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ANOMALY

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“A soul contains the culmination of one’s very being—what makes them who they are.

“Humans and monsters both have one, though it’s questionable on what a soul is truly made of, as the theorized answers are all debunked by the cruel and apathetic nature of humans. Obviously, the source of one’s ‘soul’ can’t be that of love or kindness or mercy if humans are capable of slaughtering millions and trapping them for centuries, no matter how you try to spin it.

“How, then, does one define a ‘soul’? Is it developed over one’s lifetime or the moment they are born? Are some naturally evil, rotten from their very core, or is such a thing learned? Does it have something to do with genetics? A difference between blood and magic?

“How do people grasp the idea of what makes them themselves when such an idea is easily discarded?

“And what about things without souls? Are some born without one? How does one survive without a soul, if a soul’s purpose is to hold their personality, their beliefs, their ideas—their very conscious? Certainly, not having a soul would be a death sentence…

“Or, in the rare occasion it happens, when a human and monster soul combine, creating something entirely new—is that also considered a soul? How would a ‘soul’ be defined then? Is it counted as the two individuals, or as someone new entirely? How would this mergence effect either party? What would it entail?

“Can something without a soul, or one with multiple souls, be considered a person? Or would that make them nothing at all? Just a shell holding the mockery of a life?

“…Oh? Is this starting to bother you…?”

“…Heh. Well. I suppose that’s a question for another day. Let’s talk about something else for now.”

*

White. Cold. Wet.

Hopeful.

Footprints trail behind them in the snow, riddled with dust from fallen friends and family. Lights flicker off in the nearby houses, abandoned just mere minutes before the massacre, signaling the fall of a friendly—now empty—town. Now, all that remains is a snowy graveyard.

Blue. Tingly. Aching.

Wary.

Water grows still as the echoing of flowers falls silent, the dead’s wishes stolen with their final breaths. A tiny hum fills the glowing chambers as a small form skips on stones, covered in monster remains, smile growing wider with each murder. They no longer hesitate—they have no reason to. Their sole purpose is to rid this world of life; nothing more, nothing less.

Red. Hot. Burning.

Angry.

The impressive, thundering building that looms over the volcanic lands near the end of the Underground powers off as the last of its residents are eliminated, leaving nothing but a hollow husk amidst magma and fire. The child twirls, pan pressed against their chest, kicking over the remains of a broken robot before heading to the elevator.

Their smile widens when they remember who’s next.

Gold. Warm. Empty.

Pain.

They have to skip through the flower’s dialogue as they make their way to the castle, but that’s fine. They found the poor thing’s story humorous when they first heard it, telling of its woes from long ago, referencing the first fallen human and calling this child “Chara.” Ironic, how the flower fails to realize how calling the possessed child by its dead sibling’s name only strengthens the dead one’s hold, bringing to light their true intentions. Intentions that, though it won’t admit it, scare the flower into hiding.

Not that the human cares. Whether they be the first or last human to fall, or something else entirely, doesn’t change their current predicament. They are the anomaly, after all; one that sees no value in lives that don’t exist.

In fact, the idea that any consequences could come from a game, or even a story, is laughable.

Black. Electric. Stifled.

Free.

They reach the hallway, stopping to save. They sort through their things, casting a glance down the hall—shouting out a taunting “Heya, Sans!” as they prepare.

The blue-hoodie clad skeleton leans against a pillar, usual carefree smile poisoned with exhaustion. Funnily enough, he waves, however dismal it is.

This cycle that they’re trapped in, repeating over countless timelines, paralleled by the same scenes, the same people, the same words and phrases—it does nothing but break them down, make them nothing but remnants of the people they used to be. Admittedly, memories from these repetitive worlds come back to him in blurry montages, interrupt his train of thought with mere snippets, maybe a few whispers—always eluding him of the past reality. A better life, stolen from him by a murderous, greedy human.

Some things he remembers clearly—shaking the human’s hand, going to dinner with them, saying the same old jokes to the person behind the door. Watching people die.

Dying himself.

The more he remembers, the less appealing remembering becomes.

It’s a tiring thing, going through this never-ending hell. And, standing in the golden hallway, bathed in light, staring down the human as they walk towards him, he comes to a startling conclusion.

No, he’d rather not exist at all, if existing means living through a loop of death and misery for the rest of time.

Ping!

He unleashes his first attack, giving it all he has, but of course, the human dodges it, having gone through this countless times before. They give him a wicked grin, and, just to get things started, leads with a weak attack—

Crack!

They freeze. Their eyes blow wide, knife held tight in their fist, arms falling slack at their sides.

Sans stumbles, hand held over his chest and coughing. His clothes are stained

a nasty shade

of red.

Something in the timeline

shatters,

leaving in its place

yet another anomaly.

The hit

had landed.

“…Heh.” Sans laughs it off as he usually does despite the soul-wrenching pain, nausea already tearing through his invisible stomach and causing him to gag. “Guess I wasn’t fast enough this time, huh?”

He meets the kid’s gaze, and within their eyes he tries to spot a shred of the person he used to know, some flicker of kindness, love, mercy. Regret, even, if it’d be enough to lead them back onto the right path.

Instead, all he sees is confusion—excitement. Some slight annoyance, but mostly a dark, repulsive glee, the child bouncing as they stare down at his kneeling form, eyes dyed the color of blood.

“…Well.” He collects himself, wincing as another wave of pain washes over him. He feels the beginnings of the end approaching; pieces of him falling away, turning into dust. He doesn’t have much time left. “Can’t say I’m surprised. How many times’ve we done this now? Gotta be going on…twenty? Thirty times?”

“Eight,” the child corrects. “I’ve only beaten you eight times.”

Sans blinks, genuinely caught off guard by that. It doesn’t feel like that many, for sure—as far as Sans is concerned, a thousand timelines have been destroyed because of this horrible excuse of a person. “…Oh. Well, whatever.”

He pushes passed them, and for once, the human doesn’t stand in his way, letting him pass. He offers them a dismissive wave as he makes his way to the exit, shaking and struggling to keep his footing, “See ya in the next one, kid. Just keep what I’ve said in mind, alright?”

“But you didn’t even do your speech yet!”

“How many times do I have to tell it to ya for you to get the hint?”

The child shouts something else down the hall, voice echoing around them, but Sans doesn’t hear them, world spinning around him. He manages to make it through the archway before collapsing, arms wrapped around his bleeding middle as darkness attacks his vision. All feeling drains from his body.

As the last of his soul crumbles away, one final thought crosses his mind:

Finally.

**

When he opens his eyes next, he expects to see his bedroom, welcomed by drafts of bone-chilling air creeping through the cracks of windows and floorboards. He expects to hear the familiar call of his brother from downstairs, shouting his name and informing him of a human reportedly sighted outside the Ruins, a story that they just have to investigate right away, lest such a dastardly beast escape them and Papyrus misses his chance of achieving his dream job. He expects to be welcomed by white, blue, red and gold, emotions a miserable, muted mess as he crawls himself from bed to face yet another end at the face of a ruthless murderer wearing a human child’s face.

He sees none of this, however, upon waking. In fact, he sees nothing at all, at least at first. Darkness, growing stronger and stronger, invade the empty space around him, swallowing him whole. He’s empty, devoid of all emotions, all thought. All personality. He hears the echoing of voices; screaming, crying, muttering, whispering—it doesn’t matter what they do, they are present nonetheless, filling the void with their noise. It reeks of rot and decay.

He floats as a blank slate, drowsy, lost in a sea of black, losing himself to the nothingness.

There’s no way to measure how long he stays there. He knows it’s long enough to change his body; long enough for his bones to char, darkness clinging to him and seeping into his very being. His eye-lights glow purple instead of blue, red instead of white. His clothes, ragged as they are, transform, textures becoming rougher, colors darkening. His very soul, destroyed in life but remaining in death, pulses a sickly, slow beat, poisoned by the very thing keeping it alive.

Held captive by its comforting, agonizing embrace, Sans forgets everything, save for the name written into his programming.

His old self would have shivered at the thought, but…now, losing such meaningless memories has no effect on him, not bothering him at all. Instead, he’s content.

But then, after dozens of timelines continue without him, he stirs from his extended slumber at the sight of a glowing light above him.

A white, buzzing star sparkles over his head, barely a pinprick at first but growing over time. The darkness recedes, the star clawing its way through the dark. Its spindly points reach out into empty air, into Sans’s direction, pushing back an inky void in order to reach him. It hums a small tune, one he thinks he recognizes, though he’s not sure from where, having let go over things he considered to be unimportant a long while ago.

The star stops when it rests just above his hands, twinkling against his fingertips. A warmth emits from its center, warming the skeleton for the first time since his passing, consuming him and releasing him of a cold, cruel chill.

Sans studies the strange item in his hands, turning it over and floating around it, trying to better understand it. Trying to wrap his empty brain around what he’s looking at and what it means.

The voices fill in the blanks for him:

A gift from another world,

an lost timeline,

with few inhabitants.

Belonged to a human,

doesn’t matter who now,

saved their journey along the way.

Used to use this

to manipulate souls

but now it’s just

an empty

shell.

 

Take it.

 

And, being the fool he is, Sans obliges,

filling the world with light.

***

On the other side of the save star, a young child reaches out to open it, having changed her mind on leaving behind the only world that treated her with kindness, left to ruin by her cowardice.

She startles when it lets out a startling scream, much like it first had when she started to use it at the start of her journey, horrified when she finds it a black, hollow, howling disaster, presenting glitched numbers and stats. She goes to close it, to step away, but something reaches out, grabbing onto her wrist.

She screams when she realizes the grip is made up of bony, spindly fingers.

The child tries to pull away, yanking and tugging and thrashing, but to no avail. The corruption pulls her in, trapping her much like it had so many others.

The being holding onto her, made up of shadow and whispers, wastes no time in attaching itself to her, sinking itself into the very culmination of her soul.

It’s not until this process is complete that they’re released of the save star’s darkness,

spat out in a world unfamiliar to the new creature birthed from its depths.

****

They wake to snow and ash falling on their head, mind clear and body light. They sit up, finding themselves surrounded by trees and burned debris, alone save for a single star glistening in the dim lighting of…wherever they are.

Hesitantly, investigating the star with a curious, cautious hand, they give it a tap.

Ping!

File SAVED. HP Fully restored.

*****

FRAN – LV?? 00:02

???

 

* You feel like something is off, but don’t know what. It seems you don’t remember your own name…or anything else, for that matter. Exploration seems like your only option right now.

* Perhaps someone might still be around…?

Chapter Text

The forest itself has seen better days, or so they assume. Burnt husks of wooden buildings decorate the dying, charred forest, trees lying on their sides in the ash and snow in such a way that they seem to create a barrier between the creature and the ruined homes. Tools and the like scatter about, as though left behind in some unseen chaos, showing only remnants of life that once populated the area. The sky above their head is thick with smoke and dark, poisoned clouds, ash raining down onto the poor scene below without mercy. The air smells of burned flesh and soot.

Fran takes in the scene with a stiff shake of their head, sneezing. They prod at an abandoned, rusted pot jutting out of the snow with their foot, frowning at it. Though they can still feel the heat of the fire seeping into their clothes, Fran's breath hangs in the air in front of them, defying the fire's heat in favor of the snow storm's chilled atmosphere.

It's cold, they hear one of the voices say.

It's hot, says another.

It's lonely.

Fran realizes the last voice is their own. Shaking their head clear, they huff, jumping over an overturned stool and heading for one of the smoldering houses.

"...ink it was...etter than nothing, though..."

They freeze. More voices—this time from outside of their head—echo from the forest's depths, leaves and brush rustling as footsteps draw closer and closer, snow crunching underfoot. They almost sound familiar to them, though they don't know why—just that they don't want to be around when whoever the strange voices are reach the clearing.

Panicking, Fran stumbles backwards, their head whipping around this way and that to find a place to hide.

Everything's still burning, one voice says.

It's not safe here,

It's not safe there, either,

You need to think fast

think fast

think fast.

"...cking hot here, isn...you'd think that they'd've cleaned up by now..."

Fran whimpers, hands covering their ears. Shut up, they think, shut up. We need to think.

Crack!

They jump when they hear a wooden board behind them sizzle and pop, breaking in half. They turn around, noticing a small opening between the house and the dense trees where they can squeeze through.

Perfect.

"Do you think...is going to be mad? I mean...after what happened with...s pretty bad..."

The rustling of the leaves and brushing growing closer and the voices becoming louder, Fran gets on their hands and knees, ducking low beneath the brush and crawling through the opening. They come out on the other side to find themselves standing behind the smoldering building, pressing their hands over their mouth and holding their breath.

It's not long before they hear the strangers enter the clearing, pushing their way through the remaining brush and branches and into the remnants of the fire. Rustling and shuffling sound from behind, though Fran doesn't dare turn around. Not yet, anyways.

"Yeesh, this place is such a mess," one of the strangers say, followed by a loud clang! of metal being hit. "Can't believe this fire is still going. You'd think with the snow that it'd blow out by now, but no—we just can't have it easy, can we, Sans?"

Fran stiffens at the name "Sans." They don't know why, but the name strikes a chord with them, makes them want to respond—but their name isn't Sans, now.

Is it?

No response. Fran furrows their brows, frowning under their hands. Why aren't they talking?

"...Yeah," the first voice says with a sigh, "You've got that right. But hey, if we get this finished up quickly enough, maybe we'll find something useful, yeah?"

More shuffling, this time coming closer to their hiding place.

Uh-oh.

Heart beating in their ears, Fran squeezes their eyes shut tighter and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

The shuffling moves away from them.

Fran slowly lowers their hands, letting out a soft sigh of relief.

Are they leaving?

Are they gone?

Why aren't they talking?

The chorus in their head murmurs on and on, but Fran ignores them all. Instead, bouncing slightly on their heels and chewing on their bottom lip, they duck back down, peering through the opening.

They don't know what to make of the scene in front of them. Two skeletons search the rubble and ruin, one tall and thin and the other being the complete opposite. The taller of the two, wearing a bright red scarf wrapped tightly around his neck, moves with a sense of urgency, movements quick and confident. The other skeleton, on the other hand, shrinks away from the other stands stiffly in the snow, flinching at the slightest breeze. Their clothes are patchy and torn, hanging off them like rags.

Fran watches them with wide eyes, mouth slightly ajar. Again, that sense of familiarity washes over them, a prickling in the back of their mind telling them that the skeletons mean something to them, but they can't figure out why they feel this way.

That is, until the smaller skeleton catches sight of them and meets their gaze.

They stiffen, freezing up on the spot.

Go,

the voices say,

run away,

it's not safe, not safe,

not

safe.

The skeleton seems just as frozen, eye-lights flickering in and out, his hand hovering in the air as though he's offering it to them but is too afraid to move.

He stands in the snow with his hand outstretched, snow piling on top of his blue hoodie and sinking into his bones. He shivers slightly, though being a skeleton it doesn't take much effort for him to project some magic from his bones to keep the cold from becoming unbearable.

"Human," he says, voice low and words coming out slow, echoing around them and into the forest, "don't you know how to greet a new pal?"

The form in front of him quivers, head bowed and fists clenched tight at their sides. Their skin tints a light blue from the cold, their blue-and-purple jumper doing little to protect them from Snowdin's harsh weather.

"Turn around and shake my hand."

"Sans?"

Fran blinks back to the present, shaking their head at the sound of the voice. Their thoughts spiral, trying to make sense of what just happened.

What—what was that?

That was us.

Was it?

Who else would it be?

Dunno.

Who are we?

Who are you?

Who are you?

"Sans, did you find something?"

Their questions are forgotten in the moment when they hear the tall skeleton speak again, Fran looking up just in time to see the second skeleton notice them. They watch as the small skeleton makes a few gestures with his hands, looking to the other and nodding in their direction.

The tall skeleton takes notice to the other's gestures, looking between the smaller and Fran. "I...don't think they're dangerous," he responds, voice wavering. Pausing, he takes a step forward, kneeling down to their level. "Hey there, buddy. What're you doing down there?"

Fran's breathing quickens. They wiggle back into the brush, trying to escape, but their clothes catch on a hanging branch above them, keeping them in place.

"No, no, no," the taller skeleton is quick to try and calm them down, reaching out to them. "You're okay! No need to run off. We'll protect you."

Fran flinches away from the skeleton's hand, ducking their head lower. They grit their teeth.

Need to get away,

Need to be free,

Need out out out out out

"N..."

They startle themselves when their thoughts start to spill from their mouth, sounds being made when they didn't know they could before. The skeletons look at them expectantly, the taller still holding out his hand and the smaller glancing over his shoulder, looking ready to bolt.

"N...need...out," they finally say. They look up at the skeleton, hoping he'll understand. "W...we...we n..."

The skeleton pauses, looking them up and down. "Well, I won't be able to get you out if you keep wiggling like that. You're going to get yourself stuck even more!"

No, Fran thinks to themselves, that's not what we meant. We mean out.

Out of where? Here?

No.

Then where?

We don't know.

After more wiggling and squirming, and a few soft-spoken words from the stranger, Fran calms down, relaxing with a soft, albeit annoyed sigh. The skeleton smiles at this, glad to have gained their trust—or, at the least, part of it—and begins to free them from the brush.

"I'm Papyrus," he says, leaning down to see their face. "What's your name?"

Fran just stares at him.

"...Okay, maybe you can tell me later." The taller skeleton—Papyrus—snaps off a few twigs, grabbing hold of the back of Fran's hoodie. With a grunt, Papyrus pulls them free, falling flat on his back. "Oof—"

Sans, alarmed at the sound, turns around, running over to the other when he sees him lying down. He makes a few rushed movements with his hands, nothing that Fran can understand, before shooting the creature a look.

"Relax, Sans," Papyrus huffs, climbing onto his feet. Fran does the same, brushing themselves off and looking around, this time for another exit. "I'm fine. I was just helping them out, that's all—hey!"

Fran gasps when Papyrus grabs their hood and lifts them off the ground, stopping them before they can retreat into the forest. They hang there, stuck again, held at an arm's length.

They glare at the skeletons, thrashing about and screaming.

Caught. We've been caught! Need to get out. Need to get out now—

No, don't! We're safe. This is fine.

How do you know?

Dunno. Just do.

Why should we trust you?

Why shouldn't you trust us?

"Easy, easy," Papyrus holds his free hand up in surrender, shushing their cries. "We're not going to hurt you, human. We're going to help you, okay?"

Fran stills. Human? they wonder. Is that what we are?

No...no, that doesn't sound right. Does it?

"...Out," they repeat their previous words, voice coming out in a hoarse whisper. "Out...out...we need...out..."

Papyrus nods. "Okay. We'll get you out—just calm down, alright?" Hesitating, he looks to Sans, who gives a curt shake of his head. They have a back and forth glaring match, none of which Fran understands, losing the creature in their mental debate. "...We're going to take you back to our home," Papyrus says at last, to which Sans slaps a hand over his face and grumbles. "No arguing, Sans! I'm the older brother, I make the rules."

Sans mumbles again, and this time Fran is sure it's nothing but gibberish. Can he not speak?

"I don't care what the Order says," Papyrus snaps. "They're a lost kid; I'm not just going to--" he stops, glancing warily in Fran's direction, "...dispose...of a kid. And that's final, understand?"

Sans rolls his eyes.

"Sans, I will double your workload when we get back if you don't answer me."

A sigh. The smaller of the two nods, though the look he directs Fran is nothing less than hostile.

Papyrus seems pleased, however. He smiles, straightening up with a satisfied nod, "Good."

Fran yelps when they're suddenly pulled into the skeleton's chest, cradled against him as he adjusts his scarf. The feeling is familiar.

"I swear, you lazybones, if I have to do this again one more time, I'll—"

"I know, I know, Paps—I'll make it up to you, okay? Just...take me home for now, I can't feel my legs."

"Yes, well, that's what happens when you teleport yourself into the river. I swear, you'll get yourself killed with one of those."

"Heh—oh, if only you knew how wrong you are."

"Alright, little human," Papyrus interrupts their train of thought, and Fran blinks, rubbing at their eyes. They look up to find him smiling. "Time to head into town."

Fran hesitates, looking around. "...F—" They sputter for a moment, coughing, unsure of what they're trying to say. They notice the two skeletons looking at them expectantly and force out the rest of their sentence, despite how much it confuses them, "F—Fr—Fran."

Papyrus hums, "Fran? Is that what your name is?"

No.

Yes.

It is now.

They nod, giving him a weak smile. "N-Name. Fran."

Sans signs something to his brother, though Papyrus doesn't catch it, too caught up in this new discovery about the small human held in his arms.

"Fran...well, that's a nice name. It's nice to meet you." He smiles, ruffling their hair. He clears his throat, "Alright, uh, enough of that. Time to go home, Sans—and remember what I said about going through town?"

More signing.

"Good."

They start forward, Fran keeping their head tucked into Papyrus' shoulder. They close their eyes, breathing in the scent of Papyrus' scarf, fresh tears pricking the corners of their eyes from the smell but otherwise feeling content. They start to doze...

*

FRAN - LV?? 13:01

 

Main Road

 

 

* The comfort of making new friends and the promise of being protected reminds you of home. Wherever that is.

* You are filled with HOPE.

Chapter Text

She remembers the first time she saw the white star.

She remembers sitting with her parents on her eleventh birthday, sitting on a seat situated next to one of their living room windows, peering out to their foggy, rainy front yard. Her mother held her close to her chest, murmuring a sweet lullaby under her breath and running her fingers through her hair; and her father, sitting on her other side, followed her gaze to the gloomy weather outside, a book held in his hands and expression conflicted, eyes looking far, far away.

She eyed the book, noticing the odd star-like shape on its cover. Her curiosity got the better of her. "What's that, Papa?" she asked him, pointing to it.

Her father snapped out of his thoughts, whipping his head around to face her. He looked down at the book, his eyebrows furrowed and his hands trembling. He held it up to the light, "This?"

She nodded. "Is it a storybook?" She crawled closer to him, reading the cover. Soul Theory: A Glimpse Into Magick and Other Worldly Mysteries. "May I read it?"

Her father met the gaze of her mother, refusing to look at her, "Mercy," he started—and what an odd name to have, Mercy. It doesn't sound right to her now, in the present—whenever that is. "This book is a bit too advanced for you to understand. Besides, it's science-based—didn't you say you hated science?"

Mercy pouted, "But it sounds interesting! Can't I hear at least some of it? Please?"

Another look traded between her parents, "I don't know, honey...it's very complicated to explain..."

"But it's my birthday! I'm older now; I'm sure I'll understand some of it. Why can't I know the basics?"

Flash! Boom!

The sky darkened outside, turning startling shades of black and crimson, the ground shaking as lightning struck a tree nearby. Mercy yelped and hid her face in her mother's chest, shivering head to toe.

The rain outside poured on, indifferent to the child's fear.

Mercy's mother cradled her closer, though her grip on her became nearly suffocating, squeezing her arms tight enough to leave marks. Mercy tensed as she heard croaking sound from behind her, followed by the cracking and popping of bones.

" Why should you know the workings of a soul when you don't have one yourself? "

Mercy, despite her better judgment, peeked over her shoulder.

In her father's place was a grotesque, pulsing monstrosity of muscle and eyes, a gaping mouth running along its middle and flicking out a tangled mess of a tongue. It twitched and convulsed, its large mouth letting out a choked gurgling sound, blood oozing out of it and pooling down the seat and onto the floor, dying the carpet red. Its many eyes stared right at Mercy, the monster's insistent twitching becoming violent, causing pieces of it to tear and rip and fall apart.

Mercy screamed, attempting to run--but even as she squirmed and kicked and thrashed in her mother's arms, she found herself trapped in her arms, squished into her mother's melting body. She whimpers when she notices her mother's skin melting away, revealing black, putrid sludge, the substance sticking to her skin and burning at her flesh. When she looked up, Mercy was horrified to find her mother's neck elongated, her face transformed into a meaty, shredded mass of teeth and bone.

The monsters let out a final ear-piercing scream, Mercy wiggling and pushing to try to get away as they got closer, and closer, and closer—

She lets out another scream as she's ripped from the scene, pulled into someone's arms. Immediately, she fights against the newcomer, even as the scene falls away and leaves the two figures alone in a humming, blank void.

"Stop it," the stranger hisses, "stop it. You're fine. You're safe—it was just a nightmare. You're okay."

Mercy pauses, her motions ceasing, her quick breaths slowing down. She knows that voice; knows it from other lifetimes. And—now that she's calming down—the feel of bony hands wrapping her up in a hug feels familiar to her, as though it's happened a thousand times.  Hesitantly, she pushes herself away from the stranger, meeting their gaze.

The skeleton in front of her is not the one she knows. She knows this the moment she lays her eyes on him—his bones are rougher, some of them dyed black, his eye-lights bigger and glowing a soft purple instead of white. His clothes are nicer than the Sans she knows, albeit still ripped up and covered in dirt and grime, colored shades of black and purple instead of Sans' usual grey.

Mercy frowns, backing away from him, "Sans...?"

He shrugs. "Eh. Sounds familiar, though I don't know anyone who's called me that. Not that I know many people, ’course." He stops, letting her go in favor of holding onto her hand, "Are you okay now? That dream looked pretty rough."

"Y-Yeah. I'm okay. How did you kn—"

Mercy stops. Her brain falters, a memory fading in and out of view, her eyes widening.

A white save star.

Screaming.

Panic.

The end of the world.

A bony hand, pulling her into the abyss.

She smacks his hand away. "You—you jerk! You made my own star kill me!"

The skeleton flinches. Backs away. “Sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

She notices how the odd, blank look on his face flickers for a second, hurt written all over his features, Sans shoving his hands into his pockets.

His reaction makes her pause. She looks around, sighing. "...Where are we?" she asks. "And why are you here? I never pulled Sans into my star, so you shouldn't be here."

Sans just shrugs. "I'm not sure. I don’t remember much before I woke up here, but…when I did, I was alone. There wasn’t anything for a while until I found this glowing star thing—”

My save star, Mercy frowns, but lets him continue.

“—and something pushed me forward to use it.” Sans visibly tenses. “…It freaked out when I opened it, though. And when I saw you, it started getting all weird and went to attack you, so I panicked and tried to stop it. Pulled you in instead. So, uh—sorry. I guess."

He was trying to help me.

Mercy frowns. "...How were you able to use my star?" she tries instead. She reaches out to him, and he almost immediately grabs onto her, almost as though he craved even the slightest of touches. He probably does, now that she thinks about it. "How long have you—have we—been here?"

"Dunno," is all Sans says. His eye-lights disappear. "...I don't remember anything. This—" he gestures to the darkness around them—"this is all I know. All I have."

Mercy's expression crumbles, her chest aching. She takes in their surroundings, at the nothingness around them, her mind running in circles. Everything feels hazy. Disconnected.

She can't imagine how terrifying it must be to be alone in this place.

"...Well," she clears her throat, trying her best to smile at him. "That’s okay. You don’t have to know—we can always figure that out later.” She pauses, looking around. “…I don't really know what's going on or what to do, but—I know how my Sans is, so you can't be much different, even if you're not from where I’m from. And If I know Sans, he's pretty clever, so—so you and I can get out of this if we work together, right?"

Sans' expression becomes unreadable. "We can't get out," he murmurs.

"Why not?"

"It's already claimed us."

Mercy's smile falls at that, "What has?"

Sans just shakes his head. "...Nothing. Just forget about it—it's not like this conversation will matter in a few minutes, anyways."

That makes her stop. "What do you mean?" She fixes him with a hard look, the skeleton's blank, emotionless expression unfaltering. "What do you mean, it's not gonna matter?"

"We're gonna wake up soon." A look of fear crosses his face. "When we’re awake, we’re not separated. It's confusing and weird and uncomfortable, and the voices follow, too—"

Voices? Mercy thinks about asking him about that, but he keeps going. Besides, the more he talks, the more she feels like she understands what he’s talking about, can feel the recognition burning in the back of her mind.

"—and all of our memories are gonna be jumbled up and we're just gonna be stuck again and not know anything—"

The faint memory of being lost, of being confused, of being trapped in a body that isn’t her own, stuck with a soul that doesn’t feel right locked away in her chest, of voices and faces and thoughts fills her head, causing her to wince.

She realizes that this just isn’t the first time she’s awoken in this place.

It’s also the first time Sans has been awake here, too.

The first time they’ve been apart since he pulled her into her save star.

And Mercy doesn't know what to say to that. She wants to ask him what he means, what happened while she was asleep, what happened after she entered the void and everything just stopped up until Sans pulled her out of a living hell, what on earth either of them are supposed to do about the situation they’ve found themselves in, what will happen when they merge back together—

Crack!

Vrrrrr—

The world around them comes to life, both of them jumping at the sound; watching as the void churns into action, spinning and spinning and spinning until it makes Mercy dizzy. She instinctively dives into Sans' arms, wrapping her arms around his middle and burying her face into his chest. Whispers fill her ears, and she begins to flicker, in and out, in and out. Sans starts to do the same, though he holds onto her all the same, muttering something she can't hear.

In the back of her mind, she's reminded of something—of waking up in the snow, not knowing anything about herself or the world around her. Of meeting the skeleton brothers.

Of Fran.

"It's going to be okay," she says, her voice echoing all around them, though she's not sure if she's reassuring herself or Sans, "It's going to be okay. We'll get out of this."

She feels herself start to splinter.

"We'll still be together. We can figure this out."

She doesn't remember who she is anymore. She doesn't remember who she's holding onto.

"We'll be safe."

Her empty chest fills with light and shadow.

"We'll get out. We..."

We...

Who are we?

Everything

goes

white.

*

"...an...Fran...Fran, wake up!"

Fran startles awake, a gasp leaving their lips as they jolt up. They feel gravity wrap around them and attempt to pull them down, but a set of arms hold them tight against a breathing, freezing body, their nose buried into a thick, red scarf.

Their nostrils are assaulted by the smell of soot and pasta.

They feel safe.

And yet, they don't.

Their eyes fill with tears.

"Fran," the voice says again, and they slowly pull themselves away, meeting Papyrus' gaze. He gives them a worried look, his hand patting at their back, "Are you alright? You were mumbling in your sleep."

Fran blinks, rubbing at their eyes. Sleep clings to them still, their limbs heavy and head clouded, their thoughts coming and going in waves.

Where are we? they wonder. What happened?

The whispers come back with a vengeance, answering all at once.

The land of the disposed,

The city of the fallen and the forgotten,

Those who enter have been left behind,

Their leader is a broken soul,

Mix of light and dark,

Kindness and cold fury,

Left to rot in a prison of snow and stone,

 

You are a disposable, forgotten creature,

aren't you?

Fran hisses, hands covering their ears.

"Are you alright, human?" Papyrus asks them. He rubs their back, his footsteps coming to a halt. "Do you need to rest?"

A pause. Fran feels the scarf around Papyrus' neck pull; when they open their eyes, they catch Sans, pulling at his brother's scarf and giving him a glare.

Papyrus sighs, "I know we're almost there, Sans. But it wouldn't hurt to take a break."

Another tug.

"I know they haven't been walking, but they're obviously in distress! Think about someone other than yourself for once, for shit's sake."

The curse doesn't sit well with Fran. Papyrus shouldn't curse. That's wrong.

"M'fine," they mumble into Papyrus' neck. They meet Sans' gaze, noticing the amount of hatred and distrust in his eyes. They catch a glimmer of another Sans as they stare at him, flickering into view for a fraction of a second, dyed in shadow.

They offer the smaller skeleton a shy smile.

"Jus' a headache."

Sans narrows his eyes but lets go of his brother's scarf, looking down.

"Well, if you say so," Papyrus says.

They start moving again.

Fran hesitates, clinging to Papyrus' neck. "...Where're we?" they wonder aloud.

"On the way home," Papyrus responds. "We're almost there, though."

"Home...?" But the voices didn't make it sound like a home...

"You'll like it. Everyone there's friendly—for the most part. Just, ah, don't...ask questions. People find that to be rude."

"Why?"

It takes a while for Papyrus to respond. "...You'll understand when we get there." Grunting, he adjusts his hold on them, saying, "Wowie, you're heavy—how much do you eat, huh? Your parents must've fed you a whole horse."

Fran flinches at the mention of parents but doesn't say anything.

They continue towards town, all the while with Papyrus humming to himself and Sans staring them down, a nervous jitter in his eyes.

They give him a small wave, mouthing, It'll be okay.

Judging from the look he gives them, they don't think he believes them.

**

FRAN -- LV?? 44:34

 

Main Road

 

* The city of the disposed looms ahead.

* Still, despite your worries, you are filled with HOPE.

Chapter Text

It's quiet.

That's the first thought that crosses their mind when they enter the lost town. The roads lay bare; dusted over with snow that drifts along with the push of a breeze. All the houses—maybe a dozen at most, though it's not like Fran counts them all individually—look identical, having the same layout, the same shape, the same walls, roof, windows and doors. It's too dark to look through one of the windows and see if anyone is inside, watching them and judging them from their safe, cozy little homes.

Papyrus sets Fran down on their feet right before they pass the first houses, dusting them off. "Stay close," he tells them with a smile, his smile faltering slightly when he looks to Sans. "And remember what we talked about."

Sans just nods.

How odd.

Still, Fran does as they're told, clinging to Papyrus' hand like a lifeline. They stare as the three of them pass by house after house, scanning the windows for any kind of life.

It's cold.

The snow, they realize, sits higher here; climbing up the sides of the buildings and creating huge snow banks that at times tower above even the tallest of houses. The windows, frosted over by the freezing temperatures, are covered in a thin layer of ice that clings to the glass and wedges itself into its surface. Fran can see glimpses of cracks and holes in the walls.

These buildings look like they're going to topple any second.

How can people live like this?

They come to a stop in front of one of the buildings, Papyrus pulling on their hand to let them know that they've reached their destination. Sans steps in front of them, placing his hand on the doorknob.

He pauses, his shoulders shuddering just barely enough to notice.

"It'll be fine, Sans," Papyrus tells him. "I'll be here for you."

Sans glances over his shoulder, meeting his brother's gaze. His bones rattle softly under his clothes.

Fran, looking between the two skeletons, can't grasp why he's so nervous. Their stomach twists, their throat dry as they try to shove down a nauseating fear that threatens to overwhelm them.

Someone has to live here, they tell themselves. There's no reason for him to stop otherwise.

What if they're mean?

What if they don't like us?

What if they make us leave?

What if they hurt us?

Fran's head spins.

The tension in the air calms as Sans sighs, the skeleton turning back towards the door and rolling his shoulders. Slowly, he twists the doorknob, pushing the door forward and stepping inside.

Fran feels Papyrus relax next to them. He looks down at them and smiles, "Ready to meet some friendly faces?"

"Hm? What, you scared of some dogs, kid?" A skeleton in a blue hoodie laughs, fixed grin widening slightly at the corners. He jabs a finger into the small human's shoulder, who pouts in response. "Don't worry. Everyone in this town's friendly. Why not throw 'em a bone—I've heard dogs love those."

Fran can't find it in them to tell him "no." Something deep within their soul warns them against making him upset.

So, despite their better judgment, Fran nods, allowing the skeleton to pull them into the unknown.

*

The first thing Fran notices when they step into the skeleton brothers' home is just how crowded it is. Makeshift beds made of blankets, coats and towels cover the floor, little cardboard fixtures propped up in between beds to create a false sense of privacy. Small, thin, shivering forms can be seen huddled within their dirty, haphazard sections of the house, some muttering back and forth to each other but most keeping to themselves, not daring to speak to anyone who looks their way. Some of the weary residents, with their sunken features and shallow breathing, look like they're about to step into the next world. The floor creaks underfoot, the staircase smashed and rotting away, the kitchen blocked off by a thick, wool sheet, snow creeping in through the cracks in the windows. A putrid odor hangs in the air, one that vaguely reminds them of death and decay. The only light Fran can find is the dim flickering of candles situated around the room, supported by a strange, blue glow.

This is no place for someone to live, let alone a couple dozen.

Fran shivers, keeping their head down and their gaze low. They aren't sure what they expected, though it certainly wasn't this.

A monster perks up as the door closes behind them, red eyes piercing in the candlelight, pushing herself onto her feet and making her way to the skeletons. Fran glances up at the movement and notices an odd, faded symbol etched into the front of her tattered robe, the shape reminding them of a bird.

Or an angel, the back of their mind quips. They shake their head, forcing the thought away.

"You're back," the woman says as she pulls Papyrus into a hug, forcing the skeleton to let go of Fran's hand. They watch as Papyrus returns the hug full force, the two of them locked in a crushing embrace. "I was so worried about you..."

Papyrus is the first to pull away, chuckling. "I'm fine, Toriel," he tells her, "I can handle myself. Besides, it wasn't that far of a walk—just down to the doctor's old headquarters."

"You can tell me you're fine all you want but it won't stop an old woman from worrying," Toriel responds, and though her expression is serious her tone has a light, playful tone to it, her frown twitching as she tries to hold back a smile. She looks to Sans, her playfulness falling away, "And was it any trouble?"

Papyrus shakes his head. "No'm. Just a little skittish—but you know how that goes."

"Unfortunately." Toriel's gaze hardens, the monster bending down to Sans' level, who stiffens. "And you're sure there weren't any mishaps? No 'outbursts' like last time?"

"Not that I'm aware of." Papyrus glares hard enough at the woman that Fran flinches, the skeleton lowering his voice. "And even if there were, I don't think it would be any of your concern what goes on with the Disposable considering it works for me, not you. Unless, of course, you're bringing this up in order to question me instead of out of concern for my well-being?"

Fran's eyes widen a little at the conversation, the creature glancing over to Sans to find the slightest tremor in his shoulders and the skeleton's eye sockets darkening. A Disposable? Fran repeats. But a person isn't disposable...

The voices tell them otherwise.

Here, they are;

The lower your health, the bigger the liability.

Work and work to pick up the slack,

Hope that the pills make up for what you lack.

The accusation causes Toriel to pause. She meets the skeleton's gaze, equally as guarded, "Of course not. I am merely making sure that it's being kept in check—after all, I know all too well how one's personal relations can cause strain on their important duties."

Papyrus crosses his arms, squinting at her. "Well, I guess it's a good thing that I know not to get attached to useless things, then."

Sans' eye-lights reappear briefly at that, hurt visible on his face when he meets Papyrus', though they're gone as quickly as they appeared, the small skeleton stuffing his hands in his pockets and looking away.

Toriel doesn't seem to notice Sans' reaction. Instead, she stands, letting out a sigh as she brushes herself off. "I suppose," she says. "But, back to your scouting—did you find anything salvageable?"

"You mean besides a heat source?" The playfulness in Papyrus' voice returns. "That fire still hasn't gone out; I still think you should use your magic and make a barrier around the town so th—"

"I already told you, my magic reserves can't handle that," Toriel interrupts. She pauses, running her hand down her face. "...Anything else?"

Papyrus stops. He looks down at Fran, rubbing the back of his neck, "Well..."

Fran feels their heart stop in their chest when Toriel looks down at them, breathing locked in their throat. Her eyes widen, her face ashen, hand reaching up to cover her mouth, the goat monster shocked by the sight of the ruffled, dirty child standing in front of her.

"Oh..." she murmurs, her words airy, "I see...you've found a survivor."

Fran reaches for Papyrus' scarf, inching closer to him. They give her a small wave and nothing more, their head buzzing and soul twitching. She looks so familiar...

Papyrus pats their head, smoothing out a few stray hairs. "I don't think they're from the base, honestly," he says. "They don't seem like the doctor's type. I think they were just hiding out there until w—until I found them." Then, with a cheeky grin, he adds, "Their name is Fran."

"Fran..." Toriel pauses, her hands lowering to her chest. Her face breaks into a smile, the woman offering them a scarred hand, "Well, hello there, Fran. I'm Toriel—it's very nice to meet you."

Very familiar. Fran hesitates before accepting the handshake, eyebrows furrowed together. They feel a cloud start to shift in their head, beginning to reveal an image hidden deep within but not quite ready to clear the storm of thoughts and memories. Their head pounds.

"...Well! On that note, I'm going to go check in on our doctor friend," Papyrus skirts around her, Fran yelping as they're pulled along with him. He stops long enough to pry their fingers from his scarf, the skeleton giving their hand an apologetic pat before turning away from them. "Find a place for them if you want, though if you don't, that's fine, too—I'll figure something out when I get back."

"But Papyrus," Toriel cuts in, "we don't have any more room here."

Papyrus stops, looking to her. "...Then find room."

"Where? We're already overflowing with people, not to mention our current food shortage—”

"That'll be solved in a couple of days when Gerson gets back—”

Toriel continues, glaring at him for interrupting her, "—and the fact that we don't have any heating and half of the people here are half-frozen as it is—"

Papyrus snaps at that, "Which is why I keep asking you to use your magic—"

"—my magic wouldn't be able to heat an entire community day-in and day-out!" Toriel pauses, pinching her nose and sighing. "...Look, I'm just saying, the overcrowding and lack of everything would make it impossible to support another mouth to feed. I'm sure—I'm sure that they're a sweet kid," she looks at Fran when she says this, her stern look softening for just a moment before falling back into place, "but it's just not practical to take them in. You remember what happened the last time, don't you?"

Papyrus' face reddens. He storms back across the room, gaining the attention of everyone else in the house, the skeleton grabbing Fran by their arm and yanking them into view. He pushes them to Toriel, holding them in front of her, his resolve standing firm even as the floor fills with whispers and murmurs.

"Do it."

The words make Toriel falter, "Do what?"

"You know what. You remember what it was like there, don't you?" Papyrus jostles the small creature, causing them to let out a small cry. "If you don't think we can help them, then kill them."

Fran's heart sinks. He can't be serious, they think. He wouldn't do something like that. Papyrus isn't like that—he's too nice...

Toriel doesn't seem so sure. "Why should I be the one to do it?" she asks.

"Because I'm tired of killing people who don't deserve it."

Or maybe he would.

Fran pales, their breaths coming out in short, panicked huffs. Tears prick the corners of their eyes, though no matter how much they try, they can't wiggle their way free of Papyrus' grip, can't pull themselves away and run for safety. All they can do is stand there, the threat of death hanging over the head, waiting for Toriel to decide their fate as dozens of eyes watch and stare with hollow, hungry gazes. Desperate to have any excitement in their bleak and dismal lives.

Toriel grimaces, looking between them, Papyrus and the crowd, wringing her hands. Flames flick at her fingertips, sparking in and out of existence, but right when her expression hardens and she raises her hands, a voice from the upstairs stops her short:

"They can stay with me."

Toriel's magic dissipates. Papyrus lets go of Fran's arm. The murmurs and whispers stop, save for the ones always chattering on in Fran's head. Fran relaxes, panic and fear forgotten in favor of exhaustion.

Papyrus and Toriel exchange a look, a promise of "we'll talk about this later" written on their faces. "Are you sure that that's a good idea?" he calls out to the newcomer.

"I am sure of it," the person confirms. "There's no point in getting rid of a good set of helping hands, after all. Now, come along—and bring them and the Disposable with you. There is much to discuss."

Fran looks up to find another skeleton, with cracks running along his face and adorning a dark coat over his rags, peering down at them from the blocked off balcony above them. His hands—marked with two gaping holes in either palm—rest gingerly on his side, as though the monster is cradling an injury. Hell, with the state of everyone else in this place, they wouldn't be surprised if that's the case.

Their eyes widen at the sight of him, his name already seared into their mind: Gaster.

**

FRAN – LV?? 102:55

 

Bone House

 

* Mixed welcomes often lead to mixed relationships.

* Still, you are willing to move forward, no matter what it may lead to. You are filled with HOPE.

Chapter Text

The world grows dark. They feel their world spin; being pulled further and further down into the darkness, slipping away from the house full of strange monsters, away from the familiar faces and confusing voices, away from their annoying, floaty body and their frustrating, useless brain. All feeling leaves them, melting into the shadows until only the painful beating of their soul remains.

The air howls.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

Their soul pulses, flickering between white and black, splitting at the seams; two souls battling for control of one entity, trying in vain to be rid of the other and go about their lives. Images from one life flickers before their eyes, showing them vivid recollections of a snowy town, smiling monsters, foreign landscapes—only to thrust them into another life, filled with shouting humans, burning buildings, cries for help, dust and blood.

The darkness grows darker.

Fran screams, begging to be free, wanting out, out, out, get us out...

"Fran!"

They jump when they hear someone call their name, whipping around. They meet Papyrus' gaze, the skeleton's face etched with worry, the monster shaking them gently by the shoulders.

They realize how weak and tired they are, skin slick with sweat and hands shaking. Their head threatens to explode with how hard their blood pounds, pounds, pounds against their skull.

What—just happened? Where was that?

It's where we were before.

Before? Before when?

Before this.

Fran glances around the room, vision blurry and spinning around, around, around. Did they see it, too?

No, the other voices say, it was just us.

Why does Papyrus look so freaked out, then?

Because we're freaking out, dumbass.

"...'M okay," they mumble, breathing coming out in small, quick breaths, "'M okay...it's okay..." We're okay. We're okay.

For now.

Though not fully convinced, Papyrus takes their word for it, letting them go. He takes them by the hand instead, "Alright," he says, "but if you need anything, let me know, okay?"

Still struggling for air, they nod, clinging to his arm. "Okay."

They give a nervous glance to Gaster—(how do we know his name?) (Dunno. Just do. Be careful, though—if he can trigger that, then who knows what else he can do to us) (Agreed.)—the doctor watching them with an odd, unreadable expression on his face, hands folded over his side and shoulders stiff. They notice him tapping his foot, no doubt annoyed by their sudden episode.

"Papyrus," he calls, "I cannot leave my work unattended for long. I'd advise that you hurry on up here."

"They're having a panic attack," Papyrus snaps back, gesturing to Fran with a wave of his hand. "The hell do you expect me to do, leave them alone and deal with it themselves?"

"Yes."

Papyrus deadpans. "...We'll be up in a minute."

"Excellent." Gaster's mouth twitches into a small but noticeable smirk, the skeleton turning on his heels and heading into one of the rooms behind him. "Don't keep me waiting."

Click!

The door slips closed, Papyrus letting out a sigh. "He sure knows how to grate on my nerves," he grumbles, the words just audible enough for Fran to hear. He pauses, looking to them. His infectious smile returns. "No matter—say, when's the last time you had a doctor's appointment, hm?"

Years ago.

The hell is a doctor's appointment?

Fran shrugs, swaying on their feet a little, "Dunno."

"Well lucky for you, Dr. Gaster wants to see you today." He leans in, whispering in their ear, "He's not actually a real doctor, I just like making that joke."

Fran can't help but snort at that. "Funny."

"Glad you think so!" Papyrus picks them up, holding them to his chest. He prods at Toriel's leg with his foot, "Keep an eye on things down here?"

"I always do when you're gone," she sighs. "Though while you're up there, perhaps you should ask the doctor how to handle that temper of yours? It's been slipping more and more recently."

"Ha, ha," Papyrus rolls his eye-lights, "very funny."

"I thought so." Toriel's face softens slightly. "...We'll talk after."

"Don't we always?"

Snap, snap!

Papyrus startles, turning to face Sans, frowning at the other and giving him a light tap on the head. "Don't snap at me! That's rude."

Sans ignores the smack, pointing at the balcony.

The taller skeleton adjusts his hold on Fran, following his brother's gaze, "Yes, yes, I'm getting there—Sans, shortcut us to the doctor's quarters. And I'm serious about the snapping thing—do that again and I'll cut your fingers off, understand?"

Fran frowns, Harsh.

He's joking. He doesn't mean it.

Fran hopes that’s the case.

Sans nods and grabs onto Papyrus' free hand, lifting a hand.

"Hold on," Fran hears Papyrus murmur into their hair, the child in turn cleaning to his shirt for support.

Snap!

Sans snaps his fingers—and oh, how the world spins. Again they feel themselves thrust into that world of never-ending darkness, that place that threatens to tear them limb from limb and expose their ruined soul, surrounded by lines of numbers and code and numbers and code—

And then they find themselves standing in a shabby little bedroom, harboring only a bed, a desk, and stacks upon stacks of pill bottles, vials, an assortment of containers filled with golden-colored, glowing liquid. There's barely enough room to walk around.

Gaster sits at the desk, flipping through a wrinkled stack of papers. He perks up when he sees them, "Ah, so you were serious about the one-minute comment."

"Don't start." Papyrus sets them down on the bed, fixing his scarf. "You're good, Sans," he says. "You did good—I'm proud of you."

Sans doesn't answer him, though Fran notices his face flush, the skeleton moving over to the collection of medicine.

Gaster chuckles. "Your fix hasn't come in yet, Sans. It should be with the supplies Gerson is supposed to bring back soon."

The small skeleton groans, stomping his foot. Still, after a moment of consideration, he relaxes, reorganizing the medicine instead.

Gaster clears his throat, throwing his stack of papers onto the desk. He spins around in his seat to face Fran, his head slightly tilted. They realize that he's not doing it intentionally; it's been crooked the whole time, though it was harder to notice a floor below him. "So," he starts, pointing a finger at their chest, "about your situation."

"Be nice," Papyrus warns him, stepping around him. He starts leafing through the doctor's paperwork, frowning. "Ugh, more requests...which section are these from?"

"Five," Gaster responds, unblinking, refusing to look away from the small human.

"Of course it's from the people furthest away from us." Papyrus walks over to the only window in the room, sitting down on the windowsill. Fran watches as he leans back, flicking the papers out to straighten them so he can read them better.

Gaster catches their attention again, the doctor's chair creaking under his weight, "I heard you were at my old set-up. The one that was attacked—what were you doing there?"

Fran looks to him, blinking. "...Woke up there," they say. They swallow, their throat dry.

"You just happened to wake up there, hm? Without even knowing what was there?"

"Mhm." Fran points to Papyrus. "Found us."

Gaster just nods, "I know they found you, but I want to know why you were there. Where are you from? Humans are a rarity here; the most we see of them are wanderers. You're probably the youngest I've ever met." His grip on his side tightens. "Were you left there?"

"She's not defective," a woman's voice shouts, a blurry figure standing in front of them and shaking a finger in their face. "She's just a little different! That's all! We can't just leave her here, she'll die—"

"A person without a soul isn't a person at all," a man snaps, and in enters another figure, taller and louder than the first. They yelp when he grabs their hair, throwing them away from the pair of adults. "She's a threat to everyone, even herself! It's better if we leave her here where she can't hurt anyone—"

"How do you know she'll hurt someone? She's only a child!"

"You saw what she did, didn't you? That poor little girl—she just disappeared! Gone, eaten away by that—that thing! How can you sit there and tell me that that's not dangerous? How can you tell me she's still our daughter after she killed someone?"

"Please," they hear themselves say, a sob following suit. Their face shines with tears. "Please,  Mommy...Papa...don't leave me..."

“Fran?"

Fran blinks, meeting Gaster's eye. "...Yes," they decide.

"Who left you there?"

"P—" they stop. "People. Tall people—blurry faces."

Gaster grimaces. He shifts, flinching, pressing against his side. It must really hurt him, Fran thinks. "Were you left there by humans?" he asks.

They nod, "Mhm. Blurry humans." Humans who were very angry with us.

The doctor nods. He pauses, looking to Papyrus, "Do they always talk like this?"

"They haven't said much at all since I met them," the other says. "But they're very friendly—I think they just struggle with talking. Kind of like Sans, but not as bad."

Fran notices Sans make a gesture with his hand on their other side, causing Papyrus to laugh.

"Hey, don't flip me the bird! It's true!"

"Whatever the case," Gaster sighs, dismissing the other two skeletons' banter with a wave of his hand, "with the way this is going, it appears we won't be getting any information out of them."

"That is to say they even know anything," Papyrus quips. He pauses, shuffling his papers. "There isn't any humans there, anyway. Probably just a really unlucky kid."

"Perhaps..." Gaster looks them up and down, his sockets narrowing. "Though the news that a strange human turned up at my old research center doesn't sit well with me...do you remember anything else? Before you woke up, maybe?"

Fran thinks back to when they first woke up in the forest, their face scrunching up. Their eyes light up. "Oh!"

All of the skeletons turn their attention to the child when Fran jumps onto their feet, bouncing up and down with a smile stretched from ear to ear. They pat at their chest, their palms still sweaty and their movements still shaky, though their sudden burst of energy makes up for the weakness they felt not long before.

"What?" Gaster stands, limping over to them and placing a hand on their shoulder to stop their bouncing. "What is it?"

Fran beats at their chest harder, grunting. "Out!"

Papyrus stiffens. He leans forward, stuffing the papers into his pocket for safe keeping. "'Out?'" he repeats.

"What do they mean by that?" Gaster asks him. "Do you know?"

"No. They were saying that before, when we found them—I thought they were just wanting out of their hidey-hole, considering they were stuck...but now I'm not so sure." He stands, sitting down beside them, the excitable child still bouncing slightly on their heels. "Do you remember what you mean by that?"

"They might be running from something, too..." Gaster breaks off with a hum, sharing a look with the other skeletons from over Fran's shoulder. "...What do you mean, 'out?'"

Fran scowls, stomping their foot with a low whine. They beat at their chest with their fist, repeating again, "Out! Out! We want out!"

"'We?'" Gaster lets go of them, stepping away, his voice lowered and tone stern, "Who is this 'we,' Fran?"

Their head hurts. Their body jitters, filled to the brim with static. They reach their hand up, raising their voice until they're all but screaming, "We—"

they slam their fist into their chest,

"—want—"

they dig their fingers into their skin, the skeletons watching in horror as they pull out their pulsing, convulsing soul, spilling black, oily sludge onto the floor and pain dulled by their adrenaline,

"—out!"

Boom!

Right as they finish their sentence, their soul lets out a jarring, ear-shattering howl, releasing a bright, breath-taking pulse that knocks everyone in the room to other sides of the room. Fran hits their head against the bed frame, their vision turning black as their soul wiggles and writhes above them. Shouts and pounding footsteps follow them as they slip away, away, away...

*

FRAN -- LV?? 113:12

 

Bone House

 

* You HOPE they understand you this time...

Chapter Text

A rhythmic hum fills her ears as she opens her eyes, greeted by the sight of a fluttering, all-consuming void. Mercy floats, the darkness caressing her arms and legs to keep her from falling indefinitely into its depths, the child struggling to turn her head to look around. Her skin prickles, a painful numbness flooding her system.

For once, the ever-present voices fall silent.

"Sans?" she calls. "Sans, are you here?"

Silence.

A biting cold blows in with a sudden gust of wind, only adding to Mercy's numbed state.

Her chest aches. Forcing herself to swallow passed a lump in her throat, Mercy drifts forward, her hands twisting the fabric at the front of her dress.

"Sans...?"

Please be here.

A light flickers in the distance, warm and welcoming. Mercy perks up at the sight of it, eyes sparkling, the small girl floating towards it despite the world around her clinging to her in an attempt to keep her trapped inside it. She reaches forward—

A hand falls on hers, gripping it tight, "Don't."

"Eep!"

Mercy jumps away, yanking her hand back. She whips around to face the voice, eyes wide and goosebumps running along her arms.

She relaxes when she sees who it is.

"Sans! You scared me," she yells, slapping the skeleton's shoulder. She pauses when Sans flinches, his eye-lights flickering in, out, in, out. "Where were you? I woke up alone again."

Sans looks over his shoulder, hesitating, before giving her a shrug. "I'unno. This place isn't easy to map out, y'know—it all looks the same."

That's a good point. Mercy shakes her head, squeezing the monster's hand. She looks back to the light. "...Why can't I go to it?" she asks.

Sans follows her gaze. Being this close, Mercy can hear the faint rattling of the other's bones, even with the overwhelming sound of the void's humming. "We'll go back if you do."

"...You mean back to being Fran?"

"Yeah."

Mercy pauses. She glances down, staring at the nothing below them, then to their intertwined fingers. Heat sinks into her back, lingering from the light ahead.

...I don't get it.

Mercy tightens her grip on Sans' hand. She doesn't understand it; why Sans doesn't like it there, why he doesn't like being with her. Surely, being Fran is a hell of a lot better than this lonely, empty space that they've found themselves in. And it's not like Mercy's life was ever kind to her, not with what she remembers.

Being Fran for her is like having a new start.

So what could be so much better than that? What is Sans holding on to?

"...We'll be together, though," she tells him at last, her smile forced at best. "Plus, we'll have Papyrus and Sans. That's something, right?"

Sans makes a face, "Papyrus threatened to kill us."

"I think he was just trying to make a point."

"My Papyrus wouldn't threaten to kill someone just to make a point."

Mercy stiffens. "You remember your Papyrus?" she asks.

Sans look away from her.

Oh, no. You're not getting out of this, bone-man.

Mercy pulls on his hand gently, tugging on his coat. "Sans. You just said—you told me before that you don't remember anything from before. Is...is being Fran starting to bring back your memories—?"

"It's just a hunch," Sans spats, his glare causing Mercy's words to die in her throat. He pauses, his anger fading. Though only by so much. "...I don't know, okay? Everything's all—it's all messed up in my head. I think I have more memories than before, but I also think I have some of your memories. And all of these...suspicions."

"Suspicions?" Mercy wrinkles her noise. "What kind of 'suspicions?'"

Sans reaches up to his chest with his free hand, dragging a finger along it in a jagged line. "Nothing good."

Mercy watches him, eyes fixated on his chest. Maybe his life wasn't so good before this, either... "...Do you really hate being Fran?" she asks him, her voice quieter than before. Fearful, even, though she won't ever dare admit that. Not at the moment, anyway.

Sans' eye sockets cloud over. "I hate that I can't be me."

"But you don't hate being Fran?"

"I wouldn't if I could feel like myself, Mercy." Sans blinks, shaking his head clear. "Why? Do you like being Fran?"

He doesn't sound very happy about it, Mercy frowns, messing with the hem of her dress. "I don't mind it," she says. "It's not as lonely. People treat me better, too...though, I guess it would be nice to be able to think clearly again. Like now."

The tension in Sans' body falls away. He sighs. "I can agree with that," he decides. "...So, you really think that this soul-absorbing thing is helping my memory?"

"I think there's only way to find out." Mercy tugs on his hand, pointing in the direction of the light. She smiles. "Plus, I don't think we'll be able to get out of here without each other. Might as well give it a chance."

Sans doesn't move. "...I'm scared."

"That's okay. I'm—" Mercy falters, "—I'm scared, too. But we'll be okay; I mean, Fran is us, so it's not like we'll be alone. And maybe...maybe when you remember more, we'll be able be ourselves again."

"You don't sound like you like yourself, though."

Mercy doesn't respond.

Sans searches her eyes, looking between her and the white ahead. He squeezes her hand, "I think you're pretty alright. Alright enough to handle yourself and put up with me, anyway."

Mercy's face burns. Oh. I didn't think...though then again, I think I heard somewhere that monsters love quickly, don't they? "Th-Thank you."

"Mhm. Anytime. Just, y'know, for the record, if anything bad happens, I'm blaming you."

"Hey! Why me?"

"Because you're the one with all the ideas and I'm just going along for the ride."

Mercy pouts. "...Fine. But if anything good happens, you owe me an ice cream."

"Ice cream?"

"It's food. And actually, you'll owe me two."

"Oh. Okay...but only if I can have some."

"Deal."

Their faces break into smiles, the two laughing at their banter. They hold onto each other's hands, losing themselves to the sounds of the humming around them and the other's breathing as they're swallowed by a blinding, white flash of light.

*

Tap, tap, tap!

A tapping on their forehead stirs Fran from their sleep, the child blinking their eyes in order to clear the guck from them. They let out a groan and roll over onto their side, their body stiff and aching, rubbing at their eyes even though the sensation sends pins and needles down their arm. Their thoughts swim in a sea of grey, lost in their half-asleep, half-awake state.

Tap, tap, tap!

The spot next to them dips, the tapping moving to their shoulder. Fran drops their hand to find a blanket resting over them and a mattress cushioning their back. A bed? they wonder. That's weird. We don't remember seeing one of those...

A pause.

...Wait. Yes we have.

Shit.

Panic banishes the fog shrouding their brain, the child's eyes widening as they jerk up into a sitting position, letting out a gasp when a sharp stabbing pain assaults their ribs. They grit their teeth and hold their side, looking around.

Gaster's study lays a mess before their eyes; the medicine broken and spilled, the window blown out and allow cold, freezing air inside, the desk smashed and standing slanted to one side. They're wrapped up on his bed with the only blanket in the room, no sign of him or the skeleton brothers anywhere.

Tap, tap, tap!

At least, that's what they think, until they turn around to find Sans sitting behind them, wringing his hands and pausing only to give them a meek wave.

"Ah!"

Fran scrambles away from him, falling off the bed and onto the floor, scooting themselves away until their back hits the opposite wall. They cling to their blanket and shiver, breathing quickening, soul pounding against their rib-cage.

Is he mad? They wonder.

Do you think he'll hurt us?

We destroyed everything...we didn't mean to do that...

He probably hates us—

What do we do, what do we do—

Sans seems just as distressed as they feel, judging by the way he tenses and recoils into himself, slowly pushing himself off the bed and onto his feet. He puts up his hands in surrender, signing what Fran assumes is his attempt at reassuring them.

Or maybe scolding them—they don't understand sign language, so they wouldn't be able to tell the difference anyway.

Fran watches the skeleton's movements, gaining control of their breathing, blinking up at him with their eyebrows furrowed. They lick at their dried lips, forcing themselves to speak, "M...'M sorry."

Sans pauses, his hands gripping the front of his shirt. He looks around, giving them a shrug.

"Are y—you mad?"

A shake of his head.

No. That's better than they thought. Still, they don't meet his gaze when they say, "Didn't mean to. Just want—" To be free, to be separated, to be happy, "—to be better. Don't know how."

No response. Sans' footsteps thud against the floor as he walks closer, the skeleton sitting down across from them, his back propped up against the bed. He sighs, mumbling as he pulls his knees to his chest.

"Can't hear you."

Snap, snap!

They look up at him, letting out a pained laugh. "Papyrus said no," they tell him, pointing to his hand. "No snapping. Bad."

Sans snorts, waving a hand in the air.

"...Where is he?" they ask. "And Gaster?"

Sans starts to move his hands again, explanation at his fingertips, but he stops, frowning. He thinks for a moment, expression twisting in thought, before he snaps his fingers again, climbing onto his feet and moving to a different part of the room.

"What you doing?"

Sans ignores them, kicking open one of Gaster's desk drawers and rummaging through it. Fran notices him bounce slightly when he seems to find what he wants, the skeleton returning with a paper and pencil.

Their eyes light up. "Oh!" Good idea—writing sounds better than forming words right now.

...Wait. Can we write?

Probably not.

Darn.

They watch Sans scribble something down on the paper, careful not to let the paper tear. He hands it to them, letting them read.

They had to go calm everyone down and make an emergency trip out.

Fran lowers their head. That makes sense. Unfortunately. "Trip where?"

Sans takes the paper back, it's one of our friendly camps. They trade with us sometimes—I doubt you'd know it.

They don't. "Can I go?"

That makes the other laugh. No. I don't think they like humans. Or people that look like humans, for that matter.

Fran frowns, "Oh." they play with a loose strand of carpet, looking down at their knees, "What are we?"

The question causes Sans to pause. You don't know? he asks.

They hesitate. "We know some things. Things the voices say."

What do the voices say?

"That this place isn't safe. That people here aren't happy. That you...take pills?" they scrunch up their face at that. "...We know that we're two people."

And the voices told you all of that?

"Most of it."

Sans taps at the paper with the tip of his pencil. Is your name really Fran?

They shrug, "Feels right."

Is that the name of one of your souls? Sans hands them the paper with shaky hands as he asks this, his eye-lights flickering.

Fran frowns. Don't think so. "...No," they answer, running a hand through their tangled, singed hair, "We think—we think their names are different."

You talk about them like they're not you.

Fran rubs at their arms. "We aren't them. They just make up what we are."

Sans hums. He looks down at the paper, letting out a sigh.

Do I know one of them?

Yes. The thought comes to them immediately. They shrug. "They say they do. And I know you—from the burny place."

Sans snorts, shaking his head. You mean Dr. Gaster's lab?

"Mhm."

Do they know anyone else? Sans writes.

Yes. Fran hums, "Mhm. They both do."

And you don't know their names?

Fran’s head spins.

Yes.

No.

Sometimes.

Not really.

"'S hard," they say, "to remember. All cloudy."

Because your souls are together.

"Mhm."

Sans hesitates. He scribbles something down, scratches it out, writes something again, crosses that out, too. Finally, he settles on another question, passing it off to them.

Are you going to hurt anyone?

Fran gasps, "No! Never!"

Promise?

"Yes! Why would we hurt people?"

Sans doesn't look at them this time, Because I think I remember you, and I know that you've hurt people before. Not on purpose, at least I don't think it was. Some of those people didn't come back, and I don't know where they are now. It's scary to think about. Nobody believed me when I talked about it and Papyrus forbade me from mentioning it again—don't tell him about this by the way.

"Okay."

Good. I just don't want anyone to get hurt this time.

But we wouldn’t hurt anyone…would we? Fran rereads his words, over and over, trying to make sense of them. "...Who?" they ask, voice shaking slightly as they speak, "Who's it?"

He takes the paper back.

A little girl. We met in a different life. She was nice--likes monsters. She just wasn't a normal human. Said her soul was messed up.

Sounds familiar. Fran chews on their nail. "Like ours?"

Kind of. When you pulled out your soul, I felt her.

Sweat beads on Fran's palms. "Sorry," they murmur.

Sans just shrugs.

"...Can I ask stuff now?" they ask.

Of course, Sans gives them a smile. I don't bite.

Fran leans forward, their hands on their knees. "...What do we look like?"

Sans blinks at them. You don't know what you look like?

"No. Woke up like this."

He laughs. Must be nice to wake up with good looks.

Fran gasps, their face reddening, "Bad! No!"

Sans chuckles when they poke his shoulder, the skeleton holding up his hands. He shakes his head, ruffling their hair and pushing them gently away from him.

"...We look nice?" Fran asks once they've calmed down.

You look like a kid. White hair. Blue eyes. Cute chubby cheeks.

"Hey!"

What? Ain't nothing wrong with a little chub. Sans pauses. I like your coat.

Fran looks down, pulling back their blanket and really taking in their patchy, over-sized hoodie and ripped pants. "...Why?"

It looks warm.

"Oh." They look out the window, pulling their blanket tighter around themselves. They shiver. "...Where's there?"

Sans' eye-sockets darken, What do you mean?

"People talk. About a different place—where's it? Why'd y'come here? Is it bad?"

The sound of bones rattling fills the room. It takes Sans a moment to gather himself, the skeleton shaking his head and focusing on his breathing before writing down his response.

We used to be in a bigger town. Almost like a city—away from the forest. But the people in charge hurt us a lot, so we left. Now we're fighting them.

"Like a war?" Fran shrinks into their blanket, "Why?"

Sans' expression twists.

They killed a lot of people for no reason.

Fran doesn't know how to respond to that. Sounds awful...can't imagine dealing with something like that. Why would they kill people for no reason?

Control's a terrible thing, a voice whispers, etching itself into their ear. Fear is a powerful tool; make people afraid enough and they'll follow anything. No matter how immoral or wrong it might be.

We wouldn't do that.

Not that you're aware of.

Fran's skin crawls. "...Are you a soldier?"

Sans laughs. Funny. But no. I'm more of a laborer. Papyrus says he's a soldier, though.

"Is that why he's killed people?"

Sans' good mood dies instantly. Yes. He didn't want to.

"He sounded sad."

Angry fits the description better. Tired, afraid—there's no telling where his head is anymore. Being a leader of a rebellion does that to you, though.

"And that's why he goes to other places? The friendly camps?"

Now you've got it. Sans shifts, stretching out his legs. Fran winces when they hear his joints pop. It used to be just us, but recently more and more people have been helping us out. We might even have enough people to start a coupe by now.

"What's a coupe?"

Sans thinks about it. Overthrowing?

"Oh. Like a monarch?"

You know what a monarch is but not what coupe means?

"We're a day old."

Right.

Fran hugs their knees to their chest, staring at the door. They hear low murmurs coming from down below, the crowd of people living downstairs talking among themselves late into the night. We must not have slept that long; still not morning. "...Sans?" they start.

What is it?

"Why are you disposable? The voices—they said it was because of your health? Why's that?"

A haunted look passes over the other's face. Sans looks away, eye-lights reduced to the size of pinpricks, his rattling bones growing louder. His handwriting becomes sloppier the more he writes.

Disposables are the weak. I only have one health, so I can't fight in battle. I can't negotiate plans with the other camps. I can't get a house or marry or anything like that. All I can do is work and work until the day I die. My parents put me under my brother's supervision years ago, so the most I can do is whatever he tells me to do. He's a lot kinder than they were, though the war's made him harder. Less of a goofball. Anything out of line and I'll be killed on the spot, but nobody would care if the work I did killed me, either. Nobody cares about Disposables—it's part of the name. Everyone knows that we're not worth the effort to care about.

Fran can't believe their eyes. They look up to him, tears in their eyes, "But you're not dis-disp-disposable. You're my friend."

Sans' face flushes. Shaking, he looks down at the paper in his hands and back to Fran, his eye-lights slowly growing back into their original size. He stands, walking over to the window and looking out.

Fran yelps when he suddenly rips the paper up into shreds, "What you doing?"

He throws the paper outside, looking back to them. He puts a finger up to his teeth, winking at them.

Oh. Right—he wanted that to be between us. "Oh. Okay."

Sans walks back over to them, grunting as he gathers them up in his arms and places them back on the bed. He gives them a quick pat on the head before walking around them, heading for the door.

"Where you going?"

Click!—he doesn't answer, allowing the door closing behind him to be answer enough.

Fran pouts. With a sigh, they flop down onto the bed, pulling the blanket up to their chin in hopes it would keep out the cold. Doesn't matter. We'll just wait for him to get back.

By the time the door to Gaster's room opens again, they're fast asleep, their soft snores being the only sounds they make as the skeletons go to work on cleaning up their mess.

**

FRAN -- LV?? 302:25

 

Bone House

 

* Learning more about your situation and bonding with your new friend fills you with HOPE.

Chapter Text

Fran spends a whole year proving their worth to the tiny community under Papyrus' care.

The first few months are the worst. Most of their time drags on while they help patch up holes in the houses' walls and floors, helping Toriel and an older bunny monster tend to the sick and the dying and the young, learning how to hunt and start a fire and set traps, setting up tarps to block out harsh winds and deter wild animals from wandering into their part of the woods (a fence is added later when they find tears and rips littered across the tarp; though it doesn't fully fix the problem, it does cut back on the amount of incidences involving animals making homes out of their wooden structures). Sometimes they spend hours with Gaster, the doctor studying their soul and doing tests on their blood ("Is human blood supposed to be black? ...What do you mean, you don't know?") or doing "humane" experiments on them to see what they're capable of.

(Papyrus once walked in to the doctor poking their soul with a syringe and injecting magic into it. Though the experiment didn't bother them any or change them in any way, Fran swears the two skeletons didn't stop arguing for weeks over it—and God forbid they mention the doctor in Papyrus' presence without causing another lecture on the tall skeleton's part.

(Though...thinking about how much Papyrus worries about them does warm their soul. Even if it gets intense at times.)

When the snow melts and little flowers begin to bud in the grass, Papyrus decides that it's time to teach them how to fight.

"Stay focused on your target," Papyrus tells them, standing a few feet away. He summons an attack, holding a bone in his hand. "Don't let your attention get away from you; that's when they'll attack you and kill you. Considering you said you haven't fought much, I'm not going to do any advanced attacks for now, but most fights aren't going to be easy. You'll need to be able to be smarter than your enemy, understand?"

Fran nods, bending at their knees (just like they were told to do), stick in hand. They hold it firmly in front of them, waiting for Papyrus to deliver the first blow.

"Do you remember what the signal is to stop?"

"'Blue.'"

"Good."

Crack!

Without warning, the ground underneath them cracks, glowing a bright, ominous blue. Fran gasps, their eyes widening as they jump out of the way, narrowly dodging a cage of bone. They stumble on their feet, regaining their balance just as a bright light appears above them.

Vrrrr—

They look up to find a giant skull, its maw gaping open, blue magic collecting between its teeth.

Fran tenses up, Fuck—

Boom!

They roll out of the way as the blaster goes off, the creature standing on their feet as four others appear around them. They jump out of the way, wincing when they feel a beam of magic whiz passed their scalp, singing their hair.

Fran comes to a stop, out of breath.

"Are you okay?" they hear Papyrus shout from up ahead, his voice quivering slightly.

"Enemies don't ask that!"

"Just answer the question!"

Fran groans. They lunge forward, running the rest of the length to Papyrus and swinging their stick—

Ping!

They freeze, caught in mid-air. Their soul protrudes from their body, glowing blue. What—

They let out a scream as they're flung across the yard and into a tree, their back connecting against rough, unforgiving bark.

"Oof—"

They land on their side, their ribs making a sickening pop when they land on the ground.

Papyrus runs over to them, kneeling down. "Holy shit, holy sh—are you okay? I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to do that—you startled me and I just reacted, please tell me you're not hurt, I—ah—"

The skeleton breaks off with a yelp as he's flipped onto his back, Fran using their stick to knock his feet from under him. They slowly climb onto their feet, wheezing, holding onto their side. They hold their stick up, their teeth clenched. Their fingertips fizzle, tiny glitch boxes appearing and disappearing from sight.

"Again."

They try again—though this time, both of them are prepared for what's to come.

*

Help.

"Help?"

Left.

"Left."

Over there.

"Un...underwear?"

Sans laughs. Fran and the skeleton sit under one of the many trees bordering their tiny village, protected from the unforgiving heat due to the trees overhanging branches, bathed in its shade. Fran cups a small bottle of water in their hands (their only bottle for the day; living day to day solely on rations certainly has its downsides) and takes a sip from it, focused only on Sans' hands, taking in their every move. It's rare when both of them are free from work, even if it's only for a few minutes at a time.

"What?" Fran whines, gesturing to his hands. "That's what it looked like!"

Not close.

"Well, we can't tell! Still learning!"

Watch.

"We are!"

The skeleton chuckles, nodding, You are getting better. I am impressed. Sans leans back, looking up through the branches. Pretty.

Fran follows his gaze. They spot a bird's nest, the mother hovering over it with food in her mouth. "...Hey, Sans?"

He grunts in response.

"What's it like? Having parents?"

Sans startles. He meets their gaze, his expression twisted, his hands fumbling over each other and shaken about as he tries to come up with a response. Finally, he asks, Why?

Fran's grip around their water bottle tightens. "...We heard people talking. About parents—and kids. But we don't have parents. Is it...good? To have parents?"

Sans' eye-lights disappear. He bows his head, his shoulders shaking slightly despite the heat.

Not missing much.

Fran tilts their head, their eyebrows furrowed. They replay the response in their head, trying to make sense of it. That doesn't sound like what everyone else was saying, though... "Is Papyrus our dad?" They ask instead, trying to prod further.

Sans stills. He thinks it over, snapping his fingers nervously. He shrugs.

"Dunno?"

He cares about you. We all do.

Fran hums, "But...?" Aren't parents supposed to care?

Sans just shrugs. Have to talk to him. Not my place.

That makes sense...kind of. Fran frowns, shaking their head, their hair falling into their face and into their eyes. They lean forward, "But—but we—"

"Hey!"

They both jump at the sound of shouting from above, the two of them looking up to find one of the child monsters hiding within the trees, hanging above by a rope.

"What're you two slackin' around for?" the bunny demands. "These traps aren't gonna set themselves!"

Fran huffs. They cross their arms, shouting back, "on break!"

"Break? Since when do Disposables go on break?" the bunny sneers. "Is that old bag of bones finally showin' his favoritism with his stupid toy?"

Fran glares. They struggle to get their words right, their voice straining in their effort to speak. "Not on full break. Not stupid, either! He's just—different." They make a gesture with their hand, testing out one of the signs Sans showed them. "Teaching us sign. With hands. For commu—for sp—battle stuff." They look to Sans for help, though they find the skeleton to be off in his own world; his gaze far away and body stiff, utterly mute.

The bunny above them laughs. "Sounds like a waste of time to me! Weapons and traps are more helpful than making a few hand gestures; hell, I'm surprised he knows anything at all, really. People like him aren't good for much, except maybe turning into dust. Do all of us a lot of good if they all just died."

They aren't sure what happened. Fran's vision turns red, their ears filling with static, the child climbing onto their feet in a blur of movement and up into the branches without a single thought. They hear someone shout from below—whether from Sans or someone else, they don't know, nor do they care—Fran grabbing the bunny by the front of their shirt and yanking them forward, nose-to-nose.

"Do not. Speak about him. That way." They punctuate each sentence with a harsh shake, the bunny's nose twitch and ears flickering, completely still in their hands. "He. Is our friend. Friends aren't disposable."

Their body starts to glitch; spots of black and white sparking across their body, their voice becoming fuzzier, their skin turning transparent, revealing bone underneath.

The bunny in their hands screams, trying to scramble away. "L-Let go—let go of me—"

Fran ignores them. They push the bunny against the tree's bark, fists threateningly close to the bunny's throat. Their voice deepens when they speak next, their eyes empty and black, revealing nothing but an endless void. "Watch how you speak to people. You might upset the wrong person—and then, you'll be the one turned to dust."

"Ack—"

They let the monster go, going limp. The child watches as the bunny hops off, clinging to their rope and allowing it to support them on their way down, Fran sitting down on the branch and waiting for the bunny to disappear from sight. They sigh, their body starting to return to normal as their soul calms in their chest.

Their hands shake.

...What was that?

Thwack!

They jolt when the tree shakes, the child holding tighter to the branch and looking down. Sans stares up at them, a broken branch in his hands, his bones paler than usual and eyes haunted, looking smaller than he did before.

Fran's anger melts away, the child shrinking into their hoodie. Sorry, they sign.

Sans puts the stick down and sighs. Get down. Time for work.

Fran hesitates, looking around them. Their head spins. "...Can't," they shout down.

Why not?

"...We're stuck."

Sans shakes his head. They see him fight back a smile, hiding it behind one of his hands as he turns away, waving a hand in their direction—his usual motion for them to wait. He runs over to one of the houses, knocking on the door.

Fran groans, leaning back against the tree, covering their face with their hands. Unbelievable, they think. How do we keep getting ourselves in these situations?

...And how did we get up here in the first place?

It takes a while, but eventually, one of the monsters climbs up the tree and picks them up, dropping down and bringing them to safety. Everyone gets a good laugh out of it (for the moment; they doubt the monsters will be happy when they find out why they were up there) before returning to their duties, leaving the child alone.

Sans touches Fran's arm, giving them a concerned look.

They smile at him, "We're okay. Thank you."

The skeleton shakes his head, Thank you. And then, after a pause, do not do that again. Could get us in trouble.

Fran beams. “No promises.”

They don't say it, but the moments they spend with Sans are the times where they feel most like themselves.

It scares them.

**

The longer they stay with the monsters, the more Fran changes.

They notice little things at first; they grow taller, their hair grows longer, their eyes change from blue to purple with the changing seasons, their clothes become more ragged and worn. They stay as thin as before, though their muscles start to become more defined, toner than when they first arrived. Speech comes easier to them now, though that's probably due to Toriel's insistence on helping them with their vocabulary (and, on the rare occasions, attempting to teach them how to read and write, though she doesn't have to know what happened to the books she gave them. That’s between them and the temporary fire they made a little ways into the forest).

They develop a weird craving for both meat and magic, neither of which are ever sated.

Their mind still chatters, though it's not as cloudy. They can pick out the voices better, can tell which soul is in charge and which one isn't, can sort through their memories and pick out which are theirs and which ones belong to their other lives. They don't know the names of their souls still, though starting to become familiar with them is a start.

Still, There are some changes about themselves that they don't find very promising.

***

They stand on top of a mountain, staring out over a sea of trees and into the blinding sunlight. They're surrounded by friends—or, at least, what they think are friends. Some are people they know (they recognize Papyrus and Toriel almost immediately) though others cause them to pause, being both familiar to the life they had before and strangers to their current one. Birds chirp in their nests down below, fresh air leagues better than the air down in the mountain (how do they know the difference?), their jacket blowing in the wind. A strange calm washes over them, Fran settling into the scene as though they're made for it.

Shing!

The calm shatters when they hear a cry of pain from behind them, the child turning around to see a smiling, dust-covered human standing behind them, holding a knife. The human rushes towards a lizard monster off to their right, slicing her down with a single blow, the monster turning to dust without a sound.

Panic bubbles up in their chest. Fran tries to intervene—or perhaps run, they aren't sure—but they find themselves unable to move, locked in place, forced to look back to the setting sun as the people next to them are cut down, one by one.

"You thought you could get rid of me, bone-man?" the human sneers, giggling into their ear. They feel the tip of a knife press against their back. "Ha! You wish! This game of ours didn't end just 'cause Frisk and that 'player' decided to have a different kind of fun. I'm always going to be here, never letting you go.

"But I got to admit, you make a pretty good opponent. How's 'bout best two out of three?"

Indescribable pain stabs through them as the knife drives straight through their soul, the human pushing Fran off the cliff's edge and letting them plummet to the earth...

They jerk awake in their makeshift bed on the floor, pale skin glistening in the moodlight, a brisk autumn breezing blowing into the room from the open window and leaves collecting on the floor. Fran struggles to control their breathing, the child looking this way and that to search the room, their hands clasped over their heart. Blood rushes in their ears.

Another nightmare.

Shaking, they move towards the window, sitting down on the windowsill and leaning forward. They close their eyes and focus on the wind hitting their face, breathing in, out, in, out. Their fingers curl into their palms, nails digging into their skin.

In, out, in, out.

It's okay, they tell themselves, it was just a dream. Nobody's going to hurt us.

Though it's obvious by now that someone hurt us before.

The bed behind them creaks, and Fran tilts their head briefly to meet Gaster's gaze, the scientist sitting up and scrubbing at his face with his palms.

"Fran," the doctor mumbles through a yawn, "it's the middle of the night. What are you doing up?"

They turn back to the window. Don't freak him out. "Couldn't sleep," they croak. They close their eyes again, leaning the back of their head against the window frame. "Nightmares. We'll be fine."

"You look paler than a ghost," Gaster tells them.

Fran doesn't miss a beat, "At least we don't look like a skeleton."

"Wh—what on earth would be wrong with that?"

"Death comes in many forms."

Gaster doesn't speak for a while. "...Go back to sleep. You're speaking in riddles again."

"Does the good doctor not like a good riddle?" They peek through their eyelashes and flash a smile. "Here's one to tickle your funnybone—"

"Fran, please, don't, it's too late for this—"

"—a reaper meets with a dying soul and is about to take them to the land of the dead. Right before he's about to swing his scythe, though—"

"Fran—"

"—the soul says to him, 'Hey, Mr. Reaper, how do you tell when a soul is about to expire?' So Reaper explains it to the soul, about how souls start to glow less and less as they age, and the soul listens until the Reaper stops speaking. 'How do you know when you expire?' the soul asks him afterwards. 'Well, Reapers don't expire,' the Reaper explains. 'All things die eventually. How do you tell when a Reaper expires?'"

Gaster sighs, running a hand down his face, "For such a quiet child, you become chatty at the worst possible times."

Fran holds up a finger to silence him. "So the Reaper says, 'Well, I assume it would be the same as other souls,' so the soul responds, 'How are you supposed to tell when a soul is dying if you don’t even know if you have a soul?' The Reaper can't respond. The soul is able to leave—why?"

"Because the reaper is an imbecile," Gaster deadpans. "Can I go back to sleep now? Actually, wait—can you go back to sleep so that I can?"

Fran frowns. They open their eyes, flexing their fingers and looking out to the forest outside. "...Can we sleep with you?" they ask. "The floor's cold."

Gaster hesitates. They can hear his harsh breaths from where they sit, his old injuries still causing him trouble even after so much time has passed. "I thought you weren't comfortable with that?"

"We're not. But we also don't want to go back to sleep. Not alone, anyway."

"Because of the nightmares."

"Yeah—because of nightmares."

The doctor doesn't respond for some time. The bed creaks under his weight, the monster's breathing growing worse the longer he remains sitting.

"...Fine. But be mindful of my side—too much weight on it'll make it so I can't walk for a week."

Fran grins, hobbling on their feet for a moment before climbing into the bed with him. They keep their distance, taking up one side of the bed while Gaster rolls over to claim the other, leaving plenty of space between them.

"Hey, Gaster?" Fran whispers, hands twisted in the bedsheets.

"What, Fran?"

"It's because each person's soul is different."

Gaster coughs. "Hm?"

"The Reaper couldn't answer the soul because each one is different. You can't judge a soul just by looking at it because it won't be the same as another soul you've seen. So, the Reaper couldn't be sure if he had a soul and couldn't be sure if the soul in front of him was a dying or a living soul, so he let them go."

"...Goodnight, Fran."

"Goodnight, Dr. Gaster."

Hours later, Fran listens to the sounds of Gaster's breathing and soft snores—wide awake beside him, their shared mind whispering possibility after possibility, wondering just what defines a soul.

What makes up a soul? What differs between them?

Why bother making the distinction between human and monster?

Are we human? Are we monster?

Are we both? Are we neither?

Does this soul determine who we are, or can we mold it into whatever we want?

Why are we alive? Why do we exist?

Do we exist?

They decide that, if nightmares are an unwelcome change, being awake is even worse.

Such a statement becomes all the more true just a few weeks later, when all of their hard work and time spent building bonds comes crashing down—all starting with a simple letter.

****

FRAN -- LV?? ???:??

 

Bone House

 

* The promise of a new adventure fills you with HOPE.

Chapter Text

"...Thank you for your help, Fran," Toriel murmurs to the small human, patting their head and smiling at them. "You're doing wonderful—I'm glad that I can trust you to help with the children around here. They are quite the handful."

Fran gives her a tired smile in response, cradling the horned, prickly baby in their arms, the baby giving a gentle coo in return. They sit in the house's living area, docked away in one of the many makeshift "rooms." It's been a long day—not only with how much work that's needed done, what with checking the fencing around the village and keeping the traps functional, but also with how boring and uneventful it's been otherwise.

Fran fights back a yawn at the thought, covering their mouth with their fist to stifle it. They give a nervous glance around the room at the other children, clustered in small, tight-knit groups and whispering with one another in between small bites of food. They clear their throat, gesturing towards them with a nod of their head, "It's worth seeing them happy."

Toriel nods, "Agreed." She hesitates, her gaze falling on the child in Fran's arms. Her expression twists. "...Though, I do worry about your happiness, Fran. I haven't seen you relax since you've gotten here, and the rare breaks you do take don't seem to do much for you. I would hope that you aren't neglecting yourself for the sake of others."

Fran doesn't meet her gaze. They frown, their head buzzing with noise, the creature looking down at the small babe bundled up in their lap. Their skin crawls.

You don't deserve rest, the voices tell them.

There's so much to do,

so little time,

too many lives at stake.

You don't have a moment to waste,

not now, not with what's coming,

so what if it kills you? You'd deserve it, anyways.

A creature like you is better off dusted.

"Fran?"

They blink, looking up at Toriel to find her grimacing. They flash her a smile, "We're okay. We'll nap with Sans later—'s no big deal."

Toriel's frown worsens. She sighs, reaching for the child in Fran's hands, taking them from the human. "I don't understand your insistence with spending time with him," she says. "I would prefer you make friends with children your own age."

"We're a year old, Ms. Toriel."

"...Children who are of the same intellect as you?"

Fran chuckles. "Ms. Toriel," they say, "with all due respect, we like Sans. We don't care if he's unhealthy, he's fun to be around. He teaches stuff to us sometimes, too—stuff that can help with the, uh, rebellion. And he takes care of us."

"Rarely," Toriel mutters, expression darkening, "and not nearly as well as he should."

Fran huffs, crossing their arms. They raise their eyebrows at her, "He does his best. We all do our best—why does everyone here judge him more harshly than others?"

Toriel hesitates. "...Well," she starts, "people like him are a lot harder to trust than most. I'm afraid...well, I'm afraid that he'll get you hurt someday, my child."

"But—"

"Do not interrupt me." Toriel gives them a stern look. "I only speak so ill of him out of concern for you, Fran. And whether he tries or not, I would prefer you not spend so much time with someone who can die with a simple bruise. People like that—they aren't good to be around."

Anger and offense rises in their chest, "Why not?"

"Why are you arguing with me about this, child?" Toriel snaps. "...It's obvious he's rubbing off on you already. Why don't you go spend some time with the other children, hm? May do you some good."

Fran glares. They feel a retort on the tip of their tongue, the words forming and ready to make themselves be heard, ready to tell her exactly how wrong she is, when—

"Fran."

Both Fran and Toriel look up to the balcony to Dr. Gaster, the scientist leaning against the railing and looking down at them with a lazy glance. He taps at the wooden railing with his fingers, thrumming them rhythmically against it.

"Your assistance is needed. Do find Sans and have him bring you up here, would you?"

Fran grins, a sense of victory washing over them, "Yes, Dr. Gaster." They cast a furious glance at Toriel, who merely looks away, "be up in a few minutes."

"I would hope it would be faster than that," they hear Gaster mutter, but he returns to his room nonetheless, disappearing from sight.

Fran stands, brushing themselves off. "We'll be back later," they tell Toriel. They pause, thinking their next words over carefully. "...And about Sans. We think you'd like him if you gave him a chance—"

Toriel narrows her eyes at them, "Fran—"

"—from what he's said to us, you two have a lot more in common than you think. You might benefit from being friends, actually. Might help you be a little less uptight."

Toriel balks. "I—why you—I'm—"

She sputters, trying to recover, but the words don't come, the old woman left struggling to speak.

Seems she wasn't expecting that, Fran thinks.

Good! Maybe she'll get over herself a little.

That's mean.

So's judging someone you don't know very well.

…Good point.

Fran smiles, both from smugness and from a twinge of regret, leaving the old goat alone with her thoughts.

Their search doesn't take much time; a simple glance around the house, a step outside into the backyard, a few steps into the forest—and there he is, fiddling with one of the traps. His hands shake, but Sans does well enough freeing his catch from the trap, disgust clear on his face as he picks up the dead rabbit.

Fran's eyes gleam. "So," they say behind him, the skeleton all but jumping out of his skin and whipping around to face them, his hand gripping the front of his shirt, "your hunger is so rabbit you're willing to eat that, huh?"

Sans blinks. He breaks into a smile, chuckling. You are lucky my hands are full, he signs, Otherwise, I am afraid I could have lost a lucky foot.

Fran giggles. "Are rabbits’ feet really lucky?"

I am willing to believe anything. Sans chucks the rabbit into a net, tying it and shrugging it onto his shoulder. What did you need?

Fran rocks back and forth on their heels. "Dr. Gaster needs you to bring us to his lab-bedroom," they tell him. "For business."

Sans' smile falls. Experiment business? He asks, shuffling nervously from foot to foot.

Fran shrugs. "He didn't say."

Papyrus will kill him if it is about experiments. You know this, right?

"We won't let that happen. Besides," their eyes crinkle at the edges, flashing blue, "even if he's rabbit when he's angry, we can always hop to Gaster's defense before they both end up as dust bunnies."

Sans' eye sockets widen, the skeleton at a loss on how to respond. Then, he laughs, covering their mouth with his hands. Fran laughs with him even when he brings a finger to his mouth to tell them to keep quiet, taking the skeleton's hand even as he shakes his head and adjusts the net full of freshly-killed animals on his shoulder.

He pauses, giving them a look that they think translates to "are you ready for this?"

Fran smiles, giving him a thumbs up. "Go ahead!"

Get ready, one of the voices say. You know how these teleportations go.

You always have hated them.

They remind you of something, don't they?

Sans snaps his fingers, and Fran braces themselves, tensing up next to them. They close their eyes as they're sucked into that insidious darkness, that place that whispers to them and tempts them to rejoin its violating depths, pulled into deafening silence and comforting static. It only takes a moment for the pair to pass through the shortcut, but when they return to their world Fran still struggles to keep themselves standing, their knees shaking as they double over, out of breath.

Dr. Gaster looks over to them from his desk, a letter held in his hands, expression troubled. His gaze softens when he seems them, the old scientist climbing onto his feet, leaning against his desk as he favors his bad leg, "Are you alright, Fran? You look sick."

Fran doesn't hear him. Their ears ring with voices they can't understand, eyes blinded by code and never-ending midnight sky, their soul pulsing sickly in their chest.

Their head feels like it's going to explode.

Fuck that place, they decide, though they don't voice it. Why does it feel so terrible to be there?

Welcome to our world.

Sans squeezes their hand gently, concern evident on his features, the skeleton bumping his shoulder against theirs to get their attention. He signs something, though they don't catch it, their eyes directed at the floor instead of at his hands.

Slowly, Fran regains control of their breathing, shaking their head to clear it. "...Sorry," they say, giving the skeletons a smile. "We're a bit tired today. It felt...weird this time."

"I keep telling you that you need to sleep more," Dr. Gaster huffs, pointing a finger at them. "I have asked you on multiple occasions to retire earlier, yet you always argue with me over it. Obviously, you need to take my advice more—though I was not a real doctor, I know what I'm talking about."

Sans rolls his eyes at that, shaking his head and letting the human's hand go. He sets down the killed animals and heads over to the doctor's medicine stash, searching through it and picking out a few of the bottles. I am going to take some of these downstairs, he tells the doctor. Some are not holding up so well with the change of seasons.

Dr. Gaster turns back to his work. He gives the other a dismissive wave of his hand, looking back to the letter, "Yes, yes, that is fine. Just make sure to take your own medicine, would you? Papyrus and I both would prefer if you didn't go without it after last time."

Fran shudders, thinking back on the memory of Sans being bedridden, unable to move until they could replenish the lost collection of medicine. They feel a twinge of guilt in their soul but push it away, forcing themselves to look away from the smaller skeleton as he nods and disappears, opting instead to walk over to Gaster's desk and sit down on top of it. "What did you need?" they ask.

Gaster shoots them a dirty look but sighs, returning to his reading. "...Gerson came today," he tells them.

Fran stiffens. They haven't seen much of the old turtle themselves, personally; though their encounters with the messenger were brief, any time the old monster had news from other places, it never meant anything good for their small camp. Or Fran's conscious, for that matter; haunted by memories of another life they still don't understand.

"You got any more of that sea tea, G?" A small skeleton—they now know to be Sans, though not their Sans, a different one from a different place, a different world perhaps—chirps as he leans against a counter, looking at the person behind it with a devilish grin. "My bro's wantin' me to boost my spirits, an' I thought one of your energy drinks would work alright."

Gerson—but not their Gerson, he looks so much different from the ragged, weary old turtle they know, why do these memories have to be so confusing and weird?—laughs, clapping one of his clawed hands on the counter. "Wah, ha, ha! You and your jokes, Sans—give me just a moment and I'll have some made for ya. Though it'll cost ya, so you better cough up the dough before I make it!"

Other-Sans digs into his pocket, pulling out a tiny, jingling bag. He sets it on the counter, saying, "Here you go, War Hammer of Justice."

"Hey! What'd I say about callin' me that?"

"I'unno—what did you say about that, G?"

"...I can't remember."

"Fran."

Fran blinks, snapping back to the present. They hum, bowing their head. "...What's the news?" they ask. "And why'd you ask for us? We thought this was more Papyrus' job, answering other base's calls for help."

Dr. Gaster rubs the back of his neck. "Papyrus isn't back yet from his walk," he explains. "I think he's still checking to make sure there hasn't been any unwanted company, as he puts it."

"Oh," Fran frowns. They pause, looking away and down to the carpet. "...Still, how are we supposed to help? We don't know strategy stuff—we're still learning."

"Which is why I called you here." Gaster shoves the letter into their chest, the small human letting out a grunt. "This letter came from the city. I think it would be best if you read it."

Fran gives him a questioning look, holding the letter in their hands. When he doesn't elaborate, they sigh, looking down and reading it.

Their blood runs cold.

To whom it may concern,

I am sending this letter through a third party who will then be passing it on to a messenger, who will then be contacting the messenger contacting the rebel camps outside of this city. If I were able, I would trace your messenger and find these camps and have them destroyed, but unfortunately such attempts have gotten me nowhere.

I have become tired of this uneasy peace between us. I know that, even with my armies, I wouldn't be able to stop a revolt by the people—as infuriating as that is to admit. I do not want to keep you for long, so I will make this frank.

I want this petty war to come to an end, but I am not willing to do so without certain demands being met. I am sure you have some of your own, but I will get to those in a moment.

For starters, I want your "camps" to be dismantled. They will be unnecessary once peace is met, anyways; I see no point in them remaining in existence.

I also want your leaders to turn themselves in. Though I admire your ambition, I cannot let rebels go unpunished, and though I am willing to let most of you go without any repercussions, those who are in charge must face the consequences of their actions.

Your weapons and your supplies, too, I wish to be returned to the people of my city. Those items do not belong to you, and I do not appreciate you stealing from my citizens for your pathetic rebellion, and truly cannot accept any excuses for doing so. Your thievery—as well as most of the actions you have committed during this war, but I digress—has done more harm than it has good.

Another demand I have is, after these last two points are met, for you to hand over the criminal known as Dr. W. D. Gaster. His actions must be punished above all others, even those who are in charge of these rebellions.

Fran looks up at this, raising their eyebrows. "You're a criminal?"

"We all are," Gaster rolls his eyes at them, "keep reading."

They continue:

My final demand is for you to hand over the anomaly.

Fran furrows their brows, What?

There have been reports from our best researchers of an appearance of a creature in the area, though its whereabouts are hard to locate as of late. The most we know is that it is not a human or a monster, something that is already concerning on its own, and that it possesses an otherworldly power that can be catastrophic—not only for this city, but for you rebels as well. We are aware that it is a dangerous being, one that could destroy this world as we know it, and it must be eradicated before that happens. Even if our other demands are not met, this one is a must, as we highly doubt you want such a beast to kill everyone on this Earth and continue to the next.

The human breaks into a sweat. Their breath catches in their throat, their grip tightening on the piece of paper in front of them.

They're talking about us.

But how do they know? How do they know any of this?

Dunno. This is bad, though—they want to kill us.

Of course they do; we're part of the rebel group trying to overthrow them.

Shaking, they continue reading.

We hope that these demands are fair. We are willing to accept some demands of yours as well, though if resistance is still met, we will return to our original means of dealing with this annoyance and put an end to everyone who has joined your ranks.

We hope that you will make the right decision.

Your ruler,

Rik Francis

Fran shakes their head. "...This has to be a trap," they say, meeting Gaster's gaze. They set the paper aside, hands bunching up the fabric of their hoodie. "This—this doesn't add up. How couldn't they know where we are if they know who our messengers are? How do they know it's us who've done the things they say we've done?"

How do they know about us? They keep the last question to themselves.

Dr. Gaster shakes his head, sitting down. "I don't know," he replies, his tone grave. He folds his hands in his lap, his shoulders stiff. "I had asked Gerson if he was aware of this, but he told me he had no idea anyone was aware of his role as our messenger. For now, I've asked him to remain here, for his own safety and ours."

"I wouldn't call being here safe if what they're saying is true," Fran says. "We don't believe for a second that they don't know where we are, no matter what they claim."

"Neither do I. And yet, they haven't attacked us—an oddity I still can't wrap my head around."

Fran huffs. They deflate, hunching their shoulders and staring at their hands. They try to make sense of the letter's words, unable to understand. "...About the 'anomaly,'" they say, their voice wavering, "is that—what do they mean by that, the ‘anomaly’? Do you know?"

Dr. Gaster's expression shifts into something they can't read. "I am not sure. Whatever it is, though, it is bothersome how they know so much about it and we have barely anything on it."

As far as we know of, that is…

Fran shakes their head. "...What should we do?"

"I have no idea. I thought maybe you would have ideas." The doctor runs a hand down his face, leaning back in his chair. "This kind of stress is going to kill me one of these days, I swear it."

"You mean if a bullet doesn't kill you first?"

"Ha, ha. Very funny."

Fran falls silent. They look back down at their hands, their head spinning, eyes blurring. Exhaustion seeps into their body, soaking into their bones and making them hazy, dizzy.

We can't give in.

We can't ignore it, either.

We can't give up.

So what can we do?

Their eyes widen. They jump onto their feet, moving so fast that Dr. Gaster squeaks and jolts away from them, falling out of his chair. "We have to go to the city!"

The skeleton breaths heavily, staring at them with shrunken eye-lights. "...Why?"

They grin, grabbing onto his hand. "We have to see the ruler! Talk some sense into them! Maybe they'll realize things can be better if we see them and talk to them about stuff face-to-face!"

Gaster continues shrinking away from them, searching their eyes for some other kind of answer, "I don't think that is a good idea, Fran. I believe that's a good way to get us all killed, not a way to solve the problem."

Fran huffs, tugging on his arm. "Have you ever tried talking to them?" they ask.

The doctor hesitates. "...No. We left in a hurry to avoid execution."

"Do you think showing them mercy would change their mind?"

Gaster scoffs. "No. I believe that to be a foolish decision."

Fran stops, frowning at him. "Well, we can't do anything here," they tell him suddenly, standing up straighter. "And we can't just do what they want—that'd defeat the purpose of all this, wouldn't it? And—and we're not saying to just bring everyone there and talk things out, but maybe just sending a small group of people to negotiate would be good." They perk up. "Like Papyrus!"

Dr. Gaster snorts. "That sounds like a terrible plan," he responds, patting their head. "Papyrus has spoken to me personally about wanting to kill our old ruler. What makes you think that he'll want to have a friendly chat with them now?"

"Because we want him to and he's our dad."

That makes the skeleton startle. "I—he—huh? Since when did you call him your father?"

Fran looks off to the side. "...Since just now."

"Oh."

The human pauses, glancing towards the door. "...We know it's silly," they tell him, squeezing his hand, "but we have this feeling in our soul that tells us that it will work. Like it has worked before, and that it can work now. And we know it sounds dumb, but we still want to try. After all, it'd suck to be adopted into this weird family of runaway monsters only to have everyone killed a year later because they were too scared to go into some place and talk things out." They smile sheepishly, tugging him towards the door. "Please? Can't we just—try?"

Dr. Gaster wavers. He tries not to give in; boy, does he try. They can see it, too, the arguments as to why they shouldn't go along with their plan written in his eyes, in the way his mouth twitches, in the way he tries to pull away from them. But eventually, the skeleton deflates, letting out a groan, "Oh, fine. We can try your plan—but we need to run it by Papyrus. And I don't care what he says, you're not going."

Fran's face falls. "What? Why not?"

A haunted look crosses the doctor's face. "I don't want to see you die."

That's fair.

It's really not.

How so?

We might have to see them die.

"...Okay," they say, "but only if Papyrus is against it, too."

"I just said—"

"Either you both are against it or he lets us go." They put their hands on their hips. "You're not our dad."

Dr. Gaster glares, "Neither is he!"

"He kind of is."

"...No! He isn't!"

"Sans said he could be if Papyrus was okay with it."

Gaster's face reddens, "I don't care what the Disposable says! I said you're not going, Fran! It's dangerous!"

Fran clenches their hands into fists. The air around them turns ice-cold, their skin turning transparent, revealing nothing but bone underneath. They meet the skeleton's gaze, small glitch boxes appearing around their tiny frame, "I'm afraid that's not your decision to make, criminal."

The response makes the doctor freeze. He pales, tearing himself away from them, his hand held at the ready—ready to break out into a fight at a moment's notice. "Wh-What...?"

The child calms down. They return to normal, giving him a patient smile. "Whatever. We can talk about all that later—shouldn't we find Papyrus and tell him?"

"...I..." Gaster stares at them with wide, gaping eye sockets, the doctor slowly lowering his hand. It takes him a moment to compose himself, the skeleton clearing his throat and shaking himself free of his previous fear. "I—I suppose so. Fran, what was—"

"Okay! We'll meet you downstairs!"

"Fran, wait—"

Before he can stop them, the child runs out of the room, the door slamming closed behind them. Gaster stands dumbly in the middle of the room, lost in his shock and confusion, wringing his hands.

He sighs, looking back to the letter.

"...Perhaps someone should take a closer look at this 'anomaly' after all..."

He looks startled after saying it. He rubs at his face, shaking his head and grumbling under his breath. "No," he tells himself, "no, don't think like that. Thoughts like that are why we're in this mess in the first place."

Even as he says it, he knows he's not fully convinced.

Holding himself up with more confidence than before, he shoves the letter into his pocket, heading out the bedroom door--an objective already set in his mind.

*

FRAN--LV?? ???:??

 

Bone House

 

* You aren't sure if the plan you've settled on is one you should go through with, but you are happy to help your friends and family regardless.

* The idea of speaking to the leader of monsterkind and ending the war fills you with HOPE.

Chapter Text

“No. Absolutely not.”

They’re all gathered in Papyrus’ home, standing amidst a crowd of curious onlookers. Papyrus towers over them with his mouth pulled into a tight frown, gritting his teeth and arms crossed, the skeleton fuming at their words. Gaster stares at them from Papyrus’ side, shooting Fran an “I-told-you-so” as the other skeleton tears into them.

“Have you lost your mind?” Papyrus goes on, narrowing his eyes. “You know we’re at war. You’re just a child, Fran; I may house kids here, but they don’t go into the city. Doing so would be suicide.”

“We aren’t helpless,” Fran points out, mimicking him and crossing their arms while fixing him with a stern look. They fight back a smile when they see him wince but don’t comment on it. “You’ve trained us to fight. We won’t be going alone; it’ll be like a scouting mission, just further into the city.”

“That’s the problem! The city is where people like us are murdered!” Papyrus makes a wild gesture with his hand in the air, beginning to pace. He glares at them, shaking a finger at them and yelling, “I don’t know what gave you the impression that this is all fun and games, but let me tell you, I’ve seen way too many people die to just blindly follow your idea of damned mercy. I’ve killed too many people for that!” His voice cracks, but he continues, Fran shrinking at his every word. “I didn’t save you and protect you all this time for you to pull this! You’re too important for that! You mean more to me than that! Why would you try and throw all of that away for one of your childish schemes?”

An agonizing pain settles deep within their chest. “We just want to reason with them,” Fran murmurs, voice quiet, almost at a whisper.

“You can’t reason with a tyrant, Fran!”

“Not if we don’t try! We don’t know if it’ll work if we never try!”

“Fran, I said no—”

“Are you sure you would rather kill needlessly than try to end all of this?” Fran snaps. They gesture to the rest of the room, everyone avoiding their gaze. “If you really detest killing, then don’t you think you should try every option of mercy that you can to avoid doing it?”

Papyrus doesn’t answer them.

“It’s dangerous, Fran,” Gaster speaks up, straining to lean on his good leg to avoid hurting the other. It’s been bothering him more lately, they note. Wonder if it’s the cold…

“We know it’s dangerous!” Fran shouts, stomping their foot. They all but snarl at him, teeth bared as they step forward, their eyes glowing brighter and brighter with each passing second, the skeletons backing away with weary gazes and hands raised in surrender. “We’re not stupid! We know we could die! But it’s worth the risk if it means that everyone can find peace!” They turn to the rest of the room, raising their arms. “Don’t all of you want to be free?”

Murmurs of agreement. The crowd still avoids looking at their leader, shuffling their feet and lowering their heads.

“Good. Glad we’re in agreement, because so far, violence hasn’t worked. If anything, it’s only made it worse.”

“Fran, you’re still not—”

“Yes, we are!” Fran glares, face turning red. “We are, because you know what we’re saying is true, and you know that you’ll need me for this! We are because human souls are stronger than monsters, which means you need us there to keep you safe!”

Papyrus’ bones pale in the dim lighting, “How do you know about that?”

“We just do! We can feel it; deep within us. It’s something we’ve known for a long time.” Fran pauses, hand absently pressed against their chest, their soul thrumming against their fingers. They look back up at him, pure determination on their face. “Just like how we know this will work. So we have to go. Please.”

“Fran, I can’t let y—”

“You can’t keep us shut up here forever.” Fran’s eyes glow purple, expression shifting into a fixed, pissed smile. “You might be able to keep the kid here, but I’m not as easy to trap.”

What are you doing?

Trust me. I know what I’m doing.

Papyrus’ eye-sockets widen. His hands balling up into fists at his side, looking every which way that they aren’t, he sputters, unable to get his thoughts straight. “Y…you aren’t allowed to just do that,” he tells them finally.

Fran’s smile widens, “Do what?”

“To do that! That—that switch, whatever that was!” Papyrus frowns, this time being the one to stomp his foot. “Trying to scare me into giving in isn’t going to work! I’ve dealt with scarier than you.”

“No, you haven’t. You don’t even know who I am. And besides, you can’t control what I do. It’s my body, too; I can do whatever I damn well please.”

Papyrus hesitates. “…You’re speaking in the first person.”

Fran shrugs. “Does it really matter how we speak? I don’t think so. Though I think it does matter how this war of yours ends, considering mine didn’t end too well.”

“…What are you talking about?” Papyrus lowers his arms slowly, stepping forward with his eye-sockets furrowed.

“Oh, wouldn’t you like to know, general.” Fran paces, and Papyrus notices how their walking changes; lacking any usual bounce and the slightest hint of uncertainty, their steps are more carefree, confident, calculated. Fran notices him staring and grins, shoving their hands in their pockets. “It’d be hard to explain, with you not knowing me, but let’s just say that the war my people went through started with violence and ended in genocide and imprisonment under a mountain. And uh, considering the people here are people I give a shit about, I’d prefer that didn’t happen to you lot.”

Fran can hear his bones rattling. “We don’t know that that’s what’s going to happen,” he says, voice quivering and meek, his trembling hands giving way to his fear.

“Your ruler has already committed themselves to killing and imprisoning all of you. That letter made it pretty clear what their intentions are; my question is whether or not you’re going to do something about it.” Fran tilts their head, bone visible underneath their skin. “Or are you going to be a coward and hand us all over on a silver platter?”

“I don’t—”

“That’s enough,” Gaster spats. He pushes passed Papyrus, grabbing Fran by the wrist, their confidence immediately melting away. “We’ve heard enough. You got your answer—let it go.”

“We can’t let it go,” Fran huffs, trying their best not to panic.

Papyrus frowns, “Why not?”

Fran falls quiet.

“Why not, Fran?”

“…because we’re the anomaly they want to kill.”

*

It takes the rest of the day for them to prepare.

Fran grunts as they push the bag of food into the back of Gerson’s carriage, shivering from the nighttime chill already taking hold of the wind. Winter’s going to be here soon, they think, grimacing. Hopefully we don’t get caught in the snow…

“That the last one, lad?” Gerson shouts from up front, Fran flinching at his loud and booming voice.

“Not a boy!” They huff, shooting him a playful glare.

“Right, right, my apologies. But is that the last one? We have to head out here in a few minutes before sun rises.”

“Yessir, that’s the last one.” Fran brushes dirt from their clothes, rubbing at their arms. “Is it going to be this cold all the way there?”

“If it bothers you so much, you can stay here,” a voice speaks behind them, and they jump, whipping around to find Papyrus walking up behind them, smiling softly when they see him. “You don’t have to go. We can handle it on our own.”

Fran pauses, looking off to the side. They sigh. “…We do have to go,” they tell him, raising their head to meet his gaze.

“It’d be safer for you here. They wouldn’t be able to get to you here.”

“I know.”

“Toriel and I have gotten close to the city before. We’ve been there before; we’d know our way around better than you would.”

“I know.”

“We’ll come back,” Papyrus’ voice cracks as he says it, Fran noticing tears in his eyes. An insidious, twisting feeling wrenches through their gut, making them nauseous. “You don’t have to come if you’re worried about that because we will come back. We always do.”

“Our mind is made up, Papyrus,” they tell him simply, giving him their best attempt at a smile. It doesn’t quite reach their eyes. “You don’t have to worry about us. You’ve trained us well, and what you haven’t taught us, we can manage on our own. There’s two of us in here, remember? We’re never alone.”

Papyrus sighs. His shoulders relax, the skeleton rubbing at his eye-sockets with a pained chuckle. “Yeah,” he murmurs, “Yeah, I guess not.”

A pause. Fran rubs at their arm again, though not because of the cold. “Sorry about earlier,” they say, rocking back on their heels. They spot Toriel walking out of the main building, robe flapping with the wind, the old woman watching the two of them with raised eyebrows. “We shouldn’t have acted that way. It was unfair.”

“It was. Though I get where you’re coming from.”

Fran looks up, “You do?”

Papyrus nods. He smiles, a knowing yet defeated look in his eye-sockets. “You’re not human or a monster. You’re not a child, either; you look like one, but given what one of you said earlier, you’re a lot older than you seem to be. And you were right; you’re not helpless. You’re pretty strong, actually, though I still worry on what would happen if you fought a real enemy.”

“Where are you going with this?”

Papyrus barks out a laugh. “What I’m saying is—you’re not anything I’ve ever expected in my entire life. You’re you. And, being yourself, you deserve to make your own decisions.” He hesitates, rubbing the back of his neck. “There’s a lot more for me to learn. I’ve never been good at this whole…caretaker thing—” Fran feels their heart skip a beat at that, “—and I don’t really understand you most days, but…I care about you. Almost as much as I do my brothers, so as far as I’m concerned, you’re family.”

They probably think that too, Fran thinks, blinking away their surprise. “So we’re good?”

The skeleton nods. “Yup. But try not to do it again, alright?” he says, punctuating it with a grin and a wink.

They giggle. “Sure thing, Dad.”

“Don’t call me Dad.”

It’s always weird hearing you call him that.

How so?

It just is. You know he’s technically my brother, right?

Is he?

I think so.

He’s not my brother, though.

I know, he’s your dad, but he’s my brother.

Fran wrinkles their nose. “Confusing.”

“What’s confusing?” Toriel greets them with a question, hands folded in front of her and eyes fiery and bright. A face peeks out from behind her, weary and exhausted, the other newcomer fidgeting with their hands.

Fran’s eyes widen. “Sans is coming, too?” they gasp.

Toriel and Papyrus share an amused smirk while Sans just waves. “Gaster wanted to accompany us to make sure things went smoothly,” Toriel explains, “but his leg would make it difficult for him to be of much use in a situation where we’d be attacked. Sans offered to take his place.”

“He’s your babysitter,” Papyrus teases.

Fran puffs. “Not a baby.”

“Didn’t you say you’re a year old?” Toriel asks.

Everyone but Fran laughs.

“Are the lot of you good to go?” Gerson shouts from the driver’s seat, peeking out of the window to look at them. “We don’t got all night! The stars are already starting to come out!”

“We’re going, we’re going,” Papyrus calls back. He looks back to Fran, nodding towards the carriage. “You first—jump in.”

They do. Sans follows suit, taking the seat next to them, while Papyrus and Toriel sit behind them in a separate row of seats. The carriage door clatters closed behind them, the gentle hum of magic filling their ears.

Sans bumps their shoulder with his and they turn, the skeleton giving them a warm grin. Nervous? he asks.

They can’t help but nod. They hated to admit it, but it’s fact; they’re terrified. Terrified of what’s to come, of what will happen, of meeting Rik. But at the same time, they’re excited, giddy even, to get out and see more of this strange world that continues to elude them, full of mysteries they can’t even begin to imagine. Their determination burns through their veins, growing stronger and stronger with their resolve.

Sans considers them, then snorts, leaning back in his seat. Don’t be. It’ll work out; we’ll be here for you if you need us.

You, too, they sign back. Here for you always.

Of course.

They smile in response.

“Ready?” Gerson calls.

“We’re ready, Gerson.”

Vrrr!

The wheels on the carriage whirl to life, rolling forward and out into the unknown. Fran closes their eyes and leans against Sans’ shoulder, steadying their breath.

It’ll be fine, they tell themselves. We just have to stay determined.

**

FRAN—LV?? ??:???

 

Carriage

 

* The REAL journey begins.

* You are filled with HOPE.