Berdly might have been stupid now, but he had still poured all his points into INT, and INT he was. Intelligent. Intelligent he was. Is.
He is laterally intelligent! He is spatially intelligent! He is longitudinally intelligent! And, most of all, he is emotionally intelligent! Emotional intelligence is one of his most prized forms of intelligence, after all. He could read people like any of the college-level books he possessed!
But it doesn’t take an emotional genius of his caliber to see that when Noelle woke up in the computer lab, she was acting… differently. And it doesn’t take one of his caliber to see that when Kris and Susie and Toriel and, for whatever reason, Undyne come back from their mysterious entire-day sleepover in Kris’ house – a sleepover he should have been invited to, by the way – Noelle is still acting oddly, especially around Kris themselves.
She holds her head up higher. She doesn’t whisper or stammer or get nervous as much. She stops taking her mom’s car to school and starts walking there by herself. She starts to turn him down when he asks to study with her, although even he can’t figure out why. She raises her hoof in class to get Ms. Alphys’ attention. And once class is over, she goes straight home without saying a word to anyone, least of all him.
He… doesn’t like it. Something’s different about her. It’s like… like… well, like if she was on a tier list for kindness, she had dropped to C tier. And if she was on a tier list for confidence, she had suddenly shot up to S tier. It’s weird. It doesn’t make sense. And it wasn’t like real life had patch notes – not even something like “Various bug fixes and improvements.”
But when Kris comes back, it starts to make sense again. Because all the nervousness, all the anxiety, all the fear, that she didn’t show around other people anymore, she now was showing around Kris. Kris, who had been acting kind of weird themselves the past few days. They were always weird, but now they were too... normal? Like they were actually trying to be normal, instead of. Not caring.
There was only one conclusion to make.
Kris had done something to Noelle.
Kris had pranked Noelle.
Kris had hurt Noelle.
And the smug, short little jerkface was lording it over her! They didn’t even care that she was scared of them! They were… they were enjoying seeing her suffer! And… and on top of that… now Noelle, his best friend… no, wait, he didn’t want to friendzone her… Noelle, who so obviously loved him, was avoiding him! Because of Kris!
The moment he realizes this, in the middle of class, he nearly breaks his pencil in his talons. This is unacceptable. Completely unacceptable! He might not have had a cool laser halberd like in his dream, and he might have slept on his wing so much it didn’t seem to, uh, work anymore, but he’s still going to give them a piece of his mind.
He decides right then he’s going to follow them after school and confront them about what they’ve done to Noelle, whatever that is. Confront them and get them to apologize immediately.
He needs a few minutes. To. Get ready.
Yeah, he doesn’t want to just… follow behind them, after all. Like some kind of weirdo. Even though of course, even with this broken wing, he would still be the height of intimidating and not weird at all. But just in case, better to… to wait a few minutes.
“Are you, er. Leaving?” asks Ms. Alphys after several minutes of Berdly sitting alone in an empty classroom.
“O-of course!” he says loudly, standing up. “I was just thinking of the, er, the problem today! The, ah, yes – the anatomy of a bee! True, it is said that a bee cannot fly – its fat little wings are too short to get it off the ground. But – heh, see this is the genius part – the bee, of course, flies…”
“I taught English today,” Ms. Alphys interrupts, tone completely flat. “Like I do every Monday.”
“RIGHT,” Berdly says, even louder. “I’m… we… the…” He closes his beak. “I’m leaving now.”
And he grabs his backpack in his good wing and shuffles out of the room. He keeps expecting to see Kris anywhere. It felt like they could be anywhere these days, even though it felt like only a week ago when they would go straight home after school, sometimes with their mother. But they weren’t in the school at all, as far as he could tell.
They weren’t outside the school either, standing by the entrance. He goes to the library, since… since Kris and Susie were supposed to do their group project, so it made sense. But neither of them had been to the library at all since the last time the four of them were at the computer lab.
Since that dream.
Didn’t everything weird that was going on with Noelle seem to start there…? And… and his arm had got messed up in the dream too. And Noelle’d been acting so strange in that dream, so… different. But none of that made sense at all. It went against every type of logic he had.
He kept walking, but he still didn’t see them. They didn’t seem to be anywhere – not in the restaurant, not in Ice-E’s P“E”ZZA, not in the police station. He briefly considered giving up and going home, but… but he couldn’t do that. He absolutely couldn’t! Whatever Kris had done, Noelle deserved an apology. He wasn’t going to rest until he got them to give her one.
And then… he saw them. Going into the… grocery store? If that even was what that building was. It didn’t look like one on the outside. Definitely not like the old grocery store that had been there before the new grocery-store-ish building had, er, materialized out of thin air. Or something.
But that wasn’t the part that gave him pause. The part that gave him pause was that they were being followed by Susie. They weren’t saying or doing anything with her, they were just walking around together, but…
When, and more importantly, why, the hell had Kris and Susie become friends? It was the most baffling thing that had happened the entire week, which was saying… a lot! They’d been acting all buddy buddy in that dream too, like they were old pals or something, but since when?! Everyone was terrified of Susie! Everyone knew she tormented and picked on and threatened everyone she could for no reason whatsoever!
Maybe… maybe that was why… Kris was getting along with her? Huh. That actually made sense. If Kris was bullying Noelle, and Susie was a bully… maybe their weird friendship was because they were both actually more likeminded than he had first assumed?
Well, that was even more infuriating. Kris wasn’t exactly a friend, but Kris had been his rival since they’d been in Ms. Toriel’s class as kids. They had so many… they were always showing him up by… they were… er. OK, so maybe Kris wasn’t exactly a good rival either. But it wasn’t as if he could be rivals with Noelle. Perish the thought. And Kris was at least good at Super Smashing Fighters, which was good enough to count as a rivalry in Berdly’s book.
But regardless! Berdly absolutely wasn’t going to accept his rivals falling to the dark side. He believed in friendly rivalries, not rivalries where one rival was tormenting the other rival’s best-friend-slash-potential-love-interest. That rivalry was the type of rivalry of fanfiction and movies about outer space and other such things that were beneath his notice.
Either way, if it meant he had to confront Kris and Susie, well… well, he would just have to do it. No. No, he would do it. Yeah. Yeah! He could and would do it! He’d expose them for the cowards they were and he’d be the hero of all of Hometown! He’d win every prize at the festival! Noelle would actually date him! His mothers wouldn’t sigh when he told them about the latest Smashing Fighters tournament! Yes! Yes!!!
He walks into the grocery store.
And they are not there.
The skeleton at the register grins at him.
“want a card?” he says, flipping open several in his hand. “i’ve got apology cards, romantic cards, romantic card apology cards, romantic apology for the romantic card apology card cards, children’s trading cards…”
“Where did Kris and Susie go?” Berdly demands, in his most valiant voice.
“who and who now?” says the skeleton, looking away. Berdly glares, and the skeleton shrugs. “look, pal. i don’t sell out my worst customers. i only sell out of groceries.”
“Ugh! Fine!” Berdly says, turning on his heel and throwing open the door. He starts to leave, before turning his head around to look at the skeleton again. “I’ll be back for the trading cards! Save the holographic ones!”
Marching out of the grocery store, he turns left and right to see if he can still see Kris and Susie… and… aha! Yes, there they are! Way off in the distance, walking past Kris’ dad’s flower shop, to the lake… they’re unmistakable!
Berdly follows as quickly as he can, being careful not to strain his wing. By the time he actually arrives, he’s completely exhausted, and Kris and Susie have casually sat down next to the lake. Berdly can see, even before he approaches, Susie talking animatedly and Kris laughing to themselves softly, smiling.
Huh. He didn’t see Kris smile much these days.
He takes a step closer.
“Kris,” he announces. “I’m afraid I must speak to you.”
Kris turns and looks at him with… an odd expression. Lowered, downcast gaze under their bangs, a deep, wavy frown as they struggle to look him back in the eyes.
All the signs of guilt, Berdly realizes. Good. They should feel guilty!
Susie looks at their expression and frowns herself, but in a way less guilty and much more irritated. Still, Berdly doesn’t think it takes intelligence of his level to know who she’s irritated at, even before she turns the gaze to him, stands up to her full height, and walks closer. She’s not actually that much taller than he is, but she feels like she’s as tall as Asgore.
“Berdly,” she says. “We’re busy.”
She’s going to kill him. She’s going to lift him up, break him over her knee, and eat his wings for dinner.
But… even knowing that...
“H… ha!” he laughs, right in her face. She looks even more annoyed. “A trifle! A… a mere ‘We’re busy’ will not stop me when… uh... when friendship is at stake!”
Susie rubs her temple. “What are you talking about now.”
“I’m talking of Noelle, of course,” Berdly snaps, before realizing that snapping at Susie is a good way to get his head snapped off. He vaguely notices, past Susie’s eyes widening, the way Kris looks up in alarm at those words – further proof of their guilt, no doubt! “I… I mean, that is… I must speak to Kris! Alone! Man to not-man! Gamer to even-better-gamer! Rival to...”
Susie cracks her neck. Berdly feels his head shrink into his.
“Want me to throw him in the lake?” Susie asks, grinning over at Kris. But Berdly sees her grin fade as she looks into their expression, even more downcast than before.
“It’s alright, Susie,” they say, and Berdly can’t remember the last time he’d heard that tone from Kris. Resigned, melancholy, deathly quiet. Nothing like the way they’d acted the past few days. “You can go.”
Susie crosses her arms. “You sure, dude?”
Kris nods, and Susie walks away, past Berdly. Just as she passes him, he feels as she puts one of her huge, heavy hands on his shoulder, and he almost loses his balance.
“You fuck with them,” she says. “And I’ll turn you into this year’s turkey.”
Berdly swallows, knowing full well that’s not a threat but a promise, and looks down at Kris. Kris, still seated on the ground, stares up at him, still struggling to meet his gaze.
“Kris,” he says, keeping his voice firm. They look up at him again, and he keeps his gaze level. He tries to cross his wings, like he often sees Susie do when she wants to look menacing, but decides against it when his bad wing screams at him not to do that. Still, he has to let them know he’s serious about this, so he glares. “You may be my deeply respected rival, and so I have deigned to overlook your transgressions in the past, but…” He points his good wing at them. “You have gone too far this time!”
Kris blinks up at him.
“Wait,” they say. “I thought... this was about Noelle. Is this about wavedashing again?”
“It is not about wavedashing!” Berdly shouts. “It is about Noelle!” He jabs a feather in their face, which they stare at. “I have seen how you tease and mock her until she cries! I have seen how you play those pranks on her! I have seen how you belittle her and play with her heart! No more!”
Every word Berdly says makes the guilt on Kris’ face more and more apparent, like a perfectly executed combo. Well then! In that case, it is time for the critical strike!
“Noelle is my friend! And I do not know what you’ve done, but you have hurt her so badly she refuses to even look at me! I insist… no, I demand… that you go to her and apologize at once!”
Kris pauses for a long time.
Berdly freezes in place, blinking down at them. That… wasn’t what was supposed to happen.
“I can’t…” Kris says, curling in on themselves. “I can’t… because… because… that wasn’t… I didn’t...”
Recovering from his momentary shock, Berdly glares at them. Now they’re making excuses?! Pitiful! Utterly pitiful!
“Ha! This is rich!” Berdly laughs. “Kris, this is unlike you! I have never thought you would stoop so low as to deny your culpability!”
Kris hiccups, a wet, loud noise. Their whole body trembles. Berdly’s soul feels like it stops.
And then they look up at Berdly with desperate, tear-filled eyes, tears staining their cheeks.
“She’s my friend!” they cry out, the loudest Berdly has ever heard them in his entire life. “She’s my friend… I would… I would never…”
And they bury their head in their legs, their body trembling and trembling as they violently sob.
Berdly lowers his wing, and before he can think of doing anything else, he sits down in front of them.
“You’re… you’re really upset,” he says quietly, and then immediately wants to slap himself. Idiot! Can he say one actually intelligent thing in his entire life?!
“I’ve… I’ve hurt her so much,” Kris chokes out, their voice even hoarser than normal. “But… it was all just… just to scare her. It was a game. I’d never… never hurt her… for… for real.”
Berdly isn’t entirely sure if its curiosity or sympathy that makes him speak next.
“So… so what happened?”
Kris sniffles, and stares right at him, their expression firm, their mouth a thin line.
“You were there, Berdly.”
Automatically, Berdly scoffs.
“Kris. Foolish, little Kris,” he says, smirking. “I would not expect you to believe in such fairy tales. Maybe in Gerson’s fantasy novels, people enter such mysterious dream worlds, but in our reality…!”
“How did you break your arm.”
Berdly stops talking. Without thinking, he reaches for his broken wing.
“When you broke free of Queen’s plug,” Kris continues. “When you pulled it off and it blew up. That was when you broke it.”
Berdly stares at them, but their expression remains as serious as before. They don’t even sniffle or sob again.
“You’re…” he says, dumbly. His beak opens and closes. “You’re… you’re right.”
“Noelle,” Kris continues, looking away. They sniffle, wetly. “Something… something told me to hurt her. A… a voice. It told me to…”
Kris trembles, their eyes watering again.
“To make her… kill everything. To hurt her. To make her strong,” they say. “To… to make her kill… kill…”
They gaze back up into Berdly’s eyes.
Berdly stares back.
“I…” he says. “You… I remember. I… I fought you. And Noelle. You said… you said…”
“Proceed,” Kris repeats.
“I… I knew something was wrong… with her. I mean. She was acting… scary. I thought it was because of you, so… so I tried to rescue her,” Berdly says, sounding even to himself like he’s not talking to Kris at all. “I attacked you, and you were knocked out. So I told her to run. And… and she said… she said she could still hear ‘their voice.’ You’re really saying that was…?”
“But it wasn’t just them,” Kris spits. They start speaking faster and faster, their words coming out in a jumble. “It wasn’t. It was me too. I could have... I could have stopped it. I could have ripped it out. If I’d just, I’d just tried hard enough, then, then I, I could have... before… before…”
Berdly stares, still somewhere between baffled and horrified. Nothing they’re saying makes any sense at all, even less than the idea that the dream he experienced was real does.
“Wait, wait, wait,” he says, clenching his eyes shut as he tries to focus. “This voice… it was ordering you around too, right?”
Without looking his direction, Kris nods.
Berdly scoffs, but this time, it’s with a tone that surprises even himself. It’s not a cutting, arrogant dismissal, but a soft snort, and he’s smiling at them when he does it.
“Tell me, Kris. What’s the difference?” he says.
Kris peers up from their legs back up at him.
“I mean, Noelle couldn’t say no either,” Berdly clarifies. “You – I mean, they – told her to do those things, and she did them. And Noelle… Noelle is my best friend. She wouldn’t hurt a fruit fly even if it asked her to!”
Kris just stares. Berdly’s smile softens further.
“And, no matter what that… anomaly said… I’m still here,” he says. “I mean, it’s, uh. Kind of terrifying that the two of you were. Going to kill me. But you didn’t! You didn’t even attack me.”
Berdly takes a breath.
“That means… that means it can’t be your fault.” He slaps his wing into his other wing and then immediately winces. “It’s, er, it’s like the scene in Finished Fable XX-3 where, where Domino gets tricked into being a bad guy and the party has to defend until he comes to his senses! Yeah!”
Kris laughs, and Berdly isn’t sure whether they’re laughing at him or not. But he has a good feeling he knows.
“Berdly,” they say. “You’re…”
A complete idiot, Berdly supplies. I’m so useless...
But Kris reaches up and wipes their eyes.
“You’re a really good person,” they say instead.
Berdly does a double-take, as if to make sure he had heard them correctly, but Kris smiles – smiles! - at him.
“You… you always stand up for your friends,” Kris says, their eyes soft behind their bangs. “You sacrifice yourself to protect the people you care about. You’re brave. You care about other people’s feelings, even if… even if you act like a jerk sometimes.”
Berdly can’t believe what he’s hearing. Someone is… someone is actually praising him? Sincerely? Genuinely?
And then Kris does the least expected thing of all.
They lean forward and kiss him on the beak, holding his cheeks in their hands. Warmth shoots from the tip of his talons to the tops of his head feathers, and he feels if it were possible, every feather on him would have instantly turned red.
Kris breaks away in less than a second, looking bizarrely… bashful??? Is that an emotion Kris even has in their itinerary???
“what,” Berdly squeaks.
Kris stares from behind their bangs, clearly puzzled.
“What? That’s… that’s what I’m supposed to do, right?” they ask with an awkward shrug. “That’s... what they do in movies. And Jockington’s always telling me I have to, Go For, The Gold, Pal.”
“What the hell are you talking about?!” Berdly yells the moment he recovers. Kris flinches, their dark brown cheeks turning even darker. “Why did you do that?!”
“Isn’t it obvious?” they say, sounding vaguely annoyed.
“Berdly, I know you’re supposed to be stupid now,” Kris says, smiling. “But you’re really going to make me say it?”
Something in Berdly’s brain clicks together.
“Say… what?” he asks, carefully.
Kris rolls their eyes, but they’re still smiling.
“I like you, dumbass.”
They reach out and clasp Berdly’s good wing in their hand, their grip gentler than he’d ever expect from Kris. Even weirder, they’re blushing and looking towards the ground.
“I... really like you.”
Berdly bark-laughs. He doesn’t pull his wing away.
“HA! Ha ha! I should have known!” Berdly says, sounding even more desperate than he feels. “This is indeed a prank of truly epic proportions! You almost had me there! But I am not your innocent Noelle, Kris! I am a genius! I will not fall for…”
“I’m serious,” Kris says.
Berdly stops talking. He swallows and stares at Kris.
“O-oh,” he finally says. His cheeks still feel warm. It’s making him sweat. “Oh. Wow. O-OK.”
“Please,” they say. “Come sit next to me.”
Berdly rises awkwardly as Kris turns around to face the lake, and then he sits down next to them, right by their side. Once again, they take his good wing in their hand and gently hold it.
“Can you…” Kris asks, voice gentle and soft in a way he never would expect from Kris. “Stay with me?”
“Uh,” Berdly says, still not entirely sure if this is a prank. “O-of… of course, m… m’they…”
“Yeah. Got it.”
For a minute, the two of them say nothing.
“I’ve always liked you,” Kris admits, breaking the silence. They lay against his wing, and Berdly tries once again to not change into a redbird.
“Why?” Berdly asks, trying not to sound overly suspicious. It is the most obvious question.
“I dunno,” Kris says, lightly shrugging. “You were nice to me, I guess.”
I was??? Berdly asks himself.
“You were loud. And annoying,” Kris admits, “But that was OK. You treated me like I was… normal. Nobody else did. But you played Smashing Fighters with me, and you tried to act like we were rivals at school even though you were way smarter than me, and you watched TV shows with me and talked about them. For hours.”
Berdly opens his mouth to argue, but there’s a wall in his head preventing him from speaking, a wall labelled “THIS IS NOT A PRANK THEY ARE SERIOUS DO NOT RUIN THIS.”
So he says nothing else. It is Kris, once again, that breaks the silence. Even them talking this much is strange. Have they really changed so much in the past week…?
“I still think you’re weird,” Kris says. “But I… I like that. It’s cute.”
Berdly feels as if the word ‘cute’ is surrounding him a thousand times in a thousand ten-thousand point fonts, and yet he still can’t acknowledge it.
Nobody in history has ever called him cute.
Kris closes their eyes, breathing steadily in and out. They’re still holding his hand. He tries not to stare, but he doesn’t ever think he’s seen them more at peace.
And then, something somehow even less expected than a kiss happens.
“Wake up, wake up, little sparrow…” Kris starts to sing, under their breath. Berdly’s feathers raise like goosebumps.
“Shh,” Kris says softly. Berdly stops talking.
“Don’t make your home out in the snow,” they continue. Berdly has no idea what to make of this. It feels like an entirely different kind of dream. He has so many questions. Where did they even hear this song? From Asriel? “Don’t make your home out in the snow...”
But… Kris’ voice is… it’s kind of nice. It’s a little high, and reedy, and of course not to Berdly’s impeccable standards of performance. But it’s… it’s nice.
He lets himself relax and sit there with Kris at his side, listening to their voice.
“Little bird, oh, don’t you know…”
Berdly walks home, and Kris walks with them. They’re still holding hands, unbelievably. Berdly is sure that any moment now he’s going to wake up, or this is going to turn out to be a nightmare, and that seems confirmed when Susie suddenly yanks him behind a tree, much to Kris’ visible confusion.
“What the hell did you do,” she says, which sounds threatening but is made less so by how Susie just looks like she’s seen a naked clown do a cartwheel in front of her.
“I…” Berdly says. “Have no idea.”
“Did you break them???” she demands, looking more than half crazed.
Your friends flew south many months ago
“I have no idea!” he repeats. “You’re friends with them now! Apparently! Is this normal?!”
“No!” Susie hisses. “It’s not!”
She stares at the sky.
“OK, I don’t actually know what’s normal for them.”
Your friends flew south many months ago
“Well, if I may offer my opinion, as Kris’ primary love interest…” Berdly says.
“Ha!” Susie laughs. He ignores it.
“...I much prefer this side of Kris.”
“Look, lovebird,” Susie says, poking a claw in his chest. “Something’s going on with Kris. You’re a weirdo, but I know you’re not a bad guy. I just don’t want you walking ass-backwards into their feelings getting hurt.”
Berdly, in spite of every bone in his body telling him to quip something back, refrains.
“I’m not going to hurt them,” he says, seriously. “I promise.”
You're just a babe, you cannot fly
“Berdly?” Kris calls out.
“Well, just remember,” Susie says. “You. Turkey.”
And she grabs him and shoves him back towards Kris. He gives them a strained smile, but they only smile brightly at him as if nothing had happened.
He walks them the rest of the way to their home, and they arrive at the front door. The door opens immediately, and Kris’ mother Toriel is standing there, the light from the door casting a glow over Kris that makes them somehow look even prettier.
“Ah, Kris,” she says. “You have…”
Your wings won't spread up against the sky
Berdly tries not to squawk as he quickly disentangles his wing from Kris’ hand and turns to face their mother.
“Toriel! Miss Toriel! Mom! I mean, uh, m-ma’am!” he blabbers. “I was just… out for a walk with Kris! A normal, ordinary walk! Cardiac exercise! Care to join us?”
“I will pass,” Toriel says. “Kris, he is not bothering you, is he…?”
Your wings won't spread up against the sky
“He’s my boyfriend now,” Kris says.
Now Berdly does squawk, looking right at them. Toriel just chuckles, covering her mouth with her paw.
“Oho? What an unexpected development!” she says. “Well, I expect the best behavior from both of you. I just hope this does not mean you are already leaving the nest, my child.”
Berdly laughs awkwardly. Kris says nothing.
“I will give you two a moment alone,” Toriel says, smiling. “Be good.”
And she shuts the door.
Wake up, wake up, little sparrow
And Kris turns to face him, a blush on their cheeks.
“Berdly,” they say. “I…”
Don’t make your home out in the snow
Berdly stares at them. And opens his mouth.
“I…” Berdly says. “I… I FORGOT MY TRADING CARDS!”
He turns, bolting down the driveway and around the corner. Kris stares as he leaves, but he only runs straight for the grocery store and knocks several times on the front door.
Despite how late it is, the doorway opens, revealing the skeleton cashier from before.
“oh, hey,” he says. “sorry, i threw all the holographic ones away. i heard they’re priceless, so y’know. can’t really sell any.”
“You… you monster!” Berdly hisses.
“jury’s still out on that one,” the skeleton says, winking. “have fun dating kris.”
And he closes the door, leaving Berdly alone.
Berdly lays his head against the door and sighs.
Don’t make your home out in the snow
This is the worst best day of his life.
What the hell are you doing. Are you just screwing with me?
“I meant every word I said. I like him. He’s who I choose.”
But… Susie! Noelle! Ralsei! There are so many better routes!
“Ha. Don’t you get it by now?”
“Your choices don’t matter.”