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their words become metallic spangles shivering the air.

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“Here you are, my child!” Toriel says, beaming, and sets two plates’ worth of breakfast in front of you on the table: The smaller ceramic pink plate has two sunny-side-up eggs and three strips of turkey bacon arranged in a smiley face, and the bigger one has a stack of two fat strawberry-and-chocolate-chip pancakes with another smiley face on it made of modest lines of whipped cream. “Happy Monday! Aren’t you excited for another day of school?”

You sip at your orange juice and smile at her to be polite. You aren’t, but she seems so happy to get to go teach class, and you don’t want to rain on her parade. She beams down at you and returns to the kitchen to get her own breakfast things—the bigger portions of the same foods and her steaming mug of overbrewed bagged tea. Not even Asgore really makes it quite right, but Toriel is disastrous with tea, so you’ve gotten into the habit of asking for fruit juice instead.

But that doesn’t mean you’re used to it—even now, even though it’s been months since the Barrier broke and you moved in with her. The meals that Toriel cooks for you are generous and delicious and you enjoy them, truly you do, but sometimes wanting tea and fish and miso soup and pickled vegetables and rice and really good tea, looseleaf, green, is physically painful. Today falls under sometimes, you think as you look down at the smiling pancakes and cut a small slice with your fork. Strawberries are your favorite but you want dorayaki, and gamjajeon, and okonomiyaki, and your chest burns and crackles.

You won’t complain, though. Maybe you will be able to get used to it one day, and Toriel is clearly so happy to have you here with her after everything she’s lost. She’s gone out of her way enough already; you don’t have to make a fuss because this isn’t enough for you.

And also, she’s in the habit of eating breakfast on a lap tray while she sits in her reading chair with a book instead of watching the TV, so this way you can turn the sound down very low and put the closed captions on while you curl your whole body up in the chair and watch the day’s human interest stories with your teeth clenched.

Today they run a spot on Asgore and Papyrus meeting with the governor of your state. The newscaster talks a little about the integration of monsters into human society thus far, a voiceover against footage of Asgore shaking the governor’s hand, then more footage of Papyrus, who looks very dapper in his black-and-purple pinstriped suit and bright orange tie. They’re very Halloween-y colors and they suit his cartoonish enthusiasm, and the newscaster makes a few gentle jokes about it in between praising him affectionately.

No one can help but come to like Papyrus, you think, and smile a little. It’s what makes him the perfect choice for ambassador. You’re glad anyway that you don’t have to do it—aside from the obvious problems you bet you’d just muck it up, you wouldn’t be able to help these kind people who’ve done so much for you at all, but Papyrus smiles winningly and firmly says he believes in the best of people and the world’s heart melts for him over and over again.

You miss him so much. Sans said the last time Toriel had him over for a Lunchables party that Papyrus will be able to come back to hang out with everyone for a couple days at the end of the week. Hopefully he won’t be too tired to see you.

The story about the political meeting ends, and you hold your breath, but the next spot is a five-minute short about a local conservatory making its first attempt to reintroduce birds called plovers to their natural habitat. You remember hearing a little about this in science class, before Mt. Ebott; the plovers went extinct in the wild because of invasive species and climate change but were kept alive by humans in zoos for decades until enough countries switched over to clean energy to help slow down the way the planet was changing. The fourth grade class was supposed to go on a field trip to the conservatory to learn more but you couldn’t get your parents to sign your permission slip.

Pain is spidering through your ribs and your appetite is waning, it’s hard to breathe, but the shift to the next news story distracts you just in time: This time the newscaster is talking about a goofy-looking spotted greyhound being trained as a service pet. The dog is cute and the newscasters put in a clip of it getting its long nose right up into the camera and licking it. Good stuff.

The human interest segment ends, making way for the weather report. You breathe out as quietly as you can.

Toriel walks back through the room on the way to set her dishes in the sink. She lifts her muzzle and frowns out the window: “Oh dear, it looks like it’s going to rain.”

You cut yourself another small slice of pancake and ferry it to your mouth. The silence in your head is making your ears ring.

 

 

School is a little lonelier since Toriel started to hire devoted teachers for each subject and your older friends have started branching out into different jobs. The winged mouse lady who teaches music is nice and the enthusiastic human teaching assistant who has taken over science classes is okay, but having Undyne teach everyone to sing and play piano felt really special, and even though Alphys often got distracted talking about whatever new anime she was watching, that was part of what made her classes so much fun. At least Sans still comes in from time to time to talk about astronomy and magic and math.

Gym is where you miss Undyne the most, though. The human who replaced her is overenthusiastic and strict and reminds you more than a little of teachers at your old school, the ones who had no patience for what they saw as “excuses”.

“Frisk,” he tells you today after you finish your gym laps last, “why aren’t you trying harder? You can do better than this.”

You raise your eyes to look at his frown and then let your gaze drop—your vision’s spinning, your back aches, your stomach is squirming, you’re sweating too much. You were trying. There’s only so much your body can handle after weeks and months of holding your breath but getting yelled at by your teacher could only add to your stress, you wanted to avoid this outcome. The frustration blurs your eyes. Your throat feels too tight and there’s an awful pressure in your sinuses, in your chest.

“Answer me,” the teacher presses. “I don’t want to have to take participation points off your grade today.”

“Yo,” says MK from over where everyone else is. A glance to the side says they’re all watching, makes your vision sway with sudden vertigo. “Give ‘em a break, Teach, they don’t look so good.”

“Shush,” says the teacher, but to his credit he leans down to frown into your face. “You can go to the nurse’s office if you really want, but if they say you’re just faking it you’re getting a zero.”

You realize what’s coming with just enough time left to turn your back on the crowd so that when you throw up nobody will see it and nothing will get on the teacher’s shoes.

 

 

Toriel takes a few minutes in between class periods to come visit you in the nurse’s office, solidifying your shame.

“The nurse says that you do not have the flu, at least,” she says, patting your hair. “Do you need to come home early? I think I can get Sans to watch you.”

I’ll be okay, the nurse said I can go back to class in a while, you say hurriedly. You do still feel awful and you do want to go home but if Sans is watching you how are you going to stealthily watch TV, get the paper and check the mail. What are you even supposed to say to Sans if he decides you’re acting suspicious.

“Have you been feeling poorly all day?” Toriel presses. You wish she would just go away, back to her students, stop trying to figure out what’s wrong, but thinking of Chara you doubt she will. (You wish you hadn’t thought of Chara—you definitely aren’t allowed to be mad at Toriel if that’s why she’s pushing, and missing Chara feels like getting punched in the chest, is very real waves of agony that spread from your heart to the tips of your fingers and toes and then roll back in like waves.)

I feel a little queasy and my back hurts a little sometimes, off and on, you tell her, which isn’t really a lie. It’s not so bad, you tack on, which is.

This makes her look thoughtful. “Well, you are at about that age,” she muses. “I have been reading up on human development, and that is what the books and the helpful websites say. Maybe you are going to start your ‘period’ soon. We can talk about it at home this weekend, when I will have time away from grading papers. Do you know what that is, Frisk?”

You nod, because you did visit the local Planned Parenthood for your health class earlier this year, before Mt. Ebott, to have doctors explain puberty to all the fourth graders. That day when you went home your parents sat you down and told you about your body, why your teachers always had you change for gym class by yourself instead of with the girls, that nobody could predict whether or not you would ever get periods until (if) it happened.

The idea that maybe you’ll actually be more normal than everyone expected should probably make you happy. You look up at the ceiling and clench your fists on the sheets. From experience you know you would be less dizzy if the nurses had let you lay flat but they all said you had to lie at an angle to help you not throw up again. It would be a blessing, at least, to know that your body will stop feeling quite this awful after a week or whatever and then you could just go back to being anxious and paranoid all the time without being nauseous and in pain too.

I’m not bleeding though, you tell Toriel. I went to the bathroom before you came in, I checked.

“Sometimes the symptoms start before the bleeding does, or so I am told,” Toriel says. “If you still feel sick, though, we may finally have to take you to a doctor.”

No doctor, you tell her. I’ll be okay. It’s not so bad. Please don’t worry about me. I’ll stay in class today and everything. I’m sorry for scaring you.

She gives you a dubious look that doesn’t make your squirming stomach feel any better. “We shall have to see about that, my child. I must get back to my own class now, but do come back to the nurse’s office if you start to feel unwell again. We shall take you home if you need it.”

Okay, you say, and smile at her on her way out. There is no way you’re allowing that to happen.

 

 

At lunch you scrutinize your carton of strawberry milk before opening it. There’s nothing interesting on it—there rarely is—but you remember the book your third grade class once read as part of your classic kids’ lit unit and ever since then there’s always been some morbid part of you that expects to see missing persons reports printed on one side.

Maybe you should have gotten juice instead.

Across the table from you Suzy is opening MK’s milk carton for them. MK themself is not paying much attention to this, instead chattering at you with wide eyes: “Man, gym class was gross, yo. Usually I’m glad Undyne’s not teaching us anymore, ‘cause that was super awkward? But she probably woulda listened to us and she wouldn’t’ve been freaked out by the barf. You shoulda puked on his shoes, haha, it’d’a served him right.” And, narrowing their eyes a little: “Uh, but if you think you’re gonna hafta do it again, aim in the other direction maybe?”

“You’re not helping, jerkface,” Suzy says, pulling the paper off their straw. She stabs it into their milk and turns it to face them roughly. “Maybe shut up unless you can stop being such a wang.”

“Don’t cuss,” MK says, lowering their voice. At least they’re thoroughly distracted and aren’t talking about you anymore; the noise and the smell of the cafeteria are making your guts feel squirmy enough as it is. “If the teachers hear you our whole lunch table is gonna get in trouble.”

“Stop being a farting butthole then,” Suzy says, her voice starting to raise.

You wave your hand at both of them to get their attention. I don’t think I’m hungry enough to eat my whole lunch, so do you guys want some of it?

“Sure, maybe,” MK says. “As long as like—you didn’t get sick ‘cause Ms. Toriel made you breakfast with anything spoiled, right?”

She didn’t, you tell them.

“Ow,” says MK, glaring sideways: Suzy must have kicked them.

“You can’t talk about their MOM like that,” she says heatedly. “Ms. Toriel is NICE.”

“I can if I don’t wanna spend science class RALPHING ON MY DESK,” they reply, getting dangerously close to yelling.

“Stop it,” you say aloud with enough force that both of them (as well as the kids sitting on either side of you) wheel around in surprise. “You’re not helping. It’s safe to eat. Do you want it, or not?”

“Yeah,” Suzy says, glaring sidelong at MK for just a second longer. “Sorry.”

“Yo, I’m sorry too,” MK says. “If you say it’s okay, I trust you.”

You give your grapes and your bag of cereal to Suzy, who will have an easier time eating them than MK, and your tube of yogurt and your mandarin orange (which you peel and strip of pith yourself first) to MK. This leaves you with a baggie of cut carrots and another one of teddy bear-shaped honey crackers, both of which you think will be mild.

Only once MK has gotten up to go join the other kids on the playground for recess do you take the butterscotch pecan muffin out of your lunch bag and slide it across the table to Suzy. She takes it furtively and peels the paper off the bottom, eating it with a lot of teeth and never taking her eyes off you like she half suspects you’re going to ask for it back.

Even though you know she’d rather go outside and climb the monkey bars or playfight the other kids, Suzy stays inside with you today, sitting next to you at the otherwise empty table. When the teachers go out to call in all the other students, you take advantage of nobody watching to hug her tight: She was trying to stand up for you, she definitely didn’t mean to make you feel worse. She hesitates for just a second, her heart stuttering against your chest, and then hugs you back with force.

 

 

“Oh, my dear child, you do not have to,” Toriel calls after you, but you just close the door behind you on your way down the driveway to the mailbox.

Monster Town still doesn’t get anywhere near the volume of mail that you used to fetch for your parents, but now that human mail carriers are starting to make the rounds, the mailbox is beginning to accumulate daily detritus. Usually there are paper ads and coupons for stores in Ebott City, sometimes flyers for events or postcards from charities asking for donations. And sometimes there are even real letters, from neighbors or parents of Toriel’s students or important people from the city.

All of today’s mail has her name on it, and none of it looks particularly ominous. You fold it under your armpit and scoop up the newspaper from the driveway, unfolding it with breath held to page through to the back. Your chest constricts, your vision grows distant, your fingers shake and the pain along the small of your back seems to spike. But you don’t see any familiar names in the back pages.

You fold the newspaper back to its original shape as finely as you can before returning to the house and presenting the day’s mail to Toriel. She accepts it and then frowns at you while you step on the heels of your shoes to pop your feet out of them and leave them neatly in the foyer.

“Frisk, you truly do not look well,” she says. “Your color is very poor. Are you feeling very queasy, still? Would you rather just eat something small and mild and go to bed?”

I’ll be all right, you try to reassure her, smiling, but the sound of crinkling paper and the way her knuckles stand out against the backs of her hands means you must not be all that convincing. But there’s no harm in taking it easy anyway, just in case. Thank you.

“It isn’t any trouble, my child,” Toriel says, but her forehead is creased and you feel wretched. What use, really, is all the effort you’re going to trying to keep her from worrying if it just gives her a different set of worries instead? “I promised that I would do my best to take care of you while you need it, and this is a natural part of that.”

You stare at your feet and nod. This is the entire problem.

 

 

Your bedroom gives everything away as soon as you open your eyes: It’s far too light in here to be the hour you usually wake for school, especially with the blinds still closed. You groan loudly, rolling onto your back and stretching your legs out, spreading your toes. The sheets—they’re cool at the end of the bed where your body heat hasn’t reached—get tangled between them as you relax your body.

“Knock knock,” says a voice at the door that isn’t Toriel’s, and you groan again even louder. A long pause goes here, and lasts until the moment is thoroughly soured. Sans must finally realize you’re not going to take the bait and humor his icebreaker awful jokes, because you hear him sigh and then venture, slightly louder, “You decent in there, kid? I’m comin’ in, so yell or text me or whatever if this is an… unfortunate moment for that.”

You pull the covers up to your chin over your pajama shirt and make a face. The door clicks open with more politeness than Sans has got in his entire body—you’re fairly sure he deliberately refused most of his natural share to have the room for a bigger funny bone. You consider tossing him that one, actually, but he’d enjoy it, and you don’t want him to think you like this situation at all. If only Toriel had woken you up on time: If you were in class right now you would at least have been able to watch the morning news.

Sans shuffles in, shuts the door behind him, and leans on it.

“Sorry, kiddo,” he says, shrugging and winking at you. “But you probably shoulda figured that your mom wouldn’t wanna let you go to school after yesterday. She worries.”

You take a deep breath and clench your fists to choke down several things that you are very sure you’d regret saying, even as you’d like nothing better than to dump all of them simultaneously onto Sans’ shiny skull.

I wanted to go to school, though, you say. There are so many things that I’m supposed to be doing.

“You can do those things when you’re feeling less under the weather,” Sans informs you, as if he actually means to take up Toriel’s Responsible Adult mantle. He is your dear friend just like all the other monsters you’ve spent so much time and shared so many meaningful moments with, but if you’re going to be honest with yourself you can’t think of anyone less fitting for the role. The last time Toriel asked him to look after you he kind of did jack shit. (You hear this in Chara’s dry voice, jack shit, endlessly snarky in the back of your mind. The unending ache in your chest swells to the point where you almost make a face.) “Your friends’ll still be there when you can go back to school.”

You’re a little less concerned with MK and Suzy and all the rest than you are about keeping tabs on the news, just so that you can know if the situation is veering towards a turn for the worse and you’ll need to come up with some way to defuse the potential conflict that would ruin everything. This… actually makes you feel a little bit rotten, more than just a little bit, because you love your friends and your classmates and school is still fun even without your grown-up friends there, minus the gym teacher who you don’t think you like anymore after yesterday. Even with the way that Suzy and MK fight sometimes, seeing them and having fun with them makes all of this feel… if not worth it, then definitely a lot more bearable.

But that doesn’t change the fact that this whole situation is a card house that could collapse in the littlest breath of air. You still have no idea what to do if your fears do come to pass—you have no idea what could possibly make everything right now, after all this time. Even so… is it really so terrible to want a little forewarning? You don’t think you’re asking for so very much, in the grand scope of things.

“Anyhoo,” says Sans, “your mom’s left mild breakfast and lunch for ya, which I’m under orders to feed ya, but only when you think you can stand to eat.”

Can I at least have my phone and watch TV, or am I confined to bed? you ask.

“You can lounge around the house wherever, but no gymnastics and no theatrics, and like, bring a trash can just in case you gotta hurl. Depending on what room we’re in I am theoretically capable of shortcutting you to the bathroom but, like, that could get tricky. Tori says no you can’t have your phone until after school lets out ‘cause she doesn’t want you texting your friends and distracting ‘em while they’re supposed to be in class. Also I dunno where on the world wide web you are and aren’t allowed to go according to Mom Decree and I don’t wanna get my bony butt kicked over letting you see anything gnarly, so I’ll be hanging onto it ‘til she gets back.

“As for TV, sure, as long as you got me sitting with ya to make sure you don’t go on pay-per-view or find a bunch of R-rated movies. Though, I thought all that’s on this time of day on weekdays is kiddie cartoons, talk shows, and soap operas.” His stare is now downright beady.

Your head hurts so goddamn much. It spikes up through your jaw almost like a toothache but seems to flow up through your temples over the dome of your skull in waves. Sometimes there are nice educational shows on public channels. And I like to check the news.

Sans looks at you critically. “Frisk, I feel like stressing yourself out worrying about politics is not gonna help your stomach settle. Ain’t that why you turned down Asgore’s job offer in the first place?”

It was one of the reasons, sort of, but you can’t get into that because Sans will absolutely press and not leave you alone until he gets the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so you just shrug. Sometimes they have nice stories about what Papyrus is doing.

And those must have been the magic words, because as soon as his little brother’s name comes up Sans softens. “Ahh, yeah, I miss that guy too. Last time he called he said he was actually gonna be home tomorrow evening. Think he mentioned he was gonna swing by your place and say hi, even though we’re all gonna be hanging out anyway on the weekend, so you’ve at least got that to look forward to, eh?”

You smile, tentative: That will be a boon.

“Anyway, c’mon,” Sans says. “Pack up a garbage can and let’s feed ya. We can argue over television after that, or I can help with your math homework or somethin’.”

What am I supposed to be eating for breakfast? you ask.

“Oatmeal, ‘cause it’s good for you, no bones about it,” he informs you. (You roll your eyes.) “And no, before you ask, you can’t have the dinosaur egg kind ‘cause it’s got too much sugar for a sick person.”

 

 

Staying stationary all day does not actually help that much. You feel dizzy and achey and have an on and off case of pins and needles all up and down your left arm that makes no sense because it’s not like you’re laying on it; sometimes you do get queasy, but you don’t throw up. There’s nothing on the news after all, and you ask Sans if you can at least go outside to get the paper, and he says it’s admirable of you to want fresh air but he’s got it, why do you care. You tell him the lie you decided on while half-watching and half-ignoring cartoons for kids several years younger than you, i.e. that you just want to read the comic strips, and he shrugs and says sure you can have the paper when he gets it.

You aren’t that hungry. Sans just Looks at you and tells you to be a pal and eat your food so’s he won’t get in trouble with Toriel later, and you eat a little bit just to get him off your back. Mostly you just lay on the couch and contemplate the fact that you really and truly feel like crap. The weather is nice out—Asgore would probably bring out the old rag about sun shining and birds singing and suggest a game of catch, if he were around. Normally you’d love that, or even just to go lounge in the shade and enjoy the breeze while watching Undyne bounce around and aggressively win at every sort of sportsball. If you felt well enough, on a nice day like this you’d normally want to go climb Mt. Ebott—to drop some presents through the hole for Flowey, not for the reasons you climbed it before. Now that you have a new phone, you’ve been saving your old one to give him. Even if he wants to stay underground after all, he’d probably be a lot less bored if he can text you and look at the internet.

But you definitely couldn’t make that sort of trek the way you feel now—even going outside to lounge sounds really unappealing. You already hurt lying on soft furniture and with a distraction; it would definitely be worse outside with nothing to do, even with a breeze. The idea of hiking for hours makes something inside you shrivel up and die where you’re pretty sure your determination used to go. Sans could hypothetically shortcut you there to drop a box off, but you aren’t actually sure if you could handle a shortcut right now without throwing up after, and Toriel might be unhappy with that. Plus that would mean you having to persuade Sans, and also you don’t want to find out if what’s wrong with you is contagious by giving it to Flowey, who has not even got anyone to take care of him down there. This is one trip that can definitely wait until you’re better.

…It occurs to you while you blink at dust motes and the ceiling that you’ve been feeling very, very bad for quite a while, and it’s been getting worse and worse.

You spend most of the day asleep, in short spurts between discomfort waking you up. It makes the events feel foggy and disjointed in your mind.

 

 

Still nothing on the news next morning.

 

 

The gym teacher lets you sit out today.

 

 

You zone out through most of math class.

 

 

Colorful spots across your vision make it hard to look at the smartboard in social studies.

 

 

It’s weirdly hard to breathe, like no matter how deep a breath you take your lungs aren’t pulling in enough oxygen.

 

 

You give most of your lunch to Suzy again so that she’ll push you on the swings. It’s comforting but disorienting too, like being tied to a carousel with the whole world spinning around you.

 

 

The pins and needles keep coming back.

 

 

After school you will get to lay down and

finally Papyrus will be here, and you will get to see him.

 

 

The day goes by as if you are watching it squinting one-eyed through a long cardboard tube.

 

 

There’s a steady knocking in your chest, a pulsing against your ribs like there’s something in there, under the layer of skin, nestled into the sinews, slowly but surely picking up its pace. You recognize it. Wearing Chara’s locket you often had an almost-hallucinatory feeling like it was beating against your chest like a second heart, as if their soul had been stuffed into it all this time and was resonating with your own. (It isn’t, you weirdo, they had said crossly at the time, and you know that because A, we have opened that thing, and B if I had my own soul we wouldn’t be stuck in this hideous Sharing Is Caring, It Can Be Fun! farce.)

The phantom second heartbeat is so familiar—so almost-but-not-quite comfortable—that you expect to be back inside the mountain, almost, to hear Chara’s voice again, and then for a split second you are back, moments after the final choice, and Chara is saying Well, a little sadly because it’s too late now and you damn well know it. Instead of berating you for being too much of a doormat they just tell you Good luck with a tender sincerity that even now stings your eyes with tears—

A furry hand touches your cheek and you jolt where you sit, your back and your chest immediately afire with pain. You were just in Toriel’s car vaguely considering the throbbing sensation in your ribs, but this is the living room.

“I am sorry for waking you, my child,” says Toriel’s voice from right in front of you, and you turn your head to meet her dark eyes all soft with concern. “If you are still feeling tired, you may go to bed if you would like. I fear that you have pushed yourself too hard going to school today after all.”

You smile at her. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you worry. You must have fallen asleep while you were spacing out—god, that’s embarrassing, and even worse, you must really have scared Toriel with your stupidity. At least you have an explanation this time for why your left arm feels so numb. You shake it out before continuing: I’ll stay awake. I know I need to eat dinner, and I’ve missed Papyrus a lot so I want to be here when he comes to visit tonight.

Toriel smiles back a little, but that crease between her eyebrows does not go away. “All right, my dear, but do not push yourself. We shall talk after dinner about whether you ought to stay home again tomorrow—your education is important, but your well-being is much more so.”

And she strokes your hair all gentle and lingering before standing up and turning to putter back into the kitchen. You are left by yourself to contemplate your disgrace in failing to get the newspaper, and probably failing to wake up in time for the evening news too; this is going to make it significantly harder to watch it later, between dinner and homework and trying to convince Toriel not to confine you to bed.

Contemplation time is happily interrupted by the doorbell, and you pull yourself up off the sofa to head for the door in slow steps while Toriel calls “Coming!”—you see her trot through the hallway across the room and then disappear behind the wall long before you even arrive at the table and lean back against it for a little rest.

Cheerful voices announce Papyrus’ arrival. Barely a minute later the ambassador himself comes scampering into the living room calling your name with arms spread wide. He’s got his COOL DUDE tank top on beneath fancy cloth suspenders that hold up skinny pinstriped slacks the deep green of old glass bottles and powder blue sneakers decorated in pink clouds and yellow sequin-encrusted stars—plus a brilliant smile. It’s such quintessential Papyrus. You smile back automatically, some of the tension that’s been wound up in your body for days upon weeks palpably loosens, and you sway up against his ribcage. He wraps both bony arms around you and draws you up to your tiptoes in a hug.

“Wowie, it is good to see you again!!!” Papyrus says, at a much gentler tone than his usual stage shout. “Traveling with King Fluffybuns and with the very cool and sexy Mettaton is of course extremely thrilling and we are getting an awful lot of good work done, but everything is still just a little bit lacking when I cannot hang out with my bestest and most wonderful friend Frisk.”

Here he lets you down so that you can reply properly, beaming directly into your face.

I missed you too, you say, very truthfully. Papyrus was the first close friend you’ve made in a long time—you became close with him even before you’d really managed to get friendly with Chara—and having a lot more friends now doesn’t make that any less special. You are glad that having gotten closer to Suzy has made the time he dumped you after one date sting less, but you think you’ll probably always still carry if not a torch for him, then at least a candle. You’ve been on TV a lot. They always make sure to play footage where you look really dapper, so I bet you’re getting really popular. It always makes me happy to see the newscasters say nice things about you, but I’m glad you’re home.

“You’re just trying to make me catch tears in my eyes again!” Papyrus proclaims, crossing his arms and tossing his head like an anime. “But it shan’t work!!!! Even though it’s very sweet of you to say so.” He stops pretending to sulk and tilts his long face slightly to the side, knitting his bony brows at you. “Frisk… while my brother has Ms. Toriel occupied, there is something I feel that I must talk to you about alone.”

What is it? you ask. From anyone else an opener like that would probably make you nervous, but this is Papyrus. He would never do anything to hurt you on purpose.

“I saw something on my latest trip to Ebott City that I wanted to ask you about,” Papyrus says, and then he takes out his phone to pull a piece of paper folded into a square from his inventory. He unfolds it meticulously, turns it around, and holds it out; you take it without thinking.

HAVE YOU SEEN ME? says the top of the paper in block letters. Underneath it is a slightly grainy color reproduction of your last yearbook photo. Beneath that it says Hana Mun, age 10, F and then in another line with text about half the size, centered beneath that: Also answers to Frisk.

The rest of the text on the page enters your head in a swarm—isn’t deaf but won’t speak to strangers. She can write or use American Sign Languagehas serious health problems that require daily treatment and we are very worriedmissing since May 2115 and, at the bottom of the paper, contact numbers for your parents and your shul and the Ebott City police. Something splatters on the page, warping it, and suddenly your vision is too blurry to see; your nose is too full of liquid snot to breathe through so you have to use your mouth instead. You think distantly that your hands are shaking. You feel like you’re floating away on a balloon like a cartoon, but also you’re way too aware of your feet getting sweaty in your socks. Your back hurts so much. Your chest is worse. You have pins and needles all over the place and your ears are ringing, full of rushing wind.

“What do you want us to do about this?” Papyrus asks. He’s speaking with a normal indoor voice, basically a whisper for him.

You shake your head and press your hands to your chest with the paper still in them. All you can think is also answers to Frisk. After everything. Your expression probably doesn’t bear describing.

“We can make this go away if you do not want to be found,” Papyrus says. “Or we can call any of those numbers if you want us to.”

“We can’t,” you manage to squeak. “It’s been so long. Wouldn’t it—wouldn’t it just get everyone in trouble? Wouldn’t everyone think that Toriel kidnapped me? It doesn’t matter how much I want to go home. It’s too late now. I’m—I’m not unhappy here. I miss my parents but I don’t want to be taken away and never see any of my friends again.”

“Frisk,” Papyrus says, and then stops and gets down on his knees so he’s no longer looming over you. “I knew that this must be very complicated, because I recognized the picture of you right away, but this flyer calls you a lot of things that you never asked to be called! Every monster knows exactly the name and pronouns you want to go by!!! I thought that I would understand if you wanted to stay away from parents that won’t respect that, because it is very rude of them!

“But if you say that you want to go home regardless… Is there more to why you decided to stay with Ms. Toriel?” What you can see of Papyrus’ face through the blurriness is very earnest and full of concern. “I only want to know about the whole story because you are my very great friend and I want to know the best way to help you now that I know you are being searched for!”

“You’ll just think I’m crazy,” you say. Your voice is cracking horribly. “Don’t know how to explain it without sounding crazy.”

“I most certainly shall not think you are ‘crazy’!” Papyrus says. “If it’s something you decided, you must have a good reason for it, the same way you do with everything you choose!”

What are you supposed to tell him? That from the time you fell into the underground until you left it some person from another world, some person whose name you don’t even know, was giving you and Chara directions and you just did whatever they told you because you were so overwhelmed you were having a hard time making choices for yourself? You aren’t stupid, you know how bad that sounds, everyone will just think you were hallucinating it and won’t believe you when you say the player’s been gone for a long time now. Could you even explain about the player without also telling everyone about Chara, even though Chara didn’t want you to tell anybody they were there?

“Frisk,” Papyrus says. “Nobody here wants to hurt you or pressure you. But if you want to at least contact your parents and let them know you are perfectly fine… we can find a way to do that!! A way that won’t get anyone in trouble!!! We can think of it all together!!! So… will you please explain everything to me? Even a renowned puzzle master such as myself is not… very good at this sort of puzzle. I do not want to make a bunch of wrong assumptions that will make my extremely cool friend whom I care about sad.”

“I—” Your jaw is throbbing now, making it painful to talk. Your whole body is flashing over hot and cold, your armpits feel soaked with freezing sweat. Really you should count your blessings that you aren’t feeling nauseous. This would be easier to try to do in sign but you can’t seem to uncross your arms from over your chest and the missing persons flyer. “I know—know how it must’ve sounded—kid who climbs the mountain nobody comes back from—knew they figured out I did it wanting to die—so of course they look at a kid who, who tried to kill themself and—and they thought that I must not’ve been safe at home, that it was so much worse than it really was, more like—like how Chara lived before, and why they hated humans, why they did the same thing as me—so when I wasn’t sure what to say to—to Toriel when we all went outside—they told me to stay with her and I just did what they said—I know they meant well—”

Blurred as your vision is by tears, the light suddenly intensifies until the world looks as distorted as a kaleidoscope. There’s a heavy thud and you realize distantly you’re not standing upright anymore. Then a hideous pain in your chest worse than anything you’ve ever experienced since you started to get sick. The rushing and the ringing is so bad. You can’t hear anything and you can’t see.

 

 

Presently you become aware of soft steady beeping noises—some high-pitched and some with a medium tone. They tap at your mind like hail on glass, except that the sound is a lot more annoying and bores into your mind until you rouse from sheer irritability.

More details filter in: There is a firm, almost painful pressure against the back of your wrist. You are lying flat with too-light cloth over your body. Your eyes feel crusty, as though they have not been open in some time. You are mildly hungry. Things in your chest feel very stiff, and there is some pain still. You are very muddled.

But this is still the best you have felt in some time.

People are talking, distant and muted, their words nearly impossible to make out. You raise the hand that has no discomfort to wipe your face and blink. The ceiling is tiled and has a few fluorescent lights scattered across it, turned low so that everything is dim. You are surrounded by nondescript mint-colored curtains hanging from a metal bar like a shower. The beeping is coming from behind you. You do not have the energy to sit up and turn around to look for the source.

“—sure it is best not to go after him?” your ears finally identify. That’s Toriel’s voice.

“He needs time to think,” says another voice—you cannot believe your ears. You must be lucid dreaming. There isn’t any way she could possibly be here. “We… we knew, for a long time, that school wasn’t… the best environment, that the teachers were a problem and didn’t know how to treat… to treat Frisk.” (Ah. You’re definitely dreaming, you decide, and relax.) “I used to—to hurt myself sometimes when I was a child—I didn’t always fit in, and my parents were strict, so I felt very sorry for myself all the time and wanted attention. I grew out of it when I grew up, so I… I know how this sounds, but I must have always assumed that she—”

“They,” Toriel says very gently but very firmly.

“They.” A pause. “I still can’t get used to that. I always assumed that Frisk would just grow out of it too. Preteens are just melodramatic that way—even as it got worse, I still kept convincing myself of that. I was in denial, I suppose.

“My husband thought that… that Frisk was being foolish, trying to stand out even more after everything. And I think that he… he took it very personally, to have the name that we chose after so much argument be thrown away like that. We didn’t—we didn’t want to give our, our child a white girl’s name. It was important to both of us not to. But it was hard to find one that we agreed on, he didn’t want it to sound too Japanese and I didn’t want it to sound too Korean… this doesn’t actually matter, does it? Maybe it’s just our arrogance as parents. To assume so much and be more concerned with the ideal vision of your own child in your mind, instead of paying attention to the realities of the person your child is becoming that don’t fit your perfect plans.”

Toriel doesn’t reply to this.

“We had such a fight about it in the end. I said some things that I’m not proud of. It still shocked me when Frisk ran away, even though I saw for myself how upset she was.” A small pause; a sigh. “How upset… they… were. So strange.” Another sigh. “But we both just assumed that Frisk would come back after a while—it’s not as if they had anywhere to go. It took a week for us to find the note and we still couldn’t believe it. But after another week went by and there was still no sign of them we both started to panic. We asked people at our temple, thinking maybe Frisk could have gone to someone there, and then to the police when no one had seen her anywhere. Them. I’m sorry, I’m not used to this.

“I spent so long being so afraid that someone had picked Frisk up off the street and… they were in trouble, because I’ve never known a child that docile and obedient, it was so easy to imagine some horrible person tricking them… But after so many months had passed I started hoping that that was the case, because it was better than the alternative. Isn’t that hideous of me as a parent?”

“I don’t know,” Toriel says, and sighs. “I had a son once, a very long time ago. I was with him when he died—it was slow, and he was frightened and in pain, but at least he had his father and me with him. If I had to choose between that and his being alive but separated from us, even hurt and in torment… I don’t know what I would prefer.”

Nobody says anything after that. Pain starts to spread in your chest again, the guilt of keeping quiet about Flowey weighing you down, and the beeping behind you that had been steady changes in tone to be quicker and louder.

There’s a sharp pain in your wrist like the times you’ve had to get your meds administered with a shot instead of a pill. The beeps behind you go back to normal and the pain eases. You can’t keep your eyes open.

The dream changes to climbing through a giant playground with soft cushions inside the tiny fake forts. Voices are calling for you, but you keep running away from them like it’s a game of hide and seek.

 

 

The pressure in your hand is gone when you wake.

“Frisk!” says Papyrus from beside you, and you squint at the ceiling for a moment—it’s the same as in that very clear dream, the tiles and the lights—before you turn to face him. He’s sitting at your bedside and seeming to almost vibrate out of his seat as he sees you respond, long hands clenched in fists atop his knees. “Thank goodness you’re awake!!! I was very bonetrousled when you collapsed in the middle of our conversation.”

Your arms feel particularly leaden, but you trust them more than your throat, which you don’t think could produce much more than a few squeaks what with how dry it feels. What happened?

Papyrus takes a long breath and relaxes. He is actually still wearing the same outfit he had been in when he came to visit you, but everything is so wrinkled that it has to have been more than one day since then. “Ms. Toriel and my brother and I rushed you to a human hospital after you lost consciousness! The doctors said you had something called a heart attack because you had too much stress hormone in your body. We… I,” he corrects here, “decided that we had to contact your parents to see what they knew, since it said on the missing persons paper that you had a medical condition that needed treatment. So they are… here now. I am very sorry that we were not able to do this on your terms, Frisk. I would not have done such a thing if your life had not been in danger and I understand if you are angry with me.”

You blink at him for a while. Maybe you had that dream about your mother because she was here while you were asleep and you heard her voice. I’m not angry. I’m just… I still don’t know how to explain this in a way that won’t get the monsters in trouble, or make me sound totally insane.

“We will figure out something if the time comes,” Papyrus says. “I will be on your side no matter what! And I am not the only one who will be. We will… we will do our best to keep your parents at a distance until you feel ready to see them.”

You fold your lips into your mouth and try to swallow. Thank you. You breathe for a while. Am I going to be okay? What… did the doctors say?

“Well, you will have to do rehabilitation therapy for your heart because the heart attack was not very good for it,” Papyrus says. “It apparently helps a lot that the doctors were able to talk to your parents since that way they were able to explain your medical needs that Ms. Toriel and the rest of us did not know about!!! They said that your body already makes high amounts of stress hormone because of your Eleven-Beta Hydro…thingy, so you had a thing called ‘hypertension’ already from not having your medication to take these past months, and then all the stress that you were under mentally made your body make even MORE stress hormone until you had the heart attack! But now that we know all of this about your congeniwhatsits with the long name that is hard to remember, Ms. Toriel will be able to get your medicine too so that you can still be healthy even if you go straight back to her house and don’t see your parents at all!”

That’s good to know, you tell him.

Papyrus smiles at you, and then hesitates, his face gone serious. “I… really should go find Ms. Toriel and let her know that you are all right,” he says. “But I don’t want to leave you alone, so I think I will just wait.”

You reach out to him a little. The back of your hand, you notice now, has gauze taped to it, like you had an IV in while you were asleep. I don’t want to be alone either, you tell him. If you’ll stay with me… I’ll tell Toriel that it was my idea, so she can get mad at us together.

“Well golly,” Papyrus says, blinking. His grin trembles as he takes your hand. “I truly am a lucky monster to have a friend as great as you.”

 

 

Toriel does not get mad after all, which is a relief if still anticlimax. She cries and hugs Papyrus and holds your hand, saying over and over how glad she is that you’ll be alright. You should not have put her through this, should have at least found some way to communicate that you needed your meds, but you can’t think of how you would’ve done that and without Chara and the player you can’t turn back time to fix your mistake anyway.

Doctors come eventually and explain to you the same things Papyrus did, but in more detail, impressing on you how foolish it was to go off your medication and that you Will be risking your life if you ever do so again. Nurses talk to you about what cardio rehab will be like and get you a protein shake and fruit gelatin to eat, and show you and Toriel and Papyrus how to unfold and use the wheelchair you will need to be put in to go to the bathroom instead of walking.

“I have talked with your parents,” Toriel says, “and they do wish to speak with you, but they have agreed to wait until you are ready.”

This is both good—you do not want them charging into your room without any warning—and very bad, because if left to your own devices you are extremely sure that you’ll just keep putting it off forever out of cowardice. But you don’t have Chara to gently needle you into doing what’s necessary or the player here to make the choice—and you know that the player might well make a wrong choice by accident if they were here.

So you have to cut off your own escape route by yourself if you want this to get done. I’m not ready yet, you say, hands shaking, but I’ll do it before they discharge me.

You throw up just a little that night from the nerves. It is even less fun than it was the last time—you have to tell Papyrus beside you that you need a basin, for one thing—but despite that, you feel better once it’s out.

You won’t have anyone to blame but yourself for the consequences, this time, but in its own way that isn’t a bad thing.

 

 

if they say anything mean 2 u ill fuking kill them, Suzy says. You do not really feel like smiling, but seeing her misspell “fucking” on purpose so that your chat client won’t turn the whole word into asterisks makes you feel lighter and the corners of your mouth have curved up before you realize it.

thanks, you send back.

i mean it ok dude????? ill eat their Whole faces off just watch me

Thatd be a little gross maybe lol, you tell her, but rly thanks a lot

wtever nerd Suzy says.

You set your phone down in your lap and take a deep breath. About to stand and shut the phone off so you can stick it in your pocket and face the meeting that lies ahead of you, instead you jump where you sit as it buzzes again in your hand. You lift the phone back up and look into the chat window.

Suzy has sent you a single purple heart emoji.

You press your phone to your chest. It doesn’t have a camera on that side or anything, your chat client doesn’t support video, but you’re still seized with the need to hide the heat in your face and the tears in your eyes from her.

So you scrub your eyes with the back of your free hand and pinch the bridge of your nose a little until you feel more under control, and only then do you lift your phone away from your chest and open up the emoji picker to send the sparkling heart one back at her.

You close the app and turn your phone off before you can lose your nerve, and stand. The phone gets jammed into your butt pocket, and you take a deep breath and pull the curtain back from around your hospital bed.

Toriel is standing by the door. She smiles a little when she sees you, and folds her hands in front of her. “Are you ready, my dear?”

You walk over to her and nod. She offers her hand. You put yours in it and squeeze.

Toriel leads you down the hall and to an elevator, pushing the button for the second floor. You watch the numbers on the display slowly tick down from eight to two. A couple of adult humans are waiting for the elevator when the door opens, but they stand back and smile and let the two of you pass. You smile and wave at them to thank them as Toriel leads you away.

She takes you down a hall and then turns left down another, until you come to a glass door. There’s a panel on the side that you know from your recent experiences as an inpatient is for people riding in or pushing wheelchairs to press to make the door open automatically. But you don’t have to use yours anymore, so Toriel just opens the door with the handle and leads you in.

It’s a nice room, you think. All warm pastels in the wallpaper and furniture, big windows with blinds partly lifted, some kids’ toys, one of those pianos that always seems to spawn independently in hospitals, one of those bead pushers that always spawn in hospitals too sitting on top of a table covered in magazines. There’s a very large flat screen TV on the wall that’s switched to a daytime talk show with the closed captions on. A remote control is hung next to it on the wall in a little holster, next to a very old-fashioned phone on a curly cable that you think must be an internal line. On the other side of the TV is a fire extinguisher locked in a case, and sitting on top of the narrow table underneath the TV are a couple of those little Nintendo consoles that come with a bunch of retro games on them, and wireless controllers that are currently attached to the systems to charge.

Toriel gently tugs on your hand to lead you further into the room, and you give up avoiding looking at the reason why you’re here.

Your mother has gotten up off one of the couches already and is standing awkwardly, fingertips jammed into her pockets; your father is beginning to lift himself off probably the same one she was sitting on, now that he sees you and Toriel approach.

This is the first time you’ve seen them in months, and it’s… odd. It’s been so long that you feel like you’ve forgotten details, can’t tell how much they’ve actually changed. Did your father used to have that much gray hair peppered up against his brow, obvious against the black? You knew he had wrinkles already, you think, but did his eyes used to have those bags underneath? They make his eyes look solid black instead of dark gray.

Your mother’s wedding ring on her pointer finger is familiar, but you aren’t sure if she had her hair all the way down to her waist before or not. You don’t recognize her shirt either but you aren’t sure if it’s new or if you just forgot that she had it.

Even as you’re watching them, squinting against the light coming through the windows, your mother crab walks clumsily between two sofas so that she has a clear path to you. Here she takes two steps forward and then abruptly stops.

“Frisk…?” she says as though uncertain.

Your breath catches in your throat and you clutch the front of your shirt. Your mother is using your real name.

Toriel pats your back gently. When you look up at her she’s smiling, a little wistful, and she nods like she’s telling you to go ahead.

“Frisk,” your mother says, and you take one hesitant step towards her, then another.

“Mom,” you say in a tiny voice, and she sweeps in and wraps her arms around you, hair falling about you like a shiny dark brown curtain. You can feel her fingertips in your hair at the nape of your neck.

“I’m glad you’re alive, Frisk,” she says. Her voice doesn’t break—she doesn’t like to cry in front of strangers, and Toriel probably still counts—but you think it almost quavers.

Your father’s sigh, muffled through the hair curtain. “You don’t have to encourage her.”

You can’t help it: You go rigid.

“Them,” Toriel says, mild in the way that you know full well promises trouble. Your mother straightens up enough that you can see Toriel and your father both, but she keeps a hand on your back, herding you close to her own body.

Your father presses his lips together tightly until his skin pales around them. “Are you the one who’s been putting Hana up to this, then?”

“Your child’s name is Frisk,” Toriel says, with a few ounces more steel. Her mouth is still smiling but her eyes are not. It’s the full force of her Disappointed Schoolteacher personality. “This is the name that they asked us to call them. It is the name that you yourselves put on your flyers, may I remind you.”

Your father breathes in through his nose. You can see his shoulders move slightly as if to brace himself to fight. “We are American enough that I don’t see myself as responsible for my wife’s last-minute whims. With all due respect, Ms. Toriel, you don’t understand anything. We went through so much work as a family to make sure that our daughter could be, would be, treated as a girl and not as some freakish fluke of genetics. We are Hana’s parents and we know best for her, we have cared for her since she was born. She does not need to be encouraged in her desire to be special in a way that’s going to impact her for the rest of her life. We don’t want her to be hurt or singled out any more than she already is.”

“Dear,” your mother says quietly. He looks at her, brows all beetled, but she doesn’t falter. “We can let her have a nickname. If she grows out of it she’ll grow out of it; if not, would that really do so much harm…? Frisk is still a child. Let her play with her name while she’s young if it makes her happy.”

“Mrs. Mun,” Toriel says in a voice like live coals, cutting off your father before he can make any sort of retort, “your child’s pronouns are they/them. We have had this conversation previously. It is nice that you are willing to respect their chosen name, but that alone is not enough.”

Your mother winces visibly, her hand squeezing against the fleshy back of your shoulder. “Yes. I’m sorry.” Her eyes flick to your father a little and then she looks down at you directly. “That—that really is what you want, Frisk? To be a they? This isn’t just something that your monster friends have gotten you into?”

Your heart is beating very hard in your chest. I don’t ‘want to’ be a they, you say, your fingers shaking. I AM one. I felt different from other people for so long but when you explained to me about being intersex and I started looking it up on the internet the stuff that I found made a lot of sense. I’ve known since before I met Toriel or any of the others. I TRIED to tell you and Dad before. You just wouldn’t listen.

“This is not,” your father says, “a decision that you get to make. You ‘looked it up on the internet’? You’re saying this as if we haven’t? All the doctors we talked to, all the experts, told us you would be happier as a girl, that most people with your condition are perfectly content that way. Your teachers treating you differently, excluding you from the girls as if a little more testosterone makes you a predator, is discrimination, it’s disgusting. They have no right. You deserve to be normal, and happy, and safe.”

You step away from your mother, back towards Toriel, who encircles your shoulders lightly with an arm. I am NOT normal, you say. I don’t WANT to be normal. It HURTS to try to be normal. I can’t see in bright light and talking out loud all the time is so hard and tiring and no one at school even says my deadname right ANYWAY and my body looks a lot different from cis girls’ bodies and I am NOT cis. I am NOT A GIRL. I don’t WANT to be a girl OR a boy. I am something else and being something else feels SO MUCH BETTER. God, you want to just pick up something heavy and fucking throw it, but you can’t because then your parents WOULD tune you out, just assuming that you’re having a meltdown. They always take that as their signal to treat you like a misbehaving toddler. If you keep trying to make me be something I’m not and don’t want to be, this time I swear I’ll kill myself in a way that STICKS. I would rather die than be a girl. You can’t make me. Even if you try I’ll just go to court when I turn sixteen and have them change my name and all my legal documents ANYWAY, because that’s when the law says I can and it’s been the law since before I was born.

Your mother is very pale and has both hands covering her mouth, the knuckles white. Your father shuts his mouth, the angry redness that was in his face starting to recede.

“Frisk,” Toriel says gently, “we can go back and continue this discussion another day if you would like.”

You don’t answer. You just stand still and swallow, clenching and unclenching your fists. You do want to leave, but—if you walk away now you know with absolute clarity that you’ll hate your parents forever. That isn’t what you wanted at all, coming here.

“I’m sorry,” your mother says at length. “It will… take me some time to get used to it, I’m afraid, but I’ll take the time, and I will get used to it. I… your father and I both agree on this—we do not want to treat you like our parents treated us. I think that… I think that this should be up to you to decide.”

Your father shakes his head a little but doesn’t argue back out loud.

I’m sorry too, you say. I miss you a lot, I miss so many things about home, but… I don’t think I can go back just yet. Not until you and Dad are willing to accept me for who I am. I still want to see you sometimes. I know I’m going to get really homesick again. But I want to stay with Toriel until I know I’ll be safe with you.

This time your father is the one who winces. “Hana—”

Toriel and your mother both stare at him. He scowls and seems to chew on his words for a moment.

“You,” he says—stubborn to the end, as always— “can take more time. If you want. Things are… things do need to change. Your mother and I have gone back to marriage counseling. We can… we can talk to our counselor about this, and about other things. But whenever you decide to come home our hope is to make it a better one than before.”

You nod. Okay. And you take a deep breath. Mom, Dad… even if I go back to living with you, I still want to be with my friends as much as possible. I like the school that I’m going to. My grades are so much better than they used to be when I was at human school—and Toriel has passed all the state standards, her school counts as a real elementary school and I’ll be able to go to middle school after it. I like it here. I have friends at school and I have friends all over Monster Town. I want to start going to temple again and all, but I want to keep going to school in Monster Town and if I can’t do that I won’t go back home.

“We can talk about it,” your mother says. “I want to know more about Ms. Toriel’s school before your father and I say yes to that, but if you’re doing well and you’re not having the kinds of troubles that you did in our local school, that’s wonderful news.”

You rock back on your heels. So I can still stay with the monsters? You won’t complain or try to take me back?

“You are our—child,” your father substitutes for the wrong word he seemed about to use. “I said that I want you to be safe. If you are so unhappy and unhealthy in our household that you’re threatening to take your own life and that isn’t just an… an empty threat, then you would not be safe there. I want to be able to make sure that you’re safe, even if you don’t live with us,” he says, looking at Toriel with warning in his eyes, “but that is something we should be able to negotiate.”

“Yes,” Toriel says. “I hope that it will be.”

You slump into her side. All your energy is leaching away, dripping invisibly from your body like water.

“But for now,” she continues, glancing down at you, “I believe that Frisk needs to get some rest. They have been very sick for a very long time.”

Your mother nods. “We’ll be in touch,” she says. “And we can come to the hospital even on short schedule if you need us for anything. You have our work hours so you know when we’ll be available.”

Your father scratches at his hair and comes to stand next to your mother. He puts an arm around her shoulders and she leans in to him a little. “Take care,” he says, brusque.

You feel very strongly that you should go to hug your parents right now. But at the same time you feel that you really really do not want to, so you just lift your left hand to wave at them. “Bye,” you say, your voice tiny in the big room.

Toriel takes your right hand. You look back only once as you’re turning, and then not again as she leads you from the room.

 

 

The ride back up to the eighth floor is quiet. You and Toriel are the only people in the elevator.

Somewhere around the sixth floor Toriel says, “I had wondered just a little, when Papyrus told us about your parents and that you wanted to see them again, if—if you only said you wanted to stay with me because… because you were trying to be considerate of me, of the children I had lost.” She is quiet for a little while. The elevator dings for floor seven as you pass it. “But I suppose that wasn’t true at all, was it.”

No, you say. Toriel’s voice and face are both very sad. It wasn’t.

 

 

You sit on your hospital bed and immediately hop back up so that you won’t break your phone, which you pull out of your pocket. You change into your pajamas and lie down on your right side, and then roll over onto your left because one of the nurses said that’s better for your heart.

Your chat client, when you’ve got your phone back on, says that Suzy is still online, so you pull up the keyboard and type good news u dont have to eat any faces

uh she types, and then Good i?????????????? guess?????????????????????? ? ? they werent like…….. TOO garbage about anything tho right

they were kind of a little bit garbage, you say (Suzy quickly interjects an ILL FUKING FIGHT THEM while you’re typing your next line), but it went better than i was worried itd go? & at least i got to see them at all

if u say so, says Suzy. You kick your feet imagining her skeptical expression, eyes hidden in her hair and muzzle wrinkled to show some sharp teeth. Hope u can come back to school soon, mk is a butt full of farts and poop w/o u to tell them to shut up

You smile and roll onto your back, curling your legs up so that your knees are elevated. i miss you too you say, and add the sparkly heart emoji.

Shut up Suzy says, and then almost a minute later she adds a heart too.

You set the phone screen down on your chest. Its weight is a little uncomfortable, but it’s still warm.

Speaking of phones—remembering an old obligation, you pick it back up and add: hey Suzy

Ya

once the doctors say i’m healthy enough do u wanna go hiking with me?

Hitting send makes your heart start racing again. It is still a little bit painful—when you had your heart attack part of the muscle literally died, and the rest of your heart has to work a lot harder to make up for the fresh scars. But it’s nowhere near as painful as it was when you were trying to manage this whole horrible crisis by yourself.

ok LOSER, Suzy replies—quickly, instead of keeping you hanging. if you insist on it, fine, we can go on a date

You send her a whole line of hearts and mess the sheets up kicking your feet some more. Still, you wait for her to sneak in her one-heart response like she thinks you’re not looking before you actually shut off your phone.

Maybe—maybe—you have actually managed to turn this mess around in your favor, despite everything.