Despite what some Humans seemed to think, skeleton Monsters did, in fact, need to breathe.
The whole key there was skeleton Monster. They weren’t one of those plastic danglers hanging out in high school science classrooms around the nation. They weren’t formerly Human. They were Monsters and there were key differences.
For one, even though they didn’t have lungs, they did need to breathe.
Now Stretch needed to remind himself of that.
He was standing at the door to the lab, his lab, and it felt like his breath was frozen in his throat.
It was a fucking door, it shouldn’t be that threatening. He’d been working in the lab down there for a couple of years and there was shit he needed to get done.
So why couldn’t he open it?
With a sigh, he leaned against the side of the house and lit a cigarette, letting the rush of nicotine soothe him. Then he pulled out his cell phone and pulled up his contact list. A quick scroll took him to ‘Gimmi A. Handy’ and he hit call.
“heya, handy andy!” he said cheerfully. “what? no, nothing’s wrong, why would you…maybe i wanted to hear your dulcet tones for a change, can’t get that through a text…you do not, to begin with, fingernails on a chalkboard is better than your singing. hey, you wanna come over and help me with an experiment? yeah, that’s fine. okay. okay. see you in an hour!”
He finished his cigarette, tamping it out on the damp ground before tucking the used butt into his pocket. Since he’d moved out, Blue pointedly got rid of any ashtrays or empty cans Stretch left around. Wasn’t gonna stop him from smoking but points for trying.
An hour to kill. Edge thought he was already in the lab and while he was going through a last baking extravaganza before he went back to work, he would definitely notice the door opening if Stretch went home.
Eh, a quick walk around town would eat up some time and then he could wait for Jeff by the bus stop.
Thus decided, he started off on a Great Quest for Time Wasting and Possible Snacks, pt 1.
There was a bench by the bus stop and Stretch was currently taking up more than his fair share of it, legs sprawled across the seat while he munched on a cinnamon bunny from the Bun Bakery. First quest of the day could be checked off as a success, anyway.
He could see Jeff through the bus window as he pulled up, his bright hair was better than a neon sign. He hopped off the bus behind a couple of Monsters, none of whom paid him any mind.
It was kinda warming to see that. He was here pretty regularly now. Most of the kids knew Jeff, he’d gotten dragged into a couple of Stretch’s experiments, deliberately so. After the whole invasion debacle, Stretch wanted to cut off any idea in the kiddos that Humans were bad and what better way than for them to play with Andy?
“hey,” Stretch waved, mumbling through a mouthful of crumbs. Edge would swat him for that but Jeff only grinned and dug into the slightly greasy bag for one of his own.
“These things are the best,” he sighed around his own mouthful. He leaned against the bench while they unhurriedly made their way through the bag of tasty goodness.
See, this was why he and Jeff got along so well. Edge, Blue, or Papyrus would be antsy to get going and neither Sans nor Red would have wanted to walk around to begin with. Jeff was the perfect medium.
Finally, Jeff licked the last of the cinnamon sweetness from his fingertips. “All right, Doc Brown, what are we up to today?”
“it’s a surprise,” Stretch decided. Nothing like a little stalling and he’d think of something interesting when they got inside.
He went around the back way to avoid walking in front of their house, not that Jeff knew New New Home well enough to question it. All too soon the steel door loomed in front of them, the touch pad waiting for him.
Yeah, okay. This was fine. It would be.
Stretch hung back and lit a cigarette. “open the door for me, will ya? the code is 12345.”
“wow, it’s the same as on my luggage,” Jeff said dryly. But he did it, the door swinging open. The automatic lights came on, illuminating the stairs, the bright white hallway that led down to the lab proper.
The tremor in his hand was shaking ash loose and Stretch hastily finished his cigarette.
Not hasty enough; the look Jeff was giving him was a complex mixture of suspicion and concern. “Are you okay?”
“yep,” Stretch said cheerily. He tucked the cigarette butt in with his collection. “let’s get on with it, down the yellow brick road and everything.” Brushing past Jeff, he started down. He made it two steps when the smell hit him, and he froze.
It wasn’t bad, but it was distinct. Chemicals and loam, disinfectant and sharp citrus. It struck with the force of a slap and Stretch didn’t even feel Jeff collide with his back. It rocked him slightly, but he didn’t move. Couldn’t.
It didn't hurt, not at first. Draining magic with the distiller was a lot like getting a good sparring workout, Sans always joked, because like the two of them knew anything about that? But it was the same faint tiredness left over from summoning attacks or multiple shortcuts, and it went away after a decent meal or nap.
The first round ended and before he could pull away, it began again. It wasn’t until it hit a third cycle that panic started to set in. He couldn’t stop it, trapped like being caught in an electrical current, and there wasn’t an off switch, all fucking hells, stupid, stupid, they hadn’t made an off switch and by the fifth cycle his magic was drained and there was a new shock, a new realization as it started on his HP. Such as it was.
That was an unknown, exquisite sort of pain, agony past screaming, and even that was secondary to knowing what this was going to do Edge. Because he was going to die.
Sometimes on his bleakest days, he thought Edge would be better off without him, but not like that. Never like that, never Edge being the one to find his dust.
Finding him like that would…it would…no.
A last, desperate attempt, and he managed to pull free in the split second between one cycle ending and another starting. The agony faded and so did consciousness and he couldn’t move, he couldn’t, he couldn’t—
That single word, said so gently, cut through the choking cloud of his panic. Stretch clapped a hand over his mouth to hold in the scream, and he still couldn’t move, until strong hands took him by the shoulders and guided him stumbling back out into the bright daylight, the warmth of the sun unlike the sterile fluorescents.
The swarming claustrophobia eased, the dark spots wavering in his vision fading and suddenly he could breathe again. He could breathe, he could feel the sun, and strong, familiar arms were holding him tightly.
Cold wetness was seeping through his pants. It made him blink a little and Stretch abruptly realized they were sitting on the ground, he and Edge, and he was curled into Edge’s arms, his hands rubbing up and down Stretch spine as he murmured soothingly.
“It’s all right, love, I have you. I have you.”
Faintly, he heard Jeff asking, “Edge? Is he okay?”
“He’ll be fine.” It was bordering on humiliating to have the people around him speaking about him while he was sitting right here, but he only shuddered and buried his face into the warm shelter of Edge’s chest. All he could smell now was Edge, the warm spice of his magic, musty flour, and cookie sweetness. “Why don’t you head back to our place? I’d say run inside and chat with Blue, but—“
“Yeah, I get it,” Jeff agreed, and Stretch was distantly grateful. This was bad enough, he didn’t need his bro out here demanding answers and trying to drag him inside.
There was the sound of footsteps on damp ground and then Edge was murmuring to him again, a soft, soothing litany.
Stretch kept his face where it was, his words muffled as he said, “sans told you.”
A moment of silence and then, “Yes. Don’t be angry with him, he was worried.”
“i’m not.” Much. Mostly, he was grateful.
The gloves Edge was wearing were soft, rasping lightly against his skull. Keeping his head down made it easier to say, haltingly, “i thought i was going to die. after everything, that would be how i died, in a moment of stupidity and i’d die and leave you alone.”
His voice broke and Edge’s arms tightened, almost painfully. Stretch didn’t care, he wanted that gentle pain, wanted Edge to hold him close.
It felt like a long, long time that they sat there, Edge only stroking him wordlessly, gently, but finally Stretch said, “i can’t be like this. i have work to do.”
“So do your work someplace else.”
“what?” That made him sit up, looking directly at Edge.
“Why do you have to work here?” Edge asked reasonably. “You can take your work someplace else. If you want, we can set a few things up in our basement, there’s room.”
It was such a simple solution. There was no reason he had to work in the lab, the only reason he had it to begin with was because he refused to work at the Embassy with the other scientists. Asgore agreed because he wanted to keep Stretch’s work secret, but Stretch’s motivation was, put simply, avoidance. Sans was all right, but the labs at the Embassy had too many people, woke up too many memories…this lab had already been a way to hide, it always had been, and hiding away had nearly gotten him killed.
“i can’t keep hiding from things,” Stretch admitted, tiredly.
“Maybe not,” Edge said, “but you can work through them in better ways than this. Perhaps with your therapist.”
Not quite pointed but Stretch winced anyway. “yeah, yeah, you and the ketchupmeister.” He chewed on the tip of one of his fingers, considering, “i don’t think you can move all of that equipment on your own.”
“I’m sure Jeff would be happy to help. Come on.”
He let Edge stand up but didn’t follow him. He stayed sitting on the wet ground, wrapped his arms around his updrawn knees and rested his chin on them.
“edge? you’re not mad i didn’t say anything?” Fuck, he hated how soft, lost, his voice was, but he had to ask.
Something like pain flashed over Edge’s face, quickly stifled. “Love, I know I was angry at you before at the hospital. I felt like you’d deliberately endangered yourself by lying to me. But I shouldn’t have shouted at you—“
“you were right to be mad,” Stretch told him. “i was keeping things from you.”
“Well, I’m not angry now, all right?” Edge said firmly. He crouched down, cupping Stretch’s face in his gloved hands. “I understand the need to try to handle things on your own. Please, remember that I want to help you? That I will help you any way I can? You can always talk to me and I promise that I will try my best to listen.”
Edge smiled a little and leaned in, kissing him with such tenderness that Stretch could only sigh, leaning into that touch. Then he let Edge help him to his feet.
It was a little awkward walking with Edge’s arm around him, their difference in height made it slightly off. He didn’t care. Right now, he’d let Edge carry him through New New Home if it kept him close.
Andy was a little guy, but he proved to have a wiry sort of strength when it came to heaving equipment upstairs. Mostly Stretch wanted his hydroponics so he could get those experiments going again.
If the healing shit wasn’t going to work out, then helping Humans increase their crop yields was a close second.
While they were both downstairs, muffled swearing sailing out through the opened door, Stretch pulled out his phone.
u fucker, he sent.
sorry, came back and he could almost hear it in Sans’s unapologetic tone. you may not be my bro but you’re family and i worry about you, you shit
yeah, i know you do, asshole
uh huh. but yeah, sorry for telling him about the lab without giving you a heads up
He didn’t need a magnifying glass to read between those lines. His problem with the lab was all Sans had told Edge about. Not the…the other. Not his HP.
Stretch had to swallow back a bark of wild laughter because he almost wished Sans had told him everything. Gotten it out there, drained that blister and Edge would be rightfully pissed about that but it least it would be over.
The two of them reappeared at the top of the stairs, squabbling while they carried a table between them and it was warming to see Jeff giving back as good as Edge was, snarking away.
Stretch tucked his phone away. Later, he promised himself. His HP was fine right now, if it became an ongoing problem, he’d say something. Edge was back from his vacation tomorrow, the last thing he needed to bring with him was something else to worry about…and wow, that was some creative swearing Jeff was going with.
“damn, son,” Stretch grinned at his flushed, sweaty face, “you kiss antwan with that mouth?”
“I do plenty of shit to Antwan with this mouth,” Jeff snapped. But his grin was good-natured. “Gonna make us carry this all the way to your place?”
“nah, hang on,” Stretch set a hand on it. “i can get it to the basement. let go, babe, or we’ll have to mop the floor.”
It was an easy shortcut to their basement to straighten the table and then right back, waiting for them to bring up another.
This was a step in the right direction, he could get back to work now, get back to normal.
Everything was going to be fine.