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This saccharine shtick has to end.

How long can things go on like this? Perpetuating a lie based on something as shallow and temporary as a bag of skin and some dust? Based on assumptions long-since burned at the bridge, a thousand miles back in the opposite direction. Based on simple, stupid wants. Not needs. Based on hopes, and dreams, like he hasn't been fed full to bursting of those over the last dozen endless decades. The same endless decades, over and over ad nauseam.

And believe him, he's plenty sick of it.

"you still brooding over there, chief?"

Ugh.

"Don't call me that," This voice is so much worse than he remembers it being. How did he ever command anyone's respect back before he stopped caring about any of that? Oh, right. He didn't. Furry brows burrow in towards the wrinkle in his snout and he tosses his head with a scoff, sending one floppy ear over his shoulder. A casualty of war, and rampant, unnecessary gesticulating. "And no."

"yeah, thought so."

Asriel digs his fingers into his knees.

His slacks are scuffed there, weathered from neatly-trimmed claws plucking and hours spent figuring out how to keep paws beneath him again. It'd be kind of interesting, the first few times he fell. Scraped a part of himself raw and just sat there crumpled in the dirt, watching particles of dust crawl from the wound to get swept away in the breeze. Inconsequential pieces of himself gone forever. After everything, what's losing a little more?

Mom hadn't wanted to hear that. She'd shushed him with a kiss between the buds of his horns, delicately peeling up the leg of his slacks with her smothering paws, smoothing a band-aid over the sore.

Pain would've been an interesting new-old sensation, but between the smooch and the bandage with some stupid cartoon character on it (Frisk picked them), it hadn't even stung anymore.

"y'know..."

Droopy ears lift where they're latched onto a fuzzy noggin and Flowey swings his head around. The telltale sound of slippers shuffling closer across carpet is nauseating enough - but turning and being greeted by the sight of a grinning catastrophe, a set of fingers at his chin, scratching like nails on a chalkboard at off-white bone? If he had deigned (acquiesced, conceded, allowed himself) to eat the breakfast Mom sat in front of him this morning, he would've lost it right then. Sans' skull tips.

"you don't hafta sit over here."

'Over here', being the corner of the living room. Asriel had parked himself here in a fit three hours ago, and hasn't budged since that spur of the moment decision. His pride won't let him. It's lying in tatters around him like a barbwire fence.

There's a coffee mug perched in Sans' other hand, Flowey notes blithely, now that he's looking at the clown. Is he actually going to take a drink from it, while the runty goat's glowering at him? Out of all the time he's spent observing the skeleton, he's seen the anomalous bastard take a swig of liquid anything once. Once! He's wasted what probably approximates to years, playing voyeur to him and his brother! And it'd been for some stupid gag, because it never isn't, with him, and he'd watched in muted horror as whatever Sans had been chugging came pouring right back out through the bottom of his ribcage.

Maybe Sans knows what he's thinking, and is purposely being obtuse in that way Asriel knows he loves to be. That dopey grin belies nothing. Nothing, aside from the fact he just woke up, which is why he'd made the coffee he's now holding and not going to drink where his best pal's kid can see him.

"I know," Flowey tells him, eventually, after he's figured he's wasted enough of both their time ruminating on Sans' coffee.

"so," There's a sound like clicking teeth, but Sans' jaw can't open wide enough for him to do that. Asriel knows. Add it to the list of things the sentient joke can do without explanation. "begs the question why you're over here, then, doesn't it?"

"Don't you have anything better to do?"

"nah."

Thud. The shelves overhead shutter, and sore spreads beneath the tuft of fur on Flowey's forehead where he smacks it against the wall. The temptation to do it again bubbles up, but he only gets as far as winding back before he's stopped. Well. He still could've carried on, but the sensation of phalanges settling onto the crown of his head is so repulsive that he halts all movement instantly. That instant passes, and the intruding hand is gone.

Looking over his shoulder again, Asriel scowls. Sans is in the process of wrestling that hand into his jacket pocket, so if needled, he probably couldn't bumble out an excuse or alibi for the unwarranted touch that just happened.

"maybe don't do that," Idiot mitt happily hidden away again, the skeleton turns his eyelights back on Flowey. His posture is loose, like one of those toys you press a trigger on to make it collapse to pieces. For the life of him, Asriel can't tell if it's coached or sincere. "your ma's gonna get more than my goat if she gets back and there's a dent in the wall and her kid."

Flowey grumbles. A paw scrubs over his forehead, but maybe his hands just aren't big enough, because the touch doesn't help the pain as much as Mom's always does. "Headbutting is a natural behavior displayed by goats, moron," he snips, satisfied by the sounds his fangs make, when he clamps his jaw. "You spend enough time around them, shouldn't you know even that much, by now? Are you really that unobservant?"

Sans shrugs, and he wonders if it'd be worth the air, to scream.

"Go away. You can act nonchalant all you want, but I bet I could name ten things off the tip of my tongue you'd rather be doing than standing here, pretending to be my babysitter."

The idiot laughs. Just that patented, wheezy, heh heh heh, punctuated by weight shifting from one foot to the other. Sans knocks the toe of one slipper against the carpet, forcing it back onto his foot where it'd started to slip off. Color Asriel surprised those things aren't superglued to him. "yeah? 'm flattered, buddy. you know me so well."

"So you admit it," Flowey gurns at him, but all he's met with, infuriatingly, is eyesockets closing, snuffing out those pinprick lights that used to send shudders down his stem.

Sans' hand appears from his pocket, and he waves it, dismissive.

"nah," Again. "see, contrary to popular conjecture, evidently, i really don't have anything better to do. and contrary to, uh, you. i don't wanna stand here and watch you sulk 'cause you feel lousy about something none of us care about."

Asriel seethes.

"What?"

Rubbing his skull, Sans reaches over to free his mug-holding hand. There's a little table with a lamp on it parallel to Flowey's self-designated timeout spot, and that's where he sets the cup, not a single sip taken from it yet.

"that's what this is about, yeah? onno why else you'd go down the whole self-flagellation route," Anxiety prickles behind Asriel's eyes. Both the skeleton's hands are empty, now, and he's going to do something, he's going to - put them in his pockets. Oh. The little goat's hackles settle, a fraction. His tail flicks against the carpet. "pap forgives you. 'course he does, he always does, you know that. guy's your best friend, isn't he?"

"Frisk is my best friend."

"other best friend." Sans' grin gets lopsided, mirroring his shrug.

"Of course I know that. But I don't understand why. If you had a brain knocking around somewhere between those sockets of yours, you would've figured that out, by now," Flowey grits out. He's being defensive. Sans knows it, and Asriel knows he knows it, so neither of them bother mentioning it. They've been through that song and dance too many times to count. His teeth gnash so hard it stings. "I don't deserve forgiveness. He's wasting it, on me."

"pretty sure he doesn't look at it that way."

He's going to explode. Before he can swallow it back, a sound of frustration strangles itself up Flowey's throat and his claws are biting into his sleeves, too short and rounded to pierce through the woolen fabric. They scrape and tug, but to no avail.

"But why?! I don't understand it!"

"hey - "

Heat boils in his palms and Asriel twists onto his knees clumsily, lashing out blindly with one hand just as a plume of fire ignites over the center of one pawpad. Sans is close. When'd he get so close? A panicked glance downwards tells Flowey that the skeleton is crouching. His grin's rounded off at its corners. Asriel looks to his paw. A hair closer and he would've connected, would've sent the skeleton up in flames.

He attacked Sans, and now it's Sans' turn.

He inhales.

" - kid?"

All at once, Flowey forgets the controls to each and every single muscle in his body. They refuse to cooperate. They pull taut to the point of trembling, and he can't remember how to force them to relax, can't remember how to unclench his hand, banish his magic, beg for forgiveness because he doesn't have legs to run with, and roots can only pull you beneath the earth so fast, under a hail of attacks.

"yeah, alright. c'mere, champ."

The intent is gone from the flame, so when a skeletal hand snuffs it out under its palm, it doesn't so much as singe the bone. Hands wedge under Asriel's armpits and the ground disappears beneath him.

It's purely instinct that guides Flowey's arms around Sans' shoulders as the skeleton stands, hefting the littler monster up with him, into his arms. Skeletons aren't as uncomfortable as you'd think. They're usually polite enough to cushion their bones with a few layers of unfashionable clothing before they cuddle up to you, or sling you around like a sack of potatoes. Asriel knows. His cheek lands on Sans' collar, the zipper of that well-loved hoodie awkwardly poking into him. An arm curls under his bottom to hold him up. His tail automatically curls against Sans' sleeve.

This time, when Sans laughs, he can feel before he hears the way the sound rattles up from the pit of his ribcage, bassy and low like everything else that filters through the comedian's teeth. Flowey can't see the expression he's making, from here, but knowing Sans, it's not much of one. He doesn't need to see that dishonest face to glean that laugh is out of nerves, not because the dolt remembered some egregious joke offhand.

"azzy? hey, you in there, buddy? throw me a bone, here."

Asriel closes his eyes.

"Shut up," he mumbles. If he didn't suddenly feel so achingly empty, he might've scoffed at how Sans' sigh almost sounds relieved, overhead. What sort of cattywampus timeline is this? It's probably because Toriel might actually kill him, if she came home and her son was catatonic. Yeah. That's easier to accept than any of the alternatives.

"think i won't. tell you what, though," Sans tilts his skull, and Flowey can feel eyelights on him. "i am gonna invoke my authority as one of the adult-type folks that lives with you and veto this whole self-inflicted timeout business."

They're moving. Towards the stairs, he thinks, because suddenly he's getting hefted up a little higher, and he can hear the steps creaking beneath their combined weight.

How much does he weigh, to Sans? Asriel's seen him carry Frisk around like they weigh next to nothing, even after sprouting up a few inches, and if he reaches back far enough into his memory, he can recall a smaller bag of bones latched onto the sufferlump much in the same way he's doing right now.

Oh, right.

Papyrus.

His fingers curl, digging his claws into the back of Sans' jacket.

"Tell him to stop," Flowey says, and there's enough gas in the tank left to feel a flicker of irritation when Sans snorts down at him.

"no can do."

"Then what use are you? I don't want his forgiveness. Do I have to throw it back in his face? Do you think he'll finally get it through his skull if I make him cry?"

Pain. A sting, in his chest, just beneath where he and Sans are cushioned together. It migrates upwards, confusingly, welling in the base of Asriel's neck before finding it's way behind his closed eyes, forcing them to squint closed even harder to bite something back.

"nah. and anyway, isn't that kinda what got us into this whole mess?" Dammit.

"He told you?"

"i'm his bro. dude tells me everything."

"And you haven't killed me?"

"nope." Sans' non-existent lips pop on the "p".

"Why?"

"well," Bone meets furry noggin in a little "clonk" that doesn't hurt nearly as much as it sounds like it should, Sans' temple mostly hitting the beginnings of his horns. Honestly, it probably hurt the skeleton more than it hurts Flowey, which isn't at all. "mostly 'cause that sounds like a lot of work. and because it's not a big deal. told you, none of us care about that."

'That'.

He'd told Papyrus about killing him. Looked him right in the eyesockets with a sharp, crooked grin and eyes like blackened pits where amber used to be. Told him about all the timelines they weren't friends. Had wanted to see his reaction. Wanted to watch that jovial jubilation drain from his face as he swallowed the harsh truth that the monster-not-monster he considers one of his closest friends had spent hours grinding him to dust, scattering his ashes all over the timelines in places Sans would never find them, pulling him apart limb by limb, bone by individual bone.

And Papyrus had forgiven him. Simple as a sneeze.

"and yeah, i know. you don't get it," Sans cuts him off, just as Asriel parts his lips to protest in the usual way he does, in the face of positive attention. Embarrassed, he snaps his trap shut again. "it's just the way he is. nothin' about it to get."

He makes it sound so easy. But of course he does - Sans has known Papyrus his entire life. Start to finish, even, on more timelines than Flowey likes to recall. From the second they both existed together, they had the puzzles that are their each other figured out.

"frisk's the same way."

"But what about the rest of you?"

"eh. we're workin' on it." Sans twists the doorknob leading into Toriel's room, nudging it open. Asriel thinks to ask why he didn't bring them to his and Frisk's room, but he's already asked Sans way more questions than the skeleton's usually willing to answer, today.

His arms slacken when his butt touches to Mom's comforter, letting Sans peel him off neatly and set him down with an exaggerated, "hup."

Legs dangling off the side of the overwhelmingly huge bed, Flowey picks his thoughts, plucks the sheets with his fingers, while Sans regards him with that same unreadable expression plastered with an exhausted smile. Maybe today, it means exactly what it looks like. Maybe. "... are you going to tell Mom? That I attacked you."

He hasn't attacked anyone, since Frisk brought him to the surface in that flimsy little terracotta pot they'd covered in stickers. Sure, he's howled and postured, threatened to 'till the cows come home. Every time someone so much as looked at him, for the first few months, he'd toss out a threat to fill their bullet-cushion bodies with friendliness pellets. But he's never gone through with it, and each and every time without fail, Frisk's patient hands would call his bluff. Today is the first time he's slipped up - and that's terrifying, and confusing, and strange, and new. Like everything else about this timeline.

"didn't hit me, didja? no harm, no foul."

"I could've killed you," Asriel tries, and it sounds flimsy, even to him. "It would've been easy."

Sans doesn't take the bait, because he never does. "wouldn't be the first time, according to you, pal."

Scoff. Twisting to the side, Flowey drags his lead-heavy limbs up, onto Toriel's bed so he can finally turn his back to the monster hovering a few feet away. Hopefully he takes that as an invitation to leave already, because fun as this has been, Asriel can only tolerate so much of the smiley trashbag at one time. He hears a chuckle over his shoulder as he nuzzles one ear into his Mom's downiest pillow.

"papyrus 'n your ma'll be back soon."

"What about Frisk?"

"they're at your dad's," Sans' voice gets further and further with each word, and relief washes over Flowey. Good. He is leaving. Probably to go be a worthless member of society on the sofa downstairs while he drinks his cold coffee where no one's around to watch him do it. "pretty sure they pinged you."

Asriel huffs. Right. He has a stupid phone now, that he needs to remember to check.

The doorknob jiggles, and Sans stalls in the doorway. "get some z's, kiddo. gonna need 'em for later tonight."

What? "Why?"

"family game night. we're playing betrayal."

Flowey sits up so fast his head spins, but the door's already shut and he can hear the obnoxious louse snickering down the hall. Ugh. He slumps back, squeezing his eyes closed and grinding the heels of his paws over them. Whatever. They want him to join their stupid game for idiot nerds? Fine.

He's going to start a haunt.

(Before the exhaustion that's been washing around beneath his skin drags him under, Asriel feels himself smile, and he can't find the will to wipe it off.)