The Embassy Cafeteria was in one of the basement levels, far below street level. Of all the rooms in the expansive building, it was one of purely utilitarian functionality. It was also designed to act as a shelter in case of an emergency and until recently, it was a no-frills place for Embassy employees and visitors to have a nutritious, if generally tasteless, meal.
Whenever Edge ventured down to it, he always took the stairs back up to his office rather than the elevators. Partly because he enjoyed the exercise but also, few others did. While they crowded into the elevators in an attempt to beat the time clock on their lunches, he was in the mostly empty stairwell, listening to his own echoing footsteps. It gave him a moment to gather his thoughts as he climbed.
The past two days were both ones of unusual meals. Not the food itself, but from the company.
Last night, Blue joined them for dinner. That wasn’t strictly a strange thing, he did come over on occasion. But usually it was in a group with the others; on his own, he was much more likely to meet Stretch for breakfast or lunch, a private meal shared between brothers. Last night had been different in a way Edge couldn’t really explain. Not awkward, exactly, Blue was always a perfectly mannerly guest and he’d stayed afterward to watch the newest Mettaton special with them, exclaiming about the costumes and eagerly adding the songs to his phone playlist.
That alone was strange; Stretch had no fondness for Mettaton and yet, he’d sat watching without complaint. Again, not precisely wrong, but he was unusually attentive, and, to Edge’s hearing, Stretch laughed a little too hard, made a few too many jokes, simply tried a little too hard to be even more of himself than usual.
There was obviously something going on, but Edge couldn’t guess at what. Stretch hadn’t brought it up after Blue went home and Edge wasn’t about to, not yet. There were strict unspoken rules when it came to interfering with brothers and unless it began to have an ongoing effect on Stretch, he was going to stay out of it. For now.
But he couldn’t pretend he wasn’t concerned. Last night when they made love, there was an underlying hint of desperation to it, Stretch pulling him in close, nearly clinging. Stretch hadn’t fallen asleep quickly afterward like he usually did, not that Edge objected to curling up together while Stretch talked softly, listening more to his husky voice than whatever randomness was flitting through his skull. But it was not their normal and with Stretch, it was good policy to pay attention to changes.
In any case, Stretch would either come to terms with it or he’d find a way to lie about it better, Edge thought, a little sourly. Of that he had no doubt.
Then there was today’s lunch with Antwan and that was a fonder memory. Normally they met at one of the local restaurants despite the daily protestors that still surrounded the Embassy. The group was dwindling, the Humans either tiring of cruel efforts that made no difference or perhaps the incoming cold weather and snow was putting them off. Still, Monsters were discouraged from walking past them after the incident with Janice, which meant Edge was forced to drive to whatever eatery they chose, no matter how close.
Today they’d met in the cafeteria instead and Edge didn’t have a single regret. Since they’d hired Hussain away from the Beanery, hastily done before his work visa could expire, the cafeteria menu was greatly improved, both in quality and variety. Including the coffee.
Given a choice between watery tuna salad and the delicious falafel that was served today, Edge was perfectly content with the change. Even the room itself was different. The hardback chairs were exchanged for comfortable, cushioned ones and each table was now graced with a cheery little centerpiece. The Monster who Hussain replaced as manager was only relieved about the job switch and the entire Embassy was taking to their new Human coworker with delight. Honestly, Edge suspected if any government agents tried to deport Hussain, they’d be dealing with a building filled with hostile Monsters, and not only because of their addiction to his butter chicken.
And so he and Antwan met in the cafeteria instead of a restaurant, Edge calmly eating his kachumber salad while Antwan took the occasional bite from his plate in between babbling about finally having a real conversation with Jeff about their relationship.
It was rather endearing to see and Edge idly wondered if he ever seemed this way when he spoke about Stretch. Antwan wasn’t normally so effusive, usually the epitome of cool, collected lawyer. To see him burbling with his happiness, eagerly in love, and obviously needing someone to share it with was charming. Edge was touched that he was the person Antwan chose.
He was also more than a little relieved that whatever his brother had been planning to inflict on their Human friends seemed to have turned out for the best. Red was hardly anyone’s vision of Cupid, any arrows he shot would probably be poison-tipped. Whatever he’d done, Edge supposed it worked somehow, and he was even more grateful that he’d kept out, even if he’d had to physically drag Stretch out of the thick of it. Much as he’d shared his husband’s concern for Jeff, in the end it was none of their business. He and Antwan needed to negotiate their relationship troubles on their own, the same as he and Stretch had.
But he was glad to be sitting here today, watching Antwan forget to eat as he talked animatedly, his fork waving so wildly he nearly jabbed a passerby. He was almost as passionate as Stretch. Humans couldn’t manifest their souls the same way Monsters did, but Edge almost thought he could see a glow from Antwan, reflecting his joy.
An unusual lunch, to be sure, but well worth attending.
At the stair landing, Edge paused and pulled out his phone. Thinking of Stretch put him in the mind of his strangeness the night before, and if his husband was feeling down, Edge could at least offer him a moment of brightness. It was the work of seconds to send his husband a text, I thought happiness started with an H. Why does mine start with U?
There was always a risk in sending a pun in a text, visual proof for Stretch’s ongoing campaign to show others that Edge truly did have a sense of humor and that what he called Edge’s ‘Batman impression’ was merely a front. But worth it for the burst of emoticons that came in reply, a wild collection of hearts, flowers, and...was that an eggplant? Hastily followed by a carrot and a chili pepper, hm. Edge didn’t ask, only tucked his phone away and pushed open the door out of the stairwell, heading down the hallway.
Janice was already back at her desk when he went into the front office, glancing up from her monitors. “Asgore left a message asking for you to meet with him as soon as possible. I already checked your schedule, you’re clear for most of the afternoon.”
“Really?” Edge frowned. That was another strangeness in a day filled with unusuals. Normally Asgore preferred to come to his office, it gave him an opportunity to gladhand anyone he passed along the way, bursting with his normal jovial humor. For him to request Edge to come to him was almost unheard of.
But then, Asgore often saw Humans in his office, the mayor, heads of state, visiting politicians. It was regularly swept for listening devices by both Red and Alphys, though Edge suspected what they found mostly belonged to each other. That Asgore wished to speak with him where there were no unsuspecting listeners, even his own brother, gave him an equal measure of curiosity and deep concern.
“Please let him know I can meet him within twenty minutes,” Edge said. Janice nodded, already typing, and Edge went into his office. That gave him long enough to brace himself for Asgore’s brand of exuberance.
The moment Edge walked into the office, he was struck with a booming, jovial, “Howdy!”
The room was big enough to absorb the sound that would have echoed in any other. Asgore’s office was large, designed to comfortably accommodate a Monster who was considerably larger than most. Set in the innermost sector within the Embassy, structured with extra safety enhancements on top of what the Embassy already possessed. It could double as a safe room, protecting against excruciating temperatures in case of fire, solidly reinforced in case of earthquake or possible terror attack.
For all the hidden precautions in the room, it was airy with pale yellow walls and large, cushiony furniture built for the comfort of Monsters and Humans alike. Artwork graced the walls to make up for the lack of windows, mostly Aboveground landscapes, and there were several floral arrangements scattered around the room, likely made by Asgore himself.
All in all, Edge preferred the crisp organization of his own office, origami and stuffed chickens notwithstanding. And his garden was meant for home and private enjoyment, not for business associates.
“Come in, sit, sit,” Asgore gestured to one of the sofas, choosing to sit on the other opposite of Edge rather than remain behind his desk. Once, Asgore would have reached to clasp Edge’s hand for a shake or perhaps offer him a warm pat on the back, and Edge had accepted it stoically from his King. But Asgore noticed whatever faint signs of discomfort Edge couldn’t disguise from those gestures and ceased them without Edge saying a word, keeping his warm greetings to the verbal. That was a marked difference between Underfell and this world. His other King would have continued for as long as he was able to draw a reaction, no matter how minor.
Those were memories best left in the past and Edge focused his attention on this Asgore, ignoring any superficial resemblances.
“Good afternoon, your Majesty.” Edge settled onto the sofa, sinking into the too-soft cushions. “What can I help you with?”
“Ah, I didn’t ask if you’d like a drink, coffee?” Asgore shifted in his seat, his bulk making the springs groan as he started to stand again. “Or simply water, perhaps?”
“No, thank you. You asked me to come?” Edge prompted. A fleeting hint of disappointment crossed Asgore’s face and Edge could never quite fathom it. Asgore was well liked by his subjects for both his unending devotion to his people and the warmth of his personality, and Edge also found him to be a formidable leader. Yet, he was always disappointed when Edge was unwilling to engage in smalltalk past Embassy dealings. They weren’t really friends, Asgore was King and Edge was his subject; it wasn’t in him to offer more. The King would have to seek his companionship from others.
“I did, I did,” Asgore agreed heartily. “I needed to speak to you about the upcoming diplomatic envoy traveling about the new embassy being set up in California.”
Edge frowned. “That’s still a few months away.”
“Indeed, it is,” Asgore said. He folded his hands over his middle, leaning back into the sofa. “and they are planning an extended stay for several weeks. However, there are certain details that still need addressed. We’re sending our team down for what will hopefully be no more than a weekend to finish crossing any t’s or dotting any i’s. You’re aware of how important this is. Not all Monsters are suited to this climate. The winters are miserable for those accustomed to Hotland and this new community is critical.”
“I’m perfectly aware of that,” Edge swallowed back a touch of impatience. “But why the secrecy, then?”
“It’s not strictly a secret,” Asgore temporized, which only made Edge suspect that it very much was. “Any activity by our diplomats is difficult to conceal. But in this case, we’re trying for as much discretion and as few attendees as possible without compromising on security. Which is why I wanted to speak with you. Sans will of course be going, he’s is very firm on staying with Papyrus. But Red will be unable to accompany them. Security is never as simple as a mere guard for them, as you well know, which is why I want you along.”
“Yes,” Asgore looked distinctly uncomfortable. “As I said, no extraneous attendees, so it would be just you.”
“You’re saying without my husband,” Edge said flatly, refusing to dance around as Asgore seemed determined. “I told him the next time we all traveled, he was coming. I promised him.”
He had in fact been preparing for them to travel to California with the diplomats. Edge had traveled several times in the envoys, but Stretch had yet to go anywhere outside the outskirts of Ebott. He wasn’t actually an Embassy employee, all his lab work was strictly off the books and in the past, diplomatic negotiations were delicate enough that sightseers weren’t allowed. In this case, all the contracts were already signed, or so he’d thought. Edge was very much looking forward to watching Stretch have the chance to explore a new city, already planning several outings and eager to see the delight flare in his husband’s eye lights. He’d never seen the ocean, never been to an aquarium, all the different restaurants out there for him to enjoy, even the thrift stores.
What Asgore was suggesting would not inspire any emotion as sweet as delight.
“Ah, but that’s when you assumed you wouldn’t be leading the security team,” Asgore pointed out, “We both know you’re far too important to be used for simple brute strength. I've been looking into you being allowed to take the bar exam; even without any formal schooling, you've certainly learned enough human law to be able to pass.” He leaned forward, his broad, furry face serious. “I’m aware that Stretch won’t be happy about not being able to come along, but if you did bring him, you wouldn’t be able to spend any time together. He wouldn’t be allowed to attend any of the meetings and you wouldn't be able to focus on your duties knowing that he was alone at the hotel. You know it's true.”
He did, that was the frustrating part. For all his kind, fatherly appearance, beneath the fluff, Asgore had a core of steel. He could be ruthlessly effective when it concerned his people, and while Edge could appreciate it as a necessity for a King, he was less fond when it was turned in his direction.
“Everyone else has an important function within the group and I am not saying Stretch isn’t important!" Asgore added quickly before Edge could do more than bristle. "I’m saying he’s a scientist, not a diplomat, and even if we were able to get him clearance quickly enough to work security, would you want him to? It’s only for a couple of days, hardly enough time for a vacation. If negotiations go well, we'll be returning in the next couple months, including Red, and then he can go with you."
It all made sense, but picturing Stretch’s hurt and disappointment when Edge told him prompted him to ask, “What about Undyne?”
Normally she was head of Asgore’s security team, but surely if it was only a weekend--
“Undyne is unavailable,” Asgore said firmly.
If Asgore were a different King, Edge would have accepted that. “Unavailable?”
He nodded with a certain soft fondness, “Normally I would keep her secrets, but you deserve an explanation. She’s pregnant.”
That shook him, more than Edge would readily admit. She and Alphys married only couple months before he and Stretch. To hear they’d be adding a child to their family was unexpected, though perhaps it shouldn’t be. Undyne was very fond of children, just like Stretch...the sting of a yearning ache in his soul made Edge blink hard and he resolutely pushed it away. This wasn’t the time and he wouldn’t begrudge Undyne and Alphys their happiness for the world.
Asgore didn’t seem to notice his momentary lapse, going on, “You’ve helped with planning this new Embassy from the beginning, and there is no one I trust more to guard Toriel and Frisk. I need your help with this.”
There was only one answer Edge could give. “Of course, your Majesty.”
Asgore smiled broadly. “Excellent! The plane is scheduled out for tonight. If you leave now, you should have time to go home and pack.” The ‘and talk to your husband’ was very much unspoken, but still hung in the air between them.
Wonderful. It looked like everything was in place. Now he only needed to inform Stretch.
That was certain to go well.
Edge wasn’t sure what to expect from Stretch when he finished telling him the situation. Anger and disappointment, certainly, he and both Sanses had issues about broken promises. Perhaps it had been reckless of Edge to make such a promise to begin with, but he couldn’t have foreseen these circumstances. It was a lesson learned, he supposed, and a mistake he wouldn’t make again, but for now it wasn’t him who would be hurt by breaking it.
Sitting next to him on the sofa, the only change in Stretch’s expression was an increasing blankness. Of all reactions, he didn’t anticipate Stretch standing up silently and moving away from him. Automatically, Edge grabbed his sleeve, well accustomed to the ways of teleporters, but Stretch ripped it away almost absently. He didn’t shortcut off, only moved to stand in front of one of the windows, looking out. Dusk came early these days, but Edge sincerely doubted he was admiring the scenery.
“Love--” Edge began, but Stretch interrupted him.
“this weekend,” he said slowly. He stood with his back to Edge, arms crossed over his chest. “you’re going for this weekend. not only that, you promised me next time you wouldn’t leave me here. you said you wouldn’t leave without me again.”
This was not at all a reaction Edge expected, this strange calm. He hesitated, trying to gauge his next words, but in the end, he only said,“Yes, it’s just for this weekend. I should be back by Monday night.” No reaction, Stretch didn’t so much as twitch, showing none of his normal nervous energy, and Edge didn’t know what to make of that. He plunged on, “I know I’m breaking a promise and I’m sorry, but-”
A sudden quiver went through Stretch, his shoulders briefly shaking, and the faint sound of a stifled sob made a lance of pain go through Edge’s soul. It was pure instinct to stand, to go to Stretch and comfort him, but Edge wasn’t accustomed to being the one causing him pain, and he could only stand helplessly as Stretch wrenched away from him, stumbling back. Now that Edge could see his face, he could see the tears limning his sockets, watched as one broke free, trailing down his cheek bone.
“you promised!" Stretch hissed. He wiped angrily at his face with his sleeve, leaving behind a faint streak of pale orange. “you told me next time you weren’t leaving without me!”
“And I don’t want to, I don’t have any choice,” Edge tried, with as much gentleness as he could.
A wasted effort, Stretch only laughed harshly, “oh, please, no choice? did asgore even try to find anyone else, or did he just dump this on you like he does everything else? just like always. i swear, you all follow him like he’s some great savior who brought us up from the underground when he didn’t do shit but manage to not murder one kid!”
Shock left Edge briefly speechless. He knew Stretch didn’t care for Asgore, but that was horribly unfair and not at all true. That was a festering wound that needed discussion, but not an argument he wanted to have right now, especially when Stretch obviously wasn’t about to listen to reason.
“This isn’t about Asgore,” Edge kept his voice low, even, ignoring the lick of irritated heat in his soul, “I’ve been working hard on this, there are a lot of Monsters and Humans depending on this deal.”
“yes, but you aren’t the only monster who works for the embassy! are you telling me no one else has been working hard on this?” His stillness broke and Stretch turned away, pacing the length of the living room with short, brisk steps, hands twisting together.
“Yes, of course, but I’m the one who can do this!” Edge snapped. He forced himself to take a deep breath, trying to keep his temper. They didn’t need both of them snarling and angry, and Stretch might be lashing out from his hurt, but he was hurting, blast it.
“do what? play bodyguard?” Stretch scoffed, “bullshit, there’s plenty of monsters who can do that. or you can let me come along!”
“No,” Edge said immediately. Every part of him rejected that, for exactly the reasons Asgore already expressed. Besides, Stretch wouldn’t be content to stay at the hotel, there was no question of that. He would be the only Monster in the city, wandering around alone, but surely that wouldn’t be for long. It would be trending on social media in seconds, less than, a public relations nightmare, and-- “I can’t endanger you like that.”
He knew it was the wrong thing to say the moment the words came out, all the fucking hells. Stretch stopped his pacing and looked at him incredulously, “are you serious right now? wow, thanks, kevin costner, but i don’t need a bodyguard. i’m supposed to stay tucked home safe but you can endanger yourself? blue? toriel and frisk? that’s nothing but an excuse! why can’t i come?”
This was spiraling out of control, far worse than Edge anticipated, “You wouldn’t be able to come to the meetings with us, you don’t have the clearance!”
“i have enough clearance to play all kinds of lab games for asgore but not enough to attend a meeting about rent and parking lots?”
“But no one else knows that!” Edge caught himself on a snarl. His LV, so agitated of late, was shifting uneasily in his soul and he viciously suppressed it. Not now, damn it, not now. “As far as most of the Embassy knows, you’re only a homemaker. I can’t bend the rules for you and even if I did, you’d be sitting there bored and fidgeting all day, you-“
“oh, now we’re getting down to it,” Stretch interrupted him and his smile was unpleasant, reminiscent of a very long time ago, back when the only emotion between them was closer to hate and every word was a weapon, “you don’t trust me to be able to behave properly for you. yeah, okay, i get it. go, have a grand time. it wasn’t like this weekend was anything important anyway.”
“What? That isn’t at all what I meant--" Edge began. Too late. In between one word and the next, Stretch was already gone and Edge had no idea where. He sank down heavily on the sofa, rubbing in between his sockets where a headache was looming.
Well, that went well.
Foolish of him to do this without Red or Sans here, at least they could have piggybacked on his shortcut and followed him.
No, it wouldn't have mattered. He should have known better than to promise and he didn’t have time to stay and make it up to him. The other diplomats were already waiting on him and the sooner they were gone, the sooner they could return.
Somehow, he’d make it up to Stretch when he got back, Edge told himself firmly. This was nothing more than an argument and they’d gotten past much worse. Perhaps he’d overreacted, and his accusations were going to need a long, serious discussion, but it was far from the ugliest spat they’d ever had.
Still, Edge couldn’t stand the idea of him suffering here miserably the three days they’d be gone. Even worse, the only other member of their little family who was staying behind was Red. Not a greatly sympathetic soul, his brother, and his idea of comfort might well end with a dustpan. That brought back his memory of dinner last night, the knowledge that something else was bothering Stretch, something to do with his brother. Who was also leaving him to go to California.
Whatever heated, lingering irritation of his own extinguished into cold clarity as he thought of Stretch being essentially alone for the entire weekend, hurting and feeling abandoned. The thought of it was nearly as painful as thinking of him wandering a strange city on his own, surrounded by curious, possibly aggressive Humans.
But Stretch didn’t need to be alone in New New Home.
Edge sat up, digging for his phone and quickly selecting a contact. It only rang once, Jeff’s voice curious on the other end of the line, “Edge? Hey, what’s up?”
He didn’t have the time nor the inclination to hedge. “I need a favor.”
“Name it,” Jeff said immediately, and someday he would talk to everyone in his family who hadn’t come from Underfell about agreeing to things without hearing the details first. Although Sans probably only needed the part about leaping into situations without considering the outcome.
“I need your discretion on this, few people know, but I’ll be going on a diplomatic assignment this weekend. Stretch is…” Edge hesitated, unwilling to share their private argument, “You’ll excuse me for not sharing the details, but Stretch is unhappy about it. Can I ask you to check in on him over the weekend? I don’t expect anything past your normal friendship, but--”
“Sure I can,” Jeff said. He sounded faintly amused. “I did know about the assignment, though, Blue told me earlier.”
Fuck, he’d even forgotten for a moment that Jeff was living with Blue. He needed to get himself together, now. “Of course he did, I am sorry.”
“It’s good, you sound a little rattled and I so didn’t mean to make a skeleton joke there,” Jeff laughed awkwardly, but settled into seriousness, “Look, I won’t get into the middle of whatever you two have going on, but I don’t have a problem being a friend.”
“Thank you,” Edge said, gratefully. That was the best he could do for now. He disconnected the call and heaved himself off the sofa, running upstairs. Time was running out on him and he needed to hurry.
Still, something was niggling at him as he quickly packed; he’d known Stretch would be upset about the broken promise but this reaction was so far out of proportion. Disappointment, he’d expected, perhaps some anger, but this? He’d mentioned this weekend more than once, what was-
Edge stilled, the shirt hanging from his hands crumpling to a ball as his fists clenched. It clicked, a key turning in the lock of his thoughts.
This weekend was their first anniversary.
Their first wedding anniversary and not only would Stretch be spending it alone, he thought Edge had forgotten.
He hadn’t, of course he hadn’t, he’d even been making plans. As much as Edge enjoyed grand gestures, this first anniversary he’d anticipating spending the night in, preparing a meal of both their favorites to enjoy in front of the fireplace for an evening of private romance.
The grand gesture came in the gift Edge planned to give him; a touch ridiculous to some, perhaps, but he knew his husband, knew he would love it. The little origami figures Stretch often snuck into his lunch bag made Edge curious enough to learn how to fold a few himself and it was while researching those that he learned of the tradition of folding one thousand paper cranes for a wedding. According to the legend, such a thing would grant good health and good luck, perhaps even a wish.
He’d also learned paper was considered by some to be the traditional gift for a first anniversary and it seemed like the perfect combination of traditions, something to inspire interest in Stretch, whether he knew about the legend and would delightful explain it to Edge in his own way, or he didn’t and would listen entranced while Edge explained it. Either way, Edge was very much looking forward to giving him the garland of paper cranes he’d been folding at night after Stretch fell asleep, each one painstakingly made and strung. It had been sitting finished and hidden for a few weeks now, waiting to be given, for Edge to be given a chance to see the happiness light up Stretch from within when he saw it.
But Asgore’s unexpected request made the dates slip his mind, and Stretch, who already felt poorly used by Asgore now felt like Edge was choosing him over his husband.
He fumbled out his phone, calling Stretch without much hope. It went straight to voicemail, not unexpectedly. Edge sank to sit on the bed, his skull in his gloved hands.
It was too late to call this off, the diplomats needed a guard and even if there was someone else who could handle it, there wasn’t time to make the arrangements. He didn’t have a choice.
There was a faint tremor in his hand that Edge ignored as he selected Stretch’s contact again on his phone, choosing this time to send him a text, I love you. He followed it with a number of the ridiculous emoticons Stretch adored, even if Edge didn’t always understand the meanings behind them.
There was no reply, not that he truly expected one. It still hurt and it was not his LV stirring in his soul as he roughly finished his packing and zipped up his suitcase. He’d make it up to Stretch when he got home, he’d fix this, but until then, he needed to be focused on his duties.
It didn’t make leaving the house any easier, light pouring out from the living room window because Edge didn’t want Stretch coming home to a dark room. It would be fine, they’d get past this.
And if he found himself fiddling with his wedding band far too often, well, he had an entire flight to California to settle his mind.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking.
“But Keely! Their anniversary is in October and you already posted a Halloween story! What gives!”
I know, I know, I try to write this series sort of ‘in the now’, but I got my timeline a little wonky here. This story has been planned for a while but I couldn’t quite get my writer brain focused on it.
So my options were to hold off on the Halloween story and have kids trick or treating in November, or drop this storyline. Neither idea appealed so we’ll have to pretend that I didn’t mess up the dates and all is well. I might rearrange the story order later, might not, for now, go with it for me?
Cause, you know, it’s astounding.
Time is fleeting.
Madness takes its toll...
Let’s do the time warp again....
PS: Please check out the gorgeous artwork hj_skb did for this!!
The urge to stay in bed that morning and yank the blanket over his head was just about overwhelming. Not that long ago Stretch would’ve done exactly that and not bothered to face the world until sometime past noon. But the chickens didn't much care if Stretch was having a crisis; they wanted food, food, and maybe a little more food, and it was about that time. If he was getting up to feed them, he may as well stay up.
It was still hard to drag himself upright. His skull was aching and he knew from past experience that his own magic wasn’t about to touch it. Healing magic worked on injuries like skinned knees and broken bones, but some things didn’t respond to it. Like Edge’s migraines, but Stretch didn’t really want to think about that right now.
At least it wasn’t from a hangover, so it’d probably fade out once he got some coffee. Once, he might’ve gotten drunk or stoned in times of existential trauma and he couldn’t lie, it’d been pretty damn tempting; he still had one of the joints that Sans gave him a few weeks back. Fading off to Not Thinking About It used to be his modus operandi.
Not this time; this time he left and gone off to call his therapist directly. He had her emergency line, but never used it and it seemed appropriate somehow that the first time he did was while sitting in the heavy layer of dust in one of the old, empty houses in Old New Home, sobbing like an idiot, and by the time he finally managed to spit out what the problem was, he didn’t need her to tell him that maybe he was kinda being a dick.
He’d had enough therapy by now to know when he was being shitty about the wrong thing, reluctantly learning how to peel back his upset to find the cause underneath it. His brother’s unexpected breakdown messed him up some, he already knew that, hadn’t he already scheduled an extra appointment this week?
Not that he was wrong to be upset about Edge, because fuck that noise. But it didn’t feel like that long ago that he would’ve taken Edge bugging out on their anniversary as a sign that he was finally starting to realize that maybe all the love and affection he lavished on Stretch on a daily basis was a mistake. That he was looking at Stretch and seeing he’d been right the first time because he wasn’t worthy of that love. Not true, but it would’ve taken a week of black depression for Stretch to dig himself out of the mirror funhouse of self-hate.
Much as he hated to admit the therapy thing might actually be helping, now he was able to look at all that love and see the anomaly
(oh he hated that word, hated it)
wasn’t Edge giving him soft kisses and making sure to keep a good supply of lemon bars in the fridge. It was this kind of shit and he could’ve done without the argument to show him the benefits of therapy, but eh, that was always the way his cookies rolled.
At the end of the day, he fucking knew Edge, and this shit wasn’t new. He’d known how important Edge’s work at the Embassy was to him before he’d ever married him, just like he knew Edge wouldn’t have gone if he didn’t believe it was absolutely necessary.
And he damn well knew it didn’t mean Edge didn’t love him. Stretch didn’t doubt that for a hot second.
Okay, maybe for a second. A couple seconds, but no more than that.
Yeah, Edge’d fucked up, but like Stretch didn’t already know Edge would be harder on himself than Stretch ever could be. And he wasn’t gonna be mad at Stretch, too busy blaming himself. Stretch was disappointed, sure, but he’d way overreacted, and now Edge was probably on a plane, feeling shitty and focusing too hard on the job to keep himself from noticing it.
Stretch sighed, rubbing a knuckle between his sockets. His therapist listened to all of his blabber without any more than the occasional sound to let him know she was still there. Let him wind down the looping paths of his thoughts to work through all of it on his own, until he was able to come to the conclusion that she’d probably known from the beginning.
Edge fucked up, Stretch overreacted because he already had a bug up his ass about his brother, and he needed to spend some time thinking about what he was going to do about both those problems.
Didn’t mean he wasn’t allowed to be pissed off about the fuckup, thanks, but spilling his nonexistent guts took care of a lot of that. He was ready to settle for ‘really annoyed’ and some serious asskissing after his mama bear was done playing mama for everyone else. After all was said and done, he’d confirmed his appointment for later that week and headed back to the house -the empty house-- for a quick shower before falling into bed where he’d slept for, ugh, almost twelve hours. Bawling for an hour might give him a headache the next day, but at least it was good for insomnia.
He rolled over in the tangle of sheets and blankets to snag his phone from the side table. No new messages, not even from a robo-caller trying to steal his credit card info. Not entirely a surprise; he didn’t know exactly when the diplomat crew left the airport or how long the flight was, and Edge wasn’t one for hounding by text message. He probably waiting for Stretch to reply to the one he’d sent last night.
Stretch pulled it up again, a reluctant smile curving his mouth. He’d bet his dirty comic book collection that Edge had no idea what some of those emoticons meant, considering the half dozen eggplants he’d included with the hearts and flowers. But he put his phone back down without replying. He wanted to actually talk to Edge, not try and parcel everything he was feeling into one little text message and that either needed skype or waiting for him to get home.
Plus, it wasn’t going to hurt Edge to feel guilty a little longer. Overreactions aside, he did ditch out on their anniversary and that? It hurt, okay? It hurt.
Welp, that was about all he had in the realm of putting things off. Stretch finally pushed up to his feet with a groan, joints popping, fuck, he was getting old. A glance at the weather showed that it wasn’t too bad out and he wandered into their closet for clean pants and a shirt, and if he grabbed one from Edge’s side of the closet, it wasn’t like there was anyone around who was going to notice his moment of weakness. It didn’t smell like Edge at all, only laundry detergent, but eh, he was pretty damn good at denial when he wanted to be and this was a pretty minor case.
Downstairs, he got the coffee pot going before heading outside. The ladies were already waiting impatiently at the coop door, loudly voicing their opinion on his betrayal at being ten minutes late.
“yeah, yeah, i get it, i’m a dick,” Stretch opened the door, shuffling his feet to keep from stepping on any chickeny toes. “seems like a trend lately.”
He poured the feed into the trough, watching as the ladies swooped in to gobble it up. It was too easy to zone out watching them, idle thoughts turning circles.
Everything else aside, the real problem at hand was that the Embassy depended on Edge a little too much and had pretty much from the beginning. He’d stepped up to make himself indispensable and yeah, Stretch didn’t need any extra therapy to understand why that was.
But the thing about being indispensable was that it was too easy for that to become the norm. There were plenty of Monsters out there who wanted to work, new interns came in all the time. All they needed was training and if Papyrus and Blue could learn how to be Ambassadors for Humans as quickly as they did, Stretch was pretty sure training up a few more Monsters for security detail couldn’t be that damn hard. For Monsters, their magic was part of them, but not all the skills were. Learning past the innate took time and effort, and if healers had a training program, security needed to set one up for higher skills than simply guard.
Preferably someone other than Red.
What it came down to was that Embassy needed to get to where they didn’t damn well depend on Edge so much. Stretch had first dibs on him, thanks.
Yeah, if that was true, why was he hanging out here alone just before his anniversary?
Okay, no. Stretch shoved that thought out of his head. Yeah, it sucked, a lot, but that wasn’t fair and he damn well knew it. Edge showed him daily in a hundred different ways how much he cared. One fuck up didn’t warrant that much doubt. And maybe Stretch was being a little selfish, but he deserved to be a little selfish with Edge’s time, didn’t he?
He loved Edge, Edge loved him, and he believed that. Well, most of the time and when he didn’t, eh, that was what the damn therapist was for. One missed anniversary didn’t change that.
Stretch wasn’t gonna let it.
Once he’d finished laying out some fresh straw, Stretch left the door open to let the chickens wander in the yard for a while. He followed them out, itching for a cigarette, but he’d smoked his last one the day Blue came by. Until he made a trip into Ebott, it was vape or nothing, and shortcutting to his room for the e-cigarette didn’t appeal.
He wandered around the yard instead, Nugget trying her darndest to stay underfoot and it was good he was light on his feet when he tried. It was then that he caught sight of the withering vines and his soul gave a little lurch.
Edge had planted the grapevines before Stretch ever got so much as a kiss from him, way back in the good old bad days. According to him, this was the first year they’d actually done anything fruitwise, the tiny green globes swelling over the summertime and slowly darkening to purple. Edge spent all summer fussing over them, agonizing over organic fertilizers and netting them against birds. A light frost at the beginning of this week sealed their fate, the last stage of ripening, and Edge mentioned a few days ago he’d be picking them this weekend, his mind already laser-focused on homemade grape juice and jam.
Except he was gone and maybe by the time he got back, the grapes would’ve gone bad, rotting on the vines.
Yeah, no, Stretch might be steamy at his baby, but there was no way in hell he was going to let all that hard work go to waste. Not when there were perfectly good fridges out there ready to hold that grapey-goodness; their own, plus Sans and Papyrus’s and his own brother’s. Plenty of people in New New Home would loan him a little fridge space if he asked, especially for a share of the finished goods.
When Edge got back, Stretch was already planning to hardball him into a few days off and if one of them was spent canning and juicing until they were both as purple as rain, he was okay with that.
First, coffee, then he’d get started.
After a quick detour into the caffeine-nation (heh), Stretch gathered all the bowls he could find, carrying out a mismatched menagerie to the backyard. He set the pile on top of the little table out there, the better to keep the chickens from inspecting them for nefarious purposes, and got to work.
Luckily, grapes were pretty easy to pick. The brown stems broke off easily and he gathered bunch after bunch, filling up his bowl in between stealing the occasional grape for himself. They weren’t like any he’d had from a store, briefly sour, then sweet, and his fingers were purple in no time. Good thing his magic was orange, made for a nice contrast.
He was halfway through his second bowl when he heard a voice from behind.
Stretch closed his sockets and for one brief moment, it was like stepping back in time. Standing out in the chilly air, listening to a familiar voice through a door telling knock knock jokes. No one from this Universe reminded him so much of their counterpart as Asgore did, not Alphys, not Undyne, and with nothing more than his voice.
But this wasn’t the friend he knew, the one he’d promised
(and broken that promise. Over and over and over--)
This wasn’t his stranger through the door, this was Asgore, so much like Underswap’s Queen, and his LV was from fallen Human children. Stretch knew it, knew far too much, and he’d never wanted to be a Judge. He’d hated coming of age into the realization that he could see much deeper into souls than anyone around him, hated making Judgments, hated all of it. He’d been more than happy to let Sans keep the job when they got here, he never Looked anymore, not if he could help it, and here was Asgore, dredging all that up for him in a vomit of memory.
And if he had to guess, the King of Monsters hadn’t stopped by to admire the chickens.
Stretch didn’t look up, only broke off the stem on another bunch of grapes. “hey, asshole.”
He could practically feel the sigh Asgore heaved at that. He was a huge guy and a Boss Monster to boot, he practically had his own gravity field. Maybe someday he’d get his own moon. The gate hinges creaked a little as he opened it, and Stretch distantly made a mental note to let Edge know about it. He liked to have things in good working order.
“I’m aware that you don’t like me,” Asgore said, heavily. Like that ‘I carry the weight of the world’ tone was going to work on Stretch? Yeah, whatever, he’d had years to learn how to get over that, thanks, and the voice might be lower but the tone was the same. He’d heard it plenty; apologizing for bringing him to New Home again, apologizing for asking this of him again, and oh, they knew it was difficult for him, they knew, didn’t they, every time he had to Look, every time he Judged, and this would be the last time, they promised, the very last one, the last soul--
Stretch set a bundle of grapes on top of the rest with deliberate care. “yeah? and here i thought i was being too subtle.”
“I came to apologize.”
Asgore went on, doggedly, “I didn’t even consider the dates until your brother mentioned it. I’d forgotten it was your anniversary.”
“you ain’t the only one,” Stretch muttered. “leave me alone.”
“I understand how you must feel--”
“you don't,” Stretch snarled, and whipped around, glaring at Asgore, who only looked sad, and how dare he, how fucking dare he. “you don’t know shit about me, don’t you tell me you know how i feel!” Cold wetness registered and Stretch looked down to see a wad of crushed grapes in his hand, juice dripping. He grimaced and let it fall to the ground where the chickens could investigate it and wiped his hand on his pants. “if you’re here to tell me edge asked you to keep an eye on me—
He could visibly see Asgore revising his words. Now that he was facing him, Stretch could see he was wearing the same clothes he always did in New New Home, jeans and a bright, flowered shirt, huge hairy arms poking out of the short sleeves. Furry as he was, the cold probably didn’t bother him much, not until the temps dropped below zero. He just stood there, hands tucked into his pockets and sadness in his eyes and Stretch wanted so very much to hate him.
“I’m not and he didn’t. We both know he’d never do that to you,” Asgore said quietly. “I’m here because I am aware of the promise he made to you and I know your feelings on broken promises. If you need to blame someone, blame me, I forced him to go.”
“aww, ain’t you a honey,” Stretch cooed, sickly-sweet. “thanks for stepping up as this week’s martyr.” He couldn’t look at Asgore anymore, snatched up another empty bowl and started stuffing it with grapes. “he’s a grown monster who can make his own choices and i’m getting pretty damn sick of other people butting in on my marriage.”
“Of course, and I’m sure he would have declined if anyone else could have taken his place. He even suggested as much, but with Undyne’s pregnancy—“
“stop. you stop right there. i know better than to fall for this shit.” Stretch closed his sockets, trying to control his breathing, because Edge hadn’t mentioned that when they were arguing, hadn’t said that he had tried to get someone else and Undyne was pregnant, holy shit, “my turn to ask a question. on a scale of one to ten, how pissed off would edge be if he knew you were here right now?”
He couldn’t be less surprised that Asgore didn’t answer him. “I can’t trust Toriel and Frisk to just anyone.”
“great. you’ll protect your family at the expense of mine.” Again, no answer. It was too much, his tangled emotions hitting a plateau and all the anger building in Stretch collapsed, letting out like a punctured balloon. He could taste tears again, hot and sweet on the back of his tongue, “leave me alone. please.”
That whispery little plea did what all the sarcasm Stretch tossed out didn’t. He heard heavy footsteps, the creak of the gate, and when it closed he sank to the ground, holding his aching skull in his hands while he choked back the tears that were trying to fall.
Fucking fantastic. He felt like all the ground he’d gained talking to his therapist last night was lost, and why hadn’t Edge told him that he’d tried to get someone else. Because Undyne was pregnant? Was that...was…
His soul constricted painfully, his vision blurring.
“Hey, Stretch...uh...are you okay?”
He jerked, looking up to see Jeff’s concerned face peering over the gate at him. Wonderful, another witness, just what he wanted.
Stretch sighed aloud. It wasn’t even noon yet and this was promising to be a long fucking day.
Whatever Jeff had been expecting when he agreed to check on Stretch while Edge was gone got thrown out of a four-story window the second he got to their house. He heard raised voices before he hit the mailbox and right after, he saw Asgore walking away from their back fence.
The king offered him a hesitant smile and a wave, but hurried off in the other direction which was weird right there. Usually Asgore loved to chat, he’d eagerly corner anyone in the Embassy to ask about their home life, the kids, pets, anything. Give him credit, Asgore knew everyone by name and plenty about them, probably down to the birthday of their goldfish. Jeff was lucky not to stumble over the names of the people he worked with daily.
That Asgore was headed in the opposite direction at a good clip made Jeff a little worried. Stretch made no bones (heh) about the fact that he didn’t really like Asgore. That made it pretty unlikely that they were having a nice cup of tea and scones together in the backyard while chatting about the latest shows on Netflix.
So what was going on?
Rather than hitting up the front door, Jeff rounded the corner to the gate. Stretch was back there but the scene wasn’t anything Jeff could have dreamed up. He was sitting on the ground, his face covered by bony hands that were stained purple at the fingertips. Surrounding him were bowls filled with...grapes? That explained the purple anyway. Plus three chickens gabbling about and the little black one seemed particularly interested in the fruity largess around her, neatly plucking one of the grapes free with her beak and gobbling it down.
Well, whatever happened, Stretch was obviously upset about it. Time to earn those friendship creds, “Hey, Stretch...uh...are you okay?”
Stretch jerked, his hands dropping and even from here Jeff could see more purple stains on his cheekbones and fingerprinted around sockets that were rimmed a watery orange. Probably not the time to mention them, so instead he opened the gate and slipped in, closing it quickly as the chickens descended upon him.
“Woah, hey,” he laughed as they clucked eagerly. “Hi, gals, good to see you, too.” He crouched down to pet them, giving Stretch a minute to gather himself and wipe at his face.
“hey, andy,” Stretch sighed out finally, still faintly sniffling, “when did edge call you?”
“Last night.” Jeff admitted. Hey, Edge hadn’t asked him to lie for him, and Jeff wouldn’t’ve done it even if he had. Better to confess and beg forgiveness.
Stretch only nodded, his mouth twisting sourly, “edge has only been gone for like twelve hours. it’s nice to know everyone thinks i'm so incapable of acting like an actual adult that i’m getting fresh offers from babysitters.”
“No one thinks that,” Jeff soothed. He abandoned the chickens despite their dismayed clucks and went over to crouch by Stretch instead. Stretch probably didn’t even really believe that, but he got where he was coming from. Living with Blue was giving him a little bit of perspective, especially when it came to the way he looked at Stretch’s low HP. What he hadn’t quite figured out was why that same low-key panic didn’t extend to Red or Sans. From what he understood, they both had the same HP as Stretch, and they both worked in the Security department, not exactly known for being the epitome of safety. Asking Blue about that got him a lot of sputtering and waffling, but no real answers.
“you so sure of that?” Stretch slanted him a knowing look.
Actually, he couldn’t vouch for Asgore. It seemed safer to go with what he knew to be true, “Edge doesn't think that.”
Stretch groaned and climbed to his feet, grimacing a little at the wet patch on the seat of his pants. He held out a purple-stained hand to help Jeff back to his feet. “i know what you're trying to do and i appreciate it, really. but i don't really want to talk about edge right now.”
“Okay,” Jeff said agreeably and he didn’t so much as show a flicker of a smile as Stretch instantly launched into a rant.
“i’m not a complete asshole, you know,” he snapped, “i do actually get it, this ambassador shit is really important. but everything edge does is important and he was supposed to hop off this wagon train and only go if i could come along. i only wanted to be important, too, on my anniversary of all days.”
“It’s your anniversary?” Jeff winced. He wasn’t great at dates, but he should’ve added that one to his calendar.
“not until tomorrow,” Stretch grumbled, “which i’m going to spend alone, without my husband, who should be here.” A tear trickled down from his socket but before Jeff could offer any of his welling sympathy, Stretch laughed ruefully, swiping it away, “you know what pisses me off the most? i’m still mad at him, but already miss him. can you be homesick for a person? because it’s really not home without him in it.”
Jeff wasn’t exactly an expert in what to say when people were hurting. His tongue tended to get gluey and coming up with the right thing was a struggle. But if there was anything he’d learned from staying with Julia, it was if the words weren’t there, the emotions were, and Stretch was never one to turn down a free hug.
They were like mismatched chess pieces, Stretch so much taller than him and sort of bonily awkward besides. It didn’t stop him from leaning down into Jeff’s embrace, holding on tightly. His breath hitched a little with a watery little sigh, mumbling next to Jeff’s head, “i’m not pissed at Edge. i mean, i am. but asgore takes so much of him. he needs to stop leaning on edge and work at getting other people who can step up!”
“He does,” Jeff agreed immediately. He ran a soothing hand up Stretch’s back and through the thin padding of his shirt, he could feel every knobbly bump of his spine. “Maybe it’s something I can bring up? Not about Edge specifically, but training programs? It is Public Relations if you look at it slantwise, we do need that kind of thing.”
“yeah, if you could?” Stretch gave him a last hard squeeze and then let go, swiping at his face again with his sleeve. “okay, i’ve had about all the angst and sulking i can take for the day. wanna help me pick grapes and talk about something else?”
Jeff considered that, looking over at the many, many bunches of grapes still hanging heavily from the vines, “Do I get to pick the topic with the grapes?”
“sure, handy andy, you’ve got questions, i got answers,” Stretch spread his arms theatrically and bowed, “hit me, ask away, wanna know my shoe size? it’s a twelve, i got small paws for a guy my height. don’t have a birthday, but blue thinks he’s funny and makes me a cake on april first--”
“Explain to me about the whole ‘this universe’ thing?” Jeff asked, tentatively. “You all say it, but you’ve never told me what it means?”
Stretch went still, face falling as he blinked hard and his hands dropped down to his sides, “seriously? you wanna talk about that now? that ain’t gonna help with the whole angst thing.”
“I’ve got time, you’ve got time, and it’s something else to talk about,” Jeff pointed out, but he couldn’t lie, he was nervous. Even Blue avoided the subject when he tried to ask and Stretch might cheerfully lie when it suited his purposes, but Jeff didn’t think he would, not this time. “And it’d be better than bringing you down on another day, right?”
“guess i can’t argue with you there,” Stretch groaned. He flopped down into one of the chairs. “may as well kick me while i’m down. fuck, i need a cig…”
He trailed away as Jeff silently pulled a still-sealed pack from his back pocket, along with a disposable lighter. Yeah, he was supposed to be quitting, but Jeff had had a feeling. He waited while Stretch went through the whole ritual of tamping the pack against his bony palm, the crackle of cellophane as he opened it and his gratified sigh as he finally lit one and inhaled deeply. Smoke wreathed his face as he finally said, “welp, pull up a bowl and some grapes, and i’ll try to explain.”
Jeff grabbed one of the empty bowls and started in. It was half full before Stretch spoke again, slowly, “what you have to understand is that none of this is more than theories, because how could we prove anything?
“the underground is different, you know. magic isn't just something we use, it IS us.” Stretch lifted a hand and his slender fingers lit with a soft, orange glow. It shifted to blue, then green, before he closed his fist and the light vanished. “so you cram a bunch of monsters underground for a few centuries, all that magic in one place. it..leaks from us, sort of. out here, it disperses,” he waved up at the sky. “but i bet even here if we stay for a few centuries you’ll see some effect. that’s why the underground has places like snowden and waterfall, it’s why it can snow beneath a mountain. magic makes things happen and not always in predictable ways.”
Stretch tamped out the butt into a suspiciously clean ashtray and lit another, taking a long drag before adding, “we think that’s why there were different universes.”
Jeff set down his filled bowl as he considered that, popping a grape into his mouth and chewing it thoughtfully while he grabbed an empty, “Like…Marvel?”
“yeah, that works,” Stretch laughed, but it was short-lived. “like marvel, only very localized, only underneath the mountain. so there was my version of the underground, where me and my little brother sans lived in snowdin, and he wanted to be in the royal guard and i wanted to relax and smoke and sell hot cats. then there was another version of the underground, this world, earth-616 where papyrus was the younger brother who wanted to be in the guard. and in another universe it was pretty similar to the second with the brothers, big brother sans and little brother papyrus, except everything was a hell of a lot more game of thrones and that’s where edge was from. all these universes sitting right next to each other.”
That was boggling to think about. “So…your name is Papyrus. And Edge’s name used to be Papyrus.”
“yeah, and red and blue used to be sans. we changed it up when we got here, mostly, to make it less confusing. edge dropped papyrus completely but i kept it, at least a little,” Stretch picked up the lighter again but he didn’t pull out another cigarette, only flipped it through his fingers, the metal tip flashing in the sunlight as it wove in and out through his phalanges. “i don't mind a nickname but..it's my name. i didn't want to give it up completely.”
The implications of that, holy shit, this wasn’t anything like what Jeff’s curious, idle ponderings came up with. “That means you're kind of the same person from different worlds.”
“yeah, kinda,” Stretch looked suddenly wary, almost fearful. He shifted in his seat and hunched over, his eye lights flicking to anything but Jeff, “i mean, we’re not actually related, we’re completely different people, it’s not like that, it’s not...it’s not bad or anything--”
“No, no, I mean,” Jeff blurted out. He set down the bowl of grapes out of the reach of greedy chickens and took Stretch’s hand in his own, stilling the agitated flip of the lighter. He swallowed hard, and managed to say teasingly, “It’s just, Star Trek taught me that one of you should have a goatee.”
Stretch blinked, then burst out laughing and if there was a note of relief there, Jeff pretended not to hear it. Yeah, there was something there, a bad memory maybe, but it wasn’t like Jeff didn’t understand what it felt like to be judged for who you loved.
He resolutely didn’t think about his parents.
A last squeeze and Stretch let go, but he dropped the lighter. “okay, so now you’ve got these different universes.” Stretch snagged three grapes from one of the bowls and set them on the table. “none of us knowing the other existed. and then, there came the anomaly. that’s when the resets started.”
Stretch let out a shaky breath, his magic paling enough in his bones that Jeff noticed it with concern, “i don’t...i can’t really talk about that right now. not all of it, not what happened during it. things got really bad in my world for a while. but. you ever seen the movie groundhog’s day?”
“Yes,” Jeff said cautiously. He didn’t like the implications of that, not at all, not for his friend, and almost wanted to ask him to stop, tell Stretch that he didn’t have to talk about this, not ever if he didn’t want to.
But Stretch only rolled those three little grapes around on the table with his fingertips meditatively, his voice so soft Jeff had to strain to hear him, “it was like that, like being stuck in a revolving door. i don't know how many resets we went through. only reason i knew they were happening at all was because at some point, i figured out how to leave myself notes.” he smiled then, grimly. “it wasn't until later that I started to remember.
“anyway, while i was going through my resets, they started up in edge’s universe, too, and sans’s. near as we can figure, all those resets started to break down the walls between our universes.” He picked up one of the grapes, studying the purple-black skin, “like throwing a pebble in a pond. every reset made ripples and with enough, the ripples started hitting each other, weakening the borders.” He squeezed the grape suddenly, crushing it, juice bursting through the skin and dribbling down his fingers. “my world tore first, right into edge’s world, but it collapsed almost instantly.” A second grape crushed alongside the first, leaving a mess of pulp between his fingers, “from pond ripples to dominoes falling until we ended up here.”
Jeff watched in silence as Stretch opened his hand, looking impassively at the pulpy mess. “we weren’t here long before frisk fell into the mountain, but that’s a story all humans already know. now we’re here in the aboveground. we can’t know for sure, but we think maybe we all would have ended up in the same aboveground anyway, if we’d gone through the shield like we were supposed to, but who knows.”
Despite the sticky juice and pulp, Jeff took Stretch’s hand anyway, squeezed it gently, “Okay, so your universes collided and you guys ended up here. You think there are more universes still out there?”
“good question, bruce banner,” Stretch grimaced and withdrew his hand, but only to shake away the grape remnants. “maybe. there's no way to know. but if a billion monkeys with eternity ahead of them can write the hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy? who knows?” Stretch shivered then, even though it wasn’t particularly cold. “not sure i want to know. the odds of landing in a nasty version aren’t any worse than a good one, and edge’s world...it was bad.”
“He was a soldier,” Jeff murmured. A soldier with LV, which meant he’d killed people, other Monsters.
“he was,” Stretch agreed, softly. He visibly shook himself and stood, snagging another cigarette on his way. “okay, i think i’ve had enough reminiscing and definitely enough angst for the day. you wanna finish helping me with these grapes?”
“What are we doing with them?” Jeff was fine with shelving the conversation, even with questions still burning. Like, if there were alternates of the skeleton brothers from the other universes, why hadn’t he ever seen any others? Like Asgore or Undyne or that nice Bun lady who ran the bakery? He’d never noticed anyone else with a twin and Asgore’s would probably be pretty distinct.
That was a question for another day, because Stretch had definitely smoked enough and color was only just starting to come back into his joints.
“for now, can you take a couple bowls home and stick them in your fridge?” Stretch asked, his eye lights widening in mock pleading, “edge has plans for them when he gets back and i didn’t want ‘em going bad while he was gone.”
“Aww, you sweetheart.” Jeff grinned. Not that he didn’t believe Stretch was going to forgive Edge, but just the thought of his favorite lovebirds fighting was enough to make him tear up a little. If they ever separated, he was going to need a support group, yeesh.
“yeah, he’s gonna see how sweet i am when he lands on the sofa for a few nights,” Stretch grumbled, amicably. He helped Jeff balance a couple of bowls and grabbed up a couple of his own. “this is probably enough for right now, i’m gonna take a coffee break until you get back.”
“So sure I’m coming back for free labor?”
“there’s tapenade in the fridge.”
“Give me ten minutes.”
Stretch opened the gate for him, waving cheerily as Jeff made his way down the street to Blue’s house, balancing the bowls the best he could. If he dropped them, he guessed Edge would have to use those grapes for winemaking or something. His thoughts were still a whirlwind of other universes and alternates and the strangeness of magic beneath the mountain, so he didn’t notice the shadow coming up behind him.
He was almost to the driveway when something caught his arm and Jeff yelped, fumbling with the bowls and barely catching them before they hit the ground. He wobbled back upright, a couple of solo grapes rolling out, sacrificed to save the others.
“What the he--Red?” Jeff blinked down at the other skeleton, who still had a hold on his elbow. He looked disturbingly grim, his normal grin instead a frozen grimace and his red eye lights shrunken, but piercingly bright. His voice, always gravely, was harsh and grating as he spoke.
“i need you to come with me.”
Angst bus is a’coming, as it has this whole storyline. Just hang in there and remember, for this series, it’s always a happy ending. We just have to get there first!
Later, Jeff would be ashamed that his first instinctive reaction was to drop the damn grapes and run. Not that he was afraid of Red, well, mostly, but that grim expression made him think of spy movies and the Godfather, the whole, ‘I’d tell you but I’d have to kill you,’ schtick.
Was the whole alternate universe thing that big a deal, he wondered wildly. He knew about Stretch’s lab, knew that Monsters could heal humans, was Stretch telling him about the other side of the mirror what finally tipped him over into a safety issue? Or maybe into a ‘get buried in an unmarked grave’ one; somehow that was all too easy to believe with Red looking at him like that.
Jeff swallowed hard, saying croakily, “Look, I know what you’re thinking, but I won’t tell anyone.”
It was a shameful relief to see that grimness flash briefly into confusion before circling back. “dunno what you’re talking about, kid, you ain’t a security risk, but i don’t have time to play games around figuring it out right now,” Red said, bluntly. He took one of the fruity bowls out of Jeff’s hands and set it right into the yard, snagging the other to do the same while Jeff only watched in mute confusion. ”i need your help, so let’s go.”
“right now, before someone else beats us to the punch.” The snap and urgency was not at all what he was accustomed to from Red. He always seemed to ooze a sort of lazy confidence, but that agitation was dredging up the same in Jeff. Something was wrong, he realized, with sudden, sinking dread. Something was really wrong.
Okay, well, he’d promised that he’d pay the Monster community back for everything they’d done for him. Here looked like a good way to start. Jeff squared his shoulders and braced himself for what was to come. If Red was trusting him with this, then he could get it done. “Where are we going?
“to see stretch.”
Oh. Jeff sagged in confusion, “I was just there!”
“yeah, i know, and we’re heading back. listen to me, now.” Red reached up and caught the front of Jeff’s shirt in a clawed hand, hauling him down until they were looking at each other, socket to eye, “what i need you to do is when we get there, you get a hand on him," Red said tersely, ”you hear me? and i don't give a fuck if it’s his pinkie toe, ‘cause if you're holding him, he can't shortcut away without dragging you with him. his attention is gonna be on me when we get there, i guarantee, so you're the best shot for getting a hold of him. stretch ain't stupid, he's not going to let me get within two feet of him, not in his own house.”
“What’s happened?” Jeff said, slowly. That dread was congealing heavily in his stomach, fuck, this...this sounded really bad.
“i ain’t explaining twice and we need to go. c’mon.”
The world suddenly blurred around them and that was familiar, but going through felt nothing like Stretch’s shortcuts. His felt like a pop and a fizz and you were there, wishing for a puff of sulfur to complete the Nightcrawler cosplay. Bubblegum-sweet in comparison, this was like getting dragged for a tiny eternity through the cold, endless nothing. Jeff wobbled on his feet for a second, shuddering, because holy fuck, that was awful. For a second, he thought he might vomit on his shoes and Red waited impatiently as he swallowed back his nausea, wiping away the sudden cold sweat on his forehead with his sleeve.
Once Jeff nodded, Red headed straight for the door. He caught Jeff before he could knock, hissing out, “no, you fucking idiot! just go in, you first.”
Element of surprise, right. Jeff nodded shakily and opened the door. Stretch was in the living room headed towards the kitchen with a bowl of grapes in his hands and he jerked in surprise as Jeff walked in and right towards him.
“andy? you’ve only been gone a few minutes, what—red? hey!”
He didn’t allow himself hesitate and took a firm hold of his upper arm. Even through his shirt, Stretch’s bones were narrow enough that Jeff’s fingers almost circled it completely. He held on when Stretch automatically tried to pull away, his mouth twisting into a frown when Jeff didn’t let go.
That grimness surrounded Red like a fog, staining his expression and his voice as he said, “i ain’t good at sugarcoating, so you’re gonna have to take it straight. there was an attack on the ambassadors, an explosion of some sort and that’s literally all i know yet.”
The words hung heavy in the air between them; their meaning took longer. All the dread in Jeff’s belly rose up like gorge in his throat and he could only watch helplessly at the dawning realization on Stretch’s face.
The bowl slipped from his hands, clattering to the floor and sending grapes scattering, rolling out and splattering juice across the carpet in an ugly, staining spray of purple. Jeff could only watch and hang on, oh, god, all of them, they were all there, they--
Then he didn’t need to hold Stretch’s arm because he abruptly collapsed, his knees giving out, nearly folding to the ground before Jeff grabbed onto him frantically. He wasn’t heavy, but his height complicated things and Jeff was barely able to keep him from falling to the floor, struggling to keep him semi-upright and Red was at his other side, but they were both too short to handle him.
“i can’t breathe,” Stretch whispered, a bare thread of sound. His sockets were staring emptily, his eye lights snuffed, and the blackness within them seemed deep and endless. He clawed at the neck of his shirt, wheezing out, “i can’t…i…”
“sofa,” Red said curtly. Between the two of them, they dragged Stretch back and sat him down. Red climbed right on the cushions, boots leaving muddy smears as he firmly pushed Stretch’s head down until his skull was between his knees.
He was gasping, short, desperate pants, his arms hanging limply. It didn’t seem to help, he was sagging, nearly sliding off the sofa cushion. Jeff watched in mute horror as Red slung an arm around Stretch and gave him a rough shake, barking out a sharp, “breathe, damn it!”
Horrifying, but it worked. Stretch sucked in a wheezing breath that rattled through him and he coughed it back out with words, a frantic, incoherent babble, “i didn't even tell him goodbye, i was so mad at him, i didn't--"
Jeff could only sit there uselessly, his own tears streaming down his face. There was nothing he could say, nothing that would change the fact that his best friend’s entire world was collapsing. All of the Ambassadors, all of Stretch’s family, Edge, his brother, Sans and Papyrus, all of them were in some kind of danger and all the help he could offer was sitting on his ass, pointlessly rubbing between Stretch’s shoulders while he shuddered and whimpered, quaking so much that the uneven clatter of bones echoed in his ears.
The sofa creaked as Red shifted back to sit on the cushion next to them. He fumbled into his jacket pocket for a cigar and lit a wooden match with a flick of his thumb, holding the flame to the tip until it glowed. The smell was foul and Jeff dared to give him a glare, but the attempt faltered.
He’d always thought they looked like skeletons, their appearance tempered by the fact that they were clearly alive. Their eye lights glowing, joints flushed with magic and they could smile, laugh, they all had expressions. Sans and Blue with their smiles
(Blue, oh, god, was he okay, was he)
and Stretch’s easy grins. Never before had any of them look so much like a representation of death as Red did in that moment, and Jeff swallowed hard, unable to look away. His skull was colorless, those sharp teeth clenched on the end of his cigar. His eye lights were lit, but there was none of the life that usually reflected from them. Instead, they were like dull, burning coals stuck into hollow sockets, glowing with banked heat.
Edge was Stretch’s husband, but he was Red’s brother. Red sat there smoking in silence and Jeff didn’t say a word.
Stretch suddenly sat up. His face was awash with tears but his eye lights were flared to life, flickering wildly as he turned on Red. The wild strobing made him think of that night outside the Chinese restaurant and Jeff had to look away, fresh nausea welling.
“why aren't you on your way there?” Stretch demanded. His voice was raw, cracking, “why didn't you go with them to begin with!”
Red didn't flinch from that anger. He only took a puff from his cigar and smoke filtered out from around his teeth, streaming thinly out of his sockets. "don’t matter. right now, i’m exactly where the boss would want me to be."
Something about that made Stretch falter, his eye lights dimming, “he hates it when you call him that.”
“why do you think i do it?”
A bubbling giggle escaped Stretch, watery and close to hysterical, and before Red could scramble away, he turned to latch on to him, reeling him in and wrapping both arms around his smaller body. It made a hysterical giggle well up in Jeff’s throat, choked off because Red was as stiff as a cardboard cutout, his mouth curled into an ugly, grinning snarl. But he didn’t struggle, only allowed Stretch to cling to him.
They sat like that for some time, Red relaxing in glacially slow increments. Until he sighed, finally, heavy with unspoken emotion, “yeah, okay, kid. here.”
It took a little coaxing for Stretch to let up on his stubborn grip, but eventually, Red managed to draw him down until his skull was settled into Red’s lap. Still smoking that foul cigar, but his spare hand drifted to rest on that pale curve of bone with uncommon gentleness, sharp fingertips stroking with precise care, tracing the coronal sutures. The last two members in a cobble-together family, offering and taking whatever comfort they could.
Jeff shifted uncomfortably and started to move, maybe he should sit on the floor or one of the other chairs. Before he could though, a strange heaviness settled in his chest, pulling him inexorably down. A quick glance left him gaping at the soft blue glow coming from his chest, right where he knew his soul was. That tug was like a painless hook yanking him in and when he was settled against Stretch’s other side, it let up.
“ain’t goin’ anywhere, handy andy,” Red said, and a mirror of that blue glow faded from his fingers. “you go on ahead and stay awhile.”
Even if he’d wanted to protest, Stretch shifted to wind an arm around him, pulling him in closer and clinging with desperate force. Yeah, okay, he wasn’t going anywhere, didn’t want to, closed his eyes and settled in against Stretch’s bony side, wishing he could do something else.
He couldn’t do this.
Laying here where he never dreamed he’d ever be, curled up on the sofa while he settled half into Red’s lap, Stretch didn’t feel like a resident in his own head. More like a ghost floating around it, trying to settle into his skull but getting blown away. He wanted that, wanted to go away, wanted to stay as that little unfeeling ghost. The light scrape of Red’s sharp fingertips against his skull that never quite tipped over into pain kept him rooted here, but most of his thoughts were still faint and faraway, and nowhere near as unfeeling as he wished.
Instead, his foggy mind settled on replay, repeating memories over and over again. Their wedding day, a year ago tomorrow, and how fucking gorgeous Edge was wearing that tailored suit, his expression when he caught sight of Stretch at the altar. Their first kiss, the real one, not the painful, heartbreaking sham of one, but that first press of mouths, clumsy and yearning, the way Edge’s hands trembled as they cupped his face. And the stoic pain that Stretch ignored in his expression yesterday, reflected in the soft crimson of his eye lights while Stretch yelled at him and didn’t tell him, oh, he didn’t tell him he loved him, didn’t even answer that last hopeful text, filled with fucking emoticons that Edge only used because he knew it made him laugh.
He couldn’t even think of Blue, the unreality of having seen him die so many times before, only to wake up the next day to find him alive again. He really couldn’t do this, his soul was aching, throbbing erratically and he wondered at it dully. It had endured so much over the years, was this finally too much, too much to bear, and he almost giggled aloud, picturing it exploding into dusty confetti like a party balloon.
That laughter swallowed into a sob, and he shuddered, pressing his face deeper into Red’s lap. He smelled like cigars and the sharp sting of mustard, layered overtop his magic, spiciness that was reminiscent of Edge. But not quite the same, the difference between brothers too obvious to ignore, not allowing him even the pretense. At his other side, Jeff leaned heavily against him, both of them caging him in and he wanted it tighter, he wanted to be surrounded.
Stretch hadn’t prayed to the Angel in years, whatever dim faith leftover from his childhood collapsing in on itself when the resets started. But he prayed now, prayed that his family was safe, all of them, bring them back to me, please. Give you anything, everything, please, please don’t take them away.
Even while he prayed that bitter little voice in the back of his head sneered, because had he ever really believed this was his forever? He didn’t get to keep the things he loved, only wound up teased with it endlessly, chasing that carrot on a string, he couldn’t handle this, he really, really couldn’t, couldn’t--
The sudden shrill siren that was his current ringtone made them all jump.
Stretch fumbled automatically in his pocket for his phone, pulling it out to see the screen showing an unknown number. He started to swipe it to answer and Red shifted to grab his hand, saying warningly, “stretch—”
“i know,” he said, low and racking. He knew, he fucking knew exactly the concern. “and i don’t care if it’s the press, i won’t give them any soundbites, but if they have info, i need it.”
The phone shrilled on as Red stared at him distrustfully, but his hand loosened and let go, allowing him to answer the call.
He could hear the crackle of static, nothing else. “hello?”
He closed his sockets, refusing to give in to the brief, ecstatic thrill that went through his soul. He knew that voice even from only one ragged word, his own name. "edge?"
Next to him, Jeff and Red both reacted, jerking to sit up straight and leaning in, but he couldn’t pay attention to that now. Static again, loud and anxious, then low, fading in and out, and Stretch had to strain to hear, "Love you. Need you to know that."
"oh," Stretch whispered, brokenly. He could feel the hot slide of tears starting again, Red and Jeff sitting silently next to him, waiting, "oh, don't, please." He tried ineffectively to wipe the tears that were spilling from his sockets, but they were falling too fast, pooling down to drip from his chin, and they tasted heavy, salty-sweet on the back of his tongue.
"’m sorry I left you behind," the words were loose, slurred, falling free into the static, "You are the most wonderful thing in my life.”
“please, baby,” He couldn’t listen to this and couldn’t let go, clinging to every word. “edge, please--” A crashing sound suddenly came through the line, making him wince, “edge? edge??”
He could only listen helplessly to the sound of arguing and clattering before the static cleared and someone else spoke.
"Papyrus?" Another voice he knew well, though usually never so exhausted, and it still held motherly warmth.
"tori?" Stretch asked, desperately, “tori, what’s going on, please!”
She sighed tiredly, crackling through the line, "I am so sorry, I should have realized he'd find a way to sneak a phone. I'm sorry we haven't contacted you, they're afraid of word getting out about the situation before it’s safe. Listen to me, he's going to be all right, do you hear me? He is hurt and he's a very woozy, I'm working on him and a few others here, but he doesn't have so much as a new crack. Everyone is going to be all right. You can see him as soon as we get him transported, dear. I'm sure it would do you both some good to be with each other."
All right, Stretch clung to those two words, repeating them faintly. “all right, everyone is all right.”
The tension surrounding him seeped away like a broken dam, Jeff and Red both sagging back into the sofa cushions as one.
“Everyone, yes,” Tori repeated forcefully, “everyone. We’re all coming home, soon.“
“home, you’re coming home,” Stretch echoed. He dredged up words of his own, tearfully, “thank you, tori, you’re an angel.”
“Oh, darling," she said sadly, "You don't need to thank me. Your husband saved my child's life. I'll get him home to you, I promise." More static rose, her words breaking, “I need to go, we’re getting transported right now.”
“okay, tori. tell edge--” The line went dead, his last words sitting sourly unspoken behind his teeth. tell edge i love him.
It didn’t matter, he was going to tell Edge himself, and fuck the voice in the back of his head. He wasn’t listening to it today.
Stretch sagged back against the sofa cushions, his phone hanging limply from his hand. “tori said they’re all okay, she said they’re coming home.”
“Oh, thank god,” Jeff whispered, fervently and when Stretch fumbled to take his hand, Jeff quickly took it, fleshy fingers squeezing his own.
Red only nodded, “yeah, figured that out.” He started to stand, shifting to slide to his feet, “that means i got work to do.”
“don’t go yet,” Stretch blurted. Even knowing Edge was coming home to him, his soul still felt like a heavy, wretched ache in his chest. All that leftover fear was swirling around a clogged drain inside him, unable to sluice free.
“problem needs taken care of out there. this is what i do, honey bun.” Stretch didn’t think he’d ever seen that expression on Red’s face, didn’t know what could be showing on his own to cause that fleeting softening. It was gone so quickly he might have imagined it, but Red sat back again, saying gruffly, “you got fifteen minutes.”
“thank you,” Stretch whispered gratefully. He sank back down, settled his skull into Red’s lap and those prickly-sharp fingers returned. Reaching out blindly earned him Jeff back against his side, surrounding him again. This, he needed this, even if only for fifteen minutes.
Over his head, Red was humming softly, a song that Stretch vaguely remembered singing to his own brother so many years ago. He tipped his head into Red’s stroking hand, whispering the words along with that quiet melody, about angels with snowy white wings, carrying them safely away.
Here we go, last chapter. Who's up for a little easing of that ongoing angst, yeah?
Stretch didn’t know when Red left them. Truth was, he didn’t even remember falling asleep; one moment he was laying in Red’s lap and the next thing he knew he was waking up to a firm knock at the front door.
Snugged up almost on top of him, Jeff stirred, blinking sleepily as he sat up and there was no telling how long they’d slept curled up together on the sofa like a coupla lonely oversized hamsters, but it must’ve been a while because the light outside was coming in through the opposite windows.
That firm knock came again on the front door, shit, and Stretch untangled himself from Jeff and started shambling over.
“Wait, let me get it!” Jeff tried to scramble past him and for a second, Stretch didn’t get it. Until he did, and he could only shake his head in weary exasperation. This was what he got for letting Jeff go work at the Embassy with Red and Edge, he should’ve gotten him a job at the Bun Bakery where superhero tendencies didn’t go much further than rescuing cinnamon bunnies.
“don’t you start with the overprotective bullshit, andy,” Stretch caught the tail of his shirt and yanked him back, ignoring his yelp. “the door has a peephole and i’ll look, but my guess is ninja assassins don’t generally knock.”
Jeff nodded sheepishly, but he still crowded in close as Stretch checked out the front porch. It was a Monster that Stretch didn’t know, the curling tentacles that made up their ‘hair’ pulled back into a neat ponytail, but they were dressed in the same generic suit that all of Asgore’s personal bodyguards wore, so it wasn’t much of Jeopardy question to guess who sent ‘em. Last Gyftmas, he’d sent them all Ray-ban sunglasses, and gotten a politely worded ‘thank you’ letter back. He still wondered sometimes if they’d gotten the joke.
It couldn’t be bad or Asgore would have come himself. Even if Stretch had been a dick to him earlier, he would have—Stretch opened the door a little, poking his skull out, “yeah?”
“Good afternoon,” they began formally, in a calm, fluting voice, “apologies for disturbing you, I’m sure you’re busy--”
“can we cut to the part of the speech where you tell me what you want?” Stretch interrupted tiredly, “because if you’re selling vacuums, i’m not interested. i’ve been having a hell of a day, and i’m not up for giving a golf clap for the effort.”
The Monster only nodded, and that bland expression shifted to faint sympathy. “Yes, of course. I came to tell you that the Ambassadors’ plane will be landing in about an hour and if you’d like to accompany me to the airport, you can meet them there.”
“seriously?” They must’ve taken off the moment he and Tori got off the phone to get back home so fast and Stretch wasn’t sure how he felt about that. Tori said they were all okay, but wouldn’t the authorities want them to hang around for a while after an incident? That was the vibe he always got about police bullshit, unless…unless they needed to get back to Ebott because this was where they kept the Monster hospital. Or maybe it wasn’t safe to stay, that could be it, right? He didn’t know, could keep guessing all day but the Monster in front of him was waiting for his answer with a bland smile that didn’t reveal shit.
Anxiety was churning inside him, not much he could do about that, but maybe it was time to channel a little Edgy-calm. He’d been living with Edge for a while, and this wasn’t exactly the way he’d imagined trying out a little roleplaying, but fuck it, worth a try.
If it was Edge here, he wouldn’t go borrowing trouble; he’d head over to the airport and wait patiently to see what the fuck was going on.
Patience might be asking a bit much of his acting skills, heading over to the airport wasn’t. He’d never been to the airport himself, there wasn’t much point. All those movies that showed happy couples meeting at the gate with flowers and kisses were a load of bullshit as far as Stretch knew. All that shit was on the other side of the security checkpoints these days and Edge always told him he preferred to come home and get his kisses there rather than down at the basement levels, surrounded by grouchy travelers in the dirty baggage claim.
He thought Edge might be proud of the way he nodded and said evenly, “yeah, i’ll come.”
The Monster nodded placidly. “I can take you now, if you like. It’s already been cleared through Security.”
Which meant Red was doing the voodoo that he do so well and thought it was safe enough. Good to know. Stretch glanced down at himself and grimaced. His clothes were made up of about 75% wrinkles and 25% moldering grape juice, not exactly the best reunion outfit.
“let me change real quick?” Stretch asked. They nodded and made no move to come in, so he closed the door. Only to nearly walk right over Jeff, who’d been practically plastered to his back the whole time.
“I’m coming with you,” Jeff said stoutly. Even with everything running down the tubes around him, Stretch couldn’t help smiling a little. Jeff wasn’t a big guy and he looked about as fierce as one of those little weenie dogs, but Stretch would bet his favorite lighter that nothing was gonna pry him away, certainly not one of Asgore’s goons. Kid was loyal and that was a fact.
“i wouldn’t even try to leave you behind, handy andy,” Stretch told him sincerely. He waited until Jeff nodded and then shortcutted upstairs directly into the closet, not even bothering to try the stairs. The sleep helped but his soul still felt raw and bruised, aching faintly in his ribcage. That meant everything else ached too, and as comforting as sleeping next to Jeff was, the sofa wasn’t really great for extended cuddling.
Eh, but he might’ve been weird about it if Stretch suggested going upstairs to the bed. Humans were awkward about that shit, and Jeff might’ve agreed just to make Stretch happy. Better to stick with what he knew wouldn’t wig out his best bud.
As he pulled on a fresh sweatshirt, he wondered glumly if he’d be taking another trip to visit Alphys’s lab for a deeper peek at his soul. That his visits to the therapist would be going back to twice a week for a while wasn’t even a question, but he didn’t much want to think about it right now. Now, all he really wanted was to see Edge. Tori’s reassurances were nice and all, but he wasn’t going to believe it until he had that asshole in his arms.
When he came downstairs, Jeff was attempting to clean up the stains the grapes left on the carpet when Stretch dropped the bowl. He wasn’t making much progress, the faded purple splotches looked like a Rorschach test. Butterfly, Stretch decided, but Edge would probably only see a dirty mess.
“I put the grapes in the fridge, they seem okay, but I don’t think this is going to come out,” Jeff said apologetically.
Edge was gonna have a fit but that’s what happened when you ditched on your anniversary and almost got blown up for fuck knows why. Only the darkest humor lurking in Stretch thought that little joke was funny, but hey, he was a tough crowd for himself today.
“don’t worry about it,” Stretch told him, helping him to his feet. “edge probably has a secret formula to shout it out.” And if thinking about Edge grumbling while he scrubbed the stain made a flare of affection rise in his soul, welp, that was probably only a sign of what an idiot in love he was.
The car was sleek and black, one of those fancy ones with a glass partition in between the back and front seats. There was a mini-fridge and lots of buttons, and normally Stretch would have made it a mission to push every single one of them because one of them had to be an eject button, had to be.
Today he buckled up and let his head drop back against the rich Corinthian leather seats. He was still tired and the only food he’d had today was less than a handful of grapes. Edge would have a fit if he knew, he would be in the kitchen in a flash to stir something up, bitching at him the whole time that it wasn’t good to go without meals and could he go for five minutes not thinking about Edge, it wasn’t fucking helping and--
“andy?” Stretch said, low.
Jeff, who’d been exploring the buttons that Stretch ignored, jerked guiltily. “Yeah?”
That anxiety was rising, clenching in his chest and making it hard to breathe, “can you talk to me?”
“Um. Sure,” he bit his lip, considering, “About what?”
“anything,” Stretch swallowed down the pleading that tried to leak out, “make my mind shut up for a little while.”
A warm human hand settled over his own, squeezing gently. “I can do that. Okay, check this out, back when I worked at Classic Books, we had this guy who would come in every once in a while. He was a little odd, but a nice guy, and he’d usually hang for a while to chat. Anyway, this time he comes in and--”
Stretch closed his sockets and listened as Jeff rambled on about the grueling adventures of retail customer service, telling him about the guy who’d dreamed about a book and thought somehow Jeff should be able to find it.
Before he could find out how the quest for ‘the blue book with gold writing about Jesus riding dinosaurs’ ended, he felt the change of speed from the car leaving the expressway. The airport was right off the ramp, but they didn’t go through the main loop where Delta and American Airlines hunkered and instead, they were directed to a hanger off to the side.
He wasn’t really surprised. Money talked, sure, that was part of it, but for reasons of sheer practicality the Ambassadors always took a private jet. Not like many of them were going to fit in coach and even first class would be asking a bit much of Papyrus and Edge’s knees, along with Toriel’s girth.
The car pulled up in front of a single building off to the side that looked brand-spanking new. When Generic Driver and Bodyguard led them to the door where two of his huge brethren stood with unsmiling solemnness, it proved to be comfortably warm inside, with furniture that included a table set up with coffee machine and a plate of sandwiches in plastic wrap. One of the squashy chairs held Asgore, who was still dressed in his weekend casual. He was holding a coffee cup that looked comically small in his large hands. Red was sprawled out on a sofa and he gave the two of them a mocking little salute as they came in.
“c’mon in, join the party. get something to eat, honey bun,” Red called, “came right from the embassy cafeteria, it’s good stuff.”
“from the embassy cafeteria?” Stretch grimaced. He’d eaten there a couple of times and if he’d been allowed to review it on his twitter, it would have gotten a 5 on the barf scale. “you sure it isn’t poisoned?”
“The food quality has greatly increased since Edge hired Hussain to take over leadership,” Asgore said quietly. He didn’t look up from his coffee cup, probably afraid Stretch was gonna spit in his face, but his anger of this morning seemed distant as a fading dream.
“hussain? from the beanery?” Stretch poked one sandwich with a long finger even as Jeff inspected the supposedly-tasty largess hungrily. “edge didn’t tell me he did that.”
He’d noticed Hussain’s absence at the Beanery, but only in the periphery, vaguely assuming it was his day off or maybe he had class. No one else mentioned it to him, either, probably thought he already knew. Why hadn’t Edge told him—
Red only snorted, interrupting his unraveling thoughts, “he prolly forgot, he don’t have time to tell you all the shit he does. quit fussing and eat a sandwich, brat.”
Not the worst advice he’d had today. He grabbed a random one and took a seat on the empty sofa. It turned out to be some kind of curried salad. Pretty good, but his magic seemed reluctant to incorporate it, letting each chewed bite sit for too long until he was close to choking. He managed to gag down about half, ignoring Red’s beady look. Next to him, Jeff scarfed down his own and when Stretch handed over his leftovers, he took it without question. At least someone should get a decent meal.
Asgore didn’t look like he was going to take on that role. He only sat with his too-small coffee cup, staring into the depths of it without taking so much as a sip.
The room was so painfully quiet, Stretch wished there was a radio or a television or a fucking mariachi band. Anything so he didn’t have to sit here in this smothering silence. A quick check of his phone showed there wasn’t a single message or missed call, definitely not his normal. He suspected that a little gremlin somewhere was holding back his messages, but all Stretch could work up about that was reluctant gratitude. Let the frantic texts and well wishes come later when he could better deal with it.
He hesitated over the twitter app and decided not to open it yet, tucking his phone back away.
No one spoke, all of them surrounded in a choking hush only broken by a sofa creaking whenever someone moved or the occasional shuffle of a shoe. Waiting was not one of Stretch’s strengths, coupled with his lack of patience and his feeble endurance and half those noises were from him squirming around.
The furniture was probably perfectly comfortable in reality, but to Stretch it was about as cozy as sitting on freshly hardened cement. He shifted, crossing and uncrossing his legs, picking at his shoelaces and wishing he’d thought to grab the pack of smokes Andy gave him earlier. Smoking was the best timewaster he’d ever had to miss, and his magic was pleading for a nicotine fix.
That Asgore was sitting right there made it impossible not to look at him, not unless Stretch wanted to close his sockets like a toddler, tempting as that was. Every involuntary glance revealed tired unhappiness tempered with worry, and it wasn’t a king
sitting in this little waiting room, nothing of the cheery, dignified ruler. This was someone whose ex-wife and kid were nearly killed, someone worrying about friends and family, and Stretch was unfortunately very familiar with that.
The muted, aching hurt in his own soul wanted to reach out, to offer what comfort it could, and finally, Stretch gave in and did. Because he knew would make Edge happy.
“i talked to tori,” Stretch said, slowly. He didn’t have his lighter, nothing to fidget with and instead kept his eyes on his hands, picking at his knuckles. “she said everyone is okay.”
Out of the corner of his socket, he saw Asgore nodding slowly. “I haven’t spoken to her directly, but all the information we have thus far is clear that there were some injuries, but nothing critical.”
Critical was a horrible word and as soon as he could, Stretch was starting a twitter campaign to have it ripped out of the dictionary.
“do we...i mean…” His fingertip slipped and dug in too hard against his knuckle, sending a sprinkle of dust into his lap. Next to him, Jeff made a soft, stifled sound of dismay and reached over to take his hand, stilling him. Giving in to those overprotective instincts he was starting to take on, but Stretch let him, ignoring the tiny throb in his finger. “do you know what really happened yet?”
“not yet,” Red interrupted, all laconic ease as if the coiled tension in him wasn’t practically dripping from him like a leaky faucet. “got ‘em all on radio silence until they get back. right now, looks like just your basic monster hater attack that got lucky, but it ain’t nothing that’s been even a blip on our radar. i don’t like that shit, but the useful info is low to the ground yet.”
“yeah, sure,” Stretch muttered unhappily, “i get it, i don’t have clearance.”
A sharp kick against his shin made him yelp and Stretch jerked up to stare at Red in disbelief, who only glared back. “as soon as i know what happened, you’ll know,” Red said bluntly, “you deserve that. and if my bro doesn’t tell you, i’ll do it myself.”
“i…okay,” Stretch stuttered out. Asgore made no protest of that, only took a sip from his probably ice-cold coffee.
Red relaxed back against the sofa cushions. “for right now, we’re keeping communication on the down low until i can talk to everyone face to face. they’re out of range of monster cell towers and i ain’t taking any chance of anyone listening in.”
That made sense, it did, but some part of him still didn’t believe that Red of all people didn’t have an inkling of what happened. Or maybe it was too frightening to think it, Red knew everything, he was The Spy, and he only needed an eye patch over his cracked socket to cosplay as Nick Fury. That and a hovering base of operations, maybe Sans could get on that—
The muted roar of an engine interrupted that rambling thought and as one they turned towards it.
“They’re here,” Asgore shifted his weight, starting to stand, but Stretch was already on his feet, shortcutting outside to watch the plane taxiing towards them.
It seemed to take forever and if he’d ever taken a gander at the inside of that plane, Stretch would’ve shortcutted inside, fuck security protocol. He didn’t know how Red was resisting the urge. But he stood next to Stretch, impassive as ever as they waited while a crew of Humans wheeled a ramp up to the door and it finally opened.
The first one off the plane was Blue, and Stretch’s soul skipped a beat as his brother never hesitated, running down the ramp directly towards him as he cried, “Papy!”
Catching him as he flung himself at Stretch was automatic, the same as he’d done a hundred times before in Underswap and all the wrenching emotions Stretch had been bottling up since Red showed up in his living room that morning finally slipped its cork. Drowning in a crushing wave of guilt and relief, he hugged Blue desperately tight, burying his face into his shoulder and breathing him in.
“hey, bro,” Stretch whispered hoarsely. His arms ached from the force of his grip, holding Blue as he’d never been able to after the resets, never able to show him the depths of his grief. Blue didn’t so much as squirm in protest, clinging just as tightly. His suit was rumpled, his tie missing, and he smelled like smoke mingled with the burnt sickly-sweet remnants that came from straining magic to its limits. “don’t do that to me again, okay?”
“I never meant to do it the first time,” Blue choked out. He drew back, Stretch reluctantly letting him lean away, and his smile was tremulous. There were dark shadows beneath his sockets where none had ever been, like a week’s worth of lost sleep, but not quite. Bruises, Stretch realized with shivering horror, Blue had the skeletal equivalent of two black eyes, but the soft blue-yellow lights within were shining stars, “Come on, Edge should be next. I know you want to see him.”
Heavy guilt filled him, followed by a ghostly memory of his brother weeping that he missed him, was it possible that was only a couple days ago? But Blue only squirmed down from his arms and pulled him over to the ramp, his warm smile nothing but sincere.
A back appeared first, not Edge’s but a Monster that Stretch vaguely recognized as part of the entourage. He was guiding a gurney down the ramp and Stretch could only watch mutely as it was carefully brought down from the plane. There was an IV bag hanging from a short pole, glowing softly, and the occupant became clear as the battered curve of a skull came into view.
He barely noticed Asgore and his guards skirting around them to go up the ramp into the plane. All that freed emotion from seeing his brother coagulated in his chest in a dense, frozen ball.
Distantly, Stretch could only think that Edge looked so impossibly small. Edge was only a little shorter than him, but he always seemed like this larger than life presence, one that Stretch could tuck himself into and trust to keep him safe, not only from the world but from the demons in his own mind.
To see him like this, so very still and buried in blankets with wide straps over the gurney to keep him secure. His hands were on top of the covers, bare and battered, there was even a spot that looked a bit charred, but Tori was right about one thing, there were no new cracks. Only plenty of darkly mottled bruises and scrapes surrounding his closed sockets, awful and undeniable. A wild, impossible impulse rose up in Stretch, to grab hold of Edge and shortcut off with him, to take him far away from everything, to keep him safe. Stupid, useless urge, but for one brief moment it was overwhelming.
Fuck, if that was how Edge felt all the time, no wonder he could be an overprotective prick.
Blue took his hand and Stretch startled so badly he nearly jerked away. But his brother only held on, squeezing gently. “I know, he looks a little worse for the wear, but I promise you, it’s nothing serious. The ambulance should be here soon to take you both to the hospital and--”
“hospital?” Stretch repeated thinly. “but you said…”
“Yes, hospital,” Blue said firmly. “He’ll be fine, but he was injured. I did what I could and Toriel is a skilled healer in her own right. He still needs to be checked over and they should at least keep him overnight.”
Okay. Okay, yeah, that sounded right and Stretch nodded dumbly. Maybe the change in atmosphere was registering because Edge stirred, shifting against the straps. His sockets opened, his eye lights wide and diffused, filling his sockets with swirling crimson. For a moment all Edge did was blink, looking all around him before focusing on Stretch.
Stretch smiled and managed a weak, “hey, babe.”
As he watched, that bleary confusion abruptly turned into a happily beaming smile, which only ranked at about the third most disturbing thing that had happened that day.
“Hiiiii!!” Edge exclaimed with loud glee.
Uh. Maybe Blue was wrong about how serious his injuries were.
“Ah, yes, he was hurting quite a bit and being stubborn about it,” Blue said dryly. “We may have slightly overdone the pain relief. Enjoy it while you can, I’m going to check that the ambulance is on its way.”
But Blue was already trotting off, stopping to grab Jeff who was standing awkwardly back and dragging him along, his chatter fading away.
Edge was still grinning with unsettling cheer. On his usually stern face it was like the beginnings of a nightmare and Stretch almost expected maniacal clowns to start crawling out of manholes and portacabins around them. Fuck it, that might make it less weird, at least then all this would make sense.
“I know you!” Edge went on happily, one hand reaching out towards him. Then his brow furrowed in battered confusion, his hand falling to hang limply off the gurney’s side. “Do I know you? You’re pretty.”
Smooth fucker, wasn't he. Very carefully, Stretch took his hand, gentle with those scuffed, bruised fingers. “you know me okay. i’m your husband, yeah?”
He brightened like a light bulb, practically glowing from within with soul-deep delight. A well drugged light bulb and he latched on to Stretch eagerly, his grip bordering on feverish. “My husband? That means I get to keep you!”
If anyone was stupid enough to ask, Stretch wouldn’t even be able to begin describing how he felt about everything right about now. All his emotions were in wild conflict, battering against each other for dominance. But fuck if he could hold back from that. He grinned, helplessly, rubbing his thumb over Edge’s somewhat tarnished wedding band. "sure does."
“Sans!” Edge shouted suddenly, loud enough to make Stretch wince, but when he automatically tried to take a step back, Edge’s grip held like Velcro, weirdly loose and still implacable.
Red stepped up next to the gurney, hands tucked into his pockets. “right here, bro.”
Even with being strapped down, Edge still managed to lift his head enough to look down at his brother and say gleefully, “You see my husband?”
“seen him a time or two, yeah,” Red said. For the first time that day the clouded grimness that surrounded him seemed to lift a fraction and his permanent grin widened.
“I get to keep him!”
“sure do,” Red agreed, “no catch and release on husbands.”
Edge flumped back on the gurney hard enough to make Stretch wince even as he sang out enthusiastically, “He’s reeeeeeally pretty. Isn’t he pretty?”
“uh huh, he ain’t bad.” Red gave him a leering look and Stretch felt a hot flush crawl across his cheekbones, glaring back. Not that he’d ever doubted Edge thought that, but it was always nice to hear. Kinda.
Edge scowled at Red comically, holy fuck, that much expression on Edge’s face? He was going to give himself a new crack if this kept up.
“You’re just jealous,” he grumped, holding on tight to Stretch’s hand as if he thought Red might try to scoop him up and head for the hills to start up a new horrifying chapter in the mocking fairytale that was this day.
“must be,” Red agreed, an odd note to his voice, but Edge ignored that, cheering again quickly.
“Mine!” Edge said happily and before Stretch could puzzle through any of that exchange, he was busy squawking as he was abruptly yanked onto the gurney.
“woah, hang on, handsome!” Stretch tried to squirm away, but whoever’d had the foresight to buckle Edge down should’ve included his arms in the deal. Despite the good drugs and the visible bruises, he was pretty damn strong and clinging to Stretch like living duct tape.
“Mine, mine, mine,” Edge chanted like some kind of musical, maniacal supervillain and where the fuck had everyone else gone? They didn’t need a damn parade to get an ambulance. Red was only watching with great interest, picking idly at his gold tooth.
“a little help here?” Stretch yelped as Edge started nuzzling happily at his collarbone. Okay, it was a little tempting, but for crying out loud, Frisk and Toriel could be getting off the plane anytime now and who knew what high zoom lenses were out there getting a frontpage picture for the gossip rags. No assistance was coming from the outside avenues, so Stretch went for the ‘hail, mary’ pass and tried coaxing Edge, instead, “come on, babe, you gotta let go now.”
“No!” Edge sulked, and fuck if that petulant sullenness wasn’t incredibly damn adorable coming out in his deep, raspy voice, “You said I get to keep you.”
“you do, promise, i’m all yours. but—" Just then Edge found the bottom of his sweatshirt, warm, clumsy hands suddenly petting his ribcage and Stretch’s squeal took on a panicked note. “damn it, red!”
“me? i ain’t doing nothing.” His glee nearly matched Edge’s, that asshole.
“that’s part of the problem, you shit! he’s gonna hurt himself!”
“hurt himself?” Red scoffed. “you could take off one of his arms and use it as a tennis racket and he wouldn’t notice right now.”
“that isn’t helping!”
“never said it was, honey bun.”
Most of his face was buried into Edge’s chest but the little he could see through blankets and bone made Stretch snap out in disbelief, “are you recording this??”
“fuck, yeah, i am. this shit needs to be in high definition.”
“he’ll kill you!” Stretch tried to sound threatening, but it wasn’t exactly easy with Edge’s unusually graceless but eagerly insistent fingers trailing over his hipbones. The combination was unfortunately arousing and if he popped a boner while Red was recording, someone was gonna pay. Probably him, in horrifying shame. “i’ll kill you!”
Red did not sound properly threatened, considering that he only chuckled out, “gotta get loose first.”
It turned out to be a grateful moot point. Before he could figure out how to escape from the wild groper his husband became under the influence, those hands slowed, going lax. By the time Stretch was able wriggle free little, Edge was out like a light, already snoring faintly.
But the moment he tried to climb off the gurney, that grip tightened again and Edge mumbling out a complaining grunt. Stretch gave up and sank down, hey, a wee little base humiliation wasn’t gonna dust him. Just so long as they kept away from dying shame, he’d manage.
But he did whip around to glare at Red’s grinning face, demanding, “delete it.”
Not like his threats would penetrate Red’s elephant hide, only rolled off like so much baby oil. “nah, don’t think so, this is for my private collection.” His glee turned pensive. “you know, i don’t have much from the old days but i do have a thing or two. maybe a few old pictures and shit.” He paused, adding with a certain slyness, “might have some pics of the boss here as a baby bones hidden away someplace.”
Yeah, Stretch knew when he was beat. “i will pay any price.”
“that’s what i like to hear.”
Just then, he heard the ambulance pulling up, fuck, finally! The back doors opened and Blue climbed out, the attendants at his heels, “All right, let’s get Edge loaded--Papy!” Blue scolded, “He’s injured, you shouldn’t be letting him exert himself!”
Stretch only grinned wryly. “sorry, bro. he, uh, didn’t give me much choice.”
Blue harrumphed, but he didn’t demand that Stretch get down, which probably cost his full allotment of sympathy points. Worth it. “You two are going ahead and we’ll be behind you in the second ambulance.”
“second?” That made him sit up despite Edge’s murmured complaint, “who else was hurt?”
Blue’s smile turned fixed even as the paramedics bustled around them. “I’m not supposed to say too much, yet, but.” His voice softened, hardly above a whisper, “I don’t know how Edge knew. We were hardly off the plane and they’d sent a car to pick us up. There must have been something he saw or felt, because he turned back to us and…and then…” He swallowed hard, the luminescent shine of tears limning his sockets. “He shielded Toriel and Frisk, and Papyrus shielded me and Sans. He did the best he could, but he…Papyrus was hurt, Papy.”
“fuck,” Stretch whispered, horrified, “papyrus, is he—"
“He’s fine,” Blue said firmly. “He was resting comfortably the whole flight. Sans is with him right now and we’ll get him to the hospital, too.”
It sounded like he was hurt worse than Edge, shit, shit, “he should’ve come out first!”
“Sans told us to take Edge,” Blue followed along as the gurney started moving, the attendants pushing it along. “Papyrus is asleep and perfectly stable. He was already with his brother and Sans said you’d need to see us.”
Fuck, but he owed Sans a very big favor.
It was only as they were loaded in that Stretch realized Red was gone. He wasn’t in the front seat and didn’t climb in before the doors closed. Then there wasn’t time to worry about that as the ambulance pulled away and Stretch only settled down next to Edge, holding on with as much gentleness as he could muster.
The ambulance attendants were both Monsters and quietly competent, neither suggesting that maybe Stretch could ride along on one of the cushioned seats. Good thing, because Stretch wasn’t going anyplace without extensive use of a crowbar.
He didn’t budge until they got to the hospital and only then did he reluctantly detangle himself from Edge. The docs took some time to look Edge over, peeling back the blankets and Stretch could only wince at the sight of a neat splint on one of Edge’s leg, at bruises scattered over his battered bones. But they only confirmed what Stretch already knew. Toriel and Blue had healed Edge as much as they could, probably too much for their own good considering Blue’s bruises and exhaustion.
Rest and time was what he needed now and that didn’t need a prescription.
Edge never really woke up again, drowsily groping for Stretch whenever he roused, but for once Stretch kept back, letting the doctors do their thing. They finished quick enough, writing on their clipboards and offering reassuring smiles as they left.
Exhausted as he was, Stretch resisted the urge to crawl right back in next to Edge. He felt like a sticky, filthy mess and a quick shower sounded like a lemon slice of heaven right now. At least the room had a very nicely appointed shower, though he didn’t linger, washing up quickly and snagging a set of the hospital issue jammies from the bathroom cubby.
He kicked his clothes under the sink, those could be a problem for Tomorrow Stretch. But he only opened the door a crack before freezing as he caught sight of someone else at the bedside.
Red was standing next to his brother, watching him sleep. His back was to the bathroom door so Stretch couldn’t see face, only the weary slump of his shoulders. As he watched, Red reached over and picked up one of Edge’s hands with tenderness Stretch never suspected Red possessed, inspected his slim, scarred fingers. Likely he didn’t see them often, even Stretch didn’t and they lived together.
He wasn’t supposed to be seeing this, couldn’t look away as Red only held Edge’s limp hand in both his own, pressed a kiss against those lax fingers before setting it back down with deliberate care.
“always come back to me, kid, you hear me?” Red murmured, a low, desperate rasp, He was gone in the next moment, vanishing into an eerily silent shortcut and that was Stretch’s cue.
Edge was sound asleep and there was a large, comfy chair pulled up next to the hospital bed that Stretch promptly ignored, gingerly curling up next to him, as close as he could get without disturbing him. For the first time since Edge sat him down to tell him about this trip, his soul settled, that achy, raw feeling easing.
Exhausted as he was, Stretch only lay there, looking into that battered, beloved face, tasting the sweet salt of his own melancholy tears as he whispered a plea of his own, “don’t ever leave me. please.”
He didn’t expect Edge to stir with a sleepy sigh, his sockets opening to show a sliver of crimson as he slurred out, “Won’t, love. M’ yours.”
“mine and yours, like his and his towels,” Stretch whispered back, stifling a teary giggle and when Edge sleepily held out an arm, he took the invitation. Snuggling in with his skull resting on Edge’s ribcage, an arm strung loosely around him as Stretch listened intently to the soft, steady thrum of his husband’s soul.