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Victory Not Vengeance

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           Seize or perish.

           Papyrus learned that early on. It was a rule he and his brother lived by in order to survive that hellish Underground. Under the hardened king’s declaration of ‘kill or be killed’, he could only afford one to love him, and that was forced upon him by having a brother. He knew it was better to be feared than loved. It was what kept them safe. When he climbed the ranks of the royal guard with his pride, he challenged Undyne, claiming her position and eye. From then on he seized the attention of the king and answered only to him. Papyrus’ fury was renowned as he commanded the royal guard. He considered each scar a tally of his victories. No monster could fell him.

           Then the barrier fell and war was declared. The weaker monsters, those cowards, fled the mountain. Papyrus knew his real work would begin and that he could not count on the likes of them. He needed intel and a little game of peace was the way to get it.

           Now here he was watching you from afar, leaning against an empty store that was soon to be a bakery. His arms were crossed and he kept his head leveled, occasionally scanning his peripherals from the corners of his eye sockets. He’d be damned if he let his guard down. Finally getting a taste of sunlight did not justify sloppiness. He was still captain of the royal guard and fights between monsters still happened, although they had lessened over the course of two seasons now that living space and food were plentiful. Keeping monsters in line was pressing on his mind and your presence didn’t help.

           You were kneeling in the square talking to the echo flowers growing at the base of a statue, each time excited when they repeated back part of a song or phrase perfectly. This was the fourth day you came to the monster district, as reported by the royal guard. At first you hung around the outskirts, marveling at the golden flowers. Then you wandered the streets, peering into shops. You would stop in place frequently and pull out a notebook and pencil from your bag. It didn’t matter what you were doing at the time, nor did the suspicious glances monsters gave deter you.

           Papyrus looked at you with suspicion. Why a human would come to the monster slums of Ebott City was cause enough. Human civilians were warned not to enter the district by their local governments, so what did that make you? You were scrawling who knows what into that notebook of yours. For all he knew, you could have been a spy sent in to monitor them. It wasn’t the first time and certainly wouldn’t be the last. Clearly, he had to deal with you personally.

           Relations with the humans were tense at best after all. From the moment they emerged from the Underground, the humans viewed them as detritus the mountain spat out. It was only because of their pity monsters were able to relocate to abandoned housing. Papyrus was certain if it wasn’t for the wealth of gold they had, the humans would have had other plans. Their current living conditions were better at least. It took some getting used to. At least monsters weren’t at each other’s throats as much, so he could afford to be more relaxed about leaving Sans to his devices. His brother frequently assured him his protection wasn’t necessary, but Papyrus felt better keeping an eye socket out for him. At least his fury and prestige did most of the work for him in that regard and carried over to the surface.

           His eyelights followed when you finally put your things away and rose to wander down a street. Papyrus pushed away from the cracked, cement wall. Moving into a brisk walk, he kept sight of you as you meandered. You were so enthralled by the abundance of golden flowers growing in the cracks of buildings and the sidewalk that you didn’t sense him shadowing you. Papyrus didn’t spare a glance at the monsters he passed, but they were certain to get out of his way, sometimes even by hurriedly crossing the street.

           Swiftly turning on your heel to look around, you collided into Papyrus and managed to recover your footing. “Sorry!” you squeaked, then looked up at him in surprise and amazement. “Oh, wow…”

           You gazed at the skeleton’s broad, squared shoulders and how his leather jacket hung on his frame. He wore jeans and a dark T-shirt with ‘House of Gold & Bones’ written on it. Slowly, you lifted your eyes to his scarred face. His eyes were piercing and burned like hot coal. Your voice caught in your throat when you tried to speak.

           “What are you looking at, human ?” Papyrus growled, spitting out the final word. You heard the sound of pulled leather as he crossed his arms and glared down at you.

           You giggled and tried to hide your smile.

           That caught him off guard. He narrowed his eye sockets at you. What kind of game were you playing? He was the Great and Terrible Papyrus after all. The one who could inflict fear with a simple glare, yet here you were laughing at him. He knew humans were odd, but standing your ground in this manner was twisted and unexpected.

           “I don’t see what’s so funny,” he said coldly.

           “I’m sorry,” you chuckled. “I’ve just never been addressed that way before. It takes some getting used to.” You extended a hand and smiled warmly at him. “You’re the first monster willing enough to greet me. Maybe we can be friends. Your name is…?”

           He glanced at your hand in disgust. He didn’t care who you were, nor was he fond of the idea of telling you his name. He may have boasted his name and self-given title back in the Underground, but that was an act with no benefit here. The less you knew, the better.

           “What are you, a fairy?” you teased playfully. The corners of your mouth twitched. “Come on, I don’t bite! What’s your name? Me knowing that won’t do any harm to you, right?”

           “A what?” Papyrus rolled his eyelights and scoffed. Certainly that had to be an insult, perhaps to get a rise out of him. He knew humans had their share of myths and legends, that the existence of monsters was closely intertwined with their cultures even when they were left forgotten in their tomb under the mountain, but this particular reference was lost on him. His impatience with you was growing. He might as well cut to the chase. “Tell me, what business do you have? Humans don’t come here unless they’re up to something, so what are you doing here?”

           “I heard a song.” Again, that warm smile of yours appeared. However, it did nothing to hide how your shoulders stiffened or how your fingers fidgeted with the strap of your bag.

           “What are you babbling about?” He was used to reading the intentions of another before they struck. It was a skill that served him well as captain in the Underground. But when it came to you, reading such things was a more difficult puzzle. It felt familiar too in an unnerving way.

           You pointed to an echo flower at a corner that was humming the sounds of the bustling street. “I was singing as I passed by one, and it sang back to me.” He caught the small tremor in your voice.

           “You expect me to believe it was curiosity that led you here,” Papyrus said, arching his brow.

           You shrugged and grinned sheepishly at him. “Guess I’m pretty dumb for falling for your trick. I know you’re not supposed to follow fae music even if you’re the one who sang it first, but it was so magical. I couldn’t help myself.” You laughed to yourself in an effort to relieve the tension you felt.

           There you went again with that fairy talk. He decided it was best to ignore it for now. It was another piece of human culture he would have to look up if he wanted to understand you and your kind.  “Do you think I’m that dense?” Papyrus glowered. He clenched his hands into fists, then moved to hold them behind his back all the while looming over you.

           “No, of course not!” You held up your hands to show you meant no offense and took a step back. You looked at him with eyes wide.

           Papyrus stepped closer. He wasn’t about to waste this opportunity of your defenses weakening. He was determined to get the information he wanted one way or another.

           “Oh man, I really screwed up this time,” you said stiffly. “You’re the first monster I talk to and I’m already making a poor first impression by the looks of it. Maybe our ways of communication are different, or maybe I misunderstood something. I really didn’t mean to offend you,” you said, the urgency and pitch in your voice rising. You flinched and shut your eyes tightly from the movement Papyrus made.

           “Your notebook,” he said flatly while extending a hand. “Let me see it.”

           “You want...to see my notebook?” you asked, blinking in surprise. You hesitated and watched him nod before fumbling in your bag for it. “S-sure… Hang on.”

           Papyrus snatched it out of your hands before you could say another word and flipped through it. He frowned, expecting to see pages of notes about what you observed. What he saw were sketches. What notes you had concerned the color and texture of things, and moods you felt or tried to convey. You took a liking to the echo and golden flowers judging by the number of wispy forms on the pages. Somehow the places in the monster district you drew had a feeling of home to them too. There was the square adorned with flowers, and monster shops on street corners.

           Papyrus’ eyelights flickered. You sketched monsters enjoying sunlight. Scaley forms slept by windows. An amphibious figure strolled down the street all too relaxed. He did not recognize any of them. They were too soft, too vulnerable to be anyone he knew or fought against. No, these were not the same monsters from his Underground.

           Papyrus closed the notebook. He clenched his jaw tightly in a slight grimace. He wanted to show how wrong you were. He wanted to show you how dangerous they were. His chest was tight with fury, and these drawings were all wrong . Papyrus took a deep breath and exhaled slowly to clear his head. Why was he so angry? This blasphemy you drew nagged at something deep inside himself. It was something he pushed away in an effort to forget.

           “What do you think?” you asked, smiling warmly and with hope. Your voice had a nervous warble to it.  “I’m still not very good at drawing monsters, but…” Your voice trailed off as you looked at him. You saw how his eyes burned. His silence was heavy, making the air feel dense. The hairs on the back of your neck stood on end and a chill rippled through you. It was like a hot wire connected you to him and at any second it was about to burn out.

           Your voice cut through Papyrus’ thoughts and drew his attention back. “Get out,” he said in a low growl. He shoved the notebook at you and pointed in a direction away from the monster district.

           “Oh...that bad, huh?” You let out a rattled breath and slipped the notebook back into your bag. “I’ll do better next time.” You gave him that smile of yours as a peace offering. It seemed you were determined to come back. For what reason, he couldn’t fathom. “You’ll see!”

           “Don’t show your face here again,” he said icily. Papyrus began walking, slamming his body into your shoulder to make a point. You stumbled backwards, falling against the wall, then recovered your balance. He couldn’t see your face, but from the corner of his eye socket he was satisfied enough to see you turn and begin walking stiffly.

           He rounded a corner and pressed his back against cool brick. The building cast a long shadow over the street. Night was coming and monsters working outside the district would be returning home soon. He knew if you stayed past curfew the humans imposed on them, there was a greater chance you would encounter more monsters. He exhaled a drawn out sigh that grew into a groan and pinched his nasal bridge. Turns out you were just a stupid civilian. A painfully oblivious one at that. He had difficulty reading you because you clashed with his expectations. You intended no harm and had no ill motive towards monsters. He terrified you enough though, and that might come back later to bite him in the coccyx. Getting custody of a spy was one thing, but an incident between restless monsters and a foolish civilian would be a headache he’d rather not deal with.

           He peeked around the corner to see your small silhouette against the setting sun. You were still walking down the street, bathing in the orange and golden light.  The sunset must have caught your attention, because you stopped in place to fumble through your bag. Suddenly, a pair of hands pulled you into the alley.

            Shit .

           Papyrus bolted after you against the glaring light. He expected something like this to happen. Why couldn’t you just keep walking? There was no place for you here. You were too ignorant, too oblivious. Too soft. Whoever that monster was, they would pay for defying his orders and giving him the headache that was bound to come after.

           He tore into the alley. The smell of ozone entered his nasal cavities. The air was electrified and heavy. He saw your bag lying at the entrance and you on your side. You were looking up at the wolf-like monster that summoned a halo of magic shards above you. Your knees were scraped and bloody and a stream of blood dripped from a deep cut on your cheek. You ducked and pressed your face to the filthy ground from the sound of something hard hitting brick next to you.

            Rat, tat, tat, tat, tat .

           A constant drumming was above your head like hale striking a roof. Rubbing away the dirt and dust from your eyes, you looked up to see a ceiling of several long white bones embedded in the wall inches above your body.

           Papyrus dashed in front of you. You caught sight of his boots, but his movements were too quick for you to track much else. He lunged forward, bone club forming in one hand and an unevenly jagged one in the other. He stabbed the monster in the gut and they crumpled. Papyrus swung the bone club and smashed it down on their head. The club broke from the force. The monster gurgled and reached feebly for the serrated weapon. Before they could attempt to pull it out, he grabbed the side of their head and swiftly smashed it against brick.

           “WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING YOU MISERABLE PIECE OF SHIT,” he roared.

           “The human…” the monster gasped in a daze. “The king… We need...more…”

           “SHUT THE FUCK UP.” Papyrus pulled the monster up by their collar and wrenched the serrated bone. The monsters words turned into a groan and high pitched whine. “DO NOT MAKE ME REPEAT MY ORDER.” He landed a punch squarely at the monster’s jaw and they collapsed in a heap.

           Such weakness appalled him. One slip up like this would compromise everything. They had nowhere near enough intel to wage war, nor were they prepared for the consequences if you were noticed to be missing. If they were back in the Underground, Papyrus would have dusted this disobedient mutt for such defiance. Here on the surface, this monster was a necessary, strong body in the king’s army. He couldn’t afford to put this mutt down.

           “I’M NOT DONE WITH YOU,” he spat at them.

           A street light flickered on, filling the alley entrance with occasionally dancing light. Papyrus turned to look at you. You rolled out from underneath the shield of bones. You coughed from the dust and stood up gingerly with shaking knees. Broken glass crunched under your shoes as you backed away from the skeleton and wolf-like monster. Your eyes were wide as you stared at him.

           “What are you still doing here,” Papyrus said in a low growl. His icy composure returned and he took a step towards you. “I told you to get out .”

           His eyes burned into you. He was warning you. This was an order. You had already pushed your luck by coming here for four days. You turned, stumbling out of the alley onto lit streets with twilight above you. Your bag remained on the ground.

Chapter Text

           Neon light signs buzzed on the wall behind the bar while hanging lamps and light fixtures flickered above Papyrus. The lighting in Grillby’s Surface Bar and Lounge would be dismal if it weren’t for the bartender being his own light source. Grillby’s flames burned brightly, casting deep blue and purple firelight against the walls. He stood behind the counter cleaning glasses in silence save for the crackling of his flames.

           Papyrus sat at the end of the bar. He felt the fire elemental watching him, but it did little to distract him from looking over your possessions. Your bag laid on the countertop with its contents strewn in front of him. Your art supplies were grouped neatly together next to your sketchbook. Your phone and keys were set aside on top of a physics textbook stuffed with quizzes from the previous week, all marked with a C. Papyrus flipped through your planner. He gathered you were a student at the university and you were mediocre at best when it came to science and mathematics. The semester had begun recently, and you were already inundated with assignments. You had a major art project you had to decide on, but he saw no indication of you settling on a subject.

           “Hey, Grillby!” Undyne called from behind Papyrus. “When is that piano coming in? I’ve been itching to play something.” She stood at a pool table with cue stick in hand. She bent over, taking aim at the cue ball and struck it. The billiard balls scattered with a clack. When they settled, she circled the table and eyed at them.

           “And so you can break it,” Grillby shot back at her in a rough, crackling voice. “Next week at the earliest,” he smirked. “You break it, you pay triple for it.”

           “Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Undyne said with a wave. She took aim and banked the cue ball off a side so it struck a colored ball neatly into a pocket.

           Papyrus watched Undyne from the corner of his eye socket. She passed under a hanging lamp and disturbed the thick layer of ashen dust that coated the floor so that it swirled lazily in the air. He knew she was waiting for him to say something about you. Patience was not her strong suit and she was agitated. Playing with the new billiard table kept her occupied enough, but with each sharp clack he heard, a headache that had taken root since last night throbbed. Undyne would argue on every point as she always did ever since he took her position. Over his time as captain, he in some ways appreciated her defiance and arguments. It kept him sharp, like how he sparred with her during training. Today, however, her objections would be more of a nuisance than a favor.

           “This place is still filthy,” Papyrus growled.

           “You’re more than welcome to clean it up,” Grillby hissed while grinning. “In fact, you don’t have to be here at all since I recall you disliked my bar back in the Underground. Besides, I think it gives a nice charm to the place, don’t you? Reminds my patrons what happens when they don’t take their fights outside. I do have a strict no dusting policy after all, unless provoked.”

           “Don’t dust too many of them,” Papyrus warned coldly. “Get it cleaned up. Humans have their standards. They’ll shut this place down and then we won’t have a private place to chat. If that happens, the king will be displeased.”

           “Is that an order?” Grillby asked smoothly with a smirk. He leaned towards Papyrus, his arm propped up on the counter with his chin resting on his fist.

           Papyrus gave him a stern look.

           Grillby laughed to himself, his breath crackling in amusement. He pushed away from the counter and returned to cleaning glasses.

           It was too early in the morning for this and Papyrus was in no mood. He shook his head and groaned. Between his brother’s puns and pranks, and Grillby’s sass, they were a force to be reckoned with. Luckily, he only had to deal with one of them at the moment.

           He grabbed your wallet and searched through it. You had some cash, credit and debit cards, and gift cards for various eateries. What he was interested in was your ID, which he found tucked away behind several pockets. He read over your name and where the ID card was issued for. Turns out you weren’t from Ebott. Papyrus knew nothing about the university, but for you to come all this way meant the university had something interesting to offer.

           “Anything interesting?” Undyne approached and crossed her arms. She looked over Papyrus’ shoulder at your possessions with a scowl. “Is that human a spy?”

           “Hardly,” Papyrus growled.

           “So, what then?”

           Papyrus tucked your ID away and set your wallet down. He tilted his head back, closed his eyes, and pinched his nasal bridge. The flickering and buzzing lights were setting him on edge along with Undyne’s impatience. Beating that wolf monster within an inch of their life and making sure his message was received among the other monsters did not allow for much sleep the previous night. Plus, there was still the fallout he was waiting for. “Just a student at the university.”

           “And?”

           “And what ?” Papyrus shot back, flashing a glare.

           “What are you going to do about it?”

           “What is there to do ? The human is not a danger, just stupid and curious.”

           Undyne planted her hands on her hips and squared her stance as she looked at him.

           “WE ARE NOT CAPTURING THE HUMAN.”

           “Face it. The monster that tried to capture them had a point. Everyone is sick of waiting while we play this little game of yours. If we can get more souls, the humans won’t know what hit them. Imagine at least one soul for each monster

           “STOP.” Papyrus held up an admonitory finger to her. “Stop,” he began again, this time calmer. “We are not capturing the human or doing any soul harvesting, got it? Do not make me say it again.”

           Undyne glared at him. “Look, you may be captain of the royal guard now, but the longer we hang around doing nothing, the harder everyone will be to control. Who knows, maybe you won’t be captain anymore when that day comes.”

           There it was. Undyne was challenging him as usual, but this edge of a threat was a first. Back in the Underground, she never overstepped this boundary. She showed loyalty to his command and he admired that. If he had to pin a trait of hers to be the most dangerous though, it was this. She was loyal to a fault, and they were on a new battlefield. He made a mental note to himself. “Then you’ll have to help keep everyone in line. Otherwise, you better enjoy that sunlight while you can still see it,” Papyrus said coldly with a smirk. He watched her closely as he allowed his words to sink in.  “Now, if you gather any useful intel and not attempt to demolish every human you come across, maybe we can start a conversation.”

           Undyne grit her teeth. She locked eyes with him in silence, only to break away and turn her attention to your possessions. “What is all this shit?” she demanded as she reached for your sketchbook.

           Papyrus slammed his hand down on top of it.

           Undyne pulled back slowly. Her fins twitched in annoyance.

           “Don’t touch,” he growled. “Like I said, that human is a student.” Papyrus reached into a brown paper bag on the counter and retrieved a cinnamon bunny. He hoped eating something would help relieve his aggravated headache, especially since he hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning. He bit into the flaky, sugary, cinnamon bread and quietly enjoyed his breakfast.

           Grillby slid a glass down the counter to him. “It’s on the house, Captain,” the bartender grinned.

           Papyrus gave Grillby a skeptical look. The bartender rarely served anything on the house. More often than not, those instances were to his brother. The two had an alliance that many would argue crossed over to friendship. It made sense they would get along. Grillby was known to pull pranks on his customers, but he knew better than to pull one on the captain of the royal guard.

           “Think of it as payment for my morning entertainment today. Watching you two bicker warms my salt filled core. And no, it’s just iced tea, so no need to worry about getting drunk on the job. Although, I would love to see that.”

           “We were not bickering,” Undyne growled, her voice rising to a yell as she bared her teeth.

           “Didn’t look that way from here, fish,” Grillby chortled, the final word sizzling.

           Papyrus rolled his eyelights and took the drink, grateful that Grillby decided to seize her attention. He tuned them out and stared into the glowing, greenish blue liquid. It was some variety of sea tea by the looks of it. He cautiously took a sip and then another when he deemed it to be safe.

           Having gone through your things and still not finding anything noteworthy, he resolved to return them at some point. He suspected you would want them back, and knowing you, he would see you sooner or later. He sipped the tea and felt a little refreshed by it. At least that was one positive thing to his day.

           Your phone chimed out an upbeat song. The three of them froze, their eyes locking onto it. Papyrus watched as it vibrated on top of your textbook and made your keys jangle. When your phone stopped ringing, Papyrus finished the rest of the tea and set the glass down. The ice cubes clinked together, breaking the heavy silence.

           “Why didn’t you answer it?” Undyne said through gritted teeth. “Better yet, why aren’t you looking through it more? If you gave it to our royal scientist, maybe she could crack the password. There’s gotta be information in that thing.”

           “So, you want me to add theft along with assault to the list of things the human could report us for. Good plan, Undyne.”

           Undyne threw her hands up. “At least I’m thinking of options. If you’re so adamant that this human is oh so innocent, at least make them useful,” she yelled.

           “I already intend to speak with them again,” Papyrus responded calmly. “I have to give their shit back after all.”

           “I can’t believe you! Why would you return their—” Undyne stomped towards the back of the lounge while screaming in frustration.

           Papyrus pinched his nasal bridge and winced. He expected this much from Undyne, but he didn’t have the mental energy to deal with her. He shook his head when he heard Grillby trying to restrain his laughter. “Yeah, yeah, laugh it up, matchstick,” he grumbled. “You owe me another drink later.”

           “Gladly,” Grillby crackled.

           Your phone rang again. Undyne came charging over to snatch it, but Papyrus’ unenthused movements reached it first. He held the phone out of her reach and looked at the screen.

           “At least see who it’s from,” she snapped.

           Papyrus read the caller ID. “Someone named Kes.”

           “Who is Kes?” Undyne pressed.

           “How the fuck should I know? Obviously someone the human knows.” Papyrus let the the call go to voicemail. The missed call notification indicated this was the second one from the same caller.

           “For fuck’s sake, Papyrus.”

           “I’m not answering shit, so lay off.”

           Your phone pinged and a text message appeared on your screen. Papyrus held it closely and squinted at the words. Your screen’s brightness didn’t do him any favors when it came to the pounding in his skull.

 

Kes: FAIRY FRIEND IT’S ME I NEED MY HOMEWORK PLEASE ANSWER THIS TIME!!!

 

           Undyne looked over Papyrus’ shoulder and made a disgruntled face. “ Fairy friend ?” she said slowly as if the words left a bitter taste.

           Papyrus groaned. “Don’t ask.” The less Undyne knew about his interactions with you, the better.

           Your phone rang again.

           Undyne arched her brow as she waited to see what Papyrus would do.

           He sighed and accepted the call. “Yes?” Papyrus said flatly. He saw Undyne cross her arms in his peripheral vision.

           “ Thank you !” you shrieked.

           Papyrus winced and held the phone away from his head. He heard the receiver blare and wail with static. The sound continued to shriek in his head when you continued to talk.

           “ Listen, I really need my sketchbook, keys— Everything! Please, tell me you have my bag .” You sounded desperate and winded, like you had been running.

           “I do,” Papyrus said, keeping his voice even. He was prepared to move the phone away again.

           “ Okay, great. I’m coming over to find you right now.”

           “You’re what?! ” His shoulders stiffened and he sat up straight. “Like hell you are,” he shouted. He scanned over your things, making sure nothing went missing.

           “ Yes, I am. I am a desperate university student and when us students get desperate we do crazy things. So you better come over to meet me if you want me out of your district .” Your words were tumbling out frantically.

           “Are you looking for a death wish?” Papyrus snapped. He began shoveling your possessions into your bag quickly. “Ugh, no, don’t do that. I’ll meet you at… Where are you?”

           “ Best hurry up because I’m right on the edge of the monster district. I’m on my way to the square. You know, the one in my drawings with the echo flowers?”

           “Yeah, yeah, I know. Shut up and stay alert. I don’t want to have to save your ass again,” he growled, then hung up. The bag of cinnamon bunnies was the last to get tossed in before he zipped your bag shut. He looped an arm through a strap, jumped off his seat, and dashed out the door, leaving behind a confused Undyne and Grillby. He climbed up the short stairway two at a time and onto the street.

           The square was several blocks from Grillby’s, and you were closer to it. Enough could happen in between when he hung up and when he finally reached you. His boots pounded against cement as he willed himself to run harder. Luckily, the streets were mostly empty at this early in the morning. If he had his motorcycle, getting there would have been simple. For better or worse though, running would have to do. At least blazing down the sidewalk allowed him to release some of his stress and frustrations from the morning. As fate would have it, Grillby treating him to that sea tea was a stroke of luck.

           He scanned the approaching square for signs of you, then spotted your hunched over figure sitting on a bench. You were breathing hard and looked exhausted all the while oblivious to the monsters eying you from shops and sidewalks. He pushed himself to run faster. If he didn’t make his presence known immediately, trouble was bound to happen. Papyrus extended his magic outward, ready to shield you at a moment’s notice. Even the faintest extension of his magic would be detectable to others and enough to make anyone think twice.

           You looked up in surprise to see Papyrus racing across the square. He came to a stop before you and glared. “Hey,” you said weakly. “You’re fast.”

           “Get up,” he hissed. He grabbed your wrist roughly and pulled you to your feet, stopping short of storming off with you in tow when he noticed your legs wobble. He heard you wince from his grip. Your skin felt hot against his hand, and he paused at how soft you felt. It was another reminder of how fragile you were in his district. He remembered the attack from the previous night and kept his guard up. One well placed hit and it would be over for you.

           “Hold up,” you wheezed as you tried to steady yourself. Finally, you regained your balance and smiled warmly at him. “Alright, good to go.”

           Papyrus escorted you out of the district as quickly as your legs allowed. He scanned his peripherals and glared at the monsters that watched. He knew how this looked to them. By protecting you, he was denying them a soul. You intruded onto their territory again and he was letting you leave without consequences. Sooner or later, Undyne would hear of this too. He would have to find some way to play this off. With a hand on your shoulder and another holding your wrist, he directed your wobbling and unsteady body. He frowned when he felt you shaking hard. “You’re not going to keel over and die on me, are you?” he growled. “Because that’s the last thing I need.”

           “No, no,” you said, waving away the question. “I just ran really hard without eating anything since yesterday. I was too shaken up to do so and then I wanted to leave early so I could find you and get my stuff back. I’ll get something to eat later and I’ll be good to go. Don’t worry.” Suddenly, your legs gave and you started to fall forward.

           “Son of a—” Papyrus quickly caught you. He adjusted your bag’s strap, then crouched slightly so he could drape one of your arms across his shoulders while he supported you around your waist.

           “Okay, maybe I’m a little more dizzy and spent than I let on,” you said, smiling sheepishly.

           Papyrus rolled his eyelights and scoffed. As if this didn’t look bad enough. He could feel the stares of every monster in the square boring into his back. The breeze carried over the scent of ozone, causing him to raise his guard further. His magic surged through his body and he focused it around you and him, ready at a notice to raise a wall of bone. He stopped momentarily to glare back, searching for the source, but the acrid smell faded as quickly as it came.

           You felt the tension in his body. The smell of ozone was thick and pungent around the both of you. The hairs on your arms and back of your neck stood on end. Every now and then you heard a faint crackling. “Hey, is everything okay?” you asked, biting your lip.

           Papyrus tightened his hold on you and continued walking. He clenched his jaws and remained alert.

           Slowly, they made their way out of the monster district. Papyrus’ magic ebbed away when they crossed over. The human part of the city was much more populated. The streets were busier with cars and humans hurried on sidewalks to get to their destinations. He gritted his teeth when he saw people watching him with you nearly passed out. Their faces ranged from fear to worry. No one seemed to be making a move to call the authorities, however. You were all smiles and showed no distress. He thanked his lucky stars and kept note of their movements. He needed to find a place for you to rest. Somewhere less crowded preferably.

           Across the street he spotted an empty park with dark, high walls that made up an artistic monument of sorts. The walls encircled a seating area and offered at least some privacy from prying eyes. All he had to do was get across the street once the crosswalk light changed.

           “You dead yet?” he grumbled. Papyrus watched the crosswalk light countdown

           “You wish,” you teased, trying to hold back a laugh.

           “What’s so funny?” The crosswalk light had never been slower.

           “I’m nearly dead to the world, and yet a skeleton, who could play the role of the grim reaper if he wanted to, is keeping me from that. You gotta see the irony in this. Aw, come on, fairy friend . It’s funny!” You bubbled with laughter, being much louder than he would have liked, but he was grateful for that in a way. The humans around him relaxed and turned away their scrutinizing gazes. While they remained wary, they treated him like another person in the crowd.

           “Shut up.” The light changed and he dragged you across the street. “I’m not a fairy and I’m not your friend,” he said in a low voice. He rounded the corner of the wall and dumped you onto a bench.

           You leaned back and smiled weakly at him. “I’m sorry,” you said quietly. “I didn’t mean to cause you this much trouble.” The look you gave him was sincere and tinged with guilt. It was enough to make Papyrus pause.

           Papyrus frowned, finally getting a good look at you. He saw the bandage on your cheek and the blue and purple bruising that blossomed around it. You looked pale compared to last night. Dark circles sat under your eyes and you were still shaking from exhaustion. He looked down at your hands and saw more bandages on your palms and on your arms. You had some on your knees too to conceal the scrapes. More bruises patterned your skin, probably from the fall you took. However, a new one was starting to surface and grow where he had grabbed you back at the square. He clearly saw the marks his fingers made. It was another sign of your fragility. “You look like shit.”

           “Thanks,” you said, your grin growing wider.

           Papyrus shoved your bag at you and you grunted. “What are you smiling about?”

           “I survived, didn’t I?” You giggled and hugged your bag to your chest. “Plus, my fairy friend came to save me again.”

           Papyrus groaned and pinched his nasal bridge. “I am not a fairy, and I am certainly not your friend.”

           You shrugged but continued to smile.

           Papyrus sighed. He glanced around the park to ensure they were alone. There were enough trees and bushes to keep them out of anyone’s line of sight if anyone else was nearby. He couldn’t risk a monster seeing what he was about to do, nor a human. It would only create more complications. He leaned over you, then grabbed you by the chin and turned your head so he could view the bandaging better. “Hold still,” he grumbled.

           You flinched from his quick movements and winced. “Hey! Ow, that hurts! What are you doing?”

           Papyrus froze, then loosened his grip. “Sorry,” he muttered.

           You fell quiet and looked at him curiously.

           “Just...hold still... Can you do that for me? I haven’t done this in a while, and certainly never on a human.” He gently peeled the bandage from your cheek and saw the deep wound ooze. The bandage was thick with blood, Part of the cut had scabbed over, but most of it remained open. He knew humans were messy, especially when injured. Seeing you hurt, however, unsettled him. He cursed himself for leaving you for that brief moment last night. If he had continued to shadow you more attentively and not allowed that monster to hurt you, he wouldn’t be in this situation. Disgruntled by the messy sight, Papyrus flicked the bandage into the garbage.

           “Do you think it needs stitches?” you asked nervously. “I didn’t want to go to the ER because I was afraid they’d ask what happened. I didn’t want to get you in trouble. I was the dumb one after all.”

           Papyrus looked at you in the eyes. He managed to mask his surprise and remained silent. Why were you so concerned for his safety? You had only met him the previous night and not under the best of circumstances. If you were smart you would have told the authorities what happened. You would have never reentered the district, homework be damned.

           You misinterpreted his silence as a sign of the wound’s severity. “It’s okay. I know it’s bad. You don’t have to sugarcoat it. It’s gonna leave one heck of a scar too.” You smiled weakly. “Hey, we can match.”

           Papyrus’ face was stern. He held a finger above the wound and traced its outline in the air. Green light shimmered where he drew and it settled on your skin. It was out of your direct view, but you could see the shine of it in your peripheral vision. You felt a tingling warmth gently caress your face, then slowly fade. Papyrus looked over where the wound was. Satisfied that it had mended completely, he crouched down and gently took you by the wrists to inspect the bruising and scrapes on your hands and arms. He peeled the bandaging off like before, and tossed the disgusting and bloody mess into the trash.

           You looked down at your hands with wide eyes. Papyrus’ hands hovered above yours. The same warmth washed over your skin. You watched in disbelief as the bright verdant light seeped into your cuts, causing them to close and fade completely. Even the day old bruises lightened until your skin regained it’s proper color. The pain in your wrists melted away, soothed by the pulsing of his magic. You remained quiet, unable to form words as Papyrus did the same for your scraped knees.

           Papyrus stood and crossed his arms as he glared down at you. “Well? How do you feel?”

           You touched your cheek, gasping when you felt smooth, soft skin. There was no sting to make you recoil. Uncertainly, you flexed your hands and looked them over, then examined your arms and knees. Bewildered, you looked at him with wide eyes. “It’s gone… It’s all gone? It doesn’t hurt anymore,” you exclaimed breathlessly.  Suddenly, you smiled brightly and tried to hold back tears. “I can draw still!” you cheered, dizzily happy, and stared at your hands again. “I was so worried… Thank you…”

           For some reason, Papyrus was surprised to see you deliriously happy. Your gratitude made him uneasy. Besides his brother, he couldn’t remember if there was ever a time someone was grateful for anything he did. It felt wrong. This situation was all wrong. He watched you sniffle and wipe at your eyes before cautiously taking a seat next to you. He slid to the other end of the bench to stay out of your reach, then scanned his peripherals. He crossed his arms tighter and his shoulders tensed.

           You giggled out a joyous sob before regaining more of your composure. “You are a fairy!”

           “ What?” Papyrus snapped. He whipped around to look at you accusingly. He grit his teeth when he saw your eyes sparkle with delight. “Would you stop that?”

           “That was magic!” you continued excitedly. “Magic is real! You know magic! That’s awesome, dude!” You covered your mouth gleefully. You looked as though you received the best present of your life.

           “Keep it down,” he growled. Papyrus tilted his head back and closed his eyes. He let out an exasperated sigh, then stared up at the canopy of leaves and branches blotting out the sky. “I would appreciate it if you kept quiet about this.”

           “What’s wrong with magic?” You tilted your head, your voice steady and uncertain if you offended him.

           “Nothing is wrong with magic.” He hesitated and his voice fell. “Only this kind of magic…” He clenched his hands into fists. He didn’t want to look at you. He couldn’t help but feel shame. Shame that he used healing magic of all things. Shame that he used it to help you, a human . Back in the Underground, kindness was something that could get you killed. It was a hard lesson beaten into him long ago. He hoped he wouldn’t have to relearn it. Despite the shame, at his core he didn’t regret it. Not then, not now.

           “Healing magic isn’t good magic…?” Your voice fell as you struggled to understand. “Why…?”

           “It just is.”

           You watched him with worry. “I’m sorry…”

           He didn’t understand why you were apologizing. The way you said it, it was as if you heard of a recent passing. Reluctantly, he looked at you from the corner of his eye socket, frowning when he saw you wearing a saddened expression. He hated how you looked at him, as if he was wounded. Pity, grief, worry. It was everything he despised for anyone to express in regards to him.

           “Still, thank you. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to draw for my classes, but you helped me. You didn’t have to, but you did. Just like when you saved me yesterday. You didn’t have to do that, but you still did.” You laughed quietly to yourself, then smiled softly at him. “I guess that means I’m indebted to you. Being indebted to a fairy is tricky business, but being friends with that fairy makes it less so.”

           Papyrus looked away from you. He shifted in his seat and stared expressionlessly at the marble wall that had an engraved image of the mountain. “You’re too trusting.”

           “Maybe I’m just a good judge of character, hm?”

           Papyrus scoffed. “I highly doubt that.”

           You flashed a grin and hugged your bag.

           Papyrus shook his head. He tapped the metal armrest. You were wrong about him. He wanted to, needed to, show how wrong you were. If not to make a point, then for your own sake. You were naive and ignorant to the things he had to do to survive. Whatever you saw in him, or thought you saw, it was wishful thinking. The number of monsters he hurt ensured that, not to mention the matter with the fallen human.

           “Cinnamon bunnies,” he said flatly.

           You gave him a confused look.

           “You said you need to eat something, right?” He gestured to the bag. “There’s a couple cinnamon bunnies in there. When you called, I dumped your stuff back in and those came along for the ride.”

           You unzipped your bag and rummaged through it. Sitting on the top was the parchment bag with the baked treats. You fished it out and peered inside, then carefully pulled out a bunny. You giggled at its shape and beamed at him. “Aww, it’s cute. I didn’t know a tough guy like you liked to eat cute things.”

           He smirked. Somehow, your comment helped ease him a little.

           “It smells good,” you said, intrigued.

           “It’s monster food. It should fix you up better than whatever human food you had in mind. No, you can have them all. I already ate one earlier.”

           You took a bite and your eyes lit up. Slowly, you turned to grin mischievously at him. “You know what I’m gonna say, right?”

           “I have a guess,” he said, unenthused.

           “This right here,” you began, holding up the cinnamon bunny, “is fairy food. Don’t deny it! That’s exactly what it is.”

           Papyrus hung his head, defeated. He had no energy to argue with you this time. All he could do was watch you gleefully eat the pastry. Seeing your good mood from this triumph and consuming the delicious treat, Papyrus couldn’t prevent the slightest smile from forming on his face. He was barely aware of his soul feeling the slightest bit lighter.

           “And it’s safe to eat because I am not in your realm!” you exclaimed cheerfully, starting on your second bunny. Your color returned, a sign the magic infused pastry was helping. “These are so good. Where have these been all my life?”

           Papyrus waited for you to finish before asking what was on his mind. “So, who knows?”

           You brushed the crumbs from your mouth and blinked at him. “You mean about last night?” You crumpled the bag, tossing it into the trash bin, then leaned forward and shifted in your seat. “No one.”

           He gave you a doubtful look.

           “Honest! I mean, people did ask what happened since I was a bloody mess. I swear though, I didn’t tell anyone a monster did it. I said I was mugged on my way back from studying.” You looked down at your hands and fidgeted with the strap of your bag. “I didn’t want you to get in trouble. Things between monsters and humans are a little tense right now. I know that much. If I reported what really happened to the police, it might make things even more complicated. There would be a hate parade coming right to your doorstep.”

           Papyrus tapped the armrest as he processed your words. He detected no deceit or malice in them. Still, the fact that you comprehended the dynamics of the situation left him wary. What if you changed your mind later? You had something to hold above his head. However, something in the back of his mind whispered that you were different from the violent words and wary governments that he had expected and grown used to.

           “Where did you end up staying?” he asked. “I had your keys and your phone. You got the bandages from someone if you didn’t go to the hospital.”

           “Oh boy,” you said, half laughing. “I ended up stumbling into one of the campus libraries and asked to use someone’s phone. I was quite the horror show. I managed to call my friend —”

           “Kes,” he said flatly.

           “Yeah! Oh, of course you know. You read the text message. Anyways, I stayed at her place and got patched up.” You paused and bit your lip. Twisting the strap in your hands, you spoke quietly.  “Um, you don’t have to worry about her. Really. She doesn’t know a thing. I promise.” He heard the trembling in your voice.

           Papyrus looked at you hard, his eyes burning into you. You fidgeted with your bag’s strap and shivered in his silence.

           “Okay,” he said quietly.

           You relaxed and gave him a relieved smile. Suddenly, your phone’s alarm went off. You dug in your bag for it and checked the time. “I have to leave. School calls. I haven’t read for the lecture, so I’m going to be more lost than I usually am.” You looped an arm through a strap and stuffed your phone into your pocket. “Listen, thanks again for returning my stuff. It means a lot, especially with all the trouble I caused. The professors don’t tolerate late work. If I try to speed through the homework before discussion, I’ll at least get some credit.”

           “Right,” Papyrus scoffed. “You’re gonna have to haul ass though, and that won’t do your physics score any favors. Your bookkeeping is terrible by the way.”

           You looked at him in surprise. “You know physics stuff?”

           Before he could answer, your phone’s alarm rang again. You pulled it out to silence it and check the time.

           “Ahhh, crap,” you muttered. “It’s great seeing you again though. Look, I’ll come find you. I know where you live! Relatively.”

           “NO!” Papyrus said, reaching for you. He stopped short and grit his teeth. “No, don’t. Don’t do that.” He groaned and pinched his nasal bridge. “Here, just give me your phone.”

           You looked at him curiously. Quickly, you unlocked your phone and passed it to him.

           “Since I can’t seem to be rid of you any time soon, call me instead of marching in to your demise. Don’t wander around the district unless I’m there with you. Got it?” he grumbled, typing his number into your contacts. He looked up to see your face light up with glee. “What the hell is that look for?”

           “Admit it. We’re at least acquaintances now. We’re on the fast track to friendship!”

           Papyrus hesitated before returning your phone. “Don’t make me regret this,” he said, exasperated.

           “You won’t!” you said brightly. “I know exactly what to call you in my contacts too. F-A-I-R-Y F-R-I-E-N-D.” You saved the contact name and held your phone up so he could read it.  You sprang up from your seat and waved, then turned to start walking. You clutched your phone to your chest as if it was your most precious possession.

           Papyrus exhaled and leaned back in his seat. He propped his arm up and covered his eyes with his hand. This was one eventful morning he had no desire to tell Undyne the details of. The less she knew, the better. Despite the exhaustion he felt at the thought of Undyne giving him an earful, he felt strangely less stressed. He couldn’t explain it, nor begin to understand, but your presence was refreshing. He heard your voice chime through his thoughts and turned to see you waving. You wore that warm smile of yours.

           “Hey,” You called, beaming brightly and standing straight. By the looks of it, your energy had returned. “Just so you know, you’re a kind fairy and a cool dude!” With a final wave, you jogged out of the park.

           Papyrus blankly watched your figure shrink and round the corner of a building. Your words rang in his head. Once again, you showed you were a poor judge of character. If that’s what you considered him, your concept of sainthood must be astronomical. He couldn’t help but give an incredulous, half-hearted laugh.

           The ringing of his phone interrupted his thought. He pulled it out of his jacket pocket and read the caller ID. Undyne. Her timing was poor and unwelcome. He imagined the rage she would express at what he was about to tell her. He had hoped he would at least get a minute of peace after seeing you off.

           He answered on the last ring. “Yeah. What.”

           “ Fucking finally! Where are you? What happened? I swear to god if you gave that human their shit back—

           “That’s exactly what I did,” he said flatly.

           Undyne yelled in frustration. “ Why would you do that? I don’t get you .”

           “And that’s why I’m captain and you’re not. It’s not worth it to cause trouble with ______.”

           “ ______? Who is that? ” she spat out.

           “That’s the human.”

           Static filled Undyne’s silence. It was a while before she spoke.

           “Did you learn anything useful at least?” she asked, her anger restrained.

           “Of a sort.” Papyrus had gathered plenty about you. You had taken a liking to him for one, a liking he couldn’t explain to save his soul. You were persistent in seeing him despite the threat of pain and death. Strangest of all, you cared for him on some level. Your consideration for his predicament was evidence enough.

           “Why do I not like the sound of that?” she asked, her voice cracking with irritation.

           “If it helps you feel better, I think the human can provide information we need. We’re doing things my way and that’s final.”

Chapter Text

           The bar erupted with boisterous yips and howls of laughter. The royal guards of Snowdin clinked their mugs of monster liquor together and banged them repeatedly onto the countertop in unison. The drinks sloshed and splattered, covering the counter with stickiness and foam. Grillby swiftly wiped down the surface when the guards raised their glasses to drink again.

           “You should have seen the look on the guy’s face. He went as pale as a sheet,” Sans chuckled to himself, his gold tooth flashing in his wide grin. “So, he says to me, ‘You doing well on the surface here?’ This poor son of a bitch is unnerved at the fact he’s talking to a skeleton who is selling him a hot dog. I’m tellin’ ya, I look at the hot dog I’m handin’ to him, then look him dead in the eye. I say, ‘I’m makin’ a killing as a living!’”

           The dogs howled again. One on either side of him slapped him on the back.

           “Who knew humans were so easy to mess with? He tore off running once he got his dog. So I shouted at him, ‘Careful now, or you’ll beheading for an accident!’”

           “Doing your part to terrify the enemy, finally,” a guard said in a rough, playful voice with a toothy grin. Their snout was covered in foam and they licked the froth away.

           “Hey, it’s all in good fun in the end, at least for me. They’ll be dying with laughter from my comedic jokes. I can’t leave them hanging after all. That’s just a bad way to go.” Sans looked to Grillby as he was nudged playfully in the shoulders by his companions. “I’ll take another round. I gotta go talk to the Boss.” He raised his glass and set it down.

           Grillby reached under the counter, uncorked the bottle, and poured. The liquid was clear with a violet hue to it. “I’ll come by to give my regards to him,” Grillby’s voice crackled.

           Sans nodded, flashing his smile. “The good stuff, eh? Thanks, Grillz.” He took a long drink and slid off his seat.

           Papyrus watched from a corner in the back. He leaned back in his seat with his arms crossed, scanning the scene and shaking his head in disgust at his drunken unit. Miserable mutts, the lot of them. He hated how noisy they were. He preferred the mornings before the bar opened and after closing when all of Grillby’s customers were chased out. At least then he could hear himself think. He tried to avoid Grillby’s during open hours, but Sans and Undyne always wanted to meet with him here. He supposed it was for the best since no one could possibly hear them over the surrounding ruckus.

           Sans slid into a seat next to him and set his glass down. He drummed the table rhythmically with his fingers. “‘Sup, Boss? Skullking as usual?”

           “Don’t you know it,” Papyrus grumbled. He wasn’t in the mood for Sans’ awful puns, but it wasn’t worth the effort to chew him out over it. “Seems like you’re fitting in quite well now.”

           Sans shrugged. He took another sip and cautiously looked over his brother. “How’s the…?” Sans began vaguely, pointing to his own skull.

           “Just tell me whatever it is so I can get out of here,” Papyrus snapped.

           Sans raised his hands in surrender. He slid his seat closer and leaned forward so he could speak in a low voice. “The humans are still wary, not surprising. Although, I heard about your new enthusiastic human friend.”

           “I am not—”

           “Alright, alright,” Sans grinned, raising his hands again. “No need to get your bones rattled . I just thought you’d like to know they’re takin’ a fancy course at the university. What was it called… Mysteries of Ebott: Myths and Legends ? Would help explain why they initially came through the district.”

           “Didn’t see that in the planner,” Papyrus grumbled.

           Sans shrugged. “Not much homework for that yet, I guess.” He paused thoughtfully, then tapped the glass with his phalanges. “Their professor seems to be another enthusiastic human.”

           Papyrus furrowed his brow. The thought of another potential human visitor soured his mood. He had enough to deal with when it came to you. He was regretting giving you his number yesterday, but it was a necessary preventative measure. What unsettled him more was how you didn’t try to contact him later that day. Not knowing when you’d try to get a hold of him filled him with dread. Hearing about this other human you had ties with only amplified it. This relation could not be merely an innocent coincidence. “Did you get a name?”

           “Somethin’ like Dr. Arlette?” Sans shook his head. “Sorry. That’s all I got on that one, Boss. Couldn’t stick around, ya know.”

           Papyrus filed the name away. He would have to ask you about this professor some time, preferably when the subject came up. His thought was cut short when several howls filled the bar. His attention turned to the dogs as they gathered together to toast off another round. Foam and drink flew in the air as they swayed and howled together. He pinched his nasal bridge and groaned in exasperation.

           Grillby swiftly came over to Papyrus with a barely restrained grin. “This seems like the opportune time to owe you that drink,” he said smugly. His thinly veiled laughter crackled and hissed. “What will it be, Captain?”

           “You owe me another at this point,” Papyrus spat. “You got my unit drunk.”

           “Gladly,” Grillby said. “Your drink?”

           “Surprise me,” Papyrus said, unenthused. He caught the smirk Grillby gave him. “Within reason,” he added sharply.

           “Of course,” Grillby said, bowing slightly. He turned away and retreated to the bar.

           Papyrus glanced at Sans. “Is that all?”

           Sans swirled what was left of his drink and looked into it. “More of the usual. Everyone’s still itchin’ to go to war. Kids are enjoyin’ the sunlight. Spirits are as high as ever. Despite talk here and back in the capital about needing more souls, no one is makin’ a move. You kinda showed everyone the reapercussions the other night, Boss. That is, until the King says something.”

           Papyrus stared expressionlessly at the mutts drunkenly singing. Their words slurred and were incomprehensible.

           “To me, the whole thing sounds like too much work,” Sans said. He downed the rest of his drink and set the glass down.

           Despite how carefully Sans hid his exhaustion, Papyrus heard the wariness in his voice. He knew his brother well enough to know when he was putting up a front. Everything was a front, except when they were alone. He knew Sans’ stance on the war. It was a futile, grand waste of time that would lead to everyone being killed. If Sans didn’t have him as a brother, he’d probably do what he did best. Avoid the violence at all cost.

           Grillby’s crackling flames announced his return. The bartender set the drink down in front of Papyrus. “Magic infused sparkling mint lime iced tea, extra sweet. Non-alcoholic, of course.”

           Papyrus reached for the glass and cautiously took a sip. He felt the chill through the leather of his fingerless gloves. How Grillby managed to be adept at making chilled drinks, he would never know. Living in Snowdin had to account for some of that at least. The small taste he had of this drink was instantly satisfying. He had to admit, Grillby knew what he liked and did it well. “Acceptable,” he muttered, then drank some more.

           Grillby’s laughter crackled. “A pleasure,” he said with a hiss and grinned. He placed a hand on Sans’ shoulder and bent down to whisper to him. The sound of his flames overshadowed his words.

           Sans’ expression was flat. His eyelights remained steady as he listened.

           Papyrus watched patiently as the two exchanged words. Since before he became captain, the information the bartender shared with his brother proved to be invaluable. Whatever Grillby regarded his brother, he showed enough loyalty to make it matter. Back in the Underground, the safest place for Sans, besides where he could keep an eye socket out for him, was Grillby’s and it carried over to the surface.

           Grillby straightened and returned to the bar in time for the guards to demand another round. He chuckled and kept the dogs entertained as he performed tricks while preparing their drinks. The guards were awed by the simplest of moves in their drunken state and slammed down tips heartily.

           Papyrus quietly finished his tea. He was surprised how refreshing the earthy and citrus flavors were together. The sweet and sour flavors were balanced delicately.

           “He’s got them all on a tight leash ,” Sans chuckled as he looked back at the bar. He turned to Papyrus, slouching in his seat and drumming the table top. “I’m guessing Undyne is gonna be here any second now. Apparently she went to talk to the King. You know what that means, right?” he said in a low voice.

           Papyrus set his glass down. “I have an idea,” he said darkly. He heard the entrance door slam open and the ice cubes clinking against the glass. Stomping footsteps parted through the drunken crowd and made their way over to them. The headache that had barely settled into the background came back with a vengeance.

           “Papyrus!” Undyne shouted fiercely. She elbowed some neighboring monsters away to claim some space.

           “Hey, Undyne,” Sans smiled lazily up at her. “What a surprise. Lookin’ fintastic as usual.”

           “Sans,” Undyne growled, displeased to see him. She glared down at him and bared her teeth.

           “Alright, alright,” Sans shrugged. “No need to blow a gill . I’m goin’.” He took his time getting up and shuffled his way back to the bar.

           Undyne took his seat and slammed her fist on the table. The glass slid from the force and the ice cubes rattled.

           “Hello to you too, Undyne,” Papyrus said flatly.

           “Cut the crap,” she growled. “I went to King Asgore to tell him about your little plan. He’s not a huge fan of it.”

           Papyrus looked at her stoically. “And?”

           “What is with you? We shouldn’t be getting close and cosy with the enemy. We should be seizing our future by their throats. Hell, we should be taking this city for ourselves. Instead, we had to beg to get housing in this slummy district, and we can’t even leave past curfew unless we get the permits. It’s not even enough space for everyone. We still got monsters back in the Underground, or did you forget?”

           It was there again. Undyne was challenging him, but with the same threatening edge as before. Her eye blazed with fury as she looked at him, golden as the sun and just as bright. Papyrus leaned forward in his seat and rested his arms on the table. He returned her gaze and maintained his stoic expression. “Do you think we’re ready?” he asked softly.

           Undyne’s expression flickered with unease and uncertainty as she assessed the question and his tone. Her fins twitched and lowered slightly.

           “Does Asgore think we’re ready?” He tilted his head as he studied her. Slowly, he nodded as she resigned herself, then laughed quietly. “Seize our future by their throats, huh? Now, that’s a plan with a spine , according to you.”

           Undyne pursed her lips. Her fins flattened in anger.

           “What you want to do with this skeleton of a plan requires every single able body in the kingdom. I promise you not everyone back in the Underground is fit for that. They still need supplies, Undyne. Hell, they need training. Even if those conditions are met, we don’t have the numbers to fight the war you want. We don’t even know the enemy enough.”

           “So, what, you’re going to get friendly with those that left us in a grave? They buried us alive, Papyrus. What could you possibly learn from them? They’re humans. They hate us. That’s all I need to know. You’ve seen how they look at us. They harass us on the street when we’re allowed to be there during the day.”

           “Did you know they don’t know how to use magic anymore?”

           Undyne’s fins perked up. “Is that a joke?” she asked, her eye narrowing. “How’d you find that out?”

           Papyrus paused. No, he couldn’t bring up how he healed you. Undyne would call that treasonous. Nevermind the shame he felt associated with expressing kindness towards another. She could never know. “I gave that human a cinnamon bunny. I mentioned how it’s infused with magic. Anyways, the point is ______ reacted like it was the coolest thing in the world.”

           Undyne arched her brow and crossed her arms. “And why exactly did you give them monster food?” she hissed.

           “Simply taking preventative measures.”

           Undyne scoffed. “Whatever,” she said, raising a hand to him in annoyance. She grew quiet and considered what she learned. “If that’s true, that they can’t use magic anymore, then that makes everything easier.”

           “Not so fast,” Papyrus cautioned. “Their technological capabilities are way beyond ours in many ways. Sure, our royal scientist is innovative, but we still got much of our supplies from human trash. Throwing punches is hardly the way to go when we don’t know what we’re up against. Don’t give them a reason to attack first when we’re nowhere close to being ready.”

           Undyne leaned back in silence. She adjusted her seat so her arm rested on the backrest. For the moment, she looked satisfied enough with his reasoning.

           Papyrus mood turned dark. He leaned closer and locked eyes with Undyne. “You know, after all this time, I would have thought how much I value you as a member of my unit and as my vice-captain would be evidence enough of my loyalties. We have some common ground, after all. I could have left you to the mutts, but I took you in after I claimed your eye, much like how you accepted me into the guard after giving me one of these.” Papyrus pointed to one of the scars that ran across his damaged eye socket and down his face. “I said I needed you. I still need you.”

           Undyne’s fins flattened and she gritted her teeth. “Don’t you ever speak of that again,” she growled. She sat upright and clenched her fists. “Don’t you ever …” Her voice fell when she saw the look Papyrus gave her. She blinked back angry tears and shifted uncomfortably in his tense silence.

           His eyelights burned like the King’s flames. If they were coals and had he lacked the restraint—if every bit of kindness within him were smothered to leave him cold—he would have casted them upon her and let her burns serve as reminders.

           Undyne lowered her head. She bit her lip and waited. The howls and drunken singing around them seemed to grow mute the longer his silence dragged on.

           Papyrus stood. The chair scraped against the floor. He leaned over to whisper to her. “Go over my head again, suggest disloyalty on my part to the King when there is none, and I will claim that other eye.”

           The noises in the bar came rushing back. Undyne remained stiff in her seat. She kept her gaze down and clenched her fists.

           Papyrus straightened and made his way to leave. Even in their drunken state, the guards saw the dark expression he wore. Their ears perked up and they parted quickly to form a path for him. As he walked briskly by, a dog whimpered and dropped their glass. It shattered and covered the floor with stickiness.

           Sans briefly glanced at his brother from his seat, then to Undyne. He calmly sipped his drink, draining it all, then set the glass down. He stared blankly at the neon light signs.

           Papyrus stopped at the door. He turned to glare at his unit. “YOU ALL BETTER BE FIT FOR YOUR SHIFTS TOMORROW. IF A SINGLE ONE OF YOU GETS BLACKOUT DRUNK, I’LL BE HOUNDING YOUR ASSES INTO THE FOLLOWING WEEKS,” he roared. He turned to leave. As he slammed the door behind him, he heard whimpering and glass breaking.

           He stormed down the street. The air smelled of static and crackled around him. He had wondered how quickly Undyne would become another pain in his coccyx. This wasn’t the first time she crossed the boundary, and it wouldn’t be the last. He was damn sure about that. He made his stance clear, marked her openly as a threat. If she wanted an out, she was free to take it. Still, she was loyal to a fault.

           He wanted to be anywhere but at that damned bar. He needed to get away from this mess, from Undyne, from this bloody district. If he was like his brother, he would have shirked off his responsibilities long ago. It was because of his brother, though, that he couldn’t afford not to care. He was painfully aware of all the impracticalities with facing off against the humans. There had to be an alternative to the war Undyne wanted. One that the king would agree with and grant them their future.

           There was a ringing in his head that jangled and made his skull pound. It was enough to make him dangerously close to walking around on autopilot. He’d rather be at his shithole of an apartment if he ended up in that state, but that thought was a luxury. Everything was simpler back then under Asgore’s declaration. Problems were piling up everywhere he looked now that they reached the surface. It was supposed to mark their freedom, but the depths of that mountain followed them here.

           They traveled all this way, and it was more of the same. They carried their violence with them proudly, but he had never felt further from himself. If this was freedom, what in hell’s name was the point of it all?

           He came to a stop. The air continued to crackle around him. Passing monsters averted their gaze and crossed the street. Papyrus inhaled deeply and slowly let out a breath. He was away from Undyne and the bar. He managed to maintain control thus far from his notorious  headache fueled rageful blackouts. It was a small list of accomplishments if anything. He needed to do something simple to take the edge off and make the cesspool of problems smaller.

           Papyrus pinched his nasal bridge and sighed. He needed to eat. The bakery wasn’t too far away. The idea of interacting with Bunny Bitch wasn’t appealing, but she was a shining star compared to Undyne and half the trouble. He set his course for the bakery at a brisk pace. The quicker he could order and leave, the better.

           The door chimed when he entered. A rabbit monster with light purple fur stood hunched over the counter. Her ears poked through her ragged summer hat and hid her eyes as she looked over sheets of paper. Occasionally she would scribble out lines and write out calculations. Papyrus looked at the hat, intrigued to see small, blue and white flowers woven into it. He was used to seeing it adorned with a golden flower every now and then. It was a resilient plant that shared her stubbornness. He supposed it was why she wore it, so she could remind herself to beat this world and give it a well deserved, mocking laugh every time it tried to cut her down. When the flower finally withered, she would replace it with another and pick herself up again. How strange. He found even the simplest of comforts were difficult to abandon. So, why this?

           It was quiet in the small bakery. The fresh pastries made earlier that morning were on display and neatly arranged. The smell of baked bread was all around and the loaves sat on shelves in the back. The walls were painted white and lavender and the space was decorated with charming white furniture. Small circular tables were arranged neatly with the chairs pushed in. The Snowdin shopkeeper kept the place clean and welcoming. It was hard to believe she had a vicious side to her when she was cozy in her little shop.

           “I’ll be with you in moment,” she said. She gathered up her papers and set them on a shelf under the counter.

           Papyrus kept quiet. He didn’t mind the wait. The peace and silence was star-sent compared to the chaos and ruckus at Grillby’s. He resolved to enjoy it while it lasted.

           The shopkeeper lifted her head and her eyes widened. “Oh…” she said with a gasp while dropping her pen. Her ears perked up and her shoulders stiffened.

           Tension overcame the peace. He was used to this. Papyrus kept his face expressionless as he allowed her to gather her composure. She lowered herself to retrieve her pen, all the while keeping her line of sight above the counter. Her eyes locked onto him and narrowed. Straightening herself up, she set the pen down.

           “Sorry to keep you waiting,” she said crisply. The shopkeeper looked him over cautiously, tilting her head. “What can I do for you? Am I honored to receive your business? Or perhaps I am unlucky to have business with you?” Her voice had an edge to it.

           “Business as usual,” he said flatly.

           The shopkeeper stroked her chin and slowly nodded. “I see. The usual order I suppose?”

           “The usual.”

           “Papyrus!” a tiny voice squeaked from behind the counter. A smaller pair of white ears appeared.

           “Hush!” the shopkeeper hissed at the child. ”You don’t address the Captain that way.” She tried to usher the tiny rabbit monster into a backroom, but the child ran around the counter to him.

           He took a step away and looked down at her. “You have your niece with you,” Papyrus said, masking his surprise.

           “Yes,” the shopkeeper said rigidly. Her fur bristled as she watched him, scrutinizing his movements from around the counter.

           The child smiled up at him brightly. He maintained his awkward silence, uncertain of what she wanted. This open display of affection towards him was strange. He was used to the children staying away from him, or being whisked away by their guardians. He remembered seeing this particular young monster at the inn. She would hide behind her mother and kept out of sight as much as possible. He didn’t make a particular effort to remember the children’s names since their chances of surviving were dismal, but he knew her name was Anise.

           Back in the Underground, Papyrus never harmed the kids. He considered it cowardly to pick them off. As long as they stayed out of his way, he saw little reason to terrorize them. It was King Asgore that made them the only exception to the Underground law of kill or be killed after all. Despite all of the King’s cruelties and wrathful tendencies, the few surviving monster children tempered his ire whenever he saw them. Upholding Asgore’s decrees, Papyrus made the overall safety of the children a priority. The closest he ever got to them was when he had to defend them from an adult looking to claim an easy trophy. Then there were the Gyftmas celebrations he stood watch for when the King gave them their presents.

           Anise reached for him. Papyrus swiftly stepped away, only to grimace when she followed. He moved in a small circle to avoid her and she twirled after while giggling. Dizzily, she swayed in place and looked up at him, then began to fall over. Quickly, he reached down to catch her and held her steady by the shoulders until she regained her balance. Old habits die hard.

           Anise wrapped her arms around his leg and hugged him tightly. Papyrus flinched and froze with his arms raised so as not to touch her. He watched her nuzzle her face against his jeans with a delighted grin. From the corner of his eye socket, he could see the horror that had overcome the shopkeeper. Her hands flew to her mouth.

           “Annie, th-that’s enough! Come here this instant!” the shopkeeper hissed, her voice rising. She turned to Papyrus stiffly. “I am so very sorry for this, Captain. If you’ll look over this incident…” Her voice trembled in panic.

           “But Auntie!” she whined.

           Papyrus cringed. His bones began to rattle quietly as a warning. He couldn’t fathom why the innkeeper's niece bore an attachment to him to this degree. So much for a quick order and escape.

           Anise looked up at him in wonder, then released him and blinked. His rattling stopped. “All better!” she sang while beaming.

           “S-sure,” he responded icily. He shuddered and crossed his arms. Despite this violation of his personal space, he couldn’t bring himself to scold her. Now that they were on the surface, she should be allowed to be happy. Just because he was in a perpetually foul mood, it didn’t warrant him to rain on her day. He glared at the shopkeeper, who was looking a shade paler. “Just get my order and I’ll be gone,” he growled in exasperation.

           The shopkeeper stumbled her way back behind the counter and opened the display frantically. Her hands fumbled with a pair of tongs as she tried to maintain watch over them.

           Anise tugged on his jeans and beckoned him to come down.

           Papyrus raised a bone brow and looked down at her. Sighing, he thought it best to humor her and knelt down on one knee with his arm resting on the other.

           She inched closer to him. Her fingers fidgeted and gripped her pastel yellow dress. “Momma’s sick,” she said in a small voice.

           Papyrus looked her over. Behind her calm exterior, he saw the worry in her words.

           “Annie!” her aunt cut in sharply. “Don’t bother the Captain!”

           “Last I checked, getting my order didn’t involve talking,” Papyrus responded coldly. He heard the shopkeeper shuffle through the pastries, but was making enough of a racket to feign progress. He turned back to Anise. Her eyes were still shining and bright. “That’s very unfortunate,” he said evenly.

           She nodded while rocking on her heels. “Momma sent me to Auntie so she could watch me.”

           Papyrus paused. Besides tending to the inn, he remembered Anise’s mother also ran the orphanage. He always had to spare a guard to watch over the place. When the barrier fell, the innkeeper begged him to make the kids a priority for the first migration. Luckily for her, their safety was still in his job description. They were among the first to be ushered into the setting sun’s light. With enough luck, intimidation, and golden persuasion, he was able to secure a quiet spot with enough space for them. It beat having to divide up his guard and spread his units thin.

           “Meg and Clove are watching the orphanage and inn for now,” Anise continued.

           “Annie,” Papyrus began softly. He heard the shopkeeper drop her tongs and scramble for them. Ignoring the racket, he continued. “Your mother is not falling down now, is she?” He could feel the shopkeeper’s intense, panic filled stare on him. She was unnerved and terrified by his uncharacteristic tone.

           Anise shook her head, then tilted it as she looked at him. “I don’t think so. She’s been sick for a week, but she’s awake some of the time. She’s been really tired lately. She can’t get the things she wants to get for everyone. Either she’s too busy, or the human’s harass her when she has a free day.” She looked down and kicked at the floor.

           That was a relief. If the innkeeper bit it, he’d have a hell of a time finding a replacement to run the orphanage. Perhaps someone in the family could take over, but she was the only one he trusted to look after the kids. She was also the only one willing to take them in the first place, and, if he was being honest with himself, she made his job easier when it concerned them.

           “I see,” he said. He never figured out how to deal with children. They had a duality of resilience and fragility to them he couldn’t quite understand. Even more, Anise saw him to be worthy of her trust. Here she was speaking to him as if they had been on friendly terms all her life, as if she was unaware or blind to the violence he commited, as if none of that mattered because he was more than the summation of his actions no matter how merciless or cruel. In that moment, she reminded him of you. He saw fragility’s mark up close on your face when he healed you. Despite the fear you felt that night, you returned for your bag like the fool you were. Nor did you shy away from him. If that wasn’t a mark of resilience, he knew not what was.

           Anise looked hopefully at him. She twisted in place, her dress twirling around her legs.

           “Tell you what,” he began, his voice still uncharacteristically soft, “next time I venture out there, I’ll look into getting some of those things your mother wanted.” Smiting a little girl’s hope was not in his job description.

           “Really?” she squeaked. She clasped her hands together and smiled excitedly.

           “Humans stay away from me. They get one good look at my carved up mug and their blood runs cold. I’m absolutely spine-chilling ,” he smirked. “It’s an easy assignment.” He held up a finger and hushed her when she squealed with delight again. “Don’t tell your mother though. It’s our little surprise, alright?”

           Anise nodded enthusiastically.

           “You’ll be her little hero,” Papyrus chuckled quietly. “Don’t worry about your mother. She’ll be well soon. She’s very strong. Your aunt is strong too, you know. It runs in the family, and something tells me you got it in you too,” he finished, tapping Anise on the nose gently.

           Anise giggled. She grabbed Papyrus’ hand and nuzzled her face into his palm. She didn’t notice him flinch or cringe afterwards. “Thank you, Papyrus,” she said sweetly. She then threw her arms around him and tightened her hold. She nuzzled his cheekbone and whispered. “Thank you for getting us here.”

           Papyrus kept still. His shoulders were rigid and he was trying his hardest not to rattle his bones. His head was filling with static and he felt incredibly numb inside. He felt the warmth of her soft fur against his jaw and neck vertebrae. He never let anyone get this close to him before, not even his brother. Inside he screamed at how wrong this was. How wrong she was about him. She would have never survived the Underground. Except she did. She survived because of him.

           He let Anise slip away and watched her skip back to her aunt. The shopkeeper hurried her into the backroom all the while whispering sharply at her. By the time the shopkeeper returned, she only caught a sliver of his conflicted expression before it returned to its usual stoic look. Slowly, he rose and they exchanged an awkward silence.

           Papyrus’ phone rang. Secretly, he welcomed the distraction from facing her and what had happened. He pulled it out and checked the caller ID. It was a number he didn’t recognize, but he had a suspicion it was you. Who else could it be? Why was it you made your presence known at the worst possible times?  “What?” he answered, a little sharper than intended.

           “Hey, fairy friend! It’s me!

           His secret welcomings swiftly turned to regret. He covered his eyes with his hand and gave an exasperated sigh. Of course it was you. Of course you would call when everything was raining down on him. Of course you insisted on calling him that.

           “What is it this time?” he grumbled. He dragged his hand down his face and caught a glimpse of the shopkeeper frozen in place and watching him from the corner of his eye socket. She held a cinnamon bunny with a pair of tongs and was mid stuffing it into a paper bag. She gave him a peculiar, bewildered, and dumbfounded look. It was eating away at him to the point of irritation and it was enough to make his own mood turn even more foul. He turned his back to her, shook his head, and returned his attention to you.

           “ Are you free?

           “I might be,” he responded flatly.

           He snuck a brief glance back at the shopkeeper who was very slowly stuffing another cinnamon bunny into the bag. Her nose twitched with curiosity.

           “ You know physics stuff, right?

           “I do…” There was hesitation in his voice. He knew where this was going.

           “ Great! ” He could hear the excited smile in your voice. “ Meet me at that park, okay? The one where you—

           “Yes, yes, I know,” he snapped.

           “No, you don’t! I was going to say where you gave me those cinnamon bunnies,” you chimed while giggling.

           Papyrus groaned and covered his eyes again. He pinched his nasal bridge and grimaced. It was one thing after another today. No doubt Undyne communicated his activities to the king in the most displeasing way possible. He grossly exceeded his lifetime quota for receiving affection, assuming he had one to begin with. This episode in the bakery gave him severe social whiplash. Now, he had to deal with you. He knew a hint when he heard one too. “Fine,” he grumbled, then hung up. Since he was leaving the district, he figured he’d might as well take this opportunity to make you useful. He hoped you would have some ideas for what Annie’s mother needed if nothing else.

           When he turned, the shopkeeper was still staring at him. She was mid stuffing the third cinnamon bunny into the bag.

           He put his phone away and stared her down as he approached the register. “Better make it another three. Separate bag. Please.” When she didn’t move, he sighed. “Look, the sooner you do it, the sooner I can get out of here and leave you in peace. Got it?”

           She nodded and hurried to fulfill his order.

           “I’m going to need that list too.”

           “List?” Her eyes widened. Her mouth moved, but words failed her.

           “Yes, the list. You know what your sister needs. I know you do.” He was losing his patience.

          She set the bags of cinnamon bunnies down on the counter.  “You don’t have to… Y-you must have more important things—

          “GIVE ME…” Papyrus stopped and collected himself. He rested his hands on the counter. Everything was so incredibly exhausting. He felt mentally drained. Getting a damned list shouldn’t be this difficult and he didn’t want to resort to terrorizing or bullying the shopkeeper for it. Yet, here he was having one hell of a day. She wasn’t a member of his unit and he knew from experience she didn’t react well to orders being shouted in her face. “Just give me the bloody list so I can leave. Please,” he said, voice heavy with exhaustion.

          She pulled out a scrap piece of paper from under the counter and hastily scribbled out a list of items. When finished, she slid it to him and twisted the cap of her pen.

          Papyrus took the slip and read it over. On it was a list for toys, books, art and school supplies among other items. It was mostly things he expected, but the handwriting was not. Beyond the words, he saw intimidation, disbelief, confusion. Most of all, there was the beginning of trust. It unsettled him. It was slight but enough. Papyrus clenched his jaw and said nothing. He tucked the slip away into his pocket, then fished out his wallet.

          “It’s fine,” the shopkeeper said hurriedly.

          That caught Papyrus off guard too. He looked at her dubiously.

          She crossed her arms and stared down at the bags of cinnamon bunnies. “You’re helping my sister. I won’t forget that.”

          Papyrus’ brow furrowed. He put his wallet away and took the bags. The paper crinkled in his hand. “Forget it.” He moved to leave,but stopped short at the door. He turned to her, holding up an admonitory finger, and glared. “Say nothing.”

          The door chimed open and he left.



          Papyrus stared at his faint reflection overlaid on the engraving of the mountain. In the black granite, he could make out the cracks and scarring on his skull. He never paid a second thought to all the scars, but now that he was in this moment on the surface, he felt out of place with them. His eyelights shifted to the engraved words. The history and legend of Ebott city and the mountain stretched on across the four walls that encircled the seating area. He had read it all as he waited for you. He didn’t mind that you didn’t show up yet. It was quiet and isolated enough in the park with the walls shielding him from view to give him the peace he needed all day.

          He played the words back through his mind, then read them over again when he thought he missed something. He had to be missing something, but all he gathered were impressions that lacked malice. At most he saw a passion for history and pride in it, the commissioning of a job to create the wall, and hearts far removed from the faintest memory of the barrier. Of course the humans wouldn’t remember. It had been hundreds of years, several generations even, since monsterkind was sealed away. If the humans had forgotten how to use magic, who knew what else had changed among them?

          Papyrus heard footsteps running towards him. They were fast and heavy as they slammed against concrete. His shoulders tensed and his instincts screamed at him to fight. He whirled around, crunching the paper bags tightly in one hand while holding out his other to reflexively create a bone club. As the air crackled around him, he froze when he saw you.

          You slid to a stop in front of him, bending over with hands on your knees. You were panting hard and red in the face. “I know, I’m late,” you wheezed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to keep you waiting.” You paused, smelling the static in the air, and looked up at him. “Are you okay…?”

          “I’m fine,” Papyrus snapped. He dispelled his magic, the air crackling with a final pop, and gritted his teeth.  “Here.” He roughly shoved a paper bag at you and moved to go sit on a bench. He opened his own and started nibbling on a cinnamon bunny while cursing himself silently for almost using offensive magic. Magic outside the district was forbidden. He knew that, but trauma never gave a shit.

          You sat next to him, then swiftly scooted away a few inches when you saw him tense up even more. Quietly, you ate one of the pastries. It was a while before you managed to say anything. “I’m not sure what it is I did, but I’m sorry…”

          Papyrus sighed. Just because he was in a perpetually foul mood didn’t mean he should take it out on you. “It’s not you, it’s me,” he said.

          “Shit day?” you asked sympathetically.

          Papyrus laughed halfheartedly.

          “Wanna talk about it?”

          Papyrus shot you a look. Don’t push your luck .

          You nodded. “Secret fairy things, huh?” You took a bite into your second bunny and savored its sweetness. “Hey, thanks for the bunnies. I actually didn’t expect you to...well… Let me pay you back. It’s the least I can do.”

          “Don’t worry about it. They were on the house.” He fished out the list from his pocket and looked it over before turning to you. He didn’t like the idea of asking you for a favor, but he figured you would have less problems getting these items. You would know where to go and humans wouldn’t deny you entry into their stores. He hoped he wouldn’t regret this. “But I do have…a favor of sorts to ask of you. I’ll reimburse you after whatever the cost.”

          “What is it?” You saved the final bunny and stuffed it away in your bag.

          Papyrus handed over the list. He watched you read it over. “I need these. The sooner, the better.”

          “What kind of art supplies do you need exactly?”

          “Whatever is kid appropriate.”

          “Kid appropriate?” That piqued your interest. “Like monster kids? There are monster kids in the district? How old?” Your eyes shined brightly.

          “Of course there are monster kids,” Papyrus grumbled. “And I don’t know. Old enough to go to school.”

          You looked at the slip again, then beamed at him. “Aye, aye, captain! I can do it!”

          Papyrus flinched. “What?” Of all the things you could have said, that was not one he expected or was prepared for.

          “Oh, it’s a human saying. Like, ‘yes, sir!’, or ‘you got it, boss!’”

          “I know what it—” Papyrus clenched his jaw. “Just don’t. Don’t say any of that.” This sense of wrongness was setting him on edge. He wanted to, needed to, keep his position as captain and interactions with you as separate as possible for obvious reasons. The less you knew, the better. But it was more than that. He didn’t know why, but hearing you call him by those words felt like a loss. It was like he had just recently found a piece of himself and those words threatened to exile it out of his reach. Your obsession with fairies didn’t sound as unappealing now.

          You looked at him curiously. “Whatever you say, fairy friend?” You hesitated on the addressing words, but couldn’t restrain the smallest smile from forming.

          Papyrus groaned in defeat. Even if this was preferable, it would still take some time for him to get used to and accept it. He shoved the last bit of the final pastry into his mouth and crumpled the bag. Without looking, he tossed it into the garbage. At least he was feeling better now that he ate. His headache had settled into the background so that he barely noticed the dull, buzzing pain.

          You fully grinned at him, all too pleased, then tucked the list into your pocket. “So, about your knowledge of physics. I don’t have anymore classes today, so I was wondering if you’d like to come over and help me.”

          There was something more behind your words, past the eagerness and hope. He raised a bone brow at you. “You mean as a continuous thing.”

          “Yeah, actually! You read my mind. I wanted to ask if you could tutor me. I’d pay you too.”

          “While also being an excuse to hang out with me.” You were incredibly easy for him to read. You didn’t bother to hide your emotions or intentions unlike the monsters back in the district or the Underground who always had their guard up. Your words were unapologetically vibrant and colorful, and they were even more so now compared to when he first met you. It was a pleasant change of pace to not have to cut through all the posturing and bullshit.

          “Okay, how are you doing that?”

          Papyrus crossed his arms and said nothing.

          “Alright, Mister Mysterious. More secret fairy things. Got it,” you said in a joking manner while laughing. You tilted your head as you looked at him. “So, what do you say? It’ll be fun!”

           Fun. That was an odd choice of words to associate with him. He looked at you hard as he thought. He did need information from you. “I have conditions. Perhaps we can make a deal.”

          “Alright. I have some conditions too,” you grinned. You were half-teasing.

          “First, I'll take an exchange of cultural information as payment.”

          “Does that mean I can ask whatever monster questions I have?”

          That made him pause. He knew you must have burning questions about him and the monsters. If he had to be, he could be evasive. If he and his brother had any similar traits, it was the ability to be evasive when necessary. They had different ways of going about it, but it served them well. “Perhaps. I can’t promise an answer though.”

          “Of course. Very secret fairy things,” you teased while giving him a wink.

          Your acceptance of his answer surprised him a little. He half-expected you to call the deal off or complain about the unfairness of it all. What kept you from pressing further?  “Second, we need a schedule so I can work around it. I have things to do in the district. I can’t be gone too long at a time, not to mention the curfew being an issue.”

          “Fair enough!”

          Papyrus hesitated. “What were your conditions?”

          “Why, I’m glad you asked,” you smiled mischievously. “My first condition is, if you want to learn about human culture, you must accept any of my invitations involving the subject. You will be my student.”

          “Invitations, huh?” He was instantly hit with regret. The word was loaded with mischief and your sense of adventure. He could see the word bursting with your excitement. If the first night of meeting you was any indication of what kind of situations you found yourself in, he’d have to keep a close watch on you. He had no idea what you had in mind, nor did he want to know. If he was going to do this though, he had to follow through with it. He sighed heavily. “Fine. Do your worst. What was your second condition?” He hoped it wasn’t anything more drastic.

          “Snacks!”

          “Snacks?” Papyrus said with skepticism.

          “Brain food for studying, of course. You know my favorite. Well, my only favorite so far.”

          Looks like he’d be frequenting Bunny Bitch’s bakery more often than before. You would end up becoming one of her valued customers even if she never saw your face. The thought of going back anytime soon flooded him with dread. He wasn’t entirely certain if she would keep quiet about what occurred in her shop. The rabbit monsters had a tendency to stick together and information spread among them quickly. He had more faith in Anise keeping a secret than the shopkeeper. While Anise seemed to think highly of him, he and the shopkeeper weren’t exactly on the best of terms, but their last exchange suggested a change in that. How short-lived that newly found, budding trust would be was a different matter.

          “Guess I already brought your brain food now, didn’t I?” Papyrus said.

          You cheered quietly at this victory, then rose from your seat. “Come on! We’ll catch the bus back to my place,” you said, motioning to him.

          Giving in, he stuffed his hands into his jacket pockets and followed you out of the park. He kept quiet as he matched your pace. You were walking slower than he would have liked, but he was used to always being busy and taking out his frustrations while working or training. Your leisure attitude was foreign to him. He was used to his unit taking their breaks at Grillby’s and Sans slacking off at his post, but he never adopted idleness himself. Wasting time never sat well with him.

          He took careful note of the humans that gave him the usual suspicious and frightened stares. The crowd quickly side-stepped away and their eyes looked you over, trying to make sense of your connection to him. It was clear you were in company with him, but you didn’t seem to mind their prying and judging eyes.

          A small cluster of people stood at the bus stop and you led him to it. Most appeared to be students. They checked their phones and listened to music as they waited. A few glanced at you and him with wide eyes, but said nothing. Papyrus caught poorly concealed, curious glances while some quickly typed on their phones with masked expressions. No doubt they were communicating a monster sighting outside of the district. Between the uneasiness and shock, there was an overall buzz of excitement among the students. Sensing the mood shift, Papyrus assessed them quickly. He committed their faces to memory and concluded he could take them all in a fight if he had to, but it was more likely they’d bolt.

          “Ever taken a bus before?” you asked while grinning.

          Papyrus kept the other humans within his field of view. “No. I avoid your public transportation. We’re not exactly welcomed beyond the district,” he said icily. He raised a bone brow at you. “I thought you had to have a pass for them.”

          “Normally you do, but this one is free to everyone, and that includes you. I can help you get a pass for the others if you want.”

          “Let’s just see how this goes first,” he said, unenthused. He saw the other humans cocking their heads to listen better. He rolled his eyelights. Great. He was becoming a spectacle. With his luck, someone would make a scene, the authorities would descend upon him, and Undyne would get the war she wanted.

          “It’ll be fine. Trust me.” You gave that warm smile of yours.

          Papyrus looked at you skeptically.

          “You’re on my turf now. I won’t let anything bad happen to you,” you said softly. There was confidence in your voice.

          He couldn’t help but smirk. The thought of you protecting him from danger was preposterous. He wanted to laugh. You were the enemy and a small, fragile one at that. You were insignificant against the dangers he had to live with and face on a daily basis. Even with your awareness of monster-human relations, what could you possibly do against those that wanted nothing else than to hurt?

          “Hey! Don’t give me that!” You nudged at him playfully with your elbow while laughing, but didn’t make contact. “I’m serious.”

          The way you said that final word was noteworthy. Behind the giggles and smiles, it was sincere and unyielding. There was an offering sprouting from it, and for a sliver of a moment he was tempted to accept it. Alliances weren’t uncommon in the Underground. Papyrus had forged his share of them with his unit, Undyne included, although his alliance with her was waning. The war she wanted so she could enact her sense of justice, the one she wanted so desperately to prove herself to Asgore and return to his good graces, was impractical. He knew that, but could never speak it upon threat of treason. He thought of the accord he struck with you and wondered if that was enough to mark him of such action. Undyne was keeping tabs on him, and he had no doubt she would seize his position if he showed the slightest sign of weakness.

          The bus roared from around the corner and groaned as it waited to turn. The crowd lifted their heads to look, then glanced back at you and him. The humans that hadn’t noticed his presence before looked nervously at him, then shuffled a few steps away. He sensed the increasing agitation and excitement. It did less for his nerves.

          “Ready?” you asked, beaming.

          “No, but then again I don’t have a choice.” He looked at the bus warily as it crawled closer. It was his idea to immerse himself in human culture with you at the helm. What was he thinking giving up control and leaving his fate in the hands of someone he barely knew? He was about to venture into a confined space packed with humans. One slip up no matter how small, whether it was his fault or not, and he would have to pay for it.

          His training was kicking in. He looked at the structure of the bus, searching for possible exits. He noted the front and back door and the emergency hatch on top. He could sense the souls of the passengers and he extended his magic to take count. Touching a human soul and manipulating it with magic was forbidden as forged by the hastily formed treaty that allowed monsters to reside in the city, but using it to assess the environment was fair game in his eyes. Including the driver, there were eight of them. Besides you and him, there were seven others with them. Once he had established the interior—

          “I’m going to hold your hand now for a bit, okay?” you said steadily.

          That snapped him out of his thoughts. Your words lacked the expressive colors from before. They were clouded and controlled, more subdued in hue, but not in an effort to conceal anything. You were showing calmness for his sake. You must have heard the slightest crackle of his magic, or perhaps he was easier to read than he thought. Whatever the case, you were going out of your way to put him at ease. Maybe you couldn’t stand up against the worst the Underground had to offer, but you were resilient and, in this moment, your kindness was enough. You were enough. When you took a hold of his hand, he didn’t pull away.

          You gave him a reassuring squeeze and softly smiled at him. The bus pulled up and its doors opened in front of you. You pulled him closer to you, then beamed at the driver. Everyone around you held their breath, waiting to see what would happen.

          Papyrus kept quiet as the driver looked him over. The middle aged man raked his fingers through his graying hair and chewed his lower lip in consideration. Papyrus knew how he looked to him. It wasn’t just the fact he was a monster or mimicked the form of a skeleton. The violence he endured was there for all the world to see on his face.

          You took a step onto the bus and pulled him with. The driver opened his mouth, but you interrupted him. “Beautiful day, isn’t it? Thanks for the lift!” You led him down the aisle and past the surprised passengers. “Let’s sit in the back!” you chimed.

          Papyrus glanced back to see the driver’s eyes watching him through the mirror. The other students followed onto the bus. Besides the nervous grimacing, he saw relieved smiles. In fact, many of them looked pleased. He expected a confrontation. It wasn’t uncommon for monsters to get harassed. This, however, was different.

          You pulled him to sit by the window. The back of the bus had a clear vantage point of its passengers and Papyrus was thankful for your choice of seating. It was mostly empty and quiet save for the roaring and groaning it made as it continued its route. The bus rocked roughly and the passengers swayed in their seats.

          Papyrus turned his attention to the window. The streets of Ebott had a different feel to them now, almost as if he finally belonged in the city. For a moment, he stopped scrutinizing the movements of the pedestrians and passengers. He was a resident like any other and this liminal space granted him a sense of normalcy.

          “It’s not so bad, right?” you asked.

          He turned to look at you, but said nothing. You tightened your hold and he became aware of how warm your hand felt in his.

          “I know it might be different if I wasn’t here, but I hope someday it’s not. You deserve that much at least and more than just a silly bus ride with me.”

          Someday. You were looking towards a future that diverged from his, a future he couldn’t be a part of. You said the word like it was dressed in hope and more than a fabled dream. Back in the Underground, Undyne spoke those same words.

          “Thank you for trusting me,” you whispered to him.

          Papyrus frowned. Was this trust? Could trust be held together like this with fingers interlocked? In the simplest and smallest sense, he supposed it was. He allowed you to get close and lead him onto this miserable mode of transportation without incident thus far. You were showing gratitude and in return he was granted a glimpse of the future you hoped for.

          Something outside the window caught your eye. It must have been a landmark to signal your stop was approaching. You turned to him and grinned. “Ready to get off?”

          “Gladly,” Papyrus grumbled.

          You reached up to tug the pull cord. The bus lurched to a hard stop and he swayed into your shoulder. You led him off and bounced off the stairs.  At the steps to your apartment, you released him and bowed dramatically. “Thank you for riding with us. We hope you enjoyed your trip on the Ebott Metro Eighty. Please ride with us again.”

          Papyrus smirked.

          You dashed up the steps with your keys jangling in your hand and unlocked the door. You propped it open with your foot and looked down at him from the top step. “Now come, my lovely fairy friend and the coolest of dudes. I implore you to step into my humble abode,” you continued, gesturing theatrically.

          Papyrus shook his head while trying to hide his amusement. Unbeknownst to him he was feeling more at ease. “You’re a real piece of work, you know that, right?”

          “Thanks!” you said with a widening grin.

          Papyrus followed you into the building and up a few flights of stairs, then down a hallway until you reached your door and unlocked it. Stepping inside, he kicked off his shoes and set them next to yours, then took in the sight of the cramped, disheveled space. The kitchen was small and cluttered with dishes piled up in the sink. Sheets of paper and textbooks laid scattered on the floor. He spotted a hoodie in the middle of the room and a trail of mismatched socks that led to your bedroom. You had a bookshelf with one side stacked haphazardly with novels while the other only had a few. The fuller side had a sticky note with ‘To read’ written on it while the other had ‘Conquered!’. The books looked well cared for. After having to read from water damaged and incomplete texts, he couldn’t help but feel a little envious. The makeshift shelf made entirely of milk crates caught his eye. It leaned against the wall and was stuffed with cans, instant ramen, and boxed foods. None looked too healthy or appetizing. At some point, the tower of instant ramen had fallen over and the packages were spilling out onto the floor.

          “Pardon the mess,” you said as you hurried past him to scoop up the debris. “I forgot I haven’t had a chance to clean since the incident. I’ve been catching up on sleep and trying not to fail early on in physics.”

          Papyrus cringed at the mess. He rolled his eyelights, suspecting there was more of it in your room. He picked up a package of ramen and glared at it. “You eat this crap too?”

          You disappeared into your room to set your bag and the rest of the clutter away. Poking your head out, you saw him making a disgruntled face at the small cartoon chicken on the package. “Hey, it’s cheap and fast. You can only choose two sides of the great triangle. Sometimes I don’t have time to cook.”

          “Or do dishes,” he shot back as he glanced back to the sink. “No wonder you’re a weak human. You live off of this stuff. It’s a wonder your insides haven’t rotted out.” He looked at the packaging again and squinted at it in suspicion. “No matter how happy this bird looks, the nutritional value of this is filled with lies. Truly, a diabolical and domesticated, foul thing .”

          “Guilty.” you sang and disappeared back into your room. Seconds later you whipped your head out. “Did you just make a pun?”

          Papyrus knelt down to straighten your assortment of food, then tossed the ramen package back onto the stack. “I don’t know. Did I?” he smirked.

          “You did!” you gasped and pointed accusingly at him with excitement.

          “Preposterous.” He stood and crossed his arms, though he didn’t bother to conceal his amusement.

          “I know what I heard.” You squinted at him while signaling you were watching him, then retreated back into your room at a comically slow pace.

          Papyrus laughed quietly to himself. No posturing or bullshit. He had to admit, this was nice. Even though it wasn’t by a lot, he couldn’t remember the last time he felt this calm let alone if there was ever a time. Frowning, he chased the thought away. He couldn’t afford to allow himself to indulge in this. Being numb was safe. This moment was after all ephemeral.

          He looked to a round table by the window. One of your sketchbooks laid open with several wispy figures drawn. They were too featureless for him to make out what they were specifically other than being humanoid forms and hands, but he could tell you were indecisive in how to draw them. Next to the sketchbook was a sheet of paper painted with several swatches of green.

          You returned with your physics book crammed with papers. “Oh, I should clear that out,” you said hurriedly. You set the book down and moved the sketchbook and paper to the counter.

          Papyrus caught the guarded manner in your words. He took a seat while watching you carefully. You never bothered to hide anything before, so why now? “One of your art projects for class?”

          “Yeah,” you laughed nervously. Your cheeks grew rosy. “Something like that.”

          “It can’t be that embarrassing. You let me see your sketches before,” he remarked.

          “Oh, please, no. You’re doing it again,” your voice began rising in panic.

          Papyrus raised his brow.  “Doing what exactly?”

          “I don’t know! Reading my mind! Like you did before.”

          “I don’t need to read your mind to see how flustered you are,” he scoffed while gesturing to you. “Besides, I can’t read minds.”

          “You’re doing a secret fairy thing though. I just know it.” You slowly inched your way to the table and took a seat stiffly. You could feel his ember eyelights burning into your consciousness and scanning you over. “It’s just a thought I had for my art project. It’s probably a ridiculous idea and it probably wouldn’t work out anyways. I mean, realistically I’d have to do it for next semester because I need to practice. So, for this semester the project would be focused more on figure studies. I want to improve and do right before... And, oh god...” You covered your mouth quickly.

          Papyrus stared at you. You weren’t hiding anything malicious, and that was good enough for him. “You want art help. From me, specifically.”

          You buried your face in your hands. “How?” you whined, astounded. “You don’t have to be so nonchalant about it. Anyways, I’m already asking for physics help and taking up a lot of your time. I know you’re not entirely thrilled with hanging out with me.”

          “Shut up,” Papyrus sighed. He never meant to make you think you were a nuisance. On the contrary, your presence was refreshing. You were the breath of fresh air he didn’t know he needed. Things were just complicated. “I told you already. It’s not you, it’s me.”

          You frowned at him. Your eyes clouded over as you thought.

          “I’ll do it.”

          “What?” you asked in surprise.

          Papyrus rolled his eyelights. “Don’t look so surprised.” He tilted his head as he looked you over. “You said I had to accept any invitations of yours, didn’t you? That was one of your conditions.”

          You looked at him in disbelief. A relieved smile broke through your stunned expression and a giggle escaped you. “I guess I did, huh?” Sighing, you flipped your physics textbook open to one of the pieces of paper stuffed inside and turned it rightside up to him. “Let’s do this then, shall we?”

          A large red C was marked on the top of the page next to your name. Papyrus read over the questions. There were several multiple choice and story questions that called for calculations. You had a solid understanding of the concepts by the looks of things, but when it came down to applying them, your math needed work. It wasn’t just a few simple errors though. He read over your scrawl. As he followed it down the page, it became hurried and sloppier. “You were distracted.”

          “I was stressing about turning in my project proposal. It was due later that day and I hadn’t typed it up yet. I was also still rattled and tired, because...you know.” You slouched in your seat. “I think I get the concepts, but then when I try to do the thing, well…” You waved at the quiz.

          “Maybe practice is all you need.” Papyrus turned the quiz over and reached for a pencil on the table. He held it at the ready as he mulled over a practice problem. Swiftly, he wrote one out, then passed the paper and pencil to you.

          “Whoa… You have neat handwriting.” Your brow knitted together as you studied it. “I feel like I’ve seen it somewhere before.” You laughed to yourself as you marveled over it. “You know, it kinda looks like a font. Maybe Papyrus?”

          Papyrus froze. He wasn’t sure whether to keep quiet or be straight with you. His fingers tapped the table as he contemplated. If he was going to interact with you, you had a right to know his name. What was the harm in a name? What was the harm in you knowing it? After today, you deserved to know.

          “That’s my font,” Papyrus sighed. “And my name.”

          “Your font?” You looked at him quizzically. “Wait, your name?” You sat up straight. Your expression flickered from surprise to delighted realization and excitement. “Your name! Really? Like...really, really? That’s a cool name, dude! I have so many questions.”

          Papyrus tapped at the problem. “Physics first. Questions later.”

          “If I get this right, I get to ask whatever I want.”

          Papyrus groaned and covered his eyes. “You get one question. That’s it. In fact, for every question you get right, you get to ask one.”

          “I’ll make it a good one then,” you said with a wide grin and new confidence.

          You set to work. After a few minutes of you checking over your math, you circled the answer and passed the problem to him.

          “Well?” you asked eagerly.

          Papyrus sighed. He dragged his hand down his face, then held up a finger. “You get one.”

          You crossed your arms as you thought hard. “Well, you said you don't’ read minds, and I doubt you’d tell me anyways. So, how about this... You said Papyrus is your font and your name. Do all monsters have fonts?”

          Of all the questions you could have asked, that was one he didn’t expect. In fact, it was benign. With your level of curiosity, he expected you to ask a more prying one. “It’s not just monsters. Everyone has a font.”

          “Even humans?”

          Papyrus nodded. “Some have established fonts, like me, and others have fonts yet to be named.”

          “So how does one find out what their font is?” you asked, leaning in closer.

          “Only certain types of monsters can visualize another person’s font. Skeleton monsters to be specific.” He saw your eyes shine brightly at that.

          “Please?” you smiled eagerly.

          Papyrus let out a quiet, amused laugh. He was in a decent mood. He might as well indulge you. “Give me a sheet of paper.”

          “You’re going to actually show me?”

          “I can mimic it.”

          “I have just the thing then.” You rushed to get your sketchbook and turned to a new page. “You get the good paper,” you said as you handed it to him. “Need any fancy pens? Calligraphy ink? Paint?”

          “You want me to go all out?”

          “If you don’t mind,” you said cheerily.

          The way you looked at him with utter delight put him at a temporary loss of words. The way you bounced excitedly reminded him of Anise. “Sure, why not.”

          You cheered quietly, then bounded away to gather various art supplies. When you returned, you presented an array ranging from calligraphy ink to watercolor paint and a cup of water. You laid it all out for him “Can I watch you? Or would that be distracting?”

          “I’m not that self-conscious.” He grabbed the pencil and eyed the page.

          You pulled up your chair and sat beside him. “Show me your magic, Papyrus!”

          There was a flutter to the way you said his name. He was used to hearing it said with fear and disdain. The sound and sight of it made him pause. There was so much color to your words, much like the surface. He didn’t deserve to hear his name said the way you did. Out of the corner of his eye socket, he could see you shifting with excitement. He couldn’t help but laugh quietly to himself. “You’re vibrating like a Temmie.”

          “I don’t know what that is, but I’ll take it as a compliment,” you giggled.

          He smirked. He had to admit, you did have the spunk of a Temmie too. “You sure you want to take it as a compliment? You don't even know what a Temmie is.”

           “If it's something that can make you smile and laugh like that, even the slightest bit,” you pointed at him as if it was proof of another victory, “I say it's a compliment.”

          “Believe what you want,” he chuckled. “Now, tell me a sentence you want me to write.”

           You hummed as you pondered. “How about a sentence with all the letters, but not the typical one that’s used. That one is kind of long and boring. I think I saw one on a post a bit ago that was cool.” You paused as you tried to remember. “I know! It’s perfect.” You cleared your throat and spoke theatrically to honor the moment. “Sphinx of black quartz: judge my vow.”

           “So, I’m a sphinx now, huh?”

           “You’re an enigma after all, Mister Mysterious. You keep doing that secret fairy thing that supposedly isn’t telepathy.”

           “I promise you it’s not telepathy.” Papyrus began to sketch out the words in large letters. He laid out the sentence first in lower case, then below in uppercase. In his peripheral vision, he could see you craning your head. Once all the letters were placed, he detailed them and sketched out images behind the letters your words carried.

           When was the last time he did anything artistic? He supposed it was when he was a child, back when Sans took care of them. He did occasionally paint whenever he had the supplies. They were hard to come by and he tried to use them sparingly. He usually saved them for when he had a harrowing day. That was until he began his training to join the royal guard and rose through the ranks. He had increasingly less time then. He had never thought about it before, but he missed painting.

           Papyrus reached for a brush and watercolor paints. Carefully, he filled in the letters and images. Even though the watercolor had a softer look, he thought it’s vibrancy and depth suited you. You were more than his first impression of an ignorant and foolish human who lacked the concept of self-preservation. You proved to him you were perceptive and considerate.

           “Wow, it’s looking great so far!”

           “You think so?” Papyrus asked. He fanned the page and caught your starry-eyed gaze. “It’s been a while since I’ve done anything like this.”

           “You're an artist too?”

           “Former artist is more accurate.”

           “Why did you stop?” you frowned.

           Why did he stop? It wasn’t just the lessening amount of time. He had to live a life of appearances. Art didn’t fit the description of a captain. Even Undyne played her piano less and less once word got out about her hobby. She only played a song when she couldn’t handle her anger anymore. One day she snapped and silenced her piano for good. Music and art were looked down upon because they were seen as useless at making one stronger. If you weren’t fighting, if you indulged in such distractions, if you let any other emotions infect you, you deserved to be cut down. Badges of anger were preferable and it was safer to hurt. It was safer to be numb.

           “It’s complicated,” he said quietly.

           You let his tone sink in and picked up on his exhaustion. “If that’s the case, thank you for doing this for me,” you said, smiling softly.

           “Yeah…” he said in acknowledgement. Your words shined with a kinder hope than he was accustomed to. You hoped he wouldn’t give up and there were so many parts of himself he had to cast away. The sense he had fallen further away from himself returned. He thought this over and forgot you hadn’t directly expressed all your hopes to him. “Me too…” he sighed.

           You bit your lip, then hummed in thought.

           Papyrus paused to glance at you. Realizing how he responded, he stared quietly at his work. He reached for the calligraphy pen and ink and prepared to ink the letters. What was the harm in telling you? It wasn’t exactly a secret in the Underground and he had more enemies there. While you were a member of the great enemy to monsterkind, you weren’t his enemy. He began inking the letters and accompanying images.

           “It’s not telepathy,” he sighed. “It’s not just visualizing fonts either.”

           You looked at him in surprise with curiosity burning in your eyes.

           “This,” he said in between strokes, “is how I perceive your words. I can get impressions from them based off of their form, their color, stray images. I can read someone’s intentions, if they’re stringing along a lie, or if they’re a foolish human with absolutely no sense of self-preservation as they bum around the monster district.”

           You giggled at that last remark. Gasping, you watched in amazement as the drawing grew more ornate. Papyrus captured night and starlight in the image of a black quartz. Several echo and golden flowers adorned the ‘vow’. The roots wrapped around the words and bound the sentence together. You turned to him, thrilled, and at a loss for words.

           “You know, you’re kinder and cooler than you think,” you said softly. “I wish you gave yourself more credit. I mean, you’re taking time out of your day to help a silly human such as myself with physics. That stuff is all Wing Dings to me!”

           Papyrus froze. “ What?” How was it you managed to say the unexpected?

           “Wing Dings. Like the font. Oh no, that wasn’t offensive was it? I’m sorry, I was trying to make a clever joke.”

           For a moment, he lost his train of thought. The buzzing in his head spiked and his memories became void and static. Chasing the unnerving sensation away, he blinked, then shook his head. The static cloud dissipated. “No, yeah, Wing Dings... I forget non-skeleton monsters have problems understanding it. Good one,” he chuckled.

           Relieved, you turned back to watch him apply the finishing touches. When he finished, you marveled at the sentences. Papyrus fanned the page until the ink dried, then carefully passed it to you. Your eyes watered with tears and you rubbed at them. “This is one of the coolest gifts ever. You’re the best.”

           “You’re going to frame it, aren’t you?” Papyrus smirked.

           Your laughter was the only answer he needed.

Chapter Text

 

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Art of War — Sun Tzu



           His phone’s ringtone startled him awake. Papyrus felt around blindly for it and squinted at the screen when his eye sockets were blasted by its bright light. It was dark in his room with only the palest of morning light peeking through his blinds. The contrast made his eye sockets hurt and his skull split with pain. Through bleary vision he made out Undyne’s name and swiped to accept the call. Papyrus groaned and rolled over onto his back. His limbs felt heavy and his entire body ached.

           “What?” he grumbled quietly.

           “You coming in today?” Undyne asked, her tone borderline accusatory.

           “I can,” he said flatly. “I normally do anyways.”

           “Just checking,” she said, sounding only half satisfied with his answer.

           Papyrus stared unenthused at the ceiling. That was a loaded response if he ever heard one. She was keeping tabs on him as if she expected him to make excuses and bolt on whatever she had planned for the day. He sensed it was going to be a long and grueling one too. Her words were guarded, the colors drained and muted. He did not appreciate her indirect behavior and he hoped this would not be a reoccurring thing. “What’s this about, Undyne?”

           The phone crackled in Undyne’s silence.

           “Look, if you got something to tell me, then say it. Otherwise, I’m going back to bed,” Papyrus sighed in exasperation. He wasn’t the type to lounge around, but the morning was early even by his standards. He could use the two extra hours he would have normally gotten judging by the dull aching deep in his bones.

           “We have business, so get over here. ASAP,” she barked at him, then hung up.

           Papyrus scowled at the screen and swiped the call history away. “Yes, Ma’am,” he said sarcastically. He held his phone loosely and draped his arm across his face. Groaning quietly, he took a few minutes to collect himself. His thoughts were in a fog, but he had the mental wherewithal to catch the sharpness on the word ‘business.’ No doubt she wanted to see Asgore with him in particular. Why else would she call at this star forsaken hour? A trip back to the Underground required an early start if they wanted to return at a reasonable time before the city’s curfew. After his stern warning to her the other day and the fact their alliance was coming to a quick end, it was no surprise Undyne was trying to force his hand.

           Willing himself into a sitting position, he inhaled sharply and winced while clutching at his ribs. Whatever remained of his old injuries demanded to be known. Today was going to be one of those days.

           Ever since he came to the surface, all of his old scars would flare up occasionally to remind him of every scrape and fracture he endured. Turns out the surface wasn’t the perfect paradise it was made out to be. He had not the faintest idea for the cause other than it was something in the environment, and there were many variables to account for. He convinced himself it was only a minor inconvenience. It had to be. He would deal with it like he always did for lack of choice in the matter.

           He shifted to the edge of his bed and looked through the notifications on his phone. There was a text message from you with an image attached sent in the middle of the night. You had framed the art piece he made of your font and had it hung up on a wall. He had to admit, the silver, polished frame you chose was both fitting and endearing. Before he left that day, you insisted that he sign his work. You were also sure to remind him you were owed three questions for answering his devious physics problems he concocted for you. You wanted to put some thought into them first.

 

Fairy Fiend: Officially framed and on display! I hope to collect more masterpieces from the great artist Papyrus someday! :D

 

Papyrus : Color me skeptical, but it will be a while if there is a next time. It looks great, by the way.

 

           He smirked as he read over your message again. Even through a text message, he could pick up your sincerity and enthusiasm. At least there was one pleasant note to his morning. However, that sentiment proved to be short lived. His jaw clenched at the thought of you calling while with Undyne. If that were to happen, he'd never hear the end of it from her. Papyrus could practically hear her words splintering with anger. He quickly typed another response.

 

Papyrus: Don't call. I'll be busy today.

 

           He needed to clear his head. A quick, hot shower would do him some good. He tossed his phone onto the bed and moved to retrieve some clothes from a drawer. He stared blankly at the first T-shirt on top. The morning was growing older and provided enough filtered light for him to make out the design of an angry skull with a red handprint on its forehead and brass knuckles between its fanged teeth. It was a gift from his brother, who joked about humans apparently having their share of pissed off skeletons and insisted the likeness to him was uncanny. Papyrus couldn’t see it, nor did he care to at the time. When he investigated the graphic afterwards, he discovered it was an icon for a human heavy metal band. Having never heard that kind of music before, what he listened to was indescribable. Despite the cacophony of sounds, he found he couldn’t tear himself away from his headphones. While mostly gritty and raw, the singer proved they could achieve a melodic sound. He came to like those songs the most and appreciated their rich, deep colors. Still, there was something strangely cathartic about hearing humans scream angrily to guitar riffs and thunderous drums.

           Today would be as good of a day to wear it if any. He was in a disgruntled mood already, but choosing to wear something Sans gave him made Papyrus feel like he had at least a choice in making his day marginally better. He added the shirt to his pile of selected clothing and silently left his room. He heard Sans’ droning snores through the door when he walked past. It always irritated him how Sans could be dead to the world no matter the racket around him. On this day, however, Papyrus preferred for him to sleep. The last thing he wanted to do was trouble Sans.

           Reaching the bathroom, Papyrus set his clothes down on the counter. He turned away, shielding his eye sockets with his hand, and flicked the lights on. Squinting through his fingers, he gave himself time to adjust. He shut the door and set his gaze on his reflection. He had seen better mornings. His eyelights were dim and unfocused like twin suns shrouded in haze. That hot shower sounded better by the second.

           After brushing his teeth and shedding his pajamas, he turned on the water and stepped in once the temperature was adequately hot. He leaned against the wall, resting his skull against the tiles. The scorching water provided relief to his aching bones, slowly melting the pain in his shoulders, neck, and ribs to a dull throb. No matter how short-lived this respite would be, it was enough to take the edge off of his morning. He needed to take advantage of the fleeting peace and quiet to examine his thoughts.

           There was an intensity to Undyne’s voice that left a mark of desperation in her words. It reminded him of thick ice splitting after bearing a heavy weight, or cracked and scratched glass before it gave way. She of all people knew he could read her as easily as he could anyone else. That didn’t stop her from trying to conceal from him the shame she carried. Her fall from captain was a bitter memory she could never swallow. He reawakened that sting that tied their fates together. If mercy was weakness, then what did that make her? Papyrus refused to see her that way. Instead, he saw her strength for what it was, something worthy of being salvaged. However, when it came to Asgore, she received all of the King’s disdain. She had to prove her braver mettle, that she never strayed from the path the King intended for her. She had to stand apart from him or fall further from Asgore’s love and favor.

           Papyrus was no better in Asgore’s eyes. The King considered his history of sparing others unorthodox and a blight on his rule. It was no secret Asgore regarded him as ill-fit for the role of captain and had once attempted to address the issue with finality. This meeting, like all the ones before, required cunning and craft. Then there was the matter with you. He needed to spin this plan of his as worthwhile and relevant to their cause—to Asgore’s cause.

           No doubt the King would not stand for you having close contact with monsters, let alone the captain of the Royal Guard. You would be considered a loose end that needed to be excised, that you knew too much. Your soul would be harvested and put to use. You didn’t deserve that. All you wanted was to show him kindness. Instead, your fate was becoming increasingly tangled with his, and he was responsible for it. No, he had to convince the King of your value, if only to borrow more time.

           Something in his chest clenched tightly and his breath caught. Whatever it was, it was bitter and heavy and too familiar. Faint though it may be, it copied the ghost of a memory. The last time he felt something like this was when Sans was threatened by Asgore shortly after he became captain. The King had a precise paradigm for his kingdom and that included punishment. Sans was a fitting target to wound him.

           Papyrus shut his eyes and banished the thought away. He welcomed numbness and the clarity it brought. It was calming. It was safe. It was kind.

           He made a fist, then flexed his hand. The stiffness throughout his body had adequately left. He shut the water off and grabbed a towel to dry himself. A few of his joints cracked every now and then, but overall he was feeling much improved. Quickly, he got dressed and walked briskly back to his room. He tossed his dirty clothes into a laundry basket, then retrieved his phone, keys, and his leather jacket which hung on the back of his door. As he made his way to the kitchen, he pulled his jacket on and stuffed his possessions into his pockets.

           There was enough light coming from the skylight to illuminate the kitchen. It beat having to endure the flickering lights that he and his brother hadn’t the time to address. The kitchen was an ugly sight with yellowed and chipped paint peeling from age. The ceiling and walls had water damage and the knobs on the stove were missing. Papyrus fetched a cup and moved to the sink. When he opened the tap, the water spluttered and sprayed at him. More of it leaked at the faucet’s base and pooled on the counter. Scowling at the faucet, he turned the handle so the water slowed to a trickle. He filled his cup and shut it off, only to have the faucet handle break. There were signs of rust and corrosion in the metal.

           “Son of a…” Papyrus grumbled loudly with water dripping from his face. That was another thing that needed fixing. He dropped the handle into the sink with a glare. The metal clattered against the ceramic. With a guttural groan, he stuffed the cup into the microwave and punched in the time. Leaning his back against the counter, he reached for a box of muffins with the logo of a rabbit monster child on it. Without looking, he grabbed a glazed lemon blueberry one and angrily nibbled at it. The electrical humming from the microwave and fridge filled the space.

           Papyrus heard footsteps shuffling from the hallway. He whipped his head towards the sound and his glare settled on Sans.

           “You okay, bro? I thought I heard a—” Sans froze and raised his hands in surrender. “Whoa, okay! What did I do this time?”

           Papyrus rolled his eyelights and sighed in exasperation. “Nothing.”

           Sans lowered his hands. Raising a brow, he looked his brother over. “Uh, why are you wet?” He heard water dripping from the counter and onto the floor. “Why is the floor wet?”

           Papyrus looked unenthused at Sans, then gestured to the sink.

           “Shit’s broke, huh? Man, have I got a sinking feeling about this place.” Sans gave a half grin while rubbing the back of his neck. “Here, I can—”

           “I’ll deal with it,” Papyrus interjected, though his mood was the slightest bit lighter from Sans’ pun. He knew what Sans was doing. Shouldering some of the burdens Papyrus carried, no matter how small, was one of the few things Sans could do for him. “I just wanted to try enjoying my breakfast in some semblance of peace.”

           “Nah, I got it,” Sans insisted. He fished some ragged dish towels out of a drawer and tossed one to Papyrus. He proceeded to dam the surrounding area of the counter and mop up the floor.

           Papyrus dried himself off. He tossed it on the counter so it could soak up the pool. The microwave chirped behind him and he turned to retrieve his mug. He opened a box of tea bags and dunked one into the steaming cup. Gold and sepia bled into the water and a floral scent mingled with the steam.

           “So, why are you up so early?” Sans asked. His phalanges drummed against the surface of the kitchen table.

           Papyrus set his tea down. He flipped the box of muffins open and tossed one to his brother. “Why do you think?” he grumbled. Hiding the reason would gain him nothing but a worsening headache. Sans was astute enough to render lies and evasion useless. It was his trade after all.

           “Ah…” He caught the muffin and smelled it’s sweet scent. “Cranberry orange, very nice,” he mused. He bit into the sugary crust and wiped the crumbs from his mouth with his sleeve. Quietly, he watched Papyrus finish off his muffin and toss the paper wrapper into the garbage. Sans hesitated before he spoke. “Does Undyne know that you…” Sans said vaguely while gesturing to Papyrus.

           “That I feel like complete shit? No.”

           “You look bone tired.” Sans’ gaze was serious despite the pun.

           “Yeah, well, that’s my problem.” Papyrus reached for his tea and examined its color. It looked to be adequately steeped.

           Sans moved to hop onto the counter and sit beside his brother. He reached to open an overhead cupboard for a box of sugar cubes. He dropped three in to Papyrus’ cup and put the box away. “I guess you’re going to Asgore then,” he said wearily behind a lazy grin.

           Papyrus swirled his tea and watched the sugar cubes dissolve. “Undyne is forcing my hand.”

           A grim silence past between them. Sans took another bite of his muffin and stared blankly at the floor. Papyrus sipped his drink.

           “You want back up?” Sans asked, looking to his brother.

           “How humerus of you,” Papyrus remarked sarcastically.

           “I’m serious. If it’s only you, the King, and Undyne, you’re gonna to need someone to keep an eye socket open for ya.”

           Papyrus turned to Sans. “Undyne isn’t going to betray me just yet. Besides, I’ll have less to worry about if you’re not there. I’m not in the mood for the King to strike up his ire for you again.” His words were charged with the memory of lightning that threatened to separate them.

           Sans’ grin grew stiff from the mention of the King. His eyelights flickered and wavered briefly at the shared memory.  “If you say so.” His expression became masked as he ate the muffin in silence.

           Papyrus placed a hand on Sans’ shoulder and sighed. The gesture was the closest he could achieve to intimacy with his brother. No matter how much Sans closed off the world from his emotions, he could never completely shut Papyrus out. “It will be fine,” he said steadily.

           Sans shrugged. He was welcoming numbness too.

           Their silence grew into solemnity. Papyrus knew not how to convince his brother that his safety was guaranteed. Life in the Underground had taught them to expect and prepare for the worst, that some day one of them might fail to return home. Now that they reached the surface, that uncertainty only grew. The brewing desire for war was volatile, and at the end of it all the King’s word was all it would take to set things alight.

           Papyrus finished his tea. Pushing away from the counter, he tossed the tea bag into the garbage and placed the cup in the sink. “Keep a watch on the district while we’re gone.”

           Sans cracked a weak grin. “I don’t exactly have the same clout as you. You’re made of sternum stuff compared to me.”

           Papyrus smirked. “You’ll figure something out. You always do.”

           Sans looked up eagerly at that comment. His smile was filled with mischief, enough to remind Papyrus of you. Papyrus sensed you would get along well with his brother if the two of you were to meet. “Oh?” Sans leaned forward from the edge of the counter, his eyelights bright and away from the past.

           Giving his brother free rein would be enough of a diversion to keep the monsters from getting into trouble with humans. The city authorities didn’t care if monsters got into a squabble amongst themselves as long as it was contained within the district. It would keep Sans distracted and occupied too. “A world-class jape on my behalf for anyone that causes trouble would do nicely if you’ve got the spine and marrow for it.” Papyrus hummed.

           “You got it, vertebro ,” Sans chuckled.

           Papyrus laughed quietly to himself, pleased to see his brother motivated. It was a rare sight that was often short-lived. He hoped someday Sans would find something aligning with his  interests that could be another focalpoint to his world. He walked to the door, pulled on his boots, and began unlocking the multitude of locks. They clicked and popped open in quick succession in a puzzle like manner. “Lock up after me, will you?”

           “Got it,” Sans saluted. He watched Papyrus open the door and take a step outside. He hesitated before speaking. “Hey, be careful, okay?” his voice fell.

           Papyrus paused. His hand gripped the door as he was about to swing it closed. “Always am,” he said without looking back

           He shut the door, lingering until he heard the series of clicks from the other side. In a way he was glad Sans was awake to see him off, but he could do without making him worry. Of all the days for his brother to not sleep through, it had to be this one. He walked briskly past the elevator that had a tendency to shake and jostle. He despised the rickety thing. It always smelled stale and moldy, had a tendency to get stuck in between floors, and wailed and screeched horribly. Papyrus never liked confined spaces, and this remarkable trap for fools was one he actively avoided.

           He opted for the stairs and quickly descended them. Briefly, he winced and clutched at his side before exiting the ground floor and making his way to the residential parking garage where he kept his motorcycle. Zipping up his jacket, he looked over his bike. He took his helmet and riding gloves out of the motorcycle’s storage compartment and put them on. Once he climbed onto his bike and it roared to life, he was off.

           The ride to the bar was a short one. The streets were mostly vacant except for the cars of monsters leaving the district for their shifts. As the sun sat on the city’s skyline, orange light painted the buildings and flooded the pavement. His tinted face shield tamed the light’s glare and masked its beauty. It was only when he parked in front of Grillby’s and removed his helmet and gloves that he was able to admire the color’s brilliance. It was a clear soft light that filtered through the shop windows, and settled on his bones. He held his hand up and noted how his phalanges looked almost golden. The warmth he felt was nothing like the harshness of Hotland. The color he saw was kinder than the blinding yellow of the King’s garden.

           Papyrus tore his gaze away. He tossed his gloves into his helmet and tucked it under his arm. His keys jangled in his hand as he descended the steps. When he opened the door, a dusty melody drifted by. The notes were out of practice, the tempo slowing to a light step at times as the song tried to remember itself, but overall the sound was strong and clear. Papyrus masked his surprise as he followed the bright notes, but only making it as far as the bar. He didn’t have the heart to disturb Undyne, who was focusing intently on the keys.

           Papyrus leaned against the counter and rested his helmet on it. He gave Grillby an acknowledging look. In turn, the fire elemental grinned at him. Grillby was cleaning the glasses and enjoying Undyne’s playing. He was never one to judge what his customers did in the bar as long as they abided by his no dusting policy.

           “Just came in yesterday,” he said in a low, crackling voice. “Never knew the fish had such an artistic flare to her. Her playing adds a nice touch to the whole place, don’t you think?”

           Papyrus nodded slowly. He turned his attention back to Undyne when her current song faded to an end. She flicked back a lock of hair and struck the keys again. Papyrus saw her eye flash with an intensity he hadn’t seen in a long time. It wasn’t the same burning gold that glinted in her eye when she was fighting. It was passionate and loving and real. He caught her smiling as her hands fluttered to the high notes and her hopes translated into the music she had grown to miss.

           Seeing her lost in the moment, Papyrus’ annoyance with her evanesced. He listened  and watched her carefully, uncertain when opportunity would strike for either of them again. He always appreciated Undyne’s playing. It was the common ground they found before he was captain and what initially forged their alliance. He got to know her well in those days when piano lessons were a part of his personal training. Music was simply another language to convey emotions, and reading Undyne in this manner was no different for him. Even now, she played all the old aches and new wounds that festered from her time away from music. There were so many things she wanted, but felt she could never have. Her place by Asgore’s side under a blue patch of sky was one of them. Below all that, there was something strained that kept her bound to the mountain. A hesitation to throw her passion into the notes and remember herself. This moment was after all ephemeral.

           He wanted to make it last for her.

           Papyrus turned to Grillby, his expression dark. He motioned the bartender closer. “If anyone tries to make her give this up again, and you hear about it, you tell me who it is. I don’t care if you’d rather tell Sans first. Get me the information and I’ll deal with them personally,” he said in a low voice.

           Grillby gave Papyrus an intrigued look. His flames crackled in his silence. “Is that an order, Captain?” Grillby asked, his voice smooth with interest as he propped his arm up and rested his chin on his hand.

           “Yes,” Papyrus said coldly.

           Grillby hummed in thought. He studied Papyrus hard. “Gladly,” he mused. He smirked and a hissing laugh escaped him. “For a moment there, Captain, I could have sworn you were doing this out of friendship.”

           Papyrus’ gaze remained steely. “And if I was?”

           Grillby tilted his head, contemplating his next words. “It’s not so bad having friends, if you think it’s worth the risk,” his voice sizzled. “Sometimes you can bargain with what is unexpected to earn each other’s trust.”

            Papyrus maintained his stoic silence.

            Grillby laughed quietly as he straightened. “But you won’t hear that coming from me,” he said, raising a finger to his smirk. Grillby turned his attention to Undyne. “What can possibly be greater than the King’s love, I wonder? Certainly not a love for music.”

           Papyrus caught the warning in Grillby’s words. With the way things were, if Undyne had to choose between him and the King, he would lose every time. Friendship was out of the question. He was aware of that. “That’s beside the point.” Papyrus leaned his back against the counter and crossed his arms. He watched Undyne sway with the melody. “We came all this way, didn’t we? She should be able to do whatever the hell she wants, and that includes playing a piano.”

           The final notes stumbled to an end. Undyne leaned back in her seat and exhaled heavily while shaking out her hands. “Man, that felt great!” she said excitedly, her teeth flashing in her grin. “A bit rusty, but not bad at all.”

           “You missed the yellow one at the end,” Papyrus called with the slightest smile.

           Undyne turned to him in surprise. She was so absorbed in her playing she hadn’t noticed him enter. “The yellow one?” she asked in confusion. She thought hard for a few moments, then lifted her hand to hover above the keys. She played the last several notes correctly this time and her face lit up in realization. “Well, I’ll be damned. You’re right,” she said with a laugh while slapping her knee. “You still got it!”

           “So do you.”

           “Thanks, but…” Undyne smiled weakly as she sighed and stroked the polished wood. “It’s just a one time thing. Needed to get it out of my system, ya know?”

           Papyrus said nothing.

           “Anyways,” Undyne began as she stood up and stretched, “you brought your bike, right?”

           Now that Undyne’s attention shifted back to the matter at hand, Papyrus raised his guard. He reached back for his helmet and held it up.

           “Awesome. Let’s get going then.” Undyne approached him, only to pause when she got close. Her fins perked up in attention when she saw how dim his eyelights looked.

           Papyrus pushed off from the counter and made his way to the door. When she didn’t follow, he turned back to her. “You coming or what?”

           “Yeah...” Undyne said, her voice falling with a masked apology. “Right behind you.”

           Papyrus saw the conflicted look she wore before he turned away from her. He chose not to acknowledge it for both of their sakes. Once they bid farewell to Grillby and were standing outside, he opened the storage compartment and rummaged through it. Undyne watched him while gripping her forearm.

           “So, you got the dimensional boxes working,” she said, breaking the awkward silence between them. “Cool.”

           Papyrus tossed her a spare riding jacket and a pair of gloves. “Just in time too considering how urgent you wanted to ride,” he remarked flatly.

           “It wouldn’t have been a big deal if you didn’t get it to work.” Undyne slipped her jacket on and zipped it up. “Hey, you found one that fits me. Awesome,” she marveled.

           “It’s a long ride, and you burn horribly in the sun, remember? I’d rather not have my vice-captain become an overcooked dining delicacy.”

           “Yeah...” Undyne’s said quietly with a hint of guilt. “You’re right.”

           Papyrus tossed her a helmet and pulled on his own gear. He raised his face shield to look at Undyne, who was staring at the helmet in her hands with a disgruntled expression.

           “Man, I hate wearing these. It really irritates my fins,” she grumbled.

           “You’re the one that wanted to ride there. My bike, my rules,” he chided while crossing his arms.

           “Fine,” Undyne exhaled in surrender. She pulled the helmet on and adjusted it as best she could. “I’ll have to ask the royal scientist if she can customize a helmet for me.”

           While Undyne pulled on her gloves, Papyrus climbed onto his bike and keyed it on. He checked it over, making sure it was ready for her to get on. He flipped his face shield down, activated his helmet intercom, and gripped the handlebars. “Ready whenever.”

           Undyne rested her hands on Papyrus’ shoulders and swung her leg over. Once she shifted into a comfortable position, she wrapped an arm around his ribs and braced her other hand against the gas tank. “Ready to take off.”

           Papyrus winced at Undyne’s touch. He tried to keep quiet as he tightened his grip on the handlebars. He felt her shift behind him and loosen her grip, but she said nothing. Once she settled, he stared ahead at the street. “Let’s hit the road and get this over with,” he growled with a hint of pain.

           His bike roared to life and they were off.

           The light traffic made leaving the city easy. Papyrus welcomed the increased speed and wind whipping past him when they reached the highway. The roaring of his motorcycle drowned out his headache and forced it into the background. It wasn’t until they turned onto another road that meandered near the base of the mountain that Undyne spoke.

           “Man, I always forget how beautiful the drive is here,” her voice crackled over the intercom. Undyne kept her attention forward as she looked over Papyrus’ shoulder. The trees lining the side of the road were tall and old and thick with leaves.

           “Less people than before too,” Papyrus remarked.

           The parking lots at the various trail sites and camping entrances they had passed were empty with some being completely closed down and abandoned. Signs hung on gates marked with ‘Closed Indefinitely’ and ‘Enter At Your Own Risk’ to warn off hikers and vacationers. It was a stark contrast to the lots being constantly full with campers arriving and departing during the first migration. The only humans remaining on the mountain were those taking the winding road to reach other destinations.

           “Humans don’t want to come here now that they know monsters are real,” Undyne laughed as she boasted. “Good. They should be scared.”

           Papyrus clenched his jaw and said nothing. Her smug manner made him wary.

           “Hey, it’s the way you want it, right?” she said in a snarky tone. “We don’t have to pick a fight here now. The mountain is ours. We have more territory.”

           “Undyne…” Papyrus began in exasperation. “That’s great, but can we not do this right now? Please?”

           “Ah, right. Don’t piss off the driver,” she said apologetically.  “Sorry, man.”

           The road began its slow, winding ascent up the mountain. Several twists and turns later, they reached the furthest trail entrance and slowed to a stop. The motorcycle grumbled to silence and Undyne swiftly dismounted. She pulled her helmet off and took out her hairband. Papyrus watched her shake her hair out and ruffle her fingers through it as he climbed off. He removed his helmet and replaced his riding gloves for his fingerless ones. She passed her gear back to him and he packed everything neatly back in the bike’s storage.

           Undyne’s scarlet hair hung past her shoulders and shined brightly in the sun. The small scales that covered her body glittered like sapphires as she moved to gather her hair back into a neat ponytail. She massaged her sore fins and made a disgruntled face, then fanned herself. “Hey, got any—” she stopped short when Papyrus tossed her a bottle of water. “Beat me to it, huh?” she said, cracking a grin and breaking the seal. “Why am I not surprised.”

           Papyrus opened his own and sipped from it. “You’re a fish out of water,” he said with a wry smile.

           Undyne playfully punched at Papyrus’ shoulder before chugging her drink. Once she downed it all, she tossed the empty bottle into a recycling can. She lifted her arms above her head and stretched in the early light. Undyne scanned the towering trees that lined the perimeter of the parking lot. The edges of the leaves were stained with reds and yellows with some already bleeding into the center.

           “Not a monster around here either,” she commented. “We should change that now that the humans have cleared out. What do you say? We could have a couple sentry stations.” She placed her hands on her hips as she turned to him with a wide grin.

           “We’ll talk about it later.” Papyrus passed the rest of his water to Undyne. He closed his eyes and rubbed at his temples. “That is if I don’t get smote first,” he grumbled.

           Undyne’s fins lowered. She looked thoughtfully at the drink. “Yeah, you’re right. We’ll figure it out later,” she said brightly, then finished the rest of the water. She was making an effort to subdue her aggressive nature. She crushed the plastic bottle and tossed it into the recycling. Undyne shifted her weight as she looked at him. Her silence was tense as she mulled over what to say.

           Papyrus locked the bike’s storage and started towards the gate at the trail’s entrance. “Come on. We can’t boondoggle all day,” he said in a tired voice. He had already made it to the gate when he heard Undyne catching up to his long strides. Side by side, they ducked under the low hanging branches. Their boots sank into the soft dirt littered with pine needles. The occasional crunching of pine cones under their heels was the only sound to pass between them.

           The trail cut through the forest that grew on the mountainside. The trees were dense with the morning songs of birds. With swift movements from venturing the trail several times before, they tagged the landmarks with magic to make their presence known to others of the royal guard that might be passing through. Despite the loud crackling from their magic, the birds remained unperturbed.

           Eventually the trail ran parallel to a shallow creek. They slid down the gentle slope and their boots sloshed in the clear water at the stream’s edge. Papyrus took the lead by gracefully hopping on the large stones to cross. Undyne followed after. Her bounds were shorter and she made a quick zigzagging pattern to reach the other side. Papyrus reached out to her as she leapt off the last rock. Undyne firmly grasped his hand as her feet planted into the surrounding muck and sand. He held her steady and kept her from sliding on the slick algae and smooth stones on the shore.

           “Good catch,” she said with a whistle. She scraped the muck off of her boots on the roots of a hollow tree while holding onto Papyrus’ shoulder for balance.

           “Almost got dusted and scattered myself,” he exaggerated.

           “Psssht, you? Come on.” Undyne gave him an amused look. “Could’ve fooled me.” She turned to look up at the cliffs and shielded her eyes. Her smile fell when she spotted the back entrance to the King’s throne room. “I’ll go check upstream and tag that boulder. See who is on guard,” she said with a note of apprehension. Her words looked like cracked glass. Undyne broke out into a run, kicking up wet sand behind her.

           Papyrus stood under the branches of the hollow tree as he watched her form shrink and disappear around a bend. He knew she was stalling. He caught the stray images of golden petals and piano keys. They were two futures at conflict. She shouldn’t have to choose.

           Sighing heavily, he summoned a bone and drove it into the rocky earth like a stake. A garden of bones from previous trips were grouped apart from the most recent addition to mark when he left the mountain. Woody vines from golden flowers coiled around them, allowing the plants to reach higher for sunlight. A few times he thought about getting rid of the bones entirely, but seeing how the plants interacted with his manifested magic made him pause. He could never pin down what the sentiment was. This morning, however, the sight appeared strangely prophetic. The flowers entwined the bones and kept them bound in the dirt as if insisting he belonged in this world. They were accepting of his magic and grew from it. He should have been able to dissipate the manifestations. It was all so simple, and yet not. Somehow those fragile flowers were the only force preventing him from uprooting those bones.

His thoughts flickered to you. He remembered the warmth of your hand, your fingers interlocking with his as you led him onto the bus. You were just as accepting of him as these flowers were and your fate just as tangled with his if not more so. Now his words to the king impinged on your future. Would you be as willing to guide him through your world and show him what you saw in him if you knew of the King’s claim on your soul? No, he refused to allow that to happen to you. He refused to make that mistake again. You deserved better.

           The same heavy feeling he experienced earlier returned. Leaning his back against the tree, he rested his skull against it and shut his eye sockets tightly all the while listening to the forest around him. The trills and warbles of bird songs were deafening and enough to slowly chase away whatever it was that surfaced from his subconscious. The running stream served as white noise to drown out the frantic static that threatened to flood his head and engulf his thoughts. He dug his fingers into the bark and concentrated on its roughness scraping against his bones. The sharp pains in his ribs helped ground him. He needed to forget your warmth. He had to keep his mind focused.

           Twigs snapped under Undyne’s boots as she approached. Papyrus cracked open an eye socket to look at her. Her magic crackled as she dispelled the spear in her hand.

           “Boulder has been tagged. Things seem to be relatively quiet. Two from the Hotland unit are on guard,” she said. She looked over Papyrus and frowned. Quickly, she masked her expression by turning to the golden flowers and squatting down to inspect them. “Hey, your garden is looking good. Of course, not as impressive as Asgore’s, but it's a start,” she teased.

           “I'm sure if it was any other plant they would be long dead,” he said, his voice sounding hollow and distant. He took one last look at the flowers before heading to the path that was cut into the cliffs. Undyne trudged behind him in silence. From the corner of his eye socket he could see she wanted to say something. Her shoulders were slouched, her fins drooped, and her eye had a hint of remorse. She looked back at the stream where he caught her.

           The path was steep and narrow for most of the way. Once it leveled off, there was more than enough space for them to stand side by side. Papyrus stoically eyed the two guardsmen clad in armor who stood on either side of the back entrance. As he approached, the two swiftly saluted and slammed their spears into the dirt twice without saying a word. He stepped inside and squinted in the dim light as his vision adjusted. He made it far enough down the hall to be out of earshot of the guards when Undyne caught his wrist.

           “Papyrus, wait,” Undyne began. “I think maybe I should talk to Asgore first.” Her words stumbled like the final piano keys in her song. Before he could respond, she brushed past him and placed her hands flat against the heavy doors. Hesitating, she inhaled a rattling breath before pushing through.

           Papyrus shielded his eyes and turned away when bright, golden light burst into the hall. Yellow petals were yawned out and scattered around his feet. His nasal cavities were assaulted by the pungent, sweet, floral scent. The stench sickened him with terrible dread. For a moment, it was enough to make him think he would suffocate. His jaw clenched as he struggled to keep his composure. Something coiled around his soul tightly and he remembered how his bones split and wanted to resolve to dust. He saw Undyne’s silhouette against a kaleidoscope of color and he concentrated all of his focus onto her form. Her stance straightened as she stepped into the throne room. His shoulders tensed and his chest tightened in realization of her choice.

           This was not the time to be haunted. He had to become numb for his sake—no, for Undyne’s sake. Pushing every iota of emotion away, Papyrus followed her stoically.

           Asgore stood in his garden with his back to them. His royal violet cloak billowed around him from a gentle breeze. Slowly, he turned to them with a steely gaze. “Undyne,” he greeted calmly, his voice rumbling like distant thunder. His eyes settled on Papyrus. “Captain. I expected you two sooner,” he said coldly.

           Papyrus saw his title curled in contempt. The malice Asgore held, the desire for violence, carried the force of a lightning strike. He stood beside Undyne with his hands behind his back. Making a fist, he resisted the urge to bring forth his magic despite how his instincts howled at him. He fixated on the King’s movements, how the flowers parted as he brushed by and how strands of blonde hair fell in front of his eyes.

           Undyne shifted in place. She cautiously took a step forward. “Some things have come up,” she said.

           “Indeed they have,” Asgore said tersely. He glowered at Papyrus. His amber eye burned like a molten marble while the pale blue iris of his other grew hazy like a pond surface reflecting a clouded sky.

           “It’s a plan I am not a fan of either. It’s unorthodox, but…” Undyne glanced back at Papyrus. “He… My captain did gain a piece of valuable information from it.”

           Papyrus froze. He saw a memory of the first song Undyne taught him associated with his title. He shifted his eyelights to her in masked surprise. After all the arguments they’ve had over you, after all the challenges and threats, after she went over his head and suggested disloyalty directly to the King, she was proposing to Asgore that there was merit to his plan. All because she didn’t want to see him get hurt. Worst of all, she let it be known to the King that her loyalty was not to him alone.  Papyrus couldn’t understand what had changed. There was no time to understand. He was pushing the reason away. He needed every ounce of awareness he could achieve for what was coming next. The reason was extraneous. Shifting his gaze back to Asgore, he tightened his fist.

           Asgore’s blue eye grew glassy and pallid. It looked to be the color of monster dust in the filtered light of his throne room. His gaze shifted from Papyrus to Undyne. He stood still as he watched her.

           The silence in the throne room buzzed in Papyrus’ skull like a neon sign. Every interruption, no matter how slight, was a flicker that set him further on edge. He told himself to wait, to keep the violence down. It didn’t stop the static from filling the back of his mind and rippling down his spine as if his traumas were flowing from a leaking faucet. He told himself to wait, to not come undone. This was not the time to be haunted.

           Asgore’s lips parted stiffly, as if they didn’t belong to the mask-like expression he wore. “Perhaps some tea is in order,” his voice rumbled softly, but with a charged thickness present before a storm. He gestured to the white table and set of chairs in the middle of his garden. “Have a seat, Undyne. Captain,” his lips curled at one corner on the final word.

           Papyrus mentally traced over the letters in Undyne’s name repeatedly. The colors were so faint he barely saw them. Asgore didn’t plant hate in her name. What he did feel was buried so deep, it was difficult to decipher. The malice was intended for him alone though, never Undyne. The King saw him as the reason for her deviance and must be dealt with.

            Together, Undyne and Papyrus took their seats sitting across from each other. They knew better than to refuse. She held his gaze anxiously in search for an answer he couldn’t give. She knew she said the wrong thing. All he could do was look back at her calmly and remain composed. Perhaps that was the only answer she needed. She knew Asgore well enough to know when he was about to boil over into a vengeful rage. Her gaze became apologetic, her eye widening in realization that their situation was reaching fever pitch.

           Papyrus sat straight with his hands folded in his lap. He kept watch of Asgore warming the tea with his fire magic from the edges of his vision. Besides the background clinking of tea cups and saucers, Asgore hummed a melody Papyrus had only heard played in waterfall. The tempo was too slow. It lacked the honor and brightness the original notes told. It was ominous and hateful and filled with burning skylines and cities. At its core, the song had a wound that oozed grief as red as the bloodstains Asgore saw on the battlefield all those ages ago.

           Undyne’s lips twitched. She followed Asgore’s movements as he served the tea to each of them. She stared at Papyrus with an intensity, desperate to get a message across. Afraid Asgore would see, her lips barely moved as she mouthed silently. I never wanted

           “Drink,” Asgore interrupted. He moved away from them to inspect a patch of golden flowers behind Undyne. He knelt down and gingerly cupped his hand around the blossoms. “Now, tell me, Undyne, what was your original thought for expanding our territory?”

           Undyne lifted the tea cup and sipped carefully from it. No doubt her throat had gone dry. The drink would have been a blessing if not for the occasion. She watched Papyrus do the same. Her eyelid fluttered in an effort to gather her thoughts. “I told him we should seize the city,” she said steadily. “I still think that’s a goal we should focus on first and foremost. It is imperative.”

           Papyrus looked up from his cup. He nodded to her to indicate she said the right words.

           “Captain, what are your thoughts on this?” Asgore asked. The edges of the letters were already smoldering.

           Papyrus set his tea down. Undyne kept her sight fixed on him, afraid to look away. He rested his hands flat on the table so she could see them remaining steady. He looked past her to keep watch on Asgore, who was wrapping his hand around the stems of flowers in full bloom as if he was strangling them. He had to evade. There was no reasoning with the King. “I think there is more than one way to claim a city,” he said calmly.

           “So, you would resort to mingling with humans and relying on their mercy?”

           “I prefer to view it as understanding the enemy.”

           “There is nothing else to understand about them,” Asgore rumbled darkly. His hand slipped down the stems and he pulled. The flowers shook and trembled in his hand. They fought against him to remain in the dirt until finally their roots gave way and hung limp in the air like a tangled net of frayed nerves. The stems bent over so the flower heads hung lifelessly towards the field. If Asgore had his way, your fate would be the same. “There is nothing else to learn. Mercy is folly. That was a hard lesson I learned twice long ago, and I will not play your fool.”

           “I am not asking you to.”

           “Then why do you insist on this passivity?”

           Your soft smile flickered in Papyrus’ mind and he felt the warmth of your hand in his. He kept still, uncertain of whether to welcome the intrusion. He wanted to push you away. He needed to focus, but this echo of you lingered to lead him back onto that bus. Thinking back, there were more relieved smiles than hostile airs among the passengers. True to your word, you kept him safe. You kept him together. You kept the violence in him down.

           Asgore would never comprehend this. Papyrus needed to return the favor and protect you from this wretched mountain. You were not his enemy.

           “This is not passivity. It’s deception and subtlety,” Papyrus said.

           Asgore rose to his feet. He moved closer behind Undyne so that he loomed over her. He held the flowers above her and stared down at him. His orange eye flickered with a horrible fire that wanted to burn down everything in sight.

           “There is more than one way to claim a city. Let it be gradual so it catches them unawares when we finally make our move. We can break their resistance before they can mount one. Your kingdom will remain intact.”

           “You are still entrusting them to bestow mercy,” his voice boomed.

           “Prolonged warfare amongst ourselves has made the Underground an ugly sight. Your armies are not fit to fight. We can’t afford a confrontation, but we are not retreating. We just need to be still and bide our time. If the humans are indeed as ruthless as you say they are, they will not discriminate. If we act now, I promise you we will be exterminated. The royal guard will not be able to protect even the smallest of your subjects.”

           Asgore narrowed his eyes. A low growl of displeasure rumbled in his chest.

           “I have kept those children safe thus far. You know as well as I do that the Underground is no place for them. Will you toss them back into a world of war and steal the surface they now know away from them?”

           Asgore’s silence was heavy. He grit and bared his teeth. “You are more insidious than I gave you credit for, Captain,” he snarled in acceptance. “Using children as pawns to force my agreement. How dishonorable.”

           Papyrus briefly shifted his focus to Undyne, who was looking even more anxiously back at him. Behind his calm demeanor, he shared the sentiment. He drew the King’s attention away from Undyne. He managed to buy more time, but to what end? The King would never approve of an alternative to his need for vengeance. The bloodlust was thick in Asgore’s voice, and he demanded a payment in iron. The King’s acceptance was not an escape from punishment for his transgressions. Papyrus was the blight in his paradigm.

           There was a crackling around Asgore. The air grew thick with the scent of ozone. Papyrus felt a dull prickling and stinging sensation deep in his scarred bones as his magic reacted with the King’s. He prepared himself for the strike. He survived Asgore’s absolute fury once before, and he would do so again. Gray, hazy smoke rose from the flowers and soon they were alight. The King gazed at them emotionlessly and watched them succumb to their burning.

           “How frail. Look at how quickly these caught fire,” Asgore began with disdain. His voice grew hollow and his words looked unsteady as they cracked. “After all I have lost, one would think I would stop putting my faith in such fragile things. To be sentimental is wasteful,” he hissed. He tossed the remains, but much of the ash clung to his fur. Asgore raised his hand and conjured a ball of flame. The roaring of his fire blended with his low growls, and he fed it with all of his fury so that it grew hotter and brighter and blue.

           Sweat trickled down the side of Undyne’s face and neck. She remained frozen in her seat as she stared at Papyrus in apologetic horror.

           “Remember this, Captain. Your nature is flawed.” Asgore growled thunderously. His face twisted grotesquely with rage as he glared down at Papyrus. “Mercy is folly!” he declared in a thunderous roar, his gaze suddenly shifting to Undyne as he swatted at her with his flames.

           Papyrus had no time to react. He felt the intense heat on his face and heard Undyne shriek in pain as she was knocked to the ground. Burnt flesh and hair mingled with the floral stench. He wanted to scream he felt so sick. That blaze of fire with her scream skipped and stuttered repeatedly in his mind. He couldn’t stop it—why couldn’t he stop it—why couldn’t he see it? Asgore struck Undyne—the closest thing he had to a daughter. He adored her once. Papyrus’ thoughts were so frantic and drowning in static, it was dizzying. He felt as if his skull would cave in.

           He stared ahead in blank shock at where Undyne was. He felt Asgore’s burning glare boring into him. From the corner of his eye socket he could see Undyne curled up and writhing in pain on a bed of flowers by a pillar. She had rolled in an effort to put out the flames. Thick smoke rose off of her body and clouded the light from the stained glass window behind her.

           Asgore slammed his hand on the table and summoned his trident with the other. Lost to his rage, he was looking for a fight.

           Papyrus felt something dark and icy and bitter bubble up inside him through the shock and static. It was darker than wrath with a worse bite than malice. It sat heavily in his chest and threatened to suffocate him. He felt so cold and sick with it. He wanted to give in. The last time he felt this was when he took that hit for Sans. He wanted nothing more than to strike the King down for hurting Undyne.

           He told himself to wait and pushed the thought away. He had to be numb for Undyne’s sake. If he fought the King, it would prolong her pain and he would never live it down. He could mend the damage—he had to. He never wanted this for her.

           Papyrus slowly met Asgore’s gaze. “Is that all?” he asked icily in a soft voice. He turned to look nonchalantly at Undyne’s crumpled form.

           Asgore tightened his grip on his trident. He lifted it to swing at Papyrus, but froze, his anger giving way to shock. He breathed heavily in an effort to catch his breath as he slowly comprehended what he had done and Papyrus’ outward callousness. His eyes darted between Papyrus and Undyne. He slammed his trident into the ground for balance and he coughed heavily into his hand. There was an awful, thick gurgling sound between his heavy gasps for breath. A deep redness seeped between his fingers and trickled down his arm. It stained his teeth, mouth, and beard. Asgore pulled his hand away to stare at the slick red. He clenched his hand into a trembling fist and spat out the rest of the mess.

           Without saying a word, Asgore turned on his heel and walked briskly past Papyrus with shoulders hunched. The slick dripped from his chin and fingers, and settled on the petals like reddened dew. He made his way to a set of double doors, his form disappearing through them as they echoed shut.

           Papyrus erupted from his seat, knocking the chair and table over with teacups and saucers clattering together behind him. He dashed to Undyne and slid to a stop on his knees, the flowers becoming flattened and disheveled from his intrusion. He was barely aware of himself shouting her name. His own voice sounded foreign, distant, and distorted. His hands hovered over her as he inspected her burns. Past her tattered and singed clothing, much of her flesh was charred and blistered on her right from her face and neck to down her arm and side. His eyelights flickered when he saw her ruined gills. Frantically, he tried to conjure his healing magic, but all he could manage was a dull verdant spark. He glared at his hands and grit his teeth. He could feel himself coming undone. “Come on, come on,” he shouted angrily.

           Another spark.

           A dwindled flare.

           Nothing.

           He couldn’t focus. His thoughts were scattered across all his doubts, regrets, and damage. He wasn’t certain what emotions were raging inside him at this point either. He had lost all connection with them. The only thing he was aware of was the static sensation consolidating into an icy, dense, and acidic feeling deep in his chest and skull. It bubbled up like tar and bile to fill some abscess. He was so sick with it. This monster of wretched pitch threatened to consume him. He wanted to spit venom. He wanted his bones to split and collapse.

            Raw magic began to crackle around Papyrus. He held his head and shut his eyes tightly in an effort to concentrate, but he couldn’t make anything stop. Why wouldn’t anything stop? He couldn’t stop the King. The King hurt Undyne. He had to have missed something, so what was it? His memory skipped and stuttered.

            The blaze—

            Her scream—

            Sweetness and burnt flesh—

            Nothing. He refused for there to be nothing.

            He knelt down on his hands and knees beside Undyne. Pressing his forehead to the ground, he arched his back while clawing at the dirt, then pulled hard at the flowers around him. He desperately wanted to rip them from their beds, but if he did, he felt he would lose himself. Instead, he resorted to screaming curses and ugliness for release. The blackest of words and howls he ever uttered cut through the air violently. Whatever this was thrumming in his skull and core, he refused to give in to it. Not yet. Undyne needed him.

            Papyrus sectioned his thoughts off from his senses. He had to regain control. He had to heal—when was the last time he healed anyone? He repressed that part of himself for so long. He sometimes thought he would never remember how to heal again, but shame be damned! It had to be Sans, but he couldn’t remember when. Wait, no, that didn’t sound right. He could have sworn—

           He remembered your exhausted face and how he peeled the bandaging from your cheek. The surrounding skin was bruised with blues and purples while the cut was raw and angry with crust and blood from that fateful night. He had held your face in his hand as he traced over the damage and banished any sign of a scar from your skin. The verdant light of his magic had carressed your face and he regretted nothing.

            Every smile you gave him, all those times you laughed, the way you said his name, he clung to them all. You were the bright point in his mental disaster. You were so warm and kind to him, and he still didn’t understand why. Even as a memory, your presence was enough. You were enough to soothe the shock and drain some of the static so he could think.

            Papyrus lifted his head to see his hands flaring with verdant light. Wasting no time, he turned to Undyne, who was staring at him wide-eyed in horror. With shaking hands hovering over her, his magic seeped into her burns and blisters. Slowly, her skin turned from charcoal to shades of blue. Papyrus only began to relax when he saw her individual scales shining brightly in the light.

            Undyne winced and groaned under him. Trembling, her body uncurled as the excruciating pain she felt began to ebb away.

            Papyrus lifted her tank top carefully to expose the gills on her side. He inspected them and the ones on her neck, only to grimace at how raw and discolored they looked.

            “Bad, right?” she huffed through gritted teeth. Her words were a collage of hurt, despair, and anger.

            “I can fix this,” Papyrus managed to say in a rough voice.

            “Don’t,” she grunted.

            “I can fix this,” he insisted, voice rising in desperation.

            “I don’t need your healing!” Undyne spat viciously. “What’s a set of gills or two since I already am short of an eye—”

            “UNDYNE,” Papyrus shouted. His voice fell and shook as he held his head. He could feel himself teetering on the edge of his mental abyss and he wasn’t certain if he could keep from falling again. “Don’t. Please don’t. I don’t want to do this today. We’ve been through enough fuckery already.”

            Undyne snapped out of her anger. She looked at him apologetically and with concern.

            “This is going to hurt for a moment,” he said, voice sounding hoarse. He pressed his hands against her gills and forced his magic into them.

            Undyne winced. She groaned while clenching her teeth, and she began to thrash about. Instinctively, she tried to push Papyrus away, but he pinned her down.

            “I know, I know,” he said, hushing her softly. His bones rattled quietly as he held her still. “Just hang on.”

            The inside of Undyne’s gills soon turned a brighter red. Falling still, she breathed heavily as the remaining pain turned into a dull ache. She pressed Papyrus’ hand into her side and looked dazed from the relief. Sweat beaded her brow and she wiped it away with her other hand. “Sorry,” she began quietly. The apology had newly formed cracks. “I didn’t mean to lash out. It was the pain talking.”

            “I know, Undyne,” he cooed reassuringly. He let out a ragged, knowing sigh. “I know.”

            Her relationship with the King had only worsened. She was in a state of disbelief at what he did to her. Even after her fall from captain and her perceived weakness, Asgore never harmed her physically until now. She tried so hard to be what he wanted and regain her honor. To regain his love. It looked to be an impossibility for her now.

            Papyrus pulled away when her gills had finally healed. He stared blankly at Undyne in a daze. Now that he had healed her, he didn’t have anything to focus on. Everything he was trying to hold back was creeping its way unimpeded into his core again. His limbs felt heavy and distant, like he was losing connection with his body. The throne room tilted in a kaleidoscope of golden petals. He was tired of keeping himself together.

            “Hey!” Undyne said urgently, wincing as she sat up. She grabbed him by the shoulders and eased him down onto his side. She laid down facing him and rested her hand on his shoulder. “How are you doing, bonehead?” she asked in a trembling voice, pushing away her sense of failure and despair.

            “You’re asking me how I am?” Papyrus asked incredulously in a hollow tone. He recognized his voice even less.

            “Your eyes… I can barely see them.” Undyne slipped her fingers under his shirt collar and squeezed his shoulder hard. She dug into his scapula and felt the rough, scarred bone. It was an old injury from one of her spears during their long and bitter fight for her position. “Don’t you feel that?”

            “I don’t…” Papyrus began. He was struggling to comprehend what she was saying. Her words looked sharp and jagged as if she was afraid of something other than the King. He couldn’t figure out what. He couldn’t process all the images and impressions in her words. It was all too much. Everything was too much at once. “I don’t feel...anything,” he gasped out.

            Her hand moved to his side and she gently pressed on his ribs.

            Papyrus shook his head.

            Undyne looked worriedly at him, then slowly inhaled a shuddering breath. “Stay still for a bit, okay? Don’t rage blackout on me again. This is going to pass.” Her voice had the smallest quiver to it. She overlapped her hand over his and held onto him tightly. She rubbed circles with her thumb into his palm in an effort to make him feel again. “You’re okay, and I’m okay, and I’m okay because of you, alright?”

            Papyrus’ mind stuttered. Did he blackout? He must have, or at least come close. He was so numb and on edge, he was oblivious to pain. He wouldn’t be surprised if he had a migraine from all the stress. For him to feel this exhausted and lethargic, it only made sense.

            His mind skipped again and he began to understand what Undyne was afraid of. She had seen him in one of his headache fueled rageful blackouts before, but for her to be this shaken filled him with dread. This time was different. While the previous events had been caused by his notorious headaches, this one was a result of losing control to his damage. She had to have heard his curses and screams. His thoughts were so clouded, he couldn’t remember them all, but no doubt she wouldn’t be able to forget for a long while if ever. He was renowned for his control over his magic and stoic demeanor. For Undyne to see him in his state of mental disaster must have been unsettling to say the least.

            Papyrus became aware of his heavy, ragged breathing. He shut his eyes and focused on controlling it. Slowly, it steadied and he began to feel more like himself.

            Undyne was using both of her thumbs to massage his palm now. “There you go,” she said soothingly. Relief flooded her voice like a wave depositing water into a tide pool. “You’re a complete badass and the toughest person I know. That’s why you’re my captain, cus you beat me fair and square, remember? You earned it.”

            Papyrus shuddered. He looked at her face, half expecting it to be burned, and saw her singed hair on one side.

            The heat—

            Her scream—

            The blaze—

            Flowers and burning—

            He cringed and forced himself to focus on her scales that looked like small, overlapping sequins up close and shined in shades of blue and silver. Were her scales always this bright and rich in color? They were reflective like glass, as if polished and new, and just as fragile. That fragility terrified him. He couldn’t remember what they looked like before Asgore burned her.

            Her scream—

            The blaze—

            Ruined gills—

            Stop.

            He hated how he couldn’t remember how they looked before. He spent too long remembering her character by her scars. He knew every curve and jagged path that was set into her skin. Even now with those previous scars faded from his desperate healing, he could trace out where they resided and once were. Undyne was so much more than her badges of anger and the violence she was forced to carry. He wished she could see that and be allowed to live it.

            He shook his head and winced when the haunting images returned. His mind wouldn’t let himself be. He covered his eyes with his free hand and clenched his jaw. A pained, strangled groan and gasp escaped him. He felt her arms rush out to coil around him, her hands pressing into his back and caressing his skull. He rested his forehead against her neck when she drew him closer. It was all he could do to not scream from her touch, it was all too much.

            Undyne hushed him softly. “Whatever it was you were thinking of that brought you back, think of that,” she said steadily. Her words were clouded and controlled, more subdued in color, just like when you were showing calmness for his sake. She tightened her embrace while rubbing circles into his back at a knotted magic pressure point between his spine and shoulder blade. He winced and shuddered out a pained breath in response. “Just come back, okay? You can beat this too like everything else.” She didn’t want him to hate her. She didn’t want to be alone.

            How ironic. He wondered if she would have a fit if she knew he was thinking of you. Papyrus couldn’t help but smirk. A pained and half-crazed laugh escaped him. Briefly, he wondered how you were. He was having a shit show of a day and he felt worse for making you feel like you were ever a burden. Would you feel saddened if the King struck him down and you never saw him again? He remembered wanting to, needing to, show you how wrong you were about him, but he hoped you would never see the damage that marked him. He didn’t want you to see this ugliness rotting inside him.

            By now the sharp aching in his ribs had returned. Papyrus remained still in an effort to collect himself and will his body to stop shaking from pain. When he caught his breath, he pulled away from Undyne and slowly sat up while wincing and clutching at his side.

            Undyne quickly moved to support Papyrus with an arm around him. “Hey, take it easy.”

            “I’m fine enough,” he said tiredly, voice strained. “I could say the same to you though.”

            Undyne bit her lip. She broke her gaze to look at the garden around them.

            Confused, Papyrus followed her line of sight. He stared in blank shock.

            The garden was in ruins with the dirt upturned violently. Crooked and splintered bones pointed at the ceiling like fingers, and sat entrenched in the flower beds. The plants were deflowered, the petals scattered across the field amongst the fallen ivy. His eyelights flickered to the walls where more bones punctured and stuck out like bent nails. Blast burns marred the orange tinted stone. Much of the surviving ivy that remained hanging was singed and blackened. In his peripheral vision he saw a large, partially formed, animalistic skull. Its sockets were cold and lifeless as it stared at him. He couldn’t bare to look at it.

            He understood Undyne’s wariness now. It was a miracle she didn’t get caught in his maelstrom of raw magic. Looking down at where they sat, he saw it was the only space untouched. Perhaps he did have an iota of control in the thick of it all, but his faith in himself was already shaken. With a loud crackle, Papyrus dispelled his magical manifestations. The bones faded as if they were phantoms and resolved to dust.

            “What do you say we get out of here?” Undyne asked quietly after a tense, silent moment. She sounded almost as exhausted as he felt.

            She wasn’t ready to head back to the city yet, and neither was he. “To the Royal Scientist?” Papyrus suggested.

            “No, I…” Undyne trailed off.  She pulled her knees to her chest and rested her arms on them. “Not today. I’m not feeling up to seeing her.”

            Papyrus nodded knowingly. He wasn’t certain when he’d feel up to seeing you either.

            “Do you mind if we go to Waterfall?”

            “We’ll go wherever you want,” he said softly. He stood up unsteadily and made an effort to mask his pain. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to fool Undyne. Wincing herself as she got up, she held his arm to steady him. His bones ached terribly, not to mention the buzzing pain in his head was increasing to an enormous pressure. He could feel the magic points and mana lines throughout his body were woefully blocked and knotted from his emotional and psychological trauma.

            “Let’s call a truce for today,” she said. “I’m not in the fighting mood.”

            Papyrus gave a pained half laugh.  “Gladly.”

 



            The darkness and points of soft light in waterfall were a blessing for his eye sockets and headache. The distant waterfalls and streams provided soothing white noise. He always liked Waterfall for its lack of sensory overload. He could do without the echo flowers though. Undyne had directed him to a hidden spring she frequently visited away from the known paths. She eased him down to sit against the smooth, cavern wall.  Papyrus rested his skull against the cold rock and groaned in relief. Closing his eyes, he relished the rest. He felt Undyne’s cool hand against the side of his neck vertebrae. Cracking an eye socket open to look at her, he met her worried gaze.

            “You feel a little warm for a skeleton,” she said. She was crouched in front of him and balancing on the balls of her feet.

            “I’m fine enough,” he grumbled, his voice sounding rougher than before.

            Undyne looked guiltily at him and bit her lip.

            “I’ll live,” he growled while glaring at her. Sighing, he gestured to the spring with his head. “Go do your thing,” he said, softer this time.

            Undyne’s hands hovered above his shoulders, conflicted on whether to leave him be. Finally, she straightened her stance and stepped away from him.

            Papyrus propped his arm up on his knee. Closing his eye sockets, he pinched his nasal bridge and groaned. She was right. His bones felt feverish. He unzipped his jacket halfway so he could feel the cool air on his clavicle.

            The sound of Undyne kicking off her boots made him look up. She was stripping off her tank top and jeans to reveal her bandeau and boy shorts swimwear. She tossed her eyepatch aside and took out her hair band, snapping it onto her wrist for safe keeping. Undyne took a seat at the water’s edge and dipped her legs into the glowing water. She did a gentle flutter kick while swaying side to side. Papyrus caught a glimpse of the diagonal scarring on her back and shoulders he gave her from their many fights. They disappeared from view when she ruffled her hair. Slowly, she slid into the pool neck deep and gasped in relief when the water reached her gills.

            Papyrus scoffed in annoyance at her scattered clothing. “At least have the decency to fold them, why don’t you.”

            Undyne treaded water as she turned to him with a smirk. “Why? I’m just going to wear them again,” she laughed. “Oh my god, you’re actually folding them?”

            Papyrus was gathering her clothes and folding them on his lap. He stacked them neatly and set them aside next to her straightened boots. He looked back to Undyne, who was twirling in the water. “Everything feeling alright?”

            “Yeah, better than alright actually,” she said while staring up at the glowing crystals in the cavern ceiling. Swiftly, she dove down with a small splash and disappeared, her scales melding with the water.

            Papyrus waited. He looked at the crystals in the wall beside him to pass the time. Wrapping his hand around one of them, he pried it from the wall and held it up to look at it. Knowing your reaction to the echo and golden flowers, he wondered what you would say about Waterfall if you ever got the chance to see it. When Undyne didn’t come up, he leaned back and pocketed the crystal, closed his eyes, and rested his skull again. He knew she could hold her breath for long periods of time, but he hadn’t heard her take one deep enough for that. The fact she hadn’t returned suggested all was well. He properly healed her gills and she was enjoying that relief.

            When he finally heard her surface, he cracked open an eye socket to look at her. Undyne craned her head back and spat out a stream of water that arched at him. He leaned away when it splattered on the ground next to him. She burst into laughter when he gave her a disgruntled look.

            “Disgusting,” he grumbled. Secretly, he was glad to see her fool around for once. Both of them letting their guard down was a rarity, and he was not about to pass up this moment.

            “Exactly why I did it,” she said, all too pleased while floating onto her back with arms stretched out. Her hair billowed out freely around her like silk and contrasted brilliantly against the cool blues. She stared at the ceiling again. “There’s nothing like Waterfall,” she breathed with nostalgia. Undyne lavished her arms with the water. “Now that we’re on the surface all the time, I don’t get to soak in here anymore. Showers and baths are just not the same. I can’t go to human swimming pools either because of that cold green shit they put in all the time. It burns and irritates my skin. Pfft, like I could go in a human pool regularly anyways.”

            “Chlorine, Undyne.” Papyrus muttered. “It’s chlorine.”

            “Yeah, right. That stuff.” She rolled over, side stroked to the water’s edge, and rested her arms flat. “I’m telling you, I got that crap in my gills and they were on fire for days.” Undyne froze and cringed. “I mean—”

            “I’m fine now, Undyne,” Papyrus said, half lying. She didn’t mean it that way and that’s what mattered to him. The image of her burned gills came and went like a skipping record. He cringed and turned his head sharply to shake it away. He wasn’t fooling her, and he knew it.

            Undyne rested her chin on her arms. Her fins twitched and lowered in concern and guilt as she looked away from him. Her soaked hair covered her shoulders and damaged eye in loose waves. The freckles on her shoulders and face glowed to match the luminescence of the water and crystals. She looked as if she wanted to ask something, but wondered if she should.

            “Can I ask you something?” Undyne began, refusing to meet Papyrus’ eyelights. She had settled to ask a different question. She initially wanted to know if things were okay between them, but was too afraid of the answer. It was the answer to this question she was searching for back in the throne room. “You’re the only one who would know, but I don’t think I have the right to ask you.”

            Papyrus waited, giving her time. She always wanted to say things out loud to him instead of him voicing her words for her. That meant he had to ignore the existence to her other question.

            “Does the old man hate me?” she asked, voice suddenly breaking. She forced a smile to keep her composure.

            “It’s complicated, Undyne,” he sighed.

            “But does he resent me?” She turned to him, her eye flashing in desperation. She balled her hand into a fist and smacked the ground. “He’s never…” She couldn’t bring herself to finish the thought. It was for both of their sakes.

            “Hate you?” Papyrus breathed heavily. “Never,” he said softly.

            Undyne gave him a doubtful look.

            “He’s never hated you.” Papyrus tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling. “When he hit you, I was shocked.” He closed his eyes tightly and exhaled out a ragged breath. “Before then, I kept searching his words for signs of violence towards you, but there was none. Every sliver of anger was aimed at me. I thought I had missed something. Turns out I didn’t.”

            “I don’t understand.”

            “I’m glad you don’t. I didn’t either at first. He never meant to hurt you, but...” He thought back to the ruined garden and how twisted and crooked his attacks looked. He almost hurt Undyne himself, he was so lost to his damage. “He’s not well, Undyne.”

            Undyne climbed out of the spring and squeezed the water out of her hair. She looked lost in thought as she stared at the pool’s surface. He wasn’t sure if she fully acknowledged what he said.

            “Ready to head home?”

            She nodded. Undyne scooped up her boots and clothes, then extended a hand to Papyrus. She pulled him to his feet, but her grasp lingered after. “Thanks,” she said, meeting his eyelights. “For answering.”

            It didn’t take long for Undyne to dry off. Once she got dressed, they found an alternate route back to the lot. Between her gills still being sore and Papyrus’ misery and exhaustion, it was a slow return.

            They stood beside his bike. Undyne had an arm around him in support while his arm was draped over her shoulders. She could feel the burning heat radiating from him through his jacket.

            “You sure you’re okay to drive?”

            “I’m fine enough,” he said wearily, “or I will be anyways.” He stiffly pulled away from Undyne and unlocked the storage compartment. He passed her the spare riding gear, then rummaged around some more for his own.

            Undyne slipped into the jacket and zipped it up to her chin. She wrapped her arms around herself, gripped the jacket tightly, and became lost in thought. She was forced to snap out of it when Papyrus tossed her a bottle of water.

            “Stay hydrated,” he grumbled.

            She cracked open her drink and gulped it down greedily. She hadn’t realized how thirsty she was after traveling and their ordeal. Her fins perked up when she heard the crinkling of a wrapper. She squinted at him nibbling on his sorry excuse for a snack. “Are those our…military rations?”

            “So dust me,” he said, biting into the dry, powdery cracker aggressively. “I’m too stressed to eat anything else.”

            “No, no, it’s fine.” She rubbed the back of her neck while looking him over apologetically. “I mean, there’s plenty of other easily digestible things you could have handy. Some of the human crackers are alright.”

            “It’s not monster food.”

            “At least have something that doesn’t taste like cardboard and moth balls.”

            Papyrus rolled his eyelights at her and scoffed. He finished off the last piece and washed it down with water of his own. He could feel the high density of magic in the rations returning some of his strength and tempering his fever. It would be enough to get them home. He pressed the half empty bottle to his neck vertebrae to cool himself off. Closing his eyes, he groaned quietly at the contact.

            His phone rapidly pinged from receiving a swarm of notifications at once. He let out a guttural groan, his hand diving into his pocket to whip it out. “Now what?” he growled.

            Undyne reached for hers and checked for any messages. “I got nothing, dude.”

            Papyrus sifted through his notifications. Being in the Underground for most of the day and using the human’s cellular networks instead of the Undernet stalled them until he got in range of service again. They were all messages from Sans with videos attached of him pranking various monsters and members of the Royal Guard that were getting rowdy from their absence. From rigging the seats and doors in Grillby’s and other monster owned businesses with whoopie cushions and air horns, to replacing all of Muffet’s doughnuts with ones filled with mayonnaise, toothpaste, and garlic paste, he was creating enough annoyances to distract everyone. Papyrus couldn’t help but crack a smile at them all, especially when Sans and Grillby replaced beverages with concentrated lemon juice for the particularly difficult monsters . They were a force to be reckoned with indeed.

            “ Mission accomplished, vertebro!” Sans said, giving a wink and a grin to the camera in his last video. He was standing outside the bakery. “ Hope things are going okay over there. I gotta say, it’s gettin’ a little bonely over here without ya though. Oh, also snagged some cinnamon bunnies for ya today if you’re up to eating them when you get back.” He held up a bag of the pastries with a wider grin. There was a racket with voices from members of the Royal Guard yelling at him. “ Oh shit, gotta go! ” The video spun with a whirl of color and he heard Sans huffing from dodging and running. The image flickered to black, then showed Sans with a different building behind him. “ Ha! Ya missed! Ain’t much of a retriever, are ya? Come and fetch me if ya can!” His laughter cut off when the video ended.

            “What the heck was all of that?” Undyne said, making a confused face.

            “My brother doing as he was told for once,” he smirked.

            He frowned when he saw the last text message. It was from you.

 

Fairy Fiend: I know you said not to call, but I hope a text is okay! I wanted to ask if you were up to helping me with the secret art thing we talked about the other day. I also have many surprises for you! I think you’re going to like them. Let me know when you’re free~.

            

            Papyrus exited out of the text and decided to answer you later. Pocketing his phone away, his jaw clenched tightly and he pinched his nasal bridge. The thought of seeing you made him wary. You insisted on seeing things in him that he couldn’t see. What if, even for a brief moment, you caught a glimpse of this disasterpiece that dwelled inside his core?

            “You alright?” Undyne asked. Misreading his sudden change in mood for his condition declining, she grabbed his elbow to steady him.

            “I’m fine,” he said quietly. “I’m just tired.” He took a final sip of water, tossed it into his bike’s storage for later, and locked the compartment. He exchanged his gloves and zipped up his jacket all the way up. When he pulled on his helmet and activated the intercom, he saw Undyne follow suit. He got on his motorcycle, keyed it on and checked it over before he signaled her to climb on.

            Undyne wrapped an arm around his ribs as she took position. “Sorry!” she said quickly when he heard him wince loudly.

            “It’s fine,” he let out a ragged gasp. He took a moment to catch his breath. “Do you think we could extend that truce for a bit longer?” he asked through gritted teeth.

            “Yeah… I’d like that,” she agreed.

            “Good,” he said, clearly relieved. They both needed some space to recover. “How about we get a little drunk tonight? Grillby’s special is on me.” He needed something to help him sleep and dull the pain

            Undyne laughed. “I’m all in, man.” Turns out she did too.

            The bike roared to life and they left to leave the mountain behind them.

 

Chapter Text

           Distant thunder rumbled and a light sprinkle of rain tapped against the window. Papyrus stared tiredly at the flickering, fluorescent light in the damp hallway’s water damaged ceiling. Its buzzing was interrupted at jarring intervals that set his teeth on edge. Holding up a fist, his raw magic crackled around him until it condensed into a sharp bone shaft. His eyelights settled on Undyne’s door before his attack was thrusted into the light. Shattered glass and sparks rained down beside him and littered the stained, grayed carpeting. He brushed the debris off of his shoulder, then rolled his head so his neck vertebrae cracked.

           Papyrus’ knuckles rapped a coded knock against Undyne’s door. The plastic bags in his hands twisted as he shifted his weight while he waited. He scanned the dimly lit hallway warily but found himself alone. Unfortunately, he couldn't shake the haunted feeling he felt since returning from the mountain. A few nights of solid sleep weren’t enough to cure the heavy numbness that infected him and blanketed his thoughts. It made his skull feel as if it was stuffed with wet cotton.

           There was a click from Undyne’s door before it swung open. Her hair was damp from a recent shower and hung thinly where it was singed. She wore a towel around her shoulders, a sports crop top that exposed her gills, and sweatpants.

           “Perfect timing,” she said loudly with a grin. Her smile fell when she looked at the bone shaft impaling the ceiling. “What happened there?” She gave him a wary and concerned look.

           Papyrus nearly flinched at the sight of her.

           Blackened scales—

           Her crumpled form—

           Petals in the smoke—

           He had been wrestling with his memories from the mountain in his waking hours, but it was when he slept they were unforgiving. Seeing burn injuries never bothered him before. He had seen Grillby punish those who ignored the bar’s first rule after all. This, however, was different. He should have seen it coming.

           In recovery, he rolled his eyelights in annoyance at her hesitant demeanor towards him, then tapped the fracture above his eye and proceeded to make an exploding gesture coming from it. It was more than just the constant migraine screeching through his skull and the photosensitivity, but she didn’t need to know that.

           “Ah…” Undyne stepped aside to invite him in and looked at him apologetically for asking. “Yeah, well, fuck that light! It’s been a pain anyways.” Her words still bore the cracks from days before. Her question on whether things were okay between them lingered underneath.

           Papyrus stepped inside, kicked off his boots and hung his jacket before entering her kitchen. He set the plastic bags down on her table, covered his eyes, and winced. Despite being able to shake off some of the stuttering trauma on repeat, he had to take a moment to collect himself. He turned his back to Undyne and clenched his jaw.

           “So,” Undyne began uncertainly while shutting the door, “you’re looking better.”

           Papyrus remained still.

           Undyne ruffled her hair. Her fins twitched in the awkward silence. “I know, it’s not much of a statement, but compared to—”

           “You do realize there is a flaw in this thing you want me to do for you,” Papyrus grumbled, turning to her. He wanted to hear none of it. He wanted a space away from that wretched mountain.

           Undyne paused, sensing she overstepped a boundary. “Who else am I going to be okay with having my back turned to?”

           “While I am very great in many things,” Papyrus gestured proudly to himself, then shot an unamused look at her, “this is not one of them for obvious reasons.”

           “Pssht, come on. You’ll do your best like you always do,” Undyne said brightly, waving away at the comment.

           Papyrus crossed his arms, leaned heavily against a wall, and looked at her dubiously. He felt irritated by her encouragement, her hesitation towards him, and her carefully chosen words as if he was fragile. Hell, he was irritated at the whole goddamn world at this point. He made a clicking noise out of annoyance and dug his phalanges into his arm. Undyne didn’t deserve his ire. She was hurting as much as he was if not more. He broke his gaze away from hers and glared into empty space. Lashing out would solve nothing. “Just don’t throw spears at me if it turns out to be a chop job.”

           Undyne bit her lip. She reached forward and opened her mouth to say something, but fell back into silence. After several moments, she approached the table and looked over the plastic bags. “What’s all this?”

           “Stuff I bought for you,” he remarked flatly. He watched Undyne rummage through the bags from the corner of his eye socket and take out an assortment of hair care products. “The monster shops didn’t have the kind you like and I know how you feel about the MTT line of products.”

           Undyne squinted at a shampoo bottle in her hand. “So, you bought human hair care products?” she said in disgust.

           Papyrus rolled his eyelights and scoffed. “Just try them. I terrorized a very nice human who was willing to suggest what to purchase after enough coaxing. They can actually be very knowledgeable about hairy situations like yours.”

           Undyne looked from the bottle to Papyrus unhappily.

“Would you rather have me get the MTT Glitter Glam set?” he asked, turning to her with a raised brow.

           She sighed and set the bottle down. “Fine, I’ll give this stuff a shot.” Her brow furrowed as she scrutinized the other product containers’ descriptions and ingredients. Her gaze then lifted to Papyrus. “You really got all this for me, huh?”

           He stared at her stoically.

           Undyne nodded thoughtfully. She tossed a container of Moroccan oil in the air several times before crossing the space between them and punching at his shoulder playfully with slower movements than usual. “Thanks. What do you say we get down to it?” she asked with a wide grin.

           Papyrus sighed in exasperation. “Lead the way.”

           Undyne scooped up the various hair care products in her arms and moved to the bathroom with Papyrus close behind. She laid them out on the counter, then took a seat in a chair.

           Papyrus looked disgruntled at the comb, scissors and electric trimmers before him. He picked up a trimmer and turned it on, frowning when it buzzed to life. Flicking it off, he placed it back and grimaced at Undyne. “May I reiterate my undoubtedly vast and great expertise do not extend to matters such as these.”

           “How bad of a job could you possibly do, man?”

           “I could make you bald for starters. That I can do. You’d probably rock the look anyways, but that’s a last resort. Besides, I know you’d want something with more of a flare.”

           “If possible,” Undyne agreed.

           He gave her a wry laugh. “I’ll try not to disappoint the Royal Scientist then.”

           Papyrus adjusted the towel so it smoothly draped over Undyne’s shoulders. He took off his gloves and looked to the comb. He held it up, then moved to start combing out the tangles but hesitated with it hovering above her head.

           Undyne snorted as she laughed. “I’ve never seen you so timid with anything. It’s just hair. Come on, even if you do mangle it, it’ll grow back.”

           “I’m not timid,” he grumbled. “I just don’t know how to best approach this.” He finally settled for brushing the tangles out at the ends, then worked his way up. Every now and then he’d remove knots and loose strands from the comb’s teeth and glare when he felt more of the stray strands get caught between his joints. When he was finished, he set the comb down and leaned over Undyne to examine her singed hair. It was brittle and blackened. He froze when he saw the faintest scarring on her scalp and around her gills.

           The numbing static in his head started again. His chest tightened with icy bitterness. The feeling was so strong he swore he could taste the malice. It was all too clear for him.

           Blistered scales, blistered thoughts—

           Suffocation and shock—

           Sick with devouring rot—

           Sick with violence.

           Undyne’s voice interrupted his thoughts, but he didn’t catch the words. He had a death grip on her shoulder and her hand was squeezing his while she watched his reflection in the mirror attentively. She sat rigidly in her seat, shoulders tense and fins perked up. The fear in her gaze was shrinking and growing into concern. He had been staring blankly back at her reflection for who knows how long.

           Papyrus shut his eyes tightly. He turned his head sharply to banish the phantom thoughts and memories, then rolled his head so his neck vertebrae cracked. His jaw remained locked as he held still for several moments. Slowly, he drew in a deep breath, then held it before exhaling heavily. He slipped out of Undyne’s grasp and mechanically reached for an electric trimmer. He welcomed the droning buzzing upon it coming to life and focused on it and the work before him, trimming away the damaged hair too far gone to be salvaged. In the mirror, he could see Undyne lowering her gaze and biting her lip. Even though he didn’t openly lash out, he was disappointed in himself for taking out his passive aggression on her. He didn’t want her to think he abandoned her. That was the last thing she needed. When he finished, one side was buzzed short. Papyrus set the trimmer down, rested his hand flat on the counter, and leaned over Undyne.

           “I’m sorry,” he said softly. He looked at his exhausted face in the mirror and caught how sunken and shadowed his eye sockets looked. His eyelights were still dim too, but at least they were visible. Overall, his appearance was a stoic mask for the aches and pains he felt. “I’m being an unjustified and total ass.”

           “Dude, it’s okay,” Undyne tried to reassure him. She wanted to express more, but didn't know how.

           “No, it’s not,” he sighed. He gently tousled her hair as he thought about how to cut it, making certain not to get his bones tangled. Papyrus took up the comb again and worked on parting her hair. He was at a loss for words.

           Undyne quietly watched him work.

           “Sans actually thought I fell down for a while,” Papyrus offered after a long, awkward silence. His voice sounded rough and drained. He wanted to put Undyne at ease, to show that he didn’t hate her, but he wasn’t used to being open. Neither of them were.

           “You were that bad?” Undyne asked, her eye wide. Her words kindled with guilt.

           Papyrus gave her a half-hearted laugh. “Initially slept for thirty hours straight.”

           “Damn…”

           He took the scissors and worked on cutting away the uneven ends and damaged locks. He was no hair stylist by any stretch of the imagination, but he resolved to give it his best shot. If he couldn’t convey what he wanted to Undyne with words, sincere effort in where he lacked expertise would remedy that.

           Undyne watched Papyrus’ reflection and listened to the metallic scraping and cutting the scissors made. She cracked a small smile, having thought of something pleasant, and relaxed in her seat. “Hey, remember when we found all those musical instruments in the dump?”

           Papyrus paused momentarily, meeting her gaze in the mirror. He moved on to shaping her hair all the while waiting patiently for her to say more. He held on to the image of piano keys she offered him. Back then, she was his captain and his training had only begun.

           “We took them back to my place and just jammed out whenever we had downtime. It didn't matter if it was good or bad, but we had fun. You got pretty damn good at some of them too.”

           “I’m still astounded at how they were in relatively good condition.” Papyrus brushed off the hair clippings from Undyne’s shoulder. By now a mess of crimson, silken locks littered the white, tiled floor around the chair’s legs. He took a moment to step back and look her over. Her hair hung barely past her shoulders in loose waves. “I gave the trombone to Sans and he plagued my life with incidental music for the following months. He still does every now and then. Speaking of, he apparently tried to wake me up with it as a last resort during my thirty hour death nap. Can’t say I blame him since he probably thought it would be the last time he could annoy me into an early grave.”

           “Oh my god. Why am I not surprised?” Undyne cackled. “Man, I remember that. When it was your turn to spar, he was a one-man marching band.”

           Papyrus groaned. “It was an absolute fresh, new hell of mockery. Truly a bone-a fide effort to perfect his craft in japery.” Despite his disapproval, he couldn’t help but laugh quietly to himself.

           Undyne’s rambunctious laughter died down and her smile fell. “Man, why did we ever stop? I mean, I know why we stopped, but why did we let it?”

           Papyrus let the question hang between them. They both knew the answer. To survive in the Underground, neither of them could afford to waste energy on being at odds with what violence forced them to be. He silently trimmed finishing touches on her hair, then put the scissors to rest.

           “The old man…” Undyne began with a frown. She watched Papyrus lean over her and work meticulously with her hair. “He still doesn’t know about the piano.”

           Papyrus paused in making a four strand knotted braid along the edge of her buzzed hair. More cracks formed in her words from the weight of her disbelief and despair. He didn’t need to see her words to understand the hurt behind them. It was dark and bottomless like the abyss back at the garbage dump, and she was sitting at its edge trying to understand. He returned to dexterously weaving her hair.

           “He probably never will.” Undyne’s eye clouded over in thought. She grew restless and scratched at the chair’s seat cushion. Her nails dragged against the fabric. “What you said about him not being well. I think I understand now.”

           Papyrus shifted his eyelights to Undyne’s reflection. His hands fell away upon finishing the braid.

           “It’s like what I did to my piano, right?” Smashed keys like crooked, broken teeth. Splinters under scales and in her fists. Tangled and snapped wires to accompany her frayed nerves. Silence and loss. Anger had made her fall further away from herself.

           Papyrus nodded solemnly. “Yeah...” he sighed quietly.

           Undyne hummed. She shook her head and sought to change the subject. Lifting her gaze to look at the braid, she turned her head to inspect her reflection. “Hey, not bad! I’m digging the look,” she beamed. “I didn’t know you could do braids. And here you were all worried you’d make me go bald.”

           “Braiding I can do. Braids are like knots, and knots are like puzzles. It’s simply a pattern. It’s logical.”

           “Whatever you say,” she said while admiring Papyrus’ detailed work.

           “I’m not done yet,” he said, moving to grab one of the smaller electric trimmers. He held her head still. The braid served as a border to keep her hair from falling out of place.

           “What are you doing?” She looked at his reflection curiously.

           “You’ll see.” Carefully, he worked on shaving in a design and keeping his lines clean and sharp. He gently pushed her fin out of the way and focused on the mechanical buzzing to keep his head clear. He remembered needing to mend the damage—he had to. He had to banish the mark the King made on her, at least in a way so it wasn’t the first thing people saw in her.

         Undyne kept still. She didn’t flinch when his hand lightly brushed against her gills. “I have to ask,” Undyne began hesitantly, voice cutting through the mechanical droning, “are you going to see that human again?”

           Papyrus contemplated. He didn't avert his eyelights away from his work, nor did he miss a beat in illustrating a spear in her hair. “Do we still have a truce?”

           She took a moment to think. “Yes,” she said steadily.

           “Then the answer is yes.” He made some finishing touches, then put the trimmer to rest. He brushed away loose hair from her scalp and reached for the Moroccan oil to read the instructions. “I asked them for a favor. They sent me a text suggesting they had accomplished the task.”

           “A favor?” Undyne asked with a raised brow. “Wait, you gave them your number?”

           “The Snowdin innkeeper needed supplies for the kids. I gave them a list. They’re a human contact of mine now. You’re the one that wanted me to at least make them useful, remember?” he remarked flatly.

           Undyne clicked her tongue. “Yeah, yeah, make me eat my words,” she said, waving him away.

           Papyrus smirked.

           She sighed and leaned back in her seat. “Listen, I won’t tell the old man,” she said quietly. “I was the one that gave you the idea in the first place anyways. Needless to say, it’d be bad for both of us. Just be careful, okay?” She still didn’t want to see him get hurt. Her loyalty was fractured between the King and him as a result. How long it would remain that way, he didn’t know. For now though, she was trusting his judgement.

           She turned her head to get a better look at what Papyrus had done. She let out a whistle in admiration at the image of two crossed spears and a snow lily. He felt Snowdin’s flower was better suited for her. It was resilient despite being left out in the snow. The King’s flower deserved no place on her.

           “Lastly, we need to do some repair work.” Papyrus pumped some of the oil into his palm, then immediately regretted it. He tried to work the oil into Undyne’s hair before it could spread between his joints. “Ah, yes, absolutely abysmal,” he muttered dryly. “I can feel this seeping into my pores.”


           The sky looked drearier when he left Undyne’s apartment for the bakery. As promised, he resolved to get the pastries you were undoubtedly looking forward to eating. He was grateful Undyne still upheld their truce for now. They both still needed space to process, to feel, to just be. There was a more pressing war they each needed to tend to than the King’s and he didn’t have much fight left in him for either.

           For now, he wanted to focus on getting through the day. He wanted to reclaim a sense of normalcy, but with every step he took he was becoming ever more aware of how off he felt. Whether he was ready to see you or not, he was uncertain, but he had responsibilities to tend to. That included addressing the task he gave you. He just hoped you wouldn’t catch a glimpse of the rot inside him.

           He reached to open the bakery’s door and hoped nothing would stall him this time. He spent all of his mental energy at Undyne’s keeping himself together. Keeping the violence in him down. He couldn’t afford to let his guard slip. Not when he was suffocating in his own venomous spite. Order and out. That was his goal.

           The shopkeeper lifted her head at the door chiming open. “There you are!” she called out brightly with ears perked up. A cluster of pink carnations and yellow freesia adorned her summer hat. Remnants of flour powdered her cheek and arm.

           Papyrus looked at her in muted surprise. He didn’t expect the note of friendliness in Bunny Bitch’s voice. He almost turned around to see if she was greeting someone else, but he knew no one followed him inside.

           “It’s been a few.” she continued, then fell silent upon seeing how rough and exhausted he looked when he approached the counter. He must have been a grimmer sight than usual to make her pause.

           Papyrus stared at her, uncertain how to respond. The shopkeeper was looking at him with concern. He couldn’t fathom why she would worry about his well-being. She never did before. Then again, they never had anything but tense business interactions before. Her pleasantness was almost a relief if not for the strangeness of it all. “It’s been a taxing few,” he said in a drained voice.

           The shopkeeper moved to slide the display case open and fulfill his usual order. “It was unusual to see your brother coming in here instead of you. I trust he delivered the pastries to you as promised? I know how much he likes to snack.”

           “He did,” Papyrus said evenly. His skull felt as if it was flooded with tar, it was difficult to think. He tried to comprehend this newfound friendliness towards him, but the enormous pressure in his sinuses and pain radiating from the fracture above his eye put a stop to that. He was never one for small talk either, but common courtesy commanded him to try. “He didn’t cause you any trouble, did he?”

           “Trouble?” She shook her head. “Nothing out of the ordinary. However, I did hear about his pranking spree. I suppose if he pranked my bakery, he knew I might not have sold him the pastries,” she said, mostly in jest. Her laughter was warm and comforting and colored in pastel purples and pinks. Her voice looked soft like flower petals.

           Papyrus stood rigidly as he stared at her. He caught the way she smiled at him as if he was worthy of being her ally. He felt disoriented. This interaction was wrong. It was much too casual, as if he had always been on pleasant terms with her. His instincts clawed at the back of his mind that she must have some ulterior motive. There had to be.

           He found none. If anything, the newly established trust had only grown.

           The shopkeeper folded the bag over and set his order on the counter. “Captain,” she began hesitantly. “With all due respect, if helping my sister is too burdensome, you don’t have to worry about it.” Her words were veiled with respect as she insisted the task to be too mudane for him to carry out, that it was below someone of his rank. She was giving him an excuse not to for his own well-being.

           Papyrus shook his head while rubbing at his fracture. He was half convinced this was a product of his migraine. Perhaps one of the many afterimages he learned to ignore after the ill-fated experiment. Never before had one felt so tangible though. “It’s not a problem,” he said, wincing slightly. He was baffled at this open display of concern again. Certainly their last encounter was not enough to warrant that. “I’m actually meeting with my contact today. I just came by to tell you and get two of the usual.”

           “Two?” She moved to open the display case again. Her nose twitched with curiosity. She desperately wanted to pry, having remembered his order from last time and the phone conversation he had prior.

           “It turns out you have a new valued customer,” he offered her.

           That piqued her interest. Everyone living in the monster district knew of her bakery and had tried her bread and pastries at least once. Papyrus could see her piecing it all together. She had a resourceful and sharp mind, and it was something he was willing to admit admiring about her. For her to gain a new customer she had yet to meet, it had to be a human. He should have kept quiet.

           “Say nothing,” he said in a low and icy tone while holding up a finger. The last thing he needed was word to spread about his interactions with you amongst the general population and make its way back to the King. However, trust was a rare currency that only had value among both parties, and if the shopkeeper was willing to put trust in him, he had to risk doing the same.

           The shopkeeper nodded. She moved to stuff the cinnamon bunnies in a bag.

           His phone rang. He fished it out of his pocket and checked the caller ID with a grumble.

            Fairy Fiend.

           “What is it?” he answered flatly with an edge of pain. His magic felt restless. He pinched his nasal bridge and grimaced at the sharp throbbing in his skull. It felt like his head was splitting in half and the pain was spreading down his neck and shoulders. He was beginning to feel lightheaded. Outside, he could hear thunder rumbling.

           “ Hey, Fairy Friend! ,” you huffed. There was urgency in your voice. “ I’m on my way to the park. When we meet, we gotta jet right away. It’s looking really ugly outside.

           Papyrus moved to look out the front windows. The gray clouds from earlier that day had turned darker within the short time he had been in the bakery. A sudden and ferocious gust of wind howled against the glass. He swore the building shook. “So it would seem,” he said tersely. He never liked storms. “I’m almost done here. See you in a few.”

           “ Got it .”

           He hung up and shoved his phone back into his pocket. Turning to the shopkeeper, he saw she had put both orders into a larger paper bag. Papyrus approached the counter and fished out his wallet. “I’m paying you this time,” he said insistently, handing her the bills and change. “Tell your sister to expect me sometime soon. I’d rather not scare her into an early grave with a surprise visit.” He grabbed the bag and stepped away to hurry out.

           “Be safe out there!” the shopkeeper called.

           Papyrus stopped mid exit with his hand on the door as he was about to swing it closed. He turned back to look at her in muted surprise. “Always am,” he said out of habit.

           The door chimed shut and he was off.

           Papyrus shook away his bewildered expression as he hurried down the empty streets. He ran over the interaction again to make sense of it. She dropped her guard. She was no longer wary of him. No posturing or bullshit. Warmth.

            Anise.

           That thought was enough to make him halt momentarily. The shopkeeper saw him differently now. She must have seen something in his interaction with Anise. Perhaps in his face or in his voice, but just like you, she caught a glimpse of it. Whatever it was, he pushed it away. He didn’t want to acknowledge it. He didn’t want to know it. It was fallacy. He didn’t feel it was something he could be. Not after all the blisters and static he felt in his skull. It was as if the mountain was caving in on him and burying him alive to keep him from leaving. For now, he pushed back all his disbelief and bitterness. Anise was enough to change his relationship with the shopkeeper and he left it at that.

           With his long strides, it didn’t take him long to reach the park. The trees stood with their leaves and branches barely moving. The air felt thick and charged and much too still. He saw you jogging over with your bag slung over one shoulder. The hood of your sweatshirt bounced behind you. You slowed to a stop and took a moment to catch your breath.

           “Perfect timing,” you wheezed, bent over with hands on your knees. You saw the paper bag in his hand and stood up straight while wiggling your fingers at it. “Come to me, my precious cinnamon bunnies!” You moved to open your bag and took the delectable treats from him. “We can stuff them in here for now and eat them at my place. Thanks again for the brain food.” Your smiles turned into worry when you looked up to see his exhausted face. “Are you—”

           “Come on. We can’t boondoggle, remember?” Papyrus cut you off. He didn’t need you asking too. He started walking ahead without you. Lightning lit up the sky, and thunder followed closely after. He grit his teeth and shot a glare at the clouds. He could feel the magic in his bones prickling.

           “Right, to the bus!” you said hurriedly while cramming the treats into your bag. You hopped forward to catch up with him. It was a while before you said anything. “Wow, boondoggle. Great word,” you continued as a verbal prod to test his mood.

           Papyrus glanced at you, but said nothing. There was a growing ringing in his skull that muted your voice.

           “Shit day?” you asked sympathetically. You were moving at a half jog to match his pace.

           That was one hell of an understatement. “Something like that,” he growled tersely. He was only half paying attention. He felt compelled to extend his magic to assess his surroundings, but for what? There were no monsters around. The sidewalks were devoid of humans, and only a few cars and buses occupied the streets. He felt the King’s burning gaze on his back, but he knew that couldn’t be.

           “It’s not me, it’s you?” you asked uncertainly.

           He was doing a piss-poor job at containing his irritability. He didn’t want to take his bitterness and anger out on you, but the storm wasn’t improving his mood. It never did.

           “Anything I can do?” You were trying to get him to talk.

           Papyrus clenched his jaw. There he was making you feel like a burden when all you were doing was showing kindness and concern for him. His magic crackled from his restlessness and irritation. He would have given anything to make his migraine stop. He wanted to rip out the pins and needles that condensed into shrapnel in his thoughts. The merciless prickling was scattering his attention. Too many things were happening at once.

           “We can do something else or postpone this,” you offered worriedly. “You’re kinda wearing the grim reaper look more than usual.”

           Papyrus stopped to scrutinize his surroundings. His scars stung. He remembered how they split. Every measure of him wanted to crumble to dust.

           “Papyrus?”

           Dead-end alley.

           “What’s wrong?”

           Street light.

           “Papyrus?” you said louder, voice shaking.

           He snapped back to you. You were reaching for his arm but didn’t dare make contact. “I’m...Underground...” he said vaguely in a rough voice while directing his concentration back to the clouds. He looked ahead and took a step forward in an effort to put you at ease, but the prickling sensation rippling down his spine rooted him in place. He looked upwards and finally understood. He felt haunted.

           “I don’t understand,” you said in confusion. Your font trembled.

           He turned to give you a vacant look.

           His magic popped loudly like a blown out fuse. He lurched forward, shielding you as he pulled you into the alley seconds before the lightning struck. The flash was blinding. The roar was deafening. Your scream was smothered underneath. He swore he could feel the heat on his back as if it was the King’s vengeful stare. Sparks and shattered glass from the streetlight hit the sidewalk and littered the street. His skull throbbed in pain while a high pitched ringing pierced through his consciousness. For a moment, he forgot where he was and who he was with.

           “Sans,” he gasped, voice dazed and hoarse. He stood hunched over you and held you tightly to his chest. “Are you okay?” He could barely breathe. His chest felt tight with numbness and that unspeakable ugliness from before. He winced, bones rattling from the memory of how they fractured from the strike.

           Skull splitting, it was blinding—

           Bones cracking, no better than glass or ice—

           Gravity and sleep, falling like sand between fingers—

           Snow and cold and dust.

           Stop. He had to keep himself together.

           Papyrus’ thoughts were scattered. He saw the flash of fire in Asgore’s amber eye. Asgore, blinded with hate, fury, and vengeance for Undyne’s supposed death when he seized her position, had tried to smite him with a punishing burst of raw and uncontrolled magic. He had taken the hit for Sans when the King saw it fit to steal away someone he loved. In the King’s eyes, it was only fair after everything he lost. But he missed.

           The King never missed.

           He was caught in an echo of his damage.

           Your voice punched through the numbing static, but all he caught was you calling his name. He focused on you, your voice, your warmth against him. He could feel you shaking from the adrenaline rush. Your hands were clutching at his jacket. That’s right. He was on the Surface. He protected you, not Sans. His brother was safe and sound at Grillby’s and undoubtedly enjoying drinks and awful jokes.

           Your face came into focus, eyes wide and lips parted to reveal your clenched teeth. You were shaking him hard to snap him out of his stupor. He was becoming aware of his ragged breathing and rattling bones.

           Suddenly, his breath caught with dread. He could feel his magic growing chaotic and surging through him. Grunting, he shoved you away so you fell backwards. Your bag cushioned your fall. He staggered away and reached forward. He couldn’t control it. He had to redirect it. He had to keep you safe from himself.

           Raw magic crackled and exploded outward like a stream of lightning from his hand. He could smell the ozone and heat. It was acrid like a burnt wire. His shot nerves were in a similar state of burnout. His magic condensed into a flurry of malformed, piercing bone before puncturing through a dumpster at the end of the alley. A sharp and horrid sound of tearing and scraping metal flooded the space.

           Shit.

           Papyrus collapsed against the wall and slowly slid down the bricks until he was hunched over on his knees. His magic sparked and flashed like electricity across his shoulders and down his back. He covered his mouth in an effort to fight off the wave of nausea from his lightheadedness and loss of control. His other hand clutched at his ribs, phalanges digging into old injuries to ground himself.

           He heard you shuffle through the litter and broken glass as you scrambled closer to him. Papyrus froze. “DON’T,” he roared, holding up a hand. From the corner of his eye socket he could see you on your hands and knees. You were reaching out to him. He didn’t dare look at your face.

           “Fairy friend…?” you cooed softly. You were scared, but not of him. You were scared for him.

           His attention snapped upwards when another flash cut through the clouds, followed immediately by a bang. His recovery would have to wait. He didn’t want to spend another second in this fucking shithole. He grit his teeth in anger at the weather and at himself. “Fuck this shit,” he growled. Staggering to his feet, he tamed his magic, dispelled the bones, and grabbed your bag from the ground. He scooped you up in his arms and focused on getting you and him out of the alley. Glass from the street light crunched under his boots when he lunged forward. It wasn’t long before he was tearing down the sidewalk en route to the bus stop.

           When he caught sight of the Eighty, he increased his speed until he was damn sure he would catch it. He slid to a stop at the same time as the bus and dashed up the steps before the driver could reconsider. He didn’t bother to look at the passengers or assess them. Luckily for him, the bus was mostly empty. He headed to the back and carefully dumped you on the seats. Papyrus gripped a pole to slow his collapse. He fell into his own seat as the bus rocked onward, and crammed himself into a corner to keep his distance from you. Now that he got you here, he could feel himself losing connection with his body. He leaned forward with his skull in his hands and phalanges digging into the fracture. He had to stop himself from dissolving. He couldn’t shake the memory of his skull splitting and was attempting to replace it with a different pain.

           You risked sliding over to him. Your bag was still slung around his shoulder. Quickly, you opened it, rummaging through it’s contents until you pulled out headphones that were attached to your phone. You unlocked it and furrowed your brow as you typed in a search. “I’m going to put these on you, okay?” you said softly, desperately trying to hold back the panic coursing through you. You hoped you found something he would like.

           Papyrus flinched when you pulled his hands away. He sat frozen in place, letting you put the headphones on him. Music started playing, giving him something else to focus on. The singer’s voice was a soothing and smooth green among the guitars and drums. It drowned out the ringing in his skull so that his mind could drain of the past. Only lyrics about letters from thieves and sleepless nights remained.

           You slowly wrapped your arms around him, causing him to catch his breath and wince. You pinned his arms to his sides to ensure he couldn’t reach for his fracture again. Gradually, you leaned your body into him and rested your head on his shoulder all the while keeping a protective watch as you caught your breath. You positioned yourself as if to shield him. True to your word, you were keeping him safe.

           He shuddered and rested his skull against the window. He could barely stand your touch, but it was one of the few things keeping him together. He allowed his attention to lapse as he stared into empty space.

          For how long he sat with you, he was uncertain. The only indicator of time passing was the next song. At one point he was vaguely aware of you taking your bag and nudging at him to move. He felt your warmth coiling around his wrist. He thought he caught a glimmer of your keys. Next thing he knew, he was standing at your apartment door. You took off the headphones with slow, careful movements while looking up at him. The thunder sounded muffled through the safety of bricks and concrete.

           “You still with me?” you asked, holding onto his arm. You were still shaking from the adrenaline rush.

           Papyrus nodded stiffly. His mind wasn’t fully present yet, but he was here in one piece without any other incident as far as he knew. Not bad for your first watch.

           “Did the music help?”

           “Very green,” he croaked.

           You nodded knowingly at the significance of that. “Green is good.”

           You turned to fumble with your keys and nearly dropped them. “We’ll do whatever you want,” you said reassuringly while pushing open the door. “We can watch a movie or something. Eat cinnamon bunnies. I can make tea too. Yeah, tea sounds good.”

           “Yeah, tea,” he managed to say when he stepped inside and put his boots next to yours. Papyrus froze. He felt overwhelming nausea from the pungent and sweet scent in your apartment. He had to be imagining things, but the prickling in his bones told him otherwise. There on the table was a vase of golden flowers.

           —wasteful, the burning, he should have seen—

           —his nature, the thunder, he should have taken—

           —the hit, Undyne, he should have burned—

           He should have burned instead.

           Stop.

           “What’s wrong?” you asked in alarm. “You look a million light years away again.” You turned to follow his line of sight. “The flowers?” You said it more like a statement.

           His magic crackled.

           That was the only answer you needed. You dropped your bag and burst forward as if you heard a starter pistol. Your movement was enough to snap him back to the present. You unlocked the window hurriedly and thrusted it open. Seizing the vase, you dumped the flowers out. Fresh air flooded the room and carried the foul, sweet stench away. You left the window open.

           Papyrus shut his eyes and turned his head sharply. He remained still and focused on your footsteps from your slow approach.

           “Papyrus?” your voice trembled. You were scared for him again.

           He let out a ragged breath.

           “Fairy friend…? Please, talk to me.”

           “I was...Underground...” he said faintly to himself. He shook his head to clear his thoughts. “You didn’t have to do that,” he continued quietly. He opened his eyes and stared at the mountain of dishes in the sink you still neglected. In his peripheral vision, he could see you frowning and reaching for him. You were looking at him as if he was wounded. He didn’t resent you for that this time. If he had to resent someone, it was himself. He knew how much you liked those flowers. He remembered how your face lit up when you drew them all the while singing with the echo flowers. After all of the misery the Underground had to offer, he never wanted to be the one to smother out happiness or hope. “I’ll get you some new ones.”

           You hushed him. “It’s okay,” you cooed. “They’re just flowers.”

           But they weren’t just flowers. You weren’t just monsterkind’s enemy. Undyne wasn’t just his vice-captain, and he didn’t just fail to protect her from the King.

           “Please, look at me?” you asked, holding onto his sleeve. You were afraid he’d slip away again.

           Papyrus moved out of your grasp to the sink. All he wanted was space away from the mountain. He felt too restless. He craved doing something monotonous to help clear his head. “I’m doing your dishes,” he said flatly while taking off his gloves and cramming them into his jacket pocket. With mechanical movements, he began loading your dishwasher.

           “What? No!” You rushed over and tried to push him away from the sink. “Dude, you don’t have to do that!”

           “Honestly, you’re such a weak human. Can’t even load a dishwasher because of all that instant, foul crap you eat.” he joked halfheartedly.

           Gasping, you gave him a devastated and pained look. Your hands flew up to cover your mouth. You knew he was evading.

           Papyrus heard you sniffle. When he finished loading the dishwasher and cued its cycle, he turned the faucet on and grabbed a sponge. The steaming hot water felt soothing on his hands and helped to relieve the prickling sensation of his magic. Making his way through the pots and pans, he passed them to you when you took a place next to him with a dish towel. The only sounds to pass between you and him were the running water and the cookware being put away.

           He rinsed his hands and shook off the excess water before drying them. “Where’s your vacuum,” he sighed. “I’m sure the amount of dust in here is equivalent to several monsters,” he joked darkly. He was taken aback when you grabbed his wrists suddenly. You had always been so careful with your movements after learning how to best approach him. He looked at you, eye sockets wide, as he tried to process what you were doing. His instincts screamed danger when he felt your fingers against the calcified scars on his wrists.

           You kept your gaze down and tightened your hold. Slowly, you walked backwards and lead him out of the kitchen, past the bookshelf, and to your sofa. You leaned into him to force him to sit. Kneeling down, you looked up at him desperately while holding his wrists close to you. “Tell me what you need,” you said softly.

           Papyrus sat stiffly and stared at how your hands bound his wrists together. Your touch left him in a state of shock. He met your gaze and saw how your eyes shined as you fought back tears. He was at a loss for words.

           “Tell me what you need.” Your words were cracking with grief.

           “I don’t…” he began, voice faltering. He couldn’t look away from your eyes and how your brimming tears brought out their color. “I don’t need anything.”

           “No, don’t say that,” you said, crestfallen. “You’re worth more than that, okay? So, don’t ever say that!”

           Papyrus flinched. He couldn’t comprehend how he meant so much to you when you had only known him for so long. The only other person he meant the world to was Sans, and even then it went unspoken. Now here you were near tears at how much pain he was in, and it was only the pain you could see. You didn’t know about his scars always hurting. You didn’t know about the King. You didn’t know about what happened beneath the mountain and how he failed. He didn’t want to think about how you’d feel towards the King striking him down. He didn’t want to know.

           “I...can’t…” Papyrus said in a strained voice, shaking his head. It was all he could manage. He didn’t know how to be open, especially not in this moment.

           You took in a rattling breath, then bit your lip as you looked at him. Gently, you pushed him down onto his side and reached for a fleece blanket that was draped over the back. It was a  midnight blue and covered in constellations. You unfolded it and covered him all the while softly hushing him. “It’s okay,” you whispered gently. You pressed your upper body on top of him to ensure he stayed down. Your head rested on his side. “Just lie still for a bit. You’re safe here. You don’t have to do anything.”

           Papyrus gasped. He rigidly kept still underneath you. He closed his eye sockets tightly and dug his phalanges into the seat cushion while gritting his teeth. The blanket was the only barrier between you and him, but it did nothing to shield him from your warmth. This was a vulnerable position he was in, and every measure of him was sensing danger in the benign and imaginary. He fought off the urge to rattle his bones and focused on your presence to remind himself what you said was true. He was safe. He forced himself to take in a ragged breath, then slowly exhaled in an effort to release the tension in his body. His skull sank into the pillow and he realized how drained he felt.

           When he finally relaxed, you shifted to sit on the floor and rested your head on the sofa cushion against his chest. You took a hold of his hand and held it tightly as if you were afraid he’d slip away again.

           Thunder rumbled distantly and a breeze carrying the smell of rain entered the room. Your curtains billowed in the crisp air. The gently falling rain was calming white noise for both you and him.

           “The flowers... Something bad happened since I last saw you, didn’t it?” You waited for a response but received none. “We’re—” you cut yourself off, then sighed. “You’re my friend. And I’ll be here as long as you want me to be. I know there are things you can’t or won’t tell me. I’m okay with that. What I’m not okay with is you hurting like this. I wish you felt comfortable enough to talk to me. You don’t even have to tell me big secrets or anything. I’m okay with only hearing about the small stuff.  Maybe I won’t understand everything, but I’ll try my damn hardest to.”

           Of course you knew something was wrong. He hadn’t had a reaction to the golden flowers before when he first met you. He didn’t even want to think about what you saw in him after the lightning struck. He could feel it in his core making him grow numb and cold. Trauma was fueling his anger and making him turn into something he didn’t want to be. Even more, he was foolish to think he could hide any of his damage so soon after coming back from the mountain. Everything felt too raw. There was never enough time for him to catch his breath, let alone think on what to do about the war. However, out of all the problems piling up, the one he regretted the most right now was making you feel like a burden again. He looked at you, but couldn’t see your face. You had it turned away. He lightly squeezed your hand and hoped it was enough to let you know your presence was wanted.

           “Can I tell you something?” you asked anxiously.

           Papyrus waited. He didn’t have the energy to speak. He could only hope you didn’t take his silence as refusing to listen. He barely had the strength to move, and forming a simple thought was incredibly exhausting. The longer you remained silent, the more his concern grew.

           “Coming here to Ebott was a big decision, but an exciting one. I thought living someplace far away, meeting new people, and trying new things would help me figure out what I want to do after I finish my studies. And while it did give me confidence and help me love my art... I’m still afraid of the future. It all feels so vague and murky. Most of the time I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing or if it’s worth it.” You laughed halfheartedly to yourself. “That stopped temporarily when I met you. I thought, ‘If humans and monsters can someday figure out how to live together without all this fear and hate, then of course I can make it to wherever I’m going. Everything will be alright eventually.’ But when I saw you today…” Your voice caught and your shoulders started to shake.

           Without thinking, Papyrus placed his other hand on your back. It was all he could do. You were being so open and honest, he didn’t think it was a further possibility for you to achieve. You had already been sincere in the time he had known you. Seeing your font weighed down with fear, yet emboldened with hope was a terrifying sight. Your words looked like clear, stained glass. You were leaving yourself open to an attack in front of him. How you were willing to be so fragile, so vulnerable, was something he couldn’t understand. In his world, you’d be dead before your final breath left your body. He could feel himself becoming numb as he struggled to process the enormity of emotions you were conveying. It was safer to close himself off.

           It was a while before you could speak again. You sniffled and rubbed at your eyes, then exhaled a shuddering breath. “When I saw you today and how awful you looked, how you were with the lightning and then the golden flowers… I felt scared again, because I think something really bad is happening on your end, and I don’t know how to help. I feel responsible for hurting my friend too, because I made you agree to accept my stupid social invitations. I thought we had a big enough window in between storms. I had the golden flowers in my room.” You stopped and took several deep breaths. Your hand shook as you clutched at his. “I want you to continue being here, and if that really bad thing stops you from staying, and we— and I can’t have you as a friend because of it, it feels like things won’t be okay.” You let go of him and buried your face in your arms.

           Papyrus watched you silently, uncertain how to respond. You had shared a secret with him you never liked admitting to others. You felt ridiculous at times for feeling this way, but it affected you enough to make it real. He had never expected to give you any sort of hope, or impact your life so significantly, but here you were feeling guilty. You had no reason to, but he could see how much you were hurting. He needed to mend the damage. He had to. “What are you talking about?” he cooed softly. “None of that is your fault.”

           You looked up at him in surprise. You had never heard him speak in that tone before.

           Papyrus sighed. “You didn’t make me do anything. You didn't know about the lightning, and you certainly didn’t know about the golden flowers. Of course I’d have the shit luck of nearly getting hit, but you didn’t strike me with it,” he said, voice hoarse, while gently wiping away your tears. Seeing you cry because of him became another regret. “In fact, you kept your promise. You got me back here in one piece, remember?”

           You nodded and gave him a small, sad smile while rubbing at your eyes.

           He closed his eyes and tried to think of something he could offer. Between his shot nerves and his scattered thoughts, he didn’t know how to feel, let alone about you. Your presence was soothing, but telling you so felt dangerous as if he was exposing himself to an attack. He didn’t possess the strength you had. He wasn’t ready for that. He didn’t dare confess to you about the King, nor did he wish to get you involved. The more distance he could keep between you and Asgore, the better. Telling you would only make the King see you as a threat. It had to be something small and unrelated to the King and his war.

           “Papyrus?” you called nervously. You felt like you expressed too much.

           He resolved to lower his guard. Papyrus pushed himself to sit up and winced. He didn’t force you away when you rushed to sit next to and steady him. Your hands lingered on his shoulders. You were taken aback, being used to him concealing how much his old injuries vexed him. “You’ve probably noticed, but I get splitting migraines a lot. It’s not something I like to talk about. Needless to say, this fracture I have doesn’t help matters,” he said with an edge of pain, gesturing to his skull with a crooked grin.

           You gave him a worried and mortified look at his dark humor.

           He smirked at your reaction. “These scars I have? They always hurt somewhat. That’s another thing I don’t talk about or show. Some days are better than others. Lately, however…” He made a clicking sound out of annoyance. “Since I came to the Surface, they flare up occasionally. It’s been a particular pain in my coccyx these past few days.”

           “That’s awful,” you frowned in dismay. You didn’t know what else to say.

           Papyrus felt your gaze wash over the calcified cracks and various cuts and fractures you could see. You were looking at him differently now. Leaning forward, you slowly rested your forehead on his shoulder and held onto his arm. He flinched when you used the lightest touches you could. He was barely aware of how he was getting used to feeling your body against his. “It’s not like I’m going to break in half,” he laughed quietly.

           “It’s just… I’m so sorry. I had no idea.” You wished you could do something for him.

           “You don’t have to do anything about it.”

           “But—”

           “I told you as an exchange of trust,” he said softly.

           Your head snapped up at that.

           Papyrus caught a flicker of realization in your eyes. He looked away, but he could still see your soft smile in his peripheral vision. Most of all, there was relief in your face. “I think we’re due for those cinnamon bunnies, don’t you think?”

           You bubbled with laughter as your mood lifted. “And tea.”

           “Tea sounds good,” he agreed.

           You got up and started towards the kitchen, then pivoted on your heel and pointed accusingly at him. “Don’t you dare move, or I swear I’ll eat them all,” you threatened.

           “Such a diabolical and cruel thing to do, holding those sweet, dough-eyed hares hostage.”

           You were turning back towards the kitchen when the pun finally registered. “You do pun!” you shouted.

           “Preposterous.” He didn’t hide his amusement.

           “I know what I heard!”

           Between the rain and dying thunder, and being able to simply exist in your apartment, he could feel his head clearing. Sinking into the sofa, he tilted his head back to stare blankly at the ceiling and allowed himself to relax. This is what he needed all day, and he was reminded of how soothing your presence was. You couldn’t remove the needle pricks from the back of his mind, but you could remind him he was safe with you. Perhaps not against the King, but you had offered him something he never had before. Sighing, he opened and clenched his hands, testing if he regained connection with his body. His limbs felt leadened with fatigue. Getting some food in him would do some good.

           “How many sugar cubes?” you asked.

           “None. I’ll be fine without.”

           “How many do you normally take?”

           He knew what you were doing. Like Sans, you were trying to do whatever you could, even if it was something small.  “Three.” Papyrus sighed.

           “Three it is!” you chimed. Another moment later, you came back into the room with the bag of cinnamon bunnies, and two cups of tea on a tray. Carefully you lowered yourself to set the tray on the floor, then sat next to him, making sure to give him enough space. “Careful, it’s hot,” you said, passing a mug to him.

           Papyrus wrapped his hand around the mug and enjoyed the heat radiating into his bones. He noted the amber color and the sweet smell of honey and vanilla among the unfamiliar floral scent. He was surprised at the immediate calming effect the tea had on him at the first taste.

           “Doesn’t that hurt?” you asked while cringing.

           “No skin, remember?” he said with a wry smile.

           “Of course,” you said, rolling your eyes. You reached for the bag and peered inside. “So, I was thinking,” you began hesitantly. “That thing you said about your scars.” You hoped bringing it up wouldn’t offend him, but there was something you needed to tell him.

           Papyrus cocked his head. “What about?”

           You passed him his share of pastries. “You said it’s been particularly bad the past few days. Are you sensitive to the weather?”

           He looked at you dubiously. “Sensitive to the weather…” he said skeptically. He couldn’t fathom why weather would affect him in such a way. It sounded ridiculous. After all the fights he endured and the dangers he had to face, the thing to negatively affect his defenses the most was your Surface’s weather? How absurd.

           You nodded, taking your own share of the treats. “I’ve known friends and family who are weather sensitive. Their bodies are practically weathervanes. They can predict when storms are going to hit because they feel run down ahead of time, or they have scar tissue from surgeries that hurt. It has something to do with storm pressures, I think. Maybe it’s the same way with monsters and your magic.”

           “It’s an actual thing?” he asked incredulously.

           “Headaches too.”

           Papyrus grumbled. If that was true, him managing this degree of openness was the first time it benefited him. Not knowing the cause was getting his bones rattled and driving him mad. He thought back to the times his pain was unrelenting. Come to think of it, the instances seemed to correlate. On the day he and Undyne went to see Asgore, he felt particularly awful. It was sunny then, but every day after that suffered a downpour of rain. Even when his fever had lowered, his pain didn’t let up. He shot you a disgruntled look. “What the shit,” he growled. He seized a bunny and aggressively bit off its head.

           You were eating your own when a bubble of laughter escaped you. You covered your mouth immediately and looked at him in horror. “I’m so sorry! I shouldn’t be laughing,” you said in a muffled scream. Your face was flushed with embarrassment. “Oh god… But the way you said that and then beheaded that bunny, I couldn't stop myself.”

           Papyrus couldn’t help but feel amused at how flustered you were. He shook his head and chuckled. “It’s fine,” he said. You were trying so hard to not hurt him. Even when you knew he could read your intentions, you still wanted to make sure he understood. “You didn’t mean it that way, and that’s all I care about. I just can’t believe your weather is my ultimate nemesis. If it weren’t for it, my greatness would be unstoppable.”

           You giggled and gave him a relieved smile, then peered into the bag again. “I didn’t know you bought something else.”

           “I didn’t.” He looked at you in confusion as he was about to eat his second bunny.

           You pulled out another bag and a sheet of paper folded into quarters. “What’s this then?” Your face lit up when you revealed two glazed, chocolate drizzled, chocolate chip snails. “Oh wow! Here, there’s one for you too!” You passed the second to him.

           Papyrus looked at the pastry in stunned silence. “Carda…?” he whispered in bewilderment. The shopkeeper never gave away her pastries for free unless it was to help settle a debt she had. To do so otherwise would invite opportunities to be taken advantage of. As far as he was concerned, the previous pastries she gave him should have settled whatever debt she felt towards him.

           “Oh! There’s a message on the bag. ‘For you and your contact. Best wishes and much appreciation. Carda.’ Aww, that’s so sweet! Tell them thank you for me and that I love their pastries.” You bit into the snail and froze. Your eyes widened and you slowly turned to him in astonishment. “Dude. Dude… This is so good!” You looked like you were about to cry. “You can’t keep hiding this fairy food from me”

           Papyrus finished the third bunny and set his tea down. “Let me see that.” He snatched the bag and looked over the message. In hastily written handwriting, he caught what he refused to believe. He had not imagined things. Carda considered him an ally.

           “Aww, this is adorable!”

           Papyrus snapped back to you. You had unfolded the paper and couldn’t stop your giggles and smiles from something you saw on it.

           You turned the page to him. “I think that’s supposed to be you,” you said, pointing at what looked like a skeleton with sharp teeth wearing a cape. Next to it was a small rabbit in similar attire. “Anise and Papyrus. Superheroes on a secret mission,” you said, reading off the words above the figures. “Is this one of the monster kids you asked me to get supplies for?”

           Papyrus took the page to get a better look at the picture. It was colorful and drawn in crayon. He noted the clear smile Anise drew on his likeness. He had to admit, the drawing was endearing. “Yeah…” he said quietly. “Anise is Carda’s niece. Very sweet. Energetic. Has an attachment to me, although I can’t fathom why.” He couldn’t help but chuckle and smirk as he looked at the drawing. He never expected to feel so flattered towards something like this. Folding it, he stuffed it into his jacket for safe keeping.

           “Um, hello? Because you’re a kind fairy and the coolest of dudes!”

           Papyrus rolled his eyelights and scoffed. He took a bite of the snail and understood your reaction. The pastry was bursting with flavor and particularly dense with magic. He knew how much of a disaster he looked when he entered Carda’s shop. She must have picked the snails specifically to assist him. The magic was doing wonders for his migraine, aches, and fatigue.

           You finished off your pastries and tea, then sprang to your feet. “Speaking of which…” you said as you wandered to your room. Papyrus could hear you shuffling with something. You poked your head out to look at him. “You up for seeing those surprises?”

           Papyrus raised a brow at you while sipping the last of his tea. “Should I be concerned?”

           “Absolutely not!” You disappeared again, then reemerged with a heavy cardboard box. You went to make several more trips.

           “Do you need help?” He stared at the growing number of boxes in confusion. “Is this all what I think it is?” he asked in suspicion.

           “Don’t you dare!” you huffed while setting the next box down, then flexed your arm. “I’m a strong and capable human! And you’ll see.” Several more cardboard boxes, a small gift box, and a manilla envelope later, you laid spreadeagled on the floor.

           “I could have helped you know. I’m a lot stronger—”

           You held up a finger and shushed him. “I told you already. You don’t have to do anything and I meant it.” You paused and let your arm fall to the floor with a thud. “But I would appreciate it if you could help me carry them down the stairs,” you wheezed.

           Papyrus smirked. “Deal.”

           Sitting up, you gathered the cups and pastry bags onto the tray and pushed it aside. Reaching behind, you snatched the gift box, then moved to sit next to him. “First of all, I present you this.”

           Papyrus eyed you suspiciously before taking it from you. “You got me a present?”

           “Yeah,” you laughed nervously. Your fingers fidgeted together. “I actually wanted to give this to you later when I achieved a higher friendship level with you. Maybe even unlocked a friendship DLC, but… I think maybe now wouldn’t be so bad.”

           Papyrus opened the box. He looked from the object then to you in muted surprise. A black, braided bracelet with six silver beads and a round stone in various shades of gold and brown woven into it sat on the protective sheet of cottony foam. He saw how the gold and brown bands shifted and blended together when the lighting changed.

           “I saw it at a fair trade shop and thought of you. Tiger eye stones help with anxiety and protection, balance out your energies, and lend courage when you’re in danger. They’re also supposed to help in understanding something when you have to make a big decision. I mean, if you believe in that stuff.” You scratched your head and looked away in embarrassment. “A little piece of human culture there, I guess.”

           Papyrus watched you quietly, then chuckled to himself. “Is that so?” You did the unexpected as you were prone to do. You went out of your way to get him something. He couldn’t remember a time someone thought of him in such a way before.

           Your eyes widened when he extended his wrist to you so you could put it on him. Feeling less embarrassed, your shoulders slackened and you smiled at him. You took the bracelet and worked on securing it on. “I know it’s not actually magic, but maybe it’ll bring you good luck and help you with whatever is going on,” you said softly.

           “I’m sure it will. Thanks.” It was one of the kindest gestures he had ever received. Turning the bracelet, he watched the stone’s colors shift and blend. The changing colors reminded him of the crystal he pried away from the cavern wall. You were on his mind at the time, and he wondered about how you’d react to the glowing waters and crystals that served them as substitute stars. He had forgotten it was still in his jacket pocket. He reached for it, hesitating on pulling it out, and felt its rough surface. “I forgot about this...”

           “Forgot about what?” You tilted your head.

           “Something from my realm,” he teased. He presented the crystal to you and watched your eyes light up and grow wide. It had barely dimmed after being seperated from the wall days ago. It sparkled and glowed shades of blue in his hand as if it contained fire inside. The cool light flickered to color his bones. “Perhaps not as elegantly presented as your gift, but—”

           “Can I touch it?” you asked excitedly. You were awestruck by the sight.

           “You can keep it,” he smirked. He placed the crystal in your trembling hands. “It’ll stop glowing after a while. It needs magic from where it’s from, but…” He tapped the crystal with a phalange and transferred a small spark to it.

           You gasped when the flaming light ignited to a brighter blue. The colors washed over your skin and face. It looked as if you were painted in watercolors. He froze at the sight of you.

You looked up at him, eyes watering with tears of joy. “This is incredible!” you gasped. You tried to speak again, but words failed you.

           “You’re welcome,” he said, amused. He watched you cradle the crystal and continue to marvel at it as you rolled it around in the palms of your hands. As he expected, you reacted with wonder and excitement. Something he was accustomed to was completely new to you, and he found that as magic on its own.

           Carefully, you set the crystal down on the seat. You wiggled your fingers and clenched your hands into fists. “My hands feel so tingly,” you giggled.

           “And you’re vibrating like a Temmie again,” he laughed to himself. He turned to look at the mess of boxes. “So, what have we here from your various and daring escapades?”

           “Well, I’m glad you asked my lovely Fairy Friend!” You rubbed your hands together excitedly. “For you see…” You moved to a box, knelt down beside it, and turned it to reveal writing on the side.

           Art Supplies.

           Opening it, you beamed at him while pulling out paint and brush sets. You proceeded to lay out your haul. “Did I do good, or what?” you asked proudly.

           Papyrus stared at the assortment in stunned silence. He had never seen so many art supplies before, let alone in perfect condition. He couldn’t help but feel a little envious. That emotion was nothing compared to his surprise at how thoroughly you followed through. You went out of your way to do this for him, and, judging by the number of boxes, you showed supreme loyalty. “ Color me impressed.”

           Despite his lack of facial expression, you could tell he was impressed because of his pun. You put the art supplies back and folded over the flaps of the box so it stayed closed without needing tape. “Ready to see what else I got?”

           “Hit me with it,” he said, intrigued.

           You pushed the box away with your foot and reached for another. You turned the box to read the label. “This one has school supplies. I wrote lists on another side showing what’s in all of these too. I may not be the most organized person, but I figured this would make your life easier. And this one...has cleaning supplies! Nothing exciting there, although I did find some fun smelling hand soaps like cotton candy and orange dreamsicle. This one has...first aid and medicine. I’m not sure if human medicine works for monsters, but I figured stuff like throat lozenges should be safe.” You proceeded to show him the rest of the boxes, occasionally opening them and showing the items for his approval.

           “You didn't go broke, did you?” Papyrus cut in. He didn’t intend to make you spend so much money. “This is an awful lot of stuff.”

           “Fear not! A lot of these are actually donations.”

           Papyrus raised a brow at you. The thought of humans donating to monsters, even if it was for kids, was doubtful to him. Your governments hadn’t offered much help when they were relocating to the surface. Asking for help from individual humans was out of the question when there was no way of knowing the difference between the benevolent and malicious ones. How did he explain the human who showed him what hair products to buy for Undyne though? She took time out of her day to help him find what would be best for his vice-captain. She could have easily commanded him to leave the establishment or called the authorities on him. How did he explain you and everything you did for him today alone? He chose to wait and see what you had to say.

           “It’s true!” You pointed to the boxes of school and art supplies. “There’s this store called Hundred Pennies where you can buy various items for cheap. I got some things there, but then I remembered one of the student orgs partners up with them to run school supply and charity drives twice a month as a way to give back to the community. Kes is part of it. She helped me get in contact with the student org, I told them about the monster kids, and they were happy to help!” You pointed to several boxes labeled ‘Human Food’. “All that stuff? Pop-up food drive. My other friend, Aiden, was the one who suggested it. Apparently the robotics club he’s in does that a lot. And don’t worry! There’s no ramen. I promise.”

           It wasn’t a secret the kids resided within the district, but he was surprised by the number of people you told about them, and their willingness to help. There was that name from before though. Kes, the one who you said knew nothing about that night when you contacted her for help. When you mentioned her, he thought he saw your hesitation, as if it was a cloud hanging over your accomplishments. You didn’t want to go into detail about her feelings towards the task he gave you. You must have told her about him, and she reacted less than favorable. He let the matter slide, not wanting to dampen your mood.

           “One more thing…” you grabbed the box of books and rested your arms on the top. “New books can be kinda expensive, so I hope you don’t mind I got used books. Rose works at Persephone’s Attic and I was able to use her employee discount for them when I told her and the owner what they were for.”

           Aiden. Rose. That was two other names you mentioned now. Two other friends of yours who must know vaguely of him, or at the very least the monster kids. Two reasons to make him wary. However, after today with everything you did for him, it didn’t feel right to retract the extension of trust he put in you. “I don’t think you realize how envious I get when I see a book with all of its pages intact. Trust me, that’s the least of my concern.”

           You frowned briefly at that comment, then returned your attention back to the books. “Rose and I did our best to find books that might be suitable. Many of the stories are human centric and with humans as the heroes while fantasy creatures can be seen as the villains. It’s not always like that, but I didn’t want to give books that made monsters the bad guys.” You scratched at the cardboard as you thought. “But a lot of kids stories have animal characters,” you lit up brightly. If you want, you can screen them. I’m sure I can return whatever you don’t think is appropriate.”

           Papyrus shook his head. “I don’t think that’s necessary. I trust your judgement.”

           “That’s…” You smiled at that. “That’s honestly really great to hear.  Thank you...” You shook your head and leaned back. “Sorry, I… Anyways, if the kids are ever interested in more books, they should try getting a library card. I can help with that too if you want. You can count on me!”

           Papyrus cocked his head at your breaks in speech. You appreciated his praise. After all, you deserved every bit of it, and he was not one to express it that often. It must have reassured you that his opinion of you wasn’t as low as you thought. There was still something you wished for though, but you were too hesitant to ask.

           You grabbed the envelope and moved to sit next to him again. Your fingers stroked the edges gingerly. “Lastly, this is probably the best surprise I have.”

           Papyrus looked at you hard. He was confused by what your words meant. An air of freedom was tied to the sentence. Conditional freedom.

           You carefully opened the envelope and reached inside it. You paused, then turned to him. “Maybe you should close your eyes. It’s kind of a doozy.”

           “Alright.” He shut his eye sockets and waited.

           “I’m going to put something around your neck now, okay?”

           He nodded, appreciating the care you took in your approach. He felt cool metal against his neck and heard metallic clinking. A chain necklace of sorts, he figured. He wasn’t sure what was attached though. He felt it swing and lightly hit his sternum.

           “Okay, you can open your eyes now.” You were trying to keep a straight face and your tone even, but your words were thick with anticipation and color. You were holding the envelope so tightly your knuckles were turning white. “Take a look!”

           Papyrus held up the chain and caught the flash of Ebott’s city crest on the back of three metal tags. He shot you a stunned and bewildered look, then scrutinized them so he could read what was engraved. His name and monster type, permit ID numbers, registered occupations, co-signers, they were all there in his hand. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. You had given him high clearance permits. The basic ones were notoriously nearly impossible to get with the ridiculously long waiting periods and bureaucratic obstacles in place.

           “I think that is the most surprised I have ever seen you look,” you laughed cheerfully. “I didn’t think it was possible.”

           “Clearance three for tutoring you in physics? Clearance four, five…? How the hell?”

           “Did I do good, or what?” You grinned, puffing out your chest with your hands on your hips.

           “I think you’re the one who is the fairy around here,” he quipped. “You had to get other humans to co-sign for these. I don’t think you understand how impossible these are to get.” He fell silent when he saw that name Sans mentioned before. Dr. Arlette.

           You perked up at attention when he said your name. Something in his levelled tone signaled to you he was wary. “What’s up?”

           “Who is Dr. Elva Arlette?” he asked evenly. The professor had co-signed for them all, yet he had never met them before. He had been registered as being sponsored by an international educator exchange group and granted the highest of freedoms humans would allow in order to succeed in cultural exchange in association with Ebott University. No supervision required. No curfew. You must have told them about the deal he made with you. He couldn’t stop feeling unsettled by all of this. For someone he had never met to agree in granting him this freedom, they had to have an ulterior motive.

           “She’s my professor for one of my classes. She teaches about the history and legends of the area and the mythology surrounding the mountain. Apparently she has a lot of clout.”

           Papyrus kept silent.

           “She’s nice,” you insisted. “I think you’d like her.”

           “What makes you say that?”

           “She’s very…aware.”

           “Aware,” he repeated flatly. The way you said it felt nebulous. You were trying to suggest knowledge beyond words. “Curious word choice.”

           “Attentive. Analytical. She’s like you...just not tired and grumpy.”

           “That’s even more curious.” Curious because you described him that way. Peculiar because you compared this Dr. Arlette to him. You put your trust in this person, and in turn she took a risk in co-signing for these permits. He clenched his jaw and pushed his reservations aside. He would be a fool to pass up this opportunity for information and freedom. It would be a mark of progress for his front if the King called on him to report. He decided to trust your judgement. “Tell her...she has my gratitude. Both of you.”

           Your eyes lit up at that. “I will! And you’re welcome.”

           Papyrus let the tags drop against his sternum. He caught your mischievous grin from the corner of his eye socket. “Why do I have the feeling you’re going to make me dread this newfound freedom?”

           “Because now you’re not bound by the curfew so you can tutor me in physics at night if need be, and we can hang out without worrying!”

           His shoulders slouched as he looked at you in dismay. “What do you have in mind?” he asked in tired exasperation.

           “First of all, you are not required to join. I’m cancelling that part of the deal. However, I would really love it if you would.”

           Your consideration for his well-being after learning about his chronic pain caught him off guard. He masked his surprise with an unenthused glare. “What is it?” he grumbled.

           “Well, tomorrow is the weekend. I’m going out with some of my friends for dinner at this bar called The Salty Lips. It’s a music night with karaoke there. I figured it would be an interesting thing for you to experience. You don’t have to sing of course, but just hang out and soak up the atmosphere while doing the cultural exchange thing. That is, if you’re feeling up for it.”

           This was absurd. The thought of going to a human bar disgusted him. He didn’t even like going to Grillby’s. He had his fair share of experiences with his drunken unit, and each instance was distasteful at best. To be among intoxicated humans? The epitome of appalling. He imagined The Salty Lips being filled with human noise, human food, human crowds, and human grease. He could see himself becoming a spectacle among the bar’s patrons. With his luck, he’d get a personal date with death. Certainly someone would pick a fight in that abysmal deathtrap of grease.

           “You’ll get to meet Aiden, Kes, and Rose too. They’re who I’m going with.”

           “And I should probably say thank you to them for all their help,” he remarked.

           You looked at him hopefully.

           He sighed. “I’ll...think about it.”

           “That’s good enough for me.” You smiled brightly and turned to look out the open window. “What do you say we do art stuff while we wait for the rain to pass? Then we can take those boxes to the kids.”

           “Sounds good to me.” He looked to the boxes and noticed how much smaller they made your apartment feel. “Now, how much do I owe you?”

           To his surprise, the amount to reimburse you was incredibly small.


           “I can’t believe we fit all of this shit in this rust bucket,” he deadpanned.

           You slammed your body against the hatch to make sure it closed, then leaned your back against your car tiredly. “Benefits of being a university student,” you huffed. “You become a pro at packing and moving.”

           “So it would seem.”

           “Honestly, It’s like playing tetris.”

           “I wouldn’t know. Never played it.”

           “Really?” You pushed off of your car and rubbed at your lower back. Your shoes sent out ripples in the puddles you stood in. “You seem like a tetris kind of person.”

           Papyrus raised a brow at you. “You going to be okay?”

           “Oh yeah, totally,” you said, waving him away.

           “I’m telling you, it’s all that instant crap you eat,” he teased.

           “Pffft, you wish.”

           Papyrus shook his head. “Give me your keys.”

           “I can drive!”

           “You won’t be able to see behind you and I can at least use my magic to make sure we don’t hit anyone. Besides, we’re going into the monster district, remember? You don’t even know where the place is.”

           “Alright, alright,” you said. You tossed him your keys and climbed into the passenger side.

           Papyrus sat in the driver’s seat and buckled himself in. When you were settled, he keyed the car on and shifted it into gear. He made his way out of your apartment’s parking lot and headed towards the monster district. It took him a bit to get used to your car and orient himself, but eventually he found the streets he needed. He made a mental note to learn your area of the city better.

           “So, what car do you drive?” you asked. You were keeping your head low while looking out the window at the monsters on the sidewalk. The way you peeked over the door, sitting attentively in wonder, reminded him of Anise peering out at him from behind the counter at the inn. He had to admit, it was kind of adorable. At some point you had put the hood of your sweatshirt up to help conceal your head. A clever precaution.

           “Motorcycle. Yamaha.”

           “Nice. Should have figured.” You whipped your head to look at him with concern. “None of those scars are…”

           “...what?” He glanced at you in confusion, then finally processed what you were asking. “No, definitely not.”

           “Good.” Your attention snapped back to the monster shops and buildings. “Man, I’ve never been this far in the district before. It feels like I’m acting undercover for this secret mission. Will I get to meet Anise?”

           “I wouldn’t doubt it. Her mother runs the orphanage and the inn.”

           “Orphanage?” You looked at him forlornly. “You didn’t mention that.”

           Was that something he should have mentioned? You were already so willing to help, he didn’t consider it necessary. Every detail you learned about the awful conditions of the Underground made you look at him differently. Seeing you sad and worried for him was starting to carry its own kind of sting. He broke his gaze from you and looked to the rain stained street ahead. No guards in the immediate area. He had seen a few from the Snowdin and Waterfall units on the way over. There had been no incidents involving the orphanage since it’s relocation, allowing him to devote his units to other areas, but he never counted on catastrophe to lie still. He would reserve judgement on guaranteeing your safety until he made a thorough assessment. Turning onto another street, he caught sight of the large Victorian style house and prepared to park in the driveway.

           “Now I’m really glad I got so many people to help.”

           “We’re here,” he said evenly. He parked and turned the engine off. He had to make sure the coast was clear for you. “Stay in here until I signal.”

           You looked worriedly at him, having caught his change in demeanor.

           Climbing out of the car, Papyrus extended his magic and scanned his surroundings. He crossed his arms and leaned his back against the door. If any of the guards were around, they would have seen him and immediately reported in. After several minutes of silence and no activity, he checked his phone to look up who would be on the next patrol. It appeared none of the guards would be coming around for a while yet. Papyrus knocked on the driver’s side window and moved to open the hatch.

           You got out and pulled the drawstrings of your sweatshirt so the opening of your hood closed tighter around your face. “Everything good?” you whispered.

           “You’re safe.” He lifted two boxes of books stacked on top of each other and balanced them against his chest. “If you could stack another one on these, that would be great.”

           “Dude, no! You’re going to kill your back or something. Besides, you said...you know…the thing .”

           Papyrus rolled his eyelights and scoffed. “Please, I’m not made of glass. Give me a small one then.”

           You crossed your arms and looked disapprovingly at him.

           He couldn’t help but crack a grin. A human giving him, the Captain of the Royal Guard, a look of disapproval? You had no idea how bold of a move that was. He wanted to laugh. “Fine, have it your way,” he relented, not trying to hide his amusement.

           “Hey, what’s so funny? You never smile like that.” Sensing his change in mood, you allowed yourself to feel more at ease. You grabbed a box of your own and followed after him to the front steps of the orphanage. “What did I do?”

           “Just you being you,” he remarked. He shifted the boxes so he could grab his keys and find the one for the front door. Stepping inside, he heard you gasp at the building’s interior. The rooms you could see were large and tidy. The green wallpaper was ornate and the redwood flooring looked smooth and polished.  Much of the original furniture remained and decorated the space as antique bookshelves, tables, chairs, and sofas.

           “Man, this looks like it used to be some ritzy, old house.”

           “It’s probably the only nice place in this complete dump of a district,” he said flatly. “It looked a lot worse before.”

           “Kids got lucky. Nice to see someone’s looking out for them. This couldn’t have been cheap.”

           Papyrus paused as he glanced back at you. “Yeah, lucky...” He shifted the boxes to get a better grip on them. “Look, we can set all this stuff here and go back for—” You ran into him when he stopped suddenly. “Oh no…” he said heavily with dread.

           “What’s wrong?” you asked in alarm. You couldn’t see around him.

           “That.” He hurriedly dropped the boxes aside and a thunderous thud echoed throughout the building. He managed to brace himself in time as Anise came barreling towards him.

           “Papyrus!” she squeaked as she leapt up and into his arms.

           Papyrus winced at the impact on his ribs when he caught her. He quickly masked his pain and shifted his hold on Anise so that he held her securely against his side. “What do you think you’re doing charging in like that?” he chided gently.

           “I’m being Mama’s superhero! You’re my partner and I knew you’d catch me.” she smiled while hugging him.

           He grew rigid when he felt her soft fur against his neck and collarbone. He was desperately trying not to rattle his bones. “Indeed you are,” he indulged her in a soft voice. He was mystified on what else to say or do. Normally, he would have berated anyone for their stupidity, but this was a child being playful, not one of his guards that should know better. Papyrus found he couldn’t stay annoyed with Anise. It didn’t feel right to punish the instance with severity. Yelling at her would solve nothing. “But what you did was very dangerous. How about you let me do all the dangerous things from now on. We wouldn’t want you getting hurt and having your mother worry, would we?”

           “Understood!” She hugged him tighter and nuzzled his cheekbone. Anise looked to the boxes and gasped. “Are those the secret things for operation Make Mama Smile?”

           “Some of many. She’ll be so thrilled, she won’t be able to contain herself.”

           Anise giggled. “That one’s terrible!”

           “Of course it is! I borrowed it from my brother.”

           She bubbled with laughter.

           “Oh my gosh, is this Anise?” you asked. You had set your box down and revealed yourself from behind him. “She’s absolutely adorable!”

           Anise froze. She looked at you with wide eyes. Her body trembled hard as she clung to Papyrus and scrunched up her body. Quickly, she buried her face into his neck and began to cry softly.

           “Oh no…” you gasped, hands flying to your mouth. “No, no, no! I didn’t mean—”

           Papyrus held up a finger and hushed you. He rubbed Anise’s back in an attempt to soothe her. He had seen the innkeeper do that with the various children when they were upset. Whether he was doing it properly, he had not the faintest idea. It was another area his expertise lacked. If he had known Anise was going to make an appearance so soon, he would have cautioned you in your approach. Besides having a general fear of strangers from growing up in the Underground, the few experiences she had with humans had all been negative to varying extremes. The worst ones centered around her mother being harassed. “Annie, it’s okay. There’s no danger,” he cooed. He awkwardly rocked her for a few seconds, having seen Carda perform the action before. Much to his dismay, all it did was make Anise cling to him more. He cringed while gritting his teeth. “I’m here, remember?”

           Anise whimpered something, but her words were too muffled to make out. Papyrus knew she didn’t want her mother to get hurt though. In between her sobs, he saw a memory of a customer throwing hot coffee at the innkeeper when she had stopped at a shop in between errands.

           Papyrus hushed and held her tighter. “Annie, there is nothing to fear. This is a friend of mine,” he continued softly. He put a protective hand on her head. “This is a very good human and nothing like the ones you’ve encountered. In fact, this human was very important in making sure our secret mission was a success.”

           Anise wiped at her eyes and turned to look at you warily. Her small hands clung to his jacket. She was prepared to hide her face again at a moment’s notice.

           “A human who has showed loyalty to the Great and Terrible Papyrus,” he dramatized playfully with a grin while clawing at the air. “And one who would love to be friends with a certain brave, little rabbit...if only I could find her!” He pretended to shield his eyes and search in the distance. “Have you seen the Brave and Mighty Anise? Where has my strong, little Annie gone?”

           “I’m here,” she squeaked and sniffled.

           “Ah! Here she is,” Papyrus cracked a grin and tapped her gently on the nose. “How is my Brave and Mighty Annie?”

           “I’m okay,” she hiccuped and gave him a small smile.

           “Are you ready to say hello to my friend?”

           Anise wiped away another tear, then nodded.

           Papyrus turned to you. The way you were looking at him made him lose his train of thought momentarily. It was a mixture of emotions that unnerved him. Surprise, wonder, cautiously optimistic, sadness. As if prompted by a switch, his stoic mask returned. He gestured to Anise stiffly and introduced you to her.

           “Hello,” Anise said in a tiny and anxious voice.

           “Hello,” you said gently with a warm smile. “I’m sorry I scared you. It was never my intention.”

           “I-it’s okay.” She wrapped her arms around Papyrus’ neck and nuzzled his cheekbone for comfort.

           Papyrus kept quiet and still as he grimaced.

           “I was hoping we could be friends,” you said, offering your hand. “I’d be honored if you let me.”

           “Oki,” Anise nodded. She took your hand and held onto your fingers before drawing back to Papyrus.

           “I should take Anise back to her mother,” Papyrus said evenly. “I need to talk to her anyways.”

           “I can get the rest of the boxes,” you offered quickly. You were suddenly in a rush.

           “It’s a lot to carry. Just wait for me.”

           “I can do it!” you insisted. You were trying to avoid him. You needed to think. “If I break my back, I know who to call anyways,” you winked at him.

           Papyrus looked at you hard. Your words had lost their colors as you tried to hide. If you didn’t want to express what was on your mind, he’d respect that. He wasn’t sure what it was he did, but you needed some space from him. He decided not to press further. He’d feel better keeping an eye on you, but he knew none of the guards would be coming around. They rarely deviated from their patrols unless needed. “Okay,” he said blankly, then sighed. “Be quick and wait in here when you’re done. I don’t want you wandering around or seen.” He took a step forward, then turned back to you. “You can play with the kids after though. They’d probably like that.”

           “Got it!” you said, waving. He noticed how your cheerful smile covered the layer of hurt you felt. You spun on your heel to leave and disappeared out the door.

           He stared at the closed door for several moments before he spoke. “Annie, where is your mother now?”

           “Resting in her room,” she replied.

           Papyrus nodded and headed down the hallway. “Is she any better?” he asked gently.

           Anise shook her head.

           He wasn’t sure what he’d do if the innkeeper failed to recover. The number of monsters that could heal was very small and usually their abilities were restricted. Even if someone was skilled, their willingness to help those outside of family was virtually nil. Members of the innkeeper’s family had undoubtedly already tried. The last resort was to send her to the Royal Scientist, but that was a risk he was unwilling to take. Asgore would never stand for her recovery. Very little happened without his knowledge when it concerned the Royal Scientist’s projects. If the innkeeper was weak enough to be stricken with sickness, her fate was sealed in his eyes. It didn’t matter that she was the caretaker of the children. In the end, he wasn’t about to let another child become orphaned on his watch if he could help it.

           He came to the innkeeper’s room and knocked on her door. There was brief shuffling beyond it, followed by a tired gasp.

           “Come in,” the innkeeper said weakly.

           Papyrus slowly opened the door. He looked over her small, weakend frame as she sat in a chair with a blanket over her shoulders. She looked pale and tired with shoulders slouched and eyes heavily lidded. He could see her body shivering.

           The innkeeper’s fur bristled at the sight of him. She sat up straight at attention. “C-captain! My apologies. I must have not heard you at the door. Carda said you’d be stopping by, but she didn’t say why. I didn’t expect your visit to be so soon...” Horror flickered in her eyes when she spotted Anise in Papyrus’ arms. “Annie!” she gasped. “I-I’m terribly sorry for the trouble Anise has caused you, Captain. Please, if you would excuse this incident...”

           “It’s okay, Momma! Papyrus and I are saving the day! He brought you the things you needed!”

           The innkeeper looked from Anise to Papyrus in confusion.

           The fact that Carda didn’t mention what his visit was about surprised him. The rabbits were a tight-knit family and he was certain that information would have been leaked. Papyrus knelt down and let Anise slip out of his grasp. He watched her skip happily to her mother and jump onto the innkeeper’s lap. As he predicted, Anise wasted no time in telling her about the supplies that were brought over and about you. Apparently the girl had warmed up to you. She was thrilled to have finally met a kind human, and emphasized your friendship with him when the innkeeper expressed reservations. The words were excitedly tumbling out of the girl’s mouth at such a rate, the innkeeper could barely keep up, if at all. Gradually, the looks the innkeeper shot at Papyrus shifted from horrified to curious all the while remaining wary of him.

           “Annie,” Papyrus called softly when she had finished. Still kneeling down, he motioned her over.

           Anise skipped over into his arms. Her white, strawberry patterned dress twirled around her.

           Papyrus heard the innkeeper gasp. Her shoulders were rigid and she looked at him in surprise. She had never heard him speak in that tone before. Judging by her reaction, Carda had told her about his demeanor from that day, but the innkeeper refused to believe it. He held Anise’s hands in his and met her gaze. “I have a very important mission for the Brave and Mighty Annie. Can I, the Great and Terrible Papyrus, count on you?” he asked with mild dramatics in his voice.

           Anise nodded enthusiastically as she wiggled in place.

           “How about you go be a lookout for my human friend?”

           “Lookout duty! Like an actual guard?” she asked giddily.

           “Like an actual guard,” he nodded. “But remember what I said?”

           “Leave the dangerous stuff to you,” Anise said while bouncing.

           “That’s right. Leave the dangerous stuff to me. So, if you see any monsters not from here, or any of my guards, you come running back to tell me, understood? We need to keep our new, very helpful, very loyal friend safe while they are in our territory. You can play with the human after.”

           “I understand!”

           “Repeat my order back to me, please,”

           “If I see any monsters or guards, I come running back to tell you.”

           “Excellent,” Papyrus grinned. He let go of Anise and gave her a gentle nudge. “Be quick.”

           “Bye, Mama! I’m gonna be a member of the Royal Guard now! I’m the Brave and Mighty Anise! Rah!” she shouted, waving to the innkeeper before turning to run down the hallway and disappearing from sight.

           Papyrus slowly stood. He turned to the innkeeper with a serious look. As he approached, she recoiled in her seat.

           She flinched when he stood over her. “Anise can be quite a h-handful. I-I’m sorry again for any inconvenience she has caused you.”

           “None of the sort,” Papyrus said evenly.

           “Then...what?”

           ”Sage,” Papyrus began in a low voice, “why didn’t you inform me you were having difficulties?”

           The innkeeper kept her gaze down. She gripped the blanket and twisted it in her hands. “I didn’t think it was necessary,” her voice fell. “You already did so much for us. How could I possibly ask for more?”

           “When it concerns the kids and their wellbeing, you need to. King Asgore decreed for their safety—”

           “King Asgore only cares about his war!” she cut in sharply. All of her fears concerning the impending war weighed down her font. The letters were dull from exhaustion. What looked like thorny, black vines coiled around the final word and spread to the rest of the sentence like an invasion and strangled her breath. She wasn’t naive to the dreadful end of such a path. She gasped and covered her mouth in realization of her tone towards him and against the King. “My apologies… I...”

           “I’m not angry,” Papyrus said, softening his tone.

           The innkeeper’s ears perked up as she looked at him.

           Papyrus sighed. “I think we need to have a chat.” He could see it wasn’t a simple sickness she was suffering from. She was racked with anxiety and grief upon seeing where Asgore’s means would lead. The dark futures she saw weighed down on her mind and sapped her strength. Monsters came all this way, but what did it matter when impending war kept them from feeling free? They remained ever bound to the mountain. The future was precarious and they could end up robbing themselves of it if caution wasn’t used. All she could do was wait and hope her fears did not come to pass. This entrapment was suffocating.

           “I’ll make you some tea.” She tried to stand but her legs nearly buckled underneath her.

           Papyrus caught her and held her steady. “I think I should be the one making you tea.”

           Slowly, he helped her to the kitchen. He pulled out a chair at the table and held her hand in support until she was seated. Papyrus moved to search the cupboards for the electric kettle. He remembered she favored its use over the microwave from his previous visits to her inn for a cup of tea. He preferred the quiet space to Grillby’s. She seemed more at ease whenever he was around. On a number of occasions, he chased off the Snowdin guards that attempted to take advantage of her kindness and hounded her for free food and lodging. He found such undisciplined behavior unsightly. Thinking back, his relationship with her was always on better terms compared to with Carda, and it only improved when he became Captain. Quiet, late nights filled with paperwork over tea seemed to have cemented grounds for an alliance if one had existed. He never blamed Carda for her aggressive nature though. If it weren’t for her, the innkeeper wouldn’t have survived. Sage’s nature was much too sweet, kind, and timid for her own good. When it concerned the monster children though, she had a fierce streak that served to remind him she was Carda’s sister.

           Once he found the kettle, he filled it with water and set it to boil. Crossing his arms, he turned to her and leaned his back against the counter. “What tea would you prefer?” he asked in a leveled tone.

           The innkeeper shook her head. Her mouth opened to speak, but there was no sound. She looked petrified under his gaze.

           Papyrus diverted his eyelights to the fridge covered in drawings that were held up by magnets. The kids had drawn pictures of the various animals and plants they saw in the city. Most of the images consisted of birds, the tree in the orphanage’s courtyard, sunsets through windows, and partly cloudy nights devoid of stars. He knew the monster kids didn’t leave their new home much. “Personally, I’ve lost my taste for golden flower tea. I imagine you have as well,” he said, softening his voice. In his peripheral vision, he saw her look down in her lap at that comment.

           “Carda said I could trust you,” she said quietly after a while.

           “Do you think she’s right? We never did get along.”

           “I think she’s never led me astray. She rarely changes her mind about someone unless she has a good reason to. I’m inclined to believe her.”

           Papyrus heard small, excited voices coming from the front of the house. The monster children were marveling over you while Anise introduced you to them. You must have opened the box of art supplies, because the rapid-fire chatter that followed after popped with spots of color. They were listing off things they wanted to draw next and having fun guessing the names of colors on the crayons and color pencils.

           The innkeeper turned her attention to the laughter filling the hallways. The lines of stress in her face faded when she smiled. She looked longingly at the sound as if she hadn’t heard it in ages. “I think someone who goes beyond keeping them safe and has shown patience with them has the potential to be trusted. Patience is something that’s in short supply lately.”

           The kettle chimed when the water boiled. Papyrus turned his back to her. He reached for cups and looked through her tea selection. He clenched his jaw when he saw the box of golden flower tea. He knew he wouldn’t be able to stand the smell of it. Encountering the foul miasma in your apartment was beyond enough for one day. Just looking at it made him feel sick and caused the magic in his spine to prickle. He felt his guilt and damage looming over him and pressing on his back. It had a hold on him he couldn’t ignore. Batting the box away, he opted for the Snowdin snowflower blend. When the tea bags were placed in the mugs, he carefully poured the water and was glad of his choice when he caught the delicate, sweet, and velvety scent.

           “Captain, may I speak freely?” she asked hesitantly.

           “I’m not the King, Sage,” he said evenly. He held his hand above one of the mugs and conjured his healing magic. Making sure to keep the flaring light tamed so she couldn’t see it, he infused the tea.

           “But you enforce his laws. If I were to say something that could be interpreted as treasonous…”

           Papyrus waited until the afterglow of his magic dissipated before turning to the innkeeper. He set the magic infused tea in front of Sage and took a seat across from her. “You honestly think I’d turn you in for speaking your mind?” He wrapped his hand around the mug and tapped at it with his phalanges. The sound of his bones against the ceramic made a soft clinking sound. “I enlisted a human to help bring you supplies. I have a history of showing mercy in the face of the King’s founding command. The King and I by no means see eye to eye on many things.”

           The innkeeper allowed herself to relax after hearing that. She carefully took a sip and breathed in the tea’s aroma. She stared into her cup tiredly and wrapped the blanket tighter around her thin frame. “No, I don’t. But I’m scared. Carda knows why, and I think you do too.”

           “The war,” his voice fell.

           She nodded. “If war breaks out, I don’t know what’s going to happen to the kids. I don’t believe all humans are bad. You proved this by bringing along that human to help. Even though I have yet to see them, I believe my little girl and I believe you. I know you wouldn’t have brought them unless you had some level of trust in them. However, right now I have no confidence in the good ones helping. If Anise and the others survive, what quality of life would they have? How will they be treated after being granted mercy? All I ever wanted was for them to grow up happily, and I want to be around to see that. Some days, it feels like I’m wanting too much.” She took in a shuddering breath and sipped her drink. “But then I have to remind myself, if the King can no longer keep them in mind, then I have to, because I do believe he has lost sight of what’s important.”

           Papyrus drank his tea quietly.

           The innkeeper met his gaze and didn’t shy away this time. “Captain, I know I’m not privy to what the King has planned, but is it possible for you to share something, no matter how small, about what is happening? I just need to know that someone is trying to look for a different answer, and I’m hoping that person is you.”

           He set his emptied mug down and folded his hands on the table. “What makes you say that?”

           “Besides Carda, you’re the only one that has ever listened to me when it concerns the kids. I trust their lives with you. When I begged you to include them in the First Migration, you made them a priority, and I can see now it wasn’t only because you were commanded to do so.”

           Papyrus looked at her dubiously. He was beginning to think everyone around him had gone mad. First it was you who insisted on seeing whatever tethered his fate to yours. Then it was Carda, who considered him worthy of her trust. Now, here was Sage evaluating something in his character he couldn’t see and calling it patience. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said flatly. He didn’t want to know it. It was fallacy.

           Sage took a long drink as she thought. She finished her tea and set the mug aside. Already, her eyes were looking brighter from his healing magic. “You just seem different,” she finally said quietly. “You’re not the same Captain I remember from the Underground.”

           Was he different? He couldn’t tell. He was too exhausted from this harrowing day to feel much of anything other than a continuous heaviness dragging him down. The only thing that felt changed was the new wounds he felt in his head and the guilt he carried. Even with your help in grounding him, his thoughts were still weighted with tar.

           Another distant explosion of laughter flooded the house. He heard your voice pleading for mercy in between uncontrollable giggles from what he could only assume was a tickle fight. By the sound of it, the kids were winning.

           “There isn’t much to tell.”

           “I’ll take anything,” Sage begged.

           Papyrus looked at her stoically. He rested his arms on the table, his fingers absentmindedly turning the bracelet as he thought. If it would bring Sage the peace of mind she needed, even the slightest bit, it was worth it. He decided to keep it brief. “I went to see King Asgore a few days ago. He expressed his displeasure at my...perceived inaction. I reminded him that we should do what’s best for them,” he said in a detached manner. “He...grudgingly accepted.” Then Undyne paid the price he failed to see. He kept his eyes fixed on Sage, but he was seeing the King swatting at Undyne with fire so magnificently bright and blue it greedily stole the color away from her scales.

           It should have been him to burn.

           “The war has been postponed pending my investigation,” he continued. “I explained I’m in favor of a more subtle approach once we have understood what we’re up against.”

           Sage nodded, but said nothing. She looked to the drawings on the fridge.

           “I know what will happen if Asgore gets his war. Whether there is an alternative, I don’t have an answer for you...but I’m trying, Sage. That’s all I can offer.”

           “It’s alright,” she said quietly. She turned to give him a calm smile. “It’s enough to give me hope. Thank you, Captain.”

           Papyrus clenched his jaw at that word. Hope, said as if it was a stubborn ember refusing to die and giving off enough light to matter. He wanted to feel it too, but any signal of it was drowning in static. He didn’t flinch when she slowly reached across the table and rested her hands on his. Before meeting you, he would have recoiled, but now he found to be craving the gesture. He wished he could offer her something better in return than him being the only thing keeping disaster and total annihilation from a costly mistake at bay.

           “I know you’ll do your best,” she said softly, squeezing his hands. She gave him a sympathetic look that acknowledged how tired he was. “That’s all I can ever ask of you. Even then, that feels too much.”

           Her ears perked up at the kids singing songs neither of them recognized. Laughing quietly, she stood while bracing her hands on the table for support.

           Papyrus rushed to her side to hold her steady.

           “It’s alright…” she said, only slightly breathless this time. “I’m feeling much better, thank you.”

           “I can help you back to your room,” he offered.

           “No, I… I want to see what they’re doing. I miss spending time with them.”

           Papyrus carefully escorted her to the playroom. When they entered, they saw you in the middle of the room lying on your back. The children sat on you in a dogpile and were laughing while singing a song you had taught them. Crayons, colored pencils, glue sticks, scissors, and construction paper littered the floor. Sage gasped in delight at the sight and started moving on her own to an armchair. Relieved to see some of her strength had returned, he helped her sit and hovered over her momentarily to see if she needed anything.

           “Black socks, they never get dirty, the longer you wear them the blacker they get. Sometimes I think I should wash them, but something inside me says no, no, not yet, not yet, not yet…” the children sang in unison.

           Papyrus shot a disgruntled look at you as he approached. He found the lyrics utterly appalling. This was exactly a song that Sans would love without a doubt. Plaguing his life with socks and incidental music indeed, Papyrus would have to ensure the lyrics never reached his brother, or he would suffer the consequences. “What in the hell did you teach them?” He crossed his arms and looked down at you in disapproval.

           “Summer camp songs!” you said, looking up at him with a silly grin.

           The children gasped as they all looked up at him. They rolled off of you and scuttled to hide behind you when you sat up. Only Anise remained to sit in your lap. “No way!” they gasped excitedly.

           “You’re actually friends with him? That’s so cool!” a yellow, armless, dinosaur monster said. Their eyes were shining brightly in amazement.

           “Thank you for bringing us cool, new things!” a mouse monster said. Their high-pitched voice was muffled by the striped scarf they wore.

           Anise sprang to her feet and rushed over to him. Papyrus looked down at her in horror, knowing very well what was about to happen next. He was only able to take a few steps backwards before she wrapped her arms around his leg and nuzzled his jeans. A tidal wave of tiny arms followed after to surround him. Soon he had the children clinging to him and reaching for his arms to pull him down. Despite their efforts, he was much too strong and steady to be toppled. He held his arms up to prevent any more from hanging from them. That didn’t stop the few from climbing up his body and hugging his waist. He didn’t want to scold the children for playing, but this exceeded beyond his comfort zone in spades. “Please…” he said to you with a grimace.

           “Oh dear,” you giggled. “I think they just want to say thank you.” You looked at him sympathetically.

           “If I let them say thank you, will they let go of me?” he asked, unamused.

           “You should ask them.” You were gathering up the scrap construction paper that could no longer be used and tossing it into the recycling bin.

           He looked at the tiny, smiling faces and saw them nod in unison. “Fine,” he sighed. “But you need to let me sit. Having you all on me is starting to hurt.” The kids dropped from his arms and loosened their hold on him so he could sink to the floor. Immediately, he regretted the decision tenfold. The children hugged him tightly from all sides and pressed their bodies against him. Mortified, he could feel their arms around his ribs, arms, legs, and neck as they piled on him and cheered their gratitude. “This is not what I had in mind,” he said icily and as non-threatening as possible.

           You looked up from gathering the scattered construction paper that had been drawn on. “Oh dear!” You set the stack aside and hurried over to him, knowing full well his distress. “Okay, that’s enough, guys! I think he gets the idea!” You herded them away and knelt beside him. “You okay?”

           “Y-yeah…” he croaked while grimacing harder. The close contact left his mind fuzzy and caused a chill to run down his spine. The sensory overload was maddening and putting him on edge. He shuddered, then rolled his head so his neck cracked, and propped his arm up on his knee. “I’ll be fine.”

           You were about to place a hand on his shoulder. You stopped with it hovering inches above him. Instead, you crawled over to finish gathering the construction paper, then returned with the stack in hand. “Check these out! We made thank you cards for all the people that helped. I also took a picture of them all together too.” You handed him the cards for him to look through, then pulled out your phone and showed him the photo. “I was thinking about having it printed out and attaching the copies to the cards. I mean, if that’s okay with you of course.”

           The fact you were asking him for his permission caught his attention. It was a different approach compared to when you were telling of your adventures of getting people to donate in this united cause. He skimmed through the cards riddled with spelling errors and backwards letters. “Yeah, that’s fine… It’s a nice thought.”

           “Great!” You took the cards back, then turned to look at the monster children gathering around Sage. You smiled when Anise jumped into her lap and she planted a gentle kiss on the little rabbit’s head. “I’m guessing that’s Anise’s mom?”

           “Yeah…”

           “Did you have a nice talk with her?”

           Nice wasn’t the word he’d use. “We had...a talk.”

           You nodded, your eyes clouding over in thought. You rose to your feet and extended your hand to help him up. “I want to properly say hello and wish her well, then we can leave them be. Come with me?”

           Papyrus accepted your help and motioned you to follow. He looked warily at the monster children, not wanting to be mobbed again.

           Sage looked up at him brightly. With her fur having a new glow to it, she was looking much improved. “Time to leave?” she asked.

           Papyrus nodded. “My friend has a few words for you though.”

           You stepped forward and extended your hand as you introduced yourself. “I wanted to properly say hello. I didn’t get a chance to meet you until now, and there’s been so much activity, it was difficult to get a word in.”

           Sage took your hand warmly. “Call me Sage, lovely human. I cannot thank you enough for what you’ve done for us. Both of you.”

           “It was a pleasure to help. If you ever need anything else, I’d be more than happy to lend a hand again.”

           “Thank you. I will keep that in mind.”

           “Well, we should get going,” you blushed as you smiled. “Do you guys need anything else before we leave?”

           Sage shook her head.

           “You sure?” Papyrus asked. “I could help you back to your room.”

           “No, I…” Sage shook her head again. “I’m feeling much better thanks to the both of you. Right now I just want to sit with them.”

           Papyrus nodded. He placed a hand on your back to usher you out. You gave a final wave back to Sage and the kids.

           Outside, evening was settling in and you stretched in the aging light. Papyrus locked the door and scanned his surroundings. Nothing. You were still safe. He rolled his head again to loosen up his neck and shoulders, then shook out his arms. He suddenly rattled his bones out to shake off the feeling of tiny arms swarming him.

           You whipped around to him, startled by the loud series of popping, cracking, and rattling. “You good, dude?”

           Papyrus wrapped his arms tightly around himself and grumbled. His hands gripped at his jacket. He could still feel tiny fingers on his ribs, neck, and spine. “Good enough,” he grumbled.

           “Whatever you did literally sounded like firecrackers.”

           “It’s a skeleton thing,” he said, harsher than intended. He climbed into your car, slamming the door hard, and folded his arms on top of the steering wheel. He rested his head on his arms and inhaled a rattling breath. It was taking tremendous effort to catch his breath as he tried to fight off the prickling of his magic. His skull felt like it was stuffed with wet cotton again. It took so long for him to relax before, and only an instant to feel on edge again. He heard you climb in and shut the door. When you rested your hand on his shoulder with the lightest touch you could, he flinched momentarily before forcing himself to relax.

           “Tell me what you need.”

           “Nothing,” he gasped. He shut his eye sockets and pinched his nasal bridge. “Nothing. I just need a moment.”

           You frowned. “I’m sorry… I should have told them to not climb on you.”

           “It’s fine. I doubt you could have done anything. Trying to control them is like herding cats.” He exhaled and groaned as he rested his head again.

           You pulled away from Papyrus to give him space. For a while, you sat in silence. It wasn’t long until you began shifting in your seat anxiously. When you couldn’t contain yourself anymore, you spoke. “So, you’re the captain of the Royal Guard,” you said steadily.

           Papyrus froze. He slowly looked up to see you watching him, as if trying to gauge his reaction. His gaze turned into a steely glare while his instincts screamed at him to be on guard. So, this is why you were asking permission with the photos. How the hell did you find that out?

           You shrank away and held up your hands. “S-sorry,” you said nervously. His eyelights were burning into you. “I’m guessing you didn’t want me to know…”

           “Who told you?” he growled.

           “The kids told me…” you cringed. You hadn’t seen that look since the night you first met him.

           Of course they did.

           Groaning in exasperation, Papyrus covered his eyes and leaned back in his seat. Why was he angry with you? He shouldn’t be angry with you. You did nothing wrong. It wasn’t your fault the kids had no filter whatsoever. He rested his hands flat on his lap to calm down.

           “They really look up to you. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why, you know. You’re actually really good with them.”

           Papyrus laughed bitterly. He tilted his head back and took in a deep breath to calm himself further. There was no danger. He was safe with you. You were letting him know what you were told. You didn’t want to keep secrets from him about you knowing this part of him. It was another example of your sincerity.  “They should find a different role model.”

           You frowned at him.

           It took a while for his nerves to settle. In his silence, you extended a hand, only to fall short when he spoke. “I need to apologize.”

           “What for?”

           “It’s been...a day. A shitshow of a day. And I’ve been an ass to you in more ways than one. I’m trying not to be.”

           You frowned at him. “Dude, you don’t need to apologize.”

           He tilted his head to look at you. “Yes I do.”

           You hung your head and picked at the stitchings in the seat. “I get it though. I understand why. Honestly, finding out that you’re the captain of the Royal Guard has helped me understand things about you that I didn’t understand before.”

           That comment unsettled him. What else did you see in him that he tried to keep locked away from you? There was no hiding the blisters he felt in his skull after today. You caught a glimpse of his damage, but that only solidified how important he was to you. He couldn’t understand why you were like this. What would it take to make you turn away? What amount of ugliness and venom would you have to see?

           “You’ve seen and been through a lot of shit. Even with all that, you’re still so...impossibly kind.” You looked up at him and smiled softly. “You could have yelled at the kids to get off and taken your mood out on them, but you didn’t.”

           Papyrus flinched when you took his hand. Your fingers blindly ran over the bracelet and scars on his wrist from blocked swords and oblique fractures.

           “You could have left me hanging when I...was rambling away, and make me feel like a complete fool,” you said, laughing nervously at the end, “but you didn’t.”

           He swore he could feel your breath when you held his wrist close to you.

           “In fact, you could have not put your confidence and trust in me at all, but you did...like you are right now.” You rested your head in his hand and pressed your cheek against the calcified scars to make a point.

           Papyrus cringed. He trembled hard at the softness of your hair and skin. Gasping, he hung his head in defeat. You won this round. “What else did they tell you?” he asked in a low voice.

           You looked downwards and stroked the inside of his wrist with your thumb absentmindedly. “Enough…”

           Your despondent expression suggested you learned more about the Underground’s awful conditions. You learned about what he had to do to survive and keep himself safe. Your font was weighted with grief and pain for him.

           “With all of that said, I want to make sure you know this. I’m glad you made it. I’m glad you’re here and that I got the wonderful chance to meet you. It doesn’t matter that you’re the captain of the Royal Guard. To me, you will always first and foremost be my friend. My very tired and very grumpy Fairy Friend.”

           Papyrus laughed quietly to himself. For the first time, he was elated to hear those words you endearingly called him. It turned out he didn’t lose anything from you finding out about his position. Everything about him remained intact and he only stood to gain more in the end.

           “Can I ask you something?” He heard how your voice wavered as if you were afraid to know the answer to some question that burned inside you.

           Papyrus met your eyes and saw how hurt and hope coexisted in them. You had his full attention. He hoped whatever his answer was, it wouldn’t extinguish the light in your eyes.

           “Did you mean it?” You bit your lip before you continued. “When you said I was your friend. Did you mean it, or were you just trying to get Anise to calm down?” You shook your head, pressing your cheek harder against him, and looked downwards. “It kinda feels stupid of me to ask, but you’re not the easiest person to read. In fact, you’re pretty damn difficult and it’s not just because of the obvious reasons. I’m still trying to figure you out… When I saw you with Anise, it was like this other you was able to come out, and it was so wonderful to see. But then...you saw me looking back at you, and that other you retreated inside. It left me wondering if someday you’ll feel okay enough around me to let your guard down a little bit more. I’m not saying you have to, but...it would be nice.”

           Papyrus stared at you. “That’s your burning question?” he asked incredulously.

           You rubbed at your face with your free hand. “Oh my god, it was a stupid question,” you groaned. You couldn’t bare to look at him as your face flushed bright red. “It’s just that trust and friendship are not the same thing. You do need trust in friendship but it doesn’t necessarily go the other way. And now I’m rambling and can’t shut up,” you said, voice trilling at the end.

           He felt the heat radiating off of your face and sinking into his bones. “No, no, that’s not what I meant.” He cursed himself for making you feel this way. You were trying to cover up the hurt you felt by laughing it off now. Why was he so incredibly bad at this? Perhaps he should have read that friendship and dating rule book he found in the dump! Sighing, he gently touched the back of your neck with the hand you were holding to get your attention. “You’re right, I am pretty damn difficult. I guess I never actually said it before, but…”

           You were his friend.

           He tried to make the words come out, but his voice was tangled. Why was it so difficult for him to say? “You are…”

           ...my friend.

           He shut his eye sockets in an effort to concentrate. Clenching his jaw, he focused on the words. They were only four simple, little words! He said it before in the moment, so why couldn’t he say it again when he wanted to and when he really meant it? There was no danger. He was safe with you. There was no attack. He owed you this.

           Silence.

           He looked at you, shaking his head and at a loss. He could only hope you would understand.

           You gave him a smile that felt too forced to him. “It’s okay. You don’t have to. I don’t want to force you if…”

           No, no, no!

           He refused to be so incredibly bad at this. He refused to be defeated by four simple, little words. This was absolutely pathetic! He was so angry at himself for making you hurt this much all damn day. He survived Asgore’s absolute wrath, but he couldn’t express how much you mattered to him? Truly the epitome of pitiful! Yes, he cared about you. Yes, you allowed him to feel things. Yes, you mattered a great damn deal to him, and he would save you a hundred times over and again on that night if it meant he wouldn’t screw this up so spectacularly. He would be lying if he denied any of it. Why else was he so cautious when it came to your safety from the King? You weren’t his enemy. You were his…

           “Fuck this shit,” he growled. He grabbed your free hand and pulled you closer. Gently pressing his cheekbone into your wrist, he closed his eyes, nuzzled your smooth skin, and took in your pleasant scent.

           You stared at him in surprise, then broke out into a laughter that sounded melodic like windchimes. Smiling, you nuzzled him back.

           “Does that answer your fucking question?” he snapped. What the hell did he just do? Showing this miniscule amount of open affection was a dizzying shock to his system. He was completely mortified with himself. This was worse than saying four simple, little, words. He really should have read that stupid guide after all! If anyone found out about this, they’d never let him live it down. Hell, he wouldn’t let himself live it down! Papyrus, the Captain of the Royal Guard, showing affection to a human? What a scandal! Still, a part of him didn’t care. You were his friend, and he’d defend you against the fires of Asgore if he had to.

           “Yes, I think it does,” you beamed. You released him so he could hurriedly start the car.

           “Good,” he said, gritting his teeth while looking behind and backing out of the driveway. “I’m taking you home and we will never speak of this, you hear me? NEVER!

           You laughed hysterically as the car blazed down the street.