat of the big truck.

    He hadn’t been able to see it from the angle before, but the plant has a single yellow bud.

    He cranes his stem to watch the truck roll away down the street. He doesn’t know why, but he knows he’ll miss that strange human and their stupid plant.

 

~*~

 

    On the one paw, Asgore couldn’t be happier for the company. Linda is a wonderful houseguest, and her children are second only to Frisk in his eyes. On the other paw, however, he’s having a hard time coming to terms with all these… feelings he’s having.

    He’s sitting in his armchair, flipping through a newspaper and trying not to seem like he’s staring at her. She’s reclining on his sofa, sipping some tea and reading a book. She’s got on little reading glasses - not unlike Toriel’s, now that he thinks about it, but the similarities really stop there, for him. Her hair is tied back loosely, so a few strands are falling down around her face. She’s nearing her fifties, which is about middle-age for a human, as he recalls, and though her hair is naturally a fair blonde, he can just make out a few strands of grey nearer the temples.

    Humans don’t live forever, Asgore reminds himself, tearing his gaze back down to the newspaper as she glances up from her own reading. Even if he were to say something, what would that mean? If they could be happy for a time, it wouldn’t be like being with another boss monster, where they would only grow old if they had children together…

    “Asgore? Is something on your mind?”

    “Hm? Oh, it is nothing,” The horned monster smiles warmly at his human guest. “Nothing important.”

    “Is that so? Your newspaper is on fire.” Linda points at the thing in his grasp; sure enough, it’s burning to a crisp.

    “... Well! Would you look at that.” Asgore watches as the paper is burned to ash, and then claps his paws together to clear the flames. “It seems I have made a mess. Pardon me, Linda, while I fetch the broom.”

    He quickly excuses himself to the hallway, where he digs around in the hall closet for a time to find the broom. He finds that his paws are trembling a bit, which makes it hard to concentrate.

    “Hey, big guy, you okay?”

    He turns to his left, and finds Rachel standing there. Her capris are a little dirty from where she’s been helping out in the garden and - no doubt - wrestling with her brother in the backyard. She’s got brunette hair, trimmed into a messy pixie, a light dust of freckles over her nose and cheeks, and Linda’s eyes. “Seriously,” she asks again, looking concerned. “You’re looking a little red, there.”

    “Goodness,” Asgore blinks, coming back to himself. After a moment, he sighs. “I confess, I am a little… distressed, over a certain matter. You should not concern yourself with it, young one, you and your family are most welcome here.”

    Rachel grins, in a knowing sense. “Aww. You got a crush, don’t you, Mr. Big Fluffy Guy?”

    His eyes widen, and his ears twitch. “H - Whatever do you-”

    “Asgore, dude, please, I’m a teenager , it’s my job to know when someone’s into somebody else.” She laughs a little.

    Sighing, the boss monster shakes his head. “I… do not know what to do. I have not felt like this about someone since… my last marriage.”
    “You and Ms. Toriel.” Rachel nods. “Frisk mentioned that before. Didn’t go into details.”

    “That was kind of them.” Asgore says with a faint smile. “Our marriage ended because of something… foolhardy, on my part. Foolhardy, dangerous, and cowardly. I have accepted that Toriel has moved on, and I too have done so. However…” his words trail off, and he glances over his shoulder for a moment, before biting his lip. “I should not worry you with this, Rachel. It is of little concern to you.” He smiles softly, almost apologetically. “You were on your way to the kitchen, were you not? Help yourself to whatever you like.”

    “Thanks, Mr. Dreemurr.” Rachel pats his shoulder, and scoots past him to head down the hallway. “Oh, by the way?” She adds, in a lower voice, one that catches his attention. Once Asgore is looking at her again, she shrugs nonchalantly, and says, “Y’know, not that it’s my business, but if you were thinking of asking someone out, you should go for it.”

    Asgore balks, abashed, but Rachel scampers into the kitchen before he can try to stop her. Sighing, he manages to fish the broom and dustpan out of the closet. Armed with these, he makes his way back down the hallway toward his living room.

    He pauses just before entering, gripping the tools tightly in his paws, and lets out a slow breath. “You can do this, Asgore,” he mutters to himself, before stepping into the room.

    Linda looks up as he enters, and he nearly trips over his rug, distracted by her eyes. She laughs a little, and returns to her reading. Thoroughly embarrassed, Asgore hurries to sweep the remaining newspaper ash off his floor and chair before tossing it out. As he starts to bring the broom back to the closet, Linda speaks.

    “Asgore, there’s… something I’d like to talk to you about, if that’s all right.”

    “Yes, of course!” He nearly trips again, in his hurry to sit beside her. “What is the matter?”

    “Oh! It’s, nothing bad, of course,” Linda laughs, looking a little flustered. “Just.. something I’ve been thinking about.”

    A worried frown tugs at the corners . “We have been friends for some time, now, Linda, feel free to speak your mind.”

    Linda smiles, and there’s something warm behind it that Asgore had been thinking he was imagining, before. Now, he’s not so sure. “Would you… like to go out?”

    Asgore blinks slowly. “... Are you not comfortable inside?”

    “No, I mean,” she laughs, far more than a little flustered, now, “I mean, I think we’ve both been dancing around the issue for a bit, so let me just lay it out.” She sits upright, setting her book aside. “I… I’m not sure how much it has to do with the divorce being final, or everything that’s been going on, but when I’m with  you, Asgore, I feel… lighter. Safer. I feel like myself again, more and more, since we’ve been getting to know each other. And I… Find myself wanting to get closer to you.” She’s having a hard time meeting his gaze, and she looks very red in the face.

    It takes a moment for Asgore to form a response. “... I… can honestly say I feel the same, Linda.” She looks at him, and his words fail him a moment. “I… cannot promise I will be the best match for you, that is for you to decide, but… I can promise I will do my best to make you happy.”

    Linda smiles brightly. “You already do, Asgore. Does…” She gasps, starting to look a bit excited, “Does that make us an item, then?”

    Asgore opens his mouth, but Rachel hollers from the kitchen before he can. “OH MY GOD, YES, IT DOES,” she throws a balled-up napkin at Asgore, and it bounces off his horn. “Smooch already, you two!”
    “R-Rachel!” Linda cries, but Rachel has already scampered down the hallway into the backyard, cackling gleefully. Linda looks back at Asgore, mortified. “I’m, I’m sorry, I don’t know what-”

    “It is all right,” Asgore laughs softly, looking happier than ever. “It is most certainly all right.”

 

~*~

 

    Sans can’t say for sure when the last time was that he worked so hard on something, the last time he gave his full focus and attention to the task at hand. Not to say that he doesn’t remember a time where he did so - it just feels so far away that it could have never happened, and nobody would be any the wiser. Nevertheless, here he is, sitting on the floor of Alphys’s living room, staring down at the contraption they’ve put together.

    It’s compact, far more so than the sketches on her drafts would indicate her prototype was, with a design like a bestial skull that houses a kind of magically-infused series of syringes.

    “D… do you think it’ll work?” Alphys asks, her voice so small he’s not sure if he heard her.

    “It’s gotta, Alph.” Sans sets his jaw. “At this point, we should just need three things. Two magical samples…”

    Alphys looks at him, and nods shakily. “A-and some… d-d-Determination. Where are w-we going to get that?”

    “I may know a place.” Sans sighs, and though his smile is a tired one, there’s a bit of hope in the lights of his eye-sockets. “Thanks, Alphys, for working so hard on this. You have no idea how much it means.”

    “W-well, maybe I’ll find out.” She offers a bit of a hesitant smile. “Maybe we all will, y-yeah?”

    “Yeah.” Sans picks up the contraption, looks it over, and nods to himself. “Now, I gotta go have a talk with my brother. Do you need help here, or--?”

    “You g-go ahead, Sans. I got this.”

    They both stand, and Sans waves to her and Undyne, who’s been lurking in the doorway, empty teacup in hand. “Thanks, again, both of you. Here’s hoping for the best.”

    “No sweat, you lazy bastard.” Undyne chuckles softly. “Just use the door this--”

    “He’s a-a-already gone, Undyne,” Alphys notes.

    The fish monster heaves a sigh. “Right. Course he is…”

    The two settle into cleaning up the living room. Alphys absorbs herself in the act of collecting notes and files and getting it all out of sight. Undyne tries her hardest not to ask questions, but eventually curiosity gets the better of her.

    “... Hey, Alphys, what’re these weird doodles Sans was drawing on your plans, here?” She holds up a set of blueprints and points out a series of odd glyphs.

    Alphys looks at the markings for a moment, and then blinks. “... Y-you know, I assumed it was, you, you know, s-something he does when he’s th-thinking, but n-now that I’m looking at it, it l-looks like handwriting.”

    “Weird.” Undyne shrugs, and stuffs the papers in a folder.

 

~*~

 

    Most folks leave after the gala ends officially, taking the customary five minutes to shake hands with state and local government representatives before leaving, but Frisk hangs back as long as they can. They smile and wave politely to those who go before them, but they never stop watching the Mayor’s table. They have a goal in mind, after all, and no amount of fatigue or familial drama is going to make them forget.

    Shannon puts a hand on their shoulder, and they look up at her. “I’m ready when you are, Ambassador,” she says, giving them a small, determined smile.

    Frisk smiles back at her, nods, and takes a step forward. The hall is fairly empty, and the caterers are beginning to pack up the food and drink. This is as good a time as any.

    As they approach the table, the mayor looks up from the terse, polite conversation she’s been having with the state representatives, and she blinks in Frisk’s direction. She looks tired, like she’s had just as long a day as Frisk has had. Perhaps longer. Nonetheless, she smiles. “Ah, Ambassador, I was hoping you would make it tonight. I hope you found everything to your liking.”

    Frisk signs, and Shannon translates, “It was a lovely evening, Mayor, we both thank you for the invitation.”

    “But of course.” The mayor sits back in her chair, smiling all the more. “I’m glad to hear you’ve enjoyed yourselves. But that look in your eye tells me you aren’t just here for pleasantries, Mx. Dreemurr.”

    Shannon looks a bit surprised, and the Mayor smiles. “I’ve been doing my research, lately, and before you make your statements, Ambassador Dreemurr, there’s something I must say.”

    Frisk nods gently, and the Mayor goes on. “I recognize that my fellows - and myself, for the matter - have been less than welcoming to you in the past. For that, I deeply apologize. Some of the points you have made in past hearings struck a nerve with me, and have prompted me to open my eyes. I understand the struggle you and your constituents face, and though I cannot make any promises, I trust you may find less resistance in future proceedings.”

    Frisk smiles, and signs a sincere ‘thank you.’ It’s a start. A step in the right direction.

 

~*~

 

    There’s a kind of vibrant tension in the air between them as Asgore and Linda make their way to Muffet’s bakery in the late evening. Not a lot of other places are open around this time of night, and not a lot of other places would be so… accepting of the new circumstances surrounding the duo.

    Asgore holds the door open for Linda, who smiles as she walks past him into the establishment. The bell over the door jingles lightly, and the spider monster behind the counter turns her multi-eyed gaze to the two of them.

    “Uhuhuhu, if it isn’t my favorite customers!” Muffet croons, a fanged smile brightening her many, many eyes. “Will it be the usual, tonight?”

    “On the contrary, Muffet,” Asgore says, unable to contain his own smile, “tonight is something special. A pitcher of cider, if you could, and two spiced cakes, one for here, one to go.”

    Muffet’s grin only widens. “Cakes? I will have those ready in a wink, dearies.”

    Asgore hands over the money, and with a pitcher and two glasses in hand, the two of them make their way to their usual seat - one in the corner, by the window overlooking the street outside.

    The boss monster pours his companion a tall glass of cider before pouring his own, but before he can take a sip, Linda catches his eye and raises her glass.

    “As you can imagine,” she says, by way of starting things off right, “I’m a little rusty at this whole… ‘dating’ thing, and I imagine you’re in the same boat. That being said… here’s to us, and to this exciting new venture we’re on.”

    Asgore smiles warmly, and raises his own glass. “Hear, hear.”

    Their glasses clink together under the purplish bakery lights, and their evening begins with a hearty sip.

    Half a cake, six glasses of cider, and an hour later, they’re driving back to Asgore’s house, two to-go boxes in hand and looking happier than either of them have felt for ages. While waiting at a red light, Asgore lets his right arm rest against the middle console. A small warmth on the back of his paw directs his attention down to it, and he sees Linda has rested her hand there, and is absently stroking his fur while she stares out the window. Asgore smiles to himself, and lets his paw rest there for the remainder of the ride.

 

~*~

 

    Frisk returns home late that night, tired, but smiling. They hang their keys on the hook by the door, and start to head to their room, when a cough directs their attention to the living room.

    Papyrus, Sans, and Toriel are all waiting for them, with varying degrees of anxiety and resolve all over their faces. Sans stands up - which doesn’t make him much taller than he was while sitting - and pulls something out of his hoodie pocket.

    A chill runs up Frisk’s spine as they’re reminded of the extraction machine from Alphys’s true lab, back underground. This one is much smaller, and has three syringes - the two on the sides are swirling with glowing energy - one blue, like the flash in Sans’s eye, one orange, like the sparkles in Papyrus’s; the syringe in the middle is empty.

    “... We did our part,” Sans says. “Me and Alphys worked our tailbones off to get this ready, and then, well… It took a little convincing, but I got Papyrus to add some of his magic in.”

    “I STILL DON’T SEE WHAT ALL THIS IS ABOUT,” Papyrus interjects, gripping his knees in worry.

    “I’m sure Sans and Frisk know what they are doing,” Toriel assures him with a smile, but the way her ears are tucked back betray her own doubts.

    Frisk nods, and walks around the couch toward their dunkle. ‘What do I need to do?’

    “First,” Sans holds out his left hand, a bit hesitant, “We need to bring out your Soul. What we need is… in it.”

    Toriel gasps slightly. “S-Sans! You did not say you would -”

    “I won’t hurt them, T,” He turns to her. “I made you a promise, didn’t I, all that time ago?”

    Biting her lip, the boss monster nods, and shifts nervously in her seat.

    Sans turns back to Frisk, and they nod. He makes the slightest pulling motion with his left hand, and a bright red cartoonish heart tugs out of their chest. A shimmering field of crimson energy covers their form, pulsing softly with their heartbeat.

    For a moment, it occurs to Frisk that this is the only time they have seen their Soul since they left the underground. The sensation is familiar, but unsettling.

    Sans steps forward and raises the device, pointing the center needle toward Frisk’s Soul. “Frisk, I need you to focus,” he says, eye-lights glued on the pulsing red heart. “I want you to think about your friends, your family, everything you fight so hard to help, to protect,” He looks Frisk in the eyes for a moment, “to Save.”

    The human nods, and takes a deep breath. They think about Sans, and how hard he fought when the world was in danger. They think about Papyrus, and Mettaton, and Alphys and Undyne. They think about Toriel, and Kid, and Ricky, Rachel, and Billy, and Asgore. They think about how they know so many more sides of their friends than those friends could ever realize. They think about all the people and monsters they haven’t even met, and how one day, they can live their lives in peace, if they just keep working hard, if they just keep trying…

    … If they just stay determined.

    They feel a spark deep within their chest, and for a moment, everything in the room is bright.

 

~*~

 

    … Well, it looks like this is it. All these decades at the whims of fate, and here’s where it comes to a head.

    Don’t get it twisted, friend. These past few years with you have been… monumental. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. … What, this? This isn’t trading. Not really.

    I know you don’t want to be alone, but you can’t lie to me, bud. You’re a terrible liar. And I also know for a fact that you would do the same.

    … Frisk. Can you do something for your old dead friend?

    Tell Asriel I love him, and that I should have been a better sibling. And take good care of everyone for me. Be the savior I failed to be.

 

~*~

 

    Frisk blinks rapidly, and finds their face is wet with hot tears. For a moment, they feel lost - empty, cold… Alone.

    They clutch at their chest; their Soul is back in their body, and they try to reach back, instinctively, to go back to when they could feel them with them again. They reach out…

    … But nothing happens.

    Biting their cheek, they straighten themself, and wipe their eyes with long sleeves. They take deep breaths to calm themself, but the gravity of what’s just happened begins to settle in, and they find they just can’t stop .

    “Young one…”

    That garbled, rattling voice roots them to the present, and they look up to see their Grandpa G, barely visible even to them, shifting and twitching in place, looking very tired. “Please… the device…”

    They look over to Sans, standing beside them and looking concerned. In his hands is the contraption with the three syringes, one blue, one orange… and one a bright, fierce red. Swallowing past the lump in their throat, Frisk holds out a hand for it. Sans hands the device over, and Frisk steps toward their grandfather.

    They feel his cold, bony hands rest on their head as they come within reach, but they can barely see him at all. They reach out with their left hand, and feel their fingers sink into the buzzing, molten mess of his body; using this as an anchoring point, they take aim, and jab the device forward, pulling the trigger.

    There’s a blinding swirl of magic in the middle of the living room. Dust, light, and color dance in the air, pulling a mass of something toward its core, building out from there, until a form can be made out, a body, tall and lean, with a rounded head and a crooked smile.

    As suddenly as they appeared, the lights are gone, leaving in their wake a figure. He stands just a touch taller than Papyrus, with two hollow eye-sockets bearing slender cracks around his skull, causing the gape of his mouth to favor one side. He’s wearing a long, dark coat over a button-up shirt and grey slacks. Shakily, he raises two bony hands, hands bearing hollow palms, and flexes his phalanges, looking his hands over in wonder.

    A single light appears in his less-damaged eye-socket, and he lifts his head to look around the room in wonder. The more he takes in, the more wobbly his smile becomes. He looks at Toriel, and gasps softly in delight. He looks at Papyrus, and clasps his phalanges to his mouth to bite back a strangled sob. He turns at last to Sans and Frisk, and violet tears are pooling in the corners of his eye-sockets.

    ‘Thank you,’ he signs emphatically, before falling forward to his knees and wrapping the both of them in a desperate embrace. “Thank you both,” he wheezes, his voice frail and trembling, “for this second chance.”

    Frisk returns his embrace with one of their own. After a moment, they pull gently away from him, and get the attention of Papyrus and Toriel.

    ‘I want you guys to meet Grandpa G. He’s been lost for a long time, but now… we brought him back.’

    “Grandpa?” Toriel blinks, bewildered, but Papyrus is quicker on the uptake.

    “SANS! IF THIS IS FRISK’S GRANDPA, DOES THAT MEAN, THAT THEY ARE PART MONSTER?” He’s eyeing them suspiciously.

    “Naw, Paps, this,” Sans laughs, pulling away from his father to redirect his brother’s attention, “This is our dad. Gaster. W.D. Gaster.”

    Papyrus stares at the tall skeleton monster on the floor for a moment. “We…” his voice is much softer, when he speaks. “... We have a father?”

    Gaster nods, and begins to sign. ‘As Frisk said, I have been lost for a long time. I do not expect anyone to remember me right away. The circumstances of my disappearances are… Many. There were many circumstances. And many repercussions. Some of which being memories.’ He winces a bit. ‘I hope you all will -’

    Papyrus throws his hands in the air, his eyes alight with sparkles. “CIRCUMSTANCES, SCHMIRKUMSTANCES!! I HAVE A FATHER!”

    Before anyone can stop him, he has leaped out of his chair and wrapped his arms tightly around the newly-reconstituted Gaster in a hug that will rival all other hugs to be had.

 

~*~

 

    Flowey listens to the commotion in the living room from hs perch on Frisk’s windowsill. He’s remotely curious to see what’s happening, but not enough to make a fuss out of being left out. Again.

    He looks down at the corduroy bear in his pot beside him. It’s small, and it’s starting to get a bit dirty, but it’s his, and they got it for him. He knows they did. Remembering that helps, if only just a little.

    The door to Frisk’s room opens, and he swivels around in place so he can watch the human come in. “Howdy,” he says, grinning all-too-sweetly, “My, don’t you look awful!”

    Frisk pauses mid-step, and looks him in the eye. Something about their eyes is… different. They’re less red. More… maroon. Almost dark brown.

    ‘They loved you a lot, you know,’ Frisk signs, sighing and taking a seat on the edge of their bed.

    “What.” Flowey spits the word, looking disgusted. “What the hell are you-”

    Frisk ignores him, and keeps signing. ‘Time and time again, whenever we went through the same old song and game, they would ask me to let you go. Even when they were angry with you, they would ask me not to finish you off. And you know something? It was hard to listen to them. After everything you’d done, it was hard to forgive you.’

    Flowey is quiet, now, reading their signs with a neutral expression.

    ‘But I did. I had a lot of time to think about things, down there. And so… I guess I decided even you were worth Saving. That everyone is. That’s why I tried to save them, too.’

    “Frisk…” Flowey’s voice is small, and a tiny fang peeks from under his lip. “Frisk, what are you saying?”

    Frisk looks at him, and sighs. A few tears are streaming down their cheeks. ‘... They’re gone. And they wanted me to tell you… that they love you, Asriel. And that they wanted to be a better sibling to you.’

    Flowey blinks, and then a snarl curls his lip. “... You… You’re playing tricks on me. Who’s gone? Who’s gone, Frisk?

    Frisk takes a deep breath to steady their hands. They sign slowly. ‘C-H-A-R-A loved you so much. You, and Mom, and Dad, too. Everyone. They… they just wanted to make things right.’

    Flowey stiffens, and slowly turns to stare out the window in silence. Behind him, Frisk crawls into bed and curls under the blanket. Now and again, Flowey can hear them sob softly into their pillow.

    He stares at the empty window across the street. He thinks… maybe he understands. Maybe.

 

~*~

 

    It’s nearly noon before Frisk wakes up the next morning, having slept through all of their alarms. On the desk beside them, they find a slice of butterscotch-cinnamon pie with a note in Toriel’s handwriting, telling them not to worry about school for the day, that she called in already ahead of them. Flowey isn’t in the room, anymore. They can hear the sound of conversation out in the living room. As they sit up, they notice a cup of tea sitting beside the slice of pie, freshly brewed, with a dash of sugar, just as they like it.

    The warm and familiar taste of home-cooked treats made by their family fills them with determination.

    After breakfast, Frisk gets up and steps out of their room, heading out to face a new day. They help Papyrus make pancakes. They trade jokes with Sans. They gossip with Toriel about Asgore’s new relationship status update on Undernet (and add a like to Alphys’s comment, which is keysmashing and screaming to know who it is). They thank their grandfather for the tea, and settle on the couch near the living room window to catch up with Flowey.

    He looks up as they sit down, and offers one of his usual sardonic smiles. “Well, good morning, sleepyhead. Did the bitty baby get their shut-eye?”

    Frisk rolls their eyes a bit. ‘Glad to see you’re in good spirits.’

    “Whatever.” Flowey rolls his own eyes and looks back out the window.

    Frisk chuckles, and takes a moment to relax and enjoy the morning calm. Presently, they turn on their phone, and pull up a new text to Kid.

    Hey Kid, how about let's plan how to save the world, tonight after school?

    Kid’s reply is punctual: I’ll bring the squad. Expect us at five.

    Frisk smiles to themself, and sends a thumbs-up emoji.

After everything, they’re still them.

Chapter Text

~*~

 

It was a beautiful day. 

Birds were singing, flowers were blooming.
On this day in particular, they had stepped into the flower-field beyond the throne room, dimly lit by phantom lights that filtered in from distant cracks in the cavern ceiling. It smelled of pollen and dust.

A large figure with white horns and a great, violet cape knelt in the field before them. He spoke with a soft voice, full of sorrow and regret, and wistfully wished he could ask them for tea...

 

Frisk awakens slowly, distantly aware of the news playing on the living room TV. They grumble. Coffee, first. Then news. Sure would be nice if their roommates would remember that.  A glance at the clock on their nightstand informs them it’s nearly noon. Seems they’ve missed coffee, already. Shame.

As so many mornings before now, they turn to wave hello to the plant in their windowsill, only to remember it’s not the same one. That’s right. Flowey stayed home, with Mom. They’d made sure to get a completely different plant to avoid this exact situation - a stout little cactus, with a bright red blossom. Something about the little thing reminded them of someone they used to know, someone they still miss, in spite of everything.

A fresh tunic, some clean leggings, a cursory tousle of the thick, bedhead curls, and Frisk braves the apartment beyond their bedroom door. Their room is smaller than the one at their mom’s place had been, and the hallway is shorter, leading to a heightened sense of awareness as to what’s going on in the rest of the apartment. Frisk has learned a lot about their roommates during their college years - perhaps more than they’d hoped to ever know - just from the sounds alone. 

They stumble down the stunted hallway, past two other bedroom doors, and knock on the living room wall to announce their arrival. Two faces turn to greet them from the couch - Rachel and Ricky.
“Frisk! You’re up!” Rachel cries, pointing wildly at the TV. Her hair is even shorter now, buzzed into a fierce undercut with lightning stripes on the sides. “You’re about to miss the big moment!”
“Yeah, you forget it was today, or something?” Ricky waves Frisk over to sit with the two of them. He remains tall and solid - like a ‘brick shithouse,’ according to Rachel’s brother - though he’s traded the whole letterman-jacket look for a more laid-back sweater-vest and button-up vibe; he’ll ditch the jeans when he’s dead, though. “C’mon, it’s about to start.”

The big moment! Today? Frisk hurries to sit on the floor between their friends, still short and compact enough to squeeze between the sofa and the coffee table with little issue. They drum their hands on the table, both from excitement and from nerves.

The news anchors drone on. “... Thank you, Terri, for a wonderful weather report. Now, for the big story of the week - Monsters. For nearly fifteen years, they’ve lived alongside us in relative peace, despite tensions between us and them. A local Monster-rights advocate group - fittingly called MONSTER - has been lobbying for years to further the integration of these supernatural beings into our society.”

Frisk pouts.
“Lotta choice words out of ol’ Lou today, eh, guys?” Rachel scoffs.

“Eh, he’ll clam up sooner or later.” Ricky shrugs. “He’s all talk, anyhow.”

The news continues. “As things would have it, the local elections last week caused some deal of controversy, namely due to one issue on the ballot - the amendment to our local constitution that would allow Monsters the rights to vote as everyone else. Well, folks, we have the results in for you today, and as it stands, we have the numbers up on the screen for you… right now.”

The three humans collectively suck in a breath, eyes wide in anticipation. So many long years of their youths, so many countless days and hours of dedication, all culminating in this very moment.

Not for the first time, Frisk misses that bright pulse in their chest before moments like these.

 

~*~

 

In some ways, over the last few years, Toriel’s home has been quieter. In other ways entirely, it has been just as noisy. Either way, she can’t complain. 

Gaster - or Pops, as the boys call him - has proved an interesting addition to the household. He’s usually awake before anyone else, and always has a pot of tea or coffee ready by the time Toriel gets out of bed. His reintroduction to… existence … had been tentative at first, but as time went on, Toriel found that she got along surprisingly well with him. She’s also found that she had increasingly more memories of him having existed before as time went on, until at present, she feels more like she’s catching up with an old friend than making a new one.

Papyrus has reinstated himself as the life of the household. When he’s not out with Mettaton or at work, he’s always insisting on helping in the kitchen, or regaling everyone who will listen with his tales of heroism for the common folk. Toriel is actually quite proud of him, lately - he’s begun taking a more active role in Frisk’s organization, MONSTER. He works as a liaison for cultural sensitivity, which he is almost surprisingly effective at.

Sans, no longer bound by PTA duty, spends a considerable amount of time working odd jobs around town. There are days where he comes home smelling of hot dog grease and stale ketchup, and days where he comes home in the dead of the night - but he always pays his portion of rent on time, and even makes time to take her out on the town when he has extra. 

Even Flowey, who - for some reason - insisted on staying behind when Frisk moved out, has become a more welcome member of the household. When he’s not taking pot-shots at Sans or trash talking Gaster unprovoked (which is rarely), Toriel often finds him doing the strangest things. She caught him putting away the silverware one day, unprompted, and has since witnessed other small miracles, like him tending the other plants around the house, with the help of his vines - which have decidedly grown stronger over the years. Toriel knows he would be insufferable if she said anything about it, so she lets him have his secret. 

There are some nights, when she’s had a hard time getting to sleep, or when she wakes up from a bad dream, where she finds a glass of water on the nightstand, filled nearly to the brim and fit to spill. She always chalks it up to having forgotten about it earlier. Every time she sees it, however, she finds herself simultaneously comforted and heartsick. 

All in all, however, Toriel can’t complain about her homelife. Her family is strange, but it’s hers all the same.

 

~*~

 

Across town, a rugged SUV pulls into the parking lot of a fine restaurant. There’s mud on the tires and splattered over the doors. A passing human couple observe the vehicle with poorly-veiled disdain; when the drivers-side door flies open with a mighty kick, they yelp and rush inside in a hurry.

Undyne steps out of the driver’s seat, adjusting her studded leather jackets and tossing her hair from her face. Her good eye quickly scans the scene, as if for any imminent threats, before she jogs to the other side of the car to open the door.
“C’mon out, babe!” she calls sweetly. 

“I…” Alphys’s strangled voice squeaks from within the vehicle, “I d-d-d-don’t think this is all so n-necessary…”

“Alph, hon,” Undyne blinks, looking concerned. “If… you’re worried about the place, we can cancel, I-”

“NO!” Alphys squawks, startling her companion. “N-no, you went to all this trouble, it’s f-fine! I…. I can do this!”

“You sure?” Undyne sounds hopeful, but hesitant.

“Y-yeah! Its, what, a bunch of humans in there?” There’s the sound of ruffling skirts. “I… I’ve seen humans! Plenty! Yeah, babe, I got this!”

Undyne beams. “Damn RIGHT you do!” She stands outside the door and offers an arm.

Alphys steps out and takes Undyne’s arm. She’s wearing a mermaid-style sleeveless black dress, with silvery glitter around the bottom ruffle, and a black-sequin handbag to match. She adjusts herself as she stands, face blaring crimson. “I… uh, I look okay, right?”

Undyne beams at her. “Alphys… you are single handedly the sexiest monster I have ever laid eyes on.”

Alphys raises a cheeky grin at the taller monster. “S-sexier than Aaron?”

“Aaron? Gross.” Undyne pulls a face. “Ugh. Don’t. No, just. No. Ugh.”

“Haha!” Alphys beams in turn, snapping a photo on her phone. “Gotcha!”

How did you-” Undyne starts, but begins to laugh instead. “Damn. Gotta stay on my toes, with you. Keepin me SHARP!” She guffaws.

The two of them head in, after locking up Undyne’s massive vehicle. It takes only a moment to get seated - the couple from before seem surprised that Undyne and Alphys already had a reservation. Alphys waves meekly to them as she and her date walk off to have a seat.

They are seated at a table that is perhaps too small for them, but, unfortunately, remains the only one available. So, they sit, in tiny chairs at a tiny table, separated by a tiny candle. Alphys buries her face in the menu, very clearly using it to hide. Surprisingly, Undyne has herself similarly hidden behind her menu. 

A few moments pass in tense quiet as they attempt to select their meals. The server returns after awhile, and they place their orders, as if trying to do so as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, this leaves the both of them without the security of their menus. A minute or so of having little else to distract them from each other seems to ease them back into it.

“God damn , this table sucks,” Undyne chuckles, adjusting her seat. “How do humans deal with this?”

“None of them r-really have legs like you do,” Alphys offers, fidgeting with her claws. “M-maybe it's not a problem?”

Undyne snorts lightly. “Hah! Yeah, gams like these tend to cause trouble, huh?”

Alphys waggles her eyebrows, in a moment of boldness. “Certainly do for me.”

“Alph!” Undyne laughs, blushing a bit. “The nerve on you!”

“Ha!” Alphys laughs a bit as well, though the sudden blush on her face is far stronger. “Sorry! Those l-leather pants are great on you, is all.”

“Glad you think so.” Undyne flashes her a toothy grin, and offers her hand across the table.

Alphys takes it, and the two sit for a minute in more companionable silence.

Eventually, Alphys breaks it. “Y-y’know, no matter what happens with you-know-what today--”
“Hey,” Undyne warns her, “No heavy stuff, we promised!”

“I-I know! I’m not, just.” She takes Undyne’s hand in both of hers, effectively silencing her. “I just wanted to say, no matter what happens, I’m… really happy. With you. With everything, right now. These last few years have made me feel so… unbelievably happy.”

“If I didn’t know better,” Undyne grins wolfishly, “I’d say this is starting to sound like a proposal.”

Alphys blinks. “Undyne… we’ve been married for three years.”

“I know!!” Undyne beams. “I was just remembering how you popped the question. It was so cold out, rain just pouring, and you got locked out of the apartment.”
“Oh god,” Alphys buries her scarlet face behind her claws.

“Nobody else was home in the whole building, and you were stuck out there for almost an hour before I got home, with your phone out of battery and no way to contact me. I pulled up just in time to see you huddled up by the door.” Undyne grins all the more. “And then you just - launched yourself at me! I think I still got a scar on my leg from your cold little claws.”

“S-sorry,” Alphys mumbles, but her apology is lost in Undyne’s recollection.

“You were bawling, just… so relieved. You said - Undyne -” her impression of Alphys isn’t great; it’s just making her own raspy voice even raspier, “- Undyne, god, please marry me! ” She laughs. “The rest, well. You know the rest.”

Alphys, in spite of her embarrassment, is smiling brightly through her claws. “Thanks for waiting till summer for the big day.”
“You kidding? I wanted to see your scales in the sunlight, you nerd.” Undyne flashes a winning smile at her wife. “It’s the most beautiful sight in the world.”

“Aw, you!” Alphys laughs.

The duo share a lovely meal at the fanciest restaurant in town, oblivious to the stares they attract from the humans around them. For tonight, at least, they’re the only things that matter to each other.

 

~*~

 

The door closes, and Linda watches from the window as her son, Billy, hops on his bike and heads off down the street, back to his apartment. The ache in her chest is a familiar one, but one that’s lost its bitter edge over time. A warmth on her back consoles her gently.

“How does the saying go,” Asgore hums, “parting is such sweet sorrow?”

“That’s for romantics, dear, but yes.” Linda chuckles in spite of herself. “It’s nice of him to visit so often. If Rachel weren’t so busy, I’m sure she would, too.”

“I have to say, I wish he would bring Frisk along more,” Asgore sighs. “But that is not to say I am not happy to see him. Golly, he sure talked up a storm about that gymnastics tournament, didn’t he?”

“He did.” Linda smiles all the more, and turns to face Asgore. “I’m so happy he’s decided to keep going with it.” Her smile falters after a moment. “I just… wish I would have supported him more when he was younger. He and his sister, both.”

“Now, now,” Asgore tucks his paw under her chin, lightly nudging her to lift her gaze to his. “None of that. You cannot live your life in regrets. All we can do as parents - as people - is to learn from our mistakes, and better ourselves.”

Linda considers his words for a moment, and then smiles again. “... You know, sometimes I forget you were a politician.”

Asgore winces, ears tucking back. “Sometimes, I would like to forget.”

“Sorry, dear.” Linda stands on her tiptoes to peck a kiss to his muzzle. He blushes lightly in response. “If it means anything, you might be referring to yourself as a small business owner, instead.”

His ears perk up. “I take it negotiations with the… ah, real-taurs went well?”

“Realtors, honey. And yes!” Linda steps around him, to retrieve her phone. “I’m just waiting on their email, at this point.”

“Oh, golly,” Asgore gently claps his massive paws together. “I have always wanted to sell flowers! I just hope folks will not be too afraid of me to come shopping…”

“Nonsense, darling. You’re a big fluffy pushover.”

“Hey!”

“Kidding, Gorey.” Linda crosses the room to him, and hugs him. Her arms can just barely wrap around his massive torso. His fur is so warm as he returns her hug, she could fall asleep in his arms.

“Linda? Sweetheart…?”

His voice is lost to her swirling dreams. The last conscious thought she has is that she feels like she’s floating as he carries her off to nap.

 

~*~

 

Kid - in no small terms - isn’t a kid anymore. Striped shirts and bows on their spines have left them behind years ago, but one thing they never quite outgrew is their extravagant fashion sense. Clawed toes can’t keep them from enjoying lime green leg warmers (that match their magic hands perfectly), and they find that a sky-blue sundress pairs brilliantly with their white hotpants. Their tail swings gently behind them as they walk home from the corner store down the street, carrying a big plastic tub of freshly-purchased Nice Cream in one of their conjured hands. 

The Nice Cream is multipurpose, they figure; if things go their way with the recent election, they and the others can celebrate with it. Otherwise…

They don’t want to think about what happens, otherwise.

A cursory glance at their phone - pulled from their pocket by another conjured hand - informs them it’s a little after noon. 

“Dang it,” they mutter. They missed the announcement.

Regardless, they put on a burst of speed, jogging to the apartment building. They dodge around a rabbit monster out walking her little brother - “Sorry, yo!” - and make a dash for the elevator. 

Waiting on the elevator is painstaking. Times like these, they wish they had Sans’ knack for shortcuts. 

 

~*~

 

Word spreads like wildfire in a small town like Ebott. The effect of the news was like a shockwave, rolling through the city from each household who witnessed it live.

Grillby’s diner was practically destroyed from the riotous celebrations. Monsters cried and hugged each other, human friends and companions sharing the moment with smiles to match the occasion. Muffet sent her spiders all over town, carrying cakes and cider to anyone who wanted some, forgoing the usual prices. Linda’s phone blows up on the nightstand with texts from Helen, sending some good-natured if poorly-worded congratulations toward their kids. Undyne upends the table she and Alphys are sitting at in their fancy restaurant and hugs her wife fiercely. Mettaton kicks open the door to Toriel’s apartment (quickly promising to pay for any damages) and sweeps up Papyrus in a frenzied embrace. Sans turns to Toriel, for once, at a total loss for words. They, too, embrace. Gaster watches from the dining room, his wobbly smile threatening to melt all over again. Asgore calls Toriel’s phone, and for once, she answers without a hint of animosity. 

Flowey watches all this go down, and gazes out the window.
“Guess… one of you could keep your word, huh?” He smiles in spite of himself, all soft eyes and fanged snout.

 

~*~

 

Frisk stands in the middle of their shared apartment, with their friends all around, holding a bowl of Nice Cream. Ricky and Billy are doing some kind of dance around each other, while Rachel has Kid in an absolute monster of a bearhug. Frisk can only stand and smile as tears pool in the corners of their eyes.

Five years. It took them five years of grueling work to get the amendment passed, but they did it. Monsters in Ebott can now vote in local elections, and be counted as proper citizens. Deep down, they know this is only the tip of the iceberg - there’s so much more work to do, so many more battles to win… but for now, it’s a victory well worth celebrating.

Thirteen years ago, Frisk broke the cycle of pain that kept an entire nation of people sealed away in the dark. Even then, as is the case now, Frisk didn’t do it alone. They had friends - folks they met all along the way, enemies turned allies, lost souls given a second chance - who helped them carve the path forward for a new era, even as small as it is. 

Seeing their peers gathered together, dancing and cheering in their living room… thinking of all the others gathered in their homes and on the streets, dancing and singing and celebrating this one push forward…

Seeing it all start to come together fills them with Determination.






























~*~



A lost whisper breaks through the din, almost too quiet to hear.

Hey, pal. I hope you didn’t miss me too much.

Easy, easy, you big softie! I know, I know. I’ve been here the whole time.That whole deal with Gramps just… took a lot out of me, y’know?

… What, like I’d just let you have all the fun without me? As if.

… all jokes aside…

I’m… proud of you. Of the person you’ve become. Certainly put me to shame in any light, yeah?

Not a bad thing. Don’t start on me. 

… Thanks, Frisk. For doing what I couldn’t. You’re gonna keep being amazing, I know it.

After all… it’s you, isn’t it?