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"And in a flash, I return with the popcorn!" you announce, marching back into the living room triumphantly like your giant plastic popcorn bowl is actually a first place Olympic trophy. Your two skeletal companions of the afternoon are as you left them: sitting on the couch with a you-sized space between them.

"i thought 'inna flash' is supposta mean yer fast?" Here is the first of your two movie night bros - you've been back in the room for less than five seconds and Red is already trying to sass you. It looked like he had started sinking into the couch while you were gone, but he's sitting up again as you approach, reaching out towards you with wiggly grabby hands... for the bowl in your hands. "y' took so long i thought i'd hafta come find ya."

With a cheeky grin, you hold the popcorn out of his reach until you're sitting down. Now that the popcorn is in your lap, there is nothing stopping him from leaning in to grab some of that freshly popped 'corn. "Hey, it's not my fault! Y'alls dumb microwave only has buttons for spaghetti, I didn't know what to do! So, bad news: this is actually spaghetti and not popcorn."

Red freezes as you say that - coincidentally just after he tossed a few pieces of popcorn into his jaw with reckless abandon. He actually needs to take a moment to confirm that he is in fact eating popcorn, and that you have not just punked him with the ol' spaghetti switcheroo. His sigh of relief is small - but you catch it! - and you can't help but feel so proud of yourself that your history of ridiculous japes actually made him doubt the authenticity of the popcorn that both looked and smelled like it should. You are so powerful.

"WELL, IT LOOKS LIKE POPCORN TO ME!" From your other side, Blue takes a single piece of popcorn and - with only a tiny bit of hesitation (man you are SO powerful!) - he eats it as well. "YUMMY! TASTES LIKE IT TOO! DO NOT FRET, FRIEND, FOR YOU HAVE IN FACT MADE POPCORN DESPITE THE MICROWAVE'S LIES!"

"Aww, I was looking forward to eating some messy spaghetti on the nice clean couch. We could have done the Lady and the Tramp thing and everything."

"the what?"

"The L-- nevermind," you say, noting the blank looks on their faces. Apparently these guys have never had a Disney night before. "Anyways, what movie we watchin'?"

"WE'RE STILL LOOKING FOR ONE!" 

"baby blue doesn't like my picks."

"I'M NOT A BABY! IT'S JUST... NOT THE RIGHT TIME TO WATCH A SCARY MOVIE! Y-YEAH, IT NEEDS TO BE NIGHTTIME FOR THAT. SO THAT'S WHY WE CAN'T WATCH ONE NOW."

"He has a point." Amused, you defend Blue as he squirms, flipping through Netflix slightly faster than before. You're not even sure if he's actually looking at the movies anymore or if he’s just trying to avoid the horror movie conversation. You spot a few that you like and ones you've been meaning to watch, but you don't point them out. Right now you’d rather see something they want to watch. It’s not like anything's really jumping out at you anyways.

"aww, what's th' matter sweet hearrrrrt? " Red leans closer to you, rolling Rs that should never be rolled in the most exaggerated way possible. That plus his half-lidded shit-eating gaze never fails to make you laugh. "ya scared of a lil movie too?" As he purrs, he brushes the tips of his phalanges against your arm. The same phalanges that are currently covered in popcorn slime. Sandwiched between him and Blue, there is nowhere you can escape.

"That's what I forgot: napkins. Dang." Laughing, you push his hand away and try to rub your arm clean. He just snickers and grabs a handful of popcorn, his eye lights staring directly at you as he very messily shoves the whole collection of 'corn into his mouth. You can see a red glow past his sharp teeth. Knowing him, it's probably a gross-ass magic tongue he manifested to tease you, but the joke's on him because you can barely see it through the disgusting amount of popcorn he's trying to consume at once.

"IT'S OKAY, I'LL GO GET SOME ONCE WE'VE PICKED A MOVIE!" Blue is oblivious to your cursed exchange, focused intently on the TV. It’s probably for the best.

"Nah, it's cool, I can just go get some right now." It will also give you an opportunity to wash your arm, and maybe fill a squirt bottle that you can combat Red with. "Besides, I think I might need to make more popcorn for us... If this bonehead keeps it up, we'll be done before the movie even starts." Seriously, half of what he grabbed didn't even end up in his mouth. Those kernels are going to be lost in the couch for the rest of time.

Red has finished his handful of popcorn and is leaning close again. "hey, no need fer napkins. i can help ya get clean." This time, there is nothing to obscure your view of the Cursed Red Ecto Tongue, and oh nO WHAT IS HE DOING

" No!!! " You frantically put your hand to his skull and try to push him away before he can lick you. You're extremely aware of the possibility of the popcorn bowl falling off your lap and onto the floor. The battle you fight is a delicate one. "Skeletons aren't supposed to have tongues!! Stay back you vile, accursed creature of lies and sin! Begone!"

You seem to have the advantage, holding him far enough away that his gross wiggly tongue cannot touch you. Red's eyelids slide shut and he hums, thinking about your polite and reasonable request. "let me think about it. hmmmmmm..."

After that fateful day four months ago when you first met and had dinner with eight skeletons in this very house, they continued to keep in contact with you despite their (presumably) busy schedule and other interests. Obviously, some talked to you more often than others - Papyrus sent you at least one message almost every day, meanwhile you've received literally nothing from Mutt even though you saw him put your number into his phone. Red and Blue are your next most regular texting partners, followed by Black, Stretch, and finally Edge, who only seems to text you "by accident" before lecturing you about healthy living habits. He also has the honour of being the only one who has never asked you to hang out, while everyone else has on more than one occasion (which he sometimes GRACES YOU WITH HIS PRESENCE for). 

You feel like you're in a foggy "not-quite-friends-but-also-more-than-acquaintances" state with all of them, and you know what? You're fine with that. Getting close to people is hard and honestly a little scary. You're just happy that they like you enough to make time for you and are also willing to put up with your horrible sense of humour. 

Meanwhile, there's Sans - your OG bone texting buddy. You're certain his messages have grown more and more infrequent since you started talking to the others, but you don't want to ask why. You're not clingy or hurt or anything, you just... miss having someone to dunk on? Miss watching someone be infected by the memes you use? It was rare that he asked you to hang out, but he'd join you and the other skeletons if he was around, and there was ONE TIME he invited you to Grillby's. Then he started acting kind of distant when Grillby recognized you - because haha you came here with Red just the other week! - and... then...

You feel like something happened, but you're not sure what.

(Maybe he just got sick of talking to you.)

WHOA. Whoa, what was that?! A negative thought?? Nuh-uh, get that shit out of here. This ain't a fic about Sans being a dunkaroo - we're supposed to be hanging out with Blueberry and Red right now! Sans' story is just going to have to WAIT. 

Skeleton boys Blue and Red are probably what you'd call your "best friends" out of all the skelebros you've met. They each invite you to hang out at least once a week (and on days like today, their invitations coincidentally have overlapped), and it feels like you've been all over town with their hangout choices combined. You've gone to arcades with Blue, while Red takes you to bars to go people-watching. They've both even somehow weaseled their way into a hangout at your home - which in of itself had its own anxieties - but a couple Locked Doors™ stopped them from uncovering your darkest secrets. You've had to set boundaries with them both for different reasons, and they've been cool about it. Red in particular seems to make an effort to up his flirting game to being as exaggerated and fake as possible so you don't have to doubt his intentions.

Returning to present events - the ones where Red is trying to lick you with his gross magic tongue - from all that you've learned about Red in the months you've grown to know him, you'd wager the chances of him giving up now and giving you your space are about... 

...fifty percent?

"--mmmmmmmmmm... ...nah." 

It's like flipping a fucking coin.

You let out an unholy, exaggerated shriek as Red's strength seems to multiply, pushing back against your hand with enough force that he is getting agonizingly closer despite your efforts. His snickers are unrestrained by the presence of his tongue - damn his lack of vocal chords! - and hearing the sick glee he's getting out of tormenting you sets off the ferocious beast inside you. With all your strength, you--

"No! Nooooo! "

"ha! got you! oh-- srnk, hahahaha!"

"The popcorn!" Oh, the poor popcorn! Now you've done it, you've knocked over the bowl!! Not only is it on the floor, the table, the couch, and yourselves, BUT ALSO Red's disgusting glowy slime tongue successfully connected with your arm for less than one second. Everything is bad right now. 

"OH NO!! IT'S OKAY, I'VE GOT IT!" Blue puts down the TV remote and starts diligently moving all the popcorn back into the bowl. None of it can be salvaged. No choice but to throw it out.

Red is grabbing the popcorn off your clothes and eating it. 

And, uh... so are you. 

"Dude, eat your own popcorn."

"make me."

You stare at each other for a moment before you furrow your brow and pick a kernel off his sweater. Red opens his jaw, once again giving you full view of Magic Tongue. With a very determined noise, you slowly bring the popcorn close to his face... and then flick it into his eye socket. Red makes a strangled high-pitched noise - a noise you only hear from him when you've successfully dunked on his dumb ass.

"oh god why-- " Months ago, you thought this would have been a cruel thing to do to a skeleton, but now - knowing it's not something that hurts - it remains one of the funniest things you've ever seen. You cannot explain why, but seeing something fall into a skeleton eye socket just sends you into a laughing fit. This particular instance is made even funnier when you remember the fact that you've gotten Red to fall for this exact same trap before. When will he stop thinking you’re actually going to feed him a food? Fool.

"i-- eye can't believe this." Red groans and leans forward a bit, reaching into his eye socket (okay, that's a little unsettling to watch) and digging around before finally pulling out the forbidden kernel. Instead of eating it, he throws it across the room.

"HEY! DON'T MAKE A BIGGER MESS!"

"again: make me, lil baby blue." Blue huffs but doesn't say anything else as he continues to clean. You start to help him again, but are distracted when Red speaks up. "ew, what's this guy doin' on the screen? boo! get 'im outta here!"

Red throws some popcorn at the TV, where Blue's Netflix search has coincidentally stopped on a documentary of sorts. The guy in the preview is familiar - he hosts a talk show that regularly gives anti-monster activists a voice but the man himself pretends to be neutral. This documentary looks to be about the same thing - hate and lies packed together with just enough testimonials from pro-monster allies to make the movie seem like it's raising questions or featuring “both sides of the story”. 

"Ugh, who gave him funds to make a movie?" Red answers your question at the same time you see the logo. " Netflix, what?! What!! They have the Mettaton movies on here, how could they do that?!" 

Beside you, Red shrugs. "jus' what big corps do, i guess. don't think tha' dumb rectangle would care either, considering how many shitty human movies he's been in, he prob'ly sold out a long time ago." Even though he doesn't look surprised, there's still a hint of a scowl on his skull. Even Blue looks upset.

"I BET THEY DIDN'T EVEN INTERVIEW A SINGLE MONSTER FOR THAT FILM!" Blue pauses. "ERM, WELL, MAYBE I SHOULDN'T ASSUME SO QUICKLY! I-I MEAN, YOU NEVER KNOW... MAYBE IT'S ACTUALLY GOOD?"

"nah, doubt it. an' we're not giving him th' views ta find out." Red abruptly sits up and grabs the remote, getting the cursor off that awful movie and going back to browsing. You can't help but sigh as you once again resume cleaning up popcorn. 

"Man, it's too bad there's not a monster-friendly streaming service. Because I think Netflix might be a little bit ruined for me now? Not that it's been that great lately anyways." 

"i mean, what would be on it? mtt an' tha' doofy broadway musical? s'not like there're many monsters in th' acting biz. besides, humans have made way too many amazing shitty monster movies, i'd hate ta miss out on those."

He's not wrong - a streaming service that exclusively featured monster-made movies likely wouldn't thrive. There's just not enough of them, and too much of them are Mettaton. Even the aforementioned musical - which you believe is run by another AU version of Sans and Papyrus - has the realass Mettaton in it. You cannot escape that sexy robot. He haunts all monster media.

Red also isn't wrong on the second part - there are some damn good (and so-bad-they're-good) human-made monster movies and shows out there. You’re glad most monsters seem to have a good sense of humour when it comes to that stuff.

"I JUST..." Blue sighs and his skeleton face manages to twist into a scowl. "SOME PEOPLE JUST DON'T EVEN TRY TO GET TO KNOW US! I'M SURE ANY MONSTER WOULD BE HAPPY TO ANSWER ANY QUESTION THE HUMANS HAVE, BUT SOME OF THEM JUST KEEP MAKING UP LIES??? I JUST DON'T GET IT!"

"some people just suck, nothin’ anybody can do 'bout it." You hum in agreement with Red, and Blue sighs again. "but anyways, ya know what this means, right?"

"WHAT?" As soon as the word is out of his mouth, Blue gasps in realization, his starry eye lights glowing brightly. "OH YEAH! DONATION TIME!!!"

Blue scrambles for his phone, leaving you looking back and forth between the two skeletons. Red is offering you no explanation, continuing to browse Netflix as he eats whatever stray popcorn is still in reach. "Donation time? What's...?"

"MY BROTHER CAME UP WITH IT!" He's already tip-tapping away on his phone. "WE DONATE TO A MONSTER CHARITY EVERY TIME WE SEE HATEFUL ACTIVITY DIRECTED TOWARDS MONSTERS. IT'S FUN! ...I MEAN, NOT FUN THAT PEOPLE ARE BEING MEAN TO MONSTERS, BUT, UM, IT'S FUN TO BE ABLE TO HELP A LITTLE BIT!!"

"Really?" It takes you a moment, but suddenly you're easily able to imagine Stretch consoling a heartbroken Blue with that generous idea after hearing some particularly nasty hate speech or something. "Doesn't that get kind of expensive?" Oops, that sounded kind of insensitive, didn't it? You're sure the skeletons have cash to burn - they get invited to all sorts of events on account of being famous for merely existing - but... could they really have THAT much...?

Red apparently reads your mind, answering with a chuckle. "we did hafta scale it back after th' first few days. it's pretty easy ta get carried away when yer spiting haters."

"ONE CENT FOR EVERY HATEFUL MESSAGE DIRECTED AT A MONSTER'S SOCIAL MEDIA PAGE!"

"two if it's a bot."

This stirs a memory in you. Long before you met the skeletons, you remembered an infamous tweet one of them made about how many hate messages they have in their inbox and how much money they were going to donate as a result. Who was that again? It became a meme for awhile (as most things on the Internet tend to become), and you remember a closing line of "eat shit, haters". Of the skeletons you know, that sounds like a very "Red" thing to say, but you don't actually think it was him. Gah, you're going to have to look it up later or it's going to bug you. Regardless, you never dreamed the donations would have remained a regular habit after that. That's so cool. You wouldn’t be surprised if this little game they have actually reduced the volume of hate messages once people realized their shitty words were helping more than hurting.

Blue continues proudly listing all their donation incentives in the same tone one might recite a list of sacred rules:

"FIVE DOLLARS FOR EVERY 'CLICKBAIT' YOUTUBE VIDEO ABOUT WHY 'MONSTERS MIGHT BE BAD'!"

"if they're gettin' paid fer it: add half a dollar every time we see it in th' fucking recommendations."

"TEN DOLLARS IF IT'S SOMEONE SAYING THAT KIND OF STUFF ON LIVE TELEVISION!"

"...hey, how much're we payin' fer netflix?"

"UMM..."

"I think a sub is about fourteen dollars now? Maybe? Don't quote me on that--"

"ok, add that to the tv one for 'the asshole has a netflix show'."

"OH! GOOD IDEA!!"

"Wow, that's... really awesome?" Red chuckles while Blue beams at your approval. "How much for a group of protesters? One dollar per person?"

"nah, that's too easy. it's th' number've square feet they're taking up plus th' value of th' establishments they're blockin'."

"You've come up with a list of what each type of building is worth?"

"well, it's really jus' personal preference 'r what we're feelin' at th' time. like, houses? that's important so like, i dunno, extra fifteen i guess. grocery store? i like ta use th' price of mustard."

You laugh as Blue chimes in with a surprising bit of smugness to his tone. "AND IF THE PROTESTERS WERE IN FRONT OF GRILLBY'S, YOU'D HAVE TO ADD ENOUGH TO PAY OFF YOUR TAB, RIGHT? BECAUSE GRILLBY’S IS JUST THAT IMPORTANT TO YOU!"

"...well." Geez, that must be a lot of money for him to look that disgruntled. Blue is snickering. "...grillbz is pretty important... vanilla can split with me, he'd love that."

"HM. I'M SURE HE WOULD! ANYWAYS, OUR BIGGEST DONATION IS WHEN THERE'S A PHYSICAL VIOLENCE TOWARDS A MONSTER OR THEIR PROPERTY. THEN WE ALL CHIP IN TO DONATE A MINIMUM OF ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS - SOMETIMES MORE, DEPENDING ON HOW BAD IT IS OR HOW MANY SKELETONS OR OTHER MONSTERS WE CAN GET TO JOIN US."

Huh! You kind of thought this little charity ritual was limited to those that lived here. "Do a lot of the others donate regularly too?" You have no idea how many AU skeletons are in this world or how much money they each make, but... damn, they could really do a world of a difference if they all pooled their resources together for good, huh?

"OF COURSE! BLACK AND MUTT DO ALL THE TIME, AND SO DOES G! HE'S ALWAYS DONATING A LOT AT ONCE. THERE'S ALSO JAZZ AND TANGO, TENOR AND BARITONE, LUST AND CHARM, ALL THE GIRLS - THE GIRLS IN PARTICULAR ARE REALLY GOOD AT IT! I THINK THEY'RE ACTUALLY TRYING TO OUT-DONATE US?"

"pretty sure they're jus' tricking black an' the boss into donatin' more t' keep up with 'em."

"WHAT, REALLY?? WOW, THAT'S... VERY DEVIOUS?? BUT ALSO VERY GOOD?? I GUESS IT'S OKAY, SINCE IT'S FOR CHARITY.”

It's interesting to hear about skeletons you've never met before. Some have social media (such as all the ones you know - though Sans and Mutt barely use theirs compared to the other six), and some don't. During your hangouts, you've heard stories of skeletons with names that you couldn't even begin to pinpoint to an AU you knew of. Sometimes you're honestly surprised you don't see skeleton monsters out 'n about more often beyond your friendquaintances and the ones that are TV personalities.

“ANYWAYS, THERE'S EVEN MORE OF THE OTHER US-ES THAT DONATE A LOT, EVEN IF THEY DON'T FOLLOW THE SAME RULES WE HAVE. AND THEN THERE'S SOME THAT... DON'T DONATE ANYTHING AT ALL..." Blue clears his non-existent throat and forces a smile. "A-ANYWAYS! THAT'S TWENTY FOUR MORE DOLLARS GOING TO THE MONSTER CHARITY!!! ALL THANKS TO NETFLIX!"

"double it for me, blue."

"OKAY! DOUBLED AAAND... SENT! MWEH HEH HEH!"

You expect Red to give you a cheeky look - one that screams "howdy sweetheart, i'm tryin' ta impress ya with my generosity" - but he... doesn't even look at you? His eye lights stay glued to the TV as he continues scrolling, expression completely neutral. Like donating money to charity is a totally normal thing for him.

...And that's because it is.

Shit, that's so cool. How are these clownshoes skeleton celebrities actually pretty good people? Even the ones that act like total tools on the outside! You honestly can't even remember the last time you donated money to anything - maybe you should do that when you get home. Mentally, you file away a reminder to ask the skelebros for the charities they donate to. You sure as hell can't do it as often as them, but maybe you can scrounge up some money to spare...

"NOW THAT THAT'S DONE, I WILL GO MAKE SOME NEW POPCORN! AND DON'T WORRY - I WON'T FORGET THE NAPKINS!!!" Before you can protest, Blue leaps up, grabs the bowl of unsanitary floor popcorn, and races out of the room. You're a bit miffed to have your self-appointed job swiped from you right under your nose, but... hey, less work for you, right? Just as your leaning back to relax, Red leans in with the TV remote and starts speaking quietly.

"ok, what's a movie tha' looks unsuspectin' but’s actually super scary?"

You let out an exaggerated gasp and speak a bit louder than normal. "Red! That's SO mean!! Picking a scary movie when Blue isn't LOOKING??" Red snickers and tries to shush you, and you find yourself snickering back. When Blue does not come running into the room to reprimand his edgy counterpart, you take the remote from his hands and start scrolling at the speed of light to reach the search menu.

"Alright, I have the perfect movie--"


A few days later, you need to go grocery shopping. 

Alright, maybe you don't NEED to, but you are going anyways because you're out of monster food. It's more expensive than human food where you live so you can't eat it often, but the way it melts in your mouth instead of sitting in your stomach... it's just really nice! Especially when you're not feeling very good but know you need to eat something. And those cinnabunnies, hrrrghh they're so gooooood

There's only one store in town that sells monster food, and it's in the absolute worst possible place. Just smack dab in the middle of the most out-of-the-way block in the city, and with a horrible parking lot that should not be for a café and a convenience-grocery store place. Welp, the good thing is that because of those factors, absolutely nobody comes out here. 

Except today, apparently.

You groan as you're approaching the store and see a crowd of people holding signs outside of the store. Man, you thought nobody knew this part of town existed. You don't think you've ever even seen this many people around here before. But here they are, and they are all angry and irrational. You want to just turn around and go home, but... you really want those cinnabunnies. You're gonna cinna- die if you don't get them.

And so, you begin to approach.

At first, they don't seem to care about you. A couple look in your direction but don't say anything, perhaps thinking you're going into the café. You honestly think about doing exactly that - maybe you can wait it out in there and these people will just go away eventually.

But no. You walk past it.

"What do you think about monsters living among us?" comes a feminine voice the second you've crossed some imaginary line. A haggard-looking young lady is holding a sign that says "THEY'RE CALLED MONSTERS FOR A REASON!" . Wow, she's so woke that she's somehow crossed back over into sleep territory. Please get some sleep, ma'am. It's good for your body and mind.

"I think they watered my plants and purified my water supply, excuse me--" You’re mumbling nonsense to yourself as you try to weave through the crowd. Listen, you may be an ultra memelord - "Dunk Master 8000" is your middle name - but you can't help but shrink a bit when you’re among a group of strangers. Their horrid, handmade signs make each individual person look taller than you are and you feel like you're trying to navigate an angry corn field. Why would a corn field even need to be angry? Maybe the pesticides the farmers are using are poisoning the crops--

"Hey!" Oh great, there's a large-ish man standing between you and the automatic doors to the grocery store. The doors have even slid open on account of how close you are, beckoning you to safety. Dammit, if only you were a little smaller! Then maybe you could have juked him out and slipped by, like the cool kids always do in the movies.

"You shouldn't shop here. Did you know they sell monster food here? Isn't that disgusting?" Ah, he thinks he can play it off like he's trying to help you. If you scamper off now, he and everyone else here will feel like national heroes. They saved you from the horrible, poisonous monster food. They saved you from cancer - or autism - or whatever nonsense they're claiming monster products will give you. 

Dude, fuck that.

"Actually, I think it tastes pretty good?" There are murmurs and gasps of shock around you. You suddenly feel like you're surrounded, but you try to stand tall. The man blocking your path furrows his brow, and you stare at his nose instead of his eyes so you feel less anxious. "It uh, has like healing properties and stuff? Also, it doesn't make me want to vom' like human food does sometimes. So I like it."

"That's just a bunch of lies, you don't know what you're talking about." The man seems to miss that 80% of what you said was based on personal opinion and experience. You notice his sign says "GO BACK UNDERGROUND". Simple and boring. His creativity must be as good as his listening skills. "If you keep eating that shit, you're going to regret it."

Wow! That's definitely an immediate threat! Is someone recording this? Good thing you know death is an inevitability, so may as well live life doing what you know best: saying unimaginably stupid shit. "Correction: if I get food poisoning again I am going to regret it because I will have run out of foods my body will tolerate trying again. So I'm just gonna keep eating my magic burgs and cinnamon treats in peace, thanks--"

You try to step around him and big surprise: he matches your movement to block you. C'mon, don't these people have anywhere better to be? You really thought exaggerating your experiences with food poisoning could get you somewhere. Maybe you should claim you're allergic to every food ever? "That's impossible, you're just being picky. What are the odds of getting food poisoning from the same thing twice?" Nah, you could just get stuck in a loop of this nonsense. Let's see, what do people hate hearing about? If you start listing off facts about spiders, do you think they'll be distracted enough that you can get by? Maybe menstruation facts would work better? Nobody like hearing about that! ...unless they have a fetish, maybe... oh no...

You're so caught up in thinking about how you are going to get out of this situation that you don't notice the man edging forward is making you unconsciously step back. Seeing the people surrounding you is what snaps you back into reality - some have faces of disgust, others of pity... There's a spike of fear in your gut, but honestly you're just kind of annoyed. They know they can't hit you unless you provoke them, and you're not sure you're confrontational enough for that. They could probably trap you here for hours if they wanted to--

"beep beep, comin' through."

There's a horrified, shrill gasp as people leap out of the way for the surprise arrival of someone much bolder and more relaxed than you. The new figure is at least a foot taller than everybody here, and that combined with their sharp teeth and skeletal features puts the protesters into a shocked silence for a moment.

Wait. Skeletal features...?

Oh hey! It's just Mutt.

Without a damn care in the world, Mutt starts walking through the middle of the crowd, almost passing right by you. You're so glad he ended up noticing you at the last minute though, because you were so shocked by his random arrival that you didn't even think to call out to him. 

"wait a sec..." Just before he's escaped the tight human circle, he turns back around to give you an amused grin. "oh hey, it's you."

"Ew, you know this thing?!" calls out a voice among the crowd. While Mutt doesn't seem fazed, you can't help but instinctively speak up.

"Hey, he's not a thing. That's rude."

Mutt chuckles, staring at you like you're the only person here. You suddenly realize you haven't seen him look directly at any of the protesters. "heh, no need to defend me, firecracker. i'm used to it."

"That still doesn't make it ri--"

"Ugh, I should have known you were a filthy monster fucker," says the man from earlier, shaking his head. "That's disgusting. "

"Whoa, buddy!" you retort, suddenly feeling stronger now that Mutt is here. You don't know him very well and he could very well leave you for dead if things got bad, but just seeing a familiar face is... calming. Reinvigorating. Your sass powers are returning to you. "At least I ain't never stuck me and my junk somewhere where it wasn't welcome, unlike you and your monster hate boner today."

The man makes a disgusted noise and starts to step towards you again, but before you can react, Mutt has an arm around your shoulders and is yoinking you backwards. The man finally stops glaring at you, instead focusing his attention on Mutt.

"Don't you dare touch them like that." What? Is he trying to be offended on your behalf??

"like what? like this?" And he forces you closer against his side, his hoodie cushioning the rough impact. You can smell smoke and a hint of... barbeque sauce? Your heart is pounding from being jostled around so much. "and what're you and your hate boner going to do to stop me?"

Furious, the man swings his fist towards Mutt's face. You gasp - not because of the sudden attack, but because of Mutt twisting and bending out of the way in the most extra way possible, taking you with him. You both spin around 180 degrees, and just as you think you're going to trip over yourself, he holds you steady by pulling you into a fucking dip. You feel the blood rushing to your head as you look up at Mutt's face above you. He's grinning. You're holding onto him for dear life like you’re being dangled over a cliff. All your brain cells have shut down, leaving you unable to process what the fuck is going on. Your body is completely frozen, leaving you helpless as the skeleton's face approaches yours.

" relax. just trust me."

Well! That's two things you sure as shit can't do! Mutt's rough and flirty tone is setting off all your internal alarms - what is likely a sound that sets others' loins aflame is spiking your anxiety something fierce. Like a suspicious and unwarranted compliment, or a touch on the arm that you didn't ask for. You body is screaming for you to run, but you may as well not even have legs right now. 

Through the pounding of your heart, you can hear Mutt start humming. 

Even though your frantic mind can't process what's going on, it latches onto that familiar melody. You don't have enough brain power to figure out what song it is, but the song is helping ground you as Mutt slowly pulls you back upright. You suddenly remember that there is an angry mob surrounding you, but Mutt's complete nonchalance as he adjusts your position is keeping them far from your mind. The both of you are gently swaying back and forth to a rhythm you can't pinpoint.

Wait a minute.

"you ready?"

Are you about to dance?? 

"W--" You open your mouth to protest but Mutt is already twirling you, resuming his humming a bit louder. For a moment, you're at the whims of the music in his mind - he leads you into turns and shimmies, and you feel like you're stumbling, unable to predict what he's doing. But then your steps become a little bit more fluid, and you realize the mystery song is stuck in your head now. You've totally heard it somewhere before, but you can't remember any of the lyrics or what it's called. You feel light as a feather as Mutt guides your dance closer to the humans around you, and they immediately back away in horror. They realize that your shitty movin' and groovin' can't be stopped, and all they can do is get out of the way. You find yourself smiling and humming along to Mutt's song, letting him drag you around the sidewalk a bit longer to torment the negative Nancys around you, widening their circle until they're so spread out that you could easily get the heck out of dodge if you wanted to. You're sent into a laughing fit when Mutt hip bumps the man that was giving you shit earlier before whisking you past his bumbling form and into the grocery store.

...Oh yeah! You were trying to get in here, weren't you?

"Holy shit," you breathe as Mutt releases you. He's grinning at you as you laugh out the last bit of your tension. "That was-- oh my god what the fuck even, I gotta sit down dude haha."

You stumble a bit further into the store, not sure where to go until you turn and make a beeline for the shopping carts. You don't need one - you don't plan to buy much - but it'll help you keep your balance while you're still this lightheaded. You find yourself humming the song again as you pull the cart out and roll towards the first aisle.

"Hey, how much money was that?" you ask suddenly, turning to look at Mutt. You didn't even check to see if he was following you, but he is.

"what? you wanna pay me for dancing for you?"

You laugh at his words and shit-eating grin. "No! I mean your donation thing that you guys do. That's, what, however many feet plus... something?"

"oh, you know about that?" Amused, he somehow catches up to walk next to you despite seemingly retaining the same walking speed the whole time. "hmm... well, they spread themselves out pretty far there, didn't they? so i'd say that's maybe... thirty dollars plus..." He reaches for one of the shelves and pulls off the cheapest bottle of barbeque sauce. "six ninety five."

"That's it? Can't even spare a couple extra dollars for one of the better sauces?"

"sauce? what, you think i was talking about this store? i was talking about the little lost kitten they trapped."

"A cat? Wh-- Oh." You give him your best unamused look, but you can't stop yourself from smiling through it. "Boo! I'm worth way more than that. I mean, you at least gotta add the tax on top of that."

"hm, fair enough." He puts the BBQ sauce in your cart and you narrow your eyes at him. Now whomst is paying for this, exactly? Well, whatever, he kinda did just save your ass so you don't mind buying it for him if he wants to stick the bill on you. 

“you’re buying monster food?” As you grab three boxes of cinnabunnies, Mutt is watching you curiously. You just give him a cheeky smile.

“Yeah yeah, I’m addicted. Sue me and my trash-ass human stomach for wanting to feel good sometimes.”

“don’t you know that stuff is supposed to give you cancer? i hear it’s worse than… the drugs.

The laugh you let out is short. “If it was scientifically proven that cinnabunnies would kill me instantly if I had just one more bite of them, I would still say YOLO and take that bite anyways. I’ll die as I lived - being a stupid dumb idiot with zero self-control. And what’s the point of life if I’m not gonna be myself?!”

“fair point. welp, it was nice knowing you, kitten.”

Your face scrunches up at the nickname, but you decide not to call him out on it for now. You’re in a good mood. Besides, maybe if you ignore him, he’ll stop using it...

You continue your grocery shopping adventure with no more additions to the cart from Mutt. After a few more aisles of humming that song again, you decide to ask a certain burning question:

"So where did you learn how to dance?"

"interested? i know a few more dances i could show you."

You snort. "Let me guess: the sideways tango? The... sexy salsa?? I dunno, but I'm not falling for your skeleton willies. "

"hmmm... actually i've never heard of those dances before. care to show me?"

"Nope, get outta here you clown."

"ok. see ya."

There is no longer a skeleton in the corner of your vision, and when you whirl around, Mutt is nowhere to be found. Wait, what?? Really?? Did he... actually just leave you???????? You look around everywhere, jumping when you finally turn forward just to see he's leaning on your cart.

"Wh-- Jesus, dude--"

"not my name, but you can call me whatever you like, kitten." He grins past the unlit dog treat that's suddenly hanging from his teeth. "did you really miss me that much?"

You scoff and start pushing the cart again, forcing him off of it. "I'm! N-Not a kitten..." Wow, was that the best you could come up with? You're losing your touch! Mutt chuckles as he starts following you again.

"is that so? let's see--" You suddenly feel a hand touching the top of your head and you jerk away, freezing in place as you whirl around to glare at the skeleton with his hand hanging in the air. He actually seems mildly shocked at your reaction, but that melts back into amusement pretty quickly.

"huh. guess you're right - not a kitten after all."

"If you're going to compare me to a cat, it better be a fucking tiger," you snap with a bit more force than intended before you start walking again. Great, now you're in a bad mood. You probably should have seen this coming - Mutt does this kind of weird flirt game nonsense every time you see him. You're almost certain he doesn't mean it so it's easy to brush off when you have other skeletons (usually his brother) to focus on. Black may be a sourpuss dweeb, but he's so needy for attention that it's easy to forget Mutt is there with you two during the majority of your hangouts. 

However, Black is not here this time. You have nobody else to bounce off of - Mutt is like an undunkable basket, you just cannot pull one over on him. And so, hanging out with him is just kind of...

...annoying

But maybe now's a good chance to fix that?

"Hey, listen, Mutt--" Your face scrunches up a bit when you say his nickname out loud. You’re used to other people using it and using it in your head, but aloud? With your own voice? It just sounds so derogatory - you really don't like using it. "--dude, my dude... You. Uh, would you mind knocking it off with the whole... flirty thing?"

As is customary whenever you try to hint at having this conversation, he shrugs it off and deflects back onto you: "'flirty thing'? what makes you think i'm flirting with you? that's pretty self-centered, don't you think?"

"Dude, c'mon, no. I'm not stupid, I know what you're doing. I'm not into this fake interest bullshit - it's enough that I have to worry about people who genuinely like me, don't put this on me too."

"who says my interest isn't genuine?"

You stop and look at his face. He still has that amused look he always has, with his pinprick of an eye light in his one good eye studying you carefully. Skeleton expressions may be surprisingly malleable, but you still occasionally find them hard to read - even after several months of experience. So, maybe this is just wishful thinking on your part, but...

...you don't think he's being genuine.

"If you really are interested in any kind of emotional OR physical relationship with me, I think you should say it so I can tell you to go fuck yourself for being such a creep. "

Immediately, you turn on your heel and start pushing your cart away from him. You hear Mutt chuckle to himself behind you, but you refuse to give him the satisfaction of looking back. You are strong! You are too good for overconfident clowns who think they can get into anybody's pants with a few sweet words just cuz they got a bajillion thirsty fans who'd do it for less. You grab the rest of what you need and roll on over to the cashier, who looks extremely distracted as he rings your items through.

"Are you... c-can I..." Out of the corner of your eye, you can see Mutt standing next to you. You're sure he's wearing that dumb smirk that makes people fall head over heels. Flustered, the cashier shakes his head and rings the rest of your groceries with a tinge of colour to his face. "Uhh, n-nevermind!"

Poor thing, he probably wants an autograph or something. Don't worry honey, this one ain't worth it. After you've paid, you take your bags and begin to head for the exit, rummaging through the bags as you go.

"Here - catch." You toss the BBQ sauce to the skeleton following you and he catches it with ease. You really should not have bought it, but... he DID help you with those protesters. Although, maybe you should have kept it so he's more likely to keep following you when you go back outside. They're still out there… probably waiting for you guys...

"hey, wanna go somewhere fun?"

You can't help but groan as you turn to look at him, narrowing your eyes at his outstretched hand. "Are you serious?"

"no."

That... takes you aback. Wait, what the hell does that mean? His hand is still outstretched, phalanges wiggling in anticipation. What is he not serious about? Going somewhere? It being fun? Mutt's bones shift to look like he's smirking. Is he pulling a prank on you right now?? You think about the group of protesters still mingling outside - the ones that will most certainly pounce the second you walk out there. Do you really want to walk through that garbage again?

...Dammit.

Well, if you're going to get punked, you may as well walk into it with the pride and confidence of a sledgehammer.

With a wicked grin of your own, you raise your hand and bring it down on his own hand hard, as if you're trying to give him your most brutal high five. The second your hands meet, there's a rush of sensation - of colours, of scents, of sounds - and suddenly you are no longer in the store.

"Owww..." You rub your stinging hand as you look around at your new surroundings, recognizing that Mutt just took you through one of his "shortcuts". They're not like Sans' - his were subtle and instantaneous to the point of only triggering whiplash seconds after it was already over. They aren't like Red's either, who'd draw you close and fire off a shitty pickup line as the world went black for the split second of your travels. No, Mutt's was more like diving headfirst into cold water after standing in the sun all day. Jarring - your skin crawled at the unknowable unknown your body just experienced - but not exactly unpleasant. You couldn't explain it.

Although, you were feeling a bit dizzy.

"welcome to the spider's den, firecracker." Mutt tilts his head towards the building he's taken you to, and you finally realize where you're are. You're in New Ebott - a cozy town at the base of Mt. Ebott that serves as the primary home for monsters. You've only been to the side of town with Grillby's - Papyrus always said wanted to take you on a tour of the whole town, but alas, the sweet pea is just too busy and your schedules never match up. Looking up, the sign above says "Muffet's", which means...

"Oh! Hell yes, I've always wanted to go here!" you shout with delight, missing the surprise that crosses Mutt's features. You may or may not have a bucket list of "foods from Undertale that you want to try" , and spider treats are among those that you haven't had an opportunity to eat yet. Surprisingly, there isn't really a market for them outside of New Ebott. Weird, right?

Not particularly caring if Mutt follows you or not, you push open the door and enter, unable to contain your excitement. The scent of baking bread instantly hits your nose; you're reminded of a cozy café of sorts at the table arrangements. The colour scheme is mostly purples, but there's also some pastel pinks and blues. How cute!!! 

It's almost enough to make you overlook the nightmare tapestry of webs on the ceiling, carrying hundreds upon hundreds of spiders.

...Whoops, talk about culture shock!

"best seat's over here, c'mon." Mutt is suddenly passing by you, heading deeper into the den of horrors. Your legs follow him automatically, ascending a couple stairs to reach a table that overlooks the rest of the establishment. While he sits down immediately, you not-so-subtly check your chair for spiders before slowly taking your seat. You tuck your bag of groceries under the table, silently praying no spiders try to hitch a ride when it's time to go.

"where's your excitement gone, firecracker?" Mutt asks, you attention snapping back to him. You must be an open book right now, because he's got that smirk on his skull. "don't tell me you're scared of a few spiders?"

"Me? Scared of spiders? Never. Absolutely not." Your mouth decides to keep running on its own, as it’s wanton to do. "I mean - listen, it's not spiders! Spiders are cool as hell. It's just like, if anything or anyone - human, monster, OR spider - enters my personal space, my first instinct is always going to be to attack it. It's not about spiders specifically. It's about--"

Your breath catches in your throat as a menu is lowered down via web. Frozen, you watch as a little spider releases the menu onto the table and crawls its way back up to the ceiling. Mutt chuckles.

"you know what? i'll believe you." The skeleton doesn't even bother to open his own menu, keeping his one good eye light trained on you. The dog treat still hangs between his teeth, and no attempt has been made to light it. You wonder if it's some sort of habit or comfort thing. "it's not necessarily about fear or power. it's about respect, right?"

You shift in your seat a bit, picking up the menu and gingerly flipping through it. You are half expecting there to be live spiders between the pages. "Yeah." The flirty Mutt seems to be gone, and the observant one you seldom see is back. "I hate when people hide their intentions or try to trick me. Or when they're being purposefully ambiguous and dodgy." You glance at Mutt over your menu with a narrowed gaze, and he shoots back an unapologetic grin. "Point is, if someone's looking for something I'm not willing to give them, I just want them to respect that. A bit of open dialogue goes a long way! The whole personal space thing works like that too - spiders are just extremely bad at telling me they are about to come give me a hug. I just want a warning, y’know?"

"...i agree." Propping up his elbows on the table, Mutt interlocks his phalanges and rests his mandible there, continuing to stare at you. "i guess you think the others agree too, since you keep hanging out with them."

"Sure, we've talked it out. They know how I feel about things." Well, some of them do. You're pretty sure that first meeting four months ago aired out a lot of the misconceptions between you and the eight skeletons you're acquainted with - not to mention you've had The Talk with one or two you were worried about. But admittedly, every now and then... you have to wonder. You often just chalk it up to your paranoia though. Of course they respect you and your wishes! Them toeing the line sometimes is just… all in good fun. Yeah, that’s all.

"do they? or are you just pretending they do because you're a pushover and you're overlooking the bad times so you can keep hanging out with them?"

"I really hope you're planning to clean up that tea you just spilled," you retort, feeling an equal mix of amused and uneasy that he can read you so well. "Now shush, you are distracting me from reading this menu."

"fair, i'll stop." Mutt chuckles and leans back in his chair. "just don't ever lose your spark, ok?"

"My dude, I am going to keep sparking until I burn down my own house by accident and die alone under a pile of rubble and Undertale body pillows."

Mutt snorts and says nothing more, leaving you to study the menu in peace. There are a few things on the menu that don't have a spider marking on them, which probably means they are not made from spiders (assuming this food is actually, truly made of spiders??). But you are feeling adventurous today! Once you've decided on your order, Mutt waves his hand towards the counter and a familiar spider lady approaches your table.

"Rus, dearie, you have legs don't you?" Muffet says with a smile. Although a bit shorter than you thought she'd be, the humanoid spider woman holds herself with elegance, two of her arms folded over her skirt, two perched on her hips, and the last two holding a pen and notepad. "You know this isn't a restaurant, and I am not a waitress. Order from the counter like everyone else! Also--" One of her hands reaches up and grabs the dog treat between Mutt's teeth, crushing it into dust in her dainty little hand. Oh wow, there is some definition to her arms - is she secretly ripped?! 

"everywhere else is half-baked compared to you, muffet." Your skeletal tablemate is unfazed at the loss of his magic weed joint. Muffet laughs at the flattery as he continues. "just wanted to make sure you met my friend. kiddo’s been lookin' forward to meeting you for awhile."

Hold on.

Rus?

"Aww, aren't you the cutest?" Muffet addressing you directly snaps you out of your thoughts before you can really start to process them. She leans in and pinches your cheek, and it takes all you have to not swat her away. "Why, I could just eat you right up! Heeheehee!"

"U-Uh, nice to meet you." You don't know enough about the real Muffet to know if she's serious or not. But surprisingly, you're not really scared. She's just... too cute??? Is that the point??? Did you just fall for the spider’s trap???????

Muffet giggles and lets go of your cheek. "Now, what can I get you two? You can have anything on the menu - provided you have the money, of course!"

You tell her your order while Mutt just asks for "the usual" before she departs for the kitchen, humming cheerily to herself. Your mind is reeling from the back-to-back revelations that you just had.

"hm. interesting?"

"What?" You look up at Mutt to see him smirking at you.

"you think she's cute."

"What?! No!" Flustered, you furrow your brow at him as he starts to chuckle. "I don't even know her! She just.. she seems cool! She could probably suplex me and snap my spine in half."

"oh, definitely."

"And that's awesome." It's the spiders. They're making you anxious and that's making you say dumb things. Yeah, that's definitely it. You have exactly one way to turn the tables in this conversation and by god you're going to take it: "So, uh... Rus? Is that the name you actually like going by?"

Almost instantly, his expression sinks into nonchalance, shrugging as he looks away from you. "...people can call me whatever they want, i don't really care. s'not like any of it is my real name anyways."

"...Would you rather I call you Papyrus?"

His eye light snaps back to you, expression unreadable. "think that would get confusing. we use the nicknames for a reason, after all."

You shrug. "So? Who cares if it's confusing? If you, Edge, and Stretch all wanted to still be called Papyrus, then I'd call you all Papyrus. I think your comfort is more important than the convenience."

"Mutt" snorts, glancing away from you once more. "you're a weird one, firecracker."

"Am I? I don't really thing s--"

"yeah, you are." He's leaning forward on the palm of his hand again, but is looking at his phalanges instead of at you. "you're not looking for fame or fortune; you're not consumed by love... or lust. i'd say you're looking for friendship, but apparently you don't text first."

"I just figure you're all busy." And assume they have better people to talk to and hang out with than you.

"you're considerate. really considerate - you're not faking it or overplaying it. if you were, you wouldn't stand up for yourself so much." Finally, he drops his hand back onto the table and looks in your direction, cracking a grin. "you're a real weirdo."

"Sooo... what, is my life a romcom now? Am I the teenage girl with an attitude that tells the dreamy heartthrob celebrity he's a big dumb idiot, and that in turn makes him fall in love with me? Are my aggression and dank memes making all you skelebaes fall in love with me?"

"nah."

"Well, that's good. Cuz if I'm going to be in a harem fic, I want it to be the absolute slowest of burns. I want the heat to rise so slowly that after a full year of cooking, the meat is still frozen and eating it will break all of my teeth and also give me fifty different diseases."

It's at this moment that Muffet returns with your orders, balancing it all with her six hands. Wow, that was fast. Though she did say this wasn't a restaurant - most of the baked goods are probably pre-made. Both of you get a glass of Spider Cider, while you get a plate of Spider Donuts and Spider Eclairs. "Mutt" receives a plate of soft pretzels. Oh no, they look good... You want to try it! Would it be too forward to ask for one? Is your friendship at that level yet??

Without even digging into his own plate, he steals one of your donuts. Welp, that decides that. Yoink! Your pretzel now! You take a bite into it with reckless abandon, and it's only after your brain processes how good it is that you remember you are in a spider bakery. 

This is a Spider Pretzel.

"Wellllllll?" Muffet asks you expectantly, as if your initial, unprompted pleased noise wasn't enough.

"It's really good!" you answer honestly, finding yourself eager to eat more. This is the best pretzel you've eaten in your life. The fact that it's monster food and thus wholly melts in your mouth is just the icing on the cake - there is nothing that feels like you are eating spiders. Does that mean spiders are made of magic? Or are they just like ground into a paste or something? You have no idea. You should probably stop thinking about spiders while you're eating.

Muffet giggles, clearly pleased by your reaction. "Of course it is! Enjoy yourself, dearie~!" She leaves you two be with a skip in her step. You can't help but wonder how many customers she gets on the regular. There's only one other person in here at the moment - a bird-looking monster with glasses and a laptop - and it pulls your heartstrings to know there must be countless humans that come here exclusively to openly express their disgust about an establishment run by spiders. You hope that it being a bakery means that customers are often buying things to go, or that maybe it's more busy in the mornings around breakfast time. Because from this pretzel alone, you'd come here at least once a week if you lived in the area. 

As you finish your stolen pretzel and go to try a donut, the skeleton across the table speaks up.

"i wasn't saying 'nah' to that, by the way." You look up at him with a mouth full of donut, not sure what he's talking about. "i was saying 'nah' to you calling me papyrus. it's not really me anymore."

"Oh." You're having trouble remembering what "that" was. What were you talking about just before food arrived? Names, being weird, your life is a romcom... oh! OH!! "Wait-- uh--"

"hmmm? what is it?"

Is he implying what you think he's implying? That the skeletons are in love with you because you're not some obsessed fan? 

...

...Noooo. No way! He's giving you a wicked smirk, which you want to interpret as him messing with you. Yeah, that's how you're going to interpret it.

"You-- You shut up. No more of that."

"of what?"

You can't stop yourself from chuckling. Yeah, he's gotta be joking. He can't be interested in you. And how would he know if any of the other skeletons are? Definitely a jape. Whew, he almost got you! "Shush! Now tell me what name you want me to call you!"

"whatever you want."

"No! Agh!" You make a frustrated noise and try to think of a better way to go about doing this. 

So many people call him Mutt - including the other skeletons. You're pretty sure the name "Rus" was a common nickname for Swapfell Papyrus way back when he was just a fictional AU version of a video game character, so it would make sense that some people would be used to calling him that. You're probably not the only one who thinks the name "Mutt" is... uncomfortable to use. So some fans probably use "Rus" instead.

...How does he feel about that?

"Do you like people calling you Mutt?" you ask. He shrugs.

"it's what milord calls me." There it is again. "Milord" . He switches between that and "my brother" constantly with you, and you know there's got to be a purpose for it. Black always calls him "Mutt" when he can help it, so... perhaps...

Is it weird to hear other people using that nickname too?

Swapfell's Underground is one of the harsh ones, and although there were always different interpretations of it, the general consensus is that the brothers have the dynamic they do in order to protect each other and keep their feelings hidden from jerkass monsters looking to exploit people’s weaknesses. Is it weird for "Mutt" - for Papyrus - to still have to live to that expectation even though they're in a much kinder world now? Could things be different if he and Black didn't have to live up to the thousands of fans who want them to act the way they think they should act? And then there are the fans who want to "help" by offering kindness and patience; they want the brothers to "make amends" and change their ways when really... there wasn't really a problem that needed solving in the first place. 

If that's what the skeleton across the table is going through, then you totally get it. You hate being babied and treated differently because people think they're "helping". You just want to be treated like anybody else - nothing more, nothing less. You're lucky that you can just keep being yourself and slipping under the radar of public influence, but... the skeletons aren't so lucky. 

You study "Mutt"'s face, trying to find a hint of what's going on in his skull. Does it bother him that you're having this conversation at all? Or would it annoy him more if you started calling him "Rus" without permission, like plenty of others probably do? You can’t imagine Muffet started using that name on her own - he must have asked her to use it. So there must be something about it he prefers, even if he doesn’t people to know that. 

Maybe you should get to the point.

"Can I just call you Rus then?"

"why?"

"Because I don't like calling you something that other people use to degrade you? If you like it then that's fine and I'll use it, but it just makes me feel... slimy."

He leans forward, hiding his teeth behind his hands. "so let me get this straight: this is actually about your comfort levels, and not mine."

You open your mouth to protest... then think better of it, choosing to mirror the way he's sitting. "Yes. You are totally right. I am a dumb selfish asshole and I'm putting my feelings above yours. But I respect you and your opinion and don’t want to use a name you don’t want me using, soooo..."

"...so?"

"So can I call you Rus??"

"no."

"Welp!" With a smile you lean back in your chair, laughing to yourself. "That's that then. What do you want me to call you then? Anything you want, bro."

His brow bone raises and you think you can see a smirk past his hands. "anything?"

"Aaaanything." Okay, not really - you have your pride! You’ve already thought up some really good comebacks for anything embarrassing he gives you.

"hmm, let me think..." The skeleton closes his sockets for a moment in quiet consideration. After a few seconds, he opens them again. "ok. call me rus."

"Okay-- wait what, really??"

"what? you don't like that name either?"

"No, it's great! Rus is good." You can't help but laugh a bit more in your triumph. There's a tension dissipating that you didn't even know you had. "Rus..."

"yes?"

"Nothin', just getting used to it." You flash him a smile as Rus chuckles and leans back, fishing out his phone from his pocket. As he checks something, you take a drink of your cider. Mmmmm. How do monsters know how to make the best food and drinks?

"...oops."

You pause just as you're about to take a bite of an eclair. "What?"

"forgot i was supposed to be meeting somebody."

"Oh! I'm sorry, I... You can go, if you need to?" 

"it's fine, i'll just tell him the meeting spot changed."

You watch Rus shoot off a text and put his phone down before taking out the bottle of BBQ sauce you bought for him and pouring it all over the pretzels. Before you can process the multitude of things going on here, the front door's bell rings.

"you ass, i was waiting in that café for like half an hour-- oh." 

You look up to see none other than Stretch walk up to your table, bony eyelids blinking with surprise at the sight of you. Although you’re surprised to see him too, you manage to give him a cheeky smile and a wave.

"it was noisy outside that place, so i figured we'd be better off sticking with muffet's like usual. guess i forgot to tell you." Rus shrugs, cracking an unapologetic grin. "my bad."

Stretch raises a bone brow, glancing between the two of you before making a smirk of his own. "hey man, if you were on a date, you could have just said something."

"i would have if i was."

Huh. Rus had the perfect opportunity to carry the joke, and... he didn't. Did he actually take your talk seriously? Is this actually the sign of a truce between the two of you? Stretch also seems to notice something's up, glancing back and forth between the two of you, but instead of saying anything he just grabs a chair from a nearby table and takes a seat, instantly grabbing a donut from your plate and biting into it.

"welp, guess that means i can crash the party and have some free food. thanks honey." He shoots you a wink and you can't help but laugh. Stretch is pretty chill with you and is better at minding your personal space than most, so his pet names and playful gestures don’t bother you as much as some of the others’ do. "so, haven't really seen you in awhile. heard you hung out with my bro the other day and made him watch a scary movie."

Perhaps you should feel a little threatened by that statement, but you can't help but smile and laugh at the memory. "Hey now, it was all Red's idea. I was forced to be his accomplice."

"is that so? that's not what he told me."

You put a hand to your heart in mock-disbelief. "And you'd believe him over me? A human you barely even know??" Red pinning the blame on you is more funny than offensive, but you're still gonna get back at him for it.

Stretch pauses as he finishes the donut, as if seriously considering what you said. "you've got a point. darn, can't believe i got japed by him."

"You should get back at him."

"i should. got any ideas?"

And, without missing a beat: "Swap out all his mustard for honey." Stretch grins at your idea.

"that’s a good one - been a while since i did that so he probably won’t see it coming. how long you been thinking about doing something like that?" 

"Would it be weird if the answer was 'before I met any of you'?"

Rus snorts as he's drinking his cider. "i'd believe it."

"can't believe you tangled yourself up in our lives just so you could dunk on us for eternity."

Rus makes a strangled, sputtering sound before he starts laughing. Actually laughing. You don't think you've ever heard a legit laugh from him since that initial meeting - it's always just snorts and chuckles. It's... very strange. Apparently it's not that strange to Stretch though, because he starts snickering alongside him.

"Uh, duh? Have you seen the garbage I send to Sans? That's YEARS worth of material I've been saving up on the off-chance I met one of you dweebs. Dunking on y’all has basically been my life’s dream and reason to live." Oh, poor Sans! Now you have to wonder if the other skeletons make fun of him and the meme-y stuff surrounding him from the video game. Maybe you should start going easier on him - y'know, the next time he decides to grace you with his texts. Maybe the reason he hasn't spoken to you lately is because you are just another asshole in the sea of assholes. Shit.

Recovering from his chuckles, Stretch opens his jaw to say something else, but is cut off by a strange sound. A strange, melodic, and FAMILIAR sound.

'Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off

"That's IT! THAT'S the song!" you holler, hitting the table in your excitement of finally figuring out the song that Rus got stuck in your head. Stretch pulls out his phone, mumbles "speak of th' angel himself", and declines the call that's making his ringtone go off. This goes almost completely unnoticed by you as you turn to look at Rus, bewildered. "You were singing Taylor Swift?!"

"'s been stuck in my head since orange here made it his ringtone."

"don't pretend you're not into it."

"my bro is, i'm not. i have better music taste than that."

BLACK'S into mainstream pop music?! Now THIS is prime blackmail material. Oh, that's a good pun! You should remember to say it out loud later.

"hey! that's rude. don't be rude to my anthem. "

"Your anthem?" Stretch gives you a goofy grin, and you can't help but mimic it. Alright, fair play: that's not a bad anthem to have. God, it feels like that song came out pretty recently, but you're probably going to get whiplash if you look up when it actually came out. "Uh, wow, maybe I picked the wrong music artist to base all your contact names off of."

Immediately, you realize the fatal error you've made. Stretch and Rus look at each other for a brief moment before they're looking at you with matching grins. "do tell," Stretch urges. "who did you use?"

Aw man, this is kind of embarrassing. You've never actually told any of the guys about these - nor anyone else, obviously. It gave you a good chuckle to know that these codenames were your own private secret. Oh well - maybe they'll get a good laugh at it.

"Lady Gaga," you admit, unlocking your phone so you can show them. You've honestly been thinking about changing it - you didn't really think you'd be setting up a theme back when you met Sans - but you haven't really been inspired by any other music artist yet. Some of the ones you've come up using Gaga’s catalog are just... too fitting. "You can probably guess who's who."

You put the phone on the table and slide it over to the two curious skeletons, both leaning in to peer down. In less than two seconds, they're both pointing at the screen and announcing simultaneously:

"red."

"that's red."

One of them accidentally(?) taps the screen, prompting Stretch to chuckle and ask "what on earth do you two talk about??"

You're laughing as you grab your phone - both at the fact that they guessed so easily, and also at the fact that they get to see the last few messages you two sent to each other.

You: listen
You: I only date people who are into vore
Bad Romance: ok but how about
Bad Romance: vorrrrrrrrre
You: don't you dare
You: NO
Bad Romance: rrrrrrrrrrrr
You: Blocked
Bad Romance: rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Yeah, that R-rolling/purring thing he does with you in person? He does it over text too. The worst part is that it's YOUR fault - you did it once to make fun of him, and now he does it all the time. Fuck skeletons, dude. 

"Vore and the letter R, obviously." You try to claim this as calmly as possible, but you can't stop a few giggles from slipping out. You back out of the conversation and back to the list of codenames before you place it back on the table. "I can't believe you guys figured out Red's before Edge's."

"thought you'd be more creative than to use a song with his name in it," Rus shrugs. 

Yep, “The Edge of Glory” belongs to Edge. "You clearly need to get to know me better if you think I'm gonna be creative instead of taking the easy way out."

Rus snorts while Stretch grins. "wow, how long have you two been here? cuz you're already speaking our language - think we need to invite you out more often."

Oh wow, he's probably joking, but you're still weirdly flattered?? "Hey, I'm down to hang out any time as long as there's food. So, uh, who else can you figure out? Know who you two are yet?"

They both return to looking down at your phone. It doesn't take long for Rus to peer back up at you with an amused expression. "i'm ‘dope’, aren't i?"

"Of course you're ‘Dope’ - you're the dopest guy I know! Ehhh?" Rus snorts at your joke, and you note that his smile isn’t fading straight away. Stretch taps the tips of his phalanges on the table absently.

"’money honey’, huh? never heard of that one."

"It's not one of her popular ones. Still a bop, though."

"hmm, i'll have to listen to it." With a pause, he peeks up at you with a grin. "or maybe you could sing it to me?"

"Nuh-uh, no way. You'd have to pay me to sing ANY of these songs to you guys." Well, there are a few you might sing... Wait, what are you thinking?! Singing for anybody is just too embarrassing! 

"oh? who said anything about the others?" The orange-clad skeleton rests an elbow on the table as his grin turns shit-eating. "unless... you've been dreaming for a skeleton karaoke night for a long time, haven't you?"

Yikes, that's something you haven't thought about in awhile. You have to keep your tone sarcastic so it's not obvious how much you're actually now thinking about it. "Of course, absolutely. I know you guys go absolutely wild with some alcohol and a microphone - don't try to lie to me, I've read the fanfics. I know how it be. I wanna hear you guys passionately sing me some shitty love songs with your collectively perfect singing voices. And they’re all songs I've either heard a zillion times or are insanely niche garbage that you should have no actual way of knowing."

Stretch chuckles. "duly noted - i'll start making a list just for you."

While you were talking, Rus picked up your phone - presumably to figure out the rest of the codenames. You just barely notice him tapping out a message on the touch screen.

"Hey dude, what'cha doin'?"

"’bad kids’ is my brother," he says simply before putting the phone down. It is back on the contacts screen, so there's no physical evidence of whatever he just did. You think you have a pretty good idea though.

"please tell me ‘highway unicorn’ is my bro," Stretch says, a smirk playing on his features. When you snicker and nod, his smile grows wider. "that's awesome, i like that one. bet he would too."

You could see Blue liking that song, so it makes you happy to hear his brother's approval. Maybe you should try having a music night with some of the skeletons - you've never really thought hard about what sort of music they'd be into, but now you're really curious. If you could weasel your way out of singing, tagging along for karaoke might not be absolutely horrible. "So: last two. I think it's pretty obvious who's who."

Before either of the skeletons can say anything, your phone vibrates. You tap on the notification for the text you just got, and you choke out a laugh when you see the messages in front of you.

You: sup bro
Bad Kids: GREETINGS, HUMAN. I SEE YOU MISS ME SO MUCH THAT YOU'VE FINALLY TAKEN INITIATIVE AND TEXTED ME FIRST! UNFORTUNATELY I HAVE NO ROOM IN MY BUSY SCHEDULE TO ENTERTAIN YOU TONIGHT BUT I COULD PERHAPS FIND SOME TIME TOMORROW.

You turn your phone so both Stretch and Rus can see the text and they get a chuckle out of it. "there he is," the latter says with a hint of affection in his tone. "i'm surprised that he replied so quickly though."

"Why's that?"

"he's hanging out with some human friends today. think they were going to get a manicure or something."

You sputter at that, having trouble focusing on the text you're trying to send back. "Actually though?? I have no idea how it would work but please tell me Black gets one too."

You: sorry my dude that was actually your brother texting you on my phone
You: but Ye we can hang out tomorrow if you want

"it involves getting pampered for an hour - of course he does."

"Holy shit, that's awesome. Thank you for all the good black mail material you've been giving me today, dude."

Rus chuckles, giving you a surge of pride. "no problem."

"back to the songs," Stretch says, reminding y'all what you were talking about before Black's text came in. "’paparazzi’ is sans; ‘born this way’ is paps. am i right?"

"Yeaaah, you are," you chuckle. Your phone buzzes again. Is Black really getting a manicure right now? How's he texting you so fast? "I met Sans when he was trying to escape a mob of fans, so that spawned the contact name. Who knew it would lead to all of this?"

Bad Kids: WHAT??? WHY IS MY BROTHER USING YOUR PHONE??????
You: we're hanging out
You: he yoinked it when I wasn't looking lol

"huh," Rus hums, taking a swig of his drink. "so that's how it happened."

"What, did Sans never end up telling you guys?"

Stretch just shrugs and takes a bite from an eclair. Rus answers your question with a nonchalant expression.

"dunno why you think he'd ever tell me anything. we're not exactly close, and it's not like we live together."

"Guess that's fair. I imagine you guys don't end up with many opportunities to talk. You two seem kind of close though...?"

It's something you've been curious about: Stretch and Rus seem pretty chill around each other. Sure they both probably frequent Muffet's a lot, but Sans and Red are both regulars at Grillby's, and you don't really get that same impression when they're in the same room together. 

Bzzt.

Bad Kids: YOU'RE HANGING OUT WITH MY BROTHER? WHY??

As you're typing a reply, the two skeletons across from you share a look that you don't catch before Stretch speaks up. "eh, just found some common ground 'is all. had some ups and downs; then realized we're not so different."

Bzzt.

Bad Kids: I MEAN I GUESS YOU'RE FREE TO HANG OUT WITH HIM IF YOU WANT???
You: we're at muffet's its real good
You: I've eaten like 100000000 donuts lol

"Well, that's good. I'm glad you two get along, that's real cool." You're starting to feel full after so many pastries, but as if to back up your claim to Black (even though he can’t see you), you reach for the last donut left and take a bite. Ugh, these are so good. It's absolutely criminal that a monster restaurant doesn't exist where you live.

Rus raises a bone brow at you. "is it?"

Pausing to finish your bite, you shrug nonchalantly. "Well, yeah? I dunno, when I first met all of you guys, things seemed kind of tense? Sure, it got better as the night went on but... uh, nevermind. It's not really my business."

"no, go on," Stretch urges you, expression unreadable. "say what you were going to say."

Bzzt. Bzzt.

Bad Kids: UGH! NEVERMIND, YOU SHOULD NOT HANG OUT WITH THAT LAZY GOOD-FOR-NOTHING MUTT ANYMORE IF YOU'RE GOING TO GET ADDICTED TO THAT GARBAGE.
Bad Kids: TOMORROW YOU ARE GOING TO COME TO MY MANSION AND I WILL COOK YOU A REAL MEAL! IT WILL BE SO GOOD THAT YOU WILL NEVER WANT TO GO TO THAT SUGAR WITCH'S HELLHOLE EVER AGAIN!

Bzzt.

Bad Kids: MWEH HEH HEH!
You: hell yea dude I'm down to clown with that

"Well, uhh..." You put down your phone so you're not so distracted by it for this. "I don't know, I could just be imagining it. It feels like there's some bad blood that some of y'all are hiding. Like..."

Like how everyone was so aggressive and smarmy towards each other during that hour or so where they were trying to win your attention.

And then like how it just stopped in an instant. As easy as a light switch turning on and off. It should reassure you that it's that easy - that the skeletons aren't actually letting petty bullshit get in the way of their long-term camaraderie - but...

It doesn't reassure you at all. Because you have a feeling that petty bullshit is still there. 

On that day, even when things "got better", you still felt like there was a thin layer of tension in the air. You wouldn't notice it until someone's joke fell flat, or another had a particularly biting retort. Honestly, you’ve let yourself stay mostly oblivious to it up until now - where you are now seeing two of said skeletons actually get along. Suddenly you're seeing vitriol where you hadn't before.

There's probably a good reason you rarely see more than three of them in the same room at the same time.

...Man, you are NOT hungry anymore. And you still have half this donut left...

"honey, you didn't think the skeleton lodge would be all sunshine and rainbows, did you?" 

Stretch's question snaps you out of your miserable thoughts. His smirk looks amused at a glance, but it also looks somewhat forced.

"God, of course not. That's like the ONE constant between fanfic and real life - y'all got a lot of buried shit and you're all miserable until the harem's protagonist shows up."

Bzzt.

"so what?" Rus grins wryly at you. You choose to ignore your phone for the time being. "think you can fix this fucked up 'family' of ours like in your stories, firecracker?" 

"Hell no. It makes me miserable to think about a bunch of fictional characters I like and admire not getting along despite their similarities, but I'm not going to play babysitter when it’s real life. Especially not at the potential expense of my own private life. Your fans suck, dudes. Every time I hang out with you guys, I'm surprised my picture doesn't end up in the tabloids. At least one person interrupts us whenever we’re out in public. Nah fam, y'all gotta sort this shit out on your own. If you wanted my help or advice, then sure, but til then? None of my business."

You'd wager half of their issues stem from the bullshit that fame brings. Fans are egging them on to act a certain way - even if that "certain way" is the worst side of them. Being stuck Underground so long, and then suddenly being more popular and well-known than fucking, like... anybody?? All thanks to one little video game??? It's like being famous for waking up. Being famous for existing. Of all the stories in the world to be real, it had to be this one and the infinite alternate universes it has. It opens up way too many canned worms - in both life and science.

And those little nuggets of truth is what’s multiplying the effects of the real problem - that they all fucking suck at communicating with each other. Why talk out your problems when you can sit in your echo chamber of fans that claim you can do no wrong? You’ve seen their personalities shift when interacting with those people - both online and in real life. They might not be conscious of it, but you can tell it’s affecting them deeply. Some grow bolder, some more bitter, and both extremes clash with each other because they can’t understand why the other thinks the way they do. You could be the neutral party that mediates and gets them to finally put aside their differences, but…

Man, you are SO not qualified for what’s going on between them. 

Rus finishes off his Spider Cider. Stretch has started on the last eclair. They're not looking at you, and you don't have any idea what they're thinking. Are they happy you aren't trying to interfere? Upset? You're honestly not sure how you feel about it either. In a perfect world, you'd be able to help them put aside their differences and everyone would live happily ever after, but unfortunately...

...this is not a perfect world.

"thanks for that," Stretch finally says halfway through the eclair. It’s so sudden, you almost think he means the food until he continues: "pretty sure nobody is looking to you to solve all our problems. i know blue's just happy to have another friend."

"black is too," Rus adds, pushing his empty glass to the side. "we may not be the most functional bunch... but i think you could have ended up with worse."

"what he means is: we appreciate you sticking around even though you're clearly smart enough and sane enough to know better."

You can't help but chuckle, suddenly feeling a bit lighter. "Wow, thanks guys. Nice to know I have the approval of the two most levelheaded skeleclowns of the bunch."

Rus and Stretch both look at each other, each cracking a grin before facing you again.

"levelheaded? us?"

"clearly you haven't heard about the time we stole a car."

You let out a laugh as you pick your phone back up, remembering you still have to reply to Black. "Oh really now? You two stole a car? And I’m just hearing this for the first time now… how?"

Bad Kids: IF THERE'S ANY "CLOWNING" TOMORROW, I WILL PERSONALLY PUT A STOP TO IT! SO DON'T EVEN START WITH ME, HUMAN!
You: aw heck guess I'll leave my clownshoes at home :( :( :(

“it was back when we all first arrived in this timeline,” Stretch explains, “before the fame thing really got out of control. that’s why it never ended up on the news.”

You study his face, trying to find the sign that he’s pulling your leg. “...You did not steal a car.”

"no, we didn't," Stretch admits, but after a beat Rus picks it back up:

"we stole two cars."

"No you didn't!!"

"we did, ask black. he was there."

"my bro said if i didn't steal that car to chase after stretch, he was going to grind my bones into dust."

You: your brother is telling me you guys and stretch stole two cars

"I don't believe you," you say, shaking your head with disbelief but unable to stop yourself from grinning. This is so dumb. They're going to make up an insane story to make you think they stole not one, but TWO cars--!

Bzzt.

Bad Kids: TELL MY IDIOT BROTHER THAT I'M INSULTED THAT HE WOULD REFER TO MY VICTORY CHARIOT AS A MERE LOWLY AUTOMOBILE.

"What the hell!" You laugh aloud and the skeletons' pair of grins seem to get wider. "Okay, I still don't believe you but I feel like I need to hear this story anyways."

"you better believe it, honey. muffet! can we get another round of cider?" There's an exasperated sigh from the kitchen.

"Hope you're planning on giving me a tip today, boys~!"

"uh-huh, sure thing!" Stretch leans in closer, and you can't help but do so too in anticipation for what is undoubtedly going to be the dumbest story you've heard all week. 

"so, it all started when the eight of us were on our way to the car dealership to get our first car. sans blew all our money on the new house and we weren't doing any of the talk show or photoshoot stuff yet, so we needed something cheap... ... ..."

Maybe one day you wouldn't mind intricately weaving your life into that of skeletons' and becoming the harem fic protagonist you've always dreamed of, but for now? As you're sitting in a spider bakery with a couple of boneheads who are trying to convince you that they are professional car jackers?

This is definitely fine.