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War Crimes

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War Crimes Modified Poster by Zeragii

War Crimes - Map by Zeragii
Map of the areas outside of Ebott City that pertain to this story, and the one preceding it.

 Human and Monster History by Zeragii
(ABOVE) A little timeline for this series, to put everything in perspective, Not going to say it's all accurate, just having a little fun. ^^

(BELOW) Some details on how Skeleton Monsters work. 

 Skeleton Monsters by Zeragii

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The original version of what existed of this story prior to its being rewritten can be found: HERE

Read at your own risk. But I suggest you just stick with this, lest ye start confusing the old with the new. ;)

 

Chapter Text

Red...

Gold...

Red and gold.  

The two colors intermingled like paint on a canvas, blurred together until they were hardly distinguishable from one another, but yet never mixing to an in-between hue. Smudges of blood, footprints carried on from puddles, dotted every surface; a morbid checker-print of slippery sludge. It dripped down the pillars where the combatants had leaned, leaving red smears of soiled hands and fingertips. It ran in rivulets through the cracks between the tiles, stretching long and outlining their shape.

The Hall was a devastated battlefield. Its once smooth tiles were viciously cracked and torn up in jagged chunks, pieces scattered like crumbs on a table. Dark, gaping holes yawned like pits, made from bone attacks and left behind when the magic dissipated into shimmering fractals. Other areas were completely destroyed, incinerated under the concentrated beams of blasters. Nicks and scratches were visible on the ground and along the pillars, scuffs from bone, shoes, and a single knife that created sparks of steal against stone whenever the wielder missed its target.

Sans shuddered, breath tight and labored as he stood in the midst of his own private hell. It was always so much worse, so much more graphic when he dreamed of this place than in the memories he tried so hard to forget. They were bad enough, but this...He was barely able to keep standing the floor was so slick with blood. It soaked into his slippers, oozed and squished between his metatarsals, within his socks. It was almost as though every fight that had ever taken place here had failed to clear away with their prospective resets, building up, rotting. An Armageddon of instances that technically never happened, stacked up upon the ages of time skips and reloads.

It made his magic roil in his soul; made him shiver and shake fit to break in two. He knew it wasn't real. He knew that all he had to do was outlast this illusion, and it would all eventually fade away. He would wake up any minute now, and the horrors would be gone, and he'd be safe.

 All he had to do was wake up...

All he had to do was stay strong...

It wouldn't be that easy.

It never was.

Just when, how, and why he had become a skilled lucid dreamer was beyond him, but it was something Sans deeply regretted. He knew he was dreaming, and yet still he had no power to control it, and somehow that made these night time horrors all the worse. Maybe he'd always done it. Or maybe he had, in a spur of some desperate need for answers, made himself more aware, hoping his subconscious held the key. He'd botched that up, apparently, just like everything else in his life. He was a fool. 

"come on," he pleaded with himself, eyes closed tight and hands curled into fists at his sides. He wanted so badly to block out the sights around him, but it was all so overwhelmingly life-like, even the smell of copper in the air felt strong to his senses, and he couldn't extinguish the grotesque scene from his mind. "it isn't real...it isn't real, just wake up! wake up! come on-"

A giggle sounded from behind him and he moved instinctively, barely dodging the shining blade that had been aimed to shatter his spine. He nearly slipped and fell on the blood-soaked tiles, his usual agility robbed from him as he staggered. It was a gross feeling, the sensation of thick, gritty muck sliding beneath his feet. It was an effort just to remain in place, even unmoving he felt as though he were slowly sliding forward.

But Sans refused to let his fear show. He clenched his teeth and hardened his gaze, eye lights fixed on the demon he had come to know only too well.

Chara's smile gleamed with pleasured hate. They looked so much like Frisk that it hurt. He had to trace over their features with his eyes, searching for those subtle differences. Differences he wouldn't have been aware of if he hadn't stumbled across one of Toriel's old photo albums. That familial memorial, a snapshot in time, that had been enough to fuel his nightmares all the more vividly. Their green and yellow sweater was torn and splattered with their own blood. It smeared across their face like some sort of deranged war paint, mixing with the demonic black goop that slowly slipped out from beneath their lidded eyes. Their smile was far too wide to be natural, the thin, chapped lips curved upward as they smirked at him hungrily. A predator cornering its prey.

"What's the matter, Sansy?" they taunted, gaze lingering and soaking in his stiff and rigid stance with freakish amusement, detecting without flaw the terror he was trying in vain to hide. "That's the face of someone who's really, really scared." 

They laughed again and it rang loudly, echoing back at them as it reverberated off of the tall glass windows of the Hall. There was that ever present tone of insanity to it, like a child who had been given way to much candy and not nearly enough sleep.  Who had gone on a rampage and destroyed an entire race of monsters. Just for fun.

Sans grit his teeth, bracing his feet farther apart to help keep his balance. "you're not here," he growled back stolidly, voice low and deceptively steady. "frisk defeated you. you're gone. this is a dream, and you're. not. real."

"Oh, well, if you want to get technical about it, I suppose that's true," Chara hummed, stance becoming leisurely as they studied their knife, flitting a finger down the blade's edge without a flinch, even as it cut shallowly into their flesh. Blood dripped down to join the ever growing puddles on the floor at their feet. "But what does it matter?  Real or not, you're here, and I'm here. Just like old times. Does it really matter whether this is a dream or not?"

"it matters to me," he hissed.

The demon's expression blanked, before their smile widened again. They took a step closer, and Sans was horrified to discover that he, try as he might, couldn't move away. He tried to shift back, but it was as though his body was no longer his own. His magic flared uselessly against the restraint, slowly chipping away at what little mental stability he had left. He internally flailed and kicked against whatever force held him, mind whiting out in sudden panic. It was like gravity magic, but colder, glow-less, and without any direction. It was simply all around him, holding him fast.

Chara only smirked and moved closer as he struggled. "Well, you know, now that's interesting," they introspected. "The comedian, who couldn't ever bring himself to care about anything - not his friends, not his little brother, not even himself - all at once finds himself caring very much indeed. Hee hee. You're a funny little thing, Sansy, you know that? That's why you were always so much fun to play with."

Play with. Like he was some kind of sad, broken toy.

The knife moved toward him slowly, inch by inch, so Chara could drink in his every reaction; every hitch of breath; every tremor in his bones; the slow constriction of his eye lights. His body was so tense, it was a wonder it hadn't snapped or crumbled to dust under the stress. It all reminded him of that day, that night years ago, when he and Frisk had managed to be rid of Chara and the resets forever. He remembered the scratchy press of tree bark digging into his spine, the feeling of their hand shoving up under his rib cage and being able to do nothing to stop them as cold, merciless fingers wrapped around his soul, as their sharp, hateful spirit invaded his thoughts.

All consuming.

Burning.

Agonizing.

Usually his nightmares revolved around that particular scene. This time, it was more like the nightmares he'd suffered in Snowdin, back before Frisk knew he remembered. With that realization, Sans reminded himself that this was all nothing more than a dream. It was all just a dream, wasn't it? And you couldn't actually die in a dream, could you?  Sans sincerely hoped not. He was having a harder and harder time remembering that what was happening was all just an illusion of his addled mind. As the knife drew closer, rationality started to abandon him, slowly, like sand in an hour glass, the crystal cracked and leaking grains into eternity. There was only the fear now, the fear that was so very strong and and so very real, and there was no use trying to convince himself that it wasn't.

They laid the blade's pointed tip against the neckline of his shirt, before tearing downward. Sans shuddered back, arching away, and he had no idea how he hadn't just been split in two. His shirt was torn now, all the way from top to bottom, leaving his ribs vulnerably exposed. Chara smiled, and angled their knife so that it laid flat against his lowest rib and keeping their grip loose so that it lightly thudded against each rung as they tortuously dragged it up level with his sternum. The skeleton flinched slightly with each touch of steel, his breath growing haggard and wheezing. Keeping back the pathetic sounds of terror was the only thing he could still consciously manage, and that only just barely.

Chara leaned forward. Close. Waaaay to close.

"i'm not scared of you," Sans choked out, voice weak in his own ears, a stuttered whisper.

"I don't believe you. Your mouth says one thing, but your body says another. You're shaking, Sansy. Shaking like a little child."

He didn't have an answer for that, and he couldn't deny it. The sound of his softly rattling bones was clearly audible, mocking his every stinted breath. 

" This might be a dream, Comedian," Chara murmured. "But this..." They turned the handle of the knife, so that the edge of the blade ever so slightly nicked his chest. His HP ticked down the slightest bit, the loss of health burning through his bones like fire. Sans grunted, and couldn't help the strained cough of pain that slipped past his clenched teeth. Chara smiled, almost gently. "This fear...This pain. It's perfectly real. Because you, despite your darnedest, believe it is."

"s-so, what? you're saying this is more th-than...h-hn...a figment of m-my nightmares or s-something?"

"No. I'm just saying that you have a very active imagination. It's your inability to see the difference  between reality and fearful fantasy that allows me this...little game of cat and mouse. A manifestation of a guilty mind, you could say. Both your conscience...and your most hated foe. Feels pretty corporeal, doesn't it? A side effect of being your own torturer."

Sans tried to deny it, but he couldn't. His magic was straining, desperate to defend but utterly helpless. It hurt. It hurt so much and the freak hadn't even done anything to him yet. But they would. They always did. And he always tried for control, but he never seemed to have it at the ready. He never could because he was weak and useless and hopeless and-

"Makes it kind of hard for you to give it your all, huh?" they sneered, using familiar words, his own words once, against him. He shivered, his soul twisting tight with dread. "But that's okay. You don't have to do anything."

The knife left his sternum and raised into the air, posed in Chara's unwavering hand. A hand stained with blood and dust.

"All you have to do.."

Sans's eye sockets widened. "no, d-don't-"

"Is stand there..."

"don't! chara, d-don't!"

"And take it."

"no!-AHK!"

War Crimes: Illustration 1 by Zeragii

The blade came down in a blurred arch despite his pleas, burying deep within his chest, shunking through the bone of his sternum with a loud crack and straight into his soul. The skeleton choked in agony, control to his body restored as he curled forward, hands scrambling weakly at the demon's wrists, trying to dislodge the blade from the culmination of his being, but no longer having the coordination or strength to do so. They only rewarded him by shoving the knife even deeper, grin unnaturally wide as they leaned in all the closer. Blood, or his own strange, mysterious version of it, soaked a splatter around the blade's penetration, droplets leaking from between his teeth.

"aaaahhh-k-knghh-"

His strangled screams tapered off into a choked moan, tears gathering in his sockets as he tried to fall to the floor to dust, to finally let blessed darkness take his mind and soul, but Chara wouldn't let him. Whatever power they held, or that he imagined they held over him in this wretched place, kept him there, suspended on a tightrope of life and death. It hurt more than anything he had ever felt in his life. As though the blade were drawing out his energy through its tip, pulling and tugging relentlessly, and all that replaced it was a horrible, void-like emptiness in his chest and bones. Cold. Ice, ice cold.

This was when it was supposed to end! His dreams had never gone on for so long! He just wanted to die, please let him die! If he died, he'd wake up and this would all be over! Please-!

An embarrassingly violent sob ripped from his throat, wet and despairing, and Chara gave a soft little coo, like they actually felt bad for him. They left the blade embedded in his chest, shifting their arms to his back, holding him closer and gathering him into a tender hug, like Sans had seen Toriel do so many times for Frisk.  He was too weak and pained to pull away, whimpering as the weapon in his chest was jostled by their embrace.

"You do this to yourself, you know," they stated bluntly, a hand softly ghosting the back of his spine as he gagged and heaved pitifully. "You're right. I'm not real. This is all just you." They gave a chuckle, oddly fond. It made Sans feel sick beneath all of the agony tearing through him. "You always were one for self-punishment."

They giggled again, leaning away and meeting his hazed eye lights before giving him a hard push backward. His slippered feet slipped on the moist tiles, causing him to crash to the floor with a gasp, landing on his back, limbs sprawled out around him. Blood instantly started soaking through his clothes, him strangely aware of it, despite the torture he was enduring. Chara had gripped the knife as he fell, tearing it from him as he collapsed. He was fading, features starting to waver and crumple to dust, far too slowly to be merciful. His vision was nothing but red and gold. Blood red and terrible, terrible gold. He stared up at the ceiling, a view he had experienced more than once with the many genocide runs he had lived - and died - through.

Sans's back arched slightly, head tilted back and teeth clenched as the pain reached a crescendo, thundering through his small frame like electricity, stealing away every ounce of strength he had left.

Somehow, he managed a sharp, hysterical little sound, almost like a laugh, but so much worse.

This was it.

"See you next time, Sansy!"

He could finally die...

Chapter Text

The late night hour was sticky, heavy, and humid; a straightforward example of a typical August night on the Surface. It might not have been the all consuming heat of Hotland, but it was still an impressive temperature for a place not located within a network of blazing lava flows. The Surface was a beautiful place, true, but it had also proven itself to be a bit unkind in its extremes. Winters in Ebott were very cold, colder, in their own frigid way, than Snowdin had ever been, and its summers were damp and hot. Very hot. It was as though the land itself liked to throw its worst at its inhabitants as a means of weeding out the weak and the faint of heart.

The Great Papyrus, naturally, was neither weak nor faint of heart, but even he had to admit that the sweltering weather was starting to get to him a little. He may not have skin, or hair, or fur to make the experience more unbearable, but his bones had started coating in moisture, his species' own unique interpretation of sweat. The air felt thick with humidity, the rain from the day before having only succeeded in making it worse, and the weight of the very atmosphere itself made the world around Papyrus feel muffled and stifling. It was making it rather difficult for him to get any sleep, which was almost hysterical in its irony, seeing as sleep was something he could usually function so well without.

The lanky skeleton lay on the soft, springy mattress of his bed, tossing and turning, annoyingly aware of every second that passed in which he still remained frustratingly awake. He managed to keep his groaning to a minimum, for the sake of the other monsters sleeping in the next room, but his shifting made soft, aggravated rustlings that more than voiced his waning patience with himself.

Papyrus turned onto his side restlessly, wincing as the light of the full moon flooded in through the bedroom window and caught him in the eye sockets. That was the third time tonight he had made that mistake. It was an issue he could have easily remedied by getting up and closing the curtain, but he preferred the blaring glow to utter black veil of darkness. Being enveloped in black reminded him too much of being buried beneath a mountain; of starless cavern ceilings and the complete absence of light that followed the turning off of lamps underground. It might have been home once, a circumstance he had been born into, but now having experienced real natural light, banishing it in any shape, way, or form just seemed wrong.

He left the curtains open.

With a soft grunt, Papyrus pulled his covers up over his skull in an effort to block out some of the light's harshness, only to quickly remove it again when it proved to be far too warm. The blankets smelled of bone and sweat, and despite it being his own, he was disgusted by the untidiness his body was causing. The sheets almost felt damp now, soaked in his sweat and tangled about his limbs stickily. Unsatisfied, and severely uncomfortable, he kicked his sheets aside and flopped back onto his back, sighing as he treated the ceiling to a Great - but Sleepy - Papyrus glare of disapproval.

The slanted ceiling desperately needed a new coat of paint, something that he could not help noticing as he stared up at it with silent vexation. It was disgusting. Cracks and chipped sections highlighted by a nasty water stain in the corner gave it an old, broken down appearance, one that he despised with a passion. Granted, it wasn't exactly surprising, considering that their home on the Surface was, in fact, an old, broken down farm house in the countryside, just outside of Ebott City's limits. A building of its age was bound to be in need of some repairs, he supposed, but it still made him feel a bit repulsed. The very sight of it made him want to jump up and head to the shed, take some tools in hand and get started; but he knew now wasn't the time. Repairing a roof would surely make a lot of noise, and some individuals he could think of would not be pleased by his nightly activities. Namely Undyne, whose snoring Papyrus could just make out through the opposite wall.

He needed to be patient. Undyne had promised to help him restore that section of the roof when a bit more free time opened up. Which, based on how long ago that promise had been made, was looking less and less likely as time progressed. Papyrus understood. Undyne was a very busy monster. She had successfully gained the trust of the Ebott Police Department over the past three years since their freedom, and had only recently been put in charge of an officer team of her own, one dedicated to making sure monsters were being treated fairly within the human community. That was a lot to have on someone's plate.

No. It was best if he ignored the roof for now. Perhaps later in the month, once things weren't so hectic.

The skeleton gave yet another soft sigh, trying to force the heavy tenseness from his bones in the hopes of calming himself down, and to sleep. He breathed in and then exhaled a second time, letting the air out from his ribs in a rush, an action that often left his human acquaintances confused. It was very wrongly assumed by most humans that, since he was a skeleton, that meant that he did not need to breathe. A common misconception. He was a skeleton monster, not the decaying leftovers of some living being - he wouldn't be able to live with himself if that were true- and that made all the difference. He needed to breathe just as much as any other living creature, just as he needed to eat despite not having a stomach, or just as he could feel temperatures without skin or nerves. Though, granted, skeletons did seem to have a higher tolerance to the heat and cold. It was one of the many reasons he and Sans had been so comfortable living in Snowdin. It took extreme temperatures, or long exposure to hot and cold, to bother or endanger them.

Though, tonight's humidity was pushing that limit, apparently.

Curious as to the time, Papyrus twisted his back and craned his neck to try and catch a glance of the digital clock on the bed stand beside his bed. The neon green numbers glared back at him mockingly, and he internally groaned at what he read.

2:25AM

"Nyeeeehhhh..." Papyrus bemoaned, flinging an arm up to drape over his achy eye sockets. "Well, this isn't doing me much good now, is it?" he asked himself quietly. His normally boisterous voice was lowered to something far softer than usual, not quite a whisper, but as close to it as he knew how to get. Living with Toriel had made him a little more conscious of his volume levels, particularly in the middle of the night.

Tossing the sheets aside, the skeleton sat up in bed, bouncing slightly on the mattress as he kicked the covers further away from himself and off of his long, long legs. He frowned down at his bare feet distractedly, brow furrowed in thought as he silently considered his options: He could either keep tossing and turning restlessly in bed until the sun came up, or he could go do something to try and tire himself out before trying again. The later option was much more appealing, as long as he remained quiet, and so, using his arms to carefully shift to the edge of his mattress, he rose to his feet.

The carpet was thick and soft beneath his bare phalanges, and, despite being a horrendous teal color, Papyrus had become rather fond of the feel of it. The summer heat was the only reason he left his race car slippers where they lay, set side by side just under his mattress. The human Frisk had bought them for him, a short while back, and they were easily his favorite form of indoor footwear.

Gathering himself, Papyrus took a single step forward. Just his luck, he stepped on a squeaky board -- the old farm house was full of them -- and froze, his gaze flitting anxiously to take in the mattress opposite him, parallel to his own bed on the other side of the wooden night stand.

It was a considerably smaller mattress than his own; the kind one might use for a child's bed. The blankets were horribly ruffled, having long since come untucked, and that one flat, lumpy pillow was in the act of slipping to the carpet like some obese, fabricated slug. Not that it had far to fall. The mattress sat directly on the floor with no bed frame to speak of at all, a precaution and a conscious choice, but no less a curious sight to behold unless one knew the reasons. And there, in the midst of all that mess of fabric, of blankets and dirty clothes, and doubtless a few empty bags of chisps, was a small lump that rose and fell rhythmically, thankfully undisturbed.

Papyrus breathed a sigh of relief. He couldn't help it if sleep was alluding him personally, but his brother, Sans, did not deserve to share in that same fate.

Sans had grown far healthier, and happier, since monsterkind had made it to the Surface. His bones had become whiter, his eye lights brighter, and while his HP still hovered over a worryingly low base of one, there was an energy about him that he hadn't had in the Underground. He was still the lazybones everyone knew and loved - however grudgingly - but there was more...something in him. More ease in his stance. More cheerfulness in his words. There was more genuine life in the way he stood and walked, grinning with a more sincere smile than he ever had before, at least that Papyrus could remember. Like he was thriving off a fountain of hope, whereas, before, he'd had so dangerously little. And that was something that warmed Papyrus to his very soul.

But. That did not mean that things were all as fine and good with his brother as Papyrus would have liked. During the day, Sans was more like himself than Papyrus could ever remember him being, but at night...

Well, at night Sans did not tend to sleep very peacefully. It didn't happen every night, but often enough that it had become concerning. Nightmares, and worse still night terrors, plagued Sans on a regular basis, and Papyrus was at a loss as to how to make them go away. He had spoken privately with Doctor Alphys on the matter, and she had tried to convince Sans to try a few medications; but Sans was not very cooperative when it came to such things, and had refused to take them; flushing them down the toilet when no one was looking. In the Underground, Sans had suffered the dreaded things too, but they hadn't been this...intense. Or frequent. In fact, over the course of the past few years, Papyrus could easily say with certainty that the nightmares had grown steadily worse. Disconcertingly so.

Tonight was a rare instance. Sans was sleeping deeply, still and calm from what he could see, and Papyrus wanted him to stay that way for as long as possible. The last few nights they had been lucky, and, being the optimistic monster that he was, Papyrus hoped the nightmares would stay at bay for at least another night, if not forever.

Mindful of any other creaky boards that might make themselves known, Papyrus tip-toed across the room, flitting his gaze between his sleeping brother and his destination: the closed bedroom door. The floor was a minefield of papers, books, articles of clothing, and even a few dirty cups and plates. On Sans's side of the room, of course, not Papyrus's. The Great Papyrus was not a barbarian slob after all. Annoyance flared in his chest, his voice in his head already berating Sans for undoing all the cleaning he had done - what? Two days ago? A day and a half?

Mm. He would have to do a bit of cleaning in the morning it seemed. Sans certainly wasn't going to do it.

The little journey from his bed to the far side of the room seemed to take an eternity, but the tall skeleton finally made it to the door. Papyrus reached out for the knob, thankful that it, at least, didn't make any noise as he turned it. It was a simple matter of opening the door and slipping out into the upstairs hall, something that Papyrus did both quickly and gracefully, without so much as a sound. He was rather proud of himself. He partially closed the door behind him, leaving it slightly ajar to make his re-entree later a little less complicated, and stood still as he listened for any disturbance from within. He feared hearing the sound of shifting fabric or the musical twang of bad bed springs, but there was none. He had executed his escape perfectly it seemed.

Papyrus slumped slightly, grateful, then turned to start making his way down the gray, carpeted hall.

'Redemption'.

That was the name the ever-clever Frisk had given to the farmhouse, that first day they had arrived on its overgrown premises. Weeds and vines had dominated the porch, weaseling up through the paint chipped boards and wrapping around the posts. Window shutters had hung loosely from broken, rusty hinges. A black and white cat - whose they still had no idea - had shot out with a hiss from under the steps, leaping off to disappear into the surrounding fields of yellow goldenrod and wheat. Crickets had chirped and cicadas had buzzed obnoxiously, and it had been then that Papyrus had fallen in love with the place. Yes, it had been in need of fixing up, and yes, it had been a full week before Alphys had managed to even get the electricity up and running, but it had possessed a quaint homeyness that Papyrus associated with Snowdin's charm, just minus the snow and Christmas lights, and add a whole lot of invasive green plants.

The old homestead had been given to Asgore and Toriel by the Ebottian mayor as a gift. Some sort of family property that he no longer had a use for. Apparently, land that was spacious and open had value here on the Surface, since the mayor spoke so highly of its 'view', and it seemed that places of solitude and comfort were coveted above all else by the human race.

Touched by the sentimental gesture, both Asgore and Toriel hadn't dared decline the offer, fearing that doing so might offend the mayor and further complicate the monster fight for freedom. And so, after a bit of uncertainty, a few papers were signed, a deed was handed over, and the house was accepted, with no clue in mind as to what was to be done with it.

At first, Toriel had wanted to use it as a sort of hospital, a place the sick and elderly could go on the colder nights the Surface had to offer. She had been quickly reminded, rather gruffly by Undyne, that the human clinic down the road from the monster encampment was more than sufficient enough to suit their needs, and that opening up another space would only create more transportation issues than they already had. Toriel had reluctantly agreed.

Asgore had suggested a greenhouse.

Undyne had suggested an armory.

Alphys had suggested a lab.

Grillby a bar.

MK a clubhouse.

In fact, it seemed as though each and every monster in camp had their own idea of what such a space could be used for.

Monsters, while now allowed to travel back and forth between the city and their mountain-base settlement freely, had still not been granted legal permission to live, permanently, within the city limits, for reasons that were very complicated and which Papyrus found very difficult to understand. This constant dullness of going back and forth had been made easier by a bus that now carted regularly between both destinations twice each day, and four times each day on the weekend. Of course, there was also Mary Nerton and her old pickup truck, but even then, for those like the king and queen, who traveled back and forth so very regularly, the trip was both taxing and inconvenient, for all those involved. Not to mention that important schedules did not always line up with the bus's coming and going, or Mary's time off from work. Since reliability was so very important to the progression of monster rights, it was determined that something needed to be done.

Which was why, after much thought and debate, it was decided by all that those most engaged in the Negotiations, as the meetings for human and monster integration had come to be called, should move to live closer to the city lines, taking up residence within the moldy walls of the old farmhouse just three miles from Ebott City. This elite group consisted of Toriel herself, Asgore - whose relationship with the queen had steadily been mending these last three years- Frisk, Undyne, Alphys, Papyrus, and, of course, Sans, even though the shorter skeleton held no position within the Negotiations. Toriel had said leaving him behind and taking Papyrus had seemed wrong, like breaking up a set of matching bookends.

Even though...in all honesty, he and Sans looked nothing alike.

And so, now, all this time later, they had all finally settled down in their countryside home of Redemption. About a year in they had gained another member, the talking flower named Flowey, whom with frisk had simply shown up one day, the irascible plant nestled in her backpack. Toriel, naturally, had welcomed Flowey into their home without question, despite the flowers...less than pleasant disposition.

Life went ever onward. It might have been a little cramped at times, especially with two boss monsters about, but Papyrus quite honestly loved the togetherness of it. He had never had a family; or, more accurately, what most would consider a full-sized family. His brother was very dear to him, of course, but that was just one sibling, whereas most families had a mother and a father and multiple brothers or sisters to flesh it out. So it was nice, to wake up every morning to a warm breakfast he didn't have to cook, to a number of smiling faces that watched over him, and he over them. And while Redemption was still in need of quite a bit of fixing up, it had really become a wonderful home. Creaky boards and leaky ceilings aside.

Redemption Farmhouse, Second Floor by Zeragii

Those memories lay nestled in Papyrus's mind even as he carefully began his journey down the upstairs hall, treading mindfully so as not to wake anyone as he passed. Unfortunately, his and Sans's shared bedroom was cornered the furthest point from the stairs, directly across from Toriel's much smaller chamber. Then came Asgore's room, across from the very large room Undyne and Alphys shared. Frisk's was closest to the stairs, directly across from the upstairs bathroom. It was a snug, methodical arrangement.

Most of the bedroom doors were shut, for privacy, with Toriel and Frisk's rooms being the only exception. Toriel liked to keep her senses alert, in case she was needed during the night, and Frisk...

Well. Frisk sometimes cried in her sleep and needed to be soothed. Much like how Sans suffered the same fateful event every so many nights. Nights they coincided could be quite eventful, depending on how bad their nightmares were and who awoke first to ease them. Papyrus had always considered that odd; that the human child and his brother shared such a strange and concerning ailment.

Papyrus breathed a sigh of relief as he neared the stairs. A quick glance into Frisk's room rewarded him with a peaceful child, sound asleep, and a silent Flowey curled up in his pot on the window sill. Satisfied, the lanky skeleton rounded the tight corner and descended the thickly carpeted stairway, hand lightly braced on the railing. It was dark, but he could see just fine. Years of living in the Underground had granted him terrific night vision, something that he found came in handy quite often.

On the final step the stair gave a muffled creak of protest, but by then Papyrus was fairly certain that no one would hear it. It was turning out to be a very deep-sleep sort of night, it seemed, wherein everyone but him was having no troubles staying in the refreshing world of slumber. He would be lying if he said he wasn't a little bit envious.

The skeleton's bare bone feet touched down on the smooth tiles of the kitchen with a gentle klick-tict, the sound oddly pleasant in the warm summer silence. Or, perhaps, not so silent. Now at ground level, Papyrus could make out the endless chorus of the crickets outside each mesh-screened window, the noisy little creatures calling out to one another in the tall grasses surrounding the house. Further away, as a more distant song, the peepers* pipped and shrilled down by the creek, a sure sign of a fine summer night in the glow of a full August moon.

Redemption Farmhouse, First Floor by Zeragii

Papyrus walked right to the refrigerator, flicking on the light strip above the counter as he passed it, illuminating the kitchen in a dull, florescent, just-barely flickering glow. Pulling the crisper door open in a single, smooth motion, Papyrus pulled out the milk carton sitting right up front. He placed it on the counter, letting the 'fridge door fall closed with a soft thud and a hiss of air, then went to grab a mug from the cupboard. There were plenty to choose from. Asgore preferred ones with flowers, and Toriel liked ones with little sunny cottages. Undyne really didn't care what she drank out of, though the ones she did tend to use were worn and chipped from the constant abuse they suffered. Alphys' were always pink or purple, sporting exaggerated anime characters with large eyes and many angles and curves. Frisk had one or two she favored, but it was Sans, by a long shot, who had the largest collection. And his were an ever growing assortment of planetarium memorabilia and aggravatingly clever puns. Papyrus refused to use either one, settling for the Superman mug he had picked up at the dollar store a few months back.

He filled the mug with milk, put the carton back, and placed the beverage in the microwave. He winced as the small door refused to close without a sharp bang, and each press of a button felt like a shriek in his nonexistent ears, but before long the microwave was humming, and Papyrus's mug of milk visibly lit up and lazily turning within the confines of the microwave's chamber. A few minutes or so should do. He didn't want it too hot.

Warm milk, supposedly, was supposed to help one sleep. Toriel had tried the soothing remedy once or twice, with both Frisk and Sans at some point or other. Sans had liked it; Frisk not so much. Papyrus was fairly certain he'd like it, seeing as he typically liked things that were warm and sweet. And Toriel had already infused the milk carton with magic, ensuring that all who drank it would be properly nourished.* Perhaps Papyrus's magic was low, and maybe this would help replenish it so he could sleep.

Timing it just right, Papyrus opened the microwave door before the timer had a chance to go off. Mindful of the heat, he withdrew his mug and set it on the counter to cool for a moment. Steamy wisps curled upward, trailing along the bottom of the cupboards before disappearing into the darkness beyond the light's reach. Papyrus watched it blearily, tapping his fingers against the fake marble surface of the counter top, tired beyond measure now, but still fairly certain that sleep planned to continue eluding him.

By the time he wandered into the living room, slightly cooled mug in hand, the clock in the kitchen had read 2:38AM. Feeling weary, he sat down carefully on the sofa, staring absently into space as he sipped his drink.

It...wasn't bad. In fact, with perhaps a bit of sugar it might even be something almost dessert-like. Of course, Papyrus doubted that consuming sugar at such a late hour would be good for one's wanting to fall asleep. Especially for someone like him, who tended to get a bit jittery after eating or drinking something sweet. Either way, the warm milk was pleasant, and Papyrus could feel its heat absorbing into his magic, spreading throughout his body. His bones hummed and tingled as they relaxed, soothed to calm as tension he hadn't even realized he'd had melted away to nothing. He breathed out through his nasal cavity, a bit of steam swirling up, only to dissipate almost immediately.

Papyrus felt soothed.

He had no idea why he was so uptight. Maybe it had something to do with his interview coming up; the one with Police Chief Delbenn?

No, that wasn't for another few days yet, and he had certainly functioned just fine under more stressful situations than that. And he had certainly been involved with enough meetings and formal affairs to handle a little meet up with someone one on one. And Frank Delbenn was a nice man; there was no reason to be anxious of him. He could be a little stern at times - didn't smile nearly as often as Papyrus thought a person should, but he was kind and considerate; and, best of all, sympathetic to the monster cause. No, there really was no conscious reason for Papyrus's restless nerves. Other than perhaps...

Sometimes Papyrus couldn't help thinking of...IT. How could he not? One doesn't learn a devastating fact of the world that breaks every concept one has ever been told and NOT be affected negatively in some way or other. They never spoke of IT, out of respect and care for Frisk, but sometimes...Sometimes, every once in a while, the burden of the knowledge of IT could make Papyrus feel ill. The others too, when they thought of IT; Papyrus was certain. This strange expression would spread across their faces and his soul would sink. Three years, and still the knowledge of the Resets ached like an open wound.

Papyrus remembered that night. That night they had all gone off to a meeting in Ebott City, back in the days when those at Redemption were still living in the monster encampment. Frisk had stayed behind with Sans, having been tired and in need of a respite. It had felt a little awkward, walking into the town hall without the child ambassador with them, but, as expected, when they had explained Frisk's reasons for staying behind all had been understood and forgiven. The meeting had been a successful one.

They had all returned quite late that night, smushed into the back of Mary Nerton's pickup truck. She had dropped them off on the far east side of camp and driven away, leaving them to make the journey back to camp on foot. Only they hadn't quite made it. Before they had managed to even leave the clearing, Sans had appeared in a flash of blue magic, Frisk in hand and both looking very...unwell. They had seemed almost sick, the way they both had stood there, gripping each others' hand as though it were the only thing keeping them sane. Toriel had instantly rushed forward, her words a mix of worry and annoyance that Frisk was still awake at such an hour. 

Explanations had been demanded.

And explanations had been given.

Deep, painful explanations that would probably haunt all of them for the rest of their lives. Sans had helped the child, Papyrus recalled, more patient and gentle than Papyrus had seen since they were both children. Frisk had, apparently, told him first, before they had returned. Understandable. Sans and frisk had always been close, since that very day Frisk had set foot in Snowdin.

Papyrus sighed.

He tried not to let it get to him too much. Yes, Frisk had made many bad decisions, and done some...terrible things, but she had changed. She was good. Good, and kind, and sweet, and...It was hard to imagine frisk having...killed...any of them. then again, Papyrus couldn't imagine what living the same time period over and over again might do to a person; how boring and tedious it might be, even to the point of insanity. He didn't condone Frisk's behavior - he could barely comprehend it - but he did forgive her. They all had. And time was steadily moving forward, the way it was meant to. Frisk had promised never to Reset again. Papyrus, despite his uneasiness from time to time, believed her. Three years in and they were still all there. All happy. And the pain the knowledge of the Resets had brought was steadily fading away, bandaged by time and freedom.

The lanky skeleton took another sip of his warm milk and grimaced. He had fallen a little too deeply into his thoughts; his beverage was starting to go cold. He quickly drained it, now definitely tired enough to sleep, and heaved himself up to his feet.

THUMP!

Papyrus froze, gaze flitting up to the ceiling with a frown. The living room was directly underneath his and Sans's bedroom. That had sounded like-

A heart-rending scream ripped through the quiet atmosphere of the peaceful night, piercing even as it was muffled by wood and plaster. It wasn't one of those soft cries of startled surprise, or fear, or even one of those half comical shouts of distress someone might release during the folds of any normal nightmare. No, this was a full-blown, shrill, throat-tearing scream of agony, like someone being sliced in two, that ripped through the tranquil household like shattering glass. Its suddenness gave it a very surreal, ghost-like quality. It rang out, so loud that it must have been heard for miles.

Papyrus didn't even pause to set down his empty mug. No longer caring if he remained quiet or not, he tore into the kitchen, then up the steps and into the upstairs hall. He glanced in Frisk's room again as he passed, even though he knew it hadn't been her who had screamed - he'd recognize his brother's voice anywhere, even distorted by a terror he never held while awake. The child was sitting up in bed, her eyes wide and hair ruffled as she stared at him, their gazes meeting for only a moment before he was beyond her door, still running. Undyne and Alphys' door was still shut, but Papyrus had no doubt that they were surely awake. No one could have slept through such a cacophony.

Asgore and Toriel were standing just outside their bedroom doors, both looking worried and uncertain. Papyrus was grateful they hadn't tried to check on Sans themselves, honoring his request to always let him handle his brother on nights such as this. He had been doing it for years after all, and experience was needed when dealing with Sans's somewhat wayward magic and apparently nightmare-based perception.

Undyne had tried once, and had had her soul turned blue, thrown against the bedroom wall by a still disoriented Sans for her trouble.

Both Boss Monsters turned to face him as Papyrus slowed to a hurried walk. They had apparently thought he was already in there with Sans, not having expected him to be downstairs at that time of night. Papyrus gave them a shaky but reassuring smile, trying to settle them the best he could as he made a beeline for his own door. Still, Toriel, being the motherly monster that she was, offered her assistance, reaching out to him with a barely perceivable touch against his shoulder.

"Are you sure you do not need any help with him, Papyrus?" she whispered, with all the hushed urgency of a person dragged from sleep by something truly startling. Her fur was ruffled, very un-queen-like in its untidiness. Noises of distress drifted out to them from Sans and Papyrus's room, Toriel's eyes flitting sorrowfully in their direction before returning to Papyrus's face.

Asgore had stepped out into the hall as Papyrus had passed him, also looking ready to give aid should it be accepted. "Perhaps a second hand or two?" the king murmured lowly with kind understanding. His eyes held a great sadness, the moonlight from the window at the end of the hall catching on their surface like twin pools reflecting light. "I can feel his magic from here. It is...It is quite unsettled. He will not be calmed easily tonight."

"No, no, I can handle it," Papyrus countered in a rushed hiss, sincere but impatient to get to the task at hand. Absently, he handed Asgore the empty mug he still clasped in his grasp, before taking the final few steps to his bedroom. He paused just slightly before the door, only long enough to flash the two another hurriedly forced smile. "You know how he gets when others get involved. He'll be much easier to sooth without anyone but me around. I'm sorry, but thank you for offering. Please go back to bed."

With that he slipped in through the door and closed it gently behind him.

He hoped he hadn't sounded too rude.

Steeling himself, Papyrus turned, his soul sinking as he beheld the utter chaos his room had become in his absence. Blue magic, aimless, roiling, and agitated, covered every inch of the room, coating it in a harsh, cyan glow. Books on the shelf had been yanked out and tossed, the pages bent at unhealthy angles wherever they had landed. That was probably what had caused such a thump downstairs. Papers and chisp bags had been blown to pile against the far wall, over near Papyrus's bed and the window. Everything was disturbed in some way or other; even the treadmill looked to have been shoved back by a couple of inches.

But Papyrus didn't care about any of that at that moment.

The skeleton's gaze was easily drawn to the sorry state of his brother, the smaller was sat up and hunched in on himself as he whimpered and murmured in his half asleep condition. The sight was heart-wrenching.

Without hesitation, Papyrus eased himself forward, moving with practiced gentleness to sit on the edge of his brother's mattress, almost right up against Sans's trembling, heaving side. Reaching out a careful hand, the taller skeleton lay it gently against the other's arm, before sliding it up, soothingly, to Sans's shoulder, then back down. It was a feather-light touch, one that Papyrus hoped would help, even though he would have much rather pulled Sans into a tight embrace and held him until the worst was over, but Papyrus knew better. Sans did not like to be restrained, even while asleep. Doing so would only worsen his fear and panic.

Sans's breath was quick and harsh, sounding strained, but Papyrus continued, just as much for his own comfort as for Sans's. He continued, increasing the pressure slightly each time on the upstroke, trying to ease the other from his dreams. Sans's nightmares were unlike Frisk's, or anyone else's that Papyrus had ever known. The horrors seemed to ensnare him, hold him captive far longer than Papyrus thought was normal. Most people would have jolted awake when they shouted out, at that very first scream, but Sans always had to struggle to consciousness, stuck between sleep and waking for long, painful moments that left him almost delirious in his fear. Papyrus had finally looked it up online, out of worry for his brother's safety. What he had found there had eased his mind a little. The humans called such troubling behavior night terrors, and were apparently more common in young human children, though there were a few exceptions. There had been no statistics done on how many monsters were affected by the condition, but going off of Alphys' bewilderment, it was considerably rare. Night terrors were not fatal or harmful, so long as the victim of it was kept within sight and away from any prospective dangers, but it was still painful to watch. All that could be done, really, was to offer comfort and safety, waiting the terror out until Sans finally clawed his way to consciousness.

Tonight seemed to be particularly bad. Sans wasn't calming, and Papyrus soul gave a sad, sympathetic little ache. He doubled his efforts, hoping to help things move more quickly.

Sans gave a distressed murmur, his legs shifting beneath the blankets as he unconsciously tried to shy away from Papyrus's touch. His breathing was hitching higher, whines and huffs of air escaping in between troubled mumbles. He felt warm to the touch; feverish. Burning up with the building of constrained magic being choked forward by subconscious fear. His sockets were open wide, dim eye lights, small and hazy, flitting back and forth as though seeing things that only he could perceive, all while staring straight ahead into nothingness. The first time Papyrus had witnessed that expression it had scared him half to death. It was decidedly very un-Sans-like, as the smaller skeleton, lazy as he might have been, had always seemed distinctly perceptive of the world around him. This blankness, this unseeing fear-filled look, made Sans seem lost and incredibly small. though even that was not the worst of the situation.

As Sans's distress continued to build, so did his magic. Violent and uncontrolled, it flared unheeded from Sans's left socket, the one that Papyrus sometimes wondered as to whether it worked properly or not. Something was definitely very un-right about the way it oozed cyan and yellow whenever Sans suffered a nightly attack. It was disturbing and worrying, and Papyrus wished he knew what caused it, But, for now, that couldn't be helped. Sans's safety was more important than Sans's comfort. And though Papyrus was certain the raw magic must have stung, keeping Sans from straining himself apart was more of an issue. Magic raged through Sans's soul as well, lighting his rib cage up like a lantern. Papyrus could just make out its inverted heart-shaped outline, glowing fiercely beneath Sans's thin, faded blue t-shirt. The pulse it was emitting was fast and irregular.

Stressed.

Papyrus wished with all his soul to take this pain from him, but knew from experience there was little to be done at this stage. And so he waited, bracing himself and stroking his brother's arm repeatedly, murmuring quiet words of comfort.

"Shhhhhh, it is alright, brother. I'm here. You're alright. Nothing is going to hurt you, Sans."

Over the years, on the occasions Sans had called out or cried in his sleep, Papyrus had determined that his brother's nightmares typically revolved around being hurt, or experiencing those he cared about being hurt. Pleas for mercy, or sobbing Papyrus's name was not uncommon, and it was a terrible thing to witness, but at least it gave Papyrus something to work with.

"I'm okay too, see? I'm right here. Everyone is alright. We're all on the surface, Sans. Everything is good. Shhhh, brother. Shhhhhh."

 This went on and on for a while. It probably seemed longer than it actually was, but to Papyrus it might as well have been an eternity. Sans's shaking slowly began to subside, though it refused to be chased away, and, after a bit longer, the haze in Sans's eye lights began to sharpen and clear. Finally the smaller skeleton blinked, dazed, before wincing at the burn of raw magic trailing down his cheek and onto the blankets bunched up around him. His hand half raised to scrub at it, but Papyrus gently took hold of his wrist to stop him. The smaller startled slightly at the touch, still jumpy, but his shoulders relaxed the minute his gaze focused on Papyrus's face.

"...p'rus?"

At the slurred murmur of his name, Papyrus gave a patient smile. Though, he didn't relax; not yet. This stage could be tricky. "Are you awake now?"

Sans released an odd sound, like a laugh, but also very much like a choke, sounding far more unhinged than Papyrus would have liked. It was the sound that sprung from exhaustion and a crumbling endurance. Sans was so tired, Papyrus sometimes wondered how he could still face these nightmares at all. They were so taxing on him. So horrible to endure, even if Sans never spoke of just what he was dreaming.

"h-heh-nk..." Sans shook his head, obviously still a little disoriented. "i...i guess..."

Papyrus finally gave in, reaching forward and gathering Sans into his arms, before pulling the other skeleton into a grounding embrace. He held Sans's skull pressed up against his shoulder as the other's breath hitched and stuttered, soothing his free hand up and down Sans's back as the other's shivers increased, then soothed. The contact usually helped in these cases, once Sans was awake, and Papyrus secretly took the opportunity to check his brother over for injuries. Sans was so frail, Papyrus often worried if his steps to make things less dangerous were not making them more so. Sans had once strained too hard against some invisible foe or other, and dislocated a number of the small little bones in his spine as he writhed. That had been a very stressful night for everyone involved. Trying to realign the bones after Sans's episode had passed had left Sans physically exhausted, and Alphys, who had done the realigning, emotionally distressed.

Papyrus continued the motion gently, satisfied that everything was where it should be. "It was just a dream, brother. It's alright. You're okay." The words may or may not have come across as hollow comfort, but Sans began to calm anyway, his weak hold eventually turning into an equally insistent embrace.

"m'okay," he muttered into Papyrus's shoulder, repeating after him quietly, as though it were some sort of game. A sad, strained little game that neither of them really wanted to play. And yet, here they were, like so many times before, the younger brother comforting the older. "jus' tired...but m'okay. was jus' a dream..."

"...You're slurring."

"mm hm. m'magic mus' be low..."

No wonder, after all the gravity magic Sans had been expelling. It was a wonder he wasn't teetering on the edge of unconsciousness.

Papyrus frowned, his gaze trailing over to their nightstand drawer. "Where are your emergency candies?"

Sans slowly turned his head against Papyrus's chest, also looking in the direction of the stand. "where they always are..."

"Do you want me to fetch you one?"

"...nah. not yet. let's jus'...can we sit here? for a minute?"

The taller skeleton nodded without another word, cradling the smaller a little closer with a sigh.

They stayed like that for a little while, caught up in the comfort of each others' presence. It was something they had always done, even back when they were children and the world of the Underground had seemed so big and scary. Though, back in those days, it had been Papyrus who had nestled into his brother's embrace, not the other way around. Funny how time had switched their roles.

Papyrus continued his ministrations, soothing his hand up and down Sans's spine while Sans simply focused on breathing, on getting his head back in order. The crickets outside chirped, the frogs belted, and, overhead, an airplane rumbled like dull, constant thunder. It was grounding. Peaceful, after all the excitement.

Then, long enough after that they had both become a bit stiff, Sans gently pulled out of Papyrus's embrace and swiped tenderly at his magic stained eye socket. Or, well, tried to. The area must have been tender, because he flinched the moment his fingertips touched the rim, the smaller skeleton wincing at the pain in discomfort.

"ah, dang it..."

"Hurts?" Papyrus guessed.

"yeah. a little." Sans glanced down at his fingers, grimacing at the cyan magic tingling on the tips. He then looked down at the blankets still bunched up around him, noting the small flecks of magic that must have dripped there during his dreaming. When he noticed the same stains on Papyrus's shirt, he groaned. "ah, shoot...sorry about..." He gestured to the mess with a tired, helpless shrug.

Papyrus tried not to appear too disgusted by the smudges. "Don't worry about it, brother. You couldn't help it." His brow lowered in worry, Papyrus nodding to his brother's irritated socket. "We really should get that taken care of, however; before it starts to corrode at your bones."

Sans gave another tired shrug, not answering. He was never himself after an episode, not until some of the exhaustion and shakiness wore off. Then he'd be back to slinging bad jokes and puns like they were his weapon of choice. Secretly, Papyrus would have preferred even the most aggravating of puns, compared to the trembling, apathetic pit Sans was in now. But, one thing at a time. First, he needed to get Sans clean and back up to full health.

Papyrus carefully disentangled himself from his brother and the sheets, standing up and stooping to take Sans up in his arms. The other didn't resist, latching onto Papyrus's hip as the younger settled him there, the smaller looking increasingly guilty. Wordlessly, Papyrus moved over to the night stand, opening the drawer in a practiced motion and plucking up one of many specially infused candies. It had been Alphys' idea, a means of getting Sans's HP back up to full without trying to force solid food or medicine down his metaphorical throat. Sans's magic might reject the food, and the medicine...Sans never did like anything medicinal. This way Sans could suck on the little candy ball, absorbing it slowly, at his own speed.

"Here." He gently nudged his brother's hand until Sans's fingers slowly curled around the morsal. He was slow, sluggish. The candy would help with that. "Eat it and you'll feel much better."

" n'k."

Satisfied with that response, Papyrus headed for the door, opening it and carrying them both out into the hallway at a soft, but hurried gait. Toriel and Asgore were gone, to the skeleton's relief, the two boss monsters having gone back to bed as he had suggested. Toriel's door was even closed now, to give them proper privacy, though she was doubtless listening for their murmured voices as she lay in bed. In fact, while there was not a soul in sight, Papyrus highly suspected that there was not a person in Redemption who wasn't wide awake and worried. They all stayed as they were, however, unseen. Papyrus mentally thanked them for understanding. Sans wouldn't want the others seeing him like this. It embarrassed him somehow; which, in Papyrus's opinion, was ridiculous. What else could a family possibly be for other than to support someone through hard times? A family was meant to protect and heal and love, like Sans had always done for him. It seemed that Sans might be a little too used to giving those things rather than receiving them.

In the beginning, when Asgore, Toriel, Undyne, Alphys, and Frisk had become aware of Sans's night terrors, they had all tried to help. But the stifling mass of concerned friends and family had only made Sans's episodes worse. It was surely hard for them all to stay away, but it was much appreciated.

Moonlight still cast in through the hall window, stretching their shadows out long and distorted on the thick carpeting as they made their way toward the bathroom. Frisk's bedroom door was still open, but this time Papyrus purposefully did not look. Hopefully, the little one would have gone back to sleep too, as the king and queen had. It being summer, it wasn't like Frisk had school the next morning, but still, each day was a fast and exciting pace, wherein rest was important.

That, and all children needed sufficient rest, even twelve-year-old ambassadors. 

Papyrus threaded his way into the small upstairs bathroom, relying on the glow hazing through the window rather than turning on the light switch. Sans's socket might be very sensitive the way it was; it would be better to work in the semi-darkness. Careful not to stumble on the round little rug between the sink and the tub, Papyrus moved Sans over to the toilet. The lid was already down, so he leaned over, urging Sans to let him go with a small, questioning grunt. Sans complied, settling into a hunched over sit on the porcelain seat. At first Papyrus thought it was because he was in pain, but then, as yet another little droplet of cyan magic slipped free of his brother's eye and pattered to the tile, he realized Sans was trying to minimize the mess he was causing. It would be easier to clean up the magic off the hard surface floor than fabric.

"Now, let's get you cleaned up, shall we," Papyrus declared quietly with false cheer. He noticed the unopened candy wrapper in Sans's hand and reached out to give it a little tap. He didn't have to say anything, Sans knew what he wanted him to do. As Sans slowly moved to comply, Papyrus readied himself for the task at hand.

Papyrus turned and reached for the door, closing it, though not completely, so that Sans wouldn't feel trapped. Then he turned to the sink, ducking to open the cupboard beneath it. There was a pile of facecloths there, clean and neatly folded, ranging in color from cream and white to dark blue. Papyrus selected one of the whitest, one that would be able to be bleached later; it was going to need it. He grabbed the cloth and stood, flicking the faucet on with a deft flick of his wrist. The sound of water running filled the small space of the bathroom, kicking up the soothing smell of lavender soap. It was pleasantly cool here, a sleepy, safe kind of closeness that Papyrus had recently realized Sans tended to respond to. If he was honest with himself, Papyrus was rather fond of the tight confines as well. There was something about being in a small space, clean, and comfortable that made the two skeletons feel content and at ease. And, naturally, Papyrus was willing to regard anything with fondness if it brought even a little relief to Sans's bad nights.

Papyrus watched the cloth darken slightly beneath the faucet's stream, letting the water run into it until it was thoroughly soaked. When it was as wet as possible, Papyrus moved it away from the stream of water and wrung it out thoroughly. He had purposefully kept the temperature cold, knowing it would be more soothing against the feverish heat surely emanating from Sans's socket. Ready, he moved back to crouch in front of his brother, noticing that Sans had managed to reign in his shivering and seemed far more lucid and like himself, minus the grin. He even made eye contact as Papyrus carefully shifted into a kneel. It was good to see, but also not quite what Papyrus wanted. Along with the control Sans was regaining, the usual self-isolating barriers around his emotions and soul was slowly being rebuilt, and Papyrus wished fervently that they were not. It made it so much harder to help Sans when he cut himself off like that. It was silly, and harmful, and completely unnecessary. But Sans was a very hard monster to deal with at times. It wouldn't be much longer now before the puns started back up. Papyrus was running out of 'talk time'; he'd have to hurry if he was hoping to get any serious answers out of Sans tonight.

Sans forced a shaky grin. "guess i'm a royal pain, huh?"

Papyrus frowned. "Why would you say that?"

"'cause m'sitting on the thrown."

Oh. Well. It seemed serious answers were already out of the question.

Instead of flying off the handle the way he normally would after a pun, Papyrus remained calm and kept his movements measured. Sans was trying to evoke some sort of reaction from him, to distract him from the current situation, but Papyrus was not about to be misdirected. Not this time. Hard as it was, he braced himself against the words he wanted to say, pointedly ignoring his brother.

Sans watched him, something hopeful in his eyes, then it died as he realized the act was useless. "you, ah...aren't falling for any of this, are you?" he asked with another wince.

"Not in the slightest."

War Crimes Illustration 2 by Zeragii

 "heh..." Sans gave a weak, bitter little laugh, then sighed. His legs spread a bit, hugging the base of the toilet as his hands moved to rest between his femurs, knuckles clicking against the lid beneath him almost musically. He was bracing himself. "was worth a shot."

"Yes. I suppose it was."

Taking the cloth, and silently wishing the fabric was softer, Papyrus reached forward and began wiping away the raw magic from Sans's cheek, his free hand settling on his brother's shoulder. Sans almost managed to suppress the flinch his body gave at the touch of cloth to his face, but Papyrus had always been very perceptive. He saw it, and his soul thrummed with sympathy. He tried to scrub more gently, but the magic was gelatinous and stubborn, smearing rather than just coming off, requiring a bit of insistent scraping. Sans looked very uncomfortable, his toes visibly curling in his socks, and they hadn't even gotten to the bad part yet.

"I'm sorry, Sans. I'm trying to be careful-"

"no, no, it's...it's okay, papyrus. i'm the one who should be sorry," Sans offered quietly. He aborted a jolt a little too late as Papyrus moved to swipe a little more insistently at the area right under his sore eye socket. "you don't have to do this. it's not...your mess. i can clean up myself on my own. i ate the candy; m'alright to walk and stuff. i know i'm a bonehead, and a complete wash out, but i can-"

"Don't be silly."

Sans looked up in surprise, a question in the one eye that wasn't half lidded against the sting.

"You are none of those things," Papyrus reiterated in a tight huff. "You may be a punster, and have a tendency to be a terrible slob, but I would have you no other way. And stop saying your sorry. I already assured you this is beyond your control. I am not 'beating you up' over this, as the term goes, so neither should you." 

Sans blinked with his right eye, before the dim pupil slipped to the side. He didn't argue, but the way that he was now avoiding his gaze told Papyrus that Sans wasn't quite convinced. Not much could be done about that, however. When Sans set his mind to believing something, nothing could change it short of a miracle.

Refocusing on the task at hand, Papyrus gave his brother's cheekbone a few more swipes with the cloth, satisfied with how it had cleaned up with a bit of insistence. Now for the difficult task. "Tilt your head back, please, brother."

Sans did so without complaint, showing the full-hearted trust he instilled in his brother's care. Papyrus silently acknowledged it, apologizing in advanced as he re-positioned himself for easier access.

"Again, I'am sorry, but this may feel a little...unpleasant."

"s'okay, paps. go for it."

Permission given, Papyrus moved closer, brows furrowing in concentration as he began scrubbing directly into Sans's sore, magic-burned socket. Sans hissed ever so slightly at the contact, as the rough, itchy cloth was used to clean in and around the rim entering his skull. It made the smaller skeleton tense up, stiff as a board, his bony heels clicking sharply against the base of the ceramic toilet as he quickly pulled himself back together, giving a harsh breath of a chuckle.

"h-heh. eye think this should do the trick, eh? clean me up a lid-tle bit?"

"Sans. Enough."

His chiding was strict, but in his mind Papyrus was continuing to apologize as Sans squirmed under his ministrations, gentle though they were. Skeleton eye sockets, while in reality little more than holes in their skulls, were incredibly sensitive. What he was doing now was probably the human equivalent of rubbing sandpaper into somebody's eyeball. But Sans, frighteningly, seemed to have a high tolerance for pain, despite his low HP. While he was quite obviously in discomfort, he wasn't making any complaints, keeping his socket open wide, though it was clearly a struggle of will. All he resorted to, as any kind of retaliation, was those dreadful puns.

"sorry."

"What did I just say?"

"okay, okay. m'trying, bro."

"...I know you are. Just...try to sit still. I'll be done in a minute."

War Crimes Illustration 3 by Zeragii

 

Papyrus continued to scrub, cyan magic, thick and messy, gunked up on the tip of the cloth. There was still a fair amount slowly drying on Sans's lower lid, making the task all the harder. Sans did as he was told, mouth shrunk down to a shaky grimace as he held perfectly still, even his before assumed instinctive squirming gone. Papyrus tightened his hold on Sans's shoulder as a form of silent encouragement, uncertain if he preferred this stoic Sans who accepted pain without struggle. It was...unnerving. That and the dreadful shadows under Sans's sockets, a sure sign of bad sleeping habits, intended or no.

Sans's singly lit eye light gazed back up at Papyrus trustingly, unwavering. This went on for a time in complete silence. The sink dripped, the crickets continued to sing, and somewhere in the house a clock was surely ticking, later and later into the early morning hours. It had to be past three o'clock by this point; well past. The effects of that warm glass of milk Papyrus had absorbed earlier had worn off, but real exhaustion was setting in. Papyrus just knew the minute he crawled into bed he'd be out like a light. Morning would come far too soon.

Perhaps Undyne would let him forego their usual morning jog?

...Unlikely.

"papyrus?"

The lanky skeleton startled, brought back to the present by his brother's hesitant voice. He pulled back his hand at once, afraid that he had hurt Sans in his absence of mind. Sans looked alright, still sitting there on the toilet lid, though his expression had changed; shifted to something almost...agonizingly gentle. "Oh, Sans! I'm so sorry, did I-"

"i love you, bro."

"...What?"

"i said, i love you," Sans repeated with a laugh. "you're the best bro ever." A touch of sadness tinged his smile. "i don't tell you that nearly enough."

Had Papyrus had a throat, it would have tightened painfully at that declaration. Instead, he stared down at his brother, taking in every inch of him before allowing himself a gentle smile of his own.

"You tell me every day," he corrected. And Sans did, in his own way. "You have since I was nothing but a babybones, running circles around you and hardly tall enough to reach your elbow." Papyrus tilted his head a little in jest, hoping his sincerity showed true. "I love you too, Sans." 

War Crimes Illustration 4 by Zeragii

"heh." Sans's burned socket forced open a little, the other eye light trying to ignite in his amusement and relief. "n'i'm glad. who else is gonna take care of a funnybones like me, eh?"

"Indeed. Now, let me finish up with you before the sun comes up."

The rest of the scrubbing went without a hitch, Sans only cracking a few quiet puns here and there. Once all the magic was finally cleaned away Papyrus threw the soiled cloth in the sink, planning on rinsing it out once he was finished with Sans. He studied his brother's socket with concern, making in the slight damage the acidic components of Sans's magic had caused. It wasn't bad, most probably wouldn't even notice - though Toriel might, she could be very observant even in the matters of skeletons - but it was sure to be sore and unpleasant for Sans at the very least.

"singed again?" Sans inquired, neck craned back and wounded eye socket opened as wide as possible to allow Papyrus proper access.

"Mm. More or less. Not quite as bad as last time, but..." Papyrus trailed off. "Does it hurt?"

"...nah."

"You hesitated." Papyrus sat back on his heels, releasing his brother's skull just as gently as he had held it. "We can use the special cream Alphys made for you. It will make you feel better."

"aw, paps-"

"I'll get it."

Without waiting for the consent he knew would never come, Papyrus stood and reached into the cupboard behind the mirror over the sink. There was a lot of things stuffed in there, fur products, scale products, and some extra fluoride for Frisk's teeth. Nestled in among the little bottles and small opened boxes lay an old lip gloss container. It was small, the kind Sans had since seen human women carry in their purses. This one had, in fact, belonged to Alphys; a gift from someone at the Institute on the Surface where the stuttering scientist worked. Alphys had used it all up, or nearly, when Papyrus had asked her to come up with something to ease magic burns, especially on delicate bone. She had come up with a solution fast enough, and had dug out the remaining lip gloss so that she could store Sans's cream in an air tight container. It worked perfectly, and kept the substance from drying out. Though, even having been rinsed before hand, the cream had taken on a distinctly raspberry scent.

"Here we are. This should help with the stinging."

Sans eyed the cream with distaste. "bro, it's not that bad."

"Perhaps not, but if we have the means to make you suffer a little bit less, I think it would be silly not to take that chance."

"pap-"

"I see you are back to your stubborn self again." Sans fell silent at the edge to his voice. Papyrus sighed. "Keep your socket open. I'm only going to rub in a little."

"...okay."

The cream went on easily, though Sans shivered a good deal. 'Cold', he claimed, meaning the cream. Papyrus had it on his fingers and it wasn't nearly as bad as all that. Then again, Sans's socket was probably hypersensitive at the moment. Completing his task, Papyrus returned the lip gloss container to its place and shut the mirror, turning back to Sans just as his brother was creeping a hand up to fiddle with his socket.

"Oh, for goodness sake, DON'T MESS WITH IT, SANS!"

Both brothers winced as his voice momentarily broke out of the soft murmuring he had been, miraculously, sustaining all of this time. Papyrus froze, listening to the rest of the house, half afraid someone would come running. They didn't. Papyrus sighed, turning a chiding glare to Sans, who grinned back crookedly.

"It will never heal right if you don't leave it alone. Now, unless you wish me to get Toriel to bandage that leaky socket of yours shut, I suggest you behave, brother."

Sans gave a chuckle, rising tiredly to his feet, stiff from all the weird angles he had been sitting in during his little checkup. "alright, alright. don't need t'threaten me, bro. i'll leave it be."

"Well, thank heavens for that small grace. Now come." He leaned over and once again took Sans to his hip.

"whoa, whoa, whatchya do'n?"

"I thought that would be obvious, Sans. I am picking you up."

Sans struggled a little, but papyrus held him firmly, unswayed by his brother's swinging legs. "you don't gotta carry me, pap, i'm fine to walk on my own."

"Maybe I want to carry you," Papyrus shot back in a hiss. He wasn't angry, per say. It had just been a terribly long night, and while he was glad his brother was back to being himself, he'd had quite enough of the other's shenanigans for now. 

Papyrus marched them both right out of the bathroom, down the hall, and back into their room. Someone had changed Sans's sheets while they had been occupied, probably Toriel, and a lot of the mess had been cleaned up. Papyrus was both grateful and worried for the queen's lost sleep.

Sans just looked guilty.

"Now, I want you to lie down," Papyrus droned quietly, "and go to sleep." he waggled a finger in Sans's face, having already settled the other among the fresh sheets and blankets. Sans always liked to have an abundance of fabric around him. His bed was more of a nest, really. "And no more screaming.'

Sans blanched. "i, uh...screamed, huh?"

Papyrus stood again, crossing his arms over his chest. "Yes. Quite...impressively, actually."

The smaller gave a sigh and flopped back against his mattress, arms sprawled out so his hands dangled over each side over the floor. He swore faintly, and Papyrus didn't have the energy to get after him for it. "i know what you're gonna say, bro, but geez m'sorry." He sighed, staring up at the ceiling. "gods, papyrus...what's wrong with me? i...i keep waking you guys up. i know they're all awake, or they were. you need your sleep, not another thing to worry about."

Papyrus sat down on his own bed, gazing down at Sans with tired understanding. "Yes, well, we're brothers. We do everything together."

"heh. darn toot'n."

"Mm." Papyrus fiddled with his shirt, remembering now that it was still stained with magic, but he was too tired to change. He left the dirty cloth in the sink too. He supposed Toriel would forgive him his laziness, it was...3:45AM after all. The sight of the digital clock made the skeleton internally groan. "I...do not suppose you are planning to tell me anything about why you screamed in your sleep this time. Just as you have never told me why any of the other times."

Sans gave a sheepish smile and shrugged. "sorry, pap. i never remember my dreams."

Papyrus wasn't sure he believed that. "Well, you usually do well for the rest of the night once it's out of your system. We should sleep while we can."

"my philosophy of life."

"One that needs moderation."

"what can i say, sleep comes to me naturally. i could do it with my-"

"With your eyes closed," papyrus finished irritably. "Yes, brother; I am aware." His expression softened. "Good night, Sans."

Sans tilted his head to the side, watching as Papyrus eased himself under the covers and settled in with a sigh of relief. "night, pap."

"Love you, brother."

"love you too."

Papyrus closed his eyes, his magic reaching out in search of his brother's own, one final check before sleep could take him. While quiet and almost unnoticeable, Sans's pulsing soul was surprisingly easy for him to find in the silence of their bedroom. It was weaker, and smaller than his own, but it pulsed steadily, allaying the lankier skeleton's fears. Sans was fine. He was a mess sometimes, for some reason, but he was fine, and Papyrus loved him more than anything, just as he knew Sans did him. Sans would get better, Papyrus was certain he would. The nightmares would eventually go away, and Sans would be left to sleep in peace. Papyrus couldn't wait for that day; but, in the meantime, he'd assist in making it easier for Sans any way he could. Even if that meant staying up half the night.

Sinking into the soft, inviting warmth of his own mattress, the humidity no longer bothered Papyrus. Exhaustion and peace overtook him, and a moment later he was sound asleep, his airy snores adding to the songs of the crickets outside his window.

Chapter Text

Shk-snh....Snhhh-shk...

"Flowey?"

Frisk's bedroom was fairly quiet now that Sans and Papyrus had gone back to bed, their murmured voices faded out to a gentle silence. Relieved, Frisk had allowed her slight weight to press down into the softness of her mattress, outwardly calm and still, but inwardly squirming with impatience and nerves. She lay curled up on her side in bed, moonlight to her back and her front facing the open door of her room, waiting; watching.

The air of this summer night was warm and stale, humid, but the rotating fan on the dresser was helping a little at least, causing a breeze that stirred the room and fluttered the drawings and papers taped to the wall above Frisk's headboard. Over the fan's humming, however, Frisk could still easily make out the shift and rustle of stem in soil, a rough, gritty noise that made it hard to focus on anything else. It wasn't very loud, but, then again, even the smallest of sounds can seem sharp in the silence of a sleepy bedroom. Frisk didn't even have to glance toward her friend to know he was restless, and it grated on her nerves even as she tried to strain her ears, listening for any more sounds coming from the skeleton brothers' bedroom down the hall.

Snik-shhnik...

"Flowey."

There was a tense silence in which the noises paused, then a very sharp and irritable "What?" was growled from the window ledge.

"Flowey, please, stop moving around, " Frisk begged in a hushed voice. "I'm trying to listen, and it's really hard with you making so many shifty sounds."

She could practically feel the heat of Flowey's glare focusing down on her back from his place on the sill, the moon casting his shadow large, long, and gnarly against the hardwood floor and round braided carpet. She could see what he was doing that way, see the way his shadow stilled to glower at her, and how, when his expression must have failed to prove productive, he turned his head to the ceiling with equal crankiness.

War Crimes Illustration 5 by Zeragii

 "This is stupid," he sneered, sounding bored and frustrated. "Who cares if he gets up again when nobody's looking? Can't we just go back to sleep?"

"No." Frisk's answer was soft, but firm. "And I care."

"Whatever. What are we, the skelly's keeper? If he wants to make himself sick from something as dumb as lack of sleep, that's on him. He deserves it. I say we let him."

"Flowey, he'll hear you."

"What do you mean he'll hear me? He's on the other side of the house!"

"Shhhh, stop it, please...Just...Just wait...A little longer? If not for him, then for me?"

Frisk rolled over a little, craning her neck just enough so as to catch a glimpse of Flowey's miserable face, and allow him a glimpse of her own pleading expression in return. She gave him 'the look', the one that was meant to silently tell him she believed he could do better, despite the cruelty in his words, and promised to stick by him regardless of whether he changed or not. Just like that first time, the day before she and her family had moved out from the monster encampment and to Redemption. Frisk had convinced Undyne and Sans, the later proving very stubborn and unusually un-supportive, to escort her down into the Underground one final time, determined to bring Flowey back with her. They had found him in plain sight, sulking among the wilting flowers of Asgore's thrown room, bemoaning the fate of isolation he had insisted was his destiny. But Frisk believed that destiny was shaped by the decisions one made. Flowey could either doom himself to loneliness, or allow himself a second chance. It wouldn't be easy, but it had to be better than sitting in an empty Underground for the rest of his existence. It had taken a lot of convincing on Frisk's part to get him to give in, let her take him to the Surface, but she had succeeded. Flowey had never once said thank you for her good deed, but, then again, Frisk didn't expect him to. All she expected of him was that he keep trying to get better, to become kinder, less cruel. Progress was slow, but it was being made, and Frisk was very proud of him for it.

The flower stared back at her for a moment, eyes narrowed and mouth held in a tight, thin line, and yet Frisk could already see his resolve slowly crumble under the weight of her compassion. His scowl loosened bit by bit, turning into something less confrontational, even if he did still manage to look particularly uncooperative and miserable. Flowey rolled his eyes with a tired groan, though he did, at least, have the decency to lower his voice.

"Ughhhh...Fine. I still say this is stupid, but if you want to waste your time, and mine, on the likes of him, then I can't stop you. It's not like I can dig my heels in," he muttered ruefully. His petals bristled. "But if he starts crying or something weird, you're on your own. Got it?"

Frisk nodded, gave him a grateful smile, and turned back around, resettling into the sheets. Despite the humidity, she stayed tucked beneath her thin blankets, breathing slowly and steadily in a false semblance of sleep. The shadows conveniently cast over her face, ensuring that, should anyone walk by her room and look in, they would not be able to see that she was still awake. Even then, she kept her brown eyes squinted almost shut and her shoulders forcibly relaxed, just in case.

Papyrus had made his final pass from the bathroom back to his and his brother's bedroom twenty or so minutes ago, looking dead on his feet and with an exhausted Sans held gently against his side. Neither skeleton had noticed the human child and sentient flower that watched them from the semi-darkness, too occupied with their own troubles to care about anything else, but Frisk had a feeling that Papyrus knew she was awake. He was more perceptive than most people gave him credit for.

Then again, maybe in this case it was just common sense. After all, she'd have to be deaf to have not heard Sans cry out.

That silence shattering scream had woken Frisk with a panicked start, dragging her mercilessly from a deep, dreamless sleep. Her heart rate had skyrocketed, pounding in her chest so hard she thought it might pop out onto the covers, the hairs on the back of her neck rising and tickling in a mix of fear and empathy. That anguished cry - no, it was more of a shriek, really - was all too familiar; Frisk had made that same sound herself many a time, but hearing it from Sans was just...It was worse. It made her cringe up inside, made her soul ache in ways her own nightmares never could evoke her to. She had wanted to slide out from under her covers and go to him, comfort him, tell him everything was going to be alright...but...Papyrus had made it very clear that no one but him was to handle Sans in these circumstances. Sans could become rather violent when he was dreaming, acting not all that unlike a frightened, cornered animal, unaware of his words or actions. If he was re-living the sorts of things Frisk guessed he was, waking up to her standing over him was probably a bad idea anyway.

really bad idea.

And so she had stayed in bed, trying to calm her mind and listening the best she could. Frisk had strained to hear the brothers talking in the bathroom across the hall, Papyrus's high-toned almost-whispers and Sans's lower-keyed murmurs muffled through the walls between her and them, though she hadn't been able to hear just what it was they had said. Sans's voice had sounded sad and exhausted; Papyrus's soothing, but also very tired. It wasn't long after that the two skeletons returned to bed, supposedly for the remainder of the night. But Frisk knew Sans; in some ways even better than Papyrus did. Sans wouldn't stay in bed for long, not after such a bad night terror. Sleep would be long in coming, and, for all his laziness, Sans wouldn't want to lie there in bed, idle and slowly submersed in depressing thoughts. He'd probably wait until Papyrus dropped off back to sleep, but then he'd be up again, searching for someplace to gather himself, and, his scream still ringing in her ears, Frisk didn't want him to struggle through this all alone. She knew how it was.

She understood.

Flowey stayed grudgingly silent, and after another ten minutes or so of waiting, Frisk heard the slight squeak of a door hinge and the muffled creaking of boards under carpet out in the hall. Frisk went as limp and lifeless as she could and squeezed her eyes as close to shut as she could without truly doing so all the way. The sudden shifting of petals then silence told her that, despite his complaints, Flowey had done the same, feigning sleep. All that was left was the gentle hum and rattle of the rotating fan and the crickets outside her open screen window.

Several seconds later, through the small, blurry slits of her eyes, Frisk spotted the short skeleton's shadow as he snuck past her open bedroom entrance. She held her breath as two twin points of white light flashed in her direction, Sans doubtlessly checking to see if he was being watched. He stood there, still as a statue for an eternity it seemed, just watching and waiting. Frisk forced herself to breathe in, then out, in a slow and hopefully convincing rhythm, then repeated it a few more times before Sans seemed satisfied. He disappeared from view, headed for the staircase, but still Frisk waited. It wasn't until she heard the soft sound of socked feet on thick carpeted steps that she fully opened her eyes.

Flowey uncurled from his coiled position in his flower pot. He frowned in the direction Sans had gone, shaking his head with disgusted disapprovement. "Pfft. Stupid idiot."

Frisk carefully removed the covers from her body and legs, sitting up gently so that the mattress springs wouldn't twang too loudly. "Stop it," she hushed. "Be nice." She waited until what remained of Sans's light footfalls disappeared completely and then she got fully out of bed. "I'm going to go see him. Do you want to come, or stay here?"

"You know, you ever think he might want a little time to himself?" the flower groused. "He's an adult, not a baby; you don't have to coddle him. Tch. He doesn't deserve it anyhow." His eyes narrowed. "You remember just as well as I do the things he did to us. Or have you forgotten how much it hurts to die, over and over and over again? A little suffering and a few bad nights is merciful compared to what he should be getting. Huh. So much for universal justice."

The child gave him a warning look. "Flowey."

The flower seemed to wilt, disappointed at not getting a rise out of her. He grumbled something under his breath, too soft to hear, sinking lower into his pot.

"What was that?"

"I said I'll go down with you," he hissed, baring teeth that flowers shouldn't technically even have. "Sheesh!  Watching the two of you boo-hoo it out'll be more entertaining than staying up here alone, so let's go get this over with so we can go back to sleep!"

Frisk gave a nod, deciding to ignore that final comment. She could only reprimand the other so often, and remind Flowey so many times that calling Sans names was rude. As she gently lifted her friend, flower pot and all from the sill, she did, however, fix him with a stern look. She was mindful not to jostle Flowey too much, even in her annoyance. He was heavier than most house plants his size, and the potful of semi-packed dirt added to that effect, but he was still plenty light enough for Frisk to carry easily.

"I haven't forgotten the times he killed me," she countered. In fact, her own occasional nightmares were full of such dreadful memories. "But I also haven't forgotten all the times I've killed him, and you haven't either. We don't have any right to judge him, Flowey. You know perfectly well that the reason he's like this is because of us."

Flowey wrapped a few cautionary vines around Frisk's wrists, just in case she dropped him by accident on their way downstairs. "What I know is he's keeping me from getting a good night's rest. And we gotta go to the stupid school tomorrow with Mo-Um. Toriel. With Toriel." He recovered from his near slip up, glaring when Frisk dared look sympathetic. "I might be just a flower, but I can't just block out all his screaming and whining and being a wimpy baby. Ugh, he's so annoying!"

"Don't be cruel," Frisk returned firmly. "It isn't his fault. If anyone's to blame, it's us. It's our fault."

The flower gave a careless shrug and an insensitive grin. "Your fault, you mean," he emphasized. "You don't hear him whimpering my name in his sleep, now do you?"

Frisk flinched. That hurt; and it hurt all the more because it held some truth. Sans often called out her name in his sleep, sounding frightened and desperate, but he also called out a lot of other names too; hers and Papyrus's among the most frequent. Frisk tried to bear in mind that Sans's subconscious found it difficult to distinguish between her and Chara, and his unconscious fear of her was not something to be taken personally.

It still hurt though.

A lot.

The child realized she had frozen up in the middle of her room, the moon casting her shadow before her long and narrow. The sight made her jolt before she managed to get a hold of herself.

It wasn't them.

It wasn't Chara.

It was just her, her shadow; Frisk, the child ambassador who loved her patchwork family more than anything. Even Flowey, as he dug his metaphorical claws into her at every opportunity, trying to make her feel guilty and wrong in her own body and mind. She was the only one who could really keep the talking plant in check, but even then he sometimes turned on her, grinning as he tried to evoke reactions by bringing up the past only he, she, and Sans remembered. The others now knew of the resets, but that didn't mean they completely understood, even as she had spelled it all out and confessed to her terrible crimes.

They had all reacted differently.

Toriel had been upset, stubborn and filled with denial. She had been mad at Sans for his breaking his promise, but that hadn't lasted longer than a day or so. Asgore and Alphys had been frightened, but surprisingly understanding - insight a byproduct of their own bad decisions in life. Undyne had been confused, and perhaps felt a bit betrayed; it had taken almost a month to fully regain her trust. And Papyrus...

Papyrus had just seemed sad, though he had quickly wrapped Frisk up in his arms and declared that all was forgiven; that he knew she could do better, and Frisk had promised that she was already trying.

In some form or other, they had all recovered from the news eventually. It had taken time, of course, and multiple sessions of questioning. Frisk had done everything in her power to make it up to them, and was beyond grateful that things had gone back to the way it had been before. Of course, Frisk hadn't told them everything. They knew she had killed them all at least once, but that was a very different thing than them actually recalling in detail what she had done to them. The horrors she had committed. There was some aspects of the resets that Frisk knew would simply be too devastating to explain.

Chara, for instance. Asgore and Toriel would have been crushed that their own daughter had become a monster in her own right, a hateful murderer who had goaded Frisk on and cheered as their blade pierced and slashed, even against their own mother and father. No, it was better they never knew of the deal Frisk had made with the demon that had once been their child.

Frisk also kept Flowey's identity a secret, at Flowey's own request, for similar reasons.

And then, of course, through it all, Frisk had kept the promise she'd made to Sans. She had kept it secret that he could remember the resets himself, and the more she had watched everyone's reactions, the more she had understood why. Sans held a lot of guilt inside him, many of which were of things that had been out of his control. He had given up eventually, during the worst of resets, and who could blame him? Why even try when everything would just reset anyway? He must have been so lonely. So scared. So hopeless. Knowing that he remembered, actually remembered, had been what had given Frisk the strength to finally free herself of Chara's influence, but the pasts and futures that had technically never happened remained in their minds to haunt them. Sans had witnessed his friends and brother die a hundred, maybe even a thousand times, with no lingering motivation to even try to save them. He had a really hard time forgiving himself for that. Seemed he thought the others, if they knew, would find it equally hard to forgive him.

Frisk knew that wasn't true. They might have questions, they might demand explainations, but in the end they would still love Sans and forgive him. But Sans's faith in happy endings wasn't the strongest, and he held firm in what he wanted. Frisk would have pressed him, and had a few times, but this was the only request Sans had ever made of her, and Frisk didn't feel she had the right to deny him. Not this. Not after all she had put him through.

Frisk frowned, pausing as that familiar claw of guilt twisted around her heart. "I'm not them," she said finally to Flowey, confidently. "The things I did, the person I was. It was them, not me. I'm not Chara."

"Noooo," Flowey drawled, tilting his head almost playfully. "But you did let them in. Let them get a hold of your soul. Pfft. Pathetic. In the beginning it was all you. You fell into the same line of thinking I did; that it didn't matter if we dusted a few souls, mangled a few bodies, broke a few bones." He grinned. "You did that specifically a number of times, if memory serves me right. Didn't you? Because it didn't matter. Things would just start over, and no one would know the difference. Am I right?"

"That wasn't me," Frisk insisted again, calmly, coolly, like she had done a thousand times to sooth over her own burning conscience. "Not...Not really. It was me who started it, I admit that. I didn't know what I was getting into, and, even then, what I did was wrong. I was playing god where I didn't have a right to be. I misused my gift, my power, and it wasn't long before Chara took hold. I'd prepared my soul for their corruption. But I'm better now. I'm free. I'm myself. It doesn't wipe away what I did, what I let happen, but each day gives me a chance to change." Confidence restored, Frisk nodded to herself, straightening her shoulders and fixing her eyes on the door of her bedroom. She held Flowey's pot tighter in her hands and headed forward with purpose. "Sans understands."

"Right. That's why he loses himself to terrors every night. He totally understands."

Frisk sighed, but continued walking. There was no sense rehashing this conversation. Not when she and Flowey had talked about this very thing a dozen times over. It was a real fight sometimes to pretend his words didn't bother her. Despite that though, she cared about the little flower, just as she cared about everyone. Just because he was harder to love than some didn't mean he deserved it any less, and, besides, he was loads better than he used to be. Frisk could recall the day she'd brought him home with perfect clarity. Frisk had hoped, after Flowey's transformation back into Asriel, however short, that it might have changed him for the better. It had, to some extent; he no longer played with people the way he used to, not physically anyway. He still liked to try and mess with their minds, but maybe that would ease with time. He had more of a conscience now, if the looks of regret he gave from time to time, in what he thought was secret, meant anything. He seemed to be improving, though Frisk kept a close eye on him regardless, just in case. But the snarky-ness, the cruelty of the things he sometimes said, the way he held himself and treated others; that hadn't changed. Not yet. And Frisk wasn't about to give up on him. If that meant rolling with his punches, letting his words sting her soul, then so be it. Frisk could handle that.

She had to.

"Enough." And that one word, spoken in that stiff and commanding tone, shut Flowey up immediately. He knew he had pushed a little too far. He was always pushing her, trying to find her limit for patience. So far, he had been unsuccessful, and tonight wasn't going to mark the time he won. They were making their way down the stairs now, Frisk with one hand on the railing for balance, bare toes squishing into the carpet. Softer, she said, "that's enough, Flowey."

The talking plant twisted his stem back a little, in an effort to better see her face. Whatever he saw there must have been even more sobering than her words, because he quickly turned away, looking embarrassed and defeated. "Whatever. Tch, touchy," was all he mumbled.

Redemption Farmhouse, First Floor by Zeragii

 

Somehow feeling triumphant, Frisk swiftly, gently, hopped down from the final step and moved forward across the kitchen tile. They were cold against the pads of her feet, refreshing on a hot summer night, though she didn't have the time or mind to enjoy it at that moment. Her gaze flitted back and forth nervously, scouring the shifty shadows of the kitchen. Even with the moonlight filtering in through the windows, the trees outside, caught in a gentle breeze, cast shapes and movement all around them, and Sans could literally be anywhere, lurking like he sometimes did. She didn't want to scare him, not after the fright he'd obviously already endured, but Frisk was equally eager to not be taken by surprise herself. Her nerves wouldn't be able to take it tonight.

"...Sans?" she called softly.

"Pfft. He's not even here. Can't you see anything?" Flowey grumbled unkindly.

"No," Frisk returned sternly. "I didn't grow up underground, my eyes aren't accustomed to the dark."

Even probably years worth of resets hadn't helped her there, since her body always reset along with everything else. Any adaptions her eyes would have made were wiped clean along with every bruise, scrape, and laceration.

"Mmh. Well, he's not here," Flowey repeated, still keeping his voice low and hissy. A whisper, Frisk supposed, in its own right. "My guess is he's either sulking in the living room or moping in the basement."

"He doesn't like the basement."

Alphys makeshift lab was down there, and Sans always made excuses not to visit. It was odd, for someone who seemed so interested in science. And he'd had a lab of his own of sorts, hadn't he? In the shed? Mm. Another vein of questioning for another night. Now was not the time to ponder over the complexities of Sans's habits.

Flowey rolled his eyes. "Well, maybe he's outside then. You know how he liked the stars and stuff. The weirdo."

Frisk's eyes widened. Of course! Sans would want to get some air after waking up from a nightmare. Seeing the stars would help ground him; remind him that the Surface was real, that they had really made it. Frisk bounced forward on her toes, bending to give Flowey the gentlest of kisses atop his petaled head. "You're right. Thanks, Flowey," she murmured sincerely.

He curled up, feigning annoyance but looking exceedingly embarrassed by her action, like a shy schoolboy caught with his sweetheart. The thought was almost insanely ridiculous. "Ugh, stop that! Yuck! I'm doing it for my sake, not his," he sputtered. "The sooner we figure out this whole mess, the sooner we can get back to bed. I'm helping you find him, but I'm not kissing his boo-boos. I'd much rather tear his stupid smiling head off."

"Yes, yes," Frisk murmured, ignoring his descriptive violence. They were now in the dining room, which was also void of Sans. "But you won't."

Flowey gave her a fierce glare, his already high voice pitching a little higher in indignation. Thankfully still all within the confines of a whisper. "And why not?!"

"Because," Frisk said, not even glancing down at him as she snuck her way across the semi-dark hallway. "You're not like that anymore. You've changed. You don't like him, sure, but you wouldn't do that. It isn't in your nature anymore." She finally looked down, giving him a teasing smile. "Plus I care about Sans, so if you hurt him, you hurt me, and you like me. I'm like a sister to you. Deny it."

Flowey blinked, caught off guard, before he stuck out his tongue and flopped back into the bottom of his pot. But he didn't deny it.

Hurting Sans was no longer something Flowey did for fun, though it had taken some time for the habit to leave him. Countless ruined resets, and the frustration therein, had built up a wall of bitterness between the two, Sans's defensive and Flowey's cruelly offensive, and it was going to take time for that rift to heal. If it ever would. Any hostilities he had still held after being brought to the Surface had been mainly focused on making Sans miserable, or, occasionally, to hurt him in minimal ways. Nothing too bad; tripping him mostly, with the hope that Sans would fall and break something, but there was no energy behind his actions, no true intent. All in all, it hadn't been much more than a series of cruel pranks, and over time even those had started to fade away, especially after countless lectures from Toriel on the matter. All that remained of his old Flowey self was the flower's crudeness. He had a vocabulary that had the swear jar nearly bursting -- cut from the allowance that Toriel gave him whenever he was 'good' -- and liked to push peoples' buttons. But he was improving, no matter how slowly it seemed at times, and he had quite a lot of support, between Frisk's own efforts and the efforts of both Toriel and Papyrus.

The flower reemerged from his pot and craned his stem toward the front door, probably expecting Frisk to head in that direction, but instead, with a few hurried strides, she whisked Flowey into the living room, plopping him down on the coffee table without a word. She turned to leave, intent on getting out before he could protest, but she wasn't quite fast enough.

"Hey! Wait!" Flowey hissed, annoyed and upset. "You're just going to leave me here?!"

"Shh," Frisk warned, turning back to face him and frowning as she held a finger to her lips. Flowey glowered, but complied. "He's having a hard time right now. He....Well, he doesn't like you too much," Frisk assessed. "And I don't think bringing you out there will do much for him until he's feeling a bit better."

Flowey scoffed. "Like seeing you won't trigger him just as much."

"I...I just don't want to leave him out there all alone," she concluded. "If company isn't what he wants, well... Just let me try and reach him. If he pushes me away, I'll come back in and we'll go back to bed. Deal?"

Flowey gave a careless, uncomfortable shrug. "Yeah, yeah. Fine, go ahead. Won't do you any good though. That idiot's a stubborn piece of trash." He grinned at Frisk's expression. "Well, he is. Ask anyone."

"Flowey, that isn't very nice. And it isn't true."

"It's completely true."

Reluctantly, Frisk decided to meet him half way. "I mean, he's a little rough around the edges sometimes...maybe a little stubborn, but he has a good soul. And I'm going out there to help him, because I know he'd do the same for me."

"Pfft. Whatever."

Believing that to be as close to a 'good luck' as Flowey could give, Frisk gave him a reassuring smile and turned yet again to leave. Just before she rounded into the hall Flowey's voice lowly called after her.

"What did you even bring me down here for, if only to plop me down on a stupid table?"

Frisk paused beneath the living room's post and lentals. She sighed, giving the flower a fond but tired smile. "Would you believe moral support?"

"...I hate you."

"No you don't."

And with that she was gone, out of the living room and heading for the front door with quiet, direct steps. None of the door's many locks were latched, Sans having undone them all -- he hadn't just teleported? -- but he had closed the solid, inner door as a means of giving himself more privacy. It was almost like he expected someone to have followed him; or at least he feared the possibility. Frisk carefully wrapped her small hands around the cold metal knob, taking a breath before tugging the door open soundlessly. She was embraced by cooler night air, fresh and gentle, the world beyond checkered slightly by her view through the screen door mesh.

And beyond that, sitting on the second step down from the porch, was Sans.

He was perched there, head tilted upward to take in the vast expanse of sky above. Some clouds had rolled in, but a large portion of the heavens were still clear, filled with countless stars. Sans was very still, a frozen figure in a frozen backdrop, the only movement in the scene being the way the slight breeze tugged at the edges of his wrinkled t-shirt and the flickers of fireflies out in the wheat fields. It was almost like a photograph, a sad, solemn, and yet peaceful one.

Frisk swallowed, less out of nervousness and more out of resolve. It was hard to tell when Sans was in a mood open to company. He would always accept it, of course, whether he truly wanted it or not, but that did not always mean it was what he needed. Quiet was sometimes his preference; he was smart, and contemplative, and sometimes it was better to let him work through things himself.

This was not one of those times.

Steeling herself the best she could, Frisk lay her hands flat against the scratchy mesh of the screen door and pushed. She winced hard as it released a rusty-springed screech, her gaze flitting up to her friend as he startled. Sans whirled around and scrambled to his feet with a strangled grunt, every line of his form defensive and tense. Magic buzzed in the air above and around him, audible, but only just barely. His left socket spat a few warning cyan sparks, as did the inverted heart-shape suddenly visible beneath his shirt, though neither fully ignited. In fact, it was more of a sputter, his magic already largely spent. His reserves, Frisk knew, were very deep and very powerful, but even Sans had his limits, and he had apparently reached his output for the night, leaving him looking tired and vulnerable. 

Frisk froze, brown eyes wide as they stared at one another, one in panicked fear and the other in apologetic uncertainty.

Several moments passed; long, uneasy moments. An impertinent little cloud had blocked out the moon, leaving everything a little darker, so Frisk didn't blame Sans for how long it took him to fully recognize her. If he was truly so on edge, then she would need to tread carefully, so as not to upset or startle him further. The moment he realized it was her Sans's humming magic retreated, his eye and soul flickering back to normal. His shoulders slumped in relief and the expression he wore spoke of how truly exhausted he was, even as he forced a weak smile.

The skeleton tiredly ground a slightly trembling fist into his 'magic' eye with a groan. "geez, kid...you of all people should know not to sneak up at me like that."

His soul was invisible now, the few sparks that had lit it up now gone. He seemed more relaxed, but Frisk could just make out the way he was shaking. She had startled him pretty badly, she realized, and it filled her with guilt. The same guilt that was probably assaulting his own mind as he imagined what might have happened had he not stopped his magic in time; been a little more battle ready and a little more un-observing.

As if to prove that true, Sans shuddered minutely.

Frisk winced, gritting her teeth as she made her way out of the doorway and onto the porch. They both flinched when the screen door swung back and shut with a bang. Frisk chided herself. All that time living at Redemption and she always forgot to ease it closed gently. Hopefully no one upstairs had heard it. Frisk rubbed her arm nervously as they waited for some kind of reaction from inside the house, releasing a sigh when the quiet of the summer night stretched on uninterrupted.

The little cloud rolled away, moonlight returning to the scene.

"you startled me," Sans offered finally, the fear from before gone from his eyes and replaced with only fond apology. "i...didn't mean to freak out like that."

The child lowered her gaze to the paint chipped surface of the porch at her feet, suddenly feeling like an intruder, but refusing to let it stop her. She would not leave Sans alone. She let determination fill her. "Not your fault. I should have said something. I'm sorry, Sans. I thought, maybe, you had already heard me coming." Sans was usually so observant and alert.

"nah. i was...sorta lost in thought."

"Yeah?"

"yup."

Frisk nodded in understanding. She too could easily get lost in her own head, especially after a nightmare or on a 'bad day'. It was a funny little quirk that she and Sans shared. "...Can I come sit with you?"

Sans gave her a tired smirk, that familiar mischief glowing his dim eye lights a little bit brighter. "well now, i don't know. can you?"

The pure ridiculousness of the inopportune correction caught Frisk completely off guard, making her blink repeatedly before her own mischievous smile spread across her face. This was more familiar ground. Few realized that Sans, despite his natural love of the comedic, relied on such things as puns and jokes as a means to calm himself and focus when he felt he was falling too deep into his own emotions. It had taken Frisk countless resets to understand that. She wasn't sure if Sans was aware that she knew, she couldn't even be sure that he recognized his own fail-safe, but it was something she could work with and he was practically feeding her the opportunity.

Frisk rolled her eyes, taking a step closer to the stairs that separated them. "Ugh!" she fake groaned, mindful to keep her voice low. "You're getting as bad as Mom!"

"side effect of living under her roof, kiddo. b'sides, your mom's a pretty cool goat-lady; not a bone of baaaaaa-d in 'er." He grinned, tucking his hands into the pockets of his faded red shorts. "she just wants you to grow up right and speak like a proper young lady," he surmised. "s'important, for someone in your position."

Frisk pouted. "It's more fun to talk like you do."

"like some bum off the street? heh. yeah, i can definitely see the appeal." He grinned wider, leaning forward a bit, expectant. "sooooo....?"

Frisk gave a huff, folding her thin arms over her chest. "Fine, fine. May I come sit with you?"

Sans beamed, the cheer in his voice almost convincing her to forget about the slight tremor in his shoulders, or the dark shadows beneath his sockets. Almost. "sure ya can, kiddo." He plopped back down on his previous spot on the steps, removing one hand from his pocket to pat the space beside him. "park it right here."

Frisk's expression lit up in a brilliant grin, her eyes bright. With a few confident steps, that she should not have had the energy for at that time of night, she sat down on the top step and then scooched down until she was sitting beside him. The wind picked up for a moment, refreshing and pleasant as it whipped past them, tugging at Frisk's hair and making the screen door behind them squeak a bit under the force. Hopefully the wind itself wouldn't catch on the door, banging it open. The wind died back down though before the worry could truly form in Frisk's mind.

"So, what are you doing out here?" Frisk asked, lacing her concern with a smile.

"eh. just getting a bit of fresh air."

"...At four in the morning?"

"yeeeeup."

Frisk frowned, bothered by his lack of honesty. He was hiding things again, and it made her worry. Hiding things was something Sans did frustratingly well, and it was usually how he 'protected' those he cared about, always not realizing that all it did was tear him and everyone else apart. He was being deflective; misdirecting her words and manipulating the conversation in his favor.

Fine.

She could play along at that little game.

Settling back against the stair above the one she was sitting on, Frisk gazed up at the star-studded sky. Most of the wispy little clouds had moved on, the blanket of night sky above absolutely stunning. It would have been a more breathtaking sight if the moon and the light of the nearby city weren't causing a disturbance, but it was still very beautiful. Sans had come out to reassure himself by the stars; maybe Frisk could help him.

"Show me some star stuff," she chirped.

He snorted, amused. " 'star' stuff, huh?"

"Yeah. You know. Astronomy."

Sans blinked slowly, and Frisk could just make out the way he glanced at her in her peripheral vision. He seemed set somewhat off balance by her willingness to change the subject, before he gave his chest a scratch and leaned back to join her, a lazy smile spreading across his face.

"ya sure?"

"Absolutely."

"you know i'll go on and on 'til your ears start to bleed," he warned.

Frisk didn't care, though the exaggeration was cringe worthy. "Talk," she demanded.

"heh. okay, okay, let's see...uh..." He trailed off, adjusting himself to sit a bit straighter as his eye lights searched the expanse above them. His eye lights, so much like stars themselves, scanned the world above, seeking and curious; eager. Then he was sitting up even more, stretching his torso out toward the sky as he pointed with undeniable excitement. "oh! right there. okay, you see that line of stars that sort of look like a big question mark?"

"...Yeah?" She thought she did.

"that's part of leo the lion. a constellation. he's sort of dipping down into the horizon a bit now, but in april he'd be a lot easier to see. the question mark shape sort of outlines his mane. leo there is supposed to be what they call the nemean lion, who was supposedly killed by heracles during the first of his twelve labors. you remember ol' herc, right, kiddo?"

Frisk nodded. Monster history was deeply tied in with Greek mythology, just as human history was. While much of their existence had been lived separated from one another, humans and monsters could at least relate to mythology, which was the same in almost every respect. It gave them something in common they could talk about, without worrying about politics or cultural differences. Sans, it seemed, knew a lot about mythology from his knowledge of space, the two tightly entwined. Toriel had started to teach Frisk the subject with the belief that it would help her gain a better understanding of where human and monster culture collided, and where it split.

"ya learn about leo yet?"

Frisk shook her head, smiling as Sans launched into a narrative explanation.

"well, this particular nemean lion used to sneak down and take women from the villages as hostages, carting them off to its lair in the mountain caves. he'd lure warriors there from nearby towns to save the damsels in distress, leading them to their own demises."

Frisk winced. "That's aweful."

"i know, right?" Sans scanned the night sky some more, his eye lights the brightest Frisk had seen them in a while. He fell back into a relaxed position for only a moment before he was bouncing back up, pointing with a confident hand once again. "see that?"

"Where?"

"right there. follow my finger, buddy. got it?"

Frisk squinted, shifting closer to his shoulder so as to follow his pointing finger more accurately. "Mm hm."

"that's cassiopeia."

"Cass...Cassio - pee - ah?"

"heh. yup. it's named for a queen in greek mythology. she was a real vain woman who would boast about how beautiful she was. kinda like mettaton."

Frisk gave a huff of laughter and swatted at the skeleton. "Stop. Be nice."

Sans took her abuse with a grin. "okay, okay. anyway, story goes that she was tossed up into the sky by the gods as punishment for being a bit too boastful."

"Oh." Frisk's face fell. "Now that's kind of sad."

"s'the way justice was dealt back then, at least as far as mythology stands. the greek gods were never much ones for mercy." He gave Frisk a wink. "unlike some humans i could mention."

Frisk beamed.

They went on like that for a while, leaning back against the stairs until the sharp wooden edges made their spines ache, smiling and chuckling and pointing out so many stars. Frisk showed her hand in memorization, having learned some star coordinates from Sans herself over the past few years and he looked just about ready to burst with pride as she related to him where said stars or constellations were located.

"And that's Sirius, the dog star."

"noooo, you gotta be pulling my leg."

Frisk faltered, confused. "But, Sans-"

"are you sirius?"

"Pfft!" She gave him a light shove, sending them both into quiet laughter, hers a high and fast giggle, his a slow and warm chuckle.

"so, you got a favorite constellation or what, kid?" Sans grinned tiredly. He had to be exhausted, and yet he looked so happy. Peaceful. Having too much fun to give in to slumber like he normally would.

"Um..." Frisk considered the ones she could remember the names of, going with the first one that came to mind. "The Big Dipper?"

Sans nodded slowly, gazing up at the stars in question. "good choice; though the big dipper actually isn't a real constellation."

"It isn't?"

"nope. it's actually called an asterism. asterisms are prominent groups of stars that form patterns but are smaller than, or even part of, a constellation. they're usually pretty easy to find because the stars that make them up are all fairly close together and about the same brightness. the big dipper is actually a part of the constellation ursa major, also called the great bear. see?" He traced the line of stars with his finger. "this here's a part of her lower spine and there's her tail."

Frisk could see it now, her mind connecting the dots. "Cool." She smiled, then looked to Sans with thin raised eyebrows. "What's your favorite constellation?" she inquired in turn.

The skeleton leaned back and considered the stars above. "that's not really a fair question. i like them all, don't get me wrong, but there are other neat stuff up there i think are way more interesting. stuff i'd have to get my telescope out to see."

"Like what?"

Sans pointed up to another group of stars. "you know the constellation orion, right?"

It was another one of the ones Frisk could pick out in the night sky when she saw it. "Yeah."

"well, there's this pretty little nebula stuck in orion's belt. it's too small to see with the naked eye, unless you're somewhere really dark and clear, but, buddy, i tell you it's one of the prettiest things up there. it's what's called a diffuse nebula, which means it's an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium and other ionized gases. it's a place new stars are supposedly born, almost like some sort of star nursery. the four brightest stars in the nebula are called the trapezium. they light the nebula from the inside, making it almost blue in color."

"Your favorite," Frisk murmured.

"yup. and compared to most other stars, these four are practically babies. pretty neat, huh?"

"Yeah," Frisk breathed. She let her gaze cast to the moon, wonder and amusement in her eyes as she took in its ethereal glow. She leaned forward, resting her arms on her knees, thinking over all Sans had told her.

War Crimes Illustration 6 by Zeragii

 

The skeleton leaned back on his arm on the steps, crossing the other over his kneecap as he scanned the stars above them, taking in every nuance of creation.

 "you know," he said eventually, after silence had stretched between them for several long minutes. "for most other monsters, seeing the sun was the moment they knew for certain they were free. for me, it's this. stars and comets and the moon reflecting overhead. sitting here and feeling the cool breeze and hearing the bugs chirping and the river babbling over there beyond the treeline..." He sighed. "that's what makes this real for me. the quiet. the safe, happy kind of quiet. it helps me remember that...that the darker aspects of my mind are just that, and nothing else. this is real. this is true. nothing else matters."

Frisk watched him as he spoke, how he seemed to curl inward slightly, his arms shifting closer to his body, protective and shrinking. It had felt good; to just sit there and enjoy life for a few precious moments, but Frisk had come outside for a reason, and she would not be distracted from that mission. She had let Sans relax a bit, steady his mind with the pastime he loved the most, but now it was time to bring things back around. And Sans knew it.

Frisk let the smile on her face die out into a neutral expression, feeling her previous cheer fade with it. Sans was still smiling to himself, gaze fixed on the sky, but it was odd. Weak. His shoulders were still shaking a little, as were his hands. She took him in, noticed how his bones were paler - grayer- than normal. He didn't look well at all, to be honest. Sans was clever; a lot more clever than most people gave him credit for. He must know that she had allotted him these few extra minutes to prepare himself. She could already see him tensing, the skeleton apparently sensing that the moment of truth had come. He'd even muttered a way to bring them back to the subject at hand instead of completely ignoring it.

Progress.

Frisk swallowed, glancing down at the paint chipped step. "Are you...feeling okay, Sans?" she ventured.

Sans flicked a wayward leaf from one of the rungs of the porch railing. "me? heh. aw, come on, kid, never been better. i'm perfectly fine."

He wasn't. She knew he wasn't. And even more frustrating was the fact that she knew he knew she knew he wasn't. A spark of determination flared in Frisk's soul, making her next words perhaps a tad bit harsher than she intended. "I know you're lying."

He flinched, just barely. No one would have noticed it if they hadn't been watching him for that very sign of discomfort. He wasn't looking at her. He was avoiding looking at her. "kid-"

"I know you're lying, Sans." When he remained silent, the child gave a sigh, torn between wanting to shake him to his senses and wanting to hug the living daylights out of him. "You don't have to pretend with me, Sans. I know you well enough by now to see when you're struggling. Plus..." She faltered. "...I heard you. You screamed...really loud."

"that's, uh...that's what pap said too. it's nothing, frisk."

"Didn't sound like nothing." Even though the dreams themselves weren't new, the screaming certainly was. Usually Sans's night terrors only produced whimpers and gasps from the diminutive skeleton. But these sharp, pained shrieks...They were worrisome.

Sans slumped, all previous staged jolliness tugged out from under him like the proverbial rug. It would be a hard landing, Frisk knew; and she wished there was a way to make falls like this easier for him. "h-heh. you're getting...pretty good at reading me, kiddo. it's a little unnerving..."

What could she say? She'd had plenty of practice.

Frisk reached forward, laying a gentle hand on his knee. The touch caught his attention, and he turned to look at her, their eyes meeting. He was cold to the touch, the usual warmth he exuded uncomfortably absent. "Well, I've learned to read you because I care. So do the others. You're a part of our family, Sans; of course I'm going to notice when something's wrong."

He blinked, twice, like her sincerity was digging deeper than she could ever do intentionally. He held her gaze a moment, before turning to stare at his hands, which were now gripped tightly between his legs, his elbows resting on his bony thighs. He was, however, careful not to dislodge her hand from his knee, and Frisk was grateful he allowed himself that one small comfort. Sans remained quiet, and Frisk waited, knowing that trying to make him talk would be a useless endeavor. Her friend did things on his own terms; the harder anyone pushed, the harder he resisted. It was one of the reasons Sans and Undyne rarely got along. Sans would progress better in this if she waited for him to take the first step.

"m'nightmares are getting...pretty intense lately," he finally admitted. "...like really intense."

"Scream in your sleep intense," Frisk stated, not a question, but Sans nodded anyway. Frisk nodded along with him, feeling her throat tighten. "Do you...Do you want to talk about it?"

The skeleton gave a little rock forward in his seat, like he was holding back the anguish roiling in his soul. "...no," Sans shivered, "but...i get the feeling i probably should, huh?" He glanced up, and Frisk gave him a single, encouraging nod. He sighed, looking back down at his hands. It must have hurt how hard he was wringing them, slowly, so that Frisk wouldn't notice the nervous habit.

She noticed.

"i'm...in th' hall," he began slowly. He pulled a face, one of disgust and frustration. "there's a lot of...blood everywhere. more than there should be. certainly more than i've ever seen, even though i've..." He cut off, then continued with a new path of explanation in mind. He gestured to his feet. "it's all just pooled there instead of getting wiped away with each r-reset." He trips over the word and she bets he hates himself for it. "basically, you-know-who is there, taunting me. there's not much fight left in me at that point, and there's just...so much blood, i can barely keep my footing. s'all...slippery."

Frisk tightened her hold on his knee. She was trying to feed him a bit of strength to continue, but also his rather gruesome descriptions were dredging up images from her own horrific nightmares. She valiantly pushed the feelings of nausea and fear aside. Sans needed her right now. Her own little dramas could wait.

"i say something along the lines of 'you're dead' an' 'you're not real', and they laugh. they come closer, and when i try to move back, get away, i can't..." His voice breaks a little on the last word, and he seems angry at that unexpected show of weakness. He swallows and continues on. "they, uh...play with me...for a while. went on a bit longer than it usually does this time though. and then...th-then...th-th-"

He stiffened, hard, his sockets wide and unseeing. His hands shook harder, but he'd stopped wringing them. They'd frozen there, hovering just over his lap, fingers clicking together faintly as he trembled.

Frisk could recognize a flashback when she saw one and instantly felt guilt and worry rock her soul. She hadn't meant to trigger him, though that happened often enough when they talked about such troubling subjects. Frisk herself had been thrust into all-consuming memories by something Sans had said or done. She didn't blame him for it, anymore than Frisk knew Sans would blame her for this; but still. Frisk gave a small sound of sympathy, but she didn't push him; didn't move the hand on his knee for fear of startling him to further panic. She murmured encouragements, just like he often did for her at times like these, hoping to guide him back once the invasive thoughts and images had passed. It wasn't for several more seconds before he finally blinked blearily and took a shaky inhale. Frisk gave his kneecap a rub, leaning slightly to try and get a glimpse of his face as he tried to regain his breath.

"...Sans?"

Despite her considerations, he still startled a little.

"m'okay...s-sorry...m'fine..."

He's not. He's really, really not, and there's no convincing Frisk of otherwise. She watched as he dropped his head into his hands, his shoulders still shaking from whatever emotions were thundering through him. That had been a bad one. Frisk wanted to help him so badly, but he could be...a stubborn idiot sometimes; maybe Flowey hadn't been totally wrong in that regard. It was unkind to think, she knew, but Sans was a bit of a numbskull when it came to things like this. She thought that, maybe, Sans sometimes forgot how much she actually could relate to him. She understood him. She was a child after all, but she had lived countless lives really. She understood things like fear, and pain; regret. Guilt. She just wished she could get him to fully accept her support.

In an effort to get across just how serious she was taking his suffering, Frisk carefully leaned forward, removing her hand from his knee and laying it gently against his sternum, right over the place where Chara's knife had once dragged. Teasing. Sharp. So many times. Monsters were creatures of intent, of expression and physical touch. Not at all like humans, who tended to hold even family at arms length. Frisk had long since learned that touch, however gentle, was a way to encourage and empower among monsters. She'd seen it through Papyrus's hugs, through Undyne's fist bumps and back slaps and noogies, through Alphys trembling shoulder taps, Asgore's hand on her head, and Sans's shoulder nudges. It was how monsters conveyed themselves to others.

Sans did so less than most. 

He flinched, as expected, as her hand settled in place on his chest, but he knew it was her so he didn't pull away. She persisted, covering over that phantom scar with her own very warm, very real self. It wasn't meant to make him shiver, or feel ill; though he was probably currently feeling a bit of both. It was Frisk's hand pressing there, trying to ground him. There was no hatred; no malicious intent. No LOVE, only love. Exactly what he needed.

What he needed so very badly.

After a few moments, Sans released a shaky sigh, closing his eyes and lifting a hand to lay over hers, pressing it harder to his chest. "m'okay, kiddo...s'just..." he gave up with a weak, one shouldered shrug. "sorry about all...this. sorry about waking everyone up with something so stupid."

Frisk's eyes were moist with unshed tears, the gentle smile she gave him watery and trembling. She hated seeing him like this; lost in his own horrors. He never told her the worst parts, but she knew well enough what he left out. Her nightmares were very much the same scene, just through a different pair of eyes. 

"It's okay. It's not your fault, and it's not stupid," she soothed. "You were dreaming. You can't help what you dream."

"heh," he huffed bitterly, "yeah, well, they would disagree."

"What they think doesn't matter. They aren't here anymore. See? I'm me. You're you. It's just us. Everyone else is inside, sleeping. We're on the Surface, slowly paving a way of life for the rest of monsterkind to follow. Repeat after me, Sans. Everything's fine."

"e-everything's fine," Sans repeated, shakily.

"Everyone's safe."

"everyone's...safe."

"Again."

"everything's fine...everyone's safe..." Sans lifted his gaze, releasing a shuddering breath. He looked, in that moment, more broken than Frisk had seen him in a while, that goofy grin spread far too wide, tears in his sockets, unshed, but there all the same. "then why am i so scared?" he whispered.

Frisk felt her soul pinch in grief. Without a second thought she lurched forward, drawing the other into a crushing hug. "Because you're a good person, and you feel just a little too much. But that's okay. I wouldn't change you for anything. You're going to make it through this; we both are, and we're going to all live happily ever after. You'll see. It hurts now, but it'll get better. I promise, Sans. I promise."

"m'trying," he choked into her shoulder, trembling so hard his bones rattled audibly. "m'trying so h-hard-"

"I know. Me too, I'm trying too," she soothed.

It was strange, how their embrace perfectly mirrored that night two and a half years ago. Only this time, instead of her being the one being held in the midst of uncertainty, this time it was Sans. Frisk remembered the empty feeling that came with Chara leaving her; she remembered the loneliness and the devastating relief mixed with crippling abandonment. Sans had held her then, without question, without fear; even when Chara had literally used her to assault his very soul only a few mere minutes before. They'd invaded him, violated him, murdered him and everyone he loved a thousand times over, and yet he hadn't given helping her a second thought.

Frisk held Sans a little tighter. She hadn't seen his soul since that night, he tended to keep it well hidden, efficiently covered by the shirts he always wore, even while swimming in the creek. He'd been so hurt that night, and yet he had focused every last ounce of his strength in comforting her. The least she could do was return the favor.

"Shhhh, it's okay...It's over....No more resets, no more Chara...It's alright, shhhhhh..."

"i hate th-this."

"I know."

"i h-hate how it gets to me."

"I know, Sans. It's okay. It's okay to hurt."

He didn't seem convinced, shivering and shuddering in her arms even long after they both fell silent. The crickets mocked their pain with cheerful song, the frogs down by the creek sounded almost menacing in their intensity, and a firefly that flew too close flashed in Frisk's face, causing her to jolt slightly. Still she held him, until his shaking subsided and his breaths evened out to something at least a little bit calmer. Then, and only then, did they finally pull apart. Sans scrubbed at his sockets in frustration, a very quiet, bitter sounding chuckle leaving from between his teeth.

"tch, heh...m'such a pansy...cryin' over a little nightmare. what ever happened to the sans that could face down a demon without even flinching, huh? the one that could take fifty-something reloads to a day and still keep a smile on his dumb face."

Frisk shook her head sadly, hands moving up to take his as they both sat sideways on the porch steps, the moonlight casting their shadows up and across the aging wood. Frisk looked down at their entwined fingers, her thin, fleshy ones and his cold, bony ones. She inhaled carefully, in then out, before lifting her face to look him in the eyes.

"Maybe he just finally realized he doesn't have to hide things anymore. He doesn't have to pretend he's not scared anymore, and that's okay. It doesn't make him a coward, and it doesn't make him worth any less. Mom says bravery is doing something hard, even when you're frightened. It isn't an absence of courage, it's having courage despite the fear."

Sans closed his sockets, chin tucked close to his chest. He was silent a moment, before he finally gave Frisk's hands a gentle squeeze. "your mom's a...a really smart lady, you know that? smart n' wise. you'd do well to listen to what she says."

"And you?" Frisk searched his expression.

"me, i'm...i'm gonna just keep at it. s'all i can do, right? an' things really aren't all that bad, not bad at all. i love it here, it's just..." A careful breath. "i don't...want to lose it. i can't lose it. not again."

"You're not going to."

Sans gently extricated his hands from hers, some of his old apathy returning. "my soul tells me that's true...but my mind's not really...getting with the program just yet."

Frisk placed her hands in her own lap and gave a nod of understanding. "I...I get that. I feel that way sometimes too. Like my heart knows that Chara's really gone, but..." She closed her eyes, face paling just a little. "But sometimes I think I see a shadow, or hear a laugh. I know I'm just imagining things, but on the bad days, or the bad nights...Sometimes I'm just too tired to fight off my own imagination, you know?"

"...i think i do, kid."

A warm, cheery light was starting to appear in the east, subtle at first, but growing ever stronger. The sun was rising, slowly, still to far below the horizon to be anything but a reddish hazel glow. Still, even then, the atmosphere around them was starting to lighten, the stars they had admired disappearing faintly one by one. The sound of crickets and frogs was still audible, but now it was joined by the first few calls of the early birds, shrill and melodic. Still they remained seated on the steps, huddled close, but not too close; comforting in silence.

"...what were they like?" Sans asked suddenly.

Frisk blinked, coming back to herself. "Hm? What?"

Sans was staring at her, expression calm, but curious. "what was...what were they like? my nightmares always make them out to be so...so at their worst. but sometimes i watch you talk about them and...there's something else there than the fear and hatred i have for them. almost like...you cared about them in some way..."

Frisk met the skeleton's gaze, biting her lip. She considered Sans's words carefully, searching herself for the best way to explain."Well. Chara was..." She squared her shoulders. "Chara was a lost soul. Hurt, and vengeful. They made themselves feel alive through the suffering of those who had more than they did; a life, a body, a soul...But, sometimes, when they weren't actively trying to get me to murder my friends...Sometimes it was like I could see the good person they could have been. Once were? I don't know. It made me sad. Like if I had just tried harder, I could have saved them." Frisk drooped. "But I finally came to understand...Chara didn't want to be saved. They only wanted to harm others, filled with so much anger, resentment, and regret that they couldn't see past their own atrocities."

"n' they held a special place in their twisted little heart for me, huh?"

Frisk winced. "They thought you were...fun. They didn't even know you remembered, and they still thought you were fun." Frisk shuddered. "But they're gone now...Why did you want to know? About what they were like, I mean."

Sans shrugged, watching a bird swing low as it flew past them. "just...trying to figure out a way to make peace, i guess. i hated the freak more than anyone ever could hate someone else, but...hate's a really tiring thing to keep up with. an' the last thing i want to do is end up like them; bitter and cruel."

"You could never be that."

"couldn't i, though?"

"No." Frisk was sure. "And do you know why?"

"...why?"

Frisk leaned forward and wrapped him in another hug. This one wasn't quite so desperate, and he returned it with feather light gentleness.

War Crimes Illustration 7 by Zeragii

 

"Because the reason Chara fell into darkness was because they thought they were alone. They had no one but me, and I couldn't love them, not with what they'd done. But you, you have us, and you're always going to have us, so you'll never be alone. So you'll never become like them."

Sans blinked, then chuckled. The vibration tickled, pressed together as they were. "simple as that, huh?"

"Mm hm. The very simplest of simple."

The skeleton laughed, before he hugged her closer. The mood changed from amused to something genuine and somber. "thanks, frisk," he whispered.

Frisk held him tightly, ducking her head a little so that she was resting just below his chin. Standing, they were pretty much the same height, Frisk having grown several inches since her last birthday. But like this, sitting, with her slouched and him tilted back, she could happily snuggle up beneath his skull.

"They hurt you," she murmured sadly. It wasn't a question. More of an accusation. "They always hurt you." They had made her hurt him more times than she could count. Such hatred of anyone was truly beyond Frisk's ability to understand. "I hate that."

"yeah, well. to be fair, i wasn't ever very nice to them."

"You had a good reason."

"maybe." Sans rubbed her back, the action soothing them both. "either way, there's no denying we're a couple a traumatized buckoroos. at least your nightmares are getting less frequent. i don't think you've had one in at least a month and a half. i'll get there too, someday. i'll get better."

Frisk frowned, soothing her fingers along the chinks of his spine. They felt strange, but by now familiar. He relaxed a bit, settling a little more heavily into her. "You've been saying that for a while," she said worriedly. "We've been here on the Surface for almost three years...and you're still not better."

"healing takes time."

"I'm healing faster."

"heh. well, you are a little younger than me, by like, what? a couple hundred years? three?" He chuckled. "besides, you've had help. that doctor becker guy, right? your therapist? he's been doing a lot for ya."

Frisk couldn't argue there. After everyone in their makeshift little family had found out about the resets, and had learned just what she had been through, Toriel had insisted on her going to someone who could help her talk things through. Frisk had been suffering terrible nightmares back then, not all that unlike Sans's own, but they had slowly faded away with Doctor Becker's guidance. He specialized in EMDR, a technique that helped Frisk process things and put them behind her. Now, he was just someone to talk to, and the fact that he had to keep patient confidentiality made it so Frisk never had to worry about her family finding out things she didn't want them to. 

Sans, on the other hand, was left to struggle through his troubles alone. Because had kept his own traumas hidden from their family, leaving them with only the knowledge that he had already known about the resets, but not that he could remember each and every one of them himself, meant that no one was pushing him to heal. Had he admitted that, he surely would have been forced to the same psychoanalytic treatment as Frisk had. He needed it. Badly. But any attempts on Frisk's part to urge him was met with stubborn resistance.

But she always still tried.

Frisk nodded, agreeing. "Yeah. It's...weird; the way he makes me think about stuff, but...it works. My bad dreams are a lot less often, and even when I do have them they're easier to deal with." She paused, bracing herself. "Maybe you could-"

"nope."

The child whined, annoyed. "Saaaans."

"i don't like doctors."

"You like Alphys just fine."

"technically, she's not a doctor. she's a scientist. in her case, it's more a title and less an occupation. she don't work with needles or noth'n like that."

"Neither does Doctor Becker."

"not the point.'

Frisk pouted. "You always make things so difficult." But she held him just a little bit tighter. Tight enough to feel his rib cage expanding and constricting with every breath he took. It was rhythmic. Steady. He was calm. She'd managed that much. "...But I love you."

Sans jolted a bit at the often used phrase. Frisk used it on all of them quite frequently, but Sans had always found it to be more of a shock to his system than it seemed to be for the others. Maybe because the child who said it looked so much like the demon of his nightmares that it always felt like a trap. Like a punch line to a bad joke.

Or maybe it was because, sometimes, it didn't feel like he deserved that love.

"heh." He let the sound out with a breathy sigh. "i have no idea why," he admitted. "but stars, am i glad you do."

They sat there for quite a while longer like that; quiet and each holding the other as the sun finally started to peak just over the far off mountains. It couldn't have been any later than 5:30, possibly 6:00, but the golden glow of morning always came earlier in the summer, streaming its way down to grace the small farmhouse and its surrounding fields of golden wheat. It was warm and pleasant, and Frisk and Sans let it soak into their worn, tired selves. Their souls pulsed in content of each other's company, Sans because he needed the distraction and Frisk because she understood and wanted to give it. Despite their past, they were very close. A thread of understanding tethered them, and it was growing stronger the longer time continued forward uninterrupted. They were family. She was the 'kid', and he was the weird brother-uncle hybrid. Like this, they could almost forget about those memories of red dripping down golden pillars, of an underground filled with nothing but dust. They could almost forget that things had ever been anything other than this.

Peaceful.

Safe.

Frisk nuzzled deeper into Sans's side. He smelled like ketchup, bone, and fresh cut grass; familiar, and not unpleasant. Papyrus and Toriel made sure that Sans changed and bathed regularly, much to his chagrin, but still his person held that certain scent that was distinctly Sans. Frisk fisted her hand over his sternum again, tugging comfortingly at the fabric of his shirt as a final gesture of sincerity before pulling away from his embrace. She gazed up at him with kind, brown eyes, staring up into crystal clear eye lights that she was grateful to find brighter than they were before. Sans smiled back, then winced as the first rays of morning shone down and caught him in his still tender eye socket. He held up a hand to shade his eyes, squinting up to the mountains in the distance. 

"you realize when your mother finds out we sat out here all night, she's going to give us one heck of a lecture." He stood with a grunt. "we're gonna be lucky if we get off with just a warning this time. remember the bucket of water on the door jam fiasco? yeah. that's gonna be nothing compared to this."

Frisk giggled, standing to her feet with a little more energy, though only a little. "It was worth it," she decided. "Besides...Mom understands." She smiled all the more kindly. "Do you feel alright now?"

"heh." Sans ruffled her hair, mindful that the joints and spaces between his fingers didn't get caught in her brunette strands. "i feel like an unbaked tray of cookies."

Frisk blinked, confused. "An unbaked tray of coo-"

"yup." Sans grinned. "i'm all batter."

"Pfft! Ooooh, you!"

They both laughed softly, Sans starting to make his way back up the steps and onto the porch. He had always been light on his feet, not weighing very much, but with the thick padding of his socks softening his movements further, Frisk couldn't even hear his footsteps at all on the worn, aging wood.

"ready to go inside? i think we've gotten enough night air an' all, and these steps are kinda hard on the ol' tailbone. i'm not really ready to go back to bed though." He rubbed the back of his neck, wincing a little at his next words. "pap wouldn't be happy with me if he woke up as i'm sneaking back to bed. i'm quiet, but not that quiet. i swear, my brother must have radar hearing. you, uh...wanna see if we can't make ourselves comfy on the couch? the sun's coming up, and it'll be nice and warm there soon. i always sleep better once daybreak hits." He paused, as though suddenly remembering that this was a child he was talking to; one he had kept up half the night. "unless you're tired, which i'd understand, so-"

"No, no," Frisk assured, getting to her feet and brushing the loose paint chips from the stairs off her bottom. "That sounds nice. I always sleep better when it starts getting light outside too. I don't mind. I like the couch. And...I don't really want to leave you alone just yet."

"...you don't have to do that."

"I know. I just want to." She held out her hand, waiting to see if he'd take it. "I think you do too."

Seeming somewhat relieved, Sans gently took her hand and 'shortcut'ed them through to the other side of the screen door, to avoid making more noise than necessary. Now that morning had come, Undyne and Papyrus would be waking up for their routine morning jog. But that wouldn't be for another twenty minutes or so. They had exactly that long to fall asleep on the couch to avoid being swamped with questions, or urgings to join them on their run.

Sans gave Frisk a grin as she stumbled a bit, disoriented from the sudden jump, hold firm to ground her and keep her from falling. She still hadn't quite got used to his teleports, though she was glad to see he had regained his confidence in that regard. He hadn't done so for a while after they reached the Surface, and Frisk had feared something had been wrong. Turned out he was just a little overwhelmed by just how large the world really was, and taking shortcuts with so many options had made him uneasy. Now, he did so with just as much ease as he had underground; though he tended to keep the distances between jumps short, never any further in length than the interior of the Underground had been.

"easy there, bucko," he murmured. "sorry, probably should have warned you."

Frisk agreed with a small groan, the dizziness already passing. "Next time," she suggested.

Sans nodded and released her hand so he could shove both of his into the pockets of his shorts. And then, before she could stop him, Sans was already leading the way, shufflingly, into the living room.

It was then, and only then, that Frisk remembered Flowey.

"About time you two came back inside. It feels like I've been waiting for hours."

Frisk rounded the corner and stepped into the living room just in time to see Sans freeze in place. She couldn't see his face, but she could picture his expression just fine. He'd be wary, but blank, no emotion whatsoever. A measured and carefully neutral look; one that made Frisk's throat tighten and her stomach feel cold. It was some sort of defense mechanism, and it hurt Frisk's heart to see it. She cared about both of them, Sans and Flowey, and it made her soul ache to see the rift that existed between them, one that she didn't know how to fix. Not that she didn't understand why that rift was there in the first place. Flowey had...done some pretty bad things, and he didn't have the excuse of Chara possessing him to smooth over his actions either. Sans had learned to keep his reactions to Flowey under tight control and as un-entertaining as possible. If Flowey didn't get the responses he wanted, over and over, he tended to get bored and move on. No reaction, no continuation of that particular torture. Even if that meant a new torture would only take its place. It was...a desperate way of dealing with the situation Sans had found himself in, and even now that they were on the Surface and Flowey was harmless, she still found he would fall into that old manner of coping. It made him come across as cold and uncaring in regard to the flower, something that the others didn't truly understand, particularly Papyrus. But it couldn't be helped, it seemed. Sans didn't trust Flowey anymore than the flower trusted him.

"...what's he doing down here?" Sans asked evenly.

 "I live here, you idiot!" Flowey snapped back, annoyed. From his place on the coffee table, Flowey sized Sans up with an expression of disgust and contempt. "Done crying  yet, trashbag?" he sneered nasally.

"Flowey!" Frisk hissed in warning. She suddenly, strongly, wished she had left the flower upstairs. "I'm sorry, Sans, I completely-"

"nah, kid, it's okay," Sans muttered with a shrug, like he didn't care. Like Flowey wasn't getting to him by just being there. "he's just trying to get under our skin. ignore him; that's what i do."

Flowey stuck his tongue out with such vehemence it was a wonder he didn't hurt his face. "I hate you!" he growled lowly, voice thankfully too quiet to be heard upstairs.

Sans merely walked past him, slowly climbing into the far corner of the couch where a small divot marked his usual napping spot. "th' feeling's mutual, bud. get some sleep. or don't. i don't care."

The flower looked ready to retort, probably with something extremely unkind or inappropriate, as was his nature these days, but a stern look from Frisk as she neared made him close his mouth shut like the lid to a box snapping closed. He sent a final glare in the skeleton's direction, before resettling into his pot with a huff, looking as tired as the other two felt, brow still stoned in a cranky scowl.

"I'm guessing we're staying down here the rest of the night then," he groused. "Pfft. Pathetic."

Frisk sighed, turning her head back to Sans and giving him an apologetic look. "I brought him down when I followed you from upstairs," she explained softly. "I left him here so we could talk without any interruptions." That last part she directed to Flowey, who stuck his tongue out again, this time at her. "I'm sorry, I forgot to warn you."

The skeleton returned her look with another shrug, then patted the cushion beside him with a weary smile. "s'okay, kid. like i said, no harm done."

Frisk nodded, relieved, and scrambled up onto the couch beside him, huddling close. She was glad to hear the contented sigh that escaped from between Sans's teeth as they both settled further into the sofa, the closeness again giving them comfort. Sans, despite seeming distant and almost closed off as far as most monsters went, could be incredibly cuddly if one could just get him to relax. There were very few people who could manage to do so, however; though Frisk had seen both her mother and Papyrus accomplish it once or twice. Papyrus could always get close to Sans without resistance, and Toriel could on occasion lull Sans into a motherly based security. Frisk was the only other exception, Undyne and Alphys not being quite as persistent. Undyne wasn't the cuddly type, and Alphys tended to be too self conscious and nervous.

Content, Frisk nestled further into Sans's side, enjoying the natural warmth that had returned and the hum of that gentle magic that emanated from his body and soul so very quietly. It wasn't nearly a strong as the hum that came from the other monsters of her family, but it was there, and Frisk soaked it in with genuine pleasure. She risked a glance at his face, happy to see a sleepy smile and relaxed shoulders. Frisk was almost reluctant to speak, afraid of breaking that thin veil of peace. But, well, she was determined.

"...Sans?"

"mnh?" He was already starting to drift off, but his sockets opened back up from the thin slivers they had become, and Frisk felt a little guilty pulling him back from the sleep he obviously needed. But this was important. "wha's up, kiddo?"

Frisk looked down at her lap, fingers fidgeting with the blanket in a way that she knew made her look anxious, but she couldn't help it. "If...If you won't go see Doctor Becker, maybe you can find someone else to talk to?" She immediately felt him tense back up, and a quick glance at his face only further spoke of his discomfort. But she wasn't done. She had to say what was on her mind.  "It doesn't have to be a doctor at all," she added quickly. "Just...someone. Someone you trust? Alphys maybe...or Mom? Even Asgore might be able to help. They're grown up. I'm just a kid. I can't really...help you." And he needed help. So badly. This couldn't keep going on; something was going to give eventually.

Sans sighed, seeming to force away his stiff exterior for her sake. He became thoughtful for a moment, so still and quiet it was hard to tell he was awake or asleep. But then, just when Frisk was gearing up to try again, Sans muttered out a reply.

"m'not saying i will," he intoned slowly. "but if this ol' bag o' bones has really got you this worried, i'll...i'll think about it, okay, frisk? no promises...but i'll think about it. you just got to...to understand, yeah? i mean, you know how hard it is to let out secrets..."

She did know. She knew very well.

"That's all I'm asking," Frisk whispered gently. She pulled her legs up onto the couch, leaning her head against his shoulder. A few moments later Sans's hard, smooth skull leaned against hers in return. He'd crossed his arms over his torso, one hand gripping loosely at the fabric of his own sleeve as his eyes slowly started to slip shut again. He was obviously done for the night, and now that she was comfortable, Frisk realized she wasn't far behind. But there was one final thing she wanted to say, and he didn't necessarily have to be fully awake for her to tell him.

War Crimes Illustration 8 by Zeragii

Frisk snuggled, breathing out a soft, contented sigh. "Tomorrow will always come, Uncle Sans," she murmured. She hadn't called him that in a while, a term of teasing endearment that had faded out of use these past few years, but at this moment it just felt right to say. "You have my word on that."

And with that Frisk let herself drift away to slumber, Sans's warmth and minute breaths a constant comfort. The living room filled with golden morning light, casting their shadows long and gray against the couch.

Flowey, giving them a final glance, closed his eyes and curled up in the bottom of his pot, pretending that the scene before hadn't meant anything to him at all. 

Chapter Text

If there was one thing that Undyne hated above all else, it was feeling helpless.

It wasn't an emotion she was particularly accustomed to, since most things in life she met head on and without mercy or fear. But every once in a while that cold, all-consuming feeling would sneak up on her, taking her by surprise when she least expected it. And it always frustrated her that she was never quite prepared to handle it when it did. No matter how hard she tried to be ready, or how hard she tried to make herself immune to its influence. It always gained one-up on her; a sickening blow whenever it emerged, harsh and all-consuming, in her soul.

The first time Undyne had ever felt the weight of true helplessness was the day she had lost her parents. Her father had been the Captain of the Royal Guard then, a fierce and yet compassionate warrior, and her mother had been his immediate subordinate - slender, beautiful, but strong; like a goddess, or so they said. The two had been a key element in monsterkind's early survival underground, an inseparable force that had helped purge the mountain of any and all dangers, ensuring easy settlement for the refugees of the War, of those of a weaker strength. They had brought order to the chaos of banishment, or so Asgore had told Undyne repeatedly over the years, and were both loved and feared by all, up until the very day they had perished.

A cave-in, deep within the mountain, had claimed their lives in a shower of heavy stone and suffocating shale, buried too far below to ever be reached, the site becoming a natural tomb. Undyne had visited it once; just once, a long time ago. It was a dark, out-of-the-way sort of place; deeper down in the earth than most monsters ventured. Her parents had died saving a family of Ursidae* monsters, a trio who had wandered too far too soon, before an old, natural corridor could be properly cleared and safely fortified.

Undyne had barely been in her early stripes*, little more than a toddler, so her recollections of the disaster itself were hazed and blurred. But she remembered the crushing sorrow that came when she was informed, by one of her father's men, that her only living relatives were gone. There was the painful sting of self-directed guilt that existed no matter how many people told her it wasn't her fault; even though she had been nowhere near that cursed cave at the time, and, as a child, how her being there would only have meant her own death as well if she had been. She remembered the weighted burden of not being able to do anything but accept that her parents were dead, and that she, a mere kid, could do nothing about it. It had torn her apart from the inside; had left her soul hardened and and emotionally scarred; calloused. She had made a vow to herself then, before her final stripe had even been unstitched from her sweater in Eleutheria*, to become stronger than the strongest; to protect like no one else ever had, even her parents, and to be a pillar of justice and passion so that the next time disaster struck, she would have the power to act. She would not feel helpless ever again. She would not.

So she had vowed.

And yet here she was, plagued by the cursed feeling once again; though, granted, on a much smaller scale.

Sans's night-shattering cry had awoken Undyne with a thrill of fear and a rush of burning adrenaline, despite it not being the first time he had ever done so. Even then, Undyne had vaulted up out of bed in an instant, her magic already condensing in her hand as a half-formed spear as she tossed the covers aside. Alphys had mumbled in irritation as the bed had bounced and dipped as Undyne had sprung up off the mattress, but she had otherwise remained unconscious.

Feet bare, Undyne hadn't made a sound as she ran across the length of soft gray carpet, stopping just short of their closed bedroom door, weapon nearly fully materialized and hackles raised on the back of her neck. Chest heaving, Undyne had paused, her mind catching up with her actions in the span of a blink, pulling her to a grinding halt. It was then that everything had come rushing back to her: the Surface; Redemption; the individuals she now shared a home with. Everything that had transpired within the last three or so years came slamming to the forefront of her mind, sobering her and quelling her fierce need to protect to a dull, shaky static. It was like a slap to the face, or being dowsed in ice cold water.

She had sworn under her breath then, spear disappearing with a few crackling sparks, leaving her once more in the darkness of her bedroom. Only the star-shaped nightlight plugged in the corner outlet had given any relief to the inky black. She'd panted, waiting out the roiling anxiety in her soul, before she had sworn again, harsher, hands clenching and unclenching at her sides as she had stood there, grinding her teeth in helpless irritation.

It was torture knowing that something was happening out there, beyond the walls of her room, and knowing that she was not permitted to interfere. Papyrus had made her promise not to. Promise. Undyne made such vows too easily it seemed. She'd agreed the minute her friend had looked at her with those deep, dark oval sockets of his, dragging her agreement out without consideration of just what 'letting him handle it' would entail. It was probably one of the most thoughtless promises Undyne had ever committed to; but she was a monster of her word, and the sounds of distress from next door had soon faded out to silence, just like they always did. There had been a bit of activity after that, low voices in the bathroom, the journey of light footfalls in the hallway going back and forth a few times. Then silence. Though Undyne thought, sometime later, that she heard the porch screen door slam downstairs, but that may have just been the wind.

Either way, that had all been hours ago. Now Undyne sat upon the small, black leather couch that dominated the main space of her and Alphys' shared bedroom. It was an old, beat up piece of junk, but it had been free, thrown out for trash on the streets of Ebott's suburban residences, and monsters couldn't afford to be choosy. The eyesore served its purpose, though as Undyne sat there she knew deep down she had made a tactical error. She could already feel the humidity fusing the leather to her skin*, and she knew that detaching herself from it when she rose would prove both uncomfortable and sticky. Maybe even painful. But at the moment she really didn't care all that much; not enough to drag herself anywhere else. She allowed herself to sink into the textured cushions, mind racing and sleep far from her reach.

At least she wasn't suffering from the full force of the summer night heat. Their room was the only one in the house that had an air conditioner, due to the fact that Undyne herself could only take so much humidity before she began to suffer ill effects. It was nothing like that day in Hotland, when she had been chasing Frisk and succumbed to the dreadful burn of that arid landscape. She'd practically melted then, or, at least, that's what it had felt like, before the merciful child had gotten her a glass of water and basically saved her life. No, the Surface heat was nothing compared to that, but it could still make Undyne feel sluggish and somewhat nauseous. Alphys had figured that out very quickly and, being the considerate and brilliant soul she was, had harvested enough parts from an old automobile that had been left to rust on their property to design her own cooling unit, one that fit like a glove right into their bedroom's main window. 

It did a lot to take the edge off the hotter nights, but that didn't mean that things didn't still get a little muggy and sticky.

The sun was starting to rise now, and Undyne felt a little better for it. She usually got up with the sun anyway, so seeing it rise made it easier to pretend she had gotten a full night's sleep, and that she hadn't been sitting there in the dark, mind raging and leg bouncing with nervous energy for hours on end. She glanced over at Alphys, craning her neck back against the leather cushions to try and see into the corner where the overstuffed bed resided.

The small, yellow scaled monster was still sleeping soundly, wrapped up in the Mew Mew Kissy Cutie comforter she had brought with her from the Underground. It was tucked up around her waist as she lay on her side, arms folded so that her hands were balled just beneath her chin; the way she usually slept these days; in a small, protective curl. The horrors of Alphys' own night terrors, of the amalgamates and her involvement in their fate, were finally left in the past. It had taken a long time; a lot of encouragement and comforting and gentle distracting, but she had finally moved on, allowed calm sleep and a more settled soul. It didn't mean her actions back then hadn't had consequences, but forgiveness was theme in their little family, it seemed, and all had worked out in the end.

Alphys wouldn't be waking for a while. Seeing as she was more one to stay up late than get up early, Alphys tended to sleep in to almost nine-thirty, on days she wasn't called in to work at the Institute. Undyne smiled to herself, a very soft but toothy expression, before returning her gaze to the black screened TV in front of her. It was a spare, another item Alphys had brought from the mountain. It wasn't hooked up to cable, but it was equipped with both a DVD player and a video cassette player, so that Alphys could enjoy her rather extensive anime collection. Undyne had considered turning it on and popping something in, volume low, several times during the last hour or so, but had eventually decided against it. Now, as the morning's warm sunlight streamed in through the bedroom windows, Undyne could see herself in the deep reflective surface of the television.

She looked...awful. Ruffled. Disheveled. And that was putting it mildly. Her thick red hair was frizzled, fluffed up around her like some sort of deranged burning bush. Her tank top straps were all twisted up on her shoulders, the hem having rode up a little, her toned stomach catching a bit of sunlight. Her night-patch, a softer version of her day-worn eye patch, had jostled down a bit, the darkness behind it reminding her of the eyeless socket behind it*. The sight of her own ragged appearance brought the night's events back to the forefront of her mind, plunging her into troubled thought once more. 

Over the past two years wherein they had all begun living under the same roof, Undyne had learned a lot about the people she thought she had known so well. Sometimes they were good things, little quirks that made them all the dearer to her soul, but other times...Well. Needless to say, they all had their oddities and bad habits. Things that got on each of their nerves.

Papyrus, for instance, was a clean freak, impulsively tidying up the house to the point where it was almost concerning. He'd scrub and wash and tuck things out of sight, and sometimes he did so to items that Undyne needed, forcing her to go looking for things when they all at once went missing. She'd always find them stashed somewhere, usually under one of the kitchen cabinets, unharmed, but it was no less frustrating, especially when she herself was used to leaving all her belongings out in the open and within easy reach. Papyrus tended to hound those who didn't meet up to his cleanly standards, an annoyance to come home to, especially if she had just finished a particularly exhausting day at work.

Asgore, someone Undyne considered a father figure of sorts, drank almost an excessive amount of tea, taking a new mug each time until the kitchen sink was piled high with dirty dishes. This left very few mugs clean and ready for Undyne when the fancy took her, and she always had to wash one out or forfeit her desire for warm brew altogether each and every time. It wasn't that Asgore was doing it on purpose - he wasn't like that- but he was just so used to living alone that the habit of thinking of others' needs didn't come as naturally to him as it once had.

Alphys liked to stay up half the night, but was not a morning person, which clashed with Undyne's habit of early to bed, early to rise. It meant that, on days other than the weekend, Undyne saw very little of her, maybe getting a few mumbles as she dressed for work. Or Undyne would go out for a run and come back, to Alphys having already left for the Institute. Sleeping habits could be changed, but...Undyne didn't feel she had the right to try and conform Alphys' life style to her own, so she left it, with only a slight ache in her soul.

Toriel had strange tastes in delicacies, and assumed everyone else liked what she did. Snails weren't...bad. They sort of tasted like slimy rubber, and they had a tendency to sit in one's stomach like a rock until it was properly digested. Toriel was learning - the full plates thrown in the trash must have been an indicator - but she wasn't learning fast enough in Undyne's opinion.

Frisk tended to bite her nails when she was tired or anxious, usually while watching movies, and left little crescent shaped clippings in the couch cushions that always managed to stick to Undyne's skin like little needles.

And Sans...

Sans was the most surprising of all.

Undyne had always thought of him as a lame, lazy little troll that always fell asleep at his post in the far reaches of Snowdin Forest. As far as sentries went, Sans had been the worst, and had given her a fair share of headaches. She hadn't known about his single HP back then - had she he never would have been allowed to work such a potentially dangerous position- but she had figured he was weaker than most, though she had always attributed it to his lack of exercise and training. She had thought of him as her best friend's annoying, boring, apathetic brother, who was always fooling around and never took anything seriously. She only kept him on as a sentry because Snowdin needed the extra security, and because she had known the brothers had needed the gold.

But after moving to Redemption...

About three weeks after their move out of the monster encampment, Undyne had begun to notice that Sans looked abnormally tired. Not just lazy-tired, but a deep, heavy sort of exhaustion that exuded from him, no matter how hard he tried to hide it behind a pun and a smile. He had started to whimper in his sleep. It was a soft, low, helpless sound, one that sometimes permeated through the thin walls of the old farmhouse late at night. It had been fairly easy to ignore; after all, learning of the Resets had haunted all their dreams for a while, Frisk's most of all. It only proved that Sans wasn't immune to that harrowing knowledge. It was no big deal and no one even mentioned it, because it was something they were all dealing with collectively. It was actually healthily normal that he was having trouble.

Or it would have been, had it eventually petered out, like the nightmares had for the rest of them. Frisk still cried out sometimes, plagued by the memories of past resets, scarred too deeply to heal as quickly as all the rest of them had. That was expected. But sometimes the cries of distress were deeper than those of the small child. Sometimes they came from the wrong end of the upstairs hallway. Undyne had tried continuing to shrug it off at first, but as weeks turned into months, it became increasingly obvious that Sans was having some serious issues, and everyone else had become aware of his nightly agitations. It was as though Sans's nightmares had never stopped, but rather increased in severity, becoming first biweekly, weekly, then almost every other night. It didn't make any sense, and Sans refused to give any non-joking answers as to why he was having so much trouble, always feigning innocence, always deflecting with stupid wise-cracks. Undyne found it absolutely maddening.

It was only within the last few weeks or so that his murmurs and soft cries had turned to all out shrieks; frantic, desperate. Terrified. Pained.

Pleading.

Undyne sighed in frustration, sinking further into the sticky leather of the couch. That helpless feeling was back, and she hated it. She hated it more than anything.

"I should get up," she croaked quietly to herself.

She winced as the sun made the final inch over the windowsill, a beam catching her in her good eye. Outside, over the hum of the air conditioner, the birds were chirping, the crickets having retired along with the last shadow of night. It looked like it was going to be a nice day, bright and sunny, humid but not scorching. Probably a light shower sometime in the evening, as seemed to be a characteristic of Ebott's climate.

Good. She could deal with that, gladly.

With a grunt, Undyne tried to push herself up from the cushions, and grimaced as they almost rose up with her. Yup. Just like she'd thought. The couch had adhered to her skin, despite the air conditioner. Well, she wasn't about to let a cheap piece of furniture keep her from living her life!

Undyne reaffirmed her hold on the armrest and saggy back of the sofa, then forcefully lifted herself up with a wince. The leather released her with a sticky, pealing hiss, leaving her shoulders, arms, and the backs of her thighs feeling chaffed, sweaty, and uncomfortable. Nothing a cold shower wouldn't fix, but there wasn't much use in doing that now, not when she was planning on getting all sweaty again anyway during her routine morning jog.

Instead, she dug into the laundry basket of clean clothes she had yet to put away, pulling out a pair of gray workout leggings, though they looked more yellowish in the orange light of dawn, and a mint green tank top with white dots crawling all over it. In all honesty, it looked exactly like what she had worn to bed, just of a different variation of colors and patterns. She discarded one set of clothes for the other, setting her 'pajamas' aside for at least one more night of use. No sense in wasting laundry detergent with yet another load of dirty clothes. Toriel only had so much credit, and they wouldn't be making another trip to the grocery store for at least another week.

Undyne carefully removed her night-patch and placed it in the top drawer of her and Alphys shared dresser, taking out her usual black patch and tying it snuggly in place. A few moments of struggling with her hair got it pulled back into a ponytail, leaving most of her head bare skinned - a warrior shouldn't have their view obscured after all.

Feeling a little better now that she was up and moving, Undyne gathered herself and started to leave the bedroom completely, before pausing.

Glancing back, she perceived once more the peacefully slumbering lump that was Alphys, the closest monster to her soul. Even beneath all of those blankets and pillows, she still seemed small, back now turned to Undyne and body scrunched up in that protective repose. Not as small as Frisk or Sans, but only marginally larger; thicker mostly, more meaty. Perfect, just the way she was. Undyne smiled as a soft, distinctly unfeminine-esque snore reached her fin-like ears, then carefully threaded her way back over to the mattress. She leaned forward, bracing herself in a practiced motion, and reached out a hand to gently tickle her roommate's shoulder.

War Crimes Illustration 9 by Zeragii

No reaction. Rather unsurprisingly, but it had been worth a shot. Undyne braced both hands against the mattress, leaning forward even more, trying to get a better glimpse of the other's face.

"Hey," Undyne murmured softly. "Psst. Hey, Alphys? Babe?"

No answer, just another soft snore from the pink and yellow lump. The comforter was soft and thick, making the other seem bulkier than normal. The Kissy Cutie blanket wasn't the only Alphys-ish touch to the room either. Anime posters littered nearly every wall, bought from a nearby store rather than gathered from the muck of the Underground's dump. On the dresser sat a few stuffed animals, a plastic flower, and a ballerina snow globe, all things Alphys had fancied and carried home to personalize their room. Undyne...didn't care all that much for the color pink, but for Alphys' sake she was willing to sacrifice. It wasn't like she was going to decorate the place herself. Her home Underground had been fairly bare, other than the somewhat obnoxious wallpaper and yellow floor tiles. Her only personalized items had been a doily on the table - a gift from Asgore she hadn't had the heart to throw away - and a piano. The former had gotten lost in the move, and the later...Well, carrying a piano to the Surface hadn't exactly been practical, even for someone like her. Alphys had bought Undyne something, however; it sat on the dresser beside the digital clock. A bronze statue of a samurai warrior, posed ready to strike his foe.

Needless to say, Undyne thought it was awesome.

Shaking her head to focus her thoughts, Undyne gave Alphys a gentle shoulder nudge this time, rocking the other a bit on the mattress. Or, well, she tried to be gentle. It was hard to tell sometimes, her not knowing her own strength. Thankfully, though, it seemed to work. The snoring broke off with a start, replaced by a confused mumble. Alphys rolled over, sort of, her dark eyes squinting open and her nose wrinkling as she tried to make sense of Undyne's face.

"Mmnundyne?" she groaned, sounding bewildered and only half awake. "Wha...What're you-?" She wasn't even conscious enough to stutter. Already her eyelids were beginning to droop back down, raising and lowering repeatedly as she slowly lost the fight to keep herself from sleep.

Undyne instantly felt guilty for waking her. The sooner she said her piece, the sooner Alphys could fall back to peaceful slumber.

"I just wanted to let you know," she said quietly. "Pap and I are going out for our morning run. I didn't want you to worry, like that one time, you know? So, yeah..."

Seemed sort of silly now, waking Alphys just to tell her something she'd probably figure out on her own once she woke up. It was just...Alphys could wake feeling a bit out of sorts sometimes, and waking to Undyne missing had once sent her into a panic. That had only happened once, a long time ago now, but. Still.

Alphys won a little ground with consciousness, squinting up at Undyne with a tired, but groggily happy expression. "Hmmokay....Have fun-nnnhh." And with that, she tucked the blanket around herself and turned back over. How she could sleep with the sun glaring in her face, Undyne would never know, but she seemed comfortable enough.

Undyne gave a low chuckle and leaned over just enough to lay a little peck on the other's cheek, before she stood back up. She gave Alphys a final fond look, and then marched with purpose from the room, being sure to close the bedroom door gently as she stepped out into the hallway with all the smooth grace of a cat.

The hallway was noticeably hotter than her bedroom, out of the reach of the air conditioner, but there was also a pleasant breeze blowing in through the far end window. Toriel must have opened it sometime during the night. Beyond the screened window came the muffled sounds of early morning, birds and frogs and insects. From inside, Undyne could just make out the hum of the rotating fan in Frisk's room, and the deep, rumbling snores coming from Asgore's. All fairly familiar sounds at this point.

Redemption Farmhouse, Second Floor by Zeragii

It was only a brisk series of steps to reach the skeleton brothers' bedroom door. There was a sign on it, written in crayon on paper, reading: 'enter at your own frisk', with a crude depiction of the human child colored in next to the text. A red marker had rather aggressively scribbled out the 'f' in Frisk's name, thereby correcting it. Undyne couldn't help but smirk at the sight. For as much as Papyrus claimed to hate Sans's puns, he never took down any of his brother's ridiculous drawings or sticky note messages. He merely made his displeasure known, either by yelping his annoyance or adding to the collection, and left them be. The laundry hamper in the bathroom was halo-ed by a string of back and forth messages between the two skeletons, Papyrus's slathered in exclamation points and Sans's written in sloppy, lowercase, single worded responses.

It had become almost...traditional. An integral part of their makeshift little family.

Undyne raised a fist, preparing to pound on the door with all her usual enthusiasm, but then she paused, thinking better of it.

Sans could be a little...jumpy, sometimes, after a 'bad night' - as Papyrus had come to refer to them. Undyne had learned that the hard way, and had no wish to do so again. The last thing Sans needed was more stress, and the little punk was probably trying to catch up on the sleep he had lost. Tch. Like he needed another excuse to laze around even more. While Undyne, typically, would have shrugged that thought away and carried on unhindered, that morning's scream haunted her, dredging up a rare swell of sympathy.

Maybe she was just going soft.

Damn domestic lifestyle was getting to her. She needed to go for that run; feel the wind in her hair and the heavy thump and jostle of jogging like a mad woman through the trees and grass of Redemption's surrounding fields and forests. Maybe even chuck a few spears into the 'target range' she and Papyrus had made. Yeah, that'd get rid of all her pent up frustration. Sitting around all morning had made her antsy, and she seriously needed an outlet before instinct overpowered Toriel's indoor rules of behavior.

Undyne lowered her fist. Sans was an annoying punk of a half-pint, but he deserved at least a little longer to sleep after the night he'd had. Undyne took careful hold of the doorknob with a new purpose in mind. Sans might be receiving some mercy from her today, but Papyrus was still fair game for bullying out of bed as far as Undyne was concerned. No way she was going jogging by herself.

The door opened easily, the lock having never really worked. Sans, apparently, didn't like that, as Undyne had overheard him asking Asgore more than once for permission to buy a new one. Locks were expensive, at least when there were so many other things in need of being bought, so the answer had always been a sad, apologetic 'sorry, no'. Maybe Alphys could rig one for him.

Come on, Undyne; focus! You're mind's all over the place.

The first thing Undyne noticed as she stepped into the brothers' bedroom was that Sans's mattress was worryingly empty. The covers had been gently tucked to the side in a neatly folded pile, a sign that he had left the comfort of his bed carefully, with more conscious effort than he typically gave to any activity. The pillow was still dented, evidence that Sans had been lying down at some point, but it now only punctuated his blaring absence. Undyne's gaze instantly shifted to Papyrus's much larger bed, half expecting to find the smaller skeleton tucked in up against Papyrus's side. It was a comforting gesture Undyne had seen them do on more than one occasion after a bad night, but this time Papyrus was alone. Sans wasn't in the bedroom at all, and probably hadn't been for a while. 

Undyne swore softly under her breath.

Trying to pretend she didn't care, Undyne stomped noisily over to Papyrus, taking in the skeleton with an assertive sweep of her eye. He was sprawled out, long limbs kinked out in strange, almost unnatural positions, like he was some live wire someone had decided to poor a bucket of water on and then left to suffer. He was barely covered by his blankets, the sheets having wrapped around his legs as he'd tossed and turned. His skull wasn't even on his pillow, the upper part of his body having shifted to the side at some point, leaving his head hanging out over the side of the mattress. His jaw hung open, but there wasn't any snoring, just the gentle hiss of air in and out through his teeth and nasal cavity. He looked exhausted.

Undyne backed up a few steps, then got a running start.

"Hey, Pap! Wake up!"

Skeleton monsters, being very light and made entirely of bone, were very easy to launch, and as far as that sport was concerned, Undyne was a pro. The minute Undyne's much more solid form hit the mattress, Papyrus's jolted into the air, the skeleton releasing a startled yelp before he hit the floor between his bed and the windowed wall with a resounding thump, bones rattling and limbs tangling. He rested there a moment, body contorted and an expression of stunned confusion on his face as he gazed up at her like she were a tiger half ready to tear his metaphorical heart out. The sight sent Undyne into a fit of muffled hysterics. She'd already made enough noise; the others were used to the two's early morning rowdiness, but it would only be forgiven to a point. Toriel would let them know if their silliness went on too long, and it wouldn't be pretty.

Papyrus blinked, finally managing to gather his wits. "UNDYNE, I-" He lowered his voice, giving her a scolding frown. "Undyne, you very nearly launched me clear out the window!"

Undyne smirked and gave said window an incredulous look. "Pfft, hate to tell you, buddy, but you're not that small. You're legs would catch you and spring you back in like some kind of freaky jack-in-the-box. Now, Sans I could totally-"

"Don't you dare." Papyrus picked himself up and brushed imaginary dust from his backside and shoulders. He looked less playful than usual, doubtless a result of so little sleep. Yeah, well, things were tough all over. Undyne hadn't gotten the rest she needed either, and her sense of humor was still perfectly intact. "Sans is still sleeping, so I would appreciate it if you would-" His words died out as soon as his sockets beheld his brother's empty bed. "...WHERE IS SANS?"

"Probably downstairs." Undyne hoped. Her eye was drawn to the fading stains of blue magic that soiled Papyrus's shirt. She knew it wasn't Papyrus's, Undyne knew what that looked like and it was more silvery - something she knew from years of sparring with Papyrus, being perhaps a little too rough. That meant it could be only one other monster's. Was Sans leaking magic? That was...actually really concerning. "Get dressed and we'll go check, okay? Then we can go out for our routine morning jog. Sound good to you?"

Papyrus didn't look too sure, but he nodded, a hint of panic in his face. His gaze flitted to the open door and then back to Sans's mattress before he hurried over to his dresser, rushing to find something clean to wear. Undyne left him to work out his wardrobe, silently deciding to get a head start on finding Sans. The sooner the little punk was found, the sooner Papyrus would calm down and be proper jogging buddy material again. 

Undyne wasn't worried. Nope. Definitely not. If her steps down the hall and stairs gained momentum as she went, that was just her getting out some more of that pent up energy. Sure. Of course. Sans was fine. He'd probably gotten up at some point and fallen asleep standing in front of the fridge like he had that one time. How that was even possible, Undyne didn't question. There was a lot of things the skeleton brothers did that couldn't rightly be explained.

With a bob of her red ponytail, Undyne leaped the final couple of steps and landed in the kitchen. Morning light streamed in through the window over the sink, Mount Ebott outlined way in the distance like a majestic beast, but there was no sign of Sans. That not-anxiety in Undyne's chest rose a little higher, and she growled. She stomped forward, through the kitchen and into the dining room, mindful not to bump into any of the chairs.

Still no Sans.

Okay. This was ridiculous. Sans was a grown monster. He didn't bear watching; he didn't have to be looked after every minute, and Undyne certainly wasn't his sitter...But where the hell was he?

Redemption Farmhouse, First Floor by Zeragii

Regardless of how unworried she was, Undyne hurried her pace, rounding the corner and swooping into the downstairs hall. She glanced to the right, to the front door, suddenly remembering having heard the screen door slam earlier that morning. She took a half-step toward it, before changing direction. She'd search outside after she was absolutely certain Sans wasn't still indoors. As she started toward the living room, she craned her neck to the left, checking what she could see of the computer room. Nope, no skelly sitting at the computer. Another possibility crossed off the list, heightening her alertness.

She stepped fully into the living room, a twisted motion meant to carry her right back out again, before she froze, the tension draining from her shoulders in an instant.

There, nestled in the far corner of the faded green cushions of the living room sofa, was Sans. Frisk was with him, the two curled up around each other like personal space wasn't a thing. Frisk's head had fallen down to rest against the skeleton's sternum, right over his soul, hands twisted limply in the fabric of his shirt. Sans, in kind, had wrapped a protective arm around the child's shoulders, pulling her closer as he slumbered, head tilted back against the couch and his chest slowly rising and falling with each peaceful breath. The sight was abso-frigg'n-lutely adorable; so much so that Undyne couldn't even properly dredge up any true anger. She just stood there, watching, until the clumsy stumbling steps of Papyrus racing his way through the kitchen brought her back to her senses.

The lanky skeleton skidded around the corner into the hallway, his sockets wide, his panic having apparently risen since her departure from his room. He was struggling to pull his t-shirt the rest of the way on, his long arms having gotten caught in the fabric. Undyne steadied him as he nearly fell head-long into the living room, shushing him when he started to speak, then nodded in the direction of the couch.

Papyrus instantly relaxed, the morning quiet punctuated by his soft, shaky sigh of relief.

Undyne smiled and gave her friend a pat on the shoulder, before she began nudging him back out into the hall and toward the front door. Without a word, the two hunted for their prospective shoes in the small mountain of footwear that resided in the entryway, before carefully slipping outdoors. Papyrus, for once, even remembered to ease the screen door shut before it could slam.

The morning air was even more refreshing in person than it had been through the various farmhouse windows. Undyne soaked it in, stepping down the porch steps and raising her arms above her head in a big stretch. She breathed in, adoring the way her body reacted to the Surface oxygen, energizing her, making her feel all the more alive. This was what she had needed. 'Bad nights' and sleepless hours could go take a hike; with a new day came new adventures and new things to do, and by Asgore's beard she was going to enjoy them to the fullest.

Papyrus joined her on the dirt path leading from their driveway to the steps. It was all empty, since none of them had the rights or licensing to own a car just yet. Papyrus wanted to, he had been saving gold since he was a sentry, but Undyne guessed it would be some time before the government of Ebott City would be willing to let monsters on the road. Whatever. So they had to walk a mile and a half to hitch a bus at the nearest buss stop. A little walking never hurt anyone. Besides, Sans was always willing to use his weird little 'shortcut's to help them back and forth. It wasn't really that big of a hindrance. Just a little inconvenient.

A loud 'meow' startled both monsters, directing their attention to the black and white cat sitting up on the railing of the porch. It was the same one that had run out from under the house that first day they had arrived at Redemption, some country-smart stray that frequented their property. Toriel wouldn't let it in the house, but it had become somewhat of a pet of sorts, in an indirect, leisurely kind of way. Alphys had named her "Touka", after a character in one of her many anime television shows that she enjoyed on a regular basis. The name had just stuck, and Touka had become an unofficial member of the Redemption family. 

Touka - From War Crimes by Zeragii

Undyne treated the feline to a toothy grin. "Sorry, punk. No scraps this early in the day." She elbowed Papyrus's shoulder, regaining his attention. "So, where to this morning, huh? You wanna jog down to the filling station, or you want to run down to the firing range?" The slight hopeful tilt in her tone at the second option probably cued Papyrus in to what she wanted, and he picked up on it with uncanny skill and a desire to please her like the good friend he was.

"THE FIRING RANGE, OF COURSE!"

"Of course!" Undyne began stretching her calves. Her muscles were well toned, but a little warming up never hurt. Cramps sucked, and she tried not to be envious when Papyrus just stood there, watching her. Being a skeleton, with no muscles, stretching wasn't a necessity. "My pace okay, or are you gonna wimp out on me again today?"

Papyrus bristled, chest puffing out. He was wearing a pair of cut off jean shorts and an orange t-shirt, the one that was scrawled with the words 'deal with it' in dark black lettering. "UNDYNE, YOU INSULT ME," he begrudged. "YOU MAY SET THE PACE; I CAN HANDLE ANYTHING YOU CAN!"

Oh, hell yeah. Challenge accepted.

"If you say so," she grinned, all teeth, before she got into a starting position. Papyrus instantly dropped down to mimic her pose. "You ready?"

"YES, I-"

"I said are you ready, Papyrus?!"

"YES, MA'AM!"

"Good!" Gods, if felt good to fall back into routine. All the stress of the interrupted night and anxiety ridden morning fell away. This was her life now; their life. Sans would be fine. So he had a few nightmares then and again. He'd get better eventually. "On my mark! Aaaaaand....GO!"

Undyne lurched up and forward, shoed feet grinding into the tan gravel of the driveway before it became the soft padding of tall grass. She veered off right into the fields surrounding Redemption, giving a joyful whoop as her hair flagged behind her. She could hear Papyrus give a soft gasp, before the sound of his running steps fell in rhythm with her own. The pace was definitely faster than she and Papyrus usually tackled, but Papyrus had no one but himself to blame for that. As for Undyne, she was in her element. She could already feel the familiar burn of workout firing through her legs, a warm contrast to the prickly whipping of tall grass against her ankles, where her leggings didn't quite cover her. Grasshoppers and moths took flight in her wake, taking to the air in an effort to escape her enthusiastic race.

At some point, Papyrus actually gained ground, coming up almost alongside her. Undyne gave a guffaw and poured on the speed, her soul soaring when Papyrus stumbled slightly but then continued to keep pace.

They tore all the way out into the main field, one that had apparently once been used to plant and harvest wheat. Shoots of grass was all that grew there now, as high as Undyne's thigh and as thick and strong as watersausage stems in the Underground. The only reason the stalks weren't tripping the pair up was because many previous runs had worn a path through them, ensuring a smooth journey. Still, some jutted out into their path, knocked out of wack by some lumbering critter during the night, and Undyne leaped over them without losing momentum, her smile only widening with the thrill of adrenaline.

Then the field and grass gave way to woods as Undyne and Papyrus launched themselves into the fringe of trees that marked the edge of the Ebott Forest. They had worn a path there too, amidst the tall, scraggly furs and elegant poplars. Pine needles and grape-sized pine cones crunched beneath their feet as they raced, both panting, but neither slowed even a bit. Papyrus tripped over a root, but still retained his footing, his harsh breaths a constant reminder of his presence at Undyne's side.

It wasn't until they burst into a well-traveled clearing that Undyne started to slow down, her full out rush turning into a proper jog, then a fast walk, and finally a heaving halt. Her chest ached with the strain of dragging in heavy breath after breath, but it felt good. It felt like the days back underground, when she had run from one end of the Underground to the other on a dare. Sweat tickled its way down her back, leaving her squirming uncomfortably as she slammed her hands on her hips and proceeded to catch her breath. Papyrus was little better. The skeleton was covered in his own species' version of perspiration, his t-shirt half soaked. His rib cage beneath expanded and contracted in great, stuttered heaves, his soul working to absorb air into his magic as he stood there, partially bent forward, his knobby knees trembling slightly under the urge to either sit down or, possibly, collapse. But he was grinning, true and genuine.

For a good two minutes that was just about all they could do; stand there and try and catch their breaths while eyeing the other to see who would give in and sit down first. Both could be exceedingly stubborn, but Papyrus was easily the less experienced of the two of them. After fighting the temptation for an admirably long time, Papyrus finally sank down into a cross-legged sit, still gasping like a fish out of water. Undyne gave a triumphant laugh of victory before allowing herself to join him on the ground, pine needles sticking to her sweaty skin.

War Crimes Illustration 10 by Zeragii

The clearing around them was lush and green, the warm, soothing color seeming to exist in the very air as light shown down through the fresh, moist leaves. The grass was cold and still covered in morning dew, the air smelling of sweet flowers and the heavy, gritty scent of dark soil. Bugs buzzed, a 'ladybug' - as Frisk called them - lazily scaling a blade of grass near Undyne's knee. It was the perfect picture of peace; of every hope monsterkind had ever harbored in their souls. And Undyne was filled with silent gratitude.

"I-H-HUH! I DIDN'T FALL BE-BEHIND!" Papyrus crowed between pants, not about to be bothered by his current show of weakness. He wasn't exactly at full energy, shadows under his sockets and a tired tilt to his body language. Undyne vaguely wondered just how long Sans had kept his brother up, but then pushed the thought away. "N-NYEH! I TOLD YOU - HUH!- I TOLD YOU I COULD KEEP UP!" He leaned back, thin bone arms shaking, but a big grin lighting up his skull. Undyne couldn't help but grin in return, her soul feeling light.

"Yeah...You....You sure did." She was a little out of breath herself, though she played it off the best she could. "Good job...pal....We'll make an...an officer...out of you yet!"

"Y-YEAH?"

"You bet!" Undyne beamed. "You're gonna pass...Frank's interview, no problem!"

Papyrus quieted a little a that, his gasps slowing a bit as uncertainty and self-doubt permeating his posture. It was an expression that always looked wrong on him, someone who was just so upbeat and sure of life, regardless of the world's many faults. "I...I hope so," he muttered weakly, and hell no; Undyne wasn't about to let him stew in his own doubts and anxiety.

"Aaaah, don't worry about it. You're...h-huh, you're a shoo-in for that kind of job. I mean, I know you always wanted to be in the Royal Guard, and...and that you were real bummed when it disbanded after we arrived on the Surface - but working on the police force, protecting people; dude, no one does that as well as you do!"

Papyrus settled back a little more on his arms, taking in each and every one of her words like it was pure gold. The forest around them was continuing to come awake, the first few bird twitters now a chorus of chirping and cawing fowl. A light summer breeze blew through, ruffling the foliage overhead and brushing their damp clothes against their sweaty forms. The bony monster took a final huff, breath now miraculously recovered - skeletons were good at that - and sat up, resting his hands in his lap.

"I DO WANT TO HELP PEOPLE," he declared evenly. "AND THE TEAM YOU'VE BEEN PUT IN CHARGE OF SEEMS THE BEST WAY FOR ME TO DO SO; TO HELP KEEP MONSTERS SAFE IN THIS WORLD FILLED WITH UNCERTAIN HUMANS, BUT..." Had Papyrus had a lip, he'd probably be gnawing on it.

Undyne's expression softened. "If it's Frank Delbenn you're worried about, don't be. I know he's a little stiff-browed and has a face for radio, but he's a good guy at heart. Cares about the monster cause a lot. He just...tends to see things from both sides, you know? Keeps him pretty somber a lot of the time."

Most of the time. Undyne could only recall once or twice she had seen the police chief of the EPD actually smile. Frank wasn't mean spirited, or even terribly stern, he was just...very task oriented. The dude seriously needed to chill; was work all he ever thought about?

"But relax. He told me I get to choose who I want on my team. Me, no one else. And just like with Doggo and the other members of the Canine Unit, with RG1 and RG2, I choose you, Papyrus. All you got to do is go in there and make Frank like you, pass a few measly entrance tests, and pass a physical. No big deal. It'll be a breeze."

Her best friend perked up a little. "YOU THINK SO?"

"I know so. NOW!" Undyne hoisted herself to her feet, still sweaty and feeling the burn of exercise, but no longer gasping for breath. "What you say we toss a few attacks around, huh? It's been ages since we had a proper spar! Bet we could get in a couple of rounds before we head back for breakfast."

Papyrus gave a chuckle, still looking tired, but just as eager as ever. With a silent groan, he too managed to get to his feet, spreading them wide in a defensive stance. "VERY WELL. GIVE ME YOUR BEST SHOT, CAPTAIN UNDYNE! I AM WILLING AND WAITING!"

And Undyne was only too happy to oblige.


Toriel watched from her bedroom window as the colorful figures of Undyne and Papyrus streaked out through the field at a breakneck speed. They were loud, boisterous; Undyne especially. Toriel could hear her whooping and laughing even from that distance, and while the motherly monster frowned slightly at the captain's lack of consideration for the early hour, her soul warmed at seeing the two so happy and energetic. They certainly had more up and go than she had herself these days, but that was to be expected. Toriel was significantly older; more so than the two younger monsters ages combined.

The Boss Monster sighed, a breath of resignation to her many years.

It was still a bit early for Toriel to be up and about, she usually tried for another fifteen minutes or so after Papyrus and Undyne headed off, rain or shine, for their jog, but this morning she was feeling particularly agitated. Too much so to stay in bed, her thoughts racing. She was not feeling nearly as poorly as she might have expected, given the hour or so she had lain awake after Sans's scream. Mercy, what a hair-raising sound that had been, one that had cut her to her very soul.

Sans was typically a very quiet monster, more prone to murmur and chuckle than voice himself above a gentle speaking voice. To be so harrowed, so frightened and misplaced from himself as to cry out with such throat-tearing desperation...It made Toriel worry greatly for her friend. She had known that Papyrus had things well in hand, as he did any night Sans was out of sorts, but those nights were becoming more and more frequent, and each throttled such dreadful noises from Sans that it was truly becoming very much a concern. Papyrus was a dear and kind soul, and there was no one Sans trusted more, but...was he truly able to handle the situation on his own?

Toriel was well versed in the subject of nightmares and night terrors. She had suffered them herself after the War, and had dealt with Chara's more often than not in those early days so long ago. In fact, many of the children she had rescued in the Ruins had been plagued by them, those dreadful dreams that made them cry in their sleep, made them toss and turn. And then of course, after learning of the resets, they had all struggled through a period of bad pseudo-memories, dreams filled with what-if scenarios and blood-drenched outcomes. Frisk had suffered most, guilt eating at the child's mind and soul, and understandably so. Toriel still found it hard to grasp, that someone so sweet and so young and so good could have murdered them all in some other existence, maybe more than once. The knowledge of the Resets had rocked her to her core, dredging up familiar feelings of denial and anger. And, since she had not wanted to pin that anger on her own child, Toriel had turned on Sans.

It had been wrong of her. She could still remember the pain in his eyes as she had rounded on him that night, betrayal burning in her own teary gaze. It had been easier to be upset with him for breaking his promise to protect Frisk than to face the truth of just what Frisk had done. Even as Frisk pleaded, said it was not his fault, and even knowing that Sans, like the rest of them, did not even remember the breaking of that promise, Toriel had still torn into him with a viciousness she had later wondered if she could ever be forgiven for. A day or so had cooled her anger, shown her the error of her ways, but even then Sans had forgiven her, before she had even a chance to properly apologize. It had put her to shame, really, his willingness to forget what she had said in anger, like it had not ripped into his very soul.

And now he suffered more than any of them, other than Frisk perhaps. But even her child only had nightmares every once in a while. Sans...Something was wrong with Sans. Perhaps it was her fault. Maybe it had been her harsh words that had wounded him so badly, that he would be cursed by these dreadful realities that attacked him in his sleep, even as the rest of them healed and moved on.

Stars above, she hoped it was not her fault.

Toriel sighed, trying to clear her mind. The house was quiet, other than Asgore's deep, rumbling snores from next door. Toriel listened to them with a smile, something she never would have even considered a few years ago. Learning of the Resets, and forgiving Frisk, had opened Toriel's eyes to...to a lot of things. It made her reconsider her past and the tragedies that ran like bleeding veins all through it. What Asgore had done - murdering innocent children - still sickened her. Just thinking about it made her soul roil with anger and hurt and grief, but...She had left him. She had left Asgore to deal with his own grief alone, instead of standing at his side like she should have. He had lost his way, just as Frisk had, staining his gentle hands in their blood, and instead of loving him and trying to bring him back, Toriel had left him. Left him to wallow in guilt and pain, left him to steep further and further into despair. Had she stayed, perhaps he would not have killed those other children, believing that those unthinkable deeds were somehow the only choice he had. He had only been trying to do what was right; he had only been trying to save his people. Toriel saw that now. And even though sometimes, on the hard days, Toriel found it painful to even look at him, she found those instances happened less and less often. Her soul had begun to heal of its hatred, and the more it did so the more she found she enjoyed his company, like she had once upon a very long time ago.

Not enough to regain what had been severed between them, not yet at least, but enough so that Toriel did not wrench away from his touch, or cringe at the sound of his voice. Some softness for him had returned, and his jolly manner and personality tended to warm her soul.

Deciding that she had wasted enough time in thought, Toriel quickly got dressed - a soft pink summer dress with little white hearts - and made her way out into the hall. She refrained from checking in on Sans, though she was tempted. The brothers' door was partially open, and it would have been quite easy to peep her head in unnoticed, but she decided against it. She knew her friend would be resting easy, he only suffered one nightmare a night, and no more. Toriel had changed his sheets, so she knew for certain that he was not lying in a mess of his own sweat and magic. It was best to let the poor dear sleep until he woke up, or until breakfast was ready at least. While Toriel knew of the brothers' stash of 'emergency candies', there was nothing like a full meal for replenishing exhausted magic. And, by the condition of those sheets last night, Toriel was sure Sans had expended far more magic than was healthy for a monster of his size, especially one with so low an HP.

Toriel made her way down the hall, her soft and observant eyes taking in Undyne, Alphys, and Asgore's closed bedroom doors. She frowned when she found the dirty cloth, stained with cyan magic, plopped down wetly in the bathroom sink, but she immediately forgave Papyrus. It must have been so late when the dear had been able to return to bed, and she was certain he had not meant to be untidy. Not Papyrus. He was an exceedingly cleanly monster, almost to the point of obsession. He would have to be well and truly exhausted to have forgotten.

She rinsed out the cloth and tossed it in the hamper, along with various other bits of clothing that had not quite made it into the basket, making a mental note to do a load of laundry later in the afternoon or evening. If she had time. It might be a Saturday morning, but it was a Saturday packed with many errands and tasks to be accomplished. But that was not now, and, for the moment, Toriel could take her time with less pressing matters.

It wasn't until she exited the bathroom and checked in on Frisk that Toriel discovered that her child, along with Flowey, were missing. At first, she considered the possibility that Frisk had gone and climbed into bed with Sans, as a means of comforting the skeleton - Frisk was a very empathetic soul - but finally giving in to a quick peek in the brothers' room revealed that Sans too was nowhere to be seen.

Toriel's first instinct was to panic, a horrible feeling that shot up her spine and made her hands shake. But then the more logical side of her mind told her that she was not a lonely, desperate old woman living in the Ruins anymore, and that wherever the three had gone, no harm would befall them. Clinging to that thought, Toriel made her way downstairs as calmly and unhurried as she could. Unknowingly mirroring Undyne's same route not twenty minutes before her, Toriel made her way through the kitchen and dining room, eventually weaving her way into the hall and then into the living room.

There, she found her missing charges.

Sans and Frisk were nestled against each other, two small forms half lost in the puffy cushions of the old, broken down sofa. They looked so vulnerable like that, both so young in her eyes despite the fact that Sans was a good three hundred or so human years older than Frisk. That was, of course, to say that Alphys calculations were correct, and that every one monster year was the equivalent of twelve human years. To Toriel, Sans was a young adult, her own years well over a thousand and him only a few monster decades out of his stripes. He was wise for his years, or perhaps he had grown up too quickly. Papyrus had told her that as far back as he could remember, Sans had taken care of him. And while that was extremely sweet and commendable, it was also concerning. Sans dodged any and all attempts to discuss the subject, and Toriel had given up with time, but it worried her that both brothers had lacked the love and guidance of any parental figure. They had turned out all right, of course, both were kind and polite and gentle in soul, but still. It made Toriel wonder. It made her soul ache whenever they seemed almost half starved for her motherly affections, even Sans, whose true emotions were so hard to read.

Toriel shook her head, bringing herself back to the present. She quickly shuffled back out into the hallway and over into the nearby closet. She selected a light, thin blanket from a pile of clean sheets and then made her way back. Both her adopted daughter and her friend were scrunched up on the sofa, legs folded up, making them both as small as possible. Some worrisome motherly instinct told Toriel that such fetal positions as the two had taken spoke of some unspoken pain they both shared, but she brushed it aside. That was old news, and there was nothing worrying would help accomplish.

She shook out the blanket, in case any insects had crawled in among the folds, and carefully spread it over the slumbering duo, not because it was cold, far from it, but because she knew for a fact that they both felt more at ease when properly covered. The humidity of the morning would surely grow, eventually waking them, but for now it would do to serve as strict comfort rather than necessity.

Toriel tucked it around them as gently as possible, not wanting to wake them up, only pausing long enough to carefully place the back of her hand on Sans's brow. He felt warm, but not too warm.

Good. No fever.

That was sometimes a byproduct of strained magic. Perhaps his nightmare had sounded worse than it had been in actuality. Sans murmured in his sleep as she left her hand on his forehead a moment longer, just grateful that he was alright, before he sighed and settled. Frisk answered his sigh with one of her own, nestling closer to his chest, head pressed under his chin. The sight made Toriel feel incredibly happy and blessed.

War Crimes Illustration 11 by Zeragii

"You going to just keep standing there watching them sleep like a creepy weirdo, or are you gonna go make us some breakfast."

The sudden voice made Toriel jolt back up, spine straight, her gaze flying to the corner of the living room, over by the television, where the low, unkind words had come from. There, looking nonplussed and miserable as always, sat Flowey.

How he had pulled himself into the corner, Toriel could not guess, but she imagined it was not where Frisk had originally placed him before falling asleep. That was the thing with Flowey, he could always manage to sneak about the house despite not having any limbs, cropping up in odd places, frightening the daylights out of everyone. At least he was not playing those awful pranks on Sans anymore; some of which could have seriously injured the skeleton had they been successful.

Toriel frowned, fixing the sentient flower with a disapproving scowl. "Young man, is that anyway to ask for something?" she chided in a low murmur.

"No," was the clipped response, but he did not offer an apology either. He merely continued doing whatever it was he was engaged in - pulling out all the DVDs from the movie shelves by the looks of it. Alphys would be upset; she had just finished alphabetizing them.

"Mm." Toriel decided she was too tired for Flowey's mind games, and instead sighed out a serious answer to his question. "I was just thinking of starting breakfast now, actually. How do pancakes sound?"

"Fine, I guess."

He sounded indifferent, but Toriel knew better. There was a subtle shudder in his leaves that told her he very much liked the idea, and was only putting up his usual bad-attitude front. Why he felt the need to was a mystery, but it was loads better than the aggressive yelling and dreadful language he had used upon his first arrival at Redemption. Where a child could have picked up such terrible words...That was, of course, assuming Flowey was a child. He certainly acted like one, a very ill behaved and attention starved child, and his voice was very young sounding too. It was almost familiar, in its inflection and manner of speaking, but Toriel could never quite place it.

"Good. I shall even put in some of the fresh blueberries from the garden. Add a bit of flavor."

"Do what you want, old lady. I don't care."

Toriel tried hard not to be offended. "Would you like me to move you to the kitchen so you can watch?"

Flowey looked up from his self-appointed task and sneered nastily. "Like I'd want to spend time with you. Go away, I'm busy."

Well, that hurt, but Toriel did her best not to take his harmful words to heart. It was just how Flowey was, and though she disapproved, she knew that getting after him would only give him what he wanted. He found pleasure in getting under the skins of others, often succeeding. With, of course, the exception of Sans and Papyrus, the latter of whom was too kind hearted to see the bad in anyone - even Flowey - to be hurt, and the former being too easy-going most of the time to be bothered to react.

Toriel huffed a calming sigh, closing her eyes and then opening them, in complete control of herself. "I was only thinking of you," she said, not unkindly. Flowey would not meet her eyes, so perhaps her disapproval meant more to him than he was letting on. Instead of answering, he sent a hateful look toward the couch.

"Trashbag over there had another one of his stupid nightmares," he hissed. "Woke Frisk up and then of course she had to follow him down here and make sure he wasn't having a breakdown. Pfft! Pathetic." He shrunk down in his pot, some of the venom leaving his voice. "They fell asleep like that. Left me on the coffee table with nothing to do."

Toriel sent Sans a sympathetic look. "Yes, I...am well aware. The poor dear." Her brow furrowed and she sent Flowey a stern glare. "And while I am sorry you were left to fend for yourself, that is no grounds to be so cruel. I thought I had asked you not to refer to Sans in that manner. There is no need for such unkind names."

Flowey stuck out his tongue, but didn't offer any argument. 

It could be terribly trying at times, dealing with him. What kind of life must he have had to be like this, so bitter and mean? Sometimes, he made Toriel nervous, for reasons she could not recall. She could see that same apprehension in Sans's gaze from time to time. There was something in the way he sometimes watched Flowey so warily when he thought no one was looking that made Toriel's soul feel cold and uncertain. Like Sans expected something to happen the minute his back was turned, something that, despite all his smiles and nonchalance, terrified him. Perhaps Frisk had told him something...Something from some past reset, wherein Flowey had done something. Toriel did not know, and if it was all so terrible as all that, then maybe she did not want to know. It was easier believing Flowey could change without the more grisly details of his past. Sans would keep an eye on him; he had always been very observant. Sans obviously disliked the flower, and perhaps for good reason.

And then there was Flowey himself, who liked nothing more than to twist whatever insults or digging comments as far into Sans's soul as he could. Like he hated him.

Toriel shivered and shook her head, pushing the dreadful thoughts as far away as she could for the time being. Even if she did not know what Flowey had done to gain Sans's unwavering distrust, she knew that if he were a true danger Sans would not allow him to stay in their home. Not if doing so put any of them in harms way. Flowey was a wretched creature, but he was harmless, insults and childish tantrums his only weapon against them. Perhaps, with enough compassion and love, Flowey would gain a more virtuous character over time. As long as they did not give up on him.

"Very well," Toriel concluded. "Stay here and carry on with...whatever it is you are doing." She turned to leave, when Flowey's voice, sounding a bit more plaintive, stopped her.

"W-Wait."

She paused in the doorway. "Yes?"

"I want a juice box from the refrigerator."

Toriel remained as she was, expression stern. She waited patiently, knowing that her silence alone would be reproachment enough. Flowey was smart. He would either figure out what she wanted and ask properly, or he would refuse. After a few tense moments, Toriel was rewarded.

"Ugh...Can I have a juice box from the refrigerator?" the flower growled.

She continued to wait in silence. Flowey could be very polite when it meant he would get what he wanted, but, in Toriel's eyes he still had to do it right. Finally, after a moment, she received what she had wanted.

"...Please?"

Toriel turned her head and fixed Flowey with a motherly smile, one that blared just how proud of him she was. Positive rewards were a good teaching method, one that Toriel followed whole heartedly. "Of course, dear. Apple or grape?"

"Apple."

"Alright, I will bring it in just a moment."

"Whatever."

That was as close to a thank you as she was bound to get, so Toriel called it a victory and hurried off to the kitchen. True to her word, she fetched him a juice box and then returned to the kitchen to don her cooking apron. The kitchen was bathed in the warmth of the rising sun, and Toriel paused a moment to take in the view of Mount Ebott through the window over her kitchen sink.

It was odd, the fondness that bloomed in her chest at the site of the place that had once served as her peoples' prison. And yet, for many, perhaps even herself, it had become home. Some monsters, those who had found the Surface a little too much of a shock, had decided to stay down in the Underground. They were few, and were of a more dark and unusual sort, but Toriel could not blame them. It was hard to leave the familiar for something new. She herself had memories of the Surface, before the War, so it had not been quite so hard for her to return to the open sky and rolling landscape. For others, those born below ground, it was a frightening change, one that must have taken an immense amount of bravery to overcome.

Toriel smiled, a swell of pride growing within her. Monsters had triumphed in the end, she realized. They had survived, despite the wicked men of old who had imprisoned them. It was enough to bring a tear to her eyes, to know that all those lives that had been lost had not died in vain. Something of their sacrifice had remained, and continued on. It was poetic, and sad, and beautiful all at the same time. It made her soul swell with pride. She stared out a moment or so more, before she blinked back to reality.

"Well," Toriel breathed, "this will not get breakfast made, now will it?" She turned and moved back over to the refrigerator, quietly listing all the ingredients she would need. "Let's see. I will need milk, eggs, and butter..." She gathered the items from the chilled interior and moved them to the counter, allowing the fridge door to swing shut on its own. Then she moved to the cupboards. "Flour, salt, sugar and...Ah. Here it is. Baking powder."

After that, she proceeded to find a large mixing bowl, or it would have been large in the hands of an ordinary human housewife. In her own great mitts it seemed significantly smaller. Washing her hands in the sink, Toriel then continued her task by sifting together the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar, the combination a soft, snow white mound at the bottom of her mixing bowl. In a smaller bowl, she cracked and beat an egg, easing in one cup of milk. Satisfied, she gently poured the wet mixture into the white dune, stirring the two together. Lastly, she mixed in one-half tablespoon of melted butter and folded in a container of fresh picked blueberries from the fridge crisper. It certainly did not look appetizing, but Toriel was accustomed to cooking and baking, and knew better than to judge a meal based on its pre-cooked appearance. 

Now she had only to set the bowl of mix aside for an hour or so.

She took the opportunity to step outside onto the front porch for a breath of morning air. The sun was now fully in view over the treetops, casting all in warm, cleansing orange. The air still smelled of nighttime dew. Touka, that semi-friendly, black and white she-cat that had hung around since their first day at Redemption, slunk out from the porch bushes and meowed loudly. Toriel sat on the porch swing, staying perfectly still until the feline had ventured nearer. She fed her a few stray blueberries that had got caught in the small pocket of her apron. The cat ate them warily, before running off down the long driveway and into the far distance, never one to stick around for long.

Toriel remained out on the porch until nearly an hour had passed, then she headed back inside to finish her meal making. She took a quick glance in on Frisk, Sans, and Flowey, finding that while her daughter and friend had shifted a bit, they were still sound asleep. Flowey had stacked Alphys' movies into some kind of DVD igloo, the flower sending her a glower from the inside as he sucked on the straw of his empty juice box. She returned to the kitchen, soul sinking slightly as she beheld with fresh eyes the mess she had made. Batter and egg shells flecked the counter, amidst the assortment of flour and sugar bags and a carton of eggs. She shrugged, determining to clean it all up after, once she had finished cooking - no sense picking up twice - and then she proceeded to turn on the stove hotplate, heating its surface. A bit of light oil on the griddle made it hiss a sputter as it slowly came up to medium temperature, a thick, slightly bitter smell filling the kitchen as it did so.

It was just as she was giving her mixing bowl and its contents a final stirring that she heard the slow, heavy, lumbering footsteps of Asgore descending the staircase. She paused, looking over and meeting his eye just as he appeared, the poor dear having to duck slightly to avoid catching his horns on the lip of the doorway. Behind him, dwarfed by his immense stature, toddled a still sleep-groggy Alphys. She was dressed in a pair of jean shorts and a vibrant magenta spaghetti strap top, prepared for the warm day they were sure to expect.

"Good morning Asgore," Toriel greeted amiably. "Alphys," she added. The two gave her tired, but pleasant grins in return. "I was not expecting you for another ten minutes or so, but that is fine." She smiled in amusement. "This saves me the trouble of having to come fetch you for breakfast. It is almost done."

Asgore patted his rather noticeable girth appreciatively. He had always been a good eater, one with an appetite that matched his impressive stature. "I was awoken by an enticing aroma. No one could continue to sleep through that."

War Crimes Illustration 12 by Zeragii

Toriel smirked, pretending that his words were not warming her soul. "In your case, truly a miracle," she teased gently, and Asgore chuckled lowly in response.

"I-It smells good," Alphys offered. Her glasses glinted in the streaming sunlight as she nodded toward the mixing bowl.

"Ah, yes, well that is just the oil warming on the stove. It will smell much nicer once I begin applying the batter." As she said so, Toriel reached into a drawer and pulled out a medium sized ladle. She carried her bowl over to the stove, scooping up a generous portion and drizzling it into a small puddle on one side of the griddle. It spread slightly, before it began to take on a more solid edge, cooking quickly.

"Mmm, pancakes," Asgore rumbled approvingly. 

Toriel nodded. "I thought that we all might be in need of a bit of a treat this morning, given the events of last night."

"Ah." Asgore nodded in understanding. "Very intuitive, my dear-er...Toriel."

Alphys cocked her head in confusion. "L-Last night?"

"Yes." Asgore turned to explain. "Sans once again suffered one of his...bad nights. It was quite unpleasant, and a fair bit more violent than usual, by the sound of things."

The yellow monster's eyes widened slightly with sympathy. One hand snaked up to play nervously with one of the straps of her shirt, a fidget of sorts. "O-Oh...Oh, d-dear. He's...H-He's alright though, r-right?"

"He is perfectly fine, other than perhaps being a little tired," Toriel assured as she tested the edges of the very large pancake with her spatula. She tilted her head in the direction of the living room. "He is fast asleep on the couch, with Frisk. He seems peaceful enough, and there is no fever."

Alphys gave a sigh of relief. "Oooh, g-good." She frowned, a bit of frustration leaking into her expression. "I-I wish Sans w-would let me ch-check him over. Or at l-least take a f-few of m-my soul r-r-regulators. Nightmares can b-be a sign of magic degradation! It's v-very serious!"

Toriel could hear the panic in her voice, and she would be lying if she said she did not feel at least a little uneasy about the subject herself, but someone had to be the voice of reason, and it might as well be her. "I am sure he is alright, Alphys, dear. If something as serious as that were taking place, I am sure that bad dreams would not be the only symptom, correct?"

"W-Well, y-yes, I guess that's...that's t-true. He would b-be in a great d-deal of pain. He'd be...s-sick. P-Passing out and...s-stuff like that."

"There, you see?" Toriel turned away from her cooking just long enough to lay a comforting hand on the young scientist's shoulder. "Other than the dreams, Sans has been just fine. He has shown no signs of serious pain, nor has he lost consciousness unexpectedly. Whatever is wrong, if he himself even knows, I am sure he will come to us eventually. We need only be here for him when he is ready."

"I-I...You're r-right, I'm s-sorry. I was over r-reacting a little, I g-guess."

Toriel gave her a soft smile. "Nonsense. You were simply looking after someone you care about. Someone we all care about. There is no shame in that."

"None at all," Asgore echoed.

"Never doubt your own compassion," Toriel finished, "for it comes from the very deepest part of you." She waited until Alphys shakily returned her smile before Toriel quickly turned back to her task. "This hotplate seems plenty hot enough, I believe I can begin making these in bulk. I was not sure, what with having picked up this griddle at a second-hand store in town." She hummed, getting down to business before adding, "Would you mind doing something for me, Alphys, dear?"

"S-Sure?"

"Could you go and wake Frisk? I would do so myself, but I do not wish for any of these pancakes to burn."

"O-Oh! Y-Yeah, sure, I c-can do that."

"Thank you, dear."

"W-What about Sans?"

Toriel paused, considering. "Let him sleep a few moments longer. I will have Papyrus wake him when he and Undyne return from their jog. Which should be soon." 

"A-Alright."

"Oh, and, bare in mind...Flowey is also in there. He...has made a mess of your movie shelves, I'm afraid. No permanent damage just...well, you will see."

Toriel wanted to give Alphys fair warning. The flower seemed to frighten the yellow monster considerably, and Alphys always seemed more than willing to give Flowey space. The two did not get along; not in the same way Flowey and Sans did not get along, but there was noticeable tension. Flowey obviously tended to make Alphys nervous.

"O-Oh..." Alphys' shoulders slumped, resigned. "O-Okay. Th-Thanks for, uh, w-warning me?" With that and a soft squeak of distress, she hustled off in the direction of the dining room and hallway, her blunt-clawed feet gently clicking against the kitchen tiles.

The moment Alphys was out of earshot, Asgore's expression fell to something a bit more somber. "We should be concerned for Sans's welfare, however, should we not?" he intoned softly.

Toriel bristled slightly, though nothing nearly as strong as what she had once felt for her ex-husband. "Of course we should," she replied sternly, a bit of sharpness in her voice, before she sighed and it bled away. "This nightmare business has got me very worried, but listing off all the worst possible reasons for his affliction will only heighten panic and cause needless stress, for all involved. And you know how Sans is. If he catches wind that we have been considering any sort of medicinal cure for him, even in theory, he will shut up tight like a lock box, and then no one of us will be able to reach him."

It had happened before, on a much smaller scale of course. Sans had caught a cold, a small one, shortly after their first week of winter back in the monster encampment. All remedies other than warm soup and tea with honey had been rejected by the skeleton, who seemed to harbor some stiffly hidden fear of medicine and doctors. It made dealing with him difficult when he was ill, which was rarely, and was not really a healthy attitude for one with such dreadfully low stats.

Asgore hummed in sad agreement. "You are right as always, my dear." The term of endearment slipped out unchecked, and for once Asgore did not notice. "I am sure you are right. Sans may just be...a bit more sensitive to the whole Resets ordeal than we thought at first. Time heals all wounds, and perhaps that is just what Sans needs. I...suppose Doctor Becker is out of the question?"

Toriel dredged up an image of Frisk's friendly psychologist. He was a pleasant man, gentle and kind, and he had played an immeasurable part in helping Frisk deal with her own nightmares, and those awful 'flashbacks'. Sans had never even met the man, but it was easy to see that the skeleton had no wish to. He would not even bring Frisk to her appointments, always claiming that he was too busy.

Toriel suspected other motives.

"...Yes. I think that is a very accurate assumption."

Asgore sighed. "Then we shall simply just have to keep an eye on him."

"To the best of our ability," Toriel smiled sadly. She had already poured several more puddles of batter on the hotplate, the sound of sizzling now loud and busy. She motioned to the cupboard and Asgore got her a large plate without her even needing to speak. "I, for one, intend to do him a bit of good by giving him a decent meal. He has been leaking magic again, and I am sure that his magic reserves are quite low."

"That is..." Asgore frowned in concern, but then nodded. "I think he will like that."

"I certainly hope so."

There was the sound of light feet entering the kitchen, and both Boss Monsters turned to behold Frisk. The child looked...a little worse for wear; understandable, seeing as it was obvious she had spent half the morning soothing a distraught and overtired skeleton. There were shadows under her eyes, and her hair had that frizzed look that humans tended to call 'bedhead'. Her clothes were ruffled, oversized t-shirt half slipping off one shoulder as she rubbed a fist in one of her chocolate brown eyes. She smiled as she spotted them, her mouth turning up at the corners in genuine happy greeting.

"H'llo," she slurred sleepily.

Toriel felt her soul warm, not for the first or last time that morning. "Good morning, my child."

Frisk's eyes opened a little wider as she noticed the spatula in Toriel's hand and the browning circlets on the stove. "Pancakes?" she inquired, more awake by the minute.

"Yes. I thought we could all do with a trea-Oh!" Toriel grunted as her daughter's small form crashed up against her own, small, thin arms trying to wrap around as much of her middle as Frisk could manage. Toriel gazed down at the child's brown haired head in stunned silence, before she gave a soft laugh of amusement. "I take it you approve?"

"Yes!" Frisk grinned up at her. "Yes, yes, yes!"

"Well then," the motherly monster beamed, "I want you to run upstairs and get dressed before these are finished."

"Alright!" Frisk sprinted for the stairs, sending Asgore a bright smile and a wave as she passed him.

"Do not forget to wash your face!" Toriel called after her.

"Okay, Mom!"

Running thumps of feet on carpet were audible as Frisk ran all the way up the staircase and into her room just above the kitchen. Toriel could just make out the sound of drawers opening and closing as the child hurried to do as she was asked. Such a good girl was Frisk; obedient, and yet a strong personality all her own. She was twelve now, and growing into a fine young lady. While her duties as ambassador made her very mature during meetings and such, at home Frisk was able to act her age, enjoying the freedom of childhood and its wonders. She was a very energetic little one, as evidenced by her quick recovery that morning, despite having probably gotten very little sleep. They would all be hard pressed keeping up with Frisk today, if that boundless enthusiasm was anything to go by.

Asgore chuckled. "You certainly know how to motivate."

"Yes, well," Toriel smiled in return. "My pancakes leave little to be desired."

Alphys wandered her way back into the kitchen just as Frisk's movements upstairs shifted toward the bathroom. Water ran, the sound gurgling down through the pipes in the wall and down into the basement.

"F-Flowey messed up my DVD f-filing system," the lizard-esque monster confirmed, looking defeated. "It's...I-It's okay. I can always d-do it again."

"Perhaps it would be better if you kept your personal collection up in your room," Toriel suggested kindly. "It would keep him out of it, and you could always bring down a disk to watch whenever you like, or watch them upstairs."

"I-I might just do that." Alphys sniffed the air appreciatively as Toriel began piling the pancakes onto their appointed plate. They stacked high and thick, great circles of cake-like heaven that smelled faintly of griddle and sugar.

Toriel raised the now very full plate, apprising her work skeptically. She could never be certain whether she had made enough; Papyrus, Undyne, and Frisk had ravenous appetites, as did she and Asgore, due just to their shear size. Alphys and Sans, however, typically ate very little, small as they were. Hm. Well, if she had not made enough, Toriel supposed she could always make another batch. There was plenty of batter left over, and if they did not use it she could always store it in the refrigerator for another day.

Now for the most important ingredient.

"Would you two mind setting the table while I infuse these, please?" she asked, to which Alphys and Asgore both nodded and immediately began taking out the silverware and ceramic plates. "Oh, and the syrup too, please. I nearly forgot."

"I got it!" Frisk chimed in, racing back into the room and climbing up onto one of the counters to better reach the cupboard where the sticky substance was kept.

Satisfied that all tasks had been mandated, Toriel carefully adjusted her hold on the piled high plate of pancakes, ensuring it would not slip from her grasp. Closing her eyes, she breathed deeply, and a moment later her hands ignited with a gentle, silver glow. It swirled about her fingers, trailing up and over the meal she had prepared, dissipating slowly into the air like a cool mist against the summer morning light. She infused the pancakes with as much magic as she could safely muster and expend, ensuring that breakfast would not only be nourishing to Frisk, but to all the monster members of their family as well.

The task only took but a moment, and, satisfied, Toriel then trailed after the others into the dining room, plate still in hand and meal crackling with energy. Frisk had already set the syrup on the center of the table, having then taken her seat where she swung her legs in excitement, practically wiggling in anticipation. Alphys had also taken a seat, Asgore just finishing setting the final plate down next to his usual spot. Toriel set the pancakes down next to the syrup.

"There. Now all we need is-"

A commotion of loud, boisterous voices and stomping feet sounded just outside the dining room window, coming from the porch, and Frisk sent Toriel a playful smirk.

"Undyne and Papyrus are back."

"Yes, I can see that. Or, rather, hear it."

Toriel hurriedly wiped her batter-coated hands on her apron and shuffled quickly from the dining room and into the hall, catching the two monsters in question taking off their shoes by the door. They both appeared a bit winded, sweat glistening on their prospective bodies, but there was a gleam in their eyes that spoke of the joy in their souls. Undyne's red hair was frizzed and wild, and Papyrus's shirt had ridden up his spine a little, giving both a happy but ruffled appearance. They had probably decided to do a bit of sparring, if the various scuffs and bruises on the skeleton's bones were anything to go by; though it looked as though Undyne had taken a hit or two as well. Papyrus was a surprisingly good fighter. 

"Shhh."

The two looked up with a start when she shushed them, Toriel nodding her head toward the living room couch and the small form still sleeping peacefully upon it. "Not too loud. I want him awake, but let us do so gently. Papyrus, if you would? The pancakes are ready, and your brother should not miss a good meal after the night he had."

Papyrus and Undyne's eyes lit up at the word 'pancakes', Undyne quickly, but quietly, kicking her remaining shoe off her foot and making a bee-line for the dining room, while Papyrus shuffled out of his own footwear with a bit more care.

"Has he stirred at all?" was his only question, in a surprisingly soft voice. Despite the afterglow of exercise, the poor dear looked abnormally tired, dark shadows beneath his sockets, much like the ones his brother sported. His shoulders sagged slightly, arms swinging limp as he moved. It made the two brothers a sad, matching pair. Papyrus too was obviously in need of a good meal. Afterwards, he would surely look and feel more like himself.

"No, not really," Toriel informed. "I checked him for a fever, and he shifted a bit, but other than that, no, he has not awoken."

Papyrus nodded, making his way further in and heading for the living room. He gave Toriel a grateful smile as he passed her and said, "We'll be in, in just a moment. You can start if you like."

"Alright. Oh, and...fetch Flowey too, if you would, dear? He is in the corner, by the DVDs, or...in them? You may have to do a bit of shoveling to get him out."

Papyrus nodded again and disappeared into the adjoining room. Toriel stood there a moment, basking in the fondness she held for those around her, before she hurried back into the dining room, where a number of hungry eyes bored into her, asking silent permission to begin.

Chapter Text

The sunlight streaming in through the living room window was nothing like the gray, dim light of Snowdin. This light was soothing and cozy; warm in a way any light existing Underground had never been, even on the best of days. Even when the energy from the Core had been blazing the way it was supposed to, and every mechanical piece of hardware had been properly doing its job, everything had still existed in that dim, lifeless haze. Those lights had been artificial of course; florescent bulbs strapped to the high, high ceilings and flickering unpredictably, or orange flamed lanterns that hung low and dim in peoples' shops and homes. Even the light in the Hall had been false, cascading through the tall structured windows without warmth or energy; just a lie, an illusion. A trick used to sooth over the minds of those who still remembered and ached for what true sunlight had been like. Monsters like the king; like Toriel; like Gerson. It had been as fake as the chirping bird recordings Asgore had kept running in his garden, but it had been all they'd had. All the humans had left them with after the War.

Sans, though, he had been born Underground. He had never had anything to compare the light of the Hall to, and for years it had been one of his favorite places to linger - before he became Judge - other than the twinkling cavern ceilings in Waterfall. It had been an oddly mesmerizing, yellow and orange glow to him, like at Grillby's, and had filled the skeleton with a sense of security and belonging. Now he knew better. Now he knew what it was like to feel real sunlight press against his bones, feel it take away any chill or ache that resided within him and replace it with something stronger and more healthy. It caressed like a hug and warmed like the flames of a gentle fire, and Sans had fallen in love with it the minute he'd been introduced to it. It had always been what he missed most with each disorienting reset.

Other than the stars.

That sentimentality was what kept him where he was now, limply flopped over against the semi-hard arm of the sofa, awake, but with his eye sockets pressed contentedly closed, feigning peaceful slumber.

At one point Sans had heard Alphys come in to wake Frisk, the child coming to consciousness easily enough, as she always did; a morning person. She'd yawned, wished the scientist good morning in a soft, sleepy voice, and then extricated herself from Sans's arms with all the care of a mother leaving the side of her baby put down to rest. Then, surprising him like she always somehow managed to, she had planted a chaste kiss on his forehead before she quietly scampered off toward the kitchen, innocent and filled with energy like only a young one can be at gods-knew-what-hour. The press of her warm little lips had left a slight wet spot between Sans's sockets, and he had lazily resisted the urge to wipe it away. Even now he could feel it, the air around him tickling the spot as he continued to lie there, un-moving, soaking in the sunlight. It had been a sweet gesture, sure; sweet and caring, but nevertheless a gesture he was less accustomed to.

Skeleton's didn't kiss as a means of showing affection, having no lips to accomplish the task efficiently. Nuzzles and nudges were more customary, and had always served Sans and Papyrus just fine. Kisses weren't disgusting or anything, they were just...different. Different from what Sans was used to.

That was one of several reasons why Frisk and Toriel's gentle pecks always caught Sans off guard.

Even after Frisk had left, Alphys had lingered in the living room for a bit, and Sans had felt her gaze, soft and worried, focused on him for several moments before she had nervously turned to go. There was a murmured conversation between her and Flowey, full of stammers and hard, unkind hisses. In the end, the yellow scientist had retreated back to the hallway, and the sound of Flowey grumbling under his breath attested to how poorly whatever Alphys had said had been taken. Sans hoped that wasn't a bad sign. Flowey could be very disagreeable on a bad day, and if now was any indicator, they might be very well headed for one of the weed's aggressive meltdowns. Flowey was clearly already in a bad mood, and it wouldn't take much more to set him off. It wouldn't be anything to worry about really, Frisk would urge him back in line if he flipped his petals, and Sans would be right there as backup should the weed prove an issue. There'd probably be some mild yelling on the flower's part, for sure, and probably a few choice names and words that no child-esque being should know. Toriel certainly wouldn't stand for that. Then again, it was kind of Sans's fault; he'd kept the weed awake for most of the night. A lash out was eminent. Sans could only hope it wouldn't be too devastating. He didn't feel like playing fifty-two pickup with his life today.

Sans mentally sighed, but figured they'd cross that bridge when they came to it.

As things were, it was obvious Sans was being allowed to sleep in, and seeing as he felt pretty lousy, he was more than glad to take the opportunity to just lay there and bask in the morning glow through closed lids. Sans felt himself relax even more.

He could hear the birds singing outside, the insects of a daytime kind giving their voice as well, so much louder than the crickets the night before. Especially that one kind. What had Frisk called them? Katydids? No. Maybe it was-

Oh. Cicadas.

Yeah, that was it, or so he thought. Keeping track of all the Surface's creature species was difficult, and bugs weren't exactly Sans's specialty. He had always thought that monsters were diverse, a melting pot of every size, shape, and color. Come to find out, the world above had them beat on a whole 'nother level when it came to both numbers and diversity, sentient or no.

Less prominent than the wildlife outside, Sans could just make out the low, murmuring voices of his friends in the kitchen, chatting and laughing in quiet tones, but couldn't quite make out any of the words; there were too many walls between them. But he could pick up on Asgore's low, rumbling voice, and a lighter, more paced coo: Toriel's. Pots and pans clattered softly, muffled by distance, and Sans thought he heard the soft thump of the refrigerator falling shut. Closer, the click-clack of plastic DVD cases being stacked, un-stacked, and then re-stacked told Sans that Flowey was still nearby, and while normally that would have unnerved the skeleton, this time he felt that as long as those cheap plastic sounds continued, he was safe.

And he really was very tired.

So very, very tired.

Sans soaked in the gentle morning noises like he soaked in the sun, slow and fuzzily. They helped to ground him, and assisted in wiping away the last few traces of unease from last night's dream. Though, if he was honest with himself, the embarrassment and guilt was waiting patiently in the wings, ready to make everything awkward the moment he rejoined the land of the living.

Of course.

Because the universe couldn't stand to give him a break.

Sans sighed, a slight heaving motion of his body against the sofa arm before he sank even limper against the couch, exhausted but content. His left socket felt numb and oddly textured, still raw from the magic that had leaked from it during his episode the night before. It probably needed tending to; another application of Alphys' special cream would probably do the trick...but he'd take care of that later. He wasn't sure if he could fall back to sleep, but he could rest at the very least, let the time pass in a dozy blur, and it certainly didn't hurt to try. It was almost a hypnotic state, one wherein his thoughts were blessedly blank and he could simply focus on the there and then. Time almost seemed to slow, and he was perfectly fine with it doing so. He let it take him; let himself zone out to some other weird plane of existence. It was pleasant. It was familiar. He wasn't one-hundred percent sure it was the best way to cope, but he had done a lot worse in the past.

Or in other pasts.

Futures?

Eh.

For now, he could just be, knowing everyone else in the house would simply let him...

.

.

.

.

.

Time passed.

Sans wasn't quite sure how much time, but enough so that he had apparently succeeded in drifting off to sleep again. Everything had just sort of blended together into a soft, warm haze, and he was almost truly asleep when he felt the couch cushions dip a bit at his side and sensed a familiar soul's presence. A loud, thriving, and very much alive presence. The couch bowed slightly under the added weight, though not a lot, and done oh-so-very carefully, but enough that Sans himself sunk considerably deeper into his resting place with a soft grunt of annoyance.

So someone had finally come to wake him up then. That was okay. He had known the peace couldn't last forever, even if he wanted it to, and he really did need to get up at some point. Might as well be now. His magic felt drained and his body sore from lack of energy. He'd need something substantial to replace all of the magic he'd lost, if he didn't want to end up too weak too move. Still. Sans kept his sockets closed and body completely lax, a silent protest and insistence that if whoever it was wanted him awake, they'd have to work for it.

After a short hesitation, something smooth and considerably cooler than his own sun-warmed bones gently settled on Sans's skull, thin fingers brushing against him in a cautious, soothing manner. Like he was made of ancient Chinese porcelain and in danger of being irreparably broken.

Papyrus.

It couldn't be anyone else but Papyrus. No one else was that gentle with him, other than maybe Toriel, but her hands were all heat and fur, nothing like the light, textured glide of bone on bone. Alphys would be too timid to pet him like that, Undyne too rough and tough, and Frisk would know enough then to lay hands on him without giving a verbal warning first. Asgore tended to give Sans his space, and the king sitting on the edge of the couch would probably have crushed it, and Sans along with it. It had to be Papyrus.

War Crimes Illustration: Wake Up Gently by Zeragii

"Brother?" The gentle touch slid down to Sans's shoulder, giving him a small shake. "Sans, it is time for you to wake up. It is getting to be rather late, and you really should replenish your magic."

Papyrus's voice was so gentle and low, it was little more then a whisper, at least by Papyrus standards. Back in the old days underground, Sans would have bolted upright in frantic alarm at a tone like that coming from his brother. Papyrus was never that quiet, unless something was seriously, seriously wrong. He'd always been profoundly uppercase, even as a babybones, whereas Sans was as lowercase as a skeleton could get - or at least as far as Sans knew, seeing as he had no other skeletons to compare him and his brother to. But the Surface, and learning of the resets, had changed Papyrus. Not in any...profound way, necessarily; he was still the same cheerful, glowing soul he'd always been, but...he had become softer in some respects. More aware. More focused. His life no longer consisted of Royal Guard this and popularity that. He seemed more intent on bringing each member of their little mix-matched family closer together if nothing else. He worked as the glue that kept them all, so very different in life and personality, from drifting apart, and in return he was accepted in with love and kindness. Toriel had probably made the biggest impression on Papyrus, who had never had a mother figure in his life. Maybe she was to praise for teaching Pap to lower his voice from time to time. Taught him to be more sensitive and-

"SANS, I KNOW YOU ARE NOT SLEEPING. OPEN YOUR EYES, YOU LAZYBONES, OR I WILL STAND YOU UP REGARDLESS!"

Well. A little more sensitive anyway.

Sans chuckled softly, slowly cracking one socket lid open a slit, white eye light seeking out his brother's face. And there he was, Papyrus all dressed up in his orange 'Deal With It' t-shirt and high cut off jean shorts. He was indeed seated on the edge of the couch, though only just barely, ready to leap up and express himself more animatedly at a moment's notice. Sans hummed, smile lopsided but genuine as he turned his body more to the side, opening his other eye to join the first via a slow, lazy blink.

"h'could ya tell i was fakin'?" he slurred sleepily.

The rough state of his own voice took Sans by surprise. He sounded like death warmed over, his words coming out all creaky and scratchy, probably a result of screaming his skull off in the middle of the night. Great. Must have been a doozy if he was still suffering its affects. All the crying he'd done out on the porch with Frisk like a pansy probably hadn't helped much either.

Sans's bone cheeks warmed slightly in shame at the thought.

"WELL, FOR ONE, WHEN YOU'RE REALLY ASLEEP, YOU SNORE. AND BESIDES, DO YOU HONESTLY THINK I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, AND FURTHERMORE YOUR BROTHER, CANNOT TELL WHEN YOU'RE FEIGNING SLUMBER?! REALLY, SANS, YOU WOUND ME." He watched as Sans eased himself up a bit straighter, narrowing his sockets when Sans tried to hide his slight discomfort with a small cough, but Papyrus was too smart to be fooled. He frowned, tilting his head to the side in concern. "...Does your throat hurt?"

"bro, we're skeletons. all bone. we don't got throats."

"OH, YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN!"

Sans did. While visually all bone, skeleton monsters were far from sparse when it came to biology. An invisible pathway, more or less reffered to as their 'throat', lay nestled, invisable, within the hallow cavity of their cervical vertebrae. It served as a highway between their mouths and their souls, allowing food to be 'eaten' - absorbed - transformed into magi-particles, and then fed directly to their souls as pure magic. The organ also served as the source of their vocals.

Whatever its function, Sans couldn't deny that it was stinging sharply.

Sans tried to laugh it off, but only ended up wincing, one hand moving up to cradle against the front of his thin neck. His shoulders slumped a bit in defeat at the look his brother gave him in response.

"h-heh. maybe...a little? feels like i tried to gargle with ravor blades or somethi- whoa, hey now-!"

Papyrus had leaned forward suddenly, scrutinizing Sans like an offensive germ under a microscope. Their nose ridges were almost touching as the younger brother reviewed the older, one hand flopping into place on Sans's forehead with a soft clack of bone on bone, searching for a temperature. It was entirely unnecessary in its intensity, this hovering and coddling, but then again when wasn't Papyrus performing over the top? Sans had to hand it to his brother, Papyrus gave everything in life his all, and that was more than Sans could say for himself.

"WELL, YOU DON'T SEEM TO HAVE A FEVER," Papyrus hummed in relief, shifting back a little, but not much. "ALL THE SAME, A LITTLE MEDICINE WOULDN'T HURT."

Sans felt his metaphorical stomach flip at the thought. "pap-"

"YES, YES, I KNOW YOU DON'T LIKE THINGS LIKE MEDICINE AND DOCTORS AND SUCH - though I haven't the foggiest idea as to why - SO I'LL TELL YOU WHAT I'LL DO. I'LL MIX IT IN WITH SOME OF YOUR MILK, LIKE A STRAWBERRY MILKSHAKE. OR. WELL. CHERRY. A CHERRY BREAKFAST MILKSHAKE. A CHERRY-SHAKE? HOW DOES THAT SOUND?"

Quite honestly, that sounded horrendous, but Sans could see that he had already upset his brother enough. He could see Papyrus was tired, something that most people would consider an impossibility. But the shadows under his sockets were a dead giveaway, as well as the slight hunch to his shoulders, like he didn't quite have the energy to hold them up as rigidly straight as he usually did.

No, Sans had caused enough trouble over the last twenty-four hours without adding this to the list. He hated taking medicine, pills especially; they made him feel oddly panicked and ill. Which was stupid. He agreed with Papyrus, it was strange, but then again a lot of people in the world had a fear of doctors and hospitals and...yeah. But Sans could do it for Papyrus. Besides, if his brother was talking about cherry flavored medicine, it was probably liquid acetaminophen - a low strength pain relief Toriel had bought a few months back when Frisk had come down with a bad cold. If Sans remembered correctly, the kid had found the taste quite unpleasant.

Sans shrugged, already giving up in the face of his brother's caring soul. "sure, bro. whatever you think is best."

Papyrus didn't look too pleased with his apathy in the matter, but wasn't about to have his optimistic mood tarnished. He nodded firmly and with great energy. "GOOD. THEN I THINK WE SHOULD JOIN THE OTHERS AND EAT. IF THEY HAVEN'T ALREADY DEVOURED MISS TORIEL'S CHARITABLY PANCAKED MASTERPIECES!"

Without further ceremony, Papyrus leaned down and shoved his hands down under Sans's arms, lifting him effortlessly into the air. Sans let him, staying as limp as a wet noodle, legs swinging slightly as he was manhandled. Papyrus eyed him for a moment longer with a disapproving frown, before the tall skeleton settled the smaller against his hip. Despite his apparent hurry, his hold was gentle, lifting the Sans up into his arms like he weighed nothing. Which, actually, was nearly the case. Without organs and skin, skeletons had very little weight at all. Sans himself only weighed a debatable eight or so pounds, though he could make himself weigh more or less with the aid of gravity magic. Wouldn't do for him to get blown away in a strong wind.

Sans gave a soft huff, settling into place against his brother's side with fond familiarity. He draped one arm over Papyrus's shoulder to steady himself, his other curled around so his fingers could latch onto the front of Papyrus's shirt. He could feel the gentle, soothing pulse of his brother's soul beneath his grip, and it helped drag him a little closer to feeling at ease.

"heh. batter hurry, pap. don't wanna flip out just 'cause we missed our chance for a crêpe meal."

He was very lucky Papyrus didn't drop him right there and then.

"UGH! SANS! HOW YOU CAN POSSIBLY DREDGE UP SO MANY BAD PUNS ON AN EMPTY SOUL, I'LL NEVER KNOW! AND ALL IN ONE SENTENCE!"

"technically it was two."

"STILL!"

"eh, it's a gift."

Papyrus rolled his eyes, already stomping his way across the living room and toward the hall, falling headlong into familiar banter. "OR A BAD HABIT. DEPENDING ON HOW YOU LOOK AT IT. A LOOMING ADDITION TO THE EVER-GROWING LIST OF ALL YOUR OTHER BAD HABITS."

Sans smirked, leaning his skull to rest against his brother's shoulder. "like what?"

"LIKE THIS ACT YOU HAVE OF PRETENDING TO BE ASLEEP! DISGRACEFUL!"

"aw, come on, bro. s'not like i do it all the time."

"NYEH HEH! THAT'S A LAUGH. YOU MAY NOT REMEMBER, BUT I, FOR ONE, VERY VIVIDLY RECALL A CERTAIN SOMEONE PRETENDING TO DRIFT OFF JUST SO HE WOULD GET CARRIED TO BED INSTEAD OF HAVING TO WALK THERE HIMSELF! I ALSO REMEMBER, BROTHER, THAT THIS WENT ON FOR A SOLID WEEK!"

Sans grinned, dredging up that particular event in is mind. It had been one of his better pranks. Even then though, he couldn't help the smallest spark of self-depreciation from blooming in his chest, making his already sore throat tighten uncomfortable. "yeesh," he managed to choke out with false amusement. "i'd ditch that dude if i were you. guy like that sounds like a real loser." And in some far-seated reality, he meant it.

Only problem was, Papyrus seemed to know he meant it too.

It was meant as a joke, just like every other ill-thought-out sentence that typically came out of Sans's mouth, but Papyrus had never cared much for depreciating humor, especially when it was Sans getting down on himself. Papyrus paused in his steps, his expression melting from annoyance to concern, before it became soft and sadly fond. The smile that spread across his skull was tired, and rivaled Sans's own, even as it was bathed in unconditional love.

"...No," Papyrus said slowly. Softly. His eyes met Sans's and held them, sincere and insistent. "No, I think I'll keep him around. He may get on my nerves from time to time, and be lazy, and messy, and smell like sweat, but I'm...really rather fond of him. AND, BESIDES!....I think he needs me."

God. Sometimes Sans could have sworn Papyrus was the older brother, always looking out for him, telling Sans just what he needed to hear when no one else knew how. He was certainly better at the whole bigger sibling role than Sans himself was most of the time. His soul did that weird seizing thing it used to do whenever Papyrus promised to always be there for him. On those really bad mornings back during the resets, when Sans would beg him not to go out to meet the human on the fringes of Snowdin. Yes, Sans needed Papyrus; more than anything. More than Papyrus would ever know. And for a long, long time, that hadn't been enough. It hadn't been as calming a truth as it was now, and even then a few slivers of doubt were still trying to edge their way in between the cracks in Sans's soul.

Needling him.

Haunting him.

The small skeleton swallowed thickly, gaze still caught. "i, uh...heh...i think you're right there, bro. jus' like you always are."

"Well, of course I am," Papyrus mumbled, before regaining volume. He put his free hand on his hip and straightened into a heroic pose. Or, at least, as heroic as one can while gently holding up their dear, lazy brother. "I AM, AFTER ALL, VERY GREAT!"

"the very greatest."

"Oh, please. If this goes on much longer I'm gonna puke."

Both skeletons startled harshly, Sans's instinct to protect and deflect and dodge shooting up into the red at the high-pitched, familiar voice. He'd forgotten. He'd forgotten Flowey was there with them, in the same room.

The sound of the flower's impatient voice brought back all kinds of horrid memories; images of vines, and phantoms of pain; a deep-rooted fear. Of being caught off guard, glitching out of the way and watching in horror as someone else paid the price. As Papyrus paid the price. The intrusive thoughts made Sans lock up rigid, his hold on his brother's shoulder and front tightening hard enough that his phalanges creaked under the sudden pressure. For a minute eternity there was only all-consuming terror and hopelessness, just like in the old days. The days even before Frisk, when the resets had been run by another anomaly, one different but just as cruel as Chara would turn out to be, if not more so.

The memories assaulted Sans relentlessly, and all the while Sans could feel the more logical half of his mind berating him for being an idiot, but he couldn't help himself.

He was terrified.

Even if it was only for a moment, he was completely and utterly terrified.

The chaotic static in his head subsided quickly enough, and Sans forced his hold on his brother to loosen back into something normal and lax before anyone might notice. Instincts were a pain in the tailbone, but he could ignore them. He needed to ignore them.

Sans breathed.

Papyrus recovered a lot more quickly from Flowey's intrusion, unaware of Sans's distress, though he did take not of Sans's suddenly very still and stiff posture against his side. He blinked, repeatedly, before his skull lit up in a brilliant smile.

"FLOWEY! I VERY NEARLY FORGOT MISS TORIEL ASKED THAT I FETCH YOU TOO! YOU WERE SO QUIET, AND I WAS SO PREOCCUPIED! I APOLOGIZE FOR ALMOST FORGETTING ABOUT YOU! IT IS GOOD TO SEE YOU THIS VERY FINE MORNING!" Papyrus crouched, managing to somehow do so and keep his balance, all while still supporting Sans at his side. Sans was less thrilled to gain a better view of the weed. "HOW ARE YOU?"

Flowey was hunched up within his self-made shelter, glowering like only he knew how, seething in quiet annoyance. He sent Papyrus a glare, ignoring Sans completely. His answer was contradictory, in that it was both disinterestedly flat and viciously sharp.

"Miserable."

"...Oh." 

Papyrus recoiled a little at the harsh tone, and Sans felt the urge to wring whatever sorry excuse Flowey had for a neck, but then Papyrus perked right back up again, like he always inevitably did.

"WELL, I AM SURE YOUR DAY WILL GET BETTER AS IT GOES ON!" He eyed the perilously teetering twin stacks of DVDs. "I SEE YOU HAVE TAKEN UP A HOBBY. FANTASTIC! I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, HEAVILY ENCOURAGE SUCH NOBEL PURSUITS!"

"Yeah," Flowey grumbled irritably. "You would."

"that's 'cause you're so cool, paps," Sans cut in quickly, before Flowey could come up with something more hurtful to say. He wasn't about to stand by and let the weed treat his brother like garbage. Not Papyrus. Sans's retribution would be swift and ruthless, and Flowey knew that. However limited such retribution might be under Toriel's roof. Sans had ways of getting his points across without dusting someone his own brother counted as family. 

As much as it pained Sans to admit that little technicality.

Papyrus ducked his head a little further down, trying to better see his 'friend'. "THOUGH, I MUST POINT OUT THAT EXERCISING THAT NOBEL PURSUIT WITH OUR DEAR FRIEND ALPHYS' PRIZED MOVIE COLLECTION MAY HAVE BEEN AN OVERSIGHT."

Flowey smirked. "Oh really?" he cooed with false sincerity. "I had no idea."

Sans frowned.

"OH, WELL, THAT IS OKAY, FRIEND FLOWEY! I HAVE NO DOUBT ALPHYS WILL FORGIVE YOU."

A nasty twist entered Flowey's expression, and Sans found himself feeling severely uncomfortable, prompting him to cut in again before anything could escalate. "and heeeeey, we better get in there, don't you think, bro? what was that you said? something about tori's 'cakes being devoured?"

Papyrus gave a dramatic gasp, lurching forward to level the two of them almost flat against the floor in a pseudo-push up position. Sans yelped, the hand he'd had clutching Papyrus's shirt jolting out to support himself against the rug. Papyrus hardly seemed to notice, his own hand wiggling in to carefully grab a hold of the rim of Flowey's flowerpot. He was honestly lucky the weed didn't try to bite him; Flowey wasn't fond of quick, unexpected movements, anymore than Sans was. Though, even if Flowey had bitten Papyrus, it wouldn't have done much damage. Flowey's teeth were soft and fibrous, much less dense than the bones of a skeleton monster. Papyrus probably wouldn't have even felt it.

"GOOD IDEA, BROTHER! COME, FLOWEY! OUR DELICIOUS TORIEL-MADE MEAL AWAITS US! NYEH-HEH-HEH!"

Flowey was scooped up as Papyrus rose to his feet once more, situated in Papyrus's left arm while Sans still perched in his right. The sudden rise in altitude was a little disorienting, like gravity floated until his equilibrium returned, but Sans kept himself focused on the weed, re-latching his hand on Papyrus's shirt, right over his brother's soul, gentle but firm; protective. Flowey sent him a glare, too pissed off to glean any enjoyment from Sans's ill-hidden unease, but instead remained quiet and sulking as Papyrus marched them out of the living room and toward the dining room. As they neared, the sounds and smells of life filled Sans to the brim, instantly restoring him to a better mood. 

Sans couldn't attest for the rest of the house, but the entire downstairs smelled thickly of warm batter and a sticky sweet haze, and Sans appreciated the homey wholeness of it immediately. Pancakes were somewhat of a rarity in the Redemption household, for no other reason really other than that Toriel preferred that they all eat a more healthy diet. But, on occasion, they would all be graced with the treat, and Toriel always kept a bottle of syrup and mix ingredients handy, just in case. It was, quite honestly, one of Sans's favorite meals; one he never even felt the need to drown in ketchup. 

Not that Toriel or Papyrus would ever let him.

The two skeletons and their flowery charge entered a half-second later to the loud, if not cheerful din of their home's dining room. Voices overlapped, each one of a varying pitch. Alphys's was high and nasally, cutting through clearly as the usually shy scientist engaged in the retelling of some anime or other she had watched on her phone the night before. Undyne was guffawing uproariously about something, and Asgore's low chuckles accompanied her as he shook his large, bearded head with a gentle and patient smile. Frisk was chattering too, trying to bounce her attention from one conversation to the next, all while Toriel tried to take and then pass back all their plates, stacking them tall with pancakes. It was utter chaos, but it was a warm, friendly kind of chaos. A kind Sans deeply preferred to the the swirling coldness of his own thoughts.

Frisk looked up from the table when they entered, and her kind brown eyes sought out and met Sans's own, and just like that Sans felt even more like himself. She looked tired, a little worn from their late night, eys even a little puffy and red from her sympathetic tears, but she seemed happy. Genuinely happy. And determined. Determined to make Sans happy. There were bags beneath her eyes, soft and gray, nothing like Sans's own, but the grin on her face washed all that away like it didn't even matter.

"Sans!" Frisk beamed, her joyful cry catching the attention of the others. She stood up slightly from her chair, hands leaning heavily on the table itself. It rattled all the dishes, a fork clattered, and the syrup bottle nearly toppled over completely.

"Oh, Frisk!" Toriel gasped out softly. She just managed to correct the syrups balance with her large hand. "Please, my child. Easy, and indoor voices, please."

Frisk blushed, carefully sitting back in her seat, but still sending Sans a smile as bright as daylight itself. "Sorry, Mom."

"Huh. Look who finally woke up," Undyne smirked, even as she eagerly accepted the loaded plate Toriel was handing her. Her voice was teasing, but there was no true malice behind her words. Only friendly camaraderie. "And before noon, no less. Shocker."

"ha ha," Sans returned with some sarcasm, but the smile on his face felt easy and natural.

All that guilt and embarrassment he'd been afraid would crop up vanished like vapor on the wind. For whatever reason, everyone seemed perfectly willing to set the events of last night aside; pretend all was well and good. And while there was the slightest sting - something in Sans whispering it was because they didn't care - Sans could honestly say he was grateful. he didn't understand it, but he was grateful.

"guys couldn't even wait for a lazybones like me to eat, huh?"

Papyrus frowned, giving his arm a bounce, just rough enough to recapture Sans's attention. "BROTHER! DON'T BE RUDE. BESIDES, I SEE NO ONE CHEWING AS OF YET, SO I BELIEVE THEY DID, IN FACT, WAIT FOR US."

The tall skeleton entered the rest of the way into the dining room with quick, long strides. He carefully deposited Flowey down on the table beside the pancakes and then gently eased Sans from his hip and onto Sans's usual chair - the one Asgore had nailed an extra square of wood to the seat in an effort to make it easier for the small skeleton to reach the table unhindered. Humiliating, maybe, but it was a lot less so than peering over the table edge at his food like one of the seven dwarfs.

"THERE," Papyrus grinned proudly, pushing Sans's seat in a little. "THAT'S YOU SETTLED. NOW WAIT HERE." He turned right around and headed back the way they had come, purpose in his expression. "BY THE WAY, TORIEL-"

"Yes?"

"WOULD YOU HAPPEN TO KNOW WHERE IN THE DOWNSTAIRS BATHROOM THE CHERRY FLAVORED MEDICINE IS LOCATED?"

Sans ducked his head slightly as he felt several worried pairs of eyes latch on to him. Should have known it was all too good to be true; should have known his brother wouldn't drop it all that easy. Sans knew they all meant well, but he really didn't want all this to be blown way out of proportion. He'd had a rough night. Fine. He knew it; they all knew it. There was no sense hashing and rehashing something that wasn't that serious and would fade with time. Lots of people got nightmares. It was fairly common, to an almost boring degree. Granted, most peoples' dreams weren't all steeped in actual, excruciating circumstances, but Sans wasn't about to admit that. He'd take it to his grave.

Toriel frowned in concern, pausing her task of filling Asgore's plate. "It should be in the mirror cupboard above the sink. Behind the antacids." Her magenta eyes flitted to Sans, then back to Papyrus, questioning. The tall skeleton gave away nothing as he smiled back in gratitude.

"AH, YES! THAT WAS WHAT I THOUGHT. THANK YOU!"

"Your welcome."

And Papyrus disappeared.

Leaving his brother to the empty, tense quiet that followed his departure.

The silence was heavy, weighted, and suffocating. Toriel slowly, very slowly, went back to her serving, her face grim and her eyes very much focused on what she was doing. It still felt like her gaze was burning into Sans's soul somehow, demanding a voiceless explanation. Everyone else sort of just stared down at the table, perfectly aware of the tension, picking up their forks and poking at their bare pancakes like it were the most fascinating activity on the planet. The birds singing outside became almost overwhelmingly loud, and Sans suddenly felt like a fool for thinking he could just wish the consequences of last night away, and expect everyone else to just go along with it.

Of course they would worry.

He was an idiot for thinking they wouldn't.

"...Sans?"

The skeleton tried not to wince. He pasted on his fakest smile and raised his eye lights toward the matron of the house, only to find that Toriel still wasn't looking at him. She was starting on Frisk's plate now, cutting the pancakes into strips for the kid, even though Frisk was more than old enough to do so herself. The action was jerky, and perhaps a bit more forceful than it needed to be. Agitated.

Sans tried to ignore the way Flowey was smirking at him from the center of the table.

oooh boy.

"um...yeah, t?"

"Are you in pain?"

And wasn't that just a punch to the gut. How was he even supposed to answer a question like that? It almost made Sans burst out laughing, but he refrained. There was a sternness to Toriel's tone, the kind of no-nonsense voice that she sometimes used on Flowey when she suspected the flower was lying to her. A glance around the table only showed Sans more wary faces, Frisk, Asgore, and Alphys looking sad and concerned, and Undyne looking about ready to jump up and perform CPR on him if it were necessary.

Flowey just looked smug.

Sans's smile twitched downward slightly. "uh...no?"

That was apparently the wrong answer, because Toriel's voice became even sterner. "Then why is it that Papyrus is getting pain medication for you?"

"it's...just acetaminophen."

"That is not what I asked, Sans."

"aw, tori-"

"Do not 'aw, tori' me," Toriel snapped, her gaze swinging round to pin Sans with a look so fast it was a wonder it didn't give her whiplash. "You are a member of this household, and I will not have someone I care about suffering needlessly, and keeping it a secret!"

Ouch. Okay. Seemed like there was a little more to this than just what Sans thought there'd be. Toriel looked genuinely upset. Sans knew he wasn't the most responsible monster, but he liked to think that he wasn't quite that transparent. He only had one HP, but he wasn't a pressed flower petal. That one HP was a stubborn little devil, as his life so far attested to. That, and he'd managed to keep aches and pains and mental traumas hidden back underground for what, for some, might be considered a lifetime; maybe multiple lifetimes, and he'd never been called out for it. He'd thought it was because he was so good at acting, but he was starting to wonder if that was because a run never went on long enough for people to start asking questions. He had a lot of unhealthy habits, and Sans could see the results of them in Toriel's eyes as she stared down at him in helpless frustration.

Because for all he was loved, and all he was cared for, Sans was known as a liar.

Especially when it came to himself.

But it wasn't just that; it couldn't be. Sans sometimes wondered if Toriel was like this because of the children she had lost. If she sometimes thought she had to keep those she loved safe, because if she didn't they might all just...slip away. It'd happened before. Numerous times. Sometimes in timelines she would never remember, and yet each time had left a dreadful scar in Toriel's soul, Sans was sure. Not all things got wiped away by a reset. You didn't lose people like that and not feel broken, even if you couldn't remember why or how or when. Her protectiveness, of even someone like him, was proof of how much their lives and welfare meant to her. And Sans would rather dust than cause her more needless pain.

Voice calm, even and soothing, keeping his eye lights locked softly with Toriel's own, Sans murmured out, "tori, really. m'fine. just a bit of a sore throat. i already told pap, and he said he'd get me something to ease it a little."

Toriel blinked, taken aback, but then her expression morphed into slightly embarrassed relief. "A...sore throat?"

Sans nodded slowly.

"And...that is all? Nothing else?"

"that's it," Sans smiled back reassuringly. Then he chuckled. "unless you wanna count the toe i stubbed on my way down the stairs this morning."

Toriel relaxed, returning his smile. Her eyes even looked a little moist in her easing distress. "No. No, I think that is quite sufficient enough."

"ya sure?" Sans pressed jokingly, adding a wink for good measure. "i could tell you the whole story behind it and everything. it's funny, honest. it's toe die for."

Toriel snorted in amusement while Frisk released a giggle. Everyone else at the table reacted in a range stretching from eye rolls to full out groans of annoyance. Asgore just hummed and shook his head again, while Flowey hissed like the pun had physically burned him. Sans could only wish it had.

Undyne threw her head back with a growl, the proper chaotic atmosphere to the room restored. "Seriously?! You haven't even been awake for, like, ten minutes, and already you're starting this?!"

"hey hey, give me a break," Sans retorted, grinning from metaphorical ear to ear. "most people would be cracking up with material like this."

"Ugh!"

"what's the matter, fishsticks? can't handle how humerus i am?"

"UGH!"

"SANS?! DO I HEAR PUNNERY????!!!"

Sans's eye lights gleamed as he leaned a little toward the hall entrance, from which his brother's voice projected from what sounded like the downstairs bathroom still. He raised his voice a tad bit higher, nearly a shout by his standards. "i don't know, bro! you patella me!"

"SAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANS!"

Papyrus's far off shriek tipped them all into merry laughter. Even Asgore, who was usually so refined and bystandering from their usual banter, rumbled out a distinctly un-kingly chortle. The only monster who didn't seem to be enjoying themselves was Flowey, but Sans could honestly have cared less. By the end of it, they were all breathless, sweaty, and wonderfully disheveled. The final dredge of unease was erased from Sans's soul and his chest felt incredibly lighter than it had been. It was daytime, not night. There would be no pseudo-Chara torturing him here; no slippery blood beneath his feet or searing pain in his ribs. He loved the Surface, and the people that were with him.

His stupid bad dreams could all go take a serious hike.

After that, the morning went on pretty much as it always did, with idle chatter and the soft scraping of silver utensils on ceramic plates. It being Saturday, no one was in a hurry to leave the house, so the meal was considerably laid back and pleasant.

Papyrus returned shortly with a measured dosage of cherry medicine as promised- the same amount Frisk would take, seeing as Sans and Frisk were very nearly the same size. The tall skeleton frowned slightly, looking from one breathlessly amused face to the next in confusion, but accepting it with a shrug in the end. Papyrus promptly mixed in the cherry medicine with a glass of warm milk, setting it down in front of Sans and watching like a hawk until every last drop had been absorbed by his brother. Sans had tried to pretend to enjoy it, and somehow managed to keep it down, even though it tasted like someone had dropped a month old red Jolly Rancher into a beaker of stale cow juice. Sans would be lying though if he didn't admit the medicine worked, easing the sting in his throat almost instantly. Because skeleton monsters absorbed things directly into their souls when they consumed them, the effect was nearly immediate.

Sans released a sigh of relief, wiping his teeth on his sleeve, much to his brother's loud disapproval.

Breakfast was just as good as it had smelled and looked, and the moment Toriel set a steaming plate of pancakes in front of him, Sans felt his magic ripple with hunger, reminding him that he was magically half starved thanks to the night before, and in great need of something to replenish his energy.

This would certainly do it.

Toriel had given Sans a grand total of three pancakes, more than enough for a monster his size, with each pastry almost the size of Asgore's fist - which was considerable. They were steeped in a generous helping of amber colored syrup, a gift from their kind elderly neighbors the Murphys, and sprinkled with a small dusting of cinnamon and sugar. The meal glistened wetly, like a puffy mountain inlaid with liquid jewels in the morning light. A bright yellow tile of butter sat atop the stack, slowly sliding to the side as it began to melt, clouding the syrup to a creamy, swirling galaxy.

It was almost too beautiful to eat.

Almost.

Sans's magic gave another pang of hunger and the skeleton winced and picked up his fork, ready to dig in. He sent Toriel a grateful smile. "thanks, t."

She smiled back gently as she slipped into her seat next to Frisk's, preparing to begin herself. "You are more than welcome, my friend. You need the energy. Now, eat up, everyone."

And boy, did they ever. Toriel claimed there was more batter if they needed another batch, but Sans couldn't see that happening. The pancakes were thick and incredibly rich, even without taking into account the pure amount of intent and magic Toriel had apparently pumped into the things. Each bite was heavy with it, filling each monster and their human charge until there was no room left for even a single bite more. Naturally though, it took some of them longer to reach that point than others.

Sans and Alphys finished fairly quickly, managing a total of two and a half pancakes between them. Sans watched as the yellow-scaled scientist shyly sipped at her glass of ice tea, realizing she'd hardly said a word all through the meal. She'd been chattering about that anime a little while back, but since then she had fallen typically quiet. Deciding to step outside of his comfort zone a bit, Sans cleared his throat and leaned forward to softly tap a hard phalange-tip against the tabletop to catch Alphys' attention.

"n'how are you this mornin', al? seem kinda quiet."

All other conversation at the table came to a halt, eyes moving to watch the two of them. This, naturally, only made Alphys stutter and trip over herself a bit, before she remembered she was among friends and family, and had no need to be nervous.

"O-Oh, um, I-I'm fine. Sorry, I guess I'm j-just a little p-preoccupied." She gave him a shaky smile, looking him right in the eyes. There was a thank you in that look, as well as a silent question.

Sans returned it with a smile drenched in reassuring sincerity. "oh? whatchya thinkin' about?"

"The N-Negotiations."

Ah. Yeah, that explained a lot. They were coming up on one of the bigger meetings weren't they? Sans vaguely remembered the others talking about it over the past month, but since he wasn't really involved he hadn't paid all that much attention. All he needed to know was that progress with human society was progressing. Rights for monsters were slowly, slowly being achieved, and though monster hate groups were still a thing, attacks were rare and few apart. With most of monsterkind still living out at the base of the mountain, there wasn't much opportunity for any psychos to get a shot at them. For that Sans was extremely grateful. He had a lot of friends back there, and he wasn't looking forward to another timeline bloodbath, at the hand of any human. So far, only one monster had been killed, a Froggit that had wandered off and fallen pray to a few jerks in serious need of a lesson in being, you know, not evil.

But other than that, they had all been extremely lucky.

Most of the Ebottian government was on their side, with only a few politicians dragging their feet. Dryson Hills was their strongest advocate, a man that Sans highly respected and admired for his bravery.

Sans shifted his gaze to take in Asgore as well. "i see. and how are the negotiations going?"

"Very well," Asgore rumbled deeply in approval. "We have obtained some understanding on a few...mishaps. Some cultural and historical misunderstandings. But we are making very good progress, and we are very much looking forward to the coming Ebottian Summit Conference."

"Yeah," Undyne chimed in. "That's when we're gonna get to talk to all the big head-honchos from all the other world governments, right, Babe?"

Alphys nodded. "M-More or less."

"I too am looking forward to the prospect of even greater progress," Toriel hummed quietly. "Mr. Hills assures us that a lot of other governments are on our side as well. we should have no trouble getting all their signatures for Monster Rights." Her gaze hardened a bit. "However, we must not forget the other branch of discussion that will surely arise. Revolving around Mrs. Furinashi's accusations."

Papyrus frowned, looking concerned. "WHAT ACCUSATIONS?"

Asgore signed. "There are two main issues that some of our less...supportive acquaintances are sure to bring up. The first is in regard to some of my...past actions." Shame and incredible sadness spread across the king's face, a crippling sorrow that completely changed his jolly features. The souls of every monster present sank, and Frisk visibly slumped in her chair. Flowey looked disinterested, but didn't dare make a flippant comment. While Toriel did not offer Asgore any comfort, her face didn't hold the contempt and hatred it once had for the same subject. There was a cold understanding, but no more. She merely waited him out, allowing him to continue when he felt ready. "The second issue will surely be brought forward by Mrs. Melissa Furinashi, a historian from Asia who claims to have proof that monsters were, in fact, the cause of the War of Humans and Monsters."

Undyne growled. "She belongs in a loony-bin," she huffed. "I don't even get why she thinks she can say that kind of crap and get away with it! There's accounts, there's proof, that the humans started it all. Monsters didn't even stand a chance! During the War the humans didn't lose a single person! We're the ones that suffered! Slaughtered like beasts! Ripped to shreds by their magic and LV and strewn around the battlefield in piles of-"

"Ahem! All the same," Toriel interceded with a meaningful look at the warrior, "she will be given time to have her say, as is fair. Even if the war crimes she brings before the board have no standing in our eyes, we must all be ready in case some of her lies take root. We cannot look as if we have something to hide."

All the adults nodded in solemn agreement.

Frisk fidgeted with what remained of her pancakes, her fork scraping the plate gratingly. "Um...what's a war crime?"

Sans sighed, though certainly not with impatience. "a war crime is basically when two or more parties in a war set up certain rules in place to prevent unnecessary cruelty, and then someone goes and breaks them. usually to a...pretty nasty extent. i've been doing a bit of reading, and the best example i can give you that you might be familiar with is world war two. a lot of rules were set in place then, to prevent prisoners from being mistreated harshly or killed, but, ah...not everyone played by the rules."

Frisk nodded, understanding. She turned back to Asgore, her eyes filled with a determination to hear more. "So what is this lady accusing monsters of breaking? If it's a war crime she's accusing us of, then there must have been a rule that she thinks we broke."

All the monsters, other than Flowey, tried not to let the pride and warmth from Frisk's expressions of 'us' and 'we' to show. Frisk was no monster, but she counted herself among them, and it was a mercy and compassion that rivals all their greatest hopes.

Asgore hummed lowly. "Long ago, at the very earliest part of the War, it was agreed by both sides that magic would not be used, by either side. Mrs. Furinashi claims that a monster broke that rule, and set in motion the events that eventually led to our banishment. She also claims that many humans died by our hands." the king shook his bearded head in bewilderment, meeting Toriel's gaze. "We were there, as was Gerson, and a number of the other elder monsters, and we remember no such breaking of the agreement. Nor do any of us remember killing a single human."

Frisk frowned, troubled. "Do you think anything she says will stick?"

Sans gave a soft snort of forced amusement. The discussion had taken a fair darker turn than he had intended, and it was time to lighten the mood. the skeleton reached over, giving the child's auburn hair a ruffle. "not if we have anything to say about it, right, kiddo? i mean, how can we go wrong with the most determined human on our side, huh?"

Frisk gave a small squeak and leaned out of his range. "Pfft! I'm just a kid! It'd take a miracle for me to convince a bunch of grumpy adults of anything."

"yeah, a kid that whooped all our butts in the underground without batting an eye, befriended us, and then saved us all by breaking the barrier. man, if that isn't a miracle, i don't know what is."

Frisk smiled warmly at him, and for a moment Sans forgot they weren't the only ones there. he was falling into that habit more and more often now; of being sincere in front of everyone. When he looked up, they were all smiling at him with mixes of agreement, fondness, and pride, and her seriously wasn't prepared for it.

"...uh-"

"That was beautiful," Papyrus murmured, wiping away a tear, before he leaped to his feet, nearly upending the table in the process. "I, FOR ONE, AGREE WITH MY BROTHER! IF ANYONE CAN DISLODGE THESE SILLY ACCUSATIONS, IT IS OUR OWN, DEAR FRISK!"

"Here here!" Undyne cheered, also leaping to her feet. She slammed her fist down on the tabletop, causing everyone to startle and all of the plates to fly off the surface by an inch. Flowey looked about ready to scream, both in terror and rage, but someone beat him to it.

"Undyne! Papyrus! Please, sit down!"

Toriel's scolding had both boisterous monsters seated and silent in an instant, both sending her apologetic looks. Toriel raised her eyes skyward, as though seeking patience, before she breathed out slowly and gave her own piece.

"I too believe all of these accusations will fall away in due time. We must not fear them, or our accusers, but must simply continue on as we have been. Only then will our actions seem pure in the eyes of the whole world as they watch us."

"B-because they are w-watching," Alphys agreed in reminder. "Even after almost f-four years - or f-four years by next J-July - the world is st-still very invested in what's going t-to happen in regards to our race and th-theirs. We're l-literally the center of all m-media attention."

"yeah, and we all know how great the media is," Sans couldn't help digging. They'd all had their good and bad experiences with the camera and recorder-wielding press. It nearly elicited shivers.

Alphys sent him a look before continuing. "A-All I'm saying is we need to m-make sure our actions s-speak louder than w-words. We're harmless. We g-gotta act like it. One act of v-violence, even in r-retaliation could blow all we've d-done for the Negotiations t-to bits. War crimes or n-no war crimes."

Again they all nodded.

"AGREED," Papyrus intoned, standing from the table once more, but this time with a lot more care. "AND I FOR ONE BELIEVE LOOKING OUR BEST, OR IN SOME PEOPLES' CASE, SMELLING OUR BEST, WILL BE A HUGE HELPFUL ADDITION. COME, SANS! YOU NEED A BATH! YOU SMELL LIKE A HEAP OF DIRTY LAUNDRY!"

Sans prepared to retort with some pun or other, but Papyrus quickly plucked him from his seat before he could manage it - probably intentionally - and set him on his still-wobbly feet, urging him toward the kitchen and staircase with a few prodding nudges to his back.

"GO ON, I'VE CHANGED MY MIND; YOU MAY HAVE THE FIRST BATH."

"aw, but pap-"

"Dude, seriously, go," Undyne shot over at him as she grabbed another pancake and slammed it roughly down on her syrup smeared plate. "I can smell you from here, and it's worse than me. And I was exercising!" She sent him a smirk over her shoulder, her voice gently only a little. "Besides, it'll make you feel loads better."

Sans blinked, offset by the combo hit of insult and reassurance. He stumbled slightly as Papyrus gave him a final, gentle shove, staggering out into the kitchen. Left relatively alone, the diminutive skeleton stood there a moment, gathering himself after such a sudden change of position and scenery, before he released a chuckle. He tucked one hand into the stretched out pocket of his maroon shorts and click-clacked his bare feet in the direction of the stairs.

Maybe a shower would feel pretty nice...

Chapter Text

Frisk delightedly munched on the last bite of her pancake breakfast, watching with an amused smile as Papyrus ushered his teetering brother through the dining room and out into the kitchen. She enjoyed the banter and gentle teasing between them, their contrasting voices lending an air of familiarity to the morning routine. Despite a difficult night, the brothers were still their usual selves, as much of a caricature of themselves as they always were. Yes, Sans looked a little worse for wear; ragged, his shoulders a little too slouched and sockets a little too shadowed, but his smile was genuine. Tired, but genuine. He looked a good deal steadier than he had the night before, though that might just have been Sans putting on a front for the others. He had the uncanny ability to shore up all his defenses when he wanted to, a mask without crack or dent. But still, Frisk was more perceptive than some, and she'd seen Sans at his best, and his worst. For now, he was neutral. Caught between exhausted acceptance and silent endurance, jacketed in a calm voice and a lazy grin. Frisk could only hope that the next few nights would be kinder to him; give him a chance to regain the sleep he had lost. Let him build his mental and emotional walls back up before they crumbled away completely. He certainly looked like he needed it.

Papyrus, on the other hand, was somehow managing to keep up with his usual energetic pace of life, even though he had doubtless been awake a good portion of the night taking care of Sans. Frisk had heard them; seen Papyrus walk by her room with Sans clinging weakly in his arms. Most would have been down for the count after a night like that, and yet Papyrus's cheerful, beaming smile and optimistic outlook was at its usual radiating standard, and Frisk was glad. He was honestly one of the most reliable things in Frisk's life that kept her smiling and laughing, and she knew without a doubt that he kept Sans going too, in even more crucial ways. He was the life raft they all clung to sometimes, and Frisk wouldn't have changed his loud, friendly, boisterous nature for all the gold in the world.

Frisk giggled as Sans was shoved out of sight, shaking her head with bemused fondness as he shot off a final pun. Her heart felt light and content, her belly was full, and she was surrounded by those she loved and knew loved her in return. It was a feeling she had never gotten anywhere else or with anyone else. She was so happy.

Her eyes shifted to the others at the table, half expecting to see the same mirth and fondness reflected back at her in their own expressions, that warm fuzzy feeling deep down. What she wasn't expecting was the palpable change of mood in the atmosphere that befell the dining room the moment Sans had left it. She flinched when she felt the slight hum of agitated magic building around them, the cold not-feeling that seemed to thrum through every molecule in the air, and the worried frowns on her family's faces made all the contentment drain from her like air from a balloon. They were all perfectly still, like someone had pushed pause on life. Even Papyrus seemed rigid as he stood just inside the dining room threshold to the kitchen, watching as Sans gave in and ambled his way toward the stairs.

Alphys' hands were shoved down into her lap, her shoulders hunched; the scientist dead set on not meeting anyone else's gaze as she listened to Sans's footsteps recede.

Toriel looked sad and pensive; Asgore even more so. The two Boss Monsters exchanged a worried glance.

And Undyne...

Undyne's expression was nearly impossible to read.

Frisk found her own smile dropping away, her brows furrowing in growing concern. The little hairs on her arms and on the back of her neck tickled and stood on end, her body reacting to the near electrical charge emanating from her loved ones. It was faint, but palpable. It made Frisk wary and alert, though not because she was afraid that they would hurt her in their unease. Monsters were nothing if not controlled. And never, ever, would Frisk even consider the possibility that they would harm her, no matter how much their magic crackled and flicked about when emotion got a slight upper hand. That was simply how monsters worked. They knew how to handle their magic, having dealt with it all their lives; being made of magic. And while humans were far less aware of magic in general, of its feel and presence, Frisk had found the more time she spent among monsters, the more she came to sense their subtle changes in frequency, the hum of their souls switching pitch ever so slightly depending on their moods. When they were happy, it was a sensation much like the purr of a cat; when it was some negative emotion it growled deep and low, there and yet not. Frisk still hadn't quite figured it out, how something could be heard and yet not be an audible sound. But she had come to accept much harder concepts, explainable or no. They soothed Frisk, made her love them all the more.

No, she wasn't afraid of them. But she could certainly be afraid for them.

"Is...Is something wrong?" Frisk ventured in a whisper.

Her question was ignored, but the moment Sans was out of earshot, his lazy footsteps shuffling along the upstairs hall, Undyne slowly raised her single eye from her plate to Toriel with purpose. Her expression was grim and stern, and there was frustration there too, though she didn't seem to be quite sure at who that frustration should be directed. There was a weariness as well, the kind born of arguments that have come and gone far too often, only to be dragged back out into the light to be rehashed once again. The table had remained silent, even Flowey had paused in the munching of the dry extra pancake Frisk had given him. It was like they could all sense the new turn of conversation, and Undyne wasn't afraid to take the lead.

"We all just gonna sit here like pansies and pretend that this is all okay? Or are we actually going to talk about this like adults? Because from what I'm seeing, something has got to be done."

"...Undyne," Toriel murmured warningly, her gaze flitting to the younger members of their family, like she didn't want them to hear what was coming. Undyne wasn't deterred in the least, blatantly ignoring the matron as her tone only gained a harder edge.

"Don't pretend you don't see it, Toriel. You can't," she gritted. "He. Looks. Terrible."

Toriel visibly winced, before trying again. "Undyne, I do not think that now is a-"

"Now is the perfect time." The captain cast a look over her shoulder in the direction Sans had gone even though he was no longer visible, double checking that he wouldn't overhear their conversation even though it was obvious that he couldn't. Undyne turned back to those at the table, using her still pancake-loaded fork to gesture upward with a stiff jab. "I want to say my piece before he comes back. I'm not kidding here, Toriel. I'm serious. He looks like something dug up from the grave. And I don't say that just 'cause he's a skeleton!" she added in a growl, just in case someone decided to turn her words into a joke.

No one did.

No one dared.

Sans would have if he had been present.

There was a long beat of silence, thick and tight. Frisk hated it. It was suffocating and uncomfortable, especially with the way Toriel and Undyne were staring each other down from across the table. Most days they got along pretty well, with the ex-queen taking on the role of family leader, next to Asgore. But sometimes Undyne would get a little too spirited, or a little too passionate. And that kind of personality didn't mix well with Toriel's. They were both exceedingly stubborn, and worriers in their own ways. Toriel protected those she loved with gentle reflection and, sometimes perhaps, slight avoidance of the true issue. She was too patient, slow to act in that she hoped problems would solve themselves, only stepping in when she felt things couldn't be allowed to go any further. Undyne, however, was far more direct and fierce, attacking threats to their happiness with blunt words and roiling frustration. If there were flaws, she narrowed in on them with an intent to destroy and restore balance.

Apparently, that was her goal here.

Toriel released a deep, long-suffering sigh. She had long since learned that Undyne was not one to be ignored. She met the captain's irritated gaze unwaveringly, fixing the more aggressive member of their household with all the pose of a diplomat and all the patience of a mother.

"There is no reason for you to raise your voice to us. You are not the only one who is concerned about Sans's welfare, I assure you, but that is certainly no grounds to yell."

"Wasn't yelling," Undyne muttered irritably, giving in a little.

Toriel went on regardless. "Asgore, Alphys, and I have already discussed this very subject earlier this morning, and we all came to a united conclusion." Toriel's tone was gentle, but also stern. "Sans shows no symptoms of serious illness, nor pain or magical abnormalities of any dangerous level. He is just...a little tired. There is no need for being so dramati-"

"The hell there isn't!"

Aaaaand Undyne's passion was back full force.

"Undyne, that is quite enough!"

Frisk grimaced as Toriel sat up straighter, her large, furry fists thumping down on the table like twin gavels, her magenta eyes narrowing with a disapproving glare. That tension in the air grew tenfold, almost crackling as Toriel's Boss Monster magic, a far stronger and deeper magic, intermingled with what was already looming around them, invisible but felt. It hung there, like static, for several long, bristling moments, and Frisk suddenly wished very fervently that she had just gone and followed Sans upstairs the moment things had taken a turn for the worst. Her bed needed making after all, and maybe she should have used that as an excuse. She loved her family, dearly, unconditionally, but like any family it had its shaky points, and Frisk had never been one to enjoy conflict.

Finally Toriel took a breath, managing to speak with a little more calm. "What have I told you about using such language in front of Frisk?" she scolded.

The fish-monster waved a hand dismissively, her fist coming down in a slow arch to rest on the table beside her plate with a light bang, nothing nearly as violent as she would have normally. She leaned forward, back rigid even as she angled herself closer as she spoke. She started out not sounding angry, just confused and agitated, but her voice grew in volume as she began to rant.

"Okay, fine. I get it. I really do. About nightmares being nothing out of the ordinary for most people. Good for them. Whatever. I mean, we've all had to handle our fair share of those things after learning about the resets - " Frisk flinched, but Undyne continued onward doggedly, probably not even aware of her reaction. "-but this is getting ridiculous! Did you not hear him last night?! He sounded like he was getting frickin' murdered!"

Frisk felt ill, the memory of that horrible cry shattering the quiet night like glass, a testimony to her best friend's ongoing suffering on account of her sins. In a way, Undyne wasn't wrong; Sans was being murdered, over and over and over again, even if it was all just in his mind. During the day, logic and distraction were his shields, but while he slept he was defenseless against the course of his own imagination. And it was all Frisk's fault. Her fault for not putting an end to Chara's games soon enough to save him the memories of his own repetitive death.

It brought tears to the corners of Frisk's eyes, and she ducked her face closer to her plate to hide them. Only Flowey seemed to notice, his petaled head tilting ever so slightly. But he didn't say anything. Flowey knew she wouldn't want him to, and out of whatever strange respect he had for her, he remained silent. Frisk was grateful, even as her vision blurred and a warm tear trickled down to tickle the crease of her mouth.

"Undyne, please," Asgore pleaded, calm and soft, voice low so as not to carry; the voice of reason. At his intervention Undyne relaxed a little, slumping back in her chair and looking like a scolded teen. Asgore took her momentary silence as an opportunity to say his own piece, short as it was. "Do not assume we are unworried for Sans. That is the furthest thing from the truth. His nightmares are very concerning, to quite a great extent, and that does indeed need attention. All we are saying is that, other than disturbed rest and a tired soul, Sans is not in any immediate danger."

The blue-skinned monster opened her mouth to retort, but was cut off by a high and inappropriately upbeat voice.

"They've got you there, fish-face," Flowey smirked from the center of the table. He somehow managed to pull off a manner caught somewhere between amused and incredibly bored.

From her bowed position Frisk hissed a quiet and warning, "Flowey."

Toriel cleared her throat in disapproval, but the flower ignored her, instead sneering at Undyne with sick glee, taunting her.

"You act all like 'oh no, this is such a big deal!', but it's really not. Can't die from a few bad nights of sleep. Idiot."

The ex-captain of the Royal Guard's fingers curled against the side of the table, nails digging slightly into the wood as she grit her teeth and glared at the flower with barely contained rage. "No," she forced out with false patience, "but a weak monster can get very sick if a drain becomes too severe and they get magical exhaustion." Undyne seemed to notice the way Papyrus flinched at that, even from his stance over by the door, and her expression softened, if only a little. "Listen, I know Sans can take care of himself most of the time. He's an adult monster and yadda-yadda-yadda. But when it comes to his health, he doesn't do squat. I mean, I know he can't do much with one HP, but that's no excuse for self-neglect! The punk won't even take a bath unless we corner him and make him! And this whole leaking magic all over the place while he's sleeping crap just sits wrong with me, and I don't trust Sans to admit when he's not okay. And I don't understand why you're all so calm about this!"

"What's it to you?" Flowey snarled sharply, annoyed with the length the conversation was reaching. "It's not like you actually care about that bony trashbag anyway."

Alphys and Papyrus visibly winced, Toriel and Asgore frowned, and Undyne's single eye constricted in further growing anger. Flowey was really pushing her limits today, purposefully trying to make her lose her temper, something no one in their right mind should want. He must have been bored, or cranky from not getting enough sleep; but either way it was too late to smooth things over. The damage had been done. Frisk had the almost absurd urge to laugh, even though the situation was far from funny. Flowey's boldness in the face of Undyne's hostility was foolish on a good day, and near ludicrous in its extremes. It was like he wanted Undyne to lash out at him. Like he wanted her anger burning into his soul-less form.

That worried Frisk.

It was a little too close to self-destructive behavior for her taste.

What happened next was really quite a show of how far Undyne had come as an individual. Back underground she had been rash, forceful, and in an almost constant state of irritation and stress. Hatred for humanity had tainted her monster soul, and what little natural determination flared through her body had always made her a frightening enemy to cross. Frisk could remember her speech, the one just before they had engaged in battle. How hurt and desperation had lingered, like embers, just below that fierce loyalty and anger. Since their freedom, that hatred had dwindled away, taking a lot of the less likable qualities of Undyne's personality with it. All that was left was a passionate, if not sometimes a little too passionate, nature and an intense need to protect. She was loud, but thoughtful. She was brash, but she was reasonable. She was harsh and blunt, but she was loving.

It was only these newfound qualities that kept her from lurching forward and wringing the life from Flowey's stem. Instead, she breathed through her anger, with obvious effort, glaring back even as Flowey smirked at her from the center of the table. She forced the tension slowly out of her shoulders, even though her muscles quivered a little in the process. It was a fantastic show of control and restraint.

"Flowey," Toriel broke in firmly after a moment, when she was certain the captain wasn't going to explode. "What did I say about name calling? Sans deserves more respect than that. As does Undyne. We all do. If you are having a bad day, say so, and we will give you space."

The flower rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. Sure. Whatever. All I'm saying is, for someone who's always sounding so annoyed with him," he fixed his beady eyes on Undyne, "you seem awful fixed on helping him. What is up with that?"

Undyne took a tight breath, and even though her words dripped with rage she somehow kept her voice steady. "Because he's a part of this rag-tag little family," she gritted out. "And I've been told helping each other is what families do. If you understood that, maybe you wouldn't have to ask."

Flowey stuck out his tongue.

He tended to do that a lot.

Undyne bristled further.

Hesitantly, Alphys reached out to lay a soothing but trembling hand on Undyne's muscle-bulging arm. When that yellow eye snapped to face her, questioning and wild, Alphys tried her best to look reassuring. "I-I think we all n-need to step back and th-think about this a little more c-carefully. W-We really aren't okay with this, U-Undyne. Um, I-I mean, we're n-not really calm. I even g-got a little freaked out over S-Sans earlier. It's been a long time, and S-Sans's nightmares only seem to be g-getting worse the more t-time passes. We're all j-just as worried about him as y-you are, but..."

"But Sans will not let us do anything to help him," Papyrus sighed in a soft, hurt, almost monotone voice. It was so totally un-Papyrus-like that Frisk didn't even know it was him at first, until he continued, making his way back to his seat and sitting down into it with an unusually ungraceful flop. He hugged himself, something he was prone to do when he was feeling upset or uncertain, fingers twisting tight around the thinner bones of his humeri. "My brother has always been very stubborn, and nightmares are nothing new for him. Even Underground he suffered from them. In fact, I...I think he's suffered them for most of his life. That I can remember..."

He looked confused, like he sometimes did when he was trying to remember something important, but couldn't. Frisk could see it distressed him, that expression wrong on his usually cheerful face.

Undyne paused, her frustration abandoned in exchange for being surprised. "...Really?"

Papyrus nodded sadly.

Toriel also seemed a bit taken aback. "I was...unaware of this, Papyrus. Why did you not tell us?"

The lanky skeleton looked uncomfortable, giving a shrug. "It wasn't really my business to tell. Sans used to get so embarrassed about it when we were younger. He'd change the subject, or ask me to stop bringing it up and...it just sort of became part of the way things were." Papyrus shook his head. "But they were never as bad as this."

"Do you have any idea what these dreams were are about? The ones he had when he was younger?" Toriel pressed gently.

"No. Like I said, my brother has always been very stubborn. And secretive."

Frisk discretely wiped away the tears that had been drying on her cheeks, preparing herself to step in and talk when the need arose. She didn't want to, but she was willing.

Undyne's annoyance returned. She gestured to Papyrus in a 'see-what-I-mean' way, looking back to Toriel. "Sans doesn't give two farts about whether or not he's having trouble, because he's so dead set on being mysterious and crap. It's so infuriating!" Her shoulders tensed for several seconds before she slumped again, defeated. "Ugh. And I'm guessing he's still a no for seeing Frisk's therapist, huh?"

And there it was; an in on the conversation. This time Frisk shook her head. It was about time she contributed to the discussion. Sans was her best friend after all, and she had to ensure his side was being represented. She owed Sans a lot, everything really, and all he had ever wanted in return was for Frisk to keep that one promise: to never tell anyone that he remembered the resets just like she did. It was the least Frisk could do, in lieu of all he had been through. What she had allowed to happen to him. That promise, as far as Frisk was concerned, covered not letting the others find out about his secret, even if by other means. Even if it meant him not getting the help he so desperately needed.

"I asked him last night," Frisk interjected quickly. "About if he might reconsider going. And...the best I could get out of him was a maybe. Which...basically means 'no, never'. He doesn't want to see Doctor Becker. He doesn't want to see a doctor anyone."

"H-He won't even l-let me take a l-look at him," Alphys interjected mournfully. "And I've know h-him for years..."

"Which is stupid," Undyne spat. "Sans should know that's stupid. He's got one HP for crying out loud; one. And yet none of us have ever been able to get more than a subtle CHECK on him, and even that's vague. Ugh! It's enough to drive a monster up a wall!"

No one responded, because no one had anything to say in contrast to that statement. In a way, Undyne was right, it was stupid. Alphys would never, ever hurt Sans. She was literally the least likely of anyone to ever cause him any harm, but...Frisk knew that fears weren't always rational things. They could be like thorns, sharp and hidden deep in the skin, wiggling deeper with time and hard to ignore no matter how hard one tried. And, for whatever reason, Sans seemed to have a fear of anyone within the medical profession. Anyone with so much as a 'Dr' in front of their name. Alphys was an exception, but only to a point.

"So what are we going do?" Undyne broke into the silence, having calmed. "We going to try an intervention or something? Make him go see someone?"

Frisk blanched. "No," she said solidly. "No, we're not doing that. We can't. It would hurt him too much. It'd break his...his trust of us." Frisk sighed weakly, eyes averted. "I know we all want Sans to be okay, but...we also really shouldn't....force him? You know? That wouldn't be right. And it could do more damage than good." She wasn't going to betray Sans like that. Not unless things got so bad it was the only way to save him. Sans wasn't that far gone. He was a little lost, but not unreachable.

The others all nodded reluctantly, some more readily than others. 

"Whatever is going on," Toriel murmured, "Sans has the right to choose whether he wants to get professional help or not. I agree with Frisk." Her tone was edged. "I, for one, will not force him. He will either come around and ask for assistance on his own terms, or he will not. Then again, this might all clear up on its own. He may simply be dealing with what we all had to, just in his own way. No one copes the same as another. We simply cannot know."

Undyne sighed in frustration, throwing her arms out helplessly and allowing her hands to land with twin slaps on her thighs. "So that's it then. Sans is just gonna keep on dreaming and screaming and keeping all the rest of us awake and sick with worry, and we're not going to do a thing about it?!"

Papyrus swallowed, what he had for a throat clicking dryly with the action. "There's nothing else we can do," he choked. "Not unless he decides to let us in."

"And just how big a chance do we have of that happening?"

"...Not very."

Undyne sighed again. "Yeah...That's what I figured..."

The dining room fell headlong into uncomfortable silence, each member looking anywhere but at each other. Outside the birds sang noisily, sunlight pouring in through the large dining room windows, one peeking out onto the porch and the other facing the dirt and gravel driveway outdoors. Faintly, upstairs over the adjoining kitchen, the shower had been running, the soft click-click of bone feet stepping around the ceramic tub just barely audible over the rush of water gurgling down the pipes to the basement. Everything still smelled heavily of batter and syrup, and the warm sunlight cast onto Frisk's back, almost getting a little too hot.

In other words, a perfectly normal Saturday morning at Redemption, other than the heavy worry permeating the air.

Frisk sighed and stared down at her plate. She had eaten all of her food, but a large puddle of syrup was still there, a sign she had used too much. On a better day, she might have waited for Toriel to leave the room and then lapped it up with her tongue, but...she didn't feel much in the mood at the moment.

She had always been a problem solver, the kind that came up with solutions and then put them into action. Her determination had only grown since Chara's casting out, returning and maybe even surpassing the strength it had been at before, when Frisk had first fallen into the Underground. It was the same strength she had used each and every true pacifist run, fueled by the love for those she held closest to her heart. She had used it to save them, each and every one of them.

But often Frisk regretted that she hadn't quite been in time to save Sans.

At least not completely.

She hadn't been able to spare him.

Not before damage had already been done.

But...that didn't mean she couldn't keep trying.

It wasn't too late.

Right?

Right.

Frisk straightened her posture and curled her hands in her lap into soft fists. She took a breath and went with the simplest solution she could come up with at such short notice. It might not have been perfect, but it was certainly better than doing nothing and letting Sans suffer alone. She recalled the image of all those times, back in the monster encampment, when the others and her would all climb into Mary Nerton's truck and head out for a meeting in the city; Sans's small frame waving goodbye in the semi-dark as they left him behind. Looking back, perhaps it was a little too symbolic.

"I think," Frisk spoke up carefully, "that maybe Sans just needs to be...distracted? I mean, he's always here, at home." She gestured to the small, country house around them. "Alone. Sometimes for long periods of time when we're not around. Maybe we should start...bringing him with us? Let him be more a part of what we're doing. Let him participate, or at least experience it with us."

"But he's so lazy," Undyne complained. "You really think he'd go for getting dragged around all the time?"

Toriel hummed, once again taking Frisk's side. "Perhaps not all the time. He does tire so easily. Just...every so many days, perhaps? Get him out of the house. It will exhaust him, surely, but perhaps he will sleep better if he has done something to wear himself out. Deeper sleep may result in less nightmares."

"And I really think Sans would rather spend a little energy than just...sit here." Frisk's shoulders slumped. "All by himself."

Asgore nodded. "I agree."

Undyne shrugged, though she looked more convinced than the action suggested. "Alright. At least we got a plan. It's better than pretending everything's all fine and dandy and leaving it at that." She settled her arms on the table, leaning forward with calmer interest. "So. For today. Who's going to take him?"

Almost immediately everyone at the table ducked their heads in shame, all at once finding their empty plates very interesting once more. Undyne blinked, surprised, before annoyance slipped back into her expression.

"Oh, you've got to be joking."

Everyone had the decency to look even more ashamed.

Almost everyone.

"Why don't you babysit him, hypocrite," Flowey glowered dispassionately, looking completely done with the conversation. He'd finished his pancake and was eyeing the last morsel on the main platter, a small pancake with a tear down the middle. If he thought he was going to get it now, after how he'd been behaving, he was sadly mistaken. "You were the one so adamant about him dealing with his poor health. What's the matter, captain? Can't put your money where your mouth is?"

Undyne's head snapped up, rage renewed.

"Flowey, for the last time, that is enough," Toriel scolded sharply once more, but it wasn't any use. Frisk knew she meant well, but her words carried no threat or punishment. Flowey only fed off of her attention.

"Oh, come on. You can't possibly think this will work. Not when none of you are even a little bit committed to-"

 Frisk decided things had spiraled sufficiently for her to step in. "Flowey."

Her tone caught the flower off guard, and he flinched. Frisk sometimes wondered if it was because her sterner tones reminded him of Chara. The thought made her shudder.

"...Yeah?"

"Be quiet."

Toriel opened her mouth, probably to scold Frisk herself, but Flowey sank down into his pot, thoroughly cowed. His instant obedience surprised them all, and no wonder. Frisk rarely spoke harshly to anyone, let alone those she considered her family. Toriel closed her mouth with a soft click of dull, rounded molars, granting allowance this one time.

Flowey instantly changed tactics, going from aggressively offensive to whining. "But Frisk, it's the truth! They all want him better, but when it comes down to it, they all just think he'll be in the way and isn't worth the effort! It's hilarious!"

Frisk wasn't even sure why that mattered. Flowey hated Sans; it wasn't like he was at all invested in the skeleton's welfare. Thankfully, the seeming loop of backbiting was broken by the only person in the room who hadn't conformed to some variant emotion of anger.

"THAT IS NOT TRUE," Papyrus spoke up firmly. There was hurt and guilt in his tone, but also something very certain. His voice was back up to its usual volume, something Frisk was immensely grateful for. "WE'RE ALL JUST A LITTLE...RUSTY, WHEN IT COMES TO LETTING MY BROTHER TAKE PART IN OUR DAILY ROUTINES. WE WANT HIM ALONG, WE JUST HAVE TO FIGURE OUT HOW."

Flowey rolled his eyes, unimpressed.

"Papyrus and I have training today," Undyne growled, tapping a sharp fingernail against the table for emphasis. "For Pap's officer entree exam and interview. Sans isn't going to want to hang around while we exercise! He's, like, allergic to working out. Besides, he'd just end up sitting around under a tree and sleeping or something anyway. Alone. That wouldn't be much better than leaving him home to sleep, or laze, or whatever the heck he does."

The fact that none of them knew for sure just what Sans did in his spare time proved that including him in on their daily lives was long overdue.

"H-He could come with Asgore and I t-to the Institute," Alphys spoke up shyly. She sent the king a nervous smile. "S-Sans used to really like science. And even though I-I'm not really doing many experiments or m-much of anything science-y these days, he c-could keep me company while I d-do paperwork?"

"Tch," Flowey chuckled nastily. He was still eyeing that pancake. "Bet he'll love that."

"Hey!" Undyne sent the flower a warning look as Alphys' shoulders slumped. "Knock it off!"

"N-No, no he's...h-he's right, it was a s-stupid idea," Alphys admitted. "S-Sans would probably just f-fall asleep...I-It's not like my j-job is very exciting at the m-moment. It's j-just research and culture e-exchange..."

"Still..." Undyne kept her vengeful eye on Flowey, before sliding it back to the matron of the house. "So Sans can't come with me and Papyrus, and Asgore and Alphys are a no-go. At least not today, without a little more preparation beforehand. So that only leaves you and Frisk. What does your schedule look like for today?"

Toriel hummed in thought, glancing up at the nearest clock. "Well, I was planning on going into town today with Frisk. I have a meeting scheduled with the school board at eleven-thirty."

"On a Saturday?"

Toriel nodded. "It was the only time the principle was available. And I knew that Asgore and Alphys would be at the Institute for most of the day, so I believed it would not hurt to do something productive myself. Frisk was going to wait outside in the hall, and then we were considering stopping someplace for a late lunch."

Undyne's eye lit up. "That's perfect!" she declared, suddenly all teeth as she smiled. "Sans could totally hang out with Frisk until you were done, and then we could all meet up somewhere to eat!"

"Mm." Asgore dipped his head in acknowledgement. "It is true that Sans is not the kind of monster who would do things for himself, but he will do things for others, especially the people he cares about." Asgore smiled at Toriel. "If you ask him to join you, under the pretense of watching Frisk, he may very well agree."

"I...suppose," Toriel conceded slowly, a smile of her own slowly forming on her muzzle. "It would not be the most exciting thing in the world for him to do, but...at least he would feel included. At least he would get out of the house." Toriel turned to Frisk, apology in her eyes. "I know you are more than old enough to take care of yourself, my child, but perhaps...?"

Frisk grinned warmly. "No, no, I think it's a great idea! I'll bring a board game and some cards or something. Sans and I haven't played Old Maid since I was ten. Or maybe Candyland? I don't think he's ever played that. It'll also help me pass the time. It'd be just like the old days." She smiled fondly. "I really think Sans will like that." 

Undyne was all for it. "Great! And then we'll all meet up aaaaaaat...." Her eye rolled back as she searched her memory for a possible rendezvous point. "How about that fast food place just down the street from the school? Should be within walking distance, and the rest of us can either catch a bus or a taxi. What's it called? McDercy's?"

"McDonald's?" Frisk supplied.

"Yeah! That's the one!"

Toriel didn't look too certain. "I do not know. That food is not exactly what I would call...healthy..."

Undyne settled that easily. "Yeah, but it's a lot like Grillby's place used to be, and that was Sans's favorite. I mean, yeah it's greasy and probably gonna give us all ulcers, but I really think it'd cheer the bonehead up a little."

"I..." Toriel paused, looking slightly distressed before she sighed, giving in. She really did care a lot about Sans. If making him happy meant a breech in diet, well, he was more than worth it. "I suppose that just this one time could not hurt."

Frisk and Undyne cheered.

Toriel frowned, or tried to at least. She wagged a bluntly clawed finger at them. "But do not expect this to become a regular habit. I am doing this for Sans."

"Sure thing!" Undyne grinned. "Then it's settled. When that puny punk gets his bony butt back down here, we're taking him out for a day on the town!"

Frisk laughed, feeling the energy and cheerfulness to the morning restored. Gone was the worry and agitation that had existed in the room beforehand; it was now light and airy. They had a plan, and it lifted all their spirits with hope and purpose. Sans deserved to be more included in their lives, whether he believed it or not, and Frisk was determined to help him get better, even if, for now, it was merely a distraction.

She just really hoped this would work.


. . . . .

Sans had shut the door to the upstairs bathroom with a low sigh, wilting slightly against the door's slightly chilled plane of wood. He rested his forehead against it, breathing in the smell of old pine and heavy must. It was an odd, not overall pleasant smell, but it was one he had come to associate with home. With his Surface home.

It was strange to think of how fond he had become of it, how much it had come to mean to him. Sure, he had seen the Surface before in past timelines, dozens of times, but he had never really had time to adjust and take it in before a reset would wipe everything away. After that first devastating time, he had made sure never to let himself get too attached, with mild success. But now, after a solid three years without time skipping backward, the world above the mountain had weaseled its way into his soul.

He hated to think what another sudden reset would do to him now.

Now that he had let himself care.

Sans reached up tiredly and flipped the tricky latch lock, the one that would always pop open if it wasn't manually nudged in place the right way. Not because he thought anyone was going to come barging in unexpectedly - though he wouldn't put it past Papyrus or Undyne - but just because it made him feel a little safer. Like how some people preferred to sleep with their back to a solid wall and their eyes facing the door. Like it would save them from some invisible horror that might decide to enter when they weren't looking. Sans wasn't one to cling to silly thoughts or abstract fears, or at least he tried not to, but he had always had the notion lingering in the back of his mind that he was being watched. It was freaky, and weird, and he'd had it for as far back as he could remember, and try as he might he had never been quite able to shake it. With the door closed and latched, alone, he felt safe, if perhaps just a little claustrophobic. But he would take that to feeling haunted any day of the week.

He stayed like that for a moment or so, bone textured forehead gritting slightly against the wood and hand still raised to the lock, just taking in the sudden quiet with shaky appreciation.

He'd enjoyed being with everyone for breakfast. He really, honestly had. The meal had more than restored the magic he had lost the night before, and what little sleep he had gotten had trickled his HP up a little above it's usual one. Having a buffer was always good, seeing as it could literally save his life in a pinch. The food and comforting presence of those he loved had been great, but Sans still valued the precious gem in his life that was silence. Contemplative thought. He wouldn't want to stay there too long, for fear that his darker thoughts might get the best of him, but for the moment it was welcoming. Soothing. And surprisingly grounding.

Papyrus wasn't wrong; Sans could certainly use a warm cleansing, even if it was something he tended to avoid like the plague. It wasn't like he typically got all that dirty anyway, other than whatever food he dropped on his shirt or when he sweated his way out of a nightmare. Being clean just meant getting dirty again, and it took away from the time he could probably spend napping. Though, since coming to the Surface, and having actual warm running water, he was far less opposed to the idea than he used to be. Still, it usually took the combined forces of Papyrus, Toriel, and a challenge-thirsty Undyne to get him to bathe. His willingness this morning was just a testament to how tired he truly was. That, and he could feel the dried version of his body's perspiration crusted on his bones, which was a thoroughly unpleasant sensation. There was a difference between being dirty, and feeling dirty. It just wasn't worth his usual mischief. He'd do as he was told and get it over with as quickly as possible. Everyone would be happy, and he might even feel a little bit better for it.

Sans gave another sigh, pushed himself away from the door and started slowly shedding his clothes. He let the t-shirt and shorts lay where they fell, planning to put them back on when he was done. Papyrus probably wouldn't appreciate it, but it wasn't like Sans was going anywhere, or being seen by anyone. The clothes were technically clean anyway, right? Except for a little sweat and a few drips of magic from his eye - which the inside rim of his socket was still stinging from. The acetaminophen Pap had given him had done wonders for his sore throat, Sans could barely feel the discomfort there anymore, but it had done very little for the pain in his eye. Sans glanced at the cabinet, where Alphys' cream sat hidden and ready for use. He considered actually taking initiative for once, but then realized it would be pointless to put the ointment on before showering. It would just wash off and be a waste. So, he'd make do. Stingy socket, semi-clean clothes; he could deal with that. He'd put the cream on after the shower, if he remembered, and the idea of going out to get a new outfit from his room seemed like far too much work. Besides, he was already undressed. The dirty clothes would be fine.

The skeleton reached forward and turned on the faucet before anyone downstairs could get suspicious of why he was taking so long, and he made sure to make it far warmer than cooler, despite it being summer and already getting humid for so early in the morning. The sound of running water was loud in the small space, the water's warmth drifting up to him nicely as he worked to move the curtain into place, climbing in as he did so with a soft click-click of bare bone feet on porcelain. The water warmed his toes instantly, him not even realizing how chilled they had been without his socks and slippers until that very moment. Satisfied by both the temperature and the curtain's position, he flipped the little tab that shifted the water from the faucet to the shower-head. He gasped as it beat against him, the warmth and pressure a shock before it became comfortable and soothing. He let it run all over him, warming his oddly cold and achy bones. All his magical energy had probably gone to work absorbing the food he had eaten, leaving his body temperature lower than normal. The achiness, well...that was nothing new. His body and core always ached at least a little these days, ever since that night so far back when Chara had latched onto his soul with Frisk's hands, digging in viciously with their nails. Reaching into his mind and soul...

Sans shuddered, despite the shower's warmth.

At the thought of the core of his being, the inverted heart in his rib cage gave a faint achy pulse, quivering in his chest. Sans winced, quickly sidestepping so that the water wouldn't hit his soul in its agitated state. Souls were very sensitive, his even more so, but there were nstances when that sensitivity became more acute. Whereas most monsters wouldn't have been bothered by it, Sans found the idea of something even as light as a barrage of water droplets beating against his soul painful, especially when it was acting up.  Then again, most monsters' souls weren't as exposed to their surroundings as a skeleton's. And most souls didn't sport a big, ugly crack down its center either. On a good day Sans could tolerate the discomfort, but when his soul became unstable it was best to back down and give the small organ its space.

Sans gazed down at the faded glow between his ribs, a faint scowl on his features. "whatchya think you're doing, pal? i didn't call you out, so chill."

It quite stubbornly refused to do so.

Sans sighed, raising a hand to tiredly rub the space between his sockets. "please, not now. come on, i need to shower and get this over with. and i can't when you're all freaked out. look, there's nothing here gonna hurt ya. it's just us. or, well...me. and i'm not much for staying in here too long."

Though, the longer he stayed in the shower's warmth the less he wanted to leave it. Despite having more or less just woken up, he was tempted to lay down in the bottom of the wet tub, curl up, and fall asleep to the pleasant heat.

But not with his soul acting up the way it was.

His soul could be...weird sometimes. A monster's core was kept anchored in their chest with magic. If that magic became too weak, or too damaged, it wasn't unheard of for it to pop out and hover; it was one of those drastic, last-resort survival instinct things. If all went well, some kind soul would come along and offer healing and get the monster back up to full strength. The soul would serve as a beacon, ensure its body's safety, and then back it would go, safe and sound into its owner's chest. But naturally that wasn't such a good thing for it to do if an enemy happened to be the one nearby to receive the weakened soul instead.

And people wondered why monsters lost so terribly to the humans back during the War.

Sans, however, had a full HP strength of one. Monster souls usually started appearing, begging for assistance, when a monster reached an HP as low as ten, unless they were a child, who had naturally low HPs until they grew older. It was only because Sans had grown up with such a pathetic condition that he was able to keep his core in place, without it constantly being on display. He had adapted to the weak tether, he supposed. He couldn't remember much of his childhood; in fact he couldn't remember much of it at all, but something told him to appreciate this one, small miracle. Because - maybe? - he hadn't always been able to keep it safe.

The diminutive skeleton shivered again and gave a derisive huff. "okay, you want out so badly? fine. whatever. come out."

Sitting down cross-legged on the furthest side of the tub, where the now very warm water was only just beating down on the back of his lower spine, Sans called his soul out all the way, balancing it carefully over his palms with his magic. It spun there, in slow lazy circles, casting the faintest glow around the interior of the bath. Sans frowned at the sight of it.

His soul was the furthest thing from pretty. It was pale compared to most souls, almost gray rather than white, and distressingly small. It pulsed weakly, but rhythmically, reminding Sans why he had never, and would never, let any of his friends or family see it. He had managed to get by so far without doing so in this timeline, but he could faintly recall timelines where he hadn't been so lucky. Traces of horror, shame, sadness, and embarrassment laced those memories; and Sans had sworn he would keep such negativity free from the world he lived in now. If Papyrus, or Toriel, or Frisk, or any of them saw the condition of his soul, Sans was certain he would never be allowed to leave the house again. Toriel would probably coil him up in a fifty foot roll of bubble wrap. They would all treat him like glass, something they technically already did to some degree, knowing he only had one HP. It was silly though. He was weak, sure, but not frail. He was unhealthy, but stable. Seeing his soul would only worry them all, and he had gotten by so far without needing to share his pathetic little secret. One secret among a slew of so many much more important or relative secrets.

His soul was his, and it was his right to keep its condition hidden.

The soul gave another weak pulse, lighting up the various cracks and unhealthy vein-like cords that marred the surface like a disease. It was a hideous sight, and Sans hated it. That crack had looked better, and that was a little worrisome. Soul cracks were considered a very serious injury in monster culture, a wound that could be healed if treated by a strong enough healer, or the love and care of one's closest friends and family. It would take time, perhaps years, but it was possible. Having a cracked soul could increase a monster's chances of Falling Down, a coma-like state wherein the soul wasted itself away, eventually leading to death.

Sans had worried over his soul's condition for months after it had been violated. At first, he imagined that any day he would simply not wake up, his soul unable to handle the damage. But again his weird, stubby body proved itself to be a freak of nature. He didn't Fall, his soul didn't waste away, and he remained alive. Tired, sore, and apparently traumatized, but alive.

"ugh, stars...look'n a little worse for wear there, buddy," Sans whispered quietly to himself. He jolted a little, giving a soothing hum as the hot steam from the shower brushed up against his core. "need a little attention, i guess. heh. suppose that sleep buffer wasn't quite enough."

That explained why his soul was so insistent on becoming visible, too fragile to stay hidden and instead calling out for healing. Thankfully, it was too weak a cry for the monsters downstairs to sense it.

That would be a mess and a half.

"okay. let's get this done then."

Concentrating, eye sockets closed and body as relaxed as he could manage, Sans called upon his slight ability to heal. Healing magic was one of the tougher abilities, usually obtained or inborn by those with large stores of magic and a high control. Sans had both, but his weak HP messed with the transfer of it from his soul to his hands, it always coming out like a weak trickle rather than the steady flow it should have been. He was a paradox; both incredibly strong and incredibly weak. It took either a lot of effort or a lot of motivation on his part to reach down and bring out his impressive magic reserves, and motivation wasn't really something he typically found himself having in abundance. It was why his main defense had always been to dodge whenever he needed to avoid a foe.

Unless he summoned a blaster, and that only in desperation.

Sans refocused on his soul, bringing both his hands up to cup it in his palms, curling his fingers just slightly. "okay, so...we're gonna do this slow. s'gonna stay slow. no sense hurryin' things that don't gotta be."

He began to call upon the magic, the gentle silver light cast by his soul on the shower walls changing to a sick and flickering green. The magic whisked up around the inverted heart, some soaking in and some trailing up toward the ceiling, unused. Sans tensed instinctively as his soul gave a little shudder, but quickly forced himself to relax again, knowing that the more at ease he was the easier it would be to get his soul to accept the healing. If it felt threatened, if he felt threatened, it wouldn't do either of them any good.

"there...see? nothing to worry about. just didn't rest up enough last night. tonight'll be better. maybe we can even get a nap in later. sound good?" Naturally, the soul being him in actuality, it didn't respond, but Sans felt better talking to it. Like someone might find confidence talking to themselves in a mirror. "just a little more...easy does it..."

His powers of healing were measly, but adequate. Within a few moments his soul's pulse was more regular, healthier even. The cracks weren't quite so visible, and it was shining perhaps just a little bit brighter. With a sigh of relief, Sans let the green magic dissipate, checking over his soul one final time before letting it go. It sunk back down beneath his rib cage without a problem, safe and sound once more, and Sans leaned forward with a sigh, resting his forehead against the steamy ceramic ledge of the tub's rim.

"nh...that's a little better, at least," he murmured. "not great, but...better."

He let his shoulders slump a bit, zoning out while he caught his breath. He was just beginning to feel relaxed when a sudden knock against the bathroom door almost sent Sans toppling over on his side. His already frayed nerves prompted him to pull his knees up in front of his chest as a meager protection, his soul going from calm and steady to pounding in an instant. It jostled his still tender soul in his rib cage, a whine almost left him, but he caught himself just before it could escape. He stayed like that, curled up and breathing tightly, for a few tremulous moments, until he heard a young, upbeat voice holler from the hallway that had him instantly un-tensing.

"Hey! Sans, you okay in there?!"

It was Frisk. Of course it was Frisk. The kid either had really good, or really bad timing. Sans was just glad she hadn't startled him while he had been handling his soul. His first instinct might have been to squeeze, and he didn't have to use his imagination to picture how that scenario would end. He blanched at the thought.

Sans gave a light cough, uncurling slightly and hoping that the noise of the shower would mask any shakiness in his voice. It took a lot of stamina to use healing magic, something he didn't have much of, and giving it a try for any length of time usually left him feeling a little jittery and lightheaded. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the kid had almost scared him out of his metaphorical skin.

Nope.

Of course not.

"h-heh...s'up, kiddo?" Sans answered, hopefully just loud enough to be heard.

Through the door and just above the sound of running water, Frisk's voice came again. "Can I come in?!"

Sans huffed, amused. He shifted into a proper sit, forcing himself to relax. "i don't know, can you?"

"...Sans, that line is really getting old."

"well, then stop setting it up."

There was a playful sound of annoyance, a clear sign that Frisk was probably smiling on the other side of the door, before there was a rattle of metal and the soft thump of shoulder on wood. Sans blinked, slowly dragging himself to his feet with a grunt as he raised his brows in confusion.

"uh, it's locked."

"Well, unlock it!"

"wow. bossy. ever heard of privacy?"

Frisk laughed, and the sound was fond. "I'm not going to look, silly! Papyrus sent me to bring you a clean set of clothes!"

Ah. So that was it. Sans didn't know what else he had expected. He should have known his brother would predict his laziness and either gotten him a fresh set of laundry himself or sent someone in his stead. Either way, it was less work for Sans, so he was all for it. With a chuckle and a flick of his wrist, Sans flipped the lock with his magic.

"enter at your own risk, kiddo. fair warning; it's a sauna in here."

"What's a sauna?"

Sans didn't bother answering. The kid would figure it out soon enough. There was a squeak of rusty hinges and a sudden, cold draft as Frisk opened the door and stepped inside. Sans could just imagine all the steam escaping out into the hall, instantly frizzing Frisk's often unruly hair. He shifted away from the edges of the curtain as it fluttered a bit, to make sure he remained well hidden. No sense giving the kid a peep show neither of them wanted. He could see Frisk's shadow through the opaque white plastic as she made her way over to the toilet. Her voice, now that she was inside the small bathroom, gained a faint echo.

"Wow...Sans, it's hot in here."

"aw, thanks. you're just saying that."

Frisk's eye roll was almost audible. "Ha ha, very funny. Good thing you don't have skin, hot water like that would probably burn it right off."

He smiled. "water you want me to say? it's no skin off my nose."

"Uh huh. Okay, so, Mom and I grabbed you some clean clothes from the wash room. It's supposed to be hot today, so we stuck with one of your black shorts and that star chart t-shirt."

"heh. thanks, kiddo. i was star-ting to wonder where that'd gone."

There was a sharp click of porcelain as Frisk lowered the toilet lid and presumably set his clean cloths on the seat. She also grabbed what looked like a towel and spread it on the floor for when he'd get out, a precaution Sans himself hadn't even considered. He'd completely forgotten, figuring the small round bathroom rug would have been sufficient enough. Apparently not. Frisk seemed pleased with her work, but then, instead of leaving, Frisk's shadow returned to the middle of the room, right between the tub and the sink. Sans stared at her through the curtain, his discomfort growing the longer she stood there, motionless. He knew the curtain wasn't transparent, but...

"...uh...kid?"

"Where's Alphys' eye cream?"

Oh. Oh, okay. Sans supposed that was also bound to happen.

",,,pap send ya to do that too, huh?"

Frisk's shadow shrugged. "He asked me to at least get it out for you."

"and i suppose he's gonna ask if i used it once i get out."

"Yup."

Sans shook his head with a chuckle, giving in. "it's in the sink cabinet."

"Above or below?"

"above. next to undyne's weird scale lotion stuff."

"...Right."

Sans watched as Frisk's hazed outline opened the cabinet, dug for a moment, and then set something small on the edge of the sink.

"Make sure you use it."

"what are you, my mom?"

"Sans."

The skeleton sighed. "alright. i'll use it. stars help me if i don't and pap finds out."

Frisk seemed satisfied and moved closer to the door; which, going by the still chilly draft, had been left open. She paused there for a final moment, and Sans had a feeling she was considering something. While he enjoyed the kid's company in any normal circumstance, he was getting a little uncomfortable the longer she stayed. Of course, that might have had something to do with the fact that the water was starting to get colder against his shoulder.

"...Sans?"

"still here."

"Can you do me a favor?"

Sans chuckled, leaning back against the wall of the shower. "well, now, that depends on what that favor is. m'not doing your math homework again, that's for sure. your mom laid into me for a week after that little stunt."

He could almost picture her wincing as Frisk cleared her throat. "It's nothing like that." She hesitated, though only for a moment, and then tentatively she spoke. "When you come downstairs...Mom and the others are going to ask you something."

Dread bloomed in Sans's soul. He stood up straight again, one hand moving subconsciously to rub at the elbow of his opposite arm. "...that's, uh...reassuring. what about?"

Frisk didn't answer his question. Instead, she gave an apologetic murmur. "It was my idea. I came up with it. It's not bad or anything, it's just...I'm worried you'll just say no. And it's really important that you don't just brush it off. Not this time, okay? So...please, Sans, say yes when they bring it up. It was the only thing I could do to keep them from digging too deep."

Too deep.

Sans winced. He knew what that implicated. The rag-tag family they had all become was more of a family than he'd ever had, and Sans could honestly say he hadn't anticipated their...attentiveness. It had always just been him and Papyrus. Two brothers, one more or less the breadwinner, the other the follower of dreams. Both watched each others' backs and comforted the other when things got a little too emotional; like getting picked on at school, or having a bad day at work. And Papyrus always came first, Sans had made sure of it. Every single chance he got. That had been his definition of a family. For years and years. For resets upon resets, and timelines upon timelines. It had always been protect Papyrus and keep up the smiling act, and that had been fine.

Come to find out that wasn't what a real family was like at all. Families were tight-knit and caringly nosy. They loved to the point of near hounding. They checked and rechecked on you, even when you did your very best to convince them you were fine, and still they would always ask. There were more groans when he punned, and more worried stares to match his brother's whenever Sans felt his mask slip just a little, and yet still Sans could easily say that actually having a family...was the best thing in the world. If he could have had that in the Underground, never seeing the Surface might not have been such a frightening possibility.

If Frisk had felt the need to deflect their family from prying into things Sans didn't want them to...he probably owned the kid. Big time.

"okay. s'all still pretty mysterious if ya ask me, but...i think i get your drift. i'll follow your lead. sure you're not gonna spill the beans?"

Frisk laughed, and it was a relieved sound. "No, not this time. Just come down when you're done, alright?"

"darn, and here i was planning to go up."

"Oooh, youuuu!" And Frisk departed, her burst of laughter muffled through the door once again as she shut it in her wake.

Sans shared her amusement, smirking to himself before he winced. The water in the shower was officially cold now, the chilly droplets licking at his bare bones like icicles. The skeleton gave a soft groan when he realized, in all the distraction, he still had yet to properly soap up. He considered just rolling with it, settling for the quick rinse and getting out, but he could still feel the grit between his joints and it was enough to prompt him to slow and deliberate action. Gritting his teeth against the now icy water, he reached for the worn bar of lavender-scented soap, lathering up his hands the best he could and stepping to the side of the shower stream. It was hard, being made of bone, to keep a firm grip on the darned thing, but Sans had gotten quite skilled at performing the task without repeatedly dropping the soap bar onto the tub bottom. It helped that Toriel had begun buying bars that were textured, little rolled pieces of lavender and herbs distributed throughout to give a less slippery surface to handle. It felt a little rough on the skin, or so Frisk complained, but it certainly made it easier for Sans and Papyrus, and for that Frisk was willing to suffer.

Satisfied with the lather, Sans quickly washed up, rinsed himself semi-thoroughly, and then turned off the cold water. Careful not to slip on the tub end and fall, he stepped out onto the towel Frisk had laid down and reached for the largest clean cotton towel they had still on the rack. He wasn't that big, of course, that he required a towel of such magnitude -- those were usually there for Toriel or Asgore to use -- but Sans liked the feeling of being surrounded by soft, encompassing fuzziness, and so didn't care one way or another if Papyrus would scold him for it later. There were plenty of big towels; Tori and Ol' Fluffybuns had enough to spare.

After a few moments of scrubbing down, Sans was sufficiently dried off. He dropped the two towels in the hamper, or did so at least partially, and slipped into the clothes Frisk had brought him at his brother's request. As reluctant as he had been to change, Sans couldn't deny how comfortable the new set was. Toriel always put a little less starch in his clothes when she washed them, knowing how he preferred freer movement and a less stiff feel. The steam from the shower had made his clothes a little damp, but it was summer. They'd dry.

"okay. now..."

Sliding the plastic step from the corner of the bathroom to the sink with his foot, Sans stepped up and tried to eye himself through the condensation in the mirror. Unable to do so, he shrugged and picked up the lib gloss container Frisk had set out for him. He opened it up, dipped a few fingers in with way less grace than his brother had the night before, and applied the cream to the rim of his stinging socket by feel alone. It wasn't too difficult, and besides a few soft hisses of pain and a drip of goop that slid a little too far in, Sans managed without any problems. When he finished applying he ran a finger one final time around the edge to make sure he hadn't missed any, and then the skeleton quickly recapped the gloss container and tossed it back into the cabinet.

"there. that should hold me for now."

His socket still stung, but not nearly as bad. Sans suspected that Alphys had mixed in some sort of pain medication to the mixture, though he didn't like to dwell on that. If he did, he might get too paranoid to actually use the stuff, successfully working or no.

Stopping only long enough to draw a goofy smiley face on the bathroom's steam-fogged mirror and nudge the step back in its rightful spot, Sans stepped down and opened the door, heading out into the hall in his bare bone feet. The air felt clean and cool against his bones in contrast to the muggy heat in the bathroom, and it actually managed to wake him up a little bit more permanently for the first time that morning. The rug was thick and pleasant between his toes, making his steps almost completely soundless, other than the occasional creaky board. Sans took a deep breath, bracing himself for whatever question the others had that Frisk had warned him about. He was anxious, but he trusted the kid. Whatever Frisk had arranged, he knew it would be better to go along with it than fight it. Frisk was a determined child after all. Kicking up a fuss would only make things more difficult.

Pasting on his cheeriest grin, Sans tucked his hands into the deep pockets of his clean black track short and moseyed forward to the stairs, taking the steps one lazy stride at a time.


...................

Alphys could barely believe it, her soul pulsing so hard in her chest she was beginning to feel a bit lightheaded and dizzy. She squirmed in the worn, leather computer chair, the cheap thing rattling and clattering as she struggled to keep herself from squealing out loud in joy. Hands over her mouth, eyes glistening as they and her glasses reflected the screen in front of her, she could hardly contain herself as a warm feeling, something like real pride and accomplishment, swelled in her soul. It was a sensation she was slowly growing more accustomed to, but it still felt foreign and strange; overwhelming, but in a good way. She had felt accomplishment before, of course, in the Underground with such projects as Mettaton and her other advancements in monster technology, but that had been...different. The bad experiments and bad choices had always haunted her there, kept her from rejoicing in her victories by burying her in her defeats. Even after three years of freedom, she hadn't quite gotten used to the feeling of positive emotions toward herself yet, and sometimes she wondered if it would last. But this...She could take pride in this.

55,000,000+ subscribers.

She had over 55 million subscribers to her Hominum-Prodigium Cultural Exchange Blog; the blog she had started several months ago as a means of comparing and contrasting the cultures of both humans and monsters, and it was still growing. At first it had started just as a hobby of sorts, a means for the doctor to take notes on their respective races and document the similarities and differences between them. That had quickly evolved into a small fanclub consisting of her, Frisk, Mary Nerton, and, of course, Catty and Bratty, who both owned laptops of their own back at the monster encampment that were in full working order since Alphys had hooked up an electric generator and some WiFi. That had soon gained a larger and larger following until Alphys had been nearly overwhelmed with all the comments and questions being sent in, by humans and monsters alike. She simply hadn't been able to keep up with it all, nor had time to tend to the site fully without unhealthy consequences. At Sans's suggestion, and Undyne's prompting, Alphys had appointed several trusted persons - people she knew would be able to answer asks just as professionally as she could - and made them overseers of the site in her stead. It allowed her more time to work on the larger articles, while retaining some semblance of sanity and control.

The site itself wasn't terribly ornate, though Frisk was helping make it look a little less bland as time went on. Alphys' first instinct had been to slather the server in pink and post a Mew Mew Kissy Cutie background. But, as Sans had gently pointed out, a professional website probably wasn't the best place to post one's favorite anime references. That and avoiding copyright infringement might also be desirable. Instead, Alphys had settled for a dark, navy blue background with bright white text, links and separate pages lined up on the right-hand side in mint. Mary had helped Alphys post a picture album, a page with numerous digital photographs from various monster-related events, and even a few from their personal lives, and that was updated weekly. Mary had said people liked to see images of day to day life, as monsters struggled toward Monster Rights and proper integration. Made them more real to the rest of the world. More 'human'.

Mary had been right.

Subscribers and followers lavished the picture album comment section with a never ending slew of questions, their interests caught and then spreading to other parts of the blog. Alphys, Catty, and Bratty typically handled the monster-related questions, whereas Mary and a young human male named Brandon Bates, from one of Ebott's neighboring cities, usually handled the human-related inquiries. Together, they had networked a very successful work schedule and the blog was thriving. Alphys had even received questions and comments, and a few scattered emails, from diplomats and dignitaries around the world.

Alphys and Mary wrote most of the main articles on the site, covering hundreds of topics ranging from things as simple as 'do monsters see in color?' to 'how does a monster maintain a regulated magic flow?'. Like any following, there were the mega-fans, the regulars who always asked technical questions that fed Alphys' scientific side, and she loved it. It made her feel wanted, needed, and gave her a sense of purpose. People wanted to know what monsters had to offer them, and the same for monsters in regard to humans. By knowing more about each other, fear and paranoia decreased, stabalizing their world and ripening it for proper co-habitation. That was why Alphys had devoted all her time to the Cultural Exchange Program at the Institute; it was a chance for walls between their races to be torn down and new relationships to be built. It was extremely exciting.

The timid scientist gave the subscription count a final elated glance before switching over to sift through her emails. The warmth in Alphys' chest carried over as she eyed several new comment notifications, taking the time to answer the easier ones. She'd have to do the harder, longer ones later that night, or during her mandated breaks at the Institute. Still, it never hurt to read through all of the emails before heading off to work, so she settled herself and tried to push down her internal excitement enough that she could focus.

There was a question regarding monster energy input and output - one for later, it was quite a complicated subject and would actually require a fair amount of explanation. Another asked if monsters believed in ghosts. This person obviously hadn't been made aware of the existence of ghost-esque monsters, such as Nastablook. Alphys was able to answer that one easily and quickly, but was sure to stress the difference between monster ghosts and creatures of the supernatural, which were nothing similar. There were a few questions from monster followers on human customs that Alphys was quick to forward to Mary and Brandon, as well as a number of child drawings sent in by proud parents. Alphys cooed over a very rough and messy drawing of what appeared to be her and Undyne. It warmed her soul even more.

Of course, just like with any online community, there were the less favorable comments. Trolls and hate groups often found ways to voice themselves, and though Alphys' first instinct had always been to defend herself against such attacks - it was easier to bandy words with ruffians when it was over the internet - but had since learned to simply ignore and delete them. Reading the nasty and sometimes even threatening messages had resulted in a few panic attacks and a small fit of depression for Alphys three months before, something that Undyne and Toriel had been quick to coach her through. Since then, Alphys had gotten better at deleting the messages without reading them. No sense feeding an all-consuming fire, and it wasn't as though people like that wanted their opinions changed. They were dead set against monsters, and nothing Alphys or anyone else said or did would sway them. Alphys supposed she couldn't expect all of humanity to accept monsters for what they were, but still. It hurt sometimes.

Trying to ignore the slight lump in her throat that was threatening to overshadow her earlier excitement, Alphys dragged three unkind emails into her recycle folder, before deleting them permanently. Sighing in relief, she leaned back, finger idly tapping the mouse as she mused to herself quietly.

The house was a-bustle with familiar sounds. Toriel was washing up the few dishes from breakfast in the kitchen, Flowey's high pitched, nasally voice complaining idly over the sound of the running water and the click-clacking of dishes. Undyne and Asgore had stepped outside to get a few minutes of work done before they would all inevitably leave - the two were working on fixing up the shed, cleaning it out and shoring it up for the coming winter, planning to make it into a greenhouse. Papyrus was folding laundry in the washroom, where he had helped Frisk find a fresh set of clothes for Sans. Upstairs Alphys could just make out the sound of the shower still going, Frisk and Sans's voices echoing lowly as they conversed directly above her, though she couldn't hear what they were saying. Outside the back door, which Alphys had opened when she had sat down in the computer room to work, allowed in a light breeze and a cacophony of birdsong, the sound of early morning mixing with the hum of the old, desktop computer. It was really quite pleasant, and Alphys felt herself drift into a deep and gentle haze of aimless thought.

She wasn't quite sure how long she stayed like that, eyes closed and head tilted slightly to the side as she soaked in the morning ambiance, but it must have been long enough for her to be missed, because she was suddenly jolted from her thoughts by a careful hand on her shoulder. Alphys startled, her chair tipping back a little and spinning as she whipped her head around, eyes wide. She was met by Papyrus's apologetic expression, the tall skeleton backing up a step immediately, giving her space. One hand was still raised from brushing her shoulder, while the other occupied with balancing a stack of clean, folded laundry in the crook of his bony arm.

"I'M VERY SORRY TO BREAK YOUR CONCENTRATION, DOCTOR ALPHYS," he said with gentle kindness, "BUT FRISK SAYS SANS SHOULD BE DOWN VERY SHORTLY, AND WE ALL WANT TO DISCUSS OUR DAY'S PLANS WITH HIM TOGETHER IN THE LIVING ROOM, WHERE HE CAN SIT AND BE AT EASE. IT SHOULD BE EASIER TO CONVINCE HIM IF HE ISN'T FEELING CORNERED. IF YOU HAVE THE TIME, OF COURSE," he added quickly.

Papyrus knew her work was terribly important, but Alphys would have gladly told him that Sans's well-being was even more so. Instead, she fixed him with a shaky, nervous smile, adjusting her spectacles back to the proper place on her snout. "N-No, it's f-fine, Papyrus! Sorry, you j-just startled me is all. I was a little l-lost in thought. Of course I w-want to help tell Sans about our p-plan."

She just hoped he would go along with it. Sans could be very...stubborn, sometimes, when it came to his own health and state of mind. Not that Alphys could deny the same thing of herself. She and Sans shared a lot of things in common, in their interests and habits. And their faults. They both tended to overthink things, obsessing over hard decisions; they both loved and were good at science, and Alphys would have admitted in a second that Sans was actually smarter than she was in some regards; and they both had the unhealthy knack for allowing self-punishment, usually in the form of pushing others away when they needed help. Alphys had gotten better with that, mostly on account of Undyne's efforts and encouragement, and it hurt Alphys' soul to see Sans dodging his own issues so readily, even after three years. Maybe their wanting to include him more in their lives would help him open up more. Help him feel the same warmth in his soul that Alphys felt in hers.

Either that, or he'd shut them down completely. Smile that fake smile and say he was fine and decline.

Alphys fervently hoped not.

Papyrus beamed. "WONDERFUL! YOU GO RIGHT AHEAD AND FIND A SEAT. TORIEL SAYS SHE WILL BE DONE WITH THE DISHES IN JUST A MOMENT, AND I AM GOING TO GO AND PUT THESE SHIRTS AWAY UPSTAIRS AND MAKE SURE THAT MY BROTHER IS NOT DAWDLING." He half turned, ready to leave, before he paused; hesitating. He cocked his head to the side, taking Alphys in, his smile turning to something even more gentle than usual. "You seem...very happy today," he observed in a quieter voice. "Even more so than normal. Which is very nice to see. How are you feeling today, Doctor Alphys?"

Even after three years Papyrus hadn't quite learned to drop the title in front of her name, no matter how many times Alphys had reminded him he needn't always call her 'doctor'. Perhaps he just liked the official-ness of it, or felt it was a sign of respect. Either way, Alphys didn't really mind, and she doubted it would have mattered much even if she had. Papyrus was a creature of habit, just like his brother. It had taken constant reminding on Toriel's part for him to call her by 'Toriel' rather than 'Lady Asgore', and he still slipped up from time to time. Luckily, Toriel didn't abhor it as much as she once had.

Alphys returned the skeleton's smile with a shy one of her own. To her subconscious relief, that warm feeling inside of her stayed, making a home in her soul. She wanted to tell him about the 55 million subscribers, but...honestly that wasn't something Papyrus would find particularly as exciting as she did. He'd probably congradulate her, say something positive, but what Alphys really wanted just then was to tell someone who would feel the same way about it as she did. So, instead, Alphys gave him the fine and simple truth.

"A-Actually...I'm d-doing very well today, Papyrus. Very, very well."

"OH?"

"Mm-hm. I-I...I feel v-very light and...and ch-cheerful." Her expression softened further as she thought of a perfect comparison. "L-Like I have a piece of you i-inside me."

One would have thought she had given him the world. Papyrus vibrated with giddy energy, almost dropping the clothes in his arms as he lurched forward. "THAT IS VERY GOOD TO HEAR!" He leaned down just enough to press his forehead against hers - a skeletal gesture of affection - and Alphys' eyes closed and shoulders hitched up as she pressed back with a giggle, before he was off bounding down the hallway toward the kitchen like he had springs attached to his feet. "NOW, I'LL BE RIGHT BACK! HOPEFULLY WITH MY BROTHER IN TOW!"

Another moment and he was gone from sight, his enthusiastic footsteps pounding up the stairs to the second floor shortly after. Alphys blushed, her soul near bursting with happiness. When she had gathered herself, she leaned over and turned off the computer monitor, smiling to herself as she stood and made her way down the hall and toward the living room.

Undyne and Asgore came through the front door just as Alphys was about to turn the corner, the two laughing over something or other, grinning widely as Asgore had to duck to make it through; a tight fit because of his horns. Undyne was dusting her hands off on her pants, unbothered by the chalky prints and smears the action left behind on her leggings. The blue-skinned captain kicked off her shoes, gaze rising and meeting Alphys' a moment later. Undyne's toothy grin became even more genuine, sharp as it was, and her eye lit up with a happiness that reflected Alphys' own. Like Papyrus, it was obvious that Undyne could read the lightness in Alphys' soul, something that brought her great relief. Undyne had been Alphys' greatest moral supporter since they had reached the Surface, and it never ceased to bring the tall, strong monster joy when she saw the results of Alphys' healing mental state.

Wiping her hands on her leggings again, more as a subconscious habit than to actually clean them, Undyne stepped all the way through the entree way while Asgore shut the door behind them with a soft click. She looked Alphys up and down, drinking in the warmth and honest joy she was surely exuding.

"Hey, babe," she greeted. "You, uh...alright?"

Alphys nodded, accepting the other's blue hand when it was offered, entwining their fingers with a stuttered sigh of contentment. "I'm...I-I'm wonderful," she replied, maybe a little hazily, but there was only truth in her tone. All that fuzzy feeling in her soul was making her feel dazed. "L-Like, wonderful wonderful."

Undyne blinked, smiling harder; so hard her eye almost crinkled. "Yeah?"

"Y-Yeah. It's...I-it's a good day."

Good Days were becoming more regular for Alphys. Days she woke up feeling loved and smart, days she didn't feel like she didn't matter or that she was alone. It had taken time - a lot of time - but Alphys had finally found her way through that dreaded maze of depression. And she hadn't walked it alone.

Undyne gave a little laugh, one full of pride and relief as she started leading the way toward the living room. "That's great! Want to tell me why, or...?"

Alphys shook her head, glasses rattling on her snout softly. "I will. Just...n-not right now. Later. We need t-to focus on Sans right n-now. It's not about m-me. I'm just..." That warmth in her chest swelled again, and with the way Undyne's breath hitched Alphys wondered if maybe she could almost feel it too, through Alphys' own magic. "I'm just so happy."

And it felt good to say it. It felt good to know she was loved and cared for, that life had finally taken a turn for the better. When Alphys thought back to her life in the lab, she shuddered, feeling cold inside. She had been hanging on by the tips of her fingernails back then she realized, struggling through each and every day alone and with little hope. She'd had her work to keep her going, of course, and her hobbies and interests, but...there had been very little else to keep her going. There had been days she'd just sat at her computer in the lab, staring at some paused anime video or something, mind blank and soul as dim as one can get without Falling Down. If Alphys was truly honest with herself, she might not have had much time left, the way she was going. Either her hope would have drained or...or maybe she would have ended it all herself. She couldn't be sure. But she was eternally grateful that things had never gone that far, that Frisk had saved them all - saved her - long before that could happen.

And that wasn't to say that things had gotten easy after that either. Coming to the Surface had been a new beginning for Alphys, but there had been a few loose ends she had needed to tie up in order to truly move on. Namely, the amalgamates. Her mistakes regarding them, and the harboring of that secret, had chipped and sludged against her soul for years, and when they were freed, when Alphys had seen Frisk's kindness and bravery, she had decided she wanted to be unburdaned in more ways than one.

Telling Asgore and Toriel of her deeds was one of the hardest things Alphys had ever done. The shock, the horror, the guilt; all of it had crushed down on her shoulders in a terrible crescendo, and Alphys had been fairly certain that she would lose both her title and her position as Royal Scientist. The king and queen certainly had that right, and Alphys' unethical actions, despite whatever good intentions she had meant with them, had certainly been worthy of punishment.

She lost neither.

While the king and queen had been greatly distressed by what she had done, and there was a level of trust that had been tarnished, they had concluded that Alphys had acted out of desperation, and that her experiments on the amalgamates had been purely because she had been given no other option. Her actions had, in a sense, saved the ill monsters' lives, even if they were no longer true monsters in the sense of the word. Besides, they had said, there was no other monster qualified for the position of Royal Scientist. Sans, maybe, but that was something the skeleton had instantly shut down the minute Alphys had mentioned it in secret. He had no wish to become someone of such important stature, and Alphys really couldn't blame him.

And so, Alphys had remained Royal Scientist. She had come clean with her actions to both the humans and her fellow monsters, and while a few repercussions had followed, quite understandably, the majority of the population forgave her without hesitation. The amalgamates had returned home with their families, and, as far as Alphys knew, they were doing very well on the Surface. That had eased a lot of pressure off of her soul and mind. Like the others, after learning of the resets, she had suffered terrible nightmares. Dreams filled with depression and guilt, hopelessness and bottomless chasms. Alphys could relate to Sans in that way. How one's fears and pains could manifest at night, when one was helpless to fight against their own mind. Since her redemption, life had become much easier for Alphys, much more vibrant and real. Her nightmares had long since faded out to peaceful slumber, a natural result of a purer life.

It made her wonder...if Sans was hiding something too. Something that haunted him, just as the amalgamates had her. True, knowledge of the resets was enough to unsettle anyone, even Sans, but there had to be more to it than that. Sans's dreams were so violent. So intense. He always sounded so frightened, and helpless. Most nights Alphys slept like a log and missed his episodes entirely, but the few times she had been witness to them...it had broken her soul. He'd been a mess of desperate emotion and unstable magic, as though his nightmare were trying to burn him up from the inside. It had been..truly frightening.

Alphys squared her shoulders as she and Undyne walked hand in hand into the Redemption living room. Sans had always been there for her, a soft and gentle, sometimes teasing support. Like Undyne, he always seemed to know just what to say to make Alphys feel worth existing again. And what kind of friend would she be if she wasn't willing to do the same?

"I'm happy your happy," Undyne hummed, giving her fingers a final squeeze.

It wasn't long before they were all settled in the living room, Toriel having finished her work and carrying Flowey in to join, even though he didn't look too pleased about it. Frisk appeared a moment later, settling into the corner of the couch where Sans had been sleeping earlier that morning. Asgore had taken a seat on the furthest recliner, over by the DVD shelf, while Toriel, after setting Flowey down on the coffee table, took the remaining chair. Undyne settled down into a cross-legged sit on the floor in front of the television, and though she nudged Alphys to go take a spot on the couch, Alphys declined and instead sat down beside her.

"Let Papyrus, Frisk, and Sans sit on the s-sofa," she explained in a whisper. "I-It'll be more comfortable for Sans." She was going by what Papyrus had said. "I-It might make him m-more at ease."

Undyne shrugged, before drawing Alphys a little closer to her side. "If you say so, babe."

They all eased into a calm silence, each member of their little family occupied with their own thoughts. Alphys was fine with that. She needed a moment to compose herself, square away all that internal joy and prepare herself for dealing with whatever reaction their little plan would pull from Sans. She wasn't expecting him to flat out refuse or anything, but...There really was a fifty-fifty chance he wouldn't go along with them. And that was distressing to consider. That he would push away their only remaining chance to include him in on their lives. A small spark of something like determination flared in Alphys' chest, right alongside her happiness.

Sans needed to think of himself.

And Alphys would see to it that he did.

It was another five minutes or so before Papyrus reappeared, Sans inevitably perched on his hip like a sleepy koala. Alphys smiled at the sight of him, of how much better he looked now that he was cleaned up and dressed in fresh, unwrinkled clothes. He still looked incredibly tired, those dreadful dark shadows pronouncing the lower bottom rims of his sockets, but his eyes were open and alert; curious. He was dressed in a pair of black track shorts and one of the t-shirts Mary Nerton had brought back for him from the Newbrache Space Observatory - someplace she was always promising to bring Sans, but hadn't yet had the time. Alphys recalled her having gotten Sans a packet of space themed socks from there as well, years ago, a commodity Sans had eagerly added to his 'sock collection'.

Speaking of socks, Sans's feet were bare, the tiny bones of his toes scrunching and un-scrunching as he took in the full living room with a carefully schooled grin. Alphys wondered how much Frisk had told him, upstairs in the bathroom. By the slight edge of confusion to his gaze, she guessed not much.

Sans blinked a few times, those large sockets lidding into a familiar expression. He looked like he was about to speak, grace them all with a string of puns no doubt, but Papyrus saved him the trouble, proclaiming loud and clear for all to hear in his usual, boisterous volume.

"I CAUGHT THIS MISCHIEVOUS SCAMP TRYING TO SNEAK DOWN HERE WITHOUT ME! BUT I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS - who was very nobly putting away laundry upstairs- WAS NOT TO BE JAPED!"

Sans chuckled, the sound soft and low. "it's not like i was trying to get away with something, bro. i was headed down here one way or another. if i'd tried tip-toeing back to bed, then you could have been righteously upset."

"PFFT!" Papyrus let out an odd sounding huff of air through his teeth, but he was smiling. In one smooth motion he dislodged Sans from his hip and settled the smaller skeleton on his feet, touch lingering just long enough to be certain Sans had his balance before letting go. Alphys felt her smile grow fonder at the sight. For all his complaints and scoldings, Papyrus really did love Sans very dearly, and it showed in all the most adorable little ways.

Standing once more by his own power, Sans tucked his idle hands deep into the pockets of his shorts, stance relaxed and lazy gaze taking in each of his family members with no indication at all as to knowing why they were all there. But Alphys wasn't fooled. She knew Sans well enough to spot the slight rigidness in his shoulders, the only giveaway that he was feeling even the slightest bit nervous. A few drops of sweat had formed on his skull, further giving him away. Sans didn't like being the center of attention, preferring to take shortcuts up to his room than face a serious conversation head on. The hand Papyrus kept on Sans's skull told Alphys the younger brother was well in tune with Sans's discomfort, preventing through touch any possible teleports. Maybe it was a little cruel, but it was also necessary.

"so...the kid says you guys got something to talk to me about?" Sans drawled. He shrugged, trying to come across as nonchalant. "that's fine. but if it's about that frog in the mailbox, that wasn't me. that was frisk."

Frisk made a face from the couch, her voice a teasing hiss. "Traitor."

Papyrus rolled his eyes, or as much so as his anatomy allowed, and gently steered Sans over toward the couch. "DON'T BE RIDICULOUS. IF THIS WAS ABOUT THAT, WE WOULD HAVE BEEN FAR MORE UP FRONT WITH THE ISSUE."

"really, bro?"

"OF COURSE! BESIDES, FROGS ARE VERY NICE CREATURES, AND I DON'T SEE WHY ONE LIVING IN OUR MAILBOX WOULD BE A POINT OF CONTENTION."

Alphys had a feeling that Toriel strongly disagreed.

Sans smirked up at his brother at that, about to treat Papyrus to as many amphibian puns as he could muster in a single sentence, but again Papyrus cut him off, this time via a hand slapped over the smaller's teeth.

"NO! THIS IS AN IMPORTANT FAMILY MEETING, AND I WILL NOT HAVE YOU SULLYING IT WITH YOUR CONFOUNDED JOKES!" He frowned, keeping his expression hard for several seconds before he gave a sigh, staring down into Sans's eyes with an almost heartbroken expression. "Please, Sans. Can we do this without fooling around? Just this once?"

Alphys saw the moment Sans gave in, love for his brother too great to deny a request so sincere. His shoulders slumped a little and he nodded against Papyrus's hand with a small sigh of his own, Papyrus releasing him immediately. Alphys half expected Sans to slip in a pun regardless, play dirty, but he didn't. Instead, Alphys watched as Frisk treated the smaller skeleton to an encouraging smile, patting the cushion beside her in invitation. Sans didn't hesitate, grunting softly as he crawled up onto the sofa and eased into a lazy slouch, hands somehow still managing to stay in his pockets. He gave them all a laid-back smile, eye lights even sharper and curious-er than when he'd first come in. But that unease hadn't dissipated either. Alphys guiltily thought he looked quite uncomfortable.

Toriel cleared her throat against a closed fist, somehow making even that small action seem regal. Everyone turned their attention to her, which seemed to throw her off a little, but she managed to somehow block out their stares and focus on Sans. She smiled at him in that gentle, motherly way that he and the others had become so used to. It was warm, and safe, and kinder than kind. It felt like love, and home, and family. Belonging. Things Alphys had a feeling Sans used to think he could live without, but now couldn't imagine never having. She was the same way.

"Sans, the others and I have been...talking."

The skeleton's face became slightly pinched, like he was desperately trying not to wince. "...oh?"

Toriel nodded. "Yes. About you, my friend."

"uh...heh, okay. what'd i do this time?"

Alphys knew he said it as a joke, but somehow it made her sympathy for him grow. Toriel seemed to feel the same, the matron frowning softly and shaking her head.

"It is nothing you have done, Sans. Like your brother said, if he were upset with you, we would not have waited so long to bring it up. We would have brought any grievance to you immediately."

"well, that's good to know." Sans looked a little relieved. Still very rigid, despite his best efforts, but relieved.

"Mm," Toriel hummed. She ran the pads of her hands over the lap of her dress, brushing away imaginary wrinkles. "We are...concerned for you, however."

"aw, come on, t. this again? i'm-"

" 'Fine'," Undyne finished, startling Alphys a little. She sounded annoyed, but also oddly patient. More so than usual. "We know, Sans. So you've told us."

"And told us," Frisk echoed.

"AND TOLD US," Papyrus agreed.

Toriel gave Sans a firm look. "Perhaps we are just a bit too worrisome when it comes to your low HP, but we are concerned for you nonetheless. Specifically in regard to your...nightmares."

Alphys winced as Sans winced, her sympathetic nature making her almost feel the way his soul missed a pulse. His expression mirrored exactly what Alphys thought it would, he suspitions confirmed. Sans had known this was the topic they'd be taking up. He'd probably been hoping to squeeze by all morning without addressing it, and Alphys felt bad for taking part in denying him that. But it was for his own good. A little uncomfortable conversation had never killed anyone, and Alphys knew from experience that it could very often solve a lot of very difficult issues.

"there just dreams, guys," Sans tried to deflect. "you all suffered them too, for a while, and they were pretty intense. pap once sent a bone attack right through our door, remember? i'm no different. it's not a big deal."

"Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Such violent episodes can not be good for your soul, or your health, Sans," Toriel stated sternly. "It is not normal to be plagued by such dreams for so long. Not when all of us have already healed and moved on."

Sans shrugged, looking away, even more uncomfortable. "what can i say," he muttered weakly. "guess i'm a wuss."

Beside him, Frisk frowned, startling Sans a bit by gently digging a hand into his pocket, fishing out his own and entwining their fingers together. She didn't say anything, and yet she didn't seem to need to. Alphys could tell well enough what she meant, as if to say 'That's not true. You're stronger than you know'.

Toriel ignored his self-depreciating comment with effort and continued. "The leaking of your magic from your eye is also concerning, to say the least. It is usually only old wounds that perform in such a way, particularly to stress, but since you will neither confirm nor deny the state of your eye, there is little I can say on the matter."

Sans slumped, thoroughly chastened.

Frisk held his hand tighter.

Toriel's expression softened, as did her voice. "But I, for one, refuse to give up on you. And I know the others feel the same. Which is why, while we have given you time and space to work through this yourself, we think it may be time to take some form of action ourselves."

Sans's gaze snapped back to Toriel, expression wary. "what...kind of action?" he asked carefully. The left pocket of his shorts had scrunched up, telling Alphys that his hand was clutching at the material from the inside.

"Sans."

"...yeah?"

"How would you like to come to town with Frisk and I later this morning?"

"uh...what?"

The look of confusion that bled into Sans's expression was actually funny enough to make Alphys laugh. A soft, high, nervous laugh, but one that quickly set everyone else off as well, as Sans looked between them, perplexed. As chuckles slowly morphed into full out bursts of laughter, Sans's expression slowly slipped into a lopsided look of fond disbelief.

"er, you all okay?" the bewildered skeleton asked. "ya'll got the giggles or something? what's so funny?"

"You!" Undyne gasped gleefully, grinning like a shark. She gave another guffaw, slapping her knee in amusement. "What did you think we were going to say?! You should have seen your face, dude, it was hilarious!"

Alphys detected something like embarrassment shift behind Sans's eyes, or at the very least some form of meek self-consciousness. For someone always so in control of how he appeared in others' eyes, Sans looked incredibly lost in that moment. His gaze flitted between each of them, from Toriel and Asgore's quiet chuckles to Undyne's passionate teasing, a smile on his face but one that spoke of complete and total bafflement.

"yeah, yeah, okay. haha, you got me," he countered good naturedly, before frowning. "but what has taking me out to town have to do with-"

"Mom has a meeting with the school board," Frisk explained gently, her chocolate brown eyes meeting Sans's and never leaving, capturing his full attention. "I have to go in case they have any questions mom can't answer, but for the most part I'll be sitting out in the hall. Mom needs someone to watch me."

Sans gave Toriel a side-glance, suspicious, turning that look on Frisk the next moment. "...okaaaay. but, i'm not the only one here qualified for that. and no offense, kiddo, but you're not a toddler. no one really has to keep an eye on a kid your age. you especially."

Frisk pouted. "That's not the point, Sans."

"i figured. so what is the point here?" He looked up at the other adults in the room, questioning; the most desperate for answers Alphys had seen him in a while.

Toriel sighed. "Sans, we feel that you should...get out of the house more often than you do."

Sans's suspicion grew, one brow cocking. "oh yeah?"

"Y-Yes." Alphys decided it was time for her to step in. Sans would be less likely to out right refuse something from her. They were close. They had been closer once, but they were still very close. They respected and understood one another in ways that most people, monster or human, couldn't. "W-We all leave each and every day," Alphys supplied helpfully. "For t-training, or work, o-or school...b-but...you're always l-left behind...a-alone."

Sans blinked at her, then gave a shrug. "an' i'm okay with that. way back we discussed this, and i said it was okay then, so it's okay now. you guys know me, i'm a lazybones. trudging off to meetings and stuff really isn't my strong suit."

"We know, dear," Toriel soothed gently, "but we feel it may not...be good for you. To be left alone so often. A monster can dwell on a lot of things when they are by themselves for any great length of time." Her shoulders slumped just a little. "I should know."

Everyone winced, shoulders slumping at the sadness in her tone.

Stars knew how many years in the Ruins had given Toriel time to dwell on less than pleasant things. Sans had once told Alphys how he could still remember that sad, lonely voice from behind the Ruins' Door, desperate for even the corniest of knock-knock jokes; how he'd felt obligated to reach out and comfort, even not knowing to whom he was speaking. It had made his soul ache, he'd said. Loneliness was bad for a monster; it chipped at their self-worth and purpose like a chisel on chalk. In fact, it may have been only the fact that Toriel was a Boss Monster that she had lasted so long without going insane with grief. Alone. All but forgotten at her own choosing. Alphys hadn't really had the nerve to ask if her HP had fallen at all during that time, but she highly suspected that it had. Another century, and stars knew what might have befallen the queen.

Sans only had one HP.

For a monster of his constitution, loneliness might be a killing blow.

The thought made Alphys' soul flutter in anxiety.

Toriel looked back up at Sans, eyes silently pleading. "You don't have to come if you don't want to, but we think it may help you a good deal in the long run. Being busy will leave you less time to focus on unpleasant things, and may-"

"tire me out enough that i sleep deeper and don't have nightmares," Sans finished, looking slightly impressed.

Flowey, who had been quiet for most of the conversation, rolled his eyes. "Now he gets it. Pfft. Took you long enough, Trashbag."

For once, no one scolded the flower. Sans did direct a look in Flowey's direction, but at this point everyone knew the sentient plant was just trying to start an argument. Alphys admired the way Sans was able to just block it out and move forward, like Flowey hadn't taunted him at all.

"so this outing. sure, that takes care of today, but what about tomorrow? i appreciate what you're all trying to do here, guys, but i'm not exactly full of energy. being busy and out and about every day honestly sounds like a lot."

"It would not be every day," Asgore finally contributed in a soft, low voice. Sans turned to him immediately, attentive. "Such activity would wear out even the youngest of us. However, a bit of time spent with each of us every few days would certainly better than being left to yourself."

Sans slipped his hand from Frisk's, using it to rub at the back of his neck. He looked uncertain, but not completely against their proposition. He glanced up at his brother, Papyrus having settled on the couch to Sans's left, sitting ramrod straight and watching Sans very closely. Sans forced a weak smile. "guess i've brought this on myself, huh?"

Papyrus shook his head slowly, reaching out to set a hand on Sans's shoulder. "No. Saying that makes it sound like this is your fault. It isn't."

Frisk nodded in agreement, reclaiming Sans's hand. "We just want to try and help you feel better."

"And if you're not going to tell us what's up with you and your freaky dreams," Undyne huffed, "at least let us try something that might make it easier for you."

Sans slumped further into the couch. "...what are my other options?" he asked, a hint of darkness to his tone. Alphys recognized it at once. It was the same tone of voice he used whenever he refused to visit Frisk's therapist. Or any doctor for that matter, even Alphys herself. "if i don't want to do this, what are you going to do?"

Toriel frowned. "Well, for one, we will be greatly distraught. But, regardless of how we may feel, that would be the extent of our response. We will not force you to take medication. We will not force you to see a professional, or any doctors or healers. Not unless you became a danger to yourself or anyone else."

"tori-"

"We will not force you," Toriel repeated, cutting him off. This time, she let the plea into her voice completely, unhindered. "But please do not make us watch you struggle without letting us at least try to do something to help you. We worry because we care for you, my friend. You are one of us. Please do not push us away."

Her words hung over them all in the following silence. Sans sat there, head slightly bowed, Papyrus's hand on his left shoulder and Frisk's fingers squeezing the phalanges of his right hand, safely sandwiched between two of the people he loved the most. Alphys watched him carefully, searching for even the slightest hint as to what was going on in his head. He didn't give much away, but Alphys could tell this was a hard decision for Sans. Commitment could be scary, she knew that well enough, and for some reason Sans seemed particularly hung up on ever making anything concrete. he rarely even made promises, so concerned with whether or not he could keep them that he often chose not to make them at all.

They all remained quiet, even Flowey, waiting and watching. Asgore leaned back in his recliner, huge mitts folded over his stomach while Toriel leaned forward, magenta eyes fixed doggedly and lovingly on Sans's small frame. Undyne's foot was tapping soundlessly against the carpet at Alphys' back, a sign of nervous energy. Papyrus and Frisk looked as patient as saints, and Alphys felt like she wanted to cry. Not for any particular reason, just...cry. Not even really with sadness, but maybe with love. With such a fierce need and want to love those around her that it almost physically hurt.

Frisk eventually leaned closer to Sans's skull, whispering something that made the skeleton look at her with something like betrayal. Finally, Sans gave a very quiet chuckle.

"you guys aren't going to give up on this, are you?"

Undyne crossed her arms over her chest, looking all the world like a blue-skinned genie sitting cross-legged on the floor. "Pfft. Unlikely."

"and you really think wearing me out is gonna make me sleep better?"

"Well, it is certainly worth the experiment," Toriel muttered with confidence.

Sans looked between them all one final time, before every inch of him seemed to relax. Truly relax. All that tension bled out of him, and his smile hitched up again at the corners until it was genuine. "well...who am i to stand in the way of a family experiment?" He blanched slightly at his own words, before forcing whatever negative thought had plagued him. He grinned at Toriel. "guess you got yourself a babysitter, t."

Frisk cheered, releasing Sans's hand only to treat him to a full body embrace. Sans gave a grunt, his bones clattering slightly under the sudden assault, but his smile only grew brighter as Frisk showered him in affection, Papyrus joining in a fraction of a second later. He was now effectively smushed between the two, his legs hitching up under the pressure of their hugs.

"Thank you, Sans!" Frisk rejoiced, voice muffled against Sans's shoulder. "Thank you, thank you! You won't regret it! I'll bring games and stuff, and Undyne even picked a place we're all going to meet up for lunch!"

"there's food involved in this deal?" Sans smirked. "well, dang. ya shoulda mentioned that to begin with. i'd have said yes a lot sooner."

Papyrus gave him a very light swap, bone not even making contact. "YES, YES. YOU AND YOUR INSUFFERABLE HUNGER. REALLY, SANS, IT'S A WONDER YOU AREN'T OVERWEIGHT."

"can't be."

"AND WHY NO-WAIT. NO! NO, DON'T ANSWER THAT!"

"what's that? you wanna know why not? i'll tell you."

"SANS, NO-"

"because-"

"NO! STOP!"

"everything goes right through me."

Papyrus let out a screech of indignance at the, by now, very overused pun. He grabbed a couch cushion, one of the especially soft ones, and swung it at Sans, catching the smaller skeleton and Frisk full on in the face. But fell over, laughing as Papyrus proceeded to bury them beneath every pillow in reach. Undyne gave a whoop and jumped up, startling Alphys as she jumped forward to help. Alphys shook her head, Toriel sighing in resignation at the childish behavior. But it was alright. Inside, they were all smiling, because Sans had agreed. He had agreed to let them do their best to help him, and that was probably the best victory they could have asked for.

As Undyne locked a shrieking Papyrus into a noogie, and Toriel stood to try and regain some semblance of peace to the situation, Alphys could feel that warmth returning to her chest once more. This was good. Sans would get better now, he was accepting their help. Life felt good and the future looked bright. Being out and about would be healthy for them all, Sans especially, and Alphys couldn't wait to see the fruits of Sans's decision. This was what was truly best for him, to get out and occupy his time. be with those he cared about. Live.

Besides, fresh air was good for the soul.