Well, so much for a day trip. We’d been on the surface for nearly a year now and having never actually been to New York, I’d felt like I’d go see what it was like. I couldn’t teleport that far so I took the bus. I could have asked Papyrus to drive me, I guess, and watching his amazement at every little thing might have improved my mood. Honestly I was frustrated, about a lot of things. Being tired didn’t help. I didn’t sleep very well to begin with and I kept having these recurring nightmares. I knew Frisk was a good kid, at least now he was, and maybe he’d always been and I was just imagining it, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that there might be some truth to the dreams I had about fighting him.
The dreams and lack of sleep weren’t the only thing bothering me, but being so tired probably caused the nap that made me miss my stop. The bus stopped running around two in the morning, so now I was stuck in a strange town somewhere between New York and Washington. The humans had brought us all to the capital of this country until they sorted things out and most of us had just decided to stay there. That was another reason I’d wanted to take a trip somewhere for a day; basically the entire Underground and Frisk all lived nearby and I just needed to get away from them for a bit right now.
Toriel and Asgore had gotten back together, half the royal guard were now dating each other, and Undyne and Alphys barely left each other’s side. I mean, it was great that they were all happy, it just got frustrating. It didn’t help that most people who didn’t know me too well just assumed I was a kid. That got to me at the best of times, I wasn’t really glad I was short and being treated like a child annoyed me more than a little. I knew that most of the time it was an honest mistake, especially now, but still. Papyrus was the only one I didn’t mind treating me like a kid. He liked feeling responsible.
Heck, now that it had been a year, pretty much every monster had someone they were involved with. With the barrier gone, even the people who hadn’t found any monsters they liked had gotten with somebody. Jerry met some human online and moved far away to be with them (prompting a massive party as soon as everyone could be sure he was really gone.) Tsunderplane kept circling the local airport, “not that it wanted to land, or anything.” Mettaton was Mettaton; he had his fans and didn’t seem interested in actually getting with any of them. Even my brother had started very tentatively looking for a girlfriend, not that I expected him to move very fast. That pretty much left just me and Burgerpants. And Burgerpants sort of scared me even if I had been interested. The face was not meant to have that range of expression.
And even if I found someone, there was the simple fact that I was a skeleton. I was fine with being a skeleton, of course, but there were a few problems that caused.
Going on a day trip wouldn’t fix that, I’d just hoped that maybe being away from all the couples for a bit might help me to be less preoccupied about it. Instead, I’d spent almost the whole day distracted by my thoughts, fallen asleep on the bus, and now I was stuck in an unfamiliar town with no place to stay and no way of getting home until morning. I’d had enough money to buy a ticket back to Washington on the first bus in the morning, but not for that and a hotel. It wasn’t the end of the world, I’d figure something out, it just wasn’t great. I didn’t have my phone either, I’d been so distracted that I’d forgotten it when I’d left this morning and hadn’t really thought that was a big deal until now. Papyrus would be worried and he’d probably be very cranky tomorrow, but there wasn’t really any way I could change that. He’d gotten a new phone recently, we both had, and I didn’t know the numbers yet, even if I had asked someone to call. I couldn’t teleport home for here either, I didn’t know the area well enough to manage that.
It was December, and whatever town this was, there was snow, although I was still dressed for the cold and not having any skin, it didn’t bother me much. Actually, it was pretty. Most of the monsters were surprised by how similar the holiday of Christmas was to our own little tradition in Snowdin, but I’d known about that before we’d been freed. The stores had displays and lights in the windows even though they were closed, every tree along the main road had been decorated with lights, and with the hills on which the town sat, I had a great view of a smaller town and a river across the way. Getting stuck here wasn’t really too bad, I guess, the place was beautiful and I wouldn’t really have a problem waiting overnight for the next bus as long as no one bothered me.
I would have stayed at the bus station itself except that once it closed, there wasn’t a good place to wait. I also got the sense that the old ticket salesman, security guard, and maybe just everyone in this town hadn’t seen a monster in person before, and they weren’t particularly friendly. They weren’t mean just…inhospitable. Besides, the bus station wasn’t in the town itself, but slightly outside of it among a bunch of dark warehouses and that didn’t seem like the best place to spend the night. It was probably best if I didn’t get mugged or anything just so humans didn’t become even more afraid of us.
I ended up wandering into the heart of town without really finding anything. Jeez, did this place have laws against benches? I couldn’t even find a good place to sit down. That was all I really planned to do; I’d rather not fall asleep again and miss a second bus home.
Reaching the end of the main street, I sighed and looked around. This late at night, I wasn’t too surprised that the whole place looked deserted, the only person I saw was a guy outside the apartments across the street, bundled up and muttering at a dog that didn’t seem interested in doing what it was probably out here to do. The main road ended in a sort of Y-shape, one branch became a bridge that looked very long and seemed to merge onto a highway, the other branch in that direction curved down into a very dark area that looked to be a lot of parking lots. Neither seemed likely to have benches or a safe place to sit down and wait for a few hours. The other road went up a steep and dark hill with trees on the right and houses on the opposite side. It looked like it just had houses and yards, but compared to my other options, that seemed to be the best place to investigate. Maybe there was a park up there.
There wasn’t a park. The open places with trees, however, weren’t yards, they were cemeteries. I mean, there were lots of humans, and humans didn’t turn to dust right away when they died, so I knew cemeteries existed, but this was a lot more space than I would have expected for dead people. I didn’t remember cemeteries this large from before I’d been a monster, although those memories were very hazy. I walked about five houses down the street before I recognized the low, square things on the mowed lawn as old grave markers and another ten before I realized that this long cemetery on the left wasn’t the only cemetery in view. There’d been a church on the main road a block or so before it ended and between the houses on my right I could see another huge cemetery over there, just as dark as this one. Up ahead on the road I was on, some kind of dark municipal building came after the end of the cemetery on my left, but another cemetery sat beyond that, extending as far as I could see by the street lights. Did all humans just come here to die? Why did this town have so many graves?
I had gotten to the second cemetery before I realized that not only was I surrounded by graveyards with another two up the hill in line with the church’s one, but three of the apparent houses were actually funeral homes and one was a law office. At this point I just stopped to lean on the iron fence of the graveyard. I was exhausted and starting to think I might fall asleep if I ever found somewhere to sit down, but I knew that I would fall asleep if I kept walking all night and that would probably be even less safe. The cemetery, dark as it was, looked out over some more of the town, maybe I could see a park or something if I went in to look. I couldn’t tell if there were benches in the graveyards themselves, and as much as I knew there wasn’t anything to fear from the truly dead, I didn’t know how humans would react if I waited in the graveyard.
That was a question I’d answer some other time. The gate to the cemetery wasn’t locked or anything, actually it was already partly open. I closed it carefully behind me and used the feel of the gravel beneath my sneakers to follow the path so I wouldn’t trip over a grave-marker. It was less of a problem in this cemetery. Once my eyes adjusted, I could see that although the markers in the other cemeteries I’d passed had been nearly flat square stones close to the ground, this one had big polished slabs and statues. I wasn’t sure if the statues marked graves themselves or if they were just decorative, but if humans used art like that to mark their graves maybe there was something to be said for leaving a body behind after death, even if it did take up way more space than seemed necessary.
The edge of the cemetery overlooked a cliff above another part of the town, so a stone wall had been built to keep people from falling. I didn’t want to make myself more tired by using magic and there was no one around to see me anyway, so I hauled myself partly onto the wall so I could see over. I didn’t get completely onto the wall, just used my arms to lift myself until I rested my chest against the snow on the top of the wall and could see over it. Looking down, there were more streets with old-style streetlights and a series of trees that probably hid even more graves. Just beyond that, barely fifty feet past the base of the cliff, there was the river. Another long bridge crossed it and beyond that I could see another small town that looked a bit darker and maybe shadier than this one with all its graveyards.
“What are you looking for?”
I was pretty startled to hear somebody ask that from so close behind me, but I didn’t really show it. Even with the snow on the ground, and even knowing a person was there, it took me a minute to see the human. He stood about five feet away, looking out across the river. I couldn’t see much about him and I wasn’t even really sure it was a guy, but his voice sounded sort of deep so I presumed. He had his back against a very big tree and he looked like a part of it unless he moved. Before I could answer, he stepped forward to stand on the path beside me, acting a bit awkward. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be creepy.”
“It’s fine. I can be pretty creepy myself. Is this one of your favorite haunts?” I made the joke automatically and he laughed, although his laugh seemed bittersweet. I almost asked before I realized that this was a human in a graveyard. “Sorry,” I amended, “You’re probably visiting some-`body’.”
He laughed again, more heartily this time. “No. No, actually, I’m not. Are you alright? I mean, you seem like you’re looking for something, and this isn’t really the best place to be walking around this late.”
If he hadn’t just laughed so sincerely at my puns I might have been a little concerned by how he said that, but right now I wanted to believe that he was just worried about me. “I’m fine. I’m sort of stuck here for a bit and I’m looking for a place I can sit down for a while. Like a bench. Seriously, are benches illegal here or something?”
He thought and then shrugged, “Well, there might be one on the path between the church and its graveyard, off Main Street back there,” he pointed, “but it’s awfully cold, are you sure you’ll be alright? How long do you have to wait there?”
“Not too long,” I started to walk back towards the church, debating how easily I might be able to take one of my shortcuts. I paused under a light near the gate of the cemetery. I couldn’t see him when I looked back, but I hadn’t heard him leave. “Hey, buddy, why are there so many graveyards in this town? I mean…you’re kind of buried in them.”
He laughed again, this time sounding neither relaxed nor bittersweet but slightly afraid. “Perks of living in a town with history, I guess. Great for quiet walks, not so great if you’re easily frightened.”
* * *
The guy from the graveyard turned out to be right about the bench by the church. It was carved stone, and looked more decorative than functional. I brushed off the snow and sat down. The stone was probably freezing, but I couldn’t feel temperature very much any more, so that didn’t bother me. A human would probably have jumped right back up as soon as their butt touched the bench. The thought made me smile a bit more sincerely. Between two big Christmas trees on either end and the church behind me, I could only be seen if somebody walked along the uneven stone path from the old church to the cemetery up the hill. There was another, equally old building about ten feet in front of me, making that path even narrower so I felt pretty safe here. It was probably best that I couldn’t be easily seen, I mean these people didn’t seem too friendly towards monsters. If anyone saw me, I’d probably scare them, given how close they’d need to get to see me and how creepy the town was. Here I was, scaring humans again. Just like old times.
Just sitting down made me realize how tired I was. I felt like I’d been walking for days and I guess I must have dozed off because I woke up a few hours later. The minimal traffic on the main road had all but vanished and the whole town seemed almost silent except for a scuffle up the hill in the graveyard. The branches of the trees hid me from view as much as the sparse street lights, but I could easily look through them to see what was going on. I didn’t even have to move.
Up the hill, a few guys were walking towards me, or rather one guy was walking towards me and the other two seemed to be following him. I got the sense as soon as I saw them that the first guy was trying to get away, or at least get to the main road. The main road seemed like a decent part of town, maybe even well-policed, but pretty much everywhere else from what I’d seen looked sketchy. Old, and historical, I guess, but sketchy at night. The living were usually more of a threat than the dead in this town. Usually, but not necessarily tonight.
But hey, this wasn’t my town. I might cause a lot more problems than I’d fix if I got into a fight here, monsters were welcome but humans weren’t too fond of us and I probably shouldn’t give them any reason to think that the feeling was mutual. I didn’t know exactly what was going on here anyway, as long as it didn’t look like this guy was in serious danger, it was probably better if I stayed out of it.
“What are you doing out here anyway?” It was the pursuer who said that. He looked a bit scruffier than the average human, and maybe a little dirty, like he found other things more important than hygiene. He had a weird lurching walk and kept one hand in the pocket of his ragged coat. The other man following the fleeing human looked similar except he was bigger, significantly more muscular, and he held something in one fist, keeping a bit behind the others like he was trying not to be seen. The scruffy guy kept looking back at him but the other human seemed like he was trying to ignore them both.
“Just taking a walk. Aren’t you?” For the second time tonight that voice startled me and I didn’t show it. This was the same guy from the graveyard, the guy who’d told me about this bench. I mean, it wasn’t the greatest thing anyone had done for me, but it was still helpful. Now I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stay out of whatever happened.
Graveyard guy had a tense note to his voice even if he sounded casual, he knew there were two of them and that they weren’t friendly, he was just trying to stall them. Now that I could see him in decent light, he was a fairly recognizable human. He had a relatively tall, lean build with a young-looking face. He must have been in his twenties, but he looked like the kind of guy who didn’t need to shave. Aside from his height and relatively broad shoulders, I guess he looked almost delicate, and maybe it was that seemingly fragile appearance that drove him to dress the way he did. The fact that I hadn’t heard him in the cemetery seemed a bit amazing now that I could see him; he wore enormous black snow boots, thick jeans, and a very long black trenchcoat that looked bulkier than the fabric suggested. He was probably wearing a hoodie beneath that coat. Above that dark coat, the graveyard man wore a thick fluffy hat with ear flaps. The hat was dark enough that it looked less goofy than functional. He had his hands in his pockets as well, though in his case that seemed like it might just be a habit he had. He watched the bricks beneath his feet rather than the man beside him, but the path was very uneven and his walk didn’t suggest someone who felt afraid. Actually, that walk reminded me of someone…
Scruffy laughed, “Oh? That’s what we’re doing, isn’t it? Taking a nice walk in the graveyard, ain’t we? Hear that, Pete? We’re just taking a friendly walk.”
There was a small staircase where the graveyard met the back of the church and fluffy-hat guy moved like he was going to run down it and try to lose them. Not even pausing his rambling conversation, Scruffy held out a hand to stop him. The big guy, apparently called Pete, stepped up behind hat guy, cornering him between an iron fence and Scruffy, who still had one hand in his pocket. Going after hat guy, Pete stepped into the light, revealing that his fisted hand held a knife.
It was a large knife, not the cleanest, but not dull. Something about it reminded me of the nightmares I had, dreams I never fully remembered. I couldn’t think what exactly made this knife so unsettling, but I froze for a full minute.
* * *
I’d walked through here nearly a hundred times by now, so I knew they had me trapped. With the nearest apartment a good block away, and given the time of night, it wouldn’t do any good to yell. I had no idea what these guys were after, but whatever it was I probably didn’t have it or wasn’t willing to give it away, so my options were pretty much to fight them. There were two of them and one of me, so right off the bat, those weren’t great odds, but I’d done dumber things and I can’t say I hadn’t anticipated that this might happen if I kept taking walks alone at this time of night. I’d gotten myself into this mess and no one else would get me out of it, or so I thought.
The scruffy guy stepped towards me, poking the pocket of his jacket in my direction so I knew he had something hidden in there. “Gimme your wallet and all the cash you’ve got.”
There wasn’t much I could do but shrug. “Sorry, you’re out of luck. I don’t have my wallet on me or any cash.”
“Then what’s that in your pocket?”
I hesitated. He’d noticed I was holding something. Crap. I took so long to answer that, on a signal from Scruffy, Pete stepped towards me with his knife. “What is it?”
“A very bad idea.”
“No shit,” Scruffy growled, “hand it over!”
I had my switchblade out and opened before either of them registered what it was. I might have tried something right then, but I was distracted. When I flicked the blade open, I changed my stance and heard a sound that the shady guys must have mistaken for the crunch of snow or maybe the springs of the blade. Trying to place it, I’d glanced around the graveyard yet again and realized that things had suddenly taken a turn I hadn’t expected.
As it happened, being distracted by that sound and what it meant probably saved my life. Once Scruffy saw the blade in my hand, he drew his own weapon, which was not a knife as I had presumed, but a .45 auto.
“Bad idea is right,” Scruffy chuckled, “Now—”
In the nearly silent graveyard surrounded by tall, old buildings and brick walls, the acoustics could be tricky, so neither of the men had ever considered that the sound they’d heard might have come from behind them. As such, neither of them realized that we were no longer alone until a surprisingly deep voice interrupted the scruffy guy.
“You should let him go. Right now.”
The first time I’d seen the skeleton, I’d thought he was a human kid until he’d spoken. I hadn’t realized he wasn’t human at all until I’d seen him under the streetlight and I hadn’t expected to see him again. I’d told him about the bench hours ago and I’d figured he must have left by now. Even putting that aside, as much as everyone knew some monsters had magic and weapons and other things that made them dangerous, most were pretty harmless so I hadn’t thought of this guy as anything but a somewhat spooky-looking average person.
That changed a bit when I saw him suddenly appear behind Scruffy. That only proved he had magic, but this skeleton already seemed smarter than the typical human, so I didn’t expect him to jump into a fight like this if he wasn’t more dangerous than he looked.
Pete and Scruffy turned to look at him. Pete quite visibly shuddered. Monsters weren’t common, especially, here, and given where we were a skeleton showing up like this would have freaked out most people. Scruffy, however, looked unfazed, if not pissed off. He laughed. “And what if I don’t?” He opened his mouth to ramble more, but the skeleton cut him off before he could continue.
“If you don’t, you’re gonna have a bad time.” As he spoke, the white gleams that seemed to be his pupils vanished. I wasn’t easily frightened and this skeleton certainly seemed to be on my side, but I still felt a chill run down my spine seeing that.
Scruffy just laughed again. “Is that supposed to scare me?” He started to raise the gun.
Scruffy barely got his arm halfway up when the skeleton’s left eye flashed blue and Scruffy was gone. It took me a second to realize that he’d been flung against the back of the church, presumably by magic, and for all I know Pete just thought he’d been vaporized. The big guy screamed and dropped his knife, bolting through the graveyard in such a panic that he fell over more than one gravestone and kept going until he rounded a corner and passed out of sight. Hitting the church stunned Scruffy, who groaned and fell about fifteen feet to the snowy ground.
I grinned at the skeleton, trying not to sound as nervous as I felt. He’d tossed a guy thirty feet without moving, I was way out of my league if he decided to attack me. “I thought you weren’t sticking around?”
He shrugged. “What can I say, I feel very at home here?” He glanced pointedly at the graves around us.
I laughed and resisted the urge to make a joke that revealed more about myself than I wanted to share right now. “Thanks.” Scruffy groaned and started to slowly stand up and I looked back at the skeleton a bit more hastily. “We should really talk somewhere else.”
“Yeah.” He held out a hand. I took the hint. It seemed like a weird gesture, and considering I’d only ever held hands with my mother and my ex, I admit I wondered what he meant by it, but there was a very angry guy with a gun fifteen feet away and I was dealing with a skeleton in a graveyard at four in the morning. I can’t say I didn’t half believe that I’d fallen asleep and this was all some very strange dream.
I took his hand, realizing that he was wearing white gloves as I did so, I hadn’t looked too closely at his hands and it was dark. Cold gloved fingers wrapped around my hand and we were suddenly on Main Street a good five blocks up the hill. A bellhop smoking outside the hotel across the street dropped his cigarette and bolted inside in a fit of panicked swearing.
“You’re sure making an impression on the locals, aren’t you?” He let go of my hand and I awkwardly followed suit. Putting my hands back into my pockets, I realized that I hadn’t introduced myself yet. “My name is Zion, by the way.”
His white pupils had come back and he smiled up at me. He hadn’t stopped smiling once and I wasn’t sure that he could. “I’m Sans, Sans the skeleton.”
* * *
Zion nodded as if that clarified something. “Oh. Nice to meet you. I wasn’t sure you were a skeleton, so I’m glad you cleared that up as well.”
…was he joking? “Well, what else would I be?”
He shrugged. “You might be a zombie, some kind of golem, a ghoul, a lich, a wight, a revenant, a draugr, or an Abhartach.” Okay, this time I might have looked a little surprised; I really hadn’t expected that kind of response, but then again Zion apparently hung out in graveyards late at night so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. He shrugged awkwardly, “Sorry, there are a lot of different corporeal undead and I don’t pretend to be an expert on monsters, I’ve never even met one before, I just read a lot of folklore and fantasy novels.”
“Wow. You actually know more than I expected. Most humans just seem to assume I’m an ordinary skeleton.”
Zion shrugged. “So you aren’t an ordinary skeleton?”
I probably shouldn’t admit what I was if he knew legends about it, at least until I knew the gist of those legends. I mean, humans thought werewolves ate people’s hearts and stuff, these legends might be all wrong, but they could also be accurate and I didn’t know right now.
I shrugged. “Well, no one’s really ordinary, but do I look like anything but a re-ghoul-ar skeleton?”
He laughed once, that kind of uncertain laugh where I could tell he knew I was avoiding the question. “I guess you do,” he admitted. “…Look, I’ve never met a monster before, so I keep feeling like I’ll accidentally offend you or something, so I apologize in advance because, knowing my social skills, that’s bound to happen, but you basically just saved my life and it’s freezing out here, so are you actually going somewhere or do you need a place to stay?”
Zion had a way of rambling that reminded me of more than one of my friends, but I found his awkwardness less distracting than the fact that his voice cracked in the middle of his question, forcing him to cough a few times before he could continue, even more nervously, in a voice a little deeper than his starting tone. I’d just figured he was a guy, but now I wasn’t so sure. When his voice broke, he said a few words in a much higher pitch before forcing his voice back into a more manly tone and he acted so awkward about the lapse that I wondered if he was embarrassed by that, or just a very awkward person, or if I’d scared him back at the graveyard when I’d used magic.
I guess it didn’t matter whether or not he was a guy, I mean, I didn’t care even if I had had any reason to care and besides, with that coat and his baggy clothes, I couldn’t really see the shape of his body. He might be a woman under that, I really had no idea.
Zion also might have been blushing, which was hidden by the way his skin flushed with the cold. While I considered him, he stood frozen, perhaps trying to decide if I’d noticed his gender or not. I should probably just gloss over that.
“Well…there’s a guy with a gun where I was waiting, so a place to stay would probably help.” Zion seemed alright, even if he was human. I mean, Frisk was alright too, but in general I found it difficult to like humans at all. Still, Zion seemed friendly enough and I doubted he could really pose a threat to me, so I admitted, “I sort of missed my bus stop and now I’m stuck here until morning.”
“Oh. Well, considering you saved my life, and it’s probably seven degrees out here, and my apartment’s right up the street…” He nodded towards the street behind him in what was clearly a suggestion.
Zion really had this awkward thing down pat, didn’t he?