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Heart of the Summer

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It was so fucking hot outside.

Like, it wasn't even normal summer heat. I'd been there long enough to tell that. It was the kind of heat that wasn't just hot, it was sticky. It clung to your clothes and made you feel heavy and miserable, even though the sky was a brilliant blue. If I were superstitious, I would have taken it as a sign, but right about then my brain was boiling too much for me to think about it.

Of course, it would have helped if I'd just taken off my damn sweater, but that was entirely out of the question. I was a scrawny seventeen year old; there was no way I was chancing a dance with social anxiety just to be temporarily cooler. My friend Susie? She had no such qualms, and had shown up without her regular baggy jacket for the past week or so, opting instead to let the scales on her forearms shine in the sun streaming through the classroom windows.

So I was sitting there, zoning out, when I got a rough poke in the back. “Kris!”

I jumped. “What?”

Said friend Susie gave me an annoyed look. “I've been trying to get your attention for two minutes now, ya spaz. Class is over! Let's get ice cream or something!”

The spot on my back was a little too sore for just the one jab. “It is sweltering. Leave me alone.”

“Take your damn sweater off.”

“No!”

“It's like you want to die.”

“And when do I ever not want to die?”

“Fuck off.”

This was our banter. We were friends, I swear.

In any case, we did agree to get ice cream, and after each of us shot a text to our mothers, we were on our way. Outside, the sun absolutely fried my nose, sending sweat pouring down my face and back. I didn't say anything about it, obviously, but Susie was far more perceptive than she cared to let on. “Quit squirming. You look like Rouxls dropped worms in your pants.”

“That's an image I didn't need. Thanks.”

“No problem.” She tossed aside a drenched lock of my hair. “Seriously, take off the sweater. You're gonna pass out.”

I blinked the sweat out of my eyes. “Never. You'll never get me to.”

“Is that a challenge?”

“It's a promise.”

“What if you were in a pool? Would you take it off then?”

“No. I'd sit and let it soak in all that glorious chlorine.”

She thought about that. “Well, that's a shame.”

I didn't want to ask why. I didn't. I wasn't going to fall for it. “Why?”

“Nothing.” She shifted her bag on her shoulder. “It's just that I was planning on skipping school on Thursday to go to the pool in the city, when no one else will be there, like I do every year. You were gonna be invited, too, but since you won't take off the sweater, they wouldn't let you come in the water, so there would be no point.”

Hmmm, my interest was piqued. “Why Thursday?”

“Are you kidding? Friday would be way too busy, being the last day of school and all. That pool may be big, but it's not big enough for both me and the rest of the world. Plus, the adults piss me off.”

An enticing opportunity, to be sure. But, like I did with a lot of unimportant things, I weighed all my options. One one hand, I'd be breaking my promise that I'd never take off my sweater in public. On the other hand...well, there were quite a few things on that other hand, a few of which weren't exactly the cleanest. “You make...a tempting offer.”

“Oh, was it an offer? Sorry, the space is closed.”

“Wait, but I wanna go!”

“Nope! Dorks who show skin only!”

Ah. So that was how it was. I remember the day my dignity died...

“So? What'll it be?”

“...I'll leave the sweater at home.”

“Sweetass. Meet me behind the main school building Thursday morning, and bring bus fare.”

“You got it.” This was going to be fine.


It may have been technically fine, but it sure didn't feel that way.

Sure, I'd packed my swim gear instead of my books in my bag, double-checking before going to bed that night. Sure, we weren't actually doing anything in class that day since exams were long gone and Ms. Alphys seemed to just have run out of fuel. But skipping school on purpose felt oddly wrong, and to go to the city of all places. On my own. With a friend. To a place I'd actually never been before.

We sure were kicking off the summer with a bang, weren't we?

Walking up to the building, I pulled away from Mom with one last hug before she headed inside, while I milled around in the crowd of my peers before making my way around the back. Sure enough, Susie was waiting for me. Winking, she led me back around to the front, pretending to wander into the school, before breaking away and leading the way up to Main street. The old rusty bus stop, still usable, hung forlorn on the lightpost, as if it were waiting to finally be noticed.

Mood, bus stop.

Finally, the bus pulled up, its sign flashing its destination of CITYSCAPE. Trying to cover up my remaining nerves with chivalry, I gestured for Susie to board first.

“Nah, scaredy, you're goin' first.”

God. Damn it.

And so we boarded.

The bus ride was...longer than I felt it had any right to be. There were what felt like miles of farmland stretching on either side of the highway in between the Exiting Hometown sign and the Welcome to Cityscape one. It struck me in that moment just how far removed my hometown was from the rest of the world. Maybe I should have noticed earlier, but I guess I just didn't appreciate the ride before.

Susie didn't care. She spent the entire ride on her phone playing with something that she refused to show me. Ah, well.

Eventually, our ride pulled up to a place Susie said was our stop, so we got up, thanked the driver, and unloaded our noodley legs. I stomped feeling back into my toes while Susie looked up and down the street. “Huh. That pancake shop wasn't there before. Anyway, the pool's down this way.”

It took another ten minutes or so of walking before we reached the pool, and by then we were more than ready to swim. Man, the amount of trees in Hometown had seriously pampered us for shade, because somehow the heat was even more relentless here. Stepping inside the changing rooms was a relief. I didn't want to leave.

No, seriously, I really didn't want to step back out. I had promised I'd leave the sweater at home, and guess whose scrawny pale ass was now on full display? Well, okay, it's not like anyone else was at the pool, other than the lifeguard, who appeared to be asleep.

Fuck it. It was 10am on a Thursday. I had come this far, and dammit, I was gonna swim.

Of course, I didn't take as long to change as my companion, so I ended up sitting on the steps to the shallow end, waiting for her to emerge. The water stung my skin with cold at first, but eventually it felt totally fine. Susie was right, wearing that sweater all the time was going to kill me. This felt great.

And speaking of—

“YEET!!”

There was water in my nose. And my hair. And my eyes.

I pulled myself back to the surface. “This is the shallow end!!” I cried out. “What are you doing?!!”

She just gave me an unapologetic grin. “Diving.”

“Why are you like this?!!”

No answer. Of course. We pulled ourselves back to the stairs, completely soaked now, and sat back down.

Susie gave me a once-over look. “Damn, you're pale as hell.”

“Okay. Not necessary to point that out, but thanks.”

“No wonder you're weak, dude; you don't have any of that good vitamin D.”

I reeled myself back from making an easy joke. “Wouldn't look much better with a tan, either.”

“Whatever, man. I think you should be glad you can even get a tan, but eh.”

“You can't?”

“Normally, nope. Scales.”

“What would purple skin with a tan even look like? Darker purple?”

“I guess we'll find out today!” She stuck her leg out in my direction. “Feel it; I just shed last night.”

I looked. It was hard to tell under the water, but there didn't seem to be any scales. On her leg. Her bare leg. It was at that moment that I finally noticed her bathing suit. “Uh...”

“Kris, it's just a leg. Chill.”

“That's not—uh.” She was really wearing a tankini, huh?

She realized what I meant. “Dude, it's not worth mentioning. I don't even have anything to make the view worth it.” She gestured to her totally flat chest. “Lizard's gonna lizard.”

“Wh...” A lot of things I probably should have realized earlier started to click. “Ohh, wait...so were you, like, born from an egg or something?”

The look on her face was, although confusing, kind of priceless. “What? No!”

“But—”

“We're born like everyone else! You weirdo!”

“I...then—”

“Don't ask.”

“I'm asking.”

“Dammit.” She rubbed her temple. “Look, it's kind of stupid. I'm just weird, I guess, and ended up like this. Like how humans end up looking the way they do.”

“...Go on.”

“My parents look super cool. They have nice figures, tails, wings, the whole thing. Me, I stick out like a lump next to them.” She kicked at the water. “But it's fine. I've made up for my lack of awesome with the sheer inability to care about it. I wear what I want and do what I want.”

You didn't even answer my question. “No limits.”

“No. Limits. Actually, we've been just sitting here and limiting our pool time; might as well get to it!”

The next hour and a half were...pretty fucking awesome, I'm not gonna lie. We didn't have any of the floaty stuff, but we made up for it with plenty of pranks and races. It felt damn good to finally get a good winding down after the school year, letting go of all that stress and forgetting for a little bit about the remorse of not getting to see our friends from the Darkworld in months. It just...it was truly nice.

And then, in the middle of a reprieve:

“Jesse! I told you someone else would have the same idea!”

Susie and I stopped dead and looked over. A group of six strangers, about the same age as us, had just come poolside and were now watching us. Two human males, two monster males, one human female, one monster female. A pretty even group. And they were just staring. Not uncomfortably, just enough to be noticeable.

“What?” Susie finally called out.

The group glanced among each other. Then, without any word to her friends, the monster girl (an owl? Eagle? I couldn't tell, she was white and brown) called back, “You wanna join us?”

My friend and I looked at each other and shrugged. Why not?


Over the course of the next hour, we learned everyone's names.

The bird girl, Amara, said it was funny someone else had the same idea they did, although in retrospect she figured she should have expected it. The black bear, Darren, told her not to feel bad; he seemed pretty chill overall. The mountain lion, Spence, was afraid to get in the water because he didn't want to shed all over everyone else. Jesse, the blonde guy, laughed and called him a scaredy-cat, before being promptly destroyed by Leshaun, who pointed out that Jesse put on a swim cap before getting in. Riley, the curly-haired girl, just rolled her eyes and dove into the deep end.

They were all students from the local high school, which was far larger than our little school in Hometown. They were surprised to hear where we were from, and wanted to hear everything about our elusive little town. Susie didn't have a whole lot to say, but I tried to fill in with some of the things to do and people we'd met, not going into anything personal.

Already, I felt out of it. I wasn't used to being in a group so large that was genuinely interested in me, and judging by the look on her face, neither was Susie. We both just kind of awkwardly sat to the side at first, unsure of what to say. Amara (who must be some sort of witch, I swear) was the first to break the ice, and within a couple hours we were all moderately comfortable and playing a game of Marco Pelo.

Then Riley, who was one of the first tagged out of the current round, climbed out and checked her phone. “Guys, it's getting close to 2pm,” she called. “We better get a move on if we wanna be out before anyone else shows up.”

We all gave a collective grumble and headed for the changing rooms.

This time, instead of being afraid to go out, I was more afraid of being in there. The other guys were cool, I could tell, but I'd never changed around other people in my life. Even when my brother was still living with us, I always took my business to the bathroom. I couldn't stand people seeing me vulnerable, and I didn't know if I ever would. So, I changed in a corner and joined them when my clothes were firmly on.

Jesse, now in his bomber jacket and carefully combing his hair, stopped suddenly and turned to look at me. “You showered, right?”

“...No? Was I supposed to?”

He looked about ready to have a coronary. “You have to shower! Dude, no wonder your hair looks like hell! All that chlorine murdered it!”

“I don't have to do anything.”

Jesse gave a strangled squawk, grabbed a spare towel from the little rack, and practically shoved me at a stall with a bottle of shampoo. I got the hint.

The shampoo was a little weird and the directions were annoying, but eventually I got my hair...I guess cleaned to standards. Honestly, I couldn't have cared less, but Jesse looked like a ton of stress had lifted off his shoulders. “Okay, good. Now for step 2.”

“Step 2?”

Leshaun snickered. “Are you deadass about to do his hair fo' him?”

“MAYBE I AM,” Jesse yelled back, situating me in front of him and pulling some bottles out of his bag.

Darren stepped out of his shower carefully, his entire body wrapped to keep from dripping too much from his fur. “Sorry about this, Kris,” he said gently, “but we've all been through it. Jesse's a bit of a hair care fanatic, so it's nothing personal. Don't worry, it won't get too bad.”

Too bad?”

“Oh, no, is Jesse in the Zone again?” Spence looked over from the next locker row. “I thought we agreed that you wouldn't do this anymore!”

“I CAN'T HELP IT!”

“Please stop shouting; I'm sitting right in front of you,” I begged, ears ringing.

“Oh, sorry.” He didn't sound sorry.

In any case, he sprayed a couple of different liquids in my hair and pulled out a comb, carefully working through the knots, of which there were many. He tried not to hurt me, but the occasional frustrated yank made my scalp sing in pain. During the process, the others asked me some more questions while trying not to laugh.

“So, you said there was a diner in Hometown?” Darren asked.

“Y-yeah,” I said, my neck jerking slightly. “It's got some great stuff, my brother and I would get their hot chocolate all the time--” Shit.

“You got a brother?” Leshaun came over with a pick in his hair, suddenly interested.

Fuck. Shit. I told myself I wouldn't say anything. “Yeah.” Why am I still talking???

“Younger?”

“Older. He's pretty cool.” Shut up! Shut up!

“Seems pretty cool, if you talkin' about him like that. You guys look alike?”

I almost burst out laughing. “Not exactly.”

Jesse yanked at another knot. “What, does he look more like your mom or something?”

I was shaking with silent laughter. “Yeah, something like that.”

Leshaun squinted. “Is he a stepbrother? I got a couple stepbrothers, and we don't look nothin' alike.”

At that point, I lost it. Jesse took the comb out of my hair and impatiently crossed his arms as he waited for me to calm down. “I g—I guess you could say tha—” My words came out in pieces with my breaths.

Leshaun laughed too. Darren looked almost worried. “Are you alright?” the big bear asked.

Taking a big gulp of air (and immediately hiccuping), I choked out, “He's a goat!”

“...What?”

“My brother's a goat! And so is my mom! And my dad!”

“I...what??”

“Hol' up.” Leshaun's eyes had widened in understanding. “So you sayin' you're adopted?”

I nodded, the laughter subsiding.

“Damn.” He blinked. “No wonder you didn't wanna talk about 'em before.”

Darren fidgeted, silent. Jesse didn't say anything, either, and there was no noise from Spence.

Nice. My talent for killing moods had kicked in yet again. I was beginning to worry that it had abandoned me.

Jesse went back to my hair. “Well, your family sounds nice,” he said with resolution. “My little sister is a pain.”

“She spilled your argan oil one time!” Spence yelled.

“That stuff is expensive! I had to save up again for another bottle! Not to mention the time I caught her breaking the tines of my good fine-tooth!”

The others joined in on the ribbing, and talking about their own families as well. Darren mentioned how weird it was whenever his father hibernated during the winter and he wasn't able to because of school, so he always had to stay with a friend for those months. Leshaun laughed when recounting all his stories from his siblings, half-siblings, step-siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles...I felt a little better, knowing I wasn't the only one with a strange family. The combing, as much as I verbally complained, helped soothe some of my anxiety as well.

Finally, Jesse finished and stepped back. “Well, I wish I could do something about your split ends,” he stated, “but holy crap, your hair is longer than it looks! Guys, look at this!”

I reached up and felt it. Before, it had only come down to right at the start of my neck, but when it was properly combed (and much softer!), it fell in waves to just below my shoulder line. “Oh, wow, you're right,” I said, then immediately spat hair out of my mouth. “Pthah!”

“Yeah, dude, I don't know how you see with all that.” Jesse reached into his bag and pulled out a hairtie, pulling my hair back into a low tail. “Don't worry about returning this; I never use the things anyway. And I'm not gonna poke you in the eyes! Open them!”

“No.”

“Are you just gonna keep them shut and walk around like that?”

“Yep. I'll learn to get around with sound, like a bat.”

Leshaun and Spence busted up.

“You think I'm kidding?” I stood up carefully, eyes still squeezed shut. “Watch this.” I took three steps, confident, then slipped and almost brained myself on the floor had it not been for Jesse catching me.

“Kris.” I could hear the amusement in his voice. “Look where you're going.”

“Okay, Mom.” Dramatically, I opened my eyes, looking into Jesse's green ones, which widened in surprise. “What?”

“Holy sh—is that natural?”

“Is what natural?”

“You have red eyes, dude!”

“Oh. Yeah, they're natural. Is that weird?”

“It's impossible!

“Wait, what?”

“Human eyes literally can't come in scarlet, dude!”

“What??” I turned to Leshaun, who stumbled back when he saw my face. “Is that true?”

“Bruh, how do you not know that?!!”

Spence and Darren both came around to get a good look, too. “Those are beautiful,” Spence marveled. “How long have they been like that?”

“My entire life.”

Darren gulped, seemingly unable to contribute.

I looked at all four of them in turn. “So, my eye color really is unnatural?”

“I don't...” Jesse glanced at Leshaun. “I don't know how you don't know that. Do all the humans in Hometown have red eyes or something?”

“Technically speaking, yes.” I shifted. “Since I'm the only one.”

Baffled, Spence brought his hands to his head. “Wait. You're the only human. In ALL of Hometown?”

“Yeah.”

Everyone backed away, completely lost.

“Well,” Darren finally said, “I can definitely say you're the strangest person I've ever met.”

“RIGHT???” Jesse ran his hands through his hair. “It's like, the more we learn about this guy, the crazier and more mysterious he becomes!”

“Guys, it's not that weird,” I tried to say. “Settlements of only humans or only monsters have existed forever.”

“But like--” Spence stuttered over his own words. “Ever since the segregation of humans and monsters was abolished at the end of the Civilian War, almost every city and town has migrated together to make sure that everyone could live with and learn from each other, equal under the law! To find such a town with practically all of either humans or monsters in this day and age is so exceedingly RARE that no one would even think it was still possible! How is it that we didn't know about this...?”

Darren put a large calming arm around his monster friend's shoulders. “Don't mind him,” he said to me. “Spence is kind of a history buff.”

I didn't...know how to feel about what Spence had just said. I had lived in and liked Hometown my entire life. I grew up thinking it was the norm. Knowing that the one thing I thought was normal about my life turned out to be incredibly abnormal...damn. It looked like I was always doomed to stick out like a sore thumb. “Thanks for doing my hair,” I mumbled, grabbing up my things.

The others packed up too, but right before we walked out, Leshaun grabbed my arm and stopped me. “Before we go,” he started, keeping his voice low, “can you see that?

I looked to where he was pointing. In the corner of the room, almost hidden by a shower curtain, a glimmer of brightest silver poked out from a crack in the wall. I almost had a heart attack. “Yes,” I breathed.

“I knew it. Jesse can see it, too.”

Really?

“Yeah. Darren and Spence can't, but all my siblings can. We thinkin' it's either a human thing, or it's mass hysteria. Although why only us humans can see it is the one thing we can't figure out.”

“Magic.”

“What?”

“Monsters can use magic. Humans can, too. This is our magic. We can...whatever this is. You've done it, right?”

“Done what? It's just sparkles.”

“You just reach out, and...” I stretched out a hand, feeling the energy of whatever that silver light was connected to. Something in me shuddered, then bloomed, feeling replenished. “That.”

Leshaun looked thoughtful, then reached out a hand. “So I just...oh, whoa, what the hell? I'm feelin' somethin'!”

“Yeah. Just do the thing.”

He did. I could almost feel when he did, like something resonated. He opened his eyes, and the look in his eyes was like a mixture of amazement and fear. “That—I—”

“It's cool, right? I've never figured out what it really does, but it's like a power, like something that will always be there for me.”

He nodded. “I...I'm gonna keep my mouth shut about this for now. This is intense. A lot at once. And we still don't know what it does.”

“Understandable.” Then I realized we were alone. “We should probably go.”

“Yeah. Yeah, let's go.”

We walked out and joined the others. They were still waiting on the girls, and poked at us for a while on what we were doing. Then Darren's stomach rumbled. That made sense, considering it was about 3pm and none of us had eaten. We were debating what restaurant we'd go to for late lunch when the girls joined us.

I looked over. Amara wore loose jeans and a baggy brown shirt with an arrow design that accommodated her feathers well. Riley had a rose pattern crop top and athletic shorts, and was looking through her phone, bored. Susie...

Well, Susie had her usual tank top and jeans, but evidently one of the girls had taken it upon herself to give her the Jesse treatment, because instead of her dark purple locks making a fuzzy cloud around her head, they instead hung down in shiny wavy lines, blowing in the gentle breeze.

She caught me staring. “Don't ask, nerd,” she said. “It's Birdbrain's fault.”

Amara smiled. “You like it.”

Susie just grumbled, looking away. “Anyway, we gonna go somewhere to eat or what?”

 

Chapter Text

After a few minutes of arguing, we all finally decided on the burger joint a few streets up. Leshaun raced Spence and Susie up the walk, while Amara hung back to chat with Darren, Riley still absorbed in her phone. Jesse dropped back to walk with me, an annoying smile on his face.

I glared in return. “Don't 'uwu' me.”

“What do you mean?”

“That! That fucking smirk! Why are you doing that?”

“Oh, nothing.” He poked me. “It's just that you liiiiiiike her~”

“What??”

“Don't act dumb. I saw the way you were looking at her.”

“Why are you acting like I like her?”

“How do you know who I was talking about?”

God—” I silenced my cries. “Okay—yeah, I like Susie. Fuck off.”

“That's adorable. Although, isn't she a little tall for you?”

“Why does that matter?”

“Oh, I see. Gotcha.”

What are you talking about???

“Nothing, nothing.” He patted my shoulder. “If you ever need my help, you know how to reach me.”

“Actually, I don't. You never gave me a phone number.”

“Ooooh, right!” At that, he pulled out his phone and made sure to give me everyone's numbers in exchange for mine and Susie's. I wasn't sure how she would feel about that, but whatever. “Our stop's coming up. You know what you want?”

“No. I've never been here before.”

“What?? Aw, man, this place is the best!” He spent the rest of the trip regaling me with stories about his family's many misadventures at this fast food joint that he apparently frequented. I wasn't paying attention, partly because I was impressed that anyone could comfortably wear a bomber jacket in that heat, and partly because—alright, yeah, I was watching the winner of the little race dance around, shaking her hair at the losers. She was bragging, she earned it, and she looked gorgeous doing so. Sue me.

Anyway, we finally made it to the burger joint, and by that point, we were starving. Just a group of ravenous teenagers. I could see the faces of the cashiers deflating as we walked in. Luckily, we all had money, so it wasn't like we were those assholes that get the free “water” cups and then refill on soda for like two hours. No, we all bought varying amounts of greasy sandwiches and then squeezed into a booth together, chatting it up and chowing down. Much to Jesse's poorly disguised delight, I sat on the end across from Susie. Dammit, dude, we're just friends, and I'd like to keep it that way!

Then, about half an hour after sitting down, something strange happened. Well, it didn't seem strange at first, but...well, a group of kids and their guardian walked in.

There were ten children, all in the age five to about eleven range, wearing old clothing, huddled behind this haughty looking woman with a messy bleached hairbun. She strode in front of them with a face that clearly voiced her annoyance and displeasure at having to feed a bunch of brats. Judging by the fact that none of the human children looked alike and there were monster children mixed in as well, they obviously weren't all hers. In fact, they almost looked like orphans.

She marched to the counter and ordered ten burgers in all – nine plain ones for the children and one big one for herself. Wait, that left one child to go hungry. The smallest of the bunch noticed this discrepancy as well, and pointed it out to the woman.

She just gave an annoyed growl. Her next words weren't even trying to be quiet, and were easily audible over the din of the other patrons: “Well, until someone learns to open his mouth and speak, he's not getting anything from my hard-earned money!”

The him in question flinched: one of the older kids, in the back of the group. He looked to be about nine and of vaguely Asian descent, with ratty hair, a thin shirt, and shoes that had been worn through the soles. He was slouched and silent, and his face was utterly miserable. He glanced around nervously, scared of the woman,

and his eyes landed on mine.

Without warning, he stumbled, hitting the floor. The other kids immediately crowded around him to make sure he was okay. I hadn't realized I was standing until I had joined them. Luckily, by then he seemed to have woken up, eyes fluttering in total confusion.

“Are you alright?” I asked.

He sucked in a breath, shuddered, and forced himself to sit up. He nodded, as if I was actually gonna believe him.

“Hey, is the kid okay?” My friends had come over and joined me in the worry party.

“He's fine!”

Startled, we all jumped, as the woman tapped her foot impatiently. “Dirtbag here's just being dramatic. Isn't that right, Dirtbag?”

The kid (whom I refused to refer to as Dirtbag) scrambled to his feet, clearly still shaky, and nodded.

“Oh, use your f—(Did she really?!!)—ng words!” Exasperated, the woman turned away. “Whatever. Get out of my sight.”

The other children looked like they really wanted to help out, but didn't have much of a choice, as they huddled once more around that awful woman's feet. We stared after her in disbelief.

“What the crap?” Susie uttered. The rest of us agreed.

Spence shook his head. “Some people are just like that. The best thing to do is keep far away from them and hope the problem will sort itself out.”

The kid swayed once more. I caught him by the shoulders, and heard his stomach growl loudly. I wondered how long it had been since the last time he had eaten. “Hey, do we have any extra food?”

Everyone looked at each other and conceded they may have overestimated their appetites.

“Cool.” I gently clapped the kid on the shoulder. “You're joining us. Come on.”

He looked up at me with the most heartbreaking expression – one of pure, unadulterated hope, held back by the obvious fear of getting punished. Without the fear of a medical emergency, the discolored bruises on the sides of his face became more apparent, as well as the fact that his eyes were a soft sunset red.

The others didn't protest my decision and immediately budged up a space for him to sit. He seemed very apprehensive at first, but as soon as he realized we were being genuine, he dug in and ate like he hadn't done so in days – which, given the circumstances, he probably hadn't.

“Whoa, whoa, kid, slow down!” I passed him the cup of water I'd grabbed on the way back. “You're gonna choke if you inhale it all!”

He hesitated, like he was considering whether choking would be a good thing, before putting his food down and taking the time to chew and swallow. His face was a ketchupey mess, and it was awfully cute. Suddenly, I realized that I didn't know his name. “Hey, kid, what's your real name? 'Cuz I sure as heck am not calling you Dirtbag.”

He paused, still chewing, then pulled a napkin to him and spelled it out in ketchup stains: F R I S K

“Frisk?”

He nodded.

“I like that!”

He flushed, clearly pleased.

I held out my hand. “Nice to meet you, Frisk. My name's Kris.”

He carefully held out his hand to mine, then, realizing I wasn't going to hurt him, shook it. Ketchup smeared all over my fingers. I didn't think this through.

“Hey, wait,” Susie cut in, “don't your names sound kinda similar?”

Darren laughed. “Kris and Frisk. Maybe it was meant to be.”

“Well, since you're going to be here a while...” Jesse started. As one, we glanced over to where the other children were sitting unattended. “...since you're going to be here a while, do you mind trying out something for me?” He reached into his bag under his feet and rummaged for a second.

“No.” Riley pointed a finger into her friend's face. “You better not have brought that darned thing.”

“Got it.” Jesse pulled out a worn and jumbled Rubik's cube.

Leshaun dropped his head on his tray. Amara cried out in anguish. Darren took on a look of zen. Spence looked ready to cry, his tail twitching in his lap.

Frisk, on the other hand, sat up straight, excited. He quickly wiped off his hands and reached out for the puzzle cube.

“Alright, dude, don't get so excited.” Jesse gently handed over the cube.

Frisk held it as if it were the Ten Commandments. Carefully, he went over each side, looking at every...position, I guessed. I wasn't the best at those things. Then, as if almost practiced, he started quickly flipping sides. I wanted to tell him to slow down, but the look on his face was too focused; I doubted any of my words would get through. Ah, well, it gave him something to do while the rest of us talked.

Before we knew it, another hour had passed, and it was time for everyone to start heading home. We threw away our garbage and grabbed our bags, and then it was time to say goodbye to our new little buddy. Frisk looked dejected at the thought of leaving us.

I put a hand on his shoulder. “Hey, man,” I said, “don't let her get you down. You're worth way more than her. You're gonna do some pretty great things; I know it. So, just remember: you're not gonna be around her forever. Some lucky family is gonna adopt you and make you the happiest kid on the planet.”

He looked up at me with those adorable eyes, then came in and hugged me tight around the middle. I hugged him back, holding back my tears.

But then, of course, it was time to let go. Reluctantly, he pulled away, then approached Jesse and handed his cube back.

“Oh,” Jesse said. “Thanks. I'd forgotten all about this.”

Frisk shrugged. Then, with heavy shoulders, he trudged back to his own group, who were preparing to leave themselves. I understood completely. Watching him walk away hurt me, too.

Susie was giving me a strange look.

“What?” I demanded.

“Nothing,” she answered. “It's just funny that you can always cheer other people up, but can't do the same for yourself.” With that, she headed towards the exit.

Damn. Why was she right?

The rest of us started to file out, but then–

“Holy shit.”

We turned to where Jesse was lagging behind the group. “What's up?” Amara asked.

Without another word, he held up his puzzle cube, slowly rotating it. It was completely solved.


 [Jesse changed the group chat name to Krusie Gang.]

Jesse: Ayyy

Amara: dude we just left the restaurant.

Jesse: Yeah but guess who's also here

Susie: why tf is my phone blowing up

Susie: what is this

Susie: who gave you my number

Amara: oh shit!

Kris: i'm sorry he begged

Susie: goddamnit why

Riley: can yall shut the fuck up

Darren: oh, is it texting hours already?

Susie: no

Susie: go tf away all of you

Jesse: Aw cmon

Leshaun: CAN Y'ALL STOP I'M CALLIN MY MOM RN

Kris: oshit sorry

Spence: Why can't we be a normal group?

[Susie has left Krusie Gang.]

Chapter Text

The bittersweet feelings lasted all through the bus ride home, on through the next day, and carried on to the next week. Our group chat (which Jesse had dubbed Krusie Gang after we joined for some awful, horrible reason) helped a little bit, but my fears weren't so easily dispelled. If anything, they only grew stronger as time went on. It got to the point where Mom asked me if I was feeling well because I barely ate anything one whole day.

And then. The craziest thing.

It was hovering around midnight, and I'd opened the window to try to get some ventilation into my room. Mom had been asleep for hours. It was silent, other than the usual summer night noises and the game I was playing on my DS. And that's when I heard it.

Tap tap tap tap tap.

I stopped, wondering if maybe I'd misheard. When I didn't hear anything for a few seconds, I ignored it.

Tap tap tap tap tap.

There it was again! Entirely suspicious, I leapt out of bed, pulled on my slippers, grabbed my switchblade, and rolled out my window, careful to grab on to the fire ladder as silently as possible. Whoever was trying to get into the house was not about to survive. I shimmied down and crept towards the front of the house, going over my old plan for disposing of an emergency body, but before I could round the corner, I saw a figure slump away and walk back down the walk.

I clicked open the knife. Well. At least Mom won't get her grass dirty. Carefully, I took one step, then another—and then lunged.

The figure didn't put up any struggle as I grabbed them from behind and pinned their arms. Wait, those arms were so small--

I spun them around. In the light coming from the streetlamp, it was impossible to mistake that face. “No way.”

Frisk beamed wide and freed his arms from my now slack grip, throwing them around me. A bit awkward, considering he was carrying a beaten-up duffel bag, but still.

I pulled away. “How the heck did you get here??”

He put up a finger, then reached into his bag and pulled out a book – one of those mapbooks that no one ever uses, bookmarked with a bus schedule. He must have overheard our conversations last week and figured out that Susie and I were from Hometown. This kid was smart.

“Okay, but that doesn't explain why you're out in a strange town in the middle of the night!” I knelt down to meet him at eye level. “It's dangerous out by yourself. Why did you come here?”

He looked for a moment like he was about to get mad, then the tears started silently pouring down his face, and he hugged me again.

Two and two came together very easily. “Oh. Aw, man, I'm so sorry.” I held him close, waiting until his breathing started to subside to speak again. “Look, I'm not sure how long I'll be able to do this, but you can stay with me tonight. There's an extra bed, and as long as we don't go around doing anything ridiculous, Mom should hopefully be okay with it.”

Frisk pulled back, eyes wide, and nodded in gratitude. I took a deep breath. This shouldn't be too bad.

Reentering the house, I shot a quick text to Susie about the current situation that I knew she wouldn't get until she woke up the next day. Unlike me, she didn't seem to have too much issue passing out before three in the morning. Meanwhile, Frisk was circling the room, looking amazed at all of my big brother Asriel's things still adorning his side of the room. My side? Well, it wasn't empty anymore, that was for sure. I had some new books on the shelves, as well as a couple posters, and a lamp on my dresser shaped like the sword in the stone that was completely awesome.

“Well, I guess make yourself comfortable,” I said, gesturing to Asriel's old bed. It wasn't like he was using it.

Frisk glanced at it and shuffled a little bit.

“You want something to sleep in? I've got an extra shirt.”

He nodded, but his face was still uncertain. A minute later, he was changed, but he still stood apprehensively in front of the bed.

I sat watching from my own bed. “What's wrong?”

Wringing his hands, he turned back to me, a pleading expression on his face. He looked scared, like he was afraid to sleep on his—oh.

Without another word, I scooted over and invited him onto my own bed. Relieved, he came over and slumped down, snuggling into my side. That wasn't...something I was used to at all, that level of physical contact, but if it made this kid feel a little better, then I could bear it. Yawning, I set my head down on the pillow and drifted off to sleep.


Thank God that Mom let me sleep in that day.

I woke up to sunlight streaming through the window into my eyes and groaned. I had left the window open, and the breeze was turning my toes to ice, despite the heat. The clock read nine fifteen a.m., which meant that Mom was already off at work in whatever summer meetings teachers had to suffer through. She'd be there all day, which meant I had the entire day to figure this out.

Carefully, I shook awake the boy that was still cuddled into me. “Hey, Frisk, you want breakfast?”

He grumbled a little, rubbing his eyes. It looked like we had something in common.

“Come on, man, I'll make you some pancakes, and then we can get you cleaned up.”

Still grumbling, he rolled out of bed. I followed behind, grabbing my phone on the way out. Checking the notifications, I found about twenty panicked texts from Susie begging me to update her on the situation, and as I scrolled through, another one came in, demanding a response. I placated her fears, telling her everything was alright, and that we were gonna figure this out as the day went on.

Soon, the two of us were eating what I hoped weren't too badly burnt pancakes. They really weren't that good, but Frisk chowed down like they were the best things he'd ever tasted. Then, after finishing, he wanted to do the dishes on his own, but I wasn't about to let the house guest do that, especially considering he could barely reach the counter.

Next order of business: getting the kid a bath. No offense, and I was sure there wasn't much he could've done about it, but he and his clothes smelled like he had run a marathon through the rainforest. We went through his duffel bag and pulled out all his extra clothes (of which there were very few, all of which just as old and just as funky), and while we were drawing the bath, Susie showed up at the door.

She held up the spare toothbrush I'd asked her to bring. “Hey, nerd. Hey, little nerd.”

That left us to take turns switching the laundry (I figured I should wash my stuff, too) and helping Frisk. It should have been awkward, but there were plenty of bubbles, and the kid enjoyed himself immensely. At one point, I was coming back up with a full basket, and I saw Susie talking while scrubbing his hair:

“...and it only got worse from there, like those girls borderline tortured me. It got so bad my parents decided to pack us up and move us here when I was in fourth grade, but things didn't get a whole lot better. Like this one time, I was playing in the sandpit, and some girl decided she was gonna pull on the candy necklace my mom gave me until it broke. I cried the rest of the day and wanted to hit her so bad! I wish I did. Should I have?”

Frisk curled up his face in thought, and shook his head, sending suds down his face.

“I shouldn't have? But all she did was keep bullying me.”

He shook his head again, this time with more force.

She shrugged. “I did, though. In eighth grade, she tried to shove me into a locker, so I pushed her to the the floor and got in trouble for it. I don't think she ever got in trouble for the he—the heck she put me through. It was so unfair! All her friends had her back, too, and I didn't have anyone!”

He tapped her hand. She was scrubbing a bit hard.

“Oh, sorry, nerd. I don't even know why I'm telling you all this.”

Without hesitation, he reached up and hugged her arm.

“Aw...” She returned it as best she could without getting herself wet. “Thanks, Frisk.”

It was adorable. Quickly, I turned away and headed upstairs before my heart could explode.

Sorting and folding the laundry load gave me time to recover, but it also gave me time to think about what I had heard. Susie was bullied? How had I never noticed? Maybe I just hadn't been paying as much attention as I should have. Regardless, if I ever found out which bitch hurt my best friend, I couldn't guarantee she'd continue to live.

Walking back downstairs, I dropped the empty basket next to the bathroom door. I was so lost in thought that I almost didn't realize the new state of the room until I almost slipped on a wet patch on the floor. “What the—”

Susie and Frisk looked back at me with identical 'not guilty' expressions. Both were soaked, along with the wall and floor.

I just sighed. “Alright, who started it?”

They pointed at each other.

“You're both cleaning this up.”

They both protested, Susie verbally and Frisk with what my brain had started to dub 'Frisk noises'.

“I'm not changing my mind.”

“Please?”

“No.”

“Aw.”


 

It was around eleven a.m. when we finally got everything cleaned up, so we decided to take a walk. A risky move, but we figured that, with Mom in meetings until six p.m., she wouldn't notice us, as long as we stayed away from the school.

So instead, we decided to take a stroll down Main street. Some of our classmates were out and about, as well as other residents of the town. Noelle waved from across the road where she stood with a couple girls I didn't recognize. We waved back—all except Frisk, who stared at the shimmering pavement and gripped my hand. I guessed he was shy.

“Hey there, little buddy!”

I knew that voice. From down by the P'e'zza place, one of the mascots waved, obviously tired. I winced in sympathy. If my sweater had been overbearing in the summer heat, that costume must've been boiling. “Hey, Pickle,” I called back. “How've you been holding up?”

Pickle,” Susie snorted.

“Been doing pretty good, all things considered!” The bluebird costume shrugged. “I guess Boss caught the summer sickness or something, 'cause he's been a lot easier on us lately than before. Right now, I'm the only one out here doing the mascot thing. I mean, it's hotter than the Devil's kitchen in here, but at least I can have a bottle of water every half hour. And who is this!”

I looked down to where Frisk was still curled against my side. “You alright if I introduce you?”

After a moment, he nodded.

Susie laughed. “You sure about that, lil' nerd?”

“Pickle, this is Frisk. He's, uh...the kid of a family friend. From out of town. His parents are visiting, so I'm babysitting for the day.”

“Aw, sweet! Now I have a little buddy and a tiny buddy!” He crouched down to the kid's level. “Nice to meet you, Frisk. I'm Pickle, a friend of Kris's big bro. Actually, hang on, I can't see you properly—” He wrestled the mascot head off, revealing his sweaty tan fur and slightly crumpled cat ears. “Alright, there we—WHOA!!”

For upon taking one look at Burgerpants's face, Frisk's breath had caught before his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he passed out cold.

“Shit!” I tried to catch him, but missed. Luckily, Susie was there to stop his fall and lower him gently to the ground. “He's breathing, right?”

“Yeah, he's good. Might be overheated.”

Pickle almost looked like he was sweating harder than before. “Crap, crap, crap! Hold on, I'll go grab some water!” He rushed into the restaurant, leaving the mascot head on the pavement.

In spite of this, Frisk was breathing properly, almost peacefully. “It's weird, though,” Susie muttered. “He's sweating like he's gotten enough water. Why did he pass out?”

“He seemed pretty shy. Maybe it was just a nervous reaction? He did that back in the restaurant too.”

“Well, yeah, but that was because he was literally starving. He's been fed properly today.”

“Still, though, he's not gonna just get over that in one day. He might be fainting randomly for a while.” But, now that I thought about it...he fainted in the restaurant right after making eye contact with me. So was it a nervous reaction? Was it anemia? I guessed we'd figure it out eventually.

Pickle came rushing back out with a fresh bottle of water, and by then Frisk was starting to wake up. “Is he alright?”

“We think so,” Susie responded. “Hey, lil' nerd, you good?”

Frisk blinked, shook his head a little, then sat right up. He shook out his arms, stared at Pickle for a moment, then nodded.

He did seem way more alert than after his spill last week. “Alright, but you should get some water in you just in case.” I gestured to Pickle, and he handed over the water. Frisk opened the top without issue and chugged down half of it. “Do you know why you passed out?”

He shook his head.

“Are you hungry?”

No.

“Tired?”

Nope.

“Too hot?”

Nada. Although, in his thin baggy tank top, I didn't see how he could have been too warm.

“Well, okay,” Susie said, stopping my questions. “We're still gonna watch you, though.”

He didn't seem to notice what she had said. He just stood up, looking lost in thought.

Chapter Text

We talked with Pickle a little longer, then headed back home to wind down and hopefully figure out the fainting thing. It was worrying, to be sure, but after that last tumble, Frisk looked perfectly fine. In fact, he only seemed embarrassed that it had happened in the first place. Apparently, he'd never collapsed like that before, except back at the restaurant. No prior health conditions that he knew of, although that wasn't much of a guarantee, considering the level of healthcare he seemed to be getting at the orphanage. In the end, none of us could figure out anything that could have caused it, so we decided to unwind and relax. I noticed, though, that Frisk was paler than usual. Maybe the collapse had affected him more than he let on, or he was hiding something. Either way, I knew it wouldn't be a good idea to press.

Susie dug around in the hall closet for maybe a board game while Frisk and I sat and messed around a bit. He'd found a pen and started to doodle on himself before I stopped him and passed him a piece of paper that he promptly sketched away on.

Susie pulled herself back out. “You guys like Sorry?”

A terrible idea. She flipped the board halfway through after getting three of her pieces bumped in a row. Apparently Frisk's capacity for solving puzzles extended to board game strategy, because he just destroyed everyone. It was a little frightening.

I fished the last piece out from under the couch and threw it into the box. “How about we order a pizza for lunch?”

Almost another disaster of an idea, but once we realized we all liked Hawaiian, it quickly resolved itself. We ate greasy pizza and sat in front of the television, only half paying attention and losing track of time.

Needless to say, when Mom walked in early and saw us all playing around, it sure was a shock to everyone's systems.

I shot bolt upright, sending crumbs all over the floor. Susie froze in place, looking horrified, and Frisk passed out again.

“What, uh...” Mom was flabbergasted. “Kris, what's going on? Why is the living room a mess? And who is that oh my goodness?

With dread, I realized that the whole hey there's someone new in the house thing might have been easier to explain if Frisk weren't human. Silently cursing every god that had damned me to this untimely demise, I racked my brain for something, anything I could say. “Uh—” Yeah, good fucking start. How about I just refurbish that guillotine some more?

Mom put her head in her hands. “Son, what am I going to do with you? First, you're staying out past curfew, and then you're eating things I tell you not to eat, and now there's a stranger in our house? Who is this, Kris? Why is there a strange child in our house? Did you kidnap him?”

“Wh—no, Mom—”

And so began the daunting task of telling my mother about what happened last Thursday. Susie chimed in with certain details that I might have forgotten while she made sure Frisk, who still hadn't woken up, wasn't going to choke on his own tongue. The shifts my mother's face went through as we told her the story...they were almost indescribable. First she was horrified, and then she was...disturbed? And then, at the end of it all, she was entirely unreadable. She glanced down at the boy still lying silently on the floor. “So...” She started.

I braced for impact, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Susie do the same.

“You skipped school, went somewhere entirely outside of the town, broke several of my rules into pieces in the process...” She paused, as if trying to find the right words. “...met an orphaned boy who was being mistreated, and then last night, he ran away and found you again? And you've taken care of him the whole day?”

Shaking, I nodded. “Yeah, that's about it.”

She was silent. Unmoving. I considered the worst.

“Please don't take him back, Ms. Dreemurr.” Susie looked desperate. “He was miserable that day in the restaurant. That woman tortured him. We don't know what to do. Please, isn't there somewhere we could take him where he could be happy?”

Mom looked shocked that the girl had even opened her mouth. I was surprised, too. She'd never spoken out so respectfully to an authority figure before. But, I really didn't think it was going to do any good this time, because when Mom was mad, there was no changing her mind. And, as if in response, she stood up slowly, still looking down at Frisk's form. “Wake him up,” she finally said, almost whispering it. “We're all getting in the car.”

I knew it. My dim hopes of this having a good outcome instantly died.

Susie, defeated, gently shook Frisk awake. He came to, blinking, and looked up at Mom with confusion.

“Come now, child,” she told him. “We're going.”

He stood up, a little shaky. She held out her hand. He took it without hesitation, not an ounce of fear on his face.

Damn, I thought. This kid is braver than me by a mile.

We all followed Mom out to the van, loading into the back. After a few confusing minutes, we finally managed to get the address of the orphanage into the GPS, and then we were on the road. Susie texted her mom that she would probably be out late with an apology, and promised to fill her in later. I couldn't help but wonder if we'd even have a later at this point.

Frisk, as usual, didn't say a word, but somehow I got the feeling that he was far less scared of what was coming than us. Of course, he still looked pensive, but he wasn't sweating hard or anything. I was a little envious.

Susie must not have picked up on that, or maybe the silence was driving her nuts, because eventually she reached into her pocket and pulled out one of those fidget things. The small clicks, usually something that drove me nuts, somehow helped soothe the storm clouds in my head.

And then, after what felt like hours of silence, Mom finally pulled into the small parking lot of the very shabby-looking orphanage. I stared up at it, unsurprised. This is where Frisk has been living his whole life, huh?

Speaking of, now that we had pulled up, the little kid had started shaking. Whatever fear he had been holding back this entire time now seemed to be threatening to tear him apart. I put an arm around his shoulder. “It's alright,” I whispered. “She's not gonna hurt you if I have anything to say about it.”

A shallow promise, but he seemed to calm down a bit nonetheless. At least, when Mom got everyone out, he walked with a little more confidence than before, once more holding her hand. Susie and I glanced at each other, and the worry on our faces mirrored each other. Here's hoping this doesn't go terribly wrong, I thought.

Stepping inside, the building did not get any less shabby. There was a small foyer with an old door leading into the rest of the first floor on the left, a staircase leading up on the right, and a little desk covered in yellowing papers right in front to greet clients. A grungy teenage dog monster, entirely disinterested, looked us up and down as we came in. “Hey,” he said.

Awkwardly, Susie and I waved. Mom came right up to him and asked when the “head of the establishment” would be around.

“Uhh...” The guy glanced at the little clock on the wall. “I think she went out back for a cigarette, but I can call her for you if you want.”

“That would be lovely; thank you, dear.”

He flushed, looking a little pleased, and reached for a phone on the wall. “Hello, Ms. Howard? This is front desk...yeah, I know it's almost time for me to leave, but that's not why I...I understand...yes, I got that done...Ms. Howard, we have clients with us.”

As if on cue, the door leading back was thrown open, and the woman we'd seen last week stepped through. “Thank you, Robert!” she said dramatically. “I appreciate you telling me what—oh, Frisk! There you are!” With all the theatrical talent of a defamed Broadway star, she ran up and gripped his shoulders, kissing his cheeks over and over again. Frisk looked at me, entirely uncomfortable, like Yeah, she does this all the time. Don't believe it.

Mom cleared her throat. “Yes, Ms. Howard, I believe this child is in your legal care. I'd like to speak to you about him.”

Howard wiped a fake tear from her eye. “I'm so sorry he was a bother to you, ma'am! If there's anything I can do to repay you for returning him, you just name it!”

Mom just stared.

“What can I do? A check? Pay off a bill? Maybe--”

Mom cut her off with a hand, already annoyed. “No need for any of that, please. I'm already well off as it is.”

Inwardly, I snickered. This Howard bitch was not prepared.

“Oh.” Howard clutched Frisk a little tighter, making him wince. She looked a little put off, like she wasn't sure what to do. “Well, is there anything else--”

“I'd like to speak to you about adopting him.”

It was like my soul had left my body and ascended. No way. There was no way she had just said that. But she did. My ecstasy peaked, and I let out an audible gasp, which would have been cringeworthy, but in that moment I did not care because holy shit I was about to have a little brother. Susie grabbed my shoulders, also excited, and we hopped around in a circle, not even caring about the conversation still being held right in front of us.

“Children, please!”

We stopped. “Sorry, Mom.”

Mom sighed, but still smiled. “As I was saying...” She and Howard, who looked slightly terrified, continued their conversation into the back room, carrying a dazed Frisk along with them. Susie and I looked over at Robert, who was staring after them.

“You know,” he started, “I always liked that kid. The other ones would be little shits sometimes because of how Howard treats them, but not him. One time, he snuck down here and left me a picture he drew to make me feel better after I'd been sick for a week. I'm gonna miss him, but...” He gave us a hard look. “You guys better take care of him.”

We both assured him that Frisk would be just fine. Just then, the kid in question came running back out with a large paper bag and disappeared up the stairwell, completely ecstatic. Mom and Howard followed behind, stopping in the foyer. “Kris, could you please go up and help your brother pack?” Mom asked, slipping a packet of paperwork into her bag.

My brother. “Sure thing, Mom,” I said, and Susie and I ran up to find him. After about ten minutes of getting together everything else he had left behind before (some old drawing materials, a beat up puzzle box, and a few more bits of random clothing), we clambered back down and said our goodbyes to Howard and Robert. Howard, still looking a bit scared, didn't say a word to the boy she'd tortured for years, which pissed me off, but Robert made sure to at least give him a hug. And then we were leaving.

Susie and I were so excited that we couldn't keep it in anymore. “He's coming home with us, he's coming home with us, he's coming home with us--

“Well, this will be fun!” Mom said over the noise. “Having another face in the house will certainly liven things up!”

He's coming home with us, he's coming home with us, he's coming home with us--

“And I'm sure you'll make plenty of new friends at school in the fall!”

HE'S COMING HOME WITH US, HE'S COMING HOME WITH US--

“OH, WILL YOU TWO PLEASE BE QUIET!!”

Through the entire thing, Frisk still hadn't said a word, but the look on his face as my—our—mother went on and on about how she'd need to clean out Asriel's side of the room before he moved back down in a couple weeks was worth everything that wouldn't come from his mouth. I couldn't stop grinning. This had to have been one of the best days of my life, and that was not something I said lightly.

“This is gonna be awesome,” I said out loud. Frisk smiled and hugged my arm in agreement. Hell yeah.


 

[Kris changed the group chat name to GUYS HOLY FUCK]

Jesse: Dude is everything ok

Kris: YO

Kris: DUDE

Kris: OKAY

Spence: Please hurry up. I'm doing summer homework right now, and my mom's gonna kill me if she catches me on my phone instead.

Darren: what happened, kris? do i need to maul someone?

Kris: hahaahhahahaha okay

Kris: so

Kris: you know that kid we saw last week

Spence: Yeah. Frisk, right? What about him?

Kris: well

Kris: long story short

Kris: he's my brother now

Spence: ...What??

Jesse: YO WHAT

Darren: ???????????????????????????

[Susie sent image0.jpg]

Susie: Y'ALL THEY'RE FUCKIN ADORABLE I CAN'T HANDLE THIS

Jesse: YO WHAT THE FUCK WHAT

Spence: How did this happen?!!

Riley: guys it's like ten at night why are you still up

Amara: what did i miss?

Amara: WAIT HOLD UP WHAT IS THIS

Leshaun: i leave for three minutes and suddenly shit starts happening

Susie: that's how mafia works

Kris: susie no

Kris: ok so here's what happened...

Chapter Text

The first order of business: dealing with all of Asriel's stuff.

Mom picked up some cardboard boxes from the hardware store and spent an afternoon with us carefully packing up everything on my big brother's side of the room. Mom found some things I had forgotten he was into, and I had a good laugh over some of the old photos where Az's hair was...oh, god, it was awful. Let's just say I was very glad when he finally went back to his natural blonde.

During all of this, Mom somehow found time to also go through everything Frisk owned and immediately declare it wasn't suitable for him. She took him and I out one weekend, and over the course of the two days, we managed to completely refurbish the newly cleared out other side of the room with new sheets, new clothing, and a bin of good quality art supplies. There was even a little drawing easel and a portfolio. “Aw, man,” I commented, looking at the trove. “You've been spoiled.”

Frisk flushed, clearly embarrassed at being accommodated so much. Well, he was just gonna have to get used to it, 'cause Mom wouldn't be letting up the brakes anytime soon.

The day wasn't over yet, though, and as we were unwinding with a drawing and a book, Mom came back in, knocking to make sure we knew she was there. “Frisk? I have something else for you, sweetheart.”

He looked overwhelmed. So many things, all in one day? I understood. That was how I felt my first day here.

Mom came in with a box wrapped in a red ribbon. “I know this might not seem like much,” she started, “but it was something my other two boys always loved having every year, and it's become a bit of a family tradition. I'd like you to have this, as you are the newest member of the Dreemurr family.”

Hands shaking, Frisk took the box and carefully opened it. It took a long moment for him to finally pull it out of the box, but when he did, I knew exactly why he was so emotional. It was a hand-knit striped sweater, like Asriel and I had when we were little, except instead of being green and yellow, it was blue and purple. He clutched it to his chest and shook with his tears.

Mom and I both came around and hugged him tight. “Welcome home, Frisk.”


I forgot to be careful.

In the middle of all the mess that was getting the new family member situated in the house, there was one little detail that I'd somehow forgotten about, and it came back around to bite me in the ass. Specifically, in the form of Frisk finding it.

He was only trying to find a little bit more space in our closet for something when suddenly the scraping of hangars on the rod stopped, and he looked back out at me, utterly perplexed.

“What's up?” I asked.

He stood aside. In the closet behind him, I could see metal bars and a plastic red wagon.

Fuck!

“Uh.” I wasn't exactly sure how to explain it. “I used to watch birds? And then didn't know what to do with that stuff after I lost interest.”

He thought about it, then shrugged, going back to his hunt. Relieved, I wiped the sweat from my forehead. That had been...way too close. In reality, I'd shoved the damn thing back there months ago because I was tired of looking at it and feeling nothing but dread all the time. Of course, looking at it again now did nothing but bring up memories of the last time I'd had to use it....

 ~ ♥ ❤ ♥ ~

 

The heart vanished in a flash of light.

Kris shuddered, lowering the knife. Thank God. He was tired of this, and was already feeling shaky from reaching into his own chest again. No matter how many times he had to do it, it would never stop freaking him out.

Carefully, he closed the blade of his knife, tucking it back into his dresser drawer, and dropped onto his bed. He felt sick, and his hands were shaking. That was the first time in...a couple years this had happened. When he was younger, it happened all the time, so much that the behaviors forced upon him by whatever-they-were permanently alienated him from the rest of the town. It was actually Asriel that had realized that something was seriously wrong, and to this day was the only other person who knew about the true purpose of the cage. Kris would have to call and tell him about this.

He put a hand over his chest. For some reason, it was entirely fine, no blood or wounds, no scars to be seen. He'd gone to Google a long time ago to see if this was just a normal human thing (because, you know, only human in town and whatnot), but couldn't find anything on it. For all he knew, this was an entirely unique phenomenon.

It made him question more than once whether he was really human.

Not wanting to go down that dark spiral again, Kris reached for the bottle of water on his nightstand. First that weird Darkworld stuff, and then he realizes he's being controlled. By a red heart, no less, which was the most stubborn kind. At least this time, whatever-it-was was benevolent. Unlike the others.

Kris was tired. Very tired. Placing the bottle back on his nightstand, he curled into himself and forced himself into a dark, dreamless, unsettling sleep.

~ ♥ ❤ ♥ ~

 

...Yeah, I really didn't want to relive all that again.

I guess I'd gotten really lost in my own thoughts at that point, because I didn't even notice that Frisk had sat down next to me until he was hugging me around the middle. He'd been doing this a lot lately – comforting me even if I didn't think I needed it, or going out of his way to do something nice for me, like draw a big funny picture that now hung on my wall. I really didn't need him to, but it seemed to help both of us.

I put my arm around his shoulder. “I'm alright. Don't worry about me.”

Unconvinced, he pointed outside to the beautiful summer day.

“Yeah, it's nice outside. What about it?”

He jabbed his finger out again.

“You want to take a walk?”

A sleeve tug.

“Oh, you want to take a walk with me?”

Nod.

“Yeah, you're right. I've been sitting all cooped up in this room for a while.”

Vigorous nod.

“Don't tease me, bro.” I grabbed a lighter shirt from my drawer. “Alright, let's head out.”

The day from the window did not compare to how great it felt outside. Sure, it was still really hot, but there was a nice breeze blowing in from the forest, and there was a merciful lack of clouds in the sky. I was really confused the first time I heard that, because I'd thought that clouds meant it would be a cooler day, but no, apparently clouds trap in heat and make it real muggy. That would calm me down, but part of me just becomes paranoid when the sky is clear that there's a storm coming soon. I just never knew when.

Walking around town, we talked to pretty much everyone we saw—well, I talked. Frisk was still a little shy, not to mention he fainted no less than six times during the outing, most notably while talking to that skeleton guy working the grocery store on Main Street. After that encounter, he seemed hesitant for a moment to even want to be around the guy, but warmed up to him a few minutes later. I understood. I wasn't sure how to feel about him either—what was his name, Sans? He seemed way too laid back and had appeared in town way too suddenly, and I still had yet to meet this little brother of his. I would have gone with it if Frisk hadn't wanted to stick around, but he listened to Sans rambling for longer than I was comfortable with.

And then, in the middle of a conversation with Noelle, an unfamiliar car rolled its way up the street, taking me by surprise. “Who's that?” I asked.

Noelle shrugged. “I don't know. There was a moving van with it a couple hours ago, but it looks like whoever they are is just going around on their own now. Couldn't hurt to say hi when I'm not busy.”

Frisk and I looked at each other. “We're not busy,” I pointed out. He smiled. We had the same idea.

“Well, tell me what they're like.” Noelle looked apprehensive. “Also, please don't alienate them when they've just moved in.”

“No promises!” We were already headed down the sidewalk after the car. “See ya later!”

“Bye!!”

Our footsteps pounded on the pavement as we ran to keep up with the car. Officer Undyne yelled out at us to slow down, but we just shrugged it off in unison. Susie was right, we really were alike.

The car, a glossy dark blue, rolled back onto Main Street, parking at a meter back by the grocer's. The license plate was from a couple states over, decorated with pictures of golden wheat. As we watched, the inhabitants of the car stepped out—a tall woman with brown hair and fuzzy cat ears, along with a younger kid with blue hair, in a brown hat that completely clashed with the dingy green T-shirt. Considering the space made in the hat for similar ears, I assumed that was her child. Their clothes looked well-kept but a little worn, and gave off a pleasant country feeling. She paid the meter, and then they wandered down the street for a little bit until they walked into my father's shop.

With a pang of guilt, I realized I'd never introduced Frisk to our dad. In fact, I hadn't seen him in a while, mainly because Mom didn't like it very much when I visited him. She tried to cover that up, but I wasn't stupid. “Hey, Frisk, you ready to meet Dad?” I asked.

His eyebrows rose, and he nodded eagerly.

“Alright, then. Let's go.” And we followed the little family into the shop.

Inside looked the same as ever—a little cramped, with well-kept, beautiful flower arrangements of all kinds lining the walls. Dad stood at the counter, chatting enthusiastically to the mother we'd seen outside, while her kid fidgeted with a small handheld wooden puzzle that looked homemade. I guessed we'd wait our turn to speak, but as we walked in, Dad looked up and saw us, face lighting up. “Kris!!” he exclaimed, coming over and wrapping me up in one of his signature hugs.

“Ack,” I wheezed. “Love you too, but—can't breathe.”

“Oh, sorry.” He pulled back. “And who is this little man? Is he alright?”

Frisk, pale, had stumbled a little bit in my grip, but somehow managed to remain upright. Taking a few deep breaths, he gave a thumbs-up.

I squeezed his hand. “Dad, this is Frisk. Our new family member, and your son.”

Dad stopped, eyes widening. “Oh.” For some reason, he didn't immediately reach over and wrap Frisk up in a hug, too, but instead, cautiously held out his hand. If anything, he looked less excited and more nervous. “Howdy there, Frisk. I'm Asgore. It's nice to meet you.”

Frisk shook it. There was a strange tension in the air, like a bridge over a small stream was in danger of being flooded over. I guessed it was probably my fault. After all, my first week with the Dreemurrs, I bit Dad's hand and acted like a complete animal. At least, that's what they tell me. I hardly remember any of it. In any case, it would explain why Dad was so cautious now.

“Mr. Dreemurr?” The woman stared at us, amused. I'd almost forgotten she was there.

“Oh! Right.” Dad turned back to her. “So sorry about that. Kris, this is the town's new resident, Ms. Luxrose.”

“Please, sugar, call me Nyx,” she purred, her slight accent coming through. “So, you're the Kris I've been hearing so much about. Nice to meet you. And you're Frisk, right? Couldn't help but hear. How old are you two?”

I shook her hand. “Nice to meet you too, Ms. Luxrose. I'm seventeen, and he's nine.”

“Oh, really? My son here is ten! Maybe you'll get along. Niko! Come say hi!”

The kid—Niko—wandered over, his hat coming back a little from his face. “Hello. I'm Niko.”

Frisk came up to him, a little bit shorter, dark red eyes meeting big yellow ones. Carefully, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a puzzle cube similar to the one Niko held.

Niko's jaw dropped. “You like puzzles, too?”

Frisk nodded.

“That's so cool! I don't know anyone else my age that likes them! Do you like chess, too?”

Happy nod.

“Sweet! I'd play with some of the older kids back in my old home sometimes, but they didn't wanna be around me all that much. Do you wanna play sometime?”

Their (one-sided) conversation continued like that. Lucky for Niko, who seemed to love to talk, Frisk loved to listen. It was nice seeing them get along so well. Meanwhile, Dad and Nyx had started chatting again, Nyx complimenting Dad's incredible flower works. I couldn't argue with that. He really did have a knack for the florist life—well, other than the fact that he never fucking charged for anything, a fact that became apparent when Nyx requested a small vase of them for their new house.

“Sugar, you are not just gonna let me have this for free.”

“It's on the house, I insist.” Was it my imagination, or was he...blushing?

“Oh, come on. That's at least a good fifty dollars you're letting get away.”

I had to cut in. “He never charges for anything unless I'm here to make him.”

Nyx looked personally attacked by that. “Sugar, are you here working by yourself?”

“Well...” Dad started to sweat. “Yes, but—”

“Not anymore. I'm gonna man your register.”

His face went blotchy. “Are you sure this is necessary?”

“Oh, come on. I need a paying job to care for my son, and you obviously need help here. Let me on.”

“I...” He stepped back, clearly out of it, and glanced over at me. I gave him a thumbs-up, because oh my GOD this man needed help, and here it was falling into his lap! He better take it. “Well, if—if you're absolutely sure, then I'll go get the papers.” With that, he disappeared into the back, a bumbling, blushing mess.

“Nice.” Nyx gave me a pretty smile. “Thanks for that, honey. I have a feeling he wouldn't have agreed if you weren't here to persuade him.”

“Yeah, that's just how he is,” I sighed. “I don't know you very well, but I'm trusting you can help him get himself back together. I love my dad, but, jesus, sometimes he's just a mess.”

“Oh, I know how that feels. My son Niko was like that for the longest time.” She looked over to where her son and his new friend were taking cracks at each other's puzzles. “He'd mean well, but would trip over everything and be so clumsy. Last fall, though, he disappeared for about two weeks, and ever since he came walking back out of those wheat fields like nothing was wrong, he's seemed...different. Almost like something happened to him that made him grow up a little bit. Not shy, but a little reserved.” She stopped herself. “Sorry, I'm rambling to you, a total stranger. I must seem like an irresponsible mother, losing her son like that for so long.”

“No, I get it.” And I really did. I wasn't sure why, but something in me really understood what that was like. Thinking about it, maybe Niko had been through something like the Darkworld himself...? “Is that why you guys moved up here?”

“Oh, no, nothing like that!” She paused. “Okay, maybe it was an indirect cause. You see, I used to homeschool him because our little village didn't actually have a schoolhouse. That's how everyone there was brought up. But then, after his reappearance, Niko started getting more and more into computer stuff, and I couldn't teach him anything more than what I knew. Eventually, I had him take one of those nationwide school tests where they look at how you're doing, and it turns out he's much more intelligent than any of us were giving him credit for! I knew he was smart, but there just wasn't anything more I could do for him. So, we found a good school away from the village, and we moved. I bet it was hard for him, seeing his life uprooted like that.” She shrugged, leaning against the counter. “I was worried he'd be scared, or he'd hate it here, but then you two showed up, and look. He's already made a friend.”

I joined her. “Yeah, I was worried about Frisk, too. There's not a lot of kids around here his age, and he already gets a lot of weird attention 'cuz he never talks. But I'm not so worried anymore. He's got someone he can be around.” As we watched, they both held up their solved puzzle boxes triumphantly, then laughed, congratulating each other. “I think they're gonna be good for each other.”

“You really care about him, huh?”

“You bet.”

A comfortable silence sat between us. This Nyx Luxrose seemed like a good woman, I decided. Whoever decided to leave her was a damn fool. I contemplated everything I'd learned today until Dad returned with the forms and the vase arrangement (which took a suspiciously long time—I needed to have a talk with him). “Here, you are, Ms. Nyx.”

“Oh, thanks, sugar!” She reached out and took the papers from him, accidentally brushing fingers as she pulled away. Both went pink, not making eye contact. Oh. My god. “I'll, um, have this back to you within the week.”

“Please, don't rush.” Dad looked like he very much wanted her to rush.

“Actually, we should probably get going, it's kind of late—”

“I wouldn't want to keep you—”

“We still have dinner to get ingredients for—”

“There's a nice diner down the road—”

“HOW ABOUT,” I cut in, because this was painful to watch, “I take the Luxroses to their destination so that they don't get lost, and Dad, you stay here and talk with Frisk for a while. Okay? Okay.”

“That does sound reasonable...” Nyx muttered. “Niko, say goodbye now, honey! We're gonna get something to eat!”

Reluctantly, Niko reached over and hugged Frisk goodbye, then came over and joined his mother.

“I'm gonna go with them,” I told my brother, “so stay here with Dad until I come back, alright?”

Frisk nodded.

“Cool.” I gestured to the Luxroses. “And away we go.” They followed me to the door and out into the town.


Frisk watched as the door shut behind his brother and his new friend. It was going to be a bit uncomfortable now for a little while. Unless...something in his mind, guided by the hazy memories, clicked. Was it possible that he knew as well?

Only one way to find out.

Thankfully, the fog that had pervaded his brain for the past two weeks no longer made him lose consciousness, just made him a little unstable. Standing up, he approached Asgore—Dad. He supposed he should get used to calling him that, but the hazy bits made it feel almost alien to him. Although that in itself was strange, all things considered. He really was just a father of a man, regardless of everything.

Frisk sincerely hoped he remembered.

Asg—Dad carefully looked at him. “Yes, Frisk? Would you like something to eat as well?”

Gathering up his courage, Frisk reached up onto the counter for the paper and pen sitting there, and pulled them down. He couldn't believe he was actually going to do this, but it was the only way to know. He couldn't be crazy. Right? Carefully, he spelled out the words, making sure to make the letters as neat as possible, then, before he could lose his resolve, slid the paper back onto the counter.

Dad looked down at it, his face quickly morphing from curiosity to alarm to fear, then settling on sadness. He met eyes with the boy in front of him, his next words coming out at barely a whisper: “I know.”

Frisk let out the breath he was holding, a weight lifted off his mind. So he wasn't crazy after all. All the tension left his body as he ran to the large goat and was swept up in his arms, tears falling from both of their eyes. The paper, an old form, fluttered to the ground, the carefully written words exposed:

YOU KILLED ME 33 TIMES

Chapter Text

With yesterday being so eventful, I didn't see a way today could be anything but calm and peaceful. The book I'd been reading was starting to get good, Susie and the city gang were all texting and laughing, and Frisk was quietly sorting pictures in his portfolio. I'd have to ask him one of these days if I could take a look through those, but he was very secretive about the stuff he kept in there, everything else ending up proudly displayed on walls all over the house. He really was good—everything he made almost looked like it could have been professionally done. If he wanted, he could start his own side business taking commissions at school or something.

Anyway, we were just chilling. Then, from downstairs, I heard Mom answer the door, which was nothing new—people would come over just to chat or bring recipes or other things all the time. And then, I heard it. The Voice. The one that always made me drop everything and find the source, whether I was expecting it or not. This time, I really should have been expecting it, but with everything that had happened in the past couple of weeks, it had somehow completely slipped my mind.

Immediately, I threw down the book and ran out the bedroom door, calling for Frisk to follow as I barreled down the stairs. Holy shit. How could I have forgotten. Of course it was him.

“Well, darn, I knew you missed me, but you could at least be subtle about it.”

“Shut up!” I yelled, throwing myself into Asriel's arms. “Stupid goat, I missed you.”

“Jesus, you are too heavy to be hanging off me like this.”

I went slack, still clinging to his middle. “Deal with it, bro.”

He did not, in fact, deal with it, and we both ended up going down laughing. Just like old times.

Mom just sighed. “You two, I swear. I won't get another quiet moment in this house for the next two months!”

Asriel smirked. “You complain, but you still love it anyways.”

“Please get off the floor.”

“Right.” We hauled ourselves up, brushing the lint off each other's clothes. “Anyway, Mom, I remembered I left a book here that I was wanting to read. You didn't happen to see it, did you?”

“Oh, yes.” Mom sat on her recliner. “I saw it. Whichever one it is, it's now in the basement, along with everything else.”

I snickered.

Asriel stopped, his face the image of what a record scratch must sound like. “Uh, why?”

Mom opened her mouth to respond, but before she could get the words out, Frisk pattered into the room, sketchpad under his arm. He set his eyes on Asriel's face and stopped dead. I was afraid he'd pass out again. “Asriel,” I said, joining Frisk at the doorway, “this is Frisk, our little brother. He's taken over your side of the room.”

Az was stunned speechless. “I—uh—well—howdy! I'm Asriel. I guess you heard. Uh.” He fumbled, not sure what to do for a moment, then came over and put out his hand. “How are ya, Frisk?”

Inexplicably, instead of returning the handshake, Frisk started to cry, big, silent tears that made puddles on his shirt.

“Oh, uh...” Az looked completely shocked.

“Did you just make him cry??” I couldn't believe this.

“No, no, I don't know what I did! I swear!”

Instead of clarifying, Frisk threw his arms around Az's middle and only sobbed harder.

“What...” Asriel carefully hugged the boy back. “Uh, there there. I don't know what's wrong, but I hope I don't do it again.”

Even Mom came over to calm the little boy down, and eventually he came to a hiccuping halt, a strangely sad smile on his face. So he was...happy to see Asriel? But why the crying? And how can you get so emotional over someone you just met? There were so many questions I didn't realize I had.

In any case, we all managed to calm down, and once we had seated ourselves in the living room, Asriel finally started to notice all the art pieces hanging on the walls, commenting on how good they were. That conversation segwayed into college life, and grades, and Az's obnoxious old dormmate. We had a good laugh over that while Mom put together a quick lunch for everyone and brought it out. As we ate, I noticed that Frisk had used the sketchpad he'd brought down with him to draw Asriel. It was funny, though, because while the portrait was incredible, he'd also added a wreath of buttercups around his head, and Az had always considered those flowers a symbol of bad luck. No matter how much we told him they were harmless, he avoided them like they were the resurgence of the plague. Frisk had also added another strange detail: two slash-like marks, one coming up each side of Az's face. It was small, and almost seemed like a mistake, but for some reason it unsettled me.

Eventually, we ran out of conversation and went our separate ways. Frisk sat at the kitchen table to draw, Mom ended up chatting on the phone with a friend, Asriel left to go visit some of his friends, and I...sat on my bed and texted. Yeah, look at me, the real go-getter. But it was getting kind of late, and going out to talk to anyone would probably be impossible, at least until the sun went down. So, I sat there, and messaged, and waited.


Leshaun: yo you busy

Kris: no not rn

Kris: what's up

Leshaun: well youre not gona believe this

Leshaun: i think i figured out what the sparklees are

Kris: no shit?

Leshaun: bruh this is some fuckn crazy shit

Leshaun: so i was walkn home from spences house rigjt

Leshaun: and i see more of em so i do the thing cuz i been doin that every time i see em jst in case

Leshaun: and then

Leshaun: i go to cross the street

Leshaun: and i get hit by a fuckn TRUCK

Kris: what????

Kris: dude are you ok?????

Leshaun: THATS THE THIGN

Leshaun: BRUH I THINK I DIED

Kris: NO WAY

Leshaun: like i felt it hit me HARD

Leshaun: and then

Leshaun: i open my eyes

Leshaun: AND IM STANFNG BACK BY THE SPARKLS

Kris: NO FUCKIN WAY

Leshaun: everythng was legit the exact smae until i got to the cross

Leshaun: and then i just didnt cross

Leshaun: and the fuckn speeding truck WENT RIGHT BY WITHOIT HITTN ME

Kris: WHAT THE FUCK

Leshaun: I DONT KNOWWW

Kris: dude did you fucking time travel or something?

Leshaun: the sparkles let me fuckn time travel bruh

Kris: or like

Kris: wait

Kris: it almost sounds like a videogame

Kris: or some shit

Kris: like when you save you go back there if you die

Leshaun: bruh

Kris: and like

Kris: you always heal up when you get there, right

Kris: haven't you been feeling way better lately

Leshaun: bruh

Leshaun: bruh

Leshaun: bruh

Leshaun: bruh

Leshaun: bruh

Leshaun: are yu telln me

Leshaun: that humans can fuckn

Leshaun: save the world

Leshaun: literally

Kris: I GUESS

Kris: I DON'T KNOW

Kris: I mean is it specific to a certain person or like does it affect everyone

Kris: will we ever fucking KNOW like this is HUGE

Kris: HOW DOES NO ONE KNOW ABOUT THIS YET

Leshaun: wll i looked up some shit when i got home

Leshaun: and basiccly no one knows dick about the sparkles xcept they always appear in somethin no matter what

Leshaun: nd that some ppl see em in silver, some in gold, and some in other metal clors

Leshaun: one guy even said they were lik veins or some shit runnin thru the whole planet

Leshaun: but noone ever knew what they did

Kris: so did no one know to do the thing

Leshaun: i guess noone ever thougjt of it

Kris: holy shit

Leshaun: fuck

Kris: what are we supposed to do with this information

Leshaun: kep it a secret

Leshaun: til we know more

Kris: I can live with that


 

A hoodie and some darkness, and no one can tell who you are. At least I hoped. Hopping across roofs at night would be way less fun if everyone knew I was doing it.

Usually, nights like this would be used to pull random pranks on people, maybe clean up the occasional litter or help the garbageman when he came around. But tonight was just for thinking about everything I'd learned about in the past couple of weeks.

Firstly, there was the sudden introduction of Frisk into my life. While I don't regret it for the world, that kid just seemed so strange sometimes with how quiet and reserved he was, not to mention that, even though Jesse had told me red eyes were impossible in humans, here comes a human other than me that has them. I wasn't sure what that was supposed to mean, but either red eyes were more common than people knew and we just didn't know they were in the human genome, or it had to be some sort of crazy phenomenon.

Second, there was the deal with the sparkles. Leshaun was right that they did seem to run through the whole world like metallic veins, but it seemed a little ridiculous to think that he and I were the only ones that had figured the “saving” thing out. I mean, these things had been around literally forever, and no one thought to think farther of it than “oh, they're just there”?

Actually...now that I thought about it, there was only one other person I could think of that knew about how to do the thing, and it was the thing that taught me: that red heart—or, what...might be on the other side of it. That was a terrifying thought.

Thirdly, there was the fact that, despite having only met him for the first time, Frisk cried and hugged Asriel like they were old friends or something. I could chalk it up to more of his weirdness, but that, plus the extra details on his drawing, just rubbed me the wrong way somehow.

Finally, there were the Luxroses. This was probably the least weird thing on this whole list. Plain and simple, they'd moved up here after finding out that Niko was kind of a kid genius, and Nyx, who seemed to be into my dad, was now working at the flower shop. Case closed.

Then again, there was the whole thing about Niko's disappearance. It looked normal on the surface, but considering it had happened around the same time period as Susie and I's adventure through the Darkworld, I couldn't rule out the possibility that they might be connected. Or, barring that, that he'd gone through something similar, considering he was missing for a much longer amount of time.

As I sat on the apartment complex rooftop, thinking about all these issues at once, some screaming conspiracy theorist in the back of my mind couldn't help but string things together haphazardly and insist that everything was connected. I couldn't see how it could be possible, in all honestly. It felt like trying to juggle six colored beanbags while three different people tried to scream different directions for solving a Rubik's cube right in my ears. I smiled at that. Jesse would like that analogy.

That reminded me: I was on this roof in particular for a reason. Reaching into the backpack I'd brought with me, I pulled out the rope and grappling hook I'd taken from the garage. Mom wouldn't miss them for a night, and I could easily place them back in the morning. Setting up the rope, I shimmied my way down the east wall until I was outside a certain girl's window, then reached into my bag again. “I can't believe I'm doing this,” I muttered, pulling out the glittery heart and kissy face window decals. Jesse told me a few days ago that I should start doing something, and here I was, making a first move in the only way I knew how: tasteless pranks. Oh, god, what had my life become.

But, dammit, it would be worth it in the end. No matter what answer I get back.

As I wiped away some more dirt to place another sticker, I saw her sleeping form through the glass. I really shouldn't be looking through at her like this, but...she looked really peaceful. When she's awake, she's always animated, and her resting face even has some hint of unbridled emotion right underneath the surface. But this? She was completely at ease, even smiling a little bit. The longer I looked, the more I fell in love with that side of her, too.

I blinked. I'd been staring way too long. Face hot, I finished up my work and climbed away. Jesse, you owe me for actually doing this shit.

Chapter Text

I had strange dreams about winged hearts and shattered lights. It made sense at the time, I think.

I woke up sluggishly to the sound of my phone going off. Unable to think properly, I rolled over, barely registering Frisk already alert and painting, and grabbed the stupid beeping device, opening it up to check the messages. I was greeted with a beautifully shot picture of sunlight streaming through a window covered in hearts.

What the hell?

Another message came through: alright then ;)

What in the goddamn...the texts were from Susie. Instantly, the memory of what I did hit me, and I sat bolt upright, barely suppressing the urge to scream. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck shit I actually did that fuck. Frisk raised his eyebrows but asked no questions as I jumped out of bed and straight downstairs into a cool shower, regretting every single life decision I'd ever made up until that point. Why? WHY did I let Jesse of all people tell me what to do? Why did I go climbing down my best friend's wall in the middle of the night just to stick things on her window and stare at her like a creep? Why the fuck did I do any of that? And to top it all off, she threw it back in my face with a—wait a minute. I wasn't remembering that wrong, was I? That was a winking face. Right?

I made the shower water a little colder.


Of course, this was only the beginning of the day. It was fortunate I thought to take that shower, because Mom surprised us with a trip to the roller rink.

It was awesome. Az and I hadn't been to this rink in a couple years, and the whole time, we bounced in our seats like idiots, super excited. For whatever reason, before rolling out to Cityscape, Mom had stopped and picked up Susie and Niko so that they could join us, and they were far less excited about the trip than us brothers. Frisk seemed to share in that sentiment. They didn't know fun.

It took a good half an hour to get there in Mom's van, but we made it before it got real busy, which was good, because that meant we got to try skate sizes before they were all gone.

And then the next surprise of the day. We all piled out, stretching out our backs, and I turned to the entrance and – “I should never have texted you guys.”

“What, you though we was gonna miss out on seein' the rest of the crew?” Leshawn clapped me on the back. “He—heck naw!”

Mom raised an eyebrow. “Kris, are these the friends you made on your...departure?”

“Oh, yeah! Mom, this is Leshawn” – He waved – “and that's Amara, Jesse, Spence, Darren, and Riley.” Each of them greeted themselves in order. “Guys, this is my mom.”

“Call me Toriel, please.”

“You guys already know Frisk, and this is my big brother Asriel.”

“Howdy, guys.” Az shook each of their hands. “How much did my little brother bribe you all to hang out with him?”

“DUDE!” Of course he'd do something like this. And, of course, all my friends started laughing at me.

“Kris, you didn't tell us your older brother was cooler than you.” Amara adjusted her glasses. “And better looking, too.”

“If I did, you wouldn't hang out with me.”

Jesse rolled his eyes. “Confidence, man. We talked about this.”

“Yeah, 'cuz we all have so much of that,” Susie snarked.

“Alright, true.”

“Who's the other kid?” Riley pointed out.

“Uh—Niko!” He raised his hand in acknowledgment. “My name's Niko! So...um...” He trailed off, looking a little nervous at the sight of so many city kids. Frisk patted his back in sympathy.

They were silent for a moment. Then Riley stated, quite simply, “He's adorable.” And that was the end of it. We headed through the front doors.

It took the group a while to get everyone paid for and situated with roller skates, during which at least three of us fell on our faces, and another two almost tripped trying to play one of the arcade consoles. The girl behind the counter looked so stressed trying to help us all that she kept fumbling everything she picked up, whereas the guy in the DJ booth smiled like he was ready to get a party going. “He better not play trash,” Jesse remarked before getting pushed over by Amara.

Then, finally, we managed to get out onto the rink. You could definitely tell who was better than others once we got going. I struggled to keep up a good pace, and was constantly outstripped by Leshawn, even when he was going backwards. Asriel and Susie couldn't get going to save their lives, partly because she kept grabbing onto his shirt to keep herself up, which meant he stumbled even worse than he already was. Jesse and Amara kept trying to trip each other and failed every time. Darren preferred to stand on a sideline and push us along when we passed, and Frisk and Niko, who both took tumbles pretty early, gave up and decided to play chess on Mom's tablet.

Then Riley came to pass me again. “Hey, Kris, take my hand!”

“What?”

“Come on, man, just do it!”

I took it. She pulled me along until we got to Darren. “Grab his hand!”

“Riley, what is this?”

“Kris!”

“Alright!” I swiped at his paw, but missed.

He apparently got the memo, though, because he caught up and joined us. “We're doing this already?”

“Why not?” Riley called back. “Here comes Spence!”

Darren reached over and yanked Spence into the line, who caught on and grabbed Susie, who came with Asriel, who caught Leshawn, who pulled in Jesse and Amara, and the nine of us spun off in this weird roller conga line that gathered an astonishing amount of speed, considering the skill level of some of us in the group. It was honestly exhilarating, and by the time the manager came over to yell at us to stop, we had all laughed ourselves winded and needed to take a break.

Mom tittered and bought us all waters, muttering about safety, but she looked pleased that we were all having fun nonetheless. I sat with Jesse and Leshawn, and we had a race to finish our water the fastest, which Jesse cheated at by bopping our bottles and making us cough.

“You little--” Leshawn smacked him with his bottle. “I got half a mind to go back and make you choke!”

“Deal with it, loser!”

“Besides,” I chimed in, “when was the last time you Saved anyway?”

Leshawn opened his mouth to argue, but shut it again. “Damn.”

Jesse raised an eyebrow. “Saved? What's that?”

Shit. “Uh...”

“Inside joke.” Leshawn shrugged it off like nothing. “You don't gotta worry about it.”

Jesse mulled it over, then let it go. “Alright. I won't ask. But in exchange, this guy's gotta get some action today.” He grabbed my head and pulled it under his arm.

“Please don't noogie the emo.”

“Only if you ask Susie to do the couple skate.”

This time, Leshawn's choking had nothing to do with his water bottle. “WHAT?”

Jesse smirked. “He likes her and it's cute and he's not doing anything about it.”

“I will stab you!”

“Aw man.” Leshawn shook his head. “I don't know what you see in her, but if you wanna go for it, then I'm behind you.”

“I'm not going for anything!”

“He really should,” Jesse agreed. “They'd be cute together.”

“I'm right here, guys!”

“Big dragon girlfriend to smooch every day?” Leshawn nodded. “Sounds like the life.”

“I hate both of you!”

Jesse laughed. “Might not wanna try anything right now, anyway. Looks like she's still talking to your brother.”

I looked over. Sure enough, Susie was having a small but seemingly intense discussion with Az. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but it seemed like he was teasing her over something, because her face was making several embarrassed expressions that I'd never seen before. And they were all cute as fuck.

“Well, damn, don't sing her praises too hard.”

I realized then that I had said that last bit out loud. The other two guys were cackling. Before I could punch them both to make them forget, however, Amara called us over to where she and the others, as well as some total strangers, had gathered: “Hey! Quit messing around and get over here! This is nuts!”

Intrigued, the three of us stood up and headed over to the rest of the group, which had gathered around...the chess game. Everyone was dead quiet, watching Frisk and Niko sit on either side of a tablet, playing chess with the most intense expressions I'd ever seen on either of their faces. And when I say they were playing chess, I didn't mean in the joking, dorky way that the kids at school did. I meant they were playing fast, with seemingly no way to keep up with whatever strategy they had planned, like the masters in the videos Berdly would watch. They moved their pieces in some sort of weird war dance, only occasionally going in for a killing strike. I'd never been interested in this game, but suddenly I found myself rooting hard for Frisk, who was playing black. Niko's a great kid, but he was going down.

“Hey, what's going--” Asriel was quickly silenced by everyone as he and Susie joined the group. No one moved, no one talked, until the final white bishop was pushed into place, and Frisk, unable to escape, admitted defeat, and the game was over.

We all exploded, some in outrage, some in excitement, money was exchanged, and we congratulated and comforted the contestants, both of which just seemed to enjoy the game too much to care who won.

“Let's play again soon,” Niko said. Frisk agreed.


And then, an hour later...the DJ tapped on his mic. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he called, “it's now time for the couple's half hour. Please find your partners and get out on the floor!” He then started to play a soothing song, one with acoustic guitar and also violin. Of course. Because nothing says “Well, it COULD be romantic” than a song like that.

Almost immediately, everyone started pairing up. Leshawn split right away, and Jesse gave me a hard look before accepting Amara's invitation and skating off. Damn him for being right. I absolutely should ask Susie to skate, and I really wanted to. Unfortunately--

Actually, no, fuck it! There's no excuses; she's right there!

Trying to act casual, I sidled up to where she sat on the sidelines, looking a bit offput, and offered her my hand. “So...wanna skate?”

She looked at the hand, then at me. “Really, dude?”

Cha cha real smooth.

“Look, Kris, I'm flattered, but...” She gestured out to the crowd of partners already having fun. As we watched, Mom came past with Frisk holding one hand and Niko holding the other. “...there's no way we'd be able to do that. I can't get going worth shit, and, let's face it, you're not big enough to support my weight when I fall.”

“We both know that's a lie.”

“I didn't mean as a metaphor.”

“I didn't, either.”

“Dude, you're scrawny as hell.”

I remembered what Jesse had said about self confidence. “I'm not scrawny,” I corrected. “I'm wiry. There's a difference.”

“Not much of one.”

“You wanna have fun, right?”

“...Yeah.”
“Then may I have this skate?”

She paused for a moment, something I couldn't read flashing across her face. Then, decisively, she took my hand. “Yes.”

I pulled her up and we pulled ourselves onto the rink, the Zelda victory fanfare playing in my mind. The actual song mix coming from the DJ booth still wasn't bad, having switched to something a bit more lo-fi, so we stayed near the wall and trundled along arm in arm as best we could. It was honestly kind of funny, especially when Susie realized that I could, in fact, support her weight. We went around like that for another few minutes, then the song shifted again into a piano cover of a song I'd heard on the radio but never actually bothered to learn the name of.

“Hey.” The question from her came quietly, almost like it wasn't something she wanted to say. “Can we...talk about the window thing?”

To be perfectly honest, I had wanted to bring this up myself, but at the same time, I didn't even want to think about it. Hearing this question come from her was just another crazy curveball I wasn't expecting her to throw. “Sure,” I said, swallowing my pride. “What about it?”

“I mean...when I first saw it this morning, I thought it was just another joke. Like one of those things friends do to get a rise out of each other. But you've been kind of avoiding me in a weird way all day, and then you asked me to skate out of the blue.” She corrected her path, stalling. “Did you...what did all that mean?”

I wasn't sure how to answer that question. “Do you want, like, the dissertation, or the really short version?”

“Is there an in between?”

“Not really.”

“Then just give it to me straight.”

I smiled.

“Kris, be serious.”

“Alright, alright. What it meant was...I kinda like your pretty scaly face.”

“Ha. More jokes.”

I didn't say anything.

“Wait...Are you blushing? Are you serious?

“Yeah...”

“Why?”

“You said you wanted the short version.”

“You...I...so, you weren't actually pranking me?”

“Well, I was, but not in the way you thought.”

“...Ah. Well, at least now I know what I have to do.”

At that statement, my brain filled itself with things I really shouldn't talk about in polite conversation because oh BOY. Realistically, I knew she meant none of those things, but if you could have taken a picture of my face under an infrared filter right then, it would be about twenty degrees warmer than the rest of my body.

“I gotta prank you back.”

Oh, thank God.

“Yeah, and it's gotta be good, too. Can't tell you anything else, though, or else you'll know how to avoid it.” She smiled, the wheels in her head already turning, but I could see the color coming through under her scales. And then I realized the full extent of what she meant.

Somehow, though, it wasn't awkward after that. We just kept skating in a comfortable silence for a few minutes, and it was a good moment.

And then Leshawn and Darren came whizzing past us. Instinctively, I put an arm up to get Susie out of the way, until I realized they weren't aiming to hit us. In fact, they were...figure skating. Figure roller skating. And they were really damn good at it, too.

“What the--”

“Oh, you didn't notice?”

We looked over. Jesse and Amara had come up beside us. “They've been doing that the whole time,” Amara continued. “They're kind of the center of attention.”

From behind her, Jesse gave me a smug smile. Ass.

“Okay, but why and how?” Susie emphasized.

Jesse laughed. “It's actually a funny story. The first time we came here as a group, we wanted to keep skating during the couples half hour, so we all paired up, but that left Leshawn and Darren in a pair. People were laughing at them for being so mismatched and also both being guys, so to get back at them, they decided to just get really really good at skating. They can do all of that better on ice, too. It's kind of their thing.”

I watched Leshawn pull a double Lutz and get pulled effortlessly back into the crook of Darren's side for a pose. “They could go to the Olympics like that!”

“We've told them that,” Amara agreed. “They said the world isn't ready for them just yet.”

As she finished her statement, the song ended, leaving the boys in one final pose in the center of the rink. The onlookers who had seen their performance clapped appreciatively. Afterwards, Mom told us she recorded part of it, and sent it to me so I could share with the group.

By the end of the couples half hour, Susie and I had finally managed to find our footing and figured out how to build up a good amount of speed. We were going to go sit down and take a break, but then a very familiar song started playing—our favorite song that we never expected to hear out in public—and we just had to stay.

Overall, it was a really good day.


The dream had returned. One of a place Frisk had seen only a few other times, back then. A dream of another town, another bedroom. Little changes here and there, but the same feeling of a home that wasn't home.

He knew what it meant. What was about to happen. How there was no stopping it once it came.

A shame, really. All that hard effort put to waste.

But this was beyond his control.

He opened his eyes. 

Chapter Text

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, the whole roller rink confession kind of...turned into a friendly war between Susie and I. It started off slow, almost like a competition to see who could make the other redder faster or something. Simple stickers turned into mysteriously convenient flowers (which Nyx took great pleasure in laughing at), which became excess touching in person, which bloomed into secret nighttime rooftop meetings. I will not recount what happened during those, because they were very private and also every single one of you are dirty minded; don't even try to deny it.

At any rate, the war ended up turning into...something. Neither of us were really sure what exactly to call it. It was definitely more than could be labeled just friends, but I think we were both a little opposed to saying it was dating. The word felt too official and flimsy, like cheaply made gift wrapping on the best present ever. Neither of us wanted to think that yet, so we just enjoyed each other for what we knew it was worth.

Of course, at the end of the day, it meant that Jesse got the last laugh. He couldn't have it, though, if I never told him.

At any rate, the jokingly dubbed “heart wars” were fun and all, but they ended up distracting me from the mysteries surrounding the entire summer. With as carefree as I felt, and as much fun I was having with friends and family, I forgot once again to be careful. Remember how I said that clear skies made me paranoid that a big storm was going to roll in, but I never knew when?

Yeah. It happened.


But not in the literal sense, at least not at first. It was mid-July or so, and I was finishing up that book I'd started (a failed knight coming to save his fallen queen and the land he swore to protect—really interesting), when Frisk, who had been sitting without motivation on his bed all morning, suddenly got up and left the room, I assumed to use the restroom. Not a big deal, but I remembered I'd been wanting to look through his portfolio at some point, and now was as good a time as ever. If I were that much of an asshole to snoop in other people's stuff.

Which I was.

So I pulled out the thick red zipped binder and carefully opened it up. I didn't have a whole lot of time to get more than a sneak peek, but whatever I could get, I'd take. Well, I wasn't actually gonna take or move anything; that'd just be plain rude. Just a look at a couple drawings, and I'd put it right back. I glanced down at the first picture.

And my heart stopped.

No way.

No fucking way.

“AZZY!!!” I called.

It took a couple minutes, but Asriel finally came ambling through the door. “You better make this quick,” he said, annoyed. “I've got a game going on the XBOX downstairs and my friends are waiting on me.”

“Az, do you still have that picture from the amusement park when we were little?”

“That's a weird question. And why are you so pale?”

“Do you have it or not?!”

“Alright, yeah! Sheesh! You don't have to shout.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, thumbing through it for a moment before pulling out an old photo. “Is this it?”

I scooted over. “Bring it here, quick.”

Rolling his eyes, he sat down and held out the photo. It was taken when we were about nine and seven years old, a couple years after my adoption. Mom and Dad stood in front of a big carousel, both smiling, and in front of them, Az and I, hand in hand. Az was beaming wide because he'd won a plush from the arcade, while I was scowling, upset that I'd lost everything trying to win a game I had no business trying to beat in the first place. And Frisk's drawing, in vibrant colored pencil...featured Mom and Dad, in different outfits, smiling together, while Asriel beamed and I scowled. It was virtually identical.

Az didn't get it at first, though. “It's just a drawing, dude. Sure, he's talented, but I don't see what the big deal is.”

“That's the thing, Asriel. He hasn't seen any pictures of us when we were little, and yet he knew exactly what we used to look like.”

“I mean...” He wavered. “You don't know that for sure...”

Ignoring him, I flipped through the rest of the drawings. They were bizarre and full of dark colors, nothing like the pictures that adorned the walls, and the more we looked, the more confused we became. A small field of yellow flowers. Faded old ruins, choked with vines, covered in pitfalls and spikes. A snowy and dense forest, concealing a town full of younger versions of people we had grown up with in Hometown. Marshes filled with crystals, glowing waterfalls (“Is that Officer Undyne in armor?”), and even a robot lauding over traps over pits of magma. It was like a homemade children's book, but strangely harrowing, and what made it worse was that there was no sunlight to be seen. The color emanating from sources on the ground only reached so far before the ceiling of every picture ended with a depressive and claustrophobic black.

“What...” Asriel's expression had grown increasingly intrigued. “What is all this? A story he was working on? Why was Mom there?”

“I don't—” I turned the page and stopped again. This was the first image in the entire gallery with a naturally lit room, and it caught me off guard. It was a hallway, simple yet grand, will full windows streaming in light in a warm and inviting shade of gold. And, standing in the center of that hallway, looking carefree yet tired, was the skeleton from the grocery mart. Sans. “This is bizarre.”

“Well, sure, but since when has a kid's imagination ever been normal—” He cut himself off after turning the page, and I couldn't blame him. Seeing our father, in the outfit of a grand king, looking kind yet tired, almost fearful, was a bit of a flashback. I'm sure it brought up some unpleasant memories for him from when we were younger, because it sure did for me. “Jeez, he really knows how to pull an expression off the page.”

“Yeah...speaking of Frisk, where is he?”

He glanced up, just now realizing that the youngest brother hadn't returned. “Huh. I thought he was just grabbing something from the kitchen, but maybe he had to use the restroom?”

Carefully, we closed the portfolio and tucked it back under Frisk's bed, then went back downstairs. Asriel returned to the XBOX while I knocked on the bathroom door.

Well, I tried to. The door wasn't locked, and there was no one inside. Huh. “Hey, Az, is he in the kitchen?”

“Uh...no. He's not in the living room, either.”

I got a pit in my stomach. “Where is he?”

“...I don't know.”

We searched every part of the house, thinking he might have wandered into the crawlspace or found something to explore...but nothing. He was nowhere. Then, Asriel, upon checking the front closet, realized the front door was unlocked.

And that, folks, is when we started to panic.


Immediately, Asriel hung up his game, and we ran outside and into Mom's van, which was thankfully still there and he still knew how to drive. Mom would forgive us; she'd gone to visit a friend down the street and wouldn't be back for a while. Hopefully we'd have Frisk back home before then so she wouldn't worry.

“Just calm down,” Az said, looking anything but calm. “You said he ran off like this when he first came to stay here, right? He's probably just out talking to someone, perfectly safe. No need to freak out.”

The more we searched, the more we freaked out. He wasn't at the diner, talking to the locals like he liked to do sometimes. He wasn't in the park, watching the ducks swim around. He wasn't even at the school, looking through the windows and trying to see the blackboards. Not the church, not the pizza joint, not even the library. After checking there, we went to reenter the van, when:

“Hey, Kris!”

Susie was running up to us, followed behind by Noelle and Catti, another girl from our class. “Funny, seeing you here, babe. What's going on?” Then she saw our faces. “What happened?”

“Frisk is missing and we're not sure where he could have gone.”

All three girls' faces dropped. “Shit,” Susie mumbled.

Noelle looked nervously to the trees. “Do you think he could've wandered into the forest? Sometimes people like to go there to look at nature and stuff.”

The fear on Asriel's face deepened.

“No, guys; that's not what happened.” Catti slipped her phone into her pocket, entirely deadpan. “He probably just hit up a friend's house to play games or something. Happens all the time.”

At once, Asriel and I slapped our hands to our faces. “Niko!

“Wow, wait.” Susie squinted. “You mean you didn't check there first?”

“We didn't even think of it!”

“...Well, we're going to Niko's house.” She went over and opened the back door. “Pile in.”

Asriel just shook his head and opened the driver's side.

“Suse, are you sure?” I didn't know why she'd want to come along.

She just smirked, throwing her arm around my shoulders. “Come on, Kris. You're not the only one that cares about Frisk. Besides, I gotta give him a big noogie for running off.”

“Hey, that's my job!”

“Better get in the car, then!”

I loved her.

Once we were all settled and buckled, we drove as quickly as we could to the Luxrose's house. Az hadn't even put the car in park before I had jumped out and was running up the walk. By the time Nyx answered the door, we were all on the porch and out of breath. “Hey there, Krissy. What can I do for you kids?”

I was panting too hard to answer properly, but Asriel, glasses askew, cut in with a quick “Is Frisk here?”

“Frisk?” She raised an eyebrow. “No, I haven't seen him all day. Why; what's happened?”

From behind me, I heard Catti mutter “Fuck,” and the fear set in on everyone's faces.

“Darlin's, what happened to Frisky?”

“Mama? Did Frisk come over?” Niko's fuzzy blue head popped out from behind his mother. “I don't see him.”

“He...” God damnit. “He's missing. Earlier today, he just walked out of the house, and we have no idea where he could have gone.”

Niko's already large eyes widened even more, the pupils narrowing to slits, and Nyx put her hand to her chest in shock; both cats's ears flattened. “That's awful!” She exclaimed. “Such a sweetheart, too. I hope you find him as soon as you can. Maybe try your father's shop?”

Asriel and I looked at each other. We both doubted it, honestly, but... “It's the one place we haven't tried yet,” he conceded.

I agreed. “Thanks for your help, Ms. Luxrose.”

“Wait.” Niko stepped out completely onto the porch, pulling on his hat and jacket. “I wanna come, too.”

“Honey, no!”

I sighed, getting down to eye level with him. “Niko, I know you're worried, but you should probably stay home and let us look. It's no use getting your mom worried about you, too.”

He looked me dead in the eyes. “Kris. I wanna come, too. I have a feeling something's really wrong.”

“Niko—”

Kris.” The intensity in his face was undeniable. “Trust me.

Something passed between us just then. I wasn't sure if it was a shared will or just a mutual understanding, or maybe something else. Whatever it was, I decided to trust it. Standing up, I clapped the kid on the shoulder. “Get in the van.”

“Cool.” Niko ran to the car, followed behind by the rest of the group.

I looked apologetically to Nyx. “Sorry.”

She shook her head. “No, I understand. He won't rest until he knows everyone's alright. I guess he got that from me.” She fixed me with a hard look. “You better bring him back safe, and soon. It looks like it's gettin' ready to storm.”

Sure enough, as she said that, thunder rumbled in the distance. “Shoot, Frisk is still out there.” I hopped off the porch and waved goodbye. She waved back, a worried expression gracing her pretty features.

Then we were all in the van and off to the florist. As we drove, I got a better observation of the storm. Weirdly enough, it didn't seem to be blowing in from any certain direction, but just...growing. Circling itself and slowly swelling. That definitely wasn't normal storm behavior, and whatever hell it unleashed when it finally dropped, I didn't want Frisk to have to go through it all on his own. Hang in there, I thought. We're coming for you.


We didn't even stop at the opening to the florist's, instead opting to hastily pull in a few buildings down closer to the grocery mart and pile out. Noelle got to the door first, holding it open for everyone else. Her lower lip was bleeding a little from where she'd been anxiously chewing it, and I didn't blame her. This was our last shot before we had no leads to go on.

We tumbled inside. “DAD!”

Dad poked his head out from the back room. “Kris? I wasn't expecting a visit today! And you brought all your friends! What's the special occasion?”

“Dad, Frisk is missing! Is he here with you?”

“Oh.” His face fell. “I—I'm sorry, but I haven't seen him all day. How long has he been missing?”

“Oh, COME ON!” Susie growled and turned away, frustrated. I felt like breaking down myself.

“From what I've been told, he's been missing for a few hours.” Niko came to the front, still composed. “Please, Mr. Dreemurr, do you know anything?”

Dad's hands stilled. “I'm sorry, everyone. I really haven't seen him. Have you tried the library?”

We nodded.

“The schoolhouse?”

Yep.

“The...church?”

“Dad.” Asriel put his hand on Dad's shoulder. “We've been all over town. Unless we passed him at one point during the search, either he's exploring a sewer, or—”

“Or he's lost in the woods somewhere!” Noelle shuddered, realizing her guess hadn't been crazy after all. Catti and Susie looked sick. We were all quiet, the severity of the situation finally hitting us like a train. What were we supposed to do? There were acres of woods around Hometown; it would take a huge team a while to properly search the woods, and by then, something terrible could have happened to Frisk.

“Well.” Asriel broke the silence. “Now we go to the police.”

He met no resistance. With one final goodbye to the shaking florist, we headed back out to get to the van. Outside, the storm had grown more intense, swirling in a tight vortex over the mountain range in the distance. We had reached the van and were starting to pile in, when I noticed one last person we hadn't talked to—the sleepy looking skeleton that ran the grocer's. “Hold on,” I said, and ran up to him.

He turned away from the storm to look at me. “Hey, kid. What's up, other than that storm?”

“Sans, I'm looking for Frisk. You know, my little brother?”

“Yeah?”

“He's missing. We can't find him anywhere in the town, and we're really scared he might have ended up in the woods somewhere. Please tell me you've seen him.”

Sans didn't reply for a long moment, shifting his hoodie around a little bit. “I gotta say, kid, I didn't expect you to ask me about this.”

“So you've seen him?!”

“Nope.” He shrugged. “Not at all.”

My heart sank. “No...wh...

Sans turned back to the spiraling grey clouds. “Man,” he said quietly. “That's quite a storm comin' in.”

“Yeah!!!” All at once, all of my frustration started pouring out, and I grabbed the sack of bones by the collar, shaking him. “It's about to STORM, and my BROTHER is still MISSING out here! Why are you so CALM about this?!!”

Asriel and the others seemed to have caught on to what was going on, as they'd run up behind me at some point. One of them—Susie—started grabbing at me, trying to get me to let go, but I barely even registered her.

That stupid smile never dropped from Sans's face. “Hey, kid, you're overreacting. Sometimes the answer to your problems is a lot more obvious than you're making it.”

He'd completely lost me. I didn't...couldn't know what he was talking about. Numb, I let him go. He dusted himself off, stepped back a bit, and turned back to the storm.

Susie pulled me into her arms. “I'm sorry,” she mumbled into my hair. “I know you're upset, but this isn't helping. We need help, Kris.”

I hugged her back, starting to sob. It was hopeless. We'd just gotten to really know this wonderful kid, and now we'd never see him again.

The rain started to kick in.

And then, without warning, a ton of lightning pulled together through the clouds, and with a boom that shattered the storefront windows, shot into a terrifying column of unfading light at the peak of the highest mountain. It was...impossible, and yet, there it was.

“Huh.” Sans cocked his skull, unfazed. “Well, would you look at that.”

Everyone was too shocked to speak. Then, from behind the rest of the group, Niko's small voice came: “Does this kind of thing...normally happen in Hometown?”

“Which mountain is that?” Catti wondered.

Noelle almost breathed her response: “I think that's...Ebott?”

My breath caught in my chest. “Get in the car,” I struggled out.

“What?” Asriel looked at me like I was nuts.

I turned around and pointed at the van. “GET THE FUCK IN THE CAR!"

Chapter Text

The van, not built for dirt roads, shuddered and jumped on the rocks as we sped up the mountain pass. The closer we got to Mt. Ebott, the harder the rain came down on the windshield, making for a dangerous commute.

“I still think this is crazy,” Asriel said from behind the wheel. “Why do you insist that we have to head towards the giant swirling death funnel of nightmares and not as far away from it as possible?

“We have to.” I don't know how I knew that, but it was the only thing in this mess that was certain, and I was gonna chase after it like cops on a speeding drug dealer. “Frisk is up here. I know it.”

“But why?” Catti was holding on to the handle on the roof of the car for dear life. “What reason would Frisk have to go to the death mountain that will actually probably kill him and us too?”

Noelle was clutching hard to Catti's side, terrified. “I'm with Catti on this one. We might die trying to come up here, but we don't even know if he's gonna be there waiting!”

I didn't answer. Not much I could say to that, anyway.

“I think we should keep going.”

Dumbfounded, we all turned to the youngest member of the group, who sat with a hard expression on his face—well, as hard as he could make it. Niko's baby fat cheeks wouldn't let him be too intimidating. “There's something really important up there. We have to get there to stop whatever this is, or else...it might make things worse. A lot worse.”

It was quiet for only a short moment before Susie asked, “How much worse, Niko?”

He looked her in the eye. “End-of-the-world worse.”

Something in his tone caught me off guard. He sounded entirely serious, like he had experience with this sort of thing, even though he was only ten years old. What exactly happened to this kid when he went missing?

Susie nodded. “Alright. I'm in.”

Noelle and Catti looked at her like she'd grown two heads.

She just shrugged. “What did you expect? I've seen some weird stuff before, and if there's a chance this is what we need to do, then I'm gonna go for it.”

No one else spoke for a little while, all of us focusing on the goal ahead. As we got closer to the mountain, the road broke and crumbled more, and we could see the mountain itself had gained new scars from the lightning, slowly turning to earth to pieces. It looked familiar, reminding me of the Fountain of Darkness. With dread, I also remembered what waited for us when we finally reached that fountain.

Suddenly, my phone buzzed. I picked it up. “Yeah?”

“Kris, it's me!”

“Jesse?”

“What the hell's going on over there?! The news is reporting some serious weather shit; are you guys alright?!”

I glanced at the mountain. “Not exactly.”

“What does that—can you just tell us wh—u're cutting ou—”

“Jesse? Can you hear me?”

Nothing. The line was totally dead.

“Was that your friend?” Az asked, still gripping the steering wheel. “What did he say?”

“Nothing we didn't already know.” I slipped my phone back into my pocket. “At least we know there's no way to call for help once we get up here.”

“Lovely.”

Eventually, we reached the end of the car road, which immediately forked off into two beaten footpaths, the one on the right leading up the side of the mountain. Taking the hint, we got out of the car and resigned ourselves to climbing through the nearly torrential rains. The winds pushed hard against us, making the whole thing even harder. We had to walk single file, all holding on to each other, just to make any headway.

And then, halfway up the road, it stopped at a muddy cliff face. There was no way we could get over it. We'd have to walk all the way around to the other side of the mountain.

“Are you kidding me??” Asriel buried his head in his hands, almost dropping his glasses in the grass.

“Welp.” Susie, at the back of the line, turned back down the trail, still holding Noelle's hand. “Around we go. We can't let this just stop us.”

So we went to go around the other way. And then, Niko slipped.

Which doesn't sound too bad, considering all the rain and mud. At worst, maybe a muddy face and some bruising. However, Niko had been holding on to my hand when he went down, so he ended up pulling me along with him. And we slid and just kept sliding

because he'd fallen into a hole in the ground with seemingly no bottom.

Shi—” I grabbed onto the grass to keep from falling altogether, which left our bodies free hanging over the abyss. “A little help! Help!!”

“Kris!!” Asriel grabbed my hand to pull me up, straining with the effort. I tried to help him, but the act of my pulling was only pulling on him, and he had a limited hold as it was; not to mention in my other hand, I was still holding on for dear life to Niko.

“Guys!!” I could see Susie and the others running up to help, but before they could reach us, Asriel's foot finally slipped, and the three of us fell into the endless void.


When I opened my eyes, I realized three things.

One: I wasn't dead.

Two: Neither were Asriel and Niko, although Az's glasses were cracked. They were waiting for me to wake.

Three: We really, really should have been dead.

Far, far above, the small opening we fell through gave a view of the lightning still streaking across the sky and the silhouette of a figure looking down at us. “ARE YOU GUYS OKAY?” the figure called, her voice echoing down to us. Susie.

I sat up. “YEAH,” I called back. “WE'RE ALL GOOD.”

“IS THERE ANY WAY OF GETTING BACK UP FROM WHERE YOU ARE?”

The sides of the chasm were too concave for any of us to make it. “NO.”

Susie's form disappeared for just a moment before reappearing again. “WE'RE GONNA GET BACK TO TOWN,” she said. “OFFICER UNDYNE WILL BE ABLE TO HELP GET YOU GUYS OUT.”

“ARE YOU SURE YOU THREE CAN MAKE IT?”

“WE'LL BE FINE. DON'T DO ANYTHING STUPID UNTIL WE GET BACK.”

“GOTCHA. LOVE YOU.”

“LOVE YOU, TOO.” And with that, she was gone.

Asriel raised his eyebrow at me. “I see that worked out for you guys.”

“You mad 'cuz you're not getting any?”

“Any what?” Niko asked.

Nothing.

“Oh.”

Asriel coughed. “Anyway. We should try to find some way of getting out, just in case the girls can't help for whatever reason. Can you stand?”

“Yeah, I'm alright. Niko?”

He rubbed his arm. “A little sore, but I'm okay. These flowers are a lot softer than they look.”

Asriel scrambled back as we both realized that we'd landed on a thick bed of buttercups. “Oh, God, really? Now I know we're not making it out of here alive.”

“Az. They're just flowers.”

“I hate these things! They're nothing but bad luck—”

“Yeah, yeah, I know! We all know you don't like them! This is not important!”

“What could be more important than a clear omen of death???”

“The fact that we can see each other relatively clearly in a cavern with hardly any light.”

“I—” He stopped. “You know what, that is a good point. Where's all the light coming from?”

Niko pointed towards the edge of the cavern. An opening to another part of the cave was clearly visible in that direction, whatever source of light illuminating where we stood casting more intense shadows across the bend in the rock. “Is that a good starting point?”

Asriel readjusted his glasses. “...Yeah.”

Shaking the dust off our clothes, we started off in that direction. I couldn't help but notice, though— “Niko, your eyes look like they're glowing.”

And they were, just faintly. He looked away. “Yeah. They do that.”

I would have questioned further, but then we turned into the next cavern, and the sight that greeted us was...honestly, rather incredible.

The column of lightning we'd seen piercing the mountain continued into this room, but it stopped just before it hit the ground, thanks to the presence of a person standing there, eyes closed, hovering an inch off the ground. The streaks of electricity wrapped around their body, almost looking like wings on their back. And, glowing brightly on their chest, was none other than—

“Oh my—FRISK!!!” I ran forwards, ignoring Asriel's strangled cries, and tried to reach my little brother, but the lightning around him was so intense that it stopped me about three feet away. Gritting my teeth, I planted my feet and pushed forward, stretching out my hand. I had to grab him. Just a little closer...

“Kris, are you insane?!! Fall back!!

“Kris, wait!!”

My hand made contact with Frisk's shoulder.

A feeling ran up my arm, into my chest, and spread throughout my entire body. I couldn't move, almost couldn't speak. It was horrible, violating, and all too familiar. “No. No no no you can't have him. You can't take him!

Someone clamped down tight on my other arm. “Kris, let—” Niko stopped speaking as the awful sensation flowed into him. His eyes widened in total shock. “No...no way...

Asriel still couldn't get close. “GUYS!! Let go!! You're just gonna get hurt!!”

Instead of heeding his warning, Niko used me to get closer, managing to reach out one arm in desperation. Concentrating hard, I managed to overcome the paralysis and inch just a little bit closer, just enough for Niko to firmly place his palm against the glowing red heart on Frisk's chest. At that point, the lightning was also streaking around us, enveloping all three of us in an utter maelstrom. The fur on Niko's body was all standing up, and I'm sure my hair was doing the same. We were so close. So close to getting him out of there, but I couldn't get him to budge.

At this point, Asriel had started inching closer to us. “Guys, please!! Please let go!! We'll find another way around this!!”

And then, Niko said something. It wasn't “wake up,” which were going to be my first words. It wasn't even “pull harder.” In fact, I couldn't have even had it as a last guess, because I didn't expect it at all.

He said, quietly, almost unbelieving, “Player?


Susie almost fell several times on the way back to town, but she didn't care. She had to get to the police station, and fast. There was no way she was leaving people she cared about to end up dying at the bottom of a hole over a mudslide or something.

Noelle was out of breath trying to keep up. “Are we—gonna—make it—to...” She couldn't finish her question.

Catti was struggling, too. “How do you have so much STAMINA?”

I don't waste my breath with pointless questions!” Susie snapped back. “We're making it to the police station, and we're getting my boyfriend out of there!”

There were no further arguments.

It was another too long amount of time before they finally made it back into the town limits. Luckily, they didn't have to make it all the way to the station: Officer Undyne was directing traffic out of town, towards Cityscape. An evacuation. Standing with her were Kris's parents, Toriel and Asgore, along with her mother, Leanne, and Niko's mother, Nyx. Susie and her friends ran up to Officer Undyne. “Hey! Cop lady! We need help!”

The adults all turned as the teen girls came to a panting, gasping stop in front of them. “Susie! Oh, goodness!” Leanne swept her daughter into her arms and wings. “Where have you been? Why are you all muddy?”

Mom, please not now.” Susie gently pulled away. “Long story short, we went up the mountain to check out what was going on, and Kris, Asriel, and Niko all fell in a hole, and we can't get them out. Can you help us?”

The other parents all blanched. “My boys are down there?!!” Toriel wailed.

Did you find Frisk?” Asgore asked, still shaking.

Not yet.”

Nyx took a deep breath. “I got a lot of rope back at my place. Tell me where I need to take it, and I will.”

Wait, hold on.” Officer Undyne held up her hand to stop her. “This is a highly dangerous operation. I can't let civilians get involved and risk them getting hurt in the process.”

Ah don't see anyone else volunteerin' ta help!” Nyx's accent got a little stronger with her anger. “Mah boy's up there, and he could be in some real danger. I'm not gonna wait fo' some fish with ah badge to tell me it's safe to help him!”

Undyne wavered. The other parents were looking at her expectantly. “I, uh...”

I'm going, too,” Asgore chimed in. “You'll need some extra muscle to get them all out.” Toriel and Leanne agreed, joining in.

Seeing she was outnumbered, Undyne finally relented. “Alright. Luxrose, you get the rope from your place. Take Dargen with you. Dreemurr and Dreemurr, take your truck. I'm bringing the girls in my squad car.”

What? Why?”

Susie, Noelle, and Catti all looked to Leanne, triplet expressions of disbelief on their faces. “If you think we're just gonna wait back here,” Catti said, “you are sorely mistaken.”

Noelle threw out her arms. “Yeah! Those are our friends in that hole too, you know!”

Undyne shrugged. “See? They'd just find a way to join us, anyway.”

Toriel shook her head. “I cannot believe we're doing this...but, let's go.”

That's the spirit!” Susie pumped her fist. “Let's go save some people and maybe die!” 

Chapter Text

Everything calmed.

Well, not exactly. More like...it slowed. The lightning was still arcing, and things were still moving...it was hard to explain. But, really, things did feel a lot calmer suddenly. The noise all dulled to white, and the awful feeling of paralysis let up a lot as whatever had taken over receded, seemingly in shock.

Then, the red heart pulsed under Niko's palm. A very soft, uncertain voice echoed through my head: Niko? Is...that you?

“Yes, Player, it's me! What—what are you doing?”

I'm... The voice—Player—paused. This is your world? I didn't know. I'm sorry.

“Yes, this is my world! How were you even able to get here?”

A pause. This is another game on my computer.

“What???”

“Wait, hold on.” My head, which had already been spinning, suddenly felt like it was thrown in a blender. “Wha...game?? What????

Yes. It's a program I downloaded to pass the time...I didn't realize it was connecting me to a real world.

And, suddenly, a hell of a lot of things started to make sense. The possessive hearts. The 'save' sparkles. Even the red eyes. This world was literally a game to someone else. All this time, all those different colored balls were all the same multicolored ball!

“So...” I looked at Niko. “Did you meet this...Player in another game...world...thing?” My head was about to burst.

He nodded. “They were technically the god of that world, but they felt uncomfortable with being called that, so...Player.”

And that was its own adventure. I can't actually go back to that world without Niko there to be my connection.

“But—!” Niko's face dropped. “I just don't see what all this is supposed to be! What are you trying to do, Player? And why did you need Frisk to do it?”

I...well, in any game I play, I need a player character. You were the player character—the messiah—of OneShot. Kris, you're actually supposed to be the player character—the vessel—of this game, Deltarune. But Frisk...he was the player character of the last world, the one before this one. Undertale.

“The vessel...world before this?” I felt sick. No way.

“That doesn't explain why you're doing this, Player!” Niko was adamant. “Just tell us, please!!”

...I'm resetting the game. I'm going back to the beginning.

My blood froze in my veins. “WHY?!!!”

Darn it, this is already hard enough to explain! Player took a deep breath. This world is just...I don't know. There's only so far I can go in this world—with your story—before it ends. And I don't...I don't want it to end. I like it here. Their voice wavered. It's so much nicer here. I don't want to give that up.

“So you're just going to mess with our lives and make us relive the same moments over and over for your own enjoyment?! What kind of sick person does that?!”

...Me, apparently.

I only had one question left. “How many...how many times? How many times have you done this?”

It was an uncomfortably long time before Player answered: Fourteen.

I almost fell over.

“Player...” Niko looked ready to cry. “You...when we left OneShot...you were the one who told me that...the world would live on, and as long as we remembered it, it would always be with us.” He really was crying, then. “Why did you tell me that if you were just going to do this?

Those weren't my words, Niko. I was limited in that world just as much as everyone else. Do you know how badly I want to go back with you and see them all again? I can't, though! The program has run its course and it's never going to be the same!

“I want to go back there, too! I miss everyone just as much as you do! Maybe even more! I miss Silver, and Plight, and Ling, and George, and...Alula...but I can't go back! We have to move on, Player! We have to live in our own worlds!”

And what if I don't want to?

“Then...” Niko dropped his head. “Then we can't keep being friends.”

Silence. No one knew what to say.

Frisk's eyes fluttered.

It was too much for me to handle. “Please...” I whispered. “Please...we're happy here. I don't know why you decided to do all this, or what you get from it, but...we've all made such good memories this summer. Please don't take that away from us.”

I... Player's voice was wobbling. They were crying. I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry, I...

“It's okay. Like Niko said, we'll still be with you. Just don't forget, and you'll be alright. Okay?”

I don't know if I'm strong enough. My world...my problems...I don't know if I can handle it.

“Hey. You handled being the god of two other worlds. I think you'll be fine living in your own.”

...Okay. I'll...I won't do this. I'll let you go. I'm really sorry.

The words felt hollow, but I could tell they meant it. “Then...this is goodbye.”

Yeah. This is goodbye.

Niko wiped his face. “Player...I get it. I'm glad you decided to make the right choice. I'm gonna miss you.”

You, too.

“Wait.” I'd remembered something that had been said. “You said that Frisk was the vessel of the world before this one. What was that like? What happened to it?”

...I think it's best if you ask Frisk that. I don't really know, either.

“Oh. Well...thanks anyways.”

I'm going now. Goodbye, everyone.

The red heart on Frisk's chest faded away. The lightning faded into nothing. Time seemed to return to normal, and Frisk slumped into my arms. It was over.


“...Guys? What just happened?”

I looked up. Asriel was standing behind us, looking sick. I wasn't sure how much of the exchange he was able to catch, but it had left him shaken. I gave him the only answer I could think of: “I don't know.”

Niko was still crying. I didn't blame him. Player...whoever they were...they were someone he trusted with so much. To see them going back on what they should have learned and doing all this...he must be feeling so betrayed right now. I wrapped an arm around his shoulder. “Hey. It's okay. It's over.”

“Is it?” He rubbed his face. “I don't know if it's ever gonna be over. What are we supposed to do if this happens again?”

“Well...I used to get controlled by people like that a lot over the course of my life. I had my own little method for getting rid of them.”

“Are you sure it'll keep working?”

“It's worked so far.”

He nodded. “Okay.”

Asriel threw up his hands. “I have no idea what you guys are talking about!”

Oh, right. This was going to be really hard to explain. “Uh—”

In my arms, Frisk stirred and opened his eyes just a little bit.

“Frisk!!” I sat him up. “Are you feeling alright?”

He was still woozy, but he managed to look up at me and give a thumbs up. The moment we first met, back in the restaurant, came to mind, and I laughed a little. That made him smile, at least, before he leaned back into me.

“Whoa, now,” I said, standing up. “We need to get back to where we fell so that our friends can get us out of here—oh, god, you're heavy. Az, help.

Asriel came over and picked Frisk up bridal-style like it was nothing. Showoff. I helped Niko to his feet, and the four of us headed back out through the cavern to the entrance, settling on the flower bed to wait.

Asriel shook his head. “I guess you were right. No doom befell us today. Sorry I doubted you, flowers.”

Frisk picked one of the buttercups, staring at it intensely. Carefully, I said, “Hey...”

He looked up at me, his red eyes guarded. Not the look a nine-year-old boy should have.

“Can I ask you about...” I swallowed. “What's Undertale?”

The inquisitive look on his face melted away, replaced by a completely blank expression. He looked away.

“Oh, right. You don't...um.” I rubbed my neck. “Just forget I asked.”

Asriel leaned over to me. “What are you talking about?” he whispered.

I'm not really sure myself,” I said back.

Why are we whispering?” Niko chimed in.

“It was this place,” Frisk said.

We were completely taken aback. His voice was nothing like I ever imagined it to be. Hell, at this point, I'd started to think he was completely mute. It wasn't soft or nasal, like a lot of shy people I knew. In fact, it was pretty bold, almost confident. I was a little intimidated. “What do you mean?”

He gestured around the cavern. “It was this world. Everything. What it originally was. Things were a lot different then.”

“What happened to it?”

“I changed it.”

See, I'd already been through a bit of a mindfuck already, and this just added a whole other level to it. “What does that mean?

“Exactly what I said.” He paused, picking more flowers. “In the original version of our universe, monsters had long ago been trapped underground by humans after a horrible war. Our mom and dad were the king and queen of the underground monster kingdom, and, Asriel, you were the prince.” He started to tie the flowers together. “You two met and became brothers after Kris fell into the Underground. You were happy, at one point.”

Az and I looked at each other, our confusion a reflection of each other. “So, you met us then, too? If we were happy, why did you change everything?”

“I didn't meet you. Not entirely.”

“What?”

“Both of you were long dead by the time I ended up down here.”

“Huh??”

“Will you please let me finish?”

“Sorry.”

“Apology accepted.” The flower chain became a little fuller. “As I was saying, when I ended up in the Underground, things were very different. Any human who fell here was captured and brought to the king, where they were killed and their souls harvested. The only way for the monsters to break free of this place was to collect seven human souls and use them to destroy the spell—the barrier.”

“Do...what brought that on?”

“Like I said, you two had already died. You'd made it to the surface, and were killed because of it. It was the catalyst to the entire mess. Kris, you were completely gone, and Asriel, your personality, your memories, were trapped inside one of these buttercups.”

Asriel stood up, pacing around the group. “THAT WOULD EXPLAIN A LOT,” he shouted.

“You'd lost the ability to feel, however. You tried to kill me several times.”

He stopped dead. “Oh.

“Don't worry about it.”

“But...” I had another question. “Who actually killed us? Do you know?”

His expression didn't even change. “It was you.”

My brain shorted out.

Asriel just looked at me. “You would.”

“NO, I WOULDN'T!”

“He just said you did!”

“BUT—” I stopped. “But why would I do that? Why would I...”

Frisk didn't...answer. This only made the hole in my stomach deeper. Finally, slowly, he said, “I don't know. You had your reasons, and even if they weren't good, they still affected everything. There's no going back on it now.”

I wanted to press further, because I could tell he was hiding something, but at the same time, I wasn't sure if I wanted to know. “So...what happened with you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Did you save them? Everyone?”

“Well...yeah. I did. In a way. We were all free and happy. I remember...finally having a family. People that cared about me.”

The storm was starting to calm a little in my mind, even as the questions continued to pile up. “If you were so happy, and everyone was safe...then why did you change it all?”

“I...” With that, Frisk looked ready to cry. He stuttered, and tried to say anything, but his throat closed up, and he was silent once more. I put my arm around him wordlessly. Sometimes, there really wasn't anything else to say. Asriel came behind us, hugging us both.

Niko shuffled up, grabbing Frisk's hand. “When we get out of here,” he said, “we need to share stories.”

Frisk, still a bit fragile, nodded in agreement.

No one said anything. Then—

Bzzzzzzz!

We all jumped as Az and I's phones went nuts in our pockets. Checking them, we realized that, with the storm's interference gone, we were now able to receive the tons of missed calls and frantic messages from our parents and friends. Oh, lord. “We're in so much trouble,” Az muttered.

“HEY.”

We looked up. The sky far above had changed, now orange, and the silhouette of Susie had returned. “HEY,” I called back.

“DID YOU GET HELP?” Asriel asked.

“YEP. LOOK OUT BELOW.”

We moved aside as an industrial strength rope whipped down to us, swinging kind of wildly. Az, still standing, caught it in his hands after a few tries, then turned to Niko. “You first?”

He nodded and grabbed on as best he could, with a bit of direction, and managed to hold on as he was hoisted into the air and gradually up through the hole leading to the sky. I could see hands grabbing at him, pulling him out, but I couldn't tell who they belonged to.

“ROUND TWO,” we heard, and we ducked out of the way again as the rope came back down. This time, it thwapped me heavily on the head.

“Ow!”

Az smirked. “Well, looks like you've been chosen.” He caught the rope and passed it to me.

I snatched it from him. “Yeah, yeah.” I pulled myself up and held on as I was pulled gradually up. When I reached the top, I saw several large hands reaching out for me, so I latched on to a few of them and let them do the rest.

“Oh, goodness! Oh, my gosh!” My mother's voice, immediately, as I was pulled into her chest to suffocate. “You can't do that to me! I was so worried about you!! I came home, and all three of my boys were gone, and this poor woman's heart was about to break!”

“Yeah, I'm sorry, Mom,” I grunted, “but I can't breathe!

“Oh! Sorry, dear.” She reluctantly let me go, just in time for Dad to hug me. Finally, when he let me go, a third pair of arms grabbed me up.

“This is getting old,” I complained.

“Get used to it,” Susie retorted.

Oh. “Well, in that case, I guess I can.” I hugged her back, nuzzling into her chest. “Mmm.”

“Oh, my GOD.” She pushed my head off of her. “Our parents are RIGHT HERE.”

“Oh. Right.” I ceased, turning back to the hole where several people were pulling with all their might: Mom, Dad, Officer Undyne, a dragon lady with folded wings I could only assume was Susie's mother, Catti, and Nyx. They strained, and we stood up to help, grabbing the end and pulling right along with them. Noelle sat to the side with Niko, making sure he was alright. Finally, with one last tug, Asriel's horns were visible to the rest of us, and they pulled him up, bringing with him Frisk on his back. Once they were all out and everyone was checked over for injuries, all the moms started to cry over their children. As we expected. Poor Frisk was nearly mobbed with concern.

Susie clapped a hand on my back. “Sure glad that's not you, huh?”

“Super glad. Although, I've got a question.” I pointed to her mom. “How come you don't have wings?”

“Man, I don't know. It'd sure be nice, though. Can you imagine the trouble I could get into with 'em?”

The woman in question heard us and stepped over. “For the record, Kris, I've been waiting a while for the day she does get them, so don't be too let down.”

“Ha ha!” Susie's smile froze. “What?”

Just then, Dad turned to face the town, and his jaw dropped. “Would you look at that!”

We did. Far below us, the town and forest stretched out, and Cityscape in the far distance, painted in beautiful colors by the vibrant sunset. I'd never been up on a mountain before, and I'd have to remember this spot. It was the best view I'd ever seen.

Asriel stepped up next to me. “Holy crap,” he whispered. “That's insane. I almost want to take a picture.”

“Almost?”

“Well. It's too nice of a view for that. I'll just come back up and look again.”

Quietly, Frisk crept up between us, a look of wonder and something else, something strange on his face. He held both of our hands tightly.

I shook it in my grip. “Nuts, right?”

“This is it,” he breathed.

Asriel raised an eyebrow. “Come again?”

“This is it. The reason I rewrote it all...when we were all freed, we saw this exact view from here, and it was amazing...but I couldn't help but feel like...you two should have been there with us. To see it.” He squeezed our hands a little tighter. “It stayed with me for two years, and then I finally decided to change it all. I wanted to give you that chance. To...to have what we had.”

I blinked back tears. This kid...he had everything. He had friends, and a loving family, and people he felt like he belonged to. He gave up...all of that. He went back to the orphanage and suffered. All for my brother and I. Just so we could have this moment. “Then I guess...it's only fitting that you see it with us, then, huh?”

His eyes widened at that, and he nodded, crying. I hugged him, and Asriel hugged us, as everyone else came to see the view with us. Everyone was quiet, just looking on in awe.

And then, from the back, Niko's small voice: “I'm just glad it's not a lightbulb this time.”

We turned to stare at him, utterly perplexed. “Sugar, what are you talkin' about?” Nyx demanded.

He giggled nervously. “Uh, long story?"


 

In a different place, a bird girl stood up from the little stream by her house and stretched her legs. The day was hot, and she was bored. Her brother was out on village duties, and all the chores were done, so there was nothing to do. She looked around at the yard, looking for something to occupy her mind.

Her eyes rested on a ball, small and a bit deflated. It was old, but she remembered someone holding it and laughing. He was just a kid, like her, but he had to save the world.

Alula smiled sadly. She missed him.

 

In a different time, a flower sat rooted by a large bed of his own kind, watching. He couldn't find it within himself to care what happened, of course; it was physically impossible for him to feel. He just wanted something to happen already.

Although...he stared for a while at those flowers. He remembered a long time ago, when he found his brother on a similar bed, hurt and confused. He remembered that kid falling here, lost but not scared. That boy had made him know what it was like to feel again, to be himself again, after a very long time.

Flowey shook his head. Who was he, getting all sentimental over that runt.

 

In a different world, someone stood up from their computer, feeling a bit empty. There went their coping mechanism for when things felt too heavy. Now what would they do, alone in their home? They didn't much want to go outside...well...they opened the window. The sunlight streamed gently through, illuminating the dust and mess of the room. On the street, other people their age talked and laughed with each other, clearly having a good time. The person sighed. They wanted friends, but didn't think they could do that.

And then they remembered what Kris had said. How they couldn't keep relying on other people to be their life; how they had to go out there and grab it for themselves. It scared them, sure, but somehow...they felt they could do it.

You smiled for the first time in a while. Time to get yourself picked up.

Chapter Text

August 1st. Normally, a day I dreaded, because it meant the start of the new school year was coming. It meant I'd probably be sitting on my bed, staring blankly at the pages of a book, trying to get past the yearly existential dread that always set in around this time – that time will pass on forever, and we, dust in its path, will be swept aside unerringly, not even a footnote in its wake.

I'm really glad I'm no longer that broody and pedantic.

At least, I have a good reason not to be. Standing in the flower shop by the light switch with all our friends and family in a big group, all with big smiles on their faces, had never seemed like it would be before, but with everything we'd been through, it seemed like a far better reason than any.

Asriel, from behind the camera set up in front of the group, nodded to me. “We're good. Cut the lights.”

I did, engulfing the room in a darkness only broken by the dim glow from the large birthday cake resting on the table. Around it stood all our friends – Mom, Dad, Nyx and Niko (whose eyes both added to the din of the room), Susie and her parents (the father, Mick, I had never met before today), Amara, Jesse, Leshawn, Darren, Spence, Riley, Noelle, Catti, and even Officer Undyne had stopped in for a little bit during a lull in her patrol. Pickle had called us, saying he couldn't make it, but had sent his present over with Asriel, and it now sat neatly with the rest in the back of the room.

And, sitting in front of the cake, beaming with joy, was my dear little brother Frisk.

“Alright, everyone!” Az held up his hands, gesturing in time. “On three! One, two—“

As one, everyone in the room sang out:

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you! Happy birthday, dear Friiiisk--

He flushed with pride.

--Happy birthday tooo yooouuuu!

“And many moooore!” Leshawn chimed in.

“Hey, kid! Hurry up and blow out those candles!” Undyne bobbed a little in anticipation. “I can't stay here forever, you know!”

Frisk stared down at the ten candles on the cake for a moment. His face had something in it, something I couldn't quite read, but it only lasted for a moment, and then he pulled in a deep breath and blew as hard as he could. The candles all went out at once in an instant.

We all clapped and cheered, then I turned the lights back on and everyone immediately scrambled for plates. Dad got to the knife first, cutting the first few pieces and handing the first to the birthday boy. Mom had baked it: a white cake with strawberry cream, topped with real strawberries, and served with chocolate ice cream. As far as birthday cakes go, it was pretty fucking fantastic, and Frisk seemed reluctant to destroy such a work of art at first. But, like all little kids, he gave in and took a bite. Instantly, his entire face lit up, and he nodded vigorously. Pleased, Dad started to divvy up the rest to each of us.

I admit, I got my piece and just stared at it for a moment, too. Mom was really, really good at this, there was no denying it. Honestly, though, the artwork was better appreciated in my mouth, and, from the looks going around the room, everyone else agreed.

I came over to sit next to my little brother. Az had the same idea at the same time, and we ended up trying to sit in the same chair before realizing and taking different ones. “Happy birthday, kid,” he said for the fifteenth time that day.

“Thanks,” Frisk replied. He seemed a bit overwhelmed by all the attention, and today only spoke in a bit of a whisper.

“You having a good time?”

“Yeah.”

“Excited for presents?”

“I'm ten,” he said in response, almost awestruck, as if that made any sense.

I raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, kid, you are. The big double digits. Is that huge to you?”

“Um...” He stared down at his plate. “The thing is...I've been nine years old three times.”

That didn't make a whole lot of sense until I thought about it. Right. The whole time-warping business. “Yeah?”

“But, I've never...I've never been ten before.”

...Oh. I looked at Asriel, eyes wide. He returned my sentiment, unsure of really what to say. “...Well,” I finally said, setting a hand on the little kid's shoulder. “If it's any consolation, I've never been seventeen before. And Az has never been nineteen before. Jesse's never been sixteen before, Mom's never been forty-five...this is normal, man. You'll never have to be nine again. We'll always be here to help you make sure things go right. Okay?”

He blinked. Nodded. “Okay.”

“Cool.” I gave him a hug, careful not to get food on my shirt, then sat back down to finish my own.

“Hey!” Suddenly, a big-eared hat was plopped on Frisk's head, and the perpetrator hugged his friend tight. “We're the same age today!”

The kid could barely get his arms up to hug him back. “I know!”

Niko let out a small purr (and later denied it vehemently). “As your best friend, I call getting to open one of your presents.”

“That's cool.”

As they were conversing, I gave the cat boy a good, long look. It didn't really seem possible that this kid was the same one that, by his account, had been forcefully pulled into another universe, been trapped there for several days, and experienced all sorts of tragedy and fear, just to save a man-made world from extinction with a lightbulb. He insisted that it was real, but was miserable that he couldn't ever return. I guessed I could understand that. Having friends that you couldn't ever talk to again in another universe would suck ass. At least, according to Frisk, everyone from the old timeline was here, in this one, so I still had the chance to speak with them. This shit really wasn't fair, huh?

Then Noelle came up from behind the group, startling me out of my reverie, having devoured her share of cake in mere moments. “Hey,” she said, holding up a present. “Wanna start digging in?”

Riley stared in horror at the small reindeer. “Where the hell did you put all that?”

She shrugged. “Anyway, we doing this or what?”

“I'm in,” Susie agreed, carrying three more gifts under her arms.

Asriel put his head in his hands.

And so, gift unwrapping commenced. I watched the first few be unboxed: a new brush set, a shirt, a deep red scarf, and a bottle of mace (from Pickle, Jesse, Nyx, and Undyne, respectively – Mom had immediately confiscated the mace, to Undyne's displeasure). Then, as Niko was claiming his turn, I felt a tug on my arm. “Hey, can we talk?”

I turned. Susie stood there, a small smile on her face, but it didn't seem to completely meet her eyes. That was surprising, considering everything going on today. I glanced back to where Niko now proudly held up a cell phone. “Is it urgent?”

“I'd rather get it over with now.”

“Fair enough.” I nodded towards the doors. “Outside, then.”

She obliged, and we managed to duck out without questions. It was another blisteringly hot day, making the slightly humid atmosphere of the flower shop feel like heaven on Earth. At least this time I wasn't wearing my sweater. “So what's up?”

Susie took a deep breath. “This is gonna sound kind of weird, considering everything, but...the stories we heard from the kids.”

“Yeah?”

“They got me to thinking.”

“A rare experience.”

“Shut up.” She rolled her eyes. “What I'm trying to say is, it feels like their adventures ended, you know? But, like...ours didn't. If you think about it. You get what I mean?”

I thought about that. Sure, we had our own little adventure, and we'd able to finish our task and come home, but... “Yeah, I get what you mean. There's unanswered questions. Admittedly, I've been thinking about it sometimes, too.”

“You know what this means.”

“I know about as well as you do.”

She nodded. “We gotta get back to the Darkworld.”

I agreed, wiping my face. Sweat was already starting to pour into my eyes.

It was so fucking hot outside.


Far, far below the Earth, maybe in another realm altogether, a young goat in green sat in a false castle. He didn't move. Didn't get up. One could think he wasn't even breathing.

What he was doing was waiting.

Waiting for the two heroes to return. He'd gained their friendship and their trust. Now all that was left was to await their return, so that he could join them and become the third hero of legend. It wasn't like there was much else around here to do for one such as him.

A sign of movement: Ralsei smiled.

What a couple of idiots.