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Make or Break

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"He's been here three days," Papyrus recited as he led Lombok down the long hallway towards the interrogation room. "Sleep deprivation, malnutrition, and the diminutive holding cell have all made him significantly more willing to answer basic information, but so far he's held onto his defiance, continuing to assert a lack of knowledge regarding the resistance itself. My experience tells me he's on the verge of cracking. This is where you come in. Get me the name of their leader"

They came to a halt in front of a stout door with a reinforced glass window. Inside, a large, shaggy dog monster sat bound to a chair in the center of the otherwise featureless little room. The monster was breathing heavily, his great shoulders heaving. Blood dripped slowly from his muzzle, a quiet testament to the obvious trauma he'd already endured. Lombok couldn't shake the feeling that he'd seen this monster before, though he couldn't imagine where or why.

"Yes Sir," Lombok said dutifully. "I won't let you down."

Papyrus smiled, reaching out to unlock the door. "I know you won't. Go on, then."

Lombok stepped inside. The smell of wet dog immediately filled his senses, and he could see that the other monster's fur was damp. Lombok recognized it as another one of Papyrus's "moderate physical pressures". He'd have bet gold that every time the exhausted monster tried to doze off someone would be there to awaken him with a bucket of ice water.

The bound monster looked up when the door opened and watched Lombok warily as he approached. A haze of confusion clouded his right eye, the left one too swollen to completely open. Staring boldly back at him, Lombok tried to decide if his mental state was simply a result of the torture or if Dr. Alphys decided to include a bit of injectible coercion. It was hard to say.

"So, looks like you're ready to head home. All I need is for you to answer one question for me." Hope flickered in the dog's red eyes and Lombok felt his stomach twist. This monster was never leaving.

"I told them everything," the monster rasped through broken teeth. "'S not my fault I don't know anything."

Lombok nodded, forcing sympathy onto his face. It wasn't hard. "Of course I believe you, but there's just one more thing and we can put this all behind us." He crouched down a bit, bringing himself to eye level with the other. "Who leads the Masks?"

There was a twitch of a muscle along the monster's muzzle like he wanted to snarl.

"The Plague Doctor. I don't know who he is."

Lombok sighed, a bit dramatically and stood up again. "You're so close to being done. Maybe you'd rather just go back to your cell?"

The monster flinched, ears flattening along his skull. Lombok couldn't blame him. The Guard had been after the Masks for a long time and would take the dog's defiance as a personal slight. They would have done everything they could to make that cell a living nightmare.

Walking to stand beside the monster, he summoned a bone club where the other couldn't see. "I know you know his name." He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to gather the strength, the confidence to do what he needed to do. Papyrus was watching from the other side of the door, counting on him.

Papyrus wouldn't hesitate like this.

The thought ran through him like a lightning strike, and he gripped the club hard, suddenly swinging it around to strike the shaggy monster in the back of his head. There was a choking cry, and then a howl of pain. Lombok felt sick, his bones crawling with twisted guilt. But he couldn't let up now.

"Tell me who is the Plague Doctor!" he cried, bringing the bone around for another hit. It struck the monster's skull right below his ear, and the howl redoubled as a sickening crack echoed through the room. Lombok knew what he was doing, at least when it came to attacks. It would hurt, damage, but the monster wouldn't dust. "Tell me his name!"

"You bony little shit-!" The monster growled, baring his fangs.

Lombok paused, club half raised. He'd… he'd heard that before. He took a step back as the memory came to him.

It had been years ago, back when he and Gothic were still in school. Lombok had tracked him down after class to pass along some information or other and had found him in the company of older monsters. The dog monster had been there and he'd postured aggressively, trying to intimidate Lombok.

Gothic, cool as could be, simply grabbed a fistful of blue magic and dropped the dog to the ground. Lombok remembered his smirk as he stepped directly on and over the snarling monster to reach his brother. "You bony little shit, I'll kick your ass!" the monster had called from the ground. Gothic had only laughed.

"I know you," Lombok said dully, staring at the howling, pained creature in front of him. "Gothic-"

The other monster was still snarling, but his eyes widened, just a little.

Lombok wasn't like his Dad. He could never read faces and know what a monster was thinking just from the expression they wore. He was no Judge. But in this singular instant, he KNEW.

"No," he whispered, feeling the bone attack dissolve away. "No, it can't be. That's not even possible…"

The snarl stopped, and the wolfish ears dropped flat in fear. He shook his huge head quickly. "I don't know who it is, I told you."

"I've… got to tell the captain." This was the worst possible outcome. This had never even been a possibility. He'd had no idea, no clue. "He betrayed us. Gothic betrayed me."

"You idiot!" the dog monster screamed before Lombok could even turn himself around. "You're the betrayer! They'll kill him! Do you want to see him like THIS! You can't!" Gnashing his jaws, the monster tried to throw himself at Lombok but only succeeded in tipping the chair. His head struck the stone floor with another horrid crack, worse than one Lombok had dealt.

The monster, Lombok couldn't remember his name, if he'd even known it, twitched involuntarily on the floor. He coughed, blood splattering in thick ropes from his open jaws. The ear on the cracked side of his head no longer hung straight. It was too much damage, Lombok knew.

"You were never betrayed. He wanted to protect you. That was all he wanted." The monster's voice had gone quiet. As he watched he could see some of the monster's fur softening into dust. "And you… you fucker… all you want is to destroy him. Burn... burn in hell."

Horrified, Lombok could only watch as the monster faded in front of him. It took only seconds before Lombok was standing in front of only a pile of dust and ropes in a bloody pool. He jolted when a long, bony hand dropped onto his shoulder. Eye sockets wide, he looked at Papyrus's grim expression. He hadn't even heard the door open.

Lombok had to tell him. It was his duty. This was his father, the monster he respected above all others in the Underground. He opened his mouth but couldn't speak, words caught in his throat, his Soul beating erratically. He feared that he might throw up then and there.

"You should have healed him," Papyrus reprimanded softly. He sighed and shook his head. "But I understand. You froze. Nonetheless, did you find anything out before he dusted?"

"He- I-," How could he even consider keeping such an important secret to himself? This… this was everything. He wanted to be Captain someday, didn't he? Wasn't the most important thing to protect the kingdom? He looked back at the horrific mess at his feet, and for a moment he imagined Gothic, bound to a chair. Beaten. Broken. Dusting into a pile of his own gore.

Jerking back, Lombok doubled over as his magic revolted through his body, vomiting up to dash against the ground, adding to the sickening mess. Again and again, he heaved until there was nothing left in his system. It left his head spinning.

Once he was done, he felt Papyrus give his back a light pat. "Perhaps you weren't ready for this after all." The disappointment in his voice was another strike to Lombok's Soul. "Come now. I will tell Undyne what happened. Go and get yourself cleaned. We'll discuss this once you're more composed."

Lombok nodded weakly and allowed himself to be led from the room. It would give him time to think of what to say. The kingdom was important. His father was important. But nothing, no one was more important than his brother, his twin.

He could fix this. Somehow. He had to.

Chapter Text

It was habit that made Sans check the bar back mirror when the door opened. Halfway through a sip of straight mustard (it was only ten in the morning, after all), he nearly choked as he saw Lombok step through.

He put the mustard down quickly and tried to think up a good story for why he was here before Papyrus could walk in. It had barely been an hour since the Boss had taken Lombok to the castle and it was probably still too early to claim he was taking a lunch break. Papyrus hated when he slacked off, and Sans didn't feel like getting into another arguement so soon after their last. That fight had been brutal, hardly a soulbeat away from becoming physical when the two of them had finally agreed to disagree for the time being. But Papyrus didn't follow behind. It was just Lombok.

The boy looked like hell. His eyelights were downcast, barely focused on the step in front of him. It made for a sad sight, and Sans hadn't seen him looking this despondent in years. Though Grillby's is about as safe a place as a monster can find in Snowdin, you still had to put up the act. Right now, that hurt, betrayed expression on Lombok face was anything but strong. It's too much weakness, even for here.

There was a flicker of movement as the bar's only other patron glanced up from his cards towards Lombok. The look on Lesser Dog's face suggested that he might be considering a new chew toy. The dog probably wasn't quite that stupid, but just in case, Sans let out a low warning growl. The sound was too quiet for most monsters to have heard, but Lesser Dog's big ears turned towards the bar. His tail drooped, and he went back to his solo poker game. Good boy.

Sans turned his eyelights back towards the mirror at the same moment Lombok looked up, finally noticing him. Lombok stopped midstep, and Sans could see him calculating in his head whether or not it's better to keep walking forward or to just turn and run. With a sigh, Sans leaned back, twisting in his barstool to look over his shoulder.

"Get over here, ya' runt," he said, patting the stool next to him. "Already halfway in, might as well come 'n join me." He turned back to the bar and nodded at Grillby. The purple elemental had already come over, though whether to take Lombok's order or to size him up Sans couldn't tell. Probably both. "Hey Grillbz, why don'tcha bring a glass a milk over, would ya'? Put it on my tab."

Grillby gave a little huff, eyeing the plain mustard. "…you know this is a bar, right? …the kind with alcohol?"

"Heh, yeah, but drinking this early ain't ale it's cracked up to be." Grillby gave him a flat stare, and Sans's smile widened. "Don't like that one, huh? Well it was worth a shot."

Rolling his eyes, Grillby walked off as Lombok slowly trudged forward. He looked more like a monster walking towards his own execution than one invited to sit with his dad. Sans would know.

"You look like shit." Sans commented as Lombok finally sat down. "Somebody stab your cat or somethin'?"

That gets his attention. His head whipped up to look Sans in the eyelights. "Doomfanger's hurt?" He cried out, right as Grillby returned with the milk.

"What? Shit, kiddo, no, calm down. I haven't even seen the damn thing today," Sans clarified, watching Grillby set the milk down and step away, not quite out of earshot. Ignoring the bartender, Sans asked, "What the hell happened? Thought you and the boss was supposed to have a nice day at the Capitol."

Lombok looked down, suddenly very interested in the milk he'd been handed. Sans narrowed his eyes, letting the silence hang. It wasn't long before Lombok cracked to fill it, fidgeting with the glass. "We did, I mean, we were there. A normal day at the Capitol."

Guilt shone on his face so brightly a blind monster could have seen it. Anger, hot and sharp lanced through Sans.

"He took you to a fucking interrogation, didn't he? Why that low down, spiky faced, two-timing sonuva-!"

This was exactly what they had been fighting about. Boss had insisted Lombok was ready, but Sans knew that it would be too much for Lombok to handle. Judging by that reaction, he had been right. Sans had thought they'd both agreed to leave it be for now. Apparently, Papyrus had other ideas.

Lombok was quick to jump to the defensive. "No, uh, no! We just went through inspecting the cells- I mean barracks!"

Despite how utterly pissed he was, Sans couldn't help but give a wry laugh. "Stick with the lies by omission kid. You ain't got a shred'a talent for lying to a guy's face."

The look of hurt fell heavily back across Lombok's face as he scowled deeply at the countertop. "Yeah, that's because Gothic got it all."

Oh, well ain't that interesting. Maybe this wasn't all Papyrus's fault after all …but what the hell did Gothic do to put that expression on his brother's face?

"Your bro's got dark talents, I'll give 'im that. But that don't mean you should wanna be like him." Sans sighed, and took a guess. "Looks like you found out one of his secrets?"

Lombok made a face like the milk he'd just drank had curdled. Direct hit. As he watched his son's expression, Sans wondered which secret he'd found out about. Sans knew a few of them, including the unfortunately open secret about Gothic's Oedipus complex.

"Yeah, those fuckin' secrets. Your bro can be a real pain in the ass… eh, you know." Probably wasn't the best choice of words actually, if that somehow happened to be the secret on Lombok's mind. "Wanna talk about it?"

The way Lombok turned to look suspiciously around the room sent all sorts of alarm bells chiming off in Sans's mind. He spotted Grillby down at the other end of the bar, pretending not to listen as he polished his glassware.

"…What do you know about the Masks?" He asked in a low whisper, probably figuring that Grillby couldn't hear.

Now was Sans's turn to go quiet. He didn't often keep secrets from Papyrus, but Sans had a few contacts in the group. For the most part he left them alone and they left him alone. It's nobody's business but his own if every once in a while they tossed a few gold his way and he would toss back the name of someone who's sins were weighing a little heavier than most.

Sans saw Grillby raise a flaming brow, throwing Sans a questioning look out of the corner of his eye. Sans scowled back at him but only got a smile for his trouble. Bastard probably knew all the Masks in Snowdin. Maybe Sans would bother to find out. If he wasn't feeling too lazy later.

"Hmm." Sans drummed his fingers on the table top. "If you're sayin' that you figured your brother's part of it, well… you ain't telling me anything I don't at least suspect."

Lombok's jaw dropped. For a second, Sans was concerned it might actually unhinge and hit the ground. "But, but you're the Jud-"

"Hey!" Sans hissed. He didn't glance around, that would have been an obvious giveaway. Stars only knew whether or not Grillby was in on the truth, but life was simpler if other monsters didn't know. It's easy to underestimate a 5 hit point monster, a fact Sans's taken advantage of more than once. But no one would dare underestimate the Judge, no matter what his stats read.

Pushing stool back, Sans stood up and tugged at Lombok's shirt. "Come on. Whadaya say we go for a walk."

Lombok followed him quietly, but as soon as they were out of the bar he started up again. "I just- argh!" Lombok growled in frustration. "I just don't understand it! How could he do this? I've seen the photographs Pops brings home sometimes, and the things in them... These guys... They're vicious, cruel! None of them are any better than the damned Lv Hunters! How could Gothic be a part of this!?"

Sans snorted, amused despite Lombok's tone. "Yeah, because your brother's such a soft little kitten, ain't that right?"

Lacing his phalanges behind his neck, Lombok stared at the ceiling as they walked, as if it might give him the answers he was looking for. "He's not," he said softly, "but I am. Right?"

"Hey, don't you talk like that!" Sans practically snarled. It was a struggle not to grind his teeth. "You're tough as nails, and strong as any monster down here!"

Without raising his voice, Lombok asked, "Then why didn't you want me to do an interrogation?"

Sans couldn't tell him the truth. That he didn't want him to do the interrogation because he knew how much it would hurt him. Lombok's weakness was how much he cared. Killing someone in cold blood? Someone defenseless, weak, maybe even innocent becuase you were told to? Papyrus could do it. Sans could do it. Even Gothic had the dark streak to understand that it was kill or be killed down here. All Fell monsters had it. In all of this dark underground no other monster would hesitate in those sort of circumstances.

But Lombok wasn't entirely a Fell monster, was he?

"See?" Lombok asked, reading everything he needed to know from Sans's hesitation. The raw anguish in that one word alone threatened to break Sans's soul into pieces. "You do think I'm soft." In a quieter voice he continued, "Pops never thought I was soft. At least… he hadn't before today."

Sans had no answer for that. Way to go boss, he thought ruefully. I don't know what you did, but I know both of us have screwed up now.

As they had reach the outskirts of the woods Sans slowed, letting Lombok take the lead. Lost in his own head, Lombok stomped along, his feet following some path he knew even without conscious thought. They walked in silence for a few minutes until Lombok spoke up again.

"How am I supposed to be a captain someday if I can't even do what is required of a regular guard?" He stopped dead as a thought seemed to hit him. "Oh gods, there's no way I can stay in the royal guard. Not now, not after..."

Sans shrugged, trying to show off an air of nonchalance. "One bad interrogation ain't gonna get you dropped from the rankings. Even the boss had trouble when he was younger." It really wasn't worth mentioning that by the time Papyrus was Lombok's age, all his hang ups had been long pushed aside.

"I dunno how bad it went today but even if you froze, or choked, whatever it ain't the end of the world here. You can still be part of the guard. Unless you wanna leave, of course." Sans started walking again, and Lombok followed. He slowed down, and Lombok automatically regained the front position.

Sans let the silence linger, but eventually he had to ask. "So, how bad did it go?"

Lombok kept quiet, staring sightlessly into the trees ahead of them. Sans was starting to wonder if Lombok had even heard the question when he whispered, "He dusted."

There was too much emotion in that, a note of pain so personal that Sans felt his Soul give a stutter stop. "Wait, it wasn't- You're not saying that it was your…" He couldn't even finish the sentence. Papyrus wouldn't do that, at the very god-damned least not without saying something first, right? He wouldn't.

"No, stars, no! I don't ever want, I hope I never-" Lombok gave a full body shudder as he shook his head. He looked ill. "It was some other monster, but I knew him once. He knew Gothic."

Sans let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. It was shakier than he would have liked. Lombok took a deep breath of his own and asked, "Do you know what rank Gothic holds?"

Sans shook his head, feeling selfishly grateful for the change of subject. "Nah," he said, rolling his shoulders like he was trying to rid himself of that horrible feeling. "A kid like him? I'd guess he's some sort of enforcer, maybe? He's too hot headed to be very high in the ranks. Ya'know, a real 'fight first, mercy later' kind of guy. Not always so great on the long term plans."

Trying to be casual, Sans scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Maybe it's time for Gothic to pull outta this little game if the guard is really gettin' on their tail. Betcha he'd appreciate you givin' him a heads up."

"He's not going to listen to me," Lombok said, and the words were bitter. "I'm just part of the guard. The enemy."

"Lay off the self pity, it ain't a good look for you." Sans replied back, just as bitterly. He sighed. Time for a little truth. "Thing is, I can sympathize with them a bit. No one likes being scared. And down here? We're all scared. Problem is, they're goin' about it all wrong. They're a bunch of kids playin' with knives. Someone's gonna get hurt, and it ain't gonna be the one who deserves it."

The look Lombok shot him was equal parts suspicion and surprise. "Are you saying-"

"I ain't saying nothin'," Sans cut in quickly. Asgore was a touchy subject, both with Papyrus and Lombok. Suffice to say, Sans wasn't a fan. The tyrant's done plenty to screw up the Underground, and has killed more than his fair share of monsters. Though it wasn't like Sans was some level one little angel, of course, so who was he to judge? Oh yeah, that's right. The fucking judge. And he was judging that asshole plenty. "Just that we all make choices. And we all hafta make sure we can live with the concequences."

"But how am I supposed to know what to choose?" Lombok looked at him, really looked at him, with eye sockets so wide and pleading that Sans could practically see his Soul. Those eyelights that could never be as strong as his brother's, would never be as strong as they should be, and it was all Sans's fault.

Sans wanted nothing more than to pull the boy into his arms, to tell him how good he is, how proud of him Sans was. But Lombok wasn't a babybones any longer.

"Listen kid, the underground is a tough place. We all gotta walk our own paths and I can't tell you which one you need to follow. All I can tell you is that family is family." Sans paused, his voice cracking slightly. "We love you, kid. We ain't going to stop just because you won't stab a helpless monster in the face, even if your bro or I would. It doesn't make you weak, it makes you... Damn it, it makes you better than us!"

Lombok ground the palms of this hands against his eyesockets as he cried, "But I don't want to be better! I want to be like everyone else!"

"Yeah, well that's not exactly a choice you get to make, ya'know? You got all that mercy in your soul. The rest of us? Well, we just ain't got it."

Stars knew Sans didn't have it. He'd been to the other AUs, and he knows what real mercy looks like. It's the same mercy he sees in Lombok's eyes, the kind that belongs in a Taleverse. The kind that Lombok has never seen outside of a mirror.

Lombok paused to kick a snowpoff in frustration. Fluffy snow flung out in every direction. "Yeah, but why? Out of every Stars damned monster in the whole of the Underground, why am I different? I don't want to be different! Why am I like this?"

The truth burned in Sans's Soul like a firebrand. "I… well… I can't tell you."

Lombok turned away, self pity crossing his face again. "Because I'm too weak to handle the truth."

Kicking a snowpoff of his own, Sans resisted the urge to scream every obcenity he knew into the empty forest. "No, stars, that ain't it all! Don't you go puttin' words in my mouth! It's just... It's not something I can tell you right now! Someday, but- Argh!" He dropped his face into his hands, letting his claws dig into his skull. Why was this so HARD?

"Well, at least I can say I know for sure now." There was a hint of hurt surprise in his voice. "I always knew there was something that made me different, but I guess I didn't really want to believe that there was actually something WRONG with me. And now, I can't even do anything about it? Because you won't even tell me what it is? I can't move forward, can't go back. I'm trapped. Like THIS."

Well, fuck. Sans walked right into that one, didn't he? "There's nothin' wrong with you, sweetheart. I'm real sorry, but I can't tell you right now. Just… lemme talk to the boss first."

Lombok gave a half laugh, half sob kind of noise. The sound pierced Sans right through his core. As Sans watched, his eyelights dimmed just a little further.

"Yeah, sure. Whatever you say." There was no judgement in that flat voice. Just resignation. But the damage had been done, Sans knew it. Boy, he sure was great at giving pep talks, wasn't he? The fuckin' best. Go him.

After a moment, Lombok looked up, catching sight of a tree in front of him and noticing at his surroundings for the first time. "Oh, we're here already?"

Sans looked around himself. As far as he could tell it was just a small clearing in the woods. Other than a fallen log and a few crossbones scratched into the trees it looked just like any other little bit of forest. Maybe a little quieter though, the woods a little more dense around this patch. "Yeah? And where exactly is here?"

Lombok grimaced. "Well, it's, uh, nowhere special."

Sans gave him the look that answer deserved. Lombok gave a half smile. "Lies by omission, right? I should have just kept my big mouth shut."

Sans gave him a crooked smile back. "See kid? You're learnin'. Don't worry, I don't need to know about your little tryst spots." He scratched the back of his neck for a second. He needed to get away before he caused any more damage. He'd really screwed this up. Words were easy when he was trying to piss someone off, or to manupulate a situation to his advantage. But this? He was out of his element with this 'emotion' bullshit.

Time for Plan B.

"Listen, I got to get back to town. Got a few things to do. If your bro's getting himself in trouble, well, see if you can't at least help him keep his head. Stars know the boy doesn't listen to damn word I say, but you? You're his brother. Might actually have a chance of getting through to him. Good luck."

Sans gave him a two-finger salute and stepped through a shortcut before Lombok could do anymore than give a surprised look.

He dropped out of the shortcut, right back out into the snow hardly a dozen yards from where Lombok was still standing. Sans was going to have to have a talk with Papyrus later, but something was going on with Lombok now. Papyrus could wait. He was going to find who or what put that look on Lombok face, and someone was gonna bleed for it. That kid was a damned good monster and watching him suffer like this was like watching someone jab shards of glass into his soul.

And he'd be damned if he was just going to sit there and take it.

Chapter Text

The text from his brother was short.

-We need to talk. Now.-

And it couldn't have come at a worse time. Shuck hadn't shown up to prep with him before their last group meeting. At that point, Gothic hadn't been too worried. Stuff happens. He'd taken a teleport into Shuck's apartment and grabbed his costume, certain he'd see the dog monster later.

But Shuck never showed up at the meeting. That in itself had been a frustrating mess. Without Shuck to translate, half of the monsters were completely unable to understand a word Gothic was saying. And that stupid Rabbit was still on his one monster crusade to destroy the Skeleton family. Apparently, it was his one and only life's goal.

Worse, he was starting to sway some monsters to his side. Gothic was going to have to do something about that, and probably sooner rather than later.

That had been three days ago, and no one had seen Shuck. Gothic's anxiety had been steadly rising ever since. And he still had so much to get together before Mettaton's broadcast tomorrow night By this point he was half a step from out right panic.

And he was fucking hungry. Boy, he could go for one of those nasty sandwiches right about now.

So, basically, Gothic didn't have time for whatever girl trouble Lombok was having this week.

-busy. figure it out urself-

The reply was instant.

-I wasn't asking, doctor.-

Gothic froze, holding his phone and staring at it like he thought it might bite him. He had been careful, so careful! There was no way Lombok could know anything. If Lombok knew, that meant Papyrus-

Maybe Shuck wasn't missing at all.

It was a bluff. It had to be. Even if Shuck had been caught, he wouldn't have said anything. Shuck would dust before betraying his secrets. Gothic would bet his life on that fact.

Maybe he had. And maybe he had just lost that bet.

-u setting me up? or telln me 2 run?-

-Neither. Meet me at the boneyard in 10min.-

The boneyard, huh? That was a good sign, if nothing else. Lombok probably wouldn't bring the guard down on him there. Their childhood hideout was still just as sacred to his brother as it was to him. At least he really hoped it was.

He pulled open a shortcut and dropped through just as he pressed 'send'. Lombok was already there, phone in hand and leaning against the same stupid tree he always picked.

"…For crying out loud brother," he began, not bothering to look up. "Would it kill you to text in whole words like a normal person?"

"That's how everyone texts. You're the weirdo with good grammar." Gothic shrugged, dropping onto his favorite fallen log/seat. He propped his elbow on his knee, chin in hand, hoping that he at least looked outwardly calm. "But I get the feeling that's not what we're here to talk about," he said as he let his eye lights drift around the clearing. Gothic hadn't forgotten the last time they had been here together, and how badly it had ended.

With a sigh, Lombok clicked off his phone and dropped it into his pocket. "You know, uh, I was kinda hoping you'd actually take the ten minutes."

There was an uncharacteristic hesitation in his voice, and Gothic's already tense nerves clicked up a few more notches. He took a good look at his brother, only now noticing the shadows under his sockets, the haunted look in his eye lights.

"Stars, bro, you look like shit."

Lombok scowled. "Thanks, I keep hearing that today. Yeah, I'm a bit stressed. Not like you though, right? You've got everything under control? Everyone exactly where you want them; dancing to whatever lie you tell us?"

Gothic put on his best blank expression. "I don't know what you're talking about, dude."

"Still! Even still you're lying to me! You, and Dad, and even Pops are keeping secrets from me! I'm so sick of this!"

That got Gothic's attention. "Pops? Lying? What?"

"Oh, is that it?" Lombok asked, crossing his arms and fixing an angry glare right at Gothic. "Is that another secret you're keeping from me, dear brother? You know exactly what they're hiding, but you won't tell me either?"

"What are you talking about?" Gothic asked, real surprise in his voice. He should try to remember what that sounds like for the next time he needs to fake it. "Pops is a bastard, to be sure, but since when does he lie?"

"Apparently since forever!" Lombok yelled, standing up to pace around the clearing. "Fuck! I swear, sometimes I feel like I'm the only monster in the whole starsdamn underground that has a problem lying to people!!"

That might actually be the truth, Gothic realized. It stung. "You know what, if you look around and the problem is every single fucking monster but yourself, do you ever think that maybe the problem isn't actually them?"

"I, I know! Fuck how I know! Don't you think it bothers me? Because it does, every stars damn day!" Lombok stopped pacing and pressed his wrists into his forehead.

"It's just, stars Gothic, I thought you, out of anyone…" he paused, voice cracking as he looked away. "Were you ever going to tell me?"

And… there goes any lingering hope that Lombok was bluffing.

Gothic swallowed hard. He could give his brother the truth. He should give him the truth.

"How'd you find out?" *Coward,* his mind whispered.

Lombok flinched, looking a little green. Some of the fight seemed to drain out of him. It left him looking smaller somehow. Younger. "That's… that's really not the important thing right now."

Gothic's nonexistent stomach dropped. Since when was Lombok the one to shy away from facts?

"Lombok… What happened?"

Lombok wouldn't look at him, turning his body to face the forest. "There was a dog monster."

Gothic stared at the back of his brother's skull. Oh no. No, it couldn't be true. "Sh- Shuck?" He had feared, he had worried, but he hadn't actually believed...

"…I didn't know his name." Faced away as he was, Gothic couldn't read Lombok's expression, but his tone held everything Gothic needed to know.

The Guard had captured Shuck. Shuck was dead. And the fucking Guard hadn't even bothered to learn his name.

The sheer unfairness of that struck Gothic like a hammer blow to the skull.

"So he's dead." It wasn't a question, but Lombok nodded anyway. Gothic didn't bother to ask if it had been quick. When it came to prisoners of the crown, they never died quickly. That wasn't the kind of mercy the Royal Guard tended to show.

Lombok was silent, still looking distantly at the trees. A small breeze picked up, dragging pine needles and loose snowflakes across the little clearing. Gothic imagined he could smell dust on the wind.

There was one other thing to ask.

"Pops did it, didn't he? Fucking bastard."

Finally, Lombok reacted, but not in a way Gothic expected. He whirled on his brother, anger flaring up hot in his right eye socket. His magic had never been as bright as the rest of the family, but you couldn't tell that now. "Don't you dare Gothic! Pops is.. he's a good monster! And stop changing the subject! This isn't about what I- Pops! I mean, Stars! What the fuck Gothic!? Really? You? You're really the Plague Doctor?"

"Holy shit dude," Gothic answered, cringing under Lombok's sudden fury. "Would you keep your fucking voice down?"

"Answer the damn question!"

"…would you believe me if I said no?"

"FRANKLIN GOTHIC!" Lombok shouted before screaming wordlessly into the woods.

"Yeah, yell louder," Gothic said, sarcasm dripping from his fangs. "That's exactly what I said. Hey, scream a little more, I think there's still someone in New Home that hadn't heard you. Maybe. Why the fuck even ask if you already know the answer? Isn't that kinda bullshit?"

"I'd hoped I was wrong!" Lombok yelled, like it was obvious. "You, I don't know, you were supposed to tell me it was a mistake!"

"Well, fuck me then!" Gothic shouted back, irritation rising. "What do I look like, some kinda mind reader? How the hell am I supposed to know what you want me to say? I lie, you're gonna get pissed at me. I tell the truth, you're gonna get pissed at me. What the hell do you expect here?"

"I expect you not to be an idiot!" Lombok said, his hands clenching into fists as he walked back to his leaning spot.

"Me?" Gothic asked, flabbergasted. "You're the one screaming things in the woods!"

Lombok swung at the tree, his fist connecting solidly against the trunk as he shouted, "Will you just tell me the stars damned truth?!"

"Why?!" Gothic asked angrily as he watched snow tumble from the branches. So his brother wanted to hit stuff now, did he? Gothic knew the feeling. "If you already know, why do you want me to say it?"

Lombok turned to stare again, accusation burning in his eye lights. "Because I'm tired of being lied to! I just want someone in this rotten universe to actually tell me the truth! The actual, honest truth!"

Gothic had had enough. He felt the stress tip over, and instead of holding back, he lashed out. Lombok wanted the truth? He could have it like the sharp edge of a knife.

"You think you can handle it? Fine, I'll give you the truth!" Gothic said, his voice going dark. "Yeah, it's fucking ME. I'm a killer. A murderer. And you know what? I like it. I'm good at it. I know exactly what it's like to feel a monster slowly crumble to dust as I choke the life out of him with my bare claws."

Lombok froze, his sockets going wide. "That's not what I-"

"We have a list of names," Gothic inturrupted, getting to his feet. Lombok wasn't getting off easy this time. He was getting the fucking truth he had demanded. "A list of who dies, and I'M the one who puts the names on it. Sometimes I'm even the one to take them out. I find them. Then I kill them. Because it's fun. Because it feels GOOD."

"No, but you, you can't mean that!"

"What's the matter, *brother*?" He asked, grinning wickedly. "I thought this is what you wanted to hear!"

Lombok put his hands out in front of him like he was trying to ward Gothic away. Or maybe just to block his words. "No, stars! This isn't what I wanted at all!"

"You know what? I think I get it," Gothic said as the thought occurred to him. "You saw what happened to Shuck, didn't you? You probably watched Pops do it, maybe had a part in it yourself. And let me guess? You liked it! You liked it, and that made you ill, because you realized you're just like us!"

"But I'm not! I'm not like you!"

"You realized you're just like Pops, just like Dad, just like ME! You're a vicious monster, just like the rest of us!"

Lombok couldn't do anything but shake his head in horror, his eyes as big and sad as they could go.

"I think I get it now. That's why you fucking called me out here, isn't it? You didn't get enough, but you're still too high and mighty to go and track down someone who might be innocent when you already know I'm guilty. You going to kill me?" Gothic was yelling now. Magic flared around him, and he held a bone club tight in his fist before he'd even thought to summon one. "Fucking royal guard has Judged the Plague Doctor guilty, and you've come here to take me out? Fuck you! I'm not gonna go down easy!"

"Gothic, will you shut the fuck up!" Lombok roared suddenly. "I came to help you, you stars-damned idiot!"

"Huh?" Gothic asked, missing a step. Here to... help him? What was his game?

"There you go, being an idiot again! Stars, Gothic!" Lombok waved a hand at the club Gothic was still holding, his face transfixed with concern. Not for himself, but for Gothic. Lombok was worried about him. "I don't know what's with this whole awful thing but, fuck! You're my brother! Why would I ever WANT to hurt you?"

He knew Lombok was trying to be sincere but Gothic couldn't resist a bark of dry laughter. "You act like we've never been above hurting each other in the past."

Lombok made a face. "Yeah, well, we were kids. Kids do stupid shit."

Damn, Lombok was good at calming him down but Gothic was still angry. It wasn't something he could just turn off, but he dismissed the club anyway. "Well, if you're not here to kill me, or turn me into the guards, or whatever, then what do you want from me?"

"I just wanted the truth. I guess," Lombok said, bringing a hand up to rub at his forehead.

"Well, congratulations," Gothic said with a sneer. "You got it. Are we done here, officer?""

"No, Gothic, dammit!" Lombok cursed, stomping a foot into the snow. "We are NOT done here! You need to- you- argh! You need to knock this off! Whatever it is you're trying to get done here, it's not going to work! The guards have already started on your trail they're going to catch you!"

"They're not going to catch me." Smirking, Gothic crossed his arms against his chest. "I've been doing this for years. What makes you think that they're all the sudden super detective?"

"Because they caught your friend." Lombok's voice was cold.

That made Gothic pause. "Yeah?" He said, swallowing past a sudden lump in his throat. "So what? He knew what he was getting into, we all do. It's a risk we're all willing to take."

"Yeah, well maybe I'm not willing to let you take it anymore," Lombok replied, confidence returning to his voice. "I- I saw what happened to him! I won't let that happen to you! If you won't quit, I'll stop you myself!"

"And just how exactly are you gonna do that?" Gothic asked, sizing Lombok up. "Maybe you really do want to fight? Is that it?"

"What? Like we're kids? Settling an argument by seeing who taps out first?" The words were skeptical, but Gothic knew he was interested. The need to fight someone was written all over his face.

"Damn straight! How about this? I kick your ass, and you lay off. Accept that I know what I'm doing, then let me do it."

Lombok scoffed. "And when I win, you'll quit the Masks."

Gothic shook his head. "No way, I just can't do that right now. Look, I'm sorry, but I can't!" He said harshly as Lombok tried to protest. "I can cut back, but monsters are depending on me right now."

He reached up, scratching the back of his skull as he thought. "How about… I know! How about this. You win, and I find out whatever secret it is the dad and pops are keeping from you."

"Yeah right. How? Dad doesn't talk to anybody, and I don't think Pops'd give you the time of day without spending at least half an hour ranting about your 'lack of motivation' and 'wasted potential'."

"I can find secrets." Gothic was quiet for a second. "I know yours."

Gothic waited, making sure he had Lombok's full attention. He wasn't about to say it twice. "…You cried Mercy once."

Lombok looked at him sideways. "What are you talking about? I've never…" Realization hit him, and he flinched so hard that Gothic heard his spine pop. He sucked in a quick breath and tried to recover. "I've never cried Mercy from you."

It was a relic from their childhood, Mercy. The code word that you didn't say unless you mean it. All other words were fair game for trickery, but Mercy was different. It was an admission of complete surrender.

When they fought, it went until unequivocal victory or until one of them cried Mercy. Gothic would say it when his choices were to either give up or be beaten into unconsciousness. When Lombok fought, he fought with his entire soul. Lombok never cried Mercy from anyone.

"Not from me."

Except once.

It was Lombok's biggest secret. One that he didn't want anyone to know. Ever.

Gothic looked away, not wanting to see his brother's face as he continued. "Couple years ago. You got drunk at a bar in New Home. You went home with an Aaron."

He didn't need to say what happened next. They both knew.

Lombok had come home the day after that, ending his big city trip days early. He'd been a wreck, but wouldn't tell anyone what was wrong. When Sans had pushed him on it, Lombok grudgingly admitted that it was because he couldn't sleep well in New Home. It seemed to be the truth, and a couple of days later Lombok had seemed to be back to normal. Gothic was pretty sure it was the only time in his life that he'd seen his brother get away with lying to their Dad.

But Dad wasn't around at night. He didn't hear Lombok struggling in his sleep, fighting night terrors that had to come from somewhere. Only Gothic heard the small, terrified noises that his brother made when sleep lowered his defences and drug him back to relive the time that made him, Lombok the Skeleton, cry Mercy.

It had only take one restless night before Gothic decided that something had to be done. And quickly, or Gothic was sure his soul would shatter. When Lombok made it clear that he didn't want to talk, Gothic went hunting on his own.

He'd followed Lombok's steps until he reached a dirty little bar in New Home. There he found an Aaron working tables.

The monster had been bragging to his friends about his latest conquest. The words he'd said had been burned into Gothic's memory, and he knew the pain of them would never go away, no matter how long he lived.

"Can you believe it?" The Aaron had asked his buddies, his rough voice full of drink and humor. "Was such a little tease too, getting all drunk and cute. He wanted to play around, so I took him back to my place. Heh. Things started getting fun, so I started having more fun. Then, can you believe it? The little tease tried to blue ball me! Said he'd changed his mind, things were getting 'too rough' for him. Well, I wasn't about to let that happen, right fellas? So I showed him what 'rough' really meant! Hahaha! Little bastard kept crying 'Mercy, Mercy!' Like it would actually mean something! Hahaha!"

Mercy. That was the part that had broken Gothic.

Lombok never gave up. Lombok never surrendered, even when he sometimes should.

It had taken this monster's cruelty to make Lombok beg Mercy. And he'd been ignored.

"You- you don't know what you're talking about," Lombok said weakly.

Gothic shrugged. "I found the guy."

Taking a deep breath, Lombok asked, "…And what did you do when you found him?"

"I added his name to the list," Gothic lied. "The Masks took care of him."

After he'd heard what that Aaron had done, he'd stepped in. The guys laughing with him died quickly. The Aaron sure as hell didn't. Gothic had ripped him apart, scale by bloody scale, one at a time. And there were a lot of scales. All the while promising to let him go, and all he had to do was beg 'Mercy'. Of course, Gothic didn't make that offer until after he'd already ripped out the monster's tongue.

"You had him killed," Lombok asked quietly, "…because of me?"

"No." As if that wasn't reason enough. It was certainly all the reason Gothic needed. He would have done it a hundred times over, a thousand, if it could only take back what happened to his brother. His brother had never, ever done anything to deserve that.

But what he said was "After I heard what he… well, I did some digging. Turned out you weren't the first person he'd hurt. I just made sure that you were the last."

Silence hung over the clearing.

"You never said anything." Lombok said at last.

Gothic shrugged again. "Didn't know what to say. Still don't. In fact, you know what? Let's just forget I said anything at all."

"Brother…"

"So," Gothic said, rubbing at his eye sockets. Fuck there was a lot of dust in the air today. "Fight. We got a deal?"

"Stars Gothic, I-" Lombok started to say something, but cut himself off. "You can't just choose who lives and dies like that."

Irritation lanced through Gothic again like a knife. Of course that was the part Lombok focused on.

"I'm done talking about this," he spat. "This, or really anything else at all. You want more? You beat me and then we'll talk. I'll get you all the answers you want. Deal?"

Lombok's face went through a lot of expressions in a short few seconds. Frustration, sadness, anger, and finally an exasperated look that said he thought that Gothic was a stupid monster that needed to stop saying stupid things.

"Fine! Have it your way!" Determination flared in his eye lights as he stepped up to Gothic. He put his hand out. "Shake on it."

Gothic smiled. "You got it." He put out his own hand to clasp his brother's, and then immediately jumped back, bone club already in hand.

Not a split second too soon, either, as Lombok already had a throwing knife flying towards his abdomen. It sliced through his shirt, and would have hit if Gothic were a fleshy monster.

Looking up, Lombok was already dashing off through the trees. His brother was faster than he remembered. Gothic reached out with blue magic, trying to grab his Soul, but couldn't get a grip through all the trees!

"You fucker! Not this again!" He shouted, taking off after him. Leaping forward through a shortcut, he landed in the snow behind Lombok, closer but not close enough. He jumped into another one, planning to overshoot Lombok this time, but when he dropped out there was no sign of the other skeleton anywhere.

Gothic heard the sound of snapping branches in the trees to his left, and he turned, sprinting towards it before Lombok could get away again. A strong feeling of deja vu washed over him, and he threw himself to the side, moving completely on instinct. He slid into a snow bank, as the large, heavy form of his brother suddenly dropped in the snow exactly where he'd been standing, missing him by inches.

"Haha!" He shouted, but he didn't have any time for victory, as a slew of rocks and thin bone daggers (and was that a fucking ninja star?!) came flying in his direction.

"Shitshitshitshit!" He yelled, scrambling out of the way and through a shortcut. When he looked up, Lombok was gone again.

"Enough with your tricks!" He shouted into the trees. "Get back here and fight me! Coward- oof!" He cried out as a small bone attack pierced his shoulder.

It spun him around to find Lombok, standing directly in front of him. He appeared so swiftly that Gothic took a terrified moment to wonder if Lombok had learned to teleport. A flash of red light caught his attention, drawing his eye lights down to the taser Lombok had trained right on his chest.

He took a shortcut, right as the taser went off, reappearing to Lombok side.

"Not falling for that one again!" He crowed, reaching out with blue magic. Now there was no where for Lombok to run. With a ping, Lombok's Soul turned blue and he was dropped into the snow, still fighting to turn towards Gothic, spent taser still locked in his fist. Gothic stood tall over him, reveling in the feeling of victory.

"Gotcha," he taunted. "Now what are you going to do? You're all out of tasers."

Lombok smiled, struggling to look up at him. "Nope, I brought two." And he fired it, point blank, into Gothic's chest.

Electricity pulsed through his bones, and Gothic found himself prone on the ground before he could even cry out. Lombok was on him in a flash, wrapping his long phalanges around Gothic's neck, locking up the flow of magic as his claws dug into the vertebrae.

"Cry Mercy!" Lombok yelled as Gothic choked beneath him.

"I yield! Leggo! I yield!" Gothic sputtered. He doubted Lombok would fall for it, but it was worth a try.

"Cry Mercy!" Lombok repeated.

Gothic fought harder, kicking, twisting, trying to summon a bone attack, anything to get the impossible weight of his brother off of him!

"Last chance Gothic! I don't want to have to choke you out! Just cry Mercy!"

Gothic gave one last hard twist, and Lombok tightened his grip so hard that Gothic saw spots."F-fine! Fuck-! Mercy! You win, Mercy!"

Immediately Lombok's claws were gone from his throat, and he drew in a breath, coughing as he tried to roll over. When he looked up, Lombok was casually leaning against that damn tree again.

"You should train more," he said with a smile.

Good ol' Lombok, always ready to rub salt into the wound.

"Fuck you," Gothic cursed, sitting up in the snow. His neck throbbed, and he was probably going to look like he a botched a hanging in the morning. "It's because you ran. Any other monster would have just stood there for a proper fight, and I'd have creamed them."

"Probably," Lombok agreed amicably, "but I didn't want a proper fight. I wanted to win."

"The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight!" A tinny voice rang out from Gothic's pocket. He fished it out of his pocket, pleased to see that it was still working. "I walk once more, and open the door-" the ringtone cut off as he hit the call button.

"Hey there," he said as Lombok looked on curiously. "Yeah? How much? Okay, I'll get you some. Tell Jute I said hi." He ended the call and replaced the phone to it's home in his pocket.

"What the hell was that?" Lombok asked, coming over to give Gothic an arm up.

"That was Burlap," Gothic said, taking the hand gratefully and letting Lombok pull him up. "She and her brother are my tech side. And why I can't leave the Masks right now. We're doing something kind of big."

"Well, I was asking about your hideous choice of ringtone, but now I'm kind of more interested in the call."

"What, the scarecrow clip?" Gothic grinned, glad to be sniping at his brother again. "It's from some old game for kids I found in the dump. HorrorLand or something stupid like that. Real scary if you're like, six. So, probably terrifying for you. Gave me some good sound bites though."

Lombok shook his head, smiling but not taking the bait. "Okay, and the 'something kind of big'? Is it dangerous?"

"Hardly." Gothic snickered at the thought. "Jute and Burlap aren't any good for the dangerous stuff. It's simple tech stuff, according to them. Well, at least it'll be simple if I can get the copper wire they need."

That was going to be a pain, Gothic knew. Unless... "You know, I don't really know where to get any…" he trailed off, and Lombok raised a brow bone at him, not trusting where this was going. "…other than to steal some from the Lab."

"Steal some?" He was incredulous, and Gothic had to fight to supress a smile. "From Alphys? The Royal Scientist? The one with melted creatures so dangerous and horrible that Mettaton feeds monsters to them on live television? You're going to go there, and steal from that lab?"

"Yep, that's the one. Unless you know a better way to get some copper wire?" He asked, like he didn't expect Lombok to have an answer.

When Lombok's jaw actually fell open, Gothic knew that he'd won this battle.

"Of course I fucking know how to get copper wire!" Lombok said, gesturing out into the woods. "How the hell do you think Pop's electricity puzzles work without a fucking shitton of copper wire?"

"Hey, perfect!" Gothic smiled brightly, enjoying the hell out of Lombok's frustration. "What do you say, you get me about 20 feet of medium gauge copper wire, and I'll go get working on answering that secret you want?"

Eye sockets closed, Lombok pinched his nasal ridge, exhaling loudly before asking, "And just what do you need to wire for?"

It was a test. Gothic supposed he could give him this one. With a smile that would make a Cheshire cat jealous, he gave Lombok a thumbs up.

"We're going to hack into MTT TV."

Lombok's groan of pure, unfettered aggravation made the truth worth it.

Chapter Text

From his hiding place in the woods, Sans learned three things.

One, Gothic was the "plague doctor" (whatever that meant) and that Lombok had found out during the interrogation.

Two, that the monster being interrogated had been Gothic's friend and that Lombok, whether intentionally or not, killed him.

And three, that he wasn't the only one spying on them right now.

A flash of blue in the woods past the boys caught his attention. Quick as a thought, he took a shortcut over, appearing behind the figure. It was a small monster with blue fur, wearing a bunny mask.

"Heya," he said, casually gripping the monster by the neck and immediately shortcutting away. They dropped out together in front of the sentry station by the Ruins, and Sans wasted no time shoving the little sneak up against the wood.

"The fuck do you think you're doin' out there, spyin' on them? You got about three seconds to explain yourself before I separate your fluffy head from your fluffy body."

"I wasn't spying!" Squealed an annoyingly whiny voice. "And you'd better let me go, I have powerful friends!"

It took a second, but Sans groaned when he realized that he knew that voice. It was poor Anastasia's brother, the weird little bunny that ran the Ice Scream cart sometimes. Sans had always felt bad for the kid after what happened to his sister, but that didn't change the fact that this bunny wasn't exactly the sharpest carrot in the vegetable stand.

"Fuckin' hell- Bram!" Sans yelled, turning the rabbit to face him and grabbing a fistful of shirt.

"No I'm not, you don't know who I am! I'm wearing a mask!"

It took less than a second to rip the damned mask off his head. "Oh, look, it's fuckin' you." Sans deadpanned. "I've know your family for 20 goddamn years, you think I can't tell? Plus it's a rabbit mask, fucktard."

"It supposed to be deceptive!" He cried, his fur bristling with offense.

"It ain't. Now, I already knew you're part of that damn gang, so why the hell are you spyin' on them?"

It was the truth. Sans had seen Bram hanging out sometimes when he'd made his occasional deals with the masks. Not every time, but enough that he could recognize the little beast.

"I wasn't, honest!" Bram said. Sans thinks he was trying to sound annoyed and innocent, but instead he just whined like a kid denying that his hand was still in the cookie jar. "I just heard noises, and went to check it out!"

Sans threw him to the side, and the bunny yelled out as he skidded across the ice, more offended than in pain. "Get the fuck outta here. You're lucky I don't feed ya your own ears for that!"

"Y-yeah? Well, I ain't afraid of you! You wanna fight?"

Kids should have been a dog monster, his bark always had been worse than his bite.

"Well, already knew you weren't that bright. Go the fuck home little bunny."

"Who do you think you are, telling me what to do?! You got the jump on me, but everyone knows you're only alive because you're the Vice-captain's brother! You're just a weak, old monster!"

Sans took in a deep breath, his smile going rictus. Bram's parents weren't bad monsters; they didn't deserve to outlive both their children. But Sans was running out of patience.

"Ya'know, there are weak monsters, and there are old monsters. But I can guarantee ya, here in the Underground," Sans said, letting his eye lights fade out and dropping his voice to a growl, "there ain't a single weak, old monster in the bunch."

That seemed to do the trick as the rabbit finally seemed to realized that, just maybe, he'd bitten off more than he could chew. Good.

Sans had to get back, he'd taken his eyes off of the boys for too long and babysitting this fucking brat wasn't exactly high on his priority list.

"Now, here's how it's it's gonna go. You're gonna get up, walk back to Snowdin, and if I see your fuzzy fuckin' face again today, I'm gonna cave your fuckin' skull in. Capiche?"

Bram nodded, finally looking like he believed it. About damn time.

"Glad we understand each other." Sans said, switching back to a casual smile as he dropped his hands into his pockets. "Before ya go, I gotta question for you. What can you tell me about the plague doctor?"

Bram's expression turned shifty as he said, "…I don't know who he is."

Sans scowled, narrowing his eye sockets, and felt a dark satisfaction when the rabbit flinched back."Don't bullshit me, bunny. I know you were listenin'. I mean, who's he in the group? What's the rank?"

"The leader." He said it matter of factly, like it was something Sans should already know and was stupid for asking. Sans was to surprised to be angry.

Oh. Shit. Gothic was doing better than he'd thought.

Sans was learning all sorts of new things today, wasn't he?

After pointing Bram back to town, Sans took a shortcut back to where the boys were still talking. He made it just in time to catch Gothic saying, "I didn't know what to say. Still don't." Wait, was Gothic… crying!? What the hell had he missed?

At least they weren't trying to kill each other, whatever had happened. In fact, they were shaking hands-
Oh, not quite, Gothic had a bone club.

Quick as a flash, Lombok's arm shot out towards his brother and Sans's worry spiked as he saw the glint of a knife. Lombok didn't stay to see the results of his attack, turning to run into the trees. Running right at Sans!

Sans ducked lower, had he been spotted? But Lombok wasn't looking at him, he was looking past Sans's hiding spot and deeper into the forest. Sans took the chance and made a close shortcut, only to catch sight of the back of Gothic's skull as he too dropped out of a shortcut.

This wasn't going to work, Sans realized. He didn't know which direction they were moving, and the risk of getting caught was too high. Guess he was taking a break. Back to the Sentry station.

He slid through a shortcut and onto his stool to wait. Looking around, he didn't see any signs of the rabbit. Finally, something going right.

Ten minutes, that was all he needed. His sons knew each other too well for the battle to drag out long. Either Gothic will quickly exhaust Lombok's limited magic supply, leaving him vulnerable, or Lombok's tendency for overkill will take his brother out before there's a chance to engage in a proper battle.

Whichever way it goes, Sans knew he didn't have long to wait.

As he predicted, by the time he got back the fight was already over. He checked the area for signs of violence and spilled magic, but found it surprisingly clean. That had him leaning towards a Lombok victory, since Gothic tended to make things messy. Gothic himself was nowhere to be seen, more likely than not having taken a shortcut away. Lombok wasn't far, picking through the snow with angry mutterings and what appeared to be a rubber mask clenched tightly in his fist.

Wasn't that curious. Had Lombok actually lost the fight? By his attitude it looked that way, but Lombok wasn't even breathing heavy, and his magic didn't seem to be depleted at all.

Sans shook his head. No way to be certain without asking, and he sure as hell wasn't going to do that. He was just going to have to be happy enough that Lombok was in one piece. He thought about trying to find Gothic, but that monster could be as hard to track down as a black cat on a moonless night when he wanted to be.

Fuck, Sans missed the moon.

All this stress (and the constant shortcuts) were wearing him out. Probably wasn't great for his health, either. He needed a nap. One more time he took the shortcut back to his Sentry station chair and used his arms to pillow his head on the counter. Anything else he could worry about later.

It was about two hours later when Lombok passed by, a large spool of copper wire under his arm.

"Heya kid," he said with a wave that Lombok returned easily. "Wire you carrying that thing around?"

Lombok made a face, constant exposure to Papyrus's disapproval of puns having left a thorough mark on his habits. "Just fixing up some of the puzzles around the woods." He smiled, holding up a hand. His phalanges were dotted with little black burn marks and a few deeper scratches that were slowly leaking marrow. "It's been a pain."

Sans laughed. "I can see that."

A knot of worry in Sans's chest loosened slightly, losing the strangling tension that had been there since Lombok had first walking into bar. He looked leagues better than he had this morning. Lombok was a tough cookie, able to bounce back from damn near anything. Sans was so damn proud of him.

"What do you say you let me test your metal with lunch at Grillby's? Looks like you could use a break. Me too, as it turns out."

Lombok shook his head but he was still smiling. "Thanks but no thanks, I want to get this done. See you around dad." With a casualness that didn't look at all fake, Lombok waved again, heading off deeper into the woods.

Sans let out a sigh of relief, one less thing to worry about.

He spent the rest of the day completing his Sentry shifts, occasionally hopping into the Waterfall and Hotlands stations to keep an eye on things. When the time to go home finally swung around, Sans hesitated. Papyrus needed a clue to what was going on, but Sans sure as hell wasn't looking forward to that little chat.

Besides, he was still pissed over the whole interrogation thing.

Sans decided he needed a drink. Papyrus wasn't going anywhere, and after all, why do today what you can put off 'til tomorrow?

Chapter Text

Well, Lombok thought to himself as he trenched through the deep, untraveled snow at the far edge of the woods. At least I got Gothic's stupid wire.

It hadn't been quite as easy as he thought it would be.

He did go and ask Papyrus for it, although he knew it would have been suspicious if he had just outright asked for a couple dozen feet of wire. So he told his father that he was going to go repair some of the electric puzzles out the Snowdin. Lombok claimed it was to clear his head after what had happened that morning, and Papyrus had been thrilled. He'd happily gave Lombok an entire spool of copper wire and plenty of tips on how to properly recalibrate the puzzles.

Papyrus's enthusiasm should have been his first clue that Lombok might be getting himself in over his head with this chore. Apparently, he'd also be severely underestimating Papyrus's love for electrified barbed wire. Lombok found he loved it a lot less. But he said he would do it, and so he did.

Now, after many painful hours, every single puzzle from Snowdin to the Ruins had fully-working electrical components, and Lombok had a new appreciation for electrical burns.

Though he had to admit that it had been nice to catch his Dad on duty at his sentry post. Sans had seemed more relaxed, playfully trying to goad Lombok into taking a break that they both knew he'd turn down. Lombok was glad he didn't seem to be worrying about him anymore. Neither of them mentioned Gothic, but Lombok was pretty sure Sans knew something was up.

So here he was, carrying a heavy spool of copper wire under one arm, and the stupid mask that Gothic had insisted he bring clutched in his other fist (he'd be damned if he was going to wear that thing a moment longer than he absolutely had too) as he stomped off into the middle of goddamn nowhere in the far corner of the Snowdin Woods. When Gothic had told him that he was supposed to meet Burlap and Jute in what might as well be the middle of nowhere, Lombok had thought he was joking.

As it turned out, Doctor Alphys's media infrastructure was even more impressive than he'd originally thought.

According to Gothic, way out in the deepest part of the woods, nestled against the rock wall that marked the boundary of the Underground itself, was a metal transmitting tower. That was as much as Gothic knew about it, saying that he had no idea how it worked and that if Lombok wanted to know more than he had to ask Burlap or Jute.

When Lombok asked how he was supposed to recognize them if they were wearing masks, Gothic had just laughed and said that they didn't need to wear masks. That it wouldn't do them any good and Lombok would understand why when he saw them.

Lombok tried to argue that a mask wouldn't do him any good either since, between his bones and his height, he was pretty conspicuous even if you couldn't see his face, but Gothic had insisted he bring one anyway.

He was pretty sure Gothic just wanted to see him looking ridiculous in a rubber mask. And wasn't Lombok lucky? Gothic just happen to have a spare one in his inventory.

After telling Lombok what he needed and where to meet up, Gothic had reached into his inventory, pulled out a rubber mask and threw it at Lombok, shouting, "I am not a crook!" before disappearing into thin air.

By the way Gothic had deepened his voice, Lombok figured that was a quote of some kind, but damned if he knew what it meant. The mask was of some human with dark hair and a nose so large that Lombok was about 75% sure it was a caricature. Not that he had any actual humans to compare it to, but it seemed just a bit ridiculous.

There was no way he was going to wear that, but with Gothic already gone there wasn't much he could do beyond flipping the bird to the footprints Gothic had left behind and getting on with his day. After fishing his throwing knife and ninja star out of the snow, of course. He didn't want them to rust. It was curious though, when he was searching for his blades he'd seen a footprint, one much too small to belong to Gothic or him. It was definitely a shoe print though, probably sneakers or-

He froze, his mind coming back to the present. There was something wrong.

Lost in his thoughts, Lombok wasn't sure why he suddenly stopped walking midstep, one foot still held in the air. He looked around slowly, trusting his instincts that said that there was something dangerously wrong.

There was a scent in the air, a heavy mix of musk and rotting plant material that he couldn't place. It made him nervous. There was a flicker of movement in the trees to his left, and he looked, quickly, but didn't see anything. A sound like a child's laughter bubbled out from behind him now, and he turned again, but there was still nothing there. He could hardly see into the trees now. It wasn't that late, was it? When had it gotten so dark?

It was only now that Lombok realized how exposed he was, how vulnerable, as he stood knee-deep in snow, lost in the woods. Anything could happen to him, and no one would even know. This had all been a bad idea. A very bad idea.

"You…" called a thin, scratchy voice from the trees in front of him. He scanned the tree line, seeing nothing, but between one blink in the next, there it was.

It was a monster, or at least it looked to be. It stood nearly a head taller than he was, and almost as thin.

Although it wasn't moving, its edges were fuzzy, seeming to glitch in and out like bad static on a television. It was completely monochrome as well, with a black cloak and an indistinct, white featureless face under a dark lined white hood.

The ghostly image in the woods was terrifying. It was as if an old horror movie had come to life, and he had just walked into it. Lombok could feel the creature, feel the animosity rolling off it. It hated him. Him, specifically. LOATHED him with a distilled rage that screamed for his dust if he dared take another step forward.

He couldn't move closer even if he wanted to, all he could do was run, run away!

Before Lombok had even realized it he was taking a step backward. He didn't know what was going on, who this was, or why he felt so scared, but at that moment he wanted nothing more than to run screaming into the woods to get away from this abomination that stood, waiting, in the woods in front of him.

The creature tilted its head to the side, and as easily as flipping a light switch in a darkened room, the effect vanished, light returning to the forest.

And there was a monster standing in the woods in front of him. It was a regular scarecrow monster, not even as tall as he was, all traces of the horrifying creature of nightmares was completely gone. Their face, no longer indistinct, appeared to be nothing more than a white sack under the hood, with a horizontal slash for a mouth and black watery eyes.

The scarecrow pointed at him. "Wire?" It asked in its scratchy voice. There was nothing but darkness to be seen behind the opening to its mouth.

Feeling a bit shaky, like he'd just woken from a particularly intense nightmare, he held up the wire and nodded.

"Are you Jute? Or Burlap?" He asked, and the monster nodded, beckoning him closer with a gloved hand. Pieces of straw stuck out from the wrist.

Slowly he walked to the monster, keeping an eye out for the other one. He didn't want to be caught unaware again.

"Burlap," came the soft whisper when he'd gotten close enough. The sister, then. It sounded as if she had straw packed down her throat. Which, he realized, she probably did. Now that he was closer, he could see that her mouth was actually sewn shut, with just enough slack to speak. Her eyes were flat and wet, a dark liquid that moved and floated on the surface of the fabric.

Without another word, she turned to begin walking deeper into the woods. Unsure what else to do, he followed after. She was faster than he would have given her credit for, gliding over the snow with an ease that he just couldn't match.

He broke out of the trees to find her standing at the base of a large metal tower frame built directly into the Underground's rock barrier. It was a good 60 ft high and buzzed with electricity. Burlap waited at the foot, next to a laptop and a variety of electrical odds and ends that Lombok didn't recognize. There was still no sign of the brother.

Burlap put her hands out, waiting, and Lombok handed her the wire. She nodded as she looked it over, seemingly satisfied with his choice. Without giving him another look, she began to grab tools and get to work on the table.

"So," he asked, uncomfortable with the silence, "what was that magic back there?"

She glanced at him quickly before dropping her gaze back to her work. "Aura," she said.

Her left hand came up, and to Lombok's shock, it bent backward at the elbow, raising a hand in a Y shape up towards the back of her head, before dropping it to shake out a clenched fist. Lombok realized she was speaking in hands, behind her own back.

Why try not understand Was what she had signed.

The arm wrenched at the elbow again, coming back to her front. From behind her, he couldn't make out what she was signing but she seemed to be answering herself.

"You speak in hands?" He asked, curious. It wasn't exactly a rare thing, but still not something he saw every day.

Burlap paused her work to turn around and face him, giving him a short questioning nod.

I understand sign-speak, Lombok signed to her. Or at least, something close to it. He dropped his hands and shrugged. Out loud he said, "Well I'm not very good at speaking it. I understand it just fine though."

Burlap's eyes grew wide, spreading like goopy pools of ink on the fabric of her face. Her hands jumped up and she began signing rapidly.

True? That makes my job easier. Do you have skills in electricity? No skills are fine, another two hands will be helpful. She signed her words with an odd, short cadence that Lombok had never seen before, and made it slightly difficult to understand.

"I know some basics of electricity," Lombok said nodding. "I've set up most of the wiring for almost all of the puzzles here in the woods."

Her oil slick eyes rippled like disturbed water. Color puzzle?

"Okay, well I didn't design, or really have all that much to do with that one," he admitted sheepishly, "but I do know enough to keep it running. I'm not terrible troubleshooting either."

Good, good, Burlap signed, nodding.

"I don't mean to be rude," he started, looking around the clearing again, "but don't you have a brother that was supposed to help you?"

Burlap gave a smile, the edges of her face pulling upward like a fabric run.

Good helper, my brother is not. Her hands reached behind her back again to sign something he couldn't see. He wondered why she did that, was it like mumbling to yourself?

Later, my brother, you'll meet. But! She said, hands flying wide apart in strong inflection. Time now to fix machine.

It seemed like Gothic was right, once he started getting into it, that it all seemed to be a pretty simple procedure. The broadcast tower itself was easy enough to understand- it picked up a larger signal from the laboratory and redirected it towards the houses in Snowdin.

All they were doing was rigging up a timer and attaching it to a frequency disruptor to knockout Mettaton's incoming broadcast tomorrow night and instead play a pre-recorded message from the Masks. The frequency disruptor had apparently been the hard part, something Burlap and Jute had created earlier. It was just a matter of hooking everything together now.

Lombok was a little nervous though when he saw sparks of electricity jumping from the high-voltage components that Burlap was currently working on. Especially considering how... flammable Burlap looked.

"Isn't that dangerous?" He asked her.

Eyes on her work, she simply nodded.

"Aren't you, worried you'll catch fire?"

Yes, she signed simply. Very hard work.

After that, Lombok tried to take as many of the hot tasks he could. At least he'd only get partially burned if something when wrong. Sometime, while he worked, he'd catch her signing to herself with her phone out, apparently texting.

Someone was asking about something science related, and he caught the words "magic sample". Biology maybe? He didn't mean to eavesdrop, but it was hard not to read the signs when he saw them.

Berween the two of them they got the device was set up, and the timer rigged. After double checking everything, Burlap declared it finished.

"Impressive," Lombok said. "I wouldn't have expected someone so scary to be so smart." He paused, realizing what he said. "Not that you can't be both of course, because you are. Very smart. And scary. When you want to be."

Burlap gave him another one of her ghastly smiles. By repetition, it was starting to become less like nightmare fuel and slightly more endearing.

Sorry, for before. My Aura is strong. You had no mask. Why not?

Lombok gave her a half smile. "I didn't want to wear until I had to because it was a stupid mask. Though honestly, I'm pretty sure that's exactly why it was given to me. Sorry, by the way. I figured I'd see or hear someone while walking and have time to put it on. I guess I should thank you for saving me the trouble of that, after all."

He paused, thinking about what Gothic had told him.

"It's weird though, he said it'd be obvious why you didn't wear a mask, but I really don't see it. Couldn't you wear it under your hood or something?"

Burlap shook her head, smiling as she reached up to tug on the hood folded atop her head. Her head moved with it, the hood having been literally sewn into the top of her scalp.

"Whoa, that's creepy."

She made a hoarse little sound, covering her mouth while she looked away. It was a laugh, he realized, grinning. He was starting to like her.

Lombok checked his phone. No messages, but it was almost 7 pm. It was going to be dark soon, and Snowdin was a long walk away. He wanted to leave, but Burlap's brother had never shown up. Would she be safe if he just left her alone? As dangerous as the woods could be during the day, at night it was worse as the nocturnal monsters came out to hunt.

"Can I walk you home? Or maybe to the ferryman?" Lombok offered. "There's a lot of monsters in the woods, I'd hate to see anything bad happen to you."

She looks at him like she didn't understand the question. True, someone offering help to strangers was a risky bet to make even in the best of times, but he had to try.

Oh, stars, he realized. I sounded just like my dad.

"I don't care how fuckin' big you are, kid," Sans had snarled at him once.

At twelve years old, he'd figured he was strong enough to visit Undyne alone. His dad had been at his waterfall sentry post and had caught him, coming out from behind the station to give him the shake down.

"You're still jus' a little brat and there's dozens'a monsters 'tween here and there, all a'them ready, willin' and able to beat your scrawny ass. So just stick with me, alright kiddo? I don't wanna see nothin' bad happen to ya."

Well, it didn't make it any less dangerous out here. Someone had to do it.

She hadn't answered him, but her hands were moving behind her back again. Lombok did his best to look non-threatening.

"Please?" he tried with a shrug.

Burlap's eyes, where they had been distracted with thought, shot back to him with a sudden intensity as she searched his expression. Another moment and she seemed to find what she was looking for. She nodded, flashing him a quick, Ok sign.

Lombok gave her a smile back and a thumbs up. "Snowdin?" he asked. She nodded, and they began to walk together, but not before he caught the flash of a "Why" sign again from her behind her head.

It was calm in the woods, their softly crunching footsteps the only sound he heard as the walked. A sense of comfort seemed to fall over the two of them, and Lombok decided a journey through the woods was a lot more pleasant with company.

"So, why are you part of this whole mask thing?" Lombok asked after a while, trying to make conversation. "Like, you seem to actually be a nice monster, you don't seem to be an awful person at all. Not like the vicious types I'd always imagined would be into this whole… cruel, uh…" he trailed off, not really sure where he was going with that in the first place.

Burlap seemed to catch his meaning anyway, shifting uncomfortably on her feet as she walked while she tried to think of an answer.

My brother and I, she began signing with just her right hand, hesitating. Even from under her cloak Lombok could see that her other fist was clenched tightly. We're protecting… And she made a sign that he didn't fully understand, making a gesture towards her soul. Very important.

Lombok nodded like he understood, even though he really didn't. He wondered though, what exactly it was she was protecting, because if it was her soul, wouldn't she say so?

And you? She asked, the movement of her hands regaining his attention.

"Oh, I'm not! Actually, I'm, well…" Lombok started, then changed his mind. It was a little more complicated than he wanted to get into. "I'm doing it for someone. Someone, like you, said, very important."

Burlap nodded solemnly, and they lapsed into silence.

Not all bad, Burlap started, hesitating, but she was looking at him directly to make sure he was paying attention. Masks help others.

Lombok couldn't help but make a face. Vigilante justice wasn't exactly his idea of helping. There was a Guard for a reason, after all, and not all of it was corrupt.

"Maybe," he said a little dully. "I just don't think cruelty and murder solve a whole lot in the long run."

Not all cruel! She signed, her movement sharp, clearly annoyed with his dismissal. You know Hotland tunnel collapse? Last year. Masks there before guards. Save many! Waterfall, power lines corroded. Alphys said can't fix. I fix! With help of Masks.

"That was you?" He asked. He remembered the crisis in Waterfall well, Undyne had been angry, distressed at how many monsters were going to be left without power, worried that they would die alone in the dark. If he recalled correctly, she couldn't get Alphys to do anything about it because it was just too deep in the caverns to risk trying to repair. When he heard that the power had been restore, he'd simply assumed Alphy's had managed it.

Burlap nodded vigorously. I try many- she broke off, squinting to stare past him into the woods. Lombok spun around, dropping into a protective crouch, one hand already reaching for a knife.

It took Lombok a second to spot it, but there, in the trees was a Snowdrake, staring at the two of them. One of the local teens, probably. They were always hanging out, but rarely caused trouble to people. He stood up again with blade in hand, ready to just tell the Snowdrake off, when he caught the scent of rotting plants again.

Just like before, light began to leach from the woods as long shadows flickered between the trees. Even though the effect wasn't on him directly, it was awful, lingering. It gave him the feeling that there was something terrible, something evil, right behind him.

He willed himself to keep his eyes on the Snowdrake, wanting to make sure it didn't try anything stupid. It didn't have any interest in him at all, it's beady eyes glued to the creature Lombok could feel looming behind him.

"Run!" He ordered it, the Aura putting a uneasy tremor in his command.

But it worked. The Snowdrake turned tail and ran, fleeing as if every demon in the woods had come screaming out of the trees to chase it. Once it was gone, Burlap dismissed the magic.

"You weren't kidding about the Aura!" He exclaimed as the effect rapidly faded, leaving just the two of them and the too fast beating Soul.

She only nodded in answer, her eyes quickly shifting from scanning the trees to looking at him and back again. The easy comfort that he'd felt before as they walked seemed to have vanished with the Aura.

Burlap looked terrified.

"Hey, it'll be alright," Lombok said softly, slouching a little as he resheathed his knife. "Come on, we're almost there."

As much as it itched his nerves to turn his back on her he did and began walking towards the town. The sound of footsteps through snow told him that she followed.

It was probably for the best anyway. It wasn't a good idea to let his guard down around here without someone that could back him up in a fight. As they reached the town Burlap began to follow a little more closely. There were only a few monsters out this late, but all of them knew Lombok by sight and none dared to bother him.

As they reached the ferry landing, Lombok finally turned to her and she flinched back at the attention. He ignored it, trying not to draw attention to her obvious fear and put on a cheerful expression.

"So, here's the ferry. Where are you going?" He asked, but he paused when she stiffened. "Sorry, didn't mean to pry. Just thought maybe… we could take the ferry together if we were headed the same way?"

It was a lie, as Lombok actually lived in Snowdin, but he didn't want to come off as overbearing.

Unfortunately, this seemed to be the wrong thing to say as she stiffened further, eyes going wary like she thought he might try to attack her if she moved. There was the faintest hint of rotten vegetation in the air, the precursor as she began gathering the magic of her Aura. Lombok quickly put a hand up, taking a step back. What had he said? Did she not want him to know where she lived or something?

Off to the side, Lombok saw the Riverperson watching them He couldn't see the monster's face, but he could feel the weight of that gaze on his bones.

"Uh, nevermind. Listen, actually, I have some things to do back in town here," he said jerking a thumb back over his shoulder. "I'll catch you around, okay?"

Finally, that seemed to be enough, and Burlap's magic disappated before the Aura could be fully forned. Giving her what he hoped was a friendly smile he waved goodbye and began to head back into town.

He knew she was scared, and it was the only thing he could think to do so that she didn't feel like he was a threat to her.

The sound of the Riverperson pulling away from the dock made him look back, and Lombok could see her sitting as far away as possible from the ferryman on the end of the boat. Lombok felt bad for her and wondered again about that brother.

What had happen to her brother, anyway? Why wasn't he here? Burlap was obviously scared and she wasn't any good hiding it. Why would any brother leave their sister in the woods like that, all alone to wander back to the ferryman by themselves?

The sound of a small commotion over by Grillby's caught his attention as Papyrus walked out of the bar, a passed out Sans carried under one arm. He looked even more annoyed than usual, and his father always looked a half step from murder on a good day. Ever on guard, Papyrus noticed Lombok immediately and gave him a curt nod.

"Evening, Pops," Lombok said casually. "Grillby doing a special on Fireball again?"

"Good evening, Lombok. No, I'm afraid it's just a simple case of two idiots trying to test the effects of alcohol poisoning on skeletons."

"Two?" Lombok groaned. "Oh, does that mean..."

"It does. And I'm afraid your brother is not in any better shape than he is," Papyrus said, holding out Sans by his hood and giving him a quick shake like a disobedient puppy. Sans only groaned, not even opening his eyes.

Lombok gave a world-weary sigh. "I guess I'll go collect them then."

"Very good. Would you like to bring him to my house? You can drop him on the floor next to the couch."

"Nah, that's okay. Thanks, Pop, but I'll just take him with me. I got a couple of things I need to bug him about anyway."

"Very good. I'll see you at morning training then."

"Yes sir, bright and early."

With another short nod, Lombok was dismissed and Papyrus continued his march towards his house, muttering about how at least one other skeleton in the family wasn't completely hopeless. Lombok felt a small bright spark in his Soul. It was almost like his disappointment from that morning had never happened.

This morning, when he'd found out…

Lombok looked to the door of the bar, sighing with weary resignation. Inside was the skeleton that seemed to exist just to make his life difficult, doing again what he does best, making life difficult. Maybe Lombok could drop him a few times on the way back. By accident, of course.

Chapter Text

There was a leak in the group.

Gothic didn't yet know who it was, but he was going to find out.

After throwing the mask in his brother's face, Gothic took a shortcut back to his temporary hideout in Hotlands. He was glad he'd resisted the urge to continue staying at Shuck's place after his friend had gone missing, it was probably being watched. Now he needed to leave this place too since some of the masks knew the Plague Doctor frequented it. Until he plugged this leak in the group he couldn't be certain it was safe. Hell, this might be too much of a risk already, but he needed the costume if nothing else.

As he threw his few possessions into his backpack, Gothic began to plan.

Now that Gothic knew Shuck was truly gone (and damned if that didn't sting like a raw wound), there was a hell of a lot of stuff that needed to be taken care of. Monsters to meet, bargains to make, deals to exchange... This wasn't what he had signed up for at all.

Gothic held no illusions about being a 'people person'. He knew full well that he wasn't cut out for this diplomatic shit. Give him someone to stab and he'll go stab them. But oh no, now Gothic's got all these other monsters that are looking up to him. Why him? It's not like he was doing anything that they couldn't do if they wanted to.

It had started out just him and Shuck playing Robin Hood and Little John. Then, one by one, monsters started following the Plague Doctor. Sure, at first it had been fun, Gothic's own personal army that feared and respected him. When he said jump, they damn well jumped.

But it's gotten way out of hand. Somehow, it's a whole rebellion, Shuck's dead, his identity was compromised and he doesn't have the slightest clue what a rebel leader is supposed to do.

Maybe he could at least get Jute and Burlap to take over the whole Muffet thing. They'd been bugging him anyway, trying to push him into making the Masks into what they called a real resistance group. They seem to have a couple of good ideas too, like controlling Mettaton's TV network to get their message out. And the best part of that was Gothic hardly had to do anything. Only prep a single broadcast tower after he and Shuck had recorded the message the scarecrows wrote. Shuck had had a big part in that and it hurt to think that it was going to be a posthumus narration.

Damn that guard.

Shuck was gone. He was still having trouble accepting it. They were always so careful. The Masks were supposed to be a cohesive group, everyone working for the same goal of stopping the tyrant. So who could possibly want to sabotage their efforts? The only monster that he could imagine screwing them over like this might be Bram, but that bunny needs the Masks for his own vendetta against the Skeleton family. Maybe he'd hoped that loss of Gothic's second in command would inspire the Plague Doctor to take action.

There was a meeting in two days. Gothic was going to find out who did it. And he was going to make them pay.

After stashing his costume and bag at Lombok's place (he was sure Lombok wouldn't mind) and making a few final checks to the parts of the broadcast system he was in charge of, he checked his phone for the time. 3:00. Perfect secret hunting time. Just enough time to clear out the bar for a little chat before the dinner rush.

He took a short cut right to Grillby's. After all, where better to get information about something Sans is hiding than from his favorite bartender? Easy money on that bet.

There weren't that many customers this time of day, but there was still more than he liked. Taking up a position next to the door, careful to stay out of view of the windows, Gothic waited. One by one the bar slowly emptied, and he made sure to smile cruelly at anyone walking by. He kept himself entertained by pretending to wonder why no new customers seemed to want to enter the bar. Funny, it was almost like they were afraid of something.

Gothic had been sitting there for about an hour when the scent of fried food floated out to him. Stars, was that pickles? Well, there were only three people inside, no reason he couldn't finish this vigil inside. He pushed himself off the wall and walked in.

Grillby looked up as soon as the door creaked open, obviously unsurprised to see him.

"Well, if it isn't my favorite malcontent," Grillby said, staring with only a slightly hostile expression as Gothic sat down. Propping both his elbows on the counter, Gothic smiled back.

"Stars, with a welcome like that I wonder why I even bother to come in here."

Grillby put a hand up asking for a moment, before walking to the back room. He returned shortly with a plate full of freshly fried green pickles. It was what he'd smelled outside and his mouth was practically watering.

"Oh yeah, I remember now," Gothic said.

"You have such good timing. Suspiciously convenient even." When Gothic reached a hand out to snag one of the pickles off the plate, Grillby pulled it away. "5 gold."

Gothic groaned. "Aww, come on. Can't you just add it to my dad's tab?"

"Not if I actually want to get paid for it. Gold."

"Such a hothead," complained Gothic, passing the coins across the bar, and Grillby set the plate down.

Gothic picked up one of the pickles, taking a bite into its crunchy, soft, weird texture. It was amazing, but it was missing something.

"Hey Grillby," Gothic called before the elemental could walk away, "got any horseradish sauce?"

"So," Grillby said asked a minute later, setting the requested bottle on the counter as he leaned up against it. "What's on your mind for today?"

"What do you mean?" Gothic asked, squeezing a generous amount of stuff across his plate. "And can't I just come in to enjoy some of these delicious pickles?"

"Why do you think I made them? Figured I had to do something if I want to have any more customers today."

Shoot, he'd been caught. Not that he'd tried very hard to hide.

"I might be interested in hearing about a secret," Gothic said, mouth full of pickle.

"I'm a bartender," Grillby said. "I don't talk, I listen."

"I brought gold."

Grillby tilted his head to the giving off an air being bored and interested at the same time. I'm listening."

Gothic gave a shrug and a half smile. "Yeah, well, it's something I'm trying to figure out, that I don't really want curious ears to hear, you know?"

Grillby smirked back. "I figured as much. The dogi's patrol starts anytime now, and Bunny's nephew is on his way to pick her up. I just hope whatever it is you're looking for is worth me taking the time out of my busy schedule to give you. Now, if you'll excuse me."

"Aw, wouldn't it just be worth it because I'm your favorite?" Gothic called to Grillby's retreating form. "You said so yourself!"

Sure enough, a few minutes later Dogamy and Dogaressa headed out the door, passing the drunk bunny's nephew as he came in to pick her up. Grillby followed them as the boy half carried his aunt outside, locking the bar behind them and flipping off the Open light.

"You have 5 minutes."

That was plenty.

"I'm just looking for some information on an old rumor," Gothic began, crossing his arms on the bartop. "Like, real old. Before I was born. Something my dads know, but probably nobody else does."

Grillby cocked a flaming brow, looking bored. "Do you have anything more specific or are you looking for any vague answer from 20 years ago?"

Raising one phalange, Gothic looked at the elemental directly as he added, "Here's the kicker, it's got something to do with Lombok."

Even if he hadn't been staring it would have been impossible to miss the way that Grillby's flames flickered. Bingo.

"Well," Grillby said slowly, feigning ignorance. "That's such a long time ago, I don't really know if I remember anything."

Gothic gave him a flat look. "Shit, Grillby, do you think I didn't come prepared?"

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small satchel. Dropping it on the counter, there was the distinct sound of coins clinking together inside the bag. "Let's just get to the point. I give you gold, you tell me what's what. Sound good?"

"That depends," Grillby said, the smile on his face growing. "How much are we talking here?"

"150."

Grillby hardly reacted. "Oh, come now, 20 years is such a long time. 250."

"As if you didn't have a mind like a steel trap. 175."

"225 and I won't charge you for the horseradish."

"200 you fry up whatever the hell you have in the back room for me."

A smile cracked wide across Grillby's face. It looked dangerous, like a picture of an active volcano Gothic had once seen in a magazine.

"Deal."

Gothic had the sudden worry that he'd somehow made a mistake in this bargaining game.

"Perfect," Gothic said, brushing off his concern and reaching into the bag he'd brought. Counting a handful of coins out he stuffed them back into his pocket before throwing the bag at Grillby. "I would have done 225. So what have you got for me?"

"Well," Grillby said lightly, peering inside the bag. "About, oh, I'd say 20 years ago, a pair of familiar faces that I'd never seen before showed up in town."

"Riddles now?" Gothic scoffed. "How can a face be familiar if you've never seen it before?"

Grillby ignored the question. "They were skeleton monsters. One with blue magic. One with orange."

Gothic creased his brow bones in confusion. Orange wasn't a particularly common color around here, which was just another reason Lombok tended to stick out so much.

"Yeah? So what?"

"Let's just say," Grillby said, high flames crackling. "I never saw the orange skeleton without Sans. And wouldn't you know it, not a year later you two came along."

Gothic's eyesockets shot wide. "You're not saying that my dad-"

Grillby held up a finger to his lips. "Shhh," he said, "it's a secret."

Gothic was definitely surprised. Usually just fucking with someone's mate was enough to get a monster dusted, much less actually fucking them. Gothic let out a short whistle. That was one hell of a secret. The question now was what to do about it.

"Where can I find these guys?"

Grillby shrugged. "As suddenly as they arrived, they just stopped coming one day."

Ah. Papyrus had found out. While Gothic continued to ponder, Grillby stood up and headed to the door.

"Now, if you don't mind, I have a business to run."

Gothic stared into space as he went over what he learned. There were two of them, Grillby had said, orange and blue. Well, orange explained Lombok, but he had to wonder- his dad's magic was red, and Gothic's was purple. The blue in him had to come from somewhere, right? Though there was the fact that, as much as he hated to admit it, he knew he looked exactly like Papyrus.

But then again, Sans and Papyrus were brothers. Maybe it was just a family trait and not something he'd specifically gotten from Papyrus.

He pulled out his phone, sending off a text to "Scary BJ".

hey, u do sci bullshit. how do i figure paternity?

Gothic snacked on the pickles while he waited for a reply. It took nearly an hour and a second plate before his phone buzzed again.

I'm an electrical engineer, dipshit.

Ah, it was always easy to tell when Jute had the phone. More fun too.

like i said, sci bullshit.

The next message came almost immediately.

Why? Worried Mrs Plague Doc's having an affair?

no i am. w/ ur mom. so?

Soul resonance.

Gothic sighed. Of course he's thought of that already. But if what Grillby said was true, and that both Sans and Papyrus knew it, then asking if he could just compare their Souls would be a dead giveaway that he was snooping.

duh. can't, options?

You need a sample of magic from each you want to test. Get them to me and i can run a test at the lab if it's important enough.

what sample?

Blood, spit, tears. Any magical fluid'll do. Make sure they don't get contaminated, do cotton balls in plastic bags or something.

kk. ill get back to you.

Getting a sample from Papyrus was going to be less than simple. Pops was pretty frugal with the use of his fluid magic, except for battle and sex. Tears were out of the question. If Gothic fought him, it might be possible to make Papyrus bleed, but Gothic knew he'd get the short end of that stick by a long shot.

As for sex… he suddenly got a very vivid mental picture of Sans, magic formed, with dark red slick coating the insides of his femurs. Twin waves of want and jealousy dashed over him.

He felt a hand snatch at his beanie from behind. Gothic flinched, ducking his head and the hand let go, hat remaining in place. Who would dare?!

"What the fuck-!" he shouted, turning around to see Sans, a malicious grin wide on his face. "Oh," he said dumbly, face flushing as he thought about where his mind had just been.

"Good ta' see you too," Sans said, entirely unrepentant as he dropped into the seat next to Gothic. "So, what kinda porn you lookin' at on your phone to make you turn that purple when caught?"

Shit, he'd had his phone open when Sans had come up behind him. Had he seen the texts?

Without being prompted, Grillby came over and set a bottle of mustard in front of Sans. Well, at least Gothic didn't have to wonder if Sans was his parent. The very obvious source of his predisposition to alcoholism grabbed the bottle, downing half of it before coming up for a breath.

Sans must have had a hell of a day if he was already hitting the bottle that hard. It was likely he'd overdrink again, a bad habit Gothic shared with him, until Papyrus has to come fetch him from the bar. It was an alarmingly frequent occurrence, Papyrus wandering in at closing only to find Sans bent over and drooling all over the...

Gothic froze as the idea occurred to him.

Drooling! Spit!

That'll work nicely.

"Nevermind, don't answer that," Sans continued, drawing Gothic back to the present. With a sigh, he pushed the mustard away from him."'Sides, I got somethin' more important to talk t'ya about. Why don't'cha step outside with me for a sec? Hey Grillby!" He called, standing up again. Grillby, only a few feet away, scowled at the volume. "Hold our spots, would ya? We'll be right back. C'mon, kid."

With a sinking feeling in the pit of his Soul, Gothic got up and followed his dad. There was no reason for it, he hadn't even done anything this time. Though he felt oddly compelled to suddenly come clean about all his secrets, and he wondered if it was a Judge thing or just a dad thing.

Once outside, Sans beckoned him around the side of the bar, stopping once they were out of sight from the road.

"Look, I saw your brother today," Sans said. "And I ain't happy with what I saw."

Gothic loved when his dad looked all serious. Not only did Gothic have the advantage of height, but he also had the knowledge that Sans would never actually attack him, something that few monsters could say. Gothic didn't think he changed expression but Sans narrowed his eyes anyway.

"I'm thinkin' it's time for you t'knock this crap off."

Was he talking about the Masks? There wasn't much else it could be, but what could his dad possibly know? Still, Sans was a master bluffer, there was no way to be sure. He decided to stay silent, knowing that anything he said would probably just dig him deeper.

Sans shrugged, letting his eyes fall closed as he casually said, "Yeah, I get it. You don't want to talk about it. I probably wouldn't either, was it me in your shoes. But," he said, leaning in closer. His eye sockets opened and his ruby eye lights bored into Gothic like he could see what Gothic was trying to hide written on the inside of his skull.

"That look on your bro's face told me that whatever you did, you went too far. I ain't going to put up with that 'tween the two of you. Hell, were it anybody but you, then this conversation wouldn't even be takin' place. He's got enough on his plate as it is, and I don't need you givin' him any more trouble than you already have, you got me?"

Gothic, giving Lombok trouble. Boy was that backwards. Gothic only realize he was smiling when Sans's frown turned into a full scowl. Quickly, Gothic tried to school his face back into a neutral mask, but it was too late. Sans went for blood.

"You think this is funny, do you?" Sans spat, his eye lights flaring. Gothic saw the telltale wisp of magic from his left socket and braced himself. "Well, lemme tell you something. He's got a future. He's gonna make something of himself, and it'll be a warm day in Snowdin before I let anyone, even you, ruin that for him. So whatever little game you're playin', he ain't gonna be a player in it. Screw your own life up if you want, but leave his alone."

Without waiting for a reply, Sans stepped back and disappeared. Gothic fumed, his magic on edge and primed for a fight.

What the hell? Was it Pile-Shit-On-Gothic Day and he just missed the memo? He wanted to yell, to go back inside and tell his dad that yes, he had a plan, he had a future for all of them! The ball was rolling now. After tomorrow's broadcast, it's all going to start picking up speed. He'll show them all.

Once he's able to unmask himself he's going to make his dad eat his those words. Gothic allowed himself a mean little smile, thinking of the apology was going to demand later. He could wait a few more days.

Gothic was about to just leave to go crash at Lombok's place when he remembered about the magic sample. Dammit, he couldn't waste this opportunity. Frustrated, Gothic headed back to the front of the bar. His dad was pissed, what could he possibly say? Nothing came to mind as he pushed the door open and walked inside, catching the reflection of Sans's eyelights in the mirrored bartack. Screw it, he'll just wing it.

"S'prised you didn't just leave," Sans said, sipping from his mustard bottle while Gothic reseated himself. "Maybe y'should."

"Look, I'm sorry about how I acted," he said. Gothic knew the recipe for Humble Pie, it just tasted like crap. Good thing he could make it sweeter with lies. "I've been talking to Lombok, true, but you got it wrong. I'm not trying to make him worse, he's trying to make me better."

That got Sans to look at him. Skeptically, but hey, it was a start. "That so?"

"Yeah. I'm working on it."

"You, working?"

"With plenty of breaks, of course. I did learn from you."

Sans snorted. "Was that s'posed to be a joke? Stars help us all if you're takin' my work ethic over the Boss's."

"Made you laugh," Gothic countered. "Hey," he continued as the idea came to him. "I got something that sounds fun. How about a good ol' fashioned game of You Laugh, You Lose? Loser pays bar tab."

"Why?" Sans asked with a smile. "Really hate your wallet'n liver that much, do ya?"

"Hardly," Gothic said, shaking his head. "Was that supposed to be your joke? Gonna be an easy win."

"You're on," Sans said before waving Grillby over. "Ya need a drink though."

"Are you drinking tonight?" Grillby asked, sildling up to them.

"Bring me a Smoker's Cough," Gothic said after a moment of thought. Grillby gave him a disgusted look, but turned around to the shelf anyway.

The look Sans gave him made it clear he'd never heard of that drink before. "No laughing," Gothic reminded him as he nodded his head towards Grillby. Sans followed the movement to Grillby, who was pouring spiced liquor into a glass. His curiosity turned to horror as Grillby brought out a jar of mayonnaise.

"No fuckin' way-" Sans began, cutting himself off before he could laugh.

"Yep," Gothic answered, biting his jaw to keep from laughing at the look on his dad's face as Grillby took a spoon and mixed a healthy dollop of mayo into the glass.

Grillby returned with the concoction, placing it on the counter with more force than Gothic thought was strictly necessary. "Here. Please stop ordering these weird human drinks," he said before turning back towards the other, less insane customers.

"He's kidding, right?" Sans asked. "That ain't really a thing humans drink, is it?

"Sure is," Gothic assured him. "Found a great book full of great drinks. You should have seen Grillby's face when I brought the book in. This one," he said, swirling the drink in his claws, "is the famed Smoker's Cough. Last week I ordered a Tapeworm Shot, and the Infected Whitehead was pretty good."

Sans gave a choking half laugh. "Damn kid, that's nasty!"

Gothic couldn't stop a laugh of his own at Sans's expression. "Damn, drinks for both of us," he said, taking a swig from his drink. Sans nodded and took one of his own.

-+-+-+-

It was hours later when Papyrus finally showed up. How many hours, Gothic had no idea. All he knew was that he was winning. He was pretty sure he was winning. He was also pretty sure Papyrus had said something to him, but he really, really couldn't be bothered with whatever that asshole had to say.

"Yeah!" Gothic laughed, blinking dully at Papyrus's retreating form. Sans was slung over his shoulder, unconcious. He smiled at Grillby, who was coming closer with a washrag. "That means he forfeits, it goes on his tab!"

Looking over to where Sans had been laying face down on the bar, there was a wet pile of bright red drool spread out across the countertop. He stared at it, squinting. Why was that important?

As he was watching it, Grillby reached out and began wiping up the mess. Gothic remember thinking earlier about Sans's formed magic, his mind imagining purple on those rough femurs. The pleasant image was making him feel even more warm inside than he had before. It was the magic he needed, he remembered suddenly, for-

"Gimme that!" Gothic half yelled, half slurred as he launched himself across the bar top. Grillby was so startled that he froze for a split-second, giving Gothic time to grab hold of the rag before pulling himself back, his flames flaring up defensively.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?!" Grillby demanded, sparks popping and hissing around him.

Gothic didn't care, choosing to ignore the angry monster to inspect the rag. He closed one socket to better focus on it, and that seemed to help. As far as he could tell the rag was clean, fresh except for the wet magic staining the fabric a soft red.

"Don't you think you're taking this weird crush of yours just a little too far?" A voice asked from behind him.

Oh. Great. Lombok was here. "'S not for that, 's for science. Yunno?"

"Is that what you're calling it nowadays?"

"Fuck off," Gothic replied. Fucking Lombok thought he knew everything, didn't he? "For real science."

"Yeah, sure it is. Now, why don't you give the nice elemental his rag back?" Lombok asked, his voice way too goddamn cheerful. Grillby made a popping sound like a log cracking in the fire. A laugh.

"No way," Gothic said, shaking his head. It made the room spin and he stopped. "I need it. Really."

"What's the tab?" Lombok asked Grillby.

"He's got at least 25 in his pocket," Grillby answered, much to Gothic's surprise. "Why don't you give me that, and I'll put the rest on Sans's tab."

"Damn right you will," Gothic slurred, patting for his pocket. "I got it."

Lombok stopped him, grabbing his hand. "Yeah, I don't feel like picking a bunch of coins up off the ground, but thanks for letting me know which pocket it's in."

"Screw you, I wouldn't drop it."

"No? Well you dropped that rag you'd tried so hard to keep."

Gothic sat up straight, frantically hunting for the rag. He couldn't let that get away! Lombok began laughing, and Gothic realize it was still in his hand.

"Oh fuck you," Gothic said, pulling the rag closer against his chest.

"Yeah, you said that already," Lombok said, handing the coins to Grillby. Gothic doubled his glare. Lombok should have been a pickpocket, Gothic hadn't even realized he'd been robbed. "Let's get you out of here, okay?"

Gothic nodded, and let Lombok lead him from the bar. The walk back was fuzzy, with Gothic devoting all of his attention to holding onto the rag. Lombok wasn't a very good guide either, and somehow Gothic kept ending up face-first in the snow. Digging snow from his sockets did a little to sober him up, but not much.

Finally, he recognized Lombok's place as he was drug through the front door.

"Oh good," Gothic said. "We're here."

"We are," Lombok agreed. He suddenly released his grip, and Gothic went sprawling to the floor. "Time for you to sleep this off."

"Yeah, good idea," Gothic said, blinking at the carpet. He heard Lombok's footsteps moving away, and looked up. "Oh, hey, wait! I need a bag!"

Lombok stopped, turning to give Gothic an unimpressed look. "Oh? Why? Did you leave your purse at Grillby's?"

"No, asshole, a plastic bag. I need to put this rag in it."

Lombok rolled his eye lights, but got a bag anyway and was even kind enough to put the rag in for him. Gothic tucked it into his shirt for now, too tired to remember where he stashed his bag.

"There. Happy now? Go the fuck to sleep." With that, Lombok headed into his own room, latching the door firmly behind him.

The next thing Gothic knew, the false daylight was peeking in through the windows, stabbing into his skull even through his closed sockets, and he hated life.

"Gothic?" He heard his brother's voice, and Gothic winced at the sound. "I brought you a glass of water."

That was unexpectedly thoughful, and Gothic looked up just in time to see the waterfall heading right for his face. The world came into sudden, sharper focus as he sputtered, looking around.

He was on the floor in Lombok's living room, and there Lombok was, standing above him, with a now empty water glass overturned in his hand. There was a second glass in his other hand.

"Oh hey, you're awake," Lombok said, his tone completely amicable like he didn't deserve to be shanked for what he just did. "I'm about to head out for training and I wanted to make sure you weren't dead."

Gothic shook head minutely, bringing his hands up to hold his skull, certain it was going to crack if he didn't keep it still. He'd definitely let the game get way too out of hand last night.

"Dick. I'm not dead, and if you do that again I'm going to make you wish you were." Gothic said, warily eyeing the second glass.

"Chill, it gets boring doing the same thing twice. This is for you to drink," he said, slowly passing the water glass over.

Gothic nodded his thanks, taking a big drink before he looked down at the ground where he'd been sleeping, and at the large wet mark now in the carpet. "And what was that for? You want carpet mold, dumb ass? Thought you were supposed to be the responsible one. That's going to rot the substrate."

Lombok just gave him a look. "Since when the hell do you care about my landlord's substrate? Anyway, I'll see you around. I've got training."

"Hey wait," Gothic said, fighting to his feet. "I need a sample of your magic."

"Why the hell do you need that?" Lombok asked, but he sounded more curious than concerned.

"I'm testing something," Gothic said, finishing off his glass and setting it on the carpet. There must be more than just water because it was doing wonders for his headache. He smiled at his bother. "It's part of the thing for figuring out that secret."

"You're fucking with me, right?" Lombok asked tightly, a line of tension in his jaw.

Gothic took a half step back, his face falling. Why the hell was Lombok angry? "Yeah," he said. "I got something, but I need a sample of liquid magic to test it."

"Of course," Lombok said, almost to quietly to be heard. He summoned a small, sharp edged bone construct in one hand. "You want something, you just get it, right? Fuck, I bet you didn't even have to work for it."

"What the hell?" Gothic snapped. "I'm doing this for you- hey, what the fuck are you doing?!"

Ignoring him, Lombok turned the construct on himself, digging it into his ulna. Orange magic dripped from the cut, and Lombok dismissed the attack to catch the liquid in the empty water glass he'd been holding.

"You needed magic, so here," Lombok said, shoving the glass at Gothic.

He took it by reflex, still trying to figure out what the hell had gotten into Lombok.

"Dude, why are you freaking out?"

Lombok stormed over to the door, grabbing the handle and throwing it open. "Don't worry, I'm sure I'll get over it."

Before Gothic could even try to figure out how to respond to that Lombok was gone, the door slamming behind him hard enough to shake the frame. Stunned, Gothic looked at the glass of magic he was now holding before scowling. Lombok wanted to throw some mysterious hissy fit? Fine. This was all he needed from Lombok anyway.

Now he just needed to deal with Papyrus.

Chapter Text

Sans sat at his Sentry station, head resting on his arms as he regretted every one of his decisions over the past day. Drinking with Gothic last night had been a bad idea. It had come out of nowhere, and they'd both taken it too far. Sans was getting too old for that kind of stupidity.

...But he had to admit that it had been fun. Gothic was a funny little shit when he wanted to be, and just hanging out with the kid soothed something protective in his Soul.

Papyrus had been pissed, of course, but he more than deserved it after taking Lombok to that interrogation.

Guess they were even now.

He was just thanking his lucky stars that today was an easy day. None of the Dog Squad had anything to bother him about, and both of his boys seem to be staying out of trouble as far as he could tell. He was glad for it, even if it was probably because of the hangover in Gothic's case.

Sans checked the time. Second lunch. Despite knowing it was probably a bad idea, Sans headed over to Grillby's. It was doubtful that Gothic would be there again and Sans felt sufficiently recovered enough to want a damn burger.

To his surprise, as Sans walked in there was that dumb blue bunny again, speaking to Grillby at the bar. He sat himself at his normal spot, flashing a sharp edged smile at the two of them. Bram, the little weirdo, scowled in return and made a quick hop for the exit.

Fucking rude. Not so much as a how-do-you-do.

Sans turned back to Grillby with a, "What gives?" expression.

Grillby shrugged, heading towards the back. A flare of annoyance had Sans's claws twitching against the bartop. This thing where monsters ignored him was getting on his nerves, bad.

The wonderful scent of grease washed over him as Grillby returned with a fantastic looking burger. Well, Sans supposed he could put up with a little irritation when there's burgers at the end.

"He had some information to sell," Grillby said, dropping the plate on the counter. Instead of grabbing his bar rag, he folded his arms across his chest. "I wasn't interested in buying."

"Oh?" Sans asked, not really paying attention. His mouth watered as he picked up the burger. "Somethin' you already knew?"

"No, more like something that's not worth the trouble of knowing."

Sans took a big bite, reveling in the way the mixed grease and mustard slid down the sides of his jaw. Leaning forward, he made sure it dripped right onto the wood. Grillby didn't so much as flicker. Shame.

"So, 'ow well do'ya know tha' bunny, an'way?" He began around the mouth full of food, watching for Grillby's reaction to his manners. He didn't get one, the bartender continued his neutral listening schtick and ignored the bad behavior completely. Sans gave up and swallowed the bite. It just wasn't as much fun if no one got mad. Like Papyrus. He was sure 'open mouth chewing' held a pretty high spot on the list of reasons why Papyrus didn't go to Grillby's with him.

"I jus' can't figure out what that kid's deal is. Half the time he seems too stupid to survive, the other half he's as vicious as the worst monsters down here. Still, can't help feelin' kinda bad for him, ya'know? After all that had happened," he said taking another bite.

Of everything, that got a reaction. Grillby paused, flames going still for a moment as he gave Sans a piercing look.

"What?" Sans asked, spitting crumbs out in front of him.

Grillby's voice was a soft crackle, like flames consuming dry leaves. "If I were you, I wouldn't feel bad for him."

Free advice. That wasn't good. The taste of the burger turned to ash in Sans's mouth as he leapt to his feet. Grillby didn't do free advice, this was a flat-out warning that Sans was an idiot, running skull first into a pit trap that he hadn't seen. Without another word, Sans ran for the door. He threw it open, screaming "Bram, get back here!"

He heard a squeak and turned to see the little mouse with the red and black striped scarf peeking around the building.

"Hey! You! I'm looking for Bram! Where the fuck did he go?"

"I don't know!" Squeaked the mouse with wide, terrified eyes. "I just got here!! I'm waiting for my friend!"

Sans rounded on him, eye lights flashing. "What friend? The rabbit? You waitin' for Bram, pipsqueak?!"

"Hey! Leave him alone!" Shouted a tinny voice. Sans turned to see the Nacarat Jester running up the path towards them. "The guy you're looking for was headed towards Waterfall!"

Sans took off running back to Grillby's to dodge out of sight behind the bar. Dismissing the pair from his mind he jumped through a shortcut.

He reappeared at the east edge of town past his house, but there was no sign of the rabbit. Another jump took him to his Waterfall Sentry station. Nothing. Another jump and Sans knew he'd lost him. Next room, still nothing. Not like Bram could get this far, this fast anyway. It was as if the little rabbit had vanished into thin air.

Sans could feel the hidden eyes of the Temmies watching him, making his bones crawl. They were everywhere, scurrying through Waterfall like roaches, watching everything. Sans had a wild thought of asking them what they knew, but he didn't have anything worthwhile to offer even if they were willing to bargain.

He found few monsters traveling the roads, and interrogated most of them, but no one had seen so much as a loose patch of blue fur.

Eventually, he had to just give up. He didn't like it, not one bit, but there were no leads to follow and, frankly, he was out of steam.

Once he left Waterfall he trudged the rest of the way home on foot, tired and angry, only to be hit with another emotional curveball as he went through his front door. Papyrus was just pulling a lasagna tray from the oven ...and was he smiling? It was fleeting, his face dropping back to a neutral haughty expression before Sans could really get a good look. Sans was starting to wonder if he'd tripped into an alternate reality, one where Lombok was troubled, Gothic was sociable, Boss was smiling and rabbits felt like threats.

"Heya, Boss," Sans called as casually as he could, locking the front door behind him. "You look in a good mood today. What's up?"

"An astute observation brother," Papyrus agreed. With meticulous care he set the lasagna to rest and put away the oven mitts. Sans resisted the urge to roll his eyes at his brother's fastidiousness. "I am indeed in quite the benevolent mood. Are you aware that Lombok has been talking to Gothic?"

Instantly Sans's defenses shot up. "Yeah, I may've heard a bit about it. Why?"

"Well, would you believe, that Gothic actually brought me lunch to share today?"

Sans would have sooner believed that Undyne found a boyfriend. "No kiddin'?"

"I would never kid," Papyrus said with a glare. When Sans just scoffed, he continued, "He had said that he was trying to make amends for some of the unscrupulous behaviors he'd displayed in the past, and that Lombok was assisting him. To that end, he came to share his lunch with me today. Homemade peanut butter sandwiches."

"And they were... edible?" Sans was still trying to picture it. He couldn't.

"Very much so. Although the peanut butter did tend to stick to the inside of my jaw, it is a point in Gothic's favor that he'd thought ahead. So much that he'd brought a little spatula specifically for the purpose of removing said peanut butter! And the best part?" Papyrus asked, a note of pride creeping into his voice. "He wouldn't even let me take the spatula with me to be cleaned, insisting that he was going to do it himself!"

If Sans raised his brow bones any higher, he was pretty sure his sockets were going to crack. First the drinking game, now lunch with Papyrus. What was Gothic's angle here? Just what exactly had happened in that fight the boys had?

"You don't say? Wow, that's pretty great."

"Truly!" Papyrus said. He looked out the window, the hint of a smile teasing at his fangs. "I speculate that perhaps he's decided to turn over a new leaf, being simply a late bloomer to adulthood. He is still rather young yet. And to top it all off, tonight is the debut of Mettaton's new show! You'll be joining me, won't you?"

There was a genuine shine of happiness in Papyrus's eyelights and looking at it Sans felt all the weight he'd been carrying through the day lift from his shoulders. Stars, Papyrus was so cool. Whatever troubles there were could wait until tomorrow.

"Sure Boss," he said with a real smile. "Wouldn't miss it for the world."

Sans sat at the kitchen table, lost in thought as he wasted time, waiting for the hour to be up before the show. He ate a bowl of Papyrus's lasagna, slurping noisily and ignoring his brother's death glares from the other room.

For the life of him, he could not figure out just what Gothic was up to. He didn't trust this new found kindness. Papyrus obviously believed in him, but Sans couldn't. He wanted to, but he just couldn't. Did that make him a bad parent, he wondered, or just a practical one?

"Sans!" Papyrus called from the living room. "Get over here, it's about to start!"

Sans dumped off his bowl into the sink, hopping through a shortcut to drop down on the couch with his brother. He landed with his back against Papyrus's side, throwing his ankles over the armrest. Papyrus gave him a disgusted look.

"At least take your shoes off."

"Aww, but I'm comfortable," Sans complained, grinning up at him. "I can't move now. It's a rule, like with cats."

Papyrus snorted. "You are not nearly as lovable. Now hush, it's starting."

The TV was already on, an image of a chainsaw and the words "Please Stand By" underneath. As Sans watched, it flickered, changing to a live feed of Mettaton.

"Hello, my darlings!" The robot bombastically shouted at the camera, all four of his arms outstretched in welcome. "It is with great delight that I announce my new series premiering tonight! It is a grand story about-"

From offscreen he pulled out a chainsaw and revved it loudly.

"Murder!"

He switched it for a knife, turning away from the camera to pose, blade flashing. From seemingly nowhere, three more blades appeared in his other hands.

"Betrayal!"

The camera zoomed in, Mettaton's two visible eyes filling the screen with a cruel expression that even Sans felt was chilling.

"And the LoVe that fills us all!"

With a twirl, Mettaton posed, sweeping his arms out as the camera pulled back.

"Without any further ado, I present to you, 'LoVe, Death and Robots!'"

The scene changed, switching to show a walkway somewhere inside the Core. A low, quick beat EDM song played in the background. There was the sound of a revving chainsaw, and a Madjick flew past the camera, a terrified expression on its face. Mettaton followed a few paces behind, weapon swinging wildly.

Scene after scene, Mettaton chased the monster through the Core. They ran past puzzles, the Madjick working to solve them, staying barely a step ahead of Mettaton while the mad robot just ripped through them with his chainsaw, sparks flying.

It was a losing battle for the Madjick, who turned a bad corner to find a dead end. It turned to face Mettaton, who slowed, chainsaw raised above his head as he began to slowly advance towards the monster. The music began to speed up as the camera focused on the chainsaw's blade.

"I wish I could say I'm sorry, my dear, but I'm afraid I'm not!"

Mettaton yelled, the chainsaw sweeping down and- the scene changed again, everything going silent.

It was simply a lone, tall figure standing in a grey room, their face hidden behind a plague doctor mask. The feed was low quality, the production value more like that of a cell phone than one of Mettaton's cameras.

Sans pushed himself up, startling Papyrus as he gaped at the tv.

No… it fuckin' better not be…

"Monsters of the Underground," a rough voice narrated from off-screen. It was throaty, with a lisp that suggested the speaker had a muzzle. "We of the Resistance have something important to tell you."

The monster in the plague mask signed the words in hands as the voice spoke them. The hands were covered in gloves but it hardly mattered. Sans knew those claws too well, had seen them, held them, too many times to be thrown off by simple black gloves.

Gothic.

Chapter Text

Training had been a blessing to clear Lombok's mind. Stars, his brother knew just how to dig in the knife, the asshole. It didn't matter what Lombok did or what he tried, Dad and Pops were going to keep their secrets from him. The way Sans had reacted, they'd been carrying this secret a long time, maybe even his whole life! But, of fucking course, as soon as Gothic gets involved he gets his answers within the afternoon.

Gothic always gets what he wants, doesn't he? No matter how much he slacked off, no matter what bad choices he made, things just work for him. It wasn't fair.

And he was so ungrateful. Did Gothic thank him for keeping his secret? No. Getting the wire? No! Dragging his stupid ass home safely and treating his hangover? Fucking no!

Practically growling with his frustration, Lombok took out his emotions with his training. He'd spent the whole morning steamrolling all the other trainies. Not even Delilah, his partner and arguably one of the strongest in the entire group, could keep up with him. One by one he bested them all, even sending a few to the infirmary, until there was no one left and Undyne herself stepped in. Finally, as the day was coming to and end he had someone that could match him blow for blow.

"That's it, punk!" She called, blocking another swing of his bone attack with a spear of her own. There was a sheen of sweat on her face, proof of how hard Lombok was working them both. She lashed out at his feet. "Left foot's getting sloppy, watch your stance!"

Lombok jumped to the side before pressing his attack forward again. When he'd arrived this morning, he'd avoided her, worried about what he'd say after his failure with the interrogation yesterday. To his immense relief and eternal gratitude she didn't even mention it, dragging him right into practice.

He threw himself at it wholeheartedly, letting Undyne's spears distract his mind away from his brother, his father, the dog monster- Shuck, he reminded himself. The monster had a name once. For the most part, the distraction worked.

As he blocked another spear, his phone rang from inside his pocket. "Trouble, trouble, trouble!" sang the bright pop song.

Fucking Gothic. Now what?

Undyne saw the shift in his focus, and managed to sneak a swing right under his attack and into his shoulder. He dropped, rolling, and came up on one knee to defend but she didn't follow up.

"You gonna get that?" She asked, resting on her spear. She gave a toothy smile. "Sounds like trouble calling."

Lombok sighed, coming to his feet. Gothic was actually calling and that likely meant he didn't want to wait for text. "I don't want to, but I'd better. Who knows, it could be important."

Sure enough, there were three text messages and one missed call. He tapped it, and Gothic let it ring 6 times before finally picking it up.

"Yo," Gothic said on the other end. "What's up?"

Lombok hung up.

Undyne looked at him curiously. "Voice mail?" She asked.

"Nope," Lombok said. His phone rang again, and he answered on the first ring. Undyne shook her head with a smirk.

"Dude," Gothic said crisply. "Touchy much?"

"I'll hang up on you again," he warned, and Undyne gave him a thumbs up. It made him feel better to know she had his back when dealing with his pain in the ass brother.

On the other line, Gothic sighed. "Come on, don't be like that."

"Do you actually have something to talk about," Lombok asked, his voice flat. "Or did you just call to piss me off again?"

"What's crawled up your tailbone and died? Of course I've got something, would I even be calling if I didn't?" Gothic asked and Lombok made a face. Like he didn't call at least once a week for the lone purpose of grossing him out with his latest stomach turning food habits.

"And it's kind of important," Gothic continued. "I need you to come meet me at the Hotland dock."

Lombok checked the time, only to find it was later than he'd thought. Training had actually ended half an hour ago, but he'd worked right through it.

"Already? You know if I keep helping you, you're going to forget how to survive on your own in the wild," he said, smiling when Undyne snickered.

"Very funny. Seriously, asshole, I need you over here, like now." There was a pause. "Please?"

Pulling out the big guns. And he actually sounded sincere. No fair. Grimacing, he said, "Whatever. Fine, I'll be there in ten."

"Leaving so soon?" Undyne asked, picking at her nails with the tip of her spear.

"Yeah," Lombok said as he dropped his phone back into his pocket.

"Whatever it is, tell him to get stuffed," Undyne said with a roll of her good eye as she tossed the spear over her shoulder. It struck the wall behind herbefore scattering. "Mettaton's show is on tonight. Besides, didn't your brother always have as big a hard on for the robot as Papyrus?"

That made him wonder, what exactly was going to happen when MTT's new show came on? What would his dads do?

"Tempting," he said, "but it seems my idiot of a brother actually needs my help. I'll try to catch the show at home."

She smiled wide. "You're just a big ol' softie, aren't ya? I'll tell you what he needs, a swift kick in the ass! Why don't you give him one for me, okay?"

Lombok smiled back, trying his best to hide how much her comment stung. "I'll be sure to give him two, just in case."

….

Lombok climbed out of the ferryman's boat in Hotland to find Gothic waiting for him. Well, he was waiting, but was much more interested in his phone than in Lombok.

"What is it this time?" Lombok asked, walking close. "Let me guess, you forgot cash for the vending machine and need a hand stealing someone's lunch money?"

"Nah," Gothic replied over the stacatto tik-tik-tik of his texting. With a nod of his head he shoved the phone into a pocket and started walking. "I've got 'em so trained that they just throw their lunch at me when I walk by."

"Hate to break it to you," Lombok said, falling in step behind him. "But the rotten tomatoes aren't actually what they brought for lunch."

Lombok felt arush of victory when Gothic snorted. "You're just jealous."

"Wildly." Lombok rolled his eye lights, resizing it was something he did a lot when his brother was involved. "Why are we in Hotlands anyway?"

"We're going to the Lab. Jute and Burlap were running a test for me, and uh, Alphys found out."

His phone buzzed again, and Gothic pulled it back out. From where he was walking Lombok could see the screen over Gothic's shoulder. It was a text from a contact labeled "ScaryBJ".

[You'd better or Alphys is going to rip my stitches out!]

Gothic was sending back a reply, [Keep your gunny sack on, they're coming.]

"They?" Lombok asked.

"'S'cuse you," Gothic said looking over at him. Lombok saw the reply of [Is that some kind of threat?] before the screen turned off. "They, us, same difference."

"Why do you have them down as that?" Lombok asked, only slightly worried about what the answer might be.

"Because they're Burlap and Jute, and they're scary." Gothic replied with a shrug. "It works and it's funny."

"Oh," he said. That was surprisingly reasonable. "I'll take your word on Jute then, I didn't actually get to meet him. Only Burlap."

Gothic missed a step. Sharp amusement made his eye lights glitter as he looked at Lombok. "What, really?"

"Yeah," Lombok said, kicking at a rock in his path. "I thought it was kind of a dick move for him to just leave her there, you know? She's pretty scary, but she was definitely uncomfortable being there alone."

There was silence for a second before Gothic spoke again. "So, where..." Gothic broke off, obviously trying not to laugh. "Where was Jute?"

Lombok frowned, completely at a loss for whatever it was Gothic found so funny. "I don't have any idea. Why?"

The look Gothic gave Lombok was infuriating in its complete lack of answers. He smirked, obviously enjoying the confusion. "I doubt he was very far away. They're twins, after all."

"Wow, really?" Lombok asked. "That makes it even worse that he would go abandon her like that!"

"You'd think so, wouldn't you. I'm pretty certain you'd've found him sooner or later."

"That's what you said about the mask thing." Lombok said.

Gothic looked thoughtful as he answered, "Heh, yeah. So, maybe not."

"Which I still have by the way." The stupid thing was still in his inventory, taking up a slot that could be filled with something actually useful. "I don't think-"

"Sorry, too late, we're here!" Gothic suddenly cut in.

"What?" Lombok started, looking up at the Lab still somewhere in the distance. "But it's still a quarter mile!"

Gothic was gone, through a shortcut and already by the door. Seriously, Lombok should have expected it. Much like their dad, Gothic hated walking and generally used shortcuts as his sole means of transportation. The only question was why he hadn't done it earlier. A metal buzz of whirring machinery made him look up to spot a camera not a dozen feet from where he was standing. Probably just trying to piss off Dr. Alphys by being untrackable.

"Real mature," Lombok said, jogging up to the door.

Gothic gave him a look of hurt innocence. "Why, I'll have you know I'm just trying to be quick about this, Alphys is waiting for us, after all."

On cue, the door to the Lab slid open with a hiss. They stepped inside, walking down the hallway to find Dr. Alphys already waiting for them in front of her screen of cameras. She glared at them from behind her clouded glasses, her foot tapping impatiently on the tiles.

"Took you two long enough!" Her voice was annoyed but not dangerously so. It was generate considered unsafe for a monster to get on Alphys's bad side "You know you can't just go around using my interns like your own personal lackeys!"

Lombok looked at Gothic, but he just gave a blank stare in return, playing dumb. So Gothic was just going to throw him under the bus? Well, two can play that game.

"Sorry, Alphys," Lombok said with a disarming smile as he remembered his Dad's advice. Avoid direct lies. "It was all Gothic's idea, but I didn't think it was enough to trouble you directly. Burlap's a friend so I didn't think it'd be a big deal."

"It isn't, but next time make sure you ask first!" Alphys replied with an irritated flick of her tail. "And how do you know them anyway? I know I've never seen you all interact before."

Lombok faltered. He tried Gothic again but he seemed just as interested in the answer as Alphys. "Well, I was working on the Vice Captain's puzzles out in the woods one day…"

"Jute and Burlap," Alphys began slowly, "were in the Snowdin Woods?"

"Uh… yes?"

She gave him a skeptical look, but before either could say anything else a door in the wall slid open, and Burlap walked in.

Or, at least a monster that looked like Burlap.

He was the same height as her, and his outfit was identical to what she had worn the day before, the only difference being the hood. Instead of a white hood, this monster's hood was black. And while he had the same ink-stain eyes and the lack of a nose as a sister, he didn't have a mouth. Instead his entire head was split scalp to neck with a large, loosely closed seam that ran straight down the center of his white sack face.

Hey, Lombok, he signed, his eyes smiling. Long time no see.

The words were easier to understand than Burlap, a bit smoother except for the way he held his dominant right arm a little stiff.

"Uh, hey, Jute," Lombok said, waving back. "Yeah, you said it. Is your sister around? "

Gothic made a choking sound that he quickly turned into a cough while Alphys sent them all a scathing look.

Don't think I've met your friend, Jute signed, narrowing his eyes at Gothic. Lombok wouldn't say the look was hostile, but it was certainly colder than the one he'd received. Your brother?

Lombok looked at him in surprise. "Really?"

"What's he saying?" Gothic asked, elbowing Lombok in the ribs. Lombok turned his incredulous gaze on his brother. Gothic smiled. "Come on bro, you know I don't speak hands."

"Enough of this!" Alphys snapped, very clearly reaching the end of her patience. "Just follow me to the green office, and any introductions can wait untill after we're done!" She turned to look at Jute over her glasses, pointing a scaly finger towards the halls. "Back to work!"

She waddled away, and Jute followed, the two of them disappearing together through an adjacent door.

Once they were gone Lombok whirled on his brother

"Why doesn't he know you?" He asked, quiet enough that it wouldn't carry.

"Burner phone with voice changer, duh," Gothic replied with a smirk, like Lombok just asked why he put on shoes in the morning. "In person it's all hands."

"You got to stop doing this to me," Lombok said with a groan.

"Okay, sure thing," Gothic agreed easily, giving Lombok a thumbs up.

"What, really?"

"'Course," Gothic laughed. "Just as soon as it stops being so damn funny."

"Dick. You'd find a box of flaming moldsmals funny," Lombok accused flatly.

"Well, yeah. Moldsmals? Flaming? Box?" He laughed again. "What part of that wasn't supposed to be funny?"

Lombok stared back, trying to put twenty years of fraternal irritation into one unamused glare when Gothic's phone began to buzz with an incoming call. He pulled it out of his pocket, looking at it before giving Lombok a lopsided grin.

"Hey, speaking of, I'm gonna get this. You go on ahead."

As he walked to follow Alphys to the little office at the back, a flash of white in a room to the side caught his attention. He peeked in, and saw Burlap staring at something on her phone. A picture, maybe?

"Hey Burlap," he called. She startled, tucking her phone away as she turned to face him. "I was hoping to see you today. Sorry to spook you," he chuckled. "I guess it's payback for the other day."

She didn't look happy to see him, her eyes going wide. Oops, had he really scared her that badly?

Been… busy, she signed, her eyes darted to the door behind him I have to go.

With a guilty pang realized the problem was that he'd accidentally trapped her in the room. He hated that she was afraid of him, but he understood. He was a big monster, often towering literal feet over other monsters.

"Wait, really? Can't chat for a moment?" He asked, disappointed, but already moving back to give her room to leave.

Once the way was clear she edged past him, looking visibly calmer with the open hallway behind her. She even gave him a small smile.

Good to see you, true. I have work, must go.

Without another sign she hurried off into the corridors, leaving Lombok to stare after her, confused. Was Alphys really that strict when it came to slacking off? Maybe. He decided he'd better not keep her waiting or he might just find out first hand.

When he reached the office Alphys glared daggers at Lombok. "I'll have you know I'm a very busy monster and I don't have time to waste waiting on you! Where is your brother?"

"Already here," Gothic called, suddenly leaning against a wall behind Alphys.

"Who was on the phone?" Lombok asked.

"Dunno. No body answered."

"If you don't mind!" Alphys practically shouted, inturrupting them both. She waved a paper envelope at them. "So, just why were you looking into this, anyway?"

"Uh…" Lombok stammered.

"It was a bet," Gothic interrupted. "I told him he was adopted from Temmies and became a skeleton when he got older. He doesn't believe me. So when the result come back that he's really just a skeleton-shaped Temmie I get to rub his skull in it."

Alphys looked at him like she thought he might, seriously, be an idiot. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Of course he's a skeleton-"

"-shaped Temmie," Gothic added, nodding vigorously. Lombok felt a sudden urge to find a pillow and smother him with it.

"Really?" she asked dryly, staring at him over her glasses. "Then why did you want to be included?"

He shrugged like none if this meant anything at all. "Every good test needs a control subject, right?"

Alphys let out a deep sigh. "Whatever. Fine. I don't actually care." She pulled out a piece of paper from the envelope and began to read. "First result, Gothic the Skeleton. The probability that Sans and Papyrus are your biological parents…"

Lombok's skull snapped up to give Gothic an outraged glare. He'd gotten them both paternity tests?! What in the Void was going on?

"…is one hundred percent."

As close as he was, Lombok heard Gothic's relieved exhale. Had he actually been worried? Now Lombok was very worried.

"And Lombok," Alphys began, pausing as she looked at the sheet of paper.

"Well?" Gothic asked impatiently.

"Lombok, it looks like," she paused again, then spit out in an annoyed rush. "You are also the son of Sans and Papyrus, with one hundred percent certainty!"

"What?" Gothic asked snatching the paper out of her claws.

"The test confirms it! But, I really don't know what you were expecting. You're skeleton monsters. Your parents are skeleton monsters. The only thing I can't figure out is why some of Lombok's magical indicators seem to be non-compliant with Papyrus's, but that could be explained by the contamination as easily as anything else."

She gripped the bridge of her nose and shook her head.

"I don't even want to know why you mixed peanut butter into the magic. Nonetheless, the physical markers are all there! The only way to be more certain would be to see if your souls resonate with your parents, which, honestly, I would have thought would be a lot easier than all of this!"

"That bastard!" Gothic seethed, glaring at the paper like he was trying to set it on fire with his mind. "That two-timing, lying bastard!"

"What are you talking about?" Lombok asked. Had some one really told Gothic that Sans and Papyrus might not be their parents? More to the point, why had Gothic believed them?

It made no sense, Sans and Papyrus were loyal to a fault. Not to mention that they were the only skeletons in the whole of the Underground!

"It looks like I was given some bad information. Well, it's been fun everyone, but I've got to go get my money back."

Quick as a thought he was running down the hall.

"Hey, Gothic, wait!" Lombok yelled as his brother disappeared around a corner. Probably to teleport as soon as he was out of Alphys's line of sight, leaving Lombok standing in front of a very irritated looking lizard monster.

"Well?" She asked after a moment. "Did you have anything more to ask me?"

Lombok shook his head no.

"Then get the f-fuck out of my lab!" Alphys yelled, pointing towards the exit.

Lombok beat a hasty retreat. Away from the scientist, he was nearly out the door when Burlap caught up to him. The sound of her soft feet on tile made him turn, and he smiled when she reached him.

Will I see you tomorrow night? She signed.

"Tomorrow? Um, I suppose? If you want to?"

No, no, that's not what I meant. Good, never mind, I guess I'll see you around.

She looked down, and Lombok could see a touch of silver coloring the white front of her face.

"Okay, uh, good, I guess? See you too," he said and she walked away, leaving him more confused than before.

When he reached the door he paused and turned around, feeling eyes on his back. At the other end of the hallway, leaning against the wall with his arms folded high across his chest, was Jute. From this distance, it was remarkable how much he look like his sister. Only the black hood marked him to be a different monster. Lombok raised an arm in farewell, and Jute only released an elbow to sign a quick, see you later, before re-crossing his arms.

It may just be Lombok's imagination, but that seemed to be one hell of a determined look on the others plain face.

Chapter Text

Gothic walked into the bar, only to be assaulted by the sound of more than a dozen angry monsters shouting. Above it all, the sound of Shuck's rough voice rang out through the old tv's gritty speakers.

"It is no use relying on the monarchy you must rely only upon your own determination. The King has failed us all."

It seemed like half of Snowdin must have been there, each one of them giving their full attention to the tv. On the screen was Gothic in his plague doctor outfit, gloved hands signing the words as Shuck spoke.

Momentarily forgetting his problem with Grillby, Gothic looked over the crowd for their reactions. Most, he was unsurprised to see, looked angry. Some looked scared. And a few looked curious.

The Dog Squad, as expected, were in the furious group. They obviously thought the recording was live, and Gothic could hear them formulating plans to track the signal and find where it was coming from.

He grinned to himself. The most they'd find is the leftover hardware, and it would almost be worth losing the admittedly difficult to acquire pieces of tech just to see the look on their faces when they reach the dead end.

"Work together, organize yourself! You must be willing to stand up for the future you and your loved ones deserve to have. Stand up! Deserve it!"

Gothic wanted the monsters to fight. He wanted to use this broadcast to pull together an army. One all of his own, with enough monsters to take over the guard, march on the castle itself and overthrow the Tyrant. Overthrow him out of the highest tower he could find.

To his eternal frustration, Burlap said it was a pipe dream. That he'd never get regular monsters to take up arms against the royal guards without training. She had insisted, and Jute backed her up, that they need to go slowly. Gothic had tried to argue that if you put a knife in someone's hand they'll stab their enemies, training or not. But Burlap had actually stood her ground on this one and Gothic had let himself be swayed to the idea of finding more leaders among the population.

"We are here to help. We will make you strong. Those of you who are already strong, we will make you leaders. Find us, if you are strong enough."

The video was deliberately vague, to make monsters think. But there were enough clues that if a monster was smart enough, or determined enough, they could get in contact with the Masks. It was at tomorrow's meeting that the existing members were going to brainstorm how to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Looking around the group again, he made note of which monsters he might need to speak to later.

Ice wolf was staring, quiet but attentive. The bear was half enraged, complaining loudly how this was obviously all a conspiracy from the Crown itself. Redbird was talking so fast Gothic couldn't even make out the words, although Fisher just continued to nod beside her, his eyes locked in the screen.

The Nacarat Jester kept looking over at the little mouse and then back to the TV while the mouse itself stared up with wide eyes. There was a good example of a weak monster that didn't stand much chance alone, if it wasn't for the Jester's protection, Gothic knew it would have been dusted a long time ago.

Finally done with his people watching, Gothic strode over to the bar, where the bartender was waiting for him. Of everyone, only Grillby seemed unaffected by the program, casually working behind the counter as if it were any other regular night.

"Quite an interesting show tonight, wouldn't you say?" Grillby asked, his smile as sly as ever.

"Yeah, it sure is," Gothic said with fake cheer. He nodded pleasantly, pulling the results he'd snatched from Alphys from his pocket. "But not half as interesting as this!"

He grit his teeth as he slammed the paper down on the countertop. A few monsters glanced his way but then quickly back. The tv couldn't be ignored for long.

"Oh?" Grillby asked, that slick smile spreading wider across his face. "And what might that be?"

"It's the proof that you fucking lied!" Gothic accused, jabbing a claw at the results.

"I did no such thing," Grillby said, casually reaching out and taking the paper.

"The fuck you didn't!" Gothic roared.

"Do you mind?!" The bear shouted from over in the crowd. "Some of us are trying to listen!"

Gothic spun to glower at him, his body thrumming with magic. A furry punching bag sounded like a fantastic stress reliever at the moment. The bear hesitated, reading his own death in Gothic's eye lights before he reluctantly backed down, muttering.

Lowering his voice anyway, Gothic turned back to Grillby to hiss, "These are the results of Alphys's paternity tests. It says that we're both Papyrus's sons!"

"I never said that you weren't," Grillby complained as his eyes scanned the paper, his voice full of wounded pride.

"You damn well implied it!" Irritation flared across his bones. It was how the game worked, Gothic knew. Grillby had information he didn't, and was milking it for all it was worth.

Normally, Gothic would be all for these kinds of fun and games, but Grillby hadn't just messed with him, he made him look like a fool in front of his brother and Alphys. Even Jute and Burlap probably thought the plague doctor was an idiot for requesting such a stupidly obvious test.

Grillby set the paper back down as he said, "No, what I implied was that you were not both the vice-captains sons." His voice was warm with simmering amusement.

"Papyrus," Gothic growled slowly, carefully pronouncing every syllable. "Is. The! Vice-Captain!"

Grillby shook his head, still smiling. "It's a shame you're not having as much fun with this as I am. I have proof," he said, as he leaned over to grab for something under the countertop. Gothic gave serious consideration to testing whether or not fire elementals could be strangled.

A moment later Grillby pulled out a small tin about the size of a cigar box. With a little flourish like he was presenting something rare and important, he set it down just in front of Gothic.

"I had a feeling you might be back, so I went and searched the lost and found box."

Gothic lifted a skeptical brow. "You have a lost and found box?"

"Well, more of a 'you' lost and 'I' found box," Grillby said with a crackling laugh. "Anyway, it's lucky for you I haven't emptied it in 20 years because I found exactly the proof that you need."

"And how, is the proof in this box supposed to show me anything?"

"Easily. You get this to Sans, and you'll find everything you're looking for."

Gothic reached out to take the box, but Grillby pulled it back before his claws could close around it. "Not so fast, 300 gold."

"You've got to be fucking kidding me," Gothic practically snarled. "How about you just give me the damn box and then I won't burn this place to the ground with you in it?"

Grillby laughed. "And how flammable do you think this building is, exactly?"

"Look, jackass," Gothic said, his voice a low growl as he thrust a claw at the smug elemental. "You wiped me out for bad information. I don't have the gold for this even if I actually wanted to give you anything."

Grillby considered him, tapping a finger against the side of his jaw as he thought. "Alright, how about a trade? It's come to my attention that your brother has recently acquired season 3 of the anime, Sailor Moon. It would make a lovely birthday gift for Fuku. Get it, and bring it to me tomorrow before the bar opens."

"What?" Gothic snorted, caught off guard by the thought of Lombok watching that girly shit. It was hard to hold his anger at Grillby while he was already thinking of ways to use this against his brother. "Are you serious? First you ask for a literal pile of gold, now you just want some stupid girl on girl hentai disc? That's worth 300 gold to you?"

"No," Grillby said as his flames crackled in a way that felt positively cruel. "But seeing the look on Sans's face when you open this box in front of him will be. So make sure to bring him with you."

Gothic snorted. Whatever it was in Grillby's box, Sans was most definitely not going to like it.

"Sadist."

"Birds of a feather," Grillby replied.

"Now, how's about some food?" Gothic asked, leaning his elbows against the countertop. Looking over, he realized the tv had gone silent. The words, "Please stand by," scrolled across the screen as monsters continued to chat amongst themselves. "If I recall, yesterday you said were gonna fry me up something special."

By the way he smiled, Gothic knew Grillby already had something in mind for him. Something so terrible that he probably thought that not even Gothic would eat it.

Challenge accepted.

--

When Lombok walked out into his living room the next morning, he wasn't surprised to see that Gothic had come in at some point during the night and was sleeping on the floor.

But what was very surprising was seeing his dad lounging on the couch, tapping away at his cell phone.

"Don't wake him," Sans warned softly, still quietly tapping.

Lombok froze, barely able to breathe. It wasn't blue magic, but he was pretty sure he was pinned all the same. Both of his dads were at their most dangerous when they were quiet.

"Are you here for him, or me?" He asked, almost as softly, around the sudden worried lump of magic in his throat.

"That depends," Sans said, dropping the phone into his pocket. "Did'ja catch your bro on tv last night?"

His dad's gaze was heavy as it fell on his shoulders.

Lombok shook his head. "No."

Sans blinked slowly, like a cat trying to decide if the mouse was worth chasing. "You sayin' you don't know what happened last night?"

When Lombok didn't answer right away, Sans just waited. Watching him. Lombok hated that look. It made him feel like things were crawling on his back.

"I don't know much about it," Lombok sputtered, reaching a hand back to nervously scratch at his skull. "I mean, I knew he was doing something, but I still don't know what. I was at the training yard until late, and then Gothic had me meet him in Hotland."

Sans's face was completely unreadable as he asked, "Hotland? What for?"

"Something stupid. It was just Gothic being a pain, and a huge waste of my time. Then he ditched me. By the time I got home the show was over, so I just went to bed." Lombok paused, putting the pieces together. "Which, now that you point it out, might have been his plan all along. Was it that bad?"

"It was pretty fuckin' terrible." Sans watched him for a long moment before he nodded, once. "Alright, I believe you, kid. Now, why don'tcha go and head off to practice, eh? Keep your nose clean today."

Practically slumping with relief, Lombok went for the obvious joke. "As soon as I find a nose, I'll be sure to give it a good scrubbing."

Sans chuckled. "That was awful."

"I learned from the best."

"Yer' a good kid," Sans said with a shake of his head, but he didn't try to hide the little smile. "I'm tellin' ya, ya don't need to be a part of your brother's mess. Get outta here."

Lombok didn't have to be told twice. With a nod towards his dad, he left. The fact that he had just been ordered out of his own apartment didn't even faze him. Honestly, he could hardly believe he'd gotten off so easily. Sans had been so utterly calm. Eerily serene. Which meant he was so far beyond pissed that Lombok was actually a little worried for Gothic's health. Maybe 50/50 survival chance.

By the time he reached the training yard, Lombok had uped the estimated odds to 60/40 on his brother surviving the encounter. Lombok could admit, even if nowhere else than in the privacy of his mind, that Gothic was a clever bastard with at least as much survival instinct as Sans and a lot more hp. Still, he'd have to remember to congratulate Gothic on being alive the next time he sees him.

It was nearly noon when he caught sight of an increasingly familiar hood moving through the training yard. Burlap was making her way through the field with something clutched in her fist, heading towards Undyne. She was being incredibly careful not to jostle, or even touch any other monsters.

He hurried over, just in time to see a careless trainee step backward, and right into her path. The monster bumped into her shoulder, making Burlap leap back as if the contact burned. The letter she had been carrying fluttered to the ground, right in front of him, and he bent down and grabbed it. Burlap was searching the ground, her eyes growing large when she caught sight of him holding it out to her.

Lombok! She signed as she saw him.

"Hi Burlap. Looks like you dropped this."

She didn't take it. Thank you, but for Undyne.

He shrugged, offering his other hand and, after a moment's hesitation, she took it. Lifting her to her feet was effortless, she weighed almost nothing. She didn't let go right away, staring at where their hands were touching.

Looking down at her as he was, he saw the small flick of her other wrist, almost behind her.

Stop that, was the quick sign, and she quickly yanked her hand away from Lombok before shoving both into her pockets.

Lombok felt heat rush to his face at the soft rebuke as he pulled his hand back, but she seemed just as embarrassed.

"Hey, I wanted to ask if you wanted to hang out sometime? Maybe grab some cake and coffee at Muffet's?"

Burlap just stared at him, with a very obvious 'deer in the headlights' look. "Just as friends, I promise. Jute can come too, if he wants."

That made her smile. Hesitating, she signed, I like cake.

"Me too." Lombok smiled too, confidence returning. "Muffet has this great dark chocolate ganache- urk!" He was cut off as he was grappled from behind.

"There you are, punk! Letting your guard down again, I see!"

Undyne was on him, taking advantage of his distraction to pull him into a headlock. He yelped as her knuckles came down to dig into his skull.

"Ack! Don't noogie the skeleton!"

Undyne cackled as he tried to fight her off. He was about to resort to pulling one of his knives when he caught a lucky break and pried himself from her grip. Burlap was gone.

"Who was the ragdoll?" Undyne asked, looking around the monsters that now surrounded them, drawn in by the scuffle. "Kinda skittish, ain't they?"

"She's a friend of mine." Lombok sighed. He hadn't gotten an answer about Muffet's. Maybe he could harass Gothic for her number or something later. "She had a letter for you."

"Yeah? Delilah know you got a new girlfriend?" Undyne asked, mock teasing. "Where's this letter?"

"Oh, come on, it's not like that," he said, handing over the slightly mangled letter. It wasn't like he and Delilah were a thing, the bat girl was just his partner. Sure, they got along great together, and she was beautiful, smart, strong… But still.

Besides, he didn't feel that way about Burlap. This was different, like he just wanted to protect her. To be sure she kept safe.

"I'm gonna go," He said, throwing a thumb over his shoulder. "I want to make sure she gets out ok."

"Whatever," she said, but her face brightened as she took the letter. "Hey, you don't happen to have a chainsaw or two handy, do you?"

Lombok paused, looking at her suspiciously. "Uh, no. Why?"

She showed him the envelope, and the logo for the lab. "Because this is from Alphys, and, man, she is the best at sealing letters! Last time I got one from her I had to use a flame thrower just to get past the first layer!"

"Wow, ok, Undyne," Lombok said, suddenly glad that no one sent him letters. "My dads have a chainsaw in the jail- I mean shed. I'm sure they wouldn't mind of you used it. "

"Ha! Perfect! See ya, punk!"

With a solid farewell punch to his shoulder that left him reeling, she turned and ran off in the direction of his dad's house. Lombok smiled after her, before heading into the crowd to try and spot Burlap

It took only a minute before he spotted a hood, different but still familiar.

"Hey, Jute!" Lombok called out as he come up behind, dropping his hand onto the rough sack of his shoulder. Jute froze, his body going stiff. A moment too late he remembered how jumpy Burlap seemed to be about touch. He pulled his hand away as Jute spun on him, watching closely.

"I just saw your sister. Glad to see you're actually keeping an eye on her this time. Come to join me in the guard?"

The question caught Jute off guard, his wet eyes shining with surprise. If he'd had a mouth, Lombok was pretty sure it'd drop open.

Join? Me? No, I- Wait, Jute signed, hands stuttering from one word to the next. You? You are in the Guard? Not only your father? But you were helping-

"Yeah, hey, no!" Lombok interjected before he could get any further. "That, uh, was a one time gig for my brother."

I didn't expect… Jute's confused gaze scan the nearby monsters before returning to Lombok and hardening into one of suspicion. Why are you Guard?

Lombok reached a hand back to scratch idly at the base of his skull. "Well, I suppose it's because I just want to help make the Underground a better place, you know?"

Jute shot him an unimpressed look. Better? Then I ask again. Why are you Guard?

Lombok gave a crooked smile with a small, self-deprecating laugh. "That's fair, I guess. I know a lot of people have bad experiences with the Guard, sorry. But hey, that's part of what I'm doing. If everything goes like it's supposed to, well," his Soul gave a sick little twist, but he ignored it, "then one day I'll be Captain. And I'll be able to make some real changes."

Jute's black eyes glistened, then hardened like shiny black buttons. He gripped his right arm for a second as he stared at Lombok, then-

What makes you think you can change anything? He signed furiously, arms raised high, motions sharp. What makes you even think being Captain will help? You will never fix what is wrong! You are all useless! You will see-! Jute cut off suddenly, grabbing at his own hood and yanking it down sharply.

He blinked a few times, looking around as if he only now realized that they were surrounded by monsters. The other Guard recruits looked on with varying levels of curiosity at the scarecrow waving his arms.

A small crying noise, quickly silenced, came from the center of Jute's chest. He took a deliberate step back, glaring at Lombok as he crossed his arms high. Right over where the sound had been.

With a final annoyed glare at Lombok, Jute turned and began to stalk away.

"Hey," Lombok heard Delilah yell from the crowd. "Where do you think you're going? You can't talk to a Guardsman like that!"

Lombok groaned. Most monsters couldn't speak signs and had no idea what Jute had been saying. Now they surged forward, taking insult on Lombok's behalf. Lombok moved forward too, ready to pull Jute close again before the crowd could turn into a mob.

Lombok felt the pressure of Jute's Aura an instant before it struck. He tensed, but as the magic washed over him he only felt a sensation of deep unease. It was similar to his sister's but if Burlap's Aura was like walking through a pounding waterfall, Jute's was an uncomfortable mist. It seemed to be enough as all around him, the other guards hesitated, many taking a step back.

In the pause, Jute took off running. He was fast. Monsters erupted in shouting.

"Hey!"

"What the?"

"Get back here!"

"Should we go after him?"

"No!" Lombok shouted above them all. "Let him go!"

"But he was insulting the Guard!" Someone else shouted, though Lombok couldn't see who.

"So do a lot of people," Lombok said, catching the eye of as many monsters as he could. "Seriously, if we started chasing down every person with something critical to say about the Guard there wouldn't be any monsters left to protect."

As he looked to where Jute had disappeared, alone, Lombok could hardly believe that he'd run like that. Did he really just ditch his sister? Again?

He called out to the monsters around him. "Did anybody see where the other scarecrow monster went?"

All around him monsters shook their heads.

"There was only one I saw," said a boar monster with a snuffle.

"That's impossible," Lombok said. "I just saw the other one, like, two minutes ago."

He only got more shrugs and assurances that no one had seen more than one. Lombok couldn't figure it out.

Finally deciding that she must have left on her own, Lombok sighed and pulled out one of his throwing knives. Might as well make use of the group he'd accidentally gathered. A smile spread across his skull as he asked, "Now come on, who wants to help me practice my aim?"

Chapter Text

Next morning, Gothic was pleased to learn that his wake up came without a dash of ice water to the face. He was even more pleased to see that Lombok had already left. Reaching into his inventory, he pulled out the leftovers from Grillby's. It was some kind of fried jerky, tough as old boot, and he had a passing suspicion that was exactly what it was. It was pretty good though.

Checking his phone, his good mood dimmed a little. He'd overslept, and Grillby's would be opening in less than an hour.

Well, he'd better hurry. Or at least stop slacking off. Stowing away the boot jerky, he got up to hunt for where Lombok hides his treasure. It was child's play to pick the lock to his bedroom, and Gothic walked right in. It was predictably boring. Lombok had even made his bed before he left.

Gothic walked right up to the most predictably boring hiding place in the room, dropping to his knees to reach a hand under the bed. His fingertips immediately dropped onto something hard. With a handle. Bingo.

He pulled out the lockbox and sat it on the bed. It was a little smaller than a suitcase, grey with a white stripe down the side.

"Oh Lommy, it's like you want someone to steal your shit," he said to the air, flipping the numbers to 1, 2, 3, and 4. He pressed the switch.

Nothing happened. Frowning, Gothic jiggled the box and pressed the switch again. It remained locked.

"Huh," he said, "that's unexpected."

"'Cus I made the dumbass change it."

Gothic was already moving and halfway over the bed before he recognized his dad's voice. He hadn't even heard the shortcut.

"Shit, dad!" Gothic complained, climbing back off the bed. "How long have you been standing there?"

Sans watched him impassively, leaning against the wall by the door. "Longer than you might'a guessed. You ain't too good at watchin' your back, y'know that?"

Gothic rolled his eyes and sat down on the bed. "I'm plenty good at watching my back. But this is Lombok's place. I'm safe, nobody knows I'm here, and nobody but you can even get that close without me noticing. Thanks for that, by the way, you nearly gave me a Soul attack."

Sans continued to stare, but there was something disappointed in his gaze. "Right when you think nobody is going to find you is when you should be watching your back the most. And that ain't nothin', just wait'll you get a load of what your bro's gonna do once he learns you've been, what'dya say, 'stealin' his shit'?"

"Well, good thing he's not going to know then, isn't it?" Gothic said, pulling the lockbox into his lap and spinning the numbers to 4, 3, 2, 1.

As he was about to flip the switch, Sans spoke up, his voice bright and cheery. "Then I really don't think you should press that again."

His grin sharpened, gold tooth flashing. "Unless you're sure you're right this time."

Gothic froze. "Why?"

"'Cus three wrong tries'll send an alert to his cell."

Studying the face of the lockbox, Gothic realized what he had thought was a decorative white stripe actually held wires. There must be a battery pack on the inside.

"Tamperin' with the wire'll set it off too, obviously." Sans said. His face was locked down tight, not a flinch to show what he was thinking.

"Let me guess," Gothic asked. "Another one of your tips?"

The reply was short. "You got it."

"Do you know the combo?"

"Sure do."

Frustration rising, Gothic could feel his claws biting into the lockbox as he tried to watch is temper. "I don't suppose you're going to tell me what it is?"

Sans scratched the side of his jaw, looking for all the world like this was the most boring conversation he could possibly be having. "Now why would I wanna do that?"

"Okay," Gothic said, shoving the lockbox roughly back down onto the bed. "How about you just tell me why you're here then?"

"Heh." Sans gave small laugh, inspecting his claws for a moment before looking up to watch gothics face.
"Was just wondering if you caught that show last night. Real curious about your thoughts on that new cast and plot line."

Gothic instantly sat up straight. Now this was more like it. Still, he wondered, how did Sans figure it out so quickly?

"That? Yeah, I caught it over at Grillby's." He smirked at his dad's skeptical expression. "I think it's got a good director and while I know there's a lot of new faces, I think it will really shake things up Underground. Might even throw the whole entertainment industry on its head."

Did his brother spill the beans? It was possible, likely even. Lombok never had been able to withstand a hard interrogation from their dad. It was frustrating, sure, but Gothic didn't blame him. Not everybody understood Sans as he did.

"Funny," Sans said, his sockets narrowing. "'Cus I'm pretty sure it's cancelled after this episode."

"No way," Gothic exclaimed brightly, "things are getting good."

"Alright, cut the shit, " Sans said harshly, pushing himself off the wall. "They're going to cut your fucking head off if you keep this up! Don't you see that? So, tell me, just what the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Tell me what the combination is!" Gothic replied aggressively..

Sans shook his head. "I'm not helping you steal from your bro."

"Look," Gothic said, trying to be reasonable. "This is important, and I'm going to get in one way or another, whether it's by the combo or prying it open with the sharp end of a bone. But it's not like I'm taking his cash or anything. I'm looking for his Sailor Moon DVD."

That caught Sans by surprise, as Gothic knew it would, and he almost laughed as he watched his dad mentally stumble. "The what?"

"You know, one of those stupid anime girl things Undyne is always watching. I'm on a fetch quest, and there's only two things I need left. This DVD, and you."

"Me?" He repeated. "You sure as fuck should know I ain't doin' shit for your little group, so what the hell do you think you need me for?"

"For the best part, of course, It's this whole other thing with Grillby, not even anything to do with Masks at all," Gothic said. At the mention of Grillby, the look in Sans's eyes changed from a 'hard no' to more of a 'further information required'. "Come on, you'll even see it's all I'm looking for."

Sans was quiet for a moment before he asked, "This got anything to do with why you made the boss lunch yesterday?"

"Kinda," Gothic admitted. It had been one of the biggest struggles of his life to play nice with Papyrus. To look at him and wonder if his cruel face had been the last thing Shuck had seen. "That didn't work out though, so Grillby's helping me now."

"Why are you doing all of this?" Sans asked, his voice cold.

Gothic hesitated. "Well, you know how I've been hanging out with Lombok lately, right?"

Sans nodded.

"Now, you may not know this, but I kinda lost a fight with him the other day."

Gothic new his dad just well enough to catch the flash of understanding in his eye lights. Understanding, but not surprised. Not for the first time, Gothic wondered what his dad actually knew.

"So as part of our bet, I'm now stuck on this wild goose chase but it's all for Lombok's benefit. I need this disc to give to Grillby, and he'll give me a mystery box."

"And what is in this mystery box?"

"Well, that's the mystery isn't it?" Gothic said like it was obvious. "But I know it's something Lombok wants really badly. You see, that's why it's okay that I take this. It's basically just trading."

"Then why don't you just ask him for the password? Or better yet, just the disc?'

Scowling, Gothic muttered, "I might be doing him a favor right now, but maybe you've noticed how lately I've been exceptionaly good at pissing him off. He isn't exactly happy with me right now."

Not that it mattered. Lombok was forgiving to a fault, all he had to do was give it some time. He'd even be forgiven for this larceny, once he accomplished it. Gothic brightened, picking up the lockbox again. "Really, he probably won't even notice it's gone, and if he does I'll just tell him I took it. I'll leave the how up to his imagination. Come on, just help me out here and we'll go to Grillby's.

In a singsong he added, "Grillby says it's something you're going to want to see too..."

He could see he'd caught his Dad's curiosity. Sans looked at the box, cursed, thought for a moment, then cursed again.

Then put his hand out.

"Fine," he said as Gothic handed it over. "But don't you read anything into this, we still ain't done talking about your little stunt last night, you hear me?"

He spun the numbers as he spoke. He didn't even look, staring Gothic dead in the eye sockets as he flipped the switch and the lid popped open.

Gothic tried to lean over, to see what was inside, but a scowl from his dad made him sit back down. Sans pulled the sparkly anime out and tossed it on the bed.

"There," he said, snapping the lid shut with a click. He handed it back, and Gothic slid it back under the bed, disappointed to see that Sans had already reset all the numbers back to zero.

"Now what?" Sans asked as Gothic tucked the movie into his inventory.

"Now the fun begins. Meet you at Grillby's." With a wave, Gothic stepped through a shortcut.

Despite sleeping in and the verbal jousting with his dad, it was still early enough that Grillby's hadn't opened, so Gothic took the opportunity to shortcut right inside.

"About time you showed up," Grillby crackled as he took chairs down from the tables.

"What can I say?" Gothic asked with a grin. "I need my beauty sleep."

"You're either getting to much or too little. Where's Sans?"

Gothic heard his dad's shortcut this time, and turned as Sans dropped into the bar. "Right here."

Grillby nodded. "Good morning Sans. Did you ever get ahold of your little friend yesterday?"

Sans's already annoyed face soured further.

"No?" Grillby asked with a sad shake of his head. "A shame. Gothic, you get the rest of these down and I'll go get the box."

"Okay," Gothic replied, pulling a chair off a table. "Give me a hand with this, would you Dad?"

Gothic snickered. The withering glare with perfect, very Papyrus like.

Grillby came back right as he finished, and motioned them to sit at one of the booths. They did, Gothic scooting in first, his dad beside him. Sans looked across the table as Grillby sat himself and asked, "You wanna tell me what this is about? Gothic won't stop bein' a cryptic little shit."

Grillby shook his head.

"I don't think I will. It'll be more fun this way," he said, voice suspiciously friendly. He looked at Gothic. "Do you have what I asked for?"

Gothic held out the disc. "Here you, go. You know, you don't have to pretend it's for Fuku. Just admit you like seeing anime girls in short skirts."

"Perfect," Grillby answered, ignoring the jibe. He pushed the box across the table.

Sans leaned over, trying to get a look as Gothic flipped open the hinged lid with a single claw.

Inside, lying on a little handkerchief, was a lighter. It was stupid, just a garishly orange novelty lighter in the shape of a teddy bear style honey bottle. Gothic picked it up, and after a moment's study, pressed one of the paws down. Flame flickered out of the little spout top.

Gothic scowled at it, then turned his angry glare on Grillby.

"That's it? Why the hell did you make me go through all this trouble for a damn toy lighter?"

"Because it's worth it," Grillby replied, nodding towards Sans.

Gothic followed the look over to his dad. Sans was staring at the lighter, his jaw gone slack, eye lights shrunk to pinpricks so small they were almost gone. He was completely checked out.

"Dad?" Gothic asked.

Sans blinked, coming back to himself. Gothic saw his eye lights flare as his gaze snapped to Grillby. His voice was a dangerous rumble.

"Where the FUCK did you get that?"

Grillby gave a nonchalant shrug. "Your friend must have dropped it last time he was here."

"When? Recently?" Sans demanded.

Grillby blinked, obviously not expecting the question. "A long time ago."

"Wait," Gothic interrupted, "does that mean you think he's still alive? Who's lighter is this?"

"They called him Stretch," Grillby said, putting his elbows on the table. "But it was obvious that wasn't his real name. He looked an awful lot like-"

Sans slammed his fist on the table, raising his voice to yell, "Grillby, you finish that sentence and I swear I'll end your fuckin' life!"

"Dad-" Gothic began.

"No!" Sans shouted.

"It's Lombok's real father," Gothic asked in a rush, before he could be interrupted again. "Isn't it?"

"What? I- it's-" Sans stuttered, for once, lost for words. "Why would you even think that?"

"Because," Grillby said, handing Sans a crumpled piece of paper. "They've been digging."

Shit, Gothic had forgotten all about the test

Sans focused on the paper, reaching for it like a drowning man grabs a lifeline. Flattening it out, he scanned over it quickly, his face falling.

"Non-compliant...?" He muttered under his breath. "Damn it."

"I don't get it," Gothic said. "If it's true, how can the test say that it's Papyrus if it's not Papyrus?"

"Yes Sans," Grillby said, "exactly how is that possible?"

"Grillby, shut the fuck up." Taking a deep breath, Sans said, "Look, kid, it's complicated-"

"Complicated?" Gothic gave a surprised laugh. "You cheated on Pops and somehow found a way to manipulate it so that he still shows up as the father on a fucking paternity test? Yeah, I agree, that sounds pretty damn complicated! Am I even Papyrus's child?"

"Of course you are!" Sans shook his head. "And it's not like that at all-!"

"Does Papyrus even know?" Gothic demanded.

"What? Of course he does! I-"

"So Papyrus knows," Gothic began, counting off on his fingers, "you know, Grillby knows, I know... Seems like the only person that doesn't is Lombok. That doesn't exactly seem very fair."

"I don't give a fuck what you think is *fair* or not!" Sans shouted, jumping to his feet. He snatched the lighter out of Gothic's hand.

"Hey! That's mine!"

"This ain't even s'posed t'be somethin' for you to know about and neither a'you'll let me get a fuckin' word in edgewise! Fuck this!"

 

Paper and lighter both clenched in his fists, Sans disappeared.

Gothic stared into the empty space at the end of the table. "I can't believe it, he ran?! And he took the fucking lighter!"

"I'm only surprised he stayed as long as he did," Grillby said, pulling his hands together on the table. "I should thank you, by the way. If you hadn't come I don't think I'd have ever known for certain if it was true or not."

"Do you know how he faked the test?"

Grillby paused for a second before answering, "…Not for certain."

"But you have a guess?" Gothic supplied.

"They said they came from New Home. Cousins of your parents, if you'd believe them. I have a theory that they may be more… closely related than that."

Grillby fell silent, like this theory was too taboo to speak of.

Gothic wasn't sure why. Papyrus and Sans were already about as closely related as you could get. "What do you mean?"

Grillby thought for a moment. "Let me ask you something. Would you smooch a clone?"

"What? Of myself?" He laughed. "Hell no! I probably punch the bastards face in."

"Better question then, would you perhaps smooch a clone... of Sans? Perhaps one with blunt teeth and white eye lights?"

A distinct shiver ran down Gothis's spine at just the mention of kissing Sans. "Why do I get the feeling this is less of a sci-fi hypothetical and more like something with an actual answer?"

"Like I said, it's only a theory," Grillby said, standing up out of the booth. "Now, if you don't mind I have a bar to open."

"What about the lighter?"

"I'm sure you'll get it back. But it was the truth that you were after, not the lighter itself, and you have that."

As Gothic grudgingly got up to leave, Grillby called back over his shoulder, "Besides don't you have other things to focus on this afternoon?"

"I always do," Gothic replied, forcing his voice to stay casual even as every nerve went on high alert. If Grillby knew about the meeting today… This leak in the group needed to be plugged sooner rather than later. "Why? Got something I should know about?"

"No, not really," Grillby said, pausing just before the kitchen door. "Just a rumor that somebunny had mentioned."

"Some... bunny?"

"Hmm? No, I said somebody. I'm certain I did." Grillby gave him a knowing smile as he disappeared into the kitchen. "Have a nice day, Gothic."

Gothic didn't follow. He was too busy planning murder.

Chapter Text

It took only a few seconds for Sans to spot Lombok in the training yard, right where he was supposed to be. Lombok was reliable like that. Sans let out a sigh of relief, there was no way he'd be up for tracking the kid down today if he'd run off somewhat else. Lombok was at the center of a small group, facing a Snowdrake. The bird was standing in front of a large target, and shaking like a leaf.

"Hey kid," Sans said, suddenly standing at Lombok's elbow. "We need to talk."

Lombok didn't startle. With fluid grace, he finished throwing the knife he'd been holding. It sailed towards the snowdrake, piercing the cinnabunny that rested atop the bird's head. It kept going, impaling the target wall directly in the center of the bull's eye. Cheers erupted on the sidelines, and the snowdrake looked like he may have lost a few hit points in pure fright if not actual damage.

Not that that was a thing. If fear could drop hit points Sans would be long dead by now. Enough of it could crack a soul though.

His show finished, Lombok turned to Sans with barely concealed guilt on his face. So he did know more than he'd let on this morning. The little sneak. The expression quickly changed to concern as he got a good look at Sans.

Idly, Sans wondered if he looked as bad as he felt. He knew he was sweating, could feel his hands trembling slightly as he clutched the paper in his fist. His other hand kept being drawn into his pocket, the lighter calling him like a lodestone. Yeah, he probably looked pretty bad.

"Sure, I guess? Do we need to get out of here?"

"Nah, just…" Sans looked around the yard for a second before deciding. "Follow me to the ring's edge there. Sound's a good enough cover for this."

Besides, that'll give him something to look at other than Lombok's face when he learns the truth.

They walked over to the fighting ring. It was full of monsters training using both bullets and physical weapons. The clatter of magic and metal striking together was loud.

"Look," Sans started, hesitant. "I know you've been snoopin' around. And, uh..."

Lombok froze, his whole body going tense. Sans's brows creased further, but he continued. "And, y'know, I figure it's best you hear from me, 'stead of someone else. Right?"

Lombok was barely breathing, as if he was afraid to scare Sans off. It was painful to see how hungry you was for this. Sans really shouldn't have procrastinated this so much. Sure would should be nice if his self-destructive tendencies only hurt him not those around him.

Sans held up the paper. "So y'know this thing, right?

Lombok nodded slowly. "That's the paternity test, right?" Lombok scratched the back of his neck, a guilty gesture. "See, I told you what Gothic drug me along for was stupid. Caught me by surprise too; it never even crossed my mind that you wouldn't always be faithful to pops."

Ouch, right in the Soul. And Lombok wasn't even naming. Sans winced, hunching into his jacket as he turned to look out at the training group instead.

"Well, y'see, I was young and stupid once. Emphasis on the stupid part."

Even though he couldn't see it, Sans heard the shock in Lombok's voice.

"Are you saying the test is wrong?"

"No, the test ain't wrong, not exactly. Your Papyrus's son, just not 'Papyrus', Papyrus," he tried to explain. "Like, your bro is Papyrus's by magic, while you're Papyrus's by body. "

Sans shook his head slowly. None of this would make a bit of sense to him. Maybe he should start from the beginning.

"Y'know those things I used to do in the lab? And the machine in the basement? That's one of the things i'd been workin' on. It's called the Dimensional Inter-Connecting Kinetic System." He paused, giving Lombok a second to put the name together.

"Dimension-what?" Lombok asked.

Sans smiled. He was such a good kid. The joke had flown so far over his head that he couldn't even see it. The doc hadn't been much for acronyms either, and Sans knew that the only reason we got away with naming it. Gothic would get it, he was sure.

"Nonsense, mainly. Look, the name ain't important, it's what it does that's impressive. Y'see, it basically punches holes through time n'space, searchin' up resonating frequencies. Particles that lineup, other particles that match. Most everything's a whole lotta nothing, but sometimes, rarely, almost never, it finds a match." Sans thumbed the lighter in his pocket, thinking about Comic. "Y'know anythin' 'bout string theory?"

"Uh, nothing. Should I?"

Could he really get into timelines and interdimensional physics with Lombok? Sans felt pretty sure he'd be a crap teacher and probably couldn't remember half of what he'd actually learned.

"Can't say it'd do you any good," Sans said, shaking his head. "Well, the machine, it worked. We punched a hole to another dimension. Only find that dimension had punched a hole t'us first, and other ones besides. And in one'a these dimensions, there's another Papyrus, 'kay? But he ain't really Papyrus, even though he is."

Sans risked a glance to see if Lombok was following along and sighed. That was a no. The look on Lombok's face could be best described as... completely fucking lost.

"Oh, shit. I'm just confusing you, ain't I?"

"Maybe a little," Lombok admitted. "But I want to know."

"I know ya do, kid," Sans said with a tired sigh. "Here, lemme try again. So, this thing?" He asked, holding out the crumpled paper.

Lombok nodded slowly. "The not wrong test that says I'm Papyrus's son."

"Exactly. And there's more than one Papyrus, see? Because the machine-"

"Lombok! There you are!"

Undyne's loud voice cut through the noise of the fighting nearby, and they turned to see the Captain bearing down on them at full speed. In her fist she clutched something that was at least as much clear tape as it was paper.

"Hate to break up this very important talk you seem to be having- oh, who am I kidding? You two are a bunch of nerds anyway!" She shouted, causing nearby trainies to turn and look. She faced Lombok. "Sentry Lombok!"

"Yes, Captain!" He said with a salute while Sans rolled his eyes. "You got the letter open?"

"Turns out it was just a regular letter this time. So yeeeah, I spent most of the last hour putting the pieces back together, oops," she said, looking a bit sheepish. "But that's not important! There's been a change of plans for this afternoon, grab Sentry Delilah. I'm sending the two of you out to gather the Hotlands and Waterfall squads. Meet back here at fourteen hundred hours for further debriefing!"

Sans saw Lombok hesitate, torn between loyalty to Undyne and a need for answers. Sans made the choice for him.

"You heard her," he said with a sigh. "We'll talk tonight, alright? Just, one thing, I need to talk to ya before your bro does, ok? It's… important."

Lombok visibly steeled himself before asking, "Will Pops be there too?"

Now it was Sans' turn to hesitate. "I don't know, but we all need to talk."

"Thank you."

Sans flinched. He was about to wreck the foundation of this kid's whole life. Lombok shouldn't be thanking him for that.

"Y-yeah. Now get outta here."

Lombok nodded, giving another salute to Undyne before hustling back towards the group.

"Damn it, Undyne," Sans cursed as he watched Lombok obediently run towards his partner. "Did'ja have to do this now?"

"For your information, yes," she said with a scowl that Sans was more than happy to match. "And It's a damn good thing you showed up for practice this morning, so I don't have to track your lazy ass down."

"I don't even have an ass," he pointed out.

"I got this delivered from the lab," she continued, waving the piece of paper at him. He really couldn't care. He had his own piece of mangled paper to worry about. "Alphys' cameras have picked up information about something going down in Waterfall this afternoon. I want you to get your brother, and have him gather the Dog Squad. Meet me and the rest of the guards here at two, just like Lombok."

"Do I look like your messenger boy?" He asked with a sneer.

"No, you look like a lazy slob that can barely stay employed," she said, her face beginning to turn pink in frustration. This was probably pushing her too far, but again, he still couldn't care. "And if you want to keep it that way, you're going to do your damn job! Snowdin, now! And no screwing around!"

"Whatever," he said, turning his back to her as he started to walk towards Hotlands. It was easier than arguing with her. "I'll let the Boss know."

When Undyne didn't comment on his direction, Sans resisted the urge to look back. There was no way she'd missed him walking the wrong way.

Damn. He's been looking forward to cutting her off mid-sentence with a teleport. When had he gotten so predictable?

Once he was out of sight, he took a shortcut to his station by the Ruins, and began walking back towards the town. It was never a good idea to shortcut directly to Papyrus's post, he didn't take surprises well and Sans didn't feel like earning any new scars.

Papyrus was sitting at his post with his lunch, a bowl of lasagna from the night before. He carefully set the dish aside as Sans approached, raising a questioning brow as he saw his brother's face.

"Heya, Boss," Sans said, ignoring the unspoken question. "Got a message to pass on from the fish bitch."

Papyrus didn't even blink at the insult. Unwilling to be distracted, Papyrus tried for the spoken question instead. "Sans, what's the matter?"

Just what he needed, he thought, grinding his teeth. Another skeleton on his case. Hands in his pockets, Sans gripped the lighter tightly.

"Nothin' Boss. Look, Undyne wants you to gather the Dog Squad and meet at the training yard at two, 'kay?"

"Has something happened? You don't look well."

Fuck, he was like a dog on a bone. Sans had to give him something or he'd never get away. Not the truth, of course. That could come later.

"It's unrelated," Sans said, scuffing at the snow with a sneaker. Even that failed to work right, the fresh powder too dry to do anything but fluff around his foot. "Look, I'll tell you later. No one's dyin' and it can wait till tonight. Okay?"

Papyrus gave him a searching look. "Very well. But I am here if you want to talk about it." He stood up, carefully stowing his lunch into his inventory. "I will gather the dog squad now. Where will you be?"

Of course he'd ask. Sans just wanted to be alone, but here Papyrus was trying to keep track of him like he was worried Sans might run off into the sunset or something. Dammit, he shouldn't have thought of the sunset.

It struck him that he was never going to see the sun again. It was his fault the boys would never see it either. Because of his choices they'll never have the chance to see a sunrise.

Fuck, he was an emotional wreck. Sans had to get out of here before he embarrassed them both by crying or some shit.

"I'm just goin' home. Not feeling up to it today, you know?" He shrugged, giving his brother the best 'kicked dog' expression he could muster.

It was enough, and Papyrus nodded. "Alright. Take care of yourself and I will see you this evening."

Grateful for the reprive, Sans gave him a two fingered salute and stepped through a shortcut before Papyrus could change his mind.

Sans came out in his basement.

He couldn't even remember the last time he'd been down here. There was a feeling, like something tight wrapped around his soul as he stared at the broken machine. Papyrus sure had done a number on it. Stars, Sans had been so stupid back then. He'd gotten greedy, and it cost him and those he loved everything.

Sighing, he tried to find some kind of silver lining here. At least this way Papyrus and Lombok would be together when he finally spits it out. No need to have to rip this bandage off twice.

He pulled the lighter out of his pocket, staring at it. Stretch. That Stars damned monster had always made everything so complicated. Even twenty years and another universe away he was still finding ways to screw with Sans's head. Stars how he missed him, just as a friend. He missed all of them.

He wondered if any of them missed him too.

Suddenly, the silence was less a comfort and more a hollow scream. He thought of his post in Hotland, wasn't Lombok going to be running around there soon? They didn't have to talk yet, he could just… see him.

Yeah. That would be good. He took the shortcut.

Chapter Text

"Have you ever heard of a Soul making noise?"

From her perch high in the cavern wall, Delilah looked at her partner. Lombok wasn't looking at her, focused entirely on jumping the vents.

"What? You're asking me?" She called down. They'd spent the last miserable hour trudging through Waterfall, and from this high up the warm air from the Hotland vents felt great on her wings. Down where Lombok was, leaping across the plateaus like the landbound monster he was, the vents were nearly scalding.

He took a final jump through a cloud of steam, landing easily, the vapor coming off of him like something out of an action movie. Delilah was glad she didn't have to jump with him. Not only would she burn, but she knew she'd never look as good doing it. She couldn't stop staring at him, though she tried to tell herself it was only so that she could intervene if something went wrong.

"Yeah, I am, " he called. As he reach the passageway to the next area she flew down to join him. Double David was the only Guard left to find, and now they were past the vents it was time for the tunnels.

"Is that a thing?" She asked, as he led the way down the corridor. She preferred following behind him, it gave her the best view. Not that she'd ever tell him, of course.

Lombok was silent for a minute, staring at the walls as he picked his way through the passages. He gave a thoughtful hum before replying, "No, I don't think it is."

"Is this some kind of riddle?" She asked. "You sound like you're trying to solve a puzzle."

I guess I kind of am. I have a lot of puzzles on my mind today. This one seems the least stressful to think about. Over here," he said, turning down one of the forks. The temperature continued to rise. It wasn't long before the walls began to shimmer in the heat.

"How much further?" Delilah asked. They were low enough now that Delilah could see pools of lava glowing from some of the caves they passed.

"A little ways, Double David likes it hot," Lombok said, with a shrug. He took a glance back at her and paused. "Are you okay?"

"Of course," she lied.

Lombok looked skeptical. A part of her bristled, insulted that he thought she couldn't handle this. It was just the heat making her irritable, she knew, but it didn't make it sting any less.

"I'm fine," she said in a singsong. "Let's keep moving."

Lombok's eyes flashed with the effect of her magic, before he nodded with a smile and continued forward. Guilt, just a little bit, made her wince before following him again. It almost wasn't fair how easy it was to use her magic on a friend. He wanted to believe her, so he did.

She was okay, she really was. Just… getting a little hot. Hotland really wasn't the place for someone with fur. Especially not this far down. She looked over at him as she tried to wipe the sweat from her eyes. It clung to her brow, her hand, everywhere, making her feel sticky and damp and gross. Lombok, in shocking contrast, seemed completely unaffected by the heat.

His dad was the same way, she realized. Didn't he have a sentry station around here somewhere? Plus, he never took that big black jacket off, not even in this heat. Delilah knew she'd be poached alive if she tried to wear that, even if she didn't have her own fur already. Was it just a skeleton thing?

Delilah tried not to think about it. It was getting hard enough to focus on just putting one foot in front of the other. She didn't need to keep reminding herself of the heat. And, wow, it was getting hot. Step, step, around a rock, step. It couldn't be much further now, right?

Lombok's hand on her arm made her stop.

"Delilah!" Lombok said sharply, and the edge of worry in his voice made her think it wasn't the first time he'd said her name.

"Y-yeah?" She answered, struggling to focus on his face.

"You should head back," he said, pulling his hand away.

"What?" She tried to laugh but it turned into a cough. She waved off his concern with a hand. "It's alright, I'm fine!"

"No, you're not," he said firmly. "And if we haven't come across Double David yet they're probably all the way down at the bottom. Where even I have trouble with the heat."

"Really?" She asked. It could be a bluff, but that was more like something she try, not him. Lombok was better than that.

"Really," he said, waving a hand in front of his face. "Makes my eyes go fuzzy. Go ahead and return, I'll meet you back at the turn off when I'm done."

Delilah looked around the tunnel, like maybe a solution would begin to melt from the wall. It probably wouldn't be long before the walls actually were melting though, and it wasn't like she was going to get any better at coping with the heat. Not at the rate she was declining now.

"Ok," she said, accepting defeat. "I'll see you at the top."

"Sounds good. I'll see you there." Lombok flashed her another one of his million gold smiles before turning back down to the hall. Scowling at the rocks, she began to head back up.

Useless! She hated feeling like this. It wasn't like fighting a monster, where her voice could help her win. This was enviroment; what was she supposed to do, sing the rocks to coolness?

A small black movement at her feet caught her attention. A spider. It ran from her, disappearing intoa crack in the wall. Where it had been near her foot, a small, folded piece of paper lay harmlessly on the ground. She picked it up, taking note of the stylized spider drawn on the front.

Inside a few lines of beautiful spidery cursive scrawled across the paper.

"Muffet's Bakery,
Now Hiring!
Commissions available."

Was there time? It had to be pretty important if she was being called while still on shift. Looking back, Delilah could see Lombok, still in hearing distance if she yelled.

"Hey, Lombok!"

At the sound, he turned back to her. His hand was on his hip, ready to pull out a knife if there was trouble. He relaxed when she gave him the ok sign, and she shouted down, "While we're nearby, I'm gonna run over to Muffet's."

"Sweet tooth acting up, huh?" He called back up the hall. His voice was strong, carrying easily even through the thick air. "Would you pick me up three slices of the black ganache? I'll pay you when we meet back up."

She gave him a thumbs up and waved, keeping the note hidden in her other hand. Three pieces of cake? She smiled as she hurried back the way they'd came. How could he tease her with a straight face about wanting sweets when apparently every bone in that monsters body was a sweet tooth?

Getting out of the caverns was easier than going in. The rock cracked like a river, with all forks leading back to the entrance. Delilah was nearing the end when she realized she was being followed.

She had almost missed him completely, and even still couldn't see him at all. But a soft whisper of scales against rock caught her attention, and now that she was listening, she heard it again. Keeping her pace steady, she took a detour down a side path, slipping through a narrow crack barely big enough for her wings to fit. It was a dead end, but that hardly mattered. Once on the other side, with a few quick flaps of her wings she scaled her way up to a ledge and hid.

Less than a minute later, a scaly head began to peek through the crack. He was some kind of lizard, speckled black and white with loose folds of skin hanging around his neck. His long black tongue flicked in and out of his mouth while slitted eyes searched the room. Rather than follow her into an unknown situation, he backed out. Smarter than most monsters then. But she knew he wouldn't be gone that easily.

She sighed. Things could never be that easy, could they?

She gave it a few minutes before she slipped back out through the crack. There was no sign of the lizard.
She began to walk again, her ears straining to hear any sound but she kept her eyes forward.

There it was again. The soft scuff of a foot.

She began to hum to herself, choosing the quick tone of someone harried and scared. It would be what he wanted to hear. It worked and she heard the footsteps behind her pick up speed as he sensed blood in the water.

She waited until he was right behind her before ducking and turning. The scaly hand was reaching out to grab her, long claws extending out like knives from the end of each finger. She knocked it aside at the wrist with the edge of her wing before jumping at him. With a flap of her wings she grabbed onto his torso, wrapping her legs and wings around his arms, pinning them to his sides while her arms went around his neck. He looked at her face with one slitted eye, gone wide in surprise. She hummed a quick growl, switching her melody to something dark.

"Tell me, why were you following me?" She asked him in her sing-song voice.

The black tongue flicked out once more before he replied.

"Because you look-," he cut off, shaking his head as he fought the magic's pull.

Obviously, he needed a little more convincing. She shifted her hands around his neck, sinking her claws into the loose folds of skin until their tips rested directly against his throat. And she squeezed.

The monster shuddered as his hp dropped. Not too far, but enough to get the point across.

"You want to listen to me now," she sang to him sweetly. "Tell me why you were following me."

There was no hesitation this time as he responded, "You don't look like you belong here. You looked weak. Easy exp."

She laughed, keeping the rhythm to her voice. "Well, well, well! You know differently now, don't you?"

The monster nodded, and Delilah quickly planned her song.

"You were wrong, and I'm not worth the fight. You will leave. Crawl back into your hole. Don't bother me again."

A swirl of color passed over the monster's eyes, a sure sign of her magic taking effect. When the monster nodded again she let go, dropping to the ground and backing away.

"Such a foolish girl," he hissed at her, waving the back of a claw dismissively in her direction. "Be gone from here before I decide to make your trespass my problem."

Delilah nodded, ducking her head as she hurried out of the cave with a smirk. When she risked a glance back he was gone, already back the other way.

The lizard must have been one of the mini bosses of the area, because after she left him she wasn't bothered again by anyone. The path out was easy.

Once she was out of the tunnels, she took to the air. There were far fewer monsters to deal with up here, and, except for a Yandere plane that took a quick turn when it saw her, she had the air to herself.

It was a short flight to Muffet's, and she headed straight in with all apparent connfidence. Still, as Delilah walked into the spider's parlor, she couldn't help but feel like a fly. Muffet was sitting at her business table, the small round one in the corner, and waved Delilah over.

"Why, hello dearie, so glad to see you got my message," Muppet said sweetly before taking a sip from her teacup. Her drink seemed to be wiggling. "Would you care for a cup?"

"Can it spider," Delilah said shortly. "What is it this time?"

"Straight to the point, I like that, fuhuhu." Muffet giggled, placing her teacup down onto a delicate little doily. She folded two sets of hands together on the table in front of her. "I would like to offer you a simple job, cash up front. 1000 gold."

"Yeah?" Delilah asked, standing straighter as she crossed her arms. That wasn't exactly pocket change, and stars knew she could use it. "Doing what?"

"Oh, it's nothing really," Muffet said, placing a small paper bag on the table between them. "I simply want you to give this lovely batch of homemade cookies to your little skeleton friend. They're… a gift. The increase payment is because this is sort of a rush job. Time is of the essence, you understand."

Delilah opened the bag, peering inside to see perfectly normal looking chocolate chip cookies. "And what exactly is in them?"

"Ah ah, that would be telling, fuhuhu!" Muffet laughed, shaking a finger at her.

Something didn't seem right, but stars, that was a lot of money. "You're not trying to kill him, are you?"

Three of Muffet's hands flew to her face in mock offense. "Of course not! What sort of monster do you take me for? Another friend just wants him to go to bed a little earlier than normal, that's all."

With a little laugh, the spider added quietly, "Seems there are quite a few people interested in his continued safety lately."

It was too easy. Delilah eyed the paper bag suspiciously, daring it to give up its secrets. Then Muffet pulled a second bag from under the table, this one made of velvet. It jangled loudly with coins and Delilah felt her reservations falter. "And like I said, payment up front."

Still, Delilah hesitated. Could she really do this to Lombok?

Sensing her uncertainty, Muffet reached into her pockets again, this time pulling out a small green vial.

"I told my client that you might require some insurance, so here it is," she said, placing the vial on the table. "The antidote to the sleeping formula. I would, of course, prefer if you don't choose to use it, so if you return it to me after your friend is asleep… I'll give you a bonus of another 1000 gold."

Delilah swallowed, her mouth watering at the prospect of so much money. With that much cash she and her sister would be set for months, maybe even a full year if Delilah played her cards right.

Lombok was her training partner. She'd even call him her friend.

But that didn't make him family.

"…You're sure it won't hurt him?" Delilah asked as she reached for the items on the table. Muffet was a highly successful business woman, and if she wanted someone dead there was no reason to make it as convoluted as this. This was business. Delilah could trust the spider not to lie when it came to a business deal, right?

Muffet smiled widely as Delilah tucked the small pouch and vial into her inventory. All five of the spider's dark eyes twinkled brightly in the shop's cheery lamplight. "Oh dearie, he won't even notice a thing."

Delilah stood up to leave, pausing as she remembered her other reason for coming. "I have one more thing I want before I do this. I need three pieces of one of your regular cakes. The black ganache."

"Really?" Muffet asked, picking up her teacup again. "How decadent. Go to the counter and Cupcake will be glad to help you out."

At the counter, a large spider with a deep red bow needed only a moment to get the small box ready for her. She took it with a quiet thanks.

"Sksksks…" It chittered back.

She had almost reached the door when Muffet called her name.

"And Delilah," Muffet's voice was smooth as spider silk as she said, "be sure to give the cookies to your friend as soon as you see him. The instructions were very clear that he is not to participate in any further Guard activities today. Goodbye, dearie."

With one final nod, Delilah hurried out through the door. The sound of spiders chittering in the darkness followed her as she left the bakery behind her.

She had almost reached the Hotland Bridge when she saw Lombok heading towards her. The bag of cookies felt red hot in her hands.

"Delilah!" He called, picking up his pace to a jog to reach her faster. He eyed the cake box. "You got it, thanks! How much do I owe you?"

She couldn't very well tell him they were free. She also couldn't tell him that she'd cover it because it was no secret that she was always struggling for money.

"10 gold apiece," she said, handing him the box.

Great, she was going to drug him and rob him. Just a stellar day for her.

Lombok brightened, placing the box in his inventory. "Hey, that's not bad at all!" He fished the gold out of his pocket, and passed it to her. "What did you get?"

"Just some cookies," she said, gripping the bag a little too tightly. "I only wanted one or two, to take home for me and Amaris tonight, but the dozen was on sale for almost the same price. Do you want the rest?" The lie came easier than she expected.

"Do I? Yes, please!" Lombok said excitedly, and she handed him the bag. He opened it up and a look of joy spread across his face. "Double chocolate chunk? My favorite! Are you sure you don't want more? Muffet's cookies are always amazing!"

"Yeah, I'm good. They're too sweet for me anyway, I can only handle one or two at a time." Delilah kept her own smile on like a mask, but her insides felt like knots.

"Ah, yeah. Sorry, I forgot," Lombok said, his brows creasing in concern for a second before he carefully put his attention back on the cookies. Oh great, he was probably thinking about her occasional bouts with malnutrition. How on a bad day rich food would make her sick. Add guilt-tripping to the list of wrongs she was doing to him.

"Don't worry about it! Just, enjoy the cookies, okay?"
He was right though, Muffet did make good cookies, at least there was that for him to look forward to.

He took a bite, closing his eyes as he savoured it. "Oh, man," he practically moaned around the mouth full of food. "It's still warm. This has got to be the greatest cookie I've ever had in my life. Thanks Delilah."

"Don't mention it." Seriously, she added to herself.

"Hey," he said swallowing the bite. "While we're here, let's go check out my dad's station. I don't know if he's here or not, but I want to say hi." He popped the rest of the cookie into his mouth as he looked at her expectantly.

"Don't you think we should get going back, now that we found everyone?" Or at least closer to somewhere she could keep an eye on him. How long would it be before the cookies took effect?

"We will, soon. Come on," he said, pulling out another cookie. He waved at her to follow him before stuffing it in his mouth and heading down the path.

"So, why three pieces of cake?" She asked. "Is it really that good?"

"It is," he agreed, "but actually I got them to share with a friend. Do you remember that scarecrow from earlier?"

"What, the one that was in your face?" The things he'd signed still irked her. "Yeah, I remember him. That guy's your friend?"

"Well, maybe not him," Lombok admitted, "but his sister is. I'm hoping the three of us can get together and talk. Or, sign, in their case. Besides, I've got something I need to ask them about. So, three pieces of cake."

Of course, Lombok was going to play diplomat. She couldn't say she was surprised, but she saw a flaw in his plan.

"He didn't seem to have a mouth. How is he going to eat the cake?"

Lombok thought for a moment while he ate another cookie. "You know," he said slowly, "I hadn't considered that."

Delilah laughed. So busy trying to be nice he didn't even consider if it would work or not. Typical Lombok.

Lombok finished two more cookies before they reached his dad's sentry station. Lombok pointed him out with a grin, and Delilah tried to keep her nerves from showing.

"Hey kids," Sans called out when he saw them, waving something in a pair of tongs. It looked like it might be a water sausage. "Wanna buy a hotcat?"

"Heya, Dad," Lombok called. "You bet we do."

Just like she had thought, there Sans was, furred jacket and everything while she was dying in the heat. Skeletons, she'd never understand them.

As they got closer Delilah realized that the air around his sentry station seemed oddly cool. It was coming from above him and as she looked at the top of his station she realized there was… snow? On the roof?

She gaped. How is that even possible?

"Is that snow?" She asked him, staring. "Why do you have snow on the top of your station?"

Sans shrugged, giving her a wink has he said, "Guess I'm just too lazy to scrape it off."

"What?" She asked, looking from him to the snow and back again. "But that doesn't even make sense!"

"Don't bother trying to understand it," Lombok told her, grinning. "You'll never get a straight answer out of him anyway."

"Spoilsport," Sans said, an amused smile on his face. He nodded to the bag in Lombok's hands. "What'cha got there?"

"Just the most amazing cookies," Lombok said, pulling a cookie from the bag. "Want one? They're delicious."

Delilah looked on in dismay. She didn't like where this was going but what could she say?

"Sure." Sans took the proffered cookie, pausing as he saw the look on Delilah's face. "What, don't care much for cookies?"

"N-no. I like them just fine." Her eyes darted from him, to the snow on the roof, to the 'hotcat' still in the tongs. Trying to look at anything but the cookie.

"Ya gonna have one?" Sans asked. Was it just her imagination, or did that sound like a challenge?

"No, I'm good, thanks." She tried for a smile, but it felt weak.

"Shes got some in her inventory for later," Lombok said, coming to her defense. "It's fine."

"Really now?"

Sans continued to watch her and Delilah felt panic beginning to creep up her back.

"Dad," Lombok said, and edge to his voice.

"What?" Sans asked innocently, his gaze finally drifting to his son.

Delilah felt like a literal weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Maybe she could salvage this.

"He doesn't have to if he doesn't want to."

"Look, you're creeping her out," Lombok said, annoyed as he grabbed another cookie for himself. "It's got nothing to do with the cookies, ok? It'd be the same if it was an eclair, or a bowl of pudding or something. She'll have hers after dinner. Leave her alone."

Sans waited, watching the both of them. Delilah squirmed.

Lombok held his ground, obviously not wanting to tell his dad about Delilah's 'condition'. "I've had a bunch already," he said, deliberately taking a large bite of the cookie. "She's my friend, Dad. We're both Guard. You don't need to be suspicious of everybody."

Sans dropped his eyes to the counter at that, his smile drooping. "Yeah. Sorry, Lombok. Old habits and all." He took a bite of the cookie, only for his eye sockets to widen in surprise. "Damn, that is rich! Maybe I should'a waited 'til after dinner too."

"See, it's good, right? Speaking of dinner, how about those hotcat? My treat," Lombok said, turning to Delilah. "You'll love it."

She shook her head. "That's really not necessary-"

"Please?" Lombok asked. And then he pulled what, for him, was a dirty trick. He used the Sad Eyes.

Delilah wilted. If he thought she wasn't wasn't getting enough to eat again he wouldn't let this drop until she ate.

"Don't worry about the cost, kid" Sans spoke up. "For you, it's on the house."

Two on one. And she couldn't very well turn down free food. "Thanks, Mr. Skeleton," Delilah said, trying to sound grateful. Then she noticed that the tongs were empty. "Where is it?"

Lombok laughed beside her, and she looked at him, curious as he pointed straight up. "It's on the roof."

"What?! How?!" She asked. "You're kidding!"

The skeletons both laughed, and then laughed harder as Delilah flew to the roof to claim her prize. She was certain it hadn't been there before, and even more certain that she hadn't seen him move! And it was still hot!

She caught sight of Lombok staring up at her, and he looked so happy that she couldn't help smiling back at him as she took a bite of the "hotcat". It was good, she decided, even if she wasn't exactly sure what it was. In a few bites it was gone and she jumped down to rejoin Lombok.

"We're going to the ferry and back to the yard," he said to his dad as Sans finished off his cookie. "Care to join us?"

"What, ya want me to walk?" Sans looked positively insulted at the possibility.

Lombok chuckled. "I kind of figured you'd know a shortcut."

"Yeah, but it's my shortcut," he said, winking again. "Can't be lettin' you share all my secret ways with your lil' girlfriend."

"Dad!" "Mr. Skeleton!" Lombok and Delilah both cried out in embarrassment.

"Kiddin', only kiddin'!" Sans assured them, chuckling to himself. "Actually, I'm goin' home. Been feelin' kinda off all day. Think I'll take a nap. See ya tonight though, right, kid?"

"You bet," Lombok said sincerely.

"Thanks for the cookie," Sans added. "It was damn good."

Finally, they waved goodbye, and Delilah resisted the urge to hurry Lombok along. The walk to the ferry had never seemed so long befors. On the way Lombok ate another whole cookie and half of a second before he stopped, staring at it.

"You know," he said, "I think I may have eaten too many cookies."

"Really?" She asked, urging him forward with a hand on his arm.

"Yeah," he said slowly. "Let's get to the ferry. I think I need to sit down."

They are almost reach the dock when he stumbled, dropping down to a knee. The cookie fell from his hands, and he stared at it.

"Delilah, what's going on with me?"

"I don't know," she lied. He needed to get back up. She wasn't sure she was strong enough to drag him. Maybe, but she didn't want to test it. She had an idea.

"You're alright," she sang. "You can walk to the boat. You're going back to Undyne."

"O-okay, yeah," he said shakily as the flash of her magic crossed his eyes. She offered her arm and he took it. Together they reached the boat. Lombok fell into it gracelessly, struggling to pull himself to a seat.

"Please, take us to Waterfall," he asked the ferryman.

"No," Delilah corrected. "Take us to Snowdin."

"Snowdin? Why?" Lombok asked.

"I'm taking you to your apartment," she said, not looking at him as she took the seat across from him. Once she was seated, the ferryman pushed the boat into the river. "You need to rest."

"What? What did you do?" He was struggling to keep his eye sockets open.

"You'll be okay." She put her hands on her lap, and she could swear she felt both the antidote and the money bag in her inventory. With one final flutter of his eye sockets, Lombok's eye lights winked out and he sagged to the bottom of the boat.

"I'm sorry, Lombok," she whispered, looking down at him.

"Tra la la," the ferryman sang from his post. "With friends like these, who needs-"

"Shut up," Delilah interrupted him. She put her head in her hands as the boat rocked in the current. "Just shut up."

Chapter Text

It had been nearly two hours and still Gothic couldn't find the damn bunny. It was as if Bram had gone and dropped off the face of the Underground. If only. Gothic would be glad to drop him off the darkest bridge in Waterfall. Hatred for the little snitch burned in his Soul like a kindled fire.

He hated even more that he had to drop his hunt. Now that the Mask's message had been sent, he absolutely needed to reclaim as much tech as he could. A lot of it had been borrowed by Jute and Burlap from the Lab, and it was vital that he get it returned before its loss was noticed.

At least there was one spot of good fortune, the dog squad never got any of the transmission tech. As he was packing away the final laptop his phone buzzed, and he checked to see another missed call from Papyrus. His father had been blowing up his phone for about the last hour with calls and texts demanding to know, with increasing levels of threats, where exactly Gothic was. After the first couple Gothic just ignored them.

There was still half an hour before the meeting was start when Gothic finally ready, in full plague doctor gear, tech in hand. With any luck he'd be able to find Jute or Burlap somewhere in the sea of Masks. With a little more maybe he could get them to translate for him. Or at least Burlap could, with a megaphone. Jute had the same problem he did. It would just be a matter of convincing Burlap not to freeze up.

They should be there somewhere today, this was their project starting to come to fruition after all. It occurred to him that he'd been relying more and more on them lately, and likely would continue to now that he didn't have Shuck to back him up. It would be a smart idea to keep on their good side; bringing all their tech back was a good step towards that goal. Maybe he could even get them to check Alphys's cameras for Bram. A good thought for later. He took the shortcut to the meeting cave and braced for the crowd.

But there was no crowd. The cave was empty.

The cave was never empty this close to a meeting time. Setting down the hardware bag, he rechecked the time on his phone. No, it was the right time. Where was everybody?

A twisted feeling of unease settled under his ribs. Quietly, he walked over to the opening that served as the cave's main entrance. Careful to keep the beak of his mask down, he looked around the corner.

There, not a foot away from him, was a Royal Guard.

Holding his breath, he backed away. Why the hell was there a royal guard in his cave? But he knew the answer.

Bram.

Gothic hurried over to one of the side entrances, one of the safe little offshoots nobody ever used except for him and some of the most local of the cave dwellers. Stowing the computer parts, he headed down the tunnel, looking for clues. He was about halfway through when he nearly tripped over someone.

"Oh! Plague Doctor! Plague Doctor!" The small Woshua squeaked. "Guards, oh, they're everywhere!"

Gothic nodded, signing, I know, it's all right. How many are there?

The Woshua sputtered, watching his hands with confusion. "I-I don't speak hands!" Its face screwed up in tears as it said, "I just want to go home!"

Gothic made a shushing motion with his hands, but the poor thing just curled in on itself, crouching low on the ground as it began to cry. Reaching out, he gently pat the Woshua's head, and made a decision.

"Shh, it's okay, you're gonna be fine" he said gently. It was risky, breaking his cover to speak to them directly, but he needed silence. He had to calm them down amd he didn't want to be forced to do something drastic. Gothic really couldn't afford to let them draw attention to this tunnel.

The Woshua looked up at him with big, watery eyes. "Y-you can talk?"

"Yes," Gothic whispered, nodding his big beak. "Now, stay quiet and I'll get you out of here. Where do you live?"

"B-by the west dock, near the reeds."

"Alright," Gothic said, reaching out for the Woshua. "I'm gonna pick you up now. Let's go and be quiet."

The caverns were crawling with Guards. Gothic had never seen so many in one region before, Undyne must have gathered everyone from the Ruins to New Home for this. With the Woshua tucked under his arm, Gothic carefully ran between patrols. Except for the occasion sniffle, it stayed thankfully quiet.

He was more than a little concerned about all the discarded masks he saw along the way.

It was slow going and he cursed the need for secrecy that kept him from taking a shortcut. The last thing he needed was some random Woshua telling tales of a vocal Plague Doctor that could teleport.

But he didn't get where he was on good looks alone. It wasn't long before he reached the dock, and set the Woshua down.

"Thank you, Plague Doctor!" It chirped happily, little tail wagging.

"Shh!!" Gothic hissed, holding a finger up for silence.

Head drooping, the Woshua gave a whimper at the rebuke before diving into the water with a small splash.

A loud voice called from the pathway. "What was that?"

A Guard.

As the Woshua disappeared from sight Gothic made a hasty retreat into the reeds.

"What are you doing here?" The Guards voice called, and Gothic held his breath.

"Nothing!" A whiny voice called out in reply. "I'm going home!"

B R A M.

"You again?" The Guard's voice rang out with irritation. Gothic moved the reeds just a fraction, and through the sliver of space he could just see a tiger-like Guard talking to a shorter figure that had to be Bram. "Do you have more information for me?"

More information. Gothic felt his magic boil in his bones. It was true.

"No, I havent seen anyone else. But I found another mask." Bram came into view, dropping a backpack onto the ground. He turned his body so that the Guard couldn't see and reached inside, pulling out a feathered bird mask.

"Another one?" The tiger asked. "Let's see it."

Bram zipped up his bag again and handed the mask over. "Have you found the Plague Doctor?"

"Not yet," the tiger said, inspecting the mask. "Ten gold."

"What? No way!" Bram cried. His voice was like claws on a chalkboard. "You gave me twenty for the last one!"

"The last one had a name inside," the tiger answered flatly. "Take it or leave it."

"Fine! I'll take it!" Bram snapped, sticking out a palm like a demanding child.

"Keep an eye out," the Guard said, dropping a few coins in Bram's greedy little hand. It sounded like a warning. Bram nodded, and the guard walked away.

Furious, Gothic took a shortcut behind the bunny, just in time to hear him mutter, "Damn you skeleton. Where are you?"

"Right here."

With one hand Gothic grabbed the bunny's ears, his other wrapping around his throat.

"Make a sound, and I'll snap your neck right now." The surprised noise Bram made might have been comical, if Gothic hadn't been so angry. "Who told you?"

"N- no one!" Bram whined. "I heard shouting in the woods the other day!"

Fucking Lombok and his goddamn yelling.

"Tell me what you did," Gothic ordered.

"I didn't do anything!" Bram said, trying to shake his head.

Gothic squeezed his throat, and the rabbit struggled for a moment before Gothic released him again.

"Liar," he hissed into Bram's ears. "I just saw you sell someone's mask. Who's?"

"I don't know! It was just one I found on the ground! They're all over!"

That was unfortunately true enough. Gothic kept his voice flat as he accused, "You told the guards we were meeting tonight."

"No, no! It wasn't me!" Bram cried, twisting in Gothic's hold. "The guards! They don't pay for information! I didn't tell them anything about today!"

"The caverns are swarming with guards," Gothic pointed out. "And why do you care if they find me?

Bram began to struggle in earnest, showing the first signs of a real fight. "Because I want them to catch you, you rapist bastard! You killed my sister!"

"That isn't true, and you know it!" Gothic growled, seething once again with old anger. "She was a dear friend to me, and I didn't kill her. But I am going to kill you."

"What? No! No, don't!" Bram began to shriek, kicking and wriggling. "Ahh! Guards, help!"

Gothic tightened his hold, preparing to silence that stupid voice one last time when he noticed Bram's backpack. And he had an idea.

As far as Gothic could tell, everything was pretty much fucked already. He might as well.

He lifted Bram off the ground and threw him into the water. Grabbing the backpack, he took a shortcut back to the reeds. He could hear Bram splashing and screaming, and the sound of Guards running their way.

Quickly, he stripped himself of the mask and cloak, shoving them into the bag. Then he threw the bag towards the drowning rabbit, a moment before a trio of Guards appeared.

The tiger was among them, but waited while the other two, a crocodile and a bug monster, fished the sniveling Bram from the water.

"How stupid do you have to be to fall in?" The tiger asked.

Bram glared at him for a moment before noticing his bag at the cat's feet. "Hey! Get away from that!" He yelled.

"What?" The tiger asked with a purr, picking up the bag. "You know, I've been curious. I think it's time to see what you've been hiding in here."

With his claws the tiger ripped the bag clean in half. Carrots, bunny magazines, a blue mask, and the plague doctor gear went scattering across the ground.

"What do we have here?" The tiger asked as he grabbed the long mask. "No wonder you didn't want me to see."

"What? That's not mine!" Bram cried, still in the hold of the other two Guards.

"Sure it's not," the tiger said mockingly. He shoved the mask into his inventory. "No wonder you've been so interested in whether or not we've found the Plague Doctor. Cuff him."

"Noo!" Bram yelled. Gothic heard the click of metal, and the rabbit began sobbing hysterically. As they turned to leave Gothic saw exactly what they'd just put on the rabbit's arm.

A magic dampener.

That was bad. Very, very bad. Gothic had to find a way out of there. Quickly. He thought of the tech he'd left in the tunnel, and cursed quietly. He'd be set back at least a year if he didn't get that back, but there was no way to know which caves were compromised or not. At least for now the reeds were safe. He just needed to wait until the three of them left with Bram, then he could travel the caves on foot. That had worked fine while he was helping the Woshua. Slowly, he backed into the reeds.

And someone grabbed his arm.

He was yanked backwards, falling out of the reeds at the feet of a Madjick. It floated above him, cackling madly. Stuck to the side of his arm was one of the Madjick's Chaser Orbs. They must have sent the orbs in alone, it hadn't made a sound through the reeds. Gothic pulled his captured arm back, stretching his free hand out to summon a row of bones as he wondered where the Madjick's other orb was.

A moment too late he saw it, flying toward his outstretched wrist, dampener cuff wrapped in its magic. Gothic wasn't fast enough to stop it. It closed around his wrist with a click. The conjured bones disappeared.

And Gothic was cut off from his magic.

His hand immediately began to burn. Making a fist he swung at the Madjick's face. It hadn't expected that, and released Gothic to back away. Gothic didn't follow, tugging at his wrist. The cuff was made for a monster with flesh, if he could just grip his phalanges tight enough it should-

The breath was suddenly knocked out of him as he was tackled from the side. It was the crocodile that had helped catch Bram. Gothic struggled, trying to bring up every bit of fighting he'd learned on the bar room floor. His swings were wild, but packed a punch where they landed.

The thought occurred to him that this was how fighting must be to Lombok. His brother didn't have the magic reserves the rest of the family had, and more often than not was forced to rely on his physical strength alone. Suddenly, Gothic wished he hadn't blown off all his brother's training suggestions.

Gothic struck a good punch on the crocodile's snout, and managed to pull his arms to his chest. The good news was that his hand had stopped burning. The bad news was that he could no longer feel it at all.

With a speed bordering on frantic, he pulled at the cuff, squeezing his phalanges together as tightly as he could. The metal scraped across his bones, shaving a layer off that he knew was going to burn like hell once he got feeling back. But it didn't matter, the cuff was sliding off.

Over the wrist, the carpels, the phalan-

There was a maniacal laugh from behind him. The Madjick.

Click!

Gothic choked at the crushing pressure around his throat. He- he couldn't breathe! The bracelet cuff fell from his hands and he brought them up to feel another cuff around his neck. He gasped, unable to take a breath.

"Ehahah!" The Madjick laughed, bouncing around him. "Got you this time!"

Gothic couldn't focus on him, all of his attention on the restriction on his throat. It wasn't just blocking his magic, it was suffocating it. Trying to breathe shallowly, he gasped what little bit he could, fighting to stay conscious.

"Hey," another voice called. Gothic didn't know if it was new or if he just couldn't recognize it right now. "Isn't that the Vice-Captain's kid?"

The Madjick bounced into his vision again. "Hmm hmm!" It called, then laughed again. "I think you may be right, ahaha! Hey, say! The King should handle this then, though?"

"I'll take him to the castle," the big voice said, and Gothic felt himself being lifted into the air. "You call the Captain."

"Oh yes, I will! Gladly, ehahah! And the Vice-Captain, do you think, do you say?"

"I think that's for the Captain to decide."

White spots began to dance in Gothic's vision as he was jostled down the path. Well, he seemed to have found a silver lining. He was probably going to be dead long before he had to face his father's wrath.

Chapter Text

"T-Tem sowwy!" The little Temmie cried as Papyrus shook her by the scruff of her neck.

"You have two levels and forty hit points!" Papyrus said accusingly, holding out the wolf mask he'd caught her in. "What do you think you're doing?'

The Temmie bawled, her tail curling tight around her. Papyrus sighed. This was the seventh (SEVENTH!) monster he'd seen under level five with a mask on. They were hardly stronger than children! Not exactly the hardened gang members he'd been expecting when Undyne said they'd be raiding a meeting of the Masks.

He knew those types were in here somewhere, he just needed to find them. For the first time cameras in the Lab had picked up activity of the Masks gathering. At least, that's what the note delivered to Undyne had said. Still, it seemed strange. All the stronger gang members seemed to be missing. As if they had been warned away already. It was a puzzle he'd be glad to solve, if only he didn't have to waste his time saving all these weaklings from themselves!

At least there was one thing to be grateful for- there'd been exactly zero signs of Gothic. Not that he hadn't searched. And called. Repeatedly.

As if on cue, his phone began to vibrate in his pocket.

"Lesser, heel!" Papyrus called, dropping the Temmie to the ground.

"You are to leave here right this instant," he ordered the Temmie as the large white dog trotted up to them in a hurry,. She cowered further at the command in his voice as he continued, "Go straight home and do not engage any further with the Masks. Lesser, make certain she does not stray on her path."

Leaving the dog to his herding, Papyrus pulled out his phone, answering it right before it would have gone to voice mail. He hated showing such poor phone etiquette, but the Temmie had to be dealt with.

Undyne's voice rang through the little speaker before he could even say hello.

"The King has Gothic! He was caught up in the sweep, you have to tell them that somebody screwed up!"

"Where?" He demanded, his throat going dry.

"The Judgement Hall!"

Undyne's words rang through Papyrus's head as he sprinted for all he was worth towards the castle. He didn't encounter a single monster along the way. The path was not empty, far from it, but every one of them knew better than to try and stop the Vice-Captain when he had murder in his eyes.

His phone buzzed again and he checked it as he ran. A text message, from the king. A formal request for an interrogation audience. It came right in time. Ahead, the massive doors to the Judgement Hall stood wide open.

Papyrus slowed as he approached, fighting with himself to use the long, measured strides the King would expect from him. With an air of chilly confidence that he certainly didn't feel, Papyrus strode up to the waiting monsters. He felt like he was walking into a nightmare.

There on his knees, his thin form trembling before the King, was Gothic.

The King was there, of course, but so was Dr. Alphys, RG01, and RG02. He did his best not to look at Gothic directly as he walked to stand beside him. Gothic's arms were bound behind his back, and Papyrus could just see the thick metal cuff wrapped around his cervical vertebrae. It was strangling his magic, causing Gothic to shake uncontrollably, his bones rattling together loudly in the silence of the Hall.

"Ah, very good. Vice-Captain Papyrus, I'm pleased to see you responding so quickly to my summons."

Papyrus bowed low. "The pleasure is mine, Your Majesty. How may I be of service to you?"

Asgore gestured with one frying pan-sized paw towards Gothic. "I have captured another one of those criminals scum. Vice-Captain what is your recommendation?"

Papyrus bowed low again. "It is both my recommendation and request that he be released to my custody, where I will exact a most severe punishment as I determine his involvement in any criminal activity."

"Request acknowledged," Asgore said. Papyrus held his breath. "And denied. I wish for you and RG01 to take him to the dark cells."

"As you command." His mask was perfect. It had to be.

Gothic looked up at him, his face full of surprise and no small amount of worry. His eye lights were weak, nearly guttering out from lack of magic. Papyrus ignored it. He had to.

"I expect you to have everything he knows within three days."

Papyrus took a deep breath. "Yes, Your Majesty, but I must warn you that he will not survive that long."

Asgore lifted a shaggy brow to regard him a little more closely. Papyrus stiffened further under the gaze.

"Oh? Do you have such little faith in your offspring?"

He had to do this right. Play your part, Papyrus.

"No, sire, but the cuff around his neck is suffocating his magic. He will die within the hour if it is not removed."

Dr. Alphys shot him a sharp glare. "T-The dampener is n-not that dangerous!"

Papyrus swept an arm down his front, indicating his frame. "Skeletons are more reliant on our magic than most monsters. Not only for attacks but to simply keep our bones together. The dampener is too strong, and keeping the cuff around his neck suffocates the flow even more. It is indeed killing him."

Asgore considered him for a moment before asking, "You wouldn't be saying this simply because you wish to save your son from the justice he deserves, would you?"

"No, Your Majesty," Papyrus declared fiercely, striking a fist to his chest. "My life and my magic to the crown, always. The cuff does no favors to anyone but him. Were I to guess, I would also presume that it has made him unable to speak to confess his crimes."

Asgore looked thoughtful. "It is true that he's been able to do little but choke. Dr. Alphys?"

"I-I suppose he could be right," she admitted with a glare. Like it was his fault that she didn't do her research properly."I h-haven't had much experience with skeletons b-before."

Slowly, as if he had all the time in the world and no cares at all, Asgore turned his heavy gaze back to Papyrus. "And I take it that you have an idea to remedy the situation?"

It was not a casual question. Papyrus could hear the iron spikes that laid underneath it like a pittrap.

"I believe I do. May I?" He asked, gesturing toward Gothic. At Asgore's nod, he stepped in front of his son. Gothic looked up at him, hope flickering in his eye lights. Papyrus hooked a claw under the dampener, testing its strength. When he pulled his arm back, his hand had already begun to go numb. He'd been wrong, he didn't have an hour. He had minutes. He had to get this thing off immediately.

"To begin, as I said before, it is unnecessarily dangerous to have around his neck, and simply putting it on his wrist would be enough. If you intend to keep it around his neck, I would recommend lowering the strength by at least thirty but no more than fifty percent to prevent choking the magic and narrowing the channel too far, which could also kill him."

"Are you skeletons really th-that fragile?" Dr. Alphys asked, equal parts curious and mocking.

"Our magic is both our strength and our weakness," Papyrus replied honestly.

Without taking his gaze off Papyrus, Asgore asked, "Is this a task that you are able to complete, Dr. Alphys?"

She nodded quickly. "Yes, it would take less than an hour to make the adjustments in the Lab and return."

"And what do you propose we do with the prisoner until then?"

Papyrus took a step forward, bowing low. "I will hold him with my own blue magic until she returns. He will not be able to escape." Papyrus didn't dare look at Gothic as he said it.

"Very well. Dr. Alphys? Vice-Captain?"

Papyrus took the lead, summoning his blue magic in one hand and clutching at Gothic's Soul. The rattling of his son's bones slowed as gravity held him tighter to the ground. Dr. Alphys waddled towards them, casting a suspicious glare at Papyrus as she fiddled with the dampener cuff.

Gothic was being unusually compliant, obviously expecting that Papyrus would let him free as soon as the cuff was removed.

From their posts by the door, RG01 and RG02 tightened their grips on their weapons.

After a moment it popped open, and she quickly stepped back, pocketing the device. Gothic's shaking immediately subsided and he took a few deep, gasping breaths.

"I-I will be right back, Y-Your Majesty," Dr. Alphy's said as she disappeared down the hallway.

There was a moment of silence as no one in the hall moved, breath held as each waited to see what the others would do. Papyrus held perfectly still, staring straight ahead with Gothic's soul tight in his grasp. He knew Gothic was still watching him, waiting, hoping that Papyrus would release him any second.

His son never had been very good at risk assessment.

"You know," Asgore began, looking between the two skeletons like they were a pair of particularly interesting toys. "It's rare I get such an opportunity to test my subjects loyalty so thoroughly. Vice-Captain, you shall begin the interrogations now."

Papyrus felt his soul drop. It was a command that had been uttered in this hall a thousand times before. He should have seen it coming.

He hadn't.

"Yes, my king," he answered by rote. It was what was expected. "What would you like to know?"

Asgore's muzzle opened into a wide grin, showing off nearly as many long, pointed teeth as Undyne. "I would like to know… how much damage he can take before Dr. Alphys returns."

It took every bit of control Papyrus had to keep from reacting. He feared his control was going to break him.

"Yes, Your Majesty." He turned to Gothic. His son had a brave face, but he couldn't hide the way his eye lights wavered.

"Pops?" Gothic whispered, softer than Papyrus had ever heard him.

He was scared.

He had good reason to be.

As a weapon for the crown, Papyrus had never been known for his mercy. He couldn't afford to show any now. A bone club formed in his free hand, and he gripped it hard enough to make the leather of his gloves creak.

Gothic struggled as much as he could against the hold of blue magic, trying to pull himself back, to escape. It was a useless effort.

Papyrus was very good with his magic.

"P-please, Pops," Gothic begged quietly as Papyrus raised the club high in the air. This time, the slight tremble in his bones had nothing to do with magic restriction. His eye lights had shrunk so far they were almost gone. "Please, don't. Don't do this."

Papyrus's breath seized in his throat.

He couldn't do this.

He had to. It was their only chance.

With vicious speed he brought the attack down, landing a solid strike on Gothic's shoulder. Gothic turned his head, eyes shut and jaw clenched, but he didn't cry out. Nor did he cry out for the second hit, or the third.

When the fourth strike cracked a rib, Gothic couldn't stop himself from letting out a small choked cry. It was short, locked back behind his teeth almost immediately and nearly lost under the echo of breaking bone, but Papyrus heard it. Loud and clear.

Papyrus had thought that he'd been burned dry of tears a long, long time ago. Papyrus had been wrong. But he refused to let them fall.

Instead, they burned in his sockets, blurring the scene before him. But not enough that he couldn't see exactly when Gothic's hope in him finally died, replaced with hatred. With every blow, it only grew.

Gothic turned out to be much stronger than Papyrus would have given him credit for. Had it been any other situation, Papyrus would have been proud. As it was, it only made this harder.

To make matters worse for them both, Papyrus was having trouble holding onto his intent to hurt, unintentionally lowering the amount of hp each blow removed and forcing Papyrus to hit gothic two or even three times to do the damage that should have been inflicted in one. But still Gothic's health fell, and fell further, a handful of points at a time.

Once Gothic had reached ten percent of his health, Papyrus turned to face the king. There were no restoratives in the Hall, and unless there were, judgements and interrogations stopped there.

"Why did you stop?"

"My king?" It wasn't a question, and he wasn't refusing, not exactly. "He has sustained damage equal to ninety percent of his health."

Judgments and interrogations never went beyond that point unless... the sentence was death.

"Continue."

He couldn't.

"You will bring him to a single point."

He would. He had to.

By the time Dr. Alphys returned, Gothic was down to the barest fraction of his original health. The tiles beneath him were wet with magic and marrow as he knelt on his knees, chest heaving silently. After the first rib crack he hadn't made another sound. But Gothic couldn't hold back his tears. They coursed down the sides of his skull, leaving purple tracks behind as they dripped to add to the mess on the floor. Alphys hurried by them but Gothic didn't so much as glance at her, staring fixedly at the tiles in front of him.

"Enough," Asgore finally commanded as Alphys scurried to his side. He sounded bored, but he was still focusing too much attention on the two of them for Papyrus to try anything.

Holding his relief under a tight guard, Papyrus dismissed his attack as Dr. Alphys stepped towards them. He reached out for the device, and after a moment she handed it to him. It was smaller than the first one, much better suited to fit the thin frame of a skeleton. It was as he expected, although he had hoped otherwise.

Without hesitation Papyrus walked behind Gothic, still keeping him pinned with blue magic. Gothic flinched away as he got close, finally looking up from the ground to send Papyrus a look of such seething hate it was literally shining in his eye lights.

Doing everything he could to ignore Gothic, he moved to keep the bracelet carefully between their bodies. Out of view from RG01 and RG02, Papyrus inspected it closely as he attached it to Gothic's wrist. The locking mechanism was intricately complex, easy to snap together and shut, but required someone pressing in the exact points along a series of depressions in a specific combination to open. He wondered if he could get away with not snapping it at all, but likely Asgore would notice if the dampening field failed to come into effect. Even if he didn't, Papyrus doubted that Gothic would have the patience to wait until they were out of the hall before fleeing.

The bracelet closed with a snap, and continuing to keep his hands hidden, he summoned a small bone construct. As he stood back up, he drug it across the ropes, the edge slicing in deeply. He dismissed it along with his blue magic as he stood and he once again faced the King.

"I grow weary of this," Asgore said with a sigh. "It is clear that you have raised a strong soul. Your loyalty has also been proven beyond question. I will leave it to you to take him from here. Rg01, please escort the Vice-captain and his prisoner to the cells."

Asgore turned to his throne room, clearly having lost his interest in them. Papyrus knew he'd only stayed as long as he had to be certain that his Vice-Captain wasn't holding back.

Gothic began to fight again as the king vanished through the large doors to the throne room, trying to get away. Papyrus hardly noticed, finally feeling like he could breathe again. Grabbing Gothic's humerus, he lifted the struggling youth to his feet. Papyrus could see the ropes binding his arms together shift, loosening a fraction. Gothic noticed it too.

"I'll kill you," Gothic hissed weakly.

"I know," Papyrus replied.

Despite his own words, Papyrus felt a flicker of hope inside himself. Away from Asgore, RG01's escort was a non-issue. By the time they walked all the way to the cells, he should figure out how the bracelet comes off. It was a puzzle, but it wasn't one so great that-

"Actually, Vice-Captain Papyrus..." The Kings loud voice boomed from behind him.

Papyrus froze, every joint in his body going rigid as he replied, "Yes, your majesty?"

"Dr. Alphys has brought it to my attention that someone trained by you would most likely be unbreakable by our standard methods of torture," his deep, fatherly voice was full of disappointment. "An observation I'm inclined to believe, considering his silence here today. In addition, any information gained would be redundant, as we have their leader in another cell already. So, with that in mind, I've decided that it is unwise to keep someone so dangerous alive. Kill him."

For a moment, Papyrus could swear that his Soul had stopped beating, his eye lights going dark. Fortunately, before he could do anything, Gothic reacted first. He pulled against the restraints, and they split along the cut with a snap! Gothic lashed out wildly, bringing his fist around to strike Papyrus in the face.

He was fast, but Papyrus was faster. He ducked under the first swing, and Gothic retaliated with his off-hand, the one with the dampener bracelet. It came around to try and sucker punch him in the jaw.

Gothic was much too slow, showing his lack of organized training. He fought like this was a bar fight, not a battle. Papyrus caught his wrist easily. He swiftly Checked him. 4 hp. Too low.

He knew what he had to do now.

He didn't want to.

"I'm sorry," Papyrus whispered, looking into Gothic's wide, terrified eye sockets. Tears burned like fire in his own until one finally broke loose, tracing a shockingly cold path along his face.

One way or another, Gothic needed to be freed. He dug his claws sharply into Gothic's wrist. Severing, and as close as he was, Papyrus could feel Gothic's hp drop.

There was a popping sound, and Gothic finally screamed.

His wrist shattered, his carpals detaching to fall away to the ground. The dampening bracelet slid off his wrist with them. There was a soft clattering, like dice rolling around on the tiles, before the bones began to dissolve with a hiss.

Gothic stood there, transfixed in horror, as he watched his own bones turn to dust. Rg01 and RG02 were converging on them both. He had to move. There was no time for shock.

"Idiot!" Papyrus hissed, and Gothic looked up right as Papyrus's glove came around to backhand him across the skull. The blow sent him sprawling over the tiles, away from the encroaching guards. Gothic looked at him, sockets wide.

Papyrus summoned a bone sword, this one much larger than the small club he'd been using earlier, and began to advance on him. Gothic only watched, transfixed in fear, the useless stump of his arm held up defensively between them. He was too scared to notice the dampener was gone, Papyrus realized. He needed to know. He needed to shortcut away. Those last bare handed strikes had only taken off one point each, but Gothic was out of hp to spare.

Asgore would never believe a bone attack that only did one point of damage anyway. Papyrus wasn't Sans.

He had one last idea. Taking another step forward, bone sword raised to swing, Papyrus drug his foot slightly, through his son's dust, kicking the dampener bracelet and sending it rolling away.

The sound caught Gothic's attention, and he looked down, finally noticing the dampener bracelet at Papyrus's feet. Relief filled Papyrus when he saw the spark of understanding in Gothic's eyes. He surged forward, bringing the sword around in a vicious arc that he knew would be a moment too late.

The sword passed through empty air. Gothic was gone.

"How very… unfortunate." Asgore drawled from the doorway. "Would you care to explain to me, vice-captain, what exactly has just happened here?"

Papyrus stood up straight, dismissing the sword and putting on his best mask. Had Asgore fallen for his deception? If he hadn't, Papyrus was about to die.

"Apologies, Your Majesty. It seems the ropes that he had been tied with were not strong enough for the task. Please, allow me to go after him and I guarantee you that I will bring you his dust myself."

Asgore studied him for a long moment, the silence dragging through the corridor. Papyrus only waited. For once, standing in the Judgement Hall before his King, Papyrus had no sins crawling on his back. Gothic was free.

Slowly Asgore nodded, looking tired. "I do not wish to hear another word of this, until I hear that he is dead, and you are presenting me with the rest of his dust. Do you understand me, Vice-Captain Papyrus?"

"Yes, Your Majesty. It will be done." He gave the stiffest bow of his life before he turned to leave. As he marched out of the Judgment Hall he felt Asgore's eyes boring into his back. Like everything else, he ignored it.

Once he was out of the King's sight, he began to run.

There was only one monster that Gothic, near death and terrified, would turn to for help. Gothic was going home. Gothic was going to Sans.

Chapter Text

"I'll kill you," Gothic promised his father as he was led from the room. He'd never meant any words more.

"I know," Papyrus replied. It was the first thing he'd directly said to Gothic since he'd walked into the Hall.

Gothic felt like such a fool. When Papyrus had first appeared, slightly out of breath and walking as proudly as if it was his Judgment Hall and not the Tyrant's, Gothic's soul had jumped for joy. He didn't think he'd ever been this happy to see his father in his life.

But Papyrus had never even looked at him. Instead, he simply talked over him, going so far as to reveal secrets on how to keep Gothic alive longer for further torture.

Still, Gothic had held onto hope. It was a ruse, right? Deep down, his father cared about him, didn't he? Sure, Gothic had never been his father's favorite child, had never been interested in training or rules or really anything Papyrus cared about… But he wouldn't actually let them torture him to death, would he?

He hadn't struggled when Papyrus used his blue magic, letting himself go lax to allow the psychotic lizard to remove the collar that had been killing him.

He had thought that would be their chance. With the collar gone, Gothic could use a shortcut as soon as Papyrus let him up.

But then, Papyrus never let him up. While under the strength of Papyrus's hold, Gothic couldn't touch a shortcut, much less step through one. The gravity on top of it ensured that he couldn't struggle free.

When the Tyrant demanded that Papyrus attack him, Gothic had expected him to balk, to hesitate, to show mercy… Something! Anything!

But as it turned out, Papyrus was, above all else, a Royal Guard. The Vice-Captain always, always did as he was ordered. It was like he couldn't even hear Gothic pleading. Gothic was nothing to him.

They didn't even want answers. They only wanted him to hurt. So he grit his teeth, determined not to make a sound, refusing to give them that satisfaction, but it was hard.

Papyrus was merciless.

Eventually the lizard had returned, handing the modified dampener to Papyrus. He immediately latched it onto Gothic's arm himself, and once again Gothic was cut off from the flow of his magic. Only this time, it wasn't going to kill him before he could be tortured further.

The King retreated, leaving him with Papyrus and the two guards. When Papyrus lifted him to his feet by his arm, Gothic noticed that the ropes around his arms were starting to come loose. Unsurprising, considering the viciousness with which Papyrus had attacked him. It was a little ways to the cells, maybe on the way he could break them, and escape.

They had almost reached the other end of the hall when the Tyrant reappeared to hand Gothic his death sentence.

"Kill him."

Sharp terror cut through Gothic's Soul. He had to Act now, to get away from Papyrus, no matter how useless the odds were. The hope that Papyrus would show him Mercy had been beaten out of him with the blunt edge of a bone club. It was now or never.

Straining his arms, the ropes, weakened from the beating, fell away with a ripping snap. He took a quick swing at Papyrus's face, hoping to at least catch him off guard long enough to make a break for the door. Or window, he wasn't picky.

But his father was too fast (he'd always been too fast), and ducked the first punch with a fluid speed that Gothic knew he could never match. He made a wild swing with his other arm, more out of desperation than anything else. Papyrus caught his wrist easily, as if he were still a small child picking reckless fights against the monster he knew he could never hope to defeat.

Gothic looked into his father's eye sockets and saw tears.

"I'm sorry," Papyrus whispered, and Gothic's Soul froze in his chest, a useless, solid lump.

As Papyrus tightened his grip, claws digging forcefully into Gothic's wrist, Gothic realized his HP was in the single digits, and there was no way he was going to survive this. He was going to die, right here, right now. He hoped someone would tell Lombok the truth about his parentage, because it didn't look like it was going to be him.

Pain, sudden and biting and unlike anything he'd endured before shot up his arm as his wrist shattered. It broke through his defenses, and he couldn't contain the scream that was finally ripped out of him. As he watched, the bones of his hand fell away to clatter noisly against the floor.

It hurt, everything hurt, his arm from this final attack, his body from the beating. And there was a ringing in his skull as he watched his knuckle bones dissolve to dust on the floor. Was dusting supposed to hurt this badly?

"Idiot!" Papyrus's snarling voice cut through the fog, and he looked up just in time to see the back of his father's gloved hand streaking right for his skull. The strike took another hit point and sent him flying backward, landing hard on his coccyx.

But Papyrus wasn't done with him yet.

Gothic stared up from the ground to see the towering form of Papyrus form a long, deadly bone sword. Shaking, Gothic brought his ruined arm up, trying to shield himself, as useless as the move was. Papyrus took a step forward, his boot striking something on the ground. It rolled with a metallic clatter. Gothic's eyes fell to track the sound, seeing the dusty dampener cuff lying in a pile of gritty powder.

It was his dust… but the rest of him wasn't dust. Gothic wasn't dusting! He wasn't dead!

And he didn't have the cuff on!

Papyrus seemed to realize it as well, and he suddenly surged forward, bone sword swinging down.

Gothic took a shortcut.