Back in Underswap, Stretch had always been in the know. He saw things, knew things people thought he shouldn’t, he could Look into souls and sometimes did, felt the sins of others crawling up his back.
He’d given that up pretty quick when they came to this ‘verse. Sometimes, a lot actually, it was better not to know and seeing that shit let him assume too much. It’d taken that ass-of-u-and-me thing way further than it should’ve with Edge and years later, he still had a regret about it. Too much of the negative, not enough of the actual soul and Stretch didn’t miss it one fucking bit.
It did mean he was pretty out of practice, though, and he should’ve known something was up from the beginning when Edge asked to go to Grillby’s with him.
Grillby’s was the only Monster-owned establishment outside of New New Home. Had to give him credit, Grillbz was a pretty savvy businessmonster. He’d hustled to get this place up and running in record time, before any Humans even thought of passing laws to prevent it. Protests here were few and far between and it was pretty damn popular with Monsters and Humans, like the Beanery was. During the day it was a family establishment, with some of the best burgers in Ebott. At night, there was plenty of entertainment. Stand-up comedy, local bands, even slam poetry from time to time and that was what brought them here tonight.
Stretch couldn’t say he actually liked slam poetry, but he loved coming whenever they were doing it. It was worth it for the people-watching alone; interesting folk crawled out of the ground and Thrillered their way downtown for this and since Andy couldn’t come, he’d planned on making it a solo trip. So he’d been pretty surprised when Edge wanted to tag along. It hadn’t even occurred to him to turn Edge down when he offered to come, hell, no, he loved spending time with his honey.
He was feeling pretty damn guilty about it now. Grillby’s was not on Edge’s top ten list of hangouts; he’d probably rather go to the DMV than here. Stretch didn’t mind some grease slathered on his food, added flavor in his humble opinion, but he knew better than that where Edge was concerned, and neither was he much for drinking. And the only person Edge ever seemed interested in watching was sitting in this booth with him. So that meant he got to sit around in a place he didn't want to be, surrounded by people he didn’t want to be with, picking at drinks and food that he didn’t want.
Sounded like a fun night, if you were a pal of the Marquis de Sade. They’d only been here an hour and this was the second time Edge’d gone to the bathroom to wash his hands, impressive even by his standards, considering he was wearing gloves.
It wasn’t Stretch’s fault, no. He hadn’t asked Edge to come along, no sir, he wasn't a glutton for punishment, preferred it to be snack-sized. But he still felt bad; there was no question that Edge only came along to keep an eye on him, hell, he’d already caught his baby stifling a yawn once and this was a Monster who was capable of sitting through meetings about trade agreements. Edge knew his boring.
But if Stretch was filled with relief about Alphys’s news, he had a sneaky suspicion that Edge was still feeling a little fragile about it. S’ok, he got it, the whole situation was a clusterfuck from start to finish. Between his HP, Andy’s attempt at getting some internal air conditioning, and Edge’s LV trying to tap dance on his soul at night, Edge was due a little fragility. If his baby needed to keep him in arm’s reach for a little while, he could deal. For fuck’s sake, it wasn’t like he was the one who’d have to be hands-on if his HP ever gave out, so Edge was welcome to all the extra snuggles he needed until he got back on an even keel. Edge probably considered the boredom and grease a fair price.
Stretch gave the bar a glance, trying to decide if it was worth fighting his way through the crowd for a drink. Grillby was moving tirelessly along with the other bartender, flames tamped down to a steady glow that matched the dimmed lights. Some nights he would put on a little show, give a demonstration on a few interesting things that alcohol and fire could do when mixed. Tonight he was probably trying not to distract from the show, currently what Stretch presumed was a Human waxing poetically about avocados—was that a Human? Honestly, he was having a hard time deciding.
But hey, with the frequent fiery shows, it was no surprise no one tried to burn this place down. Maybe Deb should ask for a special presentation at the Beanery someday.
He’d just decided that sending Edge to get him a drink when he came back might entertain him for about a minute when from behind Stretch came, “Hey, Papyrus! Haven’t seen you here in ages!”
“rolf,” Stretch had to struggle not to make a face. He knew Rolf, a little better than he preferred to remember and from two Universes besides. Here was a Monster who hadn’t shown much difference between Underswap and this ‘verse.
A distant relative of the Dogi, he had the ears and the muzzle but not much else in common. Not every Monster had taken well to surface life and Rolf was one of them. He wasn’t bad sober, but when he’d been drinking he was a jackass and a half, something Stretch figured out pretty quick on one shitty evening. From the smell of him, he’d already been here a few hours. “i go by stretch, now, remember?”
Rolf only laughed, too loudly, earning a couple of dirty looks, and crammed into the booth next to him. Stretch wasn’t beating too many Monsters when it came to body weight and he was forced to scoot over to keep Rolf from falling into his lap. It was still cramped enough in the booth that he was pressed in tight, the heavy smell of beer and not enough showers strong in Rolf’s fur.
Grillby had a strict policy against using magic in his establishment. Once, you got a warning, second time, a month’s ban. A third and the ban became permanent.
Which was the only thing keeping him from knocking Rolf out on his ass when he settled a clawed hand on his knee. “You’re lookin’ good tonight, you know that?”
Yeah, in a hoodie and jeans, he was a regular supermodel shaking his ass on the catwalk. Rolf’s grin let his tongue loll out, a dribble of saliva dripping down to puddle on the table. It clammed up into a frown when Stretch firmly moved his hand away and he whined, “C’mon, you always used to be up for a good time.”
“maybe you didn’t hear,” Stretch said coolly, “but i’m married.” Not that any idiot shouldn’t know; the Monster community was small and Edge wasn’t exactly the most private citizen around. Neither was he, to be fair, most of New New home followed his twitter, if not the experiments he got up to with the minions on the weekends.
Rolf threw back his head and his raucous laughter was loud enough to earn a glance from Grillby and half of the rest of the bar, fiery glares both figurative and literal at them both for interrupting the ode to avocados. “Yeah, I heard, everyone heard, you and that dust-scraper shacked up. Think you’re worth more than that, don’t you?”
Just hearing him call Edge that set his teeth to grinding, forcibly wrangling his temper down. He was not going to start a fight, not here, not with a bunch of Human college students listening to some guy wax eloquently about being a lone wolf in a city of sheep. Low, he said coldly, “i know i’m sure as fuck worth more than you. get lost, fuckface, find a different tree to piss on.”
“Come on,” Rolf leaned in too close and the alcohol on his breath was gagging, “I have G. Buy you a pack of smokes and everything.”
Okay, screw being subtle. That implication made his already simmering temper flare into white-hot. He’d heard that gossip, thanks a heap, and he didn’t know who the fuck started it, but it had never been true, not even in Underswap. Stretch gave Rolf a hard shove but he didn’t budge an inch, even when he dug in his fingers. “Fuck you!”
“That’s the idea, pretty,” he leered
Enough of this shit; Grillby would definitely kick Rolf out if Stretch asked and he wanted him gone before Edge came back. This was the kind of stupid bullshit that Edge did not need to deal with right now, not when his LV was giving him a bitchfit. Rolf deserved an ass-kicking but if Edge lost control and gave him one? There was too much of a chance he’d get too rough, his control was taking a walk on the wild side. If that happened, he’d never forgive himself and Stretch was not about to allow his baby to get any emotional scars over this piece of shit.
But his racing thoughts weren’t giving him much to work with. Even if he were allowed to use magic, Rolf was touching him so if he shortcutted, this prick would be coming along for the ride. And going anywhere alone with him would be fucking stupid, calling for Grillby to help would be humiliating, so what the fuck could he— Stretch gave him another hard shove and hissed, “i said no, asshole, knock it off!”
“Yes, you should knock it off.”
Those words were dripping with cold, practically freezing in the air itself. Say what you would about Underfell, it’d gone a long way towards helping Edge really perfect that casual sort of menace that usually got people pissing in their shorts.
This was an all-new level of suck, and Stretch wondered a little wildly if it was possible for a Monster to die of panic, because here he was sitting ass to elbows with a guy he’d drunkenly slept with once. Edge wouldn’t doubt him, he knew he wouldn’t, but, but, he didn’t know what to do, didn’t want Edge to get hurt in any capacity, not by anyone else or himself.
“babe—" Stretch started, still struggling with the unfamiliar sensation of not knowing what to say. Just his luck that his one superpower would give out now, usually he couldn’t manage to shut himself up.
But anything he might have said stuck in his throat, unspoken, when Rolf turned to Edge and showed his teeth, growling low in his throat. “Yeah? What’re you gonna do?" he sneered. "Gonna kill me? Add a little more EXP to the pile you’ve already got?”
People talked so blasé about things screeching to a halt, but right now they were all living a textbook example. The entire bar was watching them, even the kid on stage was silent, notebook pages crumpled in one hand as he stared wide-eyed. Grillby was watching closely but he made no effort to intervene, not yet. Only polished the glass in his hand while he waited with everyone else to see how this panned out.
Stretch was about to shortcut out and damn the consequences, take the black mark on his record and pin this asshole down outside with a little blue magic when Edge spoke again.
“Don’t be ridiculous," Edge said mildly. He tucked his hands into his pockets and Rolf probably didn’t appreciate the subtle insult of it. "I’m going to remind you that your monthly stipend is dependent on the contract you agreed to when you moved to New New Home, and that if you break that contract, say, by breaking the law assaulting someone who is only trying to enjoy a drink at a bar, you no longer benefit from it. You can move out and live with the Humans and cover your own expenses without having to worry about petty rules. Although I would remind you that assault is generally frowned upon by the Humans as well.”
There was no telling how much Rolf had to drink, but it wasn’t so much that the picture Edge was a painting for him wasn’t crystal clear, no happy little mistakes, just broad, blatant strokes. Slowly, he slid out of the booth, that low growl still vibrating in his throat and Stretch didn’t think he imagined hearing him mumbling something about whores. That was fine, he could whine like a two-month puppy. Stretch didn’t give half a shit what this asshole thought of him, but he really hoped Edge wasn’t listening too hard.
Once Rolf slunk away, back to an empty table in a dark corner of the bar, Edge sat back in the booth, across from Stretch and everything around them slowly resumed, like a film reel flipped back on. Glasses clinked, bottles opened, and the kid on stage started up again about pencil graffiti.
“my hero,” Stretch smiled wryly, the tension in his soul leaking out, leaving him weak with relief, “you're a smooth motherfucker when you want to be, aren’t you.” He frowned when Edge didn’t say anything, “babe?”
“Give me a moment,” Edge said tightly and Stretch took a good look at him, at the pinpricks of his eye lights, the way his gloves creaked as he clenched his hands together.
So he did. Didn’t talk, for once, let all the words bubbling in his mind fizzle out and instead, he busied himself making a tower around his empty beer bottle out of the condiments and silverware. There was enough math involved to keep him entertained, weighing out on whether the ketchup or the vinegar was best as a foundation, the exact formation required to balance the saltshaker in the end of a spoon.
He was just jenga-ing in the last fork when Edge gave the ketchup base a flick with one finger and it collapsed in a mini shower of flatware.
“you asshole, you have no respect for art,” Stretch laughed, gathering up forks and spoons. Then softer, “you okay?”
Edge sighed. “I feel that’s a question I should direct back to you.”
“me?” Stretch scoffed, waving that off, because no, thanks. “please, i could have handled that asshole in two seconds if it weren’t for ‘da rulez’” He made little air quotes around it, just to see if Edge grimaced. He did, and that right there was encouraging, a nice little slice of normality.
“I know you could.” Edge reached over and took his hand, squeezing gently. His gloves were buttery-soft against Stretch’s bones, but he sort of wished he could feel the light scrape of phalanges. “I’m not upset with you, I want you to know that.”
“yeah, i know.” Stretch gave him a lopsided smile. Edge had never held his previous indiscretions against him, if that was what you called fucking around with anyone that offered. This was the first time one of them had shown up asking for an encore though, so it was kinda nice to hear.
Edge looked at him searchingly then slowly nodded. “So long as you know.” He drew Stretch’s hand up, his breath warm as he kissed his knuckles gently. That was better, much more normal, so it was something of a surprise for him to drop Stretch’s hand and pull out his phone to start typing, enough that Stretch blinked at him in confusion.
“what are you—?”
“Contacting Embassy security.”
That gave him a hell of a jolt, “babe—"
“It’s not only about you,” Edge didn’t look up from his phone, “If he’s like this often, drunk and aggressive, he’s a danger to himself and others. I don’t want to hurt him, love, but he needs help before something worse happens.”
Of course. Of course Edge was thinking about helping him, so worried about his LV, about hurting people, and here he was making sure some asshole was gonna get better than he deserved. Stretch loved Edge, more than he could explain, sometimes so much it scared him a little, but the warmth that rose in his soul right at this moment was soft and sweet, begging to be properly shared.
“you’ve got a good soul, babe.” Stretch regretted it the moment he said it, too teasingly light, and the way Edge’s eye lights constricted made his own soul throb once in sympathy, that warmth dimming. By unspoken rule, only his soul got to be talked about and held, his supposedly perfect LV-free soul.
True to form, Edge didn’t say anything to that. He only tucked his phone back into his pocket, shifting to stand, "I'll get us another round, try not to get into more trouble while I'm gone."
"i wasn't trying to get into trouble the first time." Stretch pointed out. It got him a brief smile, but not the kiss he was angling for. He saved his sigh until Edge walked away, tracing the circle of moisture his bottle left on the table with one absent finger.
“babe, you have a beautiful soul,” Stretch whispered to nobody at all, “someday i’ll get to tell you that.”
For now, he only turned his attention back to the stage. A woman was up there now with hair in a rainbow of fascinating colors and no paper notes, only raising the microphone with brisk determination. He watched with interest as she began talking about public transportation, only glancing once at Edge who was standing in line at the bar. No one else was giving Edge so much as a cautious look and the bartender’s smile as he stepped up was friendly.
It allowed him to relax, focusing more on the show. No one thought anything bad, then, no one let Rolf’s drunken anger give them a worry about Edge’s LV, even if it was jarringly high.
Rolf was considerably drunker when he stepped out of Grillby’s at closing time to see the plain black cars waiting for him. His waitress had cut him off about an hour before, fucking unfair, he’d been sitting by himself, not causing any trouble at all. Hadn’t even said a word when the dust collector and his whore left earlier, kept his head down looking at his drink.
None of the Monsters leaning against the cars looked remotely threatening, but he wasn’t stupid, not by a long shot. ‘specially not when one of them was Sans, and maybe he’d swapped out the pink slippers for sneakers, but otherwise he could’ve stepped right out of Snowdin, the hoodie and shorts, that easy grin. Made Rolf think of other days, better ones, staggering home through the snow with a drink in his hand and a song in his heart.
“heya, rolf,” Sans said, easily, “was hoping you’d come with us, yeah?”
Hoping, right. Conjured magic was heavy in the air, clammy humidity before a storm, and part of him was ready for the fight, more than, wanting to lash out and hurt a couple of these pricks for daring to try laying hands on him. But he wasn’t that drunk, not that stupid, and he wouldn’t get off a single hit, he knew. Not against Sans.
He only walked up to the closest car and one of the Monster’s held open the door for him, one for the backseat. He hesitated long enough to sneer, “So much for freedom on the surface.”
“nah, you got it wrong, pal,” Sans’s easy smile never wavered. “you’re pretty free to do what you want. out from under the mountain. out in the sunshine. but your freedom ends right about the point you make the humans want us all dead. that kinda takes away my freedom.” He stepped closer and Rolf hastily climbed in the car. Too late, Sans stood in the open door, keeping him from closing it. “anyway, we’re just here to help you get home.”
“Home,” Rolf repeated, hopefully. Sans nodded, his grin widening.
“gotta little tip for you, first.” His pleasant smile seemed anything but when coupled with those suddenly dark sockets and Rolf swallowed hard, the pressure of too much beer heavy in his bladder. “stay away from stretch.”
The reminder of the little whore made his anger surge again and Rolf blurted out, scoffing, “I get it, that pussy stays in the family, huh.”
Sans laughed as if it was the best joke he’d heard in a year. His eye lights flared back to life as he chuckled and Rolf let out a little tremulous laugh of his own, “nah, don’t be stupid, i just don’t like to see anyone hurting my brother.” A cheery ting choked off Rolf’s laughter and he cringed, strangling on lack of air and terror as Sans leaned into the car, one of his eye lights flaring like staring into insanity. His voice was deeper, trembling in Rolf’s very bones as he whispered, “stay away from stretch or you’ll have a really bad time.”
Then it was gone and there was only Sans and his easy smile, along with the sharp smell of urine. He slammed the door shut, giving the top of the car a slap and it drove off in a short caravan, headed towards New New Home. He watched a little longer, until the taillights twinkled out of sight before he said to no one in particular, “good enough for you?”
He didn’t bother looking over his shoulder at the sudden flare of crimson eye lights. “for now.”
Sans nodded, “they’ll either get him some help or get him on house arrest until he wises up. it’ll work out.” Sans slanted a glance over his shoulder, towards the sudden click of a lighter and a whiff of cigar smoke. “whoever gets home first gets to top?”
A dark chuckle and a plume of exhaled smoke. “you’re seriously underestimatin’ the appeal of getting’ to lay there while you fuck me.”
“am i?” The innocence in his voice was as pure as New York snow, “guess you’ll lose, then.”
There was nothing but the sound of a shortcut, a faint pop of displaced air, and Sans cursed aloud and vanished into one of his own, leaving the street empty and a neon sign flashing with the word, 'Grillby’s’, the same above as it had been below.