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Ocean on Fire

Chapter Text

“I hate you.”

“Aw, thanks.”

You glare furiously at the smirking girl innocently twisting one black curl around her finger. “You are a terrible friend and a cheater.”

Faith pouts but it doesn’t hide the glint in her dark eyes. “How dare you! I didn’t cheat!”

“Making a bet when you know the outcome is cheating!”

She pats your cheek. “I pressed my advantage. I can’t help it if you didn’t know that the aquarium was loading in all the fish for the new exhibit today.”

You groan loudly, slumping over. It was sheer luck that you had narrowly escaped running straight into one of the massive tanks being loaded into the aquatic museum. You had been so sure of your route when Faith had challenged you to a race to see who could reach the pier faster. Skipping the main road and cutting back behind the museum was normally faster but…it wasn’t normally filled with trucks and tanks filled with unsuspecting fish of various sizes. You had rounded the corner at full speed and only your quick reflexes had saved you from smacking into one holding about five hundred angel fish.

That would have been a disaster, in more ways than one. And thanks to the delay, Faith had beat you to the docks, subjecting you to your current torture.

“Tell your sister she’s a dirty cheat,” you grumble to the man shifting through various bottles of hair dye.

“I’ve got my model,” Lincoln says with a fake innocent air that tells you he’s not quite so unaware of what went down. “You’ll hear no complaints from me. You shouldn’t be complaining either, you’re getting this exclusive hair treatment for free!”

You shift slightly in the salon chair, fixing him with a stare too. “The last time I got one of your free treatments, my hair was sea green for three months!”

“That was an accident.”

“How do you accidentally dye someone’s hair sea green?! It was supposed to be purple!”

Lincoln ignores you while Faith laughs. “C’mon, someone who spends as much time in the ocean as you do should’ve loved it! I’m kind of surprised it’s not your natural color anyway.”

You grumble quietly. You would rather run into a tank of fish again than admit that you had grown to love the weird color. “The ocean’s blue, not green.”

Faith plops down into the empty seat next to you. The entire salon is empty aside from you three at the moment. It is rather early but it’s still a surprise. “Look, I’m finally back to my roots, I wanna keep them black and beautiful for a while,” Faith says. “Besides, you owe me for getting us that gig on the East Side.”

That had indeed been a good gig. Dancing for a few hours at the high-end mall opening had paid well. Better than usual anyway. You had actually been able to afford some new high quality shoes AND replace all the tires on your car!

What a fascinating life you lead.

Lincoln taps your head with his comb. “Have more faith in me Shore,” he says brightly. “This time, I am going to make you look like a goddess.”

“Yeah, yeah,” you reply good naturally because, sea green incident aside, he really does know what he’s doing most of the time. He’s got a gift for creating art in hair styles, you’ll give him that. Unfortunately, you and Faith usually wound up as his test subjects when he wanted to try something new, like today. And…well you aren’t exactly opposed to the idea of your hair changing color (again). It was just kind of nice to have your normal hair color back for a while. And from what Faith has told you, this new style is a doozy.

“What are you calling this one?” you ask, leaning back into the sink set up behind the chair.

“Sun Fire,” he replies proudly as he begins to work his magic. “You know, like sunshine? But hotter!”

Both you and Faith make a face.

“Gross.”

“Yeah, not loving it.”

“C’mon Link,” you tease. “Can’t you do better than that?”

“Who’s got the bottles of hair dye and controls your immediate future?”

You decide to drop it.

Bored now that you’ve accepted your fate, Faith turns to her phone, nails tapping against the screen as she catches up on all the breaking news that she’s missed in the last ten minutes since she last looked.

“Oh, apparently, some monster near the Walk finally got all the permissions needed to open a grill and bar,” she says with some surprise. "It's opening in a few days."

You try to look over at her but Link keeps your head firmly in place. “Really? That’s…good, right?”

Monsters. They’ve certainly the talk of the town, even if it has been well over a year since they first appeared on the surface. Actually, it’s almost closer to two years by now, isn’t it? You had just barely moved to the city when it happened. In fact, you had been out on the water, the distant shape of the mountain illuminated by the setting sun. Just another day, another moment in time that suddenly changed the world.

You’re brought out of your thoughts by Faith humming thoughtfully. “I hear monster food is made with magic,” she says, excitement making her eyes gleam.  “Only the military has gotten to taste it. Finally we, the general public, will finally be able to taste magic!”

“All food is magic, monster made or not,” you point out.

She waves a hand. “Point to you. Anyway, we’ll have to check out next time we’re by the Walk.”

The Walk being a collection of shops and lower income apartments set pretty close to a series of boardwalks and a cove that most of the locals tend to visit rather than the ‘tourist beach’ up closer to the east side of the city. Of course, thanks to the monsters gradually moving into the city after negotiations with human government had finally passed, all beaches have pretty much become tourist beaches.  It’s not surprising that pretty much everyone in the world wants to see the monsters for themselves.

The area around the Walk is where most monsters seemed to have set up shop, at least for the time being now that they’ve finally been allowed off of the mountain. It’s rather amazing how quickly the area changed from a mostly abandoned shamble of a town outside the main city into a bustling and quickly expanding business strip. But this is the first you’ve heard about a restaurant being run by a monster.

“I wonder what kind of food they’ll be making.”

“Doesn’t say,” Faith mumbles, scrolling through the story. “There’s not a lot of info on it. Just kind of a ‘hey this is happening’ memo.”

The topic changes from there and you chat aimlessly with Faith while Link finishes up with your hair. As his process gets closer to completion, you do find yourself a little nervous.

Link runs blue painted nails through your hair one more time, seemingly satisfied. You try to ignore Faith’s growing grin.

“Yes, yes, yes,” he murmurs to himself.

You fidget under his increasingly frightening glee. “So, um…do I look like a goddess?”

His teeth flash, perfectly white against his dark skin. “See for yourself.”

He spins your chair and you do indeed see for yourself. Your natural hair color has completely disappeared and in it’s place is a stunning array of reds and oranges that fade into a pleasant gold. The colors intermingle just enough to hide the clear lines of transition from one shade to another, blending together in a way that makes your hair appear to shift with each movement of your head. It’s not obnoxiously bright while maintaining the full effect of looking like the sky at sunset.

Whoa.” You run your own fingers through your hair. Holy crap, you…you look awesome!

Link laughs loudly and you swear you can see his nose growing out with pride. "Did I deliver, or did I deliver?" 

"You really did!" There's a huge grin crossing your face as you tilt your head back and forth, examining the colors. 

Faith pops up in the mirror behind you, picking at your locks. "I told you you'd thank me!" 

You shove her playfully. "You did not!" 

"I accept your gratitude. Now." She gives you a smooch on your cheek. "I'm gonna take Liam to work. See you at the studio tonight?" 

You hum your confirmation, still occupied with admiring your hair. 

As Faith leaves, Link starts cleaning up. "Now my sales pitch on this look is that even though it contains super low levels of peroxide, it won't fade for at least three months no matter what you throw at it and it will keep your hair healthy and shiny. And you don't need to wait to wash it! So-" 

"So I can keep up my usual levels of living in the water?" you ask with a grin. 

"I'm counting on it. Now shoo! I've got to clean all this up before my next customer comes in." 

You gleefully leave the salon, very pleased with the results of your hair. Okay, so maybe losing the actual bet still stings your pride a bit but you got this killer look out of it. You head back to your place, a rather run down, shabby set of apartment buildings about a ten minute walk from the Walk. When you first moved here, it was the only place you could afford and it certainly shows. The paint is peeling, the doors all creak and get stuck on a regular basis and you've had more than your fair share of roaches pop up. But the neighbors are quiet (to be honest, with your dancing practice, you're probably the noisy neighbor) and best of all, it's within eye shot of the beach. You're actually rather lucky that you moved in when you did. Once the monsters appeared and started moving into the city, the rent shot up like crazy. But thanks to your pre-established contract, your rent stays within your budget. 

You climb up the stairs to the fourth floor, passing old Ms. Meyers as you do so. She's your next door neighbor and has a rather impressive collection of plants that she keeps crowded around her front door. The woman herself has to be at least in her seventies but she still manages to make it up and down the stairs easily enough when she does leave, which admittedly, isn't often. 

"Hey Ms. Meyers," you greet. 

She looks up from her plants, her bright blue eyes observing you through her too large round glasses. "My goodness! Again?" 

She of course, has been present for your previous adventures in hair color. "Yep! But I think this one really turned out, don't you?" 

"Yes, it's certainly much prettier than that awful green from before." She hobbles over to you, touching it with her wrinkly hand. "You look like your head is on fire!" 

"Isn't it great? Anyway, I'm about to hit the water, I've got to test how well it holds up." 

She waves goodbye. After some wrestling with the door, you step inside your apartment. 

"Hey Stitch," you say, greeting the old gray cat curled up on your couch. His ears twitch and you see his eyes open. He takes you in and, unimpressed with your hair, goes back to sleep. You give him a pat anyway and quickly change into your swimsuit; it's a long sleeved black one piece speckled with light blue splashes of color and black swim shorts. You tuck your keys into the hidden pocket and turn to your boards. It's a fish style board, good for the usual smaller waves out there on the water. Even with a discount from working at the shop, it had cost you a pretty penny and isn't the nicest board around, but it gets the job done. You've taken good care of it and it's one of your most precious possessions. 

"Besides you, Stitch," you say to the cat. 

Stitch offers you a snore. 

You head outside after throwing a towel over your shoulder and start the short walk to the water. It'd be quicker to take your banged up truck but you don't mind walking. It's a beautiful day out, just warm enough to make the idea of cool water appealing. The asphalt quickly changes to sand under your feet and you pick up the pace, eager to get going. No matter how many times you come here, the salty smells, the gentle roar of the waves against the sand, the cry of birds above never fails to make your heart race and your body relax. The beach isn't terribly crowded yet, though that will probably change as the day goes on. You can see the Walk in the distance. A few of the docks extend out over the water but most of the shops and apartments are set back a little ways. The whole area is actually quite large now thanks to the expansion put in place by the King of monsters. You've yet to see him in person, though you've heard that the giant goat like being likes to mingle with his people. Maybe you'll see him when you check out that new bar. 

You kick your shoes off, drop the towel into the sand and head out into the waves. You do shiver a little at the cold water but it doesn't stop you from paddling out away from shore. The waves are small, easy to swim past. There's not a lot of wind so you probably won't get much actual surfing in today. But that's fine, you're just happy to be out here. You sigh happily, leaning back on the board all the way once you've got a little distance. Water laps and tickles your ears and you trail your hands over the surface of the waves. All of your problems just fade away when you're out here. There's no workload from the shop, no tourists in your face screaming their opinion on the monsters in the city, no pressure to perform in front of people. It's just you and the water. 

For quite a while, you just lie there, gently bobbing in the waves. You let the water carry you where it wants, keeping a lazy eye on the distance from the shore. You don't want to go too far out but you're not terribly stressed about it happening. As you float, your eyes shift over to the mountain range in the distance. Though most of them can hardly be called mountains, they're more like extremely large hills. The only one tall enough to actually resemble a mountain is Mount Ebott. That mountain is a good distance away and looks almost blue thanks to the haze of the clouds. You were in this exact spot, just killing time out in the water when the barrier fell. Even from here, you felt it. A wave of power that cut through the air like a strong breeze, stirring up the waves and sending a great shiver down your spine. At the time of course, you had no idea what it meant and just assumed it was a weird sign of an approaching storm. 

But then again, isn't that exactly what it was? 

You've seen monsters around town, often enough that the shock has started to fade. For the most part, you leave them alone to their own business. You're sure they must be tired of all the stares and questions from everyone else. Occasionally though, you have talked with them. Sometimes they come into the surf shop, curious about the sport or looking for beach wear. Every monster you've helped has been cheerful and nice and you really have to admire them for that. You can't imagine what it must have been like, being trapped under the mountain for so long and suddenly having to adjust to life with the species that had trapped them there in the first place. 

You're pulled out of your thoughts by the increasing chatter of voices. You look around and realize you've floated pretty close to the Walk and more and more people start to appear in your field of vision. Tourists, locals and a couple of monsters. You see what looks like large skeleton building a rather impressive sand figurine of himself. There's a white ball on top of a mound next to him...you squint. That's a head. A skull actually. You hope that means there's another whole skeleton buried under the sand but there's no way to know for sure.

You grin. Monsters are so freaking weird. 

You sit up as a large motorboat goes cruising by. That combined with the increasing wind will give you a nice wave to ride in on. As you swing your legs up, you notice someone bobbing in the water a short distance away. It's a kid, maybe nine or ten years old. Their brown hair is plastered to their face and they've got a small paddle board, just enough to keep them afloat. They're quite a ways out and you're about to call out to them, make sure they're okay when you see a flash of color in the water. What the hell was that?! You stare at the spot. There is it again! Whatever it is, it's big and it's moving fast. 

A shark? No way! You've never seen sharks in this area before! 

"Kid!" you call out, paddling as quickly as you can over to them. They continue to kick their feet idly. Crap, they can't hear you.

You see the color flash again, closer this time.

You plow into the water with your arms, glancing at the incoming waves thanks to the boat. If you time this just right-

The kid lets out a little noise of surprise as they finally look up and see you, crazy eyed and with a head of fire like hair bearing down on them. "Shark!" you yell, reaching for them. "Get on!" 

They just blink at you so you grab them by the back of their swim shirt, hauling them up out of the water and onto your board. It's a fight not to capsize but they're smaller than you thought and light so you manage to get them on the board. In a fluid motion, you stand, crouching low over them right as the waves hit you, sending you back to shore. You wobble, adjusting yourself to the extra weight. "Hold on!" you yell to them.

They clutch at your ankles, letting out an excited whoop. Their excitement makes you grin, shark threat aside. You make the board wobble a little and they squeak, tightening their grip. Okay, you're almost to shore! Just a little-

Suddenly something big, blue and red shoots out of the water and slams into you. You yelp with shock and hit the water, knocked clean off your board. You scramble for the surface, caught in the whirling water. You feel someone grab the back of your suit and yank you up and out of the water. You sputter and gasp, preparing for the pain of shark teeth in your neck.

"Who the hell are you?!" 

You swipe your hand over your face, trying to blink away the salt water and realize you're being held up in the air by a monster. A very sharp toothed, fish like monster with shocking red hair pulled back into a pony tail. Two ear fins twitch on either side of it's head, flicking water away. One eye is covered by a black patch but the other one, bright yellow and inhuman, is glaring at you. 

"Hey! I asked you a question!" The monster, who's voice sounds somewhat feminine even though she's yelling, shakes you. You realize you're being held up high enough that the water only reaches your knees.

You give her your name, choking a little thanks to the swallowed sea water. "Could you put me down-" 

She drops you before you finish and you almost fall again. Now the water is up to your waist but barely reaches past her knees. Man she's tall! "Why are you trying to steal Frisk?"

"Huh?" 

"Undyne!" A new voice calls out. You turn your head to see the kid you rescued attempting to paddle over on your board. They're not having much luck. "It's okay! They said there was a shark!" 

"A shark?" Undyne, you presume that's her name, looks out over the water and then back to you. "I was swimming all over the place and I didn't see anything!" 

"But...but I saw something huge swimming and..." you look her up and down then back out over the water. Oh.

"And what?!" 

You cover your mouth. You shouldn't laugh, it's a bad idea but you can't stop yourself from snorting. 

Undyne looks confused and still rather ticked when another voice calls out: 

"WHAT'S GOING ON OVER HERE?" 

You look over to see the tall skeleton you saw before striding out into the waves. They pause next to the kid. "WHY HELLO FRISK! WHEN DID YOU GET SUCH A LARGE SMALL BOAT? I THOUGH YOU ONLY HAD YOUR LITTLE ONE." 

Frisk starts and look around. The paddle board they were using before is nowhere to be seen. They pout for a moment before shaking their head. "It's not mine Papyrus, it's hers." Frisk points to you. 

Papyrus takes you in, soaking wet and probably looking like a deer in headlights before splashing closer. He's the same size as Undyne and the two of them tower of you. Papyrus stares at you for a moment and you feel yourself starting to sweat. His sockets are pitch black and empty. Oh man, this is both terrifying and exhilarating. 

"WOWIE! YOUR HAIR IS SUPER EXCITING!" He suddenly shouts, making you jump. "IT LOOKS ALMOST LIKE GRILLBY'S!" He pats your head (he's wearing gloves? in the water?). He frowns, the motion odd on his skeletal face. "HMM IT'S NOT WARM LIKE HIS THOUGH. IT'S RATHER WET ACTUALLY." 

"Papyrus!" Undyne snaps. "Don't get chummy! This punk was trying to snatch Frisk away!" 

"No, I swear I wasn't!" you say quickly, putting your hands up. "Look, I thought I saw a shark and they can be dangerous. I was just trying to get...Frisk?" You look to them and they nod. "Frisk out of the water. But I guess...I just saw you and um...jumped to conclusions?"

The pair of monsters blink at you for a moment. Then, right at the same moment, they both burst into laughter. Undyne claps a hand on your back hard enough to make you pitch forward. Ow! 

"So I tackled you off your weird boat thing for nothing! Ha ha ha!" Undyne gives you a wide grin.

"YOU TACKLED THEM?" 

"Uh, yeah! Didn't you see my awesome leap?" 

Papyrus guiltily rubs at the back of his skull. "I WAS PUTTING THE FINISHING TOUCHES ON MY SCULPTURE! EVERY OUNCE OF MY FOCUS WAS OCCUPIED!" 

"Aw man, you totally missed it! Hey punk, wanna do it again so he can see?" 

You quickly shake your head. "I'm good thanks." 

Undyne taps her chin with one sharply nailed finger. "That was a pretty cool move yourself, pulling them out of the water like that. You must be pretty strong." She suddenly snatches your arm, making you flex. "Hmm. Not bad, but not as good as mine!" 

She flexes for good measure. They are really impressive. 

"NOR MINE!" Papyrus crows, similarly flexing. His arms...they're just bone. There's no muscle there whatsoever. But he's posing so proudly, you can't bring yourself to mention that. 

"Yeah, really impressive," you say, trying to hide your smile. 

Frisk finally manages to paddle over to the three of you. You reach out and steady the board. "Hey, I hope I didn't scare you." 

They shake their head, beaming at you. "That was awesome! I've always wanted to surf!" 

"Well, hey, come by the surf shop down that way," you say, pointing in the direction you came from. "It's called Surf Free. Can't miss it. I give lessons Wednesday through Saturday."

"Surfing huh?" Undyne looks thoughtful for a moment before breaking into a wide. "Sounds fun! Count me in!"

"ME TOO!"

You can't stop yourself from giggling at the mental image of a skeleton on a surfboard. But then again, there's plenty of merch out there that already uses that exact image. "Sounds good to me!" 

Papyrus suddenly takes your hand. "BROTHER! THIS HUMAN IS GOING TO TEACH ME TO SURF!" He drags you out of the water and Undyne helps you out by grabbing your board, dumping Frisk into the water and carrying it out with her. Papyrus leads you to the mound of sand next to his finished sculpture. You were right; there's a skull sitting atop a mound of sand. He blinks sleepily at you.

"surfing huh?" This skeleton's voice is softer than the booming yelling of his brother. "you do remember that you sink in the water, right paps?" 

Papyrus goes dead still for a moment before throwing his hands up in the air with a devastated, "NYOO HOO! I COMPLETELY FORGOT! HUMAN!" He whirls on you, taking your hands with his. "IS IT TRUE THAT I WILL NOT BE ABLE TO SURF?"

Oh dang, you didn't think about that. But... he doesn't even have lungs does he? He's a skeleton! But you can't imagine sinking into the ocean would be fun for him. You don't want to crush this enthusiastic monster's hopes but... "Well...um, you could...stay in the shallows? You're really tall, you'd still be able to surf the small waves without worrying about sinking if you fell off." 

Papyrus beams at you, his expression changing from devastation to joy at a speed that leaves you dizzy. He hugs you, lifting you up into the air. "THANK YOU HUMAN! I AM HAPPY WITH THAT!" 

The tightness of his hug takes your breath away and thanks to the coating of salt water in your throat, you start coughing. Papyrus puts you down in alarm, patting your back. 

"Are you okay?" Frisk asks with concern. 

"Yeah," you cough, fighting to get your breath back. "I think I just swallowed some sea water." 

"THEN YOU NEED A DRINK TO CLEAR YOUR THROAT, RIGHT?" Papyrus nods knowingly. "ALLOW US TO TREAT YOU HUMAN!" 

"Oh, no that's-" You break off into more coughing. 

"why don't we go to grillby's new place?" The skull in the sand pipes up. "plenty of drinks there."

"EXCELLENT IDEA! EVEN THOUGH IT IS JUST AS GREASY AS BEFORE I CAN BEAR IT FOR THE SAKE OF HER THROAT!" 

They all seem set on it, so you decide to go along. "Okay, thanks guys. I just gotta get my shoes. They're back that way." 

"I'll get 'em," Undyne volunteers. "I'm fast!" 

"I'M FASTER!" 

"Oh yeah?!" 

The two of them take off running before you can protest and it's just you, Frisk and what you are still hoping is an entire skeleton buried in the sand. At least she left your board before she took off. 

"C'mon, help me dig him out," Frisk says, tugging at your hand. "Otherwise he'll just sit here all day." 

The skull grins. "what can i say? i'm sans motivation." 

Frisk kneels and starts digging at the sand and a moment later, you do the same. The skeleton watches you. It's a little unsettling but you notice that instead of the blank black sockets that Papyrus has, his contains two fuzzy circles of light that follow your movements. His mouth is shaped differently too and seems to be stuck in a smile that shifts a little as he talks.

"that's my name by the way." 

You snort. "What, Motivation?" 

His grin grows a little. "nah, just sans. i don't have any motivation, as previously stated." 

"Ah, well it is nice to meet you Sans. You said we're going to Grillby's? Is that the new bar I heard about?" 

You unearth a bony hand. The digits wiggle at you. "yep." 

"I thought it wasn't opening for a few more days?" 

Sans uses his newly freed hand to scratch at his skull. "officially yeah but it's been open to monsters for a while now. we'll give you a pass," he says with a wink.

Well that's cool! You'll be able to brag about visiting the new bar early to Faith. Papyrus said something about your hair being similar to Grillby's? You have to assume that's the monster who runs to the place. You wonder what he means by that.

By the time Undyne and Papyrus return, you and Frisk have managed to free Sans from the sand and he is indeed a whole skeleton and not just a head. He's a lot smaller than his brother and a little more round. How that works with just bones, you have no idea. His simple t-shirt and shorts combo is filthy, covered in sand and what looks like ketchup stains. 

"I SEE YOU'VE UNEARTHED MY BROTHER!" Papyrus says happily. He doesn't look winded as all. Undyne however-

"I...hate...the heat!" she pants. She holds out your shoes and towel. "I hope this is yours or we just stole some stuff." 

You take your stuff. "Nope, this is mine. Thanks guys." 

Papyrus leans down and picks his brother up, shaking him to dislodge the last of the sand. "YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE TO WASH OFF BEFORE WE GO HOME! YOU'VE GOT SAND IN ALL OF YOUR CREVICES!"

"i'm gonna have to change my name to sand the skeleton huh?"

You snicker as everyone else groans and follow the odd group as they head towards the Walk. Papyrus offers to carry your board for you and you once again can't bring yourself to say no. But he handles it with care and the tension soon leaves your shoulders. Frisk bounds ahead with Undyne as she chatters to Papyrus about someone called Alphys. Sans is walking at more of a easy shamble and you find yourself walking next to him. You notice his eye lights keep moving up to stare at your hair. You run your hands through it; it's air dried quite a bit by now.

"Does it look okay?" 

Sans' gaze drops back down to your face. "yeah?" he says with clear confusion. 

You laugh a little. "Sorry, I just had it done this morning. I'm testing out a friend's new hair dye technique." 

"oh. well, i dunno much about all that," he says, tapping at his own hairless skull. "but it looks pretty cool. reminds me of someone i know." 

"Papyrus said the same thing earlier. Is it the guy who runs the bar?"

"that's him." Sans grins widely. "i'm just burning to see how he's gonna react." 

Chapter Text

When you first moved to the city, the Walk was a place that could very easily be compared to a city of toy blocks halfway completed by a child before they got bored and left it to the elements. Mismatched buildings that never opened, a few homes and a rather abundant amount of planted trees. Now however...well it's certainly still mismatched but now there's an almost otherworldly quality to it not only thanks to the many monsters that constantly inhabit it. On one side of the street you might see a typical store for sunglasses. And on the other side a clothing store boasting sizes of XXXXXL and '6 and 8 Limbed Clothing Now Available!' and a 'Scale Repair and Cleansing' shop right next to that. Some of the old buildings have been remade into monster homes, though those tend to be a little more tucked out of sight away from the main plaza strip. And of course, thanks to the influx of customers, some brand name stores have opened up as well. It had certainly been an experience to walk into a smaller version of Target and see monsters both buying food and working the registers.

Then again, Target has always felt like an alternate reality. 

Thanks to all of that, the whole area feels like a strange clash of a lively downtown city and a fantasy nerd's dream come true in a mixture of modern architecture and magical cobblestone. You come by fairly often thanks to the dance studio being just up the road. You just can't resist the urge to walk around sometimes just for the sheer joy of seeing such a wild range of people living their lives now that they've been freed to go where they wish.

You reach the stairs leading up from the beach to the docks section of the Walk and follow the strange group up. The docks themselves are quite large, big enough to hold a fancy seafood restaurant, a general beach ware hut and a small shop just for those shell collecting enthusiasts. You've been inside yourself and you have to admit the collection is really impressive. There's also a surf board holding rack watched over by a monster you've since learned is called a Woshua. You hurry and catch up to Papyrus. 

"Hey, I'm gonna leave my board here," you say, taking it from him. The monster shakes excitedly as you walk over to them, the water inside the glass like container on their back sloshing with the movement. The small rubber duck inside doesn't seem to react but you haven't quite let go of the suspicion that it might be sentient. But you've never been able to bring yourself to ask.

"Welcome." They stare up at you with wide eyes. There's a pile of cleaning supplies at their feet, including several made specifically for surf boards. "Just holding or would you like a wash?" 

You can't help yourself against the hopeful glimmer in their eyes and fish out a few extra coins and your water proof pass card you keep tucked in the pocket of your suit. The pass covers a certain number of times you can leave your board here but the version you've got doesn't include the wash. Usually you prefer to do that yourself but when the Woshua took over, you found yourself curious and let them once it once. The job they did was so amazing that you now regret not upgrading your card. Oh well. It'll be time to replace it soon enough. Besides, there's something very satisfying about dropping coins into a bucket. "Wash please."

You set the board on the rack, get your card stamped and leave the ecstatic monster to it, hurrying back to the others. They lead you further inland and as you go, several monsters out on the street greet Frisk by name. They respond back cheerfully, grinning and waving with an ease that tells you they're used to the attention. Something tickles in the back of your mind, a feeling that you should be remembering something but for the life of you, you can't figure out what it is.

"They sure are popular," you remark to Sans. 

Sans gives you a look that's mixed between amusement and confusion. "yeah, heh, being the angel of monsters will do that." 

Angel? You look back to Frisk who has torn off from your group to hug a small yellow monster with horns but no arms to speak of. There's another monster too that must be their parent but instead of yellow their skin is bright green. They too have no arms but they've got a watering can in their mouth they're using to water the plants set up outside a small house. "What do you-" 

"Woah!" 

You look back down to see Frisk and the yellow monster standing in front of you. Frisk gestures to them. "This is MK!" 

The arm-less kid is staring up at you with glimmering eyes. "You're a surfer?" 

"Uh, yeah, I surf," you say, smiling at them. 

"That's so cool!" MK's feet dance with excitement. "Hey, so do you think, like, someone like me could ever surf?" 

Someone like them? You're confused for a second before you realize what they mean. You look them over for a moment, thinking. Surfing without arms...well.... "It um...it would be really hard, but not impossible," you say gently. "There's actually a really famous surfer who lost her arm when she was young and she's won several tournaments since then." 

It's like you've announced a second Christmas. Frisk and MK cheer loudly, beaming with happiness. "You have to come with me when I start lessons!" Frisk says to MK firmly. "I'll text you later!" 

"Yeah!" 

Frisk takes your arm, pulling you to catch up with the rest of the group who have continued up the street. Soon they lead you towards the center of the Walk. The new and improved Walk has been set up in a sun like formation with seven walkways extending out from a large circular open center that holds a large fountain. It's currently under renovation and there's a mixed crew of both monsters and humans working on it. Directly in front of the fountain is a low platform where various entertainment groups can set up and perform. You've actually attended concerts here in the past and you've got a quiet hope that you'll be able to perform there too. But the waiting list is massive, not to mention now that this place has become a huge tourist site the board in charge of selecting entertainment is very picky. 

One day you'll dance there. You're sure of it.

Frisk bounds across the square, once again greeted warmly by most of the monsters they pass by. There's an itch in your mind that you're forgetting something but it's pushed aside as you approach a building directly across from the direction you just came from. It's right on the edge of one of the streets leading away from the center, it's front facing towards the center. It's a two story place, elegant yet rustic with a mixture of stone and wood making up the exterior of the building. A sign hung above a large window to the left of the door identifies the place as Grillby's in slightly curvy writing. There's a small patio directly in front of this window filled with small wooden tables and chairs that each hold a glass sphere in the center. Inside each one a small flame burns on seemingly nothing. How in the world does that work? You desperately want to examine one closer (is it hot to the touch? how is it burning without wax or air?) but Undyne and Frisk have already reached the door and are wrestling to see who can open it first. There's a sign posted there that says 'Join Us Opening Day May 7th'.  

Papyrus sighs with great suffering. "NOW YOU MUST BRACE YOURSELF HUMAN, FOR THIS PLACE IS FILLED WITH NOTHING BUT FOODS OF THE GREASIEST KIND. GRILLBY IS NICE ENOUGH BUT SADLY HIS FOOD CANNOT COMPARE TO THAT OF THE GREAT PAPYRUS." 

Greasy food huh? That's not exactly the vibe you're getting from this place...wait, how does a skeleton even eat?  "You cook?" you ask instead of asking what you're sure is a rude question. 

He beams at you. "THAT'S RIGHT! PAPYRUS, SPAGHETTI EXTRAORDINAIRE AND MASTER CHEF! I SHALL HAVE TO MAKE YOU SOME LATER! BUT FOR NOW WE'LL HAVE TO STICK WITH GRILLBY'S GREASY OPTIONS!" 

He too heads in and you hesitate just for a moment, looking down at yourself. It's not a bikini and thanks to your shorts it certainly covers more than enough to be modest, but it is still a swimsuit. Is it okay to wear it to what is clearly a restaurant? Still, as Sans heads in, his own outrageously bright green swim trunks and plain white shirt still trailing bits of sand, you shake off the worry that wearing a bathing suit inside isn't appropriate. Everyone else is in swimwear too and they didn't seem to think it a big deal. 

You step inside and hear the soft tinkle of a bell from somewhere above you. Looking around you take in the warm and welcoming interior of the restaurant. It's quite large inside, perhaps a little smaller than a typical family sit down restaurant. The polished wooden floor gleams in the gentle light provided by numerous small lamps attached to the walls made of dark polished stone. There's only one window, but it's large enough that it gives an excellent view of the courtyard outside. You can even see the construction team hard at work on the fountain. There are a few fans up on the ceiling, spinning lazily but despite that, it's actually a bit warm in here, warmer than you'd expect for a business so close to the beach. 

Several booths line the walls and tables fill the center of the room. Most of them are empty at the moment but you do see a bunny monster with her head placed on the table of the booth she's seated at as well as several dogs crowded around on of the center tables. They seem to be playing a game of cards. You grin at the sight, reminded of that famous dog painting. You can't help but wonder if they get the irony.

You hear Frisk and Sans snickering and following their gaze, you get your answer as to why it's so warm in here. On the very back wall you see a set of stairs that must lead to the upper level, a door you presume opens to the kitchen, a jukebox and a fancy looking bar and a shelf back-lit with soft light that is absolutely filled to the brim with a wide variety of bottles and glasses. And standing in front of that, polishing a glass cup is a fire monster. Flames entirely cover the parts of his body not hidden by the crisp bartender outfit he's wearing. His head holds a fairly solid shape until it reaches the part where his hair would be and then it breaks apart into shifting tongues of fire; sparks almost lazily lift from the top of his 'hair' every few seconds. Your jaw drops and you can't stop a little noise of wonder from escaping you. 

Your expression must really be something because Undyne, Frisk and Papyrus all break into roaring laughter and even Sans has his head turned into his arm as he snorts loudly. The commotion causes the patrons to stop talking as they turn their heads to stare at you. The bartender too looks up from his polishing and...well you assume he's looking at you too. He's too far away to see if he's actually got eyes behind those thin square glasses somehow perched on his face. The flames on his head release a sharp pop as his entire head brightens for a brief moment. For some reason, this makes Sans nearly keel over with the force of his wheezing laughter. 

Undyne throws her arm around you, propelling you forward to the bar and the man of fire still staring at you. The dogs too watch you as you are nearly sent flying across the floor by the force of Undyne's push. Most of them look simply curious (save one squinting fiercely that looks like they're chewing on a blackened dog treat) and you can only offer a helpless smile as you pass. Then you find yourself at the bar, Undyne's fingers in your hair as she holds it up in a mimicry of the monster's flames. "Grillby look! We found a mini you!" 

So this is Grillby. He's tall, easily a good foot or more above your own height. But then again, most monsters are insanely tall. Now you understand why they got so exited upon seeing your own flame colored hair. Of course, it can't compare to the real thing. Undyne pulls her hands away and you run your own fingers through it in an attempt to make it look semi-presentable again. Probably useless thanks to the ocean water in it. You look up at the bartender and you're pleasantly pleased to find that he does have eyes behind his glasses. Or rather, eye shaped orbs of light that are brighter than the rest of the flames that make up his face. You're mesmerized by the golden color swirling there and after a embarrassingly long number of seconds of silence, you realize you're staring. 

You flush, awkwardly lowering your hands from where they had frozen on your head. "Um, hi," you say lamely. 

Grillby says absolutely nothing. He's just...staring at you.

You squirm. "I um, we-" You jump as Papyrus's gloved hand suddenly slaps down on your shoulder. The squeak of surprise gets caught in your throat and you cough harshly.

"GRILLBY! WE REQUIRE DRINKS FOR US AND OUR NEW HUMAN FRIEND! THEY SWALLOWED PART OF THE OCEAN AND HURT THEIR THROAT!" Papyrus pushes you down onto one of the stools and you're still a little too embarrassed to resist at all. He sits down too and Undyne claims the seat to your right. Frisk scrambles up next to Undyne and Sans takes the last seat on the end. He's still snickering to himself, the lights in his sockets bright. 

"hey uh, you okay there grillbz?" he asks as his grin grows. "for a guy made of fire you're looking a little frozen."

Grillby starts, the flames of his head snapping quietly. He sets the glass still in his hand down and bends slightly as he reaches for something under the bar. He straightens and hands you all menus. You smile your thanks and peer down at the items listed. It's printed on thick parchment like paper and has a surprisingly long list of options. Of course, most of them are various types of drinks and half of those are non-alcoholic. All of them have little symbols next to them. There's a small flame, a black circle and a star. 

"The flame means it's a mixture of monster magic and human ingredients!" Frisk says helpfully, leaning around Undyne. "The circle is human only and the star is monster only!"

That's so cool! You're definitely getting something with monster magic in it. You've of course already tried the smaller snacks like monster candy and Nice Cream that almost immediately went up for sale once the monsters expanded out from the mountain and set up shop here. They're fantastically tasty but you've heard that monster cooked food is on a whole different level. But no, they just promised you a drink and your pocket is sadly empty at the moment. But there's no harm in looking over the food options right?

Your mouth immediately starts watering as you eagerly turn your attention to the food options. There's several types of burgers, fries, something called a hotshake as well as milkshakes with a huge variety of flavors, hot dogs, pumpkin rings, ghost fruit (that one's a magical item and you can't help but wonder if it's an actual ghost of a fruit) and few other creations that you honestly have no idea as to what they could be. 

"HUMAN ARE YOU OKAY? YOUR STOMACH SEEMS TO BE MAKING NOISES." 

You blush again.

Undyne barks with laughter. "Your face is almost as red as your hair! And mine!" 

"Sorry, guess I'm a little hungry," you mumble, turning your face down to the menu. Oh, the letters gleam when you angle the menu slightly, that's cool. 

"Well we're at a restaurant! Order something!" she says and you can actually hear the eye roll in her voice. 

"Oh, no that's fine, I left my money at home. A drink is all I-" 

"We already said we would treat you!" Frisk pipes up. "C'mon you've got to at least have some fries!"

"Yeah, just have Sans pay for you!" 

"ehh, why me? i'm not the one who tackled her off her board." 

Grillby tilts his head slightly in question and Sans snorts. How he, a skeleton with no visible nose manages that, you have no idea. 

Frisk eagerly pops up, waving for Grillby's attention. "It was so cool! She thought she saw a shark in the water so she paddled over and just whoosh-!" They make a swooping motion with their arm- "And put me on her board and it was like that scene in that movie about the blue alien and we were totally surfing-"

"And I thought Frisk was getting kidnapped again so I swam up and tackled this nerd off the board!" Undyne cuts in proudly, once again throwing her arm around your shoulders. 

Again? Who exactly is this kid? "Do attempted kidnappings happen often?" 

"NOT SO MUCH ANYMORE," Papyrus says, patting Frisk on the head. "WE IN THE ROYAL GUARD AND EVEN THE HUMAN ARMY TAKE WATCHING OUT FOR OUR FRISK VERY SERIOUSLY." 

Frisk, embarrassed by the topic change, slaps the menu. "Let's eat, I'm hungry!" 

Everyone orders their food (Papyrus gets only a milkshake) and you wind up ordering a plate of fries and one of the 'Sparking Sodas', frosted ice flavor. It's a pure magic drink and you have to assume that it's some kind of monster soda. You hand the menu back to Grillby, who still hasn't said a word this whole time.

Oh man, you hope you aren't actually intruding. It's hard to tell if he's mad, surprised or just quiet. Can he even speak? You don't want to be caught staring again looking for a mouth. "Um, thanks for letting me eat here, I heard you don't officially open to the general public for a few more days." 

His head flashes that bright color again. This time, you do catch a thin line of flame, the same bright golden color as his eyes stretching over his lower face in a light smile. Ah ha! So he does have a mouth! Of a sort anyway. He nods to you before he collects the rest of the menus and disappears back into the kitchen. The moment he leaves, Sans wheezes with laughter again, putting his head down on the tabletop. Papyrus and Frisk snicker as well. Undyne is simply staring at you with a sharp toothed grin wide enough that it sends a chill up your spine.

"Am I...missing something?" you ask the laughing group. 

Sans lifts his head slightly, wiping at an imaginary tear. "oh man, i haven't seen grillbz that surprised since the time a stray cat got loose in the very first bar he set up on the surface."

"SANS, EVERYONE KNOWS YOU BROUGHT THAT CAT IN," Papyrus says as dryly as he can while fighting to keep a smile off his skull. "IT WASN'T EVEN A MONSTER CAT, IT WAS AN ANIMAL TYPE CAT!" 

He gasps dramatically, though it's ruined by the smug grin on his face. "bro, i would never." 

You glance back to the kitchen door. That was him being surprised? Huh. A small grin lifts your mouth again. Wow, a monster made of fire, introduced by skeletons and a quite honestly still frightening fish monster. You're never going to stop being delighted by discovering all the different kinds of beings now living in your world. 

A few minutes pass and then the door to the kitchen swings out, propped by Grillby's hip. He's got a tray balanced on each hand (each glowing, flame covered hand, monsters are so cool!) and easily slips back behind the bar, passing out plates of food. Sans, like you, just ordered fries. Frisk and Undyne each have a burger and Papyrus almost begrudgingly sips at his milkshake. Grillby then sets the trays aside and pulls an empty tapered glass off the shelf along with a bottle filled with a bright blue liquid. He sets the glass down and makes sure you're watching before giving you another small smile.

In a single fluid motion he pops the cork of the bottle off, catches it in his other hand and pours the drink into the glass. He then pulls another smaller bottle out but this one has some kind of funnel set on the end of it. He tips it slightly and you see a small stream of what looks like actual snowflakes pour out from the small opening. It glitters and spreads out like a miniature snowfall into your drink. The edge of the glass frosts over on the inside, making the entire drink shimmer. You feel your jaw drop. 

Grillby delicately grips the edge of the glass near the bottom and pushes it towards you. "Please enjoy," he says softly. "Drink it slowly; it's cold." His voice is deep and slightly hoarse, like he's not used to speaking. He's got a bit of an accent that you don't recognize; it gives an almost rounded lilt to gentle crackling tone of his words.

You accept the glass, smiling with delight. "Thanks!" It is indeed cold to the touch but not unpleasantly so. You pick it up and, aware of pretty much everyone watching you closely, take a sip. The liquid hits your tongue, cool and light and bubbly, and immediately soothes your throat. But then the cool feeling spreads past your throat and mouth, racing down your skin and you gasp at the sensation. A small cloud escapes your mouth, like you've suddenly stepped into a freezer. The cloud of air itself sparkles with tiny snowflakes before it vanishes, mimicking the cold feeling pooling in your chest.

"Whoa!" You take another slow sip, exhaling when you've finished. Another cloud of steam billows out, a little thicker than before. You're on the verge of a full on geek out and you have to press your hand over your mouth to hide your ever growing smile.

Frisk laughs loudly. "Your fries are gonna get cold!" they point out with a wide grin. 

Oh, right yeah, you completely forgot about the steaming plate in front of you. You set your drink down and start to reach for the glistening plate of fries.

"hey, want some-" Sans starts to offer you a ketchup bottle but Papyrus quickly nabs it and tightens the lid as he gives Sans a look. 

"GRILLBY DOESN'T NEED YOU SPILLING KETCHUP ALL OVER THE PLACE AGAIN," he chides as he hands you the bottle. "AND THE FRIES ARE GREASY ENOUGH WITHOUT BEING DUNKED IN THIS STUFF." 

You're a little confused but still laugh at Sans' slight pout. The fries are absolutely amazing. They're the perfect blend of crispy and greasy and the ketchup adds just the right amount of tartness to the saltiness of the fries. Like the drink, each bite sends pleasant tingles of what you have to assume is magic racing through your veins. It's almost like a shot of caffeine but far more enjoyable and tangible. Man, this is truly food sent from heaven!

Heaven...angel. Sans said Frisk was...

Your sharp inhale of realization makes you choke on your fries. The others jump at the sudden outburst of coughing.

"What gives?!" Unydne smacks your back so hard it only makes you cough more. "You've got your drink, why're you still coughing?"

You wave her off, snatching your drink. You take a deep gulp, gasping at the rush of cold so strong it makes your fingers, ears and nose tingle. You blow out a thick cloud before turning to Frisk. They're watching you with amusement tinged with slight concern. "You're the Ambassador!" you croak, fighting to get your breath back. "You're the freaking Ambassador to monsters, right?!"

There's complete silence, save for the quiet crackle of Grillby's flames and the soft jazz playing from the jukebox. Undyne cracks first, her first burst of laughter acting like the first hole in a dam. Then everyone, including the dogs behind you and the bunny in the both absolutely howl with laughter. Grillby too puts a hand up over his mouth area, his head flashing with streaks of blue and white as his shoulders bounce silently. Heat rushes into your face. Well. It would be very nice if the earth decided to collapse under you right about now.

"You didn't know?!" Undyne slams one hand on the bar top, clutching at her stomach with the other. You're surprised the wood holds up under the force. "This whole time, you had no idea?!" 

"I-I..." You are literally too embarrassed to form words. You're mortified but holy crap, everything makes sense now. The greetings from every monster you passed, the fact that this kid was hanging out with monsters clearly older than them (at least...you're pretty sure at least Undyne and Sans are older than them) and even the way they carried themselves. For God's sake, a stranger with fire like hair scooped them out of the water and they just went with it! After freeing an entire race of beings thought to not even exist, getting pulled up onto a surfboard by a stranger must've been almost boring for them compared to everything else.

Sans, laughing so hard this time that actual tears form in the corners of his sockets, looks in danger of toppling off his stool. "so you-snrk-do you often go around saving random people then joining them for a drink just because you feel like it?" 

"H-Hey, you guys invited me," you say in your defense. "And a lot of the people who come into my shop are either tourists who know no personal boundaries or locals who know what's it's like to work around here and invite me to hang out after shifts. It's a lot easier and a lot more fun to just go with it." 

Plus...well, you're not one to say no to free anything. But you've got enough pride left not to say that. 

Frisk looks absolutely delighted with you. They tug on Papyrus' sleeveless tank, pulling him down to whisper in his ear (ear hole? Freaking skeletons). You glace to Grillby, noticing that his golden eyes are still scrunched slightly with mirth. What a freaking impression you must've made. Well, you did come waltzing in here with fire dyed hair stiff with saltwater wearing a bathing suit. A good impression was never in your future. 

"THAT'S JUST WHAT I WAS THINKING FRISK!" Papyrus turns to you, also beaming widely. "YOU TRULY MUST HAVE A KIND SOUL!" 

Huh? 

"TO BRAVELY THROW YOURSELF INTO DANGER TO RESCUE A STRANGER! EVEN THOUGH I AM A LITTLE SURPRISED YOU DIDN'T RECOGNIZE THIS HUMAN, THEY ARE QUITE FAMOUS AFTER ALL." Papyrus wipes at his sockets dramatically before plopping his hands on your shoulders. "TRULY YOU ARE A ONE OF THE NICEST HUMANS I HAVE EVER MET! AND I HAVE MET QUITE A FEW!" 

Okay, this praise is almost worse than the laughing. "I just did what anyone would've done," you mumble, gently easing out of his grip. "Besides, it's not like there was any actual danger." 

"Seriously though, how did you not recognize them?" Undyne asks. "I mean, they've been on tv and everything!" 

You rub your neck, grinning a little sheepishly. "Honestly, I have a friend who's a lot more into reading up on current events. She's kinda like my personal newspaper; if there's anything worth knowing, she'll tell me. I haven't watched the news or anything in quite a while." 

"It has been a while since I was on tv." Frisk shrugs. "I've grown a lot since then. I probably just look different." 

"Still!" 

"Your food is going to get cold." Grillby speaks up, coming to your rescue.

You shoot him a grateful glance before finishing off your fries. Even slightly cooled, they taste amazing. You finish them off and drain the rest of the Sparking Soda, giggling a little despite yourself. For your first magic drink, perhaps it was worth a little embarrassment. And the monsters themselves seem to find your blunder both hilarious and reassuring. Thinking about it from that point of view, you understand why. Being such an important member of the monster community and, well, the entire freaking world, you have to imagine that some people have probably tried to get close to Frisk purely for the opportunities and power they could gain from that. It's sickening to think about. 

Sans composes himself fairly quickly. "heh, you know what kid, you're all right." He lifts a ketchup soaked fry in toast to you. 

You duck your head in embarrassment again. Grillby's glowing hand comes into your view, cleaning up your finished dishes. Looking up, you meet his gaze and once again find yourself captivated by the golden color of his eyes. You blink. "Uh, thanks for the food," you say quickly, a genuine smile lifting your face. "It was amazing." 

He nods again, his thin smile flashing and leaves with the dishes. The sudden decrease in warmth makes you shiver a little as you stand and thank everyone for the food. Frisk pulls out their phone and asks for your number. Usually you aren't one to give it out to just random strangers but...

You have the feeling that these guys aren't going to be just a passing thing. After all, if nothing else, you're absolutely going to be coming back here as often as you can and you get the feeling you'll see them in here a lot. Besides, Faith is going to flip when you tell her about everything that's just happened and there's no way she'll rest until she meets them for herself. 

And, if you're completely honest with yourself, you are insanely curious about the quiet bartender. That alone makes you want to come back.

You say one more goodbye before heading out to retrieve your board and get cleaned up for your dance session. You don't notice the monster himself come out of the kitchen. Nor do you see the way his flames flicker as he watches you go. 

Chapter Text

The light of the studio flickers weakly several times before brightening into a steady glow that fills the space with flat light. Looks like you're the first one here. You set your bag down in the corner and slip off your tennis shoes and stuff the socks inside. The dark tile floor is cold and it feels wonderful after the trek in the sun. The room is rectangular, the walls to your left and right much shorter than the wall directly behind and in front of you. A massive mirror takes up the entire wall and your reflection follows you as you move to the ancient stereo setup. You pull out your iPod and hook it up, pulling up your warm up playlist. A fast paced, vocal-less instrumental piece fills the small space, making your bones thrum pleasantly as you move towards the center of the room. You simply stretch, moving into a practiced set of simple dance moves to warm up. 

It's almost hard to keep yourself paced to the slow and steady movement of your usual warm up. The tingling effect of the magical drink has all but faded thanks to the time it took you to retrieve your board, change and make the hike to the studio. You almost regret not taking your car but until your next paycheck comes in, you need to save where you can. Still, there's a magical energy seeping through your limbs, filling you with a pleasant cool sensation that offsets the slight burn of stretching. Soon, you find yourself gliding into improvised movements, letting the sweet thrum of the violin guide your limbs. Your feet dance lightly, making only the softest of sounds against the tile.

You spin, catching a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. Your hair is bright, flowing freely like a rising fire. Your hands travel upwards, grasping your head for a moment before you bend and twist your arms as you jut your hip to the side. Pride and awe makes you smile widely: Link really outdid himself this time. It looks absolutely amazing. Of course...well, it can't really compare to the real thing, now can it? You continue to dance but your thoughts float back to this morning. You're still slightly mortified at the fact it took you a good portion of an hour to realize you were hanging out with the ambassador of monsters. But on that note, it does make Undyne's response in tackling you off your board make more sense. How many times has that poor kid almost been kidnapped? Even you had heard about a few attempts back when the barrier first fell but the way they acted makes you wonder if it happened a lot more than just occasionally. And yet, despite that, once the misunderstanding was cleared, they immediately warmed up to you, even treated you to food. Even knowing about the generally welcoming nature of monsters, it's a little surprising. 

Still, you're happy. And you really hope that Frisk does show up for surfing lessons. Something in your gut tells you that you'll see them again, probably sooner rather than later. And...well, even if the lessons don't work out, you'll see them at Grillby's again, right? Grillby himself will always be there at least. You're very curious about the fire monster. You can't deny that the sight of living fire was absolutely thrilling. His food was amazing too. Part of you wants to drop everything and go back to try out the full menu. Would it be too forward of you to go back before the official opening day? He hadn't seemed to mind you coming with Frisk and company but...

You turn in time with the music and slip into sashays to the right, counting out the steps in your mind. As you turn again, moving to the left, you catch a flash of movement. Your easy smile grows into a larger grin as you meet the gaze of your dance partner Tyler. His eyes flicker up to meet yours for just a moment and he returns your smile with a smirk of his own before he returns to studying your movements. He follows with barely any delay. He's always been quick when it comes to following along and you're not exactly doing a difficult routine. You pick up the pace, moving faster and he mimics you with near precision. 

A challenge huh? 

You shift into more complicated motions, focusing specifically on quick steps and throwing in motions with your hands. Tyler's delay grows just slightly, until he moves to stand directly in front of you, blocking the view of the mirror. His brows raise in challenge even as sweat starts to bead on his forehead. You grin viciously and let him take the lead. The two of you fall into a back and forth duet, slowing and increasing your movements in time with the beat. The crescendo of the song approaches and he bends slightly, putting his weight on his right leg. You mirror him and the two of you twist as you jump and land at the exact moment the song ends.

"Whoo!" 

The cheer comes from the door to the studio where Faith is standing with the fourth member of your little dance group Liam. She's clapping her hands, a wide smile on her face. Liam, as per usual when you pull stunts like this, is trying very hard not to look impressed and failing. 

"Don't you two understand the concept of a warm up?" he asks dryly as the corners of his mouth twitch. 

"What, that little thing?" Tyler pants as he claps you on the back. "That was a warm up. But anyway, what is going on with your hair?" He puts a hand on your head, quickly drawing it back and making a face at the sweat soaked strands. 

You laugh and flick your head back and forth. "Isn't it great? Link's latest work of genius." 

"Mad genius I'd say," he says teasingly, pushing his dark blond hair back. It sticks up in spikes and for some reason, it reminds you of the crazy 'hair' of the monster bartender.

You eagerly look at Faith. "You are never gonna believe what happened after I left the salon." 

You give them a quick run down of what happened and they quickly go from howling with laughter at the image of you being tackled by a giant fish monster to staring with wonder as you describe the monster run bar, the patrons inside and the bartender himself. 

"He's made of fire?" Faith's eyes are sparkling. "Like, real, burning fire?" 

"Well I didn't exactly go sticking my hand in his hair." You don't mention that you were tempted and part of you still is. "But yeah. But he's...solid, you know? He looks like a guy but he's fire." 

She grins a little mischievously. "He must have gotten a kick out of your hair," she snickers, fluffing it a little. 

Oh man, you're gonna have to get used to people touching your hair now, aren't you? "I think so? He's seems like a really quiet kind of person...monster. Sans, the uh, the skeleton-said he's hasn't seen Grillby so surprised in a long time though so I guess he did. Everyone else certainly got a kick out of it." 

Liam snickers, pulling his shoes out of the small blue bag hanging on his shoulder. "Shore, only you would run into the actual savior of an entire race and not recognize them." 

You flush a little. "In my defense, they admitted that they've grown since the last time they were on TV."

"I've got to see this for myself!" Faith declares, much less elegantly removing her shoes by actually kicking her shoes off. She manages to land one directly in the trash can, which thankfully is empty. Liam gives her a small clap of appreciation and she bows. "I say we go over tonight after we close up! It's a bar, it's gotta be open late right?" 

"Uh, well...it actually doesn't 'officially' open for another couple of days, remember?  The 7th is the day it opens to the public. It's probably best to wait until then." 

Faith pouts a little. "Fine. But I'm getting a picture of you with him when we go opening night, got that? I gotta show Link his handiwork next to the real thing." 

Well, you don't mind as long as Grillby is okay with it. "That sounds good to me. So opening night, all of us go over after practice?" 

Faith and Liam nod, but Tyler remains silent. He's got a thoughtful, almost faraway look on his face. 

You nudge him. "Hey space cadet, you wanna come with us to Grillby's opening night?"

“Huh?” He blinks and grimaces. “Sorry, what day is that?”

“The 7th. This Friday.”

 “Ah, I can’t that night. My uncle having another business party-sorry, social gathering.” He rolls his eyes. “He and my parents want me to be there.”

The rest of you groan loudly but with mutual understanding. As one of the original families to settle in the valley close to a thousand years ago, the Murray family owns several of the city’s largest industrial companies and runs a handful of others through contract. Tyler’s parents are head of the electrical company that powers most of the city. Or least, they did until the monster’s offered a much cheaper alternative means of power through some complicated machinery called the Core. It’s taken a long time to set up, especially with the distance between the mother machine and the city, but there are sections that are already benefiting from the cheaper power.

Naturally, Tyler’s parents weren’t exactly happy about it.  

“Which group is it for this time?” Liam asks.

“All of them?” Tyler shrugs. He’s far more interested in a performing lifestyle but as the oldest son he doesn’t have much of a choice in making an appearance at such events. “A big shot company head from Korea is coming and some kind of deal is in the works. Dear uncle Jeb is keeping quiet about what it is exactly.”

“Ah, my sweet homeland,” Liam drawls dryly. Adapting a hillbilly drawl he adds, “Sorry I can’t be of use as a translator buddy. See I’m from good old Arkansas and despite my devilishly handsome Asian features-”

Tyler shoves him not unkindly “Yeah, yeah. Are we gonna get to dancing or what?” 

“Right!” You turn to your iPod, determined not to let the mood grow sour. “I’m feeling hip hop today, you guys good with that?”

Met with a chorus of ‘yes’ you flip over to your hip hop playlist and soon lose yourself back in the music.

 ~~~~~~

As it turns out, you do see Frisk and the other monsters again very soon.

Actually, it’s the very next day.

Placing your chin in your hand, you watch them and fight to keep an amused grin off of your face while they explore the surf shop. Sans is currently stacking several different types of hats on top of Frisk’s head (they’ve got to be on at least hat number fifteen) while Papyrus and Undyne and a monster you haven’t met yet look at the various boards on display. This new monster is smaller than the others, though still perhaps a few inches taller than Sans. She’s bright yellow and shaped somewhat like a dinosaur with large square glasses perched on the edge of her snout. Her shoulders are hunched and she keeps glancing towards you like she’s worried that her companions are making too much noise.

While they are being a little noisy, you don’t mind. It’s a beach shop after all. People are generally very noisy when they come in here.

“Hey!” Undyne calls out, her ear fins flapping excitedly. Her voice carries clearly over to you, making the other customers fall silent for a moment. “I wanna use this board for the lessons!” She’s pointing to a black board with sharp lightning streaks of red and blue.

“Those are the boards for sale,” you answer back. You point to the far wall. “The rentals are over there. I’ll be over to help you pick out the best one in just a minute!”

The store manager, a man with darkly tanned skin (save for the stark white shape of sunglasses on his face) and not a single strand of hair on him slides up next to you, bringing with him the smell of sunblock. “I take it you know these guys?” he asks with a grin of his own.

“I met them yesterday. It’s a…well, it’s an interesting story.”

Trey lifts his hairless brows. “Huh. That’s the ambassador kid, isn’t it?”

Your eye twitches. So even Trey recognized them on sight. “Ha, yeah that’s them. Anyway, I’ll finish up this inventory report and get them started.”

“I got it, go ahead. The big guy’s looking a little restless.” He nods towards Papyrus who is indeed hopping from foot to foot. He’s wearing the same bright red swim shorts from yesterday but now he’s also got a lime green shirt with a painted skeleton riding a surfboard. The colors clash terribly but somehow it suits him.

You thank Trey and head over. “Hey guys, long time no see.”

“HELLO MINI GRILLBY!” Papyrus greets your warmly, his sockets nearly sparkling with excitement. “I BET YOU DID NOT EXPECT TO SEE US AGAIN SO SOON!”

Mini-Grillby huh? “I was a little surprised when you walked in,” you admit as Sans and Frisk join you. You crane your neck back to look at the tower of hats on Frisk’s head. That’s got to be every hat in the store! Their face is innocently blank. Sans’ grin grows slightly when you look at him. You consider commenting on the hat stack but decide to go along with whatever it is they’re doing and merely smile sweetly. “So! Who all is surfing?”

“Me, the kid and this bag of bones!” Undyne announces, jabbing her thumb at herself, Frisk and Papyrus. “The other two are gonna be nerds and sit under an umbrella and watch!”

Well you kind of expected that from Sans from what you’ve seen of him. You curiously look at the dinosaur like monster. You introduce yourself, holding out a hand. “I didn’t see you yesterday!”

The monster accepts your hand; her skin is scaly and warm. “Um…yes I was busy, um working. And s-stuff. I’m Alphys.” Her gaze keeps darting to your hair and back to your face. “W-wow, Undyne told me your hair was um, was like fire and uh, it’s very p-pretty.”

“Aw, thank you,” you smile warmly at her. She seems a little nervous. “So, if Undyne told you about me, I guess you heard what happened.”

Alphys smiles a little, a soft giggle escaping her. “Yes, I’m sorry I m-missed it.”

“See?” Undyne throws her arm around your shoulder. “We gotta do it again so Al and Paps can see!”

“Pass.”

“I’m up for it!” Frisk suddenly pipes up, throwing their hand into the air. The motion makes the hats wave dangerously and the whole store seems to hold its breath. But the tower steadies and you can hear a mixture of sighs of relief and ones of disappointment.

“You too?” Your shoulders slump. “Frisk, why must you betray me?”

Sans, the only one who hasn’t once looked up at the tower of hats, taps a bony finger against his cheekbone. “would it make a difference if i film it this time so you can see it too?”

“Not especially.”

“then how about treating ya at grillby’s again?”

Oh. Oh now that’s…no. No, you’re not going to agree to be tackled off your board again just for some free food…filled with magic…made by a monster that you are strangely eager to see again....

Everyone’s hopeful smiles widen into smug grins as your stomach rumbles.

“…Fine. You’ve got a deal.”

Frisk cheers and jumps and promptly buries you all in a shower of hats.

~~~~~~

After you go over the pricing details with everyone because, hey this is work for you after all, you help the three potential surfers select boards to use. Undyne immediately wants to go with the biggest and baddest looking one you’ve got but you manage to convince her to go with the soft top fun-board by explaining that starting with a more basic board will help her to establish the basics of surfing. She grumbles a little but agrees.

You all head down to the shoreline with your boards and explaining proper board care as you walk. Undyne and Papyrus easily carry their boards as well as a small blue cooler, several towels and a large multicolored umbrella. Once you reach the water, Sans and Alphys quickly get the umbrella set up and happily settle on spread out towels. You start on the lesson by first instructing the other three to put their boards on the sand.

“WHY WOULD WE DO THAT?” Papyrus asks in clear confusion. “ISN’T SURFING SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN OUT ON THE WATER?”

“Yes, but sand is a bit sturdier than water,” you explain patiently. “You guys need to get used to the motions of standing up on the board before actually hitting the waves. So, follow what I do here.“ You set your own board down and lie down on top of it, going through the steps one by one.

They all follow your instructions relatively well (though Undyne and Papyrus somehow manage to throw sand everywhere with their enthusiastic movements) and after working on that for about twenty minutes you decide to let them take the boards out. However, there are a few things you need to clear up first. You’re not worried about Undyne and Frisk has already told you that they can swim. So that just leaves….

“Okay, so forgive me if this is rude,” you say slowly. “Papyrus, do you…need to breathe?” 

Papyrus puts his gloved hand on his chin thoughtfully. “YOU KNOW…I DON’T THINK I’VE  EVER REALLY THOUGHT ABOUT IT!”

Well. Not exactly the answer you were looking for. Undyne snickers loudly while you fight not to sound like a complete prick. “No, um, what I mean is, do I need to panic if you fall into the water? Yesterday Sans said that you sink in water so-“

“OH! THAT IS SO KIND OF YOU TO BE CONCERNED FOR ME!” Papyrus gives you a very sandy hug. “BUT YOU DON’T NEED TO WORRY! THE GREAT PAPYRUS HAS NEVER HAD TROUBLE WHILE UNDER THE WATER! BUT….I SHOULD PROBABLY STAY A LITTLE CLOSER TO SHORE,” he admits almost ashamedly.

“That’s fine!” you say quickly. “There’s lots of stuff you can do on smaller waves!”

“Ugh, come on nerds let’s go!” Undyne finally snaps and starts bolting for the water, holding her board up over her head. She splashes out a fair distance into the water before slamming it down and throwing herself on it. She actually manages to stand up on it but-

She lasts maybe three seconds before toppling off.

Everyone cracks up, even Sans, who you can hear quietly wheezing behind you. You put your hand over your mouth to hide your own growing giggles as her head reappears.

“What the h-“

“language,” Sans somehow says loud enough to cut her off. He’s still grinning but there’s a sharp glint in his socket.

You turn to Frisk, who is laughing so hard their eyes are shut. “Okay kiddo, you ready to do that same thing?”

They abruptly stop giggling and straighten up, a wide and slightly fierce smile on their face. “Heck yeah!”

You spend the next hour teaching them more of the basics of surfing. You start out in waist high water, again teaching them how to adjust their weight to remain on the board while standing. Frisk catches on fairly quickly, as does Undyne. As you expected, Papyrus is the one that has the most trouble, mostly due to…well, his skeletal nature. He’s all limbs and while he had the advantage of not having muscles to get sore, his bones are slick and slip easily against the board. But he never once shows any sign of discouragement and you actually find yourself a little awed by his unwavering spirit.

The end of the class arrives and the four of you emerge out of the water, wet, tired but satisfied. You didn’t get to much of the actual surfing part but with their pace you imagine that they’ll be able to surf small waves within another class or two.

“So when do we get to the huge wave surfing part?” Undyne asks as she wrings her red ponytail out.

“Honestly…it just depends,” you say. “You guys did great today but learning how to really surf takes a lot of time and practice. If you guys keep working at it, I’m sure you’ll get there in no time. Now, when cleaning up-“

“a-hem.”

You look towards the sound and jump when you realize Sans is standing right in front of you. How the hell did he move so fast and so quietly? He’s grinning and your heart sinks slightly as you notice the phone in his hand.

Undyne too notices it and her grin is fierce enough to send chills down your spine. She points out towards the water. “Back into the waves, nerds.”

~~~~~~

“and grillbz she -snrk- she actually agreed to get tackled off her board again just so she could get free food.” Sans covers his face, quietly wheezing.

Grillby looks to you and you swear he’s grinning, though you’re too mortified to look him in the eyes for more than a second to be sure. “Look, you just don’t say no to free food that’s-“

“hey, hey, wanna see the video?”

“No!”

Sans ignores your shriek and everyone leans around him to catch a glimpse of his phone screen as he plays the video of you getting tackled for probably the tenth time since it happened. You don’t bother watching but your blush grows deeper at the tinny sound of your voice screaming before you hit the water. Knowing the tackle was coming just made it worse than your shout of surprise the first time it happened.

Grillby’s head flames pop and crackle, like the flames of his body are quietly laughing with the rest of these terrible people.

You put your head down on the bar top. “I’m getting the most expensive thing on this menu,” you grumble to Sans. “Payment for my dignity.”

“that’s fine, i’ll just put it on my tab.”

You lift your head. “You have a tab here?”

Papyrus folds his arms and scowls. “YES AND IT IS LONG OVERDUE, ISN’T IT GRILLBY?”

Grillby nods and fixes Sans with a light glare. Sans just shrugs and lifts his hands helplessly.

“aw c’mon pal, you’re not gonna take my tab away when i’m treating her dignity are ya?”

You give Grillby a sheepish grin as he shifts his gaze from Sans to you and back again. Then he folds his arms and smiles at you. “Order what you like,” he says to you in his soft voice. “It’s on the house.”

Everyone breaks into a loud chorus of hoots and hollers, drowning out Sans' whine of 'whaaaat?'.

A delighted grin lifts your face. "Are you sure?" 

Grillby nods again.

"Wow, thanks Grillby!" You look down at your menu, missing the small flickers of blue flame crossing the area of his cheeks would be. Man, maybe getting tackled again was worth it. You look over the menu and order a deluxe burger and fries combo with a drink called Burst O' Fire. It's not the most expensive thing on the menu because you don't want to take advantage of Grillby's offer. You give him your order and he collects your menu. But instead of immediately heading back to the kitchen, he lingers for a moment. He doesn't say anything but you notice his flames flickering a little faster than before. You get the feeling that he's mulling over something, though you can't pin down exactly why. 

"Is something wrong?" 

He blinks slowly, his flames calming. "Ah, no. Sorry. I just I realized that I didn't get your name yesterday." 

Oh! That's right, you never introduced yourself to him. "Oh, sorry! Geez, I'm just making the best impression huh? I'm _____. Uh, Shore. Is my...last name. Yeah." 

Why...did you throw your last name on too? Real smooth there, real smooth!

You don't have time to be embarrassed because Sans suddenly chokes on his bottle of...ketchup?!, spitting it all over the place. Grillby sighs at the mess of ketchup over his bar top while Sans coughs violently for a second. How he's coughing, you have no idea. 

"wait, your last name is shore?"

"Yeah?"

"and you surf? and love the beach?"

Oh no. You recognize that gleam in his sockets. "Okay, before you even start, yes, I've heard them all." 

"are you-" 

"'Shore about that'?" you finish dryly, cutting him off. "Yes. Promise."

Sans shakes his head, the biggest grin you've seen on him yet stretching out his face. "oh no, believe me i am shore to come up with something."  

"I doubt it." 

"well i'm also shore that-"

"SANS YOU CAN'T BE SERIOUS RIGHT NOW!" Papyrus says sharply. "IT'S NOT EVEN A PUN YOU'RE JUST SAYING 'SURE' OVER AND OVER." 

"aw bro, that's the whole point of a pun! shorely you see that." 

"ARGH!"

The two of them descend into squabbles about what counts as a pun and what does and you sigh with long suffering. You will be very surprised if Sans comes up with a 'Shore' related joke that takes you by surprise. You have literally heard everything and Paps has a point about it just being the word 'shore' replacing 'sure'. It got old by the third day of kindergarten. 

Grillby makes a small noise and you realize he's chuckling quietly. It's a pleasant sound, mixing with the soft crackle of his fire. He gives you an understanding smile. "I've been at the end of many a pun thanks to my name," he explains. "You'll get used to it." 

You huff out another sigh but let yourself grin. "Guess our hair isn't the only thing we've got in common huh?" 

He looks at your hair and this time, you don't miss the quick flash of blue flame on his face. What was that? He leaves before you can ask and you find yourself drawn back into the conversation with the others. As expected, most of them are trying to come up with some kind of pun or joke with 'shore' in it that you haven't heard before. You actually find yourself laughing at some of their attempts because not a single one is new to you and their shock and determination only seems to grow with each failure. You look back up when Grillby places a plate of steaming food in front of you. 

His golden eyes meet yours and once again, you find yourself transfixed by the swirl of light contained inside. Your mouth opens but you find yourself scrambling to actually speak. You should thank him for the food and for heaven's sake, stop staring at him-!

"Please enjoy Miss Shore," Grillby says softly and something about the way your name rolls off his deep voice sends pleasant goosebumps up your arms. You blink and duck your head, staring down at the burger. The smell coming from it is absolutely heavenly. 

"T-thanks, I'm sure I-"

"OOOOH!" Frisk triumphantly cries out and everyone descends into more laughter as your face heats up. But you smile and laugh along, telling yourself you're blushing because of the accidental pun and not the fire monster standing just a few feet away from you watching you with a small smile on his face.

Chapter Text

Thursday brings with it a fresh wave of heat and the stampeding crowds of students freed from school for the summer. You were already booked for lessons that morning so sadly, you won't be seeing Frisk and company for surfing until next week. It's is a good thing they decided to book future lessons in advanced: you wind up filling up the rest of your schedule for the next two weeks by the end of the day. You spend your work hours out on the beach, patiently explaining the concepts of surfing to people who clearly expect to reach expert levels within an hour.

But this is usual. Well, it's what happened last year at least. You started working at the beginning of last summer when the shop was desperate for someone who could work the shop as well as give lessons. It was around the same time when monsters had finally been allowed to come down off of the mountain, about a year after the barrier first fell. Thanks to that, tourist crowds had utterly exploded and with that came more people hitting the beach. It's probably why they hired you for both positions, despite being a self taught surfer.

With the start of summer, everyone and their brother decides this summer will finally be the summer they learn to surf! For most people, reality hits pretty quickly and they move on to simply enjoying the water like everyone else. Then your schedule evens out a little and you can actually focus on the ones who want to really learn. You've learned to judge people pretty quickly on whether they'll stick with lessons or not. Some of them do you a favor and flat out tell you that they're only here for a week and just want to at least ride one wave. That you can do. 

You're not worried about Frisk, Papyrus and Undyne being like that. Given Undyne's nature, you're sure she'll surpass you in no time. And you might not know Frisk all that well, but even before you realized exactly who they are, you could feel the waves of determination emitting from them. And Papyrus...well, he's going to be more of a challenge to teach but with spirit like his, you're not too worried. 

The end of your workday finally approaches and you are salty, sweaty and gross. You decide to hop back to your place for a quick rinse before heading to the studio. Thursday nights are group nights where the smaller dance pairings all come together for large scale classes, taught by a mixture of the guy who started the place, guest choreographers and even students looking to make a name for themselves in the dance industry. It's also a good chance to get news about auditions and competitions. It's a tough line of work, but again, thanks to all the media attention thanks to monsters, Daiport's entertainment industry has exploded.  

And so has the competition. 

You take a quick shower, the hot water soothing against your muscles. Ever after doing it for so long, a full day of surf instruction still wears you out. You step out of the tub, slapping your hands gently against your cheeks. No time to be tired, you need to be on your A game tonight. What you could really use is another monster drink made by Grillby. The magic in it worked far better than any kind of energy drink or caffeine. Even once the tingle of magic had faded away, an adrenaline-like energy had continued to pound in your veins.

You open the door of the bathroom to let the steam clear out and start drying your hair. As the mirror clears, your eyes once again get drawn to your hair. It's still bright and vivid, but it's only been a few days. Link will probably want to examine it himself a bit before his three month, no fade, guarantee but keeping an eye on the colors yourself won't hurt. 

You gather your hair and pull it upwards slightly as your back straightens. "Hello and welcome to Grillby's," you intone in your best impression of the quiet monster. A snort escapes you after a few fruitless seconds of fighting to keep a straight face. You release your hair, the red and golden strands falling against your face. It really can't compare to the real thing. Maybe you've got time to stop by the bar before you hit the studio....

No, no you're going tomorrow night for the official opening. Besides-you check your phone-oh geez, you're late as it is. You quickly finish up and grab an apple on your way to your car. No carefree stroll tonight. Faith told you that there's going to be some kind of big announcement tonight and you don't want to miss it. 

"Hello dear-" 

"Hi Ms. Meyers, gotta run!" 

"As usual dear." 

You hop into your car, turning the air conditioning on full blast. It rattles loudly but gives you that blessed...semi-cold air in the face that keeps you from full out sweating during the short drive over. It would be really nice to get the system replaced but that's probably not happening any time soon. You pull up to Elements Studio, snagging one of the remaining parking spots and quickly head inside.

The building, old and patched together offers a slightly cooler rush of air as you move to the main studio floor. There are several inside, most of them small and dedicated to team dance sessions. The rooms are available to students to use as they wish but the reservation times can sometimes be a pain to deal with. There's a lot of teams and not a ton of rooms. Your team managed to snag evening reservations for this month; they change every couple of weeks to be fair to all the divided teams when it comes to practice times. 

Several heads turn when you step into the large dance room and you grin widely at the chorus of 'ooohs!' that rise at the sight of your hair. Oh yeah, you are loving this. 

Faith, with a grin to rival the Cheshire cat, smoothly glides up to you. "Oh my gosh, you've got to tell me who did your hair!" 

"You know, I can't recall-" 

"Betrayal!" 

You almost stumble over the sudden weight on your back. "You smell like ocean, didn't you shower?" Liam asks, leaning heavily against you. 

"I got a new shampoo actually! Ocean Salt Delight," you say proudly. Liam snorts. 

"Nah, I think you just have seawater in your veins at this point." 

"That is also possible."

At that moment Tyler comes into sight. He sighs heavily and drapes himself over Liam, easily doubling the weight you're now struggling to hold up. "Oof! Okay boys, you're gonna snap my spine at this rate." 

Faith pries the two off of you. Liam chooses to instead wrap his arms around her. "Carry me away, my dark angel." 

She rolls her eyes but you don't miss the soft spots of color on her cheeks. You glance quickly at Tyler to see if he saw it too. Going by his grin, he did.

"Alright everyone!" 

Chatter dies away as the lead instructor, a petite woman named Aika with jet black hair cut in a bob strides to the front of the room. She's got a stack of papers in her hand. "Before we get started, I've got some exciting news! I've received word from an inside source that this year, Daiport will be hosting Star Dance's week long competition!" 

The room explodes with noise. Star Dance; the nation's biggest dancing competition, held once every two years. Dancers from all over fight to make it through the grueling elimination process to be chosen to compete against the other top teams in a week full of challenges. Every day participants are given different requirements and have eight hours to create a dance before they perform against a panel of judges. Then it repeats the next morning up until the fifth day. At that point, the dancers have almost completely free reign to create a new dance and on the final day, they give one last performance that can either completely tip the scale in their favor or send them plummeting into failure. The scores of past dances are added to the final and the team with the highest number wins. 

Faith swears quietly under her breath, her eyes gleaming. You meet her eyes, a delighted grin lifting your mouth. The winners of this insane competition not only get cash prizes, they also get flown out to New York to train with some of the top names in the dance world. You win this and your name becomes one of the well known ones. Your heart starts pounding at the mere thought of it. 

"The first round of auditions start in the fall so if I were you, I'd spend this summer training harder than you've ever trained because I guarantee you, you've never been in a contest like this." Aika's small frame practically vibrates with energy as she beams out over the ground of equally eager students. "I want to see that roster filled with names from this studio! Flyers with more information will be up here, make sure and grab some on your way out. Now, let's get to dancing!" 

~~~~~~

"I mean, just think of the opportunities it will bring!" Faith continues to chatter, much like she has since last night when the announcement was first made. Her excitement carries her ahead of you and Liam just slightly as the three of you make your way to the center of the Walk. It's finally open night for Grillby's. With that and the announcement about Star Dance, it's no wonder you've been distracted all day. 

You wound up cutting dance practice short since you didn't do much actual dancing. You instead spent the hour discussing plans for the summer and touching on everyone's individual weaknesses that need work. Of course, without Tyler there, it was a little hard to set anything in stone. You wonder how his uncle's party is going. He too was excited about the announcement of the contest but he also seemed a little...subdued about the whole thing. There wasn't much time to talk last night aside from the general freaking out about the whole thing and you're a little worried. Tyler's parents aren't exactly the supportive type. He doesn't like talking about them but it's clear that he doesn't share much of his personal life with them. A big contest like this isn't something you can really keep quiet about though. You'll have to talk to him about this.

Still, that's something to worry about later. You pull at your shirt, looking down again to make sure you look okay. It's just a nice top and jeans but it's far fancier than anything else you've worn to the bar so far. Strangely, you almost feel a little nervous. Why though? It's not like it's your place opening tonight. And Frisk did text you earlier and say they were going to be there too. Besides, you've got Faith and Liam with you, so it's not like you're going alone. 

"Shore? You okay?" Liam asks, poking your arm. 

You start, automatically smiling at him. "Yeah, sorry. Just wondering if Tyler's having fun at the party." 

"Not as much fun as we're gonna have!" Faith declares. "You've hyped up this food so much I haven't been satisfied with anything else I've eaten the last few days. Even my mom's double chocolate, vanilla swirl cookies fell short!" 

You and Liam gasp in mock dismay. "Not the cookies!" 

She nods seriously. "Even the cookies." 

"Well, I promise you, this stuff is gonna be worth the wait," you promise. 

The three of you approach the square. It's a Friday night, and all the schools are done for the summer. So the entire area is packed with a mixture of monsters and humans. It's a little hard to walk without bumping into someone every few minutes. 

"I'm never going to get over how freaking epic this is," Liam says almost reverently, looking around. "A real life fantasy RPG. My nerd dreams have come true." 

"Yours and just about everyone else's." Faith looks over the crowd. "Damn, it's insane how many people are here right now." 

It is kinda surprising. The square is packed with people hanging out, talking and laughing, and...forming a line? You follow the trail of people, your jaw dropping as you realize a good portion of the crowd here is gathered around Grillby's. "Um, we might have a bit of a problem." 

Liam and Faith follow your pointing finger, their own jaws dropping. "What the hell?" Faith yelps. "Why's it so crowded?" 

"It is one of the first exclusively run monster restaurants," Liam points out. "It makes sense when you think about it. Besides, it's opening night." 

"It's gonna take forever to get in there," Faith whines pathetically.

You feel your phone buzz and dig it out. 

Frisk: 

Hey! Are you here yet?

You:

Yeah! It's insanely crowded out here!

Frisk: 

Come up to the door, we're already inside

You pocket your phone, tapping Faith on the arm. "Hey, Frisk says they're already inside." 

"Oh thank God," she breathes, following you as you weave through crowd of monsters and humans waiting to get inside. You try your best to be polite as you nudge your way forward but you eventually have no choice but to push past people, earning some angry glares.

"Hey, wait your turn!" A small rail thin man snaps at you, attempting to block your way. 

"We've got friends inside," Faith says coldly. She towers over him and he balks under her stare. He grumbles, but moves aside.

With that, the way is clear. The door is open and the three of you manage to slip inside. It's just as packed in here as it is out there. The enticing scent of food mixed with the slight tang of smoke washes over you along with a wave of gentle warmth. The lights on the walls flicker brightly, casting a gentle light over the loud and cheerful room. Faith and Liam look around with awed expressions, taking in the sights. You however head straight for the bar, having somehow spotted the gleam of Sans' bright white skull seated at the corner closest to the jukebox and kitchen door. 

Frisk spots you too as you come closer, waving enthusiastically. Sans lazily lifts a few fingers in greeting. They managed to snag seats at the bar but every other one has been claimed. You stand next to them. "Hey guys."

"heya." His low voice is hard to hear over the noise. "see you made it in one piece."

"Barely." You gesture to Faith and Liam, who have managed to catch up to you. "This is Faith and Liam." 

"sans the skeleton." Sans sticks his hand out towards Liam and Frisk's face falls into that perfect poker face. You squint at them but don't have time to say anything before Liam accepts the handshake. Instantly, the wet gurgle of a fart blasts from their clasped hands. Liam's eyeballs seem to pop with shock. 

"Wuuuh?"

Sans snickers loudly, his grin growing. "i've been waiting to use that one for a while now." He lifts his hand and displays a tiny whoopee cushion taped to his hand. Hand bones? You forget what they're called. "it really helps to breaks the ice." 

Faith erupts into pleased cackles of laughter while Liam remains frozen with his hand outstretched. "You, I like you," she says to Sans, wiping delicately at her eyes to avoid smudging her make up. She looks to Frisk, smiling widely. "And of course, I know who you are. Unlike some people." 

Frisk smiles and giggles. You are never going to be forgiven for that, are you? You sigh as introductions finish up. "Is is just you two tonight?" you ask them.

They nod. "Undyne has work and Alphys doesn't like crowds." 

"and paps said, quote 'I CANNOT EAT ANOTHER MEAL AT GRILLBY'S THIS WEEK! I WILL WIND UP SMALL AND STUBBY LIKE YOU!" His impression is so spot on you actually laugh from shock. He grins and shrugs, patting his belly.

Wait a minute.

"How do you even have one of those?" Faith asks for you. "Aren't you...well...all bones?" 

He and Frisk look at each other, sharing a look before both of them wiggle their fingers and intone-"Maaaagic." Frisk dissolves into giggles while Sans continues to grin smugly. 

Well okay then. 

You take another look around the bar. Every seat is claimed; there are actually a few spots where multiple people are attempting to share. The bar is mostly human filled right now, though you do see quite a few of the same dogs as before as well as the drunken bunny in the booth closest to the door. However, you don't see Grillby himself. "Where's Grillby?"

"he's-"

The door to the kitchen suddenly swings open and the monster himself emerges, carrying two large trays filled with food, balanced on each hand. He doesn't even see you as he quickly moves by. His flames trail behind him like sparklers. 

"Woah!" Faith grabs you excitedly. "That's him, right?! That's gotta be him!" 

"Do you see any other fire monsters around here?" 

"Yes." Sans, Faith, Frisk and Liam all speak at once, pointing to your hair. There's a pause, a single second of disbelief that such a perfect moment just happened. Even you can't help but join in the laughter that overtakes all of you. Faith leans against you heavily, Sans has his head down on the bar top and even Liam has his hands pressed over his mouth, giggling uncontrollably. 

The commotion draws some attention. Including Grillby's. He looks up from dishing out food to a group of teens (they're all staring up at him in awe) and seemingly freezes for just a moment as his eyes fall on you. His flames snap and pop, flaring brightly. It's so fast it's barely noticeable. You wave to him, trying your best to stifle your giggles. He nods at you, returns his attention to the table of teens and finishes what he's doing before coming back over to you. 

You feel something inside you easing slightly, like you had been holding tension in your shoulders without realizing it as the air grows warmer with Grillby's presence. 

"I'm sorry, I didn't even see you," he says, tucking the now empty trays under his arm. He looks to the others at your side and nods. "Welcome to Grillby's." 

You somehow resist the snort bubbling in your chest. "Ah, this is Faith and Liam," you say, introducing them. "They're part of my dance team." 

Faith's head is moving between the two of you with almost alarming speed. "Oh my goooooosh," she squeals gleefully. "Oh this is wonderful. Stand next to him real quick." 

Grillby tilts his head in question but before you can explain, there's the sound of a glass breaking. A tabled packed full of kids and two, very tired looking adults start fussing over it and Grillby exhales heavily. The tiniest puff of smoke escapes his mouth. The poor guy looks almost frazzled. There's nothing on his face to give that away, but the slight slump in his shoulder speaks for him. 

"Are you okay?" you ask him. 

He snaps back to attention, offering you a small smile. "Yes. I'm sorry, I'll be right back to take everyone's orders." 

He starts to move towards the mess. Won't that hurt him though? Cleaning up a liquid like that when he's, well, literally made of fire? "Hold on, don't you...where's the others?" He pauses, looking back at you. His head tilts silently so you press, "Don't you have waiters? Or someone else to clean that for you?" 

Sans narrows his sockets, looking around as well. "grillbz, you did hire help, right? s'not like the underground. crowds are bigger up here." 

Grillby stands there silently for a moment before quietly saying, "Of course I did. There was an incident earlier and she got scared. I sent her home." 

"She-you hired one person to help you?" And now that person is gone? Grillby actually thought he could manage to run this place on his own? On opening night no less? Crap, now he's walking away again and you quickly call out, "Wait, wait. I'll do it." 

Everyone looks at you with surprise, not least of all Grillby. His hair cracks loudly, his golden eyes widening slightly. "I appreciate it but-" 

You step closer to him, wagging a finger. "But nothing. I'm sure you've cleaned up messes before but you're the bartender! It's opening night and there's a huge crowd of people waiting to taste your food. You should be cooking, not wiping up spills. Faith, Liam? Either of you have waitering experience?" 

Faith immediately grins, stepping next to you. "Nope, but hey, isn't most waitressing taught on the job?" 

Liam, perhaps with a little less enthusiasm joins you as well, shrugging as he says "Not exactly highlights of my life, but yeah." 

Frisk too hops up, joining your side. "I can clean!" they say proudly before giving Sans a long, pointed look. The skeleton sighs but hauls himself to his feet. 

"i'm not really the waiter type, but i've washed plenty a dish in my time," he says with a slow wink. He ambles off towards the kitchen before Grillby even has a chance to say anything.

"Sans, wait-" 

You turn to your new team. "Okay, Faith, how about you go get that line outside orderly and start passing out numbers. I've got a notebook in my bag." 

"Got it boss," she says cheerfully. 

"Liam, why don't you take the patio and the tables nearest the door. I'll handle the inside and help Frisk with cleaning." 

Frisk salutes and, after a bemused look at the kid, Liam gives a half-hearted salute of his own. 

"Wait, wait," Grillby finally says, finding his voice. His words are still quiet despite the the fast flickering his flames have started burning. "I can't ask you to do that."

You gesture to the restaurant: the youngest baby in the booth with the spilled drink has started crying, the group of teens voices are rising and the still growing crowd waiting outside is visible through the window. "I'm really sorry, but I don't think you have a choice here. Besides: it's been made clear already that I'd do anything for free food, right?" You grin widely at him. "I'm expecting a full meal when this is done, got it?" 

Grillby hesitates for a moment more. The baby's screaming reaches a new pitch and he finally gives in. His flames flash brightly, and you catch a glimpse of a small grin on his face. "Very well." 

He takes you all into the back quickly, too quickly to really get a good look and shows you where the rags and extra aprons are. You all don them (though the only one they somewhat fit is Faith) and get to work. You take care of clearing up the broken glass, smiling widely at the child. He is utterly fascinated by your hair and reaches out several times with sticky fingers. It's better than the crying at least. Frisk does an excellent job of wiping down tables as soon as the people sitting there leave and you welcome a variety of monsters and humans inside the moment you spy a free table. As the night continues, people's attitudes improve as well. The first hour or so has fairly grumpy guests, thanks to the waiting time but that melts away as soon as they taste Grillby's food. Grillby himself is back behind the bar for the most part, though occasionally he disappears into the kitchen and when that happens you go back into the kitchen as well. 

The kitchen is fairly large and filled with all kind of new cookware and ovens. There are an insane number of drawers and shelves, all filled with a variety of foods, many of which you don't even recognize. The speed at which is cooks is utterly incredible. The first time you go back there, with the intent to take the food out as soon as it was finished, you where immediately blasted with a hot rush of air thanks to the flames erupting from one of the three the stove tops inside. You half expected the food to be burnt to a crisp but Grillby smoothly slips the order of burgers onto a pair of buns, adds several toppings, including some kind of mystery sauce and slides the plates over to you before you can fully comprehend what's happened.

"Order for booth ten," he says, his head tilted slightly with amusement at your obvious awe.

"Right. That's..."

"Three down from the jukebox."

"Got it!"  

There are mishaps of course, and quite a few spills. Your waitressing experience, while more than Faith's, is still pitifully small and you mess up orders quite a few times. But with Frisk lingering by your side, piping up when you need help remembering which table is which, or who ordered what, you pass the night fairly uneventfully. You actually make a few tips, which you keep tucked in your pocket to give to Grillby when things slow down a bit. Every table comments on your hair and it's similarity to the bartender, to which you smile and thank them. You don't hear a single complaint about the food; in fact, you actually spy a few tears in the eyes of the guests who almost silently eat their whole meal before singing it's praises. The drinks too have been insanely popular all night, causing no end of wonder and delight with the various effects they offer. You see more of the icy mist inducing ones, like the one you had before as well as ones that cause steam to rise from people's ears and one that lights people's skin with a dim but warm starlight color. It's amazing and magical and you can't wait to try them out for yourself.

There are monsters that trickle in as well. More them come in as the night grows later and the crazy speed which has kept your running for a few hours finally slows to a crawl. It seems the monsters are used to Grillby running the place by himself in the underground and are far more patient and understanding. They seem very surprised to see four humans working the place and though some of them act shyly around you, they don't seem to otherwise mind. By ten, there are quite a few empty places and those that are filled hold people and monsters only concerned with nursing a drink and laughing with friends. 

You drag yourself over to the bar top and slump onto a stool, joining Liam, Faith and Frisk. Sans is there too, the edges of his coat sleeves still slightly damp. All night you had passed him washing dishes, rather indifferent about the fact that his jacket was getting soaked. Or maybe he did it on purpose; you heard him chuckle after the incredulous look you had given him once you noticed on one of your passes through the kitchen.

"i think i can call my tab paid off," Sans slurs, his sockets heavy. "i never wanna work that hard again." 

Frisk gives him a swat on the arm. Out of all of you, they've got the most energy. "You washed dishes for barely two hours you big baby," they chide. "I even caught you napping with your arms still in the sink!"

"hey now, dish-isn't a big deal."

You all groan loudly at the pun. 

Grillby finishes pouring a drink for a pair of monsters, one of them a timid looking fairy type that you believe is called a Whimsum and Froggit and joins you at your end of the bar. He sets down a few menus, sliding them over.

"Alright, finally!" Faith crows, eagerly holding it close to her face. "I am starving."  

"Order what you like," Grillby says in his quiet voice. Is it just you, or are his flames a little darker? "Thank you for your help tonight."

"It's no problem," you reassure him. "Besides, food tastes even better when you're hungry right?" 

Liam, peering over at Faith's menu, looks up. "I gotta ask though; why didn't you hire more people? A big place like this can't work with just two, especially if one of them can't work." 

"eh, his one monster bar worked just fine underground," Sans says as he reaches for the ketchup bottle just out of reach. Grillby takes pity and moves it into his outstretched hand. The skeleton tips it in thanks before tilting the entire thing against his teeth. You've gotten used to the strange sight by now, but Faith and Liam stare unashamedly at the antics. He lowers the bottle, wiping his mouth with his sleeve before he continues. "not quite so many of us in snowdin town." 

You put your chin in your hand, watching Grillby thoughtfully as he starts pulling out cups and bottles to fill your drink orders. You clearly recall Sans being surprised at the lack of monsters working here. He's probably covering to help save the fire monster some embarrassment. Still, Grillby doesn't strike you as the type to overlook something like that. Did he truly think he could handle a large crowd by himself? Or did he not think that people would actually come? You're sure he's embarrassed enough as is about the whole thing, so you don't press the issue as he sets a glass in front of you. 

He looks at you, silently waiting for your order and you bite your lip as you look over the options again. "Surprise me," you say finally. You dig into the pocket of the over sized apron, grabbing the money you had been given over the course of the night. "Oh, I also got tips-"

"Keep them," he says, nodding to Liam and Faith to include them as well. "You did the work after all." 

A small flutter of relief goes through you. The tips aren't exactly staggering, but it's a nice amount to have unexpectedly earned for working for three hours. He pours everyone a drink, takes their orders and disappears into the kitchen. You pull the apron off and you notice a slightly smokey smell in the fabric. For some reason, this makes you smile. 

"Kind of a quiet guy, huh?" Faith muses as she helps Liam loosen the knot of his own apron. 

"This is actually more than he's talked each time I've been here before," you say as you tuck your tips into your bag. "But he's usually pretty quiet, right?" 

Frisk nods, as they sip on their drink, a very frothy, bubbly green liquid you think is called Sea Tea. "He didn't say a single word to me until after the barrier fell." 

"yeah, he's not real talkative unless he really knows ya," Sans agrees. He's forgone an actual drink and is still sipping at the ketchup bottle. "more of the listen and watch type. he's been talking a lot more lately though." 

"Hmm." Faith hums thoughtfully before turning to her own drink. She takes a sip, her dark eyes growing wide. "Holy sh-crap!" she amends quickly, looking at Frisk. "This is amazing!" 

You grin. "Just wait until you taste the food." You turn to your own drink, a simple cup of golden liquid. You take a small sip and immediately taste something sweet, almost like fruit on your tongue. But it goes far beyond any kind of fruit juice you've had before. It's richer, struck through with hints of vanilla and the tingle you've come to associate with magic. The sensation creeps down your arms and across your skin, glowing images of flowers start to appear. Each one is barely the size of your thumbnail and turns slowly as it shimmers with every movement you make. You lift your hands, grinning with pure delight. 

Liam 'ooohs' in appreciation and Faith whips her phone out. You pose as best as you can while on the bar stool. 

"Yes, pose queen, pose!" A small cloud of frost escapes her mouth and she giggles. "This place is so cool! Totally worth helping out!"

"Thanks for doing that guys," you say seriously. "I know that's not what you expected to be doing tonight." 

"Hey, what're friends for?" 

Grillby comes back at the moment, carrying your food. When he sees your skin all lit up, he smiles and his flames brighten slightly with the motion. Huh. His flames must be connected to his mood. That's something to keep in mind. 

He sets the food out and as he gives you your plate, he pauses for a moment. "I'm sorry I was so unprepared," he says just to you. "You didn't have to help tonight." 

"I wanted to," you reply just as quietly. "It's not your fault your help had to leave." 

"It is my fault for not hiring more help." 

"Yeah, well, now you know," you say, grinning teasingly. "Though hey, if you're ever in a pinch for a waitress, free food is a huge motivator for me." 

He smiles back at you, his golden eyes bright. "I'll be sure to remember that." 

You hear the click of a camera and you both turn your heads to see Faith lowering her phone. She's grinning widely. "Perfect! Link is going to flip out when he sees this." 

You look back to Grillby. His gaze turns back to you as well, flickering up to look at your hair and back to your eyes. It's at that moment you realize that at some point during your quiet conversation, you had started leaning over the bar top, closing the distance between the two of you. You flush a little and see a quick flicker of blue dance through Grillby's flames as you pull back into your seat. You turn back to your food and Grillby moves away to help another customer who's just approached the bar. As you reach for your burger, you swear that the golden flowers on your skin have taken on a faint pink hue. 

Chapter Text

You're being a nosy busybody. You know this and yet you find yourself walking back to Grillby's bar after work the very next day. It's not that you think he would have trouble getting help after last night but...

Okay maybe you might have a little doubt. It's not even a doubt really, just a quiet worry for a monster that you've only known for a few days. It's fine, you're not being weird. 

There's another large crowd outside the restaurant tonight, as you expected. But even a quick glance shows you things are a little more organized now and a soft flutter of relief goes through you. Okay, things look fine from out here. You should probably go home, feed Stitch and make good use of your free night to catch up on that new Netflix show. You don't have dance practice tonight and Tyler is too busy to meet up with the all of you to discuss plans for the summer. You should take advantage of the free time and rest up a bit. 

Yet you find yourself moving closer to the line waiting to get inside. You did come all the way out here, you might as well pop in and say hi at least. You step up behind a couple and pull your phone out, looking through various instructional dance videos and contest pieces for ideas. It takes a little while, but you eventually approach the door. Standing there is a rabbit monster wearing one of the same black aprons that Grillby let you borrow last night. The bunny is of course much, much larger than a regular bunny but for a monster, they are slightly on the shorter side so the apron is a little too large for them. Still, it probably looks better on them than it did on you. It was so long it was practically a dress when you wore it. 

The bunny is writing something down on a little notepad and you patiently wait for them to finish. A quiet huff of air escapes them as they finally look up. "Oh!" The bunny smiles widely, displaying pearly white buck teeth. "Oh, you must be Miss Shore!" 

Your confused stare must speak for itself because she (you assume going by her voice) points to your hair. "I heard you came to the rescue last night." 

Oh. Does that mean Grillby talked about you? You shrug, laughing a little self consciously. "Yeah, I guess Grillby told you about me?" 

She laughs, her small black eyes squinting with mirth. "Oh no, he didn't have to; pretty much everyone knows about the flame haired human who took over Grillby's for the night." 

You flush. Oh come on, you didn't do that. But there were a lot of monsters mixed in among the humans last night. Plenty of them saw you wagging a finger in Grillby's face. It makes sense that they might assume something like that, especially since you immediately started taking orders rather than Grillby. 

The bunny giggles again. "You don't need to be embarrassed; it's impressive that you got Grillby to listen to you." 

"Is it?" 

She nods seriously. Before you can question her further however, she peeks inside and her long ears perk up. "Ah, it looks like there's an empty seat at the bar. Go on in dear." 

You thank her and step inside. Again, it's not much cooler inside than it is outside and you wipe at your brow as you make your way through the tables. Several monsters seated inside raise their glasses to you as you pass, smiling widely and chattering excitedly about last night. Geez, you just helped out a little last night, that's all! You awkwardly return their smiles but hurry up to go sit down. Grillby's not at the bar; he must be cooking in the back. Looking around, you spot another bunny monster taking orders from a group of kids in a booth. That's good to see. So he did hire some extra hands. You wonder for a moment if that's the same monster who had to leave early last night before deciding it's not your business. You sigh happily, breathing in the smokey smell of the place. 

That's when you notice something a little strange. The bar is shaped almost like a flattened U, with the two upper sections holding two seats each and you're currently seated at the very furthest right side of the bar. In the small space between you and where the tabletop ends there's a small chessboard set up. You peer closer at it. It's worn and clearly well loved. The shapes are simplistic but well crafted, set on a small black and gray stone board. You start to reach for a piece when suddenly a small fluffy head pops up from behind the counter. You almost squeak with surprise as your heart shoots into your throat. 

A small bunny monster blinks at you, red eyes staring at you curiously. They're tiny and so cute! "Hi," you say as your heart slows. "What are you doing back there?" 

"Playing." Their voice is just as cute as their face. Their nose twitches and you almost implode right then and there. "Do you want to play?" 

"Uh, sure. What are you playing?" 

They point to the chessboard. Oh. Duh. Well, you do know how to play chess, though it's been quite a while since you last played a game. But hey, why not? 

The small bunny child literally hops around the edge of the bar, dragging a small stool with them. They clamber up on top of it, their ears getting in the way several times as they do so. One ear perks up just slightly with pride when they manage to sit on top. "Okay, I wanna be white!"

"Fine with me," you say, unable to control your delighted smile. 

The little monster grabs a pawn in a small paw and moves it several spaces into the middle. Okay...it's been a while but you're pretty sure that's against the rules. But you don't have the heart to tell them so and just decide to go with it. The pawn you grab reveals that it's carved out of some kind of stone, smooth and worn with use. You slide it forward two spaces. "So, do you have a name?" 

"Yup!"

"Do you...wanna tell me what it is?" 

"Nope!" 

"Oh. Okay. Well mine is-"

"You're Shore! Mamma told me about you. You helped Mr. Grillby last night." The bunny moves the knight in an L shape with an extra space. 

You respond by moving another pawn. "Yeah I did. Is your mom the one outside?" 

"Yup!" They move their first pawn forward, claiming your piece. "She and Mr. Grillby are friends. She's gonna help him out til he finds another person cause we don't have the inn anymore and Mamma is tired of working at Auntie's shop!" 

So that probably means the other rabbit working is the one from last night. You shift another pawn forward. This might be a good chance to learn more about the bartender himself, though you're not sure you can put much stock in what this child has to say. Still. "So...Mr. Grillby had a bar underground, right?" 

They nod. "Mmhm." 

"Did you go there often?" 

"Sometimes. I had to help Mamma run the inn and sometimes we went there for dinner. But not a lot cause too much greasy food isn't good for growing strong teeth." They display their small teeth for you.

"They're lovely," you assure them. "Did he work the bar by himself before?" 

They take your second pawn. "Yeah. Mr. Grillby likes to work by himself. That's what Mamma says. Your hair is pretty." 

"Oh, thank you," you say automatically, caught slightly off guard by the sudden topic change. You move your knight up. "Everyone keeps saying it looks like Grillby's." 

The bunny puts a paw on their chin, eyes squinting. "But you have hair. Mr. Grillby is all fire." 

You laugh. "Yes that is true. I think they mean the color is the same." 

"Hmm." They stare down at the chess board, shift their queen forward and suddenly slam their hands down. They're too fluffy to make much noise against the wood."I'm bored. I'm gonna go talk to Mamma!" 

They hop down from the stool and skip away, completely dropping the chess game. You watch as they disappear through the crowd, shaking your head. It looks like kids really are the same, no matter what the species are. You look back at the chess board and move your knight forward, putting the white king in check. "Just when I was about to win too," you mumble out loud. 

At that moment, you realize that the temperature around you has risen slightly. You look up as Grillby peers over the chessboard, his golden eyes narrow with thought. He picks up the white knight and successfully captures your piece. He sets it aside and gives you a small smile as he sets down a menu. Without another word, he leaves again to pour a drink for another customer. Huh. You look back down at the board and think. You move your pawn up again and wait for him to come back.

When he does, he again gives the board a quick glance and moves one pawn forward one space. "Have you played before?" he asks, his voice just loud enough to hear over the chatter of the room.

"A long time ago, aside from totally beating a small rabbit a few minutes ago." You grin. "Before they got bored and left." 

Grillby sighs. "I guess chess isn't exactly a child appropriate game." 

You move your bishop up. "This is yours?" 

He nods, moving his queen up and claiming your rook. How did you miss that?! "I don't have many games here but they were getting bored so I set it up for them to play with." 

"You know, it's kinda hard to play chess by yourself," you say teasingly as you take one of his pawns. 

"It's a good that you stopped by then," he says, his smile flashing again. "Though I assume you actually came by to check on the bar, since according to everyone else you run the place now."

"Oh come on, you too?" you whine but shrug sheepishly. "I guess it's true that rumors spread like wildfire." 

He finally moves his rook up. "Don't let Sans hear you saying puns like that," Grillby says lightly. "He'll go on for hours." 

You hadn't even made that one on purpose. You snicker as you take his rook with your bishop. "I bet he would." 

"i thought my ears were burning." 

You jump at the sudden voice right next to you. Sans, grinning innocently, hops up on the stool left by the rabbit child. How on earth did he do that? It's noisy in here sure but you had no idea he was standing there. "How-" 

"how could you guys start punning without me?" Sans pouts. "you know jokes sets my soul aflame." 

Grillby rolls his eyes, sparks popping noisily. "You don't even have ears Sans." 

"fired a true and fatal blow there grillbz." The skeleton looks over the chessboard curiously. "who's winning?" 

Grillby simply moves his bishop up and you realize that thanks to his queen already sitting in place, he's trapped your king. 

"Oh man!" You stare in disbelief at the board. "How'd you do that?" He taps the rook you just captured and you groan as you realize that you had fallen for his distraction, hook line and sinker.

Sans laughs, clapping you on the back. "hey, don't sweat it kid. grillbz is tough to beat at this game. only the smartest of tricksters are able to outsmart him."

"So are you one of those tricksters?"

"i'm shore you'd like to know."  

He somehow dodges your swat at his shoulder. Grillby smiles again, his colors shifting to a gentle orange hue. "Drinks?" he asks the two of you. 

"Surprise me. No alcohol please," you sigh, handing him the menu. Sans makes his order and turns to you as Grillby starts pulling out glasses. 

"so, stop by to check on the place and swoop in to the rescue?" 

You throw your hands up. "Okay, why is everyone making that assumption? I mean...it's true but still!" 

Sans takes a large swig from the cup Grillby sets in front of him. He lets out a happy sigh and says "well, don't count on me being a dishwasher again. i worked a ton today. a-"

"Skeleton?" you say dryly. 

He lifts his drink to you. "there ya go, you got it!" 

You smile your thanks to Grillby as he places a purple drink in front of you. This one, while just as tasty as the previous drinks, doesn't do any obvious magical side effects. "So what kind of work do you actually do?" you ask curiously. You have a hard time picturing him doing...well...anything to be honest. The skeleton actually fell asleep with his arms dunked in soapy water for crying out loud! 

"You're still at the science center, right?" Grillby begins polishing a glass, his head tilted slightly. 

Sans nods. "yeah, still doing that stuff." 

"Wait, which science center? Not the Daiport Center of Science, the top of the line research laboratory, home to the best minds in the nation-oh my gosh." You stare at Sans with awe. "Are you one of the monsters who helped develop clean power using thermal energy from the mountain?"  

His sockets wider than you've ever seen them, Sans shrugs as a light blue tint colors his cheekbones. "heh, it was more al than me. she's the robotics and machinist expert. i'm just the physics guy." 

"Al as in...Alphys?" The sweet yet nervous yellow monster was behind the clean energy advances? Holy crap! You smile with wonder. "Wow, you guys really are a group of celebrities, aren't you?" 

"nah, i just run numbers. my bro and the kid and the rest of 'em are the real celebrities." 

"Hey, don't sell yourself short there. I'm no scientist myself but I'm sure-stop," you add glaringly, seeing his expression perk up. "I'm certain that physics play an important part in setting up a constant flow of thermal energy."

Sans turns to his drink, shifting a little on the stool. He's still a little blue in the face. "geez kid, you're getting me all heated up here." So he says, but his smile is slightly wider than before. And he's most certainly got a bluish tint to his cheekbones. Huh. You study his face for a moment, before looking back at Grillby. Come to think of it, you saw blue in his flames before too. You have to assume that Sans is blushing, despite the weird color, so... You grin even wider at Grillby, who tilts his head slightly. Okay this is going to have to be explored.

"Is something wrong?" he asks.

"Nope," you hum innocently as you lift your glass up again. You don't want to go out of your way to embarrass the poor guy but now you are insanely curious. You keep sipping as Grillby gets called away to take the orders of a group of monsters that just walked in. "Hey Sans?" 

"yeah?" 

"Um, is it...normal for Grillby to change colors?" You keep your voice lowered, though you doubt you'll be overheard thanks to the music and general chatter. "He kinda goes blue sometimes, or brightens and stuff." 

Somehow, his brow bones raise up slightly. "yeah, that's normal." 

"And uh...what does that mean? Like...blue for instance...." 

Sans snickers, turning back to his drink. "hey, the rest of us had to learn. it's cheating if i just tell you." 

"Whaaat?" You tug on the sleeve of his jacket (why is he wearing a jacket in this heat?!) "C'mon dude, that's cold!" 

"and you're on fire," he says, pulling at a strand of your hair. He grins unapologetically. "you'll figure it out. you seem bright enough to answer your own burning question." 

"Oh my gosh, he was right. Stop these puns now." 

"it's too late; my power cannot be doused." 

"That's not a fire pun." 

"ouch, burn." 

You and Sans have dissolved into laughter as Grillby returns. He gives the two of you an amused glance, his colors once again shifting slightly into a warm orange hue. You notice his gaze lingers on your for a moment and you meet his eyes and...yes there it is! A quick burst of blue crosses his face and for some reason, this makes you laugh harder. You start to choke a little and quickly take another drink, finishing off the cup. You're so busy focusing on not coughing that you miss Grillby's hand start to reach towards you and stop before retreating back to his side.

Sans, wiping at his sockets, waves off Grillby when the fire monster looks to him. "nah, i'm good," he says in response to an unspoken question. "paps is cooking tonight and tori's helping, so it might actually be edible. hey." He gives you a quick tap on the shoulder as he hops down from the stool. "wanna come with? paps keep talking about how he wants to make you dinner."  

Your brows lift. "A free dinner that might be edible? Count me in." 

He grins, shoving his hands in his pockets while you dig through your purse for your wallet. You might be thrifty when it comes to food but you haven't actually paid for a single thing from Grillby's yet. Probably not a good idea to make a habit of that. You hold out a five towards him. "Delicious as always," you praise.

Grillby slowly reaches out and takes the edge of the bill. You stare down at his hand. Tiny tongues of flame twist and burn along the surface of his 'skin', bright and...well, just like fire. But there's a definite hand shape under the flames and if it wasn't on fire, you could almost imagine a human hand taking your money. You can feel the warmth of his fingers against your own, though there's still an inch or two of distance between you. It's a comfortable warmth, not the burning heat you would expect from being so close to fire. Does that mean he can control his temperature? He must, otherwise everything he touched would be scorched and you've yet to see a single thing burn around him. You feel an urge to cup your hands around his just for the warmth and discover if you can touch his flames and see if he really is solid under that fire-

You quickly release the money, blushing. What are you thinking?! You can't just grab his hand out of the blue! "Um, keep the change," you stutter. "I'll see you later, I guess."  

Grillby is still just standing there, his eyes bright behind his glasses. His mouth opens slightly before he simply nods. You turn and, despite a sudden, quiet hesitation, follow Sans out of the restaurant. 

Chapter Text

You leave the woody smell of Grillby's behind as you follow Sans out into the main square of the Walk. A bit of progress has been made on the fountain, though no one is working on it at the moment. It's crowded out here, as usual and Sans moves surprisingly quickly so you have to pay attention to make sure you don't lose him in the crowd. With his short stature, you have no doubt he could easily vanish among the other people walking around, especially if he were to put the hood of his jacket up. But then again, you can't help but notice while the various monsters walking around give him friendly waves and smiles, a lot of humans give him a fairly wide berth once they notice his skeletal features. Because of this, you have no trouble walking next to him despite the crowd.

"you know, at this rate, you're gonna steal my spot as grillby's best customer," Sans jokes, his smile easy. If he's noticed the stares of the passerby, he isn't showing it. 

"How do you figure that?" 

"you've got a higher attendance rate than me." 

You blink at him. "Um, what?" 

Sans pulls one hand out of his pocket, his thin, white finger bones (what are they called, you know that you should know this) and holds his hand up. "you first walked through those doors five days ago, right?" 

"Yeah?" 

"and out of those five days, how many times have you visited?" 

You think back, realizing that you've eaten there almost every night since that first day. Huh. "Four." 

He lowers one finger. "so four outta five. means you've got a eighty percent attendance rate. then there's me, who's been...hmm, let's round up and say out of five thousand, four hundred and seventy-five-" 

Your eyes widen slightly. 

"that's fifteen years, give or take," he says, the lights of his sockets sparkling slightly with mirth at your expression. "i'd say i've been there four thousand, three hundred and one days out of the fifteen years, which puts me at a seventy-nine percent attendance rate. you're beating me by one percent." 

You gape at him. "Um...again, what?"

Sans looks to be barely holding back laughter. "you're beating my attendance rate." 

"But...you've been...okay, you can't compare five days to fifteen years-" 

"shh. shh." Sans actually puts a finger up to your face, tapping your nose. "i told ya. i'm the numbers guy. don't argue my logic or i'll have to go on a tangent." 

Okay, that one you do get. You groan loudly. "You are insufferable." 

"hey, c'mon i might be a comedian but at least i'm not mean." You can hear a quiet rattling under his jacket and now he's got the biggest shit eating grin on his face. "shall i go on?"

"Please don't," you beg, unable to keep yourself from giggling. You take a deep breath, trying to calm down. "Okay, I gotta know; how old are you? I mean, surely you weren't going to Grillby's the day you..."

Wait. 'Were born?'. He's a skeleton! He couldn't have been born right? No, wait because even if he is a skeleton now, he had to have been 'alive' at some point right? So would it be that he was 'born' when he died? Or-

"kid, you're gonna blow a fuse there." Sans cuts into your running thoughts. "i'm twenty-five. or thereabouts. and i was born like this. well. a bit smaller but hey, i grew a little." 

You shake your head a little, slightly dazed. A growing skeleton huh? "Whew, okay, give me a second. Born and raised a skeleton. Got it." 

Pleased, Sans puts his hand back into his pocket and as you catch your breath, you realize that he's led you to the edge of the shopping district of the Walk. Before you lies the walkway that leads to the living area where most monsters have taken up residence after moving down from the first settlement on the mountain.  There's a clear line between the living area and the rest of the Walk thanks to the massive fence surrounding the establishment. Apparently there was a problem with people attempting to sneak into the first camp of monsters and thanks to all the grief it caused, the wall was made as an extra safety precaution to help monsters feel a little more at ease during the integration into human society. The walkway that you're on leads to the gate, which is swung wide open but contains a number of soldiers, both human and monster, lounging around outside of it.

"Am...I allowed in?" you ask Sans quietly as you approach.

"why wouldn't you be?"  

You shrug. He probably wouldn't have led you here if you weren't, so it's kind of a dumb question. Still- "Is there like a check in kind of process? I've never come out this far before." 

Sans shakes his head. "nah, they keep it pretty open now. al's set up a bunch of scanners and stuff so if anyone passes with bombs or weapons, it's easy to snag them before they get far." 

"Oh." It makes you a little sick to hear him so casually talk about the threat of bombs or anti-monster terrorists. 

He taps your shoulder. "hey, it's really not bad anymore," he assures you. 

You give him a smile in return. "That's good at least," you murmur, turning your attention back to the sight in front of you. It's clear that this place, even with the presence of soldiers, is filled with life and happiness. Sans doesn't pause as he walks though the gate, nodding to the various soldiers who greet him with warm familiarity. After giving you a quick look over, they wave to you as well, their postures relaxed. Beyond the gate, is the community most monsters call home. The walkway extends down into a road where a great stretch of homes and apartment buildings line the street. You assume there's another larger gate somewhere because you do spy a couple of cars parked in the drives of the homes though there currently aren't any driving around. You remember the day Faith told you that additional laws had passed in edition to basic 'human' rights. Now they could go where ever they wanted, train and learn crafts and apply for all kinds of different licences. You have to imagine that's one of the reasons why Grillby's is just now open to the public, despite monsters having been out on the surface for almost two years now. 

The homes here, while perhaps basic at their fountains, are bright and colorful with individual life and many have been remodeled to reflect personal choices of the monsters living inside. Some are adorned with various flower pots and bushes. Some are painted in bright colors that clash and yet somehow fit together perfectly. And then there are some that bear no resemblance to the rest of the homes. You spy a house that's almost shaped like an upside down teardrop, leaning dangerously to the left and a home that looks like a giant snail shell. 

"Let me guess, snails live there?" you ask Sans. 

"how did you know?" He laughs. "it's a huge family though, not single giant snail." 

"Huh." You turn your attention away from that as you come to a crossroads. There's a sign on the corner with several boards attached to it. To your right is 'Tem Village' and 'Wetter Land'. The left holds 'Snowdout' and 'New Hotland'. Behind you lies 'The Walk' and in front of you is 'High Street'. Ironically enough, the street does start to rise up a slight incline, though it's not enough of a difference to have named the street after it, in your opinion. 

You give Sans a look, your eyebrows lifting. "Who names your streets? I've gotta hire them to rename my dance group." 

"king fluffybuns." Sans seemingly ignores your dropped jaw and starts walking down High Street. "but they're not streets, they're more like...specialized areas. lotta monsters got used to living in certain terrians and temperatures. most can come and go but there are those who can barely stand heat. or feel sick when it gets too cold. and the temmies are a whole other world." He laughs quietly, like he's made a joke. "so we made areas to reflect what they used to live in underground. snowdout is cold, new hotland is hot and so on." 

Your eyes are bugged. "That's amazing!" Your head twists, trying to spy the different areas but it's no good. There are too many houses and the road twists away out of your sight. "But uh, no offense, but your king has terrible reasoning when it comes to names." 

Sans chuckles. "heh, yeah, it was that way underground too. he's not the best at naming stuff but he tries so we all just go with it." 

"Also...Fluffybuns?"

"long story." 

You nod slowly, and for a few moments, you walk in silence. There's a lot of ambient noise around though and quite a few monsters as well as humans walking around. You watch them curiously as they go about their business and most of them give you friendly yet curious stares back. "Do all monsters live around here?" you ask Sans.

"most do." He gives you a wry grin, not that's he's ever stopped smiling since you met him. "it's kinda funny. even after getting our freedom, most of us feel safer in a walled community." 

Your steps falter for just a moment. There's no hostility in his voice, no change in his expression. And yet a small chill runs up your spine at his words. What can you say to that? 

He doesn't give you a chance to respond however. "easy bud, it's just a fact," he says easily. "anyway, there are a few who live 'outside'," he says almost thoughtfully, making air quotation marks. "mettaton, i'm sure you've heard of him at least."

Indeed you have. You might not have recognized Frisk the first time you saw them, but Mettaton is utterly unforgettable. Link loves him, as does Liam surprisingly. Faith, Tyler and you find him a little tacky but the robot does admittedly know how to put on a good show. 

"grillby lives outside too." 

"Does he? Where does he live?" The moment the words are out of your mouth you want to slap yourself in the face. Wow, okay, that sounded ten times creepier than you meant it. "Actually, never mind, don't answer that."

Sans, seeing your embarrassment, simply grins. "geez buddy, that's kinda stalkerish. ya got a crush or something?"

"No!" you exclaim, perhaps a little loudly. Great, you can feel your face heating up. That really isn't it at all, you were simply curious. "I was just wondering."

"well, grillby's a workaholic. i guess you could say he pretty much lives at the bar." 

Looks like he's not going to give you a straight answer. Probably for the best. At least that's what you tell yourself. "A-anyway, you and Papyrus live together right?"

Clearly aware of your hasty subject change, he gives you a long look before answering. "yeah, it's just up here."   

He points up to an quaint two story cottage style house painted in gentle tones of green and white. It's somewhat offset by the multi-colored Christmas lights lining the awnings and the huge bush in the yard shaped like Papyrus' head. A small squeak escapes you at the sight and you slap your hand up over your mouth. 

"That might be the most glorious thing I've ever seen," you say with absolute sincerity as you turn from the side walk and make your way up to the house. 

"isn't it something?" Sans looks like he's just barely holding back laughter. 

"Did he do that himself?" 

"nah, asgore came over and asked pap what he wanted done to the bush. tori wasn't pleased but frisk really likes it." 

Okay, so the king of monsters came over and when asked, trimmed a bush to look like a skeleton. ....Nice? "Who's Tori anyway? You said she was helping Papyrus with cooking right?" 

Sans nods, leading the way up to the front door. It's painted a deep purple with a sign that you recognize as the royal symbol. It was everywhere when the news broke out about the barrier falling. "she's one of our housemates. or, more like, paps and i are her housemates." He pulls on the door and holds it open, gesturing for you to go in first. You step inside and look down at the strange crinkling underfoot. A tarp? Why would there be-

"oh, i should probably mention-" 

"Release the buckets!" 

You hear something click above you and look up just in time to see a wave of water pouring down on you. Your arms fly up in a futile attempt to save your head and a sharp squeal escapes you as you are utterly drenched in ice cold water. It's over in mere seconds and you remain frozen in place, locked with shock. What. The. Hell?!

"Ha ha!" A female voice proclaims loudly. "A clear victory for-oh!" The voice cuts off with a horrified gasp and you hear a thud as Sans hits the ground, absolutely howling with laughter. Dripping, you lower your arms and stare at someone you clearly recognize, despite never having met her in person before. 

You and the Queen of monsters stare at each other. You thought Papyrus and Undyne were huge but they're nothing compared to her. She's got to be close to seven feet tall, thanks to the short horns peeking out on the top of her head. Her fur is pristine white, and clawed hands are placed over her mouth as her black eyes grow wider and wider. Peeking out from behind her, looking at you with a mixture of guilt and glee is Frisk who is course holding their phone up and recording the whole thing. They wave to you and you automatically wave back.

"DID WE GET HIM?" Papyrus pops up from behind a couch in the living room, a cord clutched in his gloved hand. Following it, you look up to see two empty buckets dangling from a complicated trap of metal pieces and rope. "OH! HUMAN SHORE! WHY ARE YOU STANDING IN MY TRAP?" 

You blow out a long breath, sending droplets of water flying. You glance to Sans, who loses it again. "I have a notion." 

"Sans!" Toriel cries out, genuine distress on her face. "Did you bring this poor human here on purpose?" 

Sans has his arms wrapped around his stomach and it takes him several tries to speak clearly. "sure did tori, but not for this. i swear on the stars i just brought her over for dinner. i had no idea you guys planned...this." He gestures to you before breaking into giggles again. "that was pure fate!" 

"You seem awfully smug for someone who had no idea," you say dryly. 

He cackles, on the verge of dissolving into uncontrollable laughter again. Somehow he manages to stand, putting a hand on your soaking shoulder. "s-so as i was saying before-" He breaks off into loud and rather disgusting snorts. "my housemate tori is frisk's adopted mom. toriel, ex-queen of monster kind." 

Snapped out of her horrified state, Toriel turns to Frisk. "My child, please run and get a towel from the bathroom." Frisk nods and vanishes down the hall as the large goat monster approaches you. Her hands start to reach out to you and hesitate. "I'm so sorry about this." Her hands flutter a little helplessly and you start to feel bad at her obvious guilt. It was just a silly prank, one not even meant for you. Plus you're totally fine, aside from the whole soaking wet part of it. You've gotta do something to ease this building tension!

"Hey, it's okay. I spend most of my time in the water anyway. I just fish I was a little more presentable for meeting the queen of monsters." You put your hands up in a jazz hands kind of movement, smiling as brightly as you can.

Sans actually chokes and Toriel freezes.  

Ooooh boy. You drive on, doing your best to ignore Sans' wheezing and the way his fingers are tightening slightly on your shoulder. "Um, I know you didn't do it on porpoise! So you know, no harm no foul." 

Toriel bends her head slightly and you prepare yourself to simply bolt out of the door and save yourself from further embarrassment. And then, her head suddenly flies back and she's laughing, the sound so loud and rich you can almost feel it in your bones. That of course sets Sans off again and he leans heavily on you. You can feel your own giggles bubbling in your chest and then-

"Water you guys laughing at?" Frisk comes back into the room, an innocent look on their face, toweled clutched in hand.

"OH MY GOD!" Papyrus throws his hands up, his sockets somehow managing to bulge with indignant rage. "YOU ARE ALL PUSHING ME OFF THE DEEP END!"

And with that, trying to hold on is a lost cause. By this point, Toriel is laughing so hard the sounds coming out of her mouth sound more like bleating and Sans' entire body is rattling with the force of his great guffaws. It takes several minutes for you all to calm down to the point where you can accept the towel that Frisk holds out to you. It's huge, fluffy and insanely soft and you wrap it around yourself gratefully. Red faced, tears of laughter leaking from your eyes and wheezing, you're sure you're the perfect picture of crazy. 

You hear the click of a camera and look up to see Frisk taking another picture. "Please don't share that." 

"Too late," they say with a smug grin as they tap at the screen. 

"Who did you send that to?" 

They shrug. "Oh you know. Alphys and Undyne. And...Grillby." 

"What?" you squeak. "C'mon! Why are you sending it to him?" For some reason, the idea of Grillby seeing a picture of you like this is more mortifying than actually experiencing it.

Frisk only gives you a slightly evil grin in response and Toriel wipes at her eyes. "Oh!" she says brightly. "You must be Shore!" She extends her hand and you shake it. Holy crap! It's like holding onto a cloud! A soft, fluffy cloud tipped with black claws that just barely peek through the thick fur on her skin. "I've heard a lot about you from Frisk! They're really enjoying learning how to surf. It's all they've been talking about." She smiles warmly before it slips for just a moment. "I truly am sorry about dumping all that water on your head. It was meant for this smelly bag of bones here." 

"EXACTLY!" Papyrus pipes up, scowling at Sans. "HE REFUSES TO LET ME WASH THAT DISGUSTING JACKET OF HIS! NOT TO MENTION HE KEEPS LEAVING DIRTY SOCKS ALL OVER THE PLACE! TORIEL AND I SIMPLY WANTED TO TEACH HIM A LESSON! AND GIVE HIM A BATH." 

Sans puts a hand over his chest in mock rage. "bro, i am not that smelly. i showered two weeks ago." 

You glance at him sharply, praying that he's kidding. Oh geez...he's not kidding is he? "You're gross." 

He gives you the most serious of looks. "i know." 

"Anyway," Toriel cuts in, giving Sans a look. "Sans said he brought you for dinner? I hope you would still like to join us." 

Frisk snickers. "Or you could take a rain check." 

Without looking away from you, Toriel puts her hand up for a high five, which Frisk returns with great enthusiasm. 

Sans carefully steps around you and the puddle at your feet. "well, that shore would be a shame since you came all this way, huh?" 

Toriel snickers, a hand coming up to cover her snout. 

"Still not funny," you call after him as he strides into what you presume is the kitchen. Papyrus leaps up from his position behind the couch and snatches one of your hands. You just barely manage to hold onto the towel. 

"YES! PLEASE STAY FOR DINNER! TONIGHT'S DISH WILL BE EVEN MORE DELECTABLE WHEN SHARED WITH A NEW FRIEND!" His eye sockets are gleaming, how on Earth does he do that? You can only nod, swept along with his enthusiasm as he pulls you further into the house. You just manage to kick off your flip flops so as to not track water onto the carpet and stumble after Papyrus. 

"Papyrus?" Toriel calls out. Papyrus comes to a sudden stop and you bump against his spine. "Why don't we let our guest change into some dry clothes while we finish preparing the food?" 

"Oh, I'm okay, I don't mind-" 

"Nonsense!" Toriel takes your hand from Papyrus and starts leading you down a different hallway. What the heck is even happening? "Come this way dear, I believe I have a small robe that will fit you while your clothes dry." 

"Um, I mean...okay?" She opens a door and you find yourself in a quietly elegant yet simple room. There's a king sized bed against one wall, as well as a sewing table complete with a machine and several cabinets that are close to overflowing with various fabrics and other crafts. Drawn silk curtains allows the sunlight to fill the space, turning the white walls a golden color. Toriel releases your hand and moves over to a massive wardrobe. Pulling one of the many drawers on it open, she murmurs quietly to herself as she paws through the various clothing inside.

"So...you and Frisk live with the skeleton brothers?" you ask, squirming at the idea of standing there silently. You're standing in the queen of monster's bedroom wrapped in a towel for goodness sake! The least you can do is make small talk.

"Yes, we lived together when the barrier first fell thanks to a lack of living space and grew to like it so much that we decided to keep doing it even after greater accommodations were made. Ah ha!" She finds what she's looking for and holds it up for you to see. It's some kind of old fashioned robe made with a deep purple fabric with the same symbol on the door stitched into the front. She wiggles it a little, prompting you to take it from her. "I originally made this for Frisk when I first got my sewing machine and I'm afraid it didn't turn out quite as I wanted it. But it should fit you just fine while your clothes are in the dryer."

The robe is soft to the touch and you run your thumb over it for a moment before looking back up at her. "Thanks. Uh, your majesty?"

"Oh please," she says, waving a hand. "Just Toriel is fine." She pats your head gently and starts to leave. "Go ahead and leave your wet things on the towel. I'm going to go clean up that failure of a prank." She makes a squinty-eyed expression of displeasure as she closes the door. 

Okay. Changing in the queen's room. Not the strangest thing to happen to you this week but it certainly makes top five. You strip out of your wet things and wrap them up in the damp towel as best as you can before slipping into the robe. It's a little big on you (she did say she was making this for Frisk right?! It's way too big for them!) but it's comfortable and most importantly, dry. You feel bad about leaving the wet clothes on the floor though so you take them with you, glancing up and down the hall for a drying machine. 

You spy Toriel kneeling next to the tarp full of water and you're about to call out to her when your voice dies in your throat. She's got a hand extended over the mess and before your eyes, the white fur begins to glow with a deep orange color. Your eyes bulge as flames lick the air, very quickly evaporating the puddle of water. It's over in a matter of moments and Toriel makes a small sound of approval as she gets to her feet. "Oh, that was fast!" she says brightly as she spies you. 

"I um...I didn't want to leave these on the floor," you stutter, gesturing to the pile of clothes. "You...you use fire too?" 

"Too?" She tilts her head in question for a moment before her eyes widen. "Oh, you must be talking about Grillby. Our magics are slightly similar but I merely conjure fireballs." She extends her hand and a ball of flame suddenly bursts into being, making you jump. She gestures with her free hand for you to come closer and so you do, curiously staring at the flame. It's true that almost immediately you can see that it's different from Grillby's...well everything. It's just plain fire. There's no change in color, no gentle crackle or woody smell. Toriel flexes her hand and the fire extinguishes. She takes the bundle of clothes from you. "I'll take these. Go ahead and go into the kitchen."

She leaves and you go ahead and head for the slight commotion you can hear from the other room. The kitchen is huge and it is absolutely covered in various ingredients. Sans is already seated at the dining table, tapping away at his phone and Frisk is working on retrieving glasses from the cupboard. They're standing rather precariously on their toes so you quickly move over and grab a few before they drop them. They give you a grateful grin and the two of you set the glasses out. Moving only the lights in his sockets, Sans glances up at you, stifles a snort and looks back to his phone. You pull at the robe.

"Okay, it's a little big but you know what? I like it. It's comfy," you say defensively. 

"'s not why i'm laughing." 

"Why are you laughing then?" 

Sans turns his phone towards you to display a series of messages. "grillby's yelling at me for using you to spring the trap." 

You're not sure what to start in on first. "He's...okay, what about the whole 'not knowing about the prank' thing?" 

He shrugs. "i didn't know but i figured it out as soon as i opened the door." 

So he did use you! You scowl at him before looking at the messages. 

 

gurbz: 

-Sans, what happened?

 

s: 

-whatcha talking about?

 

gurbz:

-This

ATTACH: IMAGE 228

 

There's a picture of you standing in the doorway, mouth open wide, hair plastered to your face and soaked to the bone. Sans is standing next to you, his sockets scrunched with mirth and written over the image is 'OOPS' with a smiley face. You flush and glare at Frisk. 

 

s:

-heh, pretty good right?

 

gurbz:

-Sans

 

s:

-c'mon buddy she laughed too. she even made a joke about it

 

gurbz:

-That's because she's a nice person. Unlike someone else I know. 

 

You can't stop your snort. "Holy crap." 

"right?" Sans turns the phone back to him. "pretty cold hearted for a guy on fire." 

"Still, that's not really yelling...."

"for grillbz it is." He gives you a look, his brow bones lifting. "you've must've made one heck of an impression on him." 

You pull a chair out and quickly sit, laughing. "Oh I'm sure I made an impression but not a good one. He probably just feels sorry for me. Also, why is he called 'gurbz' in your phone?"

"paps had a hard time saying grillby when he was a baby bones. i thought it was funny." Sans taps a finger against his teeth before shoving the phone at you. "text him and tell him you're not mad or he's gonna make me pay my tab or something." 

"You should really pay it anyway," you scold, taking the phone from him. There's more to the messages.

 

s: 

-g that's harsh!

 

gurbz:

You need to apologize

 

You think for a moment before tapping out a quick response. 

s:

-Hey this is the poor sap in the picture. Sans says you're yelling at him but I promise I'm not mad. It actually was really funny ^_^

 

There's no immediate reply and you find yourself distracted as Toriel joins you in the kitchen and brings over a massive pot of some kind of spaghetti casserole. For something that 'might' be edible, it sure smells fantastic! You take a decent helping and dig in. There's definitely some...interesting textures and odd flavors but it's really not bad and your compliments to Papyrus are genuine. He beams at your praise and dumps another huge helping onto your plate. It's about half way through the meal, when you and Toriel are talking about the different stages of Frisk's surfing lessons when Sans' phone buzzes. He picks it up, glances at the message and you see his smile grow slightly. He taps your arm and holds the phone out to you. 

 

gurbz:

-I'm glad to hear that. 

 

s: 

-Did you know Sans has you listed as 'gurbz' in his phone?

 

gurbz: 

-Of course he does

 

s: 

-lolol

 

gurbz: 

-Miss Shore, if it's not too forward of me

-Could I perhaps get your cell number for myself? 

-If you don't mind

 

You stare at the message, aware of a warm blush spreading over your face. You look up to Sans and he's already scribbling a number down on a napkin, which he hands to you with a wink. You quickly enter in the number, almost embarrassed by how happy you are to get it. It's just a number, there's no need to get excited.

 

YOU: 

-I don't mind at all :)

 

Chess Master Grillby:

-Miss Shore I presume?

 

YOU:

-You presume correctly sir 

-You're very formal when you text lol

 

Chess Master Grillby: 

-I'm sorry, I'm afraid I'm not much of a texter

 

YOU: 

-Aw, you just need practice

-Speaking of practice, I demand a chess rematch! I must regain my honor!

 

 Chess Master Grillby:

-You are more than welcome to try

-I'll leave the set out. Come by any time. 

Chapter Text

Over the next few days, you do indeed try your best to beat Grillby at chess with a pitiful lack of success. The monster barely even needs to think before making his moves against you, simply glancing at the board between taking orders! But even with the slight sting to your pride, you enjoy sitting there at the same spot near the end of the bar basking in the atmosphere as you sip at one of Grillby's many drinks or nibble on a plate of fries and contemplate your plan to beat him. And, with your presence becoming a sort of regular thing in the time between work and practicing at the studio, some of the other regulars have started talking to you, sometimes even joining you in finding a method to beat Grillby's tactics.

It's totally not cheating of course. It's teamwork!  

The group of dogs are the first of the regulars to investigate you, actually sniffing at you and gently pawing your hair as if they expected it to be as hot as actual fire. They certainly don't have any knowledge of what a personal bubble is (especially the big guy in some kind of mock armor who you learn is named Greater Dog) but after you got over the initial strangeness of it, you find that you actually kind of like the attention. Their closeness gives you a chance to pet them, which you are extremely pleased to find they love and encourage. Their 'help' with the game, while coming from a good place you're sure, isn't really practical since it mostly involves chewing on the pieces instead of actually playing. Lesser Dog actually gets one in their mouth and drools all over it before Grillby quickly appears and gives them a swat on the snout to make them spit it out.  The hangdog expression on the poor dog's face made you spit your drink.

You also become familiar with the bunnies working the place. The mother of the child bunny (named Bonnie and Mizzy respectively) is a kind monster who also holds a bit of a gleam in her beady eyes. She waves you right in when she sees you coming now, an easy grin on her face. She seems to enjoy working at the bar and tells you that she's actually missed greeting customers. 

"It's not quite as satisfying as hospitality," she tells you one night with a quiet sigh. "But it will probably be a while yet before I can set up another inn of my own. For now I need to focus on helping my kids adjust to surface life." 

"How many kids do you have?" 

"Fifteen." 

"Oh." 

A whole lot of kids, each of them various ages oddly enough but Mizzy is the youngest and the most clingy. So on nights when the child threatened to throw a fit, or her many kids were too busy with their own actives, Bonnie brings them along to help them learn social skills. Mizzy takes a great liking to you, lingering around while you and Grillby play, offering sage advice like 'Take his King while he's not looking!' and such. The one time you actually do sneak his king off the board, you can't keep a straight face thanks to the tiny bunny giggling at your side and sheepishly put it back when Grillby merely taps the spot on the board where it was. 

The other bunny, a very quiet and timid creature by the name of Hun (a cousin of Bonnie's) is indeed the monster who was working that first night and had to leave because she got so scared by the sheer volume of humans towering above her. The bunny is pretty small for a monster, partially thanks to the way she constantly hunches over. She approached you and shook your hand gratefully when you went back the first night after the dunking, the glimmer of thankful tears in her black eyes. 

"Thank you so much for helping Mr. Grillby!" she nearly cried, her soft paw shaking a little in your hand. "I'm so p-pathetic and w-when they got m-mad at me I just started s-shaking and-" 

"Hey it's okay," you had replied quickly, a little concerned that the young bunny was going to work herself into a panic attack. "I'm sure it's scary working opening night when so many people are wanting to get in." 

She'd nodded, straightening slightly. "It won't happen again! I'm not going to let Mr. Grillby down!"

When she scurried away, you had looked to Grillby. "Is she really going to be okay? She doesn't seem like she's...suited to deal with angry customers. No offense or anything on your choice."

Grillby had watched the small bunny for a moment before speaking in a quiet tone, "I told her she didn't have to keep working here. She insisted on staying." 

You have to admire her for sticking with the job and you find yourself keeping an eye on her in between your turns at the chess board. From what you can see, she seems to be handling herself well enough with her nerves only occasionally getting the best of her around humans. But she is fantastic at remembering orders and you never see her taking full plates back to the kitchen. The fact that Grillby doesn't seem bothered by the incident and seems to keep an eye on her too speaks for his character as well.

Though something Hun said did remind you of something at the time. "Hey, Grillby. I've noticed that some monsters call you Mr. Grillby. Grillby's not your last name is it?" Wouldn't it be something if you had been calling him by his last name this whole time without realizing it. Not as cringe inducing as not recognizing Frisk but still...

His flame had briefly flickered a light color, something you're learning is a sign that he finds something funny. "No. Grillby is my only name."

Whew, that's a relief to know. Apparently monsters don't see having both a last name and a first name as a necessary thing. Some monsters have both, such as the Dreemurrs but it was really only if someone wanted one or was part of large community of similar monsters. Of course since moving up to the surface, many monsters had adopted a last name, just to make the process of fitting in human documenting and all of that easier.

Grillby is not one of those monsters. But he does have a very unique name so you can't imagine it will be too much of an issue. Besides, as this point, it seems kind of odd to try and think of what his 'last' name could be. 

It's little tidbits like this that you learn over the course of the time you spend playing chess with him. He's busy of course and many of his moves are made silently in between taking orders but if he finds himself with a moment to spare, he'll linger by the board and quietly chat with you. You learn that he's fond of jazz music and was quite disappointed when his first jukebox died a mere six months after he found it. You learn that he built his original bar by himself using materials he gathered from the dump and fallen trees found in the vast forest that grew underground. He tells you about Snowdin, how the small town was constantly covered in snow and most everyone who lived there practically lived at his bar for the warmth he provided. It's fascinating to picture, not only because of the seemingly impossibility of an entire forest and weather system developing underground. Grillby smiles at your questions about how that even works and simply tells you to ask Sans or Alphys. 

Speaking of Sans, sometimes he joins you at the bar. He'll pop up next to you seemingly out of thin air at times and plop into the seat next to you. He seems like someone who could actually give you useful tips for the game but he refuses to do anything besides tauntingly ask "are you shore about that?" with every move you make. You've learned to ignore him when he does that, though you do have fun chatting with him about anything that catches your attention. You learn that while he works mostly at the science center with Alphys, he also has been putting on shows at a local comedy club. He offers you a VIP ticket for the low, low price of five hundred dollars and when you simply lift your eyebrows at that, he sighs and slides over a few tickets anyway. 

"i guess i can give you a free pass this time." 

"How generous." Your voice is sarcastic but you are actually pleased. You've never been to a comedy club before and you're actually kind of excited. You'll have to see if Faith is interested or maybe one of the boys. Liam hates puns though, so you can't imagine he'd be interested. Maybe Tyler will go. 

Sans isn't the only one who sometimes joins you. Over the course of the next ten days there are a few times when the surfing trio joins you (though Papyrus only does twice because anymore than that and he claims his bones will turn to grease). Come that first day of lessons after the prank, the first thing the blue fish lady did when she saw you was immediately run up to you and grab your shoulders. Her single eye gleamed and her fin like ears twitched wildly. 

"You got Grillby's number?" she practically screamed in your face, making everyone in the shop stop and stare at you. 

You don't even bother asking how she found out. Alphys was nearly dancing from foot to foot behind her, switching between pressing her hands gleefully against her face and typing furiously on her phone. "Yeah, he asked for my number. Probably so I could stop using Sans' phone," you had said as you squirmed out of her grip.

"He hardly gives anyone his number!" Undyne looked about ready to punch the air. "You've got to tell me what your secret is! Is it the hair? It's probably the hair!" She whirls on Alphys. "Babe I gotta dye my hair!"

It takes you a while to calm her down and you manage to convince her that he only asked for your number because he probably wanted to make sure that you really weren't mad at Sans for the prank. The two of you have barely texted since then. Not for lack of wanting it's just that...well you're not sure what to text about. You've never been the biggest texter as is and Grillby apparently is even less so. Still it is good to have his number on hand. Just in case you need it. For...emergencies and such. 

Anyway, it's not a big deal. You've exchanged plenty of numbers with people before and the thrill of it wears off as you get swept up in your busy schedule. Honestly, you probably should dial back on going to the bar as much as you are but you can't help it; being in there, smelling the faint presence of smoke and grease, listening to the music from the jukebox, playing chess with Grillby while he works...it helps you stay energized and focused. It's calming yet exciting to be around so many different types of monsters and people enjoying food made with magical fire. And the food itself isn't too expensive and half of the time Grillby waves away any money you try to give him anyway. Claims it's your reward for entertaining him with chess.

Plus, when Frisk and the others invite you to go with them you simply can't resist the chance to spend more time with them when your job ends. There's not as much time to socialize during the lessons themselves since you do need to actually do your job and teach them. It's your times eating at the bar that you learn more about the rest of them. Undyne, while still working as the Head of the Royal Guard (now more often referred to as M.C or Monster Corps) also teaches music lessons which you find a little surprising. Alphys of course is working full time at the science center, doing all kinds of different things that she can't freely talk about. Frisk is attending school at Toriel's new establishment for both human and monster children. The ratio between the two is still heavily on the monster side, but it seems that there are more interested in joining her school in the fall. Papyrus is proud to tell you that he has been working at a fancy restaurant! Of course, for now he doesn't cook and merely helps to clean but that is still a very important job! And it is only a matter of time before the Great Papyrus' skills are discovered!

Remembering just how interesting the food he made before was, you have no doubt he would certainly be well known as a chef. But you give him genuine encouragement. With enough training, anyone could cook after all, right?

Regarding surfing, holy crap, are they eager to learn! The three of them are some of the best students you've ever had! Once Undyne really learns that it's not a race, she absorbs everything you teach her, watching you unblinking as you demonstrate and very quickly adapts to being able to hold her own weight and shift as needed while up on the board. She's a natural and already looks amazing on the board, like she was born to be plowing her powerful arms into the waves. You almost wish that the waves out here got as huge as they do in some of the island regions. She would be incredible slipping into the tubes on those monstrous waves. 

Frisk too is a fast learner though since they are still underage, you have to be careful about making sure they don't push themselves. You have a feeling that they would, given the chance. They've had a couple of spills as to be expected but they never hesitate to clamber back up on the board, their eyes bright with determination. 

Poor Papyrus however.... His enthusiasm is unmatched, you have to give him that at least. You've never seen someone so gleefully pick themselves up so many times. At first, you thought his problem was his bony feet slipping on the wet surface of the board. But he went out and bought a pair of water shoes and that didn't solve his problem of tipping over. You don't get it. He's light yes, but that shouldn't be a hard problem to solve. It's got to be his balance. Something about his height to weight ratio must be messing with his center of gravity. It's not where a normal person's would be and as such, there is a lot of experimentation to go through to find his perfect spot. 

But you are determined to find a way to fix his balance issues!

Which brings you to a sunny afternoon lesson two weeks after the dunking incident. You're keeping an eye on Frisk and Undyne as they practice their duck dives into the waves but most of your attention is focused on Papyrus. You've got him practicing on just holding still. The skeleton is frozen on his board, slowly turning in a circle as he maintains a slightly bent position. His expression is one of extreme concentration. You glance at your watch. "Okay Papyrus, that's five minutes!" you call. "Try lifting yourself up just a little bit." 

Papyrus does as you say and the board wobbles with the motion. You hold your breath as his hands fly out to either side. Crap, there he goes-!

Ding!

You blink with bewilderment at the sight of a long white bone suddenly appearing in his right hand. He grabs onto it and even though it seems to be hovering in midair, it remains firmly in place and he pushes himself back up, managing to steady the board once again. "What is that?!" 

He looks at you. "WHAT IS WHAT?"

"That!" You point to the bone still gripped in his gloved hand. "You can make bones appear?" 

"OF COURSE I CAN!" He mildly scoffs, as if it's the most obvious thing in the world. His expression falls slightly at your continued stare. "IS THAT NOT ALLOWED IN SURFING?" 

"Uh, I mean, I guess it's fine?" You move closer, examining the bone. It's...it's a bone alright. You grin up at him. "That is super cool. And if it helps you stay balanced, I don't see why you shouldn't use it!" 

At your praise, Papyrus throws his arms up triumphantly, loses his balance and plummets off the board. You get completely covered in the resulting splash and move your wet hair aside just in time to see Frisk smoothly gliding by with a perfectly indifferent expression on their face as they flash you a thumbs up. 

Cheeky kid. 

You progress through the lesson and thanks to the additions of his weird bone things that he calls 'attacks' Papyrus actually manages to surf a few waves without immediately falling in, which you see as a huge success. You give them a few minutes to practice on their own and make your way back up to the beach where Alphys is sitting in the sand, a stack of manga at her side. She's been to most of the lessons, seemingly content with watching her girlfriend out on the waves and basking in the sun. But you've noticed today that her usual stack of books has gone mostly untouched and she seems oddly twitchy. 

"Hey," you greet her as you set your board down. 

"H-hi," she answers meekly. "Um, everyone l-looks like they're uh having f-fun." 

"I certainly hope so," you answer brightly, wringing some water out of your hair. "That's kinda the point!" 

"Heh, h-heh yeah." 

"You okay?" 

She jumps at your question, fiddling with the edge of her frilly swim suit. "O-of course, I was just um...I was wondering something." 

"...Yeah?" 

She seems to be struggling with saying what she wants to say. You sit down next to her, not minding the sand covering your butt and try to coax her into calming down a little by changing the subject. "So, Sans told me you work at the science center! That's so cool!" 

That gets a small smile out of her. "Oh yeah, he told me a-about that. It's kinda funny that you know about us and all but you d-didn't recognize Frisk." 

You sigh loudly. "I'm never going to live that down huh?" 

Alphys puts her hands up. "I'm sorry! I didn't-"

"I'm teasing," you reassure her, patting her arm. "Besides, it's because of you guys I no longer have an electric bill taking up my food money. It's a direct impact on me! So, thanks for your work. A lot of people are living slightly better lives now." 

Spots of color appear on her cheeks and she looks down at the sand bashfully. "It's n-nothing really..." 

"Try saying that to all the people who don't have to worry about their electricity suddenly shutting off because they couldn't afford the bill," you say seriously as the two of you watch Undyne gracefully fall on her face into the shallow water. "The work that you and Sans and all the other scientists have done has changed this city. Sans said you guys are working on finding a nationwide solution too, right?"

"Um, y-yes it's a huge process b-but we've made quite a few uh leaps. The p-problem is the m-mixing of magical and electrical energies and um finding sources that can provide the same constant energy as the magma in Mount Ebott and how to m-maintain it over...long distances." Her snout snaps shut, realizing that she flew into a bit of a passionate tangent but you're smiling widely.

"See! That's so cool! And I'm sure I don't even know about everything you guys are working on over there but I'm sure it's going to make everyone's lives just that much better." 

Alphy's face is bright red now at your praise. "I-I I don't k-know...oh geez." She buries her face in her hands. "You're s-so nice." 

You laugh, patting her hunched back. "I'm just stating the truth. So. What was it you wanted to ask me?" 

"You haven't asked her yet?" Undyne, trudging up towards you and flinging sand everywhere, causes Alphys to squeak with surprise. "Just do it! She's not gonna say no!" 

"Unless you're going to ask me to get tackled again. I'm gonna have to give a hard no to that," you say with a light glare to Undyne. She merely grins widely at you and nods at her girlfriend. 

Alphys only seems more distressed under the attention. You're almost worried that she might try to bury her head in the sand or something. "N-nevermind, it's stupid-" 

"It's not stupid!" Undyne stamps her foot. Thanks to the sand it doesn't have quite the same impact. "If you don't ask her I will!" 

"No, no I'm..." She takes a deep breath and turns to you. "Do...do you uh...doyouthinkI'mtoouncooltosurf?" It comes out a rushed squeak and it takes you a moment to process what she said. 

"Too...uncool?"

She nods, downcast.

"No!" You stand up, sand sticking to your damp skin. "Of course you're not! You're like one of the coolest people I've ever met! Have you been wanting to surf this whole time?"  

"Um...well...I c-calculated the ideal b-body type for surfing and w-well...." She gestures towards herself. "I'm n-not exactly surfing material."  

"Nope, none of that," you say, wagging a finger at her. "Surfers come in all shapes and sizes. Some of the most famous surfers out there are really big dudes!"

Her tail in the sand lifts slightly. "R-really?"

"Absolutely." You nod very seriously. "Some of the those big islander people who surf are guys who look like they could crush a boulder with their bare hands. Stop, that's not a challenge," you say to Undyne at the sudden gleam in her eye. "My point is, if you want to try surfing, there is no reason not to give it a shot!" 

Her eyes sparkle as she looks up at you. "So...so you'll teach me?" 

"Of course!" You offer her your hand. 

"Wait...now?" 

You shrug. "You guys are my last group for the day. Let's at least get you out on the water and you can decide if you want to take lessons with the others!" 

With some prodding from Undyne as well as Frisk and Papyrus, who have joined you as well, you manage to pull Alphys up and start teaching her some very basics. It takes even more prodding to get her out into the water. You wind up having her sit on the board and push her out into slightly deeper water. She clings to it so hard you have to remind her to watch her claws. They're pretty stubby but she might still break the sealing if she's not careful. 

"D-d-do we have to go this far out?" she nearly wails, tail curled around her. 

You glance at the water, which is only up to about your ribs. "You'll be fine out this far," you assure her. "We've got to have a little bit of depth so we're not dealing with the smaller curls. Besides, if you do fall, you won't smack against the ground." 

She nods nervously. 

"YOU GOT THIS BABE!" Undyne cheers from the shore, waving her arms wildly. 

"I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, BELIEVES IN YOU! AND THAT'S ALL THE CONFIDENCE YOU NEED!" 

Frisk puts up a single fist. 

"See? You've got this!" You steady the board a bit and give her an encouraging smile. "Just try sitting up now." 

Breathing shakily, she nods. Slowly she lowers her legs onto either side of the board and sits up. A wide smile of happiness fills her face. "This...this is kinda n-nice." 

"Isn't it? Okay, now pull your legs back up and try standing." 

She gives you a panicked look. 

"It's just attempting to stand. I'll hold it steady." 

She's shaking like a leaf but she follows your instructions and starts to place her feet under her and gingerly stand. At that moment, you hear the dull roar of a wave runner growing louder and louder and glance up to see a group of three of them passing dangerously close to where you are without slowing. "Hey!" You yell, releasing the board to wave at them. "Slow down! People in water!"

Either they don't hear you, or they ignore you and they keep on going, angling their waver runners to just barely miss you. You grab onto the board but thanks to the waves and pure panic, Alphys has lost her balance. Her arms swing wildly as she yelps and plunges towards you. Somehow, the momentum of her feet makes the board flip up and out of the water. You have a split second to turn your face away so your nose doesn't receive the full blow but the board still manages to smack very solidly against your face. The impact sends you backwards, slipping on the shifting sand under your feet and you fall into the water. Alphys is right there with you, her hands and feet scrambling for purchase against you as she struggles to get her head above water. You plant your feet again and shoot up, sputtering and trying to calm the terrified monster.

"Easy! I've got you! It's not deep!"

Panting, shaking, Alphys manages to compose herself to put her feet down on the ground. She's not that tall of a monster but she is well above the surface of the water once she actually stands. You hear yelling and turn to see Undyne charging towards you, closely followed by Papyrus and Frisk. 

"Are you guys okay?" Frisk calls out, struggling to keep up against the water. 

Undyne looks ready to charge after the rapidly disappearing wave runners but she turns to Alphys as soon as she reaches you two, carefully taking the lizard monster's face in her hands. "You good?" 

Alphys nods quickly and Undyne starts leading her back to shore. Papyrus grabs your board before it can completely float away and then gently places a hand on your back and pushes you to leave the water as well. "WHY DID THOSE PEOPLE DRIVE THEIR SMALL BOATS SO CLOSE?" 

You have a notion. You have a very strong notion as to why. You glance to Frisk, who's frowning heavily. When you don't immediately answer him, Papyrus sighs and simply nods with understanding. It makes your heart twist. 

Alphys turns to you as you join her, looking like she's on the verge of tears. "I'm s-so sorry-oh! Your face!" 

You very gingerly touch the spot on the left side of your face where you got smacked and hiss quietly at the contact. "Well, that's probably going to bruise," you muse. 

"It's my fault! I-I should've fallen b-backwards-" 

"You can't control which way you fall!" Undyne barks, perhaps a little sharply. Her expression softens a little and she puts her hand on Alphys' shoulder. "Hey, it wasn't even your fault. Those guys shouldn't have driven so close." 

"They're not supposed to," you say grimly, glancing back out at the small specks still speeding around. "Look, I'm gonna have to run back to the shop and report this. There's a good chance beach safety can catch them if I go now." 

The rest of the monsters nod and they follow you up to the shop to put their boards back for cleaning. There you part ways, promising Alphys that she can try again when she feels up to it. You head straight into Trey's office and tell him what happened. He's furious of course, the few non-tanned parts of his face turning red with anger as he dials for the beach patrol. 

"I'll take care of this," he grumbles to you once you write down as much as you can remember about what they looked like. "Head home and put some ice on your face. It's going to be black and blue real fast." 

You nod, your head already starting to ache and head home. By the time you reach the top of the steps of your building, the ache has turned into a full on migraine and you groan quietly as you struggle to open the old door. When it finally pops open, the rush of slightly cooler air makes you shiver. You close the door behind you and instantly head for the shower, pausing only to give Stitch a pat on the head. Upon seeing your reflection in the mirror, you wince. There is indeed already a massive bruise forming on your face where the board hit you. You lean in close, grateful that the skin didn't break. Well, that's going to take forever to heal. Hopefully you'll be able to cover it up with make-up if you get any gigs before the dance contest. 

Crap. You have practice tonight. You sigh and start peeling off your suit. Maybe tonight can be mostly planning. With a headache this size, the most you can hope for is to lessen it slightly with some Advil or something and dancing with a headache at all isn't fun. You shower briefly and wrap yourself up in your bathrobe before checking your phone. There's messages from Alphys, Undyne, Frisk AND Papyrus, all asking if you're okay and such, as well as one from Faith. You tap that one open.

 

Faithfully Awesome:

Hey! I'm starving and craving some of that magical goodness. Wanna hit Grillby's before R?

 

Well...you were planning on stopping by anyway. And some of those drinks are really good for getting a boost of energy. Heck, maybe Grillby has a drink just for headaches. 

 

You:

Yeah, see you at 5?

 

You reply to the rest of the texts before tossing your phone on the small table and collapsing into the worn love-seat in your messy living room. The whole apartment is tiny with just enough room for a TV, a place to watch it, a table for one, maybe two, a kitchen that was probably last upgraded in the eighties and a place to sleep and shower. You're honestly just grateful you were able to get your hands on a place with a washing unit inside, even if it does sound like thunder is rolling in your closet. It's not impressive, but you've made it yours by adding framed posters of your favorite movies and musicals up on the wall, as well as strings of fairy lights to which you've attached photos you've taken over the years of the ocean and your friends. The camera responsible for most of those, one of the insta-print ones, sits on the bookshelf next to your TV. It's been a while since you've used it. Maybe you should bring it down to the next surfing lesson.

You idly reach over and scratch Stitch behind his ears. The old cat's purrs increase slightly as he leans his head into your hand. "I hope they find those guys," you murmur to the cat as you point to your face. "Just look at what they did. There's no way I'm actually going to be able to cover this with make-up." 

That's not the biggest concern though. There's no way that those jerks on the runners didn't see you. For goodness sake, there was a big yellow lizard on the board and that's better than any red flag! But that means they did it on purpose. They saw the two of you and put you in danger for what? Laughs? Cruelty? Hatred? There's a number of reasons why and not a single one justifies scaring Alphys like that. You feel so bad, especially after how brave she was just to get in the water. You just have to hope this doesn't completely discourage her from trying again. 

You're pulled out of your thoughts when Stitch removes his head away from your hand and (perhaps sensing your quiet distress) bops his rock hard skull right against your swollen bruise. You yelp but manage not to completely flinch away from your cat as he continues to nuzzle your face. 

"Thanks," you manage to croak, blinking past the tears of pain. Groaning, you pull yourself to your feet and slump over to the medicine cabinet, swallowing down a few pills in a vague hope that it will settle your headache. Welp. Time to see if you can cover this up at all or if it's too sensitive to even touch. You change into dance clothes, very quickly give up on the make-up thing after the first gentle dab nearly has you tearing up again and head out of the door, quietly praying that Grillby has something to help ease the pain in your skull. 

Chapter Text

"There you are-holy mother of jazz!" 

You grimace, gingerly covering your face as you approach Faith. "That bad already huh?" 

She grabs your wrist and tugs your hand away, examining your cheek. "You look like you got hit by a truck! That's not what actually happened is it?" 

"No, it was my board." 

"How?" 

You gesture to Grillby's. You don't see Bonnie; she must be off today. "Can we get inside first? My head is killing me and I want to see if Grillby has anything to help. If nothing else, I'll order the coldest drink and just hold it on my face." 

Faith follows you, her face contorting with the effort of not breaking into laughter. "Okay, I'm terrible for laughing but you look like a chipmunk! An uneven chipmunk." 

You stop right outside the door at those words. Crap, do you really look that bad?

"What's wrong?" Faith looks at you closely. "Do you feel sick or something?" 

"Or something," you mumble. You continue to hesitate, looking at the door. Why are you hesitating? It's an injury, that's obviously clear. You can't help that your cheek is all swollen. Besides, it's not like there's anyone in there you need to look good in front of. You know half the people who show up at the bar and everyone else is a stranger you'll probably never see again. Except....

Grillby's face floats to the front of your mind and something in your gut twists. Oh come on the video of you getting tackled by Undyne is far worse than this. Besides, if he didn't really laugh at you for that, he won't mock you for a discolored face. You shake your head, sending another spike of pain through your head. That, perhaps more than anything forces your hand forward. If Grillby possibly has something to make your head feel better, you'll just have to deal with embarrassment of discolor on your face. The warmth of the bar doesn't ease your hesitation as you step inside. It's full today with a pretty even amount of humans and monsters crammed into the various tables and booths. You can see Hun darting about here and there, taking orders and cleaning spills. Grillby's got his back to you, reaching up to grab a bottle on a higher shelf as you approach the bar. As usual, your seat and the one next to it is free and the chess set is in place. As you sit, you place your hand over your cheek, hiding it as best as you can. Might as well try, right?

Faith looks at the chess set. "What's this?" 

You smile gently, picking up one of the white pieces with your free hand. "We've been playing for the last little while. I haven't beat him yet though." 

Her eyebrows shoot up. "You've been...playing chess with him. How often?" 

"Um...well, funny thing is...." 

You feel the telltale increase in warmth and look up. Grillby sets down menus, nodding to Faith. Looking back to you, he pauses. He wordlessly points to the hand covering your face. You try to grin and just wave off his concern but when he folds his arms and frowns at you, your weak resolve shatters.

Ah, it was worth a shot. You lower your hand and as your bruise is fully revealed Grillby's eyes widen. There's a sharp snap, a quick flare of brightness across his face and then his flames darken slightly into deep reds and oranges. The constant motion of his head twists and flickers harshly, a clear contrast to the usual soft wavy movements. He starts to reach for you and you feel your own eyes widen as his fingers draw close to your face. You can feel the heat of his hand, sending a pleasant wave of warmth across your skin. You meet Grillby's golden eyes and for a moment, the two of you freeze, staring at each other. He blinks and pulls his hand back. It curls into a fist that he slowly lowers onto the bar top.  

"What happened?" His voice is low, controlled but something about it sends a small shiver up your spine. 

It takes you a moment to find your voice. "There was an accident at work. Um, Alphys wanted to try surfing and we were out in the water when some jerks on wave runners got too close. She fell off the board and it flew up and smacked me in the face." You offer him a weak smile. "At least it didn't get my nose huh? Better to have a bruise than a broken nose." 

Grillby doesn't say anything but he's frowning heavily.

Faith, however, has no issue displaying how pissed she is. "They got close enough to knock her off? That's illegal! Tell me you called the beach patrol." 

You nod. "I went right back to the shop and Trey said he was gonna handle it. But I haven't heard if they've been caught or not."

"Do you...." Grillby's voice trails off, sounding almost rough. He shakes his head, his frown shifting into something more neutrual. 

You look at him, head tilting. "Do I what?" 

"Never mind." 

Faith is still fuming, fighting the urge to slam her hand down on the bar top. "What kind of idiot drives that close to shore?"

You fiddle with the edge of the menu. "I think they knew exactly what they were doing. It's pretty hard to miss a bright yellow monster on top of a surfboard." 

Her mouth snaps shut and the fury radiating off of her is tangible. You look back to Grillby. The erratic sparking of his flames tell you that he's not as calm as his expression would have you believe. "It's not as bad as it looks," you assure him. "Once the swelling goes down it should fade pretty quickly. Maybe." 

Faith snorts. 

"Anyway, I did want to ask if you've got like a hangover cure kind of drink or anything?" you ask him hopefully. "It's not a hangover but I do have a killer headache."

"You didn't get a concussion did you?" Faith asks worriedly. Whipping her phone out, she taps out something, stares at her screen for a moment and then grabs your shoulders. "Okay, you've got a headache. Are you dizzy?" 

"No?" 

"Did you pass out at the time of impact?" 

"No." 

"Nauseated?" 

"Nope."

"Are you experiencing confusion?" 

"At the moment, yeah." 

"Shut up. Let me see your pupils." 

You open your eyes wide for her and she peers at you for a long moment. She nods. "Hmm, lovely." 

"Why thank you." 

"What's a concussion?" Grillby asks, looking between the two of you. His color is more red than orange now and small flickers of green whip over his face. Huh. You've never seen that before.

Faith releases you. "It happens to humans sometimes when they get hit in the head." She glances down at her phone and reads from it. "If hit with severe blunt force, the brain can suffer trauma which leads to many different changes in health and if left untreated can result in death." 

"What?

You quickly wave your hand, shooting Faith a glare as Grillby actually turns green for a moment. "Death only happens in very, very serious cases, like getting hit by a car or having a piano fall on your head or whatever. Small concussions are actually pretty common. You just need rest to recover and watch for serious signs. That's all." 

"Which means you should be resting," Faith scolds you. "You look fine but there's no way you don't have a small concussion after getting hit hard enough for a bruise like this." 

"I'm fine, I promise. Aside from the headache. I've had concussions before and none of them were serious. Look, if I didn't feel up to it, I would've just stayed home." You pleadingly look to Grillby, who is still a little green (that's crazy!). "Though I won't say no if you've got some kind of magical cure for headaches." 

Slowly, Grillby's fire returns to it's normal color and speed, though he still seems a little on the dark side of red. "I'll be right back," he promises quietly and disappears into the kitchen. Faith turns to you, eyes wide. 

"Holy crap," she whispers to you. "Did you see that?" 

"Which part?" you whisper back. Out of all the ways you imagined or expected Grillby to react, that wasn't it. He wasn't just concerned, he was angry that this happened. At least, that was the feeling you were sensing from him. Having him actually start to reach for your face had startled you too. Why was he so concerned over a bruise? 

Why did he pull his hand away before he actually touched your face?

"You know, I think the guy could be really scary if he wanted to be," Faith muses as she reaches over you and grabs a chess piece.

Scary? No, that's not the word you would use. Intense maybe. But scary? "Why do you say that?" 

She gives you an incredulous look. "Dude, he's made of fire. That alone is enough to scare most people." 

Something about that answer doesn't sit right with you. "Well, I don't see it. He's been nothing but kind to me since we met." 

She put her hands up. "I agree, he seems like the type who wouldn't hurt a fly. I'm just saying I can see how he could be scary if he wanted to be. Anyway. You didn't answer me. How many times have you played chess with Mr. Not Dangerous?" She dangles the piece in front of you. "If he's got it sitting out here ready to go, I'm going to assume it's a regular thing now." You shrug sheepishly and let your grin speak for itself. She groans. "If I wasn't scared of giving you another concussion I'd slap you silly right now." 

"There's nothing wrong with playing chess," you grumble, taking the piece back from her. "It's fun and I'm meeting a lot of new people. Being social is good, isn't it?" 

Faith plops her head in her hand, squinting at you. "And that's it? You're just being social?" 

"Well, there's my pride too. The guy's good, I want to beat him at least once." You set the pawn out two spaces though you're not sure if you'll have time for a full game tonight. There's been a few times when you've had to leave the game unfinished so Grillby leaves it out as it is and makes sure no one messes with it before you can come back and pick it back up. Or he fixes it after it does get messed with. You're not sure which. 

She simply hums at your answer, twisting one of her dark curls in her fingers. "Seriously though, you probably should just go home and rest. We can just practice the new number tonight." 

You shake your head stubbornly. Rehearsals have been...a bit of a struggle recently. Ever since the party his uncle threw, Tyler's schedule has been completely eaten up by the work he has to do for his family's various companies. He can't tell you exactly what it is and you know better than to pry. All that would result in is tight lips and strained energy while dancing. Besides, the dancing is supposed to be his break from all of that and you don't want to take that away from him. But because of this, he hasn't been able to come as often and it's starting to have an effect on the group. For now, you're practicing as many different types of dance that you can to make sure your skills and knowledge are up to par and can be called on at a moment's notice. Which is fine for individual dancing but when it comes to partnering....

"Look, this is the first time in all week Tyler is actually able to make it. We have to at least start making our plan for the rest of the summer. Practicing the same dances over and over is fine but it's not going to cut it for the contest." You sigh and put your uninjured cheek on the counter. "I'm worried about him." 

Faith sighs. "Fine. But-" She suddenly stops talking and you lift your head to see Grillby coming back out, a glass in one hand and something covered in a dark plastic wrapping. The drink is a mixture of purple and blue, the two colors swirling like he's captured a galaxy in a cup. He sets the glass down and stops you from immediately taking it. He opens up the small wrapped object. It's a bright green color and your nose instinctively wrinkles. It looks like a huge sour candy. Please don't let it be sour. He pulls out a toothpick and sticks it inside the candy and then holds it over the cup. He places his other hand just above it and right before your eyes, the flames of his hands begin to shine brighter, growing hotter until the candy starts to melt. It drips into the drink below and with every plop, you hear a soft hiss as bubbles form in the liquid. The addition of the candy turns the drink to a very dark shade of purple, almost black and you can smell something sharp and tangy rising from the cup. 

"Aw man it was so pretty," Faith whines. 

Grillby simply shrugs. "Pretty doesn't mean effective," he points out as the last of the candy dissolves in the drink. He pushes it towards you. It is now almost completely black and still bubbling a little. You look back up at him and he nods. "It will help. Probably." 

You pause in your motion of lifting the glass. "Probably?"

"It's...kind of an experimental mix," he admits. "But the worst it'll do is not change anything. Give a try."  

Well that certainly installs all kinds of confidence. You glance down at the drink, swishing it around a little. At least it's not sludgy, even if it does kind of look like it. But you trust Grillby. The thought actually surprises you a little, though you take care to keep your face composed. You take a deep breath and press the glass to your lips. It's...not bad? You blink with surprise, lowering the glass. The taste is hard to describe and it's certainly nothing you would drink at any time but...there's something warm about it. It's slightly bitter and just tangy enough to send little jolts of alertness into your system. But that's not all you feel as you continue drinking it. There's magic in this, something you've come to recognize over the course of trying out the many drinks in the menu. It's bright and tingly and you can feel it coursing through your system. It rises and seems to focus on your forehead where your headache is strongest as well as your check. Those spots grow warm and then cool and you exhale breathily as the pain begins to recede. 

"Holy crap!" Faith's outburst has you lowering your cup. 

"What?" 

She digs into her purse and pulls out a compact mirror. "Your face!" 

Confused, you take the mirror and peer at it. Your gasp is nearly silent as you watch the deep blacks and blues of your bruise fade away before your very eyes, shrinking and fading into greens and yellows until there is only a faint trace that a bruise was ever there. Your fingers shake a little as you press them against your cheek. There's only a tiny twinge of soreness. You meet Faith's shocked gaze with your own before staring at Grillby. "What is this?" 

There's the slightest slump in Grillby's stiff shoulders as he smiles lightly. He grows brighter again, flames calm. "It worked," he breathes, taking the glass from you. 

"Is it some kind of healing, magical...potion slash drink?" you ask, still a little stunned.  

He nods.

Faith, your ever faithful source of news, gasps loudly. "I've heard about this! Magical food is supposed to have some healing properties, though it's more of an energy replenisher for humans. I've heard work is being done on making it more effective for humans though...." 

Grillby's fire sparks as he smiles lightly at Faith. "Monsters heal through magic. It's what our bodies are made of. Food made of magic, by magic, offers energy and replenishes the Soul's energy. But...." 

Soul's energy?  You open your mouth to ask what he means but now he's staring down at the glass and you keep quiet. Your patience is rewarded when he looks back up at you. "Humans need something more solid. A basic healing spell can only cure small wounds on a human. Our food helps the human Soul recover but not the human body." 

"So...this drink is your way of helping the human body?" 

He nods again, setting the cup down.

A wide, incredulous grin breaks across your face. "That's so cool Grillby!" You look to Faith who has similarly broken into an impressed grin. 

"How do you feel?" she asks, turning your face so she can get a better look at your cheek. 

"I feel great!" Not only is your headache completely gone, along with the ache in your jaw and the majority of the bruise, a renewal of energy is filling you. It's like downing several cups of coffee in one go. You honestly feel like you could go the full night dancing and go running afterwards. Delighted, you smile widely at Grillby. "You're amazing!" 

He blinks, his flames dancing as his cheeks lighten slightly with blue. "It's...it's nothing," he murmurs. "I'm just sorry it didn't work completely." 

"Are you kidding?" You press one hand to your cheek. "I was just hoping for something to stop my head from pounding! This is far better than a splitting headache and a swollen face. You're seriously the best." You start to reach for his hand where's it's placed on the bar, intending to give him a thankful pat but then you remember; he pulled away before he touched your face. Maybe...maybe he doesn't like to be touched? Ah, crap, what do you do, you're already reaching towards him! You switch your target, instead grabbing the empty cup and hope that he didn't notice the weird way your arm twitched. "B-besides, this tastes far better than any headache remedies humans have come up with." 

Faith takes the cup from you, sniffing at it curiously. "Man, I know where I'm going the next time I'm hungover." 

"Well, I'm afraid it's not quite...ready for regular use," Grillby says apologetically. "It needs work and it's a little difficult to make." 

"Ooh, I'll be your guinea pig!" Faith immediately volunteers while you fight not to show your shock. How difficult was it to make exactly? You hope you didn't cause trouble by asking for a magical cure for your headache instead of just dealing with it like a normal person.

"Guinea pig?" 

"Test subject. Taste tester. Poison tester!"

Grillby chuckles quietly. "I can assure you there's no p-" 

"Heeeeeeey Grillbz!" 

The three of you look over to see Hopps, the very drunken bunny monster who seems to have a permanent spot in the back booth slumping over the far end of the bar. Her eyes are unfocused as she holds out a glass towards Grillby. Wow, she actually dragged herself out of her booth. "What're ya doooing over here? I've been calling ya!"

Grillby starts, guiltily signaling that he'll be right there. Crap, it's busy in here and what have you done? Kept him away from the rest of his customers. "I'm sorry, we've kept you here talking for so long." 

"No it's...it's okay," he assures you. Then, quietly, so quietly you barely hear it, he adds, "I don't mind." 

He hurries off, not giving you a chance to respond. 

You stare after him for a moment as he approaches the drunk bunny. Going by her loud complaining, he's cutting her off. Faith lets out a low whistle, setting the glass back down. "Wow. You know, I don't know if I've actually said this out loud, but I like that guy." 

"Heh. Yeah. Me too." Faith is oddly quiet, so you turn to see her watching you with the biggest, smuggest smile on her face, resting her head on her hands. "What?

"Noooothing. Let's go dance." She starts to slide off of her stool and freezes. "Wait. I didn't get any food!" 

~~~~~~

Faith manages to scarf down her food, once Grillby makes his way back around to the two of you. The poor guy barely has another moment to spare so you leave the money for the food on the counter (plus a little extra for the miracle drink) and quietly leave when your plate is cleaned. You and Faith have to pick up the pace a little to make it on time to the studio but make it you do. You step into the bathroom when you get there and once you finish doing your business, you once again peer at your face. It's incredible. Where before there was a absolute monstrosity of a bruise, there is now just a slightly green and yellow tinge. Amazing.

You hear your phone buzz in your bag. You dig it out and are surprised to see it's from Grillby.

 

Chess Master Grillby:

-Miss Shore, you didn't need to leave extra money for the drink. I was happy to help

 

You:

-Consider it a tip then :) I'm sorry we kept you away from your bartender-y duties for so long

 

Chess Master Grillby:

- It was a nice break

 

You grin, turning around and leaning against the long counter. You tuck your hair back as you think of the right way to thank him again without sounding like a total dweeb. 

 

You: 

-Hey, you said that the Headache-B-Gone is hard to make so thank you for making it for me anyway. I really appreciate it 

 

Chess Master Grillby: 

-It was no trouble at all

 

You start to type out a 'see you later' when he sends another message. 

 

Chess Master Grillby: 

-If you see those people, or something like this happens again, please call me

 

You:

-Gonna run to the rescue?

 

Chess Master Grillby:

-Something like that 

 

Your heart does a funny sort of flip at that. 

 

You: 

-Wow, how charming :) 

 

Chess Master Grillby: 

-I do try Miss Shore. But I am serious

 

You: 

-Thank you but I'm pretty sure I can handle a few deadbeats who use wave runners to scare people

 

Chess Master Grillby: 

-I'm shore you can

 

A most horrendous bark of laughter escapes you. Did he just seriously-!?

"Hey, you get lost in here or something?" Faith's voice carries through the door.

Still giggling, you call back, "Sorry, I'll be right there!"

 

You:

-Okay, you got me with that one. Don't tell Sans

 

Chess Master Grillby: 

-I wouldn't dream of it. Tell me if your headache comes back and I'll make you another...Headache-B-Gone 

 

You: 

-I will. Thank you again

 

Chess Master Grillby: 

-Anytime

 

You tuck your phone back into your bag and hurry into the studio. The other three are waiting for you, already starting in on their warm up. Liam pauses when you enter and takes a look at your face. "Holy cheese. Faith was right." 

Faith jabs Liam in the gut, making him squeak. "Course I was! You think I would exaggerate a story like this?" 

"Yes." You, Liam and Tyler all answer at once. 

Faith storms off and as Liam trots after her, continuing his teasing, Tyler takes a long look too. "Magic did all that?" he asks, quietly whistling. "That's impressive." 

"Yeah. It's amazing. Hey, you still haven't been to the bar yet. You need to come with me soon, try some of the magic goodness yourself." You tap his chest with your fist. "But now, we dance!" 

He grins and nods, cracking his knuckles in that way he knows you hate. "Let's get to it then." 

Chapter Text

You wake to a cloud of gray butt fluff in your face the next morning. Groaning, you angle your head away slightly; you're not quite heartless enough to shove the sleeping cat off of your chest just yet. Oh sure, coaxing him over for cuddles or begging him to actually move his fat, lazy butt to his food dish results in absolutely no motion from Stitch, but come bedtime when you actually need sleep, he somehow finds the strength to haul himself up and onto your face. You give him a pat and, thus rewarded with a gentle increase in purrs and a light prick from his claws digging in, smile and sigh. 

"You're lucky I love you," you quip without any real bite behind it. 

Eventually though, you do need to get up so you roll out from under him. Stitch simply flops to your bed like a rag doll, not even opening his eyes as he stretches out. The motion reveals the patch of bare skin on his tummy that never fully healed after the stitches he needed when you first found him bleeding and aggressive on the beach that first week you moved here. You tickle the spot. It used to get you a lazy swat at least but now Stitch only opens his eyes for a moment to stare at you balefully. "Hey now, those stitches cost me electricity for a week. I can tickle you if I want." 

His tail flicks. 

You leave him be, thinking fondly back to that time. That was before the monster's were freed and you were just barely managing to get by on what meager savings you had. You were alone in a new city, scared, cut off from your old life. Not that you have regrets. You did what you had to do. Leaving was the only option, even if it meant cutting ties with....

Anyway, while you tried to adjust to suddenly living completely on your own you had spent a lot of time down at the beach. It was the only place that gave you a sense of comfort and wonder. While you stared out at the constantly shifting waves, digging your bare feet into the wet sand, you didn't need to think or worry about what you were going to do with your life now. You didn't need to think about the life you had left behind. There was only the cry of gulls in the air, the sharp scent of salt and sunblock and peace of solitude. 

Until you weren't alone anymore. 

You had been lying back on the sand, feeling your skin slowly cook under the sun yet too comfortable to really care when an utterly unholy yowl had cut through your peaceful daydreaming. You had jumped, scattering sand and looked towards the noise. Whatever it was, it sounded like it was in some kind of vicious fight. You found yourself scrambling to your feet, grabbing the towel at your side as you raced towards the terrible sound. You ran up from the beach into the slopes covered in long stalks of brown grass and found a severely injured cat desperately fighting to escape the grip of a stray dog that had it's teeth clamped around it's belly. 

"Hey!" You bent down and grabbed the largest rock you could find and launched it towards the dog and prayed you didn't actually hit it. You didn't want to hurt the poor thing but you couldn't let it kill the cat. Fortunately, it landed just shy of the dog and got it's attention. It glared up at you, growling a deep warning. Undeterred, you crept closer, flipping your towel out like some kind of matador facing down a bull. "Go away! Leave the kitty alone!" 

It did the trick and the dog dropped the now limp cat to the ground before taking off. The poor thing was covered in bites and tears and it's fur was matted with both old and fresh blood. Your heart had clenched with fear and without hesitating, you gingerly wrapped the cat with your towel and carried it to your car. One vet trip and several hundred dollars later, the cat was awake, stitched up and stabilized. The vet told you that if you hadn't come along when you did, there was a very good chance the dog would've broken his spine and then there would have been no saving him. 

They offered to take the cat to the local shelter since he didn't actually belong to you but as you stared down at the creature huddled in the corner of a kennel, most of it's fur gone, hissing and spitting at anyone who got too close and at the moment seemed more stitches than cat, you knew immediately that this cat wasn't going anywhere. So you took him home and thanks to losing the money for the electric bill for the vet fees, spent the next week searching desperately for a job and trying to coax the cat into trusting you while keeping an eye on the lights. 

They went out a week after you brought him home. Fortunately the water system is a separate bill and you did pay that on time, but you spent the greater part of a week in the dark trying to connect with your new housemate.

It took a lot of time and there were many scratches and muttered swearing but eventually, the cat allowed you to touch him, pet him and then it was like he transformed. He never stopped purring, constantly followed you around and sent you sprawling many times thanks to practically gluing himself to your legs. At the dramatic change in attitude, the vet told you he most likely had been abandoned by a family in the area due to his old age. Well, that would just be something else you had in common then. You grew to very quickly love that cat and welcomed the warmth and life he brought into your shabby apartment. 

And, it was thanks to him that you met Faith. You had taken him back to the vet to make sure none of his wounds were infected and found yourself waiting in a room with a dark skinned girl patting a hamster so obese it was completely round. She caught you staring and lifted the creature up at little. "Big dummy ate a marble," she said with an eye roll. "And it's not the first time." 

"He looks remarkably pleased with himself for someone that has a rock in his belly." 

And pleased the hamster was. You'd never seen such a smug looking creature. He wasn't even bothered by the cat on your lap, who was staring at the round creature with great interest. 

"Looks like your cat got into a bit of a fight," the girl had said. "He's more stitches than cat."

You had laughed. "Yeah, I thought the same thing."

"What's his name?"

"It's um..." You looked down at the cat who met your gaze with large deep blue eyes. Your hand patted the fuzz of fur just starting to grow back that didn't hide the numerous black stitches in his skin. "It's...Stitch." 

The two of you had chatted and you told her about the rescuing of the cat and when you mentioned that you had been living in the dark for the last couple of days thanks to the overdue bill, she had told you about a surf shop that was hiring down the road from the salon her brother worked at. When she had finally been called back, she stood, tucking her hamster safely out of Stitch's reach and offered you a hand. "I'm Faith. I have a feeling I'll be seeing you around."

A great whining meow pulls you out of your thoughts. "Yeah, yeah, I gotcha," you sigh and pull out the bag of cat food. Stitch may have been attached to your hip for the greater part of a year but now he seems to be purely content with lying around in pure laziness.  Huh, now that you think about it, Sans and the cat have a lot in common. There had been plenty of times when the ketchup bottle had been just out the skeleton's reach yet he would sit there and whine for Grillby to pass it over so he wouldn't have to stretch. Grillby usually rolls his eyes but complies, sliding it closer. Or sometimes, he moves it further away and you catch the teasing glint of a smile on his face. The two of them are close, that would be clear even if you didn't spend almost every night with them. Sans tells you at one point that when he and Papyrus moved to Snowdin, it was just the two of them and Grillby kind of took them under his wing as it were. Sans was only sixteen when they moved and Grillby couldn't help but try and make sure that the skeleton brothers at least had enough to eat and stayed warm in the sometimes harsh weather conditions. 

So it seems you and Grillby both have a lazy bum that you have to take care of. The thought makes you smile. 

You haul the cat out to his food dish, clean up for the day and, as you usually do on your days off, head down to the beach. However today you leave your board at home and choose to instead walk along the shoreline. Shoes dangling loosely from your hand, you meander in the general direction of the Walk. The waves lapping at your feet is refreshingly cool and keeps the heat of the glaring sun at bay. Because of the midsummer sun, there aren't many people out on the beach at the moment, though you do see a few monsters who seem more than content to bury themselves in the sand and soak in the sunlight. Wouldn't it be funny if you came across another group of quirky monsters who somehow managed to knock you into the water again? Nah, as wildly different as monsters are, you don't think you could meet a stranger group than the one you've become friends with. 

After a while you find yourself approaching the main docks of the Walk. The space between the ground and the upper deck is easily 40 feet during low tide, though the water does rise up quite a bit through out the day. At the moment, it's reached about the half way mark, tendrils of moss and other such growth floating atop the water. There's a few large boulders here and there and you wade out to one just large enough to sit on, getting just the edge of your shorts wet. There's a slightly smaller rock just on the other side and you place your feet upon the bumpy surface, sighing happily as you stare out over the water.

You enjoy the peaceful moments like this, where all you can hear is the sound of the waves. Sometimes, you almost swear you can hear a whispering voice in the water, speaking words that are too soft to-

"HEY SHORE!" 

You jolt, nearly falling off the rock. Well. So much for peace and quiet. You look around for the source of the voice. "Undyne? Where-" 

"Look up!" 

You do as she says, craning your head up towards the underside of the dock. And there she is, hanging upside down from one of the thick wooden beams. Her legs are locked in place, leaving her arms free to wave at you. Her bright hair has been pulled into a bun, though most of it seems to be escaping the band meant to hold it in place.

"Holy crap! What are you doing up there?" 

"Training! Duh!" She squints at you with her one eye. "Wait, where's your sick bruise?" 

You touch your face. "Um, Grillby healed it after I left the shop." 

Her eye widens and with a huff of effort, she flicks her hand. A great spear suddenly materializes in her grip, glowing with a bright teal color. You watch with wide eyes as she aims it towards one of the thick posts holding the dock up and launches it into the wood about twenty feet down from where she's hanging. It hits true, quivering with the motion of being thrown and then she heaves herself up onto the beam. She uses her feet to propel her towards the spear and grabs it with one hand while she plants one foot against the pillar. Without pausing, she throws herself again, twisting through the air and lands perfectly on her feet in the water, close enough to send a wave up onto your little perch. 

You clap as she grins and bows. "That was awesome!" 

Undyne wipes at her forehead, clearing sweat or seawater (you're not sure which). "That? That was nothing!" She moves closer to you, turning your face so she can get a good look at where your bruise was. "Grillby did this? How? I didn't think he had healing magic and his food might be good but it doesn't work this well on human wounds." 

"He said it's a new drink he's been working on. Something that is supposed to be more effective for humans I guess." 

"Huh." There's something about her expression and the way her eye gleams that makes you a little uneasy but she suddenly taps her fist against the rock you're sitting on several times. "Hey Gerson! Get up! The surfing human I told ya about is here!" 

Uh, what? You squeak as you suddenly feel the boulder beneath you shifting. What the hell? You scramble off as it starts to rise up and you realize you weren't sitting on a boulder at all. It's a shell. A massive shell so bumpy and weathered with age that you completely mistook it for a rock. The water around you is stirred up but you barely notice the soaking as you stare at the huge turtle monster pulling himself up out of the waves.The turtle grumbles and huffs, water streaming over green and wrinkled skin marked with age spots as he turns to face the two of you. His old fashioned one piece, striped swim suit and long off white beard drips heavily and it would be almost funny if you hadn't just been sitting on him. 

"Oh, this is them? The one plopping their feet on my head?" The turtle fixes you with a squinty glare, leaning down slightly to look at you. Actually, he's not all that tall, especially compared to Undyne. But he is wide, thanks to the shell on his back.  

Oh. Oh the smaller rock you had your feet on... "I'm so sorry!" you blurt out. "I had no idea, I come down here and sit on the rocks all the time! You think I would've noticed a rock that's not usually here and...sorry." 

The turtle, Gerson you assume, looks to Undyne for a moment. She's frowning just as heavily as he is. Then her eye twitches. You looked between the two of them with bewilderment as they both crack up, laughing loudly. Undyne leans against the turtle as he lets out several wheezy 'wa ha ha!'s. His left eye seems permanently closed in a wink and he wipes at his open one as his chortles finally die off. "I'll be honest with you; I didn't even notice you up there until Undyne started shouting." 

"That's what you get for snoozing in the water old man!" Undyne claps a hand on the turtle's back with enough force that you wince out of sympathy but Gerson doesn't react in the slightest. Also...snoozing? In the water? Well he is a turtle. Undyne looks back to you. "This is Gerson. He's the old coot who raised me." 

"And out of my nineteen children, you gave me the most trouble," he grumbles good naturally as he starts wading his way back to dry land. 

"C'mon, I made your life exciting!" Undyne calls after him. The two of you follow as well, Undyne releasing what little of her hair remains in the bun to wring it out. "Hey Gerson, take a look at her face." 

Turning, Gerson lifts one scaly hand, tipped with blunt claws to gently grip your face. Geez, do monsters in general just not have a sense of personal space? "Looks normal to me, for a human." 

You're not sure if that's an insult or not. 

"Exactly." Undyne jabs her finger into your still slightly sore cheek, making you bite back a yelp. "She got hit in the face just yesterday! There was a bruise the size of my hand! She said Grillby made some kind of drink that just cleared it up." 

Gerson's eyebrows lift. "'s'that so?" 

You push Undyne's hand away, rubbing at the spot. "Careful there or I'm going to need another miracle drink." 

The turtle chortles. "Guess that explains why Grillby needs more." 

"More?" 

Instead of answering, he just turns and starts walking away. Undyne prods you to follow so you do. Why not? It's your day off after all. Instead of going up the steps back to the Walk, Gerson continues down the beach, moving away from the docks. You don't usually come onto this side of the beach. There's several rock formations and while they are very fun to climb around and look at, it makes for more hazardous surfing. The last time you spent any extended time here was easily several months ago. 

"Have you ever been to Gerson's shop?" Undyne asks you. 

You shake your head. "Don't think so. I'd probably remember seeing him before if I had."  

She grins at you, teeth gleaming. "It's the coolest shop around. If you need something random, Gerson's probably got it." 

It's certainly saying something that following a giant turtle in a old fashioned swimsuit around the growing number of rock formations isn't the strangest thing to have happened to you in the last few weeks. More and more, you're starting to feel like your life has become some kind of fantasy RPG. It's not long before you come upon some kind of beach hut nestled against a grassy hill facing out towards the ocean. The back part of the house seems to have built directly into the hillside and instead of being made of wood like most beach houses, this one is made almost exclusively of some kind of dark stone. Little fragments in the stone reflect the sun, making it glisten in a way that makes it appear wet. 

"That's the shop?" you ask Undyne. 

"Yep! Slash house. He lives behind the shop." 

"It's kinda hidden away." You certainly had no idea it was here. 

"That's the point kiddo," Gerson calls back to you as he hauls himself up the few steps leading to the front door. Or rather, lack of a door. There's a short cloth hanging from the top of the doorway. It's purple and holds the royal insignia which you've seen in several places around the Walk. It barely brushes your head as you head inside. Above you, the soft chime of a bell rings out though you see no bell in sight. Part of you had expected the inside to be hot, given the black stone sitting in the sun but it's like walking into a cave. A pleasant rush of cool air hits your face, carrying with it a slightly musty smell. The inside too looks like a cave, what little of the walls not covered in shelving and displays sparking with gemstones that glisten like stars. There's light coming from several large crystals hanging from the ceiling, casting an almost purple and blue light around the store. There's seemingly no rhythm or reason to the placement of items for sale other than basic grouping. There's a case full of shells and starfish, a basket containing several large pieces of fruit in the shape of crabs, magnifying glasses, figurines, polished stones and a number of other things. There's not a ton of free space for walking around and every corner is filled with something for sale. 

"Whoa," you breathe, looking around. "I think Liam just might have a heart attack if he saw this." 

"Bring him by sometime." Undyne hasn't met Liam yet but you have told her and the others about your dance partners, especially after opening night at Grillby's when he and Faith helped out. 

"Why's this hidden away?" You ask as you look around. "This place is awesome!" 

Gerson, who doesn't seem to care about the sand he's tracking everywhere, waddles back behind a small counter. "I like it quiet around here. Besides, I'm too old to deal with tons of people, yanno? Those who need stuff I've got know where I am. Word of mouth brings better customers than random passerby." 

You can't really argue with that. You look around some more as Gerson disappears through another open doorway that probably leads back to his living area to change into something dry. "So he raised you?" you ask Undyne who's plopped herself on top of a pile of cushions by the wall. 

"Yeah. My moms fell down when I was young and he took me in after that." 

She says it so casually it's almost shocking. "I'm sorry." 

She shrugs. "They died defending our people. I miss them, yeah, but I'm proud of them." 

Defending her people? From what?

You don't have the chance to ask. "Anyway, Gerson was friends with them and I guess he thought I'd get in trouble or something if he didn't keep his one good eye on me." She rolls her eye, smiling genuinely. "Didn't stop me from losing my eye though, did he?" 

You have honestly been dying to ask her what happened to her missing eye and this seems like the best chance you're going to get. "How did that happen anyway?" 

"How long have you been wanting to know?" 

"Honestly? Since I met you." 

She cackles loudly. "You could've just asked you nerd." She taps her eye patch with her finger. "There was a cave in and part of the ground gave way. They happened sometimes down there and I was out where I wasn't supposed to be. I wound up falling into this deep pit and I guess I was just lucky enough to land on the edge of a rock." 

"And even with a lost eye she managed to climb outta there on her own." You jump at Gerson's reappearance. He's changed into a floral patterned button up and cargo shorts and he fixes a wide brimmed hat on his head as he grins proudly at Undyne. "Girl's got spunk. And no shortage of luck." 

Undyne blows a raspberry and hops back up. "No such thing as luck. Just hard work and effort!"

Gerson merely grunts at that in a way that tells you it's an old topic between them and gestures around the shop. "Well, go ahead and look around if you like. And buy as much as you like if you feel so inclined, wa ha ha."

Well there certainly is plenty to look at though you don't immediately see anything that screams 'buy me!'. There's several old books that you trail your fingers over. The covers are so worn it's hard to make out any of the titles. The various gemstones are really pretty too and you feel your old rock collecting habits rising from the depths of disuse as you pick up and examine one that glimmers with a swirling combination of black and purple. You put it down before you give into temptation. Your eye then lands on a small carving of a dragon made from black stone. There's something about it that strikes a chord of familiarity. It's when you pick it up and feel the smooth surface in your hand that you realize it's the same material that Grillby's chess set is made of. "Did Grillby get his chess set from you?" you ask Gerson.

His wrinkled face curls into a pleased smirk. "I didn't just give him the set, I made it." 

"You made it?"

"Taught 'im too. Boy's good at chess." 

"That he is," you say with a sigh. That catches Gerson's interest. 

"You've been playing with him?" 

You nod, setting the small statue back down. "We've played a few times."

Undyne snorts loudly. "Yeah, try every night for the past...what is now? Two weeks?" 

Has it been that long? Geez, you really have become a regular haven't you? You simply shrug and try to wave it off. "We don't play a whole game every night, he's a busy guy." 

Gerson throws his head back and cackles loudly, his laugh a wheezing mix of chuckles and snorts. "So? You win yet?"

"I'm guessing you know the answer to that."

He smirks. "That's because he learned from the master. But don't go expecting free lessons from, ya hear?" 

You put your hands up. "Oh, no I wasn't-" 

"Oh fine, since you're pulling my leg n'all." Gerson hauls himself up from the the stool he must've been sitting on behind the desk and starts moving towards the back room. "I'll put some tea on and find my old set. It's been a while but don't think that means I'll go easy." 

Undyne just manages to keep a straight face until the turtle vanishes and then she slaps her knee, a great guffaw breaks out of her. "You've done it now! You better prepare yourself!" 

You're honestly just trying to process this. A slow grin creeps across your face. "Dude, if this helps me beat Grillby, I'm down." 

She matches your vicious smirk. "Now that's the fighting spirit I'm looking for!" She leaps up and throws her arm around you, giving you a tight squeeze. "I'm gonna train you too!" 

"You know how to play chess?" 

"Duh, I grew up with Gerson. But that's not what I'm talking about!" Keeping one arm wrapped around your neck, she pumps out her fist into the air. Her eye is practically sparkling. "I'm talking about training your body and Soul! If you want to beat Grillby, you must be prepared to fight!" 

"Uh, I don't want to 'fight' fight him like that actually-" 

"Everything is a battle! Cooking, cleaning, playing chess! Life is a battle and you must be prepared!" 

You're starting to see where Undyne gets her fighting spirit. You squirm out of her grip and as you do so, you realize she's actually pointing at something. Up on the wall, hanging from iron hooks is a massive hammer. The handle is carved out of dark wood though there are patches where the dark color lightens, probably from being gripped. The metal part of the hammer isn't shaped like any hammer you've seen before. Instead of a traditional one end round, one end pointy look or even a simple square shape, this hammer has two large sections that taper inwards and meet in the middle. On top is a diamond shape, rusted and dull. The surface of the hammer itself is carved with strange rune like markings, though there's something almost...familiar about them. But the hammer itself it too cracked and worn to be sure.

"What's that thing?" you ask. "It's huge!"

Undyne lowers her fist, blinking rapidly for a second. "Oh! That's Gerson's war hammer. He keeps it out here so people will ask about it and then he keeps them trapped here telling them stories about the war." 

"The war? Wait, you don't mean the war, do you?" The only war you've heard about regarding monsters is the one that got them trapped underground in the first place! You jaw drops as Undyne nods. "But...that would make Gerson-"

"Old as dirt." She proudly gestures to the hammer. "He was a general. You'll have to ask him about it sometime. He loves sharing stories from back then. And they're all totally true too! Even the one about flying with one of the old dragons!" 

You're speechless, you're actually speechless. Your mind races, trying to put the math together. There's not exactly a ton of information available about the war, especially since all knowledge of it is basically non-existent on the human's side of things and most monsters don't exactly talk about it about to just anyone. But it was generally agreed that all of that happened over a thousand years ago. "Do...do all monsters live so long?" 

Undyne quickly shakes her head. "No, most of us live anywhere from ten to a few hundred years." Your eyes bug slightly and she laughs. "Every human I tell makes that face! I don't get why that's so weird to you humans?" 

"Um, probably because most of us only live to around...I guess a hundred? It varies a little but not like that! How does that even work?" 

She shrugs. "You'd have to ask Al about all of that. All I know for sure is how long we live depends on how strong our Souls are. Gerson's got one heck of a Soul. Turtle monsters live a long time as it is anyway but even still." 

"Is he the only one who lived during the war?" you ask curiously. 

"There's only a few left, as far as I know." She puts a finger up as she counts. "Let's see. There's Gerson. Asgore and Toriel obviously-" 

"Obviously," you say faintly. 

"My aunt fought in the war but she died a few months before it ended. Muffet was there but I think she only saw the last couple of weeks, I don't talk to her very often. Oh and of course-" 

She's cut off by the tinkling of the front bell ringing and you both look over as light fills the dim room. Grillby ducks his head under the cloth hanging in the entry way, blinking as his gaze lands on the two of you. Instead of his usual vest and button up, he's wearing dark jeans and a simple black and gray baseball style tee shirt, the sleeves pushed up slightly on his arms. It's the first time you've seen him in casual clothes and they look good on him. Oh boy, do they look good! Your eyes immediately fall to his hand, lingering on the edge of the door. 

Ever since he made that drink for you, you can't stop thinking about how close his hand came to your face. You can still feel the rising warmth, the near tickle of his flames and you've been, for lack of a better word, burning to know if his flames are as hot as normal fire. Part of you just wants to reach out and find out for yourself but then you remember how he pulled his hand away before actually touching you and thinking about it later, you've realized that he's never once touched you. You've never even accidentally brushed fingers as he passed you a menu or a drink or-

And now you're staring again.

"Uh, hi!" You hope he didn't notice the way your eyes lingered on his hands. 

His flames shift subtly into a slightly brighter hue. "Hi," he says back, his hidden smile making his eyes squint a little. "What are you doing here?" 

You gesture to Undyne. "I ran into her at the docks and-" 

"Right after she sat on Gerson!" Undyne butts in, giving your shoulder a punch. Ow! 

"Sleeping in the water again was he?" Grillby doesn't seem too surprised by this because he simply rolls his eyes. "I'm surprised it hasn't happened before." 

"Who's to say it hasn't?" Gerson himself comes back into the room, carrying a tray with several cups placed on it. "Hey Sparks." 

"Afternoon Gerson." 

The turtle sets the tray down on the counter, grumbling quietly to himself. "Undyne I can't find my set, help me look for it." 

"It's a miracle you can find anything at all in this mess!" she scolds as she moves to the opposite side of the shop to help look. Grillby looks to you, moving a little closer. His head tilts in question. 

"I guess the master of chess is going to give me some pointers. Which is totally not cheating!" you add in response to the way his eyes narrow slightly. "Besides, who better to learn from than the one who taught you?"

Grillby shrugs, placing his thumbs in the pockets of his jeans. "Guess I can't argue with that," he says with a soft chuckle. He looks back to you as Gerson and Undyne's voices rise slightly. You barely hear them, finding yourself caught by the bright color of Grillby's eyes. They really are beautiful, like white molten gold. 

"What?" you ask eventually as he continues to look at you. 

"...Are you okay?" His voice is low, a little tight. "Does your head still hurt?" 

Oh. Oh that's why he's staring at you. Just making sure the bruise hasn't come back or something. Right. You touch your cheek without realizing you're doing it. "Yeah. I mean, no! No, it doesn't hurt anymore. I'm fine." Geez, you're stuttering, caught off guard by his continued concern. "Um, so what are you doing here? No offense but I was starting to think you never left the bar." 

"....I need more monster candy," he says, finally breaking his stare to watch Gerson as he starts reaching up to paw at the shelves on the wall.

"Did you use the last of it yesterday?"

He nods.

Your heart sinks a little and you look down at your hands, fiddling with a loose string on your shirt. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have made such a big deal about a little bruise." 

You don't see it, but flames on Grillby's head spark a little as he looks back at you. "What? No, no I'm very happy you came to me. It's good to see that it actually works." 

The calm manner of his voice helps to ease the sudden flare of worry. You would hate to think that he used the last of his supply on you but when he puts it that way, he would've had to use it anyway right? "Okay. Well, I guess like Faith said if you need a taste tester I'm willing to help out." You smile as you look up and-

Oh. He's taken a step closer. Your breath catches in your throat as you're forced to look up at him more than usual. He really is pure fire. The way his flames dance and constantly shift is mesmerizing. Your hands twitch as you suppress the urge to reach out and touch his arm. It would be so easy to just reach forward and find out if he really is as hot as he looks. But you can't. Not when you have the suspicion that he doesn't like touching others. Just ask him! That's the only way you're going to know! "Hey, um...so this might be kinda random but-" 

"Gerson! Watch the shelf!" Undyne tears across the shop to save Gerson from the stacks of books and small boxes shifted around during his search that are now teetering perilously on the edge of the shelf above him.

As she does so, she partially crashes into you, the force of the quick impact sending you flying face first right into Grillby's chest. An 'oof!' of surprise escapes you as you slam up against his surprisingly solid form and your momentum makes him stumble back a step or two. You're forced to grab onto his shirt to save yourself from falling and freeze for just a moment with your face pressed against him while you fight to regain your balance. Oh. He's warm. He's so warm under the cloth of his shirt and you can almost feel some kind of movement there. It's barely noticeable, like a heartbeat but it must be the flames of his chest shifting around just like the rest of him. 

Grillby makes a strange, choked sound and you gasp as you realize that you're still standing there, leaning heavily on him. You release your hold on his shirt and leap away, your face flushing. "I'm so sorry! Are you okay?" 

His hands are clenched into fists at his side. His flames are flickering wildly and you see several streaks of blue flash among the orange and red. "I'm...fine. Are you okay?"

"...Yeah." 

He won't look at you. 

You can't bring yourself to keep looking at him.

Did you hurt him? Is he mad that you fell on him? Whatever the reason, it's clear he's unhappy.

Guess that answers your question about touching him.

"There it is!" Gerson crows triumphantly as Undyne struggles to move the collapsed items gathered in her arms away from the turtle's head. Gerson waves a folded wooden chessboard at you, a black bag clutched in his other hand. 

"Great! Here, I'll take it," you volunteer, quickly moving away from Grillby. You very nearly snatch the board and bag of pieces out of the turtle's hands, keeping your face lowered in the pathetic hope that he and Undyne won't see how flushed you are. You set the pieces down by the cups of tea as you hear Gerson say to Grillby-

"Do you want to hang around? I've got extra tea and it's been a long time since you and I played a game." 

"Sorry, I've...I've got to get back. Prepare for opening and...sorry." 

"Oh. Well then, let me get your monster candy." Gerson prods at you to move and you jump at the unexpected contact. He digs through one of the baskets at your feet, straightening with a cloth bag filled with what must be more monster candy. "Here you go. Next time, make sure you hang around a while, yeah?" 

"I will." You turn just as Grillby takes the bag of candy and drops a few coins into Gerson's hand. He looks at you, his head flashing blue for just a split second. "See you later then." 

"Yeah, see you later." You're actually proud of how normal sounding your voice is. 

"See ya Grillby!" Undyne waves, having returned from safely put the fallen items away. 

Grillby nods to Undyne and Gerson and gives you another quick look before he hurries out of the shop. 

You slump against the counter, your heart suddenly heavy in your chest. 

Chapter Text

"Hey. Earth to Shore. Hey!" 

A sharp poke to your forehead jolts you out of the slight daze you've fallen into. You yelp, grabbing at your forehead. "What?

Undyne fixes you with a stare, frowning. "Usually Sans is the space cadet around here. What's going on with you?" 

"N-nothing! I'm just...getting a little puzzled out, you know?" 

It's not...exactly a lie. You have been at this for a few hours. Gerson is indeed a master but his focus and energy for the game, while admirable, turns out to be a little daunting. Not to mention mentally exhausting. Gerson is clearly passionate about puzzles and games, given his constant 'wah ha ha'ing and intense focus. The first two hours were fun and you learned a lot via sometimes gruff scolding when you made a bad move. But continuing on for another two hours was starting to take it's toll. And part of that is because Gerson declared that your problem wasn't just that you weren't the best at chess. 

"You lack basic puzzle solving skills!" he had declared, all but sweeping the board aside. "Undyne! Get me the junior jumble!" 

Junior Jumble, as it turned out, was exactly what it sounded like. A very basic word jumble game. One that you solved fairly easily. Then there was another. 

And another. Soon a pile of papers was built up on the counter; a mixture of Junior Jumble and some kind of crossword that proved only a little more difficult than the scramble puzzle that threatened to topple to the floor. 

At this point, your brain is starting to hurt. It was a little boring and you couldn't really focus since you had Undyne shouting encouragement on one side and Gerson rambling on about various puzzles he helped design in the underground on the other. Not to mention your thoughts keep drifting back to what happened earlier. You know it's dumb to keep lingering on the way Grillby had frozen under you. It's pointless to listen to the quiet voice in your head whispering that maybe it's not that he doesn't like being touched, maybe it's just you he doesn't like touching him. A cruel voice that's far too familiar and brings up too many memories that-

And there you go again. 

"Yeah, we have been at this for a while," Undyne sighs, not noticing your quiet struggle. Gerson snores in response, having slumped over nearly half an hour ago on the one clear spot on the counter. "Here, let's clean up and get going before he wakes up." 

She hadn't said a word about sending you flying into Grillby's chest other than a quick, "Hey, you good?" earlier. She was probably too busy making sure she didn't drop any of the various objects she saved Gerson from. You have to imagine that if she saw you clutching at Grillby's shirt, she would've said something by now. 

"So, enjoy your brush with fire earlier?" 

You nearly drop the bag. Sputtering, you set it down safely and curse the heat rising in your face. "Okay, not my fault," you say instead of answering, pointing an accusing finger at her smug face. "Did you do it on purpose?" 

"Life is full of happy accidents." 

"That's not an answer."

Her teeth glint. "You didn't answer mine."

You sigh, rubbing at your face. "I was just trying to get my balance back. I didn't mean to smash my face into him."

"And?"

"And what?"

She throws her hands up. "Did you enjoy it?"  

You gape at her, now unable to stop the blush from rising on your face as the unbidden memory of how warm he was even through his shirt and the slight smokey smell coming that tickled your nose assaults your mind and okay maybe, maybe it had been nice for just a split second. "Shut up," you mumble, turning back to the chessboard. 

Her loud cackle miraculously doesn't wake Gerson, though he does snort rather grossly and shift a little on his stool. She leans on your back, nearly sending you sprawling. "Aw, you're blushing!" 

"Again, shut up.

She's still snickering as what sounds like a chord from some kind of anime song chimes brightly from her pocket. She fishes her phone out as you finish folding up the board and place the now empty tea cups back onto the tray. The tea was a little too...salt-watery for your taste but it had given you a fresh surge of energy in the form of magic tingles so you can't really complain. "Hey, Al and Sans are done at the lab for the day. Feel like grabbing an early dinner?" She doesn't give you a chance to reply before she plows on, throwing her arm around your shoulder. "Of course you do! But I'm not treating ya!" 

"Um, yeah. Okay," you answer a little distractedly. Maybe this is what you need. A quick reminder of normal (as normal as being in a fire monster's bar can be at least). Though you're a little too worn out to play a game with Grillby tonight. "Should we head over now?"

Undyne nods, pocketing her phone. "The other two are already there. Hey old man, we're taking off." She gives Gerson a rather heavy handed clunk on the head. He opens his good eye blearily and grumbles out a farewell before falling asleep again. You and Undyne leave the cool air of the shop behind and the hot air that smacks into your face immediately builds sweat on your skin. 

"Stupid heat," Undyne mutters, wiping at her face as well. 

You grin a little; you're used to her whining about the heat during your surfing lessons. Honestly it's hard to even get her to come out of the water on the hotter days. She whines almost the entire walk up to the bar though she brightens a bit once it comes into view. Perhaps she's eager to see Alphys. The two of them are so different and yet somehow work so well together. It's really cute. You'd be lying if you said you weren't a little jealous of their relationship. It would be nice to find someone that you could care deeply for and knew beyond a doubt that they felt just the same. 

Well, it's a nice dream anyway. 

"You know, it's really not that much cooler inside," you point out as Bonnie waves the two of you in. 

She pouts, shrugging a little. "Yeah but the food makes it worth it. So it's fine. Ah, there they are!" 

You see them now too. Sans and Alphys have claimed one of the booths and they're sitting across from each other, each nursing a drink. You make your way over to them noting that even though the bar has technically only been open for about an hour, most of the tables and seats have been filled. As you approach, you can hear that the skeleton and the dinosaur seem to be arguing almost heatedly about something. 

"al, do you want seriously want to lecture me about theoretical quantum physics? do you want me to explain exactly why you're wrong? cause i'll do it, i swear i will and then i'll die because that's way too much work for me. do you want me to die?" 

"Do you need a reminder of basic mathematics?" she nearly shrieks back. You've never seen her so passionate and loud. "Math is at the core of every form of physics! 'If you want to be a physicist, you must do three things—first, study mathematics, second'-"

"don't you quote sommerfeld at me!" 

You and Undyne exchange a look, fighting to hide your smirks as you slide into the booth. Undyne gives Alphys a quick smooch, making her squeak and jump with surprise. Sans grumbles into his cup which, going by the lightest flush on his face, you assume isn't ketchup. "Hey you two," you say, unable to completely hide your amusement. "Having fun?" 

"oodles." Sans takes a long swig from his drink. Due to the ever present smile on his face, you actually can't tell if he's being sarcastic or not. 

Alphys sighs, curling her hands around her cup as she breathes in the steam. Despite what you're assuming is playful banter, there's a bit of heaviness in Alphy's face and a slight slump to Sans' shoulders. 

"What's going on?" Undyne asks Alphys at her heavy sigh. 

She rubs at her face, almost knocking her glasses askew. "It's the project. Reaching maximum potential for servers across the nation is proving a l-little more difficult to reach. The numbers aren't a-adding up." 

"but it's not the numbers," Sans insists, clunking his cup down. "something else is wrong." 

"Does this have something to do with that Summerfeld guy?" you ask.

"sommerfeld. and nah, that's just al pretending she knows quantum physics more than me." 

"I t-told you, the fundamentals-!" 

The two of them descend into science banter which you tune out after a fruitless attempt to understand what the heck they're even talking about. Your gaze drifts over to the bar. Sitting next to Sans offers you a perfect view and you see Grillby mixing together a couple of drinks while a monster leans against the bar top and gestures animatedly. You're too far to see the subtle expressions on his face but unless you're imagining it, he looks a little dimmer than usual. You frown, putting your head in your hand. You should talk to him. You know what it's like to be touched by someone you don't want touching you and as much as it stings to think that you might be one of those people to him, you need to respect his wishes. 

"Told ya she'd be here!" 

You jump at the familiar voice and look up to see Faith grinning at you, Liam peering over her shoulder and...hey, Tyler's here too! He's looking around the bar with interest but at Faith's words, his eyes drop to you as well, crinkling as he smiles. 

"So she does eat here every night. Huh." He winks at you and you grin back. 

"She does not eat here every night actually." Which is the truth; Grillby's food, as delicious as it is, is usually dripping with grease. That and your sobbing wallet had driven you to eat your meals at home a few times. Of course you had always stopped by for a drink afterwards but they don't need to know that. You look back to the monsters at the table, who are looking up at your team with interest save Sans who has seen Faith and Liam before. "Guys, this is Faith, Liam and Tyler. My dancing partners in crime. This is Sans, Alphys and Undyne."

Tyler sticks his hand out to Undyne, who's eyebrows lift. "I want to personally thank you for tackling my partner into the ocean. It is a truly beautiful thing to picture." 

At that, she grins widely and takes his hand, shaking it firmly. "Picture no longer. I have video." 

Liam and Faith's heads whip to Undyne. "You have video?" they practically squeal in unison. The two of them sit down, Faith forcing you to scoot until you bump against Sans while Liam claims the edge of the seat next to Undyne. Tyler grabs a free chair and pulls it over, his eyes gleaming as Undyne pulls her phone out. 

"Please nooooooo," you whine, trying to block their view with your hands. Liam simply pins your wrists down. 

"Shore, you must accept the inevitable," he says solemnly.   

"Guys c'mon that was ages ago!" 

"A timeless tale," Faith sighs happily, leaning over so she can see the phone better. 

You simply put your head on the table, your face burning as once again, you have to endure everyone's roaring laughter as they watch you fly off of your board not once, but three times. What a legacy. Flailing and screaming as you get tackled by a cackling fish monster.

Tyler pats your back. "Cheer up Shore," he says, barely able to muffle his giggles. "There are worse ways to be remembered."

"Says you."

You still have your head down so you jump a little when Sans says, "heya grillbz." Your head pops up. Oh. You were right. He is dimmer than usual, more reds than bright oranges slowly flickering over his head and hands. His face is expressionless, hidden behind his flames as he silently passes out menus. He sets one down in front of you, his eyes finally flickering up to look at you for a moment. You give him a weak smile and he simply nods in greeting, not cold but not in the warm, familiar way you've grown used to before walking away. Something churns in your chest as you pretend to stare down at the menu. No one else seems to have noticed anything off and they chat among themselves as they decide what to eat.

"So, what should I get?" Tyler asks you, looking over his own menu.

"Um, everything is really good," you mumble. "I like the burgers." 

Tyler lowers his menu slightly. "You okay?"

"I'm fine."

You can feel his eyes burning a mark on your face but you keep your own gaze fixed on the menu. After a moment, he just goes back to his menu. That's when you feel your phone buzz in your pocket.

 

punnyman:

what's up?

 

You glance at Sans, who isn't looking at you but you do see the glow of his phone on his lap.

 

You:

What's up with what?

 

punnyman: 

you and gurbz are acting weird. so what's up? 

 

Ah. It makes sense that Sans would see something was wrong. You sigh and type out a quick explanation, telling him about falling on Grillby earlier and the way he froze under your hands. Sans glances down at his phone and the arches of his brow slowly rise as he reads your text. He puts the back of his hand against his teeth but it doesn't quite hide the way his grin grows slightly. 

"What?" you hiss under your breath. "I don't think this is a thing to be laughing about. I think he's really upset with me." 

"easy kid," he whispers back just as quietly. "you don't need to be worried." 

"I don't?" 

He shakes his head, giving your shoulder a single pat. "i know grillby. and he's not mad at you." 

"Then what's wrong?" 

Sans' eye lights shift just slightly to look over your shoulder and he somehow manages to slump into even more of an easy slouch. Grillby's back, notepad in hand. He silently takes every else's orders and looks at you. 

"Um, a regular burger please." 

He nods and gathers up your menus. For a moment, he hesitates. A few sparks dance from his head but otherwise he's still. "I'll...I'll be right back," he finally murmurs, once again taking off. 

You're too miserable to quite manage a glare towards the skeleton but you're somewhere in the ballpark. "Are you positive he's not upset?" 

"i never said he wasn't upset." Sans suddenly seems fascinated with staring at the tips of his phalanges. "just that it's not aimed at you." 

"Sans!"

"What are you two hissing about?" Undyne asks loudly, leaning on Alphys as she stares the two of you down.  

"Nothing," you and Sans intone as one. 

That earns you a few suspicious looks from the rest of the table but the issue is pushed aside as everyone starts chatting again. Or rather, Faith and Undyne start loudly bonding over their love of making you look like a fool. The dark haired girl takes great pleasure in sharing the story of how you ended up with your fire like hair in the first place. Liam seems content with watching Faith as she gestures, a soft smile on his face. Tyler however keeps looking at you, a little more aware of the fact that you're not acting like your usual self. Still, the cheer of the table is starting to help you feel a little better. The food Grillby brings you all helps too, as it usually does. Tyler is instantly in love, gobbling his burger at a speed that makes the others laugh. It's nice to see your old and new friends becoming acquainted. You should've made this happen sooner. 

Undyne is in the middle of proudly sharing her surfing achievements (with only slight exaggeration) when-

Crash! 

The sound of several glasses shattering cuts through the dull roar of conversation across the bar and the entire building goes silent. You twist in your seat, looking for the source of the sound. Poor Hun has dropped to her knees, scrambling to pick up the glass now spread in a circle around her. The mess is right next to a table holding three human men, one of whom is standing. His leg is soaked with whatever had been in the glasses and his face is red. 

"Can't you watch where you're going?" he screams at Hun. Her ears are pressed flat against her head. 

"I-I'm s-sorry, I didn't mean-" 

"It doesn't matter what you meant to do, look at this mess!" He gestures to the broken glass.

Hun is quivering so violently you're scared she's going to cut herself on the broken glass. "S-sir, you did s-stick your foot out pretty far into t-the walkway-"

"You're trying to blame this on me?" His face twists into a sneer. "Did you see that happen?" 

The other two shake their heads, sharing equally smug smirks. "That's not what I saw happen."

"Tripped over her own huge feet I'd reckon."  

The first man looks down at Hun like mud on his shoe. "Can't say I'm surprised though. Filthy vermin can't even hold a tray of drinks. Makes sense she'd try to blame it on a human." 

You're pushing past Faith without even realizing what you're doing, fury taking over all rational thought. It's only when Tyler's hand clamps on your shoulder that you stop, shooting him a glare. "What-" 

"Hold it," he mutters, gesturing with his head. You follow the motion and realize Grillby is headed right for the mess. His hands are empty, loose at his sides. The men look at him, hesitating for just a moment. You hope that the sight of a man on fire will be enough to deter them but the leader gets his momentum back.

"I demand free service for this mess," he snarls at Grillby, jabbing a finger at Hun. "And a human server! I will not have animal fur in my food!"

Grillby doesn't say a word, coming to a stop at Hun's side. He kneels down and after gently tilting her hand to make the few pieces of glass she's gathered fall back to the floor, helps her stand. Ignoring the outraged gaping of the man in front of him he turns her away. He leans down, clearly whispering something to Hun. She nods, wiping at her face. His fire shoots into harsh brightness for a moment, streaks of white and purple flying over his head. He gives her a gentle push and she takes off for the kitchen.

The man, put off by being ignored, raises his voice. "Do you always ignore your customers, monster?! Or is it just the human ones?" 

Slowly, glass crunching underfoot, Grillby turns. His flames seem to grow in size slightly, the sounds of snapping clear even from across the room. "Leave."

"Excuse me?" the man sputters. 

Grillby takes a single step forward. He towers over the man without even trying and causes the human to shrink back instinctively. Grillby looks to the other two sitting at the table, who are watching the scene with open mouths. He points to the door. "Leave. Do not come back." 

Sweat is beading on the man's forehead. His eyes bulge as for a moment he wordlessly gapes. "F-fine! See how long you last without human customers, you freak!" He turns on his heels and nearly runs out of the door, followed closely by his two friends. A heavy silence follows the slamming door. Grillby seems to shrink slightly, his flames fading back to red. He kneels down, taking a rag out of his pocket. This time, Tyler doesn't stop you as you pull away from him and quickly run to Grillby. He looks up as you kneel next to him, carefully making sure you don't get glass in your knees. His eyes widen slightly. 

"Miss-" 

"Here, let me help." You grab a few unused napkins from the table the jerks were just sitting at and set them down on the wooden floor.

"Miss Shore, I can handle this," he says quickly, his voice low and hoarse. 

"I know you can," you reply just as softly. "But it'll go faster with two. You get the glass and I'll soak this up." 

His mouth snaps shut at that, gaze dropping. Silently, the two of you clean up what you can. Fortunately most of the pieces are big and easy to gingerly place on Grillby's rag. But there are several small shards that are going to need to be swept up. Why didn't you go get a broom? You weren't thinking that's why. The sight of him kneeling alone in a pile of glass had prompted you to move without thinking. 

"Did he trip her?" you ask, even though you're pretty sure of the answer. Grillby nods and your breathe hisses out with anger. Jerks. Pure and simple.

There's not much else you can do without a broom at this point. You gather up the wet napkins and stand. "Um, I'll go throw these away." 

Grillby looks up at you. For once you're standing above him and yet you still feel small compared to him. "Thank you," he finally says, his colors brightening marginally. "I can finish this. Please go back to the others." 

Despite what he says, you find yourself pausing. This isn't the time to bring up what happened earlier but you don't want this distance between you to last any longer than it has to. But you don't know what to say, so you just nod and throw the wet napkins away before going back to the booth. Faith slides closer to Sans to give you room, her eyes wide. Nobody says anything for a moment until Undyne slams her hand on the tabletop, making everyone jump.

"Grillby sure showed them, huh?" she says brightly, her eye gleaming viciously. "I bet that human wet himself!"

"He certainly looked like he was about to," Tyler agrees.

A small smile does lift your face at that. For his bravado, the guy caved pretty quickly once Grillby got into his space. But thinking on it, not once did he actually threaten the man or even touch him to force him to leave. His arms had remained at his sides the whole time. Even so, you had felt the heat and contained rage even from the booth. The man deserved it, but there is no way you would ever want to be on the receiving end of it. 

"You know, I think the guy could be really scary if he wanted to be." 

That's what Faith said when Grillby showed the smallest hints of anger towards the men responsible for your bruise. At the time, you'd brushed it off; you honestly couldn't think of Grillby as someone scary. And you still can't. He was angry and rightfully so and yet you never felt worried for the other man's safety. Grillby is too kind for that. You've seen it in the way he listens to others and in the gentle smiles that lift his face at any given moment. A person who smiles like that-

"Hey." Faith pokes your arm, pulling you out of your thoughts. 

"Sorry." You rub at your face. "Just...man, some people huh? I can't believe someone would do that to poor Hun." 

Faith works her lip for a moment, gaze intense and slightly distant. She looks to Liam and a quick and silent agreement passes between them. "Get up and come with me," she finally announces, prodding you again. "You and me have gotta change the atmosphere in here." 

A little unsure of what she means, you do as she says and stand up. She is right about the atmosphere being tense though. All conversation is muted, heavy with shock, sadness and anger at such a display. This isn't how Grillby's is supposed to feel. "What's the plan?" you ask as Faith fights to escape the booth. 

"I'm thinking a little Maroon Five." 

"Ah." 

She points to Liam and Tyler. "Stay here boys, we've got this." 

Tyler lifts his glass. "Go get 'em." 

Faith pulls you over towards the jukebox. There's a fair amount of clear space over here. It should be enough for what she has in mind. She starts tapping at the little screen, flipping through the options. "Hmm, looks like a little hacking is needed. Cover me!" She pulls out a mini screwdriver and an aux cord (pretty stand equipment to be found in her bag) and drops to the floor to mess with hooking her phone up to the speakers. You lean against the edge of the box, trying your best to look casual. Grillby must be getting rid of the glass in the back still. You glance around; most people are too busy eating to notice your antics but then you see a small pair of ears and beady eyes poking over the edge of the bar. 

You put your fingers to your mouth and wink at the Mizzy. Her nose twitches but her eyes crinkle with a smile.

"And we're good," Faith mumbles, getting back to her feet, hooked up phone in hand. "You wanna announce?"

You match her grin. "Sure do." You turn to the rest of the bar, noticing that at the moment only your table is watching you curiously. Liam has his phone out and recording and he gives you a thumbs up. "Hey everyone!"

That does it. Almost every head swivels to look at you and Faith. 

"Any Maroon Five fans in here?" Your shouted question gets a few weak cheers and whoops. Tyler cheers loudly.

"Well we're not them, but we like them too!" Faith's addition makes a wave of laughter sweep over the bar. Excellent. Receptive crowd! 

"We may not be them, but I think we can still put on a pretty good show, don't you?" you ask Faith.

"I think so." She pushes play on her phone, quickly dropping it onto the edge of the jukebox as Sugar begins to play over the speakers and you both run your hands through your hair as you shift into position standing side by side. This is a piece you know by heart, having used it at various functions before. 

I'm hurting baby, I'm broken down. I need your lovin', lovin' I need it now.

A gasp ripples towards you as you and Faith shift into quick motions of dance, hopping lightly from foot to foot in time with the beat. The wooden floor is perfect for dancing, letting your motions flow smoothly without fear of slipping. The first light hip thrust and twist brings a loud cheer and that's when Grillby sticks his head out of the kitchen, drawn by the noise. 

'Cause I really don't care where you are, I just wanna be there where you are, And I gotta get one little taste.

You throw your finger out towards Grillby, offering him a wink and wide grin. Blue flames erupt on his face as he stares, slowly shifting until he's standing outside the door.

Won't you come and put it down on me? 

The slow hip roll into a foot shift and tap on the ground brings a fresh round of cheers and you catch the flash of several cameras going off. Liam offers a loud cat call at the following hip thrust and spin and you catch the slightest blush on Faith's face in the brief second your eyes land on her. You know without needing to look further that she is wearing the same delighted smile as you, propelled by the feelings and energy pouring out of the audience in front of you. Too soon, far too soon, the song ends and the two of you bump shoulders as you pose and hold still for just a moment. 

The crowd explodes into cheers, several people actually standing up as they clap. Breathing heavily, you look to Faith, giving her a quick hug. She ruffles your hair, eyes bright with glee. She looks over your shoulder and her grin broadens as she nods towards something. You turn and see Grillby, still standing where he had been frozen during your performance. He's frozen no longer, his hands clapping together as the happiest smile you've seen on him yet brightens his entire form. 

This, more than the cheers and the hooting from anyone else, fills your heart with a sweet warmth that makes your entire body feel on fire.

Chapter Text

It takes you a few minutes to return to the booth. Several monsters and a few humans pull you aside as you attempt to navigate around the tables. Hands pat your back, touch your arms. You even get a hug from a multi-armed monster that looks like a mixture between an octopus and a goat. Flattering as it is, you do feel a little weird. It was just one dance but these monsters are acting like you saved the place from burning down or something. 

"Holy crap!" Undyne's turned around in her seat watching as you finally break away from the now excitedly chattering patrons. "I know you said you could dance but you never said you could dance!" 

Tyler puts his fist up and you tap it with your own, matching grins on your faces. "Little sloppy on the second turn there Shore." 

"It's because I didn't have a warm up," you pout as you slide behind Faith. 

"Excuses, excuses." 

Alphys claps softly, her eyes bright. "T-that was s-so cool! You guys are very talented!" 

Faith flips her hair and dramatically flops into the corner of the seat. "Oh stooop it you!" 

Wait. Wasn't that seat....? 

You look around for Sans, seriously wondering how the guy manages to completely vanish without making a sound or drawing attention to himself. He's short yeah but a skeleton in a hoodie should be kind of noticeable. You finally spot him leaning against the bar. Grillby's there too, head tilted down slightly as Sans talks to him. Something he says makes Grillby's flames sputter upwards before falling and darkening slightly. What the heck is Sans saying to him? The point of you dancing was to cheer Grillby up! Curse this bar chatter and soothing jazz music blocking their voices!

"Anyone here read...lips..." 

You don't even finish the sentence before you realize how dumb that is. 

"Why?" Liam asks suspiciously before craning his head back over the headrest to see what you're looking at. "Are you trying to eavesdrop?" 

That of course gets everyone to look too. "Guys stop, they're gonna look over here if you make a racket," you hiss. 

"We're just looking, nothing wrong with looking," Faith assure you, as she actually puts her knees on the seat to give her some height. 

"what are we looking at?"

All of you jump (Faith actually squeaks) at Sans' sudden reappearance at your table. But...how?! Your head swivels back to Grillby, who is already busy filling another drink order. "You were just over there!" you practically screech.

His grin is way too smug for you to believe that he's not playing some kind of trick. "i took a shortcut."

"Huh?!"

Undyne rolls her eyes as she falls back into her seat. "How long have you been messing with Shore?"

"how long do you think?" he asks, nudging you so you'll give him room to sit down again.

"If only you put as much effort into...well anything else as you do your pranks," she grumbles, "You could probably master anything you wanted to." 

You're totally lost. You look helplessly to Alphys. Out of the three of them, she's the most likely to take pity. She pushes her glasses up, glancing at Sans for a moment. When he simply shrugs she says, "Sans has the ability bend space across moderate distances to select a location of known origin to replace the current space with the magical energy tied directly to Sans and whatever else he wishes to take with him by means of instant transfer." 

You stare blankly.

"shortcut," Sans repeats and swipes what remains of your drink. 

"Hey!" 

"Wait, you mean you can teleport?" Oh dear. Liam's inner nerd awakens. His dark eyes are practically alight with joy as he leans over the table. "How often can you use it? Is it based on a bio-digital regeneration? Are you the same guy who was sitting here before or just a copy?" 

You never seen Sans look so pleased. "well lucky for me kid, i don't have any of that biology to worry about. it's all magic. kinda like making a door in the air." He slices his hand down slowly in front of him. "i'm just me. and i won't be winding up as a fly man or anything like that." 

"You've seen The Fly?!" 

"of course i've seen the fly." 

"The Fly?" You ask, looking to Faith. 

"Old Jeff Goldblum movie, it's terrible." 

Undyne wags a finger at Sans. "Weren't you the one saying you wanted to keep your 'shortcuts' on the down low? What happened to that?" 

"'s too much work to keep secrets." Sans finishes your drink and that reminds you that he had been talking to Grillby just a moment before. 

"Okay, as weird and awesome as it is that you can teleport, what were you talking to Grillby about?" You frown at him. "The whole point of Faith and I dancing was to cheer him up." 

The lights of his eye sockets seem to glint with mirth. "i thought it was to cheer up everyone, not just grillbz." 

Oh. Yeah, right of course. You fight to find your voice, feeling your face heat up slightly under everyone's gaze. "Yeah, that's what I um, I meant. But anyway! What did you say to him? He looked upset again." 

"You could tell?" Tyler asks, looking genuinely impressed. 

"Well yeah, his colors changed and the tempo of his flames dropped and...and stuff." You don't know how to explain it better than that. 

Sans simply grins at you. "good eye there. i just asked him about this morning-don't look so panicked!" He bops your nose. "i didn't say you think he hates you or whatever. i am a master of subtly after all." 

Alphys chokes on her drink so violently she spews liquid directly into Faith's face. 

~~~~~~

After Faith cleans up and Alphys apologizes for the fifth time and digs her elbow into the still cackling Undyne, you all decide to head out for the night. Faith gives you a tight hug and you whisper your thanks for her quick thinking. She has to drag the still enchanted Liam away from Sans. She keeps her hand on his arm as they leave and you and Tyler share a knowing smirk. 

"See ya later Hothead," he says, giving you a one arm squeeze. As he pulls away he fixes you with a serious stare. "Look, I don't know what's going on between you and Grillby but I don't like seeing you down."

You squeeze his arm gently. "I'm fine, I promise. I'm just...overthinking things. As usual, right?"

He frowns and looks back towards Grillby. The poor guy has been running all over the place since your dance number, catering to the renewed vigor and happiness of his customers. "Just be careful, okay?"  

Be careful of what? But he's already leaving and now it's now it's just you and Sans standing next to the booth. "hey, grillbz said he wants to talk to you before you leave." 

Your heart lifts in your chest slightly while at the same time your stomach twists with an unusual flutter of nerves. "Okay. Guess I'll see you later then." 

Before you can move however, Sans snags the edge of your shirt, prompting you to stop and look back at him. He leans against the booth, shoving his hands in his pockets as he levels you with an unusually serious look. "listen kid. grillby's not exactly the most open monster. but i can't help but notice that ever since you showed up here, he's been brighter and more talkative than he has in a very long time." 

"Really?" 

"really really. it's good to see. but, he uh...well...heh." He pinches the space between his sockets with his phalanges, as if massaging away a building headache. "geez, i'm not good at this sort of thing. look, grillby means a lot to me. to a lotta monsters." 

You grin a little wryly. "Geez, you're acting like I'm about to ask him out or something. Is this your 'be nice to my best friend or you'll regret it' spiel?" 

He lowers his hand, his smile a little looser now. "nah. i don't think you'd hurt him on purpose. i'm a pretty good judge of character while still being a suspicious git. so believe me when i say you're one of the most sincere humans i've met up here." 

"Oh." His unexpected praise catches you off guard a little. "Thank you." 

"unless you're secretly some evil mastermind in disguise who's only desire is to eat free food and take over the world or something." 

"Oh no, you've caught me!" 

He kicks at you lightly with one pink slippered foot. "the point is; grillby's a really good guy and i think you know that. but he's been through a lot. more than most monsters and he doesn't like talking about it. just keep that in mind, okay?" 

Something inside of you goes cold at those words. "What do you mean?" 

He looks away and you follow his gaze to Grillby. As if he senses the two of you watching him, he looks up, flames jumping for just a moment. You wave at him and you swear you can actually see him smile from this distance.

Sans pushes himself up and pats your shoulder. "it's not important," he says softly. "just keep doing what you're doing." 

A little unsettled by his words, you head up towards the bar. On the way you get a few more cheers and a couple of pats on the back. Most of the excitement has settled down however so you make it without too much delay. You take your usual spot, waiting for Grillby to finish mixing up a drink for a pair of drunk and very giggly girls. The chessboard is in place, as usual and you pick up the white knight. There are nicks and uneven patches but overall, the piece is incredibly well made. It's a little hard to imagine how long carving these must have taken Gerson, especially since his hands are rather stubby and, well, turtle like. 

"Gerson's a good teacher," you murmur as you feel the air grow warmer. "Kinda scary though." 

"He was a master strategist in his prime," Grillby answers. His soft low chuckle brings a smile to your own face as you look up at him. "Though I do agree he can be a little overzealous at times." 

"He's like one of those old men who go bike riding and climb mountains just because 'if these young whippersnappers can do it, so can I!" 

His flames spark in amusement at your old man voice. "....Thank you for your dance earlier. I'm just sorry you had to see such a scene." 

You set the piece back down. "Does stuff like that happen often?" 

"Sometimes. Haven't had one quite that bad in a while though. Hun's okay," he adds, perhaps seeing your next question before you can voice it. "She's shaken up but she knows it wasn't her fault." 

That's good at least. A silence falls over the two of you and then, softly, Grillby says, "It really was an amazing thing to see." 

You blush at his praise. "It was just one of the pieces we usually fall back on. Besides, it was Faith's idea-" 

"Be that as it may, you still got up and danced. You didn't hesitate to help with the broken glass. And Sans informed me that you were halfway out of your seat and 'fired up and ready to kick butt'." 

You're not sure if it's him making air quotations or him actually saying the word butt that causes terrible snort escapes you. You quickly dissolve into giggles while Grillby somehow manages to make a mild expression of surprise. "Oh my go-" You have to suck in a huge breath of air. "D-don't say butt again with such a straight face, please!" 

"But why not?" 

Well that utterly breaks you. You slap your hands over your mouth in a meager attempt to muffle your shrieking laughter. Through your watering eyes you see Grillby pressing his own hand up over his mouth as his shoulders bounce slightly. "I don't know why I'm laughing!" you choke. "Man, it's bumming me out." 

A soft wheeze escapes Grillby as his shoulders hunch slightly. He waves his free hand back and forth a few times as the two of you catch your breath. His flames dance high, popping and crackling merrily as he regains his composure. "Wonderful retort," he praises. 

You prop your head on your hands, grinning. "And here I thought Sans was the punny one." 

"You think he's the only one who appreciates a good pun?" His mock offense nearly sends you into another giggle fit. 

"You're just full of surprises." 

He shrugs. As his flames return to their normal pattern, he looks down at his hands, fiddling with the edge of his cuffs. "Speaking of Sans-" 

"Hey Grillby! Another round for the table!" One of the dogs who frequent the bar lifts his empty glass. His fur is fluffed and standing slightly on end and his tail wags excitedly as he and the others give you another round of cheers. You lift your hand towards them in a wave. Grillby signals that he'll be right there and turns back to you.  

"I owe you a proper explanation about the way I acted this morning and I would rather not do it in a rush," he murmurs. "Can you come here before opening tomorrow? If it doesn't put you out of your way." 

You blink, a little caught off guard. "Uh, yeah I can come by. I get off work at one, is that too early?" 

He smiles and shakes his head. "That's just fine. I'll even make lunch for your trouble." 

"Oh well in that case!" You gin widely and his eyes scrunch slightly. 

"Griiiiiillby!

"Go attend to your customers, you slacker," you tease as you slide off the bar stool. "See you later." 

He nods and you head out. You're curious as to what exactly he has to explain but you have to admit the fact that he says he feels like he owes you an explanation makes you a little happy. That must mean he trusts you, at least a little. It means even more after what Sans said about him being a closed off kind of guy. Your steps are light as you walk back to your apartment after your unusually long day. Even the fight to wrestle your door open doesn't dampen your spirits. You flop down on the couch. Stitch, in his usual spot, lifts his head and whines at you until you pick him up and set him down in your lap. 

"Today was a heck of a day Stitch," you say to him as you scratch his ears. "Lessons from a giant turtle, dancing for a crowd of monsters. The dance crew met the others, that was really fun. Oh and I almost got into a fistfight to save a bunny in distress. How was your day?" 

Stitch purrs as a glob of drool drops onto your leg. 

"Good to hear." 

~~~~~~

The following day at work, you're understandably a little distracted. Fortunately for you it's a shop day, not a lesson day and most of the work you have to do is pretty standard and ingrained into your muscle memory. Usually you much prefer being out on the waves but today you won't have to shower up after your day is done and can go straight to Grillby's. When it comes time to clock out, you give Trey a quick goodbye and head out to your car. It's only when you pull into the large parking lot located on the west end of the Walk that you feel a sudden flux of nerves in your chest. Geez, what are you getting nervous for? Stop that!

There are quite a few people walking around and a few of them offer you greetings, something you've become used to over the course of the last little while. Monsters are very friendly, almost shockingly so. But it's a nice feeling and it helps to ease some of the butterflies in your stomach. 

A few of them. Not all. 

The glass orbs on the tables outside are still going strong and you pause for a moment to pick one up again. You still haven't asked him how this is possible. You hold it up to your eyes, staring at the flickering flame within. It's almost hypnotic and you have to force yourself to set down the warm glass and walk to the door. The 'closed' sign is up and you hesitate. Should you knock? Just go in? You try the knob and, finding it unlocked, slowly push the door open and peek inside.

It's a little strange to see the bar utterly empty. The chairs are all stacked on their tables, the floor is utterly spotless and gleaming and only the light from the window and the gentle display lights at the bar cast light over the room. There's no music playing and no quiet rumble of chattering voices. It would almost be eerie but the comforting smell of smoke and lingering grease is enough to combat the lack of noise.

"Hello?" you call, gently shutting the door behind you. "Grillby?"

There's no answer and you approach the bar, running your fingers over the wood. He might be back in the kitchen working on lunch. You'll give him a few minutes before you go searching for him. In the meantime, you let your gaze slide over the stacks of clean shimmering glasses and bottles stacked on the wall. Every piece is in order. Once again you're blown away by the care that goes into this place. You find yourself moving to stand in his usual place behind the bar, looking out over the restaurant. This is cool, standing back here. Bending down slightly, you see more open shelves holding extra rags, glasses, a couple of bottles and other things one might expect to find behind a bar. Ah, and there's the chessboard, safely tucked away. So he does put it up between your games. As you start to straighten, you notice a couple of burn marks in the wood. You run your fingers over the small black marks, picturing the hands that must have brushed against the wood here. It's the first sign you've ever seen that Grillby might have accidentally burned something. There's a few of them scattered about and then you spot one a bit darker and deeper than the others. A closer look reveals that it's an entire hand print, burnt into the wood. It's placed in such a position that it can't be seen from above. Maybe it's a place for Grillby to 'let off steam' as it were when faced with annoying guests? You bring your hand up and press it against the mark. The wood under your skin is almost rough, charred by heat and burnt a few centimeters deep into the underside of the counter. Even stretching your fingers, you're a good inch away from where Grillby's hand print ends.

"Miss Shore?" 

You squeak, shooting upwards. Grillby, holding a tray with two plates of food and one glass of what looks like lemonade, shifts into a bright hue as he moves towards the bar from not the kitchen, but the stairs. He's partially dressed in his work outfit, minus the vest and bow tie. "Hi!" you say a little breathlessly. "Sorry, I kinda just barged in since the door was unlocked." 

He grins, setting the tray down. "And you decided to try your hand at bar-tending?" 

"Uhhh...yup! Oh, but I don't have a bow tie. Does that disqualify me?" 

"Sadly yes, the bow tie is an absolute requirement." 

"Dang." You circle back around to the front of the bar. "Side note, do you have another kitchen upstairs?" 

He nods. 

"....You live upstairs, don't you?" He seems a little confused by the growing smirk on your face so you add, "Sans told me you practically live at your work. He should've said literally." 

He chuckles, just once, shaking his head. And then silence falls and the two of you stand there for a moment. It's the same, tense silence that fell between you yesterday and you're desperate not to let it happen again. "S-so! What's for lunch?" 

You peer around him to look at the food he's brought. It's sandwiches, really tasty looking ones. You can see bits of bacon, tomatoes and cucumbers sticking out from between thick slices of toasted bread. Melted cheese drips over the side of the bread and carries a tantalizing scent with it. A small pile of homemade chips rests beside the sandwich too.

"I hope you don't mind a...healthier option," Grillby says softly. "I'm working on expanding my menu." 

"These look really good!" you say honestly. "I'm always down for some fresh veggies." 

He smiles lightly. "Well these are about as fresh as they get. I just picked most of these this morning." 

"Do you have a garden?" 

He nods and then hesitantly asks, "Would you like to see it? We can eat up there." 

A chance to check out Grillby's garden? Absolutely! You grin excitedly. "Of course! Lead the way."

You grab one of the plates and the glass of lemonade so he doesn't have to carry all of it and follow him as he moves to the stairs. They're fairly narrow and you fall behind him, curiously wonder exactly where it is that he keeps his garden. Maybe he has a small one in his living quarters? You've heard of people doing that, planting tomato seeds into jars and stuff. Soon the thin stairwell opens up and you can't stop yourself from peering into the space Grillby calls home.

It's a huge open floor plan, with wooden floors and a merged living room and kitchen area. There's a small table near the wall, an empty vase on it's surface and two chairs pushed neatly against it. There's a couch, worn and dark placed in front of a simple tv set up. But what really catches your eye is the many, many bookshelves. There's four actual units, all filled to the brim with books of various size and age as well as a few smaller shelves nailed to the wall that holds more books and a few small knickknacks. There's three doors, probably leading to the bedroom, closet and bathroom (though you doubt Grillby has much use for a bathroom).

Grillby's voice stops you from stepping into the room. "This way."   

You look back to him and realize that the stairs continue upwards. You give the room one more look as you follow him back to the stairs. There's another level? You could've sworn there was only two, looking at it from the outside. Maybe this place is actually a Tardis. 

But the sound of a door opening makes you realize that it's not another floor. Grillby's taking you to the roof and you squint at the sudden sunlight as he steps out and holds the door open for you. You gasp quietly as your eyes adjust and you find yourself in the midst of a simplistic yet beautiful garden. It mostly contains vegetables, each kind sectioned off into various sized squares made of stone and dirt. There are a few small fruit trees, tiny enough that they just barely peek over the raised wall that surrounds the roof. Lemon, orange and lumpy blue fruit that you can't name. Placed near the front of the building in a wide clear space are two wooden lawn chairs and a small matching table, angled to look out over the Walk. The rooftop itself is covered in grass, perhaps slightly in need of a trim. 

You walk into the center of it all, slowly turning as you take everything in. "I had no idea this was up here! This is so cool!" 

Grillby closes the door leading back downstairs, his flames bright with amusement at your excitement. "It's a fairly recent thing. It didn't always look this good." 

"Did you do all of this yourself?" you ask as you set down your plate on the table. 

Grillby joins you, setting his own plate down. "I had some advice and tips from Asgore. He's got a knack for gardening." 

Your eyes widen slightly. "You know the king too? Well, I mean, obviously, I'm sure everyone know who he is but Sans seems to know everyone personally and I'm just gonna shut up now and eat." 

Grillby chuckles as you bite into your sandwich. You have to hold back a moan. Holy crap! "Are you sure these are just veggies?" you ask once you've inhaled a few bites. "I've never tasted anything like this!" 

"I suppose they have a little magic in them. Most monster grown food does." he says as he picks up his own sandwich. It's impossible not to stare as the thin line that makes up his mouth opens wider, revealing that the inside of his mouth is made of hot white fire that disappears quickly as he bits down. His eyes flick towards you and a flush of blue flames light his cheeks as he swallows.  "Sorry, I know it must be strange."

"No! Well, it is a little unusual, I'll give you that. But mostly I'm just now realizing that I've never seen you eat before."

Grillby looks back down at his food. "I don't usually eat in front of others," he mumbles.

"Why?"

He looks back to you and simply opens his mouth again for a moment and this time, you catch the faint shape of two fiery fangs lining just where his lips would be if he had them. Maybe he does have them, there's too much fire to tell for sure. He closes his mouth and it returns to that faint line. "That's why."

You're confused. "But that's so cool!" You blurt out. 

He blinks, a quiet snap sounding from his flames. 

"I mean it!" you say earnestly. "I don't see anything wrong with the way you eat." He doesn't respond to you verbally. He just continues to look at you, an unreadable expression on his face. You sigh and look down at your sandwich. "Everyone is different. What they eat, how they eat. How they dress and see themselves. Things they can't control. And since we're on the subject...I don't know exactly what Sans said to you yesterday about me crashing into you but, um, I get it. I really do." 

His head tilts slightly, his usual sign of confusion. "You...get it?" 

You nod seriously. "Yeah. Some people don't like to be touched and that's totally fine. I know I couldn't exactly help Undyne knocking into me but I'll really try my best to make sure it doesn't happen again." You give him a steady smile, even as a small part of your heart pangs with hurt. "So you don't need to on be edge or anything like that around me. I'm really happy that you wanted to explain why but you don't have to. I get it." 

Grillby's flames sputter for a moment. "I...no, that's...it's...." He trails off and looks down at his own sandwich. He sets it back on the plate and clasps his hands together, staring at the ground. "Weren't you scared?" he whispers. 

"Scared? Why?" 

He doesn't look up as he simply gestures to himself. A man of fire, burning, shifting and utterly inhuman.

Oh. Oh. 

"No!" It comes out a little louder than you meant and Grillby is startled into looking up. "Of course I wasn't scared! I mean, I was scared that I hurt you!" 

"...You weren't afraid of being burned?" 

You shake your head firmly. "I've never seen you burn a thing. I mean, you've got to have control over how hot you are, right? Otherwise everything would be in flames." Oh man, now everything makes sense! "Is that why you've always made sure to never touch me?" 

Grillby's flames are fading into that dark red. "It's not just you," he finally admits. "Of course, you're one of the few humans who doesn't keep a measure of distance from me anyway." 

His wry smirk twists your heart. "Are you saying you've never touched a human at all? Even by accident?" 

For a long moment, you're not sure if he's going to answer you. Then he simply shakes his head.

"So you have?" 

A nod. 

"Did something happen?" 

Another nod, slower this time. You don't push him for more. It's obvious that whatever happened, he doesn't want to talk about it. You pick at your sandwich a little in the resulting silence. As good as it is, you've kind of lost your appetite. So some kind of bad accident must have happened when he first came to the surface. There were a few incidents that you heard about, mostly monsters trying to defend themselves from various terror groups that attacked. But you don't remember ever hearing about a fire monster. Was it something small then? An encounter gone wrong?

Grillby surprises you by suddenly speaking. "Underground, the other monsters had a long time to get used to me. And I to them. But sometimes they will still flinch if I get too close. And with humans...." He takes a long, deep breath. "What happened before was a long time ago. But I don't want it to happen again. I don't want to see anyone pull away from me in fear or get hurt because of me. So I keep my distance. It's that simple." He finally looks back at you. "I'm not angry about yesterday. I just...I didn't want to see that expression on your face. I didn't want to accidentally hurt you." 

There's a deep, painful ache in your chest. All this time, you thought that it was because he didn't like humans. That he just preferred not to be touched. Saying sorry feels like it would only be insulting him. So instead, you stick your hand out. He looks at it, then back up at your face. 

"I won't pull away," you promise. "I'm not afraid." 

His eyes widen as he shakes his head. 

"C'mon," you urge, keeping your hand where it is. "Sooner or later, you're going to bump into someone again. And you shouldn't have to live on edge at every moment trying to avoid that." 

"I don't want to hurt you." 

"Are you planning on it?" 

"Of course not." 

You wiggle your hand a little. "Okay then! You won't hurt me, and I won't pull away." He's still hesitating, his hands remaining stiff and still so you quietly push. "Please? I trust you Grillby. You won't hurt me." 

His flames are tinged with licks of green as finally, slowly, he brings his hand up. You can't tell if it's just the nature of his flame or nerves, but he looks like he's shaking just the smallest bit. Your own heart is racing in your chest as you feel the soft heat of fire draw closer. He stops, you wait patiently and then, he places his hand in yours. His hand is solid against yours, the smallest flames licking over your skin. You can barely even feel them aside from a light, warm and utterly harmless tickle. 

Both you and he release a breath at the same time. The flames on his head are dancing wildly, the green fading away as it's replaced with light blue. 

You look up at him, grinning. "See? That's not so bad."   

He simply nods, perhaps not trusting himself to speak. 

Moving slowly, keeping your grip on his hand light so he can pull away if he wants, you turn his hand over, examining it. He has no nails, no lines or marks in his skin but aside from being made of actual fire, his hand looks just like a normal human's. He's warm, of course but not unbearably so. It's almost like holding a stone that's been warmed by the sun but...softer. It's odd that that's how you would describe literal fire, but it fits. His hand is solid but soft. 

You look up. He's watching you as you peer at his hand. He jumps a little as you turn both of your hands so that yours is placed on top of his. "Now you." 

He freezes for a moment before slowly leaning in just slightly, pulling your hand closer so he can get a good look. His eyes are wide as he examines your nails and runs his fingers over your knuckles. He gently presses his thumb against your palm and flicks his gaze to you make sure you're still okay. "You're...." 

"...Yeah?" 

"Squishy." 

Caught off guard, you burst into laughter. "Squishy? You know, the hand is not usually considered one of the squisher parts of a human." 

A quiet, almost nervous chuckle escapes him. "Sorry. Just the first thought I had. Why do you have so many lines here?" He traces one of the lines on your palm with his finger and the small shiver runs up your arm. 

"Um, it helps with movement. Skin isn't super stretchy so if they weren't there we couldn't move our hands as well." You close your fingers around his thumb to demonstrate. Oh, his thumb is so warm! You extend your hand again before it gets weird, as much as you would be okay with holding his thumb for longer. "Some people believe you can read fortunes in people's palms. See what their future holds, what kind of love life they'll have. Stuff like that." 

He looks at your palm for a few moments longer before gently releasing you. The heat of his fire lingers, like an invisible imprint of his hand on your skin. You hold your hand up for Grillby to see, wiggling your fingers. "Not a single burn." 

A slow and genuine smile lights his face brightly. "Thank you." 

Something about the way he says it and the way his golden white eyes stare so intently at you makes you blush. "Hey, anytime," you manage to say, reaching for your sandwich again and taking a big bite out it. 

"If...if you don't mind...." Blue flames light Grillby's cheeks. "I might take you up on that." 

You almost choke on your sandwich. Your blush deepens. "Y-yeah. Like I said: anytime." 

The two of you finish your meal in silence after that, both of you lost in your own thoughts. When it's time for you to head out, Grillby walks you back downstairs and to the door. As much as you would like to hug him goodbye, that might be a little much for him still. So you hold your hand back out, pleased when he only hesitates for a moment to take it. "See you tomorrow then." 

"See you tomorrow, Miss Shore." 

Chapter Text

The bar is gently noisy, the comfortable mixture of voices, the clinking of glass against wood and gentle jazz a familiar sound.

And Grillby can barely hear it. 

It's been a few days since he swallowed every thought in his mind screaming at him not to take your offered hand and forced himself to do the one thing he had sworn to never do again. And you hadn't melted under his touch, you hadn't ripped your hand away from him or screamed. You had beamed at him with a smile so bright even he felt dim in comparison. He had been almost too shocked to notice just how nice your hand felt in his. How soft and fragile and strangely solid all at once. And now he can't stop thinking about it. 

But what is even more shocking is that you keep offering your hand to him. When you first come into the bar, or when you leave, you find a way to subtly reach for his hand.  You don't say it, but he can tell it's your way of helping him get used to the sensation of normal contact with humans. He's hesitant at first. But one look at the bright encouragement in your eyes and he can't help but accept a handshake or a quick brush of your fingers against his.

"hey grillllby."

Before he knows it, he finds himself looking forward those fleeting moments. It's like something tight curled in his chest relaxes the moment your hands connect. Something old and heavy that he long ago got so used to he forgot about it.

"gurbz." 

He doesn't understand it. He doesn't understand how one human could so easily crack his willpower. What's happened to him? Why can't he stop thinking about you? Why does he find himself wishing that the handshakes would last longer? Why is he finding it harder and harder to stop himself from touching that bright fire red hair of yours like he wanted to from the moment you stepped into his bar and finally see for himself if it's just as hot as the flames it looks like?

"grillby!" 

He jolts, a few surprised sparks breaking from his head. "Sorry, what did you say?" 

Sans gives him a bemused looked. "you're melting the glass." 

He looks down to the shot glass clutched tightly in his hand. There's nothing wrong with it. 

Sans snickers. "made ya look." 

Grillby rolls his eyes but sets the glass down regardless. "Ha ha." 

The skeleton props his head on the back of his hand. "what's going on? i think the last time i saw ya this distracted was that first gyftmas party up top." 

That certainly had been...an experience. It was most monster's very first Gyftmas (or rather Christmas as humans called it) on the surface and everyone was understandably excited and eager to celebrate with a fervor he had not seen for a long time. He'd had his hands full with making sure there were enough drinks to go around and keep on eye on those who drank too much. "Just thinking." 

"'bout what?" 

He shrugs and thank the stars he keeps his emotions in check enough to stop his flames from brightening into embarrassed blues at being caught essentially daydreaming. "I'm just wondering how Papyrus is doing with his surfing lessons." 

A lie, one that Sans won't be fooled into believing for one second but it does distract him. His constant smile eases into something genuine, as it always does when given a chance to brag about his brother. "heh, he's having a blast with it. he's actually managing to surf an entire wave without falling off. shore's a good teacher." 

Grillby flickers a smile. He has no doubt of that. 

"maybe you should take lessons," Sans teases as he shoves a couple of fries grossly into his mouth. "catch a wave. hang ten. convince pap to stop talking surfer dude lingo." 

"Well if going into the ocean wouldn't literally kill me, I might like to try. But I'm afraid convincing your brother to stop with the surfer lingo is probably a lost cause." 

Sans makes a 'fair enough' kind of grunt before washing down his mouthful of fries with ketchup. "speaking of shore, has she been by today?" 

Grillby shakes his head. 

"is that why you're moping?" 

His flames sputter. "I'm not moping." 

Sans grins. "you're sooo moping." 

"Am not." Grillby picks up the glass again, needing to do something with his hands so he doesn't burst into blue. Usually you would come in just before the dinner rush but it would seem that you were too busy today. You even sent him a text earlier, letting him know that he didn't have to leave your usual seat open. And okay, maybe he's gotten a little too used to looking over and seeing you sitting at the corner of his bar and seeing someone else in what he now just naturally thinks of 'your spot' made it a little hard to focus. But he's not moping. "She's got a life of her own," he says quietly, wiping at the already crystal clear glass with a rag. "She comes when she can and when she wants to." 

"aw, looks like someone's lonely." 

Grillby smacks Sans lightly on the head with his rag. "Finish your fries before they get cold." 

Sans shrugs and digs into the remainder of his food in silence. It's not until he's about to leave and Grillby has returned from filling a few more orders that he adds, "so uh, things with you and shore are good now?"

Grillby pauses in reaching for Sans' empty plate. He flushes into a brighter hue, unaware of the soft smile on his face. "Yes. Yes, things are good." 

"more than good?" 

"..." He tilts his head slightly in question, a flicker of unease in his flames.

Sans rolls his eyes, the lights in his sockets bright with amusement. "c'mon grillbz, you think i haven't noticed the not-so-subtle handshakes and the fact that you two are now finding plenty of excuses to accidentally bump into each other?" 

Not-so-subtle streaks of blue flame flicker in his face as Grillby struggles to find something to say in response to the smug look that Sans is giving him. "...That's just...."

The small skeleton gives him a moment and when Grillby falls silent, he simply shrugs. "i just find it interesting. but hey, as long as things are good, right?" 

Still silent, Grillby nods. He's too flustered to give Sans the usual glare when he leaves the bill unpaid. Stars, what is Sans hinting at? He makes it sound like the two of you are....

He pushes that thought away before it fully forms, and strictly devotes his attention to his customers the rest of the night, keeping his gaze away from the spot where you sit. Fortunately there are enough guests who have just barely toed past the line of tipsy that he does keep busy enough to stop himself from drifting off into thought again. Shortly after midnight, once he's gently nudged the remaining patrons out of the door and watched as they totter away, he falls into his usual routine of cleaning. He stacks the chairs on the tops of the tables, sweeps, mops where it's needed and makes sure the place is utterly clean before he dims the lights of the bar. Once that's taken care of, he heads upstairs, loosening his bow tie as he goes. He finally lets some of the constant tension out of his shoulders as he enters into the dark space of his living area. Being made of fire, he of course has no need to turn on any of the electrical lights and uses his own glow to light his way to the sofa. He sits down, his fire popping and crackling as he allows himself to sink into the cushions. Many upgrades were made when moving up to the surface but this sofa was one of the few he was quite set on bringing along with him. His constantly shifting body could really be fine sitting anywhere but he likes this couch. 

It's a bit of home. 

It's late but he's still wound up from work and now that he doesn't have that distraction, his thoughts naturally wander back to what Sans said and the knowing wink he shot him before leaving. He rubs his fingers together, the friction causing a few small sparks to fly. Was he really being that obvious? He shakes his head, frowning. What is there to even be obvious about? The hand touching is just a way to break his self induced phobia. That's all. Sans is reading too much into it, as usual. Leaning over, he grabs the remote and clicks on the TV before unlacing his shoes. Wiggling his freed toes, he flips through the channels, not that there's much on this time of night. 

Oh, wait a moment. He pauses at the sight of a movie scene taking place at a beach. There's numerous scantily clad humans chattering and enjoying the sunlight and several surfers in the water. He is admittedly curious about exactly what goes into surfing, especially after hearing so many stories from you, Papyrus and Undyne. Perhaps this is one of those 'surfing' movies he's heard about. He glances down at the icon in the bottom corner that proclaims 'You're Watching: Jaws 3'.  

Huh. Well, he's never heard of this one, but since it takes place at a beach, he decides to give it at least a few minutes. He'll probably wind up falling asleep before too long anyway.

~~~~~~ 

Something's up with Grillby. You can see it in the unusually agitated flicker of his flames every time he glances over at you. "Does Grillby seem off to you guys?" 

Surfing lessons are done for the day and you've been joined at the bar by Frisk, Undyne and surprisingly, Papyrus. He gives his milkshake a huge slurp before looking over at Grillby as well. "HE LOOKS NORMAL TO ME!" 

"No, I think Shore's right," Frisk chimes in, narrowing their eyes at Grillby. "He keeps looking over here. Could it be he's...got the hots for someone sitting right here?" They point at you, a wide, pleased smile on their face. 

You roll your eyes. "Yeah, I don't think so buddy. I'm being serious." 

"Well, let's just ask him!" Undyne throws her arm up, waving for Grillby to come over. When he does, she leans over the bar slightly. "Hey, what's going on with you?" 

He tilts his head questioningly. 

Undyne jabs a finger towards you. "Shore says something's up, so what's up?" 

A surprised flicker lights his head for a moment before he simply shakes his head. "There's nothing up." 

You narrow your eyes at Grillby, who suddenly finds something fascinating about looking anywhere but right at you. "Are you sure about that?" you press, jabbing Frisk lightly in the ribs when they start to crow about the word 'sure'. 

"It's really nothing," Grillby insists quietly but when he finally looks at you, his flames once again pick up speed slightly. Then, like he can't hold it in any longer, he blurts out, "Are there really sharks out where you surf?" 

You're a little thrown by the sudden question. "Uh, I mean, there's no way to know for certain but there haven't been any shark sightings in a long time. Any real sharks at least," you add, grinning at Undyne, who cackles. "But it's the ocean. There's always the possibility." 

Grillby's color darkens. "I see." 

"Why the sudden curiosity?" 

"It's nothing, just something that was on TV last night," he mumbles. 

On TV? It suddenly clicks for you. You had gotten home late and watched random TV with Stitch until around midnight. You remember channel surfing and seeing that the notoriously terrible Jaws 3 was playing. It was at that point you had given up on finding anything good to watch and headed to bed. "Oh my gosh, you watched Jaws 3, didn't you? Oh no, Grillby tell me that wasn't your first Jaws movie!"

Surprised by your sudden energy, Grillby simply shrugs. "I guess it was? I only watched it because of the...because there was nothing else." 

You slap your cheeks, groaning. "Jaws 3 is one of the worst sequels of all time! I can't let this tragedy stand!" 

"WHAT IS JAWS 3?" Papyrus asks curiously, his milkshake forgotten. 

"Jaws 3 is a terrible sequel to a horror movie classic called Jaws," you say excitedly, turning to him. "It's considered one of the greatest classics of all time, even if it is horribly inaccurate about sharks and uses some admittedly laughable effects and tropes." 

"It's about sharks?" Undyne's eye is gleaming. 

"Not just any shark." You lean in slightly, pitching your voice to match her rising excitement. "It's a massive killer shark that spreads terror throughout the city and rips apart anyone who dares to step foot into the ocean. This shark puts fear into the hearts of the bravest of souls!" 

"THAT SOUNDS TERRIBLE," Papyrus says bluntly. "WE SHOULD WATCH IT!" 

Frisk bounces in their seat. "We should totally watch it! Movie night at my house tomorrow night!" 

All of you put your fists in the air and cheer. You look at Grillby, who's watching you all with great amusement. "You'll come too, right?" 

He hesitates and offers you a helpless shrug. "I wouldn't want to make you all wait until the bar closed." 

You frown at him. You've noticed of course that Grillby never takes a night off. It'd be hard not to notice, with as often as you come here. But when you asked him about it before, he simply brushed off any concerns you might've had. His place underground was the only bar in that part of town, so he's used to working every night. He claims that he takes breaks when he really needs it but you have your doubts.

Undyne slams her palm on the bar. "It's your bar right? Can't you close up early just once?"

"I can't-"

"You're the boss!" Frisk chimes in before Grillby has a chance to fully answer. "It'll be fine!" 

"It's not that sim-" 

"You've gotta be there!" you plead. "I can't let Jaws 3 be your only Jaws experience!"  

It takes only the smallest of glances at Frisk and Papyrus for the three of you to get on the same wavelength. In the same moment, you all turn your best puppy dog eyes on Grillby (how Papyrus is managing that with empty sockets, you have no clue). The bartender is motionless, save for the flash of colors that give away his internal struggle. When his eyes meet yours, you can see the moment he loses the battle. His shoulders slump just the smallest bit and your sad expression turns hopeful. 

"I suppose closing a little early won't hurt." 

All of you cheer loudly again and even Grillby can't help but smile. 

~~~~~~

"I can't believe you're actually friends with the queen of monsters," Faith once again squeals as the two of you and Liam make your way up the streets of the monster district. Once you got the final okay from Frisk that Toriel is fine with you all coming over for movie night, you had asked if you could bring along the other members of your dance team. Tyler unfortunately couldn't make it but Liam and Faith immediately jumped on the offer. It's almost 9 o'clock and the soft glow from the various lamp posts casts just enough light to see. The night is pleasantly cool (for summer) and you've got a bowl of home-made Muddie Buddies. Frisk said not to worry about bringing snacks or anything but you couldn't help yourself. You're not on Grillby's level of cooking, but this is something you've made often enough it's easy to whip up a batch. 

"I still can't believe it sometimes," you agree, shifting your hold on the foil wrapped bowl. "Talk about a crazy summer, huh?" 

"Crazy's the word." Faith looks around in awe. It's her and Liam's first time in the monster district. It's certainly a sight to see. There are several monsters out and about, on their way to somewhere else or simply enjoying the night. Most of them wave at your group or watch you with just as much curiosity as you pass by.  

"This is so cool," Liam breathes. 

"So, none of these guys have seen Jaws?" Faith asks you. 

You shake your head. "Grillby saw the third one last night but I'm not counting that." 

"Not like the first one's much better," Liam mumbles. This instantly earns him a smack on the arm from both you and Faith. "Ow! What? You both know it's true!" 

"It's a classic!" you hiss. 

"That doesn't mean it's any good!" 

Faith waggles a finger at him. "Just because it's the truth, doesn't mean you should say it!" 

Liam throws his hands up. "All I'm saying is that there are plenty of other shark movies that are better. And going off of what you've told me, I think Undyne and Papyrus would enjoy Sharknado more than Jaws." 

....You hadn't even thought of that. Faith breaks into a loud round of giggles at the expression on your face. "That...that movie is too gruesome for a kid to watch." 

"Pfft, like Jaws is any better?" 

"Okay, you know what, the point is not to watch the best shark movie. It's to give my good monster friends the classic Jaws experience. And half of them are my students. I don't want to actually scare them into never going into the water again." 

"But most importantly, you've got to fix the fact that Grillby's only seen the third one," Faith points out. 

"Yes, that is most important." 

Liam shrugs. "Your call dude." 

The three of you approach Toriel's house and the door opens before you even have a chance to knock. Frisk eagerly grabs your hand, nearly making you drop your bowl of treats and pulls you inside. "We're just about ready! C'mon, c'mon!" 

"Okay, I'm coming," you laugh, gesturing for Liam and Faith to follow you. They do so a little more timidly, looking around the home of the ambassador and monster queen. They jump when Toriel herself peers in from the kitchen, giving the three of you a bright smile. 

"Welcome, welcome!" she says cheerfully. "It's very good to see you again. Not drenched in water this time at least!" Her gaze moves to Liam and Faith, who are both staring with open mouths. With her height, she towers over the two of them. "You must be Liam and Faith! It is very nice to meet the two of you." 

Faith eagerly accepts her handshake while Liam continues to gape silently like a fish. "It's so cool to meet you!" 

Toriel smiles widely. "Well go on into the living room, everyone else is already in there. I'm just finishing up some cookies." 

Frisk tugs at you again and you head into the living room. True to her word, everyone else is already present. Several blankets and pillows adorn every sitting space and there's a spacious bean bag that you fairly certain wasn't there the last time you were here. Alphys and Undyne are curled up in a wide arm chair, Papyrus is somehow managing to fold his lanky frame into the beanbag and Sans has claimed one side of the couch. Grillby is standing just on the other side of the armrest, head tilted down towards Sans. 

Your hand slips out of Frisk's grip and the two monsters look up as you approach them. A smile brightens Grillby's face as Sans waves lazily. 

"Aw you beat me here," you say, unable to keep a pleased grin off of your face at the sight of Grillby once again in casual clothes. He simply shrugs, looking down curiously at the bowl in your hand. "Oh! I made Muddie Buddies." 

"muddie buddies?" Sans questions. 

"Some people call it Puppy Chow, depends on where you live. Here." You pull the tinfoil back and offer some to the skeleton. He plucks a few pieces out and nods approvingly after a moment of crunching. Grillby reaches in for a piece as well. Unexpected nerves bite at your stomach as you watch him eat the food you made. Man, you should've taste tested it for yourself before-

"This is good," he says genuinely as a few sparks pop. "What's in this?" 

His praise makes your face heat up. "Uh, well there's semi-sweet chocolate chips, powdered sugar-" 

"Hey Shore, bring some of that over for us!" Undyne, trapped under Alphys sitting on her lap, gestures you over. She takes a huge handful, scattering powered sugar absolutely everywhere. 

"Let me go get some extra bowls," Frisk says before disappearing into the kitchen. 

You hand the bowl off to Faith, who sits down on the side of the couch closer to Alphys and immediately strikes up a conversation of the technical nature. Liam sits down next to her and you get started on getting the movie set up. The menu is on and waiting when Frisk returns from the kitchen, a stack of empty bowls in one hand and a mixing bowl in the other. They set the empty bowls down and hold up the mixing bowl like a trophy. 

"I got the extra cookie dough! Who wants some?" 

"Ooh, I do!" You spring up from your position by the TV and eagerly start accept a spoonful of chocolate chip cookie dough from Frisk. 

Only to have it immediately snatched out of your hand. 

"What are you doing?" Grillby is looking at you in what might actually be horror.  

"Um, eating a delicious spoonful of cookie dough?" You reach for it and Grillby lifts the spoon higher out of your reach. 

"You can't eat raw dough." 

"Sure can, if you give me the spoon, buddy, old pal, old friend."  

He shakes his head. "You might get sick." 

"That's just a myth! Isn't it?" You look to Frisk, who's cheeks are bulging with the amount of raw cookie dough shoved in their mouth. They make a 'I dunno' sound. "Look, everyone eats cookie dough. It's fine." 

Grillby steps away and you chase after him. "I spent two years studying human food. I think I'm more of an expert on this than you are." 

You lunge for the spoon and he easily avoids you. "C'mon Grillby! I'm not gonna get salomella from one little bite!" 

"Salmonella." 

"Whatever!" 

He sighs, using one finger pressed against your head to gently push you back. "Fine." 

Pleased, you hold your hand out. But instead of simply handing the spoon to you, Grillby scraps the dough off the spoon with his fingers and then hands you the empty spoon. You can only blink as he flattens the dough slightly in his hand and turns his head away from you and everyone else. He takes a single deep breath, the light of his flames increasing slightly and then with a sharp exhale, he literally breathes fire onto the dough. It's hot enough you can feel it against your skin and your jaw drops as you squint at the sudden flare of bright light. 

The stream of fire vanishes after a few seconds. Grillby turns back to you and holds up a perfectly baked cookie. Jaw still hanging open, you automatically reach out and take the offered cookie from him. "What...you...okay." 

Silence falls. Grillby blinks and then blue starts to flash across his face as he realizes that absolutely everyone is staring at him.

"Holy crap, he's a dragon!" Liam's outburst breaks the shocked silence of the room and soon, everyone is absolutely roaring with laughter as you continue to stand there, still staring at Grillby. But the laughter is contagious and soon, you're laughing so hard that actual tears are forming in your eyes. Grillby, for his part, is growing steadily bluer, his shoulders hunching with embarrassment. 

"That was so actually amazing, I'm not even mad," you finally manage to gasp. He smiles tentatively at that, though the blue doesn't quite fade from his face. 

Undyne looks like the only reason she hasn't exploded out of the armchair is the because of the way Alphys is clinging to her and clearly holding back squeals. "You breathe fire!" she instead yelps. "Why am I just now learning this?" 

Grillby shrugs. 

Sans cuts in before she can say more. "hey, let's not let this dragon and start the movie." 

"SANS!" 

You snicker at the pun as half the room groans loudly and move to take a seat between Sans and Faith. Sans sticks his leg out over the spot before you can however. "sorry bud. this seat's reserved." 

"For who?" 

"Cookies are done!" Toriel comes in from the kitchen, bearing enough cookies and popcorn to feed a small army. She and Frisk make quick work of distributing the various snacks and then she sits in the now free spot right next to Sans. You give Sans a look and he simply shrugs, gnawing on a cookie. Frisk plops into the beanbag with Papyrus. 

"Papyrus, would you please make sure to cover Frisk's eyes if there is anything too gruesome?" 

Frisk groans while Papyrus throws his hand up in a salute. "YOU'VE GOT IT LADY TORIEL!" 

You're still standing there and as you look around, you realize the only remaining place to sit is on the small love seat angled towards the TV. And you and Grillby are the only two left. He's returned to a semi-normal color as he gestures for you to go ahead and sit. You do so, taking your shoes off so you can tuck your feet up. He joins you and the warmth of his flames makes you forgo grabbing a blanket. You start the movie and nibble on the cookie that Grillby dragon-breathed for you. You hear a muffled squeak from the other side of the room and you can almost swear you hear Alphys say something about 'indirect kisses'. You manage not to choke on the cookie but you do flush a little. 

"I'm sorry I overreacted," Grillby suddenly whispers quietly.

You look at him in surprise. He's leaning slightly towards you and your breath catches slightly at the closeness of him. "It's fine," you say automatically. You steady yourself and smile at him. "Really. You just surprised me. I don't think I've ever seen you act so...." 

"Ridiculously?" he asks dryly. 

"Goofy." 

He laughs, the sound so quiet his own flames nearly drown it out. "Goofy?" he murmurs, more to himself than you. 

"Yeah, I mean come on! You breathed fire on a cookie. But you should know, this isn't going to stop my raw cookie dough habits." 

He grunts, folding his arms. "We'll see." 

You take another bite of the cookie. "It's no raw cookie dough, but I will admit it tastes really good." 

"Does it?" 

You hum and break off a piece, offering it to him. He accepts the cookie bit, his fingers brushing against yours. The warmth that tickles your skin makes an odd shiver travel up your arm. You can't tear your eyes away as his mouth opens just enough to slip the cookie in. The sight of those small fangs made of fire is utterly mesmerizing and you lean closer to him without realizing it, trying to get a better look. He makes a small noise and your eyes snap up to him. He's blushing again, mouth snapping shut. 

"Oh! I'm sor-" 

The drawn out, over-acted scream from the shark's first victim cuts you off. The two of you turn your attention back to the screen but you're having a little trouble concentrating. What did you go and stare at him for? He even told you he doesn't feel comfortable eating around people. You slump slightly against the cushion, a sigh slipping out from between your teeth. Whatever. You're just thinking too much about things again. You feel a something tapping against your arm and glance over to see Grillby poking you with a bowl of popcorn. He sets it down between the two of you and you share the snack with him. Occasionally, you glance over to see his reactions to the film. Aside from a few flickers and sympathetic winces, his doesn't show much of a visible reaction. 

On the really gruesome parts, you look over at Toriel, half expecting her to announce that this is too much for young Frisk and sweep them away. But she seems too invested in the movie to really care. Papyrus on the other hand takes great care in slapping his gloved hands over Frisk's eyes every time a spot of blood appears until Frisk starts to anticipate his moves and nimbly dodges out of the way. 

Sans...is asleep.

So is Liam, his head leaning against Faith's shoulder. About halfway through the movie, you look over to see both Faith and Toriel, eyes fixed on the TV, reach over and gently pat the sleepy boys leaning on them. You stifle a giggle and poke Grillby's arm, pointing them out to him. He brightens just slightly with amusement before more shrill screaming from the terrified beach goers draws his attention back to the movie. 

Undyne and Frisk cheer loudly in triumph when the shark is finally blown up. The volume of their combined shouts causes Liam to jerk into wakefulness. "Oh. Oh no did I miss it? Oh what a tragedy...." 

Faith smacks him in the face with a pillow. 

Once the movie finishes up, you stand and stretch, making a few bones in your back pop. "So!" you say to Grillby. "How was it in comparison to the sequel that we do not speak of?" 

"It was...enlightening." 

Sans wakes up just long enough to point at Grillby and say 'ha!' before slumping against Toriel's arm, snoring loudly.

Papyrus stands up. "WELL, I FOR ONE FOUND IT A LITTLE BORING!" 

"Same Pap!" Undyne finally jumps to her feet, sending Alphys tumbling to the ground. "I thought there was going to be more explosions! I could've taken out a shark like that by myself no problem!" 

Liam perks up. "That's what I was saying! You guys need to see Sharknado!" 

"SHARK WHAT?" 

That of course leads to a whole other excited conversation. Faith and Liam leave pretty soon with Alphys and Undyne since Liam has work in the morning and you can hear them all chattering loudly about the actual possibility of a sharknado as they leave. You hang around long enough to help Toriel clean up while Papyrus picks up the still snoozing Sans and carries him off to his room. You follow Toriel into the kitchen, leaving Grillby and Frisk as they fold the blankets. Toriel dumps her share of dishes into the sink and gestures for you to do the same. 

"Go ahead and leave them in there, I'll take care of it," she says with a smile. "I'm so glad you all decided to have a movie night. This was fun." 

"It was a lot of fun," you agree, setting the bowls in the sink. "It's all thanks to Grillby watching the terrible sequel." 

"Oh, is that why?" Toriel starts to fill up the sink with water, her dark eyes sparkling. "Frisk tells me that surfing lessons are going very well." 

You nod, smiling. "They're a fast learner. It's a lot of fun teaching them and the others." 

"And you usually stop by Grillby's afterwards, yes?" 

"Usually yeah." 

She hums thoughtfully. Turning off the faucet, she reaches for the bottle of soap. "It's been a while since I visited Grillby's myself. Perhaps I'll stop by during Frisk's next lesson and join you." 

"I'd be honored to have you," Grillby speaks up quietly from behind you, making you jump despite the low volume.

Toriel gives him a bright smile. "Grillby! I'm sorry we didn't get a chance to talk earlier. How are you? I feel like I haven't seen you in ages." 

Grillby nods, almost oddly formal (even for him). But then again, this is his queen. Or uh, ex-queen as she keeps pointing out. "It has been a while. I'm doing just fine." 

"That's wonderful to hear." 

He looks to you, something in his expression easing just slightly. "Are you ready to leave? I'll walk you to your car." 

"Oh, yeah I'm ready. Thanks for letting us have movie night here Toriel." 

She gives a wave goodbye and you and Grillby head out. The lights of the streetlamps are still on but you don't see anyone else around. It's got to be really late by now. Nearly midnight, you see once you check your phone. You tuck it back into your pocket and that's when you realize you forgot to grab your Muddie Buddie bowl. 

"Oh man!" 

"What's wrong?" 

"I left my bowl back at the house." 

Grillby pauses. "Would you like me to go get it?" 

You shake your head. "No, I'll just ask Frisk to bring it to their next lesson." 

He nods and you continue walking again. There's a bit of distance between the two of you but you can still feel the lightest hint of warmth from his flames. But it's not enough to stave off the chill of night. The cool night air bites at you after the heat of the house and you shiver slightly. Grillby must notice because he moves a little closer to you. "Better?" 

You sigh happily, fighting the urge to nuzzle his arm for even more warmth. "Yes, thank you." You look up at him. If he weren't for the nature of his 'hair', he actually wouldn't be that much taller than you. "And um, thank you for coming tonight. I know we kind of pressured you into closing early." 

"I'm glad you did. It's been...a while since I took a night off." 

"I've noticed that," you scold, nudging his arm with your shoulder. "You know, you don't literally have to live at work."

"But it's not really work." Your surprise must show because he smiles. "I like it. Cooking and bartending takes effort but I get to see people happy. I'm content with working every night knowing that I have a hand in that. But...." He trails off, lifting his head slightly as he looks up towards the sky. You follow his gaze. The stars are bright, their light free of any clouds or smog that might block them. Each one glitters in the inky darkness of the sky and you automatically pick out a few constellations. You almost don't notice that Grillby has come to a stop and you turn around once you realize. Seeing him standing there, glowing brightly against the darkness of night as he stares up at the stars does something funny to your heart. It's hard to pinpoint why but he looks...

Lonely. 

"Or maybe it's just because I don't know anything else," he murmurs. "After living down there for so long...maybe I've just forgotten." 

You walk back over to him and he finally tears his eyes away from the sky to look at you. "Maybe you just need a reminder. I have no idea what it was like living under the mountain. But I do understand holding onto what's familiar. It's safe. But there's a whole world up here. Bad shark movies are just the beginning of it." 

"So there's more reasons for me to worry about you being in the ocean? How wonderful." 

Caught off guard, you stammer, "What...is that what you were so agitated about yesterday? I thought you were just reeling from a bad movie!" 

"It was pretty bad." 

You shake you head and the two of you start walking again. "Look, the ocean isn't perfectly safe I'll be the first to admit. But sharks really are not the biggest worry. If you leave them alone, respect their territory, they won't bother you." You smirk and add, "What you really have to worry about is the riptides and occasional schools of jellyfish and boat motors and broken glass caught in the sand and-" 

"You are really selling this assurance, Miss Shore." 

"I do try." 

You've reached the checkpoint gate of the monster community and the few guards on watch nod as you and Grillby pass. The pathway just outside of the wall splits into two; one leads back to the center of the Walk and Grillby's; the other opens into the main parking lot where most people leave their cars. Grillby surprises you by not even hesitating and continuing on the way to the lot. "I'll be okay from here," you try to persuade him, but he simply shakes his head. 

"I don't mind the walk." 

From there, it's just a matter of minutes until you reach your old car. There aren't many in the lot so it's easy to spot. You dig your keys out and click the lock open. And then you pause, looking at Grillby. He's curiously examining your car, lightly running his fingers over the worn paint job. "It's not much but it gets me from point A to point B," you laugh, tapping the hood. 

"Sharks might be the last thing to worry about," he mutters. 

"What was that?" 

"Nothing." He straightens, his hand falling from the car. "Drive safely, Miss Shore, won't you?" 

"I will. Thanks for walking me out here." You stick your hand out for a handshake. Grillby takes your hand but instead of holding it for just a few moments, like he has in the past, his grip lingers and turns into...something else. You don't know what this is other than the fact that's nice. And you find that you don't want to pull away either. He's staring at you, the eyes behind his glasses searching and bright. Suddenly nervous, you bite your lip and look down at your clasped hands. "I uh, I know you're a pretty old fashioned kind of guy but...you can call me by my first name. If you want to. Or you can just call me Shore. No titles necessary. We're friends after all...right?" 

At his continued silence, you blush. Then, he surprises you once again by slowly moving your hands up and down in a formal handshake. "I think I can manage that," he says and you catch the lilt of of grin in his crackling voice. And then he says your name. 

You've never been so happy to hear the sound of your own name. 

Chapter Text

"Cool jewelry shining so bright"

Wrist twirl, quick step out and in. Arms cross, shoulder touch. 

"Strawberry champagne on ice"

One, two, right arm up, left to lip touch, hip out, drag in. 

"Lucky for you that's what I like, that's what I like" 

You spin to face Tyler, hand lifted for him to take and-

He's not there. 

He's several beats off and you can see the clear frustration on his face as he stumbles over the steps to get into place. You bite your lip and lift your hand high. Liam and Faith, already moved on, see the motion in the mirror and come to a stop, Liam's hands resting on Faith's hips. "Hey guys, let's take five, yeah?" 

The other two nod and separate and Tyler takes a seat right where he's at, wiping at his face with his sweaty tank. You quickly grab your water bottle and his and join him on the floor. He grunts his thanks when you hold it out. After a moment of silently drinking and catching your breath, you ask, "Are you okay? You've been off all night." 

It's not just tonight that he's been off. All of you mess up at times, that's just the nature of dancing. But Tyler's usual level of energy has been on the short end for a while. You can see it in the tightening of his eyes and the now constant stumbles that he's having trouble recovering from. 

He finishes his water, lips popping loudly from the now empty bottle. He sighs. "I'm sorry Shore," he mumbles. "I know I'm a mess." 

You pat his shoulder. "Well, yes but it's okay. I'm just worried about you." 

"I'm fine, I'm just tired and fed up with all the crap going on with..." He gestures widely. "Crap." 

"Do you want to talk about it?" 

He grimaces. "You have no idea how much I'd like to. But it's a family business thing. My hands are kinda tied." 

Ah, that you do get. It's an issue he's had before, being in a family so hugely invested in business and politics on pretty much every possible end. There's all kind of confidentiality stuff and contracts that keep his lips sealed. Or at least tightly shut until he gets too fed up. "Old or new business?" 

"Somehow it's managing to be both." 

"Is it the same business that kept you from Jaws night last week?" 

He nods. "I'm still mad about missing Grillby breathing fire." 

You grin at the memory, as you do every time you think about it. Which is admittedly a lot. "I would say I'll ask Grillby to do it again but he's refusing everyone else asking him so short of eating a full bowl of raw dough in front of him, I don't think asking will work." 

Tyler lifts his eyebrows. "Hmm." 

"Hmm what?" 

"Might be worth a shot. Hearing Faith talk about it, the guy's got a pretty big soft spot for you." 

"Pffft, nah I'm just annoying and persistent. Anyway." You let your expression get serious again. "We're here for you, okay? I know we don't have that 24 karat nonsense that you rich people do-" 

He gives you a playful shove, the first genuine smile you'd seen on him all night lighting his face. 

"But we're still your friends. And you're my partner, I need to make sure my partner is on his A game." You finish off your own water before tapping his knee with the bottle. "Hey, why don't I treat you to a drink tomorrow? You need a night to just unwind." 

"Can't, I'm busy," he deadpans. "Kidding!" he quickly amends when you turn your full pout on him. "Tomorrow sounds good. Though...this isn't just another excuse to go see your bartender again is it?" 

You shake your head. "Of course not." 

"So you'd be okay with going somewhere else?" 

"....Yeah, that'd be...fine." Curse that voice crack!

He laughs loudly at your crestfallen expression. "Geez, you've got it bad for this guy, don't you?" 

You can feel your face growing red again, but not from dancing this time. "No, I just happen to think magical drinks taste better than vodka or whatever it is you like chugging."  

"Whatever you say Shore. Lucky for you, I wanted to go to Grillby's anyway." He stands, offering you a hand up. "Now, let's go over the chorus again." 

~~~~~~

You're perhaps ten minutes early to the bar but hey, it's better than being late right? As you approach the door, you see something odd that stops you in your tracks for just a moment. On the wall outside of the bar, a few inches away from the door, there's an odd spot of color. A bright red that stands out from the classy dark wood. Is that...food? No, it's too flat to be food. You scratch at it with your nail and it peels off easily enough. You feel like you should be able to place what this is but you just can't find the word for it. Flicking whatever it is to the ground, you head inside. You'll have to ask Grillby, maybe it's residue from cleaner or something. You catch the trailing embers of flames off his head just as he disappears into the kitchen and as it always does when you see him, any tension you have in your shoulders ease slightly. You go ahead and slide onto your regular stool, feet tapping against the metal pole. You pull your phone out and start typing out a message to let Tyler know you're sitting at the bar when you feel someone plop onto the stool next to you. 

"Why hello Fireball." It's a man you don't know, skin reddened by the sun and eyes equally red with drunkenness. You sigh silently. This isn't the first time you've been hit on while at Grillby's but you have a feeling it's going to be the most unpleasant. The past ones haven't been so bad because Grillby seems to be able to sense when someone is making unwanted advances and his silent, frosty stares are usually enough to scare people away even without obvious facial features to convey his scowl. But he's not here right now so you brace yourself.

"I'm sorry, I'm actually saving that seat," you say as pleasantly as you can while maintaining a cool tone. 

"Saving it for me, right?" He leans in and your nose wrinkles at the scent of alcohol on his breath. "I always see you sitting up here by yourself darling, don't you get lonely?" 

"Uh, nope not really."

"Aw, c'mon there's no need to by shy about it. Let me keep you company for a while." He actually reaches out and puts his hand on your hair, stroking you like you're a dog or something. "You are a sight," he slurs. "Beautiful hair and a face to match." 

You smack his hand away and the guy's eyes go wide. "Keep your hands off me," you snap.

His eyes narrow with anger. "What the hell is your problem?"

You're not normally the type to bite back when baited, but you're angry now. "What's your problem? Do you often go around just touching random people's hair?" 

"You're quick enough to let those monsters do it, don't think I haven't seen that."

He's seen that? That means he's got to be somewhat of a regular. You narrow your eyes at him. Ah, so he's one of those 'racist but not racist enough to refuse their services' kind of jerks. "Yeah, because they're my friends." 

His lip curls into a sneer. "Ah, I get it. That's why you're always in here. You must be one of those monster f-" 

"Hey, there you are!" 

You feel something, or rather someone slam into your back and an almost oddly familiar warmth hits your skin as a pair of arms wrap you up in a hug. Wha-? Grillby?! Your anger snaps into confusion as your heart races into over drive for just a moment before you realize it can't be him. That voice was feminine. You turn your head as best as you can and your jaw drops. There is indeed a being of fire leaning against you but it's not Grillby. Whoever this is, their fire is green and their frame is much smaller than the man you've come to know. Her arms around you tighten slightly as she nuzzles your face. The sensation of flames against your skin tickles and you giggle a little despite having no idea what's going on. 

"I'm sorry we're late!" the green fire girl says. "Wow, it's been so long, how are you doing?" 

"I'm...good? It's uh, great to see you. Again." 

The fire girl beams. Or at least you think she is, judging from the way her black, coal like eyes squint. "I've got all kinds of stories for you!" 

"Yo man." There's another voice and both you and the man turn to see a second monster girl leaning up against the bar on the other side of the now gaping guy. Her skin is entirely purple and you can't tell if it's horns or hair sticking out from under a deep red ball cap. Her dark eyes are narrow and she blows a bubble that pops loudly. "We're trying to have a touching reunion here. Get lost." 

The dude needs no further prompting, especially when a few green sparks of fire drift in his direction. He scrambles off the bar stool and leaves the place entirely. The girl removes herself from you and takes the seat the man just vacated, sitting with a content sigh. Her companion sits too, putting her fist up. They tap knuckles, giggling. You're grinning too, finally realizing that these two just came to your rescue. "Thanks for the save, best friends." 

The two girls look at you and the fire monster waves her hand. Now that you can get a good look at the pair, you can see that the fire girl is wearing an absolutely adorable sailor style top and a matching skirt with a blue and white button up tied around her waist. Her companion is wearing a matching button up and a black tee shirt and a pair of jeans that have pre-ripped holes in them. The fire girl sparks into bright colors. 

"I'm sorry if I startled you," she apologizes with a gesture to herself and the fire that makes up her body. 

"Oh, no I really appreciate it. Some guys don't know how to take a hint, huh?" You stick your hand out for a handshake. 

She seems surprised for just a moment and brightens with a smile as she accepts your gesture. Her utter lack of hesitation is so wildly opposite from Grillby's reaction it throws you for a moment. Her grip is warm, of course and pleasant to the touch but it doesn't send the same shiver up your arm that Grillby's touch does. "I'm Fuku," she says.

"Nice to meet you. I'm-" 

"Shore, right?" The purple girl cuts in, grinning. "I'm Skatie." She holds her fist up again and you oblige with a tap. 

"I guess I've got a reputation or something," you say sheepishly. 

Fuku shakes her head. "Oh it's not that! I'm friends with Hun, she's told me all about you. You've done a lot to help out around here, it's amazing!" She takes your hands with hers, enveloping them with warmth. "I'm so happy I finally get to meet you in person!" 

You're struck a little speechless by her genuine happiness. "I uh, thanks. But I haven't really done that much." 

Skatie blows a raspberry. "Not to hear Hun tell it. 'Shore's amazing, what a beautiful kind person! I adore her and so does Grillby! Grillby talks more when she's around! She brings light to the bar!'." 

You're beet red by now, ducking your head in utter embarrassment. 

"Skates, you're embarrassing her!" Fuku chides, releasing your hands to swat at her friend. Skatie catches one of her hands and presses a kiss against Fuku's cheek. Oh. Girlfriend then. 

"Sorry, sorry," she says, not sounding sorry at all.

You watch the two of them and you desperately want to ask Fuku if she's related to Grillby. There's a fairly decent chance right? You haven't seen any other fire monsters after all. But maybe it's rude to just assume? You open your mouth, about to just bite the bullet and ask when you get your answer. 

The kitchen door swings open and Grillby enters the room again, balancing a tray of food on one hand. Fuku brightens into nearly white colors and jumps to her feet. "Uncle Grillby!" she calls out joyfully as she runs to him. 

Grillby turns at that, his flames sparking into surprised shades of bright orange as Fuku leaps at him. He lifts the tray up above his head and somehow manages not to spill a single piece as he catches her with one arm. In one smooth motion he sets the tray down on the bar top and returns her tight hug. His flames are moving at the same excited pace as hers, orange and green bouncing off of each other in a way that even you can recognize as a dance. It's the most affectionate you've seen him and your heart warms to see him so obviously happy. 

He's too far away for you to hear what he says but you hear Fuku laugh, the sound like snapping logs. He sets her down and gestures to the tray of food. She waves him off and comes back to you and Skatie and once he drops off the order, Grillby does the same. He's bright and he gives you a smile and a nod before looking to Fuku. "What are you doing here? I thought your trip didn't end until next week." 

"I may have lied for the sake of surprise," Fuku admits, giving him another hug. 

Seeing them so easily hug makes your heart do something funny. A small, sharp pain of...no, you're not jealous. It makes sense he wouldn't have an issue with her being close to her, she's family! Not to mention, there's no reason to worry about burning another fire monster. 

Grillby shakes his head, sparks cracking before he turns to you. "This is Fuku," he introduces. "She's my niece. She's been out of town on a university program for the last six months." 

"Yeah, we met," you say with a grin. "She and Skatie came to my rescue." 

He blinks at that before glancing around the bar. "He's gone," Skatie says, noticing this. "Just some skeezball who couldn't keep his hands to himself." 

His flames darken in displeasure for a moment. "I'm fine," you say before he has a chance to say anything about it. You glance to Fuku. "A university program? What kind?" 

"Oh, it was a program put together by Doctor Alphys and a couple of other high up college deans. They wanted to give monsters a little taste of what human universities are like and learn what monster studies are like in return. It was a bit of a challenge to get Uncle Grillby to agree since I would be away from the city for so long." 

"I didn't sleep for a week," Grillby deadpans so convincingly you can't tell if he kidding or not.

"It was totally safe, we had like fifty soldiers who made sure we'd be safe from protesters or whatever. We visited several different schools and stayed in dorm rooms and sat in on all kinds of different classes." Fuku's eyes are gleaming. "There are so many different things to do at human colleges! It's amazing!" 

"Oh man, that sounds awesome!" Aside from the whole being escorted by soldiers thing. You can understand why Grillby would be nervous for his niece if the presence of soldiers was needed. 

She nods enthusiastically before her eyes squint in another grin. "It was fun. What was even better was what I also had the chance to do." It's clear that whatever she's about to say has been planned because she straightens herself up a bit and puts her hands on her hips. "I decided to visit every human bar located around each university we visited and spent my extra time training under the best bartenders at every location. For the last six months, I have spent every night perfecting the art of bartending and learning to read what every customer needs!" She points her finger at Grillby, who seems a little taken aback.  "Uncle Grillby! I've come to challenge you for a position as a bartender here! Yes, challenge!" she repeats firmly at Grillby opening his mouth to speak. Her flames are strong as her black eyes glint. "I want to prove my worth to work for you!" 

For a moment, he just stares at her. He looks so confused and at a loss for words that you have to shove your fist into your mouth to stop from laughing. Finally, he steeples his fingers against his face "....So...you're telling me you went into random human bars in different cities...alone...to learn bartending from strangers? For six months?"

"Oh she wasn't alone, I went with her," Skatie pipes up helpfully. "We usually had one of the human soldiers with us too. And only a few of them took shots while they were there."

You almost miss Grillby's quiet sigh over the sound of you suddenly choking on thin air. He folds his arms. "I thought you wanted to go to college."

Fuku nods. "I do! And I will. The college here is going to have a program just as good as anything other that's accepting monsters. But my nights will be free."  

"If...if you want a job-" 

"No!" Fuku cuts him off, her fire blazing hotter. "I don't just want a hand out job! I want to make people happy, like you do! You told me all those years ago that cooking food and bartending is more than a job! It's bringing warmth and happiness to people who need it. It's making sure they leave with full bellies and happy Souls. I have to prove that I'm good enough to work with you. And the only way to do that is to have a contest of bartending skills!" 

Fuku's declaration has not only caught you off guard with it's sincerity, it's caught most of the bar's attention. Almost every head (or head-like appendage) is turned towards your group and Skatie takes full advantage of that. "Contest, contest!" she starts to chant, her voice growing louder and louder. The dogs put down their card game and take up the chant, as does the drunk bunny in her corner. Soon, the entire restaurant is chanting it and Skatie gestures to you as well. Grillby shoots you a glance, and though he's keeping his arms folded, you can see his flames brightening and picking up speed.

You don't chant, but a wide, eager smile stretches across your face as you nod. 

Grillby looks away, but not before you see the faintest grin tugging at the thin line of fire that makes up his mouth. It's barely noticeable, but it's there. "You think six months is enough?" 

Fuku stands tall and proud and nods. Grillby bends slightly, fishing for something under the bar top. When he straightens, he tosses an empty cocktail strainer at her, which she easily catches. The bar erupts into cheers as Grillby gestures for her to join him behind the bar. You instantly whip out your phone, intending to send out a group message when a sudden though occurs to you. You lean over to Skatie. "Um, I'm assuming this is a moot point since he's agreed to this, but is Fuku old enough to handle alcohol?" 

It's a little hard to assume monster's ages as is, but a first glance at Fuku would make you think she was maybe at the high end of her teenage years, not old enough to be drinking or working with alcohol. Wait, do monsters even have laws about that? They've got to, you've seen for yourself that they can get drunk and Grillby specializes in magic booze after all. Surely they wouldn't let children drink, right? 

You're once again mentally slapped in the face with just how little you actually know about monsters.

"Huh? Oh." Skatie rolls her eyes and scoffs. "Couple of bouncers tried to kick us out because they thought we were too young. Yeah, she's 'old enough' by human standards." 

That doesn't exactly answer the other questions but hey, it's good enough for now. Thus appeased, you type out a message while Grillby pulls down a number of bottles and Fuku wipes down the bar top. 

 

Group Message: GUYS!

You: 

-Get to Grillby's! He's having a showdown with his niece!

 

Not five seconds pass before you hear a soft pop in the air next to you. "dude, fuku's back? oh hey skates." 

Skatie doesn't look surprised at Sans' sudden appearance. You however, jump at the sudden hand that claps on your shoulder. Tyler chuckles at your small squeak of surprise. Seems they arrived at pretty much exactly the same moment.

"Hey, what's going on? I heard cheering from outside." He looks curiously at Fuku, who is now speaking quietly with Grillby, probably about what she needs for her show of skills. 

You smile up at him. "There you are! It's a contest between Grillby and his niece!" you say brightly, feeling like your excited energy is going to send you out of your seat.  

"Woah, really?" Tyler perks up. "Hey Sans, it's been a while." 

"heya." Sans is quiet for a moment, his gaze flicking towards the hand on your shoulder and back up at Tyler. He makes a small noise that should honestly be impossible with his lack of a throat and hops up on the seat where Fuku was sitting. "it has been a while since grillbz has shown off." 

"He's done this before?" you ask in surprise. 

"it's been a long time," he repeats with a grin. "but yeah, usually for parties or if he gets drunk. which doesn't happen often. he burns through any kind of buzz real fast." 

Grillby, drunk? Oh now that would be a thing to see. 

....You honestly can't even picture it without feeling the urge to giggle.

Your phone dings. 

 

Faithfully Yours: 

-WHAT WHEN??

 

You: 

-NOW DUDE!

 

Crazy Fish Lady: 

-ON OUR WAY TELL HIM TO WAIT

 

You glance up at Grillby. "Undyne humbly requests that you wait for her and...whoever she's bringing with her." 

Grillby blinks at you and holds up his hand, fingers outstretched. 

 

You: 

-You've got 5 minutes

 

FRISKY BITS:

-!!!!!! 

 

Faithfully Yours: 

-I CAN'T MAKE IT

-TAKE PICS OR I WON'T LOVE U ANYMORE

 

"I got it," Tyler says as he leans on your shoulders and peeks at your phone. "Mine takes better pictures anyway." 

You stick your tongue out at him as best as you can with him being behind you. "Dude, you've got shortcuts," you say to Sans. "Can't you-"

He slumps over the bar top. "you want me run out of energy hopping back and forth before the show even starts? i don't think so." A noise that sounds suspiciously like a fart sounds from his pocket and Sans pulls his phone out. "oh, hold on, tori wants me to grab the kid." 

He vanishes before your 'Hey!' leaves your mouth and reappears within a minute, Frisk holding onto the edge of his jacket. They give you a wave, an excited grin on their face. Frisk and Sans are not the only addition to the bar. Word is traveling and several more patrons, mostly monsters, crowd into the bar. Each of them are eagerly waiting for Grillby and Fuku to start. Grillby looks as calm as ever but as the crowd grows, Fuku's fire starts to flicker nervously. Skatie gets up and whispers something in her ear (...area) just as you hear the unmistakable sound of someone with a loud and passionate battle cry very quickly approaching the front door. Grillby shoots Sans a silent, desperate plea and he pops over to the door, opening it just before Undyne herself kicks it in. Literally. She sails through the suddenly open doorway, foot raised like she's in a kung fu movie and promptly crashes into Greater Dog. Fortunately (or perhaps, unfortunately for them) they’re not wearing armor so it’s a fairly soft landing. They both topple to the floor, taking several of the other dogs with them.

"MADE IT!" She screams triumphantly from within Greater Dog's fluff. 

"UNDYNE, THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO MAKE A DOG PILE!" Papyrus is close behind Undyne, frowning at the squirming and grumbling pile of dogs on the floor. He glares at Sans when he chuckles loudly, closing the door with his foot. 

"nice one bro." 

"THAT WAS NOT AN INTENTIONAL PUN!" 

Grillby stares up at the ceiling, perhaps regretting his life choices.

The bar is packed. You've never seen so many monsters crowded into one place. Neither have any of the humans in here too, going by their dazed and slightly amazed expressions. And then, as Fuku steps up to the bar, the room goes quiet. Every face is turned towards her, eager and curious. The jazz from the jukebox is playing a fairly calm piece as Fuku pulls out a pair of simple black gloves. They hug her arms tightly, leaving just the tips of her fingers exposed. The bar in front of her is covered in a variety of glasses, bottles of various size and content and bowls filled with ingredients, some that you don't recognize as human food. 

When the beat of the song suddenly breaks into bright and lively sax, Fuku begins. The open silver mixer is suddenly in her hand and with a quick flip of her wrist, she has it spinning on the tops of her fingers while she reaches for a bottle of dark blue liquid. She grips it by the neck for just a moment before tossing it lightly into the air. It flips over twice, causing the audience to hold it's breath and she easily catches it with the tip of the bottle down, pouring the drink inside into the waiting mixture. She cuts it off after just a moment and sets the two items down. She quickly grabs a new bottle as well as a second silver mixer, holding each in a reverse grip. She twists her arm with the bottle, moving it under her other arm and bringing the bottle up into a pour. Spinning both the bottle and the cup, she finishes that pour and grabs a short glass, setting the filled mixer down. The audience cheers as she quickly tosses the glass behind her back and catches it with her other hand, sparks crackling cheerfully off of her head. She then reaches into a silver bowl and pulls out one glowing turquoise flower. You've seen this flower before; it's a popular garnish that comes from underground and gives any drink a sweet flavor that almost reminds you of vanilla and berries. She holds the flower delicately in her fingers and green flame creeps across the surface of it's petals. The glowing blue embers fall into the glass, sticking to the sides like crystals. 

In the a swift movement almost too fast to catch, she pours the blue liquid into the second mixture cup and shakes it for just a moment before pouring it into the glass. The swirling blue and purple drink loosens the embers of the flower, making the drink inside sparkle with turquoise stars in an edible galaxy. She gestures for a man from the audience to come closer and pushes the glass towards him. The bar holds it's breath as he sips at the mixture. His eyes pop wide and his pleased hoot is drowned out by the bar cheering.

From there, Fuku flies into a graceful yet fast paced dance. She makes several more drinks, each one presented with flair and poise and the eager customers are quick to step up when she offers the completed mixes. She makes a few kid friendly ones for the younger crowd and when the youngest of the group reaches for the fruit concoction, Fuku snaps her fingers and a butterfly made of flame flutters down towards the small monster child, making them giggle when it briefly lands on their snout. Her grand finale is a line of cocktail glasses set up in a row, each filled with a shimmering amber liquid. She touches the rim of each glass, spreading a ring of flame around the open edge that flares brightly for just a moment before dying away.

Fuku bows at the hearty applause and cheers, her flames popping with glee. She looks to Grillby, standing there with a pleased tone to his own flames, and puts her hand on her hip. She steps back and waves him forward. You holler with excitement along with everyone else as the noise level rises at Grillby's smooth approach to the bar. Fuku's show was awesome to watch, but now it's time for the master to show everyone what he's got. 

He's in no hurry. There's no sign that he feels nervous or pressured. He cleans up from Fuku's demonstration with calm precision, leaving the space in front of him clear. Then just as precisely, he unbuttons the cuffs of his sleeves and pushes them up his arms. You feel your breath catch in your throat as a few appreciative cat calls rise from the watching audience. It's ridiculous, you've seen him in short sleeved shirts before so seeing his bare arms shouldn't be a reason for heat to rise in your face. But you have to admit there is something very appealing about the way his normally proper attire is now slightly casual and disheveled. 

Feeling the intensity of your stare burning a hole in his slightly rumbled, majorly attract-no, stop that!-look, Grillby peeks at you while grabbing a set of bottles. The softest tinge of blue lights his flames but you're too distracted to notice as he simply slips into suddenly juggling the bottles without any kind of fanfare or warning. The watching crowd gasps and then breaks into encouraging cheers as he easily catches and flips the two bottles seemingly without effort while he faces the crowd. After several flips, he tosses the bottles up higher into the air and in the span of time it takes for them to come back down, he plops out a single mixer in front of him. He catches each bottle at the very last possible moment and with a quick flick of his wrist, removes the stoppers and angles the tips down. The two drinks merge into one as they cascade into the cup. Setting the bottles aside, he tightens a lid on the mixer and spins it in his palm, small licks of flame casting orange light over the reflective surface. With his free hand, he sets several mid-size glasses in a row and fills each with a single red ice cube, somehow managing to flip his hand palm up and back down several times without dropping the still spinning mixer.  

You've seen some small tricks from him before, little wrist twists and small flairs to encourage tipsy guests into coming back for more. But this is crazy! 

When each of the seven glasses has a cube, he tosses the mixer up and behind his head, leaning forward just enough to avoid having it smack against his head (or would it just pass through?) and catches it easily. He pours just enough in each drink to fill it up about halfway, the red cube floating up. You see his eyes flicker to you for just a moment. 

Then he brings his hands together and when they part, a floating orb of fire remains. For a moment, it hovers there and it's so quiet in the bar you can hear the crackle of flames snapping gently. Then the fire shoots forward into a stream and from the stream, a winged shape emerges. A phoenix, some part of your brain supplies. It's small but bright, tongues of flame breaking away from it's body as it sails over the now thunderously cheering crowd. A few hands reach up to brush against it (Undyne actually jumps) but it rises just out of their reach before swinging back around to the end of the bar. It's wings extend and brush over each glass as it sails by, setting the drink alight with flame. The heat melts the ice, the red of the frozen drink mixing with the rich golden alcohol within. But the bird doesn't stop there. 

Your eyes somehow grow wider as the bird slows and comes to a hovering stop before you. Each flap of it's sputtering, fiery wings sends a pleasant wave of warmth over your skin. Grillby is watching you and when you tear your eyes away from the bird for just a moment, you see him tap the palm of his hand. You lift your own hand to the bird, palm up and it gently comes to rest there. It's fire is warm, tickling your skin and sending that spark of shivers up your arm. It's slim golden eyes are staring deeply at you, eyes that are familiar to you in a way that makes a delighted smile lift your face. The phoenix arches it's head forward, just barely brushing it's beak against your cheek before it vanishes in a rain of sparks that brush harmlessly against your clothes. You see Grillby through the falling embers. 

He's smiling. You don't need to see his near invisible mouth to tell.

Grillby is the clear winner, even with just that one performance. Fuku claps as well, not looking like she's disappointed in the slightest. Grillby turns to his niece and without a word unties the apron around his waist and holds it out to her. She beams, her fire shooting up towards the ceiling. 

The crowd loses it. 

As the patrons begin to chant for more from Fuku and Grillby, you touch the place on your skin where the fiery phoenix tapped it's head against you. It's warm and slightly tender. You can feel it tingling, like it would in the aftermath of a kiss.

You can't help but wonder if it left a mark.

Chapter Text

It's impossible to talk to Grillby for more than a few seconds at a time. 

The energy level in the bar is unreal. Everyone is chattering excitedly, still in awe of the show they witnessed and their wallets are open and loose, keeping Grillby and now Fuku busy making sure each hand stretched towards them is filled with one drink or another. You've got a drink of your own, set down by Grillby in a rush. You had a least been able to give him quick compliment on his display, which made his flames sputter blue for a moment before he was forced to return to the kitchen. You sip at your non-alcoholic drink, observing the other guests. Usually the patrons in here stay somewhat within their own groups while eating and though there are plenty of times when you see monsters and humans dining together, there are more times when an invisible line separates the races. Together but separate. But now, barely anyone is sitting down and everyone is brushing shoulders with each other. That invisible line, at least for the moment, has utterly vanished. 

You feel a finger poke your side and you squeak. 

"Lost in the clouds there, huh Shore?" Tyler grins at you, taking a long pull at his own drink. He exhales happily, setting the finished drink down next to three empty shot glasses. "Hot damn that is good stuff!" 

"You finished that quick," you comment, rubbing at the spot he poked you. 

"Faster I drink, the quicker I relax," he mumbles as he plops his head on your shoulder. You pat his face. His pocket buzzes and when he pulls his phone out, he makes a face. 

"Work?" 

"Worse. My dad" He accepts the call, putting his free hand up over his ear. "Yeah? Hold on I can't hear you."

Tyler heads towards the front door, flipping your hair over your face as he goes. You blow outwards, making the red and golden strands puff upwards. Frisk is staring at you with a frankly frightening intensity. "Uh, you okay there?" 

"Have you two ever been a thing?" they ask bluntly. 

Sans, working on his own mixture of ketchup and what you're pretty sure is some kind of magical whiskey sits there with his usual slightly slumped posture but his eye lights slide over to you as you laugh.

"What, me and Tyler? No." You shake your head. "He's like a brother to me." 

Frisk grunts. "Really? It's not one of those 'oh he's like a brother but he secretly has a crush on me and it winds up creating all kinds of dumb love triangle drama' kind of things?"

You snort. "Sounds like you've got some pent up emotions there buddy." 

They nod sadly but with passion. "Love triangles are dumb." 

Can't argue with that. Wait, why are they bringing up love triangles in regard to you? "Okay, first; there is no chance of me and Tyler getting together. He's not interested in a relationship. With anyone at all. We get along so well because I was one of the only dance partners he's had that didn't immediately try to...uh-" 

"jump his bones?" Sans supplies with a smug grin. 

"Dude." You point to Frisk. "Kid." 

"dude, bar," Sans returns, gesturing around the place. 

"It's more like a restaurant with a bar-" 

"still a bar." 

"Hey." Tyler's sulking voice at your shoulders breaks the banter with Sans. He looks irritated. "I've got to take off." 

"Is everything okay?" 

He sighs, gaze shifting away. "Just more crap. Anyway, before I go, would you say that fire phoenix beats cookie dragon?" 

Ooh, that's tough call. The whole incident with the cookie was certainly funnier, that you have to admit. But thinking of the phoenix as it landed in your hand and remembering the way it pressed it's face to your cheek makes your heart beat faster and causes a flush to crawl up your head. "Uh, they were both...cool?" 

Tyler pouts. "Well, if the other two ask, the phoenix was a million times cooler."

Frisk puts their hand up and waves it. "Don't you mean...a million times hotter?" They splay their hands out triumphantly. 

Sans snorts into his cup while Tyler's eye twitches. He smiles like it's actually hurting him. "Good one." He leans around you to put money for his drinks on the counter. You have to steady him a little. 

"Do you need a ride? You're a little wobbly." 

He waves you off and pats your head. "I'll get a cab. See you later Shore. Bone man, Ambassador." 

You almost protest against the pointless cost of a cab but keep your mouth shut. He can afford it after all, even if you sometimes forget that. You run your fingers through your hair as you watch him leave. Worry makes your stomach twist a little. So much for helping him relax. 

Sans too is watching him leave. His usual grin is in place but his lights seem a little smaller than usual. He notices you looking and blinks. "what?" 

"You're staring at him." 

"i don't have eyeballs, how am i suppose to stare?" 

There's no point in trying to argue with him about that, you'll just be met with more puns. Your attention is caught anyway by Grillby's reappearance. He hands off a plate of fries smothered in cheese to Hun, who bounces away to a table that greets her with cheers. He starts to head your way, only to be called back over to refill drinks. 

"heh, looks like grillby's burning the candle on both ends," Sans snickers. He slides off of his stool, slippered feet quietly thumping against the wood floor. "ok kiddo," he says to Frisk, "let's grab paps and head back. it's getting late and i dunno about you but i'm bone tired." 

Papyrus is over at the dog's table with Undyne, swatting at Lesser Dog every time the monster gets a little too close to his bones. Undyne has been drinking non stop since the end of the contest and her voice has actually managed to reach a level louder than Papyrus. The poor skeleton is trying his best to keep a smile on his face but it's clear being surrounded by grease for so long is starting to irk him. 

Frisk pouts but follows Sans to the ground. "Are you staying?" they ask you. 

You sigh. "I wish I could. But I've got a really early morning at the shop. I'm just gonna say goodbye before I head out." 

Frisk nods and then, with a glint int their dark eyes, taps their cheek and waggles their eyebrows up and down several times. You flush, fighting the instinct to press your hand against the spot that long ago stopped feeling warm from the fiery kiss. No, it wasn't a kiss, the bird just tapped it's face against you. It's a totally different thing. "Hey, how about fifty laps in the water at the next lesson?" you say to them in an overly cheerful manner. 

They shake their head and bolt, a chuckling Sans trailing slowly behind them. You glance at your phone, seeing the message from Liam saying 'I was playing OW! Did I miss it?"'and smile to yourself. Even though Tyler left in a less than optimal mood, the night was still something amazing. You never would've guessed that Grillby had such a taste for flair. Not to mention that he has a niece that you've never heard about. 

Your smile fades slightly. You really don't know anything about him, do you? The whole time you've been playing chess, he's usually the one listening to you babble about your job or the various dancing gigs you've done or just whatever pops into your head. There's little things, sure, like the fact that he hates that eating raw dough is a thing people do and he has a garden that he carefully tends to upstairs and he actually has a begrudging fondness for puns after years of listening to Sans' jokes. You know that he has a phobia of touching humans but never refuses to take your offered hand. You know that even though he doesn't always show it, making people food and drinks that brings them delight makes him happy and you know you've never seen someone cook with as much care and precision as he does.

You watch him tilting his head down slightly to the monsters ordering drinks, the light of his flames casting an orange hue over their faces as he listens to them excitedly chatter. 

Well...maybe you know more about him than you thought.

Is it selfish that you still want to know more?  

~~~~~~

The dawn of the next morning brings with it the promise of another hot summer day, the tendrils of sunlight just beginning to chase away the chill of night. Windows are misted, dew lingers on the plants adorning the various businesses of The Walk, making them glisten in the air left quiet and peaceful. 

You want to stab the morning in its stupid, cheerful face.

Your feet drag against the cool stone walkways and you rub at your eyes for perhaps the twentieth time since waking up. You glare at the large outdoor clock informing you that the time is just shy of six thirty a.m. "Oh yeah Trey, I'll come in before dawn," you grumble to yourself, pulling out one of the many flyers stored within as you approach the first of the announcement boards set up in this area. There's a small space in the corner and you pin up the notice for the shop sale and surfing contest happening next week. It's not the only sale going on. 

You had been rather dismayed to see that your shift had suddenly changed it's in time to even earlier than you thought when you finally left Grillby's far later than you should've and only checked your schedule out of habit. Trey, early bird that he is, believes in early morning work meetings and despite generally being a good boss, is terrible about last minute notices. And it was there that he made a pretty big announcement.

Next week marks the two year anniversary of the barrier falling. You knew it was close but time had crept up on you, catching you off guard. Now of course, the evidence is everywhere. The biggest announcement of course was that Mettaton, that famous monster robot slash movie star is hosting a huge festival that's going to take place right here in the Walk. Food, entertainment, contests and activities and of course, monster goods for sale. That meant all the other shops in the area had to hop on that bandwagon, including your surf shop. Being the biggest one around and conveniently located just ten minutes away from the main area meant that crowds would naturally be drawn in looking for all those beach goodies. The idea of the festival rush made you wince but when Trey brought up the idea of a surfing contest as well, your interest had perked up. 

It had died almost immediately when he handed you a massive stack of flyers and pointed towards the door. "I want these up on every board at the Walk! Get to it!" 

"You're lucky I love you, you bald sadist," you mumble as you drag your attention back to actually doing your job. You innocently rearrange an ad for a retail shop so that yours is on top before rolling your shoulders. Your back pops satisfyingly and you move on. Early as it is, there are still some people out and about. Mostly shop owners and delivery guys preparing for another sweltering summer day. As irritated as you are about being up at this hour, it is nice to actually be able to walk around without sweating buckets. And it it's very nice to not have to worry about being run over by people too busy gawking at all the monsters around to watch where they're going. 

A small delivery truck passes by slowly as you reach the center of the Walk with the still under construction fountain. You can only hope that it'll be done in time for the celebration. A owl like monster hops down as the truck slows to a stop in front of a monster goods shop and you can hear cheerful greetings from where you stand. It brings a tired smile to your face. You cross the length of the open area and of course, your gaze drifts over to Grillby's bar. There's no light in the window and the place seems almost sleepy, the edges of the building caught in shadow and pale morning light. Is Grillby still asleep? Probably, the poor guy works so late and after last night, he's probably more exhausted than usual. He didn't have time for more than a quick goodbye and a only the briefest of handshakes before you left.

There's another board close to the bar so you head over there, pulling out another sheet and yawning widely. You look back up towards the top of the building, wondering if perhaps the plants in the garden above are at all visible from down here. You do see the tips of the small trees, some of the leaves resting on the very edge of the wood work. But that's not all you see. You can see light up there, a soft orange glow and you take a few steps away from the board, head craned upwards. Wait, is he up there? At this hour? Does the guy even sleep? 

A quick flash of flame, probably from the top of his head confirms it. The mad man is up an about before seven in the morning after working a night bar. You shake your head but a small smile tugs at your face. As you continue to stare sleepily upwards, you see glimpses of his head several more times and your sluggish brain slowly pieces together that he seems to be moving almost in an oddly fluid manner, shifting around on the top of the roof. He's moving, that much is clear but it seems a little too quick to be because of him moving from plant to plant. If you had to guess, you'd say it almost looks like he's...dancing. You take a few more steps back, trying to get a better look but it's no use. Standing this close, the wall stops you from seeing what he's up to. 

You purse your lips. You could knock, maybe see if the door is unlocked. Ha, and what, just walk in? You're friends but walking in uninvited before the sun is fully up is a little weird. Man, if only there was a way to see, like a super tall step stool or....

Your eyes fall on the storm pipe firmly attached to the side of the wall. You blink at it slowly. 

You could totally climb that. You've climbed far more fragile things in your time with relative ease. 

There's some part of your brain, perhaps the part that actually thinks before acting, that's telling you this is a bad idea. But the haze of sleepiness makes it easy to push that thought away. You set down the remaining flyers and grab a small rock to keep them from blowing away before wrapping your hands around the pipe. It's wide, fixed in place with covers that give you just enough space to shove your toes into them. It creaks quietly under your weight but holds as you scale up the side of the bar. Huffing quietly, you make sure your feet secure before slowly peeking over the edge of the wall. There's a tomato bush right next to your face and you push a few of the leaves out of the way. 

Oh he's up here all right. And he's not tending to the plants, just as you suspected. He's standing there, his arms held waist high and legs positioned in a slightly crouched stanch. He's wearing only a set of dark pajama pants and a tank. It leaves his arms completely bare and holy crap. For a guy literally made of fire, he's got some serious muscle definition! He's not bulky, not at all, but it's clear that he's used to heavy lifting. Little tongues of flame run up and down his arms, occasionally sparking away from his body as he smoothly shifts into another stance. With the movement, a gentle ripple of color flows through him, changing the hue of his light just slightly. The only word that comes to mind at the sight is breathtaking.

You blink several times, suddenly finding it hard to breathe. And with the rising heat in your face comes awareness, snapping you out of your sleepy daze. Oh, oh no this is bad. This was a really bad idea. Time to leave before he sees you peeping like a creep-

The pipe suddenly groans loudly and you yelp as your foot slips slightly. It's not enough to send you to the ground but you've given yourself away. Grillby spins, flaring into startled colors as his hand raises up. He blinks at you for a moment. 

"What...?" He straightens out of the defensive crouch he dropped into. "What are you doing?" 

"Uh....really regretting choices made while half asleep?" you offer weakly. Oh holy crap, this is literally the worst thing you've ever done! "S-sorry, I'll uh, go-" 

Before you have a chance to flee and throw yourself into the ocean, Grillby is crossing over to you. Without another word, he leans down slightly and hooks his hands under your arms. Another humiliating squeak escapes you as he easily lifts you up into the air and turns so that your feet are dangling above his rooftop rather than the open air. He's staring up at you, golden eyes narrow. You gape wordlessly at him. He's making no move to put you down. 

"Um, 'Aaaa savenyaaa," you finally choke out with weak smile. He tilts his head. "Lion King. Sorry. Are you...gonna put me down anytime soon?" 

He shrugs. 

"Oh. Okay." 

You both stand there for just a moment longer. At almost the same second, furious blushes rise on both of your faces and Grillby quickly looks away, setting you down gently. You straighten your shirt and almost hope that Grillby's plants are man-eaters and will spare you from this unbearable embarrassment. The places he gripped you are warm, almost burning from the sensation of being touched. "I'm sorry," you blurt out again, staring down at your feet. "I do not make smart decisions when I'm really tired." 

He rubs the back of his head. "Do you often scale buildings?" he asks, his voice crackling with quiet amusement. 

You look at him, grinning ashamedly. "Only on Tuesdays and holidays." 

"What are you doing here so early?" 

"My boss asked me to put ads up for the anniversary sale." Ah crap, your papers! You look over the edge of the wall, pleased to see they're still there. Grillby joins you, hand poised to grab you like he's expecting you to bolt or something. "I was putting those up on the boards and I could kinda see you up here and got curious." 

He gives you bemused look. "So instead of just using your voice or your phone, you decided to climb my bar and see what I was up to?" 

You are literally speechless for several long seconds. "I...I'm very tired," you finally whisper hoarsely. 

Grillby turns his face away from you. His shoulders bounce with what you are assuming is suppressed giggles. You pout when he peeks at you and he slaps a hand over his mouth as a quiet bark of laughter escapes him. You're pretty sure you've never heard such a pleasant sound. "Stars, you are strange." 

"Thanks," you say as brightly as you can. It sounds more like a choked squeak. "So what were you doing up here? From down there it almost looked like dancing." 

A small puff of smoke rises from his head. "Not dancing." 

"Then what?" 

There's a soft blue tinge on his face again. "It's a set of exercises I learned a long time ago. It...relaxes me." 

You perk up. "Like yoga?" 

"More like martial arts."  

Oh even better! "That's really cool," you say honestly. "But hey now, it almost sounds like you don't like dancing." 

He leans against the wall now that he's sure you're not about to leap into the sky. "I don't mind watching it." 

You cross your arms. "Martial arts is totally a type of dance." 

"No it isn't." 

"It is! You move your body in ways that promote tranquility and whatever. Dancing is totally the same thing. One just has music and one is used for fighting." 

He only flickers with subtle colors, perhaps humoring you with his silence. You join him in leaning against the wall, closing your eyes. It's nice up here, now that the edges of your panic at being caught has started to fade. It's kind of funny how quickly you've switched to feeling almost at ease. "If I wasn't so tired I would totally show you an example right here and now." 

"Do you want coffee?" he offers. 

You aim a smirk at him. "Do you often offer coffee to weirdo's climbing your house?" 

"Only on Tuesdays."

You laugh quietly. "That would be nice." He starts to move and your hand catches his arm. He freezes. "In a minute though." 

He slowly nods, easing back into the wall again. 

"Why are you up so early?" you ask, cracking an eye open. 

He shrugs. "I like seeing the sun rise," he admits. "It's always a little different every time." 

You open your eyes completely at that, following his gaze. He's looking out towards the ocean where the sun is rising. It makes the water glisten even from this distance. He flames are peaceful and quiet as he watches the sight. How could he and other monster have lasted so long without seeing it? Without ever feeling the warmth of the sun on their face? Well, he doesn't exactly need help in the warmth department but still. "Did you have any idea that it would look like this? The sun I mean." 

His expression, never easy to read, is impossible to make out. "Yes," he whispers. "Yes, it's exactly how I imagined it." 

There's something hidden in his words, some deeper meaning that you don't understand. Silence falls over the two of you but it's a comfortable silence. His body heat is making you even drowsier and you start talking just to stop yourself from falling asleep. "So. I never pictured you for one with a taste for show business." 

He chuckles quietly. "I had a lot of time to learn. Showing off is fun. Once in a while." 

You lift your hand up, looking at your palm. If you focus, you can still feel the heat of the phoenix resting in your hand. "That wasn't just showing off, that was...pure magic! Can you make anything you want out of flames?" 

Grillby lifts his own hand up and you lean in eagerly. A few trails of fire lift from his fingertips, twisting to form a small flower not unlike the ones in the garden. When you reach for it, it pops into nothing, fading away. "Small things mostly. The phoenix is something that takes a lot of concentration and it doesn't last long. I used it for short distance messages sometimes. In the past before cell phones were introduced underground." 

"It was beautiful," you tell him, a pleased smile on your face. Your compliment makes him blush. "But what is crazier is the fact that you have a niece! I had no idea! And she doesn't have nearly the same aversion to touching people as you do," you tease. "She hugged me when she was saving me from that guy and I thought it was you. My heart nearly stopped." 

He fiddles with the end of his shirt but doesn't say anything. So you continue. "She's really sweet, I think she'll do well here." 

He nods. "She's got a very strong Soul, just like her parents." 

"Your sister? Or brother?" 

He hesitates. "...no. Fuku and I aren't related in...traditional family terms." 

That surprises you. "Oh. Is she adopted or...?" 

He breathes out heavily, smoke curling from his mouth. "No. Her parents were like family. But we were born under different circumstances." 

It's obvious by the soft tone of his voice that something must have happened. You put your hand on his. "They're not around?" 

A silent head shake is your answer.

"How old was Fuku when it happened?"

It takes him a moment to answer. His flames have shifted, darkening slightly. "Too young. But old enough to remember. I only raised her for a few years though. She was eager to be independent." He looks down at your hand resting on his for a moment. It's hard to tell because of his flames, but his fingers look like they twitch slightly. "They'd be proud of her. Her mother's spitfire and her father's drive. It's a dangerous combination." 

"Add her uncle's surprising taste for flair and making people happy and I'll agree with you." 

He smiles at your clear attempt to drive the conversation back to happier topics. He shifts forward slightly, resting an arm on his thigh. "I'm glad you enjoyed the show." 

You nod vigorously. "I think you should do it more often. It'll certainly bring in a lot of business." 

He groans softly at that, rubbing a hand over his face. "I think I prefer the usual crowd." 

"Too much late night partying?" you ask, trying not to let a gleeful smirk lift your lips. You had seen for yourself how crazy it was when you left. You can only imagine how long it must've dragged on. "You should've slept in if you're so tired dummy." 

He nudges you slightly with his shoulder and you try to ignore to thrill it gives you to see such casual contact. "Then you would've had no reason to climb my house and get free coffee for your efforts." 

"Hmm, that's true." 

"Let's go get it then." Grillby pushes himself off the wall and you follow suit. "You are supposed to be working, right?" 

You groan loudly as you follow him to the door leading down to his living space and the bar. But then you brighten as an idea hits you. "Hey, if you take a flyer and put it in your window or something, I can totally count this as like a business meeting or something! Right?" 

"Only if you don't climb any more buildings." 

"I make no promises." 

Grillby snorts quietly. "Guess that makes you and Sans birds of a feather." 

"More like bones of a femur!" 

"....I changed my mind. No coffee." 

"Aw come on!" 

Chapter Text

"heya buddy, i hear there's a storm coming. mind piping up and giving me some tips for sneaking by any possible rain damage?" 

A lodge of burger gets stuck in your throat and you gag grossly for a moment until Undyne hits your back with a mighty twump and frees the food. Eyes watering, you cough for a moment before turning your horrified gaze on Sans. "How the hell did you find out?" you whisper. "Did Grillby tell you?" 

Sans has an unbearably smug smirk on his skull. "i got my ways." 

"Find out about what?" Undyne asks, leaning close. You look away from her. 

"Nothing."

"Tell me!" 

"It's nothing!" 

"I will suplex it out of you if I must!" 

You honestly wouldn't put that past her. You flinch away from her inching grip and yelp, "Fine! Fine, I....climbed up Grillby's storm drain two days ago when I was over here for a work thing because I saw him on the roof and wanted to know what he was doing." 

Undyne gapes for a moment. 

"I was really tired, I only had like three hours of sleep!" You attempt to defend yourself but-

"Oh my God, you're a creep!" She cackles loudly, slapping her hand on the counter with a practiced hold on her strength. Grillby had kicked her out after putting a crack in the wood a while back and for now, she's taking care not to do it again. "That is a really creepy thing to do! You are so lucky that you're cute and just extremely awkward!"

"I'm so blessed." You hunch your shoulders, glaring at Sans. "So? Did he tell you or were you somehow spying?" 

Sans makes a zipping motion across his mouth.

"...Fine, keep your secrets but I'm just gonna ask him myself later." 

You're not going to ask Grillby later. You're pretty sure Sans knows this so you make a show of taking your phone out and checking your social media with a air of nonchalance. Fuku breezes by and going by the way she giggles as she passes, she probably knows too. You didn't think Grillby would be the type to really talk about what happened. But then again, you did climb his building. It's probably harder not to talk about it. 

Whatever. He wasn't mad, you both laughed about it and you got some incredible coffee out of it. 

The door to the restaurant suddenly slams open, as per Papyrus' usual entrance. He had declined joining you and Undyne after lessons, claiming he had something to take care of. He must have finished it or something. He strides towards you, a rather intense expression on his face. "I HAVE COME TO RETRIEVE YOU!" 

Sans remains where he's at. "bro, it's early and i'm not even skip- er, taking a break right now." 

Papyrus has at time come to get Sans when it gets late or if he hears that he's slacking on the job (usually thanks to a timid phone call from Alphys). But he shakes his head. "FOR ONCE I AM NOT HERE FOR YOU. I'M HERE FOR YOU." 

He sticks a finger in your face. You pause in taking a bite of your burger, having set your phone down on the bar top. 

What? 

"THERE IS A VERY IMPORTANT MATTER I NEED TO SPEAK TO YOU ABOUT. SOMEWHERE NOT HERE." 

"What's going on Paps?" Undyne is still grinning like crazy but her ears perk up in interest. "Can't you just say it here?" 

Papyrus visibly squirms, letting out a nervous 'NYEH NYEH'. "NO! BUT NOT FOR A BAD REASON. IT'S A GOOD REASON! A VERY GOOD REASON! BUT IT IS NOT BECAUSE I AM PLANNING SOMETHING!" He nods to himself and suddenly snatches you right out of your seat. In your shock, you drop your burger and it falls apart all over the floor. 

Your food! "Papyrus!" you squawk. 

He tucks you under his arm, making a farewell salute before (without turning around or moving his feet) suddenly shooting backwards at a frankly alarming speed. You just barely see Grillby turning his head as you pass by the table he's currently at, flames snapping with quiet surprise and then you're outside and Papyrus is still gliding over the ground. What...? 

What? ?

He comes to a stop at the side of shop a fair distance away from Grillby's, next to the storm drain ironically enough. He sets you down with the greatest care, cackling to himself. "SMOOTH AND NOT AT ALL SUSPICIOUS MANEUVER SUCCESSFUL!" 

"My burger," you whine mournfully. 

Papyrus tsks. "I JUST SAVED YOU FROM EVEN MORE GREASE. YOU ARE WELCOME." 

You look up at him. "What was that...gliding thing you just did? I've never seen anything like that!" 

"THE GREAT PAPYRUS HAS MANY TALENTS." He poses and like mother nature itself is on his side, a sudden breeze lifts the scarf around his neck. 

"That you do buddy," you say with a wide grin. Another monster mystery to add to the list. "So what is so important it's worth losing my burger over?"  

"AH! OF COURSE!" Papyrus digs into one of the many pockets of the cargo shorts he's wearing and pulls out an envelope, handing it to you with a flourish. He's watching you expectantly so you go ahead and open it. Inside is a homemade invitation, with sparkles, stickers, pieces of macaroni and little fish shaped beads all placed in a manner that shows extreme dedication and planning. The words on the inside, written in a perfect Papyrus font-

No. 

No way. 

Papyrus and Comic Sans. Fonts! The brothers are named after fonts!

You somehow manage to hide your internal implosion at glaringly obvious fact and read what's been written. 

DEAR LUCKY RECEIVER! YOU ARE OFFICIALLY INVITED TO THE COOLEST OF COOL SURPRISE BIRTHDAY PARTIES FOR MY GOOD FRIEND UNDYNE!

HOSTED BY THE GREAT PAPYRUS-SPAGHETTI EXTRAORDINAIRE AND EXTREMELY COOL FRIEND

PRESENTS REQUIRED

There's a date, two days after the anniversary celebration, listed but no location. You look back up at Papyrus, who's watching for your reaction. "You're planning a party? That's so cool!" 

Papyrus beams at your enthusiasm. "NOTICE THE DETAILS OF THE FISH BEADS," He points out. "IF YOU CONNECT THEM LIKE THIS, THEY MAKE UNDYNE'S FACE!" 

You squint at the beads. You can...kind of see it, if you tilt your head just right. "Oh yeah! I uh, see it!" 

"SO YOU UNDERSTAND WHY I HAD TO MAKE A TACTICAL RETREAT RIGHT? IT'S A SURPRISE AND I CAN'T LET UNDYNE KNOW IT'S HAPPENING WHILE I ASK FOR YOUR HELP!" He pauses and some of his enthusiasm turns into hopeful nervousness. "YOU'LL HELP ME, WON'T YOU?" 

Papyrus needs your help? "Yeah, whatever you need! What do you need?" 

He looks around and leans in. "I HAVE BEEN STUMPED ON WHAT TO GET HER AS A GIFT! I KNOW!" He throws an arm up over his face dramatically. "HOW COULD I, SUCH A GREAT AND KNOWLEDGEABLE SKELETON BE STUMPED ON A GIFT? BUT UNDYNE IS VERY BUSY WITH HELPING PLAN SECURITY FOR THE ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION AND I CAN'T FIND A SINGLE MOMENT TO SNEAKILY ASK HER WHAT SHE WANTS! AND AS GREAT AS MY SPAGHETTI IS,  FOR HER BIRTHDAY I THINK IT IS BETTER TO GET SOMETHING BEFITTING MY VERY COOL FRIEND. BUT THERE ARE SO MANY DIFFERENT HUMAN SHOPS WITH SO MANY DIFFERENT THINGS TO CHOOSE FROM!" 

You nod as you listen to him.

He straightens out of his tragic hero pose, sticking his hand up in the air. "SO I THOUGHT! WHY NOT ASK MY OTHER COOL FRIEND FOR HELP! FOR I'M SURE YOU HAVE BOUGHT MANY A PRESENT FOR YOUR MANY FRIENDS!" 

You snort. "Well, I might not be as cool as you think, but I have bought my fair share of presents." 

"THAT HUMILITY!" Papyrus' sockets are gleaming. "THAT ONLY INCREASES YOUR OBVIOUS COOLNESS!" 

You laugh, awkwardly shrugging off the compliment. "Anyway, so you want me to help you pick out the perfect present? Right now?" 

"YES! IF YOU HAVE TIME!" He takes your hand and nearly tugs your arm out of it's socket in his eagerness to get going. He's got an entire list of shops, though you look it over and cross a few off immediately since he mostly gathered the list from the internet. But even with removing some, he's got quite a number of places to visit. Antique, department, a fishing store (you and he have a blast trying on the various fishing vests and hats just for giggles), candy shops and many many others. And yet, Papyrus has yet to find the perfect gift for Undyne. 

You don't mind how long it's taking though. Shopping with Papyrus makes it fun. He has something to say about everything

"LOOK AT HOW MANY MOVIES YOU CAN BUY! AND THEY ARE ARRANGED WITH SUCH PRECISION AND ORDER!" 

"HUMAN SHORE! WHY ARE THE PINK PRICED ONES MORE EXPENSIVE? THAT JUST SEEMS UNFAIR!" 

"PREPARE TO BE AMAZED FOR I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS HAVE PERFECTLY FIXED THIS TABLE OF HUMAN CLOTHING! I CAN'T BELIEVE SOMEONE WOULD JUST UNFOLD ALL THE CLOTHES AND LEAVE THEM THERE. WELL, I COULD SEE SANS DOING THAT." 

"HUMAN SHORE! I KNOW IT'S NOT WHAT WE CAME FOR BUT I MUST ABSOLUTELY PURCHASE THIS BOTTLE OF RARE SPICES FOR MY NEXT DISH OF SPAGHETTI!" 

The guy is hilarious, even if he is a little loud. At least you don't have to worry about losing sight of him. As you shop, you ask questions about Undyne to get ideas for what she might like. You know a bit yourself, with the surfing lessons and the bar hangouts and all, but knowing what Papyrus focuses on will help with picking a gift. He's being picky though and you're starting to run out of shops to go to.

"How long have you known Undyne?" you ask him as the two of you enter a motorcycle shop. 

Papyrus is distracted for a moment, gazing around at the display bikes with a wide, happy expression. You grin and nudge him, prompting him to go sit on one. He does so eagerly, handing you his phone so you can take pictures of him posing. He looks very impressive, especially when you get creative with angles and call out poses for him to try. 

"OH I'VE KNOWN UNDYNE FOR A WHILE!" he says finally, once he has his fill of the bikes. "WHEN SANS AND I MOVED TO SNOWDIN WE SPENT A LOT OF TIME WITH GRILLBY AND GRILLBY IS GOOD FRIENDS WITH GERSON, WHO AS YOU KNOW RAISED UNDYNE. SHE'D COME WITH HIM WHEN HE VISITED THE BAR OR WE WENT WITH HIM WHEN HE TOOK TRIPS INTO WATERFALL! WHICH ALWAYS MADE ME A LITTLE NERVOUS, I'LL ADMIT." 

You've heard of this Waterfall, a place of (as so named) water and rivers and the only place where rain fell in the underground even if it wasn't actually rain. For Grillby, it would be like walking under acid. You would've been nervous too, had you been there. 

"UNDYNE AND I GOT BORED WHENEVER THEY TALKED ABOUT 'THE OLD DAYS' AND WE WOULD GO OUT AND SPAR TOGETHER! OR EXPLORE THE CAVERNS, EVEN THOUGH WE WEREN'T REALLY SUPPOSED TO." 

The image of a young Papyrus and Undyne exploring caves is so adorable you can't hardly stand it. "So you two have been best friends for a long time then?" 

Papyrus flushes, an orange hue to his face. He looks...almost uncertain? Which is not a word you would ever associate with him. "UM YES, WE ARE BEST FRIENDS AND..." 

You wait for him to gather his thoughts as he fiddles his gloved hands together. "WE WERE FRIENDS OF COURSE. THEN SHE...SHE WENT OFF TO TRAIN WITH ASGORE AND I DIDN'T REALLY SEE HER MUCH ANYMORE AND WHEN SHE CAME BACK SHE WAS CAPTAIN OF THE ROYAL GUARD AND...AND SHE WAS VERY BUSY OF COURSE, I KNOW THAT'S WHY WE DIDN'T HANG OUT AS MUCH ANY MORE. AND IT WASN'T BECAUSE SHE HAD FOUND BETTER FRIENDS WHO WERE ALSO IN THE GUARD! SHE'S VERY POPULAR SO OF COURSE IT MADE SENSE FOR HER TO HAVE A LOT OF FRIENDS!"

You're a bit stunned that he's opening up to you like this. "Papyrus, did you think that Undyne wouldn't be friends with you anymore if you weren't in the Royal Guard?" 

"WHAT? NO, THAT IS SILLY!" He exclaims loudly, looking away. "ALL OF THAT IS IN THE PAST NOW ANYWAY! THE ROYAL GUARD ISN'T EVEN THE SAME AS IT WAS BACK THEN. AND I HAVE A VERY IMPORTANT JOB AS MASCOT! AND WE HANG OUT ALL THE TIME NOW! I JUST...I WANT TO MAKE SURE THAT, AS HER B-BEST AND COOLEST FRIEND I GET HER THE PERFECT GIFT!" 

"Aw Papyrus." You give him a hug, wrapping your arms around his bony frame as best as you can. He seems a little surprised by your gesture, but immediately returns your hug, making your spine pop with the strength of his grip. "O-oof. Don't worry! We're going to find the best present ever!" 

"NYEH HEH!" Papyrus lifts you up even high in his hug. "THAT'S RIGHT!" 

You're grinning, wrapping your arms around his neck when suddenly, from your new vantage point, you see it. You start to laugh.

"Hey Pap. I think I've found it." 

~~~~~~ 

You feel very satisfied as you climb the steps back up to your apartment. It's nearly dark now, the setting sun casting heavy shadows across the ground. The birthday order will take a couple of days to come in but it should get here just in time for the party. Papyrus nearly had tears in his sockets from glee and your own eyes had almost started to blur at seeing him so happy. Papyrus is such a good guy. You reach your door and pull your keys out. The handle jams, which sadly isn't a new thing but you finally manage to open the door. You slip inside, call out a greeting to Stitch who is curled in the exact same spot he was when you left this morning and pull the door close. 

Only it doesn't close. 

You look back. The knob is stuck again and this time, it's preventing the door from closing at all. You grumble at it. Stupid cheap door. You grasp it tightly with both hands and pull it as hard as you possibly can. There's a loud SNAP! and the door shuts. Uh oh. That didn't sound good. Hesitantly, you try to open it again. 

It doesn't budge.

You're not aware of the fact that your breathing has gone shallow. You can only feel your heart starting to race and you desperately try several times to open the door again, to no avail. Something must have broke when you forced it to shut and now you've gone and locked yourself inside. 

....Locked...inside. 

Unbidden memories start to rise. You smell sawdust and mold and-

You take a step back, shaking your head fiercely. This isn't the same. You're fine. You're just fine. You just need to call the landlord and tell him to get the emergency repair guy over here. He'll fix the door and you'll be good to go. Yeah. You reach for your phone in your pocket. You'll just....

Where's your phone? 

Your mind goes blank for a moment. Oh. It was on Grillby's counter when Papyrus picked you up. You completely forgot to go back and get it. 

Okay, maybe you should panic a little. 

You slap a hand against your cheek, closing your eyes. Stop that. You take a breath and move over to the wall that matches up with Ms. Meyers apartment. The walls are fairly thin here so maybe if you yell loud enough? "Ms Meyers! It's Shore! My door is jammed and I can't get out! Hello? Can you hear me?" 

After several minutes of this, you give up. Either she's not home or already fast asleep. Okay. This is fine. Eventually someone is going to notice you're not around and hopefully come to investigate. Besides, Grillby must have noticed that you've left your phone at the bar by now, right? He's probably waiting for you to come get it and when you don't show he should be able to ask and figure out that something must be going on, right? And besides, it's not like you're low on food and this is your house and normally you'd be thrilled at the chance to just lay around for a while but you're locked in and wooooooah boy it's getting stuffy in here. 

You quickly cross to the window and open it up, letting the fresh air inside. The salty scent of the sea washes over you, helping to calm you a little. You release a pent up breath, glancing at Stitch. The cat is watching you with one eye, tail flicking gently back and forth. "Looks like we're locked in buddy," you say to him. "Sorry I know you had huge plans to go out tonight." 

Stitch purrs quietly so you know you're forgiven. 

Still, you can't let go of the rising anxiety about being stuck in here with no way to contact anyone. Maybe you should try actually breaking the door down? People do it in cop shows all the time. But you're not sure how well it'll work if the handle is truly jammed and honestly, that's an expense you're sure the land lord will try to pin on you. You drum your fingers on the window sill, trying to think of your options. You can try sending some people messages on via social media but there's no knowing how long it'll take for that to be noticed. Faith's at work, Liam is terrible about checking his messages and Tyler doesn't use facebook. You look down towards the ground. Being on the fourth floor, you're pretty high up. But the building itself is old, made with a lot of parts and pieces that stick out, as well as thick framing for the windows. It gives the whole place a rather slapped together look and has the problems that would be expected, like suddenly jamming doors. 

You stick your head out of the window, judging the distance. 

Yeah forget waiting around. 

You grab your car keys and wallet, putting them in your pocket before giving Stitch a scratch. "Okay Stitch. I'm breaking out. Hold down the fort. If I fall, I bequeath my earthly possessions to you." 

Stitch huffs quietly, closing his eyes. 

"Thanks for the support." You turn to the window. Okay. This is not...the dumbest thing you've ever done but it might be close. But you can't stand to stay still. You gingerly ease your legs outside, feeling for the wooden ledge. It feels sturdy enough, not even creaking under the weight you put on it. You move slowly, keeping a firm grip on the frame while you move until your entire body is outside, facing the wall and clinging tightly. This isn't so bad. You start to slowly make your way down. At least there's enough sunlight left to see where you're going. You snort quietly to yourself as you inch yourself closer to the drainpipe at the edge of the building, looking for the easiest way down. Not even three days after sort of promising Grillby you wouldn't be climbing any more buildings and here you are. You can just imagine what he'd say if-

"What the hell are you doing?" 

You freeze. Oh God why. You slowly turn your head to look down (okay, bad idea, bad idea looking down you are very high up). Grillby is standing there on the walkway to the apartment building. Even from this distance, you can see distressed green in his flames. Come to think of it, this is the first time you've ever heard him swear. "Oh, hey Grillby!" you call down. 

"Hello. What are you doing?" he repeats, head craned back to look up at you. You can barely hear him from so far, but considering that you can hear him at all, he must be practically shouting.

"My door got jammed! I was stuck and I completely forgot I left my phone at the bar so I couldn't call anyone! What are you doing way out here?" 

He holds up his hand. You can just see your phone. Oh! "Wow, thanks, I'll uh...be right down." 

".....please be careful." 

You laugh loudly. "Grillby, I am the perfect picture of being careful. This may surprise you after getting caught in my little peeping incident but I am actually a master of climbing up and down surfaces of-" 

The piece of building you put your weight on snaps. There's no wild scramble in the air to regain your grip like in cartoons or a chance to even process what's happening. You just feel a sharp burn on your hands as you plummet down, a breathless scream caught in your throat as some part of your mind registers that you are about to be in a lot of pain and close your eyes. You hit something solid, hear a loud whoosh of air but...there's no pain. No agony from bones shattering or instant darkness from...well dying. Though you do feel warm. 

You feel very warm. 

Your eyes pop open to see flames. You're mere inches away from Grillby's face, nestled safely in his arms. He turns his head to look at you, golden eyes searching your face. His glasses are slightly askew, probably knocked by your arm as he caught you. "Are you all right?" he asks urgently. 

You release a shaky breath, suddenly very, very aware of just how close you are to him. He's got his arms under your knees and behind your back, hand clutching your shoulder. Your entire left side is pressed up against his chest, arms sticking out wide. This close, you can see the different shades of orange, yellow and red that shift and dance in the flames that just hide the edge of his jaw. You can see the specks of dust on his glasses and that the metal has been slightly warped by his heat. The edges are inscribed with strange lettering that sends a weird sense of familiarity through you.

He says your name, concern lacing his voice. You snap out of your daze, gaping for a moment. "G-good reflexes," you say breathlessly.

"Are you all right?" he repeats. 

You pull your hands in as you nod. "Yeah, I'm fine. I'm j-" you break off with a hiss at the sudden flash of pain in your hands. Both you and Grillby look to see that when you fell, your hands got scraped up pretty badly, probably thanks to being ripped away from the wood. They're not super deep but there's a bit of blood welling up. "Ooh, that stings a bit." 

Grillby is silent. His flames have darkened as he continues to stare at your hands. Or rather, blood on your hands.  He's just...frozen. Staring. You curl your hands away and you feel him shudder, a few quiet pops snapping out from his fire. "I'm sorry, it's gross. I've got a first aid kit upstairs, I can-" 

You can't do anything, your door is still jammed. You groan. "Never mind, I can't get inside. The repair guy is probably going to take forever too," you grumble. 

"I can fix it." His voice is very low, flames still dark. You look at him in surprise so he says, "I built my own bar, remember? I think I can fix a doorknob." 

Oh, you do remember him saying that a while ago. "I mean...if it's no big deal." 

He shakes his head. "Is there a shop nearby?" 

"Uh, there's an all purpose place just down the road. They'll probably have some basic tools." 

Without another word, he sets you down, steadying you when you legs wobble from the adrenaline rush of falling. You hold onto his sleeve for a moment. You fell. You could've been seriously hurt if he wasn't here. You open your mouth to thank him but he's already moving. He looks back at you standing there. "Which way?" 

"To the left," you say, hurrying to catch up with him. The short walk is silent. Grillby makes no attempt to talk and as the silence goes on, you find it hard to do so too. His flames are still dark and he keeps his gaze fixed ahead of him. Is he mad at you? You would understand if he is. Climbing down a four story building is stupid, no matter the reason why. And he even made you promise not to do it after climbing his bar. You bite your lip as you look at him and the tense way his flames are snapping. You start to reach for his arm, barely remembering the blood on your hands in time to stop. 

"I'm sorry." 

He stops, looking back at you. It's dark now and aside from the weak flickering streetlights, his body is the only source of light, darkened though he is. He doesn't say anything but he keeps looking at you. 

You take a deep breath. "Thank you for catching me," you say softly, finding it hard to look him in the eye. "I know it was stupid to try and climb down. I should've just waited." 

"...then why did you do it?" 

His reasonable, simple question makes your heart freeze. You take a shuddering breath. "I...I can't talk about it here." 

He blinks at your response, something in the tight way he's holding himself easing slightly. "But there is a reason?" 

You nod. 

After a moment, he nods as well. "Okay." He gestures forward. "Let's go before those scrapes start to really hurt."

You smile tentatively at him and nod. The two of you hurry onto the store, still walking in silence but one not quite as tense. The store has what he needs as well as a bathroom that you use to wash some of the blood off. The hot water makes the cuts burn something awful and you have to bite your lip to stop a pained whine. When you exit, Grillby's already bought the tools as well as a pack of band aids and a small monster candy. You pop that into your mouth and sigh as some of the pain almost immediately lessens. It's not enough to heal it up like Grillby's drink but it does take the edge off. 

Once you're outside the store, Grillby motions for you to stop and opens up the band aids. It's a box of the big ones, large enough to cover half of your hand. He gently takes your hand and places the band aid on the slightly less open wound. You watch him and damn it, you're starting to blush again, feeling his fingers delicately prodding at your skin, making sure the cut is completely covered. 

"Still okay?" he asks, looking up from his handiwork. 

You nod several times, unable to quite form words. You pull your hands close once he's done and you've started the walk back, savoring the warmth for a moment. 

You feel something prod your arm and jump, flushing at being caught. It's your phone. You take it from Grillby, safely tucking it into your pocket. "I'm so very glad you were here, but how did you know where I live?" Normally you'd tease him about him being the stalker for once, but you're still too worked up from falling to do it. 

"I called Faith. She gave me your address." 

"And the bar?" 

"The dinner rush was done. I left Fuku to it." Are you seeing things or is he blushing? What could he be blushing about? 

You've reached the apartment and you lead Grillby up to your door. He glances at Ms. Meyer's many plants before turning his attention to the knob. He kneels in front of it and pushes his sleeves up. 

Why is that so freaking attractive?

He jiggles the handle, a purple hue flashing over his head. "This is garbage," he says disapprovingly. You sigh in agreement. 

"The landlord is a stingy guy. But at least the rent isn't awful."

Grillby just grunts at that, pulling some tools out. You watch him as he works, taking a seat up against the wall. "So. Bartender. Chef. Rescuer of falling idiots and now handyman. Any other talents I should know of?" 

"I can eat an entire pizza in about ten seconds if I'm hungry enough." 

You laugh loudly. "That's the most impressive one, hands down." 

"I know." 

"What was it like, building an entire bar by yourself?" 

"...difficult. The parts were hard to find sometimes. There was a lot of improvising. But I had help. A...a friend who was...he was skilled in building things." 

"I bet that was fun, working on such a large project with a friend." 

He's quiet and then you hear a sharp snap. The doorknob is free and he tosses it down before pulling the new one out. From there, it's just a matter of moments before it's screwed in. You stand as he gives it one more look and final nod. The knob and the lock are separate, thank goodness, so you at least won't need to get a new key. He stands as well. "Give it a go." 

You grab the handle and twist. It opens easily and you breathe a deep sigh of relief. "You are amazing!" You hesitate for a moment then ask, "Do you...want to come in? I can...I think I have some cookies. And...you deserve to know why I climbed out the window." 

He sparks in surprise but then nods. He follows you inside and you suppress a groan of horror. The place is filthy. Clothes everywhere, both clean and dirty, books that you've left scattered around, dishes that haven't been washed, bottles of board wax and sandy beach towels on the table and stacks of mail on the counter. Stitch, still in his bed by the window, perks his head up at the sight of Grillby. 

"Um, make yourself at home," you tell him as you scramble to gather the worst of the mess and throw it into a laundry basket. "Sorry it's messy in here, I'm uh...I've been busy."  

Grillby sits down on the love seat, looking around curiously. You notice his gaze lingers on the dirty dishes. "....it's nice." 

You bark out a laugh. "You're nice for saying that, even though it's not true." Okay, there's the worst of it. You hoist the basket up. "I'll be right back." You hurry back to your room, dumping the mess to deal with later and pause for just a moment at your mirror. Ugh your hair! You run your brush through it a few times, attempting to tame the mess before going back into the living room. "Okay let me see about-ah!" 

Stitch, that dumb, old grumpy cat who rarely moves himself even when he wants to and instead whines at you until you do it, has hauled himself up out of his bed, crossed the floor and hopped up next to Grillby. And not only that, he's got his little mouth around Grillby's finger, gnawing it like it's a piece of meat. Grillby is watching with a slightly bemused tilt of his head. 

"Stitch! No! Bad cat!" you cross the room and pry him off Grillby's finger. "Oh hush you!" you tell him when he yowls quietly. "He's not for eating! I'm so sorry, is your finger okay?" 

"I'm fine." His voice definitely has the tones of amusement. "It didn't hurt." 

Stitch wiggles in your grip until you drop him and he immediately climbs back into Grillby's lap. He fixes you with a stare, as if daring you to try and move him again. You sigh. "I'm sorry, he's usually too lazy to even get up." 

"It's okay." Grillby looks down at the cat and you notice that his flames have shifted into bright happy hues of yellow. He hesitates and then slowly starts petting Stitch, scratching around his ears. Stitch rumbles with purrs, leaning into Grillby's touch. He smiles with delight, looking up at you. "He's very fat." 

"Yes he is," you say with great amusement at Grillby's obvious glee. "So you're a cat guy?" 

"....they're cute. Quiet. The animal versions at least." 

"Isn't it kind of weird that there are animal versions of certain monsters up here? Like you've got pet dogs around and then you've got monsters like Greater Dog and Dogamy-" 

He shrugs. "I suppose. But they're so different to us on a fundamental level that it's not that a big deal to most of us. And there were rodents and other small creatures in the underground that weren't monsters so it's not an entirely new concept." 

You watch him pet Stitch for a few moments more. The cat is drooling a little, on the verge of falling asleep. "Man, I can't hardly get him to cuddle with me like this unless I'm trying to sleep." 

"I think I do have the slight advantage of being warmer than the usual human lap," Grillby says with a chuckle. "I'm just happy he wasn't scared of me. I've been wanting to meet him after hearing so many stories." 

Silence falls, save for Stitch's gentle purring. You watch as Grillby continues to pet your cat, his motions gentle and steady. The window you climbed out of is still open and since Grillby is sitting closer to it than you are, his flames catch the breeze that comes in. It makes his 'hair' wavy and almost wild. He must feel your eyes on him because he shifts his gaze from the cat to you. He doesn't say anything but you can tell he's waiting patiently for you to gather the courage to speak, to explain why you did something so stupid. 

It takes you several tries and you have reach inside yourself, trying to find that detached place that keeps what happened a separate event. Something that happened to someone else. "When I was a kid, my family had a small shed that was attached to the side of the house. It was a kind of workshop. Lots of random stuff. At the time it was mostly used for half finished wood working projects.There were no windows, barely any air circulation. It was the type of place that's meant to have the doors wide open while you're working.  I was...I got locked inside." 

Grillby stops petting Stitch. 

You gnaw at the inside of your lip, reaching over to rub Stitch yourself, grounding yourself with his fur. "I was stuck in there for twelve hours. I screamed until my voice gave out but...didn't matter. No one came." 

"No one came looking?" Grillby voice is whisper soft but his darkening flames betray his horror. 

You look away from him. "....It wasn't an accident," you finally choke out. 

His flames snap loudly.

"The one who....he....knew and lied about it to...anyone who asked...s-so...."

You feel his hand gently touch your shoulder. He pulls away when you look at him. "You don't have to tell me any more." 

You shiver, despite not being cold. You breathe shakily for a moment, pinching the bridge of your nose. "It's hard to talk about but...I think you literally saved my life tonight because I let the past cloud my thinking. And..." You give him a weak smile. "I trust you. You've been nothing but kind to me since we met. Even if you did steal my cookie dough. I don't want to just...feed you an excuse. I just couldn't stand still in here, locked in. I just couldn't."

He doesn't say anything to that. He just slowly, very slowly reaches over and takes your hands, his fingers under yours. "I'm sorry that happened to you," he finally murmurs, dropping his head down slightly to look at your hands. "But it makes me...very happy that you feel that you can speak to me about it." 

You blink harshly several times as a pressure begins to build in your eyes. "Ah, it-" you clear your throat as you lift one hand to push a strand of hair away from your face. "It seems as if I owe you. Again. I don't know if I could ever, you know, catch you if you fell off a building, but if there's anything you ever need from me please tell me. An extra hand at the bar or...I don't know. Whatever." 

He's quiet for a moment and then, his colors shift. He starts blushing, blue over taking his reds and yellows. "There is...one thing." 

He's already calling in his favor? You push past your surprise. "Yes of course, what is it?" 

"....I...." He shifts, looking down at Stitch. "Can I touch your hair?" he finally blurts out. 

You blink at him and then, you start to giggle. He flushes a deeper shade of blue. "That's your request?" 

He nods silently, still staring at your cat. 

"How long have you wanted to ask that?" 

"...since the first day I saw you," he mumbles. 

It's hard to get your giggles under control. You shift your hand, still resting in his and gently guide his hand up to your head. His eyes snap up as you place his palm against your hair. His hand is amazingly warm and you instinctively lean into it, smiling easily. You release his hand and he slowly starts to run his fingers through your hair. He's gentle, taking care not to tug on the strands. Behind his glasses his eyes are wide, captivated by the flame colored hair between his fingers.

"You know, most people just go for it," you tell him as you fight to not close your eyes and start purring under the soft head rub. 

"That's because most people lack basic manners," Grillby says almost absently. You snort, making him grin. "There was also the whole 'touching humans is bad and scary' thing." 

"Well you did leap to my rescue and hold me princess style. I'd say you've come pretty far." 

He pauses, like he's just realizing this.

You laugh. "I'm just sorry that my hair's probably not as bright as it was back then. I'm sure the color's faded a little by now. It's been...what a month since that day? A little more?" How long has it been? It feels like you've known him for years.

"I think it's still just as beautiful." 

Your heart stutters. "Thank you," you whisper, feeling your face heat up. He's still blushing too and his hand starts to slow as the silence builds. There's something in the silence, a deep warm and terrifying feeling that you don't quite understand. You muster up what courage you can and look at him. He's already looking at you and you're struck once again by how truly beautiful he is. Your throat is dry and every beat of your heart sends strange sensations of energy running through your veins. The hand not resting against your head is still holding your hand and you wonder if he can feel how sweaty your palm is growing. You wonder if he cares that you're a mess. You wonder if maybe he can hear how loud your heart is pounding.

A sudden blaring alarm makes you jump so violently you actually fall off the couch. Stitch, startled by the noise, shoots off of Grillby's lap and vanishes down the hall. Grillby looks around, fire sputtering. "What is that?" 

You're scrambling to gather your thoughts and pick yourself up. What the hell? Is this...the fire alarm? 

There's a loud banging at your door. "THIS IS THE TENTH FIRE DIVISION! WE ARE PREPARING TO BREAK THE DOOR, STAND CLEAR!" 

They're going to what? You lurch to your feet. "No! Don't do that!" 

You manage to get to the door and throw it open, finding a group of three firefighters who are very startled to see Grillby standing behind you. After a few minutes of confusion and hasty explanation, they tell you that a passerby called them about a possible fire in the apartment after seeing an odd flickering color in the window. It takes several more minutes to explain that yes, Grillby is made of fire but no, there's no danger here and nothing is burning. They make you evacuate anyway with the rest of the building. It's late now and most of the apartment residents are in pajamas. You and Grillby get more than a few dirty looks once it becomes clear it was a false alarm. 

You sigh with utter mortification. Well. So much for...whatever it was that was happening. If there was a moment, it's completely gone. You turn to Grillby, who is ignoring the looks he's getting as people return to their homes. "Well that was an interesting way to end an interesting day." 

He nods, sighing out a puff of smoke. "I should get back," he finally says softly. "I need to help Fuku close." 

"Right, yeah." You both stand there awkwardly for a moment. Part of you wants to go for a hug. Part of you is screaming that you should just flee while you can and figure out what the heck is going on with these weird feelings and emotions. You settle for your usual handshake. 

For some reason, it leaves you feeling unsatisfied. 

Grillby leaves and you return to your apartment. Once you flop down on the couch, you let yourself process everything that's happened. You slap your hands up over your face, a strange sort of keening squeal escaping you. You grab your phone. 

 

You: 

We need to talk. 

 

Faithfully Yours: 

Salon at 9? 

 

You: 

Yup

 

Faithfully Yours: 

;) 

 

You: 

What's with the winky face? 

 

You: 

WHAT'S WITH THE FACE

 

You: 

FAITH ANSWER ME

 

Faithfully Yours: 

;) ;) ;) 

Chapter Text

There's something about visiting a salon that's just relaxing. The soft murmuring of voices maybe, or the various scents of hair products and spray that fills you with a strange sort of nostalgia. And it's that you're trying to focus on instead of Faith's gaping, horrified stare. 

"You did what?" For someone with such dark skin, she's managed to reach an alarming shade of pale. "You climbed out the window?" 

You just nod, looking down. 

She struggles to find something to say for a moment. "How long did you wait before deciding it was time to do something stupid?" 

"...I don't know. Maybe thirty minutes." You're pretty sure it wasn't even that long. 

"Oh my God!" She grabs your shoulders, her horror turning to anger. You flinch under the touch. "You could've died! Why would you do that? Why didn't you just wait?"

You shrink in on yourself. "You know why," you whisper. 

She freezes. She doesn't let go of you but her grip does ease up a little. She does know. She's one of the only ones who knows the whole story. How could she not after that night when you didn't show to practice and she came to your place to find you sobbing on the floor? She refused to leave until you told her. She sighs heavily and then moves her hands so that she's hugging you tightly. 

"I'm sorry," she mutters. "I just...geez, you scared me and I wasn't even there." She pulls back and slumps back into her seat. She's got her shoes off and her brother is trying valiantly to paint her nails. It's made a little difficult because she won't hold still. Link gives you a sympathetic look as he grips Faith's toes and starts again. "Well, you're not dead so...." 

You take her prompt and continue, some of your shame fading because you know she's going to love this next part. "Well actually...I did fall." 

Her eyes bug. 

"And Grillby caught me." 

She's still for just a moment longer before shrieking with glee, nearly upending the bottle of polish all over the floor. Link has to scramble to save it from shattering on the ground. She actually puts her hands over her heart, breathing heavily. "HE DID WHAT?" 

You grin at her reaction. "He was bringing my phone back and showed up just as I was climbing down. Something broke and I fell and he just-" You use your hand to make a quick 'whoosh' motion. "He was there and I was in his arms and not splattered on the sidewalk." 

"Oh my God, Oh my God-!" 

"Speaking of," you say as she squeals, narrowing your eyes. "He said you gave him my address." 

A slow grin creeps over her face as she lowers her hands. "I was too busy to do it myself. And I might have mentioned that it's vital that you have your phone with you. You know, in case of emergency dance practice or if I need you to solve a nerd argument with Liam." 

"Oh, of course," you say dryly. "And that's it?" 

She tugs on one of her curls innocently. "Hey, does it really matter if that's it? He saved your life! And since I'm the one who told him he should bring your phone to you himself, that means I also saved your life! You're welcome." 

"That's fair." 

She starts to lean towards you and Link smacks her leg. "Do you want me to actually do a good job on this or not?" 

Faith plants her foot into Link's cheek, smooshing his face. "I have full trust in your nail painting abilities dear brother. Now shut up, I'm trying to figure out if my plan was ruined or not." 

"So you did have a plan!" you say triumphantly, pointing a finger at her. She rolls her eyes. 

"Of course I had a plan. Now tell me what happened next! Did he look deep into your eyes? Did the fear of almost losing you make him hold you tightly to him? Did you ki-" 

"No!" You're beet red now. "He just made sure I was okay. I actually think he was a little mad. He got really quiet." 

"The guy is always quiet," Faith points out. 

You wave a hand. "No, not his usual calm quiet. His flames were agitated." 

She snorts, shaking her head. "I still don't understand how you read him so easily." 

Easily? You have to bite back your own laugh. "It's not that hard to see his reactions but that doesn't mean I know what he's thinking." 

Faith just folds her arm. She lifts her brows up and down a few times. "Then what?" 

"He offered to fix my door. We went to store, came back, he replaced the handle and I..." Your voice trails off as the memory of him sitting on your couch hits you and you remember the way he so carefully pet your cat and the soft murmur of his voice as he told you he was happy you trusted him enough to tell him why you were so stupid and-

The feel of his hand on your head. The way his grip on your fingers tightened just slightly as the two of you stared at each other. 

Ah. Your blush returns and Faith starts to cackle wildly. "S-shut up! Nothing happened!" 

"Really?" Her grin is chillingly similar to a certain skeleton's. "You called me out to the salon at nine in the morning because 'nothing happened'?" 

It is actually painful to get the words out. "I...I told him about the shed." 

Her eyes go wide again. "You told him?" 

"He did save me from at least a few broken bones. I figured he deserved to know. And then I told him I owed him and then...." 

Both Faith and Link are staring at you. "And then?" they both prompt. 

You're pretty sure your face is just as red as your hair. "He asked if he could touch my hair." 

The siblings look at each other. Then they both breaking into howling laughter. Link actually has to brace himself on the floor and you attempt to sink into the seat cushions. "He's too pure!" Faith gasps, wiping at her eyes. "Holy crap, that's so sweet I'm going to puke." 

"D-don't make fun of him, he was just being respectful," you mumble. "Unlike everyone else who just puts their hands all over it because it looks amazing." 

"It does look amazing," Link says smugly. "The color is holding up just like I hoped it would, but you'll probably need a root touch up soon. But anyway, that was when the two of you kissed, right?" 

"No we did not!" Your voice is on the higher end of a squeak. "Look, we got firefighters called on us okay? So even if something was going to happen -which it wasn't!- we had to explain that there wasn't actually a fire in the building. Aside from Grillby. It kinda ruined any possibility of a mood." 

Faith is now laughing so hard actual tears are springing from her eyes. "I've literally never heard of firefighters ruining a moment like that! Cops sure but firefighters?" 

You sigh. "I know right? What are the chances." You hesitate and fiddle with your thumbs for a moment. "But um...I...my heart was doing weird things all last night after he left. I couldn't stop thinking about how warm his hand was and....I don't know what's going on." 

"It's called having a crush." Faith states this like it's the most obvious thing in the world. "You've got a crush on the fire man." 

"No, no it can't be a crush," you protest, even as your heart does a strange little flip at the word. "Can it?" 

Faith pats your hand. "Shore, I love you. But you are so dense." 

"I am not-!" 

"Literally everyone can see that you like Grillby." 

Link nods and you put your hands up over your face, groaning. Do you really have a crush on Grillby? It seems like such a silly and childish thing. Okay, yes you like being around him, he's funny and kind and you always feel at ease around him and you always seem to find an excuse to drop by his bar several times a week but that doesn't mean-

Oh boy. 

"Do I have a crush on him?" you whisper.

"Well, you spend almost every night at his bar, you take his hand and he lets you do it, even though you've said the guy has a phobia, he literally caught you when you fell out of the sky and instead of being freaked about that, you're worried that your heart feels funny after he touched your head?" Faith shrugs. "I don't know, why don't you tell me?" 

You have no idea what to do about this. Your heart is racing in your chest. "What do I do now?" 

"Typically, you ask him out on a date," Link says helpfully, finally managing to finish Faith's left foot. 

"I can't do that!" 

"Why not?" Faith asks. 

You stumble over your words, "I...that means admitting that I...which I mean, how do I know it's an actual crush, maybe I just want to be friends, maybe I'm fine with how things are-" 

"Breathe," Faith instructs and you halt your babble. "Are you fine with how things are? Would you be okay if he went out with someone else?" 

The mere thought of that, seeing someone else on the receiving end of his gentle smiles and softly spoken conversations, makes something in your chest tense up. If he chose to be in a relationship with a different person, that would be his choice of course. You would support him, continue being his friend but...picturing it hurts. It hurts far more than you expected. Your silence must be enough of an answer because Faith nods smugly. You're not quite as quick to accept it though.

"Look, I might have a crush but that doesn't mean I want to jump into a relationship." You've never really dated anyone, aside from that terrible attempt with Alex. Of course, you know that Grillby wouldn't pull the same crap that Alex did, but that whole experience has made you very hesitant to bother with dating. Ugh, even just briefly remembering that nonsense has you shuddering. "And besides, Grillby wouldn't be interested in g-going out with me." 

Faith nearly smacks your head. "Again, the guy caught you when you fell from a building!" 

"Most people wouldn't just stand there and do nothing. He was just acting on instinct."  

She sighs heavily, staring up at the ceiling. "Look, Grillby likes you too, okay? It's just as obvious." 

Why does that send an excited spark through your heart? "Really?"  

"Uh yeah. For example, when you're not around, the guy doesn't speak. Like at all. I know!" she gasps dramatically. "There are times when I go to the bar without you! There are rare moments where you're not there and it's just little old me!" 

"Shut up." 

"And Grillby doesn't speak," she continues over you. "Just basic greetings and maybe a bit of small talk at most. It's kinda weird actually, compared to the way he is around you. He willingly takes your hand whenever you offer it, despite his phobia. He willingly left work to return your phone and don't forget how protective he got when you had that bruise on your face. I half expected him to chase down those jerks himself. Did they ever get caught by the way?" 

You shake your head. "No, they must have been tourists or something." 

She scowls. "Anyway. Point stands. He's a quiet, mild dude but he acts down right bubbly around you." 

You can't help but laugh. "Bubbly?" 

"Okay, maybe that's not the best description, but you get my point! At the very least, he likes being around you." 

That shouldn't make you as happy as it does, but darn it, it does make you happy. But still, this is all stuff that you would do for any of your friends. And Grillby is your friend, you can at least admit that. A deep sigh escapes you as you pull your legs up and press your face against your knees. "I don't know. I don't think it would work." 

"Why are you so set on not even considering it?" Faith tilts her head. "I doubt this is why, but is it because he's a monster and you're a human? It's not as big of a deal now you know. Monster and human couples have at least stopped making the front page every time it happens." 

Your head snaps up. You're prepared to protest but then you hesitate. "That's not it," you mutter. "Not for the reasons you think." 

You're not hesitating because he's a monster. You couldn't care less about that. No, you're worried about it from his end. He's gotten fairly used to you, enough that he willingly accepts your handshakes and didn't hesitate to catch you when you fell. But how deep does his fear of hurting humans go? Shaking a hand and going out are entirely different things. You know Grillby wouldn't be the kind of person to discriminate, not like people have done in regards to monster and human couples. But fear is a powerful thing to overcome. Right now, there's a distance between the two of you. A distance that is at times painful, but safe. If you did...date (your face burns with embarrassment at the thought), wouldn't you naturally want to grow closer? 

It's not even a question. You do want to be closer to him, as friends or otherwise. That is something you know for sure. But what if he doesn't want that? What if he's perfectly fine as you are now and trying to force a closer relationship makes him only pull away? Losing what you have is far worse than standing still. 

Besides, there's something else. "I really don't know much about him, when it comes down to it," you admit. "After what happened the last time I tried to date someone, I just don't know if I can go in blind. Not again."

Faith actually thinks about this for a moment. She glances at Link, who just shrugs. She sighs. "Look, what happened with Alex was messed up. But you do know Grillby. Yeah, okay maybe not as well as you would like, but how can you get to know a guy when he spends most of his time filling orders and cooking whenever you hang out?" 

You snort. She has a point. 

Liam pipes up, having finished with Faith's toes. "I mean, if you're not going to ask him out, I'll do it. A man that hot has to be-" He leaps out of way when Faith shoves her foot at him, bright orange nails sparkling. 

"You stay away from the fire monster, he is claimed! But anyway, the whole idea of going on dates is to get to know someone." She tugs at her curls again, letting them bounce back against her face. "Don't even call it a date if that makes you feel better. Just ask him to go somewhere with you and talk. Ask him questions. Play two truths and a lie or something. Since Fuku's working at the bar now it should be fairly easy to get him to take a night off right?" 

"Maybe." 

She pats your shoulder. "Look, it's a process! And you've at least admitted you feel something, right? That's a step. Just. Don't take too long to actually start walking or the rest of us are gonna lose our minds." 

You give her a sly look. "Oh really? Speaking of taking it slow, when are you and Liam finally gonna get together?" 

The question catches her off guard and she flushes. Then, to your surprise, her expression shifts to one of extreme smugness. "We actually have a date coming up. After the anniversary celebration." 

"What?" you yelp, distracted by this sudden news. "When were you going to tell me this?" 

"Ah, at some point?" 

"You're a jerk. You both are. I shouldn't even give you these special invitations to Undyne's surprise party like Papyrus asked me too."  

Faith visibly brightens, eyes gleaming. "He's throwing a surprise party? Don't you think he'll be super disappointed if we don't show up because you didn't give us the invites?" 

She's right but man, does she really have to say it so smugly? 

Your thoughts won't calm down after you leave the salon and head off to work. Trey can tell that you're struggling to focus so he sticks you in the back doing 'back up inventory' which is his way of saying 'just get these counted at some point and take it easy'.  He's such a good guy. You spend your work day slowly counting shark bobble heads and seashell necklaces and thinking about what Faith said. Calling what you feel a crush just feels silly. Having a crush is something that little kids do, not independent adults, right? 

But you can't deny that you do feel something. 

You're going to take her advice about just getting to know Grillby more to heart. There's no rush here, no reason to jump into a relationship. You're not even sure that's what you want after all. Doing things that couples do, like holding hands and going out on romantic dates and ki....

Ki....

You shake your head violently, nearly snapping the bobble head in your hand. You are getting way too ahead of yourself! This is what happened last time and look how that played out! Trauma and terrible memories that's how! 

Alex. Just picturing his face makes any hints of happiness lingering in your chest vanish. Alex had swept into your life when you were drowning, offering what seemed like a life saving hand to pull you up and out of the waves. You hadn't realized in that moment that the offered hand held sharp claws that dug into your skin and refused to let go. The only good thing about that whole situation was how quickly it ended. It lasted just barely a week before you were found out. Before you went crawling back to the ones you had tried to escape from just to be free of Alex.  

You stare down at the toy, feeling your heart sink a little. It was easy enough to get carried away with Faith's excitement and glee but now that you're alone, your thoughts are starting to calm and take on a more rational tone. You need to slow down. You will not let the same thing happen with Grillby. Despite Faith's assurances that Grillby likes you as well, you have trouble believing he could possibly feel the same way. This is probably just you latching onto his kindness and blowing things out of proportion just like you did with Alex. Of course, Grillby would never be like that. You know that with absolute confidence. But still, it's better that you clamp down on whatever this feeling is before it gets out of control. It would be for the best. 

You groan, your head starting to ache with all of the contradicting thoughts and try to just shove everything out of your mind. What you have right now with Grillby is good.

It's better to stay as you are. 

~~~~~ 

The sheer scale of the preparations over the next few days for the anniversary are insane. You only get to visit Grillby's once during that time due to the overwhelming amount of work being done in the area and the crowds coming in to see it all happen. Of course, with the increase in crowds, you see an increase in security. They've always been around, hovering on the street corners or positioned in areas that you're sure have some tactical significance. It's a sad reality that despite the fairly successful integration of monsters into human society, the threat of those opposed to it haven't gone away. You talk with Sans a bit about it, since you catch him and Alphys helping with what looks like a very complicated detecting system set up on the various buildings, mostly around the outskirts to prevent any threat from getting into the center of the action. It's like no security system you've ever seen. Wires, round orbs you would almost call cameras were it not for the unsettling fluidity of it's surface and the shifting colors under the glass like surface and many other pieces of complicated machinery that you can't identify.

"T-this system, um, it measures the intent of the beings passing by," Alphys explains to you while Sans lazily lounges on a chair borrowed from a shop and directs the human tech guys on where to place what. "It's a new system that I've b-been working for a while and it uh, it should be able to s-send an alert if some one with really b-bad intentions gets t-too close." 

"works pretty well with monsters," Sans adds. "it's still a bit buggy with humans. only the darkest of intentions will be caught. but it's better than nothing right?" 

"R-right," Alphys agrees, leaning forward to just slightly adjust a wire. "S-so on top of that we have b-bomb sensors and weight plates installed at all entrances-" 

She and Faith really should hang out more. They would probably spend hours gushing over electronics and media hook ups. You do find it interesting that Sans doesn't bring up the whole falling from a building thing. If Grillby had told him about you climbing his drainpipe, there's no way he hasn't mentioned you climbing out the window. You do catch him looking at you while you watch Alphys explain her complicated set up but he doesn't do more than give you a searching stare for a moment before looking away. It makes you a little uneasy. Normally he'd leap on the chance to tease you about something so embarrassing. But if he doesn't bring it up, you certainly aren't going to.

Grillby doesn't bring it up either, aside from asking about the state of your hands the one night you stop by. The little bit of time you spend at the bar is spent much as it normally is. The chess set is out and Grillby makes his moves in between filling orders. He doesn't say much at all though a few times he pauses and acts like he wants to say something. No words are spoken however and he moves on without lingering, thanks to the pre-festival rush. You have to be grateful for it at least a little because there's no time to feel awkward about the way things were left the other night and your own personal revelation about your feelings.

Faith is certainly right in the regard that you can't get to know Grillby better like this. But you're a bit stumped on where you would even ask him to go with you that you think he would enjoy. There's no time for it right now anyway. You'll have to worry about it later. 

It seems that the great Mettaton is going to be making an appearance, according to an excited text from Faith. Mettaton, the entertainment robot of the underground is one of the few monsters who have been almost unconditionally accepted by humanity. Is it because he seems more human the rest? Or because intelligent robots are easier to accept than monsters? Whatever the reason, the guy has been off on a world tour for the last several months and is returning home to be the host of the festival. You do ask Grillby what he thinks about that, to which Grillby shrugs. 

"I haven't spoken much with him," he tells you. "He doesn't eat food, human or monster." 

Ah. So there wouldn't have been many chances for them to interact then. You're curious and more than a little excited yourself, you can admit that. The guy seems a little over the top, from what you've seen of his performances but man can he dance! His shows are stunning in the sheer volume of them and while you personally would use a little less glitter and general narcissism, you have to admit that the guy knows how to put on a good performance. What's even more interesting that is that he's going to be taking part of the dance competition as a guest judge. The first round of auditions is quickly approaching and the practice for that on top of everything else keeps your mind occupied on that rather than sorting out the still conflicting and confusing feelings in your chest.  

~~~~~~

The morning of the second anniversary dawns bright and clear. There's a tangible excitement in the air and for once, you don't mind being on the early shift. You leap out of the bed and get dressed, your heart pounding with excitement. Since you agreed on working the early shift, you'll be off in time for the surfing contest (though you'll be assisting with setting that up right until the end of your shift) and then you'll head over to check out rest of the festival with everyone else. Faith and Liam are planning on watching, Tyler said he'll have to meet you all at the Walk later on, Papyrus and Undyne are planning on competing as well and that means Sans and Frisk will be there too. 

And of course, you had invited Grillby in one of the spare moments he had to talk when you were last at the bar. 

"There's going to be a surfing contest during the festival," you had said, leaning slightly on the bar. 

"Where do I sign up?" Grillby had deadpanned that so seriously it had completely caught you off guard and you had snorted loudly before dissolving into uncontrollable giggles for a moment. 

He had looked incredibly pleased with himself when your eyes finally stopped watering. "Maybe you should be a comedian instead of a bartender," you choked out. "Anyway, I'm going to be surfing in the contest tomorrow. If you're not too busy getting ready for opening, you should stop by. I'm actually a pretty decent surfer when I'm not being tackled off my board by crazy fish ladies." 

He had considered it for a moment. "I'll try," was all he said. 

But it wasn't a no. And the thought of him watching you out on the waves, home in your element, is both exhilarating and terrifying. 

You get to work and immediately get swept up into the preparations. Trey isn't expecting a huge rush of people right off the bat, especially since the focus is on the Walk and the monster fesitivies but there is a lot to do to prepare for the contest. And he pulls you aside at one point, his eyes gleaming. 

"So, don't uh...don't let this be common knowledge but I got a little help for the contest," he whispers in a conspiring sort of way. 

"Uh, what kind of help?" 

He looks around, like he's expecting to spot a spy hidden among the surf boards and over priced t-shirts. "So, we get decent waves out here, yeah?" 

"Yeah?" 

"I might have contacted a guy who knows a guy who knows one of the big monsters living in the canal on the other side of the monster town. And I mean, one of the big ones." 

You put the pieces together. "Did you hired a water monster to make the waves bigger?" you gasp loudly. 

He shushes you. "Think of the crowds that'll flood in to see that!" 

It is an amazing thing to picture but- "Isn't that a little dangerous?" Bigger waves means more water up on shore, reaching up past the usual line the water reaches even at high tide. And there might be certain monsters who most certainly could not deal with getting doused by an unexpected level of water. Trey waves off your concern. 

"It's fine, I've talked a lot of people about this and they'll make sure the water levels are marked off. We've got the all clear but only experienced surfers will be able to surf the bigger waves so those rounds will be the ones at the end. And I'm counting on you to be there, got that?" 

"So I can win the grand prize?" you say with a wide grin. 

"So we can get people scrambling for lessons from you!" he corrects, throwing your hair over your face. "You'd rather be out in the waves than in the shop, right? You bring in the numbers and I'll make sure you spend more time in the water than in the blessed air conditioning." 

You blow your hair away from your face and stick your hand out. "Deal." 

You've never surfed on massive waves before but you can't imagine it'll be that different from the usual ones. After all, if it's just one monster, how big can the waves get?

Chapter Text

It's like walking straight onto a beach movie set. 

There's barely an inch of open space all the way up to the flagged markers lined up against the area taped off for the surfers. The beach is more towel than sand and everywhere you look you see people laughing, talking and running around, caught up in the excitement of the event. Vendors with portable boxes can be heard calling out their wares and the squeals of children playing in the sand is just barely drowned out by the crashing of waves. There's a fair mixture of humans and monsters, majority clad in either bathing suits or beach wear. The air is sharp with the tang of sunblock and salt and you breathe it all in deeply, feeling something inside you settling into a peaceful and happy buzz. There's a good off shore wind today and a moment of watching the swells shows steady waves. Excellent. 

You can see the contest tents off in the distance and pick up the pace just slightly, choosing to walk along the wet sand to avoid weaving in and out of the people settling in to watch. With your board tucked under your arm, it'd be pretty tough to avoid accidentally smacking anyone. You can't say you mind though. In fact, you prefer the wet sand under your bare feet. You get a few cheers (and some whistles) as you walk to your destination and you offer smiles and cheerful waves. Your time as a dancer has really helped you get over the shyness of getting attention from strangers, which has certainly come in handy over the past two and a half years. A rueful grin lifts your face. What would your past self have to say if she could see you now? 

"HEY SHORE!" 

Undyne is easy to spot, seeing as how she towers over all of the humans around her. Papyrus is by her side, though he seems to have his attention focused on the people at the sign up table. Going by what you can hear (which is a fair amount, given his usual level of speaking) he's boosting about his skills in the waves. The woman behind the table looks a little intimidated but listens attentively. You hurry over to them, setting your board against the stands set up for the competitors. 

"Hey!" You greet her. "Have you two already signed up?"

Undyne’s dressed in a new suit, a deep navy blue two piece with streaks of lightening crossing on the sides. It leaves her stomach exposed as well as the gills set just above her hips. You were quite shocked the first time you saw them a few weeks ago at lessons but it makes sense that she would have them, being a fish monster. Since she’s not in the water, they’re barely noticeable, lying flat and only occasionally twitching. She gives you a wide grin, exposing her sharp teeth.

“Course we have!” She gives you a friendly noogie, which you’ve long ago learned to just endure until it’s over. “You’d better not go easy on us just because we’re your students!”

You rub your head, returning her challenging grin. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“AND THEN I-OH! HERE IS THE INSTRUCTER I TOLD YOU ABOUT!” Papyrus’ arm suddenly wraps around you, dragging you through the sand to his side. He proudly displays you to the two contest volunteers. “THIS IS SHORE! THE BEST INSTRUCTER IN ALL OF DAIPORT CITY! AND MAYBE THE WORLD!”

You wave to the two women, who both seem to be suppressing giggles. “I assume you’re here to sign up then?” the one on the right asks, gesturing to a sheet in front of her.

“You know it.” You free yourself from Pap’s grip and grab a pen, filling out the sheet in front of you.

“Great! We’ll also need you to sign this waiver,” the woman adds, handing you a packet which you briefly glance though. “The contest will be held in a series of ten minute rounds in random groups of three. Surf as many waves as you can, and you will be judged on technique and style. The final two rounds will have the addition of monster aid to increase wave size and by signing this form you accept the increased risk and increased skill that such waves call for. The contest will begin in thirty minutes so please be in place by the judges table before then.”

You nod, signing in a few more places before handing all the papers back. The two women give you and Papyrus wide smiles before turning their attention to another surfer who walks up at that moment. The two of you head back over to Undyne.

“Good to go?”

You nod enthusiastically.

She nods. “Then grab your board and let’s go! Al’s holding our spot on the beach.”  

You do as she says and follow her and Papyrus back down to the main beach area. It’s more crowded over here and Papyrus winds up holding your board up above his head just so you don’t accidently smack anyone.

“Where’s your board?” you ask him curiously. You know that he’s rented one from the shop, same as Undyne since they don’t have ones of their own just yet.

“THERE’S A PLACE TO PUT THEM CLOSER TO THE JUDGES TABLE!” Papyrus explains. “WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO GO SET YOURS DOWN OVER THERE FOR YOU?”

“Oh, sure if you don’t mind.”

Papyrus beams, pleased you accepted his help and bounds away, easily finding places to put his feet in between people waiting for the contest. Undyne meanwhile also takes off  in almost the same direction. You see why a moment later.

“ALLLLLLF!” she hollers, launching herself into the air. You spot Alphys herself, glancing up from a book clutched in her claws.

“Ah!” she squeaks, curling into a ball. Undyne lands right on top of her but manages to catch herself on her hands and knees, coming to a stop before she crushes her girlfriend.

“Hi,” she says sweetly, planting a kiss on her snout. This only makes Alphys squeak again.

Aw, that’s too cute.

“Hello there!” Your attention is drawn by an unexpected voice and you blink in surprise at the sight of Toriel sitting in a low beach chair just slightly to Alphys’ left. She’s wearing a suit as well, an old fashioned floral piece that suits her well and a large hat with holes poked through to allow her small horns to peek up.

“Hi,” you greet her, overcoming your surprise. “I didn’t expect to see you!”

“Well of course I would come,” she says. “Three of my dear friends are participating after all.”

Three? Paps of course, Undyne…. “Is Frisk participating too?”

“No.” Their sullen voice reaches you before you see them, slightly hidden behind Toriel. They’re pouting, arms crossed. “There’s an age limit.”

You make a sympathetic face, even though part of you understands why. It wouldn’t be fair to pit kids against grown adults who have far more experience, even if you honestly think Frisk could hold their own. You’re honestly surprised that the different skill levels aren’t being divided up. But your part in planning the event hadn’t been involved in that stage of things. “I’m sorry dude. I know you would kick butt out there.”

Their frown doesn’t quite leave, but it twitches.

“she means you kid.”

You look for Sans. You don’t see him. “Uh…”

Toriel points to her other side and you peer over her legs. Oh. There he is. Buried in the sand up to his head, just like the first time you met him.

“Do you dig yourself into these holes or are you just unlucky like that?” you ask, not bothering to hide your smirk.

Sans grins back while Frisk finally cracks and starts snickering. You get the feeling he’d be shrugging if he could. “hey i’m not complaining. gives me a pretty good excuse to just sit here.”

You shake your head, catching Toriel’s eye. She chuckles, patting Sans’ skull gently. He closes his eyes, grinning like a content cat. “Sans is right, I was referring to you, Undyne and Papyrus.”

Oh. She thinks of you as a friend? You look down bashfully, an embarrassed smile on your face. 

So that makes just about everyone. Everyone except Faith, Liam and Grillby. If he shows up. Which, if he does, great! If not, it’s fine. Totally fine.

You shrug your bag off of your shoulder and pull out your towel, claiming a spot of sand for yourself. Once you’re comfortable, you text the missing three to let them know where you are. Faith immediately responds, telling you she and Liam are close.

There’s no response from Grillby.

You set your phone back inside the safety of your bag and pull out your polaroid camera. You finally got replacement sheets for it and you plan to put the camera to good use while everyone is here. And maybe get Faith to get a shot of you out on the waves.

“Oh, is that a polaroid camera?” Toriel asks curiously, eyes bright. You hand it to her to examine and she does so very delicately. It looks like a child’s toy in her large hands. “Oh my, I remember seeing these underground but they were usually too broken to use. There was one that was fixed up to work though. We used up all the extra film in a single day.” She turns the camera towards you and clicks the shutter. She laughs gleefully, claiming the picture that comes out a moment later. “Oh I forgot how fun this is! I’m taking this one if you don’t mind.”

Her excitement is contagious, so you laugh and say, “Go ahead.”

“SHORE! I FOUND YOUR DANCE PART-OH! ARE WE TAKING PICTURES?”

Papyrus, closely followed by Faith and Liam, practically leaps over to you, sockets bright as he poses. Toriel snaps a shot and then she motions for you to join him. You call Undyne and Frisk over so the surfers can all be in one and strike a super hero. Frisk dabs, nearly making you crack up while Undyne flexes and Papyrus follows her example (though his poor bones don’t bulge nearly as much as hers do). You then take the camera from Toriel and start snapping random shots of the others. Sans in the sand, Sans getting dragged up and out by his brother and the resulting shower of sand, Frisk and Toriel, Undyne and Alphys smooching and when you turn it on Liam and Faith, Faith presses her cheek against Liam’s face, making the poor boy go pink.

After a few minutes of this, Faith snatches the camera and turns it on you. “Pose you beautiful beast,” she cheers so you put your hand on your hip and give the worst ducky face you can. She cackles but takes the shot. She blinks, a slow grin crossing her face. “Okay, now twirl.”

You have no objections, so you do as she says. You spin elegantly, eyes closed. You stop once you hear the sound of the shutter and hurry over to her. “Did it turn out?”

The two of you wait for the image to process and as the colors begin to bleed in, you realize you’re not the only one in the picture. The you in the picture is slightly blurred, making your hair look like a streak of fire against the ocean backdrop. And there, making the colors a little blown out because of his light, is Grillby.

 You whip around and see the monster himself, standing there with a rather bright hue to his flames. You smile with pure delight and cross to him. “You made it!”

He nods a few times, almost in a flustered sort of way. He clears his throat, the sound like snapping logs. “Wouldn’t miss it.”

“Well come on then!” You grab his arm, pulling him closer to everyone else. He flushes blue, stumbling a little over the sand. Everyone calls out greetings, looking a little surprised that he’s actually here. You glance around and, seeing no other options, point to where you’ve got your towel set out. “Are you okay sitting here? I won’t be here for too much longer so you can take my spot.”

He nods, still silent and the two of you sit, Grillby choosing to sit on the sand itself and leaving the towel for you. It’s almost a little funny, seeing the normally well-dressed bartender in a tee-shirt and jeans just sitting on the beach. He’s even got sneakers on, black of course, speckled with bits of sand. Normally, you’d ask him if he was hot wearing all that but that would be a bit pointless considering his very nature. When you look up from his shoes, you’re surprised to see that he’s staring at you. He starts and guiltily looks away as Faith plops down into the sand next to you. The look on her face is one of delighted smugness.

“Hey Grillby. Man, I didn’t even notice you walking up back there when I was taking the picture.”

Uh huh, sure she didn’t. You stick your tongue out at her quickly so Grillby doesn’t notice. She ignores you.

“Shore’s looking pretty good in that suit, don’t you think?”

You gape at her. The slight increase in heat next to you tells you Grillby is blushing.  “Wha-! Shut up!”

“I speak only the truth!” Faith pouts. The gleam in her eyes speak volumes though. She hands the camera back to you and holds out the picture she took of you spinning. You reach for it but at the last moment she suddenly switches to Grillby. He takes it automatically, sparking in surprise. Without another word then, she stands and saunters back over to Liam, who has been watching the whole thing with great interest.

Suddenly hyper aware of your bare legs, you huff and start messing with the sand. “Sorry about her,” you mumble to Grillby. “She’s weird.”

He’s quiet for a moment before whispering so softly you nearly miss it thanks to the general noise of the beach, “She’s right though.”

You freeze for a moment before laughing nervously. “Thanks,” you whisper. After a moment, you peek at him to find him looking out over the ocean. Flickers of blue are crossing his face but they’re fading into a steady orange and yellow. You follow his gaze, watching the waves crash against the sand. You’re far enough away that even with the greater waves, Grillby shouldn’t have to worry about accidently getting soaked. But still, he must be a little nervous being so close to all that water, right? “Are you okay being so close to the ocean?”

“I don’t mind it. I actually like being able to see it.” He shifts so that his legs are crossed before tilting his head slightly. “Is that strange?”

“Considering that you’re made of fire? I guess a little.” You too move slightly, digging your toes into the sand. “I’m glad though. That you came I mean.”

He smiles gently. “Like I said; I wouldn’t miss it. I’m just sorry I’m making the heat worse.”

As soon as he says it, you realize that you are sweating a bit more than you were before. Huh, you hadn’t even noticed. A quick glance shows you that the surrounding people around your group have shifted away just slightly, trying to escape the heat of Grillby’s flames on an already sweltering day. “I didn’t even think about that,” you admit. His shoulders slump slightly so you quickly add, “It’s fine! It’s not that bad! Normally fire would be a lot hotter and honestly it’s barely noticeable! You’re trying to stay as cool as you can, right?”

He nods.  

You tap his arm, purposefully moving a little closer. “Don’t worry about it. People are gonna complain about the heat whether you’re here or not.”

“don’t you mean ‘weather’?” Sans pipes up, now lounging against Toriel’s side since he’s been freed from the sand.

Grillby snorts quietly but it takes you a moment. When it clicks, you groan. “That’s no better than any of the ‘shore’ puns you keep throwing at me.”

“i’m gonna get you one of these days, i’m shore of it.”

You toss a handful of sand his way, rolling your eyes. The retort of ‘I shore wish you would stop’ is right there on your tongue but that would probably spark a pun battle, especially with Toriel already in giggles over the exchange. Instead, you look back to Grillby, your gaze caught by the photo still in his hand. It’s really not the greatest picture, what with your hair obscuring most of your face. Hit with a sudden idea, you pick your camera up from where you set it down.

“Hey, lean down a little,” you instruct Grillby. You scoot closer and your bare arm presses against his. If you weren’t obviously sweating before, you are now. But you doubt it’s just because of the increased heat.

Grillby hesitates for just a moment before leaning over, the flames of his face brushing against your ear. It makes every nerve on your body tingle and you fight the urge to shiver at the sensation. You ignore it, lifting the camera up in front of the two of you. “Smile!”

You take the picture and gently remove the photo as soon as it’s done printing. A minute of gently waving it around and the image forms. It’s not your most flattering selfie but it’s the first one you’ve taken with Grillby. It’s hard to see his features thanks to the quality of the film but his colors are bright, and your smile is wide and genuine. Part of you (okay a huge part of you) wants to keep it for yourself but you hold it towards him. “Here, you can have this one instead.”

You try to reach for the picture in his hand, but he surprises you by pulling it away. “I’d like to keep this one actually,” he says.  

“Oh. Okay. I’ll…hold on to this one then.” Your chest feels oddly warm, the sensation somehow making your heart beat faster. You’re still pressed up against him and he’s making no motions to move away from you and you certainly can’t complain. Even with the added heat, it feels nice to lean against him like this. Your throat is suddenly dry and you gnaw on your lip.

"Literally everyone can see that you like Grillby."

“Just ask him to go somewhere with you and talk.”

Faith’s words echo in your head. Why are you thinking about this now? There’s way too many people here and you need to stay focused. You can’t be a fumbling mess during the contest and get yourself eliminated in the first round. You can be honest with yourself and admit that you asked him to come so you could show off a little. Show him that you’re not just a clumsy fool who constantly falls off the board. Or gets tackled off by fish monsters.

Yeah. Now’s not the time.

“Shore, I think they’re ready for us!” Undyne suddenly calls, getting to her feet. She looks you and Grillby over and you jump to your feet before that sly grin on her face turns into anything else.

“Right! Be right there!” You look down at Grillby as you grab your towel, offering him a crooked smile. “Watch my bag?”

He nods and you set the selfie shot down on top of the zipper. “Good luck,” he adds before you leave.

This time, your smile is a little more confident and you nod as well before hurrying after Papyrus and Undyne, dropping your camera off with Faith as you go. All of the contest participants have gathered around the judges table. You eye the competition and you can’t help but notice that Papyrus and Undyne are the only monsters taking part. This doesn’t go unnoticed by the others and you see a few of them giving your friends condescending looks. In particular, a group of three around your age, two boys and a girl wearing flashy suits with business logos on them. Professionals then, at least on some level. They look vaguely familiar but they’re no one you immediately recognize. They’re loudly discussing whether monsters should be allowed to participate in a false pretense of worrying they can’t handle the waves. You scowl at them and turn your attention away. You place a hand on both Undyne’s and Papyrus’ arms.

“You guys are gonna kick butt today, you got it?”

The two of them give you matching grins. “Of course we are!” Undyne crows, putting one arm around you and throwing the other up into the air in a fist. “We have the best teacher around!”

The three rude surfers go quiet at that and you can feel a glare burning into the back of your head. But you don’t bother turning around to match the look.

At that moment, you hear the squeak of a mic and you all turn your attention to the judges table. Trey is there and he gives you a wink. Along side him is a woman an obvious fake tan, thanks to the orange hue it gives her and the head of the store chain, a man by the name of Brandon Sees. He’s the one with the mic and he gives you all a wide smile with teeth so white they practically glow. You can hear the shell necklace around his neck clinking with every wide motion that he makes.

“Welcome to Surfing the Sea’s first surfing contest!”

You cheer and clap along with everyone else, excitement making it hard to stand still. Papyrus is practically bouncing.

“We’re very pleased that you all have joined us on this day of celebration! My name is Brandon Sees and I’m joined at the judges table by Trey Jude and Missy Evans!” He gestures to the two on either side of him before continuing. “So let’s get to it! We’ve got thirty talented surfers with us today! They will be given ten minutes to impress us in each round in groups of three. The top twenty-two scores will carry onto the next round! From there, contestants will be put into groups of two and the top twelve from that round will advance to the final six! And during the final round, we have the help of a very special guest!”

At those words, you hear the sound of something very large breaking out of the water. A fair distance out, but close enough to make your jaw drop because of the sheer size, is a monster rising from the water. They look somewhat like a squid, with a wide balloon like head but far more solid. And instead of tentacles, their appendages are shaped more like massive fins, with three on each side. As you and the crowd watch, gasping and staring, the monster dives below the waves for just a moment. Then they break free of the water entirely, revealing that they’re even bigger than you thought, a huge portion of their body shaped like a snake with more fin-like appendages dotted along their body. They crash back down, drawing a massive cheer from the crowd. The resulting wave builds insanely fast and your eyes dart back to where you can still see Grillby, watching the water rushing towards the shore. Even from this distance, you can see him tensing slightly, one hand dropping behind him in preparation to stand and run if need be.

You breathe a sigh of relief when the water slows to a crawl just shy of the flags before falling back to the ocean, leaving plenty of space between even the closest of spectators. You know Trey said they had tested it, but that worry was still there.

“Oh, I didn’t know they got Finny to help!” Undyne says, pleased. “Good to see the big guy out and about!”

Finny? How fitting.

“So without further ado, let’s see our first round of competitors!” Brandon gestures to a large display board next to him. There’s a whirl of colors and then three names appear. One of them is yours.

“EXCELLENT!” Papyrus slaps a hand on your back. “SHOW THEM THE BEST FIRST!”

Oh. Oh you didn’t think you were going to be first! But, well maybe it’s better than waiting and giving your nerves a chance to build. You walk up to the table with your two fellow competitors and shake the judge’s hands before grabbing your board. There’s a roaring cheer as the three of you approach the waves, waiting for the start of the timer.

“Three! Two!” the crowd chants along and the buzzer rings. “GO!”

You dart into the waves, keeping your board up above the water until the waves hit your knees. You then smoothly push off the sandy bottom and angle your board so that you land on it and have the extra motion. Water splashes on your face and you grin, feeling your nerves fade as a wave builds in front of you. The area they’ve picked for the contest has a really steep drop off so the waves here tend to be bigger than in other places as it is. You hold your breath and duck dive under the wave, emerging past the break. You shake your head and sweep your hair back, sitting up. You’re the first one to make it this far and you decide to take the opportunity it gives you. You run your hand along the surface of the water, feeling the swell and shifting energy below you. Wait.

Wait.

There.

You shift, letting the building motion carry you to the crest of the rising wave. For a moment, you can see the entirety of the beach and feel the stares of hundreds watching. Then your feet are planted firmly on your board and your stomach drops as you tilt over and then there’s just you and the wave and the sting of water droplets hitting your face. Your legs remain loose enough to adjust to the shifting water, but you stay on a steady course. As the wave begins to fall, you adjust your weight to drive your board back up the crest, sending a spray of water up into the air before smoothly gliding into the shallows. You suddenly become aware of the cheering from the watching crowd. You had completely tuned it out before.

A wide smile, already in place, grows bigger as you put a hand up and wave. Your gaze moves across the crowd. There they are. Your friends, human and monster, cheering louder than anyone else.

And Grillby. Clapping, his eyes fixed on you. You wave again and this time it’s just for him. He waves back, his colors flaring brightly.

You turn your attention back to the large countdown. You’ve got time for another go. So you spin around and head back out. Your second wave goes just as smoothly as your first and you’re confident as you head back to the judges table. You won’t know your score until the end of the first round so you focus your attention on watching the others, sipping at the water bottle offered by a contest aid.

Undyne, of course, nails it. She’s clearly better than the two she goes up against and breezes by them, claiming the first run of her group as well. Papyrus struggles a little but since one of his group members overbalances and plunges into the water, there’s a good chance that he’ll make it.

Both you and Undyne cheer him on loudly as he heads back out for his second go. You’ve dried off by this point but Undyne is still fairly wet so he decides to go grab her towel, which she left over by Alphys. You stay where you’re at, resisting the temptation to go back over as well. For now, you’re trying to watch the other surfers and analyze what tricks they have up their sleeves.

“Hey, you’re Shore, right?”

You start at the sudden voice, blinking at the girl talking to you. It takes every bit of control to keep your expression neutral when you realize it’s the same girl from the group that was bad mouthing Undyne and Paps earlier. She’s already taken her turn and you hate to admit it, but she’s good. Her beach blonde hair is pulled back in a sharp ponytail that’s still dripping water. “Yeah?”

“You’re a coach that works at the shop down the way, right? How long have you been surfing?”

“Uh, about a year and a half I guess.”

She nods, like that’s the answer she expected before looking around. She leans in, lowering her voice, “I heard the blue one say you’re their teacher, is that true?” She seems genuinely curious so you nod. “Oh my God, I can’t even imagine what that’s like.”

“It’s a lot of fun,” you answer before taking a swig of your water, hoping she’ll get the hint and leave you alone.

She laughs. “Oh I bet it’s a ton of ‘fun’. The fish one, I can see why she’s at home in the water but the skeleton? You must have the patience of a saint to actually work with it.”

Yeah okay, you can already see where this is headed. “I enjoy it, actually. Papyrus is a hard worker and he learns fast. He’s only been working with me for about two months. They’re both hard working and close friends of mine so I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t refer to them as ‘it’.

She’s taken aback, blinking owlishly. “You’re friends with them?” she asks incredulously. “You’re not just doing it for the money?”

“Nope,” you say, popping your lips as you start to move past her. You see Undyne approaching and honestly, you’d rather not involve her in this conversation. There’s no point in her getting riled up. “Good luck in making the next round.”

She doesn’t respond and you return Undyne’s wave, putting the unpleasant encounter out of your mind. Papyrus soon joins you and he gives you a hug that soaks you all over again. Not that you really mind. The three of you watch the remainder of the rounds and then, it’s time for the results. You take Papyrus’ hand when you hear him rattling quietly and he gives you a grateful smile.

Brandon Sees begins to read off the names of the surfers moving onto the next round and their scores, based on a perfect score of twenty. You don’t pay too much attention to the first few and then-

“Undyne Undying! Score of eighteen point three!”

There’s a roar and you find yourself wrapped in a fishy hug, nearly choking as you feel your air squeezed out of you. She releases you and pumps a fist into the air.

“Papyrus Snowdin! Seventeen point two!”

Papyrus shouts mere moments before he gets tackled to the ground by Undyne.

And then, you hear your name. “Score of eighteen point nine!”

You’re not sure exactly how they’re able to get up so fast but up they are and then you find yourself lifted up into the air. You squeak, squirming in Papyrus’ grip. “Paps! Put me down please!”

He does as you ask, beaming. “WE DID IT! WE’RE ALL MOVING ON!”

Undyne clocks you in the shoulder but not so hard as to make you yelp, which is an improvement. “We can’t get cocky just yet! We’ve still gotta get through this round and make it to the final six!”

And so starts round two. You’re lucky in that you don’t get put against either of them and can easily give it your all. The end of the second round arrives much quicker and to your dismay, Papyrus doesn’t make it, even though you and Undyne do.

Papyrus however, seems okay with it. He lets no disappointment show, instead giving both you and Undyne huge hugs before heading back to the others with shouted promises to cheer louder than anyone else for the two of you.

You and her stand there, waiting for the results of the random grouping. There’s you two, two guys who were actually pretty nice and congratulated you on making it to the finals and the girl and one of the boys from her group from earlier. Part of you hopes that you get paired with her just so you can rub victory in her face.

“Hey.” You glance to Undyne. She’s got her fist up and a grin on her face. “Let’s knock ‘em dead, coach.”

You tap your fist against hers. “Oh yeah.”

The names are up. You’re not facing off against the rude girl but you are going against the guy, a tall and lanky dude with freckles covering his entire body. You’re slated as the last group. Undyne however, is pitted against her and matches her glare with a sharp toothed smile.

“You’ve got this!” you cheer as the buzzer dings and she bolts to the water. Further out, you can see Finny breaking through the surface of the water once more. Their top four fins lift up, water cascading in great streams and then they slam their fins on the surface of the water. You can see the great wave building from the impact as Undyne duck dives under a smaller one, successfully getting into place before the rude girl does. She easily swings her board around and catch the wave with near perfect timing, only wobbling a little as she breaches the crest and drops down. The tube quickly overtakes her and your breath catches. She slides into view a moment later, her posture curled and steady. As the strength of the wave begins to die, she angles her board up and finishes by leaping up into the air and throws herself back, gracefully carving an arc through the air before diving back into the waves.

The crowd goes nuts. She’s the clear winner of the two over the girl who had nearly lost her balance on the increased ferocity of the waves. You see her smack her fist against her board in rage and fight back a smirk.

When she makes it back to shore, you’re the one that tackles her, though it’s like a toddle trying to take down adult. “You were awesome!”

She smirks, ruffling your hair. “Guess that means you’ve gotta show me up then!”

“Oh you know I will.”

You both watch the other competitors go, some of them struggling on the increased power of the waves and then it’s your turn. You approach the line with the freckled guy. He gives you a look and, just before the bell rings, whispers-

“I hope you choke, monster lover.”

Your shock gives him the head start he wants and you curse as you race after him. You gain a little ground with powerful strokes, keeping an eye on Finny’s motions. You’ve got to get past the break of the drop off before the first big wave arrives. You plead with the water to carry you faster, to make you fly on the currents pulling you out to sea. You dive under the approaching wave and shiver once you surface. The wind has picked up slightly and even with the sun beating down on you, it’s a little cold after being out of the water.

You hear the boom of Finny’s fins slapping down and spin your board to face the beach. The freckled jerk has claimed the spot you would’ve liked to start from, a place where the crest is smoother but you’ll take what you can get. You close your eyes, hands on the surface of the water. You can feel it lapping at your fingers, calming you, calling to you and whispering the call of the current. Not yet. Wait.

Wait.

You hear a dull roar and open your eyes, shifting to a standing position as the wave carries you upwards. Your heart shoots into your chest and for a moment you gasp, unused to the height. This is far bigger than anything you’ve surfed before, fueled both by the strength of the monster in the water and the aid of the wind. There’s no time to think, no time to be scared. Your legs go loose and you’re falling, your hair lifting, rising above your head. The tube is forming over you, blocking the light and surrounding you. There’s a moment where everything slows. You hear every breath you take, feel the vibrations of your board rattling every bone in your body. You taste the salt of the water and feel every drop of it against your skin and you are

At

Peace.  

Your hand lifts, trailing against the inner side of the tube. Your fingers break the surface of the water, creating a trail of light and color. You reach the edge of the tube, blinking in confusion as sunlight hits you once again.

Color?

“-k out! Move!”

You hear him moments before he slams into you. Pain explodes in your head and you feel yourself pitching forward, not even able to take a breath before you plunge into the water. You can’t see, the world is spinning and you’ve utterly lost control of your body. You’re at the mercy of the wave and it’s pounding into you with it’s full strength. You can’t move, you can’t breathe!

Still, you struggle and for a single, blessed moment, you break free, sucking in a desperate gasp for air before a secondary wave hits your directly in the face, sending you back down. You slam against something else, something far more solid and some part of your mind registers that the wave must have pushed you directly into the drop off of the ocean floor. Any breath you might have been able to claim is pushed out of you and you gasp desperately. Sea water fills your lungs, choking you, burning you from the inside out. You kick weakly. Where’s the surface? You have to swim up, get up, get out!

But you can’t see anything. Everything is dark. There’s no light.

Until there is. But it’s the wrong color. Dully, unable to truly understand what you’re seeing, you stare at the bubble-like trail of purple fuzzy lights in front of you, emitting just enough light to show you that it’s originating from your fingertips. What…? What is it? You try to reach for it, your fingers simply passing through it. That’s what you saw before in the tube, isn’t it?

Is it?

Your thoughts are sluggish. You can’t think. Are you…drowning?

No….

No.

No!

You feel heavy, so heavy but you struggle, kicking and clawing desperately as the weight seems to center in around your stomach. It’s got a firm grip on you and you feel yourself being pulled deeper and deeper and then-

You break the surface of the water.

“Shore! Stop fighting me! I’ve got you!”

You know that voice. But you can’t respond because the entire ocean is still in your lungs and you can’t breathe. You black out then, your head going limp.

When you next open your eyes, you’re flat on your back, and the sun is in your eyes and you can hear voices, muddled and loud and they make your head pound. You want to ask them to quiet down but there’s a brick in your chest and it stops you from taking in the air you so desperately need.

“You’ve got to breathe, c’mon!”

You taste fish.

Gross.

Something hard thumps on your chest and suddenly the brick is dislodged. You gag and jerk, bile and seawater rising in your throat. You twist to the side and puke, coughing out what must be several gallons worth of water onto the wet sand. You can feel water lapping at your feet, tickling the skin of your legs. 

“There you go, get it out.”

Your eyes are watering and holy crap, it burns! Your throat and nose feel like they’re on fire! You cough, shivering violently.

“WHY’S SHE SHAKING? IS SHE COLD?”

“Guys we need to give her space.”

“Grillby you need to get back!”

Grillby. Grillby? You look up, blinking harshly as your vision finally clears and the first person you see is him. He’s here, right in front of you, his flames dark with worry and golden eyes tight with fear. He’s reaching for you, offering warmth and comfort and-

You’re soaking wet. You’re covered in water, water that will act like fire to him should he touch you. It’ll burn him, hurt him.

“Don’t!”

Your voice comes out far harsher than you meant it to, marred by the salt coating your throat. Grillby flinches like you’ve physically lashed out at him and snatches his hand away and the pure hurt you can see in the way his colors shift and the way his shoulders hunch as he pulls away from you makes something inside your chest rip itself apart. You want to explain, you didn’t mean to scream at him but he was going to get hurt and he shouldn’t be this close to the water at all, not for you but you dissolve into coughing before you can get a single word out.

“Water,” you croak and someone passes a bottle to you. You desperately fight to take the cap off with shaking fingers and when you finally manage it, you nearly cry at the relief the purified water offers. Everything hurts.  

“Shore, hey can you move?” Undyne is kneeling at your side, water dripping from her ear fins. Did she dive in after you? “They’ve got a chair for you away from the water.”

You nod slowly and she helps you to your feet. At the sight of you standing, the watching crowd applauds. It just makes your head pound with even more pain. You feel a little dizzy as Undyne helps you over to a chair that you collapse into with a groan.

Toriel kneels in front of you and you see lifeguards lingering behind her, first aid kids in hand. “Shore? Can you tell me where the pain is the worst?”

The worst? It takes you a moment while you wait for the world to stop spinning and point to the back of your head. “What happened?” you whisper as her paw rises to very gingerly hover over the spot you pointed out.

“The surfer in the water with you lost control as he came over the top of the wave,” she says, keeping her voice steady and low. “It happened so fast but it looks like his board landed right on top of you and knocked you into the water.”

You blink slowly. Whatever she’s doing to you is sending small waves of relief through you. “Are you healing me?”

She nods. “Stay still. This will just take a moment.”  

“Where’s Grillby?” You need to tell him that you didn’t mean to yell, you need to make sure he’s okay. “Did he get wet?”

“Grillby is fine. He’s with Sans.”

Good. That’s good. As the pain in your head begins to lessen, you try to look for him, finally spotting him a good distance off thanks to his fire. His arms are crossed, flames dark and low as he watches you. And there, at his feet, probably retrieved by Sans, is your board.

It’s been snapped in two.

Chapter Text

Sans brings the broken pieces of your board closer to you, grimly setting them down in the sand by your feet. Your board. You can’t stop staring at the broken pieces as Toriel finishes healing you. Breaking your board while surfing is a risk that you accepted might happen when you first started. Or at least, you thought you had accepted it. But…better a broken board than a broken neck right?  A board is easily replaced. Your bones not so much.

But seeing it lying there in the sand somehow is more horrifying to you than the fact that you almost drowned.

“Shore?” Toriel prompts. You start, realizing she’s called your name several times.

“Sorry, I’m okay,” you assure her. You do feel much better. The terrible pounding in your head has faded to a dull throb and even your throat doesn’t feel as raw. Grillby told you ages ago when he made you that drink for your face that most monsters were only capable of doing basic healing for humans and yet Toriel has somehow managed to get almost completely rid of your physical pain. Is it because she’s the monster queen? She’s surely got to have a lot more power than a typical monster.

Frisk, hovering behind Toriel, offers you their towel and you gratefully wrap yourself up. You’re still pretty wet and now that your attention has moved on from your board, you can see there’s quite a crowd gathered around. Everyone is lingering at a distance that is just shy of polite and staring. It must be a sight indeed; a human pulled from the waves by a giant blue fish lady and healed by a goat. You’d probably be staring too. But now you squirm under the attention. You’re fine now. There’s more to see.

Except, apparently, there is.

“ah crap,” you hear Sans mutter and then he’s moving unusually quickly away from you. You follow his gaze and see that the tall freckled man, the one who ran into you is only a few yards away with his two friends behind him.

And Grillby is bearing down on him, flames blindingly red with anger

You’d been so focused on your board you hadn’t even seen him walk over to the guy. As you leap to your feet, you hear Freckle’s voice rise with panic. “I told you it was an accident!”

You can’t hear what Grillby says in response to that at this distance, (if he says anything at all) but you do see angry sparks crack around his hand as it clenches into a fist. His arm starts to lift and Freckle’s face goes pale.

You ignore Toriel’s hand on your arm, shaking her off as you try your best to run after Sans. The skeleton is at Grillby’s side so fast that you would almost think he teleported again, quickly grabbing his wrist and pulling it back down.

“easy there buddy,” he says calmly as Grillby’s eyes snap to him. “let’s not get too hotheaded, okay?”

Undyne, also drawn back over by the noise, reaches him just before you do and she steps between the two of them, shoving Grillby back. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she hisses at him. Grillby blinks but otherwise doesn’t react. “You can’t start a fight with a human! Look at how many people are watching!”

His flames snap in a way that almost sounds like a snarl. For a long moment, it doesn’t look like he’s going to back down. His fist is engulfed in flame and the angry snapping of fire roars in the tense air. Then, his gaze moves to you and he jumps slightly, like he hadn’t realized you were standing there. He looks away before you have time to change your expression into something other than wide eyed shock at his uncharacteristic display of rage. The excess fire around his fist dies away and he pulls his hand sharply away from Sans’ grip. He takes a step back, arms folding tightly as he continues to glare at Freckles as the guy lets out a sigh of relief.

Undyne immediately whirls on the guy, making him jump so violently he nearly falls over.  Her teeth are fully bared, and fury positively radiates off of her. “That being said! There is nothing I would like more than to suplex you until every bone in your body snaps!”

Freckles is now so pale his freckles are vividly bright against his skin.

She takes a deep breath, clearly calming herself down. “But I’m going to give you a chance to explain yourself. Those lifeguard guys over there said you are very, very lucky that you didn’t snap her neck and kill her.”

Your breath catches, and Sans puts a hand on your back in a comforting manner even as his sockets go dark.

Undyne’s stare is unblinking and terrifying. “Shore here is one of my best friends so I don’t want a bullshit answer when I tell you to explain what happened out there, do you understand me?” He continues to simple gape at her so she taps her wrist. “Tick tock. I heard the cops are on their way and there’s a whole crowd of people here who saw you drop directly on Shore’s head in what looked like a very deliberate-”

“I was trying to cut her off, okay!” he finally yelps. Undyne’s ears twitch as he plows on. “I swear I didn’t mean to land on her! I just wanted to throw her off, force her to drop into the water so she’d have no shot at placing! I just lost control I swear!”

Something bitter starts to curl in your chest, a hot anger that he would go to such lengths for a stupid contest. Ah, but that’s not the true reason, is it? “Why?” you ask, keeping your face carefully blank. “Is it because I’m a filthy ‘monster lover’?

Sans’ hand on your back twitches and there’s a quiet whoosh as Grillby’s flames curl sharply upwards. Freckles glares at you for a second and behind him his two friends exchange a glance. You take a breath.

“I’m not going to press charges,” you say softly. Everyone around you starts in surprise. “I could, we both know I could, but I’m not going to. I’m okay and I think you’ve learned a lesson. Maybe remember that you nearly killed someone the next time you decide to let your racist issues control your actions.”

Freckles looks like he doesn’t even know what to say. Undyne is gritting her teeth but keeps quiet and you’re thankful that she’s stepping back and respecting your wishes. Grillby is still glaring but he doesn’t say a word.

“hey, are you sure about this?” Sans mutters to you.

You nod and then grin ruefully. “I’m not just sure, I’m Shore.”

He blinks and a strangled wheeze escapes him, like he’s fighting back the urge to break into cackles. You peek at Grillby, hopeful that maybe your joke will have eased his tension even a little bit but he’s still scowling at Freckles. You sigh and turn your attention back. “But I still need an apology.”

Freckles looks like he’s swallowed something sour. Guilt is clear on his face and he looks down as he mumbles, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to go that far.”  

You nod and start to lift your hand to accept his apology when-

You hear a sharp intake of breath from Grillby and his hand suddenly grabs your arm. You jump a little in surprise. When you look at him, there’s something in his eyes, some kind of silent plea that makes your heart clench. He gently presses his fingers against your skin and you lower your hand back to your side. He releases you, looking away.

“Uh, apology accepted,” you mumble to Freckles, a little thrown off by what just happened. He nods back, just as awkwardly and starts to turn away when Undyne jumps in.

“Hold on!” she snaps, clamping her hand on Freckle’s shoulder. He flinches. “Shore might let you off easy but I sure as hell won’t. We’ve still got a broken board here.” She thinks for a moment, eye narrowing as she grins. “Give her yours.”

“No,” you say quickly as he yelps ‘What?’ Undyne looks at you as you shake your head. “I don’t want his board.” Your board wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was yours. You don’t know if it can be fixed but you’ve got to at least try. And if it can’t, you don’t want the board of the guy responsible like some kind of trophy. It would just remind you of this whole thing every time you go out into the water.

Undyne squints at you before her nails dig in slightly to the guy’s shoulder. At this point you can see actual sweat rolling down his face. “Then he needs to pay for a new one. Don’t you agree?”

“Y-yeah, sure,” he stutters. Undyne releases him and he stumbles away. “I’ll…go get my wallet.” He scampers off, his two friends shooting your group fearful looks before following him.

You slump a little, suddenly feeling very tired. You hate confrontations like that. To be honest, that’s part of why you’re not going to bother with pressing charges. The guy is shaken, that much is clear and you’re okay. All a trial or whatever pressing charges entails would do is bring you unwanted attention that could make it back to your hometown. With monsters involved, you have no doubt it would spread that far.

That’s the last thing you want.

Grillby is still standing at your side but his fingers are digging into his arms. There’s a quiet hissing coming from his head and you can see small wisps of smoke lifting from his normally smoke free form.

“Grillby?”

He slowly looks at you. He looks upset, eyes tight. “Are you okay?” he whispers, his gaze searching you up and down, like he’s expecting you to suddenly fall over.

“Yeah, Toriel healed me up. I’m completely fine,” you assure him.

He nods, taking a step away as his gaze drops again. “That’s good. I’m…yes. That’s good.”

You lift your hand, following him. “Are you-”

“I’m sorry, I need to get back to the bar,” he murmurs, still not meeting your gaze. “I’m sorry.”

And with that, he turns around and leaves, almost colliding with a monster in his path. You see him bow his head slightly in apology to them and then he’s gone.

********

He’s shaking. With rage? Panic? He’s not sure which. All he knows is that when he saw you vanish into the waves something in his chest had frozen in a terror he had not felt for a long time. Even seeing you clinging to the side of your apartment building had nothing on this. And then he had seen Undyne sprint into the water and he wanted to follow. He wanted to pull you out of the water himself but….

He couldn’t. He couldn’t do anything but wait and beg the stars or whoever might be listening that you would be okay and wait for Undyne to save you. The overwhelming relief of seeing you and Undyne break the surface of the water was short lived however. She dragged you out of the ocean and you were limp, your head rolling forward and your body had thumped against the wet sand with a terrible finality when she set you down.

Seeing you there, unmoving, not breathing, red hair splayed out around your head like blood, called to mind memories that he had long ago buried deep within his mind. Memories of blood and death and screaming and his knees went weak and please, Angel please, don’t let her be dead-

Then your eyes shot open and water was spewing from your mouth, but you were awake, you were alive and he reached for you, unable to stop himself because he needed to be sure you were still warm and full of life-

“Don’t!”

He knows that you were only trying to save him from the pain of water against his flames. That panic in your eyes was not aimed at him, it was for him, but he recoiled all the same because in that moment, you were pushing him away. And it hurt far more than he imagined it would. 

So he backed off, a disgusting feeling of helplessness curling his flames into low colors and watched as Toriel started healing you. And then, he saw the one responsible attempting to slink away from the mess of people milling around and his growing anger at himself burst into rage that made his fire spit and he was moving towards that man, that human with no plan in mind, no idea of what to say or do.

All he knew was that you had almost died because of this man. And he needed to be punished for it.

But then Sans was there, pulling him back and Undyne was snarling in his face but he could barely even comprehend what they were saying because his flames were screaming at him to feed them this human’s flesh because he had almost lost you, even though you were not his to lose and it has been so long since he felt a human’s skin melting under his touch and as much as it sickens him, his flames remember the sensation.

And then you were at his side and your eyes were wide and…. scared. And that rage instantly snapped into shame and self-loathing. You weren’t supposed to see him like that. No one is. He pulled back, his bitter anger simmering under a false pretense of control.

But his control snapped when he saw you lifting your hand to accept the freckled man’s apology. He didn’t mean to grab you. He didn’t think at all. He just…he didn’t want that human touching you. Not in the same way that he did. Those brief moments of contact with your hand in his were his. Those moments were not meant to be shared with a man who hurt you. He was just as shocked as you at his jealous action, but he was quietly relieved when you listened to his silent plea to keep your hand at your side.

But his loss of control in that moment was bringing everything back to the surface and he needed to escape before you saw just how shaken he was. So he ran from you when you reached to him. He’s a coward. He knows it. But right now, your concern only makes him feel worse about his own uselessness.

It only increases his own self-loathing.

He snaps out of his twisting thoughts at the sound of hushed and worried whispers and he turns his attention towards the voices. It’s the three from before, quickly gathering up their personal items from the sand.

“Dude, we just need to get out of here. They don’t even have your name, you don’t need to give that monster loving freak any money,” the girl hisses as the freckled boy digs through his bag for a shirt.

“But the fish lady-!”

“She’s not actually going to hurt you and if she does, you can sue the crap out of monster kind!”

He’s not having that. He changes his path and marches straight for them. They see him coming at the last moment, eyes growing wide and then Grillby’s has a fistful of the kid’s shirt in his hand and he yanks the terrified human closer to his face. They made a mistake, putting their things in a spot further away from the crowds. The privacy now serves against them and that suits Grillby just fine. He increases his heat just enough to make the human sweat. He’s calmed down enough to maintain control over his fire but he doesn’t have to let him know that.

He hadn’t spoken a word to the him before but now, nearly growling, he hisses, “Are you running?”

“N-no!” he whimpers. “I’m getting the money for the board now!”

“Good.” He releases the human and he stumbles in the sand. “Don’t skimp. I’m not as forgiving as Shore.”

He nods and, after grabbing his bag, scrambles off, his friends following. Grillby watches them for a moment before another wave of disgust at himself sweeps over him and makes his shoulders hunch.

What a pitiful creature he is, letting himself lose control like that. He jumps a little when he feels his phone vibrate in his pocket. He pulls it out and his Soul sinks at seeing your name on the screen. He hesitates and then sticks it back in his pocket without answering it.

He can’t bear to face you right now.

********

Your heart sinks into the pit of your stomach as you watch Grillby leave. You want to chase after Grillby but at the same time…

He’s upset and he clearly wants to be alone to deal with it. You’re his friend and you truly and deeply care about him, possible crush or not. As much as it pains you to stay where you are, you have to tell yourself it’s the right call.

Is it though? You need your phone, where’s your bag-

“Shore!” Faith and Liam run up to you as the crowd finally begins to disperse. They had been some of the people making sure you had space, keeping the more curious of spectators from getting too close. Faith gently takes your face in her hands, looking you over. Her dark eyes are wide and a little red from tearing up. “Don’t you ever do that again!”

“I didn’t exactly plan to get smacked in the head. Again,” you mutter as she wraps you in a hug.

“You’re okay though, right?” Liam looks just as worried and Faith pulls him into the hug.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” You close your eyes, letting yourself sink into the solidity of their embrace. “I’m sorry.”

“It is not your fault,” Faith says firmly as she pulls back. “Just….holy crap, why does this stuff always happen to you?”

You shrug helplessly and to your great relief, you see that Faith has your bag clutched in one hand. You take it from her and awkwardly dig for your phone while trying to keep the towel around your shoulders. Once you find it, you hit Grillby’s number and press it up against your ear.

You’ve never called him like this. In all the time that you’ve known him, you’ve just texted and even then only sparsely. Your heart pounds in your chest as you listen to the ringtone go on…and on…

Click.

“This is Grillby. Leave a message.”

You swallow your disappointment and clear your throat. “Grillby, um, I’m really sorry about what happened and I…I’d like to stop by the bar later. I know I probably freaked you out but I promise I’m okay. I’ll see you later?”

As you put your phone back in your bag, you see Freckles approaching you once again. For some reason, he looks even more freaked out than he did before, if that’s possible. He’s got a several bills in his hand, which he holds in your direction. The moment the cash is in your hand, he bolts.

Undyne watches him leave, slightly bemused. “What’s his deal?”

“you did vaguely threaten to break all of his bones,” Sans reminds her.

“I wasn’t gonna actually do it! Can you imagine the mess with the monster affairs people?” Undyne rolls her eye and looks to the roll of cash in your hand. “How much did he give you?

“Uh let me see…” You count the bills and your jaw drops. “Holy crap.”

“How much is it?” Faith asks curiously, peering over your shoulder.

“There’s six hundred dollars here!” That’s not just enough for a new board, it’s enough for a really nice board. Geez, who even carries this much cash on them?

Liam’s eyes bug but Faith nods. “I think almost killing you is worth at least that much.”

You tuck it into your bag, a little stunned. “Hey, can we maybe stop talking about me almost dying? It’s starting to weird me out a little.” You look to Undyne. “Who won anyway?”

“They haven’t said,” she grumbles. “Honestly, I think you should win. Before you almost…uh, before you beefed it, you were totally nailing that run. It was amazing and I hate admitting someone else is better than me.”

“I think me beefing it disqualifies me.” You try to laugh it off. It’s just a dumb contest at the end of the day. “Honestly, I don’t even care to stick around and find out. I just want to change and go check out the festival.”

And talk to Grillby. But you don’t need to let the others know that.

“you might want to talk to those guys first.” Sans points and you see that Toriel seems to be holding off the lifeguards with the aid of Papyrus. You sigh and head over there. They want you to go to the hospital because there’s a risk of water in your lungs, since you puked up so much water. But Toriel insists that she took care of that and finally, they agree to let you go under the promise that you’ll head straight to the emergency room if you start to feel ill or sick at all.

You go ahead and tell the others to go on ahead but Liam and Faith stubbornly remain with you as you head to the showers and change out of your suit. Looking over your body as you change, you are still a little stunned to see not a single bruise or mark to show that you were smacked with what basically carried the same force as a small car. It’s truly amazing to once again see first hand what magic is capable of doing.

Once you’ve cleaned up, you stop by your car and drop off your wet things and the broken parts of your board. Despite having the money to buy a new one, you can’t bring yourself to just dump it in the trash. There are too many memories attached to it. It wouldn’t be right. Maybe you’ll try to fix it anyway and turn it into a decoration or something.

You’ll worry about it later.

Faith is gnawing on her lip as you close up your car and the three of you head off towards the Walk. It’s a sure sign that she has something she wants to say but is restraining herself. You finally sigh and say, “Out with it. What’s up?”

It’s like unleashing a hunting dog. Her words burst out of her mouth, loud and incredulous. “Oh my God, did you see how angry Grillby was? He was about to beat that guy up! Like, I thought we were going to have an actual fight on our hands!”

Liam nods in agreement. “Not that the jerk didn’t deserve a good punch in the face, but I was a little worried. I’m glad Undyne and Sans were able to get him to back off.”

You are too. You rub your thumb over your palm worriedly. “I think it’s my fault he was so upset. I yelled at him when they first pulled me out,” you whisper. “He was there and there was so much water and I didn’t want him to get hurt. But I think I hurt him anyway.”

Faith and Liam share a look. They both shift so you’re standing in the middle of them, pressing their shoulders against yours. “Honey, you didn’t make him angry because of that,” she says gently. “He was just scared. We all were. Believe me, I was tempted to go over and give Mr. Freckles a good smack myself.”

“But he…he took off before I could really say anything to him,” you insist, your heart twisting. “He could barely look at me!”

“I think he just didn’t want you to see him like that,” Liam points out. “I know if it was me, I’d probably run away too. I don’t know if I’d be able to stop from actually getting into a fight though.”

“Aw, are you saying you’d beat up a douchebag for me?” Faith asks sweetly. Liam flushes and clears his throat.

You smile a little, their words helping to untangle the tense knot in your chest. “You don’t think he’s mad at me for doing more reckless stuff?”

“Hey, for once, this is entirely not your fault. Not like the falling off a building incident.” Faith gives you a nudge. “Do you want to go to his bar first and talk to him?”

It’s tempting. “No,” you sigh. “It’s just about opening time. I don’t want to add more pressure. I can wait until later. Besides, Tyler’s probably wondering where the heck we are.”

You were understandably held up but it’s past the meeting time you agreed on with Tyler. You’re actually kind of surprised he hasn’t tried to contact you. Probably got distracted with everyone going on. The three of you hurry up and are shocked to find an extensive line formed at the main entrance. It’s a security checkpoint, run mostly by guys in army outfits and a few monsters. You get your bag checked and pass under some kind of detector and then you’re on your way.

The Walk has been utterly transformed. Every shop has been decorated in colors of purple, silver and white. Balloons, streamers, little cut out snowflakes and echo flowers line the streets. You can hear music playing from somewhere and display stands set up by various monsters show off different kinds of wares and magical goods or games. Faith leaps ahead, dragging you and Liam with her. You stop at every stand, shoving your way past the packed crowds of both humans and monsters. Several of the monsters you see are familiar faces, since it seems that a good portion of them spend time at Grillby’s and they greet you warmly. A few of them look a little overwhelmed by all the people around but the general feeling you get is one of blissful happiness and a general sense of wonder.

Of course, the obvious presence of law enforcement does dampen the mood just slightly. They’re everywhere, strategically placed alone the walkways and on a few rooftops. You know it’s for the safety of monsters and the innocent public here to participate in the celebrations, but it is a little unsettling. You haven’t seen Sans or Alphys since you parted at the beach but you can only hope that the only news they would have to share is good news regarding their security measures.

“Shore! Look at this!”

Faith is bending over a table being run by a couple of Snowdrake monsters and a strange, oozing type of monster that…almost looks like a Snowdrake but is a little too goopy. It’s a little unsettling to look at them but as you turn your attention to them, they smile and slowly hold out their hand. You gently take what they’re offering, thank them and take a look. It’s a tiny bottle, just a few inches tall but the inside holds what looks like snow.

“That’s real snow from the Underground!” The smallest one says proudly. “It’s been enchanted with a spell so that it won’t ever melt!”

Faith is holding a similar bottle, eyes bright. “This is so cool! It’s actually cold to the touch. Here, feel.” She presses it against Liam’s neck, making him yelp. “I’ll take it.”

As Faith pays, you set your bottle back down with the others. As cool as it is, you’re not really in the mood for buying stuff. You continue towards the main square, hoping that Tyler is still waiting in that general area. You can hear the deep thump of bass and the closer you get, the clearing the bright sounds of party music grows. As you enter the main square area, you see that the whole clearing has indeed been turned into a huge dance floor. There’s a massive DJ stand and stage set up and it is almost jarring to see how modern it is compared to the other monster set ups. There’s lights, a fog machine and a massive banner declaring ‘METTATON’ written in obviously bright, glittery writing.

Liam gasps, grabbing at Faith’s arm. “There’s Mettaton! Look!”

There he is indeed. The robot is unmistakable, standing up on the stage and posing in time with the music. You and Faith catch each other’s eyes and you nearly lose it at Liam’s fanboy squeak, snickering into your arm.

“Don’t laugh!” he screeches, smacking the both of you.

You roll your eyes. “Come on fanboy, do you want to get closer?”

“Wait, can we go get something to drink first? I’m dying for one of Grillby’s Blizzard Teas,” Faith begs. At your slightly panicked look, she adds, “We don’t have to go into the bar. Fuku usually handles the outside orders now, right? And that’ll give us a chance to stay in one place so Tyler can find us.”

She’s got a point. And you’re pretty thirsty yourself after walking around. You’re not even sure where that flash of panic came from but you’re not ready to face Grillby just yet. So you follow them as they pick their way through the crowd. It’s then that you notice that the statue, covered up and under construction for so long has finally been finished.

It’s a child. A human child, one that looks remarkably like Frisk. But their face is hidden by their hair and you get the feeling that it’s meant to represent humanity in general. The human child is facing a hooded figure with horns and clawed hands. Their hands are clasped together in a show of welcoming familiarity. The delta rune you’ve seen many times before is suspended above them, the metal glistening in the light of the sun. It’s very well done, you can see that even from a good distance away.

Grillby’s is crowded but you do manage to snag one of the tables outside. You’re only waiting for a few minutes before Fuku slips out of the door leading back inside and rushes to your table. You’re taken aback when she wraps you in a hug.

“Oh thank the angel, you’re okay!” She’s so warm, her grip tight. You pat her back, mind whirling at the sweet, smoky smell filling your nose.

“I guess Grillby told you what happened?” you ask weakly.

She releases you, her dark eyes staring intently at you. “He…he was a little shaken up when he came in,” she tells you in a low voice. “I might have forced it out of him.”

Her words send your heart spiraling all over again. “Is he okay?”

Fuku hesitates before slowly saying, “He’s acting normal now but I think you really scared him. I haven’t seen him like that since my parents died.”

Crap. Crap, crap you were wrong, you should’ve gone after him!

Faith rubs your back, perhaps sensing the panic building in you. “Hey, remember he’s not mad at you.”

“Oh!” Fuku’s flames spark and she quickly waves her hand. “No! No he’s not mad at you at all! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make it sound like that.”

“It’s okay,” you whisper.

Fuku stands there awkwardly for a moment before she hesitantly asks, “Do you want me to go get him?”

You shake your head. “I don’t want to bother him during the dinner rush. I’ll come back later. Can we just get some drinks?”

“Of course.” She takes your orders and heads back inside. You gently grab the glass orb with the flame inside that’s sitting on the surface of the table and stare at the flickering fire. Thinking on Fuku’s words and the way you saw him act, you come to a shaky conclusion that it must not be just your accident that’s shaken him. Was it a reminder of when he lost Fuku’s parents? Or maybe the accident that led to his aversion to touching humans? You didn’t see him actually touch Freckles but still. Getting that close must have reminded him of that time. He’s never told you about it, so you don’t even know if it was some kind of fight that first started it.

Maybe you can convince him to tell you when you speak to him later.

Faith is drumming her fingers on the surface on the table. She suddenly leans over to Liam, whispering in his ear. His eyes widen, and a small grin lifts his mouth. He nods and she gets up. “Be right back,” she announces before vanishing into the general direction of the stage.

“Where’s she going?” you ask Liam.

He leans back in his seat. “I dunno,” he hums innocently.

You pout at him as Fuku returns with your drinks. You smile at her and take a sip. It’s cool and refreshing after walking around and makes your tongue tingle with the slightly smoky taste of fire magic.  

Faith returns at that moment, eyes sparkling mischievously. She takes a deep swig from her drink and exhales heavily as she sets it back down on the table. “Hey Fuku, we’ll be right back for those drinks. Shore! Come with me!”

“Huh?” Faith grabs at your arm and pulls you out of your chair and drags you closer to the crowd dancing to the pop music pouring from the speakers. Liam follows, more casually moving his head to the beat as he does.

Faith comes to a stop, looking around and positions you just slightly to the left. “Good, this is perfect.”

“Perfect?”

“Shush.”

The current song dies away and as an utterly familiar beat starts to play, you understand what she’s done.

It’s Sing by Penatonix, the first song that you learned as a team. You dance to it all the time because it is admittedly one of your favorites and it’s such a bright upbeat song that it’s also one you dance to when you just want to feel good.

You shoot Faith a look that betrays your building delight. She knows you can’t resist dancing to this song. It’s been a while, since you’ve been so focused on learning new pieces. She returns your grin and gestures. Well then. This is happening, huh?

You slip into the beginning movements with your hip, pulling your hair back slowly with your hair as Faith and Liam move into place behind you. On the first beat drop, you quickly swipe your hands up and down in a clapping motion and bring your arms sharply in and out, stomping your feet.

The motion draws the attention of some nearby festival goers, who pause in their own swaying dance motions to watch you. An easy smile lifts your face as you snap your fingers on one hand while moving your shoulders back and forth with the beat.

It doesn't matter if he let you go, it doesn't matter if she hurt you so-

More eyes are drawn to you and the watching crowd backs away to give you more space as you slowly kick out and twist, your hair flying into your face for just a moment. As you quickly shake your head to free your vision, you see someone heading your way, shoving his way past the crowd and you laugh loudly at Tyler’s frantic run to join you.

Get up and dance, just feel that beat and sing it-!

You take a small step to the side as you snap with both hands and give him a welcoming nod as he jumps into place, breathing heavily. You turn your attention to the complicated hand motions following the lyrics, slowly stepping forward as you do so. 

Sing, sing, sing, sing, Sing it out as hard as you can-!

Clap up left, right, down left, down right. You smoothly hop onto one foot, using the motion of your free leg swinging back and forth to form a line. The move receives several whoops and other noises of approval. You catch Tyler’s eye as your group spins the line and he winks. You continue the number and the watching crowd begins to clap, fueling the light feeling in your heart that keeps your feet nimble and your motions light.

Faith gives you a little bump with her hip as she and the two boys slide in front of you and duck down.

Shake it for your mama ay-!

You tap your chest and wink.

Shake it for your papa ay-!

Liam taps his belly in an exaggerated manner, pulling a few laughs from the crowd. Just about everyone in the area is watching you and now you’ve drawn the attention of someone else.

“Looks like we’ve got some stars in the audience!”

A robotic voice booms out over the music and you’re almost thrown off step as a spot light trains on you. The music itself changes just slightly, repeating the same measure of voice-less audio as the voice continues. You slow and stop, a little confused.  

“Part the way darlings! Get them on the stage!”

The spot light starts to move and the crowd parts before it, cheering and whooping. You glance at the others and, spurred on by the energy of the crowd, chase after it. It cuts through the shifting crowd and it lands on the small raised platform in front of the statue, also directly in front of the main stage. Your heart dances in your chest.  As you leap forwards, you can see Mettaton himself, decked out in sparkling purples and pinks, one hand placed on his hip as he watches you. When he sees you looking at him, he blows you a kiss and winks.

You swear you hear Liam squeak. If Faith wasn’t also laughing, you might smack the poor bi.

Sing, sing, sing, sing it out as loud as you can-!

As you jump onto the platform, the music resumes as normal and you clap your hands together, urging the crowd to do the same as Liam, Faith and Tyler spread out behind you.   

This is how we do it now, go and roll them windows down!

Dancing up on this stage for the first time, with a crowd of this size watching and cheering, makes you feel as if you’ve sprouted wings. Your entire self one with the music and you don’t even have to think, letting the beat and your muscle memory move your body.

And then, as the music suddenly slows and Tyler takes your hand, and he leads you into a gentle spin and dip as Faith and Liam do the same, you angle your head just slightly and you spot a bright spot of orange flame watching you from the back of the crowd. He’s too far away for you to see his expression. But you can feel his gaze nonetheless.

And suddenly you’re thrown back to that day when Grillby kicked a rude human out of his bar and you, still fresh and distant in your new friendship danced for him and his patrons because you couldn’t bear to see him unhappy. Because you thought you had made him that way when you crashed into him. Because even back then, when you had no idea how your friendship would grow, you wanted to see him smile.

And as Tyler pulls you back up, your resolve hardens. You’re not going to let a misunderstanding stand between you again. You’re going to go over there right now, apologize for yelling and ask him those questions that you’ve kept silent for so long and-

“What a wonderful performance!”

Something above you roars and your head jerks up, mouth falling open in shock. Mettaton is hovering above you, rocket boots of some kind keeping him up in the air. He gestures for you to move so you do, and he lowers himself down. The boots shut off a few inches above the ground and he lands gracefully but with a heavy thud. Liam is holding onto Faith’s arm, gaping at the robot as he straightens and beams out over the crowd.

“Let’s hear it one more time for our unexpected guest dancers!” he calls out, his voice ringing metallic and clear. The crowd roars, washing you all in thunderous applause. The robot turns to you, peering at you with the eye not covered by thick black hair. He leans into your personal space and you swear you can smell some kind of fruity perfume coming from his dazzling show coat.

“I know you,” he says slowly. He snaps his finger after a moment. “Ah! You’re Alphy’s fire haired friend, aren’t you?”

“Uh, yeah,” you stumble over your words, nodding. “I’m Shore. You know Al-”

“Wonderful!” he declares, cutting you off. He suddenly snatches your hand and plants a kiss on it. You gape, flustered and he chuckles. “She did not mention you were such a fine dancer,” he purrs. He suddenly twists his fingers and releases you, revealing a silver card in the same moment. “Give me a call if you and your wonderful friends need a job. I’m in the market for back up dancers.”

He straightens and then, giving the rest of your group overdone bow, he bends his knees slightly and then he’s in the air again, sailing back towards the stage as the music roars back to life. You actually spot the DJ for a moment, a small ghost with thick headphones over their rounded head.

Liam snatches the card from your hand. “Holy crap!” He squeaks. “We’re totally going to call him, right?”

“Calm down, you’ve going to ruin our cool image,” Faith scolds, swiping the card from him too. “Come on, I’ve got a drink waiting for me and I am thirsty!”

 They hop off the stage and you and Tyler follow, making your way through the crowd. Several people cheer and clap, patting your shoulders as you go and you move a little closer to Tyler so you can talk to him over the noise.

“Where have you been?” you ask as loudly as you can while still trying to keep your voice low. “I know we were late but we couldn’t contact you at all!”

“Sorry,” he says back, sheepishly rubbing his head. Up close like this, you can see that he looks really tired, the bags under his eyes dark. “Last minute work thing. But I’m here now. We going back to Grillby’s?”

You nod, your resolution still strong. “Yeah, let’s go. Oh, you missed it by the way. I almost drowned.”

You what?

Tyler is not pleased. Not at all. Explaining what happened takes place over dinner as you reclaim your table at Grillby’s and order food. Grillby himself had vanished back inside by the time you made it over there and you tried not to get discouraged again. Fortunately, once your food is carried out by Fuku, you get a text.

 

Knight G:

-Would you like to watch the fireworks from the garden? I want to speak with you

 

The end of the festival is officially once it gets dark and the fireworks show begins, though you have a sneaking suspicion that the celebration will continue well into the early hours of the morning. Grillby has a notice up on his window that the bar is closing early so his staff can join their families in watching. Faith and the others had talked about going down to the beach to watch the fireworks being shot off from a specialized boat made for such occasions but watching from the roof with Grillby is an offer you can’t pass up. 

 

You:

-Of course. I’ll head up about 15 mins before?

 

Knight G:

-That’s fine. Thank you

 

He’s still so formal when he texts. You smile gently as you put your phone away. “Hey, I’m going to watch the show with Grillby,” you tell the others.

Faith and Liam look relieved but Tyler’s eyes tighten slightly. He doesn’t say anything until darkness begins to fall and you all part. He waits until the other two have left to pull you close into a hug.

You’re caught a little off guard by the unusual tightness of his grip. “Oof. Hey, hey I’m okay,” you assure him, patting his back. He’d been visibly upset by the news of what happened at the contest and he shudders a little as you return his hug.

“Shore, you need to be careful,” he whispers. “Please.”

“I will be, I promise.”

“No, you-” He pulls away but keeps his hands on your shoulder. He bites his lip, shaking his head a little. “I….can’t-”

“Ty?” You put your hand on his in concern. “Are you okay?”

He takes a deep breath, slowly releasing your shoulders and gently easing his hand away from your grip. “Be safe and…be on guard. Okay?” His eyes are wide, staring at you.

You’re confused and a little unsettled. But you nod and he seems to relax a little. He looks like he wants to say something else, but again he just shakes his head and gives you a weak smile. “See you later Shore.”

He hurries after Liam and Faith and you turn back to Grillby’s, a feeling of unease crawling up your spine. The door to the bar is unlocked, despite the closed sign being up and you enter, the bell ringing softly above your head.

Grillby is right inside, a broom in hand and chairs set up on the tables. He looks up from sweeping as you enter and the gentle flare of color in his flames shows you that he’s happy to see you. You swallow sudden nerves rising in your stomach and smile at him, closing the door behind you. “Hi.”

“Hi,” he returns softly. He sets his broom against a table and walks towards you, his shoes tapping gently against the wood floor. He stops a few feet away from you, the nervous flickering to his fire mimicking the fluttering of your heart. Is he waiting for you to speak first? Your throat is suddenly very dry. You take a deep breath and blurt out, “Grillby, I’m sorry-”

“I shouldn’t have-”

You both stop short, your nervous outbursts sputtering into surprised silence. Grillby tilts his head, frowning. “Why are you apologizing?”

You blink at him. “I yelled at you,” you say bluntly. “I pushed you away when you were trying to help.”

“You were just worried about me, right?” he points out. “I understand. I’m the one who needs to apologize.”

A soft noise of disbelief escapes you. “You were about to beat up the guy who caused this whole mess for my sake”

“I almost attacked someone.”

“Who honestly kinda deserved it. But you didn’t. So it’s not a big deal.”

“Not a big-” Grillby stops and puts his hand against his face. He slowly drags it down, a low sigh escaping him. He readjusts his glasses, his golden eyes softening slightly. “Let’s move upstairs before we continue and wind up missing the fireworks.”

He gestures for you to go ahead of him so you do, very acutely aware of his heat behind you as you ascend up the stairs. Your heart is racing in your chest but with it comes a strange sense of relief. He’s not mad at you. Rational thought as well as Liam and Faith’s assurances said so but silencing that voice in your head whispering otherwise had been nearly impossible.

But that means he’s upset with himself. And you need to find out exactly why.

The door to the roof is cracked so you push it open and breathe in the fresh scent of the garden. There’s no additional lights up here but the light from the main square in addition to Grillby’s fire gives you plenty of light to see by. You ignore the chairs and instead settle for sitting on the patch of grass. After a moment, Grillby joins you, folding his legs and placing his hands in his lap. You can’t help but notice he’s sitting fair distance away so you stubbornly scoot closer, angling yourself so that you’re facing him. You look him in the eye and gently reach for his hands. He doesn’t pull away, thank goodness and the knot in your stomach eases as the warmth of his hands fills yours. Orange and red flames gently dance over your skin, soft as flower petals. For a minute or two, you both sit in silence. You’re probably both waiting for the other to speak and you know Grillby’s silence can carry on for much longer than yours. You lick your lips and look up at him.

“Okay, I know you said you know, but I’m going to say it anyway. I’m sorry. I was confused and scared and I didn’t want you to be hurt by all the water,” you say firmly. “I promised you that I wouldn’t pull away and I did. I’m sorry.”

Grillby is staring at your enclosed hands. He takes a long, shuddering breath. “I know,” he whispers. “I know that, but…” He trails off.

“It still hurt?” you gently press, and he very slowly nods. Something pricks at your eyes at the admission. You blink sharply before it can show. “I’m sorry.”

“You shouldn’t be.” His voice is strained, and his flames are dim. “It’s not your fault. It’s because of the way I am. I know that. I just felt so…helpless. I couldn’t do a single thing to help you. I couldn’t jump in after you, I couldn’t do anything but hope you weren’t….” He shakes his head, flames sparking.

“What happened was an accident. I know that you would’ve helped me if you could’ve.” You squeeze his hands gently. “And don’t forget, you already saved me from falling. You’re not helpless.”

He finally returns pressure on your fingers, rather than letting them lie loosely in your hands. “I don’t understand.”

“Understand what?”

“You.” He’s having a hard time looking at you, choosing to instead look at your hands. “I don’t understand how you forgive so easily. How you just…move on. Just a few hours ago, you nearly drowned. You could have died. Yet you just…forgave him. You moved on and then you were dancing. It’s like the whole thing never happened. And that’s what you always do. You just…flow with things, you don’t get rattled. You accept so much with so little complaint and I don’t understand how. And now you’re here and you were worried that you hurt me when I was the one who nearly lost control and then ran like a coward rather than face you.”

You don’t know what to say. You’re stunned into silence as Grillby closes his eyes.

“You don’t know me,” he whispers and it’s like a knife in your heart. “There are so many…terrible things you don’t know. What you saw today was something I never wanted you to see.”

“You were angry. Scared,” you say weakly.

He just shakes his head. “I wanted to hurt him. For a moment, I didn’t care who saw. I nearly lost control. Again.”

He’s trying to pull his hands away. You can feel it and you could release him. You could let him go.

But you’re terrified that you won’t get him back.

You tighten your hold and his breath catches as he opens his eyes to stare at you. “But you didn’t,” you say firmly. “You stopped. You stayed in control.”

He doesn’t say anything, but you can hear him breathing, each breath sharp and tense. You keep your hold on him, refusing to let go. “I don’t know what happened to you before. I don’t know if you got in a fight or someone hurt you or what happened. You’re right. I don’t know those things. But I do know that you are kind. I know that you care so deeply about everyone who comes into your bar. I know that you would’ve thrown yourself into the ocean after me if it wouldn’t kill you. I know that you’re my friend and-” Your voice catches. “I know that I care a whole lot about you Grillby.”

His mouth has opened just slightly and his eyes have grown wide. You blush under his startled stare but somehow keep eye contact with him. “Do you want to know why I just flow past the bad things? I had to learn how to do it, a long time ago. There are things you don’t know about me either. There are things I would hate for you to find out about me. But I want you to trust me like I trust you so…here I go.

“The one who locked me in the shed was my father.”

Grillby’s fingers twitch.

“I had a…strict upbringing, to say the least,” you mutter. “And if rules were broken, I was punished. But I was a kid. I thought I was clever enough to break a few rules and get away with it. I stole a book that I wasn’t supposed to read. Some fantasy book about dragons and spells and magic. He found it and burned it and locked me in the shed.” Your voice is getting softer and softer as your throat gets tighter. You clear it and blink several times before continuing. “I had to learn to live with the bad and act like it didn’t happen because otherwise I couldn’t move at all.”

He’s utterly still for a moment as a multitude of colors race over his face. “I’m so sorry,” he finally whispers, horror making his voice hoarse.

You smile at him. “You shouldn’t be. It’s not your fault.” You return his earlier words to him and he makes a small noise that might be a chuckle or might be a strained sigh. “And hey, I got better at finding ways to read what I wanted without him finding out so…ha.”

A small smile flickers into view at that.

You take a deep breath. “Will you tell me what happened?” you ask, trying to keep hope out of your voice. “What happened to make you scared of touching humans? Why are you so scared of losing control?”

Grillby closes his eyes and you can feel his fingers trembling. For a long time, he doesn’t say a word. You don’t push him. You don’t say anything at all. You just sit there, trying to ignore the numb sensation growing in your crossed legs.

“I was there.”

The words are nearly silent, a sigh of quiet admission. “You were where?”

“The war. I was there. I fought in it.”

The war? What war? Your eyes widen. “You mean…the war before the barrier? That great war between humans and monster kind?” He nods and your jaw drops. “But…that means…you’re….”

“Over a thousand years old.” His eyes finally open. They’re dull. “I was a solider. I fought and killed humans. A lot of them.”

It’s like you’ve been hit in the chest with a hammer. You’re at a loss for words and Grillby continues, speaking quietly and in a matter of fact tone.

“I’m not a normal monster. I’m an elemental. Summoned, not born. I was called into this world to fight and protect monsters from the humans who wanted them gone. And I did it. I did it without hesitation. I did what I was told until….” His breath hitches a little. “Until I couldn’t. There was…there was a human, a mage who was responsible for thousands of monsters dying. Children. Innocents. My friends and comrades. I tracked her down. I killed her. I still remember that moment like it just happened.” His gaze has gone distant, trapped in a memory that must be far more horrifying than what he’s describing to you. “And then, there was a child. Her child. They had watched me kill their mother. They cried and…I knew that it was my duty to end her line. But I looked at that child and saw the same fear I had seen in the eyes of every monster slaughtered in that war. And I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t….”

He bows his head, his voice fading for a moment. “When we were freed, I vowed to keep my distance from humans. I wouldn’t let them get close. Even after a thousand years, I couldn’t forget what had happened. What I had done to them. I was summoned to fight. I was made to burn those who threatened monster kind. But I don’t want to hurt anyone else. Not when we have a true chance at peace. That anger you saw…that was something that drove me in the past. It kept me alive. But I hate it. I don’t want to feel that. I don’t want those I care about to see it. But then, today, seeing you lying there like so many of those soldiers…It was like being back there, losing the ones I cared about and not being able to do a thing about it except destroying the one responsible.”

He finally looks at you, his expression full of an ancient pain. “I didn’t want you to know. To see that disgusting part of me. I thought I could hide it. Keep you far enough away that you couldn’t see it. But you just got closer and closer and I couldn’t stop you, I didn’t want to stop you and I should have-”

“Grillby.” You say his name softly and he stops, catching his breath. There's a lot to process here. But right now, you push all that aside. You very slowly lean forward and wrap your arms around him, pulling him closer to you as you hug him. He freezes under your embrace, his flames the only part of him moving as they briefly shoot skyward in shock. You bury your face against his shoulder, closing your eyes. He smells like smoke, sweet and ashy.

“Thank you,” you breathe.

“F…for what?” he asks, his voice weak and quivering.

“For telling me. For letting me get closer to you. I can’t imagine what you’ve been through. But despite what you’ve seen, what you were forced to do, you chose to be kind, after all this time.” You open your eyes, but keep your face pressed against him. You can feel every breath he takes under your check and hear a strange sort of humming from within his chest. “I want to know more about you. Even the parts that you hate.”

“….I’ve killed humans,” he reminds you.

“So have other humans in the name of war. You were fighting to protect your people. I can’t blame you for doing what you had to do.”

“I’ve…I’ve done unforgivable things…”

“Me too.”

“I’ve lost so much.” As he speaks, his arms slowly rise. You feel his hands very gingerly touch your back and you stay still until he finally returns your embrace, letting his palms rest against you. He exhales heavily, his breath warm on your neck. “I was scared that I lost you too.”

“You didn’t. I’m still here.”

He nods. His flames tickle against your ear. The longer the two of you sit there, the more heat begins to rise on your face. You’ve wanted to hug him for so long and now you finally are and your heart is beating so fast you’re positive that he can hear it. It’s even more wonderful than you imagined it would be.

The sound of the first firework exploding is what finally pulls the two of you apart. You both look up at the sky, the golden light falling over you for a moment before the glistening light fades away. And then another explodes, purple this time. And another.

You look at Grillby. His head is angled up, staring as shapes of fire and color are formed in the sky. “I hate fireworks,” he mutters. “They remind me of thunder.”

“I loved that sound as a kid,” you admit. “It made my bones rumble. I thought it was cool.”

He laughs quietly at that.

As the two of you watch the sky, you set your hand down on the grass of his garden, brushing your fingers against his. “Hey, Grillby?”

“Hmm?”

“Is it…” Geez, your face must be as red as the fireworks at this point. You stutter over your words, staring firmly up at the sky. “Um… It doesn’t have to be all at once. But… I want to know even more about you. I want to be even closer to you than I am now. Is that okay?”  

Out of the corner of your eye, you see a blue glow steadily growing. Then, his hand very gently moves to cover yours and you twist your wrist so your fingers are intertwined.

“Only if I get to learn more about you,” he whispers.

You gnaw on your lip, smiling so widely your cheeks hurt. “Deal.”

Chapter Text

There are several thoughts whirling around in your head as you and Grillby continue to watch the fireworks. First and foremost is the news of his age and his part in the war. His age is something you had wondered about but some part of your mind had just assumed he was close to Sans’ age, given their close friendship and Sans told you he was in his mid-twenties! You never could have imagined his actual age! Over a thousand years old.

And then there’s the fact that he fought in the war. You understand why he hasn’t told you before now. It’s a shocking thing but it explains a lot. If all of his memories of humans have been of death and pain, it makes sense that he would be hesitant to grow close to them again. Still, even with that on his mind, he let you get close to him. He let you take his hand.

Speaking of that-

His hand is still holding yours, flames gently brushing against your skin. Your face heats up once again. You might be making assumptions here but…he must feel something similar to you, right? You haven’t exactly said that you like like him (if that’s even the case!) but you told him you wanted to be closer and he said that’s what he wanted too. Right? You’re not just jumping to conclusions, are you? Or maybe you are, maybe he just meant growing closer as friends! But he was blushing! He’s got to feel something similar to what you feel, right?

Wait…are you dating now?

No, no way! Nothing like that was even said, what are you thinking?

Ugh! It feels like steam is pouring out of your ears!

You must make a noise or something because Grillby tears his gaze away from the sky to look at you. “What’s wrong?” He’s trying to hide it but small flickers of green color his flames, betraying his worry.

“I’m just…trying to process what you told me,” you say honestly. You latch on to the first thought you can to distract yourself from the more embarrassing of questions and grin teasingly. “I mean…I had no idea you were such an old guy.”

His flames twist. “I’ll have you know I’m fairly young for an elemental,” he huffs. 

“Oh yeah? Is it like reverse dog years or something?” He tilts his head questioningly, so you explain. “A single human year equals seven dog years. Huh, I guess that makes humans the dogs in this situation.”

He thinks about it for a moment. “I suppose so? I wouldn’t know the exact estimates for it, but elementals do live for a very long time. If given the chance. I think.”

Something sad colors his words. You squeeze his hand gently. “What makes elementals different from other monsters?”

Grillby runs his free hand through the flames on the top of his head, like one would with hair. “That’s….”

“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”

He flashes you a small smile. “It’s okay. I just haven’t talked about it in a very long time.” He takes a deep breath as another round of fireworks explode in the sky. His flames don’t reflect the light as much as your skin does but it does give him a quick hue of color. “What do you know about Souls?”

You shrug. “I know it’s a concept that some humans believe in. That it’s what gives each person life.”

He nods slowly, and you notice his gaze drops down from your face for just a moment, focusing on your sternum. He blinks and refocuses on your face. There’s a few flickers of blue in his flames. “I’m not the best one to explain it I’m afraid. But every monster and human has a Soul. It’s the manifestation of who you are. Monsters use their Souls in many different ways because it is the core of what makes up their bodies. Human Souls are…a little different in certain ways but it’s still there and represents who you are as a person.”

Your mouth has fallen open slightly. “I have one?”

He nods.

“Can…can I see it? Is there a way?”

“…There are ways,” he answers slowly. “The most common and acceptable way would be to enter into an encounter but….” He shifts, like he’s uncomfortable at the idea.

Ah. You’re a little disappointed but if he doesn’t want to do that you won’t push. “Okay, so monsters and humans have Souls. Got it.”

He nods and his thumb taps gently against your hand for a moment while he gathers his thoughts. “Monster kind believes that the first monsters were born when the first star fell to the Earth. The dust that fell from that star is what created the very first monster Soul. And it used the energy from the star to create a body around itself for protection, a body of light and magic. From there, more monsters were born when two monsters shared their Souls together. That’s how it’s been for as long as anyone can remember. But elementals were different. Instead of being born from two parents, the…the…elementals were….” He trails off before sighing heavily. “Stars, this is harder than I thought it would be.”

You start to open you mouth, insist that he doesn’t have to push himself but he closes his eyes and his flames slowly start to calm. So you keep quiet.

“Elementals are what happened when human mages tried to create monsters of their own,” he finally murmurs.

Human mages. It’s not the first time you’ve heard of them. After all, they were the ones responsible for putting the barrier up that trapped monsters. It’s a pretty important detail regarding the imprisonment of monster kind. But there’s not much else known about who they were or why humans don’t have that kind of magic anymore. There’s a million more questions you could ask about that but…it’s better to focus on what Grillby is steeling himself to say. “What happened? How did they do it?”

He shrugs, the motion small. “There’s a lot I don’t know. Just what I was told when I first woke up and things that…. that my friend told me later down the road. And what he knew was a lot of guesswork. The magicians who knew how to summon elementals kept their secrets close and all of them fell before the war ended.” He leans back slightly, staring up at the now empty sky. Did the firework show end?

You hadn’t even noticed.

“There were stories of natural elementals,” he says softly, almost thoughtfully. “Beings who were formed before the first star fell and the earth held no life aside from them. They supposedly greeted the first monsters and taught them how to use the different elements that the earth provided. If they truly did exist, they long ago hid themselves away. I don’t know if the humans had similar stories or if it was their own greed that-” He stops short, fire flickering sheepishly. “Sorry.”

You laugh, waving your free hand. “Humans are greedy, this is a known fact. Go on?”

He clears his throat, the sound like popping embers and continues. “The why and the how wasn’t known. The fact is, humans figured out how to bind magic to the elements and give their magic a solid form. But these things they created had no will of their own and were as limited as the mage casting the spell. They weren’t alive, not in the way that mattered because magic alone can’t create a Soul. For a long time, they were protectors from thieves and other such things. But when the war started, humans began using them as weapons.”

Your small grin at his sheepish sorry fades.

Grillby is still staring at the sky but you have a feeling he’s seeing something else besides the stars. “They weren’t that strong but there were a lot of them. In the beginning, it was a slaughter. Monsters might have a natural ability to defend themselves that humans did not but they weren’t fighters. Finally, the king at the time decided that something had to be done. An elemental was captured and studied by the greatest minds serving under him.

“And he ordered them to make new elementals. Stronger, better ones with a mind of their own. But they ran into the same problem. Without Souls, the beings they created were wild and out of control. They didn’t think, couldn’t follow orders and proved to be more dangerous than useful. So they started searching for ways to create a Soul without creating a new monster. In their search for answers, they discovered…a place I suppose? A place that wasn’t supposed to be found. There were…things in there. Not monsters or humans. They were…like spirits I guess. But they had Souls, even if they were different from any human or monster Soul they had seen before. And somehow, these monsters were able to call these spirits into our world and used powerful spells to bind them to the elements. Water. Earth. Fire. Lightning, once I heard. But it wasn’t enough. Those first few bound spirits were consumed by the very element meant to sustain them. Their Souls were too weak to handle a physical form.

“Those monsters were desperate. So they….” His voice catches. He looks away, his flames dimming. “They asked a dying boss monster if they could use their Soul. Only a boss monster’s Soul could hold on long enough after death to be used. A weaker monster’s Soul would shatter before the spell could be finished. But the dying Soul alone wouldn’t be enough. It would have to be merged with the Soul of the spirit from the other place just to survive. Normally a monster can't absorb another monster's Soul but the Soul of the being in the other place was just different enough they thought it would work. But they didn’t know what that would mean for the monster, if they would maintain a sense of self or be erased. But…the dying monster agreed anyway, and the first true elemental was born.”

He releases your hand, bringing his together slowly. “That was me.”

You gasp softly and he hunches his shoulders. “You were the first?”

His nod is very slow, his flames quiet. He flexes his fingers, staring intently at them. “Well, maybe born isn’t the right word. I was…somewhere else and…then I wasn’t. I opened my eyes and I was…me.”  

“Just like you are now?”

He hesitates. “Well, not exactly.”

You wait for him to explain further. When he doesn’t, you gently nudge him. “Hey, what does not exactly mean? Don’t leave me hanging!”

He rubs the back of his neck, blue rising in his face. “I was…small.”

“Like a baby?”

“No…I was just…” He puts his hand out in front of him, about two feet above the ground. “Small.”

You try not to laugh. You really, really do but the small noise that escapes you makes his blush grow brighter and that of course makes it harder to stop from giggling. “What-what, are you saying that you looked like this-” You gesture to him “But two feet tall?”

His silence is enough of an answer. He pulls his knees up to bury his face in them while you howl with laughter, rolling onto your back. Two-foot tall Grillby! Now that’s something you would give anything to see! You try to picture it, tiny bartending suit and all and snort so hard it hurts. “You must’ve been so cute!”

He just grumbles into his knees, still blushing heavily. “You must’ve been that small at one point,” he mutters.

You wipe at your watering eyes as you sit up. “Well yeah, but that’s normal for most people I think. How long were you that small?”

“…a few months? I just grew until I felt comfortable and stopped.” He swats weakly at you when you laugh again. It seems like your laughter has broken the cloud of gloom that had settled around him. He's a little brighter now, grinning weakly at your antics. “There was a lot of trial and error with me, I was the first of my kind.”

“Yeah, I bet there was.” You take a few deeps breaths, leaning your head back to look at the stars. They’re a little hard to see with all the lights around here but you can spot a few twinkling here and there. “But I think you turn out o-okay.” The last word is broken by a great yawn forcing itself out of you. Geez, where did that come from?

Grillby smiles gently as he gets to his feet. “Come on,” he says as he brushes himself off. “You should probably head home.”

“Aw, what?” you whine, pouting up at him. “But we were just getting to the good stuff!”

He does the fire equivalent of quirking his brow, and you honestly have no idea how he manages it. “Didn’t you say it didn’t have to be all at once?”

“Well yeah but you’re practically in the middle of a-a…story.” You yawn again and he laughs quietly. He offers his hand to help you up and a small thrill races through your heart as you take it. “I’m not that tired, I promise.”

He pulls you to your feet. “You almost drowned today, it’s okay if you’re tired.”

“Oh yeah, that is a thing that happened,” you mutter. Was that seriously just today? Weird. “Okay, does this mean that next time it’s my turn to reveal something about me? Sorry to disappoint but I don’t think I can top the ‘hey I’m actually over a thousand years old’ news.”

“I’m sure you’ll come up with something.” He suddenly lifts his hand, pausing for just a moment before slowly brushing his fingers against your hair. You go utterly still, your eyes widening slightly. “Uh, there was…grass,” he stutters as he pulls his hand away and shows you a small blade of grass clutched in his fingers.

“Oh. Right, thanks.”

It had been shoved aside in your curiosity over the circumstances of his ‘birth’ but now the question comes roaring back. What are the two of you now? Closer friends? More?

“I’ll walk you to your car,” he says softly as he steps away. He waits for you to snap out of your frozen state and you nod as you follow him back down the stairs. Normally you’d protest a little, especially since your car is parked further away than it normally would be and it would just be putting him out of his way.

But you don’t want to say goodbye to him just yet.

He opens the bar door for you and pulls a set of keys out of his pocket, locking up. As he does, you suddenly feel something bump into your knee and glance down. There’s a small monster there, a Vulkin if you’re remembering right. Going by the slightly dazed look on their face and the soft giggle they give you, they’ve had a few drinks to celebrate the anniversary. A few puffs of smoke shaped like fireworks poof out of the top of their head as they smile up at you.

“Ahhh sorry!” they slur cheerfully. Despite their eyes being closed, they turn to look at Grillby. “Ah ah, going out?”

He nods, tucking his keys back into his pocket. “Are you headed home?” he asks politely.

They nod with their whole body and the lava inside their head pops quietly. “Drank too much -hic-tries their best not to burn! But…”

“Travel safe then,” Grillby says with a soft smile. The Vulkin nods and totters off down one of the walkways, a little unsteady but heading in the vague direction of the monster residence area. The two of you turn and head the other way. There’s still plenty of people out celebrating, though the crowds have died down quite a bit compared to earlier. Still, you can’t help but notice Grillby moves a little closer to you, perhaps to avoid bumping into anyone else.

You really hope it’s not an accident that he instead keeps brushing his arm against you instead.

You glance up at him as you begin to leave the more crowded area and are a little surprised to see him rubbing his throat. “Are you okay?”

He starts, putting his hand down. Lost in thought? “Yes, I’m fine,” he assures you. “It’s just been a while since I talked so much. Not used to it I guess.”

His story was the longest you’ve ever heard him speak in one go. You hum quietly, thinking. “Okay then, I’ll just have to talk for both of us til we reach the car. Got a question I can blabber on about?”

He sparks in amusement. He thinks for a moment. “Okay. Tell me why I shouldn’t be terrified of you going back into the ocean, like I know you’re going to?”

You blink. And then you grin. “Oh, let me list the reasons!”

He sighs quietly but you don’t miss his small smile as you dive in to explaining why he should actually be terrified for your safety just for the chance to see him lose his cool.

*******

The majority of those lingering for the celebration have naturally migrated to the main square. The music has started up again, at a level just below bone rattling and it can be heard far beyond where the streets are free of people and monsters alike. The remains of the day time celebrations can still be seen however. Torn strips of paper, wrappings spanning the colors of the rainbow lie in the streets, occasionally scooting along the stone as a breeze carries further away from the ongoing party. Lamps containing magical glowing stones taken from the underground glow dimly under the more modern lighting that occasionally pops up in straight metal poles.

The only other noise aside from the distant thumping of music is the soft humming of a Vulkin making their way down the litter strewn cobblestone path. They always feel warm, being filled with lava and all but tonight it almost seems to burst of their small frame, fueled by the joyful knowledge that they and all of monster kind are still free. There are struggles of course, but just look at them! Freely celebrating! Side by side with humans no less!

“Happy…warm and happy….” They hum as their lava bursts upwards briefly. Ah, but they did have one drink too many and they had promised their mate they wouldn’t over do it like last year. More than a few monsters nursed burns that night and they did feel bad about that, even though it was supposed to be a show of love and caring. They turn down one of the side streets between the shops. It’s a little darker down here but their own faint light is enough to illuminate the way. They stumble a little over the uneven stone and hiccup again. The world tilts slightly so they stop, small puffs of smoke rising out of their head as they pause to let the dizzy feeling pass.

They hear something behind them. Footsteps maybe? Maybe it’s someone else headed home, looking for a friend to help light the way! They start to turn. “Friend-!”

They stop short when a voice rings out, speaking strange words that they don’t understand. Oh…what is happening? Why does it…hurt? They whimper, their short legs giving out as their Soul clenches tightly inside them. The words…they…burn? Freeze?

It hurts.

It hurts!

It…hurts….

The Vulkin is dead before they finish toppling over, their face slamming against the ground. Their Soul very briefly flickers into view as their body begins to disintegrate into dust and then, with a soft crack, it shatters and vanishes.

The one standing before the pile of dust simply stands there for just a moment, chest heaving as they stare down at the remains of the monster. They curse under their breath and with shaking hands pull out a small device from within the backpack hanging from one shoulder. They click it on and angle the attached hose to the dust, quickly and quietly vacuuming the remains up. They glance behind them as they empty the canister into a separate bottle and screw the lid on tightly before slipping it back into the bag. They tug the hat on their head lower before standing and turning around.

Then they’re gone, quickly leaving behind the now empty walkway and the distant sounds of celebration.

Unnoticed, a small device attached to the corner wall of a shop begins to blink.

*******

“So not only are there possibly sharks and reckless surfers, there are also schools of gelatin like creatures that can poison you with a single touch?”

“Well, I mean, they’re out there but most of the jellyfish you see washed up on shore around here are the harmless ones.”

“What a relief.” His dry tone makes you chuckle.

Ah, you’ve arrived at the car. You can see your broken board through the window and your smile fades slightly. The sting of the loss isn’t quite as bad, given the replacement money sitting safely in your wallet but still. You wish it had survived.

Grillby is looking at it too. His expression and the darkening of his flames tells you he’s remembering the whole thing as well. You reach out and take his hand, causing him to switch his gaze over to you.

“I know you’re worried,” you say softly. “But the ocean is special to me. It’s saved me more times then it’s…you know.”

“Tried to kill you?” he says weakly.

“In the ocean’s defense, it hasn’t been the ocean exactly that’s hurt me. It’s been outside forces and stupid people. And no matter what you do, there will never be a shortage of stupid people.”

“I suppose you’re right about that.” He sighs deeply. “I just hate that…if something like this happens again, I can’t do a thing about it.”

“Sometimes you can’t do anything,” you say just as softly. “It took me a long time to get that.”

Grillby squeezes your hand and slowly shakes his head. “Sometimes…accepting that isn’t the right answer.”

Silence falls and it’s a heavy silence, thick with a building emotion between the two of you. You can’t look away from him. If there’s a perfect moment to lean forward, confess your full feelings, pull him close and find out for yourself if he has lips that can be kissed, this is it!

“I…I….” Your voice is stuck in your throat. He’s staring at you, unblinking and you find yourself balking before the intensity of his golden eyes. You can’t do it. You just can’t form the words even though they’re right there!

So instead, you hug him again, burying your face in his chest before he can see just how red your face has grown and before you can blurt out a mess of words that you’ll regret. He told you that he wants to get closer to you too. He hasn’t pushed you away.

That has to be good enough for now.

Oh. He’s hugging you back, tighter than he was before. Some of the tension in your shoulders leaves you and you close your eyes and let yourself enjoy this. He really is nice to hug, his clothes blocking just enough of his heat to make holding him pleasantly warm. And he smells amazing.

He takes a deep breath, his chest rising slightly. You can hear him struggling to speak, starting and stopping several times before simply saying your name in a gentle whisper.

And that one word makes your heart beat even faster than it already is. There is something here between the two of you and both of you know it. Now, it’s a matter of taking that next step. But you don’t know how to do that. You don’t know if you’re ready.

“Grillby, I…I don’t know what to do next,” you whisper into his vest.

He lets out a breathless laugh, one that you feel in his chest against your cheek more than you hear. “I don’t either.”

You pull away, slowly and shyly looking up at him. He’s gone blue again and your stuck once again by how much you love seeing this shade to his flames, the soft blue slowly overtaking his yellow and orange hues.

You give him a lopsided smile and he returns it, his eyes crinkling adorably. You slowly release him. His heat lingers in your chest and it doesn’t help the blush fade from your face. “You uh…you got invited to Undyne’s surprise party, right?”

He nods wordlessly.

You take a step towards your car. “I- I’ll try to stop by tomorrow but I guess for sure I’ll see you then.”

“Yeah.” He sounds a little breathless. “Drive safely.”

“Thanks for walking me so far.” You nod several times and finally hop into your car. You're shaking a little as you fight to free your keys from your bag and shove them into the ignition. The car roars to life and you wave to him through the window. He waves back just once, the gesture subtle but there. You back out and turn to head back home. It’s when you glance up into the rearview that you see he’s got his phone out and is tapping away at it.

Who could he be texting at this time of night? 

Maybe Fuku, making sure that she’s okay wherever she’s at. You turn your attention back to the road, not that there’s a ton of traffic out to where you’re going. Once you reach your apartment, you head up the stairs in a rather distracted manner, actually walking past your door without realizing it. It opens easily, as it has since Grillby replaced your lock and your smile grows even wider.

You’re greeted by the croaky mews of Stitch whining at you for being so late with his dinner. You sigh and set your broken board down by the wall. “I’m coming you big baby, hold on.”

You feed Stitch his dinner and let your thoughts wander as you run your fingers through his fur. Now that you’re home, the energy you had gotten from Grillby’s story and walking with him has utterly faded. You are exhausted. But there is something else that comes to mind now that you’re not distracted.

Those strange bubbles you saw in the water. What was that? A trick of the light? It’s possible, given the nature of water. But something in your gut is telling you that’s not it. It happened at too perfect of a moment, a breath of time when something in your body felt completely and utterly at peace. You chew your lip for a moment before crossing to the cupboard and pulling out a glass. You stick it under the faucet and fill it with water before setting it on your small table. You sit and squint at it. It’s just a glass of water, nothing special about it. You hold your breath as you dip your fingers into it. It’s a lukewarm and utterly unremarkable.

Nothing happens. Even when you wiggle your fingers around, the water stays clear and normal. You release your breath. Well, what were you expecting? A blast of purple light? The heavens opening and bathing you in a beam of light while tiny angels sang in Latin? 

You’re too tired for this. You pour the glass out and give Stitch a pat before heading into your room. You change into your pajamas and fall on the bed. What a freaking day. Rubbing at your eyes, you pull your phone up and plug it in. But before you set it on the bedside table you bring up Grillby’s number and send him a quick text.

 

You:

-Good night! Thank you for everything today

 

He responds quickly and you read his text with sleep heavy eyes and a small grin before slipping the phone onto the table and sinking into comfortable darkness. 

 

Knight G:

-Sleep well. See you soon.

 

Chapter Text

One habit that Grillby has fought to rid himself of, with minimal success, is pacing. Working the bar of course gives him the chance to move fairly often and even when he has to stand behind the bar, he keeps his hands busy and it helps to keep his feet still. But he’s never been able to fully kick it.

He’s pacing now, a thousand thoughts flying through his head as his feet tap against the wood of his bar. His reflexes are all that save him from smacking into the tables as he wears out a wandering path between them. He can’t keep still, propelled forward by the pace of his racing Soul. He can’t believe he actually told you. And what’s more, he can’t believe that you so easily accepted it. You’d been shocked, that much was clear on your face. Not that it’s hard to read your expressions. Your human facial features betray your thoughts perhaps more than you even realize. The way you twist a strand of hair around your finger when you get lost in thought, or the way your eyes and nose scrunch when you are faced with something unpleasant. Or the subtle twitches in the corner of your mouth when you’re fighting back a smile or the way that blood rushes to your face and colors your skin various shades of red when you’re embarrassed.

The image of your flushed face flashes through his mind once again and he stops for just a moment as his Soul stutters. Stars, when did that expression become something that he actually longed to see? You had blushed several times tonight, such as when he brushed the few strands of grass out of your hair without thinking. It was only when your eyes had widened, and color rose in your face that he even realized what he was doing. It’s become so easy to just…reach out and create that physical contact.

It scares him a little that it’s become so easy. It was hard at first and he flinched more than once those first few times you touched him, waiting for the sharp cry of pain triggered by burning skin. But he can no longer deny that it’s something that he longs for. He wants to be close to you. He hates letting your hand go after you reach out for him. The simple touches that offered him a small but thrilling flash of happiness aren’t enough anymore. Now your brushing fingers almost seem to burn him in their fleetingness, leaving him with an unsettling ache for something more. Him! A being of fire! But he never dared to do more. He couldn’t push you if he wanted a chance of something more.

Tonight, when you held him, embracing him in that moment when his fear that you would jump up and finally run from him made his words catch in his throat, he felt as if his entire being somehow froze in utter terror and sang with pure joy all at once. He can still feel it, the sensation of your human body against his, your touch just light enough to allow him to break free if he wanted to. But he hadn’t wanted to. He’d wanted to pull you so much closer, wrap your smaller form in his arms and bury his face in your hair. Your hair that looks so much like his own fiery strands but smells like the sea. Salty, crisp and wild. It had filled his senses, and the scent overwhelmed him in a way that he had never experienced before. Such a feeling had left him stunned and he could only summon enough strength to gingerly return the embrace and hope that you couldn’t feel how his Soul was shaking. His thoughts start to drift again, recalling just how nice it felt to finally hold you in a moment when he wasn’t catching you from falling off a building. How soft you felt and how nice you smelled and-

He nearly trips as he starts pacing again, shaking his head. Why is he so focused on that in comparison to everything else? He told you. He told you the truth about himself and…you didn’t run. You didn’t stare at him in horror or fear. Of course he hasn’t told you even a fraction of what happened back then. All the things he’s done. The lives lost because of him. But that fear that ate away at him seems to have been pushed aside by this unshakable urge to be closer to you. He doesn’t fully understand it, and part of him wants to deny that this feeling is slowly but surely taking a hold of him. It’s easier, safer to just let it go.

Besides, there’s something else that is rearing it’s head in the face of these terrifying feelings.

“i’d say where’s the fire but i guess it’s right here, huh?”

He’s far to used to Sans popping in without warning to jump at the sudden voice but he doe stop his pacing, turning to look at the skeleton. Besides, Grillby had asked him here, sending him a short ‘Bar. Talk’ text message so his appearance is not unexpected. Sans is grinning, as usual but there’s a tightness there that he’s seen before in the years he’s known the skeleton. Something’s on his mind and if he’s actually showing it, it’s got to be bad.

“What’s wrong?” he asks, his own whirling storm of internal conflict fading away in the face of his friend’s obvious unease.

Sans sighs and pushes himself off from the wall he’d been leaning against and heads to the bar. He hops on his usual stool and Grillby takes a seat next to him. He makes a grabbing motion towards the ketchup bottle and he hands it over without his usual eye roll. It is late and Grillby asked him here after all. Sans gratefully tips the bottle towards him before taking a deep swig of the stuff. Grillby is positive that the whole ketchup thing started as a gag, one that never failed to get a wide range of responses from the ones Sans pulled it on, which is most certainly why he kept doing it. But it seems that he’s actually developed a taste for it.

“well this year’s celebration wasn’t nearly as fun as last year’s,” Sans grumbles as he sets the bottle down. “i had to actually work, can you believe that?”

“Most monsters had to,” he points out.

“yeah but that’s like. expected. who actually expects sans the skeleton to work?”

Grillby knows Sans got dragged into helping out with setting up security for the festival. How could he not, he’s been whining about the extra work for the past two weeks. As much as he would like to think that all the measures would’ve proven unnecessary, he’s not foolish enough to actually believe there would be no problems. “Did something happen?”

Sans sighs, his skull hitting the bar top with a quiet clunk. He lifts his hand, making tally marks in the air. “two separate groups of protesters, thirteen humans with weapons, and one old lady with metal iron knitting needles in her bag that set off the detector and almost sent the crowd into a panic.”

Grillby winces. No wonder he hadn’t seen Sans at all after they parted at the beach. 

Sans continues on. “there was something on one of the side sensors,” he mumbles. “just a blip of intent. it was barely enough to trigger the stupid thing. they barely worked anyway, too many humans with too many intentions moving around for them to really work. there was nothing there when those army guys went to check it out but…i dunno. i can’t shake the feeling something’s off.”

Grillby frowns. “There was nothing on the cameras?”

“every camera has blind spots and there were only so many we could set up without overwhelming the system.” He sits up, his neck bones popping as he tilts his head back and forth a few times. “i’m probably just paranoid from having to think of everything that could go wrong. but, enough of my whining.” His grin eases into a more gleeful smile. “i heard you watched the fireworks with a certain human all by your lonesome.”

Angel damn it, he’s caught off guard and he can’t stop the flickers of a blush moving across his face. “Where’d you hear that?”

“lucky guess actually but thanks for confirming it.”

“I confirm nothing.”

“uh huh.” Sans takes another long drink, his eye lights trained on Grillby. “and you sent me a message to get my tail bone over here just so i could finish off this bottle didja?”

Grillby sighs heavily and buries his head in his hands. No point in beating around the bush. “I told her.”

“that you’ve got the hots for her?”

“No!” he says sharply, lifting his face as Sans snickers. He walked right into that one, he’ll give Sans that. “….I told her about the war.”

Sans’ quiet chuckles fade as his sockets widen slightly. “what, really? like…all of it?”

“I’d still be up there if I told her everything,” he mutters. He starts messing with his bowtie absently, loosening it and tugging on the edge of the fabric. “But enough.”

For now.

“huh.” Sans actually looks impressed. “can’t believe shore managed to drag that out of you, it took you years to actually talk to me about it.”

He’s still shocked himself. Grillby clasps his hands together, rubbing on thumb on top of the other. “I don’t want to keep it from her,” he admits softly. “I couldn’t keep something like this from her, not after the way I acted today.”

Sans hums quietly, tapping the ketchup bottle against the bar top. “are you okay after all that?” he asks, keeping his voice casual in that way that Grillby knows hides genuine concern.

He laughs humorlessly. “After the first human I actually call a dear friend almost drowned and I nearly attacked the one responsible for it in front of a crowd of well over a hundred humans? I’m doing fine, considering.”

Maybe that’s why he hadn’t been able to stop himself from telling you the truth about him. The scare had unsettled him, shaking parts of his resolve he spent years building up. And his resolve regarding his plan to keep a firm distance between himself and humans is weak enough as it is when it comes to you.

Sans makes a noise that sounds suspiciously like a suppressed snort. “yeah, sounds like you handled it just fine.” He places his head on one hand, tilting it slightly. “so you told her about being old as dirt. and what else?”

“…We….” His voice trails off.

“I want to be even closer to you than I am now. Is that okay?” 

Your words echo in his head, bringing with it the memory of the shy glance you gave him after you surprised him with another hug at your car. The bright hope in your eyes as you tugged on his hand. The unspoken admission between the two of you and the uncontrollable fluttering in his Soul every time he thinks of you. His Soul clenches with an almost painful sensation.

“…grillbz?” Sans prods slowly, the ridge of his browbone rising slightly. 

He can't meet the skeleton's gaze.

"wait...did you actually....?"

Grillby slumps, burying his face in his arms as his flames snap loudly, shifting to blue and Sans slaps his hand down on the bar, eye lights bright with glee.

“grillbert!”

“That’s not my name.”

“you actually did it?" Sans crows, showing a rather Papyrus esque level of energy. But that fades when Grillby groans quietly. "no?" 

"...Not exactly." 

Sans stares at him for a moment before hoisting himself up to sit on the bar itself, which he knows Grillby hates. He lifts his head, glaring at the skeleton. Sans ignores him and instead looks up towards the ceiling, exhaling heavily. "so not exactly means you didn't tell shore." 

He has no response to that.  

"why? you like shore don't you?"

His Soul stutters but...he nods. There's an almost heady sense of relief that accompanies the admission. 

Sans' smile is less teasing now and a little gentler. "you gotta know that shore likes you too, right? i mean it's really obvious, even to someone like al and undyne and you've heard how blind they were about their own feelings." 

He has heard about that, many times. And...he knows. He's seen it in the way you look at him. How could he not? For literally hundreds of years underground he taught himself to read people and know what they needed, what they wanted in a single glance. When he looks at you, he sees the way you instantly relax even as your eyes brighten with sharp attention. The blushing, the gentle touches and engaging conversations, he's seen all of it. He's seen the signs but he's tried for so long to convince himself that he was looking further than he needed to, simply for the sake of his own sanity. But tonight has cleared away any doubts his has. "Yes," he whispers. "I know." 

Sans tucks his feet up on the bar. Grillby can see bits of sand and gravel stuck in the faded pink fuzz of his slippers. If he had a nose, he'd be wrinkling it. "so what's the problem?" Sans asks.

Where does he begin. Of course, most of the reasons that spring to mind are really just excuses. The issue of him being a monster, not to mention an elemental to boot is one of the first that instantly springs to mind but he knows you would stubbornly frown at him and refuse to budge if he brought that up as a reason to stop the relationship where it is. You don't seem to really care about human social expectations and it is admittedly easier now to form more intimate bonds between humans and monsters. He hasn't seen many interspecies couples himself but it's happening more and more as time goes on. There will no doubt be trouble down the road for you if the two of you were to....pursue whatever this is but you would no doubt take whatever was thrown at you in stride, just like everything else. 

Not that that's a good thing exactly but that's another issue for another time. 

Secondly is his own past. He's opened up to you far more than he ever expected to and it’s only the very tip of the iceberg. But surely even you must have your limits to what you can accept. What happened to him and what he’s done is in the past and there's no changing it. He’s accepted that. But even with his promise to let you grow closer, there are things he's not sure he'll ever be able to admit. Would you push him for answers? Lose faith and trust in him when he hesitated?

No. You wouldn’t. That’s not who you are as a person. And even if…even if it did become too much for you, you’d be gentle and kind about it. It would hurt. But the thought of never growing closer at all hurts more.

There’s other excuses. Small, stupid excuses that can be explained away with logic or assured with what he knows about you. But the one thing he cannot ignore is the rising guilt attached to the worn coin around his neck. So he removes it as Sans watches, placing it gently on the bar top. The metal edges are warped, melted in his more explosive moments even with the ancient heat protective spell on it. The symbols on it are impossible to make out now, worn out from years of rubbing his fingers over it and the black cord threaded through the punched-out hole near it’s edge is fraying. It’s such a small thing but the weight it carries is nearly tangible.

Sans stares down at the coin, his sockets darking. “grillbz, it’s been ten years,” he murmurs, turning away from it to look at him.

"Yes." 

"he's not coming back."

“I know.”

They’re both quiet for a minute, falling into a companionable silence that’s always felt natural between them. Grillby finally sighs, the sound a soft hiss. “Sans, I don’t know what to do,” he whispers, repeating the same words you said to him not that long ago.

“are you wanting romantic advice from me?” Sans teases. “i’m no good at that kinda stuff g. i think you should go to paps for that. he’s got that manual he carries around. or, hell go to the kid, they’ve dated just about everyone in the underground at this point.”

Grillby lets his dark amusement color his flame for a moment. “You’re not exactly my first choice but you're kind of the only one I can talk to about him."

“ow, that’s harsh.” Sans picks up the coin. It clinks quietly against his phalanges as he twirls it around for a moment. “i can’t believe you’ve still got this old thing.”

He stares at the coin, a deep and unyielding pain rising in his chest. His flames cast an orange hue over the dull metal and he tries to push down the tightness in his throat. “It’s all I have left of him.”

Sans frowns, as best as he can with his unyielding mouth and holds the coin out to him. “sorry."

He takes it, holding it lightly in his fingers. He rubs the back of his neck for a minute, finally laughing quietly. “They’re kind of similar actually." Curious. Stubborn. Utterly reckless at times. Passionate and irresistible. 

“heh. yeah i can see that.”

“….I miss him Sans.”

“me too.”

Grillby curls his fingers into a fist around the coin, being careful to keep his temperature low. “I don’t know if I can do it.”

“do what? move on?” Sans attempts to tap his fist gently against Grillby’s head but misses where his flames solidify by a few inches. His hand passes right through and he makes a face as he pulls his arm back. “i thought you were supposed to be the one who knew him best.”

Grillby blinks at him.

His smile, though shadowed by an old pain, is genuine. “he’d want you to be happy. that’s what he always wanted. so if that means moving on and finally letting him go, i think that’s what he’d want. and shore makes you happy. right?”

He doesn’t need to verbally respond. His flames brighten as his Soul does that strange, almost painful flip in his chest again. Sans grins at him before scooting forward and hopping back down to the floor. Grillby turns on his stool as the skeleton starts to leave. “Wait, what do I do now?” he asks helplessly. Before, with him, they just naturally grew closer over time. But it’s different now and he’s floundering, confused and more than a little nervous. “Sans, how do I take the next step?”

Sans pauses at the door, looking back at him. “heh, like i said. i’m no good at this romantic advice thing. but i wouldn’t worry. i think it’s all gonna work out.”

Then he steps outside, closing the door behind him and Grillby is left alone in his bar with only an old faded coin and his jumbled thoughts to keep him company. 

Slowly he uncurls his hand, staring down at the coin. It’s not gold, not the kind that monsters created for their trading system. No, it’s an old human coin that was washed down with the rest of the garbage. He never went to the dump in Waterfall himself, it was too wet, but he did.

W.D Gaster went all the time.

“I wanted to be your very first customer, now that the bar is officially open!”

“I do believe that in order to be a customer, you have to actually pay for your drink.”

“Oh. Right. Yes um…. here!”

“…What is this thing?”

“It’s human money. It’s made with electrum, which is basically gold and silver, so it should be fine, right?”

“Fine. Only because it’s you.”

“Excellent! If nothing else, it makes an interesting memento, don’t you think?”

Grillby slowly sets his head down on the bar top, the old memory hazy in his mind. The coin sits in his open palm, utterly unremarkable. Worthless. Old. Something not meant to be taken seriously.

“A memento indeed,” he whispers to himself. He closes his eyes.

He stays there for almost another hour before finally dragging himself upstairs and into bed.

*****

Given everything that’s happened, it’s no surprise that you have a nightmare that night. You’re out on the beach, about waist deep in the water, just standing there with no memory of how you got there. The water is cool against your skin but it’s the wrong color. It’s a very deep, unrealistic purple color, shifting and sparkling almost like paint. You stare at it blankly for a while, not bothering to question it. It might not be the right color but there’s something almost soothing about it. It’s different but it’s not…bad.

You hear your name. You turn to see Grillby on the beach. He’s in his bartending outfit, his bowtie loosened, vest unbuttoned and no shoes. The ruffled look makes your heart start to race and despite the strangeness of the situation, you smile happily. You try to move towards him, but your feet are stuck in the sand below the water and trying to move only threatens to pitch you forward. You try to tell him you’re stuck but your voice doesn’t seem to be working.

Grillby tilts his head, watching you struggle to free yourself for a moment. Then, to your absolute horror, he starts walking towards you. He doesn’t even hesitate as the first licks of water wash up over his bare feet. Smoke rises from them and he hunches slightly but doesn’t make a sound and doesn’t slow down. Panic grips your chest and you start waving your arms wildly, silently screaming at him to go back, he doesn’t need to come out here, please stop, stop!

He finally starts to slow as the purple water reaches his waist and there’s so much smoke pouring from him you can barely see his flames, dark and dim with pain as he grips at his head. He still hasn’t made a single sound but he’s panting and shaking as his flames begin to fade. He’s dying, and you’re stuck, you can’t move! Gritting your teeth, your voice finally makes itself heard in the form of a raw growl of rage as you force yourself to step forward and it feels like the skin of your feet is being ripped away. But you don’t care because you’re finally free to move, even if it’s slow. You splash over to him and grab his arm, fully intending to pick him up as best as you can and carry him out of the water.

But the arm you grip is not his. It’s a human arm. You blink and realize that Grillby is no longer standing in front of you.

It’s Alex. Alex, with his mussed dark hair that you once found endearing and bright green eyes that seemed to pull you in with their promise of mischief and fun. They hold none of that now. Instead, there is only contempt and rage. Before you can process what’s happening, his hands shoot up and wrap around your neck, squeezing tightly.

“I was going to take you away,” he hisses. “I was going to save you!”

You claw at his hands, gasping for air and you feel him sweep your legs out from under you. You plunge into the water and now it’s not purple, it’s black and it feels thick, like ink and Alex is still holding you down as it fills your throat.

You can still his voice in your ears. “Am I good enough for you now? Is the shackled princess happy now?!”

You’re choking. Your limbs are heavy, too heavy to continue fighting. As darkness creeps over your vision, you think you see something. A hand, a ghostly white hand reaching towards you and you desperately throw your hand out to take it and-

You wake, panting and sweating. Your hand is outstretched into the air above you. The heavy sensation remains in your chest and it takes you a moment to realize it’s because Stitch crawled onto you sometime in the night and fell asleep there. You let your hand flop back to the bed, swallowing down the still rising panic. You haven’t dreamt about Alex for a long time. Your breath hisses out of your nose sharply. At least it wasn’t the same old nightmare you had for months after the accident. It seemed like your dreams had centered on nothing but that night when you snuck out of your house, so certain that you were making the right choice. So certain that Alex was the answer to escaping your family name. You were stupid and but only realized that when he pulled you into that dark alley and you saw the glint of a syringe in his hand. And now he’s…he’s….

Bile rises in your throat and you sit up quickly. Stitch squawks as he rolls off your chest and lands in your lap. You put a hand over your mouth and shake your head. Don’t think about it. It was self-defense. You did what you had to.

You’re still here and still alive because you fought back. And Alex got what he deserved in the end. But that guilt is still there, and you hate him for it.

You’re a little shaky as you get out of bed and get into the shower. The hot water washes away the remnants of the dream and you almost feel normal once you’re ready for the day. It’s a day off, which you’re extremely grateful for. You don’t feel like facing the rest of the shop after what happened yesterday. You did get a text from Trey asking if you were okay. It seems that you were still awarded third place behind Undyne despite your utter wipeout. First place went to one of the other guys. His name sparks no recognition and you don’t really care all that much about it now.

There’s a list of stuff you need from the store and you do need to start at least looking at boards, so you’ll probably stop by the shop later anyway. You gather your things together but before you tuck your phone into your bag, you pause. And then before you can think too much about it, you change Grillby’s contact name once again (as you tend to do with all of your friends at any given moment) and send him a message.

 

You:

-Good morning!

 

He replies surprisingly quickly, which warms your heart and makes a wide smile lift your mouth.

 

Element of Surprise:

-Good morning. How are you feeling after yesterday?

 

You:

-I’m good! Toriel really knows her stuff. I don’t even feel sore

 

Element of Surprise

-I’m glad to hear it. Will you be stopping in later?

 

You:

-I probably will after dance practice, I have some running around to do before then.

 

Element of Surprise:

-Good

 

You:

That eager to see me again are you? :)  

 

Element of Surprise:

-Yes

 

You stop short outside your car, a furious blush raging across your face as your brain short circuits for a moment. It’s one word! How is he making you so utterly flustered with just one word?! Then again, you are the one who baited him with a ridiculously flirty line. You send back a basic ‘Ok then! See you later!’ and shove your phone away.

Oh boy. Well that certainly brings all of last night right up to the front of your mind. You grab at those thoughts eagerly since they overshadow the remaining unease from your nightmare. You think about everything he said as you get groceries and other things that you need, passing the time in a bit of a daze. Grillby’s an elemental. The first of his kind no less. That makes you wonder if there are others still around. Fuku's just like him, does that mean she's one too? Grillby said her parents were like family so they had least have to be. Did they die in the war? Afterwards? There's still so many questions you have to ask. 

You could tell that he was afraid to tell you about his part in the war. And yeah, it was shocking to hear. But how different is it from falling in love with someone in the army or other force of defense? If he was summoned to fight and protect monsters, it sounds like he had even less of a choice than a normal solider would. In all honesty, his admission has only made your admiration for him grow. It would’ve been easy for him to remain closed off and angry at mankind. He was there after all. He more than just about any monster would have a perfect right to hold that anger close to his heart after being locked away for so long. But you’ve never seen that in him. Well, aside from those times when he’s jumped to the defense of monsters against bigoted jerks in his bar or when he nearly snapped at Freckles yesterday.

But that’s understandable.

You get your shopping done and drop everything off before heading over to the shop. As expected, you get some worried hugs and astonished gazes from the guys working today but you dodge their questions as best as you can. You’re fine after all and the worried attention makes you squirm a bit. Eventually, you’re able to make your way over the rack of boards, curiously looking over each one. It’s a little weird to have such a large amount of money just waiting for you to use it for this. Part of you is fighting the urge to just hoard it away in your savings, a habit born from necessity when you first moved here. But no, you need a board, a good board.

You wind up purchasing a black longboard with stripes of red running down the sides and in the center. It’s a beautiful board, very well made and your heart does a happy sort of flip as you hand over the money for it. With the remaining money, you pick out a gift for Undyne’s birthday and head back home to get ready for practice.

Tyler is already there when you arrive, and the guy looks miserable. He’s sitting on the wooden floor and he looks up as you enter the studio. There’s heavy bags under his eyes and his hair, usually well kept and artfully arranged looks like it hasn’t even been washed.

“Hey, hey, are you okay?” you ask, dropping your bag and taking a seat next to him. He looks away from you.

“I’m fine,” he croaks.

Worry twists at your heart. He looked fine last night, what on earth happened? You put your hand over his forehead. No temperature at least. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some kind of bug. “Are you sick?”

He shakes his head before slowly shrugging. “Maybe.”

“You don’t have to come if you’re not feeling good,” you scold him gently.

“I’ve missed so many rehearsals,” he protests, though there’s not much heart in it. “We’re not going to be prepared for the contest.”

You put your hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently. “We have plenty of time. Summer isn’t over yet.”

He pulls his knees up, resting his head against them. He sighs heavily and closes his eyes. It takes a few moments, but he slowly starts to speak. Every word sounds forced and strained. "I don't feel...I think I made a mistake." 

"What kind of mistake?" A strangled sort of grunt is your only response. "You can talk to me about it you know."

He shakes his head. "Can't." 

"Work thing?" 

Another grunt. You gently lean against him. He shifts until his head is against your shoulder. "There's...something bad happened." 

You frown, rubbing his shoulder. "Was it an accident?" 

"Yes" 

"Oh. Well, accidents happen, even really bad ones. I'm guessing you're directly involved somehow?" When you're met with more silence, you sigh and punch him lightly. "You make it really hard to offer advice when you don't talk to me." 

"Shore." Tyler sits up sharply, eyes narrowing. "I can't," he snaps. "I actually can't." 

The anger in his voice is shocking. You put your hands up. "Okay, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to push." 

"No it's not...." He sighs and the anger is gone. "It's my fault. I'm just really tired after last night. I wish I could talk to you about it but I can't." 

You gently touch his shoulder. He looks to you, his normally bright eyes dull. He looks like he didn't sleep at all. "Ty, I'm here for you," you tell him. "Even if you can't talk about what happened. Everyone makes mistakes and no matter what kind of accident it was, I'm sure you didn't mean it." 

The words don't seem to help. Instead, he looks away from you. At that moment you hear the studio door open and Faith and Liam's voices carry over to you. Before you can give them a look to make them give you and Tyler space for a minute, Tyler is standing. He offers you a hand up and that vulnerability in his face is gone, replaced by forced calm. "Let's just dance Shore, okay? I need to be distracted, just for a while. Please?" 

You mouth thins into a frown but you nod. "If that's what you need Ty." 

His shoulders slump just slightly with relief as he nods. "Yeah. It is." 

So you dance and you keep him moving, keep him distracted from whatever it is going through his head. By the end of the session all four of you are panting and utterly dripping with sweat. But Tyler looks a little more at ease which is exactly what you were going for. As you and Faith head into the locker room to change, you can tell that she's bursting to ask you about what happened last night. But before you can give her the details, your phone rings. You wipe at your face with a wet rag as you pull it out. Huh. It's Sans calling. That's a little weird. 

"Hello?" 

"you like stars and stuff don't you?" 

"Hi to you too." 

"hi." 

"Uh, yeah I like stars," you say as you peel your tight dance pants off and pull your usual shorts out of your bag. "Why do you ask?" 

"i ordered a new telescope a while back and it just came in.  i need someone to sound smart in front of while i stargaze. wanna come with?" 

Star gazing huh? That certainly sounds like fun. And you really do love all of that space nerdy stuff. "Sure, I'll go with you. When-" 

"great, 'cause i'm already in your car." 

You lose your balance trying to put your pants on with one hand and slam against one of the lockers with a loud clang. "You're what?"  

"it's kinda hot in here but no rush." 

Faith stares at you as you fight to right yourself. "How did you-wait, you're a skeleton, can you even feel heat like that?" 

"eh, it's all relative. ok see you in a minute byyye." He hangs up before you can say anything else. You look at Faith, gaping. 

"Sans is in my car with a telescope." 

She blinks. "Huh?" 

"He wants me to go star gazing? I guess?" You set your phone down and quickly take your sweaty tank off and replace it with a tee shirt. "I gotta go, I don't know if he can actually roast to death in my car but I'm not gonna risk it." 

"Wait! I need the details about last night!" Faith whines. 

"I'll tell you later okay?" You grab your stuff and head for the door. "Don't be mad, love you!" 

"Love you too, jerkface!" she calls after you as you run outside.

Sure enough, there's Sans sitting in the passenger seat of your car. It's been sitting out in the parking lot for over an hour, it's got to be roasting in there! You click open the lock and open the driver's side. Sans waves at you. He's angled the seat back just slightly and going by the way he's blinking, you would almost think he'd be sleeping if not for the phone call. "How long have you been in here?" you ask him as you slip into your seat. "And more importantly, how did you get in here?" 

"not too long and a shortcut," he answers with a grin. "i don't wanna keep her in the heat for too long." He jabs his thumb towards the back seat and you twist to see a rather large telescope folded neatly on the seats. He's even used the seat belts to keep it in place. 

"I don't think telescopes work like that but I don't know enough about them to dispute it," you say dryly, turning back around. "Geez, are you that desperate for company?" 

Sans pouts. "if i don't have someone there while i ramble on about my vast space knowledge then i just look crazy." 

"Well I hate to break it to you but I was actually going to Grillby's tonight-" 

"taken care of. i told him i was kidnapping you for the evening." Sans' phone begins to ring from within his pocket. Judging from the sounds of Billy Joel screeching 'We didn't start the fiyah!', it's Grillby. He ignores it. You stare at him. 

"Are you going to get that?" 

"nope. he's just gonna yell at me again." 

Your mouth quirks up at the edges, betraying your amused smile. "And why would he be yelling at you?" 

"reasons." The song cuts off as the call ends and he gestures towards the steeling wheel. "c'mon buddy let's go, i don't wanna miss the sunset." 

You sigh but decide to humor him. You start up the engine and start to back up when you realize you don't know where you're going. "Do you have directions for me or do I need to guess?" 

He points to the left. "don't worry buddy, i gotcha." 

"Oh now why would I worry about taking directions from the skeleton kidnapping me for the night?" 

Sans rolls his eye lights. "ok not my best wording i'll admit." 

"Thank you."

His phones starts ringing again and this time he digs it out of his pocket. He holds it out to you and even though you're tempted to remind him that you're the one driving, not him, you take it and accept the call. You don't get a chance to say a word before Grillby's voice crackles through the speaker. 

"I swear to the Angel Sans, don't you dare tell her-

"Uh, hi Grillby. It's me." 

The line goes dead quiet for several long seconds. You're about to check and see if the call dropped when he sighs quietly, the snaps of his flames coloring the sound. "Sorry, I thought you were Sans." 

"Well this is his phone," you say with a grin. Sans points you down a new road and you make the turn, pressing the phone against your ear with your shoulder. "I guess he told you he was kidnapping me for the night?" 

"Yes," he says dryly. 

"So what exactly don't you want him telling me?" 

Sans chokes on a suppressed laugh.

Grillby just chokes. "N-nothing. See you later."

He hangs up on you and Sans finally cackles as you hand his phone back to him. He waves off your questioning look and refuses to say anything on the subject. He's not gonna budge so you decide to let it go for now and follow his directions through the city. Or more accurately around the edge of it. He keeps you on a road that runs fairly close to the coast line and  after driving for a while, he has you pull away from the main road and turn onto a smaller one that looks a little less well kept. You're on that road for about ten minutes before he motions for you to pull over. You can hear waves crashing as you open the door and shut it behind you. Sans looks like he's struggling a little with getting the telescope out so you quickly lend a hand before he winds up dropping the thing. It's huge and insanely heavy. You don't even want to think about how much it costs. 

"Sans, are you like, super rich or something?" you pant as the two of you start walking up a grassy hill. 

"kinda?" There's sweat beading on his head. "monster gold goes for a lot up here. and turns out when you're one of the only monsters who has the equivalent of....hold on." He grunts and then the weight suddenly lifts from your hands. The telescope is encased in blue light. Your jaw drops. 

"What is that?" You gingerly let go and the telescope continues to float. "Whoa! Is this like....levitation magic?" 

"close. gravity magic." Sans swipes at his head. "sorry bud, i was kinda caught up in my own head." He starts walking again, the telescope trailing after him and you hurry to his side. "but anyway, turns out the humans like all the scientific and magical knowledge in my head and are willing to pay quite bit if i actually use it." He grins at you. "don't work free when you can get paid for it. then you can get nice toys like this." 

Your eyebrows slowly lift. Huh. So he's a rich guy huh? "If you're loaded enough to buy this bad boy, don't you have enough to pay your tab?" 

"oh more than enough. but the tab thing is kinda like a...personal joke with me and grillbz. ah, here we go." 

You've reached the top of the hill. You were right, it is right next to the ocean. The hill itself is fairly wide up on top, the grass thick and wild but it tapers off into stone as the hill changes into a sheer cliff. There's a lot of large boulders near the edge and you place a hand on one as you gingerly approach the edge and look down. The ocean is probably a good fifty feet or so down and the force of the waves against the cliff side creates a sheet of floating white foam. A small thrill goes through you. It's been a while since you've gone cliff diving but this one might be just a little too high to just blindly jump from. There's no telling from here if there are more rocks hidden just under the surface of the water. You turn back to see Sans setting up the telescope, quietly humming to himself. The sun has nearly set by this point and it casts a orange and red hue over his white bones, almost giving the appearance of flames on his head. You snicker. 

"what?" 

You point to his head and grin. "I thought I was supposed to be the one with fire hair." 

He blinks and glances down at his arms. He laughs. "heh, don't worry it'll pass. i won't steal your spot as mini-grillby." 

"Oh thank goodness!" You take a seat in the grass and turn your eyes back to the ocean. With the sun setting behind you, your shadow stretches out, lumpy and dark over the grass. You pick up a few stones and toss them over the edge of the cliff. Sans joins you after a few minutes and the two of you chat aimlessly about some tv show that Alphys made him watch while you wait for darkness to fall. Once it does and the first stars blink into view, Sans stands up and pops his back before moving back to the telescope. You crane your head upwards, curling your fingers in the grass. 

"I never knew this place was here," you murmur. "It's so beautiful." 

"wait til it gets a little later. then you'll be able to see thousands of them." Sans has an unusual level of excitement in his voice. "it's the distance from the main city. less light out here to get in the way. but if you really want a good view, you've gotta get away from it completely. go up the mountain." 

"I've never been up there." 

Sans looks up from his adjustments. "it's like the ocean is above you," he says almost proudly. "but brighter. it just goes on and on, for billions of miles. endlessly." 

You stand up, brushing yourself off. "Have you seen the bio-luminescence tides?" He shakes his head so you eagerly explain. "It happens during certain times of the year, usually close to the end of summer. There's a certain kind of organism called dinoflagellates that makes the water glow at night and it looks like stars from the sky have fallen into the ocean! It goes on for miles all over the ocean! It's so cool!" 

Sans' eye lights are gleaming with joy. "that kinda sounds like what we had underground," he says excitedly. "there were bio luminescent pools in waterfall that had a type of algae on the bottom that made the water glow. add that to the magic residue from monsters and boom! you've got echo flowers." 

"Magic residue?" 

He nods. "all monsters have varying levels of magic. when we manifest our bullets or spells, they don't just vanish into nothing. it turns back into dust. not the death kinda dust, more like...star dust. the stuff we came from." He's in full teaching mode now and you grin as he continues to gestures and explain. "sometimes that extra magic gets reabsorbed by monsters and other times it just gets left there in the air or the ground or water. then, things that breathe in that air or get planted in that ground or absorbs that water gets touched by that extra magical energy. and when magic and physical things meet, strange things can happen. it's how we grew food down there. it's why there was snow and-what?" 

You shake your head, still smiling widely. "You should be a teacher," you tell him seriously. "I think you'd be good at it." 

He scoffs but if you're not mistaken, you see a soft tinge of blue on his cheekbones. "nah, i'm too lazy for that." 

"Ah, but then you'd get to work with Toriel! Grade papers together at the dining table, whine about the PTA parents-" 

Sans makes a drawn out 'eh eh eh' noise and gestures towards the telescope. "c'mon, i didn't bring you here to convince me to be a teacher." 

"What did you bring me out here for?" You stand your ground as Sans looks back at you. "Don't get me wrong, this is really cool and I love space. But I have a feeling there's a different reason." 

The skeleton slowly puts his hands in his pockets. In the dark the lights in his eyes seem to almost glow slightly. But they're fuzzy and wide, watching you with a soft amusement. "you're pretty sharp for someone who's a little oblivious." 

"Are you still holding the not recognizing Frisk thing over my head?" 

He laughs. "nah, though that's never gonna get old. no, i just got a very interesting text last night." He sits down in the grass, telescope forgotten for now. You slowly sit down too. "so. he told you about being summoned and all that, huh?" 

Sans was who Grillby was texting as you drove away? You nod, absently plucking at the grass. "Yeah. We talked about all of that. Well, part of it I guess. I think there's a lot more he hasn't told me." 

"do you want him to?" 

You hesitate. "I want him to want to tell me," you finally say. "To trust me enough with that. But I won't push him." 

Sans is studying you, not blinking at all. It makes a small shiver go up your spine and you shift. "you're gonna have to." 

"What?" 

"push him a little, i mean." Sans smiles ruefully. "the guy is just as stubborn about not moving forward as i am. difference is, i'm just lazy. but he doesn't want to hurt people. he doesn't want to hurt you. not to mention he's got a rather heavy sense of loyalty embedded in him. probably something to do with the whole summoned elemental thing." With a heavy and relaxed sigh, Sans lets himself flop onto the ground. After a moment, you move to do the same. The two of you stare up at dark sky as the number of stars slowly begins to grow. There's no moon out tonight and no clouds to block your view. It's absolutely beautiful.

"I'm not scared of him hurting me," you finally say. "Even with knowing about his past as a solider." 

"and the whole being made of fire thing?" 

You laugh. "I surf out on the open ocean for fun. I like taking risks. And even if I do get burned, I know it won't be because he meant to. He's too kind."  

"you'll probably get all kinds of crap from those anti-monster humans out there." 

"Everyone deals with crap. It's just different crap." 

Sans is quiet for a moment. "then what's your story?" he finally asks. "what makes you so willing to take all of this in stride? no offense to you but i have a feeling there's more to you than you've let on too." 

Your heart gets caught in your throat, an unpleasant sensation twisting your gut.

"easy pal, you don't need to actually tell me," Sans says casually, still staring up at the sky. "just keep that in mind, won't you?" 

You sit up and his eyes shift to you. "You're right though," you whisper. "I know it doesn't compare to what he's been through-" 

"then don't compare it. like you said; everyone deals with crap. there's no point in trying to judge who's crap is worse." 

You chuckle quietly. "Crap is crap." 

"crap is crap." 

The two of you sit in a silence for a few minutes. There's a breeze coming in from the direction of the ocean and it carries the scent of salt with it. Your hair lifts slightly with the wind and you tuck it back behind your ear. "Why would loyalty be a bad thing?" 

Sans blinks heavily. Was he dozing off? "hmm?" 

"You said he's got loyalty embedded in him. Why would that be bad?" 

"...oh." He grimaces. "yeah, that's probably the number one thing he wouldn't want me to tell you about. that's a subject that's....especially hard to talk about. but uh...heh, let's just say he has a hard time letting go of certain things, even if they're not around to hold onto anymore." 

You tilt your head slightly in confusion. 

Sans sits up, rubbing at the back of his skull. "look, i'm not here to spill all of his secrets. i'm not even here to tell you to leap into his arms and confess your undying love to him like in al's anime crap." 

Your mouth drops open, face flushing deep red. He grins.

"but i am telling you that if you want to get closer to him, you're gonna have to take that first step. you're gonna have to push him to move too. he'll just sit there and pine forever if you don't. but i think once you do, you're gonna find out he'll be tough to stop." 

You take a moment to process all that he's saying. There's a sense of warmth growing in your chest. Sans really does care about Grillby, doesn't he? The two of them might bicker at times and act the part of bartender and annoying regular, but their bond must run deep. Far deeper than you ever realized. "You're a good guy Sans, you know that?" 

He snorts. "not really. i'm just trying to look out for my friends." He smiles at you as he says this and finally gets to his feet. "besides, if grillby's busy being all smitten with you, he might stop bugging me about my tab. now get over here and let's actually look at the stars." 

You laugh but get to your feet. You spend perhaps another hour or so out there with Sans, listening to him gush about the different galaxies and the possibilities of other worlds and what it would take to see them. You give him a lift home, though as soon as you pull into the parking lot closest to the Walk, he simply teleports away with his fancy toy and a wide, mischievous grin on his face.

It's only when you get home that you notice the dark pink ring around the eye you had pressed up against the telescope.  

Chapter Text

You're not sure what time it is when your phone goes off, jolting you awake, but going by the utter lack of sunlight coming in through the blinds, it's way too early. You fumble for it, still too caught up in the fog of sleep to form proper swear words. "...hmm-lo?" 

"GOOD MORNING SHORE!" 

"B'wah." You flinch at the ear splitting volume. You pull your phone away and squint at the screen. "Pap it's six in the morn'." 

"YES! I WAITED AN EXTRA TWO HOURS BEFORE CALLING YOU!" 

"...Thanks buddy." 

"YOU'RE VERY WELCOME!" 

"....so why're you calling me so early?" 

"OH RIGHT! THE GREAT PAPYRUS MADE AN ERROR IN THE BIRTHDAY INVITES! I REALIZED I FORGOT TO PUT THE ACTUAL LOCATION OF THE PARTY ON THE CARD!" 

Did he? You hadn't even noticed. That would've been awkward. 

"WE'RE GOING TO HAVE THE PARTY AT GERSON'S HOUSE!" Papyrus continues. "OR IN FRONT OF HIS HOUSE, ON THE BEACH. WE SHALL BE DOING MANY BEACH RELATED ACTIVITIES SO YOU BETTER BE PREPARED! I EVEN FOUND A VOLLEYBALL NET! HAVE YOU PLAYED VOLLEYBALL?" 

You rub at your eyes, rolling onto your back. "A little in high school," you mumble, still not fully awake. 

"EXCELLENT!" 

"Can I go back to sleep now please?" 

Papyrus tuts. "YOU'RE JUST AS BAD AS MY BROTHER. BUT I HAVE OTHERS TO CALL SO I WILL LET YOU TAKE ANOTHER NAP SO YOU ARE WELL RESTED FOR TONIGHT! GOODBYE!" 

He hangs up before you get a chance to suggest that he waits a little bit longer before calling anyone else. Oh well. If you have to suffer an early wake up call, so should they. You close your eyes and your phone thumps to the bed as sleep quickly claims you once again. 

The day passes, you spend time waxing your new board and looking up ideas of what you can do to turn your broken one into something cool. When it comes time to get ready, you slip your more casual swim suit on under a button up top that's just fancy enough to be fitting for a party but casual enough you don't care about getting it dirty. You head down towards Gerson's place, Undyne's present tucked under your arm. When you arrive, those already there jump in alarm before seeing it's just you and relaxing. As you set your present down in the pile set out on a large blanket, Papyrus races over to you.

"YOU'RE HERE!" Your feet leave the ground as he wraps you up in a bone crushing hug. You return it as best as you can and when he sets you down, you look to see who's here. 

The bone brothers obviously. Sans is lying on the sand near Toriel, who's unfolding a large white table. Faith and Liam are here already and Papyrus bounds back over to where they're setting up a large portable volleyball net. They're assisted by a few dogs you've really only seen at the bar; Dogamy and Dogaressa, Doggo, Greater and Lesser and a small white dog you haven't seen before that seems to be trying to help but only manages to get under everyone's feet. As Papyrus runs over, they dart under his feet, barking cutely. Papyrus flails and very valiantly fights to keep his balance but ultimately fails. He slams face first into the sand and you can hear him loudly grumbling as the white dog licks at his skull. You grin widely and then your gaze is caught by Gerson slowly shuffling through the doorway of his shop, a stack of plates in his hands. And behind him, ducking his head and still managing to bump his horns against the frame is-

Asgore, the king of monsters. 

If you thought Toriel and Undyne were big monsters, it's nothing compared to the monster apologizing loudly to Gerson and rubbing at his head. Including the horns, he's well over seven feet tall and golden yellow- hair? Fur?- covers his head and a good portion of his face. He's wearing what's got to be an extra, extra large red button up and it still fits him snugly. The whole jolly tourist look helps to ease the intimidation level of him but just a little. Your eyes shoot to Faith. She's grinning, eyes wide as she mouths 'I know'

"Golly, I can't believe I hit it again," he's saying, his voice deep and rumbling. He smiles helplessly as he peeks at the frame to check for damage. "Sorry about that!" 

Gerson just grunts, waving away the apology. His eyes shift over to you and he grins widely. "Ah, there's my chess apprentice! It's been a while since you've been by." 

Asgore turns and you find yourself staring up at him as he breaks into a wide smile. He starts towards you, setting down a couple of folded camp chairs in the sand as he does so. "Hello there! I don't believe we've met before!" He sticks out his paw; it's easily the size of your head. You swallow past your nerves and accept his handshake. Half of your arm disappears into white fluff. "I'm Asgore." 

"Yeah," you say a little breathlessly. You give him your name and add, "Everyone calls me Shore though, so feel free to uh...do that. If you want." 

His black eyes squint as he laughs. "Oh so you're Shore! Frisk has told me about you." 

"Have they?" Casually talking about you to the king of monsters then, okay. Where are they anyway?

Your question is answered a moment later when their head suddenly pops up from behind Asgore's shoulder. "Dad, this is Shore!" they say proudly, their hands moving from his shirt to wrap around his neck. 

"Yes, we just introduced ourselves," he says. Then with a bit of a gleam in his eye, he adds, "Ah, but tell me; are you and Grillby together yet?" 

You make a noise that sounds like a gopher being stepped on and flush. Frisk breaks into out of control giggles when you aim a glare their way. "Uh, well that's...it's kinda...." 

Asgore laughs too, his whole frame shaking with the force of it. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to tease. I am just very curious you see." He leans in, towering over you and you honestly almost fall to the sand out of sheer embarrassment. Of all the ways you could've imagined meeting the king of monsters, this is not even close to what you pictured! Is he really asking you about your relationship with Grillby?!

"You two quit bothering Shore!" Toriel calls over, hands on her hips.

Oh thank God! 

"It should be obvious that the two of them are a 'match' made in heaven!" She bleats loudly with laughter and this time you actually do sink into the sand. You swear you can feel steam rising from your skin. 

"Toriel!" you groan quietly, burying your face in your hands. 

"ah, tori look at that. she's fire red with embarrassment," Sans chimes in helpfully. 

"Oh soot! Shore I am very sorry." She doesn't sound sorry at all, the jerk!

"Golly you are looking rather red. Do you have a sun burn?" Asgore beams when Toriel giggles at his addition. 

You're just gonna crawl away now. You're gonna crawl straight into the ocean and-

There's the man himself, making his way across the sand. You choke slightly, scrambling to your feet. You look around desperately at everyone and you can feel the waves of smugness and glee radiating from them. "Okay! Okay fine we're still figuring things out but please! No teasing us right now!" 

They all make various sounds of agreement, some of which don't sound very sincere at all and turn back to their various tasks as Grillby approaches. He's got a bag slung around his shoulders and a cooler in his hands. He brightens with a smile as he walks over to you but then pauses, looking around at everyone very obviously not looking towards the two of you. "Is something wrong?" he asks. 

"Nope!" Miraculously, your voice doesn't crack. You look curiously to the cooler. "What's in there?" 

"Burgers and hot dogs mostly," he says, shifting his grip slightly. He looks over to Toriel. "Where would you like these?" he asks. 

With an entirely too wide smile, she moves aside slightly, gesturing to a small grill you hadn't noticed before. "Right here is fine dear." 

He tilts his head slightly and you pray he doesn't push for an explanation as to why everyone is acting weird. But then he simply moves to the grill and you release a sharp breath. You can hear Faith and Liam giggling to themselves behind you and resist the urge to turn around and make a face at them. Instead, you follow Grillby. "Do you need help with anything?" you ask as he sets the cooler down and opens the lid. There are indeed several burger patties and hot dogs, as well as some cans of soda and a few bottles of what you're assume is some kind of monster alcohol. 

Removing the bag from his shoulder, he hands it to you. "There's various condiments in there, could you set them on the table?" he asks as he rolls up the sleeve of his button up. 

You nod quickly and does as he asks. You then get pulled over by Toriel who asks you to set the chairs up that Asgore brought out. There's not much else to do after that since everyone else seems to have things handled and Grillby seems to be busy with dinner preparation so you wander back over to Gerson. He's taken a seat on the sand itself, not bothering with a chair. Asgore is seated at his side and the two of them seem to be talking cheerfully. They stop as you approach and Asgore gives you a warm smile. Even sitting, he's nearly twice your height. He gestures to one of the chairs. "Do sit down," he says. 

So you sit. You're sitting with royalty. Of course, you've hung out with Toriel before but somehow she seems different compared to Asgore. You're a little more intimidated. 

Asgore leans in slightly towards you. "I am sorry about teasing you earlier," he says, keeping his voice low as he glances towards Grillby. 

You flush again and simply nod. "I'm kinda used to it at this point," you say weakly. 

He chuckles. "They all speak very highly of you," he says. "I've wanted to meet you for a while now." 

Oh. You smile bashfully. "I hope I haven't been too disappointing," you laugh. 

"Oh not at all!" He's quick to say. "You certainly seem like you fit in well with everyone." 

His praise is almost as embarrassing as being teased about Grillby. You look around at everyone though and his words do strike warmth into your heart. "I really like hanging out with everyone. If you don't mind me saying, I honestly had no idea you were going to be here." 

"Undyne and King Fluffybuns go way back," Gerson cuts in, jabbing a thumb towards Asgore. "She snuck away to his castle when she was still just a wee thing and challenged him to a fight!" 

Somehow, this doesn't surprise you at all. "Did she win?" 

The two of them laugh. "Nope, she got her butt kicked!" Gerson says gleefully. 

"She knew if I went easy on her and yelled at me," Asgore says meekly. But he's got a fond smile on his face. "I trained her for several years before she was able to. But the day she did knock me down, I've never been prouder." 

You're grinning, picturing Undyne taking on the King. She's certainly got guts. She must have, being made Captain of the Royal Guard. 

"She's coming!" Frisk suddenly sprints over to you, their eyes wide with excitement. They shove a noise maker in your hands and pass one to Asgore and Gerson before darting to the others. You glance over in the direction of the docks and you can just make out the shape of Alphys leading what must be a blindfolded Undyne down the steps. Everyone stands up and gathers together, holding their breath until she comes in range. 

"Al how long do I have to keep this thing on?" she whines. If it weren't for Alphy's hands on hers, you have a feeling she would've ripped the cloth away by now. 

"We're a-almost there," Alphys calls loudly, glancing towards everyone gathered. "Almost....okay! You can t-take it off now." 

She cackles loudly. "What, did you plan a romantic date on the be-" 

"SURPRISE!" 

She jumps and rips the blind fold away at everyone's shout and her eye goes wide. Sparkles and streamers rain down on her as she stares with an open jaw at everyone cheering. After a moment of stunned staring, she beams and whoops, leaping towards you all and wrapping as many people as she can into a massive hug, which impressively, includes a lot of you. "YOU NERDS! So this is what you've all been up to! Is that a volleyball net?"

Alphys squirms from where she's been pinned into the hug, her snout sticking up into the air. "You s-said you wanted to try after we watched that anime-" 

"The one with the crow boys yeah!" She releases everyone and bounds over to the nets. "Well, what are you all waiting for? Let's team up!" 

Since it's going to take a bit to get all the food ready, everyone agrees to start off with a few rounds. Toriel, Sans, Gerson, Asgore, and Grillby all hang back, claiming they'd rather just watch and the rest of you line up. Alphys declares herself ref and takes her place close to the net, an oddly focused look on her face. Undyne declares herself team captain and after a moment of thinking, points to Papyrus. "You're captain of the other team!" she declares with a wide grin. "We can't have both of us on a team, it wouldn't be fair!" 

Papyrus returns her smile, obviously pleased in her faith in him. "OKAY THEN! YOU CAN PICK FIRST!" 

Undyne nods and looks at the line up. "Shore!" she announces, surprising you for just a moment. You jump to stand beside her and tap her waiting fist with your own. Then it's Papyrus' turn. 

"LIAM!" He nods and stands by the skeleton. 

And on it goes until Undyne's team consists of you, Faith, Dogamy and Dogaressa and Greater Dog. Frisk, Liam, Doggo, and Lesser Dog make up Pap's team. And it's then that you all realize there's an uneven number of players. Undyne folds her arms for a moment and you see her glance over at the ones on the sidelines. Sans has somehow managed to bury himself in sand, probably to avoid being dragged in. Asgore, with as tall as he is, would probably have no trouble in simply batting the ball back over to the other side of the net, even though it is placed higher than usual to accommodate the monster's size. Besides, he's looking pretty cozy in his seat, a wide smile on his face. Toriel is firm no, as is Gerson so that leaves-

"Grillby!" she suddenly calls. 

Grillby pauses in his food prep, glancing up at all of you. 

"We need one more! Get over here!" 

He shakes his head. So naturally you all chime in, whining and pleading. He's flickering with amusement, but he's not budging. But you do notice that he's pointedly not looking at you. Well now...time to put a theory to the test. 

"Oh come on guys," you say loudly. "If he doesn't want to, he doesn't want to!" 

Everyone stops, looking at you in surprise. 

You put your hand on your hip and pout at him. "I mean, he clearly sees that he'll lose against our team, right Undyne?" 

Bingo. He instantly shifts colors, just slightly.

Undyne blinks. And then she grins. "Hell yeah!" 

"Language!" Toriel calls, pointedly looking at Frisk. 

"Heck yeah!" 

Grillby's flames sputter slightly. "So sure of yourselves are you?" 

You shrug. You casually swing an arm around Undyne. "I mean, c'mon. We're the freaking dream team! You don't stand a chance, I get it!" 

You can hear Faith valiantly fighting not to laugh out loud. Liam sounds like he's wheezing slightly. Grillby is glaring at you and you smile brightly at him. And three...two...

"Fine." Grillby kicks off his shoes like the rest of you and everyone cheers as he moves to stand on Papyrus' side of the net. There's a clear challenge in the way he's holding himself as he takes up the spot just in front of you. You beam at him. 

"There you go, look at you being brave!" 

"You are going to eat those words Shore." 

"All right!" Undyne crows, scooping down to pick up the ball. "So, does everyone know how to play?" 

She's met with various noises of confirmation and quiet 'no's. She nods. "Right, so basically, you wanna keep the ball in the air. Don't let it touch the ground. You can't hold onto it, you can't use your feet. Each side gets three attempts to hit the ball back over to the other side. We'll play til....uh, seven points. Three rounds. No holding back! Ready?" 

"Yeah!" 

"Okay!" She tosses the ball up into the air and jumps. Her palm connects solidly and it moves so fast it's a mere blur. You hear Liam shriek and dive out of the way. The ball slams into the ground, spraying sand everywhere. Everyone stares at the ball for a moment and then back at Undyne. She pumps her fist into the air. "Al!" 

"Uh that's-that's one point to team Undyne!" 

You cheer along with your team. Grillby slowly shifts his gaze from the ball back to you. He pushes his sleeves up slightly and his colors shift into bright, focused hues. 

And then the game begins in earnest. Papyrus of course is the heart of his team, all limbs and bones as he jumps to intercept more of Undyne's insanely fast tosses. The next point goes to them when he manages to set the ball into the air and Doggo races forward, headbutting the ball with enough force to send it flying back towards your side. You jump for it but it slips just past your fingers and hits the sand. The serve switches to them and Liam is up. His serve is a lot less violent than Undyne's and it's simply enough for you to get under the ball as it sails through the air. "Faith!" you call out and she jumps up, swinging her hand. She hits true and it's a perfect shot. 

But it gets blocked by Grillby. 

You didn't even see him move. One moment he was positioned in front of you and the next thing you know, he's darted to jump in front of Faith. He easily slaps the ball back towards your side and Faith, caught off guard, stumbles and misses the return. If you're not mistaken, Grillby flashes you a quick smirk as he returns to his spot. He taps his chin and you realize that your jaw has dropped. You close it with a sharp click and return his smile with one of your own. It's certainly something else to see him getting into it. And get into it he does. When he's on the front line, he's the main defense, darting around so quickly he's mostly a bright blur that you can't hardly keep up with. Combined with Frisk, who takes advantage of their smaller size to move into the perfect place to help set the ball, tossing it either to Papyrus or one of the dogs, they're certainly a tough team to beat.

But that's not to say your side doesn't put up a fight. You give it your all, as does everyone else. Admittedly, some of the dogs need to be reminded that this isn't fetch especially when the ball goes out of bounds and they all take off after it. And yes, there's a lot of fumbling and plays that you're pretty sure would be considered illegal in a regular game but everyone is having fun. Undyne's stamina is unmatched save by perhaps Papyrus and everyone on his team is more wary when she steps up to serve. You even manage to score a point of your own, earning a round of cheers from your team and the monsters watching. Faith's flexibility comes in handy, helping her to snatch the ball when it's on the very edge of being out of bounds and send it back into the center, where you or one of the dogs send it flying back to the other side. 

Everyone puts their all in. But you are honestly shocked by how much Grillby gets into it. He doesn't yell or overly exert himself. But he continues to move fast and when he makes a move, the ball doesn't come near the ground. It's fascinating to watch and Undyne has to yell at you a few times when you get too caught up in watching him, causing you to blush while everyone laughs.

The first round goes to your team. The second goes to Papyrus and all of you play with renewed energy for the third and final round. Before you know it, the game is tied at six to six. There's been a lot of back and forth and at this point, several people sweating. The sun hasn't set yet and the heat from that combined with Grillby's presence is taking its toll. You wipe sweat from your forehead. You're back in front again, in between Faith and Dogamy. Grillby is directly in front of you. His flames seem to quirk upwards. 

"Feeling the heat?" he says and only the flare of brightness in his face gives away his teasing. 

You return his smile. "I think I can handle it." 

"It's up!" Undyne calls and she tosses the ball up. You shift, keeping your eyes in front of you and slightly upwards, waiting to see where the ball will go. You hear the solid 'twack!' of her hand hitting it and...there it is! It's a blur, it should be a straight shot but no! Pap is there and the ball echos hollowly as it hits his bones, heading straight up into the air. Lesser woofs, their neck slightly extended as they leap forward. They hit the ball with their snout, sending it back to your side. Faith rushes to set it but her fingers are off just slightly. Instead of sending it forward, it sails back. It's going to go out of bounds! You'll lose the game! Undyne plows through the sand. She jumps into the air and shouts "SHORE!" Her hands connect and the ball is headed for you. 

Your eyes see movement. Grillby has matched your position and his knees are bent slightly, ready to jump and completely block you. But you can't pass it again! You've got to hit it over! You shift and jump and he follows. You lock eyes with him and you both know in the same moment he's easily going to block you. There's only a breath of time to decide what to do. So you do the very first thing that pops into your head. 

You stick your tongue out at him and wiggle it. 

He chokes, eyes widening. Then the ball is in your hands and you hit it with as much strength as you can muster. Unfortunately, you're still looking at Grillby when you do and your arm naturally sends in that direction. It flies straight into Grillby's face. His head jerks backwards as the ball smacks into him and it ricochets up and to the side slightly. You hear the breath whoosh out of Grillby as he lands very solidly in the sand, flat on his back. 

"Oh crap!" You slam up against the net and very nearly land on your butt yourself. But you manage to keep your footing and duck under the net, running to the stunned Grillby. You drop your knees next to him "I'm so sorry, are you okay?" 

He's staring up at the sky, colors of blue and red and orange all swirling around his face for a moment. He blinks up at you as you lean over him, unsure if you should try to help him up or just let him recover. He makes another small, choked noise. 

"Grillby?" 

His eyes squeeze shut and then...he starts laughing. And it's not like any laughter you've heard from him before. He's usually quiet and subdued with his chuckling, holding it back as much as he can. But this! This is a full, deep, belly laugh and it actually makes you knees weak with how utterly adorable it is. His flames crackle and pop merrily as he continues to laugh hard enough he's actually shaking a little. It's infectious and giggles build up in your chest until you're cracking up right alongside him. Which naturally means everyone else starts laughing too and soon the entire beach seems to echo with the sound. 

But it passes quickly. Grillby sits up, blushing a little at his outbreak. He's covered in sand and takes a moment to brush his shoulders. "That was a dirty move," he scolds you but his breathlessness takes away any sting he might have intended. 

"Which part? My brilliant distraction or accidentally smacking you in the face? Because I swear I didn't mean to do the second one."

He gives you a look that clearly says 'You know which one.'

You grin sheepishly before peering closely at him. "Are you okay? Does it hurt at all?" 

He starts to shake his head but Frisk interrupts. "It must've hurt!" 

The two of you share a startled look, your own gut twisting. Frisk is usually the type to soothe things over, that seems a little harsh. 

But then they grin. "You know, when I get hurt, Mom gives it a kiss to make the pain go away!" 

Several of the people around you gasp with delight as you and Grillby both flush deeply. You glance to Toriel, who has a paw up over her mouth, attempting to hide a growing beam of a smile.

Undyne cackles, giving you a smack on the back. "Yeah Shore! Kid's got a point! That's what humans do right? Kiss it and make it better?" 

"Uh, that's usually for...uh, well, I mean I don't-" 

"I'm fine," Grillby insists. He's gone almost completely blue, little flickers of yellow coloring the edges. "It didn't hurt." 

"Better to be safe than sorry, right?" Undyne pushes. "Do it, do it, do it!" 

Oh geez, they're all going to start chanting aren't they? You don't want that, the two of you are embarrass enough as is. You peek at Grillby. He's not looking at you and is moving to stand up. Right. They won't stop until you do it so...just, just do it! Your heart feels like a drum in your chest and it's prompting you to reach out and grab his shoulder. And then, before you let common sense and mortifying embarrassment talk you out of it, you press your lips against his cheek, quickly kissing him.  

It goes dead silent. You nearly throw yourself back, face steaming. Your lips are tingling slightly from pressing against living flame. But as you expected, it didn't burn you. His cheek was just warm. Warm and solid and oh holy crap you just did that!  

Grillby hasn't moved. But he has reached a fascinating new shade of blue.

"There! All better!" you say much too loudly.

Alphys suddenly squeals, breaking the silence and all around you, your friends break into a clamor of noise. Grillby slowly pulls his knees up and presses his face against them, puffs of smoke lifting from the top of his head. Faith pretends to swoon and falls into Liam's arms.You jump to your feet, ignoring the looks of utter glee aimed your way. 

"Right! So I think a ball in the face equals a foul, which means team Papyrus wins! Congrats! Time for food? I think it's time for food!" You very quickly march over to the table where Toriel has been working during the game. Your expression must be utterly murderous because both and she and Sans don't say a word but they do share several looks, snorting to themselves. But surprisingly, the others are quick to join you for food and don't mention your little kiss (other than a jab in the side from Faith). And as you start to calm, marginally at least, you realize that you are starving. And the food looks amazing. It's fairly simple, just burgers and dogs but Grillby prepped most of them and you can taste the addition of magic in each bite. You've claimed a chair and are joined by Liam and Faith. Eventually, Grillby himself gets up and grabs a plate. He surprises you by grabbing a chair further away and dragging it closer to you. He sits without a word, face carefully impassive but when your eyes meet for a split second, he nervously smiles. 

You return it, some of the anxious twisting in your gut easing a little. 

Undyne opens her presents while everyone eats. She gets a variety of appropriately cool things (aside from the rubber fish that is obviously from Sans). She opens the gift from you, curiosity shifting to glee. It's a shark tooth necklace and bracelet set, one of the nice ones from the shop. She immediately grabs Alphys' wrist and slips the bracelet over it, giving snout a quick smooch as she does so. 

Both you and Grillby clear your throats and fidget in your seats when they shift their eyes to the two of you.

When she gets to Papyrus' gift, he's nearly bouncing up and down in his seat, making it creak threateningly. "Calm down Pap!" she finally laughs, ripping the carefully wrapped paper off. Her brow lifts as she stares inside for a moment. Then she reaches in and pulls out a black faux leather jacket. The back is imprinted with a stylized blue fish and her name in a bold lettering. There's blunt silver spikes dotted across the shoulders and on the cuffs and the whole thing utterly screams bad-ass biker. Unable to contain himself any longer, Papyrus jumps up and from-somewhere?-produces a nearly identical jacket but one emblazoned with crossed white bones and PAPYRUS written in papyrus font. He slips it on with the greatest of grace and poses. 

"NOW WE, AS BEST OF BEST FRIENDS, MATCH!" You're pretty sure that only you and maybe Sans notice the slightest shake in his voice. Undyne stares at him for a long moment. 

Then-

"Oh my God!" She leaps to him and tackles him into the sand. "This is awesome! We're gonna look so cool!" 

"PLEASE DON'T NOOGIE THE SKELETON!" Papyrus wails but his sockets are gleaming with what just might be happy tears. 

You're laughing with everyone else when you feel a hand on your shoulder. Glancing up, you see that Tyler has finally arrived. He looks better than the last time you saw him, like he's actually gotten a proper rest. "Hey! I didn't think you were gonna make it!" 

He grin sheepishly. "Sorry, got held up and then I realized I forgot to get a present. It's not too late is it?" 

"Nah, just give her a second to finish wrestling with Pap. Oh but you did miss a pretty awesome volleyball game." 

Liam pipes up around his burger. "Shore sent the ball straight into Grillby's face." 

Faith tugs on Tyler's arm, eyes gleaming. "And then-!" 

You kick her leg. "And then everyone pressured me into a thing and it's fine and we're not gonna bring it up again or I might actually catch on fire." 

"I don't think Grillby would mind that," Faith says smugly, moving her legs out of the way as you attempt to kick her again. 

"Oh hey, Tyler's here!" Undyne says cheerfully from where she's utterly pinned Papyrus into the sand. "You're late dude!" 

"Yeah, sorry about that. Happy birthday." 

"Thanks! Shore kissed Grillby!" 

Tyler's eyebrows nearly shoot into his hairline and his head swivels to look at you. "Did you?" 

You bury your face in your hands. "On the cheek because I slammed a volleyball in his face," you groan. "I was pressured!" 

Grillby says nothing but he is watching you and his gaze just makes your face burn even more. Fortunately, Tyler takes pity on you and holds out the small gift bag towards Undyne. "Here. Better late than never, right?" 

Undyne finally releases Pap and the poor skeleton has sand pouring off of him in rivulets as he stands up. With that, she opens up the rest of her presents and then you find yourself being dragged down towards the water, following a hooting Undyne hoisting a brand new custom made surfboard given to her by Alphys. You shed your shirt and shorts, leaving them in a pile with everyone else's and run into the water just as the setting sun casts it's light on it, turning the water a shimmering orange.

Just before your bare feet hit the water, you feel a small hand grasp your wrist. Frisk is holding onto you and they're staring at Liam. Or rather, they're staring at the matching, faded scars on his chest. They look back up at you, their eyes wide and hopefully and filled with awe. "Is...is he....?" 

You smile at them and nudge them towards Liam. "Why don't you go ask him yourself?" 

A wide, delighted smile breaks out on their face and they release you to bound over to Liam, who's currently in the process of dunking Faith under the water.

Several games of chicken and a few turns on Undyne's new board later, those in the water start to slowly disperse and head back up to the rest of the group where Grillby has begun setting up a fire. As you approach, laughing and chatting with your dance crew, he glances up. You can feel his eyes taking in your suit, one a bit fancier than your usual surfing get up. You're not surprised when a faint blush lights his face but you are surprised that he doesn't look away. Instead, he reaches over and grabs one of the towels brought out by Gerson and holds up to you. 

"Thanks." You take it and wrap it around yourself, stepping closer to the fire pit. 

"Have fun?" he asks softly as he adds another log to the fire. You nod. 

"Totally. And hey, I didn't almost drown this time, so that's a bonus." 

He snorts. 

"hey grillbz, where'd you put the marshmallows?" Sans calls over, looking up from digging in the bag Grillby brought. "....did i forget to ask you to bring some?" 

Grillby sighs and stands, offering his seat to you. You hop into it eagerly, snuggling into the warmth left behind. You watch as he walks over to Sans, perhaps to lecture him about forgetting to mention important party details. That is a shame about the marshmallows though, that would've been fun. You're staring into the flames of the fire, feeling your thoughts beginning to drift when you sense someone walked up next to you. Well, slowly lumbering more than walking might be a better fit. You look up to see Gerson slowly moving a camp chair out of the way so he can sit down on the sand. He groans slowly as he gets comfortable, giving you a one eyed grin as he does so. 

"I'll tell you what kid, getting old is not all it's cracked up to be." 

Shouldn't he be sitting in a chair then? You keep that question to yourself. "It's cool that you let Papyrus hold the surprise party here." 

"Wa ha, easier to hold it here than try and force my way up those steps," he laughs, nodding in the direction of the docks. "I can't remember the last time I actually went up there. Too much work." 

"At least it's really nice down here," you say. "Right next to the water and all those cool rock formations over there. I bet it's nice." 

Gerson chuckles. "Nicer than you know kid." He's studying you, one hand stroking the goatee on his chin. "So, before Sparks comes back over, I wanna ask you something." 

Your hands tighten slightly on the towel wrapped around you. "Yeah?" 

"....How much has he told ya?" Gerson's open eye, usually sparkling with a touch of mischief or smugness is sharp and intense. "'Bout what he is?" 

That's right. Gerson was there. How much of his time in the war was spent with Grillby, you don't know. But surely Gerson must know about the circumstances around Grillby's 'birth'. After all, didn't Gerson say before that he was the one who taught Grillby strategy? Of course at the time, you'd just assumed he was talking about chess. "I know he's an elemental," you say in a low voice. "I know that he fought back then and did what he had to do to protect monster kind." 

Gerson's eye widens just slightly, though it doesn't lose that sharp gleam. He chuckles quietly, almost to himself. "Did he now? Ain't that a thing. Undyne's told me that the two of you are close," he muses. "But I'll be honest; I still have a hard time believing Grillby would let himself get so close to a human. Certainly not close enough to tell you about that. No offense to you or nothing." 

Coming from anyone else, you might have found the comment a little harsh but he has a point. "I kind of dragged it out of him," you admit. But to that, Gerson shakes his head. 

"Kid, I'm telling you from experience; if Grillby doesn't want to talk about something, he's not going to talk about it. You got him to open up to you in a way I haven't seen in a very, very long time. Kid's stubborn, maybe even more than I am." He sighs and stretches his feet out, shifting them closer to the fire slightly. "So. You care about him?" 

There's no hesitation. "Yeah." 

"A lot?" 

You nod. "Yes." 

He hums quietly. "He's been through a lotta hurt." 

"Yeah." You grin ruefully. "Sans gave me the 'be good to my best friend' talk already." 

Gerson laughs. "Wa ha ha! Beat me to it did he? Well, then I won't repeat it." He nudges your shoulder with his fist. "Well go on then. What're you waiting for?" 

Something in your mind almost seems to click. What are you waiting for? Why are you still hesitating? Why are you letting your own fear and doubt stop you from taking that step? Sans said himself that Grillby would wait. But he shouldn't have to. You nod to yourself and stand. It takes you a second to find your clothes in the dark but once you do you quickly pull them over your damp suit. You leave your towel in the building pile from the others and move across the sand towards Grillby and Sans. The elemental has a hand on his hip and Sans is putting his own up in defeat. 

"okay, okay i'll run and grab some!" His eye lights shift to you. He grins. "heh, looks like someone wants a word. have fun." 

He vanishes with a soft pop and Grillby turns to look at you. You're both quiet for a moment. Steeling yourself, you smile as casually as you can. "Wanna take a walk with me?" 

He flickers in surprise but nods. The two of you head off towards the larger rock formations, quickly leaving the sound of the party behind you. The natural glow of his flames is enough to light your way but you're still careful to watch your step as the sand fills with stones and smaller boulders that eventually shift into complete beds of rock. The walk is silent for the most part, only the sound of crashing waves and Grillby's own natural crackling to fill the night. Some of the stars have come out, dotting the dark inky blue of the sky. It's peaceful out here but even that isn't quite enough to ease the butterflies in your stomach. After a few minutes of walking, you point to one of the larger rock formations, one that extends out further into the ocean. It's high enough that the spray of water shouldn't reach the top so you ask, "Wanna climb up?" 

He glances up and after a moment of consideration, nods. He moves behind you, following the placement of your feet as you gingerly make your way up the slight climb. The rock is still warm from the heat of the sun. It reminds you of how warm his cheek was when you kissed it. You blush, glad that he can't see your face at this moment. It takes some careful maneuvering, but the two of you reach the top of the rock without incident and take a seat. From up here, you can feel a little more of a breeze, carrying with it the scent of the salty water below. Your suit has dampened your clothes slightly so you shiver as the wind causes goosebumps to rise. 

Grillby notices, of course he notices, and without a word, he shifts closer to you, pressing his arm against yours. You let yourself sink into his warmth, sighing softly. "Are you okay? Being up here?" 

"Yes, I don't think I need to worry unless a sudden storm starts." 

"Sky looks pretty clear, I'd say you're safe." 

He hums in agreement. He looks out over the water and after a moment, he quietly says, "I was summoned near the ocean." 

"Really? Not...not around here?" 

"No," he replies, flickering with amusement at your excited tone. "It was...very, very far away from here." 

"How far?" 

He points out, straight towards the ocean. "Far. I don't remember where exactly but I believe it was in the area that you call...Scotland?" 

Your jaw drops. "You're Scottish?" 

"Maybe?" 

You laugh with pure wonder. But then you pout. "Okay, I could hear that you've got a bit of an accent the first time you talked to me but that isn't any Scottish accent I've ever heard." 

"Well, no, I wasn't born speaking your human langues. Back then, most monsters spoke in a completely different language, one that humans couldn't understand. It wasn't until we had to use the school books found in the dump underground for our children that speaking English became the norm." 

You blink at him. "A monster language? What does it sound like?" 

He turns his head to look at you. After a moment of thinking, his near invisible mouth opens just slightly and a strange string of sounds quietly echoes with the snapping of his flames. It's like no language you've ever heard. You can't pick out words nor have any hope of even reading an emotion in them. It sends a shiver up your spine but not an unpleasant one. It's so weird, so utterly inhuman. But coming from him, in his gentle voice, it sounds beautiful. You're staring at him as he goes quiet once again. "What did you say?" you ask in a whisper. The words sound almost crude after the flowing beauty of his voice. 

He just smiles, pressing a finger against his mouth. "It's a secret." 

"Aw what!" You bump his shoulder. "Now you've got me all curious!" 

"You're always curious." 

"You got me there." You tilt your head in consideration for a moment. "So wait, if you were born-uh, summoned in the vague area of Scotland, how did you get way over here?" 

He shivers just slightly. "Boats." 

"Boats," you repeat flatly. He nods. "You got on a boat?" 

"I didn't have much of a choice," he says, flames rolling with a quick flash of color. "We were being driven out. We thought that if we left entirely and headed west, we'd be allowed to live in peace. The army tried to follow but we managed to escape with some help." 

"What kind of help?" 

"Monsters of the sea mostly. They stalled the human ships, protected ours from harsh waters and showed us the fastest courses to take." He sighs. "It was the longest ten weeks of my life." 

"I bet." You can't even imagine how scared he must have been. Trapped on a wooden boat with nothing but water for endless miles in every direction. You don't want to push him to remember unpleasant memories so you focus on what he just said. "What kind of monsters lived in the sea?" A wide grin lifts your face. "Were there mermaids? Please tell me there were mermaids!" 

He seems almost startled by your sudden enthusiasm. He thinks for a moment. "Oh. Yes, we called them water spirits and fish folk." 

You press your hands against your face in utter glee. "Mermaids are real!" 

He laughs quietly. "A fan?" 

"Uh, yeah! Just about every kid ever has had a mermaid phase! Are they still around?" 

He shrugs, causing his shoulder to brush against you. "I don't know. The last I heard, they went to hide into the deep parts of the ocean when the war went bad. They tried to stop the human army from following us but they were losing too many to keep it up." 

"Oh." 

"They might still be there," he says, perhaps sensing your disappointment. "Maybe word will spread that monsters are accepted now and they'll come back?" 

You gaze wistfully out over the water. "I hope so. I would love to meet a mermaid." 

Silence falls. Your hand is itching to reach for his. After a moment, you give in and extend your fingers slowly until they brush against his. You hear his breath catch. After a moment, he moves to let your fingers intertwine. Your cool human skin presses against his warm flames, so utterly different from each and yet fitting together perfectly. "I am really sorry about smacking you in the face," you say quietly. "I know you said it didn't but it must have hurt a little, right?" 

He shakes his head, meeting your eyes. They're bright with sincerity. "It really didn't. I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm made of fire." 

"Whaaaat?"

"Stop that," he laughs, poking your nose with his free hand. "Point is, unless an attack is made with water or full of intent to hurt, I can barely even feel it. And....besides." Just a hint of color flashes over his face as he points to his cheek. "You kissed it better, yes?" 

You squeak softly, unintentionally, and try to brush it off with a laugh. "Yeah, I figured they weren't going to stop so I uh...sorry if it...yeah." 

His hand tightens slightly around yours. He seems to be fighting for words. "You...you didn't have to do it, because of their teasing." 

Your eyes flicker down to the ground. "I wanted to." 

"....Oh." 

Take the step Shore. Be brave! Don't make him wait! 

"Um." Your voice catches. "You know though, you were hit here, not here." You touch your nose and then your cheek. You're sweating a little. "I uh...kissed the wrong spot better so...I'd better do it right, shouldn't I?" 

Grillby's breath hitches. "....I suppose so."

The silence is now heavy with emotion and you shyly look back at him. He's staring at you, his eyes bright. Your throat is dry and you're painfully aware of how fast your heart is beating. You're starting to lean towards him, drawn close by a force that you can't fight, that you don't want to fight. And...this is good, isn't it? You're terrified of this feeling but you want more of it. Both Sans and Gerson have told you that you need to take a step forward, chase after him. But...are you ready for this? Is he? 

Your hand is shaking a little as you slowly lift it to rest against his face. His eyes shift to look at it before moving back to you. He's barely moving and it doesn't look like he's even breathing. 

"Is this...okay?" you ask in a whisper. 

He swallows. Nods. 

You slowly move your thumb over his cheek. Sometimes you're still shocked by how utterly solid he is, despite being made of fire. His flames run over your skin, soft and gentle but tingling with magic. "I...guess it's super obvious at this point but...I like you Grillby." 

The confession is little more than a hushed whisper but he shivers, his flames briefly rising and you feel their heat increase just slightly. He nods several times and finally murmurs, "I...like you too. I think I have for a long time." 

The words send your heart into overdrive. Your toes curl and you have to blink past a growing pressure in your eyes. A breathless laugh escapes you. More words rise in your mind but...this moment doesn't need words. Not right now. Not when he's looking at you like this, like you're the only thing he sees. You let your overwhelming happiness push you forward. You lift your face, gently guiding him closer. Your nose brushes against him, the flames tickling your skin. Slowly, you press your lips against where you guess his to be. He angles his face slightly and-oh. Oh there they are. They're not quite soft, not like a human's would be. They're firm but still give enough that it takes your breath away. He exhales softly under your kiss and the smell and taste that fills your senses briefly overwhelms you. It's smoke and it's fire and it's something else. Something that you've only tasted a fraction of in his food and the drinks he makes. He tastes of magic, sharp and sweet. But it's different than what you've tasted before. It's stronger, raw and powerful in a way that would frighten you if not for the absolute joy filling every fiber of your being. 

You pull back just slightly, gasping. He's breathing heavily too, staring at you in wonder. Then, like he can't hold himself back, he leans forward and kisses you back with an almost desperate fierceness that pulls a surprised gasp from you. His hand is on your shoulder, pulling you closer. You feel yourself growing weak under his touch, your limbs going loose even as you press yourself closer. You let go of his hand only so you can put both of yours on his head. Flames dance between your fingers, matching the fast pace of your heart as you let your lips match his pace, exploring his mouth with your own. His own freed hand cups your face, fingers tangling in your ocean stiff hair. Each touch makes your skin burn with heat and tingle with the energy of magic. You don't know what you're doing so you stop thinking and just feel.

When he slows and pulls away, you nearly chase after him, your eyes fluttering open. When did you close them? You want to look at him, you never want to stop looking at him. Here in the darkness of night, when his light is soft and bright with shifting hues of color and tinged with a blush, you swear he's never been more beautiful. And...he's looking at you the same way, like he's shocked and amazed at what he sees. His thumb brushes against your cheek and his golden eyes squint with a joy that nearly brings tears to your eyes. 

"S...so," you whisper breathlessly. "Does this make us official?" 

He laughs, leaning forward until your foreheads touch. "I suppose it does," he murmurs. Then he kisses you again and it's soft and gentle and it's everything that you imagined it would be. 

Some part of your mind wonders if you're going to smell like smoke from now on. 

Another part of you hopes that you do.

Chapter Text

It’s a little weird how so much can change in an instant and yet remain exactly the same. You’re still you, Grillby is still Grillby and the two of you are still holding hands. You’re still scared of the feeling in your chest and comforted by his quiet presence. The stars are still gleaming and the ocean is still breaking against the sand and stone with soft crashes of sound. The world is exactly the same as it was mere minutes ago. It almost feels like it should’ve shifted the moment you touched your lips to Grillby’s. But it feels the same. Not that it’s a bad thing necessarily it’s just…

What happens now?

In stories and movies, all too often the love interests get together and then that’s it. Roll credits. There aren’t that many stories that seem to focus on what comes after. You know you should simply be enjoying this but you can’t stop the quiet worry from peeking up from the depths of where you shoved such thoughts in your mind. You can’t help it. There’s a tiny voice in your head hissing that this can’t be real, it won’t last.

But that voice fades away when you look at him. A fluttering happiness takes it’s place and you lean against his arm. When you shift your head up slightly to look at his face, a small smile lifts your mouth to see an array of colors flashing across his face. Despite his silence, his mind must be racing with thoughts as well. The swirling colors and lights are breathtakingly beautiful, especially in the dark of night.

“We should probably head back to the party soon,” you murmur.

“Hmm.”

“They’re going to wonder where we wandered off to.”

“Probably.”

Neither of you make a move to get up.

“Feels kind of surreal, doesn’t it?”

He hums in agreement. After a moment he whispers, “Oh stars.”

“What?” The irritating voice of worry pokes it’s head back up.

Grillby gives you a helpless look. “Papyrus is never going to let me hear the end of this.”

To be honestly, you’re pretty sure none of your friends will once they find out but- “Why Papyrus in particular?”

“I didn’t follow his manual.”

You blink and think back for a second as your spike of worry fades. Oh yeah, you think you remember hearing about some dating manual Pap carries around in case anyone asks him on a date. Following that line of thought, you actually don’t even really know if monster dating customs are the same as humans. “And what exactly does his manual say to do?” you ask curiously.

“It’s not just his manual,” he admits. “There are steps that are usually taken before k-” He blushes heavily, looking away for a moment. 

You seriously can’t even handle how cute he is when he’s embarrassed. "Before...kissing?"

He makes a soft noise, nodding. 

You snuggle even closer up against him, grinning. “And what steps are those?”

“You know.” He gestures with his free hand at nothing in particular, flames sputtering. “The asking on a date, dressing up. Stars, I didn’t even get you a gift.” He groans, covering his face. “I kissed you without giving you a gift first.”

You can’t help it. You laugh a little though you try to pass it off as a cough when he glares. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t laugh. I’m just half expecting you to say ‘how scandalous!’ at any moment.”

“It is scandalous,” he huffs quietly.

You bite your lip to hide your smile. “Okay, well. For one thing, you’re always dressed nicely, so check that off. Secondly, we did watch the fireworks at the festival together, just the two of us. We could count that.”

He blinks, then grunts noncommittedly. You press on. “And lucky for you, it’s not mandatory in human customs to give a present.”

“It’s not?”

You shake your head. “It’s a nice gesture but it’s not expected.”

He tilts his head for a moment, thinking about this. He frowns. “I still don’t count watching the fireworks as a date. Not that it wasn’t nice! But…it doesn’t count.”

“Ah. Okay.”

Silence falls for a moment. Of course, it can’t really be called silence with the waves crashing against the stone and sand and Grillby’s fire crackling gently. But it’s comfortable. Peaceful.

“What exactly do humans usually do for a first date?” he finally asks.  

You rub the back of your neck, smiling sheepishly. “Well, I’m not exactly an expert but usually a first date involves dinner and an activity of something. A movie or mini golf or something. But it can be anything really,” you add quickly. You don’t want to intrude upon his work any more than necessary. He’s already taken the night off just to come to the party after all. “There’s no set rules really. It could even be like a breakfast date or something.”

He nods slowly. “So…if we did breakfast and went somewhere, would that be acceptable?”

Your voice catches in your throat for a second as another fresh wave of utter joy and slight disbelief sweeps over you. “Y-yeah, I think that’d be just fine.”

“Okay. Okay.” He clears his throat. He seems to gather his courage after a moment and looks at you steadily. You find yourself growing a little red under his gaze. “Will you go on a date with me?”

How is it possible for one person to feel so much happiness? There's no stopping the smile or the blush on your face. "Of cou-" 

You jump at the sudden blast of noise coming from your pocket. You fumble trying to fish your phone out and breathlessly answer it. "Hello?" 

"SHORE!" 

Youch. You lean away from the phone, wincing slightly. 

"SANS FINALLY FOUND MARSHMALLOWS! WHERE DID YOU AND GRILLBY GO? IT'S TIME FOR ROASTING AND TOASTING AND-" 

"PAPYRUS!"  You hear Undyne squawk loudly in the background and then there's a flurry of noise that sounds suspiciously like the phone being wrestled away. 

"UNDYNE PLEASE WAIT YOUR TURN TO TALK TO OUR DEAR FRIEND-WHAT?" 

There's furious mumbling you can't quite make out. 

"BUT THAT....OH!" Papyrus sounds like the secrets of the universe have been revealed to him. "NEVER MIND SHORE! YOU AND GRILLBY CAN TAKE ALL THE TIME YOU NEED!" 

Grillby has gone blue again, Papyrus' words carrying loudly through your phone speaker. "Thanks Paps," you whisper. 

"WE'LL TRY TO SAVE SOME MARSHMALLOWS FOR YOU! BUT UNDYNE SAYS YOU'RE ALREADY GETTING PLENTY OF SUGAR! AUDIBLE WINK!" 

He actually says 'audible wink' out loud. You choke and hang up, blushing furiously. You look to Grillby, a few giggles escaping. "Well good news, I think you're off the hook for not following the manual." 

He puts a hand over his face. But he's grinning. 

You have to admit though, you do kind of want to have a few roasted marshmallows before they're gone. It must show in your face because Grillby stands and helps you to your feet. The two of you make your way down from the rock formation, Grillby carefully watching to make sure you don't slip. When your feet hit solid ground Grillby keeps his hand wrapped around yours and the two of you slowly walk back towards the party. Your entire body feels light, only tethered to the earth by his warm and gentle grip. 

You hear the party before you see it. It seems the sugar has kicked in if the enthused yelling and faint thump of bass is anything to go by. 

Grillby flickers, mouth turning up into a wry smile. "They're all going to be insufferable about this, aren't they?" 

"I think that's a safe bet." You pull him to a stop for a moment, looking up at him. You know he doesn't exactly like being the center of attention and the wave of attention sure to come if you were to stroll right into the party area holding hands might make him uncomfortable. "We don't have to like, announce it or anything. I think they'll figure it out soon enough without that." 

His only response to that is to smile and tighten his grip. 

Predictably, the moment you step around the rock formations and into the light of the fire and-disco lights? Where did those come from?- all heads swivel to look at the pair of you. Then, with an explosion of motion, Faith and Undyne are running right at you. You squawk loudly with surprise when Undyne barges between you and Grillby and takes your arm. Faith is on your other side and the two of them frog march you down towards the shoreline, leaving a helpless Grillby looking after you as Papyrus bounds up to him.  

You're pulled away to to the line where the sand gets wet and the two girls release you only to immediately lean in, their eyes wide with expectation. "Well?" Undyne demands. 

"Well what?" you respond innocently, knowing full well what she's asking. 

She slaps her hands over your cheeks, squishing them and making your lips pucker. She's got a wild glint in her eye. "Did. You. Smooch. The bartender?"

Ow ow ow! "Yesh!" you answer as best as you can. 

You swear her eye actually flashes green. "Yes what?" 

"Yesh I smooshed the bartender!" 

Undyne finally releases your face only to throw her arms around you, squeezing hard enough you feel bones pop. "About freaking time!" 

Faith is hugging you too, laughing gleefully. "What was it like?" she whispers, as if anyone is going to over hear her with the combined music and crashing waves. 

"Um." You're blushing again. It seems like you're always blushing these days. "It was warm. Really, really warm. And kinda smokey." 

She puts up a finger. "I have a very important question; did you kiss him or did he kiss you first?" 

"I...I kissed him first." 

Faith crows loudly. "LIAM!" She whirls on her feet and bolts back up towards the fire. "LIAM YOU OWE ME TEN BUCKS!" 

"No way!" Liam leaps up from intensely watching the three of you in one of the camp chairs and takes off. Faith chases after him, cackling. 

They bet on you?!

Undyne punches your shoulder but it's not as hard as you would've expected. She's grinning, warmth in the gesture. "Come on then," she says, steering you back up towards the others. "There's plenty of marshmallows left." 

She's...dropping it? That's a little surprising. 

"Of course, you've probably had more than enough sugar for one night!" she howls. 

And there it is.

Judging from the way a few heads shift towards you and the subtle blue that flashes in Grillby's face, her voice carried. You can only sigh and allow her to force you into a light run through the sand. Grillby's taken a seat and he looks at you as you approach, smiling in a way that makes your heart leap in your chest. Sans, seated in the chair on the other side of the open one you’re aiming for, offers you a stick with a marshmallow already stabbed on it. You accept it with a nod and sink into the comfort of the chair, aiming the stick at the embers of the fire.

As you roast your mallow, you let one hand drop down and slowly extend your pinkie until it brushes against Grillby’s hand. He returns the gesture, quietly interlocking your pinkies together.

The rest of the night passes fairly calmly. You roast a few marshmallows, endure a few teases and smug grins from the others and share stories with everyone. Faith and Liam return after a suspiciously long while. You can’t help but notice he’s got a bit of lipstick smeared on his mouth and a slightly dazed look in his eyes. Well, well, looks like you’re not the only one doing some smooching tonight. You lock eyes with Faith who waggles her eyebrows at you unashamedly.

Once those two reappear, Undyne drags the lot of you out of your chairs, insisting on learning a dance before the party is over. She picks a song from Liam’s playlist, one from the K pop band he follows religiously and the four of you teach pretty much everyone the most basic steps of the dance. The only ones who don’t join in are Sans, Gerson and Grillby, try as you might to convince him. Even your best puppy eyes don’t work! He remains firmly in his seat but he watches closely and a few times you spot his foot tapping slightly in time with the fast paced music.

You’re more determined than ever to get him to dance now that you’re together. Together. The word sends a thrill through your chest.

Finally, once the flames of the fire have flickered down to gently glowing embers and a plague of yawning sets upon the group, you all decide to head home for the night. Undyne gives you a big hug and thanks you again for your gift before glancing at Grillby and winking as best as she can with one eye. When Faith hugs you she gives you a little smooch on your cheek. A sharp sting of static electricity makes you jump. 

"Ah sorry!" she says, patting your cheek. "I've been full of static lately. 

You grin. "Or maybe you're just charged up from handing out all these smooches tonight."

She looks to Liam smugly. "Hey, if you could finally work up the courage to do it, so could I." 

You bid your farewells to everyone after that and head up the dock stairs with Grillby at your side. There's a few people and monsters lingering around, taking advantage of the cooler night air. As the two of you pass his bar, he drops off the bag and cooler he brought with Bonnie, who's in the process of wiping down the front stand and flipping the open sign off. She gives gives the two of you a wide and happy smile. 

"Congratulations you two," she croons, making Grillby's flame sputter. You're not surprised the news has already traveled. Someone must have texted Fuku.

Grillby nods, handing the empty cooler to her. Then he puts a hand on your back, gently leading you towards the parking lot where your car is parked. All too soon, you're there and you dig your keys out of your bag before turning to him. His colors have shifted into gentle hues of orange and yellow, the light reflecting off the surface of your car. 

"So...you didn't quite...answer before," he finally murmurs. When you blink in confusion he clarifies, "When Papyrus called." 

Oh. Oh! "Ah, yes! Yes a breakfast date sounds wonderful," you stammer. He seems to relax a little, a few sparks trailing from his head. 

"Tomorrow then?" 

You nod. "Yeah, tomorrow works for me. I've got the afternoon stocking shift so my morning is free and it won't get in the way of the bar and I apologize in advance for any awkwardness because I really don't have any experience with this at all but I'm really truly happy and geez now I'm getting nervous all over again-"

Your voice cuts off when Grillby suddenly leans down and presses his lips to your cheek, silencing your rambling. It's a quick kiss, more of a gentle nuzzle. Your thoughts sputter away. "I'm happy too," he murmurs, his breath warm against your face. "Be safe driving home, okay?" 

"Yeah," you say breathlessly. 

"See you in the morning. Is nine too early?" 

"Nope, nine's great." 

"Good." 

"Good." 

The pair of you smile at each other like total dweebs for another long moment before you turn and fumble with the car door, breaking the spell. You're in a bit of a daze during the drive and as you practically float up the steps. Ms Meyers is out, reading a book to her plants, as she does sometimes. There seems to be an additional pot or two. It's kind of hard to tell with the sheer number of bright, healthy plants adorning her little section of the hallway. She glances up from the children's picture book (Jack and the Beanstalk) and blinks sleepily at you as you pass by. "Good evening," she greets.

"Hey Ms Meyers." 

"My, you've practically shining my dear! Did something good happen?" 

You pause, hand on the doorknob. "Yeah," you breathe, turning slightly to give her a wide smile. "Something really, really good." 

~~~~~~

Grillby's is empty, and for some reason, instead of it's usual smokey sweet smell, there's a distinct smell of fish and sea water. It's really strange but for some reason, it doesn't seem to matter very much. You look around, wondering where Grillby might be. You're supposed to be meeting for breakfast, right? Maybe he's in the back. You move to stand and go look for yourself and it's at that moment you realize that you can't. 

You don't have legs. 

Instead, when you look down, you see a glistening tail covered in scales that shimmer with hues of red and gold, gleaming and catching the light with every subtle movement. At the very end, a semi opaque fin gently swishes back and forth. The scales of your tail crawl up over your hips, dotting your skin at various intervals all the way up to your neck and extend partially down your arms. You pull your arms in to examine them and it's when you hear the soft splashing of water that you realize you're almost completely submerged in it. Not just that, you're in some kind of large fish bowl of some kind, filled with sea water. Two metal limbs, shaped rather like simplistic dinosaur legs are attached to the bowl and when you look at them, they shift slightly, carrying the massive fish bowl back a few steps. 

Oh. Alphys must have put these on so you could move around. That was nice of her.

Wait. 

You....should probably be more alarmed by this sudden change than you are. Mostly, you just feel confused. Your thoughts are cloudy. You reach up to scratch at your head and jump when your fingers meet cool scales. You tug slightly on it, wincing. Oh, you've got ear fins too. Like Undyne! Huh, maybe she'll know what's going on. Heck, you'll take just about anyone at this point if they could explain why you're suddenly in a fish bowl that has legs when you no longer do. 

"Sorry to keep you waiting." 

You turn as best as you can in the water, splashing a little over the edge of your strange container. Grillby is headed towards you from the kitchen area. Instead of a tray of food however, he's got a book. Is that Papyrus' dating manual? You watch him take a seat at the table your bowl is seated next to and take a deep breath. He reaches for your hands and you wince, very intensely aware of the water on them. But somehow, they're dry despite being dunked in the water mere seconds ago. But you can't seem to focus on how strange that is because Grillby's hands are so, so warm and simply having him here with you makes you feel utterly at ease. 

He says your name softly, sending chills up your spine. Your tail flicks in response, slapping against the glass. He's rubbing the back of your hand with his thumb and his gaze is intense. Despite being surrounded by water, your throat is suddenly dry. You want to say something, you want to ask why you're in a fish bowl but mostly you just want to hoist yourself up and out of this thing and kiss him. You lean over the edge of the glass as best as you can. Why won't your voice work? 

Still, despite your silence, Grillby seems to understand. His grip tightens and he slowly starts to lean forward, his golden eyes growing heavy lidded as bright colors flicker through him. Is he going to do it? Will he kiss you? 

And then, in the absolute worst Jamaican impression you've heard in your entire life, a familiar voice cuts through the tense silence. 

"ah man, you've gotta just kiss da girl." 

You blink, searching for Sans. But...what...where? 

"down here fishy." 

You look down at the table. And...yeah there he is. But he's a crab. He's entirely a crab, except for his skull which is grinning easily up at you. "yanno, i think i was suppose to have a whole choir thing going on but i forgot to send out the invites. my bad man." 

Grillby sighs heavily. He releases your hand and stands. "Sans, you had one job." 

Crab-Sans gestures with his little crab claws. "don't blame me, that's just how the script was written." 

"Well, you know what has to happen now, don't you?" Grillby plucks Sans up from the table and starts heading back towards the kitchen. 

Wait, wait, wait. 

"aw, c'mon grillbz, don't be so crabby." Sans doesn't sound worried at all, despite the obvious danger. 

"I'm just following the script." Grillby pauses and looks at the various bottles on the wall. After a moment, he selects one, nodding to himself. "I think this will pair well with crab soup." 

Crap, how do you get these fish bowl legs moving?! Your tail slaps agitatedly against the glass. 

"hmm, i dunno man, i'd pick something a bit lighter. i'm not a big fan of tart stuff." 

"Good point." 

Grillby picks another bottle and crab-Sans waves to you as Grillby carries him away. "welp, make shore you don't under-da-season me." 

"SANS STOP PUNNING! You're going to be eaten!"  

Your own yell is what finally wakes you from the dream. You jolt, your eyes flying open. You sit up, staring blearily at nothing as your thoughts slowly and sluggishly piece themselves together. After a moment, you grab your blanket and toss it aside, staring down at your very human legs. No mermaid tail. 

Dang it. 

You rub at your eyes. A dream then? Leave it to Sans to interrupt such an important moment. Grillby was finally about to kiss you! 

Oh. 

Oh wait, he did. You kissed him and he kissed you and-! The rush of realization makes you hunch over slightly, clapping your hands over your cheeks. All that happened last night, the confession, the kiss wasn't a dream right?! Stitch raises his head from where he's curled up at the end of the bed, staring at you sleepily as you squeal softly.  

You jump at the sudden shrill beeping coming from your phone's alarm. It's eight a.m. Grillby's going to be here in an hour for your breakfast date. You leap from the bed, the surge of nerves and happiness washing away any trace of sleepiness. You set up your music and hop into the shower. The butterflies in your stomach are nearly unbearable. You almost feel more nervous now than you did last night. Last night, in the darkness of night with Grillby by your side and the ocean mere steps away to fling yourself into should you mess up, confession had been terrifying, but it felt right. You couldn't not confess. But what if he's changed his mind? What if-

No, come on now. No thoughts like that. You start belting out along with the music, distracting yourself as best as you can while you get ready. Your chosen outfit is a pair of jean capri's that hug your legs nicely and flowy top that you accent with a simple necklace. It's casual enough for a breakfast setting but still rather nice if you do say so yourself. And Grillby did say dressing nicely was part of the dating manual. 

You pause in fixing your hair, eyes going wide. You don't have a gift. Crap! He seemed to be embarrassed that he kissed you without offering you a gift first. You have little doubt in your mind that he'll have something for you to make up for that and you don't want to have nothing for him in return. There's no time to run out and get something so...maybe you have something around the house? You finish up with your hair, taking a little extra care in making it look nice (you really do need to go get it recolored soon, the roots are starting to show) and head out into the living room where you keep many of your little knick knacks. You don't want to just give him a throw away item and you frown, glancing over what you've got. You finally settle for a sand dollar nestled among the various shells you've collected over the past two years. It's a genuine one that you found yourself. Perfect. 

Your doorbell rings and your heart shoots into your throat. You glance at Stitch, snuggled up in his little bed. "Okay, how do I look?" 

"Merp," he meows in confirmation. 

"Okay." You take a deep breath and stick the sand dollar in your pocket before opening the door. 

And there he is. Your eyes take in his outfit, dark khakis, an open vest and button up and feel your face flush. He looks really, really good. Blue flickers through his head as he stares at you too. He smiles, golden eyes squinting. "Good morning," he says. "You look very nice." 

His praise makes your heart speed up and you smile bashfully. "Thank you. You do too." You step back, gesturing for him to come in. As he does, you realize that he's got a bag in one hand that seems to be brimming with food. Oh. Oh you assumed you were going out for breakfast but it looks like he's going to cook you something. He notices your curious expression and holds the bag up. "I realized I didn't ask if it was okay if I made you something before we go out. We can eat at a restaurant if you prefer."

"Oh I don't mind! Your food tastes a whole lot better than a lot of breakfast places anyway," you laugh, glancing over at your kitchen. Thank goodness you had actually put the dishes on when you got back last night. You didn't want him to even glance a mess like that last time he was here. "Can I help?" 

"Of course." He sets the bag down on the counter and starts pulling items out. "Is french toast okay?" 

"Yeah!" You love french toast. He smiles and nods and you pull out a few pans and bowls for him. Watching him work is fascinating. Every movement is smooth and seemingly effortless. He mixes up a mixture of eggs and spices in a bowl that sends out a heavenly scent of cinnamon before he even starts cooking. He sets that aside and sticks a slab of butter in the pan on the stove. Then, rather than using your system, he taps the pan and flames flicker from his fingers, wrapping the outside of it in a small ring of fire. He glances to you and does his best to hide a quiet laugh at your amazed expression. 

"Would you wash the fruit?" he asks, pointing to an assortment he's brought. There's strawberries, blue and black berries, bananas and oranges (which won't need washing) and one of the lumpy blue fruits you remember seeing his garden. You wash what needs to be washed, chopping what needs to be chopped and arranging them on one of your best plates. Which admittedly is not that nice of a plate but the fruit balances out the plainness even if they're cut unevenly and roughly. By the time you're done with that, Grillby has a stack of french toast already prepared. Which is amazing considering how much time he had to spend carefully stepping around Stitch. The cat has been weaving between his legs from pretty much the first moment he stepped into the kitchen, purring so loudly you could almost swear there was a motor inside of him. You had tried shooing him off several times but Grillby merely waved away your efforts, telling you he didn't mind. 

Now that the food is ready, you carry everything over to the table and take a seat. Stitch predictably leaps into Grillby's lap and settles there. The very tips of his ears are all you can see over the edge of the table.

"You can shove him off if you want to," you tell Grillby as you fill up a glass with orange juice. You offer some to him (still not entirely sure on what he can and can't drink) and he shakes his head at both the offer and the suggestion he kick Stitch off. 

"He's fine." His bright flickering betrays his happiness. "I don't mind at all." 

"Careful there or I'm going to start thinking you only agreed to date because of the cat." 

"Have I been found out already?" Smirking, he takes your plate from you before you can arrange it yourself. He selects a bit of everything, setting your plate up in such a way that it almost seems like a shame to ruin it. There's syrup generously dousing it, fruit placed around the toast in bright colorful patterns and a spoonful of whipped cream to top it all off. He hands it back and you can feel him watching you as you pick up your fork. Soft nervous colors dash through his flames. You smile reassuringly at him and dig in. 

It's a fight not to moan out loud. You've never in your entire life had a breakfast that tasted this good. It's rich and filled with a flavor that is perfectly balanced between the sweetness of the toast itself and the sharp tang of fruit. The spices blend together in a way that creates a shifting array of taste that leaves your tongue tingling. Or maybe that's the magic. Now that you've made the connection with your kiss last night, you can taste the subtle smokiness that is Grillby's magic woven into the food. It fills your veins with bubbling energy. 

"Holy crap!" you exclaim around your bite. You swallow and look to him, eyes wide and a delighted smile on your face. "This is amazing!" 

He blushes, obviously pleased. Satisfied with the quality and your reaction, he too starts to eat. He keeps on hand on Stitch the entire time, patting the cat between the ears. Occasionally he offers Stitch bits of fruit, which he sniffs curiously before wrinkling his little face and turning away. You sneak a few pictures with your phone and internally squeal. Conversation is quiet and scattered through out breakfast since you're busy shoveling as much of the toast into your mouth as you can and Grillby is content simply knowing you're enjoying it. 

Finally though, you've eaten as much as you can. You lean back in your seat with a happy sigh. Grillby gathers up the empty plates and suddenly pauses, glancing down at his lap and the cat fast asleep on it. You smirk at the distressed noise he makes. "Trapped?" 

He looks up at you and nods. "I can't move him," he whispers. "He's sleeping." 

"I guess you're stuck then." You laugh but take pity on him, standing and circling around to him. Carefully, you slip your hands under Stitch, your fingers brushing against Grillby's thighs. His breath catches slightly as you lift Stitch up and away from his lap. The cat's eyes slide open and he whines at you. "Hush now, we can't sit here all day. C'mon, your bed should be plenty warm by now." You had purposefully placed it in a spot that was usually sunny all day so Stitch wouldn't have to chase the warmth. Then again, maybe that would be a good thing. He's more than a little chubby at this point. 

You place him in his bed and turn back to Grillby, who for some reason is blushing. "Are you okay?" 

He nods quickly several times, getting to his feet. "Yes, yes just fine." He moves over to the counter, burning away the remains of food on the plates before setting them in the dish washer. Well that's one way to do it. You pull out a few plastic containers and put the leftovers away. When that's done, you turn to see him frowning at one of the plates. It seems burning away the syrup is still leaving a sticky residue and you don't have gloves for washing. "Here, I'll get that one," you say and move to his side. He hands it to you and you angle the faucet away from him before turning the water on. 

He watches you and doesn't move. It's nice having him there right next to you, even if it does make you super self conscious of every move you make. You finish rinsing the plate, put it in the dish washer and start to reach for a towel to dry your hands. Grillby stops you by touching your upper arm. "May I?" 

Well your hands aren't dripping wet, just damp so you cautiously hold them out. He angles his hands just above yours, not quite touching. The heat from his palms increases pleasantly and makes your skin tingle. Slowly, he moves his hands in a circle around yours, drying your skin after just a few moments of intense heat. When he's done, he gently takes your hands, checking to make sure your skin is dry. 

"Wow," you say, smiling widely up at him. "This is far nicer than a towel! I might have to keep you around." 

"Be careful or I'm going to think you agreed to date me only for the benefits of a portable heater." 

You giggle. "Aw man, have I been found out already?" 

"Lucky for you, I don't mind being a portable heater." He hesitates for just a moment, leaning in slightly. Nervous colors flicker through him. Does he want to kiss again? Well you certainly won't say no to that. You shift to your tip toes, brushing a light kiss against his cheek. It makes your lips tingle with the sensation of magic and heat. It leaves him blue and you giggle again. He's too adorable when he blushes and honestly, it's making your heart race in a rather dangerous way. So you step back and hope he doesn't notice how your ears are burning. 

"S-so! What's the plan now?" you ask, fiddling with the edge of your shirt. 

He blinks several times before he answers. "Uh, I...I was going to ask if you had anywhere you wanted to go. I'm not exactly familiar with suitable sites for dates." 

You're drawing a blank. Uh...crap, why is the only thing coming to mind a romantic walk along the beach? Not that you wouldn't mind that but that seems more like an evening activity, not a ten in the morning activity. Although...now that you're thinking about the ocean, it does bring to mind one place that you haven't had a chance to go to yet. But you're not sure if Grillby would enjoy it as much as you. Your fingers brush against the sand dollar in your pocket as you look up at him. 

"How do you feel about aquariums?" 

Chapter Text

Maybe this wasn’t the best idea. There are nervous flickers of green and blue dashing through Grillby’s flames as the two of you approach the aquarium building. The place is massive. It’s one of the biggest in the world, funded partially by the city and the national government as a rescue and care facility for sea life and the new center for ocean-based research by some of the biggest names in the scientific industry. Of course, the generous donations and funding was probably spurred by the flood of tourists and world wide attention on the city itself. And all of that attention couldn’t be just focused on the monsters, right? People felt less guilty about coming to ogle at the new species if they had excuses like coming to see the world’s largest aquarium and other such sites after all.

Still, even if the actualization of the aquarium was reached because of less than pure reasoning, the aquarium itself is a wonderful step forward in ocean preservation. The majority of sales are donated to clean up efforts and animal rescue programs so you’re more than willing to contribute to the cause. Getting to see amazing tanks full of sea life and aquatic animals only sweetens the deal. You’ve just been too busy and more focused on spending time with the monster at your side to go.

And speaking of Grillby-

“We can go somewhere else,” you insist. “Really, I wasn’t even thinking.”

Grillby is staring up at the entrance. It’s completely modern, all shiny glass and stone. Several pillars are placed right in front of the doors and a large sign right above them proclaims ‘Daiport Aquarium: A Place To Get Lost In’. Even from out here you can smell the tang of sea water and chlorine and hear children excitedly shouting from within. There’s not a ton of people here just yet, given the early hour but there are a few families with younger kids and some summer camp groups. Many of them stare openly as they pass you and Grillby.

“No…” he finally says slowly. He gives you a reassuring smile. “I’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I passed through Waterfall often enough underground and that had water dripping everywhere. Who knows, maybe this will help me understand why you’re so fascinated with the ocean. Stars knows I don’t get it.”

Okay now he’s teasing you. “Oh, does that mean you want to hit the shark section first?”

He flickers green.

The lady in the ticket booth blinks at the pair of you when you approach the window, her eyes going comically wide as she takes in the man of flame at your side. You order two passes and Grillby passes over money for both before you can even reach for your wallet. Before you leave you grab one of the maps and open it up. “Excuse me, are there any spots we should avoid if we don’t want to get wet?”

The lady’s eyes flicker to Grillby and understanding dawns in her face. “There’s a children’s petting area that tends to be rather chaotic,” she says, grabbing a pen and circling it on the map. “There’s a miniature waterfall located here but there are ways around it here and here. Other than that, and avoiding splash zone signs, you should be just fine.”

You can see that she’s dying to ask something more, perhaps why you would be dumb enough to bring fire monster to a place celebrating water but her professionalism keeps her mouth shut and you’re grateful not to be further reminded of your impulsive date spot choice. Still, Grillby seems calm enough, even intrigued if the curious hues of color passing through his flames is anything to go by. Walking away from the booth, he peeks curiously at the map.

“They do indeed have a shark area. How exciting.” he says in a deadpan that makes you snort.

“Come on, this will be good for you! You’ll see that sharks are really just giant sea puppies. Most of the time.”

Grillby snorts quietly and follows you through the front doors. The inside area is absolutely massive. Lights of varying hues of blue and green paint the walls, shifting in a way that creates the illusion of being underwater. Directly above your heads a small fishing boat has been fixed to the ceiling with thin steel cables. Human wax figures peer over the edge of the boat at the fake fish ‘swimming’ under the boat. The air is much cooler in here and you breathe out a tiny sigh of relief. The already intense heat of the day combined with Grillby’s natural warmth had been very taxing on the walk over.

However, when the door closes behind you, your attention is instantly drawn by something else. In the dim ‘under the sea’ atmosphere, Grillby literally stands out like a beacon light in the dead of night. Heads turn towards you, the room going oddly quiet for a moment.

Grillby is too busy staring up at the dancing lights on the boat to notice at first. But he seems to sense the eyes on him because his gaze moves to take in the rest of the room and the people staring. He shifts in place and you hear him breathe deeply for a moment. And then his color shifts and changes. He almost seems to shrink just a little. Not his body itself but rather the height of his flames. They’re growing dimmer, the strands of fire curling close to the outline of his face. His ‘hair’ is still waving and dancing around like it always does but now it’s less of an upright flame, restricted to a few inches above his head. The flames themselves, instead of his usual bright yellows, oranges and touches of red, are now darker hues of those same colors. It’s not a huge difference but it’s enough that to be noticeable and not as blindingly bright in the dark room.

“Whoa,” you breathe, openly staring. “I didn’t know you could do that!”

He shrugs at you, rubbing at the back of his neck. “I’m sorry I can’t go dimmer, I didn’t realize it was going to be so dark.”

“Don’t worry about that,” you tell him firmly. “It’s really not that bad.” You get the feeling he’d be lifting his eyebrows at you if he had them, so you instead tug on his arm and lead him deeper into the aquarium, ignoring the curious stares of the others. The two of you walk over to the open doorway declaring ‘Entrance’ and hand your tickets over. Excitement rises in your chest and you smile widely at Grillby as you head into the aquarium itself.

The first room is circular, and almost entirely made up of one huge tank with sections of wall placed in even sections. Quotes of an inspiring nature are painted among portraits of people responsible for seeing the aquarium to it’s completion.  Above you, a mixture of sea creature hang from the ceiling, caught like a moment frozen in time.

“Those aren’t real are they?” Grillby asks, head tilted upwards.

“Nah, just wax or plastic usually,” you say as you drift over to the side to peek at the fish in the tank. "Oh, look at these ones here!" 

Grillby joins you and despite his dimmer colors, briefly flashes with curious yellows. "There's so many different kinds," he murmurs as an array of fish swim by. There are a lot of different kinds in the tank, most of which you have no hope of identifying without plaques but you don't see any around here. It's probably just to give you a taste of what's to come. 

"There's something like...I think almost three hundred thousand different kinds of fish," you say, pulling the number from somewhere in your brain. Probably a 'fact of the day' thing from the shop. You spend a few more moments watching the fish before turning to the entry way that leads deeper into the aquarium. There's a sign that says 'Journey Under the Sea' and the hallway beyond seems to be one of the those walk through tanks with the glass forming a sort of tunnel over the walk way. You eagerly step in but stop when you realize that Grillby isn't following. You glance back. 

He's uneasily looking up at the water. He doesn't say anything, but you can see that he's nervous. So you walk back and offer your hand to him. A few sparks break away from his head as he hesitates for a moment more before taking your hand and squeezing it tightly. He lets you lead him into the tunnel, keeping his gaze on the ground. 

"You know, the glass here is made specifically for viewing," you urge gently. "And it's completely safe. You wouldn't believe the amount of testing and rules places like this have to follow to make sure their guests don't accidentally get doused. Despite what movies might try to make you believe." 

"Well that's reassuring," he mutters before taking a deep breath. "You're lucky I like you."

You flush, a flutter of butterflies rising in your chest.

He looks up. He comes to a complete stop, a soft gasp escaping him as he takes in the view around him. There's even more fish in here than there was in the first room and hidden lights cast reflections of the water over you. Schools of smaller fish dart among the coral-esque structures inside, massive fish easily a third of your size lazily float in invisible currents. There's a slow spray of sand as some kind of flat fish buries itself out of sight just as a ray gracefully glides over it. Grillby cranes his head up and he makes a small noise at the sight of a shark above the two of you, white belly twisting as it sails past. 

"It's...smaller than I thought a shark would be," he murmurs, staring at it. 

"That's a sandbar shark," you say proudly. "They can get up to eight feet but I'd say that guy is about four feet. You're thinking of great whites, which is what most people think of. Don't worry though, I'm sure we'll see bigger sharks later on." 

You're expecting him to make another comment about how 'excited' he is for that, but his attention seems to be utterly fixed on the water surrounding him. He's even lost control of dimming his fire. It's returned to its normal state, though it seems even a little bit brighter than before, streaks of yellow coloring his face. Hesitantly, he reaches out and places his fingers on the glass. There's a turtle coasting by and it passes right by him and were it not for the glass and, well the water itself, Grillby's hand would've touched the underside of the shell.  

You move even closer to him, bumping your shoulder against his arm. “Pretty cool, huh?”

He blinks and then smiles at you so widely you can see his fiery fangs. “Yes. It is very cool,” he admits.

When he pulls his hand away, a foggy imprint of it remains on the cool glass. Struck by inspiration, you stick your hand next to the print and breathe heavily on it, forming an outline of fog around your hand. When you pull your hand away, the two handprints remain side by side for just a few seconds before fading away.

He laughs at your pleased expression, shaking his head slightly.

You walk through the rest of the tunnel. Grillby keeps your hand in his, innocently saying ‘Just in case’ when you grin at him. Beyond the tunnel the aquarium stretches on and on into different rooms and sections and you spent a decent amount of time in each one. There’s a lot of amazing exhibits and now that Grillby has seemingly moved on from his initial hesitation, he’s actually really interested. He listens to you rattle off the random fact you’ve got thanks to working at the shop, as well as things you’ve learned from your own fascination with the discovery channel.

There's a tropical ocean section that you are absolutely in love with that is set up rather like a jungle. The fish and other sea creatures in here are all colorful and bright and range from little clown fish to gold speckled piranhas. There's a tank filled with orange fish spinning around in a slow circle. There's one stuck in the middle of the circle, slowly twisting with the fish created current. It's rather comically bulging eyes immediately make you laugh. Grillby looks at the fish then back at you. "What?" 

You point to the stuck fish. "That's you." 

He peers closely at it and huffs a quiet laugh. "Because it's orange?" 

"Yes. That and it seems to have a permanent look of mild panic on it's face." 

Crossing his arms, he glares at you, playful colors lighting his head. "Excuse me, you are the one causing said panic eighty percent of the time." 

You gasp. "Only eighty percent? What about the other twenty?" 

"It's a mixture of constantly watching out for Sans and his pranks, making sure there are no cats in the bar while the dogs are in and keeping bugs off my plants." 

"Okay fair enough." 

You both look back at the fish which is continuing to valiantly but uselessly wiggle it's fins. "I do suppose our eyes match," Grillby finally says, blinking his very non-fish like eyes at you. 

"Hmm, I dunno. I'd say yours are a lot prettier than the fish's." You saunter off to the next tank, leaving Grillby spluttering as he puts a hand over his face to hide his blush at the casual compliment. You take advantage of his distraction and quickly move to the three circular tanks placed in the middle of the room. Each one holds a display of fish, stone and flora and has a small opening at the bottom that leads to a pop up hole in the middle of the tank. It allows for guests (or rather kids most likely given the small size of the hole) to crawl into the tank and give them a view from the inside. You quickly drop to your knees and squeeze through. It's a fairly tight fit but you manage it and the little cubby like space itself is tall enough that you can straight up on your knees and still have some space above your head.  

You take a moment to appreciate your new perspective and the sight of fish swimming just past your face before you look beyond the water and the outer glass. It would seem Grillby has recovered from being embarrassed and is looking around for you. Your hand twitches with the motion of tapping on the glass before the image of a cartoon girl with braces tapping on fish tanks pops into your head.

Yeah, no tapping on the glass. 

"Grillby!" you call out instead, hoping he'll hear you through the glass. It seems he does because his head turns in your general direction. He winds up looking right past you. Then he does a double take, sparking brightly. He comes closer and bends slightly to be a little more eye level with you. The water makes his flames even more wavy and distorted than usual, casting a bluish hue on them. His soft inquiry is a mumble that you can't quite make out but it's obvious what he's asking. 

You place your hands together and rest your cheek on them, closing your eyes briefly. When you open them, he's got his head tilted slightly in question. "I'm sleeping with the fishes!" you call, feeling a little silly yet oddly giddy at the same time. 

You can't hear his laugh but you can see it in the flare of light. He motions for you to wait and pulls his phone out. You quickly do the same thing again and wait a few seconds before opening your eyes. "Hey, wanna join me?" you ask brightly. "It's pretty cool in here!" 

He firmly shakes his head. 

"Fine you party pooper, guess I'll join you." You hesitate. "Uh, okay, I just realized that I'm going to look very awkward and weird crawling out of this thing. Could you turn around for a second?" 

Grillby folds his arms, phone resting lightly in one hand. How on earth the guy manages to make a 'lifted eyebrow' expression without any eyebrows is completely beyond you. So he's gonna witness your awkward crawling to escape the tank. Fine then! With as much dignity as you can muster (which at this point is pretty much none at all) you shift and crawl back out through the small hole. 

It's just as embarrassing as you expected and your face feels warms as you emerge back out into the open. But you are secretly pleased when Grillby offers his hand to you and easily pulls you to your feet. He brushes his fingers against your hair, soothing a few stray strands. "Enjoy yourself?" 

"Yup! Did you send that picture to Sans?" You nod at his phone. 

Before he even has a chance to answer, your phone dings. You pull it out to see Sans has sent a single fish emoji and several z's. Then-

snas: 

-man, fish i was there to see it myself

You roll your eyes and pocket your phone. You're not getting into a pun battle with him on your date. It buzzes several times are you move on to the next area and when you glace at Grillby, you see him sparking with amusement. His phone must be doing the same. The two of you soon reach the area that talks more about people involved in various volunteer projects, famous fishermen and records held. Grillby is especially interested in the section that talks about the history of surfing and holds displays of world record surfers and different kinds of boards. He does pale a little at the display of a board that belonged to a surfer who was attacked by a shark. A bite sized chunk is missing from it and he squeezes your hand tightly as he reads the story of the girl who lost her left arm but somehow got back out there on the waves. Funnily enough, the room right after that is the shark area. 

There's a set up that's meant to imitate a beach house set up over a tank of water. There's a prop shark cage and bits of rope hanging from it and from your vantage point on the bridge that covers the entire span of the tank, you can look down and see a huge array of sharks swimming below in the clear water. You eagerly lean over the edge of safety railing. "Woah! Grillby look at....Grillby?" 

He's already on the other side of the bridge. You blink. You didn't even see him move past you. You give the sharks one more look before joining him. "You don't have teleportation powers too, do you?" 

"....I can move fast when I want to."  

The walkway from there curves downwards and leads you into an area that shows you more of the tank from a lower level. It's big and you can see several different types of sharks inside as well as some smaller schools of fish. There's sense of peacefulness to them, in the way they're all just existing together. 

"Mama aren't the sharks going to eat the fish?" A small child is fixated on the sharks. 

"No, they wouldn't put the sharks and fish together if they were going to do that." 

The child pouts like ice cream has been canceled. 

You grin and turn back to Grillby. "There aren't any of the big ones here either," he says with some surprise. 

"Disappointed?" 

"Greatly."  He looks at the sharks. "These...aren't great whites?"

You shake your head. "Great white sharks actually can't survive in captivity, even if it's a rehab center. They're too big and they need way too much space than any tank could give them. They can travel hundreds of miles in a single day. It's kinda hard to do that in a tank. And...honestly another reason is because they're too vicious." 

Grillby sparks triumphantly. 

"Shush. But it is kinda funny isn't it?" You look towards the sharks. One of them swims by, black eye seeming to stare at you for a moment before it lazily sails past. "Great whites are the most popular breed of shark. Yet we still hardly know a thing about them. We know they're big and they travel hundreds of miles but we don't know where. Some of them stay near the coast, others just kinda vanish into the depths of the ocean. We know that they're solitary fish but we don't know how many there actually are. They're dangerous and still humans are desperate to get closer and learn more. It kinda makes the whole mystery of it and every new discovery kind of exciting, don't you think?" 

He doesn't answer you so you look back at him. He's looking at you rather than the sharks and his gaze is soft. 

"...What?" you finally ask, squirming a little under his stare. 

"I..." He rubs the back of his neck, flames escaping from between his fingers. He chuckles a little nervously. "Nothing." 

"Not nothing, you were staring." You edge around to stand in front of him, placing yourself between him and the tank. The bluish light from the water only serves to deepen the beautiful blue color growing in his flames. "What?" 

His fire is sputtering and he can't seem to look at you for more than a few seconds without his blush deepening. "I just...I realized that's your fish." 

You blink. "Huh?" 

"The great white shark. Because um...you're dangerous in the way you make me feel and every new thing I learn about you is exciting. And I find myself oddly fascinated and almost...desperate to learn more."

You're dimly aware of the fact that you're blushing just as heavily as he is but you're more focused on the intense urge to kiss him and pull him close. But there are people around, people who are already watching and while it hasn't bugged you too much up until this moment, you don't want them watching as you share a moment together. You firmly take Grillby's hand and pull him away from the tank. He follows easily, questioning sparks flying quietly from his head. Ah, there! There's a small room off to the side, a place lit only by an overhead tank. A gentle beam of light creates a circle of soft flowing colors and paints the walls dimly with the motion of water. There's no one in here and it offers a small measure of privacy. For how long, you don't know. 

But you only need a moment. 

You pull him into the center of light and tug on his shoulders until he lowers his head and you press your lips to his. He makes a small sound of surprise, one that only spurs you to deepen the kiss. It's a slow thing, chaste and warm. His hands lower to your waist, pulling you closer as he exhales softly, the scent of smoke on his breath. You press yourself closer still, letting the warmth of his chest flood into you. You still can't believe this is real, that this man of fire is here with you, willing to give this wonderful spark between you a chance to grow. 

The sound of laughter and delighted voices drifting in through the entry way pulls the two of you apart. No one is there just yet, only passing by. Grillby hasn't removed his hands from your waist. He's staring at you. He doesn't ask, not out loud but you can see in the way he's blinking and the inquisitive flicker of his flames he's wondering what prompted the kiss.

You grin a little helplessly at him. "You caught me off guard, being so sappy. What else was I suppose to do?" 

His own mouth turns up in a knowing smile. "I'll have to remember that." 

If that means more sappy words from him, you honestly don't mind him knowing it's one of your weaknesses. 

There aren't too many words exchanged between the two of you after that. Both of you seem caught in a bit of a happy daze and you walk closely together through the remainder of the aquarium. The final area is an interactive room with several different stations. There's a large center pool filled with sting rays and an absolutely massive center tank that reaches up nearly to the ceiling. It's filled with fish swimming among the 'remains' of a sunken pirate ship. A few small pools through out the room have a few other creatures like star fish and horseshoe crabs, all of them watched over by attentive employees making sure no one gets rough with them. You start to move away from the wet area, curiously watching the rays as you go but Grillby startles you by putting a hand on your back. 

"You can go look. I'll wait over here," he says softly, gesturing with his head towards a safe dry area near the entrance to the gift shop before the exit. You nod and eagerly move closer to the tanks, peeking inside. There's dozens of rays in here, all of them of various size and colors. There's one headed your way but it's closer to the bottom of the sandy tank so you're not sure you'll be able to reach it unless you practically throw yourself in. But it's worth a shot at least so you stick your hand in the water, shivering a little at the tingle that rises up your arm. 

The ray suddenly lifts it's head upwards and flaps it's-wings? Flippers?- once and bumps up against your hand. It's silky smooth and a delighted grin lifts your face. "Hey buddy," you croon, letting your hand lightly pet it as it swims by. You expect it to move on but to your surprise it instead circles closer to the center tank for a moment before coming back over. It gently nudges your hand again, sort of hovering in place. Bemused, you give it a few pats. This one is super friendly, isn't it? A sudden splash of water right next to you makes you jump a little. There's another ray, a little bit smaller than the first and completely white rather than gray. It too lifts it's head partially out of the water, briefly touching your arm. Two of them? You're extremely confused but also admittedly rather delighted as you put your other hand in the water to pat that one. 

Wait. 

Now there's three. 

No, four. Oh. Oh there's...there's a lot of them! Within a few seconds the area in front of you is absolutely bubbling with the motions of at least a dozen rays, all of them popping in and out of the water. It's almost impossible to tell where one ends and another begins thanks to the water and the flash of light reflecting off of it with flashes of silver and blue and purple. Okay. Okay this is a little weird. You know that sting rays can be super friendly but this seems like a little much. You'd almost be worried but there's a strange sense of calm flowing through you. They're not being aggressive after all. Just eager to be pet. So you pet them all to the best of your ability, gently murmuring to them and scolding the ones trying to hog your attention. 

It's the growing whispers that finally snap your pleasant concentration. Your eyes snap up and you realize that nearly everyone in the room is staring at you. Some people have their phones out, their eyes wide. Ooh. Okay, nope you do not want to be filmed. You pull your hands out of the water and just like that, the commotion from rays instantly dies away. They float off in various directions aimlessly like they hadn't just been clambering over each other for the chance to be pet. Everyone kind of stares for a moment before talking excitedly over each other. 

"How did you do that?" A man holding his daughter in his arms, probably giving her a boost so she could pet the rays, is staring at you with an almost accusing expression. 

You shrug helplessly. "I don't know? Maybe they liked my perfume or something?" You had sprayed a bit on your wrists this morning so maybe that was it? Or maybe you smell like smoke from holding hands with Grillby? You honestly have no idea. You make your escape before anyone else can question you about your sting ray powers or whatever had just happened. 

Grillby too is watching you with wide eyes as you quickly wash your hands at one of the stations and grab a few papers towels. "Is that normal?" he asks as you walk over, tossing the damp paper in the trash bin. 

"I don't...think so?" you admit, torn between being a little freaked out and utterly overjoyed. "I must be a sting ray whisperer or something. I did see a video once of a bunch of otters that got fixated on a baby at the zoo. Maybe it's something like that. Whatever it was--" You can't help the delighted smile on your face. "That was so cool!" 

He sparks happily, caught in your own excitement. "You did look like you were enjoying yourself. Are you finished then?" 

"Yeah, I don't think starfish and horseshoe crabs could top that." 

 "All right, then let's-" He suddenly stops and looks down. You peer around him to see what he's looking at.

It's a kid. A little boy, probably about six or so with the most fantastic set of dark curls on his head and a tiny backpack. He's looking up at Grillby intensely, one chubby hand clutching his pants. Grillby's frozen, staring down at the kid so you cheerfully wave at him. "Hi there! Are you lost?" He doesn't respond so you prompt, "Do you need help? Where are your parents?" Again, he doesn't answer so you look around, hoping that maybe you can spot a pair looking frantic. Searching parents you do not see but interestingly, you do see a pair of men who seem to be watching very closely, one of them with his phone out. When you meet the eyes of the taller one, he gives you a sort of hopeless shrug and tentative smile. 

You look back to the kid and Grillby. They're still locked in their staring contest. Finally, the kid points to Grillby with his free hand. "Human Torch!" 

Grillby finally blinks. And suddenly you understand what's going on. Holy crap, is this actually happening? You have to cover your mouth and turn your head slightly to hide your outburst of laughter. Grillby looks at you a little hopelessly. "What's happening?" 

You gesture for him to lean closer, whispering, "The kid thinks you're a comic book character. The Human Torch from the Fantastic Four." 

"....I have no idea what that is." 

"I've got this, just play along." You kneel next to the kid, getting to his eye level. Grillby slowly does the same and the kid releases his pants. He's still staring but now you can see the gleam of determination and excitement in his eyes. "What's your name?" 

"Noah." 

"You like Fantastic Four?" 

Noah nods with great enthusiasm and whips his backpack off. With great care, he unzips it and pulls out a faded and obviously well loved comic book. The cover has the four heroes on the front and Noah jabs his finger against Johnny Storm. "You're my favorite," he tells Grillby. 

"....Thank you?" Grillby offers tentatively, glancing at you for approval. 

You nod subtly. "He's a pretty cool guy in person huh?" 

The joke goes right over the kid's head sadly. But he's nodding in agreement. He's finally looking at you. "Are you Invisible Woman?" 

You laugh. "No, my name is Shore." 

"What's your power?" 

"Uh....clumsiness." 

Noah frowns. "That's not a superpower." 

You wink at him. "It is if you know how to use it." 

That seems to throw him for a loop. He looks back to Grillby and suddenly thrusts the book at him. Grillby looks at it questioningly until Noah fishes a pen out of his backpack as well. "Do you want him to sign it?" you ask, since Grillby seems to be at a loss for words.

Noah nods. "Please," he adds, remembering his manners. 

You beam at Grillby. "Well, Mr. Human Torch, think you can manage that?" 

Grillby nods, a few grateful colors sweeping over his face. His 'signature' is loopy and smooth, the letters curling slightly at their edges. You've glimpsed his handwriting before but now you can truly appreciate how neat it is. When Grillby hands the book back to Noah, the kid actually bounces up and down, smiling with pure delight. And then he throws his arms around Grillby, completely heedless of the 'danger' of his fire. You gasp and start to reach out to pry the kid off but...Grillby's okay. He's not moving much but he seems more surprised than scared. And Noah lets go before there's more than a moment to process the hug. He skips back over to his parents, shouting, "Thank you Mr. Torch!" before leaping into the arms of tall man. 

You let out a whoosh of air. "That. Was the cutest thing I've ever seen." You pat Grillby's cheek gently. "You okay there?" 

Grillby blinks. "What just happened?" he asks faintly. 

"You made a kid's day, that's what happened. Now come on Mr. Celebrity, we're gonna get swarmed at this rate." You get to your feet, Grillby following after. Your steps are light as you head into the gift shop. There's all the expected sort of memorabilia; snow globes, puzzles and shirts, jewelry and stuffed animals to name a few. You cross over to the plushes, unable to resist running your fingers through the soft fuzz. There's several fish ones as well so you grab a shark and a clown fish (it's not the same orange fish you pointed out earlier but it still counts). You turn to Grillby and make the plushes smooch. 

"You should really work on that poker face," you cheerfully inform him when blue licks the tips of his flames. 

"I have a good poker face, you're just unnaturally good at reading it," Grillby grumbles. He takes the clown fish one out of your hands and presses it's mouth against your cheek. "I didn't know you were good with kids." 

"Yeah, I uh, I work with them a lot at the shop. For lessons I mean." He's being very distracting, making the fish toy gently kiss various parts of your face. "And the studio has kid's workshops so I sometimes help out with that. And we do dance parties and...and stuff. Kids are fun." 

He hums with interest, finally bopping the fish against your nose before handing it back to you. 

"What about you?" you ask, placing the toys back on the shelf. You give the shark a little pat. "You said you raised Fuku for a while and Mizzy certainly likes you. You seem like the kind of guy who would be good with kids." 

Slowly, Grillby shrugs. "I try to be," he finally says as his attention turns to some of the knick knacks on the shelves. "And I like kids just fine. Even the picky eaters." He makes a face and you laugh. "But I guess I get nervous around them. Especially human kids."

That's completely understandable, given his history and the nature of his body. And well, kids can be messy and unpredictable. Still, he had remained calm even though he had clearly been confused and listened attentively to Noah and even allowed the hug without completely freezing up. "I think you did pretty good back there," you praise him. "Noah seems like a sweet kid. And I'm sure he's gonna tell all his friends about meeting the great Human Torch." 

"What is that anyway?" He seems genuinely curious so you give him a basic rundown of the story as far as you remember. You've never read the comics and it's been years since you saw the admittedly cheesy mid 2000's movies. It's a simple enough story after all. Normal people thrown into extraordinary situations and given powers and the fight of good verses evil. Heh, that's kind of like your situation isn't it? Maybe sting ray whispering is your super power. Not exactly useful in every day life but it would be pretty cool. 

After you and Grillby look around the shop a bit more, you excuse yourself to the bathroom and freshen up a bit. Your hair has has decided to do whatever the heck it wants and you run your fingers through it a few times. Ah well, it's not like he's hasn't seen it matted with saltwater and mussed by the ocean wind. When you come back out, you find him waiting with a bag from the gift shop in hand. He only shakes his head and smiles when you ask him what he got and begins walking away, forcing you to hurry and catch up. Outside the aquarium the sun is blazing, making the air heavy with heat. You almost instantly start to sweat and squint thanks to the sudden surge of light after the dim lighting of the aquarium. 

"Are you okay?" Grillby asks. 

You nod. "Yeah, just need a second for my eyes to adjust." 

"...Adjust to what?" 

You blink at him, hoping your eyes aren't watering too badly. "The light? Oh, I guess you don't know. Human eyes change depending on what kind of light is around us. The pupils shrink and grow to let more light in if it's needed so if you're inside and suddenly out in the sunlight when it's really bright like this, it takes a minute for the eyes to catch up." 

"....Why are humans so complicated?" But he shifts a little, blocking the sun as best as he can. Which honestly is not a lot since he's still pretty bright himself. So you take the opportunity to put your face against his chest, letting your eyes close. "Is this better?" 

You hum happily even as your sweating picks up by a million thanks to his body heat. "Yup. Much better. So what, monster's don't have to let their eyes adjust?" 

He actually has to think for a moment. "I don't...actually know. I don't have to. Or if I do, it just happens without having to wait."

"I'd say monsters are the weird ones then." Your stomach rumbles quietly at that moment. "What time is it?" 

There's a pause. "Almost one," he says with some surprise. "We were in there for a while. Do you have time for lunch?" 

You nod, peeling away from him before your sweat starts to soak through your clothing. "Yeah, I have about an hour. There should be a food truck lane somewhere close by I think." 

It doesn't take long for you to find it, given that the closer the trucks set up to the aquarium, the more likely they are to get customers. It's an old road that ends in a large dead end and long ago was sectioned off as a place for street vendors and food stands, given the predicted popularity of the aquarium and the closeness of the beach. There's quite a crowd thanks to the lunch rush but the two of you are given somewhat of a wide berth, no doubt because of Grillby's literal fire. You're grateful for the space and try your best to ignore the heat. There's a lot of really cool stuff here, you need to stop by more often. A lot of homemade stuff from local artists and craftsmen, as well as some monsters. 

One in particular catches your eye. Rather than a tent like most of the vendors, this monster has a massive umbrella offering shade and a sign set on an easel that proclaims 'Monsterfy Yourself!' There's cases full of what you assume are art supplies and boards of examples and prices. The example paintings and drawings are all of monsterfied people, ranging from cute and expressive to intense and 'edgy'. The monster selling the art is a dark furred cat monster with utterly stunning orange hair that's partially held back by a red bandanna. They're sitting cross legged on some kind of furry...bean bag? You squint. It takes you several long seconds to process that it's their tail folded up and wrapped around itself in a way that easily props them up. Holy crap! That thing's gotta be...geez you don't even know how long when it's stretched out. 

The cat monster has a sketch book on their lap and they seem to sense your eyes on them because they look up from whatever they're drawing. Their own eyes are deep red and almost a little droopy, like it's been a while since they got a good night's sleep. When they see Grillby standing next to you, their brows lift and a wide smile breaks out over their face. "Hey, it's the bartender finally out of his bar!" 

Grillby nods. "How are you? I haven't seen you around the bar for a while." 

The cat gestures around them. "I've been busy. Turns out a lot of humans wanna see themselves monsterfied. I'm in an art program now too and that keeps me busy." 

"Congratulations." 

"Thanks!" Their ears twitch as they turn their attention back to you. "So you're Shore then?" 

You grin and shrug. "That's me. I guess I should just assume that just about every monster has heard of me at this point." 

"It'd be a fair assumption." They gesture with their pencil at you. "How about it? Want a monsterfy-me drawing of yourself?" 

You do. You really, really do. But. "Um, well I mean, I'd love to but I don't have too much time right now and-" 

You're on a date that's going really well. 

They wave their hand. "I don't need too long. Perks of being a monster and all." 

You bite your lip, looking to Grillby. "Go ahead," he says, amusement in his voice. "I'll get us some food and we can sit for a while." He steers you to one of the empty chair in front of the cat, hand lingering for a moment on your shoulder before he leaves.

The cat monster watches him for a moment before leaning forward and whispering, "Are you two on a date right now?" 

Grinning, you nod. 

"Nice." They hold their hand up for a fist bump. "I'm Spazzcat by the way." 

"Nice to meet you." 

"Likewise. So, painting?" They exchange the sketch pad for a thin canvas when you nod, reaching over with one hand to the little table set up next to them. There's a few markers and pencils, a bowl and a can of root beer. They take a long drink before letting out a content sigh. "Ice cold root beer is the only thing making the heat bearable," they whine as they set the can down. "Don't know how you're not sweating." 

"Oh I'm sweating all right," you sigh mournfully. "Don't forget who I was just walking next to." 

"Touche." They shift a little on their tail-seat, their dark red eyes staring intensely at you. After a few moments of observation, they nod and start drawing. "Normally I ask what kind of monster people want but I think I've got a pretty solid idea."

You decide to trust them and leave them to it. The two of you make a little bit of small talk as they draw. You ask them how long their tail is; they reply with a smug grin and a simple, 'As long as I need it to be'. They ask you a bit about your date, going wide eyed and then laughing at the picture of Grillby willingly going into a place filled with water. 

"You must have him wrapped around your finger," they chuckle, taking another sip of their root beer. 

"Nah, I think he was just too nice to refuse. But it was fun. I think he wound up having a good time." 

"I did actually." 

You look up to see Grillby's already come back. He sits in the other chair and offers you a roasted chicken sandwich. You thank him and take a big bite. It's pretty good, though honestly at this point, you've gotten a bit spoiled by his cooking. You watch for his reaction, grinning a little when he tilts his head thoughtfully and considers. "It needs a deeper flavor," he notes before taking another bite. 

"Ah man, you guys are making me hungry," Spazzcat sighs mournfully. 

"Oh uh-" 

They laugh. "I'm just messing with you. Besides, I've got a snack." They reach over to the bowl next to the root beer and pull out what looks like a ball of dough. They bite into it and nod, adding a few more strokes to the paper as they do. 

You're staring. "Is that...raw cookie dough?" 

"Oh stars," Grillby groans. 

They swallow their bite, grinning. "Nah. It's biscuit dough," they inform you. 

"Huh. I've never had that before, is it good?" 

"Shore, no."

"So good! Hey, what you've got to do is coat it in melted butter and cinnamon and just very lightly roast it so it's still all doughy inside-" 

"Oh man that sounds amazing!" 

Grillby looks like he's having an aneurysm. "Shall I leave you two heathens alone to discuss your terrible food choices?"

You innocently take a bite of your sandwich. "We're just having a discussion," you mumble around a mouthful of food. 

"A casual discussion about your early deaths maybe."

Spazzcat looks a little delightfully surprised to hear Grillby's casual banter. "I think you just don't know how to have fun," they add in helpfully before popping in the rest of the dough into their mouth. They turn their attention back to the painting, reaching down and grabbing a few bottles of paint and pulling another easel over and placing the canvas on it. 

You and Grillby finish your lunch. When you've wadded the paper up, intending to just hold onto it until you find a trash can, Grillby takes it from you and with a simple touch turns it to ash that quickly vanishes into the air. "Well that's handy," you muse. "Any other party tricks up your sleeve?" 

"A few. But I'll save those for later. I've got to give you a reason to go on more than one date," he says rather playfully. 

"Sounds promising." 

A comfortable silence falls. You touch the sand dollar in your pocket. You've been wondering for a while when the proper time to give it to him would be. At the end? You've been waiting for him to make that move because it is a monster culture thing after all. Though you do get the feeling that he probably wouldn't be angry or anything if you gave it to him now right? And you are insanely curious as to what he bought at the aquarium, though you have a sneaking suspicion that it might just have something to do with sharks. 

Maybe your eyes linger a moment too long on the bag because Grillby picks it up and holds it out to you. "Here. I suppose it's not much of a surprise at this point." 

You eagerly take the bag and open it and-yep. It's the stuffed shark that you had picked up earlier. You pull it out and hug it to your chest. "Thanks Grillby." 

He's relieved, blue tinting the top of his head. "I was a little worried it'd be too childish-" 

"Oh not at all." It's not childish. To be honest, ever since you left and made your own home, you'd found yourself indulging more in 'childish' things. Things you had to give up early on in your childhood. You honestly can't remember the last time someone gave you a stuffed toy. You press your face into the soft plush. "Thank you." 

Grillby's smiling. "There's something else as well but--" He glances to Spazzcat, who is seemingly focused on painting but their ears are tilted towards you. "I'll wait until I walk you back." 

"Oh, well, I actually have something for you too." 

"You didn't have to-" 

"Shush, I wanted to." A sudden wave of shyness tries to overtake you but you push past it. You dig the sand dollar out, holding it to him. "It's just a little thing but I thought, hey it's a sand dollar, how fitting! I'm sure at this point I've worked up a tab close to Sans'-" 

"Literally not possible but go on." 

You snicker and hold out the sand dollar to him. "Anyway, it's not worth any actual money, but it makes an interesting memento, don't you think?" 

Grillby freezes, his hand outstretched. His eyes have gone wide. 

"...Grillby?" you ask hesitantly. "Are you okay?" Is it the sand dollar? Did you say something. You start to pull it back but then he snaps out of it, carefully taking the gift from you. 

"I'm sorry I just...." Grillby trails off, carefully examining the sand dollar. It looks almost orange instead of bleached white in his hands. "Someone said something...very similar to me. A long time ago." 

There it is again. That tiny hint of pain that speaks of past experiences that still have a hold on him. You heard it in his voice when he told you about the war. It was there when he admitted as to why he was so scared of touching humans. Another loss then? Someone close to him?  You open your mouth but Grillby just waves you off. 

"I'm sorry, I don't mean to darken the mood." His smile is tinged with just a bit of some emotion you can't quite read. "Thank you. I think this'll just about cover your tab." 

Part of you wants to nudge him, prompt him to open up. But he's right. It's been an amazing day and you don't want to slash open old wounds. If he wants to talk about it, you'll have to trust that he will in his own time. "Oh it better, that's a genuine sand dollar, collected by yours truly." 

From there, the conversation steers into lighter topics. You and Grillby exchange ideas for names for the shark, not that he's putting too much effort into it, preferring to just agree with whatever you suggest, which is not helpful in the slightest. Eventually, you wind up deciding on Bruce because one, that allows you to say 'E'llo Bruce' whenever you want, and secondly, that's what Steven Spielberg called the Jaws shark. Since that gets a bit of a weak no from Grillby, you decide that's what you're gonna call it. 

You make the shark wave it's fin at him. "'E'llo, my name is Bruce." 

"'E'llo Bruce!" Spazzcat practically yells, a knowing glint in their eye. 

Grillby doesn't get why that makes the two of you break into giggles. 

Just around the time when you start nervously checking your phone (you do have to get to work after all) Spazzcat makes a grand flourishing motion and declares, "Done! You ready for this?" 

You stand nodding eagerly and then your jaw drops when they turn the canvas around. It's you but they've taken the most prominent feature of your head, your hair, and turned it into bright, vivid flames. The fire gleams and glistens that makes it look like it's literally about to leap from the canvas. The you in the painting is posed in a way that has your head slightly angled, staring out into the world with just the hint of a grin and bright golden eyes that matches Grillby's. It gives you an utterly otherworldly look. Golden freckles, like spatters of stars creep down your face and to your neck, glinting and gleaming. As you stare in utter disbelief and awe, you realize that the flames are very subtly moving, flickering with hues of orange and golden yellow. 

"Holy crap," you breathe, taking the canvas from Spazzcat. They're smiling widely, clearly pleased with your reaction. "How did you do this?" 

With paint spattered hands, they make jazz hands at you. "It's magic." 

You'd laugh but you're still too stunned to really even look away from the painting. Grillby too is staring. He leans closer, bumping your shoulder with his arm. "This is incredible," he murmurs. 

Spazzcat laughs, putting one hand on their hip and running the other through their hair as they shift and get to their feet. In the space of time it takes your eyes to blink, their tail is suddenly shorter. Still a good four feet long but not nearly as long as it was all bunched up. "I'm glad you like it! That was fun, way better than my last customers." 

You're absolutely beaming. You honestly could spend hours just watching them paint but you really do have to get going. You say your goodbyes, Grillby pays for your painting (despite your attempts to beat him to it) and Spazzcat promises Grillby that they'll stop by the bar soon and then you're on your way back to your car off in the lot next to the aquarium. You feel a little bad about all the money he's spent on you today alone but he waves off your protests. 

"In case you weren't aware, the bar is doing very well," he says in response to you voicing aloud your thoughts. "Besides, I wanted to spoil you today." 

You still pout a little. "I want to spoil you too." 

His fingers intertwine with yours and he brings your hand up for a quick and subtle kiss without stopping. "You already do." 

Oh darn him and his sudden cheesy, flirty lines!

He glances at the time once you've reached the car. "Are you going to be able to make it?" 

"Er." Not if you drop him back off at the Walk first. It's in the opposite direction and with traffic, you have no doubt it'll make you late. 

He smiles in understanding before you say anything. "Don't worry about me. I have time enough to walk back. And the heat doesn't exactly bother me." 

You hate to just leave him but the Walk truly isn't too far away if he takes the path close to the beach. "If you're sure," you finally agree. You open up your car and place your painting carefully inside on the back seat next to Bruce the shark. Grillby taps your shoulder as you close the door. He's got a small bottle in his hand, no more than the length of your palm which he holds out to you. 

"What's this?" you ask curiously, taking it from him. The glass of it is dark purple, making it hard to see what's inside.

"It's a concentrated version of the uh, 'Headache-B-Gone'. I was planning on giving it to you anyways but...." He shrugs. "I thought it would make a good date gift." 

"Whoa. So, it's like a mini energy drink?" 

"Kind of. It's meant to be more of a supplement. Put a drop or two in a drink and it should help with minor pains and injuries. It won't heal broken bones or anything like that but I figured with as clumsy as you are and your knack for running into trouble-" 

"Oh come on now-" 

"It's better to be safe than sorry." His flames crackle teasingly as he grins. "But I would actually be rather happy if you weren't given the need to use it." 

"Ah, just give me a few hours and I'm sure I will," you tease right back. Then you hug him tightly. "Thank you for today. For everything." 

You can feel a strange sort of thrumming in his chest. "I'm the one who should be thanking you," he whispers. Then he pulls away, lightly tapping your back. "Now get going or you're going to be late." 

"Right!" You hop in your car and blast the air conditioning (which only results in a face full of hot air). Grillby taps on the window and when you roll it down, he leans in just enough to catch your lips with a kiss. All sense of urgency flees, as do most of your thoughts. A small whine escapes you when he pulls away after only a few seconds and gestures once again for you to get going. You wave and pull away, grinning giddily. 

So. This is what dating a fire monster is like huh?

You could get used to this. 

Chapter Text

"So you're..." -thwack! - "telling me you took...." -thump! - "an actual fire man to a place filled with-" -thump thump!- "literally hundreds of gallons of water and he had a good time?" Liam dances back from the sandbag held in place by Tyler, wiping his forehead with his arm as he catches his breath.

You readjust your hold on another sandbag, shifting your feet up since the force of Faith's punches had made you slide against the concrete floor a little. "Yeah, I know it was a dumb idea but it ended up going really, really well." 

"You have to admit going to an aquarium is pretty much the perfect romantic first date." Faith wipes at her face as she bounces then swings her leg up, connecting it solidly with the sandbag. The force makes your arms tingle. "But yeah, Shore not your smartest move." 

"I have never claimed to be a genius," you grunt as you endure several more kicks from Faith. "Just stubborn and full of good intentions. But hey, I got some pretty good memories out of the experience. Switch?" 

Faith nods and the two of you swap places as do Liam and Tyler. A few times a month you all get together for basic work out nights. Cardio exercises, stamina building, endurance and the like. Tonight is kick boxing which is not your favorite of activities to do because of inevitable skin breaking that happens on your knuckles by the end of the night. But it's good bonding time and a nice change of pace from dancing to make sure that your core strength stays up to par. Plus, it's a chance to use the massive equipment room on Tyler's family estate. 

Tyler is rich. Well, perhaps not him exactly. His family, even with the losses taken with the electrical powering switching to the essentially cost free monster energy, holds positions of power in most of the city's largest companies as well as several nationwide corporations. As such, the entire extended family lives in what's been dubbed 'Murray Cove'. It's a series of homes, mansions and ranches on the outskirt of the city close to a privately owned cove and beach. Tyler himself still technically 'lives' with his parents but the home is big enough that he has claimed the mother in law suite for himself and has set up his own personal space away from the main house. 

That just happens to be next to his family's gym. One of them at least.

It's a massive garage space that was converted several years ago when a hurricane tore through the structure and caused a massive cave in. Most of the time, it's empty save for maybe a cousin or family friend taking advantage of the top of the line equipment. The front of the structure has huge doors that can be closed but are usually kept wide open to allow the breeze from the sea inside and when Tyler started offering this as a place for you all to come and work out and hang, Faith insisted on getting a proper stereo system installed for proper playlist listening. The music is just loud enough to made your bones pleasantly hum with the sound and energize your limbs. But the volume is also loud enough that you're forced to partially shout as you tell Liam and Tyler about your date three days ago. 

Faith of course was given the full story the moment you had a spare minute at work to text her. 

You don't give them quite as many in depth details, preferring to keep the kiss in darkened room to yourself and Faith as well as some of the more tender moments. But Tyler in particular seems interested in hearing about how Grillby reacted to everything and how you've learned to read his moods through his flames. 

"So he can completely control the intensity of his flames if he wants?" he asks, slamming a fist against the bag so hard you wince for Liam. 

"To an extent yeah. It kind of depends on his mood and concentration. The control of heat is something he does naturally at this point but if he needs to go dimmer he can. I think once he got over his hesitation about the place he just forgot to keep his light low because of how distracted he was. Color is a whole other thing. He's actually pretty easy to read once you recognize the quick flashes of color."

"That's probably because no one's been able to read him as well as you," Faith points out. 

You laugh. "I don't know, Sans seems to read him just as well as I do, if not better." 

Liam shifts his hold a moment before Ty lands another punch, bouncing a little from the force. "I still don't get it exactly but the guy has gotten a little easier to read than before. At least now I can tell when he's reacting to something." 

You nod. "Oh, you guys should've seen him when this kid mistook him for Johnny Storm. I thought my heart was going to implode from the cute." 

Liam blinks and suddenly gasps. His hold loosens on the sandbag and unfortunately, Ty chooses that moment to once again throw a punch. The bag slams into Liam's chest, making him wheeze as he stumbles back. "Oh geez dude!" Ty steadies the bag. "I'm sorry, you okay?" 

He coughs, waving off the concern. "Wait, wait, wait. I am such a fool!" 

You glance at Faith, who shrugs. "Uh, I mean generally sure," you grin. "But what about this time?" 

"Johnny Storm uses the intense heat and force of his fire to fly!" Liam stares at you, waiting for you to get it. When you don't, he rolls his eyes and grabs at your shoulder. "Shore! Can Grillby fly?"

You jaw pops open as you suddenly consider this possibility. "I have...no idea." But it would make sense if he could, right? Rockets, hot air balloons and stuff like that all use the power of fire propulsion and hot air! So, it has to at least be possible. "Since he can control it completely, I don't see why he couldn't."

"Right?" Liam nods several times. "It's basic physics!" 

"There's nothing basic about a man made of fire who can choose what he burns and how hot he gets," Tyler points out. But he's grinning like he too can't help but wonder. 

"Shore, you've gotta ask him!" Liam pleads. He looks like he might actually burst into tears if you refuse. 

"Ask him yourself you big baby," Faith scolds as she gives him a light smack on the shoulder. 

"Babe, he won't tell me if I ask. But he'll tell Shore, I know it! And I bet she can get him to show us too!" 

You put your hands up. "Whoa now, I'm sure I can at least confirm if he can or not, but the guy won't even dance with me. I highly doubt I'll be able to convince him to show us if he can actually fly. He hates being the center of attention like that." 

Tyler rubs at his chin. "I think you're doubting your powers of persuasion." 

"I have no powers of persuasion." 

"If it's persuasion you need, perhaps I can help with that." 

All of you turn at the unexpected voice and Faith quickly leaps to turn down the volume of the music. Standing there in the open doorway of the garage, is the head of the Murray Company itself. Tyler's uncle, Eli Murray. Had you not met the guy before (twice actually, once just in passing and once when he decided to stick around and join your group for Star Wars night once. That had certainly been an odd experience) you would have no idea who he is. 

Despite being the company head, his public appearances have been kept somewhat to a minimum and you're not exactly the best at remembering faces of figureheads of companies anyway. In your defense, he doesn't exactly look like someone who would be at the head of a company. The man himself has a rather unassuming face that is somehow old and young at the same time, like he's been stuck in his mid-forties for his entire life. He's pale too despite the near constant sunshine of the area. 

Overall, not that remarkable of a man. Until he speaks anyway.  

Tyler pulls his gloves off, coming to stand next you to. "What are you doing out here Eli?" 

Eli almost sheepishly rubs at his shaved head as he comes closer. His casual business suit is open, the top few buttons undone, and his sleeves rolled up. "Oh, I was just checking up on the repairs to the eastern court. I heard the music and figured since I was in the area I'd come say hello." 

"Repairs?" 

"There was a bit of...ah, training accident last night. There was some damage done to the structure." 

"Oh." There's a bit of undercurrent to Tyler's tone that you can't quite name. "I see. Was anyone hurt?"

"A few bruises, nothing too severe." Eli looks to you, a warm smile on his face as he sticks his hand out. "Forgive me, I didn't mean to eavesdrop. Who exactly needs persuading?" 

"Ah, just my boyfriend," you reply, secretly thrilled at being able to use the word. You wipe your sweaty hand as best as you can on your shorts before accepting his offered handshake. Holy crap, his hand is like ice! What exactly is in the eastern court, storage freezers? A small shiver crawls up your spine that you do your best to hide. "It's been a while, Mr. Murray." 

"Eli is fine, as I've told you before," he says kindly. If he noticed your reaction to his hand, he doesn't mention it. His grip lingers for just a moment, gaze searching for what, you don't know. But whatever he finds, he simply nods and releases your hand. 

You hear Tyler exhale quietly. 

Eli shakes Faith and Liam's hands as well, a pleasant smile on his face. If their expressions are anything to go by, they’re caught off guard by how cold the guy’s grip is too. He looks back to you. “So, what are you trying to persuade this boyfriend of yours to do?”

“It’s just a dumb thing,” Tyler cuts in before you have a chance to speak. “Not a big deal.”

Eli’s gaze flicks to his nephew, the same pleasant smile remaining on his face as he laughs lightly. “Oh come on, if it’s something she wants, surely it’s worth a little advice at least. How about it?” he says to you. “You wouldn’t mind a free lesson in persuasion, right?”

A lesson in persuasion from the head of the largest company in the city? “Uh…yeah! Won’t say no to that.”

His grin suddenly grows. “There’s the first step.”

“Huh?”

“The key to persuasion is confidence. In both yourself and the person you’re trying to convince. If you go in with the mindset that they will not say no, they will be more easily swayed to do what you want. I assumed you would want a lesson and crafted my words under the assumption that you would accept.”  

“Oh. Huh, yeah I guess that’s smart.”

More like unsettling but whatever.

“Secondly, no one is beyond persuasion. You just have to find the right angle and decide if it’s worth the time and effort it will take to make someone see your side of the situation. Now of course, money has a huge reach when it comes to-"

"It's really not that serious Eli." Tyler's shoulder bumps against yours. "Besides, Shore's not built for the cutthroat business world like you." 

Eli blinks. He laughs after a moment. "Ah, sorry about that. I'm still in extreme negotiation mode it seems. The most important thing is confidence. And since it's your boyfriend, batting those eyes at him certainly won't hurt." He glances at his watch. "Ah, well I should probably leave you all to your workout. And if you'd like more advice on persuasion, just have Tyler let me know, I'll set aside an afternoon. And don't listen to him; anyone can make it in the business world if they've got enough determination." He winks and then reaches out and claps a hand on Tyler's shoulder. "Just make sure you're all cleaned up before the meeting tonight, won't you? It won't do to be sweaty in front of our guests." 

Tyler just nods.

Eli gives you all a last look. "It was nice to see all of you again. Hopefully it won't be too long before next time. Be safe out there, especially with the storm season starting." And with that, the head of the largest company in the city is gone like some kind of supernatural encounter. Weird to think about it in that way, considering your group of friends and your boyfriend

Faith folds her arms. "Ty." 

"Yes." 

"Your uncle is a weird dude." 

"Yes." 

 "Did you know his hands are actual ice blocks?" 

"Right?" you chime in, eyes wide. "What was he doing before now, taking an ice bath?" 

"Maybe he uses a cryogenic tank to maintain his complexion," Liam says so seriously that you and Faith can't help but break into laughter. Tyler however, just grimances. "Wait, he doesn't actually, does he?" 

Tyler socks Liam on the shoulder. "No. He's a vampire obviously." 

You cackle. "Seriously, that's gotta be the answer. There's no way someone can live so close to the beach and be that pale." 

He smiles, though it's a little weak. "C'mon, I want to get a little more in before I have to shower." 

"Yeah!" Faith throws her fist up into the air before bounding back over to the stereo. "We've got to get the energy back up!" She picks up the phone plugged into the system and taps at it. The moment she does, the volume blasts out of the speakers, almost unbearably loud. You all throw your hands up over your ears. The lights overhead suddenly surge and flash brightly, the air filling with the hum of building electricity. Then with a massive POP, all of the lights go out and the music dies with a groan that vibrates in your bones. 

For several long seconds you all stand there in the dark, lit only by the fading sunlight outside. Then Faith shrieks, "Not my fault!"  

 ~~~~~~~

"....What?" 

"Fly!" Liam says impatiently. His sweaty complexion only adds to the crazy gleam in his eyes. "You can do it, can't you?" 

With your work out coming to an unexpected close, you, Liam and Faith headed to Grillby's, Liam insisting on asking Grillby about the flying thing despite your many mild remarks that even if he can, there's no way he's going to admit it, let alone show it off. But then again, Grillby has surprised you a lot over the past few weeks. And you'll admit it; you want to know too. And you want to see it for yourself even more. Tyler stayed behind to figure out what the heck happened with the lights, though he made you promise to film it if you actually do get Grillby to admit he can fly. You angle your phone towards Grillby as subtly as you can.

Grillby slowly continues polishing the glass in his hand. "What makes you think I can fly?" 

"It's basic physics!" Liam explains. "You have hot air and with enough force and heat, you can bwoooosh! We use it in hot air balloons and rockets and canons and...." He makes the upward motion with his hand. "Physics. Right Sans?" 

Sans, seated next to you, has the expression of a man who's just discovered treasure island. He slowly puts his drink down on the counter. "grillby." 

"No." 

"grillby, as your best customer-" 

"Worst more like." 

"and best friend-no! your family-"

"Ugh."

Sans pushes on, his eye lights eerily bright. "i need your help with an experiment." 

Grillby puts the glass down. "Absolutely not." 

Whining and protests break out from every member of the group. "But Grillby!" Faith pleads, "It'll look so cool! You'll be just like the superhero that kid at the aquarium thought you were!" 

Grillby gives you a 'you told them about that?' look. You grin sheepishly. He tucks the rag back into his pocket and adjusts his glasses. They brighten slightly with the reflection of light. "Sorry to disappoint. But flying around isn't my thing." 

Something about the way he phrases it makes your eyes narrow. "Wait...so are you saying that you can do it? Or you've at least attempted it?" 

He says absolutely nothing, simply lifting his shoulders up and down once. You pout. He laughs. 

He never gives a clear answer despite the constant nagging from everyone else for the rest of the night. You ask him again when he walks you out to your car and his answer is a kiss that leaves you a little breathless. It's only when you pull into your apartment complex that you realize he had used the kiss to weasel out of answering you because you have a feeling that if you pushed, he'd crack since he was alone with you. What a dirty cheat!

Oh he will crack. Sooner or later. You're going to find out if he can fly, even if you have to use kissing as a dirty trick too.

~~~~~~

Since the date, both Grillby and you have been busy with work and other arrangements. Grillby's decided to hire Skatie as an additional hand for waitressing and back up bartender so Fuku could spend more time cooking. Fuku had been delighted about this, as was clear by the never-ending beam on her curiously expressive face. She was also very pleased to hear about your progress with her uncle and she spends a lot of time chatting with you while the two of you watched Skatie shadow Grillby. Her intentions are in the right place, even if she is a little clumsy in showing them. But Grillby, as expected, is completely patient. He helps her with every spill and mixture, quietly correcting and demonstrating as needed in both drink and table service. Fuku had sighed happily, her flames bright and gentle as she watched her girlfriend on her first official night. 

"He's doing it for you, you know," she informs you. "So he can spend a little more time at night with you."  

It makes you almost weepy with happiness. And for now, you don't mind that he's busy. You still see him every day at this point and you're texting more too. Still not a lot but it's quite a leap for him. You're okay with this new normal where you share private glances and quick kisses when no one is watching. He's still rather shy about being affectionate with you, especially around other people. But you don't push him to be. It almost makes waiting for the now nightly walk out to your car and the moments of soft contact even more special.  

But the nightly walks have to be cut short. Just two days after Eli's warning, the first of the summer storms start to appear. It's mostly short rainfalls that come and go sporadically but there is talk of a massive tropical storm hitting the coastline very quickly and violently. It's all the monsters have been talking about. The underground, while it did have various areas that experienced different climates, there was no actual weather. The first year of freedom resulted in a lot of terrified monsters hiding in their makeshift homes as the hurricane season started. They're better prepared this time, as you've heard from countless patrons eager to talk about the strange phenomenon that is weather. Stocking up with supplies, reinforcing windows and doors and preparing plans in the event that the rains reach Noah's Ark levels.

And here you thought the locals were bad about over preparing for storms. The stores have been picked clean for several days. But you can't really blame monsters for wanting to be cautious. 

Unfortunately, the sporadic rainfalls have also kept Grillby somewhat trapped indoors. He still sees you off at the end of your now daily visit to the bar and has offered to walk with an umbrella, but you've learned from experience that the light rain can turn into a downpour without much warning. You'd rather not risk it. 

The morning before the predicted tropical storm is due to hit dawns gray and dark. You can feel the energy in the air of the incoming storm. You wouldn't be surprised if it comes in early. It seems that most businesses share your views because many of them are closing early, including the shop. Grillby too is closing the bar down early so that everyone has a chance to get home safely before the storm hits in earnest. He doesn't seem quite as concerned as many of his patrons. Which makes sense really. He was up here for long enough before the war ended that he must have experienced a storm or two. And really, after being out on the open sea, a storm like this probably isn't going to bother him.

You call him anyway. 

"You're at work, aren't you?" 

"Well yes," you whisper, glancing at the door to the back storage room where you'd scurried off to during a quiet moment. "I'm on break. Kind of." 

His sigh crackles through the phone. He's rather difficult to hear as it is thanks to his soft voice without his fire making it tougher. "I'm fine," he assures you quietly. "As long as I don't go outside I have no reason to be worried. You should make sure that you're prepared and safe at home as well before it hits." 

Ah. About that. "Well um..." 

"Shore." 

"Look, it's three weeks until the first round of auditions for the big dance contest! You know, the one I've been talking about and training for all summer?" 

"I vaguely remember." 

"Grillby, I honestly can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not when you're on the phone." 

"Sorry. Why yes, I do remember you talking about that many, many, many times." 

You snort, covering your mouth to muffle the noise. "Anyway, Aika is giving us final updates and tips at the group session tonight. She doesn't believe in letting storms stop art." Unfortunately. But really, as long as you're careful, you should make it there and back home before the storm hits. "I'll be fine. I'm just worried about you." 

"Do you think I should be worried?" 

"...No." 

"Then I'm not worried." 

"But you'd tell me if you were, right?" 

Silence. "You should get back to work. Just call me once you're home so I know you're safe, okay?" 

You sigh. "Yes, mom." 

"Eugh." 

This time you do laugh out loud. "Sorry, sorry! I'll call you later!" 

By the time you finish up at the shop and head over to the studio, the sky has grown even darker and the wind has picked up, carrying the sharp scent of rain. The sky rumbles distantly as you make your way inside. There's a noticeable number of people absent, though you're pleased to see your entire team. Aika however, does not look so pleased. "Well, it seems the weak have been weeded!" She folds her arms and stares out over the number of you that braved the threat of the incoming storm. 

"We may be stupid, but we're not weak," Ty mumbles into your ear. You snort. 

Aika unfolds her arms to put her hands on her hips. "All right then! This information given here tonight is to be kept to yourselves, understood?" At the chorus of 'Yes ma'mn's' that meet her, she nods. "Okay. First things first! The audition city order has been finalized! Daiport is up first!" 

At that, surprised murmurs break out. Usually this contest will start in the city furthest away from the host location, saving the auditions for that city until the very end to save on travel time and expenses. "Why are they doing it different this year?" one of the other students calls out. 

"That's announcement number two! Seems there's going to be a special guest judge joining the roster. Given the nature of said guest, the hosts of the contest have decided to increase the nationwide attention and hopefully draw in more crowds by opening here as well as holding the contest itself here. So that means those of you who make it past the auditions will have a little bit of a break to further prepare for the real thing. So now, to the news you really want to know; the mystery judge is none other than that gleaming hunk of metal himself, Mettaton!" 

Liam's delighted gasp is so loud it completely overshadows everyone else's excited murmurs. He goes pink at the ripple of laughter throughout the room.

Aika grins. "But that means that all of you are going to have to step up your game." Her dark eyes taken in all of you. "The entire nation...no, the entire world is going to be watching this. Do not let this chance slip by. I know you guys have what it takes."

You find yourself straightening up, nerves battling with burning excitement. The entire room is tense with it. All of these people, save for the three at your side, are your rivals. You share determined nods with your teammates, confident grins spreading over your faces. 

Aika claps her hands together. "Now, I'm not a complete idiot. Let's get some dancing done before this storm decides to unleash it's fury on us!"   

Dancing winds up only lasting less than an hour but Aika has you doing drills that leaves you all sweating and gasping for air. Your muscles burn just on the edge of painful and you have no doubt you'll wake up sore. But the combination of moves gives you several ideas that you tuck away for choreographing your own pieces. It's when the distant sound of thunder begins to grow louder and the lights flicker threateningly that she calls it quits and sends you all on your way. Surprisingly, the rain hasn't started just yet as you all scatter to your cars and head off. 

You're only on the road for a few minutes when the sky unleashes it's might. The rain skips the light sprinkling stage and leaps straight into utter downpour, smacking against your car like hail. Your wipers on full strength don't do much at all and you're forced to move at a crawl on the roads. Every muscle in your body is tense and your hands are gripped so tightly on the wheel your knuckles are white. Holy crap how is it even possible for the weather to get this bad this fast?  

A staggeringly bright bolt of lighting hits the ground just off the side of the road. You shriek, your arms jerking and the car starts to slide. A stream of curses escapes you as you fight to bring the car under control. It finally comes to a stop, partially in the other lane. You're very lucky that the road is mostly empty. With shaking hands, you guide the car back into your lane. You've got to get off the road, you're going to get in serious trouble at this rate. 

If you die you're going to haunt Aika for the rest of her life!

You see the sign for the Walk and immediately turn into the parking lot. There's so much water you can't even see where the parking lines are so you make your best guess and park. Your heart is hammering so hard in your chest it actually hurts. Okay. Okay you're off the road. You're okay. You sit there for a few minutes, letting your heart slow down. 

The rain however, is showing no signs of slowing. You have no idea how long you'd have to sit here and wait for it to lighten up enough to drive home and honestly, you just want to be inside somewhere. Grillby's isn't too far. And...well, you're going to get soaked no matter what. You decide to run for it. There's a sandwich baggy you keep on your person after losing your last phone due to getting caught in a storm. You slip your phone inside, sealing it up and then tucking your bag under your shirt. Then taking a deep breath, you open the door. 

It's like stepping into a waterfall. You're instantly soaked, the water cold and sharp against your skin. You land directly in a puddle, soaking your shoes. You run as fast as you dare over the wet surface. Well at least there's no one outside to witness your frantic scramble to get out of the rain. You duck under awnings as much as you can as you make your way towards the bar. You can feel the charge of electricity in the air. It makes goosebumps rise on your skin and you jump at every crack of thunder. 

Finally, you reach Grillby's. You reach the door and, finding it locked, knock as loudly as you can. Oh you hope he's downstairs. If you have to you can pull your phone out but-

The door opens. It's just a crack, Grillby carefully peering out. His eyes go wide. "Shore?"

You smile weakly at him, water cascading down your face. "Can I come in?" 

He steps back, ushering you in and the warmth that spreads over your body when you move inside makes you sigh with relief. You unearth your bag, peeking inside. Whew, okay it's still dry on the inside. Grillby shuts the door behind you, carefully keeping clear of the growing puddle around your feet. "What are you doing here?" 

"Uh." You voice comes out shakier than you want it to. "I was...I got caught...um. There was a really big lightening strike I almost crashed because the roads were wet and I got startled and..." Oh. It's not just your voice shaking now, your whole body is shivering. You desperately want to hug Grillby, to have his arms around you to steady you but you can't because you're like a wet kitten dripping water everywhere. "I'm sorry, I just didn't want to sit in my car and wait for the rain to die down." 

Grillby too looks like he desperately wants to reach out to you too. "Are you okay?" he asks instead, his voice low. 

You nod. "Yeah I just...I'll wait til it lets up a little and head home if that's-" 

A massive boom shakes the entire bar, so loud and unexpected that both you and Grillby jump. A small scream is pulled from your mouth, your already pounding heart skipping a beat. The lights don't bother flickering. They just die, plunging the bar into darkness broken only by Grillby's natural light. Breathing hard, the two of you stare at each other for a moment, making sure the other is okay. 

"You're not going back out there," he finally says firmly. 

A strained laugh escapes you. "Yeah, probably a good idea." 

Grillby takes another step towards you and stops, eyes dropping to the mess of water on the floor. He motions for you to wait and quickly heads into the back room towards the kitchen. Once he disappears through the door, you're left in darkness. You blink several times, letting your eyes adjust to the dim light coming in through the large front window. It's still furiously coming down out there, the sky dark and threatening. Your attention is drawn towards the kitchen once again when Grillby comes back out clutching a towel. He seems to realize that he left you standing in the dark because he hurries forward, soft apologies falling from his mouth. He hands the towel to you, a simple thing that looks used and ragged. 

"I'm so sorry I don't have anything else," he apologizes. "I don't really keep towels around for anything other than cleaning." 

You smile at him reassuringly as you wrap it around yourself. "It's okay. A towel is a towel." 

He still doesn't look happy but he tilts his head towards the stairs. "Come upstairs. You need dry clothes." 

"Um, I'm still pretty wet, I'll track water everywhere-" 

"I'll come back and clean it up." 

You hesitate but nod. You kick off your wet shoes and socks, leaving them by the door before following him up the stairs. You take care to keep a small measure of distance between you but stay close enough to see where you're going. You are shivering in earnest now, chilly despite the warmth coming from Grillby and the towel around your shoulders. Oh, it would feel so good to have him wrap his arms around you right now. You'd probably have steam rising from you like a cooked lobster. Well, it’d be preferable to being covered in goosebumps anyway. 

You reach the upper landing. There's a few more windows up here but without Grillby's light it would still be really dark. You trail behind him, lingering in the doorway of his room. You've never seen it before and he casts just enough light for you to take in the more basic details. It's a big room, easily the size of your entire living room back at your apartment (possibly a little bigger) but it's pretty sparsely furnished. There's a few more bookshelves in here and a large wooden chest with a flat top placed at the foot of a massive king-sized bed. There's a dark and simple comforter neatly made and several pillows with matching cases. Grillby is opening a double door wardrobe, fishing through the drawers within. It's one of those that holds a section for hanging clothes as well as a few open shelves atop stacked drawers. You can see something neatly folded in one of these that glints a little with the light of his fire but you're too far away to get a good look. 

Grillby grunts quietly, like he's a little unsatisfied with his find but he straightens and closes the door of the wardrobe. He's got a simple tee shirt and a pair of worn sweat shorts, a faded gray color and a little threadbare. “They’re a little big but will this be okay?”

You nod gratefully, taking the offered clothing. “It’s far better then being stuck in wet things all night. Um, do you mind if I actually take a shower?”

He blinks and glances over your wet form.

“Yeah, I know, I’m already soaking but the rain didn’t exactly do a good job of washing.” You feel gross and sticky, the drying water leaving a bit of a residue on your skin thanks to the sweat from dancing.

“Oh. Yes, of course. It should work.” He flickers. “I think.”

You can’t help but giggle. “I suppose you’ve never really had a reason to use it, huh?”

“Not really.”

You step back to give him space to come back out. He gestures towards the bathroom and you thank him, intending to quickly duck inside but he calls your name softly, making you pause. He lifts his hand, palm facing upwards. A small plume of fire breaks away from him, growing and shifting until a small orb of flame hovers just above his hand. He nudges it gently and it flies towards you, circling around your head. It casts light and warmth on your face. “What’s this for?” you ask in wonder, watching the ball of flame.

“I assumed you wouldn’t want to bathe in the dark.”

Oh.

Grillby smiles at your expression and nods towards the bathroom. “Go on then. I don’t want you getting sick.”

“Right.” Knowing your luck, that’s exactly what would happen. You step towards the door, utterly delighted when the little ball of fire trails after you like a puppy. You open the bathroom door and slide inside.

It looks like since Grillby really has no need for this room, he’s been using it partially as a storage space. There’s a few boxes stacked along the wall but other than that, there’s really nothing in here. Just a small bottle of soap and a hand towel that looks like it hasn’t been touched. The bathroom itself matches the wooden interior of the rest of the place, the open screws and dark porcelain giving it an almost steam punk look. The shower itself is simple, the tub and handles dark as well. There’s a cheap curtain shoved to the side and a tiny window up near the ceiling to provide a little natural light. It flashes as another lightning strike hits, a rumble quickly following. Well, at least the water should still work, Grillby hadn’t said otherwise and in many places the water and electricity run on different systems.

You fiddle with the handles, pleased when after a moment of sputtering, a solid stream of water comes pouring out. You work the temperature a bit before peeling off your wet clothes and laying them out on the counter top. Your underwear you set aside; damp or not, you’re not going to go commando on your very first time staying at Grillby’s overnight. You’ll just have to deal with it. The fireball hovers in the corner of the room, filling the space with a gentle light. You glance it and reach up. It obliges you and brushes against your fingers. Like Grillby, it too is only pleasantly warm.

What isn’t warm however, is the water. You frown at it, fiddling with the handles. Well shoot. It’s working but it isn’t getting any warmer. It’s not freezing at least so you take a breath and shift it to the shower head and step in. The cool water hits your back and you squeal, cringing away from it. Okay! Quick shower then!

There’s a knock on the door. “Are you okay?” Grillby calls, his voice muffled but worried.

“Yeah sorry! The water’s a little cold!” You quickly reach for your small bottle of shampoo you set on the counter. You try to always keep one in your bag since you often have to shower after surfing lessons or dancing and the locker rooms never have any. You wash quickly but it’s really not too bad once you get used to the cold water. Cold showers are supposed to be good for you anyway right?

You finish up and dry off as best as you can with the already damp towel. Grillby’s clothes are indeed too big for you but you make do, cinching up the shorts as best as you can. They fall past your knees but they’re soft and comfortable. The shirt has some kind of faded logo on it and when you press it up to your face, you find that it smells slightly smoky.

Once you’re dressed, you turn to look at yourself in the mirror, running your mini hairbrush through your hair. Well. At least you no longer look like a drowned rat. You hang your wet things on the shower rod and then head back out into the main area.

Grillby’s sitting on the couch, a book in hand that he’s obviously not reading. He’s changed too, into checker patterned pants and a plain gray shirt. A few flickers of blue light the tips of his flames and then he’s turning his head away, muffling laughter with his hand.

You spread your arms out. “What? You don’t think I could work this? I can work this!”

“I’m sure you could.” He sets his book down on the coffee table as you cross the room and join him on the couch, sitting a small distance away.

You’re very hyper aware of what you’re wearing and how silly you must look. Not to mention, it’s completely dark in here save for the gentle flickering of Grillby’s flames. The rain is still going strong, beating out a rhythm on the roof above you, occasionally broken by rumbles of thunder. One could almost call it romantic if it weren’t for the pounding of your heart and the awkwardness that threatens to overtake you. It’s clear that you’re going to have to spend the night here and this is certainly not how you imagined it happening. You shiver a little, rubbing at the goosebumps on your arms.

“Are you cold?” Grillby’s voice, though soft, makes you jump a little.

“Um, yeah. I think the bathtub faucets might be broken or something, the water stayed pretty cold.”

Dismayed hues of color flicker over his face. You put your hands up.

“It’s okay! It wasn’t freezing or anything!”

He’s still frowning but then he opens his arm to you, gesturing for you to move closer. The feelings of awkwardness fade as you scoot over and his warmth envelops you. You sigh happily, snuggling into his side.

Okay, this is much better.

He’s blushing in earnest now, but he puts his arm around you, pulling you in a little closer. “I’ll have to get someone over here to fix it for next time.”

Next time? You look up at him, beaming. “Oh, well I mean, if a cold shower means I get to snuggle with my personal heater afterwards, I don’t mind.”

His flames sputter a little. “You’re very unfair,” he mutters quietly, bringing his hand up to your head. The heat increases, and he slowly moves his open palm in small circles, drying your damp hair.

You resist the urge to press your head into his hand, instead focusing on the wonderful warmth. “How so?”

“You-you’re…cute.” He stumbles over the words, blush flaring.

That of course makes you blush furiously too. You’re not sure what to say to that so you fall silent. The little ball of fire has followed you out of the bathroom, so you put your hand up. It rests on your palm, flickering brightly. “How long could you maintain this?” you ask curiously. “You said making the phoenix takes energy and concentration. Is this the same?”

“Not really. It’s a very basic shape and small so I could keep it going for hours and barely notice it.”

“Like the little orbs out front?”

He nods.

“So, you’re still connected to it?”

His eyes scrunch. “Kind of. It’s a little difficult to explain. I’m…aware of it.”

You cup the flame gently. “Okay so…can you feel it if I touch it?” You gently poke it and he makes a tiny noise. “That’s a yes?”

“Only because I’m very focused on it right now,” he huffs quietly.

Oh, now that’s an interesting piece of information. If you were braver and maybe if you weren’t in a dark room lit by only by firelight, you might explore that a little more. But you aren’t that brave, so you release the little fireball and look towards the book he was reading. It’s called ‘The Jazz Standards; A Guide to the Repertoire’.

“A good read?” you ask, pointing to it.

He nods. “It’s about the history of a lot of different jazz songs,” he explains, his flame brightening. “It’s very interesting to see the motives behind the pieces.”

That must have been his plan for the night, reading to pass the time away until bed. You stand, motioning for him to stay sitting and cross over to his many, many bookshelves. The flame follows, giving you enough light to see. There’s a massive collection of books here. They’re all arranged by topic and then alphabetically within that topic. Music, bartending and business are a few. But there’s a sizable fantasy section as well as several shelves filled with war stories and history books. You pick one out from there, a book of Scottish folklore and legends and cross back over to him, curling up against his side and angle the book so that his light falls on it. You open it up and start reading and after a few moments, Grillby shifts slightly to grab his and does the same.

The two of you read in silence for a while, save for the sound of the storm and the soothing crackle of flames. When your hair has completely dried, Grillby begins carding his fingers through the strands. Hesitantly at first but then falling into a gentle pattern, occasionally playing with sections with it. It’s very distracting but in the best possible way.

“It smells good,” he murmurs after a while of doing this.

“What does?”

He gently tugs on a strand. “Your hair.”

“Oh. Thanks. It’s coconut.” You grin ruefully. “Pretty typical of a surfer huh?”

He leans down, placing his cheek against the side of your head. “Nothing about you is typical.”

You have a very hard time concentrating on reading after that.

Still, the book is really interesting. It’s filled with all kind of legends about monsters and spirits and things. How much of monster legends in general are based on actual monsters? For that matter, yes monster kind was trapped underground but surely there must have been some who escaped. Maybe those were the ones who further spurred the legends of fairies and Bigfoot and all of them. You should ask Grillby. He’d know.

You should ask but dang it, you’re so warm and your sore body has turned to mush, sinking against Grillby’s chest and his fingers are still rubbing your head and the touch is so soft that it makes your eyes heavy with sleepiness and…and wait…you were gonna ask him…something….

“-is okay?”

You jolt a little. “Hmm what?”

Grillby sparks with amusement. “I said, is Stitch okay with this storm?”

You blink heavily. “Yeah, yeah he’s fine. I went home before…studio and…fed him….”

“….Shore?”

“I fed ‘im. He’s prob’ly sleeping.”

“You should probably be sleeping too.”

You stubbornly shake your head as best as you can. “No, I wanna stay up and cuddle. You’re warm.”  

“The bed is warm too.” He shifts and ignoring your whine, stands up. He takes the book out of your hands and sets it on the table. He then puts his hands under your arms and easily lifts you to your feet. You stumble after him and the little flame trails after you, occasionally brushing against your cheek.

He leads you into the bedroom and you’ve woken up enough to wonder exactly what his plans are for sleeping arrangements. The bed is certainly big enough for both of you and you are dating now and while it certainly makes you a little nervous and extremely self-conscious, you’d be okay with it-

Grillby grabs one of the flatter pillows and tucks it under his arm before turning to you. He hesitates, blushing a little. “I’ll…I’ll sleep on the couch,” he murmurs. “Is there anything you need?”

You shake your head, trying to hide your disappointment. “No, I’m…I’m good.”

He nods a few times. You both stand there awkwardly for a moment and then he moves to leave. He pauses at your side and leans down, brushing his face against your cheek. “Good night,” he whispers.

Your breath catches. “Good night,” you stutter back.

He smiles and then he’s gone, closing the door behind him and you’re left in his room with the little orb of flame hovering just above your shoulder. You release a heavy breath and then climb into the bed. Once you’re snuggled beneath the blankets, you hold your hand out for the fireball. It drifts closer obediently. Cupping it in your hand, you pull it close, squinting at the light. As if it can sense your stare, it dims a little. It’s such a strange sensation, holding fire like this.

You’re not sure if you’re disappointed that he didn’t want to share the bed with you or relieved. As much as you long for it, it’s also a new level of intimacy that scares you. You breathe deeply, reminding yourself that it’s fine. You have only been together for just over a week at this point. There’s no need to rush things. Besides, knowing him, he’s probably worried about accidently burning you in his sleep or something. Though a quick glance reveals that the pillows and blanket don’t have so much as a single scorch mark. Maybe he’s just embarrassed then. Maybe next time you can convince him to at least snuggle on the couch or something.

Before you talk yourself out of it, you press the fireball to your mouth, giving it a gentle kiss. Then you open your hand and release it. It drifts over to the bedside table and comes to rest just above it’s surface. You might be imagining it, but you swear you can see flickers of blue in the flame.

You close your eyes and turn your face into the pillow.

It smells like him.

~~~~~~

You’re not sure if it’s the great crack of thunder directly above your head that wakes you or the terrified shout. Either way, you sit bolt upright, your heart pounding. Disoriented, you almost miss the heavy thud that sounds like something large hitting the wood floor. It’s still completely dark out, you can’t have been asleep for more than a few hours, but it looks like the storm has moved to right on top of you. The gentle patter has turned into a raging pounding and for a brief moment, bright light fills the room from the lighting strike that must be happening right outside. You struggle to get out from under the blanket, straining to see. The fireball comes to attention, brightening a little so you don’t trip over your own feet in the darkness.

“Grillby?” you call, your voice hoarse with sleep. You open the door, looking out into the living area. Your gaze is immediately drawn to his light. It looks like he rolled off the couch. He’s curled into a ball on the floor, his flames erratic and bright. Even from here, you can hear him softly moaning. Your bare feet tap against the floor as you rush over to him. “Grillby?”

His eyes are shut, his arms wrapped around himself. It looks like he’s still asleep. Dreaming? Another bone shaking crack of thunder shakes the whole place and he whimpers, drawing in on himself. There’s heat pouring from him, not enough to be painful but certainly close to it. Still, you reach out to him, touching the part of his arm covered by his shirt. He’s almost too hot to touch.

His eyes open and he inhales sharply. At the sight of you above him, he flinches. “Don’t—”

It’s a whispered plea, scared and desperate. It makes your heart twist painfully. You pull your hand away. “Grillby, it’s okay. It’s just me.”

He breathes sharply for a moment, flames still twisting with harsh colors. And then he blinks and seems to fully wake up. “…Shore…?”

Lighting strikes again and he shuts his eyes, the softest gasp escaping him. You touch his arm again. “It’s okay, it’s just the storm. You’re safe.”

You sit with him, gently rubbing his arm until he sits up. He seems a little dazed. Pressing a hand to his face, he breathes shakily. That’s when you realize he’s not wearing his glasses. It’s the first time you’ve seen him without them.

“Did…did I wake you?” he finally murmurs

“I don’t anyone could sleep through thunder like that,” you say with a crooked smile. “Are you okay?”

He nods slowly. 

“Were you dreaming? Or was it just the storm?”

It takes him a long moment to answer. He pulls his knees up, not looking at you. “I hate thunder,” he whispers. It’s all he says but it speaks volumes. It speaks of experiences that makes dread and pain build in your chest. 

You shift from sitting to kneeling, slowly and carefully wrapping him in a hug. His temperature has died down enough that you can pull him close and run your hand through the flames that make up the top of his head. They give under your fingers, like super-heated hair. He slowly shifts and buries his head in the crook of your neck. He’s shaking a little and flinches again when more thunder rumbles around you.

Okay. He needs a distraction. You release him, pulling back and putting your hands on his face. His eyes, his beautiful golden eyes are somehow even more beautiful without his glasses acting as a shield. “Stay right here,” you murmur before placing a kiss on his forehead. Then you get to your feet and cross over to the shelf of vinyl records and the table holding the player. It’s a very old fashioned one with a crank so it should work even without electricity. You gesture for the fireball to come closer so you can actually see what you’re looking at. He’s got a very impressive collection but like the books, they’re ordered by sections and you soon find what you’re looking for.

You pull the record out and place it on the player. After a bit of fiddling, you figure out how it works and with a crackle of static, gentle jazz begins to play. You turn back to Grillby, who’s watching you with a confused hue to his flames. Crossing over to him, you bend and take his hands, pulling him to his feet and over to the area between the living room and dining area. There’s a nice clear area for what you have in mind.

“What are we doing?” he finally asks.

“Dancing,” you tell him firmly.

Surprise renders him still for a moment and you take advantage of that, moving one of his hands so that it rests on your hip. He jerks a little, blue finally easing the harsh colors of his face. “I…I don’t—”

“There’s no one here but me. You don’t need to be embarrassed or anything like that. All you have to do is watch me. I’ll teach you something easy.” You smile at him, taking his other hand with your own and gently pulling him into a step forward for him and back for you. “See, just like this. And then we go like this—”

Maybe he’s still too shaken to really protest but he silently goes along with you, a little stiffly at times. But he’s doing it. You’ve got him dancing. Occasionally his fingers twitch when more thunder echoes through the air but you simply squeeze his hand and raise your voice a little, calling his attention back to you.

“And this is what we call a grapevine and when partners do it, you have to be careful not to trip over your feet, so we’ll go slowly here.” You move through the steps and he follows, his gaze on your feet. “So then here you’ll let go of my hip and I’ll spin like this—” You step out, twirling slowly and then spin back in, crossing your arms as you do so. “And take my hand…there you go.”

The song fades away and the two of you remain in the final pose. Your back is against his chest, your arms lightly crossed at the wrists. His hands are holding yours and you can feel the tickle of flame against your ear. The rain too has finally died down a little. The brunt of the storm must have moved on.  

“And that’s it,” you finally breathe. “Look at that. You’re a natural dancer.”

His chest is slowly moving up and down with his breathing, warming your back with its heat. His hands release yours only to move up and wrap you in a hug. He completely envelops you, once again pressing his face against the crook of your neck.

“Thank you,” he breathes and the tingle of warmth that hits your neck makes you shiver. A soft gasp escapes you when you feel his lips gently kiss the spot below your ear. Your heart immediately races into overdrive, but you find that you can’t move. The soft kisses he presses against your neck feel amazing and it’s making your gut twist with butterflies. Your hand is shaking a little as you raise it to place it on his arm. For some reason, you’re finding it hard to speak, struck silent with nerves and an overwhelming desire for him to keep kissing you.

When he pulls back and loosens his arms slightly, you turn so that you can look up at him. His flames are that soft beautiful hue of orange and yellow, tinged with blue as he gazes at you. One hand drops to your waist and he searches your face for a long moment before pulling you close again. Now he’s kissing your lips and it’s just as soft and gentle as the kisses he placed on your neck. He’s all fire and smoke and spicy magic and you find yourself chasing something deeper, something that fills your senses with a wonderful heat that burns you from the inside. The force of you pressing yourself against him pushes him backwards until he bumps against the back of the couch. And you’re still kissing, your hands starting to explore each other. The hand on your waist gently squeezes while the other traces the bumps of your spine, lightly trailing upwards. It’s like he’s leaving a trail of fire against your skin with every touch, igniting your senses.

You lift one hand up around his neck and slowly press the other against his chest. You can feel the firmness of his body under your hand, a body that by all logic shouldn’t be anything but flame and too hot to touch. You should be burning, you are burning but it’s a deep burn that only makes you crave it more. A soft gasp escapes you when his fingers duck under the edge of your shirt to tentatively touch your bare skin. He hesitates at the sound, but you press your hand against his, coaxing him to keep going. So he does, flattening out his hand against the small of your back, making your shirt hitch up. You would shiver at the air hitting your skin were it not for the flames caressing and warming the spot.

You have to pull away from his mouth, desperately taking great gulps of air. Your nose tickles a little; the smell of smoke is all around you, and it fills your mouth, coats your tongue. It’s sweet and spicy and holy crap the taste of his mouth is amazing, how is it possible for fire to taste like this?

He’s panting a little, eyes closed as he catches his breath. When his eyes open again, he’s calmed a little. His forehead presses against yours, the desperate grip of his fingers on your back easing. His shifts his hand, his thumb traces the bone of your hip that is just barely peeking from the edge of his too big shorts. Your skin tingles under his touch.

“It’s…very late,” he finally gasps.

You swallow and nod. “Yeah.”

“We should try to sleep.”

You hum in agreement.

He hesitates. “Will you stay with me?” he murmurs.

You kiss him again, slow and steady. “Of course.”

The two of you part, just enough so you can walk back around to the front of the couch. He lays down first, his back against the cushions and his arms open for you. It’s a large couch, there’s enough room but when you lay down you press yourself as close to him as you can get. His arms wrap securely around you, one hand softly rubbing at your head.

“Good night.” It’s a breath of a whisper, one that is uneven and deep.

You slip your arms around him too, pressing your face against his chest. You feel that strange thrumming, like a heartbeat but softer and faster. “Good night.”

Surprisingly, it doesn’t take the two of you long to fall asleep. And though the storm continues, Grillby doesn’t stir. And neither do you.  

Chapter Text

You don't wake with a jolt the next morning. There's no moment of floundering wondering where the heck you are because you know exactly where you are. It's impossible not to with the insane amount of heat soaking into every part of your body. You wake because you are hot. Heavy heat is pressing against you and while the pressure is kind of nice...actually it's really nice, but there is a lot of it. You can feel sweat prickling at the base of your spine and neck as you slowly open your eyes. 

Grillby is still asleep and he's got you completely boxed in. His arms, warm and heavy, are wrapped around you and one of his legs is hitched around your ankles. He's holding you like you're some kind of living body pillow, his grip loose with sleep. You've got your face smooshed against his chest and you can feel it slowly rising and falling with slow steady breathing beneath your cheek. Your own hands are tucked in close to your neck and you can tell they're going to be stiff once you start moving around. 

Hey, there's no need to start moving around just yet so you carefully angle just your head up to look at Grillby. You have a squint a little. Even with his flames dim with sleep, he's a little bright to look at so soon after waking up. His colors are a little more muted than usual, swirls of calm deep orange swept through with dull yellow. With his eyes closed, it's actually hard to pinpoint exactly where they are on his face. In fact, the more you look at him, the more you realize that that he almost looks...fuzzy. His jawline and the basic shape of his head is usually clear and defined but it seems with sleep the flames creep outwards a little and soften the edges a little. 

You wanna touch it. 

Slowly, carefully, you wiggle your hand up and gingerly place your fingers right on the edge of his cheek. Your touch is feather soft but he must feel it because he makes an utterly adorable sleepy noise and his fire pops quietly. 

Oh now that's just unfairly cute!

His hold tightens, pulling you in even closer. Your body is now completely flush with his and you're not sure if it's the heat or embarrassment making you sweat now. Before you have a chance to decide what to do now, he shifts and rolls partially on you, pinning you to the couch cushion. He nuzzles his face against your head and sighs heavily as his body relaxes even further against yours. Oof! Okay, yup, it's time to wake him up, you can't breathe.

"Grillby," you whisper because at this point you feel like you might actually melt from the heat. "Heeeey. Grillby." You squirm, tapping his arm.

His face scrunches but he doesn't open his eyes. 

"I'm melting here dude. Come on." You reach up as best as you can and plant a kiss on his cheek.

That wakes him up. His eyes slide open, bright against his muted colors. He blinks sleepily at you for several seconds. Then he shoots straight to deep blue as he processes his position. He gapes wordlessly for several seconds and then moves like he's going to bolt off the back of the couch.

You quickly reach out and grab his wrist. "Don't panic, I'm just a little squished," you assure him. "And sweaty. But you don't have to run. Maybe just scooch a little?"

Wordlessly he nods and shifts until you're back lying side by side. There's not a ton of relief since the couch is only so big and despite Grillby pressing himself into the cushions, his arms and legs still brush against yours. Not only that, the whole floor seems unusually warm. Still, now that Grillby's not lying on you, you're no longer in danger of melting into the couch. You breathe deeply. "I guess you don't really run the air conditioning up here, huh?" 

"Never had a reason to before now," he whispers, staring up at the ceiling. "Sorry." 

"That's okay. Couldn't have clicked it on anyway with the power being out."

"Did you sleep alright? After..." he sighs heavily. "I suppose there's no way that I can ask you to forget about finding me on the floor." 

"Afraid not. I'm actually being nice and giving you a chance to wake up before asking about that." 

"Guess I better go back to sleep then." 

You poke him in the side. "Don't you dare! Or...if you insist, we're going to have to turn the air on before I go back to being your teddy bear." You grin widely. "I had no idea you were the snugly type. I guess that explains all the pillows on the bed." 

He chuckles quietly, flushing.

You stretch as best as you can, your bare toes brushing against his leg. "Well, to answer your first question, I slept great, aside from being roasted and squashed just now. This couch has no business being this comfy." 

"It is weirdly comfortable, isn't it?" 

You turn your head to look at him and after a moment, he does as well. The blue hasn't entirely faded but now his expression is one of hesitant wonder. How strange. This is the first time you've woken up beside another person like this. True, it was just an innocent night spent comforting Grillby from the storm but you still expected some awkwardness in waking up. Yet, aside from being very aware of how sweaty you are and how awful you must look, you feel utterly at ease. You smile at him. "Good morning!" 

His return smile is as bright as his flaring fire. "Good morning."

Ah, holy crap it's blinding! You shut your eyes, weakly batting at him. "Too bright! Too early!" 

"Sorry! Sorry."

His hand hesitantly grabs yours, lowering them away from your eyes. He's dimmed himself and oh...oh he's so close. Unexpected nerves makes your heart skip a beat. Oh come on, you just spent the night in this man's arms! What are you suddenly getting nervous for? It certainly doesn't help that he's staring at you. This close, you can see that his eyes are not simple ovals of light as they appear from a distance. There's shifting colors there, hues of gold and white that hold an entire world of thoughts and emotions that so few get to see. You swallow past your nerves, putting your free hand on his face. Flames lightly tickle your skin. It's too bright. 

He's so bright.

But he too looks a little nervous, if the flickering of his flames is anything to go by. "Do you...um." He's stumbling over his words. He's definitely nervous. You take your hand away and that seems to help a little. He takes a deep breath. "Listen, I don't know if it was wrong of me to ask you to stay out here with me after last night. I don't know if I should've stopped myself kissing you like that. I got carried away and I...don't...I hope I didn't take...advantage?" He shuts his eyes, shaking his head a little. "Stars, I'm a mess. I don't know what I'm trying to say." 

Oh. Shoot, are you guys going too fast? You have no experience when it comes to this sort of thing but you've known him for a few months at this point and all you've really done since you started going out is kissing and that mild make out last night. 

You blush at the memory of it. Okay, yeah maybe that was a little intense for you too. Come to think of it, you don't even really know how monsters view physical intimacy. Maybe they're more conservative? He might be worried that he's the one pushing you. Not that asking you to stay with him after a nightmare is the height of scandal but it does make sense that a person like him would be afraid of overstepping boundaries. You'll probably need to talk to him about that at some point, make sure that you both know what is and isn't okay at this point. 

But for now you just sit up a little so that your head is propped up on the pillow laying against the arm of the couch. "Grillby, me staying with you out here was something I wanted to do because I care about you. Nightmare or not, you have more reason than anyone to be scared by storms. You needed comfort and I gave it. You weren't taking advantage." You smile at him reassuringly and take his hand. "If this is too fast for you, I'm okay with slowing down. Remember we said were gonna figure this dating thing out together, right?"

"....Yeah." 

"We'll need to talk about, you know, what's too much and what's okay at some point but I don't think there are any kind of strict rules that we need to follow. Besides..." Suddenly shy, you look away from his eyes and to your hands, gently clasped. "Kissing you last night felt really, really good. Falling asleep in your arms felt good. I liked it a lot and as long as you liked it too, that's enough for now. I think."  

He's quiet for a while. His thumb slowly traces a pattern over your skin, leaving a pleasant tingling in it's wake. "I did like it," he finally says. "A lot." 

"Oh yeah?"

He leans forward a little, taking care not to press any more of his body against you than necessary. Why-oh right. You were melting. Suddenly you don't seem to mind that as much. You shift closer, pulling his hand up to your face. His eyes drop to your mouth and back up, thumb trailing over your cheek. "I think I'd like to do it again. May I?" 

You nod but-oh crap. You probably have the worst morning breath. You didn't even brush your teeth last night! "Uh, um, well, humans, they, I mean we, get morning breath and it's kinda gross so you might not want to right now-" 

"I don't care," he murmurs before his mouth is on yours and suddenly you find that you don't care either. You lean up into the kiss, something warm and pleasant stirring in your chest. Yeah, you definitely like this. You like this a lot. Grillby's mouth leaves yours after a while, trailing to your cheek. He's so gentle, so careful with every touch. Flames lick over your skin, tickling and warming you up all over again but you don't care, now you welcome the heat and-

Then you hear a pop, like air displacing and both of your heads jerk towards the sound. "okay grillbz, i know you said you aren't changing your mind about the flying thing but i think-" 

Sans, standing in the middle of the living room snaps his jaw shut while you and Grillby stare at him, frozen in an utterly compromising position. He blinks once, twice and says, "oh." And then he vanishes again and you just barely catch the flare of a blush and wide grin on his face before he's gone. 

Utter mortification has your hands slapping up to cover your face. "Oh my God!

"...I'm going to kill him." Grillby says this so calmly and matter-of-factly that it's almost a little scary and utterly hilarious. Giggles bubble in your chest. When Grillby turns his 'have you lost your mind' stare towards you, you can't hold them in any longer and burst out laughing so hard you feel tears pricking at the corners of your eyes. His shoulders begin to shake as he fruitlessly fights off a growing smile. Then he's laughing too, sparking brightly. He rather inelegantly flops on you, hiding his face in your shoulder.

"D-does he often just pop in like that?" you gasp, reaching up and patting his head. 

"Only at the very worst moments." 

"Oh, this isn't the first time he's caught you doing something embarrassing then? Like dancing in the kitchen? Eating an entire tub of ice cream while watching romance movies?"

"Oh shut up." 

"Worse than ice cream binging?" you cry scandalously. "Were you singing out loud? Throwing a concert of one in your underwear? Writing poetry?

An uncharacteristically loud bark of laughter breaks from him and you beam. He lifts himself up, glaring. "Do you want breakfast or not?" 

You zip your lips, though you can't stop a few more tiny snorts from escaping. He smirks at you and places one more kiss on your forehead before shifting and getting to his feet. You sit up too, watching him as he grabs his glasses and slides them back on his face. "Why do you wear glasses?" 

He looks at you, his equivalent of raising an eyebrow lighting his face. 

"Sorry, that was stupid. I just mean, it seems a little weird that monsters would need vision correction at all since they're made of magic. And you're fire...so...?" 

"....I don't know about other monsters but my eyes were damaged a long time ago."

Something cold strikes at your heart despite still sweating. "Was it during the war?" 

He shakes his head. "Underground." 

"Oh." 

He slips the glasses off, offering them to you. "I technically don't need them because my magic can compensate but it makes my head hurt after a while. The glasses were made to help ease the strain of seeing."

You hold them gingerly and take a look. You've seen the symbols on them before but up close like this, you can see the great detail gone into carving the tiny symbols on the side. Once again, you're struck with a sense of familiarity but no matter how hard you try, you just cannot place where you've seen them before. "I'm guessing this is some kind of spell?" you ask, tracing the slightly warped lettering. "To stop them from melting?" 

He nods. "And to hold them to my face. It's kind of like a magnet that's attached only to my particular Soul aura. Or so I was told." 

You put them on. They're too big for you, slipping down your nose until you hold them in place yourself. The metal frame is warm. You grin up at him. "Now I really look like you!" 

"Especially with your hair sticking up like that," he muses, gently ruffling the rats nest that is your bed head hair. "I don't think I've ever seen it quite this wild."  

You put your hands on your head, flattening the mess as best as you can while you stumble over your words. "Oh yeah? Well, you're the one with a peach fuzz face!" 

"A what?" 

"Your face! The edges are all fuzzy when you're sleeping!" He looks utterly confused so you get to your feet and hand his glasses back. "Never mind! I'm gonna go wash up!" You make your escape to the bathroom, Grillby's soft chuckling following you as you close the door and survey yourself in the mirror to asses the damage. 

Your hair is literally sticking up everywhere. Probably thanks to sleeping with your head pressed against Grillby. His natural heat put wild crinkles in your hair. Groaning quietly, you try your best to make it presentable but without an actual brush on you it's a lost cause. Figures you would have actual shampoo in your bag in case of emergencies, sure but no brush to go with it. Maybe you left it somewhere? Ah, you really just need to get one of those tiny fold up ones. You make a mental note to do that as you splash your face with water. The cold relief it offers feels amazing. You hear the air condition click on as you take care of your morning business and the blessed blast of air from the vent in the floor is even better. You touch your clothes and, finding them gross and stiff from rainwater, decide to stay in Grillby's clothes for a little bit longer. At least til after breakfast. 

It's totally not just because you want to keep wearing them because they smell like him. 

Nope. 

When you leave the bathroom, you find Grillby over in the kitchen, already clattering away at making breakfast. You go over to see what you can help with and spot plates set out but no silverware. You look around the space, trying to make your best guess as to where they might be. The kitchen is huge, which is no surprise. The counter tops are some kind of dark granite, speckled with silver and white. They're mostly bare, save for a wooden block holding various sized knives, some spices hanging from a metal rack, several glass vases that hold mixing spoons and such arranged by type and a bowl of....pine cones and cinnamon sticks? Well...you've seen places where people put garnishes of cinnamon and other nuts and stuff like that for the atmospheric smell so maybe it's something like that? 

The dark fridge is mostly bare, save for a few magnets, a partially filled shopping list and the photo of you dancing from the day of the surf contest. The sight makes your heart swell a little.

"We need forks right?" you ask Grillby once you've spied what you're guessing is the silverware drawer. "I got it." 

He looks up and pales with flickers of green. "Wait-" 

You open the drawer to find not silverware or any other kind of cooking utensils. It's pine cones. Dozens of pine cones, arranged into neat little rows and separated by small dividers. There's regular pine cones and small pine cones and pine cones dusted with what smells like cinnamon and other spices and yet more pine cones that shimmer slightly with what you can only hope is sugar and not fake snow like the ones you see around Christmas time. You slowly look up at Grillby. He's covering his face with one hand but it doesn't hide the blue at the top of his flames. 

"Those...those are...um...." 

You pick one up, sniffing at it. Definitely sugar. That's a relief at least. "Okay, so it wasn't dancing in your underwear Sans caught you doing, it was...collecting pine cones? Grillby, do you eat these?"  

He very slowly peeks at you between his fingers. "...Yes." 

"Huh." You look at the pine cone in your hand. "Are they...good?" 

He nods. 

Hesitantly, you lift it to your mouth and gingerly bite at it. Yep, that's a pine cone. The light dusting of sugar doesn't mask the woody taste in the slightest. You make a face as you lower it away. Grillby snorts. "You don't have to taste it yourself, I know it's weird." 

"Yes, it is weird!" you exclaim, holding it up. "It's a pine cone!" 

"And I'm a fire elemental," he says almost calmly. It doesn't quite work because he's still blushing. He crosses over to you and plucks the pine cone out of your hand. "I can technically eat anything that I want. And I just happen to think pine cones taste rather delightful." With that, he takes a huge bite out of it and the resounding crunch of pine cone nearly echoes throughout the room. You gape at him and he goes back to cooking, occasionally taking a bite out of the pine cone like one would an apple. 

Well all right then. 

You eventually find the right drawer for the silverware and grab some forks, setting them on the table with the plates. When you return, Grillby holds his hand out to you. In his palm is a tiny seed. "Here, the seeds are edible for humans. I even roasted it a little." 

You take the seed, curiously sniffing at it before popping it in your mouth. Oh, now that tastes a lot better! It's actually kind of sweet and the roasted bit gives it a pleasant tang. "Oh, okay now the seed bit actually tastes good!" 

"Maybe you just have unrefined taste," he huffs, turning back to his egg and veggie concoction in the pan which is currently engulfed in flame. He carelessly waves at it and the flames vanish, leaving a perfectly cooked breakfast. 

"Well I'm certainly not going to argue with the resident chef," you mutter as you take a seat at the table. "So is it a recent obsession or have you always liked them?" 

"It's not an obsession-" 

"You have an entire drawer. An organized drawer." 

"Should the one about to eat a free breakfast really be teasing the cook?" Despite the threat, he gives you a large helping before taking a seat himself. He's got another pine cone, a smaller one that he crushes in his hand and sprinkles over his food. "And I've always liked them. I'm just lucky that Snowdin had plenty of pine trees. But the surface has so many different kinds. I've been trying a lot of new ones over the last few months." 

You can't help but smile at his enthusiasm. "So you can taste the difference?" 

He nods. "It's a very subtle thing but spices and herbs can bring out the flavor and-" 

While Grillby talks about the various kinds of pine cones (somewhere around a hundred and fifteen), you eat your breakfast. But when the first bite reveals that he's put green peppers in the food, you pause. You don't want to be picky but...you really, really don't like peppers. So as subtly as you can, while paying attention to what he's saying, you gingerly pick out the peppers with your fork, moving them to the side. 

"And that doesn't even cover...." He trails off and you freeze in the middle of moving a slice of pepper to the side. His eyes narrow slightly. "Shore." 

"Uh...yeah?" 

"I don't suppose you're saving all of those green peppers to eat at all once because you like them that much?" 

You laugh weakly. "Well, not...not exactly." 

He sighs deeply. "Green peppers are highly nutritional for humans." 

"No, I know that! I just-" you shrug and offer your best grin. "-don't like them very much." He's still frowning at you and then you get an idea. "Tell you what. I'll eat these and you can tell me about the nightmare you had last night. If you want to." 

He's considering it. You can see it in the gentle swirling of his flames. "It's not a happy memory," he finally murmurs. 

In answer to that, you scoop up a forkful of peppers and shove them in your mouth. You can't quite stop your face from scrunching at the taste. Grillby smiles lightly, amused. And then he puts his fork down and rubs at his temple. "Do you remember when I said that I was the first of my kind? The first monster born elemental?" 

You swallow your mouthful of peppers, suddenly not noticing the spice of them. "Yes." 

"Mages had their own elementals but they were just spells given physical form. Those elementals didn't have the same sentience or the same level of power. So when they heard of me and the ones that followed me, they decided that they wanted to get their hands on an elemental. Study it. And I was the one that they got their hands on." 

Your breath catches. "You were captured?" 

He nods, no longer looking at you. "It was an ambush. A lot of monsters died that day. I only survived because the soldiers and mages there had orders not to kill me. They took me to one of their outposts. One of the mages who was there was…she was…" His voice trails off. His colors are darkening and his hands clasp together. "It was her," he whispers. "The one that I wound up tracking down. I only found out later that she was responsible for the ambush that killed my squad and the civilian monsters we were escorting to a haven. Monsters I was supposed to protect. 

"She ran tests on me for weeks. Tried to take me apart and put me back together again to see what I was made of. And she pushed me to my limits. And when the rains started she-" He shudders. "She would have the soldiers drag me outside and make me stand in the storm until I collapsed. Until I was barely clinging to life before taking me back inside and healing me just to the point of survival, so I couldn't resist her spells. It kind of fell into a pattern. Thunder meant rain and rain meant that I would be forced to endure being slowly doused over and over again and...." 

His voice has grown whisper soft and you can only stare at him in utter horror. How? How is it possible that a monster as strong as Grillby could be taken and tortured like that? "I don’t...how did they...?" 

"They had ways," Grillby answers, guessing your poorly worded question. "Spells. Enchanted items that fed on Soul energy and weakened the ones wearing them. And the mage herself was very skilled in ice magic. She could create ice that would not melt, no matter how hot I burned." His hand rises slightly, resting on the area of where he ribs would be if he had them. "Ice from her kept me pinned and trapped. I eventually escaped but ever since then I've...well, I never liked storms to begin with but, for a long time after I couldn't bear the sound of them." He grins a little wryly, brightening fractionally for a moment. "I suppose that was one of the few good things about the Underground. No storms down there. No thunder aside from the occasional rock slide. It took me a while to get used to storms again when we all got up here. And I'm better now but sometimes when the storm is bad-" 

He's cut off by your sudden hug. You weren't even really aware that you had stood up and circled around to him. Seated as he is, his head is at chest level and his flames lightly dance against your cheek as you pull him close.

“Why didn’t you ask me to stay with you?”  

“I didn’t think I needed to. I’m better now,” he repeats quietly. “Besides, I know how to deal with them by myself.”

“But you shouldn’t have to face those dreams alone,” you tell him gently. “You can’t tell me that you weren’t nervous because of the storm, even if you did lie to me before about being okay. You know that I would’ve come without needing to know why you wanted me to stay, right?”

Slowly, he nods.

You start to run your fingers through his flames, doing your best to gently rub his head in a reassuring way. “I’m so sorry that happened to you,” you say softly. “I know I can’t begin to understand what that was like. But I’m here. You don’t have to tell me everything that happened back then, but I’ll help you in dealing with it now. Whatever you need.”

“Even if it means eating green peppers?”

You make a face. “Eugh. I suppose that’s a sacrifice I can make.”

“What a sacrifice.” After a moment, he shifts and returns your hug, hiding his face from you.

“Are you okay?”

He hums quietly. “You might have to be patient with me,” he finally says, his voice muffled. “Sorry.”

He sounds so tired. This pain that he feels, the scars left from a war that you can’t begin to imagine must be deeply carved into him. You’re honestly shocked that he shared that he was tortured. At most, you had expected a brief explanation about his nightmare not…that. A strange surge of protectiveness rises in you like some kind of beast, making your arms tighten around him. You can’t even begin to picture what he must have gone through without your gut clenching with pure rage and horror.

“You know, the next time it rains, I’m just gonna show up at your door. And I’ll be better prepared next time. Toothbrush and everything. Though I might steal your clothes again, these are comfy as heck.”

He laughs quietly. “I’ll keep them out for you.” He breathes deeply for a moment longer, his hands tightening around you before pulling away. “Now come on. Finish your breakfast. Peppers taste better warm.”

“Aw, do I have to finish them?” you whine.

“I told you about my nightmare. Now eat up.”

You pout and take a seat. “Fine.”

You force yourself to eat the rest of the bell peppers, under Grillby’s watchful and slightly gleeful stare. Okay, they aren’t that bad, especially since they were made by him but still! It’s a true sacrifice! When you finish, he stands and takes your plate, giving you a pat on the head as he goes.

Your phone, plugged in on the counter with Grillby’s borrowed charger, buzzes and you slide the screen open. Your brows lift when you see who the message is from. You go in and edit his contact information before replying.

peeping tom

-uh, hey so this is awkward

 

You:

-Which part? The popping in on my lovely morning kiss with the fire man or what you’re about to ask me?

 

peeping tom

-mostly the first thing actually. i swear i had no idea you were there.

 

You:

-Normally I’d call out on that, but I think you and Pap are just cursed with bad timing.

 

peeping tom:

-we probably are. but i swear i was just popping in to check on grillbz. he doesn’t do well with storms. as i’m sure you saw if u were there all night

 

You feel a little bad now for making fun of his bad timing. Sans is Grillby’s friend, probably the closest he has. And Sans, goof that he is, really does care about Grillby. It makes sense that he would stop in to check on the guy after a huge storm like the one last night.

 

You:

-Yeah, I saw. He’s okay. We talked about it just now.  

 

peeping tom:

-that’s good

 

You:

-So you weren’t just coming over to bug him about the flying thing?

 

Peeping tom:

-well, since i was gonna be there anyway…

 

You shake your head, grinning. And then an idea strikes you. You look at up Grillby, who’s burning the remains of breakfast from the plates. “Hey, you wanna get back at Sans for interrupting us earlier?”

“Absolutely.”

“It will require a field trip.”

“…What exactly do you have in mind?”

You wave your phone at him. “It involves solving the mystery of if you can fly or not but I’m the only one who has to know.”

He stares at you, his eyes narrowing.

You bat your eyes at him, smiling as brightly and as pleadingly as you can. “C’mon, it’s for revenge.”

At that, he relents with a heavy sigh. “Fine. For revenge.” He folds his arms. “I might have, in the past, attempted to use fire to fly. I also might have landed directly in a tree and nearly burnt it down because of the attempt.”

“Holy crap.”

“And if you think I’m going to do it again, you are very much mistaken. I only agreed the first time because I was drunk. And I don’t stay drunk for longer than four minutes.”

Oh, this is wonderful information that you store away for later. “You wouldn’t even do it for your girlfriend?”

“Nope, sorry. I am older and wiser now.”

Ah well that’s a shame. You pout at him but wave away the issue. “That’s fine. We only need to make sure that Sans thinks you’re going to show me.”  

Grillby’s flames pop as he realizes exactly what you’ve got planned. “You’re a little evil, you know that?” he says with a matching vicious grin.

You flip your hair. “It’s just one of my charms. Now, let’s run by my place so I can get dressed in proper clothes and feed Stitch.”

It doesn’t take you long to change back into your clothes from last night, gross though they are. Grillby follows you out of the bar, locking up behind you. The Walk outside is shimmering with the remains of the storm. There’s puddles everywhere and the scent of rain is heavy. But the sky is clear so you both venture out, taking care to avoid the puddles. You’re a little giddy with both the upcoming prank you’re about to play and the presence of Grillby at your side. He too is visibly happy, sparks trailing from his head as he walks. You’ve noticed that the happier he is, the more he sparks.

Sparks huh. That kind of has a nice ring to it.

You approach the parking lot. The two of you slept in a little so by this point, the morning crowd of both people coming into work and early shoppers have arrived. The parking lot is partially full, but you can see your car out in the distance, parked at a slightly sloppy angle.

The ground directly next to the curbside is absolutely covered with massive puddles. You frown at it, trying to figure out the best way around when you suddenly hear the rev of an engine. You look up. There’s a truck coming by, moving way too fast for being in a parking lot. The person driving is on their phone, not even paying attention. They hit the deep puddle next to you and Grillby, spraying up a massive wall of water.

The sharp gasp tears itself out of your throat as you hear Grillby shout. You’re already moving to stand in front of him, as if your body alone can protect him and then you feel the strangest sensation, like ice shooting down your arms and then your arms are outstretched and something in your chest pulses like an electric shock. It makes your eyes shut instinctively.

You hear the water hit the ground. But that’s it. No sizzling, no screams of pain. Panting, you open your eyes and whirl around to look at Grillby.

He’s fine. He’s completely fine, not a single drop of water on him. Not to mention, there’s none on you either despite having thrown yourself directly into the path of the water. Still, you desperately ask, “Are you okay? Grillby?”

He’s staring at you, straightening from the hunched curl he must have instinctively moved into to minimize the damage from the water. Slowly, he looks down at the ground, slightly to your left so you follow his gaze. There’s water there, dark against the side walk. But…there’s water on his other side too, both of them angled away from you. It’s…it’s almost like the wave was completely divided into two, missing you and Grillby. And now he’s looking at your hands. Another startled gasp escapes you.

There’s light dancing on your fingertips. Bright purple light that sparks for a brief moment before dying away. Your jaw has completely dropped as you meet Grillby’s stunned stare.

“Did…did I do that?”

Grillby finally breathes, a multitude of colors racing over his face. “Shore…I think you just used magic.”

Now it’s your turn to stare in compete, stunned silence. “I did what?”  

Chapter Text

Magic? Like, actual, real magic? You barely have time process this before a powerful rush of vertigo swims through you, making the world wavy and your legs weak for a second. A soft 'oh' is the only sound you make before your knees buckle. You don't fall but Grillby is at your side in an instant anyway, steadying you as you blink rapidly.

"What's wrong?" 

"Just...just a little dizzy. I'm fine." And you are. It's already gone and you feel perfectly normal again. Well, as normal as you can be considering that you're pretty sure Grillby is right and you just used magic. "What do you mean magic? I can't use magic!" 

"I'm pretty sure you just did." He seems as stunned as you. He takes your hands, turning them over. There's no sign of the light that was there before but you can still feel a lingering sense of energy just below your skin, almost like the feeling you get after drinking one of Grillby's pure magic beverages.  

You close your fingers into a fist and back out. "What happened exactly? My eyes were closed so I have no idea what actually happened." 

Grillby releases your hands and brings his up together for a moment before breaking them apart, palms facing out as he pretends to push at something. "The water just split right down the middle," he says. "It followed the motion of your hands." 

You look at the puddles on either side of you. "That's...that's weird." 

He quietly asses you and then looks around. It doesn't look like anyone saw what just happened, not even the person in the truck who nearly doused Grillby. "We're going to Gerson's," he announces, spinning you around and keeping on hand on your back as he steers you away from the parking lot. 

"Why?" 

"Because he knows more about mages and magic than anyone aside from Asgore and Toriel. He'll know what's going on. Probably." 

Wait, wait hold on. Mages?  You can only silently follow Grillby as he leads you back towards the beach thanks to your utter whirlwind of thoughts sealing your voice away. It all happened so fast, it's hard to remember exactly what you did or how you managed to slice the wave of water in half like freaking Moses and the Rea Sea. All you remember is panic and thinking that you had to protect Grillby, no matter what. You look at your hands. There's no remain of that strange light on your fingers but now, you think back to all the times you've seen it before. The day of the contest, when you touched the wave. It was there during your aquarium date too right? A quick flash of color in the water that you nearly missed because of all the rays scrambling for your attention. You'd convinced yourself that it was a trick of the light or your own head playing tricks. But it wasn't. It was...magic?

What on Earth is going on? You can't be a mage, you're just you! But...something beyond normal just happened. Of course, normal ceased to really mean a thing the moment you were knocked from your board by a fish. Magic exists, you've seen it over and over again. You've seen it in action, you've been healed by it, eaten it. Heck, you've kissed it when you think about it! It is really so strange to think that maybe with the return of magic to the world, that mages would make a return too? 

Okay, yeah it's weird. You take care to breath in and out, focusing on not letting your thoughts spiral out of control. Take things a step at a time. Stitch. Right, you were supposed to go home and feed Stitch. You dig your phone out of your bag and call up Ms Meyers as you trail after Grillby. You gave her a spare key a while ago thanks to having more than a few late nights that turned into impromptu sleepovers with Faith. She picks up after a few rings. "Good morning dear!" she greets you. 

"Hey, um, I'm sorry but I didn't actually make it home because of the storm last night and something's come up this morning. Could you check on Stitch and give him breakfast?" 

"Of course! You know I'm always happy to give that old fat kitty cat some love and attention." 

"Thanks." 

"You don't mind if I give him the wet food do you? He expects that from me you know and as his adopted grandma, I must not disappoint him." 

"Yeah that's fine." 

She pauses. "Are you quite alright? You sound a little frazzled." 

Are you okay? You're not quite sure yet. "Yeah, I'm fine," you assure her anyway. "Just gotta talk to a friend about something." 

"If you're sure dear. Be careful coming home when you do,  the roads are still wet I hear." 

"Thanks Ms Meyers." 

You hang up and look at Grillby. He's quiet, looking ahead. The fast pace of his flames betray that he's thinking deeply. You open your mouth to speak, to say something but you honestly have no idea what to say. Still, you're glad he's okay. Getting doused in that much water would've really hurt him or worse. But he has to know that you had no idea you could do something like that right? You haven't told him everything about you (you're not sure how to even begin approaching that subject) but you'd like to think if you knew about whatever this is, you would've mentioned it. 

'Oh hey Grillby thanks for agreeing to date me. By the way, I'm a freaking wizard, pass the pinecones please?' 

But unlike Harry Potter, escaping to the world he truly belongs to, you just feel like someone yanked the rug out from under your feet. 

You're in a bit of a daze as you make your way through the Walk and down to the beach. It's early enough that there's not a ton of people around just yet, more so in the secluded area Gerson lives in. You both duck inside the shop, finding the turtle himself fast asleep behind the counter. It takes Grillby a few tries to wake him up, actually resorting to shaking his shoulder before the turtle monster finally cracks his eye open. 

"What?" he grumbles sleepily, rubbing at his face. But he brightens a little when he sees the two of you. He grins toothily. "Why if it isn't Sparks and Shore. I was beginning to think you forgot about me in my little beach shop. But I guess you've been a little busy, huh?" Grillby doesn't react to the teasing and Gerson pauses, tilting his head. "What's got you looking so green Sparks?" 

Grillby looks at you and back to Gerson. "Gerson...is it possible for a human to gain the ability to use magic?" 

At that, Gerson's thick eyebrows rise to his hat and his single eye flicks to you. "I'm guessing it's not pure curiosity that's got ya asking." 

You shake your head and put your hands out in front of you. "A truck went through a puddle and almost doused Grillby but I...I think I pushed it aside somehow? And there were these weird lights around my fingers and a sort of jolt in my chest." You wiggle your fingers and let your arms flop back to your side. "But I have no idea how. I panicked and reacted." 

He blinks but his wide grin doesn't fade. "Anything like that happen before?" 

You shake your head but then hesitate. "Well there was a weird thing that happened at the aquarium. I put my hands in the ray tank and they all came over to me and acted like they wanted my attention. I thought it was just weird fish being weird but now I don't know. And I saw the same lights in the water on the day of the surfing contest." 

Grillby starts quietly next to you. Ah, right you'd never mentioned that to him. You'd forgotten about it, given the events following afterwards. Gerson is thoughtfully tapping his nubby fingers against the counter top. He looks rather...calm about this?

"Interesting," he finally hums.

Grillby flickers a frown. "You're not surprised." It's not a question. 

"Well, lights around her fingers, jolt in the chest; sounds like magic to me," Gerson replies, though you notice he's smoothly avoided answering why that's not a surprise. "It's pretty obvious that you've got at least a little after what you did but if you wanna be sure, we gotta try a little test." 

You wait for him to further explain but he trails off into silence, his brow furrowing. "....What kind of test exactly?" 

"Hold your horses, I'm trying to remember," he grumbles. "It's been a very, very long time. The last time I actually trained a human mage was before the war." 

He trained mages? You bite back the urge to ask him, letting him concentrate on trying to remember. Finally, he shrugs. 

"Eh, we're gonna wing it." Gerson stands suddenly, the stool behind the counter clattering a little. "C'mon. We can't do this in the shop," he says, waddling past you and towards the open doorway.

A little confused, you do as he says and follow him outside. He moves a fair distance away from the shop, leaving a trail of foot prints in the sand as he approaches the wave line. He stops just short of the water, motioning for you to come closer. Grillby stays a safe distance away, flames flickering erratically. You move to stand in front of Gerson, glancing out at the water before you look back at him. "So what exactly are we doing?" 

"Have you ever been in an encounter with a monster before?" He asks, tugging at his goatee. 

"An...encounter?"

"I'm guessing no. Well, this should be interesting."

"Gerson." Grillby tone holds a hint of warning.

"Stop worrying boy, I'm not going to hurt her." He lowers his hand and as he does, you feel something strange in your chest. There's light pressure in your sternum but deeper, like a heartbeat but stronger. A shiver shoots up your spine as you gasp and then the pressure grows and for a moment it feels like your heart stutters in a quick, three beat pattern and then something pops out of your chest. There's a shape there, a bright, glowing purple sphere that forms into a rather cartoony heart. The heart is glowing, so deeply purple that it makes every shade of that color you've seen before pale in comparison. You gape at it, utterly captivated by the sight. You...you should be a little freaked out, right? But for some reason, you can only feel fascination.

"What is this?" you breathe. You finally tear your eyes away and it's like walking inside after being out in the bright sun. The world around you is weird, the colors almost muted in comparison to the heart in front of you. Gerson is watching you, expression mild and curious and then your eyes move to Grillby. He's the only thing that is still bright, his flames standing out against the dimmed world around you. And his eyes are wide, his arms limp by his side as he stares at you. No, he's staring at the heart in front of you. For some reason, you find yourself almost blushing under the intensity of his gaze and part of you wants to curl away. You feel oddly exposed and that does make you a little nervous.

"What is this?" you repeat, a little more firmly as you turn your attention back to Gerson. 

Gerson however, is looking back and forth between you and Grillby. "Haven't you shown her yet? Not even for..." He trails off, lifting his eyebrows up and down.

For some reason, Grillby flushes deep blue. "For stars sake Gerson, it hasn't even been two weeks," he mutters. "Show some decency." 

Gerson cackles loudly. "M'boy, at my age there is no point in wasting time being decent."

"The need to be decent doesn't fade with age, you old goon-" 

"There's nothing scandalous about an encounter! But you haven't even done that much yet!" 

"Hey, uh, still wondering what the heck is going on here," you call loudly, gesturing to the heart in front of you. "Is this my magic or something?" 

Gerson finally turns back to you as Grillby covers his face with his hand. "By the angel, you really haven't seen it before. That's not magic kiddo, that's your Soul."  

Oh. Oh!  "This is my Soul?" you repeat, staring back down at it again. "Grillby told me I had one but I didn't know it looked like this." 

He folds his arms. "Well at least Sparks has told you about it. So you know every human has one. Monster and human Souls are different on a fundamental level but mages are right in the middle between the two. Not fully human but not a monster. Makes 'em more dangerous because their magic has a solidity that monsters just can't reach." 

Something twists in your gut at the word dangerous. 

"And this," he continues, fortunately not noticing your flash of shock at his words as he gestures between the two of you, "is an encounter. It's a monster custom to greet people you don't know like this or during certain types of training. Course, we can't go around doing it much up here. It tends to freak humans out." 

"I can see why," you mutter, eyes dropping back to the Soul in front of you. Why is it purple? Why is it shaped like this? Why-

"Bud, your ears are gonna start pouring out smoke and we don't need another hothead," Gerson cackles, nodding in Grillby's direction. "There'll be time for questions. But for now, let's do a check and then I'm gonna open my magic to you and see if I can't nudge yours into waking up again. Take a good look at me." 

You look at him, not sure what you're supposed to see Right now, all you see is Gerson. You open your mouth to ask what exactly you're suppose to do and then a small jolt goes through your Soul. A sort of chill goes up your spine. You already felt exposed with it out in the open like this but this new feeling makes the back of your neck prickle. Gerson almost seems to be bobbing in place slightly, standing casually before you but his eyes betray that he's deeply studying you. He nods, like he's not surprised by what he sees. "You've got a good chunk of HP kiddo," he says approvingly. 

What is this, a video game? "As in Health Points?" 

Gerson nods. "Where do you think those human games of yours got it from? Your people might've forgotten history but little bits of information get passed on over time. Now, give me your hands." He holds his own hands up, palms extended to you. "This might feel a little weird but it shouldn't hurt." 

Shouldn't huh? You lick your lips nervously before resting your hands lightly on his. His hands are smooth, almost like snake skin. "How will I know if it's working?" 

Gerson grins. "You'll know." 

And then you feel it. One moment, there's nothing and then you start as a pulse of energy jumps from Gerson's hands and into yours, like a powerful static shock. The sensation shoots up your arms and straight into your chest. No, it goes straight into your Soul. You can feel it, you can almost taste it, like the lingering sting of mint in your throat and mouth. It makes goosebumps rise on your skin and while you can't exactly put into words what it feels like, you have to imagine this is sort of what getting a dose of pure adrenaline feels like. And yet, strangely, despite never having experienced anything like this before, something inside you recognizes this sensation as Gerson. There's no smokey scent of fire, no warmth that fills your blood stream that comes from Grillby's magic filled food or his gentle kisses. Instead, it's cool and heavy, like stepping into a cave. It's bitter like tea, gentle like the steady drip of water falling from a stalactite and old. You gasp, feeling a violent shiver leap up your spine. As if in response, you Soul physically moves, briefly shimmering with the motion of fast movement as it too seems to shiver.

"Ooooh," you breathe. "Okay, yup. I feel that." 

Gerson must be feeling something too because his eye is closed and he's breathing deeply through his nose, creating a slight whistling sound. Finally, he opens his eye. He looks down at your hands and frowns. There's no sparking there like before. "Shoes off," he commands. 

"Huh?" 

He kicks at you, making you yelp. "Shoes off." 

You do as he says, toeing your shoes off and kicking them up away from the water. Gerson's hands tighten around yours, dwarfing them with the size and he pulls you towards the ocean. "I'm gonna direct you here," he warns you almost gruffly. "Don't fight against me, just go with it if you can. Got it?" 

You nod, utterly speechless. The moment the water touches the bare skin of your feet, your body seems to lock up for a moment. The sensation of magic doubles, washing away the touch of Gerson's magic and replacing it with something that is utterly foreign and yet completely familiar to you. It feels like every nerve in your body is on painfully high alert and the only relief comes from the salt water lapping at your ankles. There's too much of it, your skin feels like it's burning from the inside and there's no way to stop it. No way to release the energy building inside you. Your head is buzzing. There's some part of you that is straining to just start running so you can burn off some of this energy. You could run, you could leap, you could fly-

"Breathe."

The reminder from Gerson has you sucking in a huge breath of air. You're a little dizzy. "This is so weird, it feels weird!" 

The turtle laughs. "Well 'fraid I can't help you there. Magic is perfectly natural to monsters. Don't even know how it feels to not have it."  

You can't help the incredulous grin lifting your mouth. "This is magic?"  

"It's your magic," he corrects. He lifts your hands and you blink at the sight of purple lights dancing around your fingertips. He's looking down at it too, grinning triumphantly. "That's what I thought."

Then you feel a prod, almost like a gentle nudge from Gerson's magic. It tugs at your Soul and some part of you instinctively shies away from it. It almost feels like someone has stuck their hand into your chest and is poking around in there. It doesn't hurt but you don't like it. 

"Easy," Gerson reminds you. "Relax. I'm just showing your magic what to do but you gotta allow it to happen." 

"Okay, okay," you breathe. You do your best to relax and let the weird sense of poking in. The overwhelming sensation of your own magic fades slightly, soothed by his. It's a pleasant balm against the raw feeling of power and you sigh softly with relief.

Gerson shifts his hands, pulling yours out slightly to your sides. "So, what were you feeling when you saw the water coming towards you and Grillby?" 

"Pure panic." 

He laughs loudly with a 'wah ha ha!'. "Fair enough. What about the other times? The surfing and the aquarium, what did you feel then?" 

You think back on it. "...Peace," you finally say. "I was happy and relaxed." 

He nods. You barely notice that he's stepping further into the water. It now reaches up mid calf, pleasantly cool on your skin. "Think back on those memories. Remember the water, how it felt." 

As hard as it is to detach yourself from the feeling of magic swirling in your limbs and the lights on your fingers, you think back to those moments. The water was cool both times. Pleasantly smooth against your skin and smelled of salt. Water was always like that, it was always comforting. Even when you were hit in the head and were falling, the water itself seemed like a heavy blanket. You can see it now, that moment of sinking deeper, watching as purple bubbles rose in front of you. You can feel it around your legs, comforting. Familiar. You spend so much time in the water that your friends often joked that sea water ran in your veins. 

Maybe it does. 

It certainly feels like that now, like water is rushing inside of you instead of blood. It starts in your Soul and flows outwards and fills your limbs with energy. It feels weird and it tingles but in a way, it almost reminds you of the sensations you get after drinking one of Grillby's magical mixtures. And with it, the old steadiness of Gerson's magic. It's still tugging at you and like a magnet, your magic follows. It gains purpose, moving into your left hand and builds and builds until you almost start to fear that your fingers will start shaking with the force of it. And then Gerson's magic goes beyond your physical form. It plunges into the water next to you and your magic simply follows. Boy, you thought the sensation of magic itself was strange. Now it feels like your hand is extending beyond the physical limits of your body, plunging into the water and scooping up a handful. Then it pulls back, drops of water sailing upwards and your hand is your hand again but now there's a misshapen orb of water about the size of a golf ball in your palm. It shouldn't be doing that, physics screamed it shouldn't be doing that, but it is because your magic is holding it together with Gerson's power acting as a sort of guiding harness. 

"Holy crap!" you yelp, your voice finally breaking free. 

With a Cheshire Cat grin, Gerson then shatters your momentary feeling of overwhelming exhilaration. "Shore, you're a mage." 

A mage. You're a mage. A person who can use magic. Just like the ones who fought against monsters all those years ago. Just like the ones who used that magic to kill creatures who just wanted to live, who wanted to be left alone! Who forced the ones left under a mountain like sweeping dirt into a garbage can.

Just like....

You look at Grillby. He's still frozen, still staring. 

Just like the one who tortured him.

Your Soul clenches on the wave of painful emotion that assaults you and with it, your magic screams to a stop as something deep inside you instinctively attempts to curl away from it. But there's no escaping it now, is there? The magic flees back into your Soul as it retreats back into your chest. Color returns in the same moment the orb of water melts away, soaking your hand and your knees buckle under the sudden weight of your own body. Oh you're lightheaded. 

"Uup." Gerson catches you with his arm, supporting you as you struggle to regain your balance. "Easy there. Stars I forgot how easily you guys tire out in the beginning. C'mon, let's sit." He partially drags you back up to shore and sets you down on the sand. You're breathing heavily. He sits with a heavy thud as well, scattering sand over your wet legs. He releases a breath, wiping at his face. "It's no wonder those rays flocked to you, you've got magic pouring out of you like holes in a dam." 

"...What?" you finally manage, looking up at the turtle. 

"Your magic is so built up it's started leaking on it's own. I could feel it as soon as we stepped into the water." He points towards you as he continues to catch his breath. "You're not just a mage. You're an Akvatum. A mage who specializes in water magic. Mages weren't exactly a massive group of people but ones specialized in an element were still pretty rare." 

An Akvatum? There are so many questions scrambling to be asked and you latch onto the first one you can. "Is that why I felt so weird when I walked into the water?" He nods. "But...but that's never happened before! Not like that." 

After a moment of thinking, Gerson lifts his hand and very gently places a single claw against your sleeve, so lightly you can barely feel it. "Can you feel that?" 

"Not really." 

He moves the stubby claw down to your bare wrist, pressing harder. "And that?" 

You nod. 

"When your Soul is tucked away, it's like you've got protective clothing over it," he explains. "But when I called it forward, suddenly your Soul wasn't covered up anymore. Those moments of peace or in the case of Sparks here, panic-"

He waves at Grillby who is slowly moving closer. He sits cross legged on your other side.

You find it a little hard to look at him. 

"-were the closest you got to your own body acknowledging your Soul and the magic growing inside of it," Gerson continues. "Humans don't know their Soul is there like monsters naturally do. You all call it something else, like a gut feeling or intuition. You like keeping your Souls covered up. But if you wanna learn how to actually use the magic you've gotta open your Soul and without monster help, it's very difficult for you to do that. In the beginning at least." 

What's he's saying makes sense. In a way. You certainly felt exposed with your Soul out in the open like that. And that explains why you've never had a reaction like that before despite your countless hours spent in the water. "So that means I've always been a m-mage?" Your voice hitches on the word. 

"You've always had magic," Gerson says, nodding firmly. "But everyone does. Even those who don't have the potential to use it. Mages just have a little bit more thanks to....ah, we'll get to that. But I reckon that all the time you've spent around monsters and eating our food and growing closer to us took your spark and made it grow to the point that you're overflowing with it." 

"You said that before," you say slowly. "And that's why the rays did what they did at the aquarium. They weren't trying to like...eat me or something right?" You've seen plenty of stories about people who were considered 'tasty' to beings of a inhuman nature because of magic or whatever. You wouldn't expect rays to do that but still. 

Gerson throws his head back and laughs. "No, they weren't trying to eat ya. I imagine it just felt nice to them cause it sure felt nice to me. Kind of like a buzz of energy and warmth. Part of that's just because that's how raw magic is, but it's also because of your nature. A person with bad intentions would be leaking bad magic." 

The sudden compliment catches you off guard. You look down at your sandy toes. "So what do I do now?" If you're a mage, you've probably got to tell someone right? Or would that be bad? Would the government get involved? Lock you away and study you? Would Asgore do that as a precaution? Would you have to leave Grillby just so he stays safe from your water power-

"You could join the others," Gerson says casually. 

Your head whips towards him. The what?

Grillby finally speaks, voice almost hoarse. "I knew it."

Gerson scratches at his goatee while you look back and forth wildly between the two of them. "We've been up here for two years now Sparks. If Shore's power woke up after only a few months, don'tcha think that others would've done the same?"  

"And you never mentioned this because?" 

"Not my business to tell," he replies gruffly. "Fluffybuns does want to keep this somewhat quiet while they figure out the full extent of what's happening. He made me promise not to speak about it. Besides, I know you Sparks, you wouldn't have handled the news all that well." 

Well there's another stab to your heart. Grillby only crackles quietly in indignation but doesn't say anything else. You finally manage to say, "There's more like me?" 

"Not a lot. But yeah. Mostly soldiers and other folks who spent a lot of time in the first settlement on the mountain. There may be even more who just haven't come forward." He shrugs. "It's enough that's there's a program that old Fluffybuns set up with a team from the Monster Integration guys. Mostly figuring out exactly what it is they can do and controlling what they've got." 

Fluffy-oh he must mean Asgore. It's kind of weird but you do feel a little relieved at the news. So you're not the first. You wouldn't be the one to break the news that mages are back. 

"We can go to him, tell him what's happened and he'll set you up with those guys. Or." Gerson clears his throat, still tugging at his goatee. "Well, considering how close you are to Sparks, I guess I wouldn't mind teaching ya myself. I'm kind of rusty but I've got actual experience versus those up in the program." 

You stare at him. "You'll teach me?" 

He looks down, grinning gently. "No need to sound so surprised, I do like you kid." He pats your shoulder for a moment before hauling himself up. Sand runs down the rivets of his shell as he shakes himself off. "I'll let ya think about. Besides, I get the feeling you two need to talk." With that, he leaves you and Grillby sitting in the sand, waddling back up towards his store. 

You're not sure what to say. What can you say? 'I'm sorry'? 'I didn't know'? The words get caught in your throat. What if he hates you now? No, he wouldn't. He's not petty like that. But it doesn't change what happened to him, surely he's got to be at least a little horrified that this has happened. It makes a sick sensation of dread twist your gut. Maybe you can just sit here in silence for as long as you possibly can. It's almost unbearable but at least he's still here. At least he hasn't gotten up and walked away from you.

"Shore?" His gentle inquiry almost makes you flinch. "Are you okay?" 

You nod, still not trusting yourself to speak. 

The air grows a little warmer; he's leaning closer to you. "What's wrong?" 

"...It's just a lot to process," you finally mumble, keeping your eyes downcast. There's sand on your hands too. You wipe at them, scraping the sand off as best as you can. It's rough against your skin. "But it's okay, I'm fine." 

A few more moments of silence pass. "Will you look at me please?" 

It takes you a monumental effort of strength, but you do as he asks. His gaze is gentle, his flames colored with worry. "What's wrong?" he repeats a little more firmly this time. 

Heart beating painfully in your chest, you open and close your mouth a few times. "I'm sorry," you finally whisper. "I didn't know." 

His head tilts slightly, flames popping with question. 

You dig your fingers in the sand. "I swear I didn't know I was a mage. I would've told you if I did." Your voice keeps hitching, strained and tense as you speak. Why are you so scared right now? "I'm still me though, I'm not like the ones from back then, I promise." 

His eyes widen as his mouth opens a little. You can see the fiery fangs there and brace yourself to see them shift into a snarl. But instead, his jaw closes and understanding spreads across his face. He very slowly reaches for you, brushing a few strands of hair behind your ear before gently cupping your cheek. "Shore, of course I know that," he whispers fiercely. "You have no connection to those mages." 

"But-" 

"Even if you were directly descended from one of the seven who trapped us underground, I wouldn't care. Their actions were their own. You didn't choose your heritage and power any more than you could choose to be born. I know that better than most." He's being uncharacteristically firm and it's startled you into silence, staring at him with wide eyes. His own flames, brightened by his conviction, slow and fade back to his normal colors. "This isn't a bad thing Shore. Magic isn't bad. It's good. With you, it's very, very good. I saw how happy it made you. Don't pull away from it because of me." 

You swallow, fighting hard to keep looking at him. "You're not...disgusted? Horrified?" 

"The only thing I am is surprised. Though, I suppose I'm not, in a way." He smiles crookedly. "I can't tell you how many times I've watched you around the ocean and wondered if you weren't completely made of water under your skin." 

A small giggle escapes you. "Well technically, humans are sixty percent water-" 

He puts his finger against your lips, very effectively shutting you up. "I'm trying to be sincere here," he scolds lightly. "The point is, magic is what makes up monsters. I am made of magic. To learn that you are the same, even in this small way, makes me happy. I won't lie, it's going to take some getting used to, for both of us. But you are you first, before you are a mage." 

With those words, the tension begins to bleed from your shoulders and you slump a little as you close your eyes. "Sorry," you murmur again. 

His thumb rubs over your cheek. "You have nothing to be sorry for. You saved me from a great deal of pain. I see nothing wrong with that." When you open your eyes again, he's smiling and there's a glint in his eyes. "I have to admit, it is rather ironic that you would be so deeply connected to water while dating someone made completely of fire." 

He's right and you can't stop yourself from laughing. "We're an odd pair." 

"That suits me just fine." He presses his forehead against yours, filling your senses with the smell of smoke. The warmth offered from him is comforting, even in the heat of the summer morning. You both just stay there for a few moments longer before he pulls away but keeps his hand against your cheek. "What do you want to do?" 

You take a breath, glancing up towards Gerson's shop. He's taken a seat in the sand, leaning up against the dark stone and pulled his hat down over his eyes. Though you wouldn't be surprised if he had been watching the whole time regardless of that. "I guess...I'd like Gerson to train me. He seems like he knows what he's doing. You know him better than me though." 

"He's a good teacher, I'll give him that. But he can be a little...intense at times. Just look at Undyne." 

You laugh. "I don't think I'll be anywhere close to what Undyne is, however rigorous his training is. And hey, he trained you too and you turned out just fine."  

His own quiet chuckle at that fades away. "You don't have to do it at all, if you don't want to." 

Instead of answering right away, you think about it for a minute. "I...I do think I want to," you finally say. When he flickers, you continue. "I mean, holy crap it's magic! I never got my letter to Hogwarts and I was super bummed but now I can actually learn how to use it for real! And besides, I don't want to accidentally...I dunno, make a water tornado in the living room by accident and hurt you." Geez, now with terrifying realization, you understand why Grillby was so scared of accidently hurting you with his fire, even though you know he would never mean to. "Oh my gosh, I have to learn how to at least control it. What if I hurt you?" 

"You won't."

Grillby's faith in you, as heartwarming as it is, doesn't help to soothe the sudden uneasiness rising in you. Yeah, you've got to learn control at least. And now...well, now that your fears that Grillby would be disgusted with you and leaving have been taken care of, a new sense of excitement is starting to worm its way into your heart. You've got magic. You're a freaking wizard Harry! 

Grillby helps you stand, brushing sand from your back. He's flickering with a light frown at seeing how wobbly you still are. "You need to replenish your energy before you do anything else," he mutters, casting his eyes down towards where you now know your Soul resides. He blushes lightly when he sees your eyebrows raise and looks away. Ah, now there's another thing you have a question about. It's obvious enough from what Gerson said that Souls can be used in intimate ways, though you honestly have no idea how. 

You'll have to ask Grillby about that later. 

"I suppose we will still need to tell the others about this," you muse. It would be hard thing to hide and to be honest, you're not sure you want to. You've got more than your fair share of secrets and adding another one, especially one as cool as this, just feels wrong. 

"You're probably right." Grillby frowns. "I bet Sans knows about the mages," he mutters. "Him and Alphys for sure." 

"What makes you say that?" 

"They're both at the head of developing new monster and human technology. And both of them have....a lot of a experience with Soul study. It would make sense that they would both be involved." He scowls, flickering dark for a moment. "Sans is going to hear it from me if he kept that quiet all this time." 

Oh that reminds you-! "Wait," you say, grabbing for Grillby's arm when he starts to move back up to the shop. When he looks back, his colors flicker when he sees the growing grin on your face. "Before we break the news to him, I do believe we've still got a little bit of revenge to enact." 

~~~~~

You angle the phone in a way that keeps both you and Grillby in frame and the completely nondescript ocean behind you. You hit record and smile widely at your camera. "Heya Sansy! You know, after the little pop in this morning, Grillby and I were kinda mad but you know, it's actually helped us grow closer than ever. In fact, Grillby's even agreed to answering that question that's been bugging us all for so long. Privately of course and he's sworn me to secrecy but I just wanted to thank you because if you hadn't, why I don't think I would've ever gotten him to agree to it!" 

Grillby leans a little closer, giving a completely deadpan peace finger symbol. 

You end the video before you break into laughter and giggle evilly as you send the video to Sans. 

And about thirty seconds later- 

Your phone rings. You press it up to your ear. "Oh hey buddy, what's up?" 

"shore, hey uh, so random question, where are you guys at right now?" 

"At the beach." 

"w-where exactly on the beach are you at?" 

"Oh, you know, just a nice quiet place away from the noise of the Walk. Very far away." 

Sans breaks. "ok, shore what do i have to do?" 

"For what Sans?" 

"i gotta see him fly! i have to!" he pleads.

Your chest actually hurts from holding back your laughter. "Didn't you watch the video? He's sworn me to secrecy." 

"shooooooooooore!" 

"Saaaaans," you mimic back to him, unable to completely keep the utter glee out of your voice. "That's life bud, get used to it." 

"you're a maniac." 

"Yep." 

Grillby takes the phone from you. "By pure coincidence, the dish washer in the kitchen is busted, it's quite unfortunate. It's going to take a week before it gets fixed." 

There's silence for a moment and then you hear mumbling, unable to completely make out the words. Grillby winks at you and says, "I suppose that's acceptable. We're in front of Gerson's place." 

There's a pop. "far away?" Sans almost shrieks, pointing at you. "that's not far away at all!" 

You cackle, leaning against Grillby as he hands your phone back. "It is a good distance away from the Walk! It's nice and quiet." 

"whatever." Sans glares at you for a moment more before turning to Grillby. He shifts to excited anticipation. "ok, show me." 

"Show you what?" Grillby asks innocently. 

Sans waves his hands, uncharacteristically animated. "flying! show me the flying or your terms mean nothing!" 

Grillby clears his throat with the sound of a snapping log. "Sans, the terms were only for telling you where we are. I said nothing about showing you if I can fly." 

If Sans jaw could drop, you're pretty sure it would be on the ground. Since it can't, he himself sinks into the sand, eye sockets dark. "i'm so furious and proud all at once i don't even know how to respond," he finally says as you howl with laughter and Grillby freely and very smugly grins. He very slowly sits up on his butt and brings his hands up, sand trailing from the bones and claps twice before his hands fall back to his sides.

Once you catch your breath, wiping at your eyes, you wheeze, "There is something we do need to tell you though. I think you'll find it'll capture your interest more than this." 

"literally nothing will be able to do that." 

"I have magic." 

His eye lights pop back into existence. He silently gapes for a long moment, looking to Grillby for confirmation. Finally, when he decides you're not joking, he simply says, "welp. that'll do it." 

Chapter Text

You've all retreated to the cool interior of Gerson's house, moving beyond the shop and into his personal quarters. It's hard to tell the difference honestly with all the clutter of junk claiming most of the flat surfaces around. Still, there's a quaint kitchen and a table that Gerson clears so you all can sit down. While he's doing that, Grillby starts going through the pantry and pulls out random bits of food that he finds. When he sets down a plate with sliced Crab Apples sprinkled with cinnamon, some kind of pastry that you think is supposed to shaped like a bunny and a mug of Sea Tea, you suddenly realize that you are ravenously and almost painfully hungry. You tear into the food, not even caring that Sans has not once stopped staring. His brow is crinkled with thought, eye lights bright as his gaze drops to your sternum and back up several times. You can sense that he's dying to ask to see your Soul but for some reason he's keeping quiet about it. He's keeping quiet in general which is kind of giving you the creeps. 

"Take a picture, it’ll last longer," you mumble around a mouthful of food. Holy crap this is good. Each bite is giving you a small burst of energy, lessening the feeling of rocks in your limbs. 

Click. Oh come on!

Sans lowers his phone, frowning as much as his semi-permanent grin will allow. “so tell me what happened.”

You repeat what you told Gerson about the water and the lights you saw in the water and the magic you used before he showed up. He just nods a few times while you speak. “i’m actually kind of ticked i didn’t see it before,” he mutters. “makes sense.”

“How does it make sense? I didn’t mention the lights to anyone because I thought I was just seeing things.”

He shrugs. “i dunno, it just does. there’s a vibe about you. couldn’t put my finger on it before but now i get it.”

You take another huge bite of your food. And here you thought it was just your charm that made him like you. Wow, you feel weird. You shake your head a little. “So is Grillby right? Are you part of Asgore’s program with other mages?”

He blinks, eye lights darting to Gerson for a moment before going back to you. The sudden sweat on his skull is answer enough. “ok before you say anything,” he says quickly as Grillby silently sparks, “i had to keep it quiet.”

Grillby doesn’t say anything.

“don’t look at me like that. you know that i keep my fair share of secrets, this shouldn’t surprise you.”

“It doesn’t.”

Okay, this is starting to sound dangerously like an argument building so you loudly clink your mug against the plate. “Guess that makes you the go to guy on Soul stuff right?”

He shifts in his chair. “er. kind of. there’s a lot we’re still learning, especially with mage souls. doesn’t help that there’s pretty much no written records on the fine points of it. all we’ve got to go on are a few ancient documents and diaries, memories of people who were there and our own-” He cuts himself off suddenly. “anyway, there’s lots of trial and error going on right now. but i think i can help you out a bit.” He leans back in his chair, the nervous sweat fading as he takes on a curious expression. “what’s your trait?”  

You blink. “Trait?”

“the color of your soul.”

“Oh. Um, it was purple. Like, a really intense shade of purple.” Simply calling it purple doesn’t seem to do the color justice.

Sans’ grin softens a little. “heh. i would’ve pinned you for kindness. but yeah, that makes sense.”

“Does the color mean something?”

“It means that the main trait that makes up who you are is Perseverance.” Grillby finally speaks up.

“Perseverance?”

Gerson shifts in his chair, reaching over and stealing one of the Crab Apple slices. He ignores Grillby’s frown. “That’s the big difference between human and monster Souls. Monsters are made out of the same stuff. Mostly. Hope and love and all that. But humans have different levels of different traits and the one that has the most presence in your Soul shapes the color. Since you are purple, that means the trait that shapes most of your decisions is Perseverance.”

Sans moves to steal an apple too. Grillby swats at his hand and he quickly pulls back. “doesn’t mean that’s all you are,” he muses, narrowing his sockets at Grillby before looking back at you. “i’d reckon you’ve got high levels of kindness too. wouldn’t be surprised to see a lotta determination, don’t you think?” he adds to Gerson, who nods.

You glance to Grillby, taking another drink before you speak again. “How would you be able to tell?”

This time, Sans is successful in stealing an apple. He crunches on it loudly. “we’ll take a look at your soul-”     

“If she agrees to it,” Grillby cuts in sharply.

“if you agree to it,” Sans amends. “and we’’ll do a scan of it. that’ll tell us the what other traits are dominate in your soul. and it could help in learning how your soul handles magic.” 

Well you don’t see why not. You gesture at your chest “Do you want to do it now?”  

No!” Instantly, all three of the monsters lift their hands and shake their heads in fast denial. You look around at them in bewilderment, most of all at Sans (who looks intensely uncomfortable) and Grillby (who’s gone blue). Gerson’s grinning.

Did you say something weird? “What?”

“uh.” Sans rubs the back of his head. “look, it’s not your fault cause you’re new to this but it’s considered really um…rude? and inappropriate to show your soul outside of a confrontation or in a medical situation unless you’re like, really, really close to the monster you’re showing it to. doing it now--look we’re friends and all but i don’t think grillbz would be too happy about it.”

You process what he’s saying. Grillby is covering his face now and going by the muffled snickers Gerson is trying to hide, you can guess what Sans is getting at. “So…you’re saying that I pretty much just offered to strip in front of you?”

Sans snorts loudly. “yeah, pretty much.”

Oh great. At least you still have your humor. Grinning weakly, you shrug. “Sorry boys, you’d have to pay for that.” 

Grillby makes a choking noise and flares blue while Sans and Gerson roar with laughter. “You’re terrible, all of you,” he mutters.

You giggle for a moment then frown as a thought occurs to you. “Now wait though, how is bringing it out right now any different from what Gerson and I did earlier? It can’t be that much different, right?”

“well, in the actual process of it, no,” Sans admits. “it’s about context. like you humans with swimming suits verses underwear.”

You open your mouth and close it. Okay, he has a point. Though when you think about it, it really is a ridiculous concept. Heck, half the swimming suits you’ve seen while wandering on the beach actually cover less than a lot of underwear. Still, the comparison makes their reaction a little more understandable. “So, scanning it or whatever counts as a medical situation?”

“yup. plus, we start off the thing as an encounter and we take readings from that.” He waves a hand. “it’s up to you if you actually want to do it. but it might be good to get a feel for what you can do. you’re the first natural element user we’ve seen. in fact, you’re the first new mage that’s popped up in the last six months. that we know of anyway.” 

That makes you pause for a second. You had been quietly relieved that you’re not the first mage to reappear but now you’re incredibly curious about the others who are part of Asgore’s program. “How many others are there?”

“there’s six mages at the moment.”

You blink. “Only six?”

Sans throws his hands up. “we can’t exactly go around tracking them. there’s probably more out there, not even aware of what they are. we only have the ones we’ve got because a monster saw or they came to us.”

“Not to mention that even back when magic was everywhere, mages weren’t exactly common in comparison to normal humans,” Gerson adds. “If I’m remembering right, it was probably one mage for every four or five hundred people. Or was it six hundred?” He thinks deeply for a moment. Then he shrugs. “Still a lot considering your population size, especially these days.”

Sans does have a point. How many people are out there now with weird quirks that they don’t realize is actually magic? How long would you have gone with never knowing about your own if that truck hadn’t nearly doused Grillby?

“What do you mean about me being an element user?”

Sans nods towards Gerson, leaning even further back in his chair. It’s a miracle it hasn’t tipped over. Gerson clears his throat and explains. “The basic gist of it is, even back before the war, most mages had some kind of specialty. A gift of sorts. Like a knack for enchanting items with strength or fire-based spells or whatever. That’s how most monster’s magic works. We’ve got our one or two tricks and types of magic and maybe the ability to heal. That’s it. Difference is, human mages have the potential to learn just about any kind of magic if they’ve got the energy and determination for it.”

“but what’s weird is that with the new batch of mages we’ve seen, it almost seems more like the magic is limited. They have their gift or talent or whatever and that’s it. there’s a guy who makes little flowers grow when he wants and another who can slightly change their appearance. cool stuff but not what we would’ve expected mages to be able to do.”

You tilt your head. “So…it used to be kind of like Hogwarts but now it’s more like Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters?”

“Like what?” Grillby and Gerson ask as one as Sans grins and points to you.

“heh, that’s exactly what it’s like. or it is at the moment anyway.” He shrugs, scratching at his cheek. The bone makes a scraping noise that makes goosebumps rise on your arms. “it’s probably because the mage blood is diluted from all the time spent without monsters around to provide magic or whatever.”

“I’ve told you before boy, that can’t be it,” Gerson grumbles. “Mages are mages because their Souls absorb magic better than others. Blood’s got nothing to do with it.”

“uh, nope, blood’s definitely got a lot of something to do with it. blood is super important to humans and there’s an obvious difference in samples taken from the new mages and humans who show no signs of magic at all.”

“I was there, you bone head and I’m telling you-!”

You lean over to Grillby as the two of them begin to squabble. “Sounds to me like this is a ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg’ kind of problem. What do you think?”

He shrugs. “I wasn’t summoned until after the war had started and talking about the bloodlines of mages and human souls wasn’t exactly a topic most monsters were experts on. And it didn’t really matter when you had to worry more about them killing you.”

“Fair point.”

“no, what the point is,” Sans says, ignoring Gerson’s squawk of indignation, “is that you’re more like the mages from back before the war than what we’ve seen so far. at least that’s my guess. i’d have to get that scan and see if you how much magic you’ve got stored in your soul. from there we can see if you’ve got the potential for other magic besides the water stuff.”

Your head is spinning a little. There’s so much information being thrown in your face all at once. It’s a little hard to get a grip on it. Not to mention while it is a lot, it’s not even close to answering all of the questions you have now. Where did mages even come from? Are there limits to what you can do? Will you be able to use magic for other stuff or just water? How the heck do you even use it on your own? These and a thousand other questions are battling for the throne of importance in your head, so you just quietly take another drink.

“Why am I so hungry after using magic?” you say, latching onto the question that bursts out in a flash of clarity.

“Magic has to be replenished.” Grillby picks up one of the remaining apple slices, turning it over in his hand. He hands it to you, gesturing for you to eat. “Making the phoenix for example; if I maintained it for long periods of time it would drain my energy and I would either need to rest or eat to get it back. When I was first summoned I had to learn how much energy to use when I was fighting or using fire in general. Of course, my strength and general magic supply is a lot bigger than most monsters but still. I had to learn not to go all out for simple things.”

“Kind of like running versus walking?”

Sans nods. “kind of. it is a muscle of sorts. and that hunger is based on a need for magic filled foods. happens a lot in the beginning, especially for humans. you’ve got a lot of magical energy from what i’m hearing but it’s still a new muscle that you didn’t even know existed before. it’s gonna take time for you to get used to that strain. sorry bud but you’re have to…exercise.”  He spits it out like a dirty word, shuddering.

A small grin lifts your mouth. Well you’re no stranger to exercise. “I think I can manage.”

Gerson points a stubby claw in your face. “This isn’t like your dancing or surfing Shore; this exercise is for your Soul. It’s going be unlike anything you’ve done before. And there will be no unlearning it once you start.”

The warning is there, quiet though it is. But you’ve made up your mind. Your magic helped you in your moment of panic. But what if next time it doesn’t work? What if Grillby gets hurt because you chose not to learn how to use this?  “I’m in,” you say firmly, looking each of the monster’s in the eye before staring intensely at Grillby. He’s still worried. But in the face of your determination, he nods and offers a smile.

“Excellent!” Gerson slaps his hand on the table, rattling the now empty dishes. “Ready to get started now then?”

You blink. “Er, I guess. I mean, I don’t work today, and practice isn’t until six-”

“Good. Because I already sent a message to Undyne.”

There’s an absolutely massive crash from the front of the shop. Seconds later, Undyne bursts into the room. Her hair is falling out of it’s ponytail and her single eye is gleaming. “You have magic?!” she hoots, lunging for you. You shriek and try to squirm away but she picks you up with all the effort needed to lift a baby and hauls you to her shoulder. Grillby shoots to his feet, his hand rising helplessly as Undyne bolts from the shop, cackling like a mad woman. There’s a rush of cool air and then hot as she breaks back out into the open. The sun violently hits your eyes, making them water after the dark of Gerson’s kitchen. She deposits you on the sand a short distance away from the shop and crouches in front of you.

“So Gerson’s serious right? You’ve got magic?”

You blink a few times, squinting at her. A grin lifts your face. “Yeah. Yeah I’m a freaking wizard. Or something like that.”

She whoops and leaps to her feet, sand scattering everywhere. “This is so cool! Just like anime!” She pumps her fists into the air and brings them back down as she points. “To your feet Shore! It’s time for a crash course in fighting!”

You get to your feet as she leaps backwards, landing a few yards away. Then she gestures to you and once again, you feel that strange stuttering in your chest as your Soul pops out. In front of you, Undyne extends her hand and a glowing teal spear flickers into view. It falls into her palm and she sweeps it forward. A small ‘oh!’ escapes you as the strangest sensation falls over you. Your legs seem to lock up and grow heavy in the same moment that your Soul turns green. Before you have a chance to ask what happened, a thin shield made of the same glimmering teal appears in front of you and latches itself to your arm. You yelp at the sudden weight, almost stumbling.

“Here I come Shore!” Undyne howls. “Let’s warm you up, huh?” She hefts the spear in her hand and throws it at you. It’s weird, it’s so weird, shouldn’t it be moving faster than that? You could easily dodge-

You can’t move. You strain, fighting to move your legs but they’re too heavy. You’re stuck. Wildly, you look back up to see the spear still heading towards you and lift your arm. There’s a small ting as the spear hits the surface of the shield and vanishes.  

“Good!” Undyne compliments you as Grillby and Sans come out of the shop, the first looking a tad bit more concerned than the second. Gerson hobbles after them, grinning smugly.

“You started the party without us,” he scolds lightly.

“I’m just getting her warmed up,” Undyne says with a sharp toothed grin. She gestures, and two more spears appear at her side. “Let’s keep going punk!”

These two are faster but still easy enough to block. Then come more, faster and faster, from different directions at different speeds. The first time you miss blocking, you gasp and flinch, expecting the spear to stab your skin. But the moment it touches you, it vanishes into a shower of magic. At the same moment, something like a sharp, painful thud echoes through your body, making you gasp.

“Undyne!” Grillby snaps sharply.

She puts up a hand. “Relax Grillby, it was a five point attack.”

You shake your head. The pain is gone. You feel a little winded and besides a lingering ache in your side, you’re completely fine.

“You good?” Undyne calls.

“I’m good!” you answer back, nodding.

“Okay!” She straightens a little and flicks her hand. The weight in your legs vanishes, as does the shield on your arm. Your Soul flashes back to purple. “Your turn! Show me what you’ve got!”

What you’ve got? What…what have you got? You look at your hands for a moment before desperately glancing over to Gerson. “What do I do now?”

At some point during the barrage of spears, Gerson had decided to sit in the sand. He idly twists a broken shell between his fingers. “I’d do a check if I were you.”

“A what?”

“Look at your Soul. Read it. See where your health is at.”

He offers no more than that, so you look at your Soul. It’s still just as bright as before, hovering before you at chest level. He said to look at it. Read it. Okay…you let your mind go blank as best as you can, staring at the lightly glowing surface. Reveal your secrets, oh floaty purple heart-

Numbers flash in your head. Whoa! What the heck was that?! It’s only for a brief moment, so fast you’re not even sure what it is your saw exactly.

345/350

Oh. Those must be your ‘hit points’. Oh geez. “Can I uh…assume that if these numbers I just saw reach zero, that means I’m dead?”

“That’s usually what happens when you get killed yeah,” Gerson snorts with a roll of his eye.

Holy crap. That’s…God that’s kind of horrifying. To be able to check and see how close you are to death? Of course, it’s not like a count down timer or anything like that but still. You open your mouth and then close it. Right. Think of it like a video game.

“What now?”

“Now’s the time when you attack!” Undyne says, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “C’mon, I wanna see your magic!”

One look at Gerson is enough to tell you that he’s not going to give you any pointers at the moment. He’s got to be one of the trial by error kind of teachers. You lick your lips and try your best to remember that sensation of magic. Feel the comforting burn of it, the way it filled your senses with energy and-

And you’ve got nothing. You can sort of feel it but unlike before, it seems to just be simply sitting there and any attempt to focus on it just makes it float out of reach.

“What’s the hold up?” Undyne shouts, bouncing from one foot to the other.

I don’t know how to do this! Is what you want to shout but your pride keeps your mouth firmly closed. You’d told Gerson you could do this and you will. You just have to figure out how. If only you could recapture that feeling when you were standing in the ocean and Gerson’s magic was guiding your own power to the water around your feet.

Oh.

You blink. And then, very slowly, you toe off your shoes and bend to grab them. Undyne’s brow is furrowed with confusion as you straighten up, shoes held loosely in your hands. You wait for perhaps a moment more and then you bolt, throwing your shoes in her direction to buy maybe a few more seconds. You hear her shout behind you as you run towards the water. You have no doubt in your mind that she will at the very least tackle you to the ground if you don’t make it before she catches up. Go, go, go!

“Why’re you running punk?”

You glance behind and yelp at the sight of her running you down like some kind of avenging fish god. It gives you a terrified burst of speed that sends you splashing into the water. Immediately, your magic flares up, like turning up the heat on a gas stove. As you whirl around to face Undyne again, a grin lifts your mouth. You still don’t know what you’re doing but now at least you can try and fight back. You actually move your hands, trying to mimic the scooping feeling that feeling from before.

It’s harder this time. It’s so much harder and sweat immediately springs up on your face as you strain and urge your magic down into the water below you. It’s like trying to hold onto a wiggling cat; without Gerson’s guidance, your magic just doesn’t seem to want to follow what you’re asking it to do. It takes far too long but it finally responds and same tingle rushes down your arms as it reaches out past the limits of your physical body and attempts to fuse with the water around your ankles. A few droplets respond, flickering up towards you for a moment before falling back down into the waves. There’s too much! It’s slippery and almost impossible to grasp and there’s so much water all around you!  

Finally, in a fit of desperation, you lean down and use your hands to scoop some up. The minute you turn your attention on the much smaller amount of water, the slippery quality of your magic eases up a little. “C’mon, connect,” you urge under your breath.

A single purple spark jumps from the surface of the water. And then more and more and then you can feel the moment when your magic connects to it. There’s no way you’re going to get used to this sensation any time soon.

“Give it a shape!” Gerson hasn’t moved but his booming voice carries over to you. “Picture a shape and tell the water to make it!”

Right! Right, you’re in a ‘battle’. No time to sit and wonder at the feeling of being connected to water. There’s not nearly enough water here for a spear like Undyne. Maybe a knife shape? An arrow? Yeah, that’ll work. Arrow, arrow, c’mon, make an arrow!

The water sloshes around but doesn’t do much else. You frown at it. You’re connect to it, you can feel that you are, why isn’t it working?

“Come on Shore, you’ve got this!” Undyne had stopped in her wild sprinting after you when she saw you scooping up water and now she’s cheering for you, hovering just on the edge of the water. You can do this! Come on! You grit your teeth, feeling a sort of pressure growing in both your head and your Soul as you concentrate. You tighten your mental grip on your magic and though it wiggles and threatens to slip through your fingers like the water in your hands, it listens.

Your magic dances and spins under your command, making the water in your palms lift as if gravity no longer commands it. The water twists and thins and then it forms into an arrow that shimmers with light and drips water as it hangs in the air. It’s not very big and certainly not intimidating, but it’s there.

Oh heck yeah, that’s what you’re talking about!

You shove your hand forward. “Go!” you shout at the arrow. Undyne, with a viciously delighted grin, braces herself as the arrow follows your command and shoots forward.

Only to almost immediately lose speed and wobble sadly for a moment before falling back into the ocean about a foot in front of you. It vanishes with a loud ‘plop’. The only thing missing is the mocking ‘wa wa waaaaa’ sound effect.

Undyne blinks. And then she howls with laughter with such force she actually has to stop herself from falling over. And you, you’re burning with embarrassment and what’s worse is you’re not even that surprised. Disappointed yes, but not surprised. You start to step forward to, you don’t know, shove Undyne in the ocean yourself or something but then the now familiar wave of dizziness sweeps over you.

Oh boy, here you go again.

You just manage to save yourself from falling face first into the water, instead letting yourself fall back on your butt. You didn’t go out far, so you’re not completely submerged but you’re now more wet than dry.

“Oh geez, you’re not wimping out on me already are you?” Her words are softened by her tone as Undyne splashes to you and hauls you out of the water. She waves her hand and your Soul vanishes back into your chest, making the normal colors of the world return.

“I can walk,” you mumble in protest as she sweeps you up into her arms.

“I gotta get a work out somehow.” She carries you back up to the others. To your great surprise, they actually look impressed. Impressed at how miserably you failed maybe.

“How’d that feel?” Gerson asks as Undyne sets you down in the sand and flops next to you. It immediately sticks to your wet clothes. Ugh you feel gross and lightheaded.

“It was a lot harder on my own,” you admit, frowning at your hands. “My magic felt slippery.”

“That’s because you didn’t have me there telling it what to do. Control will come with time.” He thumps a hand on your shoulder. “You did good out there, squirt. I didn’t expect you to be able to make it take a shape at all, let alone move it forward. Even if it was just a little.”

You blink. “Really?”

“I honestly expected no success at all,” he says cheerfully. “So yeah, you’re doing good.”

Sans perhaps looks the most astonished of all. “you’re sure you’ve never done this before?”

“I’m not just sure, I’m Shore.”

He slaps a hand on your shoulder. “you’re my new best friend. sorry gurbz, you’ve been replaced.”

“Oh no, what a loss.”  Grillby, the only one still standing, looks down at you. He looks really freaking tall from down here, especially with his flames dancing up with the light wind. Holy crap he’s so pretty to look at. All golds and oranges and hints of reds all dance together like some kind of living sunrise. You could just stare at him all day. He tilts his head and you realize he’s asking you something.

“Hmm?” You shake your head a little. “Sorry I spaced, what did you say?”

He pops quietly and looks to Gerson. “I think that’s enough magic for now. She’s worn out.”

“What? No, come on, I’m fine!”

“Can you stand?”

You assess yourself for a moment. “…Okay fine, maybe I need a little break,” you mutter in defeat. What a sad start, you thought you’d be able to last more than one round. All you did was make one measly water arrow. Gerson said you have so much magic you’re overflowing with it. So why does it feel like you’ve already ran out?

Undyne claps your back, almost making you pitch forward. “Don’t frown so much, it doesn’t suit your face! You did really good for your first time! I remember it took me ages to form a steady spear when I was first learning!”

That genuinely does make you feel a little better. You’re probably being too harsh on yourself, considering you found out about all of this literally hours ago. You offer her a weak smile. “It was still kind of sad though. Especially after my big talk.”

Sans frowns at that. “it’s not a contest. you don’t have to rush.”

He’s right, you know he’s right. You’re being absurd. “Yeah.”

Sans watches you for a moment. Then he hauls himself to his feet. “be right back,” he says and walks a few steps away before vanishing. While you wait for him to return, Undyne shows you how she summons spears and does her best to explain how to give them a solid shape but it mostly involves her saying stuff like ‘You just gotta feel it! Put your strength and power into it! Just do it!”

But she does have to leave for her job before too long and tells you to meet her here tomorrow to go through some more basic drills, which to your understanding means running and other physical exercises. Because ‘a strong body means strong magic!’

Then she’s gone and it’s just you, Gerson and Grillby. He’s finally taken a seat on one of the rocks dotting the area. He’s been quiet mostly, just listening to everyone else talk.

Gerson rubs at his goatee. “Hmph, well, you kind of skipped right past the first step in manifesting magic, but I’m gonna explain it anyway so hopefully it’ll be easier next time. Scooch over here a little.”

You do as he says.

He puts one hand up against his cheek, angling his head slightly. “Back in the day a lot of the issues we had with mages was getting them to understand how to connect their magic to the world around them. You do this instinctively, which is good. It’ll move things along faster.”

“But I don’t understand how I did it,” you say, raising your hands. “And it felt like I was trying to lift the entire ocean with a wild snake in my arms.”

He laughs loudly at your example. “A snake huh? I guess that fits. The reason it felt like that is because at first, you essentially were.” He pulls his hand down, instead lifting both of them outwards with his fingers curled in slightly. “Imagine I’m holding a cup. Each has water in them but this one-” he wiggles his left hand “is colored. If I pour it into the regular water, it doesn’t rest on top. It mixes together naturally until they are simply one cup. Your magic was attempting to mix with the entire ocean. That’s an awful lot to control.”

You gape at him. “O-oh. Yeah, that explains it.”

“That’s why it worked a little when you scooped up just a little. Less to work with.”

“What do you mean when you say my magic mixes with it?”

He scoops a handful of sand, letting it trickle through his fingers. “There is magic in everything. And magic is what connects everything to everything.”

You think for a moment. “Like atoms?”

He shrugs. “I think I remember Sans going on about something like that. Point is, everything has magic. Monsters and mages simply have more of it than others as well as the ability to shape it.

“Magic, especially human magic, is very uh…versatile. It changes and adapts to what you tell it to do. So when you tell it to control water for example, it changes from energy into water and infuses with the water you’re trying to control. And at that point, the magic in the very core of each drop fuses with your changed magic, essentially turning it into an extension of your magic. Make sense?”

Slowly, you nod. “So does that mean I’ll only be able to control water that already exists?” It would kind of suck if you’ve got to run for the nearest puddle any time you want to use it.

“Eh.” Gerson waves his hand back and forth. “Sort of. Remember, I said magic can change itself into water if that’s what you want. Sparks, gimme some fire won’t ya?”

Grillby nods and conjures a flame, much like the little fireball he made for you during the storm. It drifts over to you, gently rubbing up against your cheek before hovering in front of you. Gerson points to it. “Now that is fire Sparks conjured from himself. For him, making fire from himself is easier than trying to take control of a flame that already exists. Or at least, it used to be.”

“It depends on how big it is,” Grillby says. He blinks, and the fireball puffs out. “Taking over a candle flame is nothing. An out of control forest fire is another.”

“And that’s because he’s made of magic. But humans are different. Since you guys aren’t built like us, your bodies use magic a little bit differently. It takes more of a toll. And unlike monsters, you will eventually run out of you’re not careful.”

Run out? “What do you mean? Like permanently?”

Gerson shakes his head. “Stars no, I mean in a drainage of strength in the moment sort of way. If monsters use too much magic, they can get sick or be out of commission for a day or two. But since magic is what makes up our bodies, it knows when we’ve hit our limit and stops us from using too much. Human bodies don’t know that limit. You’ll keep using magic and using it and using it until you drain every last drop. And if you use every drop, you could…die.”

Grillby flickers a horrified green for a moment. It matches the feeling that clenches in your chest. “Oh,” you whisper.

Gerson very grimly nods. "So for you humans, merging your magic with things that already exists takes less energy than it does to 'create' something out of 'nothing'. Lot of mages back in the day carried around bags with random things they needed to kick start spells, like waterskins or torches for lighting fire or chains that they could pour their energy into and animate or curse." 

Grillby flickers low for a moment at that.

"But it is possible to directly change your magic into directly what you want. It just takes more energy and more time to learn. In cases like that, spoken words were used to help maintain focus and all of that. It was those kind of spells that drained them the fastest." He smiles and places a heavy hand on your shoulder. “That’s why you’re learning control. And besides, mages in general have always had a huge supply of magic that very rarely runs out to the point. That’s more of an end of the line, desperate measure kind of result. I only saw it once during the war. You, Sparks?”

Grillby’s quiet for a moment. “Twice,” he finally murmurs.

“Point is, don’t try any massively huge spells before you’re ready for them. In general, don’t practice magic beyond what I tell you unless there’s monster with you. You’ll be fine. Like I said, you’re already beyond what I expected. I won’t be surprised in the slightest if you move on past water-based spells eventually.”

You don’t have more than a moment to really process what he’s said before Sans strolls out of the shop, most certainly not having been in there a moment ago. He’s got a few folders in hand that are filled with sheets of paper. “sorry about that, i fell asleep.”

You snort as Grillby crackles dryly. “You fell asleep?” he repeats.

“well, first i found one of the techs and asked them to type up a few things and then i fell asleep while they were doing that.” He holds the folders out to you and you take them, curiously opening the one on top. ‘A History of Magicks and Souls’ it’s titled. Your eyebrows raise, and you look back up at the skeleton.

“What’s this?”

Sans shoves his hands into his shorts pockets. “that is technically not mine to give out so take care not to lose it, yeah? it’s not much but it’s a copy of the records saved from the war and some of our own findings regarding human souls. it should help answer some of the basic questions you’ve got.”

He got all of this together for you? You smile at him. “Thank you. You…you won’t get in trouble for giving me this, will you?”

He grins and shrugs. “nah, it’ll be fine. probably. but like i said, don’t go passing out copies. And uh, friendly bit of advice; don’t tell anyone about what you’ve got unless you completely trust them.”

His rather cryptic warning has you frowning.

“anyway, i gotta get back,” he continues lightly. “one of the boss guys saw me walking around and thinks i’m actually working or something.” He gives a two fingered salute and turns around and walks back into the shop.

Gerson groans as he very slowly gets to his feet. “We should probably call it good for today too. Get some food in ya Shore and rest up a bit. We’ll pick it up again tomorrow.”

You nod and Grillby helps you to your feet. You’re better after sitting and resting for a bit but still a little tired. Gerson disappears into his shop and the two of you begin the walk back to his bar. You’re both quiet, absorbed in your own thoughts.

When you reach the door, you stop and put a hand on Grillby’s arm. “I think…I think I’m gonna head home,” you say softly. “I gotta process everything that’s happened.”

He’s quiet for a moment and then nods. “Let me get you some monster food for the road then,” he insists gently, leading you inside. You lean on the bar while he’s in the kitchen, flipping through the papers Sans gave you. A good portion of them look like copied diary entries. The others are typed findings by ‘sans’ ‘Alphys’ and ‘Unknown’.

Unknown? Maybe a monster who wants to stay anonymous?

Grillby comes out of the kitchen with a paper bag and you close the files. He set it down on the counter and hesitates. “Call me if you need anything, okay?”

You nod and offer him a smile. “I will.” You give him a hug which he returns. You stay like that for a long time, just gently taking comfort from the embrace. When you finally part, he walks you to the door and you feel his eyes on your until you round the corner and disappear from view.

Your mind is oddly blank as you drive home. It’s still oddly blank as you go up into your apartment and find yourself greeted by Stitch who is meowing in a way that’s telling you he’s yelling at you for being so bold as to leave him alone for one entire night.

Setting the bag of food on the counter, you reach down and pick him up despite his yowling and nuzzle your face against his. “Oh like you wouldn’t have just been asleep even if I was here,” you say fondly. You set him down in his bed and check his dish. Sure enough, there’s traces of the wet food stuff that Ms. Meyers gives him.

You should eat too. But despite feeling a little worn out, you’re actually not in the mood to eat. You’re not in the mood to just sit. You need to relax, you need to go to your happy place to think about the sudden and crazy direction your life has taken.

And your happy place is out in the water.

You change, grabbing your suit from where you hung it in the bathroom and grab your board. You don’t bother grabbing a towel and simply head straight down the water. All those whirling thoughts that can’t quite break through the stunned silence your mind has fallen into is eased the moment the water touches your feet. You push off the ground and paddle out a fair distance, letting the familiar motions, sounds and sensations calm you. Once you’re out far enough you stop and simply bob in the water.

It’s really no different. You feel just as at peace out here as you did before. The water is familiar and comforting. Heh, it’s just like that old song. ‘The water’s always changing, always flowing’. The water doesn’t care that you’re a mage. Grillby doesn’t care. This…this change is good. It’s new and it’s a little scary but it’s good.

You let your fingers drift along the surface of the water. Maybe it’s not as big of a change as you thought. The water has spoken to you from the very first moment you stepped into the ocean, calling to a place that you now realize is your Soul. A small smile lifts your mouth as you angle your board back towards shore. The waves catch you, lifting you as you stand and smoothly slip into an easy surf.

Yeah. This is good. You’re going to be just fine.