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The Golden Quiche

Chapter Text

* * *

You tried saving Asriel.
But you can’t.

You wanted to travel back into the Ruins.
But you can’t.

You wanted to restore his SOUL for good.
But you can’t.

Is there nothing you can do?
You must be brave.
You must be determined.

You RESET.

 

* * *

You were afraid.
You have never been so afraid.

The wrath of a friend cannot be confined in words.

You stood there. Helpless.
Bones had caged you in.
It was for your sake.
It saved you from the people who claim they are your ‘real parents’.

But just one accident was enough to turn your safety net into a death trap.

You were sure you died.
Even if you didn’t die, Mettaton’s entertainment empire was ruined thanks to the live broadcast.

You didn’t want that.
You want everyone to be happy.
You want everyone to stay happy.

You RESET.

 

* * *

You hear the wailing.
You smell the dust.

You see the one person who had any clue of your true powers crying over a tattered red scarf.

You were still in your safe cage.
But someone else had taken the blow for you.

You never saw Sans again.

You RESET.

 

* * *

You tried to avoid any scenario that puts you in danger.

Pretend to be sick.
Skip class.
Trick Toriel into thinking that you went to school, then backtrack to hide in the bathroom.
Plea to Asgore. King Fluffybuns gave in. He always does.

But they always find you.
If not today, tomorrow.
If not tomorrow, next week.

Next month.
Next year.

You were forced into court.
You were taken.

You RESET.

 

* * *

You RESET.
You don’t want Toriel and Asgore to grieve for outliving you.

You RESET.
You don’t want to be taken away by anyone, legal or otherwise.

You RESET.
You don’t want to grow old.

You RESET.
You don’t want to die.

You RESET.
You don’t want anyone else to die.

You RESET.
You don’t want to remember any of these.

You RESET.
You can’t handle the ‘Floweys’ out there.
Even if you don’t die, others get killed.

You RESET.
The Underground was so much safer.
Sans will hate you for it, but this is for his sake too.

You RESET.
You want to relive the best time of your life.
Forever and ever.

You RESET.

 

* * *

Chapter Text

It’s been months since the monsters moved to the Surface. Their appearance in the modern world first stirred a sense of fear. It turns out the legends were true: there were creatures living under that mountain.

Ambassador Frisk’s first order of business was to ease the local fears. With Asgore’s help, they selected the most harmless-looking bunch for the entourage.

The idea was to go to the nearest town with said fluffy bunch, talk to the mayor, then settle for peace.

It was fine and dandy… until Endogeny showed up uninvited. An Amalgamate was just the thing of horrors that humanity feared.

Frisk quickly turned the tables around. They patted, played and rubbed the amorphous dog into submission. Demonstrated to everyone that this monster can be quelled without violence.

The townsfolk was nothing short of amazed.

Then, out came the gold coins.

The rest was history. Before long, the monster town had all the infrastructure they needed.

They named their new home as ‘Ebott Town’. It’s a nice combination of the Surface’s sensibilities and the monster’s traditionally simple labels.

Despite their prowess, Frisk was still a bit too young to take their role full-time. As the ‘Mom’, Toriel used her political experience to deflect any over-enthusiastic reporters. Any diplomatic work must follow her determined schedule.

That means the child’s well-being must come first: school, playtime, time for regular children's activities, and privacy.

The human society reluctantly agreed.

All was well, until one day…

During one of Undyne’s private training sessions, Alphys plucked the courage to ask a question. The worry was larger than her timidness.

“Hey guys,” she asked. “I-Is it me, or Frisk is acting extra nervous?”

Undyne was just about to suplex Papyrus into an empty trash can. But the sudden question stopped her. She glanced a confused look. Then she dumped the poor skeleton into the bin anyway.

“What makes ya think so?” The fish lady asked.

“They came into my lab yesterday. Asking if they can do some research at my house. And it was during school hours.”

Papyrus yelled from the bin itself. “TORIEL HAD THE HUMAN UNDERNET INSTALLED, RIGHT?”

“You mean the ‘Internet’. But y-yeah. She did. Bought the kid a PC and all. But for some reason Frisk insisted on using mine.”

Undyne narrowed her eyes. “Wait. You mean the punk skipped school to do research in YOUR lab? That doesn’t make sense! The school had this ‘Internet’ thing too!”

A mittened bony hand raised to the air. “I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, HAVE A THEORY!”

The two ladies facepalmed. Papyrus and his theories were rarely accurate, but he would never accept a no for an answer.

“Go ahead.” Undyne said.

“SANS TOLD ME THAT HUMANS UNDERGO THIS THING CALLED ‘PUBERTY’! I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT MEANS, BUT IT INVOLVED BEING SCANDALOUS!”

“C’mon, Papyrus. The punk’s more mature than that. They won’t skip class just to watch weird stuff.”

But then again, Alphys was the one with all the questionable anime content. Maybe all Frisk needed to do was to dig into her folders. Or use her account to surf adult sites.

…That didn’t sit right with Undyne. They wouldn’t do that, even for ‘Poker Faced Flirtatious Frisk’.

Undyne cracked her knuckles. “Okay. After Frisk returns from school today, I’m gonna WRING the secrets out of them!”

“N-no!” Alphys cried out. “You can’t just confront them without evidence!”

Glance left, glance right. Then, she put on her determined face. “I’m going to search through the history files. Even if they go incognito, I have a secret keylogger to keep track.”

The keylogger was installed to Sans-proof her computer. Or so she tried. Alphys wanted no more pranks of digital hot-dogs in the middle of anime time.

Is there anything that skeleton can’t do?

“Well? What are we waiting for! LET’S GOOOOOO!”

The fish warrior wasted no time. She grabbed Papyrus out of the bin with one hand, and scooped up Alphys with the other. Then hauled all of them back into the lab to embark on today’s new quest.

Well, the science lizard appreciated the sentiment. It was the reason why she loved Undyne in the first place.

But… she wished that they could back off a bit.

The two loud ones hovered over her shoulders. Sheer anticipation exuded from their every pore, waiting for one piece of incriminating information from the pile of ‘jargon’.

It was a little stifling.

“…DID YOU FIND IT?” Papyrus asked. No chill in his voice, ever.

“N-not yet. I’m still searching for yesterday’s timestamp.”

A grumbling grunt fell out of Undyne’s lips. “What’s taking so long???”

“I-I use this computer too, you know.” Alphys hurried past the records of a Toriel-Asgore fanfiction. That was too scandalous even for her own standards.

At last, she reached the time Frisk did their mysterious research. Alphys let out an audible gasp.

“WHAT?”
“What???”

“They’re all deleted.”

Chapter Text

Sans had a terrible night.

Or morning.
Or evening.

Whenever it was, he fell asleep to more disturbing nightmares.

It was fortunate that Papyrus wasn’t home at that moment. He was sure he screamed. He didn’t want to trouble his uber cool brother more than warranted.

Sans stared at the swirling tornado of trash at the corner. Sighed.

The happy ending won’t last forever.
The trash won’t last forever either.

Sooner or later, he’s just going to be reset back into the Underground.

Again.

He’s aware of that much. A part of him wanted to just stay in bed and give up.

But, the prospect of another nightmare did not sound good.

So Sans moved from the bed to the couch. He lay down there and started his own coping routine: brainstorming.

Pranks.
Jokes.
Puns.

The little stupid things that made his dreary existence more amusing.

Sans being Sans, had a mental roulette of friends in his mind.

Who?
When?
What?
How?

Just watching that wheel spin made him grin.

The result ended with ‘Alphys’, ‘her computer’, ‘rig it to trigger during her anime time’, with ‘Digital Lesser Dog’. Make that image extend its neck until it flooded the screen.

At first he chuckled at himself. Then, it turned into another sigh.

Ah, dammit. It’s the same gimmick.
Can’t believe I’m gonna use that twice in a row.
Bepis.

Eh, whatever. I’m a sad sack of bones anyway.

It’s decided. Sans lifted his pet rock to reveal a hidden ‘memory stick’. The human world’s data science was way ahead of his society, much to his pleasure.

Using one of his many ‘shortcuts’, he snuck into Alphys’ lab. She was not home. Most likely hanging out with Undyne and Papyrus. Though, sometimes she had to perform maintenance on Mettaton.

Her brand new PC was always on. Most of the time it was to torrent subbed anime.

At least Alphys was prudent enough to put all her real work into a different PC. Locked and passworded to prevent prying eyes.

Speaking of prying eyes, it didn’t take long for Sans to figure out that Alphys installed a keylogger.

Heh. Trying to cover your bases, eh?
Not bad.
But it’s still rather… beta.

…Forget about the dog prank. Let’s see what you’ve been writing.

Sans and lazybones go hand in hand. Until a subject piqued his interest. He’d then study that to the fullest, sometimes to the point where he’d retain that skill.

He won’t remember the ‘when’, but he’d remember the ‘what’. Quantum physics was one of them. Now it’s silly programming stuff.

He accessed the keylogger data and started scrolling down the pages. It was full of anime searches, blog posts, review ranting…

Oh, fanfiction about Toriel and Asgore. Always a golden find. Sans decided to wait for the finished result. Now that he knew Alphys’ username, he can search for it at his own leisure.

Then all the funny stuff stopped at one sentence.

‘Legal custody without permission of original parents’.

Sans felt a bead of sweat forming on his bony forehead.
He scrolled down further.
It got worse.

‘Familial Law’.
‘Adoption Process’.
‘Foster family’.
‘Time required to approve new legal rights’.
‘DNA testing’.
‘Self defense laws’.
‘Accidental death laws’.
‘Kidnapping sentence’.
‘How to avoid getting kidnapped’.

He almost lost his ketchup-lined insides at the last line.

Well, shit.
This ain’t Alphys.
Think, Sans. Think.
Put that quantum noggin to use.

The equation ended at ‘Frisk’. Repeat infinite times. The search choices were so blatant, even Papyrus might figure it out.

Sans selected the entire controversial entry by mouse.
Right-click.
Delete.

He was lucky that the keylogger only recorded keyboard strokes.

Chapter Text

‘Grillbys makes the best burgers’.

That was true in the Underground.
And still true on the Surface. Access to the human market elevated Grillbys’ burger making art to new heights.

Or so Sans would like to believe. Some of the other patrons were not as appreciative.

He bought two packs: one for himself and another for Frisk.

Then, he left a voice message on Toriel’s phone. Said that he’s free to coach Frisk on some good ol’ science and math. Dinner provided.

It was a sentiment much appreciated. Most children struggled with those and the special kid was of no exception.

Then it’s off to pick them up from school.

Frisk saw him alright. The kid froze right at the entrance as if they’re a Snowdin snowman.

Hah. So they knew they’re in trouble. They must have met like this before. Many, many times.

Sans effortlessly weaved between the mass excited schoolchildren. Chaotic traffic of kids and parents? No problem. Icy floors? No problem too.

“Heh, kid. Thought you’ve gotten used to us skellies by now.” He lifted the bag. “Grillbys. Can’t have class on an empty stomach, y’know.”

More silent squinting from Frisk. Ah, that distrust.

“We can always have tuition at your place if ya want.”

The kid leaned forward and whispered into his ear. Or where his ear should be.

They said: “I am the legendary fartmaster.”

Sans frowned. That’s his ultra super-secret phrase, reserved only to those with ‘special powers’. Heard that too many damn times now.

His eye sockets went dark for a moment. “Is this a game to you?”

Frisk shook their head.

Okay.
Relax.
Calm down.

If they’re using the secret code, it means they know what they’re doing.
Right?

The light in his eyes returned.

“Well then, follow me.” Said Sans. “I know a shortcut.”

And how Ebott Town was riddled with ‘shortcuts’: all thanks to the multiple time shenanigans. It’s still a wonder why the world haven’t collapsed on itself yet.

One turn around the school later and they were at the skeleton brothers’ new surface house. Above ground, but with the exact same architecture.

Sans preferred it that way. Easier for him to export the underground secret lab to the land under the sky.

He then unlocked the back door with a silver key. Down the stairs they go.

Despite its limited space, he managed to cram in a sofa. The zone nearest to the stairs was labelled as a ‘living room’ of sorts. It’s the only place where non-lab activities can take place.

That included: sleep, eating, reading, tuition, and…

…Serious discussions.

The two sat down on the couch to eat their burger meal. Silence hung overhead as both parties tried to enjoy their food first. Whatever they needed to discuss was a surefire appetite killer.

Frisk did the cleaning up. They’re at least responsible enough to do that by now. With dinner out of the way, it’s time for the real deal.

With a finger, Sans cast his Blue magic on one of the drawers. Yanked that out of its place. He then pulled it over to his lap.

That one drawer, a time capsule, was filled with many memories of other timelines. They belonged to a certain time-travelling human. Fifty copies of the same group photo nestled between assorted postcards and letters. Every one of them had the same phrase written at the beginning.

‘I am the legendary fartmaster’.

Except for the original: the control sample.

Sans had a pretty good idea how they did it. Gave him one copy in every new timeline and have that stored in a safe bubble outside of time. One became two. Two became three. Three became fifty.

A message of sorts, he figured.

Pointing straight down on the pile, Sans said: “It’s high time you explain.”

Crankiness exuded from every pore of his boney self. Despite his standard grin, he’s beyond sick and tired. This time Sans will burn that sentiment into Frisk’s very being.

Frisk’s lips turned into a guilty frown. They lifted the box over to their lap and began sorting through the contents.

Some of these letters appeared older than the others, despite not much true ‘time’ had passed between each writing.

They unfolded one. Skimmed through the contents for context before passing it to Sans.

“Yeah kid, I’ve read that.” Sans replied. “That’s a letter of apology for killing Papyrus. Sorry. Can’t say that I’ve completely forgiven you for that yet. I still have his scarf in the other drawer.”

Then the next letter.

“That’s an apology for killing me. Dark times, eh? It takes a lot of LOVE and EXP to force my hand.”

And another letter.

“…I rather not read that one if I can help it. That’s the problem of too many resets, kid. You start to lose yourself. In more ways than one.”

Frisk scrunched their brows at Sans. Worried.

“I could be a different skeleton before I met you.” Sans responded with his distinctive winking shrug. “Maybe. Maybe not.”

It was heartbreaking to know that Chara turned out to be a maniac. They had a chance of a new life with a loving family. Threw that all away. Ripped it apart in life and in death, all because they had a grudge against humanity.

Sans gestured a pinch with his skeletal fingers. “We were this close to the point of no return. I wasn’t kidding when I said ‘everything ended’. One more step and we wouldn’t be talking here.”

“Chara would have won the devil’s deal.”

The other party showed a reluctant nod.

“I guess after that disaster, you decided to travel the world. Didn’t matter where. As long you’re far away. Figured that would be the logical decision.”

They stacked the postcards and fanned them out. It featured various landmarks all over the world, stretching from east to west.

Frisk hoped to find a place in the world where they ‘should’ belong. The human world stretched to all four corners of the globe. There should be a place for them, right?

No.

The more Frisk stared at the pictures, the more downcast they became. They dropped the postcards and buried their face into their hands.

Sobbing became the only sound in the air.

Sans couldn't maintain his usual grin any more. He just watched the living embodiment of ‘Determination’ break down in despair. That was beyond disconcerting.

If the pain got into Frisk, what chances does he have?

He hovered his hand over Frisk’s back, hesitating. Getting personal with anyone not-Papyrus was not his style.

But in the end, he gave the kid a gentle pat.

“The Surface isn’t kind to you, huh?” he said, “That’s some… heavy research material you got there. In Alphys’ Lab, I mean.”

Frisk sobbed louder in response. They didn’t care how or when Sans read their true troubles. Not anymore.

The predicament left the short skeleton in a pickle.

Great.

What should I do?
What can I do?

If nothing is done, we’ll RESET forever.
In each round, there’s a chance that Chara will possess Frisk again.

It’s already a miracle that the kid lasted this long.
I would have snapped a long, long time ago.

Maybe this is fate.
All things must come to an end.
Karma. Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Whatever.

…Damn. Giving up before we even started.
No wonder the kid can’t trust me.

C’mon, there’s more than yourself at stake now.
Think about your brother. He’s loving the Surface and all their pasta glory.

“Hey, kid.” Sans spoke up at last. “You’re not alone, y’know. You got Toriel. Asgore. Papyrus. Undyne. Alphys. Every monster in Ebott. We’re all willing to help.”

“Even lazy ol’ me.”

Just offering himself on the plate sent jitters throughout his body. It was more than just a stage-fright.

If he offered help, he’d have expectations. Expectations go hand in hand with hope.

That sparked a host of anxieties.

Sans buckled down his insecurities behind his trademark clown-face.

“Mind giving me some motivation?” he asked.

Frisk peeked out from the corner of their eye.

“You know I hate making promises, kid. But when I do, I follow it through.”

He then offered his pinky finger: the sign of an oath.

“Will you do the same? If we overcome this, promise me that you’ll never RESET again. Keep that power under lock and key. Forever.”

The kid didn’t budge an inch. Looks like they needed a bit more convincing.

“I mean,” Sans continued, “It’s proof that we can face anything life throws at us. There’s no need to hide in a time-loop. Escapism is bad, y’know.”

He knew he was a total hypocrite, but he must try. For once.

Frisk stopped sobbing and wiped their tears away. Still, they did not jump on the offer.

A wise move? Perhaps. Anything and everything can happen on the Surface. For every bit that could go right, it can also go wrong.

“Uh.” Sans said. “Nevermind kid, maybe this is a bad ide--”

Before he could finish his sentence, the human’s soft pinkie finger wrapped around his bony limb.

Sans was surprised. At the same time, he was not. This is Frisk after all. They had the knack of catching him off-guard.

He realised that there’s no turning back now. He couldn’t ‘reset’ the deal and pretend it never happened.

There are words to keep: even if both sides were not too sure if they can.

“Welp. The deed’s done.” Said Sans, “I guess it’s time to have a meeting then. It’s weekend tomorrow. Lunch at your place sounds good?”

Chapter Text

You helped Mom make lunch.

It’s ravioli. Stuffed with spinach, feta cheese and some chopped snails.

Snails sounded gross at first. And well... they kind of were, for a dozen or so meals.

An acquired taste.

You don’t know when it happened - maybe on the thirteenth try - but they turned out rather delicious in the end. Very delicious, in fact. Overnight, you’ve gained a new appreciation for escargot. Now you’re even looking forward to Grillby’s baked sea snails special; they’re pretty rare to come by.

While Mom seasoned the filling, you took the cold pasta dough out from the fridge, rolling the balls into square sheets and portioning them out.

You wonder how monsters process human food without a standard digestive system.

Likewise, you wonder how it’s possible for humans to gain nourishment from items made of magic.

Despite all those questionable logistics, both sides suffered no ill-effects from cross-consumption. It had become a subject of curious study for Alphys and the local scientists.

You told Mom that you had finished the dough-work.

“Thank you, my child. Mind helping me spoon out the filling?”

You agreed to help. The filling smelled of fragrant brine and herbs. Mouth watering long before it’s finished in the pot. The Toriel Special.

Toriel.

To you, it’s the perfect name for the perfect mother.

Sweet and gentle, yet tough as nails whenever she must. Though if possible, you rather not see that side. It is stressful for her too. Given the choice, she'd rather stay as the warm, loving, almost-smothering matron.

You carefully layer the other sheet of dough on top. Then you told Mom that you’ve finished the first batch.

“Oh, that looks lovely!” Mom exclaimed. “Go ahead and fill the second batch.”

She drew out an all-purpose kitchen knife from the holder and started cutting the sheet into squares.

Kitchen knives now have a whole different meaning to you. Every other kitchen chore was fine… except anything that involved a sharp edge. You rather not fall into the same temptation again.

Mom thought you were too young to use such a dangerous tool anyway. Her overprotectiveness was to your favour.

While you worked on the pasta, you heard someone knocking on the main door.

Two knocks. No more, no less.

“I’ll answer that.” Mom placed the knife down on the counter and wiped her hands. Gleeful anticipation stretched across her face. She knew who had arrived: he’s the only one who would ignore the doorbell.

"Knock. Knock." He said.

Can never pass up a chance for a joke, right?

You tried to listen to the full skit from the kitchen, but you were too far away. The exact contents of the exchange weren't important anyway: it’s the fact that it will make Mom laugh.

And laugh she did. Along with a certain short skeleton and a geeky lizard scientist.

Wait, a geeky lizard scientist? That was unexpected. You decided to take a peek.

Alphys and Undyne, the loving couple, had tagged along with Sans much to your surprise.

Alphys carried a black briefcase. That piqued your curiosity, so you kept spying.

Undyne, however, caught wind of your presence, greeting you with her distinctive ear-to-ear-almost-slasher grin. You smiled back in the exact same manner: she likes it when you do that.

In the meantime, Mom and Sans continued talking about you.

“How’s the kid doing, Tori?” he asked.

“Excellent,” Mom answered.

“On their way to becoming a ‘bone'-a-fide chef?”

“I sure hope so! I can’t wait for the day where I get ‘floored’ by their culinary skills.”

“Aww, Tori. Don’t let Papyrus hear that. You’re gonna give him a bad ‘burn’.”

More laughing ensued. Alphys just grinned. Awkward as ever.

“Do you need anything in the meantime?” asked Mom. “It’ll be quite a while before lunch is ready.”

“I’m good,” said Sans. “Just gotta get the list ‘sorted’ before everyone arrives.”

It would have been a totally normal sentence if it wasn't said by Sans.

Alphys fidgeted a bit. “Uh, a g-glass of water is fine. I don’t want to spoil lunch.”

Undyne wholeheartedly agreed with her partner's choice: the colder the better.

You cleaned your hands and got their drinks.

“Oh, Frisk! T-thanks. Weren’t you busy in the kitchen?”

You shrugged in response.

“Sorry, I don’t mean to bother you.”

You told her that’s no problem. Then, you tried to head back into the kitchen. But Mom stopped you.

She said, “Frisk, you should review your itinerary. An ambassador must know their meeting details long before it begins. Consider it your career training. I’ll handle the rest of the cooking from here onwards.”

Shouldn’t Mom be the one to prepare? She was once the Queen, and Gerson told you that she’s the backbone of the nation when she was in power.

But she did say that it was ‘training’.

The four of you sat side by side at the table. Alphys opened up her briefcase to reveal a whole lot of printed material.

You recognized the logo on the top of the page. It belonged to Social Services.

“Sans told me about your custody troubles,” she said. “For this meeting, I think it’s best to go through the major details first. Gather questions from everyone. Clarify. Highlight the ones we need expert help. Then we’ll ask the neighbouring mayor for a lawyer.”

For a moment, you wondered if you’re talking to some twin-sister that you never knew.

Undyne and Alphys had a ‘serious mode’ that was an opposite reflection of their usual selves.

For example, on a normal day Undyne was a loud anime-obsessed lady. Her level of basic common sense almost rivalled Papyrus. This was the person who believed mind-control was real.

But in the darkest hour, she could transform into a true knight of heroism. ‘Undyne the Undying’: so fuelled by her own DETERMINATION, she once survived a fatal blow.

Alphys? Archetype Number One of an insecure and awkward nerd. Also anime-obsessed. No one ever expected her to do great things.

Yet you knew she did. When the Underground was in danger, she devised an evacuation plan on massive scale. Her refusal to give in to her own fear saved the lives of many.

She proved to be so capable, the survivors crowned her Queen.

Those took place in a different timeline. Still, knowing their hidden potential put your mind at ease.

You tried to be a good ambassador to read the legal papers.
Unfortunately, you can’t grasp the inherent complexity. The confusion was evident in your frustrated expression.

Your three friends helped translate the convoluted sentences. Why must legal papers be so complicated and redundant? How can anyone understand these? It made you realise why lawyer exams were so notorious for their difficulty.

Despite their best effort you still ended up highlighting a quarter of the contents.

You were glad to have their help. These would have been too much to handle alone.

Papyrus made his grand entry about a half an hour later. He wasn’t late: in fact he was punctual. He told you the night before that he will arrive on that point of time, and he did exactly that. Not too early, not too late.

‘Daddy’ Asgore arrived last. You felt Mom’s mood sour the moment he entered your home. Although he brought along a box of his favourite tea, he stayed away from the kitchen. It’s Mom’s space in there and he didn’t want to invade it.

You hoped that they could start anew on the Surface. But, Mom had yet to forgive her husband for his mistakes. Losing dear children to his policies wounded her far deeper than you had realised.

Lunch was served with happiness and smiles, despite the awkward tension between Toriel and Asgore. The inevitable fawning of pasta delights from Papyrus helped maintain the light mood.

It was then you had an uncomfortable revelation.
The only poor souls who’re not legal-savvy was Papyrus… and you.

They could have just done everything without your knowledge, but they chose to include you.

That sentiment touched the bottom of your heart.
Also, you pitied Papyrus for what he had to struggle with.

“OKAY SANS,” said Papyrus. “HOW COULD A COMPLETE STRANGER CLAIM FRISK AGAIN?”

Sans answered: “Let’s say for example, Frisk is a child of Person A and B. Person A divorced Person B, remarried to Person C. Then Person A and C got into a financial pinch. The next of kin who can care for them would be Person D, who is a relative of Person C.”

“...YOU LOST ME AT PERSON A.”

“It is heh, ‘a’ long-winded matter, bro.”

“IT IS A LONG-WINDED INDEE-- ‘A’? DID YOU JUST TURN THAT PIECE OF A DELICATE PUZZLE INTO A PUN, SANS?! I CAN’T BELIEVE IT!”

The short skelly snickered and snorted. Some things just don’t change.

You noticed that Mom scrunched her brows in a rather… intense manner.

She said: “I don’t think Frisk had ever told us their background. It would be rude to make assumptions.”

Undyne glanced to the side. She does that whenever she’s troubled or reluctant. Or sympathetic. “Yeah punk. As an urchin, I understand it’s hard to talk about your childhood. But we gotta know where ya stand so we can help.”

Despite the countless resets, you had never confessed your background to your monster family. It’s about time that you did.

Mom held your hand. Her furry fuzz added extra comfort to her warm gesture.

You explained to them that you’re legally an ‘orphan’, a person without any known biological parents. You remembered growing up with plenty of other children in foster homes. After hitting the age milestone that your fosters decided, you would move to a different home.

You were not a difficult child, but they thought you’d be better off elsewhere. Something about different age groups and school requirements.

Some homes were better than others. But they were often overcrowded. On the plus side, you learned how to act and care for other people.

Deep inside, you felt like some factory line product. The system shipped you around to be ‘grown’ and ‘assembled’ into a proper adult. There was love, but they were rather distant and divided between the other ‘children of the system’.

When you were done, you stared down on the table. Mom reached out to give you a hug.

She’s warm. And soft. You wanted to bury your face into her clothes and forget about the deal.

“Sorry to hear that.” Undyne said. “Were you abandoned? Or your old folks… they didn’t make it?”

You don’t know. The foster parents had the details, but they didn’t tell you the full story. You had never thought to ask either.

“Dear child,” Dad addressed you. “Why were you on Mount Ebott? How did you get there?”

You explained to him that it was a school trip. You got too adventurous for your own good and wandered away from camp. Out of sheer curiosity, you climbed to the top to peek into the huge hole above.

The ground then crumbled beneath your feet.

“Hmm. I find it odd that your society’s guards didn’t search for you,” he said. “When we arrived on the Surface, we found no signs of any human activity.”

Dad had a good point.

“W-what if more time had passed than Frisk realised?” Alphys proposed. “Did you notice any change of ‘seasons’? Like, from ‘spring’ to ‘summer’?”

You tried to recall, but it wasn’t clear. What if you had gone missing for months? The clothes you wore were not quite in season for summer, that’s for certain.

Sans started to sweat a bit. He’s still grinning, but you can see he was uncomfortable. “Uh, what if they thought the kid’s dead? Falling into a pitch black hole isn’t a good sign of survival, y’know. Maybe that’s why they didn’t outright try to jump on the whole custody deal. Probably thought Frisk is some ghostly doppelganger or something.”

Listening to Sans’ theory brought chills up your spine. The whole idea reminded you of Chara in a bad, bad way.

Papyrus raised his mittened hand. Oh, great. He’s going to give more of his special brand of logic. You let him anyway. It could be enlightening, if not entertaining.

“SO,” he began, “FRISK IS PROBABLY MAYBE APPARENTLY LIKE AN ABANDONED QUICHE. EACH OF THIS ‘FOSTER FAMILY’ TOOK CARE OF THE QUICHE UNTIL THEY FULFILLED THEIR QUOTA, AND THEN PASSED THEM TO A DIFFERENT PERSON.”

“NO ONE THOUGHT THEY WERE SPECIAL. THEN ONE DAY THEY FELL INTO THE UNDERGROUND. THROUGH THE SUPER AWESOME POWER OF FRIENDSHIP, THE QUICHE SAVED ALL OF MONSTERKIND!”

“SUDDENLY THEY’RE A VERY, VERY, VEEEERY IMPORTANT SPECIAL FRIEND. THEY HAD BECOME EXTRA SHINY. A GOLDEN QUICHE! AND EVERYONE KNOWS HUMANS HAVE A STRANGE OBSESSION WITH SHINY YELLOW THINGS. NOW EVERYONE WANTS TO CLAIM FRISK AS THEIR OWN, BE IT THROUGH TRICKERY OR FORCE.”

Quiche logic aside, that was accurate.

Papyrus gasped, aghast and horrified. “OH MY GOD! THAT IS CHILDNAPPING!”

Said the person who once tried to capture you.

Alphys started writing down the to-do list. Her strokes were fast, furious, and illegible to anyone other than herself.

“Okay. W-we need to get Frisk’s foster history. And we should ask for a registry from Social Services. With that data, we can weed out any fakes who claim to be in the system. Oh! And we should find out more about their ‘biological family’. I think that’s the term.”

What about DNA testing, you asked?

“That is a must!”

Alphys’ spirit was on fire. It’s burning a bit too hot.

Before you know it, the meeting snowballed into a giant pile of suggestions. You were glad that Mom’s around to provide common sense.

You do not want a high-strung Undyne stalking your every moment.
Or Papyrus insisting on following you into the bathroom. At school. In front of all the other students.

It may deter kidnappers, but you were not ready to sacrifice the remaining shreds of your social life. Plus the ordeal would tire them out too soon.

By the time they wrapped up the meeting, it was late evening. You were dead tired: to the point where you wanted to lie down in bed until dinner. Homework can wait.

And yet, this was ‘training’? Does that mean the grown-up ambassador work will be more daunting than this?

What in the world did you sign up for?
Is there a chance for a career change?

You smacked your cheeks with both hands. Told yourself to get a grip. Working alone obviously did not work out, judging from all the times you’ve reset.

You rolled on your back to face the ceiling. As you closed your eyes, a warm, wide smile refused to go away.

The tenacity of your monster family filled you with the determination to face tomorrow.

Chapter Text

In light of Frisk’s ‘Golden Quiche’ issue, the heroic skeleton decided to protect the kid in the way he knew best.

On the stroke of midnight, ‘The Great Papyrus’ gathered his tools and headed straight out to the one main road into Ebott Town.

His objective: to build the biggest electric maze in history! It didn’t matter if it took him days, weeks, or even months. Once Papyrus set his mind to something, he will do it.

“IT’LL BE ELECTI-FRYING!!! AND INVISIBLE.”

Except there was one minor problem. Or rather, two minor problems.

First, Papyrus was not good with puzzles.
Second, unauthorized puzzles on the Surface had a tendency to cause dire complications.

Midway through construction of the second layer of the maze, multiple human supply trucks interfered. Papyrus tried to stop them from driving on site, but… a certain white fluffy dog tripped him into the snow.

Thus the trucks drove straight into an active half-built electric maze, triggering invisible pressure plate after invisible pressure plate. And Papyrus being Papyrus, he held the connected electric orb in his own pocket.

The collective frizzling knocked him out cold.

He then fell into the realm of strange, disturbing dreams.

He dreamt of Frisk, or rather: a red-eyed version who proclaimed themselves the enemy of humanity and monsterkind alike.

A sadistic grin sketched on their face.

The Great Papyrus granted mercy. Sparing them. And yet, instead of accepting his kindness… they took advantage of it, leaping towards him and lopping off his head.

“W-WELL. THAT’S NOT WHAT I EXPECTED…”

His body turned to dust.

“BUT… ST… STILL! I BELIEVE IN YOU.”

His heart. No. His very SOUL knew that person was not his dear human friend.

It was someone else.

Something else.

The dream shifted. Now Papyrus found himself running through a dark and creepy forest: the stars shining far above the canopy in the overworld sky.

Why?

When?

His magical heart pounded against his chest.

Dreams don’t make sense, do they?

Papyrus saw Sans right ahead. He hunched more than usual, panting from exhaustion.

Frisk was there too. They were locked in a bone cage.
Was it imprisonment, or was it protection?

A shadowy figure emerged from the bushes.
A man? A woman? Papyrus couldn’t see, yet he sensed intense danger from the silhouette alone.

They drew out a weapon: a toy gun from the looks of it.
Toy or not, Sans had only one HP.
Anything could kill him.
Anything.

Papyrus tried to call for his brother, but no voice came from his larynx.

Then… he heard a terrible bang. It reminded Papyrus of a firecracker.

Sans managed to dodge the bullet. Barely. When he tried to summon one of his ‘special cannons’ to retaliate, he slipped on his footing and spun out of control.

The shining beam of light blasted through the shadow, burned the trees, circling back to Frisk’s cage.

Papyrus did what Papyrus does best: acting on his protective instinct.

He leapt into the fray and put on his best makeshift shield of bones: light-blue, impenetrable by anything that moves.

Alas, even that was not enough to withstand the might of Sans.

Everything then ended in white.

Like the Snowdin snow…

Papyrus snapped wide awake. He found himself safe and sound, tucked under the warm blankets of his car-shaped bed.

“…WOWIE! WHAT A SHOCKER!”

He sat up and discovered himself feeling sore from skull to metatarsus. Looking down, he discovered that he was covered in linen bandages.

They wrapped around his arms, neck, ribs, spine, even his hipbones. How scandalous! Just the thought of someone else other than Sans seeing him naked made Papyrus fluster.

The brand new digital clock on the wall said ‘1:00 AM’.

“1 AM? WAIT. DID TIME ROLL BACKWARDS WHILE I WAS OUT COLD?”

Papyrus expected Sans to drop into his room with a pun right about now.

…But things were silent. A bit too silent.

The once cheerful skeleton grew worried. It didn’t help that the nightmare he just had involved his brother.

Once he got out of bed, the soreness didn’t bother him much. Those bruises were nothing compared to his training with Undyne. Maybe. Nonetheless, he just braved through the pain like everything else.

After putting on his ‘battle clothes’, he went to his his first stop: Sans’ room.

“SANS? BROTHER?”

Papyrus pressed the side of his skull against the door. He tried listening for life signs. The lazy one’s snoring, the shuffling of trash, or the faint resonance of his magical presence.

None.

He hurried down the stairs to check the kitchen. When he found no trace of Sans there either, Papyrus bolted right out of the house.

Where to?
Where else other than the rebuilt Grillby’s?

Papyrus barged through the entrance. The scent of grease had already began sticking to his scarf. He hated that lingering, obtuse staleness wrapping around his neck.

But now he couldn’t care.

“SANS!?”

The patrons turned their heads towards him and gasped in worry.

“(Papyrus!)” Dogeressa exclaimed. “(You should be in bed!)”

The others agreed. Each chipped in their own statement, a single text box long, describing what happened in the 20 hours Papyrus had lost.

“You got zapped pretty bad there.”
“I’ve never seen Sans so sick with worry my entire life.”
“Frisk too. Poor kid.”
“Undyne splashed an entire bottle of skin ointment on you.”
“They almost turned you into a mummy.”

Papyrus blinked. He didn’t think the electric trap was strong enough to inflict bonely harm. Yet, the bandages and that nagging soreness indicated otherwise.

Again, not important.

“I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, IS FINE AND DANDY THANK YOU VERY MUCH. BUT WHERE IS SANS? WHERE IS MY LAZY BROTHER?”

Dogamy replied, “He was here before midnight. Ordered a burger, chugged down a bottle of ketchup. Then hurried right back out. How many minutes again, dearest?”

“(Five total, I think?)” Dogeressa answered. “(He’s like a mini tornado.)”

“OKAY. BUT STILL WHERE DID HE GO?”

No one could answer. Mutterings of ‘dunno’ and ‘not sure’ floated in the air. Until Grillby himself spoke up.

“… Rockfall …”

Every patron hushed.

The flaming bartender continued: “… Humans say a part of the south side of Mount Ebott collapsed years ago… He should be there…”

“THANKS!” Papyrus bolted right back out into the snow-blanketed town. Didn’t even close the door behind him.

He knew the path to Mount Ebott. All he needed to do was to make a straight beeline to the towering mountain. Except, he doesn’t know where ‘south’ was. There was no big gas ball in the sky to guide him either.

Not at this hour.
Not in this season.

He figured that he could just run around the edges of the mountain. Sooner or later, he will go full circle and thus bump into Sans.

Papyrus took it as ‘training on the spot’.

To his fortune, he didn’t need to do that. The shrill keen of his brother’s magical cannons echoed from the correct side of the mountain.

With a little bit of magic, Papyrus leapt over the canopy. He didn't need to wave his feet around to propel himself forward, yet he did. Otherwise the ‘air running’ wouldn’t feel authentic.

When he arrived, he witnessed a sight that he never thought possible.

Sans was practicing his magic on the boulders of the collapse site.

Actual. Genuine. EFFORT.

Alone.

For as long as Papyrus can remember, a direct duel was the only time he’d ever got his lazybones brother to do any sort of magic practice. Even then, it was on request. Often accompanied by many puns, much complaining, and an appeasement of ketchup.

Their duelling routine stopped when Undyne took him under her wing.

Papyrus gently landed on a soft patch of snow. His brother was too absorbed in his solo routine to notice.

Sans levitated several similar sized boulders from the pile. Enchanted, they danced to his twirling finger. His left eye burned bright in magic fire.

Round and round and round they went.

“Faster…” Sans muttered. “Faster…”

The rate of spinning increased, kicking up the wind and snow. Sans spun them around until they had reached critical self-sustaining velocity.

He then summoned another ring of boulders.
And another.
One more until five layers of dangerous, circulating rocks surrounded his stout being.

“1…”

“2…”

Sans started to count his seconds. On the tenth, the tornado began to wobble. He lifted up his arms in attempt to stabilize them. Alas, the setup had worn him down too much to maintain.

Two capric skulls materialized above the tornado. Their eyes too burned like their master’s. Papyrus recognized them as his brother’s Gasterblasters.

In one breath of condensed beams the blasters ripped through the tornado, ending this round of training. Any that survived the impact eventually crumbled into sand. No target was safe from the poison of brittleness.

The flames extinguished in his eye, Sans sighed as he wiped the sweat off his skull.

Papyrus went slack-jawed at the display. He knew his brother had the capabilities, but he had never witnessed them with his own two sockets.

“SANS! THAT… THAT WAS JUST A-MA-ZING!”

Sans jolted out of shock. He turned around, requiring a second to let reality sink in.

Then, the fussing began. “P-Papyrus! W-what are you doing out here? You should be in bed!”

“I SHOULD BE ASKING YOU THAT QUESTION.”

“No, no! Paps, you lost half of your HP. You were half-dead, literally. It’s not a joke.”

“REALLY? THAT’S WEIRD. I SET THE VOLTAGE TO JUST STING. LIKE BEES. WHATEVER BEES ARE.”

“Bro, a swarm of bees can kill. Also all it takes is just one bee sting to trigger a fatal allergic reaction in some humans.”

“OH MY GOD IS THAT TRUE???”

“Yes.”

Papyrus’ eyes bugged out of his sockets. “THAT IS ABSOLUTELY TERRIFYING! I NEVER KNEW HUMANS WERE SO FRAGILE!”

He soon returned to normal. His brows wriggled as he tried to recall a fact he learned from the library. “I THOUGHT THEY’RE TOUGHER THAN MONSTERS?”

“That’s only true for their SOULS, bro. When it comes to the body, it ain’t so straightforward. Did you know the police made a huge fuss about your electric maze? Said it could cause cardiac arrest.”

“CARDIAC… ARREST…? YOU MEAN THE POLICE HOLDS YOU IN CAR JAIL?”

Oh poor Papyrus, too sweet for this cruel world.

Sans shook his head. “They’re talking about an organ called a ‘heart’. Keeps a human’s blood pumping. If that stops, they’re deader than dead. Electricity can do that. Even small amounts. Not everyone’s a toughie like Frisk.”

“THIS ‘BLOOD’… THAT’S THE RED STUFF THAT LEAKS OUT OF A HUMAN WHEN THEY GET HURT, RIGHT?”

“Yup. Keeps them alive. So, please don’t make any more electric mazes. Okay?”

“SORRY SANS…” Papyrus felt bad for causing so much trouble.

The elder skeleton brother shuffled back to his training spot. He laid down and looked up into the sky: a cloudy night, few stars in the sky. Plus, at this clearing there won’t be any surprise snow-laden branches falling on their heads either.

“Lie down with me a bit, bro.” Sans patted on the ground. “It’s been awhile since we had a one-on-one chat.”

“OKAY.”

Papyrus plunked himself on the ground next to his brother. The clouds were soft and fluffy. He wondered if they felt like cotton candy; the stars could be the sprinkles.

“Bro,” said Sans.
“YES?” Papyrus answered.
“We can’t depend on the old ways anymore.”
“WHY?”

“‘Cause we need to integrate into human society. It means trying to blend in. All the puzzles and mazes were designed to separate us from them. Sure, we can build a bunch of puzzle houses to promote fun. But that’s about it.”

“If we’re to survive, we got to get used to human politics. It’s not as simple as going to Undyne for everything. Here it’s a combination of wit, action and words. Lots of words.”

“LIKE… CROSSWORDS?”

“Heh. Kinda. But a whole lot more complicated.”

“WHOA!!!”

“Prepare for a whole lot of talking.”

“…OH OH! YOU MEAN LIKE FRISK? THEY SUSS THEIR WAY OUT OF EVERYTHING!”

Sans chuckled. Sighed. Grinned one more time before sighing again. He’s worried; Papyrus could tell from his heavy expression and a total lack of puns.

“Yeah bro. Yeah. Like that. Frisk’s a master, don’tcha think? Even then, they need to polish their skills at least ten times for their ambassador job. High level bosses everywhere, you know.”

“But if that fails, you need to be able to fight back without killing. That’s why I’m training. For once. Got to get my act together.”

“I AM VERY SURE YOU CAN DO THAT!” Said Papyrus.

The light in Sans’ eyes faded for a moment. “No. I don’t trust myself.”

“WHY NOT? YOU ARE NOT THE GREAT PAPYRUS. BUT YOU ARE SANS: THE GREAT PAPYRUS’ BROTHER! THEREFORE I BELIEVE IN YOU!”

“Paps, you believe in everyone.”

“YES! I BELIEVE THAT ONE DAY YOU WILL BE LESS MESSY. LIKE THE OLD TIMES!”

All Sans had for an answer was a deep, pained stare into the night sky. The winds blew the wispy clouds away, revealing the bright half-moon. It’s silver.

Bringing up the past doesn’t seem to be a good idea. Time for a diversion. “WHAT TRAINING WAS THAT ANYWAY? I’VE NEVER SEEN IT BEFORE.”

Sans conjured a small snow tornado by his side as an example. “Magic control. The better you are, the longer you can spin. Adding weight to the tornado raises the difficulty. If you can do both, well. It’s first-prize material.”

“Though, it’s tedious. That’s why I never go beyond the trashnado in the room. ‘Cause, what’s the point if I not gonna use it?”

With a wave of a hand, the shorter brother stopped the winds. The snow showered back down to the ground.

“Papyrus,” said Sans. “Do you know why I think you’re super cool?”

“BECAUSE I’M THE GREAT PAPYRUS!” His brother replied. “THERE’S NO OTHER REASON. NYEH HEH HEH!”

Sans burst into laughter. “That’s one way to put it. Bro, you’re the only person I’ll ever duel with. Me. The guy with 1 HP. Feeling totally safe in your hands.”

“You may not be the strongest monster, but you’re surely the most skilled. You had never, ever made an accident. Whenever I’m in danger of getting hit, you’ll stop the fight right on the dot. That’s true talent, bro. Never forget that.”

“I want to be more like you. I need to be more like you. Just one accidental death on the Surface is enough to start a wildfire. You got that?”

“WELL IF YOU WANT TO BE MORE LIKE ME, YOU MUST FOLLOW MY SPECIAL PAPYRUS-TAILORED, CUSTOM-MADE, AND PROFESSIONALLY SEASONED TRAINING REGIMENT! NYEH HEH HEH!”

Trust Papyrus to promote himself in every opportunity. His brother groaned and smacked his own forehead.

Still, he was relieved.

“Heh,” Sans replied. “I can’t believe I’m buying into this, but sure. I’ll give it a shot. Though, it’s ain’t fair that only you get to whip my lazy butt. How about a trade?”

“HM?” The other skeleton raised a brow.

“You teach me your skills… and I’ll teach you how to summon the Gasterblasters.”

“YOU… YOU ARE NOT PULLING MY LEG, ARE YOU?”

“No pranks this time, Papyrus. I’m offering the S-game. Honestly, you could have learned it a long time ago.”

“WOWIE! THIS IS GOING TO BE EXCITING!”

Papyrus paused, rethinking about his brother’s statement. “WHY DIDN’T YOU TEACH ME SOONER?”

“I didn’t think you’d need it. I mean, that kind of firepower is overkill for someone in the Royal Guard.”

“NO POWER IS OVERKILL FOR THE ROYAL GUARD!” He started to whine like a disappointed little kid, thrashing about in the snow. “SAAAAAAAAAANS IF I HAD YOUR SPECIAL CANNONS, I’D PASS AGES AGO!”

Sans laughed along. “What’s past is the past, okay? In all seriousness, it’s not as simple as just watching me do it. You first need to unlock your magic eye.”

Papyrus gasped. “I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, HAVE A MAGIC EYE?!?!?!”

“Of course. We’re brothers after all. The magic eye is in your right socket. Orange. I saw it flash once when you were just baby bones. It’s been sleeping since.”

The tall younger brother squealed in excitement.

“But first, you need to recover.” Said Sans.

The happy squeal turned into a sad whine in an instant.

Sans patted his brother in an attempt to console him. “Hey, hey. There’s no way I’m activating that on anything less than full HP. It’s going to hurt like hell, trust me on that. I’ll do my best to keep the pain minimal, okay?”

That sounded worrying. Perhaps it was a good idea to decline. But Papyrus being Papyrus, he accepted the challenge head on.

It still caused concern: less about himself and more about his brother.

“…SANS,” he asked. “IS THAT WHY YOU ONLY HAD ONE HP?”

“Nawh bro. I’m born this way. It can’t go negative, y’know. I had nothing to lose, so I activated it on my first opportunity.”

“WHY DIDN’T I REMEMBER THAT?”

“Uh…” Sans glanced away. “You were too young. Yeah.”

“OH. OKAY. NYEH HEH HEH.” Papyrus didn’t notice a thing.

The two brothers continued lying on the snow to watch the sky. Without skin or warm blood, the cold never bothered them.

It was nostalgic. As if they were at Snowdin again: the place they had called home for so long.

Sans began talking about the celestial sky. He told Papyrus about the moon phases.

The constellations.
The known planets.
The speed of light.

Of how it takes 8 minutes and 20 seconds for sunlight to reach the Earth on average.
Of how the stars of today shone millions, if not billions of years ago. By the time anyone saw them, they might not even exist anymore.

Papyrus had always admired his brother’s scientific knowledge. Sometimes he’d ask for the science of the day instead of his usual bedtime stories. They never failed to conjure a sense of awe and wonder, as if they were fairy tales.

Slowly yet surely, the tall skeleton was lulled into a drowsy stupor.

He blinked once.

Twice.

Then Papyrus started to snore.

Chapter Text

Someone thought you were an easy target.

It was the old drive-by-and-snatch trick. Wait for you to finish school, stalk the entrance, then snag you like a piece of candy.

You were pretty light. It was easy for a grown gym-trained man to pick you off and stuff you into the van.

However, they did not account for the fact that Undyne exists.
Or the fact that you had experienced the same tactic for a good number of timelines.

You told her to keep watch from the floor above the school entrance.
Right after school.
On a Thursday.

You saw the van.
You saw the goons who will soon grab you.

You tried to run and act distressed. Not because you were afraid, but it was a signal to Undyne.

The moment they nabbed you, Undyne launched herself out of the window. She landed on top of the van.

Upon that moment, you imagined the scene tilt dramatically like a frame shot of an anime. Complete with epic theme song, cool lighting, and the sun shining behind her head.

With a mighty roar, she conjured a spear and stabbed downwards into the driver’s seat. It pierced all the way through the bottom of the van, anchoring the vehicle in place.

You pitied the driver. He screamed like a little girl before rolling right out of the door. Everyone else vacated the vehicle in terror.

“HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!!!”

Undyne showered down a rain of spears, catching their clothes and pinning them on the cold, freezing ground.

The man who held you hostage tried to flee with you. But to his misfortune, the strongest fish-lady pounced on him and swiped her green spear through his soul.

His soul had turned green and he’s stuck in one place. You wriggled out of his grip and stepped aside to watch the grand finale.

One Undyne-brand suplex later, the guy was out for the count. She then suplexed the empty van itself. Just because she can.

The human police arrived to round up the rabble and take testimonies. They were impressed by Undyne’s professionalism. Despite her anime-fuelled yelling, she did everything a law-enforcer should do: disable suspects without inflicting too much harm.

A bystander recorded the scene and uploaded it on the internet. Undyne was crowned ‘The Suplex Queen’ in less than six hours.

You survived your first kidnapping and the world knew of it.

This is it.
This is the start of uncharted territory.

From today onward, you can no longer rely on your experiences of resets. It could go horribly wrong, but it could also be the breakthrough you’ve yearned for so long.

You are determined to face tomorrow.

 

* * *

 

Saturday.
Three days after Undyne’s video went viral.

It attracted a host of couples who wanted to adopt you. There were so many of them, the current town hall couldn’t house them all. Toriel had to unlock the school gates to use the gym.

You recognized some of their faces. In some timelines, they were the ones who dragged you to court to gain custody. You also spotted several of your foster parents shuffled in between the group.

Everyone wanted you, but not all will love you. You had truly become a ‘Golden Quiche’: a symbol of great status.

Mom and Dad protected you while Sans went to fetch the necessary legal advisors. They made sure that there was a comfortable distance between you and them.

He dropped off Alphys first. She lived nearby compared to the other lawyer. Plus, you needed a friend closer to your size.

“W-wow. That’s. A lot of people.” Alphys started to get nervous. You wonder if she could handle the sheer amount unhappy, impatient folks.

You asked if she brought the DNA test results.

“Of course! They’re in the bag.” Alphys lifted her briefcase. “I have some DNA testing kits too. Just in case they request for it. If anyone tries to dismiss your test, we’re certain that they’re not your biological parents.”

You nodded. It made sense: they knew they’re lying. The lab results will only expose them in public.

For a little fun, you requested Alphys to start a number-recording game. To be exact, count the number of people who tried to assume your gender.

How many would think you’re a boy?
How many would think you’re a girl?
How many would try to be politically correct?

You giggled.

“I guess I can do that.” Alphys smiled. She wouldn’t pass a game of numbers and statistics. “Say, Frisk. You never did tell us if you’re a boy or a girl. Why?”

It’s a surprise, you said: one that would take a few years to unfold. The idea was for your own amusement. You weren’t sure what changes you’d undergo once puberty hits full swing, so you decided to enjoy the mystery while you still can.

Alphys grinned along. “That’s pretty clever. But remember, health comes first. I’ve read that there are some really specific illnesses that are linked to their ‘chromosomes’.”

You understood that and thanked Alphys for her concern.

Sans then arrived with your custody lawyer. Neither looked forward to the parental confrontation. Working on weekends: never a fun thing.

“I’ve brought Mister Jonah here,” Sans said. You noticed a certain tenseness behind his usual grin.

Mister Jonah accepted your case more out of concern and curiosity than money. It’s not every day that one would deal with a child adopted by the denizens of an old myth.

“Hey Al.” Sans said.
“Yeah?” Alphys answered.
“Mind if you watch the kid for me? I don’t wanna stick around for the grilling.”

That request surprised you. Of all people, you expected Sans to be the one ready to rain puns on annoying couples.

“Nah kid. The room’s getting ‘hot’ and I’ll just ‘stoke’ the flames,” he replied. “It’s best to leave this to the pros. See ya later, kid. Don’t get roasted.”

Sans then shuffled himself out of the back door. Or so it seemed.

“He’ll be around. This ordeal is too close to his heart,” commented Alphys. Then she clammed up. Started sweating. A lot. “F-forget I said that. Sorry.”

You wanted to enquire more about this issue, but Jonah the lawyer told you it’s time for you to address the crowd.

At first, it went fine.
But as time ticked by, crankiness floated in the air. Too many couples tried to list their credentials to adopt you, causing a massive backlog for everyone else.

Dad provided refreshments of biscuits and tea, but that was not enough.

The cold, sleet rain outside didn’t help. Everyone’s getting cold and there’s not enough heating in the gym.

Poor Alphys got yelled at by someone who claims to be a mom of stellar children. She’s not convinced that a shy recluse like her was of good influence.

Dad interceded in her place. He’s super patient and he had a longer fuse compared to Mom. You were sure that Alphys silently swooned at ‘King Dreamy’s’ saving act.

Then there was Sans. You knew first-hand that when he snaps, he snaps hard. He’s been more stressed than usual, so you really don’t want an incident.

A part of you wondered how long you could maintain a straight face. The suspense slowly but surely piled up your tiny shoulders.

But you have to be a good ambassador.

It’s either that, or humans will force the monsters back underground.

Just when you were reaching your limit, someone had to insult Mom about her upbringing capabilities. You were reminded of a website that recorded the dumb ways humans get themselves in serious trouble. ‘Insulting Mom’ should be part of the list.

Toriel did that glare.
That. Glare.

“Asgore.” Her tone changed to her ‘serious mode’ voice. Polite, yet assertive. You wondered if you should call for an evacuation.

“Yes, dear?” Dad replied.

“Do you still remember our old trick? One where we used to impress the citizens with.”
“Why of course, Toriel. I treasure our moments every day.”
“Let’s see if we still have that edge after all these years.”

You watched Mom and Dad hold hands for the first time in forever. They walked out of the gym and into the freezing rain.

All past hurts were put aside for your sake.

The two Boss Monsters stood in at the center courtyard of the school’s entrance. After a unified nod, they raise their joined hands up into the air.

The courtyard exploded in a spectacular display of fire magic. Flowers and birds made of fire danced around the ex-couple, as if they themselves were alive.

Then they set fire to the rain. Somehow, the water droplets ignited into bright orange flames as they reached a certain radius.

Snow melted into water.
Water boiled into vapours.
The vapours transformed into gas and further fed your monster parents’ flames.

Parting water into oxygen and hydrogen required a good chunk of energy. You realised that this was quite an intensive display.

The warm heat radiated against your entire being. You loved it, but the humans around you were either in shock, terror, or awe.

Maybe all three.

After the artful show, the flames condensed into multiple rings on the floor. The compact pattern reminded you of onions. Despite the lack of flair, it was still intense enough to vaporise the icy rain.

“…We apologize for wasting your time,” said Mom. “We Monsterkind thought we should try to adapt to your ways.”

Dad continued where Mom left off. “However, we are undermanned and inexperienced. We could not cope with the number of applicants. My… ex and I love Frisk very much, therefore we only want the best for them.”

Then it’s back to Mom again. “Shall we settle this once and for all? Our question is very simple: will you walk through ice and fire for their sake? Will you put your lives on the line, as they had done for us?”

“If you’re unwilling,” Mom drilled her glare into the crowd. “Please go home. And don’t bother Frisk again.”

“We promise a fair consideration if you do cross the flames.” As usual, Dad said it all with a gentle smile. He was the softer diplomat of the two after all.

A bunch of people tried, but they backed away the moment they felt the heat.

The humans did not know your monster parents will never roast them alive. You were sure that if anyone tried, the fire would part beneath their feet.

Everyone backed away and returned home. They no longer dared to mess with the Dreemurrs. Hopefully they won’t try to issue a court order either.

The only human left behind was Jonah the lawyer. You could see fear on his face. That’s not good from the guy who’s help you need to to gain legal support. He must understand that your parents never meant any harm.

You asked Alphys to record you on her phone. When she’s ready, you took Jonah by his hand.

“Frisk? What are you doing?” he asked.

You asked him to trust you, even though you’re his new client. After all, fire was nothing compared to a lizard scientist and a powerful teleporting skeleton.

“I… guess?” He doesn’t know what to think anymore.

You led him towards the roaring flames with trust and love. As you had expected, your parents extinguished the flames before they could hurt either of you. Any remaining heat dissipated into the winter air.

Droplets of frigid rain pelted on Jonah. Yet he remained silent, unable to believe that this whole event was real.

Mom was pleased with your actions. Gone was her stern glare, replaced by the gentle smile you knew and loved. She knew about your little plan… and she’s proud that you took the initiative.

“Thank you for trusting us, Mister Jonah. I don’t think you wish to adopt a child. But, we do need your help.”

Dad hovered his huge hand over his head. “We should seek shelter before the both of you catch a cold. Shall we discuss over some refreshments?”

They escorted you and the lawyer back into the gym just like any loving parent would do. Mom offered Mister Jonah the remaining biscuits while Dad served a fresh cup of hot tea.

Alphys recorded everything. Now you have hard evidence: just in case anyone tried talk bad about the Dreemurrs on the internet.

She gave you a thumbs up, and you returned the gesture.

Chapter Text

One week later.

Your phone’s chatroom exploded with genuine, wonderful, and epic anime-style drawings of Undyne. Not the weird stuff Alphys used to collect as ‘Human History’ either.

Undyne was beyond elated. Before you knew it, she’s filling up a scrapbook of fanart dedicated to her.

Mom and Dad’s fire stunt hit their first million views. Most of the comments were positive. Many wished that they could do the same to test the authenticity for their adoption cases.

There were some, however, who criticized the show of force as excessive. It’s a given that you can’t please everyone. Especially on the internet.

At least Mister Jonah was in complete support. Promised that he’d do anything he can to make your monster adoption official. He deals with dysfunctional families on a daily basis, so meeting such wonderful parents was a ‘crack of sunlight in a grim world’. Quote for quote.

Despite all the good news, there was one problem.

The yellow SAVE star had yet to appear.

Why? Can it only spawn in the Underground? No. Even when you followed Dad back to the throne room to care for the flowers, you couldn’t find a single SAVE.

It’s safe to assume that all the other stars had vanished too. Any attempt of time-altering will send you back to Day One. The very thing you promised Sans you’d never do.

After you finished your homework, you told Mom that you’re going to look for Sans. Science stuff, you said. That was not a lie. You wanted his opinion on the lack of SAVE stars. Mom probably thought it had something to do with your homework.

“Okay dear, but first…”

She wrapped a warm scarf around your neck.

“Now you’re ready to go. Be careful, my child.”

You couldn’t help but to hug back. Toriel wrapped her arms around you like the day you left the Ruins. It’s warm and reassuring.

Time for business. It’s snowing, so you brought along an umbrella. You then started your walk to the skelebros’ house.

But then…

You heard a shower of familiar zings. Undyne’s spears. Lots of them. They came from a trail that led to the base of Mount Ebott.

“ONE STEP FURTHER AND I’LL PIN YOU TO A DAMN TREE!”

Oh uh. Did Undyne bump into a gangster? Or encountered a trespasser? Maybe the paparazzi?

You rushed towards her. If it’s anything to do with humans, it’s your duty to resolve it.

The rain of spears happened again. Your pace hurried. Whatever’s happening didn’t sound good at all.

Then you saw Sans. Dodging the rain of spears. He had his hood up.

You dropped your jaw. Judging from Undyne’s thunderous yelling, this was not a duel either.

It’s a legit fight.

Your first instinct was to hide. Those two were the only ones who could kick your hind when you went axe-crazy. Definitely don’t want to get between the crossfire.

Sans winked at Undyne. “Take a chill pill, hot stuff. I’m just scouting ‘a head’. Heh.”

Then he dodged another flying spear. Until today, you still couldn’t believe that this unfit lazybones had the footwork of an elite martial artist.

Undyne fumed so hard, you could see steam coming from of her ears. You wonder if that was the work of magic.

“YOU! Will you just LISTEN to me for one bloody second???”

“Okay, you got one second. ” Sans replied. “Times u--”

Yet another spear. Sans dodged that one too.

“I DON’T MEAN LITERALLY!” Undyne yelled. “Look! Sans! I am as worried as you are and I want to investigate this person too! But have you considered how much of a clusterfuck it’s going to be if word got out???”

Here comes the swearing. Since they didn’t know you’re around, there was no restriction.

“Frisk’s been working their ass off to maintain a good reputation for us monsters. If you go now, all their effort is going to be for NOTHING!”

Sans sighed. “Jeez, Undyne. You’ve known me longer than that. I won’t get caught.”

“I’m warning you BECAUSE we’re old friends, dammit! You got the hood up, head low, and your damn eye is blue. That’s your hunting-mode, Sans! You’re going to kill her if she doesn’t meet your standards, right?”

He did not deny. That made you shiver under your warm clothing. What happened?

“Look,” Undyne continued. “I can be dense and stubborn, but I’m not an idiot! We’re on the Surface now. The Royal Guard is disbanded and all legal authority now rests in the hands of the humans.”

“Point is, you WON’T get away with murder! Even if you didn’t get caught, the diplomatic bond will be ruined forever. It’s much better if we just wait for her to arrive. We’ll evaluate her there and then.”

Sans scoffed. “And let her convince everyone that she’s Frisk’s aunt?”

You… had an aunt?
If she’s your legal aunt, Sans’ reaction made sense. She had the priority to claim custody and thus become his biggest obstacle.

You remembered the conditions for the pledge you made with Sans. If he could get you to stay in Ebott Town for good… then, and only then, you’d swear never to reset.

Monsterkind -- no, Papyrus will finally be safe.

Just how many strings did he pull in the background?

He’s the one who notified Alphys.
He’s the one who suggested the meeting at your house.
He’s the one who found Jonah’s office number.

Saturday’s flood of adoption applicants was too convenient to be just ‘the closest date’. Why didn’t they come on Friday? Or Monday? Why did everyone flood Ebott Town on that particular Saturday?

What if he spread the news that everyone had only one chance to claim you? That explained a lot: from the volume of people to the foul impatience. Scarcity creates competition, and competition exposed their hearts.

Your grip tightened around the umbrella’s handle, guilty and disturbed. A Sans who gave a damn… was freaking scary.

Undyne lowered her spear and took a deep breath, trying to calm herself down.

“Sans,” she asked, “Do you trust your friends?”

He looked away. Silent. There was no light in his eyes.

“…If you can’t trust us, at least trust Frisk.”

“Nah,” he answered. “That’s too heavy for the kid. It’s unfair.”

You knew he’s lying for your sake. He couldn’t trust you a hundred percent.

Of course not.

You had killed his brother. Multiple times.
He watched you kill. Multiple times.

Then there were the resets.
There’s no way he could trust you.

Undyne softened further. “If that’s the case, can you trust me? Not as an ex-Captain of the Royal Guard. Not as a friend. Not even as Papyrus’ friend.”

“But as a fellow orphan.”

Sans’ shoulders rounded forward, shrinking further into his coat. You could tell that it’s a hard decision for him to make.

In the end, he breathed out a long and audible sigh. He relaxed, but his hood was still on: a sign of his unhappiness.

“Okay,” he said. “Same situation as Frisk, right? Totally alone. No siblings. So. Yeah. Sure. You two have more in common than me. Welp. I guess I’ll shove myself back home.”

He shuffled himself back to the main road. No shortcuts, no fancy teleportation.

You wanted to follow him, but…

“Punk, you better not. He needs time.”

Undyne noticed you were around after all. Your umbrella did stick out like a sore thumb. It made you wonder if Sans noticed it too.

“Come over here for a moment,” she said. “It’s cold, but we need the privacy.”

You walked over to Undyne. She noticed the worry.

“Sans is really touchy about anyone knowing about his past. That’s why I don’t want to talk about this in town. The less ears, the better.”

You nodded.

“You knew I trained with King Asgore, right? I grew up as a fine person all because of his influence. If he didn’t take me under his wing, I’d end up as a useless, troublemaking scum.”

“I was lucky. Sans, not so.”

It wasn’t every day that Undyne talked as a normal person. No spunk, no excessive energy. Like the time you chose to drink goldenflower tea at her old house.

“It all started when I bumped into him outside of King Asgore’s house. He looked weak, but I could sense some darn strong magic. So dumb kid being dumb, I tried to challenge him. With an ambush.”

“He dodged my blow and almost blasted my face off! With two freaky skull-cannons! You think he’s ruthless now? Jeez, he was a ton worse as a kid.”

You tried to imagine Sans as a skeleton with a bad temper.
Somehow, you did. It scared you.

Undyne continued. “The King stopped the fight and saved my butt. I had to apologize to this… tall… skeleton… I think? I don’t remember his face or name, but that dude was Sans’ mentor. Some hot-shot scientist.”

Her face twisted into a scowl. “I wanted to smash him. The way he talked really, really rubbed me the wrong way. It doesn’t matter if I don’t remember his exact words. Just his tone was enough to rile me up. Sans’ mentor SUCKS!”

“But I bit my pride and apologized for the King’s sake. Later that evening, King Asgore told me about that skeleton. Apparently his parents ‘fell down’ young. Papyrus was just a tiny baby. Like a few months old.”

Didn’t anyone in the monster community tried to adopt them? It’s hard to imagine anyone in Snowdin leaving orphans to fend for themselves.

“No, no, kid. You got it wrong. They were not from Snowdin. They used to live in New Home. Argh, how do I even start? I wanna keep this brief so you don’t freeze your butt off. Toriel will flip.”

You chuckled a bit. The wrath of Toriel keeps everyone in line. You told her that there’s nothing to worry and she can take her time.

Undyne rubbed her shoulders, trying to warm herself up under the snow. She wasn’t as snugly dressed as you.

You offered her your umbrella to keep the snow away.

“Thanks, punk. That’ll help.”

Both of you stand under the shade. Snow fell on top of the umbrella and rolled off the sides.

“Where was I?” Undyne said. “Yeah. Sans. Well, it’s not that nobody wanted to adopt them. Rather, it’s exactly like your situation: everyone wanted a shot. He was the Golden Quiche.”

“You see, Sans’ a total prodigy. He’s got both smarts and power in one package. Mature. Humourous. Responsible enough to work under a mentorship at a young age. He’s a dream kid. But he had a baby brother… that’s when things got complicated.”

“Sans refused to get adopted. Hell, even if you put Toriel and Asgore on the candidate list, he’d still flat out decline. Every adoption process has a chance of sibling separation… and hell, he’s not taking the risk.”

“One of the applicants tried to snatch Papyrus away to show off their baby-caring skills. He immediately activated his magic and tossed everyone out.”

“Since then, he refused to entrust Papyrus to anyone. He ended up raising his baby brother alone: surviving on a mix of soup kitchens, coupons, and mentorship allowance. Kept the house in order too. That’s herculean effort, punk. I can’t do that.”

You couldn’t believe it.

Sans?
The messy lazybones?
As a responsible single parent?!?!?!

It was the total opposite of his current self! You asked Undyne if something happened.

“Well…” Undyne paused for a moment. “Something did happen: a major accident inside the Core itself. Huge enough to shake the entire Underground and cause a nationwide blackout. Many thought that the entire mountain would collapse.”

“We found Sans deep inside. The sole survivor of the maintenance team. Whatever happened down there broke his will.”

“That’s when he became the lazy puntastic joker you know today: a pathetic shadow of himself.” Undyne glanced away in sadness. “But… maybe it would be better if he stayed that way.”

You tilted your head in confusion.

“He’s growing desperate. I can see it.” She replied. “A sad sack of bones is a person devoid of hope. If there’s no hope, there’s nothing to fight for. A person without anything to fight will not become desperate.”

Her attention locked on you.
You started to feel the pressure.

“I don’t know what you told him, Frisk. But Sans had hope for the first time in ages. That’s why I’m worried sick. A man with hope yet without trust… will eventually fall apart.”

Undyne rested her hand on your shoulder.

“Watch over him, okay? He’s gonna act tough, but he’s a wounded man. Don’t be afraid to ask for help either. It’s not something you can do alone.”

You were not sure if it was even possible. After all, you were just a kid. Issues like these… adults sometimes struggle with them all their lives.

But you told Undyne that you’ll try. Finally, her ear-to-ear grin returned.

“That’s the spirit, punk! C’mon, let’s get you home. We gotta pass the news to Toriel anyway. Your aunt’s gonna arrive tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

It was less of a dream and more of a recollection.
A memory that no one else remembered other than its owner.

Once upon a time there were two skeletons: one a gentleman, another a lady. They were not wealthy or famous, but they were respected. Every day, these two would work hard to prepare and cook the meals to feed a school.

This couple made sure no one goes hungry. And they do it with a good sense of fashion. Skeletons must always be reasonably well-dressed, no matter their job.

“What do you mean ‘turn a blind eye’?!” The lady yelled in distress. “He’s only seven years old! He’s your son! OUR son!”

The gentleman tried to coax her. “Dear, t-that is the nature of the training.”

“Training my metatarsus! Seven-year-olds should be playing hopscotch with other kids, not dodging lasers for their lives!”

“But… he can’t just be a bookworm. The training includes both mind and body. He has to be ready for anything: including the worst case scenario.”

“…You knew? You knew he’d go through all these hardship? And you never disclosed them to me?”

“I… I… No-- wait! I’m sorry! Dear, don’t…! Sigh, she ran.”

“Sans? Oh. Oh dear. Sorry you had to see that. Don’t worry, Mom will be back later. She needs some time by herself.”

This was the time before Papyrus entered the world.

“Does it still hurt? If it does, I’ll get medicine from the pharmacy tomorrow.”

Young Sans shrugged. The burning soreness still lingered in his left eye, but it no longer inflicted crippling pain.

“Let’s get some fresh air on the rooftop, okay?”

‘Fresh air’ was as ironic as it gets in the Underground. Wind can pass through the barrier: it was the sole reason why nobody suffocated yet. But, there was always a sense of confinement in the air.

Father and son sat down on a bench. They faced out towards the vast, grey complexes of New Home. The nation’s castle situated right in the line of sight, standing tall and steadfast as a symbol of peace.

“Are you mad with Doctor Gaster?”

No reply.

“Please don’t be. He’s strict, but that’s because he wants the best for you. Sans, you have so much potential. A bright future. For yourself, and for our entire race. He told me that if you could get through this, he’d name you as his successor!”

The silence continued. Dear father sighed in response. His son inherited the tendency of simmering rage from his mother after all.

He began telling a story. Hoped that it would distract his child from the pain.

“Before I married your mom, I was a hotdog vendor. Doctor Gaster had been a regular since day one. I couldn’t believe he -- the great Royal Scientist -- would buy hot dogs from a common skeleton like me. But he kept coming back. Loved my ketchup, he said, and he never uses the word ‘love’ lightly.”

“We started talking. At first it just about small stuff. Then, we began to share stories. Like. How his own father used to describe the Surface. About the vast waters of salty water called ‘Oceans’. About different textures of ‘clouds’. And grasslands that stretch as far as the eye can see.”

“Whenever he talked about that, Gaster looked like he turned into a young skeleton again. That sheer glittering wonder that I’d never see otherwise.”

“One day, he declined the usual order of hotdogs. Instead, he told me to meet him at the center of Waterfall’s mushroom maze at midnight. I usually finish work by ten, so I thought why not?”

“I closed my stand. Made my way to the mushroom maze, and there I found him looking mighty sad. Almost devoid of hope.”

“I asked him why. Gaster handed me a chart of sorts. I didn’t understand until he explained it to me.”

“…The average life expectancy fell into a new low. He told me monsters used to live for hundreds of years, no matter the type. Now, some don’t even make it past their forties.”

“It didn’t make sense at first. Everyone complained about the overcrowding problem. If people were dying young, where are the numbers coming from?”

“He answered: Children. If the family had more than one child, the total population would still end up as a net positive. However, there are a growing number of families who lost one or both parents too soon.”

“Then he started going on about possible theories. Lack of sunlight, increased frequencies of disease from overcrowding, contaminated water, toxic run-offs from the Surface garbage. A lot of complicated stuff that I would never have considered.”

“Above all, it was too much stress. The people tried to be positive, but it doesn’t mean they succeeded. Monsters are tied so closely to emotions, he explained. Prolonged stress can end up fatal.”

“The Doctor confessed that he’s been trying to break the Barrier long before the King ever considered it. Many told him to stop. Called it a fool’s endeavour. But he refused. Insisted that it was his calling as a man of science. Not only to satisfy his thirst for the Surface, but also to save every single one of us.”

“He just wanted someone to understand. I don’t think I was the best choice, but I was his closest friend.”

Alas, the young boy didn’t share the sentiment very much. His father could tell that the kid had started to tune out his story.

The gentleman touched his son’s rounded chin. Gently turned it towards him.

“…Sans, please look at me,” he said. “I never fully understood Gaster’s fears until I.. I had you. I could care less about the Surface. But… but… I don’t…”

Tears welled up in his sockets. “I don’t want to die. I don’t want to leave your Mom behind. I don’t want to leave you behind. I want to see you grow into a fine adult skeleton. Get a partner that you love. Marry. Live life to its fullest.”

Dear gentleman father started to cry before his son. His bones rattled with fear and sadness. How unbecoming, he thought to himself. Sans already struggled with more weight than a child should bear.

“I wish you could have a normal childhood. To live carefree. Comfortable. Even lazy. A life where you only needed to worry about schoolwork and keeping your room clean.”

“But I can’t provide any of that.” The adult hung his head down in apologetic shame, his tears unable to stop. “I’m so sorry, Sans. I’m so very, very sorry.”

Watching a father reduced to a sad sack of bones will leave an impression for life.

Today, Young Sans may be too immature to understand its full implications.
In a few years time, he might empathize with the desperation that gripped the Underground for ages.

The least he could do for now was to make his father smile. Funny. The adult wanted to cheer the kid up. But, in the end it was the reverse.

After racking his brain for something, the kid grinned.
Sans then told his first pun.

The sobbings stopped. He told another pun. Wriggled those brows a bit for added dramatic effect.

His father’s tearful eyes started to ‘smile’. A chuckle escaped between his teeth.

By the third pun, he was outright laughing.

“Oh goodness, Sans! That’s so bad, it’s brilliant! Have you been reading the joke books in the library?”

The kid nodded. Dear father responded with the biggest hugs.

“Never stop punning, my son. Never.”

In present day…

Sans found himself staring at the bathroom mirror. Toriel insisted on building bathrooms into homes where Frisk regularly visits. His house was one of them.

Who is this person?
Not what his parents had imagined, for sure.

He quit the life of science.
He neglected his magical training.
He certainly didn’t get married.
His sense of fashion was the faux-pas of the skeleton society. Not that Papyrus ever realised.

He never did save the Underground.
He didn’t become the King’s advisor.
Or the Royal Scientist.

Every single hope his parents had was fulfilled by someone else.

Alphys.
Undyne.
Papyrus.
Even Frisk. A human.

He needed to be pushed around by Papyrus, of all people. At one point, the folks of Snowdin actually thought his sweet little brother was the elder one.

No matter how he tried to rationalize, Sans saw himself as nothing but a disastrous disappointment.

“SAAAAAANS!” Papyrus yelled from the other end of the living room. “DID YOU FALL ASLEEP IN THE BATHROOM? IF WE DON’T LEAVE NOW, WE’RE GONNA BE LATE FOR THE WELCOMING!”

Case in point.

“Nah, Paps. Just making some ‘finishing touches’.” Which involved slapping an ice-cold damp towel on his face.

He pressed his skull into the fabric for a good five seconds. It was tempting to scream into it, but doing so will alert Papyrus.

“Get a grip,” Sans whispered to himself. “No slacking. Not on your own damn bet. You got a job to do. A promise to fulfil.”

He hung the towel back on its hoop and straightened out his sleeves.
Then, it’s time to face the sunshine in all its glaring glory.

Chapter Text

When you heard the word ‘Aunt’, you expected a slightly overweight middle aged lady.

Not a hot momma trenchcoat noir detective. Complete with an appropriate hat.
Your aunt was tall.
Fit.
Brown and beautiful.

Her long, straight black hair stretched all the way to her lower waist. Striking, amber eyes locked on you as if you’re prey.

She’s the hawk.
You’re the mouse.

You’ve survived unspeakable horrors, yet this one human intimidated you more than the entirety of the Underground.

“Well, well, well. Quite an interesting welcoming entourage we have here. A lizard, an undine, a pair of skeletons… and the Boss Monster couple themselves. Makes me feel like I’m attending a royal invitation.”

Not only she was dressed like a noir detective, she talked like one: cool, suave, and a hint of tease.

“Well,” said your mystery aunt. “I’m not going to play coy and pretend like I’m an ordinary person. You see, I’m a Magus. A Mage. Wizard. Sorcerer. Whatever label you wanna add. That’s me.”

You don’t like her tone.

It prompted you to shuffle closer to Mom’s side.

The uneasy aura affected your monster relatives as well.

“In other words: one of the folks who sealed you lot ages ago.”

The moment the word ‘Magus’ was mentioned, it was near-pandemonium.

Mom hugged you closer and hurried you back into the backlines. You had a feeling that she forgot that you were not a monster child. Dad meanwhile remained steadfast, his expressions unchanging.

Alphys hid behind Undyne, trying to not quake into jelly. Her strong lover stretched out a protective arm and conjured a spear: ready to put herself on the line.

Then there’s Sans. His left eye shimmered blue. Not blazing, but ever intensifying. A sure sign that he will rip through your aunt the moment she did anything funny. What if he recalled a latent memory about her? A negative one at that?

Papyrus? Papyrus is Papyrus: he’s still all sunshine and smiles with no idea why everyone got so tensed.

“Stop! Stand your ground!” Dad halted. It was the first time you’ve ever heard him so commanding. He always spoke to you in the gentlest, kindest manner. Even when he forced himself to kill you.

Yet now, he had the voice of a true monarch… as if he commanded an army. He restrained the two most vicious fighters with nothing more than words.

Undyne respected the former king as both her mentor, ruler and father figure. She dispelled the spear on the dot of his order.

Sans seemed a bit more reluctant, but in the end he held back.

Dad softened to a more diplomatic tone as he addressed your aunt. “Magus,” he said, “What do you wish to accomplish from our meeting today?”

She replied, “To get my cousin’s kid back, that’s all. I ain’t got any other hidden agenda. I watched the videos on the net too, you know. Pretty positive impression. No reason to antagonize.”

“But, I swore to watch out for them. So I waited for the storm to pass, then drop in when there ain’t any other pesky wannabes around.”

“I see…” Dad nodded. “Why couldn’t they come visit Frisk by themselves?”

“‘Cause Frisky’s parents be sleepin’ six feet underground, sir. Been so for their lifetime.”

Your mind and heart skipped a second. Hearing the news with your own ears, after wondering about it for your entire life…

It shocked you in ways you didn’t think possible.

Papyrus blurted out: “THEY’RE HIDING AMONGST MONSTERS AFTER ALL THIS TIME?! IF THAT’S THE CASE, WE SHOULD GO LOOK FOR THEM!”

Sans hesitated for a moment, but it’s his brotherly job to explain to Papyrus. “No bro, she meant that Frisk’s parents are dust now. Fell down. Gone.”

When the details finally sank into Papyrus’ innocent skull, his delightful smile clouded into sadness. “…OH. FRISK, I’M SO VERY SORRY.”

You told Papyrus it’s okay. He wasn’t familiar with human phrases after all.

Dad bowed his head to give your departed parents a moment of silence. “Condolences. If that’s the case… how do you wish to settle this issue?”

“A good old magic duel,” your aunt replied. “It’s not gonna be an all-out fight. Think about it as… a method for Magi to settle silly disputes. Give me your best warrior, and I’ll explain the rules.”

Your Dad further asked: “Surely you must have a victory condition. No duel is complete without a wager.”

“Of course, of course…” Your aunt placed a hand on her cool hat. Then she cocked her head upwards with a strange grin.

There’s something off about her expression. It reminded you of Chara, yet not quite.

“If I win, I’ll exercise my right as next of kin. Effective today.”

“If I lose, I’ll obey to your conditions. Like say… if you want me to scram and never to return, that’s fine. If you want me to stick around to observe, sounds good. If you want me to cease existing from this world, I can accept that too.”

Did she just suggest suicide as a valid option? Goosebumps spread throughout your body.

“Very well,” Dad nodded. “Let’s move to a more level field, Magus.”

Ex-King Asgore motioned his mighty hand to the side. Dad’s suggestion was as literal as his naming schemes: he had pointed to a straight and level sidewalk.

It shouldn’t give any side an advantage. At least, you don’t think so.

The magician who claimed to be your ‘aunt’ stood at one end of the walkway.
The other end will then be filled by the ‘warrior’ of your Dad’s choice.

“So,” she asked. “Who will you nominate?”

“Papyrus.” Dad answered.

Your lanky skeleton friend pointed at himself, both puzzled and elated at the same time.

If Mom didn’t carry you in her arms, she would have attempted to slap Dad right here and now. Papyrus, of all the possible choices? Even you question the decision.

“Yeah, I’ll pick Papyrus too.” Undyne agreed too?! However, her expression reminded you of the night before.

‘Trust me.’

You decided to support her.

Lacking a better option, Alphys agreed. The sole person who could object would be Papyrus’ elder brother.

After a long silence, Sans started to chuckle. “Heh, Paps. Need me to… ‘fetch’ your ‘am-bone-nution’?”

“SAAAAAANS!” Papyrus yelled back. “OH C’MON THIS IS THE FIRST TIME HIS MAJESTY EVER REQUESTED FOR MY EXQUISITE PRESENCE AND YOU JUST HAD TO MAKE IT UN-COOL! BUT YES I NEED MY BONES. ”

More laughing from the short skelly. You breathed a sigh of relief. It’s been a long time since you’ve felt the tension of the unknown. It was both exciting and nerve wrecking at the same time.

Sans shuffled off to the nearest ‘shortcut’. He soon returned with a familiar cardboard box filled with Papyrus’ ammunition.

He once told you that he could conjure more on the fight itself, but that would drain his stamina. So he’d make reusable bones ahead of time. Maybe that’s where all the calcium supplements went.

Papyrus stood at his side of the battlefield. A breeze fluttered the edges of his bright red scarf. He beamed with confidence.

“MAGUS! I -- THE GREAT PAPYRUS -- SHALL BE YOUR OPPONENT! YOU SHOULD BE HONOURED, NYEH HEH HEH!”

The Magus raised her brow. “Quite full of yourself, hm?”

“WHY OF COURSE! BECAUSE I AM PAPYRUS: THE COOLEST SKELETON IN THE WORLD! I EVEN HAVE A HEDGE TRIMMED TO MY HANDSOME VISAGE!”

“Well, well. Let’s see if you live up to your claims. Bring out your SOUL.”

A shining yellow heart ejected from the Magus’ chest. Unlike a normal human’s soul, angular lines cut segments through her heart. It reminded you of the science-fi ‘Tron’.

Yellow represented justice and accuracy, which befitted her appearance as a noir detective.

Papyrus frowned at the sight. “MAGUS! ARE YOU SICK? WHY IS YOUR HP CAPPED AT 13? THAT’S A REALLY WEIRD NUMBER.”

Your aunt cringed outright. It seemed that Papyrus had just announced a big secret. That’s when you noticed a cheeky pucker on Dad’s lips. The tall skeleton did have a tendency to become an unwitting broadcaster.

She cleared her throat and lowered her hat, embarrassed. “I-it’s nothing. I’m fine. Just the winter season, you know.”

“Anyways, a friendly Magi duel goes like this: overpower your opponent with your SOUL’s colour. When that is done, the loser must play by the winner’s rules. Simple. Don’t worry, the effect is not permanent.”

“OKAY!”

Papyrus’ white SOUL radiated in his chest. It’s an inverted heart, the default for monsterkind. Except, he couldn’t eject it out of his body. “…I THINK WE HAVE A PROBLEM.”

“Huh. That’s interesting.” Your aunt commented. “A monster’s soul is more rooted in their body than expected. That’s fine. I’ll just turn your entire bonely self yellow.”

“AND I HAVE TO ATTEMPT TO CHANGE YOUR SOUL’S COLOUR, RIGHT?”

“That’s right.”
“WHO GOES FIRST?”
“…Why not the challenger?”

The lady isn’t taking any chances. She reached out her hand towards your friend. Her segmented heart conjured three points around Papyrus. The points joined, forming a golden triangular net with your friend in the center.

“YIKES!” His eyes bug out. “I FEEL POSITIVELY TINGLY! OR IS IT NEGATIVELY TINGLY?”

Looking down at his own bones made him freak out even more. “OH MY GOD I’M TURNING INTO A LEMON!”

Papyrus struggled to fight off its influence. He tried to shake the colour off in a literal sense, which made him look like he’s dancing on the spot.

He tried the shuffle.
Some backflips.
The grind.
A ten second handstand.
Spin on his skull.

Watching him flail around made your aunt chuckle. She teased: “You better fight it, or else you need to play by my rules.”

You really, really wonder if Papyrus could pull this off.
Does he even know what he should do?

As time went by, the smile on the Magus’ face slowly faded. Papyrus was not dispelling the magic… but the power of yellow also failed to seep into their target.

He’s resisting without even realising it. Someway, somehow, the match was in a deadlock.

“Hey lady,” Sans asked. “Will giving a tip disqualify Papyrus? I mean, this is taking a bit too long. You wouldn’t want Frisk to get a frostbite. In return, you’ll get an important hint.”

Your aunt pondered for a moment. She’s human, so she’s as susceptible to the cold as you are.

“Sure,” she said. “We’ll trade tips. Papyrus, that’s not how you fight the influence. Get back on your feet.”

“OH?” Papyrus stopped spinning and stood on his boots.

“Calm your body. Still your mind. Gather your magical power at the center of your SOUL. When you’ve concentrated enough, release them in a burst. If you’re strong, you only need to do this once.”

“REALLY? WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME THIS SOONER?”

“Because I’m your opponent. Opponents don’t share their secrets. Usually.”

You facepalmed. He didn’t know how to fight the duel after all. Yet, he survived. That was quite a feat.

You watched Papyrus attempt to focus. It was… a bit of a tall order. He’s always been kind of a cloudcuckoolander, with haywire and odd-angled thoughts.

Then, his SOUL started to shine in brilliant blue. It shone so bright that it was glaring to look at.

It’s like looking straight into the sun.

“NYEH!!!” Sheer force exploded from Papyrus’ being.

It smashed the golden triangle.
Blew away the snow around his feet.
And the sudden gust of wind almost flipped you out of Mom’s grip.

It shocked you, Mom and Alphys.

Papyrus struck a victorious pose. “THAT’S SO MUCH EASIER THAN BREAKDANCING! NYEH HEH HEH!”

Your aunt was no longer so confident. She’s growing nervous, yet trying to maintain her professionalism.

“I’ve given my tip,” she said. “Where’s mine, shorty?”

Sans snorted. He’s enjoying more than he’d like to admit. “Papyrus has two types of attack. White and blue. When his bones are blue, stay still and they’ll pass through you without a single scratch. Avoid the white ones like normal. That’s all.”

“Huh… thanks. Alright. I’m ready.”

Papyrus announced: “I SHALL NOW USE MY FABLED BLUE ATTACK.”

He grabbed a handful of bones from his box, turning them blue in his hands. Then he tossed them towards your aunt’s floating heart.

The bones zipped across much faster than you remembered. Much, much faster. The sheer density of bones left no room for convenient dodging.

Is this Papyrus’ true strength…?

The moment one of the blue bones passed through her heart, your aunt’s expression transformed into panic.

Widened eyes.
Crouched posture.
Tensed body.

She conjured a bubble shield around her soul and started moving it around. She’d rather expend all her mana and tire herself out than to let another of these bones pass through her.

The blue bones collided against its constant movements. You heard a crystalline chime for each hit the shield deflected. Meanwhile, she tried to squirrel between the gaps of Papyrus attacks, but alas your aunt was too slow and her shield too wide.

In the end, the bubble shattered.

She was forced to stop.

Cornered.

Papyrus’ flurry of bones passed through her soul and transformed it into a shade of rich, dark blue. It landed on the snow like a brick.

“YOU’RE BLUE NOW!” said Papyrus. “NYEH HEH HEH HEH HEH HEH HEH!”

You and Sans laughed your heads off. Take that, scary woman!

Now your aunt lost her cool. “Wait wait wait wait! What are your victory conditions? What’s your game?”

Papyrus posed heroically. “MAGUS! SURVIVE FIFTEEN ROUNDS AND MY SPECIAL ATTACK! IF YOU WIN, YOU SHALL EAT A MEAL OF WHOLESOME SPAGHETTI WITH THE GREAT PAPYRUS.”

“IF YOU LOSE, I WILL COOK YOU MY SPECIAL SPAGHETTI FOR LUNCH. THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS!”

Your aunt’s baffled expression was utterly priceless. “They mean exactly the same thing!!!”

Everyone cracked into assorted guffaws. Ah Papyrus, forever with his spaghetti. Mom whispered to you that she’ll manage the stove for your sake.

The real show began now.

Holy smokes, how different it was. It made your battle in Snowdin like… well… child’s play. Papyrus went easy on you.

But with a professional adult? Not at all. His patterns were fast, furious, and complex. It included the notorious platforming sections from Sans’ routine.

Unlike Sans, you could see that Papyrus still remained fair. He’s here to give someone a ‘hard time’. Not a ‘bad time’.

Your thoughts wandered for a moment. You wondered what’s like to have a real sibling. Someone who cared for you like how the skeleton brothers care for each other.

It must be great.

The Magus who claimed to be your aunt scrambled to keep up with the patterns. Whenever she thinks she couldn’t make it, she’d conjure a shield. It saved her from a direct hit… only for her to get blindsided by a different bone.

You were glad that Papyrus didn’t execute his weavings of white and blue on you.

Fatigue started to eat into her: each shielding attempt was weaker than the ones before. By the end of Round 15, she panted as if she physically jumped the obstacle course itself.

Judging from the amount of times her soul got hit, she didn’t have much HP left.

Papyrus picked up the final bone in his box. “I SHALL NOW USE MY SPECIAL ATTACK! NYEH HEH HEH!”

Oh, it was the one that got stolen by that strange and fluffy dog. You never did get to see its true form. The prospect of having that mystery resolved once and for all filled your heart with excitement.

He made the bone spin in the air.
And it spewed out…
Spaghetti. Spaghetti of all things.

Not the actual noodles, mind you, but rather they were tiny bones arranged in spaghetti-like strings. They whipped towards the Magus’ direction.

Your aunt put all her remaining stamina into her one, final shield. Its thickness reminded you of a heavy snowglobe.

She’s done with running. Instead, she will ground herself and tank it all.

“I will survive.” She declared. “I WILL survive!”

The string crashed against her shield. The bones shattered against the surface, each inflicting tiny crack after tiny, tiny crack.

Their barrage pushed the bubbled soul across the ground, grinding a trail in its wake.

The dog saved your hind. You now better appreciate its mischief. If you ever saw it again, you swear to give it a treat. Like an entire piece of steak.

Just when there was a clear road to victory, Papyrus stopped his onslaught. The bones remained suspended in mid-air.

“MAGUS!” He said, “YOU’RE STRAINING YOURSELF TOO HARD WITH THAT STRANGE SHIELD. THAT IS EXTREMELY UNHEALTHY! YOU’RE IN NO CONDITION TO CONTINUE. OUR DUEL ENDS NOW!”

“What…?” Your aunt couldn’t believe her ears.

“I MEAN WHAT I SAID. I -- THE GREAT PAPYRUS -- CHOOSE TO SPARE YOU!”

You smiled. That’s the Papyrus you knew best.

“But… why?” She asked back. “I’m… I’m here to take your precious friend away… It would be easier to kill me.”

“ARE YOU SILLY? YOU ARE FRISK’S AUNT! THE GREAT PAPYRUS ISN’T SO CRUEL TO HARM THEIR SOLE LIVING RELATIVE IN THIS HUGE WORLD!”

Glory hogging he may be, his kind heart was always in the right place.

Papyrus called back all his bones and placed them back inside his ammo box.
He also dispelled the blue magic on her soul, letting it return to its original colour.

Your aunt took a few breaths to recover. She still couldn’t believe that she was spared, roped into nothing more than a meal of pasta.

“Ha… haha… Fine. You win, Papyrus. I’ll eat your spaghetti.” The yellow heart floated back into her chest. That marked the end of the battle.

It calls for a celebration. The moment Mom put you back on the ground, you dashed to Papyrus to give him a big hug. As much as you could hug a tall skeleton anyway.

“Bro,” said Sans. “You’re the best.”

“I KNOW!” Papyrus answered.

Come to think of it, your aunt never disclosed her name. You turned around to ask just that. It would be rude to have lunch with someone without knowing their name.

Your aunt’s expression softened a ton. She’s no longer a hawk eyeing on their prey.

Through the power of mercy, she’s now a normal human lady. A tired one to boot.

“Cenna.” She answered. “Cenna Caraway.”

Chapter Text

“Sorry if I spooked you guys. That was just an intimidation tactic.”

Cenna Caraway.

“Scared folks are less confident. Makes them trip up more. Hoped that’ll give me some advantage.”

She claimed to be a former detective.
Quit the job to concentrate on becoming a full-time Magus.

“Didn’t turn out well, yeah? I’m kinda glad though. If I succeeded, we wouldn’t be having a fine lunch together.”

To believe, or not to believe?

Undyne munched on a meatball as she observed this new human. It took guts for someone to strut up and declare such a bold challenge. More so after the videos circulated online.

The spaghetti was more than edible: it was actually delicious. ‘Assistant Chef’ Toriel must have done most of the real work. Papyrus’ cooking was improving in leaps and bounds, but he had yet to surpass an experienced wife.

Asgore’s presence prompted Toriel to remain in the kitchen. Her excuse was butterscotch pie… but it was rather obvious to everyone that she didn’t want to be around her ex.

Speaking of Papyrus, he’s too busy eating to talk.

Undyne noticed that Sans kept his left eye on Cenna at all times. He saw her as a threat long before her arrival. It doesn’t look like he’ll let up his stalking anytime soon.

Frisk sat beside Asgore, silent as ever. They weren’t sure on how to approach this young aunt. Yet. Sooner or later they’ll figure it out.

As for Asgore? He chatted with the Magus as if nothing ever happened. Then again, he never wanted to hurt her. That’s why he had Papyrus represent his side during the duel.

“Being the loser can be liberating,” Asgore nodded. “It ends a bad choice, letting you start anew.”

Cenna smirked. “Sounds like you got some personal experience in that.”

“Why yes, I did.”

The fish noticed that Alphys was… particularly fixated on Cenna’s long, straight, black hair. She understood why; those locks looked like they came straight from an anime.

She gave her girlfriend a soft nudge. “Go on. Ask.”

The yellow scales started to turn bright red. After a little more encouragement, she finally broke the question: “M-Miss Caraway. Your h-h-h-hair. Did you. Um. How do you k-keep it so n-nice and long?”

Cenna chuckled with a slight blush on her cheeks. She did not expect such mundane curiosity from monsters. “A bit of money and lots of time. I only started keeping it long after I quit the detective business.”

“How long ago was that?”

“A year.”

“Whoa!” Alphys exclaimed. “Your hair must grow really fast! I’ve read that a human’s full length of hair depends on genetics.”

“Yup. You’re right.” replied Cenna. “You’re well-read for someone living in new territory. The majority of humans don’t know this trivia.”

“R-really? I thought it’s common knowledge. It’s easy to access basic medical information online.”

“Common knowledge ain’t common if folks don't look for it.”

After more flustering, Alphys picked up the courage to ask the next step: “Can… can I touch your hair?”

Cenna shrugged. “Sure thing.”

The lizard gingerly combed her stubby claws into the luxurious strands. Fangirl mode, on. Full swing. Her eyes sparkled as she started squealing about their texture. Who knows if this experience will inspire Mettaton’s new hairdo?

Papyrus then finished his meal. The peace and quiet ended there.

“SO MISS AUNT, HOW ARE YOU RELATED TO FRISK?”

At least he didn’t ask ‘What is an aunt?’. Chances are, he already learned that in Snowdin.

“It’s a bit complicated,” she replied. “Frisky and I aren't related by blood at all. You see, my biological parents weren’t good people. Social Services plucked me out from there and passed me to my uncle.”

“He remarried, then he got into financial trouble from a failing business. Borrowed money from illegal sources to try keep it afloat. Couldn’t pay off the debt.”

“My stepmom didn’t think it’s right for me to live on the run. So, she sent me to her maternal cousin. That’s Frisky’s mom.”

“… I HAVE A FEELING THAT I’VE HEARD OF THIS PUZZLING SITUATION BEFORE,” commented Papyrus. His bony brows furrowed as he tried to recall.

It was one of the possible scenarios mentioned back during the lunch meeting. Jonah the lawyer did warn them about this: human family definitions can get… complicated, to say the least.

A warm, nostalgic smile drew on Cenna’s lips, remembering the better times.

“Lovely couple. Reminds me of Asgore and his goat-ex here. It was the first time I ever lived in a proper home. I remembered skipping school when the big day arrived. Hah, I was so excited for Baby Frisky.”

Frisk stopped eating to pay full attention. From their expression on their face, this was huge news.

After Undyne swallowed her mouthful of pasta, she decided it’s time to dig for some more information.

“What happened to Frisk’s old folks?” she asked. “They’re gone, but how?”

“…Perished in a mountain-climbing accident.” Sadness clouded Cenna’s face. “They were geologists. A quake happened on the job and they got caught in a rockslide. Didn’t make it.”

Upon the disclosure of their unfortunate demise, the air around the dinner table turned solemn.

But…

“Thanks, Aunt Cenna.”

The silence was broken by Frisk. Showing gratitude, of all the possible choices. They were saddened, but they were also relieved.

“At least I’m not abandoned.” They flashed a quick smile. “Ever since I found the Abandoned Quiche, I thought it was a reflection of my life.”

“An ‘Abandoned Quiche’?” Cenna asked.

Papyrus’ face lit up, excited that he knew about this fact. “OH YES! FRISK ONCE PHONED ME TO INQUIRE ABOUT A STRANGE QUICHE LEFT UNDER A BENCH.”

“NEVER WORRY, MY HUMAN FRIEND! THE GREAT PAPYRUS WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU!”

His positivity was infectious. Frisk beamed in warm delight. Knowing just how much love they always had lifted a great weight off their shoulders.

Undyne continued to think. Her Royal Guard instincts tingled: there was something off about this woman’s testimony.

But what?
Does it involve her personal connection to Frisk’s parents?
Or the circumstances that landed the kid in foster care?

“Hey lady,” Sans asked. “Where were you when the accident happened?”

“Babysitting Frisky. There’s no school during the weekend.” Cenna replied. “Is something the matter?”

“Hm? Just wondering what’s their guardian like.” Sans remained casual. He always does. “Responsible? Funny? Gentle? Or… ‘too cool’ for her own good?”

Undyne shot a glare at the short skeleton. She sensed bitterness.

The human lady propped her head on her arm. “Oh? Why’d you say so?”

“‘Cause you’re one ice cold poultry.”

Undyne slammed her fist on the table. “Sans, watch your mouth. OR ELSE!”

He outright ignored the warning. “Did I ruffle some feathers? Hey, think about it. Our guest here was old enough to brood the nest alone. That would put her somewhere in her late teens? Maybe close to adulthood? And yet, Frisk never heard of her till yesterday.”

“Saaaaans…!” Undyne’s metal fork bent in her tightened grip.

Ignored again. The light in his sockets went out as he dropped a chilling accusation: “Why did you abandon Frisk?”

Frisk’s smile vanished in an instant.

She had enough. Undyne grabbed Sans’ chair and attempted to throw him out of the window.

Alarmed, Papyrus jumped in to save his brother from her unbridled wrath.

“UNDYNE! PLEASE PUT MY BROTHER DOWN!”

“Your brother needs a lesson!”

“MAYBE HE’S A BIT RUDE, BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN IT’S OKAY TO EJECT HIM TOGETHER WITH HIS CHAIR!”

Asgore, Alphys and Frisk tried to split them up, but the struggle was too violent to get close.

Toriel rushed out of the kitchen upon hearing the commotion. Needless to say, she was horrified.

Meanwhile, Sans gripped onto the seat for his dear life. Literally.

“If he ever gave a damn maybe he should have just shut up in the first place! Genius my ass!”

“PLEASE KEEP THIS PG-13!” said Papyrus. He noticed Toriel had emerged from the kitchen, and she doesn’t appreciate swearing in front of the kid.

“I don’t fucking care about that anymore!” Undyne yelled back. “Your brother asked the worst question at the worst time in the worst possible manner! HE! NEEDS! TO! GET! OUT! NOW!!!”

A glint of orange ignited in Papyrus’ right socket.

No one knew what happened after.

One moment, everyone tried to stop the rampage.

The next, Papyrus was rolling on the floor in pain. Screaming. He kept clutching the right side of his skull.

Whole seconds had gone missing.

Sans found himself sitting three feet away from the site of commotion. Chair included. Hearing Papyrus’ cries of pain woke him up from the shock. He rushed over as fast as his short legs would take him.

The elder brother held him down. Papyrus could hurt himself from all the trashing, or worse.

Frisk and Asgore joined the effort. The big guy pinned down both legs with all his might, while the young one helped Sans restrain the upper body.

“Papyrus!” Sans called out. “Paps! Can you hear me?”

Unstable orange wisps of magic burst out from his troubled right socket. It kept flickering, as if something tried to snuff it out. Any words he spoke were in a strange language.

Guilt and confusion rooted Undyne to her spot. For the first time in a long, long while, she was afraid.

Scared out of her wits, to be precise.

Chapter Text

Your lunch moment was ruined. However, you were too worried about Papyrus to throw a tantrum.

It was childish anyway, unfitting an ambassador.

The entire family rushed Papyrus to the closest thing they had to a hospital: Alphys’ lab.

You made a note to your parents that Ebott Town needed a proper, centralized medical facility.

They agreed.

Your aunt offered to help Alphys, but your friend didn’t want to trouble the guest. In the end, she stayed by the sidelines.

After administering the proper painkillers and sedatives, Papyrus slept in an oversized bed. You recognized it as an import from the True Lab.

Sans wanted to be alone for a while. The first one to give him space was Undyne, in response to her guilt.

Dad excused himself for some reason. Was it guilt as well? Or did he understand the need for solitude better than others?

Alphys, Mom and your aunt stayed around in the living room.

The theme of Alphys' home decorations was ‘anime memorabilia’. Mew Mew Kitty couch, framed posters of various shows, a collector’s case full of models: the list goes on. Much of these were gifts from Mettaton.

It turns out your aunt was also a huge fan of a few titles. The bonding of nerds between the two continued throughout the evening. Alphys offered to put a good word about your aunt to Undyne.

They clicked together faster than you expected.

It’s nightfall. Mom thought it’s time to go home, but you told her that you wanted to stay.

School? School can wait.

Usually, Mom would object to you skipping school. She’d make sure your ambassador jobs take place in the weekends so you’d have uninterrupted schooltime.

But… she knew the skeleton brothers were some of your best friends. Tonight, she granted an exception on the promise that you’d keep her updated.

You agreed.

When Mom left the home, Aunt Cenna addressed you.

“Hey,” she asked, “Is your skelly friend alright?”

You nodded. Then, you apologized for putting her in such an awkward situation.

“No problem, Frisky. I was in the crime department of the police force. Let me tell you, I got into muuuuch more intense drama before.”

Does it involve high-speed chases and exchanging gunfire? You asked.

“Stereotypes have to come from somewhere, yeah? There are some nights that make even the movies look lame.”

Sounds like a dangerous way to live. More so when she didn’t have the ability to load SAVES like you do.

You asked your aunt if Sans’ accusation was true, doing your best to keep a neutral tone.

“…Yeah. He’s right. That short skelly is one sharp dude. Sans, right? Gotta remember the names of folks like him.”

Despite the confirmation, you didn’t feel angry. It stirred more curiosity instead.
You proceeded to ask ‘why’?

“I was just an emotional teenager back then. One day my biggest worry were silly exams, and the next… I’m holding your fate in my arms. I wasn’t ready for that kind of responsibility.”

“So I gave you up to foster care. Biggest regret in my life. Ain’t a day passed where I wondered if I could have made a better choice.”

You told her that there’s no blame. It’s unfair to expect everyone to be as tough as Sans.

…Oops. Maybe you shouldn’t have said that.

“What about Sans?”

Too late, you’ve caught Cenna’s interest. You summarized his circumstance in the most discreet manner. It’s supposed to be hush-hush after all.

All you said was that Sans’ parents died young. He thus raised Papyrus all by himself. You didn’t mention about the hows, the chaos of the adoption attempt, or his prodigy status.

“Damn. No wonder he thinks I’m a chicken. He did what I should have done for you all those years ago. Hats off to him, really. He’s got guts.”

“Papyrus is stellar too." She continued. “A bit loopy up in the head, but he’s such a golden heart. His naive charm is irresistible. If only we have more humans with his innocence. I’d have less blood on my hands.”

If she was a cop who dealt with violent criminals, it’s inevitable that she had to shoot someone dead.

“Well, that just motivates me to do better. I’m not gonna vanish from your life anymore. You can count on that.”

She took out her cellphone and showed it to you. “Let’s trade contacts.”

You traded contact numbers with your aunt. Then you asked what she’s going to do now.

“I’ve booked a room in the Bunny Inn. To plunk luggage. I’m gonna go back there and extend a few nights.”

Why not stay with Toriel? Mom’s house was big enough.

“Nawh, I don’t feel comfortable bunking in other folks’ homes. I’d keep Madam Toriel busy all night. Don’t wanna wear her out more than necessary. Well, what about you?”

You told her that you’re going to be here for the skeleton brothers. Even if it takes the entire night. They’ve helped you out so much, it’s only fair to be with them in their darkest hour.

Aunt Cenna gave you a messy rub on the head. “Atta Frisky. That’s the way.”

“You know… you’re really mature for your age. Are you sure you’re a pre-teen? Your character puts a ton of adults to shame.”

You blushed at the compliment.

Aunt Cenna tipped her cool hat and strode right out of the lab.
Dang, she had style.

You combed your hair back in place with your fingers.

It’s midnight. Alphys tried to contact Sans through her phone. Most of the time it was ignored, until…

“Frisk?” She said, “Sans wants to speak to you.”

What about Papyrus?

“He’s okay. Just sleeping.”

You asked Alphys if Papyrus won’t prematurely wake up.

“I doubt so. The medicine should keep him asleep for at least four more hours. Why’s that?”

Nothing, you said. Just wanted to know when Sans would have his hands full.

That was not a lie. As long Papyrus stays asleep, you can corner that enigma of a skeleton in a battle of words.

It’s best for Alphys to remain ignorant about your true intentions…

You entered the makeshift ‘ward’.

It smelled of pines and bones. You had expected to see complex monitoring machines, but you found none. It seemed that the monsters didn’t have the same medical tech that defined human hospitals.

Papyrus slept peacefully in his bed. Whether or not he’s unaware of the ordeal, you could not tell. His nearby presence served as a constant reminder of the stakes involved.

The sole source of light came from Sans’ left eye. There was an alternating flicker of yellow and blue. He’s using his powers for something, but what?

He stopped when he heard your footsteps.

Sans turned around to face you. Dark spots tainted the rims of his sockets. He’s been stressing his eyes out, either from magic or from… tears?

“…Hey kid,” he greeted you. “About our deal. Perhaps it’s a bad idea. Can we consider it void?”

You were shocked by that statement. He wasn’t smiling and that worried you.

It didn’t help that there was a serious formality to his tone of voice. If you could picture his words, it was not his usual ‘Comic Sans’.

After all the effort in defying the odds, he wanted to give up? Why?

Sans lowered his head. It reminded you of how Dad refused to look at you, back then, when he tried to kill you.

You asked ‘Why?’ again, this time with more firmness.

He said: “Have you ever wondered if you’re just a character in a game? That we’re supposed to be playing to our assigned roles, and no more?”

“If we act outside of boundaries, we break the ‘code’. All the calculations end up haywire. It bites us back. Hard.”

“So please, Frisk. Just… RESET whenever you think it’s necessary. Forget about our promise.”

You walked up to Sans. Placed both hands on his round cheekbones. Locked the gaze of his skull directly to your face.

“What are you doing?”

You then gave Sans a headbutt, Undyne Style!

Well… more like ‘Undyne Style Super Lite Wimpy Edition’. Sans only had 1 HP. You had to be extra careful with him.

Still, it was enough to give both of you a sore forehead. The next few seconds were spent cringing from the sting.

“Ow… What was that for?!” He’s angry. And he should be angry.

You took this opportunity to yell at Sans for being an IDIOT!

In bold, and all-caps.

Quit now?
After all the cool, casual big bro talk about helping you out?
About making a difference?
About getting everyone together?
About trying something different for once?

You reach out to grip his jacket. Held them tight in your child’s fists so he couldn’t flee from you.

What the hell is with the nihilistic talk?
You ask if this is a game to him?

Sans tried to look away from you. He’s dodging your confrontation in any way he can.

“Frisk. Please, you understand where I’m coming from. You’re the only person who can understand.”

Yes.
You understand.
So you asked Sans if he’s scared of the unknown.

In the Underground, he knew what’s going to happen. RESET. Timelines stopping and starting, until THE END. That was the only outcome permitted for the future…

And he had lived through it too many damn times.

Other incarnations of Sans had seen your best, your worst, and everything in between.

You could tell he no longer had true fear because he had already resigned himself to the apathy of the expected doom and gloom.

There was only boredom.
There was only despair.

You know this, not just by having lived through the doldrums more than he did… rather you made it all happen.

You and your determination.

Sans shouldn’t consciously remember anything. His monster brain can’t hold any memory of past repetitions. Still, he always seemed to know more than he let on. Is it because the remembrance of the SOUL is not so easily erased?

As for you? After a certain point, even the ‘True Reset’ stopped becoming ‘True’ for you.

That’s how you could keep writing coded messages to keep track of your attempts.

That’s how you could write letters of apology.

That’s how you tried, ever so subtly, to manipulate the only man who could offer any help.

Blood rushed to your head. Emotions ran wild. Your vessel dubbed as a ‘physical body’ quivered.

You started to cry.
The anger turned inwards towards yourself.

Despite what everyone says about you, deep inside you knew you’re a terrible coward. You kept dragging everyone back to The Underground because YOU cannot face the unknown, determined to stay forever in a loop.

Sans stopped trying to avoid your face. He’s emotionally tensed, but he observed: listening.

You told him that in this time-skewed world…

You, the Golden Quiche with Godlike powers, trusts him the most.

Please, you beg.

Stop.

You told Sans that he’s a living person.
Not a scripted caricature of a bad joker.

He has feelings.
He has fears.
He has burdens.

Let himself be helped.
For once.

The silence seemed to last for an eternity.

He’s frightened of stepping outside of his comfort zone. You could tell. Sans had lived with the headaches of time travel longer than you. Perhaps long before you were even born.

At last he said: “Three questions.”

You blinked in puzzlement.

“You can ask three questions,” Sans explained, “I’m… I’m not sure if I’m prepared for more than that. But, I will answer them the best I can.”

“Just, I advise caution on applying my experiences as a blanket statement. There are other versions of me out there, in different timelines, with a different history. It’s complicated. In time, you’ll understand. We should start on a fresh, new page.”

Chapter Text

First, you let go. A long chat with grabbed clothing won’t be comfortable for either of you.

Second, you imagined your interface changing into the ‘Shop Screen’.

But this time, you won’t be shopping for anything. It had a double purpose as a multiple choice dialogue section. Much like those visual novel investigative games you’ve been playing on an emulator.

There was only one question available in your head so far. You chose that.

> Who are you?

“…I am Sans Serif, Seer and Tactician. ‘Sans’ alone is not my full name.”

He flashed a weak smirk at your surprise.

“Only three others know the truth: Gerson, Grillby, and Asgore. I’d add my mentor on the list… but he’s long gone.”

You wanted to ask how much they know.
But, you realised that you only have three questions. You’ve already used one.

You feel like a shaken soda bottle, trying hard to not explode from the inside.

“Heh, that expression on your face. You wanted to know more, right? Well, kid. I did say I’ll do my best to answer. Don’t worry, I won’t cheat you.”

Soft wisps of blue rose from his blue left eye. Unlike the other times when you witnessed this display, this had no sense of threat.

He’s just showing you his true self.

“Where do we start…?”

“Asgore is too kind and soft to lead a proper war, so someone else had to do the commanding. The first candidate was my mentor, but he declined. He’s more of a tech and science guy. More suitable for support.”

“So he made an agreement with the King. In return for staying in R&D, my mentor will train up an ideal candidate. That person… would be me: a Seer trained to think, act, and fight like a genuine human. Including the swift, unfair brutality.”

“Or so that was the plan. The ideal is always too good to be true, right? I… fell far below standards. Let’s just say, I don’t care about the nation’s fate.”

“I rather choose a peaceful imprisonment. That’s not a good outlook for someone who’s supposed to lead the charge.”

“Think about it for a moment. Can you imagine the Dog Clan members slicing through someone else’s parent? Or Onion-san pulling battleships into their watery grave, drowning hundreds of crew members?”

“Do you think they can do that?”

You… shook your head.

“I had thought of the same. Those who had never seen the War will not realise the horrors lurking behind their dreams.”

Sans stopped his explanation there. He’s waiting for you to start a new question.
You noticed that he did not explain anything about a ‘Seer’.

You had a feeling it’s related to Papyrus.

> Papyrus and his eye.

What’s the deal with that?

If you could quantify the amount of silent dots on the screen, it would have filled an entire dialogue box.

Or two.

“Skeletons… are not usually born. We’re enchantment based monsters. Get a bone -- any bone -- and add magic. Then you’d have a young adult skeleton. During the War, my kind would engineer more of themselves from human corpses. Think of them as Pseudo-Boss Monsters to boost the Royal Guard. They’re supposed to be tough. Maybe tougher than Gerson. In the end, though, they were just as vulnerable to human violence as everyone else. ”

“Papyrus and I defy that convention. Those who were ‘born’ instead of ‘made’ are blessed with the ‘Seer’s Eye’. If you ask me, it’s more of a curse. What does it do? It allows these special baby bones to peer into space-time. How much? It depends on their potency.”

“At its weakest level, it grants the bearer some level of precognition. Anticipate the next move and act on it. You noticed that Papyrus and I are excellent dodgers, right?”

“At its strongest level… you get limited space-time manipulation. Observe timelines. Teleport. See and use ‘shortcuts’. Skew perspective. All those fancy things.”

You wanted to ask Sans how many past and future timelines he had seen, remembered, but that was a question… You only had one left.

It frustrated you more than expected.

Again, he caught on. This time it amused Sans enough to grant you a wink.

“I know what you’re thinking, Frisk. You want to know if I retained any memories from a reset. The answer is no: to witness visions of a timeline is a manual process. A rather exhausting one at that. I get the ‘deja vu’, but to know what exactly happened? I’d need to skim through each event.”

“Trying to gather all the information is a mind-breaking process. Plus, it's a literal maze. Over time, I learned to pick and choose. For example: the number of times you died in my hands, without the knowledge of our friendship. Kept me sane, you know.”

You nodded in agreement.

“…Before I called for you, I checked Papyrus’ fate in the other timelines. Visiting Toriel. Playing mascot for the Royal Guard. Talent Agent for Mettaton. Crowned King. Heh, that’s the only time I did my job as an advisor.”

“The alternate scenarios confirmed my worst fears: the electric puzzle incident broke his seal.”

What?
Seal?
Papyrus was sealed?!

You pressed that question faster than you can think it through.

> What do you mean by a ‘seal’?

Sans had expected it.
Rather, he steered the entire conversation to this confession.

“Papyrus is my life. He’s the sole reason why I wasn’t completely cold. He… he gave me a reason to care. You can say he’s my ‘soul’.”

“Before my parents passed away, they told me that he’s going to be super powerful. Maybe stronger than me. My mentor already had plans for him.”

“I got really nervous. But, I reasoned that they can care for Papyrus. Like how they had cared for me.”

“…Then they’re gone. I became outright terrified.”

“I didn’t want Papyrus to undergo the same training as I did. I wanted him to live a normal monster life. To remain innocent, merciful, quirky, silly… everything that I was denied of.”

“So I stole an ancient magic textbook from my mentor. Then used my genius to seal Papyrus’ Eye. It’s supposed to be a life-long secret. By theory. But… as you can see, Papyrus eventually become too strong for it.”

“That’s why I couldn’t let anyone separate us. Imagine what would happen if his powers went haywire on an unsuspecting family? He could hurt himself. Or worse.”

You asked Sans why did such magic exist in the first place? Was it created by humans?

You know you had passed the three question limit, but you needed answers.

To your fortune, he didn’t hold your cheating against you.

“Those who’re born with a Seer’s Eye bear the burden of ‘True History’. The sealing procedure was for those who had gone weary and wanted to live a normal life.”

“That will only work up to a certain level though. I’m way past the point of no return. As you can see, Papyrus had crossed that border too.”

True History…?

“Heh, don’t you think it’s a bit convenient that humans won the war? Think about it. Monsters could easily band together to rain utter destruction on entire cities. There was no real need to fight head on and suffer losses… Yet, that didn’t happen. Why?”

Because the King and Queen thought it’s too cruel…?

Sans chuckled a bit. “Hey, hey, they’re not the only monster monarchs. What about the other nations? They’re not all nice.”

You don’t like where this is going…

“I can read it on your face. That expression… tells me you just realized that the powerhouses ‘mysteriously disappeared’. You are correct.”

“The humans had the ‘ultimate weapon’: a time-travelling assassin. Immortal, too. All they needed was DETERMINATION. Reload that SAVE enough times, and even the toughest magic becomes predictable. You’ve experienced it first hand.”

Someone had the same powers all those years ago.
Instead of using it for peace, they used it for murder.

No, it was murder done in the name of peace.

You agreed with Sans that it was a grim revelation. Will Papyrus know that right away?

“…I have no idea. That’s why it’s frightening. What would his Eye see? How will it process information? How will he react to it? Will it change him for better or for worse? Will he lose his innocence?”

The thought alone triggered blue, glowing tears.

“I want Papyrus to remain what you call a ‘cinnamon roll’ forever: sweet and precious. He’s winning over the hearts of jaded folk like Cenna. It’s downright magical whenever that happens.”

“I can’t bear to lose that. If Papyrus became Sans Number Two, that will be my last straw. I know it.”

You told Sans that it will be all okay.
Papyrus is Papyrus. He has a unique perception on things.

Trust him.

“…Haha… I’m being schooled in the lesson of trust by a human. That’s some crazy role-reversal there. Humans were defined by a host of negative traits, mistrust was one of them. Here you are, showing the opposite.”

Sans’ smile was weak.

“If… if anything goes wrong and you need to RESET, address me by my full name. I’ll understand.”

Any positivity evaporated faster than boiling water.

“Actually. Don’t. I’d fall into the temptation of keeping Papyrus locked in a time loop forever. I am trained to think as a human after all. Being selfish is a very ‘human’ thing to do.”

“I’m a terrible brother.”

You told him he’s an awesome brother.
It’s clear that he put so much effort to protect Papyrus.
There’s nothing to condemn about that.

Unfortunately, your pep talk was not enough to lighten him up.

“…There’s a fine line between a fort and a gilded prison. In a way, I kept Papyrus in his personal ‘Underground’.”

“Did you know The Underground was the lesser of two evils? The Seers infiltrated human society and founded the Magus Association. Skeletons have a lot in common with humans in terms of physiology. With sensible clothing and masks, they blended in just fine.”

You dropped your jaw.
They had gone into enemy territory and taught humans magic?!

Why???

“Simple: to give them an alternative other than mass genocide. It’s our last resort for survival. I don’t think most of Monsterkind will understand though. We’d be seen as traitors.”

“So, the Seers swore to secrecy. Took that knowledge to their graves. Being a Seer myself, I share that burden. I’m uncertain if Papyrus can carry that weight.”

You encouraged Sans to break Papyrus’ ‘Barrier’.

The eye seal was on the verge of falling apart, right?
Instead of trying to suppress it, maybe it’s time to lead and educate.
It’s better than letting the cinnamon roll fumble in the dark.

The singular blue eye flared from sheer fear. You wondered if you had offended him.

But then… the wisp died back down.

“You’re right, Frisk. There’s no turning back now. It’s time for me to put on the teacher’s mantle again. For Papyrus. Thank you.”

“Why not stand at the foot of the bed for a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle?”

You weren’t sure if he’s making a pun or not.
Nonetheless, you did as you were told.

Sans’s eye burned bright, channeling the magic for the job. He stretched his hand over Papyrus’ right eye. Doing so revealed a hidden lens made out of magic. It was white. And cracked.

The way it covered that eye reminded you of Undyne’s eyepatch.

He started to speak in a strange, cryptic language. It was the same one as Papyrus rambled earlier.

Those skeletal hands kept making signs. You presumed that they corresponded to his speech.

You had a brief flashback of meeting a skeleton taller than Papyrus. That particular reset had gone screwy.

He was in a dapper tuxedo.
His sockets were in the shape of crescent moons. And he had ridges in his skull.
Spoke in the language of hands, just like Sans right now.

Could that mysterious skeleton be Sans’ mentor?

‘Beware of the man who speaks in hands,’ the riverperson warned.

Great, now you have two guys who speak in hands. With a possible third. You wonder which was the dangerous one.

Or…
Did he warn about the Seers in general?

You shoved the speculations aside. They were a distraction.

Papyrus’ sealing lens flaked off piece by piece. They floated upwards into the air before vanishing forever. It reminded you of autumn leaves floating in the wind.

You expected some kind of bombastic light-play. With glass-cracking sound effects to finish off the ritual.

Instead, it happened in sombre silence.

The chanting continued until the last piece was no more. Upon that instant, there was an orange glow underneath Papyrus’ eyelid.

“It’s done.” Sans breathed out a long, exhausted sigh. He had a long day.

You checked the time. It’s not four in the morning. You told Sans that Papyrus wouldn’t wake up until then.

“…Nah. You’ll see.”

Right after he said that, Papyrus’ face began to contort. He struggled with something, even with the medicine still coursing in his bones.

Papyrus opened his eyes. Orange wisps danced from his right socket, free.

“…W…what… what happened?” He asked.

You couldn’t believe it. Papyrus was talking in the capacity of a normal person. It shouldn’t be possible.

When your tall skeleton friend turned towards his brother, his eyes widened in horror. He kept running his mittened hand in a diagonal fashion. On Sans’ chest.

“Oh… oh my god… Sans… are you… are you bleeding…? Is… that …a gash…? Wait… monsters don’t… ketchup?”

The rest of his panicky statements were in a slurry mess.

Sans tucked his brother back to bed. “Hey bro, I’m okay. It’s all a dream. Go back to sleep.”

Papyrus muttered more gibberish before he drifted back to dreamland. The sedatives won this fight.

It doesn’t look good. You asked Sans how you should update your Mom. You got a promise to keep, but…

“Tell her he’s fine. Just. I’ll explain the rest.”

You asked Sans if he’s sure.

“…No, I’m not sure. From the looks of it, Papyrus won’t be able to control his Eye for a while. He’s going to see Toriel’s death soon. Or more.”

You gave Sans the same advice as you had given to Alphys: tell the truth. Time travel is real!

“I tried that before,” said Sans. “Everyone thought I’m nuts. Or pulling their leg. Time shenanigans are not as observable as a botched experiment.”

Good point.

“I guess you have to tell Toriel that Papyrus will suffer hallucinations for the next week or two. By technicality, it’s true. Let’s see how it goes from there.”

There was not much choice. You knew that Mom won’t be able to sleep. She’d keep waiting on the phone for a sliver of news.

You took out your phone and typed the update as suggested. You then pressed ‘send’.

Knowing your sweet friend would wake up to a world of horrors didn’t fill you with determination. Not at all.

Chapter Text

Alphys’ lab was flooded by concerned visitors.

Mom and Dad.
Undyne.
The five Dog Clan members.
Grillby.

Mom asked if you had some sleep. You nodded. Amazingly, you managed to squeeze a nap in between Sans’ confession and their arrival.

Grillby made burgers for everyone. It’s a bit heavy for breakfast, but Mom approved it better than Alphys’ default instant noodle diet.

Dang, you were hungry. You forgot that you didn’t eat anything since the night before.

On the dot of four in the morning, you heard Papyrus screaming from the ward.

“SAAAAAAAANS! THIS IS WHY I TOLD YOU TO NOT CHUG SO MUCH KETCHUP! LOOK! YOU’RE BURSTING ACROSS YOUR STERNUM!”

That’s some sense of punctuality. On hindsight, his Eye powers might have played a role on that.

Mom was alarmed by the statement. Sans was her joke buddy and her best friend. Thinking that something bad had happened to him, she rushed into the ward ahead of everyone else.

“Sans!” Mom called out.

“I’m fine, Tori.” Sans patted on his perfectly fine chest. His tone of voice was back to his usual social front.

Papyrus faced the rest of you. The wisps of his orange Seer’s Eye showed no signs of fading. It’s bright, and it’s wild.

“Paps is just uh--”
“OH MY GOD TORIEL YOU HAVE A BURST SEAM TOO???”
“He’s--”
“BUT THERE IS NO KETCHUP? DID YOU ACCIDENTALLY CATCH YOUR ROBE ON A SHARP THING AND TEAR IT? PLEASE BE MORE CAREFUL! THOSE CAN BE REALLY PAINFUL!”

Maximum. Papyrus. Logic.

You were not sure to be glad or sad. Papyrus was so innocent, he didn’t recognize his visions of death.

It said something when his subconscious was more aware of the truth than his consciousness.

Mom was too shocked and confused to respond.

Sans again tried to explain: “He’s having hallucinations from an overload of magic power--”

“FRISK!” Papyrus yelled. “IT IS WAY TOO LATE FOR HALLOWEEN! IF YOU WANT TO COSPLAY AS A DUSTY KNIFE WIELDER, SHOULD HAVE DONE THAT SOONER! ALSO KITCHEN KNIVES ARE NOT TOYS!”

Crap. He saw your psycho side too. You hide behind Mom out of sheer shame. Everyone else thought you got scared from his apparent nonsensical babble.

No. It’s because it was the truth.

“Excuse me,” Alphys squeezed herself to the front. “I need to examine Papyrus--”

“ALPHYS, I DON’T THINK CAVE DIVING IS A VERY SAFE IDEA OF CHEERING YOURSELF UP. WHERE ARE YOUR PARACHUTES?”

The statement creeped your friend so hard, she shuffled back into the group. Papyrus had misunderstood her suicide attempt in the most bizarre manner.

“DOGGO!” Papyrus yelled. “JUST BECAUSE A TRUCK IS NOT MOVING, IT DOESN’T MEAN IT’S SAFE TO STAND BEHIND IT! ALWAYS STAY IN THE FRONT VIEW! LESSON 101 FROM DRIVING SCHOOL!”

That. Was new. You were very sure that there were no trucks in the Underground.

Papyrus’ impromptu advice corner continued.

“DOGAMY, DOGARESSA. RED IS NOT GREEN! GREEN IS NOT RED! IF YOU CAN’T SEE RED AND GREEN, IT’S BETTER TO MEMORIZE THEIR TRAFFIC LIGHT POSITIONS! REMEMBER RED IS ALWAYS ON TOP, GREEN IS AT THE BOTTOM. IF IT’S HORIZONTAL RED IS ALWAYS THE LEFT AND GREEN IS RIGHT. MIDDLE IS ALWAYS YELLOW!”

“GREATER DOG, PLEASE BEWARE OF ELECTRICAL CABLES WHEN YOU’RE PILOTING YOUR AWESOME SUIT OF METAL ARMOUR! THE AMOUNT OF FUN IN AN ELECTRICAL SHOCK IS ACTUALLY REALLY SMALL… TAKE IT FROM ME.”

“LESSER DOG! I KNOW YOU’RE VERY HAPPY WHEN YOU HAVE THE ATTENTION OF MANY SMALL CHILDREN, BUT PLEASE WATCH OUT FOR TINY FLYING TOYS WITH VERY SHARP SPINNING BLADES! THEY HURT MORE THAN YOU’D EXPECT.”

For some reason, Papyrus understood their visions enough to give helpful advice. It triggered a host of reactions from the Clan members.

“(Oh!)” Dogaressa turned towards her husband. “(That explains why the cars suddenly moved! We were reading the lights wrong.)”

“I thought all we needed to do is to mind the zebra crossing,” Dogamy mentioned.

Doggo was not very happy. “Hey, it’s not my fault that I can’t see a stationary truck. Also, who told you that? It’s supposed to be my secret.”

Greater Dog and Lesser Dog whined.

It had happened before?!
Through luck or some other outside influence, the family escaped fatality.

On hindsight, the visions were a bit too late. It would have been more useful if Papyrus could warn folks before the accident. Not after.

Undyne marched right up to Papyrus’ bed. Silent. You weren't sure what to make out of this.

Papyrus being himself, wasted no time to blurt out his opinion.
He spoke with less energy than before.
Instead, he was concerned.

“UNDYNE…? YOU’RE LOOKING REALLY REGAL. IS THE WEATHER TOO COLD FOR YOUR WARDROBE?”

What.

He’s seeing her as… Queen Undyne?

Or?…

“BUT IT SEEMS THAT THE HEAVY CLOTHES ARE WARMING YOU UP TOO MUCH. BECAUSE. FOR SOME REASON, YOU’RE LOOKING REALLY GOOPY.”

“OH WOWIE! THAT’S SOME REALLY COOL ARMOUR TOO! IT’S ALL BLACK LIKE THOSE KNIGHTS IN ANIME.”

“I’VE ALWAYS NOTICED YOU’RE PRETTY SPECIAL, UNDYNE. THAT’S WHY I -- THE GREAT PAPYRUS -- WILL ONLY LET MYSELF BE TRAINED BY THE VERY BEST!”

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT YOU’VE BEEN TAKING. BUT TOO MUCH OF ANYTHING IS BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH!”

“PLEASE TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. OKAY?”

You were not sure how to compute this.
At all.

Papyrus had somehow blended several versions of Undyne into one image. Does that means she left a huge impression on him?

If Undyne knew of Sans as a kid, maybe she was also Papyrus’ childhood friend.
And now she’s technically his coach.

She was like a big sister.

The ‘Special Supplement’ was not a supplement. Undyne was one of the rare monsters who could generate her own DETERMINATION. Melting was a sign of her body unable to handle the very thing her created by her essence.

Shouldn’t he know this from the reunion of Amalgamates? Perhaps Papyrus employed coping measures?

The strongest fish lady took a deep breath.

“Papyrus.” She said.
“YES UNDYNE?”

Undyne plucked Papyrus off the bed and started spinning him around.

She then landed a vertical suplex right back into the mattress. The bed’s legs bent from the impact. Luckily for your skeleton friend, the mattress was soft. And he’s all solid bones.

Witnessing this spectacular display of roughhousing, your Mom almost wanted to give Undyne a literal grilling. Alphys quickly grabbed her legs and begged her to not do so.

Things will be fine, you told Mom. Undyne had ‘unique’ ways of communication. No one was harmed.

Undyne smacked her hands on Papyrus’ cheekbones, holding his skull in place. It was a bit of a deja vu since you had done the same for Sans.

Then again, you learned that from her.

“GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF, PAPYRUS!” She yelled. “You’re letting that weird magic screw around with your noggin!”

Undyne took off his mittens. She then guided his skeletal hand to touch her neck, arms, shoulders, even her chest.

“Can you feel the difference? I’m not melting. I’m not wearing any royal garb. I’m not wearing any armour.”

“I’m not dying.”

Papyrus continued to feel the surface of her scales. Whatever he saw, it didn’t match with his other senses.

“CAN I TOUCH SANS?” he whimpered.

“Of course.” Undyne let go of her grip.

The younger skeleton brother’s hand trembled as he reached out to Sans’ chest.

His bony fingers touched the surface of his shirt. He kept running it diagonally across, trying to feel the non-existent gash.

“I CAN’T STICK MY FINGER INSIDE,” said Papyrus. “I SEE THE LIQUID DRIPPING, BUT I CAN’T FEEL IT.”

“Of course, bro.” Sans replied, “It’s just my ‘bone-dry’ shirt.”

“YOU’RE NOT INJURED.”

“Yeah. I’m intact.”

Overwhelmed with joy and relief, Papyrus pulled his brother close for a tearful hug.

Sans wrapped his arms tight in return. “Awh jeez, Paps. You’re turning into a waterfall. I’m gonna get drenched.”

“THEN WE’LL GET DRENCHED TOGETHER! I THOUGHT… I REALLY THOUGHT SOMETHING WENT WRONG. EVERYTHING LOOKED WEIRD AND TWISTY AND BROKEN AND AND AND I’M SO SCARED---”

It ended in a high-pitched whimper.
He’s just a really big child at heart.

“I… I know Paps.” Said Sans. “I’m scared too.”

With her job as the big sister done, Undyne stepped back to let the brothers comfort each other. She ushered everyone out of the ward and closed the door.

You whispered a question: how did she know what to do?

“I called Gerson,” replied Undyne. “The weird visions are strictly visual, he said. Pap’s other senses aren’t affected.”

Ah. That old turtle. Sans said he knew about the whole Eye business. It would be natural that he had coping advice.

Alphys nodded to the explanation. “I… I think it’s best if Papyrus stays in the lab for now. I’ll work on some machines to further monitor the magic. Mettaton is dropping by later today. I’ll ask him to help too.”

“Meanwhile, Frisk. You better go home and get some proper sleep. We’ll take it from here.”

“Yeah, punk!” Undyne exclaimed. “Otherwise you’re gonna fall sick and we’d have to take care of TWO patients at once! One is already a handful!”

Hospital. Please.
Build that ASAP.

Mom and Dad were both… too quiet. You had a feeling that they’re going to have a long ‘adult’s talk’ once you retire for the morning. Mom had a knack of knowing everything, even when no one said anything.

You were too tired to think straight. After a warm shower, some blow-drying, dental hygiene regimen, and a fresh change of pajamas, you drew the curtains to make your room nice and dark. By the time you tucked in, the sun was rising.

Your mind insisted that you should be in school right now. But with enough determination, you psyched yourself to think it’s still Sunday.

You fell asleep.

For some strange reason, you dreamed that Papyrus was sitting beside your bed. He watched you sleep in silence. Waiting.

Shortly after that, you woke up. You got out to go to the loo. From the corner of your eye, you spotted an orange glow.

Papyrus huddled at the corner of your room. He’s reading one of your encyclopaedias.

You then realised that your dream was not a dream.
Talk about surreal beyond words.

You checked your phone’s clock. It’s been seven hours. Dang. You slept like a log despite the circumstances.

Papyrus noticed you. But, he let you do your business first. Humans need to do what humans do.

Once you returned, you sat down beside him. Asked if he’s okay.

With the softest voice he could muster, Papyrus whispered: “PSST. I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE. I GOT REALLY BORED AND SANS IS TAKING HIS SUPER LONG NAP. SO. I USED ONE OF THE ‘SHORTCUTS’ AND SNUCK INTO YOUR ROOM.”

How long had he been here?

“NOT VERY LONG. AN HOUR AT MOST?”

Won’t Alphys freak out if she’s suddenly missing a patient?

“METTATON SAID I CAN GO VISIT YOU IF I WANT.”

Somebody’s gonna be in hot water after this. But eh, Mettaton can charm his way out of that. If not, you could help.

You asked Papyrus what does he need.

The wisps of his still-active Eye flickered when he blinked a few times.

“SOME ADVICE,” he said.

On?

“WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU’RE SUDDENLY BLESSED WITH SCARY AWESOME POWERS THAT’S WAY BEYOND YOUR INITIAL EXPECTATIONS?”

Papyrus tapped the tips of his mittens together, unsure of himself.

“I WAS VERY EXCITED WHEN SANS TOLD ME THAT I CAN MAKE MY OWN SPECIAL CANNONS. I THOUGHT THEY WERE COOL AND POWERFUL, FITTING FOR THE GREAT PAPYRUS.”

“BUT… I DID NOT EXPECT TO PEER INTO STRANGE SPACE-TIME SHENANIGANS. SANS TRIED TO EXPLAIN, BUT I STILL DON’T UNDERSTAND.”

“FRISK, YOU ARE A VERY SMART HUMAN. AND YOU ARE MY FRIEND. WILL YOU THINK LESS OF ME IF I CONFIDE IN YOU?”

No way, you said. To you, he will always be the one and only Great Papyrus.

Even strong people need someone to talk to.

“THANK YOU,” he said. He’s happy for a moment.

Then, his face turned downcast with worry. “AFTER WHAT HAPPENED TODAY, I’M STARTING TO FEEL REALLY SMALL AND REALLY LOST. LIKE THAT TIME WHEN THE BIG CORE ACCIDENT HAPPENED.”

Wait. You asked Papyrus if it was the same one that caused a major blackout and shook the mountain.

“YES. THAT ONE. YOU KNOW ABOUT THAT INCIDENT?”

As much as Undyne told you.

“I SEE. YES. SHE HANDLED THAT CASE. MY BROTHER ENDED UP AS THE MAIN SUSPECT OF THE MALFUNCTION. BUT THEY COULDN’T FIND ANY EVIDENCE AGAINST HIM, SO HE WAS RELEASED.”

“…AFTER THAT, SANS CHANGED. A LOT. IT’S SUPER SCARY.”

Chapter Text

Two investigative chat sessions in 24 hours? Talk about a busy day.

You won’t complain though. Papyrus always tried to be the enthusiastic, responsible second big brother to you. It’s almost unthinkable that he’d seek help.

Yet, it happened.

A lost-looking Papyrus waited for you to ask the first question.

> Growing Up

What was it like for him? Did he go to school?

“YES. BUT, I DIDN’T LIKE IT THERE. THE CLASSES WERE TOO FAST.”

It didn’t surprise you that Papyrus was a slow learner with academic subjects.

What about friends? Did he get along with his classmates?

You noticed that he’s avoiding direct eye contact. “I KNEW EVERYONE BY NAME, BUT I DIDN’T JOIN THEIR ‘GROUPIES’. THEY DIDN’T INVITE ME EITHER.”

Poor Papyrus. He didn’t mix well with the other kids.

The folks in Snowdin used to refer to Papyrus as ‘Sans’ brother’. They seem to see him more as ‘that eccentric sibling’ than a proper friend. That status quo changed when everyone got on the Surface… but Papyrus gravitated towards you.

“MY FAVOURITE PART OF THE DAY WAS WHEN SANS PICKS ME UP FROM SCHOOL! I CAN TALK WHATEVER I WANT! AND HE’D HELP ME WITH HOMEWORK.”

“EVERY MONDAY, TUESDAY AND FRIDAY WE’D MEET UP WITH UNDYNE AND PLAY TOGETHER! SHE FINDS PUZZLES BORING THOUGH. WHICH IS A SHAME BECAUSE THEY’RE FUN, NYEH HEH HEH!”

Just talking about his brother and his sister figure brightened Papyrus by the tenfold.

“UNDYNE SOMETIMES CHALLENGES MY BROTHER TO A MOCK FIGHT! WHICH ALWAYS ENDS UP AS A STALEMATE OF FOREVER DODGING.”

“SANS AND I WOULD MAKE BETS ON HER PATIENCE. THE PERSON WHO GUESSED THE CLOSEST TIME WINS A SNACK OF HIS CHOICE. MY BROTHER WAS TOO GOOD AT THAT GAME.”

How long Undyne would throw her spears before she rage-quits?

“YES, YES! JUST LIKE THAT!”

You snickered together with Papyrus. Yep. You can imagine the sheer exasperation, accompanied by the sound of distressed fish noises.

Maybe it’s time to ask another question.

> What do you remember of Sans as a kid?

“IT’S A PAIN TO GET THAT LAZYBONES TO PRACTICE MAGIC WITH ME! HE’D COMPLAIN, PUN, COMPLAIN AND PUN SOME MORE! I HAD TO BRIBE HIM WITH KETCHUP TO GET ANYTHING DONE.”

Did you sense reluctance? You knew that he was trained to fight beyond child-safe levels. Was he trying to protect his brother from himself? Sounds like an elder brother thing to do. Though, you had a feeling that you’re missing the bigger picture.

“WHICH IS WEIRD, BECAUSE HE WAS NOT LAZY WITH HIS OTHER HOBBIES. LIKE, HE READS A LOT. WAAAAAAY MORE THAN I DO! HIS ROOM WAS FULL OF COMPLICATED SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING TEXTBOOKS. HE’D STUDY THEM OVER AND OVER.”

“IF WE FIND ANY MECHANICAL TREASURES FROM THE DUMP, HE’D TAKE IT APART TO FIND OUT WHAT TICKS. MADE MANY OF MY CHILDHOOD TOYS FROM THEM. IT REMINDS ME OF WHAT ALPHYS DOES! BUT WITH LESS STYLE.”

“MY BROTHER IS PRACTICALLY BAREBONES! NYEH HEH HEH!”

Oh, the pun. It made you snort.

You asked Papyrus of how the brothers managed the house.

“WE HAD A TIME-TABLE. LIKE WEDNESDAY FOR LAUNDRY DAY. MY BROTHER AND I WOULD PLAY THE GAME OF ‘WHO FILLS THE BASKET FIRST?’ THE WINNER GETS TO DECIDE OUR SATURDAY ACTIVITY!”

“ALTHOUGH, I HAD A SUSPICION THAT HE KEEPS A HIDDEN STASH SOMEWHERE TO CHEAT.”

Your brain almost imploded from the sheer paradoxical information. It’s hard to believe that you were asking about the same person.

In a way, keeping a time-table was both a disciplined and lazy thing to do. As oxymoronic as it sounded. One would need to force oneself to just do that particular chore on that day of the week. Nothing more.

Recalling the fonder times made Papyrus happy. You kinda wanted him to stay that way.

But, those were just memories now. If you want to help both brothers, you must know the truth.

> What happened after the accident?

Papyrus fell silent.

“…SANS LOCKED HIMSELF IN HIS ROOM FOR DAYS. HE STOPPED GOING TO HIS REAL SCIENCE JOB. HE STOPPED TALKING TO ME.”

“HE STOPPED… EVERYTHING. NOT EVEN KETCHUP COULD ENCOURAGE HIM. HE WAS AS IMMOBILE AS HIS PET ROCK.”

“I TRIED TO LOOK FOR HIS FRIENDS, BUT FOR SOME STRANGE REASON HE DOESN’T HAVE ANYONE OTHER THAN ALPHYS AND UNDYNE. I THOUGHT HE KNEW MORE PEOPLE THAN I DID.”

“SO!” Papyrus struck a heroic pose. “I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, SWEAR TO HELP SANS OVERCOME HIS BLUES!”

His spike of enthusiasm continued. “TO ADJUST TO OUR NEW LEVEL OF INCOME, I SOUGHT FOR THE CHEAPEST PLACE IN THE UNDERGROUND! WHICH WAS SNOWDIN.”

“ALSO, REVIEWS SAY THAT THE PEOPLE THERE ARE SUPER FRIENDLY! IT’S THE PERFECT PLACE TO START A NEW LIFE! NYEH HEH HEH!”

So that’s how they ‘asserted themselves’ into the town. More like, Papyrus did.

You asked if the plan worked.

“OH YES! IT DID! SANS STARTED HANGING AROUND AT GRILLBYS! I HATE THE GREASE, BUT AT LEAST HE’S NO LONGER A… ‘CLOSET SKELETON’. NYEH.”

More puns. Papyrus likes them more than he’d admit.

“SOON AFTER WE SETTLED DOWN, SANS STARTED A PROJECT! I WAS SO HAPPY FOR HIM! EVEN IF HE ENDED UP SELLING EVERYTHING HE OWNED. AT LEAST HE’S DOING SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE!”

“…OR SO I THOUGHT. AFTER I MET FLOWEY, SANS’ LAZINESS REACHED A NEW LEVEL OF LOW. HE WOULDN’T EVEN PICK UP THAT SOCK IN THE LIVING ROOM. IT’S STILL LYING AROUND IN OUR OLD SNOWDIN HOUSE.”

“I REFUSE TO TOUCH THAT! HIS CLOTHES, HIS RESPONSIBILITY!”

“………………………”

Papyrus stared at the right side of the floor, as if there was something interesting going on there.

He remained silent for a long, long while.

“HE’S NOT BEING LAZY, ISN’T HE?”

“I NOTICED THE WRONG. BUT, I WANTED TO BELIEVE IN HIM. TO BELIEVE THAT HE DIDN’T GIVE UP ON LIFE.”

“I TRIED TO PUSH HIM AROUND TO TAKE BETTER CARE OF HIMSELF. LIKE GETTING A PROPER JOB. PICKING UP HIS LAUNDRY. EAT WHOLESOME MEALS.”

“THAT WASN’T ENOUGH. SO I SET OUT TO LEAD BY EXAMPLE!”

“JOIN THE ROYAL GUARD!”
“BECOME POPULAR!”
“BE COOL!”
“HAVE AWESOME LEVEL OF FRIEND COUNTS!”

“SO SANS CAN SEE THAT WITH ENOUGH EFFORT, ANYONE CAN ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING!”

“…I DON’T KNOW IF THAT EVER WORKED. I GOT TOO CAUGHT UP WITH MYSELF TO NOTICE.”

This cinnamon roll. Too good for this world.

You reached out to your sweet skeleton friend and gave him a big hug. Told him that he did help his brother.

Sure, the results weren’t obvious or life-changing… but you were confident that his positive energy inspired Sans to keep on living.

“IS THAT TRUE, FRISK?” Papyrus’ face shone with delight. Figuratively. “I’M HELPING MY BROTHER?”

You nodded with utmost confidence.

Just be himself, you told him. Show Sans that the Great Papyrus is so cool, he will overcome all the scary stuff!

“YES! AND WHEN I GET USED TO MY WEIRD GLOWING EYE, I SHALL BE A BILLION TIMES COOLER! WHATEVER A BILLION MEANS!”

Papyrus grabbed you by the armpits and abruptly stood up. He’s so overjoyed, he lifted you high above his head.

“THANK YOU, FRISK! I KNEW YOU COULD HELP ME, NYEH HEH HEH!”

The skeleton friend you knew and loved had returned in full swing.

“OKAY! SANS’ TRAINING PLAN IS LONG OVERDUE! THE SETBACK AND DELAYS END RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW! I NEED TO GET BACK TO THE LAB.”

“CAN YOU OPEN THE WINDOW? TORIEL WILL TURN ME INTO REAL ‘SHIN’-GLES IF I BREAK THAT.”

A quick chuckle later, you told him that he needed to put you back on the floor first. Papyrus did so in a swift yet gentle manner.

When you opened the window, frigid winter air chilled your room. Your pajamas were not meant icy temperatures.

You stepped aside.

Papyrus positioned himself to face the opening head on. He grounded his feet to prepare for a classic sprint.

“SEE YOU TOMORROW! OR LATER! COME VISIT WHENEVER YOU LIKE!”

He dashed.
He executed a cannonball jump right out of your window!

Someone’s been adding variations to his ‘stylish-exit’ regiment.

You took a quick peek outside, looking for signs of your friend. Nope. There were no footprints, or an odd orange glow anywhere.

Papyrus had dived into a shortcut.

Your efforts bore fruit faster than you had expected. As you tackled homework around five in the evening, you heard a commotion outside your window.

You opened it up and took a peek.

It’s Papyrus in his Jogboy clothes. Somehow, he managed to get Sans to wear a similar outfit.

“THREE SQUARE MEALS! A BANANA FOR BREAKFAST! 100 PUSH-UPS, 100 SIT-UPS, 100 SQUATS, AND A 10 KILOMETRE RUN! EVERY! DAY!”

“THEN YOU’LL BECOME AS AWESOME AS ME! NYEH HEH HEH!”

…Whatever happened to ‘starting slow’, Papyrus? Plus, ‘anime is not real’. Whatever he proclaimed was a very basic regimen for a human, and that was the joke of the show. You don’t think that routine would work on a skeleton.

“Hey bro, I don’t wanna do that.” Sans replied.

“WHY NOT?” Papyrus asked.

“Because, it’s going to be real boring if I can beat everyone with just one ‘pun’.”

“SAAAAANS! THAT IS NOT THE SPIRIT! THINK POSITIVE! YOUR PUNS SHALL BE SO AWESOME, ONE IS ALL YOU NEED TO KNOCK THE AUDIENCE COLD!”

You cupped your hands over your mouth, trying to muffle your laughter. After all they had been through, it’s great to see their brand of goofy antics again.

Off they went. Knowing that the precious skelebros will be just fine made your heart light and frisk.

You closed the window and resumed tackling your homework.

Five minutes later… your phone chimed. Odd. You had muted all your usual channels for concentration.

Only a new, untagged number would trigger the notification.

You checked your phone.
The message came from Aunt Cenna.

‘Hey Frisky. This is going to be a strange question, but it’s important.’

‘Out of all your friends, who do you trust the most? Other than Sans. That poor guy got too much on his plate already.’

That… was a strangely suspicious question. Repetition intended.

You asked: ‘Why?’

‘I can’t hold down the fort alone, y’know. Since word got out that I’m your legal aunt, every Tom, Dick, Harry and their wives badgered me about you. Talk about real pests.’

Eew. So the wannabe-parents didn’t give up after all. They just shifted to the next target. Aunt Cenna had yet to sign you off to the Dreemurrs, thus she still had technical custody as the nearest next-of-kin.

That means everyone will kiss her butt in hopes that she’d sign you over to them instead.

It seemed that Aunt Cenna trusted your monster family way more than anyone else.

You replied: ‘Mom. She’s no-nonsense when it comes to matters like these. Do you need her number?’

‘Totally. Thanks lots, Frisky.’

Chapter Text

Toriel had polished the same plate for twenty minutes, lost in worry.

In front of Frisk she’d pretend the day went by fine… but the moment they retreated for the night, the ex-Queen fell into an absent-minded listlessness.

She couldn’t help but to wonder what other secrets hid right under her nose.

At first, she thought she knew everything.

Sans? He was her long-time joke buddy. Back then, they never saw each other face-to-face, but they shared a close bond. He made a promise to her and kept it, unlike that coward of a husband.

Papyrus? Sans’ adorable little brother. Forever up in the clouds about his greatness, pasta, and the wonders of them both combined. Wherever he walks, a happy sunshine will follow. Provided his over-enthusiasm didn’t override his sense of logic.

…Was that the truth? Toriel once thought she knew her King Fluffybuns through and through. How grave was her error.

It made her think.

What much does she know about Undyne and Alphys other than their relationship and the fondness for anime?

Their family background?
Their childhood?
Their life before they met her?

Toriel tried to recall as much as she could, but… she drew a blank.

“Some mother figure you are…” she chided herself. A part of her wondered if she was too strict with Asgore.

The recent events reminded the ex-Queen that she had failed to live by her own personal standards.

A loud buzz snapped Toriel out of her stupor. The phone vibrated against the kitchen counter. She placed the plate on the drying rack and answered it.

“Hello?”

“Hey there, Madam Toriel. Cenna Caraway here.”

“Oh? How did you get my number?”

“I asked Frisky for the most trusted adult, sans Sans. The answer was you.”

Before Toriel could reply, Cenna added: “But, I need to know something first: do you trust them?”

That was… more ominous than required. Toriel responded with full honesty. “Of course I do. They’re very matured for their age.”

“Ah, sorry for the strange question. Just checking my bases before I enlist your help. You see, I have a really tough customer badgering me. He wants Frisky way more than anyone else.”

“It would help if you hear his side of the story too, yeah? You’re Frisky’s mom after all. Thought we should make an objective decision together. He’ll make his call at eleven.”

Eleven in the night?
That would take place in five minutes.

Toriel asked, “Where should we meet him?”

“Eh? Nowhere,” Cenna replied. “I’m gonna hook you up to my phone and relay the call. You won’t be able to speak with him, but not like he’s gonna to talk to you anyway.”

“You want me to… spy on the conversation?”

“Nice to know you’re catching on, Madam Toriel.”

The monster matron’s lips turned downwards. This cunning, forced intel-gathering reminded her too much of the War days. She had a mental image of this Magus grinning ear-to-ear at the other end.

A Queen cannot be too trusting, Toriel told herself: more so when one’s ex-husband had a history of being a softie.

But… Frisk trusted this woman enough to hand out ‘Mom’s’ number.

“Miss Caraway,” she thus said. “I’ll let you know that my will is not yours to bend.”

“Hey, I’m counting on that. Oops, time’s running out. Talk to ya later.”

Cenna ended the call there. Toriel hurried to the living room to search for her ‘earphones’. Frisk and Sans shared their money to buy these for her as a gift. They proved handy to cut out unwanted noise. She wouldn’t want to miss out a single word of the upcoming conversation.

Breathe in, breathe out. Nerve wrecking it may be, she needed a clear head. So she sat down on the armchair and mentally prepared herself.

The hands of her old-fashioned analog clock ticked closer and closer to the eleventh hour…

Five minutes past the hour, the phone buzzed in her fuzzy hands. She answered it posthaste.

“Late as usual,” said Cenna.

The gruff voice of a male human huffed at her statement. “Says the person who ditched all the paperwork to me. Have a shred of responsibility for once, Judge Cenna Caraway.”

“Chill, Judge Mezil Thyme. Being high-strung is bad for sleep. Learned that in the police force.”

Toriel frowned. They had rather heavy titles. Being called ‘Judges’ indicated that they were far from rank-and-file wizards.

An annoyed sigh breathed through the microphone. “Fine. What’s your verdict?”

Cenna replied: “We should leave Frisky in Ebott Town. The people there are kind, wonderful, and rather colourful: both in a figurative and literal sense. I couldn’t ask for a better place to raise anyone.”

An air of disbelief hung in the air.

“…You’re telling me that we -- the custodians of this era -- should leave humanity’s ultimate weapon in the hands of our former enemies?”

Weapon? Toriel didn’t recall buying any sort of armament, or finding one for the matter.

“Yessir.”

“Preposterous!” Anger resonated through the other end of the line. “Do they even know how to care for a human?”

A casual answer followed right after. “Yep. They did their research. One of them knew that human hair length is genetic in nature. How many humans bothered with that?”

“Hey, hey,” she continued. “Don’t start railing me about allegiance. We can say the same damn thing about every country on the planet. Wars come and go. Nations move on. We shouldn’t be holding a grudge against them just because they’re not blood and flesh.”

Unable to debunk Cenna’s logic, Mezil grumbled under his breath.

Toriel raised a brow out of slight amusement. At least she could confirm that Cenna’s teasing, casual behaviour was not a farce.

Between the two, she was more worried about this ‘Mezil’ fellow. A person in charge of major paperwork tends to have the organization’s respect. Respect translated to influence, and thus support to his cause.

“Did you test them?” Mezil asked.

“Yup,” said Cenna. “I straight up threatened a fight. The Queen immediately tried to protect the kid like a good mom will do. I thought the King would have gotten soft from all those years of peace, but heh. Guess even fluff can fight back when the stakes are high.”

“Then he sent the tall Lichborn against you.”

Toriel realised that Mezil was referring to Papyrus. What a terrible title for such a sweetheart.

“Hah!” Cenna called out, “A confession at last! You sneaky bugger, spying on me even after promising otherwise. I didn’t even report that he’s a Lichborn. And yet you knew. That means you saw his orange Eye?”

She added. “You don’t need to worry about him. Seriously. He’s crazy powerful, yes. But he’s more innocent than a child. Spared me just because I claimed to be Frisky’s aunt. Heck, he didn’t even try to verify the truth.”

“Hmph,” Mezil huffed. He was not convinced, but he had other matters to tackle.

“Let’s assess our next threat then: Undyne the Undine. She intercepted our reclaiming operation. Our scouts detected elevated levels of willpower when she did her… ‘suplex thing’.”

Toriel covered her mouth, trying to muffle her horrified gasp. That kidnapping attempt was not a random grab for money.

“Has she suspected you yet?” he further enquired.

A chuckle escaped from Cenna’s lips. “What do you think? I’m the walking definition of ‘suspicious’. We’re both from law-enforcing backgrounds, and that’s double the doubt. Our careful steps were mutual.”

“Don’t worry about me, Mez. Just because I quit the police force, doesn’t mean my skills vanished along with the badge.”

The stern voice grew heavier than before, issuing a grim warning: “Judge Cenna, don’t fall complacent. If I were you, I’d get out of town as soon as possible. That short Lichborn is not like the others. He will kill you.”

The ‘short Lichborn’ must refer to Sans. Toriel wondered why the humans speak such ill about her joke buddy. It was so difficult to imagine that pudgy, eternally-grinning bloke as anyone dangerous.

Cenna snickered in response. “Yeah, yeah. As if he haven’t already tried.”

Sans tried to do what?

When Toriel heard the last line, she stopped breathing for a second. Her fur started to stand and puff up in response to a dark chill in the air.

The heater didn’t malfunction.

“Thanks for the concern,” said the human lady. “But I need to rebuild some long-lost family bonds. Have some proper communication for once. Otherwise I’ll just run into another bad end. Like most of your ideas.”

Mezil groaned in the background, knowing he couldn’t change his stubborn colleague’s mind.

“Did you disclose the child’s background in full?”

“Ahuh,” Cenna replied. “Told everyone that their parents died on a geological job. And also that their idiot, immature-aunt dropped them into ‘The System’.”

“Liar.”

The male Magi outright accused his colleague. No sugar-coating. No mercy.

He said: “You had neglected the key details. For example: you didn’t tell the child that their parents were Magi. Brilliant ones, if I must add. Their dual disciplines with geology played a key role in maintaining the Barrier.”

“Judge Caraway, I hope you realise that their welfare should have been in our hands. Not Monsterkind. The foster parents agreed to keep their true identity a secret for their protection. Once they were of age, they would then be formally invited into our school. …Now the plan is ruined.”

“I ask you again: can Monsterkind truly raise humanity’s greatest weapon without jeopardizing the world as we know it?”

Toriel felt her world sway as magic drained from her head. She would have fallen out of her armchair if she didn’t grip the handles in time.

‘Maintaining the Barrier’
‘Died on the job’.
The details clicked together: the ‘mountain accident’ took place on Mount Ebott itself.

It can’t be true, Toriel thought.
This was too much of a coincidence with that popular wizard movie. Frisk was just a human child. A special human child, but human nonetheless.

They couldn’t -- shouldn’t be a magical weapon of some kind.

How could this happen?

“…Hey Mez,” said Cenna. Her tone darkened. “I got two words for ya: Chara. Incident.”

Mezil went silent.

The poor mother’s heart ached.
Why must Chara get involved in this cascade of misfortune?
Was their tragic end not enough?

“You and I don’t agree on a whole lot of things,” she continued, “But hell, we both thought that place was psychoville!”

“Tell me this. How many folks get so bloody scared of their own shadow that they set their own village ablaze? Wait. Scratch that. More like: anywhere with golden flowers.”

“Those fires raged on for days, sir. Us Magi were supposed to prevent such madness. Whatever happened to that? Humanity ain’t infallible, y’know. If Monsterkind suits Frisky’s needs better, it’s better to cooperate. Why should we rip them out of capable hands?”

Toriel didn’t think the tragic deaths of her children affected the Surface as much as it had affected the Underground. A part of her expected life to resume in blissful ignorance.

It didn’t.

Once upon a time, she knew almost nothing. Now she had heard too much.

Toriel breathed deep to regain her composure. For her child’s sake, she will continue to listen to this grim debate…

Chapter Text

Papyrus won’t stop buzzing you with updates about his condition.

He was fine. Mostly. In just two days, he gained enough control of his Eye to tone down the flame effect.

According to Sans, that coolness was ‘inefficient style’. Each particle you could observe was in truth a leak in the wielder's hold.

It’s like trying to cup a handful of water. It’s nice to watch the streams flow between your fingers, but you’d have less water in your hand.

You realised that Sans was really giving his all when you went crazy. He had no flames there. It was supposed to be the point of no return after all…

As for the visions, they became less morbid. Your friend no longer saw dead people walking. Although, he still struggled with assorted other time-delay illusions.

For example, he kept seeing the afterimages of a cucumber sandwich sitting by Alphys’ PC. She ate said sandwich yesterday.

Or he tried talking to Undyne at the couch, when in reality she was on the phone ordering pizza.

A replacement teacher had filled in Mom’s classes for the second day now. You already missed her gentle voice. It’s not that the temporary teacher was bad. It’s just, well, not the same.

You couldn’t focus on your classes. There was still the missing SAVE stars issue to tackle. Aunt Cenna’s untimely interruption had delayed your much-needed discussion with Sans.

Mettaton called you during recess.

“Why, hello darling,” he said. As fantabulous as ever. “When will you drop by and visit little old me? I’ll only be here for a little while before I roam the world once more, radiating my fabulous self to humanity~”

A giggle squeaked out from you. You told Mettaton that you’d love to see him in person. Just that for the past two days, Mom wasn’t feeling well. You’ve been taking care of her.

“Oh? Our primma donna Queen had fallen ill? How terrible! Is she fine now? Shall I get my fans to shower her with well-wishes? I have millions of followers~”

You politely declined the offer and told him that she's getting better -- for her sake. In the back of your mind, you knew Mom preferred the peace and quiet. Nagging migraines and commotion don’t mesh well.

You planned to invite everyone over for dinner out of the house anyway. At Grillby’s, so Mom doesn’t need to cook and wash for you. If there was anything needed to be done, everyone can help.

“Brilliant plan, my darling ambassador. I’m very sure Papyrus will appreciate the extra housework. He’s so energetic, he must have cleaned the entirety of Alphys’ lab three times over by now.”

Wow. It made sense since Alphys was not the tidiest of folks either. He couldn’t bear to see a house in disarray.

You told Mettaton that you’ll visit the lab after school today. Cue a dramatic gasp of happiness. Ah, he’s a showman both on and off camera.

“Splendid news! I eagerly wait for your arrival, dear. You’ll be treated with a beeeeautiful surprise~~”

That wrapped up the call.

Dang, you wished that school will end right now. Bailing in the middle of recess would hurt your reputation. There’s a set commitment past the school gates: once you enter, you can’t leave other than an emergency.

The days where you don’t enter at all? That’s different. You had urgent business. Sort of. Your personal safety was pretty important, as was Papyrus’ health.

The thought of meeting your friends after school filled you with determination.

As promised, you headed straight to the lab once you were out of the educational grounds.

Mettaton answered the door. Your eyes were immediately assaulted by the sheer glam of his glamorous self. His overall design didn’t change, but he looked… NEW.

The arms.
The face.
The heart belt.
And his legs. Especially his hot-pink legs.

Mettaton’s first line of cologne floated into the air. It’s quite pleasant, but you were not sure if it would worsen Mom’s migraine-addled state.

Your fabulous robot friend flicked his new and improved hair.

“Do you like my upgrades?” asked Mettaton. “Alphys managed to get a whole lot of new tech in recent months. And she met a woman who inspired her to style my gorgeous locks. It may look the same, but it feels a world’s difference!”

You granted him two thumbs up of sheer approval. You asked if he got the battery upgrade that he always wanted?

“Oh yessss!” He struck a sassy pose. “Now I can be in my exquisite, BEAUTIFUL form for much, muuuuuch longer! My box body still has a strong following though, so I won’t ditch it.”

The cool and the cute?

“Indeed! Come on in, little star. It’s cold outside.”

Mettaton led you inside and closed the door. At that moment, you saw Papyrus facing an empty wall.

“OH EM GEE METTATON! YOUR UPGRADES LOOK FAN-TA-BU-LOUS! THE HOT LEGS LOOK HOTTER AND YOUR STYLE IS STYLIER!”

He was praising the wall, thinking Mettaton was there. The time-delayed afterimages struck again.

Maybe it’s best to leave him alone for now.

“Oh, that poor darling,” your celebrity friend commented. “It breaks my heart to see one of my biggest fans so confused. Is there not a way to speed up his recovery?”

Shouldn’t Mettaton ask Alphys or Sans about that?

“I did.” He frowned. “They said he’s healing well. But, it’s still too slow in my tastes. If only Papyrus is a robot like me. All he needs is one session on the table. And voila!”

You then heard Alphys scream out of frustration. It came from the ‘office section’ of her house, where she placed all the proper work equipment. That included her non-anime PCs.

For the first time in forever, you saw Alphys storm out in exasperation.

“SANS! Come out right now!” she yelled. “I KNOW you’re the one who installed that dog-hotdog shimeji! Why did you have to do that on my WORK COMP??? You could have totally wrecked something important!”

Alphys proceeded to dash around the house to hunt the culprit down. Your dorky friend might have learned a thing or two from Undyne.

Speaking of whom, you asked where Undyne went.

Mettaton replied: “She’s prepping my Dummy cousins for field testing. Alphys wanted to analyze all of Pappy’s new abilities. There’s apparently more than just those ‘special cannons’ he kept squealing about.”

Mad Dummy and Training Dummy? They’re still in that business?

“Yes, darling! There are a surprising amount of jobs that require a dummy. Haunted houses, clothing stores, children’s parties and so on. Would you like to watch the training session?”

Ab-so-LUTE-ly, you answered. You can’t wait to see Papyrus’ new skills!

The ‘training session’ took place in an empty hall. It was more or less an empty space with reinforced walls and switchable tile floors. You learned from an engineer in Hotland that their local puzzles were built for easy renovations.

Alphys applied the same principle so Undyne could adjust her training regiment in any way she wanted. For now, it’s just the dummies and a lot of empty space.

It’s great to see two of those guys again.

Although they acknowledged you, the Training Dummy was just as silent as ever. Until today, you weren’t sure if that was a guy ghost or a lady ghost. They never answered your curious questions.

And the Mad Dummy? Even before the training began, he’s already throwing stuffing everywhere. Undyne resorted to her classic German suplex to get his temper under control.

You spotted Sans lounging on the side. He leaned against the wall, content and relaxed; it's been a long time since you’ve seen him this way.

Mettaton noticed your eagerness. He patted you on the head and subtly urged you to go ahead. Then he strut off to coax his temperamental cousin.

You sat beside Sans and smiled.

“Hey kid,” he returned the gesture. “How’s school?”

The smile remained, but it’s starting to curl awkward.

Sans winked. “I know that look on your face. Classes are the least of your worries now. Go ahead, shoot. I’ve been in a good mood for a few days now. It’s about time I return the favour.”

Favour? Your tilt your head, puzzled.

“Your talk with Paps,” he answered. “It made him a merry skelly again. Can’t ask for anything more than that.”

That’s right. It didn’t surprise you that Sans found out the truth sooner or later.
Well, if he said he’s ready, then he’s ready.

You whispered to him that you’ve not seen a single SAVE star since you’ve stepped out onto the Surface. The Underground had lost all their SAVE stars too. No matter how determined you were, one wouldn’t appear.

Furthermore, any attempt of altering time would trigger a complete RESET. You would be dragged all the way back to that fateful day when you fell unto a bed of golden flowers.

“Hmm…” Sans pondered. “Strange isn’t it? You’d think being alone down there would give you free reign.”

Pardon?

“Every human SOUL has some level of Determination. But only those with the highest quantity would have the power of time-space manipulation. Make SAVES. RESET. Those stuff. It’s hard to achieve that intensity on the Surface due to the sheer number of humans. Think of it as a wireless signal: if there are too many of those in the same place, they’ll crowd each other out.”

That made sense. When you fell into the Underground, you had robbed Flowey of his powers. In other words you had cancelled his ability to SAVE and RESET just by being in proximity.

You weren’t sure if you had shared this important piece of information with Sans before, so you told him about it just in case.

He nodded his skull. “Yup. That confirms it. The person with the most Determination wins the power lottery. By theory.”

Your heart skipped a beat.

If you could rob Flowey…
Another person could rob you.

But wait. Sans said: ‘by theory’? So, things are going against theory now?

“Sort of. You know those stories about how folks got lost in the middle of nowhere? Some got rescued, others were not so fortunate. If isolation is the key, why didn’t they gain the ability to SAVE and RESET? Did they lack determination? Furthermore, what’s the range of this ‘Determination Effect’ anyway? Does it have a radius? Or does it cover the whole planet?”

You thought about it for a moment.

What if a human launched themselves to space? Would the ability work on the moon?

“Maybe. The moon has no other humans around to cause interference, but there are no reports of time-altering abilities from any astronaut. It’s either they’re not aware of the power, or they lacked potential.”

Sans concluded it’s a very rare ability.

You asked him if someone else cancelled out your time-altering abilities.

“Doubt it, kid. If that’s the case, you wouldn’t be able to drag us back to the Underground either. Remember, Flowey couldn’t RESET either. Unless…”

You witnessed the mental gears click together in Sans’ head. He lost that grin almost in an instant. His sockets went dark, staring into your soul from its bleak depths.

“Kid,” he whispered. “What if…”

At the most critical moment, you were then interrupted by the beginning of the training session. Papyrus waved at you with utmost enthusiasm.

Sans put on his usual goofy grin for cover; he then excused himself. It’s time to uphold his word and teach Papyrus the art of ‘special cannons’.

All Papyrus needed was just a little guidance. After a brief explanation and a demonstration later, your tall friend summoned his first Gasterblaster.

You never thought it’s possible for Papyrus to scream with the voice pitch of a schoolgirl. Ecstatic, he hugged the scary dragon-cannon as if it was a brand new puppy.

Seeing his job done, Sans shuffled himself out. “Welp Paps, knock yourself out. Have fun.”

Fun indeed. Papyrus started practicing his shots on the Dummy cousins. The beam’s power was scaled down to safe levels, of course. He wouldn’t want to turn his friends to ash.

“C’mon Papyrus!” Undyne yelled. “Put all your strength into it! Bigger! Stronger! Faster! Better! Send ‘em flying!”

Mettaton huffed. “Crude as ever, my rambunctious fish. Our darling needs more style and flair. Humans loooove a spectacle. Oooh, just IMAGINE the guest star ratings of Paps' lightshow!”

“Bleh! You and your flaky showbusiness. If Paps follows your advice, he’ll just be wasting his talent!”

“Talent is pointless if there’s no appeal. Mhmm hmm~~~”

Oh uh. Here comes the glaring contest. Papyrus spent the next few moments trying to keep the two from a potential cat-fight.

Sans plunked his butt down next to you, tucked his hands in the jacket pockets and resumed his lazy slouch.

“Eh, they’ll be fine.” He said. “Back to topic. Let’s try to determine what enabled SAVING in the first place.”

Determination, you said. And the lack of competing sources.

You then remembered one of Sans’ science lessons. Something about the way a person perceives colour. All visible light corresponds to a range of wavelengths. This spectrum could be a mixture of multiple other shades.

You wondered if the colour of your SOUL could be an important factor.

“…Likely.” Sans answered. He’s quite impressed with you. “Can you recite the SOUL colours and their corresponding qualities for me?”

Cyan, Patience.
Orange, Bravery.
Blue, Integrity.
Purple, Perseverance.
Green, Kindness.
Yellow, Justice.

Red… Determination?

“Bingo. And what’s the essence of Determination? It’s the will to keep on living. To change fate. That’s time-travel material there, Frisk. Think about it.”

You don’t like the darkening tone in his voice. This is serious business.

“The moment you lose the will to live, you lose your Number 1 spot. That void will then be filled by a different entity. If I remember right… you RESET at your most stressful moments.”

Sans started counting with his bony fingers. “The kidnapping. Losing the custody case. Being alone in a foreign land. Running out of money. Death of a friend. Unable to change an outcome. Whenever things collapsed beyond your control. That’s when you were at your most vulnerable.”

“Perhaps you had made a conscious decision to RESET in some of those timelines, but are you sure you were in control in every single one?”

Your head felt faint from the revelation. Try as you might, you couldn’t come up with a valid argument to counter his hypothesis.

What if your sense of control was all an illusion?
There was one person who could, and would, play mind tricks on you.

They would wait.
And wait.
And wait.
Until you hit a low point in your life.

Then they would pull the trigger. All the while, they made you believe that it was your own wish to RESET.

Chara.

You were afraid to even mention their name. It could grant them more power than they already had.

Sans shared the same wavelength at you, much to your fortune. “Yeah. Them. None of us are safe until we get rid of that other red kid somehow. Or rather, their husk. Same goes for Flowey.”

Does that mean… killing them?
You don’t want to kill them, even if they’re technically dead.

“Heh, that’s such a Frisk way of thinking. Don’t worry. We’ll look for a non-lethal alternative.”

He then smacked a strong, reassuring pat on your back. “Stay determined, kid.”

That action caught you by surprise. Sans had never given you such a strong pat before. It was more of a Papyrus thing to do. Someone’s really been in a good mood.

You beamed back with delight.

Speaking of Papyrus…

“UM, SANS? HOW DO I GET DOWN FROM HERE? OR IS IT UP? I DON’T KNOW ANYMORE!”

Papyrus had somehow managed to get himself stuck on the ceiling, feet to the roof. He tried to jump back to ground, but whatever magic he had used to get up there kept dragging him back to the top.

You noted that his Eye kept flashing between orange and ultramarine.

“Whoa,” Sans was both surprised and amazed. “I knew Paps had better grips on gravity magic, but wow. This is so awesome. You could say that his abilities are… ‘Through the roof’.”

Bum-pa-dish! You burst into laughter while Papyrus screamed about the pun. Yup. He heard that.

He started throwing a foot-stomping tantrum. While upside down. “NOT FUNNY! SAAAAANS WHY CAN’T I TURN THIS MAGIC OFF??? I JUST WANTED TO BREAKDANCE IN MID AIR!”

Poor guy. He’s just one step away from outright panic.

“Okay, okay. Don’t get your pelvis in a bunch.” Sans replied. “Be right there, bro.”

He beckoned you to join. “Wanna help out, kid?”

That sounds like fun.

The training troubles didn’t end at the ceiling mishap.

Undyne and Mettaton kept jabbing at each other’s values. They were both opposites yet the same: extreme and uncompromisable.

Papyrus tried to satisfy both sides by combining both aspects of strength and style… except his overextended magic went haywire. A large singular Gasterblaster started chasing after anything that moved.

Its first target was Undyne. She would have suplexed it into submission if it didn’t keep flying far out of her reach. The conjured creature circled around her and fired shot after shot square on her butt.

She will need to shop for a new pair of pants after this.

Realising the dangers of the rampaging embodiment of deadly beams, Papyrus jumped on the blaster and tried to pin it down to the ground.

Alas, it turned into an air rodeo session. The wild Gasterblaster flew around the room in sharp, erratic patterns, trying to shake off its own master.

Witness to this chaos, both dummy cousins decided that they had enough of today’s shenanigans. They whisked away without announcing their leave.

Then the Gasterblaster began to charge its beam.

As wise as he was lazy, Sans chucked you into Mettaton’s arms and put all his magic into subduing that construct.

The glamorous robot carried you princess-style and skipped outside like an antelope. That bot had a flamboyant grace in everything he does, including the act of evacuation.

A large explosion followed.

The training room was left in shambles. A comical layer of dusty soot clung on your friends, but otherwise they were fine. It reminded you of the silly slapstick cartoons you used to watch as a kid.

Needless to say, your group dinner plans had to be cancelled. All efforts shall concentrate on fixing Alphys’ place.

Chapter Text

It’s three in the morning.

Papyrus woke up from a surreal dream which he couldn’t remember. It involved his childhood days, talking to a skeleton that wasn’t his brother.

He tossed and turned around in the oversized hospital bed, but he couldn’t sleep. He missed the familiar comfort of his own bed: the right texture, the right size, and the right location.

Home.

Looking around, he couldn’t find his brother. Perhaps he had went home to sleep in his own room.

“HMMM…” he thought aloud to himself. “WHY SHOULD I STAY HERE? I FEEL QUITE FINE. PLUS, I CAN CHECK IN AFTER WORK.”

It was then Papyrus realised that he had missed days of honest work. “OH NOES!!! THE CAFETERIA! WHAT DAY IS IT NOW? WHO’S FEEDING THE CHILDREN???”

With that revelation, Papyrus dashed right out of Alphys’ lab. He had a job to do, and the Great Papyrus always takes his work seriously.

The school canteen opened early so some of the less fortunate students could have a hearty breakfast. He doesn’t do the cooking there, for the good fortune of many young ones, but he made sure the place was clean and the children healthy.

For as long as he could remember, Papyrus had the knack of reading another person’s condition. Happy or sad, sick or healthy, rested or tired, and a host of other ‘feelings’ that he couldn’t quite explain.

The volume of snowfall made it hard to see what’s ahead. Papyrus kept running anyway. He had the town’s layout memorized on the back of his hand, or so he’d like to think.

Somehow, however, this road stretched out further than he recalled.

He noticed a silhouette standing at the middle of the path. Thin, slender, dressed in black: this person stared upwards into the dark, snowy sky.

Papyrus slowed down to a stop.

“HELLO?” he asked. “ARE YOU LOST, SIR?”

The figure didn’t reply. Curious, Papyrus took a few more steps forward.

A white head…? It appeared to be the back of a skull. Was it another skeleton? How rare.

He couldn’t shake the strange feeling that he had met this man before.
Familiar, as one would say.

“SIR? DO YOU NEED HELP?”

Again, no answer. Maybe he’s hard of hearing? Or was he too lost in the winter spectacle to notice.

Papyrus tried again. “MISTER TALL SKELETON IN FLOWING BLACK CLOTHES, CAN YOU HEAR ME?”

It was only then that the figure realised that he was being addressed. The mystery person turned around.

He was indeed a skeleton. An unusual one. The sockets were uneven: the right one in the shape of a crescent moon. It didn’t match his rounded left.

Two ridges scored through his skull. It gave this person the appearance of a puzzle piece locked together.

What bothered Papyrus the most was his… lack of solidity. Upon closer inspection, this person’s clothes literally ‘flowed’. Ebbed. Shifted.

His entire being was a liquid, always moving.

Papyrus’ brows furrowed with concern. This person was an Amalgamate, but he thought that all of them had already returned to their respective families.

“NEVER WORRY, SIR MYSTERY AMALGAMATE!” Papyrus puffed up his chest. “I -- THE GREAT PAPYRUS -- WILL HELP YOU RETURN HOME SAFE AND SOUND!”

The other man started to speak… in hands. He used a mix of sign language and a cryptic tongue to communicate.

[Can you see me?]

That was a first. Ever since Papyrus had his Eye opened, his noggin could comprehend a language he never thought possible.

Papyrus signed back: [YES MISTER! IS THAT UNUSUAL?]

It felt weird to him. Where did this knowledge come from? Sans tried to teach him some as a baby bone, but it never got anywhere…

Yet here he was, conversing as if it was his native tongue.

The mystery skeleton smiled. [This is the first time in a long, long while that anyone has acknowledged my existence. Let alone converse in The Code. Well. Do you know my name?]

He wanted to sign ‘I don’t know’ -- wanted -- but the more he gazed upon this mysterious figure, the more he recalled a detail…

Without realising it, he signed: [UNCLE GASTER?]

The other skeleton was delighted beyond words. [Amazing, Papyrus. Yes. It is I, Uncle Gaster. Funny. Others addressed me as Doctor, but you insisted on calling me ‘Uncle’.]

[I DID? WHY DON’T I REMEMBER?]

[You were very young when you coined that nick.]

Gaster slid across the snowy road, leaving no trails or footsteps. His attention fixated on Papyrus’ glowing orange Eye.

[This… this is beautiful. Will you let me inspect it.]

Papyrus was more than happy to comply. [OF COURSE, UNCLE! BEHOLD MY AWESOMENESS FOR AS LONG AS YOU WANT! NYEH HEH HEH!]

The older skeleton chuckled. He leaned forward, peering into the right socket for a closer analysis.

[Orange. Blue. Green.] He signed.

[Orange. The essence of Bravery. Its progressive energy allows one to gaze beyond the limitations of his knowledge.]

[Blue. The essence of Integrity. It pulls multiple visions to a single point. Hmm, yours had double the intensity. You could stare death in the face and still remain sane. That’s a very important trait, Papyrus. Nothing is worse than losing your heart to mere possibilities.]

[Green. The essence of Kindness. Its rooted healing allows one to reconstruct memories scattered across space and time. Ah… interesting. Very interesting. That is how you could see me with so little effort. With some practice, you could even mend physical wounds.]

Papyrus was struck with epiphany. [WOWIE! THAT EXPLAINS THE WEIRD VISIONS SO MUCH! YOU KNOW A LOT, UNCLE GASTER.]

He then gasped in excitement, pointing to his own sockets. [OH OH OH! YOU’RE A SKELETON, RIGHT? DOES THAT MEAN YOU HAVE A MAGIC EYE TOO? CAN I SEE IT???]

Gaster laughed. It sounded hoarse and heavy.

[Not all skeletons have the Eye. However, my dear Papyrus. I don’t just have one Eye. I have two.]

One blink later, and Gaster’s eyes lit up in colour. His right was orange, and his left was blue. Just like the skeleton brothers.

Papyrus squealed absolute delight. [YOU HAVE ALL SIX COLOURS COMBINED?! THAT’S MIND-BLOWING!]

[Sorry to disappoint you.] Gaster signed back. [Two I may own, but they do not have any secondary or tertiary properties. These are pure.]

[SO, IT’S JUST LIGHT BLUE AND ORANGE? NOTHING ELSE?]

[Indeed. Mundane, but not useless. They boost my innate analytical foresight to levels beyond merely genius. Do you think the Core is made purely from human refuse? Goodness no! There are plenty of materials one could extract from the lava pools of Hotland.]

Gaster’s burst of pride soon faded into disappointment. […Which I presume the populace has forgotten over time. Tsk. The Dump was harmful for their long-term health. True riches lay right beneath their feet, and yet they never realised it.]

[That doesn’t matter anymore since we’re on the Surface, isn’t it?] Gaster smirked. [Access to fresh materials are just one business call away.]

Papyrus stared back, lost and confused by the sudden outburst of technical gripes. He didn’t know how to continue the conversation. But, he deemed himself an excellent host.

[UNCLE GASTER! I DON’T THINK YOU HAVE EVER TRIED MY GOURMET SPAGHETTI. I --THE GREAT PAPYRUS -- INVITE YOU TO AN EXQUISITE BREAKFAST!]

How else could he celebrate this long-lost reunion?

The old man laughed some more, causing ripples throughout his dripping being.

[Thank you very much, young man. But aren’t you rushing for work? It’s almost four in the morning.]

[OH MY GOD YOU’RE RIGHT! YES! SO SORRY, UNCLE GASTER. I GUESS WE’LL HAVE OUR REUNIONGHETTI IN THE WEEKENDS.]

Gaster rose his brows. [Are you so confident that this is not goodbye? Once you leave this space, you may not remember me.]

[‘GOODBYE’ IS FORBIDDEN IN THIS TOWN!] Papyrus exclaimed. [ONLY SEE-YOU-LATERS! WE’LL MEET AGAIN!]

The energetic skeleton then dashed down the dark road.

The snow subsided enough to let Papyrus see the surrounding shops. One of them was Muffet’s bakery. The sweet scent of spider doughnuts floated from the exhaust vents.

It was indeed four in the morning. Not much time left before he needed to check in at the cafeteria. There’s much to prepare and much to clean.

Papyrus made a mental note to bring his newfound uncle to Muffet’s. Her ciders may be to his liking.

Chapter Text

It’s three in the morning.

Sans wondered when was the last time he started research from scratch?

When?

Since the time he quit his career?
Since the time loops happened?
Since Flowey terrorized the Underground?
Since Frisk dropped from the sky?

He couldn’t recall. It’s been so long, his skills had gone rusty.

Never in his lifetime Sans thought he’d care enough to work for something that didn’t cover his immediate bills.

Sans didn’t have his own computer, so he borrowed Papyrus’ desktop PC. The ones they had in the Underground were beyond obsolete by Surface standards, making even a basic internet connection an impossibility.

Updating communication hardware was one of Ebott Town’s top priorities. All those supplies had to come from somewhere. Thus, when Papyrus got his first paycheck, he ordered a new set of PCs along with the rest of town.

Sans wondered how many times that exact transaction took place in the other timelines. He didn’t bother to check.

It wasn’t important.

A lot of things were not important; everything loses its meaning when it could all be erased upon the slightest whims of others.

If it’s not some time-travelling kid, it could be the world’s policies.

Monsterkind now lived under the dominion of humans. So far, all was fine. But what about the next year? Or ten years? Or a hundred years?

Where and when would they change their mind?

Sans had a ton of excuses to give up, yet he’s toiling over the keyboard, scouring for historical articles about the post-war Surface. Why?

Because of a promise?
Because of hope?
Because it’s… the right thing to do?

Reasons don’t matter either.

Anything of importance was jotted down in an old-fashioned book. It required more effort, but it was easier to hide.

His phone started to buzz. A call in the dead of the morning? Did Frisk get a nightmare and they needed to chat with him?

To his surprise, the call was from Mettaton.

Sans answered it. “Hey.”

“Hello Sansy darling. Beautiful night we’re having, hm?”

“Er, shouldn’t you be sleeping?”

“I’m a ghost and a robot, dearie. Sleep isn’t really our thing. Also, I want to let you know that Papyrus dashed out of the lab just now.”

To his fortune, Sans wasn't drinking anything when he heard that news. If he were, the contents would have spewed all over Papyrus’ keyboard and he'd be in deep trouble. “You didn’t try to stop him?”

“Oh Sansy, you and I know it’s impossible to halt that hurricane. He's got better legs than mine. I’d wager that he’s going straight home to fetch his uniform. He yelled something about schoolchildren, meaning that dashing darling going to try to go to work. Didn’t you guys arrange a week’s leave for my biggest fan? You know, so he could recuperate and spend some time with his fabulous idol?”

Sans gulped. Nassarcistic celebrity aside, Papyrus shouldn’t be anywhere near the canteen.

Advised by none other than yours truly, Toriel had arranged a week’s leave for his brother. The cafeteria owner didn’t need much convincing. Everyone along the path to Alphys’ lab heard the screams of agony, and stories spread faster than a fire in Ebott Town.

Sans forgot that Papyrus didn’t have the privilege of a ‘flexi-hour’ lifestyle. The poor brother must have thought that he’s absent without notice.

“Oops. Guess it slipped my mind.”

“Tsk tsk tsk.” He imagined Mettaton waving his finger on the other end. “Do pass the news and send him back to the lab pronto. Dear Alphys would flip if she finds out that her patient fled. I'd rather not damage her new-found self-esteem.”

Was that a subtle threat? Mettaton can grow overprotective when it involved the people he cared for. Napstablook, for example. He had sent scathing warnings to anyone who bullied his ultra-shy cousin.

Once, the internet was ablaze with news about his aggressive side. Said that this robot celebrity had slapped a prominent music producer across the cheek, in front of the entire studio to boot. All because that person talked smack about Napstablook’s songs.

Sans wanted to end this conversation as soon as possible. “Uh, thanks Mettaton. I’ll send Papyrus back to you. Ok. Bye.”

“Hold on a moment.” said Mettaton. “Don’t you want to know more about Frisk’s darling auntie? I knew what went down during that unfortunate lunch incident. Perhaps you should be less suspicious of her, hmm?”

If this skeleton had a literal stomach, it would be in knots now. This was the kind of situation he wanted to avoid at all cost: a debt with the worst manager in the Underground.

“You’re still on the line, I see? Wonderful. Oh Sansy, relax. I won’t ask for ludicrous demands from an old work partner like you. If you agree to scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”

Breathe in, breathe out. Play it safe. Be as casual as possible. “Well… you’re not going to throw me a bone for nothing, right? Heh. Do you need some bad puns to spice up your show?”

“Love your keen perception, darling. Before my visit, I signed a collaboration with the humans for a short family-friendly program. Six fabulous one-hour episodes of education, culture, and science. We don’t want our Monster community to harm a human out of ignorance, right? It’ll help me a lot if you agree to be a guest star for one episode.”

Sans was surprised that Mettaton had a grounded idea for once. Maybe Frisk suggested it? Or did he become wiser over the months?

That robot DID travel around the world. He had more first-hand experience with human society than all of Ebott Town combined. A celebrity like him should have access to some rare information.

“So…” said Sans. “When’s the shoot?”

“Four months from now.”

Four months. Knowing his luck, the world might RESET long before that. He decided to take the risk.

“Okay. Sure. It’s a deal. Tell me what you know about Frisk’s aunt.”

“I don’t know much about that lady per say. More about her organization. The Magus Association accused me as a ghost in a robot shell and whatnot, as if it was a very dangerous matter. So I invited their representatives for a personal interview. Clear the hubris, you know?”

“They sent two to settle my case. At first they were wary. We then had a fun dance-off with our SOULS. Their magical capabilities amazed me! It’s almost as if I’m playing with another monster. Almost. Those poor darlings tire out faster than you.”

Sans jotted down the details down in his notebook. The act of advanced magic seemed to tax the human endurance.

“How much HP do they have?” he asked.

“30 I think? Just a rough estimate. I’m no longer a ‘Killer Robot’, darling. There’s no need for brutality.”

An average child had 20 points. An average adult? A little more. Cenna had 13, which was way below the mark. There’s something not right about her.

“Ok,” Sans nodded. “Did you give them a run for their money?”

“Even better, my dear. I proved my innocence! The Magi warmed up to me when I showed them just how much I looooove humanity.”

“We had some chit-chat over some Starfaits and coffee. It turns out their fear was a giant misunderstanding! It didn’t occur to them that there are actual ghost-type monsters with an intact SOUL. Usually when they hear the term ‘ghost’, it dealt with a more… sinister entity.”

“Before they met me, the duo had to clean up a construction site, a children’s home, and some abandoned building lots. Having snacks with my fabulous, wonderous self was a welcome change of pace.”

“Clean?” Sans raised a brow. “What are they, janitors?” He just imagined a pair of wizards wielding a mop instead of a staff.

“They were… what was it again? It sounded very grandiose.” Mettaton paused as he tried to recall. “Ah! ‘Exorcists’!”

It was a word that Sans had only read in spooky stories and outdated human-society records. “Excuse me…?”

“According to my new Magus fans, humans who died with deep negative emotions can remain long after their SOUL dissipates.”

“They become ‘ghosts’ or ‘demons’, depending on who you talk to. So very pitiful. Those malicious spirits take out their frustrations on the living.”

Determination?
Determination. Confirmed.

Sans kept listening.

“For obvious reasons, physical weapons are useless. So what did they resort to? Magic! If there’s a troubled site, the Magi will go there and try to bring peace to the poor spirit.”

“Either that, or force them into the afterlife. I have some doubts about the ‘afterlife’ bit. But if their job keeps my wonderful living humans safe, I personally have no complaints!”

Just when Sans realised that they had a demon problem… The whole scenario was a little too convenient. There had to be a catch somewhere.

The representatives that had met with Mettaton were most likely rank-and-file. They won’t have influence over administration and policies.

It’s the higher-ups that concerned him the most. Who are they? Where does their allegiance lie? What do they hide from the populace and their main front?

Everyone had secrets. Sans knew this better than anyone else.

“You there, darling?”

He realised that he had remained silent on the line for far too long. “Oh. Sorry. My mind floated off because your info is very en-‘light’-tening.”

Mettaton chuckled over the line. “Well Sansy, I’m holding you to your words. Should you fail, I will ask for a fine compensation. Toodles~”

The call ended there. Instead of rushing right out of the house, Sans continued his research based on the new lead. He had no worries about Papyrus finding his way home. Any minute now, his brother will barge through the door, then make an assumption that Sans was setting up a prank on his PC.

Time ticked by. It’s three thirty in the morning now. Sans noted that his brother was late. With his average running speed, it shouldn’t take him this long to run home.

Maybe he got distracted with helping someone? Sans hoped so. He continued researching, but he was bothered by a nagging feeling on the back of his skull.

It’s past four in the morning. Papyrus had yet to arrive home. Did something happen to him along the way? Did he get into an accident?

Or…
Did his brother fall upwards to the sky?

Terrified by the thought, Sans packed up his study. He turned the PC off and slipped his notebook into his jacket’s internal pocket.

Just when he did so, he heard a familiar ruckus from the living room.

Papyrus had returned.

The elder brother breathed a huge sigh of relief.

As expected, the younger skeleton dashed straight into his own room to change into his work-clothes. He didn’t even bother to shoo Sans out for some privacy.

“Paps?” Sans asked. “Shouldn’t you be at the lab?”

“BROTHER, THIS IS NOT THE TIME!” Papyrus replied, “I -- THE GREAT PAPYRUS -- HAVE STANDARDS! AS LONG MY BONES ARE FIT AND STRONG, I SHALL PERFORM MY RIGHTFUL DUTY!”

“You’re on a week’s leave, bro. Tori approved it.”

Before long, Papyrus had changed into his cafeteria uniform. Scarf included. The red fabric added a splash of colour to an otherwise plain outfit. He had the appearance of an aproned waiter, a chef and a hero all rolled into one.

“THAT LEAVE IS NOW NULL AND VOID!” he said, “PLEASE EXCUSE ME, SANS. THE CHILDREN AWAIT!”

Papyrus’ Eye started flashing between orange and blue at a rapid pace. He doesn’t realise it.

Sans blocked the exit for his sake. “Nope. Nah-uh. Bro, you ain’t going anywhere until the week’s up. C’mon, listen to me.”

The younger skeleton sighed. “SANS. I KNOW YOU CARE ABOUT ME, BUT SOMEONE HAS TO PAY THE BILLS.”

“It’s not about the bills.”

Oblivious of his own condition, the younger skeleton started a well-meaning lecture. “I UNDERSTAND IT’S HARD TO GET INTO THE GROOVE OF PROPER EMPLOYMENT AFTER YEARS OF A LACKADAISICAL LIFESTYLE. I WILL NOT JUDGE.”

Slowly but surely, Papyrus started to float off the ground. He was too busy talking to notice.

“Papyrus,” Sans kept glancing downwards, trying to hint his brother to take one moment to look at his own feet.

“THAT IS WHY I MUST MAINTAIN A GOOD STANDING WITH MY CURRENT EMPLOYER! IF I CAN SECURE A STEADY INCOME, YOU CAN TAKE YOUR TIME TO RECOVER.”

“Please. Look down.”

“NO NO! I’M NOT LOOKING DOWN ON YOU! THE AWAKENING OF MY EYE REVEALED A WHOLE NEW ASPECT ON YOUR BEHAVIOUR. THAT IS WHY THE GREAT PAPYRUS WILL SUPPORT YOU UNTIL YOU’RE READY! IT IS THE LEAST I COULD DO!”

“Your feet.”

“SANS, SHRINKING YOURSELF IS NOT GOING TO CHANGE MY MIND! MY DECISION IS FINAL! F-I-N-A--”

Papyrus had floated so far up, the top of his skull bumped on the ceiling. Cue some sad whining.

The elder brother tried his hardest to not burst into laughter. He conscripted a blanket into a makeshift cloth rope. He then tied it around his brother’s waist and… pulled him around like an oversized helium balloon.

Back to the lab they went.

At least he had the decency to employ a shortcut. He wouldn’t want to parade this embarrassing mishap against Papyrus’ will.

Mettaton’s first reaction was to laugh. Or rather, he failed to resist breaking down at this absurd sight. No matter. Shower some attention on his fan and all will be right in the world again.

“Call me if you need anything, bro.” Sans winked. “I’m gonna go have breakfast at Grillbys.”

Alone once more, he took his time to walk down the snow-covered sidewalk. It reminded him of the days in Snowdin.

Cold. Quiet. Refreshing.

Sans thought back about what his brother had said.

Of how he won’t judge.
Of how he would wait for this lazybones to get back on his feet.

“…He’s too sweet.”

How should he feel about this? By logic, he should be grateful. Maybe a bit embarrassed. Guilt should be part of the equation somewhere.

However, if he must be honest with himself… His heart was as frigid as the winter air.

It’s not that Sans was heartless. Rather, he couldn’t see anything beyond the present. All of Papyrus’ plans were so far in a future that he didn’t bother to consider them.

The presence of his notebook rubbed against Sans' shirt. It served as a reminder of a paradox: putting effort into a world that could just vanish in a blink of an eye.

Maybe. Just maybe. He’s trying to solve the mystery on nothing more than his own whim.

“Jeez,” he muttered, “I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore.”

Chapter Text

Breakfast at Grillby’s.
What a joke.

The bar doesn’t open until ten in the morning. Sans had arrived at its doorstep way, way earlier than he should.

…And he’s too tired to go home.

Should he teleport inside? Use a shortcut? Grillby won’t be alarmed if he trespassed on the premises. They had a mutual trust that stretched a long way back. How else could he keep raking debt after debt without incurring any wrath?

But… he decided to do it the normal way. Sans leaned against the wall, waiting. The moment he stopped moving, his eyelids started to droop.

Though skeletons had no fear of hypothermia, the cold still had its lulling properties.

One blink later and he drifted off into the land of dreams.

 

* * *

Once upon a time, there was a cheeky skeleton boy.
He thought of his mentor as a killjoy and a hard driver.

Why must he be monitored for a week?
Why can’t he go home?

He wanted to sleep in his own bed, eat the meals his parents cooked, and read his science books.

But no, he must stay inside an empty room with only a basic bed.
How boring.

So for the next three days, the boy pretended to sleep. He watched his mentor’s every move. Listened to every sound. Remembered the daily monitoring routine.

A conceivable task for a prodigy.

On the fourth night, he made his jailbreak. All barriers serve no purpose if they crumble upon a single touch.

As the boy soon found out… all supports too will serve no purpose if they crumble the same way.

His powers went wild.
The floor that was once rock solid dissolved into sinking sand, threatening to engulf him whole.

The boy tried to run. Flee. Outpace the rate of his own destruction. But his physique lagged far behind his brain.

He fell.
Cried for help.

Dear mother was first to hear the boy’s cries. She got on her knees and reached her slender, bony arm towards her son.

The boy reached out to her. He grabbed his mother’s hand. To his horror, her bones started to flake.

He remembered how she resisted the pain of having her limb undone.

This shouldn’t be happening.
Mother needs her hands to work.
To cook, to prepare, to serve.

She spoke to him. Strange. Despite being a woman, her voice was clearly a man’s.
His mentor’s.

“Sans, wake up! She’s here!”

“Move!”

 

* * *

 

Danger alert.

Sans snapped open his eyes just in time to see the silhouette of a certain ‘aunt’: complete with hat and trenchcoat.

Under conventional laws of time, it was an unavoidable blow.

Too fast, too late.

Except, since when does Sans follow the law?

His left Eye flashed between blue and yellow. Upon that moment, the world around him crawled to almost a full stop.

To the perception of others, this was where seconds clipped away from their memory.

He noticed that Cenna had a slip of paper in her hand. It’s emblazoned in green and violet runes. She’s trying to paste that on his face.

A part of him was relieved that it wasn’t a knife. At least she was not trying to assassinate him outright.

Sans stepped aside.
Time resumed at normal pace.

When Cenna pasted the paper on the wall, the runes glowed. A sticky violet web spread from the contact point and crawled across the bar’s brick walls. That thing would have trapped Sans if he didn’t cheat.

“Lichborn,” thus said the Magus. “Descendants of ‘Liches’, the highest order of the enchanted dead, reanimated from humans who had potential to be Magi.”

A yellow shine radiated from the gaps of her trenchcoat. Her segmented SOUL summoned five mechanical drones made up of light.

“Upon creation of their progeny, that residue of humanity gets mixed together with magic, thus gifting the children with the ‘Seer’s Eye’. Since a Monster’s body cannot contain much ‘Determination’ without destroying themselves, all excess was channelled to a single point to be burned as fuel.”

“How else can they gain power over spacetime without losing structural integrity?”

The drones darted around the skeleton, weaving more silken threads of magic. It was an unholy union of spiders and bees.

Sans teleported out of the web’s scope. In turn, he summoned five Gasterblasters to match her drones. They’re quick: one misfire and he’d be in a literal bind.

His aim was true. In just a split second, the beams obliterated them out of existence.

“You’re more powerful than you look, Mister Sans.” Cenna summoned more drones. The same web-spinning type.

The skeleton realised she’s trying to capture him, but why? To take him as a hostage? Even if so, wouldn’t it be easier for Cenna to disable him with physical force?

Unless… she knew of his inherent weakness. Someone’s been gathering information during her stay in Ebott.

He summoned a wall of shifting bones to draw the line. If she tried to go around it, he’ll just extend its reach. Or inflict a couple of scratches that she won’t forget.

“I wouldn’t touch them if I were you,” warned Sans.

The Magus did not advance. A wise move.

Cenna fixed her hat. She then leaned on one leg with that confident, teasing grin.

“Cyan, the essence of Patience.” She said. “Grants its bearer the stillness to meditate on the information he receives. Never mistake it’s lack of action as sloth, for keen observation is the discipline of the wise.”

“Yellow, the essence of Justice. Grants its bearer accurate discernment. No illusion can maintain their falsehood. No stain can escape their watchful gaze. Only truth will stand. Exposes secrets to inflict sinners of their rightful due.”

“Purple, the essence of Perseverance. The need to keep going, no matter what, never to stop. Grants its bearer instantaneous access to knowledge and skill from the realm of memories. Long-term, short-term, deja vu, those lost in time and space…”

“But you have a little extra, isn’t it?” Cenna added, “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. Such is the final fate of all. Almost as if you’re the incarnate of death. Quite the opposite of your brother.”

Count on this woman to be both annoying and nosy. Where and how did she get all that information?

Sans tucked his hands into his jacket’s pocket. Acted chill to not rouse any more suspicion.

“Heh,” he huffed. “It’s impolite to snoop around. If you wanted a warm reception, you could have just talked to me like a normal person. Not initiate an ambush.”

Cenna raised a brow at his statement. “Oh? From the coldest skeleton in Monster society? You’ve been on guard ever since I arrived. Maybe, just maybe, you’ve killed me before. Multiple times. In a different place, different time. If I don’t try to restrain you, I’d get nuked in the face.”

Sans realised that she was telling the truth. Why else would she take such careful measures around him? Binding him would allow her to talk without the risk of injuries.

He doesn’t know how effective the trap would be, and he’s not insane enough to experiment with his life on the line.

Time to recollect intel. Before he could make his next decision, he must know his opponent.

First, Cenna did her homework on the Seer’s history: to the point where she could recite each individual properties of the SOUL. Considering the founder skeletons’ status as an ‘enemy’, only the most trusted of Magi would be graced with this information.

Second, she’s aware of the timeline problem. He doubted that she remembered the details in full since she doesn’t have a Red SOUL, so it’s possible that their organization had a system to record and process each RESET.

If he had killed her at any point, that system would have recorded his abilities.

Third, her abilities hinted at multiple disciplines. Cenna had a Yellow SOUL, but she displayed tricks associated with other colours. Shields should be Green. Traps and webs should be Purple.

It would make her as Yellow main, with sub-abilities of Purple and Green. Sans noted that her secondary abilities lacked colour. Transparent, even. It’s an indication of weakness, perhaps.

It’s possible that humanity made up for their lack of magic endurance through preparation. For example, that slip of runic paper. He imagined Cenna had enlisted the help of Purple and Green Magi to create that.

Thus ended his hypotheses.

Preliminary conclusion: Frisk’s aunt had to be high up the hierarchy scale. She’s skilled, strong, and knows a bit too much. Rank-and-file won’t have access to such a controversial information.

How high? He doesn’t know.

Feigning innocence, he replied: “I’m in the dark, lady. Mind shedding some light on this situation?”

“I only know what I know,” said the Magus. “Long story short, antagonizing you is a terrible idea. Why don’t we work together instead? A truce.”

“Work?” Sans huffed. “Nah. I hate work. Go ask someone else.” Truth was, he didn’t want anything to do with her.

“Even if it’s on Madam Toriel’s request?”

That was the last straw. His left Eye ignited as intense anger caused a leak in his grip of power.

Sans reached his hand out to her SOUL. Ripped it out of her chest and turned it blue upon nothing more than a thought.

He dragged her body to the revolving bones. Just one more inch and she would have her being shredded to bits.

In a low, chilling voice he asked: “What did you do to her?”

The human’s eyes widened, nervous from the sudden act, but she maintained her cool-detective front despite the pressure.

“Whoa whoa whoa.” She chuckled. “Here I thought you’re a dead man inside. Guess I was wrong, huh? Hey. Relax. Madam Toriel is fine. She ain’t a hostage. Though I did give her a little headache from all the info-dumping.”

Wrong answer. The skeleton slowly pulled Cenna closer and closer to certain doom.

“I told her about the ‘Chara Incident’,” she said.

He stopped upon hearing that cursed name.

Grabbing the opportunity to plead her case, Cenna continued: “A village at the base of Mount Ebott reported a monster carrying the corpse of a human child. It was the first sighting since the Sealing. I’m sure you know that story.”

It was the event that started this chain of madness. No one in the Underground escaped that tragedy. Sans included.

This could be his sole chance to get some insider information from someone on the Surface. Cenna was both ex-police and a high-ranking Magi. That’s double the access.

Still, he’s not ready to let her go. Not yet. While maintaining his grip, he said: “Go on.”

“Well, that village had always been a little… kooky. In a bad way.” She explained. “They’re descendants of the folks who wanted to wipe you guys out. The Magus Association may have the then-monarchy’s support, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s happy about it. There are folks who think we’re just delaying the inevitable.”

“So. They built their little settlement at the foot of Mount Ebott, ready for the ‘worst case scenario’. A village of warriors, you know? ‘Kill or be killed’. They had scaled down the martial arts training during the rise of modernization, but that philosophy continued to permeate throughout their culture. I won’t be surprised if a few dabbled in it more seriously than others. That's the kind of environment Chara had been raised in.”

A troubled child raised in a violent warrior culture, further reinforced by bad human media. Both circumstances encouraged determined behaviour free from the guidance of ethics.

It’s a recipe for disaster.

Frisk’s confession letters described Chara as being particularly skilled with a knife. What if they had some level of training? Papyrus’ panic over the phantom sternum gash confirmed that this kid knew where to inflict a fatal wound.

If they were a little older combined with a proper knife, that strike would have sliced through a human’s windpipe. Their opponent would either bleed or suffocate to death.

Still locking his sights on Cenna, Sans asked, “Tell me more about Chara’s community.”

“They trusted no one,” she replied. “Not any outsider, nor any Magi, and of course not any Monster. We told our guys to stay clear of that village. Lest they want to end up in a hospital bed with a massive medical bill. It happened before.”

Mistrustful. Misanthropic. Insular. Worse still, the community may not be as close-knit as they would like to believe.

The Magus continued: “When the Chara Incident happened… well, they thought the sky’s falling down. To prevent any ‘enemies’ from recognizing their surroundings, the community decided to burn every golden flower in the vicinity. It spiralled out of control thanks to the dry season.”

“And that’s how it all exploded into the Great Ebott Razing. Many perished in the fires, both the locals and their neighbours. The Magi took years to clean that mess up.”

The circumstance that led up to the blaze was bordering on the lines of absurdity. If this was taken at face value as the truth, someone in the decision making board had no common sense. None whatsoever.

It was a downright horrifying thought. Nothing’s worse than paranoid idiots in leadership positions.

Sans had one more question. “How does this relate to Tori?”

Cenna replied, “We’ve exorcised every restless spirit in the vicinity except for one: Chara. Her kid.”

“Chara, however, died in the Underground. We've had no access to ‘down below’ for ages. Adults cannot pass the Barrier, and there’s no Magi kid with the skill required to perform an exorcism. Nevermind making the return trip.”

“It would have been fine and dandy if Chara had moved on after all these years… but you and I know life’s not that simple. Long story short, Madam Toriel wants to give them the last rites they deserve. Make them rest in peace. Eternal sleep. You get the drift.”

Sans clenched his teeth together. If Cenna had no other ulterior motives, she could prove to be a great ally.

But he still doesn’t trust her. Weighing cost had started to burn his long-cold fuse. It doesn’t help that he’s dead tired and cranky either.

“Uh, Mister Sans?” Cenna glanced at the revolving bones. “Mind dispelling this chainsaw wall thingy? I promise I won’t do anything funny.”

“…Get rid of your drones first,” he said. The yellow bee-like magic had been on standby ever since she brought them out.

With a wave of her hand, Cenna dispelled her magic. “Your turn, sir.”

Sans reluctantly released his grip. Her SOUL returned to its usual yellow shade and sank back into the safety of her body.

“Phew.” She breathed a huge sigh of relief. “That’s one close shave. Have you made up your mind yet?”

“No.” He answered. “I’ll go talk to Tori myself. Give me until midnight.”

“Sounds fine by me. I plan to hang out with Frisky during their breaks anyway. Hmm, I wonder if I can buy breakfast from the school canteen.”

More attempts of trying to warm up with the rest of the monster civilization? Nothing much can be done about that. He would like to observe her behaviour in school anyway.

“Welp. You better be good.” Sans shut off the blue glow in his left eye. He stared back from the shadow of his deep-set sockets. “Otherwise you’re in for a bad time.”

Once Cenna left, he teleported himself inside Grillby’s. There’s no way he’d remain out in the open with this suspicious Magus walking around. The owner will understand.

He put on a gamey tune on the brand new working jukebox. Made a playlist too.

It's soothing. Perfect background music for a continuation of his nap.

The short skeleton then remembered there was another reason why he'd rather not sleep in his own home…

It’s quiet.

Too quiet.

When it’s too quiet, a long-lost voice will start to whisper in the air. Sometimes, he could even see the person behind it.

“No thanks for me?”

He ignored the question.

“Well. Suit yourself. Just get some rest, for science’s sake. Do it for your brother.”

“Hey Gaster,” the short skeleton snapped. “You don’t deserve to drag Papyrus into the picture. Not after what you did. Scram.”

There was no reply.
Maybe he’s still watching.
Maybe he left.

Sans preferred it that way.

Chapter Text

Mom could teach again!

You’re happy that the migraine was gone. She had all the rest she needed from her sick leave.

Though, you noticed that she’s often lost in thought. Whenever you tried to talk to her, she’d smile at you and say she’s fine.

You walked to the school grounds together with Mom, holding her warm fuzzy hand. The both of you decided that breakfast at the cafeteria would be a nice change.

This was not quite your usual morning routine.

On a normal day, Mom would have her breakfast before making yours. Once you had your meals cooked, she would then head to school to prepare for the day’s work. This arrangement allowed you to get some extra precious sleep.

You were glad that she squeezed the time to make you a warm meal every morning.

Really, really glad.

It’s tough being a single mother. Dad would help in a heartbeat, but Mom would rather stay independant. Complicated relationship stuff is complicated.

Apparently in the ‘Life of Frisk’, not a week can go by without at least one random encounter. When you and Mom arrived at the school gates, a staring contest between the two most strong-headed women greeted you.

Undyne and Aunt Cenna.

Mom blinked. “Good Morning. Is there… something the matter?”

Both ladies greeted at the same time, prompting a glance of competitive fire from your fish friend.

Undyne then said, “Weird Magus Lady wants to have breakfast in our school. I can’t comprehend why here of all places.”

“Canteen meals are economical and hearty,” your aunt replied. “Plus, I wanna survey Frisky’s school. I’m sure the facility can accommodate one visitor, right?”

Squinting her eye, Undyne said, “…Did you seriously decide to mooch off discounted meals meant for children?”

You agreed with Undyne. Ebott Town had its own tax system that was carried over from the Underground. It’s meant to maintain infrastructure, such as the school you’re attending now. A part of the money subsidized food costs from the cafeteria.

You joined the squinting team. Aunt Cenna started to feel the heat.

“H-hey, I don’t have much cash on me.” Your aunt tried to defend herself. “And the nearest bank is far away. Gotta be frugal.”

Mom sighed with a smile. “Miss Cenna, why didn’t you say so? We could have helped you out. At the very least, show you where to get a good meal on a budget.”

“I didn’t wanna trouble ya, Madam Toriel.” Was that a blush? It’s hard to see due to her dark skin.

“It’s no trouble, dear. Oh. You will need a visitor’s pass before entering the premises. This way please.”

Your entourage detoured to the security booth. Looks like it’s Doggo’s shift now. On Mom’s request, he granted your aunt a pass to hang around her neck.

Today’s breakfast, ‘Anime Curry Rice Set’. It’s mild curry with rice, accompanied with hot tea. Everyone ordered the same thing.

Ever since the nearby town offered to supply the pre-made cubes, it’s a huge hit in school. For those who didn’t want rice, there’s the ‘Anime Curry Pasta Set’: Papyrus’ Number 2 favourite pasta flavour. Tomato will always be Number 1.

The skelebros sure love their red tangy stuff.

The teachers had a small room to themselves to dine in peace. As much as the students loved your Mom, it’s difficult to eat with endless questioning about homework. As a teacher’s kid and Ambassador, you had a special privilege on invitation.

It’s warm inside here. You took off some of your winter clothes. Aunt Cenna did the same, and it’s the first time you ever saw her without that trenchcoat.

Without all that noir detective getup, your aunt looked surprisingly… normal. She wore a black loose, long-sleeved T-shirt and dark blue jeans. If she walked by you on the street, you wouldn’t know that she’s some badass mage.

…You may have done so during the timelines where you wandered the world.

You didn’t realise that she wore a necklace until now. It was hidden far beneath all the anti-cold fabric.

It caught your attention. It’s a golden pocket watch hung on a black cord. Came with its corresponding key.

Aunt Cenna replied: “Oh? Your parents gave it to me for my twelfth birthday. This one ain’t a normal pocket watch. Here, check this out.”

She flipped the watch around. It’s completely mirrored. The numbers were flipped, and the hands ticked counter-clockwise. Wow, it’s mind-boggling even by your standards.

“Heh heh, cool isn’t it? If you like it a lot, I can give this to you.”

You declined. It’s your parents’ memento for her, not you.

“Awh man,” she teased. “Can’t trick you like a normal kid, eh?”

Hah! You’re too grown-up to fall for silly trolling!
Your aunt laughed with you.

Seeing how you got along with your aunt made Mom smile.

Undyne munched on her curry rice while staring at your aunt. “Hey, Cenna right? What’s your job anyway?”

“You want the fun part or the boring part?” your Aunt replied.

With a cheeky cat-like smile, the other said: “The fun part.”

“Catchin’ crooks and ghostbustin’, sometimes both in one go.”

Undyne’s expression turned into what you think it’s horror. “Wait, what?! GHOST busting?!?”

Oh, right. She used to be neighbours with Napstablook. Took care of him too.

Before the tables and chairs started flying, Mom corrected: “Not ghost-type monsters, dear. Miss Cenna gives rest to the dead humans who cannot pass on.”

Wait a minute--

You dropped your jaw. Mom subtly pointed at your mouth to remind you that there are some half-chewed pieces of rice stuck inside. It’s unsightly.

After washing the bits down with luke-warm tea, you resumed your display of shock at your aunt.

Could she help you with your predicament…? You need to discuss this with Sans, ASAP.

“Heh heh,” your aunt leaned over her rice. “Surprised? Having a police background helps a ton. There are a lot of spirits out there with a grudge. Either they were victims, or they’re criminals. I try to solve their cases, but… sometimes it’s better to help them move on first.”

Is there an afterlife, you asked?

Your aunt shrugged. “Maybe? We tell the restless dead that they will reunite with their SOULs on the other side. In the Spirit World. Many of my colleagues believe it. Me? No opinion.”

What about those… who give others a bad time, like hardcore killers?

“They usually try to resist,” she said. “Half of them want to remain in the world to torment the living. Half of them were too scared to pass on. Judgement, Karma, you know. Now those guys are a real pain in the butt.”

Why?

“The more they kill or had killed, the more powerful they become. After a certain point, those spirits will level up into ‘Demons’. That’s when you get the stereotype RPG team of specialists band together for the greater good. Hey, fiction has to get inspired from somewhere.”

‘The more they kill.’
‘The more powerful they become.’

EXP and LOVE become HP, ATK and DEF.

The implications terrified you.

Colour washed from your face.

It must be bad. Because Undyne started fussing over you. She kept patting your cheek and tried to shake you back into reality. “Hey! Punk! Squirt! Are you okay???”

You felt Mom’s warm furry hand on your forehead. She’s trying to check your temperature. “My child, are you alright?”

You’re starting to worry others. After a long, deep breath, you told everyone that you’re okay. Fine. No problemo.

They’re not quite convinced. You racked your brain to gather up the most believable white lie on the spot.

Raising a finger, you asked your aunt a very simple question: did the world almost ever end at a few critical points in history?

“That’s top secret material, Frisky.” She answered. “Well, I can say we averted crisis a few times.”

A nervous laugh escaped from your lips.

What will your aunt do if she found out that you had become a mass-murderer in at least one timeline?

Will she give you a ‘bad time’ like Sans?
Will she close an eye to your sins?
Or she would think you’re just ‘trolling’ with her as the internet says?

Your thoughts were interrupted with the loud clattering of a metal spoon. It bounced off the plate and fell on the floor, spilling a spoonful of curry everywhere.

Aunt Cenna’s right arm started to tremble uncontrollably.

At first, you thought it was the result of indignant rage, but then you saw her pinning her own arm down on the table… as if it was Papyrus’ runaway blaster.

“Whoa!” Undyne exclaimed. “What the hell is wrong with you?!”

“O-old injury,” your aunt winced. “Argh, dammit! It hurts. I just want to eat, jeez.”

Mom frowned with worry. She held your aunt’s arm and massaged it gently. Warm fire magic lined her hands as she worked through those tensed muscles.

“When did this problem start?” asked Undyne. You noticed that her expression had become sympathetic. Rough as she may be, there’s a deep kindness underneath all that raw strength.

Aunt Cenna averted her gaze. “…It started to get really bad last year.”

You realised that your aunt didn’t quit the police force by choice.

The room stayed quiet as Mom continued massaging. You quietly excused yourself to clean up and grab a fresh spoon.

By the time you’re back, you noticed that the haywire arm had relaxed.

“Careful now, Miss Cenna.” Mom said with a slight smile. “Give it time to recover.”

“Thanks Madam Toriel. The massage helped a ton.” She picked up the spoon with her left hand and resumed eating with it.

You were not surprised that she had become skilled in one-handed cutlery use.

Undyne was both puzzled and curious. Perhaps she had seen this in an anime before, but never witnessed one in real life. “What sort of injury could mess you up like that?”

“Uh…” After a long thought, Cenna shrugged. “It could be a bullet wound. It could be a bad fracture. Or one of those childhood traumas that I can’t really remember. Eh, life can get rough.”

Oh no.
That look on Undyne’s face.

If anime is real, you would see a burning aura hot enough to blacken what’s left of your curry rice.

“That’s it!” Undyne yelled. “We’re gonna WHIP DISCIPLINE INTO THOSE MUSCLES! I’ll work out a plan with Alphys to give you the exercise to get all those rebellious lumps into TIP TOP SOLDIERS! Papyrus will deal with the bone department!”

Physical therapy doesn’t work that way!

The rest of the day went by fine. You listened to Mom in and out of class, took your notes, and participated in the usual classroom activities.

Aunt Cenna hung around for lunchtime too. This time she ate together with the kids. For many of your schoolmates, this was the first time they talked to an adult human woman face-to-face.

They flooded the both of you with questions.

For example:

Is it true that humans have skeletons? Does that make them two people in one?

What are those two soft lumps on every woman’s chest? Will Frisk get them too?

Why do other humans refer others as ‘white’ and ‘black’ when they’re actually beige and deep chocolate?

Where do human babies come from? Are they delivered by storks like Papyrus claims?

What are toilets for and why are there everywhere?

Hearing all those questions made you realise that you had a ton more ambassadorial work to do in the future.

Your aunt took all the curiosity in stride. Her casual, cheeky demeanour entertained the children. She didn’t find any of the weirder questions offensive either. Silly kids were nothing compared to the real insults out in the field.

From the corner of your eye, you saw Mom. She’s smiling.

Then, Sans teleported right behind her. He doesn’t look happy. They skipped their usual jokes and started a serious discussion.

He kept throwing suspicious glares at Aunt Cenna.

Mom bowed at Sans. He burst into a fluster and tried his darndest to make her stand straight. But, she kept her head and body down.

She’s begging your friend for a favour.

Sans had a soft spot for Mom. They were close enough to make people gossip that they’re an item, though you know their relationship was platonic.

He relented in the end. After one last glare at your aunt, he vanished. A part of you wonder if he’s secretly a ninja.

When school was done, you stayed behind with Mom. She’s trying to catch up with her work. A pile of workbooks had sat on her table for a few days by now.

“My child,” she asked, “Would you resent me for adopting another child?”

That was a sudden question. You shook your head. In fact, it would be cool to have a sibling.

“Oh dear. Not that way. I meant…” Mom hesitated to finish her statement. “…Adopting after you pass away. I know humans have quite short lifespans compared to a Boss Monster such as myself. Would you think that I’m replacing you?”

Of course not.
Once you’re old and dead, you’re old and dead. Your memory shouldn’t hold her back.

…Although you admitted that you’re more afraid of growing old than dying. You’d be a wrinkly old prune like Gerson. Not to mention the host of health problems you often hear. If you could tour the world teaching archeology like that old turtle, you’d be considered darn lucky.

Mom chuckled a bit. “He is quite a fortunate old coot, isn’t he?”

Her smile then faded. “A long time ago, Asgore and I adopted the first fallen human as our child. Chara was their name. They were great siblings with my son, Asriel.”

“Then… I’m sure you’ve heard of the tragedy. I buried Chara where we first found them… where I found you and the others. I thought that was enough to put them to rest. We Monsters believed a proper burial was all that’s required for a human.”

“It didn’t occur to me that their spirit might linger around despite so. I wonder how they felt when they saw me take in child after child.”

“And now, you.” She said. “Maybe… I am trying to replace a void after all.”

Mom wore guilt like a mask. You reached out for that ugly, invisible thing and ‘yanked’ it off. Then you ‘threw’ it aside like the trash it is.

“What are you doing, Frisk?” asked Mom, confused at your actions.

You told Mom that if this ‘Chara’ person gets mad at her for trying to move on, you’re gonna knock some sense into them.

No one should be weighed down by the past forever.

If Mom adopted another kid after you croaked, you’d be super happy for everyone. It meant that someone else gets to grow up with an awesome mom like her.

Your little speech brought some tears on your mother’s eyes. She’s so touched, she picked you up for a hug.

“Thank you, Frisk.”

Chapter Text

Dinner will be late today, so you decided to go to the cafeteria for a snack.

It’s long after school hours. Most of your schoolmates had gone home. The place was deserted, save for the cafeteria staff and… your aunt.

She sat in the literal middle: the centre bench, the centre table, the centre lamp. It’s a little surreal to see such exact middle-ness.

You noticed that she’s juggling between three flat-screen devices. One was her personal phone. The others appeared to be work-related stuff.

The Nice Cream Man waved at you. Oh, he had yet to leave the school grounds. You asked him how he’s doing.

“Business is better than expected,” he said. “The humans from the next town still buy my wares in the dead of winter. I… can’t understand why, but they do. Especially the chocolate and coffee flavoured ones.”

Well, you’ll be that weird human too for today. You bought two sticks of original-flavour Nice Cream, one for yourself and one for your aunt.

“Oh? That lady is your relative? I thought she’s a replacement teacher.”

Unbelievable, isn’t it? You told him that she’s a law-enforcer of sorts.

“Wow! Like the Royal Guard? That’s cool! Speaking of whom, the bunny and dragon duo are still my two most loyal customers. They even have a permanent membership card! Do you want one too?”

Maybe next time. You paid the money and waved goodbye.

Aunt Cenna was talking on the phone. The moment she saw you, she stopped her conversation and excused herself.

“Hey Mez, gotta go.” She said. “Call you back later tonight. Dude, I know you sleep late so don’t complain. Bye.”

She shut the call. You asked about this ‘Mez’ person. Just hearing that name made your aunt groan.

“Remember I said something about the ‘boring part of the job’?” said Aunt Cenna. “He’s THE most boring part of the job. That’s my colleague, Mezil Thyme: very old fashioned and stern. He thinks I’m a young upstart with no respect for him. I think he’s a dusty coot with no respect for others.”

…How did you two end up as partners in the first place?

She rolled her eyes and sighed. “Because we’re the best for the job. The council thought the pros outweigh the cons and… paired us up. Yeah.”

It doesn’t sound like a happy working relationship.

Your Aunt shrugged. “Eh. In life, you sometimes gotta work with people who don’t get along. Remember that Frisky. There are many folks that may make you want to bash their skulls onto the nearest flat surface. Obviously you can’t do that, though.”

Such a description brought back some unpleasant memories about your foster mates. You… told Aunt Cenna that you’ll take that advice to heart. Then, you offered her a Nice Cream to liven up her day.

“Oh, thanks.”

The both of you peeled the wrapper and took a bite. Aunt Cenna almost chewed on the slip of paper that’s inserted into every piece of Nice Cream.

“Oops. It’s one of THOSE icecreams, huh?” She pulled out the message and gave it a read. “What does it say… ‘Is this as sweet as you?’ Awwwh, that’s adorable!”

You giggled and explained to her that it’s called a ‘Nice’ Cream for a reason.

So. Since no one else is around, you asked if Aunt Cenna can share one of her epic Magus tales with you.

The attempt of weaseling out top secret intel from your aunt made you feel like a scumbag. But, you must know.

According to Sans, Monsterkind lost the War because there was a time-traveller on the human’s side.

What happened after that? Was there peace on the Surface? For how long?

Aunt Cenna smirked. Her eyes locked on you like a hawk. Again. It had the uncanny ability to turn you into a tiny mouse.

“Well, well, well.” She said. “Someone pooled all their points into Charisma, huh? Trying to make me spill the beans.”

If it’s that deep a secret, nevermind then.

“Too late Frisky. You passed the check. Your stats and dice-rolls aligned with my mood, so congrats! Story ahoy!”

It happened again. Your imagination closed off the world around you into a focused shop-interface box.

Seems that Aunt Cenna will only give pieces if prompted. How many questions do you have, or how open she will be… you don’t know.

Nonetheless, you tried.

> Post War Life
What happened then?

“You know… the usuals. Heroes get their reward, everyone throws a celebration, and humanity is ‘free from the fear of Monsters’. So goes the theory. You and I know life ain’t that simple, yeah?”

“Once folks lose a common goal, they start to brew their own agenda. Not all heroes stay honourable forever. Some stayed on the straight and narrow. Some grow complacent. Then there’re some who turned bad.”

Your aunt stopped there. A new prompt appeared for you.

> Turned Bad.

What does she mean with that?

“Corruption, Frisky. It comes in many shades. Most stuck to the common vices such as embezzlement, adultery and bribes. A few went down a less glittery path.”

Aunt Cenna dropped all fancy smirking on the bat. “Bloodthirst. The Magi recorded this one fella who grew bored with a life of peace. They wandered the world, looking out for jobs that entertain them.”

“From bandit hunting to high-priced assassinations: if it’s to their fancy, they’ll do it. Nations paid great amounts for their services because of their uncanny luck.”

Uncanny… luck?

“Yep. ‘The Living Victory’ was their title. Try to poison their drink? They’ll skip that cup. Try to stake an ambush? They would reverse-ambush instead. Need someone to free your nation? They will somehow find the cracks and finish the job. Anything they do is a hundred percent success.”

You recognized the phenomena in a heartbeat.

SAVES.

Repeat a scenario enough times, and the unpredictable becomes predictable.

You asked if they ever ‘uncannily’ saved people from disaster. Like an earthquake or a fire.

“Sometimes. If they think the people were worth saving. They pick and choose.”

It seemed that Humanity’s Hero exploited their powers for their own gain. You told Cenna that this Living Victory person sounded pretty arrogant.

“Yeah. I totally would want to punch them. But that would just provoke the wrath of their cult on me.”

Cult? What cult?

Great. Your next question prompt was exactly that.

> Cult

You don’t like where this is going.

“Cults were inevitable with the culture of those times. In the olden days, the biggest heroes ‘ascend’ into a patron deity after their death. Honoured to the point where they become a religion in itself: idols, shrines, disciples, what have you.”

“The Magi were against such hero worship. More so for a person with a suspicious, bloodstained history. Remember what I said about Demons, Frisky?”

You nodded. The more they kill or had killed, the more powerful they become.

“Correct. I left out one key information during breakfast for a good reason. Didn’t wanna traumatize your Monster family, you know.”

Those amber eyes locked on you with greater intensity than before. It’s getting beyond uncomfortable from its sheer weight.

“In this case, ‘DEMON’ is not a noun. It’s an acronym for ‘DEtermination MONsters’.”

You almost dropped your Nice Cream. Fortunately you strengthened your fingers just in time before you caused an accident.

This is the worst time to attract any attention. Either from the Nice Cream man or the cleaners. Quickly, you finished what’s left of your dessert before continuing the conversation.

Aunt Cenna took the opportunity to do the same.

After setting the sticks aside, you selected the next question in fear.

> The truth about DEMONs

“Frisky.” She said, “It’s not that they ‘cannot pass on’. They ‘refuse to pass on’. It’s all about persistence. A human spirit without the moral compass of a SOUL becomes a DEMON.”

Your aunt leaned back on the table as you stare at her, dumbfounded.

“Surprised? Monsters and Humans are like distant cousins: different on the outside, same in the inside. Humans are just ‘monsters’ with a physical body and a powerful spirit. Not too strange when you consider how our universe works. Have a SOUL? Have sentience? That’s all you need, really.”

“More about DEMONS for now. You see, there are a few factors in creating a deadly superpower.”

“First, the Determination to persist beyond the death of your body and conscience.”

Self-explanatory.

“Second, the amount of power harvested from the blood of others. Whenever a DEMON kills someone, they rob the victim’s lifeforce to feed their spirit. The more valuable the person, the more the murderer gains.”

It’s ‘EXecution Points’ and ‘Level Of ViolencE’ in an old-fashioned mythical term.

“Third, the number of people who call on upon your name. Each mention, each whisper… multiplies the accumulated power. Calling upon a person’s True Name increases this effect at least double, if not more.”

“Guess who had all three criterias fulfilled?”

You whispered: ‘The Living Victory’.

“You’re real smart, Frisky. I’m glad. Yup. That fella became the first DEMON capable of destroying the continent. From there, they’d rake up enough force to eventually destroy the universe.”

“And you know what’s the kicker? You need a GOD to fight a god-like DEMON. Makes you wonder who had the ‘bright’ idea to exterminate the one solution we had. Talk about stupidity at a cosmic scale.”

Wait a moment…
A ‘GOD’?

Asriel became a ‘god’ when he absorbed Chara’s SOUL. Dad was supposed to do the same to free the Underground.

If the union between Monster and Human was required to defeat a powerful DEMON that threatened to destroy existence…

Would that mean that not all Monsters were rounded up for the Sealing?
Does that mean there were survivors?

You wanted to say something, but Aunt Cenna placed a finger on your lips. Added a wink for good measure.

“Shh. Now that’s the ultimate top-secret material. Na-uh, ya ain’t gonna squeeze anything more out of me. It’s for your safety too.”

Just when Aunt Cenna finished the conversation, Mom came looking for you. Her work for the day was over and it’s time for dinner.

You hurried to pat your cheeks. Gotta get those blood flowing lest Mom think you’re sick again.

Maybe… it’s better to let her think so. It’s the lesser of two worries.

“Hey Frisky.” Said Aunt Cenna. “Take it easy. Don’t want ya to fall sick.”

Then she started packing up her tools. Her time as a visitor will end once you and Mom leave the premises. Any remaining work had to be done elsewhere.

You discarded the two spent Nice Cream stick into the trash bin. Then, you walked up to Mom.

“Frisk…? You don’t look well. Is something the matter?”

Nothing, you told Mom. It’s just been a really long day for you.

Again, she placed her furry hand on your forehead. “Oh dear. I think you’re coming down with a slight fever. We’ll have chicken congee for dinner then.”

That sounded good.

Chapter Text

It’s midnight.

Mom had went to bed at least an hour ago.
You couldn’t settle down in yours. The comfort of the warm chicken congee had long passed.

You messaged Sans. Asked if he’s awake.

‘yeah kid. what do you need?’

You asked if you could meet him right now.

‘sure. i’m at grillbys’

Going out at midnight in the cold may not be such a good idea. Back when you still lived in human society, every child understood that there were hours where children shouldn’t be out.

Things go bump in the night. Your current time was certainly off-limits.

Ebott Town - the nation of monsters - should be safe, right?

Then again… crooks could just drive into your town if they wanted. Maybe it would be better to Sans meet you halfway, so you messaged him just that.

‘ok. use the main road. see you there.’

You changed into your winter clothes.

Walking in silence was an art you learned from watching TV. Heels first, then plant the rest of your foot down in a fluid motion. Repeat until you arrive at the desired destination.

It’s snowing outside. You put on your boots, grabbed the keys and reached for the umbrella. Before heading out, you scanned the darkened house for one last time for signs of sneaky Mom.

She’s not around. You didn’t want to disturb her sleep. She still needed to teach one more day before the weekend began.

You head out. Street lights illuminated the main road that led to Grillbys.

At this hour, anyone who’s awake would be indoors. Winters on the Surface were much colder than Snowdin. Cave temperatures tend to be more consistent.

The silence allowed you to think.
And your thoughts started to spiral downhill.

You remembered what you did.
You recalled Aunt Cenna’s stories.
You wondered if your sins will catch up on you.

The images of your tainted past haunted your mind.

What if your dusty stains crossed over the timelines?

Will it have a compounding effect? Like one of the many animes you watched with Alphys?

The more you thought about it, the more frightened you became.

“Hey kid.”

A familiar deep voice greeted you. When you looked up, it’s Sans. Snow dusted on his jacket. Since he’s a skeleton, he lacked the body heat to melt them.

Crushing guilt gripped your heart.

“Frisk?” He asked you again.

Cowardice got the better of you.
You turned around to retreat, hanging your head low so Sans couldn’t read your face.

“What’s wrong?”

The voice changed locations. When you looked up, he’s there. Standing right in front of you.

Again, you turned around and tried to escape his gaze.
Again, he teleported into your view.

His sockets were dark. “Did something happen?”

You didn’t reply. Instead, you gripped the umbrella’s handle tight and dashed into a random direction.

Sans tried to block your way, but you ran around him.

Left. Right.

Sans in the front. Sans in the back.

No matter where you turned, how fast you ran, or how quick you avoided your blue skeleton friend’s presence…

He’s always there: always one step ahead of you.

He said that he wasn’t always looking at what you did, but you could never tell if he told the truth. Someway, somehow, his eyes always saw through your facade.

When you’re good, when you’re bad.
When you killed on an accident.
When you killed in the name of an experiment.

He knew.

He’s a prodigy. Of course. He had the brains to analyze the smallest of details.

Hiding from him was futile.

And yet here you are, fleeing because you couldn’t look at him in the face.

The umbrella became a burden. You tossed it aside and continued running down the snow.

You kept seeing Sans. He stood by the wayside until he’s out of your view. Then he’d teleport ahead of you again.

And again.
And again.
And again.

Until at one point he yelled: “Watch out!”

You felt your SOUL turn blue. Sans yanked you backwards against your will. Only when your feet dangled helplessly above the ground, you understood why.

Before you was a steep, icy slope. A busy highway stretched along the base of what was once a hill. Although it’s past midnight, cars continued to drive to and fro.

If the fall didn’t kill you, the traffic would have.

The both of you panted together on solid ground. It was a long run and neither of you were as fit as Undyne. Vapours rose from your warm breath, almost clouding your vision.

Sans’ ‘sweat’ had crystallized from the winter air itself. The way he stared at you… it was more out of confusion than judgement. “Why did you run?”

You tried to find your words, but you couldn’t construct a coherent sentence.

“Uh, we need to bunk in a warm place. It’s cold tonight. You could get really sick.”

No. Please don’t. You can’t explain this in town.
You knew too much.
You don’t want anyone to accidentally hear what you had to say.

“Then we could discuss this in our hideout. The lab.” He replied. “Why… flee?”

A trace of disappointment laced his question. After everything he had done, you still didn’t place full faith in him.

You curled your knees close to your chest. Between fearful sobbing, you explained what you had heard from your aunt about DEMONs.

Their history, their true meaning, the method they gain power…

If your memories persist through all those RESETs, what’s stopping LOVE from being carried over? What if they’re phantoms? What if they come crashing on your head after you die from old age?

You don’t want to hurt anyone.
You don’t want to lose your compassion and mercy.
You don’t want to become a DEMON after you die.

Because once you do, there’s nothing that could stop you from committing atrocious crimes.

That thought terrified you.

Looking at Sans reminded you of how much pain you had inflicted on the people who love and trusted you. The betrayal, the horror.

You broke down into a pathetic wreck, shaking from a mix of guilt, fear, and a worsening fever.

Sans squatted down to match your height. He may be a bony image of death on the virtue of stereotypes, but he’s speaking to you in the most sympathetic of voices.

“Hey…” he said. “All I see now is a frightened kid. Your LOVE is still at 1. Nobody died in your hands. What happened in the other timelines don’t matter.”

How would he know?

“C’mon. I’m the resident quantum physicist Seer here. I spent my entire life studying this stuff. Let me tell you something: you’re fine. Anime is not real.”

“‘Timelines stopping and starting, jumping left and right’. Notice I didn’t say ‘create new paths’? It’s just one timeline being overwritten. Which means you didn’t spawn a tangle of co-existing parallel worlds.”

“The numbers? They’re gone. You’re clean. You’re not going to become a DEMON overnight. Get it?”

Then what about Papyrus? How did he see everyone’s death, and you covered in dust?

“Paps’ Green aspect of his Eye.” Sans explained. “He can see the old timeline’s ‘fragmented data’ and reconstruct them into an image. They’re just dead, leftover illusions. Nothing more.”

…You asked if that’s the truth.

“Kid, I got no reason to lie.”

Sans had a history of being enigmatic, but this time his honesty shone through as clear as a true-blue cloudless sky.

Funny how perception changes from interaction. Skeletons used to be the scariest, spookiest thing in existence. Looking at them gave the heebie jeebies when you were tiny.

And now? Their bony figures represented the comfort of your two best friends.

You smiled a bit and thanked him for everything. He returned the gesture.

“C’mon, let’s have a snack at Grillby’s.” Sans tried to wipe away your tears with his chilly fingers. “I know a shor--”

After touching your cheeks for a few more seconds, he immediately planted his full metacarpus on your forehead.

Wow, you never realised just how nice an icy cold hand can feel on your burning skin.

…Burning?

Sans left eye gleamed blue. He was fraught with worry as he looked up and down, down and up, as if he’s doing a thorough scan of your physical condition.

“I know you’re ‘hot stuff’ compared to us skellies, but this is waaaaay off the charts. You’re gonna give Grillby a run for his money at this rate.”

Great. Your fever flared. You didn’t realise it until your adrenaline rush wore off.

You tried to stand, except your legs were jelly. Either it’s from the sprint or from your poor condition. Or both.

Sans propped you up on his shoulders. “Frisk. Like it or not, I’m gonna take you to a human hospital.”

No! You mustered the rest of your remaining strength to stand your ground. Just take you home. Some bed rest should be all you need.

“Kid,” he said “Getting such a huge fever is not a good sign for anyone. Worse for a human of your age.”

What if the hospital assumed the worst and thought Sans had hurt you? Remember what happened to Asriel and Chara? It’s going to spark a controversy.

You don’t want the budding diplomatic relationship to die just because you didn’t take care of yourself better.

“…But if we don’t get you checked, you're in for a bad time. Worse, you might die!” Said Sans.

Well, then you’d just RESET.
You think.
Death so far had never been permanent.

Didn’t he just tell you that you won’t become a DEMON the moment you die? If you croaked from illness in this timeline, you promised Sans that you’re going to lead the entire scenario back to this point… And not endanger your health by running in the snow.

“It’s not about that.”

He continued: “Each RESET, there’s a chance you’ll lose to Chara’s mindgame. That temptation will be there for the entire duration you walk the Underground. The less you die, the less likely the world’s gonna end. Right?”

…You agreed with him.

Sans glanced down on his own feet.

“You always put the welfare of Monsterkind first. We, no… I can never repay that. Taking you to a hospital is the least this lazybones can do.”

Even if it meant putting his life in danger.

If you thought of it hard enough, Sans was an all-or-nothing person. This is the brother who raised his sibling alone.

The thought of mayhem in the hospital fuelled you with determination to protect your friend.

Wait.
What if…
What about…
Aunt Cenna?

Sans cringed upon the mere mention of her name.

You could tell that they’re not on good terms. Still she's the best safeguard you have against racist knee-jerk reactions. She’s a human adult, after all. Plus, she might have medical contacts from the time she worked in a police.

“What if she sold us out?” he asked.

You chuckled at the thought and nudged Sans’ ribcage with your fist. If she tried to do any funny business, you trust him to whisk you away to safety.

“…Heh.” He smirked. “That’s living too much on an edge if you ask me. Say Frisk, I have a better idea. The first step of the plan is to head home. Okay?”

Okay, you said. You then pulled your arms closer around his shoulder: sign that you’re ready for his shortcut, and to entrust your life in his hands.

Chapter Text

The squirt got sick. Pretty bad fever.

When Undyne heard the news from Toriel, she wanted to suplex the desk. ‘Wanted’ was the key word. She didn’t do it. More so when Toriel had piles of homework on said desk. She knew better than others that the ex-Queen shouldn’t be trifled with.

Toriel further explained what happened the night before. According to her, Frisk had a bad nightmare. Tried to meet Sans, but then they suffered a panic attack in the cold. It further aggravated their condition.

By the time Sans brought the kid home, they had a high fever.

Frisk phoned her aunt. Said that they needed a human representative to clear any possible misunderstandings.

Cenna’s duty was to take Frisk to a trusted hospital. She knew a place that would house the Ambassador and their monster escorts without prejudice.

Toriel already had more work than she could chew, and thus was unable to afford another leave. The next candidate… was the designated ‘Dad’ by marriage bonds: Asgore.

So the dad and the blue skelly accompanied Ebott’s ‘Golden Quiche’ out of town for medical treatment.

“How’s the squirt doing?!” Undyne asked. Her nails almost clawed into the woodwork.

“Fine.” The goat-lady answered with a sigh. “They’re given some medicine and placed under observation. Doctors suspected that the fever was from an ear infection.”

“Seriously? But, Frisk didn’t act sick at all.” Kids tend to show more obvious symptoms when they fall ill.

Toriel replied, “Maybe we thought they were just tired.”

Good point. Events happened almost non-stop for the past two or three weeks. It seemed that all the wear and stress had finally collapsed on the poor kid’s shoulders.

“When are we visiting them?” asked the fish teacher.

“Sans will pick me up later tonight. Do you want to come along?” The child’s mother had a weary smile.

With his shortcuts? Undyne thought he’s milking that aspect of his power to the point of exploitation.

“Nah. Not tonight,” answered Undyne. “I gotta help Al take care of Paps. He’s still at the phase where he activates his ‘helium-balloon mode’ at random. We can’t let him go outdoors until we’re certain he’s not going float off into the open sky.”

Toriel couldn’t help but to chuckle. “What about his… visions?”

“Vision problems, pwned!” Undyne proudly announced. She picked up a lingo or two from the Internet. “About time too. Dang. At first it was funny, but the whole ‘talking at the wrong direction’ thing got super annoying by day three.”

“I’m glad to hear Papyrus is recovering well.” Said Toriel. “He should be fine by Sunday, right?”

“Yeah. We hope so. Mettaton has to go back to work on Sunday night. Soooooo…”

Undyne imagined the unfortunate outcome of Papyrus trying to break out of the lab - by jumping through the window - and then floating upside-down toward the sky.

Telling him about Frisk’s hospitalization might trigger the same effect. It’s a bit cruel to withhold such information, especially when that skeleton loved the kid to bits.

Still… Papyrus is Papyrus. He will throw all caution into the wind in a heartbeat.

The fish lady uttered an uncomfortable chuckle. “Yeah. I really, REALLY hope we’re on schedule.”

Homeroom was almost over. The teachers had to get ready to attend their respective classes.

“Oops, it’s almost time. See ya later, Toriel.”

The other teacher nodded in an absent-minded manner.

Just when Undyne turned around…

“Were you the Head of the Royal Guard when the quake happened?”

Toriel’s question stopped her dead in her tracks. If this was anime, this would be the time when the room's aura turned dark, heavy and oppressive.

Undyne’s gut feeling pointed towards a single direction. But, she had to make sure.

“Which quake…?”

“The huge one that happened many years ago,” Toriel replied. “I remember it toppled some of my kitchenware and bookshelves.”

She figured that she’s going to ask about that particular incident. “Oh, yeah. I was a fresh Captain back then.”

“Did anyone get hurt?”

“Just mass panic, a blackout and a whole lot of damaged buildings. Nobody got hurt, fortunately.”

“Are… you sure?”

“Yeah? We didn’t have any casualties.”

Sadness hung from Toriel’s face. “Was it a natural occurrence?”

That question made Undyne halt her breath. How can she answer that without causing further problems? She didn’t want to lie to Toriel, nor did she want to get Sans into trouble.

During her time on the Surface, she learned that one can be honest without implicating someone's guilt outright: “No. The Core malfunctioned during one of the routine checkups. Went crazy enough to shake up the whole Underground. Took a while for the engineers to fix that issue.”

“I see.” Toriel flashed a weak smile. “Thank you, Undyne. For your honesty.”

“No problem. Send my regards to the kiddo!”

The strongest fish-lady Underground strode out of the teacher’s office. When she was sure that she far from Toriel’s sight, she dropped her tough exterior to freak out for a moment.

Alphys mode: On. “Ohmygodthatwasthefreakiestshit---”

Asgore wasn’t joking about his ex-wife’s sharp savviness. If Undyne had lied, she would be in boiling hot soup by now.

What's with the sudden interest about that particular incident, though…? That question continued to bother her throughout the day.

At one point, the kids thought their gym teacher was falling ill like Frisk. She proved them wrong by bench-pressing the weight of 18 schoolchildren.

Frisk’s classmates used their Art and Crafts hour to make some get-well gifts. Most of the children made cards. Paper was plenty, and it allowed the kids to decorate it whichever way they wanted.

The more adventurous ones turned the blank sheets into fake flowers, colouring the petal pieces with crayons before gluing them together.

Undyne overheard a conversation amongst the children. Monster Kid was part of the group.

“I’m gonna make a lily!”

“Noooo, don’t!” said Monster Kid. “They’re flowers for dead people!”

“Really? I saw someone giving lilies to propose before. The super red ones.”

“Those are roses, silly! Lilies look like these.”

With a crayon in his mouth, the kid sketched a flower with five long petals that curve outward.

“See? They’re white and they have pollen stalks in the middle. I saw a lot of them when my family visited the neighbouring town the other day! These flowers surrounded the picture of an old and wrinkly human. It was a ‘wake’ where humans pay their last respects.”

“Wow, you’re smart!”
“That I am! Nyeh heh heh!

Undyne smiled. It looks like Papyrus’ Number One Fan retained his position.

Once the school bell rang to signify the end of their final class, the students placed their get-well gifts in a cardboard box. Toriel arranged them in such a way where the paper flowers won’t get crushed.

“Thank you so much, my dear children.” Said Toriel, “Frisk will be very happy to receive these. Have a safe trip home, and don’t forget your homework.”

Some of the children groaned upon the mention of homework. That reminded Undyne of her own childhood, making her lips curl into a cat-like pout. It was funny in hindsight.

Once she had finished her own duties as a teacher, the fish lady prepared for her evening jog. It’s her usual Friday routine to run a lap around the town before retiring for the weekend.

The path started from the school, turned into the forest trail, skirted the south end of Mount Ebott before circling into the main square. Then finish it with a detour to Alphys’ lab.

Whenever she felt like it, she stopped at the Rockfall. This place was Undyne’s favourite spot to choose her next rocky victim.

One would think it’s easy to find an unclaimed rock with all the space on the Surface, but no, that doesn’t seem to be the case; everything was owned by someone.

Just when she’s about to inspect a nice piece… she stubbed her foot, hard.

“OW!” she exclaimed. It hurt her enough to make her limp for a while. “What the heck was that?!”

Brushing the snow aside revealed a half-melted red candle. The process of melting and refreezing had encrusted it with ice.

“…Huh? There’s more stuff around here.” Undyne muttered to herself as she dug around the site.

Removing the fresh snow revealed another half melted candle and a frostbitten bouquet of flowers. Their petals were white, long, and curved outwards. Each stalk had a long stamen in the middle.

Undyne recalled this as the same flower Monster Kid drew in class.

“Wait a minute. Aren’t these lilies?”

Combined with the candles, it became clear that they were offerings for the dead. A few anime series did the same.

But for whom? The children who fell into Mount Ebott?

The location didn’t make sense. The Rockfall was far away from any main roads, and nestled deep in the woods. Furthermore, any offering for lost children should either be on the big hole above the Ruins, or the exit of what was once the Barrier.

“Did someone die here?” Undyne wondered out loud as she looked upwards.

The collapse happened at a narrow but tall strip, stretching all the way up to the mountain’s midway point.

A death at the mountain. For reasons Undyne couldn’t remember, she thought it was too familiar.

Then, several details clicked in place. She recalled what Cenna had said about Frisk’s birth parents.

“A quake happened on the job and they got caught in a rockslide. Didn’t make it.”

Could it be just a coincidence?

A chilling breeze blew past, rustling the conifers that did not drop their leaves for the winter.

She thought that she heard some humming from the rocks. It could be her ears playing tricks, or the structure caused the wind to resonate.

To Undyne, this felt like anime in a bad way. Horror and mystery were not fun genres to be casted in.

“Damn. This is waaaay too creepy.”

So she left the items exactly where she found them. Picking out a boulder to suplex can wait another week.

Life had a nasty knack of timing sometimes. Just when she wanted nothing more to do with the potential haunted zone, her phone rang. Undyne jolted with a shocked squeak that she would rather forget.

It’s from Alphys. Did something happen back in the lab? Her girlfriend preferred messaging, and she knew better than to bother during workout hours. Unless a fire happened…

The lab didn't catch fire, did it?

Undyne answered it. “Hello?”

“Um. W-where are you n-n-now???”

A frantic, stuttering Alphys with mysterious noises of clattering chaos going on in the background. Yes. Perhaps the lab did catch fire.

Undyne started giving her brand of intense instructions: “The fire extinguisher is in the kitchen! Stay calm, take it to the fire and yank the pin with all your might!”

“Nonononono the house is fine!” Alphys replied. “It’s Papyrus! He’s building a pentagram out of bones and talking in a weird weird WEIRD language with hand signals and so on. I’m so scared Undyne please come home now--”

It took her two silent seconds to process the absurd contents of that panic. “What?! What the hell is Mettaton doing? I thought that floofy robot is supposed to keep Papyrus from doing stupid shit!”

“Mettaton is actually helping Papyrus to build the pentagram in the name of spooky fun.”

“GODDAMMIT METTATON!!!”

That yell may have be loud enough to cause an avalanche, but she won’t stay to find out; Undyne sprinted down the trail, post haste.

The uneven mixture of thin ice and snow made it difficult for her to maintain both pace and traction. Either she almost slipped from being too fast, or bogged down by the thick puffy softness.

What was she thinking? Since when could she ever trust that robot? He can’t even keep himself from radiating his nonsensical flamboyance, let alone promote common sense in others.

She heard the whines of her frightened love from the phone speakers. Planting the phone back to her fin-ears, Undyne said: “Al? Al, stay with me! Keep me updated on Paps!”

“S-should I just pass the phone to him?” Alphys asked.

Might as well hear it from the skeleton’s mouth. “Yeah! Do that!”

She heard the shuffling from the other end. Papyrus tried to brush the call away by saying he’s busy, but when Alphys pointed out it’s from Undyne, he dropped everything to get on the line.

Thus he began. “HELLO UNDYNE! GREAT THAT YOU CALLED! I WAS JUST ABOUT TO ASK IF I CAN BORROW YOUR KITCHEN.”

With the sternest growl, Undyne questioned: “Pa. Py. Rus. What the hell are you trying to do?”

“I PROMISED UNCLE GASTER A PLATE OF REUNIONGHETTI FOR THE WEEKEND!” Papyrus replied. “I KNOW IT IS STILL FRIDAY, BUT FRIDAY EVENINGS ARE AS GOOD AS WEEKENDS.”

She had expected nothing less from his nutty logic. “Question one: who the hell is Uncle Gaster? Question two: why the hell does it involve a pentagram???”

“UNCLE GASTER IS UNCLE GASTER! APPARENTLY HE HAD HIS BITS OF EXISTENCE SCATTERED ACROSS TIME AND SPACE. WHATEVER IT MEANS. I DON’T UNDERSTAND, BUT THAT’S WHAT HE TOLD ME.”

It seemed that he turned away from the phone for a while. He started speaking in a strange, distorted language that wasn’t directed to her.

Undyne increased her pace. Some dangerous entity is trying to use Papyrus to do their bidding and he’s too innocent to notice anything wrong.

Back on the call, he continued: “OH! OK! IN SIMPLE ENGLISH, IT MEANS HE WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO STAY IN ONE PLACE LONG ENOUGH TO ENJOY ANY OF THE GREAT PAPYRUS’ CUISINES.”

“BUT THANKS TO MY SPECIFIC COMBINATION OF COLOURS, UNCLE GASTER THINKS THAT I COULD TEMPORARILY RESTORE HIS FORM BY USING SOME ANCIENT SKELETON MAGIC! WE HAVE NO IDEA IF THIS WILL WORK.”

“IT’S PRETTY COMPLICATED STUFF, BUT METTATON HELPED ME WRITE DOWN AND REHEARSE THE PASSCODE! I THINK I CAN DO THIS! ALSO YOU’VE NOT ANSWERED IF I CAN BORROW YOUR KITCHEN.”

“NO!” Undyne yelled back. “Not until I get home! And stop that ritual! You might accidentally summon some epic demon from ancient times!”

That’s what happens in anime, right?

“UNCLE GASTER SAID YOU NEED BLOOD AND MERCURY TO SUMMON A REAL DEMON. ALL WE HAVE HERE ARE BONES AND MAGIC, SO NO ACCIDENTS WILL HAPPEN!”

Undyne screeched. She cannot believe it’s real. It shouldn’t be real.
Why must the worst aspects of anime come true today?

“OH IT’S TIME TO START THE EXPERIMENT! I’M PASSING THE PHONE BACK TO ALPHYS. BYE!”

“WAIT GET BACK HERE--”

The call ended. He must have accidentally pressed the button while passing it to Alphys, and the lizard lady was too locked in fear to phone back.

At last, Undyne reached the town outskirts. She leapt to the nearest two-storey rooftop. Normal roads take too long to reach home. There was a parkour route that cut a diagonal path to Alphys’ place.

Jump. Slide. Jump. Grab the ledge.
Scale the window to scramble up to the next rooftop.
Apologize to the pigeon keeper for scaring his birds.
Decline Muffet’s offer of spider cider. There’s no time for that now.
Briefly wave at Snowy’s Mom and his sixteen newly adopted relatives. And reassure them that their son is not in trouble.

After a whole lot of rooftop-dashing, Undyne arrived home. She executed a flying kick to bust down the door at full running speed: no time to fiddle with keys.

Lights in the house flickered as the ritual interrupted the flow of electricity. An eerie glow shimmered from the direction of the newly-repaired training chamber.

Undyne rammed the door with all her might. But alas, she was too late: the ritual had just been completed.

Right now, she was not sure about what she should feel.

Should she be horrified?
Should she be amazed?
Should she be alarmed?

Or all three together.

Memories that she didn’t realise existed assaulted her mind.

Many years ago, a tall skeleton dressed in a custom-tailored coat stared down on her, giving a lecture about fragility and courtesy. How she shouldn’t have ambushed Sans. If it weren’t for his protegé’s gruelling drills in the art of dodging, she might have killed him by mistake.

How the child Undyne wanted to punch him in the face. However, he was an important person to King Asgore.

The Royal Scientist: W. D. Gaster.

Now, that man had become an ever-flowing monstrosity. Oozing and dripping as his squishy form took shape from a black puddle. Once whole, he took a deep breath, savouring the air of this encased space.

“Ah…” he said in a hoarse voice, “It’s great to breathe oxygen once more.”

Undyne realised she was wrong: there were monster casualties in the Core Incident. At least one. After the quake, The Royal Scientist had vanished without a trace.

And the last person who saw him alive was none other than his protegé.

Sans.

Chapter Text

Looking at the box of get-well gifts filled you with delight. To the point where your eyes get a little damp.

During your foster home days, you didn’t even dream of getting this much attention. It’s just otherworldly and something that only existed on TV.

Maybe this is why Mettaton loves his fans so much?

You hugged the box. Mom and Dad chuckled at your actions.

“Aww that’s cute,” said Mom.

“It never gets old,” Dad added. “A thousand years ago or now, receiving wishes for good health still warms my heart.”

You grinned ear to ear as you checked the contents, identifying the creator of each card through their design.

Snowy just had to include a snow-related pun in his. And Monster Kid added a drawing of themselves on one of the petals. Those were some of the bits and pieces of children’s creativity that flowed free.

“How are you feeling now, my child?” Mom asked. She looked too worried for something so simple.

You tried to find some words to describe it. The insides of your ears itch all the way to your throat. At the same time you were between too hot and too cold.

Long story short, it was uncomfortable… But the medicines helped you feel better.

“It’ll all be fine, Toriel.” Dad tried to reassure Mom. “The doctors found nothing serious. It’s curable.”

Chara died from buttercup poisoning. It took you a few resets to stir enough curiosity to find out their exact effects.

A part of you regretted reading the symptoms to this day.

Knowing this, you understood why your monster family was extra anxious about your illness.

“What’s this?” Mom tried to read the clipboard hung at the end of the bed. Her brows scrunched at the complicated words.

Dad explained, “They’re notes. Sans explained that there are multiple varieties of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs, so the doctors need to record which works best. And to observe for any allergic reactions.”

Your Mom almost slammed the clipboard on your bed desk as if Dad had made a horrible mistake.

“P-please don’t worry,” he said. “Frisk doesn’t have any allergies, nor their parents had a history of them. The records are all standard operating procedures.”

“Parents?”

“Yes. According to Miss Caraway, Frisk was born in this very same establishment. Their parents’ records were kept despite their passing for their child’s sake.”

You nodded to Mom. It surprised you a ton too. Maybe it’s fate that you once lived so close to Ebott’s borders?

“Hmm…” Mom pondered. “Wouldn’t that mean your human parents, and thus Cenna, once lived in this city too?”

Possible. You saw quite a bit of apartments on the way to the hospital. Then, there were the suburbs around the edges too.

Again, your goat mother became lost in thoughts.

“Is there something wrong, Toriel?” Dad still loved Mom despite her constant rejection.

Mom frowned a bit. “N-nothing. It’s just… I feel a bit guilty for thinking ill about her. She would've made a great sister figure for Frisk if they grew up together.”

“…I wish…” she said, “Our son had someone as mature.”

Maybe if ‘that someone’ thought through their actions better, the whole tragedy could have been avoided.

You wondered if one day you could find a way to travel back to the time when Asriel was still alive, warn him about the buttercup plan, and show Chara that humans are not all messed up.

It was an impossible dream, though. The date was long before you were born, and by logic your powers shouldn’t be able to take you back before your existence.

It’s dinner time. Your parents made way for the nurse to put the tray down. He recognized your parents from the internet videos, and happily said hello to them. You were relieved that he was one of the supporters.

The standard hospital food was… bland: both in looks and taste. It’s not whetting your already diminished appetite. Your meal today consisted of baked chicken, peas with dill, and a helping of mashed potato.

You missed Mom’s cooking already.

Then, Sans appeared to your rescue. He walked through the front door with a bag from the nearest convenience store.

“Hey kid,” he wriggled his brows. “Heard you’re having some ‘bare-bonemeals’. So, I got you some pudding to liven things up.”

Yay for pudding! Just the thought of having dessert motivated you to finish your main dish.

“Want some ketchup for the chicken?”

Flavour! Glorious flavour! Your short skelly friend ripped a packet of ketchup and squeezed some of the tangy goop next to your baked chicken.

Mom furrowed her brows. “Are you sure it’s okay for Frisk to eat outside of the menu?”

“No sweat Tori,” he replied. “Frisk is not on any dietary restrictions. The caterer just mass cooked the stuff with all patients in mind.”

Your Dad let out a soft laugh as he patted your back. “If a bit of junk food helps them eat better, I don’t mind.”

…Due to the effects of the poison, back then, Chara couldn’t eat or drink. They would have died from dehydration if they didn’t bleed to death. Little wonder why Dad was so happy that you still had your appetite.

Mom and Sans continued to crack jokes while you enjoyed your dinner. By now you’re used to the corniness, so you just carried on eating with a straight face.

You noticed that Dad always kept Mom within view. He could never directly stare at her as it would catch her attention. But, whenever possible… he watched Mom live her new life.

Quietly.

Midway through your dessert, you heard a ruckus going on right outside your door. It involved a woman trying to yell her way past security.

Due to your status as the official Ambassador for Monsterkind, Aunt Cenna pulled in some security. Got you a private ward and stationed two guards in front of the door. Magi guards. If she didn’t tell you about it, you would have thought they’re normal people.

Then…

That voice. It was the woman who insulted your mom about her parenting skills. You hopped off your bed and placed a finger on your lip.

Be very, very quiet. You snuck to the door and planted an ear on the surface. The infection may make you itch, but it hasn’t dampened your ability to listen.

Sans joined you, followed by Mom and Dad. Before you knew it, you’re in a party of four eavesdroppers.

Aunt Cenna said, “Oh hey, look. It’s tomorrow’s problems today. Why are you here, Linda?”

The woman named ‘Linda’ made an audible huff. “I saw a suspicious-looking man in blue slipping junk food onto the premises! And you just let him straight into Miss-- Mister-- The Ambassador’s room. Aren’t you supposed to do your job?”

“‘Cause said suspicious-looking man is actually their friend…? At least he has more relevance than you. Well, mind telling me what brought you to this hospital?”

“My son is sick,” Linda replied. “Is it so unusual for a mother to bring her son in for treatment?”

“Nawh, totally not. But are you okay with leaving your husband and kid behind like that?”

“My son is a big boy and my husband isn’t incompetent. Better than a dodgy ex-police officer who sold her soul to witchcraft!”

Despite their public status, there seemed to be a bias against the Magus Association.

“Whoa whoa whoa, taking out the burning pitchforks already? That’s a new record.” Aunt Cenna replied. You could hear the sarcastic tease dripping from her words.

Your aunt continued: “I don’t think you wanna teach your son it’s right to insult others. ‘Cause, well, promoting hate is against the law, yeah? The police can concentrate on more important cases if there are less petty drama getting in the way. Speaking from experience here.”

Linda gasped as if she had heard of the worst insult in the world. Talk about being melodramatic.

“That NERVE!” The other woman exclaimed. “It’s your sworn duty to serve the citizens, and yet you’re telling us to make your job easier?! We don’t pay taxes so you guys could loiter around and eat doughnuts all day!”

Dad gave you a questioning look, wondering if the woman’s accusations were true. You shook your head. Police stations were busy places. Sometimes too busy.

How did you know? You visited one before. One of your foster-mates got into trouble with the law, and for some reason the police wanted to talk to all the kids.

It was absolute chaos in there. Parents argued amongst each other, while their children screamed at the top of their lungs like it were a playground. They make Papyrus seem as quiet as a lamb.

“Oookay,” Aunt Cenna responded. You imagined her lifting both arms in the air in a mock surrender. “Whatever you say, madam. Just don’t come crying at the lockup if your son becomes a crime statistic. On the wrong side.”

That burn.
That. Burn.

Needless to say, that Linda lady was far from happy. Her continued fuming prompted the guards to escort her away.

It’s your cue to hurry back to bed. You, Mom and Dad had to sneak the old-fashioned way, while Sans did his teleporting thing. How unfair.

Aunt Cenna opened the door to find the four of you trying to act innocent. You and Sans got the straight-face act down to an art. Mom? Close enough. Dad, however, had a very hard time trying to hide his funky smile of guilt.

Well, your aunt saw through the act. “Pfft. Oh c’mon folks, ya don’t need to act all coy around me. Linda is a satire goldmine. I’ll never pass up a chance to argue with her.”

Mom chuckled a bit. “She’s… quite a woman. Do you know her?”

“Yup,” answered Aunt Cenna. “Classmates from fourth grade onwards. Believe it or not, she never changed. Always complaining. If it ain’t about school stuff, it’ll be your clothes. If it ain’t your clothes, she’ll whine about your behaviour. There’s no pleasing that lady.”

“But she’s married.”

“That’s the mystery of the century, if you ask me.”

Dad proposed another scenario: “I believe that despite her sharp tongue, she had good points that only her loved ones will know.”

Maybe. You hoped so. Otherwise you wonder how long things will last before it turned into a divorce case.

Aunt Cenna sighed. “Guess so. Considering my relationship with her, I don’t think I’ll ever live to see her good sides. I’m more worried about her son though.”

Why? You asked.

“Let’s just say that… I’ve seen quite a fair bit of kids gone twisted. All expectations and no love erodes someone faster than strong acid.”

She continued. “For her son’s sake, I hope Linda ain’t like my bio parents. You see, they used to beat the hell out of me for whatever reason that pissed them off that day. Yelled about me being useless and annoying. I thought being black and blue was a normal fact of life.”

You clenched the edges of your blanket, crumpling them under your fingers. So that’s what she meant by ‘my parents weren’t good people’.

“Very sorry to hear that,” Dad frowned with sympathy.

“Eh, it’s nothing to me now,” the other lady shrugged. “I don’t remember much of the pain anyway. I was like what, six? Seven? Social Services got me out. Then, my uncle’s wife moved me to Frisky’s home not long after. Their loving care made me forget all about the bad times.”

Aunt Cenna reached for her special double-sided pocket watch and fiddled with it. You noticed a soft, nostalgic warmness on her face.

“Frisky’s parents saved me in more ways than one,” she said. “I owe them lots. That’s why I swear to keep their kid safe and healthy.”

Despite everything, Aunt Cenna watched out for you. No wonder Mom’s embarrassed: she must have felt that she had mistreated her out of prejudice. Doing that made her no better than Linda.

You told your aunt that you’re sorry.

“For what?” she raised her brow. “Being suspicious about me?”

Nod.

Your aunt burst into laughter and rubbed the top of your head. Goodbye neat hair.

“Nawh, ya musn’t be sorry about that at all!” she said, “I’d be waaaaaay more concerned if everyone was fine and dandy after my big intimidation act. Seriously. ‘Cause I would have reacted the same. Protecting you is proof that your family love you lots.”

“Never forget that.”

The last three words were heavier than the other. With all the time-loops going on, it’s far too easy to take your loved ones for granted.

You promised your aunt that you will remember.

At ten at night, visiting hours were over. Again, only your aunt could stay overnight in the pediatrics ward on a legal basis. Everyone else was considered ‘Visitor’ and thus had to leave.

Aunt Cenna still hadn’t transferred the guardian rights to your monster parents. According to Mister Jonah, that’s a wise move. Just having a human name with a strong backing was enough to deter most wannabes from filing a dispute. Nobody wanted to waste time on trivial red tape.

You hope.

Mom fussed over you to the very last minute, making sure you had your necessities in place.

Toothpaste? Checked.
Toothbrush? Checked.
Dental floss? Checked.
A change of socks and underwear? Checked and double checked.

Dad tucked you to bed. Sans does his… Sans thing. Which was just a whole lot of observation on the Dreemurrs. Right after they left, he winked at you and said he’ll be back tomorrow. Maybe with more friends, depending on Papyrus’ condition.

Once they’re gone, the quietness reminded you that you had a fever high enough to be warded. You started to feel tired and sore.

The nurses and doctors checked up on you under Aunt Cenna’s supervision. The male nurse that served you dinner helped paste one of those cooling pads on your head. You took another dose of your medicine, and had some ear drops to soothe the itch.

Good news: the fever didn’t go up.
Bad news: it didn’t go down either. More observation required. They hoped that the blood test results would be done by the night shift guys. Or else you will have to wait until Monday.

Your aunt encouraged you to sleep. She had work to do, and she didn’t want to bother your recovery. So she left the ward to let you rest.

With nothing better to do, you tried to sleep.

“My village was full of humans like Linda, you know.”

Your eyes snapped wide open.
That strong, otherworldly child-like voice. It resonated between your ears, echoing from the interiors of your skull.

You dare not try to turn around in your bed.

Because you knew if you did, you would have seen THEIR face.

Chara's spirit sat on the edge of the bed, in all their green-striped glory.

“Irritating. Hypocritical. Arrogant. Always thinking they’re right. They’re practically begging to be hated. Admit it. You know how I feel.”

Ignore them long enough and they’ll go away. The last time you listened to them, Chara convinced you to start killing. Maybe, just maybe, the grief of others would be the answer.

A small sacrifice for the greater good, right? You’ve never been more wrong in your short life.

“Still employing that tactic, I see.”

Chara sighed at you.

“Let’s talk about the Surface.” They said, “Have you heard of this phrase: ‘man’s best friend?’ Who do you think it applies to? Or rather, ‘what’?”

You know the answer, but you refused to respond.
Chara filled in the blanks for you.

“A dog. Sometimes a horse. Or maybe a cow. Depending on where you live. It can describe all the animals in the world, yet it never applied to one: a human.”

“A pet gets more love than humanity’s own offspring. What epiphany, isn’t it? If I have a penny for every person doting on their cat or dog, I’d be rich enough to buy a nation!”

You’ve heard it.
You’ve seen it.
You understand where Chara came from.

You were once less loved than a pet.

“But have you ever wondered why a reject from a different species can replace you? Is it because they’re cute? Endearing? Hmm, those traits help cement feelings… but let me tell you the real reason.”

Chara’s cold, dead breath brushed against your ears.

“Because it makes them feel wanted. Loved. Without the fear of rejection. Without the fear of betrayal.”

Their words alone made you shiver. You pulled up the blanket over your neck and curled tight.

“Don’t you think it’s the same with your monster friends? They think differently compared to humans. So child friendly. So innocent. So naive. Isn’t that right, partner?”

“But the outside world is not like that. It’s complicated. Fraught with hidden agenda and selfishness. So corruptible. So deceitful. Sooner or later, your lovely friends will become tainted just like Asriel.”

“Just like me.”

An icy touch brushed your hot forehead. It didn’t feel anywhere as nice as Sans’. This cold stung with the bleeding bitterness of a troubled child.

“Shall we go back to simpler times, partner?” asked Chara. “Leave this complicated world behind. Don’t forget, you still have one more path to try. To investigate. To complete.”

“Can you really leave our game unfinished? Or will you betray me like Asriel did?”

That was the last straw. Anger filled your heart. You tossed the blanket aside and growled at Chara.

This would be the first time you’ve seen their face. You don’t know if it was their true visage, or a twisted mirror of yourself.

You saw a child who looked almost like you. Almost. Their skin was bleached, their cheeks were rosy, and they had this vacant smile to go with their blood-tinted eyes.

They look happy, even though you know they’re not.

You told Chara to shut up about Asriel. He can be called many things, but a traitor was not one of them.

His single, purest wish was to play with Chara again. His loyalty should never be questioned.

“Greetings.” Thus said the DEMON. “Glad to finally have your attention. Again.”

If attention was what they wanted, fine. They won’t get this for free.

You demand Chara to explain their true feelings about their family. Why go to such extremes? Why do they want everyone dead?

…Maybe you were a bit too threatening. Fortunately for you, Chara laughed it off.

“Have you ever heard of this phrase?” They asked. “Rest. In. Peace.”

You narrowed your thin eyes, both mortified and enraged by their implications.

“Why so furious? I state the truth: only the dead rest in peace. As long you live, you struggle. You suffer.”

“Why wouldn’t I repay the favour of my wonderful monster family by giving them eternal sleep? Their SOULS don’t remain. They don’t haunt like us human spirits. They certainly don’t have the Determination to persist.”

“Just one swift stab with a knife and poof, they’re dust. Reduced to nothing. Remember nothing. So very fragile. All that terror and hate was just ignorance. I’m sure if they were more… open minded, they would have flocked to you to die.”

…It’s too late to talk them out of it. They no longer had a SOUL to serve as moral compass.

Asriel eventually let you go because he regained the capacity to feel mercy for a short while…

Not Chara.

Not after this many resets either.

You had a feeling that Chara had this idea ingrained deep into their mentality long before they fell into Mount Ebott. If you must be honest with yourself, you once thought of these same concepts.

Still, that was the past; you're determined to prove Chara wrong in this timeline. And all the ones to follow.

They leaned forward to your face, too close for comfort. You smelled embalming spices mixed with the stench of dry decay.

“It’s useless. Useless, useless, useless, useless.”
“You’re just writing fanfiction. It means nothing. Nothing at all. The world around you is mere twisted sentimentality. Weak. Pathetic. Meaningless.”

You hold steadfast, refusing to give into fear or anger, or anything that'd fuel Chara.

Yet, they continue to smile.

“Hey partner. Whenever you want to go back to a time where your decisions mattered, call upon my name.”

Chara ran their icy finger down your jawline. They stopped at the chin, then lifting your head ever so slightly so they could stare at you straight in the eye.

“I’ll be there.”

With their blood-chilling message delivered, they’re gone.

You were alone again. Maybe in another timeline, you would have collapsed out of panic.

Now… somehow… you were surprisingly calm. Disturbed, yes. But there were almost no physical reactions to something so horrific.

You dropped yourself back into bed and pulled up the blankets as if nothing happened.

Tomorrow, you will start to think of how to give Chara their ‘eternal peace’.

Chapter Text

Visiting hours were over. All visitors must leave the wards after a certain time to let the patient rest. Exceptions were made for parents, spouses and legal guardians, even then they had to ask permission.

And monsters got no permission.

Night shift equals to minimum staff. Humans were largely diurnal despite a few exceptions. There would be fewer people around.

Perfect, Sans thought.

He first let himself be seen with Toriel and Asgore. No shortcuts this time.

He was there when they flagged down the taxi.
He was there when Asgore and Toriel argued about who would pay the fees. Toriel winning at the end as usual.
He was there when the Boss Monsters struggled to squeeze into the comparatively tiny vehicle.

Then he sat in the back seat, next to Toriel, until they reached Ebott’s Town Square.

Asgore headed straight home. Toriel accompanied Sans all the way back to the latter’s home as a token of friendship.

They wished each other good night. The ex-queen watched her joke buddy enter his house. She then turned around to return to her dwelling.

Sans’ setup for an alibi was done. This should create enough time discrepancies to fool the police for a while. If, he ever slips up in the first place.

… Sorry Toriel. I’m doing this for the kid.

He felt like a piece of trash for using his friend… Then again, he had degraded into a piece of trash a long time ago. Trash will be trash: that’s what they are.

He searched under his treadmill machine for his secret notebook. That’s one advantage of standard paper: no need to worry about charging their batteries. Just pick up and go.

Armed with a pen, a book, and a sharp mind… Sans lifted his mattress with magic.

Doing so revealed an octogram. It’s drawn in school chalk, a substance that could easily be swept away. Easy to erase. Easy to tell if anyone tempered with it.

Sans prepared the site ever since he started receiving copies of Frisk’s pictures. He realised that something was off, and he might need to dust off some of his neglected studies.

Doctor Gaster taught him everything of relevance, which included Seer magic. Their science, their history, and all the things that could go wrong. Not that his parents had any idea what it entailed. Dear mother in particular would be concerned if she knew the exact details; she could be quite a cynic.

Fortunately for his mentor, she was mostly left in the dark. Maybe he should have shared more, maybe then she could've pulled him out of training sooner.

…But that would've make dear father unhappy. Gaster was his best friend. The pain and hassle from making his parents argue was not worth it.

Besides, the lessons served him well. And they will continue to do so no matter which timeline.

Sans summoned his collection of bones. He began placing them down with precise magic, making sure that they’re not misaligned.

It’s hard work setting this up. Thus, best reserved only when it mattered.

He left the ends -- the points of the star -- empty and disconnected.

The hospital had no direct shortcuts. The one I took with Toriel required two jumps: Ebott to the Central Train Station. From the Station to a five minute walk away from the hospital.

Using a stable portal is too risky. Too far, too open. If the Magi had ‘that’, I’m sure they could trace shortcuts. Maybe. I can’t risk it. I need to dig a path that I can destroy later.

If I mess up at any point, all implications should fall square on me. Not on anyone else.

Sans conjured a humerus. He then concentrated a tiny bit of his disintegration powers to the tip of his index finger. With it, he etched down a string of hieroglyphs on the side.

Coordinate Alpha: the canteen. Latitude, longitude, height. X, Y, Z… This should be it.

Once he was satisfied with the code, he floated the large bone over to an empty point of the octogram. Set it down like a key to a keyhole.

The bone clicked in place. It turned yellow: primed for calculation.

Coordinate Beta: Frisk’s ward.

Sans surveyed the hospital ever since he brought Frisk past the doorstep. He committed the layout to memory. Whenever he could, he excused himself. Told Asgore that he’s going to look around, take a break, and buy some snacks for Frisk.

Look around, he did. He noted the paths, remembered the departments, counted the number of rooms per floor, tracked the traffic, the location of vending machines where night shift workers might grab refreshers from…

He observed the general staff, the doctors, the guards. How they behave. When their shift started and when it ended.

The dejavu was strong. As if he had done the exact same thing multiple times in the past.

A boon, in this case. The stronger the dejavu, the quicker he’ll recollect and retain the details.

Coordinate Gamma: Neurological Department.

Heard through the hospital’s grapevine: Cenna was a regular customer in the Neurological Department. Used to attend a different doctor before she was forced to resign from the police force one year ago.

They may not know her by name and which doctor she’s visiting, but everyone described her as an ‘ultra-cool lady who kept her hair long over the year.’

What luck. Frisk, Frisk’s parents, and their enigmatic Magus aunt: all their records under the same roof.

Coordinate Delta: Morgue.

According to his research on human laws, surviving relatives can request for a post-mortem. A coroner will check the body for a main cause of death. Should they find a criminal element, they will call the police to lodge a report.

Usually, it’s to help grieving families accept the passing of their relatives.

If, by any chance, this hospital performed the post-mortem on Frisk’s parents… their records should be there.

That’s four points on the octogram. Sans filled the rest with clauses and syntaxes. For example: shortest route to the neurological department, far away from Frisk’s ward, and not smack dab in the middle of security. Along with other fine-tuning of mathematical nature.

If only Pap’s here. He could stabilize this thing.

…Nonononono you’re not getting your brother involved in any untested new skeleton rituals, Sans! Especially not of this level! There’s a reason why you sealed him in the first place.

Welp. If anything happens to me, the kid will RESET. And I’ll be back here. I hope.

Breathe in.
Breathe out.

Eight humerus locked into place. All he needed to do now was to execute his final command.

His left eye shimmered blue and yellow. Sans then spoke his command in the language of hands. ‘The Code’, as his kind called it.

[Compile coordinates as per syntax. Disintegrate central point. Allow collapse to set perimeters. Hold tethers for three seconds.]

[Activate.]

The bone octogram flashed, puffing into a tri-coloured tornado of charged particulates. Its rotating force blew and scattered the chalk draft into the air, along with everything else he owned.

Not that anyone would notice, as everyone thought he’s just too lazy to clean up.

The tornado grew thinner and thinner at the center, refining themselves into a keen drill. Its purpose was to puncture into spacetime itself and tunnel a path to Sans’ desired destination.

It’s mad science. He knew that if any of his calculations were off by so much as a single digit, it’s going to create a vacuum to the void.

Either that, or explode with enough force to destroy half of his house. He won’t survive either way. That’s the danger of untested spacetime magic.

He muttered to himself three words of self-disbelief: “I’m fucking insane.”

This was a theorem he wrote as his final thesis: a formal graduation from university and his discipleship with Gaster. It was his pitch as an alternative to using the Human SOULS.

But due to its massive dangers, he scrapped the project and filed the writing away. To replace it, he hammered together a shorter piece of work that still got him a pass.

That second thesis helped create the broken machine rusting in his laboratory.

Down the magical drill went, grinding not into the floor but through the observable dimensions of reality.

Once the drill vanished, he would have exactly three seconds to act before his own safety measures let spacetime heal itself.

One: verify the end location.
Two: jump. Prepare to correct positioning once he’s past the hole.
Three: pull the mattress down so that it’ll cover up any evidence of his madness.

The drilling was complete. He peeked into the hole. It’s the hospital ceiling alright, but he had yet to know which floor.

He prepared his SOUL for auto-reorientation. Then he jumped into the hole and pulled the mattress down. It landed on the portal with a huge thud.

As Sans fell through, he felt the fabric of his jacket stand on ends. Static electricity: the currents popped from the sudden change in atmosphere.

He used his gravity magic to try flip himself the right way up. Except, he overestimated the momentum a wee bit.

Instead of graciously landing on his feet, Sans ended up rolling on the floor. Just once. To his fortune, he didn’t slam into the wall or any other objects.

The portal collapsed on the fourth second. There’s no turning back.

Oof.
Okay. That didn’t nick off my measly 1 HP or break any bones. Phew.

So… where in the world am I?

He sat up and took a quick look around his surroundings. It’s dim with only the night lights on. The place smelled of machinery oil despite its sterile-looking ceiling.

I’m outside the loading bay. Jeez, that’s the nearest safe zone I got? It’s quite a walk to the neuro department.

Sans pulled up his hood and started walking down the hall. It’s time to put his stealth-skills to use.

He kept his senses open. All six of them. If he detected any change that didn’t come from himself, there’s someone’s around the corner. Avoid detection. Wait for their presence to pass.

The dejavu grew stronger and stronger.

I’ve done this too many times.
But they’re not all on the same day. Or even the same season.

He paused to read an information poster about heart diseases. It’s rather aged.

I have a feeling that they'll replace this with a new one in the coming Spring.

Left turn. Wait for patrols to pass. Walk behind them until the first right turn. Then head to the staff elevators.

The side walls seem empty. There should be more stuff here. Murals, maybe. Or a new billboard for the staff.

On the way, Sans glanced at the staff schedule.

At one point, I’ve read the same name appear in multiple extended shifts. Someone had to fill in for the holiday season. Poor fella. I don’t recall who though.

There were cameras at the elevators. He couldn’t go in, poke a button and hitch a ride. Being a trespasser meant having to take the hard way.

He teleported to a blind spot. Then he started calculating the space he needed to go up.

The Neurological Department is on the fifth floor. I’m on ground level. Do this step by step, or jump straight up?

I better play it safe. The dejavu is not strong enough for a direct multiplication. Don’t wanna get myself in trouble.

Each time Sans teleported a floor upwards, he’d check for any discrepancies. Either in the environment itself, or on his gut feeling. Though he had no gut to speak off.

On the fourth floor, he heard some maintenance work going on right above his head.

Welp. I wonder if lazy me ever thought of taking the easy way and got myself arrested. Probably did. Then Papyrus bailed me out. Or Undyne. Both. Yeah. Both is likely.

The next safe route should be the emergency stairs. Ugh. Echo central. If I use that, I’d burn myself out from all that precision teleporting.

Just as he pondered, he heard the sound of a cart coming through. He quickly hid himself behind a potted plant. His lack of height allowed him to fit in.

It’s the laundry cart. Half-filled with bedsheets, blankets and the like. No hazard warning. It meant that these came from non-infectious patients, and maybe the doctor’s dorms themselves.

They’ll try to collect a full quota before taking them to the loading bay. Dang, I wish one came by earlier. But then again… they would have noticed the shift in weight if the cart was empty.

Break the lights? Or teleport once before using his time-freeze abilities? Fancy or pragmatic?

He must decide fast before the window of opportunity passes.

In the end, he settled for simple sound. Gave the bush a firm shake.

“Wha?!” the staff member exclaimed. “Who’s there?” Out of habit, the worker pulled the cart right behind her. The results were better than expected: he didn’t need to run to his hiding spot after all.

Before she spotted his blue hoodie, Sans teleported away from the bush and to the back of the cart. He shuffled into the fabric pile while the unfortunate staff member continued to investigate.

Seeing no one, she grumbled. “Oh c’mon not another ghost prank. I hate night shifts…”

The worker then resumed their duties, pushing the cart towards the elevator.

One floor up. Please for the love of probability, one floor up and no more.

The stars of timelines must have aligned today, because she did exactly that. The cart got off at the fifth floor.

Sans tried his best to remember the layout. She will make a turn away from the Neurological Department at one point, heading towards the Orthology section where they had some wards.

He will need to create another distraction before teleporting out of the pile. Otherwise, the shift in fabric would be far too noticeable.

At the first junction, he spotted yet another potted plant. With some magic, he made it shake.

“Oh god, really? Really?!” The woman was exasperated. She must have been the victim of butt jokes for a while now. With more anger, she again dragged the cart behind her as she investigated the pot.

This time she searched under the benches for any signs of pranksters. Sans capitalized on the opportunity to slip away.

I'm back on track.

That was the best possible outcome. Better make the most out of it.

There were a few neuro specialist clinics around. Now to read every name for the biggest dejavu.

What if he didn’t get any, though? This could be his first truly successful run. Who knows?

Sans reached for his books and started checking his notes. A part of him regretted not investigating more about Cenna before embarking on his quest.

He stopped at the note ‘13 HP’.

A healthy kid had 20 HP. A healthy adult, somewhere in the 30s. Cenna only had 13. Taking into account her police history and the strength of her powers… her LOVE should be somewhere about 5. But I couldn’t see it at all. It’s likely that she had training to mask her true numbers.

Nonetheless, she should have way, way more HP than 13. What in the field of neurology could degrade an athletic woman in her prime to almost half of a modern human kid?

A lightbulb of epiphany lit up in Sans’ noggin. The key word was ‘degrade’. He remembered Alphys reading up about human diseases, not all of them infectious.

At one point she asked about Frisk’s gender because she was concerned about possible genetic disorders.

Genetic disorders.
Neurology.
Degradation.

Could it be…?

Sans began searching the nameplates for the doctor’s sub-speciality.

Neurosurgeon. Nope. Not this guy.
General Neurology. I’ll come back to this if I can’t find anything specific.
Neuropsychiatry. Nah. She’s a bit suicidal, but that shouldn’t contribute to her low HP.

Then, he hit the jackpot.

Neuromuscular. Nerves and muscles. The building blocks of the human body. This could be the answer.

He placed his skull close to the door and tapped the surface with his fingers. Used the resulting sound to gauge the thickness, density and width. This won’t win him any world record awards, but it’s enough to not get stuck.

Now he must imagine the ‘fold’ of space between point A and point B.

Trying to mesh entire space into compounding halves took too much effort and energy. The more efficient option was to ‘drag’ the distance between two known spaces. It’s like folding the mid-point of a piece of paper.

He could teleport wherever he liked in the Underground because he knew the layout on the back of his hand. The Surface beyond Ebott Town proved a lot trickier. He couldn’t cut through an incomplete map.

Analyze. Assess. Archive.
That’s what you’ve been doing for your entire life, Sans.
Let’s get this done and over with.

He imagined the space between the door to not exist. Then, he ‘walked’ forward.
Past the door.
Into the unknown darkness.

When he’s back in reality, Sans found himself standing at the doorstep of a deserted clinic. Everyone had gone home. There’s no night shift here.

He breathed a sigh of relief.
Time to investigate.

The easiest computer to access was the one at the receptionist desk. So, Sans started his work there. More dejavu, but not in the same location. Perhaps he learned more about computers not because he wanted to mess with Alphys… rather, he needed to break into hospital records.

He kept watch of the time. He wanted to get this done before the dawn of Saturday. Clinics can choose to open at a different schedule to accommodate the majority. He didn’t want to find out if this was one of those.

Let’s look for Cenna Caraway.

The computer found no name that matched his input. Somehow, he’s not surprised that the Magus used an alias. What a headache.

Okay. Think again. She claims to be Frisk’s aunt. I was under the assumption that Cenna just bunked there and kept her old family name.

What if she had a full adoption, with name change and all? What was Frisk’s surname again? It’s a pretty unusual one.

The poor kid didn’t even know they had a surname until they were warded. It seems like the foster families kept it a secret for some convoluted reason. Probably to prevent the kid or any other nosy folk from tracing back their roots.

Once he replaced ‘Caraway’ with the presumed surname, the search function found a match. He opened the file. It was… the Magus herself. But the portrait was outdated: she had a short boy’s-cut. Complete with a police uniform.

This confirms that she’s a patient here. Now I just need to get into the doctor’s PC and read the diagnosis.

The doctor’s computer was not even protected with a password. All security measures went into the door proper, which Sans bypassed with ease.

I’m not getting any dejavu here. Damn. If it’s this easy, why didn’t I check this clinic in the other timelines?

Unless… life is the greatest password protection. I ended up here because of a unique circumstance. I’ll need to ruminate on that later.

So, what ails our hot-shot Magus?

The answer: ‘young onset progressive neuromuscular degeneration’. The first symptom was recorded three years ago in the form of a chorea.

Brief, abnormal movements that are not repetitive or rhythmic. Bad news for someone in charge with weapons.

Huh. But she quit the force one year ago. They kept her around for two extra years. Why?

Sans searched the pages for a clue, but he found nothing but a long list of complicated health issues.

He doesn’t understand everything. But, judging from the context… it’s amazing that Cenna could still strut around in style. Her movement problems should only get worse, but he had yet to witness an episode. Not only that, she could still fight Papyrus and attempt to pick a bone with him.

Hm? What is this? ‘Due to connections with the Magus Association via family bonds, the patient sought for intensive treatment outside the field of physical medicine. The Association granted permission to research the effects of Psychia Reinforcement on the physical body’.

…Reads like the base of a new monster thesis. It seems that it’s not just the police force that accepted the aid of magic. Doctors. Scientists. They’re interested too.

Well shit. I guess there goes our presumed advantage. Progress happens. If my society can make progress in science, what’s stopping the humans from improving on their limited magic?

It’s by grace that they didn’t launch an attack the moment they left the Underground.

Sans took out his pen and started writing down notes.

‘Psychia’ may be the human’s formal academic term for SOUL magic. I reckon that they’ve been researching ever since they sealed us Underground. Jeez. We’re complacent to the bone compared to these guys.

So much for superior magic if we’re not efficient in its utilization.

At least I know half of the rumours are wrong. Cenna’s primary doctor never changed. Rather, she had a collaborative treatment with another Magus elsewhere.

When he reached the bottom of the page, Sans noticed that the desk drawer was not pushed in completely. It had a locking mechanism, but it didn’t do its job because of the misalignment. Seems like the doctor was in a hurry.

Sans decided that he shouldn’t be touching more than he needed. So he pulled it open with magic.

It’s full of printed research notes. After memorizing their layout, he started levitating the pages. Once he’s done he had to place everything back in their exact order. Otherwise, he’ll end up as a suspect.

Yup. I was right. The doc’s collaborating with the Magi to conduct a clinical experiment. Quite a few patients volunteered. Cenna was one of them.

Since there are genetic diseases involved, he had their family records too. Hmm? Apparently this preliminary experiment is limited to families with Magus connections. Save for a few controlled cases--

A sudden surge of pain pierced his left temple. He almost dropped the pages all over the floor. Now that would be a disaster.

What the hell was that? A dejavu?

Whenever he glanced at that particular page’s direction, the pain returned. So, Sans began putting aside anything that didn’t trigger a reaction.

The process of elimination continued until he was left with two certificates.

He placed them down on the desk. Ignoring the pain, he tried to read the contents. Whenever did so, however, the words slid off into incomprehensible gibberish.

…As if he was inside a dream.

A blue glow illuminated the room. The fire of his left Eye grew violent and wild, screaming at their owner to cease operations. The more he tried to resist, the more it flared.

The intensity of the wisps had grown bright enough to rival a lamp.

Every bone in my body is begging me to not read these.
Why? Maybe it’s a good idea to listen. Quit before I hurt myself.

… No. If I’m getting such an extreme reaction, it means they contain key information. I can’t back down here. I will do anything to keep Papyrus safe in this timeline. Even if it means fucking myself up.

Yeah. I’m insane. There’s no arguing about that.

Sans forced himself to read. Stare at it. Stare beyond the almost-blinding glow of his own protesting body.

C’mon, brain. Get your damn act together! Nothing’s worse than watching your brother die over and over and over. You should be fine.

After an intense amount of concentration, the words stopped sliding away.

They’re death certificates for Frisk’s parents.

‘Cause of death: Work-related falling due to quake-induced structural collapse. Crushing was post mortem.’

‘Time of death: 15:20 approx.’

‘Location of death: Mount Ebott.’

The Ebott Rockfall Quake.
The Core Incident.
The death of Frisk’s parents.

They’re all one and the same.

Sans started to feel faint. His non-existent gut threatened to hurl out his ketchup. Or whatever else.

No… it can’t be true!
It can’t be, this is impossible, why must this be the truth?!

Pieces of memories flooded in. Memories from a different timeline, a difference circumstance, a different department of the hospital… Yet he ended with the exact same evidence.

The exact same conclusion.

The truth cannot escape his Eye.
Either about others, or about himself.

With what remaining composure he had, Sans packed the documents back into the drawer. Was it in correct order? He doesn’t know nor care anymore.

If he gets arrested for trespassing come morning, he’ll accept it.
Trash will be trash: trash should get dunked.

He swiped his notebook. Then, he started to flee through space and time. He burst into a series of short teleports: Jumped past the door. Down the hall. Out of the window.

It’s five floors off the ground and he didn’t care. A part of him wished to hit the ground and die. But upon his fine-tuned self-preservation instinct, he applied his gravity-altering magic to cushion his descent.

Why?

He continued making those small jumps. He needed a place to just let his magic loose and not be seen. To scream without being heard.

Why???

His slippers touched sand. It’s a beach. Silent due to the cold weather, surrounded by nothing but sand and salty water.

WHY???

He warped straight into the cold, dark, turbulent waters of the sea.
And down there, at the base of the seabed… he let everything go.

The burst of magic erupted into a violent tornado of cyan and yellow. It towered high above the surface, both rising and collapsing in a cycle of self-destruction.

Bone shards sliced through the water, creating pockets of vacuums and bubbles that drowned out the unearthly tormented screams of a man dead inside.

How long did it go on?
He doesn’t know.

Despite all the noise, nobody came.

When he woke up, Sans found himself half-buried on the shore. Seawater rolled around his soaked bones, unable to decide if they should pile more sand on him or drag them away.

He had washed up on the beach along with the other flotsam of the ocean.

Trash. More trash just like him.

The sun had risen high enough to see the daylight looming high over his head.

The sky is grey and cloudy.
On days like these, trash should be trash.

…But if I lie down here for too long, a random human will mistake me for a dead body and call the cops.

I’ll make everyone upset. Especially Papyrus.

Sans pulled himself up from the slurry of wet sand. His exhausted body struggled against the non-Newtonian fluid.

Papyrus. I need to see Papyrus. It’s Saturday. Just one more day before his powers normalize.

Then I can hang out with him at home again. Yeah. It’ll be like the old days in Snowdin. Eat his spaghetti. Crack jokes and puns. Read Fluffy Bunny. Get scolded for not managing my laundry.

I can watch him play with Frisk. Get suplexed by Undyne. Be cool to Monster Kid. Have proper cooking lessons with Toriel. Dance with Mettaton. Nerd out with Alphys. Go gardening with Asgore.

The thought of seeing Papyrus again motivated this tired bones to walk back home.

To stay alive.
To persevere.

Yeah. That sounds good. Great. A quiet life is great.

A quiet life is great.

Chapter Text

On Friday evening, when Toriel visited Frisk…

“THERE YOU GO!” Papyrus exclaimed. “THE GREAT PAPYRUS’ GOURMET REUNIONGHETTI, COMING RIGHT UP!”

‘Reunionghetti’ was more or less a carrot spaghetti with a tomato base. Sprinkled with edible sequins. Lots of shredded carrots. Lots of tomato. Lots of sequins.

Typical Papyrus brand.

The tall skeleton proceeded to serve Alphys, Undyne, and Mettaton a plate of the same spaghetti. The only person truly happy to receive it was the robotic star.

“Oh darling,” praised the robot. “You accepted my suggestion after all! I’m so delighted~”

“IT’S A GREAT IDEA, METTATON! REUNIONS SHOULD TASTE OF HAPPINESS!”

Undyne wished she could suplex that robot into the trashcan right here and now. Papyrus’ unsupervised cooking was bad enough without the influence of his needless glam.

Alphys remained as quiet as a mouse ever since the pentagon incident. Her fish lover leaned to her side for a whisper.

“You okay, Al?” she asked.

The lizard lady nodded. “I-I’m fine. Just. Uh. Shy.”

“If you need me to get you outta here, just let me know alright?”

“Mhmm. Thanks. But I’m okay for now.” Alphys spoke with a quiet resolve beneath her mousy exterior. She’s trying to remember more about this mysterious Doctor Gaster.

‘Uncle Gaster’ stared at the plate with the same expression as anyone else who’d try a Papyrus-brand spaghetti for the first time: uncertain concern about its edibility, coupled with the strong desire to remain polite.

Effort was poured into this. Innocent, passionate effort. Everyone felt that it would be too cruel to critique.

The ever-flowing skeleton man picked up his fork and spoon with a sense of graceful refinement. He twirled a helping of spaghetti and popped it straight in the mouth.

“Hmm.” Gaster commented. “Who taught you to use carrots to sweeten the base?”

Beaming with pride, Papyrus answered: “TORIEL! SHE COULDN’T BEST MY CREATIVITY, BUT SHE COOKS WELL.”

The other skeleton chuckled in response. “Ah, Her Majesty. To be fair she had always been more of a pastry chef. Can never outdo her butterscotch pie. So, who taught you your basic culinary skills?”

“UNDYNE! SHE’S A WALKING STOVE OF PASSIONATE GUSTO!”

Discovering the true culprit behind the terrible cooking, Gaster shot the coldest of narrow glares at Undyne. His gaze of disapproval cut through her like a sharp sword swung at full strength.

There was no mercy for her culinary transgression against monsterkind.

The fish lady tensed up. Sans’ mentor was way more brutal than his protegé.

Gaster continued eating the spaghetti with the same straight-face professionalism as before. It takes a certain man to eat Papyrus’ meals without a single flinch.

“You have some good ideas.” He commented. “But… they’re unrefined. I’m afraid to say that as it is now, your dish will not achieve its fullest happiness quotient.”

Papyrus looked a bit disappointed.

“How about this, Papyrus. Give me a night to refine your recipe, and you will have a product that would truly bring smiles to at least ninety-percent of your audience.”

Ever clueless of the subtext, Papyrus gasped: “ARE YOU TELLING ME THAT I COULD MAKE EVEN MORE PEOPLE HAPPY???”

“Indeed, indeed.” Gaster nodded.

“WOWIE! I DIDN’T KNOW YOU’RE AN ACCOMPLISHED CHEF, UNCLE GASTER!”

“Oh dear, I’m nothing of the sort.” He replied, keeping a cheerful yet humble tone to his speech. “I had learned much of the theories from your parents. All credit should go to them.”

The mere mention of the word ‘parents’ was enough to catch everyone’s attention.

Mettaton asked, “Parents…?”

Alphys echoed the statement. “Parents…? You knew Papyrus’ parents?”

Undyne recalled a strange circumstance in her Core case. The last time she tried to perform a background check on Sans and Papyrus, she found… nothing. As if someone forgot to fill in their details in the monsterkind citizenship registry.

And she was certain that they weren’t abandoned children. Asgore talked about their old folks dying young.

There were plenty of jokes that the brothers just puffed out of thin air. Or hatched from an egg. Or brought to the Underground by storks. Or they were the results of ghastly homunculi experiments from a hidden lab. Some went as far as to claim that they’re lost aliens from a different world.

Whatever stoked their fancy.

By now, Doctor Gaster had finished half of his plate. He’s far ahead of everyone else through sheer consistency on his consumption rate.

“Why yes,” he said, “Their names are Times Roman and Helvetica. My closest friend and his wife, respectively.”

Papyrus just stood there in silent shock.

No one dared to move. To breathe. To ask any more questions as Gaster continued his obligatory meal.

Well, Mettaton tried, but he was promptly shushed by Alphys kicking his shin.

A full minute passed before Papyrus responded. “THIS… THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I’VE HEARD ANYTHING ABOUT MOM AND DAD.”

“I know,” Gaster replied. “Sans kept it a secret. He didn’t want you to feel sidelined with the knowledge that you’re an orphan. Nor he wanted you to be sad over people that you could never meet. Out of sight, out of mind. So goes the old sayings.”

“DOES THAT MEAN MY BROTHER FELT ALL THOSE COMPLICATED FEELINGS? ALONE?”

“Yes. I understand why he’d rather leave you ignorant. He wanted you to be free from the burdens of death.”

Alphys -- of all people -- spoke up against it. “Sans is wrong.”

Gaster stopped eating and raised a bony brow at the lizard. When he first returned to the physical realm, this lady was a shaking lump of scales. Hardly the candidate to speak out an honest opinion.

“Why do you think so, Doctor Alphys?” the man asked.

With more courage, Alphys replied, “I-I used to keep secrets. I thought that i-if I don’t tell anyone, people will forget and move on. But. T-they didn’t. They kept asking. And I kept hiding. Telling the truth and coming clean liberated me from all that stress.”

Undyne reached for her hand under the table. Squeezed it to show her support.

Bolstered by the support of love, Alphys continued: “Papyrus deserves to know about the people who brought him into this world. It didn’t matter whether or not they’re still with us. I-it’s… it’s all about honouring their memory.”

Gaster finished the last of his meal. He set the cutlery down. Rested the fingertips of his hands on each other and… smiled ear-to-ear with pride.

“You’ve come a long way, dear lady.” He said, “I remembered the day when I presented you the award for stellar students. You had brilliant ideas, but you the lacked maturity to follow through. Now I can say with confidence that you’ve earned the right to be my fellow peer.”

“T-that was you…?” she gasped. “I thought it’s one of the teachers! Ohmygodohmygod I remember now you were invited as a guest of honour to visit my school ohmygodohmygodohmygod--”

Alphys buried her face into her palms. Her scales turned red, blushing both from embarrassment and delight.

Some things just never change. Such were the wonders of life. Gaster watched the quirky shenanigans like the old uncle he had become.

He cleaned his mouth with a tissue and stood up. The ends of his form flowed down the chair as it trailed behind. “How would you react if… I told you that Papyrus’ parents were once caterers for Alphys’ school?”

Gasps of surprise filled the air. Mettaton added some dramatic posing to accentuate his expression.

“Hot damn like seriously?!” Undyne couldn’t believe her ears.
“They worked at our canteen?!” Alphys exclaimed.
“MY PARENTS WERE CHEFS???” Papyrus had other priorities as usual.

“Oh that means darling Alphys must have met the parents without realising it!” Mettaton chipped in.

Watching their reactions lifted Gaster’s heart. The wide-eyed wonder of his little juniors tickled his funny bone ever so warmly.

He said, “Alas, Alphys didn’t have that fortune. They passed away when Papyrus was just a tiny baby bone. Since she’s only a little older compared to their son, they were gone long before her school term.”

Now the robot didn’t know who to comfort first: the disappointed lizard friend, or the son of the deceased.

But… Papyrus being Papyrus, had his attention set at a different angle. He did not care about the sadness of their passing. He cared about the joys when they were alive.

“MY PARENTS! DID THEY MAKE DELICIOUS AND WHOLESOME MEALS?”

Watching his enthusiastic curiosity was all the cheer everyone needed.

“A thousand percent ‘yes’, dear boy.” Gaster replied. “I daresay that your father Roman, made the best ketchup in the whole Underground!”

Papyrus’ eyes started to sparkle. “REALLY?!”

“He had found the perfect balance between the tomato’s acidity and the onion’s sweetness, brought together in harmony by the correct proportion of the spices.”

“WOWIE!!!”

“Before he married your mother, he ran the hottest hotdog stand in Hotland! Best hotdog, best ketchup, best bread for years to come! That sentiment was shared by many: arrive too late, and it’s sold out. I once saw a dog walk away with thirty on its head.”

Gaster then winked. “…But he’d always reserve one for me. Very thoughtful man.”

“Oh my,” Mettaton was impressed. “Pap’s dear father should have started a franchise!”

“Well, he preferred quality over quantity.” Gaster replied. “Hence why he kept to that one stall. To him, it’s more of an art than a business. He wanted time to relax. And to talk with me, of course.”

He thought back with a nostalgic smile. “Contrary to his strong-sounding name, Roman was a meek and humble man. Easy-going. A good listener. That’s part of the reason why we clicked together.”

“WHAT ABOUT MY MOM? WAS SHE LIKE TORIEL???” To Papyrus, Toriel was the closest person to a true mother figure.

The old man chuckled and waved a finger before the young one. “My, my, my. If Helvetica was a scientist, she would have made a fine peer! And no, she’s not quite like Her Majesty. Your mother was more of an intellectual than a homemaker. Busy, busy up in the head. A mite cranky at times.”

“Helvetica would always brainstorm for ways to make healthy food appeal to children. Junk had an annoying tendency to win the flavour battle.”

He continued, “Whenever she noticed wastage, she would conduct a survey with the kids. Ask them why they didn’t like their meal. Peas, for example. So nutritious, yet so unpopular. They had a certain taste and a grainy texture that made many little ones cough.”

“So she puréed the lentils, strained them, and mixed the smooth paste into a delicious pasta sauce. Since that day, every child got their portions of peas without even realising it!”

The audience was blown away in awe. Especially the son who never knew her. It’s evident that she was a smart woman.

“SUPER-MEGA-WOWIE-LICIOUS! MY PARENTS ARE AWESOME!” Papyrus puffed up his chest and pointed to himself. “JUST LIKE ME!”

“‘Are’?” The amalgamate raised his brows without affecting his skull’s ridges.

“YES! NO MATTER WHEN IN TIME, THEY WILL FOREVER BE AWESOME TO THE GREAT PAPYRUS! NYEH HEH HEH HEH HEH HEH!”

Gaster had the face of a person who was just one step away from weeping tears of joy. He then asked, “Papyrus, would you like to learn your parents’ art?”

Papyrus being Papyrus, his screaming squeals resounded: “YES! YES YES YES YES!!! I WILL GO CLEAN THE KITCHEN SO WE CAN BEGIN LESSONS RIGHT AWAY!”

The energetic skeleton dashed away in a heartbeat.

Once the cinnamon roll was out of sight, Gaster’s happy face flipped into one of sheer disapproval. He glided straight towards Undyne.

His dark, flowing being loomed above the fish lady. It was just like their first meeting so many years ago. Except with less annoyance and more fury.

Undyne understood there and then that she was in hot soup. Double boiled in a pressure cooker.

Gaster glared straight down on her. “I hope you now understand that you had committed a grievous sin against the memory of Papyrus’ dear parents. If I ever find you leading their son astray once more, I will sink you to the deepest abyss of the ocean. Mark. My. Words.”

He did not bother to wait for her response. Her acceptance -- or lack of it -- won’t change his threat. “Now excuse me, my throat requires respite.”

Gaster headed towards the sink to wash up and fill up a glass of water. Once he had his rinse and drink, he unwrapped a cough drop. Popped the candy into his mouth. Their menthol soothed his throat and drowned out the horror of the botched pasta meal.

The scowl was gone as he addressed his new peer. “Doctor Alphys, thank you again for these drops. They helped tremendously.”

“N-no problem.” Alphys stammered.

Then he left the room, leaving Mettaton, Undyne and Alphys at the dining table.

Whispering with a big grin, Mettaton said: “I like his style.”

Undyne snapped back: “Shut up.”

“U-uh, we still have a door to fix.” said Alphys. She glanced down on the now-cold ‘Reunionghetti’. “And. Plates to clean.”

The three exchanged glances at each other.

Mettaton said, “I need to feed my fluffy dog, darlings.” It’s his code word for the disposal of bad food. Either into a faraway trash bin or with the aid of the mysterious dog itself.

“I’ll go grab snacks.” Another codeword. Usually. Undyne would either make a reservation, or order takeaway for everyone. Papyrus always thought they’re ‘really large snack sizes’.

Plus, she didn’t want to be in the vicinity of Gaster for another minute. At least, until he cooled down. An angry Gaster was a scary Gaster. Here she thought Toriel was bad enough.

“I’ll do the repairs.” In Alphys’ case, it was the truth. Undyne had kicked down the door in a rush to get back home. Right now, it’s just propped up against a crate to stop the frigid night air from blowing in.

After a nod, the three parted ways to execute their mission.

Chapter Text

The next morning…

As Uncle Gaster had promised, he improved on the young skeleton’s recipe. He wrote down a list of required ingredients and the steps to process them.

It was very much like science.

To his relief, Papyrus knew how to shop for groceries. So he had the bloke fetch the required materials from the morning market: the time when the freshest items ship in from the local farms.

And he also reminded him to stay close to places with a roof overhead. Just in case the powers activate outside, though the chances were slim by now.

When Papyrus returned safe and sound, he taught the young skeleton how to make a basic stock. It was from A to Z: dressing the carcass, chopping the aromatic vegetables, tying up the herbs into a bouquet garni, the correct portioning of seasonings for the volume they’ll cook.

And the most important thing of all, the fire.

Gaster adjusted the stove to a gentle flame. “Maintain a simmer for at least twenty minutes. Preferably I’d let this go for two hours.”

Papyrus used the softest volume of his signature voice to not wake the house up. Ah, he’s as thoughtful as his late father.

“THAT SMALL? THAT LONG?” The youngster was genuinely surprised. “I THOUGHT COOKING IS FULL OF GUSTO AND FIRE. NOT SILENCE.”

“There’s a time and place for everything. Time and place.” Gaster slid away from the stove to get another drink of water.

Curse this perpetual sore throat. His mind had readjusted to the common language, but his body still needed more time.

[Excuse me,] he signed. [I hope you don’t mind me switching back to Code for a while]

Papyrus signed back, not minding it a single bit. [IT’S OKAY, UNCLE GASTER! YOUR HEALTH IS MORE IMPORTANT.]

[Why thank you. Anyways, making stock is not the same as baking a roast. A sautee is not the same as a stir-fry. Each have their own rules and principles that lay the foundation of their style.]

Papyrus nodded. [THAT SOUNDS REALLY DEEP. AND COMPLICATED.]

[It is only complicated to the untrained.] He took another sip of his glass in an attempt to moisten his larynx. [Practice them enough, and they will become a part of you.]

[LIKE MAGIC?]

[Yes, Papyrus. Just like magic. Speaking of magic, let me check your Eye.]

The elder skeleton set down his drink and slid over to the young one. His eyes lit up orange and blue as he executed his analysis.

Papyrus’ right Eye no longer burned. Look deep enough and one may catch a glimmer, but otherwise it had grown tame.

[…Well, it’s more or less settled. One day early too.] Signed Gaster. [You had a mild case compared to what Sans and I went through. Other than the initial pain, visions, and floating shenanigans, you required no special containment.]

That statement piqued Papyrus’ curiosity. [WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU ON YOUR FIRST WEEK?]

[I effectively became blind.] Gaster answered. [My visions took me to a different realm: deep into the annals of the cosmos and down the streams of spacetime. They stretched far beyond, yet I could not see the immediate world around me. It was no different than walking in the Void.]

[For my safety, my parents placed me in an empty room for the entire duration. With a bed, of course. But nothing else. They cared for me around the clock and made sure I didn’t hurt myself. It was quite an ordeal for a ten-year-old to go through.]

[…THAT SOUNDS SCARY.] Papyrus commented. How rare it was to be aligned to normal logic.

Gaster chuckled. It made his being ripple. [Yes, it was. At first I thought it was cool to see the fabled stars, moons and lights. Then I became terrified when I realised just how blind I had become. I felt lost and alone, even when my parents were right next to me.]

The youngster tapped the tips of his mittens together. He understood how his Uncle felt. [MY POWERS WERE REALLY SCARY TOO. I SAW MY BROTHER DYING. THE WORLD WAS WEIRD AND BROKEN. AND UNDYNE WAS THIS HALF-MELTING ROYALTY. THEN… IT BECAME FUNNY. SORTA. FLOATY GRAVITY SHENANIGANS.]

[You are quite a light-hearted fellow.] Gaster signed back. [Guess your powers reflect the same.]

They laughed together for a bit.

[WHAT ABOUT MY BROTHER?]

[Within the first hour, he started teleporting.] Said Gaster. [Not time-freeze, mind you. That’s a general power. Teleportation is a whole different beast.]

[His Eye combination allow him to make cuts in the fabric of spacetime. So, cut he did. No wall or door could contain him. His first practical application was to escape from my lab and… landed himself on the Castle rooftops.]

Papyrus dropped his jaw, stretching his arm high above his head. Asgore’s castle towered above the rest of the buildings, and Sans ended up there? The uncle nodded.

[Your mother fainted from the shock. I had to rush her to the hospital, while your father tried to coax the boy to stay put. The Captain of the Royal Guard rescued him in the end.]

Papyrus snorted. Once he could no longer contain himself, he placed his mittens over his teeth to muffle his laughter.

Gaster snickered at the reaction. [I suppose it was indeed quite a scene. Your mother wouldn’t approve the laughter though.]

[I’M SORRY,] The young one signed back. [BUT IT’S FUNNY! SANS, THE LITERAL SHIN-GLES ON A ROOF!]

The conversation ended with another round of chuckling. The two just hung out together in the kitchen, savouring the aroma of the simmering stock.

[Ah… if only your brother could teleport past the Barrier. Alas, that was not the case. The Barrier was far too powerful even for his abilities. The gap was like the earth and the sky.]

Then, Gaster asked a question. [Papyrus, do you think… my existence is meaningless?]

[WHAT DO YOU MEAN?] Papyrus frowned.

The uncle could see that Papyrus didn’t like the topic of self-depreciation and nihilism. But the boy was nice enough to humour him.

[Well. I was a very important man. And yet, after my being was scattered across space and time I discovered that… life went on. The missing position of Royal Scientist was filled by Doctor Alphys, and she did her job well.]

[No one remembered me. No one knew who penned their theorems. No one wondered who built what. And my magma refinement facility was non-existent. Any personal memories were filled in by proxies. For example, Doctor Alphys thought a random teacher gave her the award.]

[Then…] Gaster lowered his head, downcast. [The ill-fated Determination experiments happened again. Even with a new scientist and a fresh new vision, the study arrived at the same dreadful conclusion.]

[THAT WAS YOUR WORK TOO, UNCLE GASTER?] Papyrus asked.

He nodded. [I was the one who first postulated the theory of Determination and the study on SOULS. With it, the construction of the DT-Extraction Machine. Though, Doctor Alphys applied a number of improvements.]

[Point being, my lack of presence changed nothing. It’s a dreadful revelation.]

Papyrus protested against that. [NO WAY, UNCLE GASTER. NO ONE IS MEANINGLESS! I REFUSE TO BELIEVE IN SUCH NONSENSE!]

An expected answer from the most cinnamon of cinnamon rolls. Gaster smirked as he signed back: [Mind sharing your theory to these old, tired bones?]

The young skeleton patted his chest, where the SOUL resides.

[IT’S ALL INSIDE HERE, MY DEAR UNCLE!] He signed. [PEOPLE MAY NOT REMEMBER YOU, BUT YOU LEFT AN IMPACT IN THEIR HEARTS. IT CERTAINLY LEFT A MARK IN MINE!]

[I REMEMBER ASKING SANS WHEN HIS MENTOR WILL COME VISIT ME AGAIN. AND, MY BROTHER WOULD TELL ME THAT HE’S SUPER BUSY. BIG PROJECT WITH KING ASGORE AND STUFF.]

[WHEN THE CORE INCIDENT HAPPENED… I… I SOMEHOW REALISED THAT MY BROTHER IS ALONE. NOT BECAUSE HE HAD ALMOST NO CONTACTS ON HIS PHONE. IT’S JUST A GUT FEELING THAT SOMEONE CLOSE HAD SUDDENLY GONE MISSING… SO PLEASE DON’T SAY YOU’RE MEANINGLESS! EVEN IF LIFE LOOKS THE SAME, IT’S NOT.]

[KINDA LIKE, MAKING MAC ‘N CHEESE WITH LINGUINI INSTEAD OF MACARONI. YOU CAN’T CALL A MACARONI DISH ‘MACARONI’ IF THERE’S NO MACARONI. LIN ‘N CHEESE IS NOT THE SAME AS MAC ‘N CHEESE. WITHOUT YOU, UNCLE GASTER, THERE’S NO MACARONI. AND TO BE HONEST, THERE WON’T BE ANY CHEESE FOR THE LINGUINI EITHER.]

Gaster understood Papyrus’ intent. Without his life’s work at the foundation of it all, monster society would never have been able to go on as normal in his absence.

There wouldn’t be a Core.

Nor a DT-Extraction machine.

In fact, Gaster came to realize, Monsterkind would have never reached the Surface.

The amalgamate, a man whose name was as dark as his form, wrapped his left arm around Papyrus’ shoulder. The black substance of his ‘clothing’ trickled down the young skeleton’s back like heavy oil.

Thus Gaster began to speak. His voice quivered: “No word or sign can express my current emotions. I’m not a touchy-feely person but… thank you. You are as sweet as others had claimed.”

He then gave Papyrus a few gentle pats on the ‘SOUL’. Doing so caused the sleeves of his suit to melt off to the bones, revealing a lower arm etched with burn scars. They never healed right.

“Orange, the Essence of Bravery. Blue, the Essence of Integrity. Green, the Essence of Kindness. Please, my dear boy. Don’t lose any of these.”

“The world has far too few souls like you.”

Chapter Text

The ‘True Reunionghetti’ was a plate-cleaning success.

It kept all of its original features: a carrot and tomato base, sprinkled with edible sequins. But it tasted a world’s difference.

The trio of Papyrus’ friends couldn’t believe that they’re eating his handiwork.

Papyrus himself couldn’t believe he’s eating something he cooked. Albeit with the help and guidance of his uncle. He always liked his food no matter how bad, but this blew his skull into the stars.

Meanwhile Gaster enjoyed the fruits of hard labour with merriness on his face.

“I’m so getting seconds,” said Undyne. A heavy breakfast tend to start the day sluggish, but she couldn’t resist!

Alphys tried to scrape every bit of the pasta sauce off her empty plate. “Oh my god, this is sooooo good! I-I don’t understand what happened. Is this really the same recipe?”

“WE REPLACED THE WATER WITH DELICIOUS BROTH,” Papyrus explained, as happy and enthusiastic as he can be. “IT ADDED A WHOLE NEW LEVEL OF FLAVOUR!”

“And the meat is so smooth! I know it’s chicken but, minced chicken is usually grainy.”

“WE MIXED WHITE AND DARK MEAT WITH SOME CORNFLOUR. THEN WE BROWNED THEM IN THE PAN BEFORE LETTING THEM SIMMER IN THE SAUCE MIX. APPARENTLY CHICKENS COME IN TWO SHADES. THEY LOOK THE SAME TO ME THOUGH.”

Gaster thus dispensed his words of wisdom. “Poultry -- such as chicken -- have two main categories of muscles. ‘White meat’ comes from the breast, while ‘dark meat’ is found in the wings, thighs and drumsticks.”

“Wow…” Alphys responded. “No wonder they have a different texture. But why?”

He answered: “A bird’s breast muscles primarily gain their energy through a carbohydrate called ‘glycogen’. It requires less oxygen for its metabolism, and thus useful for short bursts of activity. Therefore the end result was a lean, tender muscle that’s prone to overcooking.”

“Leg and wing muscles on the other hand, require more sustained energy. They contain more ‘myoglobin’ and fat for long-term endurance. Combined with physical activity, this creates a robust, fattier muscle.”

“So naturally, they compliment each other,” Gaster nodded. “Roman’s idea. I get finicky with pork and beef sometimes.”

Undyne scooped a big tablespoon of toasted sequins and plopped them on the noodles. “Save the science talk for later, man. First, we shall FEAST!” And feast she did.

This was one of the rare moments where the glam robot star agreed with the strongest fish. He couldn’t get enough of the topping either, adding another helping on his half-finished plate.

“I didn’t know it’s even possible for my MTT-brand edible sequins to be this crunchy!” Mettaton savoured another bite. “Oh, the cheese, garlic and parsley just add SO much more! This is giving me inspirations for a product line~~”

Gaster made no effort to hide his pride. Kind of a ‘I told you so’ manner. “Wonders of what a little education can do, hm?”

To him, everyone else in this room were mere children. They may theoretically be adults, but their knowledge of the world was so naive and shallow. Very cute, he must admit.

The doorbell rang. Papyrus volunteered himself as if he lived here. “I’LL GO GET IT!”

Then off he went.

Gaster just finished his plate of pasta too. He thought to himself that it would be nice to indulge. This was his first proper meal since his return from the Void.

Alas, life had other plans.

“OH MY GOD, SANS!!!” Papyrus screamed. It was not a happy greeting either.

“Sans?” Gaster put his cutlery down without a clatter before hurrying out. Even at the moment of an emergency, he still maintained his manners.

Everyone else stopped eating and followed the old man.

Sans was bundled up in a towel. Papyrus set his brother down on the couch and kept patting the chubby cheekbones. He tried to lightly smack his brother back to the waking world. Or yell. Whichever worked first.

“SANS! SANS, ANSWER ME! WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU???”

Grillby closed the door to keep the winter chill out. He then walked over to Papyrus and said, “…He’s fine. Just exhausted…”

“Captain Grillby?” Gaster muttered. He floated over to the fiery bartender to get a closer look. “Oh it really is you, Captain Grillby. What happened to Sans?”

“…I found Sans collapsed on the floor of my bar… Just when I was preparing to open shop…”

Undyne dropped her jaw. “Wait. What. CAPTAIN?! Grillby was an ex-Captain of the Royal Guard?!?! And I didn’t even know?!?!?!”

The fiery man’s head glowed brighter, embarrassed by the outburst. “…It’s an old story… You did well, either way…”

“Oh my, a double plot twist,” commented Mettaton. “This is getting really exciting!”

Gaster paid no heed to the background chatter. He slipped towards Sans and checked his condition. As Grillby said, the skeleton was fine… except he slept deader than a log.

A briny scent wafted from the soaked blue jacked. “Seawater?” the old man muttered. Peeling back the towel revealed grains of dirty sand.

Papyrus groaned. “SAAAAANS! IF YOU WANT TO BE A PIRATE, DO IT DURING THE SUMMER! ALL YOU GOT NOW IS A COLD RECEPTION!”

Translation: it’s pointless to go to the beach during winter. Or so Gaster estimated.

“EXCUSE ME EVERYONE, I NEED TO BORROW THE SHOWER!”

Fortunately for the skeleton, Alphys’ lab was one of the ‘regular Frisk visiting zones’ and thus had proper plumbing. Before anyone allowed or denied his request, Papyrus picked up the bundle and whisked his brother away.

Gaster sighed. He turned towards his old friend and asked: “I noticed that he visits your establishment often.”

“…Yes…” Grillby replied. “…I invited him in during his first night in Snowdin… told him it’s a safe place… If he needs anywhere to go, or anything to eat… my doors are open…”

Hearing that confirmation with his own existence brought a huge wave of relief over the old skeleton.

“Oh, my dear friend,” he said, “I thank you from the very bottom of my soul. Being under your watch is certainly much, much safer than loitering out there alone.”

More so after ‘that unfortunate incident’.

“…No problem…” Grillby replied.
“Did he behave?”
“…Yes…He’s a good customer…”

Gaster narrowed his eyes, not quite believing those words.

“…Payments can be late, but they’re always fulfilled…Otherwise he causes no trouble…”

“Good riddance, Sans! How did he get into debt? He was so good at budgeting!”

From here, he could hear the busy sloshing of laundry works. It seemed that the younger brother tried to hit two birds with one stone: washing both his brother and those salt-soaked clothes.

Gaster turned around to Papyrus’ friends, asking: “Is this normal?”

“Normal?” Undyne didn’t quite understand.

“Is this a regular occurrence?” He twirled his finger towards the sounds of water. “Picking up after his brother. Washing. Cleaning. While the elder was out cold.”

The undine thought for a while, trying to recall their routine. “No…? This is a first.”

Yet somehow Papyrus knew exactly what to do. The uncle’s scrutiny then shifted to Mettaton with all their cold, demanding intensity.

“Sansy?” the robot shrugged. “He always delivers his comedy. Guest star material, you know. One of my favourite guys to call.”

Gaster then asked: “Has he ever fallen asleep in the middle of a performance?”

“No, no.” Mettaton replied. “Only after the show. I let the darling take his nap. Showbiz is quite exhausting after all, and he delivered his job anyway.”

In response to that, Undyne groaned. “Sheesh Mettaton, you got lucky. I had to keep an eye on him at all times! Never know when he’s either gonna turn his sentry post into an illegal hotdog stand or slack off.”

That earned the full focus of the most intimidating mentor of monster society. Gaster pinned his attention back at Undyne.

“Excuse me,” he said. “Sans? Sentry? I may be the one stretched across spacetime, but I couldn’t fathom what got him into the guard business in the first place. Did you conscript him?”

Undyne shook her head and slowly pointed her thumb towards the direction of the bathroom. It’s filled with the sound of some nice, hot showers.

The puddle of amalgamation goo around Gaster’s legs began to roil. “Papyrus? Are you serious?”

“Yeeeeah…” she replied. “Sorry Doctor Gaster, but that’s the truth. Papyrus was the one who begged me to give Sans a job. The only position I had available was a sentry. Even that was a stretch.”

“I haven’t started my business yet back then.” Mettaton quickly washed his hands clean, lest he somehow end up in the pot too.

“And what about Papyrus himself…?” asked the old one.

That question will surface sooner or later. The trio of friends and Grillby took the time to explain. Through their testimonies, the elder skeleton made sense of the bits and pieces he had observed…

In between the explanations, the tall skeleton emerged with a pail of wet, wrung out laundry. He had just washed both Sans’ clothes and Grillby’s towel. By hand.

“THE DRIER IS NEXT TO THE WASHING MACHINE, RIGHT?” asked Papyrus

Alphys replied with a confirmation. “Yep. You did use it the day before.”

“JUST CONFIRMING.”

Off he went again.

The stories continued. Grillby explained that the folks in Snowdin were once confused of who was the real older brother.

Sans looked his age, but his sense of responsibility was a bit of a suspect. Kind of a sociable joker bum that needed prodding to move. Not quite the elder brother material there.

On the other hand, Papyrus was a model citizen. Hardworking. Diligent. Energetic. He gunned for the Royal Guard and all its associated ‘cool prestige’.

Except he had one fatal flaw: he’s too naive for the job. Even by monster society standards. Unanimously voted by anyone who knew him.

Gaster buried his face in palm. And how he wished his hands didn’t have holes in the centre. “Good lord, what compelled him so?”

“He wanted to be popular,” said Mettaton. “Just like me~. In his own way. Very admirable I must say.”

“Why does Papyrus even need popularity???”

Everyone shrugged. They were as perplexed as the elder skeleton.

While the poor uncle stressed out over the issue, Papyrus started rearranging Alphys’ manga collection in the correct numerical order.

Then he dusted off the action figures.
Re-stacked the files piling up on Alphys’ PC desk.
Swept the office floor.

He just never stops moving.

In time, the dryer dingged. Papyrus finished up whatever chore he kept himself occupied with and resumed his care for Sans.

Ah, the convenience of Surface technology. Saved plenty of time and hassle. Thanks to their ingenuity it was possible for Papyrus to put Sans back together on the same day. Figuratively.

Pants? Checked.
Slippers? Checked.
T-shirt? Checked.
The iconic blue jacket? Why of course. Sans wouldn’t be half of his image without it.

Once he had finished dressing his brother up, Papyrus tucked him in one of Alphys’ extra beds.

[…Did you really have to launder his clothes on the spot?] Gaster signed in a whisper.

Papyrus answered back as soft as he could. [YES. WHAT IF HE WAKES UP WHILE I FETCHED HIS EXTRA CLOTHES? I THINK IT WOULD BE POSITIVELY EMBARRASSING. OR NEGATIVELY.]

[Good point. But what about Doctor Alphys’ spare clothing?]

Papyrus glanced sideways, a little horrified by his own imagination. [I THINK IT WOULD BE WORSE IF HE WOKE UP AS A GIRL.]

In a way, Gaster pitied the young one. The only reason he could even make this conclusion was the fact he had never seen a live female skeleton.

[A lady’s bone structure is a little different, Papyrus. It’s hard to explain without a comparison, but rest assured Sans won’t become a woman through clothing choice alone. Not against his will, at the very least.]

Papyrus was relieved. Then, he beckoned his uncle to follow. Wonder where the younger wanted him to go?

There was a marked lack of fire in the living room. According to Undyne, Grillby had gone back to his bar to keep a lookout for information. Who knew if his patrons had heard stories.

Bless that elemental, thought Gaster.

Papyrus led his uncle back to the kitchen, where their Saturday morning first began.

“UNCLE GASTER,” he asked. “DO YOU KNOW HOW TO MAKE SOUP? I HEARD IT’S VERY NOURISHING.”

One of the most basic universal cuisines there. “Of course. We can use the morning’s stock as a base. What do you have in mind?”

“I DON’T KNOW. I’M USUALLY FIT AND HEALTHY, SO I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO MAKE FOR MY BROTHER.”

The young skeleton was… more reserved than usual. How strange for his upbeat persona.

“BUT… I REMEMBERED… THE ONE TIME I CAUGHT THE SNEEZLES AS A KID. SANS BROUGHT BACK SOME REALLY NICE SOUP. IT MUST BE A SHOP SPECIAL, BECAUSE I COULDN’T FIND IT AGAIN.”

“IF I TOLD YOU HOW IT TASTED, DO YOU THINK WE CAN REMAKE IT? LIKE, THE WHOLE REVERSE ENGINEER SCIENCE THING THAT ALPHYS TALKS ABOUT.”

Gaster had a feeling. An intuition, if one must be more specific, that this long-lost mystery dish was something he would recognize.

“Perhaps,” so he answered. “I will do my best to aid you.”

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, there were two scientists.

The fate of their civilization rested on their shoulders.
One took it as a burden.
Another, a proud duty.

Their job was to secure the victory of their people. History cannot afford to repeat: this time they will inflict justice on those who had wronged them so long ago.

After years of trial and error, the two created a machine that will put all fortune tellers to shame.

It was the device to peer into the future with picture-perfect clarity. No more fuzzy guessing. No more obscure clips. No more emotional blockade.

The most important of all these: the ability to ‘remember’. Everything will be written down, archived, and sorted for the greatest puzzle of their people’s history.

The elder scientist put on the visors of fate.

Cyan, the Essence of Patience.
Grants the bearer wisdom to ruminate on his observation.

Orange, the Essence of Bravery.
Grants the bearer sight beyond his limited knowledge.

He ascended high into the planes beyond mortality, exploring paths that no one else has tread. Forward, backwards, jumping left and right.

Yet alas, despite his long travels, the man found no salvation…

Only doom.

In one path he saw the horrors of golden-petalled thorns, killing every man, woman and child. A laughing flower relished in the dust of the dead jeering: it’s KILL or BE killed.

In another he witnessed an outbreak of a mysterious disease that showed little symptoms. Just silence, apathy, and eventual breakdown.

The Explorer sought for more. The waters of Waterfall eventually dried to a trickle. Why? Drought? Construction? Without water, salvage materials cannot flow and the Core cannot be cooled.

Society collapsed without its central support.

The younger scientist cut his heart from the dire situation. Numbed himself from the impending horrors. Make reasons. Joke about it. Treat the future as an inevitable fact, like the cycle of life and death.

“Nothing mattered in the grand scheme of things anyway.”

It was his sole method of coping.

But the elder scientist refused. “It cannot be. It cannot be! There HAS to be a way!”

Once again the man wore the visors of fate. He poured every bit of determination into his attempt.

If there was a wall, he will smash it down.
If there was a chasm, he will build a bridge to cross it.
If there were vast waters, he will swim to the other side.

Determination. Determination. Determination.
Refuse to give up.
That’s what the humans did. And that’s how they won.

After a long and arduous journey, The Explorer reached the end of the world.
The literal end.
The end.

All timelines, all fates, all attempts…
Lead to nothingness.
Eternal darkness.

Mortified, the Explorer threw down his visors. His entire being quaked and rippled as they screamed without a voice.

This was why the younger scientist distanced himself from his emotions. Too much pain, too much weight. He had enough of suffering.

Even so, the sights of his elder breaking under the revelation will haunt him for life.

First, there was distress. The shock, horror and despair of knowing.

Then, what’s left was desperate madness. That man, the amalgamation, sought for a solution.

Soon, a flash of epiphany… Off to the computer the goo monstrosity went.

“Computer, initiate recording.”

He stood there, arms raised, talking in the language of hands. It became a monologue for the convenience of the others deep within himself.

The screen displayed his final conclusion, archived for eternity.

ENTRY NUMBER SEVENTEEN
DARK DARKER YET DARKER
THE DARKNESS KEEPS GROWING
THE SHADOWS CUTTING DEEPER
PHOTON READINGS NEGATIVE
THIS NEXT EXPERIMENT SEEMS
VERY
VERY
INTERESTING

WHAT DO YOU TWO THINK?

As the younger one watched, a twisted grin stretched across his mandibula.

 

* * *

 

Sans woke up to the scent of fresh detergent.

Not to grease, ketchup, or the staleness of his messy room: it’s the smell of soapy cleanliness typically found in washing machines.

This discrepancy threw him off more than the semi-foreign environment. He recognized it as Alphys’ place, but…

“…What the fuck happened?” This situation deserved a swear word.

He thought of sitting up, but his skull throbbed too hard to even attempt it. The dream didn’t help: it played out one of those memories that he wished he had forgotten.

Well shit. I hope I didn’t just sleep through the whole of Saturday. I’m supposed to visit Frisk with their friends.

This is another reminder why I shouldn’t be making promises. Jeez. The kid’s gonna be dissapointed.

…I think I need another nap. This headache’s a killer.

Someone opened the door. Sans quickly closed his eyes, hoping that it would fool the visitor into thinking that he’s still out cold.

“SAAAAAANS!” It’s Papyrus. “THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO PLAY SKELETON! C’MON, I KNOW YOU’RE AWAKE.”

Sans peeked with one eye. “Geez, Paps. There’s no hiding from you anymore, huh?”

Papyrus wasted no time to set down a bed table for his brother. “OF COURSE, I CAN TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A FAKE SLEEP AND A REAL ONE!”

The elder brother snorted in response. “That’s so cool. Uh, so. What’s with the table?”

Happy as ever, Papyrus responded: “YOU HAVEN’T HAD BREAKFAST. OR LUNCH, FOR THE MATTER. SO I -- THE GREAT PAPYRUS -- MADE A MEAL SO WARM AND FILLING THAT YOU’D CATCH UP ON YOUR MISSING MEALS IN A SINGLE BOWL!”

This was why he wanted to see his little brother. The things he says and does never fail to provide a moment of respite. Just watching Papyrus do his thing made everything feel right in the world, even if it was just an illusionary distraction.

“Heh. Sure. Hit me right in the gut.” Sans winked, “If I have any.”

“NYEH HEH HEH! I WILL DO MORE THAN HIT YOU IN YOUR MISSING GUT, MY DEAR BROTHER. THE GREAT PAPYRUS’ CUISINES WILL BLOW YOUR SKULL TOWARD THE STARS! I’LL BE RIGHT BACK!”

Sans was surprised by the lack of groaning about his bad jokes. The tall skeleton was so delighted that he missed his cue.

“…Ooookay?” Sans wondered if he had accidentally teleported to a whole different dimension. That would be a problem.

Papyrus soon returned with a bowl of soup and two pieces of toasted bread. It’s bright orange colour came from the carotene-rich content of pumpkin.

Wow, Paps finally figured out how to open up a human soup can. Those things are a real bugger.

“‘BONE APPETIT’!” Even by skeleton’s standards, Papyrus had the happiest of grins right now.

He must be in a real smashing mood to use one of my bad puns.
Heh. This is great. A normal life is great.

Sans grabbed the bread and dipped it in the soup. Then he took a bite.

Any of his cheerfulness shattered upon tasting its contents.

It’s not canned.

Pumpkin. Carrots. A dash of thyme sprigs and cinnamon. Roasted bone marrow mixed in to thicken the soup without depending on filler starches.

The last time he had seen, smelled, and tasted this combination of flavours was years and years ago.

Little Papyrus had caught ‘the sneezles’ back then. It was the only time the boy fell ill throughout his childhood.

“…Where did you get this?” Sans asked. He had to.

“I MADE IT FROM SCRATCH!” So the other announced.

“Where did you get the recipe?”

Sans hoped that it was just a coincidental find on the internet. There are billions of humans on the Surface. Surely someone would come up with this exact same dish. It’s one in a billion, but that’s still a chance.

Anything better than the alternative answer.

But no, life still played with him.

“I LEARNED IT FROM UNCLE GASTER! WOWIE HE’S A GENIUS! THE MOMENT I TOLD HIM ABOUT THE TASTE HE’S ALREADY FIGURED IT OU--”

Papyrus’ excited ramblings were interrupted by the loud crunch of toast. Sans had just crushed the wheaty necessity in between his bony fingers. Bits and pieces of crustiness puffed all over the table, blanket and floor.

Papyrus stared back with a gaping jaw. “…OKAY. I KNOW SOUP IS SUPPOSED TO BE NOURISHING, BUT I DIDN’T EXPECT THE ENERGY TO KICK IN SO FAST.”

Sans realised that he had acted out of character. “Oh.” He replied, trying to keep his comical facade. “Sorry. Yeah. Uh. My joints just snapped from the change of temperatures. They get ‘rattled’ over it, sometimes.”

“SAAAANS!” the younger one exclaimed. It was all within expectations.

“Where’s ‘Uncle’ Gaster, by the way?”

“HE TOLD ME THAT HE’S GOING TO BREATHE SOME NICE FRESH AIR OUTSIDE.”

So he knew.

Of course he would. They shared a mutual understanding on bone-picking. The fact that the man conveniently excused himself out of an innocent bystander’s home meant only one thing…

“Thanks.” Sans continued to eat his meal. He’s going to need it. “What time is it now?”

“CLOSE TO THREE PM.” Papyrus answered.
“Yeah. Okay. Good. I’m not late.”

C’mon Sans. Save the nostalgia tears for later.
You’re going to give someone a bad time, and you better have the energy for it.

Once you’re done, take everyone to Frisk and pretend nothing ever happened.

Once the soup was cool enough, he drank them all down in one go. Sans set the bowl down and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Thanks Pap.” He jumped right out of bed. “It’s delicious. Serious. Totally would have second helpings, but not right now.”

His brother was surprised by the eagerness to leave. “WAIT SANS, YOU JUST RECOVERED!”

“Yeah. That’s exactly why I’m moving.”

Move, he did.

He ignored Mettaton’s concerned questioning.

Then stepped around Alphys. She was too slow to react or respond.

Dodged Undyne. Literally. She tried to grab him so they could have a serious talk, but he just avoided it.

His brother started to call for his name.

They noticed his strange behaviour, he didn’t care.

Sans headed straight into the outer world.

Where is he?

There was an arrow drawn in snow pointing to the left. He followed it.

Where is he?

More arrows.
As he walked down the path, Sans remembered the sounds of laughing children during the warmer months.

Where is he?

At the very end, he found the man he had been searching for.

It’s a cold, cloudy day. The skies were as pale as the snowy land beneath. Gaster waited in the middle of the flat field, standing out against the whiteness with his dark ever-flowing self.

He was like a blotch of ink on paper.
A stain.
A strain.

Upon the first opportunity, Sans summoned his Gasterblasters and commanded them to fire at will.

The world went dark. Being a veteran Seer himself, he knew exactly what’s happening to him. He readied every bone in his body to react the moment he regained vision.

The whiteness returned. Gaster faced his wayward protégé with his hands posed in signs.

During the moments time had stopped, his mentor had hijacked Sans’ control. The Gasterblasters turned their aim towards their own summoner.

The methods were the same today as it was so many years ago. Sans had grown wiser since then. Instead of freezing in fear, he teleported out of the laser barrages.

Snow scattered in the air from the forceful opening. His brother and his friends stopped at the edge of the field, shocked.

“No fanciful greetings for me?” said Gaster. “I expected you to say something along the lines of: ‘The clouds are grey, the air is silent. On days like these men like you should die’.”

“You’re not worth it.” Sans left Eye ignited. He reached an arm towards the stolen blasters and made a yanking motion.

That action put the blasters under a spell. While they were dazed, he executed an elaborate chain of hand commands.

Since Gaster cracked the blasters’ programming in frozen time, Sans made sure he could do the same in real time; had to beat his mentor at his own game.

Their ownership switched back to Sans. The armaments he summoned were once again his, and his first action was to return fire upon Gaster.

If Gaster was not an Amalgamate, he would have gotten hit. But alas, apparently being a gooey man bestowed methods of escape otherwise impossible. Before the beam made contact, the scientist collapsed himself into a puddle. He burrowed into the snow and tried to stage a surprise attack.

“Oh c’mon, that’s cheating.” Sans thought of his next move. Gauge the speed, then impale his opponent with a well-aimed bone spike. That should be enough to end the fight.

He was then interrupted by the roars of Papyrus out-of-control giant blaster. The poor summoner and his friends almost started another air rodeo session.

More disasters, just what exactly he needed.

Gaster emerged from the snow and slid towards the mayhem. “Egads!” He cried out, “THIS is why you can’t apply your training one to one, Sans Serif! Without the necessary mastery, his Orange aspect will make the blasters unruly. Impossible to control.”

Opportunity lay before Sans. His mentor got distracted by his brother’s shenanigans, putting himself in a vulnerable spot.

All he needed to do now was to aim and do something.
Anything… yet he cannot. His brother was too close; any action will put Papyrus at risk.

So he watched Gaster take over the controls, waiting for his next opportunity.

With a forceful slam, the old man yelled: “HEEL!”

Heel, the blaster did. It crashed straight down on the sidewalk and stayed there. After dispensing some advice, the man returned to his battlefield.

Undyne looped her arms around Papyrus to hold him back. The young skeleton kept struggling to free himself.

“NO! STOP! THIS IS A BAD FIGHT!”

“Paps, you can’t do anything about it!”

The big sister figure knew that the time for talking had long passed. What they’re witnessing now was a fallout from old festering wounds.

“CAN’T THEY JUST TALK NICELY?” Papyrus asked. “AND I THINK UNCLE GASTER GOT THE WRONG MAN BECAUSE MY BROTHER’S FULL NAME IS NOT SANS SERIF, IT’S COMIC SANS!”

“Ugh. That stage name.” Gaster pointed straight at the poor, clueless skeleton as he addressed Sans. “Look at that. Look. At. That. Your own brother doesn’t know your real name! Do you think I’d let you continue this atrocity???”

Fuelled by anger and emotion, the elder skeleton summoned a rolling wave of bones. Blue, orange, white, all mixed inside.

Sans dodged them as he responded: “He doesn’t need to know. It’s not important.”

“Tsk.” Gaster made a disapproving click with his tongue. “That shows how much you’ve underestimated Papyrus. Do you only see him as a baby bone who can’t handle the truth?”

Sans narrowed his gaze, retorting the hard questions with a warning: “I told you to stay away from Papyrus. Forever.”

“As if I’d listen to the requests of a fool,” Gaster replied.

Bone clashed against bone. Neither side wanted to bring out the cannons, knowing that the other might attempt to steal them yet again.

“Hah,” Sans grunted. “Always a comeback. Your routine’s getting dragged out.”

Gaster lifted his chin, looking down on his diminutive former helper. “Oh, I will recite volumes if that will convey the absolute truth. For example, you stole my textbook and performed an old, old sealing magic on Papyrus.”

He summoned multitudes of small bones, forming hexagrams. They spun overhead in erratic patterns, making it hard to guess where they will stop.

“Doing so at a tender age of eleven months crippled your brother’s mental capabilities. You’re fortunate enough that it wasn’t too serious. Perhaps he’s a little slow in standard academics and quirky in his reasoning, but his physical talents were left intact.”

The talking was a distraction: an auditory and emotional one. Knowing this, Sans tried to ignore… but he couldn’t stop glancing at his brother and his friends.

He noticed a look of horror on those faces. Yet, this was just the beginning.

The blue skeleton seethed, cold and bitter as his colour. “You don’t understand, Gaster. It hurt. It hurt him so much, he cried until he had no voice left and he almost tore the house to pieces. I had no choice but to seal him.”

“You should have brought him to me!” Gaster slapped a hand on his own chest. “I would have applied the proper methods of suppression and provided suitable education for the boy!”

“And turn Papyrus into a living Chronograph?” Sans replied. “I couldn’t let you do that. You’d just put him through the same pain as I did. If not worse. History is an ugly subject.”

Jabbed by the scathing accusation, Gaster stopped the spinning hexagrams. Orange beams then rained down upon the snap of his fingers.

Sans realised that he can’t use his teleports with this colour of magic. He must shuffle about in real time: keep moving as much as he can, without rest. He’s a goner the moment he stops.

The least tiring way to maintain that momentum was to strafe in a perpetual circle.

The elder released his grip on the hexagrams, letting them resume their unpredictable behaviour. He put most of his focus on maintaining the beams themselves.

“Fine,” said Gaster. “If you don’t want Papyrus to claim his rightful birthright, at least provide the rudimentary education suitable for his abilities!”

“I taught him magic. Is that not enough?” Sans said.

“For goodness sake, do you sincerely think that his strengths lay in that repetitive arrangements of white and blue bones?”

“Don’t underestimate the basics.”

In line with his own retaliation, Sans reached his hand out and forced Gaster into the rules of blue gravity magic. He let go a wave of blue and white bones, each and every one of those laced with the destructive poison of ‘Karmic Retribution’.

If Gaster chose to stay, the regular white bones would collide.
If he chose to move, the blue ones will trap him.

A simple yet effective situation.

The old man groaned hard. He was forced to dispel his hexagrams and focus on defense.

Try as he might, Gaster was reminded of why he backed away from the front lines. He didn’t have the reflexes or the reaction for a true battle. One of the blue bones cut through the old man’s shoulder.

Faint, violet particles ate through the wound like embers to wood. They prevented immediate regeneration, thus negating the main strengths of an Amalgamate.

To Sans, it was a simple concept to figure out.

Gaster mustered every bit of his inner strength to muffle his scream. He remained resolute, but his body had started to melt.

“…On some days, I regret teaching you the art of advanced magic combat.” Gaster commented. “This is one of them.”

Sans replied, “Too late.”

But Gaster was not going to give up just yet. He had Determination flowing through him. If he survived ‘The Core Incident’, he will survive this.

“Perhaps by drawing from your personal experience,” So he added. “You should have taught Papyrus how to cook. But no, you didn’t. You still taught him magic. Nothing but magic. I bet it’s because he begged you to do so.”

“Are you so burdened with grief that you cannot bear to watch Papyrus follow in your parents’ footsteps?”

His mentor always had a way to strike where it hurts the most.

Sans shut off his emotions. He cannot afford to lose his focus now, not when he had the upper hand.

His Eye flashed between blue and yellow, trying to manipulate time so he could land his final blow.

The sentiment was mutual. Gasters’ dual-chromatic set burned in greater intensity. Determination coursed through his bones, and thus supplying him with a far deeper source than Sans could ever dream of.

With unquenchable fire in his eyes, the Gaster declared: “You had denied Papyrus of his past, his present, and his future! From today onwards, I refuse to let him wither under your folly!!!”

Sans replied, “Go ahead and try.”

Both mentor and protégé threw caution to the wind. They summoned their biggest guns. Put everything they had into a single, huge Gasterblaster.

No point stealing from each other now.

Ready.
Aim.
Fire.

Two Seers. Two cannons. Two separate wills.

The resulting clash caused reality to fray at its seams. For a moment, snow and light was all anyone could see.

When the particles settled and the world healed, one emerged victorious.

It was Sans Serif. That nihilistic delinquent of an ‘assistant’ had finally triumphed over his master.

Gaster got his entire lower body blown off. He’s now just half the skeleton he was, lying face-down and broken in the snow. The decaying poison continued to gnaw at the edges of his wounds.

Menacing he may be, the scientist’s combat abilities were never stellar. All he had was knowledge after all. Mere theories. They can’t hold a candle to someone who had practiced them to the bone.

Without a word, Sans walked towards the fallen. He raised his blaster high above his own head with the full intent of finishing the job.

Gaster propped his remaining half up with his hands. “Sans Serif,” so the mentor asked in the most chilling of tones. “Are you going to kill your parents yet again?”

“My parents are dead,” answered Sans. Objective as ever.

“Your mother doesn’t think so.”

The amalgamate showed his right arm, riddled in scars that never healed. “I’m sure you recall this. You were seven. On the fourth day, you escaped from your safety confines and almost drowned in sand.”

“When your mother tried to save you, your powers scored the surface of her arm out of existence. Hency why these wounds never, ever healed. Even with Determination in our bones.”

“Helvetica put her life and career on the line to save you. This is definite proof that they live inside of me. You know it.”

Every bone in Sans’ being rattled from rage internalized.

“W.D. Gaster,” so he said. “You are an abomination. A desecration of their memory. My parents are dead. Nothing more. Nothing less.”

Fire burned in his left eye. His armament followed suit. It opened its maws and began charging up.

“Please die.”

Gaster continued to glare. Even though he was at the last inch of his existence, he refused to surrender.

“STOOOOOOOOOOOOP!!!”

A skeleton with a red scarf skidded across the icy floor on his knees. He stopped right in front of his new-found uncle, arms outstretched to protect him.

Papyrus.

The raised emotions made his Eye glow orange.

What happened? Had he escaped from Undyne’s grip? Maybe she let him go. Who knows? Who cares?

His brother was in the way.

“SANS!” Papyrus pleaded. “DON’T DO A VIOLENCE, PLEASE! THIS IS NOT YOU! NOT YOU AT ALL!”

His brother didn’t know better.
Of course, no one told him anything.

Sans gazed on him with tired eyes. “Gaster is a bad man, Paps. He tried to kill you.”

Gaster huffed at that statement. “Oh good lord, you still don’t get it. I was trying to keep monsterkin ALIVE! Create a utopia!”

“Utopias don’t exist,” the nihilist responded. “They’re just dreams. No one would be happy.”

“Oh, but you’ve never experienced it. How would you know? With dreams, hopes are created. I would have become the seventh and denied The End!”

“STOPSTOPSTOPSTOP! STOP THE ARGUING!” Papyrus cut short the argument, shaking his head and flailing his mittened hands.

“LOOK, SANS. MAYBE UNCLE GASTER WAS A BAD MAN IN THE PAST, BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN HE CAN’T BE GOOD RIGHT NOW! HE CAN GET BETTER. HE ALREADY TRIED TO BE!”

“HE TAUGHT ME NEW MAGIC! HE TAUGHT ME HOW TO COOK! HE MADE FRIENDS! WE HAD FUN TIMES CHATTING WITH EACH OTHER! HE’S REALLY NICE TO ME, IS THAT NOT ENOUGH?”

“No.” Sans denied straight at Papyrus face. “Please move aside.”

“THEN WHAT ABOUT MOM AND DAD??? THEY- THEY’RE INNOCENT!”

“Mom and Dad are dead.”
“NO THEY’RE NOT! THEY’RE HERE WITH UNCLE GASTER!”

Sans’ bones rattled harder. “Papyrus, you don’t understand. It’s not the same.”

“OF COURSE I DON’T! I’VE NEVER MET THEM BEFORE!”

Papyrus started to cry. This time, there’s no way brothers could joke about catching tears, or getting grit in the sockets.

For the first time in a long while, he shed true tears.

“I KNOW YOU’RE IN PAIN BECAUSE YOU HAD WITNESSED OUR SUPER DUPER COOL AWESOME PARENTS IN THEIR FULL GLORY! BUT I DID NOT. I COULD NOT. BECAUSE THEY WERE GONE TOO SOON.”

“BUT NOW THEY’RE BACK! NOT IN ONE PIECE, BUT THEY’RE STILL BACK. I… I WANT TO GET TO KNOW OUR PARENTS BETTER, SANS. AND UNCLE GASTER. AND YOU TOO… SO… SO I BEG YOU…”

Papyrus wheezed. His bones, quivering in their joints out of sheer primal fear for his family. “…PLEASE, SHOW MERCY…”

Sans found his resolve shaking. He may look stoic at the front, but inside he struggled.

Cut it off.
Cut it off.
Cut your heart off, and Papyrus will be safe forever.
From him. From… them…

How his outstretched hand trembled. It shook so hard, that he could no longer keep it straight.

In the end, Sans could not pull the trigger. Not because he had mercy, but he couldn’t bear with the thought of Papyrus fearing him -- their parents’ murderer -- for the rest of his sorry existence.

The looming blaster was dispelled along with its charged energy. Still feeling the jitter throughout his being, Sans turned around and slowly walked away.

He heard the aftermath behind him. Papyrus and his friends rushing over to the remnants of Gaster, asking if he’s alright. And the classy skeleton replying that he was fine. Despite having his lower half obliterated.

“Sans Serif,” so he was addressed. The old man won’t let him go about the name thing.

Gaster continued his final retort. “Whenever you let yourself waste away at Grillby’s, your father cried wondering what went wrong. I feel his grief. And he grieves for you right now. Only your mother insisted her dear ‘seraphim’ will one day make him proud.”

There was nothing he could say. If it was merely Gaster’s logic, he would have barked a rebuttal…

…Except this was dear father; he could never snark at his direct family, no matter how he treated others.

Never.

“Your mother named you ‘Sans Serif’ for a reason, you know. When she had you, she was so filled with hope. You were her angel, who will one day guide and protect our kind. And yet… you considered it so much of a shame that you kept it from your own brother.”

Sans gritted his teeth.

He prepared for a teleport. Just right before the jump, he heard his mentor drop one last scathing comment:

“Yes. Run away, Sans Serif. Run Away. Some things never change. A seer without dreams is but a dead skeleton inside. ”

…Yeah. Some things never change.
Trash will be trash.

A tornado of trash…

That’s who I am.

Chapter Text

The test results came back positive.

As Gaster had claimed, he was an Amalgamation of two others: Times Roman and Helvetica.

The parents.

Alphys and Undyne stared at the results displayed on the work PC’s monitor. Sans’ Hotdog Dog shimeji continued to animate silliness on the screen, but it did nothing to liven up the situation.

“Oh god…” the lizard lady squeaked. “This is horrible. Sans just tried to kill his elders. I-I never thought he would do this.”

“I think we have a bigger problem than the fight itself,” said the fish. “Like. How? I thought they would have long scattered the dust for the funeral.”

Alphys squeezed her hands together, fretting. “Doctor Gaster must have kept some for himself. Then, he injected Determination while they’re in his possession.”

It was the only possible conclusion.

“But, why???” Undyne questioned.

“…Desperation.” Alphys answered. “I know that feeling too well. Maybe he needed a major breakthrough.”

“If Gaster is a genuine Amalgamation, then why didn’t we hear the skelecouple speak at all? I thought they should be competing in a mess. Like Lemon Bread, for example.”

“Well…” the lizard explained, “The Amalgamation under my care were injected with Determination while they were near death. Whole. They didn’t turn into dust yet. For Roman and Helvetica, most of their original bodies were probably already scattered. As such, they don’t have enough material to reform as a full person.”

Which explained why Sans insisted that it wasn’t the same. In a way, he’s right.

Undyne had another question. A vital one. “Are they… really his parents? If you bring someone back without their SOUL, they’re just gonna be hollow memories.”

Alphys thought of it for a moment. “It seems like they’re sharing Doctor Gaster’s intact SOUL. That means their personalities still have access to the essentials. I guess we can say they are themselves? By technicality…?”

She continued, “B-because they don’t have enough material for a complete reconstruction, they’re stuck as a limb. Also, Doctor Gaster is a very strong-willed person. It’s natural for him to assume full control by default.”

“The parents… they remind me of grafted trees.” All that reading about the Surface sciences paid off. Here Alphys thought that she was just absorbing needless trivia.

A shiver ran across Undyne’s scales. “Yo. I’m so reminded of that fuckton creepy sakura tree episode. Didn’t they used this ‘grafting’ technique too?”

“Y-yes,” Alphys answered. “They did. You can also imagine the parents as cybernetic implants. If. That’s easier to grasp.”

That thought disgusted Undyne. This came from someone who’s used to interacting with Amalgamates. The school had a few of them as parents.

For example, Snowy’s Mom attended as many school events as she could, even if she couldn’t say much.

Yet, this? This was too much. “…I can see why Sans was as bitter as hell. Damn. I pity him.”

The two continued to stare at the results, contemplating on their next move.

“I’m gonna get my armour,” thus said the once Captain of the Royal Guard. “You stay here Alphys. I’m gonna grill him one-on-one.”

She had one unsolved case that had collected dust for too long. Now, she must do whatever it takes to give it a proper closure.

The once-proud gear of their army hung on its armour stand, serving as a glorified decoration for a few months now.

It’s time for her to don it again. By equipping herself with her nations’ old uniform, she made a declaration that she meant serious business.

Serious. Legal. Business.

She stared down on her gauntlets, pondering about the past. When she was an urchin training under Asgore, she’d catch glimpses of the previous Captain.

A stoic man of fire who never showed his face. Very quiet. Spoke no more than he was required of. Yet, he had a warm, glowing kindness. Captain ‘Grillby’ was revered by everyone as a paragon. Not that they ever knew his real face or name.

She once looked up to him too, but then… she realised that it was an impossible standard. In the end she chose her own path: determined to be the best Captain of her generation. The polar opposites of their personalities didn’t matter as long they protected the nation.

Undyne knew that she doesn’t have the case files right now, but she could record Gaster’s testimonies for a comparison later. Her phone should be enough to do the trick.

Just as she finished strapping up, Mettaton knocked on her door.

“Psst, Undyne darling.” He said. “Can I discuss something with you for a moment?”

She was hesitant at first. That robot was a pit of bad ideas to her. Hang around long enough and she might accidentally subscribe herself to one of those.

But… she’s curious of Papyrus’ condition. Ever since they got home, the star had been comforting his number one fan. Blankets. Hugs. Some of morning’s pasta on standby.

The young skeleton healed his uncle with the same magic that brought him back into the world. Then, Papyrus retreated to a solitary corner away from others.

So Undyne entertained his request and spoke to him face to face.

“How’s Paps?” she asked.

Mettaton answered. “Poor Papyrus needs more time. He stopped crying, but he’s still whining. Very softly. Where’s our skeleton doctor?”

“At the dining table with some goldenflower tea. Provided that blasted man hasn’t tried to run away yet.”

“That’s good. You see darling, I know people like Doctor Gaster. Confident, self assured. He’s not going to answer any of your questions if you don’t win his heart first.”

Undyne furrowed her brows. She noticed a certain professional persuasiveness that belied his usual nonsense. Maybe the planets aligned and Mettaton actually had a sensible idea.

At the very least, she thought that she should listen. “What do you suggest?”

“I noticed that he had tremendous respect for Alphys dear,” said Mettaton. “Perhaps if we stage a conversation instead of an interrogation, he might divulge more information.”

Have Alphys smooth things out? A good idea, but not quite her style. “…Honestly, I just want to suplex him. More so after what he did to Sans and Frisk. I’d use that tactic for a different person next time.”

“Frisk?”

“Yeah. Frisk. Let’s just say I had a hunch.”

If only the real parts of anime were the fun and fantastical bits. But no, it had to be the serious ones.

Gaster sat down at the dinner table, sipping on his second cup of goldenflower tea. He glanced at the armoured fish and knew full well what lay before him.

“Colour me curious,” he said. “I wonder if you are bright as Grillby.”

It was a subtle taunt. Undyne knew that she already had two strikes of negative impressions: one for her ambush on Sans as a kid, the other for Papyrus’ horrible cooking.

But she won’t let Gaster intimidate her anymore. She sat down opposite of the man, facing him square in the face.

“Let me get this straight into your skull.” Undyne began, “Whatever happened earlier was the most fucked up shit I’ve ever seen. And you, sir, are gonna explain what the hell is going on.”

As Mettaton had warned, Gaster was secure in himself almost to the point of arrogance. He sipped his hot tea in silence. Waiting.

True to her nature, she decided to cut straight into the point. “The last person who saw you alive during the Core Incident was Sans.”

“Of course.” Gaster answered.

“You took your assistant to the Core. Alone. With no one else,” she continued. “Was it an experiment?”

Gaster remained silent for a while. “Aren’t we jumping into conclusions? It could have been maintenance work.”

She slammed her gauntlet down on the table. “Like hell you do maintenance without an engineering crew!”

“An accusative conjecture at best, Captain Undyne. I suggest that you first prove to me that you’re capable of handling this information.”

How she wanted to punch him in the face and suplex that damn doctor back into the Void. She knew Gaster's guilty, but on what charges?

If the serious parts of anime were real, she would draw from those experiences and rip the truth out of his bones.

Think. Try to take a different approach. What would she do if she’s casted as a detective…

Undyne took a deep breath to calm herself down. “Okay. Fine. Let’s start this from the beginning.” That’s what they’d do right? Ask more innocent questions, then slowly use them to corner their suspect.

Lies can only stand for so long.

“What is a ‘Chronograph’?” Sans mentioned that Gaster would have trained Papyrus into that thing if given the opportunity.

Gaster calmly placed down his cup on the saucer. Levelheaded. Assured. “A Chronograph is a time-recording device.”

“Like a clock?”

“More than a clock. A clock only shows the present time. A Chronograph does much, much more. Hmm, how do I explain this in layman terms… have you ever had a dejavu? The feeling that you had experienced something before?”

Undyne tried to recall. She wasn’t sure, but she could just wing it and see where it goes. “Yeah. I get them sometimes.”

Gaster then said, “We’re on the same page then. Well, Captain. Those were not just mere feelings. You had indeed experienced similar circumstances before. Repeatedly. Who knows for how long?”

She squinted her single good eye. “…What the fuck are you talking about, old man?”

“Time-travel, my dear simple fish,” he replied. “Rewriting reality. I’m sure some of your ‘anime’ material covers this subject. Not all of them are accurate, but they do give a nice visual to a vague concept.”

The old scientist added some fresh hot tea to his cooled cup. Then, he picked it up for more sips. “Have you ever wondered how we lost the War oh so long ago, Captain? Do you really believe that monsters are so weak that they cannot defend themselves?”

If she must be honest… she had always doubted Waterfall’s history. Since a child, she saw no reason why monsters must stay weak.

They can grow strong. They can be strong, just like their King. Humans could die in so many ways… So why can’t they fight back…?

Perhaps it’s due to her mindset, she was one of the few who could generate their own Determination. Though Alphys warned her that she’d end up melting herself if she pushed it too hard.

“No,” Undyne answered. “I believe monsters can be strong even in the face of violence. Despite what the books say.”

Gaster nodded. “I too believed the same. But strength is pointless if there’s a certain foe who could predict your every move. No, I should say… memorize. Memorize your tactics. Your weakness. Everything about you.”

The more he talked, the less she understood. Undyne thus exclaimed, “Impossible! Unless you’re a genius like Sans, you’d have to repeat something a ton of times to memorize that much!”

“That’s what exactly happened to us during the War.” Gaster kept a stern glare at Undyne as he continued drinking. “One human, fuelled with Determination, repeated time to the point where they achieve guaranteed victory.”

Determination.

As far as she knew, the only person who had Determination beyond hers was… Frisk.

Thus Gaster continued, “Humanity’s ultimate weapon is not a sword or a gun. It’s a ‘person’: the one who rights what’s wrong and wrongs what’s right. Whatever progress you and I have made in our lives are at their mercy.”

After hearing this, Undyne wondered if she should have brought Alphys along. She didn’t quite understand Gaster’s explanation. Yet, a sense of dreadful horror strung around her neck like a noose.

Alphys might just break down in an existential crisis. Perhaps it was for the best to leave her out for now.

She clicked her tongue out of frustration. So much for trying to drive Gaster into the corner. At this rate, he’s steering her to his whims. And he knew it.

Undyne crossed her arms and leaned back against the chair. She’s not ready to give up yet. Let the old man talk for now. Listen and learn.

The scientist continued his speech. “That would be true if we don’t remember. Their strengths will be effectively negated if every bit of their actions are recorded. Turn their own tricks against them. Therefore, a Chronograph is the ultimate defense against the ultimate weapon.”

“Okay,” she nodded. “How can this Chronograph be used as the ‘ultimate defense’ then?”

“Calculation, prediction and exploration,” Gaster answered. “By adjusting your base data, it’s possible to map out all possible outcomes. In short, it grants one the ability to calculate the future.”

“With the right powers and intellectual capacity, one could exploit the Chronograph’s data to reach the far ends of reality. To witness every possible turnout of events.”

“Which… you have,” she concluded.

One quick blink and his Eyes lit up cyan and orange. “That, indeed I do.” He dispelled them a few seconds later.

Something didn’t make sense in Undyne’s head. “Hold up a moment. If you could do that, why did you need Sans to help?”

“Well, just because I planned the Core doesn’t mean I could build it alone. What you enjoy today was the result of teamwork: architects, engineers, material specialists and what have you.”

“For the Chronograph, you can thank your apparently ‘lazy’ friend. Sans has a much better grasp of spacetime sciences than I do. He theorized the foundations. I made it a reality.”

In short, Sans created the Chronograph for Gaster’s use. Similar to how a weaponsmith crafts a spear for a warrior.

“So…” Undyne asked. “If Papyrus was, well, not the guy we know today, you wouldn’t need to build this Chronograph machine?”

“Oh, there’s always a need,” Gaster answered. “It just wouldn’t take its current form. And maybe… life would have been different.”

Ever since Gaster had the liberty of explaining his genius, Undyne noticed a marked reduction of hostility. Maybe this would be the right time to press.

“What did you see?” She asked. A simple question, but a vital one.

The scientist froze. His expression turned blank, devoid of intellectual liveliness. With the heaviest tone he answered: “The death and destruction of the Underground. No matter where I turned, or what I calculated… I found myself standing at ‘The End’.”

“‘Dark darker yet darker, the darkness keeps growing’. I still remember its horrors to this day.”

But the world didn’t end. “We’re here and alive today, sir. Did something go wrong with your machine?”

“Well,” Gaster replied, “The Chronograph does have its limitations. It can only give me futures based on current variables. We’re here on the Surface due to an unexpected anomaly. The game-changer, if you will. I would have identified the exact source if Sans didn’t betra--”

Before he could finish that sentence, he splashed his cup of still-hot tea on his own face.

Gaster yelped from the sting. “EGADS, HELVETICA! What in the world were you thinking???”

Or rather, whoever owned that scarred right arm did it. Sans’ mother. ‘She’ put the cup down and slammed on the table in protest.

“It’s the truth!” said Gaster. “Sans betrayed us--!”

That same right arm then slapped him across the cheekbone. Gaster’s left arm remained rooted in place, refusing to move upon his will.

“Oh no, Roman. Are you serious? You’re going to deny me the right to defend myself from the onslaught of your wife?!”

It devolved into an almost-comedic struggle of a man getting slapped by his own right hand.

Undyne then had an epiphany. If she can’t break through Gaster alone, she could enlist the help of the couple residing deep inside.

So she asked: “Mister Roman? Madam Helvetica? Can you hear me? If you can, drum your fingers on the table.”

The arms jerked around as they fought over control. In the end, love prevailed. ‘Left Roman’ and ‘Right Helvetica’ glued their hands on the surface and drummed their fingers as requested.

They’re listening.

“I’m Undyne,” she introduced herself. “A longtime friend of your son. I need your help to prove his innocence.”

“Sans is not innocent!” Gaster insisted, but Helvetica refused to hear such nonsense. That comment earned the scientist yet another slap.

Good. They’re against Gaster. If she could get the parents to spill the beans as witnesses, then she could finally deliver justice. They must know that she’s on Sans’ side. Their side.

So she continued: “Sans may not always do the right thing, but I know he accounts for everything. He will never take drastic actions unless it’s the absolute last resort.”

“Sir, madam, please tell me what happened down in the Core. There’s a high chance my bestie’s parents died in that incident. Knowing Sans, he will figure this out sooner or later. It’s going to crush him with guilt.”

Pointing straight as Gaster, Undyne said: “Don’t you think a certain someone needs to share the burden?”

“W-wait, a death?” The scientist widened his sockets in shock. “I was very sure that we were the only casualties of that incident!”

“No.” Undyne glared. “There were more. On the Surface. When that quake happened, the south part of Mount Ebott collapsed and killed people. Humans have families too, you know. Like us.”

“Did you just say a human is your best fri--?”

She gave that scientist no time to question. It’s time to dish out the spades. All of them. “If word gets out that Sans is related to this case, the human law enforcers are gonna be after his ass. I’m very, VERY sure our sir and madam will want to avoid that!”

The arms trembled. Out of fear, anger or both… it’s hard to tell.

‘Left Roman’ pointed towards a bottle of salt. Unlike other the Amalgamates who had merged whole bodies, these two only existed as mere limbs. They will need a different method of communication.

Undyne retrieved the salt and handed them over to the parents. Husband and wife then worked together to remove the cap.

They poured out the grains. Spread them out thin to form a white drawing surface. With their bony fingers, the two drew their testimonies within the particulates.

‘7TH SOUL’.

This was definitely Alphys’ field of expertise. To her, that statement was more of a puzzle. And how she hated puzzles.

“Did Gaster kidnap a human and hide them in the Core?”

The hands erased the previous statement to write their clarification.

‘NO.’
‘WE ARE THE 7TH.’

It didn’t make sense. Monsters can’t replace the human SOUL so easily. From what she understood of Alphys’ notes, trying to make a substitute required a ton of energy and the entire population of the Underground.

Then…

The implications hit her like a truck.

“…What. The. Fuck.”

Why oh why must the antagonist parts of anime be real too? This man fit the mad scientist trope to a T.

Undyne kicked back her chair and summoned her spear. She pointed its razor sharp tip right at him. One cannot kill Amalgamates through conventional means, but that won’t stop her from pinning him down by force.

“Doctor Gaster,” so she said. “You’re under arrest for endangering monsterkind! If you try to run, I have every right to turn you into a fucking pincushion.”

“…And how will you punish me?” Gaster asked back. He remained quite calm despite the circumstance. “You have no prison nor legal jurisdiction to execute penance. You may wear the Captain’s gear right now, but does the Surface recognize your authority?”

Undyne grinned ear to ear. “Hah! Are you forgetting someone? I’m gonna take your case to the King! He’ll give you what you deserve, and free Sans once and for all!”

“‘Free Sans’?” replied Gaster. “As I had gathered, you’re not as bright as Grillby. You will only incriminate him further. The Core Incident happened because Sans sabotaged it! He knows. We know. Why do you think his dear parents are so defensive over this subject?”

The confrontation was interrupted by an untimely shriek. Undyne recognized that it belonged to Papyrus.

“Oh god, not now Paps--” She muttered.

Too late. Papyrus in his full extrovert glory barged into the dining room. He’s dressed in his ‘battle costume’ and equipped with a sling bag, ready to go somewhere.

“UNDYNE, WE NEED TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL RIGHT NOW! FRISK IS SICK AND I CAN’T BELIEVE WE NEVER REALISED IT! NO WONDER THEY’VE BEEN QUIET.”

Mettaton gestured from the back that Papyrus had tried to phone Frisk. And thus, the secret was broken forever.

“ONCE I PACK THE SOUP, WE’RE LEAVING! I HAVE ASKED ALPHYS TO GET THE SHORTEST ROUTE THERE WITH HER ONLINE MAP THINGY. AND OF COURSE, THE GREAT PAPYRUS WILL DRIVE! NO MORE DELAYS! DAYLIGHT IS WANING!”

The tensed scenario completely flew over the young skeleton’s head. Maybe Papyrus did recognize the tension, but the idea of visiting his best human friend in their time of need took priority above all else.

“Uh,” said Undyne. “Kinda busy here. You go ahead.”

Opportunity. Gaster grabbed it for his life’s worth and played to Papyrus’ tune. “Oh, a friend had taken ill? Mind if I come along?”

Papyrus being Papyrus, will only give one answer: “SURE, UNCLE GASTER! I’M VERY SURE THEY’LL BE DELIGHTED TO MEET YOU. AND MOM! AND DAD!”

“Papyrus, no.” Undyne objected. She kept throwing glances at Gaster just in case he tried to flee. “He’s under arrest! Meaning, I’m capturing him.”

He took a moment to digest her statement. Then, he said, “ALL THE MORE WHY YOU MUST BRING UNCLE GASTER ALONG! THAT WAY, YOU CAN KEEP A WATCHFUL EYE ON HIM AT ALL TIMES. ALSO YOUR COOL ARMOUR WILL CHEER FRISK UP!”

With his message given, Papyrus hurried off to the kitchen. Mettaton decided to follow his fan. Whatever went down with Gaster was too heated even for a star like him.

Undyne growled. “You lucky bastard…!”

No choice but to listen to her pupil, she whisked away her spear.

The elder skeleton then got up with a certain smugness in his smile, temporarily freed from her pointy threats.

“It appears there are more urgent matters to attend to.” He said, “Fret not, Captain Undyne. You will soon appreciate my expertise.”

Chapter Text

Good news greeted the couple this morning. Frisk’s fever had subsided overnight. They could be discharged tomorrow, provided no negative changes happen throughout Saturday.

The monster parents rejoiced. Toriel immediately dialled a specific number on her phone, eager to deliver the good news.

Except, nobody answered. Again and again she called that number. Yet, nothing.

Maybe he’s asleep? He was not quite a morning person.

Afternoon rolled by. Silence followed.
Then early evening. Still no answer.

By now, the Sun had almost set. They had one incoming call from Papyrus, but Sans… he never answered Toriel’s calls.

Their child grew worried too. Frisk was wise beyond their years. The usual tricks that would soothe other children didn’t work on them.

“I’m sure Sans will be fine,” said the goat father. “He can take care of himself. Contrary to his um, usual habits.”

Frisk squinted their already-small eyes in suspicion, but in the end they realised that nothing could be done. All they could do now was to hope and trust.

Toriel excused herself out of the ward. Maybe the phone reception wasn’t good inside, so she decided to try the corridors.

Left alone with his newest child, Asgore asked, “Would you like something to drink?”

“Hmmm…” the child pondered. “I think I want a snack instead. Something salty. But not too oily. Like pretzel sticks.”

“I think I saw some of those in one of the vending machines. Would that satisfy your cravings?”

Frisk nodded.

“If you need anything else, do not hesitate to phone me. Alright?”

A thumbs up from the kid. Ah, how cute.

So Asgore left the ward and headed towards the elevator lobby. He greeted the Magi guards along the way.

He chose to take the long route, selecting the button to where there was an alternative route to the cafeteria. His soft, fluffy presence attracted a tad too much attention. As much as he loved children, he didn’t want to make Frisk wait.

Just as he entered, his phone chimed. It’s a message from Undyne.

It read:

Asgore, I got some bad news. One of our old cases came back burning hot. I’m bringing the suspect to you right now. I know a hospital is probably not the best place, but it’s the only way I can keep Papyrus and the suspect in check at the same time.

Agsore walked straight out of the elevator the moment the door opened. He was too preoccupied to notice that he exited on the wrong floor.

Uh. Yeah. Sorry. She wrote, Paps phoned Frisk, and I guess you heard him screaming over the phone already? Apparently he’s AOK. No more weird eye magic going haywire. At least I’m sure that we’re not gonna crash.

Alphys and Mettaton are tagging along too. So, this is also a Frisk Friendship Team visit.

See you there.

The tiny device in his humongous hands made replying a bit difficult. Maybe he should have bought the larger devices, one more suitable for his size?

Midway his reply, he was interrupted by a string of expletives. It came from a doctor pacing around in circles with a phone to his ear.

Whatever troubled him so much, he didn’t notice the presence of a very large white fluffy monster.

“Judge Mezil, my work is compromised!” exclaimed the doctor. “Someone snuck into my office and rummaged through my files! …Wait. Are you serious? Keep it quiet? What? You’re telling me that you know the culprit? Oh… so they won’t plagiarize my research? W-well if you say so, I guess there is nothing to worry about.”

Asgore glanced to the nearest nameplates. ‘Neurology’. He had no idea what it meant, but it was definitely not the way to the canteen.

He backed away in silence. Should the poor doctor caught wind of his presence, he would be even more troubled. The Fluffybuns didn’t want that.

“Are you going to make sure Judge Cenna won’t find out the truth? I’m so dead if she knew I slipped up. She might just, I dunno, hang me upside down?”

The ex-king’s ears twitched. Secrets shouldn’t surprise him anymore. Just one look at the lady and he knew that Cenna hid plenty. What caught his attention was the fact that a fraction of truth resided in such close proximity.

Whatever it was, he decided to leave the doctor to his own conversation. Asgore backed off and returned to the elevator lobby. This time, he went to the correct floor and bought a packet of pretzel sticks from the vending machine.

Then it’s back to the ward.

His wife had yet to return from her attempts. But, Cenna hung out with Frisk. The dark-skinned woman showed off some string art with her magic-based drones.

She drew a picture of a cat on the table, sleeping next to a ball of yarn.

Frisk’s face lit up with delight at the cute picture. Out of curiosity, they picked up a loop of the magic string from the cat’s tail. Tugged it a bit.

Doing so made it go ‘twang’.

“Strong, huh?” said Cenna. “But mine’s puny compared to some of my colleagues. They could make like, industrial cables. Real handy in rescue operations. Emergencies only though.”

Perhaps that was the reason why the doctor feared that she’d hang him upside down.

“Oh,” Asgore smiled. “Looks like you two are having fun.”

He passed the packet to Frisk.

“Thanks, Dad.” They ripped the packet in no time. After taking one stick for themselves, the kid offered it to their aunt and adoptive father. “Want one?”

“Sure!” The cool aunt plucked out one stick from the bag. After looking at it she groaned. “Ah c’mon, all the salt flakes are gone from this stick.”

“I’d like to try one too.” He had seen and heard of these salty treats, but he had yet to try.

…If he could even grab them in the first place. The opening of the bag was too small for his large hands to comfortably fit. In the end, Frisk had to take one out for him.

Asgore rubbed the back of his head out of embarrassment. “Why thank you, my child.”

His first bite into the snack tingled his mouth with a strange flavour. It made his eyes cross over each other and his lips pucker.

Frisk and Cenna both covered their mouth, chuckling away. They knew this would happen. First-timer’s reaction.

The confused monster then said, “D-did I just bite into salty soap?”

Cenna grinned as she answered, “Thaaaat’s probably the lye.”

“Lye?!” Asgore gasped. “Isn’t that a cleaning agent? Aren’t they toxic?” He remembered using some for a stubborn burn on his stove once. As far as he could remember, they were caustic solutions.

“They could be. Only if they’re concentrated. Food-grade stuff is diluted tons for safe consumption.”

It still left him confused and perplexed. To him, this flavour was not pleasant. “H-how did they end up as ingredients in the first place?”

“Preservation,” answered Cenna. “Unlike magic edibles, physical foodstuff decay over time. Our ancestors experimented with ways to prevent rotting. Some of the discoveries were accidental. Some, well. ‘Necessity is the mother of inventions’, as we say.”

“That’s… quite a stretch of imagination.” Monsterkind would never think of preserving food with such a substance. Any of their known ancient techniques were lost in the Underground anyway. Materials in the ‘down below’ were very different from the ‘up above’.

In the end, Asgore gave his half-eaten pretzel stick to Frisk. The child was fond of the strange taste. Maybe that’s why they could tolerate Papyrus’ spaghetti?

Time to wash the bad taste away with some good-old goldenflower tea. He learned to sew tea bags while he’s on the Surface, allowing him to prepare his favourite brew ahead of time.

After boiling some water from his electric kettle, he poured them into his trusty teapot.

Cenna rose her brows, curious. “You always have that tea around. What is it?”

“Goldenflower tea,” Asgore answered. “Would you like to have some?”

“Goldenflower? Like, ‘Ebott Goldenflower’?”
“Yes.” What else could they be, if they’re named after the mountain itself?

Her eyes widened in amazement. “Whoa, I didn’t know you can make tea out of those!”

“You don’t? Oh dear, you’re missing out.”

That must be rectified. He took out some extra plastic cups from his backpack and made three servings of his favourite drink.

Cenna took a sip, and her mind was blown away. “Daaaaaang, they’re good. I bet if we add honey, they’re gonna be even better! Mezil will love these. He’s a big fan of teas.”

“Too bad Ebott Goldenflowers are rare-ish nowadays.” The Magus took another sip. “Their original habitat got destroyed in a huge fire. What’s left were the samples we had in botanical gardens. Or small plots from plant enthusiasts. They’re hard to grow outside of their native earth.”

“Oh? How strange,” remarked Asgore. “I have a field of these at my throne room. All they required were some watering and pruning, nothing more. They sow themselves and seem to bloom eternal.”

Frisk’s brows furrowed as they thought over this predicament. Then they asked, “Do you think it’s because of magic? There are lots of Echo Flowers down there, and they never grow on the Surface.”

For a prison, Mount Ebott was strangely accommodative. Many of the shelters were already built by their forefathers in the pre-Sealing days. As they explored deeper, they found all four seasons nestled underneath.

“That could be so, my child.” Asgore replied. “Hmm… what are your opinions, Cenna?”

“I ain’t a botanist,” she chuckled. “But yeah, I’ll pass that info to my peers. Learn something new every day, huh?”

Just as they were having a calm evening with warm tea, a car flew past the ward’s window. The only clue Asgore had was a brief buzz of magic before it whizzed out of reception.

And he was sure that he’s at least eight floors off the ground. If not more.

“…What.” Cenna blinked her amber eyes a few times. “Did you just see what I see?”

Frisk replied with the straightest of faces. “A glowing blue car driven by a skeleton with a blazing orange eye, ferrying terrified passengers that consist of a fish, a lizard, and a robot?”

“I’m amazed your eyes are as sharp as mine, Frisky.”

Frisk shook their head. “Nah. Just a lucky guess.”

Defying expectations, the bizarre display did not follow up by the crunching of crashing metal. Asgore knew that Papyrus was a good driver, but he’s also apparently a competent ‘pilot’.

Asgore opened the window to take a peek. Not too much to let the winter air in, but enough to look outside.

Papyrus’ iconic red car had landed in one of the outdoor parking lots nearby. It sat snug in their proper boundaries, as if he drove it there himself.

Listen hard enough and he could hear Undyne’s screams.

She said: “Oh my god, Papyrus you’re NEVER gonna do that again! EVER!”

“BUT UNDYNE,” the young skeleton replied, “YOU WERE HAVING FUN! AND TRAFFIC CONGESTIONS ARE TERRIBLE. I FEEL YOUR FIERY DESIRE TO SUPLEX THE CAR IN FRONT OF US.”

“Not with five passengers! When did you even have enough magic to lift a freaking CAR in the first place???”

Out of the 'five', Asgore saw a face that he had not seen for years.

“…Gaster…?” he muttered.

Memories flooded back. Ones he didn’t realise that he had forgotten. It seemed like yesterday that the Royal Scientist first greeted him as a polite ten-year-old.

King Asgore remembered the days where magic prevailed ahead of science. Gaster’s parents dressed him up in the formal clothes of the old Council, though the organization no longer existed by the time the child was born.

He was the youngest of his generation. Therefore, the only one to live to modern days.

Was this the person who made a cold case hot once more? Asgore hoped not. He had watched the sheepish youngster grow into a man of unbreakable resolution, while inheriting all the graceful ways of his parents.

The day Asgore first stained his hands with the blood of a child still haunted him. As he delivered their SOUL over to the Royal Scientist, the then-King apologized for pushing the burden of research onto others.

But Gaster said:

“Your Majesty, please do not apologize. I swear an oath to never let your sacrifice be in vain. My weight is nothing compared to your pain.”

“We will break the Barrier. We will escape. We will have justice.”

“We will be free.”

Determination burned in the Seer’s eyes. Gaster was not the easiest child to raise, but no one could deny that he had a vision.

Asgore closed the window and turned towards his child. “My child, could you stay here for a moment? I need to guide your friends.”

Frisk nodded. They understand that if left to their own devices, that team might get kicked out of the hospital on grounds of being ‘too loud’.

“I’m going too,” said Cenna. “Gotta give the new faces approval before my guards start questioning.”

Toriel sat down at the bench outside, still dialing the number of her friend. Her attempts remained fruitless.

“Undyne and her friends are here,” said Asgore.

“Is Sans with them?” Toriel’s eyes lit up in hope. Hope that would soon be dashed.

“Sorry madam,” Cenna replied. “Didn’t see the blue shorty when the car flew past the window.”

“…What?” Even for monsters, the idea of a flying car deserved to be under the ‘bizarre’ category.

Asgore cleared his throat to catch some attention. “E-excuse me. I think we should go and meet them post-haste.”

Cenna sent her guards to wait inside together with Frisk. Asgore noticed that she made sure that at least one person was in the child’s sight at any time.

Such arrangements were not the case yesterday. Perhaps she had heard of the hospital break-in?

At the main lobby, Undyne and her gang were there. Plus an extra someone. The entourage of five monsters made every human in the vicinity to stop and watch.

The crowd immediately recognized Mettaton. He’s the most public face of Ebott.

“It’s Mettaton!”
“Oh my god it’s Mettaton!”
“Really? Not a lookalike? This is the real deal?”

Some of the more internet savvy folks recognized Undyne.

“It’s Undyne!”
“Ohemgeeohemgee that’s The Suplex Queen!”
“Man, she looks so damn cool in armour!”

Intimidated by the attention, Alphys more or less glued herself to Undyne’s legs. The shipping fans cheered.

“Oh she’s so cute!”
“Cute couple alert!”
“You mean The Suplex Queen already has her princess?”

Gaster tried his best to look solid in front of all the curious-eyed humans, amused by their positive reception.

“Whoa, look at that guy. Isn’t he a skeleton?”
“He’s so dapper, tuxedo and all!”
“I didn’t know the monster folks got such classic tastes.”

Papyrus happily waved at his former rulers. Then… he squinted at Cenna. The tall skeleton wasted no time to run straight up to her.

“OH MY GOD! MISS AUNT, HOW IN THE WORLD DID YOU LOSE ANOTHER HP??? AT THIS RATE YOU’RE GONNA TURN INTO A TALL GIRLY SANS!”

Cenna cringed and immediately put a finger on her lips. “Shhhh Papyrus, too many people here. Um yes, I lost another HP. Shame, right? Don’t worry, I’ll be okay in Spring.”

In typical Papyrus fashion, he shoved a flask of soup into her hands.

“NEVER FEAR!” He declared. “DRINK THE GREAT PAPYRUS’ SUPER EXTRA NOURISHING PUMPKIN CARROT SOUP AND YOU WILL REGAIN YOUR VITALITY! IT WORKED FOR MY BROTHER. WELL. HE DIDN’T GAIN A HP, BUT HE BECAME SUPER ENERGETIC!”

Toriel immediately asked, “Papyrus, where’s Sans?”

Never would the Dreemurrs expect to see a silent, downcast Papyrus before them.

“Did something happen to him?” Toriel pressed further, close to panic.

“…SANS…” the youngster answered in half of his usual volume. “HE’S ALIVE. JUST, HE HAD A VERY BAD TIME WITH UNCLE GASTER.”

Toriel gave the poor lad a warm hug of consolation.

“I’ll talk to him, alright?” she said.
“THANK YOU.”

From what Asgore could recall, Gaster had an uneasy relationship with his protege. Both were too alike, yet too different. It got worse in the later half of their lives. After Sans’ graduation, in particular.

The short one handed in a letter of resignation. Asgore understood that he wanted to quit his training and revive his father’s hotdog business.

The then-King agreed. As much as he needed a Tactician for the campaign, Asgore was… too soft to reject. To him, the happiness of his citizens mattered more than his regretful ambitions. He will take full responsibility for the charge, as it should have been from the beginning.

But…

One night later, both men changed. Sans withdrew his resignation. Gaster had wandered off the straight and narrow.

Asgore found himself helpless once more.

Will that the same happen here?

Mettaton kept the crowd busy with his celebrity skills. That allowed Undyne to slip away from view and bring Gaster before the King.

She bowed and said: “Your Majesty, I bring you the true culprit behind The Core Incident. The huge quake happened thanks to his experiment.”

Just as Asgore had feared, Gaster was the suspect.

“It was an accident,” the scientist begrudgingly muttered.

Toriel locked her infamous glare on the scientist. He immediately shrank from it. Worse still, Papyrus just told her that he had done something to hurt Sans.

The ex-Queen warned, “Do not try to dismiss anything, W. D. Gaster.” She was far from happy.

“Yes, Your Majesty.” Toriel commanded so much respect that she had turned this willful man into a good little boy.

Asgore sensed an increase in tension from Cenna. Her fists were tight, and her breathing deepened.

It had the signs of personal pain. He placed his hand on Cenna’s shoulder to calm her down.

Addressing to his citizens, Asgore said. “Let’s settle this in private, shall we? Is there a meeting room that we can borrow?”

After couple of deep breaths, Cenna placed her hand on her hat. She tried hard to not show her turmoil of emotions. “Nawh, there ain’t any spare meeting rooms for the public. But. We could use Frisky’s ward as one. We’ll just need to take the kid elsewhere for a while.”

Papyrus already volunteered himself. “I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, WILL FEED DELICIOUS SOUP TO OUR DEAR HUMAN FRIEND!”

“The same one you gave me?” Cenna asked back.

“YES!”

She grinned. “Great idea. King Asgore, shall we appoint him as leader for Team Frisky?”

Asgore noted that since their duel, the lady Magus had a certain fondness for the tall skeleton.

“Very well,” he said. “Papyrus, you’ll accompany Frisk until the meeting is over. Bring along anyone you wish.”

Papyrus immediately sparkled in both joy and enthusiasm. “WOWIE! ANOTHER SPECIAL REQUEST FROM THE KING! YES, I WILL ALSO BE THE BEST COMPANION IN THE WORLD.”

“LEAVE IT ALL TO ME, NYEH HEH HEH!”

Chapter Text

Contrary to your expectations, the soup was delicious.
Freaking. Delicious. And you didn’t even think you’d like bone marrow in the first place.

“HOW ARE YOU FEELING NOW, MY DEAR HUMAN?” asked Papyrus. He’s extremely worried for you.

You told him that you’re getting better. The doctors said you could go home tomorrow if all goes well.

“THANK GOODNESS!” he exclaimed. “I THOUGHT YOU MIGHT NOT RECOVER WITHOUT MY SPARKLING SUPPORT.”

Humans don’t work like that, but you appreciate the sentiment. You asked him where did he get the soup from.

“I MADE IT WITH MY TWO BONEY HANDS!”

You were skeptical.

Alphys then explained, “Papyrus found a super-good cooking teacher on Friday. Ever since then, he’s whipping up some real gourmet stuff!”

Mettaton whistled at that thought. “Oh yesss! You should have seen the teacher totally grilling Undyne darling. So intense, yet so classy.”

So this was the magic of Papyrus’ brand food if he had proper lessons.
Farewell ‘Badghetti’, you will never be missed!

After you finished your soup in the canteen, Papyrus, Mettaton and Alphys took you to the playroom. Sick or healthy, children will want to play. It distracted them from their illness and helped them recover.

The sole condition was that no patients with infectious diseases can enter. Since you weren’t infectious, you were given a pass.

Once you entered, you understood why. There were many patients who’re far weaker than you. Terminal illnesses and the like.

Alphys had read up about basic human diseases. She made sure everyone washed their hands before making their entry. You included. Don’t want to pass anything from the outside now.

As you had expected, your friends were an instant hit with the children.

Mettaton gave the more able bodied kids an impromptu dance class. Nothing too extreme of course. He had learned quite a bit of children’s songs during his travels, and he had a good idea of their physical limits.

“It doesn’t matter if you miss the beat, darlings~” said the glam bot. “All it matters is that you have splendid FUN! Move that sweet, sweet body! Laugh! Oh yesss~~~”

Some of the children tried to follow, but they eventually gave up. Papyrus to the rescue!

“YOU SHOULD JOIN IN THE FUN!” he said.

They stared back at him in puzzlement. You then realised what’s going on.

You explained to Papyrus that those kids were deaf, and thus they cannot hear the music or his encouraging words.

“OH? THAT’S SO VERY SAD. HOW CAN I DELIVER MY BOLSTERING SPEECH TO THOSE WITH NO EARS?”

Sign language, you answered. One of the parents demonstrated the methods to him.

“WOWIE! HUMANS KNOW HOW TO SPEAK THE CODE TOO? ACTUALLY, IT’S QUITE DIFFERENT. BUT I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, IS A FAST LEARNER!”

‘The Code’? Just what happened while you were away?

Nonetheless, Papyrus lived up to his claims. He picked up the human’s sign language as if it was his second nature. Before long, he started cheering up the group of deaf children in signs. You wonder if he’s secretly a genius or something.

Alphys was more comfortable talking to the parents. She learned more about the children’s condition, and in turn she educated the adults about monsterkind.

Her attention turned towards a small, scrawny boy with twisted limbs. “Oh dear… What’s wrong with him?”

A lady nurse explained, “Cerebral palsy. He has quite the serious case. His biological parents abandoned him soon after birth. So my husband and I ended up adopting him.”

The boy made a happy gurgle. He’s amused by Alphys’ presence, moving his arms around in an attempt to touch her scales.

She reached out her hand. He immediately tried to latch unto her. How cute.

“Ma’am, is it okay if I check the colour of his SOUL?”

“Soul?” The nurse replied.

“Yup! It’s a culmination of his being. The colour that shines represent his strongest trait.”

“Is it invasive?”

“Not at all,” Alphys replied. “I just need to draw it out with a tiny bit of magic.”

Once the nurse approved, Alphys tapped his chest. You watched in awe as an orange light floated upwards.

The boy’s SOUL was as malformed as his body, lopsided and twisted around the edges. It was quite a sad sight.

Though, the kid and his mom didn’t think so. Their faces shone in wonder as they stared at the warm glow.

“Oooh!” Alphys exclaimed. “Orange is the colour of Bravery. He’s got guts! He’s very strong inside, ma’am. That’s good news.”

The boy squealed in joy. He reached out for the SOUL and hugged it. Then the mom started to weep. Perhaps, knowing that her child wasn’t so weak brought some much-needed encouragement.

Everyone had fun. The parents and staff members clapped their hands to the music while watching the antics of the little ones.

Midway through, you felt the urge to go to the loo. You should have done that before entering the playroom. Oops.

You told Papyrus that you needed to excuse yourself.

“OKAY FRISK!” He said, “IF YOU GET LOST, CALL ME. I’LL GO PICK YOU UP!”

Doubt that you would get lost. But okay. Off you went to the nearest toilet. It was supposed to be a normal routine of doing your business and washing up.

Then…

“You think you’re the one in control?”

Your head felt dizzy. Light. You almost fell down on the cold, toilet floor.

“Now now, you don’t want to get hurt before the big fight. Right?”

Chara hijacked your body. You never imagined it was possible!

“Oh, you think I didn’t learn anything from all those RESETs? You and I share memories you know. Eventually I figured out that if you’re sick, I can control you much easier.”

“Well… I couldn’t have done this without you in the first place. I was just lying around in the flowerbed being dead. Then you fell from the sky.”

“I was so confused. Left by my own devices, I don’t have enough Determination to become a DEMON. But then, I realised… it’s destiny. Fate. You will be the vessel of my reincarnation. Or rather ‘should’ be.”

“Frisk, you were doing so, so well. We had almost gathered enough power to destroy the world. You and I. Give everyone true, eternal peace.”

You watch Chara pilot your body out of the toilet. Instead of heading back to the playroom, they went the other way.

To the elevator lobby.

“Then you just had to RESET. Hmph. The people of my village would have called you a weakling.”

Again and again you tried to regain control of your body. It worked just for a few seconds before Chara shoved you aside.

“Why? Why are you such a chicken? You’re supposed to be THE Determinator! The hero of legends, the superpower! And yet you just threw it all away for some dumb school-life drama. Are you serious?”

Right. Getting repeatedly kidnapped not exciting enough for you, Chara?

“That’s exactly the POINT!” They snapped back at you. “You got kidnapped because you’re weak! Frisk, are you an idiot? Can’t you see it? If you followed my way, you would have won. You would have stabbed all those bloody humans who tried.”

And land yourself in juvie??? You scoffed. By now you knew that Chara’s sense of planning tended to be rather shortsighted.

Chara growled at you. Good. It’s about time that you riled them up. You’re sick and tired of their twisted logic.

“We beat Sans, c’mon! Mister Smiley Trashbag? After dunno how many goddamn tries we finally, finally, FINALLY slashed him in half! Dammit, I still remember the sheer frustration just boiling over even after the fight.”

You agreed. Any satisfaction from defeating him was short lived. He’s the master of ‘bad time’, and bad it was. Unfair. Cheating. Frustrating. That was his point.

That’s why you believed him in the end.

“Hah! You’re just like all the other humans. You’re scared of ‘The End’, but still wanted to continue the ‘game’. You and your twisted sentimentality.”

“Today, we’re gonna end this drama for good. Everyone’s here. And there’s no Smiley Trashbag getting in the way.”

It took a long while, but eventually an elevator arrived.

Chara pressed the cafeteria button.

No.
No no no no no no no!

You knew exactly where they wanted to go. What they wanted to do.

You fired up your Determination, but you still couldn’t wrestle back control.

“Don’t you get it, Frisk? I share YOUR Determination: the harder you struggle, the stronger I’ll be!”

The kitchen was a busy, busy place. Adults run to and fro, preparing to serve dinner. Looks like Chara can’t just waltz right in.

“Heh. You think I’m gonna get ourselves busted now? You forget the convenience of humanity.”

Chara detoured away from the kitchen.
You find yourself standing in front of a fire alarm.

Oh no. No. Please don’t do that. It’s a terrible, terrible idea.

They smashed did it anyway.

The fire alarm went off. People started vacating the premises. Soon, the adults no longer occupied the kitchen.

That’s when they slipped inside.

“Aaah, look at that. Knife heaven. Long ones, short ones, big ones, small ones. Every shape and size to choose from. This is what I call a treasure trove.”

You watched on in horror as Chara rummaged the area for the perfect knife.

“Cleavers are nice, but we’re too young to use it right. Nah. This one is too heavy. Hmm, if only this is a little longer. Nope, bread knives are just too difficult to hide.”

You hoped that they would never find a suitable knife. Alas, that did not happen.

Chara found a paring knife. Judging from it’s glisten, a chef had just sharpened it. It’s small enough to fit into your pants pocket.

“Now, to get out of here and hide. They’ll figure out the alarm's a fake soon enough.”

“Then we can kill everyone. We know their tactics, their tricks, their every move. If you forgot, then pass the controls to me; I remember everything.”

Where else to go other than under the cafeteria tables? If anyone found you, Chara would act cute and pretend to be some lost, and frightened kid.

……………………………

Why? You asked again.
Was their life on the Surface so bad?

Chara remained silent for a while.

“No one would love me unless I’m good enough,” they said.

“I always had to be stronger than the other kid. Smarter. Faster. If I don’t become a ‘Golden Quiche’, I might as well not exist.”

“I thought that maybe if I try to throw myself into Mount Ebott, someone would notice me. The humans didn’t care. Funny enough, I ended up with the family of my dreams.”

“The monsterfolk were the first who loved me for who I am. Knowing their history disgusted me. Sealing all them for eternity just because they’re different… typical racist human logic.”

Why did Chara laugh over Dad’s buttercup incident?

“Are you an idiot? You’ve never laughed in the face of fear before? Keeps you… strong.”

So they were afraid after all. So frightened that they resorted to some twisted coping skill.

Chara paused for a moment.

“It started out as a joke. Playing on one of Mom’s dumb puns. Then, I realised… buttercups are poisonous. I had one of those big eureka moments. The surest way to kill myself! Nobody had to stain their hands. Nobody would know what happened.”

Then, what about taking Chara’s corpse into dangerous territory?

“Asriel wouldn't believe me when I told him that my village was all filled with assholes. So. I made sure he’d feel my pain. Live. Without any room for doubt.”

They made your body curl up, hugging your knees while you continued your talk under the table.

“… Except Asriel chickened out. Just like you. I felt betrayed. Maybe monsters are no different than humans after all.”

“Didn’t your aunt say we’re like, distant cousins? Your short blue skelly friend pretty much proved the point that monsters can be as brutal as humanity. How can you guarantee they won’t turn into twisted jerks like us?”

“Maybe they already are.”

“By the way. Your aunt. Or rather, your big sister: she’s dying, you know.”

You remained silent.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t notice? I knew it the moment her arm went haywire. My village had someone like that once. It started out with those jerky movements. Then, as the years went by, they turned into a ‘vegetable’. No different than a living corpse.”

“They were pretty much stuffed into an institution to die. Never gave them a proper funeral either.”

‘Vegetable’ was a term for the brain dead or those unable to respond. In a way, it was a worse state than the kid with cerebral palsy you had met earlier.

“‘Survival of the fittest’, ‘kill or be killed’, that's the paramount truth for my village. After all, we’re supposed to be some front-line defenders against a monster apocalypse.”

“Idiots. Morons. All of them.”

You asked Chara what do they want?

“I just want everything to be done and over with.”

Does that mean they wanted peace?

Chara couldn’t answer.

The both of you heard a drip to your left. It caught your attention, and thus you turned your head.

Black.

The colour of ink dripped down the table towards your left.

“What the heck was that?” Chara asked.

You had no damn idea.

The drips turned into a cascade, rolling down the table’s edge. The puddle of inky substance built upwards into the form of a slender, shapely cylinder. It reminded you of a vase.

Chara started to laugh.
Nervously.
Fearfully.

The dark liquid bent forward. Then, you saw bits of white breaking the pattern of ever-flowing black.

Hands. Skeletal hands.

When the mysterious ever-flowing creature reached down far enough, he locked a pair of shimmering eyes at you.

Right, orange.
Left, cyan.

The Eyes of another Seer stared through every fiber of your being. His piercing gaze went deeper than Sans ever bothered.

Chara’s influence evaporated in an instant. They hid behind you, cowering yet laughing at the same time.

One blink later, the mystery skeleton’s eyes returned to their default white state.

“Ah, there you are Frisk.” He said. His voice reminded you of posh gentlemen. “Your parents were very worried about you. The fire alarm went off, and here you are, too frightened to move.”

You recognized this skeleton, and thus you called him by his name.

Gaster.

“Have we met?” he asked back.

After a thought, you explained to him that you had walked through a wall once. You found him grinning to himself in an empty chamber.

“Aaah, I remember now. I was watching a fine piece of documentary at that moment. Apologies if there were… misunderstandings.”

Chara freaked out. “Oh god oh god Frisk stop you can’t trust this guy he’s an Amalgamate and they can’t be killed he’ll kill you he’ll kill you he’ll--!”

Calm. Please.
Leave all the talking business to you, okay? You’re the professional here.

“Fine! Okay! Just make him go away!”

He had to be serious business if his mere presence instilled terror inside Chara.

You asked Gaster if he’s a Seer.

“So… you know about us?” He seemed impressed. “You are quite a fellow if you had gained the trust of my protégé, Sans.”

“ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS? THIS GUY IS THAT TRASHBAG’S TEACHER??? THAT’S A THOUSAND PERCENT WORSE!”

In your mind, you told Chara to just freaking chill. You can’t work your talking magic over all that screaming.

Also, you made sure that you tucked that RESET button under your shirt. Figuratively speaking. You’re determined to have this conversation no matter what.

You asked Gaster an innocent question. Were there more special skeletons in the Underground society?

“Oh no,” Gaster replied. “Sans, Papyrus, and myself are the last of our kind. Only those descended from human bones have the potential to become a Seer. I’m sure you had seen the other skeletons of Ebott, but none of them are in the form of humans.”

No wonder. That sucks. You thought that you could make friends with more awesome-powered skeletons. Always fun to have them around.

The old skeleton chuckled with a sweet smile. See, Chara? He’s not some unreasonable creepo. Stop freaking out.

“… Mind if I join you under the table for a while?” Gaster asked. “A nice private chat before all the ruckus.”

Despite Chara’s protest, you shuffled to make space for the liquid skeleton. He sunk himself down into the puddle until he could just slide in.

Even as half a man, he was still full of class.

So he began, “You see, Frisk. I once made a terrible mistake. A costly one. The King and Queen insisted that I make amends. No more running away, no more denial, just pure honesty.”

How does this relate to you?

“I killed your parents. By accident.”

You gasped.

“If you refuse to forgive me, that’s fine. It is what I deserve. But, I must at least apologize to you. You see, long ago I had a mission: to break the Barrier and bring monsterkind to a new era of glory. Well. Instead, I caused a massive quake.”

Aunt Cenna said your parents died on the job. A quake happened and they got caught in it.

The whole ordeal happened at Mount Ebott itself. You were amazed, telling Gaster that it had come to a full circle.

“Hm?” He raised a brow at you. “I expected anger. Like your aunt.”

You didn’t know your parents. It’s hard to feel personal pain because of that.

Sure, their deaths meant you had a less-than-stellar life as an orphan. Missed out on a whole ton of childhood, and maybe it would affect you psychologically for life.

You can’t bring yourself to hate Gaster, though. The whole event was an accident, as he had said. He just wanted to help his people. You understood the dire conditions of the Underground. After all, you had experienced them in more ways than one.

They may have enough food and water, but they lived on knowing that they’re trapped for life.

Maybe forever.

It’s depressing.

So, you forgive Gaster for your parents’ death.

You astonished the old bony goop. That’s some achievement.

“… I can see how you defrosted Sans’ heart,” so he said. “In many ways, you’re much like his beloved brother. I can tell it didn’t come from mere naivete: despite knowing pain, you chose to forgive.”

Sounds just about right.

“I hope Papyrus can learn such integrity from you.”

You shook your head. Then, you explained that you had instead learned forgiveness from Papyrus.

There was a time when you were bad. Yet, he always believed you could change. Even at your worst.

He never gave up on you.

Gaster laughed in joy. His being rippled along with every ‘ha’ he uttered.

“Bless his sweet, sweet soul!” He said, “Very well then… will you forgive Sans? He had failed you in more ways than one.”

You answered without skipping a heartbeat. Of course you will forgive him. Despite his cynical lazybone self, he’s still your special friend.

… You instead wished that he could forgive himself. People like him tend to be the most self-critical.

Gaster looked sad when you mentioned that. Maybe guilty. “That is true.”

Please be nice to him, you said.

“Uh. It will take time, I suppose. I, he, we… it’s complicated. I’m not sure if I’m ready for reconciliation yet.”

Don’t wait until it’s too late, Gaster. That’s what you told him.

“My, my, my. I had never expected to be lectured by a human child. But. I will consider your advice. You are as wise as they say. A little above your age scope, don’t you think?”

People had started to return to the cafeteria. Life will resume as normal, albeit somewhat annoyed thanks to Chara’s antics.

The old skeleton offered a hand to you, just like a gentleman would do.

“It’s time to return to your ward, young one,” he said. “It’s been quite a hectic day. I’m very sure you’d want some rest. You have a long night ahead of you… ”

You accepted his offer. It surprised you that his hands were solid bones despite his form.

He slid out of the table, guiding you out of the cafeteria.

Chara then said: “If you ditch that knife, I’ll RESET. There’s no damn way I’m staying defenseless with that guy around!”

Duly noted.
Besides…

You had your own plans.

Chapter Text

Everyone had gone home without an incident. Chara didn’t dare to act with ‘Uncle Gaster’ around. It amused you because they were so confident. If they could kill Sans, they could kill anyone.

Apparently not.

Papyrus being Papyrus, he raved about how his mom and dad are back, now merged with his old family friend.

…You wished that your own parents could be revived the same way. It would be great to meet them. And it would make Aunt Cenna happy.

Nope. Never gonna happen.

It’s eleven at night. You were dead tired, pun intended.

“Yo Frisky,” said your Aunt. “Wanna have some milk to help you sleep?”

You nodded. But isn’t the cafeteria closed?

“Someone’s gotta go home at the end of their shift, y’know.” She pointed her thumb to one of her colleagues. “Their replacement team will be driving past a 24-hour convenience shop.”

Oh, it could be the same one where Sans bought you your pudding. Alright then, some milk will be great.

You watched your Aunt type her order through the phone. “Aaand there ya go. Milk coming right up! Give it like, an hour maybe?”

Wouldn’t you fall asleep by then?

Aunt Cenna winked at you with a huge grin. “No worries, I’ll keep ya up with some good ol’ pillow talk.”

That totally defeats the point of sleeping early, but okay.

Your Aunt sat down beside your bed. Interestingly enough, it was on the side where Chara hid their knife. She sat so close to you, it was difficult to reach for the hidden weapon.

“Hey,” she said. “Have you ever wondered if there’s someone else ‘out there’ who cares about you?”

Like… space? Aliens?

“Nah, not that far. Kinda. How do I put this, anon sponsorships? Secret santas? Guardians?”

You told her that you expected her to talk about a deity.

She laughed. “C’mon Frisky, tell me if you ever wondered about that.”

You gave it a thought. Then, you shrugged. It never occurred to you that there would be a generous ninja in the shadows.

Now that you thought about it, perhaps there was someone. Since you were six years old, you remembered receiving a mysterious gift every birthday. Your foster parents told you it’s an anonymous donation.

It was a little too individualized for just a random donation though. Like the striped purple-and-red shirt you’re wearing now. It fits your size just right. More or less.

Your aunt nodded. “Be honest with me with one thing, yeah Frisky? Have any of your fostermates ever got jealous and try to break your gift?”

There was one. When you were eight. It was a cute goat plush. You only enjoyed it for five days before finding it cut up.

You noticed your aunt’s hawk-like eyes twitched in anger. You sensed the all-too-familiar dark aura of someone wanting to give others a bad time.

“Those brats…!” She growled. “I oughtta give them the whoopass of a lifetime!”

Stop. That’s not worth the assault charges. You said that all with a straight face.

“…Yeah. Who cares about a goat plush? Now you got two real goat-parents. A whole family! That’s the ultimate ‘take-that’ if ya ask me.”

Both of you laughed together. You agreed: it’s hard to top the whole goatparents thing.

“You know, Frisky,” said Aunt Cenna. “Can ya believe it’s just been a week since I first strut into Ebott Town? Guns blazing like some cowboy movie. Well. Not literally, but ya get the point.”

Six days and a half to be exact. You told her that she still had about thirteen more hours before hitting the official one week mark.

But, you got the point.

“And here we are, chatting as if we knew each other for a lifetime.”

That’s kinda correct anyway. Aunt Cenna was there when you were born. And she used to babysit you. Might as well be counted as a ‘lifetime’.

Besides, you made friends with the entire Underground in less than a day. One week was slow compared to that.

Your aunt tapped you on the nose. “Sheesh! Seriously, you pumped that Charisma stat waaaay up to the sky.”

If that prevented a war between two races, it’s all worth it.

“Totally.”

Both of you enjoyed each other’s presence in silence. For a moment, anyway. Eventually, you got too curious to keep quiet.

You asked your aunt: why didn’t she proclaim herself as your sister right off the bat?

She was shocked. “Whoa hey hey hey, ain’t that jumping the gun?”

Just a lucky guess.

“By golly, ya pumped all your remaining stat points into Intuition or what?”

You responded with a cheeky grin.

Aunt Cenna took a deep breath and sighed. “Suppose it’s time I explain a bit of your background, eh?”

A bit? Okay, it might be rather late to dump an entire genealogy on your head anyway. So ‘a bit’ was fine.

“It’s because your parents were Magi,” she said.

Mind. Equals. Blown.

“Stay with me Frisky, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Your parents ain’t any random ol’ magicians either! Those two had a long, respectable history. Folks who got stuff done, folks who helped, folks who held important positions at some point or another.”

“But deeds don’t guarantee the name, if you get what I mean. People marry out. Disperse. If folks don’t keep it together, they eventually lose their proof of heritage.”

“Your parents were the only official heirs of their respective lines. So when they died… it’s just you. Me? Yeah, I’m adopted. Under legal definitions, I am the eldest of the line and thus responsible for you. But in reality, I was just a dumb teenager. Too young and immature. I ain’t Sans.”

She paused for a moment. You told her that it’s okay to take her time. It’s quite a painful recollection for her.

“Eh. I’m fine,” said ‘Aunt’ Cenna. You’ll keep that label for familiarity sake. For now.

So she continued: “I had three choices. Become a single parent and put my education on the line. Let another Magus family adopt you. Or hide you in foster care. First point goes without saying, okay? I ain’t Sans. Remember that.”

“If another Magus family adopted you, you’d have a total name change. Maybe even travel outside the country. Your adoptive family will teach you their method of magic, their way of life, and pretty much will make you theirs. You'll no longer have a chance to carry on your old folks’ name. And, I could never see you again.”

“If I hide you in the foster system, you’d be protected under the guise of a normal kid. I could keep track of your life. Official. Sanctioned. Ain’t stalking. You’d preserve your real name, and thus my status as a legal guardian. I will always be considered your ‘relative’.”

“When you hit the minimum entry age, the Magus Association will invite you to their school. Then, I could become your guardian for real. Both figuratively and literally.”

“…But you and I know life ain’t so simple, right? Everything got thrown upside down. Heh. Now, I trust your Ebott family more than anyone in the world.”

Aunt Cenna crossed her leg and tilted her head back, as if she could see through the ceiling to watch the night stars.

“Your Dad’s right. Being the loser gives you a chance to change. If I had won the duel, I’d be stuck in my ways. A dead end.”

In short, she wouldn’t have a personal relationship with any of your monster friends.

“…Can I ask ya one last question, Frisky?”

What is it?

“Do you trust me?”

You said yes. Your opinions had changed so much since her first appearance.

She’s your big sister after all.

“Thanks. Really needed that.”

Her phone chimed. She checked the message. “Oh lookie, delivery’s here. In a few minutes you’re gonna have a nice carton of fresh milk. Personal size, of course.”

Just as she said, a female colleague knocked on the door of your ward. Aunt Cenna let her in. Her name was ‘Anise’.

Goodness, what’s with Magi and seasoning names? First Caraway, then Thyme, now Anise?

You start to wonder if they were aliases of sorts. It’s impossible to have an entire institution with coincidental surnames fitting a thematic.

Aunt Cenna punched a straw into the box and handed it over to you. “There ya go. Enjoy.”

You started drinking the milk. It was very comforting.

Ahhhhhh~!

Okay. You had heard about milk being a mild relaxant, but for some reason this particular brand made you too relaxed.

You started to get very, very sleepy.

You yawned.
Your eyelids drooped.
You couldn’t think straight anymore.

By the time you finished the contents, your fingers could no longer grip the empty box.

You fell backwards onto your soft pillow. A red glow flooded your eyes, belonging to your SOUL.

“It’ll be okay, Frisky,” said Aunt Cenna. “It’ll all be okay.”

A golden bird stretched its wings, shining bright and yellow like the Sun. Sharpened feathers sliced through the essence of your being.

You didn’t lose HP. Your SOUL didn’t shatter. Instead, lines of light beamed between hair-thin gaps that you didn’t know existed.

You realised your SOUL had gained partitions.

The partitions of a Magus.

That was the last thing you thought before you fell into dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

Ten at night. Right after the end of the visiting hours.

The group was split into two. Papyrus’ car cannot fit in the two Dreemurrs. He was already at maximum load with his gang.

Gaster followed him back.

Cenna meanwhile arranged a taxi to send the Dreemurrs back. Paid in advance.

The trip itself was as silent as winter.

Gentle snow floated down on as Toriel watched the urban lights of human society pass by. Her thoughts wandered through the frigid weather of this foreign landscape, back into the past…

 

* * *

 

Four hours ago, Doctor Gaster finished his extensive testimony of The Core Incident.

The science behind it, the preparations he took, and the people involved. Everything up to the final moment.

Toriel could tell it was subtly biased against Sans. That alone already put her against Gaster, disappointed that he had implicated her dear joke buddy.

Asgore had more authority over this case, however. He was the one who endorsed the project in the first place.

“Hmm, I see. How unfortunate.” Asgore nodded, “There’s not much we can do.”

Undyne crossed her arms. “We can always banish him back to… wherever the hell he got lost in. Lifetime imprisonment.”

“No, no. That’s cruel and pointless.” Asgore replied. “Besides, his knowledge may still benefit us all.”

“Are you serious?” The Captain furrowed her brows. “We got Alphys. She knows her Determination sciences too!”

Gaster then explained, “But she's lacking in experience and confidence.”

“You--!”

‘King’ Asgore raised his hand, asking the two to quiet down. “Sorry, but I’m not quite done yet.”

Although on opposite sides, the fish and the skeleton both honoured Asgore. They quickly hushed themselves.

So he began: “Doctor Gaster. As much as I appreciate your tireless effort, I can’t let you go just yet. You must apologize to everyone affected by the tragedy.”

“Including Sans,” Toriel glared. Oh she noticed the spike of tenseness in the scientist’s bones when she mentioned that name.

“Yes, yes.” Asgore agreed. His large hand motioned over to the dark-skinned human. “This is Cenna Caraway. Our dear Magus was one of the many victims who lost their loved ones in The Core Incident. You should make amends with her first.”

Gaster bowed deep before his King. “Thank you, your Majesty. I swear will do everything I can to atone for my sins.”

Fanciful as ever. At least he’s honest about it. Toriel watched him slide towards Cenna with a lowered head.

“I apologize for causing much grief and brokenness in your life, Miss Caraway. Is there anything I could do to compensate?”

Cenna huffed. “Yeah. Right, as if ya could bring them back. Makes me wonder how you’re gonna settle this.”

“As I had sworn to the King, I will do anything and everything.”

“Even it means crawling under my boot?”

It seems that the humiliation tactics of days past still existed today. Gaster’s face contorted from the thought, battling against his immense dignity.

In the end, he dropped on his ‘knees’ and said: “Yes. I will. I won’t back down on my oath.”

Cenna threw her head back and let out a short laugh. “Oi oi, who do ya take me for? I ain’t so petty. Stand tall. I was just wondering how far you’re willing to go, is all.”

“My sincerest gratitude.” Gaster got up and dusted himself off. “The Association’s Vanquisher is truly kind.”

The next moment later, there was no more jesting from the Magus. “Heh, surprised someone knows our stuff,” she answered. “Yeah. I’m a Vanquisher. One of the folks who specialize in DEMON extermination. If they refuse to move on, we eradicate them by force.”

He nodded. “Certainly someone such as I could be of assistance in that case. As the former Royal Scientist, Determination and the SOUL are my areas of expertise.”

“Hmm… Well there's one thing. See, we got a major issue, doc. One you started. It’s only fair you help me end it too. If it’s a success, I’ll call both Sans’ and your debt a hundred percent paid.”

“How does it correlate to the tragedy?”

Cenna explained, “If my old folks didn’t die, Frisky and I wouldn’t be orphans. The little one wouldn’t attend their foster parents’ camping trip to Mount Ebott. No trip means no wandering off unsupervised and falling down that giant hole.”

“Let me make this plain and clear: the newest generation of ‘humanity’s ultimate weapon’ is none other than our beloved Frisky. Time-traveller extraordinaire. The very same human who saved the Underground from their eternal imprisonment.”

Toriel remained calm. She had already heard the tales over the phone in the conversation with Cenna’s colleague. The time had come where all the puzzle pieces fall together.

On the other hand, Asgore had gone paler than his white fur. “W-what? They… that… that explains why they told me strange things like I had ‘killed them ten times’. Such a power is too huge for their tiny hands.”

Cenna continued, “Age is only part of the problem now. Frisky’s possessed by a damn stubborn DEMON. A parasite. They’re sharing bodies, with that blasted worm leeching off Frisky’s power.”

“I’m amazed they’re still holding it together after all these time. But, if we don’t get rid of that rot sooner than later… we’ll lose Frisky for sure.”

Toriel squeezed her hands. She had an inkling of what this entailed, but she didn’t think it would be quite so turbulent. How strange, the Surface worked: they often had to resort to violence to prevent more violence.

“Do you know the DEMON’s true identity?” asked Gaster.

“…Yeah.” Cenna answered.

“That’s all the confirmation I required. Does anyone have pictures of ‘Frisky’ for reference?”

Asgore, Toriel and Undyne searched for pictures of Frisk on their phones. Those were happier and idyllic times.

“By the way Doctor Gaster, that’s a nickname.” Toriel corrected, “Their proper name is Frisk.”

“Ah, I see. Mind give me a summary of their character?”

Each member of Frisk’s close ones chipped their own testimony. They described the child’s behaviour: kind, charismatic in their own cute way, unusually responsible, and very wise beyond their age.

Gaster committed the details to memory. “Thank you. I must admit that they’re adorable. Now I could tell the difference between our dear ‘Golden Quiche’ and the decay hidden within.”

The fire alarms went off.

Cenna grumbled. “The bugger’s making their move. I’ll be damned if it’s a real fire.”

“I believe we can turn this situation to our advantage,” thus said Gaster. “Allow me to perform a live inspection. Then, we can plan our final assault.”

After his search, the scientist returned with ‘Frisky’ in tow. He remained friendly around the child and played the role of an elegant uncle.

As for Frisk themselves? Toriel saw nothing out of the ordinary. She prayed so hard that this was all a major misunderstanding.

Alas, her prayers did not come true.

The moment they left Frisk for the night, Gaster’s expression turned stern. He kept his voice low and careful.

“We do not have much time,” he said. “It’s imperative that we resolve this issue tonight. Or else, doom is upon us.”

 

* * *

 

The taxi arrived at Mount Ebott’s town square. The Dreemurrs gave their thanks and watched the transport drive away.

“Will you be fine, Toriel?” asked Asgore.

“Yes,” she replied. Although her face was anything but cheerful. “You should go prepare.”

Asgore nodded to her in silence. Then, the King left to settle his urgent business.

Toriel walked home alone to her own thoughts. It had snowed in Ebott Town as well. Her bare-furred feet pressed down on the soft powdery puffs, crunching and turning into cold slush under the weight of her body.

It dragged her down with every step. The constant trudge reflected the weight of her concerns.

The whole procedure carried a great risk.
Will it go well?
Or will it be a disaster?
No one knows the future.

How she wished that she could hug her child in her arms and never let go. It brought her back to the days in the Underground’s Ruins, when she tried to stop Frisk from leaving.

Just when she was about to reach home, she spotted a snow-covered figure sitting at the front porch.

Small.
A little pudgy.
Blue jacket.

“…Sans?” Toriel muttered.

The white light in his eyes returned upon her voice. His attention shifted to her.

“Oh,” he said. “Hey Tori. How’s it going?”

Whatever irritation she had against the missed calls vanished. Judging from the layer of fresh snow, her friend didn’t move an inch since the flakes fell.

Her maternal instincts sensed deep pain. “Are you alright, Sans?” she asked. “Did something happen?”

Sans remained as silent as a dead man.

“Nothing.” He replied at last. “It’s just another normal day.” A bold lie at its most shameless.

“What about your phone? I couldn’t contact you at all.”

“Gone. Lost. Swimming with the fishes. If it’s not down at the bottom of the ocean, the water would have killed the electronics. Same difference.”

The reply raised more questions than answers. But, Toriel knew better than to pry.

“Do you want to go inside?” she asked.

Sans replied in his faux-happy tone. “Nope. I’m good. Trash belong out here anyway.”

What would get through him?

Toriel stepped around her joke buddy and entered the house proper. Closed the door behind her. Then, she sat down on the floor.

Gave the door a couple of knocks. “Knock knock,” she said.

The first time was a no show. Toriel tried again.
Second time, nothing either. But she won’t give up just yet.

On the third time, she heard some shuffling from the other side. Snow fell down on the path. Bones thumped down on wood.

“Who’s there?” asked Sans.
“Icy,” Toriel replied.
“Icy who?”

The old lady smiled. “‘Icy’ a mirror of myself.”

“Sorry. Can’t agree with that.” Sans responded, “You’re not trash.”

At this point, she couldn’t quite agree. “I met your mentor today. Not by choice, though. Undyne arrested him, and you know how it goes.”

“Papyrus told me you had a ‘bad time’ with him. I don’t know the details. But, whatever it was, I understand how you feel. Because, if I was in your position… I would have tried to do the same.”

Again, it brought back memories of the Ruins. “I would have kept Papyrus in the dark. Confine him to a zone where I thought he’d be safe. Never let him out into the ‘dangerous world’… Just I had once done for Frisk. Love and fear, it’s quite a toxic combination sometimes, isn’t it?”

The two remained quiet. That was fine. They didn’t need to talk to understand each other. After all, they became friends without ever knowing their faces for a long, long while…

Sans mused: “‘Tibia’ honest. I’ve always wondered what if the kid chose to stay with you from the beginning. Like, would you let me in?”

Toriel chuckled. Ah, the good old what ifs. “Maybe. I’ve always wanted to see you in person.”

“Aww shucks, you trust me that much? Not afraid that I’m gonna do my job and report to Asgore and the Royal Guard?”

“If you were a spy, you wouldn’t have promised to protect the human,” so she said. “It takes a certain integrity to love bad jokes.”

“…Heh.”

Sans then asked a question she never hoped to hear.

“Tori, how’s the kid doing?”

How could she explain? Her poor friend had gone through so much in one day. Now, she had to deliver worse news.

Should she lie to protect him? No. If she tried, Sans would have noticed. His sense of discernment was almost frightening.

“…Frisk is in critical condition,” Toriel answered. “Their illness is far worse than we anticipated. We won’t know if they will survive the next few hours. There’s nothing we can do but pray.”

The old goat heard a sigh.

“Guess it’s back to square one, huh?” said Sans. “In the end… we can’t do anything.”

Helplessness.

In the Underground, their people had resigned to eternal confinement for aeons. The people had learned to accept that they could do nothing.

With imagination, they made replacements. Gem caves served as false stars. Artificial lighting gave the illusion of sunlight. People decorated their homes. Those in Snowdin went as far as to paint rocks into the fabled trees.

And yet, they still had the nagging feeling of being unable to change their fate.

The replacements weren’t so bad. They provided distractions. Something Sans needed right now.

Again, Toriel knocked on the door. “Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?” Sans answered.

“Needle.”
“Needle who?”
“Needle little money for the movies.”

The skeleton snorted, even though he had no nose. “God, that one never grows old eh? Hey, I found a really nice one from the human internet. Wanna give that a try?”

“Sure,” Toriel chuckled.

“Okay.” Sans knocked twice. “Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?” she answered.
“Banana.”
“Banana who?”

Instead of dropping a punchline, he knocked again. “Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”
“Banana.”
Toriel started to get a little confused. “Banana… who?”

“Knock knock.”

She had heard so much that Sans was a ‘trollmaster’, but this started to stretch a bit too far. “Who’s there?”

“Orange.” This time, the statement changed
“Orange who?” Toriel answered.
And now he set off the joke like a row of dominoes: “Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?”

The two burst out laughing. They couldn’t help it. An entire minute passed before Toriel caught her breath.

“That was the longest knock knock joke I’ve ever heard!” She exclaimed.

“I know right?” Sans replied. “I tried this on Papyrus. He outright screamed at the end. He was so loud, the birds flew off in all directions. Priceless.”

The two carried on making more knock knock jokes, back and forth with laughs abound. If they can’t do anything about their current situation, might as well make it all a little less heavy.

That’s the monster way of life.

Chapter Text

The brawns of Team Papyrus hauled the dusty machinery out of their storage chamber. It was an object they never thought they’d use in such a short time, if ever again.

The DT-Extraction Machine.

After plenty of careful instructions from Alphys, Undyne and Mettaton placed the huge skull-like structure on the ground.

“Phew.” She wiped the sweat off her forehead. “It’s not that heavy, but man I had to be so cautious with it.”

Armed with a duster, Papyrus immediately started cleaning the long-neglected machine. “I GUESS IT MAKES SENSE THAT UNCLE GASTER CREATED THIS. SKULL MOTIFS AND ALL.”

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Doctor Gaster smiled.

“MORE LIKE ‘CREEPY-COOL’. WHICH IS JUST AS AWESOME!”

Alphys’ Surface work concentrated on robotics. It was a line that required quite a bit of electrical inputs, so there were no shortage of power sources for the Extraction Machine.

She unplugged all irrelevant equipment. Then, she tried to lift a monitor. But her small size and clumsy gait made the simple task more difficult than usual.

Undyne walked over and picked it up with one hand. Then she carried away a few other extras, not without granting Alphys a wink.

The lizard started to turn red from love.

Gaster raised a brow at the short exchange of romance, which made Alphys blush harder.

He had the expression of an elder commenting on the lines of ‘Ah, young love.’ However, he did not express his thoughts. All focus was poured into making preparations; there was much to draft and more to calculate.

“We’re so fortunate that the convenience store stocked olive oil and salt,” he said, “Not to mention that they’re quite refined. Lack of impurities will make the ritual so much more effective.”

Alphys shuffled over to Doctor Gaster’s side, filled with curiosity. She loved to learn and her idol had troves of hidden informations. “Why do we need them in the first place?”

“The Magi’s Exorcism techniques descended in part from the Seer’s Arcanagram Circuitry. My ancestors noted that by combining substances under a clause transmutes the raw magic power into unique effects.”

‘Arcanagram Circuitry’. Alphys had once read about them in her school library. If she recalled right, they were the earliest magic-based computers. They take the form of ‘Grams’: stars with lines crossing over each other at specific points.

The more complex the calculations, the more points they required. Whole systems could be built by combining separate grams into a single entity.

“Like ‘Bones’ with ‘Magic’?” she asked.

“Yes. The most basic combination contained a single catalyst and heavily relies on the Seer’s colours for their final effect.”

That explained how Papyrus’ pentagram could rebuild Gaster’s scattered body. It didn’t matter if the young skeleton had no inclination for math. All he needed to do was follow instructions: if the formula was correct, the numbers will align.

“The more catalyst you add, the less important the source will be. The final formula depends on its intended purpose.”

“Example: summoning a demon requires a source of ‘Life’ and a source of ‘Corruption’. Essentially, a corrupted lifeform. That’s why the most common combination was ‘Blood’ and ‘Mercury’. Mercury is a very toxic substance, it corrupts an otherwise fine vessel of life.”

“How toxic is ‘very’, you ask? Enough to be illegal on the Surface without a proper licence. As such, many substituted mercury with other toxins. Raw snake venom or wolfsbane extract, or even cyanide.”

“Salt and vegetable oil are both classified as ‘Purification’ substances. They’re common preservatives in human history, thus perfect to counter decay. The humans had some very complex combinations out there to compensate for their lack of magical variety. I’ve read one alchemical experiment that dealt with button mushrooms, cinnamon sticks, sage leaves, black peppercorn, and water from a calcite spring. It was for the purpose of land restoration, if I recall correctly.”

“Our Magus friend gave me the necessary instructions for some powerful binds.” he continued, “Simple, yet effective. We’re fortunate that we live in times of great material refinement. Pure sodium chloride was hard to come by in the olden days.”

Alphys was amazed. This man knew so much. How and when did he study all these?

Then, she had a thought. A question. It was a glaring spot that continued to nag on her, refusing to budge until it was satisfied.

“Doctor Gaster?” asked Alphys.

“Hm?” He flipped the paper for a fresh page to work on.

“C-can I a-ask you a s-somewhat personal question…?”

Gaster replied, “As long it doesn’t involve romance, I think I’d be willing to divulge. Not because I’ve anything to hide. I just have no inclination to that topic.”

That old skeleton was career-minded to the very end. Though her question was not of such nature in the first place. “You said you were scattered across time and space, right? Were you beyond the standard limitations?”

The skeleton nodded. “Correct. The boundaries of physicality became meaningless.”

“D-does that mean you… you could cross the Barrier?”

He halted his calculations. Alphys wondered if she had broken a taboo. Instead of getting a heated grilling, though, her senior just sighed.

“I suppose it’s rather obvious to a fellow peer,” said Gaster. “Yes. The Barrier no longer applied to me. In a sense, I gained omnipresence. Travel wherever I wanted. Study to my heart’s content. A true ghost, you could say.”

The young lizard knew he won’t be happy with her next line of questioning. “Then, why didn’t you come back with the final SOUL and break the Barrier?”

Gaster’s expression turned grim. The writing stopped.

The lizard decided to can the subject. “I-it’s okay. Please forget about my question.”

“Doctor Alphys,” he said, “I’m not angry with you. It’s just, I had to recompose myself for a moment.”

She noticed his fingers tightened their grip on his pen. Consciously or otherwise, he tapped its point at an unused corner on the paper. Each strike was fuelled with silent conflict.

“I… wanted to say that it was due to my lack of tangibility. Unable to influence the world around me. Being removed from reality had their complications after all.”

“But,” Gaster paused. “That would be a lie. In time, I might have found a way. Subtle influence. Suggestions. Mental manipulations. Many, many methods. The possibilities were endless.”

“Yet, I did nothing.”

Alphys stared back, shocked.

“You see, there’s a thin line between a fort and a prison. They’re both confined spaces, yet one is considered a form of protection over the other.”

“While we had our quiet lives for aeons in our own little world, human history continued to fluctuate with dynamic changes. One area would have peace, the other fell into conflict. Nations rebranded. Economies and technology shifting in years instead of decades.”

“Sans was right.” Gaster finished the final stroke of his pen. “We were not prepared to emerge in every possible sense. Not without a proper mediator. Another reason why that child is our ‘Golden Quiche’.”

Frisk.

The peace and privileges monsterkind enjoyed today became reality, all due to their efforts. It was too easy to take that for granted.

Alphys nodded with fire in her spirit. “That’s why we must help Frisk now! They had done so much for us.”

“Agreed,” said the senior.

“…I just wish we could've asked first.”

At that moment, someone rang the doorbell. Alphys answered it. Lo and behold, she stood right before ‘King Dreamy’ in his regal suit of armour.

More mental swooning. “O-oh! Your Majesty!”

“Howdy, Doctor Alphys,” Asgore smiled back. He still kept his sweet manners despite the weight of the situation. “How are preparations coming along?”

“Good! We just need to clear out the extra equipment and mount the DT-Extraction Machine to the wall sockets. Then we’ll need to position the steel table underneath it.”

Alphys guided the King to her lab. Half of the extra equipment was plunked down at any available space outside the lab. For now, the anime-themed living room looked more like a storage shed.

“This is a lot of moving on a short notice,” the king commented.

“That’s okay,” Alphys replied. “We have some strong muscle helping us out.”

“Please allow me to assist.”

“W-what?” she exclaimed. “W-we can’t have you do that. You’re the King!”

Asgore shook his head. “I’m only acting as King. Besides, Frisk is my child. Allowing a father to do a little lifting is not too much to ask for, I hope?”

Oh, how could she decline such big-hearted humility? It was why King Dreamy won her heart in the first place. “T-thank you. Um, let’s see what the other guys have done first.”

Alphys took a few steps forward before asking another question. “How are the flowers doing?”

All those flowers from the True Lab had to go somewhere. As much as Alphys liked them, working with machinery demanded a plant-free environment. Those notoriously sticky seeds would cause trouble if they got into the inner workings.

Asgore replied, “They’re growing well along with the others.”

“I’m glad they’ve found a new home with you. Those poor things were stuck in my lab for so long, I’m surprised they survived.”

Any plant in the King’s care will flourish: much like their kingdom. Times may be hard, but no one went hungry.

Alphys led the King Asgore in the room. Undyne and Gaster stopped whatever they were doing and bowed their heads upon his entry.

She noticed those two were the only ones who greeted the old way. Everyone knew Asgore was their King, but few had interacted with him at an official level.

More people talked to him as a friendly school gardener than as a monarch. As such, bowing was not part of their immediate etiquette.

“Alright, let's do this people. The fate of our dear child, friend and ambassador depends on this!”

After all the extra stuff was moved away, it’s time for the initial setup. First, connecting the hulk called the DT-Extraction Machine to its power source. Asgore and Undyne did the heavy lifting, while Alphys and Mettaton connected the necessary cables to the correct spot.

Papyrus helped his uncle to move the steel worktable with a bit of his gravity-defying magic. Alphys cautioned against using that on sensitive equipment, but a simple table would be fine.

Thanks to Asgore’s strength, the process went smoother than expected. Everyone thanked him for his efforts.

“It’s nothing,” he smiled back. “You all did a great job too.”

Alphys noticed another missing detail. “Doctor Gaster, where are we going to contain all the Determination?”

The elder scientist pointed to the corner where they dumped their shopping items. “We’ll infuse them into the twelve bottles of olive oil over there. We’re going to subdue the demon with the very same power they held hostage.”

“Won’t the bottles explode?” Undyne asked.

“No, no. They won’t. The Determination will be split and diluted between the dozen. But, since they are precious reagents I suppose it’s best to take extra precaution.” Gaster beckoned Papyrus, “Come here, my boy. Your double ‘Integrity’ is vital here.”

Papyrus placed the duster on the table and walked over. “HOW, UNCLE GASTER?”

“Have you heard of this technique called ‘Psychia Reinforcement’?”
“NOPE!”
“Well then, let me teach you.”

Doctor Gaster must have learned tons of new magic from observing the Magi. They couldn’t keep him out, or even realise that he was observing their arts.

Alphys wanted to drop everything and join the impromptu lessons. Alas, she couldn’t. She still had to tune the software and its output. Perhaps she could ask more about the new magic later.

“WOWIE! I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS EVEN POSSIBLE!”

Papyrus’ exclamations caught her attention. He’s holding a bottle of oil with ultramarine lines zig-zagged across. After a while, those seeped into the structure and lost their light.

“Reinforcing non-living objects is quite straightforward,” Gaster explained. “All you needed to do was to fill in the molecular weaknesses. On the other hand, reinforcing living beings requires specialized knowledge due to cellular regeneration and interference from the SOUL. Oh, please repeat this for the other eleven bottles.”

The young skeleton got straight to work and enchanted the rest of the oil they had brought.

Someone then repeatedly pressed the doorbell button. That must be Cenna.

“I’ll answer,” Gaster said. “Just concentrate on the tuning, Doctor Alphys.”

Alphys started to sweat some more. Being important to Doctor Gaster was both a huge honour and a huge responsibility. Her stomach started to knot from anxiety.

Can she really pull this off?

Will she cause a mistake and things to go haywire?

She had checked and double checked, but what if it went wrong where everyone would least expect it?

Alphys took a deep breath and patted her cheeks. “Calm down. You can do this…”

The Magus rushed in with a sleeping Frisk in their arms. Gaster followed right behind. The human woman also clutched a rolled up canvas scroll in her left hand, secured in place with a red silk ribbon.

“Ah snap, did I make it in time?” asked Cenna, “There’s still the Gram to set up.”

“We’re still preparing, so you’re fine,” replied Alphys. “Just put Frisk on the table for now.”

She watched the ultra-cool woman lay down her dear sedated friend.

Then, Cenna started searching the sleeping child’s body. She found a pairing knife in the pants pocket.

A weapon. Alphys gasped.

The Magus reached under her coat and pulled out a vial of golden mystery liquid. Emptying its contents revealed a sickly dark-red web that wrapped around the knife.

“Tsk. Just as I thought, it’s already EQUIPPED,” said Cenna. “I can’t throw this cursed weapon away without waking the DEMON. Anyone who guards this knife must stay close to Frisky until the extraction’s done.”

Mettaton scooted over. “I believe I’m the perfect person for the task, darling. My other form is the ultimate strongbox.”

“Great! Protect it with your life, yeah?” Cenna handed the knife over to the robot.

After flipping a mental switch, Mettaton puffed back into his simpler rectangular body. The knife was hidden somewhere inside, with its exact location known only to himself.

“Are you ready, Miss Cenna?” Gaster asked.

She answered: “More ready than ever, doc.”

The Magus untied the ribbon and opened the scroll, revealing a complex multi-layered Arcanagram. In other words she brought the mother computer of the procedure.

She positioned herself at the center point of the lab and faced the person she must save.

Gaster again called Papyrus to be his assistant. The youngster opened the bags of salt, while the elder drew a dodecagram in pure white grains.

Twelve points. One for every hour. The point of origin ran straight under the table.

At the centre of the clock stood Cenna, as if she served as the anchor of its invisible hands.

At last, Alphys finished her fine tuning. “Okay, it’s ready to go!”

The twelve bottles of oil were arranged in a canister. Alphys closed the lid, secured it, and then booted the DT-Extraction Machine.

Frisk’s brilliant Red SOUL floated to the maws of the skeletal mechanism. Its jaws snapped wide open to feast upon its meal. The machine began to consume the SOUL’s glow, sucking streams of red to fill their canister of reagents.

Alphys noticed that the red heart had segments running through it. “Huh? Why is their SOUL cut to pieces? I don’t think that’s part of the extraction procedure.”

The Magus clarified her concerns. “Don’t worry about that, Alphys. I did the partition work. Now Frisky’s a Magus like me. Lucky for us, their SOUL matured faster than their body. The partitions will heal themselves too soon otherwise.”

As proof of her words, Cenna brought out her Yellow SOUL. Hers had much clearer ridges compared to Frisk’s.

“It’s a defense mechanism,” she explained. “If any part of us got compromised, we could break that section off and blow it apart. It’ll grow back whole as long one piece remains. That’s the key to my plan.”

Moments of tensed silence passed as the machine continued to do its job. On a normal child, this procedure would take a minute at most…

But Frisk’s supply was akin to a reservoir. Five minutes passed and the machine was still not done.

This was the calm before the storm. Cenna took the opportunity for some final words. “Hey, quick a reminder. Exorcism is nasty business. There’s gonna be a ton of hateful screaming and maybe some other freaky accusations.”

“If any one of you get uncomfortable, feel free to leave. It’s for the best too. May never know if this bugger feeds on negativity.”

Despite the warnings, Frisk’s friends insisted on staying. Each of them had their own personal reasons.

For Alphys, it’s because she’s the one who knew how to operate the machine. Therefore it was her responsibility.

On the turn of the hour, the machine stopped it’s consumption.

Alphys checked the readings on her console. “I’ve confirmed that Frisk now has the same level of Determination as a normal human child. They’re no longer a superpower. …For the time being, anyway.”

With this Frisk’s time-travelling powers had become defunct, and thereby Chara also lost their power to RESET. Frisk will be able to refill their Determination reservoir, but doing so requires conscious effort; it’s not something that could be done in the duration of the ritual itself.

“Thanks,” Cenna nodded. She placed the scroll on the ground and stomped her right foot onto it. Power flowed from her body to the Arcanagram. From there, it spread across the salty circuitry.

The saline crystals shimmered in the golden aura of a Vanquisher.

“I’m primed,” she said. “Unlock the canister and let’s get this show on the road.”

Closer and closer they’re arriving at the big moment. Alphys couldn’t stop sweating from anxiety.

Still, she had a job to do.

Alphys unlocked the lid and lifted it up. Bottles of imbued oil floated out from the canister, pulled out by the pre-programmed magic of the Grams.

Each bottle came to rest on a point of the star. One had to go underneath the table itself. The blue lines that once reinforced it vanished, its magic overridden by the preset commands.

The glass was now brittle once more. It’s astonishing that they could still contain vast amounts of Determination.

Cenna held onto her hat. “Okay guys. Get behind me now.”

“Me too?” Mettaton asked.

“Yup. Otherwise you’re gonna get caught in the blast.”

The robot and his lizard friend hurried to the backlines with everyone else. Alphys looked at the Magus’ back. It reminded her of the intensely cool scenes in anime.

The pieces of Cenna’s SOUL parted from each other, rearranging into the main body of a bird. Its golden wings of light spread to their its fullest span.

Twelve feathers soon emerged overhead, each ready to pierce an hour on the face of time.

“Activate!”

Upon her command, they shattered the bottles of diluted Determination. Energy spilled forth and surged through the reagents. In moments these were no longer the common grocery store items they had bought off the shelves.

The mixture of glass, oil and salt transformed into chains of solid magic. An almost endless stream of bindings flew towards the possessed, entwining both body and SOUL in the blink of an eye. The ends anchored themselves into any hard surface they could, burrowing themselves into the walls, the ceilings, and the floor.

That entire section of the room got chained together with the target.

The DEMON was rudely awakened from their forced sleep. They had Frisk’s clothes, but their face was not theirs. A mirage with rosy cheeks and blood red eyes replaced that eternally stoic visage.

“W-what’s this? Chains?!” They struggled and writhed under the unyielding bonds, screaming in an ethereal, twisted voice. “What have you done?! Why can’t I RESET???”

Chara recognized Cenna.“You… YOU!!! I knew it! YOU’RE A DAMN FILTHY WITCH! I should have killed you the moment I saw your fucking face!”

A demon accusing another as a witch, how ironic.

“Eh, but you didn’t,” the Magus replied. “Or rather… you can’t. Frisky’s holding on strong, yeah? You’re powerless to do anything unless they surrendered to you. After all, you’re just running on borrowed ‘time’.”

Despite the twistedness, their dear father still recognized them. “…Chara?” Asgore muttered. He never thought he’d see that face again.

Alphys covered her mouth. Their target was none other than the first Fallen Human, the King’s adoptive child… And they had become a threat to existence itself.

Doctor Gaster confirmed the terrible news. “Unfortunately, it is indeed Chara. They had become corrupted after their tragic death. Apologies, Your Majesty. This must be difficult to watch.”

When Chara realised that they had just screamed threats in front of their adoptive father, they clammed up. They had just shown everyone their worst.

The child put on a pitiful face. “Dad,” they whimpered, “Dad, please save me! I didn’t do anything wrong. I-I just used some swearwords. I’m not going to hurt anyone, please.”

Asgore stared down on the ground, silent.

“Dad…? Dad, why won’t you look at me?”

“…Chara,” so said the father. “Please don’t struggle. Think of it as a dentist visit. The more you fight, the more you’ll hurt yourself.”

The King will not budge.

With one option down, the child moved on to the next softest person: “Papyrus? Are you going to abandon me now? That’s not you at all! C’mon, you’re The Great Papyrus! You always believed in me!”

The skeleton wanted to reach out to the kid, but Undyne held him back.

She shook her head and said: “That’s not Frisk, Paps. Remember what Doctor Gaster told us. They’re gonna try pull at your heartstrings before stabbing you in the back.”

“BUT…” Papyrus frowned.

“Who do you trust more? Me, or them?”

The skeleton struggled to make a decision. After a whole lot of thinking, Papyrus stepped away.

He chose Undyne over Chara.

The strongest fish glared at the DEMON. “Don’t even bother pleading to me, demon. I don’t know you. Just get outta my bestie and scram.”

“Alphys? Mettaton? Not you guys too!”

Mettaton crossed his arms and huffed. “Darling Undyne is right. None of us know you. All you’ve been doing is riding on Frisk’s coattails of success. That’s plagiarism and I can’t condone that!”

Alphys just looked away.

Frustration twisted the child’s face. Their facade had started to crack.

“You rather believe that goopy mad scientist and a witch over me…? You… YOU MONSTERS ARE NO DIFFERENT FROM THOSE HUMANS!”

Cenna’s magic intensified. “Playtime’s over, kiddo. It’s time for eternal sleep.”

Yellow, the colour of Justice. It exposes secrets, no matter how deep or subtle they are. Nothing can hide under its light.

Another golden feather went straight into Frisk’s SOUL. It seeped into the red substance and forced the globs of black out of hiding. The darkness coursed throughout its host, ebbing in and out against the brilliance of the living.

Cenna reached out her hand, channeling her power to pull all of Chara to a single fragment.

They knew. They understood. The demon screamed out of rage and pain, threatening all sorts of violent deeds as they continued to struggle.

But no matter how hard they tried, the chains stayed strong.

Chara’s illusionary face started to melt. Alphys shut her eyes. When that wasn’t enough, she closed her ears in an attempt to block out the hatred.

This scene reminded her of a show in which the protagonist was forced to watch innocent victims getting beaten to death. It was so horrible, she deleted the episode and put that title on her blacklist.

Undyne knelt by Alphys’ side and wrapped her strong scaly arms around her. “Hey, you wanna step outside?”

A part of her wanted to cower. To flee. To hide and pretend this night never existed.

…In the end, the lizard shook her head. Her resolve refused to quit. Unlike in a video, a friend’s life is on the line.

“No,” Alphys replied. “I must stay. I’m the… I’m the one in charge of the DT-Extraction Machine.”

From the corner of her eye, she noticed bones rattling in place. “Papyrus?” she asked.

The young skeleton trembled from top to bottom, clutching the right side of his skull. His orange Eye burned wild without control, like raw fuel fed the flames.

Doctor Gaster noticed the adverse reaction and hurried over to ask: “Papyrus, my boy, are you alright?”

“IT HURTS,” the younger replied. “I FEEL SICK. I DON’T EVEN HAVE GUTS BUT I FEEL SO SICK.”

“What did you see?” Gaster asked.

“NOTHING.”

“Then what's the problem?”

“NO! I MEAN I LITERALLY SAW NOTHINGNESS!”

As beings of emotion, negative hostility weakened monsters. It was their universal poison, and some of were more sensitive than others.

Papyrus had never faced such distilled hatred before. To add unto that, he was at the epicenter of a massive meltdown just mere hours ago.

He may be strong, but even ‘The Great Papyrus’ could only take so much psychical stress. This entire day was just too much on his sweet, innocent self.

King Asgore offered to help. His huge, gentle hands guided the young man out of the room, far away from the site of conflict.

Doctor Gaster meanwhile fiddled with his skeletal fingers in deep worry. The senior scientist muttered something under his breath, but Alphys couldn’t hear it above the demonic screams.

When the monarch returned, however, he stopped. Whatever it was, he wanted no one else to know, and least of all Asgore.

“That’s every last bit of you in there, kid!” said the Magus. Her statement caught everyone’s focus.

All the darkness now concentrated on the pointed bottom section of the SOUL, more magical chains forced that piece apart from the rest, dragging it away from the other cleansed pieces.

Then… the finale.

The Vanquisher’s sharpened armaments besieged the corrupted fragment from all sides, primed and ready for the sendoff. Each bit that pierced through exploded from the inside, causing crack after crack to burst from pressure.

No escape.

Alphys wondered if Chara could feel pain from each blast. If yes, it was a cruel and unusual way to die. One glance at Asgore and she knew that he had long stopped watching.

No one wanted this. Yet, the vanquishing must be done to protect their saviour.

The DEMON refused to stay quiet.

“I’ll kill you!” they screamed. “I will come back to kill you and you and YOU AND YOU AND YOU AND ALL OF YOU TRAITORS! I am the DEMON of Hyperdeath! THE BE ALL AND END ALL! ”

Cenna sighed. “It’s always everyone’s fault, huh? That’s the difference between Frisky and you. They’re all grown up, while you’re still a brat. Forever thinking the world owes you a favour.”

The final feather took the form of a sword, the human’s symbol of capital punishment.

“Goodbye.”

It sliced through the cracked remnants of the DEMON-possessed SOUL, shattering it into fine sand. It rained down in the still-aired room and slowly vanished into nothingness.

A pin-drop silence hung over them.

It seemed to last for eternity.

Vanquisher Cenna Caraway’s SOUL returned to its default shape, receding back into her chest. She then dropped on her knees: exhausted and out of breath.

Without their power source, the magical chains disintegrated into warm salt with some glass mixed inside. The oil had long been burned up together with the Determination.

Just as the expert had claimed, Frisk’s missing fragment of their SOUL began to grow back.

“Man,” said Cenna. “I’m so done for the night. Seriously. Like, give me a flat surface and I’m off to lalaland.”

Asgore whispered, “It’s over…?”

“It better be,” the Magus sighed. “That’s the toughest DEMON in my entire career! It ain’t surprising ‘cause they had leeched off Frisky for so long. I reckon it’s years and years worth of time-travelling right there.”

Uncertainty transitioned into relief. Monsterkind celebrated their new victory, although it was subdued with the knowledge that it was not a peaceful death.

Mettaton and Undyne were the first to check up on Frisk, followed by Asgore. Alphys needed to make sure that she properly powered down the machine before joining the team.

She noticed that Gaster existed the lab post-haste, no doubt to check up on Papyrus.

There was a clear frown on his face.

Undyne lightly patted the kid’s soft and slightly moist cheeks. “Yo kid! Punk! Wakey wakey! Are ya feeling alright?”

Frisk shuffled a bit on the cold, hard table. They rubbed their throat and uttered a hoarse reply: “Sore. Everywhere.”

“It doesn’t surprise me, my shining star,” Mettaton replied. “Your other you won’t shut up. But they’re gone now, at long last!”

Asgore helped Cenna up from the floor and towards the table. The father smiled down upon his child.

“Yo Frisky,” said the lady. “Sorry for all the trouble. Hope you could still trust me after whisking you away like that.”

Frisk’s borderline-kidnapping was about as grey as it could get. Alphys realised that it was a necessity though: their key to success was to catch Chara off guard. It wouldn’t work if they had asked Frisk for permission.

Would they get angry? Maybe miffed? Throw a tantrum of mistrust?

However, the sweet child paid no mind. They gave a thumbs-up, while grinning ear to ear.

Alphys and Cenna both sighed in relief. Frisk was a smart kid; they had figured out the plan long before Chara even noticed.

Happy beyond words, the ‘aunt’ rubbed the kid’s head. Goodbye neat hair, please make way for familial affection.

The lizard lady shared the joy. She chuckled at the sight, glad that the storm had finally passed.

At long last, all’s well in the world.

Chapter Text

All attempts of calling Sans on quick-dial ended in a service error message.

Then, Papyrus remembered that he couldn’t find a phone anywhere on Sans’ jacket. He checked the pockets before laundering them.

It’s possible that it was lost at the bottom of the ocean.

Papyrus tried to scroll down his contact list for Grillby’s bar. Usually he’d use it to order takeout. This time, he’s searching for his brother.

His hand wouldn’t stop shaking. His Eye wouldn’t stop burning. It’s hard to read with the mixture of glare and movement, let alone to swap to the correct spot.

His first tangent was to look for the nearest flat surface in the living room. If there was one in the first place. As much as he’d like to use the couch or coffee table, there were just too many fragile objects piling on top of each other and getting in the way.

The only sure, secure empty spot was the floor itself, so Papyrus sat down and placed his phone on the ground.

How he wished that he had a fleshy thigh now. They look like a nice place to rest phones on. But then again, his legs would be shaking along with the rest of his being.

After a whole lot of bone-rattling struggles, he finally managed to dial Grillby’s.

Papyrus lied down and pressed the side of his skull on top of the phone.

“…Hello…?”

“G-GRILLBY?” said Papyrus, “C-CAN YOU PASS THE PHONE TO SANS? I. REALLY. REALLY NEED TO TALK TO HIM.”

Did Sans know anything about this ‘nothingness’?
Was that the reason why he gave up on living?

His brother was the brightest genius of the Underground. He had to know something.

Anything.

“…Sans is not here…”

The skeleton’s jaw went slack. A Grillby’s without Sans?

“…I’ve not seen him since this morning…”

Papyrus whimpered. “WHERE DID HE GO? IS HE SAFE? IS HE ALIVE? I-I’M SO SCARED FOR HIM AND EVERYONE AND--”

His words ended with a long, loud whine.

“…Are you still at Alphys’ lab…?” Grillby asked. The man of fire understood the youngster’s fears.

“Y-YES…”

“…I’ll be right there… Then we’ll look for Sans…”

“THANK YOU.”

The call ended there. Knowing that Grillby will come over brought some sense of relief.

He rolled over and let himself collapse.

Soon, all will be well in the world.

Except…

The DEMON refused to stay quiet.

“I’ll kill you!” they screamed. “I will come back to kill you and you and YOU AND YOU AND YOU AND ALL OF YOU TRAITORS! I am the DEMON of Hyperdeath! THE BE ALL AND END ALL! ”

The screams had yet to end. Papyrus did his best to ignore them. Muffle the sounds. Shift farther away from the entrance to the lab. Pretend it doesn’t exist.

It went on, and on, and on…

Then, it stopped. The sudden silence was deafening.

Uncle Gaster emerged from the lab.

“Papyrus?”

“WHY DID IT GO QUIET?” asked the young one.

“The ritual’s completed,” Gaster answered. “Frisk is safe. Worry not about them, my concern is now on you.”

The elder slid to Papyrus’ side and lowered himself closer to the ground.

“You said you saw ‘Nothingness’. Does this phrase fit the description? ‘Dark, darker yet darker. The shadows cutting deeper’.”

Papyrus nodded. “YES. IT’S JUST. NOTHING. COMPLETELY NOTHING. IT’S WORSE THAN BEING BLIND! W-WHAT WAS THAT…?”

“It’s what I call ‘The End’,” he answered.

“I DON’T UNDERSTAND.”

“The death of existence, Papyrus. It’s the point where all timelines cease to exist.”

“WHY? HOW?” Question after question swam around Papyrus’ poor overworked noggin.

Gaster replied, “I’m afraid I can’t provide an answer. No one knows what causes ‘The End’. Not me. Not even your brother.”

“But fret not. It’s nothing more than just a possibility. Your human friend had proven themselves to be quite responsible. I reckon that as long as they’re not careless with their powers, the worst will not come true.”

“This is what it means to be a Chronograph, my boy. Time and time again, you will see visions of what may or may not come to pass.”

Papyrus realised that Sans had tried to protect him from this fate.

Gaster placed both hands on Papyrus’ cheekbones. The parents residing within wished to hold their son to comfort him. His will aligned with theirs.

“I understand it can be frightening,” he said. “But it’s not all bleak. You will need training as not to be swayed by despair. With courage, kindness and integrity, you can see the path of hopes and dreams.”

“Papyrus. Never lose yourself to mere possibilities. The future is not set in stone. Remember this. Always.”

“OKAY…”

What else could he say? If it was just a passing vision, then there was nothing to worry about.

“Now, take slow breaths. Still your mind. Calm your magic, and the Eye will follow suit.”

Gaster waved over the burning right socket.

As he did so, Papyrus saw a strange substance that doesn’t belong on a skeleton.

“UNCLE GASTER, DID YOU DIP YOUR HANDS IN KETCHUP?”

The old man jerked his arms back. Papyrus could see them clearer now. Both hands were coated in an unfamiliar red liquid.

Offering his hands before the young man, Gaster asked in fear:

“Papyrus, what do you see now?”

“SOME WEIRD RED LIQUID. IT’S REDDER AND DARKER COMPARED TO THE KETCHUP SANS DRINKS. REMINDS ME OF PAINT.”

Then they heard Alphys scream Mettaton’s name.

Gaster bolted straight towards the lab. He didn’t even wait to materialize back to his full height. “Everyone, get out of there!” he yelled.

Then there was another scream. Glass shattered. A struggle followed after, which ended with a loud thud.

Papyrus wanted to get up and run. Wanted. Except his knees refused.

He heard Undyne summoning her spears. “Asgore, take Alphys and --”

…The words were interrupted by a sickening squelch and a howl of pain.

Lots and lots of pain.

He couldn’t believe that voice belonged to Undyne. He had never, ever heard her so vulnerable before: not when she lost her left eye in a training accident, nor when she had set her house on fire.

A sense of urgency welled up within Papyrus’ SOUL. He forced himself on his feet and started running.

Run.
Run towards his friends.
His family.

Papyrus pushed through the lab doors. He found himself standing before utter chaos.

Asgore had his back on the wall with Alphys wrapped in his arms. He drew out his trident, ready to deflect anything that came in his way.

Uncle Gaster meanwhile tried to halt the gushing of that strange red liquid with his hands. It came from a gaping stab wound on Cenna’s chest. To Gaster, it didn’t matter that he had holes in the middle of his palms; he had to try.

Humans leak when they get hurt. That’s what his brother told him.

They call it ‘blood’. Lose too much of those and they will die.

A gash destroyed Undyne’s remaining good eye. She clutched her spear and swung it around, lost in darkness and in panic. She kept yelling in a stream of incomprehensible swearing.

Mettaton’s robotic shell lay broken on the ground. Dust leaked out from a deep cut on his back.

What about Frisk, his favourite human friend?

Cenna was in critical condition and unable to speak. Yet, despite so, she stared at Papyrus and struggled to point to his left.

He glanced there.

The human child leapt from the corner, armed with a glistening knife.

Papyrus stepped backwards just in time to dodge the swipe.

“FRISK!” he called out.

It’s only now he could see the severity of the situation. Frisk’s entire being was trapped in the same webby substance as the knife. They stretched from head to toe, threatening to engulf them whole.

It reminded Papyrus of twisted roots. No, that was too kind… These were the tangles of a puppet’s strings.

Tears of terror streamed down the child’s face. Their throats were bound, cutting off their voice and thus any means of warning others.

The skeleton raised his guard. He readied his bones to dodge and capture. “WHAT ARE THOSE STICKY STUFF?” he asked, “WHAT IS GOING ON???”

“Greetings. Didn’t I tell you I’ll be back?”

Chara’s voice loomed overhead.
It didn’t make sense. Uncle Gaster told him that the ritual was a success.

They should be deader than dead.

Frisk tried to pull away, but the webs curled tighter around their limbs. They forced the child to walk closer and closer to Papyrus.

“As long Frisk lives, I live. Because we’re both one and the same!”

Uncle Gaster yelled from the other end. “Don’t listen to their hubris, Papyrus! They’re just trying to demoralize you!”

Chara’s sneer echoed throughout the air. “Oh? Maybe you should concentrate on saving that bitch first, old man.”

He outright ignored her insults. “The DEMON survived because they had a hidden vessel somewhere! One that is obviously NOT the child. Destroy their link to the world we’ll be rid of this insolence once and for all!”

Then Papyrus asked the most important question of all: “BUT WHERE IS THIS VESSEL?”

“I don’t know!” Gaster answered back. “I don’t have the Yellow Aspect to expose secrets!”

Yellow. Other than Cenna, the only other person who had that level of truesight was…

Sans.

Fear threatened to knock Papyrus down. But, he remained steadfast and prepared to defend.

“HELP IS ON THE WAY,” he said, “GRILLBY IS COMING OVER, AND HE’LL FIND SANS FOR SURE! W-WE’LL JUST NEED TO CAPTURE THE HUMAN UNTIL THEN!”

Chara burst into a haunting laughter as Frisk continued to struggle.

“Papyrus, Papyrus, Papyrus… you ARE an idiot after all! Do you really think you could rely on that Trashbag forever? If he’s so capable, he wouldn’t have gone MIA in the first place!”

“Besides, you’re forgetting something. Frisk is not your average kid. They’re the Legendary Hero: Humanity’s Ultimate Weapon! Do you understand what that means?”

Chara forced Frisk to bring out their SOUL. Their brilliant glow intensified more and more as the seconds ticked by.

“I can feel their Determination pouring in like a waterfall! Seeing you so terrified made them even MORE determined to regain control of their body. And in doing so, I -- The DEMON of Hyperdeath -- will soon have the ability to RESET once again!”

“When I drag all you useless lot back Underground, I will kill every single one of you. And then I can finally execute true ‘eternal peace’!”

It happened in a split second.

At the end of Chara’s speech, a knife stabbed straight through the red, glowing heart. The strike caused the SOUL to crack.

“No… NO!” The DEMON did not want this result. “What are you doing??? We don’t have enough Determination yet!”

Frisk grinned. It was not malicious. Rather, it was one steeped in sad goodbyes.

“Sorry,” whispered Frisk. With all their remaining control, the child of mercy pushed the knife further down the essence of their being.

Chara started to panic.

“No no no no no no no no YOU IDIOT stop please not now not now not now!!!”

Their HP fell at breakneck speeds. Papyrus acted on his protective instincts to reach out for the knife.

Alas, he was too slow. Frisk’s HP reached zero. Their SOUL snapped in half and exploded into shards.

The pieces fell on the mittened hands of the skeleton. They lasted just for a moment before dissipating into the air.

Frisk’s lifeless body fell into his embrace.

“FRISK…?” he said. “FRISK, YOU’RE NOT TURNING INTO DUST, SO I KNOW YOU’RE ALIVE. YOU ARE ALIVE, RIGHT?”

To Papyrus, there was no reason why Frisk should be dead.

They didn’t bleed out.
They’re not injured or sick.

They’re as whole as a human could be.

“SO PLEASE, WAKE UP.”

Humans are stronger than monsters.
They shouldn’t die so easily.
They shouldn’t die without saying a single word.

Without saying goodbye.

“WAKE UP!”

Yet, the child’s corpse grew cold in his arms.

Chapter Text

Humans turn to dust at a slow, slow rate.

First, they become cold.
Then, they stiffen.

What comes after that was better left unsaid.

Once the news spread, the undertaker from the next town soon arrived. He was a very patient man. He waited outside and let the loved ones grieve first. After all, he had seen the same scene play out day after day.

The Surface society had an entire system to deal with deaths, both expected and sudden. Have no idea what to do? No worries, just pay a sum of money and they will handle everything.

Mettaton’s celebrity friends pitched in. As their final tribute, they provided both the funds and services for their peer’s passing.

It turns out, the robot had booked a stadium for a live concert a few months down the line. It had to be cancelled due to his unfortunate passing. All downpayments were then shifted to his own funeral.

It’s Monday: the day after the tragedy.

Monsterkind learned what it means to host a ‘wake’.

The colours they should wear.
The type of clothes and jewelry permitted.
And a few other details…

The stadium had opened their gates for grieving fans and VIPs to give their final respects.

Two caskets lay side by side: one sealed with a transparent cover, the other left open to serve as a prop: unlike an organic human, Mettaton left behind a robot shell.

Frisk’s casket was surrounded by the iconic flowers of Mount Ebott. Once upon a time, the bed of flowers saved Frisk from a fall. Now, they rested on the same bed in peace.

Mettaton had them too, of course, but it was soon drowned out by the bouquets of roses and lilies from his fans.

Tributes lay at the foot of both coffins. Monster Kid placed down lilies made out of paper for Frisk. The boy’s parents helped him light the candles. After paying their last respects, they returned to the stadium seats.

Photographs and memories of the deceased were projected on the large screen. It was usually used to broadcast highlights of whatever game the stadium hosts.

In the hours prior, Uncle Gaster and ex-Captain Grillby helped dress up Papyrus in the proper clothing. The celebrity contacts offered to rent their tuxedo.

It was a sad day, but he had a job to do; Papyrus was part of the ushering team along with Grillby.

No matter the situation, Papyrus saw himself as a good usher. He helped guide the people through the complex to find their seats. The shyer monsterkind folk were too afraid of the human helpers, and that’s when he had to step in.

He won’t rest. He won’t break down. Everyone else was too crippled in either grief or injury for the very important task of maintaining order.

A new group of people entered the stadium grounds. It was his sister-figure. A black sash covered up the bandage work for cosmetic’s sake.

Undyne survived the ordeal, but she had lost much. Her future was as dark as her eyesight.

Alphys and Dogaressa held the once-Captain’s hands as guides. They helped her around the unfamiliar place, describing the sights to make sense of the sounds.

“Damn, that’s a lot of crying.” Undyne commented.

“(Mettaton had lots of fangirls.)” The lady dog explained.

“Yeah… they’re gonna be the most hurt.”

Alphys can’t stop her tears either. Her eyes were moist and her nose stuffy, but she tried her best to sound calm.

Her love asked: “Al? Are you alright?”

“I’m okay,” the lizard answered. Lie through her teeth. Pretend.

It reminded Papyrus of Sans.

The young skeleton rushed right up to them and greeted: “UNDYNE! DOGARESSA! ALPHYS! GOOD TO SEE -- UM, HEAR YOU.”

She replied to him with her trademark toothy grin. “Jeez Paps, I’m not so easily insulted. My eyes are gone but I still got ears.”

Despite what happened, the big sister tried her best to remain positive. “Anime is real, right? Well. Some bits anyway. Since that’s the case, I’m gonna train myself into a blind warrior of justice!”

“Just you watch, Paps!” She exclaimed. “Gimmie some time and we’ll be suplexing each other again. I promise!”

Were those words of encouragement for him, or for herself?

Papyrus glanced at Alphys. She couldn’t look him in the eye.

Both women tried to be strong for each other’s sake, even if it meant hiding their real pain.

“OKAY! I LOOK FORWARD TO IT.” He believed it nonetheless. The strongest fish lady was tough both inside and outside. “PLEASE FOLLOW ME TO YOUR SEATS.”

As one of Frisk’s closest friends, Undyne had a reserved seat right before the caskets. The memorial staff members brought some extra chairs for the bereaved.

Someone already occupied the far right one, facing Mettaton’s open casket.

Poor Napstablook streamed endless tears. He lost not just one family member, but two. “Oh……oh…… Mettaton… Frisk… I miss you already…”

“Hey Paps,” Undyne asked. “Blooky’s here?”

“YEAH…” he replied. “HE’S VERY, VERY SAD. SHYREN AND HER SISTER ARE WITH HIM THOUGH. OH, I’LL GUIDE YOU TO YOUR SEAT.”

“Paps,” she said. “Go and help Dogaressa and Alphys first. I’ll wait for you here.”

Papyrus asked, “WHY?”

“I got my reasons,” she replied. “Come on, just do it.”

Papyrus did as he was requested. He showed Undyne’s two guides to their seats and then came back for her.

“I’M HERE,” he said.

Undyne reached her hand out to the general direction. Understanding her cue, the young skeleton held her close.

“Take me to a quiet spot,” so was her next instruction.

Papyrus led Undyne to a place far away from the commotion.

“Papyrus, give me a report.”

It was like the old Royal Guard days when the junior had to update his senior. “WHAT DO YOU WANT TO KNOW?”

“Toriel and Asgore. How are they?”

Papyrus went silent for a moment. “THE QUEEN REFUSES TO LEAVE FRISK. AND SHE WON’T LET THE KING ANYWHERE NEAR THE COFFIN. BUT, SHE’S NOT HERE NOW. MISTER JONAH THE LAWYER NEEDED TO TALK TO HER ABOUT SOMETHING.”

Undyne sighed. She had expected as much. “She’ll be back soon.”

Just when she said so, Papyrus saw Toriel walking near Frisk’s casket. She knelt by the side and leaned on the woodwork. Silent.

Toriel had closed her heart to the world. The stadium and its business might as well not exist.

“Can you find Asgore anywhere in the spectator seats?” Asked Undyne.

“UNCLE GASTER INVITED HIM TO THE VIP ROW. HE’LL BE SITTING NEXT TO SOME WORLD LEADERS.”

“…At least he’s somewhere. I’m hearing lots of Mettaton’s fans. What about Frisk and Cenna’s guests?”

“HALF OF EBOTT TOWN ARRIVED SO FAR. SOME ARE STILL ON THE WAY. AND, UH, MISS AUNT ISN’T HERE.”

“Huh? I thought we’re having a triple funeral?”

Papyrus glanced down on the ground, worried and downcast. “UNCLE GASTER SAID SHE DIED WITH HER EYES OPEN. IN LOTS OF PAIN. HE TOLD ME THAT’S A BAD SIGN. SO, THE MAGI ARE CONDUCTING HER FUNERAL IN THEIR HQ.”

“IF SHE DIDN’T DIE IN PEACE, DOES THAT MEAN SHE MIGHT TURN INTO A DEMON?” His uncle had briefly explained the process. He wasn’t keen on going too much into detail.

Undyne said, “…Maybe. I understand how she feels. I mean, I wouldn’t be resting in peace either if I was in her position. Let’s just leave her matter to the experts, Paps.”

Her grip squeezed around the bone when she asked the next question. “Where’s Sans?”

“HE…” Papyrus struggled to reply. “HE’S HERE. SOMEWHERE. I CAN FEEL HIS MAGIC BUZZING IN THE AIR. JUST, HE WON’T SIT IN HIS PROPER PLACE.”

“He’s definitely not taking this well.” Undyne gritted her teeth. “Papyrus. You must keep an eye on him at all times. I can’t do that anymore, so I’m passing the torch to you.”

“THE GREAT PAPYRUS WILL DO HIS DUTY, BUT I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY I MUST WATCH SANS.”

She lowered her voice to a whisper and spoke straight at his face. “I… didn’t think I’d ever need to tell you this. Listen Paps: a man with hope yet without trust will eventually fall apart.”

“Sans is on the verge of snapping. If he hasn’t already. Considering the number of animes turning real lately, I have a really bad feeling about this. Just make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid. Okay?”

Papyrus confidently tapped his chest. “YES MADAM! I WILL NOT LET MY BROTHER OUT OF MY SIGHT! WHEN HE’S IN MY VIEW, THAT IS.”

“Good,” Undyne patted his arm. “Take me to Blooky, Paps. I’ll be fine from there.”

Again, he did as he was told. Napstablook cried harder when he noticed Undyne had gone blind. She tried to give him a hug, except her arms just phased through.

Alphys curled up in her own seat. She buried her face in her hands, trying so hard not to make a single noise as that will only further worry her fish lover.

After one last gaze, Papyrus left to continue his job.

The day went on as usual. Then, the voice of a stern man asked for his name.

“Are you Papyrus, the Orange Lichborn?”

The skeleton stopped to face the source. Standing before him was a person wearing fancy clothes.

It was a human male of about fifty years in age, whose hair had long gone grey. He wore a six-button black tailcoat with a matching pair of pants. White laced ruffs hung from the end of his long sleeves, covering the top of an ebony cane.

What stood out the most for Papyrus was the collar area: an elaborate brooch fastened a cravat in place. It took the form of a butterfly, studded with red gemstones.

Here he thought that his Uncle was already on the farthest side of the ‘classy old fashioned clothes’ scale. This stranger took it one step further.

Papyrus blinked a few times in confusion. “YES, THAT IS MY NAME. BUT I HAVE NO IDEA ABOUT THIS ‘LICHBORN’ THING. ARE YOU SURE YOU’RE NOT LOOKING FOR A DIFFERENT PAPYRUS?”

The stranger’s nut-brown eyes locked a strong gaze in return. His posture and poise reminded Papyrus of an olden day university headmaster.

“I suppose you would have gone with a different term,” said the old human. “Is the title ‘Seer’ more familiar to you?”

“OH. OOOOOH! WELL THEN, YOU ARE TALKING TO THE RIGHT PAPYRUS! IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO FOR YOU, MISTER?”

The man introduced himself straight on. “My name is Mezil Thyme. I represent the Magus Association to pay your Ambassador their final respects. May I request your aid for directions?”

Papyrus gasped. This was an important man and he dressed the part. “YES SIR! DO YOU ALREADY HAVE AN ASSIGNED SEAT?”

“Yes. Here is my letter of invitation.”

Mezil handed Papyrus the letter. After a quick read, he knew exactly where to take him. “THANK YOU. PLEASE FOLLOW ME!”

The thought of guiding someone so important made Papyrus both nervous and excited. He had no idea just how high Mezil’s position may be. He could be someone of the lower end of the ranks, just very fancily dressed. But he didn’t care about that: everyone will get the VIP treatment they deserved.

As his mind travelled off to the sky, Mezil commented: “You’re strangely positive for a member of the bereaved.”

“HMM?” The skeleton rose his bony brows. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN?”

“I see brokenness and grief everywhere. A darkness without end. Yet here you are, guiding me in cheer as though I’m attending an orchestra. Where does all that sunshine come from?”

Papyrus hesitated for a moment. Then, he asked back, “…MISTER MAGUS? WOULD YOU LAUGH IF I SHARE WHAT I SAW?”

“No,” Mezil outright answered. “Seers are named so for a reason. I won’t treat any vision as trivial.”

Pointing down the hall, the skeleton said: “I SEE FRISK ALIVE AND WELL. GIVING LAST MINUTE CHEERS TO METTATON BEFORE HIS BIG CONCERT. THEY LAST ONLY FOR A FEW SECONDS BEFORE FADING AWAY.”

“Oh?” It caught Mezil’s interest. “Was that the only vision?”

“NO. I’VE SEEN MANY OTHER HAPPY THINGS. EVERYWHERE IN THIS STADIUM.”

Papyrus turned his attention to an empty hot-dog stand. “LIKE OVER THERE. I SAW MYSELF BUYING HOT DOGS FOR MY BROTHER AND FRISK.”

The visions of joy continued all along the escort path. “UNDYNE ALMOST SUPLEXED ME FOR WRESTLING PRACTICE. TORIEL STOPPED HER BEFORE SHE COULD DO THAT. I THINK SHE’S A GUEST STAR OF A SHOW.”

“AND THERE, ALPHYS FIXED UP SOME LAST MINUTE TOUCHES ON METTATON. AT THE SAME TIME A KID ASKED ME FOR AN AUTOGRAPH, NYEH HEH HEH!”

“OH! KING ASGORE HAD A FLOWER STAND HERE! I SEE HUMANS HELPING HIM! HE MADE NEW FRIENDS AND I’M REALLY HAPPY FOR THAT.”

One after another, until they were at the entrance to the spectator seats. Papyrus stopped walking there.

“MISTER MAGUS.” Papyrus tapped the tips of his fingers together, confused. “YESTERDAY, I SAW ENDLESS NOTHINGNESS. TODAY, I’M SEEING SMILES. I DO NOT UNDERSTAND THIS POWER.”

The Magus stood next to the skeleton. Then, he explained, “Your powers specialize in the realm of ‘possibilities’. As long you can see a vision, the pathway to that outcome exists somewhere. Perhaps a change in perspective would help you understand it better.”

“When you are in your best shape, you’ll see the worst to serve as a warning. When you are in the worst shape, you’ll see the best as a reminder of hope. Does this make sense?”

“I THINK SO, YES.” Papyrus answered. “BUT THAT SORT OF POWER KIND OF DEFEATS THE PURPOSE. IT’S NOT LIKE I CAN CHANGE ANYTHING. I DON’T HAVE THE ABILITY TO TIME TRAVEL.”

“…AS MY UNCLE HAD SAID, POSSIBILITIES ARE NOT THE PRESENT REALITY. I SHOULDN’T TRIP MYSELF OVER THEM. FRISK IS GONE.”

Mezil pondered as he tapped his cane on the ground.

“Well then, Papyrus.” He said, “If you could turn back the flow of time, would you do anything to save your dear friend?”

The youngster was shocked and a little perplexed. “IS THIS A ROLEPLAYING QUESTION, SIR?”

“You can say so. A hypothesis. Imagine if you’re ‘humanity’s ultimate weapon’ for a moment. Would you stop at nothing until you achieved the desired result, no matter the hardships and despair?”

“Even if it means discovering the deepest, darkest, secrets of the people you love?”

Mezil Thyme does indeed sound like a university principal to the young skeleton. “THAT SOUNDS REALLY OMINOUS. AND COMPLICATED.”

“Being the ‘ultimate’ does have its burdens.”

So Papyrus pretended to be in Frisk’s shoes for a moment. He stretched his imagination as far as it could take him.

“OF COURSE!” He answered back with utmost optimism. “I -- THE GREAT PAPYRUS -- WILL DO EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING TO SAVE HIS FRIENDS!”

Their conversation was interrupted by loud scratching. It echoed across the stadium with the aid of their inbuilt sound system broadcast.

“Hm. Someone snatched the microphone.” Mezil marched forward to the entrance. “Let’s see who’s the troublemaker.”

Over the railings, Papyrus saw that the stand was hijacked by some thorny vines. It was there for the family’s final eulogy to the rest of the attendants.

On the very top perched a talking golden flower.

He recognized the figure. “FLOWEY?”

The hijacker was indeed none other than his friend Flowey. The plant tapped the mic with a leaf to make sure it’s working.

“Is this working? Hello? One, two, three? Okay. it’s working.”

Flowey straightened himself up and made his first official announcement:

“Howdy! I’m Flowey the Flower! Your very best friend!”

Mezil frowned. “Tsk, you monsters don’t know anything after all.”

He pointed his cane towards Frisk’s coffin. “That’s the worst possible floral arrangement for a funeral. There’s a reason why Chara’s people set the forests of Ebott ablaze.”

“Ebott Goldenflowers once had different name: ‘Cheaters of Death’. Each and every part of them had the magical capacity to contain the essence of the deceased. That ‘Flowey’ fellow is a proof of concept.”

Papyrus gasped. “MISS AUNT DIDN’T KNOW THAT EITHER!”

“That’s because it’s an old, obscure information lost to human negligence. The ancients who lived in Ebott had a tendency to exclude… ‘inconvenient’ details. I spent weeks in the main library to dig out that page of truth. By then, it was too late.”

Flowey continued his speech. “I told you all. It’s KILL or BE killed. And somehow, you IDIOTS still managed to get two of my friends killed! You’re all useless! Terrible! Horrible! You should be ashamed of yourself!”

“But that’s okay. Because I’m gonna fix everything! The next time, try to keep them alive. Okay?”

The flower started to concentrate on something.

Papyrus wanted to wave and call out to his planty friend, but Mezil stopped him from doing so.

“Hush. Listen to me. I’m not done yet.” Again Mezil looked towards the golden flowerbed. “The DEMON that possessed your friend still lives. Even after Frisk’s body long turns into dust, the essence of their kidnapper will continue to live on. Sleeping. Until their next victim arrives.”

“WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME ALL OF THIS, MISTER MAGUS?” Asked the youngster.

The Magus then replied, “You wish to save your friends no matter what it takes, correct?”

“I DON’T UNDERSTAND.”

“Remember every moment of this day. Every second. Every word. Mine. Yours. That flower’s.”

Flowey started to fidget from confusion and embarrassment. “Why? Why can’t I RESET? They’re dead, so I should be the next one in line for that power!”

Papyrus saw a flash of blue from the distant top floors of the stadium. One second later, Sans appeared right behind Flowey.

The microphone picked up his brother’s voice.

“Give me your Determination, Flowey.”

Flowey screeched in fear. He leapt away from the stand and tried to dive into the ground to flee.

But Sans pierced the ground itself with his bones. They resonated and turned the once solid floors into shifting sand. It surrounded the mic area, turning that location into an isolated island.

The short skeleton reached his arm out to Alphys. Her SOUL turned blue, and he plucked her out of her seat.

“Help!” She cried out.

Undyne reached out in the general direction, but she was helpless. “Alphys! Sans, put her down!”

Gaster saw what’s happening. He rushed down the steps from the VIP area, yelling: “What in the blue blazes are you thinking, Sans Serif?!”

His brother’s response couldn’t be heard from this distance. Papyrus leapt over the railings, using his magic to slow down his fall.

It was just in time to hear San’s ultimate conclusion. “…Then we’ll inject Flowey’s Determination into Frisk to trigger the TRUE RESET.”

Gaster’s entire being started to quake from horror. “Are you serious? Do you have any idea just how flawed your hypothesis is? At this rate, you’ll only resurrect Frisk into a DEMON, Zombie or a Lich! Then we’ll have to deal with the combined might of not one but two!”

“Hey,” his brother replied. “We’ve never tried to inject Determination into a human corpse before. Who’s to say things can’t go right? I mean, look at Flowey. Or should I say… ‘Asriel’.”

Asriel. The lost prince of the Dreemurrs.

The one who passed the Barrier only to die in human hands.

Flowey yelled, “NO! STOP! Don’t say that in front of Mom!”

“I… I told her the truth a long time ago.” Alphys added.

The flower was shocked. It then turned into boiling anger. “You. You’re telling me after I took all the effort of hiding. After denying myself from hugging my parents. After letting myself fade into this wretched form alone in the dark… you tell me that THEY KNEW EVERYTHING ALREADY???”

‘Friendliness pellets’ started to fly all around. One of the bits struck one of the visiting mourners and inflicted pain.

The cry caused the public to flee in terror.

“I WILL KILL YOU, DOCTOR ALPHYS!” The flower’s face twisted into its twisted sharp-toothed form. “RIGHT HERE AND NOW!”

A warm fireball knocked Flowey and the microphone stand away. They were sent flying a few feet from their island, landing on the fake grass.

All heads turned towards Toriel.

“Run…” she said.

Flowey lifted his petalled face off the ground. “Mom?”

“Run, Asriel. Run. Hide! Don’t let Sans catch you! GO!”

With genuine tears in his eyes, Flowey once again attempted to escape.

More bones scored through the ground. Wherever they went, whatever they touched, all turned into grains of instability.

The flower found himself routed back to Sans himself.

“No…” Flowey squeaked. “No no no no no no!”

Losing its foundations, the afflicted side of the stadium began to collapse from its own weight. Dogaressa and Grillby tried to evacuate Undyne’s gang before the whole structure caved in.

To the very end, Toriel refused to move away from Frisk’s side. She stayed put even though though the temporal quicksand had started to encroach.

Asgore rushed to her side. He tried to pull her away, but she refused to budge. The husband then lifted the coffin on his shoulder and grabbed her hand.

Alas, it was too late. Debris blocked the only remaining path to safety.

“Your Majesty!” Gaster cried out. He immediately summoned his own blasters to obliterate the blockade. Yet whenever he destroyed one, another took its place.

“Don’t worry. That place is safe,” Sans replied. “I need Frisk intact after all.”

Gaster snapped back: “Provided they’re not crushed from the debris first!”

Papyrus wanted to dash forward to the rescue, but someone else caught him first. He felt himself moving backwards and up the concrete stairs.

When he looked back, he noticed it was Mezil the Magus. Lines of white magic coursed through his arm. The magical reinforcement had granted him a boost of strength.

“UNHAND ME!” Papyrus yelled. “ALL MY FRIENDS ARE THERE! FLOWEY TOO! I CAN’T LET MY BROTHER CATCH FLOWEY AND TURN HIM INTO AN EXPERIMENT!”

The Magus refused. “This situation is beyond salvaging.”

“NO! THINGS CAN CHANGE! I MUST TRY!”

Try. Try. Never stop trying.
That’s how Papyrus lived his life.
That’s how he kept going even when everyone else gave in to despair.

“Remember my questions, Papyrus?” Asked Mezil. “It’s not just for roleplaying’s sake.”

On stable ground, the Magus placed his hand over Papyrus’ chest and forced the skeleton’s SOUL to the surface.

“I -- Humanity’s Ultimate Weapon -- elect The Great Papyrus as his proxy!”

A brilliant red light seeped into the surface of the skeleton’s pure white SOUL. They formed the image of an intricate red butterfly.

The pattern matched the one on Mezil’s brooch.

Upon that instant, the world’s colours washed away into shades of grey. Sounds muted and all motion stopped on the dot.

“Your mind is ‘Marked’,” thus said the Magus. “Stay determined.”

Mezil Thyme snapped his fingers to initiate his RESET.

When Papyrus came to, he found himself right before Gaster.

The elder’s hands held his cheekbones. He could feel the parents’ love flowing through.

“Papyrus,” said Gaster. “Never lose yourself to mere possibilities. The future is not set in stone. Remember this. Always.”

Remember.
Remember.
Remember.

The young Seer remembered everything.

He had returned to the night of death and darkness with all his memories intact.

Papyrus held Gaster’s shoulders. He tried to talk, but emotions kept him from being clear.

“UNCLE GASTER! I’M FROM THE FUTURE! THE RITUAL FAILED AND METTATON DIED AND FRISK DIED AND UNDYNE LOST HER EYE AND AND AND SANS WENT NUTS AND--”

There’s no time to explain. Papyrus scrambled to his feet and dashed straight towards the lab. He was in such a hurry that he dropped his phone.

He must stop Chara from getting the knife back, no matter what.

Chapter Text

‘The Living Victory’.

The most revered and feared of all titles in the world of magic.

Those who possess this power could come from any background and in any gender.

Riches.
Status.
Colour.
Philosophy.
Age.
Location.
Background.

All those mean nothing.

The criteria to become The Living Victory had one sole requirement:
Determination.

They were those who smash the wheel of fate. Their unusual power flowed and burned so much, their SOUL turned into the most volatile of colours:

Red.

Because this power was neutral in the truest sense, it became vulnerable for misuse.

Too many had fallen into its pitfalls.
Too many had turned from hero to demon.
Too many had lost their heart.

Therefore, the once revered title became steeped in dark stigmas: a taboo to mention in fears of reviving all those who had once tarnished it. Nicknames and euphemisms evolved over time to fit the populace’s common language.

If Mezil Thyme had a choice, he preferred the original. He had a certain fondness to the tried, tested and recorded works.

Except… few would understand him. Certainly not a young skeleton fresh out from a different society.

Therefore he had no choice but to begrudgingly adopt this era’s nickname:
Humanity’s Ultimate Weapon.

It’s past midnight. Not too late for a borderline ‘vampire’. The roads were clear of Saturday’s nightlife and it would stay as such for the next couple of hours.

Thanks to the advancements of technology, Mezil had a self-driving car. Age had diminished his ability to drive in low-lighting. He could still man the helm if he needed to, but the added safety measures were a plus.

So he climbed into the seat and started the engine. Plotted the path to Ebott Town.

Mezil checked his phone time to time. He expected a certain noir detective to call in and yell at him for whatever triggered her temper.

But… it remained silent.

“Hmm. I guess it’s too much to expect things to go right the first time.”

When the car arrived at the town proper, Mezil started driving manually. He followed the instructions of a colleague to Alphys’ Lab.

Upon arrival, a man made up of fire opened the door. Mezil recognized this person as ‘Grillby’ from the wake. Scouts reported that he’s the owner and bartender of his own establishment.

“Hello,” Mezil greeted. “I’m looking for a young skeleton named Papyrus.”

Grillby remained silent for a moment. “…I’m afraid that is not possible… But, please come in… A friend expects you…”

Alphys’ home was a mess in more ways than one. The scent of human blood permeated the living room. For a good reason as well.

A septagram of blood and steel had sealed the entrance to the inner laboratory where the exorcism took place. The person maintaining it was the Seer known as ‘W. D. Gaster’. Papyrus’ apparent uncle, a new entity in this temporal axis.

Cenna’s cold remains leaned at the foot of the lab door. Mezil noticed that the location of the stab wound had shifted. Alas, it was a fatal injury nonetheless. She must have used the last seconds of her life to contain the DEMON by making this Gram.

Blood for ‘Life’, steel casings for ‘Metal’: the basis of a last-resort seal. It was just a level or two away from the infamous ‘Barrier’.

Pounding threatened to break the structure from the inside. Each strike was weighted with great strength.

A terrible sign. The DEMON had harvested too much life force.

Potent as he may be, Gaster had started to show signs of fatigue. Hunched shoulders. Lowered skull. Not long now until he would be forced on his knees.

“Hmph,” the liquid skeleton huffed. “Is it too much to leave some means of contact, Magus? What an unacceptable oversight.”

Papyrus’ ‘uncle’ had a mind as sharp as his tongue.

Mezil answered the best he could. “Apologies, but the circumstances did not permit. Perhaps there’s something in this room that I could use for the future past?”

The next pound had snapped the door hinges. If it weren’t for the seal’s support, the DEMON would have busted through. Gaster grunted as he increased the output of his magic.

“Captain Grillby,” he said, “Please pass Papyrus’ phone to our Magus guest.”

The bartender was not a random civilian monster either. It’s one of those days where all the key players gathered in a single event.

Mezil accepted the phone. “Oh, I know this model. Mid-range. Sufficient for everyday use at an affordable price. Excellent battery life too. This will do just fine.”

In his heart, he hoped that he didn’t have too many needless apps. Clutter drains even the best batteries faster than proper use. He needed this object to last as long as it could.

“Hmm.”

Papyrus doesn’t seem to use the phone much other than for local calls and a group chat. Good.

Mezil recalled how he once tried to mark just a memory card. It corrupted vital evidence. Had to LOAD an older SAVE to undo the damage. Now he knew better than to be too selective.

He keyed in his details and left a note. ‘Call me to RESET’. Then, he ‘Marked’ the entire device for permanence.

“…I’m surprised humans could use magic…” Grillby commented. “…Our historians state… that humans will never know the joy of expressing themselves with magic…”

“Such is true, sir,” said the human with a sigh. “For humankind, magic is not a means of ‘expression’. It’s only a tool. Compare menial labour to dance. Both use the muscles for strength. But one is pure work, the other an art form.”

Passing the phone back to the elemental, Mezil continued his explanation. “Stamina management is a part of the many foundations for our line of work. When we use magic, it must have a purpose. Otherwise, the energy is wasted and waste can be fatal.”

Mezil then crouched down to inspect the body of his dead colleague. At least her eyes were closed this time. “Well. There are talented folks such as our Vanquisher here. Efficient. Your fellow dancer. The envious and the close-minded too often condemned her as a witch. They saw her mastery of magic as a sign that she’s less than human.”

Mezil admired her spirit despite her lack of etiquette. She may not have ‘Determination’ as her most prominent trait, but she had the grit to persevere.

“…I see…” Grillby replied. “…What about you…?”

“Few witness my power and remember it. Soon, the same will be for you.”

Mezil hid in plain sight amongst society. The public knew of his rank, his skill, and his archaic sense of fashion, but none had any idea of his true ability.

Turning towards the elder, the Magus said: “Doctor Gaster, I think your wisdom will help us in this predicament. Shall I mark your memories as well?”

Gaster smirked. “Save your strength, Magus. I’m an Amalgamate. I will remember.”

“Amalgamate?” Mezil asked back.

“Monsters injected with excessive amounts of Determination will lose physical integrity. They merge together until their combined bodies achieve a certain level of stability. I believe your intel would have noticed that some of the residents of Ebott tend to… flow.”

Mezil commented, “I find it a little hard to believe that you are one of them. You’re far more articulate and coherent. Furthermore, your awareness of spacetime supersedes all others.”

Gaster’s face darkened into sorrow. “It’s a long story.”

Their conversation was interrupted by yet another slam on the loosened lab doors.

“Frisk? FRISK! You IDIOT, what the hell are you doing? You’re a demigod now! That flimsy seal is nothing! C’mon, let me show you. Ground your legs, and make sure your arms are straight for the punch.”

“C’mon c’mon c’mon don’t be an idiot and just DO IT! I’m already helping you!”

Just as Mezil had thought, Chara did have martial arts training. It was a part of their village’s culture. From what he had read about their parents… he would be more surprised if they neglected to pass down their family trade.

“Everyone’s DEAD! The survivors will be unhappy! Sans can’t live without his brother, and Mom will break down with him. You MUST finish the job for their sake, Frisk. DO IT! DO IT NOW! WAIT… WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! No no no no no no not now not now we don’t have enough Determination STO--!!!”

What followed after were the sounds of a shattering SOUL. It was much like glass. Veteran he may be, that sound still made Mezil wince inside.

A thud against the door followed after.

Gaster breathed a long, deep sigh.

“Well then,” he said. “Shall we conduct our post-mortem?”

Grillby helped his friend move Cenna’s body. They laid her down onto the floor and covered her face with her iconic hat.

It intrigued Mezil that these two elder monsters knew how to treat the remains with respect.

With the doorway cleared, Gaster stopped maintaining the seal. Without energy, the Arcanagram became nothing more than a grisly mural. Quickly, he backed off, avoiding the door as it slammed straight down in his direction. The hinge was broken after all.

Dust floated in the still air of ground zero. Clothing articles lay scattered on the powdery floor, no doubt shifted around during the struggle.

A long streak of human blood stretched all the way to the entrance. Cenna was dragged out by someone. Most likely by Doctor Gaster.

A red tattered scarf lay on the steel table. He remembered that everyone described Papyrus as the skeleton with a red scarf, although he didn’t wear it during the wake.

To think that the youngster wore red. What a strange twist of fate.

Mezil got down to inspect the child’s body. Frisk’s tangled trappings had started to fade away without its lifesource. “I see Cenna once again used a Truesight Potion on the child. It happened in the past timeline too.”

“What are those webs, exactly?” Doctor Gaster asked back.

“A curse,” explained the Magus. “It’s a sign that the DEMON had claimed an object -- or in this case a person -- as their own. Tampering with a cursed object will notify the possessor. This is why the murder weapon couldn’t be discarded before the ritual.”

When the webs faded in full, he noticed tiny bits of stickiness stuck on the child’s clothing. Mezil pinched them out and put on his reading glasses for a closer inspection.

“Seeds,” he muttered.

Doctor Gaster activated his Eyes to zoom in on the object. “They’re strangely nostalgic.”

“How familiar are you with the ‘Ebott Goldenflower’?” Mezil asked.

“Not quite,” the skeleton replied. “But King Asgore tends to a garden of golden flowers. The tea brewed from them is his favourite. I personally prefer the bolder black teas, but not many share my sentiment.”

Mezil thought it was bad enough that these flowers were used for a funeral. Now, he learned they had become a part of the local cuisine.

“Seer,” he asked. “Did your ancestors carry down any records from the Surface?”

Gaster hesitated to answer. “My parents had their personal collection. It was never released for public reading. Too much… sensitive information. However, I have committed their entire library to memory.”

The skeleton came from an influential background. That explained his mannerisms.

“Did any of them involve botany or anthropology?” Mezil asked.

“…My father wrote a private journal about nature. If, that’s sufficient. He always prefered the company of trees and rocks over people. Many remarked how it was a miracle that he fell in love with my mother.”

“Had he ever written anything about the ‘Cheaters of Death’?”

Doctor Gaster held his breath and clenched his bloodstained hands. “In a poem. Father lamented of how flowers forged of brilliant gold draw more dust than the thorns of a rose. I had always thought it was a figurative work about greed.”

Mezil had an idea about the identity of this doctor’s late father. For a Seer to love nature and write poetry about plants, he had to be someone who lived in the pre-Sealing days.

Except, that was a question for a different day.

Mezil explained the true nature of these flowers to the doctor. Armed with new information, Gaster used his Seer’s powers to check every object in the dust-ridden room.

The clothes.
The armour.
The lab equipment.
The DT-Extraction system itself.

Seeds of doom were found glued on every single object.

Gaster muttered in horror, “Oh goodness gracious. They’re everywhere!”

The pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Mezil crossed his arms and presented his hypothesis: “When Cenna destroyed the SOUL fragment, the DEMON’s essence spread onto these flower seeds. They controlled Frisk and waited for an opportune moment to get the knife back. How did they do that is the next question.”

The skeleton doctor tried his hardest to remember. “…The celebrity Mettaton. He had two forms: one as the glamorous celebrity, and the other… a plain box on a unicycle.”

“The knife was hidden inside the body of the box form. Its steel casing protected his true SOUL, thus making him a living strongbox.”

Despite the safeguards, the android form lay broken and empty. Mettaton somehow got forced to switch into his stylish yet vulnerable mode.

“Who else attended the exorcism?” Asked Mezil.

Gaster gave Mezil a list of names. The fire elemental ‘Grillby’ was not part of it: Papyrus had phoned him after a vision, thus prompting his current visitation.

The Magus took another look at the clothes lying on the floor.

There was a marked lack of blue in this picture…

Strange.

That one person had caused more trouble than everyone else combined. And he’s missing when he’s needed the most.

“Whatever happened to the other Lichborn?” Mezil asked, “I believe ‘Sans Serif’ is his name.”

Just the mere mention caused Gaster undue aggravation. ‘Resentful disappointment’ might be a more accurate description.

Acid dripped from the old skeleton’s words. “That sad sack of bones is too busy drowning in despair. I advise against putting any hopes on him.”

“What a shame,” said Mezil. “His analytical ability trumps our best supercomputers. A great asset, if you ask me.”

Gaster responded, “I’d rather not have him around. Sans has no integrity: too often his actions are swayed by extreme logic. He can and will be a heartless machine if he so justifies it. Certainly not someone I’d want in our current predicament.”

Those were strong words… but not baseless.

Mezil surveyed his surroundings. He can’t proceed from here. The current results were worse compared to the previous timeline. Unacceptable.

“There’s not much else I can do here. I think it’s time for a RESET. Hopefully, Papyrus will do a better job next round.”

“Magus, wait,” Gaster said. “You ‘marked’ Papyrus as you wanted to mark me, did you not? I saw a red butterfly escape from his crumbling body.”

Here he thought no one spotted that little detail. Mezil replied, “Yes. I did.”

“Hence why the boy said he came from ‘the future’. I thank you for preserving his life. But, I’m afraid to inform you that Papyrus can’t save anyone in his current state. And I don’t mean about him being dust.”

Gaster slid over to the table and carried Papyrus’ scarf with both hands. “His body may overflow with might, but his mind cannot tap into its fullest potential. No training, no focus. I’m sure you noticed that in your first meeting.”

Mezil agreed with the doctor. It’s unthinkable that an adult Lichborn of such potential had zero understanding about his own abilities.

Of all people, Papyrus had sought advice from a human.

The Magus sighed. “What do you propose?”

Gaster started folding the scarf, like what a neat mother would do to keep a piece of clothing. He then slung it over his thin arm.

“There is a place where time does not flow.” said the elder. “I had once wandered in that limbo for what seemed like eternity. I’m sure you know of it. If we could bring our boy there, we might be able to restore Papyrus’ lost years.”

“You provide the location, I’ll provide the expertise. How does that sound, Magus?”

Mezil did not like visitors… but he’ll make an exception this time. Out from his palm, he conjured another red butterfly made of his space-time magic.

It stretched its wings, flapping them twice before it fluttered above old Gaster’s head.

So the Magus said: “I’ll see you there.”

Chapter Text

Scenes of a different life washed past.

Some covered in smiles.
Others covered in dust.

Once upon a time, this young man would rush to his big brother about his nightly terrors. Then the big brother would tell him it’s all just a dream.

Sweet, sweet lies meant to protect the younger’s mind and soul.

NO! DON’T DO THAT!

He watched the human stab Froggit with a toy knife.

VIOLENCE IS BAD!

He watched the human lop off the skull of a skeleton with a red scarf: mercy taken advantage of and scorned.

YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO MAKE FRIENDS, NOT KILL THEM!

The people fled for their lives. Monster Kid got into trouble and Undyne saved him. The big sister transformed into her desperado mode… yet she still failed, melting away.

Melting.

Melting until death.

WHY…?

ARE YOU HURT? ARE YOU IN PAIN? IS THAT WHY YOU’RE DOING VIOLENCE?

Mettaton also had a different body. He clamoured about his power, yet chose not to use it. He wanted to prove that the human was not beyond salvation.

He trusted them.

The human betrayed him.

TALK TO US! WE’LL HELP YOU!

Sans, Monsterkind’s Last Stand, bloodied his hands however many times he needed to stop the onslaught.

Misdirects. Cheats. Traps.

Cold and heartless like the murderer he duelled.

SANS? I… I DON’T RECOGNIZE YOU.
IS THIS WHO YOU REALLY ARE?

IS THIS WHO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

The human progressed to Asgore.
Flowey began with a praise, but it ended in terror.

The flower fled.

Asgore mistook the human for a monster. The once-best friend of the DEMON killed his own father to prove his loyalty.

Even then, it was not enough. The knife hacked the plant eight times in a row, until only golden-petalled mulch was left.

Chara and Frisk then stood on the edge of reality. At the height of their power, they called each other ‘partners’.

NO…!

Denied. Accepted. Both led to the same result.

‘The End’.

STOP!

When the timeline restarted, there was nothingness. The price of restoring the world and living life again… was to sell one’s SOUL.

The Seer watched the child offer up that glowing red heart to the DEMON.

IT’S NOT WORTH IT, FRISK! STOP! STOOOOOOOOOOOOP!

Papyrus snapped wide awake. Orange wisps danced far and high above his right socket.

He gasped, yet somehow he couldn’t feel ‘air’ flowing through his ribs. There was an odd lack of sensation whenever he consciously drew breath.

Wherever he was, it had no ceiling. Specks of light faded in and out against the vast darkness. It reminded him of the insects known as ‘fireflies’.

Papyrus sat up. He realised that he’s not in his own bed. A quick look around and he figured out that he wasn’t in his home either.

Slab-marble flooring. Wallpapered maroon walls. Bookshelves all around. A high-tech floor lamp illuminated the room under any setting the user wished for. For now, it mimicked a candle’s glow.

“WHERE AM I?” Papyrus asked out loud.

Someone opened the door. It was none other than his uncle.

“Awake, I see?” Said Gaster. “You’re in the Magus’ hideout. Mezil Thyme is his name, if you remember.”

“OH! IS MISTER MAGUS OKAY?”

The uncle raised a brow. “He wasn’t in any danger in the first place. We should be asking about your condition instead.”

“WHY?”
“You died.”

It happened after all. “OH. IF I’M DEAD, IS THIS THE FABLED AFTERLIFE?”

Gaster chuckled at his innocent conclusion. “No, no. You may be ‘dead’ in the physical realm, but you still ‘live’ outside of time. It’s a little complex. You can thank the Magus for preserving your existence.”

“He’s waiting for us in the living room.”

Papyrus got out of bed and followed his uncle. He looked around in awe at the atmosphere and furnishing. It had a certain sense of elegant class in every corner.

“HE IS DEFINITELY A UNIVERSITY PRINCIPAL! THIS PLACE IS AS PRINCIPALLY AS THE MOVIES!”

“Don’t you mean a chancellor?” Gaster said, “My old home was similar to this, except with basalt tiles. My parents didn’t like the brightness of white marble.”

“COME TO THINK OF IT, I NEVER VISITED YOUR HOME BEFORE. WHAT HAPPENED TO IT?”

“Hmm… I wonder too. Riddled with cobwebs, if not in disrepair. I just hope that the library is still intact.”

Mezil had made himself a mug of coffee while he waited. He settled down in the living room, surrounded by floating holographic screens.

A strange hybrid of the old and new defined this Magus.

The man set his mug down and stood up with the aid of his cane. “Welcome to the realm beyond time, Seer.”

Papyrus gasped. He expected a fancy video transmission system that connected this strange place to the real world. “OH MY GOD, ARE YOU DEAD TOO?”

“No,” said Mezil. “Free access to the Void are one of the many perks of being the ultimate weapon. It’s my ‘Hub’. I can visit this place anytime, anywhere. And also invite anyone I wish. In the case of your uncle, I just needed to guide him through the darkness. It seems that we’ve been neighbours longer than we expected.”

The young skeleton squealed out of excitement. He spun around in place as he tried to take in all the sights. “WOWIE! A HYPERBOLIC SUPERHERO HIDEOUT CHAMBER OF SPACE AND TIME, THIS IS SOOOOOOOO COOL!”

“Hmph. This is much, much better than that cartoon nonsense. I have all the necessities for a comfortable rest: bedrooms, shower, food, water, a training hall and some recreation. All in a place secluded from time. I can take however long I wish to recover from mental fatigue.”

“DOUBLE THE WOWIE! BUT, YOUR HOUSE LACKS A ROOF.”

Mezil glanced upwards. “Why should I add one? There’s no sky or rain. Also, it’s easier to analyze the timestreams without vertical obstruction.”

Papyrus stopped spinning. “WAIT. YOU’RE TELLING ME THAT’S NOT THE NIGHT SKY AND THOSE ARE NOT FIREFLIES?”

“I did say that we’re in a realm beyond time.”

Gaster tapped the youngster’s shoulder to catch his attention. “Papyrus, The Void is a gap between realities. On its own, it contains nothing but vast darkness. Much like The End. But with Determination, magic and a little knowhow, it’s possible to construct small pockets of reality.”

“I had a ‘room’ of my own too.” Gaster elaborated, “But, I lived in a cold prison compared to the Magus’ hideout.”

He conjured a grey concrete tile and placed the object on the table. “This was all I could make.”

Papyrus picked up the rough artificial stone. His usual joy faded as he contemplated on its meaning. If his genius uncle could only muster a dull rock, what chances does an untrained human child have?

He said, “I GUESS IF YOU’RE STUCK WITH NOTHING, IT’S EASY TO BECOME UNHAPPY. MAYBE THAT’S WHY FRISK STARTED KILLING.”

Mezil furrowed his brows. “You had a vision?”

“BEFORE I WOKE UP, YES.”

“Go ahead and sit down. I’ll get some coffee.”

Over the bittersweet aromas, cream, and sugar, Papyrus explained the last vision before his awakening. The elders listened close from start to end, not letting a single detail slip by…

“So that’s the beginning of ‘The End’,” Gaster commented. “Troubling. However, I noticed that Frisk still kept their SOUL. I don’t think what you witnessed was a mere reconstruction of the past. The results don’t tally.”

The Magus grabbed one of the many screens that surrounded him. It turned into a drawing board and he started plotting a series of branching lines.

“It’s a ‘Possibility’ written in the timelines itself,” he explained, “They’re not as limitless as people would like to think. There will be two constant truths: the extreme ‘positive’ and the extreme ‘negative’. In other words, the best and the worst outcome.”

Once he finished, the Magus flipped the screen around for Gaster and Papyrus to read. One white, one black. The black path ended early, while the white path parted straight ahead toward ‘Today’.

“We’re on the best.” Mezil tapped his finger on the word. “The times when the child did not succumb to misanthropy.”

Switching over to the dark side, he continued his explanation. “Dying in the hands of the DEMON must have caused some sort of resonance. It allowed Papyrus to view the worst. Hence, his latest vision. I won’t be surprised if Chara is a constant value in this path of destruction.”

Gaster closed his eyes in deep contemplation. “‘Relevency’ seems to be the key. If I train Papyrus on exploiting this trait, he could improve his inherent precognition to the point of clairvoyance.”

Papyrus being Papyrus, had no idea what his uncle had just theorized.

“WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?” He asked.

“If all possibilities are written ahead of time based on circumstance and limitations, then you could use your powers to foretell your opponent’s next move in a battle. The result will be a hundred percent dodge rate, like your brother’s.”

It only confused the skeleton more. “UH, SANS CAN’T SEE THE FUTURE, RIGHT?”

“Correct, he can’t. But he’s trained to analyze the present. In other words, he can figure out the range of a person’s choices on the spot. This is further backed up by the ‘Purple’ trait of his Seer’s Eye.”

“Perseverance. He can recall all his personal experiences and dejavu with enough concentration and analysis.”

Papyrus then asked, “DID YOU JUST SAY… ALL? LIKE. EVERYTHING?”

“Only if he wills it,” said Gaster. “Knowing his laziness, he’d be very selective.”

His brother knew so, so, much more than he ever let on. Some of his more mysterious behaviour had started to make sense.

Mezil kept tapping his cane on the smooth marble, deep in thought and incomprehensibly muttering.

“IS THERE SOMETHING WRONG, MISTER MAGUS?”

“Hmm,” said Mezil. “A puzzle’s on my mind. However, I do not have the clue to draw a definite conclusion.”

Confident as ever, Papyrus puffed up his chest and posed. “THE GREAT PAPYRUS WILL HELP YOU SOLVE ALL YOUR PUZZLES! YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, NYEH HEH HEH! BUT WHERE IS IT?”

“You’re in it right now.”
“EH?”

The old man huffed in slight irritation. “Why so clueless? Life is always the greatest puzzle. More so with all these time shenanigans.”

This Magus was a strict principal through and through, complete with fussy impatience.

Uncle Gaster patted Papyrus’ on the back. “Come along, my boy. Your parents are eager to teach you the arts as well. They had learned quite a bit from our time together.”

“Parents?” Mezil raised a brow. But, he declined to ask further. “I see… well then. Don’t keep them waiting either.”

The Magus gently tapped the young skeleton’s femur with his fancy cane. “Go on, hop to it.”

The lessons concentrated on controlling his innate power. It followed a cycle of meditation and combat: ebbing in tides of calmness and action.

He must time his powers right to survive.
Too slow and he won’t catch the window of opportunity.
Too quick and he’d give away his tricks to the enemy.

Uncle Gaster and his parents weren’t pushovers. The power and the randomized patterns they conjured were up to par with Undyne’s skill. Sans just made them look easy.

After what seemed like hours, he had passed the first test. Though, it was still far below Sans’ standards. The elder brother was a true master and it was not something that could be achieved in just one lesson.

Papyrus felt ready, but at the same time he knew that he’ll come back to this hideout again.

Mezil led them out through the front door. He had an outdoor garden. Water flowed in between the zones of greenery, creating soothing streams.

Everything was a digital mimicry. Yet somehow, it calmed the skeleton’s mind for the task ahead.

A console waited at the middle of a stone platform. When the Magus got close to it, the screen lit up.

It read: LOADING SCREEN.

The interface behind the cover reminded Papyrus of a photo album. This man had eleven pages, each displaying nine slots.

This time, only ‘File 1’ had a picture inside: it contained an image taken from Mezil’s point of view.

“WHAT ARE THOSE?” Papyrus asked.

“My SAVES,” Mezil answered in a plain, matter-of-fact manner. “I started out with just one slot and expanded my capacity from there. This will allow me to make multiple checkpoints for shorter jumps in time.”

“BUT WHERE ARE YOUR OTHER SAVES? I THOUGHT YOU’RE AN OLD VETERAN. YOU MUST HAVE ACCUMULATED THOUSANDS OF THEM BY NOW.”

“Archived. I don’t like clutter. Only those relevant to my current case will be displayed.”

Uncle Gaster stared at the sheer number of options in both awe and terror. “If Frisk survives, will they be able to do the same?”

“If they have appropriate training, then yes. We’ll cross the bridge when we get there, though.”

Mezil selected File 1. The thumbnail expanded to fill the whole screen, giving him both the timestamp and a confirmation button.

“Are you ready, Papyrus?” He asked.

Papyrus being Papyrus, he answered: “YES! I AM READY!”

‘CONFIRM’, his finger pressed. On that moment, anything that was not part of the console disappeared into the darkness.

The hideout.
The garden.
The fireflies of time.

All gone.

Instead, a grey ring appeared at the edge of the platform. It started to spin.

“OH!” Papyrus exclaimed, “YOU HAVE A SPINNING GREY DONUT JUST LIKE MY COMPUTER!”

Mezil responded, “A spinning grey what?”

Before the skeleton could elaborate, he found himself back in a familiar posture. He was on the floor, with Uncle Gaster holding his cheekbones.

The elder quickly dropped his arms. “Go, Papyrus! Hurry!”

Papyrus scrambled on his feet and dashed into the lab. This time, his orange Eye danced not out of fear…

It burned with determination.

 

* * *

 

The knife sliced his SOUL in half across the sternum. It was the same way that Sans died in a different timeline…

Papyrus sat up in the hideout bed. In this round, Mezil Thyme joined Uncle Gaster for the checkup.

“OOPS,” he said. “I DIED AGAIN. BUT, I NOW UNDERSTAND WHY METTATON WAS IN HIS GLAM FORM.”

“Oh?” Gaster said, “Do tell.”

“FRISK. OR RATHER, CHARA CONTROLLING FRISK, FLIPPED HIS SWITCH. THERE’S A SWITCH ON THE BACK THAT FORCES METTATON INTO THE SUPER STYLISH HOT ROBOT MODE.”

Mezil planted his face into his palm and shook his head. “Everyone let their guard down. Why didn’t Judge Caraway check with the Truesight Potion?”

Papyrus again was confused by the new terminology. “WHAT IS THIS TRUESIGHT POTION THING?”

“It’s the essence of Justice mixed in an alcohol-based stabilizer. Vanquishers use them to ferret out a DEMON’s secrets. Vessels, possessions, curses, the life they harvested, and what have you.”

“HMMM…” Papyrus furrowed his brows. “MISS AUNT COULD BARELY STAND WITHOUT KING ASGORE’S HELP. I DON’T THINK SHE’S WELL ENOUGH TO THINK STRAIGHT, LET ALONE DEFEND HERSELF.”

Uncle Gaster’s arms started to move on their own. They spoke to him in signs, and he conversed back in the same language.

The lack of context made it difficult to understand the full conversation. Even if Papyrus could translate the language, he couldn’t make head or tail of their words.

“Good point, Roman,” said Gaster. “I’ll pass them the message.”

“ROMAN IS DAD, RIGHT?”

“Yes. And he said that the Vanquisher had overexerted herself. Burned both ends of a candle, as the saying goes. The lady’s desire to save Frisk pushed her beyond her limit.”

Experts with experts, Mezil frowned upon the news. “This means we were already at a disadvantage.”

“IT’S OKAY!” Papyrus said, “I’LL JUST TRY AGAIN! THIS TIME I’M GOING TO PROTECT HER! …IF I DON’T DIE FIRST.”

 

* * *

 

Papyrus woke up in the realm beyond time again. He immediately got out of bed and headed towards the living room.

He’s not happy.

The elders had turned the east wall into a huge diagram. There, they recorded the attempts and the differences that happened in between.

So far, they had twenty different versions of the same incident. All ended in the youngster’s unfortunate demise.

“This is worrying,” Gaster said. “Despite the training, Papyrus was in a constant setback.”

Mezil then asked, “Did he apply the power of his Eye?”

“Yes. And yet he still failed. Look here, Magus. He repeated the same steps, but the results never matched his expectations. This can only mean one thing: Chara is exploiting dejavu.”

“Hmm,” the old man tapped his cane on the ground. “They were once a Red SOUL child too. I’m not surprised if their lingering Determination was enough to cause issues.”

Hearing the steps, Uncle Gaster turned around. “Papyrus?”

“…I HAD A VISION,” said Papyrus. “THE UNDERGROUND HAD NO KING. WHERE IS EVERYONE? IT WAS TOTAL ANARCHY AND THE PEOPLE LOST HOPE…”

 

* * *

 

As Papyrus gained mastery, his visions became clear and frequent.

The probabilities in between the best and the worst had started to fill in. The two black and white paths gradually turned into an entire tree, each with their own story to tell.

“…WHY SO MANY VARIATIONS? WHY SO MANY WAYS OF KILLING? IS IT BECAUSE IT’S FUN FOR FRISK?”

The elders couldn’t bear to answer.

 

* * *

 

Papyrus walked right out of the ‘indoor’ area. He didn’t greet his uncle, parents, or the human elder.

He sat on the garden swing, curled himself up, rested his skull on his knees, and let it rock him back and forth.

He had just seen the worst of his best friends.

Mettaton ran a brainwashing dystopia.
Undyne overthrew Toriel. Sometimes literally. With all her might. Burning hatred against humanity defined her rule.
Alphys too was consumed by hatred. She wished to kill Frisk.

Then, he witnessed his own failings.

The nation elected him as the King, but Sans did all the work. Despite their combined efforts… he couldn’t help anyone. The citizens gave in to despair, although they had more than enough to eat.

His latest vision was worse than that.

Once upon a time, Papyrus thanked the human for ‘helping’ him achieve his dreams.

Even if that ‘thanks’ included murder.

“FINALLY!! I'M IMPORTANT. AND IT'S ALL THANKS TO YOU. AND THE HORRIBLE THINGS YOU DID.”

Word for word.

“…HOW CAN I SAY THAT?” He whimpered. “IT’S SO HORRIBLE. HOW CAN I THANK FRISK FOR KILLING ANYONE…? AM I REALLY THAT STUPID?”

Too many complicated feelings roiled within him. They were emotions that he never had to wrestle with in his blissful, fortunate life.

In the midst of his self-pity, Papyrus felt a shift of weight on the swing. When he looked up, he noticed that Mezil had sat down on the opposite side.

“…I did say you will see the deepest and darkest secrets of everyone you love. Considering how much you hold yourself in high esteem, that includes you.”

The Magus’ warnings had come true.

Papyrus huddled tighter. “I WASN’T PERFECT.”

“No one is,” the elder answered. “It’s a fact of life.”

“DON’T YOU GET SCARED OF OTHERS? LIKE, YOU KNEW HOW GOOD OR BAD THEY CAN BE.”

“That’s why I am a man with very few friends.”

“IT SEEMS VERY LONELY.”

“Correct,” Mezil answered. The man tried to keep a stone-cold face, but Papyrus could see the deep sadness within him.

“…MAYBE THAT’S WHY SANS HAD NO FRIENDS EITHER. HE ONLY LOOKED LIKE HE HAD FRIENDS, BUT HE DOESN’T KEEP CONTACT. THEY ONLY SEE HIS LAZY JOKER SIDE.”

Papyrus paused before finishing his conclusion. “I ONLY SEE HIS LAZY JOKER SIDE.”

The human pushed the swing back to make it rock a little more. “Do you still think that every man, woman, and child have the potential to be good? Or have the trials changed you?”

Without much thought, the skeleton answered back: “YES, I STILL BELIEVE. I’M JUST VERY DISAPPOINTED WITH MYSELF. BECAUSE. I FAILED MY OWN STANDARDS. I SHOULD BE THE ONE SETTING AN EXAMPLE.”

Mezil then said, “Standards imposed on the self are the hardest to fulfil. Either through negligence or ignorance, we inevitably make mistakes and fall short.”

He placed his cane across the thigh and leaned forward, resting on the elbows. “Do you know why Caraway and I bear the title of ‘Judge’?”

“NO. IT SOUNDS FANCY THOUGH.”

“It’s because we evaluate others. Some people are too critical, some not enough. Our job is to make sure every person gets a fair and honest assessment. We check not only their abilities… but also their hearts.”

“I’ve encountered many who thought they could do no wrong. Considered themselves as gods walking on earth with the right to manipulate anyone to their whims. Those need to be knocked down a peg or two.”

“Then there are others who thought themselves as squirming worms, when in reality they’re caterpillars waiting to transform into a butterfly. Those need to be nurtured on the correct mental diet.”

“Judge Caraway was the latter. She came from a home who treated her as garbage. Unwanted and an eyesore. Look at her now, a majestic bird who once fought toe-to-toe with a Lichborn.”

“…If only she could improve on her etiquette,” Mezil huffed. “Manners exist for a reason! Sheesh. Calling me by nickname and shoving paperwork to me. Her lack of respect is unbelievable.”

Papyrus couldn’t help but to chuckle at his reaction a bit. “YOU’RE SO TSUNDERE.”

“What is a ‘tsundere’?” At least Mezil got the pronunciation right.

“AN ANIME TERM FOR PEOPLE WHO’RE HARSH ON THE OUTSIDE, BUT SOFT IN THE INSIDE. YOU CARE A LOT ABOUT MISS AUNT. MORE THAN YOU’D LIKE TO ADMIT.”

Mezil’s straightened his back and yelled, “No! Who do you think I am?! I just state the facts!”

“THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT A TSUNDERE WOULD SAY! NYEH HEH HEH! YOU'RE SO TSUN-TSUN, BUT YOU CAN BE DERE-DERE TOO!”

No comment. Absolutely no comment. Mezil bit his lower lip, trying to stop himself from further digging his own grave.

Papyrus just laughed at his reaction.

“THANKS MISTER MAGUS,” the youngster smiled back. As much as a skeleton could anyway.

Mezil returned to his usual stoic front. “For?”

“TALKING TO ME. I DON’T REALLY UNDERSTAND WHY, BUT LISTENING TO YOUR LECTURE MADE ME FEEL A TON BETTER. SO, THANKS.”

“This is the wonder of education, Papyrus. It’s not as bad as schoolchildren complain. You know, it is entirely possible to learn without ever being educated.”

With a hand on his chest, Mezil said, “True education lies in character building. The SOUL. Right in here. Remember that.”

“OKAY!” Papyrus pumped his arm. “I’LL REMEMBER FOR SURE! LET’S GET BACK TO THE REAL WORLD AND TRY AGAIN.”

“Yes. Let us.”

Chapter Text

“No, Helvetica. We’re not getting Sans.”

The right arm shoved Papyrus’ dusty red scarf into Gaster’s face. It was the one salvaged from the first night of the youngster’s proxy duty.

Gaster talked straight into the fabric, muffling his words. “I understand your frustrations, but we don’t know the location of your seraphim. Even if we do know, I won’t let our ally set foot anywhere near him. For Judge Thyme’s personal safety.”

The angry missus literally rubbed it in. At some point, her husband had to pry her away.

“Unfortunately, my expectations of Sans are indeed that low. Apologies.”

While dear mother continued to fight with Uncle Gaster, Papyrus lay down on the couch. He hugged a cushion and stayed very silent.

The ever-branching data of timelines had now occupied the entire perimeter of the living room. Just looking at the lines gave Papyrus a headache, let alone to compute the mess.

Mezil squeezed the bridge of his nose. Even the experienced Magus grew fatigued from the sprawling web of recorded maybes.

“Children are creative, as the saying goes.” Said the Magus, “In Chara’s case, they’re too creative. We need to subtract a factor if we want to streamline this mess.”

Roman’s hand made some signs. Gaster translated him while being smothered by the scarf. “He’s asking if you know which factor to subtract.”

“Not yet,” Mezil answered. “I’m still missing a vital clue.”

Papyrus then blurted, “I KEEP HAVING THIS WEIRD FEELING THAT WE’RE MISSING THE OBVIOUS.”

It was the first time the youngster talked since he returned to the Hub. The statement caught everyone’s attention. Even dear mother stopped venting her frustrations on her husband’s best friend.

“What do you mean?” Asked Uncle Gaster.

“UUUH. HOW DO I PUT THIS? IT’S LIKE, RIGHT BEFORE MY EYES. BUT I GOT TOO DISTRACTED WITH ALL THE CHAOS.”

“Is it dejavu?”

“NO. NOT THAT. MMM… IT’S A CROSSWORD PUZZLE. THE CLUES DESCRIBE A WORD YOU SHOULD KNOW, BUT IT’S SO HARD TO GET THE ANSWER. OR. OR JUMBLES. ALL THE CORRECT WORDS ARE HIDDEN INSIDE THE SQUARE OF GIBBERISH ALPHABETS. WHICH MAKES THINGS REALLY HARD TO SEE.”

Gaster pointed at the timeline diagrams. “So you’re saying that we’re having the spacetime version of a jumble and crossword puzzle combined into one?”

“YES.” Maximum Papyrus Logic, but an apt one.

The details flew right over Mezil’s head. “May… I have a translation on his analogy, Doctor Gaster?”

The other expert replied, “Papyrus said that it’s an answer we should have thought of much, much sooner. But, we’re getting distracted by the noise.”

“And hence the madam’s insistence on finding the elder brother.”

“Yes.” Gaster motioned his hand over the diagrams. “Analysis is his true field of expertise. Not stand-up comedy.”

Mezil sighed. “I’m going to get more coffee.”

His progress was impeded by an outstretched bony right arm, still clutching the red scarf. The person behind it was Papyrus’ mother. She’s a woman with her own brand of feistiness.

Gaster cringed a bit. “Helvetica had grown tired of coffee. And tea. And assorted other pre-generated consumables. She wants a proper kitchen to prepare meals for us all. Her own personal touch. Do you perhaps have a module that matches her requirements…?”

“I do,” the Magus answered. “Please wait for a moment.”

He walked over to a painting and flipped it around. Doing so revealed another console, this time for room management. After pressing some buttons, the living room’s west wing gained an extra door.

The data generated a modest kitchen. Not very fancy, but not under-equipped either. It had all the necessities for a normal family.

Mezil explained, “I don’t usually cook. But, I once had to save the life of someone who does. Hence the kitchen. I hope it’s not too outdated.”

Papyrus being Papyrus, had gone sparkly eyed from the addition. “THIS IS SOOOOO COOL! OH, WHAT DID YOU HAVE TO SAVE YOUR FRIEND FROM?”

“A major conspiracy,” he explained. “In one night, that fellow died in a total of thirteen unique ways.”

“…I CAN IMAGINE THE AMOUNT OF UNFUN INVOLVED. NO WONDER THEY WANTED TO CHILL OUT AND COOK DELICIOUSNESS.”

“Correction. I was the one having the most ‘unfun’. I was forced to mark his memories so he could stop making the same stupid, moronic, idiotic mistakes over and over. He’s an enemy of blood-pressures.”

“OUCHIES,” Even Papyrus understood the pain, “THAT’S DOUBLE THE UNFUN.”

“At least he cooks reasonably well as compensation.”

Both husband and wife clapped their hands in glee. It made the prim and proper Gaster look thoroughly silly. His embarrassment shone through on the expression of his skull.

“W-what would you like to eat?” Asked Gaster.

What else other than good old tomato spaghetti and meatballs? After punching in the required ingredients on the kitchen console, the skeleton parents cooked up three plates of pasta.

Papyrus slurped it up right away, praising its deliciousness. It was as though the grim and glum situation never existed.

“Oh my, it is indeed well-done,” Mezil admitted. “Hats off to you, Sir and Madam.”

Edibles in The Void did nothing in the physical sense, providing no real nourishment as the residents exist in a digital state. But, it helped change the moods and mind.

Determination: it’s a game of resolve.

 

* * *

 

The meal’s loving touch must have boosted morale to new heights. Because, for the first time in this long, long night…

Papyrus survived.

Grillby passed the phone back to its rightful owner, saying, “…You should give your friend a call…”

“THANK YOU, GRILLBY!” The youngster read the message, scrolled all the way to his number and dialled it.

One beep later, the Magus answered. “Hello?”

“MISTER MAGUS! I DID NOT DIE!” Papyrus proclaimed his survival with utmost pride.

“Excellent! What about your friends?”

The skeleton then started sweating a bit. “WELL. ABOUT THAT. THEY DIDN’T MAKE IT. MISS AUNT MADE THIS REALLY CREEPY STAR OUT OF HER OWN BLOOD. AND UNCLE GASTER IS USING HIS MAGIC TO STOP CHARA FROM SLAMMING DOWN THE DOOR.”

There was a loud, audible groan from the other end of the phone line. “It’s just like my first meeting with your uncle.”

“WHAT SHOULD I DO NOW?”

“Observe. Since you’re there, you might be able to give us a fresh angle. Call back when you’re done.”

A fresh angle. One that the elders had missed due to their attention on the wrong details.

Papyrus walked towards the bloody seal. He kept his ears open for any oddities in dialogue.

By now, he couldn’t quite remember the timeline of when the wake happened. Hazy. It was too far back, and his memory retention isn’t as good as his brother’s.

But he always recalled one detail.

‘Determination’.

Chara was trying to get Frisk to ‘fill their SOUL with Determination’.

Does Frisk know this?
Was that the reason why they commit suicide again and again?
Would they have enough dejavu to remember any changes?

“UNCLE GASTER?” Asked Papyrus.

“Yes?” The uncle replied, albeit strained by the task.

“DO YOU THINK FRISK CAN REMEMBER ALL THESE TIME SHENANIGANS? BECAUSE OF THEIR DETERMINATION?”

“…Perhaps. By default, they would remember everything. But we had drained them to the point of normalcy.”

“THEY’RE GRADUALLY BECOMING NOT-NORMAL THOUGH.”

“That is also true. It doesn’t help that the DEMON is a parasite in and of itself.”

Chara continued to feed reasons for Frisk to do the deed, while Frisk continued to struggle against the possession.

An idea flashed through his mind. It might be outrageous. It sounds nuts even by his own outlandish standards.

But he must try. This could be ‘the other angle’ that they needed.

Papyrus dove to the entrance. He pressed his front cranium bone on the sealed lab door.

“What are you doing?” Asked Gaster.

He knocked on it twice. Then, Papyrus yelled as loud as his ribcages would ever allow.

“FRISK!”

His voice must reach the other side no matter what.

“BE AS LAZY AS SANS! I NEED YOU TO DO DEFINITELY TOTALLY ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!!”

“IF YOU KEEP FIGHTING, THE FUTURE GETS TOO COMPLICATED AND I CAN’T HELP YOU!”

In all the timelines, Frisk tried everything they could to subdue Chara. Doing so added an extra factor to the graphs.

“SO DON’T DO ANYTHING! JUST RELAX! LET IT ALL GO! BE TRASH! I -- THE GREAT PAPYRUS -- WILL SAVE YOU!”

The skeleton drew in breath for one final plea.

“TRUST ME!!!”

The DEMON mocked and jeered him. That didn’t matter. He tuned out all the hate and concentrated on Frisk’s response.

In the tiniest of voices, they said: “Please, save me.”

“OF COURSE!”

“Thank you,” Frisk replied. Soon after, the child forced out their SOUL and shattered it.

Silence fell. But, this time a glimmer of hope shone in the darkness. Gaster’s grin confirmed it.

“My, my, my…” he said. “It was indeed obvious in hindsight.”

Papyrus called Mezil again.

“MISTER MAGUS, I THINK I SOLVED THE FACTOR PROBLEM. CAN WE RESET NOW TO TEST?”

 

* * *

 

The experiment was a success.

Chara had mistaken Frisk’s lack of participation as their victory, not realising that it was a trap. Their dejavu was not as strong without extra Determination to leech on.

Now all he needed to see was Chara’s possible moves without Frisk’s struggles.

Papyrus managed to send Mettaton flying to safety right before Chara plunged the knife into his back. He no longer needed to send bones to turn a SOUL blue.

Slowly yet surely, he’s learning Sans’ tricks.

It didn’t stop there. The repeats had further sharpened his mastery over his new Eye magic. He dodged and parried every single one of Chara’s strikes.

As the fight continued, Undyne ran over to Mettaton to check up on him. She had her spear out to guard the dazed celebrity.

Finally, Papyrus managed to disarm the DEMON of their weapon. He used his gravity-defying magic to stab it into the ceiling: a place far out of reach for a human child.

Victory should be at hand.

But, since when life was so simple?

The kid stomped down on his kneecaps. It made him stumble and loosen his grip.

Then the DEMON pounced on Cenna and tried to rob her standard issue gun. The struggle caused a misfire that shot through the woman’s thigh.

“MISS AUNT!” He cried out.

That was his mistake. The DEMON aimed the gun towards Papyrus and pulled the trigger.

Again and again.

Upon his death, Papyrus fell into a vision.

Somehow, this time the vision took place at a very different place…

HUH? WAIT. WHERE AM I?

It took him to a land covered in snow.
Surrounded by real trees.

Under a clear, starry sky.

The Surface.

He witnessed his brother standing at one end. His Eye sputtered between the shades of yellow and blue.

He’s not grinning. That eternally upright curve turned downwards.

SANS? SOMETHING’S NOT RIGHT.

Frisk was jailed in a cage made of bone. They struggled to stand, leaning against the bones for support.

FRISK? WHY ARE YOU FALLING ASLEEP?

His opponent was a masked woman dressed in heavy winter clothes. They had their black hair cut to shoulder length.

“Wow, you’re still standing. I’m impressed.”

Papyrus recognized that voice.

OH MY GOD, MISS AUNT?!?!?!
WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR HAIR???

Sans tried to straighten up and focus, but his body swayed. With a low growl he asked, “What the hell did you do to me?!”

Cenna shrugged. “Nothing much. Just, you know, I've spiked your usual ketchup supply with sedatives. Like in the previous timeline, or so I was told. This time, there’s no public MTT broadcasting either. Convenient for the both of us, eh?”

Her teasing dropped into dead seriousness on a bat. She summoned her SOUL and transformed it into a hawk.

“There’s no way in hell I’m gonna let a Grim Reaper kidnap my kid.”

Sans flashed a sly grin. “Welp, they ain’t yours either.”

The two duelled. Golden feathers clashed against the bones of decay. Blasters tore through the woods, and bee-like drones danced around the lightshow.

WAIT, WHY ARE YOU TWO FIGHTING?
SERIOUSLY! IT’S AS IF THE WORLD FORGOT HOW TO TALK THINGS OUT!

In the end, Sans’ aim held true. One of his toxic bones pierced through his opponent’s SOUL. The violet bits of decay consumed the bird. Golden flakes crumbled into bits that soon faded away.

She fell straight onto the snow, still and lifeless.

Papyrus watched the scene in horror. He just beheld his brother kill Frisk’s only remaining relative.

Sans continued to struggle against his condition. Cenna’s sedatives began to override his will as he staggered towards the bone cage. “C’mon kid… Let’s… let’s get you out of here…Just hide a few months. And… I’ll take you home… okay?”

Then Cenna’s body started to move. Grasped in her hand was a small fragment of her SOUL. She had kept it hidden for this moment.

The Magus stood up, drew out her gun… and pointed it square at Sans.

I… I REMEMBER THIS!

I HAD THIS VISION ONCE! WHEN I GOT ELECTROCUTED BY MY MEGALICIOUS ELECTRIC FENCE!

BACK THEN I THOUGHT IT WAS JUST A DREAM. OH NO, IT’S ACTUALLY REAL?!?

Everything went downhill from that point onwards.

Sans retaliated, but the drugs kicked in at the worst possible time. That was when he lost control and slipped his footing.

The blaster went a full circle, following the direction of his arm. First it destroyed Cenna, then the trees…

At the very end was none other than his own brother.

Papyrus.
The one who tried to defend Frisk from the light of death.

 

* * *

 

After the youngster’s defeat, both Gaster and Mezil tutored Papyrus in another art of advanced magic. The expertise of the world above and the world below combined for a common purpose.

Papyrus had already mastered his progressive energy of Bravery. Now he must learn to apply his two other traits: Kindness and Integrity.

To heal, protect, and reinforce. He must perform all these on the dot if he was to conjure the ideal shield.

More hours of training passed by in the realm beyond time.

During one of the break-times, Papyrus took the opportunity to ask some nagging questions, “UNCLE GASTER, CAN I ASK MORE ABOUT MY BROTHER?”

The old skeleton had the face of a man who wanted to speak nothing on the subject. But then, they had come this far. It’s too late to hide: more so from the ‘Living Chronograph’.

He relented in the end. “What do you wish to know about?”

“HIS MAGIC EYE.” Papyrus glanced to the side. “I THOUGHT THEY’RE JUST REALLY COOL SPECIAL EFFECTS. WITH SOME UNIQUE MAGIC.”

Between sips of his custom-spiced coffee, Mezil said, “That would help put some of my cases into context too. Sans had tangled with us Magi for a long, long while… in the other timelines, as Papyrus’ latest vision had confirmed.”

Gaster squinted at the Magus. He then said, “I hope you two understand that under normal circumstances, I’ll be charged for divulging national secrets.”

“I DON’T THINK WE EVER HAD A LAW FOR THAT,” commented Papyrus. “OR MAYBE WE HAD ONE. I CAN’T QUITE REMEMBER.”

“No, no, Papyrus. You wouldn’t know. It’s information so classified that not even your senior Undyne knows anything about it.”

As usual, Papyrus asked: “WHY?”

Gaster hesitated to answer for one odd moment. It was a tall-tale sign of deflection.

He nonetheless gave a reason. A different one than the heart of the truth, but still valid.

So the old skeleton said, “Because the exact combinations of a Seer’s Eye is a very personal subject. It’s not something to air in public. Dangerous, even. If the wrong person knows your true colours, they can think up of ways to counter it.”

“Which I’m very sure the Magi had figured out by now.” A suspicious glare intensified at Mezil, the human. “I was there when the Vanquisher tried to trap Sans. She recited all three colours plus their connection with ‘death’. I don’t see why I should elaborate more.”

Mezil lifted his mug towards Papyrus and said, “Well, our young man here is ignorant by no fault of his own. At least give him the basic facts. Otherwise, he’ll forever remain lost and confused.”

To the very end, the stubborn skeleton struggled to spill the beans. Then came Helvetica. She raised her arm all too ready to smack some sense back into the doctor. Dear mother had given this guy no rest.

“Alright, alright! Put that hand down Helvetica,” Gaster surrendered at last. “I tell you, whenever it’s about your sons your willpower multiplies by the hundreds.”

The bony scientist plucked out one of Mezil’s screens of digital light. “Pen, please,” he said, and a holographic pen appeared for the taking.

Gaster wrote down the list of two people.

Sans Serif
Cyan: Patience.
Yellow: Justice.
Purple: Perseverance.

Cenna Caraway
Yellow: Justice. [MAJOR]
Purple: Perseverance. [MINOR 1]
Green: Kindness. [MINOR 2]

“Judge Thyme,” said Gaster, “In your school, all your practitioners have one dominant and two lesser traits. Am I right?”

“Correct,” Mezil confirmed. “The colour of the SOUL, or ‘Psychia’, determines their ‘Major’. Most of their power will be there. The two other extras are called ‘Minors’. They grant the Magus some extra abilities, but they will always be white. Not to mention they’re weak compared to a Major of the same colour.”

Papyrus remembered his duel with Cenna when she first visited Ebott. “OH! I NOTICED THAT MISS AUNT KEPT USING HER GLASSY BUBBLE SHIELDS TO BLOCK MY BONES! I HAD TO STOP THE FIGHT BECAUSE SHE’LL FAINT IF I CONTINUED. HOSPITAL TRIPS ARE UNFUN.”

“AND MISTER MAGUS, YOUR ARM HAD THESE COOL GLOWY WHITE LINES TOO! LIKE THE OIL BOTTLES UNCLE GASTER TAUGHT ME TO REINFORCE.”

Mezil nodded to the statements and said, “Correct. For someone with no Cyan or Purple, you’re quite observant. By the way, your concern over Judge Caraway’s health is very endearing. No wonder she’s so fond of you.”

Papyrus beamed in both pride and happiness. Getting the correct answer always felt great.

Back to subject. Gaster started to draw lines on Sans’ list, connecting them with each other. “For us Seers, all traits are equal. There are no Majors or Minors. Each and every colour supports each other to their fullest potential. Think of it as a blended canvas painting.”

“Cyan, the essence of Patience. Patience is the root of ‘Wisdom’. Time does not matter for Sans: he’ll wait and observe until he had the best answer to a solution. If he needed years to achieve his goal, he’ll accept it.”

“Yellow, the essence of Justice. Justice is the root of ‘Truth’. His patient wisdom further enhanced his sense of judgement. Accurate problem solving at their most timely point. This is where the scope of our sights differ. I saw the DEMON’s image and only that. Sans would have seen their very heart. Their intent. The reason behind their actions.”

“Purple, the essence of Perseverance. Perseverance is the root of ‘Intellect’. True knowledge comes from a disciplined pursuit of study. One can be ‘smart’, but smarts alone are fragile. You think I’m a genius because I remember details? Goodness. I know he’s capable of outdoing me. This is the power that allows him to will relevant memories from across timelines.”

Gaster dropped the pen and let it sink into the holographic screen. “Once upon a time we lost our Prince along with our First Human, both the most valuable Golden Quiches of the Underground. Our ‘stars’. Our ‘hopes’ and ‘dreams’. Life was never the same since the tragedy.”

The old skeleton lifted his hands to indicate that he included the parents. “The three of us took Sans’ birth as a sign of new hope. He was our Golden Quiche, one brimming with potential to lead our people to glory.”

He then dropped both hands on the lap in utter disappointment. “…Who now wastes his life in a bar. Some promise he was.” A bitter sigh followed.

Papyrus stared down on his own feet. He doesn’t understand. The details described by Uncle Gaster sounded mind-blowing.

Yet, Sans never seems to see himself that way. It didn’t help that his brother presented himself as a comical caricature all the time.

“SO, SANS IS THE REAL ABANDONED QUICHE?” Asked Papyrus. “WHO QUIT ON HIMSELF?”

Gaster answered, “An accurate analogy.”

Mezil finished the last of his coffee and placed the mug back on the table. “Thank you very much,” he said. “That’s very informative. Well, it’s time to continue our lessons. We still have a long way to go.”

 

* * *

 

The reinforced shield blocked Chara’s stomp. Made the kid yelp and hop around for a few seconds too. ‘Get rekt’ as the internet might say.

Papyrus then tossed Cenna into Asgore’s arms. He needed to get the alternative source of a weapon as far away as possible.

Alphys yelped at the sudden incoming body, but King Dreamy dropped his trident just in time to catch the human woman.

“YOUR MAJESTY,” he said, “TAKE THE LADIES AND RUN!”

While he gave the instruction, Chara zipped past his feet.

“WHERE ARE YOU GOING???” Papyrus yelled.

The DEMON picked up Asgore’s trident. They dragged it along the ground as they attempted to swing it. It’s heavy.

Papyrus parried the clumsy blows with his shield. “STOP! YOU’RE GOING TO HURT YOURSELF!”

Chara didn’t care. They kept tossing the weight, crashing the weapon into anything it strikes. Papyrus tried to catch it before they wreck the DT-Extraction Machine.

The DEMON, upon that very moment, used the distraction to slam into Papyrus’ tibia and knocked him off his feet. He looked up just in time to see the pointed prongs descend upon his skull.

Again, the cause of his death resonated into a vision.

He saw Mezil Thyme talking to a human couple. The bronze plate of a weighing scale hung high above the imposing walls.

WHAT IS THIS PLACE? IT LOOKS FAMILIAR. HMMM I THINK IT’S THIS ‘COURTHOUSE’ THING I SAW IN ANIME ONCE.

Papyrus recognized Cenna right away despite her super short boy’s cut. She stood next to her senior, except there was something wrong about her.

MISS AUNT? WHAT ARE THOSE STRANGE METAL CAGES AROUND YOUR LEGS?

AND YOU GOT A REALLY WEIRD CANE. IT’S STRAPPED TO YOUR ARM. IF YOU WANT TO BE STYLISH LIKE MISTER MAGUS, YOU NEED TO GET A FANCY ONE!

…YOU LOOK SO SAD. WHY?

The human couple was happy, but Mezil… not quite. He interrupted the celebration by tapping his own cane on the ground. Loud.

“I’ll have you know that the benefits are NOT for your own enjoyment!” Mezil said. “They’re for Frisk. In two years time they will undergo an initiation trial and it’s your job to prepare them for that.”

The woman quietened down. “Y-yes, Judge Thyme. We understand.”

“…I hope you do. Because I will make you pay for any irresponsibilities in person. Such as the funeral charges and your loss of reputation.”

OH UH. THEY’RE GETTING GRILLED BY THE PRINCIPAL.
BUT… MISTER MAGUS SAID THE MONEY IS FOR FRISK? I DON’T REMEMBER ANYTHING ABOUT THIS TIMELINE. IT MUST BE VERY BORING.

Asgore approached the humans. An air of sorrow hung over his head.

The husband of the couple grumbled at the sight. “What now?” He complained, “Is one year not enough for you? We’re done with this custody case too, you know.”

‘Custody’. Papyrus remembered that sometime in his current timeline, the Ebott gang gathered together to talk about complicated human legalities.

LE GASP! T-THIS IS LEGALIZED CHILDNAPPING!

Asgore bowed his head to Mezil. “Sir, will you reconsider this? My wife… she can’t take another loss. We promise to do everything we can to raise this child. Please, just give us a chance.”

Mezil turned towards the ex-King. In his most stern professional voice, the Magus said, “Asgore Dreemurr, Frisk is not a pet. I’m very sure your community has many children in need of care. There’s no need to latch onto this human child.”

“Of course we don’t consider Frisk a pet,” said Asgore. “They’re our saviour, they who liberated our entire civilization. They’re more than special to us.”

“Do you even know your child?” Mezil questioned. “Their history, their circumstance, their life before the Underground? Have they ever confessed anything to you?”

The fluffy King was caught off guard by heated pressing. “I… no,” he replied. “We didn’t want to pressure Frisk into disclosing their old life.”

Mezil thumped the cane on the polished stone floors. “If you’re that ignorant, how can I entrust you with the future of humanity?”

The grilling continued. “Do you even know their true potential? This is not about racism or old bad blood, King Asgore. This is about fate.”

“If things continue to go your way, Frisk will die for certain in the trial. They won’t be prepared. Not emotionally, nor mentally.”

Asgore’s fur started to stand on their ends. “W-what? Why would you put a child through such a dangerous thing?”

“If left unchecked, your lovely child could end up being a danger to everyone else. No one stays young. Things change, for better or for worse.”

 

* * *

 

Mezil sat at the edge of the bed, waiting for the time when the Seer returned from his walk in time.

For Papyrus, his appearance was one he had come to know as a teacher.
A good guy.
A tsundere.

The man who gave him the precious second chance.

Not a conspirator who robbed the Dreemurrs of their child.

“Seer,” thus said the Magus. “What did you see?”

Papyrus had always faced the truth head on with honesty and courage.

Yet, this time…he rolled to the side and faced away.

“I RATHER NOT TALK ABOUT IT, MISTER MAGUS,” said Papyrus.

“Is it about me? I figured it out when your uncle said you were speared by your King’s trident. The King and I spoke face-to-face once.”

Experts will be experts. The lack of answer might as well be a resounding ‘yes’ broadcasted on a microphone.

“WHY DID YOU DO THAT?” The youngster asked. “IT’S NOT NICE.”

Mezil answered, “I thought it’s the best for everyone.”

“BUT NO ONE IS HAPPY. INCLUDING YOU.”

The Magus had no answer.

Papyrus gathered the blanket sheets and tried to bury himself underneath a pile. “…I STILL DON’T GET IT. WHY PEOPLE KEEP SECRETS. IT JUST. HURTS MORE IN THE LONG RUN.”

“Why are you so puzzled? Your reaction now is proof of concept. Not everyone can handle the truth.”

The human hung his greyed head low in conflicted guilt. “Misunderstandings. Conflicts. Resentment. Condemnation. We lie to protect ourselves from all of those. Half the time it’s done out of love for the other person.”

“AND THE OTHER HALF?”

“Selfish fear. Well. In my case it’s both.”

Mezil leaned his cane against the mattress. He brought his hands together and squeezed them. “When I became Humanity’s Ultimate Weapon, I had to make a choice and live with it. The results are not always pretty or clean. Perhaps that is my biggest flaw.”

“WHAT IS THIS CHOICE?”

“I chose to protect the world from itself. Under my watch, I’m determined to ensure that this era will not collapse from assorted power struggles. Both political and magical, internal and external; I am the Keeper of Peace. Who do you think protects monsterkind from human prejudice and bigotry?”

“This is my lifelong duty. The disaster of the ‘Fallen Hero’ cannot repeat. Can -never- repeat. If I fail, two lives must sacrifice themselves to stop the menace. Monsters and humans must reconcile from past wars. If we do not… we will all cease to exist.”

“IT SOUNDS HEAVY,” the youngster commented.
“Correct.”

Papyrus didn’t know what to think. It’s all so complicated and huge. Never in his life he thought he’d face them outside of the screens of fantasy.

“CAN I BE ALONE FOR A BIT?”

“Take your time,” Mezil replied. He took his cane and made his leave.

It would be quite a while before Papyrus got out of bed…

Chapter Text

Papyrus made a mental note to himself: ‘Tridents pierced at the wrong angle will turn scarves into deadly weapons.’

The DEMON in all their twisted cunning had turned his favourite article of clothing into a noose.

Skeletons don’t breathe, but the cause of death by hanging doesn’t always come from lack of air: it’s the detachment of the spine. With enough weight and force, the effects might as well match decapitation.

Chara forced Papyrus down on the loop of doom with their entire body weight.

As Papyrus struggled in his last moments, he heard the voices of a time long past.

“Father! What are you doing with Mother’s dust?!”

The cries came from Uncle Gaster, but he sounded… younger. About Papyrus’ current age.

“Father, what are you talking about? The Barrier isn’t broken! Get away from there! No! I’m not seeing the sun or sky or trees or anything of that sort! That’s the Barrier, Father. Nothing but the Barrier!”

“Father?”

“Father listen to me! If you try to cross, you’ll die! Please don’t die! Mother is gone and you’re all I have left! Please stop no please why?”

“Am I not good enough for you?”
“Don’t you love me???”
“Father please!”

“NO!!!”

At the height of emotion, Papyrus heard his own neck snap.

The vision began. This time, he found himself in darkness. Unlike the other visions, he’s missing most of the surroundings… as if he stood inside The Void itself.

How strange.
Before his sight was none other than Uncle Gaster. He was of solid bones and he had legs. Some nicely polished shoes too.

The man stood before an altar. Four portraits lined up on top of a carved stone table, and they were all skeletons.

‘Mother’, ‘Father, ‘Times Roman’, ‘Helvetica’.

Papyrus pulled himself closer to observe the pictures.

Helvetica was a tall beauty who wore a bright red scarf. Papyrus noticed that it was the exact same fabric as the one he owned. Except, newer and less tattered.

Roman was the spitting image of his youngest son. The calmer temperament showed on his default expression, but the features almost matched one to one.

The other two portraits belonged to Gaster’s parents. They were dressed in clothes that he had never seen before. They wore flowing black robes accentuated by elaborated embroidery. Very wizard-like.

The one labelled ‘Mother’ used orange threads, while the one labelled ‘Father’ used cyan threads.

As for Gaster himself, Papyrus noticed the strange eye-socket cracks had never changed place. Before, he thought it was the result of being a goopy merged entity.

No, those were scars.

Gaster poured some red tea into the offering cups and lit the candles. He then served the remainder for himself.

Sombre darkness hung overhead. The light may shine, but the isolation remained.

“Good news,” said Gaster. “Sans Serif completed his studies and graduated in full. Just as he promised on his parents’ dust. I let him celebrate with his friends until the day began anew. Took one million photos, I’d surmise. Honestly, watching him so joyful lifted my spirits as well.”

He took one sip of his bitter tea and sighed. “…Then he handed in a letter of resignation to King Asgore. Wanted to revive your hotdog business, Roman. So he said. And of course, our beloved soft-hearted King accepted it.”

One more sip. “Well, he did say that he’ll graduate. And only graduate. He didn’t swear that he’d continue his career path. Oh no, not at all. I got conned by my own protégé on the play of semantics. How shameful.”

Papyrus had no commentary. His uncle was so lonely that he’s monologuing to the dead. The younger knew how that felt: during his sentry days he’d often do the same to rocks and mirrors.

“Helvetica. Roman. I’m sorry, but this is the truth about your son. He turned his back against the nation and chose a quiet life of mediocrity. As he’s said to me, ‘there’s a thin line between a fort and a prison’.”

“Such was the conclusion of his extensive analysis. I suppose that is valid. If a Tactician saw no chances of victory, he has the right to cancel a war before it began. Even… even if the citizens would despair from the decision.”

“But no, Sans didn’t do that. Instead he withdrew himself from the equation. Passed all the duties back to the King. To me.”

Gaster finished his cup. He tried to pour more tea, but the teapot ran dry. The man set it down and sighed.

“I know Sans hates me. Our relationship was a failure from the very beginning. You’re the only reason he ever tolerated me, Roman. Don’t think I didn’t notice it. I’m not a fool. And when you’re gone… Let’s just say he’d rather seal his baby brother than to seek my help.”

Gaster walked over to the foot of the altar and sat down there. Leaned his back against it. He struggled to blink away the coloured tears that began to gather at his sockets.

“I don’t know what to do anymore. I wish you’re here now. All of you. Mother, Father, my friends. I’m so lost. So alone.”

Deep breaths. Take in deep breaths. With resolve, this broken man kept himself from falling apart.

“I cannot surrender,” he said, “If I give up now, King Asgore’s sacrifices will all be in vain. His Majesty had suffered enough.”

“There’s… one experiment left. If I don’t try this, burden will overcome me.”

Strengthened by conviction, the man stood up. He moved the portraits of Roman and Helvetica. Behind them lay a box, and inside it contained two vials of dust.

One for the husband, one for the wife.

Gaster took the vials and turned away from the altar. The objects faded as he walked alone to a different place.

Again, no walls. Only the most relevant objects exist. Was this a reflection of this man’s psyche?

A bed, a cabinet, and a mirror emerged from the dark nothingness. Papyrus watched Gaster switch into his best formal coat. Made sure everything was perfect and in place.

He strung the vials of dust to a golden chain: the original pendant removed to make way for its new purpose. Then, Gaster wore the remnants of his friends around his neck.

It doesn’t look like he’s retiring for bed. It’s not very comfortable to sleep in those fancy clothes. Pajamas were loose and simple for a reason.

Once he finished, Gaster searched the pockets of his hung-up lab coat.

He pulled out a syringe filled with glowing red liquid. Full capacity.

“…This may be fatal,” said Gaster. “I am well aware about the risks of untested experiments, Roman. But what else do I have to lose? I have no other living friends or family. I’m alone and in solitude. Might as well put that to good use.”

“The King, you say? Well… since Sans resigned, there’s nothing I can do. Live or die, Asgore’s mired in grief and depression. They consumed him as they had consumed my dear departed father.”

“And the Queen? None of us know if she’s still amongst us.”

Gaster chuckled at himself. “Hah. Oh Helvetica, I can imagine your flurry of slaps now. ‘Don’t be such a sad sack of bones’, you’d say. But the thing is… you’re not here anymore.”

The scientist showed the red liquid to the mirror, pretending that he had an audience.

“Do you see this? ‘Determination’, as I dubbed it. The will to keep on living. The will to change fate. The substance that made human SOULS far superior compared to us monsters.”

“What is extracted can also be injected. We monsters cannot generate even a fraction of this volume. And yet, I’m going to force all of these into my SOUL.”

“What will happen, you ask? Well. I don’t know. Other than a potential existential failure through overdose. I could ask for volunteers and cause a major medical controversy but… why do I have to do that? Let’s keep things simple. Keep it personal.”

The man lay down on his bed. He pushed his SOUL up to the surface of his chest. The glowing inverted heart pulsated gently .

“Roman. Helvetica. I think I finally understand. When Mother fell ill. Why Father lost his mind. How he threw himself into the Barrier. All of it.”

He removed the cap of the needle and placed it on the desk. Then, he pointed the sharpened tip over the center of his own SOUL.

“…If I turn to dust from this, I want nothing more than to be one with the two of you again.”

Doctor W. D. Gaster then stabbed the syringe straight into his being.

 

* * *

 

As strange as it sounds, skeletons can vomit. Though, the contents won’t be acid or bile.

Monsters are made of magic. Extreme stress can cause their energy to gather in the wrong location and flow out in the wrong direction. Thus the extras would then be forcefully ejected to re-balance the equilibrium.

At first, Gaster and the skeleparents tried to help. But their presence made the illness worse.

In the end, Mezil stepped in. He was the only other person around anyway.

Papyrus hunched over the kitchen sink and spewed out the masses of magic. The old human patted his back to comfort the youngster.

“There, there. Let it all out,” said Mezil.

There goes another round.

When it finally ended, the two settled down on the dining table with a glass of plain water. Meals won’t be on their mind anytime soon.

Papyrus planted his skull front-first on the table. Other than one gulp, the drink was left untouched.

“You’ve experienced quite a bit of horrors,” Mezil said, “Yet this is the first time I’ve seen such an extreme reaction.”

“REALLY?” Papyrus groaned.

“You don’t remember?”

“MY NOGGIN IS ALL FUZZY NOW. I CAN’T RECALL MUCH OF ANYTHING. OTHER THAN CHARA KICKING MY BUTT. AND A GUTTING SESSION WITH THE SINK.”

Mezil raised a brow. “You were crushed by this ‘DT-Extraction Machine’. You don’t recall that?”

“NOPE.” A single, simple answer.

“I see. To be honest, I thought you’d throw up much sooner. Like the time when you witnessed the doctor’s attempted suicide.”

“I WAS OKAY?”

“You took it well enough. Sad, yes. But you resolved to continue your task.”

“WOWIE. OF COURSE, I AM THE GREAT PAPYRUS. BEING COOL IS MY JOB. IN BOTH GOOD AND BAD TIMES. NYEH HEH HEH.” Somehow, Papyrus still managed to be a glory hog even at his lowest point.

The youngster wondered if he still remembered the layout of his own house. He also had a feeling he would need to reset all his passwords because he could no longer recall them. Home life was a distant past by now.

“WHAT HAPPENED TO ME?” He asked.

Mezil answered in the gentlest tone: “You were ‘Blinded’. Intense emotional trauma can cause a Seer to reject details. I believe you had a vision that’s so terrible, your entire existence forced you to forget. This happens to humans too.”

“OH. SORRY. I GUESS IT MUST BE AN IMPORTANT VISION TOO.”

“You can brute force through the shutdown. Should you decide so, I will aid you in both mind and matter.”

Then, he warned: “But do you still want to pursue the truth? We’re talking about an event that caused you to empty your non-existent gut down the sink.”

“It’s a point of no return. You cannot forget what you insist on knowing.”

Papyrus couldn’t give an answer at that moment. Nor did the Magus expect one.

In the realm outside of time, the skeleton decided to ruminate on his choices.

Gaster had holed himself up in one of the guest rooms. Papyrus figured out that the vision involved him, or rather the worst points of his life.

The youngster took his time. Played some pinball in the arcade. Walked in the garden. Listened to the water streams. Sat for what seemed like eternity on the swing.

Staring at the fireflies, he wondered about Frisk.

A child so small literally fell into these complicated adult realities.

What went through their mind as they repeated the Underground?
What went through their mind as they travelled on the Surface?
What went through their mind as they survived trials and tribulations?

The deaths.
The attacks on their SOUL.
The DEMON that haunted them.

Seeing their friends’ true colours?

How did they cope?
Maybe they didn’t, and hence everything went wrong.

They tried everything. From the best to the worst. From the healthiest to the sickest.

Yet, against all odds… Frisk recovered. They still choose to be good.

‘You cannot forget what you insist on knowing.’

To Papyrus, that sounded like a question about ‘Determination’. Is he determined enough to face the discomfort? Or will he turn a blind ‘eye’?

The prospect of permanent personal change frightened him. He won’t lie.

Papyrus went back inside and knocked on Uncle Gaster’s door. He needed someone to talk to for a final consultation.

“Yes?” The uncle answered. He kept his room locked.

“MISTER MAGUS TOLD ME WHAT HAPPENED,” said Papyrus. “AND HE GAVE ME A CHOICE, TO FORGET AND MOVE ON. OR FORCE MYSELF TO REMEMBER.”

“I see.”
“DO YOU THINK THIS EVENT COULD HELP ME SAVE FRISK?”

Gaster answered, “No. No, it won’t. Not in their current situation.”

Here Papyrus thought he could give himself an urgent, heroic reason to walk through the fire.

“WILL IT HELP ANYONE?” He asked again.

“I wouldn’t know. Just think of it this way: you now have the one in a billion chance to witness the true past. Free of bias, free of sugarcoating, free of doubt. Truth doesn’t get any more raw than this. Will you seize the opportunity? Or will you rather let dust remain dust?”

Lies.
Secrecy.

Everyone around Papyrus had resorted to this tactic in one form or the other.

Frisk. Alphys. Cenna. Mezil. Gaster.
Above all, Sans.

Their intentions were good, but in the end they’re all alone.

He remembered Alphys’ statement. Something about the stress of keeping secrets. How she was trapped in it, unable to move on and forever frightened.

Papyrus had made his decision. “SECRETS AND LIES HURT PEOPLE IN THE LONG RUN. I REFUSE TO LIVE LIKE THAT. I -- THE GREAT PAPYRUS -- WILL SEE THIS THROUGH!”

“You have my blessings, dear boy. Go. The truth awaits.”

 

* * *

 

The Magus lead Papyrus out into The Void: a free canvas in the hands of those with the right abilities.

As the ‘Living Victory’ walked, stone tiles floated up to his feet. They kept going forward until the Hub faded into the dark horizons.

They will need the nothingness for their task.

When Mezil was satisfied with the distance, he stepped aside for Papyrus. “Stand at the edge.”

He nodded and did so.

Endless ceiling, endless horizon, endless bottom. Make one false step and one will be lost.

Mezil began what may be his final lesson in this time loop. “Focus on the central point of the memory you wish to reconstruct: the DT-Extraction Machine. Then, pulsate your SOUL far and wide into The Void. Relevency is the key.”

Papyrus brought his butterfly-marked SOUL to the front. Each beat of life sent out a wave of white, rolling over the floating flakes of time’s memories.

“Bravery, the root of ‘Courage’. Courage is not the absence of fear, but a mastery over it. Go out and search for the those lost in dust and sands. Do not stop for anything or any reason. You will be afraid, but you will not succumb.”

The relevant bits resonated with his thoughts. They turned orange and ignited into wisps of orange flames.

“Integrity, the root of ‘Righteousness’. The stabilizer, the anchor, the quality that prevents drifting and deters corruption. Gravitate the memories to a single point. Call out. Draw them in. No matter how far they are.”

Blue paths connected the wisps. They floated towards the Seer like rivers to the sea.

“Kindness, the root of ‘Altruism’. To give without expecting anything in return. From such charity, you make way for healing. Some will take advantage. But so be it: the lives saved far outweigh the lives scorned. Heal the lost, Seer. Even if it means wounding yourself.”

The flames solidified into green squares, piecing themselves back together into a frame of their original forms.

“Reach. Reinforce. Restore. That is your true power. Still your mind. Focus your heart. And you will see that fateful day.”

The past came to life upon the final pulse of magic. The two now stood in a one-to-one scale digital mockup of the visions that had caused so much ill.

“SANS?” Papyrus muttered.

The teenage version of the elder brother stood before the liquid skeleton named Doctor Gaster. He had two of his Gasterblasters out, both aimed at his mentor.

On that day many years ago, Sans wore a red scarf over his blue iconic hoodie: his mother’s memento.

This marked the beginning of tragedy.

‘The Core Incident’.

Chapter Text

Papyrus needed more context.

Rewind.
Replay.

Draw in more memories here, add more details there.

The flexibility of his magic boggled his own skull. He’s making a live documentary. No makeup, no censorship.

It’s the movie of life, frame per frame.

“How old was Sans when he graduated?” Asked Mezil.

“MAYBE SIXTEEN?” Papyrus said, “I WAS ABOUT TO START SCHOOL. AND WE’RE TEN YEARS APART.”

“That’s very young.”

“HE’S A GENIUS, NYEH HEH HEH! I JUST WISH HE’S LESS LAZY.”

It’s Waterfall, the harvesting grounds for waterdogs. Sausages grow on plants in the Underground. Prolific, abundant, and tasty according to the residents.

Sans had rented a small boat from the riverperson. He rowed down the streams with a basket on his lap. Whenever a nice specimen caught his eye, he’d stop and pick that.

All the while, he had a red scarf around his short neck. Half of his face was buried beneath it.

Hiding underneath the fabric was a wide, toothy grin. He was happy. Truly happy.

Mezil tapped his chin, pondering. “Hmm. I think if you put extra focus on him, like a peg, you could also rebuild his thoughts. Audio or visual, it’s up to you.”

“WHICH WOULD BE EASIER FOR YOU, MISTER MAGUS?”

“Subtitles, please. Written words speak clearest.”

With Papyrus’ help, an interface appeared before the Magus. Written down there were Sans’ thoughts. It generated diagrams too, whenever relevant.

Sans’ mind wouldn't stop planning for the business: the stand, the location, the strategies, the recipe of his father’s famous ketchup. A new life awaits.

Papyrus was amazed with the amount of content filling up the text box. “I NEVER REALISED HIS HEAD COULD BE SO BUSY.”

“I’m not seeing laziness here,” Mezil commented, “He’s very motivated about this business idea.”

After gathering his fill, Sans stopped at the dock with a basket full of waterdogs. He hummed a merry tune as he walked down the ‘rainy’ part of the cave.

Then, the path towards the boathouse was cut off by black goo.

Sans squinted at the substance in suspicion. “Uh,” he muttered, “Did someone just dump a whole lot of putty here?”

The inky substance soon gathered into a tall man of ever-flowing liquid. He towered over the short teen and stared down with great prejudice.

Sans dropped the basket and teleported backwards in a flash. Danger, he sensed. And his trained bones responded to the urgency.

“What the hell are you?” He questioned.

Gaster glared, flashing his Seer’s colours. “Tsk. Straight to the point, I see? I have no name for my condition yet, but I can tell you what it all entails.”

The man dissolved his right sleeve and let the blackness drip. He showed Sans the scars etched into his lower arm.

The teen’s bones started to rattle. “…Why…? Why do you have them? They belong to--”

“Your mother,” Gaster finished the statement for his wayward protégé. “Remember how you weaselled out of your oath by insisting that you swore on your parents’ dust and only their dust?”

The old skeleton exposed his left arm and crossed them both together. “I’ll have you know that they are no longer so.”

Distorted questions of confusion and disgust ripped through the thoughts screen. Sans’ Eye started to flare from the increasing effort to comprehend the truth of Gaster’s body.

When he did so, the mess turned into streams of data.

“I see now,” Mezil commented, “No wonder we kept seeing that blue blaze ever since your brother stepped onto the Surface.”

“HUH?” Papyrus blinked a few times.

“Didn’t you notice he flashed around a speciality that’s supposed to be secret? It’s not because he wants to, but it’s because he must.”

Pointing his cane towards the image of the teenaged Sans, he clarified: “He’s been analyzing everything. Pushed his processing power to the limit. I don’t think he’s in shape, hence the wisps.”

“Upon every repeat, I switched key details around to prevent dejavu. Send out different people, plan out different routes. Had Judge Caraway change hairstyles and cover her face. Yes, the kidnappers were all different contacts too. An elaborate trap against their operation while fulfilling my own goals.”

“And yet I still couldn’t completely mask my tracks. My options were limited and he had seen them all.”

When Sans finished his analysis, the fires intensified. “You… you…! How dare you???

Enraged beyond reason, the youngster summoned two Gasterblasters.

Gaster’s own dual-chromatic set lit up in response. He locked Sans down in a time-freeze and reached out his left hand towards the boy’s weapons.

One yank put them in a daze, then he executed a series of hand signs. It overwrote the ownership and turned the blasters into his own.

Papyrus remembered the huge fallout in the snow field. The hijacking process happened there too.

When the time-freeze ended, Gaster pointed the floating skulls back at the boy.

The lack of experience was evident in this scene. Sans froze in fear instead of executing a quick counter.

“Sans Serif,” said the elder. “They are called ‘Gasterblasters’ for a reason. I’m their creator! Of course I’ll know their every trick.”

Gaster summoned two more of his own, adding the total to four. Four weapons of mass destruction confined in a narrow tunnel. There’s no place to run.

“Let me I’ll remind you that Seers are born with the ability to conjure ‘Skull Cannons’. Another manifestation of our human origin. It’s all a matter of improvement and passing them down to the next generation.”

“I’ve taught you everything I knew, which includes my versions of our heritage.”

Sans’ thoughts were filled with concerns for Papyrus. He considered fighting Gaster even if he was at a disadvantage, but who will take care of the little one?

Who’s going to prepare him for school?
Who’s going to feed him?
Who’s going to let him play with Big Sister Undyne?

Instead of attacking, Gaster made a demand: “Take back your letter of resignation from King Asgore. Be my assistant. You have a promise to keep, Sans Serif. Your parents are watching.”

The blasters then dispelled. He turned his back against his student, confident that there will be no reckless ambushes.

“I’ll give you thirty-six hours to report to my lab,” said Gaster. “And that’s generous. Thank your father for the extra time.”

Then that man slid away from the caverns of Waterfall.

Sans picked up whatever’s left in the basket and headed to Undyne’s fish-shaped home: provided by none other than the king, since she’s already his trainee.

Papyrus remembered now. “I WAS AT UNDYNE’S HOUSE, WAITING FOR SANS TO COME BACK WITH THE ‘DOGS. WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BOIL AN ENTIRE POT OF THEM.”

“…BUT THEN, HE CAME BACK WITH PERSONAL-SIZED HELPINGS. I ASKED HIM WHY. HE TOLD ME THAT HE GOT A JOB OFFER THAT HE CAN’T REFUSE.”

The scene played out exactly as Papyrus described. Sans tried to be happy for his cute little brother. Made his job sound awesome.

Little Papyrus was so, so overjoyed for him. On the other hand, the young Undyne noticed something wrong.

“Ah,” Mezil recognized her. “That fish girl grew up into the woman who suplexed the van. Undyne, right?”

“YES!” Papyrus answered, “SHE’S VERY STRONG.”
“Quite keen too.”

Undyne tried to talk to Sans. He continued to sidestep with jokes. Despite his cool front, Sans’ mind was filled with concern.

‘If I tell her anything about this, she’s going to flip out at Gaster. And he’s going to turn her into a grilled fish.’

Stuff like that.

“Stop the playback,” Mezil said.

The images of the past froze in place. The old human then turned to the skeleton and asked an important question: “Do you understand what just transpired?”

Papyrus tapped the tips of his mittens together and said: “I THINK SO. UNCLE GASTER MERGED WITH MOM AND DAD. THEN. HE FORCED MY BROTHER TO WORK FOR HIM AGAIN.”

“Close enough,” Mezil answered. “He’s using them as hostages. The Amalgamation was an accident. But, Doctor Gaster exploited the results for his own gain. Your brother had no choice but to bend to his will. It may seem illogical, but this is love we’re talking about.”

Papyrus could feel more of those complicated emotions coursing through his bones. He couldn’t pinpoint the exact combination, but he knew fear was part of it.

“WHAT IF SANS IGNORED UNCLE GASTER?” He asked.

Mezil answered, “You would be the next target. You are your brother’s ‘Golden Quiche’ after all.”

Realising the stakes made Papyrus sick in his non-existent stomach. Yet, he insisted on pressing on.

“I WANT TO SEE THEIR WORKPLACE. I WANT TO KNOW THEIR REAL JOB.”

The Orange Seer reached out into The Void and drew in everything related to their work. The scene pieced together faster than his first attempt. Squares joined with other squares, until they’re whole once more.

From the caverns of Waterfall, they’re now in the interiors of a laboratory.

It’s dark. Gaster had the tendency to keep lighting low. To reduce eye-fatigue, perhaps? His colour combination may tax his sight more than usual.

Sans sat on a workbench, soldering the base components of what appeared to be an electronic visor. He didn’t wear his mother’s scarf.

Meanwhile, Gaster poured over the data on his computer screen.

“…Heh,” Sans smirked. “Feels like we’re in a sci-fi movie. Doing sci-fi things.”

Gaster acknowledged the comment with an absent-minded ‘hmm’.

“How’s it going there, Gaster?” The short one asked.

“Address me by my proper title, Sans.”
“Nah.”

The elder just sighed in response. On other days, he would have make a fuss, but tonight he just wanted to get this data done.

He said, “Kindly stop prowling the Underground at night and check in 10 AM for combat training with the Captain. It’s rude to make him wait for every lesson.”

“Oh, so we’re at the stalking phase now?” Sans grumbled.

“Well, your parents’ worry has seeped into me. I lent them my power, then we found you aimlessly wandering around while your brother sleeps. Chugging ketchup.”

“I hope you understand that you’re banned from alcohol. Should your powers go haywire Underground, we’ll have a cave-in.”

“Welp,” the assistant shrugged. “I’m a legal adult now. Can’t tell me what to do.”

“Are you telling that to me, or to your mother?”

Sans shut up.

Gaster started typing down the next step on a new page. He didn’t expect an answer, nor he wanted to hear it. “After your training, we’ll go to the DT-Extraction Chamber. It’s vital that our equipment won’t reverse in time whenever someone meddles with the flow.”

“Sure we got enough of them?”

“We won’t be able to extract the required amount in one go. The Six are not limitless. We’ll drain some, feed the SOULS with energy, then wait for their Determination reservoirs to refill.”

Mezil’s text box stirred, typing down Sans’ thoughts about the situation. ‘Nice. We’re milking Human SOULS like the fabled cows now. And they’re just kids. Some better race we are. I just want to troll Papyrus with more jokes, not do this dirty shit.’

Papyrus wasn’t too impressed by the scene. “THEIR REAL JOB SEEMS REALLY BORING.”

“Well,” he said, “They’re boring for those not in the know. Much of the work is in the data itself. Hours are long, with a lot of small details. We do have a vital clue though.”

The tip of the ebony cane pointed at the visor.

“Time to witness the end result of their hard work.”

Focusing in on the visor took them into the future past. Scenes of daily life zoomed past into a flurry of movement and urban colours. Although there’s no wind, a force made the ends of their clothes flutter.

Dear mother’s tattered scarf waved like a flag of a ship.

A new vision then began at Sans reading a report card. More thought-text typed themselves onto Mezil’s screen.

‘Wow! Papyrus passed on the first try! Oh man, he’s so cool. I thought he’s going to repeat a year, but nope. Phew, I’m so glad he’s going to middle school like the rest of the kids.’

Mezil looked at Papyrus, then back at Sans’ thoughts. “Why was that such an achievement?”

“ACCORDING TO UNCLE GASTER, I GOT MENTALLY CRIPPLED.”

“Nonsense! You’re perfectly fine. I’ve seen plenty of normal humans less bright than you.”

The approval from the walking image of a principal made the bloke shine in happiness. “NYEH HEH HEH! SO YOU DO SEE THE SMARTS OF THE GREAT PAPYRUS!”

Sans kept the report card in his bag. Looking outside the window, he spotted the new Captain Undyne delegating tasks to a patrol squad.

‘She’s all grown up too. Jeez, feels like yesterday when she was a squirt who ambushed me. …Heh. Great to see her turn out right. Better than me.’

Gaster called for him. The mood went from joy to bitterness in a split second.

‘Here we go. Work. Better not let Gaster see my grumpy face. He’s gonna nag me to no end if he does.’

So the short skeleton put up his iconic grin and acted fine. Years and years of practice perfected the facade.

Papyrus watched the two scientists put together a complex machine. After they finished the interiors, they fixed in a steel shell to protect the mechanism from environmental damage.

The end result was a fanciful pillar of spacetime technology. The visor Sans built had its own compartment. A docking bay, one could say.

“Huh,” Mezil raised a brow. “Interesting. We Magi have a Chronograph with a similar design, but much bigger and taller. With a lot more server capacity too. Science is more universal than I thought.”

Papyrus gasped and planted his mittens on the sides of his jawbones. “YOU HUMANS HAVE THIS CHRONOGRAPH THING TOO? OH EM GEE! REALLY?!”

“Of course. How else can I do my job?”

Once the tech was complete, Gaster pulled a chair over with magic. He sat down and wore the visor of beyond.

“Initiate attempt No.1,” he said.

Sans began keying the commands into the computer. Graphs and readings appeared on the screen. He’d observe, adjust the flow, then observe some more.

Next to the short one was an extra monitor. It’s offline for now.

Mezil tapped his cane on the ground and muttered, “I see. Sans is a living computer. There’s no need to waste time testing an automated system.”

Papyrus squinted at the human. “MISTER MAGUS, IS THERE SOMETHING WRONG?”

“Hm?”
“YOU ALWAYS TAP YOUR CANE WHEN YOU’RE TENSED.”

The Magus kept silent for a moment. “You will understand soon enough. Concentrate on the visor. See what your uncle sees. Make an extra screen while you’re at it.”

Papyrus increased his focus. When Gaster dove into the annals of spacetime, a new screen materialized from The Void’s fireflies.

Wherever Gaster went, the extra monitor recorded his sight much like a camera. That allowed Mezil to witness the data.

The prognosis was not good.
They found no salvation.

“THAT’S FLOWEY!” Papyrus pointed out, “EXCEPT HE LOOKS A LOT SCARIER. AND BIGGER. AND MURDEROUS. WHAT GOT INTO HIM?”

Wise and experienced, Mezil answered, “Boredom. This is exactly what happens when the power over time falls into the wrong hands. My predecessors and I curbed many of such menaces throughout history.”

Attempt number two. Another screen appeared. This time it showcased a mysterious plague that caused the residents to ‘fall down’ en masse. Anyone affected by it became unresponsive and apathetic.

It’s a sad, frightening sight. People kept sweeping dust after dust.

“EVERYONE’S GETTING SICK…” Papyrus frowned. How he wanted to reach out to help.

Mezil looked away. He had his limits too. “That’s what we humans call a ‘pandemic’. I’m not a doctor, so I’m not sure what’s causing the illness either. Never fails to give me nightmares, though.”

The next attempt showed Waterfall drying up. Without their lifeline, the society slowly died from the lack of resources.

“Hmph, ‘Apocalypse How’,” the human said. “Tsk. Looks like there’s a strong possibility I might fail to convince that power company to change locations after all. In our current point of time, that project has yet to finalize due to the emergence of your monster brethren. I bet they never believed there were people living under the mountain. Or they don’t care.”

What happened ‘above’ can affect ‘below’.

Gaster forcefully removed the visors, almost dropping it in his haste. His body roiled along with his heart when he realised the horrors of their fate.

“No… no…” He curled forward and buried his face into his arms.

Sans coped with the situation with the only way he knew: by putting up a calm, joking front.

“Guess it’s a ‘dead end’ for us, huh?” Said Sans, “I mean, we’re bones. Can’t get any deader than that. Heh.”

“Well. At least we’re prepared right? Go back home, spend time with family. Enjoy the days we have left.”

“Nothing matters in the grand scheme of things anyway.”

‘Except Papyrus’, Mezil’s text box indicated otherwise.

The elder scientist refused. He stood up with so much force, his chair was sent flying all the way to the wall.

“It cannot be.” Every sentence increased in both force and volume. “It cannot be! There HAS to be a way!”

Fuelled with determination, Gaster put on the visors once more. He forced himself to stretch far and wide.

The world around them exploded into screens of possibilities.

Without warning, Papyrus jumped in between the masses of screens.

Mezil almost dropped his cane from shock. “What are you doing?! You might fall--”

Green, glassy platforms chimed whenever Papyrus set down his boots. He used the shields to create paths, allowing him to run and jump.

The Magus sighed in relief. “Well, I suppose that works. What caught your interest, Seer?”

“I CAN’T FIND FRISK!” Papyrus yelled from the other end. “NONE OF THESE VISIONS HAVE FRISK IN IT. THIS IS AWESOME NEWS! IT MEANS FRISK HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH ALL THIS BADNESS!”

“Are you sure?”

“A THOUSAND PERCENT SURE!”

In the middle of that confirmation, the screens distorted.

They flashed in blinding red.

Then, an endless sea of nines tore through all the timelines. The monitors shook, thrashing about.

Nine.

Nine nine nine nine nine nine nine nine nine.

Here Papyrus thought he won’t ever be surprised again. How he was proven wrong. “HOLEY MOLEY!” He shrieked, “WHAT’S HAPPENING?!?”

“Doctor Gaster’s Chronograph opened the floodgates of The End…”

An aura of violent evil oppressed Papyrus’ SOUL. Its sheer weight threatened to crush his body whole.

“I’M SCARED…!”

The reconstructed visions started to skip and tear.

Mezil held the youngster close. In times like these, experience shines brightest. “Calm down, young Lichborn. Concentrate on maintaining this memory. Remember ‘courage’: you will be afraid, but you will not yield.”

With his cane, he redirected the focus away from the horror. “If you falter now we will miss the most important memory. We must know the doctor’s final conclusion!”

Be brave, Papyrus reminded himself.

It’s only Chara: only a possibility. The future isn’t set in stone.

Bolstered by the encouragement, he focused all his magic on reconstructing the past.

After what seemed like forever, Gaster saw The End. He threw the visor down so hard, the casing cracked.

The screens displayed nothing but darkness. There was no light anywhere to be seen.

Gaster screamed without a voice, his entire being quaking and rippling. It broke Papyrus’ heart to watch his uncle suffer from the revelation. He tried to reach out to him, but his mittened hands just phased through the image.

In the end, the past remained the past.

As for Sans, he didn’t move an inch.

Mezil’s text-screen snapped in half. “This is bad news about your brother’s psyche.” He remarked.

Papyrus pulled back his brows and pointed towards the vision. “UNCLE GASTER’S NOT LOOKING SO GOOD EITHER.”

The goopy skeleton slid away from the Chronograph. The grin he had… it’s twisted by a mixture of hope, desperation, and insanity.

He started speaking in the cryptic language of hands.

Papyrus translated his uncle’s entry: “‘DARK DARKER YET DARKER, THE DARKNESS KEEPS GROWING, THE SHADOWS CUTTING DEEPER. PHOTON READINGS NEGATIVE, THIS NEXT EXPERIMENT SEEMS, VERY, VERY, INTERESTING’.”

“… ‘WHAT DO YOU TWO THINK?’”

Gaster finished his recording. Turned around to face Sans.

“Gaster…?” The protégé gulped.

“Waiting isn’t an option anymore,” thus said the scientist. “But, there is an answer to our predicament. The Seventh SOUL, let’s make it ourselves. We have the science, we have the resources, and we have the methods. The Core shall provide us with all the energy we need.”

Sans asked: “What are you planning?”

The doctor straightened his back and puffed up chest. Placed both of his skeletal hands right over his SOUL.

“We will all become one. The ultimate Amalgamate. We’re talking about every man, woman, and child of our nation. The combined might of our SOULs is on par with a human’s.”

“Together, we will break the Barrier.”

“We will never fear violence again.”
“We will never die.”
“We will never be alone.”

“This, dear Sans, is our Utopia.”

Chapter Text

Gaster’s final conclusion was a stroke of brilliant madness.

A perfect plan, except played with people’s lives.

Papyrus commented with a suspicious squint. “UNCLE GASTER HAS GONE NUTTIER THAN A BAG OF MIXED NUTS. IN A BAD WAY.”

Mezil then explained, “This is why in our protocol, every Chronographer must have ‘Integrity’ as part of their traits. Otherwise the dark side of the future will drive them insane.”

“But, as I understood… the number of Seers in the Underground dwindled to just three. And you weren’t trained for the job. Even if they knew the dangers, they had limited choices. Doctor Gaster was the better candidate.”

‘Limited’, ‘trapped’. Those definitions defined the Underground.

No, it defined anyone stuck in their circumstance. It didn’t matter if they lived ‘above’ or ‘below’, human or monster, young or elderly.

“EVEN IF THIS DOESN’T SAVE FRISK, I UNDERSTAND MY FRIENDS AND FAMILY BETTER. …AND I UNDERSTAND MYSELF BETTER TOO.”

Papyrus reached his arms out towards the annals of space and time.

“WE SHOULD MOVE FORWARD.”

He called out toward the fireflies.
They answered him.

Broken fragments of the past gathered around. They buzzed, and crackled as they attempted to fuse their tattered edges together into one.

A flash of light. When it faded, the two travellers found themselves standing in a large room unlike any other. Blue flooring with blue walls, red lights, and pits of white anywhere without a path.

“Where are we?” Mezil asked.

“THE CORE,” Papyrus answered. “IT’S OUR ELECTRIC GENERATOR IN THE LAVA-FILLED HOTLAND. BUT, THIS ROOM LOOKS KINDA OMINOUS.”

A long bridge connected the entrance to the central platform. It surrounded a support pillar that stretched from the ceiling to the depths below. Judging from Gaster’s plan, this device served to focus The Core’s energy toward the epicenter.

Papyrus needed a moment to let the grandeur sink in. “I DIDN’T THINK WE HAD THE SPACE FOR SOMETHING SO HUGE.”

“Circular chamber,” Mezil looked around, “Enclosed. Flat flooring. A power source. Come, follow me. There’s something I need to confirm.”

They walked down the long, long bridge.

Mezil stopped at the edge of the platform. He held his breath, mortified by the sight. “Look down.”

Right at their feet was a massive Arcanagram.

Forty-nine points, seven sub-circles made up of seven more stars, all connected to a central source of power.

“WHAT ABOUT THIS OVERSIZED COMPLICATED DRAWING?” Asked Papyrus.

“This is a ‘Soul Stealer’: the most forbidden of all Arcanagrams. I had the unfortunate opportunity to witness this firsthand during my career. The effects are one-way.”

Papyrus covered his mouth. His Eye flipped between orange and ultramarine as he struggled to keep his composure. The beloved uncle who taught him so much had once fallen so far.

No wonder Sans warned him that Gaster was a bad man. It’s sickening just to think about it.

Mezil crouched down to inspect the Arcanagram. He traced the lines in deep thought.

“Strange…” he muttered, “I’m seeing wasted strokes. This tiny mark in between the corners, for example. They don’t connect.”

The question served as a good distraction. The magic calmed down and stopped flashing. “HUH? WOULDN’T UNCLE GASTER NOTICE THEM?”

“Only if he does a thorough check on the gram itself. But, I have a feeling that he’s too preoccupied with the big picture to notice the small imperfections.”

They heard the grind of a heavy, metal door sliding open. Gaster led the way, while Sans pushed a trolley with blue magic. It’s loaded with none other than the Chronograph itself.

“Is the Arcanagram ready?” Asked Gaster.

“Yup,” Sans answered. Reluctance resonated in his every word.

“Oh, come on. Soon you’ll be reunited with both your parents and Papyrus. A whole family once more.”

“And merged with one million other people. Right.”

Gaster shot an exasperated glare at Sans before moving on. “You will understand the joys soon enough.”

“Whatever you say. Kinda wish that the gang was here to push this trolley,” Sans mentioned. “It’s heavy. I’m struggling to keep it straight.”

“Use your actual hands, lazybones. You know I can’t have anyone getting cold feet at the last moment. As long they stay home, we’ll complete our task uninterrupted.”

It will take a while to fix the Chronograph to the power source. In the meantime, Mezil continued investigating the environment.

The man tapped his cane on the floor with a loud thud, then reached it over the edge of the platform. The whiteness singed its tip.

It’s not mere illusion; true materialization happened.

“Papyrus,” he said, “We may not be here, but the pitfalls are now real. The Core functions on more than mere geothermal energy. …Such a strong temporal anomaly, it’s bleeding into The Void. If we fall, there’s a high chance we will die for good.”

No response. Papyrus’ attention was locked on his family instead.

“…UNCLE GASTER TRUSTS SANS A LOT.”

All those time loops had turned the once-oblivious youngster into a perceptive person.

“You’re right,” the principal confirmed. “They have a lackluster relationship, but they do have teamwork. The complexity of this setup is no trifling matter.”

“WHAT’S YOUR FAMILY LIKE, MISTER MAGUS?” Papyrus asked.

The thought alone was enough to make Mezil groan. “‘Was’ should be the term. My parents were distant and my siblings dysfunctional. I no longer keep contact with them.”

“WHY? THAT’S SO SAD.”

“My parents passed from old age. Can’t maintain communication with the dead, after all. As for my siblings, hmph. My sister ended up as a drug addict. I don’t know if she’s still alive after all these years. My brother, a habitual gambler. Both saw me as nothing but a pot of money.”

Papyrus couldn’t imagine what it’s like to have a family just by name. To him, his brother was everything. They only had each other, and it’s doubtful that they could live without one another.

“MISTER MAGUS! WHEN EVERYTHING’S SETTLED DOWN, I’M INVITING YOU TO A DELICIOUS DINNER. THEN WE’LL DO MANY OTHER FUN THINGS! NYEH HEH HEH!”

Mezil responded with a warm smirk. “Let me know in advance.”

The small chatter had to end sooner or later. The two scientists fixed the last piece of Chronograph into the central pillar.

Gaster held the repaired visor in his hands. He took a deep breath and said, “You know what to do, Sans.”

“…Yeah.”

Mentor delved into the dark.
Protégé manned the console.

Magic coursed through the Gram, lighting the lines up layer by layer. They resonated with power.

Papyrus conjured an extra screen to peer into his uncle’s visions. As expected, there was darkness. Nothingness. An end of ends.

“Increase output to 35%,” Gaster instructed.

Sans continued to work in silence…

A minute passed.

“Increase output to 50%”

Still nothing.

“65%”

Nothing.

“80%”

Then, a speck of gold shimmered in the image of The Void.

“I see a change, Sans!” Gaster exclaimed. Then he started giving instructions to calibrate the pathways.

“OH!” Papyrus tapped the human’s shoulder, brimming with excitement. “MISTER MAGUS! LOOK, LOOK! A GOLDEN STAR APPEARED!”

Mezil instead said, “Papyrus, your brother.”

The attention turned to Sans. His short, bony fingers typed so fast, his hand was a blur.

“Look, his left Eye isn’t glowing blue. Calm. Collected. Remember how I mentioned that your brother is a living computer?” Said Mezil. “This is him in his prime, when he had yet to rust from wasted years, calculating the necessary calibrations far ahead of your mentor.”

Once Sans made the adjustments, he stepped back from the console…

Turned around…

…And teleported straight towards the entrance of the chamber.

He flipped a wall panel around to reveal the Core’s control console. On the screen, it showed the layout of the chamber.

Sans erased the bridge.

The moment he did so, the physical version disconnected into pieces and shifted away.

“W-what?!” Mezil exclaimed.

“OH YES! UNDYNE TOLD ME THAT THE PARTS OF THE CORE ARE SWAPPABLE. UNCLE GASTER IS SO SMART, HE MADE SURE EVERYTHING CAN BE ADJUSTED ANYTIME!”

One moment later, Papyrus realised the twist to their predicament. His eyes bugged out as he screamed: “OH MY GOD, UNCLE GASTER GOT TRAPPED BY HIS OWN GENIUS!!!”

“…Indeed.” Mezil sensed danger looming on the horizon. He called out for the youngster and beckoned him to return. “Papyrus, hurry to me! We have to stay close to your brother!”

“BUT, UNCLE GASTER…”

“No buts.”

Sans was the sole survivor of the incident. Wherever he goes, they must follow.

The two hurried down a temporary magic-made path. Then, from safety, they continued to observe the unfolding imminent catastrophe.

Gaster’s left hand kept tugging at his own collar. Roman realised that something went wrong and had tried to warn his friend…

Except the Seer was too absorbed in the timestreams to notice.

The golden star in Gaster’s vision grew brighter and brighter.

It shone straight down from the Surface, dropping straight into the Underground.

“I-it’s beautiful…” His voice quivered. “Like an angel.”

It landed on a bed of flowers as bright their light.

In time, the shard of heaven met with monsterkind. Together, they shattered the Barrier.

“Wait. This is… The prophecy, it’s true!”

Thus the Underground went empty.

Salvation.

Moments of stunned silence passed. Tears of joy streamed down.

Then Gaster yelled with utmost ecstasy. “Sans! It’s happening! The future’s changing!”

Then came Helvetica’s signature slap.
It struck him so hard, he staggered from the blow.

“What in the blue blazes are you doing, Sans?! How can you hit your-- wait. Helvetica? Roman? You two could move? You’ve never moved before.”

The hands yanked the visor off his head and forced Gaster back into reality.

When he turned around, he realised the chamber had begun to shuffle underneath under his feet.

The massive Arcanagram soon became a disconnected, scattered puzzle.

Bits and pieces of the central platform exchanged with select pieces of the wall. Even after that, they continued to shift.

Overpowered by distance and by noise, the mentor began talking in hands. Papyrus quickly conjured a translation box for Mezil. He knew the next exchange will be the most important scene in this long, long vision.

The elder scientist signed The Code together with his friends, the skeleparents. [Sans?]

Sans signed back without a flinch, [You know, Gaster. If you want to see the Surface so much, I’ll send you there. Alone.]

The left Eye emitted a blue glow.

Controlled.
Focused.

It’s so still that it’s eerie even by skeleton standards.

He slammed his fist down on the console. The tiles that replaced the central platform flipped over. It revealed a large octogram, with symbols of the Seer’s secret language filling in the gaps between the giant eight-point star.

[W-what… what’s this? It’s just a basic Gram.]

Sans signed back, [Yeah. But apparently I’m ‘special’.]

The protégé summoned yellow femurs and sent them flying towards the platform. Each one pierced a point on the star, then locked themselves in position like a key.

The whole Arcanagram began to glow cyan. It started to draw power from the Core.

Gaster noticed that the ‘key-bones’ had writings on them. He used his own powers to zoom in for a better read. [Coordinates? Syntaxes? Clauses? Wormhole teleportation…?! I thought that’s mere fictional dribble!]

[Sorry,] Sans replied. [It’s real. You’re looking at my 100% original thesis. The Chronograph behind you? Welp, that’s just the backup plan.]

Sans offered his mentor no means of escape. He pushed another button.

The readjusted walls also flipped around, exposing charged pentagrams with numbers in the center. Each one of them were once part of the original Soul Stealer, shifted and modified into a new form.

The ‘wasted’ lines now connected whole.

The grams resonated with other and conjured up a net of purple. It surrounded the full circumference of the island.

Gaster tested the threads with one of his own magic bones. They disintegrated upon touch.

Mezil was outright impressed. Awed. Disturbed. Anxious of their ever-worsening predicament. “Sans had rigged the entire room ahead of time. He exploited the architecture, the trust, and even the Soul Stealer itself. His sheer resourcefulness makes my hair stand.”

[Why are you doing this?] The scientist’s asked.

The blue skeleton replied: [I want my little brother to be his happy self. Forever. I will do anything to protect him. His body, his mind, his heart. Everything. Even if it means damning my own future.]

Today, Papyrus witnessed the depths of his brother’s love. Orange streams of tears flowed down his face.

The younger brother tried to hug the image of his brother. Again, it was useless.

“I HAD NO IDEA…” he whimpered. “I’M SO SORRY SANS. I SHOULDN’T HAVE CALLED YOU LAZY. OR GOTTEN ANNOYED AT YOUR PUNS. OR, OR, OR. I SHOULD HAVE TREATED YOU TONS BETTER…!”

The cyan light intensified.

Sans shrugged. [Anytime now, you’re gonna have a fun time. Maybe you’ll end up somewhere on the Surface. Maybe you’ll just get lost in the Barrier. Whatever. I don’t care.]

[As long Papyrus is safe from you.]

Then.

The support pillar snapped in half. Wild energy coursed unabated. The central platform began to crack from the sheer overload of force.

Reality teared at its seams. The ground quaked and the air rippled.

“Uh, okay. That’s not supposed to happen.” A shocked Sans muttered to himself, sweatdrop and all. “Gaster should get flushed out into the yonder by a vortex. End of story.”

The genius’ attention locked straight at the Chronograph. “Great. Feedback loop. Always a feedback loop. Oh well.”

Instead of panicking, Sans… calmed down.

No.

He cut off all and any conscience that defined monsterkind.

Sans was filled with so much hatred, resentment, disgust, and anger, he became like the fabled enemy of his people: ‘Human’, a race defined by their desire for blood.

Under his permission, he let the situation spiral out of control. Pieces of the platform started collapsing into The Core below… reality itself began to rip and tear, while the Arcanagram continued charging without cease.

Gaster eventually had his back against the Chronograph. And even then, the foundations beneath his being had started to crumble.

“SANS SERIF!” He yelled, “Are you really going to abandon us? Your parents?!”

In the language of hands, Sans gave his final judgement:

[W. D. Gaster. You’re an abomination. A desecration of their memory. My parents are dead. Nothing more. Nothing less.]

[Please die.]

As the final piece of the floor crumbled away, the mentor lost his footing. He screamed the traitor’s name as he fell straight into the white death below.

The pain of being undone echoed. Papyrus watched them rip apart from inside out, scattered across existence.

“NO…! NO NO NO! UNCLE GASTER! MOM! DAD!”

He lunged forward. The youngster didn’t care about the possible dangers. All he wanted to do was to save his family from their wretched fate.

To his fortune, he had a guide this round. Mezil’s reinforced arm caught his hand and dragged him back. A mere second slower and the youngster would have tossed himself over the edge.

In panic, Papyrus dug his boots into the ground and attempted to force himself free. “UNHAND ME! I MUST SAVE THEM!”

“Papyrus, stop!!!” Mezil yelled close to his skull, “It's just a vision. Your uncle and your parents are alive!”

The skeleton quit struggling.

When Mezil knew that he had caught his attention, he softened his tone.

“They survived the incident, remember?” He said, “They’re fine in the present. Your parents and your uncle are waiting for you back in the Hub. If you throw yourself down there now, you’ll die. And the future along with you.”

“Remember. You’re looking at the immutable past. And only the past.”

The words of wisdom brought Papyrus back to his senses. He stepped back from the edge.

“SORRY,” he apologized.

Mezil then said: “Newbie mistake. Happens to the best of us.”

The large Arcanagram swirled into a multicolored vortex of cyan, yellow and purple. It fired out unstable cracks of lightning and further intensified the quake. They were all signs of an imminent violent meltdown.

Sans teleported past the door. He stopped at the console and keyed in the commands to close the security shutters.

Papyrus recognized the urgency. Spacetime around them continued to rip. Whiteness filled the room. It didn’t matter if they’re in the past, present, future, or The Void: anyone in this chamber will ‘vanish’ into darkness if they stay.

The orange one scooped the human off the ground. He dashed towards the gap, but by then his brother had already teleported to each subsequent console.

There’s no time.

“HOLD ON TIGHT! WE’RE GOING TO FALL!”

“Fall where?!” Yelped Mezil.

Papyrus turned his SOUL blue.
Angled it sideways.

“DON'T WORRY. I HAVE EXPERIENCE.”

And gravity shifted head-first into the narrowing windows of escape.

They zipped past the first door.
The second.
Third.

And the fourth final line against the impending disaster.

It was just in time to escape from a blinding explosion. The tremors rippled through The Void, flinging all the fireflies of memories in all directions.

Mezil and Papyrus continued to fall. New visions of the aftermath built around them.

Mount Ebott. On that fateful day, the Core Incident caused a collapse on the south slopes.

Silhouettes of humans weaved amongst the boulders, all meeting certain doom.

Mezil clenched his teeth as he remembered the helplessness. “Frisk’s parents were once my students. I couldn’t save them… no matter how hard I tried.”

“WHY NOT?” Asked Papyrus, saddened by the prospect. He thought the ‘Ultimate Weapon’ could do anything.

“They’re isolated. Power is useless if it can’t reach their recipients.”

The vision dissipated. Now they’re falling alongside the fragment of the heavens.

The angel of prophecy.

Frisk.

In panic, the child reached out to anything they could grab on. In this case, it was a golden star.

Their icon.
Their SAVE.

From their own personal angle, it’s easy to mistake it for the sun.

And that’s how their adventure began. Since that day, whenever Frisk RESETS, they were brought back to this very moment: awakened on a bed of goldenflowers.

“Ebott’s salvation is founded on tragedy,” said Mezil. “Because Frisk was orphaned, they ended up in the foster system and participated in a mandatory field trip. From there, they fell into your world.”

“This wouldn’t have happened had Sans not betrayed the Doctor. Hence why all the doomed pre-Core scenarios were devoid of Frisk’s involvement. If they didn’t fall, another child will end up as the DEMON’s vessel. And they may not be as strong as your friend.”

“Your brother discovered this truth over and over. In different timelines. And every single time, he was crushed under the weight of his sins.”

The ocean. Sans tried to muffle his agony in the deep waters. Papyrus now understood why his brother was covered in salt and sand.

Mezil then asked, “Can your society live with the knowledge that your joys are founded on the grief of others?”

Papyrus closed his eyes and took in deep breaths. He could feel his insides churning. If this was what he saw once… no wonder he ended up so troubled.

“I DON’T KNOW, MISTER MAGUS,” he answered. “BUT FIRST… I MUST TALK TO MY PARENTS AND UNCLE GASTER.”

“Take your time.”

Looking upwards, they spotted Mezil’s Hub.

“I SEE HIM AT THE GARDEN,” Papyrus pointed at a black and white figure amongst the greenery.

Gaster stood at the edge of the console area, facing towards the vast beyond. All three skeletons waited for their final verdict.

Papyrus flipped himself right side up and gently flew toward the living room. He set the human back down on his feet.

Mezil’s ebony cane was quite a useful tool. They served as a stress reliever, a ground tester, and now as support for an elderly man whose legs had gone jelly from the adventure.

No wonder he always had it in hand. He staggered on his way to the couch, before dropping himself on it.

“Well,” he said. “I will be resting here. You go do what you need to do.”

The young skeleton nodded. “THANK YOU, MISTER MAGUS. FOR EVERYTHING.”

He walked towards the exit. Toward the garden. Toward his uncle Gaster. Even if it hurts, he must move forward to bring closure to a tragic past.

These are the first steps of rebirth.

Chapter Text

If this were a bedtime story, it would be written as such:

‘Once upon a time, a scientist had knowledge, opportunity and respect.’

‘But the poor man had no friends. Or rather, he stopped making friends. Grief and loss caused him to close his heart.’

‘He became blind to the emotions of others, hurting them in the name of the greater good.’

‘It cost him everything.’

The rest of the pages were left unwritten.

Papyrus now held the proverbial pen. It will be up to him to continue this story.

He made his way to the SAVE platform, surrounded by gentle streams of digital water. The way Gaster stood at the edge of the grass brought him a sense of unease.

It’s as if he’s ready to jump off the edge.

The opening statement was the hardest. After a long consideration, Papyrus said: “YOU AND SANS WERE NOT VERY NICE TO EACH OTHER.”

Gaster turned around and tried to speak. Each time he tried, he found his voice locked by shame.

Not once he looked Papyrus in the face. He kept his sights indirect: within view yet never in main focus.

[MAYBE WE CAN USE OUR SPECIAL LANGUAGE?] Papyrus wanted to talk despite the discomfort. Be brave.

[It’s not so much about the language,] Gaster signed, [Rather… we cannot bear to face you.]

[WE?]

[The three of us failed in our own ways. Your parents believe they share the blame.]

[I DON’T THINK I UNDERSTAND.] Papyrus knew that he cannot jump to conclusions. Not now. Everything must be crystal clear.

Gaster replied, [I convinced your parents to cooperate with me. I made them see how I see, and thus they let me use despicable methods to control your brother. ‘For the greater good’, I said. ‘We will be free soon enough’.]

[Yes. Your brother and I were terrible to each other. Before another person, I’d justify myself. Push the blame to Sans without even consciously thinking about it. Have others see me as a victim of tragedy. Betrayed…]

[…But, when the DT-Extraction Machine fell on you, I knew my lying days were over. You, Papyrus, would see the truth as it is. Nothing but the truth. We -- no, I -- can no longer defend myself. Guilty as charged, there’s nowhere left to run or hide.]

The once proud man then hung his head low.

[WHY?] asked Papyrus, [WHY WON’T YOU TRY TO DEFEND YOURSELF?]

The elder skeleton replied with a quivering chuckle. [How could I? Even if you were not the living epitome of the Chronograph, I couldn’t bring myself to do so. I’ve grown so, so very fond of you.]

[...UNCLE GASTER.]

[Did you know, your parents and I were gripped with nervous excitement after our chance meeting? We discussed for long, long hours on how to approach you.]

[Should we tell you the truth up front? What if you reject us as Sans did? If we hide, how long should we hide? One month? One year? Forever?]

[In the end, we took the cautious approach. I would be the front: this classy, amiable uncle who knew your parents.]

[THAT DIDN’T WORK FOR LONG,] Papyrus commented.

[Oh yes, it did not. Of course. We saw this coming from a mile away, yet we took the chance. It’s impossible to hide from Sans. By logic, we should have remained scattered across spacetime. Talk to you from a different plane like a ghost.]

[Hah… but since when does emotion follow logic? How can we resist? Your parents never had the chance to watch you grow up. I barely had the opportunity either. The prospect outweighed all the risks.]

[We never regretted that decision. The hours we spent before the fallout were few, but they’re the sweetest in ages.]

Gaster paused to recompose himself. Took deep breaths to prevent himself from breaking down.

[We will be satisfied with any decision you make. Send us back into the Void, punish us, disown us, what have you. We’ll accept it. No grudges, no resentment.]

Papyrus furrowed his brows and raised his voice: “I WILL NOT ALLOW IT! THAT IS JUST TOO SAD!”

“WHY MUST EVERYTHING BE SO DRAMATIC? THERE’S GOOD DRAMA, LIKE METTATON’S SHOWS. THEN THERE’S BAD DRAMA. WE’RE IN THE BAD DRAMA SIDE FOR TOO LONG!”

“IT’S BAD ENOUGH TO KNOW THAT FRISK LOST SO MUCH FOR OUR SAKE. OR KNOWING MY BROTHER WOULD TAKE DESPERATE MEASURES TO PROTECT ME. OR THE FACT YOU HAD NO FAMILY AND ARE SO VERY ALONE.”

The overflow of emotions made his SOUL glow.

“I DON’T WANT OUR LIFE TO BE ANIME FOR REAL!”

[And how will you do that?] Gaster asked back. [Words are easy. But, what would you do to uphold your statement?]

Papyrus declared his words as bold as he could. Though his voice was strong, his posture showed streaks of fear.

“BY FORGIVING YOU. AND UNDYNE. AND ALPHYS. AND FRISK. AND METTATON. MISTER MAGUS AND MISS AUNT. MOM. DAD. SANS. EVEN CHARA!”

He’s fighting against it. Yes, he’s afraid: all the more why he refuses to cower.

Gaster’s sockets widened from shock. He couldn’t believe what he had just heard. [After witnessing the worst of me? Of everyone?]

“ESPECIALLY BECAUSE I’VE SEEN THE WORST!”

“EVERYONE’S DROWNED IN SO MUCH NEGATIVITY. GIVING INTO THOSE THINGS WILL ONLY CONTINUE THE SADNESS FOREVER AND EVER!”

“I… I WANT TO BREAK THAT CYCLE! I WANT TO HELP OTHERS BREAK THAT CYCLE! I KNOW THAT IF GIVEN A CHANCE, PEOPLE CAN CHOOSE TO BE GOOD!”

“YOU CAN BE GOOD TOO. YOU ALREADY ARE. AND WHEN I TALK TO MY BROTHER AGAIN, I WILL TELL HIM THAT HE CAN STILL BE GOOD BEYOND THE PAIN.”

[What if… they betray your kindness?] Asked Gaster, [Take advantage? Harm you?]

“IT DOESN’T MATTER,” Papyrus answered. “I DON’T EXPECT ANYTHING IN RETURN. IF THEY STILL DECIDE TO BE BAD, I CAN’T STOP THEM. BUT I MUST FIRST GIVE THEM A CHOICE...”

“EVEN IF IT HURTS ME.”

Papyrus made a conscious decision to embrace the very traits that defined his powers.

Courage. Righteousness. Altruism.
Reach. Reinforce. Restore.

He’s now aware he’s the biggest fool in the eyes of the world… Yet, he refused to conform to their standards.

All that hurtful sadness didn’t have to be a constant reality. Things can change for the better, one person at a time.

Magic of the heart coursed through his bones. Emotion and conviction converged into one.

Papyrus’ whole being ignited into dancing flames of warm, magical fire. Soon after, the flares reduced into a steady glow of orange.

Gaster couldn’t believe the sights. Nor did the youngster.

Looking down on himself, Papyrus said, “WHAT’S HAPPENING? I FEEL REALLY… POSITIVE! TINGLY!”

When the surprise faded, the old skeleton started to smile in joy, [My word… those flames… I thought those were nothing more than theory.]

“They are more than mere theory.”

Their attention turned to the Magus with the red butterfly. Mezil stood there with his cane in the center.

He had the air of a satisfied principal.

“We Magi call this ‘The Ascension’. It’s when the SOUL achieves unison with the mind, body, and heart. Potential is magnified, and all limits are broken.”

“WOWIE!” Papyrus squealed. “THIS IS SOOOO AWESOME! I -- THE GREAT PAPYRUS -- IS TOTALLY AWESOME NOW! NYEH HEH HEH!”

“Don’t get carried away, please. Maintenance is the hardest part.”

Mezil stood before the console and brought up his SAVE screen. “Well. We should prepare to end our longest night. Anything else before our next attempt?”

The Seer pondered over it for a moment. Then, he said: “TWO THINGS. FIRST, MISTER MAGUS… CAN WE SPARE CHARA?”

Now that raised some brows.

Papyrus further explained, “I HAVE A FEELING THAT THEY’LL BE POWERLESS WITHOUT FRISK. WE DO NOT NEED TO STOOP TO THEIR LEVEL IF THEY CAN’T DO VIOLENCE. BESIDES, FLOWEY NEEDS HIS FRIEND.”

“...Give me some time to think about your suggestion,” Mezil admitted. “I respect you, but there are safety checks to clear. Like making sure that botched exorcism doesn’t repeat itself. Meanwhile, you finish up your other task.”

He nodded back. Papyrus began walking towards the amalgamation of his uncle and his parents.

Then, he wrapped his entire shining self around them.

“MOM. DAD. UNCLE GASTER. I FORGIVE YOU FOR EVERYTHING. WE CAN’T CHANGE THE PAST, BUT THE FUTURE IS NOT SET IN STONE.”

“LET’S MAKE THE BEST HAPPEN. THAT WAY, THE SAD AND BAD STUFF FROM THE PAST WILL HAVE A HAPPY ENDING.”

Gaster hesitated to return the hug.

Papyrus held on. He understood that to his uncle, it seemed too easy. The elder expected years and years of penance that may never end.

But, does Papyrus care?
No.

Forgiveness shouldn’t be earned: it should be given. It’s the ‘key’ to start anew. It’s unreasonable for someone to walk a locked path without the means of access.

Roman was the first to reach out.
Followed by his wife Helvetica.

Then, upon the encouragement of his friends, Gaster accepted the gift.

So the elder whispered, “Thank you, my boy. Thank you.”

If this were a bedtime story, it would have continued like this:

‘At the bottom of regret, the hero forgave the scientist for the bad things he had done.’

‘There was no need to suffer any more.’

‘It’s not an easy task. The path to recovery will be long and filled with many setbacks, but it needed to start somewhere.’

‘A new chapter of life begins.’

It’s time to go. Mother, father, and uncle placed their hands on the sides of Papyrus’ cheekbones once more.

Together they repeat their mantra for the night:

‘The future is not set in stone.’

Chapter Text

Your name is Chara.
DEMON of Hyperdeath.

You outsmarted the witch and her useless friends.

That’s what you’d like to think anyway. Truth be told, you didn’t know that those sticky seeds would save your existence. No matter. It’s a plus point for you.

You waited for the celebrations to blow over. Complete with the silly hair-rubbing thing. It’s annoying. Everyone’s annoying.

Then, Frisk asked for a comb to straighten out their hair.

That’s a moment of opportunity.

When Mettaton helped, he turned around and exposed his switch to you.

Being the smart kid you are, you flipped the switch. He puffed back into his glaring pink glam-bot form.

The knife dropped out.

You thus swiped the knife from mid air. You remembered how your biological father trained you to do so. Until today, you also remembered the sting of failure: of how your soft child hands were covered in cuts.

After years of practice, you succeeded at a consistent rate. That’s how you survived the gruesome battle with that Smiley Trashbag.

Frisk was a wimp. Untrained and unrefined.

You raised your arm with the intent of plunging the knife into Mettaton’s back. Goodbye stupid shows. Goodbye.

Then.

His SOUL turned blue. Gravity magic sent the robot flying towards the wall and out of your reach.

For a moment you thought the Trashbag saved him. You then noticed an orange glow from the corner of your eye.

You turned your head.

It’s Papyrus.
A freaking. Shining. Papyrus.

Why the heck is he glowing???

Is this some new superpower or what?!

Papyrus shouldn’t be anything more than a pasta-loving idiot who’s too dumb to live! This is the guy who befriended Flowey and believed anyone can be good.

Here’s the thing: not everyone WANTS to be good! Being good for the sake of good is stupid, rewardless, and fatal.

That’s what you learned. That’s the real world.

You lunged straight at him. He will gloat about his heroics and you will use that time to slice through his ribs.

Just like what you did to his brother.

You heard no gloat. Instead, he dodged your strike.

Fine, what about your next blow?
And the next.
And the next.

And the… next…?

Why?
When?

Why can’t you land a hit?

The Papyrus you fought back in Snowdin was an utter joke. He treated you like a kid. Hah. Big mistake. You proved your strength by lopping off his skull.

You used to like him.

He’s pretty fun. Amusing. Goofy.

Then he started to get annoying. Forever about his bad pasta. His coolness. His awesomeness.

His kindness.

He reminded you too much of the old Asriel. Before you dragged him to the Surface.

You had lost your original SOUL, but you can still feel pain. You wish to smother out the memories to numb your agony. Replace it with ‘fun’, whatever that means

It’s the same reason why you once upon a timeline killed your adoptive goat mother.

Monsters love you more than humans.

They’re so nice.
They’re so disappointing.

If only they just replaced all those useless bags of racist bigot-filled flesh on the face of the earth--

Don’t get distracted now, Chara.

You noticed that Papyrus’ right Eye flashed orange for one second. Then, the impossible happened. In a single swift strike, he knocked the knife out of your hand with a bone.

So much force. So much accuracy. Your wrist stung from the blow.

Strange.
Why does it hurt. You’re supposed to just ‘control’ Frisk, not be them.

And yet, you somehow share whatever their body feels.

As you wondered about it, that damn skeleton sent the knife flying up towards the ceiling.

Great. It’s stuck there.

You still haven’t heard a single word from Papyrus. It’s creeping you out.

You asked Frisk if they knew anything about this unusual behaviour.

They gave no response.

No matter. Cenna, the witch, was an ex-police officer. And you knew the Magi kept her around for her skills. She should have a standard issue gun on her.

You tried to stomp on Papyrus’ kneecaps. You need to knock him down before stealing the gun.

Your biological mother taught you the various weakpoints on the human body. Conveniently for you, Papyrus had a very humanlike anatomy. He’s descended from their bones after all.

…Except he conjured this weird green shield right above said weak point.

‘Fuck. My. Life,’ you thought.

First it’s your wrist. Now your foot.

While you cringed, that damn skeleton turned the witch’s SOUL blue and sent her flying towards that cowardly king of a father.

Asgore dropped his trident. You rushed to grab it. Yet again, Papyrus swiped it away before you got close.

He turned it around and plunged the prongs straight into the ground. You tried to pull it out, but it’s too heavy.

Again. Stuck.

Your attention turned towards his red scarf. You always wondered why you never tried to hang or strangle him with that thing.

Just when you almost reached it, Papyrus turned your SOUL blue and pushed YOU away.

You were sent flying to the corner of the room. The velocity was enough to stun you for a few seconds.

With that, he blocked of your path with a side-turned heavy steel table. The same one they used to lay you down under that freaky skull machine.

You don’t get it.

Why?
HOW???

It’s as if he could read your damn mind!

Undyne said it the best: “What the heck? Are you really Papyrus?!?!?”

“YES, I AM,” he replied.

Papyrus kept his entire focus on you and you alone. You know that look: it’s the face of someone who had done this too many times.

Impossible. Monsters will never, ever have the Determination to time travel. And Papyrus isn’t Sans: he cannot recall the past.

You asked Frisk what’s going on.

“I don’t know either. I just have this vague feeling of trust towards him. Don’t you think he’s so cool?”

C’mon Frisk. Of all people, they should know exactly what’s going on. Did they do anything special to Papyrus?

“I’m not the one in control here. Believe it or not, it’s up to you.”

“CHARA,” said the glowing skeleton. “I SUGGEST THAT YOU STAY VERY STILL IN THAT CORNER. A GOOD MAN IS ON HIS WAY TO HELP YOU.”

Help what? Help how?
By vanquishing you in the most brutal way just like that witch?

Why didn’t he stop her before you had to endure that torture?

“I’M VERY SORRY FOR NOT TAKING ACTION SOONER. BUT YOU WILL BE OKAY UNLESS YOU MOVE. THERE WILL BE MINIMAL PAIN. I HOPE.”

“SEE, I HAVE A FEELING THAT IF YOU TRY TO ESCAPE, YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE A VERY BAD TIME.”

“SO PLEASE, MAKE IT EASY FOR YOURSELF.”

No.
No no no no no!
You refuse to trust him! He’s the moron who believes anyone and everyone! You’re sure that this ‘help’ will spell the end of you.

You shoved the table with all your might and dashed towards the exit.

“WAIT, CHARA! STOP!”

To your fortune, Grillby was just about to enter the house. He held the door wide open.

You dashed past him. The freezing winds of midnight winter blasted against your face.

“Where are you going?” asked Frisk.

Mom.
You’re going to look for Mom.

Mom will protect you no matter what. She gets emotional when it comes to children. That’s her primary weakness.

If you told her that you’re their beloved child back from the dead, she won’t let anyone take you away.

“No! Don’t drag Mom into this, please!”

The thought of protecting Mom was enough to trigger the flow of Determination inside of your shared body.

Good. Soon, the power to RESET will be in your hands again.

Papyrus continued to yell his warnings. Not like you could hear anything with all the wind blowing between your ears.

The house was just right ahead. Once you get past the door, you will finally be safe.

Someone opened the door to greet you. Mom must have heard you running from a mile away.

Sweet, sweet hope…

…Dashed to the ground the moment you saw that distinctive flash of burning blue.

A bone pierced through your chest.
Right into your windpipe.

It hurts.
It hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts--

You tried to scream, but you had no air. Your lungs had started to liquefy from the poison. Soon your heart will follow.

“Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever hurt your body before.”

It’s Sans.
The Smiley Trashbag.
He teleported right next to you. Just close enough to stab from a blindside.

Now he’s freezing time just to talk to you.

“Or have I?” He shrugged. “Don’t know. It’s not important. Nothing matters in the grand scheme of things anyway, right?”

“Leave the poor old lady out of this. If I see you again, you’re going to have double the bad time. And I’ll keep multiplying that until you wish you’re never born.”

He let time flow again.

You dropped straight on the snow. The pool of corroded blood widened beneath you.

You reached out to the place that should be your home. Tried to call for Mom’s help.

But you can’t.

 

* * *

 

By the time you remembered, it’s too late.

You turned around and tried to escape, but Sans was faster than you. This time, he pierced a bone through both your spine and your windpipe. Together.

The pain.
It’s excruciating.

You were torn to pieces so many times back in the Underground, but they never, ever hurt you this much.

He knew the depths of your suffering from the look on your face.

“…Huh,” said Sans. “Figured as much. LOVE numbs you. That’s why you kept going and going and going.”

“It’s different when you’re a normal human, isn’t it?”

 

* * *

 

You hid in the forest.
It’s cold.
Too cold.

You demand an explanation from Frisk.

What did they do to make you feel pain?

Frisk shrugged.

“You wanted my body so much. So, I gave it to you.”

When?!

“When I stopped fighting back. I had this feeling that someone told me to do nothing. So, I did nothing. That allowed you to control me a hundred percent. Convenient, right?”

After a brief pause, they continued. “I noticed you’re not getting dejavu before you escaped.”

“You dashed out, full of confidence. Then, suddenly… you got really, really scared.”

“That road leads to my house. Did you try to threaten me with Mom?”

Yes?
No?
Maybe?

You don’t know.

Frisk started to pump Determination into their SOUL. The power flowed until it reached a halfway point…

…Then it stopped completely.

Frisk?
Frisk, please explain.

Please?

“As the old saying goes: It’s kill or be killed. You’ve only done the ‘killing’ part of the equation so far. Never really felt what’s like to be killed. In the body. Against your will.”

“I’ll make you remember. I’ll force you to remember. You want to kill so much? Okay. Then be prepared to ‘feel’ the consequences.”

“This is your world now, Chara. Your philosophy came true. Now, please walk the talk. Live in it.”

Before you could scream back at Frisk, the Trashbag ambushed you. He finished you off with one shot of his Gasterblaster.

You had no HP to withstand a point-blank strike.

 

* * *

 

Death comes in shades of white and blue.

Fiction paints Grim Reapers as black and red.

Idiots.
Morons.

They got it all wrong.

 

* * *

 

You noticed.

You noticed that you travelled back in time. You had reset, back to one minute after you dashed out of Alphys’ lab. It’s a different SAVE point from before.

…There’s someone else pulling the strings.

Papyrus also stopped chasing after you. But you had this feeling that he’s still watching. From afar. With magic.

You imagined him constantly out calling to you.

Offering false safety.
Offering false hope.

“C’mon, Chara. Go back to Papyrus. He honestly wants to help you.”

You tell Frisk that it sounds too good to be true.

 

* * *

 

Losing an eye hurts like fuck.

Having your arm decay into some bloody wreck hurts like fuck too.

You can’t decide which is worse. You’re too lightheaded from the blood loss and pain to think straight.

You heard the Trashbag in all his casual glory.

“Whoa, humans get real messy when they’re hurt. I knew that already but… seeing you still alive after all of that. Pretty distasteful. I’m not even going to joke about that.”

The skulls of death loomed over his head.

“Look,” he said. “I don’t want to drag this out. Whatever you feel, Frisk feels it too. I know they’re just clinging on sheer minimal determination to not go insane.”

“…Being forced into something isn’t pleasant, right?”

He fired.
You braced through the pain and dodged. You had to buckle down the same when you were in training.

Toughen.
Strengthen.
Harden.

You tried to strike back. The Trashbag only had 1 HP. All you need to do was to land one strike on his pathetic SOUL and the nightmare will be over.

Frisk would be disabled. It doesn’t matter. You can just find someone else to possess.

You’ll throw them away like a piece of broken trash.

“That look on your face. I know what you’re thinking,” he said, “And I won’t let you.”

Sans then stabbed a bone right into your forehead.

 

* * *

 

You ran for your life.

The Surface was too wide. Too big. You couldn’t anticipate where and when that Trashbag will appear.

There’s only one place where you could funnel him into familiar territory.

The Underground.

Get Flowey’s help. Then together, you two will face the Trashbag in the Judgement Hall.

Numbers? Checked. Flowey’s ‘friendliness pellets’ should make the dodging much more difficult, and perhaps open up an opportunity for you to strike.

Location? Checked. The Judgement Hall was a narrow corridor, eliminating most options for an ambush. All you needed to do was to guard your front and back.

You killed Sans there before. You can, and will, do it again.

It’s a long way.

If only your host worked out with Undyne more or something. Frisk’s body tires a bit too fast.

Yet. Somehow. You managed to reach the throne room.

There’s no time to rest. You continued running all night, until at last you reached the deserted golden halls.

Hopefully there’s something to eat in New Home. Perhaps left there in one of Asgore’s gardening trips.

But then…

He’s there.

The goddamn Trashbag could teleport. Of course he’d mess with you by waiting at the other end of the corridor, where the box used to be.

“Brings back old memories, huh?” He said. “You and I, duking it out here.”

You’re scared.
But you laughed.

You continued to laugh.

You told the Trashbag that he’s the same deep inside. Same as you: a killer trained from childhood to eliminate the enemy. You were there when he confessed to Frisk after all.

You were there all the while. You saw how he got his hands dirty.

‘A human in the skin of bones,’ you said. No one else in the entire Underground fought as brutal as he did.

The Trashbag snickered back. “Oh, is that an invitation to join the dark side? Sorry, gotta turn it down. I prefer to work alone nowadays.”

No.
It’s a declaration for a duel.

It’s KILL, or BE killed.

“Okay. Guess you like to do things the hard way. Hmm, right. Aren’t you forgetting someone?”

Sans pulled out the head of a flower from his hoodie’s pocket.

He tossed it on the ground as if it was a piece of useless trash.

You asked him what’s that.

“Your best friend. I ran into him on the way.”

His answer rang between your ears.

It cannot be.
It cannot be. He killed Asriel. You’re the only one allowed to kill Asriel. No matter what.

You refused to believe him. You ran up to the flower to inspect it.

You felt the bits of his dust on your hands.

Rage erupted in your empty spirit. You clenched your teeth and balled your fist, ready to go all out against that damn blue skeleton.

However, before you could act, Sans grabbed you by the collar of your shirt and threw you through a shortcut.

You reappeared in Snowdin, on the path to Waterfall, complete with a flowing river.

Snow still covered this place.

White and blue, like Death before you.

“Hey, nostalgic isn’t it?” He asked, “Papyrus challenged you right here.”

You punched.
He dodged.

You executed many swift and consecutive strikes in an attempt to replicate your winning blow. But, he teleported away from you. His Eye flashed between blue and yellow, recalling the outcome of that battle.

“I remember that now,” he said, “Why and how I died. Welp. I got too confident, I guess.”

The Trashbag conjured a whole set of bones.

Instead of sending them flying, he stabbed them into the ground. You heard a shrill resonance vibrating in the air.

To your horror, anything they touched turned into fucking quicksand.

He ran the bones around you. Stabbed two more on the high cave ceiling far overhead.

You tried to escape, but your feet had nowhere to go. The moment you stepped on the sand, you could feel it attempting to suck you in like some goddamn black hole.

It’s worse than quicksand. You stepped on quicksand before and it didn’t actively consume. Not like this THING.

The ground collapsed beneath you.
The ceiling soon followed.

You found yourself tumbling straight down into a dark cave below.

Amazingly, the rocks didn’t crush you outright. The hollow pocket managed to hold up the bigger boulders and prevented them from falling straight in.

You stumble around in total darkness. It’s too much like your coffin.

“Heh, you’re lucky. For now.”

You heard Sans talking from above.

“Ever wondered why I never tried to drop the ceiling on you when we were stuck Underground? I mean, I could have done this from the very beginning.”

“Well kid, I’m banned from using this power for a good reason. Space is a premium if your nation is just the size of a mountain. Where are we supposed to go if a collapse happens?”

“Killing you with a cave-in is just the same as letting you win. Besides, you’d just come back with all the knowledge of my tricks. I know the truth behind The War after all.”

You imagined him shrugging with that fake goofy grin on his face.

“My options were limited. I had to make the best with what I have. Try to make you quit. That’s the only thing I could have done.”

“But, things changed. Nobody lives in the Underground now. I no longer live there too. And you? Not in charge. Not invincible. Certainly not numb. Heh, think I didn’t notice it?”

“Do you know what this means? I have a lot more options. I’ll make you want to quit now. But you know what? You can’t. Because you’re trapped in a loop with the rest of us.”

“Frisk’s cooperation is mine this time. Not yours.”

Something dripped on your head.
It’s cold. Wet.

Water.

Ice cold water began washing down on you. The collapse must have broken the bank, and now Snowdin’s river started to flow into your cave.

“So… what would you die from? The cold, or the drowning? Maybe the waters will just stop flowing midway and you’ll eventually run out of oxygen. What about starvation? Nah. That’s too slow. My brother would rescue you long before that happens.”

“I can’t let him save you. Not after all the times you killed him.”

You tried to dig your way out, but your attempts only caused more water to flood in.

“Welp. Time for me to go. Enjoy your last moments.”

The Grim Reaper left you to die.

You felt the water level rise. It’s now at your chest.

Alone. Abandoned. Afraid.

The cave continued to flood. You tried to keep yourself afloat.
Then you bumped your head on the upper boulders. The pocket of precious air slowly vanished.

You started to cry.

You don’t want to be here. You regret running to the top of the mountain. You regret tripping over that branch, although you wanted to throw yourself off the edge anyway.

You want to turn back time. You don’t care that your home life was harsh with long training hours or that your biological champion parents expected too much or that the villagers are mean or that school sucks or--

Anything other than this terror of getting killed over and over and over.

Anything.

Please.

Your name is Chara.
A frightened little kid.

Chapter Text

Winter winds howled over the monument known as Mount Ebott. They sang a dirge about futility for a member of their kind.

A fallen angel in blue, bearing a sword in his hand. Again and again he cut down the dark demon in ways befitting their deeds.

Again and again, his efforts came to nothing.

Yet… it is his sworn duty to carry out the judgement. The fallen angel had loved ones to protect.

Sans sat at the edge of the cliff of the Underground entrance, gazing over the land below. Weariness weighed on his shoulders.

Papyrus stood before his brother with a phone clutched in his hand. The battery indicator hovered at one percent, a hint of the amount of true amount of time that passed in this looping night.

Like the batteries, his power of ‘Ascension’ will soon fade. His shining glow had already subsided to more of a gleam. When these resets end, he’ll be normal bones again: indistinguishable from other skeletons.

The elder brother glanced sideways at the younger. In his perpetual grin, he said, “Wow. I take my eyes off you for one day and you came back ten years wiser.”

Sans paused, then he corrected himself. “Nah. More like, a hundred. That’s just awesome. You’re so cool, Paps. Really cool.”

Papyrus walked over and sat down next to his brother. “WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR PUNS?”

“Heh. Believe it or not, I’m not in the mood for them right now.”
“BUT YOU ALWAYS MAKE THE MOOD.”

That earned a weak laugh. “I never thought I’d live to hear The Great Papyrus wanting my bad puns.”

“I… DO LIKE THEM. IT’S JUST, YOU TEND TO PICK THE MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENTS FOR THE PUNCHLINE.”

“That’s part of the fun, Paps.”

“I KNOW. AND STRANGE AS IT SOUNDS… I MISS YOUR PUNS.”

There was no comeback.

Papyrus then asked, “IS THERE ANY WAY YOU COULD SPARE CHARA? WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW… IT’S TOO SAD.”

“Nope,” Sans answered.

Straightforward, to the point. How unusual. The younger brother was too used to being spun around for a joke.

Now, it’s a simple reply. As if they’re both real adults dealing with a serious business.

“WHY?” Papyrus asked back. He wasn’t angry.

“A few reasons, not counting the mystery man behind the loops. Remember Paps, that’s Frisk’s body. Any crime Chara commits, Frisk will have to pay. Be it murder, stealing, car-jacking, whatever else they’d do to survive. Goodbye budding ambassador career. Can’t let that happen.”

“Then, all Chara needs to do is to kill one person to start a domino effect. Human or monster. Execution Points and Level of Violence, you know. Can’t let that happen either.”

Papyrus figured that it would be something along those lines. His experiences taught him as much. “I UNDERSTAND.”

Should he call Mezil to try again?

No. It didn’t work.

Chara kept rejecting the offer of mercy. No matter what Papyrus said, they ran.

And no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t catch up. Undyne wasn’t kidding when she said the kid had fast legs.

His shields? They won’t last long enough for Mezil to arrive.

At one point, the Magus made a new SAVE file one minute after Chara’s escape. Said he wanted to observe Frisk and Sans: what they would do, how they would react.

The DEMON? Written off as hopeless.

Papyrus stopped chasing after Chara by then. Instead, he focused his power to track their location and see their future. He needed to report the event in full detail.

Somewhere in the loops, he hoped that his offer of mercy would be accepted. They continued to reject. Hence, they perished in the hands of the seraphim.

Everyone thought that Frisk’s intervention would create a positive result. After this round, it didn’t seem to be the case anymore.

Papyrus raked his mind for a solution to this problem, but he’s drawing a blank.

…Then an idea hit him. Think from another angle. Get a second opinion. Like Mezil did with the jumble-crossword-timeline issue.

“SANS, I NEED YOUR ADVICE. WHAT DO YOU THINK I CAN DO TO PREVENT THIS TRAGEDY?”

The elder brother leaned back in surprise. “Whoa, Paps. You’re asking your lazy trash bro for advice now?”

“I WANT TO MAKE SURE YOU DON’T NEED TO DO A VIOLENCE.” Papyrus then gave a warm, reassuring smile. “IN THE NEXT TIMELINE, OF COURSE.”

Sans chuckled away. “Oh man, you’re such a bright sunshine. When you were born, Dad said that the ‘Moon’ finally had a ‘Sun’ to keep him company. Gaster used to have this old painting with a blue moon and an orange sun. ”

“Funny enough, it fits. The moon reflects sunlight, and that’s how it gets its famous silver glow. That thing’s just a dark piece of rock otherwise. Accurate, right? Just like you and me.”

After a relaxed sigh, he gave Papyrus his words of wisdom: “Bro, you need to change the circumstances. As it is, that kid’s gonna drive themselves into a dead end all the time. Can’t trust them to make the right decision. ”

“Instead, you gotta make sure they don’t go anywhere. No chance to escape. Maybe lock them in an unbreakable cage? Or chain them down? Do that on the very first opportunity.”

“OKAY. SO I MUST CAPTURE THEM ON THE VERY FIRST--”

Papyrus’ sockets grew wide with epiphany.

The brother replied. “Heh. That look on your face. You figured something out, eh? Go ahead. I’ll be waiting for the results, Papyrus.”

“THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH! I PROMISE YOU THAT, I -- THE GREAT PAPYRUS -- CARRY FRISK HOME SAFE AND SOUND IN THE NEXT RESET! NYEH HEH HEH!”

“Good luck with that, bro. You can do it.”

Without a second thought, Papyrus got on his feet and jumped off the mountain. He floated himself back to town with the aid of gravity magic.

He thought to himself, no more violence.
No more sacrifice.

When he arrived at Alphys’ lab, Papyrus walked into the middle of a loud, screeching scream.

“MEZIL THYYYYYYYYMEEEEE!!!” Cenna yelled, “I told you to be on fucking standby! Stand! By! Why the hell is your earliest SAVE point AFTER the exorcism???”

“Language, please.” the other replied. It’s none other than Mezil Thyme himself. “It’s not exactly my fault that some urgent business popped up at the same time as your attempt. There are many things that I can’t control.”

The survivors of the night used Alphys’ anime PC to make a video call to Mezil’s address. They huddled around the webcam’s field of view, curious to meet Cenna’s colleague.

Gaster noticed Papyrus’ return. He beckoned the bloke to join the group. “Skip the phone, my boy. We have direct contact now.”

“I STILL NEED TO CHARGE THIS FIRST.” He lifted his dead phone to make his point known.

Alphys then said, “I have a spare wire here, Papyrus. We can hook it up to the computer.”

They did just that. The time-travelling phone now rested on the table, refilling its much needed energy.

With that out of the way, Cenna resumed her grilling. She pointed a demanding finger the camera. “Of all the people you could choose, you had to pick the cinnamonest of cinnamon rolls! WHY???”

Papyrus blurted, “WHO IS THIS CINNAMONEST OF CINNAMON ROLLS?”

Undyne replied, “You, Paps.”

“WHAT IS A CINNAMON ROLL? AND HOW DOES THAT APPLY TO ME?”

Cenna groaned out loud. She showed both hands at Papyrus and said, “See? SEE??? This is exactly what I mean! He doesn’t even know his namesake, Mez! And you put him through a night of hell?!”

Mezil furrowed his brows in displeasure. “In my defense, Seer Papyrus is the ideal candidate for our current mission. He far exceeded my expectations. Achieving Ascension as a monster is no small matter.”

“And what the hell did he have to survive to achieve said Ascension?”

Gaster replied in Mezil’s stead, saying, “He witnessed the truth behind The Core Incident and chose the path of forgiveness.”

“…You bloody serious? Forgiveness?” Cenna replied. “That’s hardest of the hard, doc. Ain’t gonna lie there.”

“I know, yet that’s what he did.”

Undyne squinted her eye. “The Core Incident? The one that fucked Sans up big time? Killed Frisk’s and Cenna’s parents?”

“Language,” Gaster sighed. “But yes. That same incident.”

Undyne immediately shifted her attention to her junior. “Okay Paps, you’re going to tell me exactly what went down that day. The truth and nothing but the truth!”

“SORRY UNDYNE, NOT RIGHT NOW,” Papyrus replied, “THIS TIMELINE WILL RESET. WE’LL RECORD THE TRUTH WHEN FRISK IS SAFE FOR REAL.”

Talking about Frisk prompted Asgore to ask a question. “Where’s Frisk? And Chara?”

The skeleton looked back at the King in sorrow. “THEY’RE NOT HERE ANYMORE, YOUR MAJESTY. IT’S TOO TRAGIC TO SPEAK OF.”

Asgore understood the subtext. He lowered his head and muttered, “I… I see.”

“PLEASE DON’T WORRY. I WILL SAVE THEM BOTH.”

Bleak and nonsensical the prospect may be, the King found himself comforted by Papyrus’ ever shining confidence.

“I’ve yet to understand the situation,” he said, “But I trust you. Thank you so much for your efforts.”

The orange Seer nodded. He walked closer to the webcam and leaned forward to the camera: “MISTER MAGUS, WE MUST USE YOUR THIRD SAVE FILE.”

It was subdued, but Mezil tensed up upon that mention. “I-I believe you’ve miscounted, Papyrus. We have only two SAVES relevant to this incident. One for our starting point, and one after the DEMON escaped.”

“IT’S NOT GOOD TO LIE,” Papyrus replied, “I THOUGHT WE’VE DISCUSSED ABOUT THIS.”

“Well--”

Hawk-eyed Cenna glared at Mezil. Her body began emitting a yellow, wispy aura: curling the fringes of her hair with the force of magic.

Papyrus gasped, “OH MY GOD, MISS AUNT! YOU CAN GO GLOWY TOO?!”

“Hell yeah I can,” she replied. “I ain’t Judge Vanquisher for nothing, cinnamon roll. Facing this old stubborn coot in denial makes my ‘Justice’ aspect boil hotter than facing a DEMON!”

Cenna slammed the table so hard, one of Alphys’ figurines dropped off the edge. Mettaton managed to catch it before it hit the ground.

Alphys started sweating from the tension.

“Ohemgee ohemgee ohemgee,” she squealed. “Is her hair going to turn spiky and golden???”

“Maybe,” Undyne said. It wouldn’t surprise her if it happened. This one week was more anime than her entire life.

On the top of her lungs, Judge Cenna yelled: “You seriously had Jungle Curry for dinner?! On the night of the most dangerous exorcism in modern history?!? Why the fuck do you even torture yourself with that shit???”

Everyone except Gaster bubbled into various varieties of ‘What?’ and ‘Huh?’

Papyrus then asked, “WHAT’S THIS ‘JUNGLE CURRY’?”

With his hands in a steeple, Gaster explained: “It’s a type of dry curry known for their liberal use of hot spices and coconut milk. A speciality of the island tropics. From what I understand, the level of heat… would give Grillby issues.”

“BUT GRILLBY IS MADE OF FIRE.”
“Exactly my point. It’s not for the unacquainted.”

Mezil tried his best to remain stoic, but his cheeks started to go pink from embarrassment.

“This man,” Cenna growled, “His bowels can’t tolerate coconut milk AND excessive chili! Yet he eats the worst possible dish in secret, time and time again!”

“How did you figure that out?” asked Mezil.

“Because it’s fucking SATURDAY! You’ll have the damn curry on Saturday, suffer diarrhea for the night, then use the rest of Sunday to recover from your weird habit!”

One pause. “WAIT. THIS DIARRHEA THING… I’VE HEARD OF IT BEFORE. FRISK DESCRIBED IT AS ‘A VERY BAD TIME IN THE TOILET’. DOES THAT MEAN MISTER MAGUS’ THIRD SAVE FILE WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF THAT BAD TIME?”

“Correction. It’s before. As in, right at the entrance of my toilet.”

Mezil admitted his biggest shame of the night at long last. The monsterfolk gave him a very weird look.

Upon his confession, Cenna’s glow faded away.

“… Look, I’ve not had Jungle Curry since your kind emerged. Not counting the RESETs. It’s very distracting to have a craving unsatisfied.”

Papyrus commented, “WOWIE, THAT’S ABOUT AS UNHEALTHY AS MY BROTHER’S ADDICTION TO KETCHUP.”

Mezil winced in response to that statement. He then explained: “I noticed my level of stress spiked in the past week or two. So, I thought I should wind down by giving myself a long-desired treat.”

Helvetica asked in a series of hand signs. Gaster translated, “The madam wondered why you can’t magically replicate the dish in your Hub. You can refresh your mind without suffering their ill-effects there.”

“I… I tried. Except I don’t know the exact mix of ingredients. It’s not just any Jungle Curry. There’s a store run by a native of that land, and that’s the only place I could get true authentic taste. Other establishments had it either watered down or their spice mix wrong. Such a shame.”

“Anyways,” Mezil resumed, “Upon my savouring of the spice of life, Judge Caraway informed me of her urgent operations.”

“Needless to say, I can’t just un-consume my dinner. This timeline had a string of unique events that led to our best chance yet. I didn’t want to put anything at risk.”

“Can’t you then use your nearest checkpoint?” Asked Alphys, “If, I understand what’s going on.”

“Here’s the thing, I couldn’t make single SAVE, or checkpoint, since your freedom. Frisk as well. Our levels of Determination were so close, we interfered with each other. My last usable spot was on the day when Frisk fell into the Underground.”

“If we go back there now, the DEMON will destroy the universe for certain. Failure is not an option.”

“IT’S TRUE,” Papyrus added. “I SAW THAT OUTCOME IN A VISION.”

“All my SAVES made during their adventure ended up corrupted. Conflict of cause and effect. I can’t access a timeline that doesn’t exist anymore. Hence, unusable.”

Mettaton’s head spun from the overload of information. “Oh my, this is complicated business. Correct timing to use the power of time? Ironic drama at its finest. Reminds me of Blooky’s music sensibilities. It’s all about the timing, he once told me.”

“Only those who’ve experienced it first-hand would know the limitations of being The Living Victory.”

“The gamechanger here is the DT-Extraction Machine. With Frisk drained of their Determination, I finally have my power back at full potential. That’s why we’re here.”

Turning to Papyrus, Mezil then asked a vital question. “Seer. Should I use this third SAVE, what’s your plan? I certainly do not want to spend the next set of loops on the ceramic throne. If I can help it.”

The skeleton lit up his orange Eye and scanned the people around him. When he’s done, he declared his answer with sheer utmost confidence. “MISTER MAGUS, YOU WILL ONLY NEED TO DO THIS ONCE. PROMISE!”

He wrapped an arm around Cenna and pulled her into a sideways-hug.

“Uh, cinnamon roll?” The woman cringed a bit from the awkward and tight angle.

“MISS AUNT, YOU HAVE A MAGICAL WATCH YOU WILL USE IT IN THE FUTURE PAST. THAT’S THE KEY TO SOLVE THIS PUZZLE!”

Cenna rose her brows as far as they could go. “Oi oi, that’s a family secret. I didn’t even tell Frisky yet ‘cause they got a bloody parasite in them.”

“THAT’S EXACTLY WHY IT’S PERFECT! NOBODY EXCEPT YOU AND ME AND MAYBE MISTER MAGUS KNOWS WHAT IT DOES.”

Mezil caught on. “I do. Normally I wouldn’t consider it due to its limitations, but it would have garnered enough power by now. I approve of your plan. Meet me at the Hub.”

Papyrus pumped his fist in joy.

“One more thing. May I know Chara’s primary cause of death? When they were human, that is.”

Alphys raised her hand. “I believe it had something to do with ‘buttercups’. Chara asked the Prince to harvest them in secret. I found the VHS recordings for it…”

“I see. Hmm… I’m not sure if I could obtain those in the heart of winter. Nonetheless, it’s helpful information. Thank you, Doctor Alphys.”

“In the next timeline, I’ll meet all of you in person. See you there.”

Mezil snapped his fingers. With that, the young skeleton found himself standing in the Hub.

Papyrus felt sad that they won’t return here anymore. At least, not for the foreseeable future. It’s a place that had become a second home, and now he had to say goodbye.

Goodbyes are forbidden in his town. This place? It’s not his. It belonged to someone else.

Gaster and Mezil waited for Papyrus at the SAVE console.

The uncle said, “Your father asked if you want to walk around the Hub for one last time. Relax, prepare your mind. That sort of thing.”

Papyrus thought about it. He could if he wanted to. Time doesn’t flow here. But he decided against it. If he lingered, he might get too attached and grow reluctant.

“NO, THANK YOU,” he answered. “I MUST MOVE FORWARD. FOR EVERYONE’S SAKE.”

It’s a response that would make any teacher or parent proud. The young man had come a long way.

“Well then, it’s time.” Mezil activated his SAVE console and summoned the file-selection screen. The top number changed whenever he swiped the set left.

The third SAVE occupied slot number ‘50’, well hidden from any curious meddling. Exactly as Mezil had said, it’s right in front of a toilet.

“This timestamp…” Gaster muttered. “It’s during the exorcism itself. Long before Judge Caraway dealt the final blow, but some time after she first drained Frisk’s DT.”

“I apologize for putting you through so much trouble,” said Mezil. “I hoped that we could find a solution without resorting to this SAVE. Without Judge Caraway’s watch at its current capacity, this checkpoint is useless.”

“She can’t abort the procedure after trapping the DEMON. Neither could I arrive in time to provide an alternative. However, that artifact’s power will solve both of those dead ends.”

He’s reluctant to activate that SAVE. Understandably so. He’d end up at a rather unpleasant point in time, both physically and mentally.

Papyrus gave a reassuring and apologetic pat on the old human’s back. He felt for the other’s suffering, even though the skeleton himself never had terrible times in the toilet before.

His best reference was the session with the kitchen sink, except downwards instead of upwards. Awful times indeed.

“I AM VERY, TRULY, ABSOLUTELY SORRY TO MAKE YOU GO THROUGH THE BAD TIMES AGAIN. AS I HAD SAID BEFORE, I PROMISE THAT YOU ONLY NEED TO GO THROUGH THIS ONCE.”

“PLEASE LET ME KNOW IF I YOU NEED ANY MEDICINE. I CAN ASK ALPHYS TO PREPARE THEM.”

“It’s alright, I have the all medicines I need,” Mezil replied. “It’s sweet for you to offer though. I can see why Judge Caraway calls you the ‘cinnamonest of cinnamon rolls’.”

“Speaking of our spunky Vanquisher,” he said, “There’s something you must know; not all conditions can be cured with medicine. I can’t ever say it in front of her face. She’d probably smash the screen to end the call.”

“OH?” Papyrus blinked.

“Have you noticed her lifeforce? Or rather, the lack of it?”

“YES. SHE HAD 13 HP. A VERY, VERY STRANGE NUMBER. THEN TODAY IT DROPPED TO 12! SHE’S TURNING INTO A TALL GIRLY SANS AND THAT’S BAD.”

Mezil tapped his cane several times. “Papyrus, she’s very sick. Been so for years. Her body will weaken long before old age. In five years, it’s likely that she would end up paralyzed, mute, and bedridden. From there it’s just waiting for a slow death.”

Never before had the youngster heard of such affliction. In the Underground, the worst disease involved ‘falling down’. Plus it was rather painless.

Cenna? Horrific, if not agonizing. As though she’s ‘falling down’ at a snail’s pace with full consciousness.

“WE REALLY CAN’T HELP HER?” He whimpered. “NO MEDICINE? NO HEALING MAGIC? NOTHING?”

The Magus shook his head. “No, there’s no cure for her illness. But there is a method to delay its effects. Used in conjunction with specific drugs, of course.”

“It involves permanent consumption of the SOUL to reinforce her weakening body. Whenever the symptoms return, she must shave off a lifeforce unit to preserve integrity. Also, the procedure cannot go below a value of ‘ten’.”

“You said she has ‘twelve’ now, right? That means she can perform the reinforcement two more times before the disease consumes her.”

“The vision with the court case… You saw her strapped in strange supports. That’s just the beginning of an inevitable decline.”

“Hmm,” Gaster pondered upon this new revelation. “Her predicament does fit with the limitations of Psychia Reinforcement on living beings. It’ll just be a matter of time before the reinforced cells decay, replaced by new ones made from her faulty genes. It’s a losing battle.”

Mezil nodded. “Doctor Gaster is correct. Believe it or not, her SOUL is more brittle than Sans’. Or any monster. If she uses her Ascension at full power now, she will surely die. And she’s very willing to die. So… if possible, don’t give her a reason to do so until Spring.”

All the talk about this whole ‘winter season illness’ was a lie. Papyrus did not approve of that approach. If everyone knew about her true condition, they will do their best to make the most out of their time together.

But, he understood that it was a very personal and heartbreaking situation to explain. Thus, he held no grudges.

“BUT WHY SPRING?” Asked Papyrus.

“Judge Caraway will be going on a very important mission then. It’s something only she can do. I want her to continue living for as long as possible.”

That reason was enough. “LEAVE IT TO ME, MISTER MAGUS! I -- THE GREAT PAPYRUS -- WILL PROTECT MISS AUNT UNTIL HER VERY IMPORTANT MISSION. NYEH HEH HEH!”

“Thank you,” Mezil smiled. “Now I have no hesitations.”

“I DON’T EITHER.”

Together, they selected File 50 and pressed the confirmation button.

Chapter Text

Howdy, I’m Flowey! Flowey the Flower.

You may also know me as Asriel Dreemurr.

Former GOD of Hyperdeath.

Your very best friend.

It’s been a while since everyone went up to the Surface. Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve been watching the developments from afar.

I’m glad Frisk had a happy life. If they’re happy, Chara should be happy too.

…Or so I thought.

Things got a little funky. I’ve seen the usual drama multiple times now, but this takes the cake. It’s like all that stupid ‘human history’ stuff Alphys used to collect. Except believable.

Well, let’s just say both of my best friends ended up dead.

I tried to help. Uh, but, I kinda forgot that the Surface is chock-full of humans. And Frisk isn’t the only human with the power to SAVE and RESET.

Farewell time traveling ability.

Then, the Smiley Trashbag appeared.

Extract my Determination?
Turn the floor into sand??
Collapse the entire stadium??

He’s. AB-SO-LUTE-LY. NUTS!

NUUUUUUUTS!

There’s a reason why I warned them NEVER to let him know ANYTHING!

And also why I made sure he’s knocked out cold when I captured everyone. If I give him even a tiny bit of chance, he’s going to milk the heck out of it!

That’s just the kicker.

It turns out EVERYONE knew my true identity. All my hiding and solitude and crying was for nothing!

…but Mom saved me from her dumb and clearly lethal joke buddy.

I thought she would choose him over me. Well, because I’m not exactly her son anymore. Still Mom is Mom: she’s tough on what she decides on.

I tried to flee, the sky’s falling down, and then… Poof.

RESET.

I found myself back in hiding under Doctor Alphys’ couch. I was so confused.

Who did it? Are they at the stadium? Maybe Frisk or Chara managed to push the button beyond the grave or something?

Things went downhill from there. Papyrus tried to be a hero and he got himself killed. After all, I -- of all people -- know what’s the sound of a monster turning into dust.

Sooooo how is that supposed to help? I know Papyrus is sweet, and frankly I can’t bring myself to hate him, but he’s too dumb to live.

All I saw was Doctor Gaster holding the door with the help of a dead human. That just got surreal, like seriously.

Then HE appeared.

The guy with the RESET button! He’s some… some… old human dude with weird fancy fashion? What’s with his flappy tail coat thing? What’s with the stick? Everything about him reminds me of a Mettaton show for some reason.

The two old guys had their old magic talk. Boring.

Then the RESET happened again.

And again.
And again.
And again.

Idiots. Don’t they know that as long Frisk has Determination, nothing’s ever gonna work? Believe me. I’ve tried.

………………

Okay.
Papyrus got… smarter? He made it out alive after what, two hundred tries? I stopped counting after ten.

And he told Frisk to do nothing.

I almost wanted to jump out from my hiding spot and slap him, but in hindsight it’s brilliant.

Of course Frisk had to do nothing! It’s the only way to deal with Determination! I think everyone else is major dumb for not thinking of that sooner.

Then, the REAL game started.

As a flower, I’ve gained a newfound appreciation for Chara’s creativeness in the art of killing. Not like it helped because we’d get RESET sooner or later, but boy. It’s fantastic. Like anime. Maybe that’s where they learned some of those moves?

………………

Wow. I still don’t really get what’s going on, but with every RESET Papyrus comes back stronger.

And extra smarter.

He’s learning new magic too! I think it has something to do with a glowing red butterfly. If I pay close enough attention, I’d see it flying away from his dust.

………………

Ooookay. I think I’ve seen everything now. A glowing Papyrus. Right. Maybe if I smack my head on the ground hard enough, I’ll wake up from this dream.

He tried to capture Chara. By wedging them in a corner. And told them if they ran away, they’re gonna risk having a bad time.

He’s too nice. Of course Chara won’t listen to him. They don’t really listen to anyone if you tell them to stay put.

Chara?
Chara?
Where are you going Chara?

NO CHARA STOP! THE SMILEY TRASHBAG IS AT MOM’S HOUSE!

STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP!

YOU IDIOT!
STOP!!!

………………

I’m not dumb.
I can see that Papyrus tried to save Chara from the Trashbag.

If this was the Underground, I wouldn’t trust Papyrus with his capturing. His head was too much in the clouds to realise that handing a human over to Asgore meant certain death for them: bottled up as a SOUL.

But he's different now. He’s no longer that ignorant. In fact, he probably knows too much. And I suspect it has something to do with his epic glow and orange eye thing.

C’mon Chara, stop running away! Do you need me to talk to you face to face?

………………

Chara ran to Mount Ebott. Tried to flee to the Underground.

I tunnelled around so I can meet them at a halfway point. Then tell them to listen to Papyrus for once.

‘Don’t kill, and don’t be killed’.
That’s the advice I gave to Frisk before I turned back into a soulless flower.

I can’t feel love anymore, but I’m getting darn worried about Chara. Concerned? Out of fear, I’m sure. If they don’t surrender to Papyrus, that Trashbag is gonna kill them over and over.

Then.

The Trashbag found me first.

He cut me down on the spot.

………………

I’m scared.
I’m so scared.

The Trashbag saw me. I’m a target. A big giant target on the radar!

What am I supposed to do???

Huh?

Why am I at the door to the lab?

I had to blink a few times to notice, but this…

This was the moment of the big ritual.

Chara and Frisk, all bound in magic chains.

“You rather believe that goopy mad scientist and a witch over me…? You… YOU MONSTERS ARE NO DIFFERENT FROM THOSE HUMANS!”

No… Are they going to try and kill Chara again?
I-I know they survived but, but they went through so much pain…

Cenna said: “Playtime’s over, kiddo. It’s time for eternal sleep.”

Papyrus, maybe I’ve thought wrong about you. Maybe you’re just like those humans who killed me.

I’m sorry Chara, you’re right. Everyone’s terrible. The world is terrible! Humans, monsters, they’re all the same!

I’m gonna avenge you!

“MISS AUNT, USE THE WATCH!”

The watch? Whatever he meant, it stopped Cenna from continuing the ritual. The witch checked the pocket watch strung around her neck.

Hey, isn’t that the one with a mirrored back? I heard her talking about it when Frisk had breakfast at school. It’s some family heirloom. Normally, the sides tell the same time.

“The heck? It’s desynced hard!”

I just caught a quick glimpse. Each display is different now.

She then pointed the device right at Chara.

WHOA!
WHAT?!
WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT???

The watch shot out like, a ray of red light and… and… and FROZE half of the room?!?!

Chara and Frisk and the chains and the DT Extraction Machine got encased in a bubble of red light. It reminds me of the day I made candied apples with Mom, except this is less sugary and more ‘holographic’. I think that’s the term.

Inside that bubble…

Time has stopped.

What the heck are you planning, Papyrus???

Cenna stepped away from the massive star. She turned to Papyrus and talked to him. “Holy macaroni. Five hours of time freeze? Just how many weeks did Mez loop before we got to this point, cinnamon roll?”

“I DON’T THINK IT’S WEEKS, MISS AUNT. MY PHONE CAN’T LAST THAT LONG. BUT WE DID REPEAT LOTS. AND THERE’S A DAY EXTRA BEFORE OUR FIRST MEETING.”

“Oh? He ‘Marked’ a means of contact, yeah? Guess that made sense.”

Oooooooh, that watch is a magic device! If I got this right, it harvests extra time based on the number of RESETS. Or the duration passed. Or something like that. It's running on DT at least.

The mirrored side is ticking backwards now. Very cunning, that witch.

She looked at Papyrus, up and down. “Whoa whoa whoa, you achieved Ascension? Get real, sweetheart! So, what’s your conviction to unlock that new level?”

‘Ascension’…? Is that why he’s all glowing?

Papyrus replied, “BY CHOOSING TO FORGIVE EVERYONE DESPITE ALL THE BAD THING THEY’VE DONE. THAT INCLUDES YOU TOO, MISS AUNT. YOU WEREN’T VERY NICE TO SANS.”

“Describe the ‘not nice’ to me, dear cinnamon.”

“YOU ADDED SOME SLEEPY MEDICINE INTO SANS’ KETCHUP. AND TRIED TO CHILDNAP FRISK. EVEN IF YOU’RE REALLY THEIR RELATIVE, IT’S NOT NICE TO SNATCH PEOPLE AWAY.”

She burst into laughter. Not nervous, not afraid, but… glad? Cheerful? What?

“Daaaaaamn. You’re a full-fledged Chronographer now! Yeah, I've done that in at least one of the timelines. I admit it. Full surrender. It didn’t work. That got myself and a few other innocents killed. That’s why we ain’t stooping to that anymore.”

“DO YOU REMEMBER THOSE TIMES, MISS AUNT?”

“Nawh, not at all.” Insert playful wink here. “I go to a good friend to get my info. She’s a Chronographer just like you. Mez? By now, you should know that he’s not the most transparent guy on the block.”

Wow. I think I just gave up trying to understand what’s going on.

Undyne said the best about this situation. “Caaaan somebody tell me what the fu-- heck is going on here?”

“Please allow me,” Doctor Gaster offered to explain.

Papyrus started walking towards the door with Cenna following right behind. I quickly hid under the couch. This hiding spot worked in the past timelines, so it should be okay.

I saw him making a beeline to Alphys’ PC. He grabbed one of those ‘chargers’ and plugged his phone in. Then, he started making a phone call.

It doesn’t look like anyone answered.

“HMM, I GUESS HE’S NOT OUT OF THE TOILET YET.”

Cenna said, “He had Jungle Curry, didn’t he?”

“YUP.”
“That explains a ton. Sheesh. I must have grilled him hard in the last reset.”
“YES YOU DID. YOU WENT ALL GLOWY TOO.”

“Ooookay that’s more than just grilling. I totally flipped out. No questions there. So, what’s your plan?”

“I’M GOING TO SAVE EVERYONE. CHARA AND FLOWEY TOO.”

Save… me?
I thought they wanted to exterminate us…?

“You gotta tell me more than that, cinnamon roll. Maybe I can help?”

“MISTER MAGUS KNOWS WHAT TO DO. I JUST NEED TO REMIND HIM TO MAKE SPACE FOR FLOWEY TOO. AS LONG THEY LIVE WITH HIM, MY BROTHER WON’T BE FORCED TO DO A VIOLENCE.”

Live with… that old human Magus?
Away from Sans?

“Protective custody, huh?” Said Cenna, “Not bad. Hey, let me give you a little police insider. We lock bad guys behind bars not only to protect the public from them, but also to protect them from the public. It goes both ways. Angry mobs are balls of hatred. You don’t wanna see those in action.”

“OH, YOU KNOW HOW TO MERCY CAPTURE TOO?” Papyrus sounded really happy. “THAT’S AWESOME! TO BE HONEST, I WAS WORRIED. I THOUGHT THE SURFACE PEOPLE DON’T KNOW HOW TO TALK THINGS OUT.”

“Eeeh prisons aren’t always nice places, cinnamon. Some double as therapy centers, but some of them are pits of darkness by themselves.”

So, the best alternative to getting killed by the Trashbag is to get jailed for life?
That doesn’t sound very appealing. Talk about a rock and a hard place.

“I take it you want something less like a ‘prison’ and more like a ‘house arrest’, yeah?”

“OOOH MISS AUNT, YOU’RE SMART! A HOUSE SOUNDS GREAT! I WANT FLOWEY AND CHARA TO BE COMFORTABLE AND HAPPY, SO THEY TOO CAN HAVE A CHANCE TO HEAL. WHEN THEY HEAL, THEY CAN CHOOSE TO BE GOOD. NYEH HEH HEH!”

“NOW I MUST FIND FLOWEY AND TELL HIM THAT EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY.”

Papyrus’ right eye lit up orange. Then, I saw his body shift towards the couch. He got on the floor and peeked under it.

…I never thought I’d be so happy to see that goofy face.

“HELLO FLOWEY.”

“Howdy,” I replied. “Papyrus. Is that true? You’re gonna save me? And Chara too?”

“ABSOLUTELY!”

“Even if we’re… soulless?”

“I -- THE GREAT PAPYRUS -- SWEAR TO KEEP HIS WORD. AS LONG YOU STAY BY MY SIDE, SANS WON’T HURT YOU.”

I started to get teary. Of course Papyrus would never kill us. There’s a reason why I can’t hate him. I feel like an idiot now. A big, massive, humongous idiot.

Frisk and Papyrus are both special. And they’re staying special. Nobody can deny that.

He offered his hand. I crawled out of my hiding spot and climbed on it. He then lifted me up with a sense of kind gentleness. Reminds me of Dad.

“Thanks, Papyrus,” I said.

He smiled back and patted me on my petalled head.

I still can’t feel love, don’t get me wrong. But I’m… I’m so relieved. I don’t need to worry about that Trashbag anymore. I’ll be safe. Chara will be safe too.

Cenna the Vanquisher grinned at me. “A flower DEMON made of monster dust? Dang. Never thought that’s possible.”

I put on my scary face to toy with her: “Oooooh, so what do you want to do? ‘Purify’ me with explosives like what you’re gonna do to Chara?”

Instead of getting scared, her grin curled wider. Twisted, she tilted her head back and stared me down.

“An eager customer, eh? It ain’t smart to buy a service without taking a sample. Let’s see, maybe we can start on one of your cute little petals? Or your fancy leaves? Free of charge, flower boy. Just say the word.”

Ffffffffffffff--- I almost pooped sap out of my roots. I dunno who’s worse anymore: the witch, or the Trashbag.

Papyrus squinted his sockets at the both of us. “NO RUDENESS, PLEASE.”

Cenna switched modes. She acted cute with a catty pout, saying: “Oh cinnamon roll, don’t worry. We’re just teasing each other. Ain’t that right, Flowey?”

I caught the subtext, lady. With a nervous chuckle, I replied, “Y-yeah! Just playing! I mean, friends tease each other. That’s what we do, right?”

Papyrus being Papyrus, took it at face value. “I’M SO GLAD TO SEE YOU MAKING NEW FRIENDS, FLOWEY. I’M SURE FRISK WILL BE SUPER HAPPY TOO!”

Some things just don’t change.

Cenna’s phone started to ring. She answered the call.

“Yo Mez,” she said, “How’s consequences working for ya? Seriously though, you should quit that habit. Anyways. You have four hours and forty minutes. …Not enough? Serious? C’mon, I know there’s the big weekly congestion on the way here, but you ain’t gonna be stuck there forever.”

“…Heh, not taking any risks huh? Yeah. Drunk drivers are a pain. Which means you got an hour or so at max. Okay, noted.”

“You need an Ebott Goldenflower from Asgore? No probs. He keeps a bajillion of those. What about Flowey? He’s with Papyrus. So you don’t need to worry about looking for the flower boy. Anything else?… Sure thing. See you soon.”

Alternative setup number two commenced. Undyne accompanied Dad to fetch a pot of ‘Ebott Goldenflower’. I guess the humans have a specific name for my body.

Of course, being the nice King Fluffybuns of fame… Dad brought an empty soil-filled pot for me. Nicely watered too.

I settled down in there and stayed quiet. None of us talked much. The silence messed with Undyne, I can tell from her frustrated scowl.

It’s all about the tired-yet-anxious waiting now.

Doctor Gaster made coffee for everyone. When he’s done, he stayed far away from the rest of the group. Papyrus tried invite him to join us. He declined.

That behaviour, I know all about it. He must have been bad at some point and he’s now feeling darn uncomfortable.

…Frisk also tried to invite me back to the Surface a few times. I know. Even if I don’t remember every instance, I’m sure it’s in their character to try.

So I kept hiding.
And hiding.
And hiding.

Hide long enough and they will be forced to move on.

I gave them no opportunity to talk to me. Made them think I’m dead for good or something. ‘Cause the moment they start, it’s going to be DETERMINATION all the way to the end.

It worked. They eventually became overwhelmed by other Surface responsibilities and stopped badgering me.

After about an hour, a car stopped in front of Alphys’ lab.

“Finally! God, all that waiting almost drove me nuts.” Undyne opened the door. She did it with so much force, it almost popped off the hinges.

That’s him. The old Magus in all his tailcoat glory. He had this steel box with a skull and crossbones logo on it.

Wait, really? REALLY? I thought we’re supposed to save Chara? Why did he bring a box with a POISON symbol on it?

Nevermind. Papyrus placed faith in these guys, so I’m gonna see where this goes.

“Thank you,” said this Mister Magus. Then he marched like he owned the place. He didn’t even bother to introduce himself.

Papyrus was sooooo happy to see him, though he’s pretty concerned. “MISTER MAGUS, YOU MADE IT! ARE YOU OKAY?”

“I’m fine. Let us end this long night.”

We followed him into the chamber. The red time-freeze stuff still kept everything in place, as if nothing ever happened.

Cenna helped Mister Magus on clockwork.

I asked Papyrus to shift his position so I could take a closer look.

They’re modifying the ritual for Chara. Even if I don’t understand, I want to know every single detail of this procedure.

Okay. First step: place mystery steel box down.

Second step: take out…

A very complicated contraption.

It’s flat: a steel plate with a glass cover. It has one of those ‘Arcanagrams’ carved in. A mysterious silvery liquid flowed in the etches. The whole thing reminds me of a puzzle piece in a way. The amount of symbols and mini-circles on there make my head spin.

I tried counting the number of pointy sections, but I kept messing up.

Doctor Gaster noticed my curiosity. “Seventeen points, Your Highness. Filled with mercury. It’s a very hazardous substance, hence the warning label.”

Great. He knows my real identity too. Figures.

Oh boy, he gets that spark whenever something catches his attention.

“Interesting, interesting…” he muttered, “I suppose it only makes sense. My, my, turning the tables aren’t we?”

I can’t tell what he’s thinking.
I can’t tell what they’re thinking.

But this should save Chara.

There’s some other stuff inside the box: a bottle of blood, flakes of silver, and some fresh buttercups.

Buttercups…
I’ll never forget that day.

I watched Dad place the normal flower pot in the middle of the magic star.

“We’re ready,” said Mister Magus. “Please step back.”

Everyone moved to the back end of the room except for the two experts. Cenna unhooked the key from the handle of her special watch.

“Ready?” She asked.

The old guy nodded. He brought forth his SOUL. It’s red just like Frisk’s.

It shone bright with magic. Then that ‘mercury’ thing started to resonate together with him, taking on his power’s hue.

Cenna inserted the key into the base of the watch and twisted it. The moment she did so, time returned to normal. I could see the confusion on Chara’s face as the flow of time returned.

“What the hell happened?” they asked, “Who are you anyway? Where did you come from?! I thought the witch is in charge!”

I wanted to call for their attention, but Papyrus whispered a ‘shhh’ next to my head.

‘Mister Magus’ finally introduced himself: “My name is Mezil Thyme. If she’s a witch, I’m a warlock. Alas, those are nothing but labels of the ignorant. Shall we have a short session of enlightenment?”

He picked up the bottle of blood. Unscrewed the cap and lifted it to Chara as if he’s having a toast.

He said, “Blood, the component of ‘Life’. My blood. Determination in its liquid form.”

He poured the whole bottle down on the flower pot. Instead of spilling everywhere, the plant absorbed every drop of liquid.

It’s magic at work here. Getting stronger.

The Magus then scattered the buttercup petals over the pot. “Buttercups, your personal ‘Aspect of Death’. What a cruel and unusual way to suicide…”

Here come the silver flakes. “Silver. A ‘Purification’ reagent. When used in conjunction with Mercury’s ‘Corruption’, it becomes a ‘Neutralizer’. Demons gain their strength from the combination of ‘Life’ and ‘Corruption’. Adding silver prevents their empowerment.”

When he poured the silver flakes, the flower glowed brighter and brighter until it’s pure white.

Winds circulate inside the chamber. Globs of dark-red icky stuff began floating out of Frisk’s SOUL.

That’s Chara’s essence.

They struggled in panic. “W-what are you doing to me???”

Mezil answered: “Giving a parasite a permanent body, of course. Please don’t think you can escape to a vessel of your choice. The seventeen points of this Arcanagram serve as the number of destruction. Only the Cheater of Death will host your essence, and your hauntings of Ebott will forever cease.”

“I’ll be a flower? A fucking flower? FOREVER?!? NOOOOO I DON’T WANT TO BE A FLOWER! I NEVER WANTED TO BECOME A FUCKING FLOWER!

“It’s either that, or die in the hands of the blue seraphim. You do not have a choice.”

Mezil the Magus breathed in deep.

Then, with a voice as commanding as Undyne, he yelled:

“Chara, Chara: Warrior of Ebott! I command this vessel as thy body! Cease your wanderings and bind your spirit, now and forevermore!”

Oh, his SOUL created a red glowing butterfly! So he did use his magic on Papyrus after all.

With its flight, the magic activated. The butterfly sucked in every drop of Chara’s oozy essence and gently guided it toward the flower.

Wow.
I can’t believe this is actually happening, but it is.

The transfer of had begun. Chara’s essence failed to resist.

Their screams of protest grow softer and softer, until they’re all gone.

When it landed, it puffed into red sparkly dust.

“Sealing successful. And SAVED.”

It’s done.
When the light faded away, the flower started to move. This is the first time I’ve seen another flower move other than myself.

The other flower started to cry. Just like me when I woke up all alone.

“…No… Noooooo… I can’t feel anything. No hands, no legs…! I’m just a stupid, stupid, STUPID flower!”

It’s Chara’s real voice. Without all that epic demon nonsense.

“SEE?” Papyrus said to me. “MISTER MAGUS SAVED CHARA, JUST LIKE I PROMISED. DO YOU WANT TO SAY HELLO?”

“Of course!” I exclaimed. I’ve never been happier since the Barrier was broken!

Papyrus placed my pot right in front of Chara’s.

They stopped crying and looked at me in surprise.

“Howdy!” I said, “I’m Flowey the flower!”

Then, I changed to my true face. “Your very best friend.”

“Asriel?” Chara muttered.

Ah, I see their famous rosy blush! I danced a bit to welcome them. “Yup! It’s me! I-I understand it’s scary at first. Being a flower and all. But it’s not so bad. There are a lot of cool tricks you can do!”

“Like, we can hitch a ride under the car. Or dig really really really fast underground. Ooooor steal cookies from the cookie jar without anyone ever realising it!”

I’m happy.
I’m so happy.
It’s going to be like the old days again. Just the both of us playing together.

I continued, “As a flower, the sunshine feels so super duper awesome! It’s warm and nice and refreshing and it gives this really energetic buzz and nyooooom! It’s just like a sugar rush, but with a little less crazy.”

Chara drooped their head down. “I’m scared, Asriel. I’m going to be killed. We’re all going to be killed. He’s out there. He’s going to hunt us down. He’s going to bury and drown me alive again.”

Not surprised Chara remembered Sans.

“We’re not going to get killed, Chara. We’re gonna go somewhere far away. He won’t find us.”

“Really?” They asked.

“Really!” I smiled and nodded as confident as I can. “Don't kill, and you won’t get killed.”

I can’t feel love, but I remember what it’s like be a friend.
I’m determined to help Chara adapt to their new life.

“In ‘this’ world, it’s live and let live.”

Chapter Text

You opened your eyes.

Within the first second, you heard a familiar voice. A thought crossed your mind: did you end up in the Underground?

Silence.
There’s silence in your head. You no longer hear Chara’s voice.

It then clicked that you’re in Alphys’ Lab. On the Surface.

You pushed yourself off the cold, steel table.

To your amazement, you saw… two talking flowers.

Two.
Talking.
Flowers.

Flowey. He’s dancing in front of the other golden flower, the one with a rosy blush.

Wait. A blush?
Chara?!

You heard Flowey finish his speech with these words: “In ‘this’ world, it’s live and let live.”

That’s a thousand percent better than his usual ‘kill or be killed’ line.

Your sister ‘aunt’ noticed that you’re awake.

“Frisky!” Cenna ran straight up to you for the most vigorous hair rub you’ve ever experienced thus far.

By the time she’s done, your head became a messy mat of fluff. Then she hugged you tight.

It’s a huge change compared to her exhausted self in the doomed timelines.

Relief and joy was the theme of the atmosphere now. Except for Chara, who’s still in a sulking mood. Flowey invited them to join the welcoming session, but they rather stay away.

Well, you did spite them with some forced memories. It’s going to take a while for them to get over it.

Gaster picked up Chara’s pot so no one would accidentally kick them over. He gave you a warm smile as he watched from a far corner. You could tell that he’s glad, even though he’s just an acquaintance for now.

The rest of your monster family crowded around you. Flowey included.

Undyne’s wide grin, how you missed that. “Yooooo squirt, you’re free now! For real!”

That’s going to take some time to adjust.

Then, there’s Dad’s soft voice and his cuddly self. “My child, are you fine?”

Tired, but fine. A warm shower and bedtime sounds great right now.

“We were so worried about you,” said Alphys.

Sorry for making everyone worry.

If Mettaton wasn’t in his box form, he would have showered you with kisses. “Oh darling, I’m so happy that you’re your own person now~”

Looks like everyone knows about your Chara problem. You chuckled at maximum awkward levels.

“Congrats,” Flowey chirped, “You didn’t die!”

Such a typical Flowey statement. You patted him on the head and said it’s great to see him again. You missed him.

Here comes the hero with the iconic red scarf in all his tall, goofy glory; “FRISK, THE GREAT PAPYRUS SAVED YOU. JUST AS PROMISED.”

Upon witnessing your recovery, his awesome glow faded away. He’s normal bones now.

You thanked Papyrus with maximum gratitude. You knew that you wouldn’t be here without his efforts.

“YOU SHOULD THANK MISTER MAGUS TOO! HE’S THE ONE WHO GAVE ME THE CHANCE TO HELP.”

Mister Magus?

Flowey pointed a leaf towards the grey-haired man in a tailcoat. “Mezil Thyme. He’s a Magus. Personally, I thought the term ‘warlock’ is way cooler.”

His black ebony cane tapped on the ground as he walked right up to you. A beautiful red butterfly brooch was pinned onto his… folded cloth tie thing? You need to ask Mettaton for the proper fashion term later.

Something about its elegance caught your attention.

“Well,” said Mezil. “We meet at last, Frisk. You’re quite a difficult person to catch.”

The way he carried himself reminded you of a principal. A stern principal. Heck, you felt like you’re called to his office to talk over a major issue.

“Bring out your SOUL. I’d like to inspect it.”

You weren’t sure at first, but Papyrus encouraged it. So you pushed your SOUL out to let him check.

The cuts Cenna made were still there. You had joined the cool-partition club.

Mezil tapped the surface, spun it around, pulled the segmented partitions and watched how they locked back…

His methods reminded you of a clinical examination. You feel a little uncomfortable from the thoroughness.

“Hmm. Excellent colour. Brilliant shine. It’s already healing from the infection. I can say with certainty that you’re clean.”

He then sent the SOUL back into your body. Oh, perhaps he’s not so scary after all.

“Since I’ve verified your condition, I’ll take the two flower DEMONs back to the institute. They’ll live in the greenhouse until further notice.”

Papyrus frowned. “SO SOON? BUT FLOWEY JUST REUNITED WITH US.”

“It’s for their safety, as you should realise.”

“The old man’s right,” said Flowey. “It’s okay, Papyrus! We got these ‘video call’ stuffs nowadays. We’ll keep in touch.”

“OKAY…”

Aww, poor Papyrus. He’s so disappointed. You let him know that if he really wanted to, he can pay his planty friend a visit during the weekends.

Flowey waved goodbye one last time before the old Magus picked him up, then he went over to Doctor Gaster to get Chara.

Since everything’s settled, it’s time to get your hair straightened out.

You asked Mettaton if he had a comb.

That.
Just.
Made.
Papyrus shriek at the top of his ribs. Mittens to the cheeks, eyes bugged out, volume maximum.

“NOOOOOOO! FRISK, YOU WILL NOT BORROW ANYONE’S COMB! ALL NON-FRISK COMBS ARE BANNED UNTIL YOU’RE SAFE AT HOME!”

Undyne’s night just got weirder. “Whoa Paps, it’s just a comb--”

“IT’S NOT JUST A COMB! OH MY GOD METTATON, YOU NEED TO GET RID OF THAT KNIFE RIGHT NOW, NYEH!!!”

Without any further warning, Papyrus swiped the box-shaped celebrity off his wheels: princess style.

“Oh my! I certainly didn’t expect that move, darling~”

Assorted chaos with intense rummaging followed after, accentuated by the melodies of a screaming skeleton. Past midnight.

Ah yes, the sweet sound of Papyrus brand music right there.

Mezil tried his darndest to not laugh, but you could see his lips curling at the ends.

“Poor soul,” he said, “I hope he won’t be traumatized for life. But… I trust that he’ll be fine. He’s much more resilient than he realises. Well, goodnight everyone.”

Out into the night he went. So mysterious.

Papyrus came back with a giant cocoon of tissues, secured in place with industrial duct tape. Mettaton followed right behind.

He handed the bundle over to Undyne.

“Okay,” she said, “Next, you’re gonna tell me that the stolen paring knife is wrapped up in what could be our house’s whole supply of toilet rolls.”

“THAT’S CORRECT, UNDYNE! YOU’RE VERY SMART. YES, I’VE SECURED IT WITH MUCH PADDING. NO ONE SHOULD GET HURT NOW, NYEH HEH HEH!”

Maximum. Papyrus. Logic.

Cenna howled in laughter. “Gosh, cinnamon roll! That’s hilarious yet brilliant at the same time! Oh man toilet rolls are sooooo hard to pick apart when they’re a compact ball.”

“OH, YOU KNOW THE PUZZLING DIFFICULTY OF THE DECEIVINGLY SOFT PAPER TOO?”

“Ahuh. A pain when Halloween rolls over. My colleagues would split into two camps and start a TP throwing war. Even hardboiled people need a break.”

Undyne then pouted at an irritating memory. “Sans freaking lined my house with those stuff once. They’re trippy little buggers! Like, literally!”

“Heh heh,” Alphys had that cheeky grin on her face now. “We should definitely arrange a toilet roll fight. It sounds like tons of fun!”

For the first time in forever, you could look forward to the future. Chara won’t threaten to press the RESET button anymore. Thus, you’re in control of your own actions.

You’re satisfied with this outcome of your life. You had no reason to go back Underground.

In the midst of excitement, Dad said: “Excuse me, but I think we should discuss our plans tomorrow. Frisk needs some rest from their ordeal.”

Good point. You’re starting to feel mighty drowsy. This time, it’s not from any medication.

Dad wanted to pick you up, but Papyrus offered himself.

“I PROMISED SANS THAT I’LL CARRY FRISK HOME,” he said.

You realised that it’s a code that you’re not possessed anymore. Sans did go all out against Chara’s shenanigans.

…Some of that pain may stick in your subconscious for life, but you had volunteered to go through them. There’s no blame or grudge against your special blue friend.

Instead, you’re in his eternal debt.

You let Dad know that Papyrus wanted to reassure Sans of your safety. He understood the context and stepped aside.

Your tall skeleton hero picked you right up. He’s not soft or warm like Dad, but you felt safe in his arms.

He led the way. Everyone except Gaster followed a good distance behind. For once, they’ll let him have the spotlight.

The motions tempted you to sleep. No. No sleep yet. There’s something you must do before you could call it a night.

“ARE YOU COLD, FRISK?”

He must have felt you shiver. It’s deep in winter night after all. The clothes you had were not quite enough, so you nodded.

Papyrus unwound his scarf and wrapped you up in them. They’re tattered, but still comfy.

You smiled and said thanks.

“NO PROBLEM.”

There’s a certain wise levelness to his voice now. He’s still Papyrus, but he’s no longer on a constant hyper and overenthusiastic mode.

At last, you arrived home.

Sans opened the door. His wariness gone when he witnessed the success story.

“Hey bro,” he said, “You kept your promise.”

“YES, I DID.” Papyrus answered.

They’re both happy.

You asked Papyrus to set you down. The moment he did so, you walked over to Sans: careful to not make sudden movements that might startle him.

Then you gave him a huge hug.

You cried a bit and thanked him for saving you. It must be hard for him to go through all of that.

Sans tried to play it off, as usual. “H-hey, kid. I’m the last person you should thank. Cold to the bone, you know. Not something to be proud of.”

You don’t care. No matter how much he devalued himself, you’ll still give him the credit he deserves.

“C’mon, I’m trash.”

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And he’s your treasure.
You refuse to let go.

“Determined, huh? Welp. Can’t win against that.”

In the end, he hugged you back.

Mission accomplished. You lost all your drive and fell asleep in Sans’ arms.

Thus ended the longest night.

Chapter Text

By the time you woke up, it’s noon.

Maybe you had a little bit too much sleep.

The waking routine went on as usual: bathroom breaks, shower, oral hygiene regimen, then finish off with a fresh change of clothes.

Then it’s time to check the kitchen for lunch.

Mom sat at the dining table with a box before her, but she’s not alone. Napstablook hovered beside her while a goopy skeleton managed the stove.

…Uh, who? Oh, it’s Doctor Gaster.

“‘Morning’ dear,” Mom’s lips curled into a cheeky pout. Despite the teasing, she seemed lethargic.

“Good afternoon, Frisk,” Gaster then flipped the grains of couscous in the pan. Wow. So pro.

You greeted back.

Your white ghosty friend floated up to you, crying tears of joy. “Oh………I don’t know why……… but looking at you makes me so happy……… so very happy………”

Aww Blooky. You told him that he’s so cute. What brings him here today?

“Mettaton told me that you had a rough night……… so I went over to Muffet’s to buy some doughnuts………”

He opened the box for you. It’s an assortment of spider doughnuts, but with new flavours.

Cranberry glaze, vanilla-chocolate, hazelnut coffee, butterscotch cinnamon, chunky apple, and orange cream.

Muffet expanded her selection to fit human tastes. Seems like she’s doing well. Though, you’re definitely reserving the butterscotch cinnamon doughnut for Mom.

You grabbed a plate and a fork. Singled out that piece then placed it in front of Mom.

“Thank you, my child,” she said. “But, I don’t have an appetite for sweets just yet. Maybe after a proper meal.”

That’s a little worrying. On a normal day, she would tell you that deserts are best eaten after lunch. Word for word.

You asked Mom if she’s fine.

“Oh, just drowsy,” she replied back. “Remember the medicine that the doctor gave me for my migraines?”

There were two packets. One medication to stop the migraine early, and the other had painkillers that double as sleeping tablets. Strong side-effects.

You asked her if she had another episode.

She nodded back at you. “It was late and I couldn’t sleep. I felt the sting, so I took both the blocker and the painkillers together. Maybe that combination was too strong.”

Did… Mom just wake up? You asked her about it.

She blushed at your deduction. “That’s right, my child. I woke up about half an hour before you. That’s way past my usual schedule. Not long after, Doctor Gaster knocked on the door and offered to cook for us.”

What’s with everyone and the Sans timing now? Then again, it was a long and stressful night.

Glad that’s over for good.

Doctor Gaster plated the fried couscous. Four servings, Napstablook included. Snails compulsory.

The infamously shy ghost started to fade from embarrassment. “Doctor Gaster……… you didn’t need to cook for me……… I’m so sorry for the trouble………”

“It’s no problem,” he said, “My two friends used to cater for hundreds of children. An extra person in a lunch setting is of no issue. Please, enjoy it without guilt.”

“……I can’t eat human ingredients……they pass right through me……”

There was a day when Napstablook tried to eat a Surface-made sandwich. It dropped straight on the ground, much to his embarrassment. Poor thing.

“Don’t fret about that,” Gaster answered. “These are all magic-based.”

“Oh……… thank you………”

The four of you had lunch together. Maybe ‘six’ would be more accurate, if you count the rumoured skeleparents. You didn’t have a chance to talk to them yet.

Gaster kept glancing at you with a curious gaze. Then again, you’re just as curious about him.

“Your Majesty,” he asked, “Did you notice any changes in Frisk’s health due to their long-term consumption of magic-based facsimiles?”

That. Was a mouthful.

Mom scrunched her brows as she tried to remember. “No, not that I’m aware of.”

“Do they still need to use the bathroom?” Gaster asked.

“Eventually, yes,” Mom nodded. “Come to think of it, Chara would often grab one of Asgore’s shovels before excusing themselves to strange isolated corners. They’d also bring some water and tissue papers. They never told me why.”

Ha ha ha. Okay. So Chara was too ashamed to talk about human bodily needs.

You wondered if the garden bloomed better with them around, but you kept that question to yourself.

“Hmm,” he pondered. “It appears that the human body synthesizes magical matter at a similar rate to their physical counterparts.”

You and Blooky blinked at each other. That just completely flew over your heads.

“Translation, please.” Thank you Mom for the timely request.

Doctor Gaster then explained: “Unlike monsters, humans cannot completely digest what they consume. Not to mention that they require a system to cleanse their cellular makeup. It’s one of the downsides of having a physical organic body.”

He paused for a moment. “I will not go into further detail since we’re having our meal. Thank you for the information, Your Majesty. They’re very helpful.”

Out of sheer curiosity, you asked Gaster why he’s interested in that subject.

“Ah, Judge Mezil Thyme favours a particular dish that hurts him in the long run. Since he had helped us so much, I thought that we could show our gratitude by providing a safer alternative.”

Mom raised her brow in confusion. “You mean it’s worse than junk food?”

“Perhaps,” he replied. “He’s intolerant to excessive levels of hot spice and coconut milk. Yet, he’s addicted to that combination. As a result he… suffers quite a bit.”

You completely understood what Gaster tried to say. And here you thought Sans’ ketchup and grease diet was bad enough.

Mom’s expression changed to one of concern and pity. “Oh dear, that does sound bad. Almost like he’s poisoning himself.”

Doctor Gaster had to ruminate on a few spoonfuls of couscous first. You could tell that he’s not used to explaining details at a layman’s level.

“Well, Your Majesty,” he began. “That’s both true and untrue. To make it understandable, there’s a particular chemical that stimulates the pain receptors on a human’s tongue. In doing so, their brain releases a hormone associated with pleasure.”

No response from Mom. Her mind was blown by the sheer paradoxical science behind humanity’s double-edged love for burning spices.

“Human biology can be strange. Even by their standards.”

After Doctor Gaster’s closing conclusion, lunch went on in relative silence. Nothing much happened other than some small talk.

You tried the butterscotch cinnamon doughnut with Mom. It’s tasty, but it’s not the same as Mom’s famous pie.

Napstablook started to shrink into himself. “Oooh… I’m so sorry…… maybe the doughnut was a bad idea………”

Mom patted him on the head. Well, as much as she could pat a ghost anyway. “Dear, dear Napstablook. I did enjoy the doughnuts, so please don’t blame yourself.”

“How about this? I’m feeling much better now. I’ll bake some pie for everyone! You could pack a slice for your cousin too.”

Yay for impromptu pies!

You didn’t realise just how much you missed Mom’s pies until now. It’s been over a week since you last had one.

After washing up, you wanted to check your phone. However, you left it in your bedroom. Oops. Hopefully no one tried calling you during lunch.

The chatroom was as lively as ever. You typed in your greetings and informed them of your good health.

Here comes the emote spam celebrations. That made you smile.

Your phone informed you that you had received a mail. It’s a message from Cenna.

‘Frisky. Check yourself ASAP. If you see a red butterfly anywhere on you, don’t panic and message me right away.’

A red butterfly?
Your thoughts flashed back to Mezil’s brooch.

Face? Checked.
Back? Checked.
Belly? Checked.
Arms and legs? Checked and checked.

You messaged back and told her that you didn’t find anything that’s red or a butterfly.

‘Have you checked your SOUL?’

That message made you hold your breath. Nervousness bubbled up from your stomach.

You pushed out your SOUL without a second thought.

Red on top of red isn’t going to be obvious. Your first instinct was to lift it up against the light to look for any discrepancies, but your SOUL glowed too bright.

You recalled how the Magus did his inspection. If something couldn’t be seen, maybe you could touch it.

So you ran your fingers across the surface. You felt the difference. It reminded you of a sticker or a thick layer of glossy paint.

Tracing it revealed the shape of none other than a butterfly.

Breathe in, breathe out.
Don’t panic.

You updated Cenna with the new information.

‘Damn. So it’s on your SOUL after all. Makes sense in hindsight. Okay Frisky, meet me at the Bunny Inn. 4.30 PM. We need to talk. This is major with a capital M.’

‘If you need someone by your side, you can bring one. I don’t recommend any more than that, though. Sensitive information.’

You locked the door and sat down on the edge of your bed.

Again, you told yourself to not panic. Take it one step at a time. Be logical, not emotional.

You pushed yourself closer to the wall, dug your hands into your pockets and slouched just like Sans.

Once upon a time, you were a frightened little kid. Lost in the power of RESETs.

He noticed. Calmed you down. Analyzed the problems before you, and taught you how to do the same.

Sans became your mentor in more ways than one. Again and again, in all the timelines you decided to approach him.

That’s why he’s forever a treasure to you.

Does he remember?
Maybe. Maybe not.

It didn’t matter. The point was, you learned his thinking skills. Now you must put them into practice.

Cenna said you could bring only one person. By process of elimination, that would be…

Mom? No. She’s not feeling well. You don’t want to trouble her more than required.

Dad? No. Probably would be lost half the time. Let him live in peace.

Alphys? No. No, no, no. You don’t think she’s emotionally strong enough. She’s much better compared to the times in the Underground, but she still had a long way to go.

Undyne? Maybe, leaning to ‘no’. She handled herself quite well thus far. Then again, you don’t know the true meaning behind the red butterfly. One controversial detail without explanation would send tables flying.

Mettaton? No. You don’t think it’s okay to drag him into some complicated magic conspiracy. He won’t understand anyway.

Doctor Gaster? You don’t know enough about him to decide. This is not the time to gamble.

Papyrus? Protect the cinnamon roll. Besides, the hero needs a break from that night of hell.

Sans? The best choice. He had the brains, skills, and education to become your guide.

…………

But he’s worn down to the bone. You, of all people, know just how much the timelines burdened him.

It left you with the only option: to go alone.

This way, you could decide who to share the information with at any time. Prepare the other party in advance. Gently set them down. Then present the most relevant details. That should remove the element of nasty surprises.

The aroma of Mom’s famous butterscotch pie filled your room.

You told Cenna that you’ll meet her by yourself. With a slice of Mom’s pie too. She makes the best.

‘Whoa Frisky. I’m impressed. Guess that’s why he thinks you’re ready.’

‘See ya at the Bunny Inn.’

With that settled, it’s time for you to resume your day. You unlocked the door and returned to the kitchen.

The pie had just started to bake. Mom and Doctor Gaster cleaned up the kitchen while they waited for the deliciousness to complete.

Blooky noticed your absence, saying, “……You took quite a while……”

You chuckled and told him that you were busy on the phone. Sorry about that.

“……Oh……I just wish I could stay longer……I got to follow Mettaton back to the studio tonight…… His break is over.……”

“…I almost forgot…… We’ll have our live concert in a few months…… It’s uh… please give me a moment……”

He took out his ghost wallet and placed down a business card. There’s a map on the back side of the card. You recognized the stadium.

That’s a big concert.

“…Yes…” Blooky smiled, “……This is the first time we’re debuting so many original songs…… I’m a bit nervous……”

It’ll be awesome! Keep it up and everything will be alright. Mettaton thrived so well on the Surface after all.

Whatever happened to Burgerpants by the way? Mettaton dragged him into the acting field, then you’ve never heard of him again.

“……He resigned and entered college……Took a theatre course…… Broadways and operas, I think……… Oh, and he made many human friends…… Something to do with his ‘cat’ look I suppose…… He’s happy…”

You’re happy for him too. He was… quite bitter a fellow down in the Underground. Nineteen and wasting his life already? C’mon.

Mom and Doctor Gaster joined you after their chores. All four of you continued merrily chatting away until the timer chimed.

Then it’s time for the star of the show: not Mettaton, but the butterscotch cinnamon pie.

It tasted just as good as the first time you had it.

Chapter Text

As appointed, you arrived at the Bunny Inn on 4.30 PM. Alone. You brought along a shopping bag filled with goodies.

At first, you told Mom that you want to give your long-lost sister a slice of her famous pie.

Then Mom thought that Cenna would need more than that. Before you knew it, Mom added a selection of dehydrated sachet drinks: both plain and chocolate milk, 3-in-1 coffee, and some cereal mixes.

These were a godsend for travellers. Most hotel rooms don’t have a kitchen. You utilized many of these products during your world-roaming timelines.

You said hello to the owner and her son.

“Hello, Frisk.” She greeted.

The bunny boy exclaimed, “Frisk! Did you get my get-well card?”

Yup. You thanked him for his sweetness. He’s delighted.

“How are you feeling now?” He asked, “Will you be going to school tomorrow?”

Much better than Friday for sure. But, you’re not sure if you’re well enough for Monday.

“Take care of yourself then. Shouldn’t you be home? I hear the winter air is bad for humans that are ill.”

You showed him the bag, explaining that you’re here to deliver some stuff to your relative. Remember the cool lady who hung out with everyone at recess?

“Ooooooooh! Just make sure you go back home early, okay?”

You nodded and thanked him for the concern.

Just when you finished up the conversation, a taxi stopped in front of the inn. Cenna stepped out, exiting the car in her full noir detective glory.

She didn’t even have to try to be stylish. The way she carried herself cemented the mood by default.

“Oh hey, she’s back!”

Cenna brightened up when she saw you. “Heya, Frisky! Looks like you got quite a bit of stuff there.”

Butterscotch cinnamon pie and drinks, courtesy of the Toriel household.

“Aww thanks. You’re all sweethearts.”

She rubbed your head. This time, you came prepared with a small wooden comb. You straightened out your hair as fast as she messed it up.

You both laughed together.

The innkeeper chuckled along. Then, she told Cenna: “Miss Caraway, I’ve cleaned your room just as requested.”

“Thanks a bunch, madam.” She tipped her hat as a token of gratitude. “C’mon Frisky, let’s have some pie together.”

If only the reason was the pie itself. The two of you knew that it’s not something so simple.

Cenna let you sit on the fresh bed itself, while she pushed a cushioned chair closer.

The chat-shop interface appeared the moment she sat down.

Her expression turned remorseful. “Sorry for keeping you in the dark for so long, Frisky. We couldn’t say much until we’re sure you’re prepared for it. More so with the whole DEMON deal.”

You understand. If you were in her position, you wouldn’t want to disclose too much information either.

“Ask me anything, Frisky. I ain’t got anything to hide anymore. Not at this point.”

> Red Butterfly

What does it mean?

“That’s Mezil Thyme’s SAVE symbol. It’s a link to the Determination of his SOUL. If you got that, it means you caught his attention. ”

“Remember the cinnamon roll, Papyrus? Mez planted his symbol on your friend and ‘Marked’ his existence, tying your skelly friend to a state outside of time. That’s how he remembered every loop and became a time-travelling hero.”

So that’s what Papyrus meant by ‘giving a chance to help’. No wonder he suddenly upgraded to ‘super awesome’ status.

The next question appeared before you.

> Who is Mezil Thyme?

Cenna answered, “He’s a ‘Living Victory’. A.k.a ‘Humanity’s Ultimate Weapon’.”

You thought The ‘Living Victories’ are DEMONS. What about the hero in the demon story?

“Yeah, I couldn’t explain that in detail back then. You see, The Living Victory doesn't just describe one person. It’s a title for anyone with the power over time. Frisky, you’re also a Living Victory.”

“Truth be told, there’s a thin line separating a Living Victory from a DEMON. Both are fuelled by Determination. A sense of conscience is the only thing that makes a difference. A Living Victory gone nutty might as well be a DEMON, even if they still have their SOUL.”

“And that’s what happened to the Fallen Hero. They succumbed to their own power and bloodlust. That fella’s already a psycho from the beginning. Having timey-wimey powers just made it all the worse.”

“But don’t get cocky, Frisky. Many, many other Living Victories fell into the same trap. I’ve read case files where they started out as good normal citizens. By the end, wow. They made me wanna guzzle down a whole bottle of mouthwash. Disgusting.”

You too almost fell into the darkest of darkness.
It was so close, it’s frightening.

> What does Mezil want?

“You. I ain’t kidding there. To be exact, he wants to judge your heart. That’s exactly why he’s ‘Judge’ Mezil Thyme, you know.”

That explains… so little.

You noticed a new option opening up to you.

> Judges.

What do they do?

“We examine others. For example, I’m a Judge Vanquisher. When it’s exam season, I’d duel my set of candidates and see if they got what it takes to bear that title.”

What about their passing rate?

Cenna lightened up a bit and shrugged. “Eh, I don’t have many years under my belt due to my age. I mean, I ain’t even thirty yet. But I give all my candidates a super hard time. Out of ten, only three ever match my standards. The usual passing rate is twice of that.”

Did it reach a point where the admins ‘subtly’ sent her out on a mission so they could pass more students?

“Hell yeah,” she laughed. “Oh man, it’s so blatant it’s funny. It’s not that I want to be mean or anything. All Magi have basic exorcism abilities. They can send off a low level DEMON or appease harmless spirits anytime.”

“But Vanquishers are specialists. When do you bring out the specialists? When crap hits the fan, of course. We deal with the deadly stuff. If I pass a fella who ain’t prepared, I’m just sending them to their death.”

“…I can’t let that happen. I know what’s it like to lose a family.”

Turns out your situation was so dangerous, they assigned one of the best. And she still died countless times. Dang.

> Mezil’s Exam.

Cenna answered, “He’s to judge the Living Victory: the number one examiner for anyone with power over time. You win the cosmic lottery? He’s gonna check ya through and through.”

Fffffffffffffffffffffff---

“Hey, hey Frisky. You look like you’re gonna explode there. Don’t panic, there are options. I’m here to explain to you all about that.”

“He’s strict, but not cruel. If your power popped up at random and you don’t want anything to do with it, you can choose to surrender. He’ll make the butterfly mark permanent and you’re free to live as a normal person. After some form-filling of course.”

“If you want that power just to solve a case like say, saving someone from death? Okay, he can ‘loan’ you that ability until you’re done. Heck, he’ll even show you the ropes. For these guys, their Determination levels tend to normalize after they completed their mission. He didn’t even need to alter them with magic. Most of the time anyway. After a quick registry, it’s back to normal life.”

“Now, if you think you’re worthy of keeping your power… that’s when things get complicated. You must submit yourselves through the Trial of the Crimson Hall. There are no exceptions.”

There’s nothing else to ask other than the trial itself.

>Trial of the Crimson Hall.

“After the Fallen Hero fiasco, the Magus Association implemented a system to examine those who want to join the Living Victory club.”

“They’ll give you a hard philosophical question. Then, they’ll push you to your physical, mental, and emotional limit. Do you have the ‘determination’ to overcome your trial without succumbing to the darkness?”

“If you fail at any point, the Judge will have the right to kill you on the spot.”

What.
What.
What?!?!?

You dropped your jaw.

Cenna flashed a weak, cynical grin. “Yeah. That’s right, Frisky. The penalty of failure is death. You answer the question wrong? You die. Fail to be determined? You die. Lose yourself? You’re definitely gonna die.”

“There’s more than one reason why that chamber is called the ‘Crimson Hall’. It’s not a game. If you can’t convince Mez, he’s gonna make sure you stay dead. Forever.”

But, why???

“Peace. Ironic, I know. Mez’s whole purpose in life is to make sure no psychopaths gain the power to manipulate time. Can you imagine the hell if a misanthropic chessmaster becomes the primary Living Victory? Mez knows that first hand.”

“He survived it.” Emphasis there.

“We Magi call that event the ‘War of the Red Victory’. One of the ugliest upsets in modern magic history.”

Now you’re curious.

>War of the Red Victory.

What happened back then?

“When Mez was my age, he gained the power of SAVES. Lucky for him, his collegemate came from a Magus background. Explained the circumstances and stakes, you know. Just like me.”

“Mez decided to undergo the trial. Why? I have no idea. He never wanted to share.”

“On the day of his trial, the previous judge -- one of the strongest Living Victories ever -- got murdered by another Living Victory. Dead for good. No RESETS, no LOADS, no revival. Nothing.”

You gasped.

“Without the linchpin, everything collapsed. Eight of the strongest Red SOULS gained full power of time: all at once, all in one place. It became a bloody battle royale to fill the empty throne.”

“One of the eight was Mezil himself. He made a red ally. Then he had to deal with two neutral parties who did whatever the hell they wanted. And the remaining four? Psychos of various levels.”

“One of those four was none other than the twisted ‘demon’ who started that mess. Mind you, they were all living people with their SOULS intact. It ain’t a Chara incident.”

“The mastermind played everyone out. At one point the bugger took advantage of a young girl’s insecurities and put Mez into a deathtrap. You can imagine the tears of regret. Poor lady.”

Talk about being rotten.
What’s the purpose behind all this violence? You don’t understand.

“To eliminate competitors, Frisky. Those manipulative bastards wanted the power all to themselves. If they sat on that throne, nobody could touch them. Imagine how they could play with the world if they became the Living Victory. It’ll be the Fallen Hero incident all over again. Maybe worse.”

And Mezil survived all of that?

“Oh yeah. He did. From what I’ve heard, Mez became so pissed off that he refused to die. Literally. Even when his body got burnt to ashes, his SOUL refused to break.”

Oh em gee.

It’s just like your battle with Asriel in his Hyperdeath mode.

Whenever your SOUL shattered, you forced it back together. Heck, you survived a direct beam blast that would have torn reality apart.

Mezil did the same.

“You know what this means, Frisky? That’s Ascension. For the Reds anyway. He pretty much flipped the tables and rewound time to his will. Since then, the outcome to the War of the Red Victory rested in the hands of two time-travelling determinators.”

“In the end, Mez and his team won. They had no choice but to kill. Too dangerous to keep alive, you know. That bastard’s already a full-fledged DEMON by then anyway. Flowey and Chara are nothing compared to that fella.”

“Obviously, the Association passed Mezil. The whole time-loop war might as well be a giant Crimson Hall. An unexpected and unwanted one, but he proved himself.”

“So they granted him the title of ‘Supreme Judge’ and recognized him as a Living Victory. He’s been at it since.”

The first reply that dropped out of your mouth was this: so Anime is real?

Cenna burst into laughter. “I knew you’re gonna say that! Heh, yeah. The realistic parts at least.”

At this rate, you can’t tell what’s ‘realistic’ anymore.

> Curious bonus question.

Selecting that prompt made Cenna raise one brow. “Huh? What’s that about Frisky?”

You asked her if, hypothetically, you decided to evade the trial while keeping your power. What’s going to happen?

She pulled her head back as if you suggested the worst decision possible. That might be true.

“Whoa. Whoaaa Frisky, I totally don’t recommend you to do that. If you abscond with your power, you’re telling Mez one thing and one thing only: you’re arrogant. The kind of arrogance that created that bastard DEMON of hell royale.”

“Mez will stop at nothing until you’re deader than dead.”

Wow. Someone actually tried to do that after all the warnings?

Cenna nodded at you. “Yup. There’re always jerks who think they’re above it all. They think they can’t be caught or killed just because they have power.”

“Well, they’re all done in by none other than Judge Mezil Thyme. He could either elect a proxy like Papyrus, or kill you with his own two hands. No one escapes his judgement.”

For some reason, you mentioned that it’s ‘just like Sans’.

You covered your mouth out of embarrassment when you realised what you had said. Cenna just smiled back.

“Oh yeah, Mister Blue Lichborn. You know Frisky, I respect him a ton. I mean it. Yeah, we’re not on good terms. But I know a dependable guy when I see one.”

Even if he looks like a ‘trashy lazybone’?

“Heh, don’t judge loot by its boxes. Lots of valuable contraband is packed behind plain fronts.”

Okay, you expected a more traditional idiom. That works well too. Better, if you’re honest.

“I tried to strike a truce with Sans at one point. Well, Mez told me he suffered a huge breakdown not long after. Guess that ain’t gonna go anywhere.”

Cenna passed you her phone. It’s set to Mezil Thyme’s number. All you needed to do was to tap the phone-shaped icon and you’d be on the line.

“Why don’t you talk to Mez for a bit?”

Blood ran from your face.

Who the heck calls the head examiner for more details?!
Isn’t that against student conventions???

Exams weren’t your strong points. As far as you could remember, you turn quieter than a mouse during the exam seasons. Even your friendlist teacher looked intimidating when they graded your stuff.

And that’s just math and assorted paper tests! Now you had to talk to a guy who could kill you???

She nudged you on the shoulder. “Aw c’mon Frisky. He’s a human being just like you and I. Plus, he’s a really big tsundere.”

You watched her lean back against the chair and cross her legs.

“Heh. I’m so casual around Mez ‘cause he’s a family friend. He took care of me after the quake killed our parents. Made sure I eat well, study hard, get the right healthcare, don’t go off the rebel path, and a bunch of other stuff. He watched over you too. From a distance, of course.”

So the whole co-worker problem was…?

“Haha! It’s just the both of us getting too used to each other, really. He watched me grow up, and I watched him go grey.”

Insert awkward chuckle from the cool woman here. “…Our yelling competitions ain’t healthy though. Sometimes I get too hot for my own good.”

Papyrus trusts this man too. Maybe it won’t be so bad after all.

You tapped the call icon.

After three beeps, the other side answered. You said hello.

“Evening, Frisk. I presume you’ve listened to Cenna’s explanation?”

Yup, you did.
Calm down. Think logically. If you’re Sans, what would you ask first…?

Time. How much time do you have before your final decision?

“It depends on you.” said Mezil, “There are no minimum ages for the Trial, but we do follow standard consent laws. I believe you remember the timeline where you lost the custody case?”

That was the draggiest timeline ever. It’s an achievement that you held back the RESET button for so long.

You told him you remember.

“We’re on the same page then. I’ll say it upfront: back then, I couldn’t trust your monster family. They see you as a normal child. Too soft to realise the stakes.”

“The idea was to put you in a suitable human family who would coach you for the Trial. When you first emerged from the Underground, I thought to test you when you hit eighteen years of age.”

“But with every RESET, you grow stronger. You don’t feel it since it’s a gradual process, but it’s obvious to an outsider. Have you noticed that after a certain point, you no longer lose your memories even when you want to?”

You said ‘yes’ and nodded your head, although he won’t be able to see it.

“The same happened to me. For a veteran Living Victory, there’s no such thing as clean slates.”

“As your powers increase, so did the urgency. I was once ready to examine you as a young teen. Now, you haven’t even started puberty.”

“Nevertheless, I would personally ask for your decision. You have the choice to surrender. If you decide to keep your powers, I’d give you extra time to prepare for the Trial of the Crimson Hall. Should you pass… you’ll be trained to take my place.”

A successor?

“I won’t stay young forever, Frisk. Sooner or later I must plan my retirement. Anyone who takes after me must be capable of maintaining the peace. It’s a heavy and demanding job. Maybe you won’t be a Judge, but you’ll certainly hold great responsibility.”

But, why you? Isn’t there another Red SOUL who could fill in the shoes?

“Funny you should ask. It’s because you set Monsterkind free. No normal child is capable of that. Have you realised that the partitions never healed?”

You pushed out your SOUL to check. It’s still in pieces.

“That’s another sign of maturity. The average age to maintain a partition is fourteen years old. Your current actions and your mastery of Determination are on par with an adult in their twenties.”

That’s true. You won’t deny that your mind and experience had developed far beyond your physical age.

“I believe you’re now prepared to make your own decision. Hence, I marked you with my symbol and instructed Cenna to explain our history.”

“It doesn’t change the fact that you’re still legally a minor. I don’t expect you to give up your childhood right away. But, if you’re certain… Cenna will sign the permission you require to enter the Crimson Hall.”

“Papyrus will protect you as my proxy in the meantime. Should any unfortunate accidents happen during your grace period, we’ll set things right.”

“Do you understand?”

Yes. You do.
You asked Mezil if he could give you a week to think.

“Just a week?”

Maybe you’d need more time to prepare, but for now a weekly checkup sounds good. This way, you could seek Mezil’s advice too.

“Very well. That’s a well-thought plan. Though, I would prefer to have your answer before Spring. Cenna will go on a very important mission then. I can’t guarantee the outcome.”

Judging from what you’ve heard about her health, it could be her last mission in more ways than one.

When in Spring itself? Does she have an exact date?

“It’s the season when cherry blossoms bloom. We have quite a few of those trees at the institute.”

You told Mezil that you understand.

Well, you had enough for now. You said good evening to him.

“One more advice before we end the call. Ask Doctor Gaster about the ‘Seven Sages’. I believe you’d find that story interesting, if not relevant to the Trial itself.”

More skeleton history?
More skeleton history. That does sound enticing. Sans did say that his people taught the humans magic. No doubt he learned that fact from his mentor, Gaster.

Now you’re going to have the opportunity to hear from the man himself.

Mezil said his goodbyes and ended the call. You handed the phone back to Cenna, telling her that you’ll contact him again.

“Told ya it ain’t so bad,” she said. “I’m gonna send you his number. Then you could phone in wherever, anytime.”

Thanks for that.

Now, it’s time for the glorious pie. You dug through the bag and presented Mom’s signature dish to Cenna.

“What pie is this?” She asked with great curiosity. “Never seen anything like it before.”

Serious? Cenna had never seen a butterscotch cinnamon pie, let alone eat one?

“Serious, Frisky.”

Then she must totally, absolutely, certainly try this. You helped her get a teaspoon from the counter.

Your eyes locked on her in anticipation for her first bite.

“Mmmm!” Cenna’s expression lit up as you expected. She then cut another small piece. “I ain’t a fan of desserts but this is awesome! Man, the wife would love the cinnamon.”

The wife…? Whose wife?

Here comes the grinning and eyebrow wriggling. It’s just like the girls’ sleepover with Undyne and Alphys: gossiping the latest stories and ranting about anime.

“Mez is married to a lovely lady,” said Cenna. “That butterfly brooch? His version of a wedding ring. The missus wears a matching sapphire-blue one.”

You squealed like the kid you are. That’s so romantic! Will you and your friends ever get the chance to meet her?

“Maaaaybe? First, you need to impress Mez by not kicking the bucket.”

She paused for a moment. “You ain’t scared, Frisky? Your life’s on the line. And yet we’re having pie-time like it’s nothing.”

If there’s one thing you learned from this time-looping-underground-monster fiasco, it’s to take it slow.

…To be honest, you were more afraid of falling from grace. You rather die as yourself than to live as a heartless DEMON.

“How close were ya?” She asked.

You pinched the tiniest space with your fingers, then peered in between them.

“Hah. No wonder death ain’t a big deal anymore. Well Frisky, I ain’t gonna leave you high and dry if you wanna take the Trial. I did swear on our parents’ grave that I’ll protect you.”

How will she help? You asked.

“By teaching you everything I know. About magic. The Association. And this!”

She unpocketed her watch and spun it around her finger.

Isn’t that the family heirloom?

“Yup! This, Frisky dear, is gonna be your trump card.”

Chapter Text

The Bunny Inn lady asked if you wanted to have dinner with your relative. She’s cooking a big pot of vegetable stew tonight, and she thought of sharing some of it.

Conflict moment. On one hand, you wanted to have dinner with Mom. On the other hand, you wanted to spend more time with Cenna. You never really got the chance to bond with her.

So you phoned Mom to ask for her opinion.

“That’s a great idea, my child. You have a lot of lost years catch up with her. I don’t think the previous week gave you much chance. Since… we weren’t sure of her allegiance half the time.”

You noticed something odd about Mom’s voice. It’s as though she’s trying to be peppy for your sake. You swear that you heard Undyne in the background somewhere.

“It’s different now. Go ahead, you have my permission.”

There’s no mention about a curfew. Whenever you hung out with the gang on Sundays, Mom always reminded you to return early for school.

Maybe she thought you should know that by now?

You set aside any suspicion and thanked Mom. Then, you enjoyed your dinner.

Qutie a bit of stories were exchanged around the table. The innkeeper’s circle of friends had encountered a bunch of less than pleasant humans in recent weeks. They asked you if it’s normal for your species to behave like that.

No way. They’re the ones with personal issues. To humans or monsters, they’d act out the same.

The innkeeper lady chuckled. “That’s good to know. You know, monsters aren’t always the most chummy either. Remember the old grumpy puzzle-purist in Waterfall?”

Oh yeah, you do. That fella was never satisfied. There are many humans who behave like that too.

“Ain’t so strange if you ask me,” said Cenna, “We have tons of humans, but it’s everyman for himself. Usually.”

“That’s such a shame,” said the innkeeper. “The Surface is wonderful, but I can see how easy it could be to lose your sense of community with all the extra space. I hope we’ll stay together for as long as we can.”

You hope so too. Monsters have their fair share of bullies and broken families, but they’re a small percentage compared to the average human society.

Thinking about ‘family’ stirred concern about Mom’s strange behaviour. Maybe something happened at home and she didn’t want to worry you yet?

After thanking everyone for the warm meal, you decided to head back home.

“Frisky, hold up a sec.”

Cenna buttoned up her coat in preparation for the cold outside. “I’m gonna walk ya back. If I don’t do that, I ain’t performing my duty as a functioning adult. We can agree with that, yeah?”

You noticed an honest casual friendliness on her face. With your freedom from Chara, she could get close to you without worry.

So the two of you walked together in the snow. Well, if she’s really your big sister then you should hold her hands at least once.

You reached out for her hand. To your surprise, it’s rough and leathery.

“What’s with that expression?” She giggled at you. “If you take a physically challenging job like mine, your hands are gonna be covered with calluses. Tool handling, accidental burns, assorted fighting styles, obstacle courses, so on and so on.”

It never occurred to you, but in hindsight it does make sense.

What was her life like when she was your current physical age?

“Adventure!” she told you. “Climb trees, bike around, sneak off into odd corners to catch bugs, swing on the monkey bars in the playground. I love nothing more than getting active.”

Sounds like she would gotten along with Undyne. Besties material for sure!

“Ya think? Yeah, maybe! I noticed she’s the physical sort too. Man, I wish I could race with her, but I can’t. Gotta make sure I don’t get injured before Spring.”

What mission was that anyway?

Cenna placed her a finger on her lips and grinned back at you. “Shhh, top secret.”

Oooh, playing the noir detective role again?

“Totally. Hey, remember I said that your bio parents were important Magi families? Papa descended from a badass line of Vanquishers.”

For real?!

“Yup! Our unusual surname is proof. When you get home, do an internet search and you’re gonna get a list of our ancestors. That’s why the foster homes hid it from you.”

You hung your jaw in awe. Was your human dad a badass demon hunter like the heroes of anime?

“Nope. Soooorry. It skipped a generation. Papa had magic, but it’s all the wrong skillsets. In the end he broke tradition and took up science. That’s where he met Mama.”

“Hah, his friends more or less threw a celebration when they discovered my talents. They didn’t care if I’m adopted. As long the skills get passed down with the name, they’re stoked.”

Your Ebott home was just up ahead. Aww, and here you thought you get to hear more stories about the parents you never knew.

Maybe tomorrow.

Cenna stopped walking. The abruptness almost tripped you over.

“Frisky, stop.” She said, “Something ain’t right. Trust me on that.”

Just as when you’re about to ask how, Sans stormed out of the door. He covered his left eye with his hand and looked upset.

You saw your goat-father Asgore rushing out soon after. He tried to hug your blue skeleton friend, but instead he caught thin air.

Sans had just teleported out of his reach. Reappeared a few meters away.

Tension flooded the air. Undyne and Alphys stood by Dad’s side.

Strongest fish, angry face.
Nerd lizard, concerned face.

The expressions fit their personal reaction to the drama that just went down inside.

“What the fuck are you doing, Sans?!” Typical Undyne reaction right there.

Alphys then said, “King Asgore just wanted to apologize.”

Sans did not reply. Instead, he tried to walk away. He’s so focused on his escape, he didn’t notice that you’re witnessing the scene.

“SANS!” Undyne yelled. “Get your damn ass back here!!!”

“No.” He replied at last, “Just. No. I can’t accept that. Not after all these years.”

You heard a slight tremble under his voice. Wisps of blue leaked out between the gaps of his finger bones.

Undyne was just one step away from raining down spears. “Why not? Alphys suffered just like you suffered, and yet she accepted the apology and moved on! If she can do it, why can’t you???”

“Because I’m not Alphys,” he answered back. Hollow. Bitter.

This Is bad. Very bad. Cenna pulled you to the side of the road and stood in front, ready to protect you should a fight break out.

“Undyne,” he said, “I’m a weapon.”

Pointing her thumb to her chest, she proudly declared: “I’m a weapon too!”

“It’s different. You chose that path and stuck to it. Me? I didn’t have a choice.”

Sans shot a resentful glare at Asgore. “My entire life revolved around his careless promise. My routine, my education, my career was decided from the day of my birth.”

“I hit the jackpot of talents, Gaster wanted to see the Surface, and King Asgore swore vengeance over his son’s death. Hooray. Bingo. The stars and planets aligned. More motivation to break the Barrier by any means necessary.”

“I had absolutely no say in it,” said Sans. “Nothing.”

Alphys tried to reach out to him. “But, Sans--”

He didn’t let her. “Do you have any idea what’s life like for me? I have the most fragile SOUL in the entire Underground. I had to give a thousand percent effort every day just to survive my training regiment. There are so many nights where I can’t sleep from the fear that I’d screw up and die.”

“When my parents ‘fell down’, it got worse. I had to worry not only about my own survival, but Paps’ too. Who’s gonna take care of him if anything happens to me?”

“Maybe if I’m truly alone, I don’t mind dying. It’s just. I’m not. If it’s not Mom and Dad, it’s Paps.”

Goatdad breathed in, wanting to say something. Anything. In the end he mustered a mutter that would be something along the lines of: ‘But I didn’t know.’ You couldn’t hear it, but you could guess from the next response.

“Of course you don’t,” Sans answered back. “You don’t know anything. You wouldn’t even know if the entire Underground died behind your back. It happened before. In a different timeline, yes. But it did.”

Undyne vibrated from head to toe as she struggled to not blow up. You could tell that she really, really, wanted to suplex Sans for Asgore’s sake.

“Un… Undyne?” Said Alphys. “I think we should let Sans calm down first. He’s not thinking straight.”

Too late. The strongest fish let out a roar of frustration. Then, she yelled her thoughts at Sans.

“Do you know WHY I’m so bloody pissed off? It’s because you’re not making any damn sense! Half the shit you say don’t match with that you do! You tell everyone that you sleep on the job because you’re lazy. Like fucking hell that’s true!”

“You took FIVE jobs, dammit! Like, WHY??? Lazy people DON’T take five jobs! So what if you rotate them, they’re still JOBS!”

“You think I didn’t notice?! I’ve caught you sleeping at the booth so many times! Sure, I fucking flip out. But in the end I let you go because I KNOW how you work yourself to the bone! You funded not only the house rent, but also Papyrus’ very life!”

“You go on about how nothing matters, yet you still give a damn about Frisk and Papyrus and Toriel and god knows who else you have on your mind! Here’s the news: YOU don’t even believe your own nihilistic shit!”

“Now you’re telling me that we’re still chaining you down??? YOU’RE FUCKING FREE, DAMMIT!!! F-R-E-E! Nobody’s forcing you to do anything anymore, so why the flying fuck are you behaving this way?!”

Sans turned to his side, refusing to look at his one childhood friend.

He then confessed: “I’m not free, Undyne. If being ‘free’ means having a normal life, I don’t think I’ll ever be free.”

“I don’t even know what is a ‘normal’ life. I let Paps make his own goals because it’s the opposite of my regiment. Surely the opposite of ‘abnormal’ is ‘normal’, right?”

“After the Core Incident, I… I drifted. I tried to get my act together. But in the end there’s no meaning to anything I do.”

“The comedian stuff?” He said, “Pranks? Puns? Pure self-entertainment. My promise to Toriel? That’s my attempt of becoming a normal monster again, not a human in the skin of bones. Monsters are made out of love and compassion, right? I wonder if I’m still capable of those.”

His ribcage expanded as he inhaled the winter air. When be breathed out, there was no vapour. He’s as cold as the world around him.

“…I don’t know how to live. I just exist like a piece of trash. That’s all.”

It hurts you to hear him say that.

Sans shuffled off. Everyone else hung back at your home, lost. No one knew what to say, or how to respond. Papyrus must be in there somewhere, but he knew his limits.

Your friend stopped walking when he spotted you. He darkened his sockets and tried to avoid contact.

You approached him. Asked if he wants company. Hang out at Grillby’s. Or anywhere else.

“Nah, kid,” Sans replied. “You should get ready for school. I mean, you’ve missed quite a bit of days. First Paps, then your fever. If you keep watching out for me, you’re gonna fall behind your studies.”

But…

“Please don’t make me feel guiltier than I already am.”

Though reluctant, you let him go. You wished him goodnight.

“Night. And, thanks.”

He vanished right before you, no doubt teleporting to Grillby’s.

Cenna said nothing as she guided you to your monster family. This isn’t the time for commentary.

“Oh shit,” Undyne blurted. “You heard all of that?”

Seen it too.

“Toriel’s so gonna kill me.”

Nah. It’s not anyone’s fault. You just had the luck to walk in at the ‘best’ time. You patted her on the arm and helped yourself inside.

Mom realised that you had seen a little too much. She hurried you upstairs, using her large body to shield you away from the sadness.

You tried to wave to Papyrus. But he’s staring too hard on the ground to notice. At least he had Mettaton to hug things out.

That glam robot won’t be around for much longer though. He had to return to his studio tonight.

When Mom returned to the living room to address the predicament, you put your sneaking skills to good use. You stopped at the corner to the stairs. Listen hard enough, and you could pick up whatever went down below. Science was on your side.

You heard Mom say: “Thank you for bringing Frisk home, Cenna.”

“Eh, no probs,” Cenna replied.

“Are you available for consultation tomorrow? I have some concerns to address.”
“Yeah, Miss Toriel. Gimmie a call and we’ll meet up.”
“Thank you.”

Mom then addressed Dad with a much sterner tone: “I don’t want to see you at school tomorrow. Or the entire week. I’ll arrange a replacement gardener in the meantime.”

“…Yes, madam.” Dad had no choice but to comply.

“And Doctor Gaster,” she continued, “You won’t be cooking any meals for me either. I’m placing Undyne in charge of your arrest. You will remain under her watch until the case files are updated in full. That is all until further notice.”

“Thank you for your kindness, Your Majesty.” An appropriate statement.

“The two of you will not approach Sans under any circumstance without my permission. Now please go home, everyone. I need to retire for the night.”

That’s your cue to hurry back into your bedroom. You’re sure that everyone left without any further objections.

“Frisk, I know you’re listening.”

By now, she knew of your busybody habits. You waited for her to climb up the stairs.

Mom gazed down on you in deep worry. “My child, I know you’re our ambassador, and you’re wise beyond your age. However… I don’t think you’re ready to handle this case.”

“You see, a terrible chain of events happened. And I’m very sure the Surface authorities will eventually discover the truth. What Asgore and Doctor Gaster committed could be considered a war crime. I’m not sure what are the modern legal procedures for such cases.”

Is that why Mom wanted Cenna’s advice?

“Yes. I hope the two of us could negotiate penance for their actions. Such as parole and community service. That would be the best outcome.”

You’re afraid to ask, but you must. What would be the worst outcome?

Mom struggled to tell you the truth. You reassured her that you can take it. The anime you watched were not all white and light.

She smiled a bit. But it was short-lived.

“In the worst case scenario, Asgore would be executed for declaring war on humanity. Doctor Gaster, well, since he’s an Amalgamate he might end up being imprisoned for life. Unless they developed a method to execute him too.”

“As for the rest of us, it depends. If human society fears us as much as the ancients, we might be sealed Underground once more. This time, there will be no sweet children to help us.”

No. No, no, no, no! Not after coming this far! You hugged Mom and sank your face into her belly.

She caressed your hair and held you close. “My child, I’ll do my very best. Please trust me.”

“Tomorrow, you will go to school as usual. Many of your friends are anxious for your return. You do your part, and I’ll do mine. Do you understand?”

You understand.

After that, the both of you prepared for the next day. You checked your homework, packed your schoolbag, and washed up for bed.

You pulled up the blanket close to your chin and pondered about your next plan.

Papyrus.
You should talk to him. At the very least, he could tell you what happened while you were away.

It took a while, but you eventually fell asleep.

Chapter Text

It’s Monday. The beginning of a new week.

The moment you stepped into the room, your classmates crowded around you. Monster Kid and Snowy included.

“Frisk! You’re okay!”
“I don’t know why, but I’m super duper ultra happy to see you in school!”
“Did you get a good rest?”
“Is your fever gone for real?”

Warmness filled your heart. You smiled back ear to ear and told everyone that you’re in good health.

Your classmates cheered.

Mom shone in bright happiness at the scene. It’s right up to her expectations. “There, there children. Let’s not get too overexcited about this. Frisk missed quite a bit of lessons last week. Maybe you could help them with that?”

The next thing you knew, everyone tried to share their school notes. Chaos abounds.

Whoops.

School life resumed as normal. It’s hard to believe that you survived a life-and-death scenario just a day or two ago.

Lunch hour rolled by. After a compulsory visit to the bathroom, you searched for Papyrus. You didn’t even bother getting your food.

He’s mopping. Guess he’s on cleaning duty today. A monster child ran by with a tray of food, unaware of the wet floor.

The kid slipped. Papyrus dropped the mop on instinct, caught the tray and turned the child’s SOUL blue. All in the span of half a second.

You noticed their point of gravity rotated to keep them ‘afloat’. He then set them down on the right side of their feet.

“GOOD THING THE GREAT PAPYRUS IS HERE TO CATCH YOU, NYEH HEH HEH!”

The food had gone a little lopsided, but it could have been a complete mess otherwise. Your tall skeleton friend returned the tray.

“Thank you!” The kid gladly thanked. This time, the fella made sure they avoided the wet zones. Losing a meal sucks for both humans and monsters.

You told Papyrus that was so damn cool.

He picked up the mop without saying another word. That’s odd. The glory hog you knew from Snowdin would have accepted the credit in a heartbeat. Proverbially speaking, of course. Skeletons don’t have a physical heart.

You asked if there’s something wrong.

“I’M STILL TRYING TO GET USED TO MY NEW LEVEL OF COOL. IT FEELS… STRANGE.”

Why? It’s not awesome enough?

“ACTUALLY, IT’S A LITTLE TOO AWESOME. EVERYTHING LOOKS THE SAME, BUT IT DON’T FEEL THE SAME.”

“FRISK, DID YOU EXPERIENCE THE STRANGENESS TOO?”

You nodded. It’s one of the many reasons why you had difficulties coping with your new Surface life.

“CAN WE MEET UP AFTER MY TRAINING WITH UNDYNE?”

That’s right after school. You told Papyrus that you’ll do more than just ‘meeting up’. You’ll join the session. As a spectator, of course.

He cheered up right away. “SPLENDID! I’LL SEE YOU THEN, MY HUMAN FRIEND.”

With your new appointment made, you resumed your day as usual. You decided to have a nice warm bowl of soup noodles today. Ah, a classic winter comfort.

Every meal in this school was made with magic to accommodate the sheer variety of monster species. The bulk of their contents, at least.

Most could digest Surface-made physical food without issue, but some had Napstablook’s… misfortune. It’s not fair for them to go hungry.

In the middle of your meal, you wondered if your unusual diet played a role in the growth of your power. A whole bunch of details stacked up: your Magi parents and your Red SOUL for example.

Now, you literally eat magic. Even when you’re on the Surface. As long you lived in Ebott Town, a large bulk of your daily consumption consisted of these ‘facsimiles’.

The cafeteria did buy human-made seasoning such as the anime curry mix. Even then, they’re already developing replacements for those who cannot eat physical matter.

Doctor Gaster had a good point. Maybe there is a side-effect after all. A positive one, you hoped.

The day continued on as usual until the final bell rang. You first visited the teacher’s office to notify Mom that you’ll hang out with Papyrus.

She frowned out of concern. “Frisk, are you going to ask him about last night?”

You had to. Otherwise, you can’t help anyone. Especially the skeleton brothers.

Mom remained silent for a while, but in the end she gave you her consent. “Alright, my child. He is indeed the best person to ask anyway.”

“Papyrus, he… he bears a very special power. Even by Seer standards. I think it’s best if I let him explain it himself. But, I can say that it takes a lot of heart to be honest after having witnessed all that pain.”

You watched Mom struggle to speak. “In his shoes, I personally might have pretended those events never existed. Much like how I secluded myself in the Ruins in response to Asgore’s plan.”

She uttered a weak, ironic laugh at herself. Then, she said: “Guess, Mister Fluffybuns and I are not so different after all.”

You hugged Mom for good measure. At least she’s taking initiative now. Will she meet up with Cenna over dinner?

“Yes, my child. Perhaps it’s better that you have dinner with Papyrus tonight.”

You don’t need to crack your head over politics, and your tall cinnamon roll friend will have company. Good plan, Mom. Good plan.

After planting a goodbye kiss on her cheek, it was time to attend to your appointment.

You saw Undyne and Papyrus talking in the school gym. You waved hello to Papyrus and fistbumped Undyne. Then you settled down at one of the many seats.

“HOW’S UNCLE GASTER AND MOM AND DAD?” he asked.

Undyne answered, “Your parents are fine. Gaster? He’s a ton more cooperative than the last time I tried to question him. How in the world did you talk him into a confession?”

“I FORGAVE HIM. UNCLE GASTER KEPT LYING BECAUSE HE’S AFRAID OF BEING ALONE. SO I TOLD HIM NO MATTER HOW BAD HE WAS IN THE PAST, I -- THE GREAT PAPYRUS -- WON’T THROW HIM AWAY.”

“NOW HE HAS THE COURAGE TO ADMIT HIS WRONGS.”

Your strongest fish friend was left in shocked speechlessness.

“IS SOMETHING THE MATTER?” asked Papyrus, oblivious to the reaction as usual.

One blink. Two blinks. Undyne lifted a finger and said: “I’m soooooo gonna need to test your skills, Paps.”

She conjured a spear and shoved it into Papyrus’ hands. Oh, it’s the same one she gave you to defend yourself back in the Underground.

“ARE WE PRACTICING BLOCKS TODAY?” asked Papyrus.

“Yup,” Undyne summoned a series of spears around her, primed and ready. With her trademark growl she yelled, “I’m not gonna hold back!”

Rows and rows of spears rained down on Papyrus. You’re a bit concerned with the density of the attacks. Some stayed true to their path, others changed directions on the last minute.

Up down left right front back front front left right left left left right up front back front left up right down right left front up--

Okay, you lost track at that point.

Papyrus’ right Eye glowed orange. He then deflected every single spear that came his way.

Every. Single. Spear.

Holy macaroni.

At the end of the assault, Papyrus broke a bead or two of sweat. “W-WOWIE. THAT’S REALLY TOUGH! IT’S BEEN A LONG WHILE SINCE I’VE SEEN YOU STRIKE WITH SUCH GUSTO. I AM VERY HAPPY THAT YOU’RE SO SPIRITED TODAY!”

Undyne walked over to Papyrus and squeezed his shoulder joints tight. She locked a wide-eyed stare at her junior with ‘that face’: from the time when you told her anime isn’t real.

“Papyrus,” she said, “Did you… Bump into a mountain hermit sage? And, trained with him in a magical time-desync realm for a decade? Then slipped back into society? All in one night? Because. I totally want to be his disciple.”

He sweated more from the intense questioning than the training itself. “UH. I DON’T THINK UNCLE GASTER KNOWS HOW TO TRAIN NON-SEERS. AND MISTER MAGUS IS THE MAN WITH THE AWESOME ANIME HIDEOUT.”

“Who?”
“MEZIL THYME. THE PRINCIPAL JUDGE GUY.”

“Can you please strike a deal with him? I’ll do anything. Any. Thing.”

“I… I WILL TRY TO ASK. BUT NO GUARANTEES.”

“Good. Thanks a ton, Paps.”

The training continued. You can’t help but to feel that the roles have reversed: Undyne was the one getting practice, not Papyrus.

The session ended after thirty minutes. Your strongest fish friend showed off her toothy grin.

“Looks like I can’t rest on my laurels anymore, huh? Duel with me more often! You're the only one who’s up to snuff.”

“WHAT ABOUT SANS?” Papyrus asked.

Her grin vanished. You noticed that she glanced off to the side for a moment.

Undyne then said, “Nah. He has the skills, but I understand high-intensity training is dangerous for him.”

“THEN YOU SHOULD TRAIN WITH UNCLE GASTER. HE’S STRONG! NYEH HEH HEH!”

Insert distressed fish noises here.

“Proooobably not a good idea,” she said. “Don’t forget that I pissed him off at least twice. With maybe a third time.”

“IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE NOW. I’M VERY SURE YOU’LL LEARN A TON FROM HIM. HE’S A GREAT TEACHER!”

There was a moment of awkward silence.

“I’ll consider it, Paps.” You knew Undyne said that to satisfy Papyrus. “I gotta go back home to update more case files. And stop by at Asgore’s to check up on him.”

“TAKE CARE OF SANS FOR ME, OKAY?”

Undyne nudged her junior with her elbow. “Heh, you don’t need to ask.”

Sans? At Alphys’ place? You hurried off the stands and presented your curiosity to Undyne. Expected him to camp at Grillbys for at least 24 hours.

“Oh man, punk. I don’t think you know this but, Grillby’s the previous Captain of the Royal Guard.”

Whaaaaaaaaaat?!?!

“Yeah, that’s my reaction too. A big chunk of yesterday’s drama happened under his watch, so he needs to iron out the legal stuff together with me.”

Papyrus chipped in, saying: “GRILLBY SAVED MY BROTHER FROM SOME ACCIDENTAL ROOFTOP SHENANIGANS A LONG TIME AGO. THEY’VE BEEN FRIENDS EVER SINCE!”

You told them that the amount of ‘wut’ flung around these past few days is going to break your trademark stoic front.

So, Grillby brought Sans along so that he could keep an eye on your troubled friend?

“Yep,” Undyne nodded. “That’s the plan. Well, we all know Sans could have teleported away anytime. But he respects the ex-Captain enough to comply. For now.”

You hope he’ll be okay.

“Same. Anyways, catch ya later nerds!”

The fish left you alone with Papyrus. This is your golden opportunity: time to ask him what the heck happened last night.

“I’LL EXPLAIN IT ON THE WAY,” he answered.

On the way where?

“TO UNCLE GASTER’S PRISON, OF COURSE! YOU’LL TALK TO HIM WITHIN THE NEXT HOUR. FIRST WE NEED TO GRAB THE PORTABLE HEATER FROM THE LOCKERS OR ELSE YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE A COLD TIME, THEN WE’LL NEED TO GET SOME COOKIES AND WATER AND SANDWICHES AND TEA LEAVES AND--”

Papyrus, please slow down.

“WHAT’S WRONG? DIDN’T MISTER MAGUS TELL YOU TO TALK TO UNCLE GASTER?”

You froze in place, shocked that Papyrus knew the contents of a confidential discussion that you embarked on alone.

“STAY CLOSE, FRISK.”

You followed him around as he gathered the required supplies. Then, he led you through a shortcut.

The both of you emerged in a secluded trail. You recognized this as one of the many paths that led you to the official entrance of the Underground.

Once he’s sure there are no eavesdroppers, he explained about his powers in whispers. As much as he’s capable of whispering anyway.

Papyrus has the ability to see ‘possibilities’. Past or future, best or worst, it didn’t matter: as long a timeline is still reachable. Sometimes it happens spontaneously, other times he could call for relevant information at will.

He told you that he had seen all the paths you took in the Underground. You squirmed, even when he forgave you for everything you’ve done. It’ll take a while to come to terms with that.

He told you about the wake: about your death. Mettaton’s death. And how the world collapsed without you, both in a figurative and literal sense.

Surreal.

He told you about the breakdown between Sans and Gaster. The lying, the coercing, the loneliness, the despair: all culminated in a complete disaster. For Sans to consider his parents dead twice… it’s too cruel.

He told you about the ‘Core Incident’. It’s a trainwreck tragedy that shook both the Underground and the Surface. In cosmic irony, it paved the path to monsterkind’s freedom.

As if Asriel’s death was not bad enough. Turns out there was a worse follow-up.

You understood why Mom became so worried: many humans lost their lives on that day, including your biological parents. Then there were the six children who fell before you. Their families would want closure too.

It’s too easy to forget that Dad once promised vengeance. War. Decimation of the evil beings who killed their innocent son. When you walked the Underground, the populace whispered hopes of freedom and brutal justice.

You imagined the mass media frenzy that would happen if this revelation reached the ears of humanity. Not even Mezil -- the Supreme Magus Judge -- could hold back the uproar.

If… he would take your side in the first place.

You asked Papyrus why Gaster had to train Sans up to become a weapon? Can’t Dad just zap everything with his godmode powers?

“…I’M AFRAID YOU MUST ASK UNCLE GASTER HIMSELF. I DON’T UNDERSTAND EITHER.”

Papyrus may be able to witness the events, but that doesn’t mean he can comprehend them.

When you arrived at the Underground entrance, Papyrus led you through another shortcut. You emerged in the now-abandoned Snowdin town.

You noticed Endogeny guarded the entrance of Papyrus’ shed. In some timelines, he had placed you in there after he ‘captured’ you.

…That’s the prison? For THE Doctor Gaster? Are they serious about this? The Underground doesn’t have a proper jail?

You let Papyrus know that you had escaped that shed without a single problem. In fact, the lock is on the inside.

And what’s with the guard of choice? What happened to the rest of the Dog Clan?

Papyrus explained, “WE USED TO HAVE A SMALL LOCKUP, BUT IT’S DISMANTLED FOR PARTS TO BUILD EBOTT TOWN. MY GUEST ROOM IS THE ONLY REMAINING STRUCTURE WITH BARS.”

“TO BE HONEST, WE DON’T HAVE ANY MEANS TO PROPERLY RESTRAIN UNCLE GASTER. HE’S TOO STRONG AND SMART AND INVINCIBLE. BUT WE PLACED HIM HERE FOR HIS OWN PROTECTION.”

Protection? You asked Papyrus what he meant by that.

“MISS AUNT ONCE TOLD ME THAT HUMANS LOCK BAD GUYS AWAY TO PROTECT THEM FROM OTHERS, LIKE AN ANGRY MOB. IT WORKED FOR FLOWEY AND CHARA, SO IT SHOULD WORK FOR UNCLE GASTER TOO. HE DOESN’T NEED ANY MORE STRESS.”

Isolated from the Surface? Checked.
Intimidating merged dog entity? Checked.
Someone to watch over the inmate? Checked.

You see the point now. Judging from what went down in the Core Incident, both monsters and humans could act rash against Doctor Gaster. When emotions are high, logic takes a back seat.

The both of you gave Endogeny some pats and dog biscuits. Once satisfied, they shambled aside to let you in.

The run-down shack housed the infamous ex-Royal Scientist: a man of both great intellect and dogged determination.

He stayed well behind the broken wide-gapped wooden bars. A pile of books were his only company, and he’s content with that.

At least Doctor Gaster had garnered enough respect to not be treated like a dog. The tiny bed that once lay here was replaced with one of Alphys’ many futons. And he didn’t have kibbles for his meals. He also had some basic furnishing, such as a stool and a table imported from Grillby’s old bar.

Papyrus’ canine treatment to you was on ignorance. For dog standards, it’s a swell home. It’s just they didn’t know anything about humans.

The prisoner noticed your presence. “Oh… I wasn’t expecting a guest, Papyrus.”

To your surprise, the man was very gentle to your tall skeleton friend. Perhaps it’s further softened by a sense of guilt. “Is… is Sans alright? Your parents asked the same.”

“GRILLBY IS TAKING CARE OF HIM,” answered Papyrus.

“I see. So you don’t know either.”
“SORRY.”

“It’s alright, my boy.”

Papyrus introduced you to his parents. He did so once before at the hospital, but things were kinda in a rush. Now you had the time to greet them.

You shook Times Roman’s hand first, the father.
Then you shook Helvetica’s hand, the mother.

Though they said no words, you knew that they’re happy to meet you.

Doctor Gaster bowed. “Child of mercy, what do you require of me?”

Doctor Gaster’s general behaviour was straight out of the olden days. High-society to boot. It’s a little imposing for a modern-day person, even if he didn’t mean to make anyone uncomfortable. He reminds you of Judge Mezil in a way.

From the other side of the bars, you told Uncle Gaster that you had some questions.

“What would that be?” he asked back.

You wanted to answer, but then you noticed that you had two question prompts.

>Seven Sages.
>Sans.

The conflict. It’s making you vibrate like a pissed off Undyne. Internally. You knew you’d eventually ask about both, but you had a time limit. There’s homework to deal with.

Papyrus patted you on the head and declared: “THAT IS WHY THE GREAT PAPYRUS PREPARED EVERYTHING FOR A LONG STORY SESSION!”

A portable heater kept you warm and boil the tea at the same time. Dinner? Hearty sandwiches. Dessert? Cookies. There’s enough for everyone.

“YOU CAN ASK UNCLE GASTER TO HELP YOU WITH YOUR HOMEWORK TOO. NYEH HEH HEH!”

Oh, that’s right. From what you’ve heard, he’s a very educated man. You didn’t need to rush back home to do them after all. That would save a ton of time.

Wow, thanks Papyrus.

“NO PROBLEM AT ALL!” Then he struck a pose. Some things just don’t change.

Gaster’s expression lit up in gladness. “Well then. If knowledge is what you seek, you’ve come to the right place. Please, make yourself at home.”

The gap between the bars was wide enough to squeeze in. Needless to say, your skeleton friend also had absolutely no issues sidestepping into it.

The three of you surrounded the heater and waited for the tea to boil. You and Papyrus sat down on the wooden floor while Gaster settled on a stool.

In the meantime, the selection between your two choices continued to ping-pong.

It must be obvious because Doctor Gaster then asked you: “May I provide some advice on how to tackle your predicament?”

You nodded.

“Choose a topic that’s quicker to resolve, or one that’s more important to your heart. I’m sure you won’t be still until your anxieties are addressed. If we can’t finish it today, we’ll continue tomorrow. It’s certainly better than standing at the crossroads all night.”

There’s a topic that’s both quick and important. Besides, if you don’t address that now, you might not understand the Seven Sages in full.

You asked Doctor Gaster about Sans.

“…He is indeed very important to you, isn’t he?” Gaster commented. “At this rate, you value him more than he values himself. No, that’s already a given.”

He picked up the kettle and poured the piping hot liquid into three mugs.

“Let’s begin, shall we?”

Chapter Text

This was your first question in the ‘Sans’ branch of discussion:

> Tactician

What’s with the training?
Why must it be so brutal?
What does it mean to be a Tactician?

Papyrus waited together with you for the answer.

Doctor Gaster sipped his tea in an attempt to recollect himself. He then breathed out a quiet sigh.

“Frisk,” he asked, “How much do you know about the concept of war?”

What you learned from media and history books. Lots of fighting, conquering, and heroic limelights. And also suffering.

“But, do you know what goes on behind the battlefield?”

Not much, you had to admit. What you studied in your human school surrounded solely on the events themselves.

“That’s just the tail end, dear child. The results. War begins long before the clashes happen. It’s all about preparation. Logistics and resources must be carefully planned, or else defeat will follow.”

Can’t Dad just zap everything with his seven-soul godhood?

Doctor Gaster shook his head. “Never ever depend on a single method, no matter how powerful it may sound. Too many other monster nations made this mistake and paid the ultimate price.”

“Even if King Asgore broke the Barrier, I wouldn’t want him to take to the front lines. First, he would be targeted by any time-travelling assassins out there. Second, he would not have the heart to end the lives of millions.”

“If possible,” he stopped for a moment. “I wouldn’t want King Asgore to kill any more. The Six had burdened him enough.”

But, what about the war promise…?

“Out of sight, out of mind. I’m sure you’ve heard of that phrase.”

You did. Then you asked: does that mean Dad needs to stay in his private garden, while Doctor Gaster and Sans push the campaign proper?

“Yes, dear child. You are correct. The sheer devotion of his citizens will always be King Asgore’s true strength. Not the SOULs, not godhood, nor his magic. It’s his love for his people, and his people's love for him. We’re more than willing to sacrifice our lives.”

“But we do not intend to die without meaning. In order to survive our own quest, we need strategists to plan our missions: to handle logistics, survey the terrain, delegate tasks, and ultimately decide our course of action.”

“The best of those minds would bear the title of ‘Tactician’. That is your friend, Sans Serif.”

> Sans’ life.

Is it true that his entire life was decided since he was a baby?

Gaster answered, “Yes. Us Seers can examine a child’s potential while they’re still taking their final form. Think of it as a more thorough and accurate ultrasound procedure.”

“Just the news of the birth itself was a miracle. Roman and Helvetica were so weak in their magic, they never awakened their Seer’s Eye. Let alone expected to have any children. And yet, Sans happened. He was a powerful, powerful child.”

“Around the same time, King Asgore requested me to be his Tactician. I declined. A genius I may be, but I know my own limits. Instead… I offered the child that would one day be named after an angel.”

An angel?
You pointed at yourself. Weren’t you the angel of prophecy?

“Oh no, he’s not an angel of mercy like you,” said Gaster. “The ‘Serif’ part of his name is a reference to ‘Seraphim’. According to human legend, these six-winged angels are the primary guardians of their deity. And that’s what he should be.”

“Sans Serif’s true duty is to protect King Asgore -- and by extension the entire nation-- through any means necessary. Even if it means resorting to human cruelty.”

> Human cruelty.

You’re not sure if you’ll regret it, but you asked that question anyway.

“Guile. Foreknowledge. Sabotage. Assassination. And all the underhandedness that comes from stealth and spying. These too are valid tactics. In fact, they’re the same methods that the ‘Legendary Hero’ used to bring us monsterkind to our knees.”

“Humans often redirect their extensive supply of determination into themselves. This breeds selfishness. Misanthropy. The idea of ‘I, me, and mine’. As such, many would not hesitate to take the most efficient route to get what they want, whenever they want. Even if it means being cruel.”

“So I trained Sans to think the same: search for a weakness and strike there. Why start small? Why inflict warning wounds? Why explain your powers? Go straight to the point. Find the crack in the enemy’s tactics. Take to the field and break them down from the inside, if that’s the path to secure our survival.”

“Strike the enemy from the shadows, in the shadows.”

Sans was raised to think like an assassin, like the Fallen Hero. That’s why he insisted that he’s ‘human’ in his thoughts.

It’s hard to say that he rejected his purpose. On one hand, he’s a bitter drifter. On the other hand, he always watched out for the people he cares about.

In the end, he’s still a ‘seraphim’. Albeit a fallen one.

The tea had gone cold. Doctor Gaster held the mug closer to the heater in an attempt to warm it up.

“…To be honest, Sans could have gone down the same path without my influence. He had a certain cunningness since his baby bone days, as my dear friends experienced first hand. Not even padlocked drawers were safe. He’d somehow find the keys no matter where you hid them.”

You looked at Papyrus, wondering what his toddler days were like.

Your curious friend used his powers to take a peek. “APPARENTLY I’M LOUD, RESTLESS, AND VERY ACTIVE IN IMAGINATION. BUT OTHERWISE A GOOD BOY. I AM SO RELIEVED THAT I DIDN’T GIVE SANS MUCH TROUBLE.”

The brothers are complete opposites in every way!

“Ah, but what am I rambling about?” Gaster took another sip, “Nurture still goes a long way. If he was raised in a different environment, he wouldn’t be so extreme.”

You drank some of your cold tea. You’re not used to the bitterness, so you asked for a sandwich to mask the taste.

It’s dinnertime anyway. Papyrus offered some to the elder before helping himself.

You thought about your own life while you munched on your meal. Cenna told you about her plans to send you to magic school. Although it involved nothing grander than a family reunion, it’s still a locked path.

The main difference? You never realised it until this timeline. Sans was completely aware of his chains.

It’s hard to imagine that kind of life.

You thanked Doctor Gaster for sharing the story. Then, you promised to him and the skeleparents that you’ll help Sans live like a normal person.

The old goopy skeleton continued to frown. You asked him why.

He answered, “Help is only useful once it's accepted. More so when it comes to the heart. You saw how he rejected King Asgore’s apology.”

It’s alright.
You’re determined.

“Frisk, Child of Mercy. It’s good that you try, but please don’t neglect your own well-being.”

The questions about Sans ended at the Doctor’s advice. There were no more prompts, only an arrow redirecting you back to the very first page.

It’s greyed out with the word ‘DONE’ now. You took this moment of rest to finish your sandwich.

You stared at the schoolbag at your side. Oh man, you had tons to catch up on your homework. Your timeline adventures taught you most about geography, but that subject doesn’t exist in the monster syllabus. They concentrated on language, art, culture, math, and science.

You’re good with cultural topics and language. Fine with art. Sans helped you a ton with your scientific knowledge. Math? That stuff will eat up HOURS.

The urgency prompted you to check your homework. You’re left with the one subject that bothered you since the first day in school.

Math.

The thought alone made Papyrus rattle his bones, “OH, I REMEMBER THE HORROR OF COMPLICATED NUMBERS. I HAD TO THINK LONG AND HARD TO REALISE THAT I WAS ONCE A DOZEN AWAY FROM A TWO DIGIT NUMBER.”

Papyrus! Can’t he peer into the future and give you the correct answers?

That statement earned you a light chop on the top of your head, executed by none other than Doctor Gaster himself. You squealed. It didn’t hurt though.

With a disapproving glare, he said: “The three of us agree that you shouldn’t depend on Papyrus’ clairvoyance to cheat on your homework.”

But, it’s math. If you don’t cheat, you won’t have time to discuss about the more important topics!

“May I see your work thus far?”

You handed your math workbook over to Doctor Gaster. His mental gears clicked together as he analyzed your handiwork.

“Frisk,” he said, “You went to a human school before your adventures. Am I right?”

You nodded.

“From what age?”

Six, you said.

“How well do you understand the four basic mathematical principles and their application?”

Your inability to answer was all he needed to know. Doctor Gaster set your homework on the table and got up from the stool.

“That explains why you had so much trouble. It’s not that you’re ‘bad’ at math, Frisk. You merely lack understanding. Coincidently, math is my life. By the end of this lesson, you’ll finish your task in a blink.”

Those are some fancy words of promise. You pulled the stool over and plopped your butt on it.

Challenge accepted. There’s a reason why your teachers had no time to help you.

Gaster smirked. “Do not underestimate me.”

He then asked, “Oh, by the way Papyrus… what were you trying to calculate back then?”

Papyrus answered with great pride: “MY FOLLOWER COUNT, UNCLE GASTER! A POPULAR COOL SKELETON SUCH AS MYSELF MUST HAVE PLENTY OF FANS!”

“My boy, a dozen is a set of twelve. The minimum count for a ‘double digit’ is ten. I don’t think it’s possible to have negative-two followers.”

“WHY NOT?”
“Well, do you think it’s possible for a living person to be less than zero?”

Papyrus’ eyes bugged out. His mind got blown away by sheer revolutionary logic.

The prison soon turned into a maths classroom. Doctor Gaster first taught you addition and subtraction, and then their relations to multiplication and division.

With the aid of an empty scrap exercise book, he showed you a visual calculating method. Just to help you get started. It’s much easier than trying to recall solely on your rickety foundations.

Thanks to his guide, you finished your homework at a speed you never thought possible. You pinched your cheeks in utter disbelief.

Doctor Gaster won. Cue a classy sip of his tea as he checked your answers.

“All correct,” he said, “See? Math isn’t an impossible roadblock. It’s about understanding, practice, and application. Much like everything else in life.”

Doctor Gaster was one of the best teachers you’ve met. Mom will always occupy the number one spot in your heart, but this man is a close contender.

Sans didn’t go ‘wrong’, instead he went ‘horribly right’.

Since your homework was out of the way, you returned the stool to him. A teacher must be respected with a proper sitting space.

“Thank you very much, Frisk.” He slid over the seat and rested his goopy self there.

You occupied the floor once more.

Then, you prompted your remaining question for tonight.

> Seven Sages.

The moment you said that, Gaster widened his sockets and leaned backwards. You thought he’s going to fall over.

Both you and Papyrus tried to catch him, but it turns out he didn’t need any help. Still, he appreciated the sentiment.

“W-what…? How…?” Gaster muttered, “The only way you’d know anything about them would be--”

Details clicked in his head. “I see. Judge Thyme sent you to me, didn’t he?”

Papyrus was faster than you. “OH! HOW DID YOU KNOW, UNCLE GASTER?”

Gaster then replied, “I once told him about my father’s love for nature. He knows his history well to notice that small detail. A man like him surely understands the need to learn from the follies of the past.”

After taking a brief moment to regain his composure, Gaster began his story.

“You see, children. In the ancient days, ‘Humans’ and ‘Monsters’ ruled the lands. Rule they both did, but there was no mutual cooperation.”

“Each side lived separately. We monsters noticed early on that we frighten humans with our presence. Their fear was so intense, they retaliated with physical force.”

“It was then we discovered that us monsters are very weak to violence. Further compelled by our distaste for needless conflict, we hid ourselves from sight.”

“We favoured the forests, marshes, mountains: anywhere that’s difficult for humans to traverse. Puzzles, the combinations of contraption and diversion, were installed around our territory to further discourage encounters with their kind.”

“They’re designed to be harmless rerouting schemes. Sometimes, however… accidents happen. Often it’s due to failed safety checks or poor construction. Humans mistook them as death traps, further fuelling paranoia.”

“The intrepid ones began to form adventuring guilds. Mercenaries, treasure hunters, warriors, what have you. Heroes, they were called, working together with the local armed forces to ‘clear the land of possible threats’.”

And thus a monster hunt began.

“Yes. That’s correct.”

“These exceptional humans broke through our puzzles and raided our settlements. Killed every man, woman, and child who failed to escape. Whatever riches and resources we had left behind became a bonus for their efforts. Their LOVE increased unchecked.”

“We responded by further isolating ourselves: building more complex puzzles, creating illusions to confuse intruders, increasing warning patrols so we could evacuate the citizens well ahead of time. We also sent emissaries to other monster nations, plotting escape routes should any of us fall.”

“…Our numbers declined. Too many died too soon. There was a pressing need to replenish our population. Without people, important jobs can’t be completed. Our survival as a community hung at a precarious edge.”

“Thus began the Reanimation Project.”

A new prompt appeared to you. Could this be the beginning of the skeleton people?

> Reanimation Project.

Gaster said, “It began with one nation, far away from our current location. A human civil war broke out nearby. The king witnessed fields of corpses left behind in the aftermath. He thought, ‘What a sad and wasteful tragedy. If only they could have a peaceful second chance within our kingdom’.”

“It was a moment of epiphany. He gathered his wise men and asked if it’s possible to give these poor souls a new lease on life.”

“No one knew what would become of this, but they’re willing to try out of desperation. Scouts brought back six corpses from the edges of the battlefield. Fed those magic, using their own bodies as the catalyst, thereby creating a brand new monster SOUL.”

“Four failed to produce any results. Caught fire, disintegrated, and assorted other mishaps. You can’t expect people to get science right on the first try.”

“Then they managed to reanimate one. You know this being as a ‘Zombie’. Unfortunately, they’re unstable. The first successful subject behaved much like some of the less conscious Amalgamates. To make things worse, both their mind and body broke down at rapid pace.”

“It was then Monsterkind recorded their first extensive study of the decaying process. It was as messy as you can imagine; they ‘fell down’ within a day. None of us were sure if they were even conscious of their own existence.”

“The scholars then discovered that the same corpse cannot be reanimated twice. After giving the poor soul a proper burial, they discussed another possibility.”

“What if we strip the corpse down to the remnants left behind: on these things called ‘bones’? The nation had one last corpse remaining, so they tested their theories on that specimen.”

“The experiment was a success. The enchanted bones awakened with the basic knowledge of a young adult. Identified himself as a male and was fully sentient. In time, he adapted to life just like any other monster.”

“News of this discovery spread across the royal networks. Bolstered with hope, their respective monarchy called for all to donate their collection of human bones. From there, the first skeleton society came into existence overnight.”

“See, a person's essence tends to linger after the destruction of the SOUL. For humans more so than for monsters; it stays near the deceased body, rather than scattering as dust. It's for this very reason that these skeletons managed to retain certain skills prior their first death. Some better than others. Mind you, none of them remember anything of their past selves.”

Your tall cinnamon roll friend screamed out of excitement. “OH MY GOD, IT’S JUST LIKE ANIME!”

Anime is real Papyrus. Get used to it. Well, the realistic historical bits anyway.

Gaster chuckled in response. “Interesting, isn’t it?”

“All of us agreed that we will never kill a human to get their bones, directly or otherwise. So these skeletons were all harvested from crypts, graveyards, battlefields, or secluded accidents that happened near our territory. Success rates differed by how long ago they had passed on.”

“Then one day, we found several humans on the verge of death. Fatal wounds, malnutrition, disease, to name a few causes. Strong-willed they were: still clinging to their human SOUL despite their failing bodies. ”

“We took pity on them, offering salvation through application of our rites. The result was a groundbreaking accidental discovery that allowed monsterkind to understand a human’s strength. From these records, I would later refine them into the Determination Sciences you know today.”

“They became what the humans call ‘Liches’, the strongest of all the reanimated dead.”

The next prompt appeared, but you didn’t press it right away. You needed a moment for the details to sink into your head. Drink some tea, munch on a cookie, feed some sugar into your brain…

> Liches and Seers.

What made them special? How could one tell the difference between a Lich and a normal skeleton?

“Colour.” He said. “When a Lich awakens, their eyes glow with the colour of their human SOUL. These cannot be dispelled and they’re purely cosmetic.”

“ARE THEY HUMANS IN A MONSTER BODY?!?” asked Papyrus.

“Both yes and no. Their SOULs had transformed into the white and fragile forms we’re so familiar with. Complete with the inverted shape. However, they exhibited raw strength greater than any monster ever known. A normal Lich can lift tremendous weights. A warrior can swing around a tree log as if it’s a mere pole. Captain Undyne’s famous suplexes? They’d be right at home.”

“Study their bones under a microscope and you would see the bone tissue, no different from the other skeletons.”

“The secret? It’s the remnants of their human SOUL spread throughout their physical bodies. Its vast innate power boosted their beings to the levels of legends. Hence why they’re considered ‘Pseudo-Boss Monsters’.”

“The same cannot be said for their descendants.”

Descendants? Like Doctor Gaster and Papyrus?

“Indeed. We call ourselves Seers, but that was not our original terminology. Before Seers existed, the descendants of Liches were called ‘Lichborn’. The same goes for subsequent generations of Lichborn children.”

Wait. How are monsters born in the first place? Nevermind skeletons, who are nothing but bone.

“Uhhh…” Doctor Gaster flustered, his cheekbones blushing dual-coloured. “We’re… uhm… the result of a magical union between a male and female skeleton. I don't have any experience firsthand, but it's… a beautiful process.”

“A VERY BEAUTIFUL PROCESS!” Papyrus nodded. “UHH, WHAT WAS IT AGAIN? SANS NEVER TOLD ME WHAT HAPPENS AFTER DATING! SHALL I USE MY POWERS TO FIND OUT?”

“NOOOOO!!!” Gaster leapt out of his seat and slapped both hands down on the youngster's shoulders, pinning him down on the spot.

You imagined the skeleparents yelling ‘OBJECTION!’ at the top of their inaudible voices. You were also sure that those arms moved at their own volition to save their son from seeing far too much.

“Papyrus…” He said, “Once you find a proper lady skelly that you like, you will understand. For now, just know that after a union, there’s a chance that a magical orb will form. That's all.”

Good call.

If it's anything like what humans do, then…

You know.

Papyrus doesn't need ANOTHER lifelong scar.

Gaster soon turned to you with renewed composure: “Child of Mercy, think of it as an egg, if you will. No bird or lizard jokes please. And certainly no chicken jokes. I find them rather degrading.”

Okay. No jokes. You’re fine with that.

Moving on.

“These orbs would be nurtured and protected as the union consolidates into its final form. Once completed, the orb loses its shine, and the newborn’s SOUL absorbs their parents attributes. Naturally with Lich or Lichborn parents, an aspect of their ‘colour’ is also inherited.”

“Because Lichborn are born of magic, we do not have physical bodies. We’re only generated in the likeness of our parents. Thus, we’d be subjected to all the typical weaknesses of other monsters… But, we still bear human roots.”

These are our primary proof.” Gaster pointed two fingers at his own set of the Seer’s Eyes.

“Unlike the Liches whose colours are cosmetic, our Eyes have special power. Determination is key, except our bodies could never contain the quantities required for such magic.”

“What do we do then? We burn them as fuel.”

Gaster set his Eyes ablaze as a cool visual demonstration of his statement.

“See these flames, children? It’s burning Determination alongside the ‘colours’ of inheritance.”

Both the flames and colours faded back to their default white state. “Now, before I can tell you more about Seers, you must first understand the repercussions of the Reanimation Project; it triggered a tragedy that monsterkind failed to anticipate.”

“As I had told you earlier, Humans and Monsters live apart from each other. They’re ignorant about us, and we’re ignorant about them.”

“One day, a mountain settlement fell to the first security breach in fifty years. There was only one survivor old enough to tell the tale: my mother.”

“She testified that when the humans saw the skeleton people, they went pale from horror. That horror soon turned into indignant fury. They razed the town to ashes and spared none, especially the Lichborn.”

Why? You asked. You just can’t understand. Judging from Papyrus’ shocked expression, he didn’t get it either.

The elder one who knew too much stared back at you with a solemn gaze.

He then closed his eyes in painful confession. “Youth, do you know why we’re called ‘monsters’? It’s because our appearances remind humans of their helplessness and fear. What irony.”

“Skeletons are a symbol of death in all human cultures. We mirror their own fleeting and fragile mortality. When they saw the ‘dead’ alive and procreate entire families… well, we were seen as blasphemy. And blasphemy demands a ‘cleansing’ massacre.”

“While my mother brought the children to safety, her father -- my grandfather -- fought the humans by himself. The Lich of Bravery, she called him. He defended the backlines with nothing more than his axe, shield, and sheer skill.”

“The human ‘heroes’, however, recognized my grandfather. They called him by his former name. ‘You wear his gear’, they said. ‘You use his style’, they said. ‘Don't you remember us? Your former comrades?’”

“Futile, of course. My grandfather declared himself a new man, and his family are the ones fleeing in the cave behind him. The humans thus condemned him. Cursed. Evil. Possessed. A desecration of his memory. He only laughed back, prepared to become their worst nightmare if it means that others will see the next sunrise.”

“He then collapsed the tunnel, sealing his own fate.”

“My mother did not see what happened after that. But legends state that he had decimated dozens before a hail of arrows smashed his skull.”

“She described his berserked howlings as the most unearthly thing she had ever heard, and will ever hear. He’s no longer her father: just a killing machine determined to protect his new society.”

“Two things, she learned on that day. One: life can be cruel. Two: everyone has a dark side. Monsters included.”

“Needless to say, the terror of The Lich became imprinted deep within the human psyche.”

The cinnamon roll in the form of bones trembled. His right Eye shone bright: there’s a chance that he’s recalling visions of past human violence.

You tried to shake Papyrus out of the bad stuff.

“I’M OKAY,” he patted your hand.

“Sans said the same about me, didn’t he?” Gaster commented. “‘You’re an abomination. A desecration of their memory.’ That’s exactly what the humans thought of us skeletons.”

“The news about Liches spread amongst human society like wildfire. It spoke of lies that intensified oppression. ‘Monsters steal our human SOULs’. ‘Monsters are making armies of the dead’. ‘Monsters have declared a war’.”

“The Waterfall history plaques state that the War did not last for long. Yes, that’s true… if only for the Dreemurr Nation. We’re the last to experience the horrors of human violence, while the other kingdoms had fallen one by one, across the span of decades.”

“The king who started the Reanimation Project? He was publicly executed in a human capital. Since that day, the human depiction of the ‘Devil’ took on the form of a goat-person, leading an army of Grim Reapers. I’m sure you are familiar with such imagery.”

“In the end, the survivors were pushed to the only remaining kingdom that’s still intact: The Dreemurrs. Young King Asgore and Queen Toriel accepted everyone. Cared for the refugees as though they’re their own citizens.”

“Our hardships created a unique culture: Everyone work together. Live together. Survive together. No matter the species. No matter the origin. As long we’re good to each other.”

“…But many realised that it would be a matter of time before we’re wiped out by human fear and hatred. Some of the Lichborn were already troubled by visions of calamity.”

“No one will help us. No one could help us. Except… for one. A human. Or rather, a monster who retained all aspects of his past humanity.”

“He's our very first ‘Sage’.”

Chapter Text

Okay.

This is starting to boggle your mind. A part of you wanted to stop, go home, and come back another day.

But you sure as heck won’t be able to sleep after reaching this point.

> Convert.

Pardon?
What does Doctor Gaster mean with ‘a monster who retained all aspects of his past humanity’? Was he a Lich?

“Yes, he was.”

Liches were enchanted from humans, right? But they don’t recall their previous lives, so they can’t be counted as ‘human’. At least, that’s what you understand.

“You’re correct, Frisk.” said Doctor Gaster, “But he’s different. This man remembered everything.”

For real?
The elder continued his story.

“During my father’s childhood days, he’d explore the woods together with his younger sister. He wanted discovery, she wanted adventure. They’d do these things in secret.”

“One day, found a hidden trail that led to a ravine. There, they discovered a secluded patch of Ebott Goldenflowers. Half buried under the growth was a skeletonized human corpse. The siblings had never seen a true skeleton before. Not in the form of a Lich, nor in the form of the dead.”

Odd. What happened to all the refugees? There must be some Liches who escaped.

“Well, just because they’re in the kingdom doesn’t mean you’d meet them in person.”

He continued: “Thrilled by the idea of experiments and the prospect of a new friend, the siblings smuggled the conversion rites out of the library. My father laid down the framework. True to his colour of Patience, he’s very careful with his handiwork.”

“They then reanimated the bones. But when his eyes lit up, they realised that things… didn’t quite go as they had expected.”

“He awakened with eyes of intense crimson.”

You gasped.
The colour red will never mean the same to you again.

Did they ‘accidentally’ resurrect a Red SOUL bone?

“Yes, they did. His SOUL must have survived the destruction of his body. My father and his sister were terrified to the point of immobility. They couldn’t understand why either. Not until many, many years later.”

“It didn’t help that the Red Lich yelled a string of curses to the sky. Quite a frightening first impression as you can imagine.”

“When the man realised that he was not alone, he calmed himself. Anyone could see the sheer frustration flowing in his being as his ribs rose and fell. It was nothing like the books or stories the siblings had heard. As far as they know, Liches woke up confused at most. Never enraged.”

“The sister asked why. He answered the following: ‘I was assassinated. Murdered. That knave stabbed my chest before kicking me down into this pit’.”

“That’s the most unusual. Remember that Liches considered themselves separate from their bones. There are some Purple ones who do recall bits of their past, however they are just distant images. ‘I was this person, this person is not me’.”

“On the other hand, the Red Lich declared: ‘This is me’. He claimed his identity without a single hesitation. He even remembered his own death.”

“My father and his sister explained how they had found him, the magic they used, and their intentions. They meant no harm.”

“The man asked more questions. First about the year, then about the world. Politics. Leaders. Circumstances of the times. Except, monsters live too isolated from human society to know of answers to his detailed enquiries. This prompted the Red Lich to investigate matters by himself.”

“He was no fool. He knew that he could no longer walk straight into human territory and ask around. So he instead asked the children to take him to the Dreemurr Nation. As a token of gratitude, he would use the knowledge of his former life to help us.”

“Under one condition: that he may keep his true identity a secret. Name included. And also, the children may not tell anyone about their discovery. He’ll decide when and where he would disclose himself. Until then, he’d play the role of a travelling hermit.”

“The Red Lich proved his worth soon enough. He improved security and taught monsters the art of advanced intel gathering: spying, stealth, surveying, observation. It allowed the guards to take protective measures much sooner than they ever did.”

“We’re indebted. Since no one knew his name, we called him by a title: ‘Sage’.”

“Then, he studied monsterkind. Learned about us, our magic, and our history. Took a special interest in the Lichborn Eye. He theorized that our human heritage allowed manipulation of ‘the streams of space and time’. He told us about ‘Willpower’, known as ‘Determination’ in modern days, and declared it as his very reason for survival.”

“The coloured eyes we bear are in truth a filtered lens. The body instinctively knows that it cannot cope with high levels of Determination, so it’s channeled into the Eyes to be burned away as fuel for our traits. This allows us to tap into the depths of time itself.”

“That’s when my father wondered about this man’s history.”

“Magic had always been the domain of monsters since prehistoric times. Many charlatans claim to be wizards and sorcerers, but they’re all trickery: illusions, suggestions, mind-altering substances, what have you. We thought: humans are incapable of magic.”

“Yet, this Sage claimed otherwise. He wasn’t a liar. The lessons he taught to us Lichborn were concrete proof. It’s thanks to him that we now know how to hone our talents. We began to truly ‘see’ a hidden world.”

“It was only then the Lichborn were renamed as ‘Seers’.”

This is some extensive history.

But it was a ton more interesting to you than anything you’ve learned in school. A personal investment made all the difference.

Doctor Gaster continued: “From a pool of students, the Sage hand-picked six of the best ‘Pure Eyed’ Seers. My father, my aunt, and my mother were part of the selection.”

Pure Eyed?
You tilted your head at that term.

“What Papyrus and Sans have is a ‘Mixed Eye’. By no means is a Pure superior to a Mixed, not at all. It’s just that the Sage needed set constants for the task at hand. It’s all about the balance of traits and their intensity.”

What about Gaster’s set?

“Mine are both Pure Eyed. I could either use both at once, or one at a time. It all depends on the situation. Orange ‘Bravery’ allows me to take daring leaps into the future, whereas Cyan ‘Patience’ gives me focus.”

“With fine control, I have the widest range of visions. To put it to understandable terms, I’m a microscope and a telescope combined. Rendered in 3D. Very handy in science. …And also to watch out for slacking staff members.”

You couldn’t help but to laugh out loud. Oh he’s going to be a real terror in the classroom. You imagined a very displeased Gaster sliding over to a sleeping student, waking them up with a chop on the top of their head.

Yep. You don’t want him to be your classroom teacher. Just one-on-one tuition is good enough.

Though, this isn’t a time for comedic tangents.
You do want to listen to the rest of the tale.

Once you settled down, Gaster continued: “Anyways. After a good lot of training, the six Seers combined their diverse talents to peer into the future.”

“I needed a machine, the Chronograph, to do the same. It’s constructed to supplement my missing traits. Papyrus, however, can do all that upon instinct and a fraction of the effort. Do you now understand just how special he is?”

Papyrus struck a proud pose in response.

You didn’t understand the specialness. Why?

“A Seer’s magic is all about the application. Papyrus’ colours are Orange, Blue, and Green: Bravery, Integrity, and Kindness. Sans’ are Cyan, Purple, Yellow: Patience, Perseverance, Justice. Between them, six traits are accounted for.”

“Bravery, to take the leap.”
“Integrity, to draw in relevance.“
“Kindness, to reconstruct the image.”

“Patience, to keep focus.”
“Perseverance, to remember.”
“Justice, to see truth.”

Ah.

So that’s how it is.

Sans is the ultimate microscope, while Papyrus is the ultimate telescope. Again, opposites in every way… Gaster can do both, but nowhere near as well as either. Sort of the middle ground.

Together, the six Seers had the perfect vision. So, what did they see?

The old skeleton took a deep breath and sighed. “Very similar to what I saw: death and destruction. The Dreemurr Nation brought to ruin. Vast human armies at their doorstep. It confirmed the worst fears that plagued the survivors.”

“The Sage did not give up. He instructed his students to look farther. This time, on the fate of the nearest human kingdom. Well. It turns out that they later fell to a dragged-out and very bloody siege. The cycle of war does not discriminate.”

Kill or be killed.
That mantra ruled the land for far too long.

“In the midst of despair, the Sage made one of the craziest suggestions. He told us that if we want to change the future… we must first change our circumstances.”

Papyrus gasped outright. “SANS TOLD ME THAT SAME ADVICE TO SAVE FRISK!”

“Now you know where he learned it from,” said Gaster. “You can imagine the students begging their teacher to show them this path of hope. Alas, it was not something anyone wanted to hear…”

“He said that we monsters must teach the humans magic. Real magic of the SOUL.”

“That proclamation shook everyone down to the core. By theory that would be the most suicidal plan. Humans were already dominating the lands without additional power. And yet, the Sage asked us to grant them our inborn gift.”

“What if they misuse it? What if they turn magic against us? Questions, questions, and more questions.”

“The Sage expected that. He bluntly told them to either step out or prepare for the end. He knew he cannot do it all alone, and thus left fate inside their hands.”

“It’s tempting to surrender. To hide. To deny. But after a few days passed, the six students agreed that they’ve nothing left to lose. They rather be deemed as traitors than to wait for death.”

“Thus, the mentor promoted them to bear his title of ‘Sage’, becoming members of ‘The Seven Sages’: each governing their respective colour.”

Does Doctor Gaster remember the names and the colours of these Sages?

“Of course, Child of Mercy. I have committed every bit of history to memory. I love knowledge no matter the source. As long as it’s true, I’ll do my best to keep them.”

“Visigoth, the Cyan Sage of Patience. Also known as the Sky or Light Blue Sage. My dear departed father. Lover of nature, be it flora, fauna, or the mineral realm. He’s defined by patient wisdom and it’s thanks to him that the group didn’t fall apart.”

“Ariella, the Green Sage of Kindness. My aunt. The world itself is wondrous to her. It didn’t matter if we lived in dark times. She had a knack of finding good in any situation and in any person. A very encouraging woman.”

“Shirai, the Orange Sage of Bravery. My dear departed mother. She’s a survivor in more ways than one. She was the one who told us that we had nothing to lose. Of the six, she had the most reasons to fear human society. Yet, she was the first to volunteer.”

“Cyril, the Yellow Sage of Justice. Not the easiest to get along with, but he always meant well. For years he had questioned our acceptance of oppression. He won’t let the opportunity to make a difference slip through his fingers.”

“Geneva, the Blue Sage of Integrity. A nun in demeanour: steadfastness with high moral ethics. This made her a bit emotionally detached from the others, but she always did what’s right.”

“Corsivus, the Purple Sage of Perseverance. Our eccentric genius of the team. He had the tendency to get lost in academic pursuits and his own thoughts. Despite these quirks, he’s a man with a golden heart. Wish I could’ve met him.”

“Then, there’s of course the Red Sage of Willpower: a constant enigma. Stoic, unless something stoked his ire. No one knew what’s going on behind those crimson lights. Whatever it is, he’ll make it a reality.”

You groaned. Such a wasted opportunity. ‘The Red Sage of Determination’ sounds a billion times cooler!

“I AGREE WITH FRISK!” Papyrus exclaimed.

Gaster chuckled at the both of you. “Well, I can’t retcon historical titles. It is what it is.”

“Anyway, after leaving behind a note to the King and Queen, The Seven Sages departed in the middle of the night. The less monsterkind knew of their plan, the better. They didn’t want to frighten the public more than they had to.”

“The team infiltrated the capital with relative ease. The Red Sage knew where to go, down to the multiple secret entrances that coursed under the city.”

Did anyone ask about it?

“Oh yes, everyone did. And you know what he said? ‘I built them’.”

He must have been a very important man. You asked if he was a prince?

“No. He was not. Royal blood does not guarantee power, dear child. Humans are too determined to let such theories define their hierarchy.”

“When the Seven Sages emerged inside the castle grounds, they wore masks, gloves and shrouds to hide their Lichborn nature. Fanciful coloured embroidery distracted the townsfolk, making them think they’re exotic wizards from a far off land. See, wizards of those times never revealed themselves to others. It’s part of their creed of secrets and mystique.”

“The Red Sage stepped forth and proclaimed his prophecy. He told everyone that within the decade, the kingdom will fall. The six other Sages then pooled their magic to create mirages of their vision. The fires, the starvation, the screams of those dying by the sword… ”

You cringed.
Stoooooop!
Too graphic, too graphic!

Gaster smirked at your reaction. “Well, such is the brutal nature of warfare. Witnessing their nation doomed, the people reacted much like you. Horror, disgust, fear. I bet one or two fainted.”

“They demanded proof. After all, many so-called wizards were known charlatans. Why wouldn’t this vision be a lie? That’s when the Red Sage revealed his former self.”

“He said: ‘I am Mezil of House Berendin’. Showed a golden plaque to drive home his point. It was near pandemonium. His name frightened the court more than the future he proclaimed. Corsivus, the most well read of the lot, almost lost his composure too.”

Wait. Mezil?!
Judge Mezil Thyme?!?

Papyrus screamed in your stead. “OH MY GOD MISTER MAGUS?!?! HE’S REALLY A SKELETON IN HUMAN GUISE??? AND SUPER OLD?????”

“No, no, no,” Gaster shook his head and waved his hand across his face. “My goodness, that’s quite a stretch. The Mezil you know today is just named after Mezil of Berendin.”

“It’s nothing unusual in human culture. Many parents wish their children to gain the success associated with that name. If King Asgore and Queen Toriel were human monarchy, you would no doubt find many little ‘Asgores’ and ‘Toriels’ for generations to come.”

“People of great fame and power leave an imprint that many wish to imitate. No doubt that Mezil of Berendin had the same effect.”

> Mezil of House Berendin.

You asked Doctor Gaster why everyone’s so scared of this man.

Was he super strong? Maybe he’s a little ‘harsh’?
Hint hint wink wink. People from medieval times can be real jerks.

“Fortunately, no. He’s a man of virtue. What made him feared was his sense of foresight: a man who put many intellectuals to shame. He had a knack for making the right decisions, all the time. He had a success rate so high that people thought he’s clairvoyant. As such, he amassed great wealth and influence as a businessman.”

“Do you know why? Think about it for a moment.”

A Red SOUL man who succeeded in anything he does.

You dropped your jaw.

Mezil of House Berendin was none other than a Living Victory.

“You caught on well,” Doctor Gaster confirmed. “If Judge Thyme sent you to me, it means you know that Living Victories can die under specific circumstances. That’s what happened to the Red Sage: robbed of his power to access his SAVES and murdered in cold blood.”

You asked Doctor Gaster if the people believed him.

“Not at first. Mezil of Berendin went missing over a decade ago. So they questioned his activities. Where had he been all these years?”

“He spun a convincing tale. Told everyone that he fell into a ravine due to an accident. Survived the fall thanks to the foliage below, heavily injured nonetheless. Traveling wizards nursed him back to health, and demanded he swore fealty to their cause.”

“It was a rare opportunity to gain their trust and knowledge. So, he studied their arts to the highest level and gained six disciples of his own. Upon receiving this dreadful vision from the future, he hurried to the capital to warn his fellow countrymen and king.”

“They believed every word. After all, Mezil of Berendin had the reputation of being never wrong. Almost a prophet.”

“He told them that if they want to avoid their own ‘critical existence failure’, they must heed his counsel. Allow him to teach magic from his own estate. Only then can they fight back.”

“‘But what about the monsters?’ They asked. ‘Those things will steal a human’s soul to ascend to godhood! We must eradicate them for our safety’, they cried out.”

“Fear, fear and more fear. The Sages realised just how twisted their perceptions of monsters were. Humans never realised their true strength. They considered themselves weak, and thus banded together against the unknown.”

“Have you noticed a trend? This human kingdom feared monsters so much, they did not notice that their own territories cracked and crumbled. You’d think that some beings living peacefully in the woods would be a small issue to them, but no, that wasn’t the case.”

“Whether monsters or humans, it is entirely possible to make a mountain out of a molehill on a nation-wide scale. Two different races. The exact same reaction. The exact same mentality of ‘us versus them’. It’s always been like this.”

Hence, Mom’s worst case scenario. She had seen it happen right before her eyes.

Can the Red Sage still time travel like you?

Doctor Gaster answered, “No. Once converted into a Lich, his body cannot accumulate the amount required to travel back time. Most of his Determination was imbued into his bones to support his existence, and hence inaccessible for life. This meant he had only one chance to save everyone. All in a single timeline. It’s quite a task as you can imagine.”

“He proposed the following: seek out seven human children, each bearing the colour of the Sages. He’d train these young men and women in the art of magic, and in five years time let them seal the monster nation underneath the largest mountain in the region.”

“It’s none other than Mount Ebott.”

You and Papyrus stared back, wide-eyed at the revelation.

“This was no mere coincidence,” said Gaster. By now his tea had run out. “Mount Ebott had all the necessities for extended survival: a source of flowing water, high magic density, shelter, and a unique ecosystem. Not to mention that our forefathers once lived there. It may have become sub-par due to the changes of modernity, but back then… it was monsterkind’s best fort.”

What Sans said was true; there’s a thin line between a fort and a prison.

With neither side willing to reconcile, the only alternative was to cut each other off for good.

“The Red Sage soon converted his abandoned manor into a magic school, and they found all seven humans without issues. What followed was a quiet period that allowed the Sages to further refine their craft in an academic setting, creating ‘The Code’, ‘The Skull’ and the ‘The Gram’.”

That weird wingdings