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Bones, Picked Clean

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Stumbling drunk into the forest was admittedly not your latest stellar move. Sure, it's seemed smarter than losing the contents of your sparse dinner (consisting of tiny finger foods the sorority your roommate was a part of had put out to make the college party way more classy than it was) on the shoes of a girl with the prettiest brown eyes. In the moment? Sound decision.

Now, after realizing that you were drunk enough for the forest to spin a bit? You were fucked and it was becoming readily apparent.

“Okaaay.” You say to yourself like talking outloud could calm your nerves- you wish the adrenaline spike had sobered you up even remotely, but you're still out of your mind drunk. Bad, bad decisions. No more partying for you until you learned some self restraint around liquor and drinking challenges. And got a sense of direction-

On that train of thought, you pull your phone out, holding down the power button in a ragdoll’s grasp. No matter how hard you pushed, unfortunately, the screen remained black- out of power. Shit. Too many selfies and ‘hey you need a caterer any time let's exchange numbers’ and Facebook requests and... and not enough using the wall chargers. So that leaves you with the wise wise decision of maybe deciphering where the North Star is in the swirling sky and trying to remember where it was in relation to the house.

The trees grow thicker around you, which you take as, understandably, a bad sign. You start to turn around, in half-steps because too fast and your stomach will turn and wouldn't that be the cherry on top of this nonsense sundae that you attract some bigger predator because you couldn't hold it down? By the time you think you've turned all the way around, though, you've so thoroughly disoriented yourself that you don't know which way you'd originally faced. Or if you'd been looking at the correct star to begin with, which fills you with such a sense of dread that your stomach turns again and, despite your best efforts, you lose more of those cucumber sandwiches.

Hands on your knees and knees shaking, you realize that, if you didn't want to confront the suddenly very real possibility of dying alone in the woods, you have to keep moving. You've been on your feet all night, and you're fairly certain you've packed in a few blisters, but you still have to move forward. With nothing less than your full, sobering attention on putting just one foot in front of the other, you start deeper into the forest. The trees above you seem to curl, until most of the sky is blotted out in dark brown swatches and your shaking, tired eyes focus on something in the distance. Bright yellow, light brown. Giving off light.

A house.

Relief washes over you, followed by thin terror, followed by acceptance. It's not the house you started at but it's a house and if it's the house of a serial killer you're willing to give up the ghost because you're starting to feel like your dumb ass deserves all of this for thinking a sorority party could ever turn out well.

You'd misjudged the distance and also the height of the house and you nearly fall down a rather steep hill, ankles unsure and wobbling at every step as you could barely see in the dark. The half moon in the sky could only barely peek through the trees leaving you squinting trying to find purchase with the flat of your shoe. When you finally come to sweet sweet flat ground, you fall to your knees (if only for a second) and try to catch your breath. You weren't sure how long you'd been walking but your thigh muscles were really starting to protest how long you'd been on your feet, and the soft grass below you seemed forgiving enough. If you could, if you could give up two meters away from tentative safety and just sleep in the glow of the house’s strung Christmas lights, you would.

But even drunk off your ass, you know you can't sleep in the goddamn woods. So you get off your knees and hobble up to the porch and brace yourself on the doorframe and you take your fist that feels as heavy as a stone and you throw it at the door. Two sad short knocks and your fist against the door.

There's silence. There's silence so long that you start noticing the ambient sounds of the forest- cicadas and movement and bushes rustling. Your stomach clenches and you knock again- three shorter rasps. You hear what sounds like pencils on hardwood, and then the door swings open, and you're looking into the eyesockets of a very pissed off monster.

Shit. Shit shit shit okay not the nightmare scenario and yeah you probably should've thought about how late it is and holy shit are they missing half of their head. Your mouth is open and you immediately force your gaze away- you don't know any skeleton monsters (mostly just the aquatic ones that are a part of your roommate’s sorority) but you can't imagine staring is polite with any species. “Hey, uh, I'm so sorry, this is so late at night but-”

“you here to ding dong ditch us?” The skeleton says, one strained and somewhat ruined red pupil staring at you. You have no basis for comparison, but there's something innately frightening about this monster- something about the tousled collar of their jacket and the gaping head wound oozing violence. “i've about head it with you humans thinkin it's fun to spook my brother. were the traps not enough of a warning?”

Your mouth feels gummy and very loose- hard to maneuver into sentences. Traps...? The majority of the monsters you'd met were ones that didn't hold any hatred over humans as a whole (though you honestly wouldn't have blamed any of them if they did), so maybe you'd been wrong to judge a book by its cover. “Listen, I’m-” The world pitched sideways for a second and you had to grip the doorframe a little harder to stay upright. The pupil followed your movements, and you can feel sweat start to bead on your neck. “I’m lost. I dunno about any traps, but I saw this house in the middle of the forest and I thought hey wonder if they have a phone I could use and if I knew I’d be bothering you I’d probably have just kept walking but I'm really really drunk so I wasn't thinking-”

“it's in the back of the house.” The skeleton’s voice is gruff, but their sockets seem wider, taking in more of you. It took you a few moments to stop rambling and to even pick up that they'd said something. Their fingers wrap around the doorframe and they open it wider, letting you in. “the phone. it's in the back of the house. come on in.”

You're not sure if it's blind pessimism, but there's something wrong with how they say it. It sounds like one of those traps they'd mentioned, but you're too tired to care. At this point, whatever. “Uh, thanks.” You step in, and it's not that big of a temperature difference- the mugginess of the night air is gone, though, which is a plus. The house itself seems sparsely decorated, with a small tv in front of a large couch, filled with holes. While the living space was brightly lit, the corridor heading to the back seemed less-so. “So, uh, just straight back?”

They close the door, slowly until the lock clicks, and you have to catch your breath, your heart suddenly hammering. “straight back. giant wall phone. can't miss it.”

You start walking forward, but the same drumming sound is behind you again and, yeah, they're following you and that's their bony feet hitting the hardwood. “So, um, it's just you and your brother here? This is a pretty big house.” You were usually pretty good at small talk, but you immediately berate yourself because it sounded like you just implied-

“what of it?” That monsters can't have big houses. “we like our space. kinda why we live in the middle of the woods.”

“That's fair- I just thought since it's only the two of you... No, that's fair. Yeah.” You pass by a sloppy painting of a bone on the wall, and you stop to point at it, trying to lighten the mood. “What do you call a painting in a skeleton’s house? A bone-afide work of art.” Your voice raises at the end, not sure if that was going to offend them.

You get a small chuckle out of them, and their shoulders drop just slightly. “that's a good one. you're lucky papyrus isn't around- he can't stand skeleton puns. i musta used all of em up when he was a babybones.” You can spot the phone and, wow, they really weren’t lying- it’s a large red corded phone from the 80s. You turn around to verify if, yes, this is the phone and, yes, you are still able to use it, but their hand jerks from midair, as if they’d reached out towards you. A strange light blue sweat seems to have beaded on their skull, and their (tense, you suddenly realize) grin suddenly jerks downwards. Annoyed. “what? ya don’t know how a wall phone works?”

“No, no- I, uh, just wanted to check. That this was still alright and, uh, I don’t know.” You can feel a headache coming on, and it takes a slow, slow moment of realization to recognize the flare of adrenaline in your veins. Fight or flight, seemingly unprompted, and you have to push past the drunken haze to analyze it. Was it because your dumb human brain registered seeing a moving skeleton as Inherently Wrong? Was it because your dumb human brain saw an injury on a monster and thought that was scary? You berate yourself- monsters came in all kinds of looks, and you shouldn’t get the heebie-jeebies just because this one has a red eye. “I’m really drunk, I don’t think I’m making a whole lot of sense right now.”

“yeah, you’re not.” They say, almost harshly, their pupil darting away and to your left. The phone is hung on the wall at the end of the hallway, sure, but if you turn your head you catch the edge of checkered kitchen tile. Everything still spins a bit, but your gaze is sharp enough to catch the bigger details of the kitchen- laminated counters (yellow and peeling), dated rose wallpaper (yellow and peeling), and dust on the cabinets (covered in... thrown pasta?). You actually hear their jaw creak, this time, when they open their mouth to speak. “you just gonna gawk at everything, or are you gonna pick up the damn phone? if this is how drunk humans act, i’m glad i’m banned from eating out.”

It’s hard to feel offended when it is literally your fault for being so drunk it’s hard to focus on one task. “Honestly, you’re not missing out on anything. Parties are a sweaty, gross experience, and when it rains, it pours.” You don’t exactly know skeletal expressions but, if human facial features were anything to gauge from, the skeleton shoots you a mixed look of disgust and intrigue. Which is admittedly better than the annoyed expression from before, so you quickly turn around to pick up the phone (hearing the dial tone in your ear before you dialed was one of the most nostalgic experiences you’d had in a long time) and start to dial your friend’s number. It rings, and rings, and rings, and just as you start to worry that she’s not gonna pick up, her answering machine picks up.

And, sure, the skeleton behind you might’ve been accommodating, but your heart's still pounding in your chest. It doesn’t feel safe to let them know that no one is coming for you. “Hey, Trixie!” Pause. “No, yeah- sorry about leaving the party, my drunk ass wandered off into the woods and-” You fake like the signal is bad, drawing closer to the phone, cradling it on your shoulder. Sweat beads on your neck and, behind you, you hear a thin sound, like something cutting through air. You don't turn around. “Sorry, shit signal in the middle of the woods. Yeah, I found a house in the woods- I know, save the reprimand for later- and this cool skeleton let me use their house phone? That’s why the signal is- yeah, my phone’s dead. I don’t want to, uh, hog you for too long, but the house is seriously like, straight back from the sorority house- can’t miss it. Only brightly-lit thing for, uh, miles in the dark forest. I think it took me like half an hour to get lost in this direction- so, you’ll be, um, getting me?” Pause. Shit, you’d talked too long on your end- you can feel their eye staring at your back. God you hope skeleton’s lack of ears meant they also had terrible hearing. “S-so, you think an hour? Uh, cool. See you- Oh, you want to bring Galora too? Sure, no, uh, no skin off my nose.” A chuckle behind you. The most surreal part of this experience was that puns may actually be saving your life. “See you then!”

And, trying to keep your hands from shaking, you hook it back onto the wall with a soft click. You turn around, slowly, slowly, then having to hold a hand to the wall underneath the cord of the phone to keep yourself steady because the world is sideways and okay it’s because you literally fell from the knot of sickness in your stomach, wreaking a migraine on the delicate pulse in your temples. If the skeleton with the whiplash mood swings doesn’t do you in, your own pulse might get you yet. “trixie’s a waterfall monster name. they’re bipedal?” At your surprised nod (most people just assumed she was human, and were always shocked to find that she very literally resembled the creature from the black lagoon with better cheekbones and actual lips), they grunt, nodding and looking down at and then away from you. “welp. how’s the trip? i’d have some jokes about the fall, but i’m all aut-of-umn.”

So, uh, to top off your wild night of alcohol and panic, a skeleton winks at you and you see something... Something genuine under their expression, their grin almost loose. You were expecting the easier ‘nice trip see you next fall’ joke that it surprises a bark of laughter out of you, and you barely feel the throb under your skin where you’d hit the hardwood. You stumble to your feet, trying and missing a few times, all while they watch you, no prior knowledge of skeletons needed to know that they were absolutely living for seeing you as a mess of limbs and uncoordinated jerks. Finally, you get yourself to a half-seated position and give up. “I’m, uh, really sorry about this in advance, but would you mind if I just crashed here until she turns up?” You’re reminded of the ‘traps’ they’d mentioned earlier, and you weren’t too keen on trying to find your way out in the dark with those around.

Something was off, certainly, but nothing you could actually act on. And you have one hour to come up with some plan to get back to the sorority house. Really, you should’ve just stayed at home.

Towering over you, you realize the skeleton has bent at the waist and is offering you their hand. “where are my manners? i’m sans. sans the skeleton.” There’s something terse about how they say their own name, something a little... It feels like something you’re not in on, like a sour inside joke. “you got a name, or is referring to you as ‘human’ a little too on the nose?” You have no idea how they did it, but their nose ridge flares without any muscle, and you have to keep from laughing again.

They seem to appreciate it.

You introduce yourself, your name followed by a cheeky ‘the human’ which earns you another nod. You shake his hand somewhat, like a formal introduction, but he’s distracted, looking away from you until you finally drop his hand. Sans’ eyelight keeps darting to the door, once, twice, and then finally you have to ask, “You expecting someone?” Which, you realize, was the worst thing you could say to keep the ‘my friend is coming’ story alive.

“yeah- my brother’s usually back by now.” Their sockets narrow, and the pupil darts towards you, still holding his hand in a shake because their phones locked on your’s and you couldn’t exactly break the hold. “you see anyone in the forest? tall skeleton, red scarf?”

“No- this house was the only thing I’d seen for a while. I definitely would remember seeing another skeleton.” Which you definitely would. No amount of alcohol would blur the fact that there was a shambling skeleton somewhere that resembled Sans in front of you. Not that it was particularly relevant, but your own internal narrative had to wonder- “So, you’re siblings?”

“brothers.” He corrects, which is a relief, because monsters are fairly concise when it comes to discussing gender- ‘sibling’ would’ve meant he used a neutral pronoun, and he would’ve specified ‘brother and sister’ had he used ‘she’ instead. “it’s not really any of your business, though. he just not usually this slow recalibrating his traps.” Where there had been just a few beads of sweat on his head earlier, he now seemed to be lightly doused in sweat, and fairly nervous, staring at the door. “i was thinking of fixing a meal for him by the time he came back, but if he’s...”

‘A meal’. The kitchen looked like it hadn’t been touched by a loving hand since it’d been built. There were scorch marks on the stove, the only sign that anyone used it. You have a very bad feeling about this. “Oh, uh. I can’t promise how steady my hand is right now, but I can cook something up, if you want to... You want to look for him?” Which sounds just as stupid out loud as it had when you’d thought it up, but your brain-to-mouth filter was practically nonexistent in this moment. This skeleton has absolutely no idea that you cook for a living, has no reason to trust you, and if anything, sounds like he was planning on eating you for dinner. 

Sans blinks at you like he, too, thinks that was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard, but also like he was considering it. His worry for his brother apparently outweighed any sorts of reservations he held about a strange human in his house, but the fact that you could barely stand up straight might have also factored into the decision. “sure. knock yourself out. but if i find out you wasted any of our food...” His bright red pupil wavers like a flame and goes out, leaving his skull hollow and terrifying. You stand in the middle of his dusty ass kitchen, on shaking knees and knowing no one is coming for you, heart in your throat, waiting for him to finish his threat. Sans’ eyelight pops back on, though, and his smile rights itself on his face, which does nothing to stop your racing heart at his words, “let’s just say i’d chew you out about it. it’d be pretty... tasteless.” With a wink and a flat ‘good luck’, he blinks out of sight, and you try not to shriek at the fact that he was there and then he was gone.

It’s... It’s going to be a long night for you.

Chapter Text

You haven’t seen such a bare pantry since the very first weeks after you moved out of your parent’s house. Only two pans- a sauté pan and one very tall pot. Their fridge was the oldest fucking Maytag product you’ve seen in your life (a half-n-half of a fridge and a freezer, with nowhere to get drinking water other than the faucet sink) and, when you open it, the air smells stale. Inside? One half-full carton of Sea Tea, two tomatoes, and a box of spaghetti pasta (which... doesn’t really belong in a fridge). A bottle of ketchup. All monster food- nonperishable.

Make no mistake, you’re still pretty drunk, but you’d worked long enough to throw something together. ‘Innovative’ was a keyword on your resumé, and like hell you were going to die because you couldn’t make a pasta dish. Set the Sea Tea to boil like you would vegetable stock in the sauté pan. Make another phone call to Trixie. Break the noodles in half so they’d cook faster, keeping an eye on the clock. Make an increasingly desperate phone call to Trixie. Dice the tomatoes with a startlingly clean knife in a kitchen full of aged and rusted materials. Feel the panic set in as you try to scrounge up her girlfriend Galora’s number from the deep recesses of your mind.

Oh, sick- you found a sprig of parsley. You push yourself into your ‘work’ mindspace and put the diced tomatoes in to cook with the noodles and tea, watching the noodles take on a light orange color from the salty tea absorbing the red tomatoes. To be fair, you’d worked with monster food, but there were some aspects of it you were never quite sure about- no matter how you prepared a dish, the end product tended to be the color of all of its ingredients combined. You start to get a fork to taste-test it, but all of them are rusty and, remembering Sans’ warning of not wasting any food, you decide your knee-jerk thought of putting ketchup on it to clean it up might not go over so well. There’s a, uh... You can’t really recall what it’s called? That giant spoon with little points used to grasp pasta. That thing. You pick it up and run it under the faucet to get it as clean as you can, then use it to sample a little noodle.

A far cry from a marinara spaghetti, but it’s a nice enough summer dish. You hope you remember how you made it when you’re sober.

Opening the cabinet, there are only two plates which, “Sure. Okay. Who the fuck only has enough plates for the exact number of people living there?” Like the knife, though, the plates were miraculously without stain, so you divvy up the two portions and, with what’s left, you put the sprig on top of it. There.

The phone on the wall rings, and you about drop dead from nerves. It’s been a solid forty-five minutes since Sans had left, and cooking had been about the only thing that was keeping you from crawling out of your skin. You scramble to the phone, almost slipping in your sheer haste to please please please Trixie come through -

“Hey...? Is this where-” Her strong, warbling tone over the phone, and you just yell in excitement. Just one loud holler. “Woah! Yeah, there they are! Hey, where the hell are you? You’re scaring the shit out of me- what’s this about a skeleton and a human named ‘Hannibal’? My phone died like an hour ago- are you okay?”

“Trix, listen to me, I’m about outta my mind- I’m... I’m deep in this forest and I just made some skeleton monsters a pasta dish, and if they don’t like it I’m afraid I’m gonna be the next course.” You try to keep your voice to a hush, even though contrarily you’d just let out the most victorious yell of your life- it occurred to you that you’d actually lied earlier, and that if you were caught on their phone? Bone-appetite.

“HEY! You know monsters don’t eat humans. That’s some bullshit old rumor. You eat too many sweet cakes, anyways- you wouldn’t taste good.” She’s teasing, but she knows you- even drunk, you wouldn’t just pull the ‘monsters eat people’ thing if it weren’t something you were actually worried about. “Listen, if you’re that worried, me and Galora are headed out into the woods to look for you- uh, you have any sort of idea how to find you?”

Thank god for this creaking old house- the porch step depresses and you quickly grit out, “Only lit house for miles, they’re home, bye!” Before slamming the phone down onto the wall, and hightailing it back to the kitchen.

Fork to plate, fork to plate, and the doorknob turns slowly enough that you’re literally questioning whether or not you’re in a goddamn horror movie. This amount of suspense is ridiculous. “hey, paps- brought you home a surprise.” There’s a long pause, which you can only hope is him getting a good smell of the food you’d cooked up and deciding against cooking you up.

“SANS!” Woah, that’s louder than Trix- no small feat. And, when he continues, it’s at that consistent volume. “IS THAT MARINARA I SMELL? HAVE YOU FINALLY DECIDED TO STEP UP AND ALSO LEARN THE INTRICACIES OF THE CULINARY ARTS?”

Sure, you’d heard the footsteps rapidly approaching the kitchen (and had tensed accordingly- you couldn’t help it), but when they stop right in front of the kitchen (right behind you)? Your heartbeat is blasting in your eardrums. You feel sick and nervous and, for the first time of the night, you childishly think about how you really just want to go home. You just want Sans to say whether or not all of those eating jokes were about the possibility of you becoming the meal- either way was better than the tension and- and-

And you have to turn around at some point. His brother (Papyrus? You think? It’d been over an hour since you’d heard him passingly mention his brother’s name, so you weren’t too sure) is still behind you, and completely silent, and if you were going to meet your certain demise, you’d go out looking it in the eyes. Which, when you turned around, were a lot higher up than you’d anticipated. You’re looking at a spine, then a broad chest, then... Holy hell, this was the tallest monster you’d ever met. Gangly and... thin? Thin-boned, at least, in comparison to Sans’ wider set of bones, with small circular eye sockets and teeth straight out of an orthodontist’s nightmare. He seemed stunned, but... But not in a bad way? “Hi.” You say, because you don’t know what else to say, “I made spaghetti.”

Papyrus’ eye sockets seemed to get wider, and he turns to Sans and has to bend slightly to meet his eyes. “Sans!” He speaks, in a softer, rushed tone. With absolute amazement, you realize that’s him whispering. “Sans, is that a human?”

“no, that’s a fridge.” Sans responds, and you realize that, uh, you’d been half-behind the fridge like it’d protect you. You step out fully. Papyrus wilts slightly.

“OH.” He turns around and seeing you completely, stands back up to his full height again. “SANS, THIS IS A HUMAN!” And, with surprisingly gentle hands in bright red gloves, he braces you and makes full eye-to-eye-socket contact. “HELLO, HUMAN! I’M SO GLAD YOU’RE INSIDE MY HOME, IN ONE PIECE. I AM THE GREAT PAPYRUS- IF I HAD KNOWN WE’D BE HAVING COMPANY, I WOULD’VE TIDIED UP MORE!”

You introduce yourself to The Great Papyrus, and assure him that, really, it’s no bother- you were just passing through. “I’m lost in this forest and, uh, Sans said I could hang around until my friends came and found me. Then he said he had to find you and that, uh, you’d probably be hungry after doing whatever you were doing, so! I made some food!” You hold your arms out to present the two plates, and you hear Sans make a slight ‘huh’ of surprise.

“SANS SAID YOU COULD?” Papyrus angles his body to shoot an incredulous look towards Sans, who shrugs and avoids eye contact. “BROTHER! I’M VERY PROUD OF YOU- THIS IS DISTINCT PROGRESS! LOOK AT HOW ALIVE AND NOT-QUITE-TERRIFIED THIS HUMAN IS- USUALLY IT’S EITHER ONE OR THE OTHER!” Which, wow, you guess you weren’t quite terrified but you were bordering it. Papyrus is still holding onto your upper arms.

“hey, it’s what’s on the inside that matters, and they seem to be-” He pauses for comedic effect. “made of funnybones.” His red eye darts to you and, when you snicker, his grin gets wider. “see?”

“NO! THE FIRST HUMAN YOU BRING AROUND THE HOUSE AND THEY SHARE YOUR TERRIBLE SENSE OF HUMOR!” Sans opens his mouth to say a joke (probably about the humerus if you had any judge of character), but Papyrus’ face seems to set into a frown stern enough to have him hold it in. He turns back to you, “PLEASE, HUMAN, DON’T ENCOURAGE HIM ANY FURTHER. I AM IMPRESSED BY THE FACT THAT YOU PREPARED A LOVELY MIDNIGHT DINNER FOR US OUT OF OUR LACKING INGREDIENTS, AND I DON’T WANT IT TO BE SOILED BY... PUNS.” And, with nothing less than sheer exasperation, Papyrus squints and looks off into the distance.

“Got it- no puns.” You pick up the plate with more spaghetti and hand it off to him (if only because Papyrus suddenly seemed like the friendliest person on the planet and your one shot to survival). “There you go! Bone appetit.” It takes a moment to realize what you said and, when it clicks, you crack your neck with how quickly you look up to him to gauge his reaction.

Papyrus lets out a long groan and, squinting and stomping his foot somewhat, “YOU WERE DOING SO WELL!” He sighs, then, one hand holding the plate and the other to his chest. “AS IT IS YOUR FIRST OFFENSE, AND I HAVEN’T HEARD THAT ONE BEFORE, I WILL GRACIOUSLY SPARE YOU THE TYPICAL PUNISHMENT FOR PUNNING.” You definitely hear Sans say ‘pun-ishment’ in the background. “WHICH IS TYPICALLY MY SCREAMS OF AGONY FOR AN UNSPECIFIED AMOUNT OF TIME. PLEASE, TAKE A SEAT ON THE-” Something seems to click, and Papyrus blinks a few times (which was... surprising. The first time Sans had blinked, it hadn’t really registered that they seemed to have bony eyelids). “OH. WE... DON’T HAVE ENOUGH PLATES.”

“What? Oh, uh- don’t feel bad!” You rush to assure him, because even with a mouth that looked like splintered wood, Papyrus was kind of funny? In a way that he obviously didn’t intend to be (or did intend, and hid it very very well). “I already ate- I was coming from a party I was catering, so it’s no big deal.”

Papyrus seems to take that into consideration and staring into his lightless eyes brought up a light sweat on your neck. He definitely wasn’t as scary as his brother just... Just a little unsettling, especially when he went still like this. “ALRIGHT, IF THAT’S HOW YOU TRULY FEEL.” He says, and his words are strangely measured. “IF YOU GET HUNGRY AT ANY TIME WHILE YOU’RE STILL HERE, FEEL FREE TO EAT OFF OF MY PLATE, OR FROM THE PAN.” Then, as if to entice you, he gives you a smile that, were his teeth even, would’ve been worth a million dollars. Even still it was still worth a pretty penny, considering it got you to smile right back. “SINCE I DO NOT KNOW HOW MUCH LONGER YOU MAY BE STAYING, I’LL HAVE TO MAKE SURE THAT I’M THE OPTIMAL HOST! IF YOU’D FOLLOW ME INTO THE LIVING ROOM...?” Papyrus offers you a crooked arm for you to lace your own through and, wow, if he wasn’t the coolest. You accept, but you look over your shoulder to keep an eye on Sans as Papyrus starts telling you about ‘OLD MTT RUNS, WHERE HE COOKS WITH MONSTER FOOD AND DOES ONE-MAN SHOWS ABOUT LOVE’ and how much he preferred them to the ‘GROSS, GORY COOKING SHOWS HE DID MORE RECENTLY- STARS, JUST BECAUSE THEY’RE HELPFUL DOESN’T MEAN THEY SHOULD HAVE AIRED’.  

“i’ll be getting my portion, then.” Sans says and, while you’re still a little scared (Papyrus seemed so harmless, but you weren’t dropping your guard just yet), you see him look at the parsley like he has no clue what it is, then eats it whole, which makes him a hell of a lot less intimidating. Then he opens the fridge and dumps some ketchup onto it- a seemingly measured portion, by how slowly he squeezes it out of the bottle.

You’re seated on the couch, watching as he hurriedly puts in a VCR tape into a CRT tv, which is... baffling. It’s one thing to want some space, but most monsters you knew said that the Underground pretty much kept up with innovation alongside humans, so why the hell were they still using VCRs? Papyrus shuffles back over to you and sits so close to you that his elbow digs into your arm a little. “YOU SAID YOU WERE A CATERER?” Which impresses you, that he’d remember- Sans seemed a little distant, and a little out there, but Papyrus was surprisingly present and aware. “I THINK YOU’LL LIKE THIS ONE! METTATON ALWAYS PUTS ON A STELLAR PERFORMANCE, EVEN WHILE COOKING! ... WHICH IS PROBABLY WHY HE HAS TO MAKE THE FOOD BEFOREHAND.”

You don’t really understand what he meant until you watched a rectangular robot juggle twelve eggs into a bowl, shells and all, and try to mix them with flour and sugar. Papyrus remains strangely quiet through most of it and, when you sneak a glance at him, you find him very carefully eating the spaghetti you’d made with... Are those tears in his eye sockets? “Papyrus, is something wrong?” You ask, and, uh, there’s a joke about what it’d take to make a skeleton cry without eyes somewhere, but fuck if you could think of it right now. “You don’t have to eat it if you don’t like it...?”

His answer is swift, strong, “NO, THAT’S NOT IT!” It looked like he was going to set the fork down, but he hesitates, hovering it over the pasta. “THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I’VE EATEN SPAGHETTI, AND I’D LIKE TO SAVOR IT!” He squints, and looks away from you- his eye sockets are so small, you’d think he was closing his eyes, but you still see the glimmer of tears. “BUT I’M ALSO VERY HUNGRY. YOU CAN SEE THE DILEMMA.”

Not... not really? “If you’re hungry, go right ahead and eat it, Papyrus. I’m not going to judge you for chowing down- it’s... a compliment? Sorta?” He still hasn’t let go of his death grip on the fork. On the tv, Mettaton puts his catastrophe of a cake into the oven. “There’s even leftovers, if you want seconds!” You try to encourage him, bumping him a little with your elbow.

“YES, BUT... WHEN WILL I EVER GET TO EAT ANOTHER PASTA DISH MADE BY A NEW FRIEND? I DON’T WANT TO WASTE THE EXPERIENCE, ONLY TO BE HUNGRY AGAIN.” And he cranes down to look at you and crooked broken teeth and all, he looks... pitiable. You feel something rise in your chest, a bubble of panicked ‘what can I do?’ and, drunk or not, you know you can’t just leave him alone in the woods forever.

“Tomorrow.” You blurt out, like you couldn’t hold the thought down one more minute. The idea of Papyrus heating up cold leftovers in that death trap of an oven or looking at his incredibly sparse pantry was so painful you couldn’t not address it. “Or, uh, day after tomorrow. Probably gonna be hungover all to hell tomorrow, and I don’t know how good any food I’d make could or would be. So, what do you want on the menu?”

Papyrus is silent.

Sans is suddenly beside you, close and peering down at you. There’s a sharp smell in the air, something like the doctor’s office or... It’s not clinical, but painful. Like getting blood drawn- something like iron that makes you flinch a little, pull back. When you tilt your head up, vertebrae by vertebrae and braced, you realize it’s how he smells. You’ve never smelt bone before, but... “we don’t have any gold. what do you want?” You open your mouth and all that comes out is dry sounds. He repeats himself, eye sockets narrow, almost urgently. Almost angrily. “we don’t. have any gold. what do you want?”

“Uh.” You say, intelligently, your almost forgotten spike of adrenaline back under your skin again. “Uh, good company? Because you need food?” You wonder if that’s offensive- monsters had a communal... community... They shared things. Things were only assigned value when it wasn’t a necessity, because monsters believed that all monsters deserved to have their basic needs met. And this... Whatever this was, in the back of these dark woods, with the shabby curtains and the VCR playing Mettaton meticulously picking out an eggshell from batter and Sans’ caved-in skull...

This wasn’t living. This was barely surviving, and desperation. Drunk or not, human or not, lost or not... You couldn’t just walk away from this in the daytime like some random encounter.

It’s tense. Sans continues staring you dead in the eye (‘dead’, goddammit, now wasn’t the time to crack jokes), until you actually shiver a little, wavering. Then he sticks out one rattling hand and, grinning wide and vicious, “shake on it?” Like a trap.

You shook on it.

“It’ll be during the day, though.” You add, if only because you don’t want to get lost again.

Behind you, Papyrus beams, fork forgotten in his spaghetti and you wonder how excited he must be to let go of it. He’d been eating like someone would take it away from him. You feel long, bony arms wrap around your shoulders, and he rocks the both of you back and forth a little. “MY HUGGING ABILITIES ARE SOMEWHAT RUSTY, BUT I SEE THAT NOTHING REMAINS TOO DAUNTING FOR THE GREAT PAPYRUS TO PERFORM FOR HIS FRIENDS.” Then, softer, “WE... WE ARE FRIENDS, RIGHT?”

“Yeah!” You say, with more enthusiasm, turning around to awkwardly loop your arms around his absolute lack of mass. Not a lot to hug when you’re nose-to-spine with a skeleton.

“OH, I’M SO HAPPY! I’LL BE SURE TO DISABLE THE TRAPS TO LET YOU THROUGH. PERHAPS, IF YOU WANT TO AND ARE... SOBER ENOUGH TO BE ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH IT...” He says it in a strange way and you realize that despite his excitable demeanor he’s been very aware of how smashed you are. “I’LL SET UP A PUZZLE FOR YOU TO WORK THROUGH! LIKE WE USED TO, SANS!”

Sans just blinks. “don’t recall there being a lot of sans serif-ied puzzles in snowdin, pap. maybe i’ll badger the ‘landlord’ for a copy of junior jumble, though. make the experience real authentic.” It’s... It’s weird, because you’ve felt threatened by Sans on no less than five different occasions, but you see something of his brother in him. His brow bones aren’t as high up, his shoulders dropped. Cautious, but not tense.

Papyrus is losing his mind, though. “THAT WAS A NEW ONE, AND I HATED IT! CAN’T WE GO TWO SECONDS WITHOUT A PUN TO RUIN THE MOMENT?”

He waits the appropriate two seconds. “but you’re smiling.” He is, which you giggle at, just a little, and Papyrus lets out a scream of agony for a short period. Sans acts as if his brother didn’t just shout in misery and turns to the tv. “old mtt runs, huh? i think i could sit through it.”

Mettaton pulls out the perfect cake from the oven, the ruined one obviously still in view. “And that, my dear fans, is how to make your perfect bundt cake!” The bundt cake he pulled out is decent at best.

The next episode loads after brief static, and Papyrus picks up his fork. The episode runs for forty-five minutes before Sans is snoring beside you, and Papyrus keeps jolting to keep himself awake. When there’s a loud knock at the door, neither of them move to get it, so you peel Papyrus’ arm from off of your shoulders (put there at some point when he had you explain in detail how a quiche was made, because he claimed Mettaton’s instructions were too vague). In all her scaley glory, Trixie is standing there, eyes wide and arms crossed, with her girlfriend Galora, whose fur is ruffled and a little matted around her ears. “I thought,” Trixie starts, sounding winded and tired and just as drunk as you, “That we all collectively decided that puzzles don’t work on the surface, because you can’t anticipate them. I had to cut Lora down from a tree because we didn’t step on all of the correct branches.”

“I got clubbed with a bone at the top! And then when Trix got me down, I fell in the dirt!” Galora peeks into the house, seeing the shambles within and the MTT episode on the old tv, then Sans and Papyrus on the couch. One of her long ears twitches, and her open mouth shuts fast. “Hey, uh, not to be rude, but we should. Probably go. C’mon, it was a long way outta the forest.” She pulls you by the arm, eyes never leaving the two of them and, even though you whisper a quick ‘bye’ to them, you still feel guilty for leaving while they’re asleep.

Trixie shuts the door behind you, softly so the lock doesn’t click. They don’t lead you down the path you’d stumbled down- they lead your through a path cleared by magic scales and cottontail fluff. Where they’d cleared the traps. They’re quiet for a long, long time, before Galora lets out a long held breath, “Shit. That could’ve been a lot worse.”

“Yeah. Hell, sweetheart, how did you even end up in that situation?” Her hand beats at your back a little rougher than intended, and she tries to correct it. You notice she’s actively checking your soul. “No damage, that’s good. Shit, did you even notice they were boss monsters? That one with the caved in skull, that’s bad- that’d dust a monster like me. And the one with the teeth? Shit.” She’s almost as shaken as you were, only from that bit of contact. “Shit.”

“Does the Queen know about them? Their house looked like shit, and they’re in the middle of nowhere. Do they even get monster food shipments?” Lora keeps talking, more concerned, and the relief is just pouring into you in waves. You lean on her shoulders (she’d been the designated driver) and she supports your weight after an initial waver.

“I dunno, but their pantry was barren. I’m talking Sea Tea, noodles, two tomatoes. That’s all I had to work with.” You shake your head. “I’m... I promised them I’d come back day after tomorrow. I don’t think they’re allowed in public for some reason- must be why they don’t have much of anything.

“You’re going BACK?” Alarm creeps into Trixie’s voice, and the hand clenched on your shoulder blade. “Sorry, sorry- what do you mean going back? Did they treat you well? You didn’t lose any HP so I just assumed they ignored you but-”

“No, no, they treated me... fine. I was a little spooked, but it wasn’t... terrible.” Not a lie. The interspersed moments of Papyrus’ joy made up for it. Sorta. “They need the food, though, and I’m gonna get them some. I’ll go to the market, but do monsters have food drives? Maybe we can raise up some...”

You three keep walking and talking, until it’s settled that Trix would go with you to the monster market tomorrow to pick out food you could bring to them (and-slash-or make for them). Galora would ask her numerous rabbit family members if they had any hush puppies to spare or any quiches they wanted to abandon. The three of you walking and talking.

And not noticing the red eye in-between the trees, a skeletal hand wrapped around a tree. After a moment, it fades from view. “i shoulda learned by now to stop making promises.” The smell of ozone and cracked bones in the air. “just gotta hope this time’s different.”

Chapter Text

The next day you wake up with a real headsplitter of a hangover. An honest migraine. When you stand up, you immediately waver and crash into something sturdy and very scaley. “Trixie, baby, I don’t feeeel so good.” You slur, trying to use her to push yourself onto two feet. “Where’s the-” Almost immediately, a trash can appeared in front of you. “Saint.”

“I try.” She laughs, her raspy voice just a little rougher- monster hangovers, as it turned out, really depended on how much green magic they knew. Healing magic just flowed through her veins. “Listen, you were pretty wiped-out last night- do you still remember where we, uh, found you?” There’s a heavy hesitance in how she words the sentence and, like a bag of bricks on your back-

Holy shit. You were really actually almost murdered last night.

“Trix, that wasn’t a really weird bad dream?” You respond, hoping maybe you’d gotten wasted enough to lucid dream on the floor and babble and honestly the embarrassment would’ve been preferable to getting lost in the woods and being cornered by two boss monsters who actually ate people. You try to bury your head into her chest. “Trixie, you’re scaring me- you’re telling me that was real?”

“You’re not the one who got thrown twelve feet in the air- I mean, we were both pretty drunk, but Galora was sober. Nobody wants to step on a puzzle like that sober . She’s still picking spurs out of her arms.” She does an odd, distinctly monstrous motion where she seems to flex her gills and run her hands under her chin- her equivalent of rubbing her temples to stave off a headache. Barely even budging you. “I mean. Still, second to the fact that you somehow managed to stumble upon the only monsters that eat humans. Which, considering how they lived, made sense!”

You shoot her a very incredulous look but, when she goes to explain herself, you sigh because, really, you know exactly what she was talking about. “I’m still fuzzy on the details, but I remember that the whole house was just a mess. The wallpaper was peeling, they had no food... I mean, I was scared! Don’t get me wrong!” You pull away from her chest and sway on your feet. She steadies you with one hand and you shoot her an impressed look. “Trix, you remember how it looked? How they looked? I...”

You open your mouth to comment on how pitiful, how heart-wrenching their situation was that even under the fog of intense fear and nausea, you’d still felt tears prick at the edges of your eyes when Papyrus had worried over when his next meal was. But you can’t. It feels like more than words. “What... What do we have in the fridge? I was gonna make quesadillas tonight, but I’ll start cooking now and if I...” You start rattling off different ways to rearrange your pantry and scheduled meals (as much as you hated it, being a caterer bled into your home life and yes you scheduled your meals), wandering away from Trixie and into the small apartment kitchen.

In a whirlwind, you raid your pantry for every non-perishable human item and every fresh monster item in it. Trixie leaves briefly to come back with an unused storage tub from when she’d first moved in, helping you to pack stuff in it. At some point, you take an aspirin and stop leaning so heavily on the counter.

“We have a toaster oven.” You say, incredulously. “Why do we still have a toaster?” And, on top of all of the food you’d collected, you toss your old toaster on top of it all. After making sure all of the glass containers and the cans were safely stored and could be moved without either shattering the containers or opening the cans, you make a small breakfast for the both of you. A toast and ginger ale breakfast.

At some point, Galora knocks on the door and unloads an inventory of monster food into the crate, rattling relatives-of-relatives’ names and all of their comments about how much they liked skeleton monsters. “None of them mentioned any ones that ate humans- did they mention their names? My cousins in Snowdin really liked these two skeleton brothers, Sans and Papyrus-” From where you’re fitting a can of peach preserves through a tight fit into the crate on your knees, your head darts up.

“That’s them!” You stand up, can still in your hand, and you gesture at her with it. “The one with the hole in his head is Sans, and the one with the bad teeth is Papyrus. I made them one hell of a Chopped challenge spaghetti.”

The recognition, however, seems to end there, and her nose scrunches up. “They didn’t mention anything about that, though. Maybe those are just common skeleton names?”

“I remember the royal guard’s captain Undyne used to train a Papyrus.” You hear Trixie’s voice from deep underneath a kitchen counter, trying to find any kitchen appliances you could give away. “Never really heard about his teeth, though, so it’s probably just common.”

You raise an eyebrow at Galora, and she shrugs with a small, sad smile. “Being Underground for so long, you eventually run out of family names.” When everything’s packed and ready to go for tomorrow, however, she’s considerably perked up, and her nose keeps twitching.

You put on a pasta dish in a slow cooker, and wonder about Papyrus’ reaction to getting another spaghetti meal from a friend before you go to sleep.

-

While you’d proposed the simplest way to getting back to Sans and Papyrus’ house was to spin you around three times and push you in the general direction of the woods at midnight, Trixie seemed less than thrilled at the idea. “I know humans are sturdier than monsters, but I’m not letting you go alone, here.” You’re driving, but only because you’re the only one with a car- technically it’s the catering company van, but you pay for the gas in it so, really, it’s your car.

From the back, Galora pipes up, “Listen, love, I adore you for being so brave, but I have about forty HP on a good day. These feet aren’t made for stomping- I’ll stay in the car.” She stomps her foot a little on the bottom of the seat. “Is your phone charged all the way, this time? Keep me posted- I’ll call the human authorities, if necessary!”

In fact, you’d kept your phone plugged into the car’s charger the entire time. “Oh, trust me, not a mistake I’ll repeat.” You pull up to their shared sorority house, parking and getting out of the car. Your phone is put in your back pocket, while Trixie gets out and pops open the back of the van. Now that you’re stone-cold sober, you realize that you’ve packed enough food to sustain a small country of monsters. “Trix, it’s a long way in.”

At first she scoffs, obviously trying to show off in front of Galora but, once her girlfriend turns around, her bravado drops. “Okay, so we’ll go in shifts. We’ll start with the stuff we donated, then once we drop it off, maybe they’ll offer to help with the stuff Galora’s family gave us?”

“I, uh, don’t think they have a lot of muscle on their bones. I don’t mind making multiple trips back.” You offer. You pick up the old storage crate by one handle, easing it out of the van until she could pick up the other handle. You’re the one stuck walking backwards, and you make it clear to her that, on the next run, you’re switching places.

“It’s not that bad! You have me as your eyes, and I’ll keep watch for any- right!” You stop and pull right and, as you continue to shuffle backwards, note that you just narrowly avoided toppling into a tree. “Okay, so we’ll stop bantering and I’ll only talk when it’s urgent, got it, sorry.” And, from that point on, she led you backwards deeper into the woods, often confusing her left with your left and leaving you stumbling over more than a few twigs.

When you come to a large clearing, you’re reminded, again, that the only way you even found their house the first time was because you’d gotten lost.

“I think we took a left here...?” Trixie offers, rolling her shoulders- you were starting to feel a little sore, too, to be honest. When you start to go her left, she corrects you, “I meant your left, this time, uh-” But after you’d started to go to your left, she seems even less sure. “Lora should’ve come with us...”

“No, no- we’re grown, we can figure out our own way through the forest.” You set your end of the tub down and put your hands on your hips, looking around. “Papyrus said he’d disable the traps and maybe set up a puzzle, so do you see any of those?” Considering you’d managed to traipse around drunk without accidentally springing one, you didn’t exactly know what to look for. The puzzles Trixie liked to give you were usually just the daily sudoku that she couldn’t figure out.

Trix shakes her head, her gills flaring in frustration. “If I saw any, I would’ve let you know- at this point, it’s anyone’s guess. Let’s try this direction.” You pick up your end again and continue backwards, backwards, backwards-

A twig breaks underfoot and you freeze immediately. Behind you, a bright red light shines, casting your shadow onto Trixie. “Trix, tell me what’s going on.” Her face is trapped between dawning horror and hopelessness. Involuntarily, sweat has started to bead on your neck. You really hope you’re not one bad fumble into a bear trap, or a rat trap, or any other trap meant to dismember.

“Stars damn it, I suck at floor puzzles.” She calls your name, telling you to turn so she’s the one backing up. Now that you’re facing it, you see that you’re now on a 9x9 grid, hidden underneath a roll of old fake grass, all other tiles outlined in a bright white. “These were pretty common- you have to step on all of them, or the puzzle resets and you have to start over. I’m just bad at finding out where to start.”

“Well, we pretty much fucked up by stumbling on it- I’ll walk us into a corner so it resets. Back, back, back, back, left, right.” When you step back onto a tile, the entire thing flashes red and resets. “Cool. Now we just start from the edge and work our way up and down.” Which sounds a lot easier than it ends up being, as you both hold a terrible sense of direction, and, at one point, you accidentally step backwards to regain your balance, forcing a reset. When Trixie finally backs up onto solid, real grass, she pulls you through and you both sigh in relief. “Puzzles suck.”

“They do!” Suddenly, you realize that the puzzle wasn’t really obstructing anything, and, while you’re wondering if your dumb ass just wasted at least twenty minutes over nothing, the whole thing flashes red again, then only certain tiles light up. You lean up on your tiptoes to try and figure out what it is from above, but Trixie gets to it first, “It’s an arrow- looks like your friend set out a decent puzzle after all!” It’s pointing south of the clearing and you’re relieved to have some sense of where to go, now.

You resume your original position, and you both hobble in the direction of a familiar house. You’re surprised that this path doesn’t lead you down the hill, which you distinctly recall, considering you had demolished your ankles in walking down it. The house’s Christmas lights are on, even though it’s the middle of the day, but you’re not sure if that’s supposed to mean anything. You drop the tub, making sure it doesn’t land on Trix’s toes when she drops her’s. You go up the porch and, glad that you look like a decent human person today and not a drunk exhausted slime like before, you knock twice, then wait.

The door swings open, fast enough that the hinges loudly protest, and Papyrus appears in front of you, wide smile and gangly build crammed into the door frame. He calls your name very loudly. “MY HUMAN FRIEND! I KNEW YOU’D COME BACK- MY HOSTING SKILLS MUST’VE MADE QUITE THE IMPRESSION!” His fingers knot together, then, and he tilts his head back and forth. “THAT IS YOUR NAME, CORRECT? SANS TOLD ME IT, BUT HE ISN’T THE BEST WITH NAMES. OR PERSONAL INFORMATION. OR LISTENING, IF HE DOESN’T PUT IN THE EFFORT.” When you confirm that, yes, that’s your preferred name, he tosses his head back into the house. “SANS! YOU LAZYBONES! GET UP AND GREET OUR GUEST!”

Behind you, you hear Trixie making a very audible warbling sound, but you don’t turn around. “We have to head back to the van really quick- I brought some food for the both of you, but this isn’t all of it.” You turn to gesture at the storage container you both had just lugged through the forest, only to find that Trix looks like she’d been mid-fleeing. You are one-hundred-percent certain it’s because Papyrus is on the scarier end of the monster spectrum, and quickly try to remedy it, to not hurt his feelings. “You were asleep when she and her girlfriend came to pick me up, but this is Trixie! Trixie, meet Papyrus.”

Papyrus steps out of the house, having to duck underneath the door frame, his small eye holes squinting and peering. In your stupor, you hadn’t realized how fucking tall he was and, now that he’s up to his full height, he looks to be at least eight feet tall. He towers over you, and he uses your shoulder in order to balance himself and step down the porch to approach Trixie. “AFTERNOON! I’M SORRY FOR MISSING YOU ON FIRST GLANCE, BUT IT’S NICE TO MEET YOU!” An uneasiness seems to enter his stance, and he shuffles back-and-forth on his feet. “O... OBVIOUSLY MY MISSTEP HAS CAUSED YOU UNDERSTANDABLE ALARM- I’M VERY SORRY, TRIXIE.”

Trixie’s mouth falls open and the warbling noises continue. “Oh, uh, sorry, no, no, it’s, um-” She blinks quickly, composing herself. “It’s no big deal! Nice to meet you Papyrus- I hope you like the food we brought you!” She nods in your direction, as if begging you to take the reins of the conversation back.

“FOOD IS FOOD! THAT YOU REMEMBERED TO BRING SOME FOR US IS A GIFT BY ITSELF!” With a surprising amount of strength, he bends at the waist and, by himself, picks up the entire tub, turning around to bring it back into the house. On the way up, he seemingly can’t see you, and almost bumps into you. You get the impression that his eyesight isn’t the best. When you hear a loud thud inside (likely him setting the box down), he then calls for you. “COME IN, COME IN. MY COTTAGE IS YOUR COTTAGE, ETCETERA.”

When you step in, however, you find that Sans is sitting stock-still, his one red eye trained on you. “you came back.” It sounds both like a question and a statement. He turns away from you and turns his attention back on the book in his lap. You can’t quite catch the title, but the inside seems to have formulas of some sort, and he’s curled around it. In the background, Papyrus is bounding up the stairs.

Feeling more than a little awkward, and the several times he likely tried to kill and eat you in the forefront of your mind, you try to make small talk. “Do you have any working outlets? I brought a slow cooker full of a baked spaghetti that needs to get heated up.” It was resting at the top of the box, and you’d put it there intentionally so that Papyrus and Sans could get a hot meal.

“in the kitchen. behind the fridge.” Sure enough, when you bend over the counter, you find that there’s exactly two plugs in the entire kitchen area. You plug in the slow cooker and shuffle back off of the counter, but your back hits something solid when your feet touch the ground. Your stomach drops and, slow as you can, you turn your head. Without making a sound, Sans has appeared over your shoulder, looming, and the dry bone smell from the other night is back, to the point where you can taste it. His voice is quiet, deliberate, “i don’t know why you’re doing this.”

“I want to help- why else-”

He repeats himself, “i don’t know why you’re doing this. we’ll take your food, but you know we don’t have any gold.” You start to turn around, but you feel his hand (phalanges that are distinctly inhuman and rounded) hold your arm, keeping you turned around. His grip is biting, almost painful. “but if it’s to hurt papyrus or me, i’ll bite the hand that feeds us.” The spaghetti sauce begins to bubble in the pot, and your breath comes out short.

With that, his grasp disappears and, when you turn around to tell him that really you’re just doing this because you don’t want anyone to suffer, he’s back on the couch. Without a sound. Still again, his thumb underneath a page in the book he’s reading.

“HUMAN! I’VE OUTLINED A FEW OF MY TRICKIER PUZZLES FOR YOU TO STUDY BEFORE ATTEMPTING, AND WOULD LOVE YOUR INPUT!” Papyrus calls from above you, and Sans tilts his head, listening.

“you gonna go?” He asks, turning the page.

Lurking in the doorway, Trixie stares at you, darting her head for you to step outside. “I have to get the rest of the food, Papyrus, I’ll be right back!” You call back, and his impossibly loud ‘MHM!’ answers you.

When you step outside, you’re surprised that it’s still daytime. Under the warm sun filtering down through the trees, you’re reminded of why you came this far, despite the threats, despite the fear, despite the nerves. No act of kindness is ever a wasted effort, and this was no different.

Despite the fact that Trixie very adamantly tells you that she’ll leave after you both deliver the next crate (that Papyrus seems fine but they feel dangerous and her instincts are haywire and her anxiety is through the roof), you still have a smile on your face when you return.

You wipe your sweaty hands on your pants and tell Papyrus you’re ready for some puzzles.

Chapter Text

You are, decidedly, not smart enough for Papyrus’ puzzles.

Oh, sure, they seemed simple after he explains them, but it’d taken one look at the sudoku he’d put in front of you to activate your fight-or-flight instinct. There were so few numbers! Who could solve that!

Papyrus sits cross-legged on a twin-sized bed, his foot dangling over the edge as he craned over you and the pencil you’d started biting to concentrate. “I HAVE THE SOLUTION AS A REFERENCE- IF YOU NEED A FEW MORE NUMBERS, I’D BE WILLING TO FILL THEM IN!”

“Listen, Papyrus, I love puzzles, but I’m really bad at sudoku.” You admit, with no small blow to your pride. “Trixie thinks I love them because she gives me the ones from the paper, but I am. So terrible. Especially if it’s more than four boxes.”

This doesn’t seem to trouble him at all. “NO PROBLEM! I HAVE THOROUGHLY PREPARED FOR THIS OUTCOME!” He reaches underneath his bed and, after a little bit of rattling, he pulls out the top of a cardboard box, which is full of newspaper clippings. You watch him start rifling through them, noting that most of them were the daily sudoku, but, finally, he comes across a word search, and he proudly displays it to you. “AN ALTERNATIVE PUZZLE. MADE TO SHARE OVER A BREAKFAST, MADE OF LOVE AND BAKED GOODS. WHAT NEWSPAPER PUZZLES LACK IN ORIGINALITY, THEY MAKE UP FOR IN PRESENTATION AND PROFESSIONALISM!”

Cracking a small joke, you took it from him and turned so you weren’t facing each other anymore- instead, you moved so he could look over your shoulder. You stay that way for a while, with one of his arms draped over your shoulder and occasionally moving a finger to outline a word he’d just found. It was magic-themed, and he’d found ‘prestidigitation’ backwards and diagonal towards the middle, which was very impressive. “No way I would’ve found that one without you. You really put the ‘pap’ in ‘newspaper puzzles’, Papyrus.”

“I TRY! ADMITTEDLY, I HAVE A LOT OF PRACTICED WITH THE MONSTER KIDZ WORD SEARCHES, WHICH MAY HAVE GIVEN ME AN UNFAIR ADVANTAGE.” He taps his fingers softly on the paper a few times while you outline ‘enchanted’. “I HOPE YOU DIDN’T FIND THE PUZZLE OUTSIDE TOO CHALLENGING. I WASN’T SURE WHAT STATE YOU’D BE IN WHEN YOU’D LOOK FOR OUR HOME, SO I WANTED TO MAKE IT SIMPLE, BUT IT’S HARDER FOR ME TO SET UP OUTDOOR PUZZLES THAT ARE TOO LARGE.” He moves the arm off of your shoulder and, by the way his elbow is poking into your mid-back, you can tell he’s put his chin one hand, thinking. “IF I’D ANTICIPATED YOU BRINGING SO MUCH FOOD, I WOULD’VE MADE IT EASIER FOR YOU TO DO WHILE CARRYING HEAVY THINGS.”

“Oh, no, it wasn’t so bad.” Most of the difficulty was in miscommunication between the two of you. “Honestly, if we’d thought about it, we could’ve set the tub down and one of us could’ve the puzzle. Even then, it wasn’t too bad.”

Papyrus takes your feedback to heart, nodding. “I’M GLAD. IT’D BE A TERRIBLE PUZZLE IF IT WAS TOO CHALLENGING FOR TWO PEOPLE TO COMPLETE AT THE SAME TIME.” Which is a foreign concept to you, but he might just be one of those monsters that took their puzzlemaking seriously. You sit in comfortable silence until, when you’re both stuck on the last word ‘hex’, you remember you have a slow cooker on ‘reheat’ downstairs.

“Hey, are you hungry? I remembered you liked the pasta I made last time, so I brought over some baked spaghetti.” You turn around and, though he seemed to be full of life a second ago, he freezes up against you. “Woah, hey, what’s wrong?” Are those... tears in his eyes?

He lets out a loud sniffle, despite not having a nose, and, upon turning all the way around, you find him smiling. “YOU REMEMBERED... I CAN’T BELIEVE I MADE SUCH A THOUGHTFUL FRIEND! AND ONE WITH A SURPRISINGLY HIGH ALCOHOL TOLERANCE! UNDYNE WILL-” His smile drops, and he squints. “AH. IN ANY CASE, I’M GLAD TO HAVE MET YOU! LET’S GO EAT.”

He doesn’t give you any time to ask what his issue with Undyne was (you recall Trixie having mentioned she was a rather popular Waterfall monster and the head of the guard) before standing up, making the whole bed creak in recoil. You have to chalk its stability up to magic. When he walks down the stairs, his steps thunder, even though there seems to be very little weight to him. Sans has, to absolutely no one’s surprise, refused to vacate the couch, and his eye tracks you as you head down the stairs. For the first time, you actively wonder what caused the blow to his head, what caused the both of them to live like this.

Distantly and with some difficulty, you recall Sans mentioning a landlord. You’d have to give them a piece of your goddamn mind. You can list at least five different safety violations off the top of your head (including, but not limited to, the exposed live wire above the sink that Papyrus had warned you about when you went to use their bathroom and the rotting wood panels on several parts of the stairs). A stair creaks loudly under your weight and Papyrus immediately turns from his step to stick both of his hands under your arms and lift you into the air like you didn’t weigh a thing. As if proving your point, “YOU CAN’T PUT TOO MUCH WEIGHT ON THE FIFTH STEP- SORRY FOR NOT WARNING YOU.”

He continues to carry you like a ragdoll, in fact, until you’re both at the last stair. “i have some jokes,” Sans starts, a wide grin on his face, “but i’ll try my best to hold them in.” You snort to Papyrus’ dismay, who groans and, with both his hands still on your shoulders, shakes you.

“C’mon, Papyrus,” You start, with an ease you’re not sure you should be feeling with skeletons you’d just met. “Pick up what he’s potting down.” When you’re met with a blank look from the both of them, you point at the crockpot. “Do you not spaghet it?”

Papyrus takes his arms off your shoulders to cradle his head in his hands and stomp his feet. “I HATE IT!”

“you liked the spaghetti one, though.” Sans points out from the couch, which must be sibling’s intuition, because Papyrus looks like he’s in agony.

“I DID! ” He says with great anguish. After a few moments of him tapping his foot, he responds with, “I’M WILLING TO LOOK... PASTA THIS, JUST THIS ONCE!” Then, with a very loud and very boisterous laugh, he darted to the kitchen. You start to follow him, but stop, leaning against the couch and just watching him serve himself. You can’t help the surprised laugh that practically falls out of you- when you turn to Sans on the couch, he has a serving on one of their two plates, which reminds you-

Shit - I forgot to buy more plates!” You weren’t going to get them, like, a china set, but the Dollar Tree could’ve supplied them with at least a week’s set of dishes, without having to clean them in between meals. Then, more to yourself, “I’ll have to do that once I get home... Maybe some tupperware, too, for leftovers...”

“don’t worry too much.” You’d almost forgotten that Sans was sitting just on the other side of the furniture you were leaning against. The marinara sauce stained the edges of his teeth a light orange, and there’s something endearing about it. He blinks a few times and, in the socket where there wasn’t a wide red pupil, a very small white light flickers. “if the most we have to worry about is doing the dishes, then we’re alright.” He divides a section of pasta underneath his fork almost deliberately, slightly scraping against the bottom of the plate.

Papyrus comes back to the couch with his serving, and sits down beside Sans, close enough that his right thighbone overlaps both of Sans’. You hadn’t noticed before, but he’s wearing something drastically different from when you first met him- you can’t remember exactly what he was wearing before, just that it wasn’t the holey sweater and jeans he was wearing now. You voice as much to him, downplaying your drunken misremembering, but he’s happy to fill in the blanks as you sit down beside him. “I WAS WEARING MY BATTLE BODY! I TEND TO WEAR IT WHEN I GO ON PATROL- IT’S EASIER TO CLEAN THAN THE REST OF MY CLOTHES. SANS AND I MADE IT FOR A COSTUME PARTY... REMEMBER, SANS?”

There’s a long pause, but then Sans nods his head, like it had suddenly came back to him. “oh right- i made it based off of a human video game that was in the garbage dump. a, uhhh...” He goes quiet again. When it connects, he’s grinning. “a starman! yeah, i remember.”

The three of you continue your idle conversation (much of it about Papyrus rehashing old memories and Sans providing specific but inconsequential details) until the sun starts to dip low. “I have a job in the morning- it’s a party and I’m making a crazy amount of sliders, so I should head to bed soon.” You explain as you remove the inner pot from the slow cooker, covering it and taking the actual slow-cooking part from underneath it. “You can hold onto the pot for tonight- I’ll swing by tomorrow and drop off some tupperware and more plates, so I can pick it up. If I’m not too tired, maybe I can cook some more for you two?” You’re tucking the slow cooker under your arm, when Papyrus’ arms descends, his gloved hands picking up the slow cooker.

“REALLY, I ENJOYED THE MEAL!” Which is usually what people say when they didn’t enjoy the meal and are just trying to be polite. “BUT I CAN’T HELP BUT FEEL GUILTY THAT YOU PUT ALL THIS EFFORT INTO COOKING FOR US TWICE, AND YOU HAVEN’T RECEIVED PAYMENT ONCE! YOU ALREADY DO THIS WORK PROFESSIONALLY, AND THIS FEELS A LITTLE LIKE STEALING.” He pauses for your response, but you’re too busy processing what he’d just said. He continues on, as if you need a little more elaboration. “OR EXPLOITATION. BOTH OF WHICH I’D PREFER NOT TO DO.”

You take a moment to collect your thoughts. “I’m not here for work though- I’m here because I want to be! And I’m having fun doing it- I’m glad I found you guys and I’m able to help, which is all the pay I need.” Sans looks you right in the eyes, and you can tell he’s not buying it. You become a little more exasperated, like someone let air out of your balloon of patience. “You guys live in the middle of nowhere, the Queen apparently doesn’t know about you and you’ve received zero assistance, and your landlord sounds like a total dick. If I saw all that and just walked away, what kind of person would I be?”

“the average one.” Sans responds, but his jaw works in a strange way- you don’t know him (or skeleton monsters, for that matter) that well to be able to decipher it. He’s turned around all the way on the couch, Papyrus your only buffer underneath his harsh gaze. “you’re not getting anything out of this, and, if you buy us stuff like tupperware, you’re actively losing money.” He tilts his head down in a way that would be menacing if the corners of his mouth weren’t still stained. You note that, from this angle, you can see that his canine teeth are hooked and somewhat crooked, and you can only imagine what a field day a monster orthodontist would have with the two of them. “walk away. no one but the two of us would ever know you were here, and your friend from earlier definitely wouldn’t lose sleep over it-”

SANS!” Papyrus grows stern and turns to his brother, one finger in a black glove pointed up in admonishment. “I KNOW IT’S BEEN A WHILE SINCE YOU’VE TALKED WITH A HUMAN, BUT EVEN YOU SHOULD KNOW YOU'RE BEING RUDE.” He turns to you, and makes a wide, two-handed gesture that looks a lot like he’s sparing you. “WE’RE GRATEFUL FOR THE FOOD, I’M JUST WORRIED WE AREN’T BEING FAIR TO YOU. I’M SORRY FOR SANS’ BEHAVIOR- IT’S BEEN TOO LONG SINCE WE’VE HAD GUESTS.”

“No, no, it’s fine, Papyrus.” But his hands fold onto one another and he wrings them, still worried, as you continue to make eye contact with Sans. “Again, if I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t. You two would be the only ones to know I’d ever turned up here. You could’ve eaten me-”

“WE WOULDN’T HAVE!”

“Thank you, Papyrus.” You acknowledge him, but keep going. “You could’ve eaten me, and no one would’ve found out- you’re hidden pretty well out here. But you didn’t, and you let me stay for a long time while I was really gross and drunk.” You falter a little, looking off to the side. “You’re good monsters, and better company. I don’t mind doing things for my friends.”

The living room is quiet for a long time, and you remember that this is only the second time that you’ve met them. It feels like it’s been a lot longer- like you had stumbled across childhood friends and were trying to awkwardly reconnect, stumbling into laughs and understanding. Finally, Sans says, “ok.” Which makes little to no sense in the context of the greater conversation, but he’s fit his hand in his eye socket and is looking away from you.

“SANS...” Papyrus’ voice rises in warning, and you turn to look at him.

“oh right.” He takes his hand out from the inside of his skull and turns to you. His red eye light seems brighter, and there’s a flickering white light in his other eye. You’re not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. “‘m sorry. i don’t have the patience i used to, but i shouldn’t have been rude. humans leaving is kind of a sore spot.” He makes a fist with his hand and tilts it towards the top of his head, as if mimicking the blow.

“It’s no big deal- I get it. The fact that more monsters aren’t pissed at humans for trapping them underground is more confusing- I don’t blame you for being a little rude.” Now that Papyrus has relinquished his hold on your slow cooker, you can actually head out. “Both of you- have a good night! Text me if-” It suddenly occurs to you. “You don’t have my number!”

“OH, YES! I WANTED TO ASK, BUT I DIDN’T WANT TO SEEM TOO PUSHY. HERE, HERE IS MY CELL PHONE, IF YOU WOULDN’T MIND PUTTING IN YOUR NUMBER.” And he hands you a dinosaur of a flip phone- some sort of knockoff underground Nokia, with ‘CONTACTS’ pulled up. You have to use incomprehensible amounts of brain power to take you back to 2005 to remember how to input your name into a contacts list on a Nokia. When you hand it back to him, he seems delighted, “AND NOW I’LL TEXT YOU SO YOU GET MY NUMBER! ANTICIPATE A TEXT IN THE NEXT TWO HOURS!”

Shit, if you weren’t on the lower end of the salary spectrum, you would buy him a new cell phone, too. “Call if it’s urgent, Papyrus!” You say as you walk out the door.

-

When you make it back to the sorority house, the van is parked outside and Trixie and Galora are inside the building. You knock to be polite but, when they don’t answer, you take the key from inside the bronze lion’s head knocker (you had to lift it all the way up- it was a puzzle based off of a bad joke about a so-roar-ity) and let yourself in. On an old leather couch, Trixie is sleeping with her phone on her face and her girlfriend is on her stomach. When you step inside, one of her eyes cracks open and she makes a terrible wheezing sound.

As quietly as she can manage, “Please move Lora off me- she doesn’t weigh much, but she’s crushing my lungs.” Because you are the master of subtlety and being quiet, you bark out an laugh at the absurdity of your situation. Thankfully, Lora doesn’t stir and, when you pick her up (she weighs a solid seventy pounds which wasn’t too much to carry, but you get why Trixie couldn’t breathe), she remains still until you set her down on a couch.

She startles, foot darting out and twitching, waking up, “You’re back! Stars, Trix was just telling me about the boss monsters- they sound a lot scarier when they’re awake!” Her foot twitches again. “But that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve food- I don’t know who’s in charge of the land out there, but they certainly aren’t taking care of their tenants. Someone that’d just let boss monsters starve like that...” She pauses, seeming to collect herself. “But that’s just my two pieces of gold! It’s about time for you to head home- you can tell us all about it in the car.”

And you do, sparing no detail, and Trixie laughs at your impressions of Sans and Papyrus. “They’re not so intimidating after they’ve been fed.” You tell her, and she casts a guilty look at you from the passenger’s seat.

“They seemed nice! They’re just... really powerful and live in the woods and could’ve eaten my friend. I was drunk before, so I didn’t get a really good look at their stats, but I did this time and Papyrus?” She makes a whistling sound without pursing her lips. “Could flatten me like a road with a bone attack. I shouldn’t have left you alone, but I felt like I was third-wheeling and I didn’t want to be a burden.” She jabs you in the side with one scaley elbow. “That’s your job, anyways.”

You snort and give her a shove with one hand, keeping the steering wheel steady. “You act like my tongue was in Papyrus' teeth! We barely know each other- I’m just catering for the two of them.” She laughs and dodges your push with ease. “Third-wheeling... They probably haven’t sat down and talked with other monsters in forever- they don’t have the tableware to support you, but they’d probably be fine with you staying over for dinner.”

“‘Probably’ is the key word there, sweetheart.” She drums her fingers on the dashboard, and it’s quiet for a change, the radio playing faintly in the background. When she opens her mouth, her words seem careful. “I know it’s been a while since you’ve had friends that weren’t jerks, but we aren’t going to get, like, jealous if Sans and Papyrus are just your friends. You can have other friends.”

From the backseat, Lora pipes up, like she’d just had a realization, “We aren’t your terrible ex-boyfriend- you can go out and have fun and we’ll still be here for you!” She leans up from her seat, and you can feel the weight of her hand on your shoulder. “Just text us to let us know you’re still alright from time to time- you have people that really care about you, you know.”

You don’t even notice the few tears that’ve slipped out until Trixie catches them for you, wiping them off of your cheek tenderly. “Thanks, guys. I, uh, didn’t realize how much I needed to hear that.”

It’s quiet the rest of the trip home, but it’s comfortable.

You’d met the two of them through your university- the RA had matched you all to a single room, despite your different field choices. You had been young and dumb and still thought the world revolved around a boy that really really didn’t care about you. Four years later and your bachelor degree in your fist, you’d made two forged-in-fire friends and still had a very shitty boyfriend who had very shitty friends who you made constant excuses for. The wound was still fresh- you’d just broken up with him two months ago, and it felt like yesterday.

Despite having his number blocked, you often woke up in your shared apartment with Trixie (having moved in only after you were able to move out of his house) expecting to see a long line of missed calls and texts. Checking up on you. Breaking up with your shitty ex-boyfriend had been something you could only do because of their support, but these were terrible reflexes he’d ingrained in you- all without ever lifting a finger.

You know Sans and Papyrus can’t be all that bad. Call it a gut feeling, but you’ve seen real evil before, and it wore a human face.

Chapter Text

You wake up bright and early to get started on, well, your job. The catering company had saddled you with making approximately sixty sliders for a minor league baseball’s late end-of-the-season get-together. It would’ve been a hell of a lot more difficult a task if you didn’t follow at least twelve separate YouTube channels dedicated to ‘food life hacks’ and you would’ve had to start making patties two days ago if you hadn’t realized you could just cook one very large slab of beef and then cut it.

Honestly, sometimes the Internet makes you question why you got a degree in culinary arts.

You leave the beef baking for twenty minutes and, in that time, you wash your hands again and start assembling your outfit to put on immediately after you finish cooking. With time to spare, you run down the stairs to the parking garage to get the company’s storage tupperware to use for transportation. Among the assorted mess in the back of the van are several nondescript sports displays, which you move to the passenger’s seat so that you can find it more easily when you actually make it to the party.

When you make it back to the apartment, the beef’s finished cooking, so you start on the cooked chicken- that you had made the previous night, just because you knew you wouldn’t want to shred chicken first thing in the morning. You cut a 4x3 of dinner rolls just flat down the middle, then settle the meat on top. Onion, cheddar, put the top half of it back on and coat the top in butter to brown. You set an egg timer for twenty minutes for it all to finish cooking, then started on the barbecue chicken sliders.

You continue in this hurried assembly until you’re onto your fourth set of dinner rolls, and you’re two hours into it all, with the three other pans in the oven’s reheating tray at the bottom. You crack your knuckles and, with the clock reading 8 AM, which gives you two hours to crank out some pretzels for flair. Someone else had been tasked with making various deserts (you hadn’t checked that order- not your job, not your problem, not your area of expertise), but the order you’d taken had been for “ballpark food x13” which was vague enough that, reasonably, you could’ve also just done fries.

The issue with pretzels was that the dough had to rise for an hour, which meant you then had a lot of time to kill. You clean the pans from the sliders to reuse for cooking the pretzels, putting the sliders into the metal bottoms of the storage tupperware and putting them back into the warmer.

You take the sliders out of the warmer and seal the tupperware when you have fifteen minutes to spare- they didn’t take long to assemble, prepare, or cook, which meant that the tupperware could keep the sliders warm long enough for you to finish the pretzels. At some point, Trixie comes out of her room, grabs a coffee around the mess you’ve made of the counters, and heads promptly back from whence she came. “Good luck.” She calls over her shoulder, through a yawn.

The pretzels come out perfect at thirteen minutes. Golden brown and crisp, and all thirteen of them done in one go. 9:30 AM. An hour and a half until the party starts. You pack the pretzels into another container, and take all of the food down in increments of two boxes per. With all of your things packed, you head back upstairs to shower and get dressed. You bring the egg timer into the bathroom with you and set it for fifteen minutes- the party was at 11 AM, but your catering outfit was only a pressed white button-up and black slacks.

Making sure you didn’t smell like the kitchen or sweat, really, was top priority.

After you double- and triple-check that you now smell like an unidentifiable, but pleasant fruit, you pick your keys back up and head out for real, this time.

-

Everything is set up just the way you’d outlined, and you’d just finished penning some cards identifying which sliders had chicken, which had beef, and which had a monster food meat substitute when the desert worker pulls up. She’s an six-armed, five-eyed purple monster with pigtails, and, when you two often met like this, she liked to promote her side business more often than not. “My dear, why the sour look?” Two sets of her arms are carrying the catering company’s tupperware- from this angle, they look to be cupcakes with circular, baseball-shaped chocolate accents. She sets them down on the other table, beginning her set up. “Would a little sugar put some pep in your step? I saw we’d be working together, and packed you a little extra~.”

You wag a finger at her, having finished setting up your display, with the pretzels arranged nearly in a bowl with several small dishes for dipping sauces. Seeing as this was held outside of a country club, it seemed somewhat fitting to have a variety of sauces for the parents and plus-ones (even though the kids would probably just eat the pretzel as it was). “Fool me once, Muffet- how much is this one going to cost me?”

She laughs, her strange flute of a laugh. “Ahuhuhu- word travels fast amongst the spiders, you know. I heard about you saving one of my dearies from your friend with the bug spray.” One of her hands curls into a fist. “For today, no charge. Besides, your money from before went to needing spiders!”

She’d swindled your dumb ass out of a solid thirty dollars last time, and you weren’t keen on forgetting about it. “Alright, but I want that in writing.” Muffet picks up one of the cupcakes with her topmost right hand, passing it off to you while the rest of them began assembling a pyramid of cupcakes.

It’s good! It’s what was to be expected of Muffet’s talent, of course- she’d been the company’s first hire after monsters came up to the surface, and they certainly got their money’s worth. The buttercream icing is delicious on top of what tastes like some sort of almond cake- she’d really outdone herself. But one of the kid was marked as ‘nut allergy’. “Muffet, this is delicious- but are all of these almond cakes?”

“Oh, no! Wouldn’t that be unprofessional!” Two of her arms are tossed up towards the sky in disbelief. “No, I made that one special- the others are designed like caramel apples. Salted caramel icing, with an apple cake.” She sighs, cradling her head in two sets of hands once she’d finished her display. “If only spider donuts were as popular...”

“It’s the marketing.” You say, rather bluntly. You’d both had this same conversation before, and you usually ended up at the same place. “If you keep saying they’re full of spiders, humans aren’t going to want to eat them- a lot of bugs carry diseases for us, and it’s not considered sanitary.”

“I completely agree~.” Which are words you’ve never heard come out of Muffet’s mouth. You look down at your cupcake and, with a scrutiny you hadn’t assessed it with before, check for any protruding spider limbs. “Oh, stop looking- you didn’t even taste it! They’re monster spiders, of course all that’s in the recipe is their dust.”

“Still not sure you should advertise that, Muffet. You might piss off your monster demographic.” You contemplate the rest of the cupcake and deciding, hell, it’s not like you can taste the spiders, eat the rest of it. Muffet claps happily, like this was the best outcome for her. “Oh, the parents are showing up.”

You two proceed to have an absolutely miserable time of navigating demanding parents and smoothing over the fears of ten year olds who had never seen a spider monster as big as Muffet, all while the greater party continues to mingle and talk. By the end of it, you both can’t hold the smiles on your faces, and you’re fairly certain you heard Muffet threaten to eat a child at some point. Your sliders are devoured, her cupcakes are destroyed, and, despite the thought and effort you’d put into your pretzel display, several people throw away your glass sauce containers.

When everyone starts to clear out, the man that’d hired the catering service approaches the both of you. “Thanks for the food.” He says, nodding at you and not looking at Muffet. “We paid the company yesterday- ‘should be getting your pay soon.” Then he leaves, and you and Muffet are alone with the mess they’d made. No tip. 

“You lost three sauce cups. You’ll need to report that.” She says, flatly, and all of her eyes seem to blink in quick succession. One of her pigtails is slightly lower than the other from how many times she’d had to lower herself to speak to a kid. The catering company isn’t in charge of cleaning the venue, just collecting the food, but you don’t miss the way she looks over the veranda to see several of her chocolate decorations discarded on the floor.

“Let’s just address the elephant in the room- that sucked.” She seems to be pointedly turned away from you, collecting all of her cupcakes in a justified, angry hurry. You put one hand on her back and turn her to face you, her fluffy white sleeves drooping. Despite working with her for half a year, you don’t actually know much about her, other than her running a semi-successful bakery and her love of spiders and money. “I’ll report monster harassment to our boss- you shouldn’t have to deal with that. Especially with how they disrespected you and our food, I don’t think we’ll be serving them again.”

Under your hand, her shoulders drop their tension. She lets out an uneasy laugh, “They didn’t deserve our food- if they aren’t good as customers, they wouldn’t even be good for a meal.” She licks her lips, then shudders, as if considering it. She wiggles a little, her middle set of arms stretching, then she turns to face you completely. Disheveled and visibly tired at three in the afternoon, she’s still a very cute monster and her pose makes you smile. “Would you like to have a meal together, sometime? If we’re going to suffer any more customers like these, I wouldn’t mind being friends outside of work.” All of her eyes on her right side wink at you.

After six months of knowing her? “As long as I’m not going to be the meal, I’m fine. Do you have a phone to call, or...?” She shuffles for a bit, then produces a business card out of her pocket. It lists her bakery’s number. “Oh! Sure, yeah- you want to grab a drink this weekend?”

“Sure! It’s been awhile since I’ve had anything other than cider, truth be told.” She rocks on her heels, her cupcakes collected and back in their containers. “Good luck with the cleanup!” She waves goodbye and starts to head in the direction of her van, and you’re left with a mess of sliders and the sense that, maybe, you should stop befriending so many human-eating monsters.

-

For the first time, when you bring the leftover sliders to Papyrus and Sans, you see Sans visibly drool. “How are you doing that?” You ask, with a laugh in your voice. You take off the plastic covering for the sliders and start transferring them to the tupperware you’d bought after finishing the event.

“doing what?” He continues to drool, seemingly not noticing it. You pluck one of the leftover napkins (printed ‘home-run!’ across it) from your pocket and reach over to dab it off of the corner of his mouth. His red pupil follows the motion the whole way through, and he chuckles a little bashfully when you finish and throw the napkin away. “sorry- i didn’t even notice.”

Papyrus, for once, is hanging back from the two of you. “Papyrus, are you sure you don’t want any of these? There’s a pretzel in here, if you want it.” He shakes his head, continuing to lean against the counter.

In fact, a light orange flush seems to be on his face, which is baffling of you to notice. You suppose, since they don’t have any blood, that it just takes on the color of their magic? You guess? “MAYBE I’LL EAT THE PRETZEL!” Even with his eyes so small, it’s obvious he isn’t looking at you. After you stare him down a little, he shuffles in his worn loafers and sweater- the same one from yesterday. “BITING DOWN IS A LITTLE... PAINFUL. WITH MY... DENTAL SITUATION. IT’S EASIER FOR ME THINNER FOODS, OR SOUPS! SOUPS ARE DELICIOUS, AND PACKED FULL OF THE CALCIUM NEEDED TO MAINTAIN A HEALTHY SKELETON-” He continues to ramble on about the wonders of soup, while blushing, and it hits you like a tonne of bricks.

Papyrus is embarrassed . He fumbles with his hands and continues to avoid your gaze. You honestly don’t know what to say. Your microwave seems to have been thoroughly implemented into their kitchen, and it’s the cleanest thing around- Sans is actively putting a monster slider in it. “don’t worry about it, paps- we still have some of that leftover spaghetti.” He turns around, propped up against the counter. “if not, the bin they brought by before was soup-er full.”

“SANS!” For the first time, you realize what Sans is doing- he’s not doing it to grate on his younger sibling’s nerves or get a response out of him. He’s distracting him. And it works like a charm.

When they sit down to eat, you start putting away the dishes you’d gotten them. It feels good to look into their cabinets (which were cleaner than before- maybe Papyrus had dusted them before you’d came over) and see that they’re full.

This time, when you sit with them, you ask Papyrus what he does when he’s on patrol. He seems visibly uncomfortable by this topic. “WHEN WE WERE UNDERGROUND, I WENT ON PATROL TO SEE IF ANY HUMANS HAD FALLEN FROM THE SURFACE, TO DELIVER THEM TO KING ASGORE.” His fingers tap on the small table in front of him. “AFTER FRISK LEFT AND THE FOOD STORES RAN OUT, WE DID PATROLS LOOKING FOR FOOD.” He says so pointedly in Sans’ direction, who continues to go to town on his slider.

Sans swallows, which is a miracle of skeletal science that you don’t quite understand. You don’t exactly understand how they’re chewing without spitting everything everywhere, either, but some questions aren’t meant to be answered. “hey, i kept the dogs off our backs. that’s gotta count for something.”

Papyrus sighs, “IT DOES. IT DOES COUNT, A LITTLE.” He taps his fingers again. “IT’S MORE OR LESS THE SAME, NOW THAT WE’RE ON THE SURFACE. I CHECK TO SEE IF ANY OF OUR TRAPS HAVE SPRUNG- USUALLY BY ANIMALS!” He clarifies. “TO BE HONEST, YOU’RE THE FIRST HUMAN THAT’S TALKED TO US ON THE SURFACE! NO ONE COMES OUT HERE, SO IT’S NOT LIKE WE COULD EVEN...” He trails off, looking away from you again. “YOU KNOW. IF WE HAD TO.”

The room is quiet, except for the noisy sounds of Sans going to town on another slider- this time, one of the barbecue ones. He’s a sloppy eater, which seems to annoy his brother, who keeps looking between the barbecue on his brother’s teeth and you. When Sans notices the attention, he pauses eating and, glancing between you and Papyrus, connects the dots. “we ate humans. i don’t know how much clearer that can get.”

“SANS! THERE WAS DEFINITELY A MORE DELICATE WAY YOU COULD’VE PHRASED THAT!”

“what? it’s the truth.” His one red pupil dances in his eye socket, and he stares at you. “but you already knew that, huh? so, why do you keep coming back?”

“You’re hungry.” You say, and you don’t know how else to say it. “You’re hungry, and I can feed you, and you like my food.”

Papyrus throws a confused look down at you. “WHO WOULDN’T LIKE YOUR FOOD?” As if to make a point, he holds up some of your baked spaghetti on his fork and gestures with it.

“I didn’t mean it like I needed the validation, but thank you, Papyrus.” With one arm, you wrap it around his back and give him a hearty pat. “I just meant that it’s even better that you want to eat it- quality of food is just as important as quantity of food.”

Papyrus agrees and, even though your phone didn’t ring once all yesterday or this morning, halfway through your drive back to your apartment, it buzzes in the passenger seat. When you pull into the parking garage, you check your phone before getting out, walking up the stairs with your crockpot held up against your hip.

(XXX) - XXX - XXXX

     HELLO, HUMAN! THIS IS PAPYRUS. I DON’T KNOW IF YOU’VE GIVEN ANYONE ELSE YOUR NUMBER RECENTLY, AND FELT THE INTRODUCTION

     WAS NEEDED.

Before you read the rest of them, you smile and add him as a contact under “The Great Papyrus”.

The Great Papyrus

     I JUST WANTED YOU TO KNOW HOW GRATEFUL I AM FOR YOU BRINGING US FOOD AND HAVING DINNER WITH US. SANS DIDN’T MENTION IT,

     BUT BURGERS ARE ONE OF HIS FAVORITE FOODS! I WAS VERY IMPRESSED BY YOUR DEDUCTION SKILLS- THIS IS THE SECOND TIME YOU’VE

     ACCURATELY PREDICTED OUR FAVORITE FOODS.

You shoot him back a message, thanking him for thanking you. You tell him you have the day off tomorrow and maybe you’d stop by and teach him how to make those sliders. He’s delighted at the idea of making a good dinner for Sans.

Long after you should’ve gone to bed, you’re googling monster healthcare coverage and local covered orthodontists. In the morning, you know you’ll ask Trixie about it, and what could be done for a few monsters who likely don’t even have a legally recognized home address. Your phone vibrates.

The Great Papyrus

     I SHOULD BE HONEST.

The Great Papyrus

     I COOKED A LOT OF SPAGHETTI WHILE WE WERE UNDERGROUND, BUT I NEVER ATE ANY OF IT.

The Great Papyrus

     I ONLY REALIZED IT’S MY FAVORITE FOOD AFTER I’D HAD THAT FIRST MEAL YOU’D COOKED FOR US.

The Great Papyrus

     THANK YOU.

You don't even know how to respond back, but you send him a little smiley face before you hold your phone to your heart, smiling. Maybe that’s what you meant when you said you kept coming back because they liked your food. After all of the work you’d put into your food, it felt good to have someone really appreciate it.

Chapter Text

“No no no- what do you mean your government won’t just let you get medical care?” Trixie sits cross-legged on her bed, her fingers underneath her chin and scratching at a painful scale. She looks at you like you’d just grown a second head. “So, what. You just die?”

You asking about monster healthcare has pretty much just rounded out to this- all of your incredibly reasonable questions regarding oral surgery, medical insurance, and copays has rounded out to one big ‘what the fuck is wrong with humans’. Which, really- “Yeah, if it’s that serious and you can’t afford it. You’re telling me any monster can just go up to a monster doctor and get a checkup without paying?”

You’re telling me that human doctors won’t take care of their patients if they aren’t paid?” She echoes your incredulity, and you reach a stalemate. Finally, she says, "Yes, of course they could just go in there and get checkups, or a prognosis for oral surgery, without paying or having the government keep a running tab of it.”

“How do they know what medications they’re on? Or their past history of disease and surgery?”

Trixie’s quiet for a long time, and you see her gills flex- thinking hard on it. “I think we’re having a cultural misunderstanding- humans have a lot that can go wrong with them, and there’s a lot more of you, so healthcare is standardized. There’s a lot more variety in monsters, and a whole lot less of us, and we don’t get sick as often... The most you’d need is an identity card, maybe. They’d probably let Papyrus and Sans in just by looking at them.” She shrugs. “Really sucks that your sickness get exploited for money, though.”

“Tell me about it.” You still hadn’t received your worker’s compensation for the arthritis you’d developed while working at the catering company. “So, identity cards- where can I get one of those?”

“Shoot, uh... It’s been four years since I’ve had to get one, let me google it.” She drops backwards onto her bed, fishing for her phone. While most of the monsters you knew had Samsung phones or iPhones, she still had to use a (still, modern and fairly high-tech) flip-phone, because she was too cold for touch screens to recognize. She clicks away, while you leisurely send a text to Papyrus:  

Hey, does your brother know if you two have identification cards?

“Here- it says it was standardized two years ago- any unidentified monster can get a temporary card for a three-month period anywhere humans can acquire passport photos... Yeah, nothing here says they have to provide an address, they could do it.” Trixie props herself up by one elbow. “It’s about sixty gold, though, per . Guess it’s like a late fee for anyone that missed out on the initial free rounds.”

You do the conversion in your head and it’s not looking good- one gold was about a dollar and fifty cents, currently, which made that a solid ninety dollars. “Trixie, how’s rent looking this month?” You’d gotten $170 from the party (the company factoring in your meal prep and the hours attended) and, if your boss from your line cook job actually pays you on time this week, you’ll have enough to pay your half of the rent, with maybe enough to save up for Papyrus and Sans’ IDs.

“I have my half- just got paid yesterday.” Trix worked as a teaching assistant for three different liberal arts classes, which paid little individually, but made a hefty salary combined. You’re honestly just impressed she’s able to keep them all separate. “Hey, listen- what you’re doing for them? It’s a lot of effort that you don’t have to be putting in. I’ll look around and find some coupons, and we can figure out how to budget one hundred and twenty gold into our budget.” She claps you on the back, and you damn near fall off her bed.

The Great Papyrus

SANS SAYS HE DOESN’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS. IS IT IMPORTANT?

 

You

don’t worry about it- i have it under control!

 

IF THAT WAS A SANS IMPRESSION, IT WAS A GOOD ONE, BUT HE WOULDN’T USE THE EXCLAMATION POINT!

JUST FOR FUTURE REFERENCE.

-

Before you head over to their house, you do a quick online search for testing if someone needed reading glasses. You’re not sure if Papyrus is near-sighted, far-sighted, or just borderline blind, but, of all of the possibilities, it was easier for you to get him reading glasses than it was for you to currently pay for prescription lens and his identification card to let him go to the doctor. You print out a presbyopia eye test and keep it folded in your pocket.

For the first time since the very first time you’d shown up to their house, Sans answers the door instead of Papyrus. “you’re early.” He angles himself so that you can shuffle into the house, but he still blocks the majority of the door. You have to squeeze yourself past him, and it’s such an obvious power move you roll your eyes. “paps said you were asking him about identification cards?”

“Yeah, I was talking with Trix about monster healthcare- Papyrus said his teeth hurt him, so I was trying to see what I could do about that.” You make it past him and into the house, and Papyrus is there- in a new sweater! “Woah, Papyrus- looks good!”

He poses for you, rather dramatically, and you clap. “THANK YOU, THANK YOU. I AM A SKELETON COMPOSED OF MULTITUDES.” Even still, you see... sweat? You see sweat start to bead on his skull. Behind you, Sans closes the door by leaning against it until it shuts loudly. “BUT, AGAIN, HUMAN... YOU MENTIONED ME? AND, UH...” He doesn’t finish his sentence, looking away from you.

“I just found out that monster doctors don’t apparently charge for their services, so! Trixie said all you need for a check-up is an ID card.” You scratch behind your head. “If you have them, I’d be fine with driving you over to a doctor’s office for dental surgery or...” You just. Look at Sans. Sans looks right back at you and shrugs.

“yeah. not sure what you could really do about this.” He winks at you, closing his eye with the massive red pupil. “i don’t even know what questions i could axe about it. we’d beheaded towards a disaster.”

Papyrus doesn’t even comment, which surprises you enough to turn and look at him. “Papyrus, are you alright?” You reach out for him and, to your surprise, he lets you hold his gloved hand between two of your’s. You try to smooth the back of his hand with one of your thumbs, but there are small cracks and crevices that his gloves keep getting caught on, and you have to stop. He still won’t meet your eyes. “C’mon, Papyrus, what’s going on.”

It looks like he might cry, but he doesn’t. He opens his jaw to speak, but closes it. You don’t miss how his teeth gnash uncomfortably together, how they can’t rest properly in his jaw. He tries again, “SANS, YOU DON’T THINK-”

Sans seems to startle a little, having spaced out from the conversation. “yeah, i don’t think milord -” His voice adopted a low, somewhat nasally tone, mocking something you weren’t aware of. “- will let us leave the forest.” An actual apologetic tone enters his voice, and you raise your eyebrows at him. “that’s not on you- it’s a nice offer, but we can’t take you up on it.”

You’re fairly certain your blood pressure has just skyrocketed. “I’m sorry, maybe I didn’t hear you right- your landlord won’t let you what?” Who the hell is this person and who the hell do they think they are? You can’t ban someone from leaving your property just because you said so!

You didn’t realize you’d said any of that out loud until Sans’ eyes narrow at you. “listen, it’s a lot more complicated than it sounds. and, yeah, the landlords are assholes, but we didn’t exactly have enough magic to challenge them before.” He tilts his head back and forth, then starts to scrape his finger just underneath his eye socket. You realize, now, that it might be a nervous tic or some sort of soothing behavior. It reminds you a lot of pinching your nose bridge when you have a headache. “i know you’re trying to help in your own way, but this isn’t your business.”

You match him stare-for-stare until his pupil wavers slightly and darts away from your face.

“i’ll talk with them. but they’ll take some convincing. give it a month and, if they still won’t let the dogs out, you can chew them out.” The way he says all of this also sounds like something you weren’t aware of. “‘til then? drop it.”

Mentally, you’re not gonna drop it. Outloud, sure, fine. “Consider it dropped.” You rub at your temples, trying to calm down the infuriated migraine that’s just around the corner. “Do you mind if I get a glass of water?”

“GO AHEAD- MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME.” Papyrus seems to be looking at you from the corner of his eyes, however. When you head to the kitchen and get a glass of water from the tap, you hear them continue talking, though you can’t hear exactly what about. Faintly, you hear Papyrus mention something about feeling stronger and something about Sans' magic coming back, but nothing concrete. You stick around in the kitchen a little longer than necessary, just so they can finish their conversation.

Once it gets quiet, and you’ve finished an entire glass of water and counted backwards from twenty, you emerge from the kitchen to find Sans pointedly reading a book and Papyrus wringing his hands. “OH! SORRY, I DIDN’T SEE YOU COME OUT. DO YOU WANT TO DO SOME MORE NEWSPAPER PUZZLES?” Sans turns a page quickly and, even though you only tilt your head in a ‘if you want’ sort of way, Papyrus still leads you up the stairs.

Briefly, you get a glance of the title Sans is reading- Parallel Universes: The Search for Other Worlds. You skip the fifth step and follow Papyrus to his room.

This time, however, he gingerly closes the door behind you- usually he left it wide open. He puts his two gloved hands together, takes a visible breath to seemingly calm himself down, then one of his eye sockets twitches and his hands become fists. “I can’t believe Sans sometimes!” This is the second time you’ve heard him whisper in-person and the fact that it’s just him talking at a regular speaking volume is a lot to take in. “Even if we didn’t have food- we still have our house! That’s more than what the others living in the lodge got when they ended up here! Now that you bring us food, I’m in prime condition! We could fight our way out if we had to!” He stomps his foot a few times and. This is Papyrus fuming mad. With his crossed arms and stomping foot. “I don’t see why we can’t just sneak out- we'd be better off if we went to see a doctor!”

The way he says this, it’s readily apparent how much there is that you don’t know about the situation and, between the two of them- “Papyrus, I know it seems unfair- trust me when I say I’m just as pissed about it as you are- but if Sans says it’s not safe, then it’s not safe.” You take his hand in yours again and nod at him. “I’ll try my best to stop by as much as I can during the week- it must get so lonely out here in the woods.” You pause- your hand comes to a dip in his hand and, gritting your teeth to keep visible horror off of your face, you realize there’s a perfectly circular hole in his hand. “S-so. Did you really want to do those puzzles, or did you just want to talk?”

Papyrus pauses for a while, too. Calming down. “I THINK... A LITTLE BIT OF BOTH WOULD BE NICE.”  And, instead of the usual heavier conversation, you get Papyrus talking about things he likes. He talks at length about his love of Mettaton reruns (which you keep forgetting to look up) and action figures, lamenting that he had to sell a few of them a while back. You work through a crossword, today. It’s ‘tropical’ themed.

“AN ELONGATED MELON-SHAPED FRUIT WITH BLACK SEEDS AND ORANGE FLESH...” Papyrus’ face scrunches up. He has to hold the newspaper clipping at an angle to be able to read it. “A REALLY DISGUSTING ORANGE, MAYBE?”

“P-a-p-a-y-a. It fits!” You quickly take it from him and pen it in while you still know which column it’s supposed to go in. “To be fair, Papyrus could’ve also fit, if it had one more box.”

“SIGH. WHAT LEVEL OF PRESTIGE MUST I OBTAIN TO BE FEATURED IN A CROSSWORD PUZZLE?” He doesn’t sound very serious, though. You erase ‘papaya’ and draw a sloppy extra box onto it, rewriting ‘Papyrus’ in it. “DELIGHTFUL! I’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO BE AN ELONGATED MELON-SHAPED FRUIT WITH BLACK SEEDS AND ORANGE FLESH.” You laugh, and he does too, like a villain’s cackle, “NYEH HEH HEH!”

“Oh, hey, Papyrus- while we’re here...” You fish the presbyopia test out from your pocket, smoothing it out over your knee. “I noticed it’s a little hard for you to read stuff up-close, so! I got this off the internet- hold it to where you’d read a book, and read the passages for me, please.”

He opens his mouth, obviously eager in what seemed like a puzzle, but it quickly shut. “UM... THE... IRS... TAX REFUND IS AN...” Sweat beads on his forehead, and the paper crinkles slightly in-between his grasp. That’s... not what the page says at all. It was a sheet advertising the company that made the test’s eyewear. “I, UM... can’t read it.”

“Papyrus, if you can’t read it, that’s fine too! That just means you need... a really strong pair of readers...” Literally, it said if he couldn’t read that, he needed +3.00 readers. “Does your phone get pictures? After I get home tomorrow, I can head out to the store and see if there are any you’d like.”

“IT DOES.” You swear you hear him mumble something about needing Sans to describe them, though, in a volume you didn’t think he was even capable of. As if mimicking you from earlier, he sets the test down and picks up one of your hands, putting it between his. Between his grasp, you can feel the holes in his hands. “I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE MY NEW FRIEND PROPERLY!”

You don’t even wait until tomorrow. You go straight to the goddamn Walgreens the second after you leave and start snapping photos. The amount of time it takes for him to receive the pictures is abysmal, and, after waiting thirty minutes in the store for him to receive just one of the pictures, you take some tortoiseshell bifocals off the stand and purchase them. If he didn’t like them, then you could just return it with the receipt- you weren’t sure how trustworthy the test you’d used was, so it’d be a good way to see if the +3 actually helped him.

-

The next day, though, you do all of the prep for your line cook job and burn through no less than fifty egg cartons just for breakfast. Some older couple sent their bacon back no less than three times, complaining it wasn’t crispy enough and demanding you start from scratch, even though the bits they sent back were almost completely eaten. By the time your shift is over, you’re glad you’d already bought Papyrus’ glasses- you don’t have the energy to go to the store.

“you alright there, pal?” If Sans is the one asking you that, then you know you must look tired. You snap back to attention, finding your forehead pressed against their door frame- you’d fallen asleep before knocking. You rub at your forehead- you must’ve knocked your head, instead. “... it’s cold. come inside.” He reaches out to you and puts his hand on your back, just under your shoulder blades, guiding you inside.

You let a loud yawn, shuddering as he leads you inside. You’re about to pull away from him and start heading towards the couch, and he seems fully prepared to stop touching you, when your shirt catches and you can’t move. You turn to Sans, whose arm is now practically wrapped around you. Your breath catches in your throat.

Both of his eyelights have went out, and he’s leaning over you- you’d thought you’d reached some sort of peaceful middle ground where you both cared about Papyrus and were, then, friends. You’d thought that your first encounter was something that could be easily remedied by attention and food and genuine care- that they ate people because they had to not because it was their preference-

“your shirt is stuck on my fingers.” What? “please stop moving- your shirt is stuck on my fingers and i mean, sure, it’s one way to do a handshake, but-” You can’t help it- you laugh, if only a little at yourself for panicking so hard.

By no means were Sans and Papyrus harmless, but you weren’t in danger, it seemed.

“i’m being serious- what are you doing?” His hand presses closer to your back (likely to keep from messing up his hand further) as you pull your arms into your shirt and turn around, so that you’re wearing it backwards. It’s awkward and fumbling, and his hand is one-hundred-percent right on top of your chest and feeling your heartbeat, but you gently pull the offending threads from between the small cracks in his fingers. When his hand is finally free, he snatches it back. His eyelights blink back on, and he visibly sighs in relief. “thanks. that was a pretty sticky situation.” Heavy steps come down the stairs, and he turns away from you. “hey, papyrus- you here to catch the thread of our conversation?”

“NO!!! NOT IF IT INVOLVED PUNS!” Papyrus reaches the end of the stairs and immediately comes over to you. He’s wearing a moth eaten cardigan over one of his sweaters, and... You know what? You’ve never really paid this much attention to what Sans was wearing, so you take the moment to check him out. The exact same thing he’s worn since day one- black shorts, white shirt, torn-up blue hoodie. When you reach his face, it’s a very light blue. Papyrus squints in a suspicious manner. “... WAS I INTERRUPTING SOMETHING? YOUR SHIRT IS ON BACKWARDS.”

“No, you weren’t- Sans got his hand stuck on my shirt and I had to help him out.” With that, you tuck your arms back into your shirt and turn it around. Thank god it’s a tasteless work uniform. “C’mere, Papyrus- I brought you some readers to try out. Let’s see if they help you any...”

You immediately come against one very obvious issue: Papyrus is a skeleton, and does not have ears. You had opened them, he had bent down so you could reach his face, and you’d started to put them on when you realize that they’d just slide right off. Instead, you use your hands to just... hold them on his face.

Somewhere behind you, Sans sighs. “i’ll go get the tape.”

He starts to straighten his spine but, in doing so, you lose your grip on the glasses. They slide off, and he grabs them before they hit the ground in one graceful scooping motion. He holds them by the bridge of the nose, then looks down at you. “SO? HOW DO I LOOK?” With you so close, you realize, he probably can see you a lot better than before, so you just beam up at him. He flushes orange and smiles back at you. “WELL!!! I HAPPEN TO BE LOOKING JUST FINE! NYEH HEH HEH!”

-

You clap for his pun, laughing, and Sans looms at the edge of the stairs, feeling like an outsider. The two of you had such an obvious rapor that it felt strange whenever he was in the room- it was bad enough being an outsider in this universe that was almost his. He’d stuck two strips of tape to two of his fingers but, underneath it, he can see the grooves and indentions in the bone. For a few aching moments, when you’re over, everything feels as it should be. Papyrus is happy, he’s happy because Papyrus is happy, and everyone is well-fed.

But then he catches his fingers on something, or Papyrus has to rub his jaw to fight off a stinging pain, and he remembers. They aren’t normal, and this isn’t their universe. They're the product of a year of mistakes, poor rationing, and abandonment. 

“SANS? DID YOU FALL ASLEEP ON THE WAY UP?”

You peek your head around the corner of the stairs and catch him, one undone tennis shoe almost touching the floor, and smile.

Only for a few moments, sure, but he’ll take what he can get.

Chapter Text

For the rest of that week, however, you had to work late into the evenings, and can’t stop by, so Sans and Papyrus try to spend their time as wisely as possible. Papyrus, with his new reading glasses taped to the side of his head and delighted by the fact that he could now see his handwriting, had started planning some paper puzzles for you. Off to the side, Sans caught a few of his more intricate puzzle designs, crumpled and discarded, likely because they had no means to get an elevated surface covered in ice with a few rough patches to solve. When he’s not looking, he takes them and smooths them out, keeping them in a drawer in the kitchen.

Welp. Guess it was as good a time as any to go talk to the jackasses and start his month-long badgering.

The Sans and Papyrus that aren’t him and his brother lived not too far away from them- close enough to keep an eye on them, but far away enough that that Sans got to put ample traps in-between their abodes ‘IN CASE YOU FREAKS GET TOO ANTSY’. “woops.” He says, slinging a bone attack at a very obvious wire trap five feet in front of him, seeing a cage descend from above. He doesn’t know why this universe’s Sans thought that their supervision was sufficient or necessary- of all of them, he was only one degree removed from the prime universe and, really, between the two sets of brothers, torture wasn’t something he’d done since they got above ground. Couldn’t really say the same for the tiny tyrant and his dog.

Stars, as much as he hated the nicknaming system they’d implemented, it became very difficult to separate who was who in his internal dialogue. It didn’t help that most of them weren’t fairly complementary- they’d nicknamed his own damn brother for his crooked teeth, and him for one tasteless joke he’d met when they’d first encountered each other. Then there was Mutt, Edge, Blueberry... He couldn’t even remember what ‘Mutt’’s brother’s nickname was, but it likely wasn’t anything good.

And the head of the bunch got to just be called ‘Sans’. What a privilege.

Sans stops walking, recognizing he hadn’t been paying attention and had almost stepped on a bear trap. “real subtle.” He kicks the edge of it and it snaps shut, almost getting the toe of his shoe. Something overhead snaps and, sidestepping it, a large net drops and misses him by a foot. “you really don’t want us stopping by, huh.”

Because that Sans (Berry...? Cherry...? He always wore a red bandana and red boots, but Sans isn’t sure if that was relevant to the nickname) was an absolute show off, he hears the clatter of bones and knows he’s behind him. Maybe if he were duller, hungrier, he wouldn’t have felt the bone attack before it was launched at him, but he dodges all the same. Miss . “I WAS UNAWARE THAT WE WERE HAVING COMPANY. YOU KNOW YOU TWO AREN’T ALLOWED OUT OF THE FOREST WITHOUT SUPERVISION, AND, IF YOU’VE ALREADY BURNED THROUGH LAST MONTH’S RATIONS, YOU’LL HAVE TO WAIT.” 'without supervision' meaning 'paper thin excuse to show decency when, really, you're not allowed out ever'. 

He immediately regrets telling you that he’d wear him down- this Sans should be called ‘Cherry’. Red and small and sweet on the outside, with a pit of fucking arsenic inside. “cool, yeah, whatever.” He turns around, and Cherry is standing on top of a wall of bones to be taller than him. He can feel a headache coming on. “paps needs to go to a dentist, and we have a ride into town. what’s it gonna take for you to loosen the leash a little?”

Cherry casts a confused, then disapproving look at him. “OH, LOVELY. YOU’VE KILLED SOME HUMAN OUT IN THE WOODS AND STOLEN THEIR CAR, AND NOW YOU’RE WANTING TO BE UNLEASHED ONTO THE ROADS. HOW DO YOU THINK I’M SUPPOSED TO REPORT THAT TO THOSE JELLYFISHES AT THE LODGE? WAS IT ON PAPY’S PATROL?” Then, more to himself, “WE HAVE ONE JOB AND ONE REASON TO PATROL! WHAT WAS THAT MONGREL UP TO, THAT ALL OF THIS COULD HAPPEN RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIS SOCKETS-”

“we didn’t kill anyone. didn’t steal a car.” For some reason though, he hesitates to mention you. Sure, between the two of them, it was debatable who was actually the most dangerous, but he and Papyrus were slow and fought fair and you knew them. These two were unpredictable and wouldn’t put up a fair fight. “you don’t have to explain jack shit to the lodge. we just want to go out, get papyrus’ teeth fixed, then come back.”

“AND, WHY EXACTLY, SHOULD I CARE?” Brat. He’d just asked what it’d take to get them to leave the woods. At least the edgier versions of him and Papyrus could be persuaded with words- these two were always so fucking greedy.

“just common monster decency, kid.” It’s disconcerting to look into his face and think that it’s him- that’s another Sans- and he has absolutely no pity or concern for himself. That he could stand and watch Papyrus starve and wonder ‘WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?’. “we don’t really have much to give, unless you want some of paps’ special spaghetti-”

“UGH! WHO WOULD WILLINGLY EAT ANY OF THAT! WHO KNOWS WHAT YOU’D PUT IN THERE?” They didn’t even have spaghetti in the house (Papyrus had eaten what was left of what you’d made on that first night out of the rations they’d been given for last month), and he’d just said that to get a rise out of him. The bones slowly lower to the ground until he can step off of them, then he snootily points his nasal bone to the air and turns to leave. “WELL! THAT WAS A FRUITLESS CONVERSATION ABOUT ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!”

“was that a pun on ‘cherry’?” He asks, mostly to himself, but the other Sans turns to him, his gaze seeking and confused.

“WHY WOULD IT BE? WHY WOULD I MAKE A JOKE ABOUT A CHERRY?” Realization starts to dawn on his face, and pity shines through. It’s the first time Sans has seen it on him and it disgusts him. “OH. YOU FORGOT. IT’S BLACKBERRY, NOT ‘CHERRY’.” He reaches up haltingly, and Sans watches as he pats his shoulder like he was a lame dog that needed to be put down, but no one wanted to say so. 

His teeth grind and he can’t exactly help it when the next thing out of his mouth is, “why exactly should i care?” Blackberry’s hand lowers from his shoulder, and he brushes it off on his pants like he’d gotten it filthy by touching him.

“WHATEVER. GO ON BACK TO YOUR SHED OF A HOUSE. IF YOU EVER NEED ANYTHING, PLEASE HESITATE WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT COMING TO US.” Then he finally leaves.

“our houses are all the same, dumbass.” Sans grits his teeth and, on his way back to his ‘shed of a house’, tries to take a shortcut. It’s nowhere far away and it’s nothing impressive, but it feels like stretching after a long time of sitting still. He stumbles a little, but lands on his feet, closer to his house. It didn’t even hurt, there was no drain on his magic- no doubt because he finally had a reliable source of rations. For the first time in a long time, he allows himself a small bubble of hope, and tries again, this time into the living room.

Papyrus isn’t home.

After a brief panic (checking his room, then his own room, then the kitchen and surrounding area), he checks the time- now that they had you, they didn’t need to patrol for any animals to hunt, but he might just be doing it out of habit. He heads up to his room and, unfurling the absolute mess of sheets on his mattress, steps on it and picks up the discarded permanent marker on the floor. On the wall, where he'd previously penned ‘things to remember’, he draws an asterisk and writes, “the sans in the woods is called ‘blackberry’”. If only to keep the pity out of his eyes.

He steps back once, twice, then reads over it all. His memory wasn’t what it used to be, and it helped to keep a running list- especially since they weren’t Underground anymore and things were a lot more complicated.

* no more resets. frisk doesn’t recognize you.

* you’re above ground. you can’t leave the forest.

* there are other versions of yourself and papyrus. most of them live further into the forest, but some don’t.

* gaster’s machine caused this. if it’s repaired, you might end up back underground.

* you hunt animals in the forest. there are no humans in the forest.

At the very end, he’s penned in your name. they’re helping. Of all the things, that’s probably the one he doesn’t want to forget the most.

Speaking of you, he’d gotten hungry, which meant it was about time to have dinner. Him and Papyrus had long since given up trying to eat at the same time- it took both of them varied amounts of time depending on the meal and it simply wasn’t worth it for the sake of being polite (Papyrus had to eat solid meat slower to keep his teeth from getting too ruined, and Sans sometimes remembered things he had to be doing mid-meal and hurried through dinner so it wasn’t wasted). They’d eat when they were too hungry to ignore it.

Which you’d actually chastised Sans for, the last time you’d been over. You’d been teaching Papyrus how to cook sliders and it’d been late at night, so Sans had ate a few. “So, what time do you guys usually eat? I feel like every time I make something at your house, it’s at an ungodly late hour- I could start cooking a lot earlier, if that’s better.” You hadn’t been complaining- which was something you rarely seemed to do, even given the circumstances.

“we eat when we’re hungry. doesn’t really matter what thyme it is.” He emphasized the ‘th’ so you’d know it was a pun, winking at you. You’d laughed, which was something that always got him to smile back. It was good to tell jokes that got people to laugh- he missed his old comedy routine sometimes.

“I won’t argue with that, but you should probably eat at more regular times.” You’d held up your spatula and gestured at him vaguely, still keeping an eye on the meat in the oven. “You don’t have to, like, deny yourself food, now. Have at least two large meals and, if you’re hungry in-between, snack a little. I know Trixie packed some chisps in there.”

It was hard to remember that advice- more often than not, he was eating out of instinct, not out of a conscious decision as to when to eat. Time hadn’t really mattered to him in a long time, even with patrols- Papyrus might chastise him for missing patrol times, but who really cared? This was the surface and, if there was going to be a deer out there to hunt, it’s not like it wouldn’t not be in the woods in another ten minutes. He starts to take out the sliders, but hesitates, putting them back. He didn’t want to eat what was left of your food before he had the chance to see you again- Paps had done that yesterday with the leftover spaghetti, and was visibly upset when he realized he had another four days to go before he could eat any more of it.

Nah, he’ll just eat the leftover pancakes he’d made with the Bisquick you’d brought over for breakfast this morning. It wasn’t the first or last time he’d been thankful for you getting so damn nosy and involved- the tupperware you’d brought with you last time had been a lifesaver. He could only store so much is various pans in the oven. There’s no syrup to pour over it, but he wasn’t one to cry over lack of spilt syrup. Sans makes his way over to the couch, intent on staying downstairs until Papyrus comes home.

He’s not sure when he starts to nod off, only that it just seems like an inevitability most days. For a while, it was to conserve magic and energy, but now he was just tired most of the time. When the front door slams open, he doesn’t even need to open his eyes to know he’s home. “SANS...? ANY PARTICULAR REASON WHY THE OTHER PAPYRUS STOPPED MY PATROL SHORT TODAY?” Sans stays still and, after a while, Papyrus sighs and heads upstairs.

When he comes back down, Sans feels him drape a blanket over him, huffing the whole time. “YOU HAVE A BED FOR A REASON SANS!” Even though he’s bigger now, and Papyrus’ arms are thinner now, he still picks him up and carries him up the stairs. Neither of them can help the way their magic warped them beyond recognition to cope with their surroundings- being bigger meant thicker bones and better protection. Being taller meant longer arms for grabbing and larger teeth for biting. Sans got heavier and Papyrus got lighter.

But not weaker, it seemed.

He lowers him onto his mattress on the ground carefully, leaving him wrapped up in a blanket that likely came from his own room. “GOODNIGHT, SANS.” He starts to walk away, but he pauses, and Sans can hear his feet shuffle on the ground. Turning to look at his list. It’s not like he’s never been inside Sans’ room or seen it, but it’s obvious he doesn’t understand most of it and doesn’t care to ask.

He leaves after a few moments, the door creaking as he shuts it, and Sans opens his eyes. No use in pretending if there wasn’t an audience, so he gets up carefully and pads over to his dresser. He still has all of his old texts from when he and Gaster were trying to take the easiest way out of the Underground, then him and Alphys, then, finally, just him. It was hard to let it all go when he and Papyrus got out because the universe aligned into one big fluke. He picks up one on alternate timelines, then sets it back down. 

It wasn’t like the day it all happened had been greatly significant- he woke up, went on patrol, found nothing, stayed hungry, then retired to his lab. He had tinkered with that old machine he and Gaster could never get to work, despite the math checking out. He hadn’t even done anything that would’ve made it work- he just connected it to power and angrily pulled down the handle like he had done a thousand other times.

The only difference was that, across several universes, other skeletal hands had pulled down a similar handle. Neither of them had even noticed that anything was different until Papyrus had stepped out and loudly asked, “WHERE DID ALL OF THE SNOW GO?” and, upon completing what he’d dubbed ‘reconnaissance’, came to shake Sans awake. He told him that he didn’t know where they were, but that he could walk and walk and walk and never come across an ending when he should’ve reached New Home an hour ago. Sans told him he was dreaming, when he really thought he was hallucinating from malnutrition.

But Papyrus refused to give up. “NO, SANS, I’M NOT JOKING. COME OUTSIDE.”

“it’s too early. let me sleep, paps. you get your race car bed, but i’m two-tired to get up right now.” Instead, Papyrus picked him up and carried him out, kicking the door open and dropping him on the ground. The muddy ground.

When Sans turned his face up to the top of the Underground in confusion, he saw nothing but a stretching expanse of yellow giving way to bright red and, suddenly, there was a sun in the sky. The Sun. The one he’d only read about in astronomy books, the closest star. Papyrus was equally as stunned, and they watched the sun rise together, horrified and surprised and elated all at once.

It had taken forever for the others to find the two of them. It was coincidence that they’d bought a lodge to store the rest of them in that was close enough to where the machine dropped their house. When they moved in, however briefly, this became a point of contention- why did they get to keep their house, when the rest of them came with nothing but the clothes they were wearing? They looked at Papyrus with pity and him with suspicion until it was too much and they went back to their house.

Comparing notes, it became obvious that it was because the machine was hooked up to their house's electricity, where the rest of them had it attached to a separate generator. He’d sold that generator early on to the bunnies running the hotel- they had so many kids, it was put to better use running their heater than some shitty old broken machine. 

On the surface, things changed, but not enough. They were still hungry. They were still trapped. They were still alone.

But things were changing again.

Sometimes, when you came over, if felt like seeing the sun rise for the first time, all over again.

Chapter Text

“Our fridge is full.” Trixie insists, bodily blocking you from loading a tray of mashed potatoes into it, her arms spread wide. “I know you want to give those skeletons all of your catering leftovers, but you can’t! You bring home too much food!” You try to sidestep her for the handle to the fridge, but she shuffles right in front of you.

It’d been two weeks since you’d met them- almost a full month- and organizing their meals became second nature to you. You’d gotten obnoxiously economical with how much food you had left over and, when you weren’t burnt out from work, you spent most of your time at their house. On weekends, you sometimes got a drink with Muffet.

Most of those times, she left you with the bill.

“Trix, I can make it fit- I told Papyrus that I wouldn’t be over until tomorrow, I can’t show up uninvited to drop it off!” You’re still in your line cook’s outfit- the chef’s coat over stretched pants. You feel greasy and uncomfortable and it doesn’t help that the tray of mashed potatoes feels like it weighs four tons.

In a truly unjust motion, Trix swoops her arms down and snatches the potatoes out of your hands, holding it above your head. “Yes you can! You don’t have to stay long, just, ‘hey, how’s it going- I brought potatoes’!” Without having to support the heavy tray, your whole body sags. “Or just throw it away!” You immediately grimace.

She knew you didn’t want to throw it away, and she knew why, too. You’d taken a drink Muffet had ordered called a Daiquery - a monster drink that usually just made them a little more relaxed, but had reduced you to tears in a matter of minutes. She’d been understandably alarmed and had used your phone to call Trixie to pick you up, but not before using your wallet to pay for the drinks (at your drunk self’s insistence but still ). You weren’t too clear on the details, but the section of the Underground (likely the Ruins, where you knew not a lot of monsters lived) that Sans and Papyrus had lived in had run out of food, which was why they ate humans that fell in.

You had told her all of this, as well as some really miserable details concerning your past relationship, while crying into her shoulder. In the morning, when you were hungover, she looked absolutely glowing. “I’m not saying you should cry more,” Sheepishly, “But your tears did wonders on my scales.” And she’d pretended like she hadn’t heard a word you’d said.

But it was obvious that she’d paid very close attention, and you give in quickly.

Fine. But you’re driving- I’m dead on my feet.” She gives you a withering look, and you realized that you’d unintentionally made a pun.

“Come on,” Trixie picks up your keys and jangles them. “Let’s go put some meat on their bones.”

-

It still felt very rude to just drop by unannounced, so you called Papyrus on the way over. Your apartment complex was mid-city, close to the University, but the sorority house Trixie and Lora went to was on the edge of the outskirts. It rested on the edge of the uncomfortable stretch of land where the mountain’s city merged back into full wilderness through a series of smaller parks. The house had long since been abandoned due to the fact that forest fires were becoming a larger problem than the previous owners could handle, which left it as prime real estate for the first local monster sorority to scoop it up.

“Hey, Papyrus- sorry to bother you, but I’m... heading over?” You say all of this to the dial tone, practicing, waiting for him to pick up. You sound like an asshole. “I have some food I wanted to give you guys but I don’t have the fridge space to hold onto it until tomorrow. Listen, I’m very sorry to just drop by when I didn’t even say anything and it’s what? Eleven at night? God, I’m so sorry- Trixie? Trix, can we just turn around now- this is a bad idea.”

“IT’S A WONDERFUL IDEA!” You nearly drop the phone- you hadn’t even heard when he’d picked up. “IT’S NOT AS IF YOU HAVEN’T STAYED OVER LATER, OR THAT WE’D BE INCONVENIENCED!” Rather poorly, you hear him cover the phone with one hand to speak to Sans. “SANS! PICK! UP! YOUR SOCKS!!! THEY’RE COMING EARLY!” You try to disguise your laugh with a cough, though you’re not certain you succeeded. He lifts his hand and continues talking to you, “SINCE YOU DON’T HAVE WORK TOMORROW, MAYBE YOU COULD... SLEEP OVER...? WE COULD WATCH LATE NIGHT CABLE AND MTT RE-RUNS AND, OF COURSE, YOU COULD SLEEP IN MY RACECAR BED!” He pauses for a very long time while you mull it over. “THIS BEING A COMPLETELY HYPOTHETICAL SCENARIO, OF COURSE. UNLESS YOU’RE INTERESTED! IF LATE NIGHT ‘CLEAN’ SHOWS HAVE TAUGHT ME ANYTHING, IT’S THAT HUMAN CULTURE IS VERY, VERY CONFUSING AND YOU ALL HAVE DIFFERENT BOUNDARIES. WHICH I WILL ALWAYS RESPECT!!!”

Faintly, you hear Sans tell Papyrus that he shouldn’t watch late night soap operas. You relay the offer to Trixie, covering your phone to speak with her, and she tells you it’s your call. “I feel like I should remind you that they ate people. I mean, it seems like it’d be a bad call for them to eat you, because you literally grocery shop for them, but...” She shrugs, sparing a slight glance at you. “I’ll come with you- you’ve known them for a few weeks, but I know that isn’t much by human standards.”

“Hey, Papyrus? Trixie’s gonna walk with me to your house, if you don’t mind.”

“I DON’T! THE MORE PEOPLE IN MY HOUSE, THE MORE PEOPLE I GET TO HANG OUT WITH!”

When you park in the sorority house parking long, you tell Trixie to go on without you. You tried to only make mistakes once, so you both had charged your phones in the car on the way over, so staying in touch wasn’t an issue. She remembered the way over, which wasn’t an issue. You had packed what you’d saved up from the week to bring over (since you were one day early) and had a lot of food to carry, and refused her help in carrying it. She was only a few steps ahead of you when you started off.

Very quickly, however, you could no longer hear her footsteps, and the metallic tin of green bean casserole half-obstructed your line of sight. You’re fairly certain that you’d accidentally gone straight when she’d made a left, but, when you turn around to retrace your steps, you lose your sense of direction. “Trix?” You called out and, immediately, you realize that not only were you fucking lost again in the same woods, but that, now that you were lost sober, you realize there might be a bear issue. You can’t really remember if black bears or grizzly bears were a problem in this neck of the woods, or whether or not you should play dead if you encounter one.

You’re starting to panic a little, so you quickly derail that thought. If a bear tries to fight you, it’s your damn fault for getting lost and stumbling into its area.

You just need somewhere to set down the tupperware. All the trees look exactly the same, and you just wish you could find a clearing for you to set them down without potentially knocking them down. You just need a clearing for the cell service and a moment of rest. It’s hard to see the ground in front of you, and all you can really hope for is that Papyrus and Sans didn’t set traps out this far. You’re fairly certain that, at one point, you heard an entire tree fall somewhere to the right of you- something heavy colliding with the earth.

Behind you, a branch snaps. You can’t turn around too quickly with your arms full of food, but, when you do manage to turn around, there’s no one behind you. Of course. What did you expect?

When you turn back around, however, they’re in front of you. “Shit!” You stumble backwards- you have to pull your waitressing skills deep from the recesses of your memory in order to keep all of the trays balanced and yourself on two feet. You try for something better-articulated, but the scare had winded you, so you just end up with another ‘shit...’ on an exhale.

“WHO ARE YOU?” In front of you is a really small skeleton- well. You’re not actually sure if that’s fair to say- you’d only ever met two of them, and Sans was a whole head taller than you and Papyrus was... Papyrus. The monster in front of you is just a hand shorter than you, so maybe that was too much of a gut feeling. “YOU’VE BEEN WANDERING AIMLESSLY IN THIS FOREST FOR FIFTEEN MINUTES, NOW. WHAT COULD YOU POSSIBLY BE LOOKING FOR THAT YOU’D NEED TUPPERWARE IN THE WILDERNESS?”

“Oh!” Papyrus hadn’t mentioned you wouldn’t be the only guest at his house, but this might explain why he was so quick to have you over- he’d said something like ‘the more the merrier’, right? “Oh, sorry- I got turned around a while back trying to find the house. I was bringing some food over for Papyrus-”

Their face immediately crinkles into a scowl, holding one hand up. The effect is rather dramatic- they have terrible (scarring?) indentions over one of their eyes and, when they scrunch up the bridge of their nose, they look like they’d eaten something really sour. “YOU'RE ONE OF PAPYRUS’ HUMANS. I SEE.” Impossibly, they cast a look of greater disgust in your direction. “TELL ME NOTHING ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP. I WANT TO REMAIN AS UNINFORMED ON MY BROTHER’S ACTIONS AS POSSIBLE.” They pause, then their eyes narrow, their face taking on an conspiratorial edge. “UNLESS, OF COURSE, IT RELATES TO ME. COME WITH ME. YOU’VE SOMEHOW MANAGED TO DODGE ALL OF THE TRAPS SO FAR, BUT I WOULDN’T PUSH MY LUCK IF I WERE YOU.” They sound incredibly nosy, in contrast to their feigned disinterest.

“I’m, uh, sorry?” You do follow him- you can just barely see his head over all of the stuff you’re carrying. Your arms feel like they’re going to fall off. “I didn’t know you and Papyrus were related- what’s your name?”

“UGH. TYPICAL. YOU RAISE A BABYBONES AND HE GROWS UP TO NEGLECT TO MENTION YOU WHEN HE INVITES HUMAN CONQUESTS OVER TO EAT AT THE HOUSE THAT YOU SHARE.” They turn around with a whirl of the red bandana around their neck. “I AM SANS, THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE. FORMER HEAD OF THE ROYAL GUARD AND, UNFORTUNATELY, PAPYRUS’ OLDER BROTHER.”

That’s news to you. You don’t even know how to pick all of that apart. You introduce yourself as well, though he doesn’t even indicate that he’d heard you. “So, is ‘Sans’ a family name?” He harrumphs and does another heel-turn, going back to leading you.

“WHY DOES THAT MATTER? IT’S MY NAME NOW. RIDING ON THE COATTAILS OF A FAMILY LEGACY IS COWARDLY, AND DISGUSTING. AND CHEATING???” He muses out loud. His head turns, just slightly, and you see him shoot a look in your direction. “I KNOW I HID IT VERY WELL, BUT I’M VERY ANNOYED THAT MY BROTHER HAS INVITED SOMEONE INTO OUR HOME WITHOUT CONSULTING ME.”

“Well, I mean, we did discuss it over the phone-”

“OH, EVEN WORSE. MY BROTHER IS CANOODLING WITH YOU OVER THE PHONE? I KNOW YOU MANAGED TO AVOID ALL OF MY TRAPS EARLIER, BUT YOU MUST NOT BE VERY LUCKY TO HAVE CAUGHT MY BROTHER’S EYE SOCKET.” You don’t miss that he said you’d avoided all of his traps, even though earlier he’d said he would walk you so that you didn’t walk into the rest of them. His look turns to disdain. “A WORD OF ADVICE... HE DOESN’T KEEP HIS HUMANS LONG. UNDOUBTEDLY, YOU MET AT SOME GREASY RESTAURANT, HAD DRINKS, AND HE WOOED YOU WITH HIS DRUNKEN CHARM AND TERRIBLE SENSE OF HUMOR AND MADE YOU FEEL AS IF YOU WERE SPECIAL. I PROMISE YOU, IT WON’T LAST MORE THAN A FEW DAYS. WHAT YOU SEE IN HIM IS BEYOND ME- IT WOULD BE BETTER IF YOU’D JUST TURNED AROUND BEFORE YOU EVEN WANDERED THIS FAR IN!”

You feel like you’re going to have a heart attack. You’d both stopped and, while Sans (Sans? Maybe not-Sans, because, uh, uhhh) had continued to ramble on, you were both in front of his house. His house made of brick and, evidently, not the cabin that Sans and Papyrus lived in. Papyrus wasn’t even allowed to leave the forest and, no matter how charming you thought he was, you couldn’t have met him over drinks at a restaurant if you tried. Sure, if that one part had been omitted, you would’ve been far more concerned- Papyrus did make you feel special and you had to admit, you were slightly wooed.  

But this is not Papyrus’ house.

“Would you, uh, mind getting the door for me? So I can set all of this down.” You ask and, in the clearing of their house, your cell is getting better reception, and you feel it buzz a few times. Sans doesn’t seem to notice, and he actually gets the door for you. The lights inside are bright and fluorescent- a sharp contrast to the moonlit night outside, and you have to adjust. “I mean, I’ve known Papyrus for a few weeks now, and he’s pretty cool. He likes to eat, and I like to cook, so I don’t think I can... complain...”

There’s another skeleton in front of you. Tall and lanky, in an orange sweater and, okay, you tried to be polite, but he has one giant gold cap on one of his teeth. You’re just going to take a shot in the dark and assume this is the Papyrus the other Sans was talking about and that you’re in over your head. You drop your tupperware onto the counter and, finally, give your arms a break. You’re not sure if they’re dangerous or not, but you get the feeling that it’s a whole hell of a lot like the very first time you’d met your Sans and Papyrus.

So, as if you were a professional, you bluff your socks off. “Hey, Papyrus, how’s it going?” You keep your sweaty hands out of his line of sight and try not to draw attention to how nervous you are. You keep your eyes on the tupperware, thinking back to the vague details Sans had mentioned earlier and try to lie. “I remembered you mentioning you lived on the outskirts over drinks, and you really seemed to like-” Shit shit shit- what did you have packed? “The chili dogs, so I tried this recipe where I baked a bunch of them at one time-”

Papyrus is looking at you strangely. “yeah?” He squints a little, then comes up behind you, leaning over you to thumb open one of the containers. You really did pack chili dogs, and they really did look good. Even though you’d wandered in the forest for a stupid amount of time, they’re still fairly warm. He hums behind you. “looks good, darlin’. jog my memory- where were we?” Your phone buzzes in your pocket again.

It had been months since you’d eaten out- you don’t have the kind of money to go to anywhere other than fast food drive-throughs most of the time. The Sans mentioned ‘greasy restaurant’, and you’d just mentioned drinks so... The last place you’d eaten at like that was- “I think it was Grillby’s?” Realizing that if he pressed you to go more specific, you were screwed, you hurry to excuse his lack of remembering. “You were pre-tty sloshed- I don’t blame you for needing a reminder.”

“i feel like i should remember you- we must’ve really clicked if you came all the way out here just to see me.” He puts his hands on your hips, and you very quickly realize that the nature of your assumed relationship was more ‘one night stand’ than ‘friends that hit it off at the bar’. And that you still have to play along with it.

“Hey, you have that kind of charm about you. Left me rattled for days.” Immediately, your stomach drops- you weren’t even thinking about making a pun, but what if that’s what tips your fake story over the edge?

Cool breath fans over your neck and, even though you hold it in, your body still shivers.

Wait.

He pulls away from you and (after a brief moment where you irrationally miss his warmth) your body stops shaking and you realize that he was the one that was shaking you. Papyrus was trying to hold his laughter in. “yup. i can see how you got under my skin.”

“LEAVE MY HOUSE!” You’d almost completely forgotten about Sans behind you, but he’s out by the fridge, pointedly turned around away from you. “HERE I WAS, EXPECTING CIVIL CONVERSATION FROM YOU, AS WE’D HAD IN THE FOREST, AND YOU TURN AROUND AND BETRAY ME WITH A TERRIBLE, SEXUAL PUN. THE NERVE OF YOU.”

Realizing that his brother had made a pun, Papyrus can’t hold it in and you’re frozen by how familiar it sounds. “nyeh heh heh heh...” He wipes an imaginary tear from his eye socket. “sans, please. don’t-” He snorts. “don’t skullk around for this.”

“STOP IT! SO LONG AS I PAY THE RENT THERE WILL BE! NO! PUNS! UNDER MY ROOF!!!” Sans covers his face with his gloved hands, then drags them down his face- his fingers fit almost exactly into the scarring on his face.

Papyrus shoots a sly look at you, and you’re fairly certain he’s smirking. Was he trying to prompt you into another pun? “Aw, come on, Sans- I think I pulled a mussel carrying all of that food out here. Give me some credit.” Your voice is full of light humor but, uh, it looks like you can’t take any of that food to your Sans and Papyrus now, if your master plan involved duping this Papyrus into thinking you were giving it to him so you could leave in one piece. They weren’t as physically threatening as Sans and Papyrus had been, but they seemed to exude violence in a way that neither of them had. This Papyrus’ hands are marred with nicks in the bone, and he has a crack over his left eye socket. It looked painful, but it also looked intentional. Like something from a bad scrap.

Were all skeletons that lived in the woods this dangerous?

Papyrus winks at you, though Sans doesn’t seem to pick up on the joke. “YOU BROUGHT A LOT OF FOOD OUT FOR SO LATE AT NIGHT- WERE YOU PLANNING ON JUST GIVING PAPYRUS THE FOOD AND LEAVING?” He huffs. Your phone buzzes in your back pocket. “HOW PATHETIC- THIS ISN’T ONE OF ALPHYS’ ANIMATED HISTORICAL NARRATIVES. WE AREN’T CHILDREN. YOU DON’T HAVE TO DEMURELY DEPOSIT THE FRUITS OF YOUR LABOR AND THEN SKITTER BACK TO CIVILIZATION.” You’re not entirely sure if you’re being mocked or not. It certainly sounds like it.

Papyrus leans against the wall, and it’s such an intentional Cool Guy Move that you bite your lip to keep from laughing a little. “i think my brother is tryin' to get you to stay for dinner."

“ONLY BECAUSE YOU FAILED TO TELL ME ABOUT THEM, AND THEM ABOUT ME! OF COURSE I WANT TO BE INVOLVED AND KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT YOUR SOCIAL CIRCLE, PAPYRUS.”

They bicker back and forth, mostly about Papyrus being a grown skeleton and not needing to give Sans patrol reports about his day-to-day life but that it’d be nice to be caught up every once in a while. It’s finally sunken in and your idle smile is wiped promptly off your face.

It’s going to be another long night for you.

Chapter Text

Trixie thinks nothing of you being late for about the first fifteen minutes. It was a five minute hike through the woods, with several twists and turns, but Papyrus had set out helpful markers for you to follow. It was honestly pretty sweet- she remembered the absolute nightmare that first night had been and, really, wasn’t in a rush to repeat it. As put-together as she’d tried to look the next morning, one of the traps had involved a timed race, and she’d woke up feeling exhausted and still a little nauseous. You’d looked worse, though, so she put on a brave face and gave you Tylenol and held you upright.

It feels like it was literally yesterday. She likes to think that she has a fairly decent concept of time, but everything seems so fast on the surface. Waterfall was sleepy and quiet- other than when the head of the Royal Guard was training in the morning, or had accidentally set her house on fire. There was no rush, and everyone went at the own pace. Time was only used as a vague measurement, but now they had minutes and seconds on the surface.

If you were a monster and you all were still Underground, she’d probably think nothing of your friendship with the two skeleton brothers. Papyrus seemed to adore you as much as you cared for him, and Sans seemed happy to have someone stop by every now and then. You were always so happy to see them, always so happy whenever you were trying out some new recipe you thought they’d like.

Of course, being the dutiful roommate you were, the (edible) failures ended up with her. You both had eaten some cheesy potato mess just the day before because you hadn’t used the correct type of cheese, so it didn’t do the cool thing you’d wanted it to do. Trixie still had no idea what the intended outcome was supposed to be, but stars if it wasn’t tasty! You’d went into the right field- she couldn’t imagine you as anything other than a cook.

The warm glow of the cottage brightens the forest, and she takes a deep breath. “Come on, Trix- ‘s just some boss monsters. Besides, it’s not like you’re the meal, right?” Nonetheless, she felt like she was going to become warm-blooded at the rate her heart was pumping. You always made her feel a lot stronger than she was- there was something about having a human supporting any and all of her actions that made her determined to make you proud. “You just have to make small talk! And not say anything weird, or... look at their ruined HP levels...” Behind her, a tree sways, and she turns around fast.

“OH, SORRY TO INTERRUPT YOU! I UNDERSTAND WANTING TO TAKE A NICE STROLL AND TALK TO YOURSELF. UM...” Papyrus is... so tall. Stars, she wonders if he could look King Asgore in the eyes without tilting his head up. Light orange sweat is beaded on his forehead, and he frets slightly, wringing his hands. “IF YOU DON’T MIND, THOUGH... THERE ARE! SAFER PLACES FOR YOU TO DO SO!”

By Asgore’s damned beard, if she didn’t almost hop right out of her scales. “Oh! Papyrus!! Hey!” This is the first time he’s seen her since her very first appearance, she recalls. He might not even recognize her. “Shit, uh- I’m Trixie, you know-”

“OH, NO, I REMEMBER JUST FINE! UM... DID... DID YOUR FRIEND COME AS WELL?” He seems to deliberately avoid calling you his friend and, almost blindsiding her, she realizes that she intimidated this eight-foot-tall skeleton. “NOT THAT I’M NOT PLEASED TO SEE YOU! ESPECIALLY NOW THAT I CAN. SEE YOU.”

She’s not sure how she overlooked the thick glasses taped to his head, but his small eyes blink owlishly down at her. “Oh, they’re a little ways back- they had a lot of stuff to carry, and wouldn’t let me touch any of it. Human pride and all.” Papyrus seems to only be half-listening to her, which would offend her if it weren’t for the fact that he looks visibly distraught. “Hey, is something wrong?”

“NOTHING! THERE’S NOTHING OUT IN THE FOREST THAT THE GREAT PAPYRUS COULDN’T HANDLE.” Nonetheless, he starts to usher her towards the house, turning her around and lightly gesturing, but halts in touching her. It’s probably the first time another monster has ever found her intimidating, and it feels like she’d accidentally swallowed a bone. It burns all the way down. “MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME! SANS IS ON THE COUCH, SO IF YOU NEED ANYTHING... JUST STICK YOUR HEAD OUT OF THE DOOR AND HOLLER FOR ME! I’LL BE...” He squints and looks away, and the set of his teeth seem to pull him into a grimace. It’s quickly replaced with the same smile from earlier. “I’LL BE LOOKING FOR YOUR FRIEND! I WOULDN’T WANT THEM TO GET LOST IN THE DARK!”

“I don’t think you need to look for them- they’d just be starting on the trail-” Trixie starts to turn around but, in lieu of a large monster behind her, there’s absolutely nothing. Her eyesight isn’t too great in the dark, but stars it looked like she just spotted him sprinting off between the trees. “Okay. I’ll... I’ll just make myself at home.”

Just as Papyrus had said, Sans is sitting on the couch. He sits up straighter when she opens the door but, when he turns to look at her, immediately slouches again. “oh. it’s you. uh...” His one ruined eyelight shakes, watching her, and it’s a miracle that you ever befriended these two. His stare made her nervous enough to want to dust and blow back out the door to get out from underneath it. “trish. right?”

“Close- it’s Trixie. Or, um, Trix. If you’d like.”

“wouldn’t happen to know any magic trix, would ya?” This was closer to the Sans you described- he’d been terrifying upon your first meeting, but you always had something fond to say whenever you came back from giving him food. Low-energy and bad jokes. You’d started making a Gyftmas list for the both of them with potential gifts, and the first one for him was ‘new joke book’.

But... was he asking if she knew any special magic? “Just the one.” Trix summons up one small green-magic scale. “Ta-da.” She gives a weak smile, warbling out her words and getting close enough to him to hand him the scale. Feeling like she was suddenly very young and it was her first time doing so, she nervously watches as he takes it from her between two phalanges.

Usually, it would shimmer and dissipate, giving about five HP back to whoever she gave it to. Instead, however, when he touched it, it just... Disappeared. Absolutely no effect. “nice trick.” Which her nervous thoughts take as disappointment, until the edges of his smile quirks up. No effect, apparently, but he seemed to appreciate it. “hey, i was wonderin’... what’s it like out there?”

“What’s what like?” She leans on the back of the couch, trying to keep the green corduroy from getting caught on her hands.

Sans is silent for long enough that Trixie has to lean back over to see if his sockets are open enough. She shivers when she finds that they’re still open, and that his eyelights just seem dimmer. They sharpen quickly back into focus. “ok. better question. how’d you two meet?” There’s something genuinely inquisitive on his face, searching over her’s for an answer.

If they weren’t allowed to leave the forest like you’d said, that means they’d likely only ever met the humans they ate. Trixie didn’t even know who she’d be any more if it weren’t for shitty human tabloids and trash tv. Suddenly, she feels a terrible pang of empathy- it was just like they were stuck Underground again. She can see why you keep coming back.

“Well, we were assigned to the same room at college- I’m a biology major, but they were in a culinary field and Lora was going for a fashion degree-”

“humans let monsters into their universities?”

“Yeah- most of them are integrated by now. It’s, uh... It’s been five years since we surfaced.” The visible surprise that takes over his features after her words sink in physically pains her. “Autonomy was an issue for a while because special laws had to be written but... It’s a pretty good world out there. Good humans in it, too.” She flares her gills and gives him a small, shaking smile. “Not sure there’s many like my human though.”

Sans chuckles. “yeah they’re pretty rare. real luck to meat ‘em.” A few minutes pass and she remembers that you were the whole reason that she’s over here. It’s been a little longer than she’d expect for it to take, but not too long that it couldn’t be accounted for because of the tupperware. Nonetheless, she shoots off a text.

You

Hey- everything alright out there?

It delivers, but you don’t read it. Right. The tupperware. 

Forgot you were carrying tupperware- I know it’s heavy and you probably can’t text.

If you’re not carrying it any more, and you could text, I’d be more concerned.

And yet, about ten minutes pass, and she starts to get antsy. It wouldn’t take you twenty-five minutes into walking into the woods to find the house and, seeing that you still hadn’t read her message, Papyrus’ earlier concern seemed completely warranted. “Hey, Sans?” In the meantime, she’d sat on the far edge of the couch (a polite enough distance between two friends-of-friends, she thought). When she speaks, Sans’ whole body seems to jerk, and he sits upright, staring at her with that one damned pupil again. For one heartstopping, chilling moment, recognition is missing from his eyes, and it almost looks like he’s going to pull her into an encounter.

But he doesn’t. After a moment, he says, slowly, “magic trix. with the...” He makes a magic-conjuring gesture with his hand. “sorry- looks like i nodded off on you. you just won’t let these old bones rest in peace, huh?”

“Uh, sorry.” There’s a long pause where they just seem to stare at each other. Trixie quietly makes a note to start hanging out with more than two people- her social skills have apparently eroded away. “I was just going to ask- where’s Papyrus? He went out a while ago to look in the forest- but shouldn’t he have checked in by now?”

Sans blinks, and the movement is so deliberate that she wonders if it’s some sort of threat. When he opens his mouth, his voice sounds strained. “when did he leave?”

“About half an hour ago?”

shit.” And, suddenly, Sans is no longer on the couch. Or in the room. If she wasn’t so sure that her eyes hadn’t blinked, she would’ve thought she’d missed him running out of the door or something. There was no way he could’ve moved that fast.

Trix holds her head in her hands and tries to calm down- how could a human be so unlucky?

-

It’s not the worst dinner you’ve been to. Somehow, despite the fact that you’ve been offered several inedible foodstuffs and what looks like cold ravioli straight from the can, the last dinner you’d had with your parents still holds that title.

With your Sans and Papyrus, it was fairly easy to get a judge of their character and keep a level head. Even if you weren’t sure what to do or say, they both seemed so starved for kindness that they appreciated any effort you gave. But, these two?

You’re not sure if Papyrus is onto you or just playing hard-to-get, but he’s been ignoring you and eating all of your food. As if you don’t have eyes and aren’t seated at the end of the table where every action he makes is completely visible to you, he keeps shooting unreadable glances at you. His eyelights are too small for you to really see, but you’re not sure if that would’ve helped, anyways. His eyes are half-lidded, to add to the confusion.

Sans, in contrast, hasn’t shut up for even a second. If it weren’t for the fact that he was telling stories of his Underground accomplishments, and that every single one of them involved detailed graphic violence in them, you would’ve been impressed by how little he breathed when telling them. Was it because he was a skeleton? Was it because he had practiced these stories? “-AND THEN, BECAUSE THE STUPID MUTT-” Papyrus, for some ungodly reason, looks up. “-NO, NOT YOU, PAPYRUS. STARS, CONTEXT-CLUES HERE POINT TO DOGGO. BECAUSE THAT DUMB DOG CAN’T SEE ANYTHING THAT DOESN’T MOVE, HE STEPPED RIGHT INTO A TRAP SET FOR ANY PASSING HUMANS! HE HAD TO GNAW HIS-”

“Excuse me!” You pipe up, seeing black smoke start to rise over his shoulder in the kitchen. You can see exactly where this story is going, and you’ve already lost your appetite. The two of them are tearing through the food that you’d brought, which leaves you with the old can of Chef Boyardee that’d been dumped unceremoniously onto your plate. You’d been trying to text Papyrus under the table, but after Sans made a loud comment implying that you were getting handsy under the table with his brother and that he ‘DIDN’T CONDONE THAT SORT OF BEHAVIOR AT THE TABLE. IF YOU STICK OUT A HAND IN AN INAPPROPRIATE DIRECTION ONCE MORE, YOU’LL DRAW BACK A NUB’, you decided it was just better to try and not be miserable as best as you can.

“WHAT IS IT? I WAS JUST GETTING TO THE CLIMAX OF THE STORY. CERTAINLY YOU CAN WAIT JUST A SECOND MORE FOR THE ROLLS IN THE OVEN.” Sans squints. “OH. I FORGOT ABOUT YOUR HUMAN NECESSITIES. THE BATHROOM IS DOWN THE HALL.”

“Uh, thanks.” That was about as good as an exit as you’ll be able to make, so you hastily pocket your phone and get up from the table. You’re about to clear past the kitchen and into the bathroom when, okay- you can’t just walk past the fucking smoking oven. They’ll burn the damn house down. You hastily start opening and closing drawers, looking for their towel drawer, and you can hear Sans’ chair squeak as he quickly stands up. When you find one, you click the stove off and, looking inside- no flames, at least.

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING-”

You slam open the kitchen’s window and pull the collar of your shirt over your nose, opening the stove and, when thick, billowing clouds of black smoke come pouring out, you try to direct them towards the open window without facing the oven. “Turn on the damn ceiling fan!” You cough.

You get a front-row seat to seeing this edgy, turtleneck-wearing Papyrus scramble for the switch to turn on the ceiling fan and nearly fall onto the ground. Eventually, the smell and the smoke clears enough for you to stop trying to lose a whole lung and to see Sans standing in front of you with an unreadable expression. If your eyes and nose weren’t still actively burning, you might ask him what it meant, but you’re still trying to get a handle on your respiratory functions. You cough again and, using the towel you’d used to knock the smoke away, take the buns out of the oven.

They’re coal-black and had become a black slab the size of a thesaurus. How the fuck does someone manage to almost burn their house down with brown-and-serve rolls?

Sans snatches the tray from you in his gloved hands and, alright, now he’s glaring at you. “WHATEVER BARN YOU WERE RAISED IN, THAT IT WAS ACCEPTABLE TO JUST HANDLE SOMEONE ELSE’S KITCHEN AND BARK ORDERS...” His red eye lights suddenly dart away from you. “THE SENTIMENT IS APPRECIATED, BUT YOUR ACTIONS! ARE NOT! YOU COULD’VE INDICATED TO ME THAT SOMETHING WAS BURNING, AND I WOULD’VE-”

Papyrus pulls up behind you, and you feel his hands drop onto your shoulders. When you look over your shoulder to figure out whether or not you were about to get thrown out, you see that he’s pulled the collar of his sweater over his mouth and nose bridge. You can barely hear him. “i think they were, uh, trying to do that in the middle of your story, bro.”

Sans pauses and you notice small beads of red sweat on his skull. Whatever bravado had compelled him to pretend that the smoke hadn’t affected him apparently lost to his need to supply his monster body with oxygen, and he pulls his red bandana over his nose bridge as well. His voice comes out muffled through it, but is still impressively loud. “I SEE.” His eye sockets close for a moment, and his red boot taps on the ground. When he re-opens his eyes, their filled with determination. “I TAKE THE FULL BLAME FOR BURNING THE ROLLS. WERE I A BETTER HOST, YOU WOULDN’T HAVE HAD TO INTERVENE AND, WHILE BURNING YOUR HOUSE TO THE GROUND CAN BE A MEANS OF RENEWAL AND, OCCASIONALLY, TAX EVASION, WHAT KIND OF LANDLORD WOULD I BE IF I CAUSED DAMAGE TO THE REST OF THE FOREST?”

“same kind of lord you were underground.” Papyrus says, but the words are echoing in your head. Landlord, lord... You nearly give yourself a headache, but you remember your Sans saying he didn’t think ‘milord’ would let them leave the forest.

“WELL! CERTAINLY I DON’T NEED ANY CHASTISEMENT FROM YOU, PAPYRUS- YOUR WORK WITH THE CANINE UNIT OF THE ROYAL GUARD CERTAINLY LEFT ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT, MUTT.” Okay. Okay, so at least you had context for that weird nickname but...

“I’m going to the bathroom! Right now!” With absolutely no attempt to conceal your phone, you start power walking to the bathroom, finally able to read all of the increasingly-panicked messages from Trixie, Papyrus, and, for some reason, a blocked number had tried to call you twice.

The Great Papyrus

ARE YOU ALRIGHT? IT’S TAKEN YOU LONGER THAN USUAL TO GET HERE.

The Great Papyrus

IT’S TAKEN YOU FAR TOO LONG TO RESPOND! TRIXIE MENTIONED YOU HAVING YOUR ARMS FULL, BUT A FRIEND’S INTUITION IS NEVER WRONG!

I’VE PATROLED ALL ACCESSIBLE PARTS OF THE FOREST AND HAVEN’T FOUND ANY SIGN OF YOU, SO I CAN ONLY HOPE THAT YOU’VE BEEN FOUND BY ONE OF THE OTHERS.

I HOPE...

You hadn’t even realized you’d been in this house for an hour but apparently, after exactly fifteen minutes without you responding, he continued texting you. You have to constantly swipe at your irritated eyes to continue to read them.

The Great Papyrus

WELL. I CHECKED WITH THE LODGE. AND NONE OF THEM WERE WON OVER BY YOUR EASY CHARISMA, AND DIDN’T KNOW WHO YOU WERE. SO I HAVE TO COME TO THE CONCLUSION THAT YOU ARE EXACTLY WHERE I WISH YOU WEREN’T!

BUT NO CHALLENGE IS TOO DAUNTING FOR THE GREAT PAPYRUS! I WILL RESCUE YOU, AND YOU WILL BE UNHARMED, AND WE WILL HAVE THE SLEEPOVER THAT YOU DESERVE AFTER YOUR UNDOUBTEDLY DIFFICULT NIGHT!

Your hand is on the doorknob to the bathroom, about to turn it so that you can finally respond to his texts and ask what the fuck is up with his crazy cousins, when a wall of bone attacks separates you from the kitchen. Through their side-door, you can see Papyrus, your Papyrus, with his face pressed against the small window in it, shooing you to step back a little. You hear shouting, you hear protest, but you do what he says and, as soon as you do, the Great Papyrus kicks the locked door inwards.

Then he scoops you up, hands behind your shoulders and knees, and bolts out of the way of what looked to be a fucking laser beam behind you.

“I AM!! VERY SORRY!! THAT YOU HAVE ACCIDENTALLY GOTTEN CAUGHT UP IN SKELETON FAMILY DRAMA!! REST ASSURED, I JUST NEED TO OUTRUN THAT SANS-”

Your eyes are still watering, so you can’t see why, but he stops so quickly that you’re almost thrown out of his arms. His grip on you tightens, but your stomach still lurches and, with the dinner you’d just eaten, you’re not really in any place to be getting motion sickness.

“didn’t really think you were the type to dine n’ dash, crooks.” In front of you, the Papyrus that likely still thought you two knew each other stood, holding a bone attack in his hand.

“THIS SITUATION IS GETTING DRASTICALLY OUT OF HAND! THERE’S NO NEED FOR US TO ESCALATE IT FURTHER- THIS HAS ALL BEEN SOME BIG MISUNDERSTANDING!” Orange sweat peppers his skull, but, even though Papyrus holds you tighter, you suddenly feel like you weigh a thousand pounds, and you drop out of his hold and into the leaves below.

Oh. Blue magic. You’ve... You’ve heard about it, but never really...

The other Papyrus’ eye lights up with an orange glow and you’re pinned by his magic- far away from your Papyrus that you wouldn’t- “Wait! Hold on!” You wouldn’t get hurt. “This is all a big misunderstanding- don’t hurt him!”

The air is tight, and remains tight- whatever attack the other Papyrus was about to unleash, it felt... immense. You can feel sweat start to bead on your neck. “hun, i’ll give ya thirty seconds to explain how this isn’t you about to become a midnight snack.”

And, sometimes, the best kind of lie was a half-truth. “Tonight, I was coming to see you, but! I work as a line cook for Grillby’s and I’ve been sent out here to give Papyrus and his brother food before! He was probably... just concerned... with the smoke?” Papyrus looks awfully tall from where you’d been thrown but he also looked... capable. Even though his hands are tightly curled into fists and his eyes are squinted, it’s not even a question of whether or not he’d put up a fight.

But he looks so reluctant to do so. The other Papyrus stares at you in complete awe and, after a few moments, the tension in air dissipates. He’s buying it.

“THAT’S EXACTLY IT! THE SMOKE FROM WHATEVER YOU WERE COOKING WAS VISIBLE FROM OUR HOUSE SO, OF COURSE, I CAME OVER TO INSPECT IT. AND, UPON SEEING OUR DILIGENT HUMAN CATERER IN DISTRESS, I KNEW I HAD TO DO SOMETHING!” Which is... an equally convincing lie. You’re almost stunned.

You hear crunching leaves coming up from behind you and, now, you see the other Sans, hand raised up in the air, with an attack in the shape of an animal skull hovering just above it. “AND WHAT... IS THE MEANING... OF STEALING OUR GUEST... YOU POORLY-ASSEMBLED BAG OF BONES?!” He seems to be out of breath, either from running to catch up or from lasting effects from the smoke earlier.

milord, call off the ‘blaster.” The other Papyrus pinches his nose bridge, and looks like he has a headache. His voice holds obvious annoyance in it. “crooks had good intentions- apparently, grillby’s employee here knew about him and axe. and, uh. looks like. i boned grillby’s employee?”

“UGH!” Sans looks like he’s going to elaborate, but he just calls off the attack and throws both of his hands in the air. “OF COURSE! LET’S JUST DO ALL OF THIS NOW, IN THE FOREST. LET’S JUST HAVE THESE SIX MONTHS OF RELATIVE PEACE JUST FALL APART. LET’S CALL AXE UP AND GET HIM TO INSERT HIS OPINION ON THIS ENTIRE APPALLING ORDEAL WHILE WE’RE AT IT! MAYBE HE’LL ASK TO LEAVE THE WOODS WHILE HE’S HERE!”

“you rang?” Usually, you like seeing Sans around but, now? Unease washes over you like a cold wave of water, and the snap of tension in the air is back, even though no one looks like they’re readying an attack.

“Can someone let me up off of the ground?” Immediately, Sans waves a hand, and you stop feeling like you’d just eaten rocks. Both Papyruses (Papyrus? Papyri?) reach to help you up, and it’s awkward, and they stare one another in the eye sockets for a while before you just get up, yourself. “I don’t see what the big deal is- I can separate my work life from my personal life, you know.”

Your Sans casts you a curious look, but is silenced by Papyrus speaking up. “EXACTLY! SO WHY DON’T YOU JUST... LET THE HUMAN COME BACK WITH US? I CAN SHOW THEM BACK TO THE PATH, AND WE CAN ALL GO ABOUT OUR BUSINESS.”

“SO YOU COULD GET AN EASY, HUMAN MEAL OUT OF US? I’D RATHER NOT EXPLAIN HOW I LET THAT HAPPEN TO THE BIG BLUE IDIOT. PAPYRUS CAN TAKE THEM BACK TO THE TRAILS, AND THEY CAN GO BACK HOME.” The other Sans starts to reach for you with his sharp, gloved fingers, but you’re pulled back again without anyone touching you.

More blue magic? You’re starting to get past nauseous and into migraine territory. You stumble backwards into your Sans’ chest. “ya think we’d bite the hand that feeds us?” His hand comes around to wrap around your stomach, and it’s surprisingly gentle but firm. “we just want out of the forest. the... caterer here, they said they can drive us to a dentist for papyrus. ‘ve been talking about this shit for about a month, now.”

Is he... Is he faking a hostage situation with you? The other Papyrus locks eyes with you and, even though he’s barely said two words to you since dinner started, looks genuinely torn. “did you actually agree to that?”

“I mean, uh. I own a delivery van, so taking them to town would be on my way...?” You trail off. It’s not going to fucking work- you can feel it. The other Sans is obviously not buying it, but...

The other Papyrus squints. “alright. whatever. guess we’re not responsible if someone else takes ‘em out of the forest.” His jaw works, then he draws closer to you in two strides. You feel Sans’ arms around you tighten. “i don’t think i got your number at the bar- you musta set it real low.” He holds out his hand, waiting for you to hand him your cell phone to put in his number.

Which is difficult with Sans’ cobra-like grasp on you, but you manage to get it out of your front pocket. If only so he wouldn’t reach in and grab it himself. You hand it over to him, with the Contacts app open, watching him type in his number and put it back into your pocket. It’s easily the strangest exchange in which you’ve gotten someone’s number, but you’ll let it go, if it deescalates the situation any.

“I GUESS WE SHOULD... RE-INTRODUCE OURSELVES?” The other Sans looks around, somewhat confused, the bridge of his nose wrinkled. “THEY CALL ME... ‘BLACKBERRY’. WHICH WOULD MAKE A LOT MORE SENSE IF YOU WERE AWARE OF THE LODGE, BUT IT APPEARS THAT YOU ARE NOT.”

“and i’m mutt.” The other Papyrus says, his head tilted to the side. Uh. Kind of like a dog, which was weird, given his nickname, apparently. “‘s probably for the best if you don’t call us ‘sans’ and ‘papyrus’.”

“and i’m leaving.” Your Sans says, starting to step backwards. He does once, twice, then your stomach bottoms out and everything spins and the house you’d just been in front of is gone and, instead, you’re in front of their familiar cottage. Sans sets you down easy onto the ground, then disappears again. You’d tried to hold onto the contents of your stomach as long as you could, but...

A very loud voice is suddenly very close to you, shushing you. It takes you a moment to connect that it’s Papyrus, and that he’s rubbing your back. “THIS WAS AN INCREDIBLY AND UNNECESSARILY STRESSFUL NIGHT FOR YOU, AND I’M VERY SORRY. IF YOU’D LIKE, I’LL WALK YOU TO YOUR CAR- NOW THAT WE CAN DO THAT WITHOUT IT ERUPTING INTO A FIGHT.”

You wipe your mouth and stand on shaky knees- you’re surprised to see Sans is standing in front of you, leaning as if he’d help you up. “shoulda given you a warning- ‘m sorry. here- lean on me- shit-

You’d like to say that you were a fairly strong person. You’d endured years of domestic abuse, a toxic family situation, and had gotten into a scrap or two before. You could stand in a hot kitchen for hours on end and bark out orders and, when the going got tough, you tended to get tougher. You were fairly healthy, went to the doctor regularly, and rarely gave blood.

Which meant that, when everything started to go dark around the edges, you didn’t realize what was going on. So you’d fainted into Sans’ arms, and collapsed your full bodyweight onto him.

-

He caught you, of course.

Papyrus’ eyes are wide, peering down at you. His voice comes out uneasy, fearful, “SANS, THEY DIDN’T...”

To be fair, it wasn’t like Sans was an expert on human illness either, but you were breathing pretty steadily. “no- doesn’t look like they fell down, pap. probably just worn out- stars know i’d be, too.” He picks you up securely- like how he used to pick up Papyrus when he was still a babybones and liked being put to bed.

Trixie, who had been watching from the door, darts out. “STARS! What happened- where were they?” You hadn’t lost any HP, but you just generally looked like you’d been in an encounter- you smelled like smoke, were covered in dirt, and had considerably paled since the last time she’d seen you.

“landlord’s house.” Her eyes narrow immediately, so he explains a little more. “looks like they burnt some food. then they tried to pick a fight with papyrus for trying to get them back- they didn’t get hurt, but they were probably really stressed.” Sans intends to go inside to set you down on the couch but, while his magic still has him feeling strong, he should ask, “do they look like they need to go to the human hospital? or can they just sleep it off?” 

“Uh... Uh...” Trixie is staring at you and, after she puts her hand on your forehead, “No... They can probably sleep it off, but I’ll still run to the sorority house and grab some ginger ale and Tylenol. Just, uh...” She cracks an uneven, nervous smile. “Please be gentle with them? And lay them down on their side.”

It sounded like nonsensical advice but, really, most things about human biology didn’t make very much sense to him. “ok.”

“I’LL WALK WITH YOU. WE DON’T NEED... A REPEAT OF WHAT JUST HAPPENED.” Papyrus says, and follows her, shoulders hunched. As strong as he’d postured himself to be, it’s obvious that the confrontation had taken a lot out of him. Getting out from the Underground was supposed to mean getting away from all of the violence, and Sans knows he isn’t alone in thinking that.

Your phone buzzes in your pocket, and, without thinking, he looks at the message. The other Papyrus had put his name in as ‘Mutt’ followed by a dog emoji. Sans rolls his eyelights.

Mutt

just making sure you aren’t becoming someone else’s chew toy.

you still in one piece?

You

i’m fine. talk to you later.

That’s about as neutral of a message as he can imagine you saying. He wanted to type a message about how much of a jackass the mutt must’ve been to allow a human to eat their shitty food, make them inhale smoke, and then try to attack his brother for getting them away from all of that. But it’s your phone, and he just wants to give you the moment’s peace to rest- you don’t need him blowing up your phone while you tried to sleep... Or whatever it was you were doing.

You cough in your sleep and start to stir but, instead of trying to break free of him, you pull closer towards his chest. Remembering what Trixie had said, he sets you down on your hip, then takes a shortcut to his room to take the blanket off of his bed.

You’re awake when he comes back down the stairs. “Hey- you alright?” Your voice croaks slightly, and you sound ridiculous. It’s ridiculous that those are the first three words out of your mouth. You seem disoriented, and you sway a little, even while laying down. 

“i’m fine. you musta had one hell of a night, though.” Your phone buzzes again, and you lean over to check it. “so... did you really knock hips with...?”

“What? No.” You squint down at your phone, likely seeing his response, then look back up at him. “The other Sans found me in the woods, and I said I’d been talking with Papyrus- meaning our Papyrus- and... It just kind of ended up snowballing.” You read the text you’d just got. “‘why was the wolf arrested at the butcher’s shop?’”

You obviously shoot back a text asking ‘why?’, but Sans isn’t gonna let him reuse old material. “he was caught chop -lifting.”

You laugh, a little surprised, and put your phone in your pocket, sitting up with your eyes closed, dizzy and tired. “Oh, I thought it was going to be because the butcher wouldn’t throw him a bone.”  

Chapter Text

After Trixie had returned with a change of clothes for you, she’d held your chin in her hand and put a pill on your tongue, and you’d washed it down with a glass of seltzer water. Sans would’ve assumed you hadn’t even noticed her subtle use of healing magic as you took the Tylenol, but you leaned into her and thanked her so profusely that you had to know what she’d done. You were a little unsteady on your feet, and she’d walked you to the bathroom to change.

You came out in a pair of sleep-shorts and a tank top and, after looming over you for fifteen minutes, Trixie said that you should stay the night. “I don’t think the drive back would be kind on you, sweetheart. Just take it easy, or you’ll make it worse.”

Your voice is noticeably more hoarse than when you were speaking on the phone. “Yeah, um... I’m just gonna...” With shaking arms, you’d lowered yourself down onto the couch, next to him. He’s not sure if it’s because you’re comfortable with him, or because your sudden illness made you care less. You turn to him, and your smile is somewhat faraway, “Hey. Sorry about all of... this.”

“‘s my fault. don’t apologize.” He starts to say more, but your eyes focus and you smile wider at him.

“Alright, I’ll, um. Be heading back to the apartment?” When you don’t say anything, Trix nods, almost to herself. Even though you’re not facing her, you’ve tilted your head to show that you were still listening. “You know my number, you have your cellphone charger... If you need anything, call. Have a good night, make good choices.” She pauses, then turns to face Papyrus, who had been hanging closer to the doorway. Her tone grows serious, and Sans watches her gills flare. “Take care of them. I’m serious- if I find out that something happened to them because of you two...”

She doesn’t finish her sentence, but her teeth audibly grit together. It’s apparent that her human friend showing up in such a state of disarray didn’t sit well with her, and that she was really considering if you staying with the two of them was the best option.

“OF COURSE WE WILL! RIGHT NOW, I’LL... I’LL GO PREPARE SOME LIGHT FOODS FOR THEM TO EAT ON THEIR DELICATE STOMACH.” Happy to have something to do with his hands, Papyrus darts off to the kitchen. You shuffle closer to him, and your thigh overlaps his, and he can feel your warmth on his side through his jacket, through to the bone.

“Thanks, Papyrus.” You call out to him, then turn towards Trixie. He notices that you’ve closed your eyes. “Make sure to text me when you get home, so I know you’re safe, Trix.”

“Hey, now’s not the time to be worrying about me. You just text me and let me know if it passes, alright?” She reaches over to gently pat at your head, but you flinch hard and she pulls away. “Shit! Sorry!”

“‘S fine. Hold on- I have to give you the keys...” You get up and start back towards the bathroom. When you come back, you have your key ring hanging off of one finger. He notices you have more than a few fish-themed charms on it. “Drive safe.”

“Always do.” There’s a long pause where she doesn’t say anything to Sans, but she’s looking him in the eyes. Seeing you unwell seemed to have made her bolder. “I left the Tylenol bottle in the bathroom- if their migraine gets worse, give them another one, but no more until the morning. They shouldn’t eat anything too heavy, or they might throw up again- so no red meat or greasy foods. No sugary monster food. And don’t keep them up too late, or they might feel worse in the morning.”

“papyrus?” He calls out, somewhat helplessly. You were very soft, but also very weak and heavy against him, and there was no way he could remember the specifics of how to deal with your illness. Basic things, he knew- of course, don’t feed you anything heavy, keep his voice quiet. He’s had a perpetual headache since he had half of his parietal caved in, he knows the basics.

But he’s killed enough humans to know that the human body is terrifying, confusing, and a very careful balance of injury and instinct. He could trust you to do what was in your best interest, but that didn’t mean that it’d be good for you in the long run.

“I’LL REMEMBER! I’M A GOOD CARETAKER AND HOST- THERE ARE SEVERAL CARING BONES IN MY BODY!” Papyrus responds from the kitchen, holding a ladle. Distantly, he can hear something boiling- probably one of those soups you’d packed for the two of them so long ago.

“Alright... I’ll be... heading out now...” With that, Trixie very reluctantly starts to head out the door. She pauses to check over her shoulder and look at you several times, but does leave. Even though she did open the door to look at you one last time after closing it.

Sans realizes that his concept of time might be somewhat skewed when you clear your throat after what felt like only a passing moment of sitting on the couch. His eye lights flicker to you, taking in your slight grimace, the way you aren’t making direct eye contact. “Sorry I ruined our slumber party.” You say it with a cut of humor to it, but your smile is... difficult to look at.

Unabashedly, he spends a few moments staring at you to figure it out. You look like Grillby when his daughter came in with him to work and put sugar on his fries instead of salt. Like Papyrus when he’d drawn over a physics equation paper he’d been working on without realizing it. Alphys with the amalgamates. Asgore with the caskets under the castle.

Stars, you looked guilty. Like getting into a mess with the alternate versions of your two friends had been your idea, and you’d somehow sabotaged the evening.

He’s not good at comfort. Hasn’t been for years. He knows he’s good for a laugh or two (set up a whole routine for that) but no one really liked getting close. It didn’t matter who it was- they always had that same uncomfortable smile on both of their faces when a vulnerable subject was brought up. Sans pats the edge of your thigh and, talking to you in the assured tone he used to read Papyrus the occasional bedtime story, “you didn’t ruin a thing. ‘s our fault for not warning you there were other skeletons in the forest. if something’d happen to you... woulda been on us.” It dawns on him. “you were in real danger, and it was on us. i’m sorry for that.”

It’s only been a month since you’ve met the two of them, but it’s the fastest month he’s ever felt go by. There has to be some significance to that- it’s not that he’s losing more time, it’s that every moment with you feels effortless. You with your bright smile and your new recipes and the terrible puns you come up with just to make him laugh.

What would the next morning feel like, knowing that you’d stepped into one of the other Sans’ traps? That that Papyrus had seen you wandering in the woods and got bored enough in an encounter that he decided to finish you off quick?

How terrifying it would’ve been, to have seen you as lifeless as he’s seen a human body get. Cold and motionless and scared in your very last moments- wounded so badly that you don’t even leave your soul behind. He doesn’t even know how to articulate how terrified the thought makes him feel- let alone that it could’ve been reality only an hour ago.

“Sans.” You say his name like it’s not the first time, which means he must’ve unfocused. He knows his eyelights must’ve come back into focus when you brighten, and that just rattles him a little more. Thinking of your eyes cold and static- a part of a body, not something that brightens when you smile. “Sans, I have to ask- are you guys... uh... cousins? Family? I mean, I really lied my ass off back there, and the guy that said his name was... Well, they introduced themselves as Sans and Papyrus. So I just kinda want to know what I’m getting into here.”

To be honest, it’s very difficult to focus just on you, but he grits his teeth and tables a mental conversation about how heavy his and Papyrus’ emotional dependency on you was getting. “uh. hm.” Really, who was he protecting? “well, they’re versions of papyrus and me from another dimension where the underground never ran out of food. that papyrus acts more like me, and that sans acts more like our papyrus. also their universe was unnecessarily violent even though they didn’t really have to compete for resources.”

Which is what he wants to say, but he doesn’t. “just another sans and papyrus. got a few more of ‘em in this neck of the woods. ” Of course, you don’t know about the lodge, so you’d probably take it as just another set of skeleton brothers, and that the names ‘Sans’ and ‘Papyrus’ are common-

“Uh, I’m calling bullshit. Skeleton monsters are rare enough that I couldn’t find a monster doctor that was also a orthopedic doctor. And I really looked.” Sans doesn’t miss the way you look at the hole in his head. “Are they, like, the family you’re ashamed to admit you’re related to? I understand that plenty, but you don’t have to lie about it.”

Welp. He tried the easy way out. “we’re all products of a science experiment that threw us into the wrong universe and they came from a really violent one.” From the kitchen, he hears Papyrus drop something, then scramble to pick it back up. “paps, you ok?”

“SANS... ARE YOU SURE-”

“sure, why not? really, papyrus, it’s the truth, but who would believe them?” You visibly shiver, and he realizes that that might’ve sounded like a threat. “so, uh. talus how you’re feeling about that.” He rolls his ankle and you meet him with a blank stare. “uh. the ankle bone.”  

“Oh.” Though you don’t seem as amused as you typically look. You close your eyes tight and open them again- the migraine. He’d almost completely forgotten. Your voice comes out weaker, almost bargaining in tone, “Listen, I feel like you’re giving me some very heavy and important information right now, but I can’t process it at all. I thought it’d be a simple family relation and I could make a cute joke about how you’re a font family but some of you are bolder than the others, but trying to grapple with the idea of there being alternate universes has made my migraine worse. So.” You hold up both of your hands in the universal ‘slow down’ motion. “Not saying I don’t want to know what the fuck you mean by that just that. I need to not think so hard right now and sleep on it before we talk about it.”

Papyrus walks into the room, cradling a hot bowl of vegetable soup in his hands, his face knitted into a pursed look of concern. “OF COURSE. TAKE ALL-” You flinch and Papyrus reads you better than Sans could’ve, lowering his voice. “Of course. Take all the time you need.” He sits on the other side of you and picks up the spoon he’d set in the bowl, spooning some of the broth and opening his mouth slightly to blow on it.

When his brother holds it out for you to drink, you look absolutely incredulous. “Papyrus, I can feed mys- No, Papyrus, I just have a really bad headache, you don’t need to-” Every time he tried to get closer with the spoon, you’d just dodge it and continue talking, but you’re smiling now and, by the time you’d finally stopped dodging, the soup in the spoon has cooled. “Okay, fine. Just once, though- and that’s sip.” You open your mouth and he delicately puts the spoon into your mouth.

Sans is suddenly very aware of how he used to do the same thing with Papyrus was sick and would get picky with his food, and it makes him smile. Despite you sounding so sure when you’d said it’d only be once, you continue to let Papyrus feed you a little broth at a time, smiling and laughing and trying to take the bowl from him the whole time. “There! Do you feel any better?” Papyrus looks so proud that you’d finished the bowl that Sans wonders if he, too, was thinking about how vulnerable you seemed.

“I do!” He finally relinquishes the bowl to let you eat the vegetables from the bottom of the soup, and you tilt your body away from Sans to get closer to Papyrus. “Thank you for the soup- I don’t think I could’ve held down anything heavier.”

“No need to thank me! Our food is your food, make no bones about it!” He gets up from the couch, and tilts back and forth, stretching. “So! Do you want to see if our TV has picked up the Food Network channel today?”

“Sure, why not.”

Sans comes-to when you interrupt a man with white hair on the television going to town on a meatball sub. “Where do you guys want to go tomorrow?” He startles and looks at you, confused and obviously half-asleep, so you repeat the question. “I mean, I technically got the go-ahead to take you out on the town from the landlord. And I was pretty useless when it came to the fight, but it’ll be over my dead body that they don’t let you out tomorrow.”

Stars, he really fucking hoped it wouldn’t be over your dead body.

“Seeing your apartment would be nice!” Papyrus volunteers. “Or where you work! Or just into town- I’m curious to see how everything looks with humans and monsters in the same place.”

“i think we should prioritize a little bit, paps.” He turns his gaze to you. “dentist first, sightseeing later?”

You look somewhat offended. “Of course dentist first- I just wanted to know if you guys wanted to get something to eat beforehand. You guys haven’t left the forest since you came up from the Underground- I wanted to treat you to some breakfast. Or maybe some soft-serve afterwards.” You look away from him for a second. “I didn’t get a lot of time to plan- your first day out, I want it to be special, you know?”

“‘course it’s gonna be special.” it’ll be with you. “haven’t even seen the edge of the forest in months- seeing the town just might dust me. you could say that you’d-” He winks. “-sweep me off my feet.”

You smack his arm playfully, but his dark humor still surprises a chuckle out of you. “Let’s hope it doesn’t! What a terrible experience that’d be!” For a few minutes, you turn your attention back to the television. “So, in the morning, Trix’ll swing by here to pick me up, and the two of you can come back to the apartment while I get dressed and call around to see who can take emergency orthodontic patients. We’ll go in, Papyrus can get his teeth fixed, then I’ll take you out for ice cream after that. How’s that sound?”

“sounds good.”

“IT SOUNDS PERFECT.” Papyrus gets louder out of excitement, his eyes sparkling, and his gloved fingers laced together. Sans has to wonder at that- was he excited to get his teeth fixed, or was it something deeper? Did he just want to leave the forest as badly as Sans did?

“Alright, alright. Tomorrow we’ll go on our adventure.” With that, you settle back down and continue watching TV, occasionally bantering with Papyrus on cooking techniques. Sans remembers Trixie’s advice about not letting you stay up too late, but doesn’t have the heart to tell you to go to sleep.

-

Later, when you’ve fallen asleep, Papyrus picks you up and takes you up to his room, cradling you in his arms and stepping around all of the creaking floorboards more carefully than he usually did. It was only a few more hours until the sun would be rising, but who was he to judge for someone keeping irregular sleeping hours? The times he felt tired were few and getting even farther between now that you had practically nursed him back to health. It was good to feel strong and to feel confident in his body’s capabilities again, and Papyrus could certainly get used to the weight of you in his arms.

Certainly, this time was better than the first time, now that there was no threat of being blasted from outside of the other skeletons’ home into next Tuesday!

You don’t seem to make a lot of noise when you’re asleep, or move at all. You’re almost unnaturally still, and it’s such a stark contrast to the one human he’d ever seen sleep. Frisk had always tossed and turned, and trying to put them to bed was like trying to wrestle an ocean monster with several limbs. You startle him when you sigh in your sleep, turning your face closer to his warm sweater.

Setting you down felt harder than picking you up- you were so warm and soft it was difficult to muster the strength to do so.

Suddenly acutely aware of how long it’s been since he’s changed his sheets, Papyrus hesitates in pulling them up over you. The racecar bed was, of course, the focal point of his bedroom, but they hadn’t been allowed to go to town to purchase a lot of the necessary home-furnishing items, and there was only so many times you could wash sheets before they became threadbare. Perhaps, while you’re out tomorrow, he could find some means of fast employment and get enough gold to buy heavier sheets for you. It was hardly accommodating for a host to be unable to keep his human friend warm!

After tucking you in as best as he can, he gives your head an affectionate pat and starts to head back downstairs, closing the door so that he can speak at his normal volume without waking you. You kept him well-fed and his soul soaring- he could go one night resting on the couch for you.

Sans is still sitting on the couch, his one ruined eye light still trained on the television. “hey, paps, come here a second.” When Papyrus sits on the couch beside him, his brother tilts his head, considering him. “damn. the whoopee cushion must’ve had a hole in it. anyways- what’s up with you? earlier, you didn’t want me to tell them about the others.”

“I’VE BEEN THINKING LATELY. ABOUT OUR FRIENDSHIP.” Even though it had been around three years since the Underground’s food supply had steadily trickled out and they had both decided to be a lot more direct when speaking to each other, it never stunned Papyrus any less when Sans just outright asked him about what was wrong. He was still accustomed to the Sans that wanted to give his brother more privacy- not the one where the world made it necessary for them to have no secrets between the two of them. “YOU’VE NEVER CONSIDERED IT, THEN? WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF THEY MET THE OTHER SANSES AND PAPYRUSES. THE... ORIGINAL PAIR.”

The ones who looked as they should- who weren’t warped beyond recognition by a cruel world and a crueler fate. The Sans with his whole skull and his quick wit and who could still remember a comedy routine enough to finish it to the end. The Sans with his magic that still functioned perfectly and wasn’t dedicated solely to making sure he didn’t dust because he’d sustained a terrible wound with only one HP.

The Papyrus with his even set of teeth, who looked as he should and didn’t need glasses to see up close and who had never had to know a hunger that gnawed on his soul.

“nah- i think tonight proved they’re not just with us because it’s easy. they don’t seem interested in trading us in for a newer model.” But Papyrus has been Sans’ brother long enough to recognize when his smile is tighter than it should be. Uncertain. “don’t worry too much about that, papyrus- you’re too cool for them to forget about you, you know?”

Does he, though? “BLACKBERRY AND MUTT ARE A FAR-CRY FROM THE ‘PRIME’ SANS AND PAPYRUS, THOUGH.” He points out, drumming his fingers on his knee. He takes a long time to actually think over Sans’ sentiment, though. “THEY WOULDN’T LEAVE US JUST FOR THE ‘BETTER’ SANS AND PAPYRUS. YOU’RE RIGHT.”

“wouldn’t exactly call them better, but yeah. i mean. i did try to kill and eat them the first day they met us. kinda thought putting their life in jeopardy would be a dealbreaker in the ‘staying/not staying’ category, but, despite everything, they’re still here.”

You’re still here. Yes... that was... true. Proven true, not just some hollow sentiment. It was so difficult to keep his head up before, but it had gotten easier since you’d stumbled into their lives. Lapsing back into the glass-half-empty mindset of before would do him no favors- you didn’t want a better Papyrus. You were fine with the one you had now, and you didn’t even have the ‘real’ Papyrus to judge his appearance off of. You didn't call him 'Crooks'- you called him Papyrus, and often with that bright smile of your's. Your interest in getting him glasses, in fixing his teeth... it was because you were concerned for him.

Not because you wanted to fix how he looked.

“THANK YOU, SANS.” Hugs are difficult to execute, but they manage with having his arms loop almost completely around Sans’ torso. After everything that’d happened Underground, the time spent above-ground hadn’t been much of an improvement and, when you’d arrived, everything felt so fragile. Seeing you in the other brothers’ house, you sprinting away from their dinner table... His soul could’ve jumped out of his chest! He hadn’t considered that concern amongst friends was a two-way street, and had, admittedly, panicked and acted rashly. There was probably a better solution than just grabbing you and running.

Though he couldn’t exactly come up with one off of the top of his head.

Holding onto his brother, who has seen him through everything, has been there since the moment he toddled into this world... It makes everything feel a little steadier. Even when Sans wasn’t as stable as he once was. When he lets go, Papyrus sighs. “YOU SHOULD BE HEADING TO BED, SANS. IT SEEMS LIKE WE HAVE A LONG DAY TOMORROW!”

Sans chuckles, looking away from him. “yeah, seems like it. but isn’t that supposed to be my line?” As if to reassert his big-brother status, he gets him in the ribs with his elbow, until Papyrus concedes and stands up.

“ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT! YOU’RE RIGHT- I’LL GRAB A BLANKET FROM THE CLOSET TO MAKE MY BED AND LIE IN IT.”

Sans still doesn’t move. “i know you put them in your bed, but if you can’t sleep down here, you’re not too old to sleep in my room.”

“NO, NO- I’LL BE FINE. IF I CAN’T SLEEP, I CAN WATCH MTT RERUNS A LOT EASIER DOWN HERE, ANYWAYS! NO RISK OF TRIPPING DOWN THE STAIRS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.”

“ok. sleep tight- the sun’s coming up soon, and they’re probably going to sleep in, so i’ll wake you if they get up before you.” With that, Sans disappears briefly and reappears with a pillow under his arm, holding onto a moth-eaten quilt, throwing it over the back of the couch. “‘night, bro.”

“GOODNIGHT, SANS.”

-

Plugged into the wall beside the bed, your phone buzzes enough times for you to bolt awake from an otherwise peaceful slumber. After a brief disoriented feeling, you recognize the room to be Papyrus’, and you’ve been dropped into his racecar bed. You huff in annoyance towards your phone- who texts at 5 AM? Staring at the screen, it’s not a number in your contacts, and it’s not a number you recognize.

[???]

GOOD MORNING. I HOPE THIS MESSAGE FINDS YOU WELL.

OR NOT! I’M NOT PARTICULARLY INVESTED IN YOUR GENERAL WELLBEING, BUT I AM A SKELETON OF MANNERS. THIS IS BLACKBERRY, FROM EARLIER, AND I WOULD LIKE TO NOTIFY YOU THAT I’M WELL AWARE OF YOUR RUSE. I AM INCREDIBLY PERCEPTIVE, BUT CERTAINLY MORE CONNIVING THAN YOU! BEFORE TONIGHT, YOU HAD NEVER MET MY BROTHER.

You’re immediately more awake- you knew it couldn’t have gone over as smoothly as you’d thought it would! You add his contact information to your phone for future reference, though your hands are shaking as you do. Your eyes scan downwards, a pit of dread growing heavier in your stomach with each passing paragraph-text.

Blackberry

WHICH MEANS THAT EITHER YOU WERE DELIVERING FOOD TO THE LODGE (WHICH I DOUBT FOR SEVERAL REASONS), OR YOU’VE BEEN CAVORTING WITH THOSE FREAKSHOW SKELETONS. CONSIDERING YOUR EMOTIONAL INVESTMENT IN MAKING SURE THAT PAPYRUS SURVIVED OUR CONFRONTATION, I’M GOING TO ASSUME IT WAS THE LATTER.

YOUR DECEITFUL NATURE SHOWS THAT YOU ARE NOT TO BE TRUSTED BUT, TO BE FRANK, I’M ALMOST IMPRESSED! MY BROTHER IS TRULY UNCERTAIN AS TO WHETHER OR NOT YOU BOTH HAVE MET BEFORE. THIS IS A SITUATION I AM HOPING TO EXPLOIT, AS YOU *HAVE* BEEN CAUGHT IN THIS LIE. MY PROPOSITION IS THUS:

I WANT YOU TO VISIT OUR HOME AT LEAST TWICE A WEEK, EACH TIME BRINGING SOME SORT OF FOODSTUFF WITH YOU. I WILL COMPENSATE YOU FOR THE FOOD YOU BRING. YOU’LL PROVIDE MY BROTHER LESSONS IN SOME ROUTINE TAUGHT SKILL- I GATHERED THAT YOU’RE GOOD AT COOKING, BUT I AM NOT PICKY. SO LONG AS YOU’RE IN CONTACT WITH THOSE OTHER SKELETONS, I WANT YOU TO VISIT US AS WELL, UNDER THESE TERMS.

I AM MANY THINGS. A GREAT VILLAIN. A POWERFUL MONSTER SITUATED AT THE HEAD OF THE ROYAL GUARD. BUT I AM ALSO PAPYRUS’ OLDER BROTHER, AND HE HAS FEW FRIENDS AND SEEMS TO HAVE NO INTEREST IN MAKING ANY.

BY FEW I MEAN ABSOLUTELY NONE! HE HAS ABYSMAL ‘PEOPLE SKILLS’ AND ATTEMPTS TO REMEDY THIS BY HAVING TEMPORARY DRUNKEN LIAISONS TO FILL THE HOLE IN HIS SOUL WHERE CAMARADERIE LIVES. IT’S NOT SUSTAINABLE AND I AM EQUALLY CONCERNED AND ANGRY. YOU HAVE ACCIDENTALLY FUMBLED INTO HIS GOOD GRACES, AND I HOLD ENOUGH LEVERAGE OVER YOU TO SAY WITH CONFIDENCE:

BEFRIEND MY BROTHER OR I WILL PERSONALLY SEE TO IT THAT YOU NEVER SEE “YOUR” PAPYRUS AND SANS AGAIN.

DO NOT RESPOND TO THESE MESSAGES OTHER THAN A SIMPLE ‘YES’ OR ‘NO’ AS TO WHETHER OR NOT YOU ACCEPT MY DEMANDS. PAPYRUS MUST NEVER KNOW ABOUT THIS DEAL.

You drop your phone onto the bed, staring down at the phone- you almost feel numb. It’s the first time you’ve ever been threatened into being someone’s friend, and you’re not exactly sure how to take it. If Sans had been concerned enough with these two that he hadn’t tried to have him and Papyrus leave the forest this entire time, there was obviously power behind the two of them that you hadn’t even seen with their confrontation in the forest. It wasn’t even a bad deal- it was basically another catering job, but you had to befriend your client. Which was weird.

Tonight was an unnecessary rollercoaster of emotions, and you haven’t even thought about when Sans had said the other skeleton brothers and him and Papyrus were related through some alternate universe nonsense science thing. You plug your phone back into the wall and, defeated, decide that all of that is a problem for morning-you.

Chapter Text

The warm smell of breakfast reaches you before you open your eyes. A blanket has been lovingly tucked over your shoulders and, for the first time in what feels like months, you had a good night’s sleep. The sun casts a soft glow over you, and you feel... You feel good. It’s hard for you to even remember a time when waking up felt effortless. Slightly disoriented, you look around the room, your sleepy mind trying to pick out if Trixie had moved you from the couch.

You recognize the racecar bed almost immediately, and the events of the previous day drop on you like a bucket of cold water. Almost immediately, you startle back into your aching joints, your nervous heart rate. You’d been found out. You were being blackmailed by a skeleton you’d just met yesterday, and they were apparently alternate versions of the Sans and Papyrus that you knew.

It all feels so overwhelming, so you just... stop thinking about it. As heavy a dent as it was in your salary, the therapy you attended every-other-week after your messy breakup was worth every dollar you put into it. So, instead of having the absolute meltdown that you so desperately wanted and folding into yourself to cry onto these clean cotton sheets, you put on your big-kid pants and prioritize. First things first, you needed to actually take care of your body and get something to eat- the buttery scent wafting up and into the room was certainly tempting enough.

You get up and stretch, counting backwards from twenty. You keep starting over until you can breathe evenly again, until you don’t feel like you’re shaking any more. You move your face until it doesn’t feel like you’re grimacing anymore, and then you open the door and head downstairs.

You try to be quiet- it’s obvious that it’s about mid-morning (you didn’t check your phone for the time out of fear that you’d see more ominous messages from the other Sans, even though you did pocket it), but you’re not sure if one of them might still be asleep. On your way down the stairs, your foot lands on a creaky step and you flinch, immediately pulling it back and skipping over that one. From the kitchen, Sans’ voice rings out, “mornin’. did you sleep well?”

Behind the stovetop, he has an absurd stack of pancakes in a precarious tower. In the time it takes for you to reach the bottom step, he’s added another one to the very top. “The best sleep I’ve had in a long time- I think I just really wore myself out.” You flicker your gaze to the couch, where Papyrus’ long limbs are just thrown every which way. “Should I wake him up...?”

“go ahead- i think last night really wore him down to the bone. he’s just sleeping in.” You cast your gaze over to the stove- it’s on a very low heat setting, which... Makes sense. If it were any higher, Sans might have to move faster or burn the pancakes, and it was interesting to see how he worked around his slow response time. The stove’s clock reads 10:30 AM.

You turn away from the kitchen, resting on your knees in front of the head of the couch, staring at Papyrus’ sleeping face. His cheeks are dusted a light orange, and he’s smiling in his sleep- you don’t want to wake him too harshly. “Papyyyruuuus...” You call out his name, and he stirs just slightly. He sighs and his smile gets wider. “Papyrus, it’s time to get uuuup....” You rest your hand on his shoulder and jostle him a little.

When he opens his eye sockets, you’re almost arrested by the look he gives you; nothing like the friendly care that he usually looks at you with, his gaze is almost adoring, if not loving. You’re frozen, staring at him with a small shy smile. “Good morning, sunshine,” You say, and you’re surprised by how quiet your voice comes out. How long had it been since someone had been happy to be woken up by you?

Slightly gravelly with the early morning, Papyrus gets up and greets you at his normal volume, breaking the spell that’d been cast over you, “GOOD MORNING. DOES YOUR HEAD FEEL ANY BETTER?” He reaches out to touch you, patting at your shoulder, and you notice that he’s in the same clothes he wore last night- down to the gloves.

“It does but, uh, Papyrus, please tell me I didn’t force you onto the couch.” You take his hand from your shoulder and hold it between both of your’s. You try to give him the most reassuring smile you can muster. “You could’ve slept in the same bed as me, you know- it’s your house. You didn’t have to be uncomfortable.”

“I WOULDN’T SAY UNCOMFORTABLE! ONE NIGHT OF COUCH-SLEEPING ISN’T DETRIMENTAL TO MY SPINAL HEALTH, AND YOU’VE ALREADY DONE SO MUCH FOR US THAT I DIDN’T MIND AT ALL!” He’s still smiling, though your shy sentiment is suddenly echoed, and he blushes. “BUT, UM, NEXT TIME I’LL KEEP YOUR OFFER IN MIND, NYEH HEH HEH!”

“You do that, Pap. Did you sleep well?” Which you immediately realize is a redundant question in light of your conversation about sleeping on the couch. “Er, did you have any good dreams?”

“ONLY THE BEST FOR THE GREAT PAPYRUS, AS ALWAYS.” He looks over your shoulder fairly obviously, then back to you. “I THINK SANS MADE US BREAKFAST, BUT IS TRYING TO BE NONCHALANT ABOUT IT IN A COOL OLDER BROTHER WAY. SANS, YOUR UNCANNY ABILITY TO STACK THINGS IS HORRIFYING, AND I’M AFRAID YOU’RE GOING TO DROP THE PANCAKES.”

“nah, i think i’ve made a pretty balanced breakfast for you. come on, i’ll set the table.” With that, he starts walking very slowly towards you with the giant stack of pancakes. “mind getting some plates, sunshine?” It takes you a moment to realize that he’s echoing the nickname that you’d called Papyrus earlier, not just giving you a pet name, though it flusters you nonetheless.

“Sure, of course.” At this point, you’re almost as familiar with their cabinets as you are with your own, and you pull out three plates with somewhat off-print blue designs on them. You’d bought them at the dollar tree- couldn’t really afford to get them anything too expensive if you were trying to get them a full set of cutlery and several dish sets. You balance them on one arm and get out a glass to fill with water for yourself.

When you come around to the table and dish it all out, Papyrus is looking at you like you’ve grown a second head. “HOW DID YOU DO THAT? OR, MAYBE, WHY DID YOU DO THAT? YOU COULD’VE JUST AS EASILY JUST MADE TWO TRIPS BETWEEN THE KITCHEN AND THE LIVING ROOM.” Then, he picks up the plates and tries to imitate you, staggering them along his arm. Two of them fall off, and you lunge and catch them with one hand. “SEE! LIKE THAT! I WOULD’VE NEVER KNOWN THAT YOU’RE EXTREMELY COORDINATED- WHO DID YOU TRAIN UNDER?”

“The Olive Garden.” Which prompts an entire conversation regarding your stint as a waitress that you’d used solely to fund your college stay. You were a jack of many trades, master of making hamburger buns. Sans starts stacking both of your plates fairly high and, when you’ve each been given four pancakes, he takes the tall stack and heads into the kitchen. You have to ask, “You freezing them for later?”

“yup- they were ice enough to save for later.” He was obviously in a good mood, and the pancakes are delicious- they were a soft brown, and were sweet enough that you know he must’ve added something to the mix. “so, about today- we’re still on for heading to town?”

“Uh, yeah. About that.” Immediately, things go tense. Papyrus stops eating, setting his fork down, and you hear Sans almost drop his pancakes, the sound of plastic being let go before it was snatched back up in his hand. “No! No, I’m still taking you into town, stop panicking! I just need to ask you guys about something!”

“yeah?” He sounds uncharacteristically nervous. “what do ya want to ask?” He puts the pancakes away and heads back into the living room. With both of their undivided and very sudden attention, you feel very nervous.

As much as you try to beat it back with a stick made out of your mental fortitude, you can’t help the nerves that start to rack up. What if they get mad at you for asking? What if they get mad later for you not asking about it sooner? “Uh, I got this text last night from... Blackberry...” You should’ve just kept your stupid mouth shut- you’re grown enough that you shouldn’t be running to other people with your problems-

“what’d he say?” You weren’t sure when Sans had gotten so close to you, but suddenly he’s right beside you, holding his hand palm-up for your phone. When you stare almost blankly at his hand, it curls and he puts it back into his jacket pocket. “he, uh. must’ve really rattled you, huh? you know you can talk to us about this kind of stuff, right? we’re the reason you ended up in that mess, anyways.”

“IS HE THREATENING YOU? IF HE’S THREATENING YOU, YOU SHOULD LET US KNOW NOW, BEFORE WE HEAD OUT INTO TOWN. SO WE CAN SETTLE THIS SOON AND YOU WON’T HAVE TO HAVE IT HANG OVER YOUR HEAD LIKE A CLOUD FULL OF RAIN WHEN YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE HAVING A FUN OUTING WITH US.” Papyrus slings one of his arms around your shoulders and, while it’s slightly hidden by the wool sweater he’s wearing, you can really feel how bony he is. But it feels good, being held comfortably and pulled into his side.

After a moment’s pause, Sans sits down next to you and, finally, you pull out your phone and unlock it. The last message you’d sent out was responding to Trixie asking about your health, to which you’d told her you were bringing Sans and Papyrus back with you and, yes, they’d taken great care of you. One message below is Blackberry’s text, sitting amongst your messages between friends like a rotten egg that’d been hurled in your house. “He wants me to bring him and... Mutt?” You look at them for approval or recognition, not exactly comfortable with using the name. Sans tilts his head slightly.

“could call him ‘papyrus’ if that makes you feel any better.”

You let out a sigh of relief. Yeah, not exactly comfortable, considering the whole ‘alternate universe’ thing but... Definitely better. “So, he wants me to bring him and Papyrus food and... be Papyrus’ friend? He said some weird shit about teaching him a new skill, but then he said if I didn’t do it, he’d keep me from seeing you two.” Even though they weren’t lashing out at you, you still felt like you needed to say. “Sorry for this, again.”

“I DON’T SEE WHAT YOU’RE APOLOGIZING FOR. YOU WERE CAUGHT IN A COMPROMISING SITUATION WHERE YOU LIED TO ESCAPE WITH YOUR LIFE AND NOW THAT LIE IS BEING DANGLED OVER YOUR HEAD TO EXPLOIT YOU FOR YOUR DELICIOUS FOOD.” Papyrus rests his chin on one hand, and his foot starts tapping against the floor. “I MEAN... I’M NOT AGAINST YOU BECOMING FRIENDS WITH THEM, BUT YOU SHOULD... GET SOME SORT OF SAY IN IT. AND NOT BE BOTH BRIBED AND BLACKMAILED INTO IT.”

“what a bunch of numbskulls... won’t let us have anything, huh.” Sans’ face twitches a little, and he starts to dig his finger into his ruined eye socket. “it’d probably be easier for you to do it, but if you don’t want to, i’m not against giving them a piece of my mind.

It takes you a second to recognize that he’s not mad at you, but at the other Sans, and it feels like a weight has been dropped off your shoulders. You still have to ask, though, “You guys won’t feel... left out if I make them food, though?”

Sans blinks at you a few times. “i didn’t think you hit it off with them enough to... forget about us. didn’t even consider it, really.” His eyes dart away from you, though, and you get the impression that he’s lying. “the whole reason you’d consider is because you’re...”

“YOU’RE BEING THREATENED. I DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW WE KEEP DETRACTING FROM THAT POINT. YOU ARE BEING THREATENED INTO BEING SOMEONE’S FRIEND, WHICH IS THE LEAST FRIENDLY THING I CAN IMAGINE.” A light sweat is over Papyrus’ head. “HE EVEN SAID NOT TO TELL THE OTHER PAPYRUS! WHAT, LIKE THAT’LL EVER WORK OUT! HE’LL EVENTUALLY FIND OUT AND FEEL BETRAYED AND, EVEN IF A FRIENDSHIP DID BLOSSOM BETWEEN YOU AND HIM, IT WOULD BE PERMANENTLY SULLIED BY THE STAIN OF HIS BROTHER’S BETRAYAL.” His foot is still tapping fast on the ground, and it sounds like someone dropping pins.

“So...? Your advice, Papyrus?” You juggle your phone between your two palms nervously. Yeah, you kept forgetting why you were even considering this ridiculous request- because you were actively being threatened.

“REJECT HIS MONEY BUT VISIT THEM OCCASIONALLY. IF WE’RE ALLOWED INTO TOWN, NOW, AND YOU GIVE US A RIDE, WE DON’T NEED TO DEPEND SO HEAVILY ON YOU, SO YOU CAN GIVE THEM SOME OF THE FOOD YOU MAKE FOR US-” His fingers knot together, and he looks away from you in a very similar motion to Sans. “-AND YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO WIN THE FRIENDSHIP OF THAT OTHER PAPYRUS. THE... VIOLENT, GOLD-TOOTHED PAPYRUS WHO HAS NEVER BEFRIENDED A HUMAN BEFORE...” He sweats more and, for the first time, you see what looks like googly eyes bug out of his head. It startles a laugh out of you. “I’M SUDDENLY LESS CONFIDENT IN MY OWN PLAN!”

“No, no, I think it’s a good plan! I’ll be sure to let you guys know whenever I’m heading over there, just in case something happens!” The other Papyrus didn’t seem like that bad of a guy, though he did nearly drag you and Papyrus into a fight. The other Sans, however... You’re fairly certain he’d been the one to make that giant laser beam thing that nearly took off the door when Papyrus had grabbed you and ran. It’s not the worst deal on your end, but you really don’t like that Sans holding so much leverage over you. “Okay, so. I have a tentative plan on how to deal with that- thank you, Papyrus-”

“AGAIN, I’M NOT SURE IT’S THAT GOOD OF A PLAN, AND I AM VERY CONCERNED ABOUT THIS ENTIRE SITUATION. BUT YOU’RE WELCOME, AND I’LL ALWAYS BE THERE FOR YOU! TO SNATCH YOU OUT OF HARM’S WAY AND ATTEMPT TO SKIRT AROUND VIOLENCE.” He gives you a wide smile and your phone buzzes in your hand.

Trixie

At the sorority house- whenever you three are ready! No rush- I’ll be napping in the car. Just knock on the window.

If you’re still asleep PLEASE wake up soon-ish. I did tell Lora I was taking her to the movies and do need to get back home in three hours. Again. No rush.

You

got it! we’re on our way... in like thirty minutes please!

“Trixie’s waiting for us- did either of you...” Your face scrunches up in concentration. “Did you prepare an overnight bag? So you can sleepover at our apartment- oh! And you could take home all of the food I’ve held onto for you!” Your harsh change of subjects obviously doesn’t go over their heads, but Sans has mercy on you.

“i started packing before i made the pancakes. uh, just in case. didn’t want to assume anything, but...” He gives you a half-shrug but, when you smile, he smiles back. “paps, i packed you two changes of clothes, pajamas, toothbrush, snacks, bedtime reading, your cellphone-” He squints, as if trying to recall the other thing. His hand drops from his socket. “oh. almost forgot about your clothes.”

In a blink, he’s gone, then he’s back on the couch, making it creak with his sudden dropped weight. In his arms, folded and smelling like laundry soap, your chef’s coat and pants are stacked neatly. He hands them off to you and, when you hold them to your chest, he lets out a huff of a laugh. “I’ll go and get changed- I’ll still have to change once we get home, but at least I can get into the apartment complex without being stopped because I’m in my pajamas.”

You’re in and out of the bathroom in a flash- you were pretty quick about getting dressed. Just one less hassle in your usually rushed mornings. “Alright, who’s ready to hit the town?”

Papyrus’ cheer of support gives you more energy than the entire cup of coffee you shotgun in a few seconds.

-

Trix’s Honda Civic can barely contain Papyrus and, after five minutes of trying to cram him in the back with Sans, you decide to swap seats with Sans and sit in the back with him. Papyrus has to sit severely hunched down, so you maneuver him to rest his head on your shoulder, and he takes up the left and middle seat diagonally. Getting him out of the Civic, as it turns out, was just as problematic, and he essentially fell sideways out of it. “I’M RAPIDLY BECOMING DISILLUSIONED ABOUT THE WONDERS OF CARS. I WOULD GIVE THIS RIDE A FIVE ON THE TEN-POINT SCALE OF SKELETAL COMFORT.” He adjusts his crooked glasses and dusts off his jeans.

Trixie shoots him an apologetic look. “Sorry- I didn’t realize how tall you were until you were trying to sidestep into the car. Next time, I’ll just bring the van.”

“OH, NO, THE CAR RIDE WASN’T SO BAD! I WAS, OF COURSE, SLIGHTLY TERRIFIED BY THE SPEEDS WE WERE GOING AT-”

“That was the highway-”

“-BUT IT WAS VERY FUN! I WOULD DEFINITELY REPEAT THE EXPERIENCE!” He gives her a thumbs up in his brown gloves and Trixie looks so flattered you think her fins might flex right off of her face.

“Well! Glad to be of service!” She wiggles a little, happy, then tosses you your keys. “I’ll be out of the house for today and tomorrow- Lora wants me to stay the night.” She pauses, and then emphasizes. “Stay the night. So you have the apartment all to yourselves. Try not to make too much noise- the neighbors downstairs started complaining about all of the cooking you do at eleven at night. Something about you ‘having lost control of your life’?”

“Ah, ignore them. It’s a bad joke and I’m in perfect control of my life. Besides, you should be a lot more concerned about what you do with your girlfriend than how much noise I make cooking.” It’s very obvious she’s either trying to tease you or hit on Sans and Papyrus for you. Which is a very confusing position for you, as her currently single best friend, to view and her, as your currently taken best friend, to occupy. “So, what’s on the agenda for you? Movie, restaurant, cafe?”

“Probably just gonna... stay in.” She lets out a nervous warbling noise that constitutes as her giggling.

“Oh! Gotcha- have... fun?” You eyes dart over to Sans and Papyrus, who are very politely disengaged from the conversation. “See you tomorrow, then!” She waves good-bye to you, starting the car again, and you try to distract them from the awkward conversation.

You lead Papyrus and Sans into your building- there’s not a lot of foot traffic, so you shuffle them into the elevator with little trouble. “YOUR BUILDING LOOKS NICE! LOTS OF YELLOWS, UM. AND THIS ELEVATOR IS VERY SMOOTH.” It’s obvious that, since you all came in from the parking garage and didn’t see much of the lobby or anything else, that he’s grasping at straws to compliment your apartment.

“I don’t own the building, Papyrus- you don’t have to worry so much.” It drops a little when you finally reach your floor (the sixth floor and, strangely, the only one with an ice machine), and you see Sans’ eyelights have gone out. “Hey- the elevator just drops a little, it’s alright.”

“it, uh, just doesn’t do was it was built to do, huh.” When the doors open, he finally lets go of his death grip on the bar and is the first one to exit. “i don’t want to get the drop on ya- still have no clue which one of these is your’s, but i can’t stand another second in that thing.”

Papyrus is the next to duck out, if only because the both of you can’t exit it in the same go. “Yeah, I usually just take the stairs, but I wasn’t about to make the both of you go up six flights.” Your arrive at your room, numbered 608, and jangle your keyring until you find the correct one to unlock the door.

When you open it, they both seem momentarily stunned. It’s not... unclean. It’d been a week since you’d taken two days to scrub everything down and rent a carpet cleaner from the local walmart, and dusted and Windex’d and... It was clean. It wasn’t super clean like you’d just cleaned it, but it was nice, and you don’t know why they’re quiet. “Um, welcome?” You step backwards into your apartment, your arms outstretched. “Make yourselves at home- uh, to your right is the living area, across from there is the kitchen. Behind those two doors are our bedrooms... Feel free to explore- I have nothing to hide.”

They’re still standing in the hallway. Papyrus cranes his neck in your direction and, when his mouth finally opens, it’s to let out a two-syllable, “WOWIE...”

You giggle nervously. “Is that a good ‘wowie’ or a bad ‘wowie’?”

That seems to shock both of them back into movement. “IT’S A VERY GOOD ‘WOWIE’! IT LOOKS JUST LIKE HOW I’D ALWAYS IMAGINED IT! IT’S SO... WARM! AND INVITING! AND IT SMELLS LIKE YOU!” He takes two long strides and, now, you have a very large skeleton making very large hand gestures at all of your furniture. “YOU HAVE A THROW BLANKET OVER YOUR COUCH TO WATCH TV COMFORTABLY! YOU HAVE PICTURES OF YOURSELF AND...” He gets closer and squints. “AND YOUR FRIENDS, GALORA AND TRIXIE! EVEN THE CARPET LOOKS COMFORTABLE!”

Sans steps in slower than his brother, and hangs back towards the entrance. His one pupil tracks slowly across the room- you wonder if it’s overwhelming, or if he’s trying to commit it to memory. This would be their first time seeing an apartment on the Surface, assumedly, but you knew from visiting Lora’s family that the architecture and interior design choices weren’t that different. “papyrus is right- this really looks like you live here.” He smiles, and there’s something fond in the look on his face. “it’s almost as warm as you.”

Which sounds very much so like flirting. Enough that it brings a blush to your face. “Thank you. I... I’m going to get dressed, and start making some phone calls. Again, feel free to watch TV or eat out of our fridge or... anything. My apartment is your apartment.” You open the door to your bedroom (small enough to only contain your bed and a dresser), and quickly disappear into it.

It’s almost noon, so you really have to start moving faster. For the first time in a long time, you look at your closet and wonder what would be acceptable for this kind of event. Is it a friendly outing? Is it a friend being a responsible adult taking another adult out for a clinical appointment? You pull out a button-down long-sleeve shirt and jeans, tucking the shirt into them and rolling up the sleeves.

“Afternoon, you’ve reached Cantrelle Family Dentistry. If you’re calling to make an appointment, press 1. If you’re calling regarding emergency dental work, press 2. If you’re calling to-” You press 2. “Hold on while you’re being connected to a representative...” As the music starts to play, you open your door to see what Papyrus and Sans are doing.

Papyrus is laying face-down on your couch, the throw tucked over his shoulders. Sans looks to be elbow-deep in your fridge, with an entire slider’s worth of mess on his mouth. You close the door again.

“Hello, how may I help you?” The secretary on the other hand has a soft, lilting voice.

“Afternoon, miss- I’m placing this call in regards to emergency dental work that my monster friend needs to have done. I was wondering if we could invoke-” You’d printed out the statutes a few days ago, and quickly reference them. “-the settled Ebott Constitution, line 27, which states that ‘any monster needing care is owed it by medical providers, so long as the monster’s condition affects their ability to live comfortably’. He’s a skeleton monster with severe trauma to his teeth.”

There’s a long silence on the other end. “Hold please, I’ll be checking for availability of a monster-trained dentist.” You squint your eyes- five fucking years since monsters had surfaced and there was no universal training for monster doctors and dentists? The music finally cuts off, and her voice comes back, sounding nervous. “Our closest availability is 2 PM, though, if you’re willing to wait a week or two, we could-”

“It’s emergency dental work.” You say, rather flatly. “It’s emergent. We’ll be taking the 2 PM. They currently don’t hold viable identification-”

“In that case-”

-Which isn’t a problem, considering the Ebott Declaration of Universal Rights clarifies that ‘any monster without valid identification is still entitled to medical treatment’. So. About the 2 PM appointment.”

-

Papyrus is understandably thrilled by this turn of events. You weren’t exactly sure what the dentists were going to do (and you weren’t exactly happy with how you’d been treated when you were making an appointment for him), so you couldn’t block out the day as thoroughly as you wanted to, but you were planning on taking him for ice cream afterwards, at the very least. Likely, soft foods would be his norm for a little while.

“Papyrus, I don’t know exactly how they’ll treat you for your teeth, but I’ve been to the dentist before, if you want to ask me any questions.” He fit in a lot better in the backseat of your van, and was actually sitting comfortably, if a little slouched. “I’m going to be sitting with you, too, so you won’t be alone during it.”

Sans stops messing with the radio long enough to throw his two cents in. “and i’ll be there, too.” He pauses. “uh, you wouldn’t happen to have a hat anywhere, would you?”

Keeping your left arm straight and on the wheel, you pop open the glove box with your right hand. There’s a beanie in there that you only ever use when it’s cold outside to cover up your ears, but it should do the job. “thanks. you wouldn’t be-leaf how much stuff just falls in.” With that, he tucks the hat gently over his head, and you notice that the closer his touch draws to the hole in his head, the brighter the red in his pupil gets.

You quickly redirect your gaze back to the road. “So, Papyrus, any questions?”

He seemed to have been taken by watching outside of the window. You were nothing if not punctual for life-changing events, so you’d headed out around 1:20 to make sure he’d get there in time, and he’d spent a lot of the time looking at the town as it passed him by. “OH, RIGHT! SO. WHAT ARE... HM. WHAT IS...” He trails off again, taking his chin into his palm and thinking on it. “WHAT DO YOU THINK IS GOING TO HAPPEN? BASED OFF OF YOUR EXPERIENCE.”

“I’d say they might put you in braces, or maybe... um... file your teeth down a little? But you’d be unconscious, or on laughing gas, so you wouldn’t feel a thing.” You drum your fingers on the steering wheel.

“THIS ALL SOUNDS INCREDIBLY PAINFUL AND, AS BRAVE AS I AM, I WOULD ALSO LIKE TO CONTINUE TO EAT IN THE FUTURE! WHAT DO I HAVE TO ‘BRACE’ MYSELF FOR? THE FILING?” You glance at him in the rearview mirror and see he’s back to sweating again. “AND WHAT’S A ‘LAUGHING GAS’? I’D RATHER LAUGH ON MY OWN, IF YOU WOULDN’T MIND.”

“Oh, braces are these metal bits that hold your teeth in place so they don’t get crooked. You’d need to maintain them, but because you’re a monster, I don’t think you’d need to wear them for very long. The intention behind it might set your magic, and you’d just need to wear it for...” You make a noncommittal noise. “Humans need them for at least a year and a half, but you might get lucky and need them for a month or two. We’ll see what the dentist says.”

You probably should’ve phrased all of that better because, as you pull into the non-threatening, child-friendly dentist, Papyrus is clutching your hand like a lifeline. “AGAIN, YOU’LL BE IN THE ROOM THE ENTIRE TIME?”

“The entire time.”

“AND YOU WON’T LET THEM STEAL MY TEETH?”

“They’d have to take mine first.”

"THAT'S NOT REASSURING!!!"

When you three come up to the desk, the secretary visibly blanches upon seeing Papyrus. “Oh my god!” Immediately, she stands up on her two feet, shuffling papers and ushering you all further back. “Doctor Goshorn! The emergency appointment is here!” She’s fast and, wow, does it feel strange to have someone else’s perspective on Papyrus’ teeth. At this point, it’d just become another part of him to you- sure, a part of him that caused him pain and needed to be fixed, but the ‘emergent’ part had worn off for you.

You realize that, if every day Underground for them was an emergency, this must’ve been a lesser one- one he could easily ignore, even if he was in pain.

The three of you are crammed into a room- Papyrus first, then Sans and you, with the secretary’s hands firm on your back. When the doctor rushes in, obviously alarmed by her previous tone, he stops immediately upon seeing Papyrus. “Dear God. What did you do to your teeth?”

Papyrus flushes and knots his fingers together. “WELL, IT WAS A GRADUAL PROCESS, AND NOT SOMETHING THAT WAS EASILY ADDRESSED-”

“Sit down, sit down- you were right to make an emergency appointment- this is emergent! If I could have you sign this sheet regarding the administration of anaesthesia and the application of braces...” As the doctor gets Papyrus’ informed consent, Papyrus reaches over for your hand and squeezes it tight.  

-

There is a lot of filing down and a lot of drilling. At a point, you had to ask Papyrus if you could step outside to get a Tylenol because god if you didn’t get a headache from the razor-thin sounds of bone being shaved down to size. The dentist had paused his work long enough for Papyrus to give you the okay, which meant that his crushing grip on your hand was shifted to Sans, who had been holding his other hand. The local anesthesia had ensured that, just as you’d said, he didn’t feel a thing, but whenever the dentist pulled away from his mouth, he often loudly voiced his displeasure at the sounds. “IF I HAD EARS, I WOULDN’T HAVE THEM ANY MORE! I DON’T KNOW HOW... HOW YOU CAN PERFORM THIS WORK! WHERE ARE YOUR EAR MUFFS? YOU LIVE IN THE MOUNTAINS SO YOU HAVE TO HAVE SOME AROUND TO... TO...” He’d trail off, not finishing the full thought and just laying back down, content.

Sans’ nerves, in comparison, were shot to hell by the end of it. Even without anaesthesia, Papyrus could say some crazy things, but the sleepy quality of his voice was obviously unnerving to him. And, if the sounds of teeth being filed down to size were uncomfortable to you , you can’t imagine how it must’ve felt for a skeleton to hear all of that. When you’d come back from your car with the Tylenol you’d stored in there, you give him one and, even though he’s a monster and you’re not sure it’d work the same, he still thanks you for it.

Then, after all of his teeth had been buffed down to their normal size (almost incredulously, Dr. Goshorn had told you and Sans that monster teeth rarely grew past their mouth unless there was a need for it, which would’ve triggered the instability and crooked quality of his teeth), Papyrus was in for the home stretch. The home stretch being the next hour and a half where he had to get braces put on.

After that, though? After that, you were left with a Papyrus that was high on anaesthesia and very delicately touching around his mouth. “SANS, LOOK AT ME. DO I STILL HAVE MY TEETH?” For the first time, you see a smooth, semi-transparent tongue flick out from between his now-wired teeth. “I CAN’T REALLY FEEL IT, BUT THEY DID FILE DOWN A LOT. HOW MUCH OF MY SKULL IS STILL THERE?”

“you’ve still got more skull than i do, so i’d say you’ll make a skull recovery.” Now that the dentist has pulled away to do... whatever he was doing outside of the room, Sans seems to be visibly relieved. “so, papyrus? how’s it looking?”

“I DON’T KNOW. I MEAN, I CAN STILL LOOK , BUT I CAN’T EXACTLY SEE MYSELF RIGHT NOW.” He pauses for a long time. “WAIT, DOES THAT MEAN THAT YOU KNOW HOW YOU LOOK ALL THE TIME? SANS, IS THIS ANOTHER PRANK ACROSS SPACE-TIME?”

“No, no it’s not a prank, Papyrus.” Your hand shakes as you pat at his shoulder, and he turns to you, his smile wobbly but wide, his eyes half-squinted. His teeth are even, now, save for his larger canines on the top that hooked over the ones on the bottom. He looks so much like his brother and, even with the braces on, he looks great. He looks comfortable with himself. “Papyrus, sweetie, look.” You pull out your phone and switch it to the forward-facing camera, and Papyrus stares at himself.

You didn’t anticipate the orange tears that start to well up in his eyes. “Papyrus? Papyrus, honey, what’s wrong?”

“NOTHING! NOTHING... I JUST... I LOOK LIKE PAPYRUS.” Sans jolts and, as nonsensical as he sounds to you, apparently he understands what his brother means. “I LOOK LIKE I BELONG UP HERE.” He reaches for you, and you let him take your hand. Then he brings it up to his drooling mouth in what you can only assume was a skeletal kiss, bumping up against the bits of metal on his teeth.

He doesn’t say anything but, when the doctor comes back inside and tells you that there were a lot of pamphlets you had to read to make sure that he made a full recovery and didn’t ruin his dental work by eating something chewy, he doesn’t let go of your hand. You have to awkwardly turn to face the doctor while your hand is held by his on his chest. Sans has to sign forms regarding his lack of documentation and write down physical descriptions of both him and his brother, as well as his level of knowledge as to what had transpired. You’re listed as an emergency contact, and the papers disappear from view.

It’s obvious that Dr. Goshorn isn’t happy about doing approximately four hours of dental work with no pay, but there’s also nothing he could do about it. Honestly, if Papyrus’ situation hadn’t been so dire, you might’ve felt jealous that none of your doctor’s visits were free. You have to practically pack Papyrus into the car, he’s so loose-limbed and out-of-it.

You drive down a few blocks and, quickly enough, you’re ordering ice cream for the three of you. “Papyrus, what’s your favorite ice cream flavor?”

Papyrus puts his hand on his hip and cracks a grin at you. “WHATEVER YOU WANT IT TO BE!” Which has been his tone since he’s left the dentist- you can’t quite tell if he’s hitting on you or just making jokes.

You shoot a helpless look at Sans, who, now that the threat of his brother losing his teeth to a human medical practitioner has passed, is thoroughly amused by his high brother. “he likes banana. sometimes strawberry.”

“One scoop of each for him, please!” You rattle off your own order, then turn to Sans.

“don’t really have a preference.” You give him a withering look- now wasn’t the time for indecision! He laughs and avoids your gaze. “i like mint-chocolate sometimes.”

“And two scoops of mint chocolate!”

“YOU COULDN’T HAVE GIVEN ME A COOLER FLAVOR, SANS? SOMETHING LIKE REESE’S CHUNK OR TRIPLE RASPBERRY?”

You three sit on a bench outside of the parlor, trying each other’s ice cream and listening to Papyrus ramble something about pastries being bread-and-jam raviolis. The sun sets warmly on the three of you and, eventually, when you’re scraping the bottom of your cup, you hear Papyrus start to snore.

Which meant that you and Sans then had to figure out how to carry his dead weight into the car. You end up sweaty, and Sans’ eyelight had continued to flicker on and off, and you definitely caught him using blue magic to open the car door. With Papyrus settled and buckled in using both of the seatbelts from the backseat, you both get into the front and start the drive home. You turn the radio down to let Papyrus sleep- you know his mouth is going to be sore once the painkillers wear off, so he deserves all the sleep in the world.

“hey.” You spare a glance from the road to glance at Sans in the passenger seat. “what you did for my brother... what you’ve done for us... i really appreciate it. i mean, ‘appreciate’ isn’t a good word for it. you’ve done a lot for us, and, uh. i just wish i could pay you back somehow.”

“Sans, I’ve told you before-”

“i know, i know. you don’t want our money. but i’m slow, not blind. you don’t want our money, but you have to go thrifting for clothes. you buy us stuff from bargain shops. you’ve got coupons taped to the fridge.” His fingers drum on the door handle to the car. “i know you care about us, but i still see you flinch sometimes when papyrus gets loud, or i move too fast. earlier, you were real nervous about telling us you were being threatened by someone we knew. something we could help you with.”

“Yeah?” Your voice comes out small, weak. You bite down on your lip and start counting down from ten. Having a breakdown while you were driving wouldn’t exactly help you get the three of you home safely.

“i’m not saying you have to do anything. i’m just saying... we care about you just as much. when something hurts you, or you want to talk, you can talk, you know? we don’t have ears, but we’re great listeners. i’m not here to make assumptions but whoever made you like this... like you have to carry these terrifying burdens or like you can’t reach out to other people... we’re not like them.”

You don’t even know what to say. “Sans I... I mean, thank you, but I...”

He shakes his head. “none of that ‘i’m fine’ bullshit. there’s not a lot of mincing words in our universe- i meant what i said. when you’re not fine, you can tell me.”

You open your mouth, then close it. You blink your eyes rapidly, trying to hold the tears back. “Yeah, ok... Alright. I’ll remember that.”

From the backseat, Papyrus stirs. “SANS? SANS, ARE YOU HOLDING ANOTHER SOUL-WRENCHING EMOTIONAL MOMENT WITH ONE OF OUR FRIENDS AGAIN?”

“no, bro, go back to sleep.”

“SANS, IF IT’S WITH THE HUMAN, I WANT THEM TO KNOW...” You glance at Papyrus in the rearview mirror. He still looks thoroughly disoriented, and now seems half-asleep and delusional. “SANS, TELL THE HUMAN I’M SORRY I SCARED THEM THE OTHER DAY. I KNOW THEY THOUGHT I DIDN’T NOTICE, BUT I DID.”

That chokes a tear out of you, and you swallow heavily. “You don’t have to be sorry, Papyrus. Just head back to sleep, sunshine- we can talk when the anaesthesia wears off.”

“WE WILL!” He promises, then tucks himself back against the curve of his seatbelt.

The rest of the car ride is silent, save for the sound of Sans’ fingers drumming on the dashboard and Papyrus’ soft occasional snores. When you pull into the parking garage, you rest your head against the steering wheel and, not for the first time, curse your shitty ex-boyfriend for still ruining your life. Not enough that you always remembered to tell your therapist, just enough that, when the lights flickered on and off in your head and you flinched when Papyrus raised his voice, you'd realize you were still haunted by him.

But you’re not with him any more. You’re here, with Sans and Papyrus, and you’re going to recover from him if it kills you.

Chapter Text

Papyrus wakes up on top of something warm, his jaw aching and his head very fuzzy. Which, admittedly, wasn’t a new experience for him. “SANS? SANS, I TOLD YOU TO STOP USING THE ELECTRIC BLANKETS, THEY STARTED SHORTING-” The electric blanket under him breathes, and he opens his eye sockets immediately, pushing himself up by his two hands and snapping to attention.

Pinned under his weight, on the back of an old couch, you had been laying with his head tucked against your chest. “Papyrus, sunshine, would you mind removing your carpals from my stomach?” Your voice is raspy and a little breathy and... It’s because so much of his weight is resting on you. How could he have missed that! Immediately, he shuffles off of you, onto two feet and standing beside the couch. “Woah, hey, you didn’t have to leave. We were cozy before. Sans and I were just watching late night television.”

Everything seems slightly blurry, and he realizes he doesn’t have the normal weight of his glasses on his nose bridge. He feels sweat bead at his temples, and he brushes off his pants in what he hopes is a cool move. “SORRY, UM, WHERE-” His jaw feels both too heavy and too light, and he reaches up to touch his mouth, one tooth at a time. his hands starting to shake when he feels ones that are far shorter than they were supposed to be. Or far shorter than they had been. “I HAVE!!! SEVERAL QUESTIONS!!!”

“you got your teeth fixed up, papyrus- you remember any of that?” Sans is sitting in a beaten-up loveseat, legs crossed at the ankle, and is looking at him like he’d grown a second skull.

Which he hadn’t. He’d just had a considerable amount of his skull shaved down.

“WELL YES! FAINTLY! BUT I DON’T REMEMBER MUCH AFTER WE SAT DOWN FOR ICE CREAM. HOW... HOW DID WE GET BACK HERE?” Papyrus is under no illusion- he’s a tall skeleton. Tall enough that it was difficult for Sans to carry him to his bed without having to take a few breaks on the way up the stairs. And, while you have arms that look like you’ve made pizza in a brick oven you’d built yourself, he was also roughly the size of one-and-a-half you's stacked on top of each other.

“My, uh, downstairs neighbors definitely phoned me to ask why me and another smaller skeleton were carrying around a larger skeleton wearing braces by the feet and shoulders, but Sans and I carried you from the car.” To demonstrate, you put your palm facing upwards, and pointed at your fingertips. “Sans held up your feet, but I was supporting you at the shoulders, so, when we finally got the door open, it was just easier for me to lay down with you on me than to throw you at the couch. You slept like the dead, Papyrus- how was the nap?”

“I’M NOT SURE! I MOSTLY JUST BLACK OUT WHEN I SLEEP.” With that, he perches himself on the couch at a respectable distance. At least one arm’s length. So you can’t hear his very loud, very obvious rattling. “SO, UM. EVERYTHING... WENT WELL? I HAVE ALL OF MY TEETH, AT LEAST. EVEN IF THEY TOOK SOME CREATIVE LIBERTIES WITH SOME OF THEM...” Manifesting a tongue, he pokes around at the inside of his jaw, feeling how his canines had been sharpened into points- far sharper than they had ever been! Certainly, they’d been some of the more damaged teeth, so maybe that had been factored in?

“Oh, right! Do you want your glasses? I took them off so they wouldn’t give you a headache while you were sleeping and you wouldn’t roll over and break them.” You adjust how you’d been sitting and reach behind the couch to pull his glasses from the arm. You offer them to him, and he puts them on, blinking as you come into focus.

Somehow, you notice when his eyes come into focus, and you’re smiling at him- it’s warm and small and so very kind. He’s robbed of words for a few moments but, after you nod your head in encouragement, Papyrus tries to think of something to say. “I’M GOING TO GO SEE WHAT I LOOK LIKE, NOW THAT MY HEAD’S ON STRAIGHT!” You obviously don’t recognize his skeleton joke, and he starts over. “WHERE’S THE BATHROOM?”

You gesture that it’s the room behind the small door adjacent to your room, and he immediately springs onto his feet. He has to duck his head to fit into your bathroom but, after closing the door, he’s frozen in front of the mirror. That’s...

That’s him, of course. Of course it’s him- he’s the only skeleton in the bathroom, and the only one looking into the mirror. But it doesn’t feel like him- it’s as if he’s glancing at another one of those alternate versions of him- one with wide eye sockets, a flushed face. He’d been too distracted by you to put his glasses on correctly, and he’d taped it down a little too far- his tortoiseshell glasses are lopsided. His teeth are...

Well. They don’t look like they’d looked almost two years ago, but they’re close. They’re close, and his canines are sharp and hook over one another and, even if he doesn’t look exactly like he used to, he looks close enough. He’s familiar with the skeleton in front of him, and it takes him a few seconds to figure out why. The memory of Sans reading to him from his Advanced Mechanics textbook, hunched over with his glasses on, comes to him.

With his rounded glasses and his hooked teeth, he looks very much so like his older brother.

Papyrus smooths a hand up his cheek bone, over his temple- gently plying the tape off of his skull and adjusting it. He feels... better. The ache in his jaw is tolerable, if not completely ignorable- it was definitely less than his general state of pain. He likely wouldn’t have noticed it if it weren’t unique to the surgery- he’d had teeth break off before, but he’d never had them shaved down. He’s himself again. Underneath those bits of metal and his glasses, he feels normal.

And you... You’re seeing him like this. Like how he’s supposed to, and you don’t look at him any differently. The same mix of happiness and excitement, like every time you saw him you were so glad to see him. He tries to still his soul in his chest- there was nothing more embarrassing than accidentally pulling someone into an encounter when they were unaware of your true feelings!

Outside of the door, he hears soft music- it sounds like you’d turned the tv off and turned on a radio. He hadn’t heard much of the music on the surface, but the sound is crooning and soft. He opens the door and, peering out, Sans is now seated on one of your counters, and you appear to have something on the burner. “Sans is making boiled eggs, Papyrus, if you want any!” Papyrus fully emerges, then, taking the few strides to get to the kitchen. In the time since he’d been in the bathroom, you’d changed into pajamas and they’re... They’re very cute! The sweatpants have little fishes printed on them, and you were wearing a shirt that was a little too big for you.

“thought you might still be hungry- it’s pretty late, and you went through a lot today.” Sans looks very amused, and he turns the heat down on the stove a little. It’s, unfortunately, very obvious that Sans can see straight through him, in an emotional sense, and not in the typical skeleton sense. “you hungry? you look like you want to sink your teeth into something.”

“I DON’T THINK I COULD EFFECTIVELY SINK MY TEETH INTO A BOILED EGG, SANS. I DON’T THINK I COULD SINK MY TEETH INTO MUCH OF ANYTHING, WITH THE METAL ON.” He looks to you for confirmation and, from where you were leaning against the counter, you seem to wake up just a little more.

“Shoot, sorry- I should give you those pamphlets about what you can and can’t eat from now on.” You head over to the other counter and, rifling through the drawer, you pull out two of the fliers. “I don’t think it’ll be that big of a diet change, as you were really careful about what you ate before, but, basically, nothing hard or sticky.” Your eyes glance at him, and you look back down, as if you were bashful. “If you guys still, um, want me to bring you food now that you can come into the city, I’d be sure to factor that in.”

“it’s still really tentative, if them letting us out is gonna be a one-time-only thing, so i’d appreciate it if you kept doing what you were doing.” Sans’ voice is hesitant, and he stumbles over his words a little, like he didn’t really know where the sentence was going to end. “but we have enough food to sustain ourselves for a bit, so you don’t... have to come by as often, if that’s what you’re talking about.”

“What? No, I come over because I want to hang out with you guys, not because I’m your food delivery service.” You’d set down the sheets, and you were now fixing him with a soft glare. Your look quickly withers, and your gaze is drawn back to the floor again. Your voice comes out quieter, almost sounding as if you were confessing. “I mean, you guys really don’t get it- it’s so nice to see someone appreciating my food. I’ve worked my ass off for years to work in a field I like, but it’s so rare that someone eats my food and thanks me for it. I mean, even my boyfriend thought that I should just cook dinner without even giving me a ‘thank you for the meal’.”

“ALL OF YOUR CUSTOMERS SOUND UNGRATEFUL.” Papyrus sees Sans spoon an egg out of the pot, putting it on a plate beside him. “YOU’RE DOING THEM THE HONOR OF COOKING DELICIOUS FOOD FOR THEM, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. AND, UM, WITH YOUR BOYFRIEND...” He sounds terrible! But Papyrus doesn’t want to vocalize this and hurt your feelings. “WELL! WE HAVE DIFFERENT PALATES, MAYBE!”

How could someone come home to a meal cooked by you, with all of the love and care you put into every dish, and not even thank you?

“Yeah, that’d be one of the reasons we broke up- you could say we had different tastes. ” You wink at Sans, who’s rolling the egg on the counter to remove the shell, and he gives you a surprised chuckle. “So, Papyrus, do you want an egg or not?”

“MAYBE LATER! THE NUMBING FROM EARLIER MADE ME A LITTLE NAUSEOUS, AND I DON’T KNOW IF I COULD HOLD IT DOWN!” You shrug and lean back against the counter, though he’s stuck wondering at your very mysterious past. Now that he thinks about it, most of what you’ve told the two of them has been strictly professional- sure, there were the few details about you at college, but most of your anecdotes were at former or current employments. He’d more or less assumed you were with someone, if only because you were so charming that it was impossible to think otherwise.

And now he finds out you had a boyfriend that hadn’t appreciated you in a throwaway line? You were almost as bad as his brother- for all you’d listened to and helped with their problems, you seemed far too reluctant to lean on him at all. And he was very sturdy and also very strong! Perfect to lean on! You seemed to be just as hard an egg to crack as Sans, but he was nothing if not persistent and patient!

You’d thrown a packet of ramen into the boiled water that Sans had abandoned, waiting for it to soften so you could stir and drain it. The radio (a small device that seemed to have been bought pre-used) switches songs, and you start humming along. Then you start singing along. Then, even though you don’t have the best vocals, you can carry a tune and you direct your attention to the two of them. Sans, who had been eating four boiled eggs rather slowly, focuses back on you, his smile growing teasing as you take Papyrus’ hands in your own and start to sway a little.

“Dance with me a little.” With your smile so easy and your hands fitting into his, how could he say no? He nods his head mutely, swaying along with you. You continue humming along until the song changes again, and your eyes light up. Purposefully, you sing to him, “ Sweet pea- ” You break your hold on him to turn to Sans and point at your eye. “ Apple of my eye. I don’t know when and I don’t know why, but you’re the only reason... I keep on coming home.

The kitchen lights seem to cast a warm halo around you- in your fish pajamas and your messy hair, you are so impossibly precious. Behind you, your ramen cooks on a simmer, and he usually feels so gangly and large in comparison to you, but not then. At that moment, in your apartment that was as warm and inviting as you, he was the perfect height and the perfect size to hold your hands and dance a small side-to-side shuffle while you smiled up at him.

Before the song ends, however, you have to pull away to makes sure that your ramen doesn’t boil over and, while you prepare it, Sans smiles at his brother from his place on the counter. It’s only after you start fishing around for a fork that he realizes it’s because his hands are still hovering in the air, as if he was frozen in that moment. Papyrus immediately clenches his hands into fists and lowers them to his sides, flexing his fingers and trying to shake himself into a less complex emotion. Whatever he felt for you... It had been friendship, at a point- and it still was! But it certainly felt like something new, now- something warm and aching. He wouldn’t call it love, but perhaps it was something close.

An emotion he didn’t quite have the vocabulary for- he’d have to consult his dating manual when they got home.

Sans leans across the counter and offers you one of his boiled eggs, already peeled. “here, let me egg you on.” Papyrus can’t help but smile at the joke, watching his brother share his food. It seemed like such a small motion, but Sans was just as bad as he was at concealing his emotions around you.

-

In the morning, you made them pancakes, and Sans had practically unhinged his jaw like a snake to consume them. Midway through, Papyrus woke up, having finally slept off the rest of the anaesthesia, and he seemed very grumpy. Sans’ tone is conspiratorial when you ask why. “my brother doesn’t need a lot of sleep- his hp is high as it is, and, even when he was training for the royal guard, he never got tired.” He sighs, smiling proudly. “isn’t my brother cool?”

“He is!” Papyrus really is the coolest- you didn’t know about him wanting to be in the Royal Guard, but it seems to really fit him! Even though you were well aware that he’d eaten humans before (which was far from a heroic act, even if it was done out of necessity), there was something almost princely about his stature and personality. Confident and dazzling.

“ARE YOU BRAGGING ABOUT ME AGAIN, BROTHER? YOU KNOW IT’S ONLY FAIR IF I CAN LISTEN IN!” Exaggerating his movements, Papyrus tilted himself closer to the two of you, grinning.

Taking him up on that, “You’re the coolest, Papyrus!” He immediately straightened himself, flushing.

“WELL! OF COURSE! I... KNEW THAT! NYEH HEH HEH!”

You giggle at his uncharacteristically shy stance, giving him half of a hug as you passed by him to get dressed for the day. You almost didn’t want your day out with them to end, but you knew you couldn’t just shrug off everything else you had to get done. Today’s to-do list was only two items, but they felt like a mountain you had to climb over.

First order of business, get a job at Grillby’s. Then, bring some of the food Papyrus couldn’t eat for the time being over to the other Sans and Papyrus.

Somehow you manage to balance those two extremes into a job-interview-appropriate look with a white shirt with a vest over it and black pants. You’ll unbutton the vest later, probably, and make it a more casual look.

“Sans? Papyrus? You guys changed yet?” You’d given them Trixie’s room to sleep in, and assumed that they’d take the chance to change out of their pajamas (which suspiciously just looked like undershirts and loose-fit pants).

“ONE MOMENT, PLEASE!”

Sans, however, is sitting on the couch when you get out of your room. He’s wearing almost the exact same outfit as yesterday, but now he’s wearing jeans. You’re not gonna question him, so you just sit beside him and wait for Papyrus to come out. “How’d you sleep last night?” You ask, just to make conversation.

“by closing my eyes.” After a moment’s confusion, you laugh at his little joke. “nah, i slept pretty good last night. ‘m surprised her room didn’t smell like sushi, to be honest.” You’d given the two of them sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows, uncertain as to whether or not Trixie would be fine with them sleeping in her bed, but it seems to have worked out.

“Oh, I don’t let her lay around the apartment after she’s gotten right out of the shower- otherwise, this place smells like a damn hibachi grill.” It gets quiet again, right until Papyrus throws open the door, beaming.

You’re going to lose your goddamn marbles. He is wearing a shirt (crop-top? It doesn’t come down to cover most of his spine) that was formerly a sports jersey, the 00 being edited into saying “C00L GUY”. On top of that, he has a leather jacket and jeans, and he has his hand on his hip, posing. You clap, standing up for him. “Papyrus, oh my GOD! Did you make that yourself?”

“OF COURSE! I AM A SKELETON OF MANY TALENTS, AND A CONSUMER OF FASHION.” He strikes another pose, and you giggle at him. On absolutely anyone else , it would be the tackiest thing you’d ever seen, but it’s really cute on him.

“It shows!” You pick your keys off of the table, jingling them for emphasis. “If you’ve packed everything up, I can take you guys home.” Sans immediately disappears and reappears with their overnight bag. “Ooookay. I’ll just go get the food from the fridge, and we’ll be off!”

“just so you know, i’m not going back in that elevator. see you at the car.” Sans gives you a wink and what you think was one finger-gun, then he’s gone again. You roll your eyes and pocket your keys, going over to the fridge to start stacking the tupperware on each other- like hell you’d be taking the stairs to get downstairs with all of them.

You’re almost to the point where you can’t see over the mix of tupperware, aluminum-foil wrapped food, and styrofoam restaurant boxes when Papyrus swoops in, taking the top half away from you. “THOSE LOOK HEAVY- ALLOW ME!”

“Thanks, Papyrus.” With half the load, now, you can balance it on one arm to lock the door.

The elevator ride down is uneventful, other than the fact that it drops you one floor and, when all of the food almost launches out of your arms and almost falls back onto you, you notice a dark blue haze around them. Papyrus’ open palm turns underneath his stack of food, and they all resettle into your arms, not even moving when the elevator jerks back up to the right floor. “Holy shit, thanks Papyrus! I really didn’t want to wear this food.”

“THAT WAS NOTHING! BESIDES, I’M SURE YOU’D LOOK GREAT IN ANYTHING YOU WORE!” Which earns him a heavy snort from you- he’d say that right up and until he saw you wearing the entire tub of chicken and dumplings you were carrying. “AFTER YOU!”

You lead and, just as he’d said earlier, Sans is already sitting inside the car. You have no idea how he can teleport, or even what kind of magic would let him, but he looks like a serial killer in the backseat. Unlocking the car, and setting the food in the backseat with him, you tell him so, “You look like a serial killer back there.”

“is it because of my killer good looks?” Okay, so you’d really set him up. And, from prior knowledge, you knew he could go on all day. You get in the front and crank the car, knowing that this would go on for at least the entire drive over. “i mean, it would’ve been knife of you to come with me, but i didn’t axe in case you-” Papyrus rather pointedly turns up the music. “trying to kill the joke by drowning me out, huh?”

“SANS YOU ARE KILLING ME. YOU ARE KILLING YOUR BROTHER.”

The rest of the car ride is punctuated by him turning up the radio every time Sans tries to start back up again.

Pulling up to the sorority house, they both start to get out, but you stop them. “Hey! Hold on.” Sans immediately closes the door again, looking back at you. You hadn’t noticed, but he’d collected most of the food in his arms without even letting you know. Huh. “I just wanted to say that, after I sort through what you can and can’t have with Papyrus’ braces, I have to hike it over to Grillby’s, so I can’t stay for very long.”

“what do you want from grillby’s?”

“Well, uh. I plan on visiting those two tonight, and I think it might go over a little better if I’ve made at least half my lie true.” You didn’t even know if Grillby’s was hiring, but it wasn’t like you could do much else- it was a really good burger joint, last you remembered, but understaffed. You could only hope that that still held true. “So, you think I could wear two aprons?”

“there’s a time i would’ve wanted to tag a long, but i don’t think this grillby would be so axe-cited to see me. but trust me...” Sans lets out a very loud laugh. “grillbz is gonna love ya.”

-

Grillby has been staring at your resume for over five minutes now. It’s shortened to one page, your education, past work experience, and capabilities on there, so it shouldn’t warrant this amount of scrutiny, and you can feel yourself working up a nervous sweat. The pub is warm, the lighting dim and inviting, but you’d shown up during the lull between breakfast and lunch- only a few senior monsters seemed to be eating, and none of them were seated at the bar with you.

“I know this is very sudden, but I feel as if I could make a large contribution to the restaurant. I know this is your second location and you have to split your time between the two, and I would like to help you manage that by being an extra pair of hands behind the grill.” You offer, to fill the silence.

He’s quiet some more.

“You’re overqualified for the position.” Very loudly, the flames at the top of his head crackle. He seems to be turning a light blue, and you have absolutely no idea what that means. There are long pauses in-between his sentences. “This is just a pub... I commend you for your college education and technical skills... But I don’t think this restaurant would be the best use of them... Er...” He leans underneath the counter, bringing up a phone and hovering his hand over it. “... If you’re interested in working with monster food, I can put in a good word at the Mettaton Resort’s restaurant...”

Okay, so the formal offer wasn’t working, and you seemed to have terrified the poor monster with the fact that you’d put ‘garde manger’ under your list of qualifications. “Thank you for the offer, but I’m certain that your restaurant would be a good fit. I’d be happy to fill any open position- I have experience as a head chef, a line cook, and, for a brief stint, bartending.” For having few facial features, he still looks uncertain. You grow a little desperate, “I can train under you for two weeks without pay.

Now, he looks offended. “.... Of course I’ll pay you... If you really want to work here... How could I refuse?” Grillby sets the phone back under the counter, though he’s back to looking at you like you were a very volatile wild animal or like this might be a very elaborate prank. “Could you start as a line cook tomorrow afternoon?”

“I can- is there a standard uniform for Grillby’s?” When he shakes his head, you file that away for later- you’d likely just come in with a shirt and your chef’s pants, maybe a headwrap so you didn’t have to wear a hairnet. “Alright, see you tomorrow!” You get up from the bar, leaving your resume on the table for him to keep. With how frequently you networked at parties and general social outings, you kept a few in the glovebox for occasions like these.

“Wait!” For the first time, urgency enters Grillby’s voice, and you immediately freeze, backtracking and sitting back down again. When you give him your undivided attention, he turns that bright blue again. “.... What you said before... Do human establishments usually... Not pay their workers for a few weeks?”

“Yeah, sometimes- it’s to prove you can do what you said you could in the interview. It’s training and you’re just technically shadowing underneath the person.”

Even from behind his glasses, you can see the incredulous look he gives you. “Monsters... don’t do that...” As if contemplating something, he gets quiet again, and you start to get up again, wondering if that was your dismissal. Instead, he gets up and disappears into the kitchen, coming back with a serving of fries. “................. On the house. If you don’t have anywhere to be soon... could you tell me more about how... human restaurants are run?”

You accept the fries and realize that, even when you’d come to this pub by yourself, there had been few humans around. It was pretty hole-in-the-wall, so it might’ve just been because of lack of advertisement...

You spend the next half hour idly chatting with Grillby about different hamburgers you’d made, diversifying the menu, and advertising on social media. He was a man of few, but precise words, and he seemed to be genuinely interested in what you had to offer. It had been a while since a boss of your’s wanted to actually hear feedback about how the establishment was run, and talking with him is easy and familiar. Your conversation is only broken up when another flame monster in a high school uniform runs up to the counter, her green flames flaring. “See you tomorrow.” He promises you, cutting off a conversation on pretzel buns.

“See you!” You get up from the stool, offering it to the girl, and she hops up, delighted. As you leave, you hear her excitedly chatting with him, and it brings a smile to your face.

“Oh my gosh, dad- who was that human that was just here?”

Chapter Text

Papyrus hadn’t expected you to text him two days after his big brother had nearly burnt their house down in front of you. He hadn’t expected you to text him two days after you’d gotten the full Sans Serif Monologue detailing Sans’ greatest hits, sitting under Papyrus’ watchful stare. He hadn’t had much to say, and his brother had been more than happy to both entertain and threaten a guest.

No skin off his nose, but he hadn’t expected you to text him back ever . As often as his brother tried to force feed him some more self confidence, Papyrus felt like it was safe to say that you weren’t just way out of his league- he’s fairly certain you weren’t even playing the same game. You’d come over to his house, all smiles and arms full of food like you were his highschool sweetheart and this was one of the romcoms that he watched when nothing was on. You weren’t... unfamiliar, but damn if he could remember boning you.

All of your details pretty much matched up to his regular behavior, which he was aware of only because of what other people told him. His drunk behaviors usually were quickly erased from his mind, mostly because he drank to get drunk. It wasn’t social or fun or even alcoholism (as often as he toed the line on the last front)- he’d drink, he’d blackout, and he’d wake up with his soul a little lighter.

Sometimes he woke up in an unfamiliar room with an unfamiliar human or monster. Sometimes he woke up at home in the middle of the day in his own room, completely unaware of how he got there.

Your story is completely plausible but he just can’t see why you’d care. You were soft around the edges and joked with him and the chili dogs you’d brought were to die for. (You’d paid enough attention to him at the bar to notice what he’d eaten- or had he drunkenly announced that Grillby’s chili dogs were his favorite? Either way, the fact that you’d brought him some more was strangely endearing.) You were nothing at all like the humans he’d usually sink his teeth into, and the fact that you’d wandered into the forest, alone, to try to find him was a greater mystery. The fact that you were pre-acquainted with Crooks and Axe made a little more sense, and would explain why you were able to maneuver your way around but...

It was almost obviously a case of mistaken identity. Grillby had likely sent you over to deliver some food to this universe’s Sans, and you’d found Axe instead. Crooks obviously seemed fond of you, so you must’ve come back more than once, more than you were told to, enough times that that gentle, seeking look you’d given him at the table had won him over. You were... different. He knows there are more differences than similarities between the universe him and Sans came from and Axe and Crooks came from, but he’s certain he’s not the only skeleton from a kill-or-be-killed world that’s a little rattled by your easy kindness.

The fact that Sans had even owned up to being inattentive and burning the rolls made it pretty obvious that he was also thrown by your actions. They’re both under no illusion- they made a terrifying silhouette and Sans had been in the middle of describing a dismemberment by a member of the Royal Guard. The fact that you seemed concerned at best and mildly annoyed at worst at their antics and their entire fight with the other two was baffling.

And you had texted him. You’d named yourself in his phone, and it had made him laugh the first time he’d actually checked it.

Can’t Stand the Heat

hey- you free? i’d love to hang out and get to know you better

also, if it sweetens the pot any, i was gonna bring a box of cake mix. last time i didn’t bring desert, so i thought i could *make it* up to you

It’s around midday and Sans would likely be back from his morning shift as a security guard fairly soon (he worked an early morning shift about two towns over to keep any gossip about a skeleton boss monster working the graveyard shift at a hospital)- early enough that he wouldn’t start dinner and late enough that Papyrus could probably sneak you two out of the house.

You

i’m free- i can pick you up at the edge of the woods if you’d like.

no need to leaf you out there by yourself.

Can’t Stand the Heat

i think i can find my way over, but thanks!

see you soon-ish- like forty-five minutes.

Yeah, uh, not happening. His brother had pretty nonplussed by the fact that you’d just meandered through all of his traps (including the bear traps to keep them from looting through their garbage) and had upped the security. Better for him to look overeager than for you to look scrambled over-easy. Looking down at his attire for the first time with a critical eye, he realizes that you’d likely not be very impressed with the very large bleach stain on his shirt and his sparring-torn sweatpants.

As much as he loathed to admit it, he spends a very long time in his closet, trying to figure out what outfit to wear for you.

-

You were both very touchy and very distanced. When he’d found you looming around the back of the other two’s cabin, you hadn’t even looked surprised to see him and had loped up to him, sidestepping a net trap without even looking at it. You came up close to him, a circular tin and a box of cake mix in your hand, and hip checked him. Papyrus tries to play off how you almost sent him careening into the trees by just bumping into him when he wasn’t expecting it. “Hey! How’s it going?” Then, with an edge to your joke, “Have you kept your house in one unburnt piece since I last saw you?”

Oh, you were definitely familiar with him. What had you two talked about at the bar? What kind of jokes had he made? He starts walking you in the direction of their house, and you follow closely. “‘s going alright. we’ve mostly been eating your leftovers, so there hasn’t been a crisis quite like that again. thanks, for that.” He knew he was more charismatic when he was drunk, more likeable- you’re going to get bored quickly and leave.

He just hopes you leave that cake mix with him.

“You’re welcome! I’m glad you liked my cooking.” You’re walking pretty close to him, too- almost shoulder to shoulder. It makes him a little anxious- either get close enough to touch him or put more distance between you two. “From what I saw of your brother, I thought it’d all go to waste- he seems, uh. Pretty proud of his cooking?”

That was the most polite thing he’s ever heard about his brother, and he has to laugh. “yeah, that’s one way of putting it. he’s not a bad cook, but we mostly just eat things out of the can. ‘s just easier.” You give him a look like you’re trying to hold something in. “what’s up?”

“Uh, you didn’t heat up the ravioli from the can that you gave me. Does he usually... serve it cold?”

“if you heat up the ravioli in a pot, that’s just one more thing to clean. and putting it in the microwave’ll tear up the microwave.” To be fair, though, he’d never eaten Chef Boyardee’s warm- were you supposed to? He mostly just cracked it open with a spoon and started eating it when Sans wasn’t home to brown some meat and make a loosely-interpreted tortilla meal.

“Huh... Do you like ravioli?” You have your head tilted towards him, chatting idly. It feels... strange to be so casual. Everything had always felt so immediate and life-or-death- was this a human thing? Or was this a universe thing?

“yeah, most of the time. not a big fan of great value ravioli.” Especially since the can was really tough to crack into and sometimes he actually had to hunt down a can opener.

“Meat or cheese? Chef Boyardee’s usually has meat in them, but I can make a mean four-cheese ravioli.” You put your hands in your pockets, and he notices that you’re dressed fairly formally. He’d eventually settled on a plain orange tee and his jacket, and he feels underdressed by comparison. Was this a date? Were you trying to make it a date?

“never tried cheese ravioli before- you’ll have to bring it over sometime. i’d love to try it.” He tests the waters, inviting you over another time, even though you two had just reached his house and he was opening the door for you.

“I’d love to make it for you- making pasta by hand is hell on my arthritis but it’s always so worth it. I’ll have to bring the ingredients over some time- I could teach you how to make it yourself.” Were you... Were you serious? He’d pretty much just assumed you’d come over to have a rerun of how you first met (which might’ve been why he’d vacuumed his room and changed his sheets for the first time since he’d showed up in this universe), but you seemed more invested in... actually hanging out with him. Being friendly.

“so we’re not fuc-”

“PAPYRUS!” Shit, he should’ve looked inside before he’d stepped inside. Sans had, apparently, come home in the fifteen minutes it’d taken him to find you and walk you over. He looks cross, probably because there were few things he never wanted to hear as an older brother and Papyrus had come within centimeters of getting very vulgar about how he thought the afternoon should end. However, when he glances behind him, his face very quickly reads as confused, and his frown drops slightly. “OH. HUMAN. YOU DECIDED TO COME BACK?”

You’re tense for some reason- he’s reminded that you walked with Sans all the way to their house last time. What had been said between the two of you? Or was this all because of the oven mishap? It certainly couldn’t be the latter- Sans had pretty much fully apologized with minimal insult. “Yeah, I’m back. And I brought some cake mix to make- you guys looked like you were hurting for sweets.” You give him a small, tight smile. “I didn’t even stay for dessert- I’m sorry for being so rude.”

“YOU ARE FORGIVEN, CONDITIONALLY.” Sans tilts his head up slightly- was his brother trying to pull a power move on you? Really? “SURELY YOUR TRIP HOME WITH THOSE TWO SCATTERBRAINS MADE IT OBVIOUS THAT OUR COMPANY IS SUPERIOR. I CAN ONLY ASSUME THAT YOU’RE IN ONE PIECE?”

“Oh, they were fine- I slept over, actually. Your food certainly was... something else. I needed the night to sleep it off.” Papyrus whips his head over to you- were you out of your mind? Certainly the two of them had laid it on pretty thick about the man-eating qualities of those two- if he had known you’d need to stay over, he would have driven you back home. Not that he cared one way or the other, but if they had eaten you and the human police had decided to stick their nose in this neck of the woods, it would’ve been a big fiasco.

From what he understood of this universe’s Sans, keeping them all in a big, secluded forest just a few towns shy of New Ebott was intentional. Close enough that they could mingle in town without too much fanfare, but far away enough from people that actually knew Sans and Papyrus, to keep this scientific kerfuffle under wraps. If the queen was anything like how she was back home, Papyrus was more than happy to play along and keep the authorities away from them.

You kept talking, though, and he tunes back in. “I brought Papyrus into town and got his teeth fixed- if you two give them any rations, you might have to be mindful of his braces. I mostly have them covered for the month, but just in case.” Sans keeps looking around you like he expects himself to be on Napstaton’s ‘Safe... Or Are You?’ special and this was some elaborate prank. He shares a look with his brother, equally confused.

“YOU, ER, REALLY DID TAKE THEM INTO TOWN, THEN. AND... FIXED HIS TEETH.” It’s just rephrasing what you’d already said, but it still processes as new information- of all of them, those two looked the most like this universe’s brothers, and you had... taken them out on the town? Invoked medical care for them? There was a reason they weren’t allowed out of the forest, and, from what good ol’ Classic would actually tell them, it was probably because they were the only skeletons that couldn't pass as ‘distant cousins from the Capital’.

Again, not even mentioning the human-eating.

“Yeah, of course- I said I would, didn’t I?” Well, no- Axe had said that for you. And it had definitely sounded like a thinly-veiled threat. Perhaps you were far too kind, and that had made you naive- this world certainly seemed like it would let you live as long as you had without ever putting you in a situation like that. He wonders if anyone had ever taught you to fight, how to defend yourself- you looked strong, and he’d checked your soul a few times.

Not incapable, but maybe just a little oblivious. Not that he really cared either way.

“So! Eggs, vegetable oil, water.” He blinks a few times, and finds that you’d started busying yourself around the kitchen. Setting down your round tin and the cake mix, you’re elbow-deep in the ground cabinets. Sans leans over you to pull a measuring cup from overhead, passing it to you before taking a seat at the table to watch you.

This wasn’t their house in the same way that those two mangled skeletons had kept their house. It was their house because that’s where they decided to stay after one-too-many sparring matches indoors of the lodge had caused a swift eviction, and they’d been pointed to this property only a mile or so away. So, to be blunt, he didn’t know what the fuck was in any of those cabinets- the previous owner had apparently left a lot of shit behind. At most, they just restocked the fridge and pantry and decorated their rooms. Sure, they lived here, but they didn’t live here.

It’s amazing how you still somehow make conversation when his brother and him are both silent and watching your every move. You don’t even shiver or flinch- you just ask him if anything interesting has happened lately while you preheat the oven. “Anything good on tv?”

“I’VE STARTED WATCHING COOKS VERSUS CONS- MY KNOWLEDGE OF HUMAN TRICKERY HAS EXPANDED SINCE I STARTED VIEWING IT. FOR INSTANCE, I CAN TELL THAT YOU ARE NOT A PROFESSIONAL, SINCE YOU PLAN TO USE A SPOON INSTEAD OF A WHISK TO MAKE THIS CAKE.” Papyrus shoots Sans a look- was he bantering or was he just trying to antagonize you? His brother’s eye sockets crinkle a little at the edges- this was his idea of banter.

Sure, bro, whatever you say.

You snort, wielding the aforementioned spoon in his direction. “I’m a line cook, not a pastry chef- I’m a professional, just not at this.” Then, which surprising finesse, you crack three eggs at the same time on the edge of the bowl and discard them into the trash with a flick of your wrist. Your stirring is quick, methodical, and you turn the batter over and over again until it’s smooth and, quickly, toss the pan into the oven. “I didn’t bring any icing, but I can probably google how to make it and figure it out.”

“it’d be ice but you don’t have to. chocolate cake’s chocolate cake.” If you’re all going to have cake in the mid-afternoon, he might as well brew some coffee. Nothing made him miss Muffet’s more than having to drink Folger’s every day. “hey, how do you like your coffee?”

You seem surprised that he’d even ask- sure, he’s a little standoffish and not exactly sure how to act in this scenario, but he wasn’t going to bite your head off for asking for coffee. “Uh, I’m fine with whatever- I’ll handle my own sugar and creamer.”

“WHAT DO WE LOOK LIKE? CREAMPUFFS? WE DON’T HAVE CREAMER OR SUGAR. DRINK IT BLACK LIKE THE REST OF US.” You flinch, and his brother’s snarky smile fades slightly- he'd obviously intended to get you to quip back, not flinch. 

Confidentially, Papyrus leans towards you, his teeth to your ear. “i put a spoonful of hot chocolate mix in mine- it makes it a little sweeter. and don’t let my brother fool you- he drinks it so fast he doesn’t even taste how bitter it is.” Like the other night, he puts his hands around your waist, his fingers biting into the curve of your flesh- he thought it might trigger some memory, he might recognize how you felt under his hands, but he doesn’t.

The one time that getting blackout drunk had backfired on him, apparently.

You lean back, and there’s a little bit of a smile in your voice. “Please and thank you?” It takes him a moment to realize you’re asking for him to put some hot cocoa in your’s, too. He lets go and shrugs his shoulders, moving to make a pot.

Aaaand they’re all out. The only thing worse than drinking shitty coffee is not even having coffee.

“i’m gonna make a quick run to the corner store in town- do we need anything else, bro?”

“PAPER TOWELS, CHIPS, AND MORE DISINFECTANT SPRAY, IF YOU FIND IT. SOME MORE TACO SEASONING WOULD BE NICE, BUT I DOUBT IT’LL BE THERE- IF YOU COULD MAKE A RUN TO THE GROCERY STORE AND PICK IT UP WITH A POUND OF BEEF.” Because of the dry look he gives him, he adds, “PLEASE.”

Papyrus sighs, a long inhale and exhale. “anything else, milord?”

“JUST MY SARCASTIC AND DESPONDENT BROTHER HOME SAFE, OF COURSE.”

“of course.”

-

Five minutes after Papyrus leaves through the front door, Sans whirls on you, and you immediately take a whole step back. “I THOUGHT YOU UNDERSTOOD THE TERMS OF YOUR CONTINUAL ENGAGEMENT. I RECEIVED NO MESSAGE FROM YOU, NO FURTHER CONTACT.” He’s gotten up from his seat, and he’s starting to crowd you towards the stove. “I ASKED ONLY FOR A SIMPLE ‘YES’ OR ‘NO’. I AM ONLY PATIENT TO A FAULT- IT WILL TAKE MY BROTHER THIRTY MINUTES TO RETURN FROM THE 7/11 AND I INTEND TO MAKE FULL USE OF THIS TIME.”

“First of all, back the fuck up. I don’t care what kind of negotiations you’re used to making, but I’m never going to agree to anything if you’re stepping on my feet.” The situation makes you bolder- you’d informed your Papyrus and Sans about where you’d be and for how long and, now that you were alone and you didn’t have to act, your angry was boiling just under the skin.

“AND YOU THINK YOU’RE IN A POSITION TO NEGOTIATE? THOSE TWO MUST BE SOFTER ON YOU THAN I THOUGHT- MAYBE IF THEY’D JUST TAKEN A BITE OUT OF YOU, YOU’D KNOW HOW MUCH DANGER YOU’RE IN.”

“Danger?” You take a step forward and your hips knock into his, his chin to your chest. He wasn’t willing to move and, now, you weren’t either. The position forces him to acknowledge your height difference, and he has to tilt his head back- from the angry red flush on his face, you can only assume he’d realized that that was your intention. “Danger? Let’s talk about danger- how about how you two left Sans and Papyrus-”

“AXE AND CROOKS.” He substitutes immediately and you feel like your head is going to fly off of your shoulders.

Axe and Cr - What the fuck? Excuse me? Are those nicknames you gave them?”

For the first time, discomfort crosses his face and he looks away, if only briefly. “CERTAINLY I’M NOT THE ONE THAT MADE THEM UP. BUT THAT’S THE OTHER NAMES THEY’RE CALLED THAT SO THAT WE AREN’T MIXED UP. DO YOU THINK I NAMED MYSELF ‘BLACKBERRY’? IT’S OBVIOUSLY A JAB AT MY PHYSICALITY AND A BLATANT INSULT. AND ‘MUTT’? IT WAS FINE WHEN I WAS THE ONLY ONE CALLING HIM THAT!” He shakes his head. “BUT I DIGRESS- THEY WERE OBVIOUSLY NAMED FOR THEIR PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES AS WELL- WE SHOWED UP LATER THAN THEM, SO WE MORE OR LESS JUST WENT ALONG WITH THIS SHITTY NAMING GIMMICK.”

You side-step away from him to pinch the bridge of your nose. You put the whole ‘naming gimmick’ thing on the back-burner, somewhere alongside ‘alternate universes’ for things you’re going to have to freak the fuck out about later. “So. Sans. How can you justify leaving the two of them out there without food for so long? If you’re sooo concerned about them making a midnight snack out of me, why put them in a situation where their only option for food is to kill whatever comes in their neck of the woods?”

“I- WH- EXCUSE ME? DO I LOOK LIKE I’M THEIR KEEPER? WE’RE DECENT ENOUGH NEIGHBORS TO EVEN SHARE OUR PANTRY ONCE A MONTH WITH THEM- IF THEY WANT MORE, THEN MAYBE THEY SHOULDN’T EAT EVERYTHING SO FAST! IT’S NOT MY JOB TO GIVE THEM FOOD- WE’RE ONLY TASKED WITH KEEPING THEM IN THE WOODS!” Sans (Blackberry? Black?) makes a wide, clawed gesture. “AND WE’VE EVEN BEEN GRACIOUS ENOUGH TO LET THEM OUT WITH YOUR SUPERVISION! I HARDLY KNOW YOU- YOU COULD BE TAKING THEM DIRECTLY TO THE QUEEN FOR ALL I KNOW, BUT WE’VE PUT THAT RESPONSIB- HOLD ON.” He completely stops, and he’s looking at you strangely again.

“What? Are you going to bitch some more at me about what I’m doing wrong in this scenario?"

“NO. BE QUIET FOR MOMENT.” Which is... strangely in a quieter tone. You comply, if only to see where this is going. “YOU SAID THAT WE’RE THE ONES LETTING THEM STARVE. AND YOU’VE BEEN GIVING THEM FOOD FOR THE PAST MONTH. AND AXE HAS BEEN HARASSING THE BONE MARROW OUT OF ME ABOUT GETTING OUT TO TOWN. BUT, BEFORE THAT, THEY’VE HAD TO USE TRAPS TO CATCH WILDLIFE TO EAT.”

“Yes? Why do you repeat everything I say? It’s getting on my nerves.” There’s something calculating behind his eyes, and you’re not sure if you like it or not. You’re not sure if you’re about to get thrown into one of these walls by his blue magic attack or not.

“THOSE CONFRONTATION-FEARING, COWARDLY-!” He starts tapping his foot at a rapid pace, looking around like he wants to throw something. Your anger is just starting to bubble up again- what, was he blaming them for not having anything to eat again? But he turns back to facing you, his face scrunched up in a mix of anger and apology. “THAT WASN’T OUR JOB. THE LODGE WAS SUPPOSED TO DISTRIBUTE THEIR RATIONS BUT, APPARENTLY, THEY SHUFFLED THAT JOB ON OUR SHOULDERS WITHOUT LETTING US KNOW. I’M GOING TO BREAK PRIME SANS’ PATELLAS. NO WONDER THEY WERE SO HOSTILE-” He seems to be rambling more to himself than to you, but you have a crowning realization that there’s been some wild miscommunication that you’ve gotten caught up in.

“Sans,” You saying his name causes him to break away, mid-thought, and turn to you. You wonder, what with that ‘naming gimmick’, how often he hears another person other than his brother say his real name. “Can you, um, clarify? Just so I know exactly what’s going on.” You’d been so angry that you almost don’t know what to do with yourself now. You feel like a dish towel someone had wrung out after cleaning up a mess- this was. Exhausting.

“THE LODGE SKELETONS- THE ONES YOU HAVEN’T MET- GIVE THE BOTH OF US GROCERIES ONCE A MONTH SO THAT WE DON'T HAVE TO GO INTO THE LOCAL TOWN, WHERE WE'LL EVENTUALLY BE RECOGNIZED. APPARENTLY, THEY HAVEN’T BEEN GIVING YOUR SKELETONS THEIR SHARE AND HAVE BEEN EXPECTING US TO PICK UP THE SLACK.” He squints. “I’LL HAVE TO INVITE AXE AND CROOKS OVER FOR DINNER. OF ALL OF THE THINGS I WOULD DO TO THEM AND AS ANNOYING AS THEY CAN BE, I WOULDN’T HAVE LET THEM STARVE IF I KNEW THEIR SITUATION. AS STRANGE AS THEY ARE, THEY ARE STILL MY BROTHER AND MYSELF.”

You still definitely remember the giant laser that almost took Papyrus out alongside you, but, okay, his logic makes sense. And he’s going to apologize, it seems. Behind you, the oven’s timer has gone off, and you wrap your hand in a towel and take it out to cool. The thick chocolate smell wafts through the house and, strangely, Sans doesn’t seem so hostile anymore. With his gloved fingers pinching between his eye sockets, he looks strangely... worn-down. “I SHOULD APOLOGIZE TO YOU, TOO. YOU WERE... GENUINELY TRYING TO REMEDY THEIR SITUATION. AND I ATTEMPTED TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THAT FOR MY OWN SELFISH MEANS.”

“Uh, I mean-”

“WELL, NOT TRULY SELFISH, BUT I DID THREATEN YOU WITH THEIR STARVATION IN EXCHANGE FOR YOUR FRIENDSHIP TO MY BROTHER. AND YOU DIDN’T RESPOND, WHICH, ULTIMATELY, APPEARS AS THOUGH IT WAS FOR THE BEST. I...” He pulls his hand away from his face. “I’M NOT THE BEST AT APOLOGIES. WE’LL SHARE A GLASS OF RED WITH THE CAKE AND NEVER SPEAK OF THIS AGAIN. CONSIDER THE DEAL OFF THE TABLE- BEFRIEND US AT YOUR OWN PERIL.”

You snort. “Apology accepted, but you should really talk to them more. You four could probably have figured this out a long time ago if you actually listened.” But you weren’t about to turn down a glass of wine. “I’ll still accept a glass as payment for my mediating, though.” Maybe it'd calm you down a little and fix your frayed nerves.

“FAIR, THOUGH YOU’D BE SURPRISED AT HOW DIFFICULT IT IS TO GET A STRAIGHT ANSWER OUT OF SOME OF US.” He opens the fridge and pulls out a bottle of, admittedly, eyebrow-raisingly expensive wine. He pops the cork with magic and pulls two glasses out of the cabinet, pouring two even glasses. They look distantly familiar, though you can’t place where you’d last seen them. “I HAVE TO ASK... WHAT ARE YOUR INTENTIONS WITH MY BROTHER? YOU SEEM TO FALL INTO THE ROLE FAIRLY EASILY.”

“Please tell me you’re not going to play ‘protective older brother’ after keeping this lie up was your idea.”

“PAPYRUS IS A GROWN SKELETON. WHAT HE DOES IN HIS PRIVATE TIME IS NONE OF MY BUSINESS, SO LONG AS IT DOESN’T AFFECT ME AND HE ISN’T HARMED.” He takes a sip from his glass and then immediately refills the lost wine before returning the bottle to the fridge. “I JUST DO NOT WANT HIM TO BE LONELY. THERE’S ONLY SO MUCH I CAN DO AS A BROTHER AND, DESPITE HOW STANDOFFISH HE HAS BEEN AROUND YOU, IT’S OBVIOUS HE’S MAKING AN EFFORT. DID YOU SEE HIS CLOTHES? NOT ONE STAIN ON THEM! AND HE’S OBVIOUSLY NOT TRYING TO IMPRESS ME.” He takes another drink, almost clearing a quarter of the glass. “YOUR SMALL, LIMITED HUMAN BRAIN CANNOT COMPREHEND IT, BUT WE ARE A LONG WAY FROM EVERYTHING WE HAVE EVER KNOWN, AND MY BROTHER HAS NEVER BEEN VERY POPULAR. I WANT WHAT’S BEST FOR HIM. AND IF WHAT’S BEST FOR HIM IS A NOSY, LYING HUMAN WITH DECENT COOKING SKILLS, I WILL ALLOW IT.”

“Wow, you really do care about me, huh.” You say, with utmost sarcasm, though it’s more obvious in his voice than in his text that he really is concerned about Papyrus. It makes sense, then, why Papyrus is so awkward around you- physical touch seems to be the only thing he knows he’s good at, and he’s kept his mouth fairly shut whenever you’re out of arm’s reach.

“I CARE.” Sans contests. “TO THE EXTENT THAT IT AFFECTS ME.”

“I’ll drink to that.” You clink your glass against his and take a sip- it tastes of dark cherries, and the slightest hint of vanilla. It warms you all the way down. “You know, Papyrus seems like a cool guy.”

“HE IS THE COOLEST.” He leaves it at that, rounding the kitchen counter to go back to sitting at the table.

-

With four bags of groceries on his two arms, Papyrus steps into the house, looking around, confused. Somehow, in the time it took for him to visit the Harris Teeter to get beef and taco seasoning, you and Sans seem to have cracked into his brother’s wine supply and mended whatever tension was between you two. Faintly, he hears the sound of a cooking channel playing. The cake, still cooling on the stove, sits untouched.

You stand up almost immediately upon hearing the door open and close. “Papyrus! Let me help you with that.” With a wide, goofy smile, you take one of the bags from him, and he lurches to keep you from tilting over- you’d picked the heaviest bag right off of his arm.

“PAPYRUS. SO YOU’VE DECIDED TO JOIN US.” His brother has gotten up from the couch, leaning against the wall with his glass in-hand. “WE WERE SIMPLY DISCUSSING.” He doesn’t say what, but he makes a twisting, unending gesture with his hand.

“yeah? decided to start the party without me?” You start unloading the groceries and you whirl around, your smile somehow impossibly larger, holding the small bottle of creamer he’d bought for you. Emphatically, you mouth ‘thank you’, and he can’t help the blush that crawls up his spine. “no problem- i, uh, also brought some icing. so you wouldn’t have to google how to make it.”

“Oh, good! Chocolate cake pairs really... It’s good with red wine. You should try it, after we ice it.” You very gently boop him on his nasal bone, and he feels his eye lights cross to follow the motion. You ghost past him to get a knife from the drawer and find a plate to put the cake down on, and he watches you like you’re the only person in the room. You’re like a ray of sunshine, ghosting around their kitchen and opening drawers and laughing when you get a little icing on you.

He doesn’t know what the hell he did to get you, but he’s not going to question it. He’s only really known you for two days, and you already have his brother smiling and a cake shared between the three of you. All because of one night he doesn’t remember.

If it’s what it takes to have you around... He’s fine with keeping up the illusion.

Chapter Text

It was a bitterly cold night, and one that Sans would prefer not to stay too long in. The forest was quiet and the trees seemed close and swayed with a wind that didn’t truly move- the only sounds were the leaves that crunched underfoot. Recalibrating his traps again, if only so Papyrus would get off of his back- when was the last time they’d caught anything? The last time they’d caught anything they could keep and eat without finding scraps left by an opportunistic hunter?

Leaving something vulnerable in the middle of the forest usually meant that, by the time they came around, all that  was left was the bones. And between him and his brother, they had plenty of those.

He trudges, slow and careful, between the large metal traps, the one flamethrower trap Papyrus had installed that was low on lighter fluid, a basic floor-spike trap. He couldn’t exactly blame him for becoming so uncreative as the years wore on- puzzles were his forte, but there was little reward in setting a large puzzle out for some human to stumble upon any more. Since there was no real reason to capture humans for anything other than food- no need to catch souls, now that Empress Undyne had declared Snowdin unrecognized territory...

Sans digs his fingers into his socket, feeling his teeth lock together. Like he gave a shit what Undyne thought of them doing any more. He’d stopped walking and, for a moment, he stops to take in the scene around him. The seemingly permanent coat of snow lay half-ruined by his shoe-prints, and the trees seemed to bend until they touched one another, as if holding him in.

No wonder he was so damn antsy in the woods. Just like they were both Underground again.

... Again? Hunger must’ve been gnawing at him harder than he thought. The illusion of the night sky above him was just that- a trick made of the absence of light when the Underground artificially cycled through days and nights. He digs his fingers harder into the socket, feeling the grit of bone-against-bone. He needs to focus- Papyrus would chew him out if he went home without resetting the traps. Last time, Dogamy had gotten his foot stuck in one of the leghold traps and had wordlessly barked and whined and whimpered while his mate bloodied her hands trying to pry it off of him.

Sans could’ve taken the both of them out then. Loyalty and past friendships meant little in the face of the food shortage, and it wasn’t like the canine unit hadn’t tried to make a chew toy out of him and Papyrus about two months into it.

But, small mercies. Sans had released the trap with the hidden mechanism and, in a tense moment where he had to wonder if he had enough magic left in him to teleport back a few more feet to flee, Dogamy had pulled his foot out of the trap and looped his arms around Dogaressa’s neck. Shambling until they were far away enough that they thought Sans couldn’t see them. He still could, and he watches as she laps at the blood coating his ankle, his now-ruined foot.

He hears whimpering, now. If the damned dog had gotten stuck again , he was gonna put him down. It’d almost be a kinder option than letting him roam around with a target on his back for anyone that’d been low on meat and whose palate had expanded to include dust. At least nothing would go to waste with them.

But it’s not a dog whimper. He gets closer and closer, ducking under branches and rounding trees fast and, stars, it’s a human. Finally, finally, something substantial- something to that will abate the hunger- keep the look from Papyrus’ eyes, shaking and disconnected with a fork in his hand-

The barb wire trap. Of all of the things, you had stumbled into the barbed wire trap, wrapped around your ankle, and he watches as you try to gently pry it, only for it to get caught on your fingers and then you have to figure out how to get your fingers off of it and he watches you. He watches you with a drooling mouth and he can see your determination, you’re certainly no human child, but you’re already weakened and he can see how heavily damaged your soul already is. An easy prey.

“Sans?” You call out, your eyes seeking him amongst the trees. His thoughts rattle to a stop upon hearing you say his name. “Sans, I’m stuck- can... can you get me out?”

Why would he get you out?

What a waste of a perfectly good meal that would be.

“SANS! SANS, THEY’LL BE COMING BACK, SOON.” Papyrus crosses from behind him and, in two large strides, is in front of you, his gloves off. His hands, large and long with that inherited hole through the center of his palms, gently work the wire off of your ankle. Your body heaves in a relieved sigh, and you loop your arms around his neck, and his brother picks you up, carrying you where your ruined foot wouldn’t take you- back home. You press your lips to his cheekbone as a thank-you, and Sans is stuck watching in horrified anticipation- what was his brother doing? Just because the human knew him- just because they were so soft and kind and loving and their food was always delicious- didn’t mean... It didn’t mean...

It didn’t mean anything. Humans were... You could kill him, you could kill Papyrus, your hands around his neck- if he struck first, they wouldn’t get hurt, get left behind. Food was food, and you were on the menu. What was his brother doing?

Papyrus turns, slowly, revealing a melting face, his left eye socket collapsed, his right drooping from melted matter. His hands with their large holes in the palms grip onto you. He speaks in garbled syllables, his mouth tilting upwards until his grin is almost mocking, the corners of his smile unnatural. “SANS, IT’S TIME TO WAKE UP.”

Sans bolts upright, sending bone attacks flying in several directions. fuck. fuck. Panting, he takes in the scene- Papyrus had effortlessly dodged his bone attacks, but it’s obvious that he hadn't been expecting them. If he had, he’d have likely caught the one that was sent flying into their decorative painting of a bone. His brother, his brother with his gloves on and his big glasses and that goofy metal that fixed his teeth.

His brother, with his face lit up in concern. “I WOULDN’T HAVE TRIED TO WAKE YOU IF I KNEW YOU WERE HAVING A NIGHTMARE.” Papyrus rounds the corner of the couch to sit beside him, so they can make eye contact. “WHICH ONE WAS IT?”

He asks, like Sans has always been forthcoming about his nightmares with him. Which he hasn’t. But there were a lot of secrets that didn’t need to stay secret when Asgore died and the human souls disappeared. There were things that Sans had thought he’d only tell his brother once they got to the surface, and he’d quickly realized that he’d never thought they’d actually get there. When the food shortage started shortly after the riots, he’d realized they might dust any day and, after a lifetime of looking out for his brother, he told him everything. Consistently told him everything.

“the gaster one.” Well, mostly everything.

“WELL! GASTER ISN’T HERE RIGHT NOW, BUT YOU ARE, AND I AM HERE AS WELL- AND THE HUMAN WILL BE JOINING US SHORTLY. THAT’S WHY I WAS TRYING TO WAKE YOU.” Papyrus gives him a comforting pat on the shoulder- the Gaster nightmare was real, sure, but he’d never tell him how much he resembled him. How haunting that resemblance was. He can’t quite remember what his dream was about (already losing bits and pieces of it now that he was fully awake), but Papyrus’ words fill him with unease. What day of the week was it? Where were you?

He pulls away from the pillow he’d be clutching to his chest and, with a panic rising in his soul that he can’t pinpoint, he sees the teeth-marks in the pillow. Had he dreamt of hunting you?

Under all of these pretenses of being normal, this was just another inconsistency- this universe’s Sans wouldn’t have to ask himself these questions. He never would’ve dreamed of killing you just to eat- “SANS! STOP DRIFTING OFF! I GOT A TEXT MESSAGE FROM THEM AND THEY’RE COMING TO US, WITH THE OTHER TWO. THEY INCLUDED SEVERAL OF THOSE BOXES IN THE MESSAGE, WHICH MEANS THEY’RE LIKELY EXPERIENCING SOME FORM OF EMOTION THAT MY PHONE CAN’T HANDLE.”

Right. He needed to... get a job, maybe, out in the town. First things first was getting Papyrus a better cell phone to text you with. He knew you’d likely want to chip in (probably saying something about how it’s your fault that he needs a higher quality cell phone), so he’s kept quiet about it, and Papyrus didn’t really care either way, it seemed. “they were with the other two, right?” You’d called Papyrus earlier, talking about how you were going over there, just this once to settle things with Blackberry, but then...

But then it’d been quiet for several hours and he’d drifted off. Papyrus had been sitting on the countertop, by the clock on the wall, waiting for the three-hour mark you’d agreed on, his phone plugged in beside him. Had it been three hours already?

There’s a knock at the door and, before he could even move, Papyrus is already bounding towards it. He calls your name, and Sans can’t help but note the relief in his voice- sure, they trusted you, but they really didn’t trust those other skeletons. Three hours seemed like an eternity when all it took was three minutes to sling a few bone attacks and bludgeon you to death. Papyrus’ anxiety was well-founded, and when he slung the door open, his entire body posture changes from one of practiced pride and grandeur to slumped and concerned.

“Papyruuuuus!” Stars, you’re drunk. He can’t see past Papyrus’ silhouette, but your tone of voice makes it very obvious, even though the other time he’d heard you drunk you were stuttering and drifting off mid-sentence. There’s fumbling sounds, the sound of cloth being pulled at, then suddenly you’re in Papyrus’ arms and he’s taken a full step back from the door.

“WELL. THE VERY LEAST YOU COULD’VE DONE IS SAY ‘THANK YOU FOR RETURNING THE HUMAN BACK TO ME’.” Blackberry lingers, also drunk, but his voice holds little actual malice. Which is incredibly suspicious. Sans watches as Papyrus gently runs one hand over your back, trying to check for your soul’s HP without taking his eyes off of him. “I CAME WITH THEM, OF COURSE, TO MAKE SURE THAT THEY WOULD RETURN IN ONE PIECE. ALSO BECAUSE IT WAS BROUGHT TO MY ATTENTION THAT YOU TWO HAVEN’T BEEN RECEIVING YOUR RATIONS.”

“and whose fault would that be?” Sans says, getting up from his place on the couch- he half-crowds Papyrus backwards, stepping in-between the two of them. It’s never come to blows between the two pairs of brothers (or, at the very least, blows that weren’t easily dodged), but he’d feel a hell of a lot better if he knew Papyrus wouldn’t be compromised by trying to shield you.

“SURPRISINGLY, NOT OURS, DESPITE HOW VILLAINOUS WE ARE.” Loose-limbed, Blackberry’s red eyelights meet Sans’, unblinking.

From your place in Papyrus’ cage of arms, you say, “It’s one big misunderstanding!” Brightly, as if you believe it.

“misunderstanding, my ass. we’ve been asking you for rations for three months.” Misunderstanding was when you gave someone a food they didn’t like, not starving two people for months on end and forcing them to hunt animals to continue to survive off of meager rations.

“AND I’VE MADE IT ABUNDANTLY CLEAR THAT I WOULDN’T GIVE THEM TO YOU WITHOUT INCENTIVE.” Yeah, because they’re so fucking greedy they wouldn’t hand over the protein shake powder that Blue always packed for the both of them- “BECAUSE WE WERE UNAWARE THAT WE WERE ALSO RECEIVING YOUR GROCERIES.”

“WHAT?” For the first time, Papyrus speaks up. “NO, THE LODGE WOULDN’T... I MEAN, I KNOW THEY’RE NOT THAT FOND OF...” He trails off, and Sans has to wonder what they’d said to him the last time he’d visited, looking for you.

“IT APPEARS THAT THIS UNIVERSE’S SANS TOLD YOU THAT WE’D BE GIVING YOU YOUR FOOD ABOUT THREE MONTHS AGO, BUT WE WEREN’T TOLD ANY OF THAT, AND OUR PORTIONS WERE ONLY SLIGHTLY LARGER. WE BARELY EVEN NOTICED.” He pauses, dusting off his clothes. “IF I AM BEING HONEST, I JUST THOUGHT THE TWO OF YOU WERE BEING GREEDY.”

Them? Being greedy? “listen. i couldn’t care less about what shitty excuse you’re going to give me if it’s just gonna be a bunch of empty words.” He spares a quick glance at you, cradled safely in his brother’s arms. Had you brought this up to the two of them? Risked having a confrontation with this Sans to make sure they got some sort of amends?

“IT’S NOT GOING TO BE.” Black rights his posture, folding his arms behind him. The image of the perfect Royal Guardsman. “MY BROTHER RARELY EATS THE FOOD I PREPARE, SO I’LL BE GIVING YOU HALF OF OUR CURRENT PANTRY TOMORROW. BLUE WILL LIKELY BE BY WITH NEXT MONTH’S DELIVERY WITHIN THE WEEK AND, TO MAKE UP FOR OUR NEGLIGENCE, I’LL BE GIVING YOU THE ENTIRE THING.” He pauses, then turns his head to the side. “AND BE GIVING HIM A PIECE OF MY MIND, BUT THAT’S A DIFFERENT STORY.”

“so what?” He can feel his magic flare up, that old hunger of his rattling inside of his ribs. Something old and familiar, but not forgotten- never forgotten- something old and ripped violently up to the surface of his mind. He can feel his one working eye light flare. “we’re just supposed to believe you and just let everything go?”

“I DON’T EXPECT YOUR FORGIVENESS. I DON’T PARTICULARLY WANT IT.” Black’s brow ridges lower, his face in a grimace. “BUT AT LEAST ONE OF US HAS TO BE RESPONSIBLE. I OWN UP TO MY MISTAKES.”

“and you’re so humble about them, too.”

“THE MOST HUMBLE.” He immediately counters his dig, through gritted teeth. “I’LL HOST A DINNER WITHIN THE WEEK AS A MORE FORMAL APOLOGY. YOUR HUMAN IS WELCOME TO COME. WHETHER OR NOT YOU SHOW UP IS OF NO CONCERN TO ME.” With that, even though it’s their house, Black takes his exit, slamming the door behind him.

Even with no lungs, Papyrus and Sans both let out a breath they hadn’t noticed they were holding. “Hey, guys?” He’d almost forgotten you were here- how had he forgotten you were here? You’d been too quiet for too long. “‘M sorry for meddling- I just couldn’t...”

Couldn’t watch them suffer. He’d have to talk to you when you were sober about your giving nature and how you really needed to be a little more selfish. “DON’T APOLOGIZE. YOU’RE TOO KIND TO US.” Papyrus’ hand very gently thumbs over your cheek, and you’re staring up at him with a torn expression. As if he’s watching an accident, Sans watches your next words come out of your mouth like a trainwreck he can’t look away from.

“Papyrus, they... Do they call you-” If Sans was faster, he would’ve covered your mouth- he would’ve launched some pun faster and louder than the next words out of your mouth- “‘Crooks’?”

Papyrus goes stiff, the tips of his phalanges digging into your back where he’s supporting your full weight on one arm. He’s silent, staring down at you with his wide eyes behind his glasses and, if Sans knows his brother, if he’s been with him for all of his life, he knows that he’s trying not to cry. Even drunk, you seem to realize that, and your words slur together as you try to hurry them out, a little panicked but equally as emotional. “Because... fuck ‘em! You don’t... you don’t deserve that!” Your hands come to cradle his face, your thumbs resting on his cheekbones. Papyrus’ head tilts down with your slightest touch. “You’re a sweet pea- that’s what they should call you! Sweet pea... Sweets! They should call you Sweets.” You coo, and Sans can’t remember a time when anyone else had ever held his brother like this, when his brother looked at someone like this.

“YOU’RE DRUNK.” Papyrus says, simply, and he moves his hand from where it’d been resting on your face to readjust his hold on you. A few orange tears slip out, his voice raw, but he’s smiling. “YOU SHOULD GET SOME REST- YOUR FRIENDS WILL BE WORRIED ABOUT YOU.”

“You’re my friend, too, Sweets.” You say, catching a few of his tears. Your use of a nickname is transparent and somewhat unnatural, but it’s kind. An orange blush works his way over his face. “You can set me down, if you’d like. I’ll just... nap on your couch this time- I already let Trix know I’d have to stay the night again.” Papyrus looks incredibly reluctant to put you down and, instead of setting you down on the couch, he takes you up the stairs to put you in his bed.

Sans watches him as he goes, wondering if it’s as obvious to his brother as it was to him how absolutely smitten he was with you. Did Papyrus even recognize the adoration in his own gaze? The way he could never seem to set you down? In a few minutes, he’s coming back down the stairs, still flushed. He casts a look over his shoulder, then his face crumples into misery, his fingers locking together as he got closer to Sans.

“SANS, DO YOU BELIEVE HIM? THAT THE LODGE WOULD JUST LET US...” He can’t seem to finish his own sentence. Sans remembers that this universe’s Sans was always kind to his brother when they all lived in the lodge, that Blue and him got along like a house on fire.

“i dunno if it was the truth, but he believed what he was saying.” What was worse- that those two had been intentionally withholding food from them, or that this universe’s Sans had given up on giving them food and left them out of the conversation? It was giving him a headache. “doesn’t seem to be a reason why he’d lie.”

Papyrus is quiet again, wringing his hands. “WE SHOULD ATTEND THAT DINNER. IF ONLY TO HEAR WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY.”

“sure, but if they try to feed you garbage, i’m gonna have a bone to pick with ‘em.”

I’M GOING TO HAVE A BONE TO PICK WITH YOU IF YOU KEEP REUSING ALL OF YOUR OLD MATERIAL AT THE DINNER!” Papyrus counters, but it’s playful, and most of the tension leaves his face. They stand in silence for a little while, just looking at each other. With how much Papyrus has changed since he’d met you, Sans wonders if he looks at him with the same critical eye- in what ways has he been molded by your caring hands? As if finding something, Papyrus’ tone turns conspiratorial. “SANS, DID YOU HEAR THEM EARLIER?”

“hear who?”

“THE HUMAN.”

“hear what?”

“WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT ‘CROOKS’, SANS, WHAT ELSE?” His flush from earlier returns, less obvious but still spottable. “I NEVER THOUGHT SOMEONE WOULD TALK ABOUT ME LIKE THAT. ESPECIALLY NOT AFTER... NOT WITH SOMEONE KNOWING HOW I LOOKED LIKE. KNOWING THE THINGS THAT WE DID TO SURVIVE.”

“yeah?” That had been half of the reason they’d moved out of the lodge- even with their change in situation, the others still acted like they would snap at any moment. Not to mention the nicknames... Stars, the nicknames- as if it was any better that they’d nicknamed one of them Blueberry, which made it fine to call his brother ‘Crooks’.

“YEAH. I NEVER THOUGHT THAT I COULD BE...” Papyrus straightens, blushing harder and breaking the moment. “WELL! ANYWAYS! I’M GETTING THEM A WATER AND AN ASPIRIN FOR WHEN THEY WAKE UP!”

“you do that, bro. you know where i’ll be.” Sans makes his slow way back to the couch- it was early evening, and he could probably find something to watch until his brother fell asleep.

“YOU LAZYBONES- YOU SHOULD BE JUST AS INVESTED IN MAINTAINING OUR HUMAN’S HEALTH AS I AM.” But there’s no bite to his chastisement, and it sounds like teasing. When he disappears into the kitchen, Sans takes a shortcut into his brother’s room, and finds you tucked into Papyrus’ bed.

“‘our human’, huh?” He reaches out, not unlike how his brother had earlier, and smooths his fingertips over your cheek. Your skin is soft and warm, and your breath smells like wine, coming out in even puffs. One of your eyes opens, if only slightly, and you look at him curiously. He snatches his hand back as if you’d burned him.

“What’s up?” You say it like it’s all one word, barely coherent. “Do you... Do you need something?” You start to get up, yawning widely and shivering, looking blindly at him through half-awake eyes.

“nah, don’t need anything- go back to sleep.”

Only half-awake, you let yourself be pushed back into the bed, exhaling when your head touches the pillow. He’s about to leave when he hears your voice, soft and barely-there. “You don't deserve to be called ‘Axe’, either, Sans.”

Unlike his brother, though, he’s not so sure. “don’t worry too much about that, sunshine.” He calls over his shoulder, feeling his soul rattle around in his ribcage. Sans closes the door with as much gentleness as he can muster, making sure the click of the door is barely audible.

On the other side of the door, Papyrus is standing there, beaming at him, holding a cool glass of water and an aspirin. He doesn’t say a word, trying not to wake you again, but he does bump Sans with his hipbone as he enters his room. Obviously he just thought he was checking on their human.

Sans heads down the hallway, into his room, and takes the comforter off of his mattress on the floor, examining it for stains and general grime. It’s a heavier blanket than the ones on Papyrus’ bed, if only because he actually used his bed to sleep in. He can’t remember when exactly Papyrus had thrown it in the wash, but it’d been fairly recent, so he takes a shortcut back into Papyrus’ room, just as Papyrus was exiting. Not two seconds later did he hear Papyrus swing the door open to his room and make a very loud confused sound as he found that his brother wasn’t there.

Carefully, Sans puts the blanket over your frame, making sure to tuck it under your chin and make sure your feet were covered. For a moment, he watches you, gauging how you’d react- you curl deeper into the mattress, your fingers curling into the blanket. Dreaming, you thank someone whose name he doesn’t recognize, and a few tears slip out from your closed eyes. “no reason to cry about it.” He tells you, even though he knows you won’t be able to hear, and he clears the tear tracks from your cheeks with his chipped thumb, light enough that he wouldn’t scratch you accidentally.

You exhale in your sleep, nuzzling deeper into the pillow. “Oh. Sans.” Like you were relieved that it was him, and Sans suddenly knows exactly what Papyrus meant. He’d never thought he could be needed like this. Cared for like this.

You smile in your sleep, all sunshine and soft lips, and, for one irrational moment, he wonders what it would feel like to be loved by you.

Chapter Text

Two full months of no progress on the machine, and Red had to admit, if he had nerves, they would’ve been worn down a long time ago. The machine, the source of every goddamn issue in the past few months, sits broken between him, an alternate version of him, and an alternate version of his brother. None of them seemed to have the answers or the perspective the machine demanded. “i’ll run through my old notes again- i might’ve made a miscalculation somewhere and didn’t account for... something.” The Papyrus that wasn’t his Papyrus (who he could barely fathom as his brother- all slouched and quiet and secretive) gets up from where he was leaning against the table and stretches.

Red can’t remember which one had named him ‘Stretch’, but damn if the kid couldn’t stand to do some yoga. A little cardio. And that was coming from him, who could turn bar-crawling into an Olympic sport.

They all know he didn’t miscalculate- none of them miscalculated. The machine worked exactly once, and then never again. Between an astrophysicist, a quantum engineer, and a quantum physicist, they all had more degrees (or, in Stretch’s case, degrees-in-progress) than Gaster had when he’d cobbled the old thing together. “what if we just beat the shit out of it. just absolutely tore it to shreds.” He proposes, letting his skull fall into his hands- it’s getting late, and stars knew that Papyrus would want him up early for his early-morning training. And mid-morning training. And late-mid-morning training, which he would definitely be sleeping through if they didn’t come to some resolution soon.

“not sure if that’d do you any good. sounds a bit like tearing up your ticket on a round-trip.” The other Sans finds a screwdriver on the table and undoes the panel on the side of the machine, peering in at the wiring. “you wouldn’t want to ticket-stub your toe.”

With Stretch out of the room, he’s completely comfortable with saying, “your jokes fucking suck.”

“hey, if i’m the only one laughing...” He lets his sentence hang in the air. “red, mind passing me the wire strippers and tape? maybe if we un-cross this wire-”

“it didn’t look like that in my machine but, uh, i’d been rewiring that old thing for so long that i might’ve gotten a little crossed, ya know?” A chuckle escapes from the other Sans, and he grins, triumphant, and passes him the wire strippers. “see- it’s better when you can’t anticipate it.”

Good ol’ Classic Sans (a name Red would never admit to calling him in his head, mostly because it was at least somewhat out of spite) just snorts, stripping an inch from the insolation on the wires. “they can’t all be winners.”

It takes Red a second to realize that it’d been a covered jab at the other versions of himself, though he can’t figure out if it was specifically aimed at him. “yeah, must be real hard in this toothache of a world.” He lightly kicks the machine, and the slight rattle of the metal causes Classic to drop the wire he’d been handling. He shoots him a sharp look and sticks his hand back into the machine, holding the other wire with his free hand.

The engineer in him wants to reprimand him for being a dumbass and not wearing gloves with the volatile machine that just turned on one day without a viable switch or power source. But mostly he just wants to see if the machine could give him a shock at any point. If only just a little, to get him to rethink how cocky he was being. “hold on... hold on... there!” The wires touch and, with the strip of black electrical tape that’d been stuck to the inside of his ulna, he seals it quickly.

Overhead, the lights dim briefly, then flicker on and off, casting his face in shadows, deep under the hollows of his eyes. In the brief moments where it’s completely pitch-dark, all that’s visible is their eye lights, and, in the very minimal light, the prime Sans scrambles to get his hand out from inside of the machine and get across the room. “is it synching again?!” Audible panic in his voice, and, finally, the lights give out.

There’s no telltale sound of the backup generator powering up, which means that’s fried too. Fuck. It was his turn to fix the damn thing.

The lights come back on and, with it, several buttons light up on the control panel. It almost feels like they can’t even breathe, like if they relax their shoulders, everything is going to stop working again. An electric hum pulses through the room and, visibly through the exposed panel of wires, sparks are flying. The machine is working and...

And he’s fairly sure they’ve never thought this far in. “what do we do now?” Red asks, then immediately recognizes it as a stupid question, because if he doesn’t know what to do, then the other version of himself probably doesn’t know what to do either. “fuck it- disconnect the wires- what if it compromises this universe while we’re all still in it?” Classic’s eye lights dart between him and the machine and, fuck, that was an equally bad idea- him making contact with the machine was what had started this whole fiasco. “no- bad idea- i’ll do it. one sec...”

He takes one step forward and immediately takes one step back, feeling sweat bead on his forehead. It was annoying how his eyes dart back to Classic again, just like his had before. “hey, uh, listen. from one sans to another.” He’s reminded of how distant he’s become from his own first name. “if this thing dusts me, make sure to let my brother know that it was, really, all on you. someone’s gotta avenge me.”

His humor is too dry to get a chuckle out of him, but he does get some acknowledgement. “i, uh, don’t think it’d have the same effect- you were pulled into this universe because of your position in the multiverse. if we’re basing it off of how many degrees removed it is from the prime universe, then any one based off of your’s would be-”

“don’t think this is the time for theory.” Red tries to put on a brave face, but a few drops of sweat still roll down the back of his skull. His hand reaches into the panel, then he pulls it back, squinting at it. Brief contact didn’t immediately kill him, so, really, what was he so afraid of?

Gaster’s fate comes to mind and stays there, the entire time he’s peeling the tape off of the wire and trying not to think about what his brother would do if he were written out of space and time. Definitely a minor worry. Small in the grander scheme of things, if the grander scheme of things involved his entire life that he’d had in front of him. When the tape comes undone- still tacky and still clinging to the wires- stars they really hadn’t thought this through- they’d just been throwing whatever at the machine and seeing what sticks-

The machine stays on.

The door opens, and both of them wheel around, Red’s arm half-extended to hide the machine from the tall silhouette in the door but, to their shared relief and horror, it’s just Stretch, and now he’s involved with this mess that they’ve made. Posture somewhat righted and visibly alarmed when he’d first entered the room, it’s almost more terrifying when he exhales in relief and sets his notes down, resuming his slight slouch. “you just turned on the cosmetic lights.” His fingers smooth over his his face, over the edges of his nasal bone, and he sighs in relief. “stars, i thought it was going to be pulling more of us here. the house is already crowded as it is.”

“cosme- then why is it staying on? how is it holding a charge without a wiring path?” Now that he knows they’re not in any immediate danger, he lets himself relax to the point where he thinks he may just pass out.

“same tech as the core- that’s why all of the power went out. it takes in a lot initially to store over a longer period of time. look, i’ll even unplug it myself, for no charge.” Cracking another bad pun, Stretch winks and then unplugs it from the basement wall. Just as he’d said, it remained on. Unblinking, all three of them watched it until it ran out of juice, proving his point. “i’ve done the exact same thing before- got excited over nothing, too.” He shrugs, the cord still in his hand. “there’s, uh, not much that i haven’t tried to get the machine to do. at best, with those wires crossed, it’s a giant battery. i used it as a generator for the coffee machine i kept in my lab, once.”

“that sounds real fuckin’ dangerous, kid.” Red takes the time to say, unable to help the edge of a lecture out of his voice- lazy Papyrus from a sugar-sweet world or not, he was still a Papyrus. “you really should be more careful when you’re messing with stuff trenched theoretical science. i kinda like having you around, would rather not have you become abstract.”

Stretch’s posture slumps a little more, and he really doesn’t resemble his brother, his eyes darting away. “hey, i wasn’t the one elbow-deep in theoretical science. just the one that unplugged theoretical science.” Red blows an annoyed huff through his nose- yeah, that was closer to his brother. If a little more falsely passive than Papyrus would ever be.

“hey, do as i say, not as i do. we thought we were about to have a crisis over here, and i wasn’t about to get ten more of us thrown into this lodge just because prime sans wanted to play hero. right, sans?” But Classic’s eye lights are dimmed and hazy.

“oh, uh, yeah. right. red gave me a two-sentence will to enact if it killed him. which, uh, really sounded like a blast.” Him winking doesn’t hide the fact that he was definitely thinking of something else.

Someone is heading down the stairs.

With a flick of his wrist, Red shuts the door. “knock knock.” Recognizing it as the Sans with the gaping hole in his head, he starts to reopen the door, but thinks better of it. Despite that Sans being far more put-together than his general appearance had led him to believe, Red generally didn’t trust anyone with a higher LV than him that wasn’t his brother.

Classic’s feelings on the matter seemed to be similar, even if his distrust was a little more heavily leaning towards the fact that the two of them had killed and eaten several humans and monsters during their timeline. Red couldn’t exactly fault Axe on that one- you did what you had to to survive- but Classic’s moral compass didn’t have a lot of gray areas for anyone that wasn’t himself. He still saw the ways that he’d glance at him when he thought he wasn’t looking- trust was a two-way street, and Classic seemed to be gunning his motor constantly, just in cast he’d need to run one of them over.

“who’s there?” But Classic was a fan of knock-knocks.

“axe.”

“axe who?”

“i need axe-you a question, but you keep cutting me off. if you don’t let me in soon, i’m gonna turn this into an axe-cident.” With that, Classic opens the door and Axe is standing there, half-hunched in the doorway. It was always strange to look at him- even without knowing his past, the way that magic had warped him into sharp teeth and a larger frame made it fairly obvious how harsh their world had been. He looms over ‘Sans’ ( just Sans- no need for a nickname if you were the original, huh?), one red eye light unwavering. “your power-outage hit the rest of the lodge. if you all want to keep your brothers out of this, i’d suggest not running the machine on the house’s power.”

“it’s three in the morning- papyrus should be in bed.” Sans counters, a few drops of sweat on the back of his skull, then sweeps the room for support. And, as much as he hated to, Red has to agree with him.

“papyr- uh, edge. he has training in the morning, he shoulda gone to bed like five hours ago.” Axe’s eyelight shifts over to him, and he tilts his head. Under his focus, Red can see exactly why Classic had been so uncomfortable. Apparently deeming his words justifiable, he moves onto Stretch, who seems to be the only one unaffected by him.

“sans is grown, and older than me. i think he can make his own decisions as to when he should go to sleep.”

“good to know that’s what you all think, but paps wanted to watch your universe’s mtt shows and your brother-” He points to Classic. “wanted to join in. i popped the popcorn but, uh, wasn’t expecting the tv to pop. most of the bulbs upstairs are fried. now, i just want to know what to tell them.”

It occurs to Red that they’d essentially left a cannibalistic, homicidal maniac in charge of their three brothers and he’d popped popcorn for them. He shares a look with Sans. “uh... power surge? the house is old enough for that to be a problem, right?”

“yeah?” Axe says, rather flatly. “pretty sure all of them have an education high enough to know that a power surge needs a catalyst.” Sans is sweating more.

“then, uh, the generator failed and we replaced it, and... and it caused a surge because it was new?” Sans offers, weakly. Axe gives him a flat look.

“i’ll figure something out.” He blinks a few times, taking in the mess of the room. “what really caused it?”

“the cosmetic lights on the machine- sans uncrossed two wires and it took a chunk out of the power and ate through our generator.” Stretch offers, getting up from where he was leaning against the wall to point at the buttons, the rim of lights along the top of the machine.

He doesn’t respond for a long time, but he stays, squinting, long enough for Stretch’s arm to get uncomfortable staying up in the air and point and he has to lower it. “uh.” His eye light flickers across the room, as if he was hesitant to speak up. “why would gaster put cosmetic anything on the machine? the whole point of cosmetic lights is to signal when the machine is working and taking in power. there shouldn’t be separate wiring.”

Red goes very still, meeting his gaze and feeling a cold chill run down his spine. That was... “let’s, uh, hope it wasn’t really working.” Completely plausible. Why would Gaster have lights that didn’t signify anything?

“ok.” Axe takes one last sweep of the room. “if you need me, you know where to find me.” He lets out an awkward chuckle. “not that you ever seem to.” He closes the door behind him with a soft click, his heavy footsteps echoing as he heads back upstairs.

Stretch is sweating, now. “okay, if we take that into consideration, what do you think we should expect? do you think it was synchronizing with another universe again?”

“how many other universes could there be?” Sans says with an edge of desperation in his voice- they were all well aware that the few skeletons that were in this room weren’t the full extent of everyone that had been pulled in when he’d first run the machine. And that some of them hadn’t even been found- stars only knew what could’ve happened if Axe and Crooks hadn’t accidentally been pulled into this universe so close to the lodge.

The next day, there is a Sans in a black guard’s uniform with his hands behind his back in parade-rest and a Papyrus in a large hoodie with a collar and a bell on it at their door, and Blue had been the one to answer it. “SANS, SANS, AND OTHER SANS! IT LOOKS LIKE WE HAVE MORE COMPANY!”

Which confirmed that crossing the wires had caused some sort of effect but, no matter what they did, that was the last time they could ever get it to work in that manner. The machine refused to work a third time.

-

There’s something manic in Stretch’s posture when he comes down to the lab, now, a thick astrophysics book in his hands. His eye sockets seem darker, and his jaw is pulled tight. Red barely looks up from where he was reading the last outputs, glasses taped to the sides of his face so he can read the fine print. “any reason you slammed the door like you’re the one paying bills?”

They’d kept their distance from the machine, now- ever since his brother and the blackberry had gotten into a spat and destroyed one of the separating walls on the first floor, it’d been quietly agreed that they didn’t want any more brothers in the house. (If his brother asked, Sans would’ve told him that, of course, Black had been in the wrong, but secretly he had to admit- his brother mouthing off to a head of the Royal Guard wasn’t his brightest idea.) With Axe and Crooks out of the house (of their own volition and, really, Red kinda missed having that big lug looming around like a ghost that liked playing chess with his brother), that brought the amount of skeletons in the sizable lodge down to six, and they all seemed content with keeping it at that number.

If the two crooked skeletons wanted to move back in, he wouldn’t complain- keeping the machine secret certainly was a lot easier when Axe was there to keep an eye on their brothers, but he also got the impression that Crooks knew exactly what was going on underneath the house as well. Now they had to install an insane amount of locks- and, even with that, one good Gaster Blast would send the door flying.

Which is why Stretch nearly sending it off of its hinges just felt like a waste of the fifty bucks he’d used to buy all of those damn deadbolts. “it was already unlocked, don’t get so keyed up.” With that, he drops the text book on the table and he’s doing something weird with his mouth.

It takes Red a second to recognize it as smiling - his face was almost always twisted into neutral amusement to the point where it was almost a completely foreign concept to see him actually this excited. “what’re you so excited about?” Instead of answering him, though, Stretch crosses the room to shake Sans awake, startling him enough that he thinks he’s his brother.

“papyrus, just five mo- oh, stretch. shit, dude, what’s up?” As if remembering where he was, Classic shakes himself awake, digging a closed fist into his temple to try to wake himself up. It’s been six months since the machine had worked, and it was visible how much it was wearing down on them- whatever had gotten into Stretch must’ve been good.

“one word- spaghettification. or, two words- noodle theory.”

Red and Sans share a Look. An older brother ‘do we play along?’ look. “okay, i’ll bite. what’s spaghettification?” Red finally offers, peering at the book- it was Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time”, but there seemed to be an endless amount of sticky notes and additional papers jammed into it.

“okay, so- i saw this briefly mentioned in hawking’s book, in reference to extreme gravitational strength. it’s a term in astrophysics where, when encountering a force with great gravity, humans can be pulled thin like a string of spaghetti because the gravity at one end is greater than the gravity at the other. so, moving past-a this!” He leafs through the pages, quick, and pulls out this universe’s Alphys’ doctoral thesis on the physicality of monster bodies. “how did gaster die, again?”

Of all the things Red doesn’t want to think about, that one’s pretty high on the list. “he fell into the core when he was surveying the output. alphys and i watched him.” Sans supplements, recounting the story from this universe, vastly different from his own.

Red, of course, had been there alone when his father had fallen into the CORE, his father’s eyes torn down in agony as he crawled to it, no matter how Red had tried to pull him back. He’d had some kind of revelation, some kind of resolution that had broken an otherwise haughty and powerful man. There were few things that haunted him like seeing his arrogant father on shaking hands and knees, crawling towards the CORE in the dead of night when the Royal Guard wasn’t on patrol to catch him and keep him from killing himself. He had hated his father, of course, mostly for his attitude and how careless he was with his role as their father, but he didn’t deserve to die.

Well. He did deserve to die, considering the multiple people he’d harmed to secure his position as Royal Scientist, but he shouldn’t have. Whatever conclusion he’d drawn in the dead of night shouldn’t have had the power to tear a thousand-year-old monster to his soul.

“gaster couldn’t have survived that.” He says, immediately, because what monster could? Who could get thrown into the endless abyss of energy and just be hanging out there? Even if he had, enough time had passed that, even if he had been sitting at the bottom of the CORE, he’d be long-dusted.

“no- gaster could survive that. according to noodle theory.” Stretch makes a wide gesture with his hands, eye sockets wide enough that he looks like Papyrus, and twice as excited. “none of us have a very solid grasp on how the core works- we know it functions like a generator, so it needs to be cooled, and it uses some form of thermodynamics, but gaster never made the schematics public. which is exactly how he wanted it- either the core was a mistake and he didn’t know how it worked, or there was something inherently volatile in his design that he didn’t want out! so, the reason we can’t fix the machine as according to our notes-”

“-is because our notes were never meant to be accurate enough to fix the machine. stars, you’re right.” Sans confirms, as if the situation could get any bleaker. His eye lights start to fade, and he sits back down, cradling his head in his hands. “okay, stretch, any good news? ‘cause i’m, uh, searching for something to anchor me over here.”

“back to spaghettification- human astrophysicists of course say that it’ll kill any human, because humans need more than their souls in order to live and that source of gravity noodling them would render their physical form useless.” With a pencil he’d been balancing precariously on his cheekbone, he rifles through Alphys’ thesis regarding the amalgamates. “but monsters don’t need a concrete form and, as proven by the amalgamates, monsters’ physical forms and souls, under stress, will melt.” He rapid-fire underlines relevant lines in the thesis, and Sans’ head lolls back and forth trying to keep up with him. “spaghettification is, thusly, not deadly to monsters because we’re reduced to a semi-liquid state.” He finishes, sounding out of breath, but with a semi-manic look on his face. For the first time since Red had met him, Stretch looks hopeful.

“what you’re proposing... is that gaster is still alive, but trapped in a semi-liquid state inside of whatever is keeping the core running. which, if we base it off of the the functioning power source is...?” Sans trails off, casting a look between the two of them. “i get what you’re saying, stretch, but what could we do?”

“alphys’ research regarding the core isn’t as extensive as it could be, but it’s enough to suggest that it’s powered by some kind of infinitely collapsing void. i’m thinking something along the lines of black-body radiation, but that’s quantum physics- your areas of expertise.” Stretch’s words are slow and deliberate, pointing at the machine with his pencil. “i’m saying we don’t have the tools to fix this machine.”

“but we can bring back the one guy who does.”

Chapter Text

The floors are checkered and you lean backwards against the counter, an old song playing distantly, your socked feet sliding on the tile. A tall silhouette stands across from you, busying themselves with a pot of something on the stove. “I can help, you know.” You say, a joke on your lips. “I can do a little more than stir up trouble.” You take a few steps forward, reaching out with your left hand to take the wooden spoon from them.

You can’t place their frame or their mannerisms, but they feel familiar. They feel like someone you should know. And someone you should definitely help with cooking.

The fingers on your left hand don’t bend the way they should and, instead of closing around the wooden spoon, your middle and pointer fingers remain frozen, your thumb moving uselessly to grasp at it. They acknowledge you, if only with a slight smile that you can barely see. You can’t make out any defining features- not even to tell if they’re a monster or a human.

The kitchen stretches out in front of you, the distance suddenly larger. You call out to them, your mouth forming around a name, but you can’t hear yourself say it. You say a shortened version of it, then a longer version. The figure continues stirring, plumes of white steam billowing out from the pot, and the room feels so hot. The steam sticks in the air, plastering your baby hairs to your forehead, your skin uncomfortable to move in. “Where are you going?” You ask, and you’re surprised by how weak your voice sounds. You’re sweating.

You try to pick up the pace, to run and catch up to them- they need you for this, of course they need you- but your feet feel like lead and you’re strong enough to move them but not fast enough to close the ever-expanding floor between the two of you. You open your mouth to speak again, and your words come out slow and sluggish, like you’re holding a mouthful of water, “Please don’t leave me.” The water spills out, thick and uncomfortable, and you slouch over to try and spit it out.

You can’t even recognize your own voice, and you can’t even see the figure any more. With no reason to pick up your leaden feet, you sink down onto your knees and feel yourself start to collapse through the floor, your heart and your body sinking into a big, checkered nothing.

You wake up with your legs tangled around someone else’s and, for a terrifying moment of pretty intense paranoia, you’re certain that you’re back at your old house with your ex. The blanket is heavy, the room is dark, and someone is breathing softly beside you, your head tucked underneath their chin. You freeze, and you open your eyes slowly, fearing that they’d confirm that the past three months had been some pleasant (and sometimes unpleasant, you had to admit) dream and you’d never really left him.

Your stomach feels like it drops through to your feet, startling you upwards and pulling yourself to half-sitting before you fully open your eyes and, through the leftover blur of sleep, you recognize the figure as Papyrus, who’s sleeping on top of the covers beside you. You must’ve kicked your way out from under the covers while you’d slept, and now you were knee-over-knee with him. In his race car bed. You try to even out your breathing, but you’re still dizzy from the panic- the relief is immense, but almost panic-worthy by itself. You hadn’t been that disoriented in a long time.

You watch as Papyrus (... Sugar? Sweets? Sweetpea? You recall drunkenly giving him a nickname last night, though you’re fuzzy on the details) wakes up, seemingly because you shook the bed waking up. “Sorry, sugar. Just had a bad dream.”

Surprisingly alert for it being... Six? Six in the morning, if his alarm clock was accurate, Papyrus reaches out, wrapping a hand around your shoulder and giving you an apologetic look. “I’M SORRY IF I SCARED YOU- YOU SAID, LAST TIME, THAT IT’D BE FINE IF I JOINED YOU INSTEAD OF SLEEPING ON THE COUCH, SO I JUST ASSUMED-”

“No, no, it’s fine! I was just being dramatic. Sorry, I’ll just settle back down.” You worm back under the covers and, haltingly, Papyrus wraps an arm around you, pulling you under his chin. He feels... warm. Comforting. The entire situation reminds you faintly of staying the night at a friend’s house when you were younger, talking in the dead of night.

“YOU OBVIOUSLY WEREN’T BEING DRAMATIC. YOUR HP DROPPED FAST ENOUGH TO WAKE ME UP.” The arm wrapped around you turns so his hand can gently rub your scalp. You feel the soft sting of green magic, and it touches you that he’s going through all of this effort. You relax, shuffling closer to him. “DO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT?”

“I don’t even really remember what it was about.” Which is true. You just have a faint sense of foreboding in your gut. “I think it was about my ex? But when I woke up, I thought I was still... That we were still...” You yawn and struggle to keep your eyelids open. In-between those moments where they’re closed, you see Papyrus’ brow bones drawn together in concern.

“SANS HAS NIGHTMARES LIKE THAT, SOMETIMES.” He’s tucking you back under his chin, and you realize that this is the first time he’s had his gloves off. It makes sense (why would he sleep with them on?) but it still surprises you. “I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT YOUR EX, EXCEPT THAT HE HAD TERRIBLE MANNERS AND OBVIOUSLY DIDN’T CHERISH YOU-” You’re startle into a chuckle- that was an accurate description of him. “-BUT HE’S NOT HERE NOW! I’M HERE, AND SANS IS HERE AND YOUR FRIENDS TRIXIE AND GALORA ARE METAPHORICALLY HERE... I SUPPOSED BLACKBERRY AND MUTT ARE ALSO HERE FOR YOU?” He pauses, considering. “YOU HAVE PEOPLE THAT... THAT CARE ABOUT YOU. AND YOU’RE SAFE WITH US HERE. YOU’LL ALWAYS BE SAFE WITH ME.”

The feeling of green magic wanes, and you feel sluggish and tired again- the spike of nerves wearing off. You sling an arm around him, snuggling closer to him to hide your watering eyes. “Thank you, Papyrus. I needed to hear that.”

“I’LL TELL YOU AS MANY TIMES AS YOU NEED ME TO.”

With that, you finally let yourself fall back asleep, your nose to Papyrus’ clavicle, feeling the steady thrum of his magic against your skin.

-

Seven in the morning was when Black typically started his morning regimens, which were now more heavily focused on stealth and precision than extravagance and showmanship. If they had to remain in the forest and humans were never supposed to find out exactly where they lived, it was detrimental that, if it came down to a confrontation, he didn’t have to cause massive deforestation to be able to eliminate the threat.

Though, if all humans were as passive as you, he was starting to doubt the majority of his training within the Royal Guard. You’d gone toe-to-toe with him and hadn’t backed down, but you hadn’t resorted to even a violent gesture in his direction. He wasn’t going to let his guard down, but he certainly had been shocked into letting you slide along the edges of that guard. Into letting you slip behind that guard, in fact, and into his home because of a lie you hadn’t even known was a lie until faced with the absolute truth.

And what a lie it was! If it were true, and you’d wandered aimlessly into the woods solely to seek out his brother, he might’ve held some pity for you. His brother, sober, was a completely different character than when he’d gotten drunk, and the amount of patience he held for the types of people and monsters he’d slept with usually took a sharp nosedive once he’d burned off the alcohol. But you’d been seeking out those other two, and had just stumbled into him by mistake, and had bluffed your way into their home.

Admittedly, you weren’t a bad house guest to have. Perhaps a little rude, but your food was delicious and you didn’t shy from a challenge. You were firm in your refusal to take part in his plan, resolute in arguing for your two warped friends. You were almost admirable.

But he wouldn’t fall for your wit and personality. You’d have to earn his admiration, not just stumble blindly upon it in the forest.

Black drops down from the tree he’d scaled into a pile of leaves, cushioning his fall with a little blue magic, silencing the anticipated crunch and landing in a crouch. He pauses, listening for his brother, moving around in their house, and for the general noises of the forest around them. “BOO!” He jumps backwards, slinging a handful of bone attacks towards the voice behind him, then pulling a few to shield him. “FOR ALL OF THE TRAINING YOU DO, YOU STILL CAN’T EVER HEAR ME COMING!”

Black lets out an unneeded breath of air through his nasal bone, covering his eyes with his hands and trying to rub the sudden tension from his forehead. Of course it was that alternate version of him- Blue stands in front of him, amused and cradling several large brown bags with various foods spilling out from the top. “HOW DO YOU MANAGE TO SNEAK UP ON ME, ANYWAYS?” Despite how often him and his brother had clashed with the residents of the lodge (to the point that they’d more or less been kicked out and hadn’t just packed up and left like the terrifying two), him and Blue had remained on good terms, to the point where they often sat and chatted for hours when they had the time to.

Which is why he certainly can’t imagine why he hadn’t mentioned that they were supposed to give the other two their groceries. Of all of the cruel bones in his body, Black wouldn’t have knowingly let those two starve when he knew they were just recovering from a famine. They’d done nothing to him but look gaunt and horrifying (and, with Axe, say a few very harsh words on more than one occasion, though nothing he hadn’t heard before)- there was no actual reason to torture them like that. And the way it had played out, he had had to take the blame for a mistake resting solely on a miscommunication likely coming from Blue or... or this universe’s Sans.

How annoying it was, that he didn’t have a nickname. He’d have to bring that up.

“YOU WON’T LIKE THE ANSWER.” Blue says, with a bit of a laugh in his voice. “I KNOW I HAVE A BLINDSPOT ABOUT-” He shuffles the groceries to be cradled in just one of his arms, then moves his blue-gloved hand to just around the edge of his skull. “-THERE, SO I FIGURED YOU DID, TOO. YOU’VE NEVER NOTICED THAT?”

“NO, NEVER. I’LL HAVE TO TAKE THAT INTO CONSIDERATION.” He mirrors his action and, just as Blue had said, he can’t see his hand very clearly, and would’ve never thought to turn his head just slightly in that direction. “... THANK YOU.”

“OH, NO PROBLEM! IF YOU WANT TO CONTINUE YOUR ROYAL GUARD TRAINING ON THE SURFACE, IT’S, OF COURSE, IN YOUR BEST INTEREST TO LEARN FROM THE REST OF US. I WOULDN’T HAVE NOTICED, EITHER, IF PAPYRUS AND I HADN’T SPARRED LAST WEEK AND HE REALLY CLIPPED ME AT THAT ANGLE.” Blue gathers the groceries again and starts heading towards their house. His friendly demeanor and advice almost make Black forget that he has actual business with him, and that makes him immediately suspicious.

Was it some sort of ruse he hadn’t picked up on sooner? He liked to pride himself on being a tactician of sorts, but had his counterpart been the one playing him the entire time?

Were he a little less world-weary, the thought of his friend betraying him might’ve stung a little harder, but it wasn’t like he hadn’t been stabbed in the back before. Or stabbed in the front. Or clawed down his face.

There were, in fact, few facets of violence that he wasn’t intimately familiar with.

“THE DOOR’S UNLOCKED. YOU KNOW THE ROUTINE.” Blue’s humming softly, his face twisted into a seemingly unaware smile, but Black had had enough close-encounters with his magic to know he was equally as strong as he was, though in different ways. “I CERTAINLY HOPE YOU AREN’T NEEDED ANY TIME SOON AFTER YOU DROP THOSE OFF. IT’S COME TO MY ATTENTION THAT YOU’VE SEEDED DISSENT IN MY FOREST AND IT’S BEEN BEARING FRUIT FOR THREE MONTHS.”

“WHAT FRUIT?” Blue counters, unpacking several canned soups and loading them into the pantry. Black side-steps in front of him, blocking his path, and he raises a brow bone.

“THAT’LL BE UNNECESSARY. I’LL BE GIVING MY FULL RATIONS TO CROOKS AND AXE, AS EXPECTED OF ME, WITH NO COMMUNICATION TO ME REGARDING HOW OUR RATIONS WOULD BE DIVVIED UP.” He crosses his arms, his foot tapping impatiently and Blue just stands, his bright blue eye lights constricting into pinpricks suddenly, his fingers closing tight around a can of pineapple.

“UH? SORRY, RUN THAT BY ME AGAIN?” His eye sockets narrow, and Black gets the distinct feeling that he’s examining him for any signs that he’s lying. He sets the can down, edging away from the pantry to talk face-to-face with him. “DID SANS FORGET TO GIVE THEM THEIR SHARE THIS MONTH?”

“‘THIS’ MONTH. HA!” As if the tension had just risen overnight. “APPARENTLY, THAT BIG BLUE GARBAGE BAG HAS ‘FORGOTTEN’ TO GIVE THEM THEIR SHARE FOR THREE MONTHS SO FAR AND EXPECTED US TO PICK UP HIS SLACK. NOT THAT WE ARE INCAPABLE OF A TASK AS SIMPLE AS DELIVERING GROCERIES, BUT IT WOULD’VE BEEN NICE TO BE AWARE OF THE SITUATION BEFORE THE SEVERAL INSTANCES WHERE WE’VE ALMOST COME TO BLOWS BETWEEN THE FOUR OF US.”

Blue’s slack-jawed look doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in him. His eye lights dart around again, almost like he can’t believe the reality of the situation and thinks that this may be some elaborate prank set-up. The next words to come out of his mouth are surprisingly forceful. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN ‘THREE MONTHS’?

“DO I LOOK LIKE I KNOW WHAT HAPPENED THREE MONTHS AGO? ALL I KNOW IS THAT I HAVE THAT FREAK SANS BREATHING DOWN MY NECK, TRYING TO LEAVE THE FOREST FOR THE PAST MONTH, AND THEN-” He starts to mention you, mention how you’d told him to back the fuck up and your righteous anger, your face skewed into a mask of hard, protective anger, how real and serious you'd made the issue at hand. But he hesitates- as much as he often confided in Blue (and he confided in him- often about their brother’s and their hiking fears about what the Surface was doing to them), he was still a part of the lodge, and your existence in the lives of those two almost directly proved that he’d failed in his job. “AND THEN AXE GOT PARTICULARLY MOUTHY AND LET ON THAT THEY’D BEEN STARVING FOR MONTHS. SANS HASN’T BEEN GIVING THEM THEIR RATIONS.”

It’s obvious that Blue caught his stutter, notices the little hiccup in his story, but his eye lights still dim until, finally, they wink out. “... HUH.” He stands, eerily still, then his head turns slightly towards the door in contemplation. “I DON’T THINK I’D BE ABLE TO MAKE A RUN TO THE GROCERY STORE BEFORE SUNSET TO GET THEM THEIR SHARE. I’M GLAD YOU’VE, UH, TAKEN INITIATIVE IN GIVING THE OTHER TWO YOUR GROCERIES, BUT YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE TO TAKE ON SANS’ RESPONSIBILITIES BECAUSE HE’S JUST TOO DAMN LAZY TO DO IT HIMSELF.” An edge of anger in his voice surprises him, though he supposes it’s more than due.

“WELL... AT THE VERY LEAST, YOU SEE MY PERSPECTIVE! I’M NOT SOME ERRAND BOY- NO OFFENSE-”

“NONE TAKEN. I CONSIDER MYSELF TO BE MORE IN A LEADERSHIP ROLE, IF ONLY BY COMPARISON.” He responds with a flippant shrug, no malice in his voice- in fact, he sounded almost flatly amused.

“OF COURSE.” Of course. Of the three eldest in the lodge, Blue had been the only one to reach out to him and his brother after his spat with Edge, and Black wasn’t sure if he could attribute it to genuine dislike or just sheer laziness. And, if this universe’s Sans... “ACTUALLY, REGARDING THIS UNIVERSE’S SANS- WHEN WAS IT DECIDED THAT HE WAS THE ONE THAT COULD KEEP HIS NAME?”

Blue’s eye lights flicker back into his sockets, and he actually seems to consider that question. “WELL, WHEN IT WAS JUST THE THREE OF US, IT JUST SEEMED TO BE... FINE? FOR HIM TO KEEP HIS NAME. BUT NOW THERE ARE SO MANY SANSES OUT THERE, IT’S WEARING ON MY NERVES-”

“AND MY SANITY!” Black interjects.

“-THAT MY BROTHER CAN’T EVEN CALL ME ‘SANS’ WHEN WE’RE IN THE SAME ROOM.” Black sucks a thin breath through his teeth- they hadn’t been in the lodge long enough for that to happen, but the thought of that happening to him stings all the same. “BUT WHY BRING IT UP?”

It takes a moment for Black to realize he’s not asking a rhetorical question, and is genuinely interested in why he’d asked. “WELL. IT’S NOT AS IF IT’S SOMETHING THAT BOTHERS ME, BUT I’D LIKE TO STOP BEING KNOWN AS ‘BLACKBERRY’. IF A PART OF THAT NICKNAME ABSOLUTELY MUST STICK, I’D BE FINE WITH SHORTENING IT DOWN TO ‘BLACK’, AS MY BROTHER AND I HAVE DONE WHEN DISCUSSING THESE...” Black gestures vaguely to indicate the names. He doesn’t even have the words to describe the names. Insults?

Blue stares at him, then hops up on the counter, sitting down and just taking a general look around the room. “I’VE CONSIDERED THAT, YEAH.” Black remembers, then, that ‘Blue’ is just a nickname of a nickname- had he ever considered his assigned name offensive? “IF I’M BEING HONEST, I’VE NEVER LIKED HOW IT MADE IT SOUND LIKE YOU’RE JUST A DIFFERENT VERSION OF ME. I MEAN, ‘EDGE’ ISN’T THAT GREAT OF A NAME, BUT IT’S NOT ‘SCARY PAPYRUS’, YOU KNOW?”

“I’VE... NEVER REALLY THOUGHT OF IT THAT WAY.” And he hadn’t. Obviously he’d noticed that it was a jab at him being big-boned and bitter, but his friendship with Blue had clouded over his unbiased view of the naming convention. The thought leaves him feeling... unclean. Uncomfortable. “ALL THE MORE REASON TO CHANGE IT.”

“I’LL BRING IT UP TO THE REST OF THEM. MAYBE HOLD A MEETING?” Blue’s eyes dart away, and his jaw is somewhat clenched. He sounds guilty, and mad, and a little miserable.  “I’LL HAVE TO TALK WITH SANS ALONE, ABOUT CROOKS AND AXE, THOUGH. THE SITUATION IS RIDICULOUS- CROOKS HAD JUST SWUNG PAST THE LODGE A LITTLE WHILE AGO TO ASK IF WE’D SEEN ‘ANYONE SUSPICIOUS’ AND HE DIDN’T EVEN MENTION IT THEN.”

If Black had any sense of linearity, that was likely around the time his brother had met you, and you’d brought over food (that he now realizes was likely supposed to feed the other brothers, which twists his non-existent stomach in a way he doesn’t like). “WELL, HAD YOU?”

“NO. BUT STILL- I DON’T LIKE THAT MY BROTHER- ER.” Blue swallows, then restarts his sentence. “I WAS CLOSE WITH CROOKS, JUST LIKE I’M CLOSE WITH PAPYRUS. I DON’T LIKE THAT HE FELT LIKE HE COULDN’T COME TO ME AND TALK TO ME ABOUT THIS.”

The silence in the room feels awkward, now. “DO YOU... WANT SOMETHING TO DRINK, BLUE?” If he had a gold piece for every time he dodged emotional conflict by bribing someone with wine, he’d have enough to buy more wine to dodge more conflict.

The issue was that, as Blue was just an alternate version of himself, he was well aware of this maneuver. Not that the two of them had never sat and (technically, gossipped) discussed their newfound above-ground lives over a glass or four. “I THINK I’LL PASS, TODAY. BUT THANK YOU FOR THE OFFER, BLACK. I’LL... STARS, I REALLY NEED MY HEAD STRAIGHT FOR WHEN I GO BACK.” Roughly, Blue smooths his hands over his face, like he was trying to wake up from a nightmare. Almost as an afterthought, “THANK YOU FOR TELLING ME ABOUT ALL OF THIS. THE LAST THING WE NEED IS MORE MISCOMMUNICATION.”

“MY PLEASURE.” Then, with a note of humor, “STARS ABOVE KNOW THAT THERE IS NOTHING I ENJOY DOING MORE THAN COMPLAINING.”

-

After extracting yourself from Papyrus and catching a quick bite to eat (Sans had more or less crammed an entire bowl of cereal at you with the insistence that you eat before leaving), you’d floored it back to your apartment to get changed before lunch rolled around. He’d only said for you to work “tomorrow in the afternoon”, and you’d had a very full day of getting miraculously hired, befriended two violent skeletons through box-cake, and getting wine-drunk enough that you’d had to stay the night instead of driving back home like you’d anticipated. So you could only assume he’d want you to work lunch and dinner- business likely tapered off after dinner to mostly late-night patrons looking for a drink, not a wave of customers wanting burgers.

Your coat fastened and your drawstring pants pulled tight, you tuck your hair up and away into a black cap you often wore for your catering jobs. Grillby hadn’t had any formal contract for you to sign or any list of preventative measures you had to take, so you could only assume he either had gloves for you to wear or expected you to be a thorough handwasher while you were handling hamburger meat.

When you enter the restaurant, the bell ringing above you, he seems surprised to see you. At least, considering he’d nearly dropped dropped the glass he was polishing and flared up, you think you surprised him. “Hey, Grillby. Does shift-change start soon?”

He sets down the glass and takes a look around. You see about the same amount of customers as before- not too many, and all monsters. Likely old regulars from Underground. “...I didn’t think you were coming.” He pauses for far too long. “... You can follow me.”

Then he disappears into the kitchen, under a sign that says “Fire Exit”. You crane your neck to see that, no, it doesn’t lead outside, so it’s either a pun or the building had been repurposed to become a restaurant. You trail after him and, as soon as you cross the doorframe, you’re struck with how goddamn hot it is in the kitchen. You were way too used to working in larger kitchens, and maybe it was because Grillby or his staff were fire monsters that they didn’t-

“Huh. Where’s... Where’s the rest of the staff?” The kitchen was completely empty. It was also pretty spotless, too, which you could only attribute to the fact that only monster food had been prepared in it. In fact, for an (assumedly) human-built facility, even the floor seemed like it had never seen a spot of grime.

“... You’re looking at him.” And, with that, Grillby takes off his vest and bowtie, draping it on a coat rack, which also held an apron. Somewhat stunned, you watch as he rolls up his sleeves and starts to lead you around the kitchen. He shows you his fridge, his hot fridge, the freezer, and then takes the time to very politely demonstrate how an MTT monster stove works. You don’t have the heart to stop him as he silently works through the buttons on it, occasionally turning back to look and make sure you understand the rightmost button turns on the rightmost burner. “Your resume said you knew how to prepare monster food?”

“Yeah! Yeah, I can- um, do you have... a ticket counter?” There’s not even a window- did he really just do all of it himself? The bartending, the cooking, the waiting, the bussing...

“There’s... a reason it’s called ‘Grillby’s’.” Was that humor in his voice?

“Well, sure, you own it- but that doesn’t mean you have to do all of it! The Chick-fil-a doesn’t just serve chicken fillets! With just you in the kitchen, of course you wouldn’t want too much business.” You start acquainting yourself with the kitchen, outside of his tutorial and guide- locating and noting the locations of the tools, the sink off to the side, where the condiments were. You peer around the corner of the ‘fire exit’, seeing a familiar skull sitting at the bar stool, apparently waiting for Grillby patiently. Mutt sits strangely on a stool, his back slouched and his ankles crossed.

The fact that monsters were content to wait the entire time Grillby took their order, made it, plated it, then came back to serve it was absolutely bonkers to you. You’ve had elderly human customers that screamed in your face for taking more than five minutes making their pimento sandwiches and fries.

He seems to catch you looking, and his entire expression changes. His posture rights itself, and he gives you a small wave, his fingers half-curled and a small smile tilting his cheekbones up. You duck back into the kitchen. “Grillby, if you’d take his order and give it to me, you won’t have to come back here in the kitchen.”

Grillby doesn’t respond, but his flames flare again, and you wonder if that was him huffing at you? Was he amused or was he annoyed? “... Before I go... A lot of skeletons frequent here...” That catches your attention, and you pause with your hand on the sink’s dial, about to wash your hands. “Don’t mention it, if you think they look similar...” With that, your new boss ducks out to get Mutt’s order, and you can faintly hear his low voice greeting the bartender with some familiarity.

You wash your hands vigorously, listening the sounds of an old radio hooked up through the overhead system, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ rasping and drowning out the idle conversation of the other patrons. Grillby pops back in and, instead of telling you his order, slides you a piece of paper from a notepad, and you relax a little at the familiarity. It was no ticket counter or window or... The Olive Garden you’d worked at had had them hanging from some sort of coat-hanger-like system. But it was a start!

His handwriting, wildly standard and easy to read, prints: (2) Chili Dog w. Fries. Customer said to tell you ‘hello’.

With a grin, you set about heating Grillby’s jar of chili over the stove and grilling his hotdogs on the section of the MTT stove that included an actual grill-section (that included a grease trap built into it. You’re not sure if it was because you’d been straddling the line of poverty for a hot second, but you think you’re in grill-heaven). With it on the grill, you turn it a few times, then start cutting potatoes to fry and put the bun in the toaster.

Grillby has a lot of appliances. You figure that he has to, considering he was the only person working behind the counter.

Steak fries in the fryer, chili sauce up to heat, and your hotdog done grilling, you set about plating. After a brief panic where you had to shut off the heat on the stove so you wouldn’t burn the ‘dog, you locate the plates (how had both you and Grillby overlooked the most important part?!) and quickly assemble bun, hot dog, chili sauce, then shredded cheese down on it. Your fries are almost done frying so, feeling a little silly for doing so, you take the ketchup bottle and upend it, hitting it so the ketchup settles at the tip, then pen a message on the plate.

When the fries are done, you set them around the ketchup, then head out of the kitchen with your plate. Grillby turns to you when the doors swing open and, by the way he flares blue, it’s obvious you surprised him again. “Sorry- you didn’t check back in.”

“... You were only in there for nine minutes.” Grillby says, taking the plate from you, looking at it, then looking back at Mutt. Mutt also seems fairly surprised, and you notice he’s about halfway through a pint of beer and his grin is wider than before. When the plate is in front of him, he looks down and reads your little hello! :) in ketchup and laughs out loud.

“come here often?” Mutt says, his voice a little rougher than you’re used to hearing. He takes a fry and, without breaking eye-contact, runs it straight through the ketchup words, then throws it in his mouth without looking.

“I work here.” You say, a little amused at his tone and the fact that he sure is doing all of this in front of your boss. He really does this he’s being slick. “Enjoy your meal.”

“already am.” He raises one brow bone and his eyelights vaguely trace your form. Grillby watches this exchange back and forth but, if anything, he seems amused, crossing his arms and letting the two of you talk. You’re pretty sure he didn’t catch Mutt checking you out.

“I’m glad! It’s my pleasure to serve you.” Which is as neutral as a return as you can get in the service industry, but the second it’s out of your mouth you know exactly what he’s gonna say, and you’re already snorting a little.

“nah, ‘s definitely all mine.” You’re going to try not to dig yourself a deeper grave, so you return to the kitchen at a casual pace after giving him a small nod. As soon as the doors close behind you, you try to keep yourself from cringing, and you really hope you aren’t getting fired.

The next time the doors swing open, you’re more prepared for Grillby to say that ‘.... you’re fired...’ than you are for him to be handing you a ticket for a double cheeseburger with extra pickles. Before he leaves again, he puts a hand on your shoulder. “..... Good job.”

You can’t keep the slight stutter out of your voice. “Uh, what... what for?”

“Charisma is key... especially with the service industry... You did great...” His hand leaves your shoulder, and he gives you a thumbs up. You get the distinct impression that you were just given a fatherly pep-talk in response to what Grillby assumed was just an overly friendly customer.

Orders are expectedly slow, but Grillby now starts checking in with you at fifteen-minute marks, and you trade him food for his impression of the current business, which was almost always a thumbs-up. You work until nine, when the kitchen typically closes in a bar-restaurant, then come up to Grillby to tell him your shift is over because, now, you’re not too sure he even has a concept of shift-work.

“.... Have a good night.” You start to head out when you see Mutt suddenly sit up from inside one of the booths, with four empty glasses in front of him. Aside from the one line through the ketchup message, it seems like he left it relatively untouched and instead poured more to dip his fries in away from it.

“hold on.” He pulls himself up to his full height by holding onto your jacket, and you’re almost impressed by the fact that he doesn’t even sway. You’d seen Grillby bus more than a few beer glasses back to the kitchen (which you’d washed simply to have something to do), and you’re pretty sure he’s the culprit. “let me walk you to your car?” He offers and, even though he smells like a whole damn brewery, you realize that you’re not comfortable leaving him to drive himself home.

“Sure, come on.” You put your hand on his back and lead him gently out of the restaurant, and you don’t miss how he stands a little straighter. Out of the hearing range of Grillby, you get a little more familiar. “How was the food, Papyrus?”

You’re startled to see his face erupt into a complete grin. It’s almost bright enough to not look like he’s completely plastered. “delicious, as always. but, you know, i was tryin’ to be polite and not order off the menu, but...” You’re at your car and, in a gentle coaxing motion, you feel his arm wrap around your arm, moving it from his back. He turns the both of you so your back’s against the van with little force, almost like he expected you to break his hold at any point and leave. Like he was giving you the option to. “all i was thinking about was somethin’ equally delicious.”

Your heart in your throat, suddenly, you remember that he’s fairly handsome in a rugged way, and that he already thinks you two have already slept together, so he’s not above hitting on you. Or, as his head tilts down towards you, above kissing you? You stay still less because you’re afraid and more because you’re absolutely curious as to what he thinks he’s about to do. One of his hands comes to cradle your face, and you’re surprised at how soft the bone is against your cheek. For a moment, you’re flustered and a little eager to see if he could really kiss you, even if you know you couldn’t have it go past that.

You’d gone past those wild days of one-night stands the first month after your breakup and, for a moment, you can kinda feel that adrenaline to it.

And then Mutt overcalculates where your lips are going to be and, with his eye sockets closed, knocks his head into the metal of your van and swears. You laugh, the moment broken, and you duck out of his embrace, reaching up to rub at the sore spot where he’d knocked his head. “You okay?”

“not the worst knock knock joke i’ve ever told.” He responds, laughing with you. “sorry ‘bout all of that. i’ll be headed out, if you don’t wanna join me.”

“I think I’ll pass, today, Russ. You’re, uh, pretty drunk.” You bump his hip with your’s, but he was expecting it, so he only almost gets sent careening. “Do you need a ride home?” You twirl your keys around your finger, as if to emphasize the sincerity of your offer.

“thanks, but i’m fine. didn’t drive over here.” He looks away from you, shrugging his shoulders with a smile. When he looks back at you, he has a slight flush on his face. “you could say i know a shortcut.”

“Well, shortcut or no, stay safe. Tell your brother I said ‘hello’.” You unlock your van and he moves out of the way, moving back to stand on the sidewalk outside of Grillby’s. Mutt gives you the same half-crooked wave as you drive away, his head tilted to the side, watching you go.

Chapter Text

You don’t have work the next day, but you do have therapy. As hard as the pro bono attorney that had represented you in court had worked to get your ex-boyfriend to cover the costs of your therapy (even though you’d been strongly pushed to seek counseling and he’d been put into a domestic abuse counseling program), it’d been in vain. Your ex’s paid attorney had combatted that emotional damages couldn’t be fairly compensated for and that, if he had conceded to pay for your therapy, your history of past familial abuse meant that he could be paying for your therapy forever.

Which was an obvious way of calling you damaged in court just as one last dig. He got a misdemeanor and one-hundred-and-fifty days in jail, and you got your uncomfortable legal attorney to pat you on the shoulder as you’d choked on sobs almost the entire proceeding.

Therapy is expensive- there’s no way around it. You’d started seeing Dr. Hester not even a week after your break-up had ended- you’d had to move out of your old house (it was in his name) and into Trix’s off-campus apartment and, as terrifying as your life had been before with him, you were suddenly aware of how much you’d built your life around him. You’d spend hours deep-cleaning the carpet and washing the baseboards and Trix would come home from her organic chemistry course, horrified that you thought you’d need to do even half of that to ‘deserve’ living there. You’d forget meals if she wasn’t around- you were so used to making food for everyone but yourself that you’d bake a ziti and then go to bed without ever touching it. You’d wake up in the night, panicked, terrified that you were still with him and equally terrified that you weren’t.

Trix had gone to counseling to ask how to get you to go to counseling. It was probably the most anyone’s ever gone out of their way to get you help.

You’d been cold at first- Hester was a lovely women, gray at the temples with thin laughter lines beside her eyes, but you were hesitant to talk. Half of the first session had been her telling you that things that seemed small to you, or seemed inconsequential or had been downplayed, were important. That you didn’t have to drudge up every big and scary moment of your relationship. Session two, one week after, had been her very gingerly putting the word ‘abuse’ to your relationship.

‘Because it was abuse.’ She’d said, her frown taught at the ends, her legs crossed at the ankles. ‘You didn’t do anything to deserve that, and he knew that. He took advantage.’ You remember staring at the corner of the room and trying to blink back tears. She’d pulled a tissue from the box on the table to the side of the both of you and offered it. ‘You can cry. I don’t have that box for nothing.’

It’s about your seventh session, and you realize that, as according to the client confidentiality agreement, you can actually talk about the fact that you’ve stumbled into some interdimensional science experiment. Which is far more relieving than you could’ve ever imagined.

“Good morning, Hester.” You’d dressed very formally for your first session, but, at this point, Hester knows you’re comfortable in a tee and jeans. “I’m glad you’re sitting down, because boy do I have a lot to talk about.” You sit down in the faded jean loveseat across from her’s and try to drop your shoulders from your ears. The start was always a little rocky.

“Good things or bad things? It’s hard to tell from the tone of your voice sometimes.” She’d left her hair natural, and it makes you feel a lot better about not putting too much effort into your hair or pressing a nice shirt to wear.

“It’s kinda hard to say? I met some new people. New monsters, I guess. They’re kinda what I wanted to talk about this session, if you wouldn’t mind.”

“Please do- I’d love to hear about it.”

The best part about Hester was that she didn’t take notes. You start with your first meeting- how you’d been terribly drunk and how, no, you weren’t drinking to get drunk, you were socially drinking and it’d gotten out of hand. (Hester had a file on her computer on you that you’d seen her updating a few times, and your family history of alcoholism was noted on more than one occasion.) How you’d got a bad feeling from Sans, how you were sure that you were about to become dinner-

“Monsters don’t eat humans. That was one of the first rumors that was cleared up after they’d surfaced.” Hester says, interjecting, though she knows you. Knows you well enough that you wouldn’t have said that without justification.

“These two actually did. That’s actually what’s been heavy on my shoulders.” You take a deep breath, then chicken out a little. “I just wanted to make sure, again, that the client-therapist confidentiality extended so far as it didn’t harm me or others.”

“It does...” Caution weighs heavily in her voice. “But if they’re hurting humans, or you’re going to be hurt, I’d have to contact the authorities. That’s also a part of the confidentiality agreement.”

“They haven’t hurt anyone since they surfaced. Which was, uh, apparently six or so months ago, and also they’re from another universe along with several other versions of themselves?” Your voice goes a little high, like you’re begging to be believed. Which is another issue you have, and Hester knows this. “I don’t think I can really go around telling people this, but I figured that the confidentiality agreement would cover me.”

She’s silent for a while, her brown eyes squinted and taking you in, her laughter lines creased and watching. You realize that her approval and understanding means a lot to you, if only because it’s hard for you to confide in other people. “Can I see them?” Which is an innocuous question and, yes, she can. You’ve taken more than a few selfies with Papyrus, and many of them included Sans sleeping in the vicinity.

And one of them where you’d thought he was sleeping, but he’s watching the two of you with his one red eye from the corner of the photo.

“I have other pictures- and apparently the two of them from this universe are well-known? But the tall one is Papyrus- he likes to make puzzles and watch old soaps and he makes a killer lasagna. The smaller one is Sans, Papyrus’ older brother- he makes terrible jokes and he kinda stays out of the way, but I think he’s warming up to me a little.” You swipe to the right, going further back in the timeline of your friendship, until there’s a clear photo of Sans and Papyrus just sitting on the couch behind you, and Hester very loudly gasps, a hand clapping to her mouth tight enough to pale her brown skin from the pressure.

You have to do a double take at the picture, and you realize why she’s so horrified- Papyrus’ teeth hadn’t been fixed and, of all of the photos, the giant hole in Sans’ head is visible. Fuck, you’ve been really desensitized to all of this. Almost violently (enough to make you flinch and for her to apologize), she moves her hand as if she’s going to swipe back to the other photos. “I’m sorry- Sorry, I shouldn’t have moved like that. Can you... Can you please show me their more recent photos?”

You can’t help it- you do so slowly, watching her reaction the whole time as she rapidly tries to calm herself. “He... He has braces in this one. But what about his- Sans? What about Sans’ head?”

“I got Papyrus his braces and his glasses, but I don’t know what I can do for Sans- I don’t know who they are, but I think it’s this universe’s-” She shoots you a strange look, and you realize she’s not entirely sold on the alternate universe thing. “I think there’s another set of monsters that have been keeping them in their house, so they couldn’t really go to see someone about it. I thought it was these two-” You actually have to hunt down Black and Mutt’s contact photos- those are the only two photos you have of them- and you gesture at them both. “But it turns out it’s more complicated than that. Sans and P-”

“Hold on one moment.” She says so in the same polite way that you often use when you’re about to get a headache. “May I...?” And you give her your phone, and she gingerly swipes back-and-forth between the pictures of Sans and Papyrus and the other Sans and Papyrus. You watch as realization dawns on her face, and she hands it back to you delicately. “Alright. So. These two are alternate versions of the first two.”

“Yes.” She nods, incredibly slow. “And I thought they were keeping Sans and Papyrus from leaving the forest, but apparently they were just doing what they were told. They were supposed to get groceries from those other two-” You swipe back to them. “-But they were never told, so they’d been starving for three months. In their universe, monsters never surfaced, and food ran out, so they took to eating each other and any humans that fell down like Ambassador Frisk.”

Alarm sparks in her eyes, and it’s such a different look than her flinching away from their horrific appearances. “That’s illegal.” She says, sharply, never one to beat around the bush. She says your name. “That’s illegal. They can’t do that.”

“I- yes, that’s holding someone hostage, I know that-”

“No.” She repeats your name. “That’s specifically illegal for monsters. The first declaration of monsters’ rights- ‘all monsters have the right to life, liberty, and security of person. No monster shall be unlawfully imprisoned for any period of time’. If... If it’s some sort of ruse- that they’re not really from another universe or if they are, it doesn’t matter. Another monster isn’t allowed to imprison them- that’s punishable by death.”

“They’re not any more. I took them out to town- that’s how Papyrus got his braces, and... and... Oh my god.” She’s right. She’s so fucking right. You’re going to have to immediately bring this up to Sans and Papyrus the second you leave this office, if she doesn’t call the police first- “Are you going to call the police?”

“I’m tempted to call the ambulance for your friend Sans, but I don’t think I’d know where to send it.” She breathes, a deep, steadying breath like the ones she’s practiced with you to teach you to even out your panic attacks. Then she’s back to her professionalism, her hands folded in her lap. “You’ve mentioned several things that concern me, and I’d like to... To organize them. Would you mind discussing how you became involved with the four of them?”

So you tell her about how you fed Sans and Papyrus, carrying groceries and ready-made meals to them every week. Sitting on their counters and kicking your feet above their worn-down checkered tiles and ugly-laughing at some terrible joke Sans has made. You tell her that Sans’ favorite food is burgers-and-fries, especially if you give him pickle spears to the side. That you showed Papyrus how to make nests of spaghetti and put a meatball at the center and he had had actual sparkles in his eyes.

“You talk a lot about what you did to help them. How did you feel, helping them?”

Which stops you fast. “I... Um.” You pause, thinking about it. You think about how Sans uses his magic more often, how he moves a little faster, even if he still has issues connecting thoughts. About how Papyrus can eat without being in pain, how he can look around and really see . “Happy? I mean, not happy, but relieved? I guess?” You take a deep breath, and you focus on looking above her head, and not into her kind brown eyes. “I mean, you remember that first week I came in to see you. I was a mess and I was so thin and I just didn’t think anyone would want to put up with me or should put up with me and, I mean, I was scared. And I was scared when I met them, but I was more scared of what would happen if I just walked away from them. For a while, I was really concerned that I was just latching onto them because I needed someone to latch onto.”

“It’s not uncommon for people who were in abusive relationships to find people who need help and make a project out of them, but I wouldn’t say that’s what you’re doing. I think your sense of relief comes from a recognition of your trauma.” She lifts her hand and gestures open-palmed at you. “You saw two people hurting like you had, as hungry as you had been, for attention, for food, for affection, and you became someone that you would’ve liked to have had to lean on when you were being abused.”

“Yeah?” You’d like to think so, but as deep as your therapy sessions often got, you can’t exactly say you think the most noble thoughts about yourself at all times. “It just makes me feel better, that I’m doing something good for my friends.”

“And that’s an equally acceptable reason.” She smiles, and you smile, and then you go on to tell her about how you’d accidentally seduced the other Papyrus and gotten a new job because sometimes you have to lie to escape situations with your life.

When her timer goes off, signifying the end of the session, you feel drained, but you feel a lot lighter. Sometimes you just don’t realize how much you’re holding onto until you finally talk about it. You get up, brushing your sweaty palms off on your pants, and thank her for her time. “I hope you have a good day!” You say, before trying to leave. She catches you by the shoulder, her grip weak.

“One last thing.” You turn around to face her, this older woman with her soft face and long, tight curls framing it. “I just wanted to let you know that you’re very brave, and that, if no one else is, I’m very proud of you for coming this far and helping others like this. You’re so strong to have endured this long and still be able to want to give to others. I’m proud of you.”

You sometimes wonder if Hester has any children, and if they know how lucky they are to have her as a mother. With teary eyes, you thank her and go to your car.

You’re more careful when you drive home, and, when you get back to the complex, you bump into Lora, who caught the elevator door for you to step in. She has her own key, but she was likely expecting you to be back around this time. “Sooo...? How was it?”

“It was good- I got a lot off my chest.” She tilts her head, her nose twitching a few times, and you can feel her check your soul.

“Yeah, you look a whole lot better! You’re really making progress.” You remember that Lora’s been your friend just about as long as Trix has been, even if the two of you never lived with each other (not including the several times she’d slept over with her girlfriend). “Not to put my foot in my mouth, as lucky as they are, but... Did you talk about those two? The boss monsters in the woods?”

“Sans and Papyrus? Does Trix not tell you what I tell her about them?” You’d just naturally assumed that they shared everything, and you didn’t really mind.

“Of course not- that’s between you and her! But, I mean, I have noticed you’re not around the apartment as much.” She narrows her eyes, looking you up and down. “Your soul looks great , but if you’re sneaking around to overwork your body...”

Okay, that gets a laugh out of you. “You know I’m a workaholic!”

“That’s no excuse!”

“Fine, fine- I’m mostly out of the house cooking for the two of them, but I did pick up a new job.” The elevator drops and, just like you two had done dozens of times before, she hops up and you grab her as it jerks back into place. You set her down again. “It’s at this small pub called ‘Grillby’s’. The owner-”

“You’re working at Grillby’s surface pub?! And you didn’t tell me! Me and my cousins love Grillby’s! Well, one of them loves it a little too much, if you get my meaning, but I can’t believe! You wouldn’t let me know you get an employee discount!” She’s bouncing up-and-down, her little nose wiggling in excitement. “Oh man, I’ll have to bring the sorority around some time- to support you, of course, but dear stars it’s been a while since I’ve had one of Grillby’s burgers!”

The doors open, and you let her out first, mimicking her posh accent. “So you haven’t been there lately? Word is, it’s become quite the hangout for skeletons. Strange, considering you’d think all of those drinks would just... go right through them!”

She snuffles very loudly, barely a laugh, and skips ahead of you to unlock your apartment door. “Trixie, darling, I’m here! And I have your unbearably witty roommate behind me.”

“Hey! I’m bearably witty if you bear with me!”

“Save your comedy routine for the stage, love.” Behind the door, you can hear Trix’s wheezing laughter through her gills, and she lets the both of you in, shaking her head.

“I, snrk, heard something about a bear? I’m just giving a little paws for thought.” You two had been trading puns back and forth since you’d met Sans, with you mostly trying out your newfound comedy routine on someone willing and Trixie having probably the worst sense of humor in the world and finding every single one of your jokes absolutely hilarious.

Lora shrieks in exasperation, clearing past her girlfriend and into your living area. “Can’t a gal get a little peace and quiet every now and then?” But she turns her head slightly to make sure that the both of you got the joke.

And you both laugh your way into the apartment, you crashing onto the couch and letting Lora sit on your calves while Trixie looms over the back of the couch. “Hey, sweetheart, I think someone’s calling you...?” You forgot you’d turned your phone on silent for your session- you lift it up to see that the other Sans (Blackberry? You didn’t really like the sound of that one either) was calling you.

You answer apprehensively. “Good afternoon...?”

“YES. GOOD AFTERNOON. HOW ARE YOU DOING, ON THIS GOOD AFTERNOON?”

He’s loud enough that both Trixie and Galora can hear him, and Lora shoots you a strange look. You jerk your thumb towards off-of-the-couch and she shuffles up, letting you get up to go to your room for some privacy. “I’m, uh, doing well, I guess. And you?”

“I’M EMOTIONALLY DECENT, IF THAT’S WHAT YOU MEAN.” After a huff that made it sound like these pleasantries were something you’d forced on him and he was glad to finish them, he continues. “BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME. I’M CALLING ABOUT YOU. YOU AND YOUR CATERING SERVICES.”

“Yeah? I’m off today, but if you need me to cook something up, I could drive over there...?” It’s a strange request, especially since you’re well aware of how prideful he is over his (mediocre and obviously from the box) food.

“NO, I DON’T WANT YOUR CHARITY. I WANT THE NUMBER FOR YOUR CATERING SERVICES.” You can almost see him look away from the phone. “I WANT TO HIRE YOU TO CATER OUR DINNER WITH AXE AND CROOKS. OBVIOUSLY, YOU WERE GOING TO GET INVOLVED SOMEHOW, BUT I THINK THAT INVOLVING YOU IN A WAY THAT ENDS IN A PAYCHECK WILL PROBABLY BE MORE AMENABLE. NOW, THE NUMBER. PLEASE.” The pause before ‘please’ is almost comical enough to get you to overlook him using Papyrus’ shitty nickname. You’d have to talk to him about that at the dinner.

“Sans, you know I can just cook without getting paid for-”

“IT’S THE PRINCIPLE OF IT. I’M AWARE THAT YOU’RE SOME DOGOODER THAT WANTED TO HELP THOSE OTHER TWO AND YOU DO SO OUT OF THE SHEER KINDNESS OF YOUR SOUL, BUT MY BROTHER AND I AREN’T IN DIRE STRAITS. IF I CAN PAY YOU FOR YOUR SERVICES, I WILL. AND I PREFER TO.” You’d almost think that he was being deliberately kind, but then he follows with, “I PREFER TO KEEP THE AMOUNT OF PHYSICAL DEBTS I INCUR LOW, AND ‘PREPARING LARGE BANQUET OF FOOD’ ISN’T ONE I’D LIKE TO RACK UP.”

You sigh. “Sure, I’ll give you the number. Just remember to refer me by name- maybe throw a kind word in?” You always were angling for a raise- you were still trying to get Sans and Papyrus their ID cards, after all. You rattle off the number, and you hear the distinct sound of him penning it down on paper. “Anything else, Sans?”

“HOLD ON.” You’re not sure if he was joking, but he genuinely puts you on hold, and you have to wait on the other line. Is he calling your work? Did he get another call? Is he just being a dick? You have no clue. “I WAS PUTTING THE NUMBER IN MY PHONE, ALONGSIDE A REMINDER.” His immediate response to your light inquiring thoughts surprises you. “I, ER, HEARD. ABOUT MY BROTHER TRYING TO PULL A MOVE ON YOU AT GRILLBY’S. I JUST WANTED TO ASK IF IT’S SOMETHING I SHOULD CHASTISE HIM FOR- I CAN NEVER TELL IF HE’S TWISTING THE STORY OR NOT.”

“Chasti- Sans, what did he tell you?”

“OF COURSE, HE WAS ABOUT AS PLASTERED AS A NEW WALL, BUT THERE WAS SOMETHING ABOUT TRYING TO, ER... KISS YOU?” He pauses, then sighs. “YOU UNDERSTAND MY DISCOMFORT WITH RECOUNTING MY BROTHER’S ATTEMPTS AT ROMANCE, NO?”

“He definitely didn’t kiss me. He did, however, concuss himself on my van when he leaned in to try to kiss me.” And, because you can’t help it, you kinda run on with what you’d been thinking at that moment. “He doesn’t even have lips! But he was totally going for it, and I was kinda pinned against the van. And then he ate the side of my van.”

For the first time, you hear him laugh , a loud, warm sound that seemed a little choked down- it’s so different from Sans’ open, contagious laughter that you could forget that they’re alternate versions of one another. “THAT SOUNDS LIKE PAPY, ALRIGHT. I SHOULD’VE KNOWN HIS HEADACHE WASN’T JUST FROM THE ALCOHOL.” His voice is fond in a distinctly older-sibling fashion that brings a smile to your face. “ANYWAYS. I’LL BE HEADED TO WORK SOON, SO I NEED TO GET DRESSED. I’LL BE SCHEDULING YOUR CATERING SERVICE SOON, LIKELY TOMORROW IF I CAN GET IT. HAVE A GOOD AFTERNOON.”

“Have a good... night at work?”

“I LIKELY WON’T, BUT THANK YOU FOR THE THOUGHT.” With that, he hangs up.

About an hour later, you get a bewildered call from your boss, saying that a customer had called to ask for you to cater their ‘reconciliation event’ by name tomorrow, starting at seven, and ‘to just call him to discuss food options between the hours of ten and two’. You can almost hear the order in Blackberry’s voice.

You lean out of your bedroom, finding Trix with her head in Lora’s lap, watching late-night reruns. “I got a gig for tomorrow night, so I’ll be tearing up the kitchen all day tomorrow. Just a heads up that you’ll be on leftovers for the night.”

“Difficult customer?”

“Something like that.”

Chapter Text

Why would I assume you meant from ten pm to two am?” You yawn mid-sentence, your eyes flitting to the clock by your bedside. “Just because you’re on a night shift doesn’t mean I want to be.”

“I NEED MY REST, TOO, YOU KNOW. I’LL BE UNCONSCIOUS AND LARGELY UNREACHABLE FROM YOUR ‘REASONABLE’ TEN AM TO TWO PM, AND THEN WHO WOULD TELL YOU WHAT TO COOK? PAPYRUS? WE’D BE EATING REFRIED BEANS AND ‘the dry crunchy chips.” He mimics his brother, his voice going nasally and deep. “HE KNOWS THEY’RE UNCOOKED NOODLES, BUT HE’S TOO DAMN LAZY TO BOIL A POT OF WATER!!!”

“Your brother’s abysmal eating habits aside- what do you mean by ‘reconciliation’ foods? What, like a funeral? A mourning party?” You grind a fist into your eye, staring blankly at the red numbers ‘12:43’- you were tired enough that you were shivering a little, and you’d already changed into your pajamas by the time Sans has called you to ask why you hadn’t called him.

“STARS, NO. THAT’S EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE OF THE MOOD I’M TRYING TO CULTIVATE HERE- REMINDING THEM OF HOW CLOSE THEY’VE GOTTEN TO DEATH... DO I LOOK LIKE A FOOL? NO, I WANT...” He snaps his fingers, searching for the words. “COMFORT FOODS. FAMILY FOODS. HEARTY FOODS. YOU’VE BEEN COOKING FOR A LONG TIME, SURELY SOME OF THESE SOUND FAMILIAR.”  

“I mean, sure, yeah. I can make, like, a deep-dish macaroni dish. Some meatloaf. But you have to get specific, or I won’t know what to take from the fridge to prepare.” Are you making any sense? You don’t really know, and you can’t really form a thought. ‘Family foods’? What, like foods at a family reunion? You rifle beside your bed for your notepad and pen, flipping it open and writing down his vague adjectives.

“FOODS YOU’D PREPARE FOR A FAMILY REUNION. FOR OUR FAMILY, IT’D BE A LOT OF INEDIBLE GARBAGE, AS OUR FATHER COULD COOK ABOUT AS WELL AS HE COULD RAISE CHILDREN, BUT I’M ASSUMING HUMANS HAVE DIFFERENT STANDARDS. I’VE WATCHED YOUR TELEVISION SHOWS BEFORE.”

You write down: macaroni, green bean casserole, meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, and dinner rolls. When you repeat it all back to him, he hums in acknowledgement as you go through them. “That sound like what you were looking for?”

“ADD SWEET POTATOES TO THE LIST. SOME OF THE FOOD IN THIS UNIVERSE IS MONSTER FOOD UNDER ANOTHER NAME, AND I’D LIKE TO SEE THE MAGIC IN THEM. DO THEY HAVE GREEN MAGIC?”

“Nah, they’re just sweet potatoes covered in marshmallows. But they’re like a mid-dinner dessert, if that sweetens the pot any.” You write down ‘sweet potato casserole’ next to it. The list was starting to look like you’d need to start now if you wanted to get any of it done and you had half a mind to demand a raise in pay while you were still on the phone. “You want casserole dishes, is what I’m getting from this.”

“YES, CASSEROLE DISHES SHOULD DO. DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER IDEAS?”

“Not without postponing the dinner, no. Casserole dishes have a lot that goes into them, and they all need time to cook through.” You get up, stretching. “I’ll start on it now- you can reimburse me at a later time for the ingredients I use that aren’t from the catering company.”

“OF COURSE, BUT WHAT COULD YOU START AT THIS HOUR?”

“The macaroni... should be good to be prepped. I can just start assembling now and then, instead of having to stagger my prep time with cooking time, I can just cook all of them...” You drift off. “You know what I mean.”

“I GUESS? IF BY THAT YOU MEAN THAT YOU’RE JUST GOING TO PUT EVERYTHING IN YOUR HOT FRIDGE OVERNIGHT. WHICH, CERTAINLY YOU’RE A PROFESSIONAL, BUT FROM MY EXPERIENCE, HUMAN FOOD SPOILS IN HEAT. IF THAT’S AN EXPERIENCE YOU’VE BEEN SPARED, TAKE THAT INTO CONSIDERATION.”

“I don’t even own a hot fridge. I’m just gonna keep ‘em cold in my cold fridge and cook them tomorrow. After I go to sleep.” You yawn at the thought. “Hey, where do you work, anyways? I don’t think you’ve ever mentioned it.”

“STRANGE TOPIC OF CONVERSATION FOR A CATERER TO ASK, BUT I SUPPOSE YOU DO NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MY SOURCE OF INCOME.” Was it so much to just ask for normal conversation? “I WORK SECURITY AT A HOSPITAL A FEW TOWNS OVER. ACCORDING TO MY COWORKERS, IT’S A GOOD POSITION TO HAVE, BECAUSE SO LITTLE IN THIS SMALL TOWN NECESSITATES VIOLENCE... HELLO?”

“Feel free to keep talking, if you want to. I don’t know if this is your lunch break, or whatever it is when you’re working the graveyard shift. I’m just going to start prepping.” Is it strange that it’s comforting to hear him talk in the quiet of your apartment? Trixie and Lora had long since returned to Trix’s room, and the soft swell of moonlight coming in from the small kitchen window cast everything in a hazy glow, like you were wandering through an old movie on VHS. Listening to Papyrus talk had long since accustomed you to skeletons talking in what most people would consider ‘obscene loudness’, and you could almost filter his voice to the background, like it was something drifting over the radio.

You take out three casserole dishes, double-checking with your list: one for baked macaroni, one for sweet potatoes, and one for the green bean casserole. You’d do the meatloaf tomorrow. “OH, WELL, ALRIGHT. IF YOU INSIST.” As if he needed an excuse to ramble. “THE JOB WAS AN EASY TRANSITION, CONSIDERING MY WORK WITH THE ROYAL GUARD. I HAD ASSUMED IT WOULD BE MORE PHYSICALLY TAXING, CONSIDERING THE WORD ‘SECURITY’ IN THE TITLE, BUT THE MOST I EVER DO IS HAVE TO RESTRAIN PATIENTS. WHICH IS CHILD’S PLAY WITH BLUE MAGIC. THERE’S HARDLY EVER ANY ACTUAL FISTICUFFS, WHICH IS MILDLY DISAPPOINTING.”

“Really? I would’ve thought it’d be nice. You’re getting paid either way.” You stir a boiling pot of macaroni, your phone wedged between your shoulder and your ear. You’re not sure if the fact that he seeks out ‘fisticuffs’ is something that concerns you or not.

He sighs, then pauses, as if thinking. You take out a saucepan and start sautéing onions to make a sauce to mix your macaroni cheese into. “PERHAPS ‘DISAPPOINTING’ ISN’T THE CORRECT WORD. I’M JUST USED TO HAVING TO BE SO INVOLVED IN THE SECURITY OF THE UNDERGROUND THAT I DON’T LIKE... NOT CONTRIBUTING VERY MUCH. IF I FELT LIKE I WAS ACTUALLY MAKING THE HOSPITAL MORE SECURE, IF IT WAS CONSTANTLY UNDER SIEGE AND I HAD TO WARD OFF THREATS, I WOULD FEEL BETTER ABOUT THE JOB. INSTEAD, I’M JUST AN EXTRA SET OF MONSTER HANDS AND A LOUD MOUTH. WHICH IS, MORE OR LESS, WHAT I AM AT HOME. IT’S NOTHING TO PAY ME FOR.”

“Mhm?” Having stirred in your flour, milk, and seasonings, the base for the cheese sauce was ready. You could make a macaroni dish in your sleep- you practically were, right now. Suddenly recalling that you were supposed to actually respond in a phone conversation, you try, “Maybe you just haven’t found your niche yet. I’m... hm... I’m drawing a blank on any positions more violent than ‘security’. ‘Bouncer’, maybe?”

Silence meets you, and you pull your phone away from your ear to see if he’d hung up. Which he hadn’t, and the header of the phone call states that you’ve talked for fifteen minutes. You shrug it off, going back to assembling your macaroni dish, draining your noodles and combining some cheese with your thickened sauce to make a bakeable dish. “SORRY.” Blackberry’s voice startles you, and you almost drop the spoon you were using to push the mixture into your casserole dish. “PATIENT-ACCESS CALLED FOR ME. SOMEONE TRIED TO COME ACROSS THE DESK.”

It’s transparent how weary he is, and it makes you feel a little weird about keeping him on the phone. “Sorry- I don’t know why I’m keeping you on the phone. It’s late, and you have a job to do.”

The line is quiet again, and almost going to hang up and take the decision out of his hands- you were being a nuisance, and, sure, you got drunk with him once , but that didn’t mean you were friends. “NO, DON’T HANG UP.” Hearing your hesitance echoed in his voice is almost reassuring. “THIS IS... NICE. I GUESS. I RARELY TALK LIKE THIS TO PEOPLE WHO AREN’T MY BROTHER. OR MYSELF. IF YOU... WANT TO TALK, WE CAN TALK. IT’S NOT SOME BURDEN, AND IT FILLS THE SILENCE. I THINK...” He starts a thought, but doesn’t finish it. “A SMALL TOWN IS A SMALL TOWN. THERE ARE ONLY SO MANY PEOPLE THAT CAN GET HURT AND GET VIOLENT AT ONE IN THE MORNING. I USUALLY JUST SIT IN SILENCE AND WAIT FOR MY SHIFT TO END.”

You seal the dish with tin foil and put it away into the fridge. “Just finished your macaroni.” Is it weird for him to just hear you breathe on the other end of the line? You have to believe he’d say something about it. “I guess I’ll start on the sweet potato casserole?” You know you have a can of sweet potatoes in the pantry, and you wrangle it out from behind the copious amounts of canned green beans you kept. Brown sugar... marshmallows that Trix had saved for s’mores and had never gotten to...

“IS THIS WHAT YOU DO FOR ALL OF YOUR CLIENTS? THIS METICULOUS WORK?” You wonder if a predisposition to exhaustion was just a Sans trait- you’d heard your Sans trail off into this same gravelly register late at night, and it usually signalled him excusing himself to lay face-down on his mattress on the floor.

“No- I usually have more time to prepare, and I get the majority of the ingredients to prepare from distributor. If I didn’t start now, I’d be penalized for not getting your food on time, and you’d receive a full refund.” Better to be honest than exaggerate how much you worked. You weren’t exactly a workaholic, but you liked having a set of tasks to complete, and work gave you a more rigid structure. Even when you stayed at home, you kept lists of things that needed to be completed, just in case you needed that extra structure (tv shows you hadn’t caught up on, things to be sorted, old blogs you needed to update)...

“OH. I SHOULD BE THE ONE TO HANG UP, THEN, SO YOU CAN FOCUS ON YOUR TASK AND GET A FITFUL REST.” But he doesn’t. Instead, he listens to the sound of you fitting a spoon into a metal can of sweet potatoes and into a bowl, you uncapping the cinnamon and mashing the sweet potatoes. “DO YOU LIVE ALONE? IT SOUNDS... QUIET OVER THERE.”

“Hm? Oh, no, I have a roommate. Trixie- I don’t think you’ve met. She’s asleep right now, with her girlfriend.” You crack an egg, pinch some salt, and then remember you need four tablespoons of melted butter, and you rattle in the fridge to find some.

“INTERESTING. I’VE ALWAYS LIVED WITH MY BROTHER, SO I CAN’T QUITE SPEAK TO THE EXPERIENCE OF ROOMING WITH A STRANGER. HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHO DOES THE DISHES?”

“Usually whoever didn’t cook the meal. If we both contributed, we flip a coin.” Found it! You cut it to the mark and put it in a cup to melt in the microwave. “If you do most of the cooking, does Papyrus do most of the cleaning?”

“WHEN HE CARES TO, HE’S PROBABLY THE MOST METICULOUS SKELETON ABOVE-GROUND. I WASN’T EVEN AWARE THAT WE OWNED A FLOOR-POLISHER UNTIL YOU CALLED HIM TO TELL HIM YOU WERE COMING OVER THE OTHER DAY.” There was a long pause, and you hear the sound of a fork scraping against a plate. “NEXT TIME, CALL ME. I’LL ACTUALLY PREPARE SOME FOOD FOR YOU TO EAT.”

You finish stirring all of the ingredients into the pan, then layer the marshmallows. “That’s sweet of you.” You say, mostly because you don’t know what else to say. The clock reads 1:32, and you’re pretty sure you’re on autopilot.

“IT IS NOT SWEET. IT’S DECENT MANNERS. IT’S RIDICULOUS TO EXPECT YOU TO JUST BE SOME ENDLESS FOUNTAIN OF ABUNDANCE THAT CONTINUOUSLY GIVES OTHER PEOPLE FOOD. THE VERY LEAST ANYONE COULD DO IS FLIP SOME COINS INTO IT.” Blackberry sucks air through his teeth. “THAT METAPHOR GOT AWAY FROM ME, BUT YOU GET MY POINT. IF SOMEONE HAS THE MEANS, THEN THEY SHOULD RECIPROCATE YOUR EFFORTS.”

“Your definition of ‘sweet’ must be different from mine, then.” You get his point, but his indignance comes off less harsh than he obviously intends for it to be. “I mean, you’ve been on the phone with me for almost an hour. ‘s gotta count for something.”

“W-WELL! I AM NOT SWEET. I AM, IN FACT, AN INSTRUMENT OF VIOLENCE, BUT ONE WITH MANNERS. I DON’T ENACT THEM OUT OF ANY PERSONAL EMOTIONS, OR HOLD ANY EMPATHY. I AM! A HOLLOW OF HOSTILITY! WITH NO POSITIVE EMOTIONS!!! MAKE NO MISTAKE!” His voice rises the longer he talks, to the point where his embarrassment is unavoidable. “I’M HANGING UP!”

“Okay, okay.” You’re laughing as you tinfoil this casserole, trying to hide your snorts from your phone. “Goodnight, Blackberry. Have a good night.”

You’d thought he’d hung up, with the silence, but instead you hear, “JUST CALL ME ‘BLACK’. GOOD NIGHT, HUMAN.” And then the line clicks off, and you’re in your silent kitchen again, holding a roll of tinfoil. With a sigh and a small smile, you pull out your cans of green beans to start on the casserole.

-

Black is thrown by how mentioning you visiting somehow throws his brother into a power-cleaning overload. If he had known that having exactly one fairly attractive and soft-hearted human visiting their house on a semi-regular basis would get his brother to clean up his sock collection, well, he would’ve moved out of the woods and into one of those trendy condos a long time ago. Or maybe returned to his days of capturing humans. Really, nothing would’ve been off the table, but you were complying with his demands and he’s happy to pay you for your services.

“PAPY, YOU’RE GOING TO DAMAGE THE WOOD TABLE IF YOU IRON THE TABLECLOTH WITH IT ON.” His brother freezes, half-posed with their clothes-iron ready to strike a crease into the edge of the tablecloth.

“if i don’t do it while it’s fitted to the table, how do i know where to put the crease?” Actual, palpable nervousness radiates off of him in waves, as well as sweat.

“WHY DO YOU CARE WHERE THE CREASE GOES. IT’S A TABLECLOTH- IT’S SUPPOSED TO KEEP THE TABLE CLEAN! NO ONE OTHER THAN YOU WOULD EVER NOTICE THAT THERE WASN’T A CREASE. WHERE DID YOU EVEN SEE A TABLECLOTH WITH A CREASE IN IT?” He says, starting to bodily wrestle the iron from him, but Papyrus simply holds it over his head and, knowing that that absolutely won’t stop his older brother from climbing him and then using blue magic to sling the iron across the room, tries to bolt before he can catch him.

Which he can’t. Because Black has lived with Papyrus all of his life, and knows all of his tells. “STOP PANICKING! YOU ALREADY SLEPT WITH THEM! I DON’T UNDERSTAND THE SOURCE OF YOUR ANXIETY!!!”

“That’s the thing! I didn’t!” His voice raises in volume, enough for Black to stop wrangling with him and look down at him. His voice immediately drops back down again, his eyelights looking pointedly away from him. “i didn’t sleep with them. i know i didn’t. i’d probably be helluva lot more comfortable if i knew they’d seen me barebones because then i wouldn’t have to care about what they thought about me but-”

“WHO PUT THAT IDEA IN YOUR HEAD?” What had changed between your last visit and tonight? He’s reminded of your late-night phone call, only a few hours ago, your husky voice bantering with him over the soft sounds of you busying yourself in the kitchen. He’s monster enough to admit that that had sent his soul flaring in his chest- it wasn’t often that someone wanted to actually speak with him, and there was something intimate about a casual conversation so late at night.

“listen, i know i was ‘REALLY FUCKING PLASTERED’-” Black opens his mouth to protest the obvious mockery of his tone of voice, but it’s so spot-on he’s almost impressed. “-but i went in for a kiss. i’m pretty sure you know that, considering i distinctly recall lamentin’ my lost chance-”

“YOUR LOST CHANCE AT ‘putting the term ‘frenching’ to shame ‘til they would have to change the name of the dressing’.” He reminds him, imitating him, and it’s obvious that Papyrus didn’t recall that part of the conversation, because his face immediately lights up orange.

“ugh... i really don’t need any reminder of any of the things i said or did when i was drunk that night. they wrote something cute in ketchup on my plate and-”

“I’M GOING TO STOP YOU RIGHT THERE, BECAUSE I ALSO REMEMBER WHAT YOU TOLD ME ABOUT THAT AS WELL. PLEASE GET TO THE POINT, SO I CAN UNHAND YOU AND GET APPROXIMATELY FOUR HOURS OF SLEEP.” He could only keep a straight face for so long. And that had lasted almost right up and until Papyrus had said he’d tried to seduce them by eating a fry sexily, to which he’d broken his older-brother-straight-face and just burst out laughing.

“i’m. never going to live that down, huh.”

“NOT WHILE I’M ALIVE, NO.”

“okay, fine, i can learn to live with my obliterated reputation as aloof younger brother.” The blush still hasn’t faded from his face, but he’s meeting his eye lights again. “i went in for the kill and they had this deer-in-the-headlights look. like, not exactly like they were going to bolt, but like they had no idea how i was going to kiss them.” An edge of desperation enters his voice, almost like he really doesn’t even want to talk about it- “which, uh, you know. the whole. tongue situation and-”

“PAPYRUS, AS YOUR BIG BROTHER, I LOVE YOU UNCONDITIONALLY AND RESPECT YOU AS ANOTHER ADULT, BUT YOU’RE REALLY TESTING THE LIMITS BY EVEN STARTING TO IMPLY THAT YOU PERFORMED ORAL SEX ON SOMEONE. I REALLY DON’T WANT TO HEAR ABOUT IT. I DID NOT HANDMAKE JUNIOR JUMBLES FOR YOU AS A NINE-YEAR-OLD TO EVER HEAR THE NITTY-GRITTY OF YOUR SEXCAPADES.”

“i will never mention them again if i never have to hear you make a pun like ‘sexcapades’.” Which is completely fair. “but. yeah. they definitely would’ve gotten a taste of me at some point. so.”

“SO?”

“so i’m out of my skin nervous, sans!” He starts scrambling again, his bones clattering against the linoleum tile. “what if they notice that we’ve never sorted the cabinets? or that we haven’t cleaned the screens on the windows in forever?”

“WHAT DOES THEIR OPINION MATTER? THEY’RE JUST SOME HUMAN- THERE’S A THOUSAND MORE LIKE THEM IN THIS CITY ALONE.” Though he’s not sure he believes that.

“i dunno how you’ve lived with me damn near my whole life and never noticed, sans, but if there were a thousand more like ‘em in this city alone, i’d still need all thousand of ‘em to like me.” Finally, he goes slack in his arms. “i’ll just waste away on this floor. that’s simpler.”

“OH NO YOU DON’T, LAZYBONES! YOU’RE GOING TO GET UP AND PUT ON REAL CLOTHES IF IT KILLS YOU! YOU MIGHT NOT CARE IF AXE AND CROOKS SEE YOU LOOKING LIKE YOU GOT DRESSED IN THE DARK, BUT IF YOU CARE ABOUT THAT HUMAN’S OPINION SO MUCH, YOU MIGHT WANT TO PUT ON PANTS THAT DON’T HAVE A GIANT BARBECUE STAIN ON THE LAP.” With that, Papyrus swears and disappears out from underneath him, abandoning the iron and likely teleporting to his room to get changed.

Black gets up, scanning his guard’s uniform for any semblance of grime that might’ve transferred in their scuffle, finding none. He starts to unplug the iron from the wall, but maybe Papyrus had a point, and their house wasn’t up to snuff by human standards. Maybe doing a little Spring cleaning wouldn’t hurt anyone.

Lifting the tablecloth up by an inch with blue magic, he uses the flat of his palms, covered in his gloves, to press each corner of the tablecloth into a crisp edge. Distantly, he can hear his detail-oriented brother causing a cleaning ruckus in rooms you’d likely never see.

Maybe it had been too long since they’d cleaned the insides of the windows.

Chapter Text

Sans should’ve known something was off when you showed up with your arms full of food, when Blackberry had already dropped all of his groceries at their house just a few days prior. You sway on your feet, several casserole dishes and tupperwares in your arms, wearing a white blouse and formal black pants. “and to whom am i speaking?” He says, as a joke, opening the door to find the dishes piled so high that he can’t see your face. You wordlessly step into their house, one dragging step at a time, and keep moving until you come to their counters. “i, uh, know it’s a little chilly outside, but no reason to give me the cold shoulder, sunshine.”

You drop all of your casseroles onto the counter, turning to face him, and he whistles through his teeth. Your rigid posture had hidden it fairly well, but your eyes were faintly bloodshot and your dark circles were the worst he’d seen them. “I’m sorry to drop by unannounced.” Your voice is gravelly. “But I just needed to drop that food off so I wouldn’t have to run it to them once the event started.”

“stars, sit down. you look like hell.” He frames your shoulders with his hands, feeling how you nearly collapse your weight into him, and hauls you over to the couch. “‘them’? who’s putting you through the wringer like this?” You feel like you’re shaking a little bit, and he hesitates to let you go- instead, he sits down with you, not moving his hands off of your shoulders.

“SANS? ARE THOSE TWO OVER ALRE-” Papyrus, at the top of the stairs, notices him holding you on the couch, your head drooping onto his chest, and leaps over the edge, landing in a perfect roll. He springs to his feet, crossing over to you in almost two steps. “WHAT HAPPENED? ARE YOU OKAY?”

“‘m fine. I’m just tired.” As if your body heard you, you let out a long yawn, your body wracking with shivers. “I had a late shift with Grillby’s and then I tested the limits of the human body and did Black’s order until three am. And then I had the grand idea to just, you know, keep going and make a meatloaf at four. Then my dumbass-”

“YOU’RE NOT DUMB-”

“Thank you, Papyrus. But I made the dumb decision to make biscuits and gravy, hand making the biscuits because I think I really spooked Mutt- I don’t like calling him Mutt, we gotta come up with something different for him. But I really spooked him, I think, so I wanted to go the extra mile. So. Seven am. The sun rose.” You let your head fall into your hands. “So I had to start cooking everything, otherwise nothing would be cooked through. Ugh. I’m sorry- I just. Didn’t get enough sleep, I know I look rough.”

“YOU LOOK TIRED, IS WHAT YOU LOOK! HERE, LEAN MORE ON SANS- SANS YOU DON’T MIND?” No, he doesn’t mind and, in fact, would feel drastically better if you were leaning more on him than swaying and trying to sit up straight. You fold into him, warm and weak, and he has to tamp down the memories of the last time he held a human like this, soft and tired like this. “DID YOU HAVE ANYTHING TO EAT? I’LL GO GET YOU SOMETHING TO EAT.”

He’s moving incredibly fast, and Sans almost can’t keep up with him. You look weak - you look like prey, something they would’ve eaten in another life. Panic bubbles up in him, and he can see why Papyrus is tearing a path in the floor, moving from kitchen to sofa, coming with a glass of water, a mug of coffee, a roll of crackers, and a reheated cut of the lasagna he’d made last night. If that dog was still around, he would’ve loved to take a portion out of it, like old times. “hey, you still there?” Sans jostles you a little, and startles at the same time you do, your eyes wide and panicked, almost standing up from the couch, if it weren’t for the cage of his arms. “woah, hey, you’re here. you’re fine.”

You gingerly touch your forehead, breathing heavily and confirming that, yes, you were with the two of them. Safe. He doesn’t know how to tell you that that’s all he wants for you to feel around the two of them. “Thank you, Papyrus- I haven’t eaten since yesterday, and I’m paying for it right now. I literally have caffeine jitters, right now.” So that’s why you were shaking. Not-so-subtly, he moves the cup of coffee away from you as you lean out of his grasp to pick up the fork to take a bite out of the lasagna, then put it back down.

“YOU SHOULD BE EATING REGULAR MEALS.” Papyrus echoes, something you’d told them a while ago, somehow managing to make it sound like he’s just came up with it to admonish you. “I DON’T KNOW WHO BLACKBERRY THINKS HE IS, THAT HE COULD KEEP YOU UP LIKE THIS. REST ON SANS UNTIL THE EVENT- IF HE WRINKLES YOUR CLOTHES, I’LL GLADLY IRON THEM OUT.”

“So you guys were told about the ‘reconciliation event’?” Sans has to admit, he likes how comfy you get on him- you wiggle backwards until your shoulder blades aren’t digging into his ribcage, and the soft circulation of magic that indicated a false ‘stomach’ for him provided enough for you to lean on.

“yeah, the blackberry came by a few days ago to give to us his rations. told us he’s holding some dinner for us- he didn’t mention you were going to be cooking for it though.” Just like before, the little cracks in his fingers are stuck to your shirt, even if he wanted to pull away. Carefully, Sans pulls the hand on your other shoulder off, then works to get the other one off with his freed hand. You slip your weight off of his arm and onto his chest, your head just barely under his chin, and he can feel his soul thrum in his chest. “you shouldn’t have to stay awake just to cook for us- i’ll tell black that he’s gonna take a dirt nap if he keeps-”

“I’m being paid for this. That’s why I’m dressed up- it’s no big deal.” You yawn, your jaw moving against his chest. “I just... need a power-nap. I was planning on sleeping in the back of the van... Brought a blanket and everything. I just needed to drop the food off so I wouldn’t have to struggle to get it to their house later.”

“NONSENSE. SLEEP HERE! I CAN GET YOU A ‘BLANKET AND EVERYTHING’! GO, ON, EAT SOMETHING BEFORE YOU CLOSE YOUR EYES. EVEN THE CRACKERS ARE BETTER THAN GOING TO SLEEP HUNGRY.” You seem to be nodding off, so he shuffles his shoulder, moving you just enough to get your eyes to flutter open. Papyrus takes off like a rocket to, assumedly, strip his bed to tuck you in, and you grumble as you sit up, leaning off of him to crowd the table, your manner of eating quick, efficient.

“I feel like I’m running on ‘empty’.” You say, your fork finally scraping on the plate. Almost completely cleaned the thing- he’s distantly impressed. “I really don’t want to bug you guys-”

“hey, what’s all that buzz about? we ant get enough of you.” You laugh, surprised and quiet. “really. drink some water and lay back down.”

Hesitantly, you move in jerking movements, far different from the fluid way you’d settled on his chest earlier. Finally, you settle with your back to his stomach, your head leaned back and on his shoulder. It’s strange, how much you move and how much he doesn’t. In contrast to the very loud sound he’d made when he’d hurdled over the side of the stairs, Papyrus takes the stairs softly, this time, cradling a blanket and a pillow.

You sleep in his arms for two hours, and then wake up as a changed person- the strong, smiling, unwavering you that had stumbled into their house drunk that first night, had dodged all of his attempts to trap you effortlessly, and had still extended a caring hand to feed the two of them. The transition is jarring, but it is far more relieving to see you content, moving fast as you reheat your dishes and shake any sleep off.

Sans wonders if it’s old instinct to linger on your trusting form, thinking about how willingly you let yourself be held by him without fear.

-

If Mutt were being honest, which he rarely was, he’d say that he had to admire how absolutely brave you were. To be able to lie to him, with a lie that directly involved him, with enough confidence to make him believe it? Forget ‘admirable’, you were formidable. You’d done the impossible- dodged a likely confrontation with his brother on patrol, befriended the cannibalistic two, and served food good enough that his brother was willing to not cook for a night. You were some kind of miracle worker but, damn, if it wasn’t both terrifying and sexy how much power you wielded over your own life. How willing you were to just do what you wanted.

And how he never would’ve caught onto how absolutely powerful you were if you hadn’t cut your fries differently than his usual order at Grillby’s. The Snowdin canine unit could kiss his bony ass- his observation skills were Royal Guard-worthy.

Of course, he would have to sit you down before the dinner started and actually talk about this- he was more than content to dodge the topic forever (letting you believe that he still believed in the lie), but his obvious shift in attitude would be so transparent that there was no hiding it. Sans had sent him to his room for the first time since he was a babybones because he was pacing nervously around the living room and it was “REALLY STARTING TO PISS HIM OFF” how his shoes, while clean, were leaving visible indentions from how many times he was treading the same path. Sans had then took the vacuum he was using to re-fluff the carpet for the nth time and rammed it at his ankles in what was, honestly, retribution he was owed half an hour ago.

He wouldn’t be so nervous if you hadn’t shown up to his house with arms full of good food and, now, you knew him. It was so much easier to interact with people and monsters from this universe if he just slept with random strangers, wrung them out for validation in one of the simplest ways he knew how to, and then never spoke to them again. You breaking this cycle slung him as far out of his comfort zone as he could get, especially since he found you attractive.

Especially since you showed no interest in sleeping with him.

From his room, he hears the door open, the muffled (but not quiet) sounds of his brother greeting you, the sounds of your footsteps on their linoleum kitchen floor. Assuming it’s fine to leave, now, Mutt toes out of his room, down the hall, then looks down the stairs. You hadn’t come alone- Crooks is holding some of your pans, but Axe had butted his way through the door, taking up space in a way that only he seemed to be able to. He didn’t quite move like he should- his joints hinge awkwardly, his steps a little too long. It’s obvious it’s because he needs to devote so much magic to keeping his body from caving in head-first, but it’s still unnerving to witness.

“what’s up, daddy issues?” Axe calls out to Sans, his grin pinched. “did you rush the human to prepare your food for any good reason, or do you just get a thrill out of hurting people when they can’t do anything about it?”

“Sans!” You sound shocked, setting your pan down and turning to face Axe, your face cross. Mutt remains poised on the stairs, seizing up the situation- obviously he’d known that his brother had hired you to cater, but rush you? “It wasn’t that big of a deal- besides, we were only on the phone for, like, an hour. Anything past that was me trying to be extra prepared.”

“OH, NO, HUMAN. TRUST ME, HE’S SAID FAR LESS POLITE THINGS TO ME BEFORE. AND I CONTINUE TO NOT CARE.” Sans responds, not wavering in the slightest. Mutt distinctly recalls the one time Axe had kicked in their door solely to start yelling about how empty their pantry was- it now made more sense in hindsight, now that they knew that they were actually starving. But, at the time, Axe had told Sans that he was so selfish that he ‘could be two seconds from fucking dusting and you’d still crack open my damn bones for the marrow to take one last thing from me’. His brother, of course, never flinched. Queen Toriel had said far harsher things to him before.

Sometimes, cruelty was a strength. But not in this world.

“you gonna pay them extra for all of these ingredients they got from their fridge?” Axe continues, his jaw set, gesturing at you.

Sans scoffs. “OF COURSE I’LL REIMBURSE THEM.” He turns to face you. “GIVE ME A QUOTE AT THE END OF THE DINNER, AND I’LL WRITE YOU A CHECK.”

“YOU CAN WRITE CHECKS TO HUMANS?” Crooks suddenly inquires and, seeing that the dinner wasn’t going to explode yet , Mutt decides it should be fine for him to give up his vantage point and join the rest of them. In-between the conversations, you weave, placing glasses on the table and a tall bottle of wine. “MY COMPUTER STILL CONNECTS TO THE UNDERNET- I KNOW YOU NEED AN ID CARD FOR THAT. HOW DID YOU GET REGISTERED IN ORDER TO GET A BANK ACCOUNT?”

“I GOT MY ID ALMOST AS SOON AS I WENT TO APPLY FOR A JOB.”

“CERTAINLY YOU DIDN’T... SAY YOUR NAME WAS ‘SANS SERIF’, THOUGH.”

“WELL. NO.”

Mutt finds this to be the perfect place to lean in. “he’s embarrassed about the name he chose to put on the card.”

“SHUT UP, MUTT! AT LEAST IT’S BETTER THAN ‘PALATINO’!” The second it comes out of his mouth, however, Sans’ jaw snaps shut. His competitive nature... his pride... his hubris... Exposing Mutt’s shitty font family name is his undoing.

“oh. sure. whatever you say-”

“DON’T SAY IT-”

garamond.”

Silence falls in the room. Axe is shaking. Crooks is also shaking, and his hand has come up to cover his newly-braced mouth. You let out an ungodly wheeze. “Garamond?

“IT SEEMED LIKE A PERFECTLY RESPECTABLE NAME AT THE TIME! WE HAD AN UNCLE NAMED GARAMOND AND I WAS UNDER PRESSURE AT THE BOOTH WHEN I WAS PUTTING MY NAME IN!” Sans’ mouth is running a mile-a-minute trying to explain. “AND OF COURSE PAPYRUS ONLY EVER DOES ODD-JOBS, SO HE DIDN’T EVEN NEED HIS ID, SO HE GOT MORE TIME TO THINK ABOUT IT! PAPYRUS-” He’s using his full name- must be serious. “YOU’RE ON THIN ICE. DISRESPECT ME IN FRONT OF OUR GUESTS ONE MORE TIME AND I’LL TELL GRILLBY TO CUT YOU OFF FOR A MONTH.”

Damn. That was actually pretty harsh, especially since his brother had determined that the only reason he’d go in the future was to hit on you and get plastered.

“So, we should-” Your sentence is interrupted by your own laugh. Sans shoots another harsh look at him. “You should all sit down. I’ll serve, of course. Any protests... Garamond?”

“HUMAN, YOU GREATLY UNDERESTIMATE MY WILLINGNESS TO FIGHT YOU IN THE MIDDLE OF MY HOME.” His brother knows his chosen name was ridiculous, and there’s a bit of levity in his voice when he quips back at you. You flinch, almost imperceptibly, your bottom eyelid jumping up and your mouth flattening into a hard line for just a moment. Sans seems to have noticed as well, and he amends, “I WAS JOKING. EVERYONE, PLEASE SEAT YOURSELVES.”

Sans takes the head of the table. Crooks, surprisingly, also takes the head of the table. Mutt half-expects Axe to speak up again, but he’s silent, eye light cutting between the two of them. “SO. CROOKS-” Sans starts.

“We’re not calling him that any more.” You cut in, your hands covered in oven mitts and setting down a dish full of biscuits separated from white gravy with ladle, pulling the tin foil off and methodically fold into into a square. “Right, sweetpea?” You call out over your shoulder, while you go back to the kitchen.

“RIGHT. ESPECIALLY SINCE THE SOURCE OF IT HAS BEEN FIXED.” Crooks gestures to his braces, and Sans’ browbones pitch higher.

“UNDERSTANDABLE. I WAS JUST ABOUT TO COMMENT ON THEM. YOU LOOK... BETTER.” He nods curtly at him, but his eye sockets narrow just at the edges. He, of course, recognizes it as a small motion of relief- alternate version of his brother or not, it was good to see that Crooks didn’t have a mouth made out of splintered wood. “I GO BY ‘BLACK’, NOW, SO I UNDERSTAND YOUR REASONING FOR WANTING TO SEPARATE FROM THE NAMES THE LODGE PROVIDED US. WHAT... WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO GO BY, NOW?”

Crooks opens his mouth, and then closes it. And then he blushes. “what’s all that for?” Mutt has to ask.

“ER... THE ONLY OTHER NICKNAME I HAVE IS... ‘SWEETS’...” He scratches at the back of his neck, flushed a little and avoiding Sans’ gaze. “AND I WOULD RATHER NOT HAVE SOMEONE WHO IS ME... AND SOMEONE WHO IS MY BROTHER... CALL ME THAT?”

“oh, shit, yeah.” He responds, lamely. He’d really underestimated how friendly you were with those two- you were on pet names already? “i guess we could... workshop it?”

You come back in, with the meatloaf cut into equal portions, a spatula curved into it. “pap?” Axe says. Both him and Crooks echo, “YES?” and “yeah?”, without really thinking about it. “no- i meant as a nickname. but, uh, obviously that didn’t work.”

His brother remains very quiet, and Mutt knows it’s because he can’t think of anything that isn’t at least mildly insulting. “TALL... SKELETON?” He finally offers.

“Oh, that’s actually not so bad of a start! He is the tallest skeleton I’ve seen.” You came back again, this time with a macaroni dish. “How about ‘Stretch’?”

“‘s already taken.” Mutt supplies.

“No way.” You say, with a surprising amount of force. He tilts his head up, confused, to see your eyebrows look like they’re about to fly off of your face. “There’s a skeleton taller than Papyrus?

Ignoring your use of his common name, all of them glance around at each other to see who could actually explain that choice of nickname. Finally, Axe answers, “nah, he’s shorter- way shorter, with that hunch on his back. dunno why he got that nickname- anything i’d say would be a stretch.”

You laugh, even though you’ve likely never seen Stretch, and wouldn’t understand half of the joke. “Okay, fair. I... don’t know a lot of other names for tall guys though?” You pause, cradling your chin in one mittened hand. “Uh, bean sprout? String bean? N... Noodle?”  

“I WOULD PREFER A NAME THAT DOESN’T MAKE ME SOUND LIKE A MANICURED POMERANIAN.” Crooks responds, though he’s smiling at each suggestion. They’re silly names, hilarious in how almost-childish and inoffensive they are. “BUT I APPRECIATE THE THOUGHT. ANY OTHERS?”

You gasp and snap your fingers. “I knew this tall guy who went by ‘bones. That’s perfect!” You then enthusiastically explain, “Because you’re made of bones.”

“I AM AWARE! BUT THAT’D GET VERY CONFUSING IN CONVERSATIONS, ESPECIALLY BECAUSE I AM MADE OF BONES.”

“Shoot, hold on- this’ll be more comfortable if I get the rest of the food on the table.” With that, you’re a lot faster coming in and out of the kitchen, barely lingering long enough to get them plates and place one in front of each of them. The smell of the warm macaroni and cheese hits Mutt like a smack on the back from Dogaressa’s axe- he quickly wipes the drool from the side of his mouth. “Do any of you want me to plate it for you?” You ask, politely.

“nah, i think we’re all grown enough to serve it ourselves. thank you for the offer, though.” He nods at you, then gestures with a tilt of his head for you to sit next to him. You give him a small smile and, pulling your gloves off and setting them at the edge of the table, you actually take him up on his offer.

“YOU TWO SHOULD HAVE THE FIRST BITE. NATURALLY.” Sans offers, passing a serving spatula down to Axe, who takes it and immediately picks up a square of meatloaf with it, getting out of his seat to put it on his brother’s plate first before coming back to pick up his serving. Crooks (or not-Crooks, stuck in this nickname limbo) does the same, serving Axe some macaroni before himself, and Mutt watches as they fill up their plates completely, as if one of them might take the food away. His brother obviously noticed as well, as an uncomfortable look settles on his face.

“you full from pap’s lasagna?” Axe asks, even as he actively forks over some green bean casserole onto your plate. It’s haunting how blatant his philosophy is- better overfed than underfed - as he feeds you the same way he feeds his brother. More meatloaf than green beans, more green beans than macaroni. One biscuit.

“Thanks, Sans. Or, er- should I use nicknames when there’s more than two of you in a room? Is that more fair?” You point to the macaroni, without Mutt even asking, and, when he nods, you put a serving on his plate. All while you kept eye contact with Axe and barely looked in his direction, like it was purely muscle memory. In his peripheral, he sees Sans start to fill up his plate as well.

“I REALLY THINK YOU ALL CREDIT ME WITH FAR MORE EMOTION THAN I EVER FEEL. I ENJOY BEING CALLED BY MY ACTUAL NAME, BUT I’M NOT GOING TO LOSE SLEEP IF THE POOR BASTARD THAT GOT SHAFTED WITH ‘AXE’ WANTS TO BE CALLED BY HIS NAME FOR THE SAKE OF CONSISTENCY. I SIMPLY DON’T CARE.” Mutt hadn’t even noticed when his brother had poured himself a glass of wine, but he shotguns it after he finishes his sentence. Of course he cares. “BUT, I FEEL I SHOULD MENTION, PAPYRUS STILL HASN’T GOTTEN A NEW NICKNAME.”

“jupiter.” Axe pitches, his jaw tilting up in a smile. “biggest planet and one of the brightest objects in the solar system.” It’d taken him all of that time to think up one, but it was... it was a good one. Far more creative than the half-implemented and shitty fruit- and color-based convention the others had drawn up.

“Huh... Papyrus?” His brother is beaming, and you look fairly impressed. In fact, the impressed look must’ve been going around, because Mutt can physically feel his face turn into a contemplative smile.

“ASTRONOMY HAS ALWAYS BEEN MORE YOUR THING THAN MINE, BUT... I LIKE IT! I DEFINITELY PREFER IT TO... ‘CROOKS’.” Jupiter, now, says. “OF COURSE YOU NEED A NAME THAT MATCHES IT! YOU COULD BE... ER...” He falters, but his brother comes in immediately.

“i know jupiter has the big red eye, but i thought that’d be a little too obv-eye-ous.” He winks his large, ruined eye socket, the red light still flickering underneath the bone. “how’s ‘mars’? the red planet and close to home. always under surveillance.” He cuts his eye to Sans again, who is nodding along.

“I DON’T SEE HOW YOU’RE BARELY AN OFFSHOOT OF THIS UNIVERSE’S SANS. YOU’RE FAR MORE REASONABLE, AND CAN ACTUALLY GIVE THOUGHTFUL RESPONSES.” He doesn’t act like he acknowledges the slight against him, though it was a very obvious jab. “IN THE INTEREST OF FORMAL INTRODUCTIONS... NICE TO MEET YOU, JUPITER AND MARS.”

“nice to eat ya.” Mars raises one forkful of meatloaf in a half-toast. Mutt can’t tell if it was supposed to be a cannibalism joke or not.

“NICE TO MEET YOU AGAIN... BUT, ER, YOU UNDERSTAND THAT US ASSUMING NEW NAMES DOESN’T EXACTLY ERASE WHAT YOU TWO DID?” Jupiter says at the head of the table, a surprising amount of food cleaned off of his plate for the short amount of time it had been on there. He sets his fork down, folding his gloved hands together, his head tilted in a measured manner, his smile more like a grimace. “OR WHAT THE LODGE HAS DONE TO US... HAVE YOU HEARD ANYTHING FROM THEM ABOUT THIS ENTIRE SITUATION? HAVE THEY EXPLAINED ANYTHING TO YOU?”

Sans takes a knife to cut off a section of your meatloaf, then spears it with a fork. He thoughtfully chews, like he’s having dinner with the queen and has to politically navigate the conversation. He swallows, then says, “I BROUGHT IT UP WITH BLUE WHEN HE CAME TO DELIVER OUR FOOD- ‘OUR FOOD’ BEING BOTH OUR’S-” He gestures to himself and Mutt. “AND YOUR’S, NOW. HE DIDN’T SEEM TO HAVE ANY IDEA ABOUT WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT, BUT HE DID SAY HE’D TALK TO THE REST OF THE LODGE ABOUT IT.”

“so what? we’re just sitting on our tailbones until prime sans decides to get off his?” Mars cuts in, narrowing his eye sockets. “i don’t really care what their excuses are. it’s done- it’s over. we’re getting food, now, and it wasn’t because they decided we’re suddenly worth it.”

Jupiter wrings his hands, looking away. “I DON’T KNOW IF WE SHOULD COMPLETELY WRITE THEM OFF...” Mutt remembers him and Blue marathoning old human movies (that were technically new to them), with Stretch dozing in the loveseat. For the few weeks they’d lived there, Red and this universe’s Sans had asked for him to hop onto their work on Gaster’s old machine, but he never had anything that Stretch hadn’t already outlined two months ago. It was like one large echo chamber- prime Sans would say something, Red would echo something similar. Mutt would say something, Stretch would agree with it. Axe- or, Mars- would check in, his red eye like a spotlight shining in on their dark lab.

Mutt had to agree with his brother- Mars didn’t think like the others did. Some kind of survival instinct had been beaten into him that wasn’t like the kind beaten into Mutt or Red. He had a survivor’s perspective- a narrow set of eye sockets on a narrow goal, even with his scrambled mind.

“paps, we barely ate for three months. i coulda dusted at any time- if we didn’t know how to hunt, i’d be long gone.” Beside him, you let out a hiss of air between your teeth- you watch their back-and-forth with a slight grimace. When Mutt bumps you with his shoulder, you mutter something about how it feels like you’re intruding, and maybe you are, but...

“life for them was a helluva lot harder when you weren’t intruding. i think you’re fine.” He replies, but that doesn’t seem to persuade you any. “we all need to talk like this, anyways. dodged it for too long.”

“WE STILL DON’T KNOW THE FULL SITUATION, THOUGH. MAYBE SOMETHING’S HAPPENED THAT SANS WON’T TELL BLUE ABOUT- SOME BREAKTHROUGH WITH...” Jupiter starts, then quickly shuts his jaw so hard that his teeth click when Mutt gives him a panicked look. His brother didn’t know about the machine- and for a good fucking reason. He hated their father more than anything and Mutt would rather him think that this entire scenario was some fuck-up with this universe’s Sans, rather than him tinkering with their dad’s old shitty science experiments. Mars might have no problem talking to his brother about Gaster, but what Sans doesn’t know won’t hurt him. “...WITH THEIR RESEARCH, INTO WHY WE’RE ALL HERE. MAYBE IT’S... CONSUMED THEM?”

“i wouldn’t just forget to feed you for three months.” Mars interjects, almost sharply, laser-focused. “i don’t care what i was studying, i wouldn’t forget.”

“BUT YOU’RE NOT EXACTLY PRIME-SANS OR STRETCH. OR RED.” Sans interjects, gesturing with another full glass. “YOU THINK YOU WOULDN’T, BECAUSE YOU BOTH ENDURED A FAMINE. YOU KNOW WHAT HUNGER TASTES LIKE. MAYBE RED OR EDGE KNOW, BUT THAT’S A PRETTY BIG ‘MAYBE’.” His teeth scrape at the side of the wine glass, and he flinches and tilts his jaw so it doesn’t repeat. He takes a sip, then sets it back down, his eyes far away. “IF I REMEMBER ANYTHING ABOUT THAT BRAT, IT’S THAT HIS BROTHER NEVER TOOK THE TIME TO TEACH HIM ANY MANNERS. IT TAKES A WHOLE LOT OF NERVE TO PULL ME INTO AN ENCOUNTER AND THINK I WON’T RIP YOUR FEMUR OFF AND BEAT YOU WITH IT. HE WOULDN’T ACT LIKE THAT IF HE HAD A HUNGRY BONE IN HIM.”

“he looks like me.” Mutt explains to you, quietly. Content to let his brother do most of the talking with the newly-dubbed Jupiter and Mars, it made him a little anxious how you were left out of the greater conversation, discussing people you didn’t know, events you hadn’t seen. “has a scar over his eye like my brother, wears a lot of spikes. a real edgy bastard with a big mouth.”

“Compared to you, who wore a dog collar into a public restaurant?”

Not really feeling up to explaining the intricacies of the canine unit and how Doggo had made him wear a collar so it’d jingle when he took shortcuts, he says, instead, “what can i say. i’m a real dog. woof.”

You snort, and the rest of them continue on- Mars saying something about Edge not being so bad if you knew how to talk to him and Sans countering by describing him as “AS EMOTIONALLY AVAILABLE AS A FIVE-MINUTE DIAL TONE”. “You guys really seem to suck at nicknames, huh? ‘Edge’... what kind of lazy nickname is that?”

“you’d immediately take that back if you ever met the guy. he’s an apprentice to the head guard in his universe, and i think he tinted his trainee uniform black because it looks cooler.” This is... comfortable. It’s comfortable to talk to you, even if he’s (willingly) being out of the loop of the larger conversation.

“‘Mutt’ isn’t so great, either.” He notes that your glass is full of ice water, and you take a generous sip before continuing. “You, uh, like being called a dog?” You give him a somewhat suspicious look over the rim of your glass, using it as a buffer.

Hearing it so bluntly, he almost chokes on his macaroni- he hadn’t bothered to put anything else on his plate. “stars, no. it’s a bad joke that got way out of hand and the lodge just thought it was something my brother called me.” As much as he doesn’t want to tell the full story, it might be better than you assuming he had some sort of dog fixation in bed. “i always wanted to be a part of the royal guard, like my brother, so i joined the snowdin canine unit to train to be good enough to be a part of it. didn’t go over so well.”

“Damn, now I really don’t want to call you ‘Mutt’. You want to hear an infinitely better nickname I just came up with, keeping the dog theme?” You give him your stunning smile, conversational and a little sly. “ Pup-yrus.”

Across from the table, Mars wheezes so loud that he’s able to recover it into a cough and play it off like he wasn’t eavesdropping. Mutt, meanwhile, wasn’t having much luck and, combined with your wagging eyebrows, couldn’t stop the laughter that’d practically broken his ribcage to escape. Jupiter pauses, looking at him, but his brother continues talking, knowing that pointing it out would only make him stop. So Mutt laughs over your silly expression, your sillier nickname, and the insane situation that brought you to meet him.

“So? How about it?” You say, like it’s a genuine offer, though by your smile, you’re still kidding.

“‘m perfectly fine with ‘mutt’. no skin off my nose- i don’t even have one. but, uh-” He lets out a few ‘nyeh’s, unable to stop himself from laughing. “-call me pupyrus if ya want.”

“I’ll come up with a better nickname for you, yet.” You promise him, knocking your knee against his under the table.

“SO. IF YOU TWO ARE DONE WITH YOUR SIDEBAR.” Sans finally interjects, clearing his nonexistent throat and gathering their attention formally. “I, SANS SERIF, FORMALLY APOLOGIZE FOR THE MANNER BY WHICH MYSELF AND MY BROTHER HAVE TREATED YOU BOTH. I HOPE WE CAN RECONCILE AND MAKE AMENDS FOR THE FUTURE.”

“your apologies mean very little, but...” Mars looks around the room, and his eye light finally settles on you. He must see something there, because some of the tension drops out of his jaw. “i accept ‘em. i don’t forgive you, and i’m not gonna forget this... but i’ll acknowledge that you said this. don’t know how much that changes.” His tone trails off until it’s gruff, and he ends in a shrug.

“I, FOR ONE, FORGIVE YOU!” Jupiter gets up from his end of the table, walking briskly to Sans, holding one hand out to shake. Raising a brow bone, Sans accepts it, and Jupiter’s grip suddenly goes tight with the same jarring smile on his face. “BUT I WON’T FORGET THIS, EITHER. YOU WERE A VICTIM OF MISCOMMUNICATION, BUT THAT DOESN’T EXCUSE HOW YOU TREATED US.”

“AND I UNDERSTAND THAT. I ACKNOWLEDGED OUR MISSTEP AND APOLOGIZED FOR IT. I CAN’T TAKE BACK THREE MONTHS OF TREATMENT. I CAN ONLY WORK TOWARDS THE FUTURE.” Sans responds, returning Jupiter’s tight grip. They remain locked like that until Sans is the first to break away- a sign of weakness, giving Jupiter the upper hand. It’s a calculated move, especially since his brother hates showing weakness and hadn’t backed down from Mars, but the immediate release of tension in the room is palpable.

“ALRIGHT, NOW THAT THAT’S OVER WITH... GET OUT OF MY HOUSE. I HAVE ABOUT THIRTY MINUTES TO FINISH GETTING DRESSED AND BE AT A HOSPITAL TWO TOWNS OVER AND I KNOW WE JUST QUOTE-RECONCILED-UNQUOTE, BUT IF ANYONE MESSES UP THE SHEER VOLUME I’VE BREATHED INTO THE CARPET, I WILL RAIN UNENDING FURY ON THIS SQUARE MILE OF FOREST.” He stands from his seat, taking his plate and walking around Jupiter to get to the sink, placing the dish to the side of it.

“well, uh, that’s one way to end a dinner. knife of you to have us and all.” Mars says, getting up and walking around to his brother. He turns to look at you, gesturing with a tilt of his head that they’d walk you back to your car. “you ready to go?”

“actually, i have something i want to talk to them about.” Mutt interjects, just as you started to get up. You fold back down into your seat, and he’s very aware that he now has three pairs of eyes staring at him. “uh. alone.”

Mars’ eyes scan over him, obviously not pleased that you’d be out of their sight, but he grunts and turns to you. “you fine with us leaving you alone? the house isn’t too far away, and paps disabled our traps if you want to walk home.”

“Sure- I know my way around this part of the forest by now.” You say, but you’re looking at Mutt. Is that sweat he sees on your neck?

“again. the house isn’t too far away.” Mars makes eye contact with Mutt, now, but still talks to you. He realizes it was less of an assurance to you and more of a threat towards him. “if you scream, we’ll hear.”

“thanks for the vote of confidence, mars.”

“No, uh, I’m fine. I’ll be fine. I think?” You cut your eyes at Mutt a little. “I’m not defenseless, you know. I know you’re, like, some badass boss monster from another universe, but I’ve had enough CPR training to know I can crack ribs.”

“acknowledged, but i don’t think i’d put you in a situation where you’d have to break me like a can of biscuits.” At least, if he was a decent judge of character, you wouldn’t put him in that position.

“Alright, so I’m fine! It’ll all be fine.” You give Jupiter and Mars a smile, and then start out the door, Jupiter shooting you one last look before the door closes.

“WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO SAY, YOU CAN SAY IT IN FIVE MINUTES, PAPYRUS. I’LL BE GETTING DRESSED.” Sans says, leaving the dishes half-done (surprisingly, exactly half of the dishes were washed) to ascend the staircase, his footsteps heavy.

Mutt takes the second to listen for when he stops moving, then speaks, “i know you didn’t sleep with me and that you lied to keep sans from fighting you in the forest.” Your eyes get wide, and you lean back a little from him- with a quick scan of the room, he realizes you’re planning on bolting through the glass back door. “before you run- i’m fine with that. it’s cool- you did what you had to and, uh, from personal experience? sans is a hard fight- i don’t blame you for trying to duck out.”

“So, you’re, uh. Not mad with me for lying to you about knowing you? Because, you should know, I was trying to play it off like we just hit it off and had some good jokes- you kinda. Escalated it.” Huh. If he thought back on your first encounter...

That does line up. You’d only called him charming, cracked a joke about him rattling you. In the context, in front of his brother- yeah, he’d been the one to escalate things, his hands on your hips. “damn- didn’t really think about that. sorry if i ever made you uncomfortable.”

“Oh, uh, it wasn’t so bad. It’s been a while since I’ve been hit on like that.” Your cautious darting look has changed into one of cautious amusement. You look away from him. “It’s nice to feel wanted sometimes.”

“trust me, darlin’, you don’t have to worry about that .” It slips off his tongue without him even thinking- far bolder than he usually is. You raise your eyebrows, and he immediately loses his nerve. “but, uh, anyways. you might not want to let sans in on this- he might not be so forgi-”

“Sans already knows.” You give him a confused look. “Didn’t you find out from him?”

“... huh. no i, uh, found out because you don’t put your fries through the slicer and just gave me hand-cut steak fries.” Sans knew? Sans knew and didn’t tell him and was fine with you in their house? Sans, who just gave him and two versions of themselves an ultimatum about dirtying their carpet? “he’s known this whole time?”

“Yeah, he caught me when I said I was talking to you on the phone and then when I showed up you didn’t know who I was.” You grimace a little. “I was talking to, uh, Jupiter on the phone and I thought Sans- your Sans- was taking me to their house. And then I was here.”

“you have some crazy luck, huh?” He’s filling in the blanks in his head- if you were headed to the others’ house, then that’s why Cro- Jupiter had grabbed you and ran. That’s why you’d defended them. You didn’t accidentally involve yourself in their lives, stumbling into them and the entire multiverse experiment- you saw two people suffering, fed them, and befriended them.

“Right? The jury’s still out on if it’s good or bad luck.” You say, with a hint of a smile. It reaches your eyes, and Mutt realizes he’s got you all wrong. You weren’t brave or formidable- you had been scared of him not two minutes ago. “Uh, good talk? I think our five minutes are up. I’ll just be... on my way out.”

You were deliberate and kind.

Which was somehow far more terrifying.

“let me get the door for you.”

Chapter Text

“I have a question.” You say, laying horizontally on Sans’ couch, the rare VHS copies of Mettaton’s newer TV show in the background playing, Papyrus' head in your lap. A few days had passed since the dinner, and you’d finally settled your schedule with Grillby- he’d been appalled at the on-call hours you worked at the catering service and had offered you regular breakfast and lunch shifts. It was kind of him, but you telling him so just got him more fired up about your other job’s treatment of you, even as you assured him that it was standard human restaurant and catering protocol. Mutt often swung by earlier to make sure he saw you during your earlier shifts, and his brother would text you “UNDER STRICT CONFIDENCE” that he was glad he was doing so.

You’re not quite sure if Mutt had an alcohol problem or if he had a staying-out problem, but apparently your french toast with heavy maple syrup and a dollop of cream was solving it.

“All of these sweets...” You’d said, putting his plate in front of him and his sly grin, “You look really scary with that gold tooth of your’s, but I bet it’s from all of the cavities you get.”

He’d laughed so hard that he’d shook the table, one of his hands coming to cover his mouth as he rounded it off into a cough. “trust me, darlin’, if that was how i’d got this, i’d be in better shape.”

You’re still not quite sure how to read Grillby, but, after Mutt leaves and lunch shift starts, he pops into the kitchen without an order. “I’m glad you started working here...” The reflection in his glasses tilts towards the door, and, maybe, those are his eyes- bright-white and glancing towards the door. “........ Never do anything you’re not comfortable with....... but I’m glad he doesn’t just come here to drink........ And I think you’re responsible.” The way he says it, you’re not sure if he means you’re responsible or if you’re responsible for Mutt’s curbed alcoholism. Much like most of what he says to you.

“shoot.” Sans says, at your feet. He’d been dozing in-and-out of consciousness while Papyrus remained rapt, often leaning down over you to explain some referenced joke in the show from previous series that Mettaton had been on.

You start to sit up, only because you want to take your question seriously. You’d tabled the conversation about them being from alternate universes long enough that the dinner had jostled your comfortable view of the two pairs of brothers as separate people. It was impossible to not see how Sans and Black looked similar- how Mutt and Papyrus tilted their head towards you when they wanted to tell you something. Both of them watch you as you sit up, and you feel Papyrus’ hand on the flat of your back, guiding you into sitting up. When you give him a curious look, his hand immediately retreats and he gives you a sheepish smile. “IF IT’S ABOUT THE GYFTMAS SPECIAL, YOU COULD’VE STAYED COMFORTABLE.”

“No- actually, uh, do you mind if I pause it? I don’t want you to miss out on anything.” It’s a new moon outside, and you’d turned off all of the lights so that Papyrus could get a movie-style view of the VHS you’d found while thrifting. When he nods, you get up to push the ‘pause’ on the VCR, the tape coming to a halt. The only source of light comes from the tv, and, when you settle back on the couch, you tuck your feet underneath you, wiggling into the couch. It’s always a little too cold in their house. “I don’t want to pry, so just let me know if I’m overstepping.”

“STEP WHEREVER YOU LIKE!” You’d tried to sit so that you could look between the two brothers, but Papyrus pulls you a little closer to him by slinging his arm around your shoulders. He’s progressively getting more confident, though you’re not sure if it’s because of you getting to know him better or because of the several lifestyle changes he’s made since you’ve known him. “YOU ALREADY KNOW MOST OF THE SKELETONS IN OUR CLOSET- AND YOU CALL THEM BY NAME: SANS AND PAPYRUS.” He winks at you, and you laugh, bumping your shoulder into his. “BUT, ON A SERIOUS NOTE, I DON’T THINK THERE’S ANYTHING TOO PERSONAL YOU COULD ASK THAT WE WOULDN’T TELL YOU. YOU ALREADY KNOW... ABOUT OUR UNIVERSE.” His smile wanes a little, and you get the feeling he’s searching your face for how you’ll take it.

“Actually, that’s kind of what I wanted to ask about?” Sans noticeably stiffens, and you rush to finish your sentence. “I was going to ask about the alternate universe thing- like, how you guys actually got here.”

It’s as if all of the air in him deflates, and he sags back into the couch. “thank the fuckin’ stars. i thought you were going to ask what humans taste like or something like that.” His nasal bones whistle when he exhales in relief. He fixes you with a grin. “funny you ask- the lodge is still trying to figure that one out too, last i heard. but i’ll tell you what i know, if it means so much to you. for a price.” He winks at you, shrugging in a ‘what can you do?’ mannerism.

“What’s the price, funnybones? A dish of sliders? Tall stack of pancakes?” You reach out and push him gently on the chest, jokingly, as if you were trying to intimidate him. Despite you not putting much force behind it, he still sways and smiles at you.

“nah, but i’m touched that you remembered the pancakes.” Sans tilts his head, his one large pupil staring at you. For a brief moment, you glance solely at his empty socket- if you look closely enough, you can see a small pinprick of light flickering like a dying lightbulb. “it occured to me that you don’t like to talk too much about yourself. the price is... we get to ask you some questions, too.”

“Oh! Sure, yeah, go ahead.” Now that you think about it, you must’ve come off as really weird and mysterious to them- you can’t remember a time where you just sat down and talked about yourself outside of work. “Wow, I really didn’t mean to like... shut you guys out. If you ever have a question for me or about me, you can ask it!”

“alright, so your question first.” His eye goes hazy, but you know from experience that it’s because he’s trying hard to think about what he’s saying before he says it. “from our end- our dad, who was the royal scientist, had this machine. no idea what it was supposed to do, but i was helping him with it once i got outta school. paps was a kid- your surface-years don’t matter much underground, but there was a decade or so between us. so he doesn’t remember much of him.”

“Did, uh. Something happen to your father?” Monster parents not living long enough to raise their children (and provide them with all of the magic they needed to finish growing) was so anomalous that the only cases you’d heard were post-surfacing. And most of those were in the aftermath of a murder by a human.

“fell into the core. the giant thing powering-” You tell him you know what the CORE is. “yeah. no clue how it functions, but it has something to do with quantum entanglement, and falling into it erased him from everything. he didn’t even exist after that.” A trace of anger touches his voice, and you’re curious about it- anger for disappearing? Angry because of how his father had acted? But that wasn’t your question, so you wait for him to finish. “anyways. the machine. that was one of the few things he didn’t have in his lab, which disappeared after he did- too much of him in it, i guess. kinda like the core, powered like the core, but it was supposed to be the culmination of all of his research. the thing that’d get us out of the underground.”

“AFTER FRISK LEFT, AND THE HUMAN SOULS DISAPPEARED... THINGS GOT A LITTLE DESPERATE. SANS HAD KEPT OUR FATHER A SECRET FROM ME BECAUSE HE THOUGHT IT WAS HIS BURDEN TO BEAR ALONE, BUT THE MACHINE LOOKED TO BE OUR ONLY WAY OUT.” Papyrus, however, shoots a cross look to him. “OF COURSE, THIS WAS AFTER THE FAMINE STARTED, SO HE TOOK HIS TIME TO TELL ME ANY OF THIS.”

“can’t really apologize enough, pap. you know i’m better about it, now- no more secrets.”

“NO MORE SECRETS.” They nod at each other, over you, and you feel... You feel good about the conversation. Not about their dead father, or how they suffered underground, but the open communication. How you can talk and be talked to and just have an open discussion in their living room.

Sans is quiet for a long time, until you finally turn to look at him. “oh, uh, what was i talking about?”

You start to fill in, but Papyrus interrupts you to summarize faster than you could. “YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT THE MACHINE.”

“right, right. so, uh, basically i was trying everything in the book to get it to work- gaster’s notes-”

“GASTER WAS OUR FATHER-”

“yes- gaster, our father, left some notes behind, but none of them were coherent enough to just one-stop fix the thing. there were enough wires in it to get a little cross-eyed sometimes.” He winks at you, and you smile back. “to be honest, i don’t know what changed- and neither does the lodge. but, one day, i was messing with the machine and pulled the lever. next thing we know, our house is on the surface in another universe and there’s some prick who looks just like me needling me about how i can’t go into town.”

“Shit, okay. And this... machine. That’s what the lodge is working on? Why wouldn’t they want you to help them, if you’ve worked on it before?” Realizing that you might’ve touched a nerve, you scoot a little closer to him, reaching out for his hand.

“gonna be honest- i don’t know exactly why. same reason they stopped feeding us, i guess, but mutt hasn’t worked on it for a while, either. last time we talked about it, he said there’s too many hands on the machine and his notes were the same as stretch’s.” His eye light looks away from you, however, sudden enough to confuse you. “if you want my idea of it, though? broken parts can’t fix the machine, and they cut their losses. nothing i could offer that the prime sans couldn’t do better and faster.”

“SANS-” “Sans-” Both you and Papyrus start, and both of you stop to let the other finish. You try to start again, “Sans, you’re not broken parts-” but Papyrus’ voice overlays your’s at the same time, “YOU’RE NOT BROKEN, SANS-”. You both look at each other, then you look at Sans.

“oof. you two teaming up for a double-pronged attack? spear me.” He’s joking, but it’s an obvious attempt to deflect. You finally grab his hand, and you feel it flex in your grip, one finger at a time- disjointedly, like a doll or a puppet. You can’t help but be reminded of Mutt’s easy grip on your waist, the fluid motion of his fingers.

“Sans, you’re not going to pun your way out of this one.” You scoot out of Papyrus’ arms until your thigh-to-thigh with Sans, still holding onto his hand. His head lolls around, following your line of action like he can’t believe what you’re doing- from your face, to your hand, to your leg touching his. “You’re not broken, and you’re not some offshoot of another Sans. You’re you, and it doesn’t matter how much you’ve been hurt. You’re not just your pain or your past, and anyone that thinks otherwise is a coward. There’s so much more to you than that.” You give him your biggest winner’s smile, straight from the heart. “And what I’ve gotten to know, I like.”

Sans chuckles. Sans chuckles, then he laughs, and then he guffaws- a loud, raucous noise where he throws his head back and covers his face with one hand. You feel Papyrus’ hand suddenly wrap around the swell of your shoulder, almost as if he’s going to pull you away from him. Finally, his laughter dies down to only to the occasional chuckle, then he’s looking at you again, his face lit by a faint red blush, his eye light somewhat malformed and lumpy, unlike its usual circular appearance. “let’s, uh... let’s move- heh- past this.”

You realize that he’s embarrassed. His eye darting around, his smile unsteady and twitching into a larger grin every now and then. He’d moved his hand to continue holding onto your’s, and his active participation in your hand holding makes you smile a bit.

“I asked you...” You backtrack through your conversation, bending your fingers as you count how many questions you asked. “Four questions! So that’s four questions for you two to ask me.”

“you want first dibs, pap? i’m no motor mouth. after all of that, i’m outta fuel.”

“WELL, IT’S A LOT OF PRESSURE! FOUR QUESTIONS... ABOUT ANYTHING?” Since he’s asking the questions, you assume, you turn to face Papyrus, but you still keep Sans’ hand in your’s.

“If it’s too much, I’ll let you know. Don’t worry so much about it.” Papyrus opens his jaw to speak, then closes it. Then starts to speak, but stops. “Papyrus, whatever it is, you don’t have to be so ner-”

“WHAT HAPPENED WITH YOUR EX-BOYFRIEND?” You immediately stiffen up- you’d expected something a little more lighthearted, but he’d gone for the heart of it. “IF YOU DON’T WANT TO ANSWER, THAT’S COMPLETELY FINE BY ME AS WELL! DON’T EVEN WORRY ABOUT IT!”

“Oh, uh.” You start, articulately. You’d never really had to explain to anyone what’d happened with your ex- Trixie and Galora had been there the entire time, and your old friends (friends through him) had known by what he’d told them. Telling your therapist was about as close as you got to it, but you’d been referred to her after the court case, so she’d already known the basics. “Well, um. I broke up with my ex-boyfriend about three or four months ago- a little before we met, actually. Um...”

It feels weird to talk about it, and you realize that, at the core of it, your problems feel very inconsequential in the face of the two of them. They starved for years, then for those three months before they met you. Sans had a crater in his skull and Papyrus had holes through the palms of his hands.

“I REMEMBER HE DIDN’T CHERISH YOU LIKE YOU DESERVE.” Papyrus offers, almost offhandedly, like you need a reminder. “I ALSO REMEMBER THAT YOU HAD A NIGHTMARE ABOUT HIM.” Suddenly, you feel Sans’ fingers flex in your’s- was he doing that to comfort you? Or had it been involuntary?

“he sounds like a real asshole.”

“He was.” You agree, then try to play off the next part of what you’re going to say, “The reason we broke up was because he got drunk and tried to put my head through the drywall because he thought I looked at some other guy too long.”

“WHAT?!” Papyrus, who you’ve learned has a habit of standing to full-attention when surprised, jumps off of the couch. “I UNDERSTAND THAT YOU TEND TO UNDERSTATE WHEN YOU’VE BEEN HURT- WHICH IS ALARMING BY ITSELF!- BUT THIS IS SOMETHING WE NEEDED TO KNOW! NO WONDER YOU’RE ALWAYS FLINCHING!”

“this the same piece of shit that made you not want to tell us black was threatening you?” Sans says, and you guess that, at a point, you’d forgotten how observant he was. Even when he trailed off mid-sentence or forgot where he was- he had a mind like a steel trap once he thought something was important enough to take note of. It’s not like the conversation you’d had after Black had threatened you had escaped your mind, but that so much had happened since then that it’d become trivial to you.

“Uh, yeah. It’s kind of complicated?” You cross your arms and scoot a little deeper into the couch. “We got together pretty early in high school and he was a good guy. I got kicked out of my parents’ house once I turned eighteen, so I lived on-campus for two years until I got enough money to buy a house with him. I made most of the money for it, but we shared an account under his name, so the court case settled the house to him and most of the things that were mine had been bought on ‘his’ card. So.” You shrug, feeling a humorless smile crawl onto your face, your eyes pricking with tears. You avoid eye contact with the both of them, even though Sans moves to try and look you in the eyes a few times. “I mean, he didn’t beat me for a long time, and I probably would’ve stayed with him if Trix hadn’t called the cops on him. It was, uh. Kind of a wakeup call, I guess. I really thought I deserved it.”

The silence you’re met with isn’t very encouraging, either. “That was, uh, kind of a heavy-hitter, huh? Sorry- um, if you want to ask me a lighter question, I wouldn’t mind-” They both move fast, interrupting you mid-word- your grip on Sans’ hand is used by him to pull you closer to him, and you feel Papyrus attempt to sweep you up into his arms behind you. Instead, he ends up at your back, holding you in an embrace.

And you? You’re stuck in a skeleton sandwich, and you can feel Papyrus’ tears soaking into the back of your shirt. “THAT’S TERRIBLE!” He’s louder than ever, and very close to your ears. “I CAN’T BELIEVE SOMETHING LIKE THAT HAPPENED TO YOU! I MEAN, I BELIEVE YOU ENTIRELY, BUT YOU’RE SO KIND THAT I DON’T WANT TO BELIEVE IN A TIME WHERE SOMEONE HURT YOU AND MADE YOU AFRAID.” With his arms wrapped all the way around you, Sans’ hand rubs circles into the small of your back, and tilts his head up until you’re pulled flush to his chest. The motion pulls Papyrus closer to you. “I DON’T WANT TO UPSET YOU, BUT I NEED TO KNOW... IS HE... IS HE STILL AROUND?”

“No.” You say, muffled a little by Sans’ collar bone and your tight throat.

“is he dead?” Sans says in a murmur, sounding almost eager.

“What? No.” You pull away from them so you’d be a little more audible. Jamming your hand in-between you and Sans, you wipe a few of the stray tears. “He’s in jail for another three months, and I have a restraining order against him, so I hope I never see him again.”

“YOU KNOW YOU’RE ALWAYS...” Papyrus trails off, and you look at him curiously over your shoulder. He reaches his gloved hand out, oh-so-careful, and wipes a tear from your cheek. “I HAVE A THIRD QUESTION. DO YOU... ARE YOU AFRAID OF US?” You realize the undercurrent of it, the context- are you afraid of us like you are of him? Do you think we’re like him? Do you trust us?

“I’ll admit, I can’t really control when something reminds me of him.” You sniffle and try to disengage from Sans, but he follows with you, still holding onto you and patting your back- he ends up with his head on your shoulder. When you look at him, he’s watching you rather gingerly, and you’re surprised at the emotion carried in it: that whatever you say, it wouldn’t change anything. “I mean, Black told me to drink my coffee black and it reminded me of something shitty my ex had said and I flinched. I haven’t been afraid of you since, uh. Sans tried to kill me that first night.” Suddenly doubting your own recollection of that night, you affirm, “You were, uh, planning on killing and eating me right? No hard feelings, it’s all water under the bridge and all, but, uh.”

“oh, shit. uh, yeah. sorry about that?” Sans rights himself, drawing himself to full height, and pulls himself off of you- giving you an awkward pat on the shoulder.  “if it’s any consolation, we wouldn’t have wasted anything...?”

“SANS!!! THOSE AREN’T WORDS OF COMFORT!!!” After chastising his brother and looking down at you every other word to check your emotional state, Papyrus puts his hands on your shoulders. “I’M VERY SORRY THAT MY BROTHER TRIED TO MAKE A MEAL OUT OF YOU WHEN WE FIRST MET. YOU DESERVED A KINDER MEETING, AND I’LL ALWAYS BE MAKING IT UP TO YOU.”

“Papyrus, there’s nothing for you to make up- I know why he was going to do it-” The tears on your cheeks have dried up, but Papyrus’ unending fountain of kindness is threatening to make you cry again. It was so nice to feel cared for.

“fourth question.” Sans says, with the same inflection in Papyrus’ voice. “do you trust us?”

“Isn’t that the same as...?” You ask, but you know trust isn’t the same as being comfortable. You avoid his gaze, feeling suddenly shy. “I do. If I didn’t trust the both of you with my life, I wouldn’t be here.”

“good. that’s... that’s a relief.” With a halting touch, you feel his fingers skim the back of your hand, turning your palm over to hold your hand again. “i dunno about the two of you, but all of this emotional housekeeping has left me drained. just swept me right off my feet. i could dust over here.”

“YOU’VE NEVER CLEANED ANYTHING IN YOUR LIFE WITHOUT BEING FORCED TO, SANS.” Papyrus quips, and the heavy mood drops and disappears into their brotherly banter, you sometimes weighing in to joke about how Sans sure could clean out an entire dish of brownies.

-

Humming under your breath as you walked the familiar path back to the sorority house, you’d brought a cast iron pan to cook up some seasoned brussel sprouts for (the surprisingly health-conscious and anti-grease) Papyrus. After a dinner that’d involved Sans nonchalantly asking you to try to throw one of the brussels in through his good eye socket to see if he could taste it, you left their house feeling better than ever. You felt light- it was so common that you weren’t aware of what emotional burdens you were carrying until they were finally off of your shoulders. Of course you didn’t tell them the nitty-gritty of your day-to-day with your boyfriend- how you had to vacuum before work, how often he held football parties with his friends that you had to cater for free and his asshole friends would hit on you in front of him and he’d tell you to just “take the fucking joke”.

“At least I know I’m funny.” You say, to absolutely no one in the forest. You spin the pan in your grip, feeling the weight of it. You’d have to introduce Papyrus to tofu burgers or a veggie patty- you could make a mean black bean burger-

Fuck.

Your pan goes flying out of your hands, the blunt force of something harshly sending you soaring five feet to the left. Your mind spinning to catch up with what’s going on (bear?! Had you attracted a bear?!), your eyes scan in the darkness for what had thrown you, and you freeze, knowing it’s better to assess the situation than to bolt and risk jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. You realize that it’s, uh, really fucking dark in the woods with the new moon, and that your eyes can only really see what’s in front of you.

With a sudden wrench in your chest, you feel someone try to pull you into an encounter, ripping on your already fairly-damaged soul. “Papyrus?” You call out, hoping to whoever was out there and listening that it was just him playing a mean-spirited jape.

You hear the crunching on leaves underfoot and, when you try to get up, your soul is finally pulled out, sending you into an encounter. The green core of it, cracked and filled in with the encroaching purple of perseverance, only briefly illuminates the area before it’s turned blue, and you’re sent back down in the dirt. Fuck.

In the small amount of light the now-dark-blue of your magicked soul gives off, you see it reflect a black Royal Guard’s uniform, then a trailing red scarf as you crane your head upwards to see your attacker. Finally, you see a skull with a large mangled scar over one eye socket, face twisted into a flatly-surprised expression. “WHEN CROOKS ASKED IF WE’D SEEN ANYONE STRANGE AROUND THE LODGE, I DIDN’T ANTICIPATE THAT IT WAS BECAUSE BLACKBERRY HAD BEEN SLACKING ON HIS DUTIES.” You feel the bite of magic suddenly cut through the air- from puzzles Papyrus had made for you and traps you’d accidentally set off, you know it’s a bone attack and that, shit, whoever this was? You didn’t and couldn’t fight them so late at night.

You scramble to your feet, the possibility of escape giving you enough strength to break the hold of the blue magic, yanking your soul out of the air and dodging out of the way of several spiked bones. Towards the path to the sorority house you were trying to get back on. You don’t even entertain the possibility of talking with this skeleton- terrifyingly, the most visible part of him is his glowing red eye lights watching you among the trees. “HUH.” He says, not sounding particularly impressed, but you can’t square up like this- he has all of the advantage, and you’re tired after a long day’s work and wrung-out emotionally like a sponge. “WELL, WHO’S TO SAY I DIDN’T TRY KEEPING YOU IN ONE PIECE?”

You feel another blue attack incoming but, anticipating it, you go limp- you’ve taken hits before, and it’s always worse when you tense up. You’re sent flying through the air until your back hits the trunk of a tree, and you grunt, scanning for where his eye lights are, again. A little farther away than you’d expect and, craning your head up to try and get your bearings, you see Papyrus’ old snare trap, the one that’d caught Galora that first night, which had been reset and was still on the ground a few feet in front of you. Out of the way of where you usually walked, so he must not have thought to disable it.

“You’re... You’re Papyrus, right?” You get a very distinct feeling that what you tried with Black won’t work with him, but you don’t need it to. Papyrus’ trap was hidden under a thick carpet of dead moss- completely undetectable, if not for the rope that you can see from your angle. But you’re willing to bet that he can’t see it in the dark, so far away. “The fact that I have to ask is ridiculous- Papyrus, if that’s you- what kind of fight is this, where you won’t even show your face?”

“I’M CERTAINLY NOT THE SKELETON YOU THINK I AM, IF YOU THINK I WOULD LOWER MYSELF TO YOUR TAUNTS.” But, nevertheless, you hear the crunching of leaves and strange... squelching sounds? Like new leather or rubber boots. The Papyrus that isn’t a Papyrus you know continues walking towards you, his red eyes tracking you in the dark. You duck to the left, out of the way of a barrage of bones that crack into the base of the tree where you’d just been leaning against, and you scan the tree to make sure the trap still held. “I DON’T KNOW WHO YOU THINK YOU ARE, BUT I HAVE AN IDEA. YOU’RE UNWELCOME.” With that, you see his face reflected by the light of your soul and the distant star light, and he looks like Mutt.

he looks like me. has a scar over his eye like my brother, wears a lot of spikes. real edgy bastard with a big mouth. Fuck. This must’ve been Edge.

“Yeah? Next time, I’ll remember to wipe my feet on the welcome mat.” He’s close, getting closer and... As fast as you can, you take your turn and use it to shove him backwards and, when he immediately tries to grab you to pull you down with him, you drop your full weight backwards. As he stumbles, one foot behind the other before righting himself, he looks at you with a look of genuine surprise, and then mockery.

“YOUR PETTY ATTACK DIDN’T EVEN DOCK MY HP A POIN-” The ropes, apparently, took a second to snap him up (or maybe he’d overcorrected his stance) but, when they did, it shut him up real fast. He folds like a lawn chair, folded in half at the waist with one of his knees catching him in the nose. The snare’s net spins with him in it, his eye sockets wide and looking down at you. He raises a hand, obviously about to call more bone attacks, but the snare pulls tighter because of the motion. He lets out a frustrated growl, sticking his arm through the hole and trying to claw his way out.

You probably have a limited amount of time before he gets himself out and is doubly pissed off at you.

“Listen, I don’t know what your problem is, but I didn’t come here for a fight, and I’m not going to fight you. It’s late and I have work in the morning.” Feeling a little smarmy, you break his hold of blue magic on you and start to exit the confrontation, walking backwards and keeping your eyes on him. “Sorry that we couldn’t hang out longer.” With that, you break out into a run, only slowing down when you see the clear line of the trees.

As you haul ass out of the forest, casting frequent looks over your shoulder, you hear familiar, startled laughter. You don’t look back to see what had made Edge laugh and, as you started your car up, tried to forget how similar it had sounded to Mutt’s laughter.

Chapter Text

Adrenaline can only carry you so far before your nerves of steel wear thin and you have to face the facts: you’d had the fire beat out of you. You’re barely halfway back to the apartment when you pull into an exit along the main road, taking a detour into a brightly-lit shopping center to park. You rest your head against the steering wheel, groaning as pain swells in your lower back. You’d been so focused on enduring the fight and escaping that you hadn’t realized that you’d taken a few bruising hits, and now your back was killing you.

With shaking hands, coming down from the rush, you check the time on your phone- one in the morning. You scroll through your recent calls and, on the second ring, Black picks up, “HELLO?”

“Hey, uh, what... what hospital do you work at?” You can’t afford an ambulance, but maybe you could grit your teeth and bear it if it was only a few towns over. You ache all over, and you don’t think you could make it to the urgent care by the university.

He rattles off a name, and you curse rather loudly. “WHY DO YOU ASK?” You swallow and try to keep your chest from rising too much when you breathe in and out. You don’t think you’ve broken anything. You hope you haven’t broken anything. Your few moments of silence apparently concern him, and his questions come out rapidfire, “WHY ARE YOU BREATHING SO HARD? WHAT HAPPENED? WHERE ARE YOU?”

“I’m in, uh. A Zaxby’s parking lot.” Do you have Tylenol in the glove compartment? You do! You wedge your phone between your ear and you start cracking open the bottle. “I just got the shit beat out of me by, uh, a skeleton that looked like your brother. Edge?” You take a swig from a days-old water bottle and swallow the pill.

The line goes quiet, and then you hear him again, distantly, “I’M STEPPING OUTSIDE FOR A SMOKE, GINA.” Gina, his assumed coworker, says something faintly in the distance. “WELL, OBVIOUSLY IF I’M STEPPING OUTSIDE AND SAYING I’M GOING FOR A SMOKE, I SMOKE! NO, ME STEPPING OUT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE PHONE IN MY HAND! I’LL BE BY THE ENTRANCE IF ANYTHING HAPPENS.”

Then, more silence.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN EDGE JUST BEAT YOU UP? ” You know you’d gotten fairly used to how goddamn loud every skeleton was, but you actually have to pull the phone away from your ear. “HOW HURT ARE YOU?” You note that he doesn’t even ask if you’re hurt- just how . “YOU SAID A ‘ZAXBEE’S’- PLEASE HOLD. I’LL CALL PAPY TO SWING BY AND GET YOU. CAN YOU HOLD ON?”

“I’m not dying, if that’s what you’re asking?” Give or take twenty minutes and the Tylenol should kick in, and you could probably function well enough to start driving again, you hope.

“GOOD. PLEASE HOLD.”

You’re listening to a deadline for another five minutes, which you spend gently prodding at your back and hissing through your teeth. It doesn’t feel like anything is broken, but you feel like hot garbage, so you’re not going to take your chances and try to sleep it off. You hear your line click back on, “Hey- I didn’t tell you which Zaxby’s-”

Your entire van suddenly shakes with added weight and, despite you consciously thinking that you shouldn’t move too quickly and jar your back any more, you still jump up, hands immediately coming back up to the wheel. Whatever had fallen on top of your car sounded heavy, but it hadn’t dented the roof at all. “What the-”

“AH. SO PAPY DID KNOW WHERE THE ZAXBY’S IS.” On the other end, Black’s voice holds audible relief. “COULD YOU PUT HIM ON?”

“I- I- Uh, hold on, please.” You unbuckle your seatbelt, face tensing in agony, and yank your door open. Stepping out, every slight bend of your joints in protest, you crane your head up to see that Mutt is laying horizontal across the top of your van, mumbling and rolling onto his side.

“oh, hey, darlin’. just hold on a second i’ll be... i’ll be right down.” His words slur just slightly, and he pushes himself up by his hands, then, standing on top of your van, jumps down way too close to you. You might’ve shrieked a little. He stops moving, staring at you, close enough that you can see the distant pricks of red light in his eye sockets. “damn. edge really did a number on you, huh?”

You might’ve been just out of college, but you recognize the smell on him immediately. “Are you high ?” He sways in front of you, eye lights unfocused, and, holy shit. You fumble for your phone, “Black, your brother is in no condition to drive me to the hospital. He smells like he lit up an entire echo flower field!”

Mutt snorts beside you, leaning up against your van, a small smirk on his face. “i’m obviously not gonna drive you. you’re going to be taking me for a spin .” You really don’t like the sound of that . His overt confidence struck you as a little sour and overplayed- like he was too buzzed to actually care, and this is what he wanted to act like.

“Black...”

“PAPYRUS!” Mutt immediately stands a little straighter, and he curses under his breath. Black’s voice comes from your phone, abandoned on the driver’s seat. “IF I HEAR EVEN A PEEP OUT OF THE HUMAN ABOUT YOUR INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR BECAUSE YOU WERE HIGH...” He doesn’t end the threat, and you get the feeling that it’s because you were there.

“hey, bro, remember, you were the one that taught me manners.” His eyes lidded, he tilts his head back to you. “make sure you lock up your car. dunno when you’ll be back for it.”

“Again, Papyrus-” You still don’t feel comfortable calling him ‘Mutt’, even if that was all you had to go by. You see his eyelids flutter, and his smirk becomes something softer. “I dunno if you have, like, a motorcycle or a car or how you dropped onto my roof, but I don’t feel comfortable getting in any kind of vehicle with you.”

“you’re a smart human, i think you know that there’s no vehicle here.” He says, almost ominously. The Tylenol had barely worked on you, and you still feel like you’d been run over by a truck. “tell ya what- i’ll put some money towards paying my tab if you come with me.”

“HE’S JUST GOING TO TAKE A SHORTCUT HERE. HE’S VISITED ME AT WORK BEFORE. YOU’LL BE FINE.” Black says, then his voice goes terse. “IT’LL BE FINE, SO LONG AS HE KEEPS HIS HANDS WHERE YOU WANT THEM!” Immediately, you shake your head- you get what he’s saying, but it’s such an obvious hook for Mutt.

“so, where do you want them?” He wags his brow bones at you.

With caution, you pull your keys out of the ignition. “Hey, uh, Black? I’m going to hang up, now.”

“ALRIGHT. SEE YOU SOON.”

You pocket your phone, then close the door, clicking your key twice until all of the doors are locked. “So, uh. What’s this about a shortcut?”

His eye lights drag across your form, and you realize that he’s not checking you out, but scanning you for injury. “i should avoid your back, huh.” You start to ask how he could tell, but he beats you to the punch. “you’re limping and favoring your left. can you straighten up, or does it hurt worse?”

You try, but you just end up falling into a worse hunch and winding yourself. “No, this... this is about as far as I can go right now.”

“alright- can you put your arms around my waist?” Strange request, but you do. You feel his hand between your shoulder blades, holding you firm against him. “it’s usually easier if we’re moving, but i don’t mind doing most of the work, here. mind closing your eyes and taking a deep breath?”

You don’t really get what he means by that, but you do, and your chest swells with your intake of breath, knocking against his ribcage. Then the floor bottoms out from underneath you, and you reflexively grab a tighter hold onto his jacket, keeping your eyes squeezed shut. What the hell was this? You feel like you’re falling infinitely, like through a dream, and you have to grit your teeth to keep from screaming, like you’re trapping that one inhaled breath behind your pursed lips.

Then your shoes scrape concrete and you have to open your eyes. “What.” You say flatly, pulling away from from him, stumbling. Mutt immediately follows you, his hand coming back up on your back to hold you steady again. “The hell was that?”

“took a shortcut. ‘s a little magic, a little science.” He hooks his arm underneath your’s and uses it to practically turn you around in a circle and, when you look up, the bright red sign of EMERGENCY CENTER blinks down at you. “‘m glad ax- mars didn’t show you all of our tricks. pretty cool, right?”

“Y... yeah.” You recognize this emergency center- it was a long way from where you’d parked. How far could these shortcuts go? “I’m just... gonna... go inside...”

“call me if you need me.” Mutt says, high as a kite and sluggishly leaning back against a brick pillar of the entrance. He pulls a pack of Marlboros out of his pocket and puts one between his teeth- likely trying to smoke enough to confuse the smell of echo flowers. Slyly, before you start to hobble off, he says, “i’m free to ride anytime you want to.”

You laugh, breathless and tired, and go to check yourself in, limping and favoring your left side. The second you’re inside the building, Black is at your side, looking you up and down and matching your slow pace, red eye lights tracing your body in a clerical manner before speaking, “THAT IDIOT. WHO DOES HE THINK HE IS, HURTING YOU LIKE THIS?” Even though he’s walking you to the front desk to check yourself in, you feel his hand behind your back and, after a few stinging moments, you realize he’s using green magic.

“Oh! Garamond! Is this who you were on the phone with?” The administrative clerk leans over her desk, her tired eyes suddenly lighting up with interest. Black’s skull lights up red, and the clerk’s imagination obviously runs wild. Her voice takes on a cooing tone, “Are you his little-”

“LITTLE FRIEND? PERHAPS. PERHAPS THIS IS SOMEONE WHO IS COMPLETELY PLATONICALLY RELATED TO ME, AND ALSO INJURED, GINA. PLEASE DO YOUR FUCKING JOB.” With that, he practically throws you at her, with you grunting loudly as you’re pushed. He seems to realize his overreaction and immediately steps closer to you. He lowers his voice to just you, his words fast and gravelly in your ear, “I receive medical benefits from working at this hospital, so just file your insurance with them and pay your co-pay, and I’ll pay for the visit and any tests. Don’t run the bill just because I’m paying- if this universe’s Sans were as financially responsible as I am, I would make sure he was the one handling the bill.”

Message received, loud and clear. “Alright, but I’ll split the bill.” You cut your voice to a half-whisper. “I don’t like the idea of you holding a medical bill over my head.” It didn’t matter who he was- the thought of anyone being able to lord some expense over you left you uncomfortable.

His eye sockets flare, like something about what you’d said was familiar and recognizable. “UNDERSTOOD.” He says, in his normal tone of voice.

Are you being checked in?” The clerk’s voice cuts in again. “Garamond, if you two wanted to have a chat, you could’ve just stepped outside.”

“No, sorry- I do need to be seen.” You say, fumbling for your phone- you’re lucky you’d put it in a wallet-case recently, putting your insurance card amongst your debit card and alumnus ID. Remembering the last trip you’d taken to the ER, you rattle off your symptoms, “Extreme lower back pain, lightheadedness, walking with a limp.”

“Wow, just as to-the-point as...” She seems to catch Black’s glare from over your shoulder- you can certainly feel it. She stands up from her seat and rounds the corner, ushering you to a smaller room to collect your insurance information. “There’s no wait, so if you would follow me, please.”

-

You’re fine.

Or, well, your spine, ribs, and organs are fine, but you have giant contusions on your back from where you’d been thrown into the trees. You’d told the doctor you’d been hiking and slipped, which earned you a suspicious look and a sarcastic remark asking if you’d fallen down the mountain. You hadn’t, haha! Just a steep slope! Yes, you knew how late it was. Yes, you knew about the bears.

He told you that it was bad, but you were lucky- your fall hadn’t broken any bones or ruptured any organs. He basically told you to hold off on taking your arthritic medication (which might slow blood clotting and keep it from healing) and to put a bag of frozen peas on your back. Good news- you were barely there for two hours and were discharged by four in the morning. With that, you limped over to the security station down in the hospital, holding onto a bus voucher the discharge nurse had given you.

Black stares at you, his eyes looking you over again. “THE DOCTOR DIDN’T DO MUCH.” He doesn’t ask. Behind him, security cameras flicker over different sections of the hospital. He turns his head so that he can hear the audio feedback. “YOUR SHIFT AT GRILLBY’S STARTS SOON, NO?”

“Yeah- Grillby opens at 8, after he drops Fuku off at school.” You drag your hands down your face. “I’ll have the bus drop me off in the shopping center I left my car, grit my teeth, and drive back home to change. The nurse told me that the earliest bus arrives here around 6, so if I text Trix to leave my clothes by the door, I could-”

“RIDICULOUS. MY SHIFT ENDS IN HALF AN HOUR, AND I CAN EASILY DRIVE YOU BACK TO YOUR APARTMENT. REST IN THE LOBBY UNTIL THEN, AND I’LL COLLECT YOU.” He says, with a small shrug.

You look at him like he’s grown another skull. “Why... would you do that?” You look around, almost like you’re expecting it to be some kind of joke. When you look back at him, however, he’s very serious.

“I DON’T UNDERSTAND. YOU’RE OBVIOUSLY INJURED. WHY WOULD YOU DENY HELP IF I’M OFFERING IT?” Actual confusion creeps into his voice, which only confuses you more.

“I mean, I appreciate the offer but... you don’t have to?” You try, but his face drops in a straight-mouthed, flat look. “Okay, I know you offered, but... Is this still about P- your brother?” Remembering that they had different legal names, you quickly dodge blowing Black’s cover.

“NO.” Black says it slowly, as if he were talking to a child. “YOU’RE INJURED. INDIRECTLY, BECAUSE OF SOMETHING THAT I DID. IT’S NO INCONVENIENCE TO ME TO DRIVE OUT OF MY WAY TO GET YOU HOME, WHEN ALL I HAVE TO DO FOR THE DAY IS CLEAN AND REST.” He narrows his eye sockets at you. “YOU KNOW, FOR BELONGING TO THIS UNIVERSE, YOU’RE AWFULLY CAREFUL ABOUT WHAT DEBTS YOU INCUR. YOU’VE CAUGHT ME OFF-GUARD ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS WITH YOUR PERCEPTIVENESS, BUT I ASSURE YOU I HAVE NOTHING TO GAIN OR LOSE IN HELPING YOU.”

“You noticed that, huh?” You look away from him before realizing that, maybe, it’d be best to meet his eyes on this one. “You’re not gonna try to kill me on the way over?”

“YOU SHOULDN’T TAKE SOMEONE’S WORD FOR THAT, BUT I WOULDN’T. EVEN IF I WANTED YOU DEAD- WHICH I DO NOT- IT WOULD BE COWARDLY TO KILL YOU WHILE YOU WERE INJURED AND TRAPPED IN THE CAR.” He nods, as if to convey his sincerity to you.

“And what about my van?”

“ONCE PAPYRUS COMES DOWN, I CAN HAVE HIM TAKE ME TO THE PARKING LOT AND I COULD DRIVE IT TO YOUR APARTMENT. IF YOU WOULD TRUST ME TO DO SO.” He adds that last part in, almost nervously.

“I’m going to be honest, all of this sounds... too good to be true.” You fold your arms, looking down at him. “I just don’t see why you’d go out of your way to help me when I haven’t done anything for you. I could pay you back, if that’s what you’re looking for...?”

“YOU HAVEN’T- I... HOLD ON, ONE SECOND.” Black starts furiously tapping his foot, looking up at the ceiling and collecting his thoughts. He looks at you, occasionally, scrunching his face up before casting his gaze back at the ceiling. Finally, when he looks at you, it’s in resolution. “IF YOU WERE TO LOOK AT THE TRANSACTIONS BETWEEN THE TWO OF US, THE SCALE WOULD UNDOUBTEDLY BE TIPPED IN YOUR FAVOR. YOU’VE PREPARED AND MADE MY BROTHER AND I SEVERAL MEALS. YOU’VE BEEN DIRECTLY THREATENED BY BOTH MYSELF AND WHEN WE CAME INTO CONFLICT WITH THE OTHER TWO BROTHERS. YOU’VE BEEN INJURED BECAUSE I WASN’T THERE TO PATROL THE AREA.” He takes a deep breath. “I’M NOT OFFERING BECAUSE I WANT TO EVEN THE SCALE. I’M OFFERING BECAUSE YOU’VE BEEN KIND TO MY BROTHER AND I, AND I WANT TO DO AT LEAST A SMALL MEASURE OF GOOD FOR YOU.”

You’d dropped your jaw at some point, and hurriedly close it again. “I... Wow, Sans, you really are a sweetheart. I didn’t know you were keeping tabs on all of that...?” A lot of it had felt so inconsequential- like making Mutt that box-cake or getting a little rattled from that first confrontation your Sans and Papyrus had had with the other two.

A light red blush lights up underneath his skull, but his words come out earnest, and you note that he doesn’t control his volume in the security station. “AS MUCH AS I KNOW I DO NOT BELONG HERE, I WOULD LIKE TO. IN THIS UNIVERSE WHERE THE MOST FIGHTING I EVER DO IS TO KEEP OTHER PEOPLE FROM FIGHTING... WHERE THE MOST TROUBLE MY BROTHER CAN GET INTO IS GOING HOME WITH STRANGERS... WHERE SOME STRANGE HUMAN CAN STUMBLE INTO OUR LIVES AND CHANGE OUR ENTIRE PERSPECTIVE...” He sighs, and he gives you a worn, tired smile. “I HAVE A GREAT CAPACITY FOR CRUELTY THAT THIS WORLD DOESN’T REQUIRE ME TO EXPEND. CONSIDER ME ‘SWEET’ IF YOU MUST, BUT KNOW THAT MY GENEROSITY IS A LARGELY UNCHARTED EMOTION FOR ME. IT IS NOT SO FAR REMOVED FROM MY SENSE OF SURVIVAL, AND RECIPROCATING THESE GRAND GESTURES YOU’VE MADE IS THE ONLY WAY FORWARD THAT I CAN SEE.”

“I don’t know why no one else has ever told you this, but it’s not a dog-eat-dog world out here.” You tell him, with as much patience as your voice can muster. “I’m not going to lie, there are terrible humans out there. But I’m not going to swing on you just because you didn’t pay me back for my groceries.”

“THE GROCERIES! I KNEW I WAS FORGETTING SOMETHING.” He pulls his phone out to pen a reminder to himself, and you try to read the reminder upside-down- it mentioned something about ‘research’ and ‘greened beans’. Black puts it away before he speaks with you again. “SO. WE’VE COME TO A CONSENSUS? I’LL BE DRIVING YOU BACK TO YOUR APARTMENT?” He stands a little straighter and, in his patterned ‘SECURITY’ outfit, you realize how surreal your situation is.

“You know what? Sure. Thank you so much, Black.” You reach forward for his hand, and he gives it to you like he’s doing you a favor. You shake on it, and a little bit of warmth touches his eye sockets.

“YOUR HESITANCE TO ACCEPT MY PROPOSAL MEANS THAT YOU ONLY HAVE FIFTEEN MORE MINUTES TO REST.” He turns back around to face the security cameras. “I SUGGEST YOU USE YOUR TIME WISELY.”

You laugh and leave his office as fast as you can, like you were rushing to catch up to that fifteen minutes of sleep. Not wanting to put all of your eggs in one basket, however, you leave a voicemail on Grillby’s machine in case you were late to work. “Sorry for the late message, Grillby- I was injured in a hiking incident and am currently at the ER- I’ll be in for my shifts, but I might be a little late because I haven’t been home to change.” Not sure if he cared or not, you elaborate, “I had to make sure nothing was broken- I just have some bad bruising on my back. Nothing that could keep me from working!” You try to put a chipper note in your voice. “See you later.” Then you hang up.

You sigh and slink down into a chair in the lobby, crossing your legs at the ankles. You were a good liar out of necessity, and it seemed that the need for that skill would never really go away. With the battery on your phone getting dangerously low, you shoot a text message to Trixie, letting her know why you hadn’t stopped in (as well as texting her your license plate number, just  in case Black thought to steal it) and that you were heading straight to work this morning.

For a fleeting moment, a passing thought interrogates you- asks if any of this would be necessary if you’d just been more cautious, left earlier and avoided the fight entirely. The same thought contends that you were always cautious- constant vigilance on your part didn’t mean you would always be safe.

“FIFTEEN MINUTES ARE UP. I’VE CLOCKED OUT.”

But it was a kinder world out there than you often realized. There were people who cared about you, and all they asked of you was to close your eyes and take a deep breath.

“Alright, you lead the way!”

Chapter Text

You begin your shift with a visit from the very confused fire department. Your boss sits puffing ash on the front step of the building, after he’d accidentally activated the sprinklers.

“Why... would humans............. require sprinklers........ in a bar owned by a fire monster?” Grillby says, in between puffs, bent over at the waist with his hands braced on his knees. The flames on his head were nearly doused and flickered a weak pale yellow color.

“Grillby, do you need... kindling? I think I have some old newspapers in the back of my van- uh, I could probably scrounge up some flint if I looked deep enough.” You’d greatly underestimated how much damage you’d taken in your confrontation last night and, despite the fact that you still feel like someone threw their car in reverse and trampled you, your HP had apparently reflected a lot more than your ‘falling down the mountain’ story.

Grillby had taken one look at your limping form, checked your soul from across the room, and then his flames flared to the ceiling, turning bright blue. He’d barely rounded the corner of the bar, asking if you were okay, before the sprinklers had cut on, and you were both hit with a torrent of water. Obviously not anticipating this, he’d been doused almost immediately, leaving behind a terrifying black husk of charcoal that had to be quickly pulled out of the door.

You’d gently patted him down as quickly as you could and, within a minute, his flames were rekindling, albeit weakly. Then the fire truck had rolled up and, seeing that the place was definitely not on fire, had awkwardly ran tests to make sure there were no gas leaks or potential hazards.

“No. Stay.” He says, curtly, from his seat on front step of the bar. “I’ll be fine. You’re not.” The urgency in his voice is slightly undone by the obvious rasp to it. He coughs, bringing his hand up to his mouth, and then his flames flicker a little brighter. You’re seated beside him and, as inconspicuously as you can possibly muster, you try to blow a little oxygen his way.

“I told you, I just fell down a little. I know my HP probably looks like a mess right now but, uh.” You actually don’t know enough about HP to bullshit well enough, but, behind his glasses, his white-hot eyes widen visibly.

“You hurt yourself intentionally?” His words lack their usual careful enunciation, and they all string together in a panic.

“What? No. I just... I just fell.” You see a line split his flames into another white-hot mouth, and you realize it’s because he’s frowning at you.

He looks away, straightening his back and, finally, his flames flicker back to their healthy red color, and he makes a wispy sound where his throat should be. He puts his hands together in front of him. “I understand that... as your boss... there are things... you may not want me to be privy to.” He tilts his hands towards you. “Your safety... is important to me. If a monster hurt you...”

You feel your mouth go dry. You feel like you’re stuck in an HBO special and every inch of character development you’d undergone in the past few months is suddenly being put to the test and... “Yeah, a monster hurt me.” There’s no way you could lie to him. You needed to be more trusting, and defaulting to lying shouldn’t be an instinct. It had to be a habit you had to break. Still, you know that the skeleton monsters you’d come to know and care for are still supposed to be fairly secret. “But I’m not going to stir the pot. I’m not going to, like, report them to the guard. The situation’s... a bit complicated.”

“It was... one of the skeletons... then.” He heaves a sigh at the same time you suck in a thin breath through your teeth, going rigid. “Which one?”

“Um.” You say, because you don’t know how much he knows. You meant what you said when you said you didn’t want to report Edge to the Royal Guard- monster-on-human crime was still touchy business and, even if the majority of humanity had accepted and made way for their new neighbors, bigotry wasn’t something that disappeared overnight. Not to mention that jurisdiction always landed in human courts, which were far less understanding of surrounding circumstances.

Grillby, who was usually one to forgive a silence, presses, “Was it the one..... that always sends notes..... back to the kitchen?”

“What, no- Papyrus is the one that took me to the... hospital...” Shit. The second it slips out, you catch that you’d used his real name instead of ‘Mutt’. Even as you start to backtrack, you see Grillby shake his head in surprise.

He mirrors your rattled look, his eyes widening again behind his glasses. “You know his real name?” It’s almost difficult to make out the individual words, and you spend a few uncomfortable seconds blinking at him, trying to decode the deep rumble of burning fire coming out of his mouth.

When you do understand him, his word choice pulls you straighter. “‘Real’... Grillby, do you know... what I know?”

“Depends...... do you know...... what I know..... what you think I know?” He takes his time, obviously catching you struggling earlier, and you register it as a joke.

You give a pretty broad sweep of the surrounding area with your eyes and, taking a pretty big gamble (and also thinking that, based on past encounters with Mutt, if you fucked up badly enough, he could probably lie his way out of most trouble), you lean in, “That there’s, like, a bunch of skeletons running around that are the same person?”

Grillby nods, then checks over his shoulder. “Sir, if I’m not interrupting...” The firefighter clears his throat, apparently having finished his inspection. “Your, er, license to serve alcohol remains valid, though, considering you’re a fire monster, I’d... recommend exercising caution? As they are... largely flammable.” He’s uncomfortable, obviously not used to talking with monsters, but he has a point.

“I am... a fire monster... but I am not...... usually flammable.” He casts a glance at you, and you cast him your sorriest look. It involves a lot of cringing and ‘my bad’ mouthing. Is it considered arson if you were the one that accidentally caused him to flare up? “Here...” Grillby reaches out, like he’s consoling a scared animal and not a grown human man, and touches the firefighter’s sleeve.

His flames flicker, deliberately avoiding contact with his sleeve- even as he pressed closer, his flames seemed to extinguish or otherwise dodge contact. “Huh.” The firefighter says, casting a look at the rest of the volunteer force in the truck. “Alright, I guess this would be... a warning? Nothing was damaged, and your carbon monoxide detector is up-to-date. Just don’t make this a habit, is all.”

Grillby pulls his hand back. “Thank you for your work.” He then looks to you. “Do I... have to pay...?”

“Oh, no, sir. This is covered in your taxes, even if there was no fire... except for you.” He lets out an awkward laugh. “Well, you should just... be about your day, then!”

Grillby waits until he’s fully into the truck and has pulled away before talking with you, again. “I don’t think... it’s wise for me to go back in......... with everything soaked.....” He says so very politely, and you only catch his meaning after a moment.

“Oh! Sure- don’t worry about it! I’ll go mop everything up and let you know when it’s clean enough to open.” You get up, painfully, and start to limp inside before Grillby stops you again.

“Hold still.” You barely feel his touch on your wrist but, just as he did with the firefighter, he touches your wrist. You start to turn fully, wondering what he was asking, but a flickering warmth suddenly fills you, bursting in your chest. The feeling suddenly takes hold in your lower back, and you feel some of the tension melt away. Despite the heat of mid-morning, it’s not uncomfortable and, after he lets go of you and you see the flames on his hand rapidly change back from green to red, you realize that he’d used green magic on you.

Your chest feels lighter, and you can only assume he’d healed some of your HP- it’s not a complete fix, as you’re still in pain, but you can manage a lot better. “Thank you.” You say, a little surprised at his action.

“It’s the least I could do.... after you spent three minutes...... trying to hide how you were.... giving me more oxygen......” The bright-white line of his smile returns again, and you laugh, even as you feel an embarrassed blush rise to your cheeks after being called out.

“Okay, yeah , but I’ll be trying to make sure you don’t extinguish again, boss, so take it easy on me.”

-

Once everything’s dry enough for Grillby to touch, he flips the sign outside to ‘OPEN’ and you’re surprised that even the breakfast regulars start showing up at 11. You lean against the door, surveying the room while he takes a bird monster’s order. “Did you wait for the sign to flip?” You ask, as soon as he finishes with the order, and they turn to you as if surprised. You’re in-between tickets after breakfast had technically ended, though some people had still ordered eggs.

“Oh, of course. If Grillby says he’s not open, he probably just needed a little bit to clean up.” They shrug, taking their seat at the bar as Grillby prepared their soda. He goes heavy on the ice and little on the Dr. Pepper, and, when he slides it down to the customer, they drink it all in one sip, then starts fishing for the ice to chew on. In-between crunches, they idly gossip with you, “Real shame Sans doesn’t come by as often as his cousins do. They don’t have the same funny bones.”

This immediately piques your interest, and Grillby’s as well. You two exchange a look- your’s intending to convey your surprise, and his eyes flicker as if quickly glancing between you and the customer (was he trying to tell you to be cautious? Or that he was curious as well?). “Yeah?” You say, trying to sound as nonchalant as you can while your mind is reeling with things you want to know about the skeletons that lived in the lodge. “You know where he’s been?”

The bird monster just shrugs, slumping against the counter. “Don’t think anyone really knows. He just stopped coming a while back. Mutt and Red seem happy to take his seat, though.” They lazily put a cube of ice on their tongue, then starts mashing it in their beak. “Never would’ve known there were so many skeletons underground if we hadn’t come up, I guess.”

“Maybe the real skeletons were inside us all along.” You say, joking, and the bird laughs while Grillby tilts his head curiously at you. You decide to spare the customer the long explanation you were going to give Grillby about human movie tropes. You hold your hand out for their ticket, then smile, “I’ll explain it while the food’s still hot.”

It’s a simple order: a tuna patty melt with fries. You hear the bell on the door ring once, twice, three times and, as you’re breaking apart some tuna for the patty (you hadn’t prepped as well as you should’ve, but you’d get better with time), you hear conversation strike up just past the wall of the kitchen. You can’t make out distinctive words, but it sounds lively. You hum along to the song on the overhead radio- ‘Drops of Jupiter’, you note, thinking about Papyrus and wondering if you could send him a link to it over text.

With a practiced diligence, you crack an egg with one hand into a bowl and discard the shell into the trash. You have to hunt through the fridge to find his small, lemon-shaped carton of lemon juice, pulling out the parmesan container while you were there. You combine the egg and lemon juice, then stir in the parmesan and, backtracking to the pantry to pull out the breadcrumbs, you mix it into a considerable paste. “Now that she’s back in the atmosphere,” You sing along, folding your tuna into the mixture and putting it to the side while you diced some onions to add to the mixture. “I’m afraid that she might think of me as-” With brisk strokes of your knife, you sing to the beat, “Plain ol’ Jane! Told a story ‘bout a man! Who is too afraid to fly so he never did land!”

You oil a pan and set it on the stove and, recalling that you’d abandoned your nice cast iron pan to the woods, feel your mood dive a little bit. You shape the patties with your hands, not quite bummed but not as light as you’d felt earlier- Grillby’s green magic was likely wearing off. The voices outside rise enough that you pause, holding the last patty in your hand- you were making extras for the day, as patty melts were also a dinner item, and it was better to prepare it all at once than entertain the idea of the meat spoiling. You know you have about five minutes before they have to be flipped, but you still don’t want to take your eyes off of them.

In the end, your curiosity gets the better of you, and you pull away from the stove to peer around the corner, your back flaring in pain.

The red bird from earlier is chatting, fast and loud and panicked, so you step out fully from behind the door. The bar is littered with a few beer bottles and, as your eyes sweep the room, you see that they’ve been cornered by some broad-shouldered human. Grillby, behind the counter, talks fast, his words indistinguishable from one another to the point where you can’t even make out the tone, but he’s reached his hands out almost like he’s going to pull the man off of them. “Fuckin’ get ‘im, Jason!” Your head whips around to two other humans, slumped in the corner, drunk out of their goddamn minds at barely one-in-the-afternoon, cheer him on.

You don’t need to be a monster to know that, as soon as the human grabs them by the collar and pushes him against the counter, his HP drops. Your heart hammers in your chest and, scanning the area, no one has noticed your intrusion on this tense moment. It wasn’t unheard of for humans to dust a monster simply because they liked the concept of EXP, thought they were stronger because they’d picked on someone vulnerable. Of course, the guard and the police would handle those cases, but it was always after the crime, not before.

“You think you can just fuckin’ look at humans that way, huh? You think there’s not a fuckin’ reason we put you in the ground?” He shakes them, and Grillby jerks with him- caught between pulling him off to fight him himself and pure survival instinct. With horror, you realize it’s because he’s probably the oldest monster in the bar with the most ATK, but he can’t risk losing.

You swallow, feeling the burn in your lower back, and realize that you missed any opportunity to deescalate the situation. You like to think you’re a kind person, but you’re not going to let this go any further than it has. You walk, slow and careful and close to the bar so your steps don’t creak, and you grab one of the beer bottles by the neck. The sound of the glass sliding against the bar is loud enough for the bastard to turn around, just slightly, cocky grin like he can’t believe someone is sidling up to him to challenge him.

You crack the bottle against the counter and then across his temple with the meanest swing you can muster, the glass shattering against his temple. He drops like dead weight, knocked unconscious, and lets go instinctively, probably drunker than you’d thought, and the bird monster flaps their wings to keep from hitting the ground with him. His whooping friends go silent and, steadying your voice, you turn your head to them, fingers clutching the broken beer bottle. “Get the fuck out of his bar.” They stand, confused and, apparently not getting the message, you gesture at the door with the jagged bottle. “Take your friend and don’t come back.”

“Shit, man, we didn’t know there was, like...” A human. They didn’t know there was another human around. You don’t move as one of them goes to collect their friend off of the ground, which seems to unnerve him more. He has to maneuver his limp body around you, and the smell of beer fills your nose, like they’re sweating it. “Don’t have to tell us twice. You’re... not gonna call the cops on us, right?” The one not holding up the now-bleeding man looks at you pleadingly, like you’d somehow be swayed.

“You’re going to have bigger problems than the police if you don’t leave in the next ten seconds.” You say, still close enough to smell his breath, and you adjust your grip on the bottle and clench your jaw around your nerves and fear. Disbelieving, he stares at you again, and you know you’ll have to get violent again. You know this song and dance- your ex-boyfriend had gotten into enough bar fights for you to know they’re too drunk to recognize the danger. You raise your voice, “Go!” and brandish the bottle.

And they go. They skitter, they trip over their two feet, and their friend bleeds a few drops onto the floor you’d just mopped barely three hours ago.

When the bell on the door rings, you let out a ragged breath and lean against the counter, your fingers feeling numb as you try to set the bottle down in a way that wouldn’t have it roll off the counter. “Are you... Are you alright?” You say, trying to contort your face in a way that doesn’t reveal that you’re a hot second from crying, even as you feel your cheeks flush. The bird monster nods, silent, staring at you with big eyes. “Good. I.... I think I burnt your patty melt. I’ll have to start it over. S... Sorry for the wait.” You give them a curt nod and a tight smile, and you pick up the bottle up again and impulsively think, fuck , you should recycle this. Someone could get hurt.

Just as you’re about to round the corner again, you hear someone catch the door and a loud, raucous laugh start. You freeze, you recognize that laugh, you’ve actively sought out that laugh- Sans’ booming, elated laughter, but it sounds pinched and a little wheezy. Your momentary, necessary courage is burnt out, but you know you have to turn around. “Fuck, Red. You couldn’t have come in a minute earlier?” Someone says at the counter, and, your heart pounding in your ears, you still catch his response.

A mouth full of sharp, pointed teeth, red eye lights, and a big, fluffy jacket, you could almost mistake him for your Sans if he weren’t shorter. And, as he turns to face you, catching you being nosy, you see that his skull is completely intact, even if it bears a few nicks and marrs. Red, apparently, looks you up and down, his grin sharp as he laughs, “this the new frycook, grillbz?” Rationally, you know you’re not in danger. You’re pretty sure you just showed everyone in the bar that you could handle yourself and anybody else, but your adrenaline spike keeps you shaking. “shit, i didn’t know i was paying for dinner and a show.”

The smell of burning tuna reaches your nose and, even if you’re frozen and staring into the eyes of someone who looks almost exactly like your friend, you move on autopilot to the stove, getting your spatula and, flipping them, see if they’re salvageable. They’re not. You pull the trashcan closer to the stove, over from by the door.

With a wrench of your wrist, you scrape them off of the stove and into the garbage, blinking back tears. You know it will pass, and you justify your emotions to yourself. Of course you’re scared- not because of the Sans out at the bar, but because you were in a scary situation. You could’ve seen someone get murdered not four feet away from you.

You wash your hands.

You go back to the fridge to pull out more tuna and a new fork, shredding it into a new bowl and abandoning the old one to the sink to wash later. You crack an egg. You combine it with lemon juice.

You haven’t slept in almost twenty-four hours.

You swallow heavily and stir in the parmesan and breadcrumbs. ‘Old Time Rock and Roll’ blares over the speakers as you duck your head to your shoulder to wipe your eyes. Your nerves are just shot, you know, but it doesn’t help much to acknowledge it. It’s not like you haven’t swung on some human bastards punching down at weak monsters before. You’re tired, you’re in pain, and, for the second time in a day, you had to get into a fight.

You fold the tuna and add the leftover diced onions into the mix. You wash your hands again, then form the patties between your two palms. Cooking is familiar, is instinct. Once you have them all on the pan, you clean your hands and grab a spatula. You check the time on your phone and see that you have multiple missed messages, and you only have an hour before your shift is over. You pocket your phone again and, as best as you can, you control your breathing. You have five minutes before the patties were finished and golden brown, so you pull away, setting the spatula down and go rifling for the spare glasses kept with the dishware and make a cool glass of water.

You’re fine. You’re tired, but you’re fine. You’re going to endure your shift. Somehow, you’re going to get back to your apartment without your car and you’re going to check all of your notifications and answer them after dinner and a long nap. You just need to breathe. You’ll survive- it feels like the end of the world, but it’s not. You just have to breathe.

You don’t even register the sound of someone stepping into the kitchen, but you do catch Grillby in front of you, picking up the spatula and flipping the patties over. “They’re not cooked all the way on the one side.” You say after clearing your throat. “I was waiting for them to... To brown all the way.”

Grillby doesn’t say anything, so you cushion the silence by drinking more water to cool down. Instead of just letting him do all the work, the seed of guilt sitting in your stomach, you quickly go about making the customer’s fries and assembling the rest of the patty melt- you pull out another pan to start browning some onions to put in the sandwich. Silently, Grillby pulls out two slices of white bread and puts a patty on it, then you lean over to put some of your onions on top of it. He covers it with a slice of swiss cheese, then the top layer of bread, then puts it back down in the skillet. You put the other patties to the side, off of the heat and into a dish to store in case anyone asked for a patty melt during the dinner shift.

He fries the sandwich in silence, and you really can’t bear that. “I’m sorry.” You say, clearing your throat and trying to muster all the professionalism you can bear. “That was really unprofessional of me, and I acted out of line. I made a hasty decision, and it was a bad one. I should’ve called the police or the guard and... I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”

Grillby presses the sandwich down with the weight of the spatula. “You shouldn’t be.” The oil pops and sizzles, the smell of grilled fish and onions hanging in the air. You start to protest. “What would’ve happened... when the police arrived? What could they have done..... with a pile of dust?”

“Grillby, I know the police aren’t always the fastest-”

“Let me finish.” If he hadn’t said so in such a deliberately gentle way, you know you would’ve been overwhelmed. Instead, he holds one hand out as if to pause you. “If you hadn’t interfered..... it’s no exaggeration....... that Fincher would’ve been dusted. You shouldn’t have come to work... with your injury. But you did.” He flips the sandwich over, and the toast has a beautiful golden-brown finish. “I’m sorry that you had to fight..... but you shouldn’t be sorry..... for saving someone’s life.”

Realizing you hadn’t pulled out a plate, you unstick your feet from the ground you’d been rooted to since he’d spoke. You take out a plate, piling the fries onto the right side of the plate into a diagonal, then offer it to him to put the sandwich onto it. He leaves the kitchen, rounding the corner to give Fincher their food, but he doesn’t come back with any other tickets. You ask him why.

“You already filled all of them.... Your shift is almost over.... The kitchen is closed.” Dumbfounded, you watch as your boss starts assembling another patty melt.

“Grillby, it’s my job as your cook to... cook. I’m still on the clock.” You’re not about to fight him for it, but that’s literally your job. If there were still customers that needed to be served, that’s your job.

Instead, with a tilt of his head, Grillby asks you, “When was the last time you ate?” And, suddenly, you realize why you’re shivering, why you felt like you were going to keel over. You haven’t eaten since yesterday, with Sans and Papyrus, and you hadn’t slept since. Your silence apparently says everything he needs to know, as he assembles the sandwich, bread-patty-onions-cheese-bread and puts it in the pan.

“Grillby, you-” You start to say that he doesn’t have to do this, but you’re starting to realize that you say that a lot to other people’s kindness. You take a deep breath and, instead, “Thank you, Grillby.”

“You’re welcome.” He flips the sandwich over, that perfect golden-brown. “I meant it when I said... that you shouldn’t have come to work. I am glad.... for obvious reasons.... because I couldn’t have fought..... three humans by myself.” He moves away from the stove, fetching a plate and putting some more of your prepped fries into the fryer. “But you’re obviously still injured.... and obviously very fatigued. What kind of boss would I be..... if I worked you down to the bone?”

“I can’t imagine how many skeleton jokes you have to put up with in a day, huh.” You say, with a chuckle.

“..... No bones about it.” Grillby pulls your fries out of the fryer, shuffling them onto the plate before handing it off to you. “I.... don’t believe you’ve met Red before. I know he.... looks intimidating, but....”

“Well, he laughed at me beaming a racist over the head with a bottle, so he can’t be too bad.” You say, trying to put a jovial note in your voice.

“You don’t have to sit at the bar. You don’t... have to sit near him at all.” He assures you. “But you were good with Mutt... I think you two could be friends...” You have to physically restrain yourself from commenting on the fatherly note in his voice.

“I’m practically dead on my two feet, but I’ll see what conversation I can scrounge up.” He hands the plate off to you, his thin bright smile appearing again, and you find yourself smiling back. You take your plate and, breathing evenly, you exit the kitchen and round the bar.

You take the seat directly next to Red, pulling your face into a semi-genuine smile. “Hello- I’m Grillby’s new cook. I don’t think we’ve met.” You introduce yourself, listening to how slow and tired your words are. “Sorry about the mess- I know that wasn’t pretty.”

Red laughs, showing off all of his sharp teeth in his guffaw. You freeze, if only for a second- at this distance, even knowing that all you’d seen of Edge had been in the near-darkness, you can see the close family resemblance. This close, you can also see a lot more damage on him than you’d initially spotted- his eye sockets look impossibly hollow, as if he were somehow able to get eyebags as a skeleton, and, from personal comparison between your Papyrus and Mutt, you know that his skull is a little off-color. “don’t apologize for the mess- you clean up great .” You smile, popping a fry into your mouth at his joke. “i’m guessing you do breakfast and lunch- i don’t think eleven-at-night has seen even half the action you did in the past hour. ya could say it’s dead-quiet. i think i’m the best judge for it and i gotta say- it ain’t lively .”

“You know, if I were just a little more rested, I think I could go toe-to-toe with you in a pun war. But, uh, I’m pretty hungry, so don’t chew me out for it. It’d be pretty tasteless of you.” You wink at him and you have to wonder if he’s actually drunk, or if he’d spilt an absinthe cocktail on that big jacket of his.

When he laughs, faking like he needs to wipe a tear out of your eye over how hard you made him laugh, you smile and hope that Sans doesn’t mind you stealing his material from that night you’d first met. “you’ve got my taste in jokes, sweetheart. i think i’ll spare you, just this once.” He tilts his glass up to drink from it, and you wonder idly what it’s filled with- Coke? Sweet tea? “‘sides, with that swing of your’s? i think you could make me the main course if you wanted.”

“Dusting isn’t exactly in my job description.” You say, then immediately choke on your fry, recognizing that your hungry, tired brain had spat out a dark joke in the middle of polite company.

Red stares at you, flatly, before the edges of his smile begin to twitch and, finally, he begins to chuckle, pulling up his hand to cover his mouth as his body shakes with laughter. With a start, you realize that this was his genuine laughter, and he must’ve been exaggerating earlier. “fuck, you’re good. i’d ask where grillby’s been hiding you, but we all know he keeps the good stuff in the back.”

Chapter Text

“It’s a trope that’s in a lot of human movies,” You say, dipping your fry into the little paper cup of ketchup Grillby had given you. You’d shot a text to Black a little while ago asking about your car, and you’d been met with a perplexing amount of silence. Not really sure if you should signal to Red that you were talking to a skeleton you probably shouldn’t know, you hadn’t told Grillby the full situation, telling yourself that you would tell him the second Red was out of the bar. Red, however, seemed determined not to leave and, worse yet, you couldn’t really muster any energy to ask him to. “Where a group of humans go out to find a few objects. Usually magic objects, but this was pre-Surfacing, so they usually aren’t monster-artifacts. But, basically, the last object is usually love, or the real meaning of the journey was friendship... Things like that. Like, they didn’t have to find a heart for the Tin Man in Wizard of Oz because he already had one, metaphorically.”

Grillby nods, his flames flickering curiously, before he goes back to polishing a washed glass in a typical bartending move. You wonder if he’d picked that up from a movie.

“you watch a lotta movies?” Red says, apparently comfortable enough with you to take a few fries off of your plate and eat them. And by ‘comfortable enough’, you mean that he’s apparently sized you up, realized you were tired enough that a strong breeze could knock you over, and figured you don’t mind a few lost fries. “‘s still strange to me, how many movies humans have up here. never seems to be an end.”

“Yeah? I heard that a lot.” As soon as you’d finished off your patty melt, you’d rested your arm on the bar, then your head on top of your arm. Sluggishly, you pop your fry into your mouth to chew. “I went to the university just outside of Ebbott City, and they’d just built up a new dorm when the barrier fell, so they extended asylum to as many monsters as there were rooms. I remember how surprised everyone was when we had movie nights- not a lot of variety Underground, huh?”

Reflexively, you check your phone. You’d deliberately cleared your notifications without looking at them because you knew it would only stress you out more, so you just keep an eye on the time and on your texts. It’s four in the afternoon, and no word from Black. Fincher had left a few minutes after Red had showed up, saying something about how their lunch break had ended sometime in the middle of them watching their life flash before their eyes, and lunch was dying down. “yeah, not a lot of movies that aren’t, ya know, mettaton classics. and not everyone’s a fan.”

Idly, you wonder what kind of MTT classics he had in his universe, but you wouldn’t ask that. “I like some of his spy stuff.” You say, because even if you don’t like everything in Mettaton’s arsenal, you have to admit that he has serious range. You hadn’t seen a lot of his Underground performances, but he was a monster celebrity and a force to be reckoned with when it came to the Hollywood blockbusters. You’d made yourself a glass of ice water (Grillby making a joke about how he ‘doesn’t touch the stuff’), and you sit up to take a long drink from it. “And I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for a cheesy romcom. I watched his ‘Prince, Ex-Prince’, like, three times in theatres.”

“yeah? ‘m not a big fan, but i’ll pass the recommendation along to someone who is.” Red, in contrast, seemed to have no real reservations regarding day-drinking, and was dipping into his third beer of the evening. You were pretty impressed- you weren’t sure if this was his usual schedule, or if he was really this invested in your tired conversation. “you honestly didn’t strike me as the romantic type. you like the slow stuff, huh?”

You groan and turn to hide your face from him, muffled in your arm, “I made a bad first impression. I’m really not that violent.” You make an exasperated hand gesture. You turn your head out from your arm and, in your best customer-service voice, “Please don’t think poorly of me or Grillby for what happened. My actions were my own, and weren’t reflective of the business.”

“shit, didja practice that one?” His words slur together, and you squint, wondering if you might’ve missed him clearing another beer or two. With a laugh in his voice, he says, “gonna be real honest, i’m the last one in this bar that’d judge ya for that. ‘f i were you, probably would’ve bodied the friends, too.” Red steals another one of your fries, and you watch his sharp teeth demolish it in a blink, and you think about your Sans’ teeth- how they were mostly flat and slightly chipped, save for his large hooked canines.

You must’ve broken the raport you two had broken because, once your eyes shift off of his teeth, you see that his red eye lights are watching you with a familiar curiosity. Realizing you’d need to explain yourself, you rattle off a, “What sharp teeth you have.” in the best Obviously A Joke tone you can manage.

You thought he’d gotten too comfortable with you, but here you were, treating him like he was Sans. Or, well, he was Sans, probably, but he wasn’t Mars. Just because their eye lights were similar and they both had sharp teeth and had pretty gruesome puns didn’t mean you could let your guard down.

“yeah?” He raises one of his eyebrow ridges, and you realize that you’ve encountered another skeleton that thinks you’re flirting with them. You realize this about as soon as he drags a magic red tongue across his sharp sharp teeth. “you tryna take a bite out of me?”

You laugh, a little surprised at how bold he is and how his response almost doesn’t make sense. “Nah, just a little surprised. I’ve, uh, never seen teeth that sharp on a monster.” Which, as soon as it comes out of your mouth, you realize that you have and that they were in Black’s mouth. Of course, you can’t say that but, as the thought sinks in, you realize that you were too quick to draw a parallel between Red and Mars. In fact, the monster in front of you resembles Black in strange ways- he has the same red eye lights, but smaller. The same frame, but a little bigger. The same teeth, the same smirk...

“you worried you’re gonna get cut?” He smirks, wide and tilted, and you match that smug look on his face immediately to Black’s. It makes you feel awkward and strange, what with Red making you blush at his pretty obvious flirtations. “i know how to be gentle when i gotta be, sweetheart. don’t gotta worry ‘bout a thing.”

Grillby, after fixing an absinthe-sea tea cocktail for a monster seated at a boothe, comes back behind the bar, and the look he gives you is so pointed that you can almost hear him say something like, “Another skeleton hitting on you in my bar? Are you okay with this?”.

“Oh, I wouldn’t be.” You say, but you can’t help but smirk back at him. Tired or not, beat-up or not, you do like a little back-and-forth. “But I don’t think I’m in much of a state to be running with scissors.” You gesture generally to your entire body, and the sheer amount of pain and exhaustion radiating off of you in waves.

“hey, you make looking rough look good, but i respect that.” You cut your eyes at Grillby as Red downs another beer. He should probably be cutting him off. “you come here often?” You recognize it as something Mutt has said to you before, and it makes you smile a little.

“I work here.” You see your van pull up, and you must’ve brightened up a little, because Red follows your gaze to the car. Hell yeah, you can finally drive home! You can finally take a nap! You push up off of your elbows, about to stand up, when the reality of it makes you sit down again. One of the two brothers is about to step out of that van, and you’re going to be stuck in the same room with either two alternate versions of the same person, or two alternate brothers.

And you have no idea how you’re supposed to react. Judging by the fact that Mutt freezes the second he spots you and Red through the glass door, he doesn’t know how to either. Through a few very panicked facial expressions, you try to convey to him that he probably shouldn’t come in, but, with a few darts of his eye lights, you realize he’s trying to tell you that Red had already spotted him. Fuck.

So, as casual as he can be, Mutt strolls through the door, covered in sweat. “hey, grillby. mind if i get the usual burg to go?” He takes the open seat beside you without making eye contact.

Grillby looks between him and you, obviously having seen him walk in with your keys, and also knowing that Mutt knows that you’re the ‘official’ cook. After a long pause of Mutt sweating, however, he nods and disappears into the kitchen. “so. uh. got your keys.” He says, eloquently, without a strained and sweating expression. “you feeling up to driving yourself home?”

Seeing as your head is still pounding and your brief attempt at standing up left you on shaking ankles from your protesting back, you’re going to go out on a limb and say, “No, I’m, uh. Running on empty, so to speak.” Distinctly recalling that Black offered to drive your van back to your apartment and hadn’t answered your texts since he’d dropped you off, you have to question Mutt’s driving skills.

At the very least, he doesn’t look high. You couldn’t catch a hint of echo flowers on him if you tried. “cool, cool.” Mutt nods along and continues to not turn his head to face you, like that somehow negated the fact that he was sliding your keys across the bar to you. “i can, uh, drive you back to your apartment. wherever it is. you know.” You pocket them, still thinking it was probably best for you to hold onto them.

“Th... thanks? I’d really appreciate that.” The bland dialogue is so stifling, you feel like you’re talking to a beige wall. What was the game Mutt was playing? How could some casual acquaintance of your’s suddenly have your car keys and have driven your car to your job?

“so did you two fuck or what?” Red interrupts, and you sit up straighter, blinking rapidly at the whiplash. Turning to face him, he has an inquisitive, seeking look in his eye as he looks between you and Mutt. “because, listen, mutt. just because they’re a fuckin’ babe doesn’t mean you don’t know exactly what your brother is gonna say-”

“We didn’t sleep t-” You say, trying to remedy the situation before it gets blown out of proportion like the last time you’d said you’d slept with Mutt.

“he already knows.” Mutt says at the exact same time, ruining the validity of any statement out of your mouth, and he wheels his skull on his neck to look at you, a tense ‘go along with it’ on his face.

“We didn’t sleep together.” You press on, looking right at Mutt and, despite running on a grand total of 0 hours, realize that your original lie to Black probably worked better than anything here. “We had a miscommunication where Mutt thought we slept together, but we didn’t. I’m just the cook here, and Mutt thought he’d picked me up here once.” You shoot him a flat look. “But he didn’t.”

“damn, didn’t have to break my bones over it.” Mutt puts a hand over his chest, but his eyes remain on Red. You’re somewhat pleased that he didn’t contest you on it, and just plays the part of spurned admirer.

“yeah? i didn’t see ya take any hits in that fight, sweetheart- any reason why you’re in so much pain?” Red says, and he commandeers your entire boat of fries, pulling them closer to himself. He turns to talk to you, a fry held loosely between two fingers. “wouldn’t happen to be the same reason mutt has your car?”

In the almost two months that you’d known Sans and Papyrus, and the few weeks you’d known Mutt and Black, you’d gotten pretty damn good at reading subtext. Red seemed to be no different- if anything, it was less subtext and more outright text. He thinks Mutt did something to hurt you and, if Grillby’s immediate assumption that Mutt had tried to hurt you was anything to go by, you’d probably really hurt his case. Your mind absolutely reeling, you try to backtrack, “Well, yeah, but it’s because I got attacked last night and I had his number on my phone. He was nearby and drove me to the hospital in his brother’s car.” Should you have mentioned the teleporting? You got the impression that that was some sort of secret, but should you have mentioned that he teleported you to the hospital?

“you were smoking weed in black’s car?” Of all the things in the story, Red’s incredulity at that makes you pause and think back to the (admittedly, very well-kept) 2014 Honda Accord that Black had driven you to your apartment and then to work in. “fuck, bro, you really don’t want to keep your tibias, do you?”

“kinda surprised you’re not concerned with me high behind the wheel. ‘course, humans have a guard, you know, but i could’ve hurt someone.” Mutt says, and there’s something tense about the way he says it.

Red lets out a long snort. “i’d chastise you if i was exactly three beers more sober.” He looks into the bottom of an almost-empty glass. “i’m here to get drunk, mutt, i don’t know who you think i am right now.”

Like an angry pinned animal, Mutt’s eye lights dart around the room like he can’t believe what’s in front of him. “does your brother know you’re here?” You have no clue what the subtext of that is, but it sounds like he’s about to escalate it into something harsher. Under the bar, you knock your knee into his, trying to remind him where he is.

“does it fucking matter, mutt? ” You are not about to get in the middle of a third fucking fight today.

“Both of you, shut up.” You say it with enough venom that Mutt looks at you in surprise and Red noticeably moves his empty glasses out of your reach with blue magic. “Mutt, this isn’t the time or place for you two to be talking about whatever you’re going to say. If you two have to talk, you can do it outside of this bar. Red, you’re way too drunk, and I think I made Grillby’s policy on bar fights pretty clear already.”

Mutt looks at you curiously at that last bit, but Red just seems to size the two of you up and, ultimately, decide you aren’t worth it. He does so with a look of mild disdain towards Mutt and a look of indifference towards you. “whatever.” He says finishing that last sip at the bottom of his glass. “i know you’re gonna want to get the last word in, so just... just drive safe.” Red finishes, lamely, and you’re surprised at how quickly it deflates Mutt.

“i... fuck, whatever, dude.” He huffs, angrily, turning his head towards the ceiling. You see Grillby coming out of the kitchen and stand up, going to get Mutt’s order from him and get out from the middle of their miserable fight. You overhear Mutt whisper, “is this about the machine? ‘s that why you’re always drinking yourself to the bottom of a waterfall?”

“fuck the machine. barely worked on it in months.” His tone goes so quiet that you can only hear the cadence of his words, not the words themselves. Instead, you get the quiet, unintelligible conversation of two siblings bickering- Mutt sounding disappointed and Red sounding defeated.

You come back only when they both stop talking, and Red has rested his head on the counter. “You okay, Red?” You ask, if only because Mutt hadn’t.

He turns his head, and you see all of those nicks and mars, the dark bone under his eye socket, the way his eyelids are barely open. He cracks you a smile, a small, almost sour one. “it doesn’t really matter if i’m okay, doll. you don’t need to sweep up glass for my feelings, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“let’s go.” Mutt says, almost with an urgency, and he fits his hand around the curve of your elbow. You pull yourself out of his grip immediately, raising one eyebrow- sure, he didn’t know about your past, but the whole ‘let’s go I’m done here’ shtick was a dick move in general. After a beat of him looking at you, confused, he realizes and rephrases, “are you ready to go?”

You look back to Grillby, “Are you going to be alright with the night shift?”

He gives you a withering look, his flames dying down to reinforce the look. “Are you going to be alive........ if you don’t go and rest soon?”

“Fair.” You turn back to Mutt. “Okay, I’m good to go. Here’s your burger, by the way.” You hand him off the styrofoam box, and he looks at it like he’d forgotten he’d ordered.

“oh, uh, thanks. grillby-”

“You’re good for it.......” Grillby says, then looks away. “Or at least...... your brother is.....”

“thanks, grillby.” The bell rings over head, and he holds the door out for you.

It’s strange to give him your keys, and stranger to sit in the passenger’s side door. When Mutt gets into the driver’s side, he doesn’t even crank the car. He just sits there, staring into the restaurant and thinking. “Mutt, I don’t know what that-”

“ax- mars. mars told you everything, right? about the machine.” He thumps the base of his palm against the steering wheel. “he’s pretty good at that. being honest.”

“He did.” You say, feeling a little like you were walking into a trap.

“red used to be really honest with me. saw more of his brother in me than he did the others. i worked on the machine with them for a while.” He puts the key in the ignition, and the van shakes to life. “he was like another big brother.”

It almost feels like he’s talking to himself. “Is that why you didn’t want me to tell him the truth?”

He sighs, and pulls the gear shift into reverse, turning around to pull out of the spot. You’re a little ways down the road before he starts talking again. “no. i’m... not a very honest person, i’ll admit to it.” He drums his phalanges on the wheel. “i wanted to tell an easy, convenient lie, rather than giving red enough to pick apart to find the truth. because that’s what he does- he picks something apart until he’s left with the miserable parts of it, and then he’s miserable, so he drinks.”

“I couldn’t help but overhear that he hadn’t been working on the machine recently.” You say, testing the waters. Mutt’s irritable, but it’s reassuring to know that he isn’t mad at you, but at something an alternate version of his older brother had done.

“you heard that?” Actual surprise holds in his voice. Likely realizing he doesn't actually know where you live, he asks, “do you live in the inner-city campus, or by the outskirts?”

“Inner-city.” Most of the sorority houses were on the outskirts, by a series of older buildings, but you and Trixie were on the main campus in the city. He swears and makes a hasty u-turn at the light, and you broach the subject again. “It was hard not to- you two weren’t whispering.”

“people usually aren’t listening.” He says, signalling left. “but, yeah, that came as a surprise to me, too- last time i was there, the machine was the last straw. didn’t matter what they tried throwing at it, as long as they were trying something. i got booted out around the same time mars and jupiter left- edge picked a fight with black, and we got put on security detail for the forest. ... i guess you know the rest.”

“Yeah. This... this is a lot.” You lean back in your seat, trying to stay focused on the hot bath you would be taking. “Do you know why they never let... ‘Mars’ work with them?”

“you want my opinion or you want what they said?” From his tone, he obviously doesn’t put much weight in what they said.

“Either or.” You say- Mars hadn’t been told their opinion, either, so you’d at least have something to tell him after all of this mess.

“they told me it was because he’s one of the closer universes- an off-shoot of the one we’re in now. all of his research was already done by this universe’s sans.” Mutt’s fingers tap faster against the steering wheel. “but if you want my opinion? it’s because they can’t handle his perspective. they want science, they want hypothesis and tests and pre-tests and conclusive data and... they’re not going to get any of that from mars.”

You narrow your eyes. “I don’t know any of those lodge skeletons outside of getting my ass beat last night and the drunk one at the bar, but Mars was like a whole different skeleton when I gave him food. Now that his magic is at least semi-regulated, he can do anything they can do.”

“i’m not talking about that.” Mutt looks over to you, and he looks pained. “what i’m saying is... of course they wouldn’t let mars work with them. in a room full of liars, they don’t want to hear the fucking truth.”

“they’re never going to fix that fucking machine.”

Chapter Text

The rest of the car ride is, expectedly, silent and a little awkward. You really only speak to direct him to your apartment, and, even then, it’s in clipped directions. Mutt is obviously upset and, while you don’t want to assume and you don’t have the energy to devote to consoling him, you’re fairly sure it’s because of the exchange at the bar. “This parking garage connects to the complex.” You say and, nodding, he pulls a sharp right onto the ramp. The silence is stifling and, after you clarify that your reserved parking space is another level up, you finally say, “Hey, uh. I’m dead on my feet, but if you, like, don’t want to go home...”

He seems to catch your meaning, and he darts a few looks at you, “i’m uh. a little hungover and coming down from last night, so i don’t think i’d be much fun to be around.” It’s a depressing way to phrase it, and you have to keep yourself from actively frowning at him.

“I’m mostly just going to be taking a long bath and going to sleep.” You admit, then, when he shoots you an wide-eye-socketed, disbelieving look, “No, I’m not saying we’re going to-”

“oh, ok.” He lets out a long exhale. “thank the stars. i mean, you’re, uh, ‘a fuckin’ babe’ and all, and i wouldn’t want to pass up my chance, but you look like you’re about to pass out.” You give a tired laugh at how he imitates Red’s voice- a little too gravelly and low. He parks the car and, just as you’re about to get out, he pulls the keys out and appears outside of your door, pulling it open for you. You blink at him, curiously. “do you need to lean on me?”

The offer is so genuine that you have to wonder how many other people have been so beat up that they’d had to lean on him. “Actually, that’d help.” He tucks your right arm around his waist, and you close your fingers around the back of his ribcage. You feel an unnatural spacing and flinch, immediately adjusting your grip as he puts an arm around your back and under your left arm. Incredulously, you ask, “Did you spill barbecue sauce on this jacket? You smell like an entire smokehouse.”

“so! what level is your apartment?” Mutt says with such an urgency that you have to laugh at the abrupt change of subject and how he drags you along.

“What? A stain’s a stain- I can give you some clothes if you want to run it through the laundry downstairs.” You approach the elevator and, instead of you having to to limp over the step-up, Mutt picks you up and steps over it himself, setting you back down on your feet. Despite the surprise, you quickly acclimate and shuffle you two over to the elevator, pressing the ‘up’ button. “Really- I think I have some old sweatpants that would fit you.”

“sure, why not?” He says, stepping into the elevator with you. You lean over to press the sixth button, and he leans with you. Trapped in the box of the elevator, Mutt’s eye lights look you over again. “i feel like i didn’t take you being attacked as seriously as i should’ve last night. i mean, edge isn’t... edge could’ve...” He taps his foot on the floor, rapidfire, before clarifying, “i feel like garbage for joking and hitting on you while you were hurt. my bad- FUCK!

The elevator drops just a little, like it always does, but you’d forgotten to warn Mutt. In what must’ve been a snap-decision, you feel him grab your soul in blue magic, holding you down, while the elevator threw his skeletal weight two inches into the air. When the elevator settles and he’s dropped back to the floor, barely having left it, he’s visibly embarrassed. “so uh. we totally weren’t about to die, just then?”

“No, uh, you were talking and I wasn’t about to interrupt you to tell you that the elevator drops a little.” Covered in sweat, he comes back to support you, and his fingers dig in a little. “Still a little paranoid from the echo flowers?”

“yyyyup.” The doors open, and he steps out immediately, pulling you with him. “i’ll just, uh, take the stairs when i go to leave.”

“Mars said the same thing.” You say, a little smile on your face. You lead him to your apartment, eight rooms down, and he hands you your keys back. “I just cleaned the floor- if you wouldn’t mind taking your shoes off...”

You turn the handle and, as soon as you do, you’re met with Trixie staring at you, half out of her room, her fins flared. “The HOSPITAL ?!” She’s holding her phone in one hand, pointing at it. “I can’t believe you went to work when you’d just come from the HOSPITAL! By the stars , are you okay? You didn’t say what-”

The door creaks open more, and Mutt is standing there, awkwardly bouncing on his heels. “hello. you, uh, must be their roommate?” If he wasn’t sweating before, Trixie’s blank stare, apparently, was melting him.

“Uh. Who... who is this?” She says, looking him up and down. “P...Papyrus?” Obviously, bits and pieces registered with her- the shape of his skull, the sharp teeth, his lanky posture. It was also just as obvious that she couldn’t exactly match the two of them up.

“Trix, baby, I’m dying. I don’t think I can explain much.” You practically fall into your apartment, and Mutt closes the door behind you. You give as bland of an introduction as you can manage, “This is... Mutt. Or, Mutt, until we figure out a better nickname because that one sucks. He’s... a regular at Grillby’s.”

“Oh! The one that ate the side of your van!”

“Yup, that one.” Quickly, you try to remember the last time she’d come close to meeting him. “Remember when I fainted in the woods? It was because of his brother’s cooking.” She makes a lot of fast warbling sounds, her head darting between you two.

“Whuh- wh- he’s not the reason you went to the hospital this time, right ? I’m calling the damn guard if he’s the reason.” Her hands, strong and somewhat defensive, pull you off of Mutt, and you almost collapse onto her as you feel a wave of green magic crash over you. You tap her shoulder a few times, trying to signal that you were a little overwhelmed, but she just pulls you closer.

“why does everyone think that?” You feel Trixie’s arm raise, and you see her point at her mouth, then at her whole face towards him. “wh- okay, the scars? i’ll give you that. but i literally carried them to the hospital, and my brother admitted them, so i think we’re good.”

“Yeah, we’re good.” You say, feeling a little light-headed from the amount of numbing green magic she was pouring into you, and she must’ve finally noticed, because she pulls back a little. “I’m just... gonna take a bath, then go to sleep. Mutt can hang around if he’d like- we’ll, like, watch TV until I pass out.” You turn in her arms to face him. “Again, if you’d like.”

“actually, if you...” He looks at Trix, fumbling for a name until she supplies it. “if trixie doesn’t mind, i wouldn’t mind sticking around for a bit. don’t have any other plans.” Mutt stuffs his hand into his jacket’s pocket and rocks on his heels.

“I... I guess I don’t mind? I mean, we share this apartment- you don’t really need my permission.” But she still looks at you to make sure you really were okay with all of this. You give her a tired nod.

“My apartment is your apartment.” You say, breaking away from Trix to gesture around you. “Feel free to eat out of the fridge or watch TV or... I’ll be out in like half an hour.” You’re actually going to run up your water bill and shower before you take a bath, but he doesn’t need to have a play-by-play for your bathing.

He settles down on the couch, crossing his legs at the ankles, and awkwardly starts flipping through the channels as you head to your room to pick out some pajamas. You’re looking to maximize your comfort, so you pull out your sleep shorts and the cute fish-print tee that Trix had gotten you on your ‘friendversary’.

When you leave the room, Mutt’s head tilts just slightly, watching you head towards the bathroom. “don’t drown.” He jokes, but there’s a bit of an edge to it, and it makes Trix reevaluate you from her place in the kitchen, rifling through the fridge.

“Yell if you’re going to drown.” She amends for him.

-

“DO YOU THINK THEY FORGOT?” Jupiter says, leaning against the windowsill at the front of their house. It was late, and getting later, and you would usually have already swung by with a smile and a joke about Grillby’s local patronage. “DO... DO YOU THINK THAT WAS TOO MANY EMOTIONS FOR THEM, YESTERDAY? I THOUGHT WE WERE HAVING A GOOD TALK, BUT MAYBE THEY...” He rubs one gloved hand up his opposite arm, squinting through his glasses like, just maybe, you were half-concealed amongst the trees. “IT’S NOT LIKE THEM NOT TO TEXT BACK. OR AT LEAST LET US KNOW IF THEY COULDN’T TEXT BACK.”

Sans, sitting on the couch, seemed to be far more relaxed than Jupiter can even fathom. “nah, they mighta gotten held up at work. don’t they work that...” He takes a long pause, as if collecting his thoughts. “they work another line cook job, if i remember right. maybe they got called in?”

“MAYBE...” But you definitely would’ve called him, right? You wouldn’t have just ignored him for the whole day if you didn’t have a reason. With a sigh, he abandons his post by the window and goes to sit next to his brother. “ANYTHING NEW ON TV?” He asks, even though he logically knows that Sans mostly just watches it to appear like he’s doing something while he’s dozing.

“eh, the same as always.” Sans bounces his leg, looking around the room. “the dentist called earlier. asked for you to schedule an appointment to get your teeth looked at soon.” He looks around the room again, and Jupiter wonders what he’s looking for. “they haven’t texted you back?” He asks, even though he’s already been told.

“NO, NOT YET. BUT I’LL SEND THEM A TEXT ABOUT THAT, AS WELL.” As quickly as he can with his large gloved phalanges and his slide-phone, he clicks through each number to get it to spell out:

ALSO, NO RUSH, BUT THE DENTIST CALLED US TO ASK ABOUT ANOTHER APPOINTMENT. DON’T WORRY ABOUT THAT INFORMATION- I JUST WANT TO KNOW YOU’RE OKAY!

Predictably, as he’s a master of texting, it only takes him five minutes to do so.

Sans doesn’t have a phone, but he watches him consider the wall phone a few more times. “did they text you last night that they got home safely?” Which, as Jupiter presses the ‘up’ button on his phone to scroll through his past texts, he realizes with horror that you did not. Apparently, all Sans needed to see was his reaction for him to sit up off of the couch. “i’m, uh, just gonna do a few rounds and see if i... see anything suspicious.”

It hangs over their heads that neither of them walked you to the edge of the woods, how you’d been burdened by the weight of your pan and how that might’ve made you vulnerable.

Jupiter starts to put on a fake smile, but ultimately drops it, showing his concern plain on his face. “WHICH SIDE OF THE WOODS ARE YOU STARTING ON? I’LL START AT THE END OF THAT ROUTE AND WE CAN MEET IN THE MIDDLE. TO COVER MORE GROUND, OF COURSE.” Of course, Sans can read the underlying fear- certainly you’d befriended the other two skeletons in the forest, but the forest itself included many other obstacles. What if you’d encountered a bear, or sprung an old trap that he’d absentmindedly forgotten to disarm?

What if you had wandered off into the forest and simply never returned? Sans meets his eyes and quickly looks away. “keep your phone on you. in case they...” He doesn’t finish his sentence, just gives a tense, tired smile before taking a shortcut to the end of his patrol route. Jupiter looks around at the empty house for once and takes it in- how it looks when his brother isn’t on the couch, when you’re not busying yourself in the kitchen and singing along to the radio.

It unsettles him, and he quickly leaves the house, almost slamming the door behind him. The forest is almost more familiar to him- open and cold, but familiar. He knew that the other two were patronizing him when they told him that he could do patrol routes throughout the forest (Black always held a bit of pity in his smile when he looked at him), but it was something Jupiter had prided himself on doing. Perhaps he’d gotten slack once he met you- perhaps you and your soft looks and your warm food had made him soft and warm and...

And there was nothing wrong with that! But he certainly had preferred meals with you to stomping around the abandoned parts of the forest where humans almost couldn’t reach- the sloping carved rocks and the tightly-packed trees. The thought of never sharing another meal with you because he had gotten too comfortable makes him pick up his pace, hands balled into fists at his side.

He thinks about calling out your name and barely gets the first syllable out- what if you’d been attacked by another human? Now that you’d told him about your terrible ex-boyfriend, he suddenly feels like this universe is a lot less kind than he’d previously assumed. Jupiter had thought that this was the best universe- his brother had told him it was the ‘prime’ universe, the origin point where they all split off, and here monsters were, above-ground and happy.

But you, with your gentle touch and your recipe-clipping- someone had tried to put your head through the wall. He shivers, and thinks that that was only just what you’d told him- how much more cruelty had you endured in this world that he’d thought was perfect? Had you ever been hungry like they had been? Had there been no one to stumble upon your house, drunk, and offer a hastily-made spaghetti dish?

“... LIKE THAT MAKES ANY FUCKING SENSE, YOU ABSOLUTE CHILD-” Jupiter stops fast, hearing Black’s voice in the distance. Squinting, he pauses to listen for the rest of the sentence, but it was punctuated by what sounded like Black stomping his foot. He doesn’t hear his brother respond (and he knows Sans would immediately respond to that), so he steps forward, curious and peering around a tree. For all of the ‘milord’ jokes, he was pretty sure Black would never talk to Mutt like that- or that Mutt would do anything that would require a tone like that.

Instead, Edge stands at attention, face contorted in a scowl in front of Black, who has his hands on his hips and is bodily blocking him from advancing. “OH, SO I’M THE INCOMPETENT CHILD, THEN? NOT YOU, WHO LET SOME HUMAN WANDER AROUND THE PREMISES, DEEP ENOUGH INTO THE WOODS THAT THEY COULD’VE STUMBLED UPON THE LODGE-”

Jupiter’s marrow runs cold, and he stands up ramrod straight. They were talking about you.

“OF COURSE THIS IS THE LEVEL OF CRITICAL THINKING YOU COULD ACHIEVE, YOU CHILD. IF YOU SAT DOWN AND THOUGHT FOR EVEN TWO SECONDS, YOU’D REALIZE THAT ATTACKING A HUMAN-” Jupiter can feel his bones lock up- Edge attacking you? Edge?! Of all of them, he wouldn’t... By the stars, all of this because he didn’t walk you to your car. All of it. “-LETTING THEM GET CLOSE ENOUGH TO BE ABLE TO RECOGNIZE YOU, AND THEN LOSING YOUR ADVANTAGE IS PROBABLY THE WORST PLAN YOU COULD’VE CONCOCTED. I KNOW YOU’RE ON-EDGE BECAUSE YOUR BROTHER CAN’T BE FUCKING BOTHERED TO PAY ATTENTION TO YOU-” Edge flinches, hard, then his face rearranges into a mask of hard anger. “-BUT I’M NO ONE’S BABYSITTER AND I ONLY HAVE ONE YOUNGER BROTHER. I SURE AS HELL DON’T HAVE TO CHECK IN WITH YOU WHAT I DO AND DON’T DO.”

“IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS WHAT SANS IS DOING AND HOW I’M LIVING, BUT IT IS EVERYONE’S BUSINESS IF YOU’RE NOT DOING YOUR GODDAMN JOB!” An angry red flush creeps over his skull, lighting him up. Jupiter notices how he slips up and calls his brother ‘Sans’ instead of Red, and it makes him look almost pitiful. “LET THE HUMAN GUARD COME IF THEY MUST- THEY WON’T FIND ANYTHING IF YOU DO YOUR JOB AND KEEP UP YOUR PATROLS.” His face drops, just slightly, and his voice comes out gruff, but more careful with his words. “... THE LEAST WE CAN DO FOR RED AND THE OTHERS IS MAKE SURE THEY CAN RESEARCH IN PEACE. THAT’S THE ONLY THING I CAN DO.”

Black looks away from Edge and heaves a sigh. “I DON’T THINK YOUR BROTHER WILL FIND THE ANSWER AT THE BOTTOM OF A BOTTLE. HE SHOULD BE AT HOME, WITH YOU, INSTEAD OF AT THE DAMN BAR ALL THE TIME.” He taps his foot rapidly on the ground. “IT DOESN’T MATTER. YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE ATTACKED THE HUMAN, AND YOU CERTAINLY SHOULDN’T HAVE PUT YOUR NASAL BONES IN MY PATROL ROUTE. GO HOME, PAPYRUS.”

“YOU THINK THIS IS HOME?” Edge says, and he does so with a look of indignation and disgust on his face. “JUST BECAUSE YOUR BROTHER SL-” Jupiter overestimates how top-heavy he is and, upon leaning on the tree, has to correct his stance and steps forward with one heavy boot, snapping a twig under it.

Two skulls whip around to face him and, had it not been for his superb agility and rigorous training, Jupiter certainly would’ve been pincushioned by the sheer amount of bone attacks hurtled at him. Instead, he only gets a few to the chest, mostly blocked by his sweater and drawing comic ‘oof’ sounds out of him. He tries to play it off. “W-WELL HELLO. JUST CHECKING IN ON OUR, UH, NEIGHBORS AND RUNNING MY PATROL. HOW ARE YOU TWO THIS FINE AFTERNOON?” Edge heaves a sigh upon seeing that it was just him. Jupiter frowns as he rolls his eyes at him mentioning his patrol.

“CROOKS, BY THE FUCKING STARS, MAKE SOME NOISE NEXT TIME. ANNOUNCE YOUR PRESENCE. IT’S UNNERVING TO SEE YOUR HULKING SHADOW IN THE TREES WHEN SOME OF US ARE TRYING TO HAVE A SERIOUS CONVERSATION.” Edge says, raking his gloved hand down his face and down the familiar grooves of his scar. Jupiter tries not to flinch at the nickname, or the implication that his patrol was something silly and frivolous. “ANYWAYS, I’LL BE HEADED BACK TO THE LODGE. GOOD WORK IN REPORTING THE HUMAN THE OTHER DAY, CROOKS- I WOULDN’T HAVE THE NEED TO PATROL IF YOU HADN’T SAID SOMETHING.”

Over his shoulder, Black gives him a withering look as Edge starts his proud march into the trees. Once he’s reasonably out of hearing range (not a difficult thing, to pinpoint when he stopped stomping his leather boots on the fallen leaves), Jupiter leans over to Black, almost amazed in their difference in height, but more urgently, “Did Edge really fight the human?” He whispers, nearly swallowing the words, because if Edge fought you, there’s no way you’re in one piece.

Black looks under his arm, his red eye lights scanning the darkness. “He did, but apparently he got his ass handed to him. You left up one of your old snare traps and he got stuck in it until the morning- Blue found him and had to cut him down.” The way he talks is quick, methodical, and Jupiter realizes that it’s because he’s not sure if Edge is going to turn around, and Black is genuinely concerned with keeping you a secret. “The human’s fine- they got banged up in the fight, some contusions, but they’re not going to die. My brother just brought them home from work, and, if his texts are any clear indication, they’re well enough to be watching a ‘Cupcake War’ with him right now.”

The tension sloughs off of him in one quick motion, and he almost folds over in relief. “THEN THEY’RE SAFE.” He holds his hands to his stomach, and his shoulders drop in relief. Knowing that stealth was never Edge’s strong suit and that enough time had passed that he didn’t need to whisper, he continues, “WHY LIE TO EDGE ABOUT OUR INVOLVEMENT WITH THEM, THOUGH? WE’RE THE ONLY ONES REALLY GAINING ANYTHING, AND YOU DON’T REALLY HAVE ANY INVESTMENT IN THEIR COOKING.”

Black sighs- something he seemed to be doing a lot, and Jupiter wonders if it’s a ‘big brother’ thing for him. Gruffly, he admits, “I AM, UNFORTUNATELY, INVESTED.” He doesn’t elaborate further, but the light red dusting across his cheekbones is enough for him to definitively know that Black was charmed by you. “OR, SHOULD I SAY, FORTUNATELY FOR THEM, BECAUSE I WILL NOW NO LONGER LET THEM ENTER OR LEAVE THIS FOREST WITHOUT AN ESCORT-” At the alarm in Jupiter’s face (as if he of all people would’ve forgotten that those were the same conditions for him and his brother to enter and leave the forest), he amends, “BE IT MYSELF OR MY BROTHER, OR YOU OR YOUR BROTHER. JUST. SOMEONE. SO THEY DON’T HAVE TO COME TO A CONFRONTATION WITH EDGE AGAIN.”

Right. You’d been harmed in your confrontation with Edge. “HOW... HOW MUCH DAMAGE DID THEY TAKE, AGAIN?” He almost doesn’t want an answer- wants to only ever think of you as safe in this forest, their forest.

“... ADMITTEDLY, NOT VERY MUCH, BY EDGE’S STANDARDS. HE DIDN’T USE ANY RED MAGIC, OBVIOUSLY, AND THEY SEEMED TO HAVE MOSTLY BEEN THROWN AROUND.” He looks off into the distance, and a strange mixture of amusement and appreciation settle on his face. “YOUR BROTHER WAS OUT LOOKING FOR THEM, TOO?”

“A LITTLE AIR IS GOOD FOR THE BONES, YOU KNOW.” Jupiter quips back, just as fast, and Black shoots him a small smile. They both watch Sans lumber towards them, and the thought occurs to him that, “DO YOU THINK EDGE NOTICED I WAS WEARING BRACES? OR GLASSES?”

“I’D BE SURPRISED IF EDGE NOTICED ENOUGH ABOUT YOU BEFORE TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE. HE POINTEDLY DOESN’T LOOK UP AT YOU AND LOOKS YOU SQUARE IN THE CHEST.” Black notes, “ADMITTEDLY, I DIDN’T LOOK UP AT YOU AS OFTEN AS I SHOULD’VE. I DO NOW.”

“uh, hey guys.” Sans says, shuffling up towards them, looking between the both of them. “did i miss anything?”

“I’LL CATCH YOU UP ON THE WAY BACK TO YOUR HOME.”

Chapter Text

You’re sitting on a counter, swinging your feet, even though you’re tall enough that the toes of your sneakers nearly scrape the floor. Dark purple tiling in a turquoise-painted room, you would ask your best friend if they’d chosen it intentionally- the garish color scheme seemed like something they’d do intentionally, but it might’ve just been leftover from previous owners. You watch their silhouette work, broad shoulders and swift, gloved fingers, on their old project- you’re always amazed at how they can continue talking to you while doing such precise work.

“I don’t think I get it, still.” You say, even though they’ve explained it to you a million times. Their form is blurry, out-of-focus. You watch their hands dip into the machine and disappear, coming out to rip a bit of electrical tape off of the roll, the noise loud and discordant. “So it’s supposed to, like, send you somewhere else? Like, somewhere that’s not Underground, I mean.”

They laugh, loud and warm and booming. “I don’t blame you for not understanding! It’s a pretty hard concept- I don’t think-” Their voice fades out briefly over a name, like you were losing the frequency on a radio station. “-even understood how it worked. But it was pretty easy once we put our heads together.” They throw a wink over their shoulder and, with a sudden knot of dread in your stomach, you realize you can’t make out their face.

You stare at one bleary white head, their features melded together, and your stomach drops when you realize you can’t remember their name. “Hey-” You say it. Somehow, your mouth moves around the name, but you don’t hear it being said. “Why... why can’t I see you?”

“It’s a prototype for a larger machine-” Their voice fades out. You stare at where a mouth should be, and your eyes go out of focus. Is it a mouth moving? A jaw? “-had designed. The larger machine was supposed to get everyone out of the Underground using... Well! It’s a little like those shortcuts Sans took.” They knock their fist against machine, and you zero in on the bright red gloves, the only detail you can make out on an otherwise blurry silhouette. “In this smaller machine, that monster would end up, hypothetically , in a timeline where monsters were never Underground, replacing their alternate self. Then, because that monster exists in their non-native timeline, the machine has to exist in that timeline so that the timeline doesn’t corrode-”

“Papyrus?” You call out, recognizing those gloves, those narrow-fingered red gloves, but not the broad hands wearing them. You feel sick, lightheaded- you call out again, “You’re... You’re Papyrus, right?” You remember the woods, red-eyelights in the dark. A round skull with sharp cheekbones, a Papyrus that wasn’t familiar, but was recognizable.

But this is not Papyrus.

Not unlike a recording or an old memory, they keep talking, in a voice you distinctly know isn’t one you’ve heard before. “-so they’d be able to travel back to their native timeline, thus proving that the machine works on a small scale and could be replicated to send all of the monsters Underground to a universe where they’re all on the Surface.”

You don’t speak, but you hear your voice say, “But if you believe that there are infinitely many timelines... Doesn’t that mean that there are timelines where you can’t fix this machine?” You try to jump off of the counter. You can’t.

Instead, they brush their hands on their sweatpants, navy blue, and laugh, “Well, they can’t all be winners!”

-

With a gasp, you wake up on the couch beside a dozing Mutt, who startles and immediately scans the area, his hand coming to your shoulder and bracing you against the couch. Your mind races to catch up with your surroundings, and the sting in your lower back reminds you- Edge. Hospital. Grillby’s.

Mutt, who is wearing sweatpants you’d thrifted that had been too big for you and an old university hoodie, blinks at you owlishly, apparently not finding anything wrong. “Sorry.” You say, recognizing that the sun was coming up, so it must’ve been pretty early. You paw around for your phone and, by some miracle, it’s not completely dead. Cool, you don’t have work today. “Nightmare, sorry.” You scrub your face with your free hand, starting to get up. You can’t believe you’d fallen asleep on the couch with him like some kind of teenager- it was so movie-like and surreal that you’re surprised he’d even stayed.

“‘s fine. i’m just a light sleeper.” He doesn’t press you on it, but he watches you carefully as you head off to your room to find your charger, scanning through your missed messages. Missed call from a blocked number. Multiple texts from Papyrus (Jupiter? You’d have to get used to calling them by their nicknames in your head). Call from the dentist, voicemail from dentist, request to respond from dentist. You pull the door to your room closed, rooting for your phone charger by the wall, listening to the receptionist list their operating hours as you plug your phone in.

It’s barely 7, and their offices open at 9, so you decide to call Papyrus first to ask him if you could swing by to talk to them so early in the morning. He was an early riser, you could only assume, based off of every time you’d had to sleep over at their house, and the few times he’d slept in were usually because you’d kept him up.

You, uh, weren’t exactly expecting him to pick up on the first ring, though, and you have to angle your phone away from your ear as he shouts your name. “I’M SO GLAD YOU CALLED- I WAS SO WORRIED FOR YOU! WELL, WE WERE WORRIED FOR YOU, BUT SANS PASSED OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF HIS WORRYING, SO I’M THE ONLY ONE WHO COULD ANSWER THE PHONE AND, THEREFORE, I GET TO CLAIM ALL OF THE WORRY. AND THERE WERE HEAPS OF WORRY!”

“Woah, Papyrus, what was there to be worried about? I think you can set down some of those worries- I’m pretty much fine.” And you are- you’re definitely not in as much pain as you had been yesterday (or even the night of the attack), but you’re still going to take two Tylenol and call out from your line cook shift later.

“YOU CAN’T LIE TO ME- I HAVE MY FINGER ON YOUR PULSE, AND I ALREADY KNOW THAT YOU HAD A FIGHT WITH EDGE! DON’T DOWNPLAY IT!!!” You can actually hear him tapping his foot over the phone. Aware that he’d snapped at you a little, his tone immediately softens. “I’M SORRY FOR YELLING. I WAS JUST. SO WORRIED.” He’s quiet for a while, and his tapping gets more rapid. “IS IT... HOW MANY LIMBS DID YOU LOSE? DO YOU HAVE ALL OF YOUR TEETH? CAN YOU STILL STAND? I KNOW MUTT IS WITH YOU RIGHT NOW, BUT HE AND I HAVE A VERY DIFFERENT IDEA OF WHAT KIND OF CARE YOU NEED, AND IF YOU’VE BEEN MAIMED BY EDGE I WILL PERSONALLY RUN TO YOUR APARTMENT MYSEL-”

“Papyrus!” Finally, he stops his nervous rambling, his jaw snapping shut, and you get the distinct feeling that he’s imagining you in a bloody, worry-worthy heap. “Papyrus, I’m fine. My HP got hit a little, but, physically, I’m just bruised up on my back. I’ve got all of my limbs, all of my teeth. Standing hurts a little-” You hear his jaw open again. “- but it’s not so bad a Tylenol can’t help it. I wasn’t maimed, but I was roughed up a little.”

He’s quiet for a long time and then, weakly, he asks, “HAVE YOU HAD ANYTHING TO EAT?” Somehow, he makes it sound like a loaded question, and your eyebrows pull together.

“I was about to get some toast, but I ate last night, Papyrus.” His tapping doesn’t stop. “Papyrus, are you okay?”

“I’M SORRY.” His voice sounds wet with tears, and you pull your phone closer to you in alarm.

“Papyrus, what are you-”

“IF I HAD WALKED YOU TO YOUR CAR, ALL OF THIS COULD’VE BEEN AVOIDED. I... I TOLD YOU I WOULD ALWAYS KEEP YOU SAFE, BUT, IF YOU HADN’T BEEN SO SMART AND SO FAST...” He swallows, and you can hear his bones rattling through the phone. “I... EDGE IS ME. HE’S AN ALTERNATE VERSION OF ME, BUT I KNOW WHAT I AM CAPABLE OF AND WHEN I HEARD THAT YOU’D BEEN IN A FIGHT WITH HIM, ONCE I WAS ALONE ALL I COULD THINK ABOUT WAS THE DAMAGE I CAN DO TO A HUMAN AND... AND HE WOULDN’T EVEN LET YOU TALK, I KNOW IT! HE WOULDN’T EVEN STOP TO THINK THAT YOU’RE AFRAID OR TO SHOW YOU OUT OF THE FOREST, BECAUSE HE’S... HE’S NOT ME. AND THAT’S SCARIER THAN ANYTHING, BECAUSE THEN I CAN’T PREDICT HIM AND I HAD TO LET MY MIND WANDER AND...”

“Papyrus, breathe.” He’s panicking. It’s so obvious he’s panicking, and it’s so hard to lead someone through a panic attack over the phone. “Papyrus, I’m here, I’m alive, I’m safe. Breathe.

Papyrus’ exhale is bone-rattling, even from over the phone. “I... I’M A SKELETON, I DON’T NEED TO... NOT LIKE YOU NEED TO BREATHE, ANYWAYS.” He takes another breath, long and exaggerated, almost like he was just doing it because you’d asked him to. In a ‘see, I can, but it sounds wrong- it sounds fake because it is’ sort of way. “I’M SORRY. CAN YOU... ARE YOU WELL ENOUGH TO COME OVER?”

Fleetingly, you remember calling him to ask about the dentist, but you take that off of the table immediately. “Mutt still has to get home, so I’ll stop by your house while I’m dropping him off.” Trying to pick up his mood any, you offer, “Do you want me to bring you anything?”

“JUST YOURSELF, ALIVE AND IN ONE PIECE, PLEASE.” Instead, he pleads for your safety. You bite your lip and blink back the tears his response prompted. “I’LL... I’LL MAKE YOU SOME BREAKFAST! SO PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME WAITING LONG ENOUGH FOR IT TO GO COLD.” The forced cheeriness in his voice makes you choke up.

“Of course, sweetpea. I’ll be right over.” He hums in acknowledgement, then hangs up. You stare at the wall a few more moments, still holding the phone to your ear. You put your phone back down on your side-table and mechanically start to dress yourself, the horror of the past twenty-four hours settling in your stomach. Desperately wrangling your emotions surrounding the third time (that you were aware of!) that you’d almost been killed in the forest, you pull off your sleep shorts and root around for something cute but comfortable to throw on.

“hey, uh, i couldn’t help but overh-” Mutt turns the doorknob you’d forgotten to lock, stepping into your room, catching you with your shirt half over your head. He freezes, staring wide-socketed at your face (your slightly flushed, slightly teary face). After another beat of silence with his jaw open and you frozen in place, he says, “i am so fucking sorry.” And closes the door, stepping back out into the living area.

Stunned, you shuck your shirt all the way off and pick that yellow tee you were going to wear out of your closet, hastily throwing it on and tucking it into your shorts. “It’s just this kinda day, huh.” You say, laughing to yourself and shaking your head in more of a disbelieving way than anything. Stepping out of your room, you find him sitting, sweating, on the couch. “Mutt? I’m... I’m not mad, and I’m not trying to kick you out, but I’ll be driving back to the forest, if you want to come along right now.” You scrub your face with one hand, trying to wake yourself up a little more. “I’ll drop your clothes off once they’re out of the wash.”

“i was eavesdropping, i should’ve known you hadn’t locked the door- really, i thought you’d already gotten dressed.” In the greater scheme of things, watching Mutt try to be earnest with you about not trying to invade your privacy while he was actively eavesdropping is almost laughable. “i’m sorry- and, uh, also for eavesdropping. probably shouldn’t have done that either, but i heard you start getting this tone and right after you had a nightmare...” He trails off, reaching a hand to scratch behind his neck.

“You were worried about me?” You say, a little curious. It brings the tears back to your eyes, the same ones from when Papyrus was worrying over you, and you wipe them quickly with the backs of your hands. “I mean, don’t eavesdrop on my conversations, but I appreciate the sentiment.”

“not that i don’t appreciate the appreciating of the sentiment, but you should, uh, probably be a little harsher with me for that. i mean, i’m not gonna take advantage of your kindness, but there are plenty of people out there that will.” He says the words uncomfortably, almost like he’d practiced saying the latter half. “‘s not quite my world, so i can’t say for certain, but better to be the one biting than the one bitten, you know?”

You stare at him, blank-eyed, for a little while, “I like to think I’m a kind person, but I’m definitely capable of handling myself, ‘rus. You, uh, really missed out on my glassing a dude in Grillby’s by like two or three hours.”

As if he’d been drinking something, Mutt chokes and sputters, “you did what?

You take a quick glance at the clock and remember your promise to Papyrus that you’d get over there before the food went cold. “I’ll tell you all about it on the drive over.”

-

Sans had spent the better part of a week absolutely dodging Blue, and it was laughable to think that he thought he was being subtle. With his hands on his hips and angered resignation in his voice, he faces down the basement door with a scowl. “MY RESPECT FOR YOUR PRIVACY DOESN’T EXTEND FAR ENOUGH THAT I WON’T KNOCK THIS DOOR DOWN FOR US TO HAVE A TALK THAT’S LONG OVERDUE. I’VE BEEN TRYING NOT TO ALARM THE REST OF THE HOUSE, BUT IF YOU’RE GOING TO ACT LIKE A BABYBONES AND HIDE IN THE BASEMENT, I’M GOING TO TREAT YOU LIKE A BABYBONES HIDING IN THE BASEMENT AND FORCE YOU OUT!”

At the top of the stairs, he hears muted footsteps, and the door creaks as someone peers through it. “OH. BLUE. I THOUGHT YOU WERE...” Papyrus, the Papyrus that wasn’t his brother, looks down from the top of the stairs. Obviously enough, he’d somehow mistaken his muffled voice for his actual older brother, and he quickly tries to rearrange the disappointment on his face. “ANYWAYS! I WAS JUST MAKING SOME BREAKFAST, IF YOU WANTED ANY!”

Blue swallows, trying to keep his cheerful mask on, “OF COURSE, PAPYRUS. I’LL BE RIGHT UP!” but of course something seems wrong about this situation. When was the last time Sans had left the lab? He’s tried to be understanding, but Red at least went to Grillby’s and his brother... Well, his brother at least moved from the lab to his room on the occasion, and joined in for the group dinners, which was more than could be said about what this universe’s Sans did. Papy at least sleeps through the night and eats regularly and hasn’t been apparently starving two alternate versions of himself and his brother out in the woods.

Unsure if this universe’s Papyrus was still lingering by the top of the stairs, he cuts his voice quieter, “Listen, you’ll have to come out sometime. I’m not going to take responsibility for your actions, but I want an explanation. And, if what Black said to me is true, Axe and Crooks deserve more than an explanation.” He tries to force the door open one more time, but it remains locked. Blue grunts in disapproval. “You have to come out eventually. I love him, but I can’t keep being Papyrus’ older brother for you.”

He’s met with a loud snore in response, and that pisses him off more than anything. The idea that Sans would sleep in the lab rather than his own bed even though his brother was obviously pacing circles around his room to see if and when his brother would leave the lab was infuriating. Was it melodramatic of him to stomp his way up the stairs? If anything, he hoped it at least conveyed a message. A message that he was over being polite and was more than willing to sink to an alternate version of himself’s level to get some answers.

And by that, he meant that he was going to ask Axe himself instead of continuing to politely wait for Sans to drop the answers onto his lap. If Sans was going to ignore him to seek out some answer in his ‘lab’, well, two could play at that game.

After breakfast, of course. Papyrus didn’t perfect the art of hastily-made scrambled eggs under Blue’s tutelage for him to let them go cold. His footsteps creak as he ascends the staircase- he adds it to another thing that needs to be fixed in this old house. Of course, he wasn’t one to complain, considering Sans had offered them free board to live there, but it seemed like it was one never-ending cycle of home-repairs. He hadn’t expected to be using his engineering degree to fix the hot water heater when he’d gotten it all those years ago, is all.

Papyrus was likely scouring the house and inviting the other members of the house down for breakfast, so Blue takes his time cataloguing the various parts of the older house that needed renovations. All of Sans’, Red’s, and his brother (who he refused to call ‘Stretch’ much in the same way that his brother only called him ‘Blue’ if there were too many Sanses in one room) Papy’s time was devoted to working on the machine, so things like home repairs were delegated to Blue’s paychecks. The ice-cream-serving job, the movie-ticket-handling, the host for a local restaurant. He liked to keep a busy schedule, but he also liked having a bit of fun.

Getting free movie tickets to go see a popular movie with Papy or taking Papyrus out for ice cream was better than Black’s boring security-detail job, if you asked him.

But, of course, no one asked him because everyone was very self-involved, and an air of misery seemed to have descended about six or seven months ago, after Black and Mutt got kicked out of the house and, apparently, after the three basement-dwelling scientists had had some sort of breakthrough (or breakdown, if you asked him). So he tries to lighten the house up with movie nights and ice cream socials and even if Edge turns his nasal bones up at him, he does accept his strawberry ice cream cone delicately in his gloved hands.

Papyrus, recently, had decided that regular group meals would be beneficial to them all, and Blue appreciates all the effort he puts into it. Even if he often accidentally breaks the yolks in his sunny-side-ups and then scrambles them to hide the evidence.

Blue takes his seat at the dining table, tucking the flared edges of his gloves into his shirt sleeves, out of habit, to keep them from interfering with his eating. Edge is next to arrive, wearing a battered tank top and workout shorts, a light sweat over his brow bone. When his red eyelights meet Blue’s, he looks away, a little embarrassed. “SO.” Blue says, trying to keep any traces of laughter from his voice. “YOU WERE, ER, PLAYING AROUND IN THE WOODS THE OTHER NIGHT?”

He turns his nasal bones up at him, as if to say the idea was ridiculous. “OF COURSE I WASN’T PLAYING AROUND IN THE WOODS! I WOULD NEVER INTENTIONALLY TRAP MYSELF LIKE THAT! I’M COMPETENT.” He says the last bit like it’s some personal affront, or something someone had said to him recently.

Blue isn’t going to pry, mostly because Edge has been... on-edge since Axe left and his brother had become consumed in his research and only seemed to make enough time to go to drink. “I’M SURE YOU ARE.” He says, as kindly as he can manage, “I WAS JUST WONDERING HOW YOU GOT INTO THE TRAP IN THE FIRST PLACE.” Considering he was the one that had stumbled upon him scrambling to get out and had been the one to cut him down, it seemed reasonable to ask.

Edge considers him for a long time, drumming his fingers on the table. “WELL. I... DECIDED TO... ‘INVESTIGATE’ CROOKS’ STRANGE APPEARANCE A FEW WEEKS AGO. WHEN HE ASKED IF WE’D SEEN ANYONE STRANGE AROUND.” He starts tapping his foot rapidly, a nervous tick the two of them shared.

Papyrus comes out of the kitchen, carrying two plates and setting them in front of them- a hash brown, some scrambled eggs, and two small pancakes. Obviously having tuned into the conversation, he asks, “AND DID YOU SEE ANYONE STRANGE AROUND? OTHER THAN YOURSELF, TRAPPED IN A NET?” while setting down a jug of orange juice.

Edge lets out an indignant huff. “I WAS CAUGHT IN A CONFRONTATION WITH A HUMAN. LIKELY, ONE OF THE MUTT’S HUMANS-”

“EDGE, MANNERS.” Blue says, if only because somehow putting ‘the’ in front of Mutt’s unfortunate nickname only seemed to make it harsher.

“FINE. I GOT INTO A FIGHT WITH ONE OF MUTT’S HUMANS- LIKELY THE SAME ONE THAT CROOKS HAD ASKED ABOUT, IF BLACKBERRY’S PATROLS ARE AS TIGHT AS HE WANTS US TO BELIEVE.” Unnecessarily, he uses a fork to cut his eggs up, then delicately picks it up with his fork. He takes a very long time to chew.

Papyrus sits at the head of the table after setting down his plate, pouring a glass from the tall pitcher of orange juice he’d set on the table to share, even though everyone had their own cup of coffee near them from earlier. “WHAT I’M HEARING IS, YOU LOST. YOU LOST TO THAT HUMAN BECAUSE YOU ACCIDENTALLY STEPPED INTO A SNARE TRAP.” There’s a bit of a laugh in his voice, and, to be honest, Blue can’t blame him- the idea of Edge, who uses violent red magic for an advantage in battle instead of just regular white magic, losing to some human at night because he’d forgotten to do a full sweep of his surroundings was a funny mental image.

“WELL, THEN YOU HEARD WRONG! BECAUSE THE TRUTH IS... FAR LESS FLATTERING.” His foot speeds up, then he says, almost mumbling, “They baited me into the trap and I fell for it like I’d never been in a fight before. It was smart, and cunning, especially considering the fact that it was dark and they likely had no visibility...” He continues to mumble, tearing apart his eggs with a knife and fork, but there’s a small smile on his face that Blue hasn’t seen in a while.

And, even if he knows he’ll instantly quip back, Blue has to make it known, “I’M AT LEAST GLAD YOU HAD SOME FUN!”

“BAH! FUN! WH... WHO SAID I HAD FUN?” The smile drops, and he gruffly starts cutting into his hashbrown. “GETTING OUTWITTED BY SOMEONE I’D UNDERESTIMATED, ONLY TO FIND THEY DON’T WANT TO STRIKE ANOTHER BLOW AND INSTEAD RAN AWAY AS IF THEY STILL CONSIDERED ME A VIABLE OPPONENT... OBVIOUSLY I DIDN’T HAVE FUN!” His knife scrapes his plate, and he flinches, pulling it back immediately.

They go on, idly chatting about almost nothing, and Papy doesn’t come down the stairs- he’s taken to sleeping in, Blue knows, so he’ll let him off the hook. He’d rather his brother sleep in than be grumpy and disoriented for the rest of the day- he knows that he’s putting in long hours into whatever they’re theorizing down in the basement.

When breakfast ends, they all put their dishes in the dishwasher and, wrapping up any threads of conversation, go their separate ways, back into their corners of the house. Blue watches Papyrus throw a long look in the direction of the door leading down to the basement, almost blank-eyed with his tight grin, before going back up to his room. He sighs, thinking about his later restaurant shift, then resolves to head to Axe and Crooks’ house.

It’s not that he didn’t get along with the two of them- in fact, he’d been close to Crooks much in the same way he was close to Papyrus. And Axe never seemed to mind his company, especially when Blue was playing some podcast outloud or listening to an audiobook. Blue had offered to take groceries to Black and Mutt mostly because he’d seen that as the ‘worse’ of the two tasks for Sans- Black was constantly combative in a way that Blue had learned to diffuse mostly through their shared (but limited, considering Black’s violent world) experience. Sans hadn’t been the closest with Axe, but he surely didn’t mind Crooks, so Blue had thought he could trust him to go through with his world.

It’s strange to think that he can trust Black more than he can trust this universe’s Sans, but, as he nears Axe’s house, he can believe it. With just a cursory glance around him, he notes that almost (if not all) of their traps have been disabled, except for a few barbed wire traps and a mechanism to keep bears out of their trash. Strangely enough, he spots human footprints leading up to their house amongst the foliage and mud.

He steps up to their porch, a little hesitant and a little curious, casting his gaze around the house for any clues. Blue isn’t an idiot- he knows that Axe and Crooks came from a universe where they had to eat humans and monsters alike to survive and, if they’d been starving all this time... Instead of knocking as he should have, he tilts his skull closer to the door, listening for any sounds on the other side.

The sound of glass shattering catches his attention first, but he brushes it off- it’s not like they weren’t allowed to have vases or glass jars. Then the clattering of metal, like a fork or a... or a knife... He feels sweat start to bead on his forehead, his steady grin faltering.

A human voice yells out, “Shit!” and, unable to hold back from the sudden panic that grips him, Blue forces the door open, breaking the lock with a powerful turn and stepping through.

Inside is somehow worse.

A human is cradled in Crooks’ arms, chunky red bits covering the front of their shirt, a knife discarded on the kitchen floor. His grip is tight, their eyes are wide and shocked, and the floor is sprinkled with shattered glass. At the sound of the door being thrown open, Crooks turns to face him, bringing the human with him, and, stunned, Blue takes in his orthodontic work and round tortoiseshell glasses. “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?” Blue says, half a second from pulling the human out of his arms with magic.

That seems to startle the human in his arms, you , and you turn to face him, stunned and, upon squinting from his spot by the door, splattered with red. Crooks, wide-socketed, looks around the room, down at you, and then back at Blue, “I PROMISE THIS IS NOT AT ALL WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE.”

Chapter Text

Blue stares at Crooks, and Crooks stares right back at him, both sharing a panicked look. The human in his arms wiggles a little and, holding his breath for no reason, Blue cuts his eye lights to look at you, and you’re grimacing at him, “Oh boy. Fuck, um.” You look around, then up at the ceiling, seeming to wrangle some patience onto your face. “My tolerance for skeletal shenanigans is pretty high, but if I have to get into another fight with one of you guys over a misunderstanding one more time, I’m gonna lose it.” You turn to Crooks and the two of you seem to share some unspoken communication before you turn back to face Blue, tension visibly dropping from your shoulders. “This. Is marinara sauce, with some tomato chunks in it. It is cold marinara sauce from the fridge that I just spilled and broke trying to get it open, and I’d like to go change into something not-freezing. Can I do that without a fight?”

Crooks says your name in a familiar way, almost appalled, “OF COURSE BLUE WOULDN’T FIGHT YOU. BUT, UM, HIM SHOWING UP IS CERTAINLY A SURPRISE?” He shuffles you in his arms and, with the broad side of his foot, knocks the glass out of the way to make a path to walk through.

Blue is still a little gobsmacked, though, and can’t even refute your accusation that he’d fight some defenseless human or even harm Crooks. “UH.” He says, eloquently, feeling his eyelights shrink to pinpricks. Crooks sets you down lightly on your feet, away from the glass, very close to the front door he’d just blown through. You pull your top up a little to keep the marinara chunks from falling onto the floor, cringing from the cold sauce on your skin. “UM.” Blue moves on autopilot, getting out of your way.

You give him a polite nod and head up the stairs, skipping over a step like you’d done it a million times. He must’ve been staring for too long because, frozen and staring and actively panicking through confused thoughts (Where was Axe? Why was there a human in their house that was, obviously, very comfortable in their house?), Crooks clears his throat. His head turns on a swivel to look at him. “ER, HELLO.” Crooks folds his arms over each other, not quite crossing them, his gloved hands coming to rest on the opposite sides of his ribcage, like he was hugging himself. “NOT THAT YOU AREN’T WELCOME BUT, UM...” His small eyelights, magnified by his glasses, dart away from him. “WHAT? BRINGS YOU BY???”

“aw, damn, you fought the marinara jar and the jar won, huh?” From his place by the stairs, Blue can faintly hear Axe’s voice, deeper and carrying more than your indescript response. “just take it off and i’ll throw it in the wash- here, you can-”

“BLUE?” Caught, Blue forces himself back into awareness, where Crooks is actually looking at him in concern. Him.

“OH. UH. UM. DO YOU MIND IF I SIT DOWN?” Crooks gives him a small shake of the head- a curious ‘GO AHEAD’, before he sinks down onto their lime-green couch. Looking into the middle-distance, he tries to collect his thoughts. He starts with the easy, “SO, UM, HOW ARE YOU DOING?”

Obviously pretty decently, considering his teeth look fantastic and he can obviously see a lot better than before. And obviously he’s been out on the town, unless you were some sort of traveling dentist he’d had the fortune to come across. “I’M DOING FINE, AND YOURSELF?” He says, surprisingly cagey. After a moment or two, he sighs, deflating a little. “LISTEN, BLUE, I DON’T MEAN TO BE RUDE, BUT I’D REALLY LIKE TO KNOW WHY YOU’RE HERE. YOU HAVEN’T VISITED IN ALMOST FOUR MONTHS, NOW.”

Had it already been four months? Time seemed so impossibly fluid, here on the Surface- months felt like they’d fallen straight through his otherwise tight, gloved grasp. “I... IT HAS BEEN FOUR MONTHS SINCE I’VE SEEN YOU, YES.” It doesn’t escape him that Crooks remains standing, drawn into a posture that reminds him more of Edge’s typical defensive demeanor. “I WAS UNDER THE IMPRESSION THAT YOU DIDN’T WANT TO BE VISITED.”

“I DON’T KNOW WHO GAVE YOU THAT IMPRESSION- IT DEFINITELY WASN’T SANS OR ME. CONSIDERING WE ARE OUT HERE IN THE WOODS, WITH ONLY TWO OTHER PEOPLE TO TALK TO. WHO ARE ALSO OURSELVES.” He sounds testy, and a look of genuine annoyance passes over his face. “ALSO, CONSIDERING THAT WE WERE STARVING FOR THREE MONTHS, I THINK THE COMPANY WOULD’VE BEEN... MUCH APPRECIATED.”

“... huh.” A stair creaks unevenly, groaning under Axe’s passing weight as he pauses on the stairs, staring at Blue. “thought i heard someone else in the house.” The sentence trails, like he doesn’t know what else to do with it. Blue feels much the same, listening to your footsteps overhead as you obviously change in Crooks’ room, looking him in his narrowed eye sockets. Blue is reminded of the last time the two of them had encountered a human- a group of middle-schoolers, wandering out into the woods to play ding-dong-ditch. A little before the two of them had left the lodge for their old house.

He hadn’t been the one to talk to the two of them about it, but Sans was always cagey on the details whenever Blue asked why they’d moved out.

“CROOKS, I CAME OVER HERE BECAUSE I WANTED TO HEAR IT FROM YOU-” Crooks’ face drops almost instantly, his eyes cutting away from him and his frown deepening.

“we’re not calling him that any more.” Axe says, his stare steady and unwavering. “we go by jupiter and mars, now. didn’t exactly plan-et , but it’s definitely less insulting. i think you’re smart enough to figure out who’s who.” He is and, suddenly, Blue gets the distinct impression that they’re not actually mad at him, but at the lodge as a whole.

“JUPITER.” He says, trying the name on his tongue as he addresses the Papyrus in front of him. He immediately looks relieved. “I CAME OVER BECAUSE BLACK TOLD ME ABOUT HOW THERE’D BEEN A MISCOMMUNICATION REGARDING YOUR RATIONS.”

“oh, you mean ‘starving to death’? don’t think ‘miscommunication’ really covers this, blues.” The familiarity in his tone hurts more than anything- he remembers Axe’s (no, Mars’, he should say) enthusiasm for this bright new world in the lodge, even if they were confined to it. He’d been just as excited, and the two of them often busied themselves watching documentaries on TV about the Surface’s nature while the others worked away in the basement.

Flinching, he replies, “YES, THAT’D PROBABLY BE MORE ACCURATE.” Mars ( Mars Mars Mars , he tries repeating it a few times in his head to get it to stick) comes over to stand beside his brother, almost defensive. Ouch. Blue tries to craft his face into something apologetic, something a bit kinder and not as shocked. “I, UM, JUST WANTED TO HEAR IT FROM YOU, BECAUSE SANS WON’T COME OUT OF THE BASEMENT AND I COULDN’T GET A WORD OUT OF HIM. WE- I MEAN, THE REST OF THE HOUSE...” He swallows, unsure how to phrase it in a way that doesn’t get him thrown out of their house by the collar of his Hawaiian-print shirt. “HE NEVER TOLD US THAT THE OTHER TWO IN THE WOODS WERE SUPPOSED TO BE FEEDING YOU, EITHER. I ASKED PAPY- UM, STRETCH IF HE DID HIS MONTHLY ROUNDS, AND HE JUST SAID THAT SOMETIMES HE’D DISAPPEAR FOR AWHILE EVERY NOW AND THEN, SO I THOUGHT HE WAS STILL. YOU KNOW. FEEDING YOU.”

Just as uncomfortable as he was in stringing together the words, Jupiter says, “WELL, HE WASN’T.” It’s impossibly silent, the two of them staring at him as if wanting him to say something more, but neither of them know how to proceed. Upstairs, floorboards creak, and Blue remembers the whole reason he’d foregone knocking earlier. Apparently, his curious glance to the ceiling is noticed.

“i, uh, guess the cat’s outta the bag.” Mars’ fingers travel, spider-leg-like, up his cheekbone and into his eye socket, where they hook into the bone and tug a little. His gaze doesn’t move from Blue. “only reason we’re alive is because they accidentally found us and came back with more groceries. black n’ mutt didn’t believe us about starving, so...” He narrows his eye sockets, “i’m pretty sure we’d be dust if they hadn’t been drunk and stupid.”

“Yeah?” Despite you being the topic of conversation, your voice still scares the soul out of Blue when you come down the stairs. Mars and Jupiter don’t even turn to look at you, that’s how apparently comfortable they are to your presence in their house. Blue, however, feels a jolt of realization when he sees you swamped in a too-big flannel and long cargo pants. You introduce yourself, a bit awkwardly, following with, “Nice to meet you, now that I’m not, you know, covered in cold food and being carried over a sea of glass.”

“I GO BY ‘BLUE’.” Blue says, still feeling the floor bottoming out from beneath him as he rapidly connects the details. “IT’S NICE TO MEET YOU. I’M VERY GLAD THAT YOU MET THESE TWO- STARS ONLY KNOW WHAT COULD’VE HAPPENED.” Turning back to the other two, he clears his throat, “I’M VERY SORRY FOR THE ROLE I PLAYED IN THIS- IF I’D KNOWN WHAT WAS GOING ON, OR WAS EVEN A LITTLE MORE ATTENTIVE, NONE OF THIS WOULD’VE HAPPENED. IF THERE’S ANYTHING YOU TWO- OR, ER, YOU THREE? EVER NEED, PLEASE LET ME KNOW.”

It’s silent for a moment, you in Jupiter’s shirt and Mars’ pants, watching the two of them for how they’d react, and both of them scrutinizing Blue while Jupiter’s foot taps on the floor. Finally, he seems to deflate, “I ACCEPT YOUR APOLOGY, BUT HOW WE WERE TREATED WAS ABYSMAL. YOU SHOULD’VE CHECKED IN ON US, ESPECIALLY IF YOU KNEW SANS WAS EVADING YOU.” He shuffles on his bare feet, bending slightly at the waist as if to look at Blue closer. “BUT, ULTIMATELY, IT’S SANS’ FAULT, NOT YOUR’S. YOU WEREN’T EVEN AS INVOLVED AS BLACK, SO I DON’T THINK IT’S FAIR TO TREAT YOU HARSHER THAN WE’VE TREATED HIM.”

“... yeah.” Mars says, and finally looks away, his hand slipping out of his eye socket to rub at the back of his skull. “you want anything to eat while you’re here? paps was just fixing up breakfast.”

“I ALREADY ATE-” But he knows how important food is to the two of them. Knows what his offer actually meant. “-BUT, IF YOU HAVE ROOM ON THE COUCH, WE COULD CATCH UP?” He offers, scratching at the back of his neck, stopping when he notices him and Mars sync up in their nervous habit.

“sure.” He says, a little slowly. “once i get the glass off the floor, ‘course.”

“OF COURSE.” Blue says, still sitting on the couch, as Mars leaves to root through their downstairs closet for a broom and dustpan. After a moment, you sit down next to him, though still a reasonable distance away. As subtle as he tries to be while he waits for his brother to finish cleaning up the glass (noting the distinct lack of orange stains on the tile, Blue realizes that you must’ve had most of the sauce fall onto you before you’d changed), it’s very obvious that Jupiter is watching the two of you. “SO, ER, IT LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE RESPONSIBLE FOR... THEIR CURRENT QUALITY OF LIVING?”

“Nah, I’m just a way into town and a grocery delivery service. People don’t usually live hungry and injured if they have a choice.” You cradle your head in one hand. “Sorry if I’m staring a bit- I’m pretty sure you’re the only skeleton I’ve met that hasn’t tried to kill me at a point. Or made me risk my life to try to escape potential death.” He wishes that Jupiter had given him a drink, because he certainly chokes as if he’d taken a big sip.

“WH- I- CR- THE ONLY ONE?” How many skeletons had you met ? “WHO TRIED TO KILL YOU??? WHO MADE YOU RISK YOUR LIFE???” Words fail him at how absolutely goddamn absurd it was for you to say two sentences like that back-to-back without freaking out. He looks around the room, like you might be pulling some prank on him.

You laugh, and apparently his reaction gets you to smile- which is definitely not the correct reaction. “Wow! Is that, like, not the way everyone else meets you guys?” He hurriedly and vehemently starts to say ‘NO, OF COURSE NOT, ARE YOU BEING HELD HOSTAGE’, but you continue, “I’ve met Sans n’ Papyrus-” You gesture to Mars and Jupiter, respectively, and he tries not to flinch at the thought of them, hungry, being the first people you’d met. “-Black and, uh, Mutt, and, as of yesterday early-morning-ish, I met Edge.”

“ARE YOU??? OKAY???” He knows he’s a complete stranger to you, but literally every sentence that comes out of your mouth is alarming. He puts his hands on your shoulders and very earnestly looks into your eyes, trying to convey some ‘blink twice if you need me to run you out of here’ message.

“Oh, I’m fine! Better now that I was yesterday- Edge really did a number on me.” Rapidly, Blue recalls Edge talking about looking for someone in the woods, the confrontation with ‘one of Mutt’s humans’. Shit, he’d gotten it really wrong- if anything, you looked to be Mars’ and Jupiter’s human. “Mutt took me to the hospital and I got everything looked at, so there’s nothing to worry about.”

“THERE IS PLENTY TO WORRY ABOUT!” Jupiter interjects, almost huffing from where he’d situated himself in the kitchen. It looks like he was resuming making some sort of pasta dish. “BLUE, IF YOU HAVEN’T NOTICED, THEY’RE VERY CASUAL ABOUT BEING PHYSICALLY HARMED. THEIR INJURIES WEREN’T AS BAD AS THEY COULD’VE BEEN, BUT THEY’RE BRUISED ENOUGH TO, SAY, NOT BE ABLE TO STAND UP STRAIGHT AND OPEN A CAN OF SAUCE.” He says the last part like a chastisement and a joke, and Blue feels as though he’s intruding.

“Papyrus!” You respond, jokingly scandalized. “Why, I’ll have you know I did most of my shift on this injured back!” Glass rattles in a plastic trash can, then Mars comes out of the kitchen, coming to sit beside you on the couch, thigh-to-femur. You scoot closer to Blue to give him more room.

Jupiter’s head whips out of the kitchen, a cross look on his face, “AND DID YOU COMPLETE THAT SHIFT WITH NO OTHER POTENTIALLY LIFE-THREATENING INCIDENTS?” He narrows his eye sockets behind his glasses, “OR DID YOU GET INTO A BAR FIGHT WHEN YOU WERE ALREADY INJURED?”

“You know I don’t just fight anybody! I knew what the odds were!” Jupiter harrumphs before he goes back to work in the kitchen, but not before Blue catches the affectionate look in his eye. “I’m fine, Fincher’s fine, Grillby is fine... We’re good! Nothing bruised, nothing gained.”

“i don’t think that’s how the saying goes.” Mars speaks up, kicking his feet up onto the table. “but, really, be a little more careful. you’re smart, but you’re reckless as hell.”

“I’ll work on it.” You say, bumping your shoulder into him. Blue really feels like he’s intruding.

He clears his throat, considering announcing he’d leave them to their couples’ breakfast (brunch?), but Jupiter is already coming out of the kitchen, four plates balanced precariously on his two arms. “BREAKFAST IS SERVED!” The couch immediately gets crowded when he goes to sit down beside Blue, sandwiching you between the two wider skeletons, but you don’t seem to mind, even as you balance your plate on your knees.

Blue is, understandably, a bit hesitant to eat whatever food they give him but, after considering the little nests of spaghetti noodles wrapped around a single meatball and seeing you happily dig in, he decides to pop one of them into his mouth. He’s surprised by the soft give of the meat, the wam garlic taste and a hint of a seasoning he can’t place. “CR- JUPITER, THESE ARE VERY GOOD!” He says, unable to keep the surprise out of his voice.

Jupiter straightens his back, gesturing with his spaghetti-covered fork towards you, “THANK YOU! OF COURSE, I LEARNED SOME TRICKS FROM THE BEST!” In a cartoonish manner, he slurps up the noodles, smiling as if recalling a fond memory.

“Psh, you have natural talent, Pap.” You dismiss, waving him off. “I only helped with adding a pinch or two of parmesan to them.” You wipe your mouth off with the back of your hand, grinning at him, and Jupiter wiggles under your praise.

“WELL! I CAN’T DENY THAT!”

The three of them feel content to eat in silence but, with the bright energy in the air, Blue swallows his last bite of pasta and says, “CORRECT ME IF I’M BEING RUDE, BUT... HOW LONG HAVE THE THREE OF YOU BEEN TOGETHER? YOU ALL SEEM VERY HAP-” You choke on some of your pasta and, immediately, Mars’ hand claps you on the back to try and get it up. After sputtering and a few I’m Fine hand motions, he stops but, as Blue’s works sink in, Mars’ skull lights up bright red. “DID I SAY SOMETHING WRONG?”

“Oh, um!” You say, frazzled and grimacing somewhat. Your eyes dart around the room, almost like you can’t think of the correct answer and you kind of want to bolt. “Um!!!”  

“WE’RE NOT TOGETHER!” Jupiter says, almost shaking-the-house loud. He’s blushing far harder than Mars is, who suddenly seems very uncomfortable with how close he’s sitting to you on the couch. He lowers his voice immediately back to his normal volume, “WE’RE JUST VERY GOOD FRIENDS!”

“just friends .” His brother echoes, almost the second after Jupiter stops speaking. His hands go back to his plate to steady it on his lap as he visibly tries to calm down. As his blush wanes, Blue feels an embarrassed flush crawl up his spine. “stars, blue, what gave you that idea?”

“MY BAD! I DON’T KNOW, YOU THREE JUST LOOK VERY...” He flounders, stutters a bit. “UH, REALLY, MY BAD!”

“It’s fine!” You rush to accept his apology, both hands out, seeming to calm down, “I’m sorry if I overreacted- I’ve, um, just gotten out of a very bad relationship and it’s been... It’s fine. Um, Blue, could you pass me the parmesan?” It’s not subtle, but you very quickly change the subject and Blue accepts your mercy as he passes you the parmesan for an already perfectly-seasoned meal.

Mars spears a meatball on the end of his fork, and it scrapes the plate a bit but, instead of flinching, he lets out a small chuckle. “i forgot how funny you are, blue.” Without looking, he catches some stray marinara onto the edge of his fork, “missed having you around. you still listening to those radio dramas?”

“PODCASTS? OH, I’M ALMOST CAUGHT UP TO EVERY EPISODE OF-” It’s strange, how after months, they both fall back into their idle chatter- Blue catches him up on his latest serials, promises to go out and find some second-hand electronic for him to listen to his favorites on. Mars agrees, says something about how it’s easier than television because he can just rewind when he loses focus, and you bump into him with your shoulder, eyebrows raised like you just learned something new.

Blue sits there, his empty plate balanced on his knees, crushed between your warm human weight and the sharp edges of Mars’ splintered rib cage poking through his shirt. With Jupiter midway through the story of how he got his teeth fixed (involving ‘A LOT OF FILING! AND SANS HAD TO TAKE AN ASPIRIN!’), he looks around at the peeling wallpaper, the rickety staircase, and he wonders how he could’ve missed these small details upon first glance.

It’s strange, because it’s close to his house back in his universe, but not quite, so it wasn’t as if his mind had automatically filled in the details. “I thought I’d given you a Tylenol? I don’t usually carry aspirin.” You say, which is a very specific detail to be curious about, but Mars just shrugs at you.

“we don’t really know all the names of human medications- your intent’s the same with any painkiller. thanks, by the way.” He gives you a wink with his one ruined eye socket. “it was a real head-splitter.

That startles a laugh out of you, and you snort and chuckle at it, moving your plate to rest on the table as you lean back on Mars. “That one really cracked me up !” You banter right back, just in time for Blue and Jupiter to let out long, twin groans, Blue covering his eyes with one of his hands. Mars chuckles and leans deeper into the couch, smiling at you.

“sorry to interrupt, pap. keep going.”

You turn back to face Jupiter, having to look over Blue’s head to do so, your grin wide and bright, and it sinks in why everything seems so perfect in their very imperfect house. It’s you and your big infectious smile, lighting up the room. It’s surreal to think about the conditions that led you to the two of them but, seeing you with your arms hooked over the back of the couch, it’s more surreal to imagine this scene without you.

He smiles because he’s always been the kind of guy to like a good laugh and a good story, and you’re good company. Behind it all, though, his eye sockets crease at the edges and he wonders what the implications of it all. Axe- or, erm, Mars was known to be rather blunt and honest- it was likely you knew that they were all alternate versions of themselves. But who else knew? How had you gotten the dental work done? How much money had you spent on the two of them, that they couldn’t compensate you for?

As the conversation peters out, he turns to you with a smile, “WOULD YOU MIND IF I GOT YOUR NUMBER? NOW THAT I’M AWARE OF THE SITUATION, I THINK IT MIGHT BE BEST IF WE COLLABORATE TO HELP OUT AROUND HERE, INSTEAD OF YOU BEARING THE FULL BURDEN.” He pulls his phone out, jammed in the pocket of his khaki shorts earlier, and tosses it back and forth between his palms. “WE COULD GO GROCERY-SHOPPING, NOW THAT YOU KNOW WHAT THEIR FAVORITE FOODS ARE!”

“I have been wanting to make them black bean burgers...” You say, seeming to contemplate his offer. For a moment, he sees you hesitate, but then your phone is in his hand, and you’ve taken his out of his grasp to put in your number. “Feel free to text me any time, Blue! I mean, within reason. Mutt likes to burn the candle at both ends and keep me up late, but I do have to go to sleep sometime.” There’s a joke there that he doesn’t get, but it doesn’t pull a chuckle out of the other two, so he doesn’t laugh.

As carefully as he can, Blue asks, “JUPITER, I KNOW YOU HAVE THE NUMBER FOR THE LODGE, BUT WOULD YOU LIKE MY PERSONAL CELL PHONE NUMBER?” You give him his phone back, your fingers tapping on your’s.

“I forwarded him the contact.” You say with a smile- it’s almost too tight, and he remembers that you’ve had an understandably long day after your fight with Edge and your subsequent hospitalization and apparent shift-work. “I’ll chat you up later, Blue- I’m afraid I’m still pretty tired from yesterday.” Even with your apparent exhaustion, he still watches your fingers fly across your phone’s keyboard to rename his contact from ‘SANS ‘BLUE’ SERIF’. He feels himself flush a little bit as you rename him ‘Baby Blues’, likely for his eyes. “Oh! Blue, your eye lights...”

Assumedly, they’d turned into stars at how psyched he was for that cute little nickname in your phone. He tries to shake it off but, instead, watches you backspace over that nickname and immediately replace it with ‘Starry Eyed’, which is somehow cuter. “HAVE YOU NEVER...?” Realizing that Mars’ magic was ruined to the point where he had to rely on red magic to keep himself together and his eye light was likely frozen as it was, he course-corrects, “THEY JUST DO THIS SOMETIMES- I CAN’T REALLY HELP IT. OR, I CAN, IF I REALLY THINK ABOUT IT.” He says with a bit of an embarrassed chuckle.

“They’re cool! Can you do other shapes, or is it just stars?” You turn to give him your full attention, obviously curious, and Blue sees the looks the Mars and Jupiter exchange, almost deflated, almost jealous.

“IT’S ONLY STARS, REALLY.” He says, eye lights flickering to Mars’ to see him turn away from him. He won’t show off- he doesn’t need to ask to know that the two of them would’ve shown you all of the skeleton tricks in the world if they were healthy enough to do most of them. Mars’ one flickering eye light and his other- ruined, marrow-stained and bright red. Jupiter’s eye lights being too small, too unfocused that he couldn’t see detail- impossible to see unless you were really seeking them out in his skull.

You crack a horrible, obviously-pun-loaded grin. “When you wink, are you shooting stars?

Blue leans his head back, unable to keep the rumbling laughter inside of his ribcage, “BY THE STARS, YOU AND MY BROTHER WOULD GET ALONG LIKE A HOUSE ON FIRE.”

“I HOPE NOT! WE’VE HAD ENOUGH HOUSE-FIRE ATTEMPTS FOR ONE TROUPE OF SKELETONS!”

Chapter Text

You give it a few days before you text Blue. Sure, he’d been friendly and he’d had all the right things to say, but, even as you recovered from your exhaustion and your overworked daze, you  still couldn’t put a pin on most of the events following your encounter with Edge. You don’t need a doctor to tell you that you’d really done it this time and overworked yourself, resulting in a mild but still fairly annoying cold... which had likely caused some of your patchy memories into the next days. You’ve got the crystal-clear adrenaline-fueled memories of running away from Edge, Mutt carrying you to the hospital, Black telling you he’d pay half of your medical expenses... Grillby setting off the fire alarm, the bar fight...

It had been an eventful two days. You’d deserved some goddamn rest.

“I don’t care if I’m sick. I’m taking you to dentist.” You say to Jupiter (you were getting better at the nicknames), your voice coming out muddled and a little nasally as you squinted up at him. You were wavering on your two feet, which didn’t exactly inspire confidence in him that you were fit to drive, but you follow up with, “I gotta go and run errands anyways... Trix’s online course has an in-person exam and she can’t get me any NyQuil.” In trying to keep yourself from coughing up a lung, you make a terrible hacking sound.

fuck,” Mars says, really raising his eyebrow ridge, his eye lights darting to his brother as if to ask if he was the only one concerned. “are you sure you don’t need to go back to the hospital?”

“Completely. This... this is human-normal. Once the fever breaks, I’ll be good to go.” You sniffle and swipe a hand across your forehead. “Besides. I’m meeting with Blue to go get groceries while you two handle the checkup.” You’d texted him yesterday to ask if he was free today, and he’d responded so enthusiastically that you couldn’t tell him that you were dead on your feet.

Jupiter shoots you an unconvinced look. “I DON’T THINK I’VE EVER SEEN YOU SICK LIKE THIS. CERTAINLY YOU WEREN’T WELL WHEN YOU HAD THAT MIGRAINE, BUT...” He wrings his hands nervously a few times, looking away from you. “I SUPPOSE THAT IF IT ISN’T TOO FAR AWAY... AND IF YOU’RE GOING TO BE WITH BLUE THE ENTIRE TIME, AT LEAST YOU’D HAVE SOMEONE TO GET YOU TO A DOCTOR...” He still doesn’t look completely comfortable, but he stops trying to wring a hole through his gloves. Mars looks between his brother and you, disbelieving, and he shuffles forward, reaching out one creaking hand to feel your forehead.

His bones are really cold and surprisingly smooth, and you lean forward into the touch without thinking too much about it, sighing. “you feel like you just power-walked through hotland. humans can drive like this?” His voice is disapproving but impressed and, as if he didn’t trust the temperature of your forehead, he curls his fingers and gently holds his knuckles against your cheek. “i dunno. ‘s there... anything you can do for this?”

“I already took a fever-reducer so I’ll get better. Just have to give it sometime- this is barely a cold.” You lean against his hand, fighting to keep your eyes from shuttering closed. “I’m not even shaking or throwing up and, hey, I did drive myself all the way over here.”

After staring at you for at least a solid two minutes, he sighs and looks away. “fine. i trust you.” Even though he sounds reluctant, the words still bring a smile to your face and, when his eye lights flicker back in your direction, his grimace tilts into a small smile. “just take the slow lane, hot shot.”

Of course, you still have to take the highway to get to town, so ‘slow lane’ is relative.

Mars settles into the front seat without much hassle, and, in-between packing enough snacks and his brother’s phone charger into a small backpack, seems to have snagged the beanie he’d worn to the dentist last time. You’d completely forgotten that you’d even given it to him- the arch of it sags into the gaping hole in his head, but it does wonders for obscuring it. Jupiter sits in the back, his legs stretched out over the adjacent seats, gazing idly out the window. “I’ll help you check in and wait until you’re in a room before I head out.” You say, rooting around in the armrest to see if you’d kept... You had! You pull out a small pack of tissues and tuck them into your jean pocket, patting them.

“and then you’re going with blue.” Mars says, and there’s something complex in his tone- something a little sad, something a little fond. “ya know, if you were feeling blue, you could’ve-”

“WE’LL CALL YOU WHEN WE’RE FINISHED!” Jupiter interrupts what was likely going to be a series of absolutely terrible blue puns. “I OF COURSE HAVE YOUR NUMBER! AND, IF YOU NEED ANYTHING, OR IF YOU... START TO MISS US... YOU HAVE MY NUMBER AS WELL.” You look in the rearview mirror and see him give you a wide, encouraging smile, and you’re reminded of him spoon-feeding you soup with a similar expression. Putting the dots together rather quickly, you realize that he must feel nervous about letting you out of his sight while you’re sick, especially so soon after letting you out of his sight resolved in a hospital trip.

“Of course, sweetpea! I’ll even text you where we end up- I won’t be too far.” With that, the tension in his shoulders drops and his smile becomes more genuine. You pull a tissue out of the packet, keeping the wheel balanced with your other hand, and dab underneath your nose. “Do either of you want anything from the store while I’m out?”

Both of them go quiet for a while, thinking it over. Surprisingly, it’s Mars that breaks the silence with, “s’more monster food would be nice. i’ve been wanting some picking’s pie lately.”

“Never heard of it.” You say, signaling and merging onto your exit. “Then again, I’m not a big dessert-person.”

“i know. you’re a human person.” You snort out a laugh, which devolves into short coughs. “‘s just a leftovers pie- whatever scraps from the last harvest were leftover got made into a pie so they wouldn’t go to waste.” It’s the first time you’ve ever heard him mention something positive about his universe, and you’re surprised by how absolutely devoid of nostalgia it is. His voice is almost flat, contemplative. “it was tradition for the bunnies but it, uh, kinda became a big thing after the food shortages. because, ya know, pickings were slim.”

“... Huh.” You say, thumping your wrist against the steering wheel. If he wasn’t going to get emotional about it, you certainly weren’t going to think about how hungry a person must be if they’d make a pie out of vegetable shavings and fruit scraps. “I’ll see if Lora knows the recipe or if her auntie has any in-stock, if I can’t find it. And you, Paps? Or, er, J... Jupes?”

He gives you a curious look, before giving a startled chuckle. “YOU CAN CALL US BY OUR NAMES WHEN IT’S JUST US, BUT I KNOW YOU’RE JUST TRYING TO GET USED TO IT. WITH ALL OF THE NICKNAMES... IT DOES TAKE SOME GETTING-USED-TO.” Jupiter gives you a real smile nonetheless, a bright orange flush creeping up under the bone. “BUT I DON’T THINK I LIKE ‘JUPES’ AS MUCH AS I LIKE YOU CALLING ME ‘PAPYRUS’.” The bashful, almost hesitant way he admits to liking being called his own name is both sweet and a little sad (did he like it because it was you calling him by his name? Or because he just missed being called his own name?).

“if you could squeeze a nickname outta ‘mars’, i’d let you call me that all day long.” Mars breaks the silence, his red eye light darting over the approaching dentist’s office. You pull into a parking spot but don’t unlock the doors immediately when he reaches for the door to get out.

“‘Mars bar’, like the chocolate bar.” You start, because he shouldn’t have thought you couldn’t rattle a few of them off the top of your head. You unlock the doors, but still come around to open his door for him. He’s laughing and shaking his head, all while you help him down. “ Mars hed potatoes. Mars hall. I could do this all day. Mars capone. Mars hmallow.”

“i don’t think you can count that last one. too many ‘marshes’.” He says, after a snort.

Jupiter, climbing out from the backseat, lingers over the two of you, “SORRY, DID YOU SAY SOMETHING... MARSHMALLOW? ” Without any real menace, Mars slings a slow, small bone attack at him, which Jupiter dodges effortlessly with the grin of a joking younger brother.

“yeah, yeah, i walked right into that one. c’mon, pap, you better... brace yourself for this one.”

-

You’re about seven minutes late to the grocery store, but it wasn’t like Blue was counting or anything.

Maybe he’s been working too hard, he contemplates, staring at the aisles as he waits for you by the carts. It’s very difficult to seem nonchalant in a grocery store when you’re not actively glancing at food, and he has to adjust his posture more than once because the cashiers keep glancing over to make sure he’s not going to... He can’t even think of a cart-based crime that he could commit while standing at a soft parade rest. Loitering, maybe.

“Sorry to take so long- Pap- uh, Jupiter’s dentist had an appointment that ran later than expected.” He hears you before he sees you, and when he does see you?

You look like you should be at home. Blue feels his nonexistent stomach drop and he quickly crosses the floor to you. “DON’T EVEN WORRY ABOUT IT BUT, SPEAKING OF WORRY... ARE YOU FEELING WELL?” You laugh at that and, instead of answering him or taking his proffered arm, walk past him to pull a cart out and bring it over to him.

“I’m better than I was the last time we met, that’s for sure.” You lean heavy on the cart, raising an eyebrow at him. He notes your paled skin, your tired eyes and, despite it all, you do look like you’re in better spirits than the last time. You start to push the cart ahead, sluggishly but not slowly, and Blue easily keeps pace beside you.

“THAT’S NOT VERY REASSURING.” He says, because it’s not. “IF YOU’RE NOT FEELING WELL, YOU SHOULDN’T FEEL OBLIGATED TO BE OUT AND ABOUT. WHAT DO YOU NEED? I COULD JUST GET IT WHILE YOU DRIVE BACK TO YOUR APARTMENT.” You eye him, curious, and he wonders what part of that stood out to you.

“How did you know I live in an apartment?” Even under the fog of sickness, the sharp look you give him tells him that his guess was accurate enough to cause alarm.

“YOU TALKED ABOUT GOING INTO TOWN, SO I GUESSED.” Your suspicious look doesn’t wane. “I DON’T REALLY KNOW ENOUGH ABOUT YOU TO BE ABLE TO RESEARCH WHERE YOU LIVE- I DON’T EVEN KNOW YOUR LAST NAME.”

“Fair enough.” You groan and weakly scrub at your face. “Sorry, this cold is killing me and I’m not as quick on the draw as I usually am. I would’ve stayed home, but Paps needed to get to the dentist and I... I wanted to talk to you, alone.” Blue doesn’t correct you in your slip-up, but his eyes linger on the back of your head as you turn away from him and start to look over the pastry section of the grocery store. He can only guess at what you’d want to say to him that you wouldn’t want to say in front of the others.

“WELL, I’M HERE. AND IF YOU NEED SOMEWHERE MORE PRIVATE TO TALK, WE CAN ALWAYS GO BACK TO ONE OF OUR CARS.” He offers, trying to be kind, but you bite your lip as you pick up an apple-of-your-pie (a monster pie that got progressively sweeter the longer you looked at it) and put it in the cart. Maybe you hadn’t understood what he was trying to say? “I’M, ER, NOT ONE TO SHY AWAY FROM ANYTHING. IF YOU HAVE A QUESTION, DON’T FEEL BAD OR AWKWARD ABOUT IT!”

“I don’t really have any questions, I just... Hm.” You blink slowly, looking away from him as if you were trying to collect your thoughts. “You’re a nice guy, and you’re doing the right thing by trying to make it up to Mars and Jupiter for the role you played in them starving. I really appreciate that, even though it was unintentional on your part, you’re still here, and you’d said that if there was anything the three of us needed, to let you know.”

Relief washes over him. “I DIDN’T DO IT FOR THE PRAISE, BUT YOUR SENTIMENTS ARE APPRECIATED. REALLY, YOU DIDN’T NEED TO INVOKE A FAVOR TO GET ME TO GO GROCERY SHOPPING WITH YOU- I’M CURIOUS ENOUGH ABOUT YOU THAT IT’S NO BIG DEAL TO ME. AND I NEEDED TO GET OUT OF THE HOUSE TO SOMEWHERE THAT ISN’T WORK, ANYWAYS.”

“Yeah? Where do you work?” Your tone is casual, completely conversational, but he gets the impression that you’re genuinely invested in the conversation. “Anywhere close?”

“OH, NATURALLY WE CAN’T WORK CLOSE. IT’S THE SAME REASON BLACK WORKS AT THAT HOSPITAL- THE FARTHER AWAY FROM EBOTT, THE BETTER. SO NO ONE WILL SEE US AND BE ABLE TO RECOGNIZE US AS, ER. YOU KNOW.” Blue shoots you a grimace. “SANS, UNFORTUNATELY, HAS MANY FRIENDS. WHICH IS USUALLY A GOOD THING, BUT SOMEHOW HE’S MANAGED TO MAKE EVERYTHING TEN TIMES MORE COMPLICATED BY DOING ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.”

“Sounds like Sans sucks.” You say, a little too evenly, as you continue to push your cart forward, your eyes still dead ahead. “You never said where you were working though- I tend to cater everywhere on the mountain, so I’m pretty familiar with most of the towns... Oh! I didn’t know they had free samples.” Delighted, you point to a domed container that has little cut pieces of a pound cake in it. Even sick, the way your face lights up brings a matching smile to Blue’s face. “I’m sick, so I won’t stick my hand in there and ruin it for everyone else, but if you want one!”

“OH, NICE- THANK YOU!” He says, picking it up in its little paper and, without ruining his gloves, pops it into his mouth. The sharp taste of lemon immediately hits his senses, overpowering any sweetness in the cake, and he cringes. “OOF. WELL, I WORK A FEW JOBS! I MOSTLY WORK BEHIND THE TICKET COUNTER AT THE AMC THEATER AND AS A HOST FOR A RESTAURANT TWO TOWNS OVER- NO, THE OTHER DIRECTION.” He says, as you vaguely point west, towards where Black worked in the hospital. “I ALSO WORK AT THIS ICE CREAM SHOP ABOUT FIFTEEN MINUTES FROM HERE.”

While he talks, you push through the aisles, occasionally glancing at him to see if he wanted to pick anything up. You hadn’t outright said it, but he gets the impression that you were pushing the cart more for the sake of doing something with your hands rather than actually needing it for groceries. “I’ve actually been to that shop- I took Jupe to it after he got his dental work.” You shoot him a sly look. “I can only imagine the look on your face if we’d showed up during your shift.”

He, himself, can only imagine his reaction! It was terrifying enough to see them with a human in their house, even if he consciously knew they’d only eaten humans out of necessity (and not out of preference) in their universe. Seeing Jupiter, high out of his mind on monster painkillers post-surgery, ask for a two-scoop of banana ice cream with his brother’s gaping hole in his head covered poorly with a hat or his hoodie might’ve made him dust on the spot. “IT CERTAINLY WOULD’VE STARTLED ME, TO SAY THE LEAST!” He excuses himself to go get two jars of marinara sauce and set them down in the cart. “IT’S MEATBALL SUB MONDAY, AND IT’S ONE OF THE FEW TIMES WE ALL EAT AS A UNIT.”

“I’ll skip a few aisles and go straight for the meat, then.” You shrug, heading for the back of the store where the butcher was. You lean against the cart, watching him try and act like he knew the difference between each packet of beef for the best meatball. Really, he’d only ever used the frozen kind and, after a moment where he was genuinely trying to recall what kind of meat was even in them (beef or lamb?), you spare him, “Ground beef, about 70% lean, is the tastiest. It’ll hold its shape better and usually tastes better than any other type of meat.” And, taking exactly two seconds to scan over the options, you reach out and drop one in the cart- 77% lean.

Sheepishly, Blue chuckles, “WAS IT THAT OBVIOUS THAT I’VE NEVER MADE MEATBALLS OUT OF RAW MEAT?” Then, because he’d seen your eyes light up, he recalls that you’d made the majority of Jupiter and Mars’ meals and had, evidently, been coaching Jupiter. “I’VE ALWAYS USED THE FROZEN ONES- HOW DO YOU USUALLY MAKE YOUR’S?”

You then launch into a ten minute rant about the best meatballs you could make, in excruciating detail. He laughs, occasionally, at how fine you get the details, because he has to believe that you’ve had a miscommunication with one of the other skeletons about what constitutes ‘tough’ meat and what, exactly, makes a meatball tender and not ‘an actual choking hazard’. Driving the cart with your elbows, you even demonstrate how you made them into balls. For the rest of the trip, the both of you idly discuss food while Blue struggles to keep a running list of how, in your humble opinion, a meatball sub should be created (sauce, meatballs, provolone cheese ‘if you’re feeling fancy’).

When it comes to checkout, he’s surprised to see cold medicine beside your pie on the belt, because he hadn’t even noticed when you’d picked it up. “DO YOU NEED HELP GETTING HOME? I ALMOST FORGOT THAT YOU’RE, UH.” He fumbles over the word ‘sick’ because, in his experience, any human was likely to contest that they weren’t that sick. “WELL! IF YOU NEED HELP GETTING HOME, JUST LET ME KNOW! WE’RE BOTH GOING TO THE SAME PLACE, SO I COULD PICK UP JUPITER AND MARS AND TAKE YOU ALL BACK TO THEIR HOUSE FOR THE NIGHT.”

“Nah, I’m not one for inviting myself over to people’s houses.” You say, putting the divider between your groceries. Side-by-side, the amount of spices he’d picked up at your suggestion (basil, oregano, thyme, sage, garlic powder...) to add to the meatballs made it seem like he was seasoning a meal for an entire town. “Jupiter texted me a little while back that they’d just wrapped up and are just sitting in the waiting room. I’ll just drop them back off at their house and head home so I don’t... I mean, monsters can’t get human colds, but I don’t think that was ever scientifically proven...” You trail off, idly tossing a Milky Way chocolate bar onto the belt.

“I REALLY DON’T THINK THEY’D MIND YOU STAYING THE NIGHT, BUT THAT’S ULTIMATELY THEIR DECISION.” You sneeze into the crook of your shoulder, and he flinches, “I WISH I COULD OFFER YOU A NIGHT AT THE LODGE, BUT...”

“I get it.” You say, sniffling as you complete your transaction and anchor your bags onto your arms. “The whole ‘super secret lodge, no humans allowed’ bullshit. I wasn’t trying to impose on you, either.”

“YOU WOULDN’T BE! IT’S JUST...” Mentally, he files through everyone that you’d met- he recalls you mentioning Edge, Mutt, and Black, which left Sans, Papyrus, Red, and his brother as not having met you yet. “... HARD TO INVITE SOMEONE OVER WHEN IT’S NOT FULLY YOUR HOUSE.”

“Sounds like you need better communication.” You say in that same too-even voice from earlier. “How many of you even live in there? I mean, obviously you have a brother and I’ve met Edge’s brother... I think...” You pause, clearly trying to dredge up a memory of Red ( stars , he hoped it wasn’t something as traumatic as almost being eaten by the other two and that it was just wholly uneventful and forgettable). “And Sans and his brother, so that’s... Six? Six of you?”

“Sir, cash or card?” The cashier asks of him, and he remembers that he’s, in fact, in the middle of a grocery store.

“OH, ER, CARD.” He quickly swipes it, flushing a little when you crane your neck to see what name was printed at the bottom of his debit card. ‘Courier Serif’ wasn’t exactly the strongest name in the world, but it was a name. “YES, YOU’RE RIGHT. THERE’S SIX OF US IN THE LODGE, CURRENTLY. IT FLUCTUATES SOMETIMES BECAUSE OF... OCCASIONAL MISHAPS, BUT NEVER LESS THAN SIX.” You make a thoughtful noise in your throat and, despite the fact that he felt the conversation was definitely leading to something bigger, you’re quiet all the way back to your car.

You pause at the door of your van, turning to stare at Blue with a surprising amount of presence. For most of the evening, he’d been rather aware that you were sickly and obviously rather low-energy, but the sharp look in your eye makes him stand up a little straighter. “Hey, Blue? Remember when I brought up how you’d said you’d help us out with anything we needed?”

He narrows his eye sockets, a little suspicious and trying to read your body language. Loose but attentive, aware, you stare right back at him, trying to read him as he read you. “YES?”

“I want to speak to the rest of the lodge about Mars and Jupiter.”

Chapter Text

If it weren’t for the distant blaring of car horns and traffic in the background, Blue could’ve met your request with the absolute silence and mild horror he wanted to. He rapidly cycles through excuses in his mind, even though, morally, rationally , you have every right to ask if you could talk with the lodge- especially given their circumstances, and how close you’d gotten to those two, and... And you’d already met so many of them that, really, were there any secrets left? Would it be better for the lodge (or more responsible of him) to introduce you, or to open the potential can of worms that you just might stumble upon them one day, ready to dole out justice for your starved friends?

Oh.

You’re staring at him, expectant. He’d gotten so lost in his thoughts that he’d forgotten that you were the reason he was thinking them. “UM. GIVE ME SOME TIME TO THINK ABOUT IT.” Your passive smile remains on your face, but your eyes narrow slightly. “NOT TO SAY WHAT YOU CAN OR CANNOT DO, BUT IT ENDS UP BEING FAIRLY TRICKY TO GET ALL OF THEM IN THE SAME ROOM. ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES TO SOMETHING LIKE...” Something they had messed up. You’d be hard-pressed to get Sans to sit in a room and take a chastisement, even if it was over something as simple as picking up his damn socks from around the living room. Or Red. Or his own brother, if he came out of his room long enough to leave a sock behind. “WELL. IN YOUR OWN WORDS, WE NEED BETTER COMMUNICATION. I’LL SEE WHAT I CAN DO AND LET YOU KNOW WHEN WOULD BE A GOOD TIME.”

“You do that.” You say, and he watches your shoulders drop that slightest bit of tension, looking him up and down again as if you were reevaluating him. You unlock your door while maintaining eye contact, pulling it open and hesitating before getting in, opening your mouth and holding it there while you collected your thoughts. “Hey, uh, Blue.”

“THAT’S MY NAME.” Blue says, trying his best to not let the dread of the next week of hassling the others into a house-meeting creep into his voice.

He obviously doesn’t do a very good job, because you give him a slight frown. “Listen, I’m, uh, not trying to get on your case about this. I get that it was a miscommunication and that you’re not really involved.” You pull away from your van for a moment and rest your hand on his shoulder. With your bleary, cold-induced gaze, you give him a smile. “You’re just the only one from the lodge that’s really been upfront with me about this. If it ever feels like I’m taking it out on you, be honest with me- I’m just trying to get some answers.”

If Blue had a tongue, he’s pretty sure he would’ve bit straight through it. You? Taking it out on him? “NO OFFENSE, BUT I DON’T THINK YOU COULD BE MORE TRANSPARENT ABOUT THIS WHOLE... SITUATION IF YOU TRIED. I KNOW YOU’RE NOT UPSET WITH ME, AND YOU HAVEN’T ACTED LIKE YOU WERE, ANYWAYS.” You let out a relieved breath, and he rushes to add, “WHICH I’M VERY THANKFUL FOR! YOU HAVE NO IDEA. HOW HARD IT IS TO HAVE A STRAIGHTFORWARD CONVERSATION AT HOME.”

“Home?” You tilt your head and he feels his eyelights constrict when he realizes that he’d called the lodge ‘home’. “Man, maybe I’ll just send a therapist in my place. Get you all to talk it out.” He chuckles weakly, appreciating you throwing him a rope to climb out of the hole he’d dug. You clear your throat, “Well, I better be off- Jupiter just texted me that he’s all done. Or, well, his brother did, if the lower-case and spelling mistakes are anything to go by.”

“OH, RIGHT.” He’d almost forgotten about them- he mentally steps back for a second, thinking about all of the small things he’d forgotten about over the course of your conversation and decides that he might need a vacation. He must be off of his game. “DRIVE SAFE! TEXT ME WHEN YOU GET THERE!”

You get into your van and pull the door shut. Rolling the window down, you lean out to respond, “Will do! Let me know how everything turns out back at the lodge.” He gives you his best reassuring smile as he waits for you to pull out of your parking spot. He holds it until he’s certain you’re out of the parking lot, then he pulls out his phone and starts scrolling over his notifications as he sinks over the handle of the cart. With no one watching him, he scowls down at his phone and his three separate bosses asking if he could come in early tomorrow (all variations on “Very sorry to bother you- we’re short-staffed”).

At the very bottom of his text notifications is ‘BROTHER’ with the baby emoji and the slouching man emoji next to it. “didn’t see a note- you good?” Only fifteen minutes ago.

You

GOOD MORNING/AFTERNOON PAPY!

I JUST WENT OUT FOR SOME GROCERIES- WILL BE BACK SOON

HOW’S YOUR DAY BEEN? :)

BROTHER

it’s been alright- haven’t done much

see you when you get back

With a slight frown, Blue pockets his phone again, mulling over his brother’s non-answer to his questions. There was a time where, even if he wasn’t telling his older brother everything, Papy would tell him something - if something was bothering him, if he was down and just needed him to drag him to get some fresh air. Bitterly, he wonders about the influence of Red and this universe’s Sans on his younger brother. He wasn’t blind- he had two functioning eye sockets and it was obvious that the two of them were up to something and had roped his younger brother into it.

He appreciated all of their efforts in trying to get all of them back home, but he wished it didn’t involve forcing the three of them into what seemed to be their worst coping mechanisms.

With a sigh, he pops the trunk open and starts unloading the groceries. At the very least, they’d all sit down for meatloaf dinner and, amongst the forced small talk and subtle lashing-out, he could ask about the two skeletons living out in the woods. And maybe, for once, he could get some fucking answers.

-

You’d never seen Jupiter stand completely straight before and, as you park your car, his silhouette is immediately striking against the brown brick of the dentist’s office. He’s turned, facing Mars (who you have a sneaking suspicion had sat down on the edge of the sidewalk the second they exited the dentist’s office), his skull tilted down to talk to him. You roll down your window to call out, “Hey, boys!” and, even though Mars had glanced in your direction and noticed you roll up, he still startles to his feet. When you pull around to pick them up, he’s pretending like he has dust he needs to brush off of his shorts, and Jupiter’s conversation slowly tapers off.

“OH! I DIDN’T SEE YOU, THERE.” He says, turning around and... You feel your hands go slack on the wheel. Even though you’re in the middle of the parking lot, you immediately cut the engine and put it into park, your eyes never leaving him for a second. Your grin hurts your cheeks, that’s how hard you’re smiling because there he is, in all of his tall, skeletal glory, with a million-dollar straight smile, his braces off. You rip your seatbelt off, pulling your keys from the ignition, and jump out of the van, crossing the short distance to pull him into a hug.

Unable to keep the excitement from your voice, you practically shout, “Papyrus! You look so good!” You reach up to hold his skull in your hands, but he’s too damn tall. He grins back at you and, indulgently, bends at the waist so you can get a closer look. There’s little remaining evidence of his previously shredded teeth- the braces seemed to have worked their miracle in a relatively short time-

With you holding his jaw, Jupiter’s voice comes out a little muffled, “I KNOW! I LOVE IT!” He leans up a little, your hands sliding off of his cheekbones, then he sweeps you up into a hug, picking you up and pressing you tightly enough to his chest that his ribcage digs into your own. “I WILL! NEVER! BE ABLE TO EXPRESS HOW GRATEFUL I AM TO HAVE YOU IN MY LIFE!” The sheer conviction in his voice pulls a giggle out of you and, with a light orange flush on his face, he spins you around like you’re weightless. “THE DENTIST SAID THAT HE’D NEVER SEEN TEETH SET SO FAST- OBVIOUSLY THAT’S JUST A TESTAMENT TO HOW GOOD MY DENTAL HYGIENE REGIMEN IS! LOOK!” He says, as if he’s going to smile again, but he’s already smiling as wide as he can.

You let out a wheezing laugh as he gives you all of his angles, still holding you under your arms. “You’re just that good, Pap!” His eye sockets widen marginally behind his glasses and, in one swift motion, he pivots so he’s carrying you like a bride. You laugh so hard that it makes you cough and, finally, you notice that Mars has been grinning at the two of you with the widest smile.

“look at you two, doing all of this in the parking lot. i’m not judging, but i would call this...”

“SANS-”

scene-sational.” Still holding you, Jupiter stomps one foot. “heh, just joking around, bro. c’mon, let’s get home- there’s a celebration lasagna calling your name.” With a dramatic, drawn sigh, he sets you down, as if to say ‘FINE, IF I MUST’.

“FOR OUR PURPOSES TONIGHT, I’LL HAVE TO MAKE A COMBINATION CELEBRATION AND GET-WELL-SOON LASAGNA. AND MAYBE A CUP OF TEA.” He pats the top of your head, still smiling down at you, and his occasion-specific lasagnas make you cough laughing. “I CALL SHOTGUN!”

You back get into your van and, after turning the engine and taking the parking brake off, you’re surprised when neither of them get into the car. Instead, Jupiter’s skull is tilted to the side, seeming to try to stare a hole into your car. You lean out, “Uh, guys? Last call for getting driven home.”

“EH... EHEHEH... I THOUGHT I COULD BLUFF MY WAY OUT, BUT-”

“Shotgun means you want the front passenger seat. Sans in the back.”

“OH! IS THAT FINE WITH YOU, BR-” He turns to ask his brother but, in the time that you’d clarified, he’d already taken a shortcut into your backseat. You jump a little (still not really used to him just appearing wherever he wants to without any signal), but otherwise get to setting up the car. Jupiter casts a flat look at his brother, who chuckles at having played a small joke on him. “SANS...”

“hey, you called shotgun. ‘could say that i called slingshot.”

-

It’s silly of Jupiter to preen in front of the mirror, but he can’t help himself- it had been one thing to see his reflection with his braces on, and another to see them off, his teeth aligned. He has to bend over at the waist to be able to see himself properly in the mirror, but he takes the second to straighten his spine, brushing his gloved hands along his change of clothes. He’d asked for fifteen minutes for a costume change so you three could really celebrate his orthodontic accomplishments, and, while he’d outgrown all of his formalwear years ago, he could throw together a stitched button-down and a cardigan and call it a day. He tries not to sweat as he reevaluates his hastily patched jeans, how he has to pull his socks high to make up for his exposed calves.

He’s being silly. You’ve never minded his old sweaters and faded jeans before- him having a jewelry-store’s grade of pearly whites in his mouth makes no difference! You, finally seeing him fully presentable, as handsome as he could be...

What! Was there! To be nervous about!

Someone knocks shave-and-a-haircut on the door and Jupiter nearly hurdles straight into the ceiling. “you doin’ alright, bro?” Sans asks, and he sighs in relief.

“OF COURSE, SANS! WHY WOULDN’T I BE- I’M SIMPLY... ADMIRING MY FIXED MOLARS! AND MISCELLANEOUS DENTAL WORK! I’LL BE OUT IN A MOMENT.” He casts one last nervous glance at the mirror before fixing his face into a bright smile.

Sans stands, slouching against the wall, a falsely apologetic grin on his face, “listen, bro, i tried to stop them, just so you know.” Jupiter casts a wary look at him, brushing his hands against his pants, even though he lacked palms and was wearing gloves. “i couldn’t get pasta them. if i had a penne for-”

Jupiter (very cooly, in his opinion) sprinted away from his brother and his barrage of starch-y jokes, down the stairs. The smell of tomato and basil hits him and, carefully, he slows his pace as he rounds the kitchen. The scene is familiar- you, tucked close to the stove and almost behind the fridge, stirring diced tomatoes, cooked spaghetti, and vegetable broth together in a sauté pan. “Hey, sweetheart.” You say, smiling, “I didn’t want you to have to make all of the food, so I whipped up some spaghetti.”

He feels his hands knot together, resting lightly on his ribcage. “YOU MADE IT WITH BROTH, THIS TIME?” He asks, stepping forward and leaning over you to peer into the pan. You turn to accommodate him, and it feels strange to stand behind you at his full height. He could pick you up, engulf you in his arms. For a moment, he stares at the top of your head instead of the food, thinking only of picking you up and spinning you like he did earlier. You start to turn, probably to get away from the hot stove, and Jupiter startles immediately, “WELL! WITH YOUR CULINARY GENIUS, I KNOW IT’LL BE... IT’LL...” He trails off.

You turned around completely after fumbling with the burner, taking the spaghetti off of the heat. You look up at him with glassy eyes (still under the weather- how could he have forgotten?) but, after a moment, your face splits into a grin. “You look good, Paps.” You keep looking up at him, swaying a little on your feet. “How’s it feel?”

Gently, he sets his hands on your shoulders to hold you steady. “FANTASTIC. IT’S SO NICE TO BE ABLE TO HAVE TEETH I CAN RELY ON TO DO THEIR JOB! LOOK!” He grins at you and, if your giggle was anything to go by, it must’ve been just as good as before the famine. “JUST ONE OF THE MANY ABILITIES HAVING A STRAIGHT SET OF TEETH AFFORDS ME!”

“And the other abilities?” You ask, teasing, your head tilted up to look at him. The way you ask makes his bravado falter a little, and he realizes that, leaning over you like this was... Was... Was it burning up in the room, or was it just you?

“I, UM, AM AFRAID THOSE ARE BORING, FOOD-RELATED ACTIVITIES FOR... FOR THE MOST PART.” You laugh and sniffle a little. Rolling up onto your tiptoes, you reach for his shoulders, and he immediately bends down to comply. You pull him into a hug, the softer parts of your body warm and inviting against his hard bone, and you rest your head against his upper vertebrae for a moment.

“Ugh, I’m just so happy for you, Paps. I’d give you a celebratory smooch if you wouldn’t catch whatever this is.” He jumps a little at your words and, without thinking, his soul pulls you into an encounter. By the look on your face when you spend your turn pulling away from him, you’re obviously more than a bit surprised. “Um, Papyrus?”

“UH. OH, WOW, HOO BOY, THIS IS EMBARRASSING- I’LL JUST, UM.” He thinks happy thoughts (distinctly not fighting thoughts), but they keep turning back to you. Which was, unfortunately, how the encounter had started anyways- his soul trying to reach out to your’s. He can feel the heat of a blush on his skull, and he tugs at the collar of his shirt. “IF YOU WOULDN’T MIND. UM.” Not check ing him? It wasn’t like he could say that! What would his soul say- ‘Absolutely smitten. Would like to own a house with you and pay taxes in the future’? He can’t let you hear that!

You look startled, but you don’t make a move to spare him. Instead, “I’m sorry- Papyrus, did I do something that scared you?” Jupiter stares at you like you’ve grown another head- it’s absolutely incomprehensible to him that a monster has never pulled you into an encounter before because they were attracted to you. Impossible.

So you must think this way because you’re being too considerate, thinking of him and his past. There’s no way this can go in a way that doesn’t make him seem creepy. “OH, NO, YOU’RE FINE, JUST-”

“what’s going on here?” Sans, Stars bless him, interrupts the accidental-fight, sliding in and ending it. Without hesitating, you grab your soul and stuff it back into your chest- he hadn’t even looked at it close enough to notice any details. His eyes scan between the both of you and, realizing how terrible the situation looked (with you clutching a metal soup spoon and him leaning over you), Jupiter turns and gives him the most pleading look he can manage.

It must’ve been enough for Sans to pick up what’d really happened, because he gives out a lame excuse for him. “i dropped something upstairs- must’ve spooked pap. sorry, bro- didn’t know a crash would get you like that.” You shake your head, obviously picking up that there was something going on, but dismissing it until either of them were honest with you. It was, actually, very kind of you. The thought of you taking his feelings into consideration (or, at least, what you thought were his feelings) makes his soul flutter, but he tamps it down.

From the look his brother shoots him, it was obvious that he’d noticed. “hey, sunshine- would ya mind going upstairs and bringing my comforter downstairs? ‘s gonna get a bit cold tonight- wouldn’t want you to catch anything worse.” You squint, but still leave the two of them alone, going up the stairs slowly. Jupiter wonders if Sans really thought about you going into his room, or if he’d just said that to distract you for the moment. When Sans hears his door creak, he fixes Jupiter with a sneaky look, “bro...”

Trying to keep his voice down, Jupiter answers, “Sans...”

“aw, c’mon. i knew the two of you were bonding but i didn’t think you’d be literal about it.”

“Sans, I don’t need you to rub it in! It was...” He’s still blushing. He harumphs a bit, twisting and turning, embarrassed. “It was an accident. I just... I have a bit of a crush- it’s understandable! Who wouldn’t get a crush on them? Their food is delicious, they’re kind and beautiful and understanding and they just provided a necessary emergency service for me-”

From the look Sans fixes him with, it’s obvious that he had some understanding of how Jupiter felt. It’s a strange moment, to realize that he’s rambling about how wonderful you are and that his brother isn’t cracking a joke or, in his paranoia, trying to counter it. “... yeah. believe me, i get it.” His fingers trail up to his ruined eye socket, that old nervous tick of his, hooking in on it. “i know you don’t want to hear about it from me, but... be careful with your soul, you know? i trust them, but you’re not... we’re not...” in the best shape.

It didn’t take close inspection to be able to see how both of their souls were littered with cracks and missing bits that would’ve dusted normal, non-boss monsters. With it came a normal, healthy fear of encounters and anything that’d require vulnerability.

“Of course, Sans. It was an accident, anyways.” He says, even though there’s a thrill in the fantasy of the two of you jokingly sparring or, perhaps, having a particularly intimate date... “I know what I’m doing.”

“i know, bro. i’m just keeping an eye socket out for you.” Sans winks with the socket that has barely any light left in it, and it takes Jupiter a second to realize that that was supposed to be a joke. The underlying concern masked any humor he could’ve gotten from it.

A moment passes, and Jupiter turns to start serving the spaghetti- what kind of host would he be if he made you make the meal, plate it, and serve it? He pulls out three from the matching set you’d bought from them. “HEY, THEY’VE BEEN UP THERE FOR A WHILE, HAVEN’T THEY?” Squinting and listening for any signs of distress, he wonders if you’d accidentally gotten caught in the trash tornado.

“huh, have they?”

-

You’d been frozen in place, staring at the wall above the mattress on the floor. The handwriting on it is in permanent marker, sloppily written but in a way that distinctly looked like comic sans. Unblinking, reading it over and over, you switch the old blanket to just one arm and fumble for your phone, going to take a picture of it.

* no more resets. frisk doesn’t recognize you.

* you’re above ground. you can’t leave the forest.

* there are other versions of yourself and papyrus. most of them live further into the forest, but some don’t.

* gaster’s machine caused this. if it’s repaired, you might end up back underground.

* you hunt animals in the forest. there are no humans in the forest. the human works at grillby’s and they bring you food. you and papyrus are safe.

The first line, in particular, sticks out to you, reading it over and over again. You know Frisk- what human doesn’t know the monster ambassador Frisk? When had he had a run-in with them? You mark the photo as private and stuff your phone back into your pocket. It feels wrong, like an invasion of privacy, to have seen that list, but it was difficult not to when it was literally written on the wall. You start to head out, but you pause, reading, “You might end up back Underground.” Your mouth dries up, thinking of them losing sunrises and kindness and as many meals as they needed.

You think about losing them.

Very loudly, you hear Jupiter call your name, and you startle into action, almost getting clipped in the shoulder by an empty fruit can rotating in Mars’ self-sustaining trash tornado . “Coming!” You cast one last look at the wall and mutter to yourself, “‘You and Papyrus are safe’...” With a long, determined sigh, you square your shoulders and hold in a sneeze.

The two of them are going to stay safe, if you have anything to say about it.

Chapter Text

You’re not usually so impatient, but you’re invested in getting that sit-down talk with the lodge. When your cold clears ( just before your shift at your line cook job, which was a mixed blessing), you’re back to what could only be described as scheming.

Blue gave you a week, but you’re not taking your chances.

You prep for the next day like you’re the only one that’s going to work- you’re grinding meat for tomorrow’s burgers, washing the berries for the breakfast shift’s yogurt parfaits, cleaning out the empty egg cartons. With dinner winding down to only a single ticket, you pass the All-American burger to the other line cook, Jonathan, and say, “I’m leaving fifteen minutes early today.”

“Yeah? You still sick?” He barely even looks up from where he’s prepping fries for tomorrow, his knife steady and slowly cutting through the skinned potatoes. You’d technically just finished the last order of the shift unless something came in and had a ten-minute dinner, and he knows you’re good for picking up any slack.

“No- I’m checking out some property.” The knife hits the cutting board in one motion, and he pauses, pursing his lips and wiggling the knife like he wants to continue chopping but has something to say. “Why, you need something?”

“Did you ever get your house back?” Air whistles through your teeth in a sharp exhale. Jonathan seems almost instantly embarrassed for bringing it up, but he’d been the one to cover all of your missed shifts through the hospitalization, then the court proceedings, so he knew a bit more than you’d want a coworker to. “I know, I know, it’s none of my business, but I gotta cousin in law, so if you ever wanna try-”

“I’m, uh, looking at the house for some friends. I’m not really looking to...” You trail off, nervously chuckling. “Apartment life is suiting me just fine for right now. And, um, no, I lost the house in the proceedings. My ex had the deed in his name.”

“Damn, that’s the worst.” He hits the flat side of the knife against cutting board. “‘Least that fuckin’ dirtbag will learn his lesson when he gets out in two months and has to pay the mortgage by himself. ... See, now that put a smile on your face.” He grins back at you, malicious in a way directed to your dirtbag ex-boyfriend and, yeah, that did put a bit of a smile on your face.

It’s terrible, but there’s no way he’d be able to keep his head above the water without you and your two-to-three jobs. Junior year when you’d moved out with him, you’d been the fool lured into the promises of a fairytale ending. Big house, nice lawn, a prince. Your therapist tells you that you shouldn’t blame yourself for your lack of perspective- your parents hadn’t treated you the way they should’ve, and you’d had some fairly skewed ideas of what a healthy relationship looked like. You could do everything, anything for him- cook his meals, clean the house, pay the bills, mow the lawn. You could keep stretching and stretching yourself thinner and thinner and it didn’t matter, because this was your happy ending. This was It.

And then it wasn’t. Maybe he’d finally wake up and smell the $200 utilities bill when he stayed up all night gaming when he got out of jail.  

“Hey, one can only hope.” You say, trying to joke a little and getting a weak chuckle out of Jonathan. “I’ll go talk to Dee- then I’ll be out.” Once you get out of the kitchen, you make a beeline for your boss’ office, taking the route close to the bathroom so that the least amount of customers saw you. Chickadee’s was a burger-slash-Southern food restaurant that rotated the menu far too much for being as expensive as it was- not that you were complaining. The pay was way too good for you to open your mouth about Dee’s business practices.

“Are you clocking out, now?” Dee pokes her head out from behind her accounting books, immediately tucking her pen behind her ear. She has a rushed manner of speaking, as if her balancing the restaurant’s books was the most urgent job in the world. “No need to check with me- you already called me about it. Hope you find something nice, dear- happy hunting!” She shoos you with one hand, using the other to scratch at her shaved temple with the cap of her red pen- you can’t even get a word in.

“Alright, Miss Dee- see you tomorrow, then.” And, with that, you have a thirty-minute window before Jupiter and Mars expect to see you. You’re generally of the mind that honesty is the best policy, but if you’re going to rip this universe’s Sans’ femur off and beat him over the head with it for the insane amount of miscommunication and harm he’s inflicted... You don’t want to get them involved. First thing’s first, however, you needed to know where the lodge is- it would be a little more tricky than you’d thought (especially if you hoped to avoid your skeletons- Black seemed to run a tight ship), but it wasn’t unmanageable.

As to be expected, there weren’t many registered properties in the vicinity of the woods- more or less, there were two or three mountain homes, but they were older homes that had had roots and grass grow over their connecting roads and driveways. Isolated- the perfect place to hide roughly six skeletons who were the result of an experiment gone wrong. One of the houses, large enough to be considered a lodge, was registered to a name that pulled at your memory somewhat, like you’d read it before, but not enough for you to recall the significance. None of the houses were registered to a Sans Serif, either, but you could assume he’d used a pseudonym, which just made it a little easier.

You have to keep reminding yourself that the whole point was that it was secret . The cat was long out of the bag for you, so it just felt frustrating that there seemed to be endless amounts of red tape keeping you out. Whether that red tape was you trying to be polite and waiting it out, waiting for Mars or Jupiter to bring it up, waiting for Blue to tell you to come over...

Well. You seemed to be doing a lot of waiting, and you were tired of it.  

You cut your engine, thinking about how you really hope the sorority house mom doesn’t mind you parking in their lot all the time. You’d done some cursory research regarding the houses and, while neither Black nor Mars had an actual address for their homes, Black’s brick house looks like a guest house built on someone’s property, so you’d start with the one closest-by. You’d had a long debate with yourself that morning over how to dress (in all black for stealth? In hiking gear for ease? Or in something more casual in case you were caught?), before settling on just walking about in your uniform and thick-soled work shoes.

The issue, now, was how to circumvent Black’s patrol route.

You’d only gotten the slightest inkling of where it was based off of that first night you’d met, but you’d been lost in the forest. Not exactly the best point of reference to go off of, so you play it safe and decide to stay clear of his house in about a fifteen-foot radius, all the while keeping an eye out for their traps. Mars had said that they’d disabled most of their traps for you, but you couldn’t be certain, considering you’d found a few simpler ones closer to their house still active. Old habits dying hard, you supposed.

You step down onto a handful of crunchy leaves, then pause. If you weren’t mistaken, a footstep had echoed near you at nearly the same time. You hold back a flinch, goosebumps raising on the backs of your arms. You try to give off the appearance that you hadn’t noticed a thing, your pulse pounding in your ears, continuing forward. You take another few steps before you realize that your goosebumps are a response to a sudden spike in magic in the air and quickly pull back.

Trusting your instinct had kept you from being bludgeoned by the bones suddenly raining down from the sky, forming a dramatic ‘X’ in front of you.

“SO YOU DECIDE TO SHOW YOUR FACE AROUND HERE AGAIN.” Despite the fact that the words are dumb and super cheesy, you still remember the last time you were in this situation. The dumb, edgy skeleton that’d made you lose your good cast iron pan. “I SHOULD’VE KNOWN YOU’D RETURN TO THE SCENE OF THE CRIME. THE CRIME, OF COURSE, BEING TRESPASSING.”

“Yeah?” You say, feeling the small hairs on the back of your neck rise. Last time you’d gotten out by the skin of your teeth, so seeing this guy doesn’t exactly bring up fond memories. Your tongue trips over an excuse for being here again, “Sorry, I got lost hiking through here last time. I’m, uh, looking for where that trap was last time to report to the forest ranger- someone could get hurt.”

Very obviously, Edge isn’t buying it. “WELL, CONSIDERING I’M IN ONE PIECE, NO THANKS TO YOU AND THAT TRAP, I’D SAY THAT THERE’S NO NEED TO ALARM THE HUMAN AUTHORITIES.” His already narrow eye sockets lower into a glare, casting a harsh shadow underneath on his cheekbones. “NOW. LEAVE.”

Fuck. “But I, uh-” You can’t find a good enough excuse as to why you’d still be hanging around. Instead, you stall for time, “So, you’re the homeowner? I can, uh, look up the boundaries of your property if I knew your name. Since you haven’t posted any signs up.”

His jaw clenches for a moment, like you’d asked the wrong question. Or maybe he was just pissed that you’d called him out for his own lie- this part of the forest was public and, if he’d somehow made a large purchase of private land, he’d need to post it. “YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT ME. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IS THAT THIS PART OF THE FOREST IS OCCUPIED, AND THAT YOU SHOULDN’T BE HERE IF YOU VALUE YOUR LIFE. SCRAM.”

Wow, how friendly. “So, what you’re saying is, is that you’ve claimed the whole forest, then? Every single tree? I can’t even turn around to leave, is what you’re saying.” You fake like you’d gotten a text message and, as quickly as you can, mark your current location down on your Maps application. Some sarcasm edges into your voice, “Well, thank you for service, whoever you are. I’ll just be on my way I guess.”

And, literally holding your breath, you start to walk past him, in the direction of what you can only assume is the lodge.

The audacity of the move stuns him for a second and, looking over your shoulder, you see him do a comical double-take and you take off into a sprint. He’s quick to start after you, calling out an offended, “HEY!” as if you’d broken some agreement with him. If you had any sense of direction (which was giving yourself far too much credit, considering your bad sense of direction is what’d gotten you in this skeletal mess), you should be heading straight towards the largest house this side of the forest. Just over the crest of the hill, you see the peak of a chimney, and then you feel Edge’s hand wrap around the top of your arm, yanking you backwards.

But it’s too late- you’ve made it over the top of the hill and, as if they’d never expect a human to look on, as if they’d assumed that their position in the forest was so perfectly hidden, you see a skeleton draped across a fold-out beach chair, legs crossed at the ankles, reading a book. From this distance, you can’t tell who it is, but- “THAT’S ENOUGH.”

Roughly, you’re pulled into a fight.

Your heartbeat pounds in your ears as you’re spun around to face Edge, who leans over you until you can almost see inside his skull through his nasal bones, flared out in anger. “WHO ARE YOU?” His phalanges curl around the top of your arm, the sharp tips biting into the skin and, hoo boy, it’s been a second since panic has filled your chest like this. You bite down on your tongue and breath, in-out, in-out, your eyes too wide to actually focus on what’s happening in front of you. Bile crawls up your throat and you yank yourself out of his grasp, the twin threat of getting beat the fuck up for stumbling upon a top secret skeleton lodge and having a violent flashback of your shitty ex-boyfriend and the way he’d grabbed you once, the night that had been bad enough that Trixie had called the cops. A surprisingly weak cage of bones tries to box you in and, even panicked, you dodge it fairly easily, pulling out of his grasp.

You can only guess what your soul is doing. You can practically feel your defense drop to 0.

The silence from Edge is almost worse than the anger, the mockery. You’re trying to edge your way out of his line of sight, but his face seems to have parted from pure anger to a simmering befuddlement. More bone attacks, but they’re certainly not as enthusiastic as that other night, and- and all you have to do is get a little further into the forest and sit down and- and you keep your unfocused eyes on him, still dodging. You don’t think you can take the damage on, so you have to keep dodging.

His jaw parts, as if he’s going to say something to you but, furrowing his brow bones, he closes it. Quickly, a bone attack appears behind your ankle and you gasp sharply, feeling your ankle twist as you fall down into a mess of leaves. Your chest keeps rising and falling and you just need to get out you just need to get out you just need to get out-

Edge’s voice comes out softer than you’d expect, “Go. Forget what you’ve seen. It isn’t worth fighting you when you’re not going to put any eff-“ You swing your twisted ankle at his dumb long legs and catch him at the weak bend of his calf. One leg drops and, his guard down, he folds slightly, giving you the moment to scramble to your feet and start to limp off. Your lungs burn, like someone lit a match and you’re inhaling pure smoke, feeling like you’re in an apartment complex with no fire exits.

You trip. You can’t stay on your feet too long, hyperventilating like this, your ankle shaking like this. You know broken, and it’s not broken, but it’s tender and everything aches. You can hear the snap of branches, Edge’s silhouette darkening the lines of trees, and you hold your breath, anticipating blue magic pulling you back to him but… It never comes.

Instead, Edge looks down over you, with something akin to bewilderment. “YOU ARE… STRANGE.” In an almost conspiratorial tone, he informs you, “YOU SHOULD’VE TAKEN THAT OPPORTUNITY TO INCAPACITATE ME, NOT JUST FLEE. YOU WON’T ALWAYS BE FASTER THAN THE PERSON CHASING YOU.” He says all of this as you’re dragging yourself backwards with the palms of your hands, panic attack winding down to just plain panic as the reality (and not the terrible memory of it) stares you in the face. “IF YOU’D BEEN ONLY A SECOND SLOWER, YOU WOULD’VE HAD MY MERCY. UNFORTUNATE.”

With one last jolt of adrenaline, you pull yourself further back and try to use a tree to shield the brunt of whatever attack was looming, your eyes screwed shut and your teeth grit.

It never comes.

“WHAT. IS. THIS.” Each word comes out through grit teeth and, peeking out just barely through your eyelashes, you see a black tank-top and sweatpants, splattered with bleach stains, underneath a scowling Black. He’s wearing bright yellow cleaning gloves, and the sight would’ve made you laugh any other time. “I TURN MY BACK FOR ONE GODDAMN SECOND AND YOU’RE TRYING TO COMMIT MANSLAUGHTER? REALLY? SPARE THEM BEFORE I EMBARRASS YOU AGAIN, EDGE.” Almost unbelieving, you open both your eyes and, craning your head around the tree, you see a tall wall of bones has physically separated you from Edge, and he’s glaring through the spaces between them.

Your blood runs cold, then you realize his gaze isn’t aimed at you. You swallow drily and, as rattled as your head feels, you realize that you can turn this to your advantage.

“OH, AS IF YOU’RE SOME KIND OF SAINT.” Edge sneers, “I WASN’T GOING TO KILL THEM- WHAT KIND OF AMATEUR DO YOU THINK I AM? I DON’T KNOW WHY YOU’RE GOING SOFT ALL OF A SUDDEN, BUT I’M NOT A FUCKING TOUR GUIDE. KEEPING HUMANS OFF OF OUR PROPERTY ISN’T SUPPOSED TO BE SOME SORT OF CUSHIONY TUMBLE BACK TO WHERE THEY CAME WHILE I HOLD THEM GENTLY IN MY ARMS. IF IT DOESN’T FUCKING HURT, THEN WHY WOULDN’T THEY COME BACK!”

“IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE VIEWED AS AN AMATEUR, MAYBE DON’T ACT LIKE ONE? DID YOU CONSIDER THAT?” One of Black’s red eye lights flickers to you, where you’re trying to shuffle off without either of them noticing, using the tree to hide you from Edge’s sight. “NOW LOOK WHAT YOU’VE DONE. THEY’RE INJURED, JUST LIKE THE OTHER HUMAN YOU ATTACKED.”

For a moment, you freeze- what other human?

“SHUT UP! IT’S THE EXACT SAME HUMAN! AND, APPARENTLY, I DIDN’T INJURE THEM ENOUGH, BECAUSE THEY CAME BACK!” Edge throws his hands up in exasperation, then, apparently distracted from his argument with Black by his own movement, catches you slinking off. “AND NOW THEY’RE GETTING AWAY. FANTASTIC. I CAN’T WAIT TO FIGHT THEM AGAIN FOR THE THIRD TIME WHEN THEY COME BACK HERE IN FOUR TO SIX BUSINESS DAYS, BECAUSE I’M APPARENTLY THE SHOPKEEPER TO A VERY VIOLENT FOREST-BASED BUSINESS INSTEAD OF SECURITY DETAIL FOR OUR-” His voice continues to rise in volume, until he’s practically screaming, then cuts off suddenly. Right. Super secret skeletal shenanigans.

“UGH.” Black says, evidently more annoyed than intimidated. He turns to you, your palms muddy with dirt and your posture leaning to favor one ankle, and sighs, “COME ON. LET’S GET YOU OUT OF HERE.” Gently, so gently that you see Edge’s face crinkle into confusion and then sudden comprehension, Black drapes your arm around his shoulders and fits his arm around your back to support your weight. He laughs once, sharply, and you shiver, remembering the sound of laughter the last time you’d gotten roughed up in the woods by him.

“HUH. SO IT’S LIKE THAT. ” His voice is bemused and, while you’re pretty sure Black meant for you not to see it, you see him twist his free arm around to flip Edge off behind his back. “OF COURSE. OF COURSE.” His stunned laughter echoes as Black leads you back to his house, decidedly not back to the forest path.

He nudges the door open with the broad side of his shoe, leading you in and walking slowly. “I WAS CLEANING THE FLOORS.” He explains, hesitantly, then picks you up by your underarms and sets you down on top of the countertops. You stare at him at the display of strength and the nerve of him, to put you on the counter when he’s shorter than you. His hands linger in the air, as if he didn’t want to let you go in the first place. He brushes his gloved hands on his sweatpants to shake off the feeling. “DID... DID EDGE ACTUALLY INJURE YOU, THIS TIME?”

Having to center yourself and realize that you’re in a body that is aching terribly from your flight instinct, you realize that... “I think he bruised the top of my arm?” You roll back your sleeve to reveal a light pink bruise in the shape of fingers. It’d felt more forceful when he had grabbed you but, upon retrospect, that might’ve been the fault of your panic attack. “But that’s it. I, um, twisted my ankle trying to run away.”

“OH. IT’S NOT SO BAD.” He says, peering at your arm. “I... WAS WORRIED THAT HE’D REALLY HURT YOU, THIS TIME. I SAW YOU LIMPING AND BREATHING HARD...” His eye lights cut away. “EDGE TOYING WITH YOU IS STRANGE. USUALLY HE’D JUST...” Black lets the sentence drop off, not wanting to elaborate, it seemed. You remember that it was a fight between the two of them that had gotten Black and his brother kicked out of the lodge. “ANYWAYS. WHY WERE YOU OUT SO FAR IN THE FOREST? YOU SHOULD’VE LET ME KNOW- I WOULD’VE ESCORTED YOU.”

You note that he doesn’t say ‘one of us’- just him. He felt responsible for this- you don’t know whether you should feel touched or ashamed that he felt this way. Your tongue trips around an excuse. “I was going to surprise you and your brother, but I, um, got turned around.” You swallow your nerves, “I have a bad sense of direction.”

The look he gives you is disbelieving, the lie practically transparent. “DO YOU... HM. I SHOULD PREFACE THIS WITH...” He presses the palms of his hands together and gives you a serious look. “YOU ARE ALLOWED YOUR SECRETS. IF YOU DON’T WANT ME, OR MY BROTHER... OR ANYONE ELSE, REALLY, TO KNOW SOMETHING, IT’S YOUR RIGHT TO KEEP IT TO YOURSELF. SO. I DON’T NEED TO KNOW ALL OF THE FACTS BUT, IF IT’S GOING TO INVOLVE YOUR SAFETY, I WOULD PREFER IT IF YOU INVOLVED ME.”

“I, uh, wasn’t making plans to scrap with Edge, if that’s what you’re wondering.” You kick your feet out from the counter, something familiar about the action, about the entire scene right now, somehow familiar. “I... Don’t have to tell you all about it?” You pull it out into a question, somehow.

“YOU DO NOT.” Black nods, but he’s still watching you carefully. “EVEN IF I WOULD APPRECIATE BEING A CONFIDANT IN WHATEVER CAUSED YOU TO PISS EDGE OFF THAT BADLY, I THINK IT’S SAFE TO SAY THAT WHATEVER YOU WERE DOING WAS... SELF-CONTAINED.” You raise one eyebrow at him. “DON’T GIVE ME THAT LOOK. EDGE WOULD’VE PUT IN A JAB OR TEN ABOUT THE OTHERS IF THEY WERE INVOLVED. HE’S GOT A FAT MOUTH WHEN HE THINKS HE HAS THE UPPER HAND.”

“So, we’re good?” Your mouth feels dry, like you’re still waiting for the consequence. Still waiting for that other shoe to drop.

“YOU’RE THE ONE THAT WAS IN AN ENCOUNTER WITH EDGE. ARE WE GOOD?” There’s a touch of humor in his voice, as well as something a little vulnerable. His eye lights flicker over your face, and he seems to still be looking for some indication that you’re hurt.

“We’re good.” You say, a smile pulling at the corners of your mouth. You take in the state of the house, how the curtains are pulled up and over their rods and all of the chairs are on top of the dining table. “You were cleaning the floor? How’d you even know I was in trouble?”

Black avoids your gaze and frowns, just slightly. “I ACTUALLY SAW YOU THROUGH THE WINDOW. I, ER, GAVE YOU ABOUT FIVE MINUTES BEFORE I BECAME CONCERNED AND WENT TO LOOK FOR YOU. KNOWING THE KINDS OF TROUBLE YOU GET UP TO IN THE FOREST, I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE BETTER WITH YOU SAFE AND ANGRY WITH ME FOR BEING NOSY THAN DEAD AND NOT FEELING MUCH OF ANYTHING.”

“Oh.” That’s... actually fairly considerate. “Thank you for worrying about me. If you hadn’t come around, I don’t think I’d be as chatty as I am right now.” At the very least, you’d be very sour about being beat up by the same guy twice.

Black nods. “OF COURSE.” His smile stretches slow, showing off each of his sharp teeth, “WHAT ARE FRIENDS FOR?”