Chapter 1: Echo Wine
G and you trade some secrets over a guitar lesson.
Spoiler warning for future plot points in A Skeleton Pride Parade! If you would not like to be spoiled, I would advise you waiting until a chapter with the same title as this one comes up.
TW: Domestic violence
You can listen to the song featured in this chapter by clicking here.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
As you stepped into the bright and quiet living room, you noticed G had pulled two dining room chairs in and had set them up facing directly across from one another. He scraped one back a respectible distance from its companion, and motioned for you to sit in it. You did so, feeling a little nervous. This looks like one of those shitty intervention shows. Is everything okay?
G sat down across from you, resting a beat-up acoustic guitar over his legs. You watched him as he gave a quick check of the tuning, leaning his head down slightly towards the guitar as he plucked the strings one by one. You couldn’t help but admire him in this position: the sun was streaming a gentle yellow early-afternoon glow into the room from an open window, and the soft, tinny notes paired with the domestic chatter of birds outside made the moment so serene. You took a moment to appreciate the simple smell of sweet earth in the air as you watched his hands move over the strings and knobs of the guitar neck. Once satisfied, he looked up at you, his gaze surprisingly intent.
“hey,” he said, an unexpected (but not harsh) firmness to his voice. “i... i’m gonna sing something for y'.” You tilted your head to show your interest, but you were admittedly confused. He’d sang in front of you before. Why was he acting weird about it now? “i’m gonna ask y' really pay attention, okay?”
You felt something in your stomach flip, a slight stab of hopeful excitement through you. Was… this a song about you? The thought felt arrogant, and you immediately tried to stamp down your expectations, but only had moderate success.
“Okay,” you said with resolution, letting him know you meant to take this seriously. He held his eyes to yours a moment longer, and gave a nod before turning to look at his guitar, fingers starting out a circling melody.
You had to admit, you were a little excited, your heart picking up the pace; G didn’t seem to be a direct kind of guy, so if the song was about you… Maybe there was something he was trying to say about how he felt about you?
He gave a small sigh, and began to sing:
“her eyes and words are so icy,
oh, but she burns like rum on a fire.
hot and fast and angry as she can be,
i walk my days on a wire…”
You were immediately confused. Sure, you’d been briefly upset with him at one point, but… Have I really been that angry with him? Did I say something mean? You felt your heart stutter, but not in the way you hoped—there was now an unpleasant tenseness in your chest.
“it looks ugly, but it's clean,
oh papy, don't fuss over me.”
Realization slammed into you. Oh.
“the way she tells me i'm hers and she is mine...
open hand or closed fist would be fine.
the dust’s as glittery and sweet as echo wine.”
You felt a chill of dull horror wash over you, and suddenly found it hard to swallow. Oh, G...
“qualms of guilty thrown at me,
all while she stains the sheets of some other—
thrown at me so powerfully,
just like she throws with the arm of her brother.”
You felt yourself begin to shake, an unstoppable tremble throughout your core. You felt sick, his words in such deep disparity with the gentle music.
“but I want it,
it's a crime
that she's not around most of the time.
the way she shows me i'm hers and she is mine...
open hand or closed fist would be fine.
the dust’s as glittery and sweet as echo wine.
her fight and fury is fiery,
oh, but she loves
like sleep to the freezing.
sweet and right and merciful,
i'm all but washed
in the tide of her breathing.
and it's worth it, it's divine—
i have this some of the time.
the way she shows me i'm hers and she is mine...
open hand or closed fist would be fine.
the dust’s as glittery and sweet as echo wine.”
You were shocked, tears rolling own your cheeks and your breath uneven as you continued to shake. There was so much to process in this moment, and your mind was scrambling. G didn’t seem to be able to look at you, playing the last few notes before his hands paused on the guitar. You saw he was shaking, ever so gently, too.
“i... know i’m not the most chatty guy, but i figured, if i let you know, y’ might…” He then looked up at you and saw your tears. “shit, darlin’, i didn’t mean ta-” he began, going to put down the guitar.
You jumped out of your seat before he could, crushing him in a sudden hug. He set down his guitar haphazardly before hugging you back, the angle awkward but—you didn’t care, you couldn’t care, you just had to do something to try to convey everything you were feeling, that he should never looked so ashamed, and that your heart was breaking for his pain, and that god, you cared about him and wanted to be here for him-
You buried your head in his neck, gripping onto him for dear life, and he gave a gentle rub to your back as he rested his chin on the top of your head. Slowly, both of your shaking slowed as your breath evened out. Your tears ebbed to a small trickle, and when you were certain he was no longer shaking, you carefully pulled back and collapsed onto your own chair.
The two of you sat in silence for a long moment, simply taking the time to regard each other, a silent exchange that you couldn’t fully form words around. Another aftershock of a tremor moved through you, and you took a deep breath, trying to reel back in your emotions.
“darlin’...” G started, looking at you as directly as you could stand. “y’ don’t have to tell me anythin’, but just know that if y’ need to talk about this, there are people… that are gonna understand. maybe not all of it, but…”
You felt your fingers curl strongly around the bottom edge of your seat, your grip pushing your fingertips hard into the wood. You felt your heart pick up again as you looked downward, unable to meet his eye as you contemplated. This… These things were not necessary to talk about. You’d worked on it, gone to therapy for it… It wasn’t a secret as such, not anymore, but… you just found yourself never talking about it. Talking about it made conversations awkward, made people feel obliged to say certain things, made them worry about a past that no longer threatened you. You didn’t need to bring it up, so why bother?
But… Sitting there in that silence, a silence that was unexpectant and undemanding, you felt a small yet urgent burning in your chest. Although not familiar, you understood the sensation immediately.
I… I want to tell him.
You took a deep breath and swallowed hard before speaking.
“I… I went through very similar,” you said, and then took another breath. Say it. Not saying it is like not saying Voldemort’s name—it gives it a power it doesn’t deserve. “My ex was abusive.”
You risked a glance upwards, and, as expected, he didn’t look surprised. “I…can see that you knew that already.”
He shrugged flippantly, though his expression was tender, his eyelight attentive. “i knew the signs, as y’ can expect. ‘s far as i know, it’s just me that figured it out; the other guys are thick-headed numbskulls.”
Your laugh was muted and slightly ragged, difficult to scrape out of your heavy chest, but genuine. You then tilted your head as a thought struck you.
“Wait, did you know I was abused by an ex-girlfriend too, or is that coincidence?”
His look then softened. “no, darlin’, i didn’t know.”
Something in his voice was such a mix of sorrowful yet… connected that your eyes prickled with tears again. Your heart thrummed again in pain, but at the same time, you felt… oddly happy. Close. Accepted.
You shook your head, wiping away the brimming tears before giving a forced chuckle and standing up. You then began to scoot your chair over to him, picking up the guitar and placing it in his lap. You didn’t necessarily want to stop this conversation, nor did your want to reveal things to him wane. But… you were feeling a bit overwhelmed, and needed a distraction.
“Why don’t you teach me a few chords?” you offered, putting your chair flush against his. Though you couldn’t bring yourself to directly look at his eyes (you had a feeling that, if you did, you’d end up just crying all over again), you could see his mouth turn into a slight, easy smile.
“normally the student holds the guitar, in that case,” he said. You shrugged, leaning your head on his shoulder and hooking your arm around his.
“I’ll start by watching. Just go slow.”
You could feel his responding chuckle through his ribs. “y’ got it, darlin’.”
He began to arrange his hands demonstratively, strumming through a few chords, though did not tell you their names. He seemed to sense it wasn’t actually about you learning them.
You closed your eyes, refocusing in on that mix of birdsong, insect buzzing, and placid harmonies from the guitar. It helped you feel a little less fragile, though you still feel the well of emotions sitting just under your chest. You turned your head and gave his shoulder a light, but sincere kiss. He paused in his strummings, and you gave his arm a reassuring squeeze.
“Thanks, G. This… really means everything to me.”
He chuckled, turning to give the top of your head a small return kiss before turning back to his strumming, giving up the farce of a lesson, instead moving through formless, unconscious songs.
The two of you spoke softly that afternoon, your shared secrets swept under a guitar’s flowing melody.
While I have a lot of smaller, unformed drabbles saved, this one I fully wrote out the moment I got the idea for it. The song is Hozier's "Cherry Wine," with a few of the lyrics changed. It's a beautiful, heartbreaking song, created as part of a charity for vicitms of domestic violence.
G and the Reader both have had a rough road, but sometimes talking about it can help.
Chapter 2: Go Ask Alice
Your friends help you out during a difficult time.
TW: Discussions of death, dying loved ones.
A totally self-indulgent piece I wrote while losing someone very dear to me.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Alice was dying.
You’d known the woman quite literally since before birth—she had known your mother while she was pregnant with you. Some of your earliest memories was your mother taking you to see her, her drawer of candy like a beacon to your early-developing sweet tooth.
“Go ask Alice nicely for one piece of candy,” your mother would say to you. “Make sure you say please and thank you.” Alice would open her coffee table drawer for you, allowing you to select that one magical treat from the treasure trove. After you had said your thanks, and your mother’s back was turned, Alice would always take your hand in hers and sneak you a couple extra pieces.
She was a hefty, jovial, beautiful woman, with a sharp mind and funny story always at the ready. One of your first-ever jobs was working with her, tasked with filing paperwork and making phone calls. Her funny stories turned to ones about you as a child, sneaking that same candy she had in her home, now often seen to you seen glittering from her office desk. In that first job at the call center, you had been a shy, nervous adolescent who hated speaking on the phone, often stuttering during your voicemails to clients as you reminded them about their appointments. You sat right next to Alice, and she would hear your every err as you spoke.
Alice would tease you about a lot of things—asking you loudly about boys, telling coworkers embarrassing stories about your childhood, asking about things a little too personal for polite company—but she never teased you about that.
You visited Alice here and there as you got older. Alice never really seemed to age—to you, she always looked the same, whether sitting in her overstuffed recliner or swiveling to greet you in her office chair. The same mischievous smile, the same cutsie nickname, the same soft hand that would take yours and slip a candy in it for as long as you could remember.
Now, as a young adult, you’d gotten a job working for the same place she did, though in a different department. As always in your life, it was the same old Alice. When you first started, she said your welcoming gift as a full-time employee was unlimited, VIP access to her candy drawer. Each morning when you’d come to her, asking Alice to borrow her master key (housekeeping always forgot to unlock your office, hidden away in the back, and that same adolescent shyness that plagued you on phones still kept you from reminding them about it) Alice would call out your nickname, say the same greeting, and place the master key and a candy in your palm.
You didn’t eat sugar in the morning, and practically had your own candy drawer now with all that you’d saved up, but you’d never deny the daily gentle reassurance of Alice’s hand in yours.
You were off sick from work the day that it happened. You weren’t sure if this was a blessing or not.
You’d heard from your coworker, at first, who said she’d gone to the hospital, but they’d released her. It wasn’t until the next day, when you were at work, that you found your boss crying in her office. When you had asked what was wrong, she had looked at you, confused—didn’t you know that Alice was dying?
She had cancer, advanced, both in her lungs and liver. She’d beaten it before, elsewhere, but now it was inoperable. Essentially untreatable. She’d been discharged to go home and get hospice care. Alice wouldn’t be coming back to work.
You could only stand there, watching as your boss cried, saying a simple “oh.”
In the weird way of the world, Alice—who’d you just seen, same as always a couple days beforehand, bright and alert as ever—went quickly downhill. The very next day, she was back in the hospital, unable to breathe properly.
It was snowing. A typical Nor’easter—a blizzard that was already hitting hard and fast—when you got the text from your boss that she’d been hospitalized, though your boss didn’t know where. You called a couple hospitals until you found her—thankfully, the one closest to you. Your car was shit in the snow (really, a terrible idea when living in this part of the world), but not going was unthinkable. You gripped the steering wheel the whole way, coaching your car out loud like a frightened steed (“c’mon, youuu can stop right here, the snow isn’t even that bad, just take this turn nice and easy right here and you’ll be fine—good job old girl!”) as your car skidded through the streets. You got there fine.
The ER was unusually, almost eerily desolate from the snowstorm. The ER receptionist seemed similarly surprised to see you walk in, especially when you said you were here to visit someone. She asked if you were family. You said yes. You considered this an honest answer.
Once the receptionist let you inside, you immediately spotted your coworker, Dale. She had been there with Alice when they had to call 911—at work, a group of you scheduled out shifts so she was never alone. Clearly, it was a good thing you all had.
Alice was the third oldest of fourteen children, a fact she had reminded you of often when you complained about your siblings. Unusual for the times, her parents both worked—her father in the now defunct mills that littered your city, and her mother as a baker. Alice’s two older siblings died when Alice was very young, so Alice became by proxy mother and father to her eleven younger siblings. She’d gone to school, worked errand jobs, cooked, cleaned, made sure everyone had their work done. She raised them, considered them her children. She had no biological children of her own.
Alice now only had two sisters left. One had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, the other was developmentally disabled. Up until the day Alice got sick, she’d taken care of them both. Now they were with cousins a couple towns over.
When you saw Alice, she was yellow. You knew that meant her liver was likely failing, jaundice setting in. You hated that you knew that. When she opened her eyes, the bright whites were now tinted a similar light golden hue, her brilliant blues standing out against them. You used to love blue and yellow, but you were pretty sure you now hated that too.
She was so, so happy to see you, though. She called you by that same nickname she greeted you with every day, as if you’d just stepped into the office again Monday morning. You wanted to cry. You didn’t.
You spoke with her pleasantly about the snow, laughing about the cute EMT’s that took her there. Alice loved to act a flirt—when the doctor came in to check on her blood pressure, she took great joy in asking him if he was married. When nurse standing next to the doc, adjusting Alice’s IV, snidely mentioned that he was married twice over, Alice merely gave him a wink, saying that an affair was more fun anyway.
Alice was the only person you knew who could make a doctor blush.
There wasn’t any service in the ER, but you managed to make a call to your mom over the provided WiFi. She was out of state with your father, on vacation. You asked if she wanted to speak to Alice, and held up the phone to Alice’s face as they talked.
You couldn’t hear what you mother said, but at one point, Alice looked at you with those blue-yellow eyes, and spoke:
“She’s my baby too. She’s my daughter. We raised a good one, you and I, didn’t we?”
You didn’t cry. You wanted to.
They took a long time getting her upstairs to a private room, likely understaffed from the blizzard. By the time she was up in a room, the snow had all but stopped. A few of your coworkers started to trickle in with the roads cleared, allowing you and Dale to go and get something to eat. Expectedly, you found you couldn’t eat much, but put hand to mouth for the simple comfort of doing a known task. It helped you not think.
The two of you returned to Alice afterwards, the crowd of people around her grown. In her usual fashion, she told grand stories of old times—some you had heard a hundred times before, some new to you. Friends, coworkers, loved ones came and went. You knew you could leave at any time. It probably would’ve been healthier for you to. But you couldn’t seem to leave, stuck sitting in the corner of the giant windowsill of her hospital room. The door to the hallway seemed a million miles away from you, though you watched as people filtered in and out of it fine.
Her sisters came, briefly, accompanied by some family member—a cousin? A nephew? They didn’t quite seem to get that Alice wasn’t coming home. For the first time since you had arrived at the hospital, you saw Alice pained. They asked her a lot of questions that she, for once, did not have a smart answer to. By the time they left, you could tell Alice had grown very tired, very weary. After that, most people left, complicated goodbyes that were without solidity—all uncertain if this were goodbye for now, or goodbye for good.
Soon enough, you were the last visitor left. You asked Alice if she wanted you to stay, or if she wanted some peace and time by herself. She asked you to stay. She said she didn’t want to be alone.
The two of you talked, sometimes loudly, sometimes quietly. You were an introvert at heart, and normally by this time you would’ve needed a little space to yourself—but you found you just wanted to talk, and talk more. You asked her about her life. She asked you about yours. You gossiped, and told stories, and watched crime shows on the small monitor hanging from the ceiling. Eventually, they presented her with dinner—turkey and potatoes—but she found she didn’t have much of an appetite. She said she did want a popsicle, though, so you convinced a nice nurse’s aide to give you a whole trayful of a myriad of colors.
The treat seemed to revive her, however little. You had been texting a number of people—a group chat of coworkers asking how she was doing, your family, friends. You noticed her sitting up more in bed, and you attempted to stash your phone, wanting to give her your full attention. She looked at the phone before giving you a conspiratorial wink. “So, who are you texting? A lover or two?”
You immediately blushed, shifting uncomfortably in the lumpy visitor chair. “Ah, I’m texting a lot of people! Everyone wants to know how you’re doing.”
“So you’re not dating anyone?” Alice asked, her brows raising. You shrunk in your chair, causing her to laugh. “C’mon, out with it. Let me live vicariously through your youth.”
“Alice… Alright, alright,” you said. Alice was a merciless teaser when you talked about romance, but you certainly couldn’t deny her. “I may be kind of… sort of dating a few people. Nothing formal right now. You know, some I’m-” you raised your fingers in air quotes “-‘talking’ to, some are more definite romances.”
“Oh?” Alice prompted, “and how many is a few?”
You sunk lower in your seat. Damn her and her wizard-like insight. “Uh, y’know, maybe like a baker’s dozen?”
Alice burst out laughing, wheezing but genuine. She, in the middle of a coughing fit, leaned over the bed’s plastic railing to give you a smack. “And here I thought I had no surprises left! Atta girl, you learned from Auntie Alice well.”
You buried your face, the heat of your cheeks obvious beneath your fingertips. You heard another round of chuckles from Alice. “Why don’t you invite them here?”
You looked up. Alice was now leaning in her bed, looking quite pleased with herself. You balked. She literally cannot be serious. “What? Alice, you’re exhausted, I can tell-“
“Excuse me, I and I alone am the judge of that,” she said, opening one eye to peel out at you. “And give your Auntie Alice some peace of mind; I want to meet these folks and be the judge for myself. I need to know my girl is being taken care of when I go.”
“Emotional blackmailer,” you mumbled under your breath. “Plus, it’s a random Sunday night, no one is going to come out now.” Alice simply made a shooing motion with her hand.
“Go on, let’s see ‘em. If they don’t come, then we know they ain’t worth my girl’s time. Text away.”
You sighed, and began to write out an invite you could copy and paste, unsure how to even word it. “Hey, I know this is random, but I’m here at the hospital and…”
It wasn’t long before the first visitors arrived with a jaunty knock on the door. You would be lying to yourself if you said you weren’t pleased that someone actually bothered to come and fulfill your ridiculous request. You ignored the look, complete with waggling eyebrows, that Alice sent you as you opened the door.
As soon as you did, you burst out laughing.
Your first visitors were Papyrus and Sans—but, instead of their traditional battle body/sweatshirt and basketball shorts apparel, they had opted for… costumes?
“HELLO, HUMAN! WE HAVE COME TO CHECK ON THE PATIENT.” Papyrus stood in a lab coat, compete with a stethoscope around his neck. Clearly he’d found one made for a tall human, but it still fell slightly short of where it should have. He looked rather dashing anyway.
“glad to see your funny bone isn’t broken,” Sans said. He, alternatively, looked like a kid playing dress up; a normal coat would have fit him just fine, but clearly he’d picked the same size as Papyrus for comedic effect. He grinned up happily at you as you leant on the door frame, stuck with a case of the giggles.
“OH NO SANS! YOUR POOR HUMOR HAS BROKEN THE HUMAN!” Papyrus then stood heroically. “FEAR NOT, HUMAN! THE TREATMENT SKILLS OF THE GREAT DR. PAPYRUS WILL HAVE YOU FIXED IN NO TIME!”
Still giggling, you gestured for them to enter the room. When you looked at Alice, to your surprise, she was beaming.
“Alice, meet Sans and Papyrus. Guys, meet Alice.”
Papyrus instantly moved over to her. “HELLO, HUMAN! I HEAR YOU ARE NOT FEELING WELL. IF MY BROTHER AND I CAN BE OF ANY SERVICE, WE WOULD ABSOLUTELY DO OUR BEST WITH WHATEVER YOU NEED!”
“yeah,” Sans agreed, standing with a relaxed disposition at the the end of Alice’s bed. You expected things to be awkward, but the two seemed to have literally zero issue with being here. “how ya feeling? they treating you well here?”
“Very,” Alice said happily. “I have a question for you, Sans and Papyrus: What do you think of my girl here?”
You instantly blanched, wanting to stop them, but Papyrus didn’t hesitate. “MY HUMAN FRIEND HERE? WHY, THE GREAT PAPYRUS ONLY MAKES FRIENDS OF THE HIGHEST CALIBER, AND SHE TOPS THE LIST! ONE OF THE BEST PARTS OF COMING TO THE SURFACE WAS BEING ABLE TO MAKE SUCH A FRIENDSHIP SUCH AS OURS!”
You felt yourself turn red from head to toe. Sans noticed, chuckling as you made an obvious turn of your head to hide your face. You then heard Sans speak from next to you. “she’s a good person, inside and out, down her soul. but i’m sure I’m telling you something ya already know.”
“That I do, young man. It’s nice to see my girl will be surrounded by those that think so highly of her when I go.” You then heard another knock on the door, and Alice nodded her heads towards it. “If you two don’t mind, it appears I have another visitor. I’ll be likely sending my girl down to the cafeteria to get some dinner for herself soon—maybe you should head down there?”
“VERY WELL! THE GREAT DOCTOR PAPYRUS WILL ORDER SOMETHING HEALTHY FOR OUR FRIEND, SO THAT SHE MAY KEEP HER ENERGY UP WHILE HERE!” He stood proudly, before casting his eyes to Alice, a note of tenderness taking his features. “IT WAS VERY NICE TO MEET YOU, ALICE.”
“it’s good to see she keeps good company,” Sans added, smiling warmly. Alice shooed the two of them away, chuckling.
“I could say the same!”
You waved goodbye as the two of them walked away. The next person was not a visitor after all—it was a nurse, looking to change Alice’s hospital gown. As you helped the nurse sit Alice up, you spoke in low tones, doing your best to temper yourself.
“Alice, why on earth would you make them come all the way here just to ask one question?”
“I told you, my girl: I need to know you’re going to be surrounded by good people. If they get upset visiting you when you need it, for however long or short, they’re not worth your time. Like I said, it’ll give an old lady peace of mind.”
You groaned, feeling mildly like a frustrated pre-teen again. “Alright, alright. Can you just not ask them what they like about me? I feel like I’ll die of embarrassment sitting here.”
Alice nodded, leaning back in her bed as the nurse and you tucked her back under covers. “You have my word.”
In the timely way of the word, another knock sounded off the door. The nurse opened it on her way out, though you noticed a slight pause in her walk before continuing on.
To your surprise, Razz and Sugarplum came next. You laughed aloud as they walked in; they had also chosen costumes, but definitely of the not-accurate variety, a couple of revealing nurse uniforms clung to them. You rubbed your face.
“Did… I don’t even remember texting you two?” you asked, though you honestly can’t say you minded them being here. Alice certainly didn’t seem to mind, her eyes alight.
“Well, look at you two! A couple of boys after my own heart; surely you didn’t get so dressed up to see this old woman?”
“no; if we’d known we’d be in the company of two lovely specimens, we would’ve worn something more revealing,” Sugar Plum purred, moving over to Alice, taking her hand.
You sighed, rubbing your temples. Alice was a big enough flirt as it was, let alone encouraged by these two. “Alice, meet Sugar Plum and Razz. You’re perfect for one another.”
“OH, DON’T BE JEALOUS, SWEETHEART,” Razz said, sidling up to you. “I AM MORE THAN CERTAIN WE CAN TREAT BOTH OF YOU JUST FINE.” You couldn’t help give a laugh, shaking your head at the two of them.
“Trust me, I’m not jealous; although I’m sure Alice could steal you away in a moment, I don’t think she will.”
“and why is that?” Sugar Plum asked, pressing Alice’s yellowed hands to his teeth as he gave her a wink. “not interested in a little end-of-the-world whirl?”
You were slightly aghast that he’d mention her death mid-flirt, but this seemed to tickle Alice to no end. She grinned back at him mischievously.
“Oh, not that I’m not interested in fun at the end of my life—but you two don’t have what I’m looking for.” Sugar Plum went to open his mouth, likely in some kind of retort but Alice quickly spoke. “I’m gay.”
You expected the two to be nonplussed, but Sugar Plum merely patted her hand, not missing a beat. “our loss, then. maybe in the next life ‘round, huh?”
“See you there,” Alice said, giving another wink before dropping her hand. “Now, I have a question for you two: If you could convince my girl to spend a night with you either watching tv or a having a go in the sack, which would you pick?”
“Alice!” That was such a set up question (and a totally inappropriate one at that)—either they’d look sex-obsessed or like a liar-
“WHATEVER SHE FELT MORE COMFORTABLE WITH!”
“whatever she wanted.”
The two answered simultaneously, without hesitation. Alice nodded, content.
Similar to before, Alice bid them a quick (almost to the point of being curt) goodbye before directing them out the door. The process repeated, again and again—they came in singles or in pairs, Alice asking a different question to each one, before bidding them goodbye. Unlike earlier, where you had felt nailed to the wall as people came in and out, you felt much more present. Alice was at her prime, her wit and examining eye as sharp as ever. She looked like she was having a great time.
You, similarly, grew more comfortable with it—though had a small err when Muffet came in. You hadn’t been out to Alice, and hadn’t even thought of it when you’d invited the spider monster. True to form, though, Alice had only taken a moment of surprise before continuing the same line of questioning. After that one, Alice had taken your hand in hers, giving it a reassuring squeeze, easily able to see your anxiety.
“My girl,” she said. “I’ve been an uncloseted lesbian since the dinosaurs roamed the earth, so believe me when I say this: love as you like, and what’s good will follow. What doesn’t is just the shit you scrape off your shoes.”
You squeezed her hand back, unable to find the words to say what you wanted to say.“Thank you, Alice. So much.”
“No thanks needed, my girl.”
True to her word, when you had said that everyone you had invited had come, Alice ushered you out to go have dinner. Sitting with your friends, you found your appetite had returned, however slightly. You sat and told stories about Alice—ones she’d told you about her youth, the embarrassing ones from when you were a kid she used to love to share, ones from your adult years. No single story would ever do the person that was Alice justice, but you hoped they added up to show a fraction of the wonderful person she had been in your life.
You had stood once you ate all you could stomach, saying you were going to retire for the night. You bid your friends goodnight, thanking them for coming all this way to humor Alice and you. They said goodbye, though as you turned away, you noticed a few of them looked...concerned.
You made your way through the maze of the hospital feeling much better than you had, the corridors seeming a little less cold and lonely. You made a pit stop at the coffee cafe, grabbing a small, hot cup of coffee; you knew the night ahead would be impossible for sleep (between the crappy chair and worrying about Alice’s condition, you’d likely feel more tired if you tried to sleep), so you figured the coffee would help keep you alert. Walking up to Alice’s room, you curiously heard her voice speaking to someone.
“I think that—oh, this must be her now,” she said as you pushed the door open. As you did, you saw all your friends, crammed into the room with Alice.
“Uh...?” Your mind struggled to wrap itself around any one of the many questions you had. “Hey… everyone, what’s up?”
“I’ve invited my new friends for a sleepover,” Alice said proudly. You gave her a look. She merely shrugged at you, unaffected. “Hey, you’re welcome to it, too. But you don’t have to stay if you don’t want to join us.”
You attempted to give her a glare, but with her years of being mother to so many children, you could tell when you were outmatched. You sighed.
“Alright, but I call the windowsill.”
You’d ended up between Muffet and Blueberry on the windowsill, your other friends all sitting around you and Alice. Your head was resting on Muffet’s shoulder comfortably, and she Blueberry laid their hands over yours as you listened to Alice tell grand stories, answer questions, give advice… It was the most truly Alice you’d seen Alice been since you arrived that morning.
Things eventually quieted down, Alice saying she had grown tired and wished to get some rest. Papyrus had suggested a bedtime story, and Green mentioned that he had brought you your favorite book, Man’s Search for Meaning, to read while keeping Alice company. You were touched he remembered it from that first conversation you’d had, seeming so long ago now. You felt it might not be the best bedtime story, as it featured a lot of darker themes. Green disagreed; he felt it might be the best thing at this time. You encouraged him to read it aloud, in that case.
The last thing you remembered as you drifted in and out of sleep was Green, his voice unusually soft and steady as he read aloud:
"...A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life l saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.
... Soon my soul found its way back from the prisoner's existence to another world, and I resumed talk with my loved one: I asked her questions, and she answered; she questioned me in return, and I answered.
...A thought crossed my mind: I didn't even know if she were still alive. I knew only one thing—which I have learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.
I did not know whether my wife was alive, and I had no means of finding out (during all my prison life there was no outgoing or incoming mail); but at that moment it ceased to matter. There was no need for me to know; nothing could touch the strength of my love, my thoughts, and the image of my beloved. Had I known then that my wife was dead, I think that I would still have given myself, undisturbed by that knowledge, to the contemplation of her image, and that my mental conversation with her would have been just as vivid and just as satisfying. 'Set me like a seal upon thy heart, love is as strong as death.'"
You were awoken by your coworker coming in the next morning, her face a clear display of shock as she looked over the monsters in the room. You said your goodbyes to everyone, watching them leave. Your coworker gave you a moment alone with Alice as you too prepared to leave. Her breath was now much more haggard than it had been the night before.
You couldn’t find it in yourself to say goodbye. Even if you had known for certain this would be the last time speaking to her, you wouldn’t have been able to say it then, either. Instead, you just leaned over, kissing her forehead as you squeezed her hand tightly. You wanted to say so much—you wanted to say a thousand things, and hear a thousand things back from her. But you couldn’t—now was your time to go. You said the only thing you could think to try to communicate how you felt:
“I love you, so, so much Alice.”
“I love you too, my girl.”
A part of you wanted to cry, but you couldn’t. You wanted to show her you were okay. You imagined she wanted to show the same.
You’d gone home and got a shower, as well as a brief moment to feel human again, before giving in and getting some actual, real sleep in bed. By the time you woke up, it was time to go back to work. You were still exhausted, from your body to your spirit.
You went to visit Alice during your lunch. She was sleeping. When you went to visit her after work, she slept for the hours you stayed there, too.
It was the next day, when you stepped out of your office, that a woman from HR was standing there, ready to knock on your door. You knew instantly. Your coworkers, throughout the day, were hugging you, hugging each other—from new employees to old, everyone loved Alice. You couldn’t find it in you then to cry, either. You were probably in shock.
That night, as you laid in bed, a memory of you asking Alice for a piece of candy—her gentle hand in yours—flashed in your mind. You finally cried.
You couldn’t find it in yourself to be that sad—just the expectation of missing her, not seeing her again in your life, caused your tears. But Alice had let you see how much you were loved by friends, coworkers, herself—how could you be sad with that much love? You, if nothing else, could always have your family of choice. That family might alter, might change, but it would always be filled with people that loved you. And, above all else, you would always have the love of Alice.
Alice had given the world the gift of showing all she met how to be an incredibly strong, caring, sincere, funny and flirtatious person. It was your greatest hope that you could become the kind of person Alice thought you were, thought you could be. Even while you cried, you couldn’t help but feel that though the world was poorer for her loss, you couldn’t help but to simply feel grateful to have had her there at all.
Rest in peace, Alice. You deserve it.
If you've happened to read to this point, thank you, sincerely for reading.
As mentioned at the start of the chapter, this is 1000% self-indulgent piece I half-wrote while in the hospital with the real-life version of Alice, half-wrote today (two days after her passing). Everything up until the invitations of our skelebois (and spider lady) was pretty much shot-for-shot of that day I spent with her. I admittedly feel a little odd posting this, but a friend suggested it might be a nice thing for those going/have gone through similar, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ here it is. I hope the image of being surrounded by so many loved ones helps you as it helped me that long night.
Alice really was a great woman, and I know she'd find a story about a bunch of monsters falling in love with a reader hillarious and fun. This particular side story is neither of those things, but I think she'd appreciate it anyway, too.
She really would have loved you guys, and like everyone that met her, I'm sure you'd all love her too. Thank you guys for being so supportive; it means the world.
Chapter 3: Waiting
Coming out to your parents (spoiler warning).
Spoiler warning for future SPP events.
Trigger warning for issues regarding coming out.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It had seemed like such a promising start to the day.
The sun was shining through the clouds in the brilliant, streaky way common to the most perfect April days. The world around you was in full birth, the flowers and birdsong that buzzed by your open car window making the recent lingering winter all but forgotten. You were driving towards your childhood home, and the familiarity of the road you were on blanked you in warm feelings. “Blackbird” by The Beatles was calling to you from the radio, as if encouraging the every mile you passed as you mentally wrote and altered what you would say to your parents.
“Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
All your life,
You were only waiting waiting for this moment to arise.”
It felt like the world was telling you that this was the time, that everything in the universe was at the perfect juncture for success. As you drove, Sans places his hand over your free one, and gave a supportive (if not slightly hopeful?) smile. Sans had accompanied you on your journey—you’d agreed he’d sit in the car, supporting from close by, when you had you came out to your parents. You returned the smile, your grin expansive as your anxiety turned into an almost-excitement. Looking back towards the road, you couldn’t help but think:
I hate to get my hopes up, but I can’t help but feel everything will be okay. I… think this may actually go well.
It did not.
Sans didn’t ask how it went when you returned to your car. Whether he saw it on your face, had heard the yelling, or just simply knew from how long it took—you’d arrived in the afternoon, and by the time you left the sun was setting—he clearly knew.
You didn’t listen to music on the way back, Sans’s hand silently over yours as you returned to your home.
By the time you had reached your front door, night had solidly coated the world, the previously brisk air now feeling cold and thin. As soon as you stepped in the door, Sans blipped out of existence next to you and re-appeared on the couch. He patted the seat next to him. You walked over and collapsed onto the sofa, laying your head on his lap as you covered your face with your hands. Throughout the entire thing, you hadn’t cried (to your own surprise), but you could feel tears stubbornly holding beneath your eyes, refusing to either go away or come out.
You felt Sans’s hands comb through your hair gently, running over your scalp soothingly. You dropped your hands but kept your eyes closed, unable to look at him. The pain and disappointment in your heart was immense, visions of ripping out the still-beating thing out of your chest dancing in front of your eyes, not unwelcomely-
“blackbird singing in the dead of night ,” Sans murmured softly. This surprised you—he hardly ever did anything close to singing, his voice only ever barely coming out when you blared the radio in the privacy of your car. As much as you wanted to encourage it, an especially painful twang stabbed through your heart as you remembered the loss of the hope you had this afternoon.
“Sans, I don’t think I can-” you began, but were cut off by the feeling of teeth pressing to your forehead in a gentle kiss.
“hey, open your eyes,” he said. You obliged, and were filled with the vision of Sans’s grinning, upside-down face as he looked over you. You couldn’t help but give a small laugh, however weak it was. He chuckled back, clearing some hair from your face before leaning down to give you another kiss.
“there you are, kiddo. ‘fraid i lost you for a sec there.” His fingers returned their soothing path over your scalp. “now, where were we?”
You could only stare up at him confusion. His grin softened, and his fingers brushed your forehead sweetly.
“blackbird singing in the dead of night ,” he repeated softly, though his voice was much more sure this time. You felt a small urge to protest again, but the lights of his eyes were looking at you in a way you couldn’t understand, so you allowed him to continue.
“take these broken wings and learn to fly.
all your life,
you were only waiting for this moment to arise.”
You weren’t sure what he was getting at, but you felt your eyes begin to finally prick with the tears that had been held back. You didn’t want to lay in self-pity, but as he sang, you couldn’t help but think about your own pain. I’d been waiting to tell them for so long. I knew, logically, that they seemed biased towards it before, but I still hoped…
You were taken out of your thoughts as Sans wiped your tears gently from your cheeks. You felt somewhat embarrassed to be crying like this in front of him, but he didn’t seem to mind, continuing after another breath.
“blackbird singing in the dead of night,
take these sunken eyes and learn to see.”
He then gave a wink and comically (if not unnervingly) hooked a finger inside of his sunken socket and gave a tug. You couldn’t help but let out a strangled laugh through your tears. His look sweetened, and his hand moved back to you. His eyes stared at yours intently.
“all your life,
you were only waiting for this moment to be free.”
He paused, allowing you a beat to process. You felt a sudden, electrifying chill as as the words hit you, a jolt to your soul as you realized his meaning. Your tears doubled, but this time, not with pain.
He’s right. I am free. Good or bad, hated or love—for the first time since I realized, I’m free. I’m finally free.
You swallowed hard, a firm lump in your throat. I wasn’t waiting to tell them. I was waiting for this—I was waiting to be me. I am finally wholly, and without fear, able to live as myself.
You reached up and held his face, a small tremble at the rush of emotions within your core as your tears streamed. You gave a silent look of thanks, and his grin widened as he placed his hand over yours on his cheek, continuing softly:
“blackbird fly, blackbird fly
into the light of the dark black night.
blackbird fly, blackbird fly
into the light of the dark black night.”
You closed your eyes again, and this time Sans made no protest. You couldn’t stop your tears, but you did not fight them—you allowed yourself to feel what was inside, a mix of pain and relief swirling within you. It was going to be terrifying to continue on this path you’d chosen, but with such great, supportive people by your side, you felt a certainty that you would be able to continue on. Even with this dark loss—you had so much love, how could the future not look bright?
“blackbird singing in the dead of night,
take these broken wings and learn to fly.
all your life,
you were only waiting for this moment to arise,
you were only waiting for this moment to arise,
you were only waiting for this moment to arise...”
So, this is obviously just a little catharsis piece I wrote for myself. Apparently singing skeletons are how I make myself feel better (considering two out of three drabbles I've posted contain that). I apologize that I didn't have as much time to edit it as I would've liked.
This chapter may change when we get to that point in the story--I may even change the reader's parent's reactions. But for now, it's what I needed, so... I hope you liked it too.
I'd also like to say, that even though the reader/myself decided to come out, it's not the choice for everyone. You can live a long, fulfilling life without ever coming out. It's all a personal thing.
Thank you guys, as always. You make all the difference.
Chapter 4: Mermay
In a different world, you meet a new friend.
I featured some nautical terms in this chapter, so for those who don't know and/or have English as their second language, I've included some links to help explain.
This is entirely separate from the regular SPP story--a little one-off in an totally unrelated universe, just for Mermay and while I'm on hiatus. Enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
You walked down to the river.
It was as simple as that.
You had found this particular route down to the river after a particularly adventurous evening walk. Most of the lanes off the forested road were private, narrow drives through dense trees that snaked downward to million dollar McMansions. Rich, abrasively snooty out-of-towners took up residency in your hometown for small section of the summers, all of them trying to get a view through the forest of the river until the first leaves of fall dropped, where they’d flee back to warmer climates. Even though they shared that view with hundreds of other people, they spent their millions to feel like they were all alone on their little sect of Ebbot paradise.
Millions of dollars, spent on a summer feeling.
Unlike the snowbirds, you and your family were one of the year-rounders; the kind that held their roots firm and deep against those that had attempted to entice your land from under you with promises of great swathes of cash. Your family’s house (a small single-floor ranch, built by your great-great grandfather) was at possibly the tallest point on what was called Driftaway Road—a seemingly endless stretch of winding pavement that ran North-South, parallel to Ebbot’s river. Every house rested on a hill that slightly tilted down to the East as the land dropped towards the steep shoreline.
Not too far off West from Driftaway laid rolling farmland, painstakingly carved out from the forests decades ago. For the year-rounders of the town, you typically had one of three options for work: farming, fishing, or search outside of town. You’d opted for the third choice, but came back to your childhood home often—just about every weekend. Your grandfather—a retired harbormaster of the town—still lived in the house with your parents, and they appreciated you aiding in the upkeep. You never minded; your grandfather, even in his advanced age, was quick with a joke or a story about one of his many adventures on the sea. Although he assured your siblings and cousins that everyone was loved in their own special way, your relationship had always been especially close: you were the one that spent hours with him learning sailing knots, snuck out at night with him to practice sailing guidance by the stars, and was the one he counted on to groan when he told a particularly bad pun. You were his “little sailor.” Although he’d clearly been slightly heartbroken when you’d moved to the city (instead of following his footsteps and turning to the sea for work), he seemed to respect your wish to make a life for yourself where you could. The weekend visits could, and did, suffice for you both.
You had been driving down from the city one such weekend that your grandfather had, unexpectedly, passed away. The doctor seemed to think it was his natural time—he was quite old, after all. You, in your grief, couldn’t help but disagree.
Your world became a blur for a few weeks as the funeral came and went. Your grandfather had been a bit of a legend in the town—with a record low number of deaths at sea under his watch as harbormaster, practically the whole town came out to his funeral. Another blow came soon after: despite being there for generations, your parents would have to sell the family home. Influenced by the ever encroaching numbers of wealthy estates in the area, the cost of keeping the home was getting far too high, especially without your grandfather’s monthly aid. They’d done the best they could, but they could not fight the tide of the changing times.
You did your best at the time to hide your heartbreak—your parents were clearly devastated in their own right—but from then on you resolved to spend as much time there as you could before the end, eager to soak in every memory and feeling of safety the tiny house provided. You’d spent this particular Saturday helping your parents sort through items in the basement, traversing through dust and cobwebs until just before sunset. You’d decided to call it quits for the day and take a walk, reminiscing in the familiar feeling of exploring the woods like you had when you were young. You’d always been curious—likely inherited (or maybe instilled) from your grandfather’s sense of adventure. It occasionally got you into trouble, but you hadn’t been arrested (yet), and the city, too dangerous to wander, had left you feeling stifled. You needed this walk.
You thought you knew the various paths and lanes of Ebbot like the back of your hand, but you’d yet to notice this one before. If it was summer, you likely wouldn’t have risked going down and being yelled at (or worse) by a skuke — the local curseword for the rich snowbirds, based on a local bird that comes in the summer, shits all over the place, then leaves—but the chill that had reigned present in the air for the past month signified it’d likely be just a little more time before the summer population returned.
It was now the end of spring, and it was raining. You liked the rain in that odd way that some people do, depressing the emotions but giving a sense of calm in return. You had a loose sweatshirt on, oversized and cherished. Crammed in the pockets you carried anything you could ever need: a cell phone, a pen, and a tiny spiral notebook your grandfather had once given you, the metal whirls hanging off the end with wear from mindless toying. The chill of the drizzling rain set a slight coldness to your bones, but focusing on the music pumping through your taped-together headphones was enough to distract you, giving you a bit of mental warmth.
You walked down the unfamiliar path, savoring the way the clouded murky sunlight hit the trees that surrounded the lane. Without much surprise, you noted it looked like no one had been down this way in months: branches sprawled bare in the middle of the dirt road, and untrimmed trees hung low to likely scratch any kind of car that attempted to pass. Definitely made for a skuke.
It stretched on for quite some time before hitting a surprisingly square bend in the path. Sitting prominently at this bend was a gnarly old tree, dark and still leafless from the winter. This was… slightly bizarre, if not a little disconcerting, as all but the most stubborn of trees had revived in full foliage, even with the extended cold. It must be completely dead—they’ll probably tear it down when they see it next. You walked up to the tree, taking your time, listening to the oddly rhythmic squeaks of the trees as they rocked in the soft wind and dizzying rain. You touched the tree, lightly, once. The wet bark wasn’t exactly a pleasant sensation to your fingertips, but you felt important to say hello to the poor thing anyway.
You ventured farther, past the tree, smiling at the small rush of adrenaline of trespassing. Before you sunk a long, steeply sloping hill. The lane down the hill was lined with different kinds of trees and brush, blocking the view of what lay in the field ahead. Your mind’s eye automatically assumed a gaudy McMansion, even filling in what it’d likely look like—all dramatic whites and blacks, sleek fixtures, cold architecture.
You were holding your breath as your feet took you downward, ready for the trees to part and reveal the eyesore-
But there was nothing.
Technically, there were things there. Grass, sky, a small bit of sandy beach, a few old barrels with strange looking red X’s painted on them (maybe bait barrels?), a few overturned lawnchairs, and what looked like a rotted dock.
You walked over to the dock and evaluated it for a moment. Even in the waning light of a clouded sunset, you could see that many boards had either blown off or decayed over time and dropped into the waters below. It was a surprisingly long dock; although there were some bigger boats closer to where the river emptied out to the ocean, most of the docks this deep upstream were short and stout, perfect for housing the little fishing boats that sputtered around the different river branches.
You were going to leave your surveying at that, but just as you were about to turn back, something odd caught your eye.
As if glowing out of the encroaching darkness, your eyes caught sight of something white. Focusing in, and you could see what looked like… a piece of paper, tacked to one of the wooden pilings at the end of the dock?
Although signs themselves attached to pilings weren’t unusual—typically proclaiming that the dock was private, or the standard “SLOW NO WAKE” warning—they were always large, metal, and bolted. From what you could see, this looked instead like a small notebook page, soaked from the weather, just barely clinging to the post.
The adult, rational side of your brained warned you against investigating. It’s dark, it’s wet, and people don’t know where you are. It would be foolish to go there-
The natural, deep-down nature of your soul interrupted with a rousing yell: Adventure! Mystery! Adrenaline!
You looked out into the darkness, the gray-green waters pushing agitatedly against the steely sky forebodingly. This sight was almost enough to let the rational side win, but…
What would your grandfather do?
Despite knowing that decisions made out of grief were rarely wise, you took a careful step onto the dock. It was sturdier than you expected, the boards without much give or groan as you placed your full weight on. The aging of the boards additionally seemed to help your footing; instead of the dangerous slickness that young, smooth wood often caused when wet, the roughness of the boards kept each step you made out further from land more and more sure. You still made the conscious decision to move slowly, not wanting to push your luck.
Painstakingly, you made your way to the very last piling at the dock’s end. Part of the board closest to it had disconnected from the rest, resulting in a large gap between you and your goal. With just a bit of sweat on your brow, you were able to stick your feet reliably on the very edge of the landing, lean over and successfully tear the soggy paper from its posting. You had to push against the piling to get yourself upright, but were able to take a safe step back from the edge, treasure in hand.
The paper was practically pulp in your hands, but still intact. You pulled out your phone and turned on the flashlight to read.
You stated at the piece of paper for a moment before shutting your light off.
Well, that was anticlimactic. Just wait for wha-?
You shifted to make your way back, but instead of returning towards the shore, you felt yourself go backwards. In a gut-churning moment that stretched on for a century, you felt your world flip before water so cold it was practically painful embraced you. The shock of it knocked the wind out of you, instantly leaving you breathless as all sound and vision was taken over by water. Instinctually, stupidly, your mouth opened to reclaim air, but instead filled with brackish water as the river rushed to filled the void. You waved your arms through the water as time dragged, attempting to push yourself up-
-and then felt yourself being hoisted, almost as if the sea itself had grown arms to push you forward. All at once, time seemed to fast-forward to its normal march as you found yourself thrust against the small patch of sandy shore. You coughed abrasively, salty water stinging your lungs and throat as you struggled to expel as much as you could. Though black dots danced in front of your vision, your eyes instantly swung towards the river.
Even in the darkness of nightfall, even with your vision swimming, you could see something there in the water.
Something that looked almost human.
You coughed out something that was akin to a “hey!” as you tried to stand. The thing ducked back underwater, and you beat your chest as you quickly tried to speak again.
“Wait-” you hacked, “no, I-” more brutal coughing, “I didn’t mean to scare you!”
Before you could attempt more coaxing, you saw a tail flip out of the water. It was, by far, the largest fish tail you’d ever seen.
I… I don’t think that was a fish.
True to your 21st century nature, you attempted to pull out your phone for photographic evidence in case it came out again. Much to your immediate dismay, you realized your phone was soaked—along with your notebook. You gave a low groan, stashing your ruined items back into your pockets.
You ran a hand through water-matted hair, trying to process what had just happened. Was… was that really real? Were you a fool for thinking that thing that rescued you… could have it really been…?
You cleared your throat again before speaking once again, yelling out to the river. “I’ll be coming back again! I swear, if you’re real, I don’t want to hurt you! I just want to say thank you!”
You stood silent for a moment, watching over the river, the waters as normal as if you’d never fallen in the first place. As if you hadn’t almost died, as if you hadn’t just been saved.
You trudged back home, the stinging rain against your face the only steady reassurance that this wasn’t a dream.
The forest and pathway remained relatively silent in your absence, save for the patter of rain and consistent churning of water from the river. The blanket of rain held heavy, muffling all the sounds of daily life—of conversations being had, of the scratch of thick marker against paper, of buoys clanking against their tethers, of limbs slicing in and out of water’s surface. Hours passed by, and as the world hushed against the full draw of night, the rain lessened before it, too, became silent.
Some time later, new sounds arose as the darkness of the world began to fade. Birds chirped, insects buzzed, fish writhed against the surface of the water in pursuit of more bugs. People in their houses rising, boards creaking as they made coffee, and whispers of awakening. The regular silence continues of the world in daily motion.
Soon, sound is made by a door opening and closing, footsteps on pavement, then on leaves and dirt.
Early morning sun, streaking through the trees, cast the morning dew and leftover rain into a glittering trail before you. As you got steadily closer to the river, you noticed a light mist beginning to collect in the air. Sure enough, as you moved past the bend and descended into the clearing, a curling fog clung to the riverbed. Although you’d typically find such weather to be ominous, the light of dawn cast the fog into a sweet pastel glow. If it didn’t involve forcing yourself out of bed so early, you would’ve liked to come at this time more often.
Sweatshirt still in the wash, you’d had to opt for a messenger bag to carry your things. As you approached the dock, you opened up the flap and pulled out a new notebook (you’d spent halff the night drying your old one out, but it still wasn’t there yet), as well as some duct tape. You tore a page from your notebook before ripping a piece of duct tape free, then haphazardly stuffed your items back into the bag. Securing the piece of tape to the paper, you unstrapped the bag from your shoulders and tossed it aside onto the grass.
Now came the difficult part: how were you going to get the paper onto the piling? The board you’d used to lean over was now down at the bottom of the river, and you were nowhere close to being able to reach.
Upon studying it for a moment, you turned and began to search for a large branch. Quickly spotting one (the lawn, similar to the path leading here, visibly hadn’t been cleared of debris in quite some time), you retrieved the duct tape before snagging another piece. You then, gently as you dared, pressed the paper and stick together with the extra tape.
You deftly climbed back onto the dock, feeling no less wary than the night before. You carefully inched yourself along before making it as close as you could, extending the stick towards the piling. It took some maneuvering, but you were able to transfer the paper from your stick to the piling. You gave it a few jabs to press down the tape, but quickly retreated the moment you could.
Finally safe on dry land and mission accomplished, you surveyed the river. Other than insects and the fish that preyed upon them, the river was largely inactive. Certainly no person-sized beasts breaching the water.
You cupped your hands around your mouth and yelled as loud as you dared this early on a Sunday: “I left a letter! Thank you again!”
You grabbed your bag, and without looking towards the water, you made your way back home.
Unseen by you, just below the surface, purposefully empty sockets read your scrawling handwriting:
“I hope I didn’t scare you too badly. I’m not even sure if that note was meant for you, or if you can read this—but I hope so.
I’d like to talk to you. I imagine you can’t pop out during the day—can you come out at night?
I understand there’s a lot of risk talking to someone, but I assure you, I mean you no harm. I promise. I do owe you my life, after all.
I’d like to find some way to repay your kindness. So, if you can, I’d like to meet you after sunset. If not, I understand, and I won’t come back again.
Thank you, truly.”
In a language you would not be able to hear, said in a way that you would not be able to see, a voice muttered.
* a promise, huh?
More silence for an extended period of time, a standard Sunday—the only difference being a noticeably absent chair at the Sunday dinners you were so used to.
Thankful you were no longer living at your parents’ house full-time, you bid your parents goodbye at the crest of nightfall. You had to store your car at the top of the lane, but imagined it would be perfectly fine on the side of the road—runners and hunters parked around the place all the time.
You made your way down the path, the old tree an oddly welcome shadow to you. Your phone still sitting in a bag of rice in your car, you borrowed a small lantern from your parents—one of your grandfather’s, the kind he’d like to secure to the end of his boat on particularly dark evenings. It wasn’t quite dark enough to use for navigation yet, but it still felt reassuringly nostalgic in your hand.
Trudging down to the dock, you carefully hoisted yourself up and sat on one of the more sturdier looking sections. You grabbed a book out of your bag (one that you wouldn’t miss too much if you went overboard again). You set your lantern up, flicked it on, and began to read.
You were there for close to an hour or so (in truth, you had gotten a little lost in your book) when you decided to call it quits. Nightfall had descended fully into night by this point, so you figured the thing wasn’t coming. Fair enough. Well, I tried.
You shut off your lamp (the thing was electric, and you didn’t want to be electrocuted should you fall in and smash it open) and waited for a moment for your eyes to adjust before standing up.
“going so soon?”
You nearly fell off the dock a second time, thankfully knocking into a sturdy piling instead of going sideways. Whipping around, there was no one on the dock—but instead what looked like a face peering out of the water. You likely wouldn’t have been able to see this if it wasn’t for the two glowing pupils giving a slight glow to their face.
“Christ on a bike, you are real!”
“in the flesh—well, in the scales.”
It’s real and it makes terrible jokes. You surveyed its face—or at least, what little of its face you could make out. You didn’t see scales. It’s face appeared smooth, and… wait, did it not have a nose? Or lips?
You suddenly felt your stomach drop as the reality hit you. Oooooooohkay, I’m talking to a thing without lips. Am I really here? Is this grief-filled delusion? Did I actually drown, or hit my head when I fell-
“you wanted to talk?” it prompted. You found your mouth suddenly dry.
“You don’t… have scales,” was all you could mumble back. It gave a low chuckle. You attempted to snap yourself out of it. “Okay. Okay. Uh. This feels like I’m going crazy, or like I’m on candid camera or something. How do I know that’s not a mask, or…?”
“huh. didn’t think i came here to prove to some human i exist.”
You blinked, your mind rushing. You shook your head as if trying to physically dislodge all the thoughts crammed in. You then rubbed your temples. “Right. Sorry. I suppose it doesn’t matter if you’re pranking me or not. Whatever… you are, you saved me.”
He was silent as you took a breath, watching you steadily. You ran a hand through your hair, feeling a little thrown, but your heart no longer beating quite so hard in your chest. Okay. Whatever, worst case scenario this is a delusion and I go get help. Best case scenario I’m talking to a… you couldn’t even form your mind around an option. ...a creature of some sort, and I’m being really rude. Shit, I didn’t actually expect anything to happen here.
You cleared your throat, looking at him once again, trying to push down the tide of discord within you. “Sorry. Again. Uh. I really just wanted to say thank you, and ask if there was anything I could do to repay what you did for me in any way.”
He was silent for a moment more. You wondered for an instant if he was getting ready to take off, but instead, he turned his head to look at you more critically. “that’s it? really? no giant net, no hidden camera, no three wishes, nothing?”
You stared at him blankly. “Three wishes? Why would I ask that?”
Even in the darkness, you could see him grimace. “buddy, you have no idea what kind of weird things humans come up with.”
“I could only imagine. For the record, I don’t have a hidden camera. I don’t even have a working phone after falling in.”
“i know.” he then tapped the side of his head. “this old skull of mine is sensitive to electromagnetic things. it’s how i know you’re not hiding anything in the trees, either. which is why i think it’s okay to do this.”
Before you could ask exactly what he meant, he went under the water. You were about to try to call out to him to get him back, when a loud groaning from the boards of the dock to your side startled you. You fell back, your butt thankfully (if not painfully) hitting wood.
“Holy hell-” you began, before being struck mute by the sight before you. The creature was somehow now on the dock, just a few feet away from you, practically within touching distance. In the darkness, you could see what looked like a humanoid skull, boney neck, spine, rib cage and arms, and a massive tail from his torso down. You felt your lungs stop working.
This is not what Disney told me mermaids look like what in the everloving fuck-
His grin seemed steady and plastered on his face. It was mildly terrifying. “not what you expected, huh? i usually get that.”
“H-how many humans have you met?” You were then struck by a thought. “And… how the hell do you know English?”
“oh, y’know. met a couple here and there. they tend to get a little… capture-friendly when they see us. but over time, we’ve learned a few languages. some choose not to, but i figured it’d make for a good joke now and then.”
“Who is we?” you asked, unable to keep your eager nature at bay. “And how do you communicate normally?”
“other monsters—merpeople, if that’s what ya’d like to call it. we have our own way of getting a message across; hard to speak with a mouth full of water, y’know?”
Does that mean he clicks like a dolphin, or moans like a whale? You figured it’d be rude to ask. You wondered how he was speaking at all without a discernible throat, among a thousand other questions you had. You did your best to push them down.
“I’m so sorry, I’m sure you get this exact same thing all the time. Here I am, bombarding you with questions instead of trying to thank you-”
He gave you a wink. “nah, it’s okay. it’s pretty cute.”
You felt your face explode into blush as you were once again drowned with questions. what the fuck, what concept of cute could they possible have, how do they even-
He gave a loud gut-laugh at your expression. “hey, kid, i know i’m pretty scary looking, but jeeze—no need to die on me.”
“I… can’t actually see you very well, to be honest. Not to assume, but I figure you have better night vision than I do? Maybe I should-”
You sat up, leaning forward to turn the lamp on. Before you could turn the switch, you felt a boney, wet grasp around your hand. It wasn’t harsh, but startled you nonetheless. He seemed to notice, and took his hand away, those glowing eyes seeming fierce in the darkness.
“heh. sorry, kid. anyone could see us from a mile away. best stay in the dark for now.”
Despite your dismay at the sensation of wet bone against your skin, you gave your best understanding smile.
“Gotcha. Sorry, just trying to see if you were cute too.”
He gave a loud snort, and you could see him grinning with a slightly more relaxed nature in the darkness. For a non-human, he certainly had some nice social graces. Were monsters all like this?
“i suppose i could show ya something. ‘s probably alright.”
You opened your mouth to say no, he didn’t have to, but were silenced but the lower half of his body giving a quiet, barely-there blue glow. The color then changed—from green, to red, to yellow, to a multicolored rainbow before fading into darkness again. You were in utter awe.
“That is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” you said with certainty. He chuckled, and his tail appeared to flick in amusement. Interesting.
“it helps us blend in when we need to. it’s kinda automatic, but i can change it if i concentrate.”
“What about your eyes? I feel like they’d—oh.” Just as you were asking, his little glowing eye lights disappeared. Creepy. You gave a groan. “Man, humans are so lame.”
“not from my perspective. speaking of which, i know how you can repay me.”
Oops. He probably wants to get out of here. “Right, sorry. What can I do for you?”
“i… need you to get information for me about a human,” he said slowly. You were immediately intrigued.
“Oh! That sounds easy enough. Can I ask why—is this a vendetta thing?”
“no,” he chuckled, “it’s an old friend. i’m just… worried, i guess.”
You were elated. If this was a delusion, it was at least filled with wholesome adventure! Magic! Friendship! There were certainly worse ways to go crazy. You were so down for this. “Alright! Sounds easy enough. Who is it?”
“i don’t know his last name, but he was the old harbormaster.”
You felt your stomach drop.
What the fuck-
“The previous harbormaster? Of this town?” Your voice cracked, and you had to swallow hard to get down the lump in your throat.
“yeah. do you know him?”
You felt like your head was spinning. What the fuck. What the fuck. My grandfather was hanging out with a fucking merperson—just what the fuck?? No, it can’t be. I can’t believe… Did he not trust me enough to tell me?
“uh, kid? you alright there?”
“Can… Can you describe him?”
You noticed, distantly, that his eyes grew a little brighter. “he’s a funny guy. always had the best jokes. i didn’t have a name in your language when i met him, for instance, so he called me sans.” You stared blankly, and he grinned wider. “‘cause, y’know, i was sans name-”
You instantly burst into tears. Sans, in turn, looked immediately panicked.
“uh, it’s not that bad a pun-”
It was him. No one else had jokes that lame.
You wiped your tears the best you could, doing best to reel your emotions back. “He was my grandfather.”
“your grandfather?” he asked, and before you could answer, his tone dropped. “oh. was your grandfather. i see.”
You wiped your eyes a few times and had to take a sobering breath before nodding. “I’m so sorry, Sans. I’m sorry you had to find out this way.”
“it’s…” He paused as you ran a hand through your hair. “it’s alright, kid. if you hadn’t come along, i would’ve had to assumed, but never known for sure.” He then paused again, looking thoughtful.
“What?” you prompted.
“it’s just… i feel a little odd, knowing a lot more about a stranger than they do me.” He then looked back at you, his expression a mix of warmth and sadness. “your grandfather talked about you a lot.”
You felt your eyes well up again. All you could manage to get out was a “Yeah?”
You two sat in a heavy silence for a moment, the only sounds between you the sloshing of water against the dock and your occasional sniffle. Looking out over the water, you could see small lights here and there, winking at you from faraway docks. It was incredibly serene, as if the stars above wrapped around to the world below. You felt your heart pang in grief, but in that moment, it wasn’t so painful.
“Not to ask another favor of you… but could you tell me about how you met?”
“sure, kid,” his tone laid with a kind gentleness. “but only if you tell me about him too.”
The two of you swapped stories about your grandfather throughout the night. Sans spoke of how they met (one stormy night, with a rescue call gone wrong), how they struck up a deal (rerouting channels out of their territory, so curious fishermen would stay away, in exchange for help with particularly treacherous rescues), and how they became friends (terrible, terrible puns largely involved). You spoke, in turn, all about your best memories—of him teaching you the ways of the sea, of all the places he took you and lessons he imparted, of the particular glint in his eye when he looked at you after making a particularly bad pun. It was incredibly cathartic, and as much as you were going to be absolutely wrecked at work that morning, it was entirely worth it. He, at one point, even let you turn on the lamp—on the dimmest setting, and only for a moment—to fully see him. You had an initial wave of shock at just how skeletal he was, but… the talking had helped. You were more amused than anything else, especially with how apprehensive he seemed at revealing his appearance. It was sweet.
As light slowly began to encroach over the morning, you knew it was time to wrap it up. Though he wasn’t outwardly anxious in his facial expression or tone, you could see him looking over his shoulder periodically at the brightening sky. You, too, knew it was going to be the time to get ready for work soon. Taking a deep breath, you stretched and gathered up your lamp and book.
“I’m guessing you need to get back so you’re not seen,” you said. He grimaced slightly.
“it’s reel tiring to have to hide, especially when we’re getting along so swimmingly.” You groaned loudly. There had been a lot of this after he realized how much you hated puns. You did have to stuff down a smile, though; it made you feel nostalgic, if not happy that he was enjoying your company as much as you enjoyed his. “but i suppose you’re right. i was wondering if i could ask something else of you—for saving your life and all?”
“Of course; I didn’t exactly have to work for that first one.”
“wouldja mind… coming back every once in a while to talk? your grandfather used to tell me what was going on with the surface, and i’d like to stay informed.” He then gave a wink. “plus, it’d make me happy as a clam to keep talking to ya.”
You groan-laughed, reaching over to give a gentle shove of his arm. When had you gotten this close to him? “Yes,” you sighed, as if it were some great burden. “I suppose I can for you saving my life, even if I’ll have to hear those puns. I work in the city nearby during the week, but I usually come here on the weekends to help out my parents. Would next Saturday night work?”
“it shore-ly would. what day is it today?”
“Oh,” you hummed. You forgot that he probably wouldn’t need to keep track of days. “It’s Monday morning now. So on the sixth night from now.”
“buoy, sounds like i’ll be cruising in lonesome waters for a while-” You cut him off with a deadpan stare, causing him to laugh. He then grinned mischievously. “so you’ll come back, you promise?”
“Promise,” you agreed with a grin. You then, in a bit of boldness, added: “It’s a date.”
He grinned wider than ever. “well, that’s just swell.”
You resisted the urge to push him off the dock, and instead, said your goodbyes.
You watched him slip into the water, the ripples around him gently hued by the early morning sun. As he waved goodbye and gave a playful flip of his tail out of the water, you felt a burst of warmth within you. Even with the loss you were going through, it seemed your grandfather has given you, however accidentally, this one last gift. You couldn’t help but feel excited—if not grateful—to make this new friendship.
This was a lot of fun to write! I love anything to do with water, so it was a total blast. The only difficult part was the grandfather bit— I didn’t really know either of mine so that was tough to imagine, but I hope I captured the relationship decently enough!
I hope you guys enjoyed this one-off! Sorry for the hiatus. I’ll be seeing you guys as soon as I can.