Now that half of Gerson's customer base was dust and the rest had fled to the capital, business was getting to be downright dismal. Whole days went by without any customers, unless you counted the occasional lost Temmie that wandered in after forgetting where she lived.
He never considered closing the shop. It gave him something to do with his time, an excuse to get out of that stuffy old house for him and his guest both. She didn't say much when he first invited her—all right, more like he told her—to tag along, but he left, and she followed. He figured it might do her some good to help push around boxes and sort through old junk instead of staring at the wall for hours on end. At the very least, she could stare at a different wall for a change.
It helped, a little, maybe. There was no special moment where her old self came back out, nothing like that, but there were little flickers of somebody in there. She started talking again, some days, which he thought was a good sign. And if ever there was an expert on luring monsters out of their shells, it would be him, now wouldn't it?
Bah. Maybe if she was another turtle, and supposed to have a shell, it might have been that easy...
With so few monsters passing by the shop, the ones that did come in seemed especially noisy. Or maybe they really were just that loud, since even he could hear 'em before they came in.
"Oooh, look at these!" squealed one kid, twisting her head all around to try and see through a battered old pair of glasses with swirly lenses. Her friend, an alligator with a mess of blonde curls, looked up from the tea box in her hands.
"Catty, those are basically—"
The one named Bratty, the alligator, cracked her gum. “What kind of a friend would I be if I wasn’t, like, completely truthful?”
“…Hey, what do YOU think?”
“…Yeah, what DO you think?”
They turned to a third monster, who'd been busy trying to light up a cigarette with fire magic. "Huh? Uh..." His eyes darted around, nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Mostly ‘cause he was a long-tailed cat. “They’re… literally just weird-looking old glasses???”
Off went the weird-looking old glasses. “Bratty, you’re both like BREAKING my HEART.”
“Hey, I never said they were—”
“Not-cute or anything…”
On went the weird-looking old glasses. “…So, do you guys wanna get milkshakes later?”
“Ugh… can we not go to Grillbby’s? Snowdin is way too creepy, and that bunny girl’s TOTALLY gonna be—”
“Oooooh, wasn’t she the one that was like—”
“…a huge downer? She keeps posting on Undernet about how this guy that she liked disappeared, so he’s totally… you know…”
“That’s, like, a downer.”
“A WICKED downer.”
The alligator cracked her gum even louder than before.
The girl-cat stuck out her claws to inspect her nail polish. “…Ugh. Just talking about that stuff is, like, bad vibes.”
“SUPER bad vibes.”
“The WORST vibes.”
She bounced to her feet. “Hey, wait!!! We SO should invite her along anyway, then we could have, like—”
“A fourth wheel?”
“—a double DOUBLE date!!!”
“(This was a date?!?!)”
“…Ooooh, maybe that would cheer her up?”
“And we could totally set them up!!!”
“…Catty… I thought YOU thought Burgerpants was cute?”
The other cat’s fur poofed out as he nearly swallowed his cigarette.
“Hgggkk… you guys actually… Wait, that’s not my real name—!”
“Sharing is caring, Bratty! SHARING IS CARING!!!”
(In less than a minute, they said all that. Did monsters ever talk so fast when Gerson was a kid? He was half-deaf, now, but there was no way even his younger self coulda kept up.)
By the time the kids left, the first cat was still wearing those old glasses, the alligator was furiously typing something into her cell phone, and the second cat was puffing away on his cigarette as he groused about vacation time. Gerson's ears rang.
At the back of the store, from the top of a big crate, came a raspy cough.
“Smells like... freaking... catnip. Blegh.”
If he were the paranoid type, he might've worried that he'd finally gone loopy over these past couple of weeks, ever since his "guest" showed up on his doorstep, naked and melted around the edges and gibbering to somebody that wasn't him. She could hardly limp three steps before losing her balance or tiring out, yet she somehow managed to vanish the instant another monster came along. The possibility of her being a hallucination didn't much bother him, since if she was real, she was real, and if she wasn't, well, he might as well keep behaving otherwise, since there was nothing he could do about it... though that would be real embarrassing, now wouldn't it? Finding out that she was nothing more than a senile old turtle's imaginary friend, after he'd already sent that note to the queen... wah hah!
“You coulda kicked him out before he lit up.” Gerson dropped a handful of change in the till. “I wouldn’t have stopped you.”
Undyne reached through a gap in the crate's lid and pulled out an artifact, a rounded glass whatsit that sent out green sparkles in the light. Some of 'em were just worthless baubles collected during his adventuring days, but the mystical ones tended to open locked doors, do funny things to your stats, or just up and explode if you arranged them in the wrong order... or the right one, if you were in the right mood. Hell if he could remember which ones were which, though.
"Don't... wanna... let them see," she said, coating the glass orb with slime as she rolled it from hand to the other. Like a bar of soap, it jumped from her hands and dropped back into the crate. There was a sharp crack and a puff of smoke, which was less reminiscent of soap. It also smelled like green apple pie.
"Huh, so that's what that one did," Gerson said. Undyne grimaced apologetically.
"...Anyway, c'mon now," he went on. "The toughest monster in all the Underground is scared that some kids might think she looks funny?" He almost pointed out how much like a kid she sounded herself, since the last time she'd used that exact phrase, she was no more than 13 and all self-conscious about her scales changing color. But certain monsters got real touchy about that kind of thing, scale color or horns or what-have-you. He could never relate.
Undyne descended into a sullen silence, poking at something else in the crate. Bah, so much for trying to be sensitive.
"...Well, you know what I mean."
She burbled something under her breath.
From out of the crate, she managed to find a shard of the broken orb, no longer glowing. She tried to drop it back in, but it stuck to her hand until she scraped it off.
“Not… tough. Never… was.”
Undyne bent over the kitchen sink, twisting her neck to fit her head under the spout as she scrubbed at her hair. Gurgling, bubbling noises drifted up from the drain, the likes of which Gerson had never heard before.
"We have a tub, y'know." He picked up an echo flower, twisted off the blossom, and set the rest aside on a mound of leaves and broken stems. You could eat those parts too, but they weren't much good for sea tea. "...Or if you're concerned about the water bill, there might be a lake somewhere around here, if you look hard enough."
Expressionless, like she hadn't heard a thing, Undyne wrung out her hair, until the sleeves of her sweater were soaked and dripping from the stray drops of watery sludge. He could've made a fuss about the plumbing getting ruined, but her hair dripped everywhere even after she ruined all his towels trying to get it dry, just as she left slimy smudges on everything she touched, so he'd just accepted the mess in the same way he accepted the onset of back pain: better than the alternative.
He spun the tray of petals around to look for a bare spot on the foil, and found none. The echo flower in his hand whispered incomprehensibly. "You want some tea? Looks like we'll have some left over."
Undyne let her hair fall from her hand and hang limp like soggy seaweed against her shoulder.
He gave her a minute, but got nothing back. It happened sometimes, she just sort of zoned out for no apparent reason, staring off at nothing.
...Bah. Having watched her grow up, it seemed like Gerson should've been able to guess at what she was thinking, but silence (meaningful or otherwise) was normally so rare from her that he didn't know how to interpret it. He pushed himself out of his chair with a grunt. "Well, suit yourself. I'm still making some."
Undyne slid just far enough out of the way for him to get to the sink and fill up the teapot, picking at the frayed ends of her hair, the stained spot on her sweater underneath.
"Changed your mind?" he asked.
"Do... you. Remember. What the... surface... looks. Like."
"...Huh? The surface?"
"The surface world... I remember it about as well as I remember most things, I suppose." He lit the stove with a bit of fire magic. It didn't come any more naturally to him than it did to that cat with the cigarette, but he'd had a whole lot more time to practice. "...But you might as well ask what a monster looks like."
Undyne scowled to herself, like she was trying real hard to remember something too. "Around... here. I. mean. Like... around... the moun...tain."
Gerson scratched his scalp beneath the pith helmet. Aside from some smart-aleck kids trying to find a quick shortcut to finishing their history homework, he hadn't had much reason to think about the surface in a long time. Nobody else was old enough to have even seen it, except the king. Plus old Fluffybuns' smarter half, but if Toriel was ever going to return, she would've done it by now. "Hmmm... lots of trees. Cedars, mainly, though if the humans kept cutting 'em down at the rate that we all were, there might not be so many left. Ebott's the biggest mountain around here, everybody knows that, and there were smaller ones off to the north... northwest, too. Anything more than that... I couldn't tell you. Doubt any human villages are still where they used to be."
"There's a... city," Undyne said. "And... the beach... is... past there."
"Nah, the humans had settlements all over, but nothing you'd consider a 'city' even by Underground standards. The ocean's that way, though, you're right. Did Asgore tell you about it?"
The water bubbled. Undyne slid further out of the way so he could take down two mugs from the cupboard.
"Just a guess, then?"
Gerson looked at her, tried to figure out if something in particular was bothering her. Was it that he'd mentioned Asgore? Back when she'd first reappeared, she'd kept rambling about hurting a monster, and how he needed to tell the king, and the guard, because she "wasn't going back". When she was a little calmer, he'd broken the news to her about Asgore and her troops, but then she'd just nodded sadly like she already knew. He didn't know what to make of it at the time, but pursuing the topic of what had happened to the Underground inevitably led to mentioning Alphys, and that had had, er, mixed results. When he first asked if she needed help from somebody, maybe that doctor friend of hers, the answer... it wasn't a yes.
Undyne limped to the table, grabbing into the edge to pull herself into the chair. Halfway sprawled out, halfway folded up, trying not to melt on the tray of flower petals which she hadn't been able to help him gather. He appreciated the thoughtfulness, even if she still got the table a little grubby.
"I remember. The way it. Was. When we... got... out." Undyne waited, as if for some kind of validation, but Gerson was too busy wondering if he'd missed something. "Don't... you?"
"I, er, can't say that I do. When was that?" he prompted, bringing over the two cups of tea.
Undyne let her head tip to one side, at the kind of angle that seemed like it should've cracked something, as she squinted into the cyan steam rising from her cup.
"Now. ...Not... now, but... it's... what was supposed to... happen. Frisk... broke the... barrier. Without killing... anybody. Even when we... tried... to kill. Them. Mostly... uh. Me. ...A... lot."
"...Hhehhh." Her expression twisted, her fingers squirmed like they had a mind separate from hers. Gerson waited.
"They... wanted to... be friends. Instead. And I didn't, but... they were... NICE... all the... time. Hardly... fought. Ever. And they... broke the... barrier. Some. Somehow. We got out, and... all the other humans... were scared of us at first, 'cause... they thought we'd... make them sick, after we... were gone so long. Or... s-some...thing. We... almost fought, but... when they saw... Frisk was okay, it... made them... not worry so much. And they... listened to them, and... they were willing to... make peace. It... took a long time, but we... all left... every...one... down here... went to the... surface. And, Frisk... nobody... knew who their... parents were... and they didn't... say. So Toriel... adopted Frisk... for real... later. And... Papyrus and Sans lived with... them."
Gerson slowly sipped his tea. This was the most that Undyne had ever said to him since that last day, when she came rushing into his shop in all her armor and tried to make him evacuate. And, all right, she was rambling about Toriel and humans and the surface, but it seemed like something of a breakthrough nonetheless.
"Frisk..." he said, carefully. "That was the human..?"
All righty, then. "And Sans, he was the one that you said that you..."
Undyne stopped to cough into her sleeve, breathing ragged. The tea might've helped, anything made with echo flowers was good for the throat, but she didn't touch it. "He... wasn't supposed to... he... ...every...thing that... happened, this... this time... ...The humans... figured out why... he's... so short, and... weak. Ost... ost... ...something. Don't know the... name. They knew how to help... Papyrus, he was... really happy... about that. They liked... Alphys... 'cause she was smart, and... knew how to... invent stuff they... needed. 'Cause they... messed up the air, a, a long time ago, and... I don't... know... that, either. But it... made her a heroine, to... them. Asgore wanted to... turn himself in, 'cause of the other... humans... but they, decided, not to... do any, anything. They liked him, too, and... they were really... curious... and about Toriel, too, and... you, too. 'Cause you're... uh. Really. Really old."
"Sounds about right, hah."
"Napstablook... got to be with their cousin, again, and he had the... show, he wanted... that... snowdrake kid, he... went back to his family... Toriel... got to be a teacher... I was one too. It was... pretty fun, but kinda boring, but... that was okay. Didn't. Want to... do anything... really dangerous, since... Alphys and I..."
Her voice cracked, and she coughed again, trying to catch her breath. It took longer this time.
"...Frisk... had this... power... that nobody... knew about. Everyone was happy, but they... went back to, when they... first fell. And instead of... making friends, they... killed... everyone instead. If they wanted, they could've just... killed... their mom, and... me, and... M, Mettaton... I guess. But they went back... erased everything that happened... everyone... ...they killed monsters that... never hurt them. Yuuya wasn't even... ...but... Frisk... still... went... back."
Undyne looked up at him, expectant. Having lost the thread of what she was talking about at least five minutes ago, Gerson had nothing to say. He clicked his beak. How long had she bottled up this... well, whatever-it-was? Some kind of nice dream.
"I never called you a liar, little guppy."
"Well, it takes one to know one, eh?"
Undyne narrowed her eye, then deflated. She slumped in her chair, pressing her hands flat on the table. Her tea had to be cold by now. "Everything... after... even what I... did... ...can't tell Asgore, now, but... it's... all, 'cause... of Frisk. When they... come back... again... I'll... kill them," she whispered. "Make up... for it... then."
The sink quietly gurgled. Through the kitchen window, gems twinkled in the cave walls. Gerson took a long sip of his sea tea.
Monsterkind had survived the human—Frisk, whatever their name really was—just as it had survived certain other humans who wanted to do as they'd done, and hunger, before they were all able to figure out what crops would grow underground, and war, but...
"Hope it never has to come to that."
"I'll... kill... them. Get out. Of here. And find them. Whatever... it takes..." Undyne repeated to herself. Her hands curled into fists. "I'll... kill... them."