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Poth Short Stories and One-Shots

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Hi everyone! This is Myou/Myouki/Myoukin.

This is my first time writing out stories and posting them for people to see. Any helpful feedback is appreciated. I want to know if people like what I'm posting! 

I'm mostly going to be posting stories whenever something inspires me to write, so updates may be sporadic outside incompleted short stories. Anyone can make a suggestion in the comments or send me a message with a story idea, but I can't guarantee I'll pick it up unless it catches my attention or inspires me. Especially considering my schedule will probably get very busy in the near future (going back to college/jobs/life/etc.). 

Story ideas with details may work the best in inspiring me. Details stir the plot bunnies, after all.  Any stories inspired by other's suggestions or work that I've read will be properly credited. 

Also, I don't plan on doing lemons or smut... at least not anytime soon. So please don't ask for naughty bits, I probably won't do it.

For short stories, I'll probably be writing them fully in advance and posting a chapter a day (because where's the fun in just giving everything away right out the gate?) to space out the reading experience.

With all that said, let's get on with the poth~

Chapter Text

A cold wind swept through the park. Goth shivered as it ripped through him. 

Ugh, it's so cold today. I really should have worn some warmer clothes. 

As much as he loved the white hoodie coat given to him by Uncle Papyrus and his tattered scarf gifted to him by his mom, Geno, they really weren't doing him much good in this weather. The short sleeve shirt, shorts, and slippers probably weren't helping, especially with the slush and snow around his feet soaking into the latter. 

He would have to start thinking about changing his wardrobe out to match the nip that winter was bringing with it. One would think being a skeleton would bypass the issue, but the weather proved otherwise.

A jingling noise brought Goth out of his thoughts. A quick rifle through his pants pockets revealed his phone, the screen flashing to announce the arrival of a text message. 

From Palette. 

Some of the chills ebbed off him at the thought of the cheerful skeleton, replaced by a subtle warmth starting from his soul and flooding outward. 

Goth had just spent the day hanging out with him, drawing, playing video games, and watching a movie while eating some pizza before the darkening sky finally prompted him to head home at 8:30 at night. It was now just a few minutes shy of 9:30. Unlocking the screen, his messenger popped up.

Palette: Hey Goth! Do you have any plans tomorrow? I just thought of something really cool we could do!

Goth: What do you have planned?

Palette: It's a secret! An awesome secret!

Goth chuckled as he passed by a deserted park bench covered in a thin layer of snow, typing out his response with his left hand while lazily skimming his right hand over the bench, disturbing the snow upon it. 

Palette must be really excited about whatever he has planned.

Goth: Lol alright, what time?

Palette: Meet by the park fountain around 10 AM?

The fountain? 

He'd passed by it a couple minutes ago. Water was still flowing, the weather not quite managing to freeze the water pumping through it just yet.

Goth: Sounds good, see you there.

Palette: See ya bright and early tomorrow, buddy!

Amidst the warm feeling, a small prick of sadness arose, like a needle had poked his soul, stopping him in his tracks. Another chill wind blew through him. 

He disliked when Palette used words like 'buddy', 'pal', 'best friend', and the like. It only served to remind him that the other skeleton only ever saw Goth as a friend, and nothing more. Another prick, a bit sharper this time. His grip tightened slightly on his phone. 

As much as Goth wished Palette would feel differently, he just couldn't gather up the courage to take the leap and confess at the risk of ruining their friendship completely. It hurt the smaller skeleton just to think about it... losing his most important person. His laugh... his smile... his constantly positive demeanor... everything.

A small drop landed on his dimming screen.  

Rain? 

He looked up, seeing some flurries had started up again, but no rain. Looking back down in mild confusion, he felt something wet slip down his cheek, leaving a stinging trail behind in the cold air. 

Oh... tears. 

He hadn't realized he'd been crying. Luckily, no one was around to see him. Wiping his face with his sleeve, Goth resumed his trip back home at a faster pace, his slippers kicking up snow and slush in his haste. 

The sooner he reached home, the sooner he could go to sleep and hope the aching feeling in his soul would go away, at least for a while.

As the small skeleton passed by a gnarled tree, the ground gave out under his left foot. Goth let out a surprised yelp as he floundered to regain his balance. He hadn't realized he'd wandered off the path hidden by the light blanket of snow! 

He grunted as he landed on his side, scrabbling in a panic as he found himself tumbling down a hill. Rocks beneath the snow and branches from bushes bumped and scratched him as he steadily picked up speed down the slope. 

No... too fast, I'm going too fast! 

He thought he heard a ripping noise, but he was too focused on finding something to slow him down to care. Everything was passing by too fast for him to grab hold or even get his bearings. 

He barely registered the rock racing up to meet him before pain blossomed in his skull. The world lit up in sparks before going black.

---

The starry-eyed skeleton grinned widely as he sent a reply over his phone. Palette couldn't wait for tomorrow to come! 

A week ago, his mom, Dream, had told him about this really pretty area in the park that they'd found back when Dream and Ink were still together. Apparently, not many people knew about it since it was off the beaten path. 

When Palette went to look for it himself, he was awestruck at the view. A quiet little hill with a single flat rock overlooking a field of flowers that still somehow managed to bloom despite the dropping temperature. 

Goth loves peaceful, scenic places, so he'll absolutely love it! And if the weather forecast is correct, tomorrow will be the perfect day to take him!

Holding back an excited squeal, Palette looked at the clock on his phone. It read 9:36. 

Plugging in his phone and setting the alarm, the skeleton pulled up the covers and snuggled into his pillow to ward off the chill in the air, wanting to get an early start on the day tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Palette was woken from his sleep by a distant noise. 

My alarm? Is it 6 already? It really doesn't feel like I've slept very long. Maybe I can sleep for a bit longer... 10 is still a little ways off. 

Reaching over to the nightstand for his phone, he was a bit miffed when his fingers only met paper and books instead of the noisy contraption. Begrudgingly he opened his eyes, realizing it wasn't his alarm making the noise, but a call. Pulling the phone towards him and glancing at the time revealed it was barely past 2 am. 

Who in the world would be calling now?

His eyes widened a bit when Geno's name lit up the notification area on the screen. Swiping his thumb to answer the call, Palette held the phone to the side of his skull. "Hello?" he mumbled, still partially asleep.

"Is Goth there?!" Geno's panicked voice shouted over the phone. Any remaining thoughts of sleep flew out of Palette's mind. 

"N-no, he left a few hours ago... he should be home by now," the young skeleton replied, a pit forming in his non-existent stomach. 

Geno was quickly devolving into hysterics on the other end, "He's not! He ... he never came home and he's not answering his phone! Where's my baby?!"

Goth never made it home? My house is maybe an hour's walk from Goth's... not even that if he bypasses the park. I last texted him around 9:30 last night, and it's just past 2 now... no one's seen or heard from Goth in over 4 hours.

Palette vaguely heard Reaper in the background comforting a distraught Geno, telling him they would find their son. A door could be heard opening and closing, then only sobbing remained. Reaper had gone to look for Goth. 

Behind him, Palette's door opened, revealing his mom standing in the doorway. "Palette? What's all the noise?" he murmured, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Palette ignored his mom in favor of rushing over to his closet.

"I'll help look for him, too," Palette said into the phone, reaching for his boots. 

"P-please... let m-me know if you find anything... please find him," Geno pleaded, tears plain in his voice. It made the pit grow deeper hearing Goth's mom begging for his son's safety. 

"Of course! Send Mister Reaper's number over so I can call him too if I find anything," Palette added as he donned his jacket, scarf, and hat. At this point, Dream had figured out what was going on and agreed to help with the search as well, darting to his own room to get dressed.

After giving a goodbye, more reassurances, and receiving a text for Reaper's number, Palette hung up, snagged a flashlight, and raced out the door closely followed by Dream. Snow was falling at a steady pace, dancing in the wind. 

After agreeing on where they would begin their searches, Palette raced off towards the park, phone and flashlight clutched tightly in his hands as he ran.

The park's East entrance is right by Goth's house. While it usually takes longer for him to get home going through the park, he enjoys the scenic view and frequently uses that route. Hopefully, that still holds true.

Fumbling with the phone as he ran, Palette pulled up Goth's contact number and called, hoping to get a response. "Come on... please pick up, Goth," the skeleton pleaded softly. His soul sank as the phone went over to voicemail. Not giving up, the skeleton hung up and tried again. And again. And again. 

Why isn't he answering his phone? Did something happen? Or is he...

Shaking the thought out of his skull, Palette hit redial once more.

As the West entrance to the park came into view a block away, a click followed by shaky breathing was heard instead of the voicemail tone. "Goth, thank the stars you finally picked up! Where are you?" Palette cheered into the receiver. His happiness was short-lived when only a shaky exhale replied, "...Goth?" 

Only breathing and the roar of the wind could be heard.

"P...pa...le...tte," Goth's voice ghosted through the phone, as if barely there. Palette stopped running so he could hear the small skeleton's words. The wind in the background made it too difficult otherwise. "I... h... idunno... fell... 'scold... hurs... can'see... s'blurry...," the smaller skeleton seemed to be gasping out each bit, his words slurring together.

"Goth, tell me what happened. Please," Palette said carefully, not liking how disconnected and tired Goth sounded. 

Cold? Hurt? Can't see? What happened to him?

Palette gripped his phone tighter.

A soft groan came through the other end, "Th... th'park..." A pause, "I... w... waswalkng... p... pas'atree... n'slipped... now... headhurs... cold... n'tired..." A whimper and a sniff, followed by a shuddering breath. "...m'scared...I... don'wanna... b... bealone... please... h... helpme...," a quiet sob leaked out, sending a lance of pain through Palette's soul. 

He started running again, kicking up snow while closing the distance to the park. Where Goth was. Where Palette needed to be.

"It'll be okay, Goth! I'm at the West park entrance now!" Palette assured as he rounded the gate leading into the park. Shaky breathing could barely be heard over the howl of the wind. "Mister Reaper's looking too! I promise you'll be okay," he continued, injecting as much positivity as possible into his voice as he passed a snow-covered bench, "and I won't leave you alone! Never! You're too important to me!" 

Palette lightly blushed when he realized what he'd said, but he refused to take it back. It was true. He'd had the thought in the back of his mind for years now, but Goth had always meant the world to him.

Silence met him. "Goth?" he called out. More silence. 

Pulling his phone away from his skull, his soul stuttered when he realized the call had disconnected and he was kicked out to the main screen. The time read almost 3 AM. A quick redial sent his call straight to voicemail. 

Palette gritted his teeth and dialed Reaper as he sped past a fountain. The place he and Goth had planned on meeting seven hours from now. It didn't look like that would be happening today. 

If I don't find him soon, I may not get to meet him at all.

Chapter Text

 

Goth stirred slightly at a buzzing noise in the distance, a shiver running through him. When he shifted, a dull pain shot through his skull by his left eye socket. Clutching at his skull, he hissed as his fingers touched upon a crack. Something wet and sticky lined the edges. 

That definitely wasn't there before. Am I bleeding? 

He tried slowly opening his eyes. Darkness met his vision, but not the kind that nighttime brought. This was darkness from lack of sight. In both eyes. 

What was wrong with my left eye? Am I completely blind now?!

Trying not to panic, Goth began feeling around sluggishly. He felt the cold and wet ground beneath him and the tug of damp clothing surrounding him. 

Snow? I'm... outside? Yeah, I fell... maybe? Everything that isn't numb feels sore... it hurts to think... it's so cold... I'm so tired...

A ringtone and a dim flash to his left caught his attention. 

So I'm not completely blind... just mostly. 

Slowly dragging himself towards it, a small rectangular light came into view. His phone. Letting out a groan, Goth reached for the device. Even this small effort seemed to sap his energy. As his hand closed upon the plastic casing, he hastily swiped his thumb across the screen in a long-practiced motion and drew the phone close to his skull. 

The sound of footsteps and breathing answered him. "Goth, thank the stars you finally picked up! Where are you?" Palette's voice. Goth breathed out a quiet laugh. Palette took on a worried tone on the other end, "...Goth?"

"P-," Goth tried to speak, but his voice felt frozen along with the rest of his body, "...pa...le...tte." Goth gasped out slowly, trying to answer Palette's question despite his hazy thoughts, "I... h... idunno... fell... 'scold... hurs... can'see... s'blurry..." Each raspy word felt like energy seeping out of him. 

"Goth, tell me what happened. Please," the taller skeleton's voice urged over the phone.

Goth tried gathering his thoughts together. It hurt so much to think. Where had he been again? He fell... where? He was... the... "Th... th'park...," he realized, "I... w... waswalkng... p... pas'atree... n'slipped... now... headhurs... cold... n'tired..." A blip was heard from the phone. 

That sounds familiar...

The battery. That's the sound of the battery dying. 

Dread sank into him. Goth whimpered, tears leaking from his eye sockets at the thought of losing Palette's voice in the cold darkness.

He tried to compose himself and steady his breathing amidst the wave of fear, "...m'scared...I... don'wanna... b... bealone... please... h... helpme..." Another blip caused a small sob to escape Goth's mouth.

"It'll be okay, Goth! I'm at the West park entrance now!" He heard Palette shout.

Palette's already so close? 

Goth let out a faint sigh of relief. "Mister Reaper's looking too! I promise you'll be okay!" Palette repeated as Goth willed himself to listen to his crush's words. "I won't leave you alone! Never! You-"

Silence. The light next to the small skeleton's skull was gone. Palette's voice was gone. His phone had finally given up, the battery having burned through everything it had to give. He was alone, with only the wind and the hazy darkness surrounding him.

Goth curled up where he lay, clutching the dead phone to his chest as breathy sobs shook him. "P....pa...," he tried to call out between wet gasps, straining to be heard over the wind. 

Palette's coming. He might even be nearby, searching for me. 

The small skeleton wasn't even feeling that cold anymore, just... numb... tired...

He remembered reading somewhere that was a bad thing... but he couldn't remember why, as if his thoughts were playing tag with him, slowly wearing him down to nothing.

No matter how much he tried to raise his voice, though, the wind only seemed to swallow his weak attempts. Crying hadn't helped his weakened state either, making his head swim and feel as though the ground was swaying beneath him. He wanted so badly to rest. His eyes, along with the rest of his body, were fighting him in his effort to stay awake.

"Pal...et... p... pleas... hur... ry...," Goth whispered as he slowly began losing the will to fight the darkness surrounding him.

---

"He said he was at the park. Something about a tree," Palette yelled into the phone. He was racing down the path, moving his flashlight back and forth, hoping to catch a glimpse of something, anything, that would lead him to Goth. 

Reaper's voice responded from the other end, "A tree, huh? Any other landmarks?" His voice sounded laid back on the surface, but there was a tense and dangerous undertone to it.

"No... I don't think he was able to see very well. He also didn't sound like he was all there," Palette replied, trying to crush his panic at the thought of Goth being hurt and alone out here... how weak his voice sounded...

Palette was about to race by yet another bench, but something stopped him. 

The snow... the snow on the bench! Some of it looks like it's been knocked off recently! 

Pointing his flashlight towards the ground, the skeleton's starry eyes lit upon some tracks, just barely visible in the freshly fallen snow. "I think I found something," Palette breathed excitedly, following the tracks. 

He barely heard Reaper's voice coming through the other end of his phone, too focused on the faint imprints on the ground that eventually turned into rough clumps.

He was so focused, he nearly ran himself into a tree. The thick branches above him seemed to snarl around each other, tangled together as if they were fighting for space. As he re-oriented himself, a flash of red caught the light of his flashlight to his left. His soul leaped as he focused on the object. 

A red patch of cloth fluttered on the branch of a bush, a little way down a hill. 

Easing himself towards the bush, he noticed clumps of snow kicked up leading away from the bush. His flashlight traveled along the trail until it fell upon a larger white lump...

"GOTH!" Palette cried, abandoning his slow pace to rush the rest of the way down the hill. He absently noted the yelling coming from his phone as he slid to a stop next to the smaller skeleton. 

Goth was laying on his left side, clutching his phone limply. His clothes and slippers were covered in snow, dirt, and small rips, Palette guessed from rolling down the hill, and his hood was drooped over his face. Palette barely made out shallow, labored breaths. Shifting the phone between his skull and shoulder to free up his hand, Palette reached for Goth's shoulders to turn him over.

His soul stopped at how cold the small skeleton was.

Most monsters had an ambient heat produced by their magic that could be felt upon contact... Goth's was nearly non-existent. That usually only happened when a monster didn't have enough magic to generate such heat... when a monster... was...

"Mister Reaper, I found him... he's...  he's really cold...," Palette stuttered into the phone, pulling his limp friend up into his arms with their head cradled against the crook of his right elbow, trying to fight back tears. 

The cloaked skeleton went silent over the other end for a moment. "Where," his voice finally replied, taking on a dark, icy tone that brooked no argument. Palette paid it no mind as the smaller's hood fell back enough to reveal a crack along the top corner of his left eye socket, dried marrow running along the edges. 

Goth did mention everything being blurry...

"Down the hill, from a big tree near the park walkway on the East side. Part of Goth's scarf is hanging from a bush near the top. He also has a crack in his skull, next to his left eye. He... he needs a hospital," Palette's voice began cracking towards the end as a tear slipped down his cheek, "Please hurry." 

Reaper didn't reply as the line went dead.

The colorful skeleton put his phone away and carefully moved his unconscious companion, pulling their head in close to his chest without any concern for the smudge of marrow staining his jacket, so he was seated in Palette's lap off the cold ground. 

Ignoring the stinging tracks of tears on his cheeks, Palette wrapped his friend in a tight embrace, practically curling around him in an attempt to shield him from the cold and leech some warmth back into his body. 

"Hang on Goth," Palette whispered, pressing his mouth gently against the small skeleton's skull, his voice warbling, "I got you... help's coming. Please... just hang on."

Chapter Text

After a few agonizing minutes of Palette whispering encouragements, crying silent tears, and listening to Goth's faint breaths, Reaper appeared at the top of the hill next to the tree. Within seconds of spotting them, he was beside the pair, placing something into his robe pocket. 

The parent let out a curse, quickly scooping his son into his arms and motioning with his head for Palette to grab onto his cloak. Palette scrubbed at his face, ignoring the crude language and scrambling to his feet, latching onto the black cloth in preparation for a teleport.

Palette felt the world press in around him as the older skeleton took them from the bottom of the cold hill into the softly lit lobby of a nearby hospital, the temperature changing considerably. 

Palette briefly wondered if he would ever be able to teleport in the future before his attention returned to Reaper, already halfway across the lobby moving towards a receptionist.

After a brief scare at the god's appearance, the woman noticed Goth and was able to call for a gurney and some nurses to lead him further into the hospital for emergency treatment. Reaper and Palette weren't allowed to follow, being directed to the waiting area of the lobby instead. The pair sat down reluctantly.

Reaper filled out paperwork for Goth and called Geno to let him know they found him while Palette called his mom to give him an update. 

A minute later, Geno appeared in the lobby. He rushed into Reaper's arms upon spotting him, burying his head into his husband's cloak while trying to stifle his sobs. The cloaked skeleton hugged back fiercely, nuzzling his face into the scarf around Geno's shoulders and muttering words only his husband could hear.

Dream appeared behind Palette, walking up to place a hand on his shoulder and give his son a tentative smile. That smile broke what remained of the starry-eyed skeleton's composure and the teen launched himself at his mom, sobbing out his own fears. 

Dream held his son, rubbing along his spine while murmuring encouragements of his own, much like Palette did for Goth earlier. Once the younger skeleton was able to calm down, they sat in two of the lobby chairs and he told his mom everything that had happened up to that point. 

Dream's expression began to fall as he listened. "It certainly sounds like a pretty bad situation from what you told me," he replied carefully as he rubbed his thumb over Palette's bare hand. The energetic skeleton was in such a rush earlier, he hadn't bothered to put on his fingerless gloves before leaving the house. The adult raised his gaze and met his son's eye lights, "but Goth's stubborn, so I have a feeling he'll be alright." Palette gave a half-hearted snort. 

Goth is pretty stubborn. 

Just the other day, he'd continuously challenged Palette to a racing game, even after losing twelve rounds. By the thirteenth try, though, he managed to catch his friend on a turn and ended up winning the race. The memory of the triumphant whooping from the smaller skeleton put a small smile on his face.

Dream smiled as well and wrapped an arm around his son, pulling him close and repeating, "He'll be alright."

Peering over at Goth's parents, Geno was staring at the clock as if in a trance, leaning on Reaper... who was looking at a page inside a small black book, eye lights completely absent. As though whatever he was staring at had personally offended him. Palette fought to suppress a shudder.

He looks kind of scary like that. 

After half an hour of simply staring at the same spot, Reaper finally closed the book and stowed it away in his pocket with an exhale of breath, an exhausted smile creeping onto his face as he settled back in his seat and closed his eyes.

---

"Is there a Mister Reaper present?"

After what felt like hours of waiting, a small brown-haired woman in a nurse outfit holding a clipboard walked through the double doors. Geno was over in an instant, desperate for news on his son. Reaper, Dream, and Palette weren't far behind. 

"You're the parents of Mister Goth Afterdeath?" she asked, looking towards the pair of adult skeletons in front of her. 

Geno nodded his head while clutching the scarf around his neck, "Yes, How's my baby? Is he okay?" The nurse smiled slightly at the concern Geno radiated.

"The situation was dicey for quite a while, but he's in stable condition at the moment," She replied, glancing at her clipboard.  The four skeletons let out a collective sigh of relief as she continued speaking.

"It seems your son was suffering from an extreme case of hypothermia as well as some head...," she paused for a moment as she caught her wording, "skull trauma when he was brought in. It took some effort, but we were able to get his body temperature stabilized and a healer was able to repair most of the damage near his eye socket as well as the minor scrapes and cuts along his bones. We have him hooked up to an IV and breathing mask to ensure his magical and physical stability.

"We'll need to keep him for another day or two after he wakes up to make sure there are no complications and to allow the crack on his skull to fully heal, but he should be able to make a full recovery within three, possibly four days at most."

Hope swelled in Palette's chest. Goth would be okay.

"Can we see him?" Pallete asked the nurse. 

She smiled and turned towards a hallway on the right, "This way, please."

The skeletons followed her through a series of hallways, eventually passing a sign labeled 'Recovery Ward' posted by a set of double doors, passing various rooms holding human and monster patients alike. 

Eventually, the nurse stopped in front of a non-descript closed door and turned to the group, "He's still sleeping at the moment, so please try to be quiet while you're here so he can rest." As everyone nodded, she opened the door and the group was led into the room.

Goth lay on a white bed, a white pillow propping up his bandaged skull with light blue blankets covering him. A breathing mask covering his mouth and nose while a bag of pale purple liquid on an IV stand fed a tube into the inside of his ribcage, being covered by a mint green hospital gown. A soft beeping sound was heard throughout the room from a soul monitor set against the wall on the right side of Goth's bed.

The nurse pointed out a red call button located above the bed's headboard that could be used in an emergency or to call the nurse's station if they needed anything before exiting the room. 

Geno gently grasped his son's right hand as Reaper pulled up a set of chairs for them to sit in. Palette went around to the sleeping skeleton's other side and pulled up a chair of his own, reaching out to Goth's left hand while laying his head upon on his right arm.

"Palette, I'm going to head home. Let me know if you need anything," Dream called out softly to his son. At Palette's tired nod, Dream left and Palette's attention returned to the unconscious skeleton before him.

"Palette," The skeleton glanced up once more to see Geno smiling at him, tears warring on the edges of his sockets, "thank you for finding Goth. Thank you for bringing my boy back safely." 

Palette returned the gratitude with a smile of his own and quietly replied, "of course," then laid his head back down on his arm to watch over his sleeping friend, his left thumb idly rubbing circles around the hole in the smaller skeleton's hand. The combination of patient silence, warm atmosphere, and soft beeping from the soul monitor eventually lulled the mentally worn young skeleton into a peaceful sleep of his own.

Chapter Text

Warm... and soft.

Those were the first words that came to mind as Goth roused from unconsciousness. There was a soft beeping noise coming somewhere from his right side. It sounded a bit muffled... as if his skull was stuffed with cotton.

Where am I? I was... wasn't I outside before? It certainly doesn't feel like I'm on the cold ground anymore. It doesn't smell like I'm outside either... it's more along the lines of... disinfectant. A hospital, maybe?

Attempting to open his eyes didn't cause pain now, so there was that. Everything was still blurry and a little dark, but it was a marked improvement from the last time. An orangish-gold hue painted the room... it felt calming.

He shifted in an attempt to pull himself into a sitting position. Trying to sit up, however, proved to be too much. His arms weren't able to support his body's weight at all. Giving up, he eased back into the bedding with a quiet groan.

"Easy kiddo, you had a pretty rough day yesterday," a low voice broke the silence. 

That voice... 

"Dad...?" Goth croaked, his voice straining against the raw feeling in his throat to get the word out.

A blurry black and white blob on his right side... his dad leaned towards him. "Yup," came a soft reply, "You've nearly slept the day away. Had your mom, Palette, and I pretty worried for a while. Had me almost worried to death."

Goth frowned, guilt knotting in his chest... then he registered his dad's pun. He let out a breathy chuckle, and could practically hear the grin in his dad's voice as he continued, "It was a chilling experience. Definitely snow joke."

Goth couldn't suppress his quiet laughter as Reaper kept up his string of winter-related puns, "I was piste. But It looks like you're having an ice time now. 

"I'm really sleigh-ing you, huh? Guess you got more than you toboggan-ed for."

He only stopped when Goth's laughter devolved into a coughing fit, the noise harsh and grating in the otherwise silent room. Reaper brought his left arm forward to lift Goth's head up a bit, moving something away from his face and something else was placed in front of his mouth. 

A cup? Water?

He was proven right as his mouth opened and cold liquid trickled in. Once he was able to stop coughing long enough to get a few sips of water, the small skeleton was able to settle back down and calm his breathing. The water definitely helped to soothe his throat, at least.

The commotion prompted the sound of bone on bone contact. A slap, Goth realized. 

"Stop trying to kill our child with your jokes, Reaper," scolded a new voice. It warmed considerably as a white and red figure nudged the black and white one aside and leaned over him, "How are you feeling, honey? Does anything hurt?" A warm hand glided across the small skeleton's right cheek. He leaned into the touch.

"Tired... but m'alright, mom," he mumbled, his contented smile fading as something else came to him, "Oh, my eye... I can't... It's not..."

"The nurse said the crack next to your socket is probably disrupting the magic in your eye, so your eyes might not be able to focus properly right now," Geno interrupted him gently. Before Goth could become upset, the parent continued, "She also said as long as you don't strain yourself and get plenty of rest, you should be fine in about two more days at the most." 

That's a relief... at least I won't be permanently blind.

Goth tried to lift his left hand to feel the crack, but he was met with resistance. The skeleton shifted his gaze to another blurry figure, white with smatterings of black, beige, gold, and light blue, laying where his left hand was.

Is that...?

"Heh, Palette hasn't let go of your hand since we got in here," Reaper chuckled, "He was the one that found you at the bottom of the hill. By the time I got there, he was curled up with you in his lap, wrapped around you like a blanket."

The small skeleton blushed at the thought of Palette holding him that way. 

I wish I'd been awake for that...

It created a warm feeling in his soul that caused Goth to squirm a bit. The movement woke the sleeping skeleton by his hand. Palette let out a yawn as blurry black circles appeared in Goth's vision, green and yellow gradient blobs appearing within them. The blobs turned toward Goth and stared for a moment, then grew larger.

"Goth?" Palette asked cautiously. Within seconds, he sprung out of his chair in an explosion of energy, "Goth, you're awake! I was so worried when you didn't wake up!" The excited skeleton looked as though he wanted to pounce on Goth, but seemed to think better of it at the last second given the current situation. 

The nurse popping her head into the room to remind him where he was, asking him to use an inside voice certainly didn't hurt.

The sheepish skeleton opted to sit back down and grab goth's left hand once more, idly tracing his thumb around the hole to quell a bit of his excited energy. The movement sent tingly ripples up Goth's arm, but it wasn't an uncomfortable feeling. If anything, it felt comforting.

"Do you two want anything to eat? I'd imagine both of you are starving," Geno asked, standing up from his seat. An audible growl resounded in the room from Palette's direction, and Goth was feeling pretty hungry now that he thought about it. 

"I'd say, they're nothing but skin and bones at this point, heh," the god of death chuckled, earning a snort from Goth and Palette and what the smallest skeleton could only assume was a glare from Geno. 

"Oh, just come on already!" Geno hissed, grabbing his grinning husband's arm and dragging him from the room. 

"You kids have fun," Reaper called out as both adults disappeared through the doorway.

Goth chuckled softly before his attention returned to Palette. The usually boisterous skeleton was oddly quiet. "Palette?" the smaller asked, worry plain in his voice. 

"Oh, sorry... was thinking...," Palette turned towards his friend, replying with false cheer. Goth could tell something was off as the skeleton seemed to analyze him, "How are you feeling? Your eye light looks fuzzy along the edges... does it hurt?"

"It's... a bit hard to see still...," Goth began, a little unsure of his words, taking a moment to mentally check himself, "but it doesn't hurt anymore. I feel... kind of tired... a little... floaty, maybe?" Goth quirked his mouth in thought, that seemed to sum up how he was feeling pretty well.

Palette seemed to tilt his skull to the side, pointing out with a snort, "Floating's normal for you, Goth." 

"True," Goth replied, "guess that means I'm alright."

Palette went quiet once more. "I'm sorry...," he finally whispered, so soft that Goth almost didn't hear it. The words earned a confused look from the smaller.

Why is he apologizing?

"When you were out there, talking to me through the phone... you sounded so scared," the skeleton said in a subdued tone, "I was scared too. I couldn't do anything except spout pretty words over a phone. You might have... might have died, and I wouldn't have been able to do anything about it!" 

His voice was now laced with tears as he gently placed his left arm around Goth in a makeshift hug, burying his face in the small skeleton's left shoulder as he choked out, "I almost lost you yesterday... and that thought terrifies me more than anything else ever could."

Goth stared at Palette's trembling form, speechless at the raw display of emotion. Shock eventually morphed into a sad smile. Goth slowly lifted his right arm to rest on Palette's back, returning the hug to the best of his ability. 

"But you did do something," the smaller skeleton reassured him, lightly patting his back to comfort him, "You looked for me and you found me. You saved me... and you're here with me now. I'm alright because of you, so there's nothing to be sorry about."

Palette looked up with wide sockets, taking in the smaller's words. Gradually, his eye lights softened into something more tender, "You know, I should be the one comforting you, not the other way around... but thanks. I'm glad I was able to make it in time, Gothy." 

Goth barely had time to blush and fluster at the nickname, his crush's skull close enough for him to make out the fine details in their expression despite his impaired vision and the warmth in their words before Reaper and Geno reappeared in the doorway with food from the cafeteria.

Chapter Text

"You okay there, Gothy?"

Palette beamed at the way the smaller blushed and burrowed into his scarf at the use of the new nickname. The taller skeleton claimed the reactions were adorable, and Goth never told him to stop, so he would probably continue to use it.

Even if it feels a little embarrassing, it makes me feel special.

Reaching out his hand, Goth grabbed on and let himself be guided further up the slope, both skeletons being mindful of the snow still covering the ground.

Goth had spent two more days at the hospital recovering from the incident after waking up, mostly resting or chatting with his parents and Palette. The latter had barely left Goth's side the whole time, only leaving when school and visiting hours required him to.  

When Goth's eye fully healed and he'd finally been discharged, he was still somewhat shaky on his feet. The nurses assured the worried skeletons it was merely weakness resulting from being confined to a bed for three days. Another day at home taking it easy had mostly cured that problem.

There was also the thin scar that had remained near Goth's left eye. 

There had been nothing the healers could do to prevent it entirely. It was nearly invisible unless one knew to look for it and it was decently covered when Goth wore a hood... but for everyone involved it was a constant reminder of what had almost happened.

Now though, the pair was hiking up a hill at the park, Palette keeping a close eye on Goth the whole time. He had fussed over the small skeleton to make sure he was prepared for the cold weather this time, wearing a thick purple and white hooded jacket, long black pants, and white snow boots. 

They weren't risking a second scare.

"For the millionth time, Palette, I'm fine," Goth huffed, but the smile on his face alluded to his appreciation for the concern. He gave the hand holding his own a firm squeeze.

Both families were still pretty worked up. He knew everyone was going to be mother henning over him for a while yet, Geno certainly was, so he couldn't fault his parents, Palette, or Dream for their actions. Especially since Goth now knew just how close he'd come to not waking up again.

His dad had pulled him aside at home this morning as he was getting ready to give him a hug... and to privately reveal how Goth's name had briefly appeared on his soul collection list. 

The list was a little black book his dad used to keep track of the dying souls he's required to collect, one Goth would eventually come into possession of once he got older. Reaper told him about the timestamp next to his name before the entry completely vanished from the list while waiting in the hospital lobby...

"Ten more minutes...," the hooded skeleton murmured to himself, shivering at the thought.

Starry eyes turned toward him, "What? Did you say something?" 

Goth quickly shook his head, plastering a smile on his face, "N-no, I was thinking to myself. How much farther is this surprise?" 

Only Dad and I know the truth, I want to keep it that way.

Goth succeeded in distracting Palette as his face lit up, pulling Goth along, "Just over this hill, promise!"

As the pair trudged the last few feet up the hill, Palette lifted a snow-covered branch and gestured for Goth to walk through the opening he created. Ducking a bit under the branch, the small skeleton's eye light dilated, taking in the scenery before him.

An untouched clearing with a solitary flat rock in the middle. Palette walked up beside the hooded skeleton, his grin looked like it would break his skull if it got any bigger. "Pretty cool, huh?" he asked, directing the smaller toward the rock by his shoulders and sweeping the snow off so they could sit down. Goth moved reflexively, silently amazed by the sweeping field of flowers.

When he finally mustered up a reaction, he turned to Palette, his eye light shining brilliantly, "It's... it's so beautiful, Palette. Thank you!" 

Heat rose onto the taller skeleton's cheeks. He turned away, his face burning with a bright green and yellow blush while stammering about something 'more beautiful'.

Emboldened by the mood, Goth leaned in and gave Palette a small peck on his right cheek, quickly settling his head onto their shoulder to gaze at the flowers. 

"Love you, Palette," the smaller softly whispered.

Goth felt Palette shift abruptly next to him, trying to imagine the look on the taller's face since he didn't dare look up to see his reaction. He did his best to maintain a neutral expression, trying not to worry the hem of his jacket while wishing he could control his flushed face or his tense posture.

Is Palette shocked? Embarrassed? Happy? ... Why is he being so quiet? Was it too much?  

Goth heard an amused huff as Palette wrapped an arm around him, feeling his companion slide him closer before planting a kiss of his own on top of the smaller's hood alongside the words, "I love you too, Gothy."

A triumphant smile played on Goth's face as his shoulders relaxed and he snuggled deeper into Palette's embrace, reveling in the warm moment together despite the freezing conditions surrounding them.

Chapter Text

Ink decided spur of the moment one day to teach Palette the fine art of teleportation. Palette's initial reaction at the news was to, of course, tell his best friend Goth. When the small skeleton showed interest in learning as well, the creator had no way to refuse two children giving their best puppy dog looks.

Dream came to support his son and to make sure no one got hurt since teleporting could be dangerous. He also wasn't willing to leave Palette completely alone with Ink given his ex-husband's flighty personality, even if he wouldn't outright admit it. 

Geno also wanted to watch, being the protective mom he is... which meant Reaper was present as well, following Geno wherever he went more often than not. 

All three observers were sitting off to the side under a tree in a big clearing, where the training was taking place. 

Ink cleared his throat and turned towards his two students.

"All right," the painter started off, both children listening intently as their eye lights shined, "so there are two different ways to travel using teleportation: either channeling magic through an object, like my paint or Reaper's scythe, and creating a portal or channeling magic directly through your body. Channeling magic into an inanimate object takes a bit of work, so we'll start you two off with the direct method.

"The big thing with teleporting is knowing where you are and where you want to go. Build up your magic while picturing where you want to be, take a step, and poof," he snapped his fingers, "you've teleported. Now, who wants to start us off?"

"Oooh, me first me first!" the Palette shouted, jumping around and flailing his arms in the air. 

His hooded companion chuckled as Ink motioned for his son to step forward. "Alright, try to aim for the target on the ground over there," he instructed, pointing to a spot a few yards away with a painted red 'x' on it.

Gathering his energy within himself, Palette scrunched up his face and imagined the target in his mind. Everyone looked on in anticipation as he took a step. Not feeling anything different, Palette opened his eyes... to find he had only taken a single step.

"Guess he didn't put his best foot forward," the black-cloaked skeleton chortled. 

"Reaper!" Geno hissed, elbowing him in the side.

Dream sighed as Ink let out a pronounced cough, patting his confused son on the back, "It's fine, these things take time. Not everyone gets it the first time... multiverse knows it took me a couple tries to get the hang of it. How about we try Goth next?"

The hooded child stepped up, taking a breath before closing his eyes. An aura seemed to grow around him, slowly building in intensity. His sockets opened, his single eye light glowing a bright purple as he stepped forward... and disappeared. The creator whistled, eye lights changing shape while the other adults stared on. 

He actually did it on his first try?

"Goth? Where'd you go?" Palette called out, looking around. His shout brought a key detail to everyone's attention: the smaller skeleton wasn't on the target, or anywhere they could visibly see, for that matter.

"Oh, stars... Goth, where are you, honey?!" Geno yelled, already imagining the worst. 

Dream was attempting to calm him down when Reaper looked up and chimed in, "Found 'im."

Everyone followed his gaze up into a tree. "Oh dear...," Dream muttered. There was Goth, hanging upside down, his left foot snagged on a high-hanging branch. 

"Hi...," the small child waved gingerly, his sleeve flapping over his hand with each motion, "a little help?"

"I suppose we can't just leaf you up there. Yew might not like my method though, I can guaran-tree you'll be oak-ay," his dad replied, earning snorts from Goth and Ink, and a glare from his husband. 

"Don't just stand there making puns, you idiot, get our baby down!" Geno scolded.

Giving a shrug, Reaper searched the ground for a nearby stone, picking it up and lobbing it into the tree. It hit the branch dead-on and snapped it. Everyone else tensed for a moment as Geno screeched.

He began running for the base of the tree... coming to a stop as his son stopped in midair.

"Geno...," a smug voice purred behind him, "Did you forget our son could float?" 

The glitched skeleton bristled, shouting out an indignant, "No!"... only to shift his gaze and grumble out, "...maybe."

The hooded child drifted down to the ground as his dad cackled, receiving a smack on the shoulder in return. "Well, now that that's settled, care to try again Palette?" the painted skeleton asked his son. 

Ink knew Palette always did better when he was actually able to see and feel the process, unlike Goth's more intuitive approach to learning.

"Yeah!" came an enthusiastic reply, undeterred by his previous failure. Stepping up once more, Palette tried gathering his energy once more. As the energy grew, the young skeleton whispered, "Where I want to be... where..."

A bright glow enveloped him as he took a step... and disappeared. Ink whooped while Dream cheered.

Everyone turned as a pair of yelps and a grunt pierced through the cheers. Beside them, stood Goth, holding a very confused Palette, the smaller's knees nearly buckling in their effort to hold up the additional weight. The creator burst out laughing.

"I think your aim's a little off, sweetie," Dream chuckled. 

"Oh, I don't think his aim was off at all...," Reaper corrected with a sly grin, "he landed right where he wants to be, after all."

The hooded teen blushed along with Dream as Geno chastized his laughing husband and a cackling Ink.

"What's so funny?" Palette asked, shifting himself around rapidly in Goth's grasp in hopes of finding the answer. 

Goth's eye sockets widened as he tried to compensate for the sudden movement, "Pa-AAAAAAAH-!" He lost his balance as Palette's squirming causing him to fall backward, crying out and landing with a dull, "Oof!"

"You okay?" Palette asked worriedly, moving from his position on top of his friend. 

The smaller groaned out a soft, "...Yeah."

"Looks like you've really fallen for him," his dad snickered, getting a blush and a groan in reply as the child pulled his hood down over his face.

"I... I think that's enough for one day," the creator sighed, finally regaining his composure and wiping tears of mirth from his eyes. 

Today was interesting, at least.

Chapter Text

"Palette, what are you doing here? You were supposed to go home!" Goth gasped as he opened the door.

A big test had been announced for Friday. The two boys had decided on Tuesday to meet up for a study session after school on Wednesday and plans had been made to have the meeting at the smaller skeleton's house.

On Wednesday morning, Palette arrived at school sporting bags under his sockets and a flushed face. He spent the day muddling through his classes, even dozing off during lunch, and Goth had explicitly told him to go home and rest after school... yet here he was on the smaller's doorstep, backpack in tow, still looking a bit unsteady on his feet.

Said monster merely flashed a grin and laughed, "It's just a little bug, no biggie. I took some medicine earlier, so I'm good now." He stepped past Goth, taking off his boots at the door and looking around. "I can set up here, right?" he asked, glancing at the cream-colored couch and coffee table. The hooded skeleton's eyes widened, following his guest.

"You can't seriously expect us to study! You look like... well, my dad! Anyway, you're sick and you need to rest!" He shouted, earning a wince from the other skeleton due to his volume. 

"I'm okay Goth, really," Palette reassured him, setting his bag down, "I'm already feeling a lot better than I was this morning, that nap at lunch really helped. Stuff like this never gets me down for long, plus there's no way I'm missing an opportunity to hang out with my bestest buddy."

Goth grimaced from the combination of 'buddy' and Palette's stubbornness... but ultimately gave in since he knew arguing wouldn't get them anywhere. He also wanted to spend time with his 'bestest buddy', truth be told. 

"Alright... but if you start to feel bad again, we're stopping and you're resting. No ifs, ands, or buts about it," he conceded with a pout.

"Yes mother," Palette 's starry eyes danced with mirth as he pulled open the zipper of his bag. He was met with a single rolled eye light.

"So," Goth sighed, sitting down next to Palette, "Which chapter do you want to go over first?"

---

Palette walked briskly into the classroom Friday morning. The study session had gone great! He actually learned quite a bit from Goth despite feeling under the weather. The small skeleton always managed to find a way to explain everything in a way that made it easy to understand.

Goth had made sure he promised to rest once he got home, going so far as to escort him home to make sure nothing happened on the way. He even got a text message the next day from the worried skeleton making sure he'd listened! He assured the smaller that he'd spent the night resting and taking it easy like he promised he would, reviewing the notes he made on Thursday. 

We're going to blow this test out of the water!

As more monsters and humans piled into the classroom, the excited boy's smile started to fade when his friend didn't appear. The bell rang and Goth had yet to show up, causing Palette's expression to sour. 

Where is he?

He was broken out of his worry as a stack of papers was flapped in front of his face.  He took a paper and passed the stack back to the person behind him, his mind drifting back to the missing skeleton.

Palette wasn't naive, he knew full well Goth didn't need to study, and that their meeting was more for his benefit. He was so smart and caring, it was a wonder he didn't have more friends. 

That's part of the reason I was so adamant about coming to the study session despite... having... a cold...

His soul quivered as realization dawned on him.

Oh stars... I got him sick, didn't I? I stayed home yesterday and I didn't get to talk with him since he only texted me... but Goth would never miss school, especially on a test day, without a reason.

"You may begin."

Palette was startled once more when the teacher spoke. The test had started. Trying to push thoughts of his possibly ill friend out of his mind, Palette turned his test sheet over. 

He had to pass this test before he did anything else. He wouldn't be able to live it down if Goth's potential sacrifice went to waste.

Chapter Text

 

The moment the bell rang to end the school day, Palette raced out of the room and through the hallways. Ignoring the hall monitor yelling for him to slow down, he blew past the double doors leading outside and leaped over the staircase completely.

He continued his breakneck pace out the school gates and down the sidewalk, scarf fluttering wildly behind him as he dodged the groups of startled people and monsters heading home. He didn't slow until he came upon the house of a certain skeleton.

Racing up the porch, pausing only to catch his breath, the monster banged on the door. 

Nothing.

"GOTH?" he yelled, banging once more. 

Still nothing. 

As he was about to try again, he heard the faint sound of a deadbolt turning. A moment later, the door slid open and a faded eye light met his starry ones.

"Palette...? What're you doing here?" Goth asked, his voice heavy with sleep as he pushed the door open wider.

"Making sure you're okay," the taller replied, taking in his friend's appearance.

He was dressed in a grey hoodie and black sweatpants, though the hood did nothing to hide his ashen complexion, flushed face, and sunken eye sockets containing an unfocused and hazy eye light. A trembling hand was gripping the door frame, likely using it to maintain balance, and his breathing was coming out in short huffs.

A small part of his mind noted his signature scarf was missing. 

It's weird to see him without it.

He looked past Goth into the house. He heard the television, but the living room was empty and devoid of sound or movement.

"Where's Mister Geno and Mister Reaper?" Palette asked, tilting his head to the side, "Usually, this kind of thing would send your mom into panic mode."

Now that I really think about it, Goth doesn't get sick very often... but the few times I've seen him get sick, it hit him pretty hard and had him laid out all day.

"Mom... he went to the store... about an hour ago... said we were out of medicine... Dad's at work...," Goth replied, his eye light cast downward and his face scrunched up in thought. As if remembering the information was taking physical effort.

"Well, that's no good," Kicking off his boots and setting his bag down, Palette closed the door, "someone needs to be here to look out for you!"

"You don't have to, P-"

"Nonsense!" Palette interrupted, wrapping an arm around the sick skeleton's shoulder and leading him to the couch. The lack of resistance as Goth stumbled along combined with the heat radiating off his body only solidified the taller skeleton's resolve further.

Pulling out his phone to text his mom once he'd safely deposited his friend on the couch, he continued "What kind of monster would I be if I left you here on your own, knowing you didn't feel good? You look like you're barely able to stand, what if something happens? Plus, it's more fun having company, right?" 

It's also probably my fault that Goth's sick in the first place...

"Yeah...," Goth answered with a resigned sigh and a slight nod, sinking into the couch as Palette sat down and turned to the television. It was playing some cartoon with a small, curly-haired human wielding a pink shield.

After a few minutes of silently watching the cartoon, a faint whistling sound started up. As it rose in volume, Palette cocked his head to the side in askance.

"The kettle... mom recommended tea earlier... the water must be ready," Goth answered slowly, pushing himself to get off the couch. He barely made it one step before he started wobbling. Boney arms reached out to catch him as he crumpled forward with a soft grunt. Placing him back on the couch, Palette got up and headed for the kitchen, "I'll get it, you wait here."

Goth didn't protest, groaning softly without even bothering to open his sockets. Palette frowned as guilt pricked at his soul.

How did Goth manage to make it to the door earlier like this?

Reaching the kitchen, he spotted the kettle screaming on the stove. Luckily, everything else had already been set out on the counter, Palette just had to pour the water into a green cup and put in the tea bag. The packet read 'White Tea'.

Bringing the cup back out, he handed it to Goth, getting a quiet 'Thank you' in reply. Taking a small sip, the small skeleton cringed.

"What's wrong?" the taller skeleton hovered in concern. 

He settled when Goth stuck out his tongue and muttered, "Bitter... needs honey."

With a mild snort, Palette got up to retrieve the honey. As he returned, a thought came to him, "Hey, if Mister Geno had to go to the store, what's taking him so long? Can't he teleport?"

"Oh, um...," his question received a blush, "the last time... when he was in a hurry... it caused a small riot. Swat got involved... someone phoning the police about a 'crazy monster'... now he just drives the car instead."

Palette laughed at the absurd explanation. "It's not funny," Goth huffed while grabbing the honey and squeezing it into the steaming cup with some effort, though he was trying to hide a tired smile of his own, "police had to bring mom home... once they sorted everything out."

"Humans are weird," the giddy skeleton wiped a tear from his eye socket. Goth hummed in agreement before they went back to watching cartoons in a comfortable silence, only broken by the occasional sound of tea being sipped, coughing, and the clock on the wall ticking.

At some point, Palette's right arm had draped itself across the back of the couch. He'd been zoning out on the latest cartoon, one following the daily life of three bears, when a warm weight fell into his right shoulder. Looking down revealed it was Goth. A blush burned onto the startled monster's face.

"Goth?!" he choked out. A single dazed eye light glanced up at him questioningly. His blush deepened. 

How can he look so cute?

"Oh, I... I zoned out, I guess... 'm sorry...," he murmured, eventually figuring out why the other had reacted. 

As he pulled away, Palette quickly stammered, "No! It's fine. If you're feeling tired, you should rest... I don't mind at all."

Staring at him for a moment, the hooded skeleton mumbled out a drowsy 'Thank you' before easing back into place. Before long, his breathing slowly evened out as sleep took over. 

It's late and he's sick, it only makes sense that he would feel sleepy. I'm kind of surprised he managed to stay awake as long as he did.

Careful not to wake his friend, Palette plucked the lukewarm tea from Goth's limp hands and set it on the table. Lowering the volume on the television for good measure, he leaned back and let his mind wander...

---

"Honey, I'm-!" Geno burst through the door, grocery bags in his left hand... only to stop dead in his tracks at the sight of his son and Palette sleeping on the couch with only the light of the television and a fading sunset illuminating the room. 

Goth was snuggled into Palette's right side while the taller skeleton had his right arm wrapped around the smaller, his head laying against the back of the couch as he snored softly.

Suppressing a squeal, Geno pulled out his phone to snap a quick picture. Then he texted Dream to make sure it was alright for Palette to stay the night while walking over to the closet to retrieve a blanket. It would be a shame to wake the sleeping couple, after all.

Chapter Text

Palette jumped at the loud banging noise coming from the second floor of Goth's house, which was impressive considering he hadn't even made it to the walkway. The two were supposed to hang out today and had arranged for the smaller skeleton's house to be the meeting point.

Jogging up the walkway and onto the porch, Palette knocked on the door. A muffled voice could be heard alongside the banging. The noises only increased when the door opened. 

Is someone fighting?

"Oh, hello Palette," Geno greeted with a smile, minutely cringing at a yell of frustration from upstairs. 

Goth?

"Um... is everything okay? Did something happen?" the younger monster asked, his browbone quirking upward. 

"Yeah...," Geno replied, scratching the back of his skull, "Goth's just upset because he lost something. He didn't say what, though."

"Oh!" Palette perked up and smiled brightly, "In that case, I'll help him find it so he'll be happy again!" At the glitched parent's relieved smile, the teen darted up the stairs and down the hall toward Goth's room. Seeing the door left ajar, he latched onto the door frame to slow himself down and swung himself into the room.

"Goth! I-," he called out, pausing when his starry eye lights fell on the disaster that was Goth's room," ... Woah." 

Clothes, books, and toys littered the floor, drawers were ransacked, and the bed sheets were unceremoniously heaped at the foot of the bed. 

It looked like a pack of Temmies ran wild in here! 

The owner of the mess was partially hidden under the bed, with only the back of his cloak and his slippers currently visible.

"Hey, your mom said you lost something?" Palette asked cautiously, tapping the other gently on the leg to get his attention. He winced when Goth inevitably startled, hitting himself on the bed frame. He crawled out from under the bed, rubbing his skull.

"Palette?" the small skeleton blinked owlishly, muttering to himself, "Has that much time really passed?" The taller could only shrug.

"So... what'd you lose?" he questioned once more. 

Goth's eye sockets widened as he remembered what he had been doing, only for his single eye light to flick downward. "... A bottle," he mumbled, a blush creeping onto his face. 

"A bottle?" Palette repeated, "a bottle of what?" 

Goth's blush grew, "A bottle of yellow paint."

"Yellow paint?" Palette was honestly confused, chuckling, "You're trashing your room over some paint? Really? If you wanted to do some art, you could have just asked me. I have a ton of paint we can-"

"It's not just any bottle of paint!" Goth shouted, eye sockets tearing up and fists clenched tightly in a burst of anger. Silence filled the room as the small skeleton quickly wound down, looking up to see a surprised Palette. He hunched in on himself, clenching at the hem of his scarf, "S-sorry..."

Palette snapped back to himself at the apology, shaking his head, "No, don't be. You lost something and I... I pretty much called your reaction silly. I should be the one saying sorry." Goth opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted by his mom appearing in the doorway.

"I couldn't help but overhear something about a bottle of paint," Geno asked, "Is that what you lost? That little yellow bottle you take everywhere?" At Goth's nod, the parent's only visible eye light brightened slightly, "Well that makes things a bit easier. I haven't done the laundry yet, did you check the clothes hamper?"

Both children stood amidst the ransacked bedroom in silence. A swift intake of breath from Goth cut the silence short, and before Palette could even turn to question him, the smaller took off like a shot. 

Following him down the stairs and around the banister to a doorway, the taller monster found his friend rummaging through a white bin containing clothes in what looked to be the laundry room.

After about a minute, Goth emerged from the pile with a pair of shorts nearly identical to the ones he was wearing. He fished around in one of the pockets before wrenching his hand out. "Ahhhhh, I found it!" he cried out, popping his head out of the doorway, "You're the best, mom!"

A muffled chuckle and 'You're welcome, honey' could be heard from upstairs.

Taking a closer look at the object in his hand, Palette gasped, "Hey, that's the bottle I gave you when we first met!" Palette swept the smaller up into a hug, giddy with happiness as he spun Goth around, "You still kept it after all this time, that's so sweet!"

As the pair continued spinning, Goth and Geno's earlier words sunk in.

' It's not just any bottle of paint!' 

'That little yellow bottle you take everywhere?' 

Palette slowed to a stop, a blush spreading across his face.

"That bottle...," he questioned the monster in his arms, "is it really that special?" Goth only nodded, burying his face in Palette's chest. Palette felt a tingling sensation in his soul. He wasn't sure what it was, but... he kind of liked it. 

Oh well, I can figure out what it means later.

Putting the smaller down, Palette stepped back and grinned, "Well, we found what you were looking for, how about we head out?" Goth smiled and nodded, pocketing the bottle.

"Make sure Hurricane Goth's cleaned up!" Geno's admonishment was heard from the living room. 

"Oops...should probably do that first...," Goth chuckled sheepishly. 

Palette laughed, throwing his arm around his friend's shoulder and leading him up the stairs, "No worries, I can help!"

Chapter Text

Goth breathed a sigh of relief as the bell rang, signaling the school's lunch break period... which meant time to hang out with his best friend and secret crush, Palette. They made sure to eat lunch together every day, and today was no exception.

Goth lightly jogged down the halls, weaving through the students making their way to the lunchroom while making sure to avoid the hall monitors attempting to catch rulebreakers as he headed to Palette's classroom. Palette usually waited for him there... except the room was empty today.

We meet here every day... he wouldn't forget, would he?

Hurrying over to the lunchroom, a quick perusal of the lunchline and the tables showed Palette wasn't there either. Goth's mind buzzed with possible scenarios.

Palette's really popular, so I don't think bullies would be a problem... did he leave early because he's not feeling well?

Checking his phone showed there were no new messages.

He would never leave without saying something or texting me about it, so he didn't go home... Palette, where are you?

Goth made his way through the crowded room, pushing his way out through a set of double doors that lead to a courtyard area. As he was planning out his search route, a faint sniffle caught his attention. 

It sounds like it's coming from the courtyard...

Rounding the corner of the building, he nearly cheered at the sight of Palette sitting on one of the benches. Before he could even think to call out, though, the sight of tear tracks running down the usually cheerful skeleton's face as he stared at a crumpled piece of paper in his hands stopped him in his tracks.

Oh no... something did happen after all.

Dashing up to the crying monster, he shouted, "Palette, are you alright? Are you hurt?" The taller startled from his thoughts, hurriedly wiping the tears off his face with his sleeve as Goth took a seat next to him.

"No, I'm not hurt...at least... not physically. This girl from my class... she said I... I was an insect... that she would... burn my drawings... that I should die," new tears formed and a choked sob slipped out as he continued, "That it... it would be better if people just... forgot about me."

Goth's gaze fell on the wrinkled picture in Palette's grip as the distraught skeleton clenched his sockets, trying in vain to stem the flow of tears. The picture contained a large sketch of a character. Goth remembered hearing about this character from Palette, it was a current favorite of his. His sockets furrowed at the rip starting in the top left corner, cutting through almost a third of the picture with drops of light green tears dotting the surface.

Goth was outraged that someone would treat Palette this way. 

Palette's always such a bright and passionate monster and he doesn't have a single mean bone on his body. How could anyone say such things about him? How could anyone hate him?

"Goth...," the taller's starry eyes met the smaller's single white one, blown wide and clouded with uncertainty as he begged for reassurance, "Is she right? Would it... would it be better if I disappeared?"

The hooded skeleton bristled at the idea, shaking his skull furiously as he pulled Palette into a tight hug, "No, never! There are plenty of others that want you here... I want you here!"

Goth felt embarrassed by his own words, but he refused to take them back. 

Palette needs to hear these things right now! A little embarrassment is worth his smile.

"She can say or believe whatever she wants, but she's just one person... and if she really feels that way about you, then you shouldn't be concerned with her opinions! If you want to draw something and you enjoy doing it, she can't and shouldn't take those feelings from you! There are plenty of other humans and monsters that enjoy what you do," he pulled away from the hug, giving Palette a concerned smile, "so please, don't let her bring you down like that. I know I'd be really upset if you disappeared."

Goth's soul felt like it was flipping in his chest as Palette flashed a watery, yet dazzling grin in response to the smaller's speech, "Thanks Goth, I really needed to hear that."

"Anytime you need to hear it, I'll be here," the small skeleton replied, slipping off the bench and extending his hand toward the taller, "Now come on, I think I know some people that would absolutely love to see your art."

Palette rubbed the remaining moisture from his face, taking Goth's hand, "Okay."

Chapter Text

 

"And then he said, 'Well, that couldn't have been me, I was asleep!'," Goth quipped, earning a snort shortly followed by laughter from Palette.

The two skeletons were currently walking down the sidewalk together after coming from a horror movie, which had a less than pleasant outcome, and a trip to a local sweets shop that had resulted in a corny little heart-to-heart but was overall enjoyable.

Now, the pair were walking around, chatting about random things and making jokes. Though part of Palette's mind was still in the conversation back at the shop. 

Goth has things he's afraid of as well... knives, huh? But he also said he was afraid of losing me.

He scrunched up his face. 

Maybe... Nah.

"-ette? Helloooo, Earth to Palette!" the smaller skeleton called out, waving his left hand in front of the other's face. 

The skeleton jumped, pulled from his thoughts, "Sorry, what did you say?"

Goth's single eye light crinkled in concern as he stared at his companion, "Are you alright? You got really quiet. That's not like you... if you're still feeling upset from the movie, we can go-"

The starry-eyed skeleton cut him off with a smile, thumping his fist against his chest, "Nah, I wasn't thinking of that, you don't have to worry about me! I'm already way over that, so let's keep hanging out!"

Goth blinked, giggling at his display as they passed an alley, "Alright, if you're sure. Maybe we can-"

A low voice rumbled, "Well, lookie what we got here..."

Both monsters froze in their tracks as a grizzly bear monster sidled around the corner. The guy was easily two times the pair's height, wearing a red vest, dark blue jeans, and sneakers. The pair didn't doubt that his dark grey fur was hiding plenty of muscle. 

He didn't give off a very reassuring aura, either.

Goth looked as if he was going to tell the guy off, but Palette touched his shoulder, giving a slight shake of his head. 

A little diplomacy will do the trick, I'm sure of it!

Palette walked up to the monster, pushing down his nerves as he realized just how big they were. "Hi... um... could you move, please? We're trying to get through and... um...," he faltered when his request was met with a glare, "y... you're blocking the sidewalk."

The bear reached into his vest, huffing with an incredulous tone, "Are you really that dense? Do you really not understand what's happening here?" Palette's eye sockets widened as a knife was pulled out and brandished toward him, "This is a mugging. You're not going anywhere until we get what we want."

Palette took a shaky step away as mugger laughed, pointing the weapon over the skeleton's shoulder, "Looks like your buddy there gets the point."

Risking a glance behind him, Palette's soul shuddered in his chest at the sight of his best friend.

The small skeleton's posture was rigid, like he wanted to move but physically couldn't. He was visibly shaking, both arms pressed to his chest in a guarded fashion, the right hand grasping his scarf in a death-grip while his legs looked as if they could barely hold him up. His eye sockets were matching voids as tears began to build up around the edges, but Palette could tell his empty gaze was focused on the knife before them. 

He looks absolutely petrified.

Inching backward while keeping the bear in his sights, Palette slowly placed himself in between the mugger and his friend. 

Goth won't be able to fight like this. No matter how scary this guy is... even if I don't want to get hurt, I have to protect him.

"Back up," Palette muttered to the smaller skeleton over his left shoulder. He started moving backward himself, relieved to find Goth following his lead. They'd nearly made it to the alley entrance, but the burly monster interrupted.

"Leaving so soon? My friends might not like that much."

Shuffling noises echoed from the alley. Another glance behind them revealed the appearance of three more monsters: a horned blue demon, a thick green snake, and a white rabbit. Two humans were also present, a red-headed spiky-haired one and a brunette one.

Each one had a sinister look to them, placing themselves in a way that cut off any escape. 

So this is what the bear meant earlier when he said 'we'...

 

"Look," Palette gulped, keeping his eye lights on the leader while listening for movement behind him, "we... we don't have that much money... at least... not enough to make this worth your time. Please, just let us go and we can-"

"Well, that's gonna be a problem," The grizzly interrupted, waved the knife a bit with a mock-disappointed frown on his muzzle, "I think you're holding back on us. It looks like you both just need a little convincing!"

Both skeletons tensed as the mugger turned assailant closed the distance, raising his knife before slashing in a downward arc.

Chapter Text

Of all the things, it has to be a knife!

Everything around Goth was a cloudy haze save for the knife in the bear monster's paw and Palette's presence in front of him. He grasped onto the back of the taller's jacket as if it were a lifeline. The taller skeleton mumbled something, pushing him back slightly with his left arm. The smaller was all-too-happy to oblige with shaky steps.

Bits and pieces of the conversation made their way through the haze, but he couldn't process any of them, the flash of the knife thoroughly distracting him from rational thought. 

The knife glinted in the sunlight and Goth tensed alongside Palette as the weapon came rushing forward.

Move... move... MOVE!

Goth felt his feet leave the ground as he was pushed, grunting as his back collided with the nearby brick wall and snapping out of his trance. Looking up, he caught sight of Palette raising his arm to throw a bone barrage at the bear. 

Palette?! No!

Trying to process what was happening, some movement to his right caught his attention. 

More attackers... are they the bear's friends? The only weapon I see are some brass knuckles on the smaller brunette human. 

The group rushed forward, completely ignoring Goth. One of them, a demon with horns, took a swing at Palette. He managed to just barely dodge the attack. 

No no NO!

Goth's eye light flared to life as he summoned his scythe. Leaping into the fray, he slashed downward, cutting off the rabbit monster's attempt to strike his companion. 

"Get away from him!" he shouted with as much bravado as he could muster, swinging his weapon out to create some space. The group backed up... laughing.

He heard Palette call out behind him, but ignored it.

"Well, little sssskellie'ssss got ssssome bark," the snake monster hissed, eyes narrowing, "let'ssss ssssee if he can back it up with ssssome bite!"

As the serpent lunged, fangs bared, Goth swung once more to ward it off. His cut did the job but was jarred to a halt before its completion as his scythe collided with the wall. 

Not enough space... that's why none of them have ranged weapons. If that's the case, I can't use my scythe here.

De-summoning the weapon, Goth opted for his bone attacks instead. He dodged when he could and block with bones when he couldn't, returning fire in between... just as Uncle Edge taught him so long ago.

One of his bones managed to hit the rabbit's right shoulder, incapacitating the monster. The demon was also leaning against the wall farther away with a gash on his right calf. He had grazed the red-headed human's torso, but not enough to dissuade him. The snake and brunette matching him dodge-for-dodge, though.

Quick glances toward Palette every so often proved he was still fighting the leader and had landed a few hits... but his clothed looked torn in a few places and he was struggling. 

I have to finish this so I can-

His thought was interrupted as his feet were swept out from under him, the air forced out of his chest as his back collided with the pavement.

"Goth!" he heard Palette yell. 

Blinking the stars from his vision, The snake monster towered above him. "Oopssss," the monster chortled as their two remaining human friends joined him. 

The brunette cackled as he raised his left foot up, "You shouldn't let your mind wander!"  

The small skeleton rolled out of the way as the foot stomped down where his chest had been. He continued rolling as the snake lunged for another attack, smashing its face into the ground.

Gritting his teeth, Goth latched onto the monster's head and cranked his energy drain ability to maximum output. The monster writhed, whipping around to throw off the small skeleton, unwittingly hitting the brunette in the chest with its tail and knocking him out.

Within seconds, the monster's movements slowed as Goth's intent quickly sapped its energy.

As it fell, Goth let go of the serpent, panting slightly from the effort. He turned toward the remaining red-headed human. Calloused hands came up in a placating gesture, knowing he stood no chance on his own.

The bear behind him snarled, "Why you little-"

A female voice shouted, "Hey! Stop this instant!"

Everyone jumped at the new voice. All eyes turned toward a human police officer, reaching for her gun.

"Shit! Everybody scram!" The bear yelled, sounding more than a little winded. The snake hissed, grudgingly picking himself up to dart into the alley, snatching up the demon in the process. The spiky-haired human pulled the brunette off the wall, dragging them into the alley as well with the rabbit monster quickly giving chase. The bear turned tail, rounding the corner and disappearing without a trace.

Within seconds, the crowded sidewalk was abandoned, leaving the two skeletons and the police officer alone.

Goth let out a relieved laugh, "I guess we showed-!"

The words died in his throat. Palette was struggling to keep his feet under him, littered with cuts... the most prominent being the one across his chest, leaving a wide, dark stain across his black shirt and along the edges of his grey jacket. 

Attempting to stagger forward while clutching the wound, his knees buckled as he collapsed.

"PALETTE!" the small monster screeched, throwing himself toward the skeleton and just barely managing to catch his friend before his body made contact with the ground. The officer was yelling at him, but her words were drowned out by Goth's panic as he gently laid the bleeding skeleton down.

There's too much blood... how long has he been bleeding? I have to stop it or Palette will... no, he can't!

Holed hands pressed against Palette's chest as a purple glow lit around them, pouring energy into the wound. 

Heal... please, heal!

His vision blurred around the edges, but he kept going. 

I might not be able to use healing magic as well as Palette's mom, but I'm damn well going to try! Even if I suck at it by nature... even if my magic's working against me, I can't afford to give up.

"Goth...," Palette rasped, a trail of blood dripping from his mouth as it curled into a worried frown, "s... stop..." He tried to move his hand upward, but even that seemed to be too much for him.

"No! I won't! I can't lose you!" Goth wailed, his tears hindering his sight further as he pumped more energy into the dying skeleton.

Palette's face crinkled into a shaky smile as he choked out, "Please, Goth... it's... it's enough... you... can't..." His sockets drooped slightly.

"I can and I will! So stop talking!" Goth countered angrily, fighting the way his body wanted to sway as exhaustion slowly crept into him.

For a moment, he thought Palette was listening to him and was saving his strength. But the taller's closed sockets and the slack expression on his face alluded to something much worse.

"Palette? Palette... come on, I... I didn't mean it... say something!" Goth stammered, soul hammering furiously in his chest as seconds ticked by in silence, "no... NO!"

Magic engulfed him as he poured everything he had into the unconscious skeleton. 

I can't let Palette die! Palette... he's everything to me! I... won't...

Tears fell and the sound of a siren could be heard in the distance as Goth crumpled next to Palette's left shoulder, his energy spent.

Chapter Text

Palette groaned as he sat up slowly.

Where am I? Everything's dark and shadowed, I can barely see my own hand. How did I get here? The last thing I did... stars, the fight! The grizzly bear monster!

Stumbling to his feet, Palette called out to the void, "Goth? Goth, if you're there, answer me!" staggering one way, then changing direction. 

Where do I even begin?! Everything looked the same!

A noise behind him had the skeleton swiveling around to a sight that made his marrow run cold. Goth... standing before the imposing monster, arms spread wide. "Goth, run!" he shouted, scrambling toward the two. 

I'm not making any progress... why can't I get closer?!

"I... I can't," Goth glanced over his shoulder, voice trembling as he met Palette's eye lights with a frightened, but nonetheless determined, expression, "I won't let you-"

He never got to finish his sentence, the bear's knife ripping through the small skeleton with a swift and powerful strike.

"GOTH!" Palette screamed, urging himself forward as his friend's body collapsed in on itself. "No...," he whimpered as the small skeleton's body began to crumble to dust, "NO!"

Lights flared around Palette as he shot up, soul racing and breathing heavily. Frantically, he took in the entirely new surroundings: a pale orange hospital room. 

Was I... was that a dream? No... no, it was definitely a nightmare...

"Goodness me, I heard a shout... is everything alright?"

Palette saw a middle-aged, greying human woman peek into the room. "Oh dear!" she exclaimed, bustling over, "your monitor is going wild, did something happen?" Following her gaze, he noticed a machine blipping excitedly, the tones matching his own soul.

"I... just had a bad dream, I think," he replied, receiving a relieved smile from the woman. He couldn't help but match it.

The calm moment gave way to worry once Palette's thoughts returned to his nightmare, "Goth? Have you seen Goth?"

The woman looked confused for a moment before she perked up, "You mean that little fellow that came in with you?" At his nod, she continued, "He's sleeping right over there, in the next bed."

Leaning to look past a white curtain, Palette could just barely make out the sleeping face of his friend. 

He's asleep? Why is he asleep? Did he get hurt?! Is he-

"Calm yourself, dearie, he will be alright," the nurse gently admonished, easing him back onto the bed he'd unconsciously been trying to climb off of.

Fluffing the sheets so they draped over his legs once more, she gave the smaller skeleton a pitiful look, "Poor thing came in with you, passed out cold with more than two-thirds of his magic drained from him. We had to put him on an IV to stabilize him. 

"The officer on the scene claimed he used it up trying to heal you. I have to say, he must not be very skilled at healing since the amount of magic he spent barely managed to close your wounds..." she paused, thinking aloud, "but it might have been enough to keep you going until you reached the hospital."

Palette traced where the gash had been. He barely felt a thing now. His soul clenched.

He remembered Goth's explanation of his energy drain ability, way back after he'd unwittingly stumbled upon his friend reaping a soul. The ability's very nature made it an antithesis of life and healing.  On top of it, he wasn't able to fully control the power, only slowing it down by feeding his own energy back in. The whole process always left him tired and in need of a nap.

Goth knew, yet he still tried to heal me...

A soft groan caught his attention. He looked up in time to see Goth sluggishly moving his left hand toward his chest, where a line from an IV fed into his ribcage. Lidded sockets scanned the room, eventually falling on Palette.

"Palette?" Goth questioned, still groggy from sleep. Before anyone could blink, Palette was off his bed and across the room pulling the smaller skeleton into a hug.

"Oof... glad to see you're feeling alright," Goth breathed, patting his companion's back gingerly and prompting him to let go, mumbled an abashed 'sorry' in the process.

"Go easy on him, dearie. You are both still recovering. That fight sounded like nasty business," the nurse chuckled, wrinkling her nose at the idea of the fight.

Neither monster could say they disagreed.

After checking both their vitals, the older woman stated that Palette was free to be discharged once he got the remains of the wound on his chest fully healed, stating she would send in a healer as soon as one became available. Goth had to wait for the IV to drain and his magic level to balance itself out, but he was reassured it wouldn't take much longer.

"Thanks for earlier," Goth mumbled, twisting the sheets around his legs, a light blush on his face. Palette cocked his skull to the side in askance. Taking the hint, the smaller elaborated, "When you stepped in between me and that guy... with the knife..."

Starry eye lights shined as he exclaimed, "Of course! I'd never let anyone hurt my best friend!"

The small skeleton withered, chuckling sadly, "Best friend... right." Another quizzical stare was met with silence, the matter silently being dropped with a shrug.

After a minute of awkward silence, a tap was heard on the door. A small Whimsalot hovered in the doorway, "Someone requested a healer?"

Goth patted Palette's back, smiling "Come on, Pal, let's get you healed up."

Chapter Text

I can't let Palette die! Palette... he's everything to me! I... won't...

Tears fell and the sound of a siren could be heard in the distance as Goth crumpled onto Palette's left shoulder, his energy spent.

---

Goth groaned as the evening sunset prodded him awake. 

Where am I? It feels soft... cozy... as if I could just...

He might have drifted off if not for the sense of urgency clawing at his chest, goading him into action. Unable to ignore the strange feeling, the skeleton forced his eyes open. 

He was in a pale orange room, light from the sun was filtering in through a nearby window at just the right angle to shine on his sheets. 

How did I get here? And the smell, it's disinfectant... a hospital?

Everything came flooding back, making his skull pound. 

The meeting... the fight... Palette!

Goth began to panic as he searched around frantically, unable to locate the other skeleton. 

Was I too late? No, it can't be...

"Oh my, you're awake!" Goth's skull shot around to the sight of a middle-aged, greying human woman peeking into the room. She bustled over to the monitor on his left, blipping away a steady rhythm matching his own soul beats, taking note of the readings. "You were in such a nasty sounding fight, dear. You came in, passed out cold with half of your magic drained. Nothing to worry about, though. A small transfusion fixed you right up."

"Ma'am...," the small monster interrupted the woman, receiving a curious look, "Have you seen my friend Palette? He was really hurt earlier and I don't see him."

The nurse quirked her lip in confusion for a few seconds. It cleared moments later, replaced with a look Goth couldn't describe, "Did they have a green hat and a green and gray jacket?"

Goth's face lit up, "Yes, that's him!" 

She knows Palette! And he's not in a hospital bed, so he must be alright!

Seconds ticked by and nothing was said, causing a bead of worry to dig into Goth, "So... is he still here or did he go home?

The bead dug in deeper as the woman grimaced, "Oh, dearie... I'm so sorry..." She turned solemnly to a corner of the room and Goth's eye light followed, shrinking as reality sunk in.

A green hat with two white stripes sat pillowed on top of a green and gray jacket. Both laid on a solitary chair, freckled with hints of dried marrow and dust. 

Goth could have sworn he felt his soul shatter.

"The poor dear dusted before the paramedics even got there. They said you were laying in a pile of dust, along with that hat and jacket, when they arrived to transport you."

Laying in...! No, I touched Palette when I fell unconscious! No... the energy, I... I...

"I'm so sorry dear," the old woman crooned, placing a hand on his shoulder, "is there someone I can get ahold of for you?" But the skeleton's mind was elsewhere, his sockets never leaving the chair and its contents as silent tears carved a path down his cheeks.

A few hours late, Reaper arrived to pick up his forlorn and silent son. Neither said a word as the hooded skeleton was picked up, tightly grasping his lost love's belongings as they went home.

---

Goth stood in front of Palette's grave. The funeral had ended about half an hour ago, taking place a week after the incident. Everyone else had gone to the reception at Palette's house, but the hooded monster continued to stare at the sculpted stone tablet marking the resting place of his crush. 

Everyone had been crying, except for Goth. He wasn't sure he had tears any left to cry.

Palette's dust had been buried in the ground, but Ink and Dream had thought it would be better if Goth kept Palette's favorite hat and scarf, if only to provide some closure. The skeleton had silently donned the hat and replaced his own red scarf with his companion's paint-stained version. 

He hadn't taken them off since that day, wearing them even now.

I never got the chance to tell him... I never got the chance to say goodbye and it's all my fault. Palette's gone and I only have myself to blame. 

Raising his right hand slightly, Goth summoned his scythe. A broken grin played across his face as he raised the blade to his chest. Finally speaking for the first time all week, he found he did still have tears to shed, "I'm coming, Pal."

Taking one last breath, he ran himself through, marrow splattering against the grass and flowers surrounding the grave as his body crumpled to the ground, his weapon dissipating in the process. 

Within seconds, the stains were joined by a cloud of dust covered by a hat, a scarf, and a hoodie.

Chapter Text

 

"Palette? Palette... come on, I... I didn't mean it... say something!" Goth stammered, soul hammering furiously in his chest as seconds ticked by in silence, "no... NO!"

Magic engulfed him as he poured everything he had into the unconscious skeleton. A cracking noise resounded from within Goth's rib cage, but he persisted. 

I can't let Palette die! Palette... he's everything to me! I... won't...

Tears fell and the sound of a siren could be heard in the distance as Goth crumpled next to Palette's left shoulder, his energy spent and his soul crumbling.

---

Palette groaned as he sat up slowly.

Where am I? Everything's dark and shadowed, I can barely see my own hand. How did I get here? The last thing I did... stars, the fight! The grizzly bear monster!

Stumbling to his feet, Palette called out to the void, "Goth? Goth, if you're there, answer me!" staggering one way, then changing direction.

Where do I even begin?! Everything looked the same!

A noise behind him had the skeleton swiveling around to a sight that made his marrow run cold. Goth... standing before the imposing monster, arms spread wide with his soul in plain view. "Goth, run!" he shouted, scrambling toward the two.

I'm not making any progress... why can't I get closer?!

"I... I can't," Goth glanced over his shoulder, voice trembling as he met Palette's eye lights with a frightened, but nonetheless determined, expression, "I won't let you-"

He never got to finish his sentence, the bear's knife ripping through the small skeleton and the inverted heart before him with a swift and powerful strike.

"GOTH!" Palette screamed, urging himself forward as his friend's body collapsed in on itself. "No...," he whimpered as the small skeleton's body began to crumble to dust. His soul gave one final beat as it shattered into millions of pieces, "NO!"

Lights flared around Palette as he shot up, soul racing and breathing heavily. Frantically, he took in the entirely new surroundings: a pale orange hospital room.

Was I... was that a dream? No... no, it was definitely a nightmare...

"Goodness me, I heard a shout... is everything alright?"

Palette saw a middle-aged, greying human woman peek into the room. "Oh dear!" she exclaimed, bustling over, "your monitor is going wild, did something happen?" Following her gaze, he noticed a machine blipping excitedly, the tones matching his own soul.

"I... just had a bad dream, I think," he replied, receiving a relieved smile from the woman. He couldn't help but match it.

The calm moment gave way to worry once Palette realized something was missing, "Goth? Have you seen Goth?" 

His soul tingled.

The woman looked stricken by the question, her gaze falling to the floor as her eyebrows furrowed. "This Goth... he was your friend?"

"Yeah, my bestest friend, we were hanging out today!" Palette chirped. 

His soul felt warm. 

"Did he have a red scarf?" the woman added, her expression darkening.

"Yeah, do you know where he went?" he asked, feeling pressure against his ribs.

"Oh sweetie... I'm so sorry...," she sniffled, turning to a chair... one that held a tattered, dusty scarf. 

The pressure increased.

"The officer on the scene claimed he used up his magic trying to heal you. He must not have been very skilled at healing since the amount of magic he spent barely managed to close your wound..." She paused, thinking aloud, "but it might have been enough to keep you going until you reached the hospital."

Palette stared at the chair and its contents as burning tears began to sting his sockets. 

Goth's... dead? ... As in... never coming back? Goth died to save me?

A whisper danced in Palette's skull. 

No...

The woman pulled him into a hug, "He must have cared dearly for you... he was a good monster." 

She was crying.

Palette reciprocated the hug, tears falling down his cheeks as he let out a sob, "He was the... the best friend a monster... could ever ask for!"

The pressure surrounded him.

---

Palette knelt by a grave surrounded by flowers in a cemetery. Goth's funeral had ended a half hour ago, having been held a week after his death. Everyone was on their way to the reception at his house, but the skeleton decided to stay behind a bit longer for some alone time. 

Almost.

It would only be a small get together since not many people came for the wake or the funeral. 

Guess Goth didn't have many friends. No matter, he never liked a big crowd.

Tear tracks streamed down Palette's face as he rearranged the flowers surrounding Goth's headstone. 

"It looks nice," he murmured, his chin brushing against the red scarf draped around his neck. Reaper and Geno had agreed that Palette should have it, and the skeleton wore it proudly every day. "Reaper really knows how to pick out flowers... heh, guess that makes sense given his job," he chuckled sadly. 

His soul warmed. 

He placed a hand on his chest, "It's okay... after all, you're right here with me."

The wind blew as an invisible pressure enveloped his ribs, surrounding him with a faint whisper.

You are never alone.

Chapter Text

"Come on, we're burning daylight!" Palette shouted, thundered over the hot sandy beach with an orange and red beach ball tucked under his left arm while a giant red umbrella and a blue towel were tucked under the right. 

It was a wonder he hadn't hit anyone with the umbrella by accident considering how excited he was.

Reaching a clear spot in the sand, he unfurled the umbrella before turning around. Standing at the top of the hill overlooking the beach with a purple towel, beach bag, and picnic basket in tow, Goth gazed upon the ocean.

The small skeleton appeared to be lost in thought as if he were in a staring contest with an enemy. "GOTH!" Palette yelled, setting out his own towel, "are you just going to stand there or are you going to come down here?!"

Heaving a sigh, Goth made his way down the hill to the umbrella. Laying out his towel next to Palette's, he looked towards his companion and tried to suppress a blush.

The skeleton had already taken off his white shirt, leaving nothing but green and yellow swimming trunks in a zigzagging pattern as vibrant as the personality of the monster wearing them. Goth had opted for a more simple red pair with black trim. He also brought a white short-sleeve hoodie for some reason. 

Too much exposure... we're skeletons, for stars sake!

"Aren't you going to take your hoodie off?" Palette asked as he dug through the beach bag. 

"Urm...," Goth glanced sideways as his blush burned deeper onto his cheeks, "I wasn't actually planning to. It feels kind of weird when I'm not wearing a hood..."

Palette stopped digging to look at his friend. "What? But how do you plan on swimming...," he gasped in realization, "Wait, don't tell me you aren't going to swim? That's the whole point of coming to the beach!"

"Can't we just make sand castles and have our picnic instead?" the smaller offered hesitantly, reaching for the bag and pulling out the shovels and buckets they'd brought with them.

"We can do that stuff too, but swimming is pretty much a must-have at the beach," the taller skeleton replied, pointing his finger upward in a matter-of-fact way, "besides, it'd be really boring to go swimming by myself."

Goth's eye light fell on the water once more as he grimaced, his resistance waning. "... Alright...," no sooner were the words out of the smaller skeleton's mouth, the taller was grabbing his wrist and dashing towards the water.

The reaper child dug his feet into the sand, which only succeeded in slowing Palette down a bit but it was enough to catch his attention, causing him to turn back. Just for a second, something flashed across Goth's face before it was gone.

"Actually... I was wondering if we could play with the beach ball in the shallows instead?" Goth suggested shyly.

Palette thought for a few seconds before grinning, "Yeah, we can do that, let me go get it real quick!" He tore back up the beach as Goth sighed in relief.

Once retrieved, both skeletons took turns passing the ball back and forth to one another in a game to see who would drop it first.

They got so wrapped up in their game, neither noticed the change in water level as the tide came in. Ankle deep water stealthily turned into calf deep, turned into knee deep, turned into thigh deep, until the water was lapping at the Goth's lower ribs while the water came in just below Palette's hips.

Stretching up his right hand to catch the ball, Goth's eye light shrunk as his foot slipped on a downward slope. A mere second later, he was completely submerged.

Chapter Text

"Oh my stars, Goth, that was priceless!" Palette laughed out, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes.

A few moments passed before a surge of water followed by copious flailing and splashing motions came from Goth's direction. The taller skeleton continued laughing as he made his way over, the water barely reaching the bottom of his sternum now.

As soon as he came within range, however, Goth's hands scrabbled for purchase and he had to throw his hands out to balance himself.

"Woah!" Palette's arms reached around to hold Goth, who was now grasping tightly around his neck, as he let out a little chuckle, "What's the rush? If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were..."

His sockets widened once he took a good look at his friend. 

He was shocked into silence by Goth's quick and panicked breathing spaced around coughs and wheezing noises, the way his eye light had blinked out, creating a hollow appearance, and how his entire frame shook violently as he held onto Palette for dear life.

Goth's scared. No, not just scared... he's absolutely terrified.

Palette tightened his grip on the frightened skeleton as concern wormed into his features, "Hey, what's wrong?" His worry grew when he received no response. "Goth? Goth!" he shouted, only to get more rapid breathing, coughing, and a thousand-mile stare in return... as if the smaller monster wrapped around his neck weren't even present.

Hooking his right arm under the crook of his friend's knees, Palette picked up the shuddering monster and waded toward the shore as fast as the water surrounding them would let him.

Glances every few seconds showed Goth was still staring off into space, eye light still missing, still trembling, his grip never loosening from the other. As they reached the shore, his breaths were still short and uneven, but he was no longer coughing or wheezing, so there was progress.

By the time they made it to their towels, Goth's eye light had finally returned, albeit dim, and he was actively working to control his breathing. He was still shaking, but his grip had slackened from fatigue.

Sitting on his blue towel, Palette placed a curled up Goth between his legs, resting him against his chest and wrapping him in a hug, laying his chin on top of their skull as he muttered quiet assurances. And he waited.

"Why didn't you say something?" Goth looked away as Palette questioned him, "I wouldn't have pestered you to go out there if I knew you couldn't swim."

So he said, but Palette still wanted to kick himself. 

Goth has been giving me clues since we got here that he didn't want to go into the water, even if most of them were subtle. His reluctance to come in the first place should have been a huge red flag because he rarely turns down an invitation. Of course, I was too excited that I finally managed to convince Goth to come to the beach with me that I couldn't see the warning signs.

Now he's laying on my lap, recovering from a panic attack. One that I caused.

"Because... it's embarrassing," the smaller admitted, shame etched on his face as he played with the drawstring of his damp hoodie, "The only water I've ever been near is a bathtub or a kiddie pool, so I never got to learn. It never seemed important... at least, not until now... and you were so excited when I finally said yes... I didn't want to disappoint you."

"I'm more disappointed that you thought you couldn't be honest with me," Palette countered, earning a wince from his companion. He sighed, "Look, Goth. That panic attack you had out there really scared me, I had no idea what was wrong. Not to mention what could have happened if I hadn't come over..." 

That wasn't something he wanted to imagine.

It didn't happen...

"Sorry...," Goth hunched in on himself, hugging his arms closer. 

"It's okay," Palette assured him, expression softening as he placed a hand on their skull, "just talk to me next time. Please? I would rather not do something than risk you getting hurt because you tried to push yourself past your limits, okay?"

A hesitant eye light rose to meet his pair and he softly replied, "Alright."

With the conversation finished, Palette slowly eased the smaller into a sitting position and walked toward the basket. At his friend's questioning glance, he said, "We didn't bring all this food to look at it, right? I want to try some!"

Comprehension dawned on Goth and he scooted over as well, reaching into the basket to pull out two sets of plates and utensils.

"Maybe later we can practice how to swim?" the taller skeleton suggested. He can't say he wasn't expecting the napkin to the face.

Chapter Text

Palette stood under an oak tree kicking idly at a patch of grass. Earlier, after the last bell for school to let out rang, he'd gone to retrieve the books he needed from his locker. There was a note sticking out of the slots when he arrived. It had said to meet under the tree in the courtyard after school for something important.

The writing didn't look familiar... what's so important that someone needs to meet me under a tree? Hopefully, it would be quick, I still have to meet up with Goth so we can go home together.

"You're here!" a feminine voice yelled.

Palette turned to see a tawny-furred dog monster jogging up to him. She was wearing a green dress and a white sweater with a purse to match. Stopping a foot away, she smiled at him. He smiled back, "Hi... Bridgette?" 

That's her name, right? We... do we have a class together?

"Oh, you remembered. I'm flattered!" she beamed, her teeth just visible through the fur around her muzzle. 

"Right, so...," the skeleton looked to the clock set into the wall nearby. He needed to hurry up, "you had something important to say to me?"

"Well..."

Bridgette's... blushing?

"It's not really something I want to say as much as something I want to do...," she said, leaning forward.

"What do you-," Palette's eye lights shrunk, his words cut off by Bridgette's snout meeting his mouth. He stood there, frozen from shock. 

A kiss? What? Why? Does she like me? But I don't like her! How can I tell her without hurting her feelings?

A shuffling noise in the distance startled the dog monster, causing her and the skeleton to look toward the source. Starry eye lights met a single, almost non-existent white one. 

Goth stood at a corner of the school building, the look on his face probably matching Palette's own shocked expression as he stared at the pair under the tree. He absently grabbed his scarf, his sockets scrunching up as he turned and ran, disappearing from sight.

Palette immediately gave chase, belatedly realizing Bridgette was still back at the tree. He called haphazardly to her, "Uh... sorry, I have to go!"

Racing down the pathway, he ran through the double doors and searched through the school in hopes of tracking down his friend. Unable to locate Goth, he pulled out his phone and sent a message asking where he went. Five minutes passed without a reply, forcing the skeleton to give up his search. Heaving a sigh, he turned around and walked home alone.

---

Goth never replied to the text. He showed up to class just as the bell rang, sitting away from Palette.

Is Goth avoiding me? Why? Is it because of yesterday? I should talk to him.

He tried multiple times to attract the smaller's attention through the class period, to no avail, and eventually had to stop when the teacher caught him trying to throw notes at the hooded skeleton.

Palette wanted to snarl as the bell rang for class to let out and Goth shot out the door. He knew chasing him in the hallway rush would be useless since the hooded skeleton was so small and they had no other classes together today. 

I'll just have to track him down at lunch or after school. He won't avoid me forever... right?

The idea left a stinging sensation in his chest. He rubbed his sternum, willing the feeling away as he headed to his next class.

The day continued on with Palette struggling to focus on his classes. After what felt like an eternity, the bell for lunch break rang.

Finally, I can look for Goth.

Throwing his bag over his shoulder, he pushed his way through the halls, keeping his sockets peeled for a white hood or red scarf. 

He's not in the cafeteria... not in the class he has before lunch... not at his locker either...

Making his way out a pair of double doors leading to the outdoor walkway and the gym, a flutter of red caught his eye above him. Looking up, he spotted Goth leaning against a guard railing on the gym roof, his head pillowed on his arms as he stared off into space. 

How did he get up there, isn't the door locked?

Palette opened his mouth to call out to his friend, but hesitated. 

Will Goth try to run again if he sees me coming?

Opting to sneak up on him, the door to the gym's roof opening caught his, as well a Goth's attention. Palette watched as Bridgette and two male dog monsters walked toward the small skeleton as he turned toward the trio, "Wha-"

"What's the big idea, huh?" Bridgette glowered, poking a finger into Goth's chest. Goth backed up against the rail as she continued, "How dare you interrupt the special moment I was having with my Palette!"

Her Palette? Since when am I hers?

Goth seemed to bristle before settling once more, snidely remarking, "Please, there's no way he would enjoy some bitch like you slobbering all over him!"

"Hey!" the bigger of the two male dogs shouted, grabbing Goth by the scarf and shoving his spine farther into the pole, "Don't you dare talk to our sister like that, you little twink!" The bar creaked as it was pushed backward.

Palette inhaled sharply as he made a beeline for the gym door, to the stairwell, and up the stairs. More shouting at an increasing volume could be heard as the open doorway came into view.

"Goth!" He cried out, gaining everyone's attention as he burst through the doorway.

Goth tried to duck past the male dog that had been grabbing him. "Don't you walk away from me!" the monster snarled, yanking on his scarf and throwing him into the guardrail once more.

Time seemed to slow to a crawl as the rail behind the skeleton groaned and broke loose... with Goth falling after it.

Chapter Text

"Pa-," the small skeleton gasped as he fell backward and out of sight.

"NOOO!" Palette screamed, dashing across the roof. The dogs threw curses and accusations at each other as Palette blew past them, stopping short of the break in the rails, "GOTH!"

He nearly cried in relief when he found Goth hanging from a bar on the dangling section of guardrail and not laying in a broken heap against the pavement. "Palette... help...," he stuttered out, fear consuming his expression.

"Hang on!" Palette called out, unwinding his scarf. Goth was too far to reach by hand, and he couldn't rely on his friend or the rail holding out long enough to get help, so this was their best bet.

At some point, the three dogs had run off, but Palette kept his focus on unwinding his scarf. 

Has this thing always been so long?

Goth stifled a whimper as the metal between them creaked, jerking downward.

Come on... come on... please...

Palette whipped his scarf off as he finally managed to free it from his neck. "Grab on!" he instructed, throwing the scarf to the frightened skeleton below.

Just as Goth reached for the scarf, the metal finally gave under his weight with a deafening snap. He yelped, latching onto the end of the paint-stained fabric, clinging to it for dear life as the broken metal pieces clattered to the ground.

Palette was thrown to the lip of the ledge, his friend's weight pulling him down. He grunted, maneuvering part of the scarf around his wrist to maintain a better grip and began pulling up with all the strength he could muster. 

Goth's arms trembled along with the rest of his body, eye sockets clenched tightly while he held the scarf in a death-grip, "Pa... Palette..."

"You'll be okay, Goth," the taller grunted, tugging the scarf another few inches higher, "I'll have you up in a second... just don't let go, okay?" Goth whined but nodded his skull to show he heard his companion.

Once Goth was within arm's reach, Palette reached for the skeleton's right wrist, hauling him up alongside the scarf. Hooking his right arm behind his friend's back, he brought Goth into a hug that was quickly reciprocated.

Both monsters collapsed to the floor of the roof, worn out and shaking as they held each other tightly. Goth let out muffled sobs into Palette's chest, "I'm s-sor-ry... s-so so-rry...I...I..."

"Shh, I got you. You're okay... it's okay. There's nothing to be sorry for. I'm just happy you're safe," Palette cooed, rocking his friend gently while rubbing his spine in reassurance. As far as he was concerned, all had been forgiven.

A bell rang in the distance, but neither skeleton made a move to get up, too strung out to even think about classes after their ordeal. It wasn't until the bell rang once more that Goth unclenched his hands from the back of Palette's jacket, pulling away slightly. 

The taller skeleton looked him over, "Are you feeling better? Anything hurting?"

Goth shook his skull, wiping his tear-soaked face with his sleeve. He opened his sockets, letting out a gasp and startling the other, "Palette, your arm!"

Palette's eye lights followed Goth's gaze, only now realizing there was a red stain on his left sleeve. "Oh... must've scraped it on the ledge at some point," he mused softly. 

"Palette, we have to get your arm looked at!" Goth squawked, staggering to his feet while pulling on his companion's right arm.

"It's fine," Palette chuckled, picking himself up, "really, I'm-"

"Oh my god, what happened here?!" A screech was heard from below, causing both boys to flinch. 

That sounds like a teacher. They must have found the broken guard rail...

"Guessed we're going to have to explain ourselves, huh?" Palette sighed, receiving a groan from Goth as he retrieved his scarf from the ground. He secured it around his neck, then wrapped his good arm around the small monster, "Come on, it won't be that bad. I'll go with you... we can explain together."

Goth blushed at the contact but eased into the grip as they made their way to the stairs. "... And get that arm looked at afterward," the smaller added.

They got partway down when Palette slowed to a stop, confusion written on his face. "Palette?" Goth questioned.

"Hey Goth... can't you float?"

It took a second but once realization hit, Palette had to hold back a laugh as Goth pulled his hood over his face and hunched down into his scarf in a vain attempt to hide his embarrassment. He lasted until Goth made a noise that reminded him of a broken squeaky toy, causing him to howl with laughter.

Guess he forgot.

Chapter Text

"Hi, my name's Palette, what's yours?"

Goth looked up from his breakfast. A boy with a stain on his right cheek grinned back at him while holding a tray of food. 

They looked a bit taller than him and had drab clothing similar to his own, a dirty hat, an off-white dirt-smudged shirt, brown pants, and scuffed brown shoes. They were probably hand-me-downs from the orphanage director, much like Goth's hooded white shoulder cape, grey shirt, brown pants, and brown shoes. 

The red scarf around his neck was the only article Goth laid claim to, being a memento from his deceased mother.

The boy tilted their head slightly. As if he was waiting for something. 

Right, he asked a question...

"It's Goth... I don't remember seeing you around here. Are you new?" the hooded monster questioned. He heard that a new kid had arrived two weeks ago, but had pushed the thought from his mind when no new faces had appeared.

"Yeah! The nice lady said I was living here now since I can't remember anything besides my name! She said it had something to do with the crack in my skull." Palette chirped, placing down his tray and lifting his hat to show off a jagged mark the size of the smaller's pinky on the right side of his skull.

Can't remember anything? Like amnesia?

"... Does it bother you? Not being able to remember anything, I mean," Goth quickly added, looking away in shame. 

Palette quirked his mouth for a moment before shaking his head, "Nah, everyone seems really nice, so I don't mind being here!"

The small skeleton didn't expect that kind of response, gaping at the taller before chuckling. 

Well, at least he's optimistic.

"Sorry," Goth took a breath, "you surprised me. Most monsters would be upset about not remembering their past, but you're going along with it as if nothing's wrong."

Palette let out a laugh, wrapping an arm around the smaller, "You're funny, I have a feeling we're going to get along great! We'll be best friends!"

Goth flushed at the comment. 

This kid called me their best friend? He barely even knows me! Well... having a friend for once would be nice... most of the other kids avoided me anyway, so I suppose I could try it.

---

From that day on, the pair had become nearly inseparable, doing almost everything together.

From what Palette told Goth, he'd been found unconscious near the smoldering remains of a burned-out carriage, probably the result of bandits. He'd spent the first two weeks of his stay in the sick bay recovering from his injuries.

When it had been assessed that he had no memories to aid them in returning him to any remaining family, it had been decided he would stay at the orphanage instead.

Palette seemed to adjust well to life in the orphanage, the month passing by in a flash. The pair were currently in the dormitories on the bottom bunk of their bed drawing.

He also had a flair for making art and became excited to pursue the talent upon discovering it. Since the smaller didn't have the soul to suggest anything else, they had managed to scrounge up some paper and crayons to make a picture. Goth was drawing a butterfly while Palette was putting windows on a castle.

Goth was a bit thankful for the circumstances that brought his new friend to the orphanage, even if that made him a jerk.

I like spending time with Palette. Whenever he's near, my soul gets this fluttery feeling. I feel special around him...

"The king's here!"

Goth looked up at the shout as a group of kids raced by. Footsteps thundered down the hallway and the stairs.

The king? Why?

"King? Who's that?" Palette asked, looking up from his drawing. 

Oh, he wouldn't know about the king...

"It's probably King Ink. He's the guy that rules over our country...," Goth supplied, pausing to contemplate the reason, "he usually doesn't travel this far out, though. I wonder if he's looking for servants or something." 

The idea of adoption sounds nice, but if only one of them is picked...

"Come on, let's go see!" the taller skeleton pulled at Goth's sleeve, dragging him off the bed and down the stairs. A crowd of children was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. As the pair got to the last step, a regal figure stepped through the doorway... 

King Ink.

He cut an imposing silhouette against the row of guards at his back, his cape's gold embroidery shining in the sunlight. His gaze swept over the crowd of murmuring children in silence. He looked like he was searching for something.

Seriously? Is he actually looking for a servant? But if that's the case, why isn't he saying anything, or asking questions? To find a proper servant, he would need to look for certain personality traits.

Goth couldn't help flinching when the king's eye lights roved over him. They stopped, seemingly surprised. Stepping forward, the adult made his way through the crowd towards him. He stopped in front of the small skeleton. 

No way... is he actually... but I can't... Palette...

The king kneeled... pulling Pallete, who was next to him, into a hug.

His friend appeared shell-shocked as well as the older monster rumbled out, "My son. I thought I had lost you along with your mother. But here you are, alive and well."

Son!?

The king pulled away from the hug, his tearful smile falling at the look of confusion on Palette's face.

As King Ink was pulled aside by the director to have the situation explained to him, Palette turned to Goth, "He called me son... he's a king, does that mean I'm a prince?"

"I guess so...," the smaller mused, his mood and face slowly crumbling as the implications hit him, "I guess this also means... you'll being leaving... con.. congratulations."

Goth hid his face in his sleeves as his sockets began watering, not wanting to make a scene. 

I should be happy! My best friend found his family... so why do I have to cry and ruin it for him?

Palette pulled him into a hug, pressing their foreheads together and looking him in the socket, "It's okay Goth, don't cry! I'll make sure to visit you every day!"

"That will not be possible, Palette," The king boomed, his eye lights shifting shape and color, "There is much to do once we return home to remedy the situation, and the trip here would be much too long to make on a daily basis."

Goth stared, his tears now falling freely at the news. He choked back a sob, burying his face into his friend's chest.

Palette... it's not fair...

Palette balked at the information and his friend's distress, squeezing them tighter, "But... but I can't leave Goth... he's my best friend! Nobody else will play with him, he'll be lonely!"

The information hurt to hear aloud, especially in front of a crowd, but Goth couldn't refute it.

It makes sense... I'm pretty quiet by nature, I don't really like any of the louder games the other kids like, so they call me boring, and they're nervous around me since I'm a skeleton monster.

"I'm sorry Palette, but-"

"No! I'm not leaving Goth!" the boy interrupted with a shout, glaring at his father while maintaining a solid grip on his friend. The small skeleton went silent, staring at his friend in shock at their bold declaration.

Palette's yelling at The King. The stars-loving King! Surely, they won't-

"It can't be helped, then," King Ink huffed, turning to the director, "how do I go about adopting this one?" 

The king was gesturing to Goth.

Wait, what? Did he...?

The small skeleton was jarred from his thoughts as Palette picked him up and swung him around, cheering, "We're going to live in a castle together, Goth! Isn't that great?!" 

Goth latched onto the hug for fear of being dropped, but couldn't help the smile that crept onto his face at the news.

As long as I can be with Palette, I don't care where I go.

Chapter Text

Goth's single eye light shined as the king led him and Palette through the castle. 

I know castles from stories make them out to be big, but this place is huge! And we're going to live here, starting today.

Well, I suppose Palette always lived here, he simply doesn't remember it. It has to be hard on him, being surrounded by all these familiar things and not being able to recognize any of it.

From the way Palette's eye lights sparkled, Goth could only assume he wasn't dwelling on it.

I suppose it's not in him to be sad about anything, at least not for long.

The king stopped in front of an ornate wooden door, "This, young Goth, is the servant's quarters, where you will sleep and spend your free time when you are not working."

King Ink had decided, shortly after adopting the smaller skeleton, that he would be hired as Palette's personal servant in return for room and board. Goth had readily agreed, not caring as long as he got to be around Palette.

The door led into a small hallway with three doors. The one on the right contained a room that reminded Goth of the old dormitories, minus the bunk beds. Instead, the beds were laid out in thin rows separated by small nightstands with a trunk at the foot of each bed.

As the king opened his mouth to speak, a small human girl with pale blonde curly hair and blue eyes came through the door on the left side of the hallway.

"Ah, Meryl, perfect timing," King Ink clapped his hands and startling the girl, "I was introducing our new servant, Goth, to the servant's quarters. He will be working here, starting today, as Palette's personal servant. Would you mind walking him through his daily tasks and showing him around once he gets changed?"

"Of course, Your Majesty! It would be my honor!" the girl curtsied, lifting her head and catching sight of Palette. She flashed a brilliant smile, "Prince Palette, I'm glad to see you've returned unharmed!"

"Oh, uh... thanks." The skeleton honestly didn't know how to react to the girl that seemed to know him. 

"He is probably tired, Meryl," The King stated, "I will take him to his chamber to get changed. Bring Goth there once you both are finished."

With that, Palette left with the king guiding him by the shoulder, waving excitedly to the smaller as the door shut on the two servants. Goth's eye light flicked around anxiously, "So... you're Meryl?"

The girl jumped at being addressed, "Oh, yes! I'm a servant studying as an apprentice healer, and... you're Goth?" The small skeleton nodded.

"Well... let's start by getting you changed out of those clothes," Meryl replied, leading him to the right side room once more. 

Looking at each trunk, she stopped at the third one from the left side of the door, "Ah, here's a vacant one. This will be your bed..." Opening the trunk, she held up a tan shirt with a brown and white livery laced frock coat and brown breeches that looked to taper off at the knees, "and this is what you'll be wearing when you're out and about doing your daily tasks." 

Goth could also make out some wool stockings and black buckled shoes as well as some spare clothes of a similar fashion at the bottom of the trunk. The outfits were in the same design as Meryl's own dress and stockings.

I have to admit it looks much fancier than what I imagined.

As the clothing was placed in Goth's hands, he looked around expectantly, "Um... is there somewhere I can change, or..." He trailed off, causing Meryl to blush, "Oh, I'm sorry, let me just..." Covering her face, she turned away, squeaking out, "Let me know when you've finished or if you need help."

Luckily, Goth was able to more or less navigate the outfit on his own. He had a bit of trouble with the stockings getting caught on his bones, but it was easily fixed. He was surprised it fit so well considering his small frame.

Once finished, Meryl eyed him, "Hmm... it'll need to be brought in a bit at the waist and sleeves. If you're going to be seen with Prince Palette, you'll need to maintain a proper image as his servant." Her blue eyes scrunched up at his red scarf, "You're going to wear that?"

Goth flushed, his eye light focusing on the ground as he mumbled, "It's the one thing I have left from my mother..."

I figured it wouldn't be a problem if I tucked the tail ends into the coat...

The girl sighed, "I suppose as long as King Ink or Prince Palette don't say anything, it'll be fine."

Leading the skeleton from the room, Meryl gave him a tour of the main hallway, leading to the dining room where they served meals, the sitting room where guests were entertained, the throne room where King Ink saw his subjects and hosted parties, and the corridors holding the guest chambers on one side and the royal chambers on the other.

"The door at the far end is King Ink's chamber. Only guards, specially selected servants, and the royal family are allowed in there," she informed Goth as they traveled the corridor.

She stopped in front of a closed door, bouncing on her heels, "And this is Prince Palette's chamber. It's actually my first time seeing his room since I'm usually not one of the servants assigned to its upkeep."

Rapping on the door, Meryl called out, "Your Majesty? I've arrived with Prince Palette's servant, may we come in?" A muffled affirmation was heard from the other side.

Pushing in the door, the pair were greeted by a room that Goth really shouldn't have been surprised with, given what he'd already seen. Even so, the room was probably big enough to fit the whole orphanage, containing its own sitting area and personal bathing room!

At the center of it were King Ink and Palette... dressed in a white high-collared suit coat patterned with light blue and gold embroidery and brown knee breeches. The ensemble was complemented by a white tricorn hat with gold trim, white silk stockings, and brown shoes.

"How do I look?" Palette asked anxiously, pulling at a button on the suit coat. 

He looks like... well, like royalty. Probably because he is. It definitely suits him.

"You look great! A real prince," Goth replied with a soft smile. His cheeks felt warm.

"Absolutely stunning!" Meryl squealed, her eyes sparkling. 

Wait... does she have a thing for Palette?

A small part of Goth's soul squirmed at the idea, but it was quickly shoved down. 

What am I thinking? Palette's my friend... and he's royalty, he's way out of my league...

"You look pretty good yourself! Definitely worked your scarf into the outfit, it's a nice splash of color," Palette added playfully, tapping the smaller monster on the back.

The king's coughing quickly brought everyone to attention, "If everything is in order, I have duties I must attend to. Meryl, for the first week you will be tasked with aiding Goth in learning the routine and basic etiquette alongside your own tasks."

"Yes, Your Majesty," the girl replied, curtsying as she pulled her new charge into a clumsy bow.

King Ink turned to his son, "For now, you may relax and tour the castle at your leisure, ask Meryl if you require a guide. Dinner will be in three hours, Meryl will escort you. Tomorrow morning at dawn, I will send her and Goth for you. After breakfast, we will begin your lessons. I have much to re-orient you in and teach you."

With that, the king left the room with three children staring at each other, not knowing how to break the silence.

"So," Palette coughed, gaining the other two's attention, "What's exciting in this place?"

Chapter Text

Life in the palace was pretty good once the constant daily chores and proper etiquette expectations were taken out of the equation.

Goth had to get up early enough to get bathed, get dressed for the day, and grab something to eat so he could make it to Palette's chamber at a reasonable time to help him get ready and escort him to the dining hall for breakfast.

He had to stand by against the wall in case Palette needed anything. A servant couldn't sit at the same table as the royal family, after all. Palette had initially been really upset by the revelation but was eventually forced to let it go since it was etiquette every servant followed.

Goth's reassurance had helped in that matter. As long as he ate beforehand, he was fine.

Afterward, Palette had lessons with various tutors ranging from academics to royal court mannerisms, and even sword fighting. In all honesty, it looked exhausting.

Goth was always on-hand in case he was needed, but he also had Meryl teaching him how to behave properly as a servant. He felt that he was getting the hang of it. Most of it was simply not speaking unless spoken to, bowing when greeting royalty or receiving a command, and following any orders given.

He wasn't sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing that Palette frequently waived formalities whenever they were alone. While it made Goth happy that he was still treated like a friend when they were alone, it also seemed to cause the taller skeleton to stumble on his words in more public settings. 

Not to say Goth didn't have his awkward moments, but he seemed to catch himself more easily. It was surprising since Palette was the one of royal blood.

Of course, Palette's also learning way more than I am... and the penalties for me messing up would probably be higher given my lower status...

"Goth!"

The scarved skeleton looked up from the texts he was reading to see his friend jogging up to him, "They said I could have a break, let's head over to the garden!"

Palette grabbed his hand once he was standing and led him across the grounds and through the hedges that made up the garden. He slid onto the first bench he found, dragging Goth down with him and letting out a sigh of relief.

"How are things going so far? Anything coming back to you?" Goth questioned, leaning a bit on the white stylized rungs. 

"Kind of...," Palette looked to the cloudy skies in a rare show of uncertainty, "It's been two months... and yeah, all of the stuff they're teaching me sounds familiar and Meryl and dad are really nice about helping me along... I just don't think anything's really clicked yet."

"It'll be alright, Palette. You'll get there eventually," Goth reassured the other, patting him on the back. 

Palette smiled, pulling him into a hug, "Thanks, you always know just what to say to make me feel better!"

"An... any time," Goth squeaked, a purple blush burning onto his face, "I... I think we should get going, they're probably waiting." 

"Yeah...," The Prince agreed reluctantly, pulling himself off the bench and trudging toward his lessons.

The servant chuckled, his voice taking on a teasing lilt, "Careful Palette, I don't think you're behaving princely enough... the tutor will get onto you!"

Palette huffed and glared at him, but Goth could see there was no actual bite to the expression, causing them both to burst out laughing.

The rest of the day proceeded much like every other day, lessons before and after lunchtime, free time and chores before dinner, bathing... which he found somewhat difficult to perform to Palette's confusion, dressing down, and bedtime.

Goth looked out the large-paned window as he shut the door to Palette's chamber for the night, giving the guards at the door a nod as he passed.

The beginnings of a storm are brewing. Hopefully, it won't be too loud.

Making it to the servant's quarters, Goth stopped by his trunk, then proceeded through the door at the end of the small hallway leading to the servant's bathing area.

Giving himself a quick scrub down and rinse, he dried off and changed into his sleeping gown. He grumbled at the way it made him look like a girl... but everyone wore them, even Palette, so he probably wasn't the only one feeling that way.

Flopping onto his bed, he turned over as the faint sound of rain against stone lulled him to sleep.

---

Goth was woken by the feeling of a hand on his shoulder. "Goth, wake up!" someone whispered... 

Wait, that voice is...

"Palette...?" opening an eye socket, his vision slowly confirmed it was indeed Palette standing by his bed, clutching a large pillow. The smaller looked around, seeing it was still nighttime by the numerous other servants sleeping in their beds. A dull rumble echoed in the background.

"Sorry for waking you, I...," he looked away, a slight flush to his cheeks, "I had a bad dream, and the storm's really noisy, and the room's so big and empty, and-"

"It's alright. I get it, Palette, I'll come," Goth yawned groggily, crawling out of bed to take Palette's hand and lead him back to his bedchamber.

The same thing had happened in the first week. Palette had been anxious sleeping in the expansive room by himself and needed Goth there to help him fall asleep.

It was a simple matter to resolve since Palette's bed was, like everything else in the castle, big enough for both skeleton's to fit comfortably with room to spare. As long as Goth was still able to perform his duties in the morning and nothing happened between them, there was no problem.

Making their way down the hall, Goth noticed the guards that had been stationed at the door previously were absent, "Hey Palette, was the hall this empty when you came out?"

"Yeah, it's part of why I came to get you... it made me nervous," the taller skeleton confessed, squeezing the pillow in his free arm tighter.

The guard's absences sent up red flags in Goth's mind, but he brushed it off as a change of the guard or something similar. Opening the door, the small skeleton couldn't deny the room did indeed have an ominous feel to it.

It's probably the size of the room and the storm outside... storms can make anything creepy. It's fine...

Pulling his friend over to the bed, he crawled into the sheets and made room for Palette to follow. Once he was settled, Goth set to rubbing along his spine to soothe him.

Even as Palette's breathing evened out and he drifted back to sleep, over an hour had ticked by and Goth still couldn't seem to shake the feeling of foreboding that had wormed its way into his soul.

Why am I getting scared now? Everything's fine... we're inside, we're safe... has that tear in the canopy always been there?

A flash of metal was all the warning Goth received as a dark figure crashed down through the hole in the fabric above. His mind scrambled as he roughly shoved a sleeping Palette off the bed, screeching as the shadow landed on his extended right arm.

Palette yelped as he flopped over the side of the bed, his skull swiveling rapidly to figure out what happened, "Wha...! ... Goth...? What-" 

Starry eye lights took in the shadow and contracted as the figure stood, advancing on him with a knife in their hand.

Blinking away the tears in his eye sockets, Goth launched himself at the intruder, grappling their neck as his momentum slung them over his friend and onto the floor.

He bit down a whine as the figure's movement jostled injured bones, but he held on, knowing it was over if he let go. 

I just have to hold on long enough for a guard to come... hold... on...

Goth cried out when a rough hand grabbed his hurt arm, unhooking him from their neck and slinging him across the room. He landed in a heap, shaking from the pain shooting up his arm. "Goth!" Palette shouted, rushing to his friend. The small skeleton whimpered as he was gingerly lifted into a sitting position.

The small skeleton looked down at his arm. He could barely make out white bone jutting out from the dark-stained fabric of his nightgown sleeve in the dim light. 

Yup, definitely broken... and bleeding... 

He winced as he laid a hand over it, trying to stem the flow of marrow.

The intruder hissed with a raspy voice, "It isn't bad enough that you came back, but now there's another runt I have to kill too!" Palette rose up onto shaky legs, attempting to move away from their attacker while pulling an equally unsteady Goth with him.

Came back...? What do they mean by that?

The figure advanced once more, but this time no one would be able to ward them off. Goth tried to move so he was standing in between the attacker and his friend, but the size difference made him a poor shield.

The figure snorted at the small skeleton's attempt, ignoring him as they prepared to strike.

As Goth braced himself for the attack, the door slammed open, revealing the royal guard brigade. Goth felt he was on the edge of tears as the guards swarmed the room, quickly subduing the attacker and securing the area.

Goth's relief was short-lived as his vision began to cloud around the edges and the room began to sway, the beats of his soul pulsing throughout his body and a churning feeling rising up in his non-existent stomach. 

His legs wobbled and gave out from under him. He absently felt arms catch him... someone yelled for a healer...

Goth groaned weakly, shivering as his head laid on something hard, but warm in contrast to the cold against his back. The churning feeling eased, but his soul continued to hammer in his chest and his vision swam as a white blob... Palette... yelled above him, joined by another higher pitch voice soon after.

That sounds... like......

Chapter Text

"... H......ould b......ne. Go.........nt in... ock ......... let h......st..."

...wh...wha...?

The high pitched voice from before was speaking. Goth's mind struggled to process what he was hearing and feeling as the fog slowly lifted. His body felt heavy and there was a pool of warmth around his right arm. He groaned, willing his eye sockets to open.

"He... ...ing up!"

Finally winning the fight, Goth's hazy eye light took in the dimly lit room, Palette and an armored woman sitting on his left side with Meryl on the right. A small green glow surrounded the girl's hands, which were pressed against his arm... healing magic.

"Goth, you're okay!" Palette cried, throwing himself on top of the skeleton. The warm feeling on his arm vanished.

"S... space...," the small monster gasped, clenching his socket shut against the excess weight pressing down on him. The prince jumped off as if he'd been shocked, briskly apologizing as he did so.

Goth took a shuddering breath as he replied, "s'fine... what happened?"

The woman next to his friend spoke up, "The assassin was apprehended and taken into custody after being removed from the prince's bedchamber. We believe the man was part of the group that attacked the queen and the prince's carriage over three months ago. 

"After we arrived, you went into shock from your injury. The healer here arrived as you fainted,  and you were moved to the sick bay to recover after she stopped the bleeding."

Her brown eyes took on a hard edge, "I was notified by Prince Palette that you took on the assassin by yourself." Goth nodded slowly, wondering where she was going with this. 

Am I in trouble?

"That's admirable. You seem to have the kind of loyalty and grit I like to see in my soldiers," she stood, thumping her hand against the metal plate covering her chest, "My name is Helleia, Captain of the Royal Guard. I wish to proposition you for an apprenticeship to become one of our soldiers. With enough training, you might even be able to become the prince's personal bodyguard."

Goth played with the idea. 

While I'm not a physically oriented monster and I'm pretty small, letting Palette get hurt because of a threat... or worse...

What would have happened if the guards hadn't arrived when they did?

"I'll do it," the small skeleton responded, his expression set.

The woman grinned, "I like that look. We'll begin your training once that arm's fixed up. I'll warn you though, I don't pull punches. You'll be training to defend the royal family with your very life, so you better come prepared." Goth nodded, and the woman turned with a satisfied smile, leaving the room.

"Goth... are you sure you're okay?" Palette questioned, tears still lining his sockets. 

"Yeah, my arm doesn't even hurt anymore," the other reassured him, lightly raising the arm that had been placed in a crude sling while he'd been unconscious.

"Why did you stand in front of me like that?" Palette murmured, almost at a whisper, wavering eye lights cast down with his hands bunching up his marrow-stained gown.

Goth's mouth open and shut, as if he were a stranded fish trying to take in air, "Because... I... you... you're important... you're... ah..." 

The small skeleton desperately wished he had his scarf so he could hide his face, unable to evade the prince's expectant stare.

What am I supposed to say? I can't say how I really feel! Palette's a prince and I'm... I'm a mere servant. I have no status, no one would ever accept that kind of relationship... and even if the people did accept it, there was no way Palette would reciprocate those feelings! I'm just a friend to him...

"You like him," Meryl announced. Goth's eye light shrunk to a pinprick.

"...Is that true?" the prince asked, the room becoming deathly silent in the wake of his question, "Goth?" 

The smaller skeleton's eye light flicked over to Palette. His expression was unreadable. 

How does she know? Better question, how could she out me like that!?

Goth's face burned traitorously as he struggled to avoid the words that would undoubtedly shatter his soul once he spoke them aloud, "... I... well... maybe... but I... um...I-"

Every retort in his mind died in away at the feeling of Palette's mouth on his. Time seemed to blur, Goth's disbelief dissolving into joy as he arched up into the kiss. His sockets sliding shut, left hand grasping the taller skeleton's sleeve to pull him deeper into the kiss.

This... this is...

When they finally pulled away Goth laid back against the pillow, gasping for breath in a daze while Palette's starry eye lights locked onto the monster in front of him with stony determination, "What you did earlier was reckless and scared me half to death. When you fainted... I thought I was losing you. I never want that to happen again.

"If you plan on fighting for me, then you better become the strongest so you can win for me because I like you too and I'll never forgive you if you die for me."

Warmth filled Goth's chest as he nodded his skull numbly in response.

"I can get on board with this," both blushing skeletons jumped at Meryl's voice, belatedly remembering she was still in the room, a sly grin plastered across her face.

Goth managed to find his voice first, "But I thought you liked him."

"I did," she shrugged, "I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a crush on him... but I've seen how the prince acts around you. He never acted that way with me, or anyone else for that matter, even before he lost his memories. 

"I knew on top of being a servant, I would never be able to hold a candle to the connection you two have... so I gave up. Plus, you both make a ridiculously adorable couple."

The pair blushed brighter. Goth countered, "But I'm a servant, too... the king and his people would never accept-"

"Then don't tell them," she said in a matter-of-fact tone, "At least, not until Prince Palette succeeds the throne. At that point, he'll be the final authority. No one will be able to counter his decision even if they object. I can even help you keep it a secret until then."

She focused on Palette, "Also, Goth's smart and picks things up quickly. I know since I guided him on becoming a servant. You've been learning what it takes to become a king. If you help him learn about the politics of being a ruler as well, the people won't be able to deny his worth and it will ease them into the idea if you decide to make your relationship public."

The taller skeleton gulped, nodding his skull, "I'm willing to give it a shot.... as long as Goth wants to, that is." 

The monster in question was faced with two pairs of eyes awaiting his choice. "I...," Goth steeled his resolve, "I know it'll probably be hard, but I want to have a future beside you, Palette. Let's do it."

---

From that point on, Goth spent his mornings and afternoons training as a royal guard and his free time studying with Palette to be a ruler.

Meryl covered for Goth's study sessions with Palette, enlisting the help of the other servants of the castle to covertly take over the small skeleton's chores so he could focus on assisting his prince around his studies.

Goth was glad to have her on their side given her flair for persuasion, rallying everyone to their cause easily.  Before long, their relationship became a closely guarded secret among the staff, all silently rooting for the young couple that inspired the hope of one day breaking the status barrier.

Goth had a sneaking suspicion his mentor Helleia actually knew something was going on as well, but she never hinted at the topic if she did. 

Their training each day was hard, but effective in teaching the small skeleton how to defend himself and his kingdom, especially once he learned to summon a scythe as his weapon. His small size was actually a boon in combat, allowing him to get around his opponents quickly for sneak attacks and dodging. It also let him continue using his servant's uniform with some extra protection hidden underneath since he too small for the standard metal armor.

Helleia was rather taken with the idea of Goth being a guard in disguise.

The assassin's attack on Palette had also managed to rattle some memories loose, allowing the prince to remember some of the more recent events prior to his arrival at the orphanage. He was most happy about remembering what his mom looked like. He made sure to draw a picture straight away so he wouldn't forget again.

Despite everyone's worries about the repercussions of regaining the lost memories, overall nothing really changed as far as Palette was concerned. He was still the same cheerful skeleton he always was, just with a bit more peace of mind.

King Ink attempted to find his son a suitor throughout the years, but every lady that came to call was politely refused. Palette only held eyes for Goth, even if he couldn't say it aloud.

Though he still made sure to show the smaller skeleton in subtle ways every chance he got.

Years later, about a week after Palette's twenty-fifth birthday, King Ink found he no longer had the soul to rule on his own without his late wife by his side. This led to a ceremony where he abdicated the throne to Palette, making him the new king.

It was during Palette's coronation speech that he announced his desire to take Goth, now second in command of the royal guard and Palette's personal bodyguard, as his queen.

Meryl, appointed to Chief Advisor a few years ago, grinned like a maniac as Helleia let out an amused huff. The former king expressed shock at his son's announcement, but quickly realized this was probably the reason behind Palette's constant refusal to take a bride and gave the pair his blessing.

He knew times were changing.

Through the first week, there was some skepticism and outcry among the people... but as Meryl said so many years ago, Palette's passion and kindness combined with Goth's wisdom and strength was a combination no one could deny. 

Chapter Text

"You're a bastard, you know that?!" Lotus screeched as his housemate walked through the door. Rurik's star-shaped eye lights narrowed at his tone.

"What the hell are you on about now?" Rurik growled, slamming the door, kicking his boots off, and trudging over to the kitchen seeing as dinner wasn't prepared. The smaller skeleton followed him as he began rummaging through the cupboard.

"You know full well what I'm 'on about'! You were screwing around with my pansy alternate again!"

Goth wasn't the only monster or human Rurik would fool around with by a long shot, his partner had always been promiscuous... but he was definitely the one that pushed Lotus' buttons the most.

Is Rurik really that dissatisfied with my presence that he feels the need to seek out someone that looks just like me?

"Oh stars, not this shit again," the taller grumbled, grabbing a bag of chisps from the cupboard when nothing else appealed.

"Yes, this shit again!" Lotus retorted, his single red eye light wisping with agitated magic, "You're always out at all hours of the day messing around or fighting, then you come home and expect me to cook, clean, and give you everything you want as if everything's fine! Why can't you-"

The smaller skeleton's tirade was cut short as Rurik's temper snapped, his hand making contact with Lotus' face and sending him to the linoleum floor with a throbbing mark on his left cheek.

"Don't you ever tell me what to do, you whiny little bitch!" Rurik's voice rumbled, his expression dark as he glared at the cowering figure on the floor, "I'm the one in charge here, not you! One of your jobs in return for living here is to have dinner ready when I get home... so yeah, I expect dinner, not a lecture! In case you forgot, this is Underfell! If you're so damn unhappy with the way things are, then do the world a favor and go kill yourself 'cause nobody wants to hear it!

Rurik stalked off to his room, slamming the door as Lotus laid motionless, the fight sapped from him, clutching his stinging cheek as he fought the tears welling up in his sockets.

It took a minute before the skeleton was able to pick himself up from the ground and stagger to his room, flinching at the sound of crashing from the other skeleton's room.

Wrenching his door open, he stumbled through and let his back press it closed once more. Within the silence of his room, he slid down the wood, letting his tears fall.

What the hell am I doing here?

That one was easy enough to answer. He spent the first thirteen years of his life being tormented and beaten by his parents, supposedly to toughen him up and make him strong enough to survive the hardships of life. 

He eventually ran away from home, unable to cope with the stress.

Their LOVE did nothing to prepare him for life on his own. He was small and looked weak, a perfect target for bigger, stronger enemies. His only saving grace that fateful day in the alley had been Rurik happening by and running off the monsters trying to dust him.

Afterward, Rurik had given Lotus a new place to call home away from his abusive parents. The small skeleton did everything in his power to show the other his gratitude... even giving up his first time when it was asked of him.

As the years wore on, though, Rurik grew colder and more violent, rarely showing any emotion that would be considered positive.  

Why would he? I'm useless... nothing but dead weight.

Sure, Lotus could cook and he made a decent income as a reaper, but meals would usually pass in silence if they even ate together at all, and Rurik really didn't need money since the house was already paid off by his absent father and utilities were a non-issue.

Put simply, he was nothing more than a burden. Lotus had no purpose or ambition outside of pleasing Rurik, and he couldn't even do that right anymore. 

My parents hated me and so does Rurik... what's the point in anything...

'do the world a favor and go kill yourself'

The words echoed in his skull, driving him to a grim conclusion. 

That's the only thing left that will make Rurik happy.

Pushing himself off the door, he reached back to flip the lock before shuffling over to the worn desk next to his bed. Pulling out a piece of paper, he sat in his chair and began to write. The words flowed alongside his tears as he poured his final thoughts out onto the paper.

Signing his name, he tossed the pencil and stood. The question now was how he planned to carry out his final act. 

Rurik keeps all the medicine in the master bedroom's bathroom... and he's currently in there. I can't stand knives and blood would just make a mess for Rurik to clean up after I'm gone, so stabbing or cutting myself's no good.

His eye light fell on the closet and an idea popped into his head. Opening the sliding door and searching the shelves revealed a length of rope, an old prop previously used for the pair's 'roleplay sessions'... back when Rurik had considered him appealing.

Pulling out his phone, a quick internet search and some scrolling past pointless warning labels provided him with an easy tutorial for a hangman's noose.

He followed the steps, throwing the end of his finished noose over his ceiling fan once he completed the knot, securing the end to a bedpost.

Grabbing a chair, he stepped up and grasped the loop in the rope, taking one last look around his room. It was sparsely decorated, only holding objects that held sentimental value to him and some books.

One such item, his most precious, was the first rose Rurik had gotten him, dried and pressed in a frame alongside a small picture of a grinning Lotus and a grumpy Rurik. It was also his last.

The evening had started off fine, but one mishap got the proverbial ball rolling. One thing led to another and by the end of it, the taller skeleton had gotten up and left in a rage, leaving Lotus alone at the table for hours before he finally went home by himself. They never went out again after that.

That probably should have been the first sign...'better late than never', I suppose.

Slipping the rope over his neck, he was nearly startled off the chair when the door rattled with a resounding bang.

"Lotus, you piece of shit, open the door!" 

Rurik... no, I can't handle this... not now... not when I... I...

"Just go away!" Lotus howled, his voice descending into a scratchy sob toward the end, "I'm giving you what you want..." Taking a final shuddering breath, he slammed his foot into the back of the chair, upending it and letting gravity take over.

Farewell, life...

Chapter Text

 

Rurik slammed the door, stomping over to his bed and roughly grabbing a pillow, discarding the bag of chisps in his hand. His first punch ripped right through the fabric, doing nothing to quell his anger as he tore the pillow to pieces. He stormed over to the bookshelf, ripping things off the shelves and launching them around the room. 

His hand eventually settled on a picture frame. 

It contained a picture of himself and Lotus, out on their first date... the only date they ever went on. Seeing the reason behind his anger made the skeleton's emotions spill over, urging him to throw the object before he even registered the action.

He jolted at the resulting crash and shatter of glass, his anger drained away as regret instantly filled the void. He maneuvered around the debris, picking up the broken frame. 

He and stared at the picture peeking from behind the jagged bits of glass. 

Lotus looks so happy... when was the last time I saw him smile like that?

The date had started well enough, with the pair engaging in their typical conversation topics and banter. But everything changed when the waitress came back with the wrong order. His companion had waved it off, even going so far as to have one of the waiters take their picture in an attempt to lighten the mood, but Rurik wasn't able to let it go so easily. 

That date was supposed to be perfect... and I was just so angry...

He'd gotten himself so worked up that he left just so he wouldn't take out his frustration on the restaurant... or Lotus. So focused on blowing off steam, it was hours before he even remembered his companion. By the time he made it back to the restaurant, the small skeleton was already gone.

Rurik stared at the mess of stuffing on his bed and the destroyed remnants of his bookshelf scattered across the floor, sliding down to lean back against the side of his bed as his skull tilted toward the ceiling.

Lotus is right. I really am a bastard.

He was moody. He refused to back down when challenged and was loathe to take the blame when he was called out for his actions. 

He was selfish. The skeleton couldn't resist whenever a pretty face that presented itself, even when Lotus was clearly devoted to him. 

He was callous. He knew Lotus constantly criticized himself and suffered from low self-esteem due to his shitty lot in life before meeting Rurik... yet the taller still threw insults and said things he didn't mean when his temper flared despite the damage it caused.

To make matters worse, he had been harassing Lotus' cousin prior to arriving home.

Dammit... He had every right to blow up at me. I should apologize for hitting him.

Pushing himself into a standing position and making his way out of his room, he checked the living room. Empty. The kitchen was too. 

Guess he's crying in his bedroom again... shit. This makes things more awkward.

Backtracking to Lotus' bedroom door, he turned the handle, only to find it locked. His temper rose up against his will as he began to slam his fist into the door.

"Lotus, you piece of shit, open the door!" 

How dare he lock me out! I even came to apolo-

"Just go away!" Rurik heard the small monster howl from behind the locked door, trailing off at the end, "I'm giving you what you want..."

What I want? What the hell does th-

His thought was interrupted by something thudding against the floor, shortly followed by a strange sound.

"Lotus?" The skeleton called, banging on the door again. 

What the hell is that noise? It sounds like ...gagging?  Wait... no... no, not gagging, choking! He's choking! Shit!

Rurik broke out in a cold sweat as he renewed his efforts to bypass the locked door. 

"Lotus! Dammit, Lotus!" he bellowed as he threw himself into the door, wincing as the wood held strong against his shoulder.

His panic rose as the noise inside the room ceased. Backing up, he rammed himself into the door, stifling a grunt as splintering wood bit into his shoulder. He continued the motion, repeatedly throwing his full weight into the dent.

You better not die on me, Lotus! I'll be damned if the last thing you hear is me calling you a piece of shit!

Another impact managed to create a hole in the wood big enough for him to reach his arm through. Ignoring the jagged splinters that scraped and dug into his bones, Rurik flipped the lock and threw the door open. 

His soul dropped at the sight of Lotus... his Lotus, unconscious and dangling from the ceiling fan.

Snatching up the toppled chair, he scrambled to grab the limp skeleton, their body slumping against him as he lifted the pressure off of their neck. Pulling his knife out of the holster on his belt, he cut the rope loose.

The end draped over Lotus' back as he stepped down from the chair, moving toward the bed and placing the smaller down. Rurik carefully cut away the tight knot, tossing the broken loop to the floor and exposing an angry red ligature mark around the top his partner's neck. As he studied the injury, a new horror dawned on him.

Lotus wasn't breathing.

Shit shit shit! What do people usually do in situations like this?! I only know how to fight and kill!

"Dammit... think... something, anything...!" He growled to himself, slamming his hand down on the bed. He caught sight of Lotus' phone tumbling off the bed and onto the floor, the dimmed screen still open to an internet search page. Snatching it up, he frantically typed in 'not breathing'.

The first result gave a link to something called 'CPR'.

Following the steps, he covered Lotus' nasal passage and blew air into his mouth, pressed up and down against his rib cage, and repeating the process as the directions dictated.

"Come on! Breathe, Lotus! Breathe before I end up breaking your damn ribs!"

After three rounds Lotus took in a sharp breath, hacking and wheezing as his breathing slowly but steadily evened out and his expression grew slack once more. Re-reading the directions, it looked like Lotus would be fine from there... he would live.

Tossing the phone onto the desk, a new thought crossed his mind.

What.The.Hell! What was Lotus thinking?!

Rurik's hand raised subconsciously to strike the sleeping monster before him... but his rage vanished at the sight of the mark he made earlier, still bright red and visible on Lotus' left cheek, matching the bruising around his neck not hidden by his scarf.

Heaving a frustrated sigh, he turned and sat on the edge of the bed as he rubbed his temple. Turning away from the unconscious monster, he spotted a solitary piece of paper laying on Lotus' desk.

Leaning over to grab it, his soul grew cold at the contents: a suicide note. 

The note, pockmarked with lavender tears, contained the small skeleton's anxieties and hopelessness, his feelings of inadequacy, and his absolute lack of self-worth and faith in himself. What hurt the most was Lotus' inability to blame Rurik, or anyone else. He considered this the inevitable outcome of being too weak for Underfell's standards. 

He really thought he was making everything better by killing himself!

Rurik's own words from their fight earlier echoed back at him. His eye lights dimmed and his soul drummed in his chest.

Stars... if anyone's a piece of shit, it's me... I flat out told Lotus to do this! My stupid temper tantrum nearly got him killed! What the hell's wrong with me?!

Sniffling from behind the skeleton alerted him to Lotus' awakening. Crumpling the paper in his hand and tossing it away, he curbed his self-hatred to focus on his partner.

Rurik felt his soul clench as he took in the sorry state of the skeleton before him. Lotus had his arms draped across his sockets as he fought back weak, scratchy sobs and his bones rattled quietly from built-up stress and exhaustion of the ordeal.

Grimacing, Rurik took a seat on the bed once more, pulling the distressed monster into his arms and positioning himself against the headboard. Lotus squirmed and struggled in his grip, but his efforts had little effect since he lacked the strength to fight the taller skeleton off.

I did this to him...

"Lemme go," the smaller cried hoarsely, tears cascading down his cheeks and stuffing up his already straining voice, "I can't... can't st... stand this anymore! I... I can't even... k-kill myself properly! The one thing... you-"

"I know!" Rurik shouted, silencing the monster laying against his chest with a surprised hiccup. He belatedly realized he probably scared Lotus with the sudden volume as the silence drug on, his partner fighting back his tears. He cleared his throat, continuing at a lower volume, "I know what I said... and it was a shitty thing to do. You didn't deserve those words, and I was an asshole for even suggesting something I didn't mean. So... I'm sorry."

His grip tightened as Lotus stared up at him, eye light blown wide, "I'm a horrible monster. I can fully admit that. I cheat and lie and steal and kill... I can't control my temper most of the time and I have next to no impulse control. I'm the absolute worst... yet, for some reason, you still find reasons to stick around and love me."

Rurik propped his skull against the headboard, staring at the remnants of the noose dangling from the fan, "You being the only one giving in this relationship, that's... it's not right. I know that, and I've let it go on for far too long. Something needs to change if you feel like taking yourself out of the picture is the only solution to our problems.

"I need to change. I can't afford another fuckup like this. I... I can't promise I'll get better right away...I'm bound to make mistakes, but if you're willing to stay with me and give us one more shot, then I'm willing to try to be a better monster. I never want you to feel like this is an option ever again."

At this point, Lotus shifted to lay his unbruised right cheek on Rurik's chest, curling up in his lap as he took in the skeleton's words and the beats of his soul within his ribcage.

After some silent contemplation, the small monster responded quietly, "I... I'd like that... a lot... it feels like it's been forever since we expressed anything other than anger towards each other. Feeling love, instead of LOVE... that would be nice... really nice..."

With a sly grin, Rurik maneuvered himself around. Lotus squeaked as he was pressed into his bed, pinned securely under his partner's weight.

A hand rose to massage the smaller skeleton's undamaged cheek as he crooned, inches from their face, "Clearly, I've been neglecting my precious little flower for far too long... it's about time I do something about that. I need to thoroughly show you exactly what you mean to me."

Lotus' face flushed, his breath hitching as he seemed to take in the meaning behind Rurik's words. He smiled as the small skeleton relaxed under him, a gentle smile of their own forming. 

The smile didn't quite reach the smaller's eye light, more tentative than anything, but the action was a show of good faith... that he was willing to put aside his fears and trust in his companion one more time. "Thank you...,"  Rurik whispered as he closed the gap for a kiss containing every ounce of love he could muster.

I may not be perfect... I probably never will be. Still... I want to try. For Lotus. For us. I know what I stand to lose if I mess up again, and I'm not willing to pay that price. 

Chapter Text

Palette grimaced at the picture in front of him. 

Something's still missing... I just wish I knew what, though.

It feels... dull?

Most would disagree, citing the vibrant colors he used. To them, it would be considered a beautiful work of art. When the skeleton looked at it, however... it looked off in a way he couldn't describe.

Normally, he wouldn't be surprised given all monsters grew up lacking the ability to perceive certain colors from the moment they're born. A monster only regained that color when they happened upon their destined partner containing eyes of that particular shade. 

The problem was that Palette didn't seem to lack the ability to see any color. He'd tested himself many times, the results never changed, he was able to make out each color that made up a rainbow and every tint in between.

Not for the first time, he wondered if that meant he had no soulmate.

Or maybe I already met them and never realized it. But if that's the case, why does my art always look so... incomplete?

Palette scrubbed at his skull, racking his mind to come up with the solution to a problem that had plagued him since his mom taught him about the concept of soulmates.

"Palette? Are you still up there?" His mom, Dream, called from downstairs. 

"Yeah... Why?" the young monster called back, tilting back in his chair as if the action would help his voice carry better. 

A chuckle was heard in response, "You're going to be late to school, for starters-"

Palette bit off a yelp as he clumsily righted himself in his chair, grabbed his phone to check the time. Finding he was indeed late, the skeleton snatched up his supplies, cramming them haphazardly into his bag. 

I got so wrapped up in my art, I forgot the time! Looks like I'll have to skip breakfast if I want to make it.

Racing out of his room and down the stairs, skipping a few steps in his haste, his mom stood at the bottom of the stairs with his lunch. 

Lucky! I probably would have forgotten all about it until lunchtime came around.

"Bye, mom!" Palette shouted, grabbing the bag as he barreled out the door. 

"Have fun, sweetie!" he heard the older monster reply behind him as he raced out the door and down their walkway leading to the sidewalk.

---

When he got to school, the courtyard was milling with activity. Pulling out his phone, he goggled at the time. 

Now I'm early? How does that even work? Was I really running that fast? Stars, I might've actually had time for breakfast after all...

Heaving a sigh, Palette found a bench to relax on while waiting for the bell to ring. 

Maybe I can work on that picture some more...

Before he could act on the thought, a faint cry caught his attention. Looking up, the monsters and humans around him continued as if nothing had happened. He nearly chalked it up to him hearing things, when he heard the noise again.

Standing from the bench, he began to jog in the direction of the voice. It was coming from an area behind the main building.

"...at ... y... ea... ...ou didn't know?" A lower tone growled, their words becoming more clear as he got closer. 

"I... I'm sorry! I can't see those colors, so I just-"

That's the voice I heard, the one crying out!

"Are you kidding me?! You can't see two different colors? What kind of freak are you... or are you lying to me?!" Palette peeked around the corner of the building to find a bulky green and yellow alligator monster, surrounded by other various monsters and humans, bearing down on an unseen target somewhere in the center of the semicircle.

The owner of the higher pitched voice quailed at the accusation, "I'm not lying! Please, I'm sorry for stepping on you, I really couldn't- AH!" 

Their words were cut off as the alligator shoved them against the wall, "Sorry isn't good enough! I won't be satisfied until I pay you back for the pain you caused me!"

"P... Please...," the small voice gasped, "... hurts... c... agh...  can' breeh..."

"Teacher, they're over here!" Palette stepped out from his hiding place, yelling out behind himself while hoping his idea would work.

It had the effect of catching the group's attention, looks of panic spreading through the crowd as the more cowardly members began to take off. A chain reaction was set off, the rest scattering rather than waiting for the 'teacher' to arrive.

Soon, all that was left was a single white-cloaked monster crumpled on the ground against the wall, their hood hiding their face in shadow as they gasped and coughed. Palette rushed over to them, kneeling to inspect them for possible damage, "Hey, are you okay? Do you need me to take you to the nur-"

His words trailed off as the small monster lifted their head, revealing a male skeleton with a single eye light that shined a beautiful white with a hint of soft lavender speckled throughout.

Something in his soul snapped into place.

The other skeleton seemed to be equally dazed into silence. His eye light locked in on Palette's starry ones, opening and closing his mouth repeatedly in an attempt to find his words.

"Green and yellow...," the small skeleton finally whispered, tears pooling at the edge of his sockets as he smiled, "I always thought something was wrong with me for missing two colors instead of one. I never thought about it being a color gradient."

Green and yellow... my eyes? 

That's when it hit him.

White... of course! While it's technically not a color according to the light spectrum since it's essentially the presence of all color, plenty of artists still consider white its own distinct color!

Looking closely, the cloak the small skeleton was wearing seemed to have its own off-white hue and subtle shadows that he wouldn't have picked up on before, though it paled in comparison to their brilliantly shining eye light.

How did I not realize how lacking my sight was... how blank everything was? Wait, that's it... what's been off about my art for so many years!. Why it never looked right!

I never saw white... I saw blankness.

Palette chuckled, breaking out of his epiphany to respond, "Tell me about it, I thought something was wrong with me for not seeming to lack any colors. I was beginning to believe I didn't even have a soulmate because of it. I never even considered the possibility of white being the color I was missing... but it's as clear as crystal now."

The small skeleton blinked owlishly, then snorted, "Really? That pun was a bit of a stretch, I don't think you picked the light one."

Palette tilted his head in confusion, not realizing what he had said. Once his own unintentional pun and the other skeleton's intentional one registered, he joined in with the smaller skeleton's laughter.

He wasn't sure how long the moment lasted, but the sound was music to his proverbial ears while it did.

"Oh, I don't think I caught your name," Palette stated once the pair settled down, standing up to brush himself off and holding out a hand to the small skeleton, "I'm Palette, by the way. Palette Roller."

The monster took Palette's hand, pulling himself up, "It's Goth... I'm supposed to be starting here today, so I'm not sure where I'm supposed to go. I was looking around when I accidentally stepped on that big monster from earlier. They dragged me back here with their friends and... well, you can probably guess the rest."

Palette tried not to think too hard about what had nearly happened to his soulmate. 

Goth isn't hurt, just a bit shook up. I'll make sure nothing like that ever happens again.

"You'll need to head to the main office to get your class schedule. The layout here can be a bit tricky if you're not used to it. I can show you where it is," Palette offered, a small part of his mind registering that he was still holding Goth's hand as he led the way back to the courtyard and into the school.

I don't think I mind it, though. It feels nice... warm.

Apparently, neither did Goth since he seemed content to follow the taller skeleton hand-in-hand. 

Maybe we can to hang out and get to know each other before the bell rings... I hope we have a class or two together...

Goth smiled warmly, his white eye light glowing softly in response, "I'd really like that. Thank you."

Palette's soul fluttered, glad for once that he decided to skip breakfast to arrive early. Now that he had found Goth, his school life was going to be much fuller than any meal could ever provide.

Chapter Text

A monster watched from the shadows as a pair of skeletons chatted away, eating their lunch without a care in the world. Palette said something, probably a joke from the way Goth laughed. The sight made the monster gnash her teeth nearly to the point of cracking.

That little brat, I should be the one over there! How dare he get in the way of my happy ending! Palette and I are clearly meant to be, but he's too blinded by that little runt in front of him to see how truly wonderful I am!

I have to separate them, otherwise, I'll lose my precious Palette forever!

Pulling out her phone, she scrolled through her contacts until a familiar number was highlighted. Pressing the call button, she held the phone up to her ear. It rang three times before a gruff voice on the other end answered, "Hey sis, what's up?"

"I need you to do something for me," she asked, a smile curling on her jowls as a plan formed in her head. 

This will be perfect... my happy ending's still within reach.

---

The bell rang, signaling the end of the school day. 

Time to meet up with Goth and head home!

Palette packed up his belongings, zipping up his backpack and slinging it over his shoulder as he made his way out of the classroom and down the hall toward his locker. Opening the door, he noticed a slip of paper tumbling from the grate. Picking it up, he read the scrawl on it:

'Please meet me behind the school. I need to talk to you.'

This handwriting... Bridgette's? 

His face scrunched up at the thought of meeting her.

Ever since the incident on the gym roof, he realized just how much she tended to flirt with him whenever they were in class together. She always made a point to sit near him and try to talk to him, putting her paw on his arm here, making a flirty comment there. The gestures were sweet, sure, but he didn't feel that way about the dog monster... not to mention her brothers were bullies and jerks.

I'll have to make it clear I'm not interested, it's not fair to lead her on when there's no chance of anything happening.

With his mind made up, he closed his locker and made his way to the back of the school, thinking about how he would break the news to her.

Rounding the corner and making his way past the alcove leading to the cafeteria's kitchen dumpsters, he spotted Bridgette leaning against the brick wall, checking her tawny fur in a compact. She was wearing a blue and purple short sleeve dress with a black scarf around her head and a matching purse. She looked up, smiling when she noticed the skeleton walking toward her.

"Palette, I'm so glad you could meet me, I just had to talk to you, but I didn't want anyone else overhearing it," she said, her smile revealing her sharp canines.

Palette rubbed the back of his neck, replying sheepishly, "I have something I need to tell you too... you go first, though."

"Well," she began, her eyes darting away for a moment before meeting Palette's star-shaped eye lights, "I feel like we haven't really had a chance to get to know each other, and I'd like to change that."

I was afraid of this. I have to make sure I break this to her gently. 

"Look, Bridgette, it's not that I don't appreciate your feelings. I just don-"

A large furry arm wrapped around Palette's chest as a damp cloth was shoved against his mouth and nasal passage, startling him when a sickeningly sweet odor assaulted his senses.

Bones scrabbled against fur as he attempted to pry the fabric from his face, but he found whoever was holding him was stronger and his body was quickly losing strength as the world around him began to spin. His non-existent stomach flipped as he weakly struggled against the disorientation.

He looked toward Bridgette, his hazy eye lights begging her to run and call for help. Instead, she walked forward, glaring at his attacker.

Is she... planning on fighting?

"Why isn't he falling asleep?" Bridgette barked angrily at his assailant. 

She's... not helping... no... stars, no!

"I don't know!" another voice growled back, "This is how they do it on T.V.!"

She huffed, undoing the scarf that had been holding her fur back and placing it over his sockets.

Panic filled the skeleton as his surroundings went dark, now only able to hear her voice, "Whatever, it looks like it's working well enough that he won't put up much of a fight anyway. Just load him into the car and make sure no one can see you."

Palette suppressed the urge to gag as his attacker lifted him up... probably carrying him to their car.

The cloth was no longer covering his mouth, but whatever was on it had already done an effective job incapacitating him. His mind and body felt sluggish as he tried to force his way out of his captor's grip, hearing cruel laughter in return for his efforts.

Chapter Text

Palette's wrists were forcefully tied behind him as he was shoved into a cramped space. 

A car, if the sound of a motor revving and Bridgette's words mean anything.

He tried to maneuver his head to at least remove the scarf from his eyes, but his body refused to cooperate with him, probably because of whatever was on that cloth earlier.

As the drive wore on, Palette could slowly feel the effects of the drug wearing off. His skull was still pounding and he still felt shaky and dizzy, but he felt more in control of his movements.

He would probably only have one shot at escape, so he had to time his actions just right. His opportunity came as the sound of squealing brakes signaled the car's arrival at its destination. Something opened next to his head, and a rough paw grabbed at his jacket to pull him up.

NOW!

Ramming himself forward, Palette's skull collided with something solid, producing a yelp as he fell to the ground with a grunt.

Blinking past the stars in his darkened vision, he tried using his shoulder to pick himself up so he could run. He didn't have a clue where, since he was literally running blind, but he just had to move... that was his priority.

He hadn't even managed to get to his knees before he was pinned to the ground once more, gasping as the wind was knocked out of him.

"What the hell ya doing?! Ya almost let 'im get away!" A new voice growled. His assailant snarled back, "Oh get off my case, he rammed into me!"

There's another one?!

Palette tried screaming out, falling into a coughing fit at the burning, raw sensation in his throat. The skeleton wanted to cry as he was lifted and carried off, feeling completely drained of energy after his failed escape attempt.

Passing what sounded like two doors and a set of stairs, he grunted as he felt himself get pushed into a solid object. His arms were restrained as furry hands retied his wrists onto what he was soon able to identify as the back of a chair. His feet were secured shortly after, leaving him completely immobile.

He wanted to ask what they were planning to do to him, but he was afraid to hear the answer. Before he could even attempt to find the courage to speak, heavy footsteps stomped away and thumped up the stairs.

Just as well, I probably wouldn't have been able to speak properly anyways.

The thumping stopped and a click was heard... then silence as he was left alone, shivering and blindfolded in the chair.

Shifting his wrists only produced pain, the bindings digging into his bones. He was just going to hurt himself if he continued, so he forced himself to relax and think. 

This would be so much easier if my head wasn't throbbing...

For what felt like hours, he muddled through various escape plans... but nothing panned out.

Even if I somehow manage to get out of these restraints, I would still have to fight my way past at least two attackers in an unknown location.

Even without being in a compromised state, Palette was never a fighter. Considering he was already overpowered once, chances are another encounter would end in the same way whether he was caught by surprise or not.

He wasn't sure if it was his headache, his blindness, his lack of energy, or the growing fear that hindered his ability to find a solution, but one thing was clear... he wasn't getting out of this on his own.

---

A click, a door opening, and small tapping noises came down the stairs. An exasperated sigh and arms around his skull announced a female presence.

The scarf was removed to reveal Bridgette.

"Those two really don't know how to treat a guest," she tutted, her hands on her hips and a smile on her face that would make one think she wasn't looking at a kidnapping victim.

She sat down on his lap, rubbing her paw against his left cheek as she pressed herself against his chest. "Don't you worry, I'll make sure to treat you right," she cooed. 

Taking notice of his expression and his attempts to move away from her, she playfully pouted "Oh, don't be like that Palette. I'm doing you a favor, you'll see. You love me, you just don't know it yet... but you'll see my charm eventually, no matter how long it takes you to realize your true feelings for me. We will have our happy ending."

His soul sank and the reality of his situation set in... 

No one will help me here. I'm stuck here, trapped with a crazy dog monster that won't take no for an answer.

Mom, Dad, Goth... someone, please help me. I want to go home...

Chapter Text

Goth sank into the chair of his school desk as he once more reviewed the information he knew so far. Sadly, it wasn't much.

Palette was last seen leaving his class Thursday afternoon, making today a week since he disappeared. There are currently no clues of where he is or what might have happened to him.

The small skeleton had looked all over the school and asked everyone he thought might provide a lead for any clues to his disappearance. His parents, Palette's parents, and he had also searched their neighborhoods.

No notes, no words, no belongings left behind, no dust... Goth was personally thankful for that.

Palette's still alive, dad told me he never appeared on the reaping list, so he has to be out there somewhere. Monsters don't just disappear into thin air... but what if he left by choice?

Goth pressed his skull into his hands, wracking his mind for something, anything to sway the idea from his mind.

No, he wouldn't leave everyone behind like that. He loved being here... at least, he acted like he did...

"Hey Goth!"

A tired eye light glanced up at his friend Cray, in a cheerful mood that was the mirror opposite of Goth's. Cray's smile fell at his haggard appearance, "Still haven't found any leads, huh?"

Goth laid his head on the desk in silent answer, burying his skull in his arms as his emotions burned out once again, a sadly growing occurrence in the wake of Palette's disappearance.

His moods lately seemed to fluctuate between emotionally numb or sobbing mess... neither of which was healthy, but his nerves had been pushed to their absolute limit, causing the small skeleton to slowly break down with each day of Palette's absence. 

Today was looking to be an 'emotionally numb' day.

As usual, Cray would sit with him, attempting to comfort him... and as usual, it did little to ease his mind. The bell rang and class started... Goth's head never rose from the desk once and no one dared to make him raise it.

Not after the last time.

---

"Dammit!" Cray cursed as he slammed his fist into the brick wall next to him. His knuckles throbbed from the impact, but he barely paid it any mind.

Even when Palette isn't around to get in the way, he's still interfering with any progress I try to make with Goth.

The small skeleton had been the object of his affections since they were children, but Goth was forced to move away two years into their friendship.

By the time Cray had reunited with his crush, he'd already become attached to the starry-eyed skeleton known as Palette. Cray's only saving grace had been the colorful skeleton's obliviousness towards Goth's affection.

Now, though, it was painful to look at how broken Goth was without him. His eye sockets seemed to droop more and more each day from lack of quality sleep, he'd lost all passion or motivation for anything not involving his search for Palette, and he didn't even look like he was eating properly, if at all.

He clearly isn't taking care of himself and at this rate, if things keep going on like this, Goth will eventually self-destruct.

As much as I hate that deliriously spastic little goober for stealing Goth's affection, his happiness is more important to me... and if that means Palette has to come back, then so be it.

Unbeknownst to Goth or anyone else, Cray had been doing his own investigative work once he realized how much this was affecting the smaller monster. Unfortunately, he was coming up empty-handed as well. 

He growled as the bell rang, clenching his fists as he made his way back to class, once again having nothing to show for his efforts.

It makes no sense! How can such a bright and loud guy just up and disappeared without so much as a trail of dust left behind?

"I won't hear of it!"

A shout startled Cray out of his thoughts. Peeking around a corner, he spotted a trio of dog monsters having an argument. The female of the group was the one yelling... 

Brianna? Brittney?

"Keep it down, Bridgette!" the smaller of the males hissed, "Anyway, this plan isn't working. He's not responding to your advances at all, and that little friend of his isn't giving up the search. Someone's going to figure it out eventually."

"No no NO!" The female, Bridgette, stomped her foot into the ground with each word, "Palette! Is! Mine! He'll come around eventually, he needs time is all, and I won't let some midget skeleton take him from me!

Seriously? The information I've been searching for conveniently fell into my lap? Either I'm really lucky or these mutts really aren't that smart.

The big question is whether or not I do anything with the information. Telling someone would be the right choice... but if Palette comes back, I'll probably lose my only chance with Goth. 

Still... Goth looked so miserable this morning. It feels like he's lost the will to live without Palette around...

The larger dog monster, sporting a tear on his right ear, nodded towards the first, "He's right, sis. It's only a matter a time before we're caught, we jus' have ta accept that he's not-"

Bridgette reached forward, grabbing onto the larger male by his shirt, her tone cold as she spat, "I am not giving up. If Goth gets too close, then we'll find a way to make him disappear too! As long as you two keep your yaps shut, everything will be fine!"

Cray's eye lights guttered out, his fists clenching along with his jaw as he fought the urge to march over and fight the trio himself. 

That bitch threatened Goth's safety...

If Cray had blood, it would have been boiling.  Any hesitation the skeleton held toward acting on the information he overheard was now completely erased.

I won't let them hurt Goth. They're going down, now.

---

Goth reached for the door of his locker. He fully intended on throwing all his books in, not caring about the assignments he needed to complete or the reading he needed to do.

Not when Palette's still missing. I have to find him first, everything else takes a backseat.

Opening the door, his plans for where to search next were interrupted by a note falling to the floor. Setting his bag down, he crouched to retrieve the crumpled paper. A dull eye light dilated when he opened it and read the contents:

'Bridgette and her brothers have Palette and they aren't afraid to go after you too. Be careful.'

This...!

Goth hastily fumbled with the zipper of his bag, tearing the pocket open to fish out his phone. With a trembling right hand, he dialed the number of the police chief he'd been in contact with for the past week, to the point of memorizing it. An equally shaky left hand clenched the note in front of him, reading and re-reading the sentence.

After two rings, a deep male voice picked up, "Police Chief Ramsey speaking, how may I help you?"

Goth spoke quickly, trying to keep his voice steady as he said, "Mr. Ramsey, this is Goth Afterdeath. I think I've found a lead in the disappearance of Palette Roller..."

Chapter Text

Within an hour, a team of police officers was staked out in front of the house Bridgette and her brothers lived in.

Questions directed at the neighbors yielded promising results. With reports of seeing the brothers pull the back of their car into the garage the evening Palette disappeared, as well as some yelps and yelling they hadn't thought was suspicious at the time, it was probable that Palette was here.

The trio of kidnappers had already arrived home and they were confirmed to be in the living room and kitchen.

Goth and Palette's parents had been forced to stay behind with the chief and the radio communication officer, not wanting to risk their safety with an unknown situation. They watched as the officer tested the transmissions between the chief and the officers he was sending in.

Goth's soul pounded as the rescue operation commenced, listening intently to the broadcast being transmitted from the squad's headsets.

There was a bang followed by shouting, "Male one subdued, Male two resisting arrest, Female one fleeing... Male two subdued, persuing Female one..."

Goth clenched his scarf as the updates came through, "Female one fleeing downstairs... victim located, repeat, victim located...!"

Muffled screams could be heard in the background as the officer relayed, "Female one is holding victim hostage by knifepoint-"

Goth's breath hitched as he tore off toward the house's front door, ducking under the chief's and Dream's outstretched arms and ignoring the frantic yells behind him.

Please... please, let me make it...

Reaching the foyer, Goth followed the shrill screams to a set of stairs leading downward. His feet took him down into a wide, gray stone basement... crowded with police officers pointing weapons towards Bridgette, who was holding a knife to Palette's neck.

Palette, who was tied by his wrists and ankles to a wooden chair, his jacket unbuttoned and bunched at his elbows to reveal a torn and rumpled white shirt sporting questionable stains.

He was noticeably trembling, with tears retracing worn lines on his cheeks from clenched eye sockets, taking staggered breaths while leaning as far as he could from the knife against his neck.

"Oh, stars... Palette!" Goth cried, rushing forward only to be held back by one of the officers.

The taller skeleton's sockets shot open, shock, fear, and relief mixed in his expression, "... Goth?"

"You!" Bridgette snarled, glaring daggers at the hooded monster, "This is all your fault! This wouldn't be happening if you hadn't gotten in the way of our love!"

Goth's eye socket twitched, "Love? You call this love? You're holding a weapon to his neck, not to mention you have him tied up against his will! This isn't love, it's a sick obsession!"

"Kid, don't antagonize her!" one of the officers warned.

"You're wrong!" She cried out, her paw with the weapon shaking, "He loves me, he just can't see it because you poisoned him! And... and you can't take him from me! We'll die before we're torn apart!"

The knife pressed into Palette's neck, drawing a small trickle of marrow and a whimper from the restrained skeleton.

*SNAP*

A dangerous aura blanketed the room. The officer holding Goth backed up when he realized the small monster was the source.

With his face shrouded by his hood, he padded forward slowly, raising himself so he was floating until he was three feet off the ground, continuing forward.

His right arm extended out, a scythe materializing in his hand, his left eye light glowing a venomous purple. He raised his skull, his gaze menacing with the shadows of sleep deprivation under his sockets. 

 

His single eye light honed in on the dog monster before him.

"I'm going to say this one time and one time only, " Goth spoke as he floated toward a cowering Bridgette, his voice cold and calm and his expression promising vengeance, "if you dare to touch another bone on his body, I will not rest until I put you down like the dog you are, the legal system be damned. That, I can promise you."

"N... no! Get away from me!" In a panic, she threw her knife at Goth, stopping his progress and producing a wince from the floating monster and a gasp from Palette as the knife sliced into the smaller's right cheek and ripped through his hood.

The officers jumped once Bridgette discarded her weapon, moving in to pin her to the floor as she howled in fear and misery. Goth dropped back to the ground, dissipating his own weapon and rushing to Palette's side, anger completely forgotten in place of worry.

"Oh Palette, thank goodness you're alive! Did she hurt you?" Goth asked, two skeletal hands cradling the captive monster's face as relieved tears fell, stinging against the cut on his cheek. 

Two of the officers began untying the ropes holding Palette's arms and legs.

Palette hiccuped, tears flowing as he replied tiredly, "I.. I'm fine now... but that... that was.. so reckless of you! S... she could have... really hurt you!"

Goth chuckled, sniffling softly as he attempted to wipe away the tear tracks on the taller's face with his thumbs.

Palette's worth it. If it meant getting Palette back safely, I probably would have let myself be cut to ribbons if she'd demanded it.

Not like it would kill me anyway. I probably shouldn't say that out loud... at least, not right now. It would only upset Palette.

"I figured the only way she was going to drop the knife was if I gave her another target to use it on. It was pretty reckless...," The small skeleton admitted.

His voice fell to a whisper as he continued with a blush,"... but they say we do crazy things when we're in love."

Goth's eye light nervously gauged Palette's reaction to his confession. The taller skeleton averted his own anxiously.

"L... love...? I'm not... not sure if I'm ready for... love... right now...," Palette stuttered, wrapping his arms around his trembling frame once his wrists were free, "But... maybe after... all of this... calms down...?"

Goth removed his hands from the other as if he had been burned, his blush fading and his gaze falling as he pulled back and shrank into himself, "Of course... yeah... you wouldn't be comfortable... not after... all of that. It was dumb... to say that, I mean. Forget I said anything. Stars, I'm sorry... I'm so stupid. I won't-"

Palette stopped Goth's rambling by embracing him, pulling the smaller skeleton close as he draped his chin over their shoulder, "It... it wasn't dumb... you're not stupid... and I don't want to forget. Any other time, I... I..."

He took a deep, shaky breath before continuing, "Anyway, thank you... for not giving up on me... and showing me what... what love should be. Thank you, Goth."

Goth hesitated to return the hug at first, sensing that Palette was forcing himself and really didn't want the physical contact. After a tense few seconds went by without being pushed away, he slowly and carefully embraced his companion as he murmured, "Anytime. Forever and always."

 

Chapter Text

Once Palette was freed of the ropes, Goth and another officer helped him up the stairs and out of the house to his waiting family and an ambulance.

Bridgette and her brothers were already gone, on their way to the police station to be processed for juvenile detention. It was probably a safe bet that they would be expelled from their school and forbidden contact with the two skeletons and their families.

Both teens hoped that would be the case, at least.

After the initial tearful reunion, parental fussing, and some scolding toward Goth for running into danger, the four monsters loaded into the ambulance. 

The drive to the hospital was a quiet one with Goth and Palette nodding off, sleeping peacefully for the first time all week. Once they arrived, Ink and Dream didn't have the soul to wake them up since they both looked so tired, opting to carry them into the hospital for Palette to be checked on.

Other than some inconspicuous bruising on his legs, wrists, and ribs, some bite marks around his neck and collarbone, and general weakness, Palette was deemed healthy.

Afterward, Palette had to be woken for a police officer to take his statement of the incident. It took a minute to calm him down before they could proceed. His stuttered recounting of the week angered and upset both parents. They were both glad Goth was sound asleep for the explanation. If he heard what Bridgette had done over the course of the week, he might have decided to make good on the threat they'd heard over the police radio.

If not for the legal repercussions, they would be tempted to let him.

Once Palette's bites, bruises, and the cut on his neck along with the cut on Goth's cheek were treated and his statement was recorded, the group was free to leave. Palette insisted on walking on his own despite his fatigue. His parents let him, sensing there was more to it than simple pride.

It was getting dark outside by the time they walked through the sliding door, with nightfall slowly closing in. 

As Ink created a portal to take Goth home, Palette softly interjected, "Can... can he stay the night? I d... don't want to be... be alone. I know you'll be there, and it's... it's a school night, but... but I..." 

Both parents watched in dismay as their son stammered out various excuses while fighting down the urge to cry. "Of course, let me make sure it's okay first," Ink soothed, shifting Goth in his grip to pull out his phone to text the small skeleton's parents. 

Within minutes they were teleporting home, where Geno and Reaper stood by the front door holding a bag containing spare clothes and other necessities along with his backpack for school the next day.

Reunion or no, Goth still had his priorities as a student.

After giving their sleeping son a kiss on the forehead and a few kind words of relief to Palette and his parents, Goth's parents teleported back home.

The small skeleton was relocated to the couch, his hooded jacket and scarf removed and set aside on a chair while Palette went with his mom to get changed into some more comfortable and clean clothes. Returning to the living room, Palette was surprised that Goth was still asleep, but didn't question it as Dream helped him onto the couch.

If Goth's gaunt appearance is anything to go by, it's probably been a stressful week for him too.

With blankets and pillows acquired, he was bid goodnight as Ink shut the light off, leaving the hallway light on just in case. 

Snuggling into the covers, Palette tried to ignore the way the shadows seemed to shift around the living room. Every noise the house made set his nerves on edge. His soul thumped wildly in remembrance of his time in the basement, his imagination supplying various horrifying scenarios as he curled up in a shivering ball.

They're here... I know they're here! I can feel their eyes! They'll take me away again... they'll tie me up and hurt me again! They might... no, I don't want it! I don't want to-!

A soft groan startled him back to reality.

Whipping his skull to the right, he spotted Goth laying against a pillow on the opposite end of the couch with his sockets clenched tight, shivering and whimpering much like Palette had been.

He must be having a bad dream.

Reaching over, his own fears momentarily forgotten, Palette shifted the small skeleton over so his head was laying in Palette's lap. Goth burrowed into the fabric of his pajama bottoms, clenching at his pant leg.

Palette's breath hitched. The touch made him squirm... a wet sensation hitting his leg was all it took for him to fall back into his earlier panic.

No, not again... no more... it only hurts! I... I don't-

"... m'sorry..." Goth mumbled.

Palette's mind went blank. He peered down to find Goth was now crying in his sleep, his tears soaking into the bandage on his cheek as well as his friend's pants.

Letting out a tremulous sigh, he placed a hand on Goth's right arm. "It was never your fault," he murmured, rubbing small circles on the exposed humerus with his thumb.

The action seemed to calm the smaller skeleton as his face regained a neutral expression.

It's only Goth, not Bridgette. Goth isn't like Bridgette. Goth wouldn't touch me without permission, not like that... never like that. Goth cares about me... he listens to me... he loves me... really loves me, not the way Bridgette 'loves' me. I don't want her 'love', her 'love' hurts... Goth would never hurt me... he saved me...

Repeating those words to himself, the repetitive motion of his hand on Goth's arm combined with the comforting warmth on his lap slowly lulled Palette to sleep.

---

Morning came much too early for Cray. The skeleton groaned as he silenced the alarm on his phone and pushed himself out of bed to prepare for a new school day. While eating breakfast, a report on the T.V. detailed the rescue of a kidnapped monster, bringing the events of yesterday back to the forefront.

Nothing about any injuries or fatalities. Guess that means they got Palette back safely... at least Goth will be happy.

He finished his breakfast at a snail's pace, his mood soured by his thoughts. Dumping the empty bowl in the sink, Cray slipped on his shoes and snatched his bag up beside the door before walking out of the house. 

The walk to school was wholly uneventful and quiet. He reached the front walkway in no time, trudging up the steps leading into the school and down the hallway to his locker. Once his books were sorted out, he shut his locker and made his way to his first class, where Goth would be.

Now that I think about it, will Goth even come in today? He'll probably want to be close to Palette rather than sitting in school after everything that happened.

Before his thoughts could discourage him further, he made it through the doorway to the classroom, pleased to see Goth in his regular seat. Even more heartening, Goth seemed to perk up and beam at his arrival.

"Hey Goth, you-," Cray began, freezing when Goth launched himself from his desk and threw himself at the taller skeleton, pulling him into a tight hug at the chest, "... Goth?!"

"Thank you... thank you for helping me save Palette," the hooded monster breathed, looking up with watery eye sockets and a shining smile, "I know you and Palette don't always get along, but I appreciate that you went to the trouble of writing that note despite your differences. I never would have found him without you... so, thank you. It means everything to me."

"...How did you know?" Cray questioned softly, his own sockets wide with shock.

The smaller sniffled, pulling away to wipe his face, "Give me some credit, Cray. Do you really think I wouldn't be able to recognize your handwriting by now? We've known each other for how long?"

His soul ached at the reminder of what could have been. 

If only you were this intuitive when it came to my feelings...

Cray shoved away his melancholy, faking a smile and a laugh as he ruffled Goth's hood playfully with his hand, "Too long, clearly. You're too smart for your own good sometimes. It's going to get you in trouble one day."

It looks like he already did if the bandage on his cheek is any indication. But the way Goth's glowing right now... stars, I wouldn't trade it for the world.

"Come on, class is going to start soon... and you have a lot of material to catch up on," Cray led a pouting Goth to his desk, his laugh a little more genuine now.

I suppose the best I can do now is watch over Goth and make sure he doesn't get himself into trouble... and maybe smack some sense into Palette if he ever dares to make Goth cry again.

Chapter Text

"Goth, where are you?!"

Goth was startled into awareness. Darkness surrounded him and he was alone with only barren ground as far as the eye light could see.

Where am I? I'll figure it out later, that shout just now... that sounded like Palette!

Picking a direction he thought the voice had come from, Goth started running. His eye sockets widened as the sound of metal and bone clashing and crying echoed in the distance.

Pushing his feet to move faster, a white object appeared in the distance... Palette! He was holding something tightly to his chest... and it was crying. Goth's soul bottomed out when he realized the bundle was their son. 

What's Pastel doing here?!

A shadowy figure advanced on Palette, slashing at him with a maniacal grin on their face. Palette used his roller in his left hand to block the attacks while cradling their screaming son to his sternum with his right. His clothing was torn in a few spots around his arms and legs as the assault pushed him back, but he adamantly refused to let anything get through to the child.

Goth tried to rush forward to help them, only for his feet to become rooted to the spot. A quick glance revealed shadowy tendrils wrapped around his legs and torso. He struggled, clawing against his bindings, cringing at the way his bones creaked in protest at the pressure.

"AH!"

Goth's skull shot up at the noise, his own struggle forgotten. The roller had been knocked from Palette's hand, opening him to a direct attack that severed his right arm at the elbow. He grunted as a kicked knocked him away from Pastel. The child fell to the ground, screaming and crying in fear.

"Palette! Pastel!" The hooded skeleton screamed, trying to wrench himself from the shadows holding him down once more. 

Goth's voice didn't seem to reach his husband that was now struggling to lift himself using the one arm he had left. As Palette attempted to crawl toward Pastel, shadows began to wrap around him as well, impeding his progress.

The shadowed being strolled toward their child. As marrow seeped from his wounded arm, Palette screamed, "Leave him alone! Don't hurt him, please!"

"Pastel... oh stars, Pastel!" Goth panicked, frantically doubling his efforts to escape the shadows surrounding him.

The figure ignored them as it lifted Pastel up by the neck, the little one calling out desperately for help, "D... daddy! Mo... mom-AGH!" He choked as the hand tightened, squirming and writhing in the shadow's grip. Goth caught the metallic glint of a moving weapon.

"NO!" Both parent's cries echoed in unison as the weapon pierced the struggling child, producing a marrow-curdling shriek before giving way to silence. Both skeletons broke down in distraught tears as they watched their boy fall to dust.

Merrily dusting off their hands, the shadow stepped over the remnants of little Pastel and made their way toward Palette. Goth's soul constricted as he yelled, "Palette... Palette, get up! Run... please, run!"

I already lost Pastel... I can't take losing Palette too!

The taller skeleton continued to lay prone on the ground, the visor of his hat obscuring his face as he lamented to loss of their son, oblivious to the threat inching closer. 

"Please get up, Palette! Please! I still love you!" Goth sobbed as the shadow towered over him, raising the weapon into the air, "STOP IT!"

Goth's pleas were in vain as the weapon embedded itself in Palette's back, eliciting a sharp, wet gasp from the skeleton as a faint cracking sound resounded through the darkness.

A cough and a sniffle came from Palette as his body began to crumble, "Goth... I... I c... couldn't... I'm... s... so sorry... I failed..." Tear tracks glistened on his cheeks despite the lack of light surrounding him.

"No... please, no...," Goth whimpered, the will to fight leaving his body as he watched his husband disintegrate as his son had, leaving behind a pile of clothing and dust.

He clenched his teary eye sockets as the figure rounded on him. 

Let them come, I have nothing left to live for... my son and husband are gone.

"You couldn't save them...," a voice whispered with a sickly sweet lilt to it. The shadow circled the hooded skeleton, taunting their bound prey, "Your family cried out for you, they needed you and you let them down... so pathetic, so useless... they're dead because of you, you know."

Goth's frame rattled as he shook in the shadow's hold.

It is my fault. They were in danger, and I couldn't do anything to protect them... now they're mere piles of dust.

The figure donned a cheshire smile as they reeled back with their weapon, preparing to deliver their final blow. Goth tilted his skull up, tear streaking down his face as he chose to relive the memories of his once happy family rather than open his sockets and watch his own demise.

"I'll see you both soon," he breathed softly right before white-hot pain ripped through his body.

Chapter Text

Goth's eye sockets snapped open, his soul pounding and shuddering from the phantom pain in his chest. His staggered breathing filled the room as his eye light flicked around wildly, taking in his surroundings. 

He was at home in his darkened bedroom. A glance at the clock on the nightstand read just past two in the morning.

Turning over, his soul lept in joy at the sight of Palette... his precious husband Palette wearing a goofy grin on his face, snoozing away without a care in the world.

Overcome with emotion, Goth shuffled over to burrow into his husband's side, taking in the faint scent of paper that slightly eased his frazzled nerves.

Unfortunately, it also brought with it a reminder of why he was so upset in the first place, bringing tears and sniffles with it that he couldn't suppress. This had the effect of stirring the taller skeleton from his slumber.

Hazy stars blinked on in the darkness, "Huh... w... wha... Goth?" Palette's gaze shifted down, taking in the crying skeleton clinging to him. "Woah, hey, what's wrong?" he asked, wrapping his arms around the smaller's trembling body.

"A... a bad dream...," Goth hiccuped. 

Palette shifted the pillows against the headboard, bringing Goth with him to cuddle against his chest, "Do you want to talk about it or be distracted from it?"

"Talk," the smaller murmured, knowing he'd feel better getting it off his chest. Taking a deep breath, Goth slowly relived the nightmare, with Palette comforting him when his emotions choked off his words.

"It's okay now... I'm okay, you're okay, and Pastel's okay. There's no way I would ever accuse you of letting us down, you're always working so hard to make sure we have everything we need while I'm training with the Star Sans'."

Goth continued to cling to him, silent save for the occasional sniffle. He still wasn't convinced.

Palette furrowed his sockets in thought, perking up as something came to him, "Would going to check on Pastel help you feel better?" At the smaller skeleton's nod, Palette scooted over to the edge of the bed with Goth following a moment later.

The pair made their way down the hall quietly toward a door decorated in lightly-colored stars. Opening the door, the sound of soft, soothing music drifted from a small radio on top of a clothes dresser.

Goth let out the breath he didn't realize he was holding as he knelt at the side of the bed, taking in the sight of his little Pastel, sound asleep clutching a stuffed toy. Resting an arm on the edge of the mattress, he reached out to caress his sleeping son's skull, a soft smile playing across his face.

"Better?" Palette whispered a minute later, leaning against the doorway with a soft smile of his own. Goth hummed, his eye lights never leaving the sleeping child. He continued at his low volume, "Ready to head back to bed? Stars know if Pastel wakes up, we'll never get to sleep again, and you'll need to get ready for work in a few hours."

As much as I want to stay, Palette's right.

Kissing his son on the forehead and pulling himself into a standing position, the pair left Pastel's room, shutting the door on the way out, and made their way back to the comfort of their own bedroom.

Once situated under the covers, Palette pulled Goth in close, giving him a light peck on the mouth, "Remember, we're both in this together to make sure something like your dream never happens. Even if, stars forbid, something happened to Pastel, I would never give up on you. You mean as much to me as he does. What you saw was only a bad dream."

Curling into Palette's chest, Goth was soothed to sleep by the sound of his husband's soul beating a steady rhythm. 

Palette's right. My fears were nothing more than a bad dream.

Chapter Text

Kissing his son on the forehead and pulling himself into a standing position, the pair left Pastel's room, shutting the door on the way out, and made their way back to the comfort of their own bedroom.

Once situated under the covers, Palette pulled Goth in close, giving him a light peck on the mouth, "Remember, we're both in this together to make sure something like your dream never happens. Even if, stars forbid, something happened to Pastel, I would never give up on you. You mean as much to me as he does. What you saw was only a bad dream..."

Curling into Palette's chest, a buzz of silence droned within his husband's chest, confusing the small skeleton. 

Shouldn't I hear Palette's soul beats? 

Goth opened his eye sockets to question the skeleton but was met with a horrifying cheshire grin spread across a shadowed face.

"... and you're never waking up!"

Goth reeled back, falling out of the sheets onto the floor. He scrambled away from the bed and the creature laying on it... only to see it was empty. Hastily picking himself up, he turned the sheets and pillows over, finding nothing there... 

Absolutely nothing.

"Palette?" Goth breathed, searching the room frantically. His worry grew when he checked under the bed, behind the door, even throwing open the closet. Still, his husband was nowhere to be found. Running for the doorway, he dashed down the hall toward Pastel's room.

Palette must be in there, checking on Pastel again!

Throwing the door open, he was met with an eerie silence instead of soft music. Checking the bed, he only found a stuffed toy. 

"Palette? Pastel?! Where are you?!?" Goth yelled in a panicked frenzy, running from room to room, slowly breaking down more with each failure to locate his family.

Arriving in the empty living room, he stopped dead in his tracks.

Two pictures sat on the mantel above the fireplace, surrounded by wilting flowers, cards, and various other trinkets.

Pictures of Palette and Pastel, set in black frames.

His eye light vanished as everything came back to him.

The family outing. The mugging. Waking in the hospital, only to realize he was the sole survivor of the attack. The funeral. The guilt. The therapy sessions... the voices and the medicine...

He now saw his delusions for what they really were.

I wasn't hugging Palette in our bedroom earlier... only a pillow. What I convinced myself was Pastel was merely a stuffed toy. They were never here. They're gone.

I'm alone... and it's all my fault.

A sadistic giggle echoed through Goth's skull as he crumpled to the floor, clutching himself as he screeched and howled in misery, his tears creating dark stains on the carpet.

The nightmare is real... and no matter how much you try to fool yourself, you'll never escape it.

Chapter Text

Lotus ducked into the alcove of an alley, willing his breathing to calm so as not to give away his hiding spot.

Stupid, stupid, stupid! I should have known running away would be yet another dumb idea added to the extensive list of bad ideas and stupid decisions I've made in my life.

Why did I think this would be any better than home? My parents always warned me of the cruelty in the world, but I refused to listen! I didn't even make it two damn days before one of the local gangs found me.

Now here he was, a thirteen-year-old skeleton monster crouched behind a pile of boxes, running from a group of monsters, hands covering his mouth to stifle any noise while his right shoulder steadily leaked marrow.

I'll definitely need to take a look and treat it later... if I actually manage to survive.

As the thrumming of his soul began to slow, he took in the silence surrounding him.

Did I actually lose them?

Risking a glance, Lotus poked his head out of his hiding spot, seeing nothing on either end of the alley. Releasing a sigh of relief, the skeleton slowly stood from his crouch and approached the mouth of the alley.

Before he could even check around the corner, a hand shot out, wrenching his injured shoulder and slamming him back into a brick wall. He gasped as the pain from his injury and the impact hit him simultaneously, his vision impaired by the stars dancing through it.

"Now that wasn't very smart," the leader of the gang, a lizard monster, growled as Lotus slid down the wall, unable to hold himself up.

"Heh... tell me something I don't know...," the small skeleton mumbled through gritted teeth.

"You invaded our territory, then ran rather than accepting the fees. You brought this on yourself," the leader growled, punching his fist into his palm as his lackeys formed a semicircle around him.

Of course I couldn't accept the fees, I have nothing to pay with! 

He had left his home spur of the moment without his parents knowing, so he was only able to pack a few things he'd been hoping to pawn off in his backpack. Of course, the shop owner had been a cheapskate, not willing to pay near the amount the items were worth. Not that it mattered much anymore... that bag and the items were long gone now, so now he only had the clothes on his back.

I have a feeling I'm not even going to have that for much longer.

A single kick to the left side of his ribs started the punishment, sending him fully to the ground as the rest joined in. Lotus curled up as tightly as possible, using his thin arms and legs to protect his skull and body as well as he could from the half-dozen monsters pummeling him.

It was a vain attempt since the blows easily broke through his meager defenses, all culminating in a sharp crack as one of his ribs finally gave way and snapped completely, producing a sharp gasp.

The surge of pain caused him to unconsciously move his left arm toward the injured bone. The action created enough of an opening for another kick to connect with the side of his skull, resulting in another sickening crack and another cry of pain.

The skeleton could feel marrow leaking from the cracks in his skull and ribs as he tried to blink past the shock-induced haze. Even if he could see clearly, he wasn't sure he wanted to see the extent of the damage.

A whimper slipped out as the assault continued. He tucked tighter into himself, closing his sockets despite knowing it wouldn't erase the pain or cause his attackers to vanish.

As if something so wonderful would happen.

The group stepped back to admire their handiwork, laughing and jeering at the bloody and broken victim that lay shivering before them.

Lotus no longer had the strength to run or defend himself, merely waiting for his aggressors to finish him off. His sockets clenched harder as dull footfalls echoed against the alley walls.

Time's up, I guess...

But instead of death, shouting and screaming rang out.

Uncurling slightly from his ball of pain, Lotus opened his left socket just in time to see the lizard monster fly over him, crumpling against one of the walls. The footsteps echoed behind his skull this time, and the skeleton forced himself to rotate his damaged skull and glance up.

A tall, dark figure towered over him, their only visible trait being two glowing orange-yellow stars that made up their eyes. Lotus couldn't make out anything more through the light shining at the newcomer's back and his own fading vision.

And here it is... where it all ends for me... my parents were right all along, I couldn't handle it... at least I get to see something pretty in the end...

Dammit... I'm... so stupid...

A choked, wet laugh slipped out as pain stole what was left of his awareness and he succumbed to a cold and lonely oblivion.

Chapter Text

Lotus groaned, the feeling of someone touching him bringing him back to consciousness. A dull red eye light formed, taking in the sight of... a green couch?

"About time you finally decided to wake up. Your broken ass was asleep for two days."

The small skeleton's skull lolled toward the voice on his left, surprised to find another skeleton in green, gold, and black military-style dress staring right back at him. Next to them on the table was a small white box containing various first-aid supplies.

Glancing down, Lotus was slightly embarrassed to find he was lacking his shirt, scarf, cloak, and shoes... though he was more worried about the multitude of cracks and scars that were clearly visible without his clothing to cover them.

"So, you got a name?" the monster questioned, quirking a socket as he resumed changing a bandage on one of the smaller's ribs.

"Lotus," he croaked, warily voicing a question of his own, "Why are you helping me?"

"I just felt like it," the other shrugged, then added, "Also, I was curious why you were laughing before you passed out. Most monsters wouldn't laugh after getting the shit beat out of them. Can't really answer if you're dead, though, so I patched you up. So, why were you laughing?"

Lotus smiled sadly, looking away as he scoffed, "Because my existence is one big damn joke. I'm the sad-sack, worthless, waste of magic pansy my parents always said I was, and my attempt to prove them wrong only served to drive home how right they were. I was just getting my comeuppance in that alley and I found it poetic."

The bandaged skeleton continued bitterly, oblivious to his savior's grim expression, " I honestly believed you were trashing those goons just so you could be the one to finish me off instead. Collect the free experience and all that shit. 

"And on top of all that... in what I thought were my last moments, all I could think about was how amazing your eyes looked in that lighting instead of something more practical or life-saving because I'm a stars damned idiot! That's why I laughed."

The other skeleton went back to changing the marrow-stained bandages around his ribs without a word of response. Lotus assumed the conversation was over, turning his skull away to stare at the dark green cushions lining the back of the couch.

It makes sense, I said something really sappy and depressing... and perhaps creepy now that I think about it. Even if those thoughts were a coping mechanism, this guy probably doesn't know what to do with that information.

He wasn't expecting it when the monster said, "I had no intention of ever killing you back there. It's more pathetic to strike at a target that can't fight back, there's no challenge. They were scum ganging up on a single weakened target, so I taught them a lesson... that's all."

Lotus turned back to the skeleton as he stood with the first-aid box in his hands, walking off to another room.

The taller skeleton eventually returned without the box, posing another question, "So... do you have someone I can call to pick you up? A name, a number?"

The smaller snorted, immediately regretting the action when it jarred his injuries. Once the pain subsided, he answered, "The only ones would be my parents... and after being gone for four days, they've probably already given me up for dust by now. 

"Even if I did call, they probably don't give two shits about me returning outside of getting their punching bag back and crowing about how they were right. I ran away from that hellhole and I'm never going back... I'd rather dust."

Lotus shifted himself, shakily propping himself up on his elbows in an attempt to reach a sitting position.

"What are you doing?" the taller skeleton questioned bluntly.

"What does it look like?" the bandaged monster bit out, catching himself before he fell backward, "I'm getting up and leaving. There's no sense beating around the bush. You want me gone and no one's going to come for me, so I might as well get out before I'm thrown out."

"Where will you go?" the skeleton inquired.

"Somewhere. I'll figure it out," Lotus huffed. Just as he nearly managed to achieve his goal of sitting up, a boney hand easily shoved him back into the pillows that had been propping him up.

The owner growled, "Don't be a dumbass. You can barely even move, much less walk. You're practically asking for death, and I'm not going to let you waste my supplies and goodwill by getting yourself dusted as soon as you step foot outside."

His tone then took on a more playful note, "Just lay your ass down and stay there while I make some lunch. Who knows, it might even be edible if you're lucky."

As the gruff skeleton turned and walked toward what looked like a kitchen, he paused to add, "The name's Rurik, by the way... in case you were wondering."

"Well goody for you, I wasn't," Lotus mumbled sarcastically, earning a bark of laughter as the monster, Rurik, disappeared into the kitchen. 

He left the small skeleton staring in disbelief at the empty doorway, slowly processing the exchange.

So this guy... Rurik... he's genuinely being nice? He's letting me stay, no strings attached? In a world of kill or be killed, someone is actually extending a helping hand towards a weakling like me?

No... no, there has to be a catch... things aren't that simple...

He could feel his soul squeezing, but he had no idea how to make it stop.

"Stupid... I'm... so stupid," Lotus murmured, reaching up a shaky hand to scrub away the tears he couldn't hold back, "Thirteen years... thirteen years of abuse, and I... I seriously think, even for a moment... things are going to ch... change that easily? Nothing ever gets better... it's... it's only a matter of time... before he sees m... me for the waste of s... space I am, b... before he discards me... just like... everyone else."

He pressed his holed palms against his sockets, willing away the tears that refused to dry as he whispered, "He should have... should have let me die. It would have been a mercy..."

"Lotus?"

He jumped at the voice. The startled skeleton looked up, puzzled when he found an empty room instead of Rurik like he'd been expecting.

"Lotus, wake up!"

Wake up? What the hell, I'm already-

The room began to shift and spin around him as an invisible force roughly shook him. He gasped as pain jolted through his skull, clenching his sockets shut.

"Lotus!"

His sockets shot open, his soul thudding against his ribs. The first thing his eye light took in was the sight of Rurik, leaning over the back of the couch above Lotus with one arm extended toward the smaller's shoulder.

His face... is he worried?

"You okay? I came out to borrow the book you were reading, but I found you out here on the couch, moaning in your sleep. Then again... it was kind of hot. Were you dreaming about something naughty? We can continue where it left off if you want," the skeleton added with a sly grin.

Lotus had been observing his surroundings as Rurik spoke, noticing that he was laying on the same dark green couch, fully clothed with a self-help book laying against his chest.

At least, he was until the last comment registered. The small skeleton blushed a furious purple.

"I wasn't dreaming about anything gross, you sick shit! I was dreaming about-!" Lotus yelled indignantly, pausing as his words caught up with him. His blush faded as he finished his sentence in a much more subdued tone, "... about the alley... and the day we first met."

The hooded skeleton averted his gaze as the other's sockets narrowed, a heavy silence falling over the living room.

Lotus was so focused on not looking at Rurik, he didn't notice when the taller reached down, swiftly pulling him up into their arms. The book fell out of his lap as he squirmed, bouncing off the couch and onto the hardwood floor.

"W... what are you- AH!" he squawked, cut off when Rurik tipped himself over the edge of the couch, bringing the smaller crashing down with him.

The pair landed on the cushions with Rurik on the bottom, his feet dangling over the back and his hat slipping off to join the book on the ground. He was far more focused on the skeleton laying on his chest, peppering Lotus' cheeks and neck with sultry kisses.

"W... why are... y... you...?" the smaller gasped, face flush from the fall and the sudden attention.

"I'm distracting you from stupid thoughts," he replied in between kisses, "Also, proving things are better, and you're not a waste of space. Not to me."

Lotus felt touched... until he noticed the wording.

"Wait... that's... back then, you heard me? You bastard, why didn't you ever say anything?!" the small skeleton screeched in mortification, swatting at the monster under him.

Rurik laughed at his partner's antics, the blows against his chest being all flash and no substance, catching his breath and softly purring, "There's the sassy skeleton I fell for that day."

Lotus' blush returned full force as he was pulled in closer.

Rurik continued, "Whether you like it or not, you're stuck with me because I'm not planning on letting you go anytime soon. I said I was going to try to do better by you, and I meant it."

"Ugh... whatever," Lotus groused, pouting as he flopped his skull onto his left arm, his face burning as Rurik's chest bounced in laughter.

All the while, he fought the smile trying to force its way onto his face, secretly taking solace in the fact that after so many years of abuse, things could and did change after all.

Chapter Text

Palette stopped by the window in the hallway of his school, noticing the rivulets of water dripping down the pane. 

Didn't the weather forecast say it was going to be sunny today? Guess it's a good thing I always carry an umbrella.

Skipping off to his locker and depositing the books he didn't need for homework, he made his way to the school entrance. As he pushed open the large doors, a familiar white cloak and red scarf caught his attention.

Goth stood there, staring at the dark sky from the safety of the school entrance's awning, his slumped shoulders being the only visible indication of his mood.

"Guess I have to book it...," he heard the smaller grumble as they adjusted the straps of their bag.

Wait, what? That cloak won't block out the rain at all, he's pretty much guaranteed to get soaked! 

Just as he was about to run into the downpour, Palette called out, "Hey Goth!" Catching himself before he fell down the steps, he seemed surprised to find his friend behind him.

The taller skeleton crinkled his sockets as he asked, "You're not planning on running through the rain like that, are you?"

Goth turned to look at the drab scenery once more, releasing a sigh as he said, "I didn't bring an umbrella, so it doesn't look like I have much of a choice."

"I always have one on me, so we can share mine!" Palette exclaimed, digging through his own bag to produce a bright yellow umbrella. Pressing the button, the umbrella extended and unfurled itself with a pop.

As he moved closer, Goth asked, "Are you sure? Will it be big enough to fit two people?"

"Sure I'm sure, we'll be fine if we walk close to each other! Besides, your house is on the way to mine, and I wouldn't want you getting wet," Palette stated matter-of-factly.

"If you're sure...," the smaller monster relented, moving to join Palette under the umbrella.

Palette quickly found they were pretty much joined at the shoulder as they made their way to Goth's house since his umbrella was only designed for one person. He didn't mind in the slightest since he got to make small talk with his best friend about their day and their plans after they got home. 

Their conversation eventually led to a change in plans. They would make hot chocolate and do their homework together at Goth's house as thanks for walking him home. Palette readily agreed, enjoying any time he got to spend with the small skeleton.

Before long, the house came into view. Hopping up the steps, Goth dug into his bag for his keys. Two minutes went by as he searched his bag, softly growling to himself, "Where did I-" 

The small skeleton suddenly cut himself off mid-sentence, slapping a holed palm to his skull and groaning.

"What's wrong?" Palette questioned worriedly, attempting to peek around the hand.

"I put my keys on the counter when mom asked me to help her this morning," Goth explained with a heavy tone, "but I lost track of time and I guess I forgot to pick them up before leaving. No one's home either, which means we won't be able to get in." 

He experimentally jiggled the handle, probably hoping the door would somehow be unlocked. Sadly, luck didn't seem to be on Goth's side as the door remained locked tight.

He turned toward Palette, "Sorry, looks like hot chocolate's out today. You should probably head home, the weather doesn't look like it's going to let up anytime soon. Thanks for walking me home."

"What about you?" Palette asked in confusion, "You mentioned earlier during lunch your parents aren't going to be home until later tonight. Are you planning on sitting here until they get back? That could be hours!"

Goth froze with a nonplussed look on his face. 

Did Goth forget? Was that seriously what he planned to do?

Palette watched as his friend mulled over his options, apparently forgetting the most obvious one. Goth was never one to be intrusive, so he supposed it made sense, at least.

"What am I going to do with you?" the taller skeleton murmured softly to himself, a lopsided grin creeping onto his face.

After another minute of silence from Goth, Palette latched onto the smaller's arm and pulled him down the steps, umbrella held aloft as he exclaimed, "Good thing I walked you home, you'll have to come to my house for hot chocolate instead!"

Goth flushed, squeaking out, "W... what? I couldn't, I-"

Palette didn't give him a chance to finish his sentence, "Don't be silly! You were totally going to let me stay at your house, so what kind of monster would I be if I wasn't willing to do the same? Besides, I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I left you all alone out here. Just text your parents that you got locked out and you'll be at my place."

With his objection quelled, Goth sent a message to his mom explaining the situation. Once that was done, the pair jogged down the sidewalk, making a game out of avoiding the puddles at their feet on the way.

Chapter Text

Arriving at their destination, Goth was relieved when Palette successfully fished out his own keys.

After dropping off their shoes by the door and bookbags by the couch, Palette wasted no time leading the other to his room, heading over to his drawers to pull out two pairs of dry clothes.

Even with the umbrella, the pair were still fairly damp from the waist down.

Palette changed in his room while Goth went to the bathroom to change once he was given a pair of pajamas. Palette walked out of his room in a long-sleeve white shirt and one of his favorite pairs of pajama bottoms decorated in a rainbow of exploding firework patterns. 

Finding that Goth was still in the bathroom, Palette hopped down the stairs to get started on the hot chocolate.

Not even a minute later, he heard shuffling in the doorway as he set the kettle on the stovetop. Goth had on a similar shirt to his own, though the smaller's pajama bottoms sported white stars set against a gray background.

They look kind of baggy on him... good thing the bottoms have a drawstring.

Smiling at the small skeleton, he called out, "You can put your clothes in the dryer with mine, they should be ready by the time your parents arrive. I'll join you once the hot chocolate's done."

The skeleton hummed to himself as he listened to the rustling of clothes and the sound of a zipper. Goth was most likely depositing his clothes in the laundry room and pulling out the books they needed for their homework if he had to hazard a guess.

Once the kettle started whistling, Palette plucked it off the stove and poured the hot liquid into the two mugs holding chocolate powder mix. He stopped two-thirds of the way on Goth's since the small skeleton didn't like his drink too hot, filling it the rest of the way with cold water before sprinkling marshmallows into both drinks.

He walked into the living room with both mugs, setting Goth's down next to them. The small skeleton smiled up at him, setting down his pencil to reach for the cup. 

Palette felt his soul leap as Goth's eye light lit up on the first sip of his drink. Setting his own cup on the table and retrieving his bag, he peeked over his friend's shoulder to see their progress, letting out a low whistle, "You're already that far ahead? Man, you're smart!"

"Not really, it's because I pay attention in class instead of doodling," Goth teased lightly, receiving a sheepish chuckle from the taller skeleton in return.

As Palette began digging out his materials, the lights flickered. Both monsters looked up, then at each other as the power gave out, bathing them in darkness. 

"Guess homework's out," Goth lamented, "at this rate, we'll have to go in early tomorrow to finish everything."

"Hang on," Palette said, getting up and bumping around in the dark until he reached a closet, searching in there. Finding the candles, he felt his way over to the kitchen, carefully digging through a drawer so he wouldn't hurt himself by accident.

Within minutes, a small scented candle illuminated the darkness from the kitchen.

Walking carefully over to the table, Palette set it down along with three more and proceeded to light the rest. The table and surrounding area became bathed in a warm orange glow. "Now we can finish our work," he said triumphantly. Goth nodded in agreement as he shifted his papers closer to the light.

Goth was able to complete his assignments first, given his head start. After he put his materials away, he scooted closer to Palette to help him out.

As Goth leaned forward to point out an equation, his hand brushed against his companion's. He blushed at the contact, but Palette had a much different reaction.

"Your hand's like an ice cube... and your face is flushed! Why didn't you tell me you were feeling cold?" he exclaimed, whipping around the table to open a drawer set inside it.

"I'm not cold, really, I-!" Goth tried to deny, only to have a large blanket thrown over him. As his head popped out, Palette rejoined him, pulling the blanket around himself as well and scooting in close.

"There, nice and toasty!" he chirped as he returned to his homework, "Now what were you saying earlier?"

Goth took on a blank expression that seemed at odds with his flushed cheeks, but he quickly bounced back as he pointed to the book, "Oh, um... I was showing you that the equation here can help you solve the problem."

---

Setting down his pencil and shutting his book, Palette raised his arms in the air to stretch out the kinks. 

Now that our homework's done, we can have fun while waiting for Goth's parents!

Already brainstorming the various activities they could do since the lights were still out, he turned to ask his companion for ideas. Instead, he found his friend was propped up on folded arms against the table and fast asleep. His starry eye lights sparkled and his soul warmed.

He's so cute!

The skeleton reached over to his bag, putting away his books and paper while digging out his sketchbook. Tucking the sketchbook under his arm, he picked up the small skeleton, blanket and all, and moved over to the couch.

Placing his sketchbook on the cushion, he grabbed one of the couch pillows with his free hand and set it in his lap before easing Goth's head down onto it. Palette chuckled at the way he nuzzled into it before flipping to a clean page in his sketchbook to doodle while his friend slept.

A little more than an hour later, there was a knock at the door. Shifting himself out from under his friend, Palette got up to answer it, having an idea of who it was. 

Sure enough, Reaper and Geno were standing in the doorway.

He let them into the house, directing the pair over to where Goth was still curled up in a ball on the couch. "Thanks for letting him stay with you," Reaper thanked the young skeleton quietly, scooped his son up into his arms.

"No problem. I'm glad I walked home with him; otherwise, he would have sat outside in the rain by himself," Palette replied, keeping his voice low as well.

"I'm glad he has someone like you to look after him," Geno murmured, gently rubbing a hand along his son's cheek, "He's certainly smart, but he has his forgetful moments and he's usually too shy to ask for help."

After getting Goth's still-damp clothes from the dryer and Palette's reassurance that they could return the pajamas he was wearing another time, the family left for their house.

Palette shut the door and returned to the couch, picking up his sketchbook. He smiled softly at the nearly finished picture of Goth sleeping on his lap, a light greenish-yellow blush dusting his cheeks.

Goth's smart, yeah... but he's also kind, thoughtful, modest, trustworthy, observant, empathetic... and the best thing that's ever happened to me. I'll always be there to help him just like he helps me, no matter what.

Chapter Text

Lotus dropped to one knee, his dusty scythe clanging against the concrete. Trying to calm his nerves he inhaled deeply, then exhaled slowly as he took stock of the situation.

The remaining enemies that hadn't been dusted were now fleeing, with Rurik crowing and taunting them in their wake. Rurik seemed no worse for wear, only sporting a nick here and there along with some dirt and dust smudges on his clothes. Meanwhile, Lotus had no visible injuries...he might have landed on his feet wrong at some point, but he was mostly just exhausted from expending so much magic.

Most of the group went after Rurik, but a few targeted him thinking he was the weak link. Luckily, he was more or less able to prove them wrong.

Some got a little too close for comfort, though...

"Had to go and pick a fight on the way home. Had to drag me into it because someone bumped into you," the cloaked skeleton grumbled under his breath.

The hooded monster wouldn't dare say anything to his companion's face, though... he liked all his limbs right where they were, in one piece.

I can seethe all I want though, as long as I don't get caught.

"Come on, Lotus! Move your ass, it's time for dinner and I'm hungry!" Rurik shouted as he hid his favorite knife away in the holster on his belt loop.

The small skeleton staggered quickly to his feet at the command, only to pitch forward once his weight pressed down on his right side. He planted the handle of his scythe into the ground to catch himself, glancing at his traitorous ankle.

Shit, I definitely cracked something. Knowing Rurik, he probably won't care. The only thing he cares about right now is food. 

Hoping to avoid another fight, the small skeleton steeled himself before forcing his weight onto the damaged limb. He hissed lowly through gritted teeth but maintained a mostly neutral expression as he brought himself upright and began advancing toward his partner.

If the taller skeleton noticed anything amiss, he didn't show it as he turned toward home, wordlessly expecting his partner to follow.

For all intents and purposes, Lotus thought he was doing a decent job keeping up without limping or grimacing every time pain lanced up his right leg. Rurik apparently thought different.

"Keep up," he barked, glaring over his shoulder. 

That look brooks no argument.

"Yeah yeah," Lotus grunted, picking up speed despite wanting nothing more than to sit down. He quickly caught up so he was only a step behind at his left side, but he clenched his fists to hide the tremors from the effort it took.

Rurik glanced over at him once more, only to look away again while clicking his tongue. The pair continued on in silence for a couple minutes after that, though Lotus was surprised when the taller skeleton made a left turn at the corner... in the opposite direction of their house.

Confused, but unwilling to question Rurik's motives, Lotus followed his lead.

Where are we going? He couldn't have forgotten the way home... did he get hit on the skull and I didn't notice? I don't see any cracks or blood on him, and he's acting like his normal grumpy self otherwise...

In the middle of his thoughts, Rurik grabbed his upper left arm, forcing him onto a nearby bench. "Wait here," the skeleton growled, walking through a set of sliding doors.

A convenience store? Guess he doesn't want to wait until we get home to eat... at least I get to sit in the meantime.

Leaning over, Lotus lifted his right pant leg to inspect his ankle. Sure enough, he found a small fracture along the tarsal bone where it met his tibia. "Rubbing against the joint, wonderful," he groused softly as he let his pant leg fall back into place and sat up straight.

There was nothing to do about it for now since he was trash at healing magic and didn't have any monster food or medical supplies on him. He would have to suck it up until he got some time at home to deal with it later.

I wonder what I should make for supper... I'll probably just pop some leftovers in the microwave so I can deal with my ankle quicker. Hopefully, Rurik won't give me shit about it.

As if summoned by the thought, Rurik appeared through the doors once more.

Time to go, I guess.

As Lotus made to stand up, the taller skeleton shoved him back, taking a seat next to him afterward. Before he could verbally express his annoyance at being shoved, he felt something hit his lap.

A nice cream bar? Aren't these supposed to be really expensive?

He stared at the item in his lap, trying to puzzle out why it was there. Lotus jumped when Rurik snapped, "Eat it before it melts." He then proceeded to rip the wrapper off one of his own and take a large bite out of it.

Lotus sat in stunned silence, his eye light darting between the treat and his companion.

Rurik got me magic food? Am I being tested? Poisoned? Drugged? ... No, he wouldn't spend that kind of money on a test. Besides, if he wanted to kill me or drug me, he would be more direct about it. He's also stronger than I am, especially right now, so he could easily overpower me if he wanted to-

Hearing another rumble of warning from the skeleton, Lotus hastily picked up the nice cream bar and tore the wrapper at the seam. It was slightly melted, but still solid enough to eat.

Taking an experimental lick, his red eye light sparked at the sweet taste. Taking a bite was even better as the warmth of magic drifted through his body. Eventually, the warmth reached his ankle, which he didn't even realize had been throbbing, where it seemed to absorb the pain and soothe the crack in his tarsal.

While he wanted to savor the taste, Lotus knew Rurik would get impatient if he took too long. Munching on the treat at a moderate pace, he examined the sticky paper.

Instead of finding the nutrition facts to peruse, he found a small bit of writing peeking out from the inside.

Unfolding the wrapper, he couldn't help but blush and sputter, nearly dropping the rest of his nice cream as he read the message:

'Love yourself! I love you!'

Glancing over to Rurik, the skeleton was already leaning over to see what the fuss was about. He read the wrapper and blinked. Twice. Then proceeded to open and read his own wrapper's message.

A moment went by where nothing was said or done.

Before Lotus could think to ask what it said, the taller skeleton stood up and tossed the wrapper and stick in the garbage, muttering, "Bunch of bullshit."

... Is he blushing? And he didn't deny what my wrapper said!

He turned to a shellshocked Lotus, yelling, "Finish up and let's go, we still have to eat dinner!"

The small monster downed the rest of his nice cream in one bite and stood up, relieved to not feel pain in his ankle anymore. Rurik watched him, nodding his head as if confirming something, before turning to walk in the direction of their house.

Making his way to the trash can, Lotus chose to keep the message, tucking the paper into his cloak pocket while tossing the stick.

Feeling curious, he peeked into the can, finding Rurik's crinkled wrapper at the top. He smiled, finding the text quite appropriate:

'Is this as sweet as you?'

"Move it already!" his companion barked. The small skeleton hurried to join him, an automatic answer forming in his mind.

Not even close.

Chapter Text

Palette stood in his doorway, dumbfounded at the sight before him. On his doorstep was Reaper, the god of death, holding a miniature version of his best friend. The smaller-than-normal skeleton was sniffling in dismay, wearing a hoodie and his favored scarf that was now far too long for his tiny body.  

"Geno doesn't want him holed up at home by himself while he's stuck like this, but he needs to work on the antidote with Swap Undyne and can't risk Goth getting into anything else at the lab," Reaper explained as he attempted to soothe the child in his arms. "But I also have to work, my bro's busy... and frankly, I don't trust Geno's other siblings to take care of him. You're the only one I can rely on."

From Reapers explanation, the family paid a visit to Undyne in Swaptale... and an accident happened, resulting in Goth reverting to the body of a three-year-old. Now he was in need of a sitter...

"Of course, you can count on me! I'll be the best best friend sitter ever!" The peppy skeleton agreed, taking his friend from the older skeleton's grasp. Goth gripped onto his jacket, burying his face in his chest.

This is going to be so fun... like a sleepover! I love hanging out with my best friend and I love kids, so this is the perfect combination!

"Great, thanks. You have no idea how relieved I am," the god sighed, rubbing the side of his skull, "Anyways, he's able to eat solid food, so feeding him shouldn't be a problem and he usually falls asleep on his own by ten at the latest."

Reaper went quiet, seeming to think of something else to say. He cringed as he muttered, "Interrupting Geno would probably be a bad idea...you have my number in case anything happens, right?"

"Yup... you mentioned a lab accident... any side effects I should keep an eye out for?" Palette questioned, swaying back and forth while hugging Goth.

Reaper thought back to the scientist's words before responding, "It's only his body that reverted, so Undyne said he may have a difficult time controlling his powers or emotions. Teenage emotions in a child's body have left Goth pretty moody about the whole situation."

I can see that. Size had always been a sore spot with Goth, so his body shrinking no doubt has him in a bad mood.

"We'll just have to keep ourselves busy with fun activities then!" Palette chirped.

"Alright then, have fun, kiddos. One of us will call when a working antidote's been made," Reaper said, opening a portal to another universe and disappearing through it. Palette shut the door and looked down at the small skeleton.

He smiled sadly at the sight of tears in his small sockets. "It'll be okay, Goth... your mom's working with Undyne to fix this," Palette crooned.

The smaller skeleton scrubbed away his tears, only for more to replace them as he whined in a higher pitch than normal, "I know! But... I hate this! I hate being so small... I hate not being able to... to do anything... and I hate that I c... can't stop crying! Even though I... I know... it's not doing any good... the tears w... won't stooooooop!"

Goth was now bawling into Palette's jacket, overcome by his emotions while Palette grimaced in sympathy. Looking around, his star-shaped eye lights caught sight of the bookshelf.

Goth loves reading, maybe a book will help!

Walking to the bookshelf, he shifted the small skeleton in his grasp, "Why don't we read a book? It'll help take your mind off things."

Goth hiccuped and grumbled but turned around to peruse the titles regardless. A minute later, Palette was pulling out the first book of a fantasy series, returning to the couch and setting the smaller beside him as he opened to the first chapter.

Chapter Text

As the hours wore on, the small skeleton's tears ebbed as Palette read aloud, drawing the pair into their paperback adventure. He would have continued if not for the audible growl coming from his stomach.

Both skeletons blinked at the sound, and the taller laughed as he marked the page they were on, "I guess it's time to eat... let's go see what looks good."

Goth scooted off the couch, dropping onto the floor where his waist came up to the top of the cushions. As Palette set the book down, the child hiked up the oversized hoodie he was wearing and headed for the kitchen as the tails of his scarf dragged across the ground. Palette snickered at the sight.

I really shouldn't laugh, but it looks like he's wearing a dress. There's no way I can say that, though. He's finally in a good mood, it would probably upset him all over again.

"Palette, come on! I can only hover so far up!" the smaller yelled from the kitchen doorway.

"Alright, alright, I'm coming," the taller skeleton chuckled, pushing himself off the couch. He gasped in surprise when a wave of vertigo hit him, forcing him to his knees.

What happened?

"Palette?!" Goth cried out, rushing back to his companion's side, "Palette, what's wrong? Say something!"

"I'm okay... I think I just stood up too quick...," Palette mumbled, attempting to push himself up once more. Goth rushed to stabilize his companion when he nearly toppled over again, confusion and fear mixing in his expression as the smaller monster struggled to push him toward the couch.

"I don't get it... I felt perfectly fine earlier, why does it suddenly feel like I have no strength?" Palette grumbled to himself, placing a hand on his skull as he regained his seat.

Palette started at the small gasp. Looking up, Goth was backing away from him, stumbling over his scarf as tears reformed within blank sockets, clenching his hands into the red fabric. "... Goth?"

"It's me...," he whispered, shaking his skull as his eye light wavered in growing horror, "I'm causing it... I can't control it again... not like this..."

Dread seeped into Palette's soul. He reached for the small skeleton, his hand wavering slightly, "Goth, what are you-"

"DONT!"

He recoiled his hand at Goth's screech as if he'd been burned. The hooded monster stood three feet away from him, hunched in on himself while sobbing, "You c... can't touch me... I'll... I'll end up... hur... hurting you again..."

"What are you talking about? What do you mean, you... can...," Palette's starry eye lights shrunk as it dawned on him.

Oh... oh no... Goth's energy drain ability...

"You figured it out... didn't you?" Goth hiccuped, staring down at his palms, "I... I'm dangerous like this..."

Palette's soul clenched at the sight. Pushing past his own worries, he reached out once more to comfort the smaller skeleton, "Goth, you're not-"

"NO!"

A flash of light filled the room, momentarily blinding Palette as he threw his arms up to shield himself. He was relieved when nothing happened until a quiet voice groaned, "Pa... lette..."

Palette dropped his arms to find Goth clutching himself in a death grip as purple magic crackled ominously around him. His starry eye lights dimmed as he murmured, "Goth...?"

"Get.... away... I... I c... can't... s... stop it... it hurts... p... please..." the small skeleton whined, clenching his sockets as the energy around him swirled violently and the ghostly form of bones began to taken shape, "...please!"

Stars, what have I done?

Goth had to release the chaotic energy, so the taller needed to find shelter. With a heavy heart, Palette turned and dove behind the nearby couch. Once he was situated, throwing out a shield of bones for good measure, he called out, "Alright Goth, I'm ready! You can let go!"

As if the words were a switch, the smaller skeleton released a piercing scream as the living room turned into a storm of light, magic, and bones. Palette was forced to let his shield drop when the bombardment proved too much for his dwindling magic, wincing at the sound of shredded fabric that followed.

A minute later the light died down to a soft glow. Palette hazarded a glance over the arm of the couch, grimacing at the state of the walls and furniture as the bones dissipated.

The sound of gasping in the silence directed his gaze to the small figure in the center of the destruction, shivering as he held himself.

Goth's skull craned up slightly as he rasped, "P... Pa...aah..." Palette bolted from his hiding spot as his friend fell forward, slumping to the floor like a ragdoll.

"Goth!" he cried, kneeling down to check on the small monster.

He feels warm and his breathing's rough. It looks like he's asleep, but I still feel his ability sapping my strength. I'm not sure if I should move him...

He lifted his skull, inspecting that state of the nearby couch, frowning at the copious amount of tears and loose stuffing.

It doesn't look like the couch is an option since it's pretty torn up... along with the rest of the living room. Mom's going to have a fit when he gets home, I need to fix this somehow...

In a stroke of inspiration, he remembered he knew someone very close to him with the ability to create and repair objects.

Getting up to grab one of the more intact pillows for Goth to rest on, Palette fished through his contacts until he found the number he wanted. The phone rang three times before a chipper voice answered, "Hey Pal, what's up?"

Palette took a breath to calm himself before replying, "I need help, dad."

Chapter Text

"Thanks dad, I'm glad you could make it before mom got home," Palette sighed in relief as he set Goth onto the newly repaired couch, tucking a blanket around him.

Ink flicked his paintbrush, repairing the last hole in the wall as he said, "No problem... just... make sure your mom doesn't know I dropped by... last I saw him, he was still feeling pretty sore about the whole multiverse thing."

"He's still mad?" his son queried.

"Enough to try to beat me over the head with his staff," Ink chuckled nervously, grimacing at the memory, "Look. You don't tell him I was here, I won't tell him you two trashed the living room, 'kay?"

"Okay," Palette replied, only to jolt at the sound of keys just outside the door.

"Shoot!" Ink cursed under his breath, throwing a quick salute to his son, "See ya, Pal. Also, eat something. You look like death."

In a blink, Ink lept through the painted portion of the wall as Dream opened the door, walking in with a bag of groceries.

"Hey mom, how was work?" Palette asked, working up a smile that he hoped didn't look suspicious.

Dream stood in the doorway for a moment, eyeing the living room as the evening sky framed his silhouette before deadpanning, "Ink was here, wasn't he?"

Palette tensed as he replied, "Why do you think that?"

Dream crossed the room, offloading the bag in his arms onto the kitchen counter as he listed, "One, your horrible at keeping secrets. Your reaction tells me I hit the nail on the head. Two, the room reeks of paint and I see no art projects in progress. Besides, Ink's paint smells a bit different from regular paint and I've spent enough time around him that I can tell the difference. Three..."

The Guardian swiped his finger against the wall, presenting it toward his son as he concluded, "... the paint's still wet."

Palette slumped onto the empty spot on the couch in defeat, "I'm sorry mom... I needed his help, and he asked me not to tell you because he knew you'd get mad."

"Well, you're not wrong... but I guess I can't be that mad at him since he apparently helped fix whatever happened," Dream groused as he wiped off his finger and approached his son, "But I'm not happy that you were planning to keep secrets from me. So, what did happen?"

---

"... and then you walked through the door. You know the rest after that," Palette mumbled, turning his eye lights toward Goth, who was still asleep on the left side of the couch.

Dream kneeled down in front of the unconscious skeleton, feeling his burning forehead and frowning, "From what you told me, it sounds like he overheated himself trying to hold back his magic and wore himself out once he released it. The fever should be temporary, so some food and a good rest will fix him right up."

His son sighed in relief at the positive diagnosis as Dream inquired, "The question is, what are you going to do with the information?"

Palette stared at his friend in silence before stating, "I caused this, so I have to help him. I didn't take Mister Reaper's warnings seriously and made Goth worry when something happened. Then I made him lose control when I pushed him... and now he's suffering for my mistakes. I'd be a pretty crummy friend if I abandoned him now, so I'll do what I can to help Goth feel better and put him at ease once he wakes up."

Dream smiled, but it held a wary edge to it. He was proud of his boy's upstanding morals, but at the same time, vexed at how stubborn Palette could be when he got an idea in his head. 

The Guardian wanted to help Goth, but he didn't want his son hurting himself either. Even if Palette can't technically die from the energy drain, dusting is still a scary and somewhat painful experience.

Mulling over his options, his golden eye lights morphed into stars when inspiration struck. He grinned, placing a hand on Palette's shoulder, "Wait here, I think I have a solution to your problem."

Dream had already retreated to the kitchen before the young skeleton could question him. Moments later, he returned with a handful of snacks. Setting them out across the table, he grabbed one of the cinnabunnies and stuffed it into his confused son's mouth, "Eat."

Palette gave him a quizzical look but did as he was told.

As he swallowed, another was held out in front of him. "Keep going," the older skeleton urged, "The best possible way to counter the energy drain beside putting Goth down is to replace what's being lost at a faster pace."

The young skeleton's sockets widened, finally catching on to his mom's logic. He grabbed another item and shoved it into his mouth as Dream went to make something a bit more substantial than cinnabunnies and popato chisps for Palette.

Palette got himself settled on the couch as Dream brought out a pitcher of Sea Tea among other foods.

This plan would work two-fold: not only would Palette be able to safely handle Goth while taking care of him, but he'd be able to reassure the small skeleton once he woke up that his wayward ability wouldn't drain his friend dry.

His mom would also be present to keep an eye socket on the situation and make sure his energy didn't get too low.

It's perfect!

Chapter Text

Goth woke to a stifling warmth surrounding him. 

Too hot... it's too hot...

Cracking open a heavy socket, a blur of white and gold filled his vision. "I think he's waking up!" they whispered excitedly.

"Goth?" another voice said.

That's... Palette? No... no! I have to get away... it's still not safe...!

The small skeleton began to whine, struggling weakly against the blanket wrapped around him. Something fell from his forehead, but he was too focused on his escape to care.

His squirming didn't do much though, since he was trapped by the blanket tangling his limbs and a pair of arms grasping him. The overbearing heat didn't help, quickly sapping what little strength he could muster.

Goth cried, "No... I... I'm... ngh... you... you're not... you c... can't..."

The taller skeleton grimaced in sympathy, tightening his grip slightly on the bundle in his arms despite his friend's protests. He spoke in a soft tone, "Easy Goth, it's okay. We figured out a solution, you don't have to worry about your power anymore. You won't be able to hurt me, it's okay."

Goth slowed his movements, panting and gasping from the effort while gazing blearily up at Palette, "H... how...? I... I'm still..."

Dream gently replied at an equally low volume, "I figured that monster food can replace the energy being drained, so as long as he has something to eat or drink, you can touch Palette without having to worry. It looks like it's working so far, at least.

"And if it turns out to not be enough, Palette can back off until he gets his energy back... right?"

Palette gulped at his mom's tone that dared refusal, nodding rapidly, "Yes, mom."

Goth's hazy eye light shifted toward the table, littered with an assortment of food, snacks, and a large pitcher of green liquid. He absently noted that it was dark outside as he shifted to scrutinize the skeleton holding him. 

Palette doesn't seem tired or dizzy... maybe they found a solution out after all...

A low growl had Palette and Dream staring at the heated, and apparently hungry, skeleton.

"I'll bring out some soup for him," the parent chuckled, standing up and walking away from the pair still sitting on the couch.

Within minutes, Dream returned with a folding tray holding a steaming bowl of golden yellow soup with bits of yellow, green, and orange floating in it. He set up the legs of the tray on both sides of his son's lap, leaving Palette free to scoop a bit of the liquid and bring it toward Goth's mouth.

Goth's face flushed deeper, staring at the spoon in front of him.

Palette's trying to feed me like a toddler... though I probably do look like one at the moment and I doubt I would be able to feed myself with how heavy my body feels. Even if I wasn't wrapped up, I would probably make a mess.

Letting out a shaky huff, he reluctantly opened his mouth, letting Palette feed him. He gulped down the broth, opening his mouth again once the spoon returned.

It tastes good. I didn't even realize how sore my throat felt until now...

Palette muttered gentle encouragements as the bowl slowly emptied, making sure to eat as well at his mom's occasional prompting.

Once the soup was finished, Goth sank into the blanket surrounding him and let out a sleepy yawn. He idly felt something cool being placed against his forehead as his eye sockets slid closed, letting the heat and darkness consume him.

---

The small skeleton groaned as he shifted against the pillow propping him up.

"Goth?" Palette questioned from nearby. He was met with a warm smile framed in morning sunlight as he blinked his sockets open in response, "Are you feeling better?"

Goth nodded, still feeling groggy. Palette took off the damp washcloth and felt his forehead, grinning wider at the lack of heat radiating from his friend's skull.

"Since you're feeling better, do you want to continue the story we were reading yesterday?" Palette asked. Goth nodded, and the taller skeleton unwrapped the blanket a little to give his friend room to adjust himself as he retrieved the book. He sat down once again with the other leaning tentatively into his side to see the story. 

Another three hours were spent with Palette softly reading aloud, occasionally taking a sip of tea or a bite of food while Goth drifted in and out next to him.

Dream came through to check on things every so often, but he more or less left the pair to their reading.

The lull was eventually broken by the sound of Palette's phone going off.

Setting down the book, Palette reached for his phone, swiping the screen and holding it up to his skull, "Mister Geno, hi! Any good news?"

Goth watched as he nodded along to whatever his mom was saying. He felt his hopes rise as Palette's expression brightened.

Palette hung up after giving assurances and goodbyes, directing his attention to the monster next to him, "Mister Geno said the antidote's ready, he said they tested it on a plant and it's not showing any negative effects. He'll be here in a couple minutes to get you." Goth's eye light lit up in excitement as the taller sat up to prepare for Geno's arrival.

As Palette put the book back on the shelf, a knock sounded at the door. Geno had arrived to pick up Goth. Palette opened the door for him, the older skeleton laughing once he took in the state of the living room, "Wow, you guys look like you had a party in here."

"Heh, yeah... we definitely had an interesting time," Palette laughed, trying to hide the nervousness in his voice. 

Goth put on his best innocent smile.

We both know how mom gets when it comes to anything involving me, so neither of us wants to be the one to tell him. If mom wants to believe we had a party, I certainly won't be the one to correct him.

Goth pulled himself from the blanket wrapped around him and scooted off the couch, stumbling a bit on the landing. Geno scooped him up, chuckling, "Oops... a little tired, are we? Partied a little too hard last night?" 

The small skeleton nodded quickly, latching onto the excuse.

"Thank you Palette, I hope Goth wasn't any trouble," Geno said, turning to the young skeleton.

The other hastily replied, "Oh, he was no trouble at all! I love having him over!"

Goth blushed at his crush's words, burying his face into Geno's scarf in embarrassment. The older skeleton patted his son's back in amusement, "I think that's our cue to head out. Thank you again, Palette."

Saying their farewells, Geno turned and teleported into swaptale, leaving Palette behind at home. "You really do look tired. After we give you the antidote, you're going straight to bed, alright?" Geno tutted.

Goth nodded, more than willing to rest after the day he had. As he spied the chaos of Undyne's lab, the small skeleton recalled the mess left behind on the table and couch, blanching slightly.

It's going to take quite some time to clean up the mess of wrappers and food... sorry, Palette.

Chapter Text

A flash went off as Palette took a picture of himself and Goth, capturing their moment of silliness on his phone.

"Stars, I probably look so goofy," the smaller skeleton snorted, leaning over to see the results before his boyfriend added it to the extensive collection he had gathered over the years they had been together.

Boyfriend. I love that I can use that word to describe Palette.

Goth smiled at the memory of the day Palette finally realized his feelings for Goth. It had included a frantic phone call, nice cream, a white dog, and an accidental dip in the park fountain, but the confession and their resulting relationship was well worth it.

It had been three years since then, and every day had Goth walking on cloud nine. He felt beyond lucky that Palette had agreed to be his boyfriend. Even better, they managed to find a really cozy apartment together that they were currently living in.

It can't get any better than this.

"You seem happy, what're you thinking about?" Palette questioned, wrapping his arms around the small skeleton, pulling him in close and nuzzling into his neck.

"Us," Goth said simply, snuggling in closer and laying his skull against the other's shoulder. Palette laughed, causing the hooded monster to look up in confusion, "What?"

Palette wiped the tear of mirth that had cropped up at the edge of his socket as he beamed, "Sorry, it still amazes me how sentimental you get sometimes. I would have never pegged you as a cheesy romantic when we first met."

"Well, excuse me," the smaller pouted, earning another bout of laughter and a kiss on the forehead.

Goth blushed as his companion stated, "I didn't say it was a bad thing. I think it's adorable and sweet."

"Speaking of sweet, I'm going to make myself some more hot chocolate, do you want another cup?" the smaller asked, extricating himself from Palette's arms to grab his red mug from the table.

"Nope, I still have plenty left over," the taller skeleton sighed as he watched Goth walk away toward the kitchen, turning to scroll through the pictures on his phone while he waited.

As Goth added in his favorite puffy marshmallows to his drink, his boyfriend's voice drifted from the living room, "Hey Goth, I was looking through the pictures of us and realized something funny!"

"Oh? And what's so funny?" Goth inquired as he picked up his drink and carried it out to the living room once more.

Palette was staring at his phone, smiling as replied, "It looks like you haven't grown a bit since we met!"

The scarved skeleton froze in the doorway, contemplating the possible implications of that sentence. He felt a chill run down his spine as he clenched his mug tightly to silence the fingers that quietly rattled against it.

It doesn't mean what I think it means. I can't jump to conclusions... this is Palette, after all. He always makes off-the-wall comments that don't really mean anything. I'll just brush it off and he'll move onto another topic like always. Stay calm...

"Oh, really? I didn't notice. Is there anything good on T.V?" Goth stuttered slightly, taking shaky steps toward the couch while attempting to change the subject.

Unfortunately, Palette wasn't deterred, "Yeah, from the looks of it, you look exactly the same as you did ten years ago! It's really freaky! Here, in this picture we took a week ago, you only come up to-"

Palette's words were slowly drowned out as a dull roar filled Goth's skull, accompanied by the distant sound of porcelain shattering against wood and the feeling of hot liquid against bone.

Goth felt his balance waver as the world closed in around him... he felt something wrap around him... he heard shouting... but his mind couldn't process the information as he struggled to tame the panic-induced thoughts that smothered him.

 

He knows! He finally realized I can't age! It hurts! He thinks it's freaky! He thinks I'm a freak! I AM a freak-

"Go...?! ...th, wh... ...ng?!"

He's going to break up with me! He'll leave me! I can't breathe! I'll be alone again! I don't want to be alone-

"Pl... ...u ha... ... eathe, G...!"

Everything was perfect! I finally had my happy ending! Am I moving? Now it's over! My life is over-

"...llo 9...? ... yfrie... ...ing tr...ble bre...!"

It's better this way.... people always stared. Palette claimed they were jealous. I feel like I'm dying! I know better... they all saw the size difference. I still look like a child-

"P... ...ry! Go... ...ng on, hel... com...!"

It would have ended eventually... everyone thought it was weird... better to rip the band-aid off now... It hurts! 

... Losing Palette hurts more...

"...!"

I was right... it couldn't get any better... it only became so much worse... my luck ran out... and now... I......

As if an invisible cord snapped, Goth felt his mind and body shut down as his hope went with it, leaving darkness and silence in its wake.

---

*beep* *beep* *beep*

Rhythmic beeps echoed in the darkness. Goth's thoughts felt muddled as he tried to deduce what the sound was. It took him far longer than it should have to realize it wasn't actually dark... his sockets were merely closed.

Forcing them open, his eye light slowly focused on a white ceiling surrounded by creamy beige walls.

Where am I...?

The skeleton attempted to move his arms to pull himself up, but he was only able to shift weakly against a thin blue cotton blanket laying across his body from the sternum down.

Why do I feel so exhausted?

Turning his skull toward the source of the noise, Goth found a machine with a cord leading from it to where he laid. His chest and right leg felt sore, everything else felt heavy.

After a slow moment of contemplation, he realized he was in the hospital, laying on a bed.

Why? Did I get hurt? It certainly feels like it, but I don't reca-

The memories began to trickle back, flowing until it felt like a tidal wave crashing into him.

No... Palette made the connection. He... he figured it out... that I'm stuck in this child's form... that I'll never grow any bigger...

Then he realized the room was empty.

Chapter Text

 

Comprehension overwhelmed Goth as tears began to leak down the sides of his skull and onto the pillow cushioning his skull. He didn't have the energy nor the motivation to wipe them away as unsteady hiccups morphed into steady whimpers that evolved into heaving sobs.

Palette's gone! He left... and who could blame him?! Our relationship was built on a lie! I'll never see him again... all because of me and this stupid body! 

Within seconds, he was clenching the sheets as he openly bawled in misery, uncaring of the ache lancing through his soul or the frantic chime of the monitor on the nearby shelf.

I hate this! I wish everything would just disappear... I wish I would disappear! I don't want to be here anymore! What's the point when-!

The door to the room slammed open. Goth's breath stuttered in shock and his tears slowed at the sight of a very distressed Palette in the doorway.

"Goth?! Oh stars, does your chest hurt again? Your leg? Do you need a nurse? What am I saying, you're crying, of course you need a nurse!" Palette shot out rapid-fire questions, talking a mile a minute as he rushed over to the side of the bed, then backpedaled as if to run out of the room before stopping himself and muttering, "No, there's a button for that. Running there would take too long."

Goth stared dumbly, his ragged breaths slowly ebbing as Palette jammed his finger repeatedly on a red button above his headboard. As he watched, the bedridden skeleton couldn't help but notice the desperation in his companion's expression or the reddened rims under his sockets.

Palette's starry eye lights locked on Goth, a watery smile adorning his face as he cupped the smaller's left cheek, rubbing his thumb against the lavender trail of tears while reassuring him, "Help's coming Goth. Breathe with me, okay? You're going to be fine, so hold on for a little bit longer."

Once his mind caught up, Goth couldn't stop the resurgence of tears at Palette's presence.

The taller skeleton's expression crumbled, leaned down and pressing their foreheads together, clenching his sockets while his voice warbled, "I know, it's hard. Just stay with me, okay? We'll get through this."

"Pa... Palette... you... you're here," Goth croaked softly in between hiccups. His companion lifted his skull, re-opening his sockets to give the crying skeleton a questioning look.

"Of course I'm here," he said with a curious lilt to his voice, "You started shaking and gasping for air back at the apartment, then you passed out after I called for help. The doctor said you had a panic attack and fainted from hyperventilation. You also got a pretty nasty scald burn on your right leg, so they treated that too... but they said there wouldn't be any side effects outside of some weakness and disorientation, and you would probably wake up soon. Why wouldn't I be here?"

"I... I thought... you were g... gone," the bed-ridden skeleton sniffled.

"What? Gone?" Palette blinked in confusion, "I've been here the whole time. I stepped out about four minutes ago to call your parents to let them know what happened. They told me- wait... is that why you're crying?"

Goth weakly nodded and Palette paled as the pieces seemed to snap in place.

"Oh... oh stars... you thought... and I... then you... I...," he muttered, slapping his hand against his forehead as he realized his mistake, "I'm so thick."

As Goth opened his mouth to respond, a nurse happened to arrive, "Someone pressed the emergency call button, did something happen?"

Palette straightened from his hunched position, rubbing the back of his skull and explaining with a sheepish expression, "I'm sorry, I came back to find my boyfriend awake and crying. I mistook it as him being in pain, so I panicked and hit the call button."

"It's alright dear, we get that a lot," the woman chuckled, waving the apology away and looking toward Goth with a warm smile, "Is there anything I can get you while I'm here? Food? Water? Another blanket?"

"W... water?" Goth queried, feeling how sore his throat was from the initial panic attack and his earlier crying.

The woman nodded her head and bustled off to retrieve the requested drink. It didn't take long for her to return, adjusting Goth's bed in the process so he could sit up comfortably.

Once the nurse left and Goth finished his water, Palette tossed the plastic cup in a nearby bin and seated himself on the side of the bed.

"So," he began, grasping the smaller skeleton's hand, "after I called and told your mom what happened, he explained the likely reason for your panic attack. He recommended we have a talk to air out our feelings."

This is it. This is where he breaks up with me. Even though I lied to him, he's too nice to leave without saying anything... he waited here so he could tell me in person once I woke up.

He wasn't reassured by Palette's melancholy gaze as he stared at the holed hand trembling in his grip. Before the smaller could devolve into tears for the third time, the taller skeleton sighed, "I'll start. Goth, I'm not going to leave you."

Goth was startled out of his depressive train of thought as Palette continued, "Your mom told me you stopped growing after ten because of his genes. He said you were actually twenty when we first met and your child-like appearance has been a source of anxiety from the moment you found out you wouldn't grow anymore. 

"But the thing is, I don't care how young or old you look. Ten, thirty, one-hundred... it doesn't matter to me. I love you for who you are on the inside first and foremost."

Palette's sockets crinkled as he cradled Goth's right hand in between his own pair, "You're smart, funny, shy, and kind. You sleep curled up in a ball when you're by yourself. You still get flustered whenever we kiss. You like to play pranks and love puns, but you always know how to restrain yourself from taking it too far. We occasionally argue, but we always find a way to resolve it and apologize. You love cuddling, but you're considerate of when I want space. You gripe about trivial matters, but you try to solve the big problems on your own. You keep your own problems to yourself so they don't hurt others..."

He huffed genially as he stated, "I'm getting sidetracked. The point is, there's so much more to you than how you look. Even if you always look ten until the day we dust, your appearance will never change how I feel about you or make me love you any less. As long as you still want to be with me, I'm not planning on going anywhere except home, with you."

... and now Goth was crying again. This time, however, they were tears of joy.

All this time, he's been watching me so closely. I really underestimated him...

"Goth?" Palette prodded gently, a hint of worry dancing in his starry eye lights, "I've said my piece, but you should tell me what you're thinking, too. I may be your boyfriend, but I can't read your mind."

I'm such an idiot.

"I... I want... I want to stay with you!" Goth wept, gripping the hand under his own like a lifeline, his voice clogged by his tears, "I'm s... sorry I never told you... I... I was just... so scared. I've known you f... for so long... I never sh... should have d... doubted you. I'm sorry!"

Palette scooted forward and pulled him carefully into a hug, rubbing along his spine to calm his boyfriend as he said, "It's okay, admitting something you consider a flaw can be scary, I get it."

He paused for a moment before he decided to admit, "Honestly... I've always been scared that my easygoing nature would eventually drive you away because you're so down-to-earth and realistic most of the time. It's not on the same level as your fear, but it's always been rattling around in the back of my skull and I've been nervous about bringing it up."

Goth loosely gripped onto Palette's jacket, shaking his skull before resting his cheek on their chest. He responding quietly, "I've always admired how you see the positive in everything... including me. Being around you keeps me from dwelling on the negatives... the negatives only got to me earlier because I thought I was losing everything and I panicked."

"You'd have to beat me off with your scythe to get rid of me at this point," Palette chuckled, nuzzling his cheek into the top of his boyfriend's skull, "also... I have a feeling you mom would murder me if I left you."

Encouraged by Goth's breathy laughter, he continued, "Anyways, I promise I'll listen when you have concerns and always be there to chase off the pesky storm clouds when they get too close for comfort. In return, you promise to be honest with me from now on when something's bothering you... and occasionally drag me back down when I float off too far. Deal?"

Goth settled into the comforting warmth of Palette's embrace, nodding as he whispered, "Deal."

I really am too lucky... because it just got better.

Chapter Text

"That'll be thirty dollars," the old man at the cash register grunted. Rurik narrowed his eye sockets at the human.

The price tag on the display said twenty... what's this jackass trying to pull?

Growling, he fished out his wallet from his pocket full of random junk and slammed the money onto the counter. He refused to be the one to start a fight over some flowers.

I said I would work on my temper and it's no secret that most humans despise monsters. I can afford to let it go, just for today.

"Pleasure doing business with you," the man said jovially, popping open the till and placing the money inside while printing out a receipt.

"I bet," the grouchy skeleton huffed, snatching the paper from the man.

Picking up his purchase, he walked out of the convenience store taking slow, calming breaths as the self-help book taught him. He was pleased that after two minutes, he was only slightly annoyed rather than enraged.

Yet another reason to be thankful to Lotus.

Ever since the hanging incident six months ago, Rurik had been making strides on improving himself for his companion's sake. It had been a rough start, but his desire to change and Lotus' encouragement allowed him to slowly improve. His companion even did some research and bought a self-help book that they'd been jointly reading through and practicing from together.

He had to say, he was liking the outcome. He felt much happier and more in control of his emotions now, they spent less on first aid supplies since he wasn't recklessly throwing his weight around whenever he fought or lashing out as much when he got angry.

Rurik was especially proud that he couldn't even remember the last time they had an argument that escalated into a raised voices, much less a physical exchange. Most of what they did nowadays fell more into line with playful teasing.

Lotus seemed to be happier as well. He was enthusiastic about getting up in the morning as well as everything else in general, seemed to have more spring in his step, and the hooded skeleton had actually started smiling. Not that fake type of smile but an actual, genuine smile.

No doubt he would be elated when Rurik presented him with the bouquet of red roses he had just bought. The thought put a smile on his face as he quickened his pace, eager to get home.

---

Rurik splayed out on the couch, the television droning in the background as he watched Lotus washing the dishes in the kitchen, hips swaying slightly as he hummed softly to himself.

Needless to say, Lotus was ecstatic about the roses, prominently displaying them on the living room table.

As the taller's mind trailed to ways he could entice his partner to have some 'fun' tonight, someone banging on the door interrupted him.

Grumbling softly to himself, Rurik let the thought slip away and went to answer the door. Checking the peephole, his mood soured at the sight of four policemen.

Oh great, what now...

Opening the door, he put on his best fake smile and greeted the quartet, "And what brings you to my doorstep?"

"Are you Mister Rurik Roller?" one of the men asked in a gruff voice.

"Yeah...," he answered slowly, not liking where this was heading.

"Did you visit the Route Sixteen Convenience Store at three forty-seven this afternoon?" the same man continued.

Rurik quirked an eye socket as he replied, "Yeah... I bought some overpriced flowers from there, why?"

"Mister Rurik Roller, you're under arrest for the alleged murder of Donovan Ashvole, the store's owner," the man said as two of his partners came forward, one holding a pair of handcuffs.

"What the hell?! I didn't kill anyone!" the skeleton spat, bristling at the accusation as one of the younger men grabbed his wrist and attempted to place the cuffs on him. He clenched his other fist in preparation to clock the guy as the others surrounded him.

"Rurik?" Lotus called out, stepping out of the kitchen to the commotion, "Rurik? What's wro- hey!"

When one of the officers moved to block his companion, the taller skeleton snarled, "Keep your damn hands off of him!"

If they dare to touch Lotus, I'll tear them all apart, to hell with legalities!

He reeled back to take out the man cuffing him when Lotus yelled out, "Rurik, no!" The skeleton halted his strike to look at the smaller, sockets wide and hands clenched.

The hooded skeleton took on a pleading expression, "Please, it's not worth it.  It'll only make things worse if you fight back. If you say you didn't kill anyone, then I trust you. We'll get a lawyer and we'll fight this, the right way."

Dammit... I hate to admit it, but Lotus has a point.

As much as Rurik wanted to scream and rage, he knew deep down it would only get him, and possibly his partner, in more trouble if he resisted arrest and brought down the full threat of the law on them.

Reluctantly, he let the young man cuff him, pulling him out of the house and shoving him into the back seat of a police cruiser. As they pulled away, Rurik could just barely make out the small skeleton's figure in the doorway before he rushed back into the house.

No doubt Lotus is already working on a solution to our problem. I'm innocent, so there's nothing to be worried about... right?

---

Rurik and Lotus were sitting on opposite sides of a thick plexiglass window talking through a pair of black plastic phones. The imprisoned skeleton had already been issued an orange jumpsuit, hand and foot cuffs, and a magic suppressor band attached to his upper left arm to prevent any 'accidents'.

Lotus hadn't wasted any time finding a defense lawyer that would support Rurik in court as well as setting up a meeting at the prison to discuss the actions needed.

If only we had more than five minutes.

"I'm sorry. I wish I could help with finding evidence to acquit you, but the lawyer said the most I could do was provide testimony as a character witness. Otherwise, I would risk being labeled as aiding and abetting you, and any evidence I found would lose credibility," Lotus said, absently worrying his scarf in frustration.

The taller monster frowned, knowing the smaller's fidgeting was a nervous habit he had when he was being overwhelmed by a situation.

"Lotus," he said, moving the phone to his shoulder and tapping on the plexiglass to get his partner's attention, "relax and take a breath."

Once the smaller had followed the instructions and visibly calmed, Rurik continued, "You've already done a shitton of work getting everything organized with the lawyer. Like you said, we'll fight this, and we'll win. You know it'll take more than some crappy accusations to bring me down, right?"

Lotus smiled sadly, nodding his head in agreement, "Yeah... I just hate this whole thing, it's not fair."

The other skeleton grimaced, he couldn't deny that he felt the same way. "Yeah... it's not fair. Anyway, I-"

"Time's up," the guard manning the visitor's booths rumbled, placing a hand on Rurik's shoulder.

Damn... already?

He stood, with Lotus mirroring him as he said into the phone, "We'll get through this, together."

"Right... together," Lotus smiled, eventually hanging up the phone and watching as Rurik was led back to his cell to await his trial day.

Chapter Text

Rurik was about ready to blow by the time he retook his seat from the witness stand. Sitting down, he took a deep breath, held it for four seconds, exhaled slowly, and repeated the process until he felt his anger begin to ebb away.

The cross-examiner is an absolute jackass! He spent half the time asking roundabout, if not flat-out goading questions and even mispronounced my name! That prick would be decked out on the floor by now if it weren't for my lawyer's warnings of the guy's reputation and my breathing exercises... the judge not being a dick helped.

"The defense calls Lotus Afterdeath to the stand," the judge boomed into the silent courtroom. There was the brief sound of shuffling before the door in the half-wall separating the trial from the spectators was opened to let Lotus through.

He strode forward with an air of confidence, glancing at Rurik with a reassuring smile as he passed by, his slightly wavering eye light the only sign that tipped the cuffed skeleton off to his partner's nervousness.

As he kept walking, Rurik noticed a familiar black band with a blinking red light around the small skeleton's left upper arm, nearly blending into his cloak's fabric...

Lotus isn't guilty of anything... so why the hell is he wearing a suppressor band?! If a fight breaks out, he won't be able to defend himself!

The small skeleton hoisted himself up onto the chair behind the stand, hands clenched tightly in his lap. His nervousness took on a whole new meaning.

Lotus relies heavily on his magic to protect himself, he's not nearly as physically strong as me. If anyone tries anything while he's wearing that band, he's as good as dust.

Dammit Lotus, what are you thinking?!

Rurik's knuckles popped, his hands clenching into tight fists. Before he could stand up and announce his outrage, a hand settled on his shoulder. Looking up at his lawyer, Will Shields, he was silently shaking his head with a grim expression.

With the message sent, the man stood and approached Lotus, clearing his throat before beginning his spiel, "Can you please state your name for the record."

"Lotus Afterdeath," the small skeleton answered curtly.

"What is your relation to the defendant?" the Shields continued.

"I'm his housemate and... his boyfriend," he said, blushing profusely at the last part.

Shit, why does Lotus have to be so damn adorable?

The questions continued along the same vein, detailing his knowledge about who he knew Rurik to be. Eventually, the defense lawyer took his seat beside Rurik and the cross-examination began.

"The prosecution calls on Mister Bruce Flucker for cross-examination," the judge announced.

The man in question stood, crossing the distance between his table and the stand where Lotus sat in three swift strides, coming to stop before his prey.

"Would you state your name for the record?" the man began with a fake smile.

"Lotus Afterdeath," the small skeleton repeated once more.

"And your relation to the defendant?" he asked.

"His housemate and boyfriend," Lotus repeated once more, narrowing his sockets.

"How long have you known Mister Roller?"

"Five years," Lotus replied. Rurik watched on in confusion and annoyance.

Why is this guy asking all the same questions?

"In those five years, would you say there have been any problems in your relationship?" A smirk played on Bruce's face.

Lotus frowned as he answered, "In the past, yes, but-"

The man cut in with his next question, with Lotus halting his explanation as they asked, "Were those problems a result of the defendant's actions?"

Shields stood, shouting, "Objection! He's leading the witness!"

"Overruled," the judge announced, "please continue, Mister Flucker." The cross-examiner gestured for the small skeleton to answer.

Lotus grimaced as he reluctantly replied, "Yes." Murmurs filled the courtroom as the small skeleton dropped his gaze to the stand's banister.

Bruce continued smugly, grabbing a piece of paper from his table, "I have a report here stating that you were the victim of domestic abuse for several years at the hands of Mister Roller, is this correct?"

Lotus jolted slightly, sockets crinkling in contained anger, "In the past, yes, but-"

Once more, Lotus was railroaded by the cross-examiner, "So you could say that Mister Rurik has a predisposition for violence?"

Lotus grit his teeth as he calmly answered, "Not anymore."

"But he did at one point," the man added, leaning toward the small skeleton "so you could reasonably say it's possible that Mister Roller would kill a man, correct?"

Lotus clenched his jaw in silence. Rurik's defense lawyer piped up once more, "Objection under call for a conclusion!"

"Sustained. The question shall be stricken from the record," the judge replied, turning to the cross-examiner, "Keep it to facts, Mister Flucker, not opinions."

The cross-examiner glared at Shields, but adjusted himself and returned to his skeletal target, "Has the defendant ever made you fear for your life?"

Lotus took a breath before answering, "No."

The man pressed closer, causing the small skeleton to lean back, his shoulders tensing, "Has the defendant ever made you contemplate taking your own life?"

Lotus was visibly shaking when Rurik's lawyer boomed out, "Objection on the grounds of badgering the witness and irrelevancy!"

Rurik was beside himself with anger, barely able to hold himself back from punching the bastard as he watched his companion worry a new tear into the edge of his scarf with a fixed stare at the floor.

Dammit, that jackass definitely hit a sore spot with his questions. That suicide attempt still haunts Lotus even if he claims it's in the past... it took him weeks before he stopped blaming himself. I have to be home tonight to make sure he doesn't backslide.

"Sustained. The question shall be stricken from the record," the judge huffed out, glaring at the cross-examiner, "no more inflammatory questions or interrupting the witness testimony or your cross-examination will end."

The man glowered, attempting to regain his composure as he continued.

As Shields retook his seat, he leaned over to Rurik and muttered, "I'm surprised. Your boyfriend's doing an impressive job keeping his cool up there despite the opposition's hounding."

Rurik smirked, his worry momentarily joined by pride as he watched Lotus continue his testimony.

"Rurik has made mistakes in the past, but he's acknowledged those mistakes and made changes to rectify them," Lotus announced.

"Would you trust the defendant with your life?" the cross-examiner queried.

"Absolutely," the small skeleton stated without missing a beat. The conviction in his voice was tangible.

Rurik's expression warmed as he confirmed softly, "Yeah... he's the best. I got real lucky meeting him."

---
With the cross-examination finished, Lotus left the stand and returned to his seat, heaving a sigh of relief. He flashed a shaky smile as he passed the taller skeleton, getting an apologetic one in return.

Lotus is doing a good job hiding it, but I can tell he's frazzled... that bastard really shook him up. After everything's over, we'll have a quiet dinner and a long cuddle session to smooth out the ruffled feathers.

I hope I can make that happen.

Once all the evidence was presented to everyone's satisfaction, the jury was allowed to convene and deliberate.

Ten minutes passed before the jurors returned. The judge asked, "Has the jury reached a verdict?"

A woman stood up, nodding, "We have, your honor. We, the jury, find the defendant, Rurik Roller, not guilty on grounds of insufficient evidence for a conviction."

The courtroom erupted into noise, the judge banging his gavel to call order.

Once the room settled, he announced, "Mister Rurik Roller has been found innocent of all crimes related to the murder of Donovan Ashvole. Bailiff, please remove Mister Roller's restraints and escort him to collect his belongings. Case dismissed."

With the final bang of the gavel, the verdict was finalized and Rurik stood from his chair, grinning like a maniac as the bailiff came forward to remove his cuffs. He rubbed his wrists as the metal cuffs fell away one-by-one.

"Rurik!"

The skeleton barely managed to turn around before Lotus barreled into him, grasping around his neck to pull him into a kiss. Rurik exhaled sharply at the impact but smirked into the kiss, wrapping his arms around the smaller's waist to hold him up as he returned the embrace.

As they pulled apart, the taller skeleton took in his partner's anxious expression, "Hey, glad to see you too. Also, what's the scale looking like?"

The pair had set up one to five scale for them both to quantify their emotional state at a moment's notice, with one being 'calm' and five being 'imminent breakdown'.

The small skeleton averted his eye light as he mumbled, "Three... m... maybe four."

Rurik tightened his grip, hoping the action provided his partner some small comfort, "Higher than I would like, but we have time to fix it once we get home."

The skeleton nuzzled into Rurik's chest and replied, "I know, I'm sorry... it's been a rough day, and anything could have happened here. Even after talking to the lawyer, reading up on court proceedings, and how to deal with questioning, I couldn't be sure that we wouldn't get a biased judge and jury. And that dickwad's interrogation on top of everything..."

So that's how Lotus pulled it off. He did his homework before showing up.

"Don't apologize, you did great. I'm free because of you," he attempted to encourage the small skeleton.

"Almost free," he amended as the red blinking light caught his attention, lowering his voice so only they could hear, "Which reminds me, I'd like to know what the hell were you thinking, letting these people put a magic restraint on you. I get you wanted to help, but you're free experience walking around with that thing on."

Lotus wilted a bit in his arms, "I know... but they said I had to wear it if I wanted to testify. They were worried about me being here... about being a possible accessory to the murder since I'm close to you. The band was to assure them I wouldn't try anything during the trial."

Rurik still didn't like it, but it was a non-issue now that the trial was over. He huffed and began to set Lotus down, saying, "In any case, we-"

"Are you seriously letting that monster walk free?! He killed my husband, I know it! I demand retribution!"

Both skeletons turned toward the shout, seeing a middle-aged woman screaming at a pair of officers that were holding her back.

Lotus shuddered in Rurik's grip, his expression darkening and his voice wavering slightly, "Rurik... I don't like this."

"Yeah, same. The sooner we get these bands off and leave, the better," The taller skeleton agreed, placing the smaller down as the bailiff led him toward a door on the opposite side of the room, with Lotus following next to him.

"You won't get away with this! You took my husband... justice will be done!"

Rurik happened to turn back toward the commotion just in time to see the woman snatch something from one of the officer's belts. He registered the click of a safety trigger unlocking as she aimed the gun in her hands.

His sockets widened in horror as the gun trained.... not on him, but on the small skeleton next to him.

He reached out, panic lacing his voice as he shouted, "LOTUS!"

"Wh-"

*BANG*

Chapter Text

*BANG*

Pain streaked across Rurik's left cheek as he pulled Lotus down into a crouch with him, wrapping his arms protectively around him and using the bulk of his body to shield his cloaked companion from the woman.

*BANG*

Both skeletons flinched as another shot went off, followed by a thud and screaming. Someone called for an ambulance, but Rurik had more pressing concerns. 

Concerns such as the silent, trembling body in his grasp.

Fearing the worst had happened, he frantically whispered, "Lotus?! Lotus, are you hurt?! Say something, dammit! Oh stars, please-"

"I... I'm...," Lotus stuttered, taking a gulp of air and looking up at Rurik with a quivering red eye light, "I'm alright... j... just..."

"Your face!" the smaller gasped, his fear completely forgotten as he reached up to the mark running across the other skeleton's left cheek. Before he could actually touch it though, he withdrew his hand. His eye light darted around as if only now realizing their surroundings.

His face morphed from worry to anger as he pulled himself from his companion's grip to glare at the shooter. Rurik smirked.

Always a little spitfire. 

The skeleton's fury was a short-lived as the pair discovered the woman had already been dealt with, having been shot by another officer shortly after opening fire. 

Rurik sighed as he stood and said, "Come on, we're done here. Let's get these stupid bands off already. I think it's starting to wear a hole in my arm."

Wrapping an arm around the smaller's shoulder, the skeleton flagged down the bailiff so he could escort them to get their bands removed and collect Rurik's possessions. He smiled at the way Lotus relaxed into his side, letting his partner lead the way.

---

"Ridiculous! All that bullshit because some nimrod didn't check their suspects properly! A waste of time, money, and resources...," Lotus ranted from his seat on Rurik's lap as the skeleton listened half-heartedly, his thoughts wandering.

Apparently, the whole reason he'd been suspected in the first place was due to the security camera catching him shortly before the murder in combination with a cloth left behind at the scene containing a marrow stain they matched to him.

Guess it fell out of my pocket when I bought the flowers...

His acquittal was a combination of Lotus' testimony and, stupidy enough, the realization that there were fingerprints at the crime scene. Since Rurik was a skeleton lacking skin, it was impossible for him to leave prints. It was a case of biased officers jumping to conclusions and arresting the first possible suspect they had.

Lotus' voice drifted back through, "... don't know how you can be so calm, I'm livid right now! I should..."

Rurik was glad the small skeleton had found something to distract him from his own thoughts. That Flucker guy had managed to dig up some pretty dark thoughts trapped within smaller's mind, making him question his self-worth once again.

Luckily, some well-placed affection and words, along with getting angry over that shitshow of a trial on Rurik's behalf, beat back the inner demons and allowed Lotus to relax. Mostly.

"Why aren't you saying anything?! You should be...," Lotus paused, his sockets creasing as he hesitantly questioned his partner's silence, "...Rurik?"  

Rurik chuckled lowly as he held Lotus close, feeling lightheaded from the day's events and what could have happened.

How lucky can I get? Some crazy bitch shot at Lotus, and not only missed her target but only managed to knick me on the face! I'm so... so lucky...

Rurik tightened his grip on Lotus, producing a small squeak from the smaller. He curled up in a ball around them, nuzzling his uninjured cheek against their hooded skull as he whispered, "How close did I come to almost losing you again? How close?"

Tears flowed freely down the taller skeleton's face and onto his partner's hood, and he did nothing to stop them. Now that they were behind closed doors, they were allowed to properly express themselves without the judgment of the world.

Lotus wasn't the only one shaken up today.  

The hooded skeleton lifted his arms, snaking them around Rurik's neck to pull him into a hug. Pressing into the taller's chest and closing his sockets, he hummed, "You didn't lose me, and you never will. From the day we met, you've always found a way to save me. Before, now, and always."

Pulling back a bit from the hug, a single eye light met Rurik's starry ones. Lotus smiled as he stated, "I meant it when I said I trust you with my life."

Rurik stared in disbelief before snorting, "Stars, Lotus, you sound so damn cheesy!"

The small skeleton blushed, averting his gaze and pouting with a grumbled, "Shut up..."

As the evening wore on and Lotus fell asleep in his lap, Rurik settled into a more comfortable position. He reveled in his partner's presence, slowly drifting off to the sound of steady breathing and the feeling of warmth resting against his chest as a peaceful smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.

We're happy, we're healthy, and we're safe.

Chapter Text

"You won't get away with this! You took my husband... justice will be done!" the woman screeched. Rurik wrapped his left arm around Lotus' shoulder as he attempted to ignore her.

I won't entertain her tantrum. I've already been proven innocent, she'll just have to get ov-

*BANG*

The gunshot stunned the courtroom into silence, only broken by a pained grunt from his hooded companion.

Time seemed to slow as Lotus crumpled forward. Rurik threw his right arm out to catch him, easing him to the floor. His starry eye lights wavered in disbelief as he took in the hole piercing the smaller skeleton's back, a dark stain spreading from the epicenter.

No... please, no...

*BANG*

Another shot rang out, followed by a thud and screaming, but Rurik had more pressing concerns.

Concerns like the coughing, trembling body in his arms.

"I need a healer over here!" He shouted at no one in particular, knowing how ridiculous the request sounded considering most fell monsters were incapable of healing.

Still, he felt he had to try.

Focusing on the monster in his arms, he shifted them carefully to rest against his left arm and shoulder, softly pleading, "Lotus... Lotus, talk to me, dammit... please..."

The hooded skeleton opened his sockets, his red eye light dilated and fuzzy around the edges, his features radiating discomfort. Tears formed as the small skeleton shakily gasped, "Ru... rik... I... I'm s... sorry..."

Pulling the trembling skeleton into a gentle hug, Rurik shook his skull, nuzzling into their hood and retorting softly, "No, don't apologize. You did nothing wrong. It's my job to protect you and I let you get hurt..."

He registered the words he'd spoken, his anger slowly overriding his grief. He growled, "She hurt you... I'll hurt her... I'll kill that bitch for daring to-!" A cool hand pressed against his right cheek, interrupting his rant.

"Don't...," Lotus choked out, "...d... don't let her... take away... wh... what you... worked s... so hard for..."

Enveloping his companion's hand with his own, Rurik glared at the shooter only for shock to take its place. The woman laid in a pool of blood... someone else had already done the job for him. His rage drained away, having nothing left to direct it towards.

No one but me...

"Rurik..." Lotus' expression was a mix of pain and anger as he softly admonished, "...that look... stop it... it's... not your f... fault... I... I don't blame you... so stop it..."

Rurik smiled dolefully down at his partner before nodding solemnly.

Leave it to Lotus to know just what to say...

Lotus' face relaxed a bit as he asked, "Rurik...? C... Can you... promise m... me something...?"

"What is it?" Rurik questioned, leaning in close so he could pick up the smaller's faint voice.

"I know it's s... selfish... but please... promise me... you won't... fall b... back into... old habits... when... I-" the injured monster flinched, coughing and gasping before he could finish the sentence.

Rurik gripped the skeleton's trembling hand tighter, shaking his skull in denial. He fought his own tears down as he rasped, "Lotus, no. Don't you dare talk like that! We'll get you fixed up and everything will be fine... you've always been a fighter, so you can't give up now!"

"M'sorry...," Lotus wheezed, his words slurring together, "... Idon'... think I... I c... can fightit... 'istime. M... My body... 's already... too late..."

Rurik looked down, only now noticing the small pile of dust where Lotus' legs once were... and the process was working its way up his body slowly but surely.

No... dammit, anything but this!

"P... Please... Rurik...," the smaller begged amid staggered breaths, "promise... don'let this... destroy you... stay... th'monster... I lo... love... always..."

Those words broke through Rurik's composure, allowing the tears to cascade freely down his cheeks as he leaned in to gently kiss his boyfriend.

The spectators didn't matter anymore. Nothing mattered... nothing but Lotus.

Sniffling, he released the kiss and whispered in a froggy voice, "Alright... I'll try. I'll try for you... for my precious flower."

The small skeleton smiled faintly, his sockets crinkling as he nuzzled into the taller's chest and murmured, "T... Thank you... I... I love you... Ru... rik..."

Rurik curled around the small skeleton as he replied in a tight voice, "I love you too, Lotus. I love you so much... more than words could ever say..."

Lotus hummed tiredly, his sockets sliding shut as his hand went limp in Rurik's. The skeleton screamed out his pain and sorrow as what remained of his boyfriend dissolved into dust, leaving behind a pile of bloodied clothing and a black metal band.

---

Rurik sat on the edge of his bed, a small bottle of sleeping pills grasped in his right hand with Lotus' favorite scarf dangling loosely in the other. He stared sullenly at a picture frame holding the reminder of what he once loved and lost. A vase of wilted roses was set next to it on the nightstand. Deep bags lined his sockets from the many sleepless nights he had endured since his partner's passing.

I'm sorry, Lotus... I could only last a month by myself. You were my reason for trying... but now... I can't do it anymore... not without you. I can feel myself slipping more and more each day... but I won't break my promise. I won't go back... with my last breath, I'll go out as the monster you loved.

Please forgive me for not being stronger.

He popped the lid off the bottle, pouring the contents into his waiting hand, then into his mouth. He winced as they grated against his throat but continued regardless. It wouldn't matter much longer anyway.

Staring at the empty bottle, he carelessly tossed it to the floor and settled himself on the bed with Lotus' scarf clutched to his chest. Minutes ticked by as a thick heaviness gradually seeped into his body, his thoughts wandering to his boyfriend as he felt the end approach.

I wonder if I'll see Lotus after I die... probably not. He was a good monster, and I'm not. There's no way... I'm going to the same place as him.

The room began to sway, the white of the ceiling melding with the afternoon rays of light filtering in through the window. It was almost as if he were being rocked to sleep.

Stars... I wish I... I c... could see'im again... t'hold'im... n'kiss'im... n'tell'im... I love'im... one... m... more...... time.......

...... my...... precious...... flower........ Lotus.........

One last tear slid down his skull as he let his sockets fall, hugging the crimson fabric close as he took his last breath and drifted into eternal sleep.

Chapter Text

 

"Hmm... this is good, but a little more would be better," Palette mumbled to himself, searching for more wood to add to the sizable kindling pile in his arms. The weather was getting cooler, so he needed to stock up on wood and kindling to keep his fireplace going before the winter season came and made dry wood hard to find.

As he entered a small clearing, a figure in a white hooded cloak and a bright red tattered scarf caught his attention. They appeared to be drawing in the dirt with a stick.

No one lives in the woods as far as I know, and I know everyone in the village... yet I don't know anyone that wears this type of clothing. They can't be from around here.

"Hello? Who are you?" Palette asked, tilting his head slightly. The figure dropped the stick, staggering to their feet in surprise. They looked to be a skeleton, reaching about shoulder height to him from what he could see, their hood drooping just enough to hide their eyes.

"N... no one... I... I was..," the boy stammered, his voice muffled by the scarf covering the lower half of his face as he slowly backed up.

"Hey, are you okay?" the taller skeleton proceeded forward as they spoke, oblivious to the stranger's panic as he said, "If you're lost, I can help you find your way to the village."

"That's a... alright, I just n... need to-!" the boy said, moving away with each step Palette took until he'd backed himself into a tree trunk. His hands started to tremble against his chest and his breathing became ragged.

He reached out to the small skeleton, worry written on his face, "Hey, are you-" The small boy's skull shot up at the close proximity of his voice and time seemed to stand still.

A red left eye. No one has red eyes, except maybe a boss monster or...

"... a vampire?" Palette whispered, his starry eye lights dilating.

A sudden wind whipped around Palette. He guarded his face with his arms, only catching a whooshing sound and a flash of white disappearing into the trees above him.

"A vampire... I just met a vampire...," he muttered in disbelief, "this... this is... this is awesome!"

Palette jumped up and down, laughing like a maniac at his luck.

I've always heard the stories the villagers would tell about the terrors of vampires, but they're all so superstitious I can hardly believe half of them. I'd rather confirm things for myself than take someone else's word for it. And here I am, meeting a real live vampire!

He searched the trees fervently for the vampire... if the rustling above him was any indication, they were still present, which meant he could ask all his burning questions!

Before he could figure out what to say first, a small whooshing noise was heard a little to Palette's upper right side. It was followed by the slight creak of a branch, the rustling of leaves, and a hesitant voice, "... You... you're not... scared?"

"Nope," the monster answered in a chipper tone, "I've always wanted to meet a vampire, there's so much I'd like to know! If anything, I'm really excited!"

"You're... not going to attack me?" the boy continued slowly, still hidden within the trees, "Even though I'm a vampire?"

"Wasn't planning on it, no," Palette replied while shaking his head, "As long as you don't try to hurt me, I don't see a reason to fight with you."

There was a brief moment of silence. Palette was worried the vampire would refuse when they suddenly called out, "P... prove it! Your weapon... the one on your belt, throw it away! I won't come down and answer any of your questions otherwise."

Weapon?

Palette looked at his belt, blinking at the small knife at his left hip, "Oh, yeah. I forgot I brought it to shear extra branches off the wood I was collecting. Hold on."

Unlooping the knot holding the sheathed knife in place, he tossed the whole thing a fair distance from himself, holding his hands out in plain sight. "Better? Can you come down so we can talk now?"

The branches rustled once more and the small vampire dropped onto the ground, his cloak and scarf billowing out behind him. Standing, the boy slowly approached, saying, "You're really weird, you know that? Throwing away your weapon so you can ask a potentially dangerous vampire a few questions... no being in their right mind would do that."

"But you're not dangerous, right? If you wanted to attack me, you would have as soon as I discarded my knife," Palette chuckled, taking a seat and patting the grass next to him.

The boy didn't take the invitation, sitting a few feet away in a shady spot instead. "So, what do you want to know?" the small vampire asked, his eye light focused and hypervigilant to his surroundings.

"Well, your name for starters," he laughed, "It's kind of hard to talk, calling each other 'you' all the time. I'm Palette, by the way."

"Goth," the boy said quietly, "I'm assuming you have other questions?"

"Yeah! Let's see...," he pondered, tapping his chin. Settling on a question, he said, "I got it! Everyone says vampires can't come out during the day, but you're out right now and it's pretty sunny. How does that work?"

Goth collected his thoughts for a moment, answering carefully, "It's not that we can't come out during the day. Our eyes make us more sensitive to bright light, so the sun tends to hurt our eyes if we're out for too long. Depending on the vampire, it can actually result in some pretty nasty headaches and impaired vision, so most prefer to come out when it's darker instead."

"Yeah, that I can see how that makes sense," Palette nodded his head in understanding, "What about mirrors, can you really not see your reflection?"

"In the ones coated with silver, yes. Silver's considered a 'holy metal'," the small vampire moved his fingers in an air quotes motion as he answered, "so any reflective surface with silver in it won't reflect our appearance. 

"Also, I'm not quite sure how the silver thing works, before you ask. All I know is I tried to pick up a silver coin once... it burned my fingers and I couldn't move them properly for hours."

"Ouch, that sounds painful," Palette hissed in sympathy, "I do remember hearing stories about vampires and werewolves being weak to silver, I guess it's true?"

Goth nodded as the skeleton leaned forward to ask his next question, "What about houses? I heard you can't go into a house unless you're invited first!"

Goth scoffed with an incredulous expression, "That's a myth. We're able to go anywhere we want regardless of anyone's permission. It's just common courtesy to ask before stepping into someone else's house, vampire or not."

"Huh... now that I think about it, it is kind of silly," Palette chuckled, "Oh, I got another one! Can you turn others into vampires by biting them?"

"Not by biting, no. If that were the case, a good portion of the population would probably already be vampires," the smaller corrected with a roll of his red eye light before going into further detail, "To turn a human or monster into a vampire, they have to take our blood into their bodies. In most cases, it's done as a request by the one wanting to be turned. My mother was turned by my father like that."

"Wow, becoming a vampire's more involved than I thought," Palette murmured to himself.

He paused, thinking over his next question. The sound of the wind rustling the trees inspired him, "Oh! That disappearing thing you did earlier! It was so cool, how did you do that?"

Goth flushed lightly, looking away as he said, "Oh, that was... I turned into a bat."

"You can turn into a bat?!" the skeleton gawked.

"Yeah... turning into a bat makes it easier for me to escape and hide since I'm smaller and harder to catch," the cloaked skeleton glanced at the ground, the purple hue on his cheeks deepening as he continued talking, "plus it's more compact and conserves more energy than the form I'm using right now. The only downside is that I can't talk while I'm a bat."

"Can I see?" Palette asked, his eye lights shining.

"Eh? Oh, um... I guess so... but if you try anything, I'm gone," Goth mumbled. He received an eager nod from the skeleton, their starry eye lights glittering in the sun.

With a small rush of wind much like last time, Goth transformed into a small bat before the other skeleton's eye lights. Pale wings wrapped around a fluffy white body no bigger than Palette's hand, watching him nervously with two bead-like eyes, the left a bright red, the right was a milky pink.

"Holy stars, you're so cute!" the skeleton squealed, startling the small bat while nearly vibrating from his excitement.

Goth transformed back into a skeleton, a deep blush covering his face as he muttered, "'Cute' usually isn't the word most monsters or humans would use to describe me. You really are weird."

Chapter Text

Palette laid on the grass, staring up at the even sky and admiring how the yellow, orange, and pink hues melded together into the expanding purple. He had been conversing with Goth for hours now, having asked almost every question under the sun and having many of his misconceptions about vampires laid to rest.

"Wow, humans and monsters have vampires pegged all wrong," the skeleton said, turning to his new companion, "everyone paints you as bloodthirsty, vicious beasts that would attack on sight... but if anything, you seemed way more scared of me when I stumbled upon you."

"That's... not completely true," Goth admitted with a slight grimace, "There are some vampires that fit your description, though we consider them rogues of our kind. They're the ones that seek out a target not for survival, but as a means of pleasure and bloodlust. Unfortunately, they also tend to be the ones that garner the negative attention and give the rest of us a bad reputation."

His expression fell as his voice grew quiet, "As for why I was scared, that's... kind of a complicated story."

"I'd like to hear it...," Palette said, quickly adding on, "... if you don't mind talking about it, that is. If it's too personal, I won't pry."

Goth shook his skull. "I've had plenty of time to come to grips with it... one of the perks of being a vampire, I suppose," he chuckled half-heartedly to himself before beginning his story. 

"A long while back, I met a monster. He was a skeleton, much like you. He wasn't fascinated with vampires like you, but he was skeptical of the rumors surrounding them. We met, and after a while we became friends. I would sneak away to spend all day playing in the woods with him.

"One day, I went out to play with him without feeding first... and I ended up falling and hurting myself pretty badly. My friend was at a loss on how to help until I told him I needed blood to heal... he then offered to let me bite him. I had bitten blood servants before and everything had turned out fine, and the pain hurt so much at that moment... so I agreed with his offer and bit him. 

"The problem was that I underestimated how much being injured would affect my self-control."

Goth hugged his knees to his chest, his hood drooping down as he continued, "I control of lost myself while I drained him dry. The pain clouded my mind and I was too focused on healing my injuries to hear his words. Vampires... we have a sac of paralytic fluid connected to our teeth that keeps a target still when we feed, so he wasn't able to escape or fight back. 

"When I regained control, he was motionless and cold... he dusted in my arms minutes later. He had to have been scared, feeling the life draining from him without being able to stop it... and I... I caused that fear. He cared about me and trusted me, yet... I ended up killing him.

"Naturally, the monsters and humans that knew him were enraged and came after me for revenge. M... my mother tried to protect me from their wrath, told me to go while he reasoned with them... but they ended up k... killing him instead. 

"I was able to get away, but I haven't been able to bite another creature since then. I haven't let anyone get close to me since then, either.. How can I, when anyone that stays around me eventually ends up dying?" 

Goth's skull was buried in his knees as he finished his story, his hood completely obscuring his face. Palette inched closer to his melancholy companion, wanting to comfort him, but also not wanting to startle him after managing to gain some amount of trust. 

As he processed the story, one detail stuck out.

The skeleton gently asked, "Goth, you said you haven't fed since that day... but vampires need blood to live, don't they? How have you gotten by without feeding?"

Wiping his face on his sleeve, the small vampire focused on the ground ahead of him. "I've consumed blood since then... I just can't take it directly from the source," he responded, digging into his cloak to pull out a small leather pouch.

Opening it, he held it out for Palette to see three corked glass vials containing a reddish-black liquid.

"I keep a supply of blood contained in these vials on me at all times so I can drink from them if I ever feel hungry or need a boost," Goth explained, "Father says it's a bad habit, that the vials can break too easily, that blood from a vial isn't as potent as it is from the source, that I need to be able to bite... but I can't. It only reminds me of what I lost that day whenever I try."

The small skeleton put the pouch away, a bitter smile forming on his face, "I'm pathetic, aren't I? Toting around vials of blood, not being able to bite properly, jumping at the sight of mortals, worrying everyone around me... all because I couldn't control my actions in the past. And now I'm letting it ruin the rest of my life."

Palette furrowed his browbone as he countered, "I don't think you're pathetic. You went through a traumatic experience and lost people you cared about. I think you're strong, not to mention pretty creative to find a way around biting others without starving yourself. Your friend and mom would've wanted you to live. By finding a solution instead of giving up, you're giving their deaths meaning."

Goth stared for a moment, sighing as he said, "Thanks Palette. You seem like a good guy... your words remind me a lot of my friend, they sound like something he would've said." Picking himself up, he looked up at the now indigo sky and murmured, "It's not safe out here when it's dark, I should get you back to your village."

Palette didn't feel like he was in any danger, but he relented and went to pick up his kindling anyways. He hesitantly picked up his knife as well. Luckily, Goth didn't seem to be worried as he secured it to his hip once more.

The vampire walked with him in amicable silence, stopping at the treeline that divided the village and the woods.

"This is as far as I can take you...I wouldn't want to cause a ruckus if anyone saw me," he stated, worrying his hands against the hem of his cloak's sleeves.

The taller waved the apology away, "It's fine, thanks for walking me this far." As Goth turned to leave, Palette called out, "Hey, is there any chance I can see you again? It was really fun talking to you, I'd really like it if we could be friends."

The vampire froze and Palette grimaced at the reaction, internally berating his wording.

Stars... why did I say that? Of course he wouldn't want to be friends with a monster. He just told me what happened to his last friend.

Before he could backpedal and take back the request, the smaller replied quietly, "You... you really want to be friends? After everything I told you? I mean, having a friend again... that actually sounds really nice. I miss having someone to talk to."

Palette perked up, nodding enthusiastically, "Yeah! You're not a bad person, you just made a mistake. I'd like to be friends if you're okay with it."

Goth's expression became stern as he said, "Alright, but there's one thing I have to ask before I accept. If we're really going to be friends, you have to promise me you'll never ask me to bite you or anyone else for any reason. Also, if you're ever in danger and I tell you to go, you need to go. I... I wouldn't be able to handle losing another friend."

Palette thought over the conditions for a moment.

"I promise I'll never ask you or force you to bite for any reason," he agreed, "though if I'm in danger, that would mean you're probably in danger too. I can promise that I would listen, but only if you get out of danger too. You're my friend, after all, and I'd be a pretty crummy one if I just left you to suffer alone."

The vampire mulled over Palette's words, waffling on whether he could accept the counterterms. "Alright, I suppose I can accept that..." Goth sighed, letting a small smile peek through.

Palette flashed a wide grin in return,  "Awesome, we're going to be the best of friends!"

Chapter Text

 

Palette closed the door to his house, fixing his beige scarf as he dashed toward the woods.

He had been meeting Goth over the course of a week, and he loved having someone to goof around with. The young vampire seemed to enjoy the company as well, claiming he didn't have many friends himself, vampire or otherwise.

Palette lived by himself, so as long as he came back with something at the end of the day, such as wood or food, his neighbors never questioned his absence.

Goth mentioned something about a lake yesterday, I wonder if he's planning on showing it to me today. We could go fishing! Or maybe we can play tag again, or-

"AH!"

A cry in the distance cut his planning short, prompting him to run toward the source of the sound. The voice was dreadfully familiar... 

Please let me be wrong.

The sound of faint laughter could be heard followed by another cry of pain. He urged himself to move faster.

That definitely sounded like Goth... he sounds hurt!

"What's this?" a gruff male voice said.

"G... giveitback!" Goth cried, his words breathy and strained as if they were being forced through a narrow tube.

"Oh my god, is that-?!"

Palette's emergence from the brush interrupted the exclamation as everyone present turned to look at him.

A group of men surrounded Goth, who was laying on his stomach with a long, thin object sticking out of his left shoulder blade. He was trembling, his breath coming in halting gasps as he sent Palette a fearful look through watery sockets.

Palette recognized most of the men as his fellow neighbors, a well-known hunting group in his village. The man that had been yelling, Chad, had an open leather pouch in his hand.

"Hey Roller, you're just in time to join the fun," one of the skinnier men, Lyle, chortled, walking over to wrap a thin arm around him, "we found ourselves one-a them vampire freaks!"

"Lucky us, silver does work on hellspawn, so it's not going anywhere. Good thing Davies brought along his silver-tipped arrows," a stockier man, Wesker, interjected as he wiggled the arrow protruding from the vampire's shoulder.

The group laughed as the movement elicited a pained whimper through gritted teeth and more tears from the small vampire.

"Leave Goth alone!" Palette shouted, wrenching himself from Lyle's grip.

"Goth...? Wait, you know this freak?" Chad questioned, looking between the two skeletons, "Don't tell me this is where you've been going for the past week... did you know he's a vampire? You know they just mess with you so they can suck you dry, right?"

Palette clenched his fists as he retorted, "No, he's not like that! He wouldn't-"

"Enough!" Chad bellowed, throwing the pouch on the ground and slamming his boot down upon it. Goth let out a strangled gasp as the contents shattered and spilled beneath the hunter's foot.

The man ignored his victim's lament as he declared, "You're clearly being manipulated and brainwashed by this vampire... and as good samaritans, we need to do something about that."

A shriek tore through the air as Wesker violently ripped the arrow from Goth's shoulder blade. The men watched dispassionately as he descended into raspy sobs and a deep red splotch dyed the back of his cloak, his marrow spreading rapidly from the open wound.

"Stop it! Stop hurting him, he didn't do anything wrong!" Palette screamed as Lyle held him back.

"It exists... that's enough," Chad said, a cruel sneer adorning his face.

The cloaked skeleton struggled to crawl away from his aggressors, only to choke on air as Chad's foot roughly pinned him into the grass, "As fun as all this is, it's getting late. We should wrap this up."

He pulled out a serrated hunting knife, crouching lower while still pinning Goth's back under his boot, "Any last words, hellspawn?"

The smaller gasped out, eye sockets clenched tightly, "P... pal...ette... g... go..."

"The only place you're going is to hell where you belong," Chad growled, raising the knife to strike at his hooded skull.

"GOTH!" Palette howled as he finally pulled out of Lyle's grip, scrambling to stop the attack.

I won't be able to make it in time!

A rush of air overtook the clearing as Chad lost his balance, falling over as the target of his blade suddenly vanishing from under him.

...though Palette was able to catch sight of a ball of white and red contrasting the trees and grass as the wind died down. He raced forward while the rest of the group tried to get their bearings.

"What the... the vampire changed! Someone grab it!" Chad shouted, pointing toward Goth's retreating bat form.

He was a fair distance away already but was clearly impeded by his injury, unable to even fly properly as he stuttered along the ground, desperately using his right wing in an attempt to gain some altitude.

Palette managed to beat them to the punch, plucking the creature from the grass before anyone else could react. Pulling his squirming friend to his chest, the monster made a break for the treeline.

He heard the sound of metal embedding itself into the wood of a tree as he kept running, Wesker yelling behind him, "They're getting away, catch them!"

Palette ignored their shouts, more concerned with the screeching, bleeding ball of fur fighting his hold. "Goth... Goth, it's okay! It's me, it's Palette! Please, calm down, you're going to hurt yourself more if you struggle!" he pleaded as he continued weaving through the trees.

The white bat stilled in his grasp. Palette glanced down to see a pair of eyes tiredly staring up at him in confusion. The skeleton grimaced at the bat's haggard appearance.

The fur on Goth's back was matted with blood and the wound showed no signs of stopping soon. Palette could feel his tiny body shivering, his rapidly pulsing soul beats thrumming against the skeleton's bloodstained fingers.

Goth needs blood to heal, but those jerks broke his blood vials. I promised I'd never ask or force him to bite, so he would probably fight me if I tried... he doesn't look like he can afford to waste the energy.

Palette pressed his fingers gently against the injury, hoping to stem the flow as he murmured to himself, "There has to be something, think... no biting... no vials... oh!"

He nearly tripped as an idea came to him. Forcing himself to speak slowly and clearly, he asked, "It doesn't have to be a vial, right? Can you take blood if it's in a cup or another container?"

Goth chirped weakly, dipping his head to rest against Palette's chest. "I'll take that as a yes...," he murmured gravely, hastening his pace at the unenthused response.

Not good... he's losing too much blood and becoming lethargic. Hang on a little bit longer, Goth. I promise I'll help you.

Chapter Text

Palette peered through the treeline at the edge of the woods, scanning his surroundings for any traces of his neighbors. Thankfully, his inspection revealed a clear path to this doorstep.

Pressing Goth securely to his chest and hiding him beneath his left palm, the skeleton dashed for his house, wrenching open the door and swinging himself into the threshold. He pushed the door closed with his back, taking a moment to listen for any suspicious sounds.

Seconds went by with only the hammering of his own soul and Goth's faint panting punctuating the silence.

Releasing the breath he'd been holding, Palette drew the curtain over the window to block out prying eyes and brought Goth over to the bed in the right corner. Gently unhooking the small bat's claws from his blue vest, he set them down in the middle of a pillow.

Goth blearily opened his eyes, gazing up at the skeleton towering over him. "Wait here, I need to gather some things," Palette moved his hands in a placating gesture, noticing the rusty stain running along his right sleeve and his left glove from where he'd held his friend. 

Once Goth's taken care of, I'll need to treat the stains before they set.

The bat gave a drowsy chirp of confirmation before closing his eyes once more, trusting his friend's words.

Palette went through the house, pulling out two clean bowls, a hand towel, a roll of bandages, and a moderately sized knife. Realizing his friend's bat form would make it hard to drink from a large container, he also pulled out a spoon.

Setting his supplies onto the table, Palette picked up the knife and raised it to his right hand.

This is probably going to hurt, but Goth needs it.

Taking a deep breath, he cut into the outer edge of his palm, gritting his teeth as he let the resulting marrow drip into one of the bowls. It was a slow process but within five minutes, Palette felt he had enough to help his friend.

Cleaning his cut and wrapping a bit of the bandage around his hand, he brought the marrow-filled bowl and spoon over to the pillow Goth was resting on. The white bat was scooped up into Palette's left palm, cradled softly onto his back as the monster dipped the spoon into the deep red liquid.

"Alright... here you are Goth. Drink up," Palette crooned, bringing it to their mouth.

Nothing happened.

He tipped the spoon a bit, gently prying open Goth's mouth and dripping some of the liquid in.

Still no reaction.

The skeleton began to panic, thinking he was too late... until the bat in his palm gave a tiny shudder and began to slowly lap at the spoon's contents. Once he got going, the spoon was quickly emptied.

"Thank stars... don't scare me like that," Palette exhaled softly, refilling the spoon and placing it to Goth's mouth once more. After a few spoonfuls, he seemed to regain some of his strength, gripping along the metallic edges with his tiny clawed thumbs as he drank.

The taller smiled at the sight, muttering quiet encouragements as he continued to scoop more marrow each time the vampire emptied the spoon. He had to admit, it was morbidly fascinating to watch Goth eat... or was it considering drinking?

Eventually, the vampire was able to empty the bowl of its contents, letting out a contented chirp.

Standing up, Palette placed the spoon into the empty dish and brought it to the sink. Filling it with some water and placing it inside to soak, he retrieved the other bowl, filled it with clean water, and brought it along with Goth to the table.

Dipping the towel into the water, the skeleton set to carefully cleaning the blood out of Goth's fur. He was pleased to find the wound was already healing over as he cleaned around a fresh scab. He worked quietly for the better part of an hour with only the occasional chirp or squeak from the bat in his hand.

As Palette wiped away the excess water and checked for any missed bloodstains, he marveled at how soft and silky Goth's fur was. He was so lost in his awe, he didn't realize he was petting his friend until a small squeak brought him out his daze.

Contrary to his initial worry, Goth actually seemed to enjoy the attention, shifting to make himself comfortable in the skeleton's palm as his eyes began to droop.

Palette set aside the towel, exchanging it for the roll of bandages to loosely cover the scab. Hopefully, it would prevent re-injury while still allowing Goth a full range of motion.

Bringing him to the bed and placing him back on the pillow to rest, Palette grabbed the towel, rinsing it out in the sink so he could attempt to remove the bloodstains from his clothes. His gloves would probably be fine since they were already brown. A simple wash later would suffice.

Once the stains were nothing more than pale brown blotches, the skeleton tossed the shirt into his wash pile and donned a clean shirt. Afterward, he prepared to make his lunch, clean the dirty dishes in the sink, and finish the other chores that needed to be done.

He had admittedly been shirking work in favor of visiting Goth for the past week, so a good housecleaning was well overdue.

After lunch, Palette got started on cleaning his house and preparing dinner. Almost three hours passed this way, with the monster glancing up every so often to check on his guest. He smiled at the smooth rise and fall of Goth's fluffy body as he slept.

He eventually looked toward the window, noticing the light outside the curtains was dimmer than before. Nighttime was approaching.

It's about time to make supper, I should probably try waking Goth to see if he's hungry again. I wonder if vampires eat normal food, too... I should ask him.

Before he could act on his thoughts, banging against the door made him jump, the culprit on the other side shouting, "Roller, get out here!"

Chad.

As he stood to answer, a tiny chirp caught his attention. Goth was awakened by the noise outside, his gaze unfocused but nervous.

He knew something was wrong.

Palette strode lightly across the hardwood floor, giving the bat a reassuring pet as he murmured, "Don't worry, I'll figure out a way to get him to leave. I won't let him hurt you."

Turning away from his friend, the skeleton mustered his best neutral expression as he reached for the handle, opening the door just enough for his skull to fit through. His mask faltered when he saw it wasn't just Chad... it seemed like the whole village was here.

The multitude of torches and the gleam of weapons many of them were carrying didn't bode well.

"Where is it, Roller?" Chad spat, glaring down at him.

"Where's what?" Palette replied, gripping the handle tightly while trying to muster a confused smile despite the itching feeling crawling up his back.

"Don't play dumb, my whole group saw you running off with the bat, you even named it! It was too weak to go off by itself, we know you're hiding it!" he ranted, pushing the door and barging into his home.

Snapping his skull toward the bed, Palette was equal parts thankful and worried that Goth was no longer on the pillow.

Chad's cursory search yielded no results as well. His fists clenched to the point of popping as he growled, "I know the vampire's here, so where is it?!"

Palette shook his skull silently, still denying the hunter's claim. Reaching forward, the man grabbed him by the vest just below his scarf and dragged him outside, throwing him to the dirt a good distance away. The skeleton coughed and wheezed at the dust his fall kicked up.

"Light it up, we'll smoke the hellspawn out of hiding!" Chad called out to the crowd.

The skeleton rose to his feet, his soul pounding frantically as he grabbed the man's shoulder, yelling, "What? No! You can't do that, that's my-"

Chad's arm connected with Palette's stomach, cutting off his words and sending him to his knees in another coughing fit.

As villagers began torching the house, Chad sneered, "You should have thought about that before throwing your lot in with them. If you care more about those things than your own neighbors, then you don't deserve to live here among us. Just be thankful we're not burning you with that abomination."

The skeleton watched in horror as dark plumes of acrid smoke rose into the sky, spurred on by the bright flames that licked eagerly at the wooden frame of his home.

A home that still held Goth within.

Chapter Text

No... Goth!

Desperate to save his friend, Palette forced himself to his feet once more and dashed toward the burning house. He yelped when Chad's hand caught his shoulder and threw him to the ground once more.

He landed on his back with a grunt, fully intending to rise back to his feet... but he froze at the sound of a muffled screech. It sounded like it was right behind him!

He twisted his body around, but nothing was there.

His eye lights scanned the area for any trace of his fuzzy friend, wondering if he had been hearing things in his panicked state. The rest of the villagers gave no indication toward hearing the sound, their focus still on the burning house.

As his hopes began to fall, he felt something move between his shoulder blades... under his scarf. He carefully moved his hand under the beige fabric, fighting the urge to cry in relief as silky fur met his probing fingertips. Goth tried to emerge from of his hiding spot, but Palette eased him down again.

I can't let them see Goth. I have to get him away from here.

He took one last look at the ruined building that was once his home and the villagers surrounding it. Turning away as the roof collapsed in on itself, he dashed into the woods.

He continued running, even as the sounds of the villagers died down and the light from the fire disappeared.

Once he was sure he was far enough from any trace of his village, Palette dropped to his hands and knees, allowing himself a moment to catch his breath and lament the loss of his home. The home he was born in, where his mother passed away shortly after, where he learned to survive on his own after his father disappeared, where he spent his days... alone.

Now that I think about it, I don't really have many happy memories in that house... yeah, it was my belongings but, in the end, it was all just stuff.

An itching sensation interrupted his thoughts as Goth tried to leave the safety of Palette's scarf once more. The skeleton reached a hand up for the bat to crawl onto, only to be met with a gust of wind that momentarily blinded him followed by the small pops of bandages breaking.

When he opened his sockets, Goth had returned to his skeleton form. The smaller threw his arms around Palette's neck, pulling them into a tearful hug and burying his skull into their shoulder.

"I'm so sorry Palette, I never meant for any of that to happen!" the vampire wailed, "I should have known this was a bad idea. I knew it was dangerous to be around me, but I refused to listen to my instincts. I shouldn't have let you take me to your house, I shouldn't have stayed so long, I shouldn't have-"

Palette shushed his friend, returning the hug with a gentle squeeze, "Goth, I don't care about the house or any of the junk in it! I can replace all of that stuff, but I can't replace you. Nothing else back there was important, it can burn to the ground for all I care. I just want to know if you're okay and how you managed to get out of there without anyone seeing you."

"I'm fine... I'm still a bit tired, but it's nothing a nap won't fix," Goth pulled away, drying his face with his sleeve as he explained, "When you opened the door, I smelled smoke from outside. I was afraid something bad was going to happen, so I took the opportunity while you were talking with that man to fly onto your back and hid under your scarf... I was trying to staying quiet, but I think you fell on me."

Palette grimaced at the memory of the fall and the resulting screech, "Sorry, I was thrown by Chad when that happened."

Now that I think about it, it's probably a good thing Goth cried out. Otherwise, I would have gone in to look for him...  after I promised I wouldn't put myself in danger.

Goth would be really upset if he knew, so I probably shouldn't mention that.

"It's alright, I'm not blaming you," Goth reassured his friend, "I figured as much from the force of the fall. It surprised me more than anything, really."

Pulling himself into a standing position and dusting off his cloak, Goth faced the direction of the village, looking crestfallen, "From the look of things, you can't stay there anymore... dad probably won't be happy, but you can stay with me."

Goth reached out a hand to pull his friend up, and Palette took it with a grateful smile, "That's probably a good thing. If they can turn against me that easily, my old neighbors don't seem like people I would want to be around." 

The vampire nodded his skull, still not quite reassured as he walked toward the deeper parts of the woods with the other close behind.

As the pair walked, Palette couldn't stop throwing glances at his small friend. The repetitive action didn't escape Goth's attention as he sighed in exasperation, "I'm alright Palette, honest. I'm already mostly healed, so you don't need to worry about me. I am a vampire, after all... we're famous for being a pretty resilient race."

The skeleton countered in concern, "You were also bleeding out pretty heavily after being shot with a silver-tipped arrow this morning. You said silver hurts and makes it hard to move. Not to mention you've only had a few hours of sleep since I treated you."

Goth did appear to be fine and vampires were known for rebounding quickly from injuries provided they had the means to heal... still, he couldn't help but worry.

Goth grumbled, "I also spent that time resting as a bat, so I used less energy and recovered quicker. Besides, it's not that far of a walk, I'll be able to make it. I'll have plenty of time to rest once we get home without having to worry about other humans or monsters finding us. I promise if I start feeling dizzy or faint, you'll be the first to know, alright?"

Palette reluctantly agreed, allowing Goth to lead the way while watching for signs of fatigue.

The vampire eventually led them toward a sheer cliff face. Walking along a narrow slope that took them about six feet off the ground, he stopped at a nondescript spot along the path, stating, "Here we are."

"Um... I don't see anything that resembles a home," the taller skeleton commented, looking around for a sign of what 'here' entailed.

Goth laughed, smirking as he said, "That's the point. We wouldn't survive as long as we have if we didn't have a way to hide in plain sight. Besides, this is only the entrance."

Taking Palette's hand, he pulled the skeleton toward the wall. Before he could voice his uncertainty, he felt himself melt through.

Palette gawked at the sight of a long tunnel lined with glowing lights. Looking closely, he noted they were actually small crystals. "Magic?" he questioned softly as he looked back at the wall they passed through, receiving another chuckle from his traveling companion.

"Kind of... though it's more like a visual suggestion," Goth answered, pointing to some crystals at the mouth of the tunnel, "Our people have come up with a device that creates an optical illusion depending on how the crystals are positioned. I'm not completely sure how it works myself, but I know it requires magic to work correctly."

"Only a fellow vampire would be able to reliably find the entrance using their sense of smell, and the tunnel's mild wind currents alert the guards stationed at the end if a human or monster happens to stumble upon it by accident...," the vampire's face fell, "which means they probably already know we're here."

Goth tightened his grip on Palette's hand slightly. He turned to address the confused and mildly concerned skeleton.

His expression hardened as he said, "Before we go further, make sure you stay behind me and let me do the talking. The guards are probably going to be on edge from the blood they can smell on my clothes. I wouldn't put it past them to attack first and ask questions later, but I won't let anyone hurt you as long as you follow my lead. Do you understand?"

Palette gulped, nodding his head silently as Goth guided him deeper into the tunnel. His soul drummed in his chest as slightly brighter lighting signaled the end of the tunnel, with two figures cast in heavy shadows blocking the entryway.

Chapter Text

"Identify yourselves!" A male voice boomed and echoed down the tunnel, making Palette shiver at the aggressive tone.

Goth, on the other hand, merely planted his feet and called back, "Goth Afterdeath, with a guest." The pair ran down the tunnel toward them, meeting them with looks of relief for the small vampire and caution toward Palette.

"Young master, thank goodness! We feared the worst when we smelled your blood! Where are you injured? Do you need assistance?" taller of the guards fussed, turning Goth around to inspect his back and left shoulder.

Goth huffed as he batted away the guard's hands, "I'm fine, Russel. It's old blood, the situation was handled."

Young master? Is Goth someone special?

The smaller guard eyed Palette, murmuring, "Is this mortal the reason you were injured, young master?" Palette saw Goth tense as the other guard, Russel, fell into a defensive position, attempting to push the small vampire behind him.

Goth ducked under the outstretched arm, rushing to place himself in front of the skeleton and physically bar any attempts at retaliation. He growled, "Do not harm him, Crom. Palette saved me from a group of mortals, I would probably be dead if not for his intervention. He tended to my injuries and was driven from his village for hiding me, so he will be staying with me as my guest until further notice."

The guards glanced at each other with matching looks of skepticism. The smaller, Crom, said, "You know Lord Death will be unhappy to hear you've brought an unknown mortal within our walls once he finds out."

Goth sighed as he replied, "Palette lost everything protecting me. I refuse to let his kindness go uncompensated, so I'll deal with father regarding his living arrangements. Once he's been notified of my return, we'll be waiting at home for him."

Trading looks once more, the two guards reluctantly stepped aside as Russel responded, "As you wish. If this mortal helped you, then he will be welcome here. But know that we will not stand by if he becomes a danger to you or our people."

"Thank you, Russel, Crom. I appreciate the show of faith. I promise he won't be any trouble," Goth assured as he stepped through the entryway, Palette giving his own nod of thanks as he trailed after his escort.

They made their way down a stone pathway past a variety of buildings that made up what looked to be a small underground village. The path seemed to branch off into organized street blocks, with each section of the village serving a different purpose. Above them, crystals made up a rainbow of colors along the ceiling, bathing the buildings and paths in faint illumination.

As they passed, many of the residents paused in their activities to watch the pair while whispering amongst themselves. Some looked curious, some looked nervous, some looked excited.

Nearly everyone had red eyes similar to Goth.

Their trek ended as the path gave way to a small staircase leading to a two-story house at the opposite end of the cavern. "Welcome to my home," Goth said as he turned to his guest, gesturing to the house behind him with a flourish.

"Goth, are you royalty or something? Those guards were calling you young master... you also mentioned something about blood servants before...," Palette asked, gawking at the sheer size of the building before them.

"Royalty?" the small vampire questioned as they went up the steps leading to the front door, "I wouldn't say I'm royalty, and no one here's rich by any stretch of the imagination. We all work together to provide for the group as a whole. They only call me young master because my father's currently the leader of our coven.

"Though I do suppose I'm pretty high up on the hierarchy considering I'm one of the leading candidates to inherit the title of Coven Leader when my father steps down... but I figured that position's lost on me since I'm not that strong physically, plus I've never really had an interest in being the leader. There's too much politics and posturing for my liking, I would rather explore the outside world."

Reaching for the handle and opening the door, he gestured for Palette to come inside as the skeleton asked, "So, what happens when your dad steps down?"

"I'll probably decline the position, and Father will likely choose someone else," Goth shrugged as he closed the front door, leading Palette through the living room and up another set of stairs.

"Oh... then what's the blood servant thing about?" he asked, staring at the interior in awe as they made their way up the stairs.

The first floor itself is bigger than my entire house!

"Blood servant is merely a term we use for mortals or vampires that serve under a specific vampire, trading service and providing for their master's needs in return for living accommodations and protection. Nearly every vampire has at least one servant under them," Goth explained as they walked down the hallway.

Passing the first door, Goth grabbed the handle of the next one to open it, gesturing for the monster to enter.

The skeleton stepped into what he guessed was Goth's room. It was roughly the same size as the interior of Palette's old house and modestly furnished with golden brown wooden furniture, with the only extravagant part being the size of the red linen bed at the far end of the room.

Goth flopped onto his stomach on the bed and shrugged off his bloodstained cloak, revealing a black t-shirt and white shorts ripped along the hem. The skeleton threw out another question, "So if nearly everyone has a blood servant, where's yours?"

Goth started at the question, burying his face in the covers and turning his head as he mumbled, "Idunavun..."

"Huh?"

Palette went around to the other side of the bed, crouching down to ask again, only for Goth to blush deeply and proclaim, "I don't have one."

At the monster's confused look, he sighed in resignation and said, "Constantly cutting yourself can be dangerous and the medical facility is the only building that has the proper equipment to draw blood safely. The doctor's pretty strict in maintaining the tools herself, so blood servants usually require biting... and you already know my feelings on the matter. Because of that, I don't have a blood servant.

"I usually do without by asking the doctor for blood vials from volunteers... which reminds me, I'll need to stop by there at some point to see about getting some new ones," Goth said, only to cringe," She'll probably be mad at me for the wasted blood."

"Oh...," Palette deflated a bit, remembering the story Goth had told him a week ago, "why not just have a regular servant without the biting?"

"I tried," Goth whined, "but they always feel like something's wrong with them because I don't want to bite them or they feel like it's their job to 'fix' my aversion toward biting. Most other vampires won't take me seriously because I don't bite and can't keep a servant, but nothing ever seems to work out and no one understands... so I gave up."

The last sentence was filled with an air of finality that made Palette's soul clench. His sockets scrunched up defiantly, "Well... what about me?"

"Wha-"

Before Goth could even finish his response, the door to his room burst open, revealing a tall figure in a dark cloak and piercing red eye lights.

Chapter Text

"Father...," Goth murmured, trying to subtly hide his bloody cloak behind himself as he sat up on the bed. The newcomer's red pinpricks slid between the young vampire and the young monster, narrowing on the latter. Palette could swear the temperature in the room dropped purely from their gaze.

This is Lord Death?

As they made their way into the room toward Palette, Goth scrambled off the bed and placed himself in their pathway. Raising his hands in a placating gesture, the small vampire shouted, "Father, wait! Let me explain!"

They towered over him, staring silently as he cleared his throat, "This is my friend, Palette. He helped me when a group of game hunters attacked me, but they ended up burning his home down in retaliation and now he has nowhere else to go. So... I offered to let him live with us."

The smaller shuffled nervously when silence met the end of his explanation. Goth's gaze fell to the floor as he muttered, "I'm sorry, Father. I couldn't just abandon him after he helped me and-"

In a flash, Death had wrapped his arms around the younger, pulling them up to his chest and earning a startled squeak. The elder laid his skull upon theirs, breathing out, "Thank the stars that brought you back to me."

"You're... not mad?" Goth inquired cautiously.

The small vampire was swiftly raised up and held aloft as Death yelled, "Of course I'm mad, I'm absolutely furious! Hearing that my son went off on his own again, only to come back covered in his own blood with a tagalong mortal! It has me tempted to raze the village that would commit such atrocities toward my own kin once more!"

The parent glanced toward Palette, sighing as his anger petered out. He brought Goth back down to socket level, "But I know from past experience that violence only begets more violence. Lashing out would make us no better than the ignorant mortals that attack us.

"Just as I have seen proof of great malevolence from mortals, I have also seen proof of great benevolence as well. One small group should not speak for an entire race, and another rampage would only serve to destroy our coven's safety. I would rather we not be forced to relocate again."

The elder pulled his son in for another embrace, his voice taking on a hushed tone as if warding off a curse, "You came back alive and able, that is the most important thing to me... but promise me you will never go off on your own like that ever again. You're all I have left in this world... I don't know what I'd do if I lost you too."

Goth returned the hug, burying his face into his dad's cloak, "I'm sorry, Father, I didn't mean to make you worry. I promise I'll always have someone with me whenever I leave the village in the future."

"That's all I could possibly ask for," The older vampire smiled gratefully. Adjusting Goth in his grip, he approached Palette and asked, "As for you... you are the mortal that helped my son?"

Palette jumped slightly, not expecting to become the center of attention so soon, "Y... yes! My name is Palette Roller, Lord Death sir. Everything Goth said was true... I hope my being here won't cause any problems."

Death crouched down, placing his son next to him and reaching for Palette's tensed shoulder.

Both relaxed when the elder smiled, "Then you have my eternal gratitude for aiding my son and, as long as you don't stir up trouble, my blessing to stay here for as long as you see fit.

"Also, call me Reaper, or Lord Reaper if you must. I prefer the name my late husband coined for me over my given name. It sounds much less morbid."

Palette gave a hesitant nod, which caused Reaper's smile to grow.

"Now that that's out of the way," Reaper turned to his son, "I smell the blood and I saw the cloak you tried to hide, how are you feeling? Do you need anything? Medical attention? Blood? Do you have your vials with you?"

Palette blinked at the old vampire's transition in demeanor since arriving.

This is the same vampire that stopped me cold with just his intimidating aura, and now he's acting like a normal doting parent.

"No, they kind of got broken...," Goth averted his gaze, rubbing his arm like a scolded child. Looking up to find his father's sockets furrowing, he quickly added, "But I'm alright! Palette gave me some blood when he helped me, so I'm good!"

Reaper's scowl was replaced with surprise, followed by a sly grin as he gave a sideways glance towards the monster, "Oh, did he now? I take it he knows about your biting situation?"

Both youngsters nodded their heads in unison, making the elder laugh, "Wonderful! He's a keeper, Goth, you would do well to claim him as your blood servant before someone else snatches him up."

The small vampire's sockets bulged as he sputtered, "Wh... what?! NO!"

"And why not?" Reaper countered, standing up and crossing his arms, "He knows about your aversion to biting, yet this Palette fellow was able to get you to accept blood from him despite that. That shows his acceptance for your preferences and his ability to find a workaround that you deemed acceptable."

"I know, but that was an emergency... and...," his son floundered for some way to counter his father's words.

Palette interjected, catching Reaper's attention, "Goth wouldn't be required to bite me if I became his blood servant, right? Would I be able to do what he does now, toting around blood in a container that I can pass off to him if he needs it?"

"I don't see why not," the elder vampire mused, tapping his finger against his chin in contemplation, "it would probably need to be something more sturdy than glass vials, though..."

"You two can't be serious!" Goth squawked.

Reaper turned to his son with a stony expression, "I'm absolutely serious. Your inability to bite others puts you at a distinct disadvantage, so having a servant that's focused specifically on your wellbeing is essential for you, especially if that servant's willing to work around your preferences without a fuss. That was the main reason you were having problems keeping a servant, after all.

"Besides, you know full well what happens to unclaimed mortals around here. He would be fair game for any vampire that desires him and he wouldn't be able to refuse them if they decide to claim him by force."

Goth clenched his fists in frustration, stomping his foot into the floor, "But Palette's my friend! Claiming him would make others see him as a piece of property."

"Only if you treat him that way," the elder retorted, "By claiming him, you'll know he's not being manhandled or mistreated by another vampire and will be able to assure his safety from anyone who would. No one else would be able to touch him without your express consent unless he was being detained for a criminal act. If you're really set on him living among us and you truly consider him your friend, then claiming him yourself would be the best thing you could do for him."

Goth glared stubbornly at the floor in silence.

Palette reached out, placing a hand on his friend's shoulder, his expression sympathetic as he implored, "Goth, I want to do this. I want to help you. If I'm going to end up being claimed as someone's servant anyway by staying here, then I'd rather it be you. Your consideration for my feelings already tells me you would be a good master. Please?"

Goth stared for a moment, then turned away, placing his hands over his face and making a noise the monster could only describe as a mix between a screech and a groan.

The young vampire fell silent afterward, defeat lacing his words as he addressed his father, "Fine, you win... have one of your blood servants place an order with the smithy for a pin and a cuff to be made with my mark on it."

Palette let out a cheer, sweeping the startled vampire into a spinning hug that lifted him slightly off the ground and put a lavender blush on his face.

"I'll make sure the items are ready by morning, you two get some rest," Reaper chuckled as he strolled casually out of the room. 

"Will do!" Palette stopped mid-spin, popping to attention dutifully as the door shut, Goth still dangling in his arms.

"What have I done?" the smaller moaned to himself, leaning his skull back to rest against his new servant's chest.

"Only recruited the best blood servant ever!" his friend answered excitedly, only to ask moments later, "So other than providing blood, what else does a blood servant do?"

"You agreed to be a blood servant without knowing all the details?" Goth groaned, staring up at him.

"Well... you needed one and I would have eventually ended up as one. I figured I could learn on the job?" Palette reasoned, still smiling brightly.

Clenching his sockets shut, Goth groaned louder, "Paaaaleeeette!"

Chapter Text

"We were here first, so we should be seated first!" A high-pitched voice shrieked.

Goth turned in his seat to see a brunette woman yelling at a harried host at the front of the restaurant he and Palette decided to end their hangout day at. A man and two children were standing next to her with a monster and their companion standing opposition.

"Ma'am, they're being sat first because they're being seated for a two-person table, your party needs a four-person table," the host explained.

"I don't care, why can't you just pull up another table and seat us?!" the woman screeched. Goth groaned internally at the woman's behavior.

Why did this have to happen? This was supposed to be a nice, relaxing lunch after spending the day hanging out.

"Wow, she sounds really angry," Palette's voice dragged the small skeleton's attention away from the fight. He was watching the spectacle from his own seat, having a better vantage point since he was facing the front.

Goth sighed as he laid his arms on the table, resting his skull upon them, "If she's going to make an idiot out of herself, she could at least be a little more quiet about it."

Can't I have one day where I can hang out with my crush without things going wrong?

As the woman's voice rose in volume, prompting goth to bury his face in his arms, Palette grimaced, "It doesn't look like she's calming down. They haven't taken our food order yet, do you want to go find somewhere else instead?"

"... Yeah," the smaller huffed, rising from his chair. A crash startled him mid-motion, forcing him to use the table to balance himself as he swiveled toward the source.

The host had been pushed into his computer station... which had begun sparking violently. Before anyone could react, the sparks burst into an explosion, setting the front of the restaurant ablaze.

"Goth-!" Palette called out frantically, only for his voice to become lost in the din of chaos the explosion created. The small skeleton was shoved by a panicked customer, quickly becoming lost in the crowd despite his best efforts as flames climbed the walls and white smoke began to billow along the ceiling.

The skeleton gasped as a shove to the back sent him to the floor. He scrambled to avoid being stepped on, eventually finding himself pressed against a wall.

"Palette?" he tried to yell, standing on his tiptoes to see over the crowd in hopes of spotting his companion. His soul sank as the seconds ticked by with no results.

Where's Palette? Did he already make it outside? What if he's not, though? What if he's still in here looking for me? What if something happened to him? What if he needs help? I can't just leave him. I can't...

He was startled out of his thoughts when someone ran past him, set ablaze and screaming for someone to help them. The skeleton cringed away from the sharp smell of burning flesh, his legs frozen in horror as the body crumpled and fell to dust.

He was used to seeing dead bodies, having tagged along on his dad's reaping duties a few times... but he only ever saw the aftermath and soul collection. This was his first experience witnessing another being in the throes of death.

A monster... died. They're dead. This is... I... I'm...

Goth clutched his chest as his sockets began to water from the heat and smoke surrounding him joining the fear growing inside him.

"...oth!"

Goth's skull shot up at the familiar sound, a watery smile lighting up his face as he barely made out the sight of Palette through the flames and darkening smoke, his scarf pulled haphazardly over his nasal ridge and mouth as a makeshift gas mask.

He's alive... he's here and he's alive!

"Palette!" The small skeleton yelled, staggering away from the burning wall to search for a path that would lead to Palette as the taller attempted to do the same, pulling his own scarf against his face to stave off the smokey air trying to invade his body.

It'll be alright... I'm almost there... we can-

"Look out!" The starry-eyed skeleton yelled, diving forward to shove the smaller, sending him skidding to the ground as a wave of heat rose up around him. Picking himself back up, the words he had been preparing died in his throat at the sight before him.

Palette. Pinned under a charred beam. 

The ceiling. The ceiling collapsed. Palette pushed me away. He saved me. And now...

"Goth...," the trapped monster gasped from where he laid beneath the debris, "You have to go... it's dangerous here... get out..."

The words snapped him out of his shock. Shaking his skull in vigorous refusal, he scrambled over to his fallen companion.

The fire blazed wildly around the pair as Goth dug his fingers under the smoldering wood, coughing into the red fabric he was attempting to use to block out the smoke. Palette struggled as the smaller attempted to lift it, wincing as it dug into his bones.

This wasn't supposed to happen. We were supposed to be having fun, hanging out, grabbing a bite to eat... not fighting for our lives...

"Goth, stop... It's not-" *cough* "working," Palette choked into his scarf as he sent the smaller a pleading look, "You have to get out of here... please!"

The hooded monster ignored him, continuing his task undaunted. Another piece of wood fell by his left foot, sending up searing sparks that made Goth flinch at the proximity.

Palette yelled, "Goth!"

"I can't!" the small skeleton shouted back, fighting the urge to cough.

"Yes you can!" the taller retorted, his expression taking on a rare anger.

Goth matched the expression as he reaffirmed his statement, "No, I can't... not without you!"

Palette huffed in frustration through his beige scarf, "Goth... be reasonable-"

"No, you be reasonable!" The hooded skeleton grunted, summoning a pair of bones to aid in lifting the beam higher, "I know you wouldn't leave me, so-" *cough* "what makes you think I would leave you?"

"Stars...," Palette wheezed, "Why do you... have to be so stubborn?"

"Because you're important to me!" Goth blurted out, choking on the sudden intake of polluted air despite his makeshift mask and missing the pinned skeleton's stunned expression.

By the time the smaller recovered his breath, the taller skeleton replied in a subdued tone, "Goth... I get it... but even if I'm-"

"No, you don't get it!" the smaller shouted, clenching his sockets and ignoring how the words irritated his throat. Heaving the wood a few inches higher, he summoned another pair of bones to support the new angle as he continued, "You never got it! You aren't just a-" *cough* "a be-"

His sentence cut out as he began hacking and coughing, fighting to maintain his grip and keep the wood from coming down on Palette's spine.

He regained his breath and resumed scratchily, mindlessly attempting to make Palette understand, "You're not just a best friend to me! I love you! I-" *cough, cough* "I love when you get that silly lopsided grin... when you laugh so hard you start to wheeze, your op-" *cough, cough* "... optimism toward others... how you stick out your tongue... when you concentrate... h-how you get exci-" *cough* "... excited when you learn something new... how you can't sing, b-but you still do it-" *cough, cough* "because you have fun doing it. Everything about you is special to me!

"I want to-" *cough* "... want to spend every day with you... live with you... m-marry you... have kids with you! I don't want a f-future... where you aren't there... s-so if I have to-" *cough* "... to give up on you to save myself... then I'd rather die! We either leave together or n-" *cough, cough* "n-not at all!"

Placing more bone supports, Goth risked a glance at Palette. Their eye lights locked, the scarf covering the taller's face falling askew, his eye lights mere pinpricks. The small skeleton broke contact, his cheeks burning while tears pricked at his sockets as he returned his focus solely to the pillar.

I knew it. I knew he doesn't feel the same way. I'm so stupid. We were only ever friends... and now I've ruined that too...

Whatever. Even if he doesn't see me that way, I still won't let him die.

Crouching low, Goth forced his shoulder under the debris, lifting up for what he hoped would be the last push needed to free his unrequited love... all the while stubbornly willing himself to believe the tears streaming down his face were from the noxious air.

Chapter Text

"No, you don't get it!" Goth shouted, halting the pinned skeleton in his mental tracks, "You never got it! You aren't just a-" *cough* "a be-"

The smaller began coughing and hacking, the episode lasting far longer than Palette felt comfortable. Goth was eventually able to catch his breath, scratchily continuing his rant, "You're not just a best friend to me! I love you!"

...What?

Palette's mind felt like it had detached from his body as the hooded monster pushed through his speech despite the smoke attempting to choke his words. Even as Goth poured out his soul, the taller skeleton still couldn't quite understand.

...Why? Why me? I mean, Goth really doesn't hang out with anyone besides me... but why would he love me? I annoy people with how energetic I am and I'm easily distracted when something new comes along. I'm not that smart, people always say I'm gullible and naive because I take people at their word.

Dad's never been around much and mom's always busy trying to support us... so I'm not even sure I know what love is! Would I really be able to settle down and start a family without knowing what a family actually does?

"... so... if I have to-" *cough* "... to give up on you to save myself... then I'd rather die! We either leave together or n-" *cough, cough* "not at all!"

Palette snapped back to reality, alarmed by Goth's grim ultimatum. He tilted his skull toward his now silent companion. Their eye lights locked. Goth looked... hopeful?

Hopeful of what? don't even know what I want! How can I possibly respond?

Goth looked away, his cheeks flushing as his sockets scrunched up, watering and staring at the pillar as if it were...

Oh. He's berating himself. I've known him long enough to know that look... but why? I'm the one with the problem, how can any of this possibly be Goth's fault?

He opened his mouth to say something, but the words refused to come out as Goth threw his shoulder under the burnt wood and pushed up. Tears rolled down the small monster's cheeks as the weight of the wood finally lifted enough for him to escape.

He's crying... I did that, didn't I?

Palette tried to move, hissing and gritting his teeth as pain shot up his right leg. It hurt to move... something was wrong. Still, Goth couldn't hold the burning debris up forever. Steeling himself, he grudgingly used his arms and left leg to pull himself free, turning himself in time to see Goth drop the pile in a wave of heat and ash.

The small skeleton stumbled backward, his left arm pressed against his face as he coughed and wheezed into his scarf violently. Palette latched onto his right sleeve, dragging him lower to the ground in hopes of giving him some cleaner air to breathe.

As Goth caught his breath, Palette inspected his leg... the lower half of his pant leg was splotched with marrow. Lifting the hem, he was relieved that the damage wasn't as bad as he initially feared.

It's not broken, but I don't think I'll be able to walk normally like this.

"G... Goth...," Palette coughed, turning to the smaller to figure out a plan... only to see he was already pulling a strip of fabric from the bottom of his red scarf and securing it firmly around the injured bone. As he tied the ends, the taller searched for an escape route.

Spotting a possible path, he tapped Goth's shoulder, pointing once he had their attention. The hooded skeleton seemed to understand his intent.

Kneeling down on Palette's right side, he wrapped their arm around his neck and gripped around their waist before pushing upward, clenching his sockets shut as he struggled to lift his companion. Placing all his weight on his left leg, Palette was able to reach a standing position at his friend's side. He choked and wheezed at the sudden onslaught of smoke.

It's so much thicker up here... has Goth been breathing this in the whole time?! We won't last much longer like this, we need to leave!

Forcing down the urge to gag, the pair made their way around the burning furniture and fallen debris toward what they hoped would lead to the exit. Every so often, Palette would glance at the skeleton holding him up.

His sockets were narrow, focusing single-mindedly on the path ahead. He was clearly tired, coughing to the point of retching at times... but there was a glimmer of something in his eye light that seemed to refuse to give up.

Right... no giving up. We're going to make it out of here.

The pair was eventually forced to stop, a burning swath of fabric blocking the only relatively safe path. Probably the remnants of a curtain. Goth attempted to summon more bones to cut through, but the constructs merely blinked into view before crumbling and fizzling out of existence, lacking the energy or focus to remain corporeal.

Knowing they couldn't waste precious air talking, Palette gave Goth's chest a tap with his right arm to get his attention before he could try again, raising his left arm to summon his own bones.

A row of thin white bones appeared, tearing through the fabric. A few crashed through a window as they continued their arc, but they did their job in removing the obstacle...

Or so they thought.

The burning cloth had been hiding a wall of flames. A cursory gaze showed no other pathways and the area behind them had already been swallowed up. A glance at Goth and his wide, blank sockets already told him what he suspected.

We're trapped...as much as I want to hope, there's nowhere left to go... there's nothing left-

Goth broke him out of his spiral, pulling him toward the flames. His sockets were still empty.

Palette panicked, digging his left leg into the burnt flooring and yanking back on the small skeleton to pull him away from the flames. The action forced them to the ground, the taller yelping as the impact jostled his right leg.

He wasn't allowed to dwell on the pain though, as Goth tried to regain his feet and push himself toward the flames once more.

Palette snatched at the skeleton's left sleeve, pulling him back down and latching onto his shoulders as the choked out, "Goth, stop it! It's n-" *cough, cough* "... not safe! You'd die before you could ever get through!"

"No!" Goth cried, his voice faint from his scarf and smoke inhalation despite the volume, shaking his skull in denial, "There has to be something-" *cough, cough* "... anything! This can't b-" *cough, cough* "... be it! This can't be the end!"

"I don't w-" *cough* "... want this!" he choked, his expression crumbling as reality began to sink in and he broke down sobbing, "I don't w... want us to-" *cough* "... to die! It's... not fair!"

Palette couldn't help crying as well as he gently shifted his injured leg, pulling the distraught monster into his side as he rasped, "You're right... it's-" *cough, cough* "... it's not fair. I wish there was-" *cough* "... another way..."

Goth buried their face into his jacket, bawling in between coughs and gasps for air as the taller skeleton wrapped his arms around them, trying vainly to shield them from the heat and smoke while burying his own face in their hood.

He sounds horrible, he's been in here way too long... I've heard burning alive is one of the worst ways to die... hopefully he'll suffocate befo-

Palette immediately crushed the thought, shivering as he tightened his grip on the smaller.

Stars, what am I thinking?! I don't want Goth to suffocate or burn! I want him to live! I want us both to live! I want to figure out how I feel about Goth! I want to give him an answer!

"...M'sorry...," Goth wheezed softly, barely audible over the crackling, hissing, and pops of the fire as he pulled away slightly, "I couldn't-" *cough, cough* "... can't save us... I'm sorry..."

"Don't apologize," Palette choked, pulling him back in, "It's not-" *cough, cough* "... n... not your fault. You did... everything you-" *cough* "... you c... could. It'll... be okay." *cough, cough* "I'll be right here... the whole time... with you."

More tears fell as the heat against his back grew more intense, signaling the progression of the flames. Palette whispered through his scarf into his companion's hood, "We'll go to-" *cough* "... together."

Chapter Text

Palette curled around Goth as the small skeleton pressed himself into his companion, attempting to make himself as small as possible. Both monsters knew it was a vain effort, that the fire surrounding them would eventually consume them... but they wanted to delay the inevitable, even if it was only a few seconds more.

Palette winced as an ember popped against his shoulder, giving him a taste of the pain that was to come. He hugged Goth tighter.

It's not fair... why does it have to end like this? I don't want to die... and I don't want Goth to die. I'm never going to hear his quiet laughter again, or see his shy smile. I'm never going to be able to make silly jokes with him or tease him when he blushes... huh, I guess I know why he was always blushing. I feel dumb for never noticing before... it seems kind of obvious now...

Stars... I don't want this to be where it all ends. Someone... please, help us...

"Is anyone still in there?" A voice boomed over the groan of the restaurant's wooden frame. Both skeleton's skulls shot up at the sound, hardly daring to believe their luck. Crashing and hissing sounds directed their attention toward a hulking figure in a long yellow coat, a red hat, and a mask covering their face.

A firefighter...!

"Here!" Palette rasped out, pushing his voice as loud as it could go while waving a hand frantically in the air. Tears traced a familiar path down his soot-stained face, diverted on his cheeks by a hopeful grin as the firefighter turned and made their way toward the pair, led by a smaller individual in similar garb throwing down what looked to be sand along the way.

"Is anyone hurt?" the bigger figure, a man by the sound of their voice, asked, stooping down so he was on-level with the skeletons.

"His-" *cough, cough* "... his leg...," Goth piped up hoarsely, still gripping onto Palette's jacket, his hands trembling and weary relief plain on his own dirtied face.

Glancing at Palette's leg for a moment, the man scooped him up, holding him easily in one arm before asking Goth, "Can you stand?"

The small skeleton nodded his head rather than speak, pulling himself to his feet with some help from the shorter firefighter. Placing his hand on Goth's shoulder to bring him in close, the taller man raised his voice, "The old path's no good anymore, Desiree! We'll need a new path!"

"Right! Stay close kid, Jarek!" the shorter firefighter replied, blanketing the floor around them with sand and smothering the flames in the process. They moved carefully, clearing a path through the fire with the combination of Desiree's sand choking the fire and Jarek's strength moving any obstacles.

Palette clenched his scarf closer to his face, fighting exhaustion as he took slow, shallow breaths around coughing fits. Goth wasn't faring much better, clutching the man's jack while leaning heavily into his side as he trudged along, coughing and choking into his own scarf.

"Hang on, kids, we're almost out!" Jarek reassured. Palette nodded while Goth didn't give any indication of hearing the man. Palette squinted as the bright white light of an exit framed in black smoke came into view.

Unbelievable... we were maybe ten feet from the exit...

Both skeletons winced at the sudden burst of light and sound once they exited the burning building. Palette felt his headache growing as people surrounded them, bombarding them with questions. He grimaced at the sight of Goth shrinking into the fireman's jacket, clenching his sockets as he struggled to take in air.

"Everyone back up! These kids need medical attention!" Desiree shouted over the chaos and turned to her partner, "Jarek, get them over to the medics. I'll handle the questions." The man nodded, extricating himself and the two monsters from the crowd to seek out the medical staff.

Palette looked up at their savior, coughing as he tiredly murmured, "T... Thank you..."

Jarek looked up from where he'd been guiding an unsteady Goth with a toothy grin, "It's part of the job kid, but you're welcome. Now let's get you two looked at. You'll definitely need a healer for that leg. Your friend's probably going to need one as well, his breathing sounds pretty rough."

Palette softly grunted in agreement as the man brought them over to the line of ambulances where the medics were waiting.

Everything will be fine now.

Chapter Text

Palette took slow, steady breaths as oxygen pumped into the mask covering his face. He was wrapped in a thin blanket with an IV attached to his left hand. A clear gel had been applied to the cracks in his tibia, soothing away the prickling sensation. The monster that had applied the gel earlier was currently busy treating Goth.

His friend sat next to him on the open back of an ambulance with his own blanket, IV, and oxygen mask. His skull was tilted up, sockets closed as the medic pressed their hands gently around the front of his neck.

Their hands emitted a green glow, attempting to heal the damage the smoke and other chemicals from the fire caused. It seemed to be helping since his expression was less pinched and his breathing had lost the uncomfortable wheeze that had been present earlier.

"That should do it. Your throat will still feel a little sore for another day or two until it fully recovers," the monster retracted their hands as they asked, "are you having any difficulty breathing?" Goth let his skull drop, giving a small, silent shake. The monster smiled, stepping back, "Good. I need to go check on another patient, I'll be right back."

As the monster left, silence fell between the two, though Palette would hardly consider it comfortable. Goth clearly wasn't okay. His drooping, hollowed-out sockets held an eye light that was barely there and his gaze was fixed on his lap. He hadn't spoken a word since they'd escaped the building.

For all intents and purposes, Goth looked dead.

A cold pit formed in Palette's non-existent stomach, squirming at the reminder of how close they had come to dying a mere half hour ago.

"Goth...?" Palette called out softly to his companion, his voice muffled by the mask. He took it as a good sign when their eye light shifted toward him, proving they could hear him, "Are you sure you're okay? Do you need anything?"

"I'm fine...," Goth murmured, his voice barely audible through his mask, "it's nothing the medic can fix, at least. Nothing anyone can fix... I ruined everything."

Palette furrowed his sockets, "What? What are you talking about? Nothing's ruined, we're here and we survived."

Goth's face scrunched up with a self-derisive expression once more as he scoffed, "Yeah, we survived... so I could watch our friendship fall apart... all because I didn't keep my bigMouthShut."

The other monster still didn't understand at first, but as he mulled over the meaning of the words alongside the events of the day, something sparked in his mind.

"... Is this about that confession earlier?" Palette hazarded a guess.

Goth's hands clenched in his lap, bunching up his dirty shorts as he hunched in on himself under his blanket, admitting somberly, "You don't feel the same as me... I already knew that. I always knew that, deep down. Every action you made, every word you said... it only spoke of friendship, but I refused to accept it. I don't know what I expected back there, but the way you just... stared at me after my confession, not saying anything. How am I supposed to take that as anything other than rejection?

"And now... whenever we get together, all I'll be able to think about is how I never stood a chance. I won't be able to push away my feelings the way I could before... and I'll end up making things awkward. Then, it'll only be a matter of time until we stop talking... stop seeing each other... and drift away from each other."

The taller skeleton took in Goth's appearance as he fell silent.

Did Goth always look so small?

Palette sighed, deciding to use Goth's words as a springboard for his own confession, "To be honest... I really don't know how I feel about any of that stuff. I don't actually understand what love is or what it means since I've never really had any good role models to show me. That's why I didn't say anything... why I couldn't say anything... when you confessed. Because I don't understand enough to give you an answer."

He averted his gaze to the nearly collapsed building yards away from where they sat, his facial features tightening as he spoke, "But there is something I do understand. When we were trapped in that building, and I thought about you dying... about you being gone and never being able to give you an answer... it hurt.

"I want to give you an answer. And seeing you like this, hearing you say that we won't be together anymore... it makes me sad. It feels wrong... and I don't want that!"

Goth was looking at him now, his sockets still sunken... but Palette was able to barely make out a spark of something in the smaller's dim eye light as he pressed on with a softer voice, "Maybe that's love? I don't know. I can't say I have an answer for you right now, but maybe... you could be the one to show me... to help me understand? I don't know if it'll work out in the end, but I'll at least be able to give you a definite answer. I just... I don't want this to be where it ends. At least, not until I know for sure. So, what do you say?"

Palette opened the right side of his blanket in silent invitation. Eventually, the small skeleton began to scoot over, careful to avoid obstructing the tubes connected to the oxygen tanks and IV bags as he leaned into his companion.

Goth took a slow breath but didn't say a word as he watched the emergency personnel bustle around, though his posture relaxed as Palette wrapped his arm and the blanket around him. 

Palette couldn't help the faint smile that crept onto his face as his companion rested their skull against his shoulder, the light rekindled once more in their left socket.

This is good. This feels right.

Chapter Text

Goth was woken by the sound of the doorbell. He blinked muzzily, taking in the familiar sight of the living room as he sat up from his position on the couch. He looked toward the clock on the wall, barely making out the hands in the dim evening light. It had only been maybe an hour since he got home.

Must have fallen asleep...

The doorbell went off again, pulling him back to the reason he was awake. Pushing off of the couch, he clicked on a light, yawning and stretching as he tromped over to the door. Grabbing the handle, he opened it to find his 'boyfriend', Palette, waiting on the other side.

"Hey Goth, I have something I need to talk to you ab-," Palette began, only to switch gears at the small skeleton's appearance, "... uh, are you okay?"

"Huh?"

"Your clothes are messed up and you look like you're crying," Palette supplied.

"Oh! Yeah, I'm fine," Goth adjusted his cloak and rubbed the sleep from his face as he explained, "I crashed on the couch after getting home from work and I just woke up."

"Rough day reaping?" Palette asked, his mouth pulling into a sympathetic smile.

"Yeah," the small skeleton sighed, "A coastal town got hit by a hurricane. Dad needed extra hands to handle the sudden volume, and even then there wasn't much time for a break between collections."

"Oh, that does sound rough...," Palette rubbed the back of his neck, shifting his starry eye lights toward the ground, "I should probably come back another time and let you rest..."

The hooded monster grabbed his hand before he could turn to leave, "No, you can stay. I'm already awake, and I could use the friendly company since mom's visiting relatives and I doubt Uncle Pap will let dad get out of documenting a reaping this largescale, so he's probably going to be stuck filling out paperwork until later tonight... now there's something to look forward to when I get older."

The taller skeleton chuckled as Goth rolled his eye light, accepting the invitation inside and finding a seat on the couch. Palette laid his right hand against his pants pocket as the smaller closed the door, "So what did you want to talk about? Usually, you text me if you have a question."

Palette didn't answer, his eye lights darting around, his sockets furrowing as if he were trying to figure out his words. Goth sat next to his companion, quirking a socket at his odd behavior.

Palette's always been pretty open about expressing himself. Why would he be so quiet now?

Goth probed softly, "Is everything alright? Did something happen?" He received a nod, but no verbal response.

A guessing game? That's new.

"Alright... something you need to tell me in person, but are having a hard time talking about...," Goth muttered, crossing his arms while tossing around the multitude of possibilities. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for his thoughts to take a negative turn.

Did I do something? Is he mad at me? He doesn't look mad... he looks conflicted. Nervous. What would he need to say to me that-

... wait... is he breaking up with me? That's it, isn't it? After four years together, he's finally figured out he doesn't love me. That's why he's suddenly so quiet. He doesn't know how to say it without hurting my feelings...

A hand on his arm startled him. Palette was watching him with a quizzical expression, "Goth? Are you sure you're okay? You look like you're crying again."

Goth rubbed his sockets with his sleeve, rubbing more vigorously when they came back damp. "Yeah. I'm good. I...," he took a breath to calm himself before he continued, "I'm a big monster. I can be mature about this, and it's alright. I... I understand."

Palette quirked a socket, "You do?"

Stars, a nap sounds really good right now... just curl up under the sheets and never come out again.

"I do," Goth confirmed, trying not to let it show how much the words hurt to say, "You said four years ago you would give 'us' a shot and that things might not work out. I always knew that this was a trial run kind of thing... and you've... you've found your answer. I enjoyed our time together, but if you don't feel comfortable being... together anymore-"

"Wait, what? No!" Palette interrupted, waving his hands frantically, "No, that's not what this is about... well, it kind of is, but it's not-... agh!" The skeleton clenched his sockets, knocking his hat askew as his hand scraped along his forehead.

"Look, the thing is...," Palette took a breath, looking at Goth but not quite meeting his eye lights, "I have found an answer. Four years ago, you said you loved me. I didn't know what to say because I had no concept of love to work off of... so I asked you to show me. And this is the conclusion I've come to.

"Love is smiling, laughing, and making memories that leave your soul feeling warm. Accepting someone at their weakest moments and helping them grow to be better while knowing it's okay to accept that same help in return so you can be better too. Talking openly without fearing judgment or ridicule. Being able to have a fight, but working through it toward common ground and still finding things you enjoy about each other.

"Love is sharing your time. Making plans for the future and always seeing the other as part of that plan. It's missing each other when you're apart and reveling in the reunion. Wanting to see those you care about smile, wanting to wipe away the tears, wanting to chase away the pain.

"Love is looking at that someone, and being able to say without hesitation that there is no one you would rather share your life with."

Goth quietly listened the whole time, not moving an inch. Everything Palette said sounded right and encompassed the main points of what he himself viewed as love.

Partway through his speech, the starry-eyed skeleton shoved his right hand in his pocket, seeming to fiddle with something inside, and Goth had to fight to focus on Palette's words and not to let the motion get his hopes up.

It can't be... it's too good to be true. He probably just found a small stone or something. I know he likes playing with objects while he's talking...

"Back then, you said you loved me and that you didn't want a future where I wasn't there, and all I knew was that I hated the idea of losing your friendship," Palette said with a tentative smile, pulling a curled fist from his pocket and staring at it, " Now, being able to finally understand... I don't want a future where you're not there either. 

"To me, that's love."

Palette opened his hand. Goth's eye light dilated at the tiny black satin box resting in the skeleton's palm. He felt like he forgot how to breathe as the box was opened, revealing a gold band lined with tiny white diamonds. His gaze rose to meet his boyfriend's as the taller skeleton turned toward him, ring box in hand.

"Goth... would you be willing to share your future with me?" The monster proclaimed. The hooded skeleton slowly took the box from Palette's waiting hand.

The box is real... his words are real... this is real...

Goth launched himself toward the other, clutching the box while wrapping his arms around their neck, knocking their hat off from the force of his hug as he breathed, "Yes."

He repeated the word softly into Palette's shoulder, over and over, as if the world would shatter if he stopped.

Eventually, Palette wrapped his arms around him as the shock wore off, quiet laughter rumbling in his chest. He whispered, "Good... I'm glad. I've been trying to figure out how to tell you for... a little more than a month?... but I was worried if I didn't say it right after all this time, you would reject me. So... thanks for waiting for me, Goth."

Goth opened his mouth to reply but was startled by the front door swinging open, revealing a worn-looking Reaper, exhausted from a full day's work. A glance through the doorway to the starry sky outside showed that the couple's talk had lasted far longer than they realized.

The elder took one step inside, stopped, and stared dazedly at the sight of his son hugging Palette on the couch. The silence was broken as the cloaked skeleton slowly inquired, "Uh... someone want to fill me in on whatever this is?"

Well, that answers the question of who we're going to tell first.

Chapter Text

Rurik was woken by the sound of muffled footsteps downstairs. Assuming it was Lotus puttering about in the kitchen, he rubbed the sleep from his sockets and glanced at the clock on his phone. The display read 1:13 am.

Lotus usually doesn't get up to make breakfast until six. Maybe he had a nightmare or something... well, he's not in here pestering me to wake up, so it must not be that bad. I might be able to catch a few more hours of shuteye before I have to get up.

As he rolled over to go back to sleep, he heard a muffled voice... one that was far too low and rough to be his companion's.

With his senses now on high alert he jumped out of bed, snatching his knife holster off the nightstand in the process, and crept to the door.

Pushing the door open slightly, multiple hushed voices joined the footfalls. Through the landing's balusters, beams of light could be seen sweeping around the first floor.

Dammit, some dumbasses broke into the house. So much for sleep...

Easing the door open enough for him to slip through, Rurik snuck out onto the landing. He tensed as a nearby shadowed figure startled at his entrance onto the landing. Before he could lash out, though, the dim shine of a solitary red eye light revealed it was only Lotus. His silhouette was barely recognizable without his scarf and cloak, a black hoodie and sweatpants making up his sleepwear.

Those clowns must have woken him too.

Lotus seemed to visibly relax as well, going back to watching the scene below from his spot overlooking the first floor... though his eye light and the barely audible rattle of bones still gave away his nerves. Keeping low, Rurik took up a spot next to the smaller.

Catching each other's glances, Lotus pointed down, held up five fingers, then shifted the scythe next to him and held up two fingers.

Five intruders, two armed.

I'd be fine down there, but Lotus' scythe is too unwieldy to use in the house. He should avoid close combat. Sniping from the upper landing with bone constructs should work.

Rurik silently relayed his plan, waiting for Lotus' nod of confirmation before standing up and pulling his knife free from its holster. He wouldn't bother with the stairs. A quick drop onto his first target would give him the element of surprise and preferably send the rest into a panic.

The armed skeleton vaulted over the railing once a shadow got into position below, landing square on top of them and smirking at the startled yelp they produced, sinking his knife into its target. Yanking the knife out, he found his footing and scanned his surroundings for the next closest target. A whoosh beside him let him know his first victim was a monster. Now, it was a sad pile of dust.

Four left.

Four figures rushed toward him, one stopping short as another next to them was impaled by a set of jagged bones, dusting moments later. Risking a glance upward as he parried a knife strike, the skeleton spotted Lotus preparing a second volley of bones to attack the intruders.

Unfortunately, the one that stopped had broken off to make his way up the stairs.

"Lotus, incoming!" Rurik warned to his partner, quickly focusing back on his own two enemies.

One slashed at him with what appeared to be claws, prompting him to sidestep their attack and plunge the knife into their back, earning a satisfying howl of pain and another whoosh of dust.

Two more.

This enemy was much quicker than the other, matching Rurik's counters and dodges with his own. If it weren't for the fact that he was fighting for his and Lotus' life, this might have actually been a fun sparring match.

Pity I have to kill this guy-

"Rurik, up!" Lotus' voice cut through his focus, the panic laced in it jarring him from the rhythm he'd fallen into.

Looking up, the warning allowed him to just barely avoid the enemy that had intended to drop down for a sneak attack.

He rounded on the new enemy, only to grunt as a knife tore into his right shoulder from the figure he'd been fighting previously. He slashed outward to gain some distance, hissing at the flash of pain the movement caused.

The enemy attempted to advance once more, jumping back as jagged bones rained from the upper landing. The jumper cried out as one of the bones stabbed into their right leg, pinning them into the floor.

Rurik lunged forward, finishing the job and leaving the final enemy standing in the dust-strewn living room.

Last one.

As Rurik stepped forward, the remaining figure thought better of his situation and bolted for the door, wrenching it open and disappearing into the night.

Rurik stomped toward the open door, gripping the frame. He grumbled, "Yeah, run like the coward you are! Next time, stay out you piece of shit."

He inspected the door, finding the lock was scratched up and broken beyond repair, "Great, that'll need to be replaced."

A dim light clicked on behind him as he slammed the door closed. He turned to see Lotus rushing from his now-illuminated bedroom and down the stairs with a white box under his arm.

Flicking the living room's light switch on as he hit the ground floor, the small skeleton strode over to the couch, "Come sit down, Rurik."

"I'm fine," Rurik replied automatically.

Lotus glared at him, clenching the handle on top of the box, "You're injured. I know you don't like it, but no matter how tough you are you still need to get that wound treated so it doesn't become infected."

"I'm. Fine," the taller skeleton bit out as he glared right back.

Lotus closed his sockets, taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly before opening them once more, "Rurik, please."

Rurik debated refusing a third time... but the way the smaller's glare fell into something sadder drained the will to argue out of him. With a huff of resignation, he made his way over and flopped onto the couch next to his partner.

Lotus pulled aside the strap of the taller's black tank top to get a better look at the injury, which was now slowly leaking marrow.

"Hmm...," his sockets furrowed as he mumbled, "it looks like the cut's almost completely through your collarbone." Pulling out a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a cotton ball, the small skeleton unscrewed the cap, tipped the bottle against the cotton, and capped the bottle, setting it aside.

Scooting closer, he warned, "I'll need to clean the area. This'll sting a bit."

True to his words, the rubbing alcohol burned into the cut as Lotus cleaned it. Rurik flinched, gritting his teeth and fighting the desire to pull away from each swipe. Luckily, the cotton ball was quickly replaced with some gauze and a bandage.

As the smaller replaced the unused supplies and carried the medkit back upstairs, Rurik let out the breath he didn't realize he'd been holding and moved his top's strap back into place on his shoulder.

Glancing around the room, it looked like the would-be burglars hadn't managed to do more than rummage around in a few drawers and closets, and nothing looked to be missing. There was some damage to the walls and floor in addition to the broken deadbolt, along with blood and dust scattered around the room that would need to be cleaned up, but all in all the outcome was manageable.

He watched as Lotus came back down the stairs, a new bandage on his right cheek.

Things could have turned out much worse...

He shook the thought from his mind before it developed into something more vivid. Lotus took a seat next to him and asked, "So, what now?"

"Well... it's too damn early and I'm tired as hell, so I'm going to bed. The lock can be dealt with in the morning," Rurik stated, standing and trudging up the staircase as he stretched, "You com-ngh!"

At least, he attempted to stretch until his injured collarbone reminded him not to.

"I...," Lotus paused. Rurik stopped halfway up the stairs to stare when the silence stretched on. Lotus' gaze never left the door as he said, "I think I'm going to stay up for a bit."

"Suit yourself. Night," the taller shrugged, traversing the remaining stairs and passing Lotus' room to reach his own.

He probably just needs a couple minutes to settle down.

Rurik yawned as he shut the door to his bedroom, crossing the room and falling onto the bed while avoiding his injured shoulder. Rolling onto his uninjured side he absently tapped the phone's display. 1:47 am, plenty of time to sleep.

Pulling up the covers, he closed his sockets and let himself drift off.

Chapter Text

Rurik shot up, his soul racing and his bones rattling. An uncomfortable heat radiated from him. His eye lights darted around, taking in his silent bedroom, now illuminated with the first rays of morning light peeking through the window.

His soul calmed and the burning sensation ebbed as seconds ticked by and nothing happened.

No enemies. No fighting. No blood... no dusty red scarf...

The memory of Lotus' pained expression... his last words, flitted through his mind. Growling to himself, Rurik sat up and snatched his phone off the nightstand. It was 6:32 am. He scrubbed his face with his free hand, letting out a slow exhale as he clenched his sockets.

Fucking nightmares... nothing happened. There's nothing to get worked up over. It wasn't real. No one's dead other than the intruders. It was... wait, shouldn't Lotus be making breakfast around this time?

Rurik sat in bed, listening for the telltale noises of cooking... or anything at all. An eerie silence seemed to echo through the house, pressing in on him.

Normally, he wouldn't be bothered. Now though, the lack of sound slowly but surely ate away at all rational thought, filling him with a sense of dread as his soul picked up speed once more. Throwing off the covers, the skeleton made a beeline for the door.

He slammed open the door to his room, nearly sending himself over the railing opposite his room in his haste.

Looking down, his starry eye lights honed in on a small figure on the couch: Lotus. His hood was pulled up over his skull, his eye light nearly invisible if not for the glow.

The small skeleton looked like he had been sitting curled in a ball, his scythe grasped tightly in his left hand prior to Rurik's entrance. Now, his upper body was turned toward the back of the couch, staring up at his companion with a look of veiled panic.

Startled, but not dead. It was just a bad dream.

Rurik felt his body relax, with Lotus apparently following suit. His companion's focus redirected to the clock on the wall, "Sorry... I lost track of time. I'll make breakfast."

The taller skeleton flinched at the apology as the smaller unsummoned his weapon and began to crawl off the couch. "Don't," the taller interrupted, "This morning was pretty hectic and I'm already hungry, so I'll just find something quick to eat instead."

Lotus muttered a quiet agreement, re-tucking his knees to his chest as Rurik tromped down the stairs and into the kitchen.

Opening the fridge, he spotted a few chocolate pudding cups. He reached in with a pleased grin, nearly closing the fridge with his prize in hand when his eye lights fell on the hooded skeleton once more. He was still curled up on the couch, his tired gaze fixed on... the door.

He hasn't slept or eaten, has he?

Growling softly, Rurik reached in for a second cup, closed the fridge, and retrieved two spoons from the silverware drawer. Returning to the living room, he inspected the small skeleton.

Lotus looked even worse up close.

His eye light had returned to its normal size, but it looked hazy around the edges, outlined by the dark rings under his sockets. He was clearly fighting the need to sleep, his arms wrapped around his tucked legs in a feeble attempt to prop himself up. All the while, he watched the door intently.

"You didn't stay up all night, did you?" Rurik asked, tearing open his pudding cup and digging his spoon into it. He furrowed his sockets when the smaller silently confirmed that he had, in fact, not slept.

Tossing the extra unopened pudding, it bounced off Lotus' leg before settling on the couch next to him. The skeleton stared at it as the taller flopped onto the couch and thrust a spoon in front of his face, "At least eat some food, you look like shit." Lotus took the spoon without a fight, reaching for the snack and tearing open the top.

Rurik frowned as he watched his companion slowly eat in silence, their eye light darting up every so often.

Is he acting like this because of the intruders this morning? He's been in life or death fights before and he's seen me fight and get hurt plenty of times. What's got him so on edge... what's different?

Dammit, Lotus is better at this psycho-whatsit bullshit than I am.

Finishing his cup, Rurik decided to ask straight out, "What's going on with you? You're acting like the door's going to jump up and bite you."

"Sorry...," Lotus apologized again, earning an unseen scowl, "It's... you said the lock was broken... I wanted to make sure the one that ran off didn't come back. After screwing up this morning, I figured I should do something to make up for it."

"Screwing up? What the hell are you talking about?" Rurik pressed, his earlier nightmare gradually creeping back to the front of his mind despite his desire to forget.

"I wasn't able to take care of the enemy that came after me, and even though I tried to warn you when they jumped down, you still got hurt...," Lotus' eye light darted up to Rurik's bandaged collarbone, shifting back down as he clutched at his pant leg, his frame trembling, "I failed to pull my weight. I could've done more, but... I was..."

' I'm... sorry... I'm so... useless...'

He could almost hear the Lotus from his nightmare overlap with the Lotus in front of him, creating a haunting duet. Suppressing another growl, the taller skeleton reached over, plucking the smaller from his seat and pulling him into his lap. The smaller squeaked, nearly dropping his pudding.

"Rurik-"

"You're not useless," Rurik cut in, holding him to his chest, "I was keeping track of the kill count. You managed to take out an enemy and crippled another for me.

"My injury was because I wasn't paying enough attention to my surroundings. Your warning and interference are the main reason my injury isn't worse... and that dumbass wouldn't dare come back after the beating we handed out.

"They came as a group of five and left as a single coward while we both came out of the fight with only minor injuries," he reached up, brushing his thumb against the bandage on Lotus' right cheek, "You know why that is?"

"Because you're strong..."

"Because we're a team," Rurik corrected, "We work together and make up for what the other lacks. I may be strong, but I don't have the quick wit and analytical skills you have. As long as we stick together, there's nothing to worry about.

"Now finish your pudding so you can take a nap, you look exhausted and I don't need you making yourself sick. I have nowhere I need to be today, so I can keep an eye socket on things while you sleep. After you wake up, we can see about getting a new deadbolt."

"But if they do come back-"

"Then I'll be here, and we can kick their ass together. Just like you warned me, I'll do the same for you," Rurik assured the skeleton in his lap. He sighed at the smaller's uncertain expression.

He knows I can handle a fight, why is he so worried... about...

Something clicked in his skull, "... This is about them breaking into the house, isn't it?"

Lotus looked down at his pudding cup, seeming to mull over the question before nodding his head, "I never... they got in so easily. This is our house, our safe space, and they just... came in, and tried to kill us. Yeah, we took care of it this time, but with a lock being the only thing keeping them out, what's stopping it from happening again... from ending worse next time?"

Rurik opened his mouth to refute his partner's worries, pausing when he found he really couldn't guarantee something like this would never happen again. They lived in a rough-and-tumble world, after all.

There were never any guarantees, only precautions.

"Would it make you feel better if we got some additional locks for the front door as well as a new deadbolt? A chain lock or a security bolt?" the skeleton proposed instead.

The monster in his lap glanced over to the door, mumbling, "Maybe an alarm...?"

"Alright, then we can shop around and see what's available, but you have to eat and get some rest before we go anywhere," the taller decided before teasingly adding, "I can't have my little Lotus falling over himself outside. Might give people ideas."

His hooded companion grumbled, spooning the pudding into his mouth to cover his embarrassment as the taller laughed.

He's so adorable when he's grumpy.

Once the snack was finished, Rurik took it and the spoon, stacking it in his own empty container before leaning back and finding a comfortable position for the both of them. Lotus was eventually sandwiched comfortably between his reclined partner and the cushions lining the back of the couch, his head resting against their shoulder and his arms curled upon their chest.

Even with exhaustion nagging at him and Rurik's attempts to soothe his nerves, it still took Lotus nearly half an hour before he could relax and fall into an uneasy sleep.

Studying his sleeping companion's face, the taller skeleton could already spot trouble, at least for the next few days.

Now that I think about it, his room's before mine on the landing... that needs to change. I don't like the idea of someone being able to sneak into Lotus' room without having to go past me... but all my furniture wouldn't fit in a regular room, so switching rooms wouldn't work. I don't think he'd like having to deal with a bunch of locks on his own bedroom door, either... too cumbersome... so that leaves having Lotus move into my room.

He contemplated the idea as he played with one of the cords of Lotus' hoodie, lazily twining it around his finger.

Space won't be a problem since it's a master bedroom. Lotus doesn't have much in the way of possessions anyway. It's just a matter of convincing him to share a sleeping space with me. I'd certainly feel better if he's closer, being able to confirm he's nearby and safe if I have another nightmare while also making sure he's actually sleeping rather than pulling sentry duty all night.

Carefully reaching for the remote, he turned on the T.V., lowering the volume and flipping through channels as he let the idea simmer. Lotus shifted at the movement, unfurling one arm to wrap around Rurik's chest, letting out a sigh of content as he cuddled in closer, then settling back into slumber.

A smile formed on Rurik's face as he pressed a light kiss against the smaller's skull, tightening his grip around their back and upper body marginally before returning his attention back to the T.V.

Yeah... I think I like that idea.

Chapter Text

"Oh, Palette said he was going into the woods," Dream said, standing in the doorway leading into the house he shared with his son.

"The ones past the backyard?" Goth clarified from his position on the front stoop, receiving a nod from Palette's mom, "Huh, he doesn't usually go in there by himself."

Dream chuckled, "Maybe he's planning a surprise or something in there. You know how he is when he gets an idea in his head. Anyway, have fun and stay safe."

Goth hopped down the steps as the older skeleton shut the door, rounding the house and heading toward the backyard and the woods that ran along the edges. Ducking under a low-hanging branch hiding the beginnings of the path, he began his trek through the trees and underbrush.

It's been years since we came back here. I'd imagine a lot has changed since then. I wonder if the hill at the edge still has that pretty view.

Coming across a small, slightly overgrown clearing with a few rotting logs strewn about, he couldn't help but smile at the memories it invoked.

Palette and Goth had spent a solid week using Ink's tools to hack through and clear out the foliage, making this clearing into a secret meeting place of sorts back when they first started exploring these woods. It was only a few feet from the edge of the woods and Palette's parents still knew where the pair was whenever they met there, but it was still considered a secret place nonetheless.

They would meet up during the hot summer days, sitting on the fallen logs to plan out their adventures for the day. Some days they would go to the pool, others had water gun fights, many were simply swapping stories and telling jokes.

As time went on they slowly expanded their clearing, having sleepovers under the stars as they talked about their grand schemes of building an actual clubhouse there. Walls, a roof, ladders, actual chairs and a table... an elaborate secret base they could call their own. Palette was always a monster full of big ideas and plenty of passion.

Of course, the plan slowly faded as they grew older and their minds began to drift toward more important, realistic endeavors. Even if the pair stuck together, the clearing and the clubhouse they envisioned were slowly forgotten in the wake of new goals.

Goth ran his hand along one of the dead trees. Some of the bark flecked off as he skimmed his fingers across it.

Those were fun times. I wish they could've gone on forever. Being older is hard.

Reluctantly leaving the overgrown clearing behind, Goth headed deeper into the woods following what used to be a worn trail. It was barely visible now, but the hooded monster had walked it enough in the past to pick out the twists and turns without getting lost. Months of playing explorer in these woods assured that both skeletons knew these woods like the back of their hands.

I wonder if Palette actually has something planned? He wasn't at the clearing... maybe he decided to make a new meeting area? I wonder if it's that hill? It's been years since even we talked about the club, though. Why would he do anything now? Is he trying to surprise me like Dream said?

I'd say yes normally, but I didn't say anything about hanging out today. I came over because I happened to finish my homework earlier than I anticipated. It's also a school night. He wouldn't be expecting me to show up, so a surprise wouldn't make sense...

He might not even be out here for anything related to the club. He could be out here simply to enjoy the quiet... but that's more along the lines of something I would do. Whatever, I'll ask him when I find him.

Breaking through the treeline, Goth stepped out onto a grassy hill overlooking a sea of trees below a steep cliff.

The sun had started drifting downward, blanketing the sky in a cascade of yellow, orange, and pink as it set for the evening. Crickets could be heard chirping in the forest below, singing their farewell to daylight as evening approached.

The skeleton noticed a figure bathed in golden light standing near the cliff. His friend, and secret crush, Palette.

Goth opened his mouth to call out but paused as he took in the ominous atmosphere and Palette's odd body language. He was... just standing there, not doing anything in particular. His shoulders were slumped, his arms dangling at his sides, and his hands limp. Rather than staring out at the scenery, his skull was tilted... down.

Goth suddenly felt like he was in one of those horror movies, playing the role of the hapless victim. "Palette?" the small monster called out warily, taking a small step forward. The taller flinched slightly, turning to look at his companion.

Goth felt his soul drop, thoughtlessly breaking into a run.

No...

Palette turned back to the cliff.

No.. please...

Palette took a step forward.

NO!

Chapter Text

Goth threw out his arms, latching onto the back of Palette's jacket and yanking back with all his strength. He stumbled backward, overjoyed to feel his companion's weight fall back with him.

Scrambling to his feet, Goth hooked his arms under Palette's shoulders, struggling to pull him further away from the drop that was a mere two feet from their position. His breathing became ragged as his mind screamed at him to keep pulling, to not let go no matter what.

Not enough... not far enough... more... more... mo-

"... Goth?"

The simple word broke him from his panicked litany. The pair were nearly at the treeline a good ten feet from the edge of the cliff. Palette was staring up at him, his starry eyes watching him as though he were looking through a haze, dazed and unsure of what he was seeing.

Palette's mouth opened and shut over and over before he found his voice again, "Wh... what are you doing here?"

Goth trembled as the adrenaline fueling him wore off and his emotions caught up with him. Tears pricked at the edges of his sockets as his composure slipped, fear mixing with anger and confusion, "What am I doing here? What are you doing here? What the hell were you thinking?! You nearly walked off the damn cliff! You could have died!"

The small skeleton ignored his friend's shock, uncaring if he swore as he dropped to his knees, pressing his skull into Palette's back and wrapping his arms around their chest. He grasped the front of their jacket in a death grip as he broke into breathy sobs, "You... you almost died..."

A warm, shaking hand rested on his own, followed by the drip of hot tears as the normally cheerful monster cried alongside him.

"I... oh stars, I was... I... I almost... oh stars..." Palette's quiet, unsteady words pierced the silence as he curled in on himself while holding the arms wrapped around him like a lifeline.

---

"Everything felt so overwhelming," Palette murmured, clutching his knees to his chest as he leaned against a tree, far away from the cliff on the opposite end of the hill, "Dad's living his life without us, mom's always busy trying to support us... and I didn't want to push all my negative feelings off on you since I know you're going through stuff too. I didn't want to add to it.

"I have plenty of other friends, sure, but no one that would really want to listen to my problems. It all just built up more and more each day and... and I came out here to think about stuff. I wasn't planning on actually doing anything, I just want to clear my skull a bit... I guess I let my mind wander too much.

"Next thing I know, I feel myself falling and I see you pulling me backward looking like your life depended on it. Or maybe I should say like my life depended on it, heh."

The laugh held none of its usual pep, sounding hollow even to him. He took a shaky breath as he stared at the cliff, murmuring, "Stars, I can't believe I almost walked right off..." 

Goth leaned into him, resting his skull on Palette's shoulder as he said, "I'm sorry for not noticing the signs sooner. Since tests were coming up, I assumed that was why you'd gotten so quiet lately and I didn't want to pester you...

"But you know you can always talk to me when you're feeling down, right? Even if I'm going through stuff, I still want you to be able to talk to me. I never want you to get to the point of thinking... that's an option ever again. Even if I can't really do anything to help, I'm always willing to at least listen. You deserve to be happy."

The small skeleton took a deep breath, refusing the tears that wanted to crop back up at the reminder of what almost happened.

I can't cry, not now. Palette needs me to listen, not cry.

Palette laid his skull on top of the smaller, "Thanks Goth. Hearing that really means a lot to me. But I'm curious, how did you know I was... you know...?"

"I recognized the look on your face," Goth replied, watching the fading sun while his hands clenched subconsciously in his lap, "I could read those emotions like a book because I used to feel the same way all the time.

"Back before I met you, before I had anyone that would give me the time of day outside of my parents, it was just me alone with my thoughts all day. They got pretty dark and deep sometimes, and it was hard to dig myself out of that hole some days.

"Now, though... I find it's easier to pull myself back up because I know there are people that actually care about me and want me around waiting at the top."

An arm wrapped around Goth, startling him as another joined to pull him into a tight hug. He looked up to see Palette staring at him, his expression a mix of emotions the small skeleton couldn't quite decipher.

"That sounds about right, so thanks for being here to pull me back," Palette nuzzled into his friend, oblivious to the growing blush on Goth's face, "Also, I want you to know that you can talk to me too. I may not be a great listener all the time, but I want you to be happy too."

"Thanks," Goth returned the embrace, listening to his companion's soul beats as he let himself be warmed by their proximity and words.

You being here has already made me happier than you'll ever know.

Turning his skull back to the sunset, the hooded skeleton mumbled, "Hey... that old clearing we used to hang out in was looking pretty snarled. Maybe once we get some free time, we can fix it up, pitch a tent and have a sleepover. Like old times?"

"You know, I like the sound of that. Let's do that," Palette agreed, "Once finals are done, we'll grab some of dad's tools and tear those weeds apart. Make that clearing into a real hideout."

The taller skeleton gave Goth one last squeeze, then loosened his grip so they could both watch the sunset together. The smaller rested against his companion as he smiled, whispering, "It's a promise."

Chapter Text

Lotus stared blankly at the bouquet of red roses hovering inches away from his face, "What's this for?"

"My coworkers were going on about this thing called Valentines Day," Rurik replied as he handed off the flowers to his companion, "It's apparently a day where couples give each other stuff like flowers and candy. Everyone at work insisted I should get you something for it when they heard we didn't have anything planned."

Reaching into his pocket, the skeleton pulled out a small clear bag tied off with an equally small red ribbon containing tiny, heart-shaped red objects, "I also got you some candy. I know you prefer spicy stuff, but the only thing I could find was this cinnamon candy. They're shaped like hearts though, so I figured that would work."

The bag was placed in the smaller's palm, his sockets wide as he murmured, "... Valentines Day. Is it just about flowers and candy?"

"I don't think so," Rurik mused, "Everyone was discussing different ways they were planning on celebrating, even the ones I know are single had plans after work. I think it's more about doing nice shit for each other, so Happy Valentines Day."

"Thanks... but I don't have anything to give you," Lotus pointed out, looking at the gifts with uncertainty.

Rurik waved off the comment, "It was a spur of the moment decision, so I wasn't expecting anything back. Just point me toward dinner and we'll call it even."

"Alright, if you say so...," Lotus conceded with some reluctance, "though supper's not quite ready yet. Go ahead and grab a seat while I find something to put these in and finish up."

The hooded skeleton turned toward the kitchen with both presents in hand as Rurik followed, spying two pots cooking on the stove. Taking a seat at the table, he watched his companion store the bag of candy in the cupboard and place the flowers on the counter, digging around in one of the cabinets for a vase. He puffed up a bit with pride when he caught a glimpse of a smile on the smaller's face.

Once Lotus had the flowers unwrapped, cut, and settled in their new home, the skeleton rinsed the stray plant matter from his hands and returned to the stove.

Flipping the two active burners off, he brought one pot over to the sink and dumped the contents into a strainer. After divvying out the spaghetti onto two plates, he pulled the second pot off the stove and covered both dishes in a bright red sauce before bringing both plates to the table.

The taller felt like if he had a stomach, it would be rumbling from the smell coming off of the meal that was placed in front of him. "Smells good," Rurik commented as he grabbed his fork and twirled it around the first bite. He was so wrapped up in his food, it took him several minutes to notice the smaller's silence and pensive expression.

Letting his fork rest on his plate, Rurik waved a hand in front of the hooded skeleton's face, "Earth to Lotus, everything okay?"

The smaller started, blinking away the surprise on his face as a pale blush replaced it, "Oh, yeah! I was thinking about... something..."

Rurik smirked as he lifted his fork, "Are you planning on sharing?"

Lotus' blush deepened as he scowled, "It's personal." The taller laughed but didn't press further as they both resumed their meal.

When they were finished, Rurik headed for the living room, flopping onto the couch as his partner washed the dishes. He was surprised when the smaller went straight upstairs afterward rather than joining him on the couch but quickly shrugged it off as he returned to his show.

He did, however, become curious about the occasional thumping noises from upstairs. After a particularly loud thump, he called up, "Lotus, what are you doing up there?"

"Nothing!" came an immediate reply, "Don't come up!"

Guess he's trying to figure out a last-minute gift... I told him he didn't need to worry about it. Guess he can't let it go that easily.

Seeing no harm in playing along, Rurik followed the smaller's directions... at least until he heard a muffled call from their room half an hour later summoning him.

Making his way up the staircase and down the hall, he saw the door to their shared room had been left ajar. Pushing the door open, he stood in the doorway trying to process what he was seeing.

Of all the things he expected, this definitely took the cake.

Lotus was sitting in a kneeling position in the center of the bed with his hands in his lap, wearing nothing but his red scarf wrapped around his body and down his arms, tied off at his wrists in a bow. A vivid blush covered his face as he stammered out, "Ha... Happy Valentines Day!"

As the initial shock wore off, Rurik snorted, "What the hell?"

"Well, you said it's Valentines Day and couples give each other stuff. I didn't have anything planned, but I felt bad for not having anything to give you," Lotus rambled, his eye light darting away from his partner as he fidgeted in place, "Then I thought about it and realized it's been a while since you asked for... that... and I know you've been trying to take care of it yourself in private rather than pushing yourself on me or going after someone else since the incident, so... I thought I would make a good present. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any ribbon, so I had to make do with my scarf. It's long enough, but it's really hard to tie a bow when your hands are-"

Lotus was cut off by a burst of laughter as Rurik clutched his sides, leaning against the doorway for support, "Holy shit, this is what you were thinking of earlier? Wait- then that loud thump earlier... did you get tangled in your scarf or something? Oh stars," he paused to gasp for breath, "I can't believe this, it's priceless!"

"You bastard..."

The note of hurt in the words caused Rurik's skull to shoot up from where he was doubled over, his cheer dying down at the sight of Lotus' shaking frame. His partner's face was burning brightly as he clenched his fists and glared at the bed under him, his voice quavering, "If you don't like it, then say so. This wasn't supposed to be a joke, so you don't need to laugh about it."

The taller skeleton straightened up, striding purposefully into the room when the smaller clenched his sockets, on the verge of tears as he choked out, "I should have known this was a stupid idea, I don't know what the hell I was-"

Lotus' words were silenced as Rurik tilted his chin up, leaning forward to press his mouth against the smaller's. A smile curled at the edges as he felt his companion melt into the kiss, pulling away once he knew he had their attention, "Sorry for laughing, but I never said I didn't like it. I was just surprised because you've never initiated sex before, much less made a show of it."

A sly grin adorned Rurik's face as he closed the distance to pin the flustered skeleton underneath him, "I have to say I really like what I see. There's no way I could possibly turn down such a gift, especially when it's been so lovingly wrapped for me."

"W... Wait!" Lotus shouted, his bound hands pushing slightly against Rurik's chest to halt his progress. The taller pulled back, watching in confusion as the skeleton under him struggled with something he'd been clasping in his fist. Comprehension dawned as a small square packet was held up between two fingers, "This first."

"A condom?" Rurik quirked his socket as he took the offered contraceptive.

"Yeah," the smaller grumbled, averting his gaze, "Even if I'm consenting, it doesn't mean I want any surprises tomorrow."

The taller grinned, "That mean you don't want any kids?"

"Not yet, at least," Lotus asserted softly.

Rurik chuckled as he played with the tail end of the bow around the smaller's wrists, "I suppose we can play by your rules... just for tonight."

"You jerk," Lotus bristled, though there was no true bite to the insult as he watched Rurik slowly tear open a corner of the wrapper, "You're lucky I love you."

The taller's thoughts ground to a halt, a blank expression on his face as he stared down at his companion, "Lotus..."

The bound skeleton tensed under him, "What...?"

"I think that's the first time I've ever heard you say that," Rurik admitted, leaning forward with an eager glint in his starry eye lights, "I want to hear it again."

"I...," the smaller hesitated, his eye light dilating and his breath quickening at Rurik's sudden close proximity.

"Go on," Rurik encouraged, stroking his partner's cheek, "I want to hear you say it."

"I... I love you," Lotus breathed.

"Again."

"I love you," he repeated with a bit more confidence.

"Damn, I never knew three words could be such a turn-on," Rurik groaned, diving down to claim his partner's lips a second time, working the button on his pants off and easing the condom on in the process.

Pulling back for air, Rurik murmured, "You know, I'm starting to really like this Valentines Day thing."

"Why?" Lotus gasped as they broke apart.

"Because I got the best gift ever," he purred in return, reaching down to finally unwrap his present.

Chapter Text

Goth groaned as the sunlight peeked through the window, shining onto his face and forcing him to wake up. Rolling over, he cracked open his sockets now that the light wouldn't blind him. He yawned as he reached for his phone to check the time.

8:37 am, Saturday morning.

A notice popped up, reminding him of his outing with Palette today. They were heading to the mall for lunch and a movie they both had been looking forward to seeing. After that, they would figure out the rest of their day as they went along.

Goth really didn't care what they did as long as he got the spend time with his 'friend'.

Shaking off the melancholy that came with the word, the skeleton pushed himself off the bed and trudged toward the bathroom to get ready. After a quick shower and a wardrobe change into his usual day clothes, he hopped down the stairs and plodded into the kitchen for breakfast.

He found his dad, Reaper, was in the kitchen but not his mom, Geno. Shrugging it off, he pulled a box and a bowl from the cabinets and began to make himself some cereal.

"Goth?" His dad called out, setting down the cup of coffee he'd been drinking, "Come sit down for a minute, we need to talk."

Goth cocked his skull in confusion, though he shoved the box back into the cabinet and snatched a spoon from the drawer on the way to the table, forgoing the milk to comply with the request, "What's up dad?"

Releasing a heavy sigh, Reaper pulled an object from his pocket. Goth was immediately able to identify the little black book as his dad's soul collection list, "I was going through this today, and I found an entry ya may wanna see."

Opening the booklet and handing it over to Goth, the small skeleton browsed through the page. Nothing jumped out at him until he got two-thirds of the way down the list of names.

"What...? No... that can't be right," Goth shook his skull in denial, his sockets scrunching up as he read and re-read the entry over and over again, hoping he was imagining things, "Why is Palette's name on your list?!"

"Sorry kiddo, afraid it is. As for why... it's his time," Reaper answered in a somber tone, "I don't make the list, I only follow it.

"You're supposed to be hanging out with him today, right? No matter what, ya can't tell him what ya know. As reapers, we have to maintain the balance of life and death. Averting his death would come with severe consequences and would only delay the inevitable."

"No...," The scarved skeleton sniffled, his sockets watering, "That's not fair!" Shoving the book away, he buried his skull into his arms to hide his face.

Reaper stood from the table, coming around to put a comforting hand on Goth's back in sympathy, "Life's not always fair, no matter how much we don't like it. Rules are rules, and a soul must be collected at the specified time. The most I can do is save ya the pain of having to collect him yourself... so make his last day count, 'kay?"

Goth sobbed as he launched himself from his chair, grasping around his dad's waist in a tight hug. The parent kneeled down, pulling his son into his arms, patting his back and rubbing along his spine as he bawled into the black cloak.

"Goth?" Geno called, walking through the kitchen doorway and catching sight of the pair, "Reaper, what's going on?"

"Bad news, I'll tell ya later," the god replied simply with a slow shake of his skull.

Once the small skeleton was able to calm down, he trudged upstairs so he could wash his face off before he headed out, no longer having an appetite for his abandoned cereal. A gasp from downstairs told him that Geno now knew what was going to happen today.

The thought nearly brought him to tears once more, but he willed them away. He had to make today the best day ever, and Palette would only fuss and worry if the smaller showed up crying. Taking a deep breath, he descended the stairs to find his mom waiting for him.

Geno picked the small monster up, pulling him into a tight hug and planting a kiss on his forehead, "I'm so sorry sweetie. I wish there was something we could do, I know how much Palette means to you. Your dad already headed out, but I'll be here when you get home if you want to talk... or if you just need some company. "

"Thanks, mom," Goth croaked, wrapping his arms around their neck to return the hug. Once he was placed back on the ground, he waved to his mom and headed out the door toward Palette's house.

---

Reaching his destination less than an hour later, he crawled up the steps and rang the doorbell. There was hurried thumping coming from inside before the door was thrown open with an excited exclamation, "Goth, you're he-! Hey, are you okay? Your sockets look all red."

"Yeah," Goth chuckled half-heartedly, rubbing his face, "The wind blew some dirt in my face on the way here."

Palette blinked, opening the door a bit more, "Oh. You want to come inside and wash it out before we go?"

"It’s fine, I've already gotten most of it out," Goth lied, "let's head out. We still need to get lunch before the movie, unless you want to pay for overpriced popcorn."

Palette made a sour face before stepping outside and shutting the door, "True, let's go then!"

"Don't you need to tell your mom you're leaving?" The smaller inquired with a frown. He hated the idea of Dream not getting to at least say goodbye to his son.

Palette latched onto his hand, pulling him out to the sidewalk, "Nah, mom got called in to handle something today. I already told him I had plans and when I was coming back before he left."

"Oh, alright...," Goth murmured, letting himself be pulled along.

Chapter Text

Goth laughed as Palette accidentally smudged his chocolate ice cream on his nasal ridge, trying in vain to lick it off, sneezing as it dripped into his nasal cavity, then finally using his scarf to wipe it off before it got on the new plush bear he bought.

He'd insisted on buying the toy and its matching counterpart after seeing them, stating the bright sun and calm moon motifs fit them both perfectly. Palette got the moon bear while Goth received the sun bear. 

Turning away from the taller's pouting, Goth juggled his mint ice cream bowl and bear to check his phone. 4:58 pm, Saturday afternoon. Palette was scheduled to die at 5 pm on the dot, though the booklet never said how. The small skeleton squeezed his bear tighter.

Overall, the day had been great. The pair had gotten lunch, finding a seat outside where they were able to eat and chat leisurely. They were able to find good seats once they arrived at the theater and movie had been better than they anticipated. Afterward, they went to the mall, trying on all sorts of goofy clothes; taking pictures and laughing at each other; and bought the plush toys from a window display. On their way to the park, they had even stopped for some ice cream.

Goth had been trying to work up the nerve to confess his feelings all day, but each time he tried the words would get caught in his throat and he would end up making some silly excuse for his behavior. Palette laughed it off every time. 

It certainly didn't help that he knew it would be a moot point since his crush wouldn't live through the day.

"Goth? You're really quiet... well, more quiet than usual," Palette craned forward as he walked, watching his friend curiously as they stopped at the crosswalk.

"Sorry," the smaller apologized, lightly holding up his ice cream, "Brain freeze."

A faint screech went off in the distance as Palette laughed, "Well, don't eat it so fast, silly!"

"Right...," he sighed as the light signaled them to cross. As Palette stepped off the curb, a bright red sports car came tearing around the corner, tires squealing as it raced toward them. No one had noticed yet and Goth had to fight not to call out a warning from the sidewalk.

Tears sprung to his sockets as the people around them began to take notice of the rampaging vehicle and Palette stopped in confusion.

I hate this! He doesn't deserve to die, even if the stupid universe needs to collect... a soul...

Wait!

The cup and bear fell from Goth's hands in his epiphany. He darted forward, pushing his shorter legs to beat the car as the confused monster finally seemed to realize what was happening. With the vehicle mere feet from the pair, the smaller reached out and threw all his weight into pushing Palette out of harm's way. The force caused him to stumble backward, placing him directly in the car’s path.

A sad, teary smile graced Goth's features as he watched the shock on Palette's face morph into horror.

A soul for a soul...

Everything ground to a halt as the car collided with his body. The sharp, blinding pain forced an agonized yell from him as the vehicle's momentum tossed him up and over the hood and roof before he landed in a broken heap on the pavement as it sped off. 

Everything afterward was a tumultuous haze of noise and pain as Goth laid on the ground, unable to move and barely even able to keep his sockets open as everything swiftly ebbed away into numbness.

So tired...

The noise got louder and he felt his body shift, producing a faint groan as he winced. Something... a lot of something was definitely broken. A white, black, green, and yellow blur filled his vision. He felt something warm touch his cheek and drip onto his face at an erratic pace.

"Dammit, kiddo... never expected ya to go this far."

Shifting his hazy eye light away from what he assumed was Palette, a black blob towered over them both. Goth could tell it was his dad. From the lack of reaction, he could only assume his companion couldn't see the reaper.

The parent continued in a subdued tone, easily heard over Palette’s muffled voice despite the distance, "You’ve already made your choice, haven't ya? Your life for his?"

Not having the energy to move or talk, Goth hummed with a frail smile on his face. The god’s grim expression deepened.

"Guess that's it then. I'll keep an eye socket on him for ya," Reaper kneeled down, stifling his own emotions as he reached for his son's chest while murmuring, "love ya kiddo."

Thanks... love you, Dad... Mom... Palette...

The small skeleton felt a tug on his soul as his vision flickered. The last thing Goth saw before he felt himself drift away was a faint white glow and Palette's fading, tear-streaked face.

Chapter Text

The doorbell interrupted Palette as he puzzled over a math worksheet. Setting the paper and textbook aside, he pushed back his chair and gave the sun and moon bears sitting upon his desk a pat on their heads, drawing a deep breath at the memory they held.

Eventually forcing himself to turn away from the toys, he headed downstairs to answer the door.

The house was quiet today, save for the soft patter of rain coming down outside since his mom was out grocery shopping. He opened the door, initially expecting his mom needing help with the groceries, but he was surprised to instead find Reaper on the doorstep with a plastic shopping bag dangling from his wrist.

"Oh... Mister Reaper... I wasn't expecting you," Palette attempted to smile, but none of his usual cheer was in it. It was roughly a year now since the incident, but he still couldn’t muster up any type of enthusiasm. He tiredly reaffirmed, "I'm okay, really... so you don't need to keep checking on me."

"That's just a bonus. I actually wanted ya to come with me, wanna show ya something," the adult winked. Palette grimaced, opening his mouth to decline the offer until they added, "I guarantee it'll be worth your time."

Worth my time...?

With a resigned sigh, Palette answered, "Okay... let me write mom a note first." Reaper nodded as the young skeleton found a pen and paper, scribbling out a message that he would be back soon.

Placing the paper on the living room table and setting the pen on top of it, Palette grabbed a raincoat and umbrella from the closet before slipping on his boots.

Once the door was shut and locked, he unfurled his umbrella and took hold of Reaper's sleeve at their gesture, being whisked away to an unfamiliar city sidewalk. The god floated off in a random direction, paying little attention to the light drizzle soaking into his cloak as the younger skeleton followed along.

Palette gazed up at the cloudy sky as they walked. His mind drifted to the conversation he had with Reaper over a year ago, shortly after the funeral; how Goth knew what was meant to happen and had basically sacrificed himself so the other could live.

Despite the guilt for being the reason his best friend died, Reaper was relieved when he promised he would continue on for Goth’s sake and live the life he couldn't.

'Good, you’re really important to him and I promised I'd keep a socket on ya. No one would be happy if I had to reap ya prematurely.'

It tore Palette up thinking about his lost companion every day and he definitely wasn’t the same after the incident, but he soldiered on with the help of his mom, Reaper and Geno checking up on him, and the memories of his happy times with Goth. 

"Ah, here we are," Reaper grunted, stopped at a nondescript alley. By now, the rain had dropped to a fine mist. He cautiously followed the god into the alley, watching curiously as he dug inside the plastic bag he'd brought with them. Palette's confusion only grew when the elder's rifling produced a tin of wet cat food and a few paper plates.

He watched silently as Reaper doled out the cat food onto four paper plates and set them down, making soft clicking noises as if to call something. After a minute or so of silence, a small black object crawled out from under the nearby dumpster: a short-haired black kitten.

As he watched, nearly half a dozen kittens in varying degrees of black and white and a short-haired tuxedo cat appeared to partake of the free meal. The kittens dug into the food right away while what he assumed was the mother flicked her eyes between the plate and the skeletons.

They were cute, sure, but Palette hardly saw the point of bringing him here. He sighed, "Mister Reaper, I still don-"

The young monster caught sight of a predominantly white kitten in the miniature sea of mostly black fur. Palette could make out a black nose and a thin strip of black fur running down the chest toward its belly. But what made him pause was the pale silverish-blue left eye and the milky white right eye.

He inhaled sharply, hardly daring to get his hopes up that this could be anything more than coincidence.

"Took me about two months to track him down," Reaper mumbled, staring down at the congregation. Palette's skull shot up, eye sockets wide and starry lights trembling as the older skeleton continued, "I wasn't sure at first since the feeling was faint, and I honestly didn't know what kind of creature I was looking for, but I was positive once I found him. Still kinda sore at Life for not telling me he was up for reincarnation. Guess she wanted to surprise me."

"What?" Palette choked, his skull jerking repeatedly between Reaper and the animal in question, "Then that's really-?"

"Yup, that's Goth," the adult confirmed, a weary smile pulling at the corners of his mouth, "Or his soul, at least. Do ya wanna pet him? It doesn't look like these kittos have learned to fear strangers yet."

Hastily nodding and crouching down carefully beside Reaper, Palette gingerly reached his hand out toward the small bundle of damp fur.

The kitten squeaked at the initial touch, but quickly began to lean into his hand as he rubbed behind their ears and under their chin while the mother cat watched cautiously.

Tears welled up in his sockets as the kitten eventually scaled its way up his pant leg, crawling into the crook between his upper leg and torso, and settling down with a huge yawn for a warm nap. Palette ran a hand along Goth's fur, eliciting a rumbling purr as he wiped the tears from his sockets with a free hand.

He’s alive... He’s here and he’s alive!

Palette’s smile fell a bit as the cold water coming off the kitten soaked into his pants. He turned to Reaper in concern, "We're not going to leave him here, right? It's supposed to get really cold tonight. That's why you brought me... we came to get him, right?"

"Well, that's all up to you," the god said, his smile twitching, "I can't take him."

"What? Why not?" the younger furrowed his sockets, his hand resting protectively over the fluffy body resting on his leg.

Reaper's eye lights fixed on the small kitten, heartache etched in his expression, "He may have Goth's soul, but he's not my son. Not anymore. There's no guarantee he'd be immune to my touch in this form and I won't risk killing him to test it. Even if I brought Geno with me to take him home, I'd have to constantly avoid touching him around the house and it'd only be a matter of time before something happened.

"You're the only safe option he's got, and frankly the only other monster I trust with him. Geno and I'd be able to help out with food and vet costs if money's an issue as long as we get to visit once in a while. Besides, I have a feeling he'd prefer being with the one he gave his life for. He also seems really attached to ya already."

By now, the food was gone and the other kittens had retreated back to the cover of the dumpster. The only ones left were the mother cat staring at Palette and the kitten curled up on his leg. Gently plucking Goth from his napping spot, the young monster held the mewling bundle of fur at the mother's level, "I'd like to take him home with me, is that okay?"

Reaper snorted at the absurdity of Palette asking permission from a cat, but was forced to choke on his laughter as the cat sniffed at her kitten, gave him a lick on the cheek, and turned to saunter back toward the dumpster.

"I'll be damned," the adult muttered slack-jawed before bursting into laughter once more, "I think you actually got permission to adopt the kitto."

"Yeah, I guess I did," Palette joined in, laughing for what felt like the first time in forever. He got to his feet, bringing the kitten to his chest. His small companion rose up, nuzzling into his cheek as he whispered through renewed tears of joy, "Welcome back, Goth."

Chapter Text

Palette opened the door to his shared apartment, grinning like a maniac when he noticed the living room was empty.

Perfect.

Shutting the door quietly, he snuck toward the kitchen with a pair of pizza boxes. He placed them on the counter and stealthily opened the cupboard to take out a plate, placing two slices on it before closing the box and sliding it under the other. Taking a breath, he mustered his best neutral expression before yelling, "Goth, I'm back and I brought pizza!"

The telltale sound of a door opening down the hall announced the small skeleton's presence. Moments later, Goth strolled into the kitchen as Palette went to sit down at the table with his food to watch the show.

"Cool, thanks Palette. Wait...," Goth paused as he retrieved a plate from the cupboard, "It's not pineapple, is it?"

"Nah, I know you don't like pineapples. I got two cheese," the taller replied, holding up his own slice as proof.

"Oh, alright," Goth smiled as he proceeded toward the pizza boxes. Setting his plate down, he slotted his finger into the groove to open the top box... only for the bottom to lift with it followed by a soft thunking sound inside the box. For a few seconds, the skeleton stood at the counter, trying to dig his fingers into the sides to pry the cardboard container open to no avail.

Palette had to resist the urge to snort as Goth summoned his scythe to force his way into the box. Slicing into the cardboard, he grinned in triumph and finally lifted the torn lid... only to find a book with a picture of a pizza on the cover inside.

"April Fools!" Palette burst into laughter at the dumbstruck look on his companion's face.

Goth lifted the book up from inside the box, grumbling, "I suppose I should have seen that coming, all things considered. Is there pizza in the other one, or...?"

Palette's laughter died down as he said, "Don't worry, there's an actual pizza inside the box under it." He burst into giggle fits once more as Goth carefully opened the second box, scrutinizing the pizza inside, "There's no glue on the lid or anything in the pizza. That one's safe, I promise."

Taking him at his word, Goth took two slices and shut the box, bringing it to the fridge to store for later, "Alright, I'll get us some drinks. Juice for you?"

"Sounds good," Palette chirped, returning to his food now that his prank was successfully carried out. Goth brought over two glasses of juice, placing one in front of him, "Thanks, Goth."

The smaller hummed in acknowledgment as he took a seat across from his companion and dug into his pizza. Setting down his partially eaten slice, Palette reached for the glass and tilted it back for a sip... but the contents didn't move.

It was his turn to be surprised as he upended the glass, perplexed at the liquid that was somehow staying in the glass despite gravity. With an amused huff, Palette asked, "Alright, what did you do?"

"What's wrong, Palette?" Goth questioned, casually sipping his drink, "Don't you like your juice?"

Palette had to admire the poker face the small skeleton was maintaining, even after being caught. Poking at the contents of the glass and seeing it squish inward, he countered, "You and I both know juice doesn't stick to the glass or bounce after being touched... though I have to say congratulations on your prank, I definitely wasn't expecting it."

"The 'jello in the glass' trick, it's an oldie but a goodie," the hooded skeleton chuckled, giving up the charade and standing up to exchange the prank glass with an actual glass of juice, “I debated adding ice cubes, but I thought it would give the prank away if they didn’t slosh around after placing the drink down, even if I held it in a way that covered it.”

“Yeah, that might’ve ruined it,“ Palette confirmed as he actually watched Goth pour juice into a new glass.

Storing the jello in the fridge for eventual consumption later, Goth set the new glass where the old on had been and returned to his seat. The remainder of the evening passed peacefully with the skeletons laughing and exchanging various stories about their day.

All in all, they both considered today a success.

Chapter Text

"So, is there anything left to do after this?" Rurik asked, unwrapping the sandwich he'd picked up on the way back from grocery shopping.

"Mmm," Lotus pulled the sandwich away from his mouth, chewing as his red eye light drifted upward in thought before swallowing, "Not unless there's something you wanted to do. I got everything I needed at the store."

"Nope... home it is," the taller proclaimed, taking a bite of his own sandwich. The grocery bags dangled around his and his partner's wrists, swaying lightly as they turned the corner to go home, "By the way, what'd you need all this stuff for anyway?"

"I was thinking of trying out a new recipe for supper. I saw it online, it's ca-"

Both skeletons froze as a low growl interrupted their conversation.

Rurik's eye lights narrowed on a mangy-looking brown and black furred dog, it's hackles raised and its teeth bared. He tugged on Lotus' arm, pulling the smaller monster behind him as he reached for his knife.

As he flicked open the latch on the holster, Lotus placed a hand on his shoulder. "Rurik, wait...,” the smaller focused on the dog for a few seconds before muttering, “Don't hurt it."

"Don’t-" Rurik choked, "Have you lost your damn mind?! This thing's preparing to attack us!"

The hooded skeleton shook his skull, "Look at it, it's all skin and bones. I don't think it's in any condition to fight... it's probably hungry."

"Lotus...," the taller skeleton warned, his sockets furrowing as Lotus set down his bags and pulled a slice of turkey from his sandwich, "Lotus, no. It's a wild animal. You're asking to get bitten or mauled!"

"I don't think so," The smaller argued, stepping around his companion toward the dog, "If the dog was going to attack, it would have already."

Crouching low, Lotus extended the piece of turkey toward the animal. It stood staring at the skeletons, still in a defensive position but no longer displaying open aggression. It padded forward slowly, it's brown eyes shifting between the meat and the monster holding it.

Rurik grit his teeth, his hand twitching against his knife as the dog stopped a few inches from the offering. It was nearly as big as Lotus!

In a flash, the dog snatched the meat from the small skeleton's hand. Rurik quickly reached over his companion's shoulder to grab his wrist and inspect their hand for injuries. 

Everything was completely intact.

Lotus smirked as he pulled his hand from the other's grip, taking another piece of turkey from the sandwich, "Give me some credit, I was holding it with my fingers tucked in for a reason. Just because I'm trying to be nice doesn't mean I'm not going to take precautions, you know me better than that."

Holding out another piece of meat, the dog was less hesitant to take the food which it scarfed it down as quickly as the last. Rurik watched with a sour expression as his partner's lunch slowly disappeared until there was nothing left.

"Huh, never knew dogs were such a fan of turkey, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise," Rurik groused, polishing off the last of his own sandwich.

"It was probably starving, so it’s fine. We have food at home anyways," Lotus reasoned as he dusted the crumbs from his hands and stood. The animal in question sniffed the ground before staring up at the pair expectantly. The smaller held their palms open with an apologetic smile, "Sorry, that was everything. All gone."

Rurik grasped the small skeleton's arm, tugging back a bit, "Come on, we have stuff that needs to be put in the fridge, right?"

"Yeah...," Lotus reluctantly agreed, retrieving his bags and giving the dog a small wave as he turned to follow his companion. A block away from their home, Rurik heard his partner quietly mumble, "Oh shit..."

"What is it?" The taller spun around, immediately on the offensive. When he saw the 'threat', he couldn't help but groan. There was the mangy dog standing four feet from Lotus, staring at them with its tail wagging slowly.

"It's following us," Lotus mused, sticking his hand out. The dog sniffed at it and gave it a lick, earning a chuckle from the hooded skeleton.

"No."

"I think it likes me," he stated with a barely hidden smile, kneeling down to gently scratch under the dog's chin. Its tail began to thump against the sidewalk.

"No." Rurik stomped his foot on the pavement.

"Aww, but it's friendly," Lotus laughed as the dog started nosing into his hood.

"Sure, it's friendly now," the taller countered, "We have no idea when this thing will decide to turn on us. It's also filthy and carrying stars only knows what kinds of diseases. It's too dangerous, so we're not keeping the mutt and that's that."

After a brief staring match Lotus conceded, sighing as he stood once more to finish the trek back home.

Much to Rurik's chagrin, the dog continued following them all the way to their front walk. Opening the front door, he ushered the smaller in and turned to block the door.

"Go on, there's nothing here for you!" the skeleton shouted, hoping the raised voice would spook it. He stomped in the dog's direction when it merely sat on its haunches at his vocal command, "Scram you mangy mutt!" The action produced a toothy yawn from the animal.

At a loss for what to do since actually trying to hurt it would make Lotus angry, Rurik threw his hands up in the air, turning to slam the door in the animal’s face. He flipped the deadbolt and latched the chain with a bit more fanfare than necessary, mostly using the actions to blow off some steam.

Turning away from the door with a satisfied smirk, he was met with an unimpressed gaze from his partner.

Rurik huffed as he said, "Lotus, you know we can't. Besides it being a mutt off the streets, there's nothing to guarantee it won't go wild and attack one of us. If you're home by yourself and it decides to go on a rampage... I won't risk it. Our safety’s more important than some stupid pet."

Lotus' expression took on a guilty tinge, "That’s true. You're just trying to keep us safe, and I should appreciate that. You're right to be wary and I’m sorry for giving you a hard time. I guess I just thought it was cute and had an impulse thought."

"Thanks, at least we probably won't have to worry about it anymore," Rurik pulled his companion in for a small hug, "once it figures out that it's not getting any more food, it'll leave and go back to wherever it came from."

The pair proceeded to put all thoughts of the dog behind them, having dinner and bantering over which horror movie they wanted to watch before finally choosing one and turning in for the night hours later.

---

The next morning, Rurik woke up to an empty bed. Tromping downstairs, he walked into the kitchen to find a wrapped plate of pancakes and a note stating that his companion had gotten an early summons for work. Hopefully, that meant Lotus would be home earlier.

After warming and eating his breakfast and taking a quick shower, Rurik got dressed and slipped on his boots to head to his job. Cracking the door open, he scanned the front lawn. He was pleased to see no signs of the dog from yesterday as he predicted.

Stepping out and locking the door, he made his way down the sidewalk for what he hoped would be a hassle-free day of work.

Chapter Text

Rurik took deep breaths as he traveled down the sidewalk, trying to calm his nerves before he arrived home. The last thing he wanted was to lash out and take his frustrations out on Lotus. It wasn’t their fault one of his co-workers screwed up and he got blamed for the mess.

Rounding the corner to his house, the skeleton stopped dead in his tracks. Even from a solid two blocks away, he could still make out the distinctive figure of his hooded companion along with a large brown and black blob laying in front of him.

“Are you fucking kidding me?!” he snarled to himself.

Clenching and unclenching his fists, he stomped the last two blocks toward his home. As he drew closer, the finer details of the front yard came into focus.

There was a pair of bowls from the kitchen near the bushes and a hose laying in a suspiciously soggy patch of grass just around the corner of the house. The dog also appeared to be less mangy than before, its cleaner tan and black coat now resembling that of a German Shepard, albeit fluffier than average.

Lotus glanced up from where he was giving the dog belly rubs, catching sight of Rurik, "Oh shit..."

"Oh shit is right, what the hell is that thing doing back here?" Rurik growled, coming to a stop and crossing his arms as he stared the smaller down, "I thought we agreed we weren't keeping the dog."

"I know we did," Lotus admitted with a sideways glance, "The dog was laying outside the house when I left this morning and followed me to work. She even waited outside all day for me to leave and followed me back home.

“I meant to just leave her outside once I got home, but it felt wrong to just leave her alone when she kept me company... so I kind of bought some food and gave her a bath as thanks."

Rurik massaged his temple with his thumb in an attempt to quell his anger, "Dammit Lotus, you're only encouraging it! If you feed-... wait, her? How do you know it's a girl?"

The small skeleton stared down at the dog in front of him. No one said a word as Lotus’ gaze passed repeatedly between the dog laying on her back and his exasperated boyfriend awaiting an explanation.

The smaller skeleton’s expression seemed to settle on incredulous after an awkward minute of silence. "Because she has-" he started, before blushing and seeming to think better of it, "You know what? It doesn't matter, just take my word for it that it's a girl."

Rurik’s sockets furrowed at the non-response, nearly on his last straw, "You know what? Fine! I don't really care about the stupid dog's sex! Whatever. I'm really not in the mood to deal with this shit. I'll be inside whenever you decide to ditch the bitch and spend time with your boyfriend. Try to make it inside before supper."

Turning to head for the house, a hand gripped his right shoulder. His arm swung back on reflex to free him only for his body to stutter to a halt as his hand connected with Lotus’ face, sending the smaller onto the ground.

His companion sat up, holding his cheek as he stared in mild surprise. The dog rolled onto its feet, growling and barking while Rurik tried to process what happened.

I... I hit him. I didn’t mean to, but I hit him. It’s been almost a year since... dammit!

Rurik made a beeline for the front door. Wrenching it open and slamming it shut behind him, instant regret washed over him. He leaned back against the wood and pressed his fist into his forehead, gritting his teeth to keep himself from screaming.

What the hell, this is exactly what I was trying to prevent! Why did I hit him?! Even if Lotus shouldn't be feeding the damn animal, it's not like he can help the mutt following him around and I already know he's too nice to abandon it... her... whatever!

Peeking out the window he spied Lotus, still sitting on the grass holding his cheek, his hood covering the top half of his skull in shadow. The dog was now next to him, nosing into his scarf as the small skeleton gingerly reached up to pet her. He hunched in on himself, shaking as he pressed his skull into its fur.

Rurik turned away from the scene outside, cursing himself as he dropped onto the couch to glare at the ceiling instead. While he didn’t like leaving Lotus outside by himself, he was more worried about starting another fight if he went back out. He needed to calm down first, and if anything happened he would hear it.

Reaching for the remote, he flipped on the television in hopes of calming his torrential thoughts.

Chapter Text

Roughly an hour later, the door creaked open and Lotus quietly slipped through. Rurik was mildly grateful that the smaller hadn’t simply wandered off somewhere. Locking the door behind himself, the hooded skeleton headed toward the kitchen and began pulling out what he needed to prepare supper.

The house became entrenched in a heavy silence with only the occasional soft clang of metal or the thump of a cabinet or drawer closing.

Multiple times, Rurik was tempted to get up to speak with Lotus. Every time he tried though, something in the back of his mind stopped him, forcing him to continue his staring contest with the ceiling.

This was all to protect Lotus. This would blow over...

"Supper's ready," Lotus called from the kitchen. Pushing himself up, Rurik turned the T.V. off and headed toward the kitchen. Passing through the doorway, the small skeleton was setting out a pair of utensils around two filled plates before taking his seat.

There was a faint red mark remaining on his left cheek, not as bad as Rurik feared but still visible. Casting his gaze down to the table, the skeleton pulled out the chair opposite his partner and dug into the meal.

While the food tasted good, it felt like something was off. It didn't have the usual zest that it normally had. Raising his starry eye lights, he studied the skeleton across from him.

Lotus was eating rather than picking at his food, so that was a good sign. Unfortunately, the action seemed more automatic than anything, his red eye light fixed on his plate as he shoveled food in without really tasting it. It was as if he was in another world despite being right there. Rurik grimaced, recognizing the look from the previous five years before he got his act together.

He couldn’t let this happen again.

Setting down his fork and sliding his plate aside, Rurik folded his arms on the table and cleared his throat, "Lotus, about earlier-"

"I know," Lotus interrupted, letting his fork rest against his plate, ”I-”.

“Lotus, no. Let me say this... please,” Rurik pushed through, his sockets furrowed as he held the smaller’s gaze. Once silence fell, he continued, “My reaction to the dog wasn’t okay. Even if I was mad, even if I had a bad day at work... whether it was an accident or not, yelling at you was bad and hitting you was even worse. I’ve been learning how to communicate properly and manage my anger issues, so there’s no excuse for what I did.

"I’m still not comfortable with the dog, but... once this is all settled and we both get some free time, we could see about going out and getting you a safer pet. That is, if you’re willing to give me another chance... though I’m honestly debating whether you should."

A gentle smile played on Lotus' face as he placed his right hand onto the taller's arm, rubbing his thumb along the ulna.

Rurik watched his companion carefully as they spoke, "I’m still here, so you already know the answer. I saw your reaction after you hit me. You were just as surprised as I was, so I know you didn’t mean what you did. And really, I should have let you calm down first.

“You’ve been working hard to control yourself better, but no one’s perfect and shit happens. The important part is that you’re trying, and I can see you’re trying. That’s why you walked away without saying anything earlier, right? Because you recognized that you were in a bad place and needed to walk away before the situation escalated more?”

“Yeah,” Rurik nodded solemnly, still ashamed but thankful that the smaller’s expression and body language seemed to align with his words, “I didn’t know what else to do without making everything worse, so I left. Now though, I feel like I should have at least apologized, even if it would have sounded hollow at the moment... so I’ll say it now.

“I’m sorry for yelling at you and hitting you, I’ll do what I can to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Next time, I’ll try calling you before I get home if I’m in a shitty mood. Hopefully, that’ll help prevent another blow-up.

“But if it does happen again, I want you to call me out on it... no, I need you to call me out on it. I don’t want to fall back into old habits, but you have to help keep me in check if they start to pop back up. There needs to be boundaries and consequences. Otherwise, I might stop caring again... and I don’t want that.”

Lotus released a sigh, “The phone thing sounds like a good idea... and yeah, I need to learn to stand up for myself more. Looking back, I did wave off a lot of your behavior and make excuses. I’ll try to work on being more firm if anything happens again.

“As for the dog, I’m sorry for encouraging her behavior. I can look into finding a new home for her tomorrow. After that’s fixed, I can do some research to see if anything else piques my interest.”

"Alright, sounds good,” Rurik exhaled in relief and the meal was finished with a much warmer atmosphere. Once the dishes were placed in the sink, the pair retired to the couch for some T.V. and make-up cuddles.

A yawn from the smaller two hours later announced bedtime, prompting Rurik to reach for the remote once more. Lotus slowly made his way up the stairs with Rurik following a few steps behind, flipping the light switch off on the way up.

Hints of moonlight shined through the windows of the darkened house, creeping across the floor as they made their way across the landing to their shared room. The dim light within was able to guide them to the bed without issue, allowing them to burrow under the covers and get comfortable with relative ease.

Watching Lotus set the alarm on his phone and place it on the nightstand, Rurik reached over to pull the smaller skeleton in until their back was flush against his chest, crooning, "Night Lotus."

"Night...," the smaller mumbled in reply, quickly drifting off in his arms. The taller smiled as he closed his sockets to join his companion in sleep.

Chapter Text

"Rurik? Rurik, wake up," a soft voice and a nudge to the shoulder pulled the skeleton from his unconscious state. Cracking open an eye socket, he smiled at the sight of Lotus standing over him already dressed for the day, with the mark from yesterday now completely gone.

"Today's already looking to be a better day than yesterday," the taller purred, raising his arms in an attempt to pull his partner back into bed with him.

"Oh spare me," the smaller monster snorted, rolling his eye light as he easily weaved around the outstretched arms, "Flattery will get you nowhere, now come down for breakfast before it gets cold."

Shrugging his shoulders, Rurik crawled out of bed and followed Lotus down the stairs and into the kitchen.

Breakfast, which appeared to be scrambled eggs and bacon, was already set out on the table. Sitting down and digging in, Rurik noticed the eggs tasted different than usual. "New recipe?" he asked.

"Yeah," the hooded skeleton confirmed, "I figured plain eggs were kind of boring, so I tried dicing up some broccoli along with adding some cheese for texture and flavor."

"It's good," the taller replied simply, "You should do this one again". The pair fell into smatterings of small talk as they ate their breakfast.

"Hey Rurik?" the smaller questioned, continuing once his companion looked up, "I was thinking about making posters to put up around town."

The skeleton perked up at the statement, "For the dog?"

"Yeah, I'll take a picture of her with my phone, then make an adoption poster and print out copies at the library after work," Lotus explained as he nibbled on a piece of bacon.

"Hmm... are you going to be using your cell number?" Rurik hummed, receiving a nod as he thought the plan over, "It sounds okay... but just to be on the safe side, I want to come with you if you get called to meet someone. There are too many whackjobs out there for my liking."

Lotus chuckled as he picked up his plate and carried it over to the sink, "Alright, fair enough. I'll print out and put up the posters after work, so I'll probably be a bit late tonight. If I get a call to meet someone, I'll let you know and we can go together."

"Sounds like a plan," Rurik said as he got up to put his plate in the sink as well so he could go take his shower. Seeing Lotus slipping on his cloak, scarf, and boots by the door, he made a detour around the couch, pulling the smaller into a hug and planting a kiss on his forehead, "Good luck with work and the posters, be careful."

Lotus fought down a blush as he reached up on his tiptoes to reciprocate the show of affection with a peck on the cheek, "I always try. You stay safe too."

As the smaller opened the door, Rurik just barely managed to catch a glimpse of the mutt standing on the lawn outside before his companion slipped through the door and shut it behind himself.

Leaning toward the window, he watched Lotus move down the walkway as the dog bounded in circles around him, clearly excited to see the hooded skeleton. A knot twisted in his chest as he watched his companion pause to rub behind the animal's ear before continuing down the sidewalk.

Making his way up the stairs and into the bathroom, he turned on the shower and stripped while the water warmed up. Stepping in, he let the heat soak into his bones as he attempted to focus on the day ahead rather than the uncomfortable feeling that had crept up on him.

---

Slotting the key into the deadbolt, Rurik opened the door to an empty house. As he predicted, Lotus wasn't home yet. He internally cursed himself for not asking for a rough estimate of when he might get home.

Stuffing his keys into his pocket, he took off his jacket and hat, tossing them on the arm of the couch to put away later as he browsed the kitchen for something to eat. Opening the fridge, he was surprised to find a plate with leftovers from the previous night. Figuring that would be better than snacking on junk food, he removed the plate and headed toward the microwave.

Partway to his destination, he stopped and stared down at the plate in thought before backtracking toward the cabinets. Pulling out another plate, he scooped some of the food onto it and placed the remainder back in the fridge for Lotus to eat once he got home before returning to the microwave. Setting the timer for a minute, he leaned against the counter as his thoughts wandered to a particular conversation he had earlier.

~~~

"Jealous?" Rurik arched his eye socket as he readjusted the box in his arms, "Why the hell would I be jealous?"

"Well, think about it," The red-headed woman, Carmen, retorted as she wheeled the handcart over, "other than you, who does your boyfriend interact with?"

Setting the box onto the platform and turning to retrieve another from the truck as he contemplated the question, the skeleton was dumbfounded at his conclusion, "No one. He can't stand his parents and he's never mentioned any friends... he has a cousin, but that guy kind of hates me so they don't talk much. Other than me and maybe his boss, he doesn't really talk to anyone."

Placing his cargo on the first box, Rurik huffed as he scrubbed at his skull, "Shit... is he becoming isolated because of me?"

"I wouldn't say that," the woman corrected, aligning the boxes so they were centered before going to retrieve another, "You're much better than when you first started and we both know friendship's not a common practice. From what you told me, he's not an outgoing guy either. It's more likely he just doesn't get out enough to have those interactions.

"That said, your answer proves my point. You're used to having his undivided attention and being the center of his world. That dog represents competition and you're not used to sharing. That's why it grinds your gears."

"But the mutt's not competition!" Rurik exclaimed, "We talked and Lotus chose me last night!"

"Box," she reminded as she easily hefted another package, prompting the skeleton to keep loading the handcart with her, "Just because he chose you doesn't mean those feelings will go away overnight. You mentioned the dog ignored you when you tried to scare it off, so it's a source of defiance as well.

"It might also be that you're nervous about others giving the little guy attention. You tend to be pretty defensive when it comes to him, and you said your main concern was the dog attacking him, right?"

"Yeah... am I being too controlling? Should I ease up?" Rurik questioned, stacking up the fourth box and tilting back the cart to move it toward the elevator.

The woman snatched up a clipboard and walked with him as she soothed, "Given the way things work around here and the volatile nature of animals, your worries aren't completely unjustified. The best thing I can tell you is to talk it over with him and see what he thinks. After that, you can decide what to do together. For now, let's get these boxes upstairs before the owner has a fit."

~~~

The beeping of the timer broke him out of his woolgathering as he popped the microwave open and pulled out the steaming plate of food. Without company, the meal was finished within minutes and the plate was dumped into the sink with the breakfast plates.

Deciding to wash and put away the dishes rather than leave them sitting in the sink, he dried off his hands with a satisfied grin and returned to the living room to await his partner's arrival.

Before he could even sit, a buzzing noise from his jacket caught his attention. Fishing out his phone, the screen lit up to notify him of a text from Lotus.

"Good, I can ask him when he's going to-"

The sentence died in his throat, his body frozen and mouth hanging open slightly as his eye lights shrunk to mere pinpricks. He could only stare at the screen that displayed multiple unread messages, the first one having been sent over ten minutes ago:

Lotus: I need help

Lotus: I'm alright but I can't get back on my own

Lotus: Rurik, are you there?

Lotus: Rurik?

Chapter Text

Snapping out of his shock, Rurik typed into his phone with unsteady hands.

Rurik: Where are you what happened

Rurik tossed his phone onto the couch cushion when he didn’t get an immediate response, snatching up his jacket and hat and hastily throwing them on. The skeleton raced up the stairs to grab Lotus' med kit with plans to raid it for any possible supplies he might need.

Jogging back downstairs with the box in hand, he picked up his phone and checked it.

No response.

He went into the kitchen and managed to find a cinnabunny stashed away in the back of the cupboard, stuffing it into a pocket and returning to the living room.

Still no response.

A solid minute ticked by in silence as Rurik paced. He felt like he was being pulled five different ways, a flurry of questions fueling his growing anxiety.

Lotus said he can't get back... why can't he get back? Is he hurt? Trapped? Was he kidnapped? He said he was alright... but what does 'alright' even mean right now? And WHY THE HELL ISN'T HE ANSWERING?!

As he contemplated just picking a direction to start blindly searching, the phone finally vibrated. He quickly snatched it up and swiped through the lock screen.

Lotus: In an alley next to the hardware store on Fifth near Burings behind a blue dumpster.

Lotus: I was attacked while putting up posters.

On Fifth near Burings...

Rurik: Stay there I'm on my way

With his destination in mind, the skeleton grabbed some potentially useful supplies from the med kit and shoved them into his pockets, throwing the door open and slamming it behind him. His phone buzzed with a text from the smaller confirming he wouldn't move.

Rurik belatedly remembered to lock the door before dashing through the grass, cutting across multiple yards to save himself precious time. Ignoring the yells from disgruntled neighbors, he made short work of the distance.

Crossing into the city limits, he powerwalked toward the hardware store to avoid attracting attention. Spotting the storefront and an alleyway tucked just behind it, he slowed his pace and casually strolled over toward the opening.

He sighed in relief at the sight of a blue dumpster... though his eye lights narrowed at the sound of growling and the stack of papers strewn across the ground.

Peeking around the back corner of the dumpster, he glared at the sight of the mutt, its hackles raised, baring its teeth at Rurik... standing between him and Lotus. The small skeleton was hunched in the corner with a bleeding scrape across his left temple, holding his torn left sleeve.

Rurik reached for his knife holster, preparing for the impending fight.

"Rurik!" the small skeleton squeaked, his eye light shooting from his partner to the dog, "Down girl, he's safe!" Rurik's sockets widened as the dog not only dropped her stance but turned to curl up by the smaller, resting her muzzle in Lotus' lap.

Releasing the breath he only now realized he'd been holding, Rurik knelt down to inspect the tear while watching the dog out of the corner of his socket. He found a large scrape down the humerus and ulna under the cloth that matched the one on their skull. Concluding the injuries looked worse than they actually were, he asked, "Any other injuries?"

"My right leg," Lotus said, reaching out to pull his pant leg up. He hissed as the hem caught on the bone, prompting Rurik to take over since he could move closer.

Easing up the fabric, he scrutinized the damage with a sour expression, "Damn, did someone take a baseball bat to your leg?"

"A metal pipe, actually," Lotus supplied, running his fingers through the dog’s fur, "I got dragged into the alley as I was walking by and four guys started demanding money. I told them I didn't have anything for them, and they attacked me. She followed me, barking and growling at them and I managed to take one of them down before one of the other guys took out my leg and sent me to the ground."

"She jumped in when he tried to bash my skull in, going for his throat and eventually dusting him," Lotus’ voice was tight, his eye light centered on a solitary pipe amid a pile of dust, “She even managed to help me scare the remaining two off... and honestly, I probably wouldn't be sitting here talking to you if she hadn't interfered."

Rurik processed the information, eying the now complacent dog silently with a hint of suspicion before reaching into his pockets for the medical supplies and the food he brought. He searched the ground for something sturdy, managing to find a decently thick magazine laying by the dumpster, snatching it up as he said, "I'm gonna have to reset the bone before we go anywhere, so you might want to brace yourself."

Lotus nodded, taking a deep breath and giving the go ahead. Rurik quickly snapped the bone back into place, earning a small grunt and a full-body wince from his partner. The dog whined as she sat up, licking the smaller’s face while receiving more pets in return. The taller shoved the food toward his partner, directing them to eat it.

Working quickly, Rurik placed a gauze pad around the injury, secured it with some medical tape, then rolled the magazine into a makeshift splint, securing that with more tape. Tilting his skull to check his work, he replaced the pant leg over the magazine splint and concluded, "I think that's the best we're going to get for now, we can treat the scrapes at home. Can you stand on your own or do you need a hand?"

Lotus braced his good arm against the dumpster behind himself, pushing up into a standing position. The dog stood up with him, pressing into his side as the other monster drew closer. The food was doing its job to heal the worst of the damage, but the skeleton was still shaky on his feet.

Wrapping his arm around the smaller's upper back and torso, Rurik stated, "Come on, let's get out of here before someone else gets a bright idea."

The hooded skeleton readily agreed, wrapping his good arm around Rurik and shifting the weight from his bad leg to limp forward. "Thanks for coming," Lotus muttered as they slowly made their way home with the dog following on their left.

Rurik hummed in response, his thoughts drifting toward other things while he kept watch of their surroundings. The trip home was slow, quiet, and thankfully uneventful.

Chapter Text

As the pair traveled up the walkway of their home, the dog finally separated from them to lay down near the bushes. Lotus smiled at her before turning his focus toward balancing on his good foot to hop up the steps.

He braced himself against the wall as Rurik pulled out his keys to unlock the door, taking the offered arm once more when it was held out to aid him inside. Lotus began to hobble forward, only to tilt backward as he belatedly realized his partner had stopped in the doorway, staring at the dog. He hazarded a question, "Is something wrong?"

Rurik stood silent as if he were at war with himself before grumbling, "Get in."

"What?"

"I’m telling the dog to get in," he reiterated, looking away, "Whether I like it or not, she protected you. As far as I'm concerned, she's earned her keep."

Lotus' eye light lit up as he pulled Rurik in for a one-armed hug, "Really? Thank you!"

"Yeah yeah," the taller grouched, though a hint of a smile began to creep onto his face afterward.

The hooded skeleton leaned around his companion as he called out, "Come on, girl!"

In a flash, the dog was on its feet and bounding up the step toward Lotus, rushing past him into the house before turning a one-eighty to watch at the pair with a furiously wagging tail. The small skeleton limped over, scratching behind her ears as he made his way over to the couch.

Flopping onto the couch, the dog quickly tried to follow him. "Ohh no, mutt stays off the couch," Rurik asserted, wrapping his arms around the animal's waist to haul her onto the floor. The dog refused to budge, groaning in protest.

"Aw, she just wants to be next to me," Lotus reasoned, holding in laughter since he found the situation amusing.

Rurik persisted with a glare, "I said she could stay in the house, not that she could have free run of it. I'm not dealing with fur all over the furniture. The floor's just as close to you."

Lotus grimaced, knowing Rurik was already making a big concession by letting the dog inside. Deciding not to push their luck, he sighed and said, "Down girl."

Moments later, the dog was off the couch and on the floor, curling up under the small skeleton's feet like a footrest. Rurik gave her a dirty look, "It really does only listen to you..."

Lotus shrugged, pulling the med kit that was still sitting on the table toward himself, "I guess I just have a way with animals."

“Or it’s a whore for free food,” Rurik muttered under his breath, crouching down so he was on-level with the worst of his companion’s injuries. Rather than try to start an argument, his priority should be to help the smaller properly treat his leg along with the scrapes now that they were safely home.

As he removed the magazine splint and stained gauze, cleaned away the stray marrow, disinfected the area, and applied clean dressings, a buzzing sound came from Lotus' pocket. Pulling out his phone, the smaller quirked his socket at the number.

"Who is it?" Rurik asked, receiving a shrug. He went back to re-wrapping the broken bone while Lotus answered. Within seconds, the small skeleton's expression wilted, causing the taller to frown, "What's wrong?"

Tilting the phone away, Lotus responded, "It's the dog's owner... the family wants to come to pick her up." He returned to the conversation, mumbling responses every so often before giving their address. He visibly deflated as he hung up. The dog whined, bumped his good leg as he said, "They're on their way."

Rurik taped the end of the wrap in place and situated himself next to Lotus on the couch, crossing his arms as he huffed, "... Maybe we can buy the dog off them?"

Lotus shook his skull, replying somberly as he rubbed the dog's head, "They have a little girl that's been upset about the missing dog. Apparently, she got loose chasing a bag thief and got lost. They've been looking everywhere for her and called immediately after they found one of the posters."

The taller skeleton cursed, knowing their hands were tied if a kid was involved. No one with any sense of decency would deprive a kid of their pet. Rurik wracked his skull for an excuse, “Well... maybe they’re not the dog’s actual owners. She seems pretty well-trained for a dog that got off its leash, it might just be some freaks hoping to get a free dog.”

“I don’t know, the guy was able to give a name and details that I didn’t include on the poster,“ Lotus countered softly.

Rurik sighed, not sure what else he could say to reassure his partner, “I guess we just have to wait until they get here. We should at least get those scapes cleaned up before they arrive.”

Lotus shrugged off his cloak while Rurik reached for the disinfectant. Half an hour passed with the taller treating the scrapes, tossing the torn cloak in the wash, and retrieving a clean black hoodie for the smaller just as the doorbell rang.

Lotus shimmied into the hoodie as Rurik went to answer the door, finding a pair of adult birdlike monsters and a smaller child on the doorstep. The little girl peeked into the house, her eyes lighting up as she ran forward yelling, "Alexis!"

The dog perked up at the name, running for the door and meeting the girl halfway. She latched onto the dog's neck, sobbing as she buried her face in their fur. Lotus smiled sadly at the pair as Rurik sighed, knowing without a doubt that these were the dog's true owners.

The adults thanked them profusely for taking care of Alexis and the house fell silent upon their departure. Lotus had been subdued for the whole exchange. Rurik sat down once more, pulling him into a tight hug. The hooded skeleton sniffed, "I’m fine. It was just a stupid dog."

"No you’re not, I can tell you’re upset," Rurik countered lightly, laying his skull on top of theirs, "You know my previous offer’s still on the table, right?"

It took Lotus a minute to figure out what he meant, but denied the offer upon remembering as tears began to leak from his sockets, "It wouldn't be the same... it wouldn't be Alexis."

Rurik nodded, settling for consoling his partner instead.

When Lotus eventually wore himself out and fell asleep, the taller carefully scooped him up and brought him upstairs. He cringed when he realized the smaller hadn’t eaten yet, but decided sleep was more important right now.

Entering the room and laying Lotus on the bed, Rurik moved in next to him and pulled up the covers. He pressed his forehead against his companion’s, silently thanking Alexis as he closed his sockets and let himself drift to sleep.

While Lotus would probably be upset for a while, he was still around and that was what mattered. Time would heal him and Rurik would be there to help.

Chapter Text

Palette was in his room, scaling the protagonist in one of his video games up a series of platforms while avoiding enemies when he was distracted by the buzzing of his phone. The momentary lapse in concentration was just enough for an enemy to get a strike in, knocking him into the spikes below and prompting a game over.

Scowling as he was taken to the enemy selection screen, the skeleton dropped the controller onto the ground and got up from his pillow seat to answer his phone. His mood improved when he noticed the interruption was a text from his best friend Goth.

Goth: Can I come over?

Smiling, Palette confirmed he could come over and asked if he wanted to play video games or do something else. Before he sent the message, he looked out the window. Seeing it was already dark outside, he backspaced and changed the message.

Palette: Of course! I was playing video games, are you planning on spending the night?

Waiting for a response, he was surprised to hear the doorbell ring instead. Shrugging his shoulders and pocketing his phone, he hopped down the stairs and swung open the door to greet his companion with a bright smile, "Hey Goth! You got he-"

Palette's smile dropped as he took in Goth's appearance. The small skeleton's shoulders were hunched and tense as if he were expecting an attack, his arms held in a guarded position at his waist where his hands were clutching his phone. His hood and scarf prevented the taller from seeing his face, but his minute trembling combined with his posture hinted at his emotional state.

"Goth, is something wrong?" Palette asked carefully, stepping off the porch to meet the smaller at the bottom of the steps.

As he got closer, Goth rambled, "I'm sorry, I came here without thinking since I remember you saying I could come over any time, but then I realized you might be busy or asleep so I sent you a text to make sure it was alright. I know it's late, but I... I don't want to be alone. Please, I... I...."

Goth's skull lifted as he trailed off and Palette could only think of one word to describe the empty expression that seemed to be fighting tears: haunted.

Wrapping the smaller in a tight hug and pulling them to his chest, Palette draped his skull over their shoulder as he said, "You don't need to apologize, Goth. I said you were welcome any time and I meant it. Do you want to talk about what's bothering you?"

Goth buried his skull in the taller skeleton's chest and whimpered, wrapping his arms around them with one free hand gripping the back of their jacket. Palette tried again, "A distraction, then?" He exhaled in relief when he felt his companion nod in confirmation.

Pulling out of the hug and grasping Goth's free hand, Palette led the way into the house and upstairs to his room. Snatching a pillow off his bed, he tossed it to the floor next to the one he'd been using earlier and crouched down by his T.V. stand to rifle around inside. He triumphantly pulled out a second controller, plugging it in and handing it over as Goth sat quietly on the offered pillow.

As Palette joined him, picking up his own controller and exiting to the main menu to see if there was any co-op or versus mode, Goth stammered softly, "Is... is there something... with less... less shooting we can play instead?"

The skeleton paused, turning to observe Goth’s mutely disturbed expression for a moment before saying, "Sure, I think I have a few like that." Scooting back over to the stand, Palette rummaged around until he pulled out a game case with a small brown yarn character holding a globe, "How about this? It's a puzzle platformer and you can even customize your character."

Goth smiled weakly, letting out a sigh of relief, "That sounds much better."

Pulling out the disk and switching it out in the console, he tossed the other game back in the stand before scooting back over to his pillow. Button mashing past the intro screen into co-op play, the pair were taken to what appeared to be a decorated box in space where two brown yarn characters stood.

As Palette began to explain the character customization menu, a rumbling sound interrupted him. He looked up at Goth, who was now blushing brightly and hunching into his scarf. Cocking his skull, the taller skeleton asked, "Was that you? Are you hungry?"

"I'm sorry," the smaller apologized, shrinking into himself in clear embarrassment, "I wasn't feeling up to eating before, but I probably should have tried anyway..."

"No, it's fine," Palette hastily reassured him, "I haven't had anything to eat either, so I can make us both something real quick while you choose your character's costume. Do bagel bites sound good?"

"Yeah, thank you and sorry," Goth replied sheepishly, staring at the controller in his hands.

"Like I said, it's fine. I'll be a few minutes downstairs while you figure out your outfit. If you need any help up here, just yell," Palette beamed, leaving the room and making his way to the refrigerator in the kitchen.

Pulling out the box and setting a dozen bites on a paper towel in the microwave, he pulled out his phone to play on it while he waited for the food to heat up. He barely managed to unlock the phone when it began vibrating in his palm.

Saving the phone from falling out of his hands and onto the ground, he was surprised to see Goth's dad on the caller ID. Answering the call and bringing the phone to his skull, Palette's greeting was immediately cut off by Reaper frantically shouting, "Tell me Goth's with ya!"

Chapter Text

Overcoming the shock of the normally calm and collected Reaper shouting at him, Palette squeaked out, "Y... Yeah, he’s here. He showed up about ten minutes ago looking really upset saying he didn't want to be alone. We're about to eat and play some video games."

The young skeleton could hear the tension drain from the adult's voice as he breathed, "Thank the stars... I swear that kid's gonna be the death of me."

Palette noticed the older skeleton wasn't laughing at their own joke. Turning to make sure he was still alone first, he asked quietly, "... If you don't mind me asking, did something happen?"

There was a pause on Reaper's end before he said, "Has Goth told ya what he does for a living?"

"Yeah... he said he collects souls from people that have passed away and guides them to the afterlife," the young skeleton stated in a wary tone.

"Yup," the parent confirmed only to release a heavy sigh as he continued, "Unfortunately, some cases are more... difficult to handle than others. Those are usually assigned to more senior reapers or I do them myself if I have time.

“Goth was acting like his normal self when he picked up his list this morning, but the day passed and he never showed up to hand in his report. I wasn’t too worried since it’s not unusual for collections to drag on longer than intended. It wasn’t until I looked into his assignments that I found out there was a mix-up and he somehow got saddled with one of the more violent cases by accident."

"Oh stars...," Palette whispered, his mind buzzing in dread at the thought of what 'violent case' could mean. It would definitely explain Goth’s earlier behavior.

"Pretty much my reaction when I found out," Reaper confessed, "I called Goth right away to check in and got his voicemail. Then I tried Geno and he was out shopping. Said he forgot something he needed for supper and wanted to get some errands done while he was out. Geno teleported home once I told him what happened and he found the door was unlocked, but Goth was nowhere to be found. To make matter worse, Geno started panicking when his call to Goth’s phone went straight to voicemail as well."

That explained Reaper’s outburst. They were both probably fearing the worst.

"Well, he seemed really shaken up when he came over and didn't want to talk about what was bothering him, but it didn’t look like he was hurt," Palette explained as the microwave beeped, prompting him to shift the phone between his shoulder and skull to free up his hands, "I brought him inside for some video games to help distract him and started making some bagel bites for us to eat. Do you want him to come home instead?"

Reaper's voice seemed unsure as he said, "Goth’s only had one bad run-in on the job before, one of his first assignments. I had to step in and it took him over a week before he was able to go out and try again. I’ve tried to keep him to tamer collections since then, but he might need a few days to relax if the assessment in front of me’s anything to go by.

"Geno most likely wants him home... but honestly, it'd probably be better for him to stay with ya since you’re the one he went to for help. If ya think ya got a handle on things and Dream doesn't mind him staying over, he'd probably be more comfortable there."

Palette put the last of the bagel bites onto a plate, tossing the greasy paper towel into the trash and moving over to the sink as he replied, "I don't mind and mom's supposed to be gone all weekend, so we can keep each other company. If anything happens or Goth decides he wants to go home, I can just call you or Mister Geno, right?"

"Sounds like a plan. I'll let Geno know Goth's okay and he’s staying with you," Reaper sighed in relief, "Just try not to have too much fun, or Geno might blow up at both of us."

Palette paused from washing the grease off his hands, "Why would Mister Geno be mad at us having fun?"

"... Nevermind, you don't need to worry about it," the parent chuckled nervously before composing himself, "But seriously, thanks for being there and looking after him. Our job can be emotionally taxing, so it's good to know Goth has someone he can trust besides us when things get to be too much."

"No problem, I'm happy to help," Palette chirped, drying off his hands and retrieving the plate, "is there anything you want me to tell him?"

"Let Goth know he’s got the weekend off," Reaper suggested, "though I’ll need him to send over whatever collections he completed today so I can figure out what's done and what needs to be juggled around. I'd also remind him to call or text his mom before taking off next time... maybe have him send Geno a text later for some peace of mind."

"Right," Palette cringed, knowing how Geno tended to be, "Anyways, I should get back to Goth. I'll call if anything changes."

"Thanks, have a good night," Reaper bid farewell, a soft click signaling the end of the call. Pocketing his phone once more, Palette jogged back up the stairs with their food.

Peeking into his room, Goth seemed to be lost in thought as he stared at the screen, tapping through the clothing menu. Palette announced himself by rapping his knuckle against the doorframe and entered the room, "Hey, how's it going? Find anything you like?"

"Oh, yeah... I think I'm almost finished," Goth confirmed quietly as Palette set the plate down in front of them and flopped onto his pillow. With a soft murmur of thanks, the hooded monster took one of the bagel bites from the small pile and nibbled on it as his attention returned to the T.V.

"Your dad called while I was downstairs," Palette relayed as he picked up one of the bites, "He wanted to make sure you're okay. He said you have the weekend off and could stay over if you wanted. He also needs you to send him what you collected for work and recommended you text your mom later."

Goth flinched, "Sh- shoot, mom must be worried sick... and I completely forgot to report back to dad, I should do that now." Setting down the controller and reaching for his phone, he tapped on the screen and frowned when it didn't light up. Pressing the button on the side did nothing as well.

Palette peeked over, "It must have died. You can put it on my charger and message them later."

"Alright, thank you," the smaller murmured with a tired expression, plugging his phone in and setting it on Palette’s nightstand, returning to his seat and picking up the controller once more. Watching closely as Goth refocused on the game, the taller skeleton could make out faint bags lining the smaller's sockets. His legs were tucked up against his chest as his arms curled around them holding onto the controller and there was a distinct slump to his posture. He still looked sad.

Determined to change the mood, Palette scooted closer and wrapped his arms around Goth's shoulders and neck, nuzzling his cheek into the top of Goth's hood. The smaller yelped at the contact, "Palette?! W... What are you doing?"

"Sorry, you just looked like you needed a hug," the taller skeleton explained, resting his chin on top of their skull, "Do you want me to stop?"

"N... no... it's nice, thank you," Goth mumbled, grabbing another bite to cover his blush and returning to the game. Palette watched from his position as the smaller skeleton eventually settled on an outfit reminiscent of a purple and white wizard with various stickers scattered about its clothing.

Detaching himself from his friend and picking up his own controller, Palette quickly selected his own costume. The smaller snorted at the hodgepodge of items thrown on his companion's character, "What are you supposed to be?"

"I am a mutant bunnycorn sailor!" Palette stated proudly, puffing out his chest as Goth huffed amicably, "Anyways, let's start the first level."

As the pair were taken to what looked like a garden level, Goth quietly said, "Thank you, Palette."

"Hmm?"

"For letting me stay with you... and trying to make me feel better. Thank you," the smaller elaborated, his face flushing a bit.

"Of course!" Palette smiled brightly, "Anything you want to do, we have all weekend to do it!"

As Palette showed Goth how to move his character through the obstacles and they progressed through the game, he noticed the small skeleton’s posture slowly shift and the air of melancholy around him seemed to dissipate a little.

It wasn’t perfect, but Palette had all weekend to help Goth pick himself back up. For now, it was a step in the right direction.

Chapter Text

Rurik paced around the living room in one of his t-shirts and a pair of shorts as his dirty clothes spun through the wash cycle in another room, glancing at his phone every so often as it laid silently on the table. A flash of lightning lit up the room, proceeded by a crash of thunder as a storm that matched the skeleton's current mood raged outside.

For probably the hundredth time within the past half hour, he snatched up the phone and hit redial, urging his partner to pick up their damn phone. As the call went to voicemail once more, Rurik hurled the phone into the couch cushion and snarled, "Why aren't you picking up and where the hell are you?!"

Lotus was known to be a little late getting home from time to time given the unpredictable nature of his job, but he would always call whenever he knew he wouldn't be home before five. Always. 

But as things stood, it was now almost ten at night with no call, text, or Lotus in sight. Since he left around the same time as Rurik that morning, his partner definitely should've been home by now.

He'd already spent the past four hours searching every area he knew Lotus was in charge of. He even searched two towns over when he saw there was a severe storm warning farther north, but had nothing to show for his efforts except soaked clothing, soggy boots, and a near-death encounter with a stray fence post launched at his skull by the gale force winds outside.

Touching upon the gauze on his cheek from the near miss, Rurik glared out the window while shoving down morbid thoughts of what could have happened. A soft chime from the laundry room intruded on his thoughts, signaling the wash was done. Eager for the distraction, he hurried over to the small room, pulling his clean, damp clothes from the washer and tossing them into the dryer.

As he threw in a lint sheet and set the timer, a sudden cold gust swept through the house. Exiting the small room, his sockets widened at the black and red figure fighting to close the front door. 

Quickly rounding the couch, he assisted Lotus in shutting the wind out. Once the door was closed, Rurik latched the locks and turned to assess his partner’s condition.

Lotus' cloak and scarf clung to his bones, dripping dirty water into a small pool on the hardwood floor as he leaned his right arm against the door, shivering and gasping from his fight with the storm earlier. His clothing sported diluted mud splatters along the bottom and the left side of his cloak was torn at the waist just below one of his belts, though there were no visible traces of blood or broken bones on him.

Pulling Lotus into a hug, rainwater from the smaller's clothing soaked rapidly into his shirt, but Rurik didn't care. He merely took solace in their presence and the lack of apparent injuries while growling out, "Where the hell were you? You’re not hurt, right?"

"Doing my damn job, and I'm fine," Lotus rasped in weary exasperation, pushing against his chest without looking up, "For whatever reason, every dumbass and their mother decided today would be the perfect day to go out despite the stars-damned storm everyone was warned about.

"After I finished with my list, I got roped into helping the guy that normally handles the area north of here. Apparently, one of the reapers helping him with the increased workload got crushed by an airborne bus and he complained he couldn't handle everything by himself."

"If you knew you were going to be late, why didn't you call me?" Rurik demanded, disconcerted to hear one of Lotus' coworkers died so easily, "I was worried sick about you thinking you'd dusted out there or something!"

"I lost my phone in the storm, okay?! My cloak must have gotten caught on something and ripped the pocket open!" the smaller snapped back, gesturing to the tear, "Power was knocked out in the area, so I probably wouldn't have had service to call you anyway... and even if I could find my phone in that huge clusterfuck, it's probably shorted out from all the rain coming down.  Now if you're done interrogating me, I'd like to get some dry clothes on before I freeze my tailbone off."

Trudging over to the laundry room, Lotus wasted no time tearing off his filthy clothing and throwing them into the washer where they landed with a squelch. Rurik watched from the doorway as his bare-boned companion set the timer and dug through the bin of clean laundry waiting to be folded for something to wear. 

A sly grin played on the taller's face as he leaned on the door frame and crooned, "You know, there’s a faster way for you to get warmed up."

"Save it Rurik. I'm not in the mood and just want some dry clothes," Lotus huffed, settling for one of Rurik's gray t-shirts and a pair of black sweatpants. Slipping the shirt on, the sleeves rested below his elbows while the bottom hem skirted his thighs. Pulling on the pants, he made his way past his partner and into the kitchen. The taller grabbed a black shirt from the same bin and switched it out for the wet one, tossing it into the still-filling washer before following him.

Opening the fridge, Lotus glanced at its contents for a moment before pulling out a pudding cup. "That's what you're having?" Rurik inquired in an accusing tone, "What about dinner?"

Lotus gave him a withering look as he shut the refrigerator door and sighed, "Rurik, I've been working for thirteen hours straight. I'm cold and tired. The last thing I want to do is spend half an hour making a meal. Why can't you make something if dinner's so important? You used to cook for yourself all the time, so I know you can... also, what happened to your face?"

"I was working today too, and then I went looking for your ass when you never came home and never called! I was too busy trying to figure out what happened to you to make something myself!" Rurik defended himself, his starry eye light shifting momentarily toward the gauze that was barely visible in his vision, "And this scratch is just the result of my search."

"You went out in that shitstorm? Seriously?!" Lotus screeched with a wide-socketed expression.

"Of course I did!" Rurik boomed, throwing his arms out for emphasis, "You weren't answering your phone and I didn't know what to make of it! All I had to go on was that you were probably still working!"

"So it's my fault a storm happened and I had to work overtime because some people think they're above weather warnings?! It's my fault my phone got lost and the power was out?! It's all my damn fault, isn't it?!" Lotus shouted, nearly crushing the pudding cup in his fist.

"I wasn't saying it's your fault, I'm just saying that I wasn't able to make anything because I was busy looking for you!" Rurik yelled back in irritation, wishing he could punch something to relieve himself.

"Then it is my fault, " Lotus mumbled, resignation lacing his voice and posture, "Whatever, it's done and I'm too tired for this shit right now."

Opening the fridge, Lotus tossed the small container back inside and threw the door shut once more. Pushing past Rurik, he entered the living room and flopped onto the couch. The taller's sockets narrowed, "So... what, you're just going to pout and starve yourself? And I thought you said you were tired. The bed's upstairs."

"I've lost my appetite and I don't feel like climbing the stairs, so I'm sleeping here tonight," Lotus groused, shoving a pillow under his skull and turning to face the back of the couch as he curled up into a ball.

"Lotus...," Rurik approached the couch, refusing to leave Lotus to sulk like this.

"Just leave me alone Rurik, or I'll find somewhere else to sleep tonight," the smaller threatened, making his companion pause right before he could latch onto their shoulder.

Retracting his hand and rubbing the back of his skull instead, Rurik heaved a frustrated sigh and stomped up the stairs by himself, leaving Lotus alone on the couch downstairs.

Chapter Text

Lotus jolted awake at the sound of a crash, a brief flash of forest green filling his vision before everything went dark once more. His soul was thrumming in his chest as he processed the loud noise and willed himself to calm down when nothing happened.

Propping himself up on his left elbow, he turned and let his vision adjust enough to make out the vague outline of the living room. He could hear the rain hammering rapidly on the roof and windows as another flash lit up the room, proving the storm outside was still going strong.

Lotus shifted into a sitting position, only to feel something soft slip down his right arm. Reaching for the object, he felt cotton under his fingers. At some point, he had acquired a blanket. Suppositions to its origins brought thoughts of Rurik, the memories of their fight earlier, and feelings of regret with it.

The small skeleton drew his legs close to his chest and rested his forehead against his knees, as if the action could drive away the negative emotions smoldering in his soul.

Rurik was only angry because he thought something had happened and felt helpless to do anything. The outburst earlier was likely a roundabout attempt at expressing worry for Lotus’ wellbeing.

On the other hand, Lotus was upset that Rurik had rushed into a storm that had racked up a considerable death count for his sake. He knew his sour attitude was the result of pent up nerves from numerous close calls and guilt for making his partner worry, but he had been too tired to deal with it properly at the time.

Clenching the blanket draped around him in his fists, the smaller hissed, "I just keep screwing up... what the hell's wrong with me?" His only answer was a loud peal of the thunder outside that made him flinch and the hunger pangs within himself.

For now, the only problem he could resolve was the demand of his body. It was way too late for dinner and still too early for breakfast, but he could at least get some water, maybe a pudding cup, to sate himself. Throwing the blanket off his legs and suppressing a shiver as the cool night air hit him, Lotus swung his feet over the edge of the couch and onto the floor.

"Urmph!"

A loud grunt from under him had the small skeleton gasping as he jerked his feet back up onto the couch. A dark figure slowly rose from the floor in front of him. Before he could summon his magic to fend them off, a timely flash of lightning lit up the figure haphazardly covered in a blanket as they grumbled, "Dammit Lotus, a little warning before you step on me next time."

"Rurik?" Lotus breathed, his body uncoiling itself gradually from its defensive ball, "It's the middle of the night, what the hell are you doing on the floor?"

The silhouette drooped a bit and Lotus could hear the hesitance in Rurik’s voice, "Well, you said you were too tired to climb the stairs, but I didn't want to leave you down here without a blanket since you said you were cold. So I went upstairs to get a blanket, but you'd already fallen asleep by the time I came back down. Because of that, I couldn't try to talk to you without waking you up again."

There was a long pause where nothing was said.

"That explains the blanket," Lotus commented, plucking at the cotton material beside him, "but that still doesn't tell me what you were doing on the floor."

The smaller watched Rurik shift, "I know you're mad at me, but it was still storming outside. I remembered you hate loud noises... and..."

"... and?" Lotus prompted.

"I didn't feel comfortable leaving you alone," his companion mumbled in a low tone. Lotus was stunned into silence, leaving room for Rurik to continue, "With how noisy the storm is, I figured you'd probably wake up in the middle of the night and want company... but you're stubborn, so you'd probably suffer in silence instead of coming upstairs. I also couldn't be sure I'd hear it if something happened down here. If someone used the noise outside to break in and they attacked you... if I slept through it, thinking it was just thunder or the wind...

"In the end, I decided I'd rather sleep on the floor next to the couch than risk waking up to your dust in the morning."

Lotus sat there, staring at Rurik’s outline. His companion was right about his stubborn streak, he would refuse to seek out comfort after their fight out of shame for his behavior... and while he wouldn't have considered the idea of someone breaking in initially, the thought probably would have plagued him after sitting in the dark long enough.

Lotus already knew how Rurik was when it came to their safety, so the worry didn't surprise him when he took the evening's events into account. To go so far as to sleep on the ground, though, especially after their fight...

"I'm guessing by the silence, you're still mad," Rurik stated, bundling up his own blanket and rising to his feet, "I'll go back upstairs, maybe we can ta-"

"Rurik, shut up and get on the couch," Lotus interrupted in a weary tone, scooting away from the edge.

Lotus couldn't see his companion's expression, but he could imagine the slack-jawed shock on it as he said, "What?"

"I said get on the couch," the smaller repeated, "Even with the blanket, I'm still cold and I bet you are too. It'll be better than the floor, at least."

That managed to get the dumbfounded skeleton moving, eliciting a snort as he made his way toward the couch. A minute later, Lotus was wedged between him and the back cushions, resting his skull against Rurik's left arm with two sets of blankets covering them both.

Wrapping his right arm around the smaller and drawing them in closer, Rurik's chest rumbled softly against their back, "Better?" Lotus hummed an affirmative, unable to trust his voice not to betray him while being grateful for the darkness that hid his face, which was flushed from more than the warmth of the blankets.

As the pair settled in and everything fell quiet save for the fierce storm outside, Lotus broke the silence, "... 'm sorry."

"Huh...?" Rurik sounded like he was already half asleep.

     

"I'm sorry... for being pissy and yelling earlier, I mean," the smaller clarified, gripping at the sleeve of their shirt with his right hand, "I know you were only trying to look out for me, but I was grumpy from work and upset about you being out in that mess. I was mad at myself for... a lot of things, but I shouldn't have taken it out on you. So, I'm sorry."

"Well, I'm just as guilty since I yelled too," Rurik admitted. Lotus felt their chin rest lightly upon his skull, "Since we both suck at talking out our feelings, I'll forgive you if you forgive me. Deal?"

"Deal," Lotus agreed readily, grasping the hand resting against his sternum with his own and snuggling into the arm pillowed under his skull. The small skeleton’s sockets fell shut, letting the sound of Rurik's steady soul beats at his back and the comforting warmth surrounding him drown out the storm and carry him off to sleep.

He would need to deal with the aftermath of the storm eventually... but for now, the world could wait. 

Chapter Text

The door opened in a cozy caramel tinted cafe on a Monday afternoon, the bell set above the doorway tingling gently to alert the staff of another customer. The customer looked around in curiosity before taking one of the two-seater tables by the door.

"Goth, you got a live one," a woman with blonde hair pulled up into a ponytail named Claire called out from behind the counter, handing off an iced berry mixer to the customer waiting at the counter.

"On it," the hooded skeleton popped up from where he'd been restocking below the counters. The customer was a male skeleton with starry eye lights in a green and yellow gradient and a magenta splotch in the vague shape of a star along his right jaw.

Noting the monster wasn't a familiar face, Goth snagged a menu on the way through the half door separating the lounge from the staff area. Approaching the table and its occupant, he put on his best smile as he greeted them, "Welcome to Mona's, I'll be your server today. Is this your first time with us?"

The skeleton seemed relieved for some reason as he said brightly and loudly, "Yeah, I just got into town this afternoon!"

Goth blinked at the monster, wondering where they got so much energy. Regardless, he disregarded the volume and handed over the menu, "Alright then, all of our drink and food options are labeled on this menu. We also have a list of specials on the board above the register. My personal recommendation is the Apple Cider Macchiato."

"Oh, I can't have coffee," the skeleton grimaced, quickly trading it for a hopeful look seconds later, "Do you have any tea or fruit drinks?"

Once more, Goth was puzzled. Who comes into a coffee shop when they can't have coffee?

Well, it wasn't really his business unless there was an allergy involved and they did have alternative options. Since the customer was willing to come in despite the aversion, he figured it was more of a preference than a danger.

Flipping over the menu, the hooded skeleton pointed out, "This side lists all of our teas, fruit mixers, and food options."

"Cool," the taller skeleton grinned.

"Take as much time as you need deciding what you would like," Goth stood up straight, gesturing to a stand in the middle of the table, "Once you've decided or if you have any questions, you can raise the red flag on this stand and I'll be right over to help you."

"Okay, thanks," the taller skeleton chirped, his eye lights roving over the menu as Goth returned to the staff area to continue his restocking task, peeking over the counter every so often to check for any raised flags.

The bell chimed again, followed by a low-pitch female voice, "Miss me?"

"Welcome back, Tamara," Claire called out as the woman made her way into the break room to retrieve her apron from her coat cubbie while pulling her curly black hair back with a headband.

"Anything interesting happen while I was on break?" Tamara asked as she came back out, knotting the apron strings into a bow at her waist and pinning on her name tag as she went over to the computer to clock back in and take over the register.

"Unless you count the cappuccino machine acting ornery, no," Claire sighed, adding a shot of espresso to the order she was currently prepping. As she put the lid on she added, "Oh, Mona mentioned something about a new hire."

"Really? Did she say what they're like?" Tamara questioned as Goth noticed the flag on the other skeleton's table had been raised.

"Nope, just said it was a friend's son from out of town. They're supposed to be coming sometime today. Haven't seen anyone so far, but I hope they get here soon. Having only three people manning the front is kind of rough," the blonde replied, handing off the drink and wishing the customer a good day.

"Remember, we're probably going to need to train them first," Goth reasoned as he pulled the notepad and pencil from his apron while walking away. Reaching the table, he lifted the notepad with the pencil poised above the paper, "Are you ready to order?"

"Yeah, can I have the White Peach Tea and a Ham and Swiss Wrap?" the monster asked with a smile.

Jotting down the order, Goth mirrored the smile, " One White Peach Tea and one Ham and Swiss Wrap, coming right up."

"Thanks," the monster replied as Goth gave him a friendly nod and left to go prepare the drink and food. He pinned the order to the board and opened one of the lower cabinets to fish out the requested tea canister.

"White Peach Tea and Ham and Swiss Wrap, huh?" Claire commented slyly as she walked past the order board and opened the fridge to pull out an assortment of berries.

"Yup," Goth confirmed as he checked the steeping chart next to the hot water dispenser, filled the small pot, and doled out the tea leaves into the infuser.

"He's a skeleton like you," she grinned while mixing the berries in the blender.

"He's also a customer that's waiting on his lunch," Goth pulled out the ingredients from the fridge to make the sandwich while the tea steeped, refusing to indulge her matchmaking attempts, "He's probably just passing through, so there's no point in anything past pleasantries."

Tamara decided to join in at this point, "You never know unless you try, he looks like a nice guy."

"Sometimes, I regret discussing my preferences with the both of you. If you two keep trying to pair me up with every guy that comes in here, I might just get Mona on you," Goth huffed, finishing the wrap and placing it, the teapot, a tea coaster, and a cup on a round tray. The girls snickered at the idle threat as he carried the tray out to the lounge and over to the table.

"Here's your tea...," the hooded skeleton set out the coaster, teapot, and cup followed by the plate, "And here's your wrap."

"Wow, that was fast," the taller skeleton stated, reaching for the cup and pouring some tea. Taking a sip, his grin widened, "This is really good!"

"Oh... thank you. I'm more familiar with preparing coffee, but I'm glad you like how it came out," Goth felt his soul flutter at the compliments and immediately berated the traitorous organ and his coworkers. Even if this monster was a nice guy and he was kind of cute, it would never go anywhere. He'd walk out the door once he paid, never to be seen again. Taking a breath to calm himself, he asked, "Is there anything else I can get you?"

Swallowing another sip of tea, the question seemed to spark something, "Oh yeah! I'm supposed to talk to a lady named Miss Mona about a job."

"Job?" Goth parroted, quickly putting the pieces together, "Wait, you're the new hire?"

"Yeah, I'm supposed to be working part-time around my college classes, so I guess that means we'll be working together," the skeleton chuckled, setting down his cup to hold out his hand, "I'm Palette, by the way."

The smaller hesitantly took the offered hand, cursing his co-workers for the way he mumbled, "M... my name's Goth. Nice to meet you."

Chapter Text

While Palette was busy with his meal, Goth went to find Mona. Seeing the door to her office was ajar, the skeleton peeked through the opening. He could see the bespectacled old woman pouring over various papers, absently tucking a strand of grayish blonde hair behind her ear as she worked.

Figuring she was probably working on finances or something equally important, Goth lightly rapped on the door, "Mona? There's a guy in the lounge named Palette saying you had a job offer for him?"

"Palette...?" his boss looked up, screwing up her face in thought before her eyes went wide and a smile lit up her face, "Oh, Dream's boy! Yes, he'll be living in the city for a spell and an old friend asked if I could keep an eye on him. Naturally, I figured the best way to do that would be to offer him a job. So he's here now?"

"Yeah. He ordered lunch in the lounge, so he's in the middle of eating," Goth mentioned before adding, "Do you want me to bring him back here for an interview when he's done?"

"Oh no dear, I'll go out to meet him. I prefer to show our job rather than tell and I could use a break from these numbers," she declared, standing from her desk and sliding her stout body through the opening between her desk and the wall, "But first, what's your impression of him?"

"Me?" the small monster pointed to himself in mild surprise, receiving a nod from his boss. He took a moment to think it over before replying, "Well... he seems nice. He was really cheerful and polite when I served him, he even complimented my tea."

The last part unconsciously brought a smile to his face.

"I see...," she nodded sagely, "He sounds like he'll fit right in here."

"What? Don't you need to interview him first before you decide?" Goth yelped.

"Goth, you're an upstanding young man with a good head on your shoulders," Mona chuckled, patting his shoulder on the way past, "Your critique combined with what I know of his mother tells me he's a good boy. My meeting with him is merely a formality... well, that and laying out the guidelines for working here."

"If you say so...," Goth mumbled, following her back out to the front.

"Oh, would you be a dear and bring me something when you get a moment? I could use a pep in my step and you know what I like," the woman requested.

"A chocolate latte with whipped cream, then?" Goth inquired, getting a knowing smile and a nod.

When he came through the entryway, Tamara looked over from her work, "Good timing, things picked up and we need you to grab the two booths and the table in the back corner. Claire's got two of them and I'm busy manning the register and making to-go orders."

"Right, I got it," Goth swept his eye light across the two booths and table in question and pulled out menus to correspond with the body count. Coming over to the first table, he greeted the customers and took their orders straight away since they were regulars, letting them know the estimated wait time while thanking them for their patience. He handed out the menus and explained the flag system for the two booths, apologizing at the second one when they complained about the wait.

By the time he was done with them, the other booth had raised their flag. Taking their order, he slipped behind the counter with Claire and Tamara to prepare the two orders he had.

Claire took on the food while Goth focused on the drinks with Tamara working around them, getting people in and out the door in a timely manner. After so many years of working together, they had managed to work out an efficient system for lunch and dinner rush.

Laying everything out on his tray, the skeleton weaved around the girls, stopping by the table Palette and Mona were currently seated at to drop off her drink before proceeding to the first table and booth along with Claire's two tables to serve their food and drinks.

Taking the order of the final booth, Goth and Claire prepared everything. He came back out, feeling a bit proud of himself for managing so quickly despite being short-staffed. The patrons grumbled about their order taking so long again, but their irritation was short-lived once they actually saw and tried the food and drinks.

Afterward, it was only a matter of collecting payment and tips to be deposited in the tip jar and bussing the tables to prepare them for the next customers. Once that was completed, the trio whittled down the line until the last to-go customer was walking out the door.

"Good job team," Tamara sighed, leaning on the counter.

Claire looked up from where she was scraping the dirty dishes off and depositing them into the dishwasher, "I still don't know how you manage to deal so well with the rude ones, Goth. You just take their nastiness like it's nothing."

Goth shrugged, "I can only tell them the truth and ask for their patience. If they can't accept it, that's their problem. Honestly, I'd like to be able to make the food look like something from a fancy restaurant like you can. It even made that grumpy pair quiet down."

Claire giggled as she closed up the dishwasher, "I like making the food look nice as well as taste good is all. No one wants to eat something that looks like it exploded on the plate, no matter how good it tastes."

"True," Tamara mused, "Still, those culinary classes are definitely showing. You got the touch."

"I'd say all three of you did fine work there," Mona interjected with Palette behind her, "Now that things have quieted down a smidge, I'd like to introduce you all to Palette, your new coworker."

Greetings were exchanged before the older woman continued, "I hope you don't mind, Goth, but I'd like to have Palette shadow you for a day or two. Would you mind showing him the ropes around your usual work?"

"Uh... sure, I don't mind," Goth agreed, ignoring the pointed looks and grins from the two girls behind him.

"Wonderful," Mona clasped her hands together and turning to Palette, "You can go ahead and pick an empty cubbie in the breakroom to hold your things along with an apron. When I get a moment, I'll print out a cubbie label and a name tag for you."

"Thanks," Palette said, slipping a messenger bag from his shoulder.

The old woman smiled warmly, "You're very welcome, dear. Now, I need to get back to my paperwork before the supper rush arrives. If anyone needs me for anything, you know where to find me."

Chapter Text

"Thank you, I'll be right back with your receipt," Palette stated, taking the credit card the customer handed him. He took it over to the register and slotted it into the reader to process the bill as Goth watched over him.

Once the order was processed, he took the receipt and the card back to the couple and wished them a good evening.

"That was good, your first successful service," Goth praised as he flipped the sign on the door into the 'closed' position once the couple was out the door.

"They didn't leave a tip, though," the taller skeleton noted glumly as he placed a plastic tub on the table to start loading dishes.

Goth shrugged as he went to get the spray bottle and paper towels, "I wouldn't worry about it, some people are just stingy and they seemed happy with the service. Trust me, most customers won't be shy about letting you know if they aren't happy."

Palette quirked his mouth skeptically, but shrugged it off, "You would know better than me. I have to admit I'm amazed at how easy you make this job look; even though you're so young, it's like you know the answer to everything."

Goth spritzed the table as he sheepishly corrected his coworker, "Thank you, but I'm not really that young... I'll be turning thirty-two next year."

"What?! Seriously?" Palette gawked, looking the smaller up and down as they nodded, "Wow, I never would have guessed you were eight years older than me. No wonder you're so smart!"

"I get that reaction more than I'd like due to my size, and it's all experience," Goth answered while fighting down a blush at the compliments, "You'll learn everything you need to know if you stick around long enough. I've been here the longest outside of Zeke and Melissa, two of our other co-workers you haven't met yet. And Mona, of course."

"It shows," Tamara added from where she was closing out the register and counting the drawer for the evening, "You're great at working under pressure and handling grumpy customers."

"The customers like you, though. You're better than me at working the register and advertising our specials," Goth countered as he tossed the dirty paper towel in the trash bin and pulled the broom from the storage closet, "Ah, Palette, could you clean the windows? The window cleaner and paper towel roll are in here."

"Sure," Palette smiled, retrieving the required cleaning supplies and wiping down the row of windows along the outer wall of the shop.

"You know, the customers would like you more if you were more social," Tamara teased, jotting down the register total in a small red notebook. Goth shrugged off the suggestion, he was fine with letting her have that niche.

"We made bank tonight," Claire whistled as she turned the tip jar over on the counter, sifting through the money, "Even splitting it four ways, it looks like we managed at least six bucks each... holy crap, someone left a ten!"

"Either someone really liked our service or they meant to put in a one," Tamara quipped, closing the book with a sharp snap.

"I prefer to think it was a testament to your skills," Mona shuffled through the doorway. Tamara handed over the earnings and the booklet in a practiced manner. Looking over the book, the corners of older woman's eyes crinkled as she smiled, "The numbers agree with me."

"Is there anything else we need to do for closing?" Palette trotted back over to his smaller coworker.

"Let's see...," Goth pondered, dumping out the dirt in the trash bin and leaning on the broom handle, "Closed sign's up. Tables, windows, and floors are cleaned. Cash register's closed out and tips are being counted. Other than storing away today's earnings, which Mona does, all that's left for us is making sure everything's powered down and put away, turning out the lights, securing the doors, and tossing the trash in the dumpster. I can show you where that is."

"Okay," the taller skeleton replied, following along as Goth walked him through the shutdown process. Heading into the breakroom afterward to switch out his apron for his bag, he dug into one of the pockets and pulled out his phone. As he unlocked it, his face fell and he groaned, "Oh no."

"What's wrong?" Tamara asked from where she'd been fixing her makeup in her compact.

"The apartment complex the movers were supposed to be taking my stuff to flooded," Palette relayed, reading through the message again, "The landlord estimated it'll take at least a month to get everything fixed, so the movers don't have anywhere to put my stuff other than a temporary storage locker."

"Ouch," Goth flinched, pocketing his name tag as he asked, "Do you have anywhere else to go?"

"Not on such short notice, not to mention the movers said they'll have to charge a daily storage fee for holding my stuff. I'm not going to be able to afford that," Palette sulked.

Across the room, Goth noticed Claire's amber eyes light up, "Hey Goth, didn't you say you had to kick out your old roomie when he flaked on the rent a few months ago?"

"He did," Tamara joined in, an impish smile on her face, "he complained about having to pick up the whole rent bill on his own because he couldn't find a replacement."

The hooded skeleton answered, "That's true... but I kind of gave up searching after the first three m-"

"Really?! How much is the rent?" Palette jumped on the conversation, his eye lights shining with hope.

"Six-fifty per person each month," Goth mumbled in mild surprise.

"Stars, that's cheaper than what I was going to pay for the apartment I was planning on moving into! Can I be your roommate, please? I promise I won't be any trouble and I'll even help with cooking and cleaning!" the taller begged, grasping Goth's hands.

The smaller stammered, "Uh... sure, that sounds alright. Do we need to go get your things tonight?"

Palette gasped, his eye lights shining, "Can we?"

"Yeah, we can head over so you don't need to deal with a storage fee," Goth confirmed, "Plus a bed would probably be comfier than the couch."

"Thank you, Goth! You're a life saver!" his co-worker cheered, bringing him into a spinning hug while the girls giggled at the scene.

"I wouldn't mind helping out," Claire added.

Tamara grinned, throwing an arm around Claire's shoulder, "Oh, it's becoming a party? You can count me in."

"It's not a party, we're just moving furniture," Goth wheezed in protest.

"Alright, simmer down," Mona chuckled as she locked up her office, "It sounds like there are plans afoot, so you all best be off."

Palette set Goth down with an apologetic blush that was matched by the smaller as they headed out to the lounge area. Claire picked up the trash bag sitting by the counter as Tamara hit the lights, dimming the shop to only the emergency light above the breakroom doorway.

As the door was locked, the trash was thrown out, everyone bid Mona goodnight, Palette led the way to the storage area while Goth tried to maintain a neutral expression.

Chapter Text

"Oh geez... their flag's up again," A sandy-haired man named Henderson muttered before refocusing on the strawberry mixer he was preparing.

"That's the third time now, right?" Palette asked quietly from where he was working on the register, "Does this kind of thing happen often?"

Palette had been working for a little more than a week, but this was his first time seeing a rude customer in action. Goth sighed, placing the order he had finished on his tray, "Not often, but it does happen. Don't worry, I'll deal with it."

Henderson breathed out, relief plain on his face, "Thanks, I'm really no good with those types."

"Get 'im Goth," Claire cheered softly as the small skeleton rounded the counter, dropping off the items on his tray before making his way to the problem table.

Putting on his best smile, Goth asked, "Is there a problem, sir?"

"Yeah," the man groused, his younger son sinking into the chair across from him, "the food tastes like crap and the coffee's too hot."

The skeleton's eye light took in the half-eaten coffee cakes, the almost empty berry mixer, and the nearly finished sandwich matching the one the man had complained had a short black hair in it earlier. Even though he was the only one currently in the shop with hair matching it, they still remade the sandwich in an attempt to placate him. Goth maintained his pleasant facade, "I'm sorry to hear that. We can remake the sandwich one more time and I can put some ice in the coffee to cool it down if you want."

"Don't bother, I'm not paying for such shitty service," The man snarled.

This stunk of a dine and dash attempt, but Goth took a breath through his nasal cavity before responding, "I can certainly refund you for the coffee, sir, but I'm afraid I won't be able to comp the food and mixer since you've consumed most of it."

"What?! It wasn't even good, this is robbery!" The man yelled.

"Dad, please stop...," the boy whined.

The man rounded on his son, "No, someone needs to put this little shit in his place and teach him how to respect his elders!"

Goth frowned at the jab. Despite his looks, the skeleton was well into adulthood and likely only a few years younger than the unruly customer.

Stealthily moving a hand behind his back, he positioned it in the shape of a phone, a silent signal to get Mona as he attempted to diffuse the situation, "Sir, please calm down. As per our policy, we are only able to refund food and drinks that haven't been consumed or have been minimally consumed. Only your coffee would qualify under these circumstances."

"No, I demand compensation for our inconvenience! I want to see your manager!" The man boomed, slamming his fist on the table. The customers at the next table looked uncomfortable.

Goth raised his hands in a soothing gesture, "She will be here in a moment, sir, but I'm afraid she'll tell you the sa-"

"To hell with your policy!" The man bellowed, grabbing his mug and hurling it at the monster. Goth recoiled with a gasp as the cup shattered against his right arm, showering him with hot liquid. His red scarf managed to save the lower half of his face, but his exposed cheek, temple, and hand took the full brunt of the assault.

The monster heard a chorus of shouts and the sound of hurried footsteps from behind the counter as he staggered away from the broken ceramic laying at his feet and crumpled to his knees. The burns were agonizing; more so once the liquid seeped through the sleeve onto his arm, but the skeleton hunched over, gritting his teeth to keep from crying out. 

He wouldn't give them the satisfaction.

"Are you deaf or just stupid?!" his aggressor stood up, looming over him to continue their noisy tirade as their son backed away, "I will-!"

"That. Is. Enough!" Mona barked from the breakroom doorway, bringing the shop to a complete standstill save for the hands gently bracing Goth's back and shoulders. Cracking open a teary socket, he caught sight of Claire and Palette looking him over with varying shades of anger and worry.

"Palette, be a dear and take Goth into the back. Help him get cleaned up and see if we require an ambulance," the older woman instructed with a frigid calm to her tone. The small skeleton felt himself being led away as she doled out orders, "Henderson, a broom and mop if you please. Claire, call the police. Let them know a customer is refusing to pay and assaulting our employees."

Heavy footsteps thundered out the door, the normally soft bell clattering angrily as Goth was escorted into the break room. As he walked through the swinging door, he heard Mona add on, "... and abandoned their child."

Easing himself onto the couch, he felt Palette sit down next to him, "I need to get your apron, scarf, and cloak off to see the damage, okay?"

Goth nodded lightly, sitting straight and bracing himself for what he knew would be a painful process. He hissed as the stained fabric pulled and rubbed against the irritated burns before exposing them to the cool air.

"Stars...," He heard Palette mutter under his breath.

"Towels... are above the sink... make sure it's lukewarm water, not cold," Goth explained slowly, trying to keep his arm elevated so it didn't touch anything.

"Right," Palette nodded as he got up and hastily rummaged through the cabinets. Seconds later, two wet cloths were being pressed lightly against his arm and face. Goth flinched but held still, the cool water sapping heat from the burns as he took slow, deep breaths. He could feel himself becoming lightheaded, likely shock setting in.

"I need to lie down," the smaller breathed, quickly getting assistance in adjusting to a reclining position. He closed his sockets, trying to focus on his breathing and the sound of his soul beating at a breakneck pace rather than the searing pain.

A soft green glow lit up through his eyelids as a warm sensation spread across his arm and face. He heard Palette mumble, "This should help you feel better." Goth expected the warmth to aggravate his burns, but it actually seemed to have the opposite effect as the pain ebbed away bit by bit.

"How is he doing, dear?" Mona's voice came from the doorway.

"I think he'll be okay, Miss Mona, but I'm trying to heal him just to be on the safe side," Palette answered softly.

"Please dear, Mona is fine," she corrected gently, though her tone became hesitant, "Did you say heal? As in magic?"

"Yeah, Mom taught me how to use healing magic," Palette explained, "I'm not as good as he is, but it should help."

"I see... I can't say I've ever seen this magic business monsters are capable of up close," the woman commented as she slowly knelt down by Goth's side, "If you don't mind, I'd like to see for myself."

The warmth disappeared from his arm and the cloth was gingerly lifted away. She murmured, "Well I'll be..."

"Good, it looks like it's working," Palette confirmed with a relieved exhale, "How do you feel, Goth?"

Goth attempted to rise from his position on the couch, "I can still finish my shift-"

"Nonsense," Mona chided, pressing a hand firmly into the small skeleton's chest in a silent command to lay back down, "You had hot coffee thrown on you not even ten minutes ago. Palette's magic may have saved you a trip to the burn ward, but I won't allow you to lift a single finger more today."

"But-"

"Don't you 'but' me, young man," she chastised, crossing her arms and furrowing her brows as she stared down the small skeleton, "You may not be my child but I treat each employee here as one of my own. That includes you. You have an hour and a half left of your shift before the next rotation arrives, your only job during that time is to rest. I'll hear of nothing else."

Goth knew better than to argue and settled back into the cushions as the cloth was placed against his arm once more.

Mona lifted her gaze to Palette, "You may finish up here before working the remainder of your shift, dear, but afterward I would like to ask if you could escort Goth and make sure he arrives home safely."

"Oh, that'll be easy. We're sharing an apartment," Palette supplied.

"Lovely. Goth will be in good hands, then. I'll fill in for you in the meantime," Mona nodded in satisfaction, returning her attention to Goth, "I'll go ahead and get something to pep you up, dear. I'll only be a minute."

Their boss bustled out of the room as quickly as she came, leaving both skeletons alone. Palette returned his focus to his magic when he heard Goth mumble, "She's really too much sometimes."

Palette looked up to ask what he meant, but found himself at a loss for words upon seeing the serene smile on the small skeleton's face despite the tears lining his closed sockets. Instead, he looked to the doorway and remarked, "She's like a doting grandma."

Goth snorted softly but didn't refute the assessment.

Chapter Text

Goth rolled out of bed on a Wednesday morning, rubbing the sleep from his sockets while glancing at the clock. Even though he didn't have to work until one in the afternoon, years of early morning shifts had made waking up early an ingrained habit. Popping the kinks out of his joints and releasing a large yawn, he opened the door and padded down the hallway.

As he passed through doorway leading into the galley kitchen, Palette's bright smile and voice greeted him, "Oh, you're up! Just in time, can you come try this?"

Entering the kitchen, Goth was presented with a mug of light brown liquid. Behind Palette, there was a book and a moderate mess surrounding their coffee machine. It seemed even on his day off, the skeleton was still as busy as ever.

Taking a sip, the smaller mulled over the flavor before guessing, "Cafe au lait?"

"I was actually going for a latte macchiato," Palette grimaced, turning to look over the book behind him once more, "I remember you recommending an apple something macchiato when we first met, so I thought you liked them and wanted to try making one myself."

"Oh, um... that was the Apple Cider Macchiato, one of our fall specials... and I do like macchiatos...," Goth elaborated, feeling himself flush a bit.

Palette really remembered that?

"Was it the beans?" the taller pondered, too busy reading to notice his roommate, "The recipe says espresso beans, but I could only find coffee beans. They look pretty similar, so I figured they wouldn't be that different."

Latching onto the question to distract himself, Goth eagerly explained, "That's part of it. Espresso beans are a mixed set of different types of beans that's more finely ground than coffee beans, so they're essential for a macchiato. Espresso beans have a dark and oily appearance as well. I usually go to the shop if I want something special, so I only have regular coffee beans here.

"You also want to make sure you keep the milk and espresso separated with the espresso on the top layer, otherwise it mixes together and you get a regular latte instead. Still, you managed to make a good cafe au lait."

"A small victory, then," Palette conceded happily, abandoning the book to set a tea kettle on the stove.

"It's a learning process," the smaller walked into the kitchen, leaning on the counter as Palette dug out a tea canister, "Speaking of your first day, you said you can't have coffee... do you mind me asking why?"

"There's too much caffeine, it makes me jittery and anxious," Palette clarified while measuring out the tea in the infuser, "Tea has a tiny bit of caffeine in it, but not enough to bother me."

"That sounds rough. I don't feel like I could start my day without coffee," Goth mused, taking a sip from the warm mug in his hands. It really did taste good, even if it wasn't what his companion had intended to make.

The taller shrugged his shoulder as he poured the heated water into another mug and dipped the infuser in, "I'm not much of a fan for the bitter taste, so it's no big loss."

Goth's mouth quirked into a hidden smile. Deciding to take a chance, he said, "I'm glad it doesn't put a tamper on your mood."

The reaction was everything he hoped for. Palette opened his mouth to answer, paused, closed his mouth, and stared at the smaller. This repeated a few times before he snickered, "... Was that a coffee joke?"

"Yup," the hooded monster confirmed, popping the 'p' with a pleased grin, "I saw my shot, so I took it."

Palette snorted, pulling out the infuser with a thoughtful look on his face before his starry eye light seemed to shine, "I didn't know you could espresso yourself like that. You're usually so serious."

Goth giggled into his drink at the comeback. Trying to swallow his coffee without choking, he countered, "I don't do it too often since it's not everyone's cup of tea."

Palette laughed, washing out and drying the infuser as he tried to come up with a retort. Huffing softly, the artist conceded, "I got nothing."

"One of the perks of being older, I suppose," the smaller concluded triumphantly, heading to the living room while calling behind him, "Though you've bean a wonderful adversary."

As he curled up on the couch to the sound of quiet laughter in the kitchen, he noticed a sketchbook laying on the table. Leaning forward, he could make out what looked to be the sketched-out beginnings of a city landscape. As Palette entered with his tea, his companion pointed out, "Your picture looks good so far."

The artist sat down next to him with a large smile on his face, "Thanks. It's for a project on perspective drawing. Other than requiring a horizon line somewhere in the picture, we've been given free rein to draw whatever we want. I'm really liking my classes so far."

"It seems like you certainly have a knack for art. I couldn't draw like that if my life depended on it," the smaller noted conversationally.

Palette chuckled, "I've been drawing from the day I was able to hold a crayon, so I've had lots of practice. Mom and Dad also encouraged me whenever they were around. I'm hoping that one day, I'll become a great artist just like my dad."

Just like that, the pleasant atmosphere disappeared.

"Oh. That... that sounds really nice," Goth mumbled half-heartedly, sipping his drink to cover his mood shift.

Unfortunately, Palette noticed the change, "Goth...? Are you okay? Did I say something wrong?"

"No, you're fine," he quickly reassured his roommate, focusing on the half-empty mug in his hands, "I... I remembered some things I'm not proud of, that's all."

The taller's skull tilted to the side as he probed, "What kind of things? Did something happen?"

Goth's eye light darted up to give his roommate a searching look. Palette was a kind and caring monster, he knew that without a doubt after spending five weeks living and working with them. They enjoyed his puns and even came up with a response... but would his companion understand? Or would he be judged for what he did?

Palette sensed his hesitancy and said, "If it's too personal, you don't have to say anything. I won't pry if you'd rather keep it to yourself."

Goth smiled faintly to himself, having his answer... Palette would understand.

Chapter Text

"My parents worked as funeral directors, probably still do," Goth began quietly, gripping his mug tight, "Mom handles the living, dad handles the dead. It's a family business of sorts... one I was supposed to join once I came of age. I read all the books, took all the classes, graduated, and got my certification. I felt like I was ready to join my parents and follow in their footsteps... but I wasn't prepared for the real thing.

"One of their jobs as a funeral director requires embalming the deceased. In other words, preserving the body. It's mostly for families that plan on holding an open casket memorial. The body would need to be cosseted."

"Cosseted? What's that mean?" Palette interrupted, tilting his skull.

"It means the body is prepared for display. Draining fluids to diminish rot, applying cosmetics, manipulating the facial expression to look natural, dressing the body and placing it in the casket... things that make them more pleasant to look at," Goth clarified, taking a deep breath before continuing, "Stepping into that room... biology lab dissections couldn't do the smell justice. Formaldehyde couldn't hold a candle to the stench. The body had already begun to rot, yet I tried to ignore the smell. This was going to be my profession, after all. I figured I would get used to it.

"Except it only got worse as we made the incision to drain the blood and administered the embalming fluid in its place. One second I was reaching for the trocar to clean out the corpse's chest cavity while trying to ignoring my growing headache, the next I was waking up on a couch in Mom's office. According to him, I fainted."

Goth reached forward to place the mug of lukewarm coffee on the table, fearing his grip would break it. Palette watched him quietly as he pulled up his knees, hugging them tightly to his chest in place of the mug, "After that, going near the prep room or even seeing a body made my stomach flip and caused dizzy spells. The one thing I worked so hard for, spent so much time and money to accomplish... my place in the family business... and I couldn't do it. It got to the point that I couldn't even look at my parents. I felt so ashamed.

"Not long after that, I moved away from my whole family. I got this apartment and found a job at Mona's shortly after... it's been eight years since I've spoken to any of them."

Palette softly interjected, "Have they ever tried to get in contact with you?"

"... They did at first, for maybe the first two years or so," the smaller muttered, rubbing his face against his upper arm, "They started with calls, sent letters... but I never answered, didn't even open the letters. Eventually, they stopped calling and the letters stopped coming."

"Why didn't you answer? It sounds like they wanted to hear from you," Palette asked, moving a bit closer.

Goth chuckled, his expression forming a forlorn smile that held no cheer, "That's the funny thing about fear, it throws logic completely out the window. In my mind, I was so sure they were disappointed in me. Disappointed their oldest son couldn't handle being around dead bodies. Disappointed that I couldn't face them. Disappointed that I ran away.

"I was so scared that they would confirm my fears if I answered their calls or read their letters. And now that they've stopped trying... I feel like it's been too long to fix the bridges I burned. If they weren't disappointed before, they definitely are now."

Heavy silence permeated every inch of the apartment. Goth looked away as his sockets burned, feeling like he made a huge mistake when Palette spoke up, "... Do you still have the letters?"

Goth sniffled, turning back toward him, "Yeah... why?"

"I'd like to read one," the taller stated, placing his mug down with Goth's as he continued, "I know it's really intrusive, but it seems like your family missed you, maybe even worried about you. You sound like you miss them too, and I want to help. I think reading a letter would prove they care. If they went to the trouble of trying to contact you for two years, that has to mean something.

"And even if things don't work out with them, I plan on sticking around. For what it's worth, I don't think you're a bad monster. Everyone has things they can't handle and starting over fresh is nothing to be ashamed of. It's up to you what you want to do, though."

The small skeleton stared at his companion, their starry eye lights filled with a deeper comprehension; as if Palette really knew what Goth went through. After an indecisive minute of silently turning over the words in his mind, weighing the pros and cons, and trying to overcome his doubts, he eventually left the couch with a shaky sigh and returned with a stack of unopened envelopes clasped between his trembling fingers.

He set the letters down upon the table, returning his clenched hands to his lap. Palette took one from the top of the stack, tearing open the top and unfolding the paper within as Goth watched, worrying the hem of his hoodie in trepidation. A minute passed by in silence. Two minutes passed. As they were coming up on the third, the starry-eyed skeleton looked up with a warm smile, "I think you should read this, Goth."

Goth took the letter with some lingering hesitation, reading carefully through each line as tears traced their way down his face.

Instead of disappointment in his choices, there was understanding of his feelings. Instead of anger for his cowardice, there were wishes for his happiness. Instead of resentment for his silence, there was hope that he would let them in again one day.

Above all, there was an outpouring of unconditional love with both his mom and dad's signatures at the bottom. The postmark was dated six years ago... it was the last letter he had received before they stopped coming.

"They... they still...," Goth clamped his hand over his mouth to stifle a sob as tears poured down his cheeks through clenched sockets. Palette wrapped an arm around his shoulder, pulling him into a hug. The smaller curled into them, pressing his damp face into his companion's shirt while clutching the letter to his chest. His body shuddered and heaved as eight years of remorse and despair finally began to dispel.

Palette said nothing as he wrapped another arm around their back in silent support, a sad yet hopeful smile creeping onto his face.

---

Later that night after work, Goth sat on his bed with a copious amount of open letters spread across the comforter and his cell phone resting in his palm. He'd been staring at the typed in number for a solid ten minutes. Finally, with a deep inhale, he pressed the call button and held the phone up to his skull. It rang once... twice... maybe they got a new ph-

*click*

A shaky voice answered, "Goth...? Sweetie, is that you?"

The hooded skeleton swallowed the lump in his throat before speaking, "Hi mom."

Chapter Text

Goth sipped at the warm mug of hot chocolate in his hands, wrapped in a nest of blankets on the couch as a Saturday night movie marathon played on the television. Palette was at work finishing what was likely the final leg of the evening shift as the smaller had done for the morning shift.

Maybe Palette would be home in time to catch the beginning of the next movie with him. Since the cafe was closed on Sundays and the artist had already turned in his latest project, they could stay up all night if they wanted. They could make popcorn, talk about the colorful characters that visited the cafe or about the great joke his mom texted him, they could play a game together...

The small skeleton's thoughts slowed, realizing he was enthusiastically anticipating his roommate's return. It was a weird feeling after being alone for so long, two months together had certainly changed a lot, but it made him feel warm inside thinking about his companion coming home.

Before he could delve into the deeper meaning behind it his phone chimed softly, alerting him to a text. Reaching out from his fabric cocoon toward the table, he picked up his phone to read the message.

Palette: Hey, a bunch of us are going out for drinks, want to come?

Drinks? Usually, he didn't bother. He never saw a point to going out before, but now...

He was typing before the thought had fully formed.

Goth: Sure, where are you guys going?

Since Palette was going straight from work, the place probably wouldn't be anything fancy, but he would still need to change out of the fuzzy pajamas he was currently wearing. Minutes ticked by and there was no response. Goth typed out another message, wondering if the last one didn't send properly.

Goth: Do you know where everyone's going?

Another minute passed as Goth began to worry. As he began typing out another message, Palette replied.

Palette: Sorry, everyone freaked out when they found out you were coming. They said it's a place called The Pale Cask.

Goth huffed, not overly surprised since he usually rejected invitations. Searching up the location, it looked to be a pretty casual sitdown bar about twenty minutes from the apartment.

Goth: Alright, I can be there in about thirty minutes. I'll be waiting outside.

Unraveling himself from the blankets, chugging the rest of his drink, and setting the mug in the dishwasher, Goth trotted down the hallway to his room. Since it was getting colder outside, he would probably need something heavier than his usual fare.

He grabbed some jeans, a long-sleeve gray shirt, his white cloak, and one of his heavier black jackets from the closet. Wrapping his signature red scarf around his neck to finish his outfit, he checked himself in the bathroom mirror. Satisfied with the outcome, he snagged his wallet, keys, and phone, walking out the door and pocketing the keys once it was locked.

The walk itself was quiet since the cool evening air deterred many from straying outside. He didn't mind, the quiet was familiar and soothing. Arriving at his destination, he stood next to the doorway and checked his phone. Only a text confirming the meeting from Palette.

"Holy shit, you really showed up."

Goth turned to the doorway to find Zeke, Mona's grandson, ogling at him. Maury; an older badger monster, Brea; a woman with a fiery bob, Flo; a plant monster with 'hair' reminiscent of an upturned tulip, and Tamara could be seen through the glass of the waiting area expressing mixed levels of shock and excitement.

Goth directed his gaze away from his coworker as he smiled nervously, "Palette invited me and I didn't have any grounds to refuse."

The joke passed right over Zeke's head as he reached out to grab the skeleton's arm in exasperation, "Then get in here! It's too cold to stand outside waiting for the others and Gran would flip if you got sick."

Goth barely managed a sharp inhale before he was pulled through the doorway and into the warmer atmosphere of the bar. Luckily, Zeke let go as soon as they were through the door. The monster knew the man was similar to his grandmother and meant well, but he was a bit pushier with his 'care' than the smaller liked.

"So, the elusive Goth finally appears," Tamara giggled behind him, "Any special reason for the appearance?"

"I figured I'd try going out for once, is all," Goth explained readily, knowing exactly what she was aiming at, "Besides Palette, who are we waiting on?"

Tamara listed off four people on her fingers, "Besides Palette, there's Claire, Tai, and Elise."

Tai was a laidback guy with messy black hair and glasses while Elise was a softspoken girl with mousy brown hair she usually pulled back in a bun. Claire was... well, Claire. Altogether, there would be ten people.

The door opened behind him, ushering cold air into the waiting area. Tamara perked up, "In fact, he-"

"Goth!"

The small skeleton jumped at the sudden loud voice directly behind him. Turning around to find Palette, he willed his soul to calm itself as he greeted his coworker, "H... Hey Palette."

"Wow, he really did show up," Elise murmured in wonder as she walked through the door, Tai and Claire following soon after, "I don't think I've ever seen him outside the cafe."

"I don't know what you said to get him out here, but good job Pal," Tai praised the taller skeleton with a friendly pat on the back.

Claire giggled, coming around to massage Goth's shoulders playfully, "You look like a startled cat. Not a fan of crowds?"

"N... no, just... loud noises...," the small skeleton trailed off, his arms curling around himself as his thumb rubbed against his humerus absently.

"Oh... I was too loud again, wasn't I?" Palette belatedly noticed, his face falling a bit, "I'm sorry Goth."

"It's fine, you didn't mean it," he tried to wave away the apology.

"No, you came out to have fun with us and I don't want to ruin it," the taller shook his skull adamantly, "everyone's been saying this is the first time you accepted an invitation, so I want it to be the best night ever. That way, you'll want to come out with us more."

Goth huffed lightly, a smile playing on his face, "I appreciate the thought, but you're not ruining anything. Honest."

As Palette's face lit up into a light shade of green and beamed, Zeke called out, "We're being seated guys, let's go."

Chapter Text

Two four-seater tables had been pushed together to accommodate the group, with Goth sat in between Palette and Zeke as the menus were passed around. Leaning over, the taller skeleton asked, "What are you getting?"

Goth looked down the menu, many of the names not looking familiar, "I... don't know, actually. I don't really drink much since I have a high tolerance. I have to drink a lot at once to actually get buzzed. My dad's the same way, it's pretty much water to him but he enjoys the taste. While I don't mind the taste, it's usually not worth the cost and the headache that comes after. Maybe-"

"Like water? You serious?" Zeke interrupted in disbelief, "I have to see this for myself, we're totally having a drinking contest."

Goth did a double-take, "Wait, what?"

"We're having a drinking contest," The man reiterated, "I'll pay for the drinks but loser pays for the food."

"That sounds fun, can I join?" Palette asked.

"What?" Goth's eye light shot over to his companion.

"I want to join too," Claire added on.

"We have four people so far, any other takers?" Zeke leaned over the table with a grin on his face.

"Nah, I want to watch this shitshow with my head on straight," Tamara laughed. Her comment was met with murmurs of agreement and nods from the rest of the group.

"Four people it is!" Zeke cheered, hailing the waitress over.

Goth clamped his mouth shut in resignation, beginning to remember the reason he usually didn't go out.

Palette leaned closer with a quirked socket, "You okay?"

The smaller feigned a smile, not wanting to put a damper on the night, "Yeah, I'm not used to being the center of attention is all. What about you? Are you going to be alright drinking so much?"

Palette's chest puffed out a bit as he stated, "Yup, I've done stuff like this, so I'll be okay!"

"If you say so...," Goth muttered, watching as the waitress walked away with the order.

---

"Shouldn't we stop now?" Goth inquired as he set down the empty glass of what was his fifth pint of beer. Claire had managed two full pints before she tapped out. Zeke was still trying to beat him but was clearly hitting his limit with his fourth beer.

Poor Palette had barely made it through his first pint before becoming giggly, his eye lights beginning to glaze over. Apparently whatever he had when he did 'stuff like this' before contained a much lower concentration of alcohol. Everyone else quickly agreed with Goth to make sure he only drank water for the rest of the night after he nearly fell out of his chair trying to cheer his coworkers on.

Zeke slammed down the glass and goaded the smaller, "What'sa matter, ya think I can' beat ya?"

Goth grimaced, "No, I just-"

"Another round den!" he shouted, receiving applause and encouragement from some of their coworkers.

"Go Goth, kick his ass!" Claire cheered wildly, punching her fist in the air while glaring at Zeke.

Tamara laughed, "Take it easy, you two'll get us thrown out if you both keep yelling."

Goth looked around the table, hoping someone would be the voice of reason. Unfortunately, everyone else was already either buzzed or drunk and couldn't care less. Some were even chanting now, clearly enjoying the spectacle.

The small skeleton quietly moaned to himself as two more pints were set on the table. At least everyone would have the day to recover tomorrow. Staring at the golden liquid in front of him in unease, the older man nudged Goth with his elbow, "Don' wimp out now."

He didn't want to ruin the night by being a wet blanket, so he supposed this was merely the price of being social. At least he got to hang out with Palette more, so that was something.

Sighing as he reached for the mug handle, a voice broke through the chanting, "Leave'm alone."

Everyone went quiet, their attention focused on the owner of the voice... Palette was glaring at the occupants of the table with hazy eye lights as he slurred, "Can't you see Got's not havin' fun? Ih's sup... supp... supposed t'be da best night eveeeer, but yer aaaaall bein' mean to 'im!"

"Palette...," though surprised and touched by the drunken speech, Goth tried to calm him down, "it's alright, they're not being mean..."

"Yeah, Ish aaaaall good," Zeke piped up, holding his glass aloft and sloshing some of the contents on the table.

"No ih's not!" Palette shouted vehemently, wrapping his arms around Goth's shoulders and neck before pulling them into his chest, "Got' sed 'e wants to stop. I won' letchu bully my Got'y!"

Goth's face exploded into a deep purple as Claire cried out, "Woooo Palette! You go, protect your man!"

Tamara placed her hand over her friend's mouth as she chastised, "Girl, you need to calm down or you really will get us thrown out."

"So bold...," Elise murmured in awe, her cheeks dusted in a blush of her own as Flo squealed next to her.

Tai snorted from beside Palette, "Wow... that sounded awful suggestive."

"Hey Zeke, maybe you should call it a draw?" Maury interjected from his seat next to the older man, "It's getting pretty late and Goth did ask to stop."

With the combination of Palette's outburst and the lack of enthusiasm from everyone else for the contest to resume, Zeke conceded, "Aaaalrigh', le's call ih a nigh'. Palit, yer payin' fer da food, seeing as ya lost. I go' da drinks."

"Good," the drunk skeleton gave a curt nod of his skull, letting go of Goth to navigate his coat pocket for his wallet. The small skeleton took a breath of relief that things were finally winding down, watching Palette struggle to count out the bills before offering to help him.

As everyone paid, haphazardly donned their coats, and meandered toward the door, Palette draped his arms around Goth's shoulders once more, resting their skull against his with a dopey grin. Though he felt flustered by the contact, it would admittedly be easier to get his companion home like this than making them walk on their own.

"Have a good night you two," Tamara laughed as the rest of the group dispersed, leading Claire away by the arm, "Good luck, Goth."

"I want deets tomorrow!" Claire demanded loudly, throwing a glance backward and swaying a bit as she walked.

Goth turned away with his companion still hanging off of him as Tamara pointed out, "Tomorrow's Sunday, we don't work."

"Whaaat...? Whyyy...?"

As the pair traveled down the empty sidewalk, away from the whining and bickering, Palette nuzzled into Goth's hood. His sudden clingy behavior combined with his earlier aggression had the smaller asking, "Palette, are you feeling alright?"

"Oh, 'm great," Palette hummed, leaning into him, "Whatabou'you? Didja have fun? You had fun, right?"

Goth tried to keep himself from falling over as he replied, "Yeah, the whole contest thing got umber my skin a bit, but everything else was alright."

"HAH! Tha'sanother pun, righ'? We don' even have skin!" Palette burst out laughing, only to shift into his best attempt at a puppy dog stare while imploring, "But you'll come out again, right? Pleeease say you'll come out again."

Goth relented, trying not to laugh in Palette's face, "If I'm invited, I'll come out again."

"Yaaaaaay 'm sooo happy!" Palette whooped in victory, nuzzling him again, "Yer da best ever Got'y!"

"Uh... th... thanks," the monster stammered, his soul doing flips in his chest. One phrase from earlier popped into his mind unbidden: my Gothy.

Tai had called it 'suggestive', though he debated what it actually meant for them. Did the words mean something deeper? Sure, they got along really well, he'd shared something emotionally personal with Palette, and the thought of being more than friends made him feel giddy... but it was foolish to jump to conclusions.

What had happened was more likely to be the drunken rambling of a friend than a confession. It already seemed like Palette was drifting off as he clung to Goth to stay upright, so he would likely wake up tomorrow and not remember a thing, rendering the night moot.

Taking a deep breath, Goth dug into his pocket for his keys as their apartment building came into view.

Chapter Text

Slotting the key into the lock and turning the handle, Goth shuffled into the apartment with Palette still hanging off of his shoulders for support. He managed to not only shimmy out of his coat, but somehow got his roommate out of theirs to deposit both garments in the closet.

He'd be lying if he didn't admit he was a little proud of himself.

The stumbling trek down the hallway ended at his roommate's door, which had thankfully been left ajar and could be maneuvered with a nudge of the smaller's sneaker.

Walking in and backing up toward the bed, he let Palette flop away from him onto his back in a sprawl. The taller skeleton was slowly losing the fight to stay awake as Goth removed their shoes and shifted their feet up onto the mattress. He flopped onto the edge of the mattress once his task was complete, sparing one last glance as his drunk companion's sockets fell shut and they shifted into a more comfortable position.

A sudden compulsion rose up in him, making Goth wonder if maybe he did get drunk after all. Carefully leaning forward, he pecked a light kiss against Palette's forehead as he whispered, "Thanks for standing up for me earlier, it made me happy to know someone was on my side."

Goth held that position inches above Palette's face for a few seconds, taking in the taller's slack expression and the smell of alcohol on their breath. What was he even expecting? He'd only worked up the courage for a kiss in the first place because his companion was falling asleep and wouldn't react or remember it.

"I must've lost my mind," Goth mumbled to himself, his sockets falling shut as he let out a sigh. As he began to pull away, he was stopped short by a pair of arms snaking around his waist. He gasped as he was pulled against Palette's chest, hearing a muffled groan as he yelped, "P... Palette?!"

He was still awake? And the positioning... the scenario... Palette wouldn't... even if he was drunk, he wasn't that kind of monster, right?

Palette nuzzled their cheek into his skull while humming, "Got'y... ih's so cold but yer sooo warm..."

"Palette?" Goth called out warily, his voice taking on a slight tremor as he tried to dislodge the arms holding him down, "Palette, let go. I need to go to my room."

"Mnnnnnnnnnnnnn," the artist grumbled, his grip tightening as he rambled, "Please stay... I like bein' with you... yer not like my old friends and i'fe been sooo much happier since movin' and I wan' you to be happy too... yer nice to me an' you deserve to be happy..."

The small skeleton blushed at the proclamation, but something Palette said sobered his thoughts and stilled his movements. Wondering if he should really press for information with his roommate in such a compromised state, Goth prompted warily, "Old friends?"

"I don' like 'em anymore," Palette drawled, his face scrunching up, "They wern' good friends... 'swhy I left..."

Goth frowned at the information. While he wanted to know more, it felt like an invasion of privacy to delve deeper right now. The taller skeleton's sockets slid shut during that time and he began to produce a noise akin to snoring, but much softer. Poking at his cheek, the smaller could definitively say Palette was asleep this time.

He'd try asking about it once they both had their skulls on straight.

Testing the arms still locked around him, they didn't budge... which meant Goth probably wasn't going anywhere either. Well, Palette wasn't doing anything more than holding him like a teddy bear, so it wasn't a problem per se, and the position wasn't uncomfortable either. It was warm too...

Slipping his shoes off to drop onto the floor and snagging the edge of the bedsheet with his bare foot, he managed to pull the blanket up over himself and his companion.

Glancing toward the doorway, he could make out the faint light that was still on in the living room. Resigning himself to a slightly higher electric bill at the end of the month, he laid his head down and let the rhythmic sound of Palette's soul thumping in their chest carry him off to sleep.

---

Goth woke to the mattress moving and a mild throb in his skull. Right, he went drinking last night. That explained the headache... why did he do that again?

"Goth...?"

Shifting his skull, the small skeleton opened his sockets to find his face inches from Palette's. In that instant, the events of the previous night flooded back to him.

"W... what're you doing in my bed? This is my bed, right?" Palette groaned in a muddled tone while squinting, suggesting he wasn't fully awake yet.

Chapter Text

Goth felt like his soul would beat right out of his chest as he ducked his skull, stumbling over his words while trying to explain, "Well, um... last night you... you kind of... grabbed me, and wouldn't let go... I didn't really have a choice in leaving... so we... um..."

He wasn't sure if it was his flustered demeanor, his staggered words, the awkward position they were in, or a combination of the three, but Palette's hands suddenly whipped up above his head and away from Goth's waist like he'd been bitten, his eye lights shrunken down to pointy pinpricks as he loudly apologized, "Oh stars, I'm so sorry! I didn't hurt you or do anything bad, did I?!"

The volume had the effect of making them both wince, but Goth was able to recover more quickly as he sat up and hurriedly reassured his companion, "N...no, I'm alright. Nothing happened. I was honestly more startled than anything and you fell asleep right after."

He made the judgment call to leave out why he was within grabbing range in the first place along with the fact that he actually didn't mind the impromptu sleeping arrangement that much.

"Oh," Palette relaxed his posture and sat up against his headboard, his cheeks glowing brightly while wearing an abashed look, "Well, I'm still sorry I did that, it must've been really weird."

"It's fine, no harm done... by the way, how are you feeling? You were pretty hammered last night," the smaller stated.

Palette grimaced pitifully, "My skull really hurts now that you mention it, do you have anything I can use?"

"I have some medicine in the bathroom cabinet," Goth clarified, "I can go get it, are you alright to get yourself some water?"

"I think I can handle that," the taller laughed, regretting the action immediately as he got up to follow his roommate out the door. He was still a bit wobbly on his feet, but he made it to the kitchen without issue and got himself a cup of water to wash down the medicine. Goth got a cup as well, downing a half dose to take the edge off his own mild headache.

Placing the emptied cups in the dishwasher, the pair went back to their rooms to change out of their rumpled clothing from last night and returned to the living room.

As Palette flipped on the T.V. and lowered the volume to something more tolerable, Goth recalled his previous night's curiosity. He broached the subject hesitantly, "By the way, do you remember anything about last night? Like, anything you did or said?"

"Um... not after we started drinking, no. Did something happen?" the taller crossed his legs and rested his hand in his lap, frowning in concern.

"... Kind of? You just got really defensive at the bar when Zeke kept pushing our drinking contest. After that, you were clinging to me the whole way home and said...," Goth paused, unsure of how he should continue, "I'm not sure if I should even be asking, it sounded like it might be personal. Something about old friends?"

"Old friends...," it took Palette a moment, but his face drooped a bit in realization, "oh..."

The smaller backpedaled, "If you'd rather not say, it's fine. I was curious, but didn't want to press while you were out of it last night."

"Oh no, it's nothing too deep," the taller denied, though his smile hung askew despite his words, "I just had some problems with people at my old college that called themselves friends, but they were really just taking advantage of me. I know that now.

"They would ask me to do favors for them, borrow my things, pay their way whenever we hung out... stuff like that. I thought that was what friends were supposed to do, so I always said yes. Problem was, they never returned favors, they never gave back anything they borrowed in the same condition they got it if they returned it at all, and never offered to pay me back when I treated them. One day, I finally got fed up and told them no."

Goth's sockets furrowed, not sure if he liked where the story was going, "... And what happened?"

"That's when the bullying and rumors started," the taller admitted sullenly, "It was small stuff at first. Roping people into ignoring me, saying my parents sent me to live on campus because I annoyed them, claiming I was only being nice to get attention. That didn't bother me too much.

"But it steadily got worse when I didn't give them the reactions they wanted. They turned the few people I still called friends against me by spreading lies, pushed me and teased me when no one else was around, stole the teacher's supplies and planted it in or around my room to blame me, and sabotaged my art assignments so they got torn up or went missing.

"Still, I tried not to let it get to me. I wanted to be an artist no matter what. It all came to a head when the lead administrator's office was broken into and vandalized. Evidence was left behind that put the blame solely on me. It was their word against mine and I had already gained a bad reputation among the students and staff. Without any evidence or allies on my side, I was expelled."

Palette inhaled deeply, his mask of indifference cracking further. Goth scooted closer and wrapped an arm around them much like his companion had over a month ago. The small skeleton tried to keep the anger out of his voice as he said, "I'm so sorry that happened. You didn't deserve that."

Palette gave off a frail smile as he recalled, "I remember at the time, it felt like my dreams had been shattered. I was disillusioned with college, lost the will to do anything artistic for a while, and even had a hard time getting out of bed some days. I nearly gave up on everything, but my mom managed to give me hope. He called an old friend and offered me a new start at a new college... and a month later, I drove out here, started my job at the cafe, and moved in with you."

Goth resisted the urge to move closer, feeling like it might be too intimate after last night's events. He settled for asking, "Was coming out here everything you hoped it would be?"

Palette latched onto him instead, his voice hushed as he said, "It's everything I wanted and more. I'm not confined to a college dorm this time, I only need to go on campus for exams or projects twice a week and can turn in everything else online. Everyone here's so kind and supportive even though I'm still new, no one gets mad or makes fun of me when I make a mistake, and you're always willing to help or answers questions when there's something I don't understand. I finally feel like what I'm doing matters again, and I have you and Mona to thank for that. I wish I had moved out here sooner."

"Well, I'm happy for you. You've earned it," Goth smiled softly, reciprocating the hold to pat his companion on the back. Palette was a kind soul that deserved so much, and he wanted to make sure his companion never fell again.

Chapter Text

The door swung open as Goth returned from another evening shift, jiggling the keys out of the lock before shutting it once more and flipping the deadbolt for the night. The living room was dark and void of life, which wasn't that unusual considering it was almost ten at night.

Slipping his coat off and hanging it in the closet, he caught sight of a soft glow of light from the doorway of Palette's room. He was still up, likely studying for that test he'd mentioned a week ago. The test was still a few days away from what the smaller recalled, but it was also on a topic his companion had been struggling with.

Creeping softly down the hallway, Goth peeked past the half-open door. Palette was hunched over his desk copying something from a book, the tip of his tongue sticking out with a look of intense concentration on his face. The smaller skeleton had to cover his mouth to keep from making any noise, though it did nothing to stop his grin or the butterflies in his non-existent stomach.

Since Palette had opened up about his own past three weeks ago, Goth felt something had changed between them and couldn't really see the taller skeleton as just a friend anymore. He wanted to always be there; making sure that smile never dimmed, and he didn't think he could go back to living alone again. Unfortunately, it was hard to tell if his roommate felt the same way since they acted more or less the same as before and he was afraid things would become awkward if he brought it up.

Right now, the artist already had enough to worry about without a potential relationship being added to the mix, so Goth would keep his feelings to himself.

As he stood in the doorway contemplating his roommate, Goth recalled the last test Palette had studied for. He'd spent a whole day studying in his room, not bothering to get up to eat or even stretch. The smaller had been forced to intervene when his roommate almost missed work because he'd been so focused. It was likely to be the same this time as well if the lack of lights in the rest of the house were any indication.

Tiptoeing toward the kitchen, he flicked the light on and filled the kettle with water, placing it on the stove. As he left it to heat up, he rummaged through the fridge for the leftover lasagna. Cutting off two pieces, he placed them on separate plates and popped one in the microwave.

Opening one of the cabinets, Goth pulled out one of the tea canisters and read the instructions. He recalled getting it because green tea was supposed to be good for studying and seemed perfect for Palette. It had been sitting unused in the cabinet since he got it, so a study session would be the best time for it.

The skeleton watched the microwave tick down as the water began to stream, opening it at the last second before the timer could sound. Goth set the plate on the counter and poured the water into a mug, adding the tea infuser in along with some sugar.

Letting the second plate of lasagna spin in the microwave, Goth carried Palette's plate and mug back down the hall, nudging the door open and calling out softly, "Palette?"

Predictably, his companion jumped despite the warning, swiveling in his chair and responding with a sigh, "It's just you... I didn't even hear you get home. You're really quiet, you know that?"

"While that's true, you were also pretty focused on your studies," Goth shrugged, entering the room and placing the tea and lasagna on the desk, "I figured you lost track of time again, so I decided to bring some lasagna and tea to help oolong."

"Oh stars, tea puns!" Palette laughed, donning a mischevious smile at the nod he received, "I think I could chai to come up with something., but they may not be the qualitea you're looking for."

Goth snorted, covering his mouth the stifle his own laughter, "I liked those, a double whammy. Have you... herb those before?"

"Thanks... and guilty as charged. I remember reading them in a book when I was younger, they stuck with me since mom always liked tea," the taller chuckled sheepish, rubbing the back of his skull and reaching for the mug. Looking in and giving it a sniff, he commented, "I don't recognize this scent, did we get something new?"

Goth took a seat on the bed, playing with the hem of his sleeve, "I'm surprised you could tell that quickly. It's a green tea blend I found at the store that reminded me of you."

"That's... that's really thoughtful, thank you," Palette beamed, soft color lighting up his cheeks as he took a sip, missing Goth's own blush. Swallowing the mouthful his eye sockets widened, "Wow, this one has some zip to it."

"I read that it helps with memory and concentration," Goth recalled, tracing the outline of the hole in his hand under his sleeves. Hearing a faint beep from the kitchen, the small skeleton stood up quickly, "That's my food, I'll leave you to your studying. Make sure you don't stay up too late, we still have work in the morning."

"Right, I'll see you bright and early. Thanks for the lasagna and tea," the artist said, turning back to his desk with a smile on his face.

"You're welcome, goodnight," Goth answered, leaving the room and shutting the door to give Palette his privacy. Once he was on the other side, he started bouncing on the balls of his feet down the hall, internally cheering that the taller had liked the tea.

It was definitely a good end to the day.

Chapter Text

The alarm clock blared as Goth slammed his hand down upon the snooze button. Sliding the alarm into the off position, the monster sluggishly dragged his arm back under the covers. He opened his sockets, only for the early morning light to send searing pain cascading through his skull and force them shut once more.

Groaning to himself, he rolled onto his back while pressing the back of his fingers against his forehead. Sure enough, heat radiated from his skull. That combined with the unusual lethargy and itch in his throat drew him to the conclusion that he was sick.

"Why...?" he whined quietly, squinting his sockets open. He couldn't just stay home on such short notice, he needed to open for his morning shift in an hour.

Luckily, Palette had the day off, so Goth could leave earlier to accommodate what would likely be a slow walk to work without bothering his roommate. But first, he would need to get some medicine in him so he could get out the door and make it through his shift.

Slowly, Goth threw off his blanket and pushed himself off the mattress, grunting and shaking from the effort. Intending to reach a sitting position, a swift wave of dizziness sent him back onto the sheets in a winded heap instead. His bones felt like they were on fire as he struggled to try again, his skull barely even making it off the pillow before his body slumped back down in defeat.

"Comeon...," the skeleton gasped, willing his blurry vision to focus, "I... I can... ca... nnnh......"

---

The sound of scratching filled the otherwise silent room. Turning his skull toward the origin and cracking open his sockets, Goth's bleary eye light found Palette sitting cross-legged at the end of his bed with a sketchbook in his lap, focused intently on what was likely a project art piece.

Laboriously rolling onto his right side, a cough slipped out as something damp fell from his forehead onto the pillow next to him. The action caught the taller's attention, prompting him to set his sketchbook aside, "Hey, you're awake! Feeling any better?"

The noise echoed uncomfortably in Goth's skull, eliciting an airy groan as he clenched his sockets shut.

"Sorry, sorry," Palette apologized, luckily at a much lower volume this time as he got up and retrieved the damp hand towel from the pillow, "Guess the answer's not good."

"What're you doing here?" Goth rasped, shifting his eye light to his clock, "What ti-...!"

"Woah!" Palette gasped, dropping the cloth and diving forward to catch Goth as he nearly fell off the bed in a sudden panic, "Calm down! What's wrong, are you okay?"

"No, I'm not okay I'm five hours late!" the smaller wheezed frantically, struggling to reorient himself using Palette's arms for support, "Why didn't you wake me Mona's probably furious that I never showed up to open-"

"Goth, breathe!" Palette loudly interrupted, his volume managing to impede the smaller long enough for him to explain, "I already called Mona and told her you couldn't make it."

Goth went limp in their grip, coughing and heaving from exertion while staring up at his companion, "Wha... when?"

"About half an hour before morning shift," Palette answered, settling the smaller back into bed and pulling the sheets over him, "I never heard you say bye or walk out the door, so I came to check on you. I found you in bed with your blanket thrown off. I tried to wake you thinking you overslept, realized you had a fever, and called Mona to tell her you weren't feeling good."

"What'd she say?" Goth breathed, struggling to focus past the pulse he could feel thumping through his body.

Palette picked up and soaked the hand towel in a bowl set on his nightstand, wringing it out to place it gently against Goth's forehead, "She asked me to make sure you got plenty of rest and food and to call her if you got worse. She also told me to tell you that you have today and tomorrow off and that she'll tan our hides if either of us shows up."

"... Our...?" the smaller groaned, squinting as his vision went fuzzy.

His roommate chuckled nervously, "Yeah, I offered to fill in for you and ... ...ot mad. She sa... I shou... ...ry abo... ... ...are of ... ...ead, ...e ... ...le th... ...t ... ...fe."

"Wh... what?" Goth mumbled, confused as sounds began cutting in and out. He watched Palette's mouth move, but couldn't make out any of the words through the dark haze clouding his sight. His companion approached him, wearing what might have been a concerned expression as everything faded out.

Chapter Text

Goth awoke to silence. He felt noticeably cooler, though the sore throat was still present. Opening his sockets, he shifted under the covers to look at the time.

The clock read two forty-six.

Gazing around the room, it was devoid of Palette or any of their belongings. Gingerly lifting his hand to his forehead, there was still some lingering heat but no cloth. There wasn't a bowl on the nightstand either.

Did he imagine the interaction with his roommate this morning? A fever dream? That had to be the case, the artist undoubtedly had better things to do on his day off. It would make much more sense than Palette hanging out to watch him sleep...

Goth sighed, not liking how the thought settled like a stone in his chest.

Wait... if he was hallucinating earlier, did Palette actually call Mona? Hastily rolling onto his side as paranoia overtook him, the skeleton propped himself on his elbows and bit back a cough, calling out as loud as he could muster, "Pa... Palette?"

Silence met him. Was he not loud enough? Was Palette even in the apartment? Would they really go out while Goth was... no. He couldn't expect his companion to drop everything and take care of him, that would be selfish. Why was he expecting so much? Did he think-

"Goth?" Palette's skull popped through the doorway. His face lit up and he hurried into the room with a bowl in his hands, setting it down on the nightstand, "Thank stars you're awake, I was so worried! How're you feeling? Do you need anything? You called me, right?"

"I...," Goth stared at his companion, unable to really process the rapid-fire question being directed at him. What resulted was a baffled and froggy, "What're you doing here?"

"Making sure you're okay, silly," Palette quirked his socket in disbelief; as if he was stating the obvious. He sat on the edge of the bed as he explained, "While I was talking earlier, you went really pale and started breathing funny, then you just passed out. When I called Mona again and told her what happened, she said your fever probably spiked. You were really worked up before it happened, so I guess it makes sense.

"Anyways, she told me to fill a plastic bag with ice and put it on your wrists for five minutes to cool you down. It seemed to work, so she said to keep an eye on your temperature and either repeat the process if it shot up again or take you to the hospital if it kept rising. It's been about the same since then, though."

"Huh...," Goth exhaled. The heavy feeling began crumbling away as something else took its place, "So... you've been here the whole time?"

"Yup," Palette chirped, "I only left to change out the water and make... oh stars, I left the soup on the stove! Be right back!"

The taller skeleton rushed out of the room before the smaller could say a word. Goth stared at the doorway, puzzling over the odd new feeling. It rose up until it came out as soft laughter. It was only then that he was able to identify the emotion: relief.

He was relieved that he wasn't alone for once, that someone was looking out for him. Sure, Mona cared and treated him like family, but she also had a business to run and other employees to manage. She couldn't always be there... but Palette was.

Goth began to tear up, his laughter mixing with wet coughs as the feeling bubbled over. He slowly sat up, leaning against the headboard while rubbing at his face as Palette pushed the door open with his back, a bowl in each hand, "The broth boiled down a little, but the vegetables should still be-... hey, is everything okay? Does something hurt?"

His companion was immediately beside the bed, setting the bowls down so he could feel the smaller's forehead. Grimacing at the heat, Palette grabbing the wet cloth from the water, wringing it out and pressing it to the sick skeleton's forehead.

Goth took a shallow breath and looked up, regaining his composure as he croaked, "I'm fine, I'm... I'm really happy, that's all."

"Happy? But you're crying...," Palette commented, tilting his skull and quirking his mouth. Something seemed to click as he exclaimed, "Oh, like tears of joy?"

"Something like that," the smaller answered with a faint snort, knowing he wasn't quite prepared for a conversation on the deeper meaning and everything it entailed yet. Palette thankfully let the matter drop as he turned back to trade the damp cloth for a soup bowl.

"Here you go," the taller skeleton handed one over before picking up his own, reclaiming his spot on the bed and stirring the spoon around idly, "I know it's a lot but I didn't know how hungry you were and wanted to make sure you had enough. Just eat what you can."

Goth lifted the spoon to his mouth, smiling as he swallowed the warm broth and said, "It tastes great. Thank you for all of this."

Palette attempted to wave it off, "It's no big deal-"

"It is a big deal," the smaller contested, recalling the years he'd been forced to deal with problems on his own. His eye light fell to the warm bowl in his lap as he murmured, "You didn't have to check on me, you didn't have to call Mona; twice I might add, you didn't have to watch over me, you didn't have to make food for me... but you did, and I really appreciate that. It's reassuring to know I have someone I can rely on, most people wouldn't go so far."

"Oh, uh...," the artist stuttered, his cheeks taking on a slight green tint as he mumbled, "you're welcome, then. Is there anything else I can get you while we're on the topic?"

Ladling some vegetables onto the spoon, Goth was struck with an idea, "Actually, some tea and honey would help a lot with my sore throat. Do you think you could make some?"

Palette's eye lights shined, excited by the idea, "Yeah, I can go do that right now! I know just the one to use, give me a minute."

Watching his roommate race out of the room once more, Goth smiled at their enthusiasm and returned to his food. He really was lucky to have Palette in his life.

Chapter Text

Goth perked up from his book upon hearing the rattling of the front door. Bookmarking his page and setting the book down, he greeted the taller skeleton as the door opened, "Welcome home, how was-"

He stopped short at the expression on Palette's face. His companion looked like the energy had been sapped from them, their dull starry eye lights set in a far-off stare, never leaving the ground.

Uncurling from his seat on the couch, the smaller approached the taller monster, "Is everything alright?"

Palette's skull shot up as if he only now realized where he was. Planting a rictus smile on his face, the artist seemed anxious as he said, "Oh, yeah, I'm okay. It was just a long day. I should get some sleep."

"Already?" Goth checked his phone to make sure he wasn't mistaken in the time, "It's only nine thirty-seven, plus you said you wanted to work on one of your assignments when you got home. And what about supper? Do you feel sick?"

Goth edged closer, moving his hand to check the taller's forehead. Palette's smiled seemed to become a bit more genuine as he raised his hand to remove the smaller's, "No, no, I'm okay. I just want to make sure I'm rested for work tomorrow. Sleep's important after all."

"Oh...," the smaller lowered his hand, deflating a bit as the artist retreated to his room, "I suppose that's true, but shouldn't you at least try to eat something first? Sleep is important, but so is food."

"I already had a big lunch, so you don't need to worry about me. I'll see you tomorrow morning," the taller skeleton declined, backing into his room and quickly shutting the door behind himself. 

"See you tomorrow morning...," Goth called out as the small click of the bedroom door locking echoed through the quiet apartment in place of a reply.

In their four and a half months living together, Palette had never locked his door before now.

The small skeleton stood watching his roommate's door, dejected and at a loss for the sudden shift in behavior. Their interactions before Goth left for work that morning had been enjoyable and Palette seemed like he was in his usual chipper mood when he arrived for the afternoon shift change. They didn't get to talk much due to the waiting customers, but the short conversation they had was amicable enough.

There was nothing standing out to indicate the problem was on Goth's end since the artist didn't seem upset or angry with him. Something had to have happened between the time he left work and the time Palette arrived home, that was the only reasonable explanation.

"Today was...," Goth mumbled, trying to recall who was on afternoon shift today. Henderson and Melissa had arrived before Palette, and Claire was supposed to switch out Brea. Plopping himself back on the couch with his phone in his hands, the hooded skeleton began typing out a text in hopes of solving the mystery.

---

Goth yawned as he walked down the sidewalk beside his companion, thoroughly stumped by the conundrum on his hands. His texts to Claire hadn't yielded any promising information. Palette had apparently been acting normal at work yesterday, taking orders as per usual, and messages from her fellow coworkers had produced similar stories.

He had attempted to get some information out of Palette when they woke up, but the artist was uncharacteristically distant and quiet as they ate breakfast, insisting he was only tired despite going to bed early the night before.

At least Goth could find relief in knowing Palette wasn't starving himself.

The pair stopped at a crosswalk one block from the cafe, though the hooded skeleton might as well have been by himself considering the lack of conversation going on. Palette seemed to be in his own little world, staring ahead but not really taking in what he was seeing.

That look bothered Goth.

Was there a problem on the way home instead? That's the only other time something could have happened... but Palette didn't look nervous at the moment, only distracted. If he ran into a mugger or a deviant on the way home last night, the artist would probably be on high alert right now...

Which meant either something happened at work that no one noticed or Goth was the cause. Unfortunately, it was impossible to tell which the way things stood right now. Until Palette spoke up or new evidence came to light, he was stuck with assumptions.

The green light of the crosswalk sign flicked on, allowing them to cross the street. Within minutes, the pair were walking into the empty cafe. The bell above the door, which usually rang with a soft chime, seemed off-key today.

"Morning," Tai called from where he was clocking in at the register. Palette gave his greeting before walking into the break room to put away his bag and jacket. As Goth walked by, the ebony-haired man leaned on the counter, "Something going on? You look off."

Goth's eye light shifted toward the doorway, staring for a moment before he caved, softly admitting, "Palette's been acting weird, but he won't tell me why."

"Ah, trouble in paradise," Tai nodded with a smirk.

"What?! No!" Goth exclaimed quietly, his cheek flushing in mortification, "Why would you say that?"

The man huffed out a laugh, "Really? Come on. Every time I've been on shift with him, he's mentioned you; things he learned from you, things you did together, reciting jokes he heard from you... which reminds me, you've been holding out 'cause it sounds like you have some pretty good ones. Also, you should've seen how fired up he got when he found out you'd never gone out after work, not to mention the fuss he made at the bar when Zeke kept pushing you."

Goth blinked, his mouth opening and closing like a stranded fish before he murmured, "He talks about me?"

"Yeah, he does, and he lights up like a firework when he does," Tai confirmed, flipping switches to warm up the machines as he continued, "And then there's you. You've become much more open and conversational with everyone, you actually came out for a gettogether; something you've never done before, and you're just... happier in general lately. That all started after Palette showed up. Clearly, you've both had an effect on each other."

While Goth couldn't doubt the effect on his end, there was still a seed of doubt given the last night's events, "I wish I could believe that, but-"

"Believe what?" Palette asked as he came through the doorway, tying his apron around his waist.

"Nothing," Goth hastily declared with a pointed look at Tai. His coworker threw their hands up in compliance before the small skeleton weaved around a bewildered Palette to retrieve his own apron, taking a breath to calm himself as he reached his coat cubbie.

The shop would be opening soon, so he had to focus on doing his job... he'd worry about emotional problems later.

Chapter Text

"Hey Palette, the supply truck just dropped off our shipment, can you help me move the boxes into storage so we can run inventory?" Flo called out from the storage room's open door.

Goth looked up from the food and coffee he was setting on his tray to find the taller tilting their skull toward him in askance. The smaller sighed, "Go on, it's slow so Tai and I can handle the front for a few minutes. If things pick up, we'll call you."

Palette nodded and went with the plant monster. Once his companion disappeared behind the door, the hooded monster's expression drooped as he lifted up the tray.

"I think I see what you were talking about," Tai commented as he handed over a customer's drink, "I wouldn't notice if I wasn't looking for it, but he is acting more low-key than usual today."

"Glad it's not me being paranoid, now if only I could figure out why," Goth lamented, rounding the counter to distribute the contents of his tray. As he set the last plate down, the door chimed and a tall man with buzzed brunette hair stepped in.

"I'll be with you in a second, sir," the skeleton said as he leaned over the counter for a menu, pulling his notepad from his apron pocket as he went over to the table the man selected. Putting on a smile, Goth greeted, "Welcome to Mona's, I'll be your server today. Is this your first time with us?"

"Nah, I was here yesterday," the man replied, taking the offered menu and looking around, "Is Palette not working today?"

The question immediately set off red flags as the skeleton stated, "He is. He's currently doing stock in the back... is there a problem?"

The customer leaned back slightly in his chair, "I just wanted to have a talk with him about his service yesterday. He was acting awfully cold when I asked him to sit and chat with me. I felt very offended."

"We're not supposed to be sitting and chatting with customers while on the clock. Any complaints should also be directed at our manager" Goth stiffly recited from the handbook. Though he had his suspicions, he probed nonchalantly, "How do you know Palette?"

His suspicions were confirmed when the guy said, "Oh, we know each other from college. We were close friends before he trashed the Dean's office and tried to pin it on me. I happened to run into him yesterday and figured we could try to patch things up."

Goth narrowed his sockets, his expression stony, "That's a bit different from the story I heard."

The man didn't seem phased by the news, sighing in a long-suffering fashion, "He's been making up stories again? I was hoping he'd learned from his mistakes, but I guess he still enjoys the attention too much. I hope he hasn't been causing problems."

"Oh, he's actually been great here," Goth deadpanned, not buying the nice guy act for a minute, "he's very eager to learn, works well with us and our customers, and he's been doing well in his studies. In fact, he was recently telling me how much better things have been since he came here."

"Oh did he now?" the friend chuckled, though it had a rough tone to it, "And did he mention the things he did before he left?"

"No, but he did mention some of the things that were done to him," the skeleton retorted, holding up his notepad with false cheer in his voice, "Now, what would you like to order?"

The man ignored the question, "And you believe him?"

"I do. He's a kind, thoughtful monster that was given a hard time and deserves to be happy. What I don't believe is that he would ever be capable of anything requiring expulsion or that talking to you will do him any good," Goth replied firmly, holding to his etiquette by the barest of margins, "Palette is busy at the moment and I will not force him to talk to you. Please order something or kindly leave."

While he still had to abide by his role as a server and treat the man as a customer, he refused to let them worm themselves back into Palette's life. If this guy was the reason his companion was acting strange as he suspected, Goth would do everything in his power to drive them off without incident.

The customer glared at the refusal, but his brown eyes darted away for a moment before a haughty smirk donned on his face, "You like him, don't you?"

Goth was taken aback by the sudden shift in topic, "W... what?"

"You like him," the man repeated, leaning forward on his elbows, "I bet you have a real thing for him, don't you? Is that why you're so nice to him? Hoping he'll like you back? Or are you trying to get an in so you can use him? That's really low, you know that?"

The hooded monster bristled at the hypocrisy as he tried to defend himself, "No, Palette's... he's... I wouldn't do that to him."

"Your face tells a different story," the guy cooed in a sickly smooth voice, "Even if you aren't using him, what could a pathetic little freak like you offer in return? Money? It doesn't even look like you can afford clothes that fit you, I bet you bust your rump every day just to make ends meet."

"Protection? As if a midget like you could do anything in a fight; those thin arms would snap like twigs," he snapped his fingers for emphasis, making Goth wince, "So tell me, what do you have that he would be interested in?"

Goth didn't have an answer. He knew the man was saying these things to get to him. People like him fought with words, breaking their targets down and getting in their heads. He'd dealt with people far worse than this man in the past... but their words stung just a bit too much to simply ignore. He really didn't have anything to offer.

He'd already accepted he would never have enough money to afford anything more than an apartment. He more or less knew how to defend himself; being practically required in a city, but he wouldn't call himself strong. He acted like he was smart, but he knew there was still plenty of things he didn't know. He wasn't exciting or entertaining, preferring quiet activities to going out.

There really wasn't anything that novel about him.

"Nothing to say?" the man taunted, sneering at his target.

"He's my roommate, Goth."

Goth jumped, spinning around to find Palette walking around the counter. Contrary to the zoned expression he'd held for most of the day, his face was now scrunched up in something akin to indignation. 

He placed himself in front of the smaller skeleton, glaring down at the unwanted customer as he continued, "He may not have a lot of money, but he's smart on how he spends what he has. He might not be strong, but he has friends to help him out of tough spots.

"He's funny, being able to take normal words and spin them into a joke. He also genuinely cares about the people around him and does his best to help them. And above all, he inspires others to be better people and to do what's right, even if it's not always what's easy. That's what he has to offer."

"Palette...," Goth murmured softly, looking up at the back of the taller's skull in disbelief.

"Our cafe is exercising the right to refuse service to you," Palette growled, "Please leave or you will be made to leave by force."

The guys snorted, "Oh really? And who's going to make me?"

The tension in the atmosphere was thick as the pair stared each other down. Goth shifted anxiously, anticipating a fight as Palette opened his mouth.

"We are," Mona's voice called out instead.

Goth looked over his shoulder, his sockets widening at the sight of Tai, Flo, and Mona all coming out from behind the counter to stand behind them.

"I've heard enough to have you taken in for harassment and have surveillance cameras to back it up," the old woman asserted, crossing her arms, "I may be an old woman, but I still know how to give whippersnappers like you a good spanking. Now get out of my establishment, I'll have none of your nonsense bully tactics here."

"Bunch of monster loving freaks," the man spat, shooting daggers at the pair of skeletons, but stood and threw open the door with a loud rattle of the bell. Everyone watched as he stalked past the row of windows and disappeared.

"... That was scary. Good thing he's still as much of a coward as he was before," Palette exhaled, sagging in place before turning to address the smaller, "Are you okay? Sounds like he said some pretty nasty things."

Goth breathed out, only now realizing he'd been holding his breath, "Yeah, I'm fine. Was that guy...?"

"Yeah, that was him. He hasn't changed at all," the artist confirmed sullenly.

Mona came forward, placing a hand on each of their shoulders, "Why don't you both take a few minutes to collect yourselves. Tai, Flo, and I can manage a while up here."

Chapter Text

Goth gratefully accepted the offer, though he was surprised when the taller grasped his hand to lead him to the breakroom. Once they were both seated on the couch, Palette spoke, "I'm sorry. He was here for me and you got caught up in my mess."

"It's fine, really," Goth reassured him, a concerned frown forming as he asked, "Was he the reason you were acting strange last night?"

His companion flinched, averting their eye lights, "Yeah... he just showed up out of nowhere and started trying to hassle me. I didn't want to get anyone else involved, so I kept it to myself."

"And here I was starting to think I did something to make you upset," the smaller sighed in relief.

Palette's eye lights shot up, adamantly denying the thought, "Of course you didn't do anything wrong, you're the nicest monster I know!"

Goth smiled, looking down at his hands resting in his lap, "Thanks, that means a lot."

Silence fell over the breakroom, but it was shortlived as the artist quietly asked, "By the way..."

Goth stared at him as he trailed off. He looked conflicted as he uneasily continued, "What he said earlier... was it true?"

"No!" Goth blurted out, "I would never use you! I-"

"No no no, not that," Palette interrupted, shaking his skull and wringing his hands, "The other thing... about l... liking me."

The small skeleton felt like he short-circuited for a moment, unable to formulate a reply as his mouth suddenly went dry. 

Taking a deep breath, he accepted that there was no getting around the conversation, "Um... kind of... yeah... I mean, you're social but respectful of people's space, you're talented but you don't throw it in people's faces, you're always putting other people's needs above your own, you enjoy my humor and even match it, and I like being around you. There's... there's a lot to like about you."

Goth fell silent, his gaze drifting back to his lap. What was he thinking, saying that out loud? Palette was an amazing monster while he was... well, there were many ways he could describe himself, but none of them were flattering or appealing. 

Palette could do so much better, why would he ever willingly choose someone like Goth? The thought nearly brought him to tears, but a hand grasping his stopped him.

"I...," Palette paused, his cheeks flushing light green as he squeezed the hand in his grasp, "I think there's a lot to like about you too."

"What?" the smaller choked.

"I can't deny I like you too when I think about it. If you really feel the same way, maybe we could... try dating? If you want to, that is," his companion hastily added.

Goth stared for a solid minute, trying to process what he heard... had Palette asked him out?

"... Really?" the hooded monster finally whispered, fighting down the urge to cry.

"Of course!" the taller smiled brightly, his sockets crinkling along the bottom edge as his eye lights met the smaller's, "If you like me and I like you, then it only makes sense. So... do you want to be a couple?"

Realizing his companion was serious, Goth returned the smile, taking a breath and leaning his weight into Palette's shoulder as his sockets slid shut, "I think I would like that a latte."

"Stars, leave it to you to answer with a pun," Palette snorted, seeming to vibrate in happiness as he wrapped his arms around Goth, pulling them up into his lap for a hug before planting a swift kiss on their hooded skull. 

The smaller's sockets popped back open, staring up at his new boyfriend in surprise.

"Sorry, was that too much?" Palette stammered, his grip loosening, "If you don't want me doing tha-"

Goth cut him off, planting their mouth against the taller's to silence him. Pulling away, the hooded monster replied with a shy blush, "You missed."

Palette sighed, a dopey grin warring with the vivid green hue enveloping his own face as he rested his skull on the smaller's.

"Hah, you owe me twenty bucks!" Flo boasted from the doorway. Both skeletons jumped, their attention directed to the door that was now rapidly swinging back and forth. 

The plant monster must have been listening in on the conversation from a crack in the door.

Goth rested his skull against Palette's chest as he burst into laughter, "I suppose we've been found out. We should probably go back up front before Mona sends someone after us."

Giving the smaller a hum of confirmation and one last squeeze, he let Goth stand before following suit. Grasping onto his hand once more, they both went back to the front. The knowing looks the rest of their coworkers gave them were enough to confirm their suspicions.

"Ah, young love," Mona hummed, handing over a wrap and coffee to the confused customer on the opposite side of the counter. Palette broke off with a blush, checking the order board in an attempt to distract himself. Goth couldn't really blame him as he got back into his own rhythm while brushing off the grins of his coworkers.

It was likely the rest of the staff would flip once word got around they were an item now. Some would never let them hear the end of it, but it was a minor issue compared to what the future had in store for them. 

The pair would simply learn to take the bitter with the sweet, together.