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A Certain Tenderness

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New Order - Regret

You pull your jangling keys out of the door with a long-suffering sigh, flexing your fingers gingerly as you realize the office is already unlocked. Leaning against the heavy door, which you probably shouldn’t have strained yourself wrestling open and just used the button like a smart person, you take a deep swig of the coffee in your green metallic travel mug.

The lights are on and everything, and you didn’t even notice. You accept that your brain is cancelled until the rest of the coffee is gone.

“Hey, Diane,” you try to say as your pass her office, but the fact that your coffee is more than half milk in an attempt to spare the lining of your stomach turns the words into a mucus-y sound like you’re breaking into an impromptu death metal cover. You clear your throat and try again, but Diane is already replying.

“Good morning,” the woman who’s technically your boss but acts more like a partner replies, tapping a thick sheaf of stuffed manila folders on her desk inside her office. She’s saying more, but it’s not getting through. You stop, rocking back on your heels a moment, and stare at her mouth until she repeats herself.

“Pop in here once you get set up. We’ve got a Personage coming in this morning to get coordinated.”

You can practically see the capital ‘p’.

You stand there for an uncomfortably extended moment, holding your mug in front of you stiffly and blinking at her, waiting for the information to process. Your bags dangle heavily from your shoulders, and it’s making your joints ache. Being groggy gives you a tendency to get stuck like this. Luckily, Diane is accustomed to your eccentricities by now and just goes on with organizing her desk while she waits for you to finish absorbing what she’s said. After a time, you raise your coffee to your mouth again, then abruptly walk down the hall to your own office, unlock it, and sit down to scroll your phone during the serious business of further caffienating yourself.

The barrier separating monsterkind from humanity had fallen a little over ten years ago, while you were still in college. After years of struggling with accommodations for your disabilities and the outright hostility of so many professors and staff, you’d made an adjustment in your career plan and ended up working in higher ed disability services after gaining your degree, instead of the more traditional academic track you’d had planned. It felt like you were on the right side, especially after years of being around professors who acted like students were the enemy. You weren’t the one who started the fight, but you wanted to make sure you were on the right side if everyone else decided to make it into one.

When you’d first heard about the new hybrid academic institution being founded in Ebott with the combined efforts and funds of both humans and monsters, you’d been one of the very first to send in an application. You’d stressed your own experiences with hostility, alienation, and resistance, as well as your track record in coordinating services across disciplines at the college you’d been working at for the years previous. Your hopes that it might provide some insight for anyone looking askance at the extra years it’d taken you to get your degrees were rewarded, and you’d been willing to move here for the opportunity to shape an entirely new field of education.

This is the beginning of your second year working at Ebott University, the first academic institution to integrate magical education into its curriculum from its inception, and you’re the assistant director of the Adaptive Services Coordination department. Second fiddle is just fine with you, since you’re more than happy to do most of the organizing, decision-making, and delegating work tucked safe on your office. Diane, the director, can have all the dinners and speeches; you’re much happier working directly (and tirelessly) with the students and their families to find the programs, professors, mentors, and adaptive technology that work for their individual styles and abilities.

The best part of it all is that every student who attends the university has to meet with a coordinator here before attending classes or programs. It’s the first place you’ve worked where the students don’t come in with at least a slight edge of resignation tainting their enthusiasm, and you ascribe that to the reduction of stigma that usually surrounds asking for and seeking accommodations. It can’t be “special treatment” if everyone receives it, after all. In fact, tailoring every student’s approach helps the slowly evolving shape of the curricula here to become more and more accessible for any type of person who might decide that college is the right choice for them. It’s all taken into account, and it’s not even a quarter as difficult as people in traditional human colleges like to pretend it is.

No other position has ever afforded you so much leeway in assigning novel solutions to problems that shouldn’t even be problems in the first place, and the pay is honestly higher than you’d expected. It feels good to not be struggling for what’s possibly the first time in your life, but you have to admit it can take a lot out of you. You wish you’d had more time to make friends and engage your own self-directed activities since you’d moved to Ebott, the town around the mountain where the monsters had first emerged and then settled, before spreading out across the continent over time. In a lot of ways, you still feel like you just got here, and many of the activities and places where people tend to socialize and make connections aren’t always accessible for you. And sometimes, you just plain don’t have the physical or emotional energy outside of work.

Although you consider this your dream job, it had been hard to leave your family and friends to come here, especially your younger sister, her husband, and their children. Despite the age difference (you’re older by a good handful of years), you don’t have the same kind of rivalries or resentments between you that many siblings carry into adulthood. More than that, especially after your mother’s passing, you consider her your best friend.

Eventually, the puffy feeling around your eyes clears up (mostly thanks to the NSAIDs you have for breakfast; you say a silent apology to your stomach for the third time today), and you’re feeling a little more prepared to have a conversation like a human person.

In the meantime you grab one of the bags you’ve brought with you to work and head to the restroom. You open the door to the single-stall that’s your default choice for workday personal care, not that gendered restrooms are even a thing at Ebott. You consider yourself grateful for a lot of the changes that the monsters have brought with them even in one short decade; after all, a lot of the human ways of differentiating and categorizing don’t even apply to at least half of monsterkind. You smirk trying to imagine someone trying to assign a gender to the Moldbygg that worked in the bursar’s office. You’re pretty sure they don’t even have a name, technically, but some nerd in the office had started calling them “Chell” for some reason and it had mostly stuck. If nothing else, monsters were forcing humans to get much more comfortable with ambiguity in general.

After you take care of your more pressing business (probably too much coffee but oh well), you pull the toothbrush and toothpaste out of your bag and run the tap, spending several minutes brushing away the unpleasant aftertaste of yes-definitely-too-much-coffee as you consider what the morning’s appointments might have in store for you.

Although the monsters had definitely had a baby boom soon after coming to the surface, at least once the military “quarantine” period was over (as ineffective and silly as the whole thing had been in the end; turned out the monsters had mostly just been being polite about it), none of those children were college-age yet. Although built and intended as a hybrid institution, the vast majority of the students were still human. Most of the monster children were still attending Toriel’s school for their educational needs, one of the first organized institutions monsters had founded after emerging.

The queen of the monsters was an imposing figure, or at least so you’d gathered from the footage and photos you’d seen of her over the years. Diane had met her in person quite a few times, mostly in her function as director of this department. The last board meeting had actually involved preparing for an influx of monster students in the near future as those boom babies grew up and got interested in possibly continuing their educations. Diane had given you the notes from the meeting later, which you appreciated. Just because you have a hard time sitting through a lot of those functions and the attendant social interactions doesn’t mean you’re not interested in shaping the direction the college will be heading as it evolves, and it’s a relief to be somewhere that can accommodate in spirit as well as on paper.

You knock cursorily on Diane’s office doorjamb, then come in and get yourself seated as she turns her swivel chair around.

“So, anyhow. Important meeting for you today.” She hands you a thick folder and when you open it, you blink in surprise at the name on the top.

“Oh,” you murmur softly. “I didn’t realize...I guess they would be about that age now, wouldn’t they?”

You frown a moment, considering. “But, are you sure you shouldn’t be the one handling all this? I mean, I don’t really stand on ceremony, and you already know Toriel, and I’m not very… is she going to be coming here with them?”

Diane smiles as you remember to pause and let her answer the questions you’ve already asked.

“They didn’t really say, so I’m not sure. Frisk might just be coming by themself. After all, the Ambassador’s nineteen now, and perfectly capable of making themselves understood. Especially here,” Diane smiles, remembering to finger-spell the names, numbers, and pronouns for clarity, as well as signing a few other words for emphasis.

You glance down at the file again, noticing something.

“So, they primarily use ASL, then. Some hearing, though.”

“Well,” Diane shrugs. “You know how it is with that. If they’d notice a bomb going off right next to them they get marked as some hearing. You’re more fluent than I am, and I think it’s better if you handle most of the nuts and bolts. You’re a lot better at working with the students longterm, and I don’t hesitate to admit it. I’m just too impatient. I can schmooze the crap out of parents and dignitaries, though, so I’ll save my patience for that.”

You snort, considering how often she’d embarrassed you at first by singing your praises to others in your presence. At this point, however, you consider her a friend and have gotten more used to her, just as she’s become accustomed to you. It’s a huge relief to just be able to be yourself at work, instead of feeling like your skin’s on too tight under other people’s unkind scrutinies. Being around monsters, who were all so different not only from humans but also each other, had eased a lot of mental baggage you hadn’t even realized you’d been carrying around. Everyone’s individuality makes it hard to feel like “the weirdo” in a place like Ebott. You might be a little lonely, but you feel less alienated here than anywhere else you’ve ever been.

You continue to peruse the transcripts in front of you. A combination of homeschooling with testing and research projects through Toriel’s school, for the most part. Although you know Frisk is human, the transcripts read a lot more like those of the monster students you’ve worked with to coordinate curricula to suit. Traditionally, higher ed for monsters was a lot more like mentorships or apprenticeships; again human institutions had had to learn to adapt to less cut and dried categorizations. Monsters didn’t really have degrees, just those who were willing to swear to their expertise, or documented time spent working alongside experts. Although you aren’t an academic advisor per se, you often function as one for the students whose files end up on your desk. Your skillset is less about static knowledge, and more knowing exactly how to find out what you and your students might need, or who to ask. It’s one of the few areas you’re surprisingly flexible.

“Mmm. I think you’re right, Diane. I should probably handle this, since I’m not seeing any sort of declaration as to what kind of program or major they might be interested in. And it’s honestly better to accommodate to ‘no hearing’ just to be on the safe side-if they don’t speak verbally it just makes sense anyways. The communication aspects should flow smoothly, though I’m fine lipreading.”

You and Diane share a look, and you’re reminded of how relieved you were that she’d been familiar with auditory processing disorders before you’d come to work here. Some people have a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea of someone being able to hear sometimes, or under certain circumstances; much less the concept of being able to hear, but not understand. Yet another thing that didn’t have to be a problem for you, but so many seem to take it as their personal mission to turn it into one.

***

Frisk Dreamurr, human ambassador of the monsters and one of the more symbolically important people on Earth, is surprisingly charismatic considering they are one of the most ambiguous human beings you’ve ever met. Their heavy and warm-looking sweater, although oversized, looks handmade in the most positive sense of the term. The forest green yarn certainly suits their nut-brown complexion. They have thick, blunt-cut dark hair and long, narrow eyes that glitter with cheer and humor.

The person standing beside them is a few inches shorter than Frisk, and rather unambiguously a skeleton. You assumed already that anyone accompanying the Ambassador was very likely to be a monster, but you’ve never seen a monster that looked like a skeleton before. Then again, you’re sure there’re plenty of things in life you’ve never seen before, and someone else’s appearance isn’t really the sort of thing that’s going to trip you up. His face is rather broad and somehow smoother than a human skull, and the deep grooves that curve outward from the inner corners of his eyes remind you of a tearstained cat. The way his eye sockets almost seem to be half closed only adds to the effect.

Frisk’s clothing is casual but neat; in contrast, their companion looks like he just rolled out of bed in a battered hoodie, basketball shorts despite the chill temperatures, and what you’re pretty sure are the most broken-in pair of house slippers you’ve ever seen. Lace-trimmed ankle socks peep shyly from the backs, which you imagine help keep them from sliding off the bare bones of his feet. Far from being being offputting, his sleepy appearance and attitude just makes you feel comfortable. Although the thought does attach itself to another one- wishing you yourself were home in bed yourself rather than meeting two new people and working all day, but in truth you only feel a passing regret. It’s time to do what you do best.

Frisk’s eyes take in your own carefully ambiguous appearance, and although you’re not always great at gauging these things, a moment of silent commiseration seems to be shared between you as you introduce yourself and welcome them.

“I’m Frisk,” they introduce themselves enthusiastically. “Good to meet you. This is,” they hold up their fist and carefully spell it out to avoid misunderstandings, “Sans.”

You notice that tiny white lights or points float expressively in the otherwise impossibly dark eye sockets of Frisk’s companion; they glitter with what looks like amusement. You turn toward the grinning skull (he does seem to be grinning, it’s not just his face) and nod carefully, but his surprisingly deep voice attempts to clarify before you have a chance to speak.

“sans the skeleton,” he rumbles. Then he says something else, but it seems as though one of the junior members of the staff is running off what sounds like a thousand copies of her dungeons and dragons character sheets again. You belatedly remember it’s Monday, that she always hosts her group on that evening, and everyone knows she’ll be coopting the printer for at least an hour before lunch. The noise of the machine seems to blend with the resonant, almost musical tone of his voice, and you realize you can’t separate the two sounds at all, really. It’s just one long, throaty stutter.

Uh oh.

Out of habit, you stare at his mouth to try and find a thread of the conversation you can extrapolate from, but come to the realization rather quickly that there’s no help for you there. A voice is certainly emerging from that fixed grin, but the sound isn’t being produced in any way you’d be able to follow visually. Rather than forming arches in his upper jaw, the tops of his teeth are covered by some kind of ridge that tempers his expressions, but doesn’t move the way lips do. It doesn’t even seem like his teeth part at all when he speaks. And...he’s not signing. Why isn’t he signing?

You glance toward Frisk in confusion, but they seem to be following whatever Sans is saying well enough; they huff a laugh through their nose as their eyes narrow shut in amusement. Does Frisk have more hearing than you’d assumed? Well, you have to admit, you can almost feel the vibration of Sans’ voice as well as hear it, maybe it’s in the right range for Frisk to catch the sound. Either that, or maybe Frisk can read...teeth?

You do your best to keep your face neutral, but it feels tight with anxiety. You hadn’t anticipated this kind of issue, and you’re not very good at coping with an unexpected impediment in the middle of an already-stressful social interaction. They glance at you, seeming deflated, so the neutral expression is apparently not working. Rather than trying to guess what sort of response might have been called for, you take a deep breath and smile gently.

“Why don’t we uh, talk in my office?”

They both nod, and you walk them down the hall toward your room in the department, then gesture both of them past you through the door. Even flustered as you are, you notice Sans’ interesting personal fragrance; a scent not unlike human hair, but drier and more pleasant-reminds you of something nostalgic you can’t quite place. Frisk just smells like any nineteen year old; crayons and lemons. You shut the door behind you, finally closing out the incessant interference from the copier, and invite them to take any seat they like. Sans is still commenting quietly, and Frisk huffs their quiet laugh again. You really wish you could understand what he’s saying, but even without the enormous printer whirring and chuffing in your peripheral hearing, you can’t make sense of it. It’s almost as if his voice is made of multiple complex tones, somehow.

Both of them choose the dumpy but comfy mauve love seat you furnished your office with instead of the hard plastic chairs that seem to spawn of themselves throughout the entire administrative building your department is housed in. You’re not surprised; it’s much more comfortable for humans and monsters of all sizes and shapes. You still keep the chairs around for times when you’re inundated with bigger family groups or support staff, but the couch is your favorite fixture. It also doubles as a napping space on your bad days.

You take your own ergonomic office seat with a half-suppressed sigh; it was mostly anticipatory, you realize. Either you’re having a good day, or the medication’s working like it’s supposed to for a change.

“Okay,” you say, more comfortable ensconced here in your own carefully curated space. “I’m going to be working with you to help choose what kind of classes you might be interested in taking, and to develop both a schedule and a curriculum that will suit your individual learning style,” you begin, warming up now that you have the opportunity to get down to business.

“Every student who wants to attend here has to come to this office first, since we’re still developing a standard methodology for delivering education that’s accessible for anyone, but I personally don’t think that should ever really happen. A standard methodology, I mean,” you clarify, then stop yourself before you end up waxing philosophical on pedagogy for the next half hour. That’s not what your current meeting’s for, although you have already half-forgotten that the kid in front of you is some kind of important person, and are already mentally running down a list of text and image based software that could be implemented to replace any audio-based extant learning materials. Not that there are a ton of those, anyway; blind and low-vision students in general have the disadvantage there all too often. But you’re getting ahead of yourself.

“Um, anyway, do you know what kind of program or discipline you’re the most interested in here at Ebott?” You glance up from the papers you’re pushing around on your desk, lists of class descriptions and basic summaries of programs. “You don’t have everything or anything decided yet, just give me a general idea of your preferences.”

Frisk is nodding. “Monster sciences,” they sign firmly. “And,” they hesitate, glancing at Sans. “Social sciences, maybe.”

“really?” the skeleton replies with a smirk. His facial expressions are surprisingly easy for you to read, you’re not really sure why. “you sure you-” and you don’t quite follow what he said, again? It doesn’t sound anything like the kind of thing you’d anticipate someone might say in this situation, which just makes the whole thing more confusing.

Oh, no. This is turning into a Situation. He’s still not signing.

Frisk makes a moue of distaste and shakes their head.

All you can pick out of Sans’ response to that is something that sounds like “organic chemistry”, and “trouble.” You’re not sure exactly what your face looks like, but it must not be good because when they both glance at you for a reaction, they immediately look concerned.

“Why aren’t you signing?” you blurt loudly, sounding a little panicked. Oops. Now you’re overreacting. You belatedly realize that you’re the one that turned this into a Situation; after all, there’s been nothing stopping you from explaining the difficulty to both of them, rather than trying to put your head down and barrel through the interaction like nothing is wrong. Bad habits die hardest. You take a deep, bracing breath.

“I’m sorry, I uh, didn’t mean to be rude. It’s just, I saw in Frisk’s file they primarily use ASL, and I...have some hearing difficulties myself. That’s part of why I’m handling this meeting, and...” You trail off, and flick your eyes at Sans apologetically.

“I’ve barely understood a word you’ve said since you got here. Sorry.”

His teeth are parted a little (so, his mouth does open? Not much, maybe), and you turn to Frisk. “Would you mind terribly, uh, translating for your...friend?”

Now Sans just looks embarrassed, and Frisk bursts into laughter at what appears to be Sans’ expense.

“You just wasted all your best material!” they sign, waving fingers almost in the skeleton’s nonplussed face. “Now you can you please stop acting like you’re doing me a favor and just admit you wanted to come?”

Sans pushes the eager teenager’s hands out of his face, but does it with a fond smile and chuckles wryly. They share a look for a moment, then Frisk shakes their head at him subtly but firmly. “Not without asking,” you think they say, but they’ve turned to the side a little, putting their body between you and them, so it’s not entirely clear. Frisk also has the habit of tucking their hands into their long sleeves or wrapping them around and between their fingers, which seems an odd idiosyncrasy for someone who uses their hands to speak.

Then their hands come back out, and Frisk’s eyes gleam with humor. “I’ll translate for you, Sans,” they emphasize.

He grimaces.

“don’t start that, you-” (donut? Something like that) he cuts off before he gets any further, and pulls his other hand out of his pocket finally. “i think i can remember how to do this,” he says in his low voice, but this time a word or two is accompanied with signs.

You breathe a sigh of relief, then rush on to reassure him, “You don’t have to like, sign everything you say just, um, maybe for emphasis? Or I might ask you to spell a few things out, if that’s okay.”

“no problem, boblem,” he replies, spelling out the “boblem” with unhurried gestures of his skeletal fingers. They seem pretty nimble, actually, and you don’t have a problem (or a boblem) reading his phalanges at all. You find yourself smiling despite your earlier frustration at the sheer ridiculousness of emphasizing a nonsense word, but at least you’re in on the joke, now.

Frisk is toying with the apple-printed skirt they have on over a pair of cuffed jeans, and you take another calming breath while you try to remember what you’d been about to say.

“So, you’re interested in Em-Stem,” you say, trying to recenter the conversation around Frisk’s educational goals, verbally using the common phonetic for MSTEM, the acronym blanket term for the emerging interdisciplinary departments focused on combining monster and human knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. “Any particular concentration that appeals to you? I mean, it’s no problem if you’re not sure y-”

“Soul Studies,” Frisk signs decisively before you finish your sentence.

Oh. Uh, well. A controversial choice to say the least. The reintroduction of souls to humanity as an observable quantity rather than a philosophical and theological concept had been a rocky process, to say the least. While many religious leaders had more or less smugly accepted the existence of souls as proof of their own doctrines and left it at that, others had railed against pre-mortem observation, or even acknowledgement of souls as observable entities, as inherently blasphemous. You were hardly well-read on the subject, but from what you’d gleaned it seemed like for monsters, souls were also a sort of reproductive organ (although there is some debate on even as to describing a soul as an ‘organ’, considering they lacked biological components).

You glance at Sans for some sort of reaction to or context for Frisk’s statement, but he’s just slumped there looking...not bored, exactly, but you notice his eye sockets must be rather flexible because it almost looks like they’re closing? Frisk just continues to look at you expectantly from under their messy dark brown bangs. There’s something very personable, almost extroverted about them, despite not being very talkative.

“If you’re interested in Soul Studies, I understand why you’d want to be attending here as opposed to anywhere else,” you say as evenly as you can. “The program might be small, but considering a lot of it is being invented as they go along, it’s a unique opportunity to innovate and become a part of shaping an emerging discipline.” Putting it into the context of your work is actually helping a lot to reduce your discomfort. “After all, that’s why I’m here. Adaptive Coordination is a new thing too, and it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life to be able to help create a new way of teaching and learning.” You’re feeling a little more confident in keeping things appropriate.

“Can you tell me more about the program?” Frisk inquires, leaning forward a little. “Can students be involved in scans, or is it strictly observation?”

You blink in surprise. “Oh! We don’t even have that kind of equipment here. Actually, to the best of my knowledge, scanning equipment and the resulting data aren’t allowed outside of the Royal Scien-”

Frisk actually makes a little grunt of frustration, startling you enough that you drop the end of your sentence. They immediately gesture apologetically, and when you look over at Sans, he hasn’t moved or even seemed to have noticed Frisk’s outburst. He looks like he might just take a nap right there, in fact. You kind of envy him.

“I knew that already, I don’t know why I even asked,” Frisk replies, and you find yourself remembering that Frisk is in fact someone with the kind of connections to gain access to that sort of information though the royals. Toriel’s been their guardian since they all emerged to the surface, after all, and queen of the monsters still outranks Royal Scientist, last time you checked. So couldn’t they have just asked?

Maybe there’s some sort of family drama going on with them. It’s possible Frisk’s family doesn’t approve of their interests, or maybe they’re just fighting.

Either way, it’s not like it’s a situation you’re unfamiliar with; plenty of the human students have had to deal disapproving families who’d much rather see them going into traditional human fields. Luckily, the fact that Ebott University doesn’t require any sort of monetary payment on the part of the students goes a long way to making sure the students’ aspirations aren’t completely derailed by lack of family support. It also ensures the best students aren’t excluded by such minutiae as inability to pay- yet another reason this place has won you over so completely.

“Well, how about this,” you suggest, rather than asking any questions that might dredge up family tensions simmering under Frisk’s laconic surface. “After we’re done here, would you like a tour of the department and related facilities? That way you can get more of a sense what we have here for yourself. Meetings aren’t in session right now and won’t start up again for another two months, but it’ll give you an idea of where everything is and how it all works. Even if you do declare Soul Studies right away, you still have to take prerequisites before you’ll even be going to meetings in those buildings, but there’s no reason you can’t take a look.” You smile encouragingly.

Frisk nods enthusiastically, then glances over at Sans. He’d been pretty quiet during all that, but he perks up a little at the suggestion of a tour.

“if s’not too much bother, I was hoping to see the observatory.”

“Of course,” you agree readily, then pull one of the decidedly non-optional bits of paperwork back in front of you. “We go right by it on the way, so we might as well stop there first. But before that, I still have some questions for Frisk, if that’s all right.”

“Shoot,” they indicate saucily. Their extremely round, placid face gives away very little information but you think you might have even seen a wink? What a peculiar young person.

“What is your living situation, and is it likely to change when and if you start here? This is only meant to determine how much assistance you might need in regard to transportation, housing, food...that sort of thing.”

Sans shifts on the loveseat slightly, remembering to take his hands out of his pockets again. “kid’s staying with me’n m’ brother right now. Our place is right around the corner, so it’s just more convenient and we don’t mind having ‘em.”

“So, with family?” you inquire, and both just nod. You move your pen to the part of the document for monster families, which omits the need to describe exact relationships and instead allows for the relative ambiguity of monster households. In the latter days of the underground, monsters often formed households filled with unrelated people in the wake of “falling down”, which you gathered from context was some kind of wasting sickness, often fatal. Parents lost children, children lost parents...but no one had gone without a family if it could be helped, and if a family was desired. The intake forms designed for a hybrid institution reflected this.

“Do you have any concerns about your food or housing? Transportation? Are you interested in being assigned a volunteer position or work-study program?” They indicate negative to all of those, so you just finish with, “Okay, I’ll put you down as ‘family providing’.” They nod, so you continue. “Speaking of which, are there any other members of your household, are any of them dependent on you, or possibly in need of assistance?”

Another negative. “Papyrus works, and Sans...” Frisk grins a little. “He’s fine. And that’s all of us.”

You assume “Papyrus” must be the brother Sans had mentioned, although you’re not exactly sure how to pronounce that.

“Do you want to put either down for emergency and secondary contacts? It’d make the next part simpler, but you don’t have to.”

Frisk glances over at Sans, who shrugs. Frisk nods back at you.

“All I need is name, address, and phone numbers for Sans and his brother then.” Instead of going to the trouble of having them spell everything for you while you look back and forth between them and the paper, you just hold out the clipboard towards them until Sans takes it. To your surprise, he appears to be left-handed. Or is handedness even a thing with monsters? None of the monsters you work closely with have hands. Although the cramped way Sans holds the pen and curls his arm around makes you expect chicken scratch, you can see that his tiny, rounded letters and numbers are perfectly legible.

“My handwriting is terrible, so I figured I’d spare you” Frisk supplies with the hint of a smile. They seem eager to smooth over the earlier awkwardness, but you honestly don’t feel any discomfort lingering. Who knows, maybe they were worried you’d ask why they weren’t staying with Toriel, but it honestly isn’t any of your business.

Sans hands you back the paperwork, and although you only glance over it, you see he really wasn’t kidding about living close.

“Heh, you all really are right around the corner, huh?” you observe absently. “You won’t have to worry about being late, I bet.”

“is that a challenge?” Sans replies with a wink.

Although the wink is somewhat distracting on account of seeing the bone socket of a skull close suddenly, his comment annoys you a little. As if just because you have an office and a desk, you’re the administrator of a no-fun zone for recalcitrant children. You don’t even work with children, but a lot of the human students seem to carry over the belief from earlier experiences that you’re personally invested in wiping their noses. It gets old.

“It’s no skin off my ass if they are,” you state tersely, then feel your face heat when you realize what you’re cussing at work again. So much for keeping it appropriate for a personage, or actually thinking before words come out of your mouth. “I mean…just saying. They’re responsible for themself.”

Sans just stares at you for a long moment, then throws his head back and physically rocks with laughter. You can see the bones in his neck. That are his neck.

“n-no-no skin off your-” he actually falls over to the side, and starts nudging at Frisk. “why haven’t i heard that one before?” he groans at Frisk between paroxysms of hilarity, weakly remembering to sign a bit even as he’s rolling around, the loose collar of his t-shirt pulling down and exposing his clavicle and the top of one or two ribs, and the darkness between. It’s an interesting view-nothing really in there but bones, is there? While you’re not sure why he thinks what you said is so funny, his mirth dissipates your annoyance rather than heightening it.

“i’m stealing it,” He wheezes weakly. “i’m stealing that (from you),” he repeats, guffawing as he points, and you’re just waiting to see if the show’s going to end soon. “why haven’t I heard that?”

“You don’t spend enough time around humans,” Frisk comments casually. “We’ve got the monopoly on skin.”

you spend too much time with toriel,” Sans deflects, catching his breath. “’s like you forgot how to say curse words.”

Frisk’s eyes glitter with amused intent under their dark lashes. “It’s like you forgot how to keep your bones in your shirt.”

Sans frowns, surprising you again with the expressive flexibility of his skull, then glances down and scrambles to tug his neckline back into place. His face looks a little...iridescent? for a moment, but it’s hard to tell in the incandescent bulb and magic light combo you’ve got in your office; florescent bulbs give you a headache.

Their hearty but harmless bickering is the kind of habit you’d usually find irritating, but with these two it comes off as sincerely affectionate rather than like personal sniping, or compensating for an inability to communicate. You actually really like them both. Frisk seems to have the kind of passionate drive to learn and make connections that you can relate to, and Sans, well...he’s just a mellow, trashy little...person. Skeleton. Whatever. His smartassery manages to be kind of charming, and so does his odd modesty.

“I guess I’m just surprised I haven’t seen you around, considering I work here and live on what’s technically campus housing,” you say as if that slight detour hadn’t occurred.

Sans seems to have sorted out what apparently counts as dishabille for him, and just shrugs.

“’m out of town a fair amount.”

“Okay,” you reply simply, then stand up with less pain than you were expecting. “Let’s do the tour now.”

You’re a little abrupt, but they both rise to their feet agreeably enough.

“Do I need to do placement testing, or pick out classes or something? I thought there would be more paperwork,” Frisk signs without seeming all that interested in being proven right.

You think about it, but you’d really rather get the physical activity out of the way while you’re in relatively little pain, and these two seem to be less than great at sitting in offices and filling out forms. You have to admit that Frisk’s indifference to decorum combined with Sans being more or less the walking, breathing manifestation of a messy bedroom makes you feel a lot more relaxed about working with them, despite the initial problems communicating.

“Nope. Let’s do the fun part first,” you reply with a grin. They both return it, then follow you out of your office and down the hall toward the exit to the administrative building. On the way, you stop by Diane’s office to request the keys you’ll need, and you go over the introductions without incident this time. Although Frisk’s lip movements and expressions are a part of ASL, they’re different from someone who’s actually speaking verbally, and don’t contain the same information. Frisk is less expressive than most Deaf and HoH people you’ve known, at least facially. They get their point across well enough, but it’s a grounding experience to have Diane’s lips to read for a minute or two.

“You three going on a tour? Great idea. Where to?”

“Sans wants to see the observatory, and then we’re gonna stop by Em-Stem and Soul Studies.” You frown thoughtfully, and add, “Why don’t you throw the ones for MAHI (sorry, that’s Monster and Human Interaction) on there too, just in case?” You raise your eyebrows at Frisk. “We can decide if we wanna see Social Sciences after the first two.”

You put on your outdoor coat and strap on one of your smaller bags containing various small necessities and comfort items in under it, and reassure yourself by touching the small bottle of water in the coat’s capacious pockets. Frisk has a coat as well, but Sans just zips up his hoodie and waits for you to finish bracing yourself before pushing the door open with a suddenly mittened hand. You glance down; it seems he had kept the mittens in the pockets of his hoodie the whole time. It makes you smile, but you’re not sure why. “Thanks,” you murmur as you pass by him on the way out.

You use your chin to indicate the dome of the observatory, which isn’t very far. You’re grateful, since the chilly wind whipping past you reminds you that your joints are on a timer today. Frisk walks briskly and stoically, eventually overtaking you with their shoulders hunched only slightly in their soft-looking felted wool peacoat. They’ve wrapped their hands back into their over-long sweater sleeves again before shoving them into the pockets of the coat, so you’re not really expecting them to make conversation on the way.

At least it’s not snowing, and there’s no ice on the ground today. It’s a little dry, even though there’s a high haze of overcast obscuring the sun. Despite seeming underdressed for it, Sans seems to almost relish the icy air whipping past his face, his flexible eye sockets narrowing a bit, but less in resistance to it than what appears to be enjoyment. It really is remarkable; the white points that float like pupils in the cavernous sockets don’t become less visible, even in daylight. It’s as if they exist in another dimension where the usual laws of light and shadow don’t really apply.

He catches you looking and meets your eyes for a second. You glace away reflexively since you’re not big on eye contact, but grin at his enthusiasm, at least compared to his earlier sleepy-seeming indifference. He grins back as you come to a stop outside the squat, domed building and yank the ridiculous lanyard out of your pocket to start fumbling for the correct key.

You shoulder the door open heavily (again, why do you keep forgetting to just press the goddamn button today?) and flail around for the light switch. You hit it, and wince as you realize you’ve forgotten your anti-industrial-light hat, but you try to get the strained look off your face as you turn around to address them.

“Astronomy is actually one of the more popular programs in the sciences here, but you wouldn’t really know it from the look of this place,” you say, gesturing around at the cluttered and well-worn interior filled with equipment, counters, desks, and papers.

Sans shakes his head a little as he enters and slowly, and pinches his middle finger and thumb together as they draw away from his sternum. “feels really lived-in,” he elaborates. “you can tell people are really into what they do here.” His face gets sort of soft and vague, and he wanders around the big room fiddling with bits of things and looking through piles of photographs and printouts. You don’t bother asking questions or trying to explain, since you don’t know what most of this stuff is or what it does, and it looks like he’s got a pretty good grasp on how to find whatever he wants a closer look at. Frisk is watching Sans putter with a fondly indifferent expression on their face, but when you make a motion inviting them to converse, they turn to you readily enough.

“So, you seem like you have a really firm idea of what you want out of your experience,” you comment, not making it a question but rather an invitation to share their thoughts. Frisk tilts their head ambiguously, but answers gamely enough.

“The Soul Studies concentration is the reason I’m here.”

You nod. “Well, I guess I don’t have to tell you that it’s still a bit of a controversial field,” you sign, not bothering to speak verbally anymore since Sans is hunched over in a corner near a pile of something, and you’d probably just be distracting him.

“In fact, since you’re kind of a… highly visible? person, you might want to take some steps to sort of prepare yourself for backlash, if you think that might be a thing for you,” you continue. “You’d have a much better idea of what the case will be there than, I do, of course.”

Frisk’s eyes glitter between their lashes. “Have there been problems?”

“Mostly just a buttload of hate mail,” you say with a wry smile. “I think they said some people tried to break into the building a few times, but I don’t know what they think we have in there? It’s just a place for them to exist in while they talk about it. Just some research papers, a few diagrams, the books that have been written so far, which isn’t much... Even the printed information from the scans are highly private, considering they’re from living individuals, and have to be loaned out from the Royal Libraries with a chain of custody, and an attendant...” you trail off. “Even the alternate format materials I’ve created have to go back right along with the paper ones. We don’t keep any of that here.”

Frisk leans forward eagerly. “You’ve seen them?”

You raise your eyebrows apologetically. “One or two, but I don’t actually understand any of the information in them,” you try to explain. “And I can’t really… tell you about it. Uh, legally. It’s like medical information.” If you remember correctly, most of it had seemed to be some sort of sequences corresponding to hexadecimal color codes, or at least that’s what it had reminded you of. Even sharing that much isn’t really allowed, though. But Frisk waves down your defensiveness, smiling gently in a way that reaches their long, heavily-lashed eyes.

“I just think it’s cool,” they clarify.

You smile again. “It is pretty cool. The program so far is modeled almost entirely after monster-style methods, considering there really isn’t any pre-existing human knowledge about souls that predates the fall of the barrier,” you sign thoughtfully. “But it also doesn’t seem like a lot of monsters are willing to come forward and really present themselves as experts, either. Less as if they’re uncomfortable, though, and more like they don’t know why or how humans would study souls?”

“Right now it’s just Professor Bob; otherwise I guess we have Gerson, who comes in about twice a month to answer some questions, and he decides which ones. It’s almost more like a club than a department. Even a few people who work here seem to think...well, people make certain assumptions about what goes on there. But a lot of it is really just supervised encounters, which I’m told isn’t like, um, canoodling. Debate and exploration of existing papers and online information. And the scan info we get access to sometimes, of course, not that I’m a hundred percent sure the people in the department know much more than I do about what they mean,” you elaborate.

Frisk looks down for a second and seems to come to a decision.

“I might be able to help with that,” they sign tightly.

You feel a little surprised, then wonder why you would be. Of course Frisk would know more about souls, presumably having access to more monster-based information about them, than possibly any other human alive today. And they did have connections...

“I don’t mean to overstep,” you begin hesitantly, “but do you mean with your own knowledge, or with greater access to the materials? I’ve heard you knew Dr. Alphys personally, or that she’s a, um, a part of your family? I’m aware that she’s the one who decides what equipment and materials are allowed to be accessed by the college, and I just...” You trail off as Frisk’s expression changes.

“Alphys has… concerns about human access to knowledge about souls. And her reasons...I can’t say it’s not justified” Frisk hesitates before they continue. “But so are mine,” they finish.

“you’re downright chatty today, buddy” Sans appears almost out of nowhere in your peripheral vision, making you jump. “that excited to start school, huh? can’t say i blame you if ’s all as interesting as this,” he adds with a last glance around the room. “but i don’t wanna hold you up anymore than i already have. so let’s go to the next stop, ‘kay?”

As you walk back towards the door, you indicate the dish of candy that Wilhelmina leaves out at reception for everyone regardless of whether classes are active or not. “Feel free to take one. Or some, or none,” you say with a smile. “My coworker says it should to be obvious they’re for everyone, but I think a little encouragement can’t hurt.”

Sans gives a quiet chuckle, and you stare at him quizzically. He looks at Frisk, then back at you.

“it’s the second coming of papyrus,” he comments cryptically. “they don’t even know they’re doing it, and it blows me out of the water every time.”

Frisk takes pity on you finally, signing “encouragement,” then grabs a piece of candy out of the dish and fingerspells “encourage-M-I-N-T” with an indulgent eyeroll at Sans.

“Ohhhh,” you lilt, finally understanding.

“Ohhhhh,” you groan in disbelief, taking the striped candy from Frisk.

Then, you cover your face and start giggling.

Encourage-mint.

It’s a fucking pun, and you didn’t even think of that until they hung a lampshade the size of the universe on it. Par for the course for you; it’s like jokes are on a timed delay sometimes. Maybe that’s why they hit harder, because it takes longer for you to process it.

Wait.

You uncover your face and goggle at Sans.

“Was that why you were laughing about the ‘skin off my ass’ thing so much? Because-” you start laughing harder, “because you don’t-” your eyes start to tear up. “You literally don’t have any skin on your ass,” and now you cover your face again because it’s actually really funny. The more you think about it, the harder you laugh because he was probably making jokes of that caliber the whole time, and you couldn’t understand a fucking word he was saying. No wonder he looked like no one showed up for his birthday party earlier.

“I’m sorry,” you wheeze, trying to wipe your eyes and regain your composure, but then you see his face and it sets you off again, and you can hear Frisk huffing along with you. He just looks so surprised.

“wow,” your hear him say, and you wipe your eyes quickly so you don’t miss cues. “no one’s laughed at my jokes like that in a few years,” he comments wryly, grinning easily again and putting his hand on the door handle. “’cept tori, a‘course,” he adds with an odd look you can’t read, then yanks the heavy door open and lets in a squall of wind.

“Well, I hope that it makes up for me being so slow on the uptake,” you reply weakly, pulling the wad of keys and lanyards and god-knows-what out of your pocket again to lock the door behind you. “Now I’m sorry I couldn’t understand you before, I probably missed out.”

“Mostly just bad science jokes,” Frisk signs immediately.

You nod toward the Biology and Medicine building, and then everyone shoves their hands back in their pockets for another silent and chilly trek, although the warm atmosphere from the shared laughter lingers.

As you walk, you think a little more about the controversial nature of souls among humans, and the subtle but pervasive cultural shifts that had occurred since the monster’s emergence to the surface. It was strange finding out you have body parts you never even knew existed. Except not really since it’s not like there was the same sort of hubbub around the discovery of the interstitium, which really was a body part everyone had all along and never knew about.

The thing is, you’re not really a fan of thinking too much about your body, because you sort of have to all the time, just to live your day to day life in little enough pain and fatigue to function. The idea that there are even more things about it that could possibly go wrong or make your life harder, well. Your soul, you assume, can just take care of itself like human souls have apparently been doing for millennia.

The knowledge that souls were not only real but a lot more tangible than anyone had ever guessed had affected a lot of things for almost everyone, and in sometimes really weird ways. Peoples and cultures around the world had reacted differently, but they’d certainly all reacted. The trends reflected a million little moments of personal revelation without much concrete information to ground them in. Most monsters seemed reticent to explain much about them other than they existed, humans and monsters all had them, and that however monsters had children had to do with their souls. In this nation, even the casual popularity of “heart” symbolism had undergone a sort of reverse renaissance, disappearing from emoji selections and valentine’s day products alike, now that its significance had been re-contextualized.

Always fascinated by writing, languages, and symbolism, your curiosity had been piqued by that. You’d read a research paper claiming to debunk a pre-surface theory that the heart symbol’s origin as representative of the seedpod of a now-extinct contraceptive plant circa the 6th century BCE.

Rather, the paper had asserted, the “sylphium” referred to in the ancient artifacts was actually a sort of monster-human congress that was unable to result in offspring, as the two species were incapable of interbreeding due to the incompatibility of their physical substance. After all, human bodies are made of organic matter; monsters’ bodies are mostly made of a substance or energy they called magic, with properties unlike any known to humanity before the barrier fell. It had made you a little uncomfortable, maybe because although the paper itself had not been especially titillating, it had somehow come off as if the author had found writing it to be.

Another article, anonymous but supposedly by a monster, had hinted at the idea that human sexuality had had a reputation for shallowness, or a kind of selfishness, and was considered to be slightly deviant among monsterkind. However, the mere fact that monsters had been aware of the existence and mechanics of human sexuality had been latched on to and later led to rampant speculation and, it can be assumed, experimentation by individuals, and oh god, why were you thinking about that while giving a tour to a prospective student and what you assume is their family member?

You try to think about the cold wind and will the heat in your face to flee as you clear your throat. It still impresses you not only that new taboos and hangups could be so widely adopted by most of humanity so quickly, but that your own feelings could become so oddly reactive to a concept that was utterly unknown to you until you were already in your twenties. Actually, that wasn’t exactly right. It seemed as though monsters tended to be more embarrassed by human sexuality, and humans by souls existing and what that could mean, but, well. It makes sense that culture shock between entirely separate species would run deep and have some unforeseeable side effects.

This time you finally remember to shove your shoulder against the button to open the door automatically, even though you have to take a step back after unlocking it and messily shoving the keys back in your coat pocket. Once all three of you are inside, you pull the water bottle out of the other pocket, take a swig, then turn towards them.

“Well, this is the right place for science jokes, if you’ve got more, since right now Soul Studies is being housed in the biology and medical section,” you say, then start leading them down the hall. “That might change, since it’s still really new and we’re not sure how big it’s going to get, or how...what kind or size of equipment might be necessary...” you trail off, feeling a little excited at the prospect of a flourishing new field coming to light, especially with the acumen or assistance of Frisk Dreamurr, human ambassador of monsterkind.

“huh,” Sans comments absently. “guess y’gotta put it somewhere.”

You blink. “Well, but...isn’t it like...uh, a body part?”

They both look over at you with a strange expression, then each other. Oh. You guess not.

“ol alphie must be keepin’ a tighter lid on it than I thought,” Sans says dryly, but not derisively. Still, you worry your apparent ignorance might be misrepresenting the department’s credentials, so you hasten to reassure them.

“I hope you understand, any knowledge I have about this would be whatever I’ve come across personally-I’m not actually a member of Soul Studies! I coordinate curricula so I have to have a passing familiarity with how the programs are run, but I’m not an expert in all of them. I’m sure the students and mentors of this program-”

Sans has been waving his hand at you placatingly for your whole speech, but you finally slow down enough for him to cut in.

“s’fine, don’t mind me. like the kid said, I don’t spend a lotta time around humans. just, uh, an odd idea to me i guess. sorry.”

You arrive at the elevator that heads to the second floor of the building, where the smallish set of rooms that house the Soul Studies department, such as it is, are located. You hit the button and wait, feeling flustered but unsure what else there might be to say about it. Frisk’s expression might be a little perturbed, but you don’t think it’s at you. Maybe it’s frustration with Dr. Alphys, if that’s the “Alphie” Sans had been referring to. It would make sense.

Sans scratches his chin with the back of his thumb bone for a second, then turns to you.

“so, a body is something you have, right? you don’t say, ‘i am a body.’ you say, ‘i have a body.’ right?”

The elevator dings, and you nod cautiously as you hold the door and invite them into it. You catch another whiff of the dry, nostalgia-inducing scent you noticed earlier. A memory niggles at you but you push it away, trying to concentrate on moving and listening at the same time. You press the button and lean back against the side of the elevator so you can see what the other two might say.

Sans’s grin gets a little wider.

“soul’s the you that has the body.”

You feel your face scrunch up, and you almost miss Frisk cutting their eyes sharply at their skeletal relative. But you’re definitely distracted. And sort of freaked out.

“But...isn’t that like...your...brain? Your personality and stuff?”

“heh. well, not to sell myself short, but I don’t exactly have one of those. a brain,” he clarifies, raising the tops of his eye sockets like brows. “but i’m still slingin’ snappy comebacks, so it’s gotta be coming from somewhere.”

He’s looking at you sidelong in amusement, but then his eye lights flicker (whoa) and his grins flattens a bit.

“hey, uh. sorry. i’m freakin you out. it’s nothing you need to be worried about, ‘k?”

You shut your mouth with a snap, and realize Frisk’s been holding the door of the elevator open on the second floor for an unclear amount of time, watching you both cryptically.

“I’m!” you start, then modulate your volume a little. “I’m not exactly freaked out, I’m just, uh, it’s a lot to think about. I guess I never really looked into it as much as some people do,” you finish, stepping past Frisk to lead the way towards your goal, which luckily is only a few more feet away.

“Okay, so this is where the magic happens,” you say glibly as you turn the key in the door, trying to recover your composure and succeeding somewhat. “Literally, sometimes,” you add with a smile. There. That’s better. You flick half the switches and wince only slightly as the florescent lights bathe the room in a whitish glare, not very alleviated by the overcast sky outside, which is nonetheless visible through the open blinds.

You walk into the space that has a few small desks scattered about, a few padded chairs and some tables. An extra long table against one wall has some papers scattered on it. You should…

something.

You…

should...

“The head of the program right now is Professor Bob, and everyone says she does a good job of generating discussion and providing praxis without breaching any of the confidentiality issues or the-the….”

You’ve gathered up the papers into your hands, but they’re shaking so hard you’re having a hard time holding onto them.

That’s weird. Are you...sick?

You look over at Sans, and realize Frisk’s hunched back is to you, which is just as well since you...you forgot to sign.

You’re holding the papers in your shaking hands. What are they? They’re starting to bend and fold in your grip, you can’t tell.

“I, uh, I’m sorry? What...was I saying?” you whisper hoarsely.

Sans looks at you in concern, then takes a few steps forward.

“hey, are you okay? I really didn’t mean to-”

He leans in and peers at your face closely. Your teeth chatter, and you’re embarrassed. What the fuck is wrong with you? Maybe you just need to-

The tiny lights in Sans’ eyesockets go out completely as he stiffens in shock.

f r i s k

It feels like the word is being traced onto the inside of your skull with a cold fingertip.

w h a t h a v e y o u d o n e .

You tear your eyes away from the black sockets in front of you and look at Frisk, who has turned back around and is holding themself tightly, hands running over their abdomen in an oddly disturbing manner.

“We have to get out of here. Now,” they sign.

Sans’ eyes flicker back into existence, but the points are hard-edged and tiny.

“you said-”

Frisk barks a noise of urgency. “Later,” they sign urgently. “He’s coming. Can we take a shortcut?”

Sans darts a tense look at you, then turns back to Frisk.

who’s coming?”

“A killer,” they reply desperately, face carved with grief.

Sans sags heavily for a long moment, but his back is to you. Before you or Frisk can say another word, Sans moves more quickly than you’d imagined he was capable of, since he’s already out the door. It click-thuds behind him with finality.

You and Frisk stare at each other; they’re still holding themself as if they expect to fall apart at any moment. Their mop of thick, blunt-cut hair shudders a moment as they take a deep breath. Their heavy-lidded eyes narrow further and their mouth falls into a straight line. They stride forward determinedly and take your arm, leading you slowly toward the door. You resist a moment, although for some inexplicable reason, you’re shaking less than you were a minute ago. “A killer is coming” is NOT reassuring news, so why do you feel almost...relieved? You have no idea what’s going on, or how Frisk can know that someone is coming to do something terrible to them. That was definitely not ambiguous.

Frisk looks at you.

“We don’t want to end up trapped in the room,” they state decisively.

You allow yourself to be led as Frisk opens the door and peers out carefully, holding you slightly behind them.

Then you duck instinctively as a loud bang echoes down the hallway, tugging at Frisk’s arm. You think it came from the left, so you point and gesture.

You hear Sans’ voice, and you can’t make it out but he sounds...calm. Then, another echoing bang. You look at Frisk questioningly and they purse their lips, looking frustrated. Your hand is still shaking violently but you manage to steady your fist just enough.

“Sans,” you gesture silently. You point again.

Their eyes flash darkly, and they drag you both up from where you’ve crouched in the doorway and start to lead you slowly down the hallway. Not to the right and back to the elevator but towards where the loud slamming sounds and Sans’ voice had come from. You’re breathing heavily, and you know you’ve just kind of shut down and Frisk is practically a baby and you should be the one protecting them, but you can’t think, you can’t-

You and Frisk turn the corner, and the hall beyond is filled with a dimness that can’t be penetrated by the overcast daylight coming in through the hall’s windows. It’s very hard to see but you can tell you’re looking at Sans’s silhouette from the back. It looks like there might be a prone figure in front of him. Sans’s hands are in his pockets, and his posture seems casual, almost relaxed.

You look at Frisk, who seems relieved for a split second before their face twists enigmatically.

They turn and look at you.

“We should call someone,” they urge.

“Oh,” you whisper, then belatedly fumble in your pockets for your lanyard, which has an emergency fob on it. Frisk pulls out an oddly bulky rectangular object.

It’s a monster phone. You’ve heard of them, you know what they look like and that they’re nearly impossible to get, but you’re never seen one in person before. They’re doing something with it, but you’re trying to split your attention between whatever is going on in that dim area, and pulling the pin out of your emergency fob so campus security can get the fuck over here like immediate style and sort out whatever the hell this is. You also pull out your phone to send a shaky text to the proper emergency number, with your location and highest priority code, although you’re not entirely sure what this situation is exactly. You barely manage, and by the time you look back up to Frisk they’re putting the monster phone away; you wave to grab their attention.

“What’s happening,” you sign. “What is this?”

Their eyes lock back onto the dim area the second your sentence ends, and you see a tear leak out of their eye only to be scrubbed away by one of their long, lovingly hand-knit sleeves.

“Sans pulled him into an encounter,” they reply after a long moment.

Encounter, that’s a magic thing. A monster thing… a soul thing. Anything that happens in it, stays in it. Conversations, and...

“They’re fighting?” you croak.

Frisk’s head shakes, but you’re not sure it’s a refutation.

“It’s still his turn.”

That...doesn’t actually mean anything to you. Suddenly you think you see a flash, and you feel something hit the floor although you don’t hear anything this time.

A low, raw sound happens beside you and you snap your eyes back to Frisk.

“He doesn’t want to hurt anyone. He never did,” Frisk says disjointedly, almost like they forgot you’re here. Then their eyes refocus and they seem to see you. They take a deep, shuddering breath.

“[sign] will be here soon. It’ll be...soon.”

“I don’t know what [sign] is,” you reply.

Another shuddering breath. “Undyne,” they spell shakily.

Oh. Captain of the Royal Guard. Dr. Alphys’ wife. Eight foot tall fish lady. That Undyne. You realize the sign Frisk had made resembled a fan held by the side of their face….a fin? It must have been a name sign for Undyne, whose grimly scaled visage you’d seen photos of before. You hope she lives up to her reputation because you’re feeling distinctly in need of rescue.

“Campus security will come,” you whisper absently, but Frisk isn’t looking at you anymore, anyways. Their arms are wrapped around themselves again, their fist pressing a tight circle into their chest over and over. It feels like a century goes by while you stare dully into the dimness in the hall of the BioMed building.

Then you hear a faraway slam; a lot of loud crashes, thumps, and bangs that sound like they’re coming nearer. You touch Frisk’s arm, and their head snaps toward you like a viper’s.

“Someone’s coming.”

Despite your anticipation you still jump when the door to the stairs behind the two of you slams open and hits the wall behind it hard enough that you’re surprised the windows don’t shatter.

A blue, scaly monster with a bright red topknot stomps towards you and wheels Frisk around by their shoulder. A faraway part of your brain that isn’t currently broken notes that while she is taller than any human you’ve ever seen, she’s probably not eight feet tall. Wow. That eyepatch.

“What happened?!” she hollers into Frisk’s devastated face.

Frisk emits a tiny, anguished wail and points to the dim area.

“NGAAAAAHHHH!” Undyne shouts, and then runs right into the encounter, swallowed up by the dim area.

There are several more of what might be flashes, and blurry movement of some kind. After a few moments, the light and space around the monsters return to normal. Sans stands in the same spot, hands in his hoodie pockets, while Undyne crouches over a dark heap that doesn’t struggle.

She drags a bag you hadn’t seen before over and looks inside, says something sharp you don’t quite catch.

“What the hell was he going to do with this,” she adds, and you do understand that. You’re not sure you want to, though. You’re really not...feeling very well at all.

Your entire mind feels like it’s been stuffed full of cotton and novocaine, but you hear what might be the belated arrival of campus security. There are voices, at least.

Sans turns around, and you realize nothing about him is relaxed. He looks indescribably exhausted, and for the first time, he reminds you of something dead. Frisk totters forward hesitantly.

“heya, kiddo. looks like you were right. not that I expected anything else.”

You can’t see what they say; their back is to you.

After a moment: “nah. we all got choices.” his eyes flicker dully. “and we made em, didn’t we?”

Frisk breathes shakily, a tiny grunt slipping out. Now Undyne is calling someone.

“nothing to be done about it. and you know how good I am at doing that.”

Sans looks around Frisk a moment and slowly focuses on you, and the deep grooves under his eye sockets look freshly carved. His eyes are dull pinpricks.

“no skin off my ass,” he intones humorlessly. “heh.”

Chapter Text

Hours later, you finally stagger through your front door, every cell of your body aching.

The questioning had seemed endless. Security, police, the Royal Guard, Undyne herself…

But you really didn’t know anything, and eventually they realized you’d just stopped talking and responding entirely. Diane had intervened, and you’d been given numbers to call, emails to write, and finally, blessedly, sent on your way.

You moan your way through the house to the bathroom, shedding bags, coat, and clothing as you go. You hang on to your phone just in case, then collapse on the side of the tub (very spacious and almost double-deep; the major selling point for you on taking this place, in addition to the fact that it was literally on campus grounds and extremely subsidized for staff) and start the tap. You stick your fingers under the rushing water and it’s almost painfully hot; perfect. Time to boil your sorry carcass into submission before the pain settles all the way into your bones and stays there.

But you really don’t want to think about bones right now, so you just concentrate on peeling off the rest of your remaining clothes.You try holding your breath and settling into the water slowly, but you’re too tired and you slip in all at once with a hiss. At least you don’t hit your head this time. You try to relax, you try not to think about anything. But you feel odd, insubstantial...you never did eat anything today, did you. Well. Don’t think about that either, or you’ll cry. You’re in no shape to fix anything, and it’s all just too much, and if you drown from passing out in the tub at least you have a good excuse this time.

You wish you had a cat. But if you got a cat, the poor thing would be lonely all the time with you working, and so you’d have to get two cats, and what if you had too many bad days in a row? Who would take care of them? Two cats is more than twice the work of one, but it’s not right to leave something alone so much. You know because you’re alone so much, and you’re feeling it pretty hard right now.

You definitely don’t have the energy to wash your hair, which is probably ok since it doesn’t really need it yet. You do manage to slowly wash the rest of yourself, though, and you finish before the water gets cold. One win in today’s column.

You manage to dry yourself and put on some pajamas, even though it’s barely getting dark, and wander into your small but adequate kitchen and scrounge up a loaf of bread. You sit down at tiny table after gathering up your meds and your phone, and dial your sister for a video chat.

“Hey, Goober, how’s it shakin?” Your sister’s bright voice, the fact that she looks so happy to see you, everything seems so normal as you watch her duck into her room away from the noise of the kids…. You clutch the bag of bread to your chest and feel tears start to slide down your cheeks. Something in your chest hurts, but you don’t think it’s physical.

“Shit,” she says quietly. “What happened?”

“My intake today was Frisk Dreamurr.”

“Whoa,” she replies. “Did they say-”

“I took them and their relative to the Soul Studies department and someone was coming to blow it up and kill us I guess. Frisk’s family member stopped them. Then, uh. Undyne came.”

She’s just goggling at you.

“Can you tell me how you and the kids are doing? And, uh, Matt? Because I-I really need to eat something so I can take my meds, I just don’t wanna be-” your breath hitches, and you swallow tightly. You scrub tears away with a napkin. “I just wanted to hear your voice.”

“Uhhh,” she whispers. “Okay, you, um, you have something to eat?”

You fumble the bag of bread open and pull out a slice.

Your sister fills you in on all the details of her perfectly normal day, talks about Shonda and Nattie, what they’re up to, how their grades are. You slowly manage to chew and swallow your way through a few slices of bread despite your nausea, although it sits there like a bowling ball in your stomach. You swallow down your meds and finally, and Angie slows down and looks at you. She doesn’t hide her concern very well. And you suppose she’s justified in it; you’re really not okay.

“The weirdest part is,” you begin, apropos of nothing and just starting as if you’d been talking about it the whole time, “I felt the worst right before it happened.”

“Well, what exactly did happen? I mean, how did it start? If you’re ready to tell me about it.”

You press your lips together.

“Everything was fine, we were just having this weird conversation about-about souls, actually.”

“Well, that makes sense,” she replies, managing not to look impatient. “You said the ambassador asked for a tour of the Soul Studies department, right? That’s where you were?”

You nod. “It was like...as soon as we got in there, I started to feel weird. Faint, or something. My hands were shaking and I thought...I don’t know what I thought. Then Sans looked at me weird, and got really angry with Frisk, and I-”

“Who the hell is Sans?” your sister asks as her patience finally stretches thin.

In the end it takes about half an hour to explain everything that had happened. You’re explaining that there wasn’t any news about who the person had been or what exactly they had been trying to do, when you blink and cut yourself off.

“Wait, what was I saying?”

Your sister’s staring at you, looking pretty freaked out.

“You started saying something about blood. About ‘all the blood came out.’ Are you okay?”

“Um. What?”

(what)

(what)

“I mean, it’s been a week now….are you sure you don’t want to see a therapist? You don’t even have to see someone through the college, I know you’re tired of getting asked about it over and over.”

“No, I...”

Oh. someone’s knocking on the door. Shit.

“Hey, sis. Looks like Vulkin’s here for my appointment, I gotta go.”

“Ok, Goob, it’s almost time for me to take the kids to school anyhow. Maybe...talk to her about this, I’m worried about you. Love you, okay?”

“Me too.”

You shut the computer and walk heavily to your door, the week’s trials and tribulations weighing on your joints, even though you just woke up. It’s like you feel the lack of sleep in every step.

It doesn’t help that every night, your dream that Frisk is trying to tell you something, but every time they open their mouth, all that pours out is the blood. Always the blood. And they don’t even speak with their mouth, why would you dream that?

You wish someone would tell you who that guy had been or what he was trying to do, but it seemed like no one knew any of that, or where he even was now. Frisk and Sans hadn’t come back either, hadn’t even called. Maybe Frisk has decided it wasn’t safe for them to pursue Soul Studies after all, at least not publicly?

It’s hard to care. It’s hard to think.

You open the door.

“Ah! Ah! I’ll help,” Vulkin chirps as she strolls through your front door, heading immediately to the couch in the front room where you usually have your treatments.

“Thanks, Vulkin,” you sigh. “Want anything?”

She doesn’t answer, but her wide rump waggles in agitation. You walk around and sit down in front of her, holding out your hands.

The soothing heat flows through your joints, teasing out the pain bit by bit. You have to admit that having access to monster healing has been life-changing for you, and you’ve got the best of the best here at Ebott. You blink slowly while she treats you, trying to piece together what you and your sister had just been talking about. For some reason...it’s like you can’t quite separate the conversations you and she have been having in the seven days since they attack. They all blend together.

“Not feeling better,” Vulkin says suddenly.

“No, I’m...I’m feeling better, Vulkin,” you say in confusion. “You always help me when you come here.”

“Mmm, mm,” she hums. Her cheeks glow, like they always do. But that particular sound is the one she makes when she disagrees with something, as you’ve come to learn over the past year.

“Smell the pain,” she adds cryptically.

“Uh...what?”

“Ahh. Not... helping? Okay...” Vulkin toddles back away from you.

“No, I didn’t mean anything like that,” you rush to reassure her. “I just don’t understand what you mean.”

“Something else? Hugs?” she emphasizes, but you hold up your hands as she approaches you again. It’s weird, she’s acting weird and everything isn’t okay and you just want to be alone.

“No, I-I don’t want a hug, Vulkin. It’s okay. Sorry,” you finish, voice dropping to a whisper.

“Ahhhhhh…….” she sighs, sounding brokenhearted. “Not helping.”

She waddles to the door, which you open for her passage, then close behind her.

You

Close

Why are you closing the door?

You open it, and walk into Diane’s office hesitantly. She looks up at you, and nods casually to the seat across from her where you usually sit when you visit.

“Hey, so. I was just wondering if you’ve heard from...from Frisk.”

She blinks. “Frisk Dreamurr?”

“Yeah. It’s just, I was wondering if they were still interested in coming here, even after the attack. Or attempted attack, whatever that was.”

“Well, no. I haven’t heard from them, but I guess they must have changed their mind. Thought you would have given up by now.”

“Are you sure? I mean, I was really hoping to talk to them before the new Soul Studies semester gets started, so they have a chance to-” you cut yourself off at the look on Diane’s face.

“Hey,” she says, sympathetic but serious. “I know this has been a hard time for you, and I’m not trying to...I just feel like I owe it to you to be honest. I think you need to take some time off.”

The water in the tub is almost boiling hot, but you decide to wash your hair after all. It probably needs it by now. Even though it’s been a long day (indescribably long), you feel like you need a win.

You wish you had a cat. But if you got a cat, the poor thing would be lonely all the time with you working, and so you’d have to get two cats, and what if you had too many bad days in a row? Who would take care of them? Two cats is more than twice the work of one, but it’s not right to leave something alone so much. You know because you’re alone so much, and you’re feeling it pretty hard right now.

You blink. “Why would I need time off? I...”

Diane looks at you strangely. “The new semester started a week ago.”

You goggle at her.

“You’re kidding, right? It hasn’t been...”

A month. A month since someone came to the BioMed building where you were giving a tour of the facilities to Frisk and Sans.

You feel like you’re forgetting something important.

“Maybe you’re right, Diane. I’ll...think about it. Hey, do you mind if I take a walk? Get...some fresh air.”

Diane frowns. “Are you gonna be okay out walking by yourself? You don’t usually get that kind of exercise.”

“No, I’m just...” you don’t even finish your sentence as you walk out the door, down the hall, and take the elevator up and out of the building.

The next thing you know, you’re somewhere past the campus, deep in a residential neighborhood at an address you remember from Frisk’s paperwork. You really shouldn’t be here. It’s unprofessional. Maybe illegal? You don’t know and you probably can’t afford to care anymore. It feels like a thin tether holding you together is about to snap, and you can’t even think straight.

You knock slowly and determinedly on the door in front of you. Your fist shakes, but you don’t stop.

Eventually, your hand misses the wood because the door is open, and you look up.

It’s Sans the skeleton, possibly wearing the same outfit you last saw him in a month ago, and he doesn’t look happy to see you. He doesn’t look angry, either, or anything else. He just looks empty.

“it’s you,” he says through his fixed grin, forgetting to sign again but you actually understand because it’s not like there’s anything else to fucking say about it.

“What the fuck happened to me?” you groan.

His eye lights are barely even visible.

“nothing,” he says, sounding impassive. “nothing happened.”

You shudder as an uncharacteristic rage tears through you, and lean with one hand on the doorjamb. It passes fairly quickly, and you’re grateful for that much at least. But you’re not leaving without some answers, since you’ve already come this far. It feels like the insides of your bones are trying to get out, or something.

It’s unbearable. Didn’t all of this just happen? It hasn’t been a month. There’s no way.

You look back up, then push yourself away from the door so you can sign, and maybe he’ll finally remember you can’t understand him without it.

“It’s an inarguable fact that something happened, as in, someone tried to kill us? Or did you not remember that part? But I’m not talking about that and you already know i’m not,” and you’re not yelling but you’re practically slashing the air with your hands.

“So why don’t you cut the shit and tell me why I feel like I’m walking around in two different places at once and haven’t fucking slept and apparently it’s been a month since we took that tour? And then I can figure out if there’s anything I can do about before I lose my mind, my job, and pretty much everything else I almost killed myself to get, okay? How does that sound?”

Well, it actually kind of looks like he sees you now, at least. He sighs heavily, you can actually feel it stirring the front of your hair. He smells kind of...musty.

“come in,” he says simply, and you’re relieved he managed to take the hint and signed it at you as well. He steps back, and you enter a fairly large living room with a couch and a television, paintings on the walls, and a few bookshelves and hutches. There’s a stairway leading up almost immediately to the right that ends in a closed door. The front door shuts behind you, and the short skeleton leads you further into the house.

Sans walks at an unhurried pace through the living room and into a small dining room, but the wall ends halfway down from the ceiling and there seems to be a railing on the far side of the table. As you approach you see that there’s another floor below this one, and the downstairs den below is viewable through the railing. Frisk is seated on a low, plush-looking couch with a plate of waffles in their lap, and is holding one out to a yellow, lizardlike monster sitting next to them.

As you approach, the monster takes a large bite out of the waffle without looking away from the loud cartoon show they both appear to be riveted to; Frisk’s other hand darts down on their other side, and comes back up with a canister of whipped cream that they squirt into their mouth. Then, they hold the canister over a little farther, and the monster gets a mouthful as well. If you weren’t so fucked up inside, you’d have said something about how impressive their coordination is; neither look away from the show at any point. The blocky captions take up a lot of the bottom of the screen, so it must be a pretty dialogue-heavy show.

Sans wraps the sleeve of his hoodie around his bony hand, then slams his fist twice on the ceiling of the lower floor, making you jump. Frisk breaks eye contact with the screen finally and glances up; you suppose they’d worked out that that was a noise Frisk could hear, or at least feel.

“time to talk, I guess,” Sans intones dully.

Frisk sees you and their eyes go flat. They look at their friend and they both stand. The monster manages to be even broader than Frisk so you can’t see what they’re saying. But the monster speaks verbally, and you manage to catch a little of it.

“No, no...I’ll head home. It’s not a problem.”

Frisk’s hands flash, barely visible above their friend’s shoulder.

“I know. Don’t worry about it, okay?”

Frisk leans forward and wraps their arms around their friend, and you belatedly notice their companion doesn’t appear to have any arms. Explains the synchronization, if they’ve known each other as long as they seem to have, you suppose. Then Frisk leans forward and places a surprisingly tender kiss on their friend’s face, and they hesitate, glancing up at where you and Sans stand expectantly. The two below part, and the scaled yellow face smiles up at you encouragingly before they mount the stairs to the floor you’re on.

“Good luck,” the young monster says as they pass you, and for some reason you find it surprisingly heartening.

“Thanks,” you reply softly. You sense Sans behind you but don’t hear him say anything. After the door shuts behind Frisk’s friend, you turn your attention back to Frisk, who still hasn’t moved to come upstairs.

You really don’t know what the hell is going on here, but you also can’t leave. You feel like you’ve got no other options. So you wait.

“It’s a bad idea,” Frisk motions finally.

Sans makes an odd rustling noise beside you, and you shoot a glance at him.

“maybe you should just explain it anyway,” he mutters hopelessly, but at least he remembers to sign along.

Frisk manages to look upset and impassive at the same time, somehow.

“What else could I have done?” they sign frantically, gazing up at Sans, not you.

“only you know the answer to that,” he replies cryptically, then sighs again. “just come up here, kid. maybe you should try listening instead of jus’ running your own wheels all the damn time.”

Sans heads over to the dining room table, and pulls out a chair for you on the other side, points to it before seating himself. Frisk comes around and sits down with a thump but doesn’t say anything.

“You two don’t seem like you’re doing very well, either,” you comment, probably unnecessarily. “Look, I-” it’s actually really hard to explain, now that the moment’s here. But...they were there, they have to know what that nauseating moment of disconnect means. “Ever since that day, I haven’t been able to eat right, I can’t concentrate, I...I’m forgetting things. Or, remembering things?” No, that sounds absurd.

“I can’t sleep,” you try instead. “Every time I try I feel I like ca-” your voice disappears. “Like I can’t breathe,” you gesture silently. “It’s not a physical problem. But it’s causing physical problems. For me,” you finish, breathing a little heavily.

Sans and Frisk just sit there, staring despondently. At least, you think that’s what it is. Frisk is hard to read.

The anger returns.

“Frisk,” you start, and your voice is back. “What happened? Why did you know that guy was coming to blow up Soul Studies? Why did you think we would die?”

Sans glances sharply at you.

“he wanted to blow up the room? why?”

“I don’t know,” you say quickly, but you latch on to something that finally resembles an actual response to what you’re saying.

“Diane said he was some sort of obsessive anti-soul-whatever person; wasn’t even religious but thought teaching about real souls was gonna bring about the end of corporeal existence or corporeal humanity or whatever, I don’t really know. And I don’t know what happened to him, if he’s in prison or who has him, and I was hoping I could find that out too if you-” you suck in a deep, shuddering breath. “Do you know what they did with that guy?”

Frisk at least has turned their head to see what you’re saying, but the look on their face makes you shudder grotesquely. Their expression looks too much the same as the one from your recurring nightmare: the dead-eyed despair, the gout of blood from their mouth.

“doesn’t matter, I guess,” Sans mutters, eye lights dimming again. “me too this time, wasn’t it, kid? i go out swinging?”

He glances at Frisk, who remains expressionless. “huh. guess he got the jump. not that i couldn’t tell already,” he intones, gesturing vaguely at himself.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” you say, exasperation taking over. It feels like your stomach’s trying to both eat your spine and crawl up out of your throat simultaneously. “I saw you in that, that encounter thing. Or, I saw you walk right out of it at least. You didn’t seem...” you trail off, because actually he kind of had seemed. “I didn’t know you were injured.”

“heh,” the skeleton laughs humorlessly. “i wasn’t. musta been thinking of some other sans.”

Frisk flinches.

“How did a month go by without me noticing? It feels like it just happened. Where did I go?”

Were you whispering that?

Frisk is looking at Sans now.

“i hate it when you get like this,” they gesture peevishly.

“i’m not like anything, kiddo,” he replies, grinning indifferently.

“Exactly,” they snap back.

You shove yourself back from the table, and the chair you were sitting in clatters over. “Wasn’t I just here?” you yell a little wildly.

“Did I come here already?” You look up at them, desperate.

Sans is standing, and he looks like he’s finally actually seeing you. He starts to come forward but Frisk is up too, and is standing in front of him protectively. Why?

“hey, buddy, take it easy. you’re...” he peers into your eyes, and his eye lights turn into hard points. “you’re not looking so hot.”

His skeletal fingers clasp Frisk’s arm to peer around their broad body, but he doesn’t push himself forward again.

“I’m gonna flip out if someone doesn’t explain this to me,” you groan. You can feel yourself shaking apart, shaking even more than you were the day in the BioMed building. In the Soul Studies room, when Frisk had told you they were going to….they were going to…

“Frisk, where did the all the blood come from?”

Frisk’s eyes crack open with a glow like the last gasp of coals.

“You want to know what happened so badly?”

Their gaze locks on Sans. He doesn’t seem to notice, but Frisk signs at him anyways.

“You were closest to the door, he even hit you with it coming in. It knocked you off balance, and it’s been so long you didn’t even recognize it as an attack. Not that that would have necessarily made a difference. When he saw you were a monster, he slapped you. That’s all it took. Your dust fell through his fingers, and the look on his face-you would have made a joke about it. ‘you look like you saw a ghost’. Like that,” Frisk says with shaking fingers.

“That’s when the thing he’d thrown on the floor blew up.”

Frisk’s reddened, haggard stare pins you in place. “Half the ceiling came down right on top of you. Crushed your spine instantly, I bet. Close to the neck. I remember what that feels like, choking because your body doesn’t exist in the same dimension as your brain anymore. Can’t breathe, can’t live... It just slips out of you, you can’t get it back.”

A high whining noise is filling your ears, and you wish it’d come and block your eyes, too. Every word they’re saying is shoving you back into that broken container from your dreams. You can’t breathe.

“I tried to get to you, I wanted to tell you what I was going to do. I don’t know why. It seemed important at the time, and Sans was already-” their hands lose form at that. “I thought it might even be better to just let it happen, finally. Just like I said. Because I-” they lose it again, but then their chin firms.

“The tables and supply closets turned into shrapnel. A piece of table tore through my body at the groin, and half a steel door went through my chest. My own shit was leaking out of me along with everything else, since it perforated my bowel. You don’t ever really forget that smell. Even with that, I might have lasted for hours, but my right lung was shredded by the steel piece. I fell down, but I started crawling over to you, I wanted you to know. That it was gonna be okay, it was finally going to end. I’d let it happen.”

They turn those fiery eyes to Sans. “Just like you wanted, I guess.”

“that’s enough, frisk,” Sans says quietly.

You wanted me to talk about it!” they slash into the air, grunting with the effort.

“But you were there,” they turn back to explain, and the whining in your ears gets higher. The thin thread holding you to yourself feels like it’s going to break any second; each word from them feels like it’s making what Frisk is saying real. Locking that reality into place right alongside what you saw happen. Making you remember it.

“But I didn’t promise you. I had to ask. Even if I didn’t know it would work.”

They look at Sans again. “It shouldn’t have worked, and I don’t know why it did. I’m not even sure I meant for it to happen, even though...”

Is there someone at the door? They should open it.

But Frisk turns back to you. They just keep saying it.

“I tried to tell you. I tried to ask if you could accept it. But there wasn’t enough of me left. All that came out of my mouth was the blood, and there was so much of it. I could see you were still alive, even though your lungs were crushed; your heart too. I had to make a decision. You were already

dead and didn’t even know it yet, but you

could read

my lips

and

you

said-”

The thread snaps. You spill out all over yourself, your lap, the table. You scream, and your vision finally dims the way you’d been praying for as something hits the floor heavily, shreds apart.

“oh shit, oh shit,” you hear Sans’s voice chanting from what sounds like the bottom of an elevator shaft. “i... you’re- shit, sorry, i’m-”

SANS!? FRISK! WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO THAT POOR HUMAN?” It’s a voice you don’t recognize.

“THAT’S WHAT THAT IS, RIGHT? HOW DID IT…? ...UGH.”

“frisk said something they shouldn’t have, paps,” you hear Sans reply heavily.

But it’s so far away, it’s got nothing to do with you. You’re somewhere else, and the voices blend, echo off the walls to drown in your ears. Meaningless.

“’s’my fault, i guess.”

“I SUPPOSE IT’S A GOOD THING THE GREAT PAPYRUS GETS OUT OF WORK EARLY ON FRIDAYS, THEN.”

Papyrus. That’s the brother, what’s left of your mind supplies helpfully, but the voice seems to be coming from so high up. You can’t see him, though. You can’t see anything, but the next time he talks, he’s lower. Or you’re higher, you can’t really feel where you are. You don’t feel anything, and you know that’s for the best, isn’t it?

“I’M READY, LET’S TAKE THEM TO TORIEL’S.”

“dunno if that’s a good idea, bro.”

A long moment.

“OH, FRISK.” There’s more compassion there than disappointment.

“SO, THAT’S WHY YOU TWO HAVE BEEN SO MOODY. WELL, THE IMPORTANT THING IS ALWAYS TO CLEAN UP BIOHAZARDS BEFORE THEY SPREAD. THAT’S WHAT I ALWAYS SAY. ISN’T IT, SANS?”

“you sure do, bro.”

“THEN, YOU TAKE THAT OVER THERE, AND I’LL TAKE CARE OF THIS ONE,” and you feel a twisting like you’re being pulled thinner, dwindled, windowpaned like bread dough. You haven’t been moved at all, but you’re being...carried? Your hear the creak of stairs more clearly than you think you’ve heard anything else, then a patient sigh.

“I’M SURE THIS IS VERY UNCOMFORTABLE, BUT I ALSO HAVE VERY GOOD NEWS. I’M SURE YOU’LL BE DELIGHTED TO HEAR IT. JUST A FEW MOMENTS, AND…OH, DON’T DO THAT!”

The world flips, splits apart, making you sick again. Something...separating. Coming out? Something cool and hard leans against your middle, and it’s...soothing?

“YES, I’VE PLUGGED THE TUB, DO NOT WORRY. FORGIVE ME A MOMENT...”

Something cool, hard, and oddly...flexible...is touching you. Where exactly, you couldn’t say for the life of you.

Far away (Very Away) from this, you somehow also hear Sans. “just get a bowl or something, kiddo. it’s...wait, hand me that a sec.”

“WE HAVEN’T EVEN BEEN INTRODUCED, SO YOU’LL HAVE TO FORGIVE ME FOR BEING SO FAMILIAR. IT CAN’T BE HELPED FOR NOW. IT’S NOT LIKE YOU CAN EXPLAIN IT TO ME OTHERWISE. NOT WHEN YOU’RE... OH, YES! THE GOOD NEWS! YES! YOU ABSOLUTELY WON’T REMEMBER ANY OF THIS PART AT ALL. THAT MAKES ALL OF THIS SO MUCH EASIER, DOESN’T IT? YOU MUST BE RELIEVED.”

You feel relieved.

“NYEH HEH HEH, YOU’RE WELCOME.”

In fact, although somewhere else something is definitely happening and it’s not very pleasant at all, the sliding away feeling you’ve been experiencing for… it’s been going on for… the sliding feeling has stopped. It’s like an anchor is holding you over some kind of abyss.

“INDEED, I CAN! THE GREAT PAPYRUS HAS NEVER LET ANYONE FALL, NOT EVEN ONCE. BUT I...”

You get the idea he’d been about to say something else, but he’s noticing something.

“I DON’T USUALLY DO THIS SORT OF THING, OF COURSE. AS A MATTER OF FACT, NEARLY EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS IS INCREDIBLY UNORTHODOX. HOWEVER! IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO!”

A tinge of unfamiliar embarrassment. You have no idea what there is to be embarrassed about, but you still feel it. The feeling’s just there, and you don’t know where it’s coming from.

“EH...HEH.” The laugh sounds a little strangled now. “I’LL DO MY BEST NOT TO ‘REMEMBER’ THIS EITHER. BY WHICH I MEAN I WILL NEVER SPEAK OF THIS TO ANYONE, ESPECIALLY YOU. HOW DOES THAT SOUND?”

You feel relieved.

“SANS! WHAT ON EARTH IS TAKING YOU SO LONG?”

Somewhere else (Very Else), Sans is mumbling. “sorry, bro. Wait a- hey, frisk...here, gimme that.”

A minute passes.

“yeah, call her right now. let her know i’m on my way.” Sans again.

“I DIDN’T EVEN HAVE TO MAKE YOU BLUE,” Papyrus is saying at the same time. “EITHER OF YOU. AN INTERESTING COINCIDENCE, BUT...I STILL WILL ASK YOU. YOU DO NOT WANT ME TO LET GO, DO YOU? IF IT’S WHAT YOU PREFER, I CAN-”

Of course you don’t want him to let go! As if you’d just give up now, after everything. You have a job to do, and it’s not like this is that much worse than what you already deal with! Or, maybe it is, but that doesn’t mean you can just stop trying. You won’t give up on yourself, even when it gets hard.

Of course you don’t want him to let go! It’s not like you don’t want to face the truth, just in your own time and in your own ways. You have people that you care about, and who care about you. People are depending on you, every day. You have to keep showing up...and she needs the money you’re sending.

Is that everyone?

Yes.

Good.

“OF COURSE,” Papyrus agrees almost quietly. For him, you’re realizing. Not much about Papyrus is quiet, but his voice is warm. His...voice?

“AS LONG AS YOU TRY, AS LONG AS YOU WANT TO GET BETTER, YOU WILL. I HAVE NO DOUBTS ABOUT THIS. I KNOW THAT YOU’LL ALWAYS BE THERE FOR YOUR-”

The embarrassment doubles.

“SANS, YOU LAZYBONES!” he sounds a little desperate now. “WHAT IS TAKING YOU SO-”

He’s interrupted by a knock on the door.

“DON’T YOU DARE COME IN,” he cautions. “IT’S ALREADY BAD ENOUGH THAT I’M IN HERE. NO PEEKING! YES, YES JUST….SET IT ON THE COUNTER. UGH, THAT’S... DISGUSTING. NO OFFENSE,” he says as an aside.

None taken. Not like it’s either of your faults.

“LOTS OF THINGS AREN’T ANYONE’S FAULT,” Papyrus hollers compassionately.

“i know, bro, but..”

“NEVER MIND. WHERE’S FRISK?”

“went to their room. think they feel pretty bad.”

“YES, YES, EVERYONE FEELS VERY BAD, WHICH IS DEFINITELY THE ONLY APPROPRIATE PART OF WHAT IS CURRENTLY HAPPENING.”

“look, bro. i checked their phone and it looks like they weren’t, uh, doing too well before this. vulkin’s in there, so I messaged her, about to go pick her up right now.”

“THEN HURRY,” Papyrus replies shortly, followed by a click or something, then silence.

Inexplicable relief floods you, more than you expected. But why wouldn’t you? After all, you’re obviously… sick…? and the doctor is coming. That’s a good reason to feel relieved, isn’t it?

“I AM SURE VULKIN WILL BE ABLE TO HELP YOU SOMEHOW,” Papyrus agrees heartily. “TRY NOT TO THINK ABOUT THIS.”

Think about...oh. Yes. You died, didn’t you? All your life crushed away under concrete and twisted metal, and you can’t even feel it. Would it be better if it hurt more? The twist of the knife, and off goes your head again. It’s okay, you’re sure they’ll do better next time. The glue that holds you together is slipping, the tiny bits that aren’t magic drying out, desiccating and flying into the air as the freezing wind takes you…

“HUMAN,” Papyrus says kindly. “I WOULD PREFER YOU DIDN’T LOOK AT THAT, PLEASE.”

But you don’t know what you were looking at, it was just there. You can’t actually see anything, and you don’t know where you are. It’s scary, you’re scared, and you died and you’re dying and you don’t want to, you don’t want to die-

“YOU WON’T FALL,” Papyrus says easily, confidently. “I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S TAKING HIM SO LONG, MY BROTHER IS EXTREMELY EFFICIENT. THAT’S ALSO WHY HE’S SO FRUSTRATINGLY LAZY, OF COURSE. DID I EVER TELL YOU ABOUT THE TIME HE-”

Another knock on the door interrupts him.

“CAN VULKIN COME IN?” Papyrus asks conscientiously.

Of course! Even if you don’t know what’s happening, she’s always been able to help you before. In fact, it’s like you already feel her calming presence around you, warmth that goes deeper than bones. Do you have bones? You seem to recall having something like that, even if you can’t feel them right now...can you usually feel them?

“Oh, oh, oh! Messy, messy.”

“NOW, THERE’S NO NEED TO BE RUDE TO MY GUEST, VULKIN. CAN YOU PUT IT BACK?”

Vulkin hums a thoughtful little tune.

“Mmm, mm. We tries! All back together now.”

Papyrus gives a long-suffering sigh. “I SUPPOSE I HAVE TWO MORE HANDS THAN YOU DO, EVEN IF THEY ARE OCCUPIED,” he grumbles, but he feels hopeful. Why do you know this?

“SANS!” he hollers. “GET THE CLEAN LAUNDRY AND BRING...SOMETHING. OF COURSE I WASHED IT, I’M THE ONLY ONE WHO DOES ANYTHING AROUND HERE! IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT.”

Oh, you’re...it’s stretching again. It doesn’t feel good. You hadn’t realized how much it had stopped but now it’s starting again, oh god now it’s going the other way, oh, it’s awful-

“THIS PART IS ALMOST OVER,” Papyrus assures you. And he’s right. He would never lie to you about that. Your hear something wet, something rusty in your ears, like...well, you don’t want to know. But yes, that is slightly better.

“Now we gots to hots!” You hear Vulkin say brightly. She always knows what to do.

“WELL, MAKE IT QUICK AS YOU CAN. NO MORE THAN 900, SINCE I CAN’T LET GO,” Papyrus says. “THE TUB CAN’T TAKE MUCH MORE, EITHER.”

“So lovey!” Vulkin coos, and hums again as warmth spreads through...something. It’s not nice, but it’s very something.

You remember how to have bones at least, so that’s probably good.

“I...IF THE SMELL’S ANYTHING TO GO BY, I SUPPOSE IT IS WORKING,” You hear, then “YES, JUST PUSH THE BAG THROUGH THE GAP, SANS. YOU STAY OUT THERE.”

A rustling, and more heat.

“I HAVE TO LET GO IN A MOMENT, HUMAN. DON’T FORGET TO DO THE PART WHERE YOU REMEMBER TO FORGET THIS PART. I LOOK FORWARD TO MEETING YOU FINALLY, SO WE CAN TRULY FORGE OUR FRIENDSHIP!”

A low, surprised chuckle echoes from far away.

“THAT WASN’T A PUN, SANS! THIS IS MAGMA, NOT METAL!”

The heat intensifies, and something is happening that doesn’t exactly hurt but it doesn’t exactly not hurt, either.

“OKAY, HUMAN, YOU KNOW WHERE IT GOES. RIGHT BACK...”

And you’re alone.

You’re alone, and you’re laying on something hard, and you’ve never been so exhausted in your life. Someone’s tugging at you...no. They’re tugging clothes, moving your arms and legs. You summon more effort than you thought you were capable of, and your eyes flutter open just as the tugging stops.

“V-vulkin…?” you croak as your eyes try to focus on a familiar silhouette.

You’re in someone’s bathtub. Oh, god. What happened.

“What happened?” you whisper.

“YOU WERE... ILL,” a strange voice booms hesitantly from far above you. You try to focus your eyes again, but no...that’s really a skull. A moving, talking, living skull hovering over a garish red scarf or shawl or something. You have no idea what it is or how you got here, but Vulkin is here too, so you must have been… “VERY ILL,” the skull continues, and you realize the massive blur below it is actually the rest of his body. A skeleton. A very concerned-looking skeleton with shoulders at least half as wide as the tub you’re stretched out in.

Oh. It doesn’t occur to you to be frightened, but it’s not...wait, it’s reassuring? Why?

“Do I...know you?” you ask quietly after clearing your throat.

The skeleton grins weakly.

“WE HAVEN’T BEEN INTRODUCED! I AM THE GREAT PAPYRUS, BROTHER TO SANS AND CARETAKER OF FRISK, THE HUMAN AMBASSADOR OF MONSTERKIND. YOU’RE IN MY BATHTUB!” he adds cheerfully.

You’re glad he seems busy shoving a pair of large gloves on to his hands rather than trying to shake yours as you mumble your name, since you don’t think you can actually lift them at all. Your arms feel like overcooked pasta.

“Needs a snack,” Vulkin chimes, swaying back and forth happily.

Papyrus stops fiddling with his glove and shouts, “SANS! WHAT DO WE HAVE IN THE HOUSE?”

A mumble.

“STOP MUMBLING THROUGH THE DOOR, BROTHER, IT’S RUDE. WHERE ARE YOUR MANNERS!”

“oh, uh...” the door to the bathroom pushes open, and another, more familiar skull appears over Vulkin’s form, barely. “just the leftover spaghetti, bro. but do you think they can...”

“JUST PUT IT IN THE BLENDER, I’M SURE IT WILL BE JUST AS REFRESHING.”

Sans leaves and you look down at yourself. You’ve got a very soft, possibly threadbare white cotton shirt and a loose pair of very wide black shorts on. And you’re starting to piece together that for some reason you’d come over here, maybe there had been...a fight? Something? But then you’d fallen down, you’d gotten sick like you do sometimes except...it was like you had almost...

You’re feeling dizzy again, so you shut your eyes.

“Did I throw up or something?” you whisper.

“UM, YOU MEAN THAT THING THAT HAPPENS WHEN HUMANS VERY SUDDENLY AND DISGUSTINGLY EXPELL THE CONTENTS OF THEIR EXTREMELY FLESHY INTERNAL ORGANS? THE PART WITH ALL THE, UH...VOMIT? THAT?”

You groan.

“YES! YES, EXACTLY. THERE WAS, UH, VOMIT! IT WAS JUST... ABSOLUTELY EVERYWHERE. I’VE NEVER SEEN SO MUCH...” His voice drifts out of tune a little. “OF THAT. OF THE VOMIT.”

“Oh, god,” you say quietly. “I’m really sorry about all this.”

Feels like a catcher’s mitt comes down on your shoulder, and you squint up sheepishly.

“NONSENSE. NONE OF THIS IS YOUR FAULT. EVERYONE GETS...ILL, SOMETIMES, AND WE’RE ALL VERY GLAD YOU’RE GOING TO BE OKAY. YOU’RE OUR HOUSEGUEST, AFTER ALL!”

“Uh-” you start, but the next thing you know those mitts are under you, lifting you up. Very high up; you almost feel like you could touch the ceiling if your arms worked. If anything worked. You’re not small, but this skeleton is seriously huge, and he’s carrying you like a baby. You feel indescribably hollow, and also like if someone snipped a thread, you’d just float away. Just like a big, empty balloon.

“DON’T START THAT AGAIN,” Papyrus says quickly as he carries you across the threshold of the bathroom and down what might be a hallway. “SANS, WHERE’S THE SPAGHETTI?” he hollers, sounding more than a little stressed out.

“here, bro,” comes a deep voice from below you.

“WELL,” Papyrus “LET ME JUST GET THEM SETTLED DOWN, AND...” he lowers you onto something soft, and the space is quiet and dim. It would be nice if you weren’t so...whatever this is.

“had to put some ketchup in there. wouldn’t come back out of the blender. too solid.”

“I’M SURE IT’S FINE,” he replies, then you feel something thin and hard under your shoulders, lifting your upper body carefully.

“Where’s Vulkin?” you whisper as you try to help him sit you up and fail.

Sans comes into your field of vision, holding a large, clear plastic container full of something very red.

“took ‘er home,” he says quietly, but his eyes are small and bright, and he looks...afraid? You must have really made a mess, and you feel bad. “she says you gotta, uh, drink this and get some rest. ‘k?”

“Okay,” you agree quietly, and he holds the rim of the container to your lips. It’s actually just the entire blender, sans the motor it sits in, and there must be at least a liter of the stuff. Still, you open your mouth obediently as he tilts it up.

It’s cold as a dead fish, and somehow every flavor at once? Salty, sour, sweet and… yes, that’s bitter. And is that smoke you taste when you exhale? It’s unbelievably disgusting. Your hands come up, and Sans lets go as you tilt your head back and gulp it down. It’s monster food, you realize as you feel it dissolving each time you swallow. Feels like a swarm of sparks or fireflies gathering to fill the void that had opened inside you as soon as you woke up in the tub. Like it’s holding something together at last. You don’t want it to ever end, but of course it does eventually. The last chunky bits slide slowly down the container, revealing the metal parts at the bottom of the blender you’re holding almost vertically now.

“I DON’T THINK ANYONE HAS EVER ENJOYED MY SPAGHETTI SO...VISCERALLY.”

The blender drops heavily in your lap, and Sans manages to catch it before it falls out of your limp fingers.

“Thank you,” you cough, shaking a little in Papyrus’s grip. “It was the best thing I’ve ever had.” You sway, and your vision goes a little blurry.

“okay, let em down now, paps. they’re gonna pass out.”

You feel the massive mitts on your shoulders slowly guiding you back down into the mattress, and lead weights drag your eyes shut. You don’t immediately fall asleep though, and you hear Papyrus say something so quietly you don’t actually catch it. Apparently he is capable of whispering, who knew.

He must be leaning over you. Smells like bones. And...cologne? Well, it isn’t unpleasant.

“HUMAN,” he says, his breath tickling your ear. “THE-THE REMEMBERING? THAT IS OF COURSE YOUR BUSINESS, TO BE CONDUCTED ON YOUR OWN TIME. BUT...PERHAPS IT IS BEST TO...NO. NO, I WON’T ASK THAT OF YOU. SLEEP WELL, HUMAN. RECOVER.”

The air stirs, and you suppose he must have stood up.

“WELL, I SHOULD CERTAINLY SEE VULKIN, MAKE SURE SHE’S NOT TELLING TALL TALES OUTSIDE OF CLASS.”

It’s nonsense to you, and it’s the last thing you hear as you lose consciousness.

“I WOULDN’T WANT TO GET A REPUTATION.”

Chapter Text

***

Low droning, like bees. You can see a little light through your eyelids, but you don’t move. You’re not actually sure if you could if you tried, but it’s not scary. You’re not stuck, and you don’t need anything. You don’t have anywhere to be.

But there’s still that droning, and it keeps you from slipping back under the waters of impending slumber.

“s’ok, i’m tellin ya. just look.”

It’s almost a whisper. Someone else is breathing heavily.

“frisk. they’re not dead. they’re right here in pap’s bed.”

More breathing, shifting. The breath catches; someone is crying softly.

i know. but i’m tellin ya, paps did something to keep it together and vulkin fixed em. they’re just sleeping right now. everything’s back where it goes, look.”

The weeping intensifies, and you recognize it’s Frisk, now. Frisk and Sans.

“there. you didn’t kill anyone. see? nobody got killed. now I gotta go get their meds, are you gonna...”

The sounds move away, and you slip back under.

***

You wake up with a start in darkness, sweating heavily.

Oh, no. Where...where are you? Someone’s left a nightlight on near the baseboards of this room, which you vaguely remember from when you fell asleep.

Oh. Right.

Sans, Frisk, and Papyrus’s house. You’re not sure if it was the crushing-dream again (don’t think about it, don’t think about it) or...a low, droning noise you can barely hear that woke you up. Sounds far away.

Vulkin’s treatment and the monster drink you’d had before losing consciousness so abruptly must be the reason you don’t feel thirsty, nor do you have to pee. But at the same time, even though you’re tired, you don’t want to sleep. You’re afraid to, even though you just were.

You push your legs out and over the bedframe, and slowly get to your feet. You blink heavily as you stand up and look down at where you were just lying. A bulky plastic frame runs all the way around the perimeter of the mattress, and although it’s hard to tell in the dimness...you’re pretty sure it’s shaped like a race car? Like those specialty kids’ beds you’ve seen advertised. Just a lot bigger.

At least there’s a clear path to the door; in fact, this room’s incredibly tidy. Neat shelves line the walls, half filled with books, alternating with what you think might be figurines. There’s a massive painting centered on the opposite wall, although it’s far too dim to make it out very well. You can check it out in the morning. Your head feels very light, and it doesn’t ache, which is surprising.

You open the door and pad silently out into the upstairs hall, and realize what the barely-there sound you’ve been hearing is.

Someone is singing very, very quietly.

i feel so funny, i feel so sad…

As you creep forward, you get a glimpse over the top step of the stairwell at the couch in the family room. There’s a dim but present light on down there, and you realize you’re looking at Sans’s dirty slippers denting in the end of the couch. A pair of bare human feet are pressed to the back cushion beside them.

i want a little steam on my clothes…
maybe i could fix things up so they’ll go…

You slide very slowly down the wall and sit on the carpet.

Sans is laying on the broad couch, one arm tucked under his skull, the other holding what looks like a blocky monster phone perched up on his upraised patella. A wire runs out of one side of it (the bottom?) and splits into two; one earbud terminates in the curl of Frisk’s ear, who is hunched up in an almost fetal position, wedged between Sans and the couch. Their head rests in the center of his chest, but their narrow eyes are locked on the phone’s screen as they chew their left thumbnail fiercely; grimly. It contrasts with the impassive expression on their round face, lit intermittently in different colors by whatever’s happening on the screen. The other earbud is laying on the armrest of the couch next to Sans’s skull.

what’s the matter daddy, come on save my sooooul…

Sans is singing. There’s nothing professional or even practiced about it; the notes are a little flat. But whatever it is that makes you think you can almost feel his voice, sometimes... that’s so strong you feel your eyes prickle as he half-whispers a surprisingly poignant falsetto at the end.

Frisk’s chewed fingers dart out almost before the last note clears, and you hear a low snort.

“come on, kid. you’re getting spit all over my phone.”

Frisk gives their thumb a cursory wipe on the front of their sweatshirt, then their fingers shoot back to the screen to drag and tap insistently.

“nope.”

Frisk huffs.

“nope.”

A longer silence while Sans holds the phone steadily, the hem of his shorts pinned under the phone holding it in place, you assume so the slippery material doesn’t just slide right down his leg bones into his crotch. Actually, from this rather extreme angle, you can see the underside of Sans’ long white femur joining to other bones somewhere in the darkness inside his shorts. There’s nothing else in there, but you’re sure he wouldn’t want you to be looking, regardless. You turn quietly and face the opposite wall, just stare at that. But you don’t want to go to sleep yet. Your chest is burning again, hot and sick. Sad and afraid.

“heh. gimme a sec.”

That’s the thing, though, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter how old you get. You never stop needing your parents. You know you never have, and obviously it’s the same for Frisk. Sans might not be exactly analogous to a parent, but he’s someone who cares enough to do this, apparently. Someone who can be asked for something simple and profound without shame or obligation.

do you remember when we met
that’s the day i knew you were my pet…
...i wanna tell you how much i love you...


You remember your mom teaching you to play guitar, how you hadn’t expected the strings to hurt so much when you pressed them down on the fretboard. She let you feel her fingertips, the thick calluses built up after years of playing and practicing. Only you can decide if it’s worth it , she’d said. I’m just showing you how.

You still have your guitar at your place, although you don’t play very often anymore because of the pain, the fatigue. Your feel your fingertips now, where they’ve lost the calluses that had taken so many months and blisters to build up. They’re just as soft and vulnerable as they had been before you first started learning, as if the thick skin protecting them had never existed at all.

You let the tears roll slow down your face while you stare at the wall, snatching up discarded bits of someone else’s lullaby.

***

You don’t remember falling back asleep, but you wake up back in the race car without recalling your dreams for the first time since the University tour.

You slide out of bed, a little surprised at how not-miserable you are. You make your way down the hall to the bathroom, a little relieved that it’s furnished with the sort of facilities you require. Then again, you’re not sure why you’d expected anything else; Frisk lives here too, after all. And surely they must at least occasionally indulge in human food. You’ve heard it’s necessary, or at least vitamins are. You sigh at your reflection while you wash your hands with a bar of creamy white soap that appears both handmade, and to have once been shaped like a skull. It smells pleasantly of bay leaves and something spicy.

Honestly, the whole house is full of cool shit. You wander back into the bedroom to take another look at the painting you’d noticed last night, now that it’s light out and you can finally see it. It’s kind of a masterpiece, you’re slowly realizing. It gives the effect of a stormy sea under roiling clouds, all blues, greys and greens with yellow-white luminescence seeming to glow throughout. But when you look closer, you can see it’s actually all bones. A sea of bones, waves and fans and whorls of patterns that end up looking almost...well, of course they’re organic, but it’s hard to describe. It feels like the ocean, dangerous and soothing at the same time. You’ve been standing there quite some time when you realize even if you spent the night, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re invited to go poking around in someone’s bedroom; you’re not even sure whose it is.

You head downstairs a little unsteadily in your borrowed clothes, noticing Sans asleep in the same spot on the couch you last saw him, although there’s no evidence of Frisk. You step quietly past him into the dining room/kitchen area, noticing again the painting hanging on the wall behind the table. You gaze into it analytically as you find your bottle of water and medications in your bag on the table, dispensing and swallowing them as you ruminate.

The style reminds you a little of the old Dutch masters, but maybe that’s just because they painted a lot of bones in their time, too. However, nothing about this work is a reminder of mortality; it’s peaceful in a lively way. If the one on the bedroom is a seascape, this is a primordial forest. But a certain softness, the way the light seems to come from everywhere and nowhere in a soft, ethereal glow...that’s there, too. You hear a scuff behind you, and turn to see a very sleepy-looking Sans scratching his sternum idly.

“These all look like they’re by the same artist. Where’d you get them?”

“oh. paps made all these.”

Your jaw drops at that.

“Holy shit,” you say softly. “Wow.

He comes a little closer, grin widening as he gazes at the painting with you.

“yeah. my bro’s the coolest.”

“How much does something like this go for? It’s not quite the one in the bedroom, but it’s still a masterpiece. I've never seen anything like this.”

Sans shrugs and wanders past you into the kitchen. “he doesn’t sell ‘em or anything like that. just makes ‘em. you should see the one he made for alphys n’ undyne’s wedding present, it’s the size of that wall.”

“Oh. Um, is he waking up soon, too? I hope I’m not making too much noise...”

Sans runs the tap for a moment, filling a countertop kettle and plugging it in to heat. It’s really interesting watching all the tiny bones in his hands perform mundane tasks, since there’s nothing visible really holding them together even though they’re obviously all of a piece. They’re not fused, nor are they separate. They just kind of are.

Magic, you think absently. Fuckin bananas.

“he slept over at tori’s,” he replies, looking over his should at you as you settle yourself down into one of the chairs. “that’s his room you were in last night.”

You feel your face heat, and look down at the loose shorts and t-shirt you’re wearing.

“Hey, I’m really sorry. Like, seriously sorry.”

“huh? for what?”

“I just plow into your house yelling incoherent demands, then collapse into a pile of steaming mess for you to deal with...you have to call for a doctor, apparently you go run errands to grab my meds...I kick your brother out of his bed, out of his house, and I’m pretty sure I’m wearing your clothes. I’d say I’m imposing, but that doesn’t even begin to cover it.”

Sans leans back against the counter, his fixed grin flattened in thought for a long moment.

“ok, look. i could spend a lot of time right now explaining to you all the ways that none of that’s a problem, how this is just what monsters do for each other, and just how much of a big deal it isn’t that you gave paps an excuse to have a sleepover with toriel and stuff himself with snail pie and oatmeal.”

He sighs and raises his hands again, fingers clacking gently as he signs into the suddenly pregnant silence.

“instead, i’m gonna say that i’m sorry all that went down, and i just acted like you weren’t even there, ‘cause i got too much of my own crap i’m dealing with. i shoulda checked back with you. i shoulda known some random human caught up in that would be messed up over it, and i shoulda...”

He looks down, to the side. His grin flattens even more.

“i shoulda cared.”

You’re still trying to process that when he looks back up with a more normal expression on his face.

“you want some eggs?”

You blink. “You cook?”

“not really. you want eggs or not?”

“Sure,” you reply.

“k.”

He turns away and starts clattering in a cupboard, and you turn your attention back to your bag, tucking away your medicines but pulling out your phone. You check your messages and social media, not that there’s much interesting going on in either, and are considering sending a reassuring text to your sister. You’re doing your best to remember when the last time you talked with her was when you hear a wet crack and Sans says something sharp under his breath.

Looks like he dropped an egg on the floor, so you get up and look around the kitchen.

“I got it,” you say as you grab a roll of paper towels and stoop down (hips still going strong, you gotta start eating more monster food for real) to scoop it up. It looks...unusually large, for an egg. The sheen of the broken shell seems different, too, and it’s thicker than the shell of any chicken’s egg you’ve seen.

“Hey, Sans? Uh, what kind of egg is this?”

Sans is repeatedly stabbing into a very large red bowl with a utensil of some kind.

“uh, monster egg?” he replies, loudly and clearly since his hands are full.

“From...where?” you ask as you drop the mess into the trash can, then go to the sink to wet a towel to clean off the linoleum.

He makes deliberate eye contact and shrugs, then turns back to his ministrations.

You wash your hands thoroughly and go back to your chair, and in a few seconds you hear a hiss as the eggs hit the pan. It looks like he has a damn cauldron on there, and you hope he doesn’t expect you to be entirely responsible for putting away that degree of eggitude. Your appetite hasn’t been the best lately, and even under usual circumstances you’re not usually one for a massive breakfast.

At one point you glance up at a soft curse word, and he’s unplugging the kettle before darting back very quickly to stir the eggs again. They’re done a lot faster than you were expecting, considering the volume, and before you know it he’s plopping down a fairly large bowl in front of you. He grabs his own bowl and reaches into the fridge, pulls out an intimidatingly large red bottle, then sits down perpendicular to you. The eggs just looks like regular scrambled eggs for the most part, although they might be a little more...shiny? Greenish? You’re not sure, but whatever.

“ketchup?” he offers, waving the bottle as if tempting you with a fine vintage. Little does he know.

You nod and take it, noticing the flip top has broken off at some point, leaving the small squeezy opening exposed and crusted in darker red. When you tip it over your bowl, the lid actually falls off entirely but you just dart your fingers in to pick it out right before it gets covered in the tomatoey flood, then keep on letting it flow. You set the cap down to grab your spoon (that’s the utensil Sans had given you), stir it up a bit in analysis, then squeeze just a little more, shaking it to loosen it up and just blorping it out. One more, and it’s basically soup. Perfect.

When you look up, Sans is staring at you oddly.

“Sorry, the cap just kinda fell off, but it’s not a total loss or anything. Did you want me to wash it?”

“uh… no. it’s fine.”

You hand him the bottle and scoop up some of the morass you’ve made. Huh. You’re about to say “not bad,” when your teeth hit an audibly crunchy bit.

“I think you got some shells in there,” you comment, then look at him again. He’s still just sitting there holding the bottle.

“But it’s good,” you continue gamely. “Especially with the ketchup.”

“yeah,” he replies absently, then picks up the screw cap and reattaches it before adding a comparable amount to his own bowl. Great minds think alike. You continue to shovel your egg slurry into your mouth; it’s still pleasantly warm, so either those eggs were really hot or his fridge isn’t very cold. Either way, the monster food is seriously hitting the spot and you drift into the mindless consumption zone easily.

You’re idly watching his hands again as they manipulate his spoon and hold the bowl steady under his chin. His arm bones are exposed since he’s wearing just the t shirt. You notice that although they seem a little dull in a few spots, they still have...something like a luster to them; they’re not really like the dead bones you’ve seen and worked with before. They still smell like bones, though, and the dull spots have a very good chance, in your humble opinion, of being plain ol dirt. You wonder if maybe he needs to like, clean them or something. Honestly, you’re getting a pretty complete impression of a clinically depressed skeleton.

You notice his hands and arms have stopped moving, and he’s set his bowl down, so you look up at his face. He’s watching you watch him with that searching gaze you’ve seen before, but you just shovel another bite into your mouth and chew. Gingerly, since you never know when a shell’s gonna appear. Whatever, you’re hungry.

“you got an eyeful last night, didn’tcha?” he asks dryly.

You take a minute to swallow your food and wonder how he knew you were listening to them, but it’s not like you were hiding, and you may have fallen asleep in the hallway. Actually, come to think of it. If Papyrus wasn’t home, does that mean Sans might have been the one who put you back in bed?

Wait, rewind. Eyeful, not earful.

Oh. Your face feels a little warm, but you answer honestly.

“Not on purpose. Once I noticed, I stopped looking.”

His expression turns ironic, but then it shifts to something...softer?

“huh. you actually did stop, didn’t you?”

You’re a little offended. “I get that I’m awkward, but I’m not a creep. You were taking care of your kid, that makes it like ten million times grosser.”

You sigh and mindfully let your defensiveness go. The fact remains that you’re obviously bothering him somehow, so maybe you should take a little responsibility for that. You’re in his house, after all.

“I’m sorry for making you uncomfortable,” you add sincerely. “I’ll try to look at you less.”

You glance over at him, and something about his face looks...smug.

“nah, knock yourself out,” he grunts. “looking’s free, and so are the eggs.”

Ah. So, he’s just busting your balls at this point. It’s definitely making you feel less like you want to sink into the earth just for being here, though. You try to make your face look as exasperated as you feel, but he just chuckles in response.

You accept defeat and look back at the painting you’d been staring at earlier. “I was just thinking, the bones in your arms kinda remind me of those,” you indicate with a thrust of your chin. “Alive.”

His grin broadens even further.

“actually, they’re these,” he says, and when he holds up his hand he’s got a single smallish, pearlescent, and oddly nonspecific bone that practically hums with the vague magnetism you associate with magic-based energy.

“Who’s that from?” you say, a little perturbed.

His eye lights flicker.

“uh, from me?”

He sees your face and adds hurriedly, “not from my body, i mean like-”

He puts the bone on the table and another appears in his hand.

“Whoa,” you eloquently respond.

“eh. my bro’s are better. those are his up there. says he won’t paint pictures of himself because it’d be too sexy, and he’d never have any peace to finish more paintings because everyone would line up wanting to smooch ‘im. so he makes these, sets ‘em up and paints ‘em. says it reminds him of puzzles, fitting them together and making all those patterns.”

“They’re made out of magic, right?” You’ve finished your bowl and you feel like you could honestly go for seconds in a serious way. This is the lightest yet most satisfying breakfast you think you’ve ever had, which you ascribe to ingredients rather than technique.

“yup.”

“Can I ask you a question?”

“shoot.”

You’re made of magic, so you can also, uh, do magic. Right?”

He nods.

“Do you do some kind of magic that makes Frisk able to hear you? Like with the song last night.”

He puts another spoonful of eggs between his teeth, which part just enough to allow it, and you notice he doesn’t seem like he’s chewing or anything like that. Well, it’s monster food that just sort of instantly dissolves once you swallow it, so you suppose it’s not actually necessary. You do it out of habit anyhow since it adds to your enjoyment, but you wonder if his fixed grin is capable of that much movement.

“it’s less of a magic thing, more like a soul thing,” he answers after a little while. He frowns. “kinda like using a different tone of voice. it just...makes sure you’re understood.”

“Can I have seconds?” you ask.

His pupils flicker at you. “go for it.”

When you return with the second bowl and finish ketchupifying it, you ask another question before tucking in.

“So, when you sing to them. It’s like a way for them to hear the music more than their, uh, regular amount of hearing?”

There’s still a bit left in his bowl but he looks like he’s finished. You’ll offer to take care of it if you get through your second serving, you decide.

“not to get philosophical so early, but i honestly don’t have a way to know that.”

Fair enough.

“Could you make it so I can understand you?”

He looks to the side a little. “frisk actually said when we first met you that, uh, i shouldn’t do it without asking. you might understand more than you want to, basically what they said.”

You have a hard time conceptualizing what that means, so you think about it while finishing your second bowl of eggs.

“Like, would I be able to tell when you’re joking, and when you’re not?”

“no idea, bud.”

“Are you gonna finish those?”

His pupils flicker again, then he looks down at his bowl. You wish you knew what was so surprising to him about you, but it doesn’t seem like it makes him angry or defensive. He pushes the bowl toward you wordlessly, and you realize you do wish you could understand him better on multiple counts.

“You have my permission,” you say after swallowing a mouthful of his cooling, ketchupy eggs. “The voice thing, I mean. If you want to.”

He exhales in amusement, leans back in his chair and crosses his arms. “it’s not really-well, whatever. okay.”
“Are you doing it?”

“yup.”

“It doesn’t sound any different.”

“nope.”

“I thought it would sound different.”

He laughs again. “i thought i made enough eggs, but here we are.”

You blush a little, then deliberately lift your bowl, tilt your head back and use the spoon to shovel the rest of the lukewarm slurry down your pie hole, where it dissolves into your body. You feel almost energetic.

“There’s still some left in your cauldron,” you protest.

“heh. well, frisk’s gonna be waking up soon, so we’ll see.” he looks to the side again. “speakin a which, I wanted to say somethin before they do.” he shifts a little in his chair, still not looking at you. “i was gonna...offer some advice. you don’t have to listen. and even if you do, you’re not obligated to take it or anything.”

You shrug. “I could probably really use some. I’m like, ten kinds of fucked up right now.”

“eh,” he remarks, then looks back at you. “got a question.”

“Yeah?”

“you ever seen your soul?”

You blink. “Is this like a metaphysical thing? I don’t really, um...”

Another odd look from him makes you trail off.

“no. most humans can’t really take em out on their own, so you’d need help,” he elaborates. “anyone ever helped you with that?”

Your mouth falls open.

“It...comes out?” you squeak.

He sighs. “vulkin’s been treating you for a while now, right? seems pretty comfortable with you.”

You nod.

“she can help you with that, probably. you should ask. the problem you’re having is, those aren’t really...dreams. or memories, even. some of the stuff you’re dealing with right now, the past month.”

You look at him, wincing. “It’s really been a month?”

“yup.”

You sigh.

“let’s say your soul’s been skipping around in time. past month or so, your time’s been all over the place. stuff you can’t remember. but your soul can.” He sighs. “put it this way. say your soul saw somethin’ bad. but you can’t remember it because it never happened. does that make sense?”

“About as much as any of the rest of it does.”

He lets that pass. “well, souls are...different. they’re infinite, and not, uh, temporal in the same way we- eh, most of us are. your soul is still the soul of someone that happened to, but it never happened, and the juxtaposition is making you pretty uncomfortable, right?”

That makes more sense than it should. Maybe there is something to the whole ‘being understood’ tone of voice, whatever it is. Or maybe all of this is just so weird, it doesn’t manage to pass the threshold for you anymore. Either way, you are pretty damn uncomfortable, so you nod.

“Because I don’t, uh, match my soul anymore.”

“sure,” he allows, and you suppose it’s close enough. “taking a look for yourself might go a long way to reconciling that issue. an’ if it doesn’t freak you out too much, you can try touching it, see if you can get your balance back that way,” he elaborates.

Your eyes unfocus for a few minutes, chewing that (and your lip) over. You don’t think he’s bullshitting you. Souls apparently can come out of your body, and you can look at them...that doesn’t sound like a body part at all, does it? Body parts don’t usually come out so you can have a look at them. Well, not unless there’s something seriously wrong, and even then only under very controlled circumstances. And you can touch them? Physically? Touch your own soul? Your own self? What would that even look like? What would it feel like…? It probably wouldn’t feel that scary if it’s just you, after all.

Maybe it would be... good?

You look back at Sans, who has layered amused patience onto his expression so thick you could chip it off with a chisel. He’s apparently been following whatever face journey you’ve just taken, and considering how insightful he is at reading expressions, you have no doubt he knows why this particular journey has ended somewhere that feels pretty purple.

“’s not like that, unless you decide you want it to be,” he comments dryly. “none of my business, either way.”

You frown at him a little, but you’re more overwhelmed by new ideas and concepts than embarrassed. Although the embarrassment is certainly present.

“It’s like, I don’t even know how much I don’t know about this stuff.”

“i know. s’why i’m not laughing at you or anything. i just think you should try it.”

You meet his eyes. “Is that what you do? And it helps?”

He doesn’t answer, but the patience slowly drains out of his face, and what replaces it is the same crushing existential exhaustion you saw when he emerged from the dark space in the hallway of the BioMed building, what seems like years ago now. The deep grooves under his eye sockets seem darker, and you think of the dull spots smirching up his otherwise lustrous bones, the forgotten kettle of water cooling on the counter, his rumpled, stained clothes, and the fact that despite being practically neighbors, you’ve never seen him outside.

“Hey..” you start to say, then a loud thump that sounds like a body hitting the floor downstairs makes you spasm in surprise, accidentally flailing your dirty spoon onto the floor.

Sans’s pupils flicker, then he chuckles softly, exhaustion in his face being pushed aside by sincere amusement and fondness.

“don’t you worry,” he rumbles quietly. “i got friends. i got family, and between the kiddo and paps naggin me to dust, I don’t got much time to feel sorry for myself anymore.”

You might have objected to that, if it wasn’t for the fact that the slamming and crashing from downstairs hasn’t stopped, and is intensifying more than can be explained the fact that it is also getting closer. A stomping like an army, if an army was one person, culminates with the sudden appearance of a broad and extremely disheveled human at the top of the stairs leading the lower floor, clad only in a long button up pajama shirt. You start to gesture a greeting when you realize it’s Frisk, but Sans waves a bony hand at you dismissively.

“don’ even bother with that for at least another fifteen-twenty minutes,” he practically drawls.

As Frisk stomps closer, you realize their eyes don’t even appear to be open, and their hair is… calling it a haystack doesn’t really do it justice. Without stopping or opening their eyes, they snatch Sans’s former bowl and spoon off the table, stagger into the kitchen and mightily upend the remains of the presumably cold scrambled eggs into it. They bounce off the wall but don’t lose their balance as they carry their bounty around Sans to sit at the chair opposite yours, then simultaneously sit with a thump and methodically start spooning eggs into their mouth. You wince as they audibly crunch their way through their first mouthful with no reaction. No ketchup, either.

“impressive, isn’t it?” Sans remarks. He actually does sound proud.

“I...” you start. “Are they...awake?”

Sans looks a lot less tired than he did a minute ago. “in my scientific opinion? i dunno.”

He laughs, then, “oh, shit. forgot about the coffee, didn’t i?” He scrapes back his chair, and returns to the counter to plug the kettle back in.

This time, he drags a stepstool from between the counter and fridge so he can reach up and retrieve a french press and a bag from one of the upper cupboards. He turns to look over his shoulder from his perch. “you want some?”

“Desperately,” you admit.

“heh.”

You watch Frisk in fascination as they continue to make their way through what seems like twice as much food as you’d eaten without speaking or opening their eyes. They’re like a machine. Well, they shovel like one; they definitely smell more like crayons than lemons this morning, not metal and magic. Little bit like wood shavings and old hamburgers, too, either of which you wouldn’t be all the surprised to physically find in their rat’s nest of hair. You’re starting to wonder how these two manage when Papyrus isn’t home for more than a day.

You blink as a cup flashes past your face and plinks down in front of you, then watch Sans toddle back around to plop another mug, this one pink and covered in what appear to be mermaids, in front of still-semi-somnolent Frisk. He starts to sit, then pops back up and grabs a lidded container off the counter and snatches open the fridge to grab a carton of something, carelessly setting both on the table.

You pick up the carton and snort.

“Is it made with real Mettatons?”

He winks. It’s less distracting than it used to be.

“milked him myself this morning.”

“Oh, god,” you laugh helplessly, covering your eyes. “Do I want to know why it’s warm?”

“you pays your money, you takes your chances,” he grins.

You pour some into your cup, then liberally lace it with sugar. You pick your spoon off the floor behind you and use the butt end to give it a stir.

It’s actually really good coffee.

“This is really good coffee,” you say.

“eh, it’s just really good coffee,” he replies with a shrug.

Frisk’s spoon hits the table with a clank, and their eyes finally open. Well, barely. They grab their own mug and bring it to their mouth, turning it up as they slowly drain it in what seems to be one long guzzle. They set it back on the table next to their now-empty bowl with a satisfied sigh.

Their eyes finally light on you.

“Good morning,” they sign vaguely, then glance over at Sans. “When are you getting Papyrus? He wants to take them home in his car,” they add, indicating you.

“you two are wearing me down to the bone,” he groans as he gets to his feet again, making a show of it.

“Oh, you don’t have to-” you protest, but Sans is already shutting the door. A door that, as far as you know, doesn’t lead outside and may actually be the downstairs bathroom.

Frisk is getting up and heading toward the french press, which looks to have a few inches of oversteeped coffee left in it. They scratch one bare, hairy leg as they return with their prize, but after they set it down they bring their hands up.

“You let Sans do the voice on you?”

“Huh? Oh, uh, yeah. I figured it would be easier?”

They tilt their hand ambiguously.

“Hey, is it...really okay that i’m here?”

They tilt their head a little. “Of course it is.” They glance at the door. “Sans hasn’t been in this good a mood since,” their face falls a little, “before the tour.”

Your face feels a little fallen, too, and you both sit quietly to have mutually private emotions for a long minute.

“Look,” you start, then sigh. Frisk sips at their second coffee, giving you time. You sip at yours as well, then set it down.

“I really think you should go through with it.”

Frisk blinks at you. “With what?”

“Soul Studies. I think you have a lot to offer, and….we...well, maybe we need you more than you need us,” you rush out, “but I don’t think you should let what, uh, happened, affect your decision. To go to Ebott University. If you want to.”

Frisk drinks the rest of their coffee, then stares at the tabletop and scrubs their hand through their hair a few times, making the front stick up even more.

“I understand why Alphys and Asgore are worried about humans and magic,” they sign, surprising you. “Even though everything has gone a lot better than any of us dared hope,” they add thoughtfully. “After all, humans aren’t always good at coping with visible minorities,” they add, pointedly looking at their own brown-skinned arm, then your similarly complected elbows resting on the tabletop.

You quirk the corner of your mouth in tacit agreement, then reply, “I guess saving the entire world was just enough to prevent another genocide, then.”

“The Core,” they nod sagely. “The monsters were very upset by what humans have done to environment up here. In just a few more decades...” Their expression grows ambiguous, unreadable. “Offering to power the entire world through the Core to prevent further destruction was enough to buy our lives and freedom, but… I’m surprised it worked.”

You wonder why someone with so much more knowledge than most humans must have would doubt what the monsters had managed to prove a dozen times over. It had changed everything, on top of the lives their food and medicines have saved. They’d shown that although it might take some time to fully implement, their plan was more than possible. It would save everyone.

“Well, it’s worked so far, although the infrastructure...” you trail off as their expression closes even more. Like you’re missing the whole point of what they were trying to say.

“I’m sorry,” you gesture, not really sure why. “I’m not saying I understand exactly what you feel like about any of it,” you finish lamely.

“Mom doesn’t really get it either,” they reply, you assume to change the topic. You find yourself unusually interested to finally find out what’s been going on with Frisk’s sudden change of residence. “She tries, but she...” They frown a little. “She tries too much, sometimes.”

“Toriel, you mean?”

They give an affirmative, then smile broadly as they seem to sense your interest. “It’s not actually that dramatic,” they confess. “She and I aren’t fighting, not exactly. I just need some space to figure things out, and learn some things about... for myself. She’s not the best at giving space to people, especially not me.”

You wonder a little peevishly if Frisk has been taking perceptiveness lessons from Sans. This house is full of mind-readers and it’s knocking you off kilter. Well, whatever. You’ll just have find a way to cope with being understood for a change. You take a deep breath.

“I’ve already admitted I’m not exactly, uh, impartial. But it’s also true that learning and teaching, especially when they’re happening at the same time, is one of the best ways to figure things out for yourself, about yourself, or just to try and shift your perspective.”

You eyeball them a moment and decide to go out on a limb a little. “I might, um, actually join you.” They raise their eyebrows. “Sitting in on Soul Studies at some point, I mean. There’s too much I don’t know, and apparently I really should know it.” You don’t want to tip into oversharing, but they look concerned anyway.

“Did Sans talk to you about your soul?”

You glance away. “Yes,” you reply shortly.

“You should take his advice,” they gesture emphatically. “Whatever it was. He won’t steer you wrong.” They narrow their eyes a little. “Unless he asks you to test drive a telescope.”

You’re bringing your index fingers up to your chest when you hear a voice you remember from yesterday ringing through the house.

“SANS! IT’S AFTER TEN NOW, AND I’VE ALREADY HEARD THIS ONE-OH, WE’RE HOME. IS FRISK AWAKE YET? WHERE’S THE HUMAN?”

Frisk is grinning toward the stairs leading to the part of the upstairs you haven’t seen, so you stand up and turn around, wondering how the hell they’d gotten back here without you noticing. You hadn’t heard a car start up or anything when Sans left, either, even though the door to what you assume is the garage is adjacent to the dining room. You brush off the rather wider-than-long t shirt and loose black shorts you’re wearing, try to smooth your hair a little as Papyrus descends the stairs with a surprisingly light step. Sans, who had apparently changed back into his hoodie before he left, shuffles down at a leisurely pace behind him.

“HUMAN! YOU’RE LOOKING WELL! MUCH BETTER THAN YOU DID YESTERDAY WITH ALL OF THAT VOMIT IN YOUR LAP!” Papyrus’s dashing red shawl flutters as he takes his impossibly long strides towards you, grinning happily. He extends his arms and places his gloved hands on your shoulders, which doesn’t bother you as much as it normally would (and considering he’d been carrying you around for a good portion of the previous afternoon, you supposed he’d earned a little familiarity).

“HAVE YOU-”

His sparkling smile goes a little crooked as his eyesockets take in the devestation on the table behind you.

“I SEE YOU’VE HAD BREAKFAST,” he yells sadly. “ALTHOUGH YOU’VE BEEN GRIEVOUSLY DEPRIVED OF MY OWN GENIUS IN THE KITCHEN, I HOPE WHATEVER SANS MANAGED TO BURN FOR YOU WAS BRACING, AT LEAST!”

You’re about to reply when Sans pops up at Papyrus’s elbow.

“they got a high ketchup tolerance,” he smirks.

Papyrus drops your shoulders to wheel around and put his hands on his hips, and you manage (barely) to avoid being jostled by one of his elbows.

“SANS! HAVE YOU BEEN PRANKING THE HUMAN WHO MERE HOURS AGO WAS ON DEATH’S DOORSTEP AS WELL AS OURS? I TRUSTED YOU TO NURSE THEM BACK TO HEALTH!”

“I feel a lot better, actually,” you reply. “Though I should, uh, probably go home myself now, I think. Let me just call a-”

“NONSENSE! I’LL BE DRIVING YOU HOME, SINCE I AM SURE YOU’VE BEEN PINING FOR THE OPPORTUNITY TO AVAIL YOUR EYEBALLS OF THE VEHICLE INSPIRED BY THE VERY BED YOU RECOVERED IN LAST NIGHT! AS WELL AS A GOOD PORTION OF YESTERDAY!” Papyrus beams.

Sans smiles fondly, then his eye sockets squeeze shut as he presses a fist to his teeth. A yawn?

“i could stand a little recovery myself,” he mumbles. Despite the mumbling, you still understand what he says as he shuffles around the corner into the kitchen and out of sight.

“Oh, I was hoping I could-” you cut off as you realize he’s not in the kitchen after all. Did he sneak around you? You look around, and Frisk smiles at you blandly. “I was uh, hoping I could get your guys’ phone numbers in case-” you sign, but Frisk interrupts you.

“Don’t worry about it,” they sign lackadaisically.

“COME, HUMAN. THE OPEN ROAD AWAITS US!”

You give Frisk a hard look but begin putting your medicines back in your bag, then look around for anything you might have left.

“Oh! Um, where did my clothes and stuff end up? If you just have them in a bag I can take-”

Papyrus has trotted back around to stand near the table facing you, hand pressed to his star-print-t-shirt -clad sternum. “THEY WILL BE TAKEN CARE OF, FEAR NOT! THEY WILL BE RETURNED TO YOU CLEANED, POLISHED, COMBED, FUMIGATED, CAUTERIZED AND PRESSED BY ONE OF THE ILLUSTRIOUS MEMBERS OF THE PAPYRUS HOUSEHOLD!”

You open your mouth to object when Frisk signs quickly at you behind Papyrus’s back.

“You’ll just upset him if you argue.”

“Oh, I, uh...thank you very much, Papyrus. It’s very gracious of you.”

Papyrus manages to somehow turn a bit pink-faced, which is rather remarkable for a skeleton. “NYEH HEH. OF COURSE I AM. HEH. THE MOST GRACIOUS OF HOSTS.”

“I just, um...” you look down at your bare feet.

“I’ll get you something,” Frisk signs, and Papyrus turns around to catch the gist this time.

“FRISK IS THE SECOND MOST GRACIOUS OF HOSTS,” he adds magnanimously. “ALTHOUGH I WAS ENTIRELY PREPARED TO CARRY YOU TO AND FROM THE CAR DUE TO YOUR LACK OF FOOTWEAR TO COMPLETE MY GRACIOUS HOSTING FITNESS CHALLENGE.”

“I really...” you start to say, then wonder if insisting that you could have managed to navigate a few feet of sidewalk barefoot might be taken in the same vein as insisting on cleaning your own clothes, or having already eaten breakfast.

“…like your paintings,” you continue instead. “They’re like nothing I’ve ever seen before, definitely never painted anything like it myself! Wow!” you finish with increasing enthusiasm, as you remember how much you do in fact like them. Because they’re awesome.

Papyrus turns pinker than before. “YOU ALSO PAINT BONES?” he asks, not softly, but sounding a little wistful. “I DIDN’T KNOW HUMANS COULD DO THAT.”

“Oh, well. Not bones, but I paint, um, paintings. Are these acrylics? I thought so at first, but the way they have this glow to them, it’s almost like oils. I can usually tell right away, but with these, I can’t.”

Papyrus rubs his gloved fingers almost shyly against his very short denim cutoffs.

“I’M SURE THEY ARE OILS OR ACRYLICS, AS YOU SAY,” he replies ingenuously. “A FRIEND HELPS ME MIX THEM. IT’S...A HOBBY OF MINE.”

You go closer to the painting over the table. “You make the paint?”

“...YES?”

You peer at the surface curiously. “What kind of pigments do you use?”

“THEY’RE BONES,” he replies, looking confused.

You turn around, both of you looking at each other in bafflement. You think a little harder about what exactly he said, and remember the conversation you’d had with Sans earlier.

“Oh! The bones you make! You make the bones, and they...turn into paint?” You spin and look at the painting again. “They’re that color?”

He looks at you in consternation, but he doesn’t seem annoyed or upset by your questions. If fact, he’s still pink, which you’re starting to gather means that he’s pleased. You just appear to be having some sort of communication difficulty.

“HUMAN, I MUST MAKE A CONFESSION. NO ONE HAS EVER ASKED ME ABOUT THIS. I AM HAPPY TO...TALK ABOUT MY DESIGNS, BUT...”

You put your hands on either side of your face, an amazing idea coming to you suddenly. Papyrus’s mannerisms are apparently contagious.

“Papyrus.”

His smile falters, then steadies.

“YES?”

“Could I watch you work sometime? That way I could just see how it’s done, and you won’t have to explain? You can just show me? Is it okay to ask that?”

Papyrus puts his own hands to his face, mirroring you now.

“GASP!”

Frisk reappears at the stairs, a pair of plain black slides in hand.

“FRISK! WE’RE GOING TO MAKE ART TOGETHER! THEY WANT TO KNOW HOW I MAKE THE BONES!!”

Frisk looks impressed and gives an emphatic thumbs up as they walk the shoes over to you. You slide them on carefully; Frisk’s feet are a little bigger than yours, but they’ll stay on. You rummage a moment while Papyrus burbles at Frisk, but when you pull your phone out of your bag and open the contacts, there are already entries for ‘sans’, ‘paps’, and ‘the kid’.

“Ummm,” you say, then look up at Frisk, bewildered.

“If Sans wants you to have his number, you have it.”

“That’s kinda forward,” you comment irritably.

Frisk just huffs their weird laugh at you.

“WE’RE FRIENDS NOW!” Papyrus cries. “AND ALL YOU HAD TO DO WAS SHOW UP AND HAVE AN ARGUMENT WITH FRISK AND SANS THAT UPSET YOU SO MUCH YOU VOMITED ALL OVER YOURSELF AND THE FLOOR AND FELL ASLEEP FOR FIFTEEN HOURS! AREN’T YOU OVERJOYED?”

“Y-yes?”

“THEN IT’S TIME TO MEET MY CAR!” Papyrus grabs your hand, and you do your best to keep up with his stride while peering back at Frisk. They just give you another thumbs up, then makes it a double before Hurricane Papyrus blows you through the door you presumed was the garage.

It is, in fact, the garage.

He lets you go and hits the lights in time for you to avoid tripping over the threshold, and you see the much-anticipated car. It’s a red convertible, and although you don’t really know much about cars and half the time can’t tell them apart, it doesn’t look like anything too souped up or expensive.

“It’s beautiful,” you say as he turns around and poses proudly.

“I KNOW! YOU CAN SIT IN THE FRONT,” he replies, and you walk around the back, the slides on your feet slapping at your heels. You have to adjust the passenger seat a little to give your legs enough room and sit the bag down in front of you. The cobwebby garage door cronkles open as Papyrus retrieves a pair of sunglasses from somewhere, sets them on his face where they somehow stay despite the general dearth of ears and noses, and starts the car with a flourish.

“THE OPEN ROAD IS CALLING OUR NAMES,” he gushes as the convertible trundles along at about 20 miles per hour on the residential streets lined with a combination of private homes, staff housing and dorms as you make your very pragmatic way towards and then through the college grounds. You’re grateful it’s somewhere north of 60 degrees since it’s quite breezy, and your borrowed clothes are a little on the thin side. “BUT NOT OUR ADDRESSES, SO, WHERE DO YOU LIVE?”

You tell him, then remark that his car is almost as comfortable as his bed, although the car is shinier.

“Thank you for taking me home,” you add, then, unable to restrain yourself, “I’m really sorry for all the trouble. And the vomit.”

“IT’S THE LEAST WE CAN DO,” he replies, his teeth remaining parted after he finishes speaking. It’s hard to read his expression with the sunglasses on, but he sounds kind of sad, maybe? You’re not sure, but he stays quiet for the remaining four minutes it takes to arrive at your place. You may not know him well but it’s the longest he’s stopped talking in your presence since he entered it.

“WOWIE, WE’RE ALREADY HERE. I THINK THIS MIGHT BE A ROAD TRIP RECORD!”

You look over at your low apartment building, thinking about the implications of Papyrus’s penultimate comment as the engine idles, but you don’t get out yet.

You look over at him and reach out because he seems like a very tactile dude, then hesitate because you’re not sure what kind of touch he might find reassuring. His limbs and midriff are completely covered in some kind of leotard, despite the slightly revealing crop top and shorts he’s wearing. You pat the top of his gloved hand, figuring he’s already grabbed your hand a few times. And carried you around. You’re practically cuddle pals at this point.

“Papyrus, you didn’t do anything you need to make up for. You’ve done nothing but help me since we met.”

“SIGH.” He removes his sunglasses and turns to you, his eye sockets impossibly dark in the thin sunlight. He doesn’t even have the little spots of light (or maybe just white?) that his brother does, but they’re still very expressive. Especially the small ridges above them that function almost like eyebrows.

“SANS DOES NOT TAKE HIS RESPONSIBILITIES VERY SERIOUSLY, SOMETIMES.” Then he actually sighs instead of just saying sigh. “AND BY SOMETIMES I MEAN NEVER. I AM AWARE OF THIS, AND TRY TO MAKE UP FOR IT WHEN I CAN.”

“But, Papyrus, your brother isn’t-”

“WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR FRISK,” he intones.

“But, Frisk is an adult, and-”

“WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR FRISK.”

You can’t look away from those dark sockets, and you swallow slowly. Right before you start to feel afraid, Papyrus turns his hand over where it rests on his, pats it with his other hand, then breaks the tension without actually looking away from you.

“WILL YOU SEE VULKIN SOON?”

Oh. That thing again.

“Um, we have our usual appointment in two days.”

He nods and returns your hand, then leans over to push the car door open on your side. Wow, his arms are really long. You take the hint and step out of the vehicle, shouldering your bag and shutting the door firmly.

“ONE OF US WILL COME WITH YOUR CLOTHING, RETURNED TO PRISTINE CONDITION, AND SOME MONSTER FOOD TO BOLSTER YOUR CONSTITUTION.”

“Um, when-”

“CALL ME SOON, FRIEND!! TEXT ME ANYTIIIIIIME!” Papyrus hollers as he revvs the engine and zooms away at approximately 20 miles per hour, arm still upraised and waving. You watch him coast to the stop sign and see his turn signal blink for the full four seconds of his complete stop before he turns the deserted corner and disappears very responsibly down the road.

 

Chapter Text

Maybe agreeing to take the time off work was a mistake.

The water in your electric kettle has been boiling for a few seconds now, and you jump when it clicks to indicate shutoff. Every five minutes you find yourself lost in thought, just staring at a wall and forgetting what you’re doing...well, more than usual. Thinking stuff like it’s only been two days off work and you’re already jumping at appliances? Or inversely, it’s been two whole days and you’re not better yet?

You take a deep breath and try to remember how to be a little more fair to yourself. And also to put the teabag in your cup, yeesh. It’s a good thing you decided against an afternoon cup of coffee or you’d be a complete wreck right now.

There’s a tap at the door and you jump again.

Oh.

Vulkin’s here, and you’re going to ask her about The Thing. Apparently, you’re nervous.

She waddles in just like she always does, as if nothing happened recently like you busting into a peaceful monster family’s house and puking it up all over the place, even if you don’t really...remember….well, whatever.

She greets you and strolls on her four stubby legs to your usual spot. You sit down across from where she’s standing, and hold out your hands to her heat. There’s always something so encouraging about it. You think about how one time your sister had asked you how you can tell it’s the same Vulkin who comes to visit you every time, and you’d just sort of opened and shut your mouth at her like a fish. Although it had never occurred to you that different Vulkins could have been coming, there was still no doubt in your mind that it was her, every time. You just couldn’t explain why.

It’s actually easier for you to tell monsters apart than it is people a lot of the time. You’re kind of faceblind. It’s a thing. It’s hard to feel bad in any way while Vulkin is treating you with her warmth, but you wince a little at the memory of the time you’d had a very confusing conversation with a strange lady in the post office for over ten minutes before you’d realized it was your coworker. But monsters? Much easier. It’s the same way you can tell which Moldbygg is Chell from the bursar, and which one works in the cafeteria. You just...can. Hmm. Maybe it’s pheromones or something. Magic spores?

Well, Vulkin probably doesn’t have spores… it must be something else. But there’s no doubt in your mind that the monster in front of you had also been there during your episode at Sans and Papyrus’s house. Your body aches and fatigue are fading down to the levels you associate with a completed treatment, so you decide to broach the topic that had made you so jumpy earlier.

“Hey, Vulkin?”

“Mmmm,” she hums.

“I’m having another kind of problem, right? More than usual?”

“All back together for now,” she replies cryptically.

“Uh...” you mumble. It’s not that it’s hard to communicate with her, more that you have to do a little more of the heavy lifting yourself. “Um, so. The people whose house I was at the other day were telling me I should ask you about something. To do with my...soul?”

“Ah...” Vulkin sighs musically. “Hugs?”

You blink, putting something together. Hadn’t she said something about that during the past bleary, blended-together weeks? Offering hugs, and something else about…

“You smell the... pain?” you try, hoping you have the phrasing right.

“Mmm,” she hums. It’s the one that means she agrees with something.

“Okay.” you sigh, trying to brace yourself for whatever the hell this is going to be. You promised yourself you weren’t going to keep ignoring this, even though it vaguely pisses you off that you have a whole nother self to have stuff going wrong with. Maybe this is like monster therapy or something. And it’s been made embarrassingly clear to you that you need it.

You stand up from the couch, but only so you can crouch down in front of the monster, who’s about half your height.

“Do I just...hug you?” You ask.

“Mmm,” Vulkin replies blithely, and toddles forward.

You wrap your arms around Vulkin, ready to flinch but the fire magic she’s surrounded by (made of?) just pours through you harmlessly. It doesn’t actually feel all that different...until she pulls back.

Oh. Oh.

Something tugs gently at you, through you, from somewhere other than your body. It's much more profound than you were expecting. You’d say it was visceral but this feeling doesn’t involve any...viscera. Everything’s still where it’s supposed to be, except now you’re somehow existing in two places at once.

You open your eyes, and your field of vision is utterly dominated by a dark blue heart shape floating in front of you. Except. It’s also….you. You can’t look away from it.

“Um...” you say in a strangled whisper.

“Bye now,” Vulkin giggles.

“Wait!” you say, not moving an inch. “Um...what do I...how do I put it back?”

“Knows where it goes!” Vulkin adds, sounding like she’s almost at the door.

You open your mouth to protest, then

OKAY, HUMAN, YOU KNOW WHERE IT GOES. RIGHT BACK...

Huh. You guess you do, for some reason. The door clicks shut.

It’s just you.

The light, or whatever it is, from your soul is steady and all-encompassing. For a second, being apart like this frightens you deeply because it’s reminding you of something you really don’t like, but you don’t remember it and it’s not like you can see it or anything. More like it’s a….smell? A pain smell. You smell the pain. Oh.

But the steady, soothing blue of your soul makes that pain smell seem… not smaller, just more potentially finite. It has a beginning and an end. More manageable. After all, it’s over there, and you’re over here (there?); maybe it’s something you can examine and evaluate instead of something you just helplessly have to be.

That’s actually helpful. Huh. It doesn’t make this any less weird, but it does provide something like a goal.

You try to find the edges of it, but there really doesn’t seem to be anything like that. Maybe it’s not finite. More that it’s...a smaller infinite quantity. That’s not the sort of idea you usually have truck with, but it fits into place for whatever this is.

Part of you is aware that you’re sitting back on your couch now, staring intently at a floating blue heart shape in front of your chest, your hand cupped protectively underneath. But the vast majority of your attention is on trying to come up with concepts and words for what you’re currently experiencing. It should be much more frightening than it is, but you have to admit you were more afraid the time you lost all that weight in college when you couldn’t afford decent food and the stress was literally killing you, and you noticed for the first time just how much your body had changed. What overexertion might be doing to you. It had been a humbling wake up call.

But right now?

The less-infinite infinity being separated from, even though it is also encompassed by, the more-infinite infinity is an imbalance. Not like it had been; the breach has been triaged at the very least. But the problem here is that at some point, that lesser infinity had….impossibly, it had ended. A paradox.

Ah. You begin to see the problem.

But when you think to look closer, something in you shies away from it. Okay. Okay. Not too much, now. But you get a faint gist of an idea floating toward you...that something had happened, but it also had not happened. Something had been possible, and then, abruptly, it had ended in annihilation. There. The problem reveals itself.

You shake. Is this really something you can handle? This problem, this impossibility, might be bigger than you are. Whatever had happened, it had not been in your control. What’s to stop if from happening again? What if this just keeps splitting and tearing and shattering….

But the steady blue of your soul calms you, reminds you that you don’t have to do everything all at once. That even if you’re afraid, you don’t have to be. More than that, it draws you with its own curiosity and initiative. You want to know. Who are you in the face of something like this? Part of you watches your hand curl inward.

The moment the tips of your fingers brush the surface of your soul is something you’ll never forget.

It really is….it’s still you. You already have what you need to deal with this; both the problem and the solution are contained within you, an infinity curved back in on itself and perfectly capable of moving through, and persisting outside of, time and space. And that’s what you need: time and space. To heal.

It’s gonna be okay.

You’re not sure when you started sobbing, but it feels too good to stop. It’s okay to be the way you are, you don’t have to set up tests for yourself and wait to see if you pass. You know for a fact that you’re doing your best, no matter what that looks like on a given day, because you always do. You really don’t give yourself enough credit. People can rely on you because you follow through, even when no one is watching. Even when you have to try over and over, or if you have to give up and do it some other way. Even if it takes years. Because it matters to you. It’s as if someone you respect and admire is finally noticing how great you are, except somehow, that person is also you. It’s the most validating experience of your life, and you don’t want it to stop.

Then eventually, is just sort of is time to stop, and that’s okay, too.

You cup your hand and draw it back towards your chest. Back where it belongs, and then you can move freely again.

Um.

Theoretically.

Uh oh.

You’re….unexpectedly drained. And very, very thirsty. Your first attempt at standing makes you stagger, but you keep your feet and manage to pour a glass of water and chug it. You pour a second to sip slowly and toddle weakly back to the couch. You hadn’t anticipated this part...but then you notice the shadows are getting pretty long, and the light’s dimming, too. That had taken….hours. Shit.

You blow your nose repeatedly, then wet a paper towel and try to scrub the traces of weeping off of your face. It feels puffy. Is this normal? Are you supposed to be this tired? Should you even be alone right now?

Unusually for you, you can’t bring yourself to dismiss or suppress the knowledge that you need help, and that it’s really, truly okay to ask. Maybe touching your soul does that to people. Your bag’s on the coffee table, and you rummage inside it until you find your phone. You open the contacts, scroll down. ‘the kid’? No way, Frisk’s a lot younger than you are and already seems to have plenty on their plate. Papyrus? You have a feeling he might need a little time and space of his own, after...something? Sure. He’s already helped you a lot, you feel like.

Welp, that leaves one more person who had already reached out and given you this advice. You suppose you’ll see if it’s true that he won’t steer you wrong, and seems the least likely to be busy right now. You pull up a new message option for ‘sans.’

you: Hey, so I was just wondering. Is it normal to be this tired afterward? Because I’m a little worried.

A few minutes pass, and you wonder if you should clarify. Hopefully he remembers you and that whole… what are you thinking, of course he does. Your unexpected stint as his houseguest definitely qualified as an ordeal, after all. A debacle, even.

sans: yeah maybe. be right there.

Um. What? You blink at the message, making sure it says what you think it does.

you: oh, hey, you don’t have to come all the way over here! Just, if you have some advice for self care?

There’s no response after almost ten minutes, and you start to feel a little sheepish. You hadn’t meant to make him feel obligated or anything, but although your….body? or something feels awfully noodly right now, it’s harder to bullshit yourself into feeling like a burden than usual. Wow. That whole soul touching thing really is something to write home about. You blush faintly, but you can’t even manage to drum up self-consciousness. Still, maybe you should-

“knock knock,” you hear just as you’re picking your phone back up.

“Oh! Uh, come in! It’s not locked,” you call weakly. You hope you’re telling the truth, though you definitely don’t remember locking it.

The door opens, and sans walks through as you try and tilt your head up to greet him properly. Looks like there’s a two heavy plastic grocery bags looped around his forearm, although both his hands are firmly tucked in his hoodie pockets.

“you didn’t even ask ‘who’s there,’” he grins at you cheekily as he walks around to the front of the couch to look at you. He’s not signing, but you understand him anyhow so he must be doing the voice thing.

You sigh exasperatedly. “Somehow, I already know better. Um, I was saying, you didn’t have to come all the way over here, I’m just not sure what I’m supposed to do afterward and it seems like I should? Do something? I feel pretty wrung out and I’m not totally sure why.”

He shrugs, and one of the bags bops off his shin. He’s still got his slippers on, you notice, ignoring the neat row of shoes right inside your door. Well, maybe he doesn’t have context for that sort of thing, and besides, they are technically house shoes. These ones look less dirty than the ones you’d seen him in before; they’re also a rather fetching shade of pale bubblegum pink.

“brought some ‘dogs,” he says casually. “you probably just need somethin to eat. figured you weren’t up to a trip to the store, either.”

Your frown thoughtfully. “I don’t feel especially hungry.”

His eye lights dart over you speculatively. “do you feel especially not-hungry?”

You open your mouth, but nothing comes out.

He tilts his head toward the kitchen. “you got a microwave?”

“Yes?”

He turns and shuffles off. A minute later, you hear the aforementioned appliance start its insistent hum. Um. You usually would prepare hot dogs (wait...that’s what he said he brought, right?) by heating them in water on the stove, so they don’t-

A loud, wet pop sounds from the kitchen, and you sigh. Well, if you have to clean the microwave of exploded hot dog shrapnel later, it’s worth it not to have to get up right now. It’s actually kind of touching, if you’re honest. Seems like he’s really going the extra mile for you, proportionate to the amount of effort it seems customary for him to expend.

You’ve got your TV turned on to some kind of low-demand nature documentary when Sans returns to the living room. He glances over at it as he comes to sit next to you, carrying one of your larger platters. He’s created a sort of pyramid made of assembled hot dogs in buns on top of it, and he sets it on the coffee table. There must be at least fifteen ‘dogs; the sheer amount is a little daunting.

As Sans settles himself, he pulls a large bottle of ketchup out of his hoodie pocket. You blink; there must be whole universes going on in that sweatshirt of his.

He pulls one off the pile, holds the ketchup bottle over it, mumbles, “say when,” and starts squeezing. You wait a bit, then “okay, that’s good.” He keeps going. “uh...” The hot dog in the center of the bun is disappearing.

“Oh! WHEN,” you chuckle. He winks and hands you the sloppy bun. You hold it up, examining it carefully, and a big drip lands right in the middle of your chest.

“You’re kind of the worst, aren’t you?” you comment absently, watching a family of pelicans on the TV fight over something. Sans is already decorating another dog.

“nah, but this is,” he replies.

Okay, well. Geez. You hadn’t meant to give him that hard a time.

“Hey, sorry. I really appreciate you coming over, I was just jo-”

He looks over at you sharply, confused. He looks at the table and points to the food. Then he sets down the ketchup bottle and his bare phalanges click at you.

W-U-R-S-T.

You gape at him. Then, your whole body rocks with laughter, you can’t help it, and another giant blob of effluvia from the food you're still just holding there above you messes up your shirt even more. It’s gonna be a total loss at this point, but you’re used to collateral damage.

“you’re almost as much of an artist as paps,” he tells your shirt dryly. He shoves a dog between his teeth somehow, then it disappears and he juts his chin at you. “you gonna eat that?”

You try to finish your wheezing, then bring it up for a bite. Huh. The texture’s kind of...you don’t know, but it’s not as salty as the kind of hot dogs you’ve usually had. The second your teeth close on it, though, you realize you’re absolutely ravenous. Almost painfully so. Two more bites, and it’s gone.

You grab the ketchup bottle yourself and start squirting. “What kind of hot dogs are these?”

Sans is waiting for you to relinquish the bottle, and just shrugs impassively. “monster ‘dog.”

Well, you’d rather eat than interrogate. So you do. Before you know it, there’s only two dogs left on the platter.

“Split the difference?” you suggest, watching the pelicans swooping down to the surface of the ocean for fish.

“nah, you go ahead,” he grins. Then he nods at the TV. “you look like that guy.”

One of the pelicans tilts its head back, fish wriggling obscenely down its throat as it pumps its gullet. You snort.

“Living the dream,” you say with exaggerated wistfulness. He gives a low chuckle as you quickly vanish the last of the food he’s brought.

You sigh deeply with satisfaction. You’re still completely wrung out, but that precarious feeling from before is gone. You feel grounded. Also...filthy.

“Hate to ask, but could you do me a favor?”

“shoot,” he replies.

You lean forward weakly and raise your hand up and over the back of your neck, and pull laboriously until your shirt comes off over your front. “Could you just run to the basket by the laundry, um, back by the kitchen. Grab me another shirt? I think this masterpiece is complete,” you comment wryly, using your soiled garment to dab off the places it’s smeared and soaked through. You wipe your face with it, too.

“no prob,” he replies, then heaves himself up off the couch. You dab one of the cleaner parts into your half-empty glass of water and use it to wipe the last stickiness away, and he’s back with the t-shirt by the time you’re done. You toss the soiled one into the basket you keep here for exactly these circumstances, and pull the new one over your head with a sigh.

Sans sits back down with a sigh that mirrors yours.

“wonder if it’d make paps complain less if I used one of those,” he says idly, glancing at the basket.

You exhale in amusement. “I just do what works for me. It’s not for everyone I guess.” You’re starting to feel a little sleepy, but it’s not urgent. After all that, just relaxing here feels very good. You’re not even in much physical pain; Vulkin’s treatment had done its magic. It’s like you’re resting after having done some kind of exercise or exerted yourself somehow, but...hmm. You’ve felt a little like this before, haven’t you? Speaking of which…

“Was I hallucinating, or did I really drink a blender of cold spaghetti at your house?”

He’s laughing.

“nah, that definitely happened. you seemed pretty into it, though. my brother was impressed.”

“How’s he doing, anyhow?”

“eh. he’ll be fine.”

Well, that’s less than reassuring. You glance surreptitiously at Sans’s face for clues, but there’s not much help there. He kinda looks halfway to a nap, himself. Those impossibly dark sockets are low ovals, but the points are still following whatever the birds are doing on the screen. As your silence extends, he looks over at you and his eyes open a little more.

“oh, hey. nothing big, he just feels bad about your clothes. they didn’t exactly survive when he tried to clean ‘em.” Sans glances at the basket your dirty shirt has been consigned to. “but i figure maybe you’re not as broken up over it as he is.”

You grin a little sheepishly. “I might have already forgotten about that. But you can let him know it’s fine, really.”

“heh. yeah, i will. though I gotta warn you, now he’s saying he’s gonna do one of his paintings for ya, to make up for it. so you can expect him to show up at some point. probably gonna want your input there. says you already asked to see how it happens, so... but don’t worry too much. you got other stuff on your mind, he knows that.” He glances over again, a little less certain. “so, uh. how’d it go?”

You appreciate the open-endedness of the question, although you know exactly what he means by it. You take a deep breath and let it out slowly, considering.

“Frisk was right about you, I think.”

His eye lights flicker sharply. “’bout what?”

“They said you give good advice. That you never steered them wrong.”

He looks surprised, and like he doesn’t exactly know what to do with that information. It makes you smile, because it reminds you of how you felt when you took your sister’s kid Nattie out shopping, and they assured a cashier that you know literally everything, so they didn’t have to send someone in the back for a price check.

“Is there always that much crying?” you add, with an exaggerated whine for levity although you’re not exactly kidding. Your face is still sore and puffy.

“heh,” he laughs, but empathy is heavy in his voice. “not always. not usually, i should say. you come out of it with a better grip?”

The mirth drains out of you.

“I know Frisk made something that happened, unhappen.” Sans’s eyes dim, and his grin flattens. “There’s a lot of stuff in there I’m not ready to deal with, but I thought you should know that...that I know. And,” you sigh again. “I figure whatever happened when I got...sick...is worse than a little puke. But I guess I need some time. To, uh.”

“hey, you don’t gotta explain yourself to me,” Sans says kindly. “nothin to explain. i’m just...” A bony hand emerges from his pocket and rasps over the top of his skull softly before returning to its nest. He pushes his arms down, and manages to slump even more until he looks like he’s laying on the middle of his spine on the couch, legs extended out in from of him. Even so, only a few inches of white tibia and fibula are visible between his socks and shorts. It’s not like his clothes are all that huge, he’s just really short.

“i dunno. it’s just, you’re messed up because of us, and now we wanna make sure you get as un-messed-up as you can. we’ll keep bringing snacks over, cause obviously you need it.”

“I appreciate it,” you say. “What do I owe you?”

“huh?”

“For the food,” you answer. “If you want to grab my-”

He’s waving his hand at you. “no, no. nothin like that. let us know if there’s anything you want in particular, or i’ll just bring whatever. no problem.”

“Sans,” you say seriously. “I understand that you feel responsible to some degree for what happened, even though I really do not get it at all. But that doesn’t mean you’re responsible for my grocery bills indefinitely because of it. That’s ridiculous.”

He just looks at you for a long time, with an incredibly sad look on his face. Then he slumps back, and you both watch TV for a little while. Now the pelicans are having babies or whatever. They’re coming out of eggs. You wonder if those monster eggs Sans had cooked for you were from pelicans or something. They definitely weren’t chicken eggs.

“guess I forget sometimes. frisk was right, i don’t spend much time with humans.”

You look at him sidelong. “What’s that mean?”

He sighs. “forget you all expect people to pay for food or just...die. pay for water, sunlight...breathing. whatever. s’depressing.”

That annoys you a little. “Well, it’s not like I have a choice. And this job pays a lot better than any I've had. And Vulkin doesn’t ask for anything, she just does it because she likes to feel like she’s helping. And she is, so...” you sigh. “It makes me angry, too. It’s better here than it is some places, but also worse I guess. But I mean, it’s not like monsters don’t have money,” you add. “You pay for food too, right?”

He gives you a look. “that’s not the same. and...you know i can’t talk about the other thing.”

You hold up your hands placatingly, acknowledging monsterkind’s decision not to share exactly where their food comes from. A lot of things they’d had to keep pretty tight, and you understand why. It doesn’t take much more than walking out of the house every day to understand why monsters might keep those sorts of secrets, considering how many humans would be just as glad to rip their resources away given less than half a chance. Still, it’s not as bad as it used to be, before.

“y’know encounters, right?” he says after a minute. You nod.

“a lotta monsters used to use those as an excuse to take a moment, check up on people. maybe give em a little change so they could pick up a nice treat, give em somethin’ to look forward to. make sure they...still had hope, back underground. before it was UnderEbott. makes all the difference sometime, just knowing someone gives a shit.” He sighs. “money’s for givin people. it's extra.”

You sit for a few more minutes silently before responding.

“Yeah, not for us. Not right now, anyways." The words weigh on you. "I always send my sister a little something every month. You know. For the kids. Glad I have so much paid time left, cause I’d hate to be short right now. The holidays, and all.” You exhale slowly, thinking about all the times you’d wished you could have helped her out with the doctor bills and shit, back when you’d been in college yourself.

Your niece Shonda had just been born, then, and she didn’t know what the fuck to do. Your mother’d only been gone two years, and you’d both struggled mightily. Even then, you’d tried to send her a little of what you could, even some of your student loan money so the baby could have some new clothes once in a while. You’re still not sure how you’d both managed to survive, but at least you could make sure they didn’t go without anything now. Even if it put a burr up her husband Matt’s ass sometimes.

You hoped the monsters’ generosity could somehow be spread, or more...you hope they keep undermining, giving, and doing what they do best, which in your humble opinion, is help people. Not that they were all one way or the other; plenty of the monsters you’d met had been petty, or unpleasant, or outright dickheads. Some were sweet, and some were a little stuck up. Just, you know, people.

But that’s the thing. You’d never seen a monster interact with anyone, human or fellow monster, that came off as if they saw them as not a person. The same look you’d seen in hundreds of human eyes when they’d fallen on you, you’d never seen that from a monster. In the private quiet of your heart-or, wait. Your soul?  You guess it is. You know you’d walk through fire to stand by monsters, if it came down to it, just for that one simple reason, although there are others, too. They’d never take your personhood away, just for needing help. Just for being different than they are.

“You can bring the food,” you say quietly. “Sorry I made a big deal about it.”

It’s been dark out for a while, and the TV’s the only light on in the living room. Sans is looking mighty soft when you glance over.

“your, uh, sister? she live around here?”

You snort. “She’s married.”

He gives you an incredulous look.

“Sorry,” you reply with a grin. “I’m just kidding. Really.” You explain the situation to him briefly, then find yourself talking about how much you think about them, and how hard it had been to leave them to come here, although it had been worth it. You even talk a little about how much you believe in Ebott University, and why it’s important to you.

“You think Frisk will still come?” you ask. “I mean, they can actually come in at any time. It’s not like other colleges where you miss a deadline, you’re out of luck, you know? Plus, the circumstances.”

He shrugs. “think they’re considering it.”

You nod.

He smiles (or rather, does the thing where his mouth changes shape slightly that indicate he’s smiling more than usual), but doesn’t add any further commentary. The show about the pelicans end, and the next thing in the queue is already starting. Looks like another animal doc, this one about beetles, it seems like.

“so, you need me to take off or anything?” Sans inquires idly.

“You can stay as long as you want,” you answer, and you find you really mean it. You’re not sure if it’s the lingering self confidence from touching your soul, or maybe it’s just something about him being the least uptight person you can remember spending time with. You blink, considering how rare it is to feel like nothing you’re doing is bothering someone else. Vulkin makes you feel the same way, actually, and it’s just another of the many reasons you appreciate her so much. You don’t have any tension worrying that he’s going to give you a weird look about your living room laundry basket or- “...as long as you don’t mind if I fall asleep here,” you add belatedly. “I really don’t plan to move for the rest of the night whether you stay or not, I mean.”

“heh. i like your priorities.”

“Good deal. You want to turn on something else or are you good with this?” You nod at the TV.

“nah, this is great. no matter how much of everything I see up here, there’s always...more. s’interesting.”

When you wake up 12 hours later, the TV is off and he’s gone. Your coffee table is covered in ketchup splats, the platter, glasses of water, two empty ketchup bottles and a mummified hot dog bun, but the throw blanket you keep folded under the side table has been pulled over you.

It’s nice.

 

Chapter Text

You decide to use the rest of your time off to go and visit your sister and her family. You don’t usually make impulsive travel decisions, but considering what you’ve been through...rather, once you have the chance to consider you have in fact been through something, it just reminds you of what’s really important. It takes hours on the bus, and it’s not comfortable. Enough so that even though you’ve already made this trip several times, it unsettles you. Whatever, you’re going. It’ll be fine.

Besides, it’s only five days. You’ll be fine for five days.

The first day, you do your best to tell her everything. It’s hard, partly since for some reason you tend to keep up a more stoic front with her in person. It’s odd the ways that distance between you has actually brought you closer over the past slightly-more-than-a-year since you moved, at least when it comes to sharing and communicating. Maybe a little room to not have to depend on each other so much makes the difference.

But you can’t quite bring yourself to tell her about a whole new medical problem you apparently have. It just seems like an overwhelming prospect. At the same time, you don’t want to keep things from her, not when she’s already been so worried. So instead, you just say that the stress and shock from the incident -someone coming to try and cause murder and mayhem at your workplace, and the chaotic manner in which it had been resolved- had exacerbated many of your physical and neurological symptoms. You tell her you’ve been doing special treatments with Vulkin, but you don’t explain the soul thing. You don’t know why. It’s silly. Maybe it’ll be easier to talk about when you’re back in Ebott.

She does seem interested in the fact that you're interacting in a personal capacity with the family in the house across campus, especially considering one of them is Frisk Dreamurr. You explain that they felt bad that their presence could have possibly prompted the attack, and you add something vague about them bringing you fruit baskets and wishing you well in your recovery.

“What is Frisk like? Super slick and professional like how some child stars are when they grow up? Or just like, total trainwreck?” she asks, leaning forward and biting a fingernail, then remembering she’s trying to stop and putting her hand back on the table. It creeps back between her teeth as you answer her, explaining Frisk’s odd composure for their age, their presence of mind in a crisis, and a little bit about Sans and Papyrus.

“Huh,” she says quietly. “I don’t think I’ve really heard of monsters that look like skeletons. Are they like, rare or something?”

You have no idea.

The second day, you go out for lunch after the kids get dropped off at school, and the server calls you “sir”. You flinch. That sort of thing doesn’t often happen in Ebott, not that you actually get out much...but there’s a difference. So many unarguably genderless or otherwise ambiguous monsters live there. Everyone adjusts as some point, and after over a decade, most of the humans in Ebott had. Apparently you have too, even after only a year. The incident sours your mood for the rest of the day, and when your sister hands you a cup of tea that evening, you find yourself scrubbing away an angry tear.

“Hey,” she asks softly. “You okay?”

“Apparently not,” you gesture sulkily.

“Look, if you-”

The door opens with a loud clatter. Ah. Matt’s home. Fantastic.

“Hey, sweetie,” she says, smiling. “How was your day?”

In the end, he spends long enough griping about stuff you can’t quite catch, and doesn’t pause long enough for you to ask him to repeat himself, that you give up and head upstairs. You’re staying in Shonda’s room, and the kids are bunking up together. It’s fine, but a lot of the time it’s a little loud, especially in the afternoons and early evenings. You can feel pain radiating through you from the tense way you’ve been holding your body since you got here. Maybe this was a less than stellar idea after all. Your vision gets suspiciously shiny and you realize a migraine is coming on.

You rummage in your bag for the stronger pain meds you carry in case of, well. This. You swallow them, and feel bitter about it. You fall asleep at 7pm, sleep through until noon and wake up with a headache anyway, although it’s not bad enough to make you throw up or pass out.

On the third day, you decide to go home early, and your sister just hugs you gently and tells you to call when you get there.

You forget.

***

As you trudge back up to your front door after another grueling bus ride, you stop dead as your eyes finally focus through the haze of pain on a cloth bag of some kind dangling from your doorknob. Your heart pounds for a long minute, wondering what the hell you’re going to have to deal with now. You just want a long hot bath, another round of meds and a fucking dirt nap at the end, for all you care.

With that last thought, you figure if you’re going to get blown up by a doorknob bomb, at least you went out with a bang. Good one, you think sourly. As you shuffle closer, your heavy backpack feeling like it’s going to pull your shoulder out of its socket and your elbow screaming as you drag your suitcase behind you, you see that there’s some kind of note stuck to the front. You peer at it. Looks like it’s handwritten in formal-looking, slightly spidery capital letters.

DEAR HUMAN,

I SEE YOU’VE FOUND MY GIFT! YOU MUST BE DELIGHTED, DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE GREAT PAPYRUS HIMSELF IS NOT HERE TO-!

Okay, of course it’s from Papyrus. You have to smile a little, wondering if he even remembers your name, or if it’s just some sort of affectation he has. At this point, you’re starting to suspect the latter. Whatever, you have a much better appreciation for eccentric people than people who have a problem with eccentrics.

-WITNESS YOUR UNPARALLELED ECSTASY AT BEING ITS RECIPIENT! THESE ARE FOR YOU! FRISK SAYS THAT THESE ARE THEIR FAVORITE WHEN THEY AREN’T FEELING WELL! THEY’RE VERY GOOD FOR HUMANS! WHICH YOU ARE!

PLEASE ALLOW ME TO-

Okay, you’ll read the rest, and process exclamation points having lost their meaning, once you get inside and settled down. It’s more of a letter than a note, you consider. The paper’s got multiple folds in it two paragraphs past where you stopped reading.

You take the bag off and unlock the door, managing to bash your hand painfully on it as you flail for the light switch. You drop everything else and stumble to the dining room table with the idea of inspecting whatever kind of food this is, but once you get there, you find yourself immediately sinking down into one of the chairs.

You feel absolutely dreadful. It’s like something sharp has been jammed into most of your joints, and your head’s full of impenetrable pain fog. You wish the extra sleep you’d gotten at your sister’s had bolstered you, but instead you feel like the sleep had actually taken energy from you. You feel stretched thin...almost literally. It reminds you of something...it’s not good. Not good at all. Maybe you should try and eat something. But…

You open the bag. It’s full of some kind of bread things? A spicy smell hits you when you open one. They’re cinnamon buns, but shaped into more of an oval, with an extra bit. Hatchmarks left before baking on the extra bit form two triangles, suggesting the head of an animal. It smells good, and you want to eat it, but…

How long had they been hanging on your door?

You groan with disappointment and pull out your phone. The number for “paps” is still there, and you blearily bring up the message form.

You: Hey I got yuor GIft. Just curious wHEn ou left it? How long dot things stay good for

 Well, whatever. It’s already sent, anyways, and you’re feeling worse every second. You really hope he answers quickly, and- Oh. oh, crap. You finally notice the time in the corner of the screen and groan again listlessly. It’s almost 2 o clock in the morning. You’re officially the biggest asshole on earth.

Your phone buzzes.

 paps: YOU’RE BACK! AS I SAID IN MY NOTE, WHICH YOU OBVIOUSLY WOULD HAVE READ IN FULL BEFORE TEXTING ME, I’LL BE RIGHT OVER TO EXPLAIN THE DETAILS!! I ALSO HAVE SOME HELPFUL ADVICE ON SPELLING AND PUNCTUATION!

 He also types in caps and exclamation points, apparently.

Well, shit. You are absolutely not in any shape or mood for visitors. Especially not one that wants to explain details to you of literally anything; Papyrus is nothing if not detail-oriented. And in your opinion, a bit high maintenance. You’ve met him, so you don’t even bother sending another text telling him not to come. You don’t have the energy, and it certainly hadn’t stopped Sans...and he’s really no match for his brother when it comes to sheer persistence and ignoring things he doesn’t want to hear. Although now you’re starting to feel poorly enough that you’re almost relieved you won’t be here alone. Uh oh. That’s extra not-good.

You bring up another contact and this time send a text to Vulkin. You groan again when the automated response pops up immediately, meaning she’s not available. Well, no wonder, since it’s the middle of the night, but the idea of having to actually go and DO anything to take care of yourself is an even worse prospect than how you already feel.

Why does it always have to be like this for you? Why can’t you just go do things every once in a while without something like this happening? It feels like your whole life has just been running between collapses, trying to get somewhere safe so you can fall over. Everyone else can just take a trip, or go shopping, or even just go to work regularly without feeling cored like an apple after a few days, or sometimes even just a few hours.

The vast majority of your life is spent in recovery from the very small amount of time you spend actually living it. Your eyes burn dryly. It’s not fair. You’ve laid your head down on the arm you’ve folded on the table and closed your eyes. You’re such a piece of crap, even people who barely know you are spending all their time trying to scrape you up off the floor, then scraping the mess you make off their floor.

You’re the worst person ever. The biggest asshole on earth. Maybe it would be better if you just-

A knock sounds on the door. You whine in despair, trying to heave yourself up, but sharp pains lance through your body and that pulling, almost tearing feeling happens again. You yelp, and instead of gaining your feet, you fall on the floor with a weak groan. Ow. Shit, shit, shit.

Next thing you know, something massive is blocking the light as it hovers over you.

“WHAT ON EARTH HAVE YOU BEEN DOING TO YOURSELF, HUMAN?! DIDN’T YOU TAKE SANS’S ADVICE? I THOUGHT I WAS VERY- WELL, THAT DOESN’T MATTER NOW. UP YOU GO!”

Papyrus’s enormous yet surprisingly gentle gloved hands scoop you up under your armpits and deposit you back into your thankfully cushioned chair. You blink and try to focus your eyes as he pulls out a second chair and sits primly across from you.

“YOU SHOULD HAVE TOLD ME YOU WEREN’T FEELING WELL! ARE YOU NOT ABLE TO EAT THE CINNAMON BUNNIES? TOO MUCH CHEWING? SANS COMPLAINS ABOUT THAT ALL THE-”

You sway in your chair, and he cuts off.

“LUCKILY FOR YOU THE GREAT PAPYRUS ALWAYS COMES PREPARED WITH GUESTING GIFTS FOR A FELLOW GRACIOUS HOST,” he says hurriedly as he pulls something put of a bag you hadn’t noticed before. He sets a plastic cup with a dome on it on the table in front of you, then plucks a straw from somewhere and shoves it through the hole the top.

You blink at it for a few long seconds, then pull it toward you with shaking hands. The first sip is so breathtakingly sweet, you almost choke...except you can’t because once you swallow, it dissolves gently into your body. Oh. That’s...good. That’s very good. You pick up the cup now that the straw’s already in your mouth and you’re less at risk of poking your own eye out. After the fifth or sixth gulp, your hands’ trembling stills.

Papyrus is eyeing you carefully, and you finally notice what he’s wearing as you suck down the sweet...milkshake? Smoothie? You’re not sure about that, but you are sure that Papyrus either has or is some kind of clothing designer, because wow.

He’s wearing one of those shirts that are like loose turtleneck sweaters except sleeveless and also a crop top, which would have exposed his shoulders and a fair amount of his ribcage if he hadn’t been wearing that dark bodysuit thing underneath. The cowl is pretty massive, and covers his neckbones completely in dark red cableknit. Some care has been taken on the front, where PAPYRUS has been written in sparkling white rhinestones edged with gold, and he’s wearing what appear to be white hot pants with gold buttons over his narrow hipbones.

His gloves and boots, which reach his elbows and knees respectively although they flare out almost conelike instead of fitting closely, look like white patent leather or plastic but don’t make any of the creaking noises you’d usually associate with the type of material. The real kicker is the thigh-high...leg warmers? that appear to be made of the same dark red cableknit of his top, slouched like the collar but almost reaching to the hems of his tiny shorts. It’d look odd if it weren’t for the fact that his bones are thicker and seem to be much sturdier than human bones. The more you see him, the less he seems like anything human, if you’re honest. Can a skeleton be ripped? Either way, the ensemble is quite flattering.

The straw starts making the noise that means you’ve somehow drained the plastic cup already, so you set it down carefully.

“That is the best outfit I’ve ever seen in my life,” you croak weakly.

Papyrus turns pink and fiddles with his collar.

“NYEH HEH HEH,” he giggles shyly, then his sockets sharpen and his posture stiffens. “YOU’RE WELCOME! HOWEVER! YOUR JUSTIFIED COMPLIMENTS WON’T DISTRACT ME FROM YOUR DEGENERATING CONDITION! DO YOU REQUIRE A HUMAN DOCTOR?” He leans forward empathetically.

You put your face in your hands, lean your elbows on the table. The last thing on earth you want right now is a trip to the emergency room; in fact you’d find it preferable to just die quietly on your floor than get in a car, or even worse, an ambulance. Unfortunately, you’re well aware that this extreme aversion is actually very damning evidence that you DO need exactly that, or at least it’d be a good idea. The more you need a doctor, the less you want to see one. You do your best to shove the curse of self-awareness back into whatever hole it comes from, although your conscience twinges as you do.

“No, I...” you start, then sigh. “Actually, I just, uh, need my meds. If it’s not too much trouble, would you mind getting my bag for me? I dropped it by the door, I think.”

He’s already up and taking his impossibly long strides around the corner. You hear a shuffling, then he’s on his way back with bottles in his hands instead of just bringing your bag, but whatever. It’s his choice if he wants to rummage through your dirty clothes and dig them out, you guess.

He examines the orange bottles closely as he returns.

“THESE WILL RECALIBRATE YOUR BODY?” he asks, sounding bemused by the idea. “WHERE DO THEY GO?”

You take the bottles from his oddly non-squeaky gloves and try to process his commentary. At least you don’t have too much trouble understanding him, partly because he moves his jaw in predictable patterns when he makes certain sounds, and partly because he’s just so loud and...formal, without being professional, like at all? An accent? Something.

“Well, no,” you say as you open the bottles laboriously. “They help, though. Most of the time.”

Papyrus looks a little confused, but sits back down.

You take out a double dose of pain meds, the strong ones, and pop the dome off the top of the drink he’d given you to wash the meds down with the last of it. This time, you do choke because you forgot about the part where it dissolves and the pills obviously don’t. It’s bad. Ugh. You bruised your goddamn esophagus again.

Papyrus looks a little perturbed, but visibly braces himself.

“SO, DO YOU FEEL BETTER NOW?”

“Oh, um,” you clear your throat, trying to make it feel less like the pills are still stuck in your craw somewhere. You’re seriously not thinking too clearly; apparently the monster drink hadn’t done you as much good as others have in the past. You still feel really off kilter. It sucks.

“No, they...take time to work. They’re not like monster stuff where it just happens immediately. They have to dissolve in my stomach, and then...” you trail off, forgetting the point of what you were saying.

“IT’S NOT LIKE WHEN THOSE ALIEN MICROBES CAME TO LIVE INSIDE FRISK, IS IT?” Papyrus looks increasingly horrified. “TORIEL SAID THEY HAD TO SWALLOW ORBS FOR TWO WEEKS TO MAKE THEM LEAVE. GUESTS SHOULD NEVER OVERSTAY THEIR WELCOME, IT’S VERY RUDE!” he finishes, looking incredibly offended.

Um. Okay, wow.

“No, they just take maybe an hour?” You rub your face, then your chest, oddly enough. It’s like you feel faint or something, or maybe just...disconnected somehow? Like at any moment you’ll just break off and float away. Ugh. You really wish Vulkin was here.

Papyrus, despite not having pupils or anything else decorating his impossibly dark sockets, manages to unfocus them. Then he comes back, and meets your eyes sharply.

“I MIGHT BE ABLE TO HELP. UNTIL THE HUMAN THINGS WORK.”

You blink at him dazedly. “Huh?”

“IT’S LIKE A HUG, ONLY IT TAKES LONGER. JUST LIKE THE ORBS!”

So obviously what you associate with a monster offering hugs shows on your face, because he draws back suddenly and stiffens.

“I REALIZE I AM VERY SEXY, BUT I HAVE THE UTMOST FAITH IN YOU TO CONTROL YOUR URGES, HUMAN!” he hollers, sounding somehow more like he sympathizes with your weakness in his presence than an actual reprimand. His face definitely radiates concern.

“AND AS SOMEONE WHOSE GRACIOUS HOSTING IS ONLY PARALLELED BY MY OWN HOUSEHOLD’S, I AM SURE YOU ARE IMMUNE TO MISINTERPRETING THE MOST PLATONIC OF SKELETAL EMBRACES. SKELE-PLA-TON-IC. NYEH HEH... HEH.” It’s the closest to awkward you’ve seen him look. “HEH?”

And with that, he just stands up, leans over, and picks you up like a bag of groceries.

“I DID THIS FOR FRISK WHEN THE ALIENS INVADED,” he adds while you goggle up at his bony chin weakly. Again, you’re not small. This is not a thing that happens to you very often. He shifts you a little, so gently it doesn’t even jog the broken glass your joints feel like they’re filled with. It seems like he must do this sort of thing all the time. Which is disconcerting, to say the least. Now he’s pulling cinnamon bunnies out of the bag on the table and piling them on your midsection like you’re some kind of gift basket, and you’re off to the living room.

“WE CAN WATCH MY FAVORITE SHOW WHILE WE WAIT! CAN YOU GUESS WHAT IT IS? IT’S METTATON! VERY DELIGHTFUL.”

“Um...” you say weakly, trying to figure out a way to protest being hauled around like a sack of potatoes, but it seems that your first impression had left its mark and now you’re doomed to be swept off your feet by a seven foot tall skeleton for the foreseeable future. Oh, looks like he’s got your remote, and...yep, that’s the theme song for It’s Mettaton! playing as you plop down...or, well, are plopped down, but very carefully. Good lord.

The talk and variety show, hosted by the monster who either is also or just looks like a robot, sometimes a rectangle and sometimes an extremely overwrought android, isn’t necessarily your favorite, but. Well. Papyrus is your guest, and you suppose it’s only polite. He is holding you very gently, after all. And for some reason, it’s extremely soothing to be held, despite your misgivings, but...

Papyrus seems enthralled by whatever’s going on on the screen, colors from the TV playing over the matte whiteness of his grinning face like a projector screen. Unlike his brother, his jaw moves easily and often as his expression changes, you assume based on whatever he’s listening to from the television. Your head isn’t even facing toward it, but you really don’t care. The robot’s voice is unintelligible to you without captions, just sounds vaguely like chiptunes or something.

You try to clear your head and calm down, and you realize you are starting to feel something. It’s like...humming? No. Maybe more like...it’s almost like how you feel when Vulkin’s treating you. The usual way, not her...hugs. You shudder a little, but not in disgust or anything like that. It makes you want to groan in frustration. You know three fucking languages, and none of them can describe half the shit you’ve gone through since Frisk and their weird relatives almost got you killed.

You blink sheepishly, recognizing your thought as extraordinarily unfair. You’d just been doing your job, they’d just been on the tour you’d suggested yourself, and what happened hadn’t been anyone’s fault other than whatever piece of shit decided one day to do some violence. Humans did that all the time, after all. Just wake up one day and kill people, destroy things. They don’t have to. They could decide to do something else with their time and energy. But that’s a choice they make on their own, and then try foist onto others.

“Hey, Papyrus?” you ask quietly.

“YES?” he replies, not looking away from the screen or changing his amused expression.

“You shouldn’t pick people up without asking.”

He gives a long, aggrieved sigh, becoming pensive even as his sockets remain fixed on the program.

“SOMETIMES THESE THINGS ARE DIFFICULT TO NAVIGATE, YES,” he says obliquely, almost absently. “AFTER ALL, NO ONE LIKES TO BE OVERT WITH UNREASONABLE DEMANDS OR ENCROACH ON THE POLITE NATURES OF OTHERS. NO MATTER HOW MUCH THEY WANT TO HELP OR HOW OFTEN THEY EXPLAIN IT’S NOT A NOTICEABLE AMOUNT OF ENERGY EXPENDITURE.” Now he looks irritable, and also vaguely..hurt?

“IT’S ALL VERY FRUSTRATING, ESPECIALLY WHEN EVERY ATTEMPT IS MET WITH SOME KIND OF DEFLECTION, SUSPICIOUS DISAPPEARANCES, OR UNFORGIVABLY TERRIBLE JOKES. EVEN WHEN HE KNOWS HE NEEDS IT, HE WON’T EVER ASK, IT’S ALWAYS SOME KIND OF-UGH! I SWEAR, SOMETIMES I ALMOST THINK HE DOESN’T WANT TO GET BET-”

Papyrus’s teeth hang open silently for a long second, then shut with a click.

“NEVER MIND,” he adds cheerfully. “I DIDN’T SAY ANY OF THAT.”

He tilts his face down at you. “YOU REALLY SHOULD TRY TO EAT THOSE, THEY WEREN’T MEANT ONLY TO BE DECORATIVE.”

You glance down, belatedly remembering you have a pile of food on your chest. It is rather fetchingly arranged. You take one off the top and unwrap it, the smell making your mouth water a little to combat the dryness that tells you the medication will start working fairly soon. Theoretically. You hope.

You chew thoughtfully for a little while, considering what Papyrus had(n’t?) said. You can’t really help it, although you’ll try to do him the favor of not mentioning it. Seems like this is something Papyrus does often, or maybe just regularly? And from the sound of it, apparently this is something he does for his brother as well as Frisk, so it works on monsters, too. Maybe even other family members? Toriel? That would be funny. And your meds are definitely kicking in now, you consider as you pop open your third bunny. Between those and the nice vibes you’re catching from good ol Papyrus’s cuddle (ha! You are cuddle pals now! You should go into fortune telling!), okay, yeah. Maybe you’re a little high. Whatever. Worth it. Much improved.

“Heyyy,” you drawl. “hey.”

“YES?” the enormous and outlandish skeleton cradling you gently answers, seeming unfazed by conversing while absorbing his favorite programs. Sounds like he might’ve changed it, but...nope, still chiptunes. Maybe another Mettaton show? Movie?

“What’s this called?”

“OH, THIS IS METTATON’S TWO-PART HAWAII SPECIAL. THE WINDSURFING IS ALL GREEN SCREEN, OF COURSE, BUT-”

“No, I meant, uh-” you wiggle a little, pat his gloved hand where it rests on your arm. You’re basically sideways in his lap somehow with one of his arms under your knees, but also kind of leaned on his chest, and you’re not entirely sure how it could possibly be comfortable but it is anyways. Like a hard hammock. “-this. What’s this called?”

He looks down at you at that.

“NYEH?”

You sigh in frustration, blink slowly. “Like, if your brother ever did actually ask, what would he be asking for?”

Papyrus smiles down at you in gentle understanding, eye sockets flattening at the bottom. “AH, I SEE THE HUMAN DRUGS HAVE KICKED IN QUITE EFFECTIVELY, SINCE YOU’RE SPEAKING NONSENSE! GLAD TO SEE THEY ARE WORKING.” He looks back up at the TV, appearing quite ready to be entertained.

Oops. “If I wanted to do this, or...ask you...what would I say? What’s it called?”

He looks a little nonplussed. “UM...HEALING, MAYBE?” He looks down at you again. “LET’S GO WITH THAT.”

“Why do you want to help me so much?” you ask quietly, sincerely.

“OH, THAT’S BECAUSE I’M THE MOM FRIEND,” he tosses off like it’s not the funniest thing you’ve ever heard in your fucking life. And of course, you go straight to crying with laughter because yeah.

“Wh-what?” you choke, relieved the pills have taken care of the lingering esophageal discomfort they’d caused in the first place. At least it balances out, you consider as you wipe ineffectively at your tears. “The mom friend??”

“EXACTLY,” he says, almost absently. He seems like he’s having fun. That’s nice. “FRISK GAVE ME THE QUIZ ONLINE, IT’S ALL VERY OFFICIAL. THE MOM FRIEND IS THE ONE THAT MAKES SURE EVERYONE GETS ALONG, YELLS AT YOU UNTIL YOU DO THE RIGHT THING, TAKES CARE OF THEIR FRIENDS WHEN THEY NEED IT, AND CLEANS UP THE MESSES EVERYONE MAKES BECAUSE THEY LOVE THEM SO MUCH. OF COURSE, IT’S REALLY CALLED BEING ‘THE PAPYRUS FRIEND’, BUT I THINK BEING LIKE A MOM IS FINE, TOO.”

That almost saddens you a little.

“You’re a real a-awesome dude, Papyrus,” you hiccup softly.

“I AM A VERY COOL DUDE, YES,” he replies soberly.

You blink up at him. “Are you a dude?”

“I AM A SKELETON,” he says in a tone that sounds like he’s agreeing with you. “ARE YOU ALSO A DUDE?”

You think about that for a hot morphine minute.

“Sometimes?” Then you frown. “Was visiting my sister, someone called me “sir”. I don’t like that. But you n me, we’re just...dudes being dudes, you know?”

“YOU’RE LIKE FRISK,” he says at the television.

“huh?”

“A HUMAN,” he replies obliquely.

You sigh.

“Sorry if that’s weird… sorry if I’m weird. Guess I’m a little bit of a weirdo?”

He looks down at you, and suddenly his eye sockets seem impossibly dark, like they go on forever. As if the space inside his skull doesn’t exist in the same dimension you do, and maybe even as he does. It’s unsettling, to say the least, and you shiver slightly.

The, just as suddenly, he’s back.

“You’re no weirdo!” he scoffs. “You’d never hurt a fly! Well, flies, maybe, but nothing sapient. HP could be higher, though. Well, that’s for tomorrow.” His eyes catch on your bookshelf. “Besides, you obviously like puzzles,” he says inexplicably.

“...board games...” you try. Tomorrow? Huh?

“Exactly!” He smiles, satisfied. Alrighty then. Wait, is he talking...different? What?

Oh, hey. Here comes nap time like a freight train. Choo choo! Nice.

***

Hmmm. You stir just at the edge of awareness, trying to figure out why you feel so...contained. You blink your eyes open at last, but your field of vision is filled by an enormous skull.

“GOOD MORNING, HUMAN!” it crows at you.

You squawk, and attempt to jump to your feet. Incredibly, it works, and a mixture of empty and filled cellophane wrappers rain down as you backpedal away from Papyrus.

“IT WORKED! YOU MUST BE DELIGHTED.”

“uhhh...” you state eloquently. Then you sort of just...bend your knees. You look back up at Papyrus.

“Holy shit. I feel fantastic.”

“NYEH HEH HEH. YOU’RE WELCOME. NOW, GET DRESSED, I TOLD ALPHYS WE’LL BE THERE IN AN HOUR.”

“Uh...what? Papyrus, I haven’t even had any coffee yet, and I don’t know, uh, what you mean?”

His face falls, but he picks it right back up a second later.

“YOU HAVEN’T READ MY NOTE. I SEE. I ALSO FORGIVE YOU. WE’LL STILL MAKE IT ON TIME IF YOU GET READY NOW. IT’S ONLY SLIGHTLY OUT OF TOWN, AND WE CAN GET SOMETHING FOR YOU ON THE WAY.”

“But...” you drift helplessly. “Where are we going?”

“TO MAKE THE ART,” he says, putting his hands on his hips. “I TOLD YOU I’D MAKE IT UP TO YOU!”

Oh, right. The thing where he destroyed some clothes of yours you don’t even remember. Well, you seriously do feel fantastic. Full of energy, somehow, and your body barely...wait, it doesn’t hurt. It actually doesn’t hurt at all.

You spend several seconds gaping at Papyrus, who’s just sort of...holding his pose, then you turn around, grab a few bits of trash off the floor, and go upstairs to brush your teeth and get dressed.

You check the weather on your phone, and it looks like it’s finally starting to warm up a little. You try again not to think about the month you lost, especially since you’re already somehow having a fantastic day. Which is baffling, considering how absolutely godawful yesterday had been. You can’t think of the last time you’ve recovered from something like that so quickly. You’re ready to go along with whatever Papyrus has in store solely for what the cuddle healing had given you, but you also are really looking forward to seeing how he makes that paint, or bones, or whatever it is he does to make those incredible artworks. You blink, remembering Sans had said something about him actually giving you one of them…? Wow, you think as you pull on a long green smock and jeans, and an equally long cardigan over it just in case it’s breezy. Okay, yeah. You’re really excited.

When you get downstairs, you see you weren’t the only one who’s had a costume change.

Papyrus is now wearing much longer denim shorts, cuffed, and a long white t-shirt topped with the dashing red scarf you remember from before. His gloves are the red ones you remember, but he seems to have added a clear red plastic visor on some kind of rainbow sweatband. And canvas sneakers. Huh.

“Snazzy,” you remark approvingly.

“I CAN HARDLY EXERT MYSELF IN EVENING-WEAR.” He preens a bit, then gets down to business. “DO YOU HAVE PLENTY OF WATER IN THAT?”

You look down at your bag, then pull on your boots in case it’s muddy. You’ll tie them in the car.

“Yes?”

“OKAY, THEN LET’S GET REACQUAINTED WITH MY CAR!”

You both stroll out into the weak spring sunshine.

After a quick stop off for two large lattes that you insist on paying for, the drive takes you all the way out to the outskirts of Ebott, and you notice a few large uncultivated areas as you soar past at five miles under the speed limit. You’re a little quiet, almost like you’re worried if you talk to much or move too suddenly, the odd bubble of good health you’re floating in will burst, and you’ll be collapsing just like you did last night all over again.

It’s been maybe half an hour, during which you’re glad you wore the cardigan but also enjoy the wind blowing around, when Papyrus finally makes the left turn he’s been signaling for 30 seconds and you go down a little lane into one of the fields. You smell water, and realize the direction you’d taken out of the city proper is the one that’s closer to the ocean than the mountain that gives the town its name.

There’s no sign or anything, but what you pull up to is a gravel driveway with a barn across the way. Even further than that is a house that’s partially visible through a copse of trees. Looks kinda big.

“Whose barn is this?” you ask your skeletal companion hesitantly.

“I SUPPOSE IT BELONGS TO ALPHYS?” He’s fiddling with something in the back seat as you open the car door on your side, shoulder your bag, then shut it behind you. You notice belatedly that he hasn’t touched his latte, and you flush a little. It’s human food, after all. Maybe skeletons can’t have that, no matter how cool and fashionable they are. Well, you won’t mention it, either way. He still looked good holding it earlier, and he looks good answering your question.

“WE ALL USE IT FOR THIS AND THAT. MUCH LIKE A SHED THAT WAY. A COOL SHED. NYEH HEH HEH,” he giggles absently. Wait a second. Did he say Alphys?

“Is that like, a common name? For monsters?”

His head comes up, and then his red-gloved hand with a heavy-looking canvas sack follows.

“...NYEH? I DON’T KNOW ANYONE NAMED COOLSHED.”

“Never mind,” you say, catching sight of two small figures near the barn. Well, one is small, the other one looks very tall. And...shiny? And suspiciously familiar?

“Papyrus,” you say faintly. “Is that...”

“METTATON!” He hollers at the top of his lungs, waving madly. “WELCOME TO THE FRIEND ZONE!”

Um. Okay, so apparently Papyrus knows Mettaton. Gotcha. Well, this is going to be interesting for yet another reason.

You make you way over and as you walk up, you notice the shorter monster has a tendency to efface herself behind the shining, silver form of Mettaton, currently in his android form. It’s very striking, you must admit.

“Hello, darling,” Mettaton begins. You’re relived to see that just like on TV, his lips move much the same as a human’s do, at least when he has the humanoid face. With the box form, you’d have no clue; although his voice still sounds like chiptunes it’s easy enough to lipread. Although he waers clothes all the time on TV, from what you're seen, he's not really wearing any today. The black, silver and pink bits all just seem to be part of his body... are the boots, too? Maybe that's just his legs. Plenty of monsters don't bother to wear clothes as an everyday thing, you've noticed. Mettaton is giving you a sparkling photo-ready grin. “Who’ve you brought to meet us today?”

Papyrus introduces you enthusiastically, and keeps on going which is kind of a relief. You hadn’t exactly anticipated meeting a star today, although considering Papyrus’s general mannerisms and demeanor, it’s kind of amazing to watch the two of them go.

The other monster- Alphys, apparently -is also introduced, and you wonder if she knows she has the same name as a famous scientist. One you in fact know a fair amount about from your work, mostly having to do with the restriction of information sharing she’d penned herself, in accordance with... the King and Queen of the monsters. Under the ‘supervision’ of... um...wait a second. Papyrus is obviously a member of Frisk’s family, and from what you know of the rest of it, so is Undyne and...oh. Oh man. This IS Dr. Alphys.

You realize you’ve stopped trying to listen to whatever the robot and skeleton have been animatedly discussing as they stroll off into the barn for something, but then Papyrus calls back over his shoulder as he smoothly dodges the hand that Mettaton looked to be about to clap him on the shoulder with. It looks accidental.

“HUMAN! MAKE SURE AND DO WHATEVER STRETCHES NECESSARY TO PREPARE FOR THE ENCOUNTER! I DON’T WANT YOU INJURING YOURSELF! STRETCHING IS KEY!”

You’re gaping after him wondering what the hell he means by THAT, when you realize it’s just you and Alphys standing there awkwardly under a tree. You look over at her and she ducks her head, already sweating. Geez. She's wearing a really cute sweater, looks like an interlocking pattern of green and pink...fish? Otherwise she's just got on jeans and sneakers. She’s not what you imagined, but it has to be her. Still…

“So, um, you’re Dr. Alphys, right? Royal Scientist?”

“Um, y-yes? Yes, I’m-I-I’m Alphys,” you’re pretty sure she says, her voice low and feminine, marked with a profound stutter. It doesn’t actually impede her stiff, scaled lips as that much, but it’s still a little hard for you to see exactly what she’s saying.

“Do you happen to know ASL?” you ask hopefully, signing along. She brightens at that, much to your relief.

“Oh, sure,” she gestures easily, her mobile fingers tipped with sharp-looking claws. “I knew it already, even before Frisk...well. Did you have a question for me?”

She doesn’t speak while she signs, but she’s fairly expressive, and actually seems more comfortable this way. Interesting for a hearing monster.

“I’m wondering,” you gesture a little hesitantly, “what Papyrus meant by ‘encounter’? I thought he was going to show me how he makes his paintings.”

“Oh,” she says, brightening again. “Yes, that’s how he designs them. He said he’s making one for you? You must be looking forward to it! The one he gave Undyne and I for-” she cuts off, possibly seeing the blank incomprehension on your face.

She grins a little, upper teeth sticking out charmingly. She’s rather good-looking. “You’ve never been in an encounter?”

“No,” you say both verbally and in sign. You really don’t want to be misunderstood. “I have health problems. I um,” you hesitate, but it’s important. “I’m having a good day, but I’m not sure this is something I should risk. Isn’t it dangerous?”

You’re relieved to see her grin soften, and she seems to taking your concerns seriously.

“I might have cautioned you, not that you have to, you know, explain yourself to me,” she gestures reassuringly, “if it was anyone but Papyrus. You could be on the verge of falling down and I’d still tell you to go for it,” she gestures absently, gazing into the depths of the barn where Papyrus and Mettaton appear to be fiddling with something in a bin. She’s got a weirdly intent look on her face.

“Um-” you start, then cut off when you remember she can hear you. “I don’t know, he seems very...large. Isn’t an encounter like, a fight? What if he just hits me by accident?”

“Papyrus doesn’t make mistakes,” she explains distractedly. “I’ve never seen the kind of magic control he’s got, and I’ve been around a while.” She’s practically leering, now, and it’s honestly weird to see that kind of expression on her. She seems unexpectedly mercurial for a monster of science. You peer into the barn’s depths, a little easier now that a cloud is covering the still-thin sunlight for a moment or two. Papyrus seems to find exactly what he’s looking for at just the right moment to avoid what appears to be a brush from Mettaton’s shiny pink shoulder. Huh. And it’s not like Mettaton is bothered by this; he just flips his hair with that hand in what seems to be a natural gesture.

“How long has that been going on, then?” you comment dryly. “They seem to have a lot of practice.”

Alphys’s face manages to pinken through the orange of her scales, and she indulges in a surprisingly guttural giggle. “We used to have a pool on whether or not Papyrus (1)” and she actually is forming the numbers for the points, um, wow okay, “is sincerely unaware, (2) isn’t interested and pretending to be unaware, (3)is completely aware but just likes winding Metta up, or (4) is interested and just making an artform out of playing hard to get... but it got abandoned after no one would take the first two anymore and we just divvied it back up.” She snickers, then sobers a little wistfully. “Well, actually more like we all know that we’d never find out anyways. If Papyrus doesn’t want to tell you something, he just plain won’t. Of course when Sans-” She finally tears her eyes away from the two in the barn and looks at you like she had an idea.

“You’ve met his brother?”

You gesture affirmative.

“He made one of his artworks with Sans once,” she muses. “It’s amazing. I think it might even be better than the one we have, even if it’s smaller... but as far as I know, Papyrus kept it himself.” she looks back towards the barn. “Can you imagine him doing anything that could ever hurt his brother, even on accident? If that was even a possibility?”

You look at her pensively, nod in acknowledgement, and take a deep breath. You’re not sure what the import of some of what Papyrus had told you the night before is, but apparently Sans and you might have some stuff in common. You might be a little slow on the uptake, but you’re not a fucking tree stump. He’s barely half his brother’s size, although with monsters that doesn’t always matter. But you are sure neither brother would ever harm the other, and if Sans is… vulnerable, somehow? Yeah, what Alphys has told you actually does make you feel more confident about whatever this is going to be.

It’s good timing, considering Papyrus is striding out of the barn towards you, Mettaton with a boxy, old-looking camera and some other more esoteric equipment in tow. The silvery robot in no way comes off as an assistant of any kind. They both manage to be equally self-absorbed, which is impressive in that it’s not as offputting as you’d think it would be.

“Oh-o-oh, l-looks like they’re r-ready!” Alphys stutters, shuffling hesitantly towards them. Her hands fold back almost against her forearms, which in turn fold into her chest as she smiles at them, blinking. This family is an incredibly eccentric group, even for monsters. They’re really...something.

You and Papyrus meet on the lawn between the trees and the barn, and Alphys and Mettaton stand back, thought they seem to be conversing casually as they look on. Papyrus seems relaxed and genial, grinning at you in the sunshine, which has returned in the meantime.

“So, um, will they actually be able to see what we’re doing once this...starts?” you ask, glancing back and forth between them all.

“NOT REALLY,” Papyrus says as he gestures to a spot about ten feet in front of him for you to stand. “DID YOU STRETCH AS PER MY INSTRUCTIONS?”

“Oh,” you say a little shamefaced. “No, I-I was talking with Alphys. We got...talking.”

Papyrus narrows his sockets and shoots a sidelong glance over at her.

“I’M SURE SHE DID,” he says a little nasally, which is impressive for someone without any sort of nose whatsoever. Then his face clears completely, and the jovial and downright innocent grin you’re rapidly beginning to suspect is his default facial expression returns.

“WELL, YOU’RE IN LUCK! THE DESIGN I HAVE IN MIND WILL NOT REQUIRE ANY EXERTION WHATSOEVER ON YOUR PART! IN FACT!”

Papyrus waves his hand somehow, and everything outside of the area you’re both standing in disappears. You squawk in surprise and instinctively duck. Everything inside the space is...washed out, somehow. Even the colors of Papyrus’s clothes are gone, and he looks like a...well, not a ghost. He still looks very much like a skeleton.

“DON’T WORRY, HUMAN! THIS ISN’T DANGEROUS AT ALL. IT’S YOUR TURN, SO ALL I CAN DO IS TALK RIGHT NOW ANYWAYS!”

“Can I talk too?” you ask hesitantly.

“YOU ALREADY ARE! ISN’T THAT FANTASTIC?” he hollers.

“Yeah,” you whisper, looking around in wonder. “So, um, what do we do?”

“PICK A SPOT AND SIT DOWN, IF THAT WILL BE COMFORTABLE,” he says confidently. “YOU SHOULD STAY STILL, SO MAKE SURE TO PICK A GOOD SEAT.”

“Oh, should I-” you cut off as you look down and notice a glowing blue shape in your chest, which seems to have become somehow...transparent. “Uhhhhh,” you say faintly. “Is that supposed to happen?” your voice sounds higher than its usual neutral tenor.

“YES, EVERYTHING IS FINE.” His bright grin is encouraging and calming.

“Okay,” you say, trying to make yourself sound a little more normal. You look around for a soft-looking spot, then slowly lower and settle yourself.

“NOW, IT’S MY TURN. STAY STILL, AND LET ME KNOW IF YOU NEED TO MOVE AT ANY POINT. I’M GOING TO MAKE YOU BLUE NOW, EVEN THOUGH YOU ALREADY...EH. MAKE SURE AND DON’T MOVE, OKAY?”

“Um, okay,” you call weakly.

The next thing you know, you’re squeezing your eyes shut when a blue wave of something whooshes past-no, it actually goes right through you. The air hums wildly with magic. You feel heavy, somehow, but not tired or sleepy. In fact...you just sort of find yourself slipping backwards gently until you’re actually lying down on the grass. Before you have a chance to say anything about it, Papyrus speaks.

“OKAY, IT’S YOUR TURN! YOU CAN MOVE NOW IF YOU NEED TO. OR EVEN IF YOU’D LIKE TO, BUT DON’T TRY AND MIMIC MY CALISTHENICS! THEY ARE NOT FOR BEGINNERS!”

You straighten out your legs a little, but otherwise this really does seem to be fine. You’re still not in any pain, and even if this is completely unfamiliar experience, it doesn’t seem to be anything like the dangerous confrontation you had worried it might be. You’re literally just laying here, feeling a veritable tsunami of magic roaring around you. It’s intoxicating.

He’s like some kind of monster art jock, you think wonderingly.

“I’m good!” you call out, and the blue flashes past you again, this time in some other pattern.

They’re bones, you realize finally, just like the ones Sans had showed you, but they’re blue. Hundreds of them. Thousands? Holy shit, he is really not messing around. Your hair’s practically crackling with it, and you have to hold your breath to keep from laughing giddily. You can’t see what (if anything) Papyrus is doing physically from this position, but when you look up, a massive spiral of glowing blue lines is converging on you from above. You try not to squeeze your eyes shut but sadly, you fail as they whoosh right through your face.

“HMM,” Papyrus says calmly, sounding almost quiet after the intensity of the magic attacks he’d been throwing around. “IF IT’S NOT TOO MUCH, DO YOU THINK YOU MIGHT BE ABLE TO STAND UP? AND POSSIBLY...STEP OVER SOMETHING? IT WILL STILL BE FINE IF YOU CAN’T, I HAVE SOME LEFT OVER,” he adds almost pensively. “BUT I LIKE TO KEEP THEM ON THEME.”

You have no idea what he could possibly mean by that last part, but you’re feeling kind of invigorated and you sit up fairly easily, despite the heaviness in your chest. Then you stand, and notice you’re just kind of...embedded in the middle of a forest of bones stuck in the ground. Whoa. That’s really...whoa. Some of them are taller than you.

“I...think I can do it!” You call back, and you’re fucking pumped. “Yeah! Let me have it!”

Papyrus is standing across from you, grinning back proudly.

“IT WILL BE SLOW,” he informs you archly, “SO TAKE YOUR TIME, AND HAVE FUN!”

He gestures, and you notice a few white bones, no more than ten inches high, moving across the ground toward you from the left. Your knees are still feeling pretty flexible, and you carefully step over each one as they come. They trail off somewhere into the design around you, and you see that Papyrus is watching something carefully that you can’t see.

“OKAY!” he calls back after a minute. “I’M SPARING YOU!”

“Huh?” you say, confused.

“I SPARE YOU! NOW YOU SAY IT BACK!”

“Oh,” you reply gamely. “Um, I spare you!”

The darkness around you vanishes abruptly, and you feel light again. And it is light, you realize, wincing a little. Well, your eyes will adjust soon enough.

All the bones are still there, though.

“Hey, Papyrus? How do I, uh, get out?”

“YOU DON’T YET,” he says a little distractedly, and that’s when you see him duck down. When he comes back into your view, Mettaton’s on his shoulders like they’re about to play chicken. You can’t stop the laughter burbling up this time, or the second time as Mettaton’s ridiculous, tubelike arms shoot upwards, holding a camera.

“Smile, beautiful!” he calls vivaciously, and graces you with one of his own. It’s easy to return it, because you already are.

After several more shots as they circle the former arena, they finish up and grab what look to be canvas laundry bags. They’re gathering up the bones, you realize as they clear a path to you. Alphys has a bag too, and smiles gently to herself as she pulls a stubborn orange bone out of the ground.

“Oh!” you say, surprised. “I didn’t see any orange ones?”

“THAT WAS WHEN YOU KEPT SQUEEZING YOUR EYES SHUT,” Papyrus replies almost absently.

“Oh,” you say, a little deflated. “I’m sorry, I-”

He looks up at that, giving you his best enthusiastic grin. “YOU’RE A NATURAL! THE GREAT PAPYRUS WILL BE PUSHED TO NEW HEIGHTS WITH THESE VARIATIONS!”

For some reason, you believe him.

He walks over after a few more minutes and holds out a small cloth bag. You wonder if it’s dice or something, but it clinks in your hand.

“THIS IS FOR YOU,” he grins.

“Wait a second, is this money?” You say, perturbed.

“YES?”

“Um...I don’t need any money, Papyrus,” you say quietly, but you think of what Sans had talked about before.

“IT’S FOR NEW CLOTHES,” he elaborates.

“Wait, is this-” you pull the bag open. “This is G!”

“YES?”

It’s a fair amount of monster money, and your heart clenches with anticipation. Wow. It’s really rare for a human to get something like this, and the same limits don’t apply when you go shopping downtown with this kind of currency. You can get as much as you want with this! You could even-

“Papyrus. It’s too much. Everything you’ve already done-”

“DON’T YOU THINK YOU DESERVE SOMETHING NICE?” he says almost sadly. “I CAN’T FORCE YOU TO TAKE IT, BUT I THOUGHT YOU COULD REPLACE THE CLOTHES TRAGICALLY LOST TO MY BROTHER’S MISINFORMATION.”

“Wait, Sans tried to clean my clothes?”

“SANS TOLD ME FIRE MAGIC WOULD WORK ON THEM,” he somehow manages to pout without having lips. “BUT IT ONLY MADE THE SMELL WORSE, WHICH SHOULD HAVE BEEN IMPOSSIBLE... AND ALSO OBLITERATED WHAT I HAD MANAGED TO SALVAGE SO FAR.”

“Well, I gotta tell you, Papyrus. I’m not anywhere near as fashionable as you are, and I don’t think I ever will be. Maybe it’s for the best.” You grin up at him. “You put those threads out of their misery.”

He gets pink, and actually giggles a little. You hold the little bag to your chest and feel a warm glow at having told something resembling a joke that he was willing to laugh at.

“Thank you. I’ll get something nice.”

“OF COURSE. LET ME KNOW IF YOU NEED HELP CHOOSING SOMETHING. THOUGH, IT LOOKS YOU LIKE YOU HAVE FRISK’S TASTE. I’D HAVE TO ASK THEM FOR ADVICE,” he turns, distracted and for a second you wonder if that was meant as an insult..? But actually, even though it seems like this family banters a great deal, they don’t appear to be insulting each other the vast majority of the time. Almost everything Papyrus says can be taken a lot of different ways, after all, when they aren’t complete non sequiturs. Or...maybe he always says exactly what he means, and everyone else is just projecting their own interpretations on...uh….

Papyrus finally stops fiddling with the boxy camera and glances up at you suspiciously. Then his brow clears again.

“THINKING TOO HARD WILL GIVE YOU A HEADACHE, YOU KNOW. BESIDES, IT’S TIME TO MIX THE PAINT!”

You all head toward the barn, and it’s interesting to see inside. Weirdly enough, a lot of it seems taken up by machinery, although some of it is covered in large tarps. There’s even a stove that looks like it’s seen better days, but as you walk past, you notice it smells like what you remember of a soapmaking class you took as an elective a long, long time ago.

“You’re a crafty dude, Papyrus,” you comment casually, and although the skeleton smiles a bit, Mettaton laughs a little more loudly than is appropriate. Alphys titters into her claws and darts glances. Yeesh.

The bones, which have apparently now been sorted by color, are fed into one of the tarp-covered machines by Papyrus and Mettaton while Alphys fiddles with a panel. You wander over to her very casually, but for some reason she starts sweating a little.

“So, how does this work?” you ask lightly.

“O-oh, w-well, um...this basically turns the magic attacks into colors that c-c-c-can b-b-be used t-t-to...paint? With?” She says, looking up at you like you’re going to somehow find a problem with that. You sigh regretfully, wishing you knew what on earth is setting her off.

“You don’t have to tell me exactly what’s going on, especially if it’s-” you cut off, thinking suddenly. Could this have to do with information that’s restricted by the monsters? Huh. You hadn’t considered the possibility, but Alphys’s nervousness makes you wonder. And you remember the sequences, like hexadecimal color codes, but longer and more complicated.

“So, I’m not a monster,” you state easily. “If this is like, a, I don’t know. Collaborative process? Will it still work, since I’m human and don’t have magic?”

“O-o-of course,” She answers absently, poking at some kind of touch screen with the tip of a claw. “Frisk’s is in their r-r-room, I think. Although t-there’s m-m-more than one. Not sure who h-h-has them. M-maybe Toriel?”

“Huh,” you say pensively. “So, do the colors change depending? Like, blue or green for some people, and-what color are the ones with Frisk?”

“Purplish, mostly” Alphys replies, frowning at what she’s doing. It seems like the kind of process that needs a lot of babysitting. Or is she really that uncomfortable talking to someone she doesn’t know very well? You don’t know her well enough to get an idea. “It’s s-s-s-so dark,” she mumbles to herself. “Well, h-he can m-m-mix them himself, h-he a-a-always finds the… hmm.”

“Huh,” you say aloud, lost in thought yourself. “Does the color have to do with souls, then?”

Alphys literally flinches, and you look at her in alarm. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to-”

She’s sweating again, but rather than seeming nervous, she actually just looks incredibly...sad? That’s not what you would have expected, even given your faux pas. “Sorry, I work at Ebott University,” you try and reassure her. “I know better than to ask you about that. I was really only thinking out loud.”

She smiles, managing to somehow look even sadder because of it. “That’s w-where the Soul Studies c-c-classes are, right?” You nod. “Th-th-that’s what I th-thought. S-s-sorry.” She looks up at where Papyrus and Mettaton look like they’re finishing up, and glances back at you. “I have to g-get back to the h-house. Let them know e-everything’s p-p-pretty much the same as usual, okay? They’ll fill up w-w-when they’re d-done.”

And with that, she just shuffles away.

“Nice to meet you,” you think she says, but she doesn’t turn around so you’re not sure.

Yeesh. You’re not sure how, but you feel like you really biffed it.

Papyrus climbs back down to where you’re standing, but doesn’t mention Alphys’s unannounced departure. You watch Mettaton and Papyrus have what seems like almost a normal conversation. You don’t actually understand most of it, on account of the machine is actually making some kind of noise now and your lipreading can’t carry you through robot or skeleton mouths as well as you’d hoped. Eventually, they reach under the tarp and remove several canisters of heavily pigmented fluid. Three are a very dark blue you thought was black at first, one is orange, and another is white.

As he’s driving you back home, you turn to Papyrus and wonder how to express the many conflicting feelings you’ve come away with. The last 12 hours have packed three times as much activity in than you’re used to, and although some of your aches are returning you’re still surprisingly okay. You won’t have another appointment with Vulkin until the day after you’d planned to originally return home, but you think you’ll be okay until then. He’d really helped you, and not only that, he’d made good on promises you hadn’t even known he’d made in the first place. Maybe he’d helped you the way he had so he could make good on those promises? You’re not sure.

Or maybe it really is just that he’d said you were friends. Sheesh. Has it really been so long since you’ve just...made friends? Like you don’t know how to fucking act anymore?

“Papyrus?”

“YES?” The shades are back on his face, but he took the clear visor off at some point.

“Are we...alike, somehow? Some way I don’t know about?”

Aww. He’s doing the teeth-parted look again. You sigh, and just drink your water quietly for ten minutes or so. He actually can be quiet too, you’re realizing, but you hope you didn’t bum him out. Or is it one of those question you seem to keep asking that no one’s technically allowed to answer, or they’re just more personal than you realize, or… Maybe you should just take your friend’s advice and stop thinking so hard you get a headache.

“YES,” he says, and you jump for a second, thinking he’s reading your thoughts and agreeing with his advice or something.

Then you realize he just answered the last question you’d asked him.

“Thanks, friend,” you say, and make a conscious decision to be more circumspect in the future.

His gloved hand pats yours approvingly as Ebott’s few tall buildings become visible over the highway’s horizon.

 

 

Chapter Text

When you finally go back to work, there are no less than three requests for you to sit in or give guest lectures over the next week in your inbox. Huh. Well, you guess even if it’s been a while, it’s still nice to know you’re wanted. The first two are no surprise, since they’re asking for lectures in MAHI, or Monster and Human Interaction which is basically built off monster history and human social sciences. That’s your wheelhouse, or as close to it as you get. Being a jack of all trades is a necessity in your position, but it also it gives you a sense of satisfaction to be able to use those trades individually from time to time.

However, the third message makes you both excited and nervous, because it’s requesting you as a translator for Frisk Dreamurr’s first sit in at Soul Studies. You’re really glad they decided to take the plunge, even if it looks more like they’re consulting than attending. In fact, the arrangement is very like when one of the monsters decides to come and answer questions. You assume Frisk must have some kind of expertise, at least relative to the department here, so maybe they’re using this format to sort of scope the whole thing out. Hopefully with less unexpected violence and potential destruction this time around.

***

You: I guess Frisk decided to come give Soul Studies another shot? I’m scheduled as a translator Friday

sans: yeah. just told me earlier. gotta be honest I never know what that kids gonna do

sans: but I guess you already knew that huh

You: Are you worried they’re going to spill all the soul beans? :P

You: But yeah it seems like most parents feel that way once their kids get a certain age

sans: huh. never thought of myself that way

You: ?

sans: as a parent

 ***

You’ve got the morning today to get situated, which you don’t technically need for organizational purposes (you can check almost anything to do with paperwork and schedule at home) but you’re grateful to have it clear just to get mentally reacclimatized. Instead of doing that, you find yourself mulling over recent events and tonguing at the mysteries that seem to be lurking around the monsters like a loose tooth.

Maybe the restriction on knowledge really did come from higher up, despite what Frisk had said when you met them. Or at least, that was the impression you’d come away with? Seems there’s a lot more going on there than you’d thought.

And then of course there are the skeleton brothers, who each in their own way seem to have taken your magical or soul health as their personal responsibility. You’d picked up a sense of guilt from both of them, and you’d gotten the impression at first that it’s some kind of cultural obligation since their relative has some pretty unprecedented abilities and you’d gotten some sort of injury from the blowback.

Now that you’ve had a few days to ruminate on your experiences, you’re realizing that every monster you’ve met has either overtly or subtly expressed deep disappointment and regret over human ignorance regarding souls in particular, and magic in general. Even Alphys, who you had believed responsible for recommending the sanctions in the first place. She seemed disappointed over not being able to answer your questions about whatever machine in her barn had been making Papyrus’s paint. Not unsettled or angry.

The one thing they all seem to have in common is that it seems like they’re not able to really tell you what’s wrong with you, while at the same time doing everything they can to fix it.

Or maybe it’s just been so long since you’ve made friends, you don’t know how anymore. Your suspicion could just be decades of defensiveness. The last appointment you’d had with Vulkin had been uncomfortably insightful...well, the part after she’d hugged you and departed had been. The second time looking at and touching your soul had been just as profound as the first, and the bag of hot dogs you’d found hanging on the doorknob -on the inside of your door this time- had been just as refreshing. You’d found yourself missing Sans’s company, even as you sent him a slightly clipped text about boundaries and respecting them. Seems like Sans and Frisk have some stuff in common when it comes to undisclosed abilities, but it’s not like magic or secrets are too much of a further shock to you at this point. Instead of acknowledging it, he’d just sent a reply back about monster food never spoiling. You’re not sure whether to believe that or not, but the dogs had been fine. Good, in fact. Just maybe a little lonely.

You blink, realizing it’s actually almost time for your first appointment. It’s a Loox, recently moved from UnderEbott to topside, and looking for a certification in home healing. Huh. It’s probably the most popular certification for monsters at the University, and now you’re thinking about that in a different context. It’s what Vulkin does, after all. Hmm. Is this some sort of culture-wide guilt-driven phenomenon? You’ve never heard of a monster asking for compensation for their services, either, and now that you know about the soul thing….taking them out…

Your face heats a little, and you try to stop thinking about it like that. After all, now that you’ve seen and touched for yourself, it’s not like it’s a sexual thing...necessarily...just very, very private.

You’d assumed that only monsters with the magical aptitude for healing took the healing courses, which are monster-led and mostly function as their own separate college, in some ways. But after your experience with Papyrus, you wonder if maybe all monsters can do that...resonance...thing. To some degree, anyhow. Is Papyrus just really good at it, or is it just that he’d spent eight hours doing the healing? You don’t know, but you’re definitely grateful.

The Loox arrives, and you do the usual forms with it, noting it’s moved in to the tall apartment building downtown that you know houses a great many Loox, Froggits, and Whimsuns. At the end of the appointment Chell, the Moldbygg from the bursar’s, stops by and wiggles suggestively while extruding a few financial waivers for rent and utilities, then heads back to their calculator-infested lair. You give these to the Loox and it hops up and thanks you before leaving.

Diane peeks her head in to your office a few minutes later.

“How’d it go?”

She knows better than to ask you about your health, which you appreciate.

“Fine, it just wanted the home health cert stuff. I’ve got time to grab some lunch before the lecture later, you want me to grab you something?”

And just like that, you’re back in the rhythm.

***

sans: guess it makes sense now i think about it. talked to tori she gave me one of her looks

sans: maybe it shoulda been apparent to me?

You: Oh my god

You: Why are you like this

sans: hey u need more apostrophe dogs

You: Always

You: …

You: Want to come eat them with me again? It’s Shark Week.

***

“Okay, but why isn’t there like, racism against monsters? They’re a minority, right?”

Someone always asks this question, so you’re prepared as you give your second guest lecture a few days later.

“Basically because they’re too different,” you answer, gesturing along here and there out of habit. Most of the hearing people in the classes you come to just assume you’re a really animated speaker.

“Racism didn’t just come out of nowhere, after all. It’s not naturally occurring; there were very specific motivations for the invention of ‘race’ as a concept, and structures have been built to hold it in place.”

You glance at the professor for this course, James. He nods; they’ve been acquainted with these ideas already, so you don’t have to go too in depth on it. No need for too much background. Just stick to the monster stuff.

“The reintroduction of monsters to humanity functioned a lot more like, if aliens had come to earth bearing gifts of technology and medicine. Something like racism needs both time and ironically, familiarity to flourish; the monsters haven’t had either. In addition, we benefit too much from their presence to popularly justify organized attacks or even war on them. If that was going to happen, it would have needed to be as soon as they emerged, and they just spread everywhere too fast for that to work. And- what average people want matters more than it used to. Although it’s not unheard of for a few extremist groups to pop up here and there, the political trends over the past few decades have helped to pull the teeth of most domestic terrorism, since they can’t get their hands on the kind of firepower that used to be lying around everywhere.” Which just makes the attack on you, Frisk and Sans more of an anomaly nowadays, you consider as you continue.

“It also helps that monsters seem to be able to safely deescalate most individual conflicts with encounters. Because something about it forces communication of some kind, there’s rarely much violence involved. Magical or property damage, sometimes, sure. But monsters are extremely reluctant to fight, and are able to neutralize violent humans safely. We don’t have all the details, but...” you smile, and the class emits a soft sussuration of amusement. “Some authorities, even worldwide, aren’t happy about it, but it’s not like there’s much they can do. And in the end, they’re not hurting anyone, so.” The monsters keep their secrets well, but they’ve changed too many lives for the better to effectively be demonized. Speaking of which.

“There’s also the fact that to most humans, monsters are cute,” you say with a smile. “Like something out of an old-fashioned Pixar movie. It’s hard to drum up jingoistic war propaganda against a smiling, furry goat, even if he’s eight feet tall.”

The giggles are louder this time, considering how popular King Asgore is, but the same girl who’d asked the first question has her hand raised again. You point to her as everyone calms down, and she’s already opening her mouth.

“Okay, but like...why don’t interracial relationships happen? If they did, I bet we’d see more monster racism! Like if I brought some monster home to my family!” She looks smug. You manage to keep from grinding your teeth, but a sigh escapes you. There’s always one of these, too. This time it’s the same one; maybe you should have brought a bingo card.

“First of all, it’s not interracial, it’s interspecies. The vast majority of monsters and humans aren’t exactly compatible in those ways, but the fact is that they do happen.” Before she tries get the bit in her teeth again, you continue.

“What you might have missed is that almost none of the humans in relationships of that kind with monsters are young white women of childbearing age, who are the only people in our region that standard has ever been applied to in modernity. Just look at the history and wording of ‘anti-miscegenation’ laws in this country alone." Okay, now you're going to have to generalize more than you'd like, but whatever. 

"And the reason for that is the same thing James has been telling you about, the idea that control of white womens’ reproductive capacity, or their 'purity', is tantamount to defending the purity and purported superiority of ‘the white race’, something that has only existed as a concept for a relatively short amount of time.”

Oh, you’re the one getting the bit in your teeth now. Oops. Well, James looks somewhere been amused and relieved, so you keep at it. Besides, this shit annoys you.

“None of the rest of us have any purity in the first place to be somehow defiled by monsters, so why would that provoke any outrage? Colonized peoples, formerly enslaved peoples...well, these populations have been marrying each other for centuries in this nation, but you can look at that history too and see that few if any laws existed regulating mixed race offspring unless one of the races was white. Leading to one of the biggest points there. Monsters and humans are different species; they can’t produce offspring together. There’s nothing to defend against being supposedly defiled, there’s no argument to be made, at least at this point in our sociocultural context. And it’s not even like being gay-even that kind of prejudice exists because it is familiar, because it is common, and because it has been nurtured by society. Because,” and now you’re all the way in, “because people in power benefit from that prejudice.”

“Humans, even certain historically prioritized subsets of humans, don’t benefit from systematically discriminating against monsters,” you assert, gesturing with finality. “So, they don’t. Monsters are also incidentally saving the world from complete environmental havoc, almost singehandedly. Their suggestions for ocean restoration, powered by the Core, the Core itself providing clean energy and undermining corpo-oligarchical interests in preventing changeovers to existing clean energy, already eroded in the latter days of lobbyist domination of government. There might not have been a world left if they hadn’t returned when they did, and between the sanctions and their ability to protect their resources from outright human theft, even the most determined fanatics have trouble coming up with rational reasons to want to make war on them or drive them back underground.”

You glance at the clock. Seems like a good ending point, and you managed to make this in the time allotted. And you feel satisfied; you might not keep abreast of every little detail, but you sure as hell know your sociology. This is an introductory course anyhow, you don’t have to get too in depth so you have a lot of room to just speak passionately without too much advance prep, just how you like it.

James comes up to you as the students gather their materials and break into groups to chatter among themselves, or just head out for other appointments or class meetings.

“Gotta say, that was one of your better explanations of all that.”

You look around, the girl whose questions had gotten under your skin has already left. You feel a little bad, you hadn’t meant to be quite so obviously corrective with your responses. It’s not really her fault she has those ideas in her head, although she hadn’t seemed all that young. You make a note to be more patient in the future, especially once you’re recovered from your most recent life-shattering health crisis.

“Thanks. I think I was a little too, um...strident? Maybe? But...”

He smiles wryly. “Everything you said was on the nose, and exactly what I was hoping. Besides, I think Miss Kinney could do with a moment to consider perspectives outside her own.”

You nod thoughtfully, but still make a note to ameliorate some of your word choices, and add more context next time.

***

sans: heya

sans: hate to do this but something came up. left u the dogs tho

You: Hey, don’t worry about it. I get it.

sans: just a rain check

sans: work stuff. i’d much rather be eating dogs

sans: hell i’d rather be milking mettaton

***

 

Professor Bob seems in fine fettle, slipping briefly into the odd Temmie dialect in her enthusiasm.

“ToDAY!! am VERR special guest;; !!FRISK! Comign to tell about SOUL! We’re very excited to have you, Ambassador, so please begin whenever you’re ready.”

Frisk stands in front of the class, all ten of whom seem to be practically wriggling in their seats.

You’d met with Frisk briefly in the morning, and they’d seemed pretty mellow about the prospect of laying down some knowledge for the well-meaning if slightly haphazard group in Soul Studies. They didn’t seem bothered by returning to the scene where apparently some pretty awful stuff had(‘nt) happened either, although for you it’s still a sore area to think around. You’re still taking your time on that, and it bothers you less to consider how much stuff you apparently don’t remember than it did at first. Despite everything, you’re healing.

When you and Frisk had arrived in the classroom, you’d spent a little while talking with Professor Bob, who’d seemed almost overwhelmed by Frisk’s presence, and each member of the small class had introduced themselves individually as they’d arrived. Most of them had burbled enthusiastically at them, and even you had gotten the impression that even the most knowledgeable among them now knew considerably less than even you do, now. You sigh, figuring Frisk probably is going to come away from this realizing they might be better off studying on their own. Oh, well. You tried.

Calmly, they start to sign a bit formally, as if they’ve prepared and practiced an entire speech, and you pitch your voice to carry as you translate their words into spoken English as closely as you can.

“Souls are the essential selves of both humans and monsters. Although human souls can vary in color, all monster souls are white, and inverted. The reason for this is-”

Oh, for fuck’s sakes. Someone’s already interrupting. You walk forward a bit and turn around to see who’s speaking. One of the younger students, Adam, is speaking and you manage to catch the end.

“-inverted mean?”

Okay, you’re probably going to have to stand at the side and whip your head back and forth like a tennis match. You sigh, anticipating the neck and shoulder pain you’ll probably be feeling later. Frisk can read lips, though, so at least you only have to translate one way, theoretically.

Wait-had they said humans souls can be different colors? Does that mean-

Oh, crap. Frisk is answering and you hurry to catch up.

“You know the shape souls take when condensed or exposed?”

Adam is nodding, but with that look on his face, you’re pretty sure he doesn’t actually.

“Well, monsters souls go the other way.”

You see a few confused looks, and Frisk goes to the whiteboard and draws two figures: a heart with the point down, and another with the point up. Huh. You hadn’t know there was such a big difference between human and monsters souls.

“What do you mean by different colors?”

Oh, dear. Now you’re the one talking out of turn, but your curiosity is boiling now. You’d thought all souls must be dark blue like yours, especially since...huh? You don’t know what the end of that thought had been going to be.

Frisk’s dark eyes glitter, but they seem amused, not annoyed.

“Human souls have different colors, depending on which trait is dominant.”

What the fuck? That’s...weird.

Jenny’s chiming in now. Yeah, it’s a typical soul studies meeting, from what you’ve heard.

“So like, metaphysically speaking, the feeling you'd get from someone’s soul would mean like-”

Frisk cuts her off mildly.

“No, I mean, they’re... different colors.” Frisk draws a few more point-down heart shapes with the dry erase pen, then scribbles inept shading in the boundaries: green, blue, yellow.

“This one-” they indicate the green heart “-represents, or um, maybe embodies, kindness. It means that this person is motivated by desire to help and nurture others, although their behavior doesn’t...might not necessarily reflect what you expect?”

Frisk, you’re realizing, is not very good at explaining things to humans. And these humans are not very good at quietly listening to someone who is more or less their age, maybe even younger.

Curtis speaks next. Apparently this is just a round table, not a lecture.

“So,” he says slowly, deep voice lending gravity to his question, “when you’re kind to others, it gives you a kind of green feeling?”

“No,” Frisk replies, seeming to lose a little more of their patience. “It’s the other way around if anything, and also...no. Someone with a green soul, their motivations arise from the desire to be kind, but who are they being kind to? Will helping one person hurt someone else? It’s not like you get an instruction manual, it’s just how you’re...shaped, kind of...” they press their lips flat. “but it’s a color instead of a shape. Kindness doesn’t make you a better person than say, bravery.”

You’re translating with half your brain, because you really want to ask what dark blue means. But at the same time, you really don’t want to have a round table discussion about why you know the color of your soul, at least not here.

“So, that means no matter how much you try and be kind, you can’t be? That sounds like some kind of fucked up predestination thing,” Adam retorts, sounding unnecessarily hostile about it.

Frisk looks like they’re at a loss, until it looks like a realization hits them.

“Have none of you ever seen a soul?” they gesture incredulously. “How is that possible? I thought you did encounters here sometimes.”

“Just with Professor Bob,” Curtis answers. “Gerson won’t do it.” You look over at the professor, and she looks...oh, geez. Her brow is beaded with sweat, and she’s...vibrating? What’s going on?

Frisk stands there looking almost dumbfounded, which is interesting to see. You haven’t seen them this expressive since….oh, man. Since the attack in this building almost two months ago, now. Then, in another eerie reminder, Frisk’s eyes narrow and their lips press into a line. They look like they’ve made a decision of some kind, and you brace yourself. However, none of that prepares you for what happens next.

“Each of us has a soul, even though most humans never see it, haven’t for millennia. They’re there though, and that’s been proven although the details, and the people who know the details, are very much restricted.” Frisk’s face gets even harder as they continue, and you do your best to match your tone to what they’re saying.

“I don’t know what you’ve been doing here, but if none of you have any context whatsoever for what I’m saying...”

They take a deep breath and put their hand on their chest. Then they slowly draw it away, and everything goes dim, somehow.

A bright red heart shape floats in front of their chest, cradled protectively with their hand under it. Your mouth drops open, and you can’t look away from it. It’s riveting, it’s astounding, although you can’t say why for sure. There’s something hard about it, and it echoes. Yours doesn’t echo! Does it? What? Something like...it reminds you of...oh, no...

“This is my soul. It is the very culmination of my being. You can see that I’m...”

They’re speaking in your peripheral vision, with modified one-handed signs you can still parse, but you feel like you’re in some kind of dream. You can’t even imagine talking right now, your mouth has gone dry. In some other plane of existence, you see them shoot a frustrated look at you, but then you hear a loud crash, and their eyes fly open as far as they’ll go. Frisk gulps, and slowly, carefully presses their hand back toward their chest. Their soul fades until it disappears, and the light in the room returns to normal.

You stand there like a poleaxed cow, unable to move or really think. Frisk had seriously just..? Well, it’s not like you could see into their soul like you’d been able to with yours, and now you have some context for the difference between seeing and seeing into, and it’s overwhelming, but... They just pulled it out! Right here! How? The only monster here is-

Frisk rushes past you, leans down. You finally turn around and see the source of the crash.

Professor Bob is upside-down, all four white paws in the air and fainted dead away.

***

An hour later, you’re sitting across from a teary-eyed Frisk at one of the more isolated booths in the common eatery adjacent to the cafeteria. They serve both monster and human food here, and you’ve helped yourself to the daily amount humans who attend classes or work here are entitled to.

After they’d finished putting their soul away and rushed to Bob’s side, you’d somehow managed to explain to the babbling, flustered human students that the rest of the class was canceled due to the professor being unconscious and you and Frisk needing to deal with whatever the hell had just happened. They’d left reluctantly, and more than a little dazedly. But they’d left. Once medical had arrived to cart poor Bob away, you’d given Frisk a pat on the shoulder and invited them to lunch. They’d distractedly taken you up on it, and followed you to the cafeteria in a sort of self-recriminatory haze.

“I’m sorry,” they gesture again tightly.

You sigh.

“I’m sorry, too. I’m just-what on earth was that?”

“I didn’t think it would be this bad. I. Um. I made a mistake.” They look down guiltily. “I forgot Bob was there.”

You put a few popato chisps in your mouth and crunch thoughtfully for a minute or two.

“Do you know what happened to Bob?”

Frisk actually flushes. “She was... embarrassed.”

That makes you blink, surprised. “Why?”

Frisk turns an even more reddish brown. “Monsters can see more than humans can,” they sign close to their chest, hunched down into the booth so only you can see what they’re saying. “I was...rude.”

You clear your throat, trying to pick just one of the approximately six million questions trying to tear their way out of it.

“How are you... able to do that?”

Frisk doesn’t reply at all, but another fat tear leaks out from under their lashes and they wipe it away with a sleeve. You keep waiting, but it seems like they’re really not going to answer. Then you feel a little guilty...they’re still what, 19? Still a teenager. Still a kid, in a lot of ways.

“Hey,” you start sympathetically, but now Frisk is signing again.

“I keep making mistakes! I don’t know what I’m supposed to do! It wasn’t supposed to be so-” they scrub away another tear. Shit. “This is too hard,” they add, sniffling.

“I’m trying to understand, but I still don’t know what...what it is that hard? What are you hoping will happen?” Okay, at this point Frisk is obviously overwhelmed and distraught, and you’re not above going fishing.

“Does Toriel disapprove of you wanting humans to learn more about souls? Or even...Asgore, maybe?”

Well, they’re shaking their head, but also crying harder. Sheesh.

“Look, I...ended up meeting Dr. Alphys,” you say, and they blink back tears and lean in, surprised. “It wasn’t related to anything to do with the university, it was...personal.” you hurry out, then continue. “But anyways, it didn’t seem to me like she was really the one responsible for writing and recommending the sanctions on soul data. It must have come from higher up. And most people barely acknowledge they exist, even through a few select experts have sworn they’ve been proven to their satisfaction. But, I get it. If you can’t go through with it. Toriel, and Asgore...they’re the king and queen, after all. Even if they’re you’re family, they’re still in charge of that. If they’re really bearing down on you, it can be hard to go against everything you-”

They cut you off with a slashing motion.

“Humans were fine for thousands of years! They didn’t deserve it after what they did, but they still were! I didn’t think...I didn’t think it would hurt anyone.”

Uh. What?

“I wanted to see how much you knew. I wanted to see if even after all this time...we were safe. And we are, and it didn’t end up...it worked, right? Everything’s going to be...” They look up at you haggardly.

“Are you getting better?” they ask, seeming much younger. "Papyrus said you are. That you...I didn't need to make a decision yet." Looking for approval. Forgiveness?

In ASL, you don’t usually address someone by their own name. But you say it aloud as you sign.

“Frisk. Are you saying you are the one responsible for the decision to limit human knowledge of souls?”

“It was the only way I thought we could keep it from happening all over again. I’m sorry, but...I still can’t tell you. It’s...I can’t.”

You gape at them silently.

“But we’re going to make sure you get better, okay? I...we talked about it. You’re going to be okay. Sans knows what to do! He’s really good at-” Frisk cuts themself off, bites their lips as a tear trickles over them.

“Frisk,” you half-whisper, gesturing. “How old were you when the barrier was broken?”

They blink at you rapidly, surprised even through their weeping.

“Eight, I think? I don’t know exactly because-”

You’ve reflexively covered your eyes, because the realization's hitting you like a freight train. The weird guilt. Everyone checking up on you. Maybe even the split between Frisk and Toriel...if this is the kind of pressure they’ve been under their entire life, since they were eight years old...you can’t even imagine a child having to make those kind of decisions, being made responsible for the fate of an entire species. Wait, how long have they been able to….how long have they had these abilities? Are they somehow part...monster? What does any of this mean?

You need time to digest this. But more importantly…

You uncover your face with an unsteady sigh.

“Sorry about that. I just...I’m very surprised.”

Frisk looks confused, but seems like they’re going to stop crying soon. That’s hopefully a good sign.

“So, okay. I’m just wondering. Do you have any humans that you...know well? Spend time with? I’m just curious.”

They shake their head, gesture negative. “Not really?”

“Okay. Well, you already have my number, so I want you to know that you can call me anytime. If you want to talk about any of this or even if you….” How to put it? “If you just want to be around a human?” you try weakly. They just look baffled. Well, whatever, you keep going.

“I just need you to know one thing.”

You lean forward intently.

I’m going to be fine. I’m serious.” You make eye contact, sustain it. “You’re not responsible for my health. I know you feel like...somehow you’re the architect of everything that’s going on here, but sometimes...shit just happens. Okay? I am getting better, and even if I’m not ever gonna be healthy, that’s still got nothing to do with you, okay?”

Frisk hiccups a little.

“You sound like Papyrus,” they reply, looking confused but less upset.

That makes you desperately want to ask about what Papyrus had said to you in the car, but you just manage to restrain yourself because it’s pretty damn obvious this kid’s had enough for the day. Maybe for the rest of their life, but the most you can do is just let it go for now.

“I might, um, text to check up on you? Is it okay if I do that?”

Frisk blinks.

“Yeah? Of course. Or, you can always come over, if uh...that’s something you want to do? You and Papyrus are friends already, right? And Sans?” They look hesitantly hopeful, like a kid waiting for a pat on the head. Good lord. You put as much reassurance into your expression as you can manage, hope it'll do.

“Yeah,” you agree, smiling. “I’d like that.”

 

 

Chapter Text

There’s a knock on your door about an hour after you get home from work. You’ve already changed into your pajamas and were about to sit down for an extended round of rewatching episodes of your fourth favorite show, so you call out “who is it?” hoping that you were mistaken and it was just your upstairs neighbor whacking something against a wall.

“banana.”

Sans’s voice penetrates the door easily despite the fact that its solidity is pretty impressive for an apartment. You still understand him despite obstacles that would usually turn your audio processing abilities to soup. You’re not really in the mood for visitors, but you have a feeling this visit might not be entirely social.

You open the door.

“heh. didn’t wanna ask banana who? guess we’re officially on a first name basis.”

You look at the short skeleton darkening your doorstep with a sigh.

“You don’t have a last name, Sans.”

“you don’t know that for sure.”

“Well, if you do you should have put it on Frisk’s paperwork.”

“i’d bust your chops over not inviting me in, but i actually came to see if i could, uh, buy you dinner.”

Your eyebrows raise sharply, and you let him squirm (except of course he doesn't) a minute before replying.

“This is about the Frisk thing, isn’t it.”

He shrugs. “gotta come to find out.”

You press your lips together at him, then pull the door open farther and take a step back.

“Come in,” you sigh. “Let me get dressed. Again,” you finish with a pointed look at him. His eyesockets are only half-open as he takes in your setup in the small living room with the game system box you usually use to watch streaming services on, the kettle and teapot and still-sealed snacks.

“looks like you had a good night planned out for yourself. ‘preciate you taking the time.”

You really want to gripe, but it seems like he’s being sincere. He does seem the type to respect the sanctity of some well-earned downtime.

“Where are we going, then?” you ask instead.

“what you got on is fine,” he replies with a lazy smile.

“I’m putting on real pants, at least,” you mutter, and go upstairs to find some. When you return, he’s leaning up against the wall with his eye sockets closed, but once you walk past him to slip on your shoes he perks up.

“You know I don’t have a car or anything, right? And I can’t walk very far,” you remind him.

He opens your door and points a fingerbone at a silver and black Vespa at the curb.

You look down at him with a bemused grin. “I haven’t seen one of those since high school. You take that thing on the highway?”

“not if I can help it,” he replies, “but it’ll get us to Grillby’s fine.”

He’s right, you think as you lock your door and walk towards his vehicle. That’s not very far at all if it’s the place you’re thinking of, along the main drag in the downtown monster district. You’ve gone past it a few times, but you weren’t sure exactly what sort of establishment it was. Sort of looked like a bar, but maybe it’s one of those gastro pub things. Definitely a monster place though.

“Hmm. I think I’ve seen it before, but I’ve never been there. You got a helmet for me?”

He leans over and grabs two brain buckets that had been hanging off the handlebar in the opposite side in lieu of answering and offers you one, plopping the other one casually onto his own bare skull. He checks the pod trunk he’s got affixed to the back of the vehicle, but closes it again without seeming to put anything in or take it out.

“you know the drill?” he inquires as he buckles his own chin strap.

“I think I can handle a ride on your crotch rocket,” you deadpan, earning a chuckle from him as he mounts the scooter and starts it. You awkwardly (and a little painfully) lift your leg over the bike, trying not to kick him or get your leg caught in your bag’s strap, and settle yourself in around his hips. They’re not narrow, but they feel...hard. Like bones, you suppose. But they’re not pokey or anything. It seems like he’s got the balance of the bike so you put your feet on the plate and bring your hands forward to….um… does he have a waist? You’re not about to start patting him down looking for one.

“Hey, you want me to just grab on to you or what?”

“just hold my jacket on the sides.”

You fist your hands into the fabric low on either side of his torso, almost at his hips so you can rest your arms on your own legs. You manage not to argue that a hoodie doesn’t count as a jacket.

“I’m all set,” you crow at the back of his helmeted head, and then you’re both off with a dull roar. As you feel the weak horsepower of the tinny engine beating under you, you worry a little at what might have instigated this impromptu dinner invitation. He wasn’t being squirrely about it, exactly, but for whatever reason maybe he didn’t want to talk about whatever it was solely on your turf. But really you don’t think could it be anything other than Frisk’s stunt he wanted to discuss with you.

At the same time you can admit into the quiet of your own mind that if it had been anyone else, you probably would have refused the invite and just insisted on hashing it out on your couch. The fact is, you really don’t get out much, and Sans is actually a really fun person to be around. And hey, free dinner.

Speaking of which… When you stop at a light, you lean forward a little and ask “Hey, this place has monster food, right?” towards where his ears would be if he had any.

“heh. sure does,” the droll reply floats back to you even through the valiant putting of the engine. “monster drinks, too. like...alcohol? you tried it?”

The light turns before you get a chance to answer him, or to clarify that you almost never drink. You don’t feel like shouting after talking almost all day, so you just sit back and enjoy the ride. After a few more minutes, you’re over in the main drag of the downtown monster district of Ebott, noticing the preponderance of brick edifices and fairly tasteful landscaping. Businesses had started opening fairly soon after the monsters’ emergence, you’ve been told, and over time it had become not exactly a tourist spot, but definitely a place both humans and monsters could go to mingle and enjoy themselves.

Signs advertising bakeries, clothing stores, and specialty shops gleam neon or are tastefully painted, and there’s even a grocery store where monster food can be purchased, but only in limited quantities. You find yourself wondering again where it comes from, if they have entire farms underground, or if they somehow just produce it through magical energy? Transforming rocks into loaves of bread with magic words, or some kind of alchemical process?

You know how monsters’ enterprises have a tendency to subvert and undermine a lot of the commercial laws and structures in place on the human world, but you don’t keep a close eye on the havoc they’ve been wreaking economically with their generosity because it stresses you out. A lot of laws had been passed, repealed, amended and bulldozed without being able to actually do much about the monsters’ presence or activities. After all, once the monsters had had their personhood acknowledged, most of the proposed restrictions would have been unenforceable or wouldn’t apply only to monsters, latter being the motive of those who’d written them.

If anything especially egregious happens, your sister does keep tabs on that stuff and will let you know. Being constantly bombarded with information all the time erodes your empathy and motivation to help rather than enhancing it, and you know you’re holding down your little corner of making the world a better place. You don’t have to micromanage and absorb every bit of the minutiae of living in historic times, and it’s better to just deal with what’s already on your plate, so to speak.

Like the first meeting of Soul Studies. And how exactly Frisk had been able to take out their own soul. And whether it has anything to do with their ability to make things unhappen.

Sans pulls up near the edifice you’d remembered and parks the bike, less than a block away from the entrance.

“here we are,” Sans says, opening the old fashioned door and gesturing you inside. “grillbz sweet grillbz. you eat fries?”

You confirm that you do as you walk into the warm interior, and notice it does seem to be some kind of bar. There’s a fair amount of space in front of the bar proper even counting the barstools, and several booths and a scattering of tables populate the perimeter. A few seasoned-looking monster barflies dot the space, although it’s early enough yet that it’s not overwhelmed with the buzz of conversation. Some innocuous pop song is playing at a low volume, but you don’t know the song or the artist. A white Dog is sitting at one of the tables with a deck of cards, and someone ambiguously fuzzy and possibly unconscious lolls in one the corner booths.

The person behind the bar is made of fire.

“heya, hot stuff,” Sans quips as he saunters over. “what’s cookin?”

The bespectacled flame cracks and pops a little, and an unkempt duck at one of the barstools hollers, “Sans! Where you been, buddy? Missed you round here these past few.”

“here an’ there,” Sans replies easily. “kid’s been staying with us lately, so they keep me on my phalanges if you know what I mean.”

“Saaansy! It’s been aaaaages.” The inebriated bellow originates from the drunken person you’d noticed before, although now it seems that they’ve collected a few more people around them-more Dogs, and an elemental of some kind maybe? They seem kind of gooey, and moderately huge. Literally everyone manages to shout a greeting at Sans, and he tosses out saucy responses like confetti.

“This is a townie bar,” you laugh, more surprised than you want to let on. “You’ve been a secret townie this whole time!”

“eh,” Sans equivocates, leaning his arms up on the bar. “can’t hold a candle to the place back in Snowdin for pure townieness, but this place’s got its charms. and a toilet,” he adds with a wink towards you. Oh. And, he had fingerspelled ‘candle,’ earning himself a belated eyeroll. “so, what’re you having?”

You purse your lips with a sigh. “I don’t usually drink, it doesn’t react well with my medication.”

“huh. didn’t think of that. but… you ever had it?” You shake your head. “monster booze doesn’t actually affect your body,” he continues. “not tryin ta pressure you or anything like that, just saying it might not be a problem, if that’s what you wanted.”

You think about that. “I’ll text Vulkin,” you reply slowly. “If she gives me the green light I might have something. In the meantime, where’s that dinner you promised me?”

“coming right up, no need to grill me about it,” he replies with a wink, then turns to the bartender, who flares up and makes the shadows dance a little nearby. “can I get two usuals down at seven?”

Grillby hisses and pops in reply, and Sans nods and starts over toward one of the far booths. You follow him and get seated, pull out your phone and shoot Vulkin a message. There’s a drink menu folded on the table, but you’ll wait a few minutes before bothering to peruse it.

Sans is already slumped back in the deep booth seat like a sack of potatoes, his head lolling to the side to gaze at you through half-mast sockets. His hands are buried in his hoodie pockets, and overall he seems incredibly relaxed here, surrounded by people familiar enough to know who he meant by “us” and “the kid”.

It’s interesting to you how often you’ve had to adjust your opinions about him. Eventually you speak into the mellow quiet that’s formed around your table as the regulars get their fill of greeting or ribbing Sans and go back to their pastimes, companions, and conversations.

“So, are you going to tell me what the deal is, or are you worried it’ll spoil my appetite?”

“well, the deal ain’t exactly big. tori heard some talk about the kid causing a midsize hullabaloo over at the school and asked me to look into it. i just went right to frisk an asked them first because i’m not about to make more work for myself. thing is,” he makes a sound like clearing his throat, which is odd since as far as you can tell he doesn’t actually have one. he’s also looking a little iridescent, adding more evidence for the impression that what Frisk had done was inappropriate in monster context.

“kid tells me they just pulled out their, uh, soul? in class?”

You smile, not without sympathy. “They sure did.”

“heh.” Sans leans forward a little and looks to the side. “they never were too shy i guess. not that i didn’t believe ‘em, just...how’d that go over?”

It actually looks like he’s sweating at this point, which is fascinating not only because you wonder why he’s this uncomfortable but because it’s apparently possible for bones to sweat.

You try to have mercy on him. “Sorry if I’m telling you something you already know, but...you know humans can’t see what monsters see, right? From looking at other people’s souls? Frisk actually explained that part. Professor Bob just fainted or whatever, so maybe it’s like she wasn’t even there for it. I don’t know if what Frisk did was the equivalent of, say, undressing and giving themselves a medical exam, maybe? But if we can’t really see the uh, culmination of their being or whatever it is you guys see, maybe it’s not as much of an exposure as it would be to monsters.”

“eh. i did know that, although it’s...well, that doesn’t matter. anything else happen?”

Before you answer, you feel your phone vibrate in your cardigan pocket.

“Huh. Vulkin says I should be fine if I don’t have too much. Do you have any recommendations for monster drinks I should try?

“sure,” he replies, “but uh, maybe answer my question first?”

For a guy who seems practically addicted to deflecting, he’s sure got this topic between his teeth. You give him a rundown of the class in full, and he just nods. You’re about to start asking your own questions when Grillby appears at the table, setting down two massive plates of medium cut french fries, then presents no less than four bottles of ketchup between his flaming fingers with a flourish. You each take two and thank him.

“could we possibly get two smooth regulars to go with this feast, hot buns?”

Grillby lets off a small but dark plume of smoke, and you snort. “That sounds impressively unappealing, but I guess i’ll trust you,” you reply, twisting the cap off your first bottle. You both tuck in readily, and you notice again that Sans’s mouth doesn’t really open very far, even when he eats. He swirls each fry into the morass of tomatoey goodness he’s poured on his plate, then just stuffs it in there somehow.

“So, are you gonna tell me how Frisk’s able to make things unhappen and pull out their own soul, or am I just supposed to be your mole at the university?”You try your fries. They’re fucking delicious.

Sans’s eye sockets close briefly, and when he looks at you his eye lights are steady. “how bout this. you tell me what you think, and then i’ll decide whether to tell you if you’re right or not?”

“Interesting phrasing,” you reply, then eat another fry. After a moment, you continue.

“I think that Frisk has a lot of abilities that humans don’t have, and I think it’s something to do with magic. But whatever they did that day at the BioMed building...monsters can’t do that, either. At least, I don’t think they can. Humans obviously used to be able to do magic, since they created the barrier in the first place, but they can’t anymore and haven’t been able to for a long time. But...” you trail off in thought, eating a little more while you consider.

“The barrier kept in all magic, not just the monsters. Like, something about you being in there cut us all off from that, uh, force? Substance? Not sure what to call it. So maybe that had something to do with humans not being able to do magic anymore. And forgetting it had ever been real.”

His expression is unreadably amiable as he makes his way through the plate of fries; you’re outpacing him again by a fair amount, despite the fact that you’re doing all the talking. You wonder if his jaw gets tired or something.

“I think that some monsters are really worried that gaining too much knowledge too quickly about magic and souls and monsters, humans might just take as much as they can get and seal all of you back underground as soon as they learn how, while others might not want to keep too many secrets. Especially since it seems to run counter to your natures, considering how freely you’ve offered up energy sources, food, medicine...everything. It’s a lot. I think you haven’t decided how you feel about it yet.”

Hmm. Maybe you’re on to something; he’s stopped eating and is staring into his plate thoughtfully.

“I’m wondering if there’s something about Frisk’s soul in particular you’d rather people didn’t find out about,” you add. “Or...maybe just certain people. Something Frisk wants to explore about themself.”

At that last one, you notice his eye lights shrink a little, get harder.

“You’re a lot easier to read than humans are,” you remark, then stuff another fry into your fry hole.

“heh. you’re right, i haven’t made up my mind about it yet, an’ i’m glad it’s not up to me. i’m just doing tori a favor.” After a minute, he adds, “you think you all are gonna stuff us back down in there the second you figure out how?”

“I’m probably one of the worst people to ask,” you admit slowly. “Both in the predicting human behavior aspect, and the fact that I’m extremely personally invested in that not happening.”

“don’t sell yourself short, bud.”

For some reason, that makes your face heat a little. Huh. Apparently you do care what he thinks of you.

Grillby arrives with the smooth regulars, which appear more or less like reddish clear alcohol topped with ice cubes in two large glass tumblers. They look like serious business.

“’preciate it, grillbz. sorry for giving you the workout today. here, let me make it up to you.” One of his hands emerges mittened from his hoodie and stuffs it rather familiarly into a pocket on Grillby’s pristine apron. A heavy metallic clink results. “my tab. maybe a lil extra.”

Grillby crackles loudly, a plume of soot bursting and disappearing at the top of his head. Hair? Sans throws back his head and laughs uproariously, giving you another view of his white neckbones. They look a lot cleaner, lately, and he doesn’t smell as much like bone shavings as he used to. Sans mimes wiping a tear from his socket as Grillby saunters off, although you don’t actually see any water. Or whatever it is that Sans produces.

“Do I even wanna know?” you inquire, smiling a little.

“ol’ grillbz’s working blue tonight, s’all,” he wheezes gently.

“think he mighta dipped into this-” he picks up his glass, “-since he had to go in the back to get it anyhow, but I don’t think it’d, um, translate very well.” He puts the rim of the glass to his teeth with a faint clink and tilts his head back.

You look down into your own glass, then pick it up and give it a sniff. “So what exactly does this stuff do?”

“makes ya feel warm n loose if you have enough,” he replies easily. “have too much and your head’ll be in the clouds tomorrow, but nothing permanent. on account of it’s not literal poison like the shit humans make.”

You raise an eyebrow at him, but take a sip of your drink. Cherries? Real ones, not burning-sweet like grenadine. Actually, it doesn’t burn at all, and you can see how easy it’d be to have too much of this.

“You don’t like human alcohol, then?”

He looks at you sidelong. “never had it, actually.” He smirks. “goes right through me.”

He might mean that literally, but you snort anyway.

“So, how much is too much?”

He sighs and figuratively eyeballs you closely. “for you? maybe three or four of those? don’t quote me on that, though. frisk can put away five or six.”

You take a long pull from your glass to cover your surprise. “Is Frisk...old enough to drink? Wait, do laws even cover...um.” You look down into your glass and back over at Sans.

“Humans in general don’t really know this exists, do they?”

“nope,” he replies with a shiteating grin, eye lights glittering with amusement. “but you can’t wine n’ dine your mole without the wine, right?”

It’s your turn to throw your head back and laugh. “Wow, I really got the hookup now, I guess,” you sigh, feeling a warm glow of either acceptance or inebriation flow out from the middle of your chest. “And all I had to do was let you put me on your scooter and do espionage to me.”

“how’s it working out for ya?”

You blink slowly and take another long pull from your glass.

“Someone wants to show me a good time, I’m ready to look. Joke’s on you though,” you murmur, smiling. “I’m an open book. I would have told you anything you wanted to know parked on my couch, but now you’re out drinks and a dinner.”

He’s leaned back in the booth again, head tilted back and expression bemused again. Sometime when you weren’t watching, it looks like he’s emptied his own glass.

“this is better, though, right? s’nice to get out once in a while.”

You look at him suspiciously. “You know, I-” You cut off as two more monsters and a human walk in, see Sans, and start hollering something over at him. He just waves and gives a bony thumbs up, and they wander over to the bar as they see he’s got a companion. You laugh again.

“And here I had you pegged for a total sad sack,” you admit, then flush a little.

He bows his head and shakes with silent mirth, then looks up at you with squinted sockets. “Well, don’t revise your opinion too soon,” he practically gushes, pupils glittering with dangerous intent. “actually-you finished with that?” He nods his head at your mostly-empty plate. His is still more than half full, but you aren’t as hungry as you thought you were, either.

“Yeah,” you agree, waiting to see where this is going. To your surprise, he busses the table himself and heaves his broad-hipped frame awkwardly out of the booth.

“one more time, my main flame!” he hollers as he makes his way to the far end of the bar. “you still got my rainy day playlist?”

Looks like there’s a trash can and plate bins over there somewhere that he’s sorting out. Grillby flares a few times as he glides down behind the bar to where Sans is, then pops two more fat glasses onto the bar. Sans takes them carefully as he saunters back to your table.

“Hey, you don’t have to go all out, I’m telling you,” you protest and he sets another glass beside your half-full one. “I’m already feeling it.”

He laughs. “s’not me. these are on lola,” he indicates the furry person from earlier, who has collapsed their head back onto their arms as their friends chatter around them. “guess she’s real glad to see me again. even if i’m not alone.”

“Huh,” you reply thoughtfully. “Everyone seems to really-” the background music stops suddenly, breaking your train of thought. Then, at a significantly increased volume, a familiar overwrought warbling fills the interior of the pub. A few of the patrons groan loudly and cast pained or accusatory glances at the skeleton across from you. One of them throws an empty fry basket, which he dodges without looking. It bounces off the back of the booth and hits the floor, where it is subsequently ignored.

Oh, Mother! I can feel…
the soil falling over my heeead….
as I climb into an empty bed...

Sans is grinning so hard he looks like he would shit his pants if he had either.

“Still think I’m not a total sadsack?” he coos deeply, tracing his coaster with a bony fingertip.

You’re fucking losing it. You cover your face with both hands as your shoulders shake, and slowly you bend forward as tears start to leak out of your eyes.

You forgot The Smiths existed, but if you’re honest you kinda like them. Used to really hit the spot back when you were working and trying to slog your way through college, warring with professors every goddamned day over captions and other unnecessary bullshit. It’s like the soundtrack for feeling so sorry for yourself you start laughing, not in spite of but especially because it’s so justified. The more everyone around you groans, the funnier it gets. Sans basically just pranked the whole bar on your behalf, and you’re not sure whether it’s to prove you right or wrong.

You lift your head and weakly wipe your eyes.

“Sans. You’re the corniest dude I have ever fucking met,” you moan, grabbing your first glass and draining it.

He’s got his broad, almost catlike face leaned on one hand, watching your helpless mirth with a perverse amount of interest.

“i dunno,” he drawls. “lotta people here would say i’m pretty amazing.”

m-a-i-z-e, he voluptuously fingerspells with his other hand.

You cover your eyes again in surrender. You can’t remember the last time you laughed this much.

“Fuck you,” you wheeze. “Dance with me, sad sack. We’re dancing now.”

“uh, I don’t really, uhhh-” he equivocates, eyes flickering briefly.

“Yeah, me neither. But you created this nightmare and I’m too gay and drunk to sit through it without revenge. Besides, I thought you were gonna pump me for information? Might be in your best interest to humor me, you know.”

He looks resigned, but slowly shuffle-slumps out of the booth again to where you’re already standing. You walk far enough away from the table to not bump into it, but you don’t walk out into the middle of the cleared space or anything like that.

Absolutely no one else is dancing. Perfect.

You look back at Sans, who’s standing there kinda awkwardly and seems like he’s bracing himself for something. Aww, now you feel bad. Not enough to sit back down, but you mentally adjust how much you plan to mess with him; you really didn’t mean to make him feel obligated. You set your hands very lightly on his shoulders, which feel hard and small under the layers of clothing he’s wearing but otherwise are just shoulders, and stay almost at arms’ length from him although you do bend your elbows slightly. He looks oddly and inexplicably relieved when your hands stay where they are. Definitely not touchy feely like his brother. You tuck that information away for the future.

He puts his hands very gingerly at your waist; you barely can tell they’re there. You just sort of...step around, slowly. You’re abysmal at this, and you don’t give a shit.

“i might have mistakenly assumed you were shy,” he mutters after a minute.

“Not particularly,” you reply with a snort. “I just have to be in the mood to put on pants and be somewhere loud. Which isn’t that often,” you admit.

“i’ve never been in that kinda mood,” he replies with restored humor, and you look down at his black mesh shorts with a smirk. However, you do notice for the first time in your presence he’s replaced his usual slippers with a pair of canvas sneakers. Huh.

“Are you actually wearing real shoes?”

“all shoes are real shoes,” he demurs with mock solemnity. Then he goes a little iridescent, continues in a half-whisper. “lost a slipper on my bike once. Had to strip em off real quick, shove it all in my pocket and get home barefoot to stay decent, heh,” he says even more quietly. “lucky I didn’t lose a toe.”

You’re baffled for a second, then you remember something.

“Oh,” you whisper almost subvocally. “the sock thing. I heard about that, I think.”

Apparently, since most monsters had no need or purpose for socks, they had acquired a bit of a risqué association among them, much like corsets or garter belts had among humans after daily wear became obsolete. Actually, the only reason you’d heard of it was because your sister had told you about a tabloid article involving the queen, Toriel, and some sort of sock collection. However, it seems like Sans probably does need them to keep shoes on his feet, and if he needed the shoes to protect his foot bones...

He’s looking a little blue in the face, so you decide again to have mercy.

“A confession for a confession,” you say in at a more normal volume. “I’ll give you my opinion on the whole thing. Though I get why most people would be, when it comes down to it I’m not really that interested in the political ramifications of what we’re doing at the university. I know that it’s important, and a lot of people are invested in what happens there. It’s not that I don’t care! It’s just-” you cut off as the song ends and another begins.

Park the car at the side of the road; you should know
Time's tide will smother you...and I will too…
When you laugh about people who feel so
Very lonely
Their only desire is to die...

“Is this entire playlist all The Smiths? I didn’t realize you were capable of that kind of commitment.”

“nah, ‘course not,” he replies, then shoots you a wicked look. “some of it’s just morrissey.”

“Oh my god,” you guffaw. He looks like he’s regained his composure, at least.

“Anyway,” you continue with a sigh, “I really think I’ve had enough of that side of things. Explaining over and over to people who’re trying to find reasons not to understand. I don’t want to run around keeping secrets and breaking chains and rolling around in everything that’s happening all over the world all at once, and just fighting to keep my head above water. I had to fight like you probably can believe, knowing you, just to get to wherever this is. I’ve already had more adventures than I care to,” you add, a bitter smile curving your lips as you continue.

“What’s the point of all the blood, sweat and tears carving out your slice of life if you can never sit down and just eat it? That’s where I’m at. I just wanna eat my slice, you know?”

You’ve been letting your eyes unfocus somewhere over his shoulder as you talk, but now you glance into his face and note that his eye lights have gotten a little wider, fuzzy. Hmm, maybe he’s feeling the monster drinks, too.

“so why go back to classes if you’re not interested anymore?” he murmurs up at you. “what’s in it for you?”

The song continues, and you finally remember what it’s called.

But that joke isn’t funny anymore
It’s too close to home and it’s too near the bone
Too close to home, too near the bone

Of course he’s grinning about that, seeing you notice. Good lord, his depravity knows no depths. Your smile softens as you continue.

“Just because I’m not out there tearing it up doesn’t mean I stopped being curious,” you answer slowly. “And for me, it’s actually fun. I’m curious to just sort of...meet myself, maybe occupy the space I’m in a little more each day. Instead of always fighting for the right to be who I am, now I can learn to just be who I am. And maybe that’s what I’m curious about? What that means for me, here and now.”

“I’m ready to follow where it takes me without having to force my way through so much conflict. But I’m not like some people. It’s like without the fighting and pushback, they don’t know who they are anymore or how they fit in the world. Seems kinda sad to me. Even though so much good is happening, they just can’t let go of anything that might be less than perfect. If there isn’t more fight, they’ll make it themselves. They don’t know how to stop fighting long enough to enjoy what they’ve been fighting for. Especially if you’re fighting for your life-once you do that, aren’t you sort of obligated to actually live it?”

You swallow as you realize you’ve been monologuing, and when you look back at Sans, his eye lights are so diffuse you wonder if something’s wrong with him. You also notice that his drink has appeared in one hand, and he’s tilting his head back and draining the glass. You didn’t even feel him take his hand off your waist, and you’re not that close to your table...well. Whatever.

“Uh, sorry,” you try, managing not to step on his foot. Barely. “It’s not actually that deep.”

He makes that throat-clearing noise again. “no, it’s...”

His eye lights come back together a little more. “you’re not like most humans, are you?”

You frown. “How would you know? Frisk says you don’t spend much time around us anyway, and there’s like, literally billions of us.”

His eyes flicker away from you. “point taken.”

You exhale in amusement. “Maybe you could stand to be a little more curious. Speaking of which, how does monster alcohol even work? Where does it go, if it doesn’t affect your body?”

“it doesn’t affect your body,” he clarifies. His empty cup is back on the table when you glance over, but at this point you’re getting used to his bullshit.

“basically...you’re made up of cells, or whatever, and those cells are made of molecules, atoms, and smaller particles than even that...physical stuff.”

“Okay.”

“this goes where the particles aren’t.”

“Um...” you trail off. “What?”

The bouncy bassline of ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ starts, and you break up suddenly. “Nope,” you laugh, and drop your hands from his shoulders. They feel a little sweaty, actually, and you wipe them on your jeans. “Even I can’t pretend to dance to this. I can’t do it.”

He grins and follows you back to the booth, and somehow he has a third (fourth?) drink in his hand as he sits. He actually seems almost reluctant to quit the dancing now. It strikes you as odd, since he was so weird about getting up to dance in the first place.

“Okay, so what the hell were you saying about particles?”

“heh,” his eye sockets look like half moons laying on their flat sides as he leans back and gets comfortable. You grab your second drink and take a long pull, the sweetness flooding your mouth and refreshing you after your pleasantly minimal exertions.

“so, this-” he holds up his already half-empty glass, “-goes where subatomic particles aren’t. No matter how small you go, even when things look like they’re touching, they’re really not. there’s always space between. we say ‘touching’ but really stuff’s just close enough to react to each other, that’s what touching is. but there’s always the space.”

You find yourself leaning to the side and watching him talk, pillowing your head on a bent arm. You don’t feel sleepy or anything though, and you’re following what he’s saying just fine. You’re just extraordinarily...relaxed.

“this-” he leans forward, holding his glass tumbler up to catch the light and narrowing one socket at it, “-goes in there.”

You gaze at the lovely reddish color of the liquid. “So, the atoms or whatever in that, they go-”

He’s shaking his head with a smile. “no particles in here.”

You blink. “Uh. How’s that possible? Isn’t all matter made up of...matter?”

“you know anything about continuum mechanics?”

You cackle. “Probably only jack and shit.”

He breathes a quiet laugh, and his eye sockets close a little further and he brandishes the glass again, takes a sip.

“s’like, this is all one piece. no spaces. the substance of the object completely fills the space it occupies. so this is one object. but-” he takes your glass and pours a little drop into his own, “-this is still one object.”

He drinks, then holds the glass up again. “still one.”

“I get what you’re saying,” you say, a little surprised that you actually do, “but where did it go?”

“the spaces between the particles.”

You blink at that for a solid five seconds.

“But, what’s in there, that it’s affecting? Another ‘one object’? Between the, the particles?”

he gives you a sincerely baffled look. “you really don’t know?”

Another five seconds, then…

“This is going in my soul?!” you yelp, and you hear a few titters from the other patrons. It’s actually gotten a lot more crowded without you noticing, and you blush a little under their surreptitious looks.

“well, yeah,” he replies, drains his glass and then of all things, pulls a ballpoint pen out of his pocket and grabs a coaster, starts scribbling on it. You just sit back, sip, and watch him go.

“s’like, you have two kinds of stuff, right? particles and continuums. They can interact but right now they don’t.”

Tiny, rounded symbols are starting to fill up the blank side of the thick paper coaster, some lines...a blob?

“s’not a displacement, exactly, more like a change in configuration, ya call it a deformation but s’not bad like it sounds,” as he adds another, even blobbier blob, a diagonal line, a few more notations.

“deformation causes changes, two things kinda becomes the same one thing.” He slides the coaster across the table to you, sockets ovaling happily, and you pick it up.

You’re staring at a mathematical equation about the size of your palm, with several symbols in it separated by lines that you’re 90% sure you’ve never seen before, and you’ve had to transcribe entire textbooks for your work.

“y’know, like that,” he emphasizes vaguely, reaching across to tap the blobbier blob with the tip of the pen.

You stare another second at the equation that means what happens when your soul gets drunk on matter that isn’t matter, which happens when it goes into the spaces between subatomic particles. You set down the coaster with a small smile and say, “I kinda feel like an asshole right now.”

His eye lights shrink and his grin flattens. “huh? why?”

“What do you do for a living, Sans?” you ask gently.

“not that,” he replies shortly, seeming to realize what you’re getting at. Good, you can be subtle when you’re trying really, really hard. Sans is surprisingly easy to be honest with, and he doesn’t seem annoyed you’ve apparently underestimated him. In fact, he looks like he’s enjoying himself quite a bit.

He taps the figure with the pen again. “this kinda smart? it’s bullshit. worthless.”

You take another drink. “How so?”

He sighs thoughtfully. “that kinda smart… it isn’t real. s’like what you were saying earlier. Certain kindsa people, they don’t know the difference between a good time and a bad time. there is no difference, not for them; just more data. good or bad, who cares s’long as it’s more.”

His gaze focuses back on you. “people like that can’t let anything go, or they just gobble it up, don’t even taste it. they can’t have a good time, even though that’s the only thing that matters. s’the only thing that stays real, no matter what. heh.”

You’re not sure when you started grinning, but it feels amazing for some reason so you keep at it.

“I think this is the best time I’ve ever had,” you reply.

He looks extremely dubious.

“It’s tied with about ten other best times,” you admit, “but they’re not ranked. This is definitely up there with the time I took a week off to get my wisdom teeth out, popped a fistful of vicodin and played a super mario brothers 3 ROM for 12 hours straight, five days in a row” you sigh wistfully. “got paid for the whole week, too, and didn’t crack a book, leave the house, or take a message once til it was over. drinking cold condensed chicken noodle right out of the can,” you finish, making a ‘C’ shaped holding motion with your empty hand and gazing at it through a truly nostalgic haze. A strangled sound makes you look up sharply.

Oh, it’s just Sans losing his shit at you again, and your grin comes back easily...or maybe it never left. You think you’re starting to get a better handle on what his whole deal is. He’s got his arms wrapped around his head while his shoulders shake, and one of his sleeves has ridden up to reveal a gleamingly white ulna and radius. You think about how their inexplicably lustrous gleam can be possible while you wait for him to collect himself.

“this has gone in a very unexpected direction,” he coughs out after a little while.

“You’re too sloshed to drive us back, aren’t you?” you ask.

He finally lifts his head and winks at you. “yep,” he replies, “but i’ll get you home anyhow, k?”

You narrow your eyes at him suspiciously, but trying to stop smiling doesn’t work.

“what?” he says. “s’not that weird.”

“It absolutely is that weird,” you gripe. “I think we covered how I feel about adventures?”

He wiggles his way back out of the booth yet again, and you pick up your bag with a sigh and stand as well.

“not an adventure,” he mumbles amiably. “just a shortcut.”

Sans nods and winks sloppily at Grillby as you follow him towards a door past the far end of the bar that you would assume leads to the back kitchen. He slows as you approach, then he turns to you and extends his bony left hand, unmittened, and gestures for you to take it.

Oh. You realize you’ve never actually touched his bare...bones? Before. Since he seems to be pretty weird about being touched in general, it feels like an oddly trusting gesture.

“If I throw up, it’ll be your fault,” you say, trying to cover up your sudden discomfiture.

“it’s already my fault, but you won’t,” he says simply, hitching his hand at your again. You take it into yours, palm against palm, and it sure is interesting. Really smooth, and hard. Not especially cold or warm. And there’s something very resonant about his touch, not like a pulse or even electricity, but it’s almost magnetic in a way. Alive. Maybe you shouldn’t have finished that second drink, because you’re feeling a little...wiggly. Fizzy?

“close your eyes, though,” he says, and you do with an aggrieved sigh. You feel him pull you forward a little, hear the door open and then shut, then you take another step. For a second you feel something that stops short of vertigo, almost like being on an especially swift elevator. The air changes, and the noise from the bar seems almost sucked out of your ears.

You open your eyes, and you’re in your own foyer, presumably with the door still locked behind you. You let go of his hand quickly, and lean against the back of your couch to fumble off your shoes and carelessly drop your bag. You walk around, lean backwards, the armrest of your couch behind your knees, and just let yourself fall back with a satisfied grunt.

Sans is peering down at you over the back of the couch, grinning.

“The equation for that trick fit on a coaster?” you inquire idly up at him.

“no idea,” he replies evenly, seeming pretty comfortable to stay just where he is. Well, no skin off your ass, you think silently, and laugh at the idea of skeleton butts a little. You think about inviting him to sit, but something occurs to you before you say anything. He’d had no problem making himself at home in slippers before, but he’s got sneakers on now, and you’d called them “real shoes.” Oh. He probably noticed you don’t wear shoes in the house, doesn’t want to offend you by getting his shoe germs all over your floor, but also doesn’t want to take his off. The sock thing. Oh, boy. Here comes culture clash.

Well, you’re not going to ask him about that, but you also don’t want the night to be over quite yet. He doesn’t seem inclined to take off immediately, and you’re feeling pretty comfortable. Still fizzy. Oh, well. It’s really nice to be back somewhere so dim and quiet, and additionally nice to not be alone. You realize eventually you’re burning with curiosity, about him, about whatever the hell that just was...but you don’t actually want to interrogate him. It’s not fun, giving or receiving.

Instead of asking for something, you decide to offer up something instead.

“It was easy for me to jump to conclusions about you being lonely, because I’m the one who’s lonely,” you say softly, looking up at the grinning skull above you. From the way he’s holding his shoulders, looks like his hands are back in his pockets. It makes you think about what holding his hand felt like. His expression softens, but keeps its smile.

“i had a good time with you,” he replies. You know that, but it makes you feel good for him to have said so. A fair trade.

“Can I ask you a question you don’t have to answer?” you venture hesitantly. “And if you really don’t like it, you can just leave, no hard feelings.”

“i asked you questions all night, s’only fair.”

You smile a little, but don’t look at him.

“So, when monsters, uh, show their souls to people. That’s...an intimate thing?”

An amused exhale. “yup,” he answers shortly.

“I thought so,” you admit quietly, thinking about seeing your own soul. Thinking about how it would be if someone else saw some of what you could about yourself. That’d be pretty intense.

“But with feelings, I guess. Can you..?” you trail off, blushing.

“i’m not uncomfortable,” he says above you. “you can look at me if you want, i won’t melt.”

You do, and it helps for some reason.

“Can you touch someone else’s soul?”

He nods slowly, still smiling.

“Do you touch each other when you do?”

At that, he glances away sharply.

“See!” you say emphatically, but still quietly. “That’s why I’m uncomfortable. I literally don’t know what I’m asking. I don’t know what there is to know about it, and I have every reason to want to be careful.”

He looks back at you, expression unreadable. “do ya?”

You blink at him, surprised. “Obviously?” He seems to be waiting for more, so you add, “Because I don’t want you to feel bad? Or bothered? My ignorance isn’t your personal responsibility,” you add clearly, glad that the monster alcohol doesn’t seem to affect your faculties the same way human booze does. You just feel a lot more relaxed and comfortable than you normally would. Maybe a little giddy, too.

His pupils become more diffuse while he thinks about that. After a minute, he actually pulls his hands out of his pockets and folds his arms across the top of the couch, sighs. Rests his chin on them, which oddly doesn’t affect his speech at all.

“not all monsters can touch each other the way you’re talking about.” You think about that.

“Do you need to be in love?”

He almost laughs at that, you can tell, but he doesn’t. You appreciate it.

“more like...”

He gazes at the wall for a solid ten seconds, then seems to come to an unexpected decision.

“me’n grillbz used to go upstairs after closing sometimes,” he says quietly.

You feel your face relax in surprise. Not that it happened, but that he’s telling you about it.

He lifts his chin, scratches it in thought.

“some days you just need to know someone would notice if you weren’t there anymore. might even look forward to seein’ ya. that’s not everything, but it’s still important.”

He pulls his sleeve back for a moment, showing you his wrist and the beginning of his arm bones. They almost seem to glow in the dim light, but really they’re just very pale.

“that’s not fur or scales, but at some point it’s still flammable,” he says almost delicately.

“I see,” you say, feeling like you’re picking up what he’s putting down.

His face gets a little iridescent again as he stares at the wall a little fixedly.

“at… at some point.” he adds tightly. “after a while.”

“eh,” he mumbles, looking like he’s trying to figure out what to say. How much to say, maybe.

“but with your soul out, you can’t make that kinda mistake,” he continues, sounding disturbed. “not like human stuff, grab first and ask how it felt later. y’can’t not care.”

Oh. Oh, no.

He exhales, then looks back at you.

“aw, geez,” he says with chagrin, grin flattened. “i’m givin’ you the wrong idea.”

He runs his hand over the back of his skull, making a soft rasping noise. “nothing like that happened. it’s just...just not my speed, maybe.” His face gets a little weird. “you...know I don’t even have the parts for that, right?”

You unthinkingly make a slang gesture that means something between ‘i pretty much figured’, ‘that makes sense’, and ‘of course’; you’re trying to revise and choose a phrase to speak aloud when you realize the weird look has left his face and he seems more relaxed. You guess he understood. Huh.

“Souls aren’t flammable, then,” you say quietly, rather than asking anything else about whatever kinds of experiences he’s had with humanity.

That brings a smile to his face, and he looks down at you like you’re sharing a joke.

“not mine, anyways,” he says with a wink. “lucky me.”

You chuckle quietly, and you’re both smiling again.

“It’s nice to feel lucky,” you say, the good glow from earlier smoothing over any fears you had about making it weird. Well, actually it is weird, but it doesn’t feel bad. Now you’re just sort of looking at each other, and you can tell you’re both a lot more curious than you expected to be.

There are so many questions tugging at you from the inside, tugging at...your soul? Is that where that feeling comes from? Is that where your desire to know more about other people, to know more about yourself, comes from? After touching your own soul, you feel like you know a lot more about yourself. What would touching someone else’s soul feel like? You can barely imagine.

And that’s just one question on top of so many others churning inside you. What does he really do for a living if anything, if he even needs to, and how does he spend his time? When did he get so good at explaining things to people, souls and quantum physics alike? Has he ever considered going into teaching? What was it like to see the sun for the first time? Would he be willing to sit in on a Soul Studies meeting? Can the two of you do this again sometime?

But if there’s one thing you know by now, it’s that holding on to a good moment too long, even one as good as this, you can end up strangling it. You eventually just have to let it go, remember it fondly, and hope for the next one. Find enough faith to believe it’ll come.

You realize, even as you see at least as many unspoken questions looking back at you from the dark sockets above, there’s only one question that really matters. So you smile hesitantly, and ask.

“Will you be my friend?”

The pips of his eyes flicker sharply, and he looks...you’re not sure. Can shock be soft?

“yeah,” he sighs tightly, voice a little strange. “i already am.”

You exhale, and it feels like some unspecified tension drains out of you and gets replaced with sleepiness.

“Then, I feel lucky, too,” you say, then stand up and walk around the couch without looking at him again. Your eyes burn a little. This has been a little more emotionally intense than you bargained for, in a different way than you anticipated.

“I’m going to bed now,” you add softly, then lean against the banister heavily as you trudge up the stairs to brush your teeth.

“goodnight,” you hear, and although nothing changes, you know that he’s gone.

Chapter Text

You: Hey, so I have some G that Papyrus gave me. I’m not sure what a good place to spend it would be. He thought I should ask you about a good place to buy a new outfit?

the kid: ok be right there. Papyrus is at work but Sans let me borrow his bike

You look down and your phone and sigh, rub your forehead. Are you ever going to learn your lesson? You gather up your things and put the pouch with the coins you’d been gifted into your jeans pocket. You’d examined the coins inside, oblong and smaller than you’re used to. You’d assumed it had mostly been a token gift, but the coins in the pouch look different than the monster currency you’d seen previously. After showing the coins to Chell in an attempt to find out more, you’d discovered each metal bit actually counts as 50G. There are 30 of them.

When Frisk arrives, you invite them in but they shake their head. “I think I know just the place,” they gesture, then turn and just walk toward the bike. Well, okay then. The balance on the Vespa is a little harder to find with the extra weight on it, but it ends up being fine, although you feel a little tense during a particularly sharp left turn. You let your mind drift as Frisk predictably steers the bike toward the downtown monster district.

Being back at work, having that sort of structure, has actually helped you more than you were expecting. Even after Frisk’s aborted lecture, Soul studies still continues to meet although you haven’t been back there yet. And every time you’ve tried to get together with Bob, she’s avoided you, so you’re pretty sure that lead’s a no-go.

Although your text message hadn’t been meant as a request for a shopping trip of this kind, you’re just as glad they scooped you up for it. You don’t plan to press them too hard, but at the very least you’re hoping you can get a few of your questions answered. After all, you’ve been very patient, if you do say so yourself.

It only takes about 15 minutes before they pull up to the curb, and the door they lead to you is red and has a lovely inset paned window, but is otherwise unmarked. Huh. You wouldn’t have known this was even a shop, but when you walk in, the whole place is full of extremely colorful clothing and accessories. The space is small, but the hangers go all the way up to the ceiling. Everything about it screams “boutique”, and you touch your pocket, hoping it isn’t too expensive. You were hoping to have some left over to buy some extra monster food with, since it seems like one of the things that really helps whatever’s going on with your soul. You’ve been trying to strategize a way to make it so half the food you eat is actually magic, or “half-madge”, as your human rheumatologist calls it.

The lion monster behind what looks more like a desk than a counter looks up from their book when you enter, but they don’t say anything or stand, just nod at Frisk before going back to it. It’s another way that monster businesses differ from human ones; there are no advertisements and not much signage around, even. Just displayed clothing and a lion wearing a vintage-style housedress with a flared circle skirt. Their mane doesn't appear to be styled or contained in any particular way, but rather flows both outward and down in a flattering manner.

Frisk turns to you and gestures, “So, what kind of clothes do you like? This place has a little bit of everything, and I usually find something I like every time I come here.”

You glance over at a rack with what look like long sweaters on it. “I usually don’t,” you gesture back silently, enjoying the quiet ambience of the little boutique. “I don’t usually care about clothes all that much, but I feel like Papyrus will be disappointed if I don’t report back on his recommendation,” you finish, eyes crinkling with amusement.

Frisk seems humored by that, too.

“Yeah, if he gave you an assignment, you should probably carry it out.” Their narrow eyes glance to the side. “You like the sweaters? They’re really soft.”

You walk together to the rack of sweaters you’d been eyeballing, but feel like you need a disclaimer. “I already have way too many sweaters, and not a lot of everything else. I guess...I don’t know? I just put on whatever, most of my clothes are just old and comfortable. I like thrift shops, I don’t buy a lot of stuff new.”

Frisk smiles thoughtfully for a second, then seems to come to a decision.

“So, you know Papyrus has been working on your painting, right?”

You gesture acknowledgement, then finger the long sleeve of a teal cardigan. It is really soft, and you wonder what it’s made of. You think about asking, but if it’s another secret, you don’t want to make things awkward, so you don’t.

“Well, usually when he finishes a new work, he likes to get everyone together to give them a chance to show it off. We usually go to Mom’s house for that, since it’s big, and...well. We’re big,” they gesture, smiling a little. “And Undyne needs a lot of room to be Undyne, especially when she’s around Papyrus.” Frisk’s grinning now.

You just nod, wondering how much the sweater costs. It’s really close to your absolute favorite color.

“You should get a new outfit, and wear it for that,” Frisk signs.

You look up, frowning. Then you drop the fabric to clarify.

“Wait...are you saying there’s going to be like, an art show that I’m supposed to show up at? Because it’s...my painting?” Uh oh. That’s really not your thing.

Frisk is already waving you down, though.

“No, no it’s like...more like a family...party?” They look to the side doubtfully. “Not even a party. Like...I don’t know. It’s just us, though.”

“Who’s ‘us’?” you ask hesitantly.

“Um... me, Papyrus, Sans, Mom, MK...Undyne and Alphys...Mettaton and sometimes Asgore-” they cut off at the look on your face.

“That’s a lot of people. Uh, important people,” you reply weakly.

Frisk’s face falls a little, but they try to hide it.

“You don’t have to go, it’s not required or anything!” they sign, trying to make it bright but just ending sporting a crooked, unconvincing smile. “The painting’s still yours.” Considering they’re technically a diplomat, you’d think they would have a better poker face. When you think about it...maybe they do, but not for situations this frivolous.

And it occurs to you, you are being a little bit frivolous about this yourself. Is it really that big of a deal? And you know Papyrus probably wouldn’t pressure you if he knew you really didn’t want to go, but he would be disappointed. Awww. Imagining his disappointment is almost unbearable, like seeing someone spend all day baking a cake, decorating it perfectly and then just chucking the whole thing into the garbage.

“No, I’ll-I’ll go. But...” You chew your lips for a minute. “I really need your help picking something out.”

They nod, seeming cheered.

“You like being covered up, right?” They look at your clothing, which is more or less another version of the outfit you always wear; jeans, long t shirt or smock-dress, button up sweater or sometimes a hoodie overtop. Layers underneath, making your shape vague.

“But it’s getting close to summer, and you never know when exactly Papyrus will decide his work’s finished. So maybe you’ll want something with a lighter fabric?” They walk towards one of the back corners of the shop and you follow, trying not to think how much time’s passed already this year. Losing a month really messes up your sense of timing and seasonality, apparently. You take out a small bottle of water from your bag, mouth a little dry.

Frisk darts their eyes toward you surreptitiously, turns toward you. “I’ve been thinking about the Soul Studies thing,” they gesture, almost clipped. Wow, here we go, you guess. Your eyes automatically go to the store’s clerk, or owner or whatever, but they seem to still be absorbed in whatever they’re reading.

“Sans told me you pretty much figured out what I can do,” they say slowly, eyes downcast under their thick, blunt bangs. Maybe its just the lighting in the store, but they look awfully sallow all of a sudden.

“I’m not sure ‘figured out’ can be applied in any way to whatever’s going on,” you admit. You think back over the past weeks, including what had apparently become “hot dog nite” with Sans, although it ends up being twice a week rather than any specific day. Just whenever you’re both in the mood to loaf. He’s still the reigning champion of deflection, although every once in a while he really manages to surprise you with a steaming delivery of hot info, like the time he’d just told you that Toriel and King Asgore used to be married to each other, a very long time ago.

“thought everyone knew that,” he’d shrugged, and shoved another ‘dog between his teeth. “they’re both boss monsters. and both...goats. y’know.” When you’d asked him to explain what the hell a “boss monster” was supposed to be, he’d just shrugged again, and you couldn’t get anything else out of him. It made sense in retrospect, considering they’re the king and queen, although it’s been made increasingly obvious what whatever system the monsters have going on is a lot different than any human monarchy. Asgore and Toriel had gone to some pretty great lengths to demonstrate that they in no way, shape or form were a couple, so eventually everyone just had to accept it.

Frisk is looking at you oddly, and you try to bring your mind back to the conversation at hand.

“Sorry,” you gesture tightly. “My mind...tends to wander a bit lately.”

They sigh, eyes darting with intense thoughts you can’t really imagine.

“You...think humans should know more about souls. Right?” You don’t think that had been what they were going to say, but it’s definitely relevant to your interests.

“I understand why it’s been a good idea to keep a lot of information about monster resources a secret up to now, but I have to say I don’t necessarily understand the secrecy around souls. They’re not a...” you trail off, feeling a little sick. “Good lord, they’re not a resource, right??” If this is some sort of Soylent Green situation, you think you might just nope the fuck off this planet right now.

“No, no, it’s not like that,” they’re already gesturing, and you feel a little relief. “Well,” they amend, “spiders have some interesting...practices. But!” They rush to reassure you. “That’s not where monster...goods come from. It’s...”

They sigh again. “It’s not like I can tell you without...telling you.” They look frustrated. “Why don’t we just do the shopping, then go...have lunch?” they look up hopefully. “And we can actually talk sitting down, instead of just standing here til our legs go numb.”

You nod, then finally look at the wall of clothing in front of you.

“what about these?” Frisk prompts, then takes down a pair of loose, flowing trousers in a dark green color, and what looks like an embroidered tunic in black.

“Those seem a little fancy for me,” you reply dubiously, but when they hand them over, you take them so they can answer.

“You don’t think it’s okay to have something fancy? Why not just try them on and see how you feel about it?”

You look around for something resembling a fitting room, but Frisk takes your hand in their slightly sweaty one and pulls you toward the desk where the lion monster sits. Their grubbiness reminds you of how young they still are in a lot of ways.

Frisk greets the monster at the desk, then requests a fitting room, which turns out to be the door half-obscured by even more racks of clothing in the shop’s tight space, a few steps away from the desk. You notice that the book the monster had been reading is actually a sort of thick playbill; the desk is covered with what look like craft and trade magazines, a romance novel, and several measuring tapes.

You go into the small fitting room, strip off your outerwear but not the undershorts and layered tank tops underneath, then pull on the flowing trousers and tunic. The mirror shows you that they’re a lot more flattering than you’d thought they would be. They even make you look a little...taller? Huh. Most outfits like this you’ve tried on just make you look like a sad cabbage with a human head. The embroidery on the top actually matches the color of the pants in some places, and you enjoy the symmetry of that. The sleeves are long, just like you like, and the fabric doesn’t cling to you at all. You look sort of like a cool, decorative column. Hmm.

You change back and bring the clothes out, and see Frisk’s face fall a little. Oh. Maybe they’d expected you to come out wearing it for their opinion, you realize belatedly, and blush. Whoops. Yeah. You really have forgotten how to act around people. You’re lucky the...skeleton household? Had aggressively decided to befriend you, if you’re this out of practice just going shopping with someone. Yeesh.

“Sorry,” you gesture. “But, um. I’ll take it? And then...” ugh, you hope it’s not too expensive, you don’t even know how much they cost, “...I’ll have a big reveal?” You try to drum up some enthusiasm to make up for your lack of friendship skills. “At the party? So everyone can see my new clothes at the same time.” Sure, that sounds good, right?

Well, Frisk grins at you and nods, so you suppose it’s good enough.

The outfit Frisk has chose ends up costing about 600G, and you wince a little but figure that’s about what you’d expected. And you’ve still got 900 to spend on food, or whatever you like.

You both thank the shopkeep, who’s already picking their book back up, and exit the shop.

“So, where should we go to eat?” you ask.

“Wanna just go to Grillby’s?” Frisk gestures with a shrug. “It’s right over there.”

You stop short and blink, looking across the street where Frisk is pointing. When you squint down at the next block, you see the edifice you remember from your “date” with Sans. Huh.

“Uh, sure,” you reply. You heft the bag with the clothing in it, and glance at the bike at the curb. It still had the pod on the back. “I think I can walk if I don’t have to carry this,” you gesture with it looped on your wrist.

Instead of offering to put it in the trunk, they just take it from you and head toward the pub. You shrug and follow them willingly enough. You’re feeling fatigued today, but it’s not too bad. The pain’s not bad, either, and you’re hoping another round of monster food will perk you up.

Frisk pushes open the door, and as your eyes adjust to the dimness you notice there aren’t too many patrons this early. Grillby’s still there behind the bar, and to your surprise, Frisk just walks right up and hops up onto one of the stools, setting the bag on the counter and leans forward, turns their head to look at you over their shoulder.

Pats the seat next to them with a smile.

“Can I get two specials?” Frisk gestures at the thin, vest-clad elemental across the bar. A hiss and a crackle, and he just heads down past the bar and into the back. As you walk up to the stool, thankful that it’s a lot lower than most barstools you’re familiar with, you notice the only other patron appears to be Lola. You remember the drunk furry person with long ears buying you and Sans a round the last time you’d been here. She also appears to be heavily unconscious, so you’re basically alone.

Frisk turns to you. “Souls aren’t a resource exactly, not the way you mean, but humans knowing more about them could put monsters at risk.” Okay, just getting right to it, then. It’s obvious Frisk feels very comfortable here...and Grillby’s still in the back. Maybe this is some kind of unofficial conference site for the Ambassador.

They look thoughtful.

“One thing I never considered is that ignorance of souls could put humans at risk. Why would it? After all, they were fine for millennia, forgot everything.” Their expression changes, grows distant. Detached.

“Maybe if I had known, even then. I might not have cared. But,” their eyes dart at you, and they look a little upset. “Then, you...” they trail off.

“Another thing I didn’t realize is that the barrier coming down didn’t just change things for monsters. And it didn’t only affect, um… there are other effects,” they say hurriedly, as if they don’t want to be seen.

You catch their eye. “Humans used to be able to do magic, right? Otherwise they couldn’t have made the barrier in the first place. And that’s what you’re worried about.”

They tilt their hand ambiguously, then tuck the longer part of their hair behind an ear, rub their chin.

“But you can do magic,” you argue, “and I don’t know why. I don’t know what that means, for all this. For humanity.”

Frisk’s eyes go hard.

“Would you trust humanity with something that dangerous? The way things are, even now?”

You sigh, the frustration leaving you.

“You shouldn’t have to make these kinds of decisions,” you say sadly. “Much less eleven years ago.”

Frisk’s eyes harden even further, for some reason.

“Did you ever wonder how I got to the underground?” they remark in short, clipped gestures. You blink rapidly in surprise.

“People don’t come back from Mt Ebott,” they continue before you can respond. “So why would someone go there?” Frisk reaches up to their scalp, parts their hair carefully with their fingers. That’s...a really big scar. You’d never have seen it by accident, though, and it’s very...it actually dips in, in the middle.

“I’m lucky i’m not blind, too,” they gesture after a moment. “And no. It’s not from my fall.”

You swallow, sit with that a moment.

“I wish I didn’t have to make these decisions. It’s too much. I hate it,” they emphasize, eyes glittering again. “But I’ve been making decisions like that for longer than I can remember. Literally,” they add with finality, no longer looking at you. They just sort of hunch there over the counter.

You touch their arm lightly, and they turn their eyes but not their head.

“What do you want to ask me?” you say gently.

Now they turn to you a little more.

“Do you think humans need to know more about how their souls work? Will we be able to survive that? Any of us?”

You lift you hand, answer slowly.

“I don’t know if I’m the right person to ask.” You take a deep breath. “I’m really mired in all of this. And if I don’t learn more, I might not...survive? Everything about this affects me directly. Maybe it’s even worse than that. You see?” You meet their eyes evenly. “I don’t even know what could happen to me because of this. That’s how much I don’t know.”

Frisk looks at you incredulously.

“That’s why you’re the only person I can ask about this.” Their hands move slow, punctuated. “The only one worth asking. You already...” they still their fingers. “A lot of lives are on the line, and I don’t know what to do. I need help, and. You were right.” They look down. “I don’t know many humans. I don’t...”

They meet your eyes, baffled. “You’re affected by this, so that makes your opinion important to me. Will you think about it, and let me… know? What you think?”

“Yes,” you gesture, since there’s no other answer you could possibly give, faced with this.

They shiver, sigh heavily, but they sound relieved.

“Can I ask you something, though?” They nod.

“What does a blue soul mean? Dark blue?”

Their eyes fall a bit at the outside corners.

“Integrity,” they fingerspell, leaving no room for confusion.

Wow. You didn’t expect to feel so...conflicted about that. You swallow dryly, then fish out your bottle of water and take a sip, never mind that you’re...in a restaurant. Bar? Whatever. The knowledge settles on you strangely, and you both sit in silence.

Then, Grillby pushes open the door beside the bar carrying two plates with burgers on them, and it breaks the spell. He sets both down with a flourish, and you thank him, but he’s already heading back down and whipping out a bartowel and wiping at some glasses.

You look down at your plate, open the bun. Frown.

“So is this like...meat?” you ask weakly. After the whole 'resource' conversation earlier, you’re maybe a little more squeamish. No, you’re sure it’s...fine.

Frisk looks over at you. “No? It’s a plant.”

You look down again, notice the texture is a lot like the hot dogs Sans brings you. Hmm. Smells a little better though. Charred? Broiled? You glance over at Grillby, and Frisk giggles at you, surprising you since there’s a little more voice behind it than usual. Then Frisk offers you a bottle of ketchup, and an oddly nostalgic look crosses their face as you take it.

You shut up and eat your burger, and it’s fucking delicious. You’re glad Frisk recommended you both eat here. As you gaze at the wall of bottles, you notice that most of them appear to be human brands you recognize. You think about what Sans had said about Frisk putting away six glasses of monster booze wonderingly for a while, trying to remotely imagine what that would be like. Then you glance to the side when you hear Frisk’s huffing laugh again.

Grillby had come back over without you noticing, and Frisk is signing rapidly, while Grillby pops and crackles. Frisk throws their had back and guffaws, surprising you again. Their laugh has a quality you’re familiar with, from Deaf and HoH people who can’t hear their own voice very well. You still aren’t sure how much hearing they do or don't have, but if their lack of verbal speech and deafness was caused by a traumatic brain injury, then it’s likely a lot more complicated than that.

“The burgers are on the house,” Frisk signs, wiping away actual tears of mirth. “He says ‘anyone who can force Sans to slow dance in public to his own bad jokes is welcome here anytime,’” they add, and crack up again. “I wish I had seen it,” they add weakly, and they and Grillby go back to their conversation while you finish eating.

You hope your dark complexion and bowed head are hiding your blush.

Chapter Text

When you wake up a week later, your eyes burn, and you have a sinking feeling that it’s not going to be a good time.

An hour later, you send a message to the office to let them know you’re not going to be making it in today.

After your fourth hour crying nonstop, you finally give in and text Sans while you still have enough vision to do so. You don’t want to, but at this point it seems necessary since you obviously can’t get a handle on this.

You have no clue why, although your brain has already tried to supply multiple rationalizations for your insistent despair and uncontrollable weeping: stress, loneliness, previous traumas, a social interaction with a barista from seven years ago that had been awkward, or maybe you just finally are losing your mind for real. But in the end, the confusion itself makes you think it might be somehow related to your more recent issues. After all, if you’re soul’s out of whack, it stands to reason it’d be wreaking havoc on your emotions, too. Right?

Sans isn’t actually your first choice, but he comes in at a solid third. Vulkin had just been here yesterday, after all, and you’re not really sure this is the kind of thing she can or is willing to help with. You haven’t been asking for- soul services? ugh, no matter how you think of it, it sounds super questionable- every session, but yesterday’s had been a little more intense than usual.

You’d gone further into the part of yourself that seems to have at some point, impossibly, ended. It hadn’t seemed that unsettling at the time, but maybe this is just some sort of delayed reaction. That strange inconsistency, the certainty that you are infinite, existing outside of time and space, yet that existence had also somehow been made finite, or made to become...not...you burst into a fresh round of sobs. Okay, shit, time to leave it alone.

Papyrus, in an unprecedented move, is somehow unavailable. Your messages to him had actually been marked as undeliverable.

His brother responds to your hesitant text message by shuffling out of your kitchen with his hands in his hoodie pockets, and you yell and jump back, still crying uncontrollably.

He looks at you, sockets widening slowly.

“hm,” he says quietly, and his bony hand emerges to scratch at the back of his cervical spine. “how long’s that been going on for?”

“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” you wail.

He turns his head and glances back to the kitchen, then shuffles closer and plops down on the part of the couch perpendicular to you with a chuffing noise.

“can’t exactly just do that sort of thing outside,” he says evenly.

“Where’s Papyrus?” you gesture weakly. “Is he okay?” you add, breath hitching in the middle.

Sans leans back a little further, face unreadable. “he’s fine. s’warmer out now so him n the kid decided to take one a their little camping trips. won’t be back til thursday.”

“They’re camping?” you sob incredulously. “Where? He doesn’t even have any reception, and I thought that didn’t matter with monster phones.”

He goes even flatter, somehow laying down while sitting.

“up on the mountain. s’fine, they do it a few times a year when it’s nice out.” He doesn’t actually seem very happy about it at all, but you’ve got bigger problems at the moment.

“How do I get this to stop?” you ask helplessly. “I’m making myself sick this way, it’s been four hours, and I know it’s part of the, what, the whatever’s w-wrong w-with-”

He rolls his skull on his neck and looks you over, seeming half asleep and evaluating at the same time.

“you woke up like that?”

“Yes,” you gesture, and he exhales heavily, sockets closing a little more.

“hungry?” he tries.

You shake your head, touching a tissue to your incredibly sore face.

“in pain? got your meds?”

“I get what you’re doing, but can you at least give me credit for knowing the difference between problems I’ve had for all or most of my life,” you gesture a little angrily, “and an entirely different problem that is obviously new?” You’d try some calming breaths, but you can’t. “You think I cry like this over a little pain? I’m in pain every goddamn day, and it’s not like you-” you cut off, leaning over and putting your hands over your face. You literally can’t calm down. This sucks.

“sorry,” you hear him say, a lot closer and above you now. You don’t know if he did that thing he does or if he just got up and walked over to you, but you also don’t care anymore.

“wish I had better news for ya,” he says, voice a little gravelly. “might go on like this for a while.”

“How long?” you manage to choke out.

“day or two, maybe” he replies evasively, and you feel him sit down next to you.

“I can’t live like this,” you sob out with renewed misery. The only answer is a soft rasping noise of bone on bone. “I’ve n-never felt like this in m-my fucking life,” you ramble in despair. “N-not even when my m-mom-” you choke off, shoulders shaking silently. You suck in another breath. “What does that even say about m-me as a person? I can’t even-”

Sans just sits there, and it doesn’t make you feel better, but it does….something.

“I wish P-papyrus was here,” you stutter out after a few more minutes.

“same here, buddy,” he replies fervently, but then you feel him shift. Leans forward or something.

“any particular reason for that?” he inquires. “this happen before?”

You take your hands off your face and try to look at him, but it’s too bleary. You pull some tissues out of the box, wipe and blow, then add them to the mountain of discarded paper and snot on your coffee table.

“Not this, but h-he calmed me down before, once. H-h-h-” you sob, shut up, and sign. “Had a bad time after a visit to my sister while I was off work a while back. He just sort of, did healing?” You hold your arms out in a wide oval, and his sockets widen again. “I felt amazing for almost a week after that. Not like I would ask him to do that all the time or anything, but-”

You cut off, vaguely remembering that Papyrus had implied he’d done the same for his brother, and that he didn’t like to talk about it. Or maybe he meant that Sans wouldn’t have wanted him to talk about it? You pull out more tissues, cup them in your hands and just hold them against your eyes for a minute or two. Sans is really quiet, and you wonder again if you’ve said something wrong. Then, he stands up.

“you got a bed?” he asks in a less defeated tone of voice.

You pull down the tissues and blink at him, utterly perplexed. He’s looking down at you, grin a little flattened and his sockets are a different shape than usual. Frowning, maybe? Sad? It’s hard to tell. You don’t think you’ve really seen him from underneath before, and you notice that the condyle of his jaw looks like it might be slightly...fused? To his mandibular fossa on the right side. Wait, why did he ask you if you have a bed?

He exhales. “if s’not obvious, I can’t exactly pick you up,” he says a little wryly.

“Are you saying you can do what your brother did?” you sign in confusion.

“nope,” he replies evenly. “might be able to help anyways, but...can’t promise nothin.”

“I’ll try anything,” you sign fervently, “but...why do you need a bed?” You blush a little, thinking about the night you’d both gotten a little tipsy and talked a lot about certain sorts of activities people might do from time to time. Although upon further reflection, he might have hinted pretty heavily that he and humans weren’t really even compatible that way, so you’re probably just making things awkward for no reason. As a matter of fact, if this requires physical proximity, too… you look at the couch you’re on, trying to imagine Sans picking you up and holding you the way Papyrus had, and it’d be really amusing if it wasn’t for the fog of absolute despair invading you. There’s just not enough room, and the arrangement would be impossible.

You stand up. “Sorry,” you croak unevenly. “I obviously can’t think straight. Like I said, I’ll try anything at this point. It’s up here,” you say, already turning to walk up the stairs. You hear him shuffling along behind you.

When you get upstairs, you turn around and look at him. He points to the bed.

“just lie down facing that way.”

“What are you going to do?” you ask listlessly.

“gonna lay there,” he replies shortly, indicating the space behind where he’d pointed for you. Oddly enough, he zips up his hoodie. Well, whatever. You crawl into bed and lie on your side with the covers pulled up over your heaving shoulders. Then you rummage, get an extra pillow to keep your head raised a little more so it feels less like it’s going to explode from the congestion.

The bed moves and you feel Sans clamber up and scoot forward. A mittened hand is thrown over you on top of the covers, and his weight presses down on the duvet and sheets. The increased pressure is nice, but you still can’t exhale without your breath catching. There’s more tissues on your nightstand, and you pull one out, blow your nose painfully for the billionth time.

“W-what’s supposed to happen?” you mumble thickly.

“’m gonna go to sleep,” he answers.

“What?” you rasp, a little irritated. He’s just going to take a nap here while you sob? You appreciate that he’s here, sure, and you’re not alone, but...if he wanted to take a nap he could’ve just stayed home and left you to it. Your eyes burn even more.

His sigh is heavy enough to stir your hair.

“i guess you figured out i need that too sometimes, right? almost every time, i get tired. end up taking a nap. paps always gets mad ‘cause then he always falls asleep,” rumbles. “like he caught my lazy. s’what he says.”

You’re trying to follow that through the haze of bizarre, soul-crushing grief and the novelty of being able to understand someone speaking behind you.

“You can make people fall asleep?” you croak, sniffling.

“dunno,” he says quietly. “worth a try. ‘sides... you really wanna be awake for this?”

You hiccup a little. “W-why does him falling asleep make you think this’ll make me sleep?”

His breath stirs your hair again. Maybe it’s because instead of coming out of nostrils, it’s just a big hole in his face.

“cause that’s the only time my brother sleeps,” he answers, sounding faintly amused.

You consider the fact that Papyrus had been up, dressed to the nines and ready to go that time you texted at 2 am or so, and then had subsequently held you like a basket of laundry for 8 hours straight while he watched variety shows. Then spent a long morning and afternoon throwing bones around, doing calisthenics, and pretending not to notice a robot flirting with him so subtly it became a sort of art form itself, decided to take a scenic drive to watch the sun set over the ocean (aka gotten hopelessly lost after a wrong turn), bought you dinner, and then dropped you off that night with the same vivacious energy he’d shown up with almost 24 hours before.

“Okay. Let’s try it,” you reply. “Need me to do anything?”

“nope,” he replies shortly, already sounding a little vague. “i can sleep anywhere.”

Funnily enough, as you stare at the wall of your room, the constant hitching of your chest you’ve been dealing with since you woke up (and maybe a little before then, judging from the state of your pillowcase), slowly starts to lessen. It’s almost like… something is insulating the raw, hectic core of what you’re feeling,; wrapping it up, somehow. Making it fuzzy, less distinct. Could he already be asleep? If so, that’s honestly impressive. Huh. Your eyes are drying a bit, and you open your mouth to-

A quiet but unmistakeable droning noise sounds from behind you, and it’s like someone pushes a button that turns off your brain.

***

When you open your gritty, grief-scoured lids, it’s pitch dark in your bedroom except for the faint light from one of the streetlights outside. It makes a stripe on your bookshelf where the curtains are open. Something white catches your eye, and you look down and see a skeletal hand in front of you seeming to float ghostlike on your dark duvet.

Oh, yeah. The faint rasp of breath behind you must be Sans. Considering it had been late morning when he’d come over, you must have been asleep for….shit. All day.

But you’re awake now, and you actually feel...well, you don’t feel good, that’s for sure. But despite the fact that you might explode if you don’t get up to pee soon, it’s surprisingly tolerable. You try to eyeball the situation to see if you can sneak out without waking him, since he seems like he’s still pretty out, and notice his mitten on the floor where it must have fallen off.

You try closing your eyes again since being conscious still seems like a lot to deal with, and you notice a sort of...resonance? It’s not warmth, but it’s a little like it. Less noticeable than when Papyrus had held you, but it’s there. And it doesn’t feel the same, although to be fair at the time you’d been in terrible pain, and then on a terribly lot of medication. As far as you can tell, this resonance seems to just radiate from the skeletons’ bodies somehow, although you have no idea if it requires some sort of focus, preparation, or concentration behind it. You head another faint snore from behind you. Huh. Maybe it’s just a side effect of being physically near them.

You notice Sans’s bony phalanges again. The resonance you feel now is actually similar to how it had felt when you’d touched his bare hand, when you’d taken the “shortcut” back home after the night at Grillby’s, except all over. You wonder if his odd practice of putting on outerwear to take a nap is some kind of habit he picked up, or if he just gets really cold from not having skin? ….or, geez, maybe he’s worried you might touch his bones while he’s asleep? Oh, man. Someone must have really done a number on this guy at some point. Your soul quirks a little with sympathy, but you’re probably just jumping to conclusions again.

And at this point you’re gonna piss the bed if you don’t get up. You just sort of gently push the covers back, incidentally moving his arm without touching it. He ends up rolling over and throwing that arm over his head, still snoring. Seems like he wiggled halfway out of his hoodie at some point, too, even though it’s still mostly zipped and the bare arm’s just kind of coming out of the neck hole.

You don’t bother turning on any of the lights since your head’s starting to pound again, but you use the bathroom and head downstairs to grab some water, at the very least. You lean against the wall as you descend heavily, feeling guilty about how much Sans is putting himself out for you. Surely he has better ways to spend his time than babysitting a grownass adult who just can’t stop crying.

You glance at the clock, and it looks like it’s 11 pm. Wow. You just spent twelve hours asleep, only a few hours after you’d woken up in the morning. Sans’s sleep spell or whatever it is is no fucking joke.

Your body doesn’t even feel that bad, you think as you take you night meds out of your countertop pill dispenser. And it’s not like what you’re having trouble with right now is even a legitimate medical problem. You fill a glass at the kitchen tap. Nope, it’s just you being a big, fat crybaby about nothing in particular. You gasp as your swollen eyes burn again. Oh, shit. See? You can’t even fill a glass of water at the tap without…

A sob hits you, and you almost inhale the water you’re trying to drink. You can’t fucking do anything right, can you? Can’t even drink water without falling apart.

Wait a second.

You watch a fat tear fall into your glass of water, then hiccup again as you gaze at the ceiling. You’d been fine as long as you’d been in bed, then as soon as you got up...whoa. You fill you glass again and stagger upstairs, a few sobs escaping you as you turn the corner back into the bedroom.

Sans’s sockets are open, and his hoodie’s back on.

“heya.” His eye lights, inexplicably visible even though the light’s coming from behind him, take in your fragile state. “sorry, guess it didn’t help that much. least you got a break.”

“It was,” you wail pathetically. “Then I-I got up.”

“huh?”

“I was m-mostly okay as long as I was laying there,” you explain tearfully. “Even a-a-fter I w-woke up.”

He looks surprised, then thoughtful.

“maybe you should come back, then.”

You stay standing there, clutching your water glass indecisively and wiping at your face, making it burn even more.

“Don’t you have...stuff you have to do?”

“nah,” he replies easily, then pulls the blankets back a little more. “with the kid n paps gone i spend the whole time mostly sleepin’ anyways.” He glances to the side a little, then back at you. Smiles a little. “’sides, now you got me curious,” he tries, but the smile fades after a second or two.

“I’m not that t-t-tired,” you say, and you're not even sure why you’re still arguing.

He shrugs, lays back down.

“you don’t gotta sleep. don’t gotta do anything.”

A few long seconds pass before you finally set your glass on the nightstand and shakily crawl back onto the sheet-covered mattress. You pull the covers back up over your shoulder and turn back around, and his arm goes back over you. This time, it seems like he’s leaned up on one of his elbows, though. You glance up, and he’s not staring down at you, but he could if he wanted to.

You immediately have uncharitable thoughts about being some kind of science experiment for him, since apparently he’s some kind of skeletal super genius but only for shits and giggles, but recognize it as a symptom of whatever the fuck is wrong with you right now. You try to take a deep breath, but it still hitches, and you sob it out. Your reach over for another tissue, since your pillow’s getting wet.

“nothing yet, huh?” he asks quietly. “wonder if i gotta go to sleep again.”

“Y-you don’t know?” you ask.

“not like this is a situation i’m in all that often,” he replies after a while.

This time, your deep breath succeeds. “You really think you have some k-kind of magic you d-don’t know about?”

He doesn’t answer, but you notice your eyes are starting to dry out. His silence is irksome, but you add, “It’s starting to work now.”

“huh.” This time he does look down at you, or at least you think so based on the movement in the corner of your eye. “what’s it like?”

You close your eyes and concentrate on the feeling.

“Like...someone pulling a cloth over a lamp. A dampening effect?”

“hm.” He shifts, and it feels like he’s laying down a bit more instead of being up on his elbow. His face is very close, and you can feel him breathing almost on your neck. You notice he’s pushed his hand forward, which is still bare. The bones still seem luminous even in the darkened room.

“can I see your hand a sec?”

You pull it out from under the covers and hold it up, and he gathers it up into his own. They still don’t seem to be any particular temperature, although you suppose since they’re not the same slightly cool temperature as the room, they must generate some kind of heat. Or they’re just...internally neutral, somehow? It still has that same feeling of magic you remember: subtle, but there. Not as much as magic-powered objects you’ve been near or touched, but more than you remember from touching other monsters, although you suppose they all have that sort of...aura? That sounds silly.

But when you think about it though, you get a lot of sensations from touching other humans, too: heat, moisture, texture, and other things you’re sure you don’t even notice consciously. This feeling might just be another version of that, only it seems strange because you’re not used to it. Maybe it has to do with that continuum stuff Sans had talked about before. Maybe that’s what’s generating whatever this is.

“that doing anything?” he asks quietly from behind your head.

“I don’t think so,” you answer. “Not any more than it was before. I think it’s just being near you that’s doing it.”

“huh,” he whispers, then lets your hand go and lays back down completely, but closer than before. You’re quiet for a long time, but you don’t start crying again. You feel...almost tolerable. It’s not good or anything, but it’s far preferable to before. A thought occurs to you.

“Is this why Frisk wants you to sing to them that way?” you ask.

“hard to say. there’s a lot of other factors going on there.”

“You’re a lot like your brother,” you rasp.

A huff of surprise. “you think so?”

“Once you decide you’re not going to answer a question...you don’t. And absolutely nothing can get it out of you.”

He sighs heavily, and you catch his dry, osseous smell.

“it’s not my decision,” he replies defeatedly. You didn’t really mean it that pointedly, but you suppose that’s what would be on his mind, especially in a situation like this. Something that’s been bothering him. And it reminds you of something that’s been bothering you for a while, too.

“But it’s an eight-year-old human child’s decision? Even 19 is too young for that kind of responsibility. Deciding what to tell and not tell, making the call for two entire species?”

He shifts a little, but doesn’t move away. “told ya about that, huh? wonder what else they said.” He’s quiet for a second before continuing.

“you got some idea what they can do. you think they don’t gotta make decisions like that all the time?” It’s almost exactly what Frisk had said themself, but Sans’s voice sounds very flat, almost cold. You wonder if you’ve overstepped into some sort of family issue, but then you realize it doesn’t seem like the coldness in his voice was directed at you. The more you think about it, the more you’re sure. It’s directed at Frisk.

And you really think about what you’ve been saying.

What he’s saying.

Frisk has the ability to make things that have happened...not have happened. How deep would that go? How long have they been able to do this, how long has Sans known about it? What sort of thing could happen that would make Frisk want to...or have to? No.

You think about what you’d seen for yourself, the part of your soul that had somehow been truncated, your endless self that had seen an end. No. The impossibility you had to somehow learn to absorb, and what it feels like. What it really feels like when you think about it this way.

No.

You start to shake.

“...I died, didn’t I?” It’s a high-pitched whisper.

His arm tightens around you, increasing the pressure on the blanket and containing your shivers, although they also increase instead of lessening.

“yeah,” he rasps at last, regret and grief roughening his voice.

And even though he’s holding you tighter than ever, your shoulders shake as your swollen, exhausted eyes suddenly pour horrified, scalding tears into your pillow.

“Why did this h-h-happen to me?” you cry between short, shocked breaths, voice thin and panicked between chattering teeth.

“sorry,” he mumbles; what you think is his forehead is pressed to the back of your neck. “m’sorry.” His voice breaks.

Grief too deep to contain wracks your body; you curl inward involuntarily as it pushes all the air out of your lungs. So many things you could have been are coming unraveled atom by atom, and that unmaking pushes its way into you, insisting that you acknowledge it. It hurts. When you finally suck a strangled breath back in, the exhale becomes an unstoppable, violent wail of despair. You’re writhing in agony because it’s the end of everything; the end of you.

The whole world is ending.

And when it does, you hear the sound of quiet, helpless weeping behind you, a tingling on the back of your neck.

He doesn’t let you go.

***

f o r  a  l o n g  t i m e

***

Something a little more like consciousness pours into your body; a vessel filled unwillingly.

“You died too?” Your voice is gone, you’re just shaping your breath at him.

At some point you’d lost some time; now you and Sans are lying like twin commas folded toward each other. You can feel his shinbones on your thighs, and the tops of your heads are touching. His feet are bare where the covers have been kicked down, and there’s something raw and honest about that. The space between you seems to contain your shared grief like a bowl, keeping it from slipping out. Closed off like this it’s almost palpable, but it has a boundary now. Together, you’ve created limits for it.

“yeah.” One of the benefits of not having a throat, you suppose, but his voice is cracked, rough. Both of you have your hands curled in front of you, and you reach out to touch his hard, smooth fingers tentatively.

“Do you remember it?”

“no.”

Quiet for a little while.

“you’d think it’d take a piece of you,” he adds eventually. “but it adds one instead. just flies back from the end, winds up stuck to you. somethin’ you gotta make room for, or everything else gets shoved out.”

“What happened to me at your house that day?

A longer silence. “you sure you wanna talk about that right now?”

“What happened?”

He sighs unsteadily.

“frisk told you...how you died.”

“What happened?” you mouth insistently.

His hand moves, grips your fingers.

“your soul’s blue.”

“So?”

“integrity,” he answers after several minutes, “makes it hard to lie to yourself, and still...be yourself. you couldn’t accept what you were hearing, but...you knew it was true. frisk tellin’ ya made it so it had to be dealt with right then, and you...you couldn’t. but you couldn’t ignore it, either.”

His breath is uneven.

“you...tore yourself apart,” he rasps unwillingly. “right there in the dining room.”

Air squeezes slow and high through your ruined vocal cords.

“paps held ya together somehow, and...me n frisk got all the, uh. the rest of it. then vulkin… she fused it.”

Your breath hisses between your teeth for a little while.

“if i hadn’t asked them to, uh...explain. maybe that woulda been different,” he whispers hollowly. “but i was...”

He trails off, shudders.

“Like this,” you mouth.

He doesn’t answer.

“look,” he says heavily. “you eat today?”

You turn your head slowly in the negative, brushing against his skull.

“maybe...” he trails off. Your head’s still shaking, and continues for several more seconds.

“Can we go back to sleep?” You barely move your lips.

He sucks in a long, shuddering breath and lets it out.

“okay.”

***

The sun rises eventually behind a thick cloud cover. Your ravaged eyes open into reluctant gray-blue light.

Your forehead’s pressed against something hard, enough to maybe leave a dent. It’s Sans, you realize. You’ve curled up even more, and now his bony knees are tucked into your midsection, and your face is shoved against his collarbone. Your arms are crossed across your body, one hand tucked into your armpit, and it’s starting to go numb. Weirdly enough, it doesn't feel like a compromising position, maybe because his body is so...neutral, in a way. It’s more or less the same all over: he’s really just bones.

“i’d tell ya not to get any ideas, but i doubt you’re up for that,” a dry, quiet voice intones above you. Seems like it’s attempting levity, but falls short. It takes all your energy just to move you head and tilt it up. Sans is already looking down at you, and when he sees your face he winces visibly, eye lights shrinking to points.

His hand tightens on your shoulder, and only then do you realize it had already been there.

“look,” he starts, then glances away. You wonder how long he’s been awake for. The grooves under his sockets look deep, but it’s not apparent whether it’s from too much or not enough sleep. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

“i can...stay.” he says, sounding oddly conflicted. “but, i gotta go get some stuff.”

Your voice is gone, and your hands are numb. You feel yourself trying to curl back in again, but the hand on your shoulders stops you.

“it’s that, or i’m taking you to toriel,” he says, a slight edge in his voice. You look back up at him, and he seems about as keen on that idea as you are, which is extremely not. “’m not saying there’s a good time for this, but...”

Oh. Yeah, Frisk and Papyrus’s camping trip. Or maybe he means something else entirely. You can’t bring yourself to care, to be honest.

You curl again, and this time he doesn’t stop you. Your head slides off his humerus, where it apparently had been pillowed (in a sense; it’s probably left another dent in your scalp from the tingle as you remove it), and you ball up indifferently.

He sighs heavily, and you feel him get up. You don’t watch him leave, you don’t move at all. But you hear the bedroom door click shut behind him.

Your try not to think about how you feel, but you can’t really think about anything else. What Sans had said about something being added...you feel it. It’s true. How is it possible to add an absence, you wonder? If you concentrate on that too hard, it gives you a flickering, awful sensation.

And Sans had been through the same thing? You wonder why he seems so much better than...well, maybe not. Maybe seeming and being are different. Time barely seems to exist, but apparently he’s been gone long enough for a few slow tears to squeeze out of your tortured eyes. The curtains are still parted, but there’s no bar of light, only the sameness of overcast with its directionless illumination.

The door opens behind you and Sans shuffles back in, huffing a little. Something heavy hits the bed, then something else. He comes back into your line of sight, fiddles around for a second, then crawls back over to you a little awkwardly. He’s holding a clear plastic bottle, but there’s no cap and the label’s been torn half off. Looks like it’s full, though.

“’k, you gotta drink this.”

You stare at him dully.

His face goes a little out of tune. “c’mon, i already drank mine.” He looks a little desperate now, and like he’s thinking really hard, too. “uh...” He shifts around, spilling a little until he’s cross-legged beside you. “so. this is water, but it’s... from waterfall.”

You manage to bring up a sigh from somewhere.

“okay, you don’t know what that is. so, you know we were all sealed underground, right? and you..well, you figured out everything else that was sealed down there with us too. or maybe you were just guessing. doesn’t matter. well, you know how water...cycles, right? rain, evaporation... now imagine generations of monsters living and dying, but in a closed system. all that water, in a closed system.”

Despite yourself, you’re interested in what he’s saying. You stir a little, annoyed.

“so. guess you could say this isn’t really water anymore, but uh, it’s...it’s not like what you had before at grillby’s but it’ll fix your throat. maybe. just...i had to go all the way underground to get it, and i don’t exactly, uh, enjoy that necessarily, so the least you can do is...”

He’s rambling, which seems a little weird for him. But it’s the last part...’the least you can do’, huh? Reminds you of something.

You struggle up to one elbow, try to take the bottle but your hand’s shaking and numb, and it sloshes. His hand steadies the bottle, and you drink.

And drink. He lets go as you tip the bottle up.

“Thank you,” you say finally, and your voice isn’t even as rough as you were expecting. You couldn’t even say what that had tasted like, but it’s definitely gone now. He just exhales slowly, then leans over abruptly to drag something across the bed, and incidentally, right over your body. It’s a little annoying, again. In your peripheral vision, you think you see one of his sockets close, and you hear a soft clack and rasp as his phalanges run over it repeatedly. He mumbles something even you can’t entirely make sense of, so maybe he’s not talking to you. Huh. Apparently that makes a difference. He’s mumbling some more as he rummages around in what’s apparently a stained, worn backpack, and it irritates you enough to finally struggle up and lean back against the wall behind your bed.

He looks up, and holds out something wrapped in a piece of paper. When you don’t take it right away, he just drops it in your lap and scoots up next to you to lean against the wall until your shoulders touch. He’s dragged the backpack with him and pulls out his own newspaper-wrapped object.

“heh. I remember when we would’ve dried this out, saved it to read. maybe put it in the library.” That doesn’t make sense to you, but you watch him unwrap the paper and inside, weirdly enough, is a very large and very fried lump of….something. He tears a piece off and shoves it between his teeth, then rummages again and drops three orange bottles in your lap. Oh. Your meds; the non-PRN ones. You’d completely forgotten about them, and it’s probably a good thing he didn’t.

You swallow them dry one at a time, then open your paper to find a similar fried object.

“What...is this?”

He glances over at your lap as if he needs to check. “dog salad,” he replies shortly. “just eat it.”
That’s one the worst combination of words you’ve heard, but you lift the lump to your mouth anyway, and take a bite. It’s indescribable in the same way the blender spaghetti had been, but it also disappears down your gullet just as quickly.

Exhausted, you lie back down.

***

You open your eyes again to pitch black, the stripe of light, and a bony arm thrown over you from behind.

“Did you ever figure out what this magic does?” you speak into the dark.

“think maybe we got a misunderstanding going on,” he replies quietly.

“how so?”

“s’like, humans hold on to each other when it gets bad, right?”

“Well...yeah?” you reply, confused.

He sighs. “more like...this is one a those times ‘m not doing magic. i’m just...being magic.”

You’re quiet, trying to think about that. You’re not sure you get it.

“what do humans get outta this?” he asks after a while.

You think about that. Warmth, comfort, the feeling like you’re sharing in….oh. It’s like when you touched his hand, and thought about all the things you might feel from a human touch, just...different. You’re not used to this, so it’s noticeable. But it really does seem like this is doing something more than just comforting you. It feels healing. Not the same as when Papyrus had healed you, since that had been physical.

“I guess we really...” you think about it. Neuroscience, studies in neuropsychology, social psychology, and the effects of isolation versus community. All those factors that no one can say for sure exactly why it works, but evidence shows that it very much does. The line between believing something will cause benefit and it actually working is...so fine and blurry that it basically doesn’t exist in many cases.

“Monster bodies are different, though.” you say conclusively, although you’re not sure exactly what you’ve concluded.

“yup.”

“What about putting me to sleep?” you persist.

“don’t know if that works if you don’t want it to.”

You’re so glad you’re not alone. You’re quiet for a long time, but you don’t fall back asleep. The pain of your severed existence is still lodged uncomfortably somewhere in your sense of self, and although its jaggedness is softening and blending, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

“How do you live with this?” you ask quietly.

“no trick to it,” he whispers. “ya just do.”

“But...” you trail off. “How do you live with this?”

A heavy sigh blows down the back of your neck, smelling like bone shavings, exhaustion, and the ghost of grease.

“s’funny. been thinking about some of the stuff you said. how you… wanna keep learning how to just be you. find a way to live your life instead of fighting for it all the time. i dunno. reasons.”

You wait for more, but there isn’t any. After a while, you realize the implication is that something you’d said at some point must have had a profound effect on him. Something twists inside you unexpectedly, but there’s no pain. You have a hard time remembering the last time you thought about something that didn’t actually hurt.

“But-” you don’t know what you’re protesting. It really seems like he knows what he’s doing, at least from where you’re sitting. Like he’s got a handle on things, but only by knowing there is no way to have a handle on any of this. It’s like...wisdom.

“How many times has this happened to you?” you huff in a strained whisper.

“don’t ask me stuff like that,” he growls hollowly. You involuntarily shudder.

After a second, he squeezes you again and you feel his forehead touch the back of your neck apologetically, although neither of you actually apologize. Even though he’s closer than ever, your eyes burn, and tears soak your abused pillowcase again. His breath stirs your hair, and you really hope he doesn’t have a way to know the tears aren’t for you this time.

***

The next time you wake up, your blurry but significantly less sore eyes land on Sans’s back, sitting on the edge of the bed. As you suck in a waking breath, he turns around and looks over his shoulder with a hesitant smile.

“Hey,” you say, then clear your throat and try to return it. Well, you try. He’s got the backpack on his lap, but it seems like everything’s in it, and his hoodie’s on. Seems he cleared off the bed, too.

“Are Frisk and Papyrus back?” You blink rapidly. “It’s...is it Thursday? Already?”

He exhales in wry amusement.

“it’s saturday.”

You open your mouth, but nothing comes out so you just close it again. You’re not even that surprised, to be honest. Maybe you’re just starting to acclimate to time being occasionally less than linear. Guess you really can get used to anything.

“you been out of the woods since wednesday night, though. so i just texted paps again to stay home once he got there,” he reassures you. “it’s gonna get better from here, ‘k?”

He looks like absolute shit, and pretty filthy, but at the same time also...better? He turns a little, gives you an assessing look. His hoodie’s creased and stained, but the grooves under his sockets are far from the worst you’ve seen them. You sit up, and it’s easier than you expected. It also makes your skin crawl, realizing you’re at least as filthy as he is, probably more.

“yeah, I need a shower too,” he remarks with a smile that’s almost a grin this time. “bout to go do that, in fact.”

You nod cautiously, then wince.

“If I’ve been okay since...whenever. You...why did you stay?”

He gives you a really weird look.

“cause I wanted to?”

You can’t really figure out a way to argue with that.

He sighs, pulls the strap of the backpack over one shoulder, and stands.

“see ya,” he says and actually winks.

The door shuts behind him, and he’s gone when you stand, walk over, and open it.

It’s easier than you thought it would be.

 

Chapter Text

~

Something that’s easy to miss about both chapter 7 and Undertale is that Sans is an extremely skilled interrogator. He might not be what most people think of when they hear that word, but honestly? Torturing someone is a lot of work, and more of a hassle than it’s worth for the quality of info you get. He’d tell you the same.

However, disarming someone with bad jokes (making them feel both comfortable and superior), offering up personal information and vulnerability (ESPECIALLY if it’s true), then knocking them just a little off balance with something unsettling, you get everything you need without even trying. He’s your buddy, right? Definitely helps if you can read faces like book, too. Everyone loves that guy, predictable as the weather. Even when there isn’t any.

You know what Sans isn’t used to? People surprising him. Fun fact: no one has ever actually asked for his friendship before. Maybe they thought they didn’t have to. Wonder why. Something he finds refreshing? Someone having a little integrity for a change. After all, he doesn’t just love his brother; he likes him, too. Thinks he’s a cool dude.

And besides. Nothing in this world or the next has been created that has ever managed to bullshit a skeleton.

Heh.

~

You decide to try journaling to keep track of the days of the week, but in the end it isn’t your thing and you just start making weird lists. They start reproducing, and taking up your deskspace.

Monday: go to work. Talk with Diane about Papyrus party and having new friends. Ask for ride downtown during lunch buy monster food for after appointment. Go home, have appointment with Vulkin. Touch soul, realize maybe you’re finally getting somewhere with all that. Think about magic, how you were able to tear yourself apart.

Tuesday: call sister in morning because half day. Admit you’ve been sicker than you let on. She knows. Talk about hot dog nights with sans. She says you’re really bro-ing it up. You laugh about it. Go to work, talk with a human student who needs a lot of supports maybe? Compare to a monster who gets a notetaker.

Wednesday: Frisk comes in to your office alone and asks if you’ve thought about what they said, asks how you’re doing. You ask if monster market can deliver. They say yes, also they will ask for you. They won’t take your money.

Thursday: happens

Friday: this is just a string of symbols. some of them look like hands. for some reason, you feel like you've been here before.

Saturday: dog nite. Sans really busted your mustard. Literally. Time for new shirts again.

Sunday: you remind yourself to never read the comments.

Sunday: Submit another article, but they don’t accept monster citations. You remind yourself to never read the comments.

Sunday:

Sunday: It's a picture of a T-shirt. It reads: NO HOPE 1 HoPe. you decide not to read the comments.

Sunday:

Monday: This isn’t really helping, so you decide to stop.

Chapter Text

Two days before Papyrus’s Art Party, it’s hot dog nite.

You’re having a little bit of a rough day, but you and Sans discovered a while back that if he sits on the couch while you sit on a pillow on the floor between his knees, whatever benefit you get from being near him still works. Bonus: you can both drink, eat, and watch TV, since he can see over your head.

Tonight’s feature: manatees, for some fucking reason. He really does seem to like nature documentaries, although you mix it up sometimes by putting on the same shows you’ve seen all the way through between 4 and over a dozen times. He seems pretty amiable about it either way, and if he gets bored, he just goes to sleep. And it does turn out that if you really don’t want to join him in slumber, you usually don’t.

You’re still picking at the hot dogs he brought over, although he’s mostly sticking to drinking the bottles of ketchup he keeps pulling out of his pockets. You saw the same...well, you don’t know if you can call it a ‘brand’, but the bottle’s the same as the ones you saw in the monster market the time you went with Diane. Seems like it’s easier for him to tip ketchup down his throat than it is to shove dogs between his teeth, but it really just depends on his mood, you’ve noticed. And right now his mood seems tired, but he doesn't fall asleep.

“you don’t gotta be worried about paps’s shindig,” he says, apropos of nothing in particular. “you don’t even really have to talk to anyone if you don’t want to. we usually manage to entertain ourselves.”

“What, me worry?” you say absently, watching a baby manatee getting rather disgustingly born underwater. For some reason, you shudder. You guess the miasmal cloud of waterborne blood and …stuff... had finally been enough to get to you. You set the dog aside and take a long swig out of your weird medieval soda, burdock and dandelion. Your sister says it tastes like bubblegum, but you don’t get it. You just like that it’s not too sweet.

“No… I think I might actually be looking forward to it. I mean, I still haven’t met Toriel and to be honest with you, I’m pretty sure I never technically got to meet Undyne,” you point out.

“heh.”

“I don’t know. I guess I am a little nervous. Maybe it’s just that everyone’s helped me so much. It’s hard to be comfortable around people you feel like you should be constantly...thanking? I don’t know.”

“you don’t feel like that around me,” he says after a minute.

“That, my friend, is the most outrageously out-of-character presumption I have ever heard from you.”

He makes a huffing noise, but it doesn’t really sound like a laugh.

“you might be right,” he says after a long time, during which the manatee’s baby manages to grow four whole months in just seconds. Now they’re eating something. “been busier than i’d like lately. gettin’ to me, maybe.”

“Don’t worry about it,” you reply despite the lack of an actual apology, then take another swig of your soda.

“you...really think i don’t get anything out of this?” he says sometime after the baby manatee has long been an adult, sounding legitimately baffled.

You sigh deeply, shut your eyes and lean back a little more. Then you just keeping going until the back of your head lands on the couch cushion.

“No,” you admit quietly. “I don’t think that. I’m not going to sit here and convince myself that I’m the undeserving beneficiary of your pity friendship, although I’m sure I could if I tried. I don’t know how it’s fair that I’m more insecure than I used to be before all this weird shit happened, but I still have to sit in the fact that I’ve regressed, I guess. Or… that I still have to try to get better. Even though I am. Getting better.”

You open your eyes, blink, then strain your neck a little to look up at him almost upside-down from between his knees, though it’s probably a bad idea for your joints.

“Do you get good vibes from cuddling me?”

“yeah,” he answers shortly, then grins. He bounces the insides of his knobby-ended femurs against your shoulders briefly.

“you’re all weird and hot.”

You laugh a little, sit back up and end up stuffing another torn up piece of hot dog in your mouth.

“Gee, thanks,” you mumble, chewing. Not like he can see you anyway.

“not a bad thing. ’sides...” his voice gets suggestive. “you mighta heard that some...like it hot.”

You’re not sure if it’s a reference to the ancient film or his drunken confession about boning Grillby, but either way you manage not to choke while laughing out bits of hot dog as tears of levity run down your face. Man, you’re really a pair. Two crybabies, for real. Also laughbabies.

“so you want me to just come get you when it’s time?” he asks absently after a while.

“I asked Diane for a ride. She didn’t wanna go with after all but she said she’d take me anyways.”

“oh,” he comments unnecessarily.

“I have weird issues left over from people trying to hold it over me that I can’t drive,” you inform him as quickly as you can without being too clipped. “I don’t ever get all my rides from one place if I can help it, it’s just a thing with me.” Okay, not so successful with the not-too-clipped tone.

“none taken,” he says dryly after a beat, and just like that you’re giggling again.

“YOU’RE WELCOME” you holler in your best Papyrus voice, and his surprised, slightly higher-pitched chuckle leaves you feeling unexpectedly warm. That one’s your favorite.

***

“You sure you don’t want to come?” you ask Diane as she pulls up to the curb of the big house, although you’re relieved to see it’s not actually a mansion or anything.

“No, you go ahead. I wouldn’t want to distract you from your big moment. Or, reveal? Whatever this is,” she laughs as the engine idles comfortably. “Besides, I think I’m underdressed.” She grins down at your relative finery and waggles her eyebrows. She’s wearing sweatpants, an inexplicably bedazzled sweatshirt, and grass-stained sneakers, so she’s fairly easy to out-finery. The bar’s low.

You’re wearing your fancy monster clothes, although you have a feeling if it hadn’t been for your failure to model them properly for Frisk during the shopping, you might have just decided to chickenshit one of your usual outfits instead. So maybe it’s just as well.

“I think the clothes are just supposed to be for fun,” you say, smiling a little shyly. “At least, that’s the impression I was given.”

She sighs lightly. “Well, with Toriel, you never know, I guess.”

You look at her, narrow your eyes in consideration. “Do you not like Toriel?”

“What?” She looks like she actually jumped when you said it. That’s funny, but you’re not going to laugh at her discomfiture. That’s rude.

Diane sighs, giggles a little. It’s not rude if she does it. “No, it’s just. I don’t know. She’s so tall and formal and...white. Makes me feel kinda trashy in comparison.”

“You’re not trashy,” you blink at your friend and sort-of-boss in confusion.

“I know,” she drawls, rolling her eyes. “That’s why it’s so annoying.”

Now you laugh, and so does she.

“Okay, go on and get in there before they think we’re stalkers.”

You get out and think about that as you walk up the long, tree-cloaked path to the house, hearing the buzz of Diane's engine fade away. You probably wouldn't have known this place was back here if Diane hadn’t already been there before. It’s set far from the road and doesn’t necessarily look very big from here, even though Frisk had said it is.

You like that your monster outfit makes you feel tall, and the trouser things swish around in a satisfyingly grand manner. The best part of the outfit, however, turned out to be the multiple deep pockets that allow you to stash all your required items and medications in them, rather than having to bring a bag. And they don’t even disturb the line of the clothing. In retrospect, the boutique’s price (which you found out later is called “Them-porium”) had been a downright bargain. There are low lights on the path to either side embedded in the lawn, and you’re pretty sure they’re magic based since you don’t see any fixtures. The directionless glow with no obvious source near the door pretty much confirms that.

The door’s a muted purple color, and when you knock on it, it feels pretty thick. You rub your knuckles a little and look around for a bell instead, since you’re not sure any noise could have penetrated that thing. But to your surprise it opens only a few seconds later, and you plaster a “meeting new people” expression on your face, expecting Toriel.

Instead, it’s Frisk in a t-shirt printed to look like a tuxedo and an electric blue, sequined skirt. Also a pair of blue cat ears on a headband.

“Come on in,” they sign casually, grinning. “You look great! I knew that one would work out. We’re still waiting for Papyrus to get ready so Alphys put on mewmew.”

You don’t know what a mewmew is, but as you walk into the noticeably high-ceilinged house, the lighting’s a lot dimmer and the setting a lot more casual than you’d anticipated. In fact, the first thing you see when you finish walking through the foyer and the long, narrow hall is a big sitting room, dominated by a massive wall screen. It’s showing what appears to be an old-fashioned magical girl anime. Ahh. Mew Mew. The cat ears. Gotcha.

There’s one really long couch and one shorter on perpendicular to it, and a big square coffee table is covered in what look to be specialty snacks and a few mini cupcakes. The longer couch is occupied by Undyne laying almost full length in some kind of long red strappy dress, and her almost alarmingly long, scaled leg is sticking out of a slit in the side, tented up and bouncing a little with nervous energy. She’s got some kind of decorative looking knife strapped to her upper leg as well, and you’re starting to wonder if it’s some kind of cosplay. Alphys, dressed in a dark suit and laying face down directly on top of her wife, seems undisturbed by the movement as she nibbles one of her claws. They both seem equally transfixed by whatever’s happening on the screen. You glance at it; apparently one of the magical girls is transforming.

“Yeah!! Kick her ASS!” Undyne yells, pumping her fist a little violently. Alphys giggles and blushes, then they both notice you’re there and they both wave excitedly and grin at you, although they don’t actually greet you. In fact, Undyne seems to be digging in the front of her dress for some reason, and whatever she finds there is immediately handed to Frisk, who arrives at her side just in time to grab it. They keep going and deposit what appears to be a coin in a very large yet half-full glass jar on the mantelpiece, then make a practiced loop and come back to the short couch, where they flop down next to the yellow monster you remember as their friend from before. The voluminous tulle-and-sequin skirt puffs up a little before they push it down absently.

Frisk nods their head at the end of the long couch by Undyne’s spotless red high heels, where there’s just enough room for your butt. So you walk over, plant it there gamely, and watch some anime or whatever you guess.

Frisk waves in the corner of your eye, and you look over to see them grinning a little sheepishly. “Sorry, this is MK,” they say, indicating their friend. “I guess you never technically met.”

You introduce yourself to Frisk’s friend, who seems just as good-natured as you remember. Frisk also indicates you’re welcome to any of the snacks on the table, but you ate before you came so you only take one of the cupcakes. It’s a little...chewy...but still pretty tasty. After about fifteen more minutes, during which everyone just does more of the same, Alphys sits up, pulls a blocky monster phone out of her tux jacket (turns out it's a very expensive looking tuxedo she has on) and says, “Oh! “M-m-mettaton says he’s r-ready!”

That’s just as well, since you'd noticed a few minutes back that Undyne’s heels were starting to penetrate the couch’s upholstery. You get up with everyone else, and once you’re all standing a massive white shape comes around the corner from another room and stops when it sees you. Okay, so this six or seven foot tall goat angel is definitely Toriel. You’ve seen the photos, but meeting her at home is...interesting.

“Oh! You must be the administrator from the college! Frisk has told me so much about you. I am Toriel, Frisk’s mother!”

She’s wearing a simple light blue dress, almost robelike, but she’s also got a blue gingham apron over top of it, and the incredibly intense maternal vibe billowing off of her doesn’t really come across in the photos. She’s a lot less scary than you imagined, and after everyone just sort of sorts themselves into a group and starts moving off towards wherever this thing is happening, you almost kind of forget she’s actually a literal queen. Of the monsters. Well, maybe you don’t totally forget but it’s not as intimidating as you were expecting, which is good since she also decides to walk right next to you.

“I have heard much of your work in ensuring that all students are able to interact with the materials at Ebott University,” she intones from above your head. It’s a little rough on the neck but it turns out you can read her lips well enough, and her small talk is pretty easy to parse. The muttered conversations around you don’t necessarily help, but it’s not super stressful.

“I was very sorry to hear about the unfortunate incident when my child visited. I wish I had been there,” she intones, and an odd combination of hard anger and soft regret crosses her face briefly. “I was also sorry to hear of your injury, but the brothers have assured me they are overseeing your recovery adequately...” she trails off, and you feel an odd pang as you realize you have absolutely no clue how much any of these people know about your...condition. Well, the new one at least. Ugh. Awkward.

“However,” she adds as you all approach a door that’s more like one you’d expected before arriving, as in it’s huge and double, “if you feel as though you in any way may require additional healing, please let me know.”

Hmm. Well, maybe she doesn’t really know the nature of your problems, so much as they exist. Or who knows. Maybe she’s just being polite.

“No, I think I’m getting better,” you say, smiling up at her hesitantly. “And I’m really, uh, grateful to Papyrus. For...everything.”

“Of course,” she replies graciously, if a little absently. “We’re all very grateful to him, for so very many things.”

Frisk’s the one who ends up pushing the doors open, and everyone shuffles into a surprisingly large and well-lit room, which has a few chairs, some tall potted plants and trees, and some sideboard or tables scattered around near the walls. You look at the floor, and the extremely high ceiling, and figure technically it’s a ballroom. At the far end, a massive blue velvet curtain hands over the wall, or from what you can see, is more or less right in front of the wall. The painting must be behind it.

“GLAD YOU COULD MAKE IT!” you hear shouted behind you, and you jump and turn around.

“Oh!” you say, surprise turning to a pleased grin. “I’m really happy to-” Papyrus is wearing a tuxedo just like Alphys’s, and he looks mighty goddamn dapper, if you do say so yourself. The top hat’s really working with it, too. Nice.

“You look amazing!” you say instead, interrupting yourself.

“NYEH HEH,” he says, fiddling with his bow tie, which appears to be printed with tiny bones. “YES, I AM QUITE WELL-APPOINTED. YOU'RE WELCOME. YOU ARE LOOKING DRESSED APPROPRIATELY FOR SUCH A MOMENTOUS OCCASION YOURSELF, FRIEND!” He offers his arm to you, you are extremely charmed, and you take it and stride together over to where everyone’s just sort of standing aimlessly.

“I’m really excited about this,” you confess, grinning up at him as the faint babble of maybe three quiet conversations in a big, echoey room blends into a drone. He brings you to stand with him at a spot about fifteen feet away from the blue velvet, which is a little confusing since you assumed he’d want to be near the curtain to pull it open or something. But whatever. You’re closer to everyone else that way, anyhow. “I heard, um. Mettaton’s here?”

“YES.” Papyrus’s sockets narrow as he grins with elation. “INTERNATIONALLY FAMOUS STAR OF STAGE, FILM, MUSIC, RODEO, FOXY BOXING, AND SCREEN, THE GREAT METTATON HIMSELF, HAS AGREED TO PRESENT MY LATEST PIECE! I ANTICIPATE APPROPRIATE LEVELS OF FANFARE, TASTEFUL RESTRAINT ON THE POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE, AND AT LEAST FIVE DIFFERENT COLORS OF GLITTER. THERE WILL ALSO BE LASERS.”

“Wow,” you reply, nodding in appreciation. He seems gratified by this, but his sockets still seem to droop a bit at the outside corners. You wonder what’s bumming him out, and take a look around. Oh.

“Is, um, Sans not…?”

“I’M SURE HE’LL BE HERE. WANDERING IN LATE, AS USUAL. IT’S ONLY TO BE EXPECTED OF MY BROTHER, AFTER ALL!” He grins confidently, but you’re beginning to suspect he might be a little worried. Huh. It actually doesn’t seem like Sans to do things that make his brother worry. Annoy him, sure. Make him scream in blatantly fake and occasionally slightly less fake outrage, okay. But from everything you’ve seen, they spend more time complimenting each other (a little backhanded on Paps’s part but still) and just generally being fondly comfortable siblings than anything else.

You give Papyrus’s arm a little squeeze, and he turns to look down at you and give you a sparkling, skeletal grin before facing back over the “crowd” with slightly perkier eye sockets. “WELL, IF NOTHING ELSE, I HOPE HE GETS HERE BEFORE THE DANCING STARTS,” he sighs.

“Oh,” you say, a little baffled. “I didn’t, um. I don’t think I’m up for dancing,” you admit.

He looks down at you again looking even more confused than you were, then his expression clears and he pats your arm reassuringly.

“OH! I SEE! YOU HAVEN’T BEEN TO ARTBALL BEFORE. DO NOT FEAR, I-” he places his white-gloved hand on his chest and shuts his sockets momentarily, “-THE GREAT PAPYRUS, WILL INSTRUCT YOU IN ACCURATE BALLROOM ETIQUETTE.”

He makes a sweeping gesture. “THIS IS THE BALLROOM. I HAVE HAD THE FLOOR CLEARED IN PREPARATION FOR THE UPCOMING FESTIVITIES. ALL PARTICIPANTS WILL RESPECT YOUR PERSONAL BOUNDARIES AND SPACE, ALTHOUGH YOU MAY FEEL FREE TO APPROACH ANYONE FOR CONVERSATION, HAIKU, OR WRESTLING AT ANY POINT. YOU MAY ALSO REFUSE ONE, OR BOTH, OR EITHER IF YOU CHOOSE.”

He points to the curtain.

“THAT’S MY PAINTING! IT WILL BE REVEALED ONCE THE EXTREMELY POPULAR AND INCREDIBLY TASTEFUL METTATON’S SPEECH IS COMPLETED. AT THAT TIME, ALL PARTICIPANTS WILL ADMIRE, WRESTLE, OR CONVERSE AS THEY CHOOSE.” He points out a large, circular area that seems to have a different type of flooring than the rest of the room. “METTATON AND I WILL DANCE WHILE THIS OCCURS. NO HAIKU IS PERMITTED AT THAT OR ANY OTHER TIME.”

“Oh,” you say nodding thoughtfully. And you do think about it. “Cool,” you add, nodding some more.

“YES,” he sighs happily. “TONIGHT’S SELECTION IS A SKELETON-AND-ROBOT REENACTMENT OF METTATON’S SIX-PART ONE-ROBOT REENACTMENT OF THE FIRST TEN MINUTES OF THE NUTCRACKER. I’M SURE THE CONNECTING THEME WILL BECOME CLEAR ONCE YOU’VE SEEN YOUR PAINTING,” he grins, seeming much heartened by explaining all of this to you. You feel glad to help.

“That’s gonna be awesome,” you say admiringly. “Does he-”

The lights near the curtain cut, and suddenly a billow of what you assume is fog-machine-generated fog fills the area in front of the curtain. Tiny lights like fireflies flow through it, then what you assume are the aforementioned lasers. Considering they don’t make you wince, it’s likely they’re actually magic and not...whatever not-magic lasers are.

A spotlight hits the fog, and a rousing swell of brass horns fills the room, rising into a crescendo before fading slowly. Papyrus nods tightly in approval.

The fog clears surprisingly suddenly, and the spotlight reveals Mettaton posing dramatically in a stiff-collared black satin cape.

In his single-wheeled box form.

You sigh, and then try not to make it obvious you sighed.

“I UNDERSTAND, IT IS VERY MOVING,” Papyrus comments, patting your arm reassuringly. “IF YOU MUST WEEP, PLEASE KNOW THAT ARTBALL IS NOTHING IF NOT AN EMOTIONALLY SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENT. YOU MAY EXPRESS YOURSELF AT ANY TIME IN ANY WAY OTHER THAN FIVE SYLLABLES, SEVEN SYLLABLES, AND A SUBSEQUENT FIVE SYLLABLES.

Well, you suppose whatever Mettaton has to say will remain a mystery, as his bright, chiptunes voice floods through the ballroom. You can’t understand a word. However, several minutes into the speech, Papyrus’s elbow, which you’re still holding, lowers a good two inches for no reason you can discern. You look up at him, but his expression remains one of rapt fascination and a little bit of...adulation, maybe? You wonder why he seems so impressed, considering this is someone he already knows. But some kind of tension had left his shoulders at that particular moment, and you’re really curious why. Then you glance around at the rest of the people standing there, and notice that Sans has appeared between Frisk and Alphys. Oh.

He looks like shit, though. Not gross or dirty, nothing like that just… incredibly exhausted, slumped in his usual sort of outfit rather than anything special. His grin looks like it’s trying to slide off although that’s obviously impossible. His sockets are already half-closed, even though you think he might be trying to look like he’s paying attention. You think about what he’d been saying about being busy the last time you’d seen him, and wonder what on earth he’s had going on to make him look like that. You can’t stop yourself from sighing again, either. Papyrus’s hand pats yours reassuringly, although neither his attention nor his expression shifts a whit.

As the pomp and circumstance continues, you think about what it means to you to be here, and feel a soft glow when you realize that you’re partially the reason for this event. You suppose Papyrus would have eventually made a painting and done all of...this...no matter what, but it makes you feel oddly special to be the reason for his inspiration, whatever had prompted it. And you sort of want to express that to him. Well, he said you could express yourself at any time, and none of the rules had precluded doing so during a speech you can neither understand nor respond to.

“Hey,” you say quietly. “I just wanted to thank you for everything. For all of this. For helping me so much, and making the painting and giving it to me, and...I don’t know. I don’t know what I did to deserve your friendship, or any of this. I don’t know what I deserve-”

You cut off, since everyone is suddenly clapping, and it sounds like another round of fanfare is closing out whatever the boxy robot’s speech had been. A golden rope is slowly lowering from the ceiling, and you assume it must have something to do with the curtain. You look up at the tall skeleton beside you and open your mouth, but he grasps both of your hands in his and turns you a little, grinning kindly.

Papyrus somehow manages to move between you and the blue curtain just as it falls to the ground, and the lights dim further, emphasizing the spotlight behind him until he’s mostly a massive shape blocking the light. You fall into his shadow as the light turns behind him, a conditional twilight in which you somehow manage to see an unprecedented soft, blue light in his sockets for a brief moment, just before he becomes so backlit the silhouetting effect is compete.

“YOU DESERVE HAPPINESS, DEAR HUMAN. WE ALL DO.”

The spotlight crests and illuminates the top hat, which he inexplicably removes, and even more inexplicably tosses high into the air to land somewhere unseen behind him. His first two fingers dart into his tux jacket and carefully remove a fresh-cut and surprisingly non-disheveled red rose, which he carefully places between his teeth as he meets your gaze. He lifts his chin, then tilts his head back farther and just keeps on going until you realize he’s doing a full slow motion backbend as the lights melts slowly over his entire body. He’s bathed in it as tiny, bright motes dance in the light, more like sparkles than dust.

The moment when you’re certain he’s about to either fall to the ground or touch it with the top of his skull, he’s suddenly ascending instead and you realize Mettaton’s box form has come up behind him, caught him at the hips and is now lifting him slowly in cartoonishly large, white-gloved hands. The back of Papyrus’s hand is pressed to his forehead, and his other arm is extended out above his head. As the spotlight follows them to the larger space he’d indicated before, you notice he has white spats on his pointed, shiny black shoes that catch the light perfectly. In fact, that leg is extended impossibly far, and both of them are somehow managing to balance on Mettaton’s single, tiny wheel.

He already seemed top heavy before he was carrying the world’s tallest living skeleton. You’re drawn along in their wake, the tension of how they’re able not to just fall over despite the fact that Mettaton’s tubelike arms are extending further and further above his rectangular body as they move along riveting you helplessly. You literally can’t look away. By the time they arrive at the dance floor proper, Papyrus’s carefully posed body must be almost twelve feet in the air, and suddenly a rolling drumbeat and jangling guitars fill the ballroom.

When! I saw you in the restaurant
You! could tell I was no debutante

Okay, well, that’s not The Nutcracker. At least not any way you’ve ever heard it. In fact, you’re pretty certain that’s actually a Blondie song.

That’s when you notice they’ve started rotating slowly. As they gain momentum, the tuxedo-clad skeleton’s limbs begin to shift poses, gloves and spats catching the light as he bends even further back, his broad chest and almost impossibly narrow hips emphasizing his swanlike gestures.

...pleasure's real or is it fantasy?
Reel to reel is living verite
People stop and stare at me; we just walk on by
We just keep on dreaming…

You feel your arms creep around to hug yourself, utterly transfixed by the unprecedented spectacle in front of you. Now Mettaton is not only rotating, but managing to somehow also move in a synchronized circle around the dance floor without disturbing Papyrus’s balance as he bends his back and waves his arms fluidly. The sparkles in the spotlight change color from green to pink without ever landing on anything or running out, and you realize it must be some sort of special effect.

As the song’s driving beat and circular choruses reach their peak, you realize Papyrus is changing positions again, but this time ends up standing on the robot’s broad hands. His arms reach over his head, one drawing along the other sensuously in a motion almost as if he’s pulling on elbow-length gloves. They’re pirouetting in place faster and faster, and the suspense grows unbearable.

The piercing synthesizers peak, and Papyrus does a perfect backflip off Mettaton’s hands, lands gallantly kneeling with the rose still in his teeth, and extends his hand yearningly towards the caped rectangle in front of him as the last strains fade. The spotlight cuts out.

The sudden, sharp electronic drumbeat makes you jump, since it also coincides with the return of the spotlight and a massive explosion of hot pink glitter.

Ooooh, baby, do you know what that's worth!?
Ooooh, heaven is a place on earth!

Mettaton rises from the cloud of glitter in his elegant, silvery android form, perfect features framed by the twin points of the stiff-collared black cape. At the second sharp drumbeat, he whips it off in a single fluid motion to reveal an exact duplicate of Frisk’s outfit, then crowns himself slowly with a blue cat-ear headband. His eyes close as his head tilts down and to the side, expression affectedly demure, arm still extended.

They say in heaven love comes first!
We'll make heaven a place on earth!
Ooh, heaven is a place on earth….

As the music kicks in riotously, the two circle each other carefully with precisely placed steps, gleaming black and white shoes flashing and pink high heels darting. The guitars fall off and the chorus begins, and suddenly they’ve grasped each other so closely that you can see that Mettaton’s nose is almost inside Papyrus’s nasal cavity. Their eyes smolder as Papyrus’s leading shoe slides forward across the floor in a slow, smooth motion. Metatton lowers him down perpendicular in front of him, their faces neither touching or moving farther away. Your mouth falls open slowly.

Suddenly Papyrus is back upright, and they spin around clutching each other in a way that might seem wild if it wasn’t so inhumanly precise, both of their heels clacking in a way that’s visible rather than audible. The sparkles in the spotlight return, and change from pink to blue as Papyrus lifts Mettaton this time, only the robot is face down in Papyrus’s grasp so they can continue to stare at each other longingly.

When you walk into the room
You pull me close and we start to move

Mettaton extends both arms and one of his legs as they start to spin, almost like this is an ice skating routine. And that’s when you realize that Papyrus is en pointe in fucking dress shoes, one leg bent gracefully with the shoe’s toe tipped into his knee as he spins slowly in retiré without ever breaking eye contact with Mettaton. The blue tulle skirt floats dreamlike, brushing the underside of the skeleton’s mandible.

And we're spinning with the stars above
And you lift me up in a wave of love

You feel your hand creep up to cover your gaping mouth as your other arm hugs you tighter. It’s like nothing you've ever seen, which is understandable since almost everything about this dance routine is more or less physically impossible.

Mettaton slides down the front of Papyrus’s body sensually, does a full 360 spin so they’re facing each other again, then abruptly they’re off circling the floor while their feet flash faster than your eyes can follow. Bone fingers covered in thin cloth come up to touch Mettaton’s face almost hesitantly. One white point tenderly dents a flawless silver lip, just enough for it to catch the light, and your eyes fill with some indescribable emotion.

In this world we're just beginning
To understand the miracle of living

“Their dancing is very beautiful, is it not?” Toriel’s voice is coming from somewhere next to you, although it’s a bit high up. It’s good you can understand her, since you don’t think you’ll be able to tear your eyes away anytime soon. Mettaton’s arm extends outward with Papyrus facing the same direction, pulling Papyrus’s arms out along with them. Despite being more or less the same height, the skeleton's knees bend enough as they dance sideways to allow his head to loll back on the robot’s shoulder, dark sockets ovaling as his teeth part in blatant, undisguised ecstasy. Mettaton smiles down at him, his black eyes smoldering mirrors, and you notice that the rose has somehow migrated to behind Mettaton’s ear.

Maybe I wasn’t brave before
But I'm not afraid anymore

You hesitate to say there could be a strangest part to this, but if there was it might be the fact that you don’t actually feel uncomfortable watching them, or like you’re somehow intruding on a private moment. Everyone here was invited to see this, including you. Whatever realization the two of them are having, everything about it is right there on the dance floor, with no suggestion that their movements mimic or lead to other activities that might happen more privately. That’s what it is-it’s not private, it’s an impossibly over-the-top performance that is simultaneously, heartrendingly sincere.

That’s what makes it so breathtaking.

“It is always an honor to witness such a moment,” Toriel comments. You nod, still unable to manage any reply as she continues. “When two souls encounter each other, or when they have an important realization...for some, that is the same moment. For others, it comes only with time. Yet they are the same moment, in the end. Or rather, who is to say that moment ever ends?”

You manage to actually drag your eyes away for long enough to look up at Toriel, whose gaze rests softly on the outrageous couple tearing up her ballroom. It looks like she has her folded arms tucked inside her apron, resting them there like a little pouch. It's cute.

You notice that only other person watching, weirdly enough, is Sans, who’s slumped on the floor near the wall on the opposite side of the dance floor. Even though he still looks utterly exhausted, his grin is soft and he...he’s actually laughing gently. You don’t think you’ve seen anyone that tired also seem so incredibly entertained.

Your eyes go back to the dancers just in time to see Mettaton dip Papyrus towards you, so deeply you wonder if the top of his skull is actually kissing the floor this time. The rose has reappeared between his teeth, and his loosely blissful and upside-down sockets meet yours at the dip’s nadir. You can see Mettaton’s thumb press lightly into the tuxedo jacket where he’s being held, and Papyrus's sockets seem almost to glow again for just a moment. Probably just a trick of the light.

In what seems like slow motion, his gaze focuses in on you as he winks saucily, pulls the rose from between his teeth and with perfect aim, throws it towards you. It arcs like a rainbow through the green-spangled and sparkling space between you, still fresh and perfect, before hitting you dead square in the middle of your chest. By some miracle, you manage to grasp it without crushing it as Papyrus is yanked back upright, clutched breathlessly with his back to Mettaton’s chest while wrapped pythonlike in both the robot’s and his own arms, then spun out fast enough to make you sympathetically dizzy.

You run your fingers along the rose’s perfect stem, blink as you look down at it in disbelief. You remember the rose in his teeth when he’d done the backflip to a kneeling landing, but the stem isn’t bitten through anywhere, nor chewed as you’d expect from having spent two impossibly choreographed dance routines between perfect, sharp incisors.

Although the thorns have been so carefully removed you can’t even feel where, the stem itself isn’t even dented.

Toriel claps you very lightly on the shoulder as the songs ends. “Do you not wish to see your painting? They will be at this for some time, I assure you.”

Oh, yeah. The painting you might have forgot existed during that jaw-dropping performance.

You look over to that side of the big room, and you notice that everyone else is still over there, Frisk’s hands flying in conversation, Undyne and Alphys cuddling upright while gazing at something they’re currently blocking from your view.

“Yeah,” you reply, and suddenly you’re excited all over again.

You approach hurriedly, glad your joints are having yet another good day, surprisingly enough. As you walk around the couple who’s been blocking it, your steps slow as awe overtakes you.

It’s nothing like what you were expecting.

It’s a massive, chunky square of dark blue, and the first impression is of a flower, huge. The single long oval of white bones somewhat reminiscent of the center of a passionflower is tiny, yet draws the eye with its placement in the middle of the canvas and its contrasting color. The closer you get to it, the more you can see that the creased or pleated-seeming petals are also formed entirely of long bones of various shades of blue, most dark. A haze of orange delineates the edge of each tenderly ragged petal’s edge, and everything you look at draws your eye back to the center.

“Holy shit,” you whisper quietly.

Then you jump as Undyne, who’s come up next to you, guffaws loudly.

“I’m IMPRESSED!” she hollers as she digs around in her bodice again, then hands the resultant coin backwards to Toriel without looking.

“Oh, sorry. Sorry,” you repeat to Toriel, shamefaced.

“Anyone who can give old Paps a run for his money like that, I’m glad to cover you!” she yells, then throws back her head and laughs some more. Alphys comes back up holding two small glasses, hands one to Undyne. She pulls her wife close as she takes it, and you try to process what on earth the tall blue fish lady had meant by that comment.

“Um. What do you mean?”

“Oh,” she says brightly, “you just kept him on his toes!” She’s indicating something about the edge of one of the petals, but her words still aren’t making any sense to you. She sighs lustily. “At this point, Papyrus can predict just about anything I can throw at him, literally.” she sighs. “That’s always spears, but still.”

Alphys giggles a little harder than that warrants, and you wonder if the cups they’re holding have monster alcohol in them. No one’s offered you any, so you just ignore it. Maybe they brought it themselves, and you’re not actually in the mood anyways.

“But you really surprised him. I’m glad,” she says, grinning at you sincerely. Her teeth are very sharp, but nothing about her smile is particularly threatening. You brush the petals of the rose you’re holding under your chin absently.

Undyne hands her glass back to Alphys a moment then gently takes the thornless rose from your fingers. You blink as she sticks the stem in her mouth, bites through it cleanly, then lifts her chin and spits it halfway across the room. Toriel frowns a little but doesn’t object. Undyne reaches out and tucks the truncated rose behind your ear, tries to move some of your hair to keep it in place. There’s not much of it since you keep it fairly short, but the rose stays.

“I love flowers,” she sighs gently. Then a horrified looks creeps over her face.

“I mean, uh. I love...WRESTLING! YEAH! TIME TO WRESTLING, EVERYONE WHO WANTS TO ALSO WRESTLE!!”

She staggers a little as she reaches down to pull off her massive red high heels, and you watch as she barrels towards Mettaton and Papyrus. She’s already on the dance floor, but somehow they manage to dodge her without seeming to alter their routines at all. Not even when Papyrus tosses Mettaton about six feet above his head, pirouettes around a halfhearted swooping attack from Undyne's brandished shoes, then catches him again before dancing away from another swipe, still holding the robot above his head.

Alphys watches her, giggling and blushing. “She really l-lets it all go, sometimes. I l-l-live for t-that,” she sighs sincerely. She cuts her eyes at you and offers up one of the two glasses she’s still holding. “S-s-she didn’t t-touch this one, if you w-w-want it,” she says, smirking a little. “I t-t-think she’s h-had enough, anyway.”

“No thank you,” you sigh contentedly. “I’m good.”

She shrugs a little before downing the proffered glass, then just drops her full one into the empty so they’re nested, and wanders off to get a better view of her wife… dancing?

You turns back to the painting and find yourself absorbed in it for a long time. The music and relatively tame sounds of merriment (Undyne’s shrieks notwithstanding) are oddly soothing, and you’re having an absolutely lovely time. And here you’d been all anxious about it. You notice at some point MK and Frisk have sat down on some of the chairs by the wall neat the dance floor, just sort of leaning together and watching the goings on.

Sans comes up behind you and stands at your side as you both gaze into the midnight peony his brother had spun from magic and movement. He looks pretty faded, but his eye lights still move with sharp interest over his brother’s newest artwork.

“There's a lot going on with this that I can’t see, isn’t there?” you ask, smiling sadly.

“dunno. what can you see?”

“A beautiful painting, I guess,” you sigh ponderously.

“make you feel any particular way when you look at it?”

You think about that. “It makes me think of…that day, I guess? How I felt when we had the encounter. How it seemed like, I don’t know. Papyrus has helped me so much, and I would say I don’t know why but it’s just because he’s like that, you know? He wants to.”

You hear an unfamiliar voice hollering behind you, and you turn around to see that Papyrus is now on Mettaton’s shoulders, and Frisk is on Undyne’s shoulders, each armed with a high heel and taking false swipes at each other to the beat of some pop song you don’t know. You assume the voice you didn’t recognize was Frisk, then. You smile, then turn back to Sans.

“Like maybe he’s helped me in ways I don’t even know or understand, but that’s okay because...helping me...” you frown thoughtfully. “Helping me helps him be true to...himself? It’s his connections with other people that matter most.”

You glance over at Sans, and he’s gazing into the painting.

“that’s part of it, yeah,” he replies quietly. “a monster looking at this can see that papyrus had to work hard at this, even if they weren’t there. and that you...challenged him somehow.”

You scrunch your face up at that.

“Is this some kind of...record of my memories?” You’re not sure you’re comfortable with that.

He’s shaking his head at that already, though. “nah, more like just, gives you a feeling. like reading a story, but not...in order. not specifics.”

You frown again, trying to imagine something like that.

He glances at you. “maybe...you know when you read a story, you feel like you know those people. even if they’re not real, it gives you that feeling. s’like, that’s a relationship you see through the other characters, right?”

You nod hesitantly.

“lookin at that feels like i know you because paps knows you.” he chuckles a little. “different from the way i already know you, i guess.”

“Oh,” you say hesitantly, but you’re still not entirely sure about the line between knowing you and knowing things about you.

He laughs softly. “wanna see mine?”

You blink. That’s right, Alphys had said something about Sans having a painting, too, but that Papyrus had kept it. Huh.

“I’d love to see it, actually,” you reply, fascinated. “Is it here?”

“no?” he’s grinning, and his eye lights dart at a convenient potted ficus creating a shadowed corner in the large room. “won’t matter if we pop out for a sec, though.”

You huff out an amused breath. You really do want to see it.

“Okay. The same as before?”

He nods, glances around and holds his hand out. He pulls you forward a few steps, and you feel the same oddly vertiginous lurch. To your surprise, when you open your eyes, you’re in Papyrus’s bedroom.

“Wait, this one’s...yours?” you squeak.

He seems taken aback at the intensity of your reaction. “yeah?” he answers, the tops of his sockets raised.

The light are on overhead, magic powered, you think, and you creep closer to the work you’d dubbed a masterpiece all those months ago.

“It’s just, I don’t know? I guess this one’s still my favorite. I saw it when I stayed here that...that night.” You press your lips together. “Is it okay that we're in here?”

“heh, yeah,” he replies, eye sockets flattening at the bottom. “he doesn’t actually spend that much time in here. doesn’t sleep, remember?” He sighs. “just keeps the stuff he likes here. an’ he likes showing off his stuff.” He glances at you, grins. “no boys or girls allowed, though.”

You give him a weird look, but he just laughs more.

“I don’t know why, but it’s like...so soothing?” you muse.

“huh. never thought of it like that.”

He stops laughing, and for some reason his voice sounds ...heavy, in a way.

“Yeah,” you continue thoughtfully. “Like the ocean. I mean, sure it looks like the ocean but more than that, it feels like it, you know? When you’re near it, you feel calm and steady. Even if you don’t know exactly what’s in there. Maybe it won’t matter, or ever come up. I don’t know.”

“huh.” You look over at Sans, and he’s just staring into the painting too, but something about his face seems off.

“so, i was gonna say. if you’re a monster, you could get the impression that this whole thing mighta been a bad idea. might call it ‘hubris’. why even take a chance like that in the first place? but the longer you look at it, the more you realize there wasn’t ever any danger. makes you see why being brave is important. that’s what you see there,” and his hand comes out of his pocket to point to the area that looks like a sky, maybe an orange sun buried under layers of blue-grey cloud cover. Except, you know. Made of bones.

“Wow,” you reply, fascinated.

You’re actually really impressed, and you turn to Sans. But he’s already looking at you, and his sockets are unsettlingly dark. His eye lights barely exist, and the grooves under them are shadowed even more than usual. He really looks terrible.

“but maybe being brave isn’t...for everyone. ‘cause.” He blinks heavily, and sways on his feet a little as he continues.
“here’s what no one can see. if my brother hit me even once, even on accident. i’d be dust before the bones hit the floor. if anyone did. does. i'd just be...” He waves his hand vaguely.

It’s like someone sucked all the air out of the room. Or maybe just your lungs, or maybe it’s just the way you can’t seem to break the eye contact.

“so maybe, y’know. don’t ever hit me.”

You start to take a deep breath, but realize you don’t actually need it.

“You don’t have to pull stunts with me. I don’t fucking hit people.”

He’s looking at you, but it seems like he doesn’t even see you. Like maybe he sees something else.

“think that means the same thing to everyone? you ever wonder what makes someone count as ‘people’?” he asks quietly.

You can’t break his gaze, ad you find yourself wondering if he’d ask you that if he’d ever spent even five minutes in an office that smells like pine cleaner and corn chips, getting handed a stack of papers thicker than your wrist while someone explains to you that you’ve been denied the bare minimum you need just to survive again, basically accuses you of forging signatures, and their bored face makes you realize just how much they don’t care that you’re seventeen and your mother’s taking an awfully long time to die of cancer, making everything very inconvenient for everyone involved. Ever had to try and look innocent even though you are? Ever had to just take your rejected forms and leave? Why are you even thinking about this right now? It’s fucked up.

“No,” you answer shortly.

Whatever the hell is wrong with him seems like it just drains right out suddenly, and he looks at you, sick and horrified.

You sigh, and pull your phone out of you pocket.

“You’re not okay,” you inform him, pulling up Papyrus’s contact.

“i, uh-” he looks like he’s trying to hold out his hands to wave you down or stop you or something, but they’re shaking too hard and the text’s already sent.

“You need Papyrus, right?” you say, not trying to get close to him or anything. Just being there. His bony fingers are rattling and rasping against his face, and he shuffles over to the bed and sits down on it without looking. He sighs shakily.

“didn’t wanna ruin the party,” he mumbles vaguely.

“I don’t know,” you say kindly, wondering how far this place is from Toriel’s. You hadn’t really been paying attention on the drive there but it hadn’t seemed too far from your place. “Seemed to me like everyone had a lot of fun, and it’s already late.”

Sans leaves one hand over his face, and with the other reaches back and draws his hood up slowly. Although the hood comes forward far enough to hide his skull, the other hand still comes back up to his face again, rattling some more. He doesn’t answer. You get it, so you just lean against the wall and wait until you hear the door opening downstairs, light footsteps ascending to the second floor. That didn't take very long at all.

Papyrus pushes the door open slowly, still clad in his tuxedo although his bow tie is undone, the ends of the bone-printed strip of cloth hanging over in front. He sees you and Sans, and exhales very quietly. He he walks over to his brother without a word, kneels down, and gathers him up in his arms. You couldn't really say what his facial expression is conveying but it feels appropriate for the situation nonetheless. When he stands, one of Sans’s hands is clutching his lapel and his face is turned inward, hidden in the tux jacket. Papyrus walks past you with a polite nod, exits the room and goes downstairs. A few minutes later, you hear the TV turn on very quietly.

You go and sit in the spot Sans had vacated, since you don’t really know what you’re supposed to do now. You can’t exactly walk home at the moment, and both brothers are otherwise occupied. You feel bad for being here for this at all, in fact, and you’re not sure if you want to go downstairs and just stare at them while they do their thing. You look around at the shelves lining the room, sighing at the assortment of knickknacks, figurines, and framed photos. You stand up again cautiously as one of the latter catches your eye. As you approach you notice it seems to have cursive writing in some sort of silvery pen taking up most of the top right corner.

It’s a photograph of Papyrus and Mettaton, and you’d have thought it was professionally taken if it wasn’t for the fact that a bit of tubelike, silver arm extends outwards along the side, and there’s what might be a blur of white glove in the corner. Mettaton is clad in a flawlessly classy, stiff-collared tuxedo with a glittery pink bow tie, and his steel grin glitters smugly.

Papyrus appears to be wearing a t-shirt that’s printed on the front to look like a tuxedo, and a blue headband with stiff cat ears attached adorns his otherwise bare skull. He’s leaning in towards Mettaton and winking outrageously, a peace sign tilted near his cheek. Blue sequins and tulle are visible in a short strip below the hem of the t-shirt. You blink in surprise, wondering when they’d switched outfits, or if...wait, what? You actually don’t even have a theory for what this could be about. You read the script in the corner.

“LOVELY to meet my BIGGEST FAN! All my best to PAPYRUS! Love, METTATON!”

Had you really been there for the big night they finally...figured out something? How they felt about each other? When on earth had this photo been taken? You try and parse what you’d seen on the dance floor with Papyrus’s disingenuously coquettish behavior at the barn, or his oddly affected hero-worship before Mettaton’s speech, and then just give up. It’s been a long night.

You hear a noise behind you, and when you turn around Frisk is in the doorway. “Hello,” you gesture hesitantly. Frisk seems a little tired but very happy as they rub their eye, then gesture a greeting back as they approach. They huff a little as they see what you’re looking at, you assume since they’re wearing the same outfit Papyrus is wearing in the photo...and...come to think of it, hadn’t Alphys been wearing the exact same tux as Papyrus tonight?

“Do you know if...is Sans going to be okay?” you ask, still concerned.

They blink at you, seeming surprised. “Of course. Papyrus has him downstairs now.”

“Is it...” you don’t want to pry, but… “Do you know what happened to him?” you try.

“Nothing happened,” they reply, nonplussed, then they seem to realize something. “Sans probably hasn’t been able to sleep,” they explain. “That always happens when he works too much, and then he gets all wobbly and can’t sleep even worse, and Papyrus has to heal him a little first.”

They smile at you reassuringly, but it seems like there’s still a lot of unanswered questions there. “He probably should have come home when he was here two days ago, but I guess you can’t always predict everything.” And there’s a few more unanswered questions for good measure. They glance down at the photo again and smile, and you decide not to grill them about it, even though you still have no clue what on earth Sans does for “work.”

“When did they take this picture?” you ask instead. “Did they like, switch outfits or something later?”

Frisk frowns in thought. “Almost twelve years ago, I think? It was right after the barrier came down. Papyrus went to Mettaton’s restaurant for its Grand Closening.” They fingerspell that for clarity, but that’s...um.

“Are they...have they been together all this time? Twelve years?”

Frisk huffs their laugh, but also scratches under their chin in thought. They wave their hand tentatively, stop, then start over.

“I think their favorite part was meeting each other for the first time, and realizing… whatever they realized. So they never stopped.”

“How...does that work?” you ask, dumbfounded.

Frisk shrugs, unconcerned. “People can do whatever they want. They’re happy. Speaking of which,” they glance toward where the downstairs is, “do you want to just stay over? I mean, if you really need to go home I can take you, but...we have pajamas here you can use. And even these weird disposable toothbrush things Papyrus always buys for camping trips.”

They frown a little uneasily. “A lot of them. He uses them all over.”

“Um,” you glance around the room, feeling generally out of your depth on a several levels. Then you just sigh and look at Frisk.

“Sure.”

“You don’t have to stay in here,” they gesture a little indulgently. “Usually we just get blankets and sleep in the living room together when it’s like this. Like a slumber party. If the TV doesn’t bother you? Papyrus likes his shows on.”

You notice Frisk’s switched to using their personal name signs for everyone with you, and you’re not sure when exactly it happened. Papyrus’s resembles the gesture he makes when he puts his hand against his chest as he’s about to announce something grand and important.

“Yeah,” you sigh, feeling a warm glow in your chest again for no particular reason. “I’ll take both. All three?”

When you head downstairs after changing into the almost floor length t-shirt you’ve been given, you hear popcorn microwaving noisily from the kitchen. Papyrus, still very dashing in his tux, is seated on the end of the couch holding the tiny-seeming bundle of his brother as casually as bag of laundry. Sans’s socks and slippers have been removed in the meantime, but his hood is still pulled over his head and face, with his hands inside it too, somehow.

You carry the bundle of your clothing with all your medications, phone, and other important stuff tucked inside, and come over to settle on the side of the couch not occupied by Papyrus. You sit there a moment yanking your phone out, belatedly remembering to text Diane that you don't need a ride home and you're fine, then shove it back in the bundle. What you assume is Frisk’s blanket is already spread out next to the brothers, and they return right then with a big bowl of popcorn before plopping down next to Papyrus and laying down. Some other episode of It’s Mettaton! is playing, and the captions are already on at the bottom of the screen.

Frisk is asleep in less than ten minutes, and the bowl of popcorn sits untouched. You already brushed your teeth with the weird toothbrush thing while trying firmly not to think about Papyrus’s ‘all over’, so you also aren’t very interested in it. Oh, well. It smells nice, adds a good ambience. Also decorative. Pop-pourri. You giggle, then glance over at Sans, hoping whatever is happening is doing the trick and he’s asleep.

“DID YOU HAVE FUN?” Papyrus asks at a relatively tame volume. Neither Sans not Frisk stir, so you answer above a whisper.

“That was the best time I’ve ever had,” you reply sincerely. “Again.”

Papyrus looks like he knows exactly what you mean as he nods in satisfaction, and you suppose that he does.

"You're the best dancer I've ever seen in my life," you add.

"I KNOW," he says, managing to seem both wistful and satisfied.

“I never figured out the theme, though,” you inform him a little sadly. “For both the painting and the dancing, I mean.”

“I THOUGHT IT WAS OBVIOUS,” he replies, unconcerned, but doesn’t continue. You’re feeling pretty bushwhacked, so you pull the blanket you’ve been given up over yourself, grab a couch pillow to stuff under your head, and settle in. The TV’s actually really quiet, and you can’t understand anything Mettaton says with your eyes closed, so it’s almost like white noise.

“I LOVE THEM BOTH, OF COURSE,” you hear half-subliminally just as you drift off.

***

When you get home the next day, you find the note Papyrus had pinned to a bag of cinnamon bunnies for you a long time ago. Looks like it fell down somewhere between the couch and the wall. When you pull it out, it still has folds in the bottom but also...there’s more of them? It’s kind of a heavy letter. Weighty, in fact.

Both Papyrus and Sans had been profoundly asleep when you’d woken up, but Frisk was awake and had made a third round of coffee to share with you this time. Sans seemed better, or at least he’d managed to slide out of the fetal position he’d been in the night before and halfway over the arm of the couch facedown, hooded skull hanging. Papyrus just slept sitting up with his head leaned back against the couch, jaw slack and snoring like a bony buzzsaw.

Frisk explained that they might both stay that way for a considerable time longer, despite the fact that it had been almost noon, and then had driven you home in Papyrus’s car. They weren’t as conscientious a driver as their relative, but still managed the less-than-a-mile across the campus without any actionable property damage.

You open your desk drawer and slide the letter inside.

You close the drawer. Then you open it again, and take the thick folded paper back out. You pull the folds down, but somehow the entire paper is blank as you keep going, and going...until at the very bottom, there are two words written in his spidery capitals.

“THANK YOU"

 

 

Chapter Text

Sans’s soft snores provide an oddly calming and rhythmic audio background to the show he’s fallen asleep during, the theme song of which is currently tinkling tinnily from your laptop. You glance up at it from time to time where it’s perched on your pillow, but rather than following the captions you’re actually going through your work documents on your viewer and getting some organization done, even though tonight’s the start of your off days.

You glance over at him and notice he’s actually wriggled out of his hoodie at some point, and although the discarded garment is bunched up under one shoulder, it doesn’t seem to be bothering him at all. You smile as you catch one of your favorite lines from this episode, and flick your eyes back to the laptop to finish watching that particular scene. Your mind wanders anyhow, and you set your viewer absently onto your nightstand.

You think your favorite thing about Sans’s company is that you never feel like he’s doing anything other than exactly what he wants to be doing. It takes a lot of pressure off that you often feel during social interactions. You never wonder if he’s getting antsy to leave, or if he’s waiting for you to offer him something. If he wants to leave, he’ll go, and if he needs anything, he’ll ask.

And if he’s tired, he’ll fall asleep, you think, glancing over at him again. He’s laying on his back with an arm thrown over his head, the long white bones gleaming dully in light from your lamp. It’s still afternoon, but it’s the kind of early autumn overcast outside that makes you keep a light or two on even in the day. What there is of the faint light from outside adds a bluish cast from one direction, while your lamp is warmer in tone from the other. The dual pale blue/soft yellow lighting effect on a living bone surface is interesting. You idly wonder if he’d want to sit for a portrait sometime.

And that’s the funny thing; he’s made of bones. There’s no throat, tongue, or lungs in there, so where exactly does the snore come from? Does he snore for the same reasons humans would? Maybe the balled up sweater under him is knocking something out of alignment. You lean a little closer to him, trying to hear it better, and you flick your hand out to turn off the show so you can hear. It doesn’t sound exactly like a human snore; there’s nothing fleshy about it. It’s drier, somehow, almost a buzzing sound. Like a temperamental bee lives in his ribcage somewhere and is getting increasingly annoyed by his persistent inactivity. The Papyrus of bees.

You can’t help your stifled laugh, and one of his eye sockets opens languidly, the white point coming into focus in its depths.

“something funny happen?” he inquires, voice muddled and deepened even further by sleep. He’s got a rather indolent smile on his face at being awoken by laughter, even someone else’s.

“Just wondering where the snores come from,” you reply, moving back as his phalanges click over his other socket before it opens as well. He leans up to press his water glass to his teeth a moment before shoving the hoodie out of the bed and laying back down. “Sounds like a bee or something,” you add with a grin.

“can’t be anywhere near as bad as paps’s snoring,” he says, one of his hands coming up under his chin. “that sounds like a lawnmower. gotta say those are my least my favorite part of living in a place that can grow grass. why they always do it so early?” he mock-gripes.

“Yeah, not my favorite way to wake up either,” you agree, then yawn hugely, shoving the back of your wrist between your teeth. “You’re really selling me on that nap lifestyle, man,” you add, then remove the laptop and other accumulated debris from the top of your coverlet. Once it’s cleared, you wiggle the rest of the way down between the sheets and turn to face him. The fact that it’s not pain or symptomatic fatigue gnawing at your bones makes the light sleepiness you’re experiencing feel almost decadently indulgent, and you sigh with contentment.

“seems like you’re feeling better these days?” he asks, casual but also a little hesitant, as if he’s keenly aware it’s a more personal question than most people realize.

“Heh,” you laugh softly. “You know, I really am.”

He smiles more comfortably, satisfied to hear it. His eye lights sharpen a moment.

“wanna cuddle? might be nice even if you’re feelin’ better.”

“You know what? Yeah,” you reply, pulling your arms up in front of you and loosely fisting your hands as you waddle your upper body forward, towards him. He’s kinda high up on the pillow so even though he’s shorter, he’s looking down at you across the remaining space as you tuck one arm in front of your chest, then slowly wrap the other across his ribcage. His bony arm comes over your shoulder and rests on your back, and you exhale slowly, any remaining tension leaving your body. His lightly stiffened fingers rub a small circle on your upper back for a moment before relaxing.

“It’s weird,” you ramble, “I heard so many bullshit lines about changing my diet, for years and years. People who didn’t know anything about me would say the stupidest shit. Like, ‘oh, my cousin cured her Lupus with grapefruit’, that kinda crap. Feels ironic, but I think changing my diet to half-madge really is making a big difference.”

“huh?”

You laugh softly. “It’s human doctor slang. ‘Half magic.’ Like, about half of what I eat now is monster food. That’s all it means.”

“heh. you mean the stuff I bring over?”

“I definitely have you all to thank for most of it, but I started going to the market downtown too.”

“you think that’s it?” he rumbles softly.

“Mmm hmm,” you agree, then look up at his eye lights, which have fuzzed out considerably in the meantime. Looking at them for a long time doesn’t bother you nearly as much as the piercing stare of gelid human eyeballs. You wonder why for a moment but, you don’t care all that much. It’s nice to just be more, and think less.

“It’s so nice to feel...not bad for a change,” you say out loud, then tuck the arm you’re laying on across your belly so you can wiggle closer with another sigh. Your other hand is behind his back, but you keep your fingers tucked in carefully instead of letting them dangle near his ribs, since that usually seems to make him nervous.

“It’s nice to just go and do things once in a while. If I want to. Painting, visiting, whatever. Even working. But the best part...” you trail off as you feel his bony chin rest on the top your your head. “Mm. But the best part is this. I’m having a good day, but I’m just being lazy cause I want to.”

You hear him laugh softly, the breath huffing out of his nasal cavity scented with something like thyme and his usual dry, almost chalky smell, stirring your hair against your brow. It makes you smile and scrunch your nose up, and you rub your forehead against his chin to soothe the tickle a little.

“I’m not used to having that,” you continue wonderingly. “I usually base what I’m doing on how I’m feeling, or if I...If I can or not, and that decides my day. Right now, I could go and do something if I wanted to. But instead, this is exactly what I want to be doing. Nothing.”

“same here,” he chuckles in quiet surprise. “not a lot a folks have that kinda appreciation for some good old-fashioned nothing.”

It’s still a unique experience to not have to worry about understanding what he says even though you can’t see his face at all. Your eyes are closed, actually, but then you think you do want to see his face, because it’s cool. You untuck your forehead and tilt your head back to look. He’s interesting from underneath.

The longer you know him, the less his face looks all that much like a human skull; the less it looks like a human anything to be honest. Despite being more or less shaped like one. You can see some of his lower teeth from this angle, and the joint where his jaw looks to be mostly fused and not very flexible. It’s a lot different than Papyrus’s, although that seems an unfair comparison despite the fact that he’s the only other living skeleton you’ve ever seen.

It’s also interesting how the inside of his skull, while you can tell there is an inside, is shrouded in that inexplicable darkness punctuated only by the expressive white points in his otherwise empty sockets. They’re not visible when looking in from anywhere else, either; only when you look into his eyes from the front. Their current expression being curiosity laced with the beginnings of slight discomfort at the intense scrutiny.

“Your face? Is awesome,” you grin up at him. He snorts in surprise, then falls into helpless sounding laughter.

heh heh heh….what? why?”

You exhale, and give him the truest reason you can think of.

“Because it doesn’t stress me out.”

He’s looking at you like that’s the absolute last answer he was expecting, so you crack up again. “I mean it, though,” you say between giggles. “Human faces have way too much going on. Nose hair. Eyelashes. Pores. They’re weird. There’s so much….goo?”

Now he’s laughing too.

“It’s true!” you urge, and you realize you’re pulling him a little closer again, and he’s doing the same. Indulging your mutual curiosities.

“Big, gooey eyes that always feel like they don’t see you at all, or they see right inside you sometimes. It’s weird,” you repeat helplessly, knowing it’s true even if you can’t explain it better. Oh, well.

He tilts his head down so you’re looking directly into his eye sockets and the points floating in their depths.

“these don’t bother you?” he asks quietly, but with humor still in his voice.

“Nope,” you answer honestly, watching them flicker with unreadable emotion.

He brings his face even closer until his forehead and nasal bone are resting against you, and you’re staring directly into his sockets. “you suuure?”

You giggle again, feeling silly and relaxed. You roll your forehead against his lightly, fascinated by the way there’s no sense of depth inside his eyes. There’s no telling how close or far away the white points are, or what angle you’re looking at them from. The way you can’t tell exactly what they are.

“No, they’re… they’re like stars,” you half-whisper, astounded to realize finally what they remind you of. Their substance spreads out into a larger and more diffuse shape, making your eyes try to re-focus on them.

“seriously?”

He sounds so surprised, and this close it’s less like hearing and more like feeling. His breath ghosts against your face, and his forehead… changes somehow- the strangeness of impervious bone flexing easily against your skin surprises you into another quiet laugh.

“Do that again?” you ask, and you feel him...frowning? You’re not sure. “It feels neato.”

You’ve never noticed his bones having any particular temperature before, but right now, they feel warm.

“They really are like stars,” you continue, entranced. “Millions of light years away, you can’t even manage to convince your mind they’re real. How can something that far away really exist in a way that matters to you? It’s incomprehensible. And at the same time they make you feel like you could just reach out and touch them if you wanted to,” you ramble blithely. “Your eyes are just like that.” You feel his nasal bone tracing your nose gently, and the angle you’re viewing from shifts.

You scoot a little closer, one arm tucked tight and low against your belly and the other curved over his ribcage, and you feel your chest touch his lightly for a moment. His hard, bafflingly flexible palm touches the back of your neck, changing the angle again. You guide him, tilting your face so your fleshy cheekbone touches his bare one, noticing the way those lights spread and change when you move, holding your gaze delicately in a manner so unlike the way a human eye focuses. You laugh softly in wonder, and feel a pulling sensation of giddiness almost like when you drank the monster alcohol.

“But stars exist whether you believe in them or not. They don’t need you, they don’t hate you, they can just be outside all that messiness. Reliable. That's the best part, isn’t it?” You feel his breath against your nose and mouth, but he doesn’t speak.

“How does it feel to have stars inside you, Sans?”

“i...um,” he says, unable to come up with anything resembling a response to that, not even a joke, but you still both laugh quietly together at your own ridiculousness. It’s so nice, just to be silly. Just to be here, alive.

“Mmmm,” you sigh wordlessly, expending your mirth as you feel that same giddiness rising again, an almost magnetic feeling drawing at you. It feels like the ASL sign for “like it,” somehow. Sans is still huffing amused breaths through his nasal cavity, caressing your face with his.

“What is that?” you murmur absently, and press your chest against his gently a moment to indicate what you mean.

Sans sucks his breath in a little suddenly through his nasal cavity, and he draws back from you decisively before he lets it out. Sounds a little uneven. You pull your arms back and clasp them in front of you.

“sorry,” he says, looking to the side. “i-i didn’t, uh. realize.”

You look at him for a long moment.

“Did I do something to bother you?”

He laughs. Short, but soft.

“nope. kinda the opposite.” his eye lights flicker, and he falls silent. “i had no idea that was happening,” he says quietly, “but also never woulda occurred to me you’d be able to feel it.” His face looks a bit iridescent for a moment, aided by the fading blue from the window. It’s getting dark outside rapidly, and you realize he sounds almost nervous. For him, at least.

You gaze at his cotton-clad chest again, remembering the drawing sensation you’d felt.

“Oh,” you say softly. “Oh.”

“just means I like you. sorry.” He glances away briefly, then returns his gaze to you with a hesitant smile. “liked what we were doing.” He even manages to shrug while lying on his side. The tiny bones in his hands curve delicately in front of him, relaxed against your dark duvet like pearls.

Of course, now your heart thuds in your chest, and you feel mildly annoyed about it for some reason. At the same time… although you’re not really sure what’s going on, you realize you very much would like the opportunity to find out. A deep and patient warmth floods your belly suddenly, and you smile at Sans.

“I liked it, too.”

He smiles back easily.

“Could I...feel it again?” you ask hopefully.

His eye lights flicker and shrink, and his sockets widen as if he really wasn’t expecting that sort of response. He doesn’t really seem shy or anything, but at the same time you’re in pretty unfamiliar territory and the last thing you want to do is freak him out.

“Only if that’s something you’d want,” you clarify.

“you, um. okay. so, in this context, that would be an… intimate touch,” he states slowly, closely watching your face.

You understand and appreciate why he’s making that clear, but all the verbal answers to that statement you can think of would sound weird. You meet his eyes and nod once, twice. You sign “yes.” You understand.

He looks at you for a long moment as a gentle, genuine smile softens his fixed grin. “wow, ok.”

His eye sockets are half-moons again as he extends his arms toward you, beckoning with his topmost hand.

“yeah, ok. c’mere.”

You feel a twinge of ambiguous excitement as you scoot towards him, but he doesn’t throw himself on you, there’s no crushing of bodies or anything like that. Which is definitely just as well considering his bones are very hard, even with your clothes between you. Instead, you lay your head on the pillow with his humerus under your neck, and his other hand brushes your hair lightly as he touches his nasal bone delicately to your face again, drawing it down your nose and across your nostrils.

“can’t believe you told me my eyes were like stars,” he says incredulously. “no one ever said anything like that to me in my life. you even know what that does to me?”

“I do now,” you can’t help but laugh. His low chuckle joins yours as he strokes the side of your face with his bone fingertips. They feel so alien, smooth and insidiously magnetic, it draws a shudder up out of you before you even realize it’s happening.

“you’re so...soft,” he says, wonder seeping into in his voice.

“Mmmm,” you equivocate, a little embarrassed.

“you okay?” he asks quietly, his breath slow and sweet on your lips.

“Very okay,” you reply. “Just...it’s literally impossible for me to form expectations? So that’s... exciting?”

“huh,” he half-whispers, cupping your cheek and caressing your face with his, tilting his head to look into your eyes again. “makes sense. relatable, even.”

You’ve got your hands drawn up to your chest, loosely holding them together since you actually don’t know what to do with them. What you’re feeling isn’t the same as being physically aroused, although you’re beginning to suspect you’re also that, too. When he touches your face again, you lean into his hand a little, press your lips to it, and grip your own hands together a little more tightly.

Sans makes a quiet noise, “hm.” He takes one of your hands gently, and lifts it up until your thumb strokes his zygomatic process. His eye lights are the most diffuse you’ve ever seen while you feel his face with your fingers. Your belly flutters considering how much of a gesture of trust this feels like, and it’s very exciting to touch the face you’d been admiring just a short while ago. He keeps his phalanges lightly at the back of your hand while you explore the arch of his maxilla, caress the depth of his temple behind the ridge of his eye socket. He turns his face into your hand much like you had with his, then he presses his teeth to your palm gently, smooth as glass, but warm.

You feel his uneven inhalation, then his eye lights focus again, flicker.

“is that your, uh...blood, there? ...wiggling?”

You can’t help it, you turn your face toward the pillow and snort with laughter.

“D-do you mean, heh, my pulse?” you manage.

“s’that what that is?” he says, gently holding up your hand and looking at your wrist curiously. You push your face into the pillow to try and smother the giggles, but they won’t stop.

“on second thought, feels like i reeeeally should have known that,” he ponders, then gives up and starts laughing with you.

“oh, man,” he chuckles, plopping his head back down next to yours and just holding your hand gently in his. His face is half-smashed into the pillow but he glances sidelong at you playfully. “this is the part where i gotta admit i don’t know what we’re doing, isn’t it.”

“Me neither,” you reply, still grinning. “At all. The one thing I do know is, you s-sure do make my blood w-w-wiggle...” Oh god, you’re losing it again, and his low chuckle is right there with you. The residual tension dissipates. Another minute, and he sighs, his sockets half mast with mirth and something else much softer. Maybe it’s just that the lights in them have increased in diameter again.

“you make me wiggle, too,” he says with the same expression on his face. “wanna feel?”

“I really do,” you smile.

He takes your hand and places it flat on his sternum, puts his own on top of it gently with a deep sigh. There’s no heartbeat in there, which doesn’t surprise you since he doesn’t have any internal organs. What does surprise you is that there is something, and it’s almost as heady as the fact that he’s allowing you to touch his body with your hands and fingers. Something warm and magnetic, like the gentle pressure in the air above a heating element. Alive, and lively, and filled with intent. Like magic.

“Why does it feel so good?” you say before you realize you’re going to.

His breath catches, and you glance up at his face. His expression looks like how you felt, a good kind of sleepy, or maybe just relaxed. Calm and happy. His eyes are soft and fixed on you, and his bony fingers stroke the back of your hand delicately.

“you really can feel it,” he says quietly. “guess i thought-i dunno,” he breathes out a little unevenly. “if you were able to, uh...” He uses his other hand to make a drawing motion away from his chest without removing the protective one over the spot your fingers press at his sternum. Understanding fills you like slow honey; the motion he’s making means drawing out a soul. Exposing it.

“i’d usually be anticipating the possibility, feeling trust. i know you can’t, but i don’t feel any different about this.” he presses your fingers. “i didn’t expect that,” he sighs sweetly. “mm,” he adds, closing his eye sockets for a languorous moment.

“This is a private spot to touch you? To touch a monster’s body?” you ask, enjoying the gentle brush of smooth phalanges against the backs of your fingers.

One of his eyes opens and he exhales, smiling. “no? not like everyone has ‘this spot’...” The white point sharpens a little.

“but it definitely is when they feel the way i do right now,” he answers simply. Then both eyes open and he looks down, his expression drifts toward something almost familiar. Desire smolders there, but it’s tempered into something else by peace and patience. “or if you do,” he adds throatily.

Which is when you realize hand you’d been holding loosely fisted in front of your chest started mirroring the gesture on your own chest, absentminded fingertips searching idly beneath your collarbone. It makes you wonder what it would feel like if he touched you there now, while you feel this way... while you touch him like this, while he feels this way. It makes your face heat pleasantly, a heat that flows down to where your fingers touch your chest.

“That’s fucking bananas,” you whisper absently, and now he’s grinning at you.

“I mean,” you say, then clear your throat gently. You don’t move your hand away from your own chest, either. “We’re not actually, uh, doing the thing?” He exhales softly, and you continue. “It’s just the introduction of the idea. And you feel so good, even though you know I can’t...make you come out? I can’t even imagine how intense the other stuff with you must be.”

Sans’s fingers touch the wrist of the hand you have pressed against his sternum, glide up your bare forearm, over your sleeve, come to rest on the point of your shoulder. They give it a gentle squeeze as he moves closer to you, the movement causing you to reflexively splay your fingers open against him, proximity increasing the pressure. He shudders, breath quickening as his smooth face caresses yours softly.

“you say you don’t know what you’re doing, but you sure know what to say to me,” he sighs, breath tickling your upper lip. You’re staring right into his eye sockets again, fixing on the directionless points in endless darkness.

“Can I hold you more?” you ask.

You feel him nod against your forehead, so you pull your fingers away from your own chest and put that arm around him. You very gently fold your fist against his spine as you pull him close; you can feel the hardness of his ribs under thin cotton, the texture as your arm moves up suggesting the spaces between them.

Your open hand is almost wedged between your bodies, and when the tips of your fingers graze where his ribs attach to his breastbone he shudders, exhales raggedly. This is an incredibly erotic embrace, and you wonder why it took you so long to catch on. His body is nothing like yours, and it’s good to have it pressed against you like this. It’s like you can feel how much he wants to be there. His breath catches again when you slide your hand up his chest maybe half an inch, and this time you hear a faint noise you can’t quite place. Maybe it’s just tree branches in the wind outside.

“that feels good,” he whispers unsteadily. “it’s... different. are you doing something? a human thing?” He doesn’t stop tracing your face with his nasal bone, but you still your hand on his chest, then move it away. You touch his fingers with yours.

“Not that I know of. I thought this is what monsters do. Are you okay?” you ask.

“heh. yeah,” he says with a soft but slightly strangled laugh, and you lift your face as he pushes his underneath. You stroke the side of his skull with your cheek in what you hope is a soothing manner. “jus’ my soul trying to jump into your hand,” he replies unevenly, then you hear him breathe raggedly into the pillow. “sorry. geez, sorry.”

You’re trying to figure out why he’s so apologetic. It really doesn’t seem like him at all. Unless…

You shift slowly until you’re leaned up on one elbow, and curl your body over him protectively.

“Sans,” you whisper at his temporal bone. “Did you just say something vulgar, apologize for it, then apologize again when you realized I have absolutely no idea what it means?”

“okay, ’s not fair if you do everything to get me there, then read me back the notes,” he snorts helplessly.

“If I couldn’t figure out at least that much, I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing this at all,” you admit. “Maybe it’s... when I touch you, it’s intense because there’s a question I don’t know how to ask that you’d normally being expecting. Like you’re stuck on the edge of something.”

You nudge your body forward a little, and he pulls his face out of the pillow and rolls onto his back with a sigh. You lean over him and slowly bring your face down to his, using the tip of your nose to caress the bones there as he’d done with you. It’s not like kissing, and it doesn’t make you feel the same, but it feels very, very good nonetheless. Like you’re focusing your feelings and expressing them gently onto each other. Heady and intimate, very controlled. Not desperate and clutching like...

You blink, pull back slightly to look into his sockets again.

“Have you never done soul things with humans?”

He meets your eyes evenly. “nope,” he replies shortly and without elaboration.

“And I haven’t done this literally at all.” You smile, and don’t press. “I was wrong. We did form expectations.”

You bring your left hand up and sort of hover it. “May I?”

“yeah,” he exhales fervently, then sucks his breath back in as your touch his chest the way you had been before. You move your hand up very slightly as your spread your fingers, grazing the very tips of your fingers and thumb over what would be costal cartilage on a human. He shudders, and you hear the barely-there soft clacking again. It’s coming from his body, and it’s definitely doing something interesting to the way you’re feeling right now. It’s good.

“Does it still make your soul want to come out?” you ask softly.

“like you wouldn’t believe.” He sounds almost faint.

You take your hand away, but only to pick up his bony one and place it where yours had been.

“I’d like it if you wanted to show me,” you say gently.

His eye lights fuzz out out as he looks up, contrasting with his incredulous expression.

“you... want to see me?”

“I’d love that,” you reply, and remove your hand from overtop his.

“that’s, uh. wow.” he says huskily. “yeah.”

He tenses the arm that had been under your body around you to pull you closer, thin fingers firm at your waist. You lean forward while still making sure not to crowd him, anticipation and excitement blooming on your tongue like sugar. He explores his sternum delicately with bony phalanges, expression introverted and almost dreamy, then draws them back with the same sort of motion he’d demonstrated earlier.

This time, a glowing white shape follows them, hovers inches away. A heart with the point up, the two curves below meeting like a perfect cupid’s bow. It seems almost frail, with a faint iridescence that reminds you of the way the surface of his face looks when he’s having especially strong emotions. You really want to look at his face now to see if they match but you can’t seem to pull your eyes away from his soul. It’s so ethereal, and still more real than anything else here at the same time. His distals hovering near it reflect and enhance its luster. The curve of his hand, achingly protective and positioned like he’s presenting it to you at the same time makes you bite your lip to stifle a noise. The sight twists your insides strangely, and you try to remember how to breathe.

“This the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” you whisper tightly.

A soft exhale. “s’just me.” The low, harmonic tones in his voice make you shiver.

You finally manage to pull your eyes away from his luminous vulnerability to look at his face. His eye lights are fuzzy and peaceful, still punctuated with soft yearning as they somehow manage to gaze at you, instead of being locked on to his ultimate expression of self floating inches above. Your mouth opens, but you’re speechless. His breathing loses its steadiness as you both bask in the light of his soul.

“you really...can’t see it, huh,” he says very quietly after a moment. “but you still want this.”

It isn’t a question, but something about him seems uncertain. Your eyes drift back to his soul like a slow-acting but insistent magnet, and you wish you knew what to do to to reassure him, or express how moving this experience is.

“I wish I could explain how I feel right now,” you whisper back. “I don’t have words for this.” A hot tear dismayingly escapes your eyelid, and you wipe at it with your still-fisted fingers before bringing it back to your chest.

“You always make me feel so happy and comfortable, a-and safe,” you say, doing your best to put how you feel into your voice.

He looks at you, slightly pained, now. Conflicted.

“you make me feel that way, too,” he admits. “’m not used to it.” You wish you could see whatever it is that is going on with his soul. You wish it could tell you what to do.

Sans looks back at himself, and his eye lights slowly focus in on something. His teeth separate slightly, and whatever it is seems to be drawing more and more of his attention as he frowns slightly. You bite your lip, and think back to your own experiences. You can hardly believe he’s allowing you to be here for this, that he wants this with you, but everything he’s done and said would indicate he very much does.

“If you want to… to touch it, I think you should,” you urge gently. “If you’re comfortable with that.”

He huffs a short, tight breath out, then takes a second steadier one. He looks even more pained for a minute, then his expression calms. His eye sockets close, and the very tip of his middle phalanx grazes the cleft on the underside of his soul, curves into it with a delicately practiced motion. You bite your lip harder to keep from groaning; everything about what he’s doing seems unbearably private. The physical aspect of your arousal asserts itself, but it’s not demanding or crowding anything out. It’s suffused with tenderness and awe.

He holds his breath for a long time before letting it out, slow and shuddering. His sockets open slowly and he looks back up at you, points shining in darkness focusing in on your face. It’s like stargazing in reverse. His smile is so soft it could have come off as shy, but his essential backbone shines through, discerning, engaging, and incisive. You’ve got me thinking in puns now, your inner voice says, and it warms the smile you give in return.

“maybe i was the one who had the wrong idea,” he says with enough rasp to pull a sharp sliver of heat right through you. He reaches over with his free hand and brushes your fingers almost idly. “you wanna touch my body, right?”

That’s the kind of question that could be taken as an invitation, but you know him better than that. He means that you desire it in general.

You chew your lips a moment. “Yeah. I do.”

“why?” Why do you, in particular, want to touch his body. In particular.

“Because I want to feel close to you, and I like you. Because-” you breathe shakily, trying to be as complete and honest as possible. In the presence of his soul, nothing else will do. “The way my body works...it tells me that’s what to do to make you feel good.”

“but you aren’t.” You aren’t touching him right now.

“I only want that if you do,” you finish.

“hmm,” he breathes, still gazing into his soul. You feel him play with your fingers a little more, then hold them.

“may i?”

“Yeah,” you reply, although you’re not totally sure what’s going happen. This is unfamiliar territory, but you suspect both of you are curious enough, want this enough to find out where it leads. All he does is take your hand, being careful not to bring it too near his soul, and places it gently on his own chest.

“will you do what you did before?” he asks softly, although his eyes don’t leave his soul. You look at your hand. You can feel him, the cotton soft to the touch, the unyielding bones underneath. You think about the way he’d shuddered and sighed under your fingers, the haunting way he’d looked at you afterward. He’d told you it felt good, just ‘different’. You want him to feel that way again, and it seems like he wants that, too.

You’re not laying the same way as before so you can’t exactly mimic it, but you spread your fingers and move your hand up his sternum just a little, fingertips brushing over the texture of ribs on the right side. The lump of what you think is his second rib ends up under your index finger, and you draw the tip of it across the cotton-clad bump, circle it lightly. You look back at his face, bathed iridescent in the light of his most essential self. He doesn’t make a sound, but you can see his eye lights changing texture wildly in the timeless darkness of his sockets.

He’s exquisite.

Sans takes your hand off his chest a little suddenly, but instead of letting go he holds it to the side, while his other gently pushes his soul back where it goes. When he looks up at you, it’s with the expression of soft shock you remember from another time. A good time. You don’t know what it means, necessarily, but it doesn’t seem to be a bad thing. He pulls your hand back and around his body, then keeps going until he’s curled up facing you, face buried in your chest. Only then does he exhale raggedly, trembling a little as he pulls you close.

“Are you okay?” you ask quietly, and feel a small burst of alarm when he keeps shaking. You reflexively put your hand on the back of his skull, intending to comfort, when you realize he’s laughing. Weakly, but not hysterical. Just surprised.

“heh... heh… yeah, i’m okay. oh, man...” It’s a strangled mumble against you. You’re really glad he’s doing the voice thing, because otherwise you seriously would have no idea. Even with that, his reaction is still mildly concerning to you. You realize your hand is still cupping his skull. “Is this okay?” you ask hesitantly, the smallest possible press of your fingertips against bone to indicate. He shudders a final time, then his body relaxes.

“yeah,” he sighs.

You’re burning with curiosity and still a bit of concern, but he obviously...needs a minute. There’s enough room for you to lay your upper body down so you do, finally taking your weight off your elbow and shoulder. It’s a little stiff, but even as the endorphins of whatever just happened wear off, it’s not too painful. It helps that having him this close, you can feel the oddly resonant magic in his body soothing you all over. Sans just breathes steadily, although after a few more minutes it starts to deepen.

“Sans, I can understand and empathize with you being worn out, but if you fall asleep right this second I have to admit it’s gonna make me sort of peevish,” you say into the silent dimness. He finally pulls back to look up at your face. He looks a little dazed, and there’s actually something wet at the corner of his left socket.

“Oh, geez, sorry” you whisper in chagrin. You reach out to touch it, wipe it away. It...tingles. “What did I do?”

He huffs softly. “nothin’ bad,” he rumbles quietly. “more like...you gave me a lot to think about. didn’t realize how much intentions, uh. matter. i should have, though. s’hard to explain.” He smiles up at you. “even for me, i guess.”

You get that he’s playing it off, but…

“This isn’t going to be a thing that happened but we never talk about it and just pretend it didn’t, is it?” you ask sadly. His grin flattens in dismay, then he meets your eyes with an intensity you don’t usually see from him. He pulls his arm from around you, but only to reach up and touch your face gently.

“s’not like that at all,” he says, drawing his hard, smooth fingertips along your cheek. “that was a very...profound experience.” His face goes soft as his thumb brushes your chin. “thank you.”

“i just need some time to process, uh, and i...” An extremely complicated emotion crosses his face, and he glances down. “need some time,” he repeats, barely a whisper. “to think.”

“so it turns out I really need that nap we talked about,” he adds sheepishly, but he sounds a little more like himself.

His eyes come back up, and a hint of playfulness returns before his expression turns exaggeratedly piteous. “you kinda wrecked me, bud. now i gotta think about how to return the favor sometime,” he says suggestively, then winks.

You blush. “Oh,” you reply softly. “Oh.” You clear your throat. “Well, at this point I think it’s late enough that it’s just regular sleeping. So, um. You wanna sleep over?”

He’s already snuggling back into you, and you adjust yourself to get a little more comfortable. “nothin’ i’d like better,” he sighs, already trailing off. You want to feel peevish anyways, since he hadn’t actually explained anything, but then you consider an entirely different possibility. Maybe Sans really, truly doesn’t know what that was all about either. After all, neither of you had done anything precisely like that before, and… huh. Wow.

Your chest floods with warmth, and you’re a little surprised to discover you don’t feel pent up, upset, or any residual tension now that it’s clear he’d enjoyed himself. Apparently much more than he expected to, which at this point you feel okay enough about to smile at. And you also remember that this close, while he’s sleeping (yep...definitely already asleep), the aura of magic around him is both increased and...soporific. Huh. You’re already drifting off yourself, and that’s fine with you.

It feels good.

 

 

Chapter Text

You spend almost 30 seconds trying to convince yourself you’re just imagining the sound and smell of coffee being brewed coming from your kitchen when you wake up in bed alone the next morning. Then you rub your eyes and chide yourself for letting your own trust issues do him such an insult, even in thought. Not only that...you smell something a little burnt, like maybe he turned your long-dormant oven on for some reason. You sniff again. Yep. It’s the unmistakable fragrance of a skeletal sadsack (whom you’ve been avoiding even referring to as your best friend, despite the fact that he is and has been for months), incompetently cooking you some kind of shitty, wonderful breakfast.

You don’t get up yet. You rub your chest, but you know full well you don’t need to go soul searching to be honest with yourself about this. You know how he feels. You’ve just been walking around pretending like he didn’t make himself sick over you at least once, because instead of going home for healing when he was overworked (if what Frisk had told you was true, and you see no reason it wouldn’t be) two days before ARTBALL, he wanted to spend six aimless hours on your couch making ‘heh heh some like it hot WINK’ “jokes” at you instead. He meant you’re the hot one, and he’s been telling you that for a long time now.

His jokes are funny, but it doesn’t stop them from ringing true. They leave room for interpretation because he’s not a pushy person. They create room for whatever kind of relationship you’re willing to have, and your eyes prickle a little as you consider you can’t ever imagine him ever losing patience with your uncertainty. Add the almost constant cuddling, which had finally led to something a little more than that, and it’s not even that surprising. Well, it had been surprising in many ways, but not the fact that it had happened.

It’s been like this between you since you both spent almost a week in your bed mourning your own deaths together.

Eh, bullshit. It’s been like this since Grillby’s.

It’s just that neither of you had had any clue what to do about it, or if there even had been anything to do about it. Despite that, the more time you spend together, the more time you want to spend together. You know he feels the same way about it, and so that’s what you’ve been doing. Getting to know each other. And no, even at this point you don’t talk to each other about everything. Like Frisk wanting your consultation on the future of humanity for some ungodly reason, and the fact that he’s obviously involved with something important enough that he works until he’s sick on it. Probably either the Core, or some kind of transportation thing. Considering his skillset. Again, you’re not a fucking tree stump. You just leave space for him to avoid your increasing closeness conflicting with whatever his few responsibilities and obligations actually are.

On your end, there’s also the issue that you still lose or gain a day here and there, and no, you still don’t know if you want to broach that topic with him yet. But the fact is that he finds a reason to see you most of them, regardless. You find a reason to talk to him all of them. Time spent with him always seems the most vibrant; that time has dilated into its own little universe for you.

You know he’s had some sort of unspecified and crappy experiences with humans in the past, but hey. Who hasn’t. That’s why you’re still fucking laying here instead of going to give him a...well, not a kiss maybe, but one of those face-touching things and thanking him for his terrible cooking skills and really awesome...whatever that stuff last night had been. But you can’t sit here and convince yourself that his dislike of human sex acts and lack of human body parts make any difference in the end when it comes to how you both feel. Everyone’s different; you don’t actually think of him as lacking anything, and you hope he feels the same about you. All it does is create more possibilities. And even that dislike or whatever is perhaps something he is reevaluating, or at least there’s the heavy implication. He’d said you’d given him a lot to think about last night, and that’s not something he’d say lightly.

Because you know him. Now you’re getting to know him a little more. And it’s really, really good. It feels good, and it makes you happy. You smile in the tepid morning light coming in through your open curtains that neither of you had bothered to get up and close last night. And your lamp’s still on, too. Now you’re grinning. First impressions had definitely been correct; he’s still a trashy little skeleton and the walking manifestation of a messy bedroom, and you fucking love it. You…

Okay, time to get up and brush your teeth! That breakfast is starting to smell closer to cooked, and if the coffee sits too long it gets nasty. Any more thinking alone-style will just have to wait. For...later. And that’s okay.

You lean against the wall as you descend the stairs, feeling a little more awake but craving the sweet promise of caffeine. There’s a pretty big mess on your counter, what looks like...strips of dough? Eggshells, an empty bag, spilled stuff. Whatever activity has caused the mess has reached a lull since Sans is motionless, his wide stance slumpy and broad-hipped, armbones leaned against your sink while he stares out the window above it.

He’s got his socks and slippers back on, and his hoodie’s fallen off the back of the chair where he presumably tried to ‘hang’ it (you’d think he’d have figured out it doesn’t work by now) and makes a dark blue puddle on your linoleum, so he must have popped out for ingredients. It makes your chest twinge a little when you look down and notice you’re wearing almost the exact same clothes, even though it’s not the first time you’ve noticed you and he share the same taste in loungewear. Most of your shirts have a design on the front, but otherwise. You don’t know why it feels cuter now. Oh, well. Just admit it. You’re soft.

“What’s cooking?” you ask as you cross the dining area of the kitchen.

He turns to look over his shoulder at you, and a big, sincere smile steals across his face.

“i’m not exactly sure,” he replies gamely. Oh, there go his fingers. ‘e-g-g.’ He’s not egg-xactly sure. “i couldn’t find the, uh. pastry things. so we’ll see if pizza dough works.”

You have to lean down a little further but you copy his pose and look out the window with him.

“You’re making an egg pizza?”

He chuckles a little wryly and rubs under his eye with a bony fingertip. “nah. s’like this quiche thing papyrus makes sometimes. thought it’d be special or something. i dunno.”

You just keep looking out the window, face getting hotter.

“yeah. i’m gonna talk about it. just figured i’d give you a chance to wake up.”

“It is,” you manage at last.

He looks at you questioningly.

“Special,” you add, then walk around him to the coffee maker. It’s not fancy like at his house with the french press but it gets the job done. “Thank you.”

You take your cup and sit at the table, and just watch him look out the window for a little bit, since you’re still kind of thinking, too. After the coffee’s half gone you feel awake enough to say something.

“You’re not the only one with issues.”

His head turns a little sharply at you, but he comes over easily enough and pulls out a chair, slumps down. Picks up his hoodie puddle and sticks it up on the chair back again where it promptly slides off.

“I just meant that it’s not something you necessarily...owe it to me to talk about? In detail? I just want you to know you’re not the only one who had a bunch of terrible sex with humans and now you need...I don’t know. You don’t have to lay out a bunch of bad memories just to get some basic consideration from me.”

The oven beeps, and he stands up and pulls the door open. You yelp when he grabs whatever’s in there with his bare hands, startling him almost enough to make him drop it, but in the end it makes it to the stovetop safely and you both laugh a little in relief.

“not flammable at this temperature,” he chuckles automatically, then darts his eyes at you furtively.

You roll your eyes and smile. “And I don’t care if you make jokes about the good memories, either.” He just shrugs, but looks slightly relieved. Weirdo.

You come over to take a look, and it’s actually not entirely unappealing. Just egg and green stuff, probably spinach if what you remember about quiches is correct. You glance at one of the empty bags and confirm it. You cut a piece and find a plate to put it on, then glance over at Sans.

“Am I supposed to just guinea pig out by myself?” The higher, surprised chuckle’s your reward for that one, and it fills you with the same warm glow. He still doesn’t doesn’t take a piece, and it makes you worry a little. Well. Maybe his jaw’s just tired, you think as you both come back and sit down. The slice of quiche...pizza is fine, it smells good, and you can’t think of any reason why your stomach’s a mite too heavy right now. Well. Actually, maybe you do.

You look into your plate like it’s a final exam.

“I don’t know why, but I just...I thought you’d take off? Even though I obviously didn’t want you to, and I didn’t have a reason to think you would. I don’t know. That’s what I mean by issues. And I don’t want to just fart around acting like whatever we did wasn’t a big deal and we’re just being bros or whatever because like. It’s a big deal to me.”

He rasps his fingers over the back of his skull. “wish i didn’t have an idea why you feel that way, but i do. s’why i gotta say this next part. an’ because i don’t want you getting the wrong idea, like...”

He looks thoughtful, but not especially uncomfortable.

“..like i didn’t have a good time with you. i did,” he emphasizes with a smile, then it fades. “and that’s, uh, the problem? not for this, not for...” He gestures silently: ‘us.’

Your eyes widen, but he’s continuing.

“just for me. making problems for myself, like i always do.”

He sighs, shakes his head a little.

“cause it’s like, other times when i didn’t have a good time.” he glances up, winces. “never did anything i didn’t wanna do, ok?” He looks a little distant and his hands move absently, “i’m perfectly capable of engineering my own misery.” It makes your heart ache terribly.

He sighs. “maybe you think, humans don’t have magic, they can’t do a lot of stuff. maybe they just do what they can, cause they’re lonely. and you get curious, right? maybe you meet someone you like okay. sure, you get hints that maybe they just wanna prove something to themselves with you, or they just like the idea of it. lotta people want an adventure. who knows.

“you try it out, but it’s not much of anything. you keep at it, don’t know why. maybe you meet someone else seems okay, but still not much. a little... uncomfortable, in some instances? or otherwise, way too much like work.” He grins a little weakly. “Not my speed, for real,” he gestures to himself, and you can’t help but smile.

“but s’one thing to have a theory why it was like that, another to have someone prove it to you...like that. the difference when you’re in it for yourself, or...not.” His hands move absently again, while he seems lost in whatever revelation he’s been having since last night. “ways you can’t ignore, ways that show you something good about yourself instead.”

Your mouth drops open.

You wrote that paper.”

Eye lights flicker dimly at you in bafflement. “huh?”

“The rebuttal,” you frown intently, trying to remember the title. You don’t. “The one about humans having a reputation as selfish lovers. I read it years ago; a rebuttal to that overwrought and mildly creepy heart symbolism paper by Duncan or whoever. About monsters and humans getting it on. The rebuttal was anonymous but claimed to be by a monster. It had a conclusion with that kind of phrase, but the opposite. ‘ways that show you something you don’t like about yourself.’ Did you write that?”

His teeth part slightly, and he’s looking at you with wide sockets...then he looks at his hands in shock, like he forgot what they are and don’t know how they got there. To your surprise, he switches entirely to sign rather than speaking to you verbally. He hasn’t signed at you conversationally (other than puns) in a long time, and you had no clue he was fluent. It changes the way you process what he says by a significant amount.

“Why are you so easy to talk to?” He gestures, beaming. “I say that like I don’t already know. I’ll say all sorts of things that can get me in trouble, but I think you know I don’t care about that as much as I should. I don’t care about a lot of things I probably should. But it turns out, I care about you. Which is why I couldn’t just lay there like that, thinking about my own experiences instead of having one with you.”

He huffs softly, sockets almost crinkling as he continues.

“Thinking about how it was possible, because we wanted the same thing so much it became possible. Not just what you intended, but what I actually wanted. What I hoped for. And I had to deal with being wrong about myself, and be honest about what I want. That’s not always comfortable. All that...baggage. It’s not what I wanted to bring to you.”

He sighs, but his eyes are fond.

“So I slept on it, because if I think too hard I always make things complicated. When I sleep, I think soft.”

He shakes his head, but not sadly. A little wryly, maybe, but then his eyes sparkle with amusement.

“I’m not actually good at explaining things. Everyone complains about it. You just understand me, and you don’t even think of it that way. We’re not necessarily alike, we’re just compatible. And if you want to know how much that means to me, you could always try noticing this isn’t ASL.”

He winks like a true bastard.

Your eyes are pretty wide, and you try and steady your breathing.

“You’re a son of a bitch, you know that?” you comment, but it’s not actually scary and you don’t particularly mean it.

“I might be,” he signs, laughing. “Speaking of which, I think this is actually my native language,” he continues the same way. “I’ll probably even tell you why I don’t even know that for sure sometime, speaking of getting in trouble, but-” a strange crackling sounds fill your ears, tones you don’t recognize “-this is what it sounds like spoken aloud.” You can follow his hands just fine, but not whatever he’s speaking verbally. That might be beyond the scope of even his abilities. "My brother knows it too,” he adds, signing along.

“He says it’s not fair people think he talks too much, when I talk twice as much as he does. Because, he says-” and he shakes with laughter til his sockets close, glowing with pride, “-he says, ‘Well, my brother talks so much, he talks while he’s talking!’” He’s chuckling so hard that moisture starts to form at the corner of one scrunched socket, then it opens to peep at you almost hysterically.

“You should see people’s faces! No one’s ever gotten that joke in...I don’t know how long. Never. Because that joke’s just for me, to make me laugh. Like a gift. You understand how he is? I think so. But now I guess you’re in on the joke, too.” His face softens, the points in his sockets spreading and dimming when he meets your eyes.

“Get it? Even when I didn’t mean to speak to you from my soul, I did it anyway. I don’t even have to try; it’s what my soul wants. You didn’t even know this language existed five minutes ago, and you understand me anyway.”

“you thought i don’t wanna talk about it?”

He’s switched back to English, with whatever the thing is that makes your soul understand.

“i don’t ever wanna talk about anything else,” he finishes, and then just laughs some more.

You join him a little dazedly. “You’re not going to play up being mysterious and aloof?”

“you kidding me? how have i ever been mysterious?”

You give him an exasperated look. “Sometimes I feel like everything about monsters in general is a secret.”

He shrugs, because of course he does. “that wasn't my idea.”

You press your lips together involuntarily, and he tries to suppress a snort.

“What?” you ask peevishly.

Now he’s giggling. “nah, s’just...you look like tori when you make that face.”

“Huh. I’ll have to take that as a compliment then.”

He looks like he doesn’t quite know what to do with that. Good. It’s more fair that way, because you are currently feeling very emotionally compromised for several reasons. You take a deep breath.

“I guess I want you to know that it was like that for me too? Really different, maybe not in the same ways. It’s not like it isn’t emotional, doing it the way I’m used to, but it’s always sort of...loud? Like it drowns out everything else after a certain point, and you can’t always really think or be present that way. Even if you might like to. That has its own set of charms and vulnerabilities, but this was like everything at once. I don’t know how it’s both less urgent and more intense, but that’s what it was like. For me. I’ve never felt like that before, or done anything...like that.”

He looks cautiously fascinated, but he sees when a thought hits you.

“Oh my god, Sans,” you say, smirking. “Are we virgins?”

He just tilts his head, and his eye lights dim for a second.

“monsters don’t have a word for that,” he says thoughtfully. “or maybe...we don’t have a concept for that? s’like having a word for someone who’s never gone bowling. any given day either ya do or ya don’t, doesn’t change who you are. ’s a weird idea to me.”

He’s being more serious than you expected, and that actually sounds like a better way to think of it, but you can’t help snickering. “Have you ever gone bowling?”

“literally? nope.” his sockets are flat at the bottom again, and he huffs a laugh.

“What is what we did called?”

“hmm.” he rubs his maxilla thoughtfully. “i’d just say I showed you my soul. anyone’d know what it means.”

“But that’s not exactly what we did. Or, I mean...all we did?”

He just looks at you, waiting.

“Is it sex?”

Now he looks very thoughtful, actually tilting his head a little. He’s quiet for longer than you expected.

“yeah,” he replies finally. “yeah, I think so. that’s not peer-reviewed, though, so don’t cite me on that,” he adds with another wink. “do you like being touched?” he adds, surprising you.

You blush. “Like, on my body? Yeah.” Then you sort of rub your chest self-consciously. “I’m not sure about the other thing? Not that I’m not interested, or I’m-” you swallow reflexively.

He just shrugs. “some people don’t ever do that, and it’s not a big deal. just so you know. monsters don’t have the same, uh...expectations? ‘bout what’s gonna happen with anyone in particular.”

“It’s not that I’m not interested,” you repeat slowly in ASL, looking pointedly at the floor with your eyebrows raised.

“you wanna go back upstairs?” he asks.

You nod almost shyly.

“k.” He stands up and walks by, holds out his skeletal fingers and smiles at you. You take them.

***

“I think I’m a little too excited now,” you admit, your entire body fluttering with anticipation as Sans traces your face with his nasal bone, softly humming once in a while.

“excited can be good,” he rumbles softly. He’s holding you, but not stroking anywhere, just resting a hand on your upper arm, then lifting it up to brush back a bit of your hair from your forehead. “you thought about what you want?” he asks, then gives your shoulder a light squeeze. Your heart gives a resounding thud at that, and you hear him exhale in amusement.

“felt that wiggle,” he comments, a little unnecessarily in your opinion.

“Hmm,” you sigh, trying to control your breathing a little more. “I think... I feel like I want to be more calm. More like before? I don’t know. Can’t recreate a perfect moment, I guess.” He’s still caressing your face with his. “It’s interesting, you can do a lot more talking when you’re not kissing all the time.”

“do you wanna kiss me?” he asks in a lower register.

“Ohhhh,” you sigh shakily. “You were serious about the revenge, weren’t you?”

He snickers a little. You exhale through your nose and your eyelids list a little; you pull him a little closer, tilt your face and press your lips to his cheekbone. You don’t open your mouth or anything, but you do catch his fragrance when you inhale, and you giggle.

“You smell like bones,” you half-whisper. Apparently the giggles are contagious. “you smell like human,” he chuckles with bizarre confidence. Well, tit for tat.

“Is that okay? The kiss, I mean. I smell fine.”

“yeah, ’s nice,” he replies. “can’t really return the favor or anything, though.”

You continue to press against him in a relatively restrained way, but you don’t put your hands on him even now. Despite that, just his proximity, penetrating voice, and heavy breathing is sending you up the wall. What you’re experiencing is a lot more physical and immediate than you really want it to be right now. It’s not bad, it’s just that you don’t want to feel frustrated.

“This is harder than it should be,” you comment wryly, then meet his eyes when you realize what you just said. You both giggle a little at the various entendres, but touch foreheads and sigh before it goes off the rails.

“jus’ depends on what you wanna do,” he says lightly. “we got nothin’ but possibilities.”

He lifts his head a little to look at you better. “can’t really just throw me on the floor and fuck me, though. or vice versa. but otherwise.”

You blink up at him, then grin.

“Sans, did you just say the fuck word?”

His eyes flicker.

“yeah?”

“I think that’s the first time I’ve heard you using tier 2 curse words,” you laugh helplessly.

He grins a little sheepishly. “eh. got used to tori’s swear jar, i guess,” he chuckles. “the kid n’ all.”

Huh. Now that’s interesting.

He frowns down at you a moment, but still seems amused.

“you start askin’ about that, i think you’re gonna have the opposite problem to the one you got pretty quick.”

Now you really have to laugh. “I won’t ask, but I think you’d be surprised,” you reply cryptically. He tucks his face into your neck, and you gasp as his simultaneously smooth and textured face rubs at you there, skeletal fingers stroking down your arm.

He leans back up a little, sockets alight with the kind of calm, steady desire you want to be feeling right now, instead of being this shaking, panting mess. He’s so peaceful about everything, ready to lay with you here for however long you want, or he wants. You wish you could do something to catch that vibe, and smile up at him a little sadly.

He makes a quiet noise. “Hm.”

He leans up until he’s half-sitting, reaches up and back until he grabs the collar of his t-shirt. You gasp as he pulls it forward, then off over his head.

Holy shit. He’s beautiful.

A little bit of late morning light is peeking in through the curtains, leaving him slightly backlit. His bones are luminously white, clean in a way only bones that have never been clothed in flesh and blood could be. He looks smaller without clothes on, but not particularly delicate. His ribcage is wide and his shoulders are narrow, and this close, it’s easy to see how his bones both are and aren’t separate. Between the bones, he’s...indescribable. Space and light alike; time for all you know, bend inside his ribcage. It’s darker in there than should be possible. Even the light from the window can’t shine through his strikingly unreal existence, despite the fact that you can still see that light; despite the fact that you can see easily into the open space where that light fails to penetrate.

You can see inside him.

It’s like a painting of impossible objects, showing you illusions that bend your eye into submission, until you have no choice but to just accept that it is happening and enjoy the ride. You’re not sure if you were expecting to somehow be able to see his soul floating there in his chest, but of course it’s not. However, it doesn’t give the impression of being empty, despite his spine being faintly visible behind the ribs, more so past his midriff, below which the band of his shorts wraps his broad pelvis. His soul’s distributed throughout somehow, and his magic; it’s what holds him together. That’s why he’s not a pile of lifeless bones lying on your duvet, after all, but rather is this vibrant, funny, amazing person who’s sharing something very spectacular with you right now. He’s sharing himself.

He’s a work of art.

Then of course, you see his face. Teeth parted the slight amount they’re able, the iridescent cast to his features lending an urgency to his expression you don’t usually see there. The lights in his eyes are tiny points, and as you meet them, you hear the smallest rustle of hardness kissing itself somewhere deep in his body.

“no one ever looked at me like that before,” he says, sounding a little strained.

“Never seen anyone like you before,” you whisper in reply.

“hmm.” his expression softens a little but doesn’t lose its intensity.

You raise your arm over your head where you’re lying on your back, and rest the other across your middle. You’d honestly be happy to just stare at him for another hour or so. He looks down at you, still leaning on one hip. He props up one of his arms on his knee with a patient expression.

“don’t go pokin’ around just anywhere, ‘k?” His index distal phalanx lightly indicates the inch or so between his ulna and radius on the opposite arm. “those spaces? aren’t. i can feel it. got it?”

You nod, sign “yes.”

Then his fingertip indicates his ribcage, taps lightly at the second rib. It’s the spot you touched last night.

“even more, here,” he continues in a lower register.

He delicately pushes the distal tip in between the two ribs, then a little further to the second joint. He meets your eyes for a long moment while you try to catch your breath.

“don’t know how i feel about that yet,” he adds neutrally.

You gesture affirmatively. You understand. You understand a little more than maybe he intended, because you’re getting the strong impression that even other monster’s bodies don’t work like this. Apparently whatever holds his bones together is sensitive to disruptions in that...force? You don’t know, but it makes a lot of sense based on his behavior...and his face as he looks at you while penetrating himself that way. You hear him exhale slowly as he removes the finger between his ribs, looking a little amused. Slowly, he reaches out and takes your hand, looking at your face, then at himself. He pulls your hand towards him and lays it flat against his ribcage.

He’s so smooth there. You can feel how he’s just short of slick as he pulls your warm skin slowly across his body.

“hmmm,” he sighs again, intent and thoughtful. His sockets list a little as the points in them dim, expanding.

It’s wonderful to feel him like this. Maybe he should know how wonderful, and you find you really want to show him. That feeling focuses, intensifies, and now you think you know what it is. You pull your hand away from his lovely bones, but only to take his in yours, then place it on your own cotton-and-flesh-clad chest. Your heart and something even deeper than that are thrumming in there, because apparently this time he knew just what to do to get you where you wanted to be.

It’s nice when that sort of thing works out.

His breath catches, and his eyes change shape in a way you haven’t seen before as he lays back down next to you, pillowing his skull on the arm still raised over your head. You tilt your wrist up slightly, just enough to bring his face towards yours for a long, lingering caress. You press his hand against you, shudder out a long breath against his face.

“you thought about what you want?” he asks again as he spreads his fingers, this time his voice sounds a lot less calm than before.

“Mmm,” you say shakily, because you’re shaking.

“you gotta say it,” he whispers against you. “m’not gonna just start doing stuff. and only if you want to, okay?”

You press your face against him harder, and kiss his maxilla a little breathlessly.

“Do you want to see me?” you ask instead.

Was that a tiny squeak? Wow. His fingers don’t move, though.

“i’m… yeah. a lot.”

“Please bring my soul out,” you sigh, pressing your face to his while still tilting it so you can both watch.

How could you not?

It’s you.

Now his hand moves under yours, rubbing across your chest a little and delicately pressing at...something. Oh. It’s drawing at you somehow; something in him is calling to something in you, and it’s answering on its own, feels like. His fingers steeple and you remove your hand, though it hovers nearby, waiting. You can’t stop yourself from making a soft, almost helpless noise as your soul’s light gathers and emerges from your body, something arguably separate from it but also its only reason for existing, and now you see it.

It’s you.

holy shit,” Sans sobs quietly. You feel his awed breath on your face, but you can’t look away from your self. It demands too much attention, and it feels too good.

It’s good, and you’re so glad he’s here to see it.

“me too,” he chokes out, rolls his forehead against your hair.

“can you see that?” you whisper, half-entranced.

His breath hitches, and his hand goes to your belly as your own comes up underneath your self. You think he might actually be crying. It fills you with warmth, protectiveness. Almost unbearable intimacy, with something deeper that feels a little dangerous.

“y-yeah,” he stutters. “s’hard to explain. it’s so strong,” he adds in a whisper, inexplicably. You don’t know if he means how you feel, or how he feels, or something else entirely but you’re flooded with a diffuse but absolute desire that seems to be toward both him and yourself. You’ve never felt anything like it, and Sans huffs in surprise while you both watch it bloom. His hand moves under your shirt and up your belly like something blind and questing, yearning without seeking, and suddenly a much more familiar kind of desire spikes through you. You hear a tight gasp.

“what was that?” he chokes out, sounding dumbfounded.

“Uhhh,” but your throat’s not working because his hand is still stroking your under your shirt, creeping upward. You don’t think he’s entirely conscious that he’s doing it but it’s definitely causing an increase in certain-

You move your arm quickly from under his head so you can still his fingers with yours.

“Let’s take a little break,” you squeak breathlessly, and yeah just about everything feels a little more high pitched than it usually does as you slowly push your soul

back where it goes

and then you’re shaking, and it’s intense and you really need to be held like a lot, immediately as in right now. Luckily he’s right here, he hasn’t left your side once this whole time. Sans wraps bony arms around you, and this time the way you embrace is more casual, tighter. Nothing clumsy; nothing hurts and he’s not poking you. It’s just hard, and good, and safe. You feel safe. A little tingly, and you’re realizing those are the tears or whatever he makes, coming out of his eye socket onto your forehead.

“oh, uh. sorry,” he mutters as you both start to calm down a little, and he dabs at them without solving the tingling at all, really. “heh,” he tries but there’s no voice in it, just a short breath.

“what-” you both say the same word at the same time, and then you both laugh brokenly. You’re wiping a few tears yourself, you find, and some of whatever that is gets in your eye and uhhhhh that’s weird for a second. You rub his shoulder blade carefully with the inside of your wrist, and it seems to soothe him a bit, too.

“you first,” he says quietly after another minute or two.

“What are the...tears you make?” you ask. “They tingle.”

He huffs a short breath. “s’magic. that’s...what i’m made of.”

“Is that what you sweat, too?”

A little more oomph behind this laugh. “yup.”

“Now you,” you say, smiling into the dark, secret space between your bodies. It’s impossible that his bones block the light as much as they do, and you like it.

“what, uh. what was that?”

Oh geez. That’s a little harder to answer. You lean back a little so you can look at his face, but then you inexplicably find yourself blushing. You sigh, and answer anyways. Because you know what he means, and you’d seen it yourself.

“That’s how it makes me feel when you touch me. Like that.”

Well, he looks dumbfounded.

“do you...still feel that way?”

You look away for a second. “Y….yes?”

He’s still holding you, looking like he’s having a lot of very profound thoughts in quick succession. He’s stroking your arm gently, too, then he leans in and lightly traces under your eye with his nasal bone. The skin there is so delicate, the bone is a little pointy, and his movement is incredibly controlled. So gentle. It fills you with a rush of complicated feelings.

“hey, so,” he says, sounding calmer but still...something else, too. “was just wonderin’. can I touch you some more?”

“Hmmm,” you exhale slowly, eyes fluttering shut. “How do you mean?”

“i didn’t... know it felt like that,” he says after a surprisingly long time. “but i know what to do for it to happen. if that makes sense.”

Oh. Yeah, you do think you know what he means. Wow.

But also… you cover your face with your hands and bark an uneasy chuckle, a little embarrassed as something occurs to you extraordinarily belatedly.

“You have no idea what I’ve even got uh, going on. Downstairs. Do you? You never asked.”

Shit. Now you’re laughing, and it’s not even a little. It’s a lot. You peek out since he hasn’t said anything, and he just looks very honestly like he’s got no idea what you’re talking about. You laugh even harder, maybe because there’s actually a sharp thorn of discomfort at the root of your mirth. You acknowledge it internally, then try to tell it to shut the hell up.

“Fuck,” you squeak. “I’m ruining the mood.”

“any mood that can get ruined that way doesn’t sound like a good one to be in,” he replies, and for some reason, you really do believe him. You let it run its course.

“isn’t everyone’s different?” he adds after a minute.

“Oh, man,” you sigh fervently. “I can’t argue with that.”

“’s okay if that’s enough adventure for now.”

You rub your face, sigh, and put your arms back around him.

He’s not the only one with hangups, but you’ve got a king sized bed for a reason, and there’s room for both of you in it.

“Hmmmm...” you say, a long speculative breath. “I don’t know. I don’t feel….done? Do you?”

He looks at you thoughtfully. “this doesn’t really, uh, work like that.”

You blink. “How do you know when to stop?”

“uh, you just...do? how did you know when to stop on your own?”

“I’m actually pretty bad at that part,” you admit, frowning. “Maybe that’s why I’m always so hungry later.”

He looks like he’s trying really hard not to laugh, and you appreciate the effort.

“we can stop if we get hungry,” he allows, keeping his grin reasonable.

“Can I ask you something?”

His grin softens. “sure.”

“What’s it like to touch someone else’s soul?”

He huffs a little, looks down silently.

“I just...” You try to think of a way to phrase it. “I’m not, um. Like, when you asked me if I liked to be touched, I wasn’t sure what kind of touching you meant? How can I know that?”

He shakes his head, still looking down. “’m thinking.”

You do your own thinking about how good it feels to hold him, to be with him like this, while he does that. After a considerably long time, he finally says, “not sure if i can explain it, but...”

He reaches down and takes your hand, brings it up and presses your fingertips to his bare sternum.

“like this, for me? s’like a...a presence. You.”

He lets it go, breathing a little unsteadily, and brings his own fingers to settle under your collarbone.

“this, for me? like a… a window.”

Now he’s just fiddling with your hands, tracing them with his fingers, still a little out of breath. Just from explaining, apparently. Wow.

“Do you like either one better? A...preference?”

He meets your eyes. “you don’t gotta pick one,” he points out suggestively.

Oh. Well. And you suppose it’d be easy enough to do both at the same time, too. Wow.

“What did you mean by “strong”?” you whisper. “You said..” You trail off, blushing a little. Your faces are still only a few inches apart so he can probably feel the heat from your face; he seems very sensitive to warmth. Oh, well.

“heh. i was right about getting in trouble,” he chuckles, but he actually looks a little iridescent about it, too. Hmm. His eye lights still have that same almost-smolder in them.

“human souls are stronger than monster souls,” he says at last. “i didn’t think of it in this context before. turns out it’s pretty intense.”

Okay, well that’s unsettling, and it creates a lot more questions than it answers. But right now, there’s probably one question that matters the most.

“Is that going to be a problem? Can it...hurt you?”

“no,” he answers confidently.

This isn’t really the time to go researching, but that’s something you really don’t want to take a chance with. On the other hand, maybe there’s not that kind of risk involved in whatever this is? There’s a lot you don’t know. You press your lips together, still feeling that strangely diffuse desire, now mixed with concern.

Sans leans up and over you, brings his face closer to yours. Touches your foreheads together.

“never did tell ya what I like about your eyes,” he says, then slides his knee over you until his femur is between your legs. He’s positioned over you, bony face pressed to your soft one so your eyes are facing right into each other. You get the that same sense of expanding space, of timelessness, that’s starting to become familiar to you when you stare into his sockets like this. They never seem too close, no matter how you press your face to his. The points in them are never too close for you to focus on, where human eyes would just become a formless blur. His other elbow comes down on the pillow beside your head.

“so much black space in the middle like that. they get bigger when I get closer, you know that?” He huffs out a soft breath against your parted lips.

“reminds me of when,” he falters a little. “when i saw the stars -the real ones-for the first time. was like...the spaces between em? felt like i could fall right in. s’like part of me wanted to, and just keep going. but i can’t, right? i just feel like it, and...”

You can feel the cradle of his pelvis pressing against you, and his slick, bare bones up top slide unimpeded over the cotton of your shirt. You groan a little as the texture of his ribcage flows across you, and his fingers push through your hair, stroke your hairline gently. “i liked that feeling... how i like your eyes. How i like-” his breath catches, “-your soul. i can’t get hurt by em. not just from feeling that way, ‘cause they’re my feelings. it’s like that.”

You raise your arms and circle him gently, press your palms flat to his ribs in the back and glide them across. He sighs, shifts down a little, and just lays down on top of you. He’s heavier than you thought, but not by much. Even though his bones are hard their weight distributes evenly. It feels good. You link your hands and just hold him there, reeling with that oddly diffuse pleasure, but after a few minutes his head pops up suddenly. He looks at you in consternation that turns slowly to chagrin.

“you can’t see how i feel,” he breathes in a strange voice.

“What do you mean?” You blink in surprise.

“i...last night. you couldn’t see it.” His sockets are dented with dismay. “i didn’t forget, i just...no wonder you aren’t sure what you want. i didn’t realize.” He almost looks...ashamed of himself?

“What’s wrong?”

“it’s...if you could see it, you’d already know that i care about you. that i...” he touches his forehead to your chest, then looks back up at you. “you got no reason to believe me.” He looks profoundly saddened.

“But I do,” you say, frowning down at him. Is it possible that whatever he saw when he looked at your soul, it was that convincing? Or...affecting? From his reaction, it seemed like it. And you have to admit, even though you trust him a lot, and feel a lot of...things, you’d still been evasive and unsure when he’d offered to touch you before.

That small, hidden part of you that’s still afraid to be hurt and can’t bear to be rejected, especially after all this, had come to the forefront.

You look into his inhuman, compassionate eyes, a yearning ache settling into your chest. You wished yours worked the same way, so you could see…

Suddenly, you remember something he said about a window.

“Would I be able to see if I touched it?”

He pulls in a sharp breath, eye lights shrinking. His sockets change shape again, and he breathes out raggedly.

“yeah, you’d… you’d know. yeah.”

“Is that something you’d like?” you ask a little breathlessly.

He looks dumbfounded, for some reason. “yeah,” he gasps.

Your bring your hand up to cup his skull gently, look into his eyes. Your thumb strokes his zygomatic process, and he sighs, the points in his sockets dimming as they expand.

“Will you let me touch your soul?”

Apparently that’s a little much, because he hides his face in your chest, presses it into you. His hand comes and touches the back of your hand, holding it to his skull as he shudders.

“Hey,” you say quietly. “It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to just not say yes. I like how we are now, too. A lot.”

You hear him muffling weak laughter against you; you feel it. Then he turns his face to the side, still encouraging you to touch him, and speaks in his quietest, most resonant voice.

“i’m not afraid. i don’t even know how ta tell you how much i want that, cause...i never had to tell anyone before. and even that’s more exciting than anything. but you need to know it’s gonna be intense. i’ll feel you. and,” his breath hitches.

“i’ll feel you,” he whispers, looking up into your eyes a little desperately. “you’ll know me. you gonna be okay with that?”

He’s obviously explained it the best he can. All that’s really left to decide if you want it or not. When you think about how you felt last night looking at his soul, watching him touch it... it sends a pang of desire through you that is deeper and broader than anything you’ve experienced. He makes you feel safe, and happy. You’re not afraid, either.

“Whatever this is,” you say slowly, “I want to have it with you.”

He exhales slowly against you, rolls off you but only to cuddle up to your side.

“You have to show me what to do, okay?” you murmur, turning to touch his face with yours some more. You lean up to touch your lips to his orbital, his maxilla; press in to feel the arch of his ribs against your midriff. His arm comes up around you, pulls you down to lay with him as his fingers explore his bare sternum. He rubs his face into your neck from underneath as his hand draws back, and you feel a rush of joy and pleasure as his soul emerges and bathes you in its otherworldly light.

Two middle distal phalanges touch it right away. He makes a soft, vulnerable noise into your neck, then strokes the surface lightly. It’s even more exciting than last time, and you can hardly believe that but here you are.

“i want this so much,” he whispers in awe, and this time you can’t contain the soft, wordless moan you give in response. “i want you to know how much,” he elaborates insistently.

You gasp when his hand leaves his essential self unprotected, floating and exposed, even for the brief moment it takes for him to take your hand. His hand cups yours and brings it toward him, his fingers come up underneath yours like piano keys. You copy their position and movement. He hesitates for a long moment before his fingertips curve yours in toward his soul, then more, and then-

A shockingly loud growl seems shoved out of him, and the heel of his bare, bony foot scrapes reflexively across the sheets because your presence inside him is so sudden, so impossible to ignore. You’d have withdrawn already from his reaction if it wasn’t for the fact that you suddenly know he doesn’t want you to. The bone fingers that still hold yours pressed into his soul are there because he wants you exactly like this, precisely where you are. He didn’t know it would be this much, never could have guessed it would be like this, and he wants it so very badly.

Because souls can touch in ways that hands can’t. After all, anything made of matter will always have spaces between even the smallest particles, and all touch is just particles reacting to each other. But souls don’t work that way. They don’t so much react as become. And even though yours is diffuse through your body, existing in only one place, his is condensed and exposed, existing in two places at once in order to offer itself to you. You’re touching everything he is with part of you, but somehow without being part, or particles. An infinite piece touching and merging with his whole self, and you’re so very strong. It’s so much, but you know you really can’t hurt him this way.

He fills with warmth and happiness as you experience what he’d been unable to explain. Touching like this redefines the concept entirely. Your presence fills him utterly, and you make him feel so good. It is like a window, or a frame containing a painting of everything you make him feel. The tingle of his magic overflowing soaks your neck as he pants against you fervently. It’s so important; he wants you to know.

He likes the way you always say “Oh” twice. Right before and right after you figure something out.

He likes how you always manage to surprise him, even on the dull, monotonous days when he feels like he’s heard every combination of every possible thing anyone could say to him. How you find a way to say something by accident that might seem like the wrong thing to anyone else, but is exactly the right thing to say to him, in particular. The way you are makes him think more about what he does, and why.

He likes the way you treat other people, how you interact with them. Not with indiscriminate evenness, but with fairness and respect towards individuals. People find your attention validating because you’re discerning, he’s seen it. He’s felt it when you turn it towards him. He admires you for expecting the best from others and yourself, for your loyalty to people who care about you.

He thinks you’re brave. You astound him with your willingness to be vulnerable and emotionally honest at the most unexpected moments. Always at the times when it really matters. It makes him want to share himself in ways he’s not used to.

When he notices you and he are alike in some ways, it makes him like himself more. Because the ways you’re alike are the things he does like about himself, not the things he wishes he could get rid of. Conflicting and even ugly things; harm done to himself and others. Things he wishes he could regret, but doesn’t. He cares what you think of him.

He’s astounded by how happiness finds a way to always reverberate and increase between the two of you, while any pain shared is lessened. He loves it when you laugh. He’s always known how big a difference that can make for someone, just a joke, just someone taking that single, simple moment to look at you and say, ‘I see you. You exist to me, and I want to make you happy if I can.’ But you’re someone who does that for him. When you look at him, he feels like he’s seen. Not like he’s scenery.

You make him laugh.

He wants to return the favor. He wants to make you feel good in every way you’ll let him; good time spent together, talking, eating, goofing off, sleeping, being touched like this, touching you like this. Touching you the ways humans like, and looking at your face when he does because he wants to know what it feels like, especially if it feels like that. Like when you touched his chest, his bones. His body.

He didn’t know it could feel like that.

The idea that he could make you feel that way burns in him like a live coal, and he sobs against your neck helplessly. His fingers tense, moving inward until he makes a softer noise, panting short breaths against you as his own phalanges make contact with his soul right alongside yours. Entwining. Pushing, just a little.

Being with you like this makes him want things he doesn’t have names for, and feel things that would be frightening if he didn’t trust you so much, if you didn’t make him so happy. You made him have to rethink everything, and to his shock he wants to, when the idea of starting over has filled him with nameless dread for longer than he can remember. Such a horribly, timelessly long time. The fact that he can want anything this much makes him feel so alive; being around you makes him feel a little more present in his own life.

It gives him a strange sort of hope.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it? You’ve been so careful with him from the moment you met, noticed what he does and doesn’t like. Your touch is generous, not invasive; your fingers hum with thoughtfulness and respect, so much he can almost taste it. You hold everything he is so securely now, without bruising. His skeletal arm tightens around you, and his body starts to curl in toward yours, femur sliding over your leg as you turn to the side and face him. His phalanges spread between your fingers, sink in further where you both blur and blend into his essential self.

When he says he wants to touch you, he means he wants the chance to show you he can be careful and generous too, that he can make you feel as good as you make him feel.

You’re touching him now in a way he already knows he likes and is comfortable with, and he wants to do the same for you.

Not too much adventure. Just feeling safe and cared for, even when you’re vulnerable.

The closer your bodies get as they fold towards each other, the more you notice an increasing pressure, the simultaneous tingle and magnetic resonance of magic centered where your fingers are touching his bones, touching his soul. In the moment just before the space between you disappears, you feel a rush as whatever it is intensifies, then dissipates. The noise he makes this time is so unexpectedly, emphatically soft, so peaceful and satisfied, it brings tears to your eyes. Your fingers touch his bare sternum as his soul floods back into the rest of itself, carrying the emotions, impressions, and sensations of your touch with it to become part of him again.

Your limbs tangle around each other, pressing as close as you can get.

Holy shit,” you whisper fervently after several long minutes pass in quiet mutual contemplation and revelation.

“that’s what i said,” he hiccups with a weak laugh, squeezes you tighter.

“Do you still feel that way?” you ask a little breathlessly.

“yeah,” he replies earnestly, his fingers trailing just barely under the hem of your shirt.

“Then please touch me,” you request with a sigh.

You’re already holding each other so that the curve of your belly presses slightly into the space between his ribcage and pelvis, and for a moment he clutches you even closer, shuddering. He pushes forward as you roll on to your back, leans up on one elbow to look down at you with smoldering points in his half-mast sockets. He bends his neck to caress your face with his, and you press a hot kiss against tepid bone.

Rather than trying to or asking you to take your clothes off, he runs his hand underneath your shirt like he has to account for every bit of skin you have. The magical charge his bones give off isn’t like heat, but it intensifies his touch along with the sensations of pressure, pleasure, barely-there friction. He pushes down past the waistband of your shorts, but only strokes the front of your thighs at first, seeming to enjoy the heat you give off as much as you relish what he has to offer. When he spreads his fingers on the inside of your leg, brushes it gently with fingertips smooth as glass, you breathe heavily in anticipation. The impossibly mobile hardness of his hand is utterly alien and incredibly arousing; the way he touches you is both skillful and attentive.

When he reaches the wet, quivering cleft between your thighs with delicate distal phalanges, he draws in a sharp breath.

“you’re ready this soon?” he pants wonderingly. “you liked it that much?”

You reach up and wrap your arms around his shoulders, pull him close enough to kiss his collarbone, making him shiver. “I like you that much,” you admit throatily. “I’ve been like this since we laid down.” You press your forehead against his clavicle, sigh, and try to relax a little.

“oh my god,” he whispers, astounded. Then the flat of his textured palm rubs slowly across the slick mess you’ve made, and you exhale shakily. Without disturbing the way you’re holding him, he kneels up slightly and plants a bony patella between your legs, holding himself up on the opposite elbow. You moan as he rubs you again, and his change of position is exciting. You feel his shoulder moving inside the circle of your arms. He pulls back to tease you delicately with fingertips, then presses gently with the heel of his hand. It’s good that he’s gentle, because his touch is much more intense than you expected, between the texture of all those tiny bones working in unison and the drawing, magnetic feeling his magic creates when he touches you, even there. Especially there. A soft moan escapes and surprises you.

“hey,” he says quietly from above you. “would it be okay if I could see you?”

It confuses you for a second, since he’s made no attempt to remove your clothes in the first place. You let your head fall back on the pillow and look up at him, and his whole face softens as his eye lights fuzz out, managing to focus in on your face. “yeah,” he sighs, his sockets taking on an almost pained shape. “like that.”

Oh. He wants to watch your face. Which shouldn’t surprise you, considering you’d certainly known that from touching his soul a very short time ago. At the same time, it’s not something you’re used to doing, and has made you uncomfortable in the past. But you realize as you gaze up at him that his face still doesn’t stress you out, and him looking isn’t bothering you at all. Watching your face has always seemed to give him a lot of information, so you can understand why he’d want to right...now. Oh. Oh.

The look on his face grows more intent, the shape of his sockets narrowing as his fingers, thumb, and palm focus and pull pleasure out of you; it reminds you of the way he’d touched your chest when he brought your soul out. You imagine what it would have been like if he had touched it then, what it would mean to feel the way he did when you were suddenly... present. You wonder if you could even handle that, but just thinking about it tugs the tension you’re starting to feel up a few notches on its own, and you moan again. What would he feel like?

fuck,” Sans whispers tightly. “do you... like being touched inside, too?” His eye lights waver with intensity.

Your face heats even more, and you huff out a breath or two before answering.

“I...not usually, but I want you to do it,” you admit, feeling tension in the skin under your eyes. “I want you so much...I want to know what you feel like,” you breathe out unexpectedly. His teeth part like he’s inhaling your words.

He’d gotten both of his knees between your legs at some point; now he’s up on them but still leaning over you so you can hold him like this, and so he can peer into your face while he pleasures you. You lift your knees slightly and hold him loosely while his elbow bends and his hand changes position a little. The next time he rubs downward, his two middle phalanges sink inside you slowly. Their nubbly fine-china texture teases you open; his hand folds and his carpals press at you gently and firmly.

You shake and moan, because it’s like nothing you’ve ever felt before. Rather than heat and pressure, you feel a tingle that goes deeper than skin. That combined with the structure and surface of his fingers when he draws them back makes you feel like you might just float right up off the bed and through the ceiling. It’s so utterly unique to him, to having this experience with him, it’s doing something to you that’s just as emotionally intense as it is physically.

It’s apparent he’s picking up on that as you stare at each other dazedly. You can’t stop your back from arching up, chest almost kissing his ribcage as he curls his fingers inside, curves his whole hand again, twists his wrist. The potency of this prolonged encounter seems like it’s finally caught up with you, overtaking you, and now you’re running after it as fast as you can.

“more?” he pants desperately.

Yeah,” you whisper harshly. “A lot more.”

His phalanges draw back, teasing out of you and then rubbing your slickness around, coating themselves in your excitement. One of his femurs nudges under your thigh, lifts it a little. The next time his hand moves down, four thin skeletal fingers press you open easily, push inside and then just keep going. There's not anywhere near as much friction or resistance as there would be with human skin, and it’s not like he has a thumb webbing to run up against. Metacarpals slide right in just as easily as proximals.

You moan wildly as your eyes squeeze shut. Your head turns to the side reflexively, although he follows your face with his as much as he can as he penetrates you with all he’s got. Your arms pull him up a little almost of their own volition, but you’re not rough. Your lips seek friction against bone, the arm he’s supporting himself on. You hear him keen faintly as the cluster of carpals that form the heel of his hand come to rest flush against your body, his thumb stroking the junction of your thigh gently.

You press your lips again to what you see is his humerus as your eyelids flutter weakly. When the fingers inside you curl, before you know it your lips part, tongue darting out as you whimper. You taste him, a peppercorn tingle that blooms brief and ghostlike before it fades, and you hear a shocked, broken noise. Your eyes open and fly to his face. “oh shit, i’m sorry, i-i didn’t mean to-”

“holy fuck don’t be,” he sobs, sockets almost closed, eyes pinned as he tries to catch his breath. “you’re, heh, you’re really close. right?”

Your eyes shut again and you nod tightly.

“will you do that again when it happens?” His voice shakes with desire.

“Yeah,” you whisper tightly, and when you press your closed lips to his bones again, you hear some of his voice come into his breathing as his shoulder continues to work gently. What he’s doing is a lot more of a rocking motion than back and forth, curling and uncurling inside you as the nubs of his carpals prove their effectiveness. Despite his panting, there’s not that much real exertion involved. Most of the tension in him seem to be empathetic.

The uniqueness of having him inside you like this hits you again; you can’t ignore it, and you could never mistake him for anything else. It reminds you of something. The wash of impressions you’d gotten from him, what it felt like for him to have you inside him the way you had been before. Remembering the sound he’d made when you touched his soul for the first time, the rush of what you’d exchanged with him, is what pushes you right over the edge.

The climax boils up from inside you like an unstoppable ocean. It’s only when the third wave hits you that you’re able even to exhale, lips parting to let out a surprisingly quiet but guttural moan, tongue caressing ceramic-smooth bone that tastes like the magic he’s emitting, a simultaneously numbing and sensitizing sensation. You’re not drowning in it though, and you definitely feel it when Sans’s hard skull bumps your face as he half-collapses on top of you, choking out something unintelligible. You’re not hurt or anything, but the impact sets your teeth against him, and he yaps in brittle pleasure. He doesn’t stop, even as you wonder if you’re crushing his hand as your climax intensifies, then slowly, very slowly, ebbs away to leave you peaceful and satisfied on the shore.

He manages to finish falling on top of you without any more mishaps, although his positioning’s a little awkward with his arm trapped between your bodies. It’s not bothering you, and you also don’t really care that your ocean seems to have been more than a metaphor because wow, you really made a mess. You haven’t done that in quite some time.

“shit, i didn’t hurt you, did i?” he quavers weakly. “i know ‘m kind of a bonehead.”

You squeeze him a little, giggling between catching your breath. “No, I’m fine.” You gasp again when he pulls what feels like his entire hand out of you, and loosen your arms as tries to right himself and finally succeeds. “More than fine,” you add, sighing. He collapses back down, next to you this time, and you notice he’s using his discarded shirt to carelessly wipe off his hand. That just makes you laugh more.

“might need to borrow a shirt later,” he adds shamelessly, then offers it to you. Just...wow, alright then. If that’s how he rolls, you’re just as glad not to get up.

“Sorry about the teeth thing,” you add as you try to do some damage control with the surprisingly absorbent shirt. “Did it hurt?” He responds by facing you, slowly pushing his narrow but sturdy limbs over and between yours, and you give up on the damage control because you’d really rather be holding him instead of controlling anything that’s happening.

“no, i think it’d be hard to hurt me that way,” he sighs fervently. His tilts his head as he looks at you, then touches your forehead with his. “was it good?” he asks quietly.

“Oof,” you grunt sincerely. “Sans the skeleton, undefeated fingerbone champion.” His flummoxed expression and the way his eye lights almost disappear has you laughing even before he recovers from his surprise, but his laugh certainly sounds flattered and gratified.

“are you hungry yet?” he shoots back, and for some reason it’s a lot easier to laugh about that now.

You narrow your eyes at him fondly. “Is it bad that I’d rather just go back to sleep?”

Rather than answering, he holds out his hand to you stiffly, even though it’s resting across your midsection. “have we met?” he deadpans. “sans the skeleton. recently crowned fingerbone champion an’ lifetime nap champion.”

You crack up and take his hand anyways, shake it, then take a closer look. Oh, dear. He’s still a little sticky in the ...spaces.

“heh. yeah, the only thing that really gets that out is hot water. or fire, i guess. don’t got either in bed right now and i’m not about to get up.” He moves his hand, and you watch all those tiny bones working independently as a unit. “enough pushback in the gaps, so they don’t pinch you or anything, though. lucky me.” He looks at his fingers, suspiciously thoughtful. “not the worst spot to have to clean out later, at least.”

You can feel your eyes bulging a little as you look at him, and you wish your imagination wasn’t so good.

He just shrugs like a bastard. “don’t know whether or not ya like something until you try it, right?”

You don’t reply, but you think about that sentence in a different way while his face softens a little, then a lot. A mood of heavy, sweet satisfaction falls over you both. You might not be able to see how he feels on his soul, but you think you can make some pretty good guesses from looking at his face. Maybe that’s why you like it so much. You definitely like how he makes you feel so much, and he helped you know he feels the same. Which reminds you.

“When I touched you, what was the...” you think about it. “the magic you did at the end, to your soul? You did something, right?”

“hmm? oh, uh. yeah.” He looks a little sheepish. “just, uh, push a little magic in there, y’know. makes it stronger, right when you do it, and then it lingers. so you can hang onto the feeling for a little while after. s’nice.”

“Is that something monsters do to each other, or is it just something you do on your own?”

He gives a little half shrug. “either way, yeah.”

You try not to frown as the thought occurs to you that he’d had to do it on his own because you literally can’t. And you’re not even sure why you’re troubled by it. The fact that you can’t see how he feels when you look at his soul hadn’t particularly bothered you, and that had actually turned out to be a bit of an obstacle. Maybe because this seems more like something he enjoys that you can’t give him, and it leaves you oddly disappointed.

He’s giving you a strange look. “dunno what yer thinkin’ over there, but that’s not something anyone else ever did to me. wouldn’t matter if you could or not.”

That surprises you more than it should, and you find yourself asking “Why not?” before you realize it’s actually a really private question, and you flush a little. But he just gives another identical half shrug.

“i like it the way i do it,” he answers simply, unbothered.

You remember how he’d sounded when he pushed the magic in around your fingers. It had maybe been too close to the end for you to really get an impression of how it felt for him that way, so you think about his noises. Not rough and intense like when you’d first touched him, not that that hadn’t been good too, but so soft. So profoundly satisfied. Your face heats further, and a surprisingly lively twinge of arousal echoes through you at the thought. His magic must feel very good.

It had certainly tasted good.

“You... are a very spicy skeleton,” you sigh contentedly. “Never got that nap you were going to have with me yesterday. What do you say?”

It’s no surprise his arms are already open.

What is is that after a few minutes of settling in, Sans turns his back to you and folds himself tightly into your warm body. Skeleton butts aren’t that pointy, or maybe just aren’t when they’re wearing shorts. But his pelvis settles just fine into where you bend, and the backs of his knees lock in like they were born there at the front of yours. He reaches back to grab your hand, then pulls your arm forward and around him, through him in the gap between ribs and pelvis, your soft forearm coming up to brush his xiphoid process. His spine settles into place against your belly. Carefully, he curls his hands in and cradles yours against his bare-boned chest. A sigh that sounds like dust settling escapes him almost unwillingly as he shudders and relaxes.

There might have been some rash confessions if you weren’t already out like a light.

 

Chapter Text

You know he can feel the deep breath you suck in, the one that all humans take when their breathing switches from the automated process of sleep to the voluntary and emotive action of consciousness. He knows you feel his spine pressed up against your belly, and that the way that first breath doesn’t come back out for almost ten seconds means you do in fact realize that no matter how you’ve flopped around with each other for however long, you can’t remember a time he’s turned his back to you. Not like this; not this close. Not with your arm threaded through his body like it’s never been anywhere else. He might not be the kinetic artist his brother is, but he knows body language, and how to express himself when it’s really important.

After wordlessly listening to each other breathe for what has to be a solid fifteen minutes, you finally break the most poignant silence you’ve been party to in your life.

“This might seem out of nowhere, but I think we should go out. Maybe get a bite to eat?”

“m’not opposed,” he mumbles a little thickly. You can relate. “any particular reason?”

You lean in toward his cervical vertebrae, just enough that the tip of your nose touches a transverse process lightly, and shut your eyes. Afternoon light washes through your lids a little, and it’s a perfect moment. Another one. Then another.

“Because if we stay here any longer, I’m perfectly happy to starve while reciting my life story in iambic pentameter as we methodically fuck each other to death,” you whisper regretfully. “And I’m obligated to live my life since I spent so much time fighting for it, remember? Can’t turn myself into a hypocrite.”

Apparently you can make him hold his breath, too. Good to know. When he starts again, you notice again that his ribcage doesn’t seem to move when he inhales and exhales. It’s not cartilage under your hand where he clutches it to the center of his chest; solid bone can’t flex that way. But it probably doesn’t need to. He doesn’t have lungs, after all. You wonder if he needs to breathe, or if he just likes it. You’re thinking too much again.

“y’know...i read your articles,” he says after a long time. “looked em up.” a huffed breath, not really a laugh. “one thing to know you got a way with words. ‘nother thing to be on the business end.” Your heart gives a big thump at that, and you exhale in amusement. He shivers a little when your breath blows down and through the back of his neck, maybe further.

“Sorry,” you murmur ambiguously.

“don’t be,” he answers ambiguously. “you can feel a little bad for my quiche, though.”

You blink. “Why?”

“it inherited all our trust issues,” he says in mock solemnity. “we abandoned it.”

You smile a little, nudge the process with your nose again. “It’s not like it won’t keep.”

You realize he’s not shaking because you’re nudging, but because he’s laughing.

“What?” you say, pulling your face back a little. “What?” you repeat suspiciously when he starts laughing even harder.

“had a little prank planned,” he manages between increasingly less controllable chuckling. “or, more like a... little demonstration you didn’t know bout. i was gonna show you what happens-” he wheezes a little, squeezes your hand, “what happens when I try n eat human food-” Yep. He’s gone.

You frown at the back of his head, but he just keeps laughing. “What happens, you turd?” you ask, but you have to admit you’re starting to catch the giggles, too.

Apparently he’s laughing too hard to answer you, because he takes your fingers from his chest, brings them up further, then pushes them through the open space in his mandible until they touch his hard palate. Oh. You guess it’d fall right on through, then? Since it doesn’t dissolve?

“m’not even wearing a shirt now,” he groans, yukking it up shamelessly. “it’d just-” he wheezes again, “-keep on going right through into my shorts….til it h-hit the chair,” and now you’ve got to let him go because he’s lost all semblance of dignity, and so have you. But at least it’s for a different reason than it would have been a few minutes ago. You’re imagining a bite of egg pie hitting wood with a wet splat, and what sort of look he’d give you when it did. Nonchalant? Sexy winking? You really do appreciate his knack for changing the mood. And apparently he appreciates your knack for sussing out what kind of mood is best for the situation, and letting him know. You sober up, thinking about what he’d said this morning. Compatible. Oh.

He’d rolled onto his back again, forearms coming up to cross over his face, but he lowers them as you both finish getting it out of your systems. You lean up on your elbow, still grinning down at him.

“Why don’t we get cleaned up? I’ve got a big tub.”

He opens one socket to give you a suspicious look. “together? thought you wanted to to go out. might not get very far that way.” He’s grinning, though.

“Well, we’re filthy at the same time, we can fix it at the same time. I’ll just have to rely on your iron self-control.”

That earns you another suspicious look, but he heaves himself upright and sits facing away from you on the edge of the bed a moment. The sight of his bare back, being able to see into his body, hits you again although this time it’s not lust that’s making your breath go a little funny. He just stays there for a minute, like he’s thinking about something.

“I’d miss you,” you admit in a soft whisper.

His breath goes a little funny too. It’s not that you’re keeping score, it’s just that...it’s time to sit up now. So you do, and scoot to the edge of the bed to sit with him a second, lean toward him to touch his shoulder with yours. It’s definitely afternoon, but you’re not sure when and you find you honestly don’t care. Not like you have anything planned for today.

“Do you have stuff you have to do today?” you ask quietly.

“nah,” he replies. “nothin at all for two more days.”

You sigh happily, then pull off your shirt so you and he are twinsies again. You touch his shoulder with yours again, and he tilts his head to smile at you rather sweetly. He lifts a finger, traces one of the heavy brown ridges on your chest lightly, making you shiver.

“these’re...scars, right? like frisk’s head?”

You smile a little sadly. “Yeah. It’s not from an injury or anything, though; i had surgery. I...have some really bad genes, and I didn’t want to die the way my mom did. The way her mom did, too, I found out. Her sister. Cancer.”

You sit for another long moment, and think about who you’re talking to. “I think I would have done it anyway, though,” you say slowly. “But that’s the reason the insurance covered it. This was back when that was still the most important thing. Now, it’s usually...” He doesn’t have the same hangups a lot of humans have, and it’s oddly freeing. “I like it better this way,” you finish with a nod.

You stand up, offer your hand. He takes it and follows you into the bathroom, and you flip the light on. Magic, so it’s not as harsh and sallowing as a regular bathroom light. You start the tub, turn to him.

“Hey, I like it really hot. Is that okay for you?”

“hotter the better,” he says dryly, then flicks a thumb into his waistband, pulls, and his shorts fall to the floor.

Well, that’s interesting. You’re blushing now. Oops.

You stand back up, drop your own shorts. You hope it’s also interesting. You take a chance, look up at him. You grin at each other.

“I’m gonna put bubbles in the bath,” you inform him, and grab a bottle from the cupboard under the sink. “For self control.”

You do, watch them foam up for a minute or two, then plop yourself right down in them.

His interestingness goes right past your face as he climbs in after you. The spaces in his pelvis also don’t allow light to pass through, but in a more deliberate way than his ribcage does. It really is broad, and there’s not as much space between the bones as one might expect. His center of gravity must be pretty low; his ilium looks thick and heavy, even from the side. Light doesn’t illuminate the tiny holes in his sacrum at all. They’re almost as dark as the inside of his skull. Huh.

“like what you see?” he says with another wink, tucking his hands under the bubbles. Presumably to soak.

“Yeah. I do, actually,” you reply with a sincere smile. Huh. Seems like he doesn’t quite know what to do with that, but not in a bad way. Maybe he was expecting a ‘nice coccyx’ joke or something, but you just don’t have it in you. That’s what she said, you think to yourself, and it’s just too bad, isn’t it? An untapped trove of potential ribbing, many involving actual ribs. Sacrum? Damn near killed ‘em! ‘I like your little holes.’ Thanks, the feeling’s mutual. Looks like you got a little skeleton in you. Want another? I just gotta bone up on my anatomy homework.

“We’re feeling too emotionally vulnerable to make jokes about each other’s bikini zones, aren’t we?” you sigh regretfully, loud enough to make sure it carries over the rush of the tap.

“yup,” he replies, but his eye sockets are flattened at the bottom, and his grin is soft.

“There’s so many good ones, too,” you inform him sadly, then lean up and reach around him to shut off the tap. “What a waste.”

“no joke’s ever wasted,” he replies lightly. “just hang onto em. they won’t be less funny later.”

You feel a warm glow thinking about all the later you might have in store. Words like later, future, us. He just tosses them around like...not like they’re nothing. Like they’re something. You’re not used to that. You’ve really got to stop being so surprised by him...but on second thought, maybe you like it. They’re not bad surprises.

“much as I like blushin over here an’ watching your face journeys, got a question for ya. maybe you got an old brush around here somewhere you don’t mind if I use?” His hand comes up for him to inspect, draining water down his ulna. It’s so cool to you the way the bones seem to cross when he does that.

“You don’t blush, though. You just get shiny,” you comment absently. His eye lights flicker at you while you think a moment, remember something Frisk said a while back. “Like, a toothbrush?”

“gonna tell everyone the best compliment you ever gave me was ‘shiny like a toothbrush.’ yeah, that’ll work.”

You snort, feeling a steady warm glow as you rise up to grab one out of the preparatory multipack in the medicine cupboard. You’re getting water all over your floor, so you pull your old towel off the rack casually to let it sop up, then grab a fresh one out of the linen closet. You return to the tub and offer the brand-new toothbrush a little shyly.

He takes it, starts scrubbing lightly at his hand although as far as you can tell it’s already clean. Well, he’d know better than you would, you guess. You wet your face with your hands and try not to think about Nature Boy Papyrus booty-down in a burbling mountain brook like an old-timey hillbilly in a wooden washtub, scrubbing grooty out of his metatarsals with a bag full of disposable toothbrushes. You really need to have a word with Frisk about oversharing. At least skeletons can’t whistle. Or...you assume they can’t.

“Skeletons can’t whistle, right?” you mumble absently, then immediately realize you wish you hadn’t.

His head pops up suddenly, and he gives you a really weird look.

A short, high pitched noise that ends like a question comes from somewhere in his head.

“God damn it,” you reply with a regretful sigh. “Where should we go to eat, you think?”

“not ta be a one-trick skeleton, but if we go to grillby’s we don’t have to find a ride. i got a lil space in the kitchen,” he says absently, and for the love of god he really is doing his feet now. Instead of averting your eyes and making it weird, you decide to watch him instead, hopefully to scrub the other image out of your brain. It actually works, which is nice. His chin’s on his knee, foot up on the side of the tub.

“You’re pretty flexible, huh?”

He tilts his head over at you a little, winks. Watches you stand up and start soaping yourself cursorily. You try to make it that way, at least, but he’s still grinning at you. It softens a little after a minute, though.

“you all good?”

It’s a very vague question, but you think you know what he’s getting at, considering it might be on your mind at this exact moment of your ablutions.

“Definitely. You’re a pretty smooth criminal,” you muse with a smile, then sit back down to rinse. “And I’m out of practice, too. Championship unchallenged.” You slosh water over your chest thoughtfully. “I’ve felt pretty good all day, come to think of it. I had a little pain in my shoulders last night but today’s so far so good. I’ve had a lot of good days lately,” you say, a little surprised, then smile over at Sans. He looks like he’s done brushing, and you share a lingering, minty fresh look.

His eye sockets narrow happily. “if you’re gonna wash your hair, we should change out the water,” he says eventually.

“Yeah,” you sigh, beaming.

***

You open your eyes to the sight of gleaming steel, inhaling the smell of hot, clean frying oil. You can hear the chatter of patrons and the clink of glasses, which isn’t too surprising considering it’s already getting dark out. Sans had finished before you in the tub by virtue of not having hair, and you had missed him. When you’d come downstairs dressed and ready, he’d managed to get rid of the remains of the aborted human breakfast, and most of the mess he’d caused excepting a few strips of gluey dough that might just be a part of your countertop now. Oh well. Collateral damage.

This time Sans doesn’t let go of your hand as he pushes open the door into the dining room of Grillby’s, and he lets you help him up gallantly onto a barstool. You’d just chosen the spots closest to the door to the back, but you wonder what kind of effect it’d had since no one noticed the two of you actually coming in. Well, all except Grillby, who makes his way down to you soon enough. His attention prompts everyone else to finally acknowledge Sans’s appearance, generating much hooting and hollering, most of which you fail to understand.

It still makes you smile, though.

You both manage to give your orders between every person in the place finding a reason to come shoot the shit with Sans, singly and in groups. You realize it’s Saturday night, so there are more humans in here than usual. Your burger comes and you’re unbelievably ravenous when the smell hits you, although you still manage to thank Grillby effusively and creatively before shoving it into your mouth.

Sans has the fries again, although it seems like he barely has a chance to eat between telling stories and jokes to the rotating cast of characters reporting in with whatever’s been going on in their lives lately. They ask about him, too, and you learn very belatedly that Papyrus actually works at florist’s shop downtown a few days a week. Frisk’s been doing well, but has been kept busy with various unspecified ambassadorial issues. He keeps finding a way to dart you looks and winks the whole time he’s talking and listening. You’re perfectly happy to just be entertained by all of this while you feed your face, although you frown when two drinks, just like the ones you’d had last time, happen to be on the counter in front of you when you look up after having finished your food.

“I didn’t order anything,” you say curiously. Sans has just waved off a cadre of Dogs, who’d regaled him with some kind of tale about their cousin’s accident, based off Sans’s responses. You aren’t actually trying to parse the babble of multiple conversations filling the air around you, since they’re competing with music and clinking and there’s really no reason you need to. It’s not a big deal. His voice always cuts through everything, and it helps you keep track of what’s going on. If you need to pay attention, you’ll hear it from him.

He looks over at you, shuts one socket. “think they’re on the house.”

You frown even more. “Okay, but...why? This happened last time I was here, too.”

“huh?”

Oh, yeah.

“Frisk and I went shopping down the street quite a while back; that’s where I got my party clothes I wore to ARTBALL. They wanted to have a little talk and we were hungry, so we came down here and had some food. And the talk.” Grillby’s in the back right now, probably hustling to keep up with everyone’s orders since the place is starting to look almost packed, so he can’t chime in.

“He said our food was on the house because I got you to dance with me before.” That hadn’t been exactly how he’d put it, or at least how Frisk had, but you assume that’s close enough.

You don’t understand why that would put an echo of the soft shock you still can’t quite categorize into his features, or why it makes him reach over under the bar and take your hand. He just strokes the backs of your slightly greasy fingers with his thumb thoughtfully, watching what he’s doing instead of looking at you.

“You’re having kind of a weird reaction, dude,” you say after this goes on for a while, and his face gets softer and softer. He’s leaning his other elbow on the bar and his hand’s on top of his skull. It rasps back and forth for a second, then comes down to click over his eye sockets rapidly. “’s just...” he trails off, then his shoulders start to shake a little with quiet laughter.

“...not used to having everybody rootin’ for me,” he finishes a little tightly, fingers clicking over his sockets again. He sighs and puts his right hand back flat on the bar, but his left still plays with your fingers idly. “or, more like...hasn’t been much to root for, i guess. not in a long time. they like havin’ a reason, and i’m...” he sighs again, but his soft smile’s not going anywhere. “they’re jus’ happy we stopped in, is all.”

Nothing he’s saying is really making any sense to you whatsoever, but you’re feeling a little warm in the face because despite your lack of understanding he’s still being extremely cute, and you’re also not used to someone this willing to hold your hand like that in public. Eventually he looks up from whatever daydream he’s having and meets your eyes, sees your lack of understanding. His eyes flicker a little, but stay soft.

“you’re not shy,” he says slowly. “take a look around.”

You do, and you realize that anyone that notices you looking gives you a smile, a wink. No one else has come up in a while, not since you and Sans started talking quietly together.

“s’nice having people glad ta see you.”

It’s like all the bustle here is forming insulation around you and him, a kind of public privacy. Everyone in here looks at you like they all somehow know who you are, even though you’ve only been here twice, and the second time the place was deserted. Why…

“Sans,” you say in a weird voice, although you’re not sure what you’re feeling is bad or anything. “Did you say something to them about me?”

He tilts his head at you a little. “no? not like whatever you mean, i don’t think.”

You’re thinking hard.

“Does...everybody know?”

He just shrugs in confusion, and now your brow knits, and you're thinking even harder. Nothing you can Sans had ever done or said, or the fact that you’d been spending more time together and getting closer had ever been a secret. But it’s not like it was so obvious that-

Wait.

Wait.

“Sans,” you say quietly in a higher register than you normally speak in. Your hand slips out of his to cover your eyes, followed inevitably by your other one.

You swallow dryly.

“How long have we been dating?”

“while, i guess?” he’s starting to sound a little concerned. “i mean, i didn’t keep track or anything. you want me to?”

Oh my god.

Papyrus.

YOU DESERVE HAPPINESS, DEAR HUMAN.

That ecstatic wink. The perfectly unbruised stem.

This is how careful you should be with him. Good Luck.

Frisk and their overly indulgent sleepover advice. Undyne and her flowers; Alphys with her weighty sighs and ‘hey-relationships-ammirite’ talk. The seven million people in this bar that keep looking over and giggling like this is a puppy parade. You are truly unfit to participate effectively in society.

You pull your hands down finally and take a deep breath. You turn on your stool to take both his hands into yours, play with the white, slightly greasy bones, and look into his eyes. The concern there clears almost immediately.

“I am a fool in a human’s shoes,” you state decisively. “Do you want to do a romance with me?”

Now he just looks incredibly entertained. “...yes?”

“I am not used to that,” you intone, eyes a little wider than feels natural.

He just shrugs again. Neither is he, of course. But that hadn’t kept you both from trying it anyway, even if you hadn’t been thinking of it like that this entire time...for some reason, you just...wait.

You lean in to speak quietly. “They don’t know we...had sex, right?”

Okay, yeah. Now he’s definitely laughing.

“you want me to tell ‘em?” he burbles outrageously. “could work it into one a my standup routines.”

You let go of his hands again, and take the drink off the bar in front of you. You end up pouring the whole thing down your throat before you realize it, but when you set it down with a clink and a lusty exhale, he’s still laughing. Softer, this time. You make a mental note to ask about ‘standup routines’ later.

“I didn’t think we’d be able to,” you say after he’s done. “Maybe that’s why I didn’t...realize? And I definitely thought you didn’t want to.”

“eh,” he replies with an ambiguous movement of one shoulder. “had my own issues, like i said. still do. but i don’t get what you-” He cuts himself off, glances at you sharply and frowns in thought. “this a human thing i’m missing? gender thing maybe? like i said, monsters don’t have the same expectations. did you..” Suddenly, the happiness just sort of slides off his face sideways, and his eye lights dim and shrink.

“what if i didn’t ever want to?”

Something in his voice makes a hot black cloud of shame boil up in you, and you feel a little sick. If he didn’t, or couldn’t, if it just hadn’t worked out, would you still be sitting here with him right now? Is that really the only thing that can make you think a relationship is ‘real’, the only thing that counts? Is that all he is to you then? Something must be wrong with you, and the cloud gets heavier. Or maybe the cloud’s not black, it’s just a very dark-

Blue.

You blink, and the cloud disappears like it never existed. You take his hands again.

“I did think that,” you point out calmly. “I thought you didn’t want to, and that we couldn’t anyway, this entire time. It didn’t change how I felt, or how I feel right now. If you told me that right now it wouldn’t change it.”

You look into his eyes, tilt your head. “The problem isn’t how I feel,” you realize as you’re saying it. “The problem is how a lot of human cultures categorize relationships, and I can’t help but be a product of mine, I think. It’s a culture issue.”

“’m a fool in skeleton’s shoes,” he mumbles, a little of his smile coming back. He squeezes your hands and lets them go, then reaches for his own drink and finally sips it.

“I’m really bad at this,” you admit. “I’m not used to someone who wants to actually go out with me, bring me around their family and stuff.”

He’s surprised. “huh? why not?” You guess you aren’t the only one with a habit of asking questions you shouldn’t sometimes.

“Well, I’m not considered very attractive, I’m kind of fat, I’m too sick all the time to do most things, and there are about eight other things about me that people seem to think are nonstandard in a less than desirable way, gender included,” you sigh bluntly.

Weirdly enough, instead of trying to argue with you or rushing to reassure you, he looks extremely thoughtful for a minute, then pours his drink down his throat like you did.

“Let’s go out,” he says, and just fucking beams at you like you’re the sun and he’s ready for fun. Whoo, that really had an effect. Or maybe it’s just his obvious regard for you combined with the warm glow of monster alcohol in your chest.

“We’re already out,” you argue, but you’re grinning anyway. You can’t help it.

He hops off his barstool and thumps back onto his slippers with an awkward seeming but obviously practiced motion. His hands disappear into his hoodie pockets.

“take me to a human place,” he says, winking.

You slide off your stool and face him, look down a little into the stars in his eyes, which spread out into little galaxies as you take them in. But you narrow yours a little in caution.

“Are you sure? It can be a little...hectic. Especially on a Saturday night.”

“i don’t think i ever-” he cuts off as you gasp suddenly. Slowly, you reach out and put your hands on his small, hard shoulders.

“I’m gonna take you bowling,” you say like you’re announcing someone’s firstborn. “For real. But I can’t drive so you technically have to be the one taking us.”

“not a problem,” he grins, then his hand reappears to take yours as he leads you back to the kitchen door. He waves at Grillby on the way, but with your joined hands. Good grief. This has literally never happened to you before. “just gotta stop off at home, get my bike. You know where the bowling is?”

“No, but I can find out in like ten seconds,” you explain as you head back to the same spot you appeared from. You shut your eyes, feel the shift, but when you open them...it’s like you didn’t open them.

“Um..” you say into the darkness. His hand’s still in yours at least, but- oh, nevermind. He let it go.

“sorry,” he mumbles absently, and then illumination floods into...some kind of indoor garbage dump? You don’t see any windows, but there might have been one underneath the ragged floral-print blanket someone has tacked up on the wall at some point. One of the tacks is silver, the other is shaped like a surprisingly realistic cat’s ass, as far as you can tell. Under your feet is some kind of grayish carpet, but it’s barely visible under papers, stains, and coins.

Heaps of stuff are shoved up against every wall you see. You think there might be a desk or something under one of them, since a wooden chair with the back broken off sits squarely sentinel in front of it. Some kind of overturned machine pokes out of another pile, which includes something that might be the back of the chair. Are those handlebars?

There’s a beefy but bare mattress angled out in one corner. It’s mostly clear of non-bed-related items, but the big tangle of sheets and blankets sits on the inside edge, about to tip into the gap between the mattress and the wall. A few fallen pillows poke out like tombstones already, so you suppose the blanket wad’s fate is similarly inevitable.

When you finally find Sans, it’s only his bony shorts-clad ass that’s visible, since he’s bent all the way over headfirst into what appears to be a frozen waterfall of random shit pouring out of an open closet. Even more crap is jammed behind the half-open door almost to the ceiling, and you doubt it could be moved in either direction. You assume it’s a closet; you can’t exactly see the inside very well. It’s as dark in there as it had been in the room before the light turned on, like all this is flowing in from another dimension. You can hear him rummaging, and you see the backs of his besocked heels rise up from the smashed, dingy insides of his slippers as he leans even further. His white leg bones gleam cleanly like pearls in a pigsty.

It continues.

“Where the fuck are we?” you ask finally.

Sans heaves until his feet actually leave the floor, but tilts back upright somehow on the backswing looking slightly dazed, holding a canvas sneaker loosely in his left hand. The laces dangle, and a sticky ice cream wrapper is stuck to the end of one of them.

“huh?” he asks, eye lights dim. He looks around as if he has to double check, then his eyes sharpen.

“oh. this is my bedroom,” he says simply, shrugs. He tosses the sneaker into the middle of the floor, then he’s ass up in the trash again.

Holy shit. He just lives like this, huh? You can’t help it, you start laughing very quietly, and you end up staggering over to the mattress because it’s the only place you feel safe actually sitting down. Then you lie down, wiggle across and pull the blankets out of the way to look in the gap where the mattress forms the bottom of a triangle shape against the corner.

You pull out a pillow, thinking to lean on it, when you peer in and narrow your eyes.

There’s a bunch of food in here. You roll over onto your belly and can’t help yourself. You start digging around. The light manages to make its way into the space partially, but it’s a little dim. You yank out anther pillow, seeing a lot of empty and full bottles with ripped and missing labels, looking like they’ve been reused dozens of times maybe. Each package is kind of a crapshoot on whether or not there’s anything in there. Empty bottles of ketchup, what looks like a full combo plate from Grillby’s with a napkin over the top, a plastic bag spilling out monster candies along with empty wrappers thereof. It’s like a fucking archaeological dig. There’s sedimentary layers.

“find anything good?” you hear the undefeated fingerbone champion ask mildly from behind you, then feel the bed dent in near your feet. You reverse your position a little laboriously, then turn over onto your belly again to watch him change his shoes.

“been doing this in front of you for a while now,” he says softly as he pulls the slippers off his feet. He’s actually changing his socks this time, too, and although one’s mint green and the other’s sky blue, they both have the little lace trim on the hem he seems to like so much. You like it a lot, too, you consider as he folds the crew socks over carefully, just the same height as the high top sneaks will be once he puts them on.

“They’re really pretty,” you comment, and you hear a soft, amused breath exit his nasal cavity.

“you really didn’t know?” he says, pulling on his left shoe, yanking the stuck wrapper off the end of the laces before pulling them taut.

“No, I...” you trail off. “I’m not stupid. I’m just...” You groan self-pityingly. “...stupid,” you finish lamely, put your forehead against the mattress. It smells like bones.

“nah,” he says, and you feel his hard, flexible palm between your shoulder blades. “s’ a cultural thing, like you said. i thought about it. maybe i shoulda said something, but i thought i did. thought i said a lot of stuff.”

“No, you did,” you tell the mattress. “Are you interested in anyone else?”

“...no?” he answers after a few seconds. He’s telling the truth.

“Me neither,” you reply honestly. “What kind of...what...are your expectations here?”

A confused sigh. “more a the same? that okay?”

You’re quiet.

“how bout you?”

“I aspire to be a fool in bowling shoes,” you say after another few seconds, then finally lift your head. “Everything you said is good with me. With..this. I’m good with this,” you try.

His eye lights don’t waver.

“yeah.”

He’s done putting on his shoes, so you pull out your phone and try to find the nearest bowling alley. It’s not far, and there’s a path that avoids the highway. You wonder briefly if he can drive Papyrus’s car, but you don’t ask. It doesn’t matter. You show him the screen and he nods, then stands up, holding out his hand to you.

You take it.

“oh, uh. just a sec,” he mumbles. He leans out ahead of you to peek through the door he’s cracked open, then swings it wide.

“down this way,” he mumbles again, and leads you out into a hallway that has two other doors in it, one of which he ignores. The other one he opens, although he doesn’t do any reconnaissance this time. Turns out that door leads to the stairs by the front door of his house that you’d noticed a long time ago, but had never seen open. Oh. Yeah, you guess that’s the Sans wing, or whatever. Papyrus has the… other upstairs with the bathroom, and the downstairs is Frisk’s room. Or, rooms. Well, they’re an adult now too, you suppose.

As you head across the living room, a familiar voice rings out from the kitchen. You realize belatedly that weird smell is oven cleaner.

SIGH. I THINK I HAVE TO INSIST THAT YOU PICK UP THE CLOSET. PUT IT SOMEWHERE ELSE THIS TIME. ALL OF THE SOCKS ENDED UP IN HERE AGAIN, AND THEY’RE COMPLETELY SOAKED. IT’S HORRIFIC.” He sounds like he’s in the middle of a one-sided conversation. You’re just standing there, unsure what to do. Sans doesn’t say anything, or move.

“WE’VE DISCUSSED THIS,” and now he sounds a little exasperated. “STOP PRETENDING YOU AREN’T THERE, AND THAT THIS IS IN ANY WAY SANITARY. THINK OF THE CHILDREN, SANS.”

He meets your eyes in desperation, and you slam yours shut.

The garage door cronkles open, and you both hit the road, engine putting wildly.

***

Sans pulls a bottle out of his pocket and hands it to you. You twist off the cap, sniff, and-

“Are you...teleporting this into your pockets?”

His eye lights flicker at you in surprise. “huh? you talking about uh, shortcut? doesn’t work like that.”

He pulls his hand out of his pocket again and you see that he’s holding a thick black rectangle with a shiny glass front. His phone. They don’t look anything like human phones; yours is just a thin, flexible sheet with a fat case to keep you from losing it, like the majority of human devices. Monster phones have heft.

“You’re taking it out of that? How much...stuff do you have in there?”

The phone goes back into his pocket and he shrugs. “i got a little more space in there than most. did a little maintenance on it.”

You chuckle, then lean forward to stand up with a sigh. The bowling alley noises are almost calming, in a way, although the atmosphere isn’t anywhere near as friendly as over at Grillby’s. That’s almost like family, in a weird way. No one’s particularly looking or not looking at the two of you as you stay in your lane and do your thing. After a few amusing trials, Sans had pulled out a pair of leather gloves from his pockets, because otherwise his fingers are too smooth and narrow to gain any traction in the holes of the bowling balls. You’d made good on your bowling shoe vow, but Sans won’t change his shoes in front of other people.

You take your turn, wince a little as you start to feel it in your elbow. Maybe bowling hadn’t been the best idea, but you’re committed now, and you just couldn’t resist after Sans had chosen this as his example of things he’s never done before. It makes you feel all blushy. It had been a really good idea to go out with him like this, though. You have to admit, it’s really doing something for you.

Maybe it’s the way he looks at you. When your back’s to him, you don’t find yourself thinking stuff like I wonder if he’s looking at my butt, or try to do things to grab his attention. Because...you already have it. It’s just there, shining and warming you like the sun or like...you’re not sure. You don’t actually have anything to compare this to. You just know you don’t have to do anything to prove yourself, other than be here in this place with him and do a bowling.

It’s nice that he keeps pulling free drinks out of his pockets, too.

You saunter back over to him and sit down a little gingerly.

“Have you decided if you like bowling?” you ask, giving him a big smile.

“it’s fine,” he says, watching the people in the next lane being intoxicated in a very loud but happy sort of way. The place is packed, and although they stop serving drinks at 2, it stays open until six. That’s probably a bad idea, but here you are. Your joints aren’t the best ever, but you’re still having a lot of fun, and you’re not quite ready to turn it in yet. And before you do…

Hmm. Yeah, you haven’t taken any of your stronger meds today. A few days, in fact. You rummage down into one of your pockets and pull out your wallet, yank out a few bills. Shift a little, gauging.

You present the bills to the saucy skeleton across from you, waggle your fingers.

“Could you do me a big favor?” His sockets lift agreeably. “Get me a beer before they shut it down? For some reason, I’m feeling awfully nostalgic today.”

He takes the money, smooth bones touching your fingers momentarily.

“they got different kinds, or…?”

“Whatever’s cheapest,” you grin at him, wink.

“heh. gotcha.” He stands up, and you think about how his bones feel. It makes your face hot. “be right back.”

You lean back, watching balls roll down lanes, listening to the crack and rattle of pins. Some kind of music is probably playing, but only the sharpest sounds reach through the din into where your brain can make sense of them. Sans has been pulling stuff in and out of his pockets all night, including small bottles of monster drinks for himself, and one for you. You wonder if it’s bad to double up, the beer’s just to sip. You probably won’t even finish it.

Sans talked a little bit about how his habit of keeping and reusing discarded bottles started back underground, since monsters didn’t have big manufactories, didn’t mass produce that sort of thing. Even Mettaton’s brands were really just luxury items, or...designer, maybe? That’s what you’d picked up from context. But he used to go trawling in the garbage dump, finding useful stuff, reading materials, bottles empty and full...it was something a lot of monsters had done, apparently. And he’d just never gotten out of the habit. Explains the room, you figure.

You think on that a little more. Or maybe not. A lot of things about him seem pretty hard to explain, but that’s okay. You’ve got time. And that really warms you right up inside, doesn’t it? The fact that you-

“Hey! I said MOVE, jackass! Fuckin freak!”

It cuts right through all the background noise like a knife through butter. That does not sound good. You turn and look back over your shoulder, and the next thing you know you’re up out of your chair and low-impact power walking because some sauced up shitheel in khakis and a tucked in polo shirt is hassling Sans, who’s just trying to bring your drink back to your lane. Both his hands are occupied; you assume he pulled the other one out of his phone.

The spicy skeleton himself looks incredibly unconcerned, but you’re not about to take that kind of chance. As you approach (slower than you’d like but your joints), he dodges a shove with such casual ease, slippers shuffling smoothly across the floor, that the liquid in the glasses he holds in either hand doesn’t even slosh. Of course the guy trying to mess with him is half again his size, with an obnoxiously large wingspan to match. Sans ducks a swipe at his face just as easily, looking on with bored contempt. You hurry even more, sucking air into your lungs in the final approach.

“You got a problem, fucko?” You pitch your voice to carry through the music, bowling noises, and babble of conversation, and the guy turns around to see who the hell’s interrupting the fight he already decided he’s going to have. Sans gets a weird, regretful look on his face when he sees you, but it snaps to something else entirely as the predictable yet effective volley of old-fashioned racial slurs sizzles its way into your ears, the shitheel staggering toward you aggressively.

“hey now, pal.” Sans pipes in a polite-bright friendly tone, shuts his sockets completely. The words emerging from his fixed grin seem like they’re carving the air with fresh wounds. “you fuck your mother with that mouth?”

He starts to bend, like he might be setting those glasses down on the floor in just a second.

As the guy wheels back around like an animal charging at whatever sound he heard last, you notice he doesn’t have a belt on his stained khakis, but a rubber band is tied between two of his belt loops like it’s… Oh. So it is. Since time apparently moves in slow motion if you're stuck on the outer edge of what’s rapidly turning into an encounter (and the air pressure feels like it’s about to drop the beat), you reach forward and just tuck your fingers into that little bit of rubber, hang on tight and let this guy get fucked over by his own momentum.

The sound’s even more satisfying than you thought it’d be. Nice.

Sans’s sockets go perfectly round as the guy starts to walk his own pants off, then stops and feels the rubber band break two full seconds after it already snapped him in the ass so hard he’ll probably feel it last Sunday. Of course a guy that unkempt is just freeballing it. Sans’s teeth part in astonishment as the guy tries to turn again, then trips backwards because the toe of your shoe somehow manages to be behind the heel of his ugly ass sneakers when he does, and he falls flat on his back right on front of you, squealing and trying to cover his pathetic junk.

There’s something wild and close to unhinged in Sans’s expression as he starts to laugh, and both of his arms slowly rise, holding the glasses out in a weird crucifix pose. Like he’s about to pull some kind of a… uh oh.

No one in the place is actually looking at either of you, you realize. They’re too transfixed by the nuts-out dickshit screeching in butthurt and rolling on the floor like a pig.

You gasp as he lets them go, but he’s already barreling toward you, dumpy body churning at what has to be full speed. You have just enough time to open your arms, screw your eyes shut and catch him when he vaults crotch-first recklessly over the vanquished foe at your feet.

The sound of shattering glass gets sucked right out of your ears, and you feel your back hit a mattress heavily. He puts his arms out above you, catching himself too so he doesn’t end up knocking all your teeth out with his collarbone or something. You’re hollering in surprise and impact and he’s roaring with laughter and it’s so stupid and fun and you’re safe you’re safe and oh my god that guy’s face, what a douche-

You yell some more because now he’s tickling you. You’re back on the bare, beefy mattress on the floor of his bedroom, and both of you are doing some kind of stupid, slow, careful wrestling that’s still probably a really bad idea. You feel the strain and you can taste your heartbeat but you don’t want to stop, though. You really, really don’t.

He’s got his face in your neck again and he’s not really muffling anything so much as emitting this constant, growling chuckle as his bony fingers wander and dart all over you, poking and teasing while you try and follow them with your hands, grab onto them. There’s an electric, crazy energy happening and you try to figure out if a skeleton can have ticklish bones, trying to find a funny bone if you will and now you’re scream-laughing and yanking the hoodie fisted in your left hand, and it’s all gone off the rails completely.

Instead of finding a ticklish spot, you hear him gasp as your hand claims his iliac crest, thumb stroking into the curve below the thick rim of it. The gasp turns into a full-voiced, surprised, and remarkably filthy groan as you pull his hip forward just the tiniest bit, the fattest, softest part of your thigh wedged up into his pubic arch.

You both freeze solid as you hear the unmistakable thump of a broom handle hitting the ceiling below, which is also the floor of this room. Apparently. One more thump for good measure. You have just enough time to see his grin curdle in unadulterated horror before his hand goes over your eyes and there’s another tilt. When your vision is returned you’re back in your own bed at your apartment.

The skeleton on top of you holds his breath for a few long seconds, then pulls his hand out from where it’s trapped under your ass with an uneven sigh, and flops off you to the side.

“haven’t got carried away like that in a while,” he mumbles after a few more minutes of breath-catching for both of you. “i can’t believe i ended up in the wrong room,” he adds, sounding absolutely chagrined. “that’s never-” he cuts off, shudders awfully.

“Yeah, I guess we should’ve just come back here in the first place. Not that my neighbors would’ve appreciated it much either, but I’m not related to them.” You’re still smiling a little, but you do notice his eyes dart to the side at you, like that wasn’t quite what he had meant by his comment. Whatever. You let it go.

“At least we didn’t wake him up?” you add, but he obscures his face with his sleeve-covered hands and grunts uncomfortably instead of laughing.

Awww. “I’m sorry,” you say, trying to smile less. “I’m not trying to tease you.”

Goddammit. Everything you say sounds like you’re giving him a hard time. You really aren’t, though. Giving him...a hard time. Sheesh. You cover your face with your hands, too, and you both just lay there. You feel him shift, and you peek out a second. He still looks pretty sheepish. “I’m sorry,” you say again. “Are you upset?”

He rolls over onto his front, leans up on his elbows, and looks around his pushed-up shoulder at you.

“nah, m’not upset. an’ you don’t gotta apologize for anything, okay? just, he’s just gonna find a way to get me back for that, and i’m not looking forward to it.” He shakes his head wryly, but it looks like his smile’s coming back.

You pull your arms down, wincing a little.

“It’s honestly for the best,” you reply. “I did a lot of way too much today. Actually, do you think you could go grab my meds for me? On the counter downstairs?” His smile slips again, but he manages to catch it before it falls completely.

“you want some water, too?” he asks, rolling over and out of your bed before you have a chance to say anything else.

“Sure,” you sigh. He probably feels bad for jumping on you like that, you consider as you listen to him shuffle down your stairs. And he really shouldn’t have, but you don’t regret any of your actions tonight.

You do feel a strange prickle in your chest thinking about how seeing you defending his...honor, or whatever, had apparently driven him right the fuck out of his entire goddamn mind. It’s not even like you decked the guy; you hadn’t been lying when you said you don’t hit people. Giving them a little hand on their way to publicly humiliating themselves, though? That’s fine by you. It’s not like he hadn’t been about to do the same, and you don’t want him to have to fight, or encounter, or...whatever that was. He obviously doesn’t like it. You wish you knew what had him so riled up in the first place, or what has him so crestfallen now.

“you want the bottles or the other thing?” you hear him call up from downstairs.

“Bottles!” you try to holler quietly, wincing. It’s really late, and you really do have neighbors. Well, whatever. It’s not like you’re literally ever loud in here.

He still has that flat, sheepish look on his face when he gets back with your meds and water. You wince as you wiggle up against the wall, take the stuff from him, use it, hand it back.

“Why the buttface, champ?” you sigh as he lays back down next to you.

“i just don’t want you to think that’s how...i am,” he says, sounding uncharacteristically sullen. You kind of hate it.

You push your thoughts around a little.

“You were right,” you say after a moment.

“bout what?”

“You do make problems for yourself. I mean, think about it this way. The first day we were together in a way we had to talk about, we got so high on it we forced ourselves to go out and get rowdy because we couldn’t keep our hands off each other long enough to eat, made complete jackasses of ourselves equally in front of strangers, friends, acquaintances, and loved ones, then slept it off wrapped up in the world’s boniest blanket burrito.”

You’re already making good on that last part, pulling off your shirt and his with another few winces, but it’s worth it to settle in like this, finding out all the best places to put your limbs together. Pretty much every combination is fun, and your meds will kick in soon enough. And of course there’s the good vibes you both get off each other when you’re close like this. Not like having done other stuff makes this any less enjoyable, simple, satisfying, and effective.

He’s looking at you in something like awe, eye lights changing from small and hard to bigger and dimmer. It’s like you’re telling him a bedtime story.

“How about this one. Hey kids. I ever tell you about the time your grandpa got in a fight at bowling alley with a guy twice his size? I had to charge in and rescue him from his own mouth, which incidentally is the filthiest mouth I’ve ever heard on a bag o’ bones not even shoulder high to a Cadillac. He was so overcome by my gallant demeanor he broke every glass in that place right there on the floor, swooning and gagging at my next level butch apotheosis. Then he did his best Mettaton impression by taking a leaping swan dive into my arms like it was goddamn Shakespeare in the Park.”

“And that, my fine children-” you bring your face very close to his and make increasingly intense eye contact, “-is where babies come from.”

You inhale his breathy chuckle thirstily, press your face against his while you try and figure out a way to hold him more. He turns to face you and takes your hand, pulls your arm through the space between his ribcage and pelvis. The inside of your arm brushes his spine and he shudders in satisfaction. Then he sighs.

“if we never get frisky again, at least it’s not my fault,” he mumbles, but he sounds in much better humor about it. “nothin’s ever gonna unring that broom. i still hear it.”

You feel the urge to giggle, but after a second it drains out of you. Neither of you stop holding each other long enough to turn out the lamp. It’s been on for days, now.

“It’s for the best,” you say again quietly after a few minutes. “We weren’t exactly...it was probably a bad idea. I’m in pain, and you’re...you. Neither one of us is a reckless person. Why not be careful with each other, since we can afford to be? We don’t have anything to lose by that.”

Hard bones squeeze you all over.

“you’re right,” he whispers.

You fall asleep like that.

***

The morning light’s already in your eyes when the heavy, insistent knocking on your door finally wakes you up. Sans is tangled in your arms like a discarded marionette, snoring lightly, and you do what you can to emerge from your bone sarcophagus without disturbing his slumber. It works, since he doesn’t look like he’s in the mood to be awake yet.

You rummage around to try and find your smock-shirt from last night, but in the end you give up and just get out a new one. Pulling it on makes you flinch a little, but you’re in a good enough mood even though you’re pretty sure there’s only one person who’d be hammering on your door this early. Today.

The wind whips in chilly, although not enough to snow, as you open the door to your sister Angie's tearstained face. Both her hands are occupied by Shonda and Nattie’s, and the weight of the overnight bag isn’t the only thing bowing her shoulders. You look up into the cold, overcast sky, wondering where the time goes. It’s almost winter.

“Hey, babygirl,” you say with empathy heavy in your voice. “Why don’t you come in.”

Chapter Text

Once you get the kids situated in the TV room, you and your sister head to the dining room, which is technically just part of your kitchen with a table in it. There’s a term for this but you don’t really remember it. Before you go to put on a pot of coffee, you turn back to her a second.

“Hey Ange,” you start a little reluctantly. “Sans is here, just so you know.”

“Oh, really?” she replies, and automatically looks around as if he’s hiding in the pantry or the trash can.

“Upstairs,” you sigh, looking significantly at the ceiling.

Yep. There go the eyebrows.

“Wow?” She leans in, her voice getting a little quieter but the eyebrows still pushing her hairline. “I thought you guys were like, more best buds style.”

You grin despite yourself and rub your hand over your eyes sheepishly. “I wish I could say this was a recent development, but it turns out I’m just exceptionally dense. We can talk about it, just...maybe later?”

She frowns a little, still doesn’t sit down.

“Didn’t this exact same thing happen with Anya? Wasn’t it four months before she-”

“Later?” you say with the lilt to your voice you know she knows means ‘please shut up now’ and she holds her hands up defensively, goes and finds a chair to put her nosy butt into. Not that you can really blame her. You’ve got a lot of questions yourself, but they can wait and so can she.

You prepare the coffee maker as quickly as you can manage, then fumble at your pocket hoping that-yes, there it is. You lean against the counter and hope Sans is in the habit of checking his phone when he wakes up.

You: Hey, just so you know my sister’s here with the kids. It’s complicated but she’s probably here because of our mom. You’re welcome to come down and hang out if you feel up to it but I won’t be upset if you want to take off.

Your phone buzzes in less than ten seconds.

sans: be rite down just gonna pop home a sec

You smile and put the phone back in your pocket.

“Sans is probably coming downstairs in a few minutes,” you inform Angie, and then you pour each of you a cup of coffee.

She raises her eyebrows again, but the way that means it’s time for her to bust your chops about this. She uses fake concern to cover the real one. “You mean he’s not going to just jump out the window and run for the hills in his underpants? Guess it’s time to meet the family, huh? Must be serious.”

You notice Sans’s sneakers sitting in the boot tray by your front door, and listen to the impenetrably staccato sounds of whatever cartoon show the kids are watching. That must be why he wanted to go home, rather than coming down clacking all the way in “decent” but bare-boned feet. He must want to make a good impression...for him, at least. You blush.

“Wow,” she says again after your extended silence, a little more surprised. “Guess it is, then.”

You blink, a relevant change of subject occurring to you. “The kids know he’s a monster, right?”

She laughs. “Yeah, but I’ll go and refresh their memories. And let them know he’s here, I guess.” She puts her hands on the table and heaves up.

“I’m taking this with me though,” she mutters and grabs her coffee cup off the table before heading to the other room.

Sans appears a few seconds later, and you can’t help smiling as you notice the pair of powder blue slippers he’s wearing look almost new. He changed clothes, but they’re the same kind he always wears.

“heya,” he greets you softly, then comes to stand next to your chair, leans down to touch his face to yours a moment.

“Hi,” you sigh happily.

“everything ok?”

“Yeah,” you reply quietly. “I could wish she showed up because Matt finally fucked up enough to get her to move out here with me, but more likely it’s...” you sigh. “She probably... sometimes she just gets...” you trail off again, trying to figure out how to explain it.

“We just go somewhere, spend time together. Time with the kids, you know? Matt really doesn’t get it, and we don’t really care if he does or not so we don’t bother inviting him. She’s only been here twice since I moved, and I thought it might be about that time again.”

You sigh again, shift in the chair. “Our mom passed on my birthday. So we don’t um. I don’t celebrate it, and we don’t do mom stuff then either. It’s just whenever we need to. I figure it’s best that way.”

His face is unreadable. “doing anything special?” he inquires casually.

“We’re probably just going to take a walk down by the waterfront today,” you say quietly. Shrug. “You can come if you want, but it’s not anything exciting.”

Sans closes one socket, glances to the side.

“turns out... i just remembered i gotta work today,” he says, grinning nonchalantly. “so you guys go ahead, do your thing.” He shrugs. “ok if i stop by later though?”

“Sure,” you say, and you’re about to rib him for saying he still had another day free, but he’s already headed over to the living room, so you stand and join him.

Shonda looks like she’s in the middle of begging her mom for a sip of forbidden coffee when her eyes fall on Sans, and her mouth just sort of...stays open. Nattie ducks their head shyly, but otherwise seems to take the appearance of a living skeleton in stride. Angie stands up and comes over, holding our her hand.

“Nice to meet someone I’ve heard so much about,” she says, grinning crassly. Sans winks, and takes her hand in his mittened one to give it a firm shake.

“right back atcha.”

Angie turns to the kids.

“This is your ti-ti’s friend, Sans.”

They wave shyly, then go right back to watching their cartoons. Shonda glances back a few times, but since apparently skeletons mostly seem to just stand around and talk about boring adult stuff, you assume she absorbs his existence into whatever box boring adults she doesn’t really know well go into.

“Are you..coming along today?” Angie inquires hesitantly.

“nah, turns out i gotta work. might see ya later on, if you’re stayin’ a bit.”

“Oh, where do you work?”

Oops. Normal enough question, you suppose, but you’d taken a page out of Sans’s playbook of evasiveness to counteract questions from your sister as to his precise employment. It’s just as well, since you don’t actually know either, and assume it’s somewhere in the realm of sensitive-to-possibly-classified information.

Sans closes his eye socket again, and for some reason his grin turns mischievous.

“got a lil stand down by the waterfront. if you’re out that way later you could stop by. get some dogs for the kids, maybe.”

He winks at you.

“see ya,” and he’s out the door.

Angie looks at you. “I thought he was some kind of science guy?”

You shrug. “Some kind of, yeah.”

She looks at the door thoughtfully. “Huh. Guess a PhD really doesn’t go as far as it used to. Everyone’s gotta make a living, I guess!”

You look at the door too. Sans is in fact a true master of manufacturing suspiciously convenient social situations, as well as conjurer of a mysterious and endless supply of dogs.

Knowing him, he probably had a fucking hot dog stand this whole time.

***

The kids are running around hollering by the trees while you eyeball the walkway for a place to sit down. Not that you need to yet, but you’re so in the habit of needing to you can’t help but scan everywhere for potential resting spots. It’s second nature.

“So, it was like a cultural misunderstanding? Are you sure? I mean, you’re really not good at figuring out when someone likes you for real, you never have been.”

You have your hands shoved in your coat pockets, since the day had managed to stay on the chilly side. The steady breeze generated by the water isn’t really helping either, but it’s not freezing. Just a little bracing, specially with all the walking you’ve been doing. Your meds are working despite the cold, so far so good.

“Maybe just let me think that anyway?” you say lightly, trying to preserve the shreds of your dignity. You fail, and sigh.

“Maybe I didn’t figure it out because I don’t think anyone’s ever liked me for real before now,” you muse, then blush a little when you listen back to what you just said.

“Wow,” Angie says yet again. “Well, I beg to differ. I’m not surprised he likes you so much you feel like he is, because you’re absolutely amazing and deserve someone who likes you that much-” you make a false swipe at her upper arm, which she almost formally leans away from, hand pressed against her extra heavy purse, “-but... I guess I’m just surprised you’re into him.”

“Huh? Why? Just because he’s a monster, it doesn’t mean-”

“No, no, not that he’s...you know. Just that he’s...” she gives you a look. “A he.”

You roll your eyes ostentatiously. “I told you, it’s not- it doesn’t work the same with monsters.”

Face journeys definitely run in the family, and it turns out the sight of your sister visibly speculating is unbearable.

“If you’ve seen a diagram of a skeleton, then yeah, it’s basically that,” you say flatly. “Just that. I’d rather tell you than have to hear or see whatever you’re thinking that’s making you look at me that way.”

“No, I’m...well, yeah I am curious, but it’s more like...” Angie frowns, then just shuts up.

You’ve got a feeling what she’s not saying probably has a lot to do with questions she knows better than to ask and honestly don’t matter. A lot of things that really just boil down to trying to sort everything into categories she’s more familiar with. Every once in a while you do get bummed out that even as close with you as she is, chill enough to deal with Nattie’s gender stuff when it came down to it, sometimes she still has those moments. Moments when not having a category to put someone into creates tension that doesn’t really need to be there.

“I wish you lived here,” you say quietly. “I wish you all lived here. Even Matt, if you wanted to keep him around. Have you ever thought about it?”

“Yeah,” she says, surprising the shit out of you. “I have been. Especially...” Her hand goes to her heavy purse, just holds it a moment.

“I don’t know, it’s hard to do with kids. Picking up and just moving somewhere new, where you don’t know anyone...” then she glances at you. “But you made friends, right? Some pretty good ones, from the way it seems.”

You almost hold your breath in an effort not to press, because pressing might make her dismiss it. You don’t want to hand her reasons to decide against it. You also bite your tongue to keep from shit talking her mediocre husband. It’s not like you hate him, but you don’t really like him, either. In a lot of ways you think your sister wanted a family so bad, for her own reasons, she was willing to settle down with the first person who’d give her one. You wish she had a little more of a loose interpretation of what a “family” can be, and that’s really just another reason you wish she’d come here to the land of ambiguity. Heh.

“I did make friends,” you say at last. “And I’m not exactly great at that, if you haven’t noticed.”

“And all you had to do was almost get blown up,” she smiles, and you press your tongue against the roof of your mouth to try and control your facial expression. All you had had to do was die, actually.

“What do you think would happen if humans knew more about our souls?” you find yourself asking. “More about monsters, and the ways we're different, or the same? Would we just find news ways to kill each other and hurt everyone? Do you think it’d just be, wham! monsters get sealed back underground after we take everything from them again? Or do you think there’s some kind of hope for humanity here?”

She cuts her eyes at you. “You’re asking me? That shit's none of my business. I’m a stay at home mom, high school education, don’t know shit about shit. I’m the last person who should be deciding the fate of the world.”

The wind whips past, carrying a shriek from the kids as they find something nasty under a piece of rotten wood. You really like this stretch, it’s like trees that go right to the water, but spaced out enough that it’s not creepy. It’s just pleasant. The sun’s even breaking through the overcast intermittently, raising the temperature by what feels like ten degrees each time, then dropping when it hides again.

Your mom would have loved it. She’d bring her guitar, set up right about there. Play a few tunes, maybe even busk a little if there were enough people around. You look; quite a few people are out today, even though it’s not especially warm. A lot of folks like to get out a few times before the cold season really locks in. There are a few monster families out today, too, including about 20 Froggits around some kind of barbecue pit. You can smell the slightly fatty smoke of whatever they’ve got in there, it’s weirdly appetizing. Or maybe you’re just getting hungry.

“You're selling yourself short," you state bluntly. "Who do you think 'most people' are? And they're the ones affected by all this. We are. But it’s funny you say that, because I kind of said the same thing.” You press your lips together, then continue doggedly. “Frisk asked me if I think humans should know more about souls. In a serious way. A policy sort of way. They want my advice, and I don’t know what to think about it.”

You’d told your sister that Frisk is apparently more than the symbolic sort of ambassador than most people had been led to believe, but not the details. You’d definitely left out the part where they’d been making decisions like that from childhood. And Ange still doesn’t know about their abilities, or the truth about the...injury... to your soul. To Sans’s soul too, although you’ve got a heavy feeling what he’s got going on dwarfs what happened to you by a fair margin.

“Sans’s kid’s pretty important, huh? Well, the fact that they asked you for advice actually doesn’t surprise me that much,” you sister answers after chewing her lips a few minutes. “You said they don’t know that many humans? And you… you have that vibe. I don’t know how to explain it, like... You had to make big decisions about a lot of stuff since we were kids, you know? Once mom got sick, you had to take care of pretty much everything.”

She turns to look at you, smiles softly. “You took good care of me, too.” She looks down. “Still do, you know that? I hope so. I don’t know what I would have done last month without you, when the car went again.” She sighs.

“That’s what family’s for,” you answer shortly. What you don’t say is how much you wish you weren’t the kind of person people look to, how much you hated having to make those calls, and how much you wish your life had been different enough that you could have spent your time living it instead of fighting constantly just to keep your head above water. How much you wish someone could have just come and saved you, taken care of everything, and given you someone to look to for answers.

Because you still don’t have any.

You look around for something to change the subject with, and to your surprise you notice a group of monster and human kids running past with some very familiar looking food items in their hands. They definitely smell familiar.

“I have a feeling we might be getting close to a hot dog stand,” you chuckle. “You think the kids are hungry yet?”

“The kids? Hell, I’m starving.” Angie leans forward, peers down the walkway. “I think I see it?”

As you approach the weird-looking structure (like some kind of bus stop enclosure, but with a counter on top of a half-wall), there’s a crowd of cute monster kids raising mild to moderate hell nearby, but you don’t see anyone behind the counter.

Angie tries to holler the kids over twice as you both trudge toward your destination, then gives up and goes to the edge of the trees to retrieve them manually. As you get closer, you realize that the counter is in fact staffed... by a pair of powder blue slippers.

Sans is leaned back in a chair with his sockets closed, and you can’t help snickering.

“Hey, lazybones,” you drawl as Shonda and Nattie come running up, their mother looking peevish as she trudges along behind at a more sedate pace. “Working hard?”

A socket opens, eye light coming into focus quickly as it does.

“hardly workin’, darlin’” he replies in the same tone, making you blush and roll your eyes.

Nattie puts their puffy pink windbreaker elbows right up on the counter next to Sans’s slippers and lisps, “my momma says you got hot dogs for us?”

Sans pulls his feet off the counter finally, and his chair legs hit the ground again with a thump. He grins, one socket still shut.

“sure do, kiddo. hot dogs, hot cats, hot aardvarks. all sortsa hot animals. you got a preference?”

Nattie grins and start to say something, but Shonda interrupts, looking extremely dubious.

“Ti-ti says hot dogs are just sausages. Even though they don’t taste like sausages and nobody calls them that. So how can they be aardvarks and stuff? Did you make them out of aardvark? That's gross.”

“gotta order one to find out.”

“Oh, hey Ange. Have the kids ever had monster food?” you turn and ask as she finally finishes trudging up to join you. “That’s what the ‘dogs are, remember?”

She scratches her shiny forehead a moment. “Uh, I think so? Shonda has at least, don’t know about Nattie. Why?”

You shrug. “I don’t know, just figured it was hard to get out by you guys, right? That’s what you were telling me before.”

Sans must be on his game, because now even Shonda is giggling. She just turned ten and hit her extra serious phase with a vengeance, so it’s nice to see her cut loose a little. Nattie’s got their hands shimmied back into their sleeves and is flailing the empty ends around.

You dig around in your pocket, find the little pouch. You slap a big handful of coins on the countertop, and Sans’s sockets widen a little. You make eye contact with him and nod significantly, and he doesn’t argue with you about it. It’s nice to feel appreciated, and now he can have a little more decoration for the floor of his bedroom. It all comes back around as long as you stay a part of the cycle. You’re starting to realize that, and it helps that he knows it, too.

He knows how to make room without really leaving.

He deserves the appreciation.

Sans grins, reaches under the counter. When his hands come up he presents four dogs with as much flourish as Grillby himself. Then he goes back, gets four more. Winks. He explains to the kids that each one is a pelican, a manatee. A meerkat, an ocelot. Variations mark each one: grill marks, a bump at the end, one that gets skinnier at the sides; all of these are ‘proof’ of species. You remember the factoids he's paraphrasing into jokes from the nature documentaries he always watches. The kids are convinced because he makes them want to be, and run off to the group of other children to show off their animals before devouring them. It’s funnier because they’re not even meat.

You and Angie talk about the kids' school, the weather, your work. She gives you her purse and you hold it for a while. She calls Nattie back from going too far into the underbrush, and Shonda comes up to deliver a pointed lecture about a girl at school who's always correcting people. Sans leans his chin on his crossed arms on the counter, sockets half mast and grin lazy. More monsters and even a human stop by the stand eagerly, telling him stories about their jobs and families, updating him on their babies and their troubles. Some just banter and provoke, and receive their comeuppances accordingly. Each one slaps down a big handful of coins in return for dogs, although a few leave without taking them. He makes them disappear into his pockets with a wink.

Eventually the kids decide they want to go with a few of the monster kids to a playground further down, and you and your sister turn back to Sans before heading out. He scratches at his neck a moment.

“paps wanted me to ask if him n frisk could bring over some dinner later,” he comments casually, watching the kids shriek, flail, eat, and observe, each according to their natures. “just an offer, if you don't have other plans. says maybe you could show him your puzzle collection.”

Angie frowns at him, then you. “You don’t have a puzzle...wait, you mean those antique board games you like so much?”

You grin and nod. “What do you say?” you sigh. Angie puts her hand on her heavy purse again, watches Nattie explaining something apparently very dire to a Whimsun, Shonda crossing her arms and standing to the side, trying to pretend she’s not grinning from ear to ear.

You can usually read your sister better than this, but you really can’t tell what she might be thinking. Doesn’t seem like anything bad, though.

“Yeah,” she says softly. “That sounds nice.”

***

Three and a half hours with Frisk and Papyrus after a late dinner had been enough to send your sister and both kids all the way to sleep. They’re laying around your living room wherever they fell, casualties of extended tabletop sparring with the world’s second most talkative living skeleton and the gregarious ambassador themself. Papyrus had insisted on making his spaghetti, but Frisk had equally insisted on bringing burgers and fries from Grillby’s to much protest and umbrage. Hence the lateness of the dinner and the necessity of microwaving the spaghetti.

In the end both had been consumed with various levels of gusto, the games had begun, then ended as your relatives had slowly bitten the dust. Papyrus had won pretty much all of them despite loudly insisting he’d never played them before, but somehow everyone felt very proud of their own individual performances anyways.

Your mother’s urn sits in its own chair adjacent to the coffee table. No one had felt it necessary to say anything about it, although Frisk, Sans, and Papyrus had nodded their heads in that direction at least once. Maybe you should ask about monster customs sometime, when you’re feeling more up to it. You’d commissioned the urn yourself, and designed it yourself. The front of the bronze cube is adorned with a geometric yet organic design based on the notes of your mother’s favorite song, and you’d noticed one of Papyrus’s nods had ended with a significant glance towards you. Artists know, you figure. The food he’d cooked for you all but hadn’t touched himself had certainly been very...artistic, as well.

The spaghetti’d still been very much every-flavor, but not having been blended and mixed with ketchup does a lot for the texture, at least. You had seconds. So did Sans, which surprised you since a lot the time he seems to give up on eating halfway through. Despite inexplicably (and charmingly) managing to be a fat skeleton, it’s definitely something inherent to how he’s shaped rather than something acquired. You can relate.

Right now he’s lay-sitting back on your couch with his sockets closed and hands shoved in his pockets, slippered feet stretched out and crossed at the ankle, but you think he’s “asleep” rather than asleep. You’re starting to be able to tell the difference reliably now; his grin flattens out a little more than this when he’s truly gone. Still, both Frisk and Papyrus had certainly pretended he had been asleep, ignoring him as they said their relatively quiet goodbyes to you, and asked the farewells to be relayed to your sleeping family. Frisk had seemed rather delighted to be somewhere that everyone knows ASL, too. It makes you feel a warm glow to know you've had something unexpected to offer. A sense of belonging extended the other way, for a change. It feels good to be understood.

You’ve already prepared the spare room that usually functions as your art studio and extra crap storage for their comfort, but you know it’s better with Ange and the kids to just leave them where they are. There’s no reason you can’t just bring the preparations to them instead of the other way around, so you get some blankets and start draping them over their steadily breathing forms. When you come over to where your sister’s face down in the couch and snoring, you see Sans’s socket open, the white point coalescing inside to peer at you mischievously.

Rather than taking a role himself, he had proclaimed that he was “on your team” and spent most turns with his eyes shut and chilling out. Papyrus had narrowed his sockets peevishly at that, but managed to keep his complaints to a relative minimum. A few times Sans’s fingers had clicked between your bodies with helpful hints and advice. Also a lot of extremely corny fingerspelled puns, leading to indulgent looks from the rest at your seemingly sourceless giggling. His tips hadn’t been enough to defeat the great Papyrus, but you don’t really care about that and you suspect he doesn’t either. It had made a few of the games last a lot longer and get much louder than they would have otherwise, though. Long and loud enough to wear everyone out quite effectively.

His grin softens as you stand there holding the blanket to your chest for a long moment. You're not used to this kind of feeling, like everything's...okay. Full, somehow. Happy. It's not perfect; the not-empty chair still sits sentinel over your sleeping family. But you look around and feel like somehow, it's enough. This is enough.

You finally draw the blanket over your sister's snoring form, then hold your hand out to Sans. He opens his other eye and smiles, stands extra carefully to avoid joggling anyone, and takes it.

You go upstairs.

***

“we could go to my room,” he offers.

You frown a little. “Isn’t that just the same problem on your end?”

You’d felt pretty tired when you’d led him up to bed, but apparently the simmering affection and appreciation for him you’d been carrying like a pilot light inside you all day had been a mutual experience. Once you’d both gotten comfortable in each other’s arms, the happiness and slow wonder reverberating between you had grown impossible to leave unacknowledged. But everyone’s here, and it’s weird. And sure, your door locks. But...it’s weird.

He looks like he’s thinking hard. “we wouldn’t be at the house.”

You look down at him dubiously. “It...moves? Your bedroom. Moves around.”

“no,” he answers in all apparent seriousness, “i do.”

That doesn’t make any more sense. Okay, so maybe he is bad at explaining some things. But right now you’re faced with a choice: an immediate explanation of how the mechanics of his promised privacy works, or actually being able to take advantage of it. And right now, you suppose your priorities are predictably skewed in a more hedonistic direction.

“okay. let’s go,” you grin, then shut your eyes and press your forehead to his collarbone.

The lights are on when you open them this time, at least, but otherwise everything’s more or less the same. You’re laying on the bare mattress, and Sans sits up to un-wad the blankets and grab the pillows out of the gap behind his bed again. Really seems like they just end up there no matter what. More or less the same. It’s…

“something is different, isn’t it?” you say wonderingly as Sans pulls the surprisingly soft green blanket over you both. It feels broken-in, comfortable. Same reason you buy used clothes from thrift stores. It smells like him, but not too much. Just a little.

“yeah,” he shrugs, then lays back down and snuggles back into you. “we got privacy.”

“Hmmm,” you say as he guides your hand back under his shirt to where it had been before your little trip, palm flat across the side of his ribcage. He exhales peacefully.

“You have a very convenient skillset,” you comment, then press your lips to the side of his grin to feel it soften into a smile. Feeling hard bone move that way doesn’t really lose its novelty.

His fingers slowly move away from yours to stroke your upper arm, leaving your hand to roam him freely. Your palm slows, then stops. You don’t stop tracing his face with your nose, but after a minute he backs up a little and you see his eye lights focus on your expression.

“s’okay if you don’t wanna,” he says quietly. When you don’t answer right away, he asks, “something else, maybe?”

You’re looking into him, the spot where his cervical spine becomes thoracic, obscured and revealed by more than just the shadow under his jaw. His shirt’s pulled down a little, and you can see the space inside him where you know the light stays dim, even if he were to take the shirt off entirely.

“I don’t know what this feels like for you,” you admit quietly. “I don’t want to make a mistake.”

“feels good,” he answers readily.

“Not always.” You hope he knows what you’re getting at.

He exhales heavily. “m’not shy,” he adds. “not scared, either. it feels good the way you do it.”

You touch your forehead to his. You think about the way he’d pushed his finger between his ribs, the neutrality of his voice. His face.

“Does it feel good the way you do it?”

His exhale is amused this time. “sometimes.”

“I don’t want to make a mistake,” you repeat softly. “And I can’t see how you feel. We said we’d be careful.”

His eye lights flicker, dilate. His next exhale is uneven. “can I take our clothes off?” he breathes, instead of acknowledging the question you haven’t asked yet.

“Yeah,” you smile, then sit up a little. You assume he meant he’d like to do it, and he does. He’s not coy about it, but he pulls off shorts and shirts with care and enjoyment. When you lay back down facing him he moves your arm, the one you’re laying on as you face to the side, lower than you expected. When he lies down that arm ends up underneath him in the gap between his ribs and pelvis, and he brings your hand up to the front of his chest. You can hold him comfortably in ways you can’t with a human, and wow. It’s nice. He reaches back for your other hand, places it on his iliac crest with a deep sigh.

Both of you lay like that for a little while. You nudge his vertebral processes with your nose, touch them with your lips. Your thighs come up to nudge at the backs of his femurs, and you feel his bare pelvis settling into the front of your fleshy one. That’s...interesting. You reach down to pull the blanket back up over your hips, but no higher, just because it feels nice against your legs, just like he feels nice pressed to your front. Cozy and comfortable.

“You make a really good little spoon,” you breathe into his neck, and you feel him shudder, resonating with your words. You press a kiss to another of his vertebral processes, holding him a little tighter and exhaling heavily enough for it to blow through him a little. You feel like there’s some kind of resistance, or maybe it’s just a few bones batting the air back towards you. You rub your thumb very gently into the curve of his ilium, and this time you feel as well as hear the gentle clack of what you notice is his spine, now it’s pressed into you so closely. A very subtle wave of something that travels through it, although your can’t necessarily tell exactly what or how. It’s lovely.

“That’s good?” you ask after it happens again.

“yeah,” he whispers softly.

“I like it,” you add. “This was a good idea. I like the way you feel.”

“s’mutual,” he breathes as you rub the inside of your leg over the top of his, feeling how smooth and hard the bones there are. “gettin’ harder to talk, though,” he mumbles thickly, and that’s the tone you’ve been waiting for.

“Can I touch your soul?” you ask, and he sucks his breath in like he’s been waiting for this moment all day.

“yeah,” he exhales, and his hand slips underneath yours on his chest, where you’ve been feeling his pulling magnetism increasing. You tilt your head up so you can watch him, and it’s still the most beautiful thing you've ever seen in your life. Despite lying on your sides, it’s still oriented the same way, and for a moment it strikes you that some sort of force outside anything you’ve ever understood, something about him in relation to the universe, holds its direction true. You shudder and moan in awe, your breath traveling through him again. Everything he is floats there, so strange and so precious to you.

You watch his phalanges brush the surface of his soul lightly, and you almost subconsciously rub his ilium with your thumb again, like an empathetic muscle memory. The breath that escapes him has voice in it, low and soft.

“you make me feel so good,” he half-slurs, sounding like he’s about to tip over and fall into himself.

“I’m ready,” you whisper into his neck. Your hand’s been hovering well back behind his, but at your words he pulls his fingers away from his soul and brings them up behind yours. This time, however, he twines them together before curling in.

“like this,” he sighs, desire clotting and suffusing his voice, slowly drowning it. And that’s okay because now you’re both touching him and it’s exactly how he imagined it would feel. A little softer this time, but he still arches back against you tightly, bare ankle twining yours as he groans with the intensity of your touch.

Eased without being too easy. He likes it.

That’s what your thigh pushed into his pubic arch had reminded him of, had made him imagine: this. Soft and sudden, controlled but still close to overwhelming. When he touches with you, it calms and steadies him; he also has a little more control over what you feel from him this way. He’s still breathing raggedly, but he’s not panting and weeping. His other hand moves down and slowly takes your fingers from his iliac crest, moves it up toward his ribcage. He drags your hot skin across the flat of his ribs, and it feels so good. Soothing, generative of desire rather than provoking it. It neither demands nor agitates.

When he guides you over his sternum, you understand that this also feels good to him the way it had before, the time you first touched him like this. You’re quietly amazed to realize that despite his soul being exposed and delicate under both of your fingers, you also still feel it drawing resonant and magnetic in his chest because it exists inside him and outside at the same time. He also demonstrates how far away from his body his soul can be comfortably taken. He can’t be harmed that way, but more than this and it will slip through and back toward him, leaving your touch behind.

Everything about him is an absolute marvel. You rub your cheek against his skull almost lazily, gazing into his soul under heavy lids, even though your eyes can tell you nothing other than it is so very, very beautiful. Your fingers in his soul, however, tell you that he wants to know what it feels like when you touch between his ribs. His fingers in his soul help keep both of you from experiencing any backwash of negative associations or previous discomfort. He thinks you’re very clever, and that this was a good idea on both your parts. He always makes things complicated, so three kinds of touching at once for starters is probably his speed. It makes you smile, press a kiss to his zygomatic process. You taste his magic when your tongue dampens your lips right after.

“Do you want to show me, or do you want me to try it on my own?” you whisper, feeling almost dazed with desire, yet alert and attentive. You’re in tune with what he wants.

His arm comes up and around in response, reaches back almost impossibly at the shoulder so his fingers can stroke your hair, tickle the back of your neck with bone fingertips. As his ribs arch out under your tentative hand, an unstoppable wave, a solid wall of pure trust and sweet longing washes over you, pushes a shuddering groan out of your throat. There’s nothing passive about the way he offers himself.

You run the pads of your fingers flatly over the hard, slick-smooth outside curve of his ribs. Their heat and pressure excites him, feels strange and familiar at the same time. Feels like you. His breath gathers in anticipation as you draw your fingers to the spot you’d touched the first time, the second intercostal space. You slide your finger between the ribs there as he exhales, close to the sternum because he likes warmth, pushing. And that’s what it feels like, blunt and hot. He likes it when you do it, he can feel the way your touch is careful, reactive. For you, it feels like the same resonance as when you touch his bones from the outside, but somehow from more than one direction. There’s a… between-ness to it. You like it, too.

He makes a quiet sound of contentment when your finger curls, brushes the inside of his bones. It’s not as smooth there, since it doesn’t get touched as often, hasn’t been polished as much by clothing and brushes. This is definitely a private space, and the feeling of pushing increases when you do this. He wants more, so you try two fingers into the same space. The most striking thing about this to you is that while his pleasure does increase, it isn’t...directional. It just is.

His hand is still on your head, and he guides your mouth gently to his cervical vertebra because he wants to know what it feels like when you taste him, here. He’d liked it so much when your tongue had darted out against his arm bones. He moans and controls a shudder so your teeth don’t knock him as your open mouth presses his spine, tongue pushing (oh) into the small spaces between. It’s even hotter than your skin, then cool with moisture. The breath from your nose blows right down into him, almost to where your fingers penetrate his ribcage, two fingers in different spaces now.

You feel tingling where your fingers twine with his and blend into his soul, and you're glad his magic’s helping him feel this moment, now. You understand that being grabbed here unexpectedly would be uncomfortable, and you slide your fingers over the outside of his sternum carefully, fingers spread wide to curl into three different spaces and brush the inside of it tenderly. You pull back your mouth as he fails to suppress the shudder this time, and his soft groan and panting breath deepens your physical arousal considerably.

Desire and pleasure continues to pool in him, but it’s still not shoving him towards anything. He arches again because he wants to feel your hand on his spine, between his ribcage and pelvis. It feels incredible, makes him moan and twine his ankle with yours again when you hold it, rub it with your soft, heated palm. Nothing in him screams more, harder, faster; this is exploring, not progression. It’s a slow journey outward from the point at his center where the pleasure of your touch had first bloomed in him; you rub your hand back up his ribcage, along the underside of his humerus. When you touch his iliac crest again, he moans raggedly and spreads his legs; he wants your thigh in his pubic arch again. You bend your leg forward and bring it up between his femurs obligingly. He tilts his hips back almost sharply to get what he wants, hot and full without any clothes between this time.

The pleasure filling him is massive, almost sloppy. He’s drunk on it, body twisting slowly in ecstasy. You can feel his magic intensifying where you both touch his soul. His hand takes yours and guides it down inside his pelvic cradle as he grinds back onto your leg, groaning helplessly now as he arches far past human ability against you to keep as many points of contact as possible.

Magic beads his skull, and you kiss it openmouthed this time as he slides your palm down his sacrum’s inside curve, pressing a little more firmly than you would have to make sure you know how he likes it. Blunt and hot. Because this is the feeling he wants to carry with him, he’s pushing his soul back toward himself, panting into a choked whine as he twists his subpubic angle into the soft, warm meat of your leg.

The whine breaks open into a satisfyingly throaty, cracked moan as fingers and phalanges together touch his sternum, magic tingling and dissipating as they flatten against him. There had been no tension in his body before, so there’s none to have been released, but he’s so pliable and willing as you gather him up into your arms and nuzzle him it certainly feels postcoital in a way your body recognizes. You’re soaked.

His arms are wrapped loosely around your shoulders, and his face lolls against your neck. He’s so floppy, which is kind of an accomplishment for a being made of bones that hard, and he hasn’t entirely stopped moaning, either. He must not have been kidding about it...lingering.

“Are you okay?” you ask softly, rubbing the inside of your wrist on his shoulderblade.

“mmm,” he replies vaguely, although his voice does seem to be deepening back towards his usual range. You can tell he’s trying to catch his breath, and you press a few more kisses to his skull. “sss’jus...better’n i imagined...” he slurs eventually, then inhales deeply, lets it out as evenly as he can. He finally tilts his head back and looks at you, eye lights dimmed from their massively increased diameter. “n let me tell you, i did a fair ‘mount of imaginin’. had me hot n bothered all day at work. woof.”

That surprises a laugh out of you, and he joins you a little more robustly, having finally stopped moaning like a wanton. Not that you mind that at all. It’s just…

Oh, okay. His hands have already started roaming your body, and it’s very nice to have this without any clothes on at all. Gooseflesh shivers across you in appreciation of his caresses, and he exhales in amused fascination watching it come and go. You roll onto your back as he presses forward a little, and he sets the socket of his left eye against your right so you can see how big and fuzzy the light in it remains.

“you gonna let me try an pay ya back for how good it was? don’t even got words for how good. luckily you were there,” he chuckles quietly. When his hard, flexible palm runs over your chest sensuously, he goes right back to moaning when your hand quickly comes up and covers his, presses it suggestively.

“speakin a lucky,” he whispers dryly, pressing his face to the pillow beside your head.

“Will you take my soul out?” you whisper harshly, agitated. You want...something.

“you sure?” he pants a little roughly, leans up to look at you.

Please.”

The groan as your soul slips from you this time isn’t so soft. It’s desperate. Sans sounds like all the air’s getting pressed out of him somehow, although his ribcage still doesn’t move.

“sorry,” he whispers quietly. “lemme-”

He cuts off as you start to press his hand toward you.

“hey.” You stop. His voice isn’t corrective, it’s compassionate. “this doesn’t work like that, ok?”

You breathe heavily in frustration, but you see the fear blooming in you. He can see it, too, and you both watch it change to something else without actually going anywhere. His hand moves down your arm, satin-steel fingertips caressing lightly. “it's not me you need to be asking. do it like i do.”

You pant a little but don’t move. He puts his face back in your neck, the pillow.

“i won’t look. s’okay. i still feel it.” The hand under the back of your neck caresses you a little, and his femur’s thrown over your leg. The fingertips brush your forearm again, then move to your belly.

You touch yourself hungrily, but it's not what you wanted to hear. You have your answer but it doesn’t calm you.

“I’m not ready,” you whisper.

He leans up just enough to see your face.

“Look,” you say tightly.

He does. It’s very complicated, but he’s good at complicated. It’s also very simple when seen from the outside.

“yeah,” he says, the points in his pained sockets fuzzing back out. He looks from your soul to your face, and they contract and focus. “me too,” he pants with an unaccustomed urgency. "yeah?"

Your soul slips back where it goes, and your arms reach for him carefully, insistently. He lifts his chin and offers you the bones in his neck, and it’s almost too much. You shove your tongue at his vertebrae as he pushes your legs apart, growl frantically as his fingers shove into you roughly. One more push and you’re already climaxing, and your teeth set very carefully against bone that could break them. Could break each other.

“don’t stop,” he gasps, and he doesn’t either. He gives you even more. You pull back, pull him up but only so you can start on his collarbone. You taste him again, the tingle that dissipates somewhere into your flesh. You set the arch of your foot carefully on his iliac crest and tilt your hips; eased, but not too easy.

“i still feel it,” he groans as your mouth finds the small gap between his first rib and clavicle. “gonna feel it for days,” he chokes as you tongue fuck him sloppily. You pull it out as you lose control and climax again, staring down into his impossible body while you hold your breath, then throw your head back with eyes screwed shut to give voice to a desperate wail. Your limbs are shaking a little but he still doesn’t stop; he grabs your leg and pulls it over his shoulder, shoves his body forward to fold you in half. His forehead touches yours, and you open your eyes to impossible galaxies in timeless darkness, and he’s all that you see. He’s all that you feel.

“you can do it,” he whispers tightly. “one more. give me one more,” and you feel his breath explode raggedly against your lips. You suck his words in greedily while he makes you forget there’s ever been anything but this. He twists his wrist, and you can’t think anymore, only feel, and take. He pushes his weight into you, and your arms pull him closer, wrists against his shoulderblades. You want him closer. He beckons you in return, and you give him what he asked for. White noise and white heat drown you; you don’t hear what sound you make.

Your leg falls off his small, hard shoulder and you yelp as he slips out, shudder as your legs come back together. He lies down on top of you, legs sprawled out to either side and breathing almost as heavily as you are.

It’s nice.

“You’re really good at that,” you grunt under his weight sometime after your senses return to you. Control of your limbs, not quite. You’re exactly as floppy as you hoped you’d be. Everyone’s nice and loose now. Everyone’s gonna feel it for a few days.

“likewise,” he sighs.

You feel like you could really quibble about that equivalency if you wanted to, but you decide not to. Instead, you frown a little at his ceiling and notice a few textural inconsistencies that seem to regular to you to be accidental. Sans finally leans up and falls on his side next to you heavily, and when you glance down at yourself you can’t help laughing.

“that’ll leave a mark,” you wheeze, and when his sockets open suspiciously, he looks down and sees where his ribcage left little dents in your skin. He touches one hesitantly with a distal phalanx, glances at you.

“that hurt or anything?”

You grin sleepily. “Not at all. Nothing hurts. Just...feels...” You try to think about where you’re going with that sentence. Huh.

“Lingering,” you try.

“huh,” he replies, face smoothening. You manage to turn on your side towards him, get nice and tangled up together again. He caresses your face with his a little bit.

“i might be gone when you wake up, depending. gotta work,” he sighs regretfully.

“Yeah,” you answer simply, since he’s already told you as much. Nothing for two whole days, he’d said, which makes you smile more when you think about his hot dog stand. “How many jobs do you have?” you ask, smiling.

“eh. depends on the day,” he muses, sounding half asleep already. “might be busy for a lil bit this time.”

“We kind of have somewhere we should be right now,” you point out, and he opens one socket, eye light focusing in confusion.

“oh yeah,” he grins, and when you close your eyes pointedly, you feel a slight displacement of air. You’re back in your bedroom when you open them again. The lamp’s still on. It’s been on for days.

You don’t let him go to turn it off, and you also don’t bother to point out that he forgot both of your clothes.

You just relax and let yourself drift off to sleep.

Chapter Text

“The glass is beautiful,” you sign to Frisk in awe. “It looks very old.”

“The palace here is where the barrier was the thinnest,” they reply. “Light would come through, just enough so that you could see light coming in through the windows when you were in here, too. Not bright, just enough to see by. Not like the throne room. You could grow flowers there. Not here.”

You’d finally texted Frisk and let them know you were ready to give them your advice. They knew what you meant. For some reason they’d insisted on taking a trip to UnderEbott, and since you’ve never been here before, you agreed. It actually isn’t too terribly far from where you live, maybe half an hour longer than Alphys and Undyne’s house, all the way to the mountain itself and then, of course, under it.

The entrance they’d led you to is through the palace in New Home, and you hadn’t gone much further until you’d hit this... passageway? Chapel? No one lives here anymore, of course, but the building functions as a sort of state hub, if context and what little information there is available can be extrapolated upon. A government building, maybe? It certainly is grand, and surprisingly tasteful in a lot of ways. The windows here have the Delta Rune emblazoned in warm yellow glass, giving the entire hall an otherwordly yet almost comforting glow. It must be much brighter now than when Frisk is talking about, since most of UnderEbbot is now as riddled with entrances and portals to the surface as a slice of swiss cheese.

Well, whatever reason they’d chosen this odd venue for discussion isn’t likely to change what you have to say, so you just begin.

“I realize now that I couldn’t tell you what I think because you needed to give me more information. But I had to heal from what happened before I could be… able to hear it. Without getting hurt more.”

Frisk nods carefully.

“I just have...one question.” You glance to the side, then back at Frisk’s impassive face. “I mean, before all that.” You take a deep, bracing breath.

“What did I say to you before you made it unhappen?”

Frisk stares at you for a long time, and you wonder if you need to be more specific. But no, they know exactly what you’re talking about. They’re thinking.

“What if telling you hurts you again?” they say instead.

“I don’t actually remember the rest of what you told me,” you answer slowly. “I only know that you did. Which I know because… Sans told me. But I ended up remembering that I said something to you, that maybe even made you...do that. So we didn’t die. That memory came from me, like I gave it back to myself, somehow.” And it had, during one of your post-Vulkin-hug sessions. Maybe that’s why you’re here now.

“You asked me if I could accept our deaths, that it could just...end there. How did I answer your question? I want to know.”

Frisk looks at you for a long time, and just when you think they’re not going to say at all, they do.

“You didn’t answer my question,” they sign decisively.

You blink. “What did I say?” you ask for the final time.

“You told me you loved me,” Frisk signs, and they seem confused. “You smiled.”

You mouth falls open slightly. “But I didn’t even really know you.”

“I know,” they reply, seeming just as nonplussed as you are. “I guess that’s why. Maybe I just couldn’t let the mystery go, and it just sort of happened.” For some reason, Frisk isn’t telling you the truth. But they continue anyways. “That used to happen here, too. Using this ability is what allowed me to...that allowed the barrier to be destroyed.” They frown a little. “There are still a lot of things I can’t tell you. That humans will never know. But here is what I do think you should know.”

They sigh, take a moment. Then they begin.

“Humans don’t actually have magic. They never did. What they do have are souls, and the ability to affect magic with them. It’s complicated, because everything about humans is physical except their souls, while monsters’ bodies are mostly made of magic. There’s not a lot of physical stuff to them, but there is some. You can...see it when they...die. They can do magic, because they are magic. Magic and souls are the...same, in a way. Monsters souls and their bodies aren’t as separate as ours are.”

“Human souls are stronger than monster souls, by a lot. That’s part of what I’m not sure humans should know about, because although it doesn’t matter for most things, they also work differently as well as looking different.” They press their lips together as they notice you may have already known some of those things, but they don’t seem annoyed. You try very hard to not think about why you know some of those things already, and manage it. Almost.

“But you can’t actually give your advice if you have no idea what the implications might be, right?”

You nod, and they continue.

“I thought human souls had been fine even though monsters and their magic had been sealed away completely for so long, but I think I might have been wrong. We were never fine. But they weren’t fine when the monsters were here a long time ago, and we’re not fine now, either. That’s hard to accept.”

They give you a long, hard look, and seem to change the subject yet again.

“You know that Sans is...vulnerable, right?”

“I know he can be hurt very easily, and that he needs healing and rest more often than his brother, but I don’t understand how or why,” you answer honestly.

“I don’t actually know that either,” Frisk adds. “But...I want to tell you something that no other human can know. And should never know. But you have to promise that you won’t tell anyone, no matter how much you trust them.”

“No,” you sign calmly.

The impassive yet hard expression drains right out of Frisk’s features.

“What?” you think they sign, but the gesture’s not even that specific.

“I don’t promise,” you clarify. “If what you tell me is that important, I’ll do whatever I should do. And if you need a promise like that, you shouldn’t tell me,” you finish. You really don’t know why they look so shocked, but they stare at you that way for a long time.

“I was right to trust you,” they sign eventually.

You shrug, shake your head. You don’t know why you stating the obvious surprises them so much, or why it makes them trust you, but you’re willing to accept they mean it.

“Human souls affect magic, which means they affect monsters. Their bodies,” they add unnecessarily, and your face gets really hot all of a sudden. Wow, this sure is uncomfortable.

“I don’t want to know why you look like that,” Frisk says, also seeming extraordinarily uncomfortable. “so, all I’m going to say is that your intentions matter when humans physically interact with monsters, in a way they don’t with other humans,” and yeah, now you’re definitely purple, and Frisk looks ready for a round of autodefenestration, so they stop talking. Look at the floor with raised eyebrows and huff a sigh.

“Okay. So, not a lot of people know what I can do,” they start again, and after a minute look back at you. Your face is less purple now, so that’s good. And yeah you pretty much figured. “More like almost no one. It’s much better that way. You know because you were affected by it in a way that I couldn’t predict, and that shouldn’t have really been possible. Otherwise, only Sans and Papyrus know.” Frisk uses their name signs: the chest gesture for Papyrus, and a sign that motions like ‘smile’ but has the finger position for ‘bones’ they use sometimes for Sans. His name’s so easy to fingerspell they usually just do that. But something else about what they said seems off otherwise, and you’re not sure why.

“Your mother doesn’t know?” you ask hesitantly, but you don’t really think that’s it. You shift a little, since your hip is bothering you today. If it gets bad, you have meds and a small water bottle with you.

“No,” they sign, face unreadable.

“Anyway,” they continue, “the fact that you were able to...do what you did to yourself, was very...upsetting. For more than the obvious reason. There are ways monsters and humans can affect each other-” they rush that part out, “-that can be dangerous, very dangerous. For a long time I believed there was no way those things could happen by accident, especially if humans didn’t know they were possible. Intentions matter,” they elaborate again, not looking at you but speaking anyway.

“What happened to you made me realize that I don’t actually know that, because what you did...happened by accident. At least, we had no reason to believe anything was wrong with you, that it could affect you that way...except Sans, maybe. But more importantly, you didn’t know what was wrong with you, you didn’t know anything about souls,” they do cut their eyes at you on this part, “literally anything, and you still did that.”

“Would I have died from that? From-”

tore yourself apart right there in the dining room

“-what I did?” you finish shakily.

“I have no idea,” Frisk signs, looking sick. “And Papyrus won’t talk about it.”

You’ve met him. You believe it.

This is why you don’t ask questions so much of the time, even when you probably should. Certainly when most people would. You try not to ask them of yourself when you can help it. Because once you start, you really can’t stop. No matter how much you want to.

No matter how much it hurts.

“Why are there so many things only Sans knows? Why are there so many things he can do, that only he can do? Why is he the, the way he is? How is he possible?” You fire off, hands flicking and slashing.

Frisk holds up their hands, finally stilling yours. They shut their eyes for a long moment, then begin to talk although you’re not sure if they’re answering what you asked.

“The day I came to the underground is the day the barrier was destroyed,” they begin as if they’re choosing their words very, very carefully. “But Sans knows it took much, much longer than that.”

They take a deep breath.

“He also knows the monsters were underground for much longer than...” they sigh, cut off. Close their eyes again. “I was using my ability to create the...” they look very weird for a second. “...best possible outcome,” they flick out quickly, then continue at a normal pace. ASL takes longer than speaking English, but they always manage a fair clip. It’s like they didn’t want you to entirely understand what they were saying.

“Sans was able to become aware of what was happening, because he knows where things are. He has to be thinking about it but he knows. He understands space.”

“Outer space?” you sign, confused as all hell.

“No,” they correct gently, looking like they’re thinking very hard. “s-p-a-c-e-t-i-m-e,” they fingerspell. “My ability creates an anomaly. A...” wow, they might be sweating. “He can’t see time, but he can sort of perceive the space where space...isn’t. That’s time,” Frisk adds, “and when I move it around, he can perceive it to some degree when he thinks about it because they’re not separate. He says, ‘c-o-n-t-i-n-u-u-m.’”

“like a missing tooth,” Sans says as he walks out from behind a column. Frisk can definitely hear him, you can tell, even though they don’t actually look surprised. “not that i’d know anything about what that feels like, right?”

You don’t know why, but you’re not surprised to see him either. He doesn’t seem any particular way, not happy, not sad. He doesn’t look at you, though.

“why did you bring them here?” he continues mildly as he shuffles forward, hands in his pockets.

Frisk turns toward him, and must have said something because Sans is replying.

“might be right. for some reason, i don’t like this place much. wonder why.”

You’re not sure you want to know what Frisk is saying, but you walk around anyways so you can watch them both from the side. They don’t look at you. Only each other.

“Do your job,” Frisk signs simply, and then sits down cross-legged on the floor. Sans approaches them and you see he’s taller than Frisk sitting, but not by as much as you’d think.

“y’know i can’t tell you what you should do,” Sans says in the same casual tone. “can’t even tell ya...well. you know.”

Frisk just waits.

Sans finally moves his eye lights to look at you, and they seem smaller, harder than usual. They go back to Frisk sitting in front of him only a few feet away.

“you sure do like taking away people’s choices, huh?”

“How can I take them away if you don’t make any?” Frisk shoots back this time.

Sans closes his sockets, and to your surprise his hands come out of his pockets to shape words you don’t know, but understand anyways.

“The choice not to choose is a choice. A decision. To do nothing is to also make a decision,” he signs in what he believes might be his native language. It feels like the air pressure is changing, but not the same as an encounter. This is something else. In some ways it almost feels familiar to you, although it’s not affecting you. You don’t know why you know that.

“Knowledge without a vessel does not exist. The vessel shapes the knowledge. Take a moment to think about this.”

His hands freeze in the shape of the last words he spoke, then he becomes preternaturally still, neither moves nor breathes. After several excruciatingly long minutes, Frisk begins to weep silently.

“Now you realize how little it matters,” he continues as if he’d never paused. Then he opens his eyes, puts his hands back into his pockets. He looks a little sad, maybe.

“toldja it wouldn’t help,” he says, shrugging a little but not indifferently. Uncomfortably, maybe. “think a lil smaller next time.”

Frisk’s silence breaks in a tiny sob.

“It helped,” they sign miserably. Sans looks moderately disturbed by this. “I hate you,” they add viscerally, and your heart gives a shocked thud. Sans’s face and posture soften considerably, and his sockets droop. He walks forward and tucks Frisk’s head into his side, presses a bony, mittened hand to the top of their head.

“why don’t we go see your mom.”

He looks at you a little sadly, and when he keeps looking, you turn around.

“be right back,” he adds.

You don’t look back behind you, but instead go toward one of the stained glass windows. You thought you’d be able to see out of them, since some of the panes are longer and clear, but for some reason you can’t. The light looks very mellow, somehow soothing.

You wish you could stop asking so many questions all the time.

Still, when you hear Sans shuffle up behind you and take your hand, you don’t close your eyes.

“How many jobs do you have?” you ask quietly.

He sighs very heavily.

“depends on the day,” he repeats sadly.

You tear your eyes away from the window and look at him, and he meets your eyes. He looks tired. Not as tired as you’ve seen him look before, but still tired. You wonder where your sister is right now.

“don’t ask me stuff like that,” he says very, very quietly.

“Why don’t we go both do something that doesn’t matter the slightest bit for a little while?” you ask instead, and for some baffling reason that makes him look even more tired.

everything matters,” he states hollowly, and then his eye lights dart at the window. Their presence and appearance is unaffected by the light shining in through the window, that should shine into his sockets, the inside of his skull, but doesn’t.

“and anything you n me do together matters more than this shit,” he whispers.

You close your eyes.

***

It’s not the movement that wakes you so much as the odd, crackling tones hissing out of Sans’s grin, which seems more like a rictus now that you’ve blinked the blurriness from your eyes. The light from the lamp you always leave on when Sans is here shows you why. He’s not actually moving that much, after all, but rather has curled himself into a very tight and bony ball, and shivering heavily, if intermittently. It looks like he’s trying to shove his fists, which are surprisingly small when collapsed in on themselves a certain way, under his chin and right through the space in his mandible, up against his hard palate.

There’s about a half an inch of space between the top and bottom of his eye sockets, but there’s only darkness in them as far as you can tell. You’re not sure if it’s the sounds he’s making or the weird vibe coming off him, almost cold without actually having a temperature, that reminds you of the night terrors your sister had had for almost two years after your mom had died.

That’s why you don’t touch him, and certainly don’t try and wake him. That can work with nightmares, but not these. That just makes these worse. You watch for a minute trying to gauge if this is a passing thing, or if it’s a full episode. You don’t actually know what happens when someone who is and can do magic has nightmares or sleepwalks, much less this kind of disturbance. Once that occurs to you, you take your phone and head downstairs.

 

You: Sans is having a bad dream

 

You fill a glass of water and take a sip, and that’s how long it is before you feel your phone buzz with the answer you pretty much already know.

 

paps: DON’T WAKE HIM. I WILL BE RIGHT OVER.

 

Yeah. You figured. However, less than three minutes later your door opens despite the fact that you’d certainly locked it. You don’t hear a car.

“MY WIND SPRINTS ARE UNPARALLELED,” Papyrus comments disinterestedly as he power-walks past you and heads up the stairs three at a time with impossibly long legs. You hadn’t asked, but okay.

You go to the couch and lean against the back, staring sightlessly into your dark living room. You don’t hear anything until Papyrus’s light step descending the stairs some time later. When you turn, you see that he’s carrying something that looks suspiciously like the entire comforter, sheets, and duvet from your bed, wadded up into a surprisingly large and dense-seeming bundle. Despite this, he shifts it easily to one arm, takes the remote off your coffee table and sits down on your couch. He moves the bundle to his lap, and he can still see over it despite its size.

Your stay where you are. He leaves the captions on the TV since you have them set by default now.

“Is it dangerous?” you ask a little hesitantly.

Papyrus doesn’t look at you, but tilts his head at the television. “WATCHING TOO MUCH TV CAN BE HARMFUL, YES.”

He stays silent for another five minutes, so you realize you already got as much answer as you’re getting. What had you meant, anyways? Dangerous to you, or to Sans? To Papyrus? To humanity?

Eventually it occurs to you he also might just not know.

“THINKING TOO MUCH CAN ALSO BE HARMFUL. I READ AN ARTICLE ONLINE ABOUT THE EFFECTS OF STRESS ON HUMAN INTERNAL ORGANS, AND IT’S NOT GOOD. THAT’S WHAT IT SAID. ‘NOT GOOD’.”

You sigh.

“Do you need anything?”

“THANK YOU FOR YOUR GRACIOUS QUESTIONS. I DO NOT REQUIRE ANYTHING AT THIS TIME.”

That’s still a bit uncharacteristic for him, but you let it pass. Maybe he’s just feeling extra polite tonight. Papyrus shows no signs of getting up and carrying his brother back home this way, despite you being quite certain he’s capable of doing just that if he chose. Looks like he’s pretty much taking root there. The blanket ball is still, but every once in awhile you hear a tiny noise you can’t quite make out.

“Are you doing healing?” you ask after a minute.

“NO,” he answers after longer.

“Do you need me to, um. Let Frisk know where you are?” you try.

Papyrus’s face is unreadable.

“FRISK IS WITH QUEEN TORIEL. THEY WILL BE THERE FOR TWO MORE WEEKS.”

Oh, dear. You ruminate on that and drink a little more water.

“You’re angry with them.” It’s not a question.

“YOU SHOULDN’T BELIEVE THE HARMFUL STEREOTYPES ABOUT SKELETONS YOU MIGHT SEE IN NON-METTATON-DIRECTED MEDIA. THE ONLY THING THAT MAKES THESE BONES SHAKE WITH RAGE IS SOAKED SOCKS SLOPPILY SHUFFLED INTO MY SPECIALITY SERVIETTES.” He still looks only at the TV as his arms tighten slightly, the lights playing across his matte white, oddly expressionless features.

“I WON’T EVEN TELL YOU WHAT THEY’RE SOAKED WITH, BUT I ASSURE YOU IT’S UNSANITARY. BROTHERS ARE A LOT OF TROUBLE, AFTER ALL. THEY’RE ALWAYS DISAPPEARING OR NAPPING, DISAPPEARING IN ORDER TO BE NAPPING, WRITING DECEPTIVE IF WELL-INTENTIONED NOTES AND LEAVING THEM IN VERY CONVENIENT AREAS, MAKING TERRIBLE JOKES AT THE EXPENSE OF ABSOLUTELY NO ONE, CONSTANTLY EMITTING SLIME, SLACKING OFF AT WORK, OR NAPPING TO PROCRASTINATE SLACKING OFF AT WORK, OR...”

Papyrus’s teeth stay parted for a moment.

“THAT’S JUST WHAT BROTHERS DO.”

You finish your water and go back upstairs, and you see that your bed’s entirely stripped. The fitted sheet and everything.

You go over to your studio-room, where you’d spent the remainder of the shitty day working on your latest painting and Sans had just laid on the bed in there reading comics or whatever. He’d lost music-choosing privileges for a week after the hourlong cartoon splat noises incident, so you just put on some band your sister keeps recommending to you. Both of you had felt indifferently about it. The pillow and blankets are still there, and you grab them and head back downstairs.

You lay down on the couch, near but not touching Papyrus, and gauge him carefully. He’s just watching his programs, of course. You face the tv, and you can read sideways but you’re not really following this anyways. It looks like some kind of art film, and...yep, there’s Mettaton. After ten minutes, you glance back and see that his shoulders are an inch lower than they had been. You sigh, close your eyes, and let yourself drift off.

In the morning Sans is at work when you wake, but Papyrus is here and offering you coffee while insisting that the weather is exactly correct today for shopping for home décor. His car’s here now. The wine-colored bed in a bag set you choose reminds you of the outfit he’d worn when he’d scraped you off your own floor that time, and you tell him that’s why because it’s true. He gets pink, and pays for the set, extra pillows and pillowcases, as well as several not-entirely-practical throw pillows.

You don’t ask what happened to yours.

Chapter Text

Sans stares into his untouched plate of fries like it’s a final exam. That feels familiar, somehow.

“me n paps used to stay at tori’s,” he says eventually. “lived there. like a family, i guess,” he adds.

You sigh, eat one of his fries. The booth at Grillby’s must be his favorite, since it’s the same one you always sit at, unless it’s at the bar.

“You still are. And I pretty much figured, yeah,” you comment into his silence, and the points in his sockets dart up at you.

got used to tori’s swear jar, i guess. the kid n’ all.

“I’m not perceptive the way you are,” you add, trying to think about it a little. “Or at least, I doubt it. It works more like...”

s’just...you look like tori when you make that face.

“Pattern recognition,” you say slowly. “Stuff you say, and when you say it.”

why don’t we go see your mom.

“And I already said you’re much easier for me to read than humans are. I think that’s just getting more true, probably for obvious reasons.”

He looks thoughtful.

“But I still can’t tell a longing look from a hole in the wall,” you continue wryly. “Maybe it’s really just the fact that you’re literally the only person who calls her that.”

Oops. He looks a little iridescent now. Maybe you’re wrong.

“I’m not bothered about it,” you sigh sympathetically. “And I’m not going to ask you a bunch of questions about why you don’t stay there anymore, or what happened, or...” you pause. “Although I have to say it does make me very intrigued about what’s lurking under the surface. She must really let loose sometimes,” and oops, you just made it worse. Well, you’re trying.

“haven’t really been avoiding you,” he says after a few more minutes, during which you eat more of his fries.

He has, actually, but you’re here with him now and he’s trying to tell you something important.

You’re both trying. It’s nice.

It’s almost time for Frisk to come back home, or ‘home’, or whatever it is. Split household or something, though Frisk’s an adult, not that that even makes a difference even in most human cultures. Hell, if you’re being expansively accurate, Sans actually lives here, too.

You and Sans still talk every day, but he hasn’t been over. He just needed some time and space, and your mouth quirks wry and hard when you think of it that way. You’d learned things from Frisk that Sans probably had wanted either not to tell you, or maybe just to tell you himself. But he hasn’t asked you what they are, or what you think about it.

But it’s not like you ever have to struggle to find things to talk about with him, and it seems to be mutual. You know what his brother’s been up to (another painting, although apparently his sparring partner remains a secret for now), that Frisk is doing fine over at Toriel’s, and that they’ve spoken to each other. You’ve been giving more lectures than usual at work, and it’s making you feel invigorated and worn out at the same time (apparently he can relate to that, who knew). Nattie broke a bone in their foot jumping off a slide and asked you a bunch of questions about bones and Sans, most of which you could answer and several you couldn’t, which was a nice change of pace.

Speaking of which…

“Why don’t we try this,” you say aloud. Grillby goes in the back, and the only other patron here is of course Lola, in her customary spot, doing her customary...customering. It’s early yet, but not too early.

“I’ll tell you what I think is going on, and then you can decide whether or not to tell me if I’m right?”

His face softens considerably at that.

“So, what I think happened...” you’ve had time and space to think about all of this yourself, and to separate out the supreme weirdness of it all into what’s really important. Prioritizing it, maybe.

“...is that Frisk took me to that place to try and strongarm you into doing something you’d already said you wouldn’t a bunch of times.”

toldja it wouldn’t help.

“You knew Frisk wasn’t going to hurt me or anything, but you came anyways because it pissed you off, and because you didn’t know what they might be...telling me, maybe. I don’t know. Once you got there, Frisk continued to piss you off by invoking an argument you’ve been having for... probably as long as you’ve been part of each other’s lives. You took the bait and provided the other half of that argument, and they got you to do exactly what they wanted by hurting you.”

The plate of fries must be very surprising. Maybe you should stop eating them, since they’re disappearing at an alarming rate as he joins you.

“The most common type of codependent relationship is actually between parents and children,” you continue, and realize this is starting to sound like a lecture. You do you best to soften it. “When you have a bunch of weird, super messed-up secrets and only one other person knows, you rely on them for everything having to do with those secrets sometimes. And because they’re the only other one who really knows, they’re also the only one you can take it out on. I think part of the reason you told Frisk you wouldn’t do whatever that was, is because you knew it could probably hurt them. Or they don’t...like it, for some reason.”

You pause.

“You’re not actually some kind of oracle, right?” you ask hesitantly.

He looks up and meets your eyes evenly.

“absofuckinglutely not.”

You nod. “So that’s why it didn’t work, but it freaked you out when Frisk said it helped. Because it shouldn’t have done anything, because you don’t...provide information.”

“no,” he says, looking down. It surprises you that he’s providing information now. “only you can ask yourself the questions, and only you can find the answers. even though it’s somethin’ you already knew. justification ain’t-”

He eats another fry, then actually looks up at you again.

“only you know what you did.” He looks to the side. “an’ me, i guess.”

You redirect your thoughts to your current priorities with a little more force than entirely necessary.

“What I wanted to tell you is that I’ve seen a variation of that scene play out in my office more times than I can count. Parents come in with their kids, they have a problem with something, maybe they’re too invested. Maybe it’s just a habit at this point, with them and their kids. They’re adults but they’re still kids. Everyone starts taking the bait, everyone screams ‘i hate you’, and everyone either calms down or storms out.”

You look at the fries, which have stopped disappearing again. They’re stubbornly silent. No answers there.

“But I guess there’s more to it than that, with you and Frisk, because of whatever the hell happened in the underground. I’m not asking you anything,” you clarify carefully, “and I don’t need you to tell me if I’m right or not. It’s only an option. But I think maybe you and Frisk got in the habit of hurting each other and that’s the kind that’s hardest to break. I see a lot of trying, but…”

Hmm. “My sister used to get those. Night terrors, or whatever. After our mom died.”

You look up, and his hands are over his open sockets, palms facing you and fingers relaxed. He’s pushed the bones of his palms together somehow so they actually obscure his eye lights.

“this’s exactly what i didn’t want ta happen,” he sighs quietly, and you taste cold.

“That’s the opposite of what I was getting at,” you reply in a small voice.

You think about asking how old he is, and realize that’s an extraordinarily bad idea.

“We both have baggage,” you say instead. “It’s a side effect of existing. This is not a unique situation.”

He’s quiet.

“You’re actually doing a lot better at this than I am,” you mention after another minute.

He takes his hands down, and looks at you in bafflement. You look at his hard, small eye lights.

“So we’re pretending that the overwhelming miasma that is my absolute mortal terror of intimacy isn’t behind us focusing on your problems in a vacuum? As if I didn’t pay you ten times what hot dogs are worth just for having the tact to back off slightly without triggering my fear of abandonment, too? Okay,” you sigh.

His teeth part a little.

“Even the way I’m talking to you right now is a defense mechanism,” you point out.

His teeth close. “you...can stop now,” he says hesitantly, then touches your fingertips on the table similarly.

“Thanks,” you sigh. “I don’t want to be each other’s therapists. I’d like to have a better time than that, at least.”

He exhales softly in something like amusement, and you almost smile. You do hold his hand properly, though, and notice the bones are back to being vaguely separate, table visible through the metacarpals again. You like holding his hand because it’s weird and cool.

“You’re weird and cool,” you say.

“you really think that, huh?” he says quietly. “heh. it’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.”

“No,” you exhale. “It just happened on its own. I don’t get paid for it or anything.”

“gotta have hobbies,” he sighs, some of the tension leaving him. “can i show you something?”

“Here?” you ask.

“my room,” he says, and now you're grinning.

“lemme just take care of this,” he mutters, and shimmies out of the booth. He busses the table himself again, and you wander behind him, watching him clear the plates and stack them neatly in the bin before pushing open the door to the back.

“heya, hot stuff,” he drawls at Grillby, who seems to be slicing up some tomatoes. The elemental leans to set the knife away carefully as Sans approaches, and you take the opportunity to go to the sink and actually wash your hands, which are covered in grease and salt.

You can’t hear his hissing and crackling over the tap, but Sans’s voice cuts through like always.

“yup. you were right.”

He laughs after a minute, and you see your own smile reflected in the stainless steel. You dry off your hands and turn around, just in time for the weirdest thing you think you’ve ever seen, and at this point that’s saying something.

Grillby’s glasses and clothing actually hang in the air while the fire he’s made of shoots into Sans’s left eye socket, then somehow...Sans is made of...or full of? fire...which then shoots back out and into the clothes before they actually go anywhere or hit the floor. It might’ve taken less than a second.

The dishtowel you’re drying your hands with does fall on the floor. You think your eyes might join it.

Sans’s easy, pleasant expression disappears when he turns back to look at you, and his eye lights contract to hard white points.

“uh,” he says eloquently.

A black plume of smoke makes him jump.

“grillby says, ‘force a habit’,” he says after a second. Apparently we’re using full names now.

“says, uh, can he talk to you?” Sans still looks more confused by your reaction than anything else. Also increasingly upset.

You pick up the dishtowel and set it on the counter.

“Um, yeah. Of course,” you add with a little more conviction.

It’s a hug.

You shut your mouth yet again.

Little skeletons have big mouths that can get them in trouble. Serves him right. I’d offer you one, too, but I’m pretty sure you need those bacteria.

Grillby looks like he’s smiling, despite not actually having facial features.

The last human I hugged had diarrhea for a month.

You’re laughing now, too, and you rub your forehead sheepishly.

“Sorry about that, it’s not that I...” you say after a long sigh. “You just scared the shit out of me, I think.”

Grillby turns to Sans

I get what you see in them.

and somehow manages to shudder disdainfully. Oh. ‘the shit out of you’. And here you weren’t even trying.

Sans is shaking his head at you in disbelieving pride. Like you’re the sun and he’s ready for fun. You shake your head at yourself a little, too.

“I might have to just start a probiotic yogurt collection,” you shrug.

Sans smiles and walks over, you shut your eyes and when you open them, you’re in his room.

You let go of his hand and lie down on the bed, not too carefully since you’re having a good day. He walks over to a pile and shoves his hand in, pulls out a piece of paper or something.

“Why’d it take you so long to find your shoes that time?” you ask, then wince a little. Well, whatever. Can’t unring that broom, either.

He just shrugs and wanders back, looking at whatever’s in his hand. Photo, maybe.

“how much time you like spending thinking bout where your shoes are?” he comments absently, then sits down next to you.

“I don’t,” you agree and set your chin lightly on his shoulder. It’s padded by the layers he’s wearing, but not enough to comfortably rest your whole weight there. It’s nice. You missed it.

The photo he’s holding has Frisk in the middle, but it’s a big group photo of what looks like the whole family, together. You’re pretty sure that’s Asgore in the back, too. It must have been taken soon after the barrier fell, but for some reason all the faces have been scratched out, except Frisk’s.

“i used to take this out an look at it every day,” he says quietly.

“Um,” you try, and take your chin off his shoulder. Wiggle a little and sit up regular style on your butt. “Why? It’s kind of...” You don’t want to say ‘creepy’.

“frisk did this,” he rumbles.

“Oh,” you say in a small voice.

“they don’t remember anything before us,” he continues quietly. “s’what they say. an I believe em, actually. You seen their, uh...” His finger clicks at his parietal.

“Yeah,” you answer. “They showed me at Grillby’s that time. They implied that’s why they’re deaf, and have trouble with other stuff maybe. I think they also were hinting someone did that to them. They were saying that...they were asking me if I would trust humanity with something as dangerous as their own souls or something, and asking me what they should do. That’s what we were talking about in the chapel thing when you showed up, then it all just sort of went to shit.”

His eye lights flicker and he looks at you.

“in the judgement hall?”

“Is that what it’s called?”

He looks back down and his face closes. “yup,” he answers shortly.

You try so hard. You really, really try.

“Is that what happened to the guy who tried to kill us?”

He’s quiet, and his eye lights are dim.

“Nevermind,” you whisper, and promise yourself again to do your best not to pry into things that might be wounds. It’s just hard.

“he’s sorry,” he says after a minute anyways, and you flush with regret. “lives in some place called ‘florida’ now.”

You suppose that’s punishment enough.

“speakin a which,” he adds a little awkwardly, “sorry bout your...bed stuff.”

“I don’t care about blankets,” you say earnestly. “I care if you’re okay or not. Are you?”

He looks into the distance. “dunno.” He darts his eyes at you, then continues. “s’not dangerous. I just….get...” now he looks like he’s thinking hard. “...sweaty,” he finishes bafflingly.

You’re trying to think of a response to that, but you realize you don’t know very much about what sort of bodily functions he has. He turns his head towards you finally, and although he doesn’t smile it seems like he wants to.

“s’not like, uh, human stuff. it’s all the same. whenever i get worked up in any sorta way, i just...” he makes a vague gesture.

You frown. “You leak... magic?”

“heh.” He doesn't look embarrassed or anything, but… “paps thinks it’s gross, but he thinks that about a lotta stuff. grease, socks, clouds, chickens, and...” he trails off. “n even if it is, s’not like i can do anything about it.”

“I don’t think it’s gross. I like it,” you reply. “It’s spicy.”

Oops. Maybe should have left off the last part, because now he looks iridescent. Sheesh. But you suppose the giant wad of blankets (and as you’d discovered, all your pillows as well) makes a little more sense now if Papyrus wanted under no circumstances to take the chance that could touch him.

“Does it evaporate?” you ask. “Wouldn’t it just...dry off?”

He gives you a look. “no? s’not water. not even...waterfall water.”

You think about the smell of oven cleaner. You suppose not, then.

“Does your brother get sweaty, too?”

Now he looks even weirder.

“this has gone in a very unexpected direction,” he mutters, looks back at the photo in his hands. Papyrus is there too, standing proudly with his brother and Frisk, face scratched out along with all the rest.

“Sorry,” you sigh, wincing a little. And here you promised yourself you’d start letting things go instead of shaking every new topic in your teeth like a dog with a rag.

“Were you worried that Frisk would try to hurt you, or...everyone?” You try to take it back to whatever it was about his photo he’s trying to explain to you. “I know the...time...thing. Unhappening. That hurts you too, right?”

He exhales, slow and long.

“i talk a big game bout getting in trouble. but there’s still lotsa stuff i really...can’t tell ya.”

“I always knew that,” you answer, hoping he understands you mean it. You really do.

“nah,” he says quietly, “s’like...it gets me in the habit of not askin you stuff maybe i should.”

You blink, baffled. Then you think about it for a minute.

“You mean, because you have to keep a bunch of secrets, you feel like you can’t...ask me stuff?”

He shrugs one shoulder, then his sockets change shape. He stands up a little abruptly, walks over and shove the photo back in the pile.

“s’enough a that for now.”

He comes back to the bed, sits down facing you and takes your hands in his. He watches his thumbs rub yours.

“you scared of me?”

“Uh...am I supposed to be?” you ask, a little alarmed.

He finally looks up at you, and wow. He’s really upset.

“Hey,” you say softly. “I’m pretty sure you were summoning bones and shit out of thin air like, the second time I ever met you,” you say quietly. “I am aware that magic does things.”

He just looks at you a little desperately.

“I’m also sort of aware that maybe you’re not like other monsters,” you add, squeezing his hands. “It’s not some kind of dealbreaker, if that’s what you’re worried about.” His face doesn’t change. “You really think I’m scared of you?” you add, a little on the high pitched side.

“lotta humans seem to be.” The points in his sockets are tiny and sharp. “s’depressing.”

“I guess it would be,” you reply sympathetically. “But, I just… I know you were having a rough night that time, but you told me I could basically obliterate you with a sucker punch. Are you scared of me?”

He looks to the side a little awkwardly, then back.

“might not be uh, exactly that easy, but yeah. i mean, no. ’m not scared of you.”

You exhale. “Frisk felt empowered to reiterate that with me, too. Pretty much everything Frisk told me was stuff you already did, except for the whole, I don’t know. Spatial awareness thing. They tried to tell me something else about monster bodies or something, but I didn’t really get it, and they wanted me to promise stuff I’m not willing to.”

The tops of his sockets lift a little at that.

“I kind of don’t care what it was,” you admit, and his flattened grin might’ve quirked a little. “Remember that stuff I said about not wanting adventures?” you add.

He nods a little sadly.

“I didn’t mean that sort of thing. That’s just family drama, which everyone has, and reactions to previous trauma, which honestly almost everyone also has including me, okay?”

He tilts his head a little at that. “seriously?”

You sigh heavily, squeeze his hands and lie back down. Hold out your arms a little demandingly. He barely hesitates before crawl-flopping over to you and wriggling your bodies together as close as possible. You stick your nose into his nasal cavity for good measure, and he huffs a slightly surprised and amused breath out around it. It makes your eyelashes tickle.

“Wait. Why don’t you smell like fries?” you ask, pulling your nose out and tilting your head back to look at him a little better.

“heh...” he trails off and looks to the side. Ohhh. Burned it off, then. Wowsers.

“Some like it hot,” you grin, but he looks shamefaced and you squeeze him. “I’m just kidding,” you whisper. “I miss your laugh. I’m sorry.”

“i seriously don’t freak you out?” he whispers, looking awfully vulnerable for some reason.

You scare me way less than just, I don’t know. Myself. Being alive. Existing at all in the first place,” you say with utmost sincerity.

“how do you make me believe you? especially when you say stuff like that?” he asks, eye lights fuzzing out.

You set your face against his, stare into his sockets. It soothes you. It’s like his painting. Your chest is touching his and you like it. Your leg’s all up in his business, and his is thrown over you but not in a sexy way. Just so you’re locked together like puzzle pieces. You missed this. It’s lovely.

“You’re the one doing that. The believing,” you reply. “Did I ever tell you how much I like being able to get right against your face and run my mouth at you at the same time? No meat in the way. I’m so fucking spoiled,” you sigh. “Not that I don’t wanna kiss you,” you add, then press your lips to his teeth. They feel warm.

“you gettin fresh with me?”

“Yeah,” you sigh happily. “I’ve been wearing pants for too long today anyways.”

“why you still got em on then?”

“I’d have to let you go to take them off,” you say in a funereal tone.

His warm chuckle almost makes you cry. Wow. You’re soft.

“I’m soft,” you sigh sadly.

You feel his fingers creep up the back of your shirt, rub a little circle between your shoulder blades.

“that a bad thing?” he asks quietly.

You turn your face a little, tuck it under his skull.

“I don’t know why I feel that way,” you say quietly into the pillow. Or, actually. It’s his blanket wad. You’re laying on it like it’s a pillow, though.

“you already told me,” he says in a wondering tone after a minute.

“Huh?” you mumble.

“that you’re scared. it’s okay to be scared of...that stuff. knowin’ people, people knowin’ you.”

You squeeze him a little tighter, and yeah. Now the tears come.

“It’s not, though,” you say thickly, face still hidden. You wiggle it forward more, and he just lays his skull on your head with a sigh. “I’m not okay with it. It keeps me from...doing things I want to do. Saying things I want to say.”

“but...” his breath does a funny thing, you don’t know what it means. “you...know i’d never try an get you to do anything you didn’t want to, right?” He sounds like he’s confident you do believe that, which makes you feel a little better. You nod so he can feel it. He exhales a little more normally.

“well, you shouldn’t force yourself to do anything, either. if it’s not in your nature.” He sounds oddly serious about that. Like he means what you think he does, and also something else. “it’s ok to be...how you are. nothing’s wrong about you. you’re good. a good...person.”

“You’re not the only one who can make problems for themself,” you say quietly.

“Hmm,” he says. Then, to your surprise, he untucks his hand from your shirt, leans up, and starts unbuttoning your jeans.

“Well...thanks?” you say, wiping your eyes and smiling a little as he pulls them off. You have some boxers on under, but you’re finally free. It’s funny how much it makes you actually relax.

He pushes the wad of blankets up against the end of the bed, the one that’s slightly less cattycorner to the wall. The triangle gap is fairly acute at the moment, but it’s still stuffed with...stuff. He shoves the blanket wad over til it’s almost like a chair, then leans back into it, and sort of against the wall. Takes his hoodie off, then holds his arms out. Spindly bones curl in; repeat the motion.

You crawl over, a little confused. He smiles at you encouragingly, then guides you to sit with your back to him, moves you a little until you’re settled so you can lie back against him comfortably. He curls his body in, wraps his arms around your middle, hugs you. Brings his legs in and hugs your legs, too. You shift a little, but he’s surprisingly comfortable. His floating ribs are small and generally mind their own business unless directly addressed. It also helps that the upper one’s actually fused at the end to the rib above it on both sides. You wonder if it has anything to do with his jaw, and if any of his other bones are similarly affected.

“how ya feeling right now?” he asks after a minute.

“Thinking about your bones,” you sigh.

He chuckles a little. “that’s thinking,” he points out.

You sigh regretfully. You know that.

“I...missed you. A lot.”

“me too,” he rumbles. “occurred to me that every time we get together, we’re bout to explode or something, right? not calm like now. not that it’s a problem, s’just...” he trails off, thinking. He squeezes you, then lets go to stroke your upper arms. It feels good, and you’re happy to be here. It’s nice to just let him hold you, to just...let. He trails his fingers down, picks up your hands to play with your fingers.

“remember that time you told me my eyes were like stars?” he says softly. You exhale, smile.

“Yeah.”

“m’ always tryin to think of something to say to you, to make you feel that way. but i’m not good at it. not good at… explaining.”

“But I do feel that way,” you protest mildly.

“hmm,” he says again, but he just plays with your fingers a little more, rubs one of your hands on the back of his. He likes how warm you are. Eventually, he continues.

“y’know when you said that thing bout, uh. ‘thought this is what monsters do?’”

You frown. “Yeah.”

You feel smooth teeth at your neck.

This is what monsters do.”

You blink, and think about what he’s saying. Really think about it. Then you do the mental equivalent of picking up the edge of a category you’d spun from your own expectations and experiences at some point, and carry it about five miles east. You do the same thing on the west, all the while receiving gentle squeezes and nuzzles from a very patient skeleton.

“You are a very patient skeleton,” you say.

For some reason, he finds this very amusing and huffs quietly into your neck for a bit. Then he sobers, and his arms tighten around you.

“i was so scared,” he whispers, and something in you breaks.

“scared to feel good. sounds like that shouldn’t make sense, right? but you understand.”

You feel a very intense pang. “Yeah,” you say after a minute.

“so you waited. even when i went to sleep, and you thought i might leave. yeah?”

You incline your head slightly, and you feel him let out a painful-sounding sigh.

“you were right about somethin else, too. didn’t want you to be.”

He wraps his arms around yours, then guides your hands to his sides. Presses your finger lightly at the cloth-covered gap between two ribs under his humerus, then holds your hands in his. Squeezes.

“it woulda been bad if we hadn’t done the way we did.” He seems like he’s going to say something else, but doesn’t. You don’t press. “you knew, and i didn’t. had the best time of my life instead. how’d you know?”

You try and ignore the pang, but it doesn’t go anywhere. It’s just….staying.

“I know you,” you reply, throat tight.

“yeah,” he sighs, and your feel the press of his teeth. His bone thumb rubs your knuckles gently.

“Why am I so scared?” you ask plaintively.

He exhales slowly.

“not me you should be askin,” he breathes against you.

A few slow tears happen, and your breath hitches. He just holds you until it passes.

“Will you help me?” you whisper softly once it does.

“yeah,” he replies. You move his hand to your chest, and he presses lightly, does whatever he does that makes it gather itself. His fingers draw back gracefully, and you exhale slowly instead of making a noise. You lean your head back against his skull a little, and bring your hand up underneath. He shudders a little, squeezes you around the middle. Legs, too.

You know he’s gazing over your shoulder into your deep blue self. It’s interesting how you can see like this, it’s not like anything’s a different color. You can’t lie to yourself, and you can’t lie to him. You both watch it happen, slowly but steadily. You shed a few more tears, and you feel his magic on your neck, deeper than skin. The resonance you always feel when you’re touching him is increasing slowly against your back. It just makes you even more aware of him.

His breath breaks into a quiet sob as your fingers touch the ethereal blue shape in front of you. You coax it forward, look at it.

You can see now why he might have thought you were afraid of him, the way seeing that fear would fit itself into whatever shapes in him seeing fear in others had already created.

And you've looked at it so many times now. Touched yourself; gotten in touch with yourself. You know why you’re this way, and it really is okay. You still know how you feel.

“it’s so strong,” Sans says tightly, and he’s weeping in earnest now. “’m sorry it scared you. scared me, too.”

Fear is not stronger than you. It can’t keep you from doing what you want, and saying what you want to say, because you know yourself. You know what you want and how you feel.

“I want you to know how I feel,” you murmur quietly. “I want you to know me.”

 

 

Chapter Text

A deep, sincere voice impossibly generated without lips, throat or tongue answers you with a question.

“can i touch your soul?”

Instead of breaking the unoccupied hands you'd linked together, you leave your soul on its own for just long enough to find his hard, inhuman fingers and hold them the way he’d held yours before. The fear you’d felt has become an essential and precursory component of something else. Something necessary for you to take this step; something you’d both nurtured and cultivated to get you to this point.

Trust, you think as you bend his fingers in toward you.

The moment Sans touches your soul is like the infinitely potent distillation of every surprised chuckle you’ve won from him; the indescribable tenderness you’d felt when he sang to Frisk; the gentle, clean joy you’d seen break through existential exhaustion while he watched his brother dance; his unflagging embrace as you screamed your voice to nonexistence in grief; the eager greetings of the friends he’d kept alive through timeless imprisonment by making them feel seen; the endless starlit space in his eyes; his eyes; his eyes.

You move your fingers from the back of his, reach down and just put your hands on his femurs.

Love. Hope. Compassion. You feel him. You want him to know.

You can feel how those things are part of him, inherent to his existence. That doesn’t make what he feels for you any less special. There’s so much more, too, and he gives you that as well. You don’t like thinking about why exactly his fears and faults are so familiar and understood, but you want him to know that you do understand. That it doesn’t frighten you. He soothes you; he always has. His face doesn’t stress you out and his problems don’t break you. He makes you happy in ways you didn’t know you could be, like limbs you’ve been to afraid to stretch, to reach with. But now you’re reaching for him with them, and it feels good.

Time spent with him feels more real, feels fastened into place in a way that can never be unmoored. There are still so many spaces inside you you’d never known existed until he poured into them like warm honey, brimming you with indescribable sweetness until it overflowed from you back into him.

You’d been lonely in ways you’d never even realized.

You want to give him so much of you, give him everything… not only because of what he’d offered you. But because he’d shown you how to receive what he wanted to give you. To accept what he gives you and savor it. Pleasure, comfort, admiration, support….love. He shows you how to let him love you, because his love is so white with hope, so compassionate, so patient and just that it burns away shame and fear.

There’s something about him that just feels right. It works, it fits, it suits. Compatible. That’s what he’d said, but the feeling is much more. He’s not rifling through you like a drawer, looking for something in particular. He’s just letting you show him how you feel. How you feel about him, how he makes you feel.

With his presence inside you, all you have room for is the way he makes you feel. They way you feel when you look at him. How good he makes you feel, and how much...you want him. You want him, your soul wants him, and your body wants him, too. Your body.

Sans’s arm tightens a little around your midriff, and he sucks in a shuddering breath.

He knows how this makes you feel. He’s touching you, and you feel him, and he...knows you. Knows what this is.

This is how it feels for you. You want him to know.

His breathing goes ragged suddenly, and you feel his body shake. The light clacking noise his body makes feels like it pushes from his chest through your back and keeps going, and you feel his fingers sink a little further into your soul.

He presses his face into the side of your neck, whispers, “i can feel it. why can i feel it?”

You don’t know, but you hope he likes it. You only want to do things he likes.

“it’s not like mine,” he adds hoarsely. “it...hurts?”

Oh. You freeze, then concern and understanding floods you, washes into him. Maybe it’s time to stop.

“but i...don’t want to?” He pants a little. “or, i do want… something?” Oh.

It’s the way your body works. When it wants something very badly, it tries to tell you that not giving it that is causing harm. You watch carefully, try and think about what this feeling looks like in your soul. It’s very, very strong, and that can be alarming, but it’s just a little trick your body plays on you; if it bothers him you can always do something else now and save this for later.

“but if you do it...” he says tightly, “it feels good, right?”

It does. Maybe it’s just the wanting that feels bad to him, and you know how to make that part both better and worse at the same time. It’s a lot less gentle and calm than what you’re already doing is, but if he wants to see how it feels, you can show him. And it’s probably better if you show him. You trail your hand down the front of your body, stick your hand down your shorts and touch between your legs a little. So lightly.

Sans shakes like a leaf in the wind. “can you do that some more?”

Of course you can. It simultaneously relieves the wanting and replaces it with twice as much desire. The more you do it, the more you want it. It’s ceaselessly expanding.

You stop for a second, and Sans gasps and flinches. Oh, dear. It still doesn’t hurt, it’s just… wanting. That’s all it is, and you stubbornly let the feeling flood you long enough to turn sweet, lingering and full.

“oh,” he breathes in understanding. You feel very aware of the place he blends into you when he says that. Something sensitive, active. “oh.”

You touch yourself again, and your neck cools a little as he pulls his breath in, sharp and uneven. That’s how it is, the wanting and the relief; the desire and its fulfillment cycling and multiplying.

You stop and start a few more times to show him how it works. Both are actually part of this; maybe that’s why it comes close to pain while also feeling extremely good at the same time. Having him feeling this with you is incredibly exciting, it’s like you’re showing him how to please you, by pleasuring him...by pleasuring yourself. You’re starting to feel quite a bit of tension building as you circle your fingers rhythmically, and it’s almost as if you can feel something more where he touches you, and it’s-

“wait a sec,” he says suddenly after what feels like a long time. He’s not not abrupt or corrective, he just needs to say something important. It’s always easy for you to wait for him.

He breathes heavily for about a minute before whispering, “’m having some trouble. not, uh… with...”

He breathes a little more, tries to steady himself. “if what i think is gonna happen, happens,” he’s choosing his words carefully, you can feel it, “dunno if i can...control myself. we might hafta stop, okay?”

You don’t know what he can’t control, but you understand. The feelings you’re used to are often overwhelming and difficult to control. Delicate concern floods you, for some reason heightening your arousal even further. You didn’t mean for it to, but it does. You want to be so careful with him. Only what he likes, nothing he doesn’t. You want to give him everything.

His face grinds into your neck, and he gives a ragged moan before cutting himself off. “please,” he whispers tightly, but you don’t know what he’s begging for as his bones tingle further into your essential self. More? Stop? Maybe he doesn’t know, either, but you let him find his balance. Then he can decide what he wants to happen. You can stop anytime, and so can he.

You feel the now-familiar sensation of magic on your neck. You stay still, wait for him to try and soothe himself. You want him to feel safe and happy. Cared for, the way he always cares for you.

“i know,” he whispers. “i know you. i know.”

He repeats his soft whisper for a long time.

“the thing i do when i’m touching my soul,” he manages eventually. Oh, you know what he means. The thing he does when he’s ready, pushing his magic into himself. The thing he likes so much.

“if we...uh. if we keep doing this. think that might happen no matter what. i don’t know why.” He pants, trying to calm himself. “in you, though,” he says quietly, slowly. “here.”

His fingers are buried in you, the vague but steady resonance suffusing everything you are. A spectrum of complicated feelings happen to you, each one a different shade of yearning. You shake with it, and he groans into your neck pleadingly. You’ve heard the noise he makes when he does that, and you can guess at the implications. So far guessing’s all you’ve done, but it must be very good. That’s not in doubt.

“i feel so good.” A tight-whispered sob. “you won’t believe it.”

That wasn’t a statement about how he feels right now.

It’s a promise that rocks you to your core.

“but you gotta know something, okay? it’s not-” He needs to catch his breath again. “not the same as right now. it’s...magic. it’s me.” He groans softer, then whispers so his breath ghosts into your ear along with his voice.

“part of my body, okay? not just this,” and you feel additionally aware of his soul touching yours through them. “it’s… physical. an’ it lasts a while,” he admits breathlessly. “few days, sometimes.”

Wow. Oh. Yeah, that must really be something. Everything he says just makes you want it more. You’re already so open, you feel him so much.

“but ‘m not sure, because...” he trails off, something in his nonexistent throat clicking.

“do you like how this feels?” he asks hesitantly instead, as if he doesn’t know already how he feels, buried like this in everything you are. You think about it, and yes. You really, truly do. He makes you feel good, and you’ve had parts of his body inside you before. You always like the way he does it. You like the way his soul feels, his body feels. You like the way his magic feels, and the way it tastes. You want it.

“hmmmm,” he breathes, his voice barely in it. “not sure bout it because... i’ve never done it before,” he admits, almost inaudible.

He’s never done this to anyone but himself, then. It’s okay, and that doesn’t have to change now. You can always stop. Nothing wrong with that, same as how he never had anyone else do that to him, either. You don’t know why of course, but-

“i’m selfish,” he interrupts, voice just above the point of being unadorned breathing. It’s the closest to shame you’ve ever heard him, and it’s still not. A little regretful, maybe. “kept it to myself. didn’t feel like i could-” his voice disappears, but you still hear the regret drop away before it does. He wasn’t sure he wanted anyone to know exactly how good he feels, and since he was unsure, he doesn’t regret not doing it.

“but you make me… you… you gave me...” his breathing is heavy again. “i want you to have it, okay? if you want this. but you have to say so. i know it’s hard to talk but i can’t just-”

Oh dear, he hasn’t been listening?

You feel his head move away from your neck a little to see where you’ve been signing “Yes” over and over, maybe without knowing it at first but it’s been happening since he started talking. And now, yes. He’s listening. Yes.

Does he want what you can give him, too? Is he listening?

“i want it,” he whispers almost harshly as he pushes his face back into your shoulder. “wanna know you,” he murmurs, softer, dreamlike as he caresses your soul. He exhales tight, almost a whine. “want you to feel me.”

The hand you’ve been using to sign with creeps up past your shoulder now, reaches up and back to touch his skull gently. You resume the motions of your other hand, still buried in the heat between your legs, and listen to him gasp sharply. Oh, it’s going to happen soon. The conversational interlude had done the opposite of putting a damper on things, and you hope he’s ready. It’s not as gentle an experience as the ones he’s used to. It’s very sudden and a little rough this way. In fact, you move your hand away from his skull to make sure you won’t flail or grab him.

He’s panting against you in anticipation, both his own and yours apparently. His legs come in closer, not pushing at you but supporting your position, curling in toward you, mirroring your tension. A new experience for both of you after all; not too much adventure but something yet unmapped; a gift to give each other at the same time. It’s gonna happen.

please,” he groans, his voice breaking open against you to pour out ragged desire. “i… i need it.”

He pants, sounding almost afraid. You know how it feels. You know. It’s okay, that’s how it’s supposed to feel. How it always feels. He won’t die, and it won’t hurt, but he might almost feel like it. He’s not alone, he’s right here with you and he’s safe. This feeling is yours but he can borrow it for a little while.

Just like looking at the spaces between stars, or when you touch his soul. It’s a lot.

But he can’t get hurt just from feeling that way. And that’s the unmapped territory, you realize. Not unfamiliar, not at all. You’re just visiting each other from the inside. It’s safe, and you’ll give him what he wants; what you both want.

You want him...to know you.

He does.

Magic flows down your neck, a familiar and soothing part of him. You swipe your hand up against it suddenly as he makes a short, shocked cry at the cessation, then a longer one as the tingle of his own magic joins the friction and pressure of what you’re already doing. You hear a strangled grunt and feel the overlapped edge of his upper teeth push against the top of your shoulder. It doesn’t hurt. It feels very good in fact, and he drags them along a little because he can feel what it’s doing. It’s making the next part extremely inevitable.

You feel a promise about to make good where his fingers blend into your soul. It’s been happening underneath the other, louder part for some time already without you noticing, but you realize suddenly that it’s so much...bigger. Broader, and it encompasses the whole. A bright, citrus point of excitement and joy bursts in you knowing what you both want so much is almost here, and then just as suddenly, it is.

You can hear a hoarse, devastated scream happening into your upper back, and you feel his teeth again at the nearly unbearable pinnacle.

But much more immediate for you is the ocean of absolute certainty that has flooded you with an unshakeable peace like nothing you’ve ever known in your life.

E v e r y t h i n g is going to be o k a y.

Your climax rips through you both, and a tiny bit of the infinite wave coursing through you ends up sliding into him too somehow, and that’s perfectly fine, exactly the way it should be. The sound that slips from you is all-encompassing, so assured, and so very, very soft.

You are existentially satisfied.

Your head rolls back against his shoulder, and you feel your eyes widen rather than clenching shut like you’re used to. His phalanges touch your chest and spread until they’re flat against you as your soul slips right inside. The ocean of peace floods you all over again, pushing the air out of your lungs gently, bringing you safely and perfectly back together. You both sort of just tip sideways in unison like synchronized fainting goats, and you feel every bit of it, including his nose or teeth or something hitting the point of your shoulder a little awkwardly and it’s just..lovely.

It’s perfect, and so is he, and so are you.

It’s not a distancing feeling; it’s not insulating or suppressing anything. You don’t feel confused at all. You know exactly where you are, and it’s exactly where you want to be. Where you should be. You can feel the deeper-than-skin sensitivity of his magic between your legs still, but it’s nothing to how it feels in your soul.

It doesn’t even tingle there, just makes you feel like you simultaneously ate all of your favorite foods at once, made everyone who’s ever met you proud, saved the world, lined up about ten thousand bars of perfectly cut soap then knocked them down like dominoes into a fibonacci spiral, fell in love with everyone on earth at once, all while having the best orgasm of your life... except somehow also not in a sexual way. Not in any way you’re used to, at least.

There’s also the fact that it’s… still happening.

“You really weren’t kidding, huh,” you say softly. Your breathing’s already steadying.

“you either,” a breathlessly hoarse chuckle emerges from Sans as he pulls his face away from the back of your neck. Then he freezes.

“um,” he whispers, sounding alarmed, and you feel a rush of soft concern. The peaceful feeling doesn’t stop other feelings from happening; in fact, they’re more present to you in a way because you’re so okay with it. It’s easy to accept. You feel his finger lightly touch a spot on your back.

“Am I bleeding?” you ask softly, recognizing the pain. “It’s okay if I am, that happens sometimes. It’ll heal.”

He’s very quiet and still.

You roll onto your back, hiding whatever tiny almost-wound might’ve been collateral damage from the most amazing experience of your life. He’s staring at his fingers, and he does look unnerved. You can’t even see anything on them, but maybe that’s not the point.

“I understand why it upsets you,” you say quietly, then take his hand in yours. “But you felt it, remember?”

He doesn’t look at you.

“Remember that time I hit you with my teeth by accident?”

He doesn’t look happy, but his lighted sockets flick just a second to meet your eyes.

“this wasn’t an accident.” It’s a hollow whisper.

“I asked you if it hurt,” you continue. “You said it’d be hard to hurt you that way, but I know you just meant it didn’t injure you. That’s not the same as saying it didn’t hurt.”

He still doesn't reply, but his expression changes slightly. You caress his fingers, then hold your arm out to invite him to lay with you. After a few seconds, he sighs and puts his head on your shoulder. He doesn’t relax much.

“My body’s soft, but it can take a lot of damage,” you muse, considering. “I can’t help the softness. Any more than you can help being...brittle, maybe? I don’t know how it works, and you don’t have to explain it.”

You breathe in contentment, but it still doesn’t interfere with the concern for him. He’s definitely had an experience he doesn’t entirely understand, just like you did. And are apparently still having, and will continue to for some unspecified amount of time. This is very okay with you.

“The way it is for me is just rougher. I can’t help it; that’s how my body works. I know it feels like you can’t...think very well, like you almost forget who you are. It’s a lot.” You think for a long minute.

“Is something else about it bothering you?”

Weirdly enough, you feel him relax a little at that.

“yeah,” he admits after a second. “somethin’ else. long time ago, i guess.”

Your curl your arm around and rest your hand on his skull the way he likes. He relaxes a little more.

“I’m fine if you ever want to talk about it, or if you don’t. But I just want you to know that if you don’t want that to happen again, it won’t.” You think for a second. “I can even do things to make sure you won’t even feel like it could,” you add enigmatically. “But if you didn’t like it, or you don’t like it now, it’s okay if you don’t want to do that again. Any part of it, or the whole thing.”

He breathes quietly for a few minutes.

“one time someone wanted me to do something like that to em, i guess. i didn’t; they got... mad. so i left,” he explains shortly. He’s silent for a long time, but the tension in his body isn’t getting worse. It might even be ebbing. “i don’t like blood,” he whispers, and gets quiet again for a bit before continuing.

“seeing that just now, feeling upset about it, but then… remembering how it felt. made me feel like somethin’ was wrong with me, maybe. like maybe i had fun and you didn’t, or it…” he rasps hollowly. “scared me, i guess.”

One more exhale and he relaxes the rest of the way.

You rub your cheek against his forehead, press your hand to the back of his skull.

“think a lotta people misunderstood that paper,” he says after another, sweeter while. “toldja m’not good at explaining. I wasn’t saying all humans are selfish. more like... all that stuff i did made me feel like i’m selfish. or made me realize i am. still not sure i guess.”

After a minute, you smile.

“You might be the least selfish person I’ve ever met.”

He just laughs wordlessly, quiet but sincere.

“Nothing we just did was selfish,” you continue. “It was...” you don’t have words anymore. You try again. “I’ve never felt that good in my life. Even right now, I don’t...I can’t even describe this. I don’t know how you ever do anything else. Ever. Literally ever. I’d do this five times an hour. I’d starve.”

He’s laughing more now. Good.

“i know what you mean,” he finishes, then exhales expansively. “dunno if that’s something i’d wanna do all the time,” and you realize he’s still talking about what you’d just done together, but what it had been like for him.

“you were right,” he says, a little edge in his voice. “felt like i was gonna die. it was...sharper than i thought. but i didn’t die, and...i’m safe. right on that, too. but nothing i ever did before came close to being that much at once. all at once. i dunno.” he exhales in amusement. “but i get a lil antsy in a good way thinking about it even right now, so maybe...yeah. maybe.” He smiles at you gently. “gotta think soft on it.”

“I can relate,” you admit quietly. “I’m not sure I’m ever going to stop feeling this good.”

He huffs ambiguously. “well, i gotta confess that you got a lot, uh... more than usual,” he says in a very small voice, and now he sounds like he’s smothering a noise.

“Oh, word?” you drawl insouciantly.

“heh heeh,” he chokes out weakly, and you feel an explosion of joy at hearing a laugh variation you never even guessed he had in him.

“you got it all, and all i got on my mind is that bag of chisps I know’s between the mattress and the wall right there,” he giggles obscenely. “was there six months ago at least.” His voice shrinks again. “stars above. never pushed that hard in m’life,” he adds in a strangled whisper. Good lord. He’s embarrassed.

‘m a husk,” he half-whispers, half-wheezes. “ya husked me, darlin’,” he confides to your armpit, shoulders hunched and quivering.

“I told you so.”

“what?” he honks.

“That you’re corny,” you grunt, lunging down to rummage in the space between the wall and the bed as he yelps even harder with his weird giggles. All sorts of interesting stuff in there, but...huh.

You pull out a familiar bottle and brandish it, then touch it to his arm lightly.

“How about this?”

He lifts his head, and his eye lights actually dilate when he sees the full, sealed ketchup bottle.

“there you go absolutely comin’ for my life like that and savin’ it at the same time,” he says, cap already wrestled open. He guzzles it like it really is going to save his life, head thrown back, sockets shut and everything. Well, based on how you feel right now and what he said, you can get where he’s coming from. Serves him right for all his ‘you hungry yet’ jokes, but you’re glad it seems to be helping. Maybe his bad moment earlier was worsened by an extreme case of hangry.

The look on his face as he finishes his snack and flips the bottle back over his shoulder, spinning and flashing end over end impressively, might just be the loveliest sight of your life. Then you hear a strange noise coming from the corner where it landed. You cut your eyes at him, wondering if it might be a problem. Rather than looking worried, his eyes light up like fireworks.

“guess that’s the last straw,” he breathes, sounding almost awed. Instead of getting up, diving for cover, or providing you with written or verbal instructions, he just turns around and sticks his bony ass in your hip. Then he pulls your hand around until you turn over on your side, and pulls your arm up and through him the way he likes.

“there it goes...” he sighs in quiet wonder, and you see past his shoulder to where what looks like some kind of dust devil is starting to twirl, picking up bits of nasty shit from all over his room. Dirty socks, the catalytic ketchup bottle, paper and metal bits and god-knows-what. Dog hair. A Ritz cracker. A sheet of paper, looks like it’s from a kid’s coloring book.

“What the fuck is that about?” you sigh contentedly, smiling as he presses your hand to his warm teeth, drags them across carefully. No edges now, just smoothness.

“dunno,” he says, humming and rubbing your skin against his face. “usually happens on good days, though. we can just watch it a while, it can’t-” he cuts off, suddenly springing up and grabbing the wadded blanket at the foot of the bed, pulling it over you both and tucking it under and around. He folds both your bodies back precisely as they had been meticulously, this time improved by blanket armor.

“case it comes over here, we can just get underneath and pin it down. boom. blanket fort.”

“I christen this encampment… Fort Asshole,” you giggle.

There’s a piece of something, looks like a clay figurine? Wonder where he got that from. A little bag of marbles, ten jacks and a ball. A folder you’re pretty sure belongs to his brother, since it says PAPYRUS on it in rhinestones. Ten wrappers from those strawberry candies old ladies always have in their purse. Pack of cigarettes. A rubber bracelet shaped like a dick when it isn’t stretched around a wrist. Ten peeled grapes and a candle, ten more socks. None of them match. A jar-thing of glitter, and-oh, oops. Looks like the glitter’s lid isn’t tornado-proof. Things just got sparkly up in this bitch.

“i love you,” he sighs after a few minutes.

Three empty theater-style boxes of junior mints… no, wait. The junior mints are flying around in there, too.

You squeeze him a little with your upper arm as he continues to rub your weird, hot skin on his bony face, his smooth, glassy teeth. He grunts a laugh, wiggles and clacks as the back of your index finger tickles over the top of his iliac crest.

“I love you, too.”

Chapter Text

You’d been absolutely right about Toriel. She does get sloppy, especially after her eighth glass of wine.

She also feels like a huge, fluffy body pillow and makes you believe you’re an okay dancer. That’s how you know you’re three sheets to the wind too. Not eight, maybe, but three’s plenty for you.

“No, no,” she murmurs as she leans forward to dip you gently. “I said I would not tell you that story. He made me promise, you know. He is a terrible goblin, is he not?”

Sans looks even funnier when you’re upside down too, ass up and face down (sort of) over the back of the couch. You can see about two inches of spine between the waistband of his shorts and where his shirt and hoodie have started to slip down, but looks like it’s caught in his ribcage somewhere, preventing further exposure. Another layer of directional hilarity is added because his chin’s actually on the couch part where the ass is supposed to go, so you can see the stupefied grin as his snore manages to cut through whatever tinkly music is happening.

“Slattern,” you sigh, then Toriel pulls you back up, making your head swim a little. It’s not unpleasant.

“Whee,” you add, grinning madly, then you frown a little in concern. “Maybe I shouldn’t have doubled up,” you mutter. You’d taken it to heart that monster alcohol can’t affect your body, and you’d had to take some of your stronger meds to balance out what the cold and six inches of snow outside’s doing to your joints. But it’s nice and toasty in here, with however many pies in the oven and however many logs on the fire. Nice and toasty in your twirly-ass soul, too.

Toriel cups your face in one of her enormous, furry hands and looks deep into your eyes with her rectangular pupils.

“Ah. Let me see,” she murmurs, and you feel a resonance of magic before she continues. “You are in no danger. Worry not.”

“Has anyone ever told you... you’re a GILF?” you sigh, enamored.

She cuts her eyes significantly at the couch, and you roar with laughter. That’s apparently enough of a disturbance to get him to slide the rest of the way off the back of the couch into an untidy pile with a chorus of clacks before resuming his dry, rattling snore. You and Toriel roar with laughter in unison this time.

“Did I ever tell you about the time Sans made me accidentally steal a pair of bowling shoes?” you chuckle. The story of the bowling alley "fight" has her chortling and hiccuping until she has to wipe a tear away, but you leave out the part about the broom and leave in the part where you’d returned them once you realized.

The instrumental flute and hurdygurdy ends, and a song that sounds familiar begins.

I want a little sugar in my bowl…

I want a little sweetness

Down in my soul….

“Is this Frisk’s playlist?” you blink up at her wonderingly. “I think...Sans was singing this song a long time ago.”

“I don’t doubt it,” she replies in her musical voice. “It is very like them to choose the music and then leave the room,” she adds fondly.

Another explosion of green light paints the sheer white curtains between the darker, heavier ones to the sides. Frisk, MK, Papyrus, Alphys and Undyne are all going absolutely apeshit in the snow outside, and have been for a while now. It’s late. Papyrus and Undyne have been “sparring” on and off, and you can hear Alphys’s throaty giggles cutting through the music every once in a while. Maybe they’re playing shoe chicken again.

The group had divided naturally into those inclined to roughhouse and those very much not, although MK and Frisk have been moving between inside and outside for most of the day. The entryway carpet’s a little wet, but there are slippers and house shoes lined up next to the boot tray in front of the spacious sitting room.

The room itself has been transformed into the site of a rather spectacular slumber party, with thick pads rolled out and covered with pillows and blankets. You’d spent the previous night there with everyone and slept well, although your joints had complained a little in the morning. Toriel had added an additional pad to your pallet after that, filled with some kind of tiny beads or pellets that she promised would ease your rest just in case it had been the floor, rather than the cold. You’re not too worried about it, since you’re having a fucking blast.

“I wish my sister would move up here,” you sigh as you and Toriel stagger gracefully around the kitchen, then through towards the sitting room. Your arms are up around her shoulders, and her hands grip your waist firmly. “She’d seriously love this. The pies, the music...the thing with the, uh. Tree.”

It’s your second day staying here at Toriel’s for some sort of four-day monster holiday called gyftmas. For some reason it isn’t capitalized. It had been held underground regularly, based on various factors contingent on a closed system that no longer exists. Asgore and Toriel had consulted various experts and non-experts in order to determine dates and circumstances for holidays, including this one, for surface purposes.

Almost all of them involve giving each other gifts, cooking large amounts of food, and having extended sleepovers with friends and family for up to a week. This one is apparently just the last four days of the year, and you’d been invited. Very invited, individually, by almost everyone here including Sans. Maybe they just wanted to make certain you felt welcome, or maybe they’re just really bad at communicating that sort of thing to each other.

“Ah, yes,” Toriel smiles vaguely. “Your sister’s family. She has two children?”

“Yeah,” you blink happily. “Cute as hell. Shonda and Nattie. They’re uh. Shonda’s ten and Nattie’s seven. They never stop asking me questions. Think I know everything, it’s too cute. I keep telling em I don’t, and I can never figure out why I know all the answers. Can’t I just be wrong, sometimes?” you whine up at her, and she laughs softly.

You step on her foot again, glance down. The slippers you're wearing over your fuzzy socks out of respect for their modesty customs make it a little harder not to step on her bare white feet. Well, she doesn’t seem to mind it, so you won’t either.

“Children are a wonderful gift,” Toriel muses as she guides you aimlessly around the warm, delicious-smelling kitchen, holding one of your hands and extending your arm out. “I must admit, this year has been a bit difficult for me since Frisk has decided to become an adult.”

“Huh?”

“Oh, my apologies. You are unfamiliar with gyftmas. Today is for children to receive their presents. We will exchange ours tomorrow. This is the first year that Frisk has decided they are an adult, and so that leaves no one in the household to receive gifts on the children’s day.” She sighs, and seems a little sadder than the circumstances might call for, but then again, eight glasses might do that.

“Papyrus offered to be a child this gyftmas, you know. To cheer me up.” She grins at the lights outside again, since you've wandered far enough into the hall for them to be visible once more. “I told him he’s far too tall and handsome to pull double gyftmas duty, but it was still a very kind gesture.”

“Did you know Papyrus when he was a kid?” You try to imagine that, and it’s actually kind of difficult.

She blinks down at you. “No. I did not meet Papyrus until the barrier was broken.”

“Huh,” you say. “Is that when you met Sans, too?”

She exhales slowly, smiles.

“Yes and no.” She looks lost in thought. “You are aware that… Asgore and myself have not been on the friendliest of terms for quite some time, yes? Even before the barrier fell.”

You nod.

“I lived apart from most other monsters underground for a long time. Not completely alone, but it was... lonely. I had important duties and I could not leave where I was. But there was...a door. It was locked, however.” Her expression is very soft. “Sans and I told jokes and stories to each other through that door for a long time, but did not meet until the barrier was broken.”

Darling, youuuu send me

Darling, youuuu send me

Honest ya do, honest ya do...

It sounds incredibly romantic to you. And after having heard a smorgasbord of Toriel’s...’jokes’, earlier, you really wonder why it didn’t work out between them. None of their interactions even hinted at acrimony; quite the opposite in fact. They speak easily and casually to each other. When dinner had neared completion Sans had been darting around the kitchen with her in a syncopated rhythm- Sans ducking into cupboards for serving dishes, Toriel getting things off high shelves and handing them down.

Toriel, gesturing expansively with her ever-full wineglass, had started telling stories about everyone during dinner, including some embarrassing ones. She threw a roll at Undyne for cussing while cussing at her (Undyne caught it in her teeth and made short work of it), then told another story about Papyrus and limes that almost made you pee yourself. Toriel’s thorough roasting may have been what led the roughhousers to return outside despite the late hour. Sans had decided to take an especially entertaining nap on the couch rather than roughhousing or conversing. He’d apparently been working more than usual before the beginning of the festivities, and although they haven’t been exactly strenuous he’s taken as many opportunities as possible to catch some Z’s.

“Sans hides many things behind a smile,” Toriel muses into your contemplative silence. “Himself most of all.”

“Well, he can’t really help the smiling part,” you sigh as she dips you again. “But I think I get what you mean.”

You wince a little as she brings you back up, and Toriel stands a moment rather than continuing.

“Are you sure you will not accept healing?”

“I’m fine,” you demur as you had when the morning had dawned with you in pain. “I’ve got my meds.”

She exhales in mild frustration, glances at the couch again.

“You two have much in common,” she smiles a little wryly, although it’s hard with such a fluffy face. “And I am glad to see him so happy. Shall we sit and wait for the pies to finish?”

“Sounds good to me,” you reply, blushing a little. You blink contentedly even though you’re feeling pretty worn out as you both head to the couch. There’s just enough room between Toriel at the end and Sans’s sleepy skull for your butt, and you look around admiring some of the arrangements that Papyrus had brought from his job at the florist as you sit. They’re very flamboyant, although their red and green vibrancy has been managed tastefully without using too many dyed plants. He really has a knack for putting stuff together, regardless of medium.

You and Toriel continue to shoot the shit pleasantly for a while before a sudden cessation in the hubbub outside makes you both go still in concern. You notice the sudden absence of Sans’s snore as you listen, although you probably can gain more information from watching Toriel.

A thin sob that sounds like it might be Frisk reaches your ears. Toriel tenses and seem about to leap to her feet when the door is opened by Papyrus. He’s wearing a knee-length gyftmas sweater and red snow boots tall enough that their tops are somewhere under the hem, carrying a silently weeping Frisk in from the snow.

“FRISK FELL OUT OF THE TREE,” he sighs regretfully. “I’VE TAKEN CARE OF IT, BUT...”

Toriel nods sadly.

“Frisk does not cope well with injuries,” she adds to you softly. “They become...unusually agitated.”

You assume they mean the gyftmas tree, which is left outside and decorated, unlike human holidays with similar customs where the tree is cut and brought inside. Monsters prefer to let the tree live its life, and also throw it a sort of...party to apologize for decorating it? Well, you’re not 100% on the details but it’s something like that. Even the gifts are waterproofed and left outside.

Toriel gets to her feet and goes to Frisk, brushes their hair back from their forehead as she removes their coat and boots. She murmurs softly, too quietly for you to hear. Papyrus goes to one of the pallets with pillows and blankets that cover nearly the entire floor of the room, and lays Frisk down on it. As he gently covers them Toriel goes to the couch and scoops up Sans, who doesn’t seem to actually wake although he mumbles a little. She puts him down on the wide padded area next to Frisk.

Papyrus comes to sit on the couch cushion formerly occupied by the Sans-pile.

“I THINK FRISK’S DONE FOR THE NIGHT. BUT I COULD USE SOME PIE?”

Papyrus clasps his hands between his knees and looks up at Toriel adoringly.

Toriel smiles softly and nods. “I believe the fire magic has done its work, and the pies will be ready at any moment now. I will attend to that, and you have my thanks for attending to Frisk.”

Papyrus glows, and you pat his shoulder in agreement.

Eventually Frisk’s sobs slow and disappear. Alphys and Undyne come in after a few minutes and join you.

“MK says th-they’ll be back t-tomorrow,” Alphys comments quietly, and even Undyne seems slightly subdued as she goes and ruffles Frisk’s hair fondly. They don’t respond, but they don’t seem bothered by it, either. Both of them settle on another section of the couch with a satisfied sigh.

“How did the sparring go otherwise?” you ask as Alphys finds a blanket to pull over her and her wife as they settle into the couch and each other. They’re wearing festive sweaters too, with designs you’re not entirely sure of because Undyne had apparently made these herself. The sweaters look like what you’d imagine after finding out yesterday that she plays piano with equal enthusiasm. Although the stitches look like they may have been dropped fairly regularly, they’re mostly managing to be held together with hot-glued ribbons and some tastefully embroidered appliqués.

“I WON THE SPARRING, BUT UNDYNE WON THE SNOW-CHUCKING CONTEST FOR THE FOURTH TIME IN A ROW,” Papyrus informs you, seeming mildly put out by the latter.

“Hey! You won the snow shaping, and Frisk beat us both at Dog,” Undyne gripes, still grinning.

Papyrus sighs and glances over to the now-quiet mound where Frisk recovers from their ordeal.

“IT’S TRUE. WE HAVE NEVER MANAGED TO DEFEAT FRISK AT DOG. BUT AS LONG AS WE NEVER GIVE UP, IT’S SURE TO HAPPEN SOMEDAY.” He nods with utter conviction.

“What’s dog?” you ask.

“Dog,” Undyne corrects. “It’s capitalized.”

“Oh, uh. Sorry. What’s Dog?”

“That’s where you see who can p-p-et Lesser D-dog up the highest,” Alphys answers.

You open your mouth with further inquiries, but before you can ask a sleepy rumble sounds from underneath a blanket on the floor.

“that anything like updog?”

“SANS, YOU DEFEATED FRISK AT DOG ONCE, YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE." Papyrus scowls. "WHAT’S UPDOG?”

“not much bro, what’s up with you?”

Papyrus puts his face into his gloved hands and seems to add another defeat to his overall score. You pat his shoulder again consolingly, and the Sans-pile on the floor resumes snoring. Luckily Toriel returns with pie before he can feel to sorry for himself, along plates and utensils on a tray held carefully in her massive hands.

“It is snail pie, I hope that is all right with everyone?” She doesn’t glance at you, but you get the feeling the disclaimer might’ve been added for your benefit.

“I’d love to try some,” you say, and you mean it.

It’s nothing like what you had expected; rather than being savory it’s actually sweet and spiced. There are tiny bits of some kind of fruit, no big chunks of anything in particular, and the texture’s actually kind of great.

“This is like...mincemeat pie,” you say wonderingly.

Toriel smiles. “Well, I suppose snails do count as ‘meat’...”

“Huh. Yeah, I guess they do,” you grin back. “It’s really good.”

You clean your plate and have seconds, then go upstairs to brush your teeth since your eyes have started listing shut on their own unless you concentrate on keeping them open. You change into sleepwear, and by the time you head back downstairs it looks like everyone else is finally settling in for the night, too. You eyeball the floor and spy the special pallet Toriel had set up for you, a few feet away from where Frisk and Sans are. Looks like a skeletal arm is thrown over Frisk’s now-slumbering form. At least it seems they’ve managed to calm down and get some rest. Toriel takes the space on the other side of Frisk, and Alphys and Undyne are bedded down near the coffee table.

Even with Frisk’s accident casting a bit of a pall on the evening, it’s been a really great day. You fall asleep almost as soon as your head hits the pillow.

***

Unfortunately, your eyes open in the middle of the night, and you definitely have to get up and use the bathroom again. Afterwards you’re feeling more awake than you’d like, and rather than tossing and turning and waking up everyone else, you decide to go to the kitchen and prepare a cup of the herbal tea you’d taken a liking to. Toriel usually offers it when you come over here; she’s told you it’s made from some kind of flower and doesn't have any caffeine.

As you lean your ass against the counter while you wait for the kettle to boil, a shape materializes at the entrance to the kitchen, startling you a little. After a moment, you gesture a greeting at Alphys.

“Can’t sleep?” she signs back, and you make an ambiguous motion with your hand, shrug. “I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, too,” Alphys confides. You nod and indicate that you relate.

“I think I just need a cup of tea or something, and I’ll be able to get back to it,” you smile. “You want some?”

“Sure,” she replies, and leans against the counter with you. “Are you having fun?”

You nod emphatically. “I think the slumber party aspect is really cool,” you muse. “I mean, it’s not like I don’t have family sleepovers from time to time, but it’s interesting to have it be an official part of the proceedings.”

You ask her about Undyne’s sweaters while the water boils, but once you get settled at the table with steaming cups, Alphys turns thoughtful, almost speculative. You both listen to the heavy breathing and dry snores from the other room for a few minutes silently, but you can tell Alphys wants to lay something heavy on you. So much for sleep, maybe.

“Frisk had planned to tell you something before they got hurt earlier tonight,” she begins. “They’ve decided they want humans to get more access to monster information. Soul basics, scans, history, that sort of thing.”

You raise your eyebrows in surprise. “Really? Huh.” You look into you cup, take a sip. “They asked me for advice about it, but I don’t know if I ever actually gave them any. Maybe in the end they felt like they could decide on their own.”

“Frisk actually said they want you to look it over first, see what you think. They’ve...” Alphys looks to the side a little. “They’ve already authorized me to release the information to you, in fact.” She sighs heavily.

“I think maybe you’ve guessed that I don’t like the amount of secrecy we’ve had to maintain since the barrier fell,” she signs slowly. She looks back at you with something a little more intense in her eyes than you’re used to seeing there, all the more noticeable considering it’s the middle of the night over tea. “No one knows better than I do that too much knowledge can cause a lot of damage, and that having only a little knowledge can cause even more. But...” Her face firms. “I’ve read some of your work on pedagogy and ethics-” wow, okay that’s pretty flattering, “-and that’s why I’m including certain...histories,” she signs almost reluctantly. “I think that they’ll provide context you’ll need into order to give an accurate opinion on how these materials might affect...things,” she finishes.

You shake your head. “I don’t understand why Frisk sees me in this role,” you protest. “I’m not sure if it’s because I was the person they met with first at the University...or, maybe it’s because Sans and I are close, and he’s one of their parents? Maybe they see me as adjacent, somehow?”

Alphys’s lips quirk ironically. “I’m sure Frisk would be overjoyed if Sans actually weighed in with his opinion on literally any of the decisions that need to be made. Almost all of the arguments they have end up being about Sans refusing to…” Alphys trails off; maybe it’s none of her business, or just none of yours. “Well, anyways, I don’t know how someone can be that laidback and so stubborn at the same time. Frisk gets frustrated, and I can relate. It’s not like I don’t have to fight tooth and nail just to get his consultations when I need them. This past week I’ve felt almost spoiled.” She rolls her eyes.

You tilt your head and make a questioning motion.

She grins a little. “Why am I surprised he didn’t tell you about that? I shouldn’t be by now, but I can tell...how he feels about you,” she adds, blushing a little. She really is awfully prurient. “But then again, one doesn’t have much to do with the other. Basically, I have Sans come in whenever I need something that can't possibly work to work anyway. I don’t have any illusions about him sticking around to actually see it through, but if I need a solution now, he’s my secret weapon.”

You think about that for a minute.

“I’m guessing the solution comes written on a bar coaster?” you gesture, quirking your eyebrow.

Alphys muffles a laugh. “Well, at least once a napkin came into play, but not for writing on. That plugged a leak that could have turned Mt Ebott into a lifeless crater, and I still don’t understand why it didn’t. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not as down on myself as I used to be. I know that he can’t do what I do.”

Alphys’s face grows earnest. “But there are still things only he can do, which is why we don’t ask him to if we can help it.”

That sentence wouldn’t make a lot of sense if you didn’t know Sans. But you do, so you nod and set your tea down.

“If Frisk thinks I could function as some kind of backdoor access to advice from Sans on policy, they’re sorely mistaken. Still, it just seems odd to trust me with something like that,” you muse. “They barely know me.” You stop at the expression on her face.

“It’s been nearly a year now, hasn’t it?” she points out.

You stare at the table. You suppose...it has, now that you think about it. You look back at her, astounded.

Alphys’s eyelids droop and her gaze grows distant.

“This family has so many secrets,” she signs regretfully. “It’s not fair to any of us, but I….I’m still glad Frisk decided to get your input on all of this. I can tell they’ve been struggling.”

You press your lips together.

“Why on earth is Frisk responsible for these decisions in the first place? They said they’ve been doing that since they were eight or nine. How can someone so young handle that?”

Alphys sighs heavily. “You can’t know how dire things had become underground, and how few choices we were left with. I think that after you have a chance to learn a little more about why things were the way they were, you’ll have some insight into why things are they way they are. Keep in mind...it was Frisk’s actions and decisions that freed us in the end.”

You exhale, unconvinced but unwilling to argue the point.

“I’ll help them if I can, but I can’t really promise anything,” you sign after a long minute.

For some reason, that makes her gaze thoughtfully at the wall that blocks her view of the sitting room.

“Fair enough,” she gestures after a minute, then drains her teacup. “I’m going to try and get a little more sleep. We can’t all be Papyrus, after all.” She smiles gently.

You sit and let your tea get cold. Every so often when there’s a gap in his brother’s snoring, you can hear him digging around in the snow outside.

***

The next day when you and Sans walk out to the tree with everyone, you watch even more tiredness fall away from his expression when he sees the snow structures Papyrus has created overnight. You’re impressed too; you’ve never seen a gazebo made out of snow before.

You all stand around for a few minutes expectantly, since you've been told Asgore himself will be showing up for at least a few minutes, although you aren’t technically going to “meet” him, since he’s going to be dressed as Santa and therefore...is Santa. Toriel looks mildly resigned, but otherwise seems in a good enough mood. Frisk’s been subdued all morning, and you don’t think you’ve really seen them speak to anyone. But their expression brightens when you hear a quietly booming laugh, and an enormous red and white shape comes through the rest of the trees onto the house grounds.

Asgore is massive.

You, Sans, and Toriel hang back a bit as the rest rush forward, and Frisk gets lifted up directly onto a brightly-clad shoulder. Your eyebrows lift a little, considering Frisk is rather tall and broad and is still getting carried like a kid. They’re certainly grinning an awful lot for someone who decided to be an adult just this year, but you’re never too old for fun.

You look down at Sans and share a slow, happy smile.

“heh,” he comments quietly. “he’s beefy enough to make anyone feel like a kid again.”

“Does he really go to everyone’s house?” you ask in wonder.

Sans grins as Frisk is carried over to the tree, then given a bag to distribute its contents underneath. “nah. that’s probably impossible. but he makes everyone feel like he did. probably why he’s king.” Sans shrugs, then holds out a mittened hand. “ready to meet santa?”

“Sure,” you grin back, and you join the rest over by the tree. Sans peels off and joins his brother as you approach the massive Santa, Frisk still on his shoulder.

“Good to meet you, Santa,” you speak and sign politely. He has the same golden, square-pupiled eyes as Toriel, and honestly they look a lot alike.

“You as well,” he replies in a voice that sounds like it could be heard on the moon, but somehow still isn’t loud. Huh.

Sans’s surprised chuckle makes you glance over your shoulder, and you see that Papyrus’s enthusiasm has gotten the better of him. He lifts his brother onto his shoulder to gallop over to his snow gazebo, apparently unwilling to wait for his slow, shuffling gait. Now it looks like he’s explaining something to him about the roof, pointing things out with his red-gloved phalanges. At least Sans can see it from Papyrus's height instea dof just getting it explained to him, although you suspect he'd be just as happy with either.

“Sorry,” you say, turning back to Santa and Frisk.

“The brothers have been very good this year,” Santa replies with what you think is a smile under the big, fake white beard. “Their happiness is shared with us all.”

You suppose that’s true enough.

The exchange of gifts isn’t very formal, which makes sense since you’d been told they shouldn’t be expensive or large. You’d been given a pillowcase to put your waterproofed packages into, so you mill around with everyone else under the tree finding ones with your name on them and just shove them in. There's no indication other than the name of the recipient on the packages. Well, except for the stickers on the ones that are apparently from Santa, who has managed to depart at some point without you noticing.

Everyone wanders back into the house to open their gifts, and although you’re not really supposed to know who they’re from, you kind of do. Most of the ones for you are actually just small bags of G to spend at monster shops, including the one from Santa. The set of detailing brushes is most likely from Papyrus, and you think the small, hand-thrown teacup with a dark blue glaze might be from Sans. You look over at him, and notice the little rubber star charms you’d gotten him for the ends of his hood drawstrings have already been applied. They’re not much, just meant to keep the ends from sliding into the cloth and getting lost, but you blush anyways. They look cute.

You wander over from where you’d been opening packages on the pallet, and sit down next to Sans on the couch, touch your shoulder lightly to his. He’s smiling, but still looks tired.

“Long week at work, huh?” you say softly, and he closes his eyes for a minute, shakes his head.

“yup,” he sighs. “i’d say alphie runnin’ her mouth at me makes it longer, but ta be honest I don’t mind it.” He glances over at you, eye lights darting apologetically.

“I didn’t ask, remember?” you point out.

He nods a little sadly. You watch Frisk for a few minutes, noticing they seem to go back to their subdued mood from this morning now that Santa has departed.

“If Frisk going to be okay?” You ask. “They seem weird since they got hurt last night.”

Sans sighs again. “kid takes it hard, an they got their reasons for that. i figure i don’t have to spell it out, but...yeah. might be a lil cagey for a bit, but they’ll be okay.”

You nod. If Frisk has been abused in the past, even if they don’t remember it, they might just have additional emotional issues that make injuries a little harder to recover from beyond the physical. And since they’re related to several notable monster healers, Toriel and Papyrus at least, their physical recoveries are almost instantaneous. Maybe the emotional recovery that would usually accompany the physical one is just exaggerated because of the circumstances.

“alphie spill any more beans while she was at it?” he asks after the rest stand and start to clean up. None of them ask you or Sans to help, which you suppose makes sense when you think about it but still makes you feel vaguely guilty. You try to let it go, and discover not being the only one sitting here while everyone else exerts themselves is surprisingly heartening. It really is nice to have a fatigue buddy.

“Apparently Frisk needs my advice again,” you reply quietly. “This time they want me to go over some...information, and give my opinion on...teaching and ethics? I don’t know. It’s not entirely clear, but I guess I’ll just have to do my best.”

He doesn’t look happy about it. You lean back, present your upturned hand between your hip and his. His hand emerges from his pocket bare-boned and takes yours.

“Is this one of the things you can’t talk about, or just the ones you wish I didn’t know?”

You and he sit quietly for a long time, watching everyone bustle around, blinking from time to time. That’s a habit you and he have gotten in to as you grow more used to each other; long, comfortable silences while you think, enjoy each other’s company, and rest. Neither of you are in a hurry, and you have every reason to want to be careful with each other. Toriel begins to prepare a meal, and Papyrus loudly announces he’s going to help, but that he must also retrieve several items from home first. Frisk slips out after him, and the engine of the cherry red car parked out front starts and buzzes away, audible even over the clatter from the kitchen.

Alphys and Undyne come in briefly, shaking and folding the blankets you’ve been using and replacing one Sans managed to get breakfast all over, then smile at you both and head to the dining room. They start having a loud, fake argument about anime, and every once in a while Toriel chimes in with a surprisingly astute addition, if what you're hearing is accurate. She really is a very complex monster, isn’t she.

Eventually, Sans answers you.

“more like...wish you didn’t keep getting dragged into this. not really sure why frisk wants you involved, or...hell, i wish i wasn’t involved.” His eyes return to you. “ya know you don’t have to, right?”

“I do,” you answer evenly. “But I won’t know what the right thing to do is unless I look, or… I don’t know. I guess I just feel like I should try, at least.” You press your lips together. “I just wish that I didn’t feel like more is hanging on this than should be, if you...get what I mean?” You sigh. “I wish I knew what I mean,” you grumble.

“we got almost as many wishes up here as we used to have back underground,” he says, sounding bittersweet. He meets your eyes and his expression softens. “least we got real stars to wish on now.” He tugs at one of his drawstring charms with his unoccupied hand and winks at you.

You grin back, then remember something you wanted to ask him about. “So, you told me the gifts here aren’t supposed to be a big deal, right? I was wondering...when do you think a good time would be for me to give Papyrus his portrait?”

You’ve been working on it the past month or two, inspired in turn by his incredible painting. You have it up in your studio room rather than the main areas, because for some reason it still strikes you as somehow...private. You’d learned the one in the dining room at the skeleton household is actually just Papyrus, and that makes it a lot less surprising that it’s in a public area rather than a bedroom. You’ve met him, after all.

Sans has already seen the portrait, since a lot of the time when you’re painting in your studio room, he’s curled up napping or reading something on the bed. One time you think he might have been writing something, because he just kept tapping at his monster phone with his index phalanx and frowning. As for the painting, he hasn’t given an opinion on it or anything and you haven’t asked, but you can tell by the way he looks at it that he really likes it. When you’d mentioned you planned to give his brother a portrait of himself, he’d grinned and said, “sounds perfect.”

“huh,” he says after a minute or two. “actually...why not do it right now?” He smiles over at you, looking like he’s perked up a little. “feelin’ up to it?”

“Yeah, actually,” you say, starting to grin yourself. “He went over to your place, right? He’s probably still there. We can go to my apartment and grab it real quick?”

He inclines his head, then you both stand with twin groans and share a giggle about it. Your hands are still joined, and you shut your eyes as you walk together toward a downstairs bedroom. You’re not sure if he actually uses the threshold or not, but it takes you out of the view of everyone in the dining room, and you feel the lurch that’s almost becoming familiar at this point.

You open your eyes in your spare room, and take the small portrait off the dresser where it’s been sitting since you finished it. He nods, you shut your eyes again and this time open them in his kitchen.

Papyrus has his head buried in the fridge, and you hear nonspecific rummaging. Several cupboards have been left open, and various items litter the countertops. You wonder if it’s part of a system he's got going on, or if he just got sidetracked again. You’ve noticed that happens with him, sometimes.

“hey, bro,” Sans says, “you got a minute?”

Papyrus doesn’t seem startled by suddenly hearing his brother’s voice, and answers, “YES, I SUPPOSE,” distractedly into the fridge as he continues rummaging. Now you know it’s not actually cold inside, and isn’t actually plugged in since it doesn’t contain anything but monster food, which doesn't spoil. It makes sense, since neither brother can actually eat non-magic food items anyway, but it’s still vaguely disturbing for some reason. Papyrus had mentioned at least once that the fridge at Alphys and Undyne’s house actually keeps food hot, but you still haven’t been over there yet. You hope to at some point, and not only because you want to see the famous painting that hangs there.

Eventually Papyrus realizes more is not forthcoming, and his head pops up over the door of the fridge with a peevish expression, teeth parted as he inhales. Then he sees you, and his expression shifts.

“OH, HELLO. DID YOU FORGET SOMETHING HERE AS WELL? YOU COULD HAVE SENT A TEXT, I-”

You take your hand from behind you back and hold out the painting to him without further ado, and he cuts himself off.

“I figured I’d get art revenge on you,” you say with a giggle. Sans puts his arm around your waist and holds your other hand folded over your middle as you both watch Papyrus’s expression soften quietly.

You’d asked Sans for the photo you’d worked from, a candid shot of him sparring with Undyne a while back. It’s actually a view from behind his shoulder, with his arm flung out as a wave of bones tears across the background behind his red-gloved fingers. Although the view is almost completely from behind, you can just make out the shape of his sockets and the position of his jaw enough to infer a joyous expression. His scarf flutters in the breeze dramatically.

“A WORTHY TRIBUTE,” he says after a surprisingly long time. Ho goes to the counter and sets it up against the wall, propped up so he can see it as he backs away. “I’LL PUT IT IN MY ROOM WHEN WE GET BACK HOME.” But instead of opening the fridge again, he just stands a few feet away from the painting and tilts his head at it.

“I REMEMBER THAT DAY,” he says wonderingly. “UNDYNE WON.”

Sans grins fondly. “you decided what you’re makin’ yet, bro?” he prompts gently.

Papyrus straightens suddenly from where he’s started leaning over to squint at the painting again.

“YES, OF COURSE! I WAS JUST...GETTING THE EGGS!” he replies, doing an about face to yank the fridge back open.

“was thinkin’ we could ride back with you,” Sans adds after a few minutes of watching his brother rummaging and repeatedly getting distracted by the painting. “i’m feeling lazy.”

“AND WHEN HAVE YOU EVER FELT ANYTHING ELSE?” Papyrus replies without rancor, pulling open a cupboard to push things aside on the top shelf.

Sans shrugs, which you feel since his arm’s still wrapped around you. “you gonna be much longer? cause if you are, i’m sittin down,” he sighs.

Papyrus scowls down at him.

“I’M NEARLY FINISHED, SANS. DON’T BE DRAMATIC.”

Sans sighs, leaving the irony unacknowledged. “you might be right. i’d just have to get up again, wouldn’t i? that’s twice the work.”

Papyrus starts shoving things into a bag, leaving the eggs for last and setting them carefully on top.

He gives the painting one last look, checks the bag, and nods.

“OKAY, LET’S GO. I MIGHT ACTUALLY HAVE TO GO THE SPEED LIMIT TO GET THIS IN THE OVEN ON TIME,” he hollers wistfully as he turns toward the front door.

Sans shifts as if to follow, still holding on to you, but you stop in confusion. He glances at you questioningly.

“Is Frisk staying here, then?” you ask, and Papyrus turns back.

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN?” he says, tilting his head in bafflement.

“Didn’t...” you frown. No, you’re sure. “Frisk came over here with you, right?”

Papyrus just looks at you.

“...NO?” he answers, starting to frown. Sans is looking at you too, now.

“I saw them go out the front door right after you did,” you say slowly. “I heard the car start, and I just assumed they wanted to go back with you. They're really not here?” You look down at Sans, confused, and he looks back at you closely, inhales slowly.

“that kid,” he sighs, shaking his head, “i’m gonna hafta-”

Sans cuts off, and his eye lights go out like a snuffed candle.

His arm tightens around you reflexively, and the dissonant tones and crackling hiss of the language only he and his brother speak emerges from his suddenly flat grin.

Papyrus replies, and you watch as suddenly

 

reality

 

unravels.

 

 

Chapter Text

And just as suddenly, reality spins itself back out of absolute nothingness and there’s a bony hand over your mouth shoving your scream back inside, finger and thumb pinching your nose shut. Just before you panic, another bony hand appears in front of your face, spelling almost more quickly than you can follow.

quiet,” they flick silently. “f-l-o-w-e-y is small but he’s dangerous. stay still.”

The hand removes itself while also pulling your mouth open, so the near-panicked breath you take is as quiet as possible.

You and Sans are in a tree, and the arm of the hand he’d kept your scream in with is wrapped back around your waist, this time holding you steady despite the creaking, swaying evergreen branches around you. It’s freezing, and while you have your heavy sweater on, it’s not doing much to cut the wind at this height. You turn your head to look at Sans. His eye lights still haven’t returned, but you can tell he’s looking daggers at something far below on the ground anyway.

Turns out it’s Frisk, kneeling in their big, puffy coat. The hood isn’t up, and from this angle, you can see what they’re saying, and you look around but you don’t actually see anyone.

“I still wish you would,” they’re saying, and their face looks….heartbroken.

They appear to be addressing a seasonally unlikely golden flower in the half-frozen ground in front of them, and when it moves, you jump despite Sans’s arm tightening around you again. Now you can see the flower has a face.

What.

Flowey, then. That must be the ...flower.

Flowey looks at Frisk with an old expression on his jarringly childlike features, and you barely manage not to jump again when he speaks.

“Maybe I’d rather just go be with wherever the rest of me is. I don’t know if that’s possible, but...” He trails off. “Maybe I’m wrong, and it’s just a bunch of nothing. And if so, I’m okay with that, too. Why can’t you be? Maybe it’s just that time has been mostly able to move forward for this long. Being able to move around up here made me realize that I don’t have to cling to all this. I’ve been so determined to walk this path for so long and I don’t know why, but maybe there can be other paths. I don’t have to be stuck. Like this.”

Frisk shakes their head adamantly, silently.

“Have you considered that maybe I don’t want to go back to the way I was? Maybe I don’t want to ‘go back’ at all. I want to go forward, Chara. I want to move on.”

“Don’t call me that!” Frisk signs sharply. “How can you give up? Can’t you give me more time?”

“Frisk, then.” Flowey tilts his face at the ground, petals obscuring his features for a moment. When he looks back up, his expression is still impassive, but that very indifference is also intensified.

“When did you become so determined to save everyone? The fifth time? The five hundredth time? Well... it doesn’t matter.”

Flowey looks to the side. “I’ve had time, Frisk. For a thousand lifetimes, I’ve had nothing but time. Now, I know I can’t actually want anything, but I think if I could...I’d want something else, finally. I’ve had enough of time.”

The yellow flower tilts his face up, looking at the sky.

“It goes a lot farther than I ever realized. Sometimes I think...” He looks back at Frisk. “Remember the human souls? They went somewhere. They’re not gone. Well, they are gone, but they went somewhere else. I watched it happen when they left me. Maybe I want to find out. It’s interesting to feel like I might want something.”

The flower laughs a little, an empty sound. “That’s just an idea, though. I don’t actually feel anything.”

Frisk is shaking their head again. “If you had a soul, you’d want more time. You’d want to see everyone again. I’m sure of it!”

“I do see them. Almost every day. You should be proud, you know that? You really did save everyone. Even Asgore is happy. The humans...well. They are what they are, but they’re a lot better off than they could have been otherwise. The balance is being struck. Why not just ride this out and see where it takes you? This is the best one I can remember seeing.”

Frisk scrubs their hands through their hair madly, then brings their hands back in front of them.

“If the humans know more, learn more, I think that maybe they can figure out...something. A way to give it back to you. Or at least...maybe they can make you one? Five thousand people can know something a lot more than five can. The vessel shapes the knowledge.” You feel a terrible chill. “The brothers, maybe they can...” Frisk trails off.

Flowey lets the silence hang before speaking into it.

“Before you came along, I couldn’t die. You know that, right? I think I told you at least once. I tried, but it didn’t work. I just woke up back in the same spot, over and over. Chara wouldn’t let me. They refused.”

The flower looks at Frisk with the same indifference.

“They still won’t. But maybe you will.”

“I hate it when you talk like this,” Frisk says, eyes glittering with unshed tears.

Flowey sighs.

“One more time,” he says after a while. “I’ll let you try once more, but then you have to stop. I’m tired, Chara.”

Frisk gives a short, toneless shriek, slices the air with their hands. “I’m NOT Chara!”

Flowey gazes back impassively.

“Of course you are. We both are. Otherwise, none of this would have happened.”

Flowey just watches Frisk weep in silence for a while, then sighs again.

“I’m going now,” he says mildly. “I’d rather not have to say this all over again, so don’t come back until Papyrus does. And...”

The face of the uncanny flower tilts up, keeps on going until he looks into the branches of the tree you’re both sitting in. His face… drips, and Sans’s blank eye sockets get impossibly darker.

If we’re really friends… you won’t come back.”

Sans’s hand tightens on your arm, and you slam your eyes shut. Before you even have a chance to see if Frisk saw you too, you’re both in Sans’s bedroom.

Sans’s eye lights start to come back, but he stumbles heavily over to his bed and sits down soundlessly. You can’t hear him breathe. Then his hands come up, and he slowly reaches for his face, fingers rasping at his orbitals. They don’t stop there, and you watch as he slowly pushes his phalanges right into his large, catlike eye sockets, almost to the carpals. You hear a faint click after a moment. Another about 30 seconds later. A faint rasp, a tap.

“Sans?” you say, voice shaking. “Does that...hurt you?”

“jus’...need a break. gimme a minute,” he whispers thickly after an uncomfortably long time.

You approach the mattress on the floor slowly, then manage to ease yourself down next to him with a faint wince. Then you scoot back until your back is against the wall, so you don’t have to hold yourself upright anymore. It’s a relief. You’re not sure if what he’s doing hurts or not, but you’re sure you don’t want to watch it.

It takes a long time.

He sighs, and his fingers finally rasp back out of his sockets. He takes another deep breath before turning to look over his shoulder at you.

“didn’t mean to bring you. but… there wasn’t time. sorry.”

“I...gathered that,” you whisper hoarsely.

His face is blank.

“i know that’s not easy ta look at. but...”

He walks over to his garbage-coated desk, falls clumsily and hard onto the chair that probably once had a back. His hand rummages in his pocket furiously for a second, then reemerges. He looks down at the floor, not at you. His eye lights are back, at least. Small and hard. Thinking.

He looks over at you, then shuts his sockets deliberately.

“this doesn’t do nothin’.” he says shortly.

“Huh?” you have no idea what he’s talking about.

“i can still see.”

You frown, wondering what the hell...oh.

“You can still see me?” you reply, a little less unnerved for some reason.

“nope.” he says after a long time, sockets still sealed.

“just other stuff,” he elaborates after even longer. Then he opens his eyes, the lights appearing again.

He’s leaned forward, elbows on his femurs. He bends his wrists a little, drawing your attention to his fingers.

“but if i just...” he flicks his phalanges very slightly, then after a moment flicks them again. “they don’t work anymore. for...a little bit. few minutes. seconds. an hour. hard to say.” He flicks once more. One of his hands comes up, but only rubs across his forehead lightly.

“Oh,” you reply simply, remembering the last time you’d apparently seen him doing that. The night of Papyrus’s art party. His hands coming up into his hood, the rasping noises you’d heard coming out of it. The care he’d taken to make sure his face and hands were hidden. It really isn’t easy to look at. Apparently you’d fallen asleep that night before him after all. Or maybe he had just fallen asleep with his hands….huh.

“What about when you sleep?”

He just looks at you questioningly.

“When you sleep,” you repeat. “Do your...eyes work when you sleep? You close your sockets, so...”

He sighs, sounding indescribably exhausted.

“maybe we don’t sleep the same,” he says after a minute. Then he glances up, eyes sharpening. “you do see stuff when you’re sleeping, though. i’ve seen it.”

You blink, a little alarmed. “You can see my dreams?”

He looks even more confused. “nah, it’s like...” He moves his hands in front of his sockets, points out his index fingers then darts them around rapidly.

You laugh a little, but it sounds rusty and bad so you stop.

“That’s REM sleep. Rapid eye movement. It’s...” you think a second. “Human eyes move around when you have dreams, because your body’s reacting to them. Even though nothing’s actually happening to you, you feel like it is and your eyes respond to what they think they see. Some people sleepwalk, but most people’s bodies paralyze them while they sleep. So they can’t hurt themselves. But your eyes...they just...” you trail off, because he’s got a weird look on his face.

“just stuff that’s not really happening, huh?”

“Sometimes I dream about stuff that really happened,” you say darkly. “I’m...not a fan.”

“maybe we do sleep the same then,” he whispers. “what about...stuff that might happen? unhappened? stuff that will happen, maybe? you ever wonder if...” he looks sick.

“I try not to think about it,” you croak honestly.

“you got the right idea bout that,” he agrees, shuddering. You watch some unreadable expression cross his face, then settle into his bones. A decision.

“wanna make you somethin’,” he rumbles, then pulls out one of the drawers in his desk. You didn’t even know it had drawers, but they must just be hard to find if you don’t know where they are already.

Of all possible things that could be in there, what he ends up pulling out is an old, encrusted, mass-produced looking key. It’s ochre-yellowish, seems stained. Sans’s hand darts into the pile on the desktop, and when it comes back out it’s holding an extremely clean and gleaming razor blade. He makes no effort to hide what he’s doing from you, so you just keep on sitting there and watch him...

Working.

It’s a very interesting thing to see him do.

He looks like he’s meticulously scraping something off the outside of the key, although you can’t for the life of you imagine what. The yellowish patina seems to slowly loosen, however, and as time goes on it starts to gleam under his meticulous scraping. The tiny motions would seem furious if they weren’t so preternaturally precise in every possible way. Nothing seems to fall away under his etching, there’s no dust as the key shines brighter and brighter. At one point, he stops to stick the blade between his teeth, and you wince as you hear a sharp crack. His head lifts, and without removing his gaze from the key, huff-spits a piece of the blade back into the mess on his desk, then keeps on scraping with a fresh edge.

Once the key is so silvery it seems like it’s giving off its own source of light, you see him do something quickly with the blade you can’t quite see, rub his thumb against his own hand, then the key itself. He tosses the blade back into the desk mess without looking, and keeps rubbing the key until it looks...smooth? It definitely doesn’t look etched or scratched. You have no clue why he finally looks satisfied, but once he does, he looks over at you and almost smiles. He doesn’t, but almost. You wonder what your face looks like to him right now.

His eyes go back to the key, now held between the index finger and thumb of his right hand. His sockets become almost perfectly round, and then you gasp as his left hand darts over the key, the finger and thumb of that hand precisely angled over it. His eye lights flicker a moment as if he’s making an adjustment you can’t actually see happening, then you gasp again as his angled fingers draw back and up to the right, almost as if a widening window is appearing.

Because when he begins, a ring of green light appears in the socket of his left eye.

When his wrist flicks and slowly draws back the other direction, thumb at a slightly different angle this time, you start to realize the light in his eye isn’t green at all.

That’s just what you see.

Something about the key is changing too, a kind of sympathetic noise you’d almost call flashing, if it wasn’t too fast for you to actually perceive. Since you can’t you have no clue how you know that, but it’s like the way fluorescent bulbs give you a headache, even when you can’t see that they’re flashing. It is like a...noise. One you can’t actually hear.

Each key, endless keys, all existing in the same spot at the same time, which is right now. Each millisecond flash in his eye, a key. Each sweep, countless keys. Every last key pinched between his bony fingers.

The fifteenth time his hand changes shape, you can see beads of his magic start to form on the surface of his skull. He doesn’t stop though. The forty-fourth time, and he’s starting to breathe a little heavily. In the end, he makes it to fifty before finally dropping his hand, and his head hangs a little as he catches his breath.

“nice round number, i figure,” he gasps at you after a little bit, without looking up. “f-i-g-u-r-e,” his fingers click weakly.

“How many keys did you make?” you rasp instead of laughing.

He holds the key loosely, almost carelessly, in his right hand. With his left he wads the sleeve of his sweater around his fingers, then wipes his head with one long, also careless-seeming swipe. Shrugs.

“y’know exponents?”

You nod cautiously.

“ten to the, what. tenth? hundredth? however many zeroes ya want.”

“How many keys did you make?” you choke out.

He’s too worn out to laugh.

"jus’ one. followed by writing zeroes until you get tired."

Your mouth falls open as the way he speaks, like he’s quoting something, rings a very unwelcome bell.

“That’s a googleplex, Sans.”

He shrugs indifferently. “not even close, but might be enough this time. ya never know.”

“How are you able to do this?” you whisper hoarsely.

He looks at you, broken, for a long time.

“i don’t know,” he croaks hollowly.

You take a few short, panting breaths.

“Where did...you come from? Why…?”

i don’t know.”

He sounds like his soul is cracked wide open, and nothing’s pouring out but sand.

Too much time, too long in the same time.

Too much time to count, even for him.

He knows exactly how many keys are in his hand.

“You and your brother,” you rasp. “...What are you?”

“i...i don’t know.”

He’s telling the truth.

You know he is, so why do you keep asking? You can’t stop.

“Why don’t you know?”

His eye lights are gone, the grooves under his sockets echoing their hollowness.

i forgot.

He’s telling the truth.

You cover your face with your hands and sob.

After a few minutes, you feel him touch the front of your legs gently. He’s still holding the key.

You take your hands away, grab his blanket and wipe your face with it. He wiggles into your lap, kneeling over you. Sits in your lap, staring at you sadly.

“What’s Frisk going to d-do?” you croak.

“dunno,” he whispers.

“What were they talking about?”

He sighs.

“that thing doesn’t have a soul. frisk wants to...get one. make one. sounds like they’ve been trying a long time, maybe a...a bunch of times,” he says quickly, rushing it out. “but...i don’t think they have lately. just guessin, though. ‘m gonna try n find out more. i know they...know we were there. they do now at least. flowey tipped us.”

“What’s the key for?” you ask instead, because you’re not sure you want to hear much more without having a long time to think about everything you've already heard. The overheard conversation had been disturbing even though you didn’t understand any of it, really, and so had the flower...Flowey, he’d said. That stuff about “getting” or...making souls, is even more disturbing. And at a time like this seeing Sans using his magic to create something impossible had been less than soothing.

Because the scariest part of this for you is that Sans seems absolutely terrified, and you're not entirely sure why.

“toldja. it’s for you.”

“What’s it for?”

He takes a deep breath.

“something bad happens, you look for a door.” he holds the key up a little, and it’s smooth, shiny. Silver. It doesn’t glow.

“Where should I look for the door?”

He shakes his head, but you don’t think it’s at you.

“no, it’s...any door. whatever’s closest, wherever y’are at the time, okay? The closest door, and you stick this in it. doesn’t matter where, just turn this like...” he makes a motion, and you jump. The key’s turning in every direction at once.

“sorry,” he mumbles. “then you shut your eyes, okay? open the door, go in. close it, open your eyes and stay there til...i get there. or...”

He shuts his sockets and shudders, exhales slowly. “if i don’t come back, just leave. won’t matter anymore.”

“Why...how am I supposed to know...” you don’t even know what you’re asking, but he apparently does since his eyes are open again. He’s staring at your chest.

“sorry,” he whispers. “sorry. you’ll know.”

You feel like you can’t catch your breath.

“hey, hey...” He keeps repeating, looks in your eyes. Presses his forehead to yours when you close your eyes, duck your head.

“i’m overreacting. s’what i do. we know frisk, right? i do. i love frisk, an they love me too.” He sounds like he’s getting himself a little more convinced as he speaks. “that hasn’t changed. i don’t think it’s gonna come to any of this. i really don’t, k? look at me.”

You do.

i don’t think you’ll need this,” he intones slowly.

“What does it open?” you whisper.

“jus’ somewhere... safer. not safe, just...” his grin flattens even more. “place i got somewhere else. k?”

It’s not, but you nod anyways.

He leans forward, rests his forehead to yours for a long minute.

“only one place this’ll be safe, though.” His pearl-like distal phalange touches your chest gently.

“That...can’t be s-safe,” you stutter weakly.

“it is,” he says simply. “only i know how to do this. it’ll be safe, and it’ll be there when you need it. don’t...tell anyone.”

He takes your hand, pulls it into his own lap, palm up.

“it’ll be safe,” he repeats, lays the key flat against your arm and holds it there with his thumb. “don’t take it out until you use it. you can’t put it back.”

“Okay,” you agree. Nod against him. “Okay, I’ll...I’ll keep it.”

“k,” he whispers, then presses the key into your arm. It disappears.

You know exactly where it is.

He leans back on his bony ass in your lap, doesn’t look at you.

“got another question. do you wanna be able to take out your own soul?”

“What the fuck are you saying to me, Sans?” you ask. Your voice isn’t cold, but it’s hard. You can hear it.

“i can change you a little. make it so you… might be able to defend yourself more.”

“No,” you say, and your voice is cold and hard now.

He flicks his eye lights at your face. “you might wanna-”

“I said no,” you repeat. “And I don’t even want to hear the rest of what you have to say. What the hell makes you think I would ever want you to change me like that? Or make those kinds of decisions? Have you ever listened to word I have said to you?”

You’re not used to seeing him start crying, you realize. He hides his face usually. The magic just sort of wells at the corners, slips down the grooves in his face when he’s upright. He doesn’t seem ashamed of it, and he’s not now.

Well, he is ashamed. But not for crying.

He tries to talk, then his voice catches. He tries again.

“i shouldn’ta said that.”

“No,” you say a third and final time, then reach out and take him into your arms as he falls apart. You hold him as best you can while his whole body shakes.

“the flower said something i know i said,” he sobs quietly. “i know i never said it, but...it was m-me.”

You sigh, push at him a little until he crawls off and lays on the bed. You lay down next to him, pull him close. You’re adamant, but you were never really angry with him. Maybe you could choose to be a little softer, sometimes. You can try to be soft now, because his breathing’s weird, and he’s holding on to you like he’s drowning.

“i’m not a murderer,” he groans into you painfully, fists clutching and pulling at your clothes.

He’s telling the truth.

He’s writhing with outrage, discomfort. Disgust. His slippers come off, and he doesn’t notice. They get slowly kicked to the floor over a period of time.

“i didn’t kill anyone.”

He’s not telling the truth. Well, he is, actually… and he isn’t. He’s not lying. It’s complicated, and it can stay that way without your interference for now.

You put your hand softly on his skull, press the way he likes. He groans softly, shuddering, then continues to sob quietly. You can feel his hands shaking where he clutches at you. What he’s going through reminds you a lot of when you’d finally realized you’d...died. And not-died. You’re not sure if Flowey is physically dangerous (although you wouldn’t discount it), but he’s obviously dangerous to Sans if he can cause this sort of thing to happen to him just by saying two sentences.

You slowly realize you’re not very scared anymore. Strangely enough, it feels like a potential kind of permanently-not-scared-anymore. A lot of things are very, very complicated, but that’s something you already knew, and are already used to. It’s okay. Even Flowey, as unsettling as he is, you don’t think is quite as dangerous as Sans might believe, although doing this to him is bad enough.

Or maybe he’s just not that dangerous… anymore? Now he’s just incredibly mean... when he wants to be. And a liar. He does want things, you can tell. Feels things, too. Frisk might make decisions, and you’re going to talk to them very seriously about that rather soon, but right now...right now is fine. It’s okay. But Sans isn’t. He’s still scared, and you don’t actually think what he’s scared of is Frisk, or even Flowey.

Eventually his weeping lessens, then ceases. You lay down the rest of the way facing him, wiping a few last traces of magic away with your fingers. You keep touching him; his face, his skull, his shoulders. A few last shakes run through his body, violent enough to hear a soft clack or two, but it seems to clear his system a little.

You look into his eyes for a long, long time, and both of you feel a lot calmer after that.

“will you make me feel good?” he whispers tonelessly after even longer. “i forgot how.”

Your heart crumples like a piece of tinfoil. He sounds so hopeless, even if he is calmer.

“Yeah,” you say, caressing his orbital bone. “I can try.”

He shuts his sockets with a tiny grunt, a ragged, hitching sigh. He rolls onto his back, pushes a bone arm under you so you can hold him better, closer. You lean up on your elbow and over him, and he pushes his head against your chest, sockets still shut.

You put your hand in his.

His breath hitches, and he pushes it out like it’s hard to get rid of. He puts your fingers under his shirt hesitantly. “just...” he turns his face a little more toward your body, shudders. He touches your fingers to the underside of his ribs, pushes them in a little. Curls them.

“please? i feel gross.” He pushes his breath out again, like he doesn’t want it in there, like it’s going bad wherever he keeps it.

“are you sure you don’t want to do it the other way?” you ask softly. It might make him feel better, more balanced. Pressing your lips to the top of his head, darting out your tongue a little. He’s smooth, and you don’t taste him.

He pushes out his breath. It’s no particular temperature as it pushes through the weave of your sweater.

“i feel gross inside,” he repeats thickly. “want you in there. please?”

You hum a little, rest your cheek on his skull gently. When your fingers touch the tip of his xiphoid process, he puts pressure on your elbow with his hand, like he wants your whole arm up inside him. You don’t move, other than to trace the bone with your index finger. He moves his legs a little, scrapes a socked heel on the bed as he breathes in the same odd, labored way. Fingers at your elbow again.

“Hey,” you say gently. You choose to be soft. “You’re not ready, and...neither am I. I don’t think that’ll feel very good.”

He doesn’t make a sound, but you feel his fingers on your elbow again, not pushing, but...

Oh, dear. Apparently he doesn’t care if it doesn’t feel good. You think about what he said, the way he’d asked. If this had been how he’d felt when he’d sought out experiences with humanity, it’s no wonder they weren’t as pleasant as he’d hoped. But he kept on doing it for a while, according to him. And he’d said he was perfectly capable of engineering his own misery; that takes on a slightly different tone to you now.

The more you think about it, the more you wonder if a good time was what he’d been after in the first place.

Some of the things you know about him make a lot more sense suddenly, but you let that go since it doesn’t matter right now.

You take away your fingers, change positions and just lay down flat on top of him. It’s not something you usually do, but you feel some of the tension leaving him as you distribute your weight, let it press down into him. He shudders, relaxes a little more.

“I don’t want to play ‘let’s pretend Sans is a thing because right now that’s easier than being Sans’. Okay? We’re not going to do that.”

He doesn’t answer, and his sockets are closed.

“Why don’t you want me to touch you?” He knows what kind of touch you mean.

“don’t want you to see it,” he replies eventually. “s’gross.”

You lean up on your elbows after a minute, look at his eye lights when he opens them. They’re still smaller, harder than they should be. He closes his sockets again. You go off him to the side a little, the other side, but you leave a leg thrown over his pelvis. You pull up his shirt a little, and slide your hand underneath but on the outside of his ribcage, flat-palmed.

He doesn’t mean you feeling bad because of him, or at least not only that. He literally doesn’t want you to feel whatever’s going on in him, to see it, or know it that way. Maybe because he feels like it’s not...him? You know him, but he doesn’t want you to know this. No wonder it’s off the table.

But he’s asking for help with something, and he’s having trouble with being vulnerable. Trying to force it, maybe. You can relate to that. You feel a deep and calming sympathy come over you, and you pull the flat of your hand from his clavicle down his sternum. A bead of magic forms at the inner corner of his shut socket.

“You know, here’s the thing about bad times. They don’t stay real, not the same way the good ones do. You don’t have to keep them like this. You can just let it go. I know you.” You touch the tip of his xiphoid process with the pad of your middle finger. “But I know how one bad thing can seem bigger than a thousand good things, too. A...a million.”

You trace a circle, thinking about the time he left a bag of hotdogs on the inside of your doorknob so you wouldn’t worry they’d been tampered with. His next breath comes out a little easier.

“You know that’s not fair. There’s no balance to that kind of thinking, right? It’s the good times that stay real, no matter what.”

Your draw another circle, a little up the inside of his sternum. The time he caught Papyrus’s scarf before it hit the ground, had it back around his neck before his brother even had a chance to crack his teeth.

Hmm. Touching him this way is different. You’re not turned on, and you’re not trying to elicit that in him, either. You wonder how this feels for him, but it seems like it’s helping. It’s certainly not hurting. You touch his floating rib, remembering how he’d made you food he couldn’t even share with you, just to make you laugh, just so it would be something special.

You want to feel closer, so you hook your leg a little, push your arm under him. He’s pliable, willing. You pull him forward to face you, lying on your sides with him wrapped up in you. It feels good, just different. His sockets are still shut, but apparently, not his eyes. You wonder what he sees, and you touch his forehead with yours.

You lean up on one elbow, and he presses his face to your forearm. After a while, his magic overflows there, but he doesn’t shake or sob. His breathing’s a little tight, but steady.

“I know so many good things about you,” you muse, tracing circles just inside his sternum.

You write zeroes on the inside rim of his ribcage until you get tired.

 

Chapter Text

Everyone says we just...showed up one day.

That’s always possible. Likely, even. I don’t know about anything before that. Just...flashes maybe, but not even that clear. Feels like I used to work in a lab, sometimes. Still do, but different. Maybe I had a...grocery store? Maybe a spouse, some kids?

I don’t wonder what happened to em if I did. I try not to wonder about a lot of stuff if I can help it.

Always had Papyrus, though. I can’t be sure, but somehow... I still am. Funny how that works.

Guess what people don’t think on is how much everyone said it was crowded down there, even though it felt like hardly anyone was left. And it was crowded, but not cause of too many people.

Time was different then. Same thing that happened to the water happened to time. Too much time, adding itself up and stretching out, making itself at home. It got everywhere; you ate it up with your breakfast, took it out with the trash. Crawls right inside you and stays there.

Time kept getting bigger, until there wasn’t any space left.

Wonder if that’s how I got this way. Just get piled in on top a yourself until you’re so stacked, you could really be anywhere, if you think about it.

Gotta make enough space to keep breathing, however you can.

It’s the only way to survive.

If you're into that sort of thing.

Chapter Text

You and Sans watch the first sunrise of the new year from the beach. It’s freezing, but you’ve got your heavy coat on now.

“had paps get frisk and take em home,” he says after a while.

“Will everyone wonder what happened?” you ask, and the wind tries to whip your words away.

“nah.” His reply makes it into your ears just fine. “they’re used to it. last day’s just wrap up anyhow.” He shrugs.

“I feel bad for Toriel,” you say after a few more minutes. His pained sigh also reaches your ears just fine, and nothing comes after it.

“Do you feel any better?” you try.

The tip of his thumb rasps across his forehead. “that flower really fuckin’ hates me, huh?” he says in a deceptively mild tone. “wonder what i did.”

“Maybe you didn’t do anything,” you point out. “I’m not sure he needs a reason, other than you hearing some stuff he didn’t want you to. Or maybe you did something… good, and he didn’t like that either. You don’t have any way to know.”

“doesn’t like me keepin’ an eye on him, that’s for sure,” he says.

“Who is he?”

“can’t talk about it.” He looks miserable.

“Well, whoever he is, I think whatever he did to you is messing you up, but maybe in a different way than you realize. I think you’re stuck in a bad perspective.”

He waits.

“I’m picking up on the idea that what Frisk does is a lot more complicated than just what happened that day in the BioMed building,” you continue. “Like they can not only make things unhappen, but maybe they can make all this-” you make a gesture taking in the beach, the sun, the two of you, “-unhappen, too.”

The cresting sun glints off the deep grooves under his eyes. He doesn’t narrow his sockets against the glare, because his eyes don’t work like that. The sockets are still dark, and the points in them don’t fade. He keeps his hands in his pockets, but not because he’s cold.

He looks at you.

“dunno. it’s not the same as it used to be, but...maybe.”

You sigh.

“Well, I think what you’re forgetting about is that we could both die today for completely unrelated reasons, too.”

His sockets widen a little.

“I mean it,” you press. “None of us know what the future holds. And like...we can’t control most things that can happen to us. I get why this is super fucked up, don’t get me wrong, but...”

You try not to chew your lips because with the cold and wind, that’s almost guaranteed to crack them.

“For me, this isn’t that different than the kind of uncertainty I live with every day.”

“huh,” he replies softly. “didn’t think of it that way.”

“There’s some stuff I haven’t talked to you about, either,” you say slowly. “Ever since...we met, I guess, time hasn’t been the same for me. I gain or lose it sometimes, and I don’t really know why. Maybe I’m just not experiencing it the same as I used to? It’s hard to know if it’s real, or if it’s just….me, I guess.”

You finally turn your head and look at him; he seems a little surprised but not too much.

“you said somethin like that when you first came to our house, but you never mentioned it again. thought maybe it was just a temporary thing. guess not, huh?”

You shake your head slowly. “I’m changing, whether I want to or not. But that’s just another thing that isn’t all that different than what I’m used to.”

You don’t say it aloud, but for the first time you acknowledge to yourself that at some point you started knowing when people are telling the truth. You’re not sure how you know, and you don’t always, but...it’s there. It’s a fact.

“Alphys gave me my homework,” you say after a bit. “Do you have to be somewhere, or are you willing to be my study buddy?”

He looks into the sun for a few seconds more, than nods without answering and takes your hand.

***

You adjust your knuckles under the side of your face and flip through the next document on your viewer. Your study buddy snores into your neck pleasantly, cuddling in a little further. You rest your chin on his skull while you read, and think.

Most of this makes an intuitive sort of sense, although not much practical sense in the contexts you’re familiar with. There’s nothing about why human souls are stronger than monster souls, and you get the impression that a lot of ‘why’ questions end up being answered with ‘that’s just how it works’. You get it, but you don’t have to like it.

Love, hope, and compassion compose monster souls, and without these they cannot persist. Humans souls apparently don’t need those things, but rather have color-based traits that can be isolated and examined. They can also have something called determination that’s separate from traits, although there really isn’t anything else here about that. Huh.

There’s more about monster’s bodies being made of magic, and having relatively little physical substance otherwise. Because of this, their bodies are much more continuous with their souls than human bodies are.

Continuous, like continuum.

You glance up at the deep blue peony on the wall of your studio room, considering the implications of that. At rest, you don’t feel necessarily aware of your soul, although you suppose it’s more that the awareness itself is the evidence of it. Ugh. It’s all a very convoluted sort of reasoning, no distance between the self that observes and the self that is observed.

A part of you wonders about the changes in you Sans had offered to make. Maybe you should have let him explain himself. No, you stand by what you had said, but it still happened. Maybe at some point you’ll talk about it some more.

Your response had been sincere, but heavily influenced by the fear and uncertainty you’d both been feeling after the conversation between Frisk and Flowey you’d eavesdropped on. You wonder how much of Sans’s ‘work’ is keeping an eye on things this way...people too, you guess. You wonder again just how many jobs Sans has. At this point, you’re aware of at least four. That’s a lot for anyone. And from what Alphys had said, some of it is stuff only he can do. You’ve known he’s had transportation skills for a long time now, and after seeing him make that key (you’re aware of that too, hidden and safe), you definitely believe that. No wonder he seems so tired all the time.

At least he seems like he’s got people looking out for him, as much as they can. You’d already picked up on the way Papyrus nagging Sans for ‘laziness’ actually had the effect of getting his brother to rest more often; not like reverse psychology, more like a reminder to Sans to stay true to his own ideals. Like, ‘this is how you’d be if everything wasn’t messed up, so maybe go do that now.’

It’s like the way Sans had initially teased you for looking at his bones had ended up made you more comfortable checking him out. You sigh in exasperated affection; he’d cranked you up over his crunchy egg breakfast, then given you permission to look. Because he wanted you to look. He really is too subtle for you sometimes.

You thumb to the next document, and wonder if it was really supposed to be in here with the rest. Because it’s a short narrative involving Toriel and Asgore, an adopted human child, and a biological son who had both died. Their names aren’t given, but you feel a chill.

“Hey,” you say quietly.

Sans stirs, and his eye lights coalesce in his sockets as they open to take in your face. Then he shifts around slowly, reads what you’ve been reading. You scroll for him, since his fingers don’t work on your viewer.

“alphie’s got her own ideas, i guess,” he says cryptically after a minute.

“Is it true?” you ask.

“far as i know, yeah.” He sighs. “it’s not exactly a happy story, is it.”

“Poor Toriel,” you say again, and he nods sadly. “I don’t think this is part of what I’m supposed to review for human consumption,” you add wryly. “I think she just wanted me to know this for some reason, like you said.”

You scroll back to the list of known human soul traits: patience, bravery, integrity. Justice, kindness, perseverance.

“That really gave me a lot to think about,” you state baldly.

Sans looks conflicted, then resigned. His fingers rasp across his face, click against a closed socket a few times.

“Frisk thinks me n my bro got made for something. Like...constructs. Experiments.”

You frown, disturbed.

“Why do they think that?”

He looks a little distant, detached.

“said they talked to some people that don’t exist anymore. back underground.”

“Like...ghosts? Dead people?” you ask, trying to understand.

“nah,” he sighs. “ghosts are just regular monsters; not corporeal though. this was something else, not dead. just...they don’t exist.”

“You think...” you frown again. “You think they used their power over time or whatever. It made them able to talk to people who didn’t exist anymore? Like...talking through time, maybe?”

He shrugs, doesn’t reply.

“Do you think Frisk is right?”

“can’t rule it out,” he replies evenly. “but...no, not really. I think we came from somewhere else, ended up down there somehow.” The points in his sockets tense. “got some stuff i can’t explain, but i know it’s mine. can’t get it to make sense, but can’t ignore it either. i dunno.”

“I can relate,” you sigh.

He looks extremely dubious, and you pinch your fingers to dismiss your viewer. You pick up his fingers from his chest, play with them a little.

“My mother falsified my birth certificate,” you say finally. You glance down. “Do you know what that is?” He nods silently.

“There’s no father listed there or anything like that, and investigating it would make more trouble for me than it’d fix, in the long run. In more than one way.”

You glance down again, but his expression’s unreadable.

“I don’t know why I exist either. I don’t even know...most things about myself, I guess? Well, no. Not exactly,” you muse, thinking about it. “I look at my face in the mirror, and I don’t have points of reference for half of it. Why are my eyes like this? My nose? I don’t look much like my sister; she looks like our mom,” you sigh regretfully. “I’m mixed, but I don’t even know with what,” you say with a small, bitter smile.

“huh,” he replies eventually. “frisk’s like that, too.”

“Huh?”

“frisk. they don’t know where they came from, or why. don’t remember nothing cept underground. they talk like that sometimes, cause humans ask em stuff and they don’t know what ta say. guess i have a hard time understanding exactly what they mean sometimes, but...”

His sockets change shape a little. “guess i don’t, at the same time.”

You lean down and rub your eyebrow across his forehead a little.

“You have someplace you're supposed to be already, don’t you?” you ask quietly.

You feel him shrug again.

“once I head out, might not be able to see you for a week or two,” he admits reluctantly.

You exhale a little explosively. “Well, it might be selfish, but I’m glad you’re still here. Thanks.”

He’s shaking his head. “nah,” he half-whispers, then turns to bury his face in you again. “i didn’t do nothin’.”

You stroke his skull and just breathe together a few minutes.

“’m a mess,” he adds.

“I knew you were a mess as soon as I met you,” you point out. “Did you know there was road salt in your slippers? Just sort of fused on there. And yeah, it was cold but not cold enough yet that year for it to snow. That means it was there since the year before, and you didn’t give a shit. So, not much about you is coming as a shock, at least…not this part of it.”

He leans back his head to look up at you.

“you noticed something like that, huh?”

You raise your eyebrows a little, gaze into your painting.

“You ever heard that the devil’s in the details?”

He nods in your peripheral vision.

“All I really get is the details. I mean, I get so bogged down in them, it takes me forever to see the big picture, or know what’s really going on. I’m always ten steps behind everyone else, it feels like.” You sigh. “I’m lucky I survived the academia death gauntlet, because I’m not really suited to much else. I can’t think on my feet.”

“eh,” he demurs quietly. “you just...think deeper bout stuff, maybe. makes you more likely to be right in the end.”

“I don’t really care about being right. I wish I was right less, because I see way too many worst-case scenarios.”

He looks troubled. “hey. you uh. helped me out a lot. you want me to touch you or anything?”

You give him a bit of a weird look. “I’m not keeping score,” you point out.

He just shrugs.

“No,” you elaborate slowly. “I like how we are now.” Okay, yeah. Sometimes he is hard to read, you guess. “You can go back to sleep if you want to,” you add. “I’m still looking through this stuff anyways, and you make a good chin rest.”

His face softens out of unreadability and into something a little more familiar. He nods, and tucks his face back into you with a sigh.

You summon your viewer, pull up the University dialogue. You take several of the files from Alphys and create an attachment...interesting how the ‘answer’ and ‘answer all’ widgets are so close to each other. Easy to make a mistake that way. You’ve complained about it before, but the wheels of bureaucracy grind exceedingly slow.

Sans’s snore starts up again, and you smile and rub your cheek on his sleepy skull.

You flick your finger and send the file attachment of monster information, excepting the narrative about the children, to everyone who has ever worked, attended, been contacted by, or inquired about Ebott University, then dismiss your viewer and lay your upper body back down with a suppressed groan. You wiggle your limbs in between and under his until you’re tangled together sufficiently, then exhale and try to let your mind wander. You’re glad for his mildly soporific aura yet again, because you’d usually be too stressed out to sleep with so much on your mind. You’re also a tiny bit glad he’s going to be working, even though you’ll miss him a lot. Miss this, too.

But it’ll give you a better opportunity to talk to Frisk alone, and at this point you don’t want to wait too much longer before that happens.

***

Frisk’s face is carefully blank when they open the door, and you finish sending a message with a nod before you look up.

“We should talk,” you gesture. “Are you free?”

“I know you were there,” they reply, then nod you in past them. “Of course,” you reply as you walk past them.

Sans has been gone a week already, which sort of sucks a lot, and also sort of has given you enough time to actually think through everything that you’ve seen and heard, and a lot of the stuff you’ve learned.

To your surprise, once you get to the dining room they just keep going toward the stairs that lead down toward their sitting room, and presumably their bedroom. They pause, turn back to you. Maybe they noticed the absence of your footsteps, which can be felt through some parts of the floor.

“You’ve never seen my portrait, have you?” they ask, tilting their head a little. “The one Papyrus did. It’s in my room.”

Then they turn around and just keep going, so you follow them.

Frisk’s room is filled with shelves, much like Papyrus’s, but it’s hard to notice what on them because of the dark-brilliant and massive painting on the wall to the left when you walk in. It dominates the room.

It’s square like yours, but it must be five by five at least. Shockingly enough, the center of it is a chaotic, roiling red heart-shape, and something in you recognizes it. It… echoes.

This is a more literal (representational?) portrait of Frisk’s soul than you expected. It spreads itself garishly on a complex purple field of bones, thin, geometric, and angular rather than the swirling organic patterns you’ve seen in Papyrus’s other paintings.

You take a step closer, and notice that the roiling, uncertain appearance of the heart itself is partially caused by a certain asymmetry in the number and shape of the bone patterns that create the heart, offset by the rigid angularity of the purplish ones that form the field it’s on.

There’s no white in this painting that you can see. The highlights look to be the pale orange you remember seeing in all his other works...the orange bones, you suppose. the overall impression of painting itself is moderately disturbing.

Frisk is watching you look at the painting impassively.

“I see why you keep this in your room,” you comment after a moment. “I keep mine in a private room, too.”

Frisk sighs.

“I don’t mind people seeing it,” Frisk gestures, unconcerned. “But the colors don’t really go with anything else in the house.” They smile a little weakly, a little crooked. They’re really young, aren’t they? “These colors don’t really go with anything.”

You look at Frisk a little sadly.

“I released the information.”

They blink.

“I thought you wanted to talk about it first. What parts did you decide-”

“All of it,” you state, cutting them off. “Nothing I saw would put any monsters at risk, and I can’t see any reason why it should be a secret. Not that there was much in the first place.”

They look a little wounded.

“Were you worried I’d change my mind about it?”

“Not really,” you reply, looking at the painting again. “But I already told you I’d do what I saw fit, and you didn’t actually ask me to look over the information at all, although apparently you authorized it? Alphys did.” You glance at Frisk again.

“Do you really think someone made Sans and Papyrus? Like experiments? Or...hybrids?”

Frisk’s eyes widen, and they glance to the side evasively.

“You think they can help you make a soul for your...friend? Or you just want to, what? See how they’re made and use it like a blueprint? What would you even use to start with, what are souls even...”

You shut your eyes a second and take a deep breath.

“Well, I released the information, so who knows. Maybe humans will be able to create some kind of-” you fingerspell it”-franken-soul you’ll be able to use for your friend.” You turn to them beseechingly.

“Would you really end all of us for that, though? Just snap your fingers and we wink out of existence? If it doesn’t work, and you can’t actually save him? Why is he so important to you?”

“He is that important to me,” Frisk answers finally, refusing to address anything else. “It doesn’t matter why. He’s the only one I haven’t...I haven’t been able to save.” They have a strange combination of both anger and relief on their face. It doesn’t suit them.

“You can’t always save everyone, Frisk. Especially if they don’t want to be saved,” you gesture painfully. It doesn’t make you happy to be saying this. “How long have you been trying this? Have I...” you swallow, look down. You don’t want to ask questions about yourself, because you have a feeling Frisk might know the answers. And even if they don’t, you probably still shouldn’t. You try and steel yourself, think of the fear you’d seen in Sans’s sockets, in his shaking hands.

“I don’t think you should use the powers you have, Frisk. It’s not right. It’s not right to make those kinds of decisions for everyone, even if it’s so you can keep trying to save someone else. It’s not...it’s not right,” you finish with a limp gesture, a trailing whisper.

Frisk’s eyes glitter with rage and unshed tears.

“Sans fell down,” they sign decisively, unforgivably. “Six years ago.”

Your throat closes. “Wh-” you gasp a hitched breath. “What?”

“You know that monsters’ souls are threefold. Love and Compassion. Hope.”

You breathe through flared nostrils.

“Falling down is what happens when a monster loses one of those three things. Their souls can’t sustain themselves without them. They just...” a haunted look is in Frisk’s eyes. “unravel.” They swallow reflexively.

“That’s how against their nature it is. And he just… I really thought there was no way something like that could happen, especially after everything else was over, after we got to the surface-”

Tears threaten but still don’t fall.

“I don’t know why. I don’t think anything in particular even happened, and if it did I don’t know what it was. One day he just...didn’t get out of bed. Papyrus couldn’t even-”

The tears finally escape as Frisk takes a deep, shuddering breath. You stand there feeling turned to stone as they continue.

“One time, a time that didn’t happen, Sans said something to me. If you have some sort of special power... isn't it your responsibility to do the right thing?” Their eyes pin you in place.

“Well, how the hell am I supposed to know what ‘the right thing’ is? He never explained that to me! He’s such a hypocrite. Says I have to take responsibility for what I can do, but when has he ever taken responsibility? Even for himself? He’s allowed to just give up, but I-” Now they’re crying in earnest.

“Maybe he would have rather I just let it end there. Rather than have to wade through what this does to him again. But I did think about it what he said. A lot. And I can’t see for the life of me how watching the people I love suffer and die, when I could make it otherwise, is any more right than...than killing them myself,” they finish sharply, looking nauseous.

“It’s possible rationalize anything,” they continue, sick expression deepening. “Are they safer after the worst has already happened? So they can’t be hurt ever again? Is that what he really wanted all along?” Their eyes bulge with horror, then they turn to you.

“Please listen to me when I tell you. I cannot. Accept. That. I understand that I don’t have the right to make these decisions. But please, also understand that I will not accept that death is better than life. That nonexistence is better than existence. And so, I choose because I don’t have the right not to decide, either. Everything is a choice. Choosing not to choose is itself a choice.”

You think about the time Sans offered to change you.

It is a choice.

You already knew, and you hate it. You feel it crystallizing inside you.

“What did you rationalize? What did you try to...to justify?” you ask insistently, scaring yourself.

“What do you know that no one else can remember?”

You don’t actually want to know the answer.

But here you are.

Frisk’s tears dry up, and their knees loosen as they fall ass-first on their bed.

“Sans killed me 348 times before I managed to get us to the surface,” they sign decisively, unforgivably. “I killed him eight times.”

You smell the pain.

“I don’t want to hurt you anymore. I don’t want to hurt anyone,” they sign. “Please understand, it wasn’t the same underground as it is here. I could..” they trail off. “I fell, and when the barrier broke, it had only been one day. It had been...” their face blanks out carefully. “eons, possibly. I don’t have a way to know that.”

“But you don’t understand what it took to get him to kill me. I don’t think you...can,” they gesture hesitantly. “The possibilities that can cause him to do something like that… in practical terms, they don’t exist. It should have been impossible. Do you understand? It’s not his nature.”

Why?” you ask incredulously. “Why would you do something like that?”

“To see if I could,” they inform you sadly. Rub their face a second.

“Every time, he thought I got out. Do you see? He thought I’d gone back to wherever I came from. But there was just...” Their eyes unfocus, grow dull. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I was lost in darkness while he talked to me, explaining everything. He encouraged me, or...hated me. Cursed me, and I deserved it. Wished me well and told me goodbye. Told me to go to hell. But I already had, and there was nothing there,” they sign desperately. “Time didn’t happen, but I stayed as long as I could until eventually, I had to...try again, something different each time. Trying to get out. I even...”

They rub their face again roughly, then stand up and stare into the roiling purplish red of their portrait.

“I killed everyone,” they add finally. “I killed them all, more times than I can count. My mother. Old people. Children. I looked for as many people to kill as I could, everyone who saw me or talked to me, until nobody came. I was afraid, and I hated them. I hated myself, and I couldn’t get out. They killed me too; every last one of them. Except for...”

Frisk looks at you.

“There is no possible place or time where Papyrus kills me.”

They look back into their painting. You notice they don’t say they never killed Papyrus.

“I love him very much. But that’s...not why. Even though I think that being able to be certain about just one thing, that’s what made me eventually able to do what I needed to do. To free us all.

I love him because he’s so good, whether it’s convenient or not, whether anything else is good or not, but more than that... it’s because he’s the only person who sees me for who I really am. The whole me, not just the...” they gesture indecisively. “the parts that are acceptable, or useful, or...please them.”

You wait til Frisk looks back at you.

“Who are you?” you ask, this time accompanied by a dry whisper.

Frisk smiles.

“I am a murderer.”

“You were...just a child,” you whisper, sign. “You didn’t know-”

“I stopped being a child a long time ago,” Frisk cuts you off. “Eons. I knew what I was doing. But, more than that. This is part of me, now. It will be forever. Not that ‘forever’ really means anything to me anymore.”

“I don’t believe that,” you answer, hiccuping. You don’t know when you started crying.

“It’s true whether you believe it or not,” they sign casually. “Even absolute annihilation can’t change this. I found that out eight times,” they add, like it’s part of a grocery list.

They take a step toward you.

“But maybe you should believe me,” they sign, tilting their head in a way that seems...unfortunate.

“Maybe if he can see it without even looking...what can you do?”

Their hand goes to their chest, and you backpedal until you hit the wall.

“Don’t,” you rasp.

“Nobody wants to see this,” they continue, as if to themselves. “Nobody loves Chara. And they shouldn’t, of course, but I try and do it anyway. He told me I should try, that even the worst person can get better...if you try.”

You vomit, and it gets everywhere as a red, threatening glow starts at the corner of your vision.

“Does it make a difference that I feel bad about Sans? Not for killing him. That wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to… to ruin him, like I got ruined before I even had a chance to find out there was anything else. My hands were covered in dust before I even knew what it was, what I was. Is that justice? Is that fair?”

“So I forced him to kill me. It wasn’t easy, but once I figured it out...you couldn’t imagine what he was like. Even when I pretended I wanted to stop fighting, he never stopped. He shoved them right through me while I laughed the blood into his face. I tried to get it in his eyes, if I could.”

You cover your own eyes, but that doesn’t stop Frisk’s voice, somehow. It’s not okay.

This isn’t Frisk’s voice.

It continues.

“It’s been eons, but this is still the oldest I’ve ever been. How can you love Sans, after what I did to him?”

You’re on the floor now, you think, and the dark blue cloud has come to steal your vision. Part of you knows it won’t help if something else happens, but for now...it’s...there.

“Is he ruined? I bet you know better than anyone. He trusts you. Did he show it to you? Is it...disgusting?”

They sound viscerally horrified. Fascinated.

No,” you hear yourself growl from somewhere deeper than your chest. You know they can hear this.

He’s. Not. Ruined.

You can’t see anything, and all you smell is vomit and your own fear, your own...resolve. Integrity.

And neither are you,” you add, the truth of it rings across infinite universes.

It stops.

A thin, heartbroken wail clears your vision suddenly, and you can see Frisk curled up in a ball in front of you. You’re both on the floor, you’re shoved against the wall still, and the painting is just a painting. Wordless howls of grief are coming from the broken wad of human in front of you, and you’d try and pat them on the shoulder or something if it wasn’t for the fact that you’re coated in sickness. At least you didn’t piss your pants.

The door to Frisk’s bedroom opens, and the world’s tallest living skeleton takes in the scene, sockets narrowing enigmatically, then drooping into profound sorrow. A gloved hand rubs across the bone between his eyes furiously for a moment.

“OH, FRISK. FOR FUCK’S SAKE.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Papyrus is holding Frisk, or at least you assume that’s what the quietly weeping, blanket-covered lump in his lap is. Frisk’s a little bigger than you, but you’re starting to think there’s no one Papyrus can’t manage to cuddle effectively. Papyrus’s teeth are slightly parted, and his sockets are uncharacteristically teardrop-shaped. He looks up as you descend the stairs, wearing borrowed clothes after your brief shower. You just went ahead and tossed your clothes in the trash.

Whatever Frisk had done seems to have harmed them as much as you, and you can’t really find it in yourself to be angry at them. In fact, you feel a small roil of guilt as you consider that this is the second time you’ve berated them into explaining things to you that you might have been better off not knowing. Still, despite the fact that your soul aches from it and you feel incredibly emotionally raw, all of these secrets are the kind that fester unaired. There’s so much pain in this family, and it seems like you’re becoming a part of it regardless. Maybe it’s time for you to shoulder your share.

You come and sit down perpendicular to Papyrus and his sad burden, and sigh heavily through a raw throat.

“DO I HAVE YOUR PERMISSION TO SPEAK FRANKLY WITH YOU?”

Papyrus is looking at the wall across the room, not you. You think you know what he’s talking about. It shouldn’t surprise you but somehow it still manages to.

“Yeah,” you rasp.

He leans down, grabs his own ankle and sets it on his knee, adjusts the weeping human a little in the resultant extended lap. He pulls his gloves off, surprising you again, then holds them up in front of himself. He begins, sockets still fixed on the far wall.

“Nothing I tell you now is meant to excuse or dismiss Frisk’s behavior,” he gestures with impossibly long, thin phalanges. They gleam with meaning, with strength. “It is meant to provide context for what you’ve just endured.”

He goes preternaturally still for at least two full minutes, and neither speaks nor breathes. He continues as suddenly as he started.

“Frisk is not well. It is much worse than the way in which you were not well, some time ago.” Papyrus’s sockets shut a moment, then open again. “I do not believe that when they do something like this that they are trying to be cruel. But there are also very many things I do not know.”

“I do know that a part of Frisk is something that was not always there. I do not understand how it is possible that this is the case, but I also have never known them any other way than they are now. Frisk has done things before like what they did to you today, but not in a long time. It is inappropriate and-”

Papyrus is still for almost five minutes this time.

“-violent.” he gestures with finality. “This is also why my brother needed more information about what happened where you work, when Frisk showed their soul. We had to know if anyone was harmed.”

Papyrus’s expression is tense, and he still hasn’t looked at you. It seems like this is a very difficult conversation for him.

“I believe Frisk does this because they want to communicate somehow, and are unable to do so. When the pain becomes unbearable, they speak from their soul in a way that can harm others and themself. Sometimes, they even try to-”

Papyrus cuts himself off and closes his sockets in grief, then finally turns to look at you. His sockets widen slowly.

“You surprise me,” he gestures.

Out of habit, you sign back at him silently.

“A lot of people say that I surprise you or… I challenged you? I don’t know what they’re talking about.”

“You know the truth,” his incredibly elongated bones shape the words decisively; words you don’t know, but understand anyway.

“What truth?” you reply, baffled.

His head tilts a little, as if you aren’t seeing something extremely obvious.

“Most of them,” he gestures bafflingly, “but especially that anyone can get better if they try, and that everyone deserves that chance. To do better, and be loved and protected while they recover.”

“And that...challenged you?”

Papyrus turns pink, but doesn’t necessarily look pleased.

“No,” he replies a little reluctantly. He looks back at the wall, becomes still for a long moment again. He looks back at you.

“I do not want to tell you,” he says after a long moment.

“You don’t have to,” you answer sincerely.

He looks relieved.

“I am responsible for Frisk because of what I believe.”

Papyrus looks at you for a long moment, and his face grows incredibly sad again.

“Frisk is here with us because they tried to do what they did to you... to Toriel. It was Frisk’s decision to come and stay here. Frisk does not want Toriel to know what they are. They are worried that it will hurt her, or that they will hurt her in some other way. Whether they mean to or not.”

You take a deep breath, then another.

“Who is Chara?” you gesture finally.

Papyrus looks down at the weeping lump in his lap. His hands lower and rest on the blanket. Eventually, his eye sockets shut and you wonder if somehow he is falling asleep, even though Sans isn’t here.

Then he raises his hands reluctantly.

“Chara died a long time ago.”

His sockets open to unfathomable darkness.

“Chara was Toriel’s child.”

Papyrus’s teeth part.

“Chara is Frisk’s soul.”

Your hands come up and cover your mouth as you try to absorb that.

“How is that… possible?” you manage eventually.

“I do not know,” he reiterates regretfully. “Part of Chara exists at the same time and in the same place as Frisk. No one is happy with this.”

“Is Chara some kind of... ghost?” you ask.

Papyrus shakes his head. “Chara was a child who was hurt very badly before they came under Toriel’s care, as was Frisk.” That’s not really an answer, but you feel the wound in your soul deepen a little. Of course. Of course.

You sign hesitantly. “Who is… f-l-o-w-e-y?”

He doesn’t flinch, but he looks like he wants to.

“Also Chara, and also not.” His fingers click a bit on that one. “I do not want to tell you.”

“I understand,” you sign right away, and he relaxes slightly. Sighs.

“Time alone cannot change us from having been children who were hurt very badly. Time is like fire; it can wound or nurture. Frisk hates that they cannot change what they have been. In order to grow, in order to get better, they must learn that they can become more. That they can make room for Chara. In order to learn that, they must let go of that hate. I am not as patient as my brother, but I believe in Frisk and that is enough.”

Bravery. Integrity.

“Papyrus,” you gesture his name sign and ‘you’ hesitantly at him, even if it’s awkward. “What are you?”

“I am a skeleton,” he gestures back with perfect confidence.

“Did...” you trail off, then firm. “Did you forget, too?”

“I cannot forget something I have never known,” his fingers click softly at you. “All I have ever known is my brother.”

You can’t stop your eyes from filling with hot tears. Another thing Sans never even hinted at it. Or maybe he has, and you’ve just been missing it. He’s subtle that way. Too subtle for you, sometimes.

Papyrus tilts his head. “I am not as smart as he is. This is a fact, not something that bothers me. I believe he may have given up trying to remember where we came from. I do not know what he thinks about this, because it is not necessary for us to speak of it. But I believe that and he and I were once part of the same thing. If we spend too long apart, we become... unbalanced. You have seen it yourself in my brother; I too, become strange. I do things I do not understand.”

He looks into a distance further than the opposite wall. Then he seems to come back with a different perspective.

“I do not think I need a reason for existing in order for that existence to be valued and important. I do not need to be explained in order to have meaning.”

“But...” you still can’t let it go. “How can you and your brother be monsters with human soul traits?”

“’How’ does not matter to me. What matters is what I do, what I say, and the ways I am able to love others.” His eyes echo his soul. “What I am is irrelevant, because I know who I am.” His gaze softens.

“My brother believes that the reason we look the way we do is because of those traits. He doesn’t say so, but he believes that he is small and weak, and that his speech is impeded because his traits are undesirable. Either in a monster as he is, or in that combination. He has many struggles I do not.”

You can’t help but think about Sans’s body, the way his jaw and floating ribs are fused to other bones. You think his fibula and talus might be fused on his right side, too. The way he carries his weight in his broad hips; his slow, shuffling gait. He has almost infinite control over fine motor skills and small, precise dodges but large, whole-body movements and gestures from him can be clumsy sometimes, almost awkward. But is it fair to compare himself to his brother, as if one of them must be ideal and the other, somehow less than? Difference doesn’t necessitate hierarchy, especially with only two points of comparison.

Papyrus’s sockets close for a long moment, then open again.

He continues as if he’s forcing himself.

“And I have struggles he does not. Bravery without fear cannot and does not exist; my fear is inherent. It is extremely uncomfortable for me to speak this way, even when it is important. Because I do not want to be understood.”

He looks at you, sockets darkened and uncharacteristically pained.

“I want others to see only what I show them. I do not want to share who I am to myself, inside myself. I do not want to be known.”

You taste every flavor at once; you taste smoke.

“I understand,” you gesture.

His face softens when he sees that you do. “That makes it easier.” He looks down at Frisk for a long moment.

“Frisk desperately wants to be known and validated by others, but does not want to know themself. This conflict is extremely painful, and leads them to harmful behavior despite their intentions. I think you are like me, and you understand that they are trying to get better.”

You nod slowly. Papyrus sighs deeply, sockets listing a little.

“I do not want to talk anymore.”

You nod again. He looks relieved.

Papyrus slowly puts his gloves back on, rests his massive hands on Frisk for a few minutes. Then he glances over at you, and one of his impossibly long arms lifts. He doesn’t offer himself; he only offers what he’s willing to give. And it’s a lot. It matters.

You stand up and come over, sit down next to him and Frisk. He puts his arm around you and the three of you stay that way for a long time. There’s plenty of room for all of you.

It helps.

Chapter Text

Sans shuffles heavily out of the dining room and towards the couch sometime later. You’re not sure what time it is but he’s in rough shape. You can tell he hasn’t been sleeping.

By now you’re stretched out next to Papyrus under your own blanket. Whatever Frisk did caused some damage somewhere, although you’re sure it’s not anywhere near what had happened last time. You just ache terribly.

Sans’s phalanges click rapidly over his closed sockets for a few seconds, then he squats down in front of Papyrus’s lap. You hear the soft rumble of his voice coming from his bowed skull for a few minutes, but you can’t understand what he says and you don’t hear any reply. Maybe Frisk hears him, maybe they don’t. They stopped crying a while back, but they still haven’t moved.

Sans’s head comes back up, and Papyrus and he exchange a bit of the language they both speak; it sounds like an argument to you, but that might just be your take on the dissonance of the tones and crackles. Not an angry argument, if so. More like a sad one. Sans sighs, and finally turns his head to look over at you.

“you hungry?” he asks, looking haunted.

“Yeah,” you whisper, but you struggle up with a groan, manage to sit. At least you’d had the sense to stick your meds in your pockets before coming over here, but they’re eating a hole in your empty stomach now. You get to your feet, and Sans manages to struggle to his with a faint noise. “I’ll help,” you add unnecessarily.

“DON’T BE RIDICULOUS, SANS,” Papyrus says archly. “I’LL TAKE CARE OF IT AS SOON AS THIS IS TAKEN CARE OF.”

“’m not gonna make it that long, bro,” he slurs tersely without stopping his slow shuffle back toward the kitchen. “jus’ lemme do it fore i fall over, k?”

He goes around the corner and you hear something get knocked over with a clatter almost immediately. Papyrus stops staring at the wall long enough to angle his sockets your way pleadingly; his face reminds you of the night he’d spent at your apartment holding a giant ball of bedding you never saw again. You nod slowly and notice his grateful look, quickly blanked out before you finish turning to join his brother in the kitchen.

Sans is noisily kicking his stepstool over to the stove when you turn the corner. He ascends it and starts pulling reused bottles out of his pocket, emptying them into the massive pot sitting on the burner. He sees you, looks at you miserably.

“can you get that big red tub out of the cabinet?” he rasps, jerking his chin across the kitchen at one of the high cupboards.

You nod. It’s pretty obvious what he means, and you bring it over and set it on the counter where he indicates. He looks like he’s yanking at something on the panel of the oven, and you jump as it comes away and he starts messing with the buttons and wires behind it without stopping his pouring. The pot finally fills, and he pulls his clothed forearm over his face for a second, staggers heavily off the stepladder.

“Is this why you wanted to change me?” you whisper, surprising yourself. “To be able to defend myself from Frisk?”

His grin manages to flatten itself even more. He shakes his head, but you don’t think it’s necessarily a denial of what you said.

“that’s gotta heat up,” he rasps. “an you...” He looks away from you, over at the door on the opposite side of the dining room.

“you should take a look at that before it gets any worse,” he sighs reluctantly.

You wish you didn’t know what he was talking about.

“I’m tired and hungry already,” you protest peevishly.

“me too,” he answers shortly, still looking at the door. “this’s special for pap, so you already helped s’much as you can. tastes like shit but there’ll be some left when you’re done, okay? then you should probably come back, if that’s...” His face is dull, both impassive and its opposite. “...somethin’ you’re okay with.”

“I’m not mad at anyone,” you start, but he just shakes his head again, then tilts it toward the door. You notice Papyrus doesn’t glance at you as you go by. You’ve never actually been in here, but you assumed it was a bathroom. You always use Papyrus’s because it’s nice and you like his little soaps. But when you walk in, there’s a big, padded chair and a table with a lamp on it in here even though the room’s about the size of a bathroom. Huh.

Sans leads you to the chair and squats in front of you, face getting blanker by the minute. The combination of whatever that flower had done to him, working, insomnia, and then presumably what had happened today really looks like it’s done a number on him.

“Did you have to leave work early?” you whisper.

He sighs, expressionless. “can’t leave early. just had ta... finish early.”

“Is Frisk going to be okay?” you ask hesitantly.

His eye lights pin.

“how can you-” he bites off whatever he was about to say, exhales slowly.

You decide to drop it for now. “Just go ahead. And finish up before you... fall over, okay?” you say quietly.

He puts his elbow up on the arm of the chair, hides his face in it as you look down at his skull sadly. You’d caught a glimpse of his expression right before he’d managed to conceal it. His fingers come up to your chest, and you feel a pulling unlike the times he’s touched you before. It’s not uncomfortable, it’s just not particularly anything but him taking your soul out for you, because you can’t do it yourself. Like when Vulkin does it. He’s turning with his head still bowed before you even have a chance to bring your fingers up under it, and he heaves himself up and sidles out the door soundlessly without turning around.

But your eyes are caught up in dark blue, and yeah...you see it. It’s not that bad, but it could have been. Sans was right, but maybe not for the reasons he might’ve thought.

The moment your refusal to choose (and subsequent hatred of it) crystallized inside you, it had called out to Frisk’s self-hatred. You see how it happened. Frisk pointing out that you have people who are important to you, too. Your disbelief and resentment. Your denial, the rejection of a painful truth. You’d handed Frisk a knife, and they’d shown you the hilt was also a blade. You’d both grabbed on and used each other to wound yourselves.

Frisk’s wound is worse because their scar tissue runs deeper. If this is something Frisk lives with, it’s no wonder they need to be able to take out their own soul. Acknowledging your own fears and flaws closes the wound and prevents it from worsening. That’s how to be true to your soul, and true to your trait. It isn’t the same as feeling like it’s your fault; it’s just reiterating that the only thing you can control are your own words, behaviors, actions. Which patterns you choose to adopt. Understanding why things happened the way they did, and making room for the consequences.

You’re not okay, but you’re going to be. The path is there, and you set your feet on it. Then you put your soul back where it goes with a soft sigh.

When you come out of the room, Sans has joined Papyrus and Frisk on the couch, but the only snore you hear is Papyrus’s. His skull is tilted back on the couch, and his teeth are open but his expression seems looser, comforted. Like he’s finally recovering from this, too. Maybe it’s the fact that all but two inches of thin yet chunky oatmeal has been emptied from the biggest mixing bowl you’ve ever seen sitting on the coffee table, or maybe it’s just his brother’s balancing presence slumped up against him under his arm.

You sit down a few feet away as carefully as you can. None of them stir, but you don’t think Sans is asleep yet; maybe his closed sockets are meant to give you as much privacy as he can manage. You don’t see a utensil, so you just grab the enormous bowl and drink what’s left of it; hopefully Sans has already has had his fill. It’s sickly sweet, but its otherwise bland flavor doesn’t taste bad to you. Then again, if Sans sincerely likes his brother’s spaghetti (the more you get to know him, the more you suspect that he not only does but is also the reason why it tastes Like That), you can see why he would think this tastes like shit.

When you lower the bowl, his sockets are open again. He looks so sad. Well, he actually looks like he’s sorry that his troubled adult child metaphysically wounded you with a sickening aura of intense and possibly quasi-sexual menace so intense it injured them twice as badly, but doesn’t say so because it’s antithetical to his traits to apologize for choices he doesn’t regret making. And he doesn’t regret taking care of Frisk or being with you, and it’s possible that kind of confrontation would have been inevitable. It looks a lot like ‘sad’, though.

You quirk an eyebrow at him. “Seriously?” you sign.

He doesn’t shrug, but he does glance away for a moment and pull a hand out of his pocket. Papyrus is pretty out, and you suppose his brother’d know by now exactly how much movement is capable of disturbing him.

“side effect of using movement to talk,” he replies, using truncated ASL gestures augmented with fingerspelling for one hand.

You sigh and grab a pillow, place it gently over his femurs. He still manages to look surprised when you lay down on your back with your head on the pillow so you can look up at him, but his expression softens incrementally over a few minutes. You just lay there looking up under his chin for a long time, slowly memorizing his bones.

“Does it hurt when you try to open your mouth?” you ask randomly after a little bit. You find it’s a little difficult for you to fall asleep right now too. Maybe it’s the pain in your soul, maybe it’s the fact that although it’s dark outside now, it gets dark in the afternoon this time of year. And you still don’t know what time it is. Well, if nothing else, Sans’s sleepiness will hopefully take you with it once he manages to get there. Frisk had told you before when he gets too worn out, he can’t sleep until Papyrus heals him a little, so you assume that’s what’s going on now. Multitasking, in a way.

He gestures a negative. “too much like work, too little result,” he replies.

You notice there’s a lot of skeleton resonance happening at the moment, although you can feel it more strongly from Sans than Papyrus. Makes sense based on proximity. Which is fine; you’re willing to soak up whatever tertiary benefit is to be had from it, and you’d been invited, after all. You’re getting the impression that despite what’s been said, this does cause some sort of expenditure for Papyrus at least. You suppose the trough of oatmeal is supplying him the energy to keep it up.

“I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen Papyrus eat,” you gesture at Sans. “The food’s just gone next time I look. He does eat it, right?”

His face softens considerably. “not an accident. thinks he looks weird when he eats.”

You blink. “Does he?”

“no,” Sans replies. “i do.”

You blink again, trying to follow that reasoning. Then you try to imagine just how overactive your empathy would have to be to internalize the insecurities of someone close to you, even if they don’t actually have those insecurities. If just imagining they might feel self conscious was enough to make you self conscious… for the rest of your life.

“Your brother is the most e-c-c-e-n-t-r-i-c person I’ve ever met,” you say after a minute.

“yeah,” he replies proudly. “he’s the coolest.”

“That’s true,” you add, because it is.

You don’t know if Papyrus was right about them having been part of the same thing once, especially considering you have no idea what that actually means. In a manner of speaking that’s what all siblings are, you suppose. You wonder if there’s a way to reassure him that even speaking from his soul, a lot of what he said was just as obscure and convoluted as anything else he’s ever said to you. It was also just as sincere, helpful, and relevant. But it leads you to the conclusion that it really is impossible to understand either skeleton without the context of the other.

You wonder if Sans had raised Papyrus; it seems possible from what Papyrus had said to you. Maybe he doesn’t remember if he did or not. Maybe it’s one of those things that Sans doesn’t know how he knows, and Papyrus thinks is unnecessary to talk about. You’d usually feel foreboding about a relationship that seems to have so many unspoken agreements and convoluted workings, but it comes off less like they’re being deceptive and more like they’re being very, very careful. If they’ve been through as much hurt as you suspect they have, it makes sense that the last thing they’d want to do is take the chance they could hurt each other, too. Papyrus with his jokes for an audience of one and benevolent manipulations; Sans with his unstinting praise and undemanding reminders to focus.

Maybe in the end they’re just two very complicated people who understand each other and get along.

Sans exhales slowly after you’ve both rested quietly a little longer, and it seems like something in him finally loosens.

“ready for sleep?” he asks, one of his fingers rasping against another a little despite him as his sockets droop.

“Definitely,” you reply, and you turn onto your side facing into him, curl up a little in preparation. Sleep comes in like a flash flood, but not before you feel his phalanges come to rest lightly on your head instead of disappearing back into his pocket.

***

The next morning you open your eyes to the endless black field of Sans’s grubby, bone-scented shorts and a discordant three part harmony of snores. Sans pulled his hood up at some point, and his upper body’s fallen over to lean against his brother, who’s slowly slid in the same direction in a sort of domino effect. You’re not sure which part of the amorphous blanket-lump that is Frisk is supporting the conglomerated weight of the skeleton brothers, but from the sound of the third snore they’ve managed to survive it so far. You manage to pull Sans’s limp skeletal fingers out of the back of your sweater without too much effort, and the fact that you do it without a wince lets you know Papyrus’s healing has certainly worked its literal magic.

You feel awesome, so you decide to freshen up in the bathroom, borrow a few more of Frisk’s clothes (Papyrus’s don’t fit and Sans’s aren’t fit for your workplace) and get ready for work. It’s actually an even shorter walk from here than it is from your place, and none of the couch denizens look like they plan to stir the least bit anytime soon as you let yourself out quietly.

The workday goes by fine other than you noticing the potential to be a bit more emotionally reactive than you might usually, but nothing provocative happens so you make it to lunch without feeling much of a dint in your energy levels. Diane comments on it as she knocks on your doorjamb to invite you to have lunch together, and you nod and take her up on it.

“So...that information you sent out seems like it’s causing a stir,” she remarks casually as you shove portions of some kind of monster goo sandwich into your face.

“Really?” you inquire once you’re mostly done chewing. “I mean, I guess that makes sense, but I don’t think any of it was all that mind-blowing.”

She shrugs a little, picking at her salad. Most of the monster items available at the college take the form of convenience fare, and you wonder if her health conscious eating habits guide her choices visually despite the fact that she knows monster food doesn’t actually work that way.

“A few groups are gearing up to start another round of requests for monster consultants,” she informs you with the tone of academic gossip. “A few others are trying to make a stink about the information not being released through ‘proper channels’ but really it’s just them huffing their own farts because someone else in their field got to see it first.”

“Got to publish on it first you mean,” you mumble around a mouthful of sandwich, then swallow since you didn’t even have to chew it in the first place. Oh, well. Bad habit die hardest, and you don’t actually care.

She rolls her eyes with a smile. “Well, you know how it is these days. Any asshole with a peers-on-a-leash reviewed journal shoves something out the second it hits. And there’s always enough mouths out there to suck it right up, no matter what kind of rushed-out shit they spew.”

You nod emphatically. And half of them still don’t accept monster citations. “Fuckin’ joke shacks,” you grumble politely.

“Still better than it used to be,” comes the expected reply, and you shrug amiably.

“How professor Bob doing, speaking of consultants?” you ask.

“Eh, you know how she is. Only talks about what she decides is worth talking about, and that’s all you get out of her,” Diane smiles. “But she seems okay, actually. Maybe relieved? Who knows, maybe she’ll get permission to do some real work for a change, instead of leading OverEbott’s most prestigious circle jerk.”
You giggle a little, your sandwich finished. Looks like Diane’s done too.

“Hey, I was wondering something. Could you run me home today real quick, then over to the skeletons’ place after? I can walk to either, but even on a good day I can’t do both,” you sigh.

“Yeah, no problem,” she answers readily. “How are they doing, by the way?”

You sigh, think for a minute. “You know how when one person gets the stomach flu, the whole family gets it at the same time?”

Diane’s face scrunches up. “You didn’t come to work sick, did you?”

You wave her off impatiently. “No, no...I’m...it’s a monster thing, you can’t catch it. I just need to pop home and grab some stuff, I’m gonna stay over and help out there while everyone gets better.”

Diane gives you a look. “But you and Frisk can, huh?”

You look to the side. “It doesn’t really work like that. It’s not contagious.”

“Fine, I won’t pry,” she accedes with a smile. “Sans is probably glad to have you around to help while he’s sick, huh?”

You just nod, and start to gather up your plate and utensils for the bin. Diane frowns a little, but keeps her word not to pry.

***

To your surprise, Frisk opens the door a few minutes after you knock, which you do since you’re not quite comfortable even at this late point with just walking into their house. Or maybe it’s more that you’re never a hundred percent sure any particular door will lead to what you’re expecting, and are exercising understandable caution. You don’t doubt that you’re welcome, even with the tense atmosphere.

Frisk looks terrible, or at least they do from what you can see of their tearstained, puffy lower face since the blanket covers the top half and the rest of their broad form is shrouded in it. It smells like popcorn in here, and skeleton snores fill the air like a chainsaw in an apiary. They just duck their head miserably and leave the door open, shuffle away sadly to crawl back to the couch with their two still-unconscious caretakers while you move past to put your bags and stuff on the dining room table.

You go up to Papyrus’s bathroom to change, wash your face and brush your teeth, then head back down to the living room. Looks like Frisk’s shoved a few pillows into the gap they’d occupied previously, then just laid down across the still-half-collapsed brothers’ laps like a slatted mattress of bones with the blanket pulled back over them. Several empty bags of popcorn and the massive bowl decorate the coffee table.

You push a few aside, sit down on the table, and lean over to touch the blanket mound on the shoulder.

It stirs, and Frisk’s hands and face appear, mouth pressed in a line and eyes narrowed defensively.

“Are you mad at me?” you gesture.

They blink, the puffy facsimile of impassivity dissolving from their expression.

“No,” they answer quickly. “You’re...aren’t you mad at me? I hurt you,” they say, shamefaced. “I was...terrible,” they add, looking a little sick.

“We had a fight,” you say, not even realizing that’s what you had been going to start with. “That just means we have to talk it out, see what we can do to make it better. That’s what Papyrus would say if he wasn’t in a coma, right?”

Their mouth actually quirks at that a little. They nod, and shuffle around a bit. You stand to give them a little more space, notice it looks like someone’s been using handfuls of popcorn to scrape the remains of oatmeal out of the giant bowl like some kind of unholy chips and dip.

“I brought some food,” you sign at them with a wince as they get to their feet. “You wanna head to the dining room and have some with me?”

They nod again, shuffling in a way that reminds you of Sans toward the other room, blanket in tow. You glance at the couch with a sigh; Sans finally finished falling over during Frisk’s exit and is now laying sideways across his brother’s lap. They have to have been asleep for almost 24 hours at this point, right? You glance outside; not quite dark yet so maybe not.

“How long do they usually sleep for?” you ask Frisk as soon as you catch their eye. They shrug a little while they finish unwrapping a cinnamon bunny they’ve already dug out of your bag.

“Maybe 12 more hours?” they gesture once they’ve crammed their mouth full. “Usually not more than two days.”

Yeesh.

For some reason, neither of you sit. Frisk keeps cramming bunnies into their mouth, chewing lackadaisically until they swallow the food along with a sob, and they’re crying again.

“Don’t you hate me now?” they ask weakly.

“I don’t hate you,” you gesture silently, even though you’re starting to realize not much you’re capable of is going to be able to rouse the brothers. You can see the denial isn’t making a dent, although at least you can tell Frisk can still see what you’re saying, despite their swollen eyes and fresh tears.

“I’ve been through enough terrible things to know that I don’t know how it was down there,” you try instead. Maybe the best thing you can do is be honest. Compassionately honest if possible. “I can intellectually understand that you and everyone you love spent centuries in some kind of pocket dimension murdering each other in every way imaginable until you were all resurrected without any memory of it on the surface,” you say with a sigh, “but I don’t have any emotional or practical context for that kind of information.” You press your lips together for a moment, thinking hard. “I’m upset because we had an argument and hurt each other, and I feel awkward about it because I didn’t handle it very well. The thing is, I’m probably going to be fine.” Unless or until they annihilate everything, but you leave that part out. “Are you going to be okay?”

Frisk shuts their mouth. “I...don’t know,” they reply hesitantly. “But I don’t think that has to do with...you?”

You exhale, finally sit down. “That makes sense,” you admit carefully, then unwrap one of the cinnamon bunnies for yourself. “Can I ask you about a few things, or do you need to go lay back down? I can tell you’re still not feeling well.”

Frisk shakes their head slowly, pulls out a chair across from you. Sits in it while wrapping the blanket a little tighter. They’ve stopped crying at least, and now they nod.

“It was Chara I said I loved, wasn’t it? When you decided we shouldn’t die in the BioMed building. I said it but you knew I was talking to Chara or something. That’s what you left out when we were talking in the judgement hall. Right?”

Frisk freezes, then hunches a little further. You rub your face; that’s really all the confirmation you needed. You take a few bites of the cinnamon bunny at once, then swallow it in a big lump since it’ll just dissolve anyhow.

“That must have been really scary and confusing, and I’m sorry for that. Like...sorry for both of us, I guess.”

Frisk doesn’t say anything.

“I’m dropping it,” you gesture reassuringly. “Can I ask you about something Sans said to me a little while back?”

They take a deep breath, then shove some more bunny in their mouth and gesture affirmatively.

“A little while ago Sans told me he could change me somehow to make me less vulnerable or something, and to be able to take out my own soul. Do you know what he was talking about?”

Frisk makes a pretty impressive confused buttface at you, but like they’re trying to imagine what he could have been talking about.

“That’s pretty much how I reacted,” you add for levity, and it might’ve even worked a little. Who knows.

“Sans is really bad at explaining things,” they comment, chewing and frowning.

“I’ve heard that somewhere,” you add a little ironically.

“I’m not very good at it either,” they admit after the rest of the bunny disappears into their boundless maw. “You...can’t take out your own soul now?” they ask, blushing a little.

You blink. “No,” you gesture slowly. “Most humans...don’t even know that’s an option. I didn’t.”

They rub the lining of their eye a little guiltily. Yeesh. You hope they didn’t get any cinnamon in it. You’re starting to realize just how much Sans must have raised them...or maybe they just take after his habits while staying here.

“That’s not something you need to get anything changed to do,” they gesture slowly. “You just have to learn how to do it,”

You blink some more, for a different reason.

“Wait, what?”

“You have to learn to do it, I think,” they say, a little less sure. “I mean. I don’t remember not being able to, but I know that’s how it usually works? Like...I don’t know. I can use a toilet too but I don’t remember learning how.”

“Is it…. it’s like you said: humans don’t have magic. We never did, right? Just...souls?”

“Yeah,” they reply.

You think really hard for a minute. “But humans don’t know how to uh, use our souls?”

“That’s a weird way to say it, but...maybe?”

“What about the other thing?”

“What was the other thing?”

“He said something like...” you frown again. “I’d be able to defend myself a little?”

Frisk leans their chest against the table, looks down at its surface like they’re thinking hard. You hope they’re not straining themself, but it seems more like the conversation is energizing them at this point. Huh.

“Papyrus did your painting, but other than that, have you ever been in an encounter?” they ask after their head pops up.

“No,” you admit.

Frisk gets a dawning look of understanding on their face.

“Okay, so. That would maybe change you a little. And it’s really hard to explain,” they say, a little excited. “I know I can’t explain it, it’s just...you don’t know, and then once you do know... you can’t not,” they say, and you have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about.

Until you do.

“Do you think maybe he found the worst way possible to ask me if I wanted him to teach me something?”

Frisk’s mouth gapes a little for about three seconds.

“That actually really sounds like him, yeah. He’s got a lot of unusual ideas about stuff that should be simple. And even worse ways of explaining them, like I mentioned.”

You can’t stop the smile, or the warm glow in your heart. Well, your soul, probably. Yeesh.

“He’s really good at explaining complicated things, though.”

Frisk smiles back. “Yeah, I guess so.” They meet your eyes for the first time in...well. Since the Debacle.

“Papyrus is about to wake up. Do you want to watch?”

You blink. “Why?”

Frisk looks at you, a hundred percent ingenuous. “Because it’s funny?”

“Wait,” you frown a little. “How do you know?” You haven’t detected any change in snoring.

“I just do,” they shrug, unconcerned. “I don’t want to miss it.” They stand and shuffle away, blanket dragging at their heels. You follow curiously and manage not to step on it, and stand beside Frisk as they just stand there next to the coffee table, waiting.

If Papyrus’s neck wasn’t a tiny bit visible above the voluminous chiffon scarf he’s got around it, you’d wonder if his head was still attached because it looks like it’s about to roll right off behind the couch from the amount it’s flung back. For some reason the idea disturbs you more than it should, but you shove it back somewhere, wherever it is things like that go. His mouth’s wide open, although the inside is shrouded in darkness even more than Sans’s. Speaking of whom, his brother’s still sprawled over his lap sideways, hood pulled up concealing the top half of his skull now, and the mittens have somehow reappeared on his hands since the last time you saw him. Judging by his grin, though, you’d say he is in fact legitimately asleep, rather than one of his ‘naps’ that he manages to slip witty rejoinders through while simultaneously ducking all other forms of social obligations.

Just as you figure you’ll wander off an occupy yourself otherwise, you jump as a snort like a deer carcass in a woodchipper emerges from Papyrus's skull somewhere, and his whole body jerks forward just short of dumping his unconscious brother on the floor. He rocks back a moment, moving his head on his neck a little stiffly, looks down and sees him as he opens and closes his sockets a few times. He just sort of pats Sans’s still-snoring form absently, then notices the mess on the table. He turns his head (a little more fluid now), and sees you and Frisk standing there staring at him like you’re at the skeleton zoo, and his sockets open and close some more.

He scowls at Frisk, ignores you, then immediately starts throwing empty popcorn bags into the empty, scraped-not-quite-clean oatmeal bowl. Once it’s full, he shifts Sans somehow and when he stands, he’s got him up on his hip like a massive, used-nail-file-scented toddler. He darts down at the waist to grab the bowl full of trash, and flounces off into the kitchen without a word.

Frisk shuffles over behind the table, leans down to grab one of Sans’s slippers and turns to walk past you, presumably to replace it on the bestockinged bone foot it’s fallen off of.

You touch their elbow a moment before they pass.

“More cute than funny,” you gesture silently.

“NOTHING CUTE IS CURRENTLY OR PREVIOUSLY OCCURRING.”

You give Frisk a Look.

“Is it okay if I hang out here for a day or two?” you call while Frisk grins and shakes their head in confusion. You sign what Papyrus had said, wondering why he’d left Frisk out of it. They they double over, huffing their weird laugh with the dirty slipper clutched against their chest, and you guess that’s why. Huh.

“YES,” comes the answer from the kitchen. “SANS, YOU DIDN’T EVEN PUT MY SPAGHETTI CAULDRON ON TO SOAK! I DON’T MIND IF YOU USE IT, BUT THE LAST THING THAT WILL ENHANCE MY CULINARY PROWESS IS AN OVERLY LONG TURNAROUND ON EQUIPMENT MAINTENANCE. WE’VE TALKED ABOUT THIS.”

There’s no answer but a dry snore.

***

Although Papyrus had eventually put him down the night before, Sans had still been asleep when you left for work this morning. However, this time when you knock Sans himself answers the door, grinning casually. He looks (and smells) a lot better.

“heya, good lookin’. get in here.”

You smile back as you walk after him, shutting the door behind you and following him toward the dining room, putting your bag on the table. You hear a thump from downstairs; safe to assume Frisk’s feeling better too then. Which reminds you.

“Any chance I could get some coffee? Today took it out of me for absolutely no reason.”

“as long as you do half the work,” he answers easily, and heads to the kitchen. You follow and get the coffee and press down while he fills the countertop kettle at the tap.

“You can’t drink the tap water, can you?” you ask idly, and he shakes his head.

“just the stuff from underground,” he says offhand, shrugs. “i don’t really need to most of the time, so that makes it easier.

Another, louder thump. You frown. “Is Frisk taking a nap or something?”

Sans’s grin quirks down at the edges. “they got mk over,” he answers shortly and plugs in the kettle. You glance down into the den on the lower level, but neither is anywhere in sight. When he pulls open the coffee tin and starts measuring it out, a rather loud and unmistakably Frisk sort of noise happens from downstairs, and you meet Sans’s gaze, more shocked than you should be.

“Ummm?” you inquire eloquently.

“how bout we go out for coffee instead?” he says with a long-suffering look, and you grab your bag and coat back off the table, shrugging into both rapidly as he yanks the plug back out of the wall with a wince. You take his hand but not quick enough to miss a second and uncomfortably evocative cry that’s mercifully swept out of your ears as soon as you shut your eyes. You’re eager enough to flee that you don’t even remember how scary it had been with your eyes open the last time Sans had taken you on one of his shortcuts until the shifting feeling’s already over. When you open them, you’re in a recessed doorway somewhere downtown, you and Sans almost pressed against one another to fit, and you sigh in relief.

“feel up to walking just down over there?” he asks hopefully, pointing at a door out of the alley and across the main drag. “i don’t usually drink coffee, but there i can if i want,” he winks.

“Anything to escape,” you reply, blushing.

“these old bones’ve heard worse,” he says dryly, keeping hold of your hand as you start walking out of the narrow alley and out into the main drag of shops. “least we got outta there before mk started up. they get chatty,” he comments with an unfortunate sort of grimace. “been in my room all day, didn’t think they’d still be at it,” he adds with a wry chuckle. Then you’re at a prettily painted blue door that just reads “The Tuffet” and he’s pushing it open for you. A rush of warm air hits you as you walk into a dainty cafe with bakery cases lining the front. The monster behind the counter is certainly spiderish, and multiply limbed. Pretty, too.

“heya, muffs. long time no see,” Sans mutters casually as he leads you over to a low table and chairs near the window.

She saunters over and blinks her five eyes pointedly as you both take your seats.

“Hello, dearie,” she hisses significantly at Sans. You don’t have any trouble understanding her sharp voice. “Come to finally pay off your bill, I see.”

Sans grins at you impishly in your peripheral vision. “ya see how she’s shakin’ me down here? muff’s stuff’s way overpriced. you can cover me for today, right?”

“No,” you answer shortly without looking up from the menu.

He sighs with impressively fake sorrow, and you hear the heavy clink as he rummages in his pockets.

“Then what’ll it be, dearie?” Muffet says in much the same tone.

“eh. how bout two coffees ta start?”

“Yes, thank you,” you add, then “what’s a spider donut?” and look up finally.

“It’s a donut. Made by Spiders,” Muffet grins at you predatorily, tilting her head.

“made of spiders,” Sans adds with a wink. It’s the wink that tells you he’s not actually joking about that part.

“I’ll have that, thanks,” you nod. Muffet nods back, takes your menus and steps daintily through a door to the back without another word.

“feeling adventurous today?” he asks mildly as you lean back in the wooden chair. At least it has a deep cushion.

“Honestly, nothing can faze me after Dog Salad in Bed,” you remark, and his chuckle warms your heart. You needed to hear it more than you were expecting, and his face softens as he looks at you.

You sigh a little heavily after a minute. “I didn’t realize it was like that with them,” you say vaguely, meaning Frisk and MK. His unconcerned shrug makes something else occur to you. “Is it...safe for them to be, um...” you say very quietly, although you’re alone in the place and there’s the kind of formless, discordant jazz playing that tends to dissipate conversation pretty effectively. It seems like everyone’s pretty preoccupied with anything Frisk does with their soul, and after what happened, you can see why that might be the case.

His face goes a little off, but he sighs and answers. “mk just lets frisk do human stuff to em, mk likes it, everyone’s happy,” he says quickly, shrugging a little uncomfortably. The tip of his thumb rasps across his forehead a few times. “really wish I didn’t have to know about it, but it is what it is. mk’s a good kid,” he finishes with a mildly perturbed look.

“Did you...know MK, before?”

He looks at you a little surprised. “a course,” he replies easily enough. “that’s snowdin’s kid.”

“Wh-” you start, not sure what you’re trying to ask. That's the name of the town he used to live in underground, right? You try again.

“What?” Okay yeah that’s not actually any better.

He’s tilting his head at you. “whole family fell down when they were just a baby, no one even knew they’d had a baby til we found em,” he says slowly. “mk stands for ‘monster kid’, cos some bonehead thought we should let asgore name ‘em. When me n paps had ‘em, they were too young to remember but that doesn’t mean we don’t look out for ‘em,” he says, like he’s explaining that water is wet.

“Are you saying you adopted...MK? Years ago?”

“i think we got a misunderstanding going on,” he says, scratching his cervical vertebrae in puzzlement.

“When MK talks about their parents...who are they talking about?”

“all of us,” he answers in puzzlement.

“Everyone who lived in Snowdin...are MK’s parents?” you goggle.

“well, yeah,” he says. “right now i think they’re staying with endogeny.”

“Do I...know Endogeny?”

“yeah, from grillby’s,” he says, sounding a little more like you’re not having two separate conversations at the same time. “big white Dog, kinda gooey? hangs around lola.”

“Oh, I thought they were an elemental.”

“heh. dog’s an element as far as Dogs are concerned.”

You realize this has gone off the rails slightly and you try and steer it back, even though the topic’s a little uncomfortable. “So… someone figured they’d check up on MK to make sure nothing… bad was happening?”

He looks at the wall, then back at you with a sigh. “checkin up on snowdin stuff’s pretty much me or paps. especially if frisk’s involved, so yeah. i had a talk with em, made sure all’s well. besides that, alphie gave frisk the birds n bees a long time ago, let em know maybe be careful with the rest of that stuff.” His eyes dart to the side a little.

“Wait,” you whisper. “Does Alphys...know?”

He meets your eyes a little grimly.

“alph knows everything,” he says at last. “frisk doesn’t know she does, but...yeah.”

You gape at him wordlessly, and he inclines his head once.

“Why are you telling me this, though?” you ask softly. “Why now? And...” you look around at the deserted shop. A few spiders dangle behind the counter. “Here?”

He looks at the floor. “cause she wants you to know, and she’s been getting in my not-an-ear about it. bout a lot of things, maybe.” He sighs, looks back up at you sincerely. “me n alph have been working together a long time, been friends a long time. family in our own way, i guess. she can keep anything locked up so tight you'd never guess the kinda shit she’s holding back, but she doesn’t like it. she knows what it does to people.”

You’re gaping at him again, and shut your mouth with a little click.

“she says i need to talk to you more, otherwise i’m just jerking us both around,” he says, face soft but more than a little iridescent. “didn’t think she was wrong, but after all this happened, i guess it made me realize she’s right.” he sighs. “jus’ wanted to keep you out of it,” he finished sadly.

You press your lips together as something occurs to you.

“I get feeling like you don’t want to get me caught up in your problems, but at the same time...wanting to keep me out of it? I guess at some point, ‘it’ kind of just ends up meaning...your life,” you say, not meaning to get pithy about it but here you are. To your surprise, Sans looks at you incredulously, partially covers his sockets with a bony hand and starts laughing helplessly.

“What?” you ask, a little offended.

He parts his fingers.

“that’s what she said,” he answers. It’s all in the delivery, and you can’t help but smile along.

“awww, man,” he sighs after a minute, then he moves his hand down while his face softens. “you’re always so serious, right til you’re not. always gets me right here.”

You blush silently at where he indicates, as well as his word choices.

Of course that’s when Muffet returns with the coffee and singular donut.

“Thank you,” you whisper politely yet again.

“Good to see you keeping better company,” Muffet remarks sharply to the smug skeleton across from you, with absolutely zero effect on his facial expression or demeanor other than another round of rummaging phalanges and exchanged currency.

Muffet winks half her eyes at you and instead of going back to the counter, removes herself all the way to the kitchen (presumably) again.

“Are you actually a shady dude or do you just think it’s funny to act like one?” you ask as the door shuts behind her.

He tilts his head a little. “not sure ‘m really qualified to make that particular determination,” he says after a minute.

“I feel like I’m in your mafia office,” you comment, sniffing at your spider donut. It smells like dusty cinnamon.

He manages to look both incredulous and amused, and is completely ignoring his coffee.

“muffet doesn’t like me,” he says like he’s trying not to laugh. “but she likes money, an i usually got some so i pay her extra to stop staring at the back of my skull like she’s gonna lay eggs in it,” and now he is laughing.

You’re smirking, trying not to join him. “I thought everybody liked you,” you say wryly. Your spider donut also tastes like dusty cinnamon and butter. You’re surprisingly into it.

“nope,” he says, still grinning and huffing but darting his eyes to the side a little.

“Oh my god, Sans,” you say, then you finally take a long sip of your coffee while you watch him squirm. “Did you used to have a thing with every monster who can cook, or just all the ones that own restaurants?”

His eye lights sharpen more than you expected. “nah, i’m not that far gone,” he says a little too brightly. “paps is still safe from me, s’far’s i’m concerned.”

You literally tap out on the table. “I give up, you win forever,” you rush out quickly, chagrined. “I’m eating, and I’m extremely sorry for teasing you in the first place. Seriously. I’m sorry.”

“nah,” he says, shrugging a little and shifting in his chair. “you just been hanging around me for too long. s’okay,” and just like that, the tension dissipates.

“Speaking of the interdimensional sex police, where is he when you really need him?”

“paps probably needs a lil time to himself about now,” he shrugs, unconcerned. “can’t blame ‘im.”

“Oh,” you reply. “Is it a secret, or...”

“nah,” he smiles. “’m sure he’s out in the woods, doing whatever.”

“In the woods? All that stuff between the mountain and the water, you mean?”

“yup. used to do the same thing most days back in snowdin.”

“That makes sense,” you say, fascinated that Sans is volunteering even more information about his life before whatever it is now. Townie origin stories, you think to yourself. “Was it one of those ironic names, or was it actually cold?”

He looks amused. “trust me, nothin ironic about that name. more snow than you could break a stick at.”

That’s not quite right but you let it go. “So he just runs around in the woods until he feels...recharged?”

“not running the whole time,” Sans replies a little absently, finally picking up his mug of coffee, sniffing it, setting it back down. “looks around, makes stuff.”

“Does he bring his paints with him or something?” you inquire, trying to figure out what on earth Papyrus could be making in the middle of the woods.

“nah, s’like...” He frowns a little, thinking. “dunno. one time he put all these trees so you could just walk up in em, super easy like until you could see up over everything when ya looked down. or these vine hammock things? i like those,” he rambles. “he planted all these bushes like a maze, but you can jus step over em if you want to. hides money around, makes stuff out of snow in the winter. one time he made some swings.” He grins over at you, winks. “kids go apeshit when they find em, doesn’t matter what they are.”

You’re somewhat astounded. “But… can’t people get hurt if they don’t know they’re there?”

“nah, nothin like that. can’t get stuck in em for real, they come apart. can’t get hurt by em any more than you could running around in the woods in the first place.” He grins delightedly. “leaves out food sometimes. monster food, y’know. for anyone who might find it, goes there just ta walk n think like he does, sneaking around for whatever. canoodling.” He chuckles. “or if anyone gets lost out there,” he adds a little more seriously. “but really he just does it cause he likes to,” he finishes with a half-shrug. “calls em ‘is puzzles. or, uh. ‘japes’. he knows which is which i guess.”

“That still just blows my mind. I don’t know how he’s always that surprising, but he is,” you say quietly, sincerely. “I don’t know, it’s just...he’s a really good person,” you say, probably unnecessarily.

His face does something complicated. “wish more people saw it like you,” he says quietly.

You frown. “How can they not?”

He just sighs.

“you gonna tell me what’s eatin’ you?” he asks instead, looks back to meet your gaze. You drop your eyes a little as you sip uncomfortably from your mug. He angles his head back toward the door behind which Muffet had disappeared some time ago without looking away from you. “i’m just as happy to keep feeding the meter s’long as i got to, but I think this place closes at some point.”

You sigh. “I thought we were having a pretty good third date,” you answer evasively. “I didn’t want to mess it up or anything.”

He smiles gently. “third date, huh? didn’t know you were counting, but i suppose it’s just as well we’re taking it slow.”

You sigh, heart twinging a bit. He really isn’t a pushy person, and there’s no need for you to put him through any more of the wringer than you already have.

“It feels like my whole life is happening out of order,” you find yourself grumbling, then you rub your chest a little self-consciously. Sigh again. “Sorry,” you mumble, not looking to see his reaction.

You stare into your mug, pick it up, then put it back down.

“When you said you wanted to change me, did you really mean you wanted to teach me something?”

You don’t hear an answer, and you don’t have the courage to look up right now, either.

The tension’s back, and you hate it.

“i dunno that there’s much difference,” he says quietly, finally.

You look up.

He really doesn’t see a difference, does he.

“There is in my mind,” you answer just as quietly. “But you already told me you’re bad at explaining things, so I guess that’s on me.”

“nah,” he sighs, long and sad. “s’ on me too.”

“Well, it turns out I want you to, if the offer still stands.”

His eye lights flicker sharply. “you're serious?”

“Yes,” you say, tilting your head at him a little. “does it?”

“uh, yeah.” he says a little breathlessly. “okay, yeah we can um, yeah.” He rasps his thumb tip across his forehead.

“Why do I surprise you so much?” you ask a little impatiently.

He rubs his whole set of distal phalanges over his teeth rapidly for a moment, which is an idiosyncrasy you’ve never seen from him before. Jeez. Is he okay? You hope this isn’t stressing him out too much. The whole being more talkative about whatever Alphys wants him to talk about with you thing. You open your mouth to tell him not to worry about it when he finally answers.

“it’s not you,” he says carefully. “i’m settin myself up, thinking no one listens to me, or… that i can’t change anyone’s mind about stuff. but you always listen, and...”

He looks over, meets your eyes.

“you think about it, ask some questions. you change your mind if you decide to. you get more information, make a decision based on that. i dunno. never met anyone like you before.”

“Are you ever going to drink your coffee?” you ask a little breathlessly.

His fingers come up and click across his left socket as he closes it, but he starts huffing with amusement at the same time.

“she gave me human coffee,” he answers grudgingly after a minute.

You can’t help it, you snort loudly. The hand over your mouth can’t keep the giggles in either.

“Oh my god,” you blurt in a choked whisper, still trying to stifle your laughter. “What did you do?” you ask, probably unwisely.

“eh. nothing in particular,” he says, and for some reason you believe him. “she’s just like that.” He winks. “it's kinda hot, right?”

“Yeah,” you agree, since for some reason you get what he means. “Why didn’t you just switch with me?”

He shrugs. “not your problem.”

You fix him with an apologetic look. “I don’t think you’re a slut,” you say quietly, sincerely. You put it into your face as much as you can. “I meant that you’re a shitty cook.

He sighs, and cuts his eyes apologetically back at you. “that occurred to me about five seconds too late, yeah,” he sighs. “sorry.”

“Me too,” you smile.

Muffet comes out of the door yet again, takes her time mincing her way over. Winks at you some more.

“It’s not safe to go back to your place yet, is it?” you ask sadly.

“nah,” he grins back at you.

“You wanna just go back to mine, then?” you continue, eyeballing Muffet. But his hand’s already back in his pocket, rummaging and clinking.

“nah,” he repeats. “’m having the best third date of my life. be a shame to cut it short.”

 

Chapter Text

Two weeks later, Sans waves his mittened hand and everything dims. The colors leach out of his clothing, but his body stays bright while yours fades. His left slipper slides out until his stance is low and wide, and instead of keeping his hands in his pockets like he usually does they’re tucked behind his back. His sockets are closed, but something about the way he holds himself makes you realize this is a balanced, at-the-ready posture for him.

“goes a little different with me than most monsters, okay? usually it’d be your turn right now, but i go first.”

You look down at yourself, point.

“Can you see this, too?”

His sockets open. “yup,” he says, then adds in a hurry, “not like otherwise. can see where it is, see what color and that’s it. it’s not, uh. intimate.”

You nod, a little relieved. “So what are you going to do on your...turn? I have to wait for you?”

He sighs. “ok, so… think about what you could do right now.”

You stand there looking at him.

You wonder what kind of person confronts someone who might have violent intentions with his eyes shut and both hands behind his back.

You wonder how he manages to look half asleep and ready for absolutely anything.

“see?” he says after a minute.

“Yeah,” you say musingly. “I guess I do.”

“i’m gonna take a look at you. check you out.” He opens his sockets and winks. “watch how i do it, k?”

You try, and although his sockets seem very dark and intense to you, it’s not telling you much about what he’s doing. Or seeing, you suppose.

He grins. “okay, now i know some stuff about you i didn’t before. or, uh. wouldn’t have, i guess.”

“Like what?” you ask curiously.

He takes a deep breath and lets it out instead of answering.

think about what you could do right now,” he intones strangely, and you hear something else under his words, over his words. They carve the air with deliberate meaning.

So you think about it, because you can’t not.

Well, you can’t run away. You don’t know how you know that but you sure do. You could...ugh, you could try and attack him, or pretend to? You don’t like that. You could talk to him, which you’ve been doing but for some reason it’s different like this, when his voice does that. Maybe your voice can do that too? What a weird idea. And you can spare him, like Papyrus and you did before, and that ends it. Well, it does if Sans agrees to end it, right? What happens if he doesn’t agree?

“What happens if I spare you?” you say, and you realize that yes, your voice is kind of doing something too, and it made something happen.

He smiles a little. “my turn again now,” he says casually. “that’s what happens. i’m gonna look again.”

He does, and when he nods you feel it shift. You don’t know what it is or how you know, but something about doing this is showing you how. He was right, you probably do just have to do it, rather than having it explained.

His voice changes, but in a way you can’t actually perceive.

“why don’t you take a look? see what I got going on?” He winks again, then shuts his eyes, grin softened and patient.

That seems like a bad idea.

You’re not sure you like this.

“I spare you,” you say shakily, and feel it happen again.

“it’s too late, darlin’,” he says softly, sockets shut. “you already know, so you might as well look.”

You can’t say anything. You don’t want to say anything, and you don’t want to do this anymore. His shoulders move but nothing happens. It changes.

“I spare you,” you repeat shakily. This isn’t safe.

You didn’t realize Sans had been almost imperceptibly and constantly shifting until now, when he goes unnaturally still. Maybe he was talking behind his back. Then he nods, and color leaches back into the world. His eyes open and his hands go back in his pockets.

“it’s done,” he says quietly.

“You didn’t change me,” you protest weakly. “That’s not what happened!” you manage with a little more force.

He looks away and sighs heavily.

“What is it?” you say, getting a little frustrated.

“what’s your hp?” he rumbles reluctantly.

“Ten,” you say immediately, then your throat chokes shut.

He looks at you searchingly, sidelong. “what’s mine?”

You take a short, panting breath. Another.

“One.”

“what else?”

“Too smart for his own good. Loves you.”

That isn’t what he meant.

“what’s my at?”

You hate this. You hate him.

“One,” you groan.

“what’s yours?”

You cover your face.

“c’mon,” he says gently.

“Don’t ask me that,” you whisper, horrified.

He waits.

“Twenty,” you croak.

You’re crying now, and he comes up and wraps his stupid bony arms around you.

“what’s your weapon?”

“Shut up,” you groan miserably. He doesn’t stop you from sitting down heavily, although he manages to ease you a little. He doesn’t let go.

“it’s okay. what’s your weapon?”

“Words,” you grunt resentfully. “What did you do?”

His breath stirs your hair fitfully. “changed you a little. you might be able to defend yourself more.”

“I don’t like this.”

“didn’t think ya would,” he says evenly. “i shouldn'ta said anything to you.”

“Did you know this was going to happen?”

“not like you mean.”

Why did you do it?”

“you asked me to,” he answers easily enough.

“Why didn’t you warn me?”

“i did,” he answers again. “then i said take two weeks to think about it.”

You’re so angry you’re shaking, because you can tell he doesn’t feel responsible for this at all. And he’s right. You did ask for this, even after initially rejecting it. And now you can never go back to the way you were. You can’t ever not know. Ever again.

You know exactly where and how hard to hit him in order to kill him instantly.

I don’t like this,” you repeat thickly.

He just sighs, rubbing his stiffened fingers in a small circle between your shoulder blades.

“I don’t ever want to come here again,” you say vehemently, needing something to blame.

“okay,” he agrees easily. “let’s get up. you got your jacket, right? how bout we go someplace nice. i like it, at least.”

“Okay.”

***

Ebott doesn’t look small from up here, but it does seem slightly more manageable.

You’re standing with Sans in an alcove embedded in a sheer cliff face on the leeward side of the mountain, where the wind isn’t too bad. It feels safer here than it probably should. You can see all the way to the water, and all the woods and buildings in between. It’s cold and beautiful, and the sun’s going down.

His eye lights dart around seemingly at random, and he lifts his chin from time to time, watching something intently.

“nice, right?”

“I can tell when you can see things I don’t,” you admit a little reluctantly.

“yeah,” he agrees. “it’s getting so we can’t keep stuff from each other like we used to, so guess we’re both lucky i let alphys get in my head about it.” He glances at you. “how’d those two weeks go by? regular like, or nah?”

“Like nah,” you say tersely.

“heh,” he replies humorlessly. “had a feeling.”

“We have to learn how to be careful all over again,” you complain. You don’t want to hurt him, you don’t want him to hurt you. You miss him so much it feels like it’s killing you.

“it’s been like this ever since the barrier opened,” he says, a seeming non sequitur that you know isn’t. “it just keeps going, like there’s no end to it. but i guess if we keep heading in this direction long enough, it’s got to at some point, right?”

You watch his eyes follow something else higher and higher, his cervical vertebrae flexed by magic as he cranes his neck back. He’s not really bothering to play it off anymore at all, is he?

“unless frisk decides it won’t, i guess,” he says after another minute.

“Are you telling me this because you feel bad?” you ask, dubious and hesitant.

“nope,” he replies tersely after a long moment. After another he continues, much to your surprise.

“frisk said they want your help some more,” he grunts expressionlessly.

“With what?”

He doesn’t look at you.

“not sure yet,” he answers. “they’re not sure yet,” he clarifies grudgingly.

“I don’t know,” you sigh. “I hate to say it, but I’m starting to think they feel like we’re closer or something because we hurt each other.”

He glances at you sharply.

“You should know what I mean,” you point out. “It was basically the judgement hall all over again, and I really should have seen that coming. I know what those kind of patterns mean, and how they can suck you right into them if you’re not careful.” You sigh. “I wasn’t careful, and we all got hurt. I feel responsible, I guess. Not like it’s my fault, but still… responsible. I don’t know. Maybe I’m worried they just want to keep me around, and they think this is the way to do it? Like, are they worried we’ll break up or something?”

He’s looking at you strangely.

“don’t think that’s it,” he says slowly, mitten rubbing at his chin.

“What else could it be?” you counter dismissively.

He exhales heavily after a protracted silence.

“they said you know the right thing to do,” he half-growls, sounding even more unhappy about it. Unfortunately, you know exactly what he means. What Frisk means.

“Wh-” the air feels knocked out of your lungs. “What?” you manage to squawk on the second attempt. “No? I don’t?? Why the hell do they think that?”

He aims the points in his sockets at you miserably. “cause ya do,” he grunts.

“Apparently you’re both out of your goddamn minds.”

“nope,” he sighs, shoulders slumping. “think about it. you take what you know, make a decision that works. or you don’t have to think about it, you just do it. whatever’s right, you don’t wait to ask somebody. wouldn’t matter if you promised; wouldn’t matter if it hurt you, gotcha in trouble. like with the, what was it? that message with the information you sent all those people?” He looks at you evenly, and you flush a little.

“I didn’t get in trouble,” you mutter.

“wouldn’t matter, though. you still woulda done it. frisk hurt you, and you forgave em. cause it was the right thing for you to do.” he exhales wearily. “might not a been for someone else, but it was for you, an i knew it.”

You press your lips together because you can’t really argue with that, but you notice he’s glancing at you surreptitiously.

“What?” you blurt reluctantly.

“not saying you always do the right thing,” he shrugs uncomfortably. “not sayin’ that. jus’...you know what it is, much as anyone can. that’s not much but it’s… not usual,” he says before his voice chokes off.

His eyes dart at you some more, and your mouth gets dry at the expression on his face. You wish you hadn’t brought up the judgement hall.

“i‘m sayin... i know you know what it is,” he rumbles miserably, and meets your eyes just in time for a long, excruciatingly fraught silence.

“cause i can’t not know that bout people,” he rasps, sockets close to empty.

You start to hyperventilate a little, then turn it into a bracing inhale that just doesn’t seem to end.

When it finally does, you hold it for a minute while he looks at you like you might start screaming. But all you do is let it out in a long, slow raspberry which changes his expression considerably.

You wipe the spit off your lips with the back of your hand.

“Well, that’s fucking horrible and I hate it,” you bark.

His eye sockets change shape. “me too,” he admits, almost managing a real smile.

You hold out your hand to him a little stiffly. “I still feel okay. Buy me dinner,” you demand, wiggling your hand a bit.

Now he is confused enough to smile. “uh, what did-”

“Just take me to fucking Grillby’s, Sans,” you sigh, and he finally takes your impatient fingers with his bare bones and a quiet heh.

 

Chapter Text

You don’t let go of his hand at Grillby’s, not even to eat.

You don’t let go of his hand while he shoots the shit in a more subdued way than usual, and even the most tenacious regulars depart with a nod and a smile.

You keep his fingers in your grip while he waves at Grillby, and when you open your eyes back at your place, you squeeze his bones and lead him upstairs.

You stare at the floor as you trail him after you until you finally turn around, sit on your bed and look up at him pleadingly. His face changes as he takes you in, and he slides his fingers out of yours but only so he can bring both of his hard, flexible hands up to your face. Distal phalanges trace your cheeks, push above your ears and into your hair. Down the back of your neck for soothing touches. Your eyelids flutter, but don’t close as you bite back a whine.

“sorry,” he breathes. “sorry.”

“I miss you,” you whisper tightly.

“told myself i had to give you time to think about it,” he says quietly as he strokes your back, starts to kneel between your legs on the triangle of mattress between them. “didn’t wanna affect your decision one way or the other.” His grin flattens in chagrin. “but i know better. like i told you,” he continues as he lays you back, knees lurching over each of your thighs until he straddles your body, until his face is only inches from yours. His sockets are so dark, and the points in them tremble uncertainly.

“but i was embarrassed,” he whispers, and his gaze firms. “bout how i get when i don’t… don’t feel right,” he adds, and you feel a hesitation. He’s stroking your face with the backs of his fingers. “that i asked you to touch me like that, and even when you didn’t i just laid there and took it all, didn’t even...” He trails off, makes a quiet noise as he traces your face with his nasal bone.

“You’re not selfish,” you assert, and put your arms around him. Wow, he feels good. You can feel his hard spine flexing under your hands beneath his sweater, his shirt. “You know me,” you whisper, earning a slight shiver from him. “You know I love touching you. You let me do what I wanted to do.” You use the inside of your forearms to press at his hips.

“you made it better ‘stead a worse,” he whispers as he arches under your touch. “but it’s still there, an i don’t know what i want,” he admits quietly.

You raise your arms and bring your fingers to his face, just hold it for a second.

“I can tell you want to. You do, right?”

The points in his sockets shrink.

“yeah,” he answers tightly. “real bad.”

“But you don’t even want me to see it, even though you know I can’t...see it.”

His sockets change shape.

“don’t want you to think i’m gross” he whispers.

You stroke your thumbs just under the grooves below his sockets and meet his eyes firmly.

“I don’t think you’re gross,” you say, and something in him changes. The tension you had been vaguely aware of in his body loosens, and you smile at him hesitantly. He believes you.

“Why don’t we get naked and do whatever we both feel like, even if that’s nothing?” you suggest gently. “You feel good, and I miss it.”

He sighs, looks to the side and smiles back down at you with a much improved expression.

“i could use a little skin on my bones,” he smirks, and relaxes the rest of the way as you roll your eyes.

You and Sans take your clothes off enthusiastically, smiling and unhurried, getting an eyeful. Still, once you embrace again, neither of you can stop throaty sighs of satisfaction at as your bodies tangle and lock together; hard and smooth against hot and soft. You push your face between his jaw and shoulder as he shivers lightly, and his breath grows labored as your lips find sensitive vertebrae. The groan he lets out as your push your tongue against the tight magic in his intervertebral spaces is tense enough to make you draw back a moment.

“Too much?” you ask quietly.

“nah,” he exhales in helpless amusement as you gaze down into the dimly hypnotic cradle of his ribcage. “not enough, maybe. i just...” The delicately stiffened bones of his palm caress the back of your head, your neck. His arms tighten, and his spine curves to press his ribs and pelvis against you. An uneven exhale. “s’like i forgot how good you feel?” he murmurs wonderingly. His other hand finds your hip, presses ceramic-smooth fingertips into soft skin. You open your mouth again to let your tongue seek bone, and to your surprise he keeps talking, soft rumbles as he leans his head back to give you access.

“n-not really like… not forgetting, but,” he sighs as you continue, “but still...heh... nice surprise. every time.”

You hum in agreement as your lips caress his clavicle, and he gasps as your tongue presses the space between it and his first rib. His bones are so thick and heavy, the space is narrower than it might be in a human skeleton.

“you like that spot?” he whispers absently. “me too. ‘s tight.”

You run the flat of your palm over his ribs in the back, press it lightly down his spinal processes and finish the caress holding his iliac crest. His distal phalanges tease along the line of your neck as you let your tongue explore his intercostal spaces close to the sternum. When you press forward a little, he rolls onto his back. Groans a little as you lean your warm body onto his, chest and belly pressing down inside him a little while he murmurs softly in delight.

“hhheh… that’s…” you look up when you hear a rasp as you mouth vaguely at his xiphoid process, but it’s just his ulna gliding across his sockets. He pulls his forearm across his face again, lets it rest there. You can see between the bones.

At this point you feel okay with exploring his body a little. You have a better grasp on how different touches feel for him, on the surface of his bones and between them, too; your tongue explores the tip of his floating rib carefully. “’s really… hmmm...

You wonder if his unusually talkative mood is because he’s soul-shy, and maybe he wants to make sure you know it’s…

“Good?” you ask quietly.

yeah,” he sighs fervently.

You rub his ilium with your thumb a little where you hold it.

“Can I try it here?”

He sucks in a breath, and you hear him shiver a little.

“yeah,” he exhales shakily. “jus’ go slow, okay?”

“I will,” you promise softly. “Let me know.”

His hand leaves your shoulder as his other forearm joins the first, crossing over while you slip your face between his ribcage and pelvis to press a gentle, slow kiss to his spine.

“feels real soft,” he slurs, and touches your sides and shoulders with the insides of his femurs encouragingly as you move lower. You hold one for a moment, touch your lips to the inside of the smooth bone gently and hear his breathing roughen. You part your lips and cautiously push your tongue against him. You hear the faint, quiet noise of his spine but he doesn’t shudder against your mouth; you move it up a little and look at him softly for a moment. He seems relaxed and receptive despite holding his arms over his face.

You don’t want to just start lapping at him since his reaction to that’s been so strong before. You run your fingertips over the flat of his ilium; he shudders and sighs as you feel how it curves in and becomes his left superior ramus. He tenses a little as you move your touch further inward, and considering tension is usually not concurrent with pleasure in him, you move your fingers away from his pubis. You run your palm back up and over his iliac crest, then rub it firmly over his lumbar spine, across to the other side. He shivers and sighs pleasantly, but one of his hands comes down and starts hesitantly clicking at his chest.

You press your cheek against his ilium and look up at him, hold the knobby part of his femur on the outside where it joins to become his hip.

“If you want to, you should,” you murmur encouragingly. “It’s okay.”

His forearm rasps across his face again as he takes a few deep breaths. You press your hands against his hips affectionately, rub your cheek against him. He relaxes a little more as you breathe evenly together, and you see him pressing in with purpose as his legs come in again to touch you gently where you recline between them.

He pulls back his fingers, and his delicately iridescent soul follows them. You think he might be looking through the gap in his arm bones, but from this angle you can’t be sure. You smile with joy and pleasure as you gaze into his soul, admiring its beauty despite being unable to see whatever conflict he’s trying to work through. It feels like a long time since you’ve seen it. You feel a blossom of pleasure and awe as he finally curves his fingers to its surface, exhales raggedly. A little more tension leaves him. His sockets close, but his other hand creeps back down to touch your hair, your face.

“if...if you want to...” he whispers thickly, “would you use your mouth instead?”

You feel your own breath coming faster. You wish he’d let you touch his soul because then you would have known to start off that way in the first place, but at least he’s willing to say so. And if you’re honest, it gives you a bit of a thrill to hear him ask for what he wants, too.

“Yeah,” you reply softly. “I’d really like that.”

You press your lips to his iliac crest, open your mouth and let your tongue drag across. He exhales, a hint of his deep voice chasing the breath as it leaves him. His fingers still caress his soul, and more tension leaves his body as you continue. The bone of his thick, broad ilium isn’t as smooth as the outside of his ribcage, nor as almost-porous as the inside of it. You catch a faint ghost of his magic as you glide across the lightly iridescent white surface, and when you inhale you notice the fragrance of his bones, of him. Dry and organic, alive. It makes your chest flutter with desire; you feel so close to him. His breath catches as you press your tongue along, drawing up and over the left ramus again, and you hear it explode into panting as you flick it over the smoother area where it curves outward a little. The very tips of his fingers touch your cheek so lightly, you barely feel them.

“easy, easy...” he begs, whispering, sockets closed but furrowed. He’s still touching his soul, fingers spreading now as he soothes himself. His legs come in around you to urge you forward again, but you turn your lips towards his fingertips instead.

“Sans,” you say quietly, and he shivers as your breath hits the moisture you’ve left on him. “I don’t know how this feels for you.” He exhales thoughtfully. He strokes your cheek with his fingertips again, and you take one of them into your mouth, making him inhale sharply. You let it go to whisper, “I just want you to feel good, but I’m worried I’ll hurt you, or... bother you. Maybe it’s better to have souls involved when we try something new.” You bring your hand in to touch the backs of his fingers, press so you can kiss his palm gently. “We don’t have to do it right now. We wanted to try it, and we did. I want it to be nice for you.” You smile, kiss his carpals.

He takes his hand from yours, but only to pull the pillow up behind his head a little more so he can open his sockets and look down at you. Then it comes back down under your chin so he can gaze into your eyes for a long moment, eye lights fuzzed out, sockets pained.

“you.. really want to?” he says quietly after a minute.

You don’t know if he means kissing his bones or touching his soul.

“I love you,” you say instead, surprising you both a little. His face softens.

“me too,” he whispers tightly, a smooth distal phalanx brushing your lower lip. “you wanna touch my soul? keep going?”

“Yeah,” you reply, and even you can hear the yearning in your voice.

“me too,” he repeats. His fingers leave his soul rather than your face, and he touches your chin again as he brings your fingertips up his body. He holds them near his palely glistening self, looks into your eyes again for a long moment, breathing heavily.

love you,” he adds in a grunted whisper, and curls your fingers into him. On their own and without his steadying touch, which is why he holds your face gently up away from him as he gasps full-voiced and arches up helplessly. He bites it down into a growl and lies back panting as you contact what’s roiling inside him. You feel it, but you’re not sure you really know it. A lot of it’s desire for more of what you’ve been doing, and even more of it is the same feeling of closeness and intimacy you’d been experiencing yourself. But there's something else further back, and you can feel that he both wants it and doesn’t like it very much.

It fades further as you come in, and oh, he feels you. He trusts you with this, with him, even when he doesn’t like himself. He can’t be all bad if he can love you this much, because you’re so good, and it helps. It really does. He missed you, and this. You’re here, and this makes him feel how here you are. Makes