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The pools at the cliffs

Chapter Text

The boat’s motor emitted a gentle tk-tk-tk, an almost meditative sound. Alphys was staring over the boat’s edge, at the swirls and bubbles in the blue-green water.

“Okay, Alphys, so you just get onto the cliffs, take a few water samples of the pools in there, and get back in the boat. Got it?”

She looked up at her instructor. “Sure?” she was pretty sure they had been over this a few times already, and, she wasn’t that incompetent … was she? It should be possible to get a few water samples without her messing this up too.

“Just be careful not to, eh, fall in or anything, the current’s pretty strong around these parts.”

She instinctively felt the buckles of her lifejacket, making sure they sat properly. “I-is that why you, haven’t got a-any samples yet?”

The instructor was looking at her sheet of paper, pacing over the deck. “We need water from the other side of the cliffs, preferably both of the still water in the smaller pools, and from the big one where the current sweeps in, to compare the water outside the cliffs. We need to work quickly so the tides don’t raise and the water on both sides gets mixed up.”

Alphys gave a small, determined nod, and the boat came to a halt beside a rock. Alphys clung to the railing of the boat while carefully inching herself onto the rock, making sure it wasn’t slippery. She was handed her kit by a scientist with a good-luck nod, and with it under one arm, she carefully crawled over on the big cliff formation.

The first test was easy, just the water outside the pools. She even went back and handed it to the people on the boat before climbing up the cliffs to get to the pools on the other side. Knowing the whole team was watching her, she made extra sure to watch where she put her feet. It wasn’t a hard climb per se, lots of flat surfaces and places where she could put the kit down for a moment, some of them even big enough to sit on if she wanted, but she was round and clumsy, and knowing everyone was watching her made her hands feel sweaty and slippery.

The water inside the pools were wilder than outside, waves slapping against the cliffs instead of gently pushing, and the instructor’s nagging suddenly made sense. Still, Alphys could handle this. She thought.

At least this meant she didn’t have to move down that far.

She climbed down, found a plateau that was defined enough to be sit on safely, without overly sharp edges. Alphys grabbed the kit and began preparing the tests with fingers that felt way too big and round for doing … anything, really.

Someone cried out on the other side of the wall of cliffs. Alphys’ head jerked up, she almost dropped the tool into the water. With quick movements, she threw her tools into the box and climbed up to the nearest gap between the jagged spikes of the cliffs.

“Yeah, THAT’S right! Don’t want you filthy humans around these parts, GOT IT?”

The instructor was fumbling to get the motor of the boat to kick into action, while one of the scientists was using a bucket that was usually used for collecting crabs and crawdads to fend off … a bright blue and red creature who was waving a spear around. For the second time, the toolkit was about to slip out of Alphys’ hands.

The other scientist was yelling at the instructor. “We need to get to Alphys!”

The bucket had been pierced and was now hanging around the middle of the spear’s handle. The creature roared, pulled it off their spear, and disappeared underwater.

The instructor let go of the motor and waved wildly to Alphys. “Hurry up, fast!”

The way she climbed over was on the other side of this tip. Alphys pulled her leg over the gap and tried to squeeze through the small opening, cursing her round stomach. Another sharp yell and two hard THUNK! sounds made her look up.

The boat was wobbling wildly, and both scientists had fallen and were tumbling around on the deck, desperately trying to hold onto something. The instructor was on hands and knees. At the side of the boat, the creature - mermaid, was Alphys’ first thought, though she hadn’t learned that much about them yet, it wasn’t considered very relevant at this part of her education – had wrapped her hands around the edge of the boat, her back to it, and even though she seemed to be struggling, Alphys didn’t doubt a second that she could – and would – topple over the boat.

The instructor grabbed the motor, fumbling for the line, pulled it once, twice, and the boat shot off, dragging the mermaid five metres before she was hurled off with a splash. The blue creature surfaced a moment later. “Yeah you BETTER RUN, cowards! If I see you again, I’m gonna freaking KILL you, got it, punks?!”

The boat was long gone. Alphys’ face fell, watching the small sea vehicle disappear over the sea, towards the shore. The cliffs were digging into her flesh around her thighs, painfully so, and she tried to pull herself free to hide behind the cliffs. But she was too slow, and clumsy, and the mermaid turned to swim back, and of course, noticed Alphys after two beats with her powerful tailfin.

“Oh. My. God. Are you KIDDING me?” The mermaid snarled, flashing a set of yellowing teeth, not too much unlike the cliffs Alphys was stuck between in shape. The human girl yelped, pulled herself from the cliffs with force, and would have fallen into the water below had her life jacket not get caught on a particularly vile spike of stone. Something hissed through the air, and a spear hit the water in the pools with a splash. Alphys clawed at the stones and managed to pull herself to the plateau where she had left her water sample kit. From the other side of the cliff came a steady stream of swearwords.

“You think you can HIDE from me, huh, punk? I’ll freaking SHOW you, coming here with your noisy boats and your sticky black liquids that catches all the birds, and your FISHING HOOKS and your-”

The voice got fainter. Alphys let out a shaky breath and tried to stop her legs from trembling. She grabbed her upper arms and held herself, forcing herself to breathe deeply.

Her attempts were sabotaged the moment she noticed the glimpse of bright blue and clear red under the surface of the water. The mermaid shot into the pool, dived, and came back up with her spear in her hand, throwing it at Alphys with a roar.

The human girl screamed, throwing herself to the plateau, feeling her pants and palms tearing against the stones. The sharp snapping sound made her fear she had broken something, or dislocated it. Desperately, she tried to get up and away from the water and this terrible creature. In her attempts, she almost ended up kicking the broken spear into the water again.

The mermaid made a launch for the broken weapon that had fallen to the plateau. Reflexively, Alphys grabbed the spear and pulled away, pressing herself against the stones.

The mermaid was growling out of frustration, the long, strong tail beating heavily, the red of the tailfin occasionally surfacing and slapping against the water. Blue hands with webbed fingers grabbed after Alphys’ ankles, and the girl squeaked and looked, desperately, for a way to get away.

She tucked the spear between the straps of her life jacket and climbed up the way she’d come with a dexterity she had no idea she possessed. The spike across the gap between the stones was taller. Alphys stretched out her leg and put her foot against the stone, experimentally.

“Aw, come ON!”

Alphys’ hand slipped against the stone, and gravity grabbed her from the side. She threw out her hands, just barely keeping herself from tumbling into the sea.

The mermaid was staring at her.

With her gaze fixated on the blue creature below her, Alphys used her leg to push herself from the first cliff and onto the other, scuttling up as far as possible. The mermaid rolled her eyes and made a face.

“Seriously? How am I supposed to get up there?? Tell me that.”

Alphys pressed herself against the stones.

The mermaid was missing an eye, the space in her face taken up by a deep, jagged scar. The other eye was even more yellow than her teeth, a dark, slit pupil staring at Alphys. Her blue scales were brilliant, and the red fin seemed almost out of place amongst the greyish brown stones and cold, dark water. It was quite a beautiful creature, really. This, thought Alphys, would have been educational, if she wasn’t currently trying to kill me.

“UUURGH,” the mermaid yelled, throwing herself backwards against the stones, resting her elbows on a jagged piece of cliff, “FINE then. I’ll just SIT here and wait until I can reach you, then.”

Even with all her courage, her voice was still very small and very shaky when she spoke. “I-I’m n-not coming down.”

The mermaid threw back her head to look at Alphys. The gills on her neck stretched out, like bright red smiles. She was smiling too, the points of her teeth visible under her lips, sharp and wry. “Ever heard of something called ‘tides’?”

Alphys’ heart fell. “Oh.”

“Yep. Sooooo you might as well come down now so I don’t have to be here all day.”

Alphys stayed frozen against the cliff. The mermaid sighed.

“Okay, okay, fine, whatever. Whatever!” She made a swing with her tail that caused water to spray up around her.

A few minutes passed, Alphys’ breathing about as heavy as the waves below, before the mermaid put back her head and spoke again. “D’ya got a name or something?”

Alphys let out a small whine.

“Eep?” The mermaid raised a dark red eyebrow.

It took Alphys three attempts to properly say her name. The mermaid flipped over and reached out a hand. “Undyne.”

Alphys stared at the hand, face contorted in disbelief. The mermaid, Undyne, flashed a huge grin and let out a small laugh. “Well, you ain’t that easy to fool then. But it was worth a shot.” She pulled back the webbed hand, lowering herself into the water to the neck, her bright red hair flowing out behind her like technicolour seaweed.

Alphys took a deep breath. “L-look, I am r-really n-not out here to, um, bother you, we w-were just taking water samples and if I could just get back then-”

“And you’re toooootally not just making up excuses to save your hide, not at all. Dunno if you’ve noticed, punk, but there’s water at the shore too.”

“Y-yes, but the water out here is different to that around the coast and-”

“Oh yeah, I forgot, over there it tastes like marshmallows.” She’d flipped into her back again, her tail moving back and forth with steady, almost hypnotizing movements.

“N-no, listen, I-it’s actually quite interesting, because, the concentration of different kinds of algae varies, and the currents mean that water that is just beside each other can be vastly different and enable organisms to thrive that would die, like, five hundred metres to the left, like the great sardine migration, if the cold current doesn’t follow the whole way along the landmasses, the fish won’t swim up there and plenty of both birds and whales and sharks have gambled for it to happen and vast amount of them end up starving to death, which meant the food chain is pushed askew for-” she realized she was rambling again, excessively so, perhaps to soothe the panic she felt bubbling up in her stomach, pressing its way up through her throat and making her nauseous. She put a hand over her face. “S-sorry, I didn’t mean to …”

Undyne was staring at her, the grin had changed into a curious expression (still with teeth showing, nonetheless), and, to Alphys’ utter disbelief, seemed genuinely interested in her long string of words about sardines and food chains.

The grin returned, accompanied by a small snicker. “Who knew humans actually know anything about the sea at all.” Her expression shifted slightly, turning a little grimmer. “But then why do you keep overfishing and leaking oil and throwing trash into the ocean, that’s what I’m asking.”

“Um.” Alphys looked down at her shoelaces. “I … guess … some people don’t know? What they’re doing? And, um, they have a business to run, or they just … don’t … care, I guess.”

Undyne made a face. “Urgh, that’s, like, even worse. Humans are gross.”

There was a small pause before Alphys said, “I … guess we are.”

“Heck yeah you are.”

The wind was blowing, throwing the water against the walls of the cliff. Alphys wasn’t sure, but it definitely seemed like the water had already risen. She felt a beast of panic rise inside her, making her dizzy. The cold was snaking its way through the openings of Alphys’ clothing, around where she was pressed to the stone, at her neck and hands. Undyne was quite beautiful, in a sharp-toothed predator way, but her bright red frills looked more like blood in that moment, and her yellow teeth seemed bigger, sharper, and the world around Alphys was moving in dizzying patterns. She dug her fingers with the stubby, chewed-down nails into the cliff behind her, eyes wide, not sure if she was currently falling towards the waves or not.

“You … okay up there?” Undyne’s head was tilted. “Are you, um, seasick? That’s a thing that happens to humans, right? Being seasick?”

Alphys shut her eyes tightly. Her reply was a whimpering, pathetic sound.

Under her, Undyne was moving, awkwardly, twitching her fins, the movements of her tail smaller and more erratic than her impatient splashing from before.

The wind was biting at Alphys’ fingers. The tips already felt numb. The bowed her head, pulling in a deep breath, tasting ocean salt. At least she wouldn’t end up ruining more fish tanks this way.

Cold water sprayed up and splashed her in the face. She moved with a jerk, looking down, had the water already raised that much?

Undyne’s tail was lifted as she watched in anticipation. The fin was held in a vague spoon-shape. As she got eye contact with Alphys, she let it fall. “Ah, good, so you’re still alive and conscious and stuff, for a moment there I thought you’d shut down.” She was grinning, again, “Can’t carry out my elaborate revenge scheme if the ones on the shore finds out you just fell down and hit your head on a rock.”

For a moment, Alphys thought she was going to cry, but what came up instead was a shrieking, cramp-like laugher. She tried to subdue it, but it forced itself out anyway, strained and loud and out of her control.

Undyne watched with a slightly disturbed expression.

The laugher died down, and Alphys let herself slide down to where she was resting her feet, sitting on the narrow ledge, pressing herself against the stone like she was giving it a hug. There wasn’t space for both her butt and feet on the small bit of stone, and while she did hold her legs folded as well as she could, they were still dangling quite a bit. Undyne could probably have leaped up and grabbed her ankles if she really wanted to, pulling her into the cold water below.

She didn’t, though. Then again, thought Alphys, why would she, when she could just wait and not risk cutting her shimmery scales on the sharp bits of cliff. The rock was cold, the water Undyne had sprayed on her was running down her shirt and making the neck opening wet and freezing. Her fingers were numb, and her body shivering against the cold rock. She pressed her forehead to the stone and closed her eyes, feeling tears leaking down her face.

When she was finally grabbed, the cold had made her numb enough that she more registered than felt it. She tried to hold onto the rock without really meaning it, her frozen fingers giving up almost immediately.

The water sent a shock through her whole body. If Alphys was cold, the water was freezing. She gasped loudly, getting a spray of seawater in her mouth, and coughed weakly. Too exhausted to feel fear, or perhaps so scared that she couldn’t process it, she found herself wondering if Undyne was going to kill her with the spear that was pulled from Alphys’ lifejacket, or with her teeth, or just going to drown her, and if the latter was the case, if Alphys would end up dying from the cold first.

After being in the water for long enough that the cold had made her whole body join the fingers in their feelingless state, she concluded that Undyne had probably torn her to shreds and that she was dying, just unable to feel it through the cold, because she could still breathe. Well, kind of, anyway. The gasps were small and weak, her lungs only hesitantly wanting to do their job in this state. She closed her eyes and let her head hang. Her hair dipped into the water.

“Hey.” Some outer force pushed Alphys upwards with a hopping movement. “Can’t keep you from drowning if you don’t do a bit of work on your own. This ain’t supposed to be a joyride, don’t fall asleep back there.” Then the voice softened ever so slightly. “C’mon, we’re almost there. Don’t give up yet.”

As much as Alphys wanted to, there was an authority in that voice that you couldn’t just ignore. She pulled up her head from the water.

Undyne swam until her silvery belly hit the sand under her before making another jerk with her body to get the attention of the human on her back. “You gotta hold onto me on your own now, I can’t get up here with just my tail.”

Alphys whimpered slightly, forcing her body to listen to her, stretching out her arms and folding them around what was Undyne’s neck. The mermaid dug her hands into the sand underneath her and pulled herself all the way up to the shore.

“There we go. I can’t get you further than that.” She turned her head at a sharp angle to look at the girl on her back. “C’mon now, I didn’t swim all this way for you to lie down on the beach and die from hyper-termites or whatever.”

“Hypothermia,” Alphys muttered absentmindedly, and pulled her numb arms away from Undyne to the best of her ability. The mermaid had to help her get them free from around her shoulders.

With weak knees and a body that would rather give up, Alphys battled gravity and got to her feet, shivering wildly.

“Come on, get someone to dry you off and heat you up. I ain’t leaving before you’re up at one of those houses, ‘kay? Don’t you dare give up on me now, got it, punk?”

Alphys tried to nod, her shivering almost obscuring the gesture. It was good enough for Undyne. Slowly, painfully, she turned around and staggered over the beach, to the path that had led her down to the sea. The slope rose in front of her, looking like a mountain to climb. She let out a small whimper.

“C’moooon! You can DO IT! Kick its ASS!”

Despite feeling miserable and dying and wanting to lie down and never get up, the cheering caused a small, shaky smile to form on Alphys’ face. She took one step up the hill. And then another.

“Yeah! YEAHHHH! THAT’S more like it. Woo!”

And with the aggressive cheering of a predatory mermaid, Alphys made her way up from the beach, and from there, there was a boat club and a small store and people saw her and came rushing to her aid.

And then she didn’t remember much more.

Chapter Text

It took Alphys four days to stop shaking with cold under a pile of blankets without eating much or really being able to think. She took an additional day at home to make sure that she actually wasn’t currently about to die, and then, without wanting to at all, dragged herself down to the research institute.

The instructor had been fired. So had the head of Alphys’ department, for sending out an intern with only two scientists and an instructor out to a bunch of cliffs patrolled by an aggressive mermaid. This was what her newly employed leader told her, to Alphys’s surprise.

“Y-you knew she was out there?”

“Yes, you were sent out there by someone who knew it was dangerous.”

Alphys lowered her head. It was probably after the thing with the crayfish.

“Don’t worry, I am not that incompetent.” The new head of the department offered a hand. Alphys shook it, hoping he didn’t notice how sweaty it was. “My name is Charles, and you’ll be working under me from now on.”

“A-alphys,” she stammered.

“I know.”

“… oh.”

“Special name,” he said, and looked at her, and her heart sank, because he was one of those who looked at her dark eyes and brown skin and small, tight curls that she fought every morning to make into a somewhat respectable bun, and that kind of people were always the ones to give her most trouble. The rest mostly looked at her nerdy glasses and fat cheeks and beaver-like buckteeth and labelled her a nerd, which would reserve her a corner somewhere for doing boring paperwork and thus minimize human interaction.

“Well, this error on the administrative part means we’re missing a toolkit, so if you could go get one from the storage room, that would be swell.”

He handed her a key and went off without even bothering to let her answer. She looked at the key, not really seeing how this would teach her anything, but then again, everyone had to help out with the less exciting stuff.

Except that wasn’t the last of it. The rest of her day mostly went with running errands. She knew what this meant. This was the second time she had messed up, and both of it had cost the lab belongings, and despite her hard work to get actual tasks again after the crayfish disaster, she was now back to square one.

Or maybe, she thought after being sent out to find someone who could identify a particularly weird micro-organism, she had never actually proceeded, but just been in the way the whole time. The water samples had been an excuse to try and scare her away. Or maybe just get rid of her for good. She had, after all, done more harm than good so far.

She looked at the three people bend over the microscope, busy with eager conversation, looking up things and flipping pages in books. She tried to catch a bit of their description of this small creature, but didn’t ask if she could have a look.

Chapter Text

Three days later, four members of the team went out on a boat trip to check out a particularly great gathering of jellyfish a few kilometres from the shore, and when they came back, Alphys wanted to slap herself for being so paranoid, because she felt they were looking at her, speaking in hushed voices, casting glances in her direction, and smiling widely when she looked at them. She felt sick to the guts and wanted to ask if she could go home early.

That would mean having to give a detailed description of her discomfort to Charles, though. She pulled herself through the day, feeling miserable afterwards.

Next time there was a boat-trip, she made herself very small, then made sure she was constantly busy with errands for the whole day to take her mind off of it. When she came home that day, she felt even more miserable.

The third time, when they mentioned needing three more crew members, she piped up with a very small voice.

“I guess … I-I could, i-if it’s just pr-practical stuff like, um, uh, cataloguing, or … you, know …”

Charles was the one picking members, and he was looking at her now, which made her feel very small and insignificant and like an ant about to be stepped on. Or perhaps a slug. She had been feeling very slug-like recently. She wanted to pull her request back, brush it off, but speaking was for some reason not possible for her right now.

He stared at her for a few seconds before nodding. “Yes then, all right, if you want to.”

For a moment, she felt surprise, and then a speck of happiness, because he had really let her go, she was going to sail again and … but then she noticed two of the scientists exchanging glances, and this time, it was definitely about her. She went through the next hour being soaked in at least three gallons of regret.

In her break, someone tapped her arm. She made a small skip, turned around, and almost stumbled and fell. “O-oh, s-sorry …”

It was one of the scientists. She gave Alphys a small smile, then looked like she was considering something.

Finally, she spoke. “It’s … really nice that you want to join us tomorrow,” she started out, encouraging. “And, I’m sorry we didn’t ask you before. It was more because of the whole, you know … situation.” She made a gesture with her hands.

“T-the … crayfish?” Alphys asked, cautiously.

“Crayfish? What crayfish? I was thinking of the mermaid thing, you know.”

“O-oh! Um, it’s okay, I’m not afraid of, like, boats, or anything. Or, being out there, or … y-you know.” Her feelings of slug got stronger.

“So you’re not scared? I mean,” she made a small, nervous laugh, “I am kind of, and I wasn’t even there. I mean, she never gets close, but … you know. She could, someday.”

Alphys looked at the scientist, who was only now and then looking up at Alphys’ face.

“W-what d-do you mean?”

“You know. The mermaid? Who’s been, like, spotted from the boats a few times. We think, anyway, she’s pretty fast, if it’s her, I guess it could potentially be an oarfish?”

Alphys’ jaw fell. “She’s been spotted?

“Yeah? You … didn’t know?” Alphys’ expression made it clear that she did not. “Oh, I … guess Charles didn’t want to worry you. Do you … still want to go?” She quickly added: “I’m sure it will be no trouble finding someone from the neighbouring department.”

Alphys’ reply surprised herself. “N-no, it’s fine, I would … like to go.”

The scientist gave a smile that might have been slightly strained. “Well then, that’s great! See you tomorrow!”

An additional four buckets of regret was poured over Alphys’ soul. That night, she couldn’t sleep, her stomach a knot and her nails bitten so far down that one of them hurt.

 

 

She scrambled out of bed early, picking out a t-shirt and a pair of jeans, then looking at the shirt and deciding no, which was unusual for her. Most of her tees carried names or characters from her favourite animes, and she usually just threw on the one at the top of the pile. This time, she scrambled through the pile to find one that perhaps looked a bit … cooler? More professional? She wasn’t sure, but a simple black one with a slogan in grey would do, she decided. She ate half a cracker, and told herself that she was just nervous because she was scared of the mermaid, and then tried reassuring that she wouldn’t show up and it would be fine.

And then she collected her things and went out the door before she had to face that the thought of Undyne made her nervous for quite other reasons than being scared she would kill her.

 

“Alphys,” Charles greeted, “you’re up early today?”

“Y-yes! I though it m-might be a good idea to be prepared! Can I help with something?”

She remembered how terrified she was of Charles after she had asked. Just being near him made her feel slug-like.

“Hm, yes, go fetch our equipment and get it to the boat. And find a lifejacket that’ll fit you.”

Alphys cringed at the last comment, but did as she was told. Starting with the lifejacket meant she didn’t have to spend the next ten minutes around Charles, alone, and when she had found both that and the equipment, people were beginning to arrive. She got a small smile from the scientist she had talked to earlier. Alphys kept trying to help for much longer than usual, despite still feeling mostly in the way.

The nervousness came back at full strength as soon as everyone was on board and the boat started. This one was bigger than last time and would probably take more effort for a mermaid to topple over. Alphys hoped, at least. Not that Undyne would come or anything, why would she, they weren’t even going to sail particularly close to the cliffs or anything. Alphys decided that it was time for her to be in the way some more, before she had to confront how illogical her thoughts were being right now.

She prepared some research gear, tried to sort a pile of rope that perhaps just became even more messy, and then she found a space where nobody had to pass through, leaned against the railing and stared at the sea, spotting a few jellyfish that, despite the pretty colours, weren’t relevant on this trip, and not seeing anything blue and red while convincing herself that she totally wasn’t looking for that, at all.

“Charles? I think you should see this!” one of the scientists yelled.

The boat slowed down, then stopped, and Charles stepped out on the deck. Alphys turned and tried to see what the scientist was talking about without having to actually approach the place where Charles stood. She eventually gave up on getting a glance and instead stood and waited to see if they would tell her what it was.

Charles was quiet for a long time. Then he looked up. “We have to sail a little further, I’ll be right back.”

The scientist complained. “We can’t sail on without anyone to steer us!”

“We’ll sail slowly, it’ll be fine, we have to keep a watch on this. Alphys, keep a look out for anything interesting. And rocks. Don’t do anything, just call me over.”

Alphys froze at the order. It took her a few seconds to process it. Then she nodded aggressively, but Charles had already gone and started the boat.

The boat calmly moved forwards while Charles and two scientists were leaning over the railing at one side, discussing something with low, intense voices. Alphys spotted something on the water’s surface.

“S-sir, there’s something here,” she said.

He broke free of the conversation to look at her. “What is it?”

“Errr,” Alphys bit her lip and cast a glance more at it. “I’m not … sure, a, fish, maybe?”

He made a gesture with his hand and turned back to the scientists. “Not important.” Then he leaned over the railing again.

“Oh. S-sorry.”

“Just keep a watch out.”

She let her head hang, turning back to watch the sea.

She spotted another silvery thing on the surface, floating with the waves. She sent a glance at Charles’ turned back, but didn’t say anything.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a dark patch of movement. Alphys turned, but it was gone. Or was it? Maybe it was just the water moving under the boat, but it looked like something was swimming towards them.

Or maybe it was just her imagination. She couldn’t spot it anymore. A glance at Charles let her know that he was still deep in conversation.

Then the movement was there, over his shoulder. She squinted, lifting her glasses, trying to see if it really was something. Maybe …

She took a step across the deck and narrowed her eyes a little more, staring at where she thought she had seen a sharp movement under the water, but right now, she couldn’t spot it. Damn her and her horrible eyesight.

The boat suddenly rocked, making Alphys stumble. Charles yelped and would have fallen into the water if the scientist beside him hadn’t managed to grab him. He swore under his breath and turned his head.

“Alphys, I told you to look out for-”

Then he stopped. It took Alphys a moment to realise that he was looking at something behind her. He had gone very, very pale in the face.

“Ha! I KNEW I could recognize your voice.”

Alphys turned around with a gasp. On the railing hung a blue-skinned creature with scarlet-red frills and fins, pulling the boat down ever so slightly to one side. Undyne was grinning from frill to frill, every single tooth visible.

“U-Undyne? Wh-what are you doing here?”

The mermaid flipped her tail up to rest on the railing, a strong mass of blue scales and red fins draping over the boat, causing it to rock a little once again. Alphys realized how huge she was. The tail draped over the edge of the boat had to be at least two metres long if you counted in the broad, scarlet tailfin.

“Checking up on you. Hadn’t seen you in a while, the termites could have gotten you for all I knew.”

Alphys frowned. “T-termites?”

Undyne made a gesture with her hand. “Whatever. Just good to see you alive and up and in one piece and stuff.”

Charles managed to get himself together enough to speak. “You’ve talked to it?” he asked, disbelief in both voice and expression.

Excuse you,” Undyne looked at Charles over Alphys’ shoulder, grin suddenly a snarl. “”it” has a name, punk. It’s Undyne to you, gross-ass human thing.”

Charles didn’t react to Undyne’s complaints. “Alphys! That thing has been stalking our boats for days now, scaring the crew and worrying everyone, and all this time it’s been looking for you? And you didn’t say anything?”

Alphys began muttering an apology, but Undyne interrupted her. “Oh, shut your mouth.”

Her teeth were still very sharp and yellow, but this time, it made Alphys feel more safe than scared.

Charles actually went quiet for a few moments, mouth hanging open. “Excuse me?!” he then sputtered.

Undyne leaned forwards over the railing. “I said: Shut. Your. Mouth.

Alphys watched in concern as the added weight to the railing made it move a little closer to the water’s surface.

“P-please don’t sink the boat,” she requested.

Undyne looked back at her, grin wide and teasing, every single tooth visible under her blue lips. “Aw, why not?”

Charles didn’t pull his eyes from the creature on the railing. “Start the motors,” he commanded.

One of the scientists piped up. “It … is, started.”

“Start it more!”

The crew were sending each other glances. Charles made a small, frustrated sound and then ran off to do it himself.

Undyne grimaced. “Yeah, yeah, whatever, then.” She pulled her tailfin from the boat into the water and looked at Alphys with a huge smile. “Come visit me someday.”

Alphys stared for a moment. Then she realized she was standing open-mouthed. Come on, say something, anything, don’t just stand there.

“Uh, s-sure! I’d love to! If I, um, can find a way to get all the way out there …”

“Oh,” said Undyne, and then the boat made a small jump, and her tail fell all the way into the water. She thought for a moment, not seeming to mind that the boat picked up speed. “Well, we’ll just meet halfways!”

It took Alphys a few seconds to figure out how that would help. She then blushed. She couldn’t tell a mermaid that she would have trouble swimming that far. Undyne would think she was a wimp. She tried to tell her brain to casually come up with an alternative, but her mouth didn’t listen.

“Yes, g-good idea!” it said. “What about, uh, Saturday?”

“What’s a Saturday?”

Alphys’ thoughts were unbelievably slow today. “Um,” she said again, “Um. In, three days? Around … noon?” it was vague, but if Undyne didn’t know the weekdays, the chance of her being able to tell time was pretty small as well.

“Great! See ya’ then!” And Undyne let go and threw herself back into the water with a splash, disappearing under the surface in a stripe of glittery blue and red.

Alphys looked at the spot where Undyne had disappeared as the boat fled from it. She didn’t even notice the footsteps over floorboards behind her.

“Is it gone? Thank goodness.” Charles let out a huff. He then looked at Alphys, and it was not a friendly look.

After a few seconds, he turned and left.

Alphys was still staring after Undyne.

Chapter Text

It was a warm day, luckily, though being late autumn, the water would probably be cold. Alphys had donned her swimsuit, a towel around her shoulders, and she was happy about the beach being empty. She folded her towel and placed it under a bush, then looked over the ocean to the small, jagged cliffs in the horizon. They reminded her of Undyne’s smile. She only had to make it halfway there. She had the swimmer’s certificate necessary to even start her education, she could handle this.

She stepped to the water’s edge, filled with determination. She was going to do it, she was going to see Undyne. The sand was damp under her toes. She put her foot into the water. It was cold, and at any other time she wouldn’t even have considered touching it, but this time, she simply continued into the sea, her skin prickling slightly in complaint.

When she was in to the waist, she took a deep breath and threw herself forwards, the cold water rushing over her in a greeting. Droplets collected on her glasses, but taking them off was a no-go. She’d just end up headbutting a rock or something. Not only did her world turn into a blurry mess without them, her depth-perception disappeared as well.

She did her best to keep her face above the water, nose pointing towards the cliffs at the horizon. This was … nice? If she timed it right, the waves were an aid in pushing her forwards, and for once, she was almost grateful for her body fat that helped keeping the worst of the cold out. She didn’t usually do much exercise, and while taking her certificate, she’d been too nervous to really figure out whether she was actually good at swimming or not, beyond ‘good enough to probably not drown if you fall from a boat’. In summer, she usually kept at splashing around on low water. She had no idea moving could actually feel … good.

Her neck began tensing a bit too much for it to be comfortable. She lifted it from the surface to get a glance at the cliffs. She was on the right track. Good. Not minding her glasses, she let her head dip under the water as she swam on, pushing up when she needed to breathe. She was getting a little short of breath, probably from too much anime on the couch and too little exercise. People had told her before, after all. She felt her confidence fall a little.

Come on, she told herself, you said you could handle this. With determination and perhaps a little bitterness, she pushed herself forwards in the water, a little more aggressively than necessary.

Her arms and chest had begun to ache. She pulled up her head from the waves. The cliffs had come closer, definitely. Was she halfway? She wasn’t sure. Still, it had gone somewhat smoothly so far.

But the seed of worry had been planted. A few moments after, a question formed. Noon. It HAD been noon, she’d checked the time, and the sun too, even though she wasn’t good at that sort of nature-things, but what if Undyne was late? The cliffs were still far away, and the cold had begun nibbling at her skin. Her next few strokes weren’t as strong. She kept going, feeling her nervousness changing into fear. What had she been thinking? This was a bad idea, especially for a couch potato whose only real experience was in a pool with people watching.

The next few strokes didn’t give her much headway. The cliffs were suddenly very far away. She pushed her head up over the surface of the water and found that she had a hard time keeping it there. She made a few pushes to get her face up. She was really cold now, and she wasn’t swimming anymore, just trying to keep herself above water. She closed her eyes, gasping.

“Heyy! Good to see you!”

She opened her eyes, trying to focus on the figure of red and bright blue through the droplets on her glasses.

Undyne frowned. “Are you all right?”

Gasping again, she reached her arms out towards Undyne. Her mouth sunk to under water.

Undyne understood the signals. She shot forwards, grabbed Alphys’ arms, and pulled her from the water. The human girl wrapped her arms around Undyne’s shoulders, pulling in deep, frantic breaths.

“Shit, man,” Undyne said, “I had no idea … it is pretty far, goodness, I shouldn’t just have let you swim all this way …”

“I-I’m sorry,” Alphys sobbed.

Undyne turned her head to look at Alphys. “Wha- you’re sorry? I was the one who … why are you apologizing?”

“I t-told you I could do it, I-I promised I’d come and then I couldn’t and you had to save me and I always end u-up doing that a-and p-people have to fix everything, and I can’t do anything right and I’m just in the way.“ She was outright crying now, pressing her face against Undyne’s shoulder.

“Whoa, whoa, wow, no, you did great, you came really far, you must be more than halfway, I can’t even get up on the beach without flopping around and looking like a beached whale.” Alphys’ sobbing intensified. Undyne awkwardly patted her back. “There, there, don’t cry, you did great, you did so well. Let’s just get you out of the water, shall we? Here we go,” she gently pushed Alphys to hang onto her back instead of her side. The girl was sobbing a bit less violently now. Undyne swam on, taking care to hold her head over the water so Alphys didn’t get dipped by having her cheek pressed against Undyne’s shoulder.

When they made it to the cliffs, Alphys had stopped crying. Undyne led her to large rock, and Alphys let go and climbed onto it, shivering from the cold. Undyne crawled up to sit beside her, tail hanging into the water.

Alphys hugged her knees. “I’m such a wimp,” she mumbled.

Undyne grabbed her shoulder and shook it gently, making her look up. “You just braved like so much of what is totally not your element even though you almost couldn’t, that’s not wimpy, that’s hardcore.” She grinned, but it soon fell, as Alphys were looking at her knees again, and didn’t reply. She lightened her grip on the human girl’s shoulder.

“This … is my fault,” Undyne said. “I asked you to do something really hard when we could just have met around the shore. I’m the one who should be sorry.”

“N-no! I messed up, I always mess up, l-like that one time w-where they t-told me that I could clean the crayfish tank’s filter, but then I messed up and it broke and I just started working there and d-didn’t want them to know how BAD I am at everything s-so I just a-acted like nothing was wrong a-and they put the crayfish back a-and of course there wasn’t enough oxygen in the tank and all of them died.

She hid her face at her knees. Undyne searched for comforting words, but nothing really worked.

“A-and!” Alphys continued, “Then I thought I could f-fix it by getting those water samples they were missing, b-but that didn’t work out either …

“Okay, that was my fault.”

“And yesterday I didn’t even manage to keep a watch out and I’m just, I’m just ugly and fat and in the way and everyone hates me!

She broke out crying again. She was shivering, what had been a warm autumn day was now way too cold, and she felt miserable and wet and embarrassing.

Undyne hesitated. Then she pushed herself over to sit beside Alphys and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

“I don’t hate you,” she said, quietly.

For a few moments, they just sat. Finally, Alphys pulled her head up, rubbing her eyes, and Undyne pulled her arm away from Alphys. Instead of removing it, though, she let her hand rest on the human girl’s brown shoulder, looking at her.

“I … don’t know,” Alphys finally said. “I just feel so pathetic. I-I mean, I love the sea, I’d l-love to work at this job or something b-but as soon as there’s other people around I end up …” she made a gesture with her hands, then let them fall.

“Hey, messing up means you at least tried. And everyone messes up with the ocean all the freaking time, do you know how much trash ends up everywhere? I catch a fish and when I eat it I have to discard the whole stomach because it’s filled with plastic and crap, and those people don’t even care.” She smiled, genuinely, tightening her grip on Alphys’ shoulder ever so slightly. “You care. Damn you care. And … judging by how much your mess-ups fill … you care a little too much.”

Alphys looked up. Undyne’s yellow eye was gleaming, smile real, and the yellow, wry teeth were more charming than threatening. Her hair, heavy from the water dripping from it, fell over her shoulders, clinging to her scales. Alphys blinked a few times, unable to look away.

Then she sneezed.

“Whoa.” Undyne’s hand fell from Alphys’ shoulder at the violent movement. “Hey, you’re trembling. We better get you back to the shore. I’ll swim you there.”

Alphys, not wanting to ruin the moment, opened her mouth to complain, but got interrupted by another sneeze.

“Um,” she then said, and sniffled. “T-that … might be a good idea.”

The trip home was even colder. Undyne swam as fast as she could with a human on her back, all the way to where her tail stroked the bottom when she moved it. Alphys let go and walked the rest of the way, finding her towel on the beach, shaking it free of sand and wrapping it around herself.

Undyne was a few metres away, her hands against the bottom, tail floating freely in the water behind her.

“I can’t really come here when there are other humans here,” she said, throwing a look down the beach. “They freak out.” She flashed a grin. “And with reason! But … yeah. You know.”

“It’s n-not that I can’t swim some of the way,” Alphys mumbled, rubbing her arms to get a bit of warmth in them. She sneezed again, which sent a stripe of snot down her face. She brushed it off with the back of her hand, hoping Undyne hadn’t noticed.

Undyne grinned. “Yeah! You can just walk out where you can still reach the bottom and then I’ll come and scoop you up! Wanna meet again tomorrow?”

“Yes!” Alphys said before really thinking about it. “I-I’ll, um, I’ll be there! Same time?”

“Sure! See ya! Now get home and warm yourself up, I don’t want you to get sick, all right?”

Alphys nodded and lifted a hand to wave. Undyne grinned broadly, waved back, and then she made a turn in the water and disappeared.

Alphys stood until the last hint of red was gone, smiling a little, before making her way home.

Chapter Text

When Alphys woke up the next day, her brain felt sticky and slow. She pushed aside her blankets, then immediately pulled them back around her again. Then she sneezed, three times, violently, and rushed out of bed to find some paper towels to get the snot off of her face. She mumbled some not very nice things under her breath.

She had to meet Undyne, and to meet Undyne, she had to go in the water, and she was quite sure that her body would not appreciate that, especially as it seemed colder outside today than it had been yesterday. She blew her nose and swore some more.

This would have been easier if Undyne was a human. Or she had been a mermaid. She put on her swimsuit and then threw her normal clothes on top. The thought of having to take a day off just after the five days she’d had to stay in bed last week was not appealing.

Despite her body’s complaints and her own better judgement, she found her biggest towel and stuffed it in a bag, and gathered a pack of paper towels. She checked the time.

It was half past twelve. She stormed out of the door.

 

She took the way down the steep hillside, almost sliding down, to save time. The wooden stairs she usually took were all the way up near the research institute’s main building, and she was late enough already.

Undyne was lying on her back in shallow water, her silvery belly visible save for when a wave washed over her, hair flowing freely in the water. She seemed almost otherworldly bright on the grey autumn day. Alphys felt unbelievably dull looking at the mermaid. And unreliable. It seemed Undyne had been there for quite a while.

She bit her lip, opening her mouth and closing it again, then took a deep breath, and finally spoke.

“S-sorry I’m so late,” she mumbled.

Her words almost got swallowed by the waves’ calm chattering, but Undyne lifted her head and flipped over.

“You came! … uh, I mean. Cool! Not … like something else couldn’t have come up, which would have been cool too, I mean, guess there could be, like, human stuff to attend to, or … something?” Her smile was crooked and slightly awkward.

“N-no no, I’m really sorry, I-I just- I, I I-a-CHOO!”

Undyne jerked at the sudden sneeze. Alphys dug into her bag and found a paper towel to blow her nose.

“Aw, DARNIT! You DID get sick.”

“Srry,” Alphys sniffled through the paper.

“Nonono, you can’t go in the water like this. Are you okay? You gonna be all right?”

“I’m f’ne,” Alphys blew her nose and sniffled. “Just, k’nda bummed out a-about having to t-take another sick day t’morrow”

“Arh, and I wanted to show you the cliffs and all today.“

Alphys sneezed again a few times, apologized, and fumbled for a new paper towel.

“No,” Undyne concluded, “you need to hurry home and get better so I can show you around properly.”

Alphys gave the towel in her bag a thoughtful look. She grabbed it and pulled it out.

“M-m-maybe, if you take this w’th you out a-and lay it to dry s-s’mewhere, I can use it n-next time I’m out th’re?”

Undyne smiled broadly. “That’s a GREAT idea! Here, gimme.”

She wiggled forwards in the sand, reaching out a hand, and Alphys picked up the bag and dragged it with her over to the water’s edge, handing the towel to Undyne.

“I’m r’lly sorry I c’n’t join you today.” Alphys dried off her nose. She then gestured to the towel. “You pr’bably have to spread that out in the sun, i-if it ever c’mes back.”

“Got it! Now rush home and get better.” Undyne tied the towel around her neck like a cape so she had her arms free.

“Okay, th’nks,” Alphys blew her nose again. “Um, see you ‘nother time?”

“Yeah! Sure! As soon as you get well! Hurry up, get better!”

Alphys smiled through all her snot. “I’ll do my best,” she sniffled, and waved, as Undyne dragged herself out to where the water was deep enough for her to swim properly.

 

It was lovely to get home, change into real underwear and pajamas, and just crawl into bed with her laptop, ready to play her favourite anime, but she was still slightly disappointed. With a cup of warm tea with so much honey that it was more or less all she could taste, she found herself not focusing on the screen, but on the steam raising from her cup, swirling like hair floating in water, or a fishtail’s sharp turns.

Chapter Text

Monday was spent at home. Tuesday, she unravelled herself from the blankets, armed herself with countless paper tissues, and went down to the research institute.

She arrived to the sound of raised voices. With trembling hands, she pushed down the doorhandle and opened the door just a little.

“… no, I’ve had it!” Charles was towering over the scientist before him, the one Alphys had talked to. “Not only did a researcher leave, Alphys doesn’t dare come here either, and-”

“Alphys said she caught a cold.” The scientist tried to sound stern, but she seemed just as small as Alphys felt.

“Yes, that’s what she says, she is obviously scared out of her mind. As is everyone else! And I’m done having that mermaid ruining my work, I’m taking action.”

He turned around without minding the scientist’s complains, and saw Alphys standing in the doorway.

For a moment, they just stared at each other.

“G-g-good m-morning,” Alphys finally managed to say.

“Oh. Yes. Good morning, Alphys.” His face was held neutral. “You’re better?”

“W-w-well, y-yes! K-kind of?” She sniffled. “I-I can work, anyway …”

She looked down at her hands.

Charles went a moment before speaking. “Well, today is mostly going to be about handling the … mermaid problem we’re currently facing, so-”

“W-what’s the problem?” Alphys blurted out, and then she felt like clawing a hole through the floor to hide in forever.

“What’s the problem?” Charles repeated with disbelief. Then he collected himself, voice straining to keep neutral. “The problem is, that the mermaid,” he said it like it was an insult, “is not just keeping to the cliffs anymore, but has been seen in the surrounding waters and closer to the shore countless times the past week.”

Alphys thought of Undyne and took a deep breath. “I-is she d-doing anything?”

Charles frowned, staring at Alphys. “What?” he asked, flatly.

“She …” Alphys gulped. “She hasn’t, um, h-hurt, anyone, right? So … I was just …” She trailed off, making small, vague gestures with her hands.

“Alphys.” for once, he almost sounded caring in some way, even though his voice was intense. “You were there. You saw her attack the boat, trying to topple it over, she tried to stab your team, she attacked you too, didn’t she?”

“W-well, y-yes, but- But she also saved me!”

This caught Charles off guard. Alphys could almost see the thoughts rotate behind his eyes. She gathered the last of her courage and continued.

“I-I didn’t swim all t-the way back, s-she helped me. A-and she came back to check up on me, b-because I’d b-been r-really weak, back then.”

“Why?” Charles asked, staring into Alphys’ eyes. “She hates humans, she’s told everyone around these parts countless of times that if she ever sees a human near her cliffs, she’ll kill us. Why would she ever save a human being, then? Why?”

Alphys pulled up her shoulders and looked away. “I … d-don’t know, she just … did …”

The room was quiet. The scientist had pulled away from the conversation and was more or less hiding in a corner, everyone else was bent over their work, but not doing it, clearly listening. Alphys felt her heart hammer in her chest. She was pretty sure she was about to faint. And Charles stood like his whole world had been ripped apart by the seams, grimacing slightly as he tried to fit the pieces together.

“No,” he then decided. “No, she’s clearly planning something. We need to take action before someone gets hurt.” He nodded, once, back in control of his own world.

Alphys spoke without thinking. “Wait! L-let me at least t-talk to her about it.”

Charles hesitated. Alphys felt smaller and smaller and more and more slug-like, until he finally spoke.

“If I see her around these parts again, I’ll be forced to take serious action. Understood?”

Alphys looked up, nodded once, shakily, then turned around and stormed out of the door.

 

Her shoes sank into the sand as she ran down the beach. “Undyne!” she yelled, cupping her hands around her mouth, “Undyne! UNDYNE!”

She slowed down, then stopped, her hands fell, and she stood, defeated, searching the ocean for a glimpse of red that wasn’t there.

“You lost someone out there?”

She turned around to face an old fisherman in rainboots with a small, white beard and a broad smile, revealing yellow teeth.

“D-do you have a boat?” Alphys asked.

“You bet I do, and the finest one in the harbour if I may say so myself, none of that fancy stuff they got over there.” He made a throw with his head. “Don’t worry, I’ll help you look for who you’re missing.”

“I n-need to get out to the cliffs.”

The old man opened his mouth and lifted a finger. “Ah. No, no you don’t. Look, I’m sure whoever you’re looking for means a lot, but if they went out there, they’re gone. Now, you might think I’m pulling your leg here, but there lives a mermaid out there, and it’s not one of your fairytale types.”

“I-I know, I j-just have to talk to her.”

“To the mermaid? I don’t think you got what I just said.” He leaned forwards, looking Alphys in the eyes. “She will tear you to shreds, young lady. Barely got out of that one myself, when I was younger. Save your hide and stay away.“

“N-no, it’s okay, she’s my …” Were they friends? “W-we know each other.”

He leaned back, crossing his arms. “If this is one of those risky dares where your friends are hidden somewhere with a video camera, then I’m having none of it. This isn’t funny, young lady.”

“N-nono, I mean it, j-just, please.” He scoffed. “C-can you at least sail me out to near the cliffs? P-please?”

The old man looked at her. Then he sighed deeply and rolled his eyes. “All right, then. Not like I got a lot of life left to lose. Come on, let me show you my boat.”

 

It was a large, wooden sailboat, kept in pristine condition.

“Well, you better put this on, even though I doubt it’ll save your hide.” He threw her a life jacket. “You know how to put that thing on?”

“Y-yes, I do.” it was a bit small, but she managed to squeeze it on.

The man prepared the boat with such speed and grace that Alphys didn’t even get time to be in the way.

“Now sit down,” he commanded, “Gerson’s boat, Gerson’s rules. It’s bad enough you want me to sail you out there.”

“O-of course.” Alphys sat down.

“Now duck your head.”

She did as she was told, and a large wooden pole swung past above her. Gerson grabbed and secured it.

“All right, then we’re off.”

And they were. Alphys was grateful for having bundled up in plenty of clothing. She blew her nose and tried to ignore the cold.

She turned to face the water, keeping an eye out for a glimpse of red. Gerson was watching the waters as well, though with more concern.

“I want you to know that I am not enjoying this one bit,” he said as he steered the boat, casting glances at the sea now and then.

“I-I’m very sorry, I just really have to find her.”

Gerson grunted.

Alphys felt her stomach tensing up, but she really couldn’t do much but apologize. She didn’t know what Charles would do, but she highly doubted he was planning a fistfight. Charles fought with influence and connections, and those things were hard to strike down with a spear.

Alphys choked a snicker. Undyne would definitely try.

“All right then,” Gerson said, “We’re around where it begins to be dangerous, so you better hurry up and get done what it was you had to do. You were looking for someone?” He scratched his balding head. “I hope they haven’t been taken by the mermaid …”

And then things happened.

A great splash that made the boat rock, then a thump, making it jerk so violently that a splash of water sprayed over the rail and onto the deck. Gerson lost balance and only just managed to grab onto the railing.

“NGAAAAAAAAAAaaaaa … ah? Alphys?”

Undyne hung on the boat’s prow, spear lifted. She had stopped herself mid-throw. She looked from Gerson to Alphys a few times, then gave the girl a sheepish grin and lowered her weapon. “Uh. Um. Heeeeeeeyyyy I didn’t expect to see you here! You got better with the cold and all?”

Alphys leaped from her sitting position and over to Undyne, grabbing the railing and looking the mermaid in the eye. “Undyne, we n-need to talk. I-it’s about Charles.”

Behind them, Gerson scrambled to his feet.

“Wah ha ha! That was it, you said you knew the mermaid. Looks like you really do, huh?”

Undyne lifted her chin. “Don’t think that means you can come here another time, fleshbag.” She tapped the end of her spear against the boat.

“Don’t you worry. I remember a deal, even if the rest kind of fades sometimes.” he gently knocked his own head.

Alphys covered her face, and sneezed.

“Aw, dang, you’re still sick.” Undyne bit her lip, “You really shouldn’t be out here like that.”

Alphys sniffled. “I-I know, I’m s-sorry, I just reallyreally need to talk to you a-about this.” She sneezed again and dug up a paper towel to blow her nose.

“Since when do you talk about things?” Maybe it was just the wrinkles around his eyes and mouth, but it almost looked like Gerson was smirking. “Let alone with humans.”

“Shut up, punk,” Undyne snarled, “this is obviously a case of life and death, right, Alphys?”

“Well,” Alphys looked at her hands, picking at a nail. “I-I actually d-don’t really know, yet. That’s why I c-came out here. B-but it could be!”

“See?” Undyne threw out the arm holding the spear in a dramatic gesture. “So you better be quiet while Alphys here explains what’s going on, ‘cause she’s smarter than you will ever be, punk.”

“All right, all right.” Gerson was definitely smirking. “Go on, then.”

Undyne turned to Alphys. “Okay then. This Charles guy giving you trouble?”

“W-well, n-not really, b-but he’s talking about you. A-and that you’re around the coast sometimes.”

Undyne snorted and rolled her eyes. “Like I’m scared of that guy.”

“I-I know, it’s not him I’m concerned about, or, w-well, it kinda is, b-but, I think he is going to tell someone, like, uh, t-the coast guard, or the police, o-or something, a-and there’s a lot of those and you can’t fight all of them off.”

“Ha! Let them come!”

“Undyne …”

Gerson spoke again. “Listen to the smart girl, mermaid. Humans like their police. Well, some of them do, anyway, and it’s enough for you to never get any peace at your little bunch of cliffs.”

Undyne glared at him. Gerson was unaffected, even as she bared her sharp front teeth. She sighed and turned to Alphys. “Fine, then. What are his demands?”

“W-well, he said he didn’t want you around the shore. Or, that he didn’t want to see you around, I-I guess.”

“Wah ha ha, well, guess I can’t blame him for that, since you don’t want anyone near your cliffs either,” Gerson remarked.

Undyne moved her head with a jerk to stare at him. Gerson still didn’t take any notice.

“Well,” she then snarled, “it’s bad enough that their plastic and waste and sticky oils pills floats out there with the currents, I’m not going to let them come and catch all my fish out there too. B’sides, I was just there to check up on Alphys, I didn’t do anything. Only caught like two fish or something.”

Gerson lifted an eyebrow, smiling a little, but didn’t comment. Undyne sighed.

“Well, how am I going to see you, then?” she asked. “You can’t swim that far, and if they begin seeing boats out here they’ll just begin thinking I’ve gone soft.”

“You haven’t?” Gerson commented.

Undyne pounded the top of the railing with her fist. “She was about to faint! It wouldn’t have been a fair fight! I have my honour!”

“Of course, of course.”

Gerson looked at Undyne, nodding politely. Undyne, in return, was almost snarling. Alphys decided she didn’t want to have anyone killed today.

“M-maybe we should just go discuss this at the cliffs?” she suggested. “If you’d rather not have other p-people here?” She tried to smile. It didn’t really work.

“If your friend here is sick, I could sail a little closer?” Gerson offered. “Unless that means you’re going to sink my boat.”

Undyne gave him a scowl.

“Just this once, then.”

 

Undyne guided Gerson as he manoeuvred his boat in between the sharp cliffs. Alphys pulled her shoes and socks off, wishing she had put on her rainboots. With Undyne making sure the boat didn’t crash into the rocks, Gerson lend Alphys a hand, and the human girl stepped onto a rock just under the surface. The cold water sent chills up her body, and as soon as she was sure she had her balance, she climbed onto the next to get out of the water.

“Hold on, lemme get the towel.” Undyne disappeared under the surface.

Alphys placed her shoes on the rock beside her, and tugged her feet up under her legs, trying to warm them.

“T-thanks for your help,” she said to Gerson.

“You’re welcome, young lady. Just be thankful that your mermaid-friend has decided not to eat you. By the way, would you mind giving me back that life jacket?“

“O-oh, of course.”

She unbuckled it and stepped down on the first rock to hand it to him. As soon as he took it, she skittered back up to the dry.

“Got it!” Undyne was holding the towel above her head like a trophy, using only her tail to swim. She had managed to keep it mostly dry. “It’s still a little damp, hope you can use it.”

Alphys took it and wrapped it around her feet. “Thanks.”

“Now, let’s get that clumsy water device out of here again, shall we? You can’t turn it, so you have to hand me a rope or something and I’ll try and steer it the other way.” Undyne moved over to the side of Gerson’s boat. “Can this thing go backwards?”

“I can make it go any direction it needs to go,” Gerson said with pride.

“Yeah well then prove it!!” Undyne swam under the boat and appeared behind it. “Come on! Show me what you got!”

Gerson smiled with his head held high. “Any time, miss mermaid.”

“It’s Undyne, punk. And what are you waiting for??”

Alphys dried off her feet and put her socks and shoes back on while watching the mermaid and the sailor in their small argument while they tried to get the boat back to open sea without damaging it. For once, the disagreement and bantering didn’t make her uncomfortable. In some weird way … it was almost nice.

 

“Well, now that’s fixed.”

Undyne leaped out of the water and climbed onto the rock to sit beside Alphys. The human waved at Gerson, who was steering his boat towards the shore, and he waved back. Undyne grimaced, but didn’t mention it.

“I wish I could just beat up that Charles guy,” Undyne said, splashing a bit with her tail in the water.

“D-don’t do that. E-everyone will get upset.”

“Why are human affairs so complicated,” Undyne complained, placing her arms behind her and throwing back her head. “Someone’s a jerk, you beat them up, end of story. But nooo, you got fancy people to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“I-I guess it’s kind of to protect people?” Undyne turned her head to look at Alphys, who in turn looked at the rock under her feet. “I mean, if someone decided they d-didn’t like me, they c-could just beat me up a-and I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. Because I’m, you know. Small, and weak, and don’t really have anyone to … look out for me, or anything.” Her expression tightened. “Well, that’s the idea, anyway.”

Undyne mumbled something and splashed a bit with her tailfin. “I guess that makes sense. But, like, he’s still a jerk, right?”

Alphys shrugged. “I … g-guess? But, you … did try to sink our boat, s-so, um, maybe he’s just, scared?”

“I just don’t want people to come out here and screw everything over!” Undyne made a gesture with her hands. “They throw trash, they are noisy, they take all the fish, I mean, one human can’t possibly need all those fish! It’s enough to feed a whole village!” She crossed her arms.

“I-I wasn’t trying to say- I-I was just, trying to explain him, I mean, I don’t like him either, b-but that doesn’t mean we have the right to hurt him, y-you know?”

“If he was of my kind, he’d been ripped to shreds by now.” Undyne looked at Alphys out of the corner of her eye. “But I guess, it isn’t really fair if everyone can just attack people who can’t defend themselves.” Her tail stopped moving as she looked into the distance, thoughtfully. “But what if the police don’t like you?”

“T-that’s … bad.” Alphys bit her lip. “I-I mean, we have rules? B-but, sometimes the rules are bad, a-and sometimes people don’t care, a-and … some people can get away with more than others?”

“See,” said Undyne, leaning back again, “This is why we mermaids keep to ourselves.”

“Don’t you ever get lonely?” Alphys asked.

“Nah.” Undyne’s grin got broader, and she sat up, grabbed Alphys’s head before she could react, and noogied her. “I’ve got you!”

“Ow! Undyne!”

The mermaid let go. “Heh. Sorry.” Alphys rubbed her head, and Undyne reached out to pat the top of her hand. “You okay?”

“... yeah.” Her scalp hurt a little, but not too much.

Undyne’s smile fell a bit. “I would miss you if you couldn’t visit anymore, though,” she admitted. Then she perked up. “Hey, that’s right! I wanted to show you around!”

She threw herself into the water with a splash. She reached out a hand, and Alphys took it and let Undyne help her leap from the first rock to the next.

“Can you climb across on your own? I need to swim around here,” Undyne pointed over her shoulder.

“S-sure?” Alphys let go of the mermaid’s hand. “C-can you maybe take the towel with you, though?”

Undyne reached out, and Alphys passed it to her.

“See ya in a minute! And, like, don’t fall in.” She made a beat with her tail. “These waters are for born swimmers.” She smiled at her. “Also you’re sick and stuff.”

“I-I won’t,” Alphys assured.

Undyne disappeared under the surface, and Alphys began climbing over the jagged rocks, careful where she placed her hands and feet, trying to find the easiest way across.

Even though Undyne had to make it the whole way around several metres of cliff-wall, with a towel held above her head, Alphys hadn’t made it more than halfway down on the other side when the mermaid caught up.

“Come on, over here!” Undyne grinned while motioning with the towel. Alphys down to a rock a little further down, and followed Undyne while holding onto the steep cliffs beside her.

“See, in here I keep some of the best junk that people throw in the ocean.” The hole to the cave wasn’t much bigger than Alphys’ head, but Undyne placed the towel in the opening and disappeared under the surface, only to reappear inside the broad crevice, pulling the towel in. “So you can’t see it from there, but there’s like, these small spaces where you can hide stuff and the tides don’t reach there so it doesn’t get wet.” She disappeared out of sight with the towel. Her voice echoed slightly between the cliffsides. “Got most of my spears in here as well.”

She surfaced again outside the cave without the towel, and shook her head, making water spray from her red hair. “There’s a lot of those caves, but that’s the best one because it’s big! And you don’t have to swim that far to get to it.”

Undyne waited for Alphys to climb her way over the cliffs that held the crevice. When she reached the top, one of the small pools in between the cliffs came into sight. Undyne had to grab the stones and pull herself over a small gap with the help of her arms to enter it.

“It’s easier when the water’s higher,” she explained. “Anyway, these are good to sleep in if you want peace ‘cause the currents aren’t as strong. But I just sleep outside! It keeps my tails strong and my reflexes in shape! Ngaaah!”

Alphys shielded herself with an arm as Undyne leaped up and then dived, as if she was attacking the surface. Alphys only just managed to dodge the worst of the splash. Her pants got wet, but she couldn’t help giving a nervous smile at Undyne’s enthusiasm.

The mermaid appeared again and brushed a few locks of red hair away from her face, smiling broadly.

“Also,” she continued, as if suddenly attacking an invisible enemy at the bottom of a shallow pool was completely normal, “sometimes fish swim in here and then the tides lower and they can’t get out and you can just pick ‘em up. Free lunch! More time for finding bits for spears!”

“C-cool!” Alphys encouraged. “S-so, you, mostly just, um, catch fish?”

“Well … yeah! If I really don’t want to there’s a nice place with mussels just over there,” she pulled herself to the edge separating the little pool from the big, and pointed with a small, sharp claw. “You can pick them right off of the cliff. But they taste bland and you have to remove all the small bits of shell and sometimes there’s hidden pearls you’re about to break your teeth on. If I have to eat shell-things, I prefer crabs.” She perked up. “I can show you my favourite crab-hunting spot!”

Undyne pulled herself over the rocks and into the water. Alphys crawled down to where Undyne had sat, and the mermaid offered her a hand, helping her skip over the gap. The feeling of Undyne’s damp skin and the soft membrane webbing her fingers woke a weird feeling in Alphys’ chest, and she let her hand slip away as soon as she made it across, trying not to think about it.

Undyne cleared her throat. “They’re, um, pretty cool.”

Alphys climbed to a stone near her. “Uh … W-w-what is?”

“Your legs!” Alphys was caught by surprise, fumbled for words while feeling herself blush, and Undyne’s grin got a bit uneasy. “I mean, uh, you can like, be upright, and, get across the stones and, uh, thecrabhuntingspotisjustoverherelet’sgo.”

She swam off, hiding just under the surface, and Alphys scrambled over the cliffs to follow along. Her cheeks were still warm.

Undyne was waiting for her a bit further away. Before she could dive, Alphys blurted out, without thinking: “I-I l-like your tail, t-too.”

“Oh! Thanks!”

Undyne grinned, but one corner of her mouth seemed to forget to follow along. She made a small whip with her tailfin, creating an arch of water, before she swam on. Could a mermaid blush?

Alphys was definitely blushing. She could have bitten off her own tongue.

Then she sneezed a few times. Undyne looked up at her, or rather, she was focusing on the rock just beside her.

“Are you okay? You aren’t cold, are you?” she glanced at Alphys.

“N-not at all,” Alphys lied. The sharp ocean wind was a little chilly. “Um, so, are the crabs, here?”

“Oh! Um, just over here!”

Alphys climbed over a few more peaks. Then she almost gasped.

It was like a small scale fairytale lagoon, sharp, ragged points creating pools and streams in between the rocks, and sand and small stones covering the bottom, creating a surface where seaweed grew, patches of bright greens and dull greys and brownish yellows and blacks. Undyne slipped through an opening and swirled through the waters, clearly knowing the passages well enough to not even have to look where she went. Her tailfin stroked the sand now and then as she swam.

Undyne reached into a clump of seaweed and shook it violently, causing two tiny, silvery fish and a young shrimp to flee from her. She weeded through two more clumps, and then she made a violent jerk, stirring the waters so Alphys couldn’t see what was going on.

Undyne surfaced, holding a brown crab the size of a hand with hints of orange around the limbs. Alphys recognized it as of the genus Carcinus. Undyne was grinning from frill to frill, holding the startled crab towards Alphys.

“Here you are!”

Alphys sat with half-open mouth for a few seconds before she could convince it to speak.

“Oh! Uh, t-thanks!”

She climbed forwards and gently took the crab from Undyne’s hand, holding it by the sides of its shell. It stared at her.

“Soooooo, are you gonna eat it?”

Alphys looked up from the animal in her hand and felt herself blush.

“I, uh, I-I think I’d rather, um, save it for later! Since I … j-just, ate a p-pretty big breakfast, and … I’m not, that hungry?”

To her relief, Undyne’s grin didn’t fall. “Good thinking!”

Alphys sneezed, three times, violently, covering her face with the sleeve of her crabless arm. Undyne watched her with concern.

“S’rry.” Alphys searched for a paper towel with her free hand.

The crab wiggled its limbs at her, looking morally offended.

“Maybe we should get you back home before that gets worse.” Undyne bit her lip and frowned. “How do we go about that? Boat-dude left.”

Alphys accidentally blew her nose in the crab.

“I-I think,” she said, brushing the snot off her face and the disturbed crustacean with the paper towel, “that h-his name was Gerson?”

Undyne’s frown grew deeper. “Hmmm.” Then she gave a small nod. “I’ll get him.”

Alphys looked down. “I’ve been so much trouble today,” she mumbled.

“Well, then I’ll just have to catch him a crab too or something. Stay there!”

Undyne made a sharp turn, gracefully avoiding the stones on both sides, and swam out of the lagoon.

Alphys sat down on the rock. She looked after Undyne until she couldn’t see the bright red of her fins anymore.

The crab wiggled a leg and stared at her.

“D-don’t give me that look!” The crab just glared. Alphys sighed. “I-I’d put you down, b-but … Undyne’s going to be really disappointed.” The crustacean let the leg fall. “S-sorry.”

Alphys and the crab sat in silence until Alphys’ leg started prickling. She stood up to get circulation back in it. The crab wiggled its legs at her. She apologized.

She almost fell into the water when Undyne suddenly popped up.

“I got the boatguy!”

“My name’s Gerson, young mermaid!” Gerson’s voice echoed slightly between the cliffs.

“WELL THEN YOU BETTER BEGIN CALLING ME UNDYNE, PUNK!”

She slapped the water with her tailfin. Alphys held onto the rock beside her and almost dropped the crab.

The cliffs surrounding Undyne’s pools of water were shaped like a horseshoe. Gerson, in his boat, was at the opening. Alphys climbed the way over there while Undyne made sure the boat didn’t get damaged by the cliffs under water.

Alphys handed Gerson the crab for a moment while climbing on board.

“Um, Undyne?” Alphys took back the crab. “M-maybe you should … j-just stay here? I-if Charles gets upset, I-I mean.”

Undyne made a grimace. “Urgh, I HATE that guy.” Then she sighed. “Well, but I guess I’m not the one who has to deal with him every day.”

Gerson leaned over the railing with a smug smile. “Perhaps I can help your friend out here now and then. If, of course, I can get permission to fish in the surrounding seas, since I do lose quite some time when I come home empty-handed …”

“URGH,” Undyne said again and made a face, showing all her teeth. Gerson’s expression was polite as ever. “Ngaah! FINE! But the cliffs are still mine!”

“Of course, of course.” Gerson pulled away from the railing and began preparing the boat. “I’ll keep my distance, as long as you don’t topple over my boat as soon as I look in your direction.”

Undyne grumbled loudly and thrashed the water with her tail. Alphys looked down at the crab and mumbled an apology.

Undyne looked up. “Whaddya say?”

“I-I just, I am just, sorry, about … being … that much trouble …” the last of her words got swallowed by the sounds of the sea.

“Wah ha ha!” Gerson nudged her gently with his elbow. “I’m sure your mermaid-friend has no trouble capturing more than enough prey for herself.” He sent Undyne a sneaky look. “But of course, only the most skilled hunters can make do with limited hunting grounds.”

“HA!” Undyne barked. “I could survive the whole winter on JUST what makes its way into my pools! With ease!”

“Good to hear,” Gerson couldn’t hide a smug smile, “then you won’t have trouble sharing with an old man.”

Undyne grumbled some more. The boat began moving, which she noticed a little late. When she finally did, she immediately dropped her sulking and instead waved at Alphys, enthusiastically.

“You better visit so I haven’t made that deal for nothing!” she yelled.

“O-of course!” Alphys yelled back.

She almost waved with the crab, but stopped herself before traumatising the creature further.

Undyne watched the boat of a while before swimming off.

After a few moments, Gerson cleared his throat.

“Forgive my curiosity, but why the crab?”

“Oh.” Alphys looked down at it. “That’s, for, uh, research.”

“Hm?” Gerson said. “Looks like your average shore crab to me?”

“W-well, t-those needs to b-be researched too, sometimes. T-they’re, a-actually on the list of 100 most invasive species around the globe.” The crab wiggled its legs. “If it’s, uh, the s-species I think it is, anyway.”

Gerson dropped the subject, to Alphys’ relief.

They made it to land, and she thanked and said goodbye before going up to the research institute, where she found a broken water filter and a small, unused tank in the supply room. She sneaked off with both things and made it home, filled the tank with water, dumped the crab in it, and began fiddling with the filter.

Chapter Text

She actually got the filter to work, after hours of fiddling and swearing. She got some sand for the bottom of the tank, and some seaweed, and things the crab could hide under. The crab did not hide under anything. In fact, it tended to scuttle back and forth around the middle of the aquarium, stopping with a few legs lifted, standing still, then dancing on.

It reminded her of an old friend she hadn’t seen in years. She began referring to it with his old stage name, and without really wanting to, she had ended up naming the crab Mettaton.

And, as embarrassing as it was to be talking out loud to a crab, and as pathetic the whole thing made her feel, having him around actually made her feel less lonely, especially on the days where she couldn’t visit Undyne. She had missed caring for another living creature, after she had to rehome her dog a few years earlier as she didn’t spend enough time at home for it to be happy, and the idea of getting a low maintenance pet had been shot down by the whole crayfish ordeal.

Alphys checked the filter more than once daily to make sure it was still running.

Sometimes caring for Mettaton made her miss her old wish of becoming a vet, but she was simply too sensitive. She thought of Undyne, who had expected her to rip open the crab and eat it raw, and then about the failed classes where she had to leave halfway through almost all the vet lessons, and then her thoughts were led to Undyne finding out she was tending for the intended lunch as a pet, and she had a very bad day after that.

 

After three days where nobody had mentioned the missing tank, and filter, and what was food for the crayfish before they stopped eating and started being dead, Alphys began to calm down, and her days in the research institute were almost tolerable. Her heart still raced every time someone talked, even if it wasn’t directed at her, but in between, when she was doing her own thing, or running errands, or stacking papers, she could convince herself that nobody had noticed anything and she was going to be fine.

She found out where Gerson had his boat, at the small harbour originally made for the boat-club, but expanded to include other boats, such as Gerson and other fishermen with small businesses. It was just a few minutes from the research institute, and she had seen it before, but never paid it much mind, as the research boats were elsewhere.

Being able to visit Undyne afterwards made her work days bearable.

 

Charles threw a pile of papers on her table. “Catalogue these,” he said without looking at her.

Alphys mumbled something and reached over to get the papers. She ended up pushing one of them, and it fell to the floor, dragging about seven more with it. Charles cast Alphys a glance as she scuttled over to pick them up, but didn’t say anything.

She picked them up in what she hoped was the right order, and went over to find the correct drawer.

It turned out that the pile had several different things in it, and with a sigh, Alphys plopped down on her chair again to sort them.

She was two thirds through when her workday ended. She immediately put down the papers, grabbed her things, and made for the door.

“Busy, Alphys?”

She turned her head. Charles was looking through a folder on his table, only glancing up at her for a moment before looking back.

“I-I a-am off for today?” she replied, biting her lip.

“M-hm. You just usually don’t leave exactly on time. At least not with half-finished work.” Charles cast a small glance towards Alphys’ table. She bit her lip. “So I thought you might have something to do.”

Alphys tried to figure out whether he was telling her to stay and finish her sorting or not.

“I-I do, actually. I h-have to, uh, s-see a friend, here, afterwards.”

Charles had a hard time pretending to be working, but he still didn’t look up.

“Ah. I see. Well, have fun, then. See you tomorrow.”

“Y-yeah, see you.”

She rushed out of the door, trying to calm herself down. After making it outside, she sped up and almost ran down the stairs and down to the harbour, despite her body hating it.

“Wah ha ha! You’re in a hurry today?” Gerson’s wrinkles made his smile fill his whole face. Alphys smiled back, but only briefly.

“E-everyone tells me that t-today,” she said and grabbed her life jacket before she jumped on board.

“Well, is it true?” Gerson grabbed the boom. “Duck.”

Alphys did as he requested, and the wooden pole swung above her head, her only reply a shrug. Gerson secured the boom and put up the sail.

Halfway to the cliffs, the boat tilted. Gerson sighed, not even looking up at the mermaid who had latched onto the railing.

“If you fill my boat with water, we’ll have to use time pouring it all out again,” he warned.

Undyne grimaced. “Yeah, yeah, I know, punk. Just wanted to say hi.”

She grinned at Alphys, who felt a real smile crawl across her face.

“N-nice seeing you,” Alphys greeted.

Undyne’s grin got even wider. She blinked at Alphys before letting go of the railing, and for a moment, Alphys interpreted it as a wink and went red in the face. She shook her head at herself. Undyne only had one eye.

The boat made a small jerk and then picked up speed. Gerson looked around with surprise, and then he frowned, leaned to the side, and looked towards the back of the boat.

“You don’t mind me speeding up this floating snail, right?” Undyne was pushing them, her grin mischievous.

Gerson sighed, rolled his eyes, and went back to steering.

They sailed up to a flat rock, and Alphys stepped onto it. Gerson waved as he left. Undyne made a grimace at him.

Alphys waved back. Then she rubbed her arms.

“C-can we find somewhere with a bit of cover for the wind? It’s k-kind of cold.”

“Sure!” Undyne stretched up from the sea, closed her eye, and moved her head a little before sliding back into the waters. “The wind’s coming from that direction,” she pointed with her tail. “So we should be out of the worst chill over there.” She made a throw with her head.

“A-all right, then!” Alphys stepped to the edge of the flat rock. There was a gap between it and the next. Undyne climbed up and reached out a hand. Alphys took it and leaped.

Her foot hit the rock, but then her shoe slipped. With a small yelp, she threw out her arms to grab onto something. She ended up slapping Undyne in the face, but before she fell into an endless pit of embarrassment, or the sea below, Undyne had wrapped her arms around Alphys’ waist and pulled her to the rock.

“Gotcha!” she exclaimed with pride.

Alphys didn’t respond. Her brain didn’t work at all. Undyne’s hands were holding onto Alphys’ back tightly, and her face was very, very close. Alphys found herself focusing on Undyne’s slim, blue lips rather than the teeth underneath. She drew in a sharp breath, heat flowing to her cheeks, trying to ignore the feeling in her chest.

Undyne’s eye widened.

She pulled Alphys all the way up on the rock and then let go, the frills on the side of her head pointing downwards. It looked as if mermaids were indeed able to blush.

“WELL!” She then exclaimed, “that was, uh, that was close OKAY let’s, let get over there!” her teeth were bared, but it was too stiff to be a honest grin.

Alphys could feel her face burning, unable to look directly at Undyne.

“Y-y-yes, a-all right, l-l-lets j-just g-get over there.” Alphys made it to the next rock on hands and feet.

Her unwillingness to look at Undyne meant that she made it three metres ahead before noticing that her friend had stopped. Undyne was still in the water, focusing on something further out on the sea.

“You got to be kidding me.” Her voice was colder than ice.

Alphys followed her gaze. She frowned. “I-is that a r-research boat?”

Undyne’s answer was a literal growl.

Alphys saw her muscles shifting under the blue skin, and she reached out with a hand. “P-please, please don’t.”

“How dare they!”

“I-I’m s-sorry, Undyne, b-but we’ll j-just get in trouble.” Alphys’ voice was low and pleading.

Undyne hissed through clenched teeth.

Please,” Alphys begged.

The next growl was a little more uncertain. Alphys felt relief loosen up the knot in her chest. She continued.

“I-I k-know you’re a-angry, b-but - A-and that’s okay! B-but we’ll j-just get even m-more trouble if you, we, y-you a-assault someone. We will f-find another way to fix this.”

There was a tense silence. Then Undyne sighed.

“Mrrrrrmn, you’re right.” She made a beat with her tail.

Meanwhile, a fisherman’s boat was approaching the research vehicle.

The two watched Gerson and the figure on the boat in silence. They were too far away to hear what was going on, but by the looks of it, the unknown person on had a hard time staying civil. Gerson was laid-back as ever. The voices rose, not enough to make out individual words, but enough to hear the tone. Gerson straightened up from his leaned back position, and the argument was once again swallowed by the sound of the gentle waves.

Then the research boat moved away from Undyne’s territory.

The two women exchanged glances.

Gerson’s boat changed direction, approaching Alphys and Undyne. He waved at them, and Undyne swam over to him. They were exchanging hectic words as Undyne guided him around the sharp rocks.

“Now, he’s good at bluffing,” Gerson leaned over the railing, staring at Alphys, “but I have my reasons to believe that he’s trying to provoke a direct attack.”

“W-was it Charles?”

“Tall, white man, broad shoulders, blonde buzzcut?”

“T-that’s him all right.”

Undyne groaned. “Urgh, I really want to punch that dude.”

“That,” Gerson tapped on the railing, “is exactly the problem.”

“I know,” she grumbled, crossing her arms. “Still want to, though.”

The fisherman pushed himself away from the railing. “Can’t say I disagree though. I’m afraid he might go as far as to upset the ecosystem here, just to get a reaction.”

“WHAT?” Undyne and Alphys exclaimed in unison.

“M-hm,” Gerson was staring at nothing in particular. “I don’t think he can see the point in protecting a patch of sea that nobody dares to approach.”

“I only attack humans.“ Undyne’s teeth were bared in a snarl.

“I-I d-don’t think he’s the k-kind of person t-to care much a-about anything else than himself,” Alphys mumbled.

Undyne frowned. “I thought your job was all about actually fixing the ocean.”

Gerson sighed deeply. “Well, not everyone has as strong a moral as you two. People can have many reasons to do as they do.”

“NGAAAAAH!” Undyne threw up her arms in an exasperated gesture. “Why are humans so complicated?

Alphys frowned, her expression tightening.

“W-we have to do something,” she said.

“Heck yeah we do.” Undyne swung her fist against a nearby rock with force. Alphys cringed, but the mermaid didn’t seem to be hurt, or even mind at all.

Gerson tapped the railing, staring into the distance. “I do not believe he’ll hurt your territory right away, Undyne. But we have to stop him before he does.” He sighed. “This old head ain’t made for this. I’m no hero. Never was.”

Undyne’s snarl slowly twisted into a smile, a menacing one, reminding Alphys of when they first met, when she had been sure the mermaid was going to be her end.

“I think I know what to do.”

Alphys cast Undyne a glance, biting her lip.

“P-perhaps we should, w-wait?” her voice was very small.

“Nah, Gerson’s right, Alphy. We need to stop that guy.” Undyne really looked like a warrior, then, her shoulders down, head lifted, eye gleaming. She was still smiling, but it was cold, hard, close to a snarl.

Gerson sighed. “Yes, but do be careful, ladies. I’d hate to see you end up in trouble. After all …” His grin was bittersweet. “If there’s one thing I’ve seen in my life, it is that our kind can’t figure out how to get along with anyone who isn’t just like us.”

He moved over to the boat’s stern and grabbed the tiller. “Well, I’m afraid that’s all I can do for now. Well, except for trying to speak to that man again,” He turned his boat. “Alphys, I am afraid I’ll have to sail you back already.”

“Awww,” Undyne said, “I wanted to show you my new cool spear.”

“I-I’ll be back t-tomorrow.” Alphys paused and looked down. “I-if n-nothing happens, in the m-meantime.”

“I’ll have a word with this Charles.” Gerson turned the boat a little. “Undyne, can I sail over?”

“Eh, just a sec.” She dived, was gone for a few seconds, and then appeared again. “Uh, I think you’ll have to sail a little more to the left. Rope?”

Alphys watched as Gerson threw down a rope fastened to the bow, and Undyne grabbed it to pull the boat in between the cliffs and ridges. Alphys moved to another rock, carefully this time.

“Over here should do it!” Undyne waved to Alphys, who climbed across the stones.

She stood up, holding on to the railing of Gerson’s boat. She hesitated. After a few moments, she managed to lift her gaze from her shoes to Undyne, but the words didn’t want to leave her throat.

Undyne pulled herself to the rock and held herself upright with one arm, mumbling something about ‘really wanting to be able to stand up right now’. Then she reached up and took Alphys’ free hand.

“I’ll be fine. I’m tough, you know that.” She squeezed Alphys’ hand, firmly, but not enough for it to hurt, and gave her a toothy smile. “Don’t worry, ‘kay?”

Alphys smiled back, meekly. “O-of c-course not.”

“Good.” Undyne gave a small nod. She looked at Alphys with an unreadable expression, then cast a glance at Gerson, back at Alphys, and let go of her hand. “Anyway, uh, see ya!”

She slipped back into the water and was gone before Alphys could reply.

Gerson made a rough, thoughtful humming noise, but didn’t say anything. Alphys climbed on board.

Chapter Text

Alphys’ stomach was a hard knot when she stepped into the research institute the next morning. She scuttled down the corridor and pushed open the door to her section of the institute, peeking inside. When her name wasn’t called and nobody was shouting, she inhaled and entered.

Charles looked up from his papers. “Morning, Alphys.”

“G-good morning, Charles! N-nice d-day today!” Alphys forced forth a smile.

Charles took a second to answer. “Is something wrong?” he then asked.

“W-wrong? N-no! N-not, unless, there’s s-something I-I haven’t h-heard about, um, which I, g-g-guess t-there i-isn’t?” Her smile trembled. “R-right?”

Charles looked a mix of suspicious, concerned, and all together weirded out. “… no?”

“Good!” Alphys exclaimed and almost ran to her desk.

She pretended to dive straight into sorting the papers from yesterday while glancing at Charles as discreetly as possible. He looked at her for a few seconds, frowning, but then turned back to his work. Alphys plopped down on her chair, pulled the pile closer, and let out a sigh of relief.

It was a moment too early.

“Alphys, I must say …” Charles was still looking at his papers, sounding casual as ever. “You’re not at all scared of that mermaid?”

Alphys froze.

Charles waited in polite silence while she remembered how to use words again.

“U-U-Undyne d-doesn’t h-hurt a-anyone who d-d-doesn’t, um, bother her a-and who t-t-treats the s-sea with respect,” Alphys said, carefully picking each word.

“I see.” Charles moved a paper aside, put his pen on the table, and turned his chair to face Alphys. “It’s just that a lot of the other locals seem to be … terrified of her.”

Alphys’ heart was beating too fast. “H-h-how so?”

Charles shrugged with a sigh, leaning back. “An old fisherman came up to me yesterday and talked about how we had to respect the ocean and its inhabitants, and if we didn’t, we would have to suffer the consequences. And how the sea was not to be tempted.” He turned back to his table. “He told me it was important to each keep to our own. I was just wondering why that doesn’t count for you.”

“B-but, she hasn’t been here, around the shore, a-at all … h-has she?” Alphys’ voice was very small.

Charles sighed. “No. She hasn’t.” He paused for a moment. “Let’s hope it stays that way.”

The next few minutes passed in tense silence, and Alphys thanked the higher powers when the door was opened and a person scuttled in, apparently searching for something.

“Looking for anything specific?” Charles’ voice sounded more normal, less painfully neutral, as he asked.

“Uh, just a camera. Or, a lens, for ours.” The person opened a drawer at the back of the room, under the window.

Charles stood up to help them look, and Alphys used the opportunity to calm down a little. Or try to, anyway.

Her work came undone almost immediately.

“What do you need it for?” Charles handed a camera lens over to the co-worked.

They opened their mouth, hesitated for a second, turned the lens in their hand. “An … oarfish?” it sounded like a question, not an answer.

Alphys stiffened up.

“An oarfish? Here?” Charles did not sound convinced.

“Well! That’s the thing!” They made a gesture with the hand holding the camera lens. “It was kind of far away and it seems improbable, so we need a camera with a strong zoom, to plug it into the server, and, um, but it’s probably nothing, I guess, just, wanting to make sure?”

Charles turned. “I need to have a look at this.”

The camera-person extended an arm towards Charles. “No, wait! That, really won’t be necessary.” He looked at them, and they shrunk a little. “… To waste your time on. You see, uh, we, already have another person on the case, and you …” they trailed off as they realized Charles wasn’t going to change his mind.

“I have to see this.”

He crossed the room with powerful strides and was gone.

Shit,” the camera-person mumbled.

Alphys finally looked up. It was the person who sometimes hung out with the scientist she had spoken with a week earlier.

They made an apologetic gesture. “Sorry.”

Alphys stood up so fast her chair almost toppled over. “I-I’ll be right back.”

Then she dashed after Charles.

 

 

“W-wait!”

Charles slowed down, looking over his shoulder. When he spotted Alphys, his face twisted, trying to keep in the pent up rage.

“You knew about this?” His voice made Alphys’ chest turn into a cold, tight knot.

She forced herself to speak. “P-p-please j-just g-g-give us a chance.”

“Alphys, we had a deal.

“B-but …”

“No! No, Alphys. This needs to stop, and if you can’t keep her away I’ll have to handle it myself.”

“She’ll hurt you!” Alphys’ body was filled with more anger and panic and fear than there was space for.

“Is that so? Why hasn’t she hurt you, then?” His voice was trembling under the neutral façade.

“B-b-because I’m n-not a jerk!”

The hallway fell silent. Alphys realized her own words and slapped her hands over her mouth, watching with horror as Charles’ expression cracked, making his anger fully visible on his face.

“Alphys,” he said. “I would like you to leave.”

Alphys stepped backwards, her chest making it hard to breathe. Charles sent her a last burning look before he turned away and walked down the hall.

Alphys took a few more steps back, then turned to lean against a wall, one of her hands holding her throat as she gasped, trying to make her body calm down. She could feel tears form and aggressively rubbed her eyes.

She managed to loosen her chest enough to take a few deep, shaky breaths. Then she pushed herself from the wall, walked back to her desk on shaky legs to get her bag, and exited the building.

But she did not leave.

With a body that was shaking just as much as her courage, she went down the wooden steps behind the institute, making it down to the beach. She could see Charles on the pier, probably preparing to sail out. She kept her distance, praying he wouldn’t look up from whatever he was doing. The wind carried his voice across the beach, and while Alphys couldn’t make out the individual words, the meaning was clear: Anger.

She had to pull together all her courage to take another few steps.

He raised his voice, slamming a rope onto the wooden planks. Alphys felt her heart leap.

He turned to the boat beside him, investigating something. Alphys took the chance to move closer.

“… have got to be kidding me. That’s enough, I’ve had enough!” He turned to the next boat. “This one too?

Alphys took a deep breath and walked to the pier, as softly as she could in the sand, hiding somewhat out of sight by keeping a boat between her and Charles.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket and tapped it a few times before putting it to his ear. Alphys crouched to stay hidden, but peeked out to watch him. He was mumbling, tapping his foot in impatience, and groaned in frustration when nobody picked up. He dialled again.

“Hello? Yes? This is Charles. Every single one of our boats are wrecked, I need you to get the authorities immediately-”

“No!”

Alphys stormed out of her hideout, her feet thumping against the planks of the pier, and made a leap that was quite impressive for someone with barely any practice, while attempting to rip the phone from Charles’ grip. She wasn’t even as tall as his shoulders, and he lifted it out of her reach with ease while pushing her away.

“Alphys, I’m warning you!”

“Leave Undyne alone!”

It wasn’t exactly a menacing scream, more desperate than threatening, but still filled with anger. She lashed out after his phone once again. He grabbed her shoulder with his free hand and shook her.

“You little-”

“NGAAAAAH!”

And then Charles shouted in pain and let go of Alphys, who stumbled backwards. Undyne’s sharp, jagged teeth were clamped shut around Charles’ lower leg. He tried to kick her face with his free foot, to which she paid no mind, and Alphys took the chance to run forwards and shoulder him in the stomach, causing him to stumble, drop the phone into the sea, and fall onto the pier. Undyne’s head was pulled with his leg as he fell, and she hissed and let go, but made sure to tear as much fabric and skin as she could in the process. Charles stumbled as he tried to get to his feet. Undyne moved backwards and raised a spear made from the handle of an ore with a sharp point of metal gleaming at the end. Alphys’ eyes widened with horror.

“Undyne, no!”

She leaped forwards to grab Undyne’s arm. Something hit her face with force, and she tumbled into Undyne’s chest, catching the mermaid by surprise the moment she let go of her weapon. It flew over the pier and hit the water with a harmless splash.

Charles was sprinting at a speed that should be impossible with an injured leg. Undyne roared and hit the planks with such force that the wood creaked and splintered. Alphys felt a sudden burst of dizzying fear for the mermaid she called her friend.

Undyne looked down at her. Alphys cowered, pulling up her shoulders as far as possible, her heartbeat pounding in her ears.

Undyne stared at Alphys for a few moments. Then she spoke.

“He hurt you.” her voice was shaking with disbelief.

“N-n-n-nono, I-I’m f-fine!”

Alphys wasn’t fine. Pain was running through her face like veins, burning and pounding, spreading from the middle. Something thicker than water was leaking from her nose.

Undyne reached out and wiped blood from Alphys’ face with tender fingers. “He hurt you,” she repeated, as if she couldn’t believe how this could happen, how she could have let that happen. She gently touched Alphys’ nose. The human gasped and cringed in pain.

“He actually broke it, that cowardly fleshbag with legs.” Undyne’s teeth looked even bigger with the edges smeared with blood.

Alphys reached up to feel her nose, but Undyne grabbed her hand. “No no no, don’t touch it.”

“Ow,” Alphys whispered.

Undyne looked at her with concern, and then tried to force a comforting smile. “H-hey! It’s not all bad! It’s totally gonna grow back awry, you’re gonna have a warrior’s nose!”

Despite everything, Alphys couldn’t help but snicker at the thought of a warrior’s nose on her dough-like beaver-face. The jerking movement pushed at her welled up tears, and they began leaking.

“Whoa, whoa, don’t, don’t cry, Alphie, don’t …”

But there wasn’t much Alphys could do to stop it, and the tears welled out, mixing with the blood Undyne hadn’t managed to wipe off, and it wasn’t a pretty cry, it was snot-filled hiccupping sobs and pathetic sounds and ugly tears. She tried to turn her body away so Undyne wouldn’t see her like this, but the mermaid just wrapped her arms around Alphys’ shoulders and held her, awkwardly trying to stroke her back. Alphys turned her head to try not to bleed on Undyne, but the mermaid held her tightly, and Alphys couldn’t do much but press her cheek against Undyne’s shoulder. She didn’t seem to mind that Alphys was crying, and probably also leaking snot, into her hair.

Being cared for this way made Alphys cry even harder.

“I’m gonna freaking kill him,” Undyne snarled.

“Undyne …” Alphys mumbled between sobs, without the energy to form a real complaint.

Undyne loosened her grip and leaned back so she could see Alphys’ face. “Look what he did to you.”

Alphys sniffled and looked down without saying anything.

Undyne grabbed Alphys’ chin with one hand to lift her head, and used the other to wipe the tears and the rest of the blood off of Alphys’ face, taking care to avoid touching the broken nose. Alphys held still.

A faint howling noise made Alphys’ eyes widen. Undyne let go of her face, and she turned to stare up the road.

Undyne squinted. “What’s that sound?”

Alphys cringed. “T-t-the police.” Her voice was low, and grim.

Undyne snarled, or maybe it was more of a hiss.

Alphys was staring at the road high above the beach. She reached up to touch her nose without thinking about it. Undyne grabbed her hand before it reached her face.

“W-w-well,” Alphys didn’t react to Undyne saving her broken nose, “I-I, guess, it could potentially be an ambulance, b-but …” Suddenly, she threw up her arms (or rather, one of her arms, as Undyne was still holding the other) and made a loud whining noise. “W-who am I k-k-kidding! It, it’s the police and they’re going to t-take me to j-j-jail f-for all this, a-and-”

Undyne tugged at her hand. “I,” she said, with emphasis on every word, “Am not going to let anyone take you anywhere you don’t want to go.” She stared deeply into Alphys’ eyes, not baring her teeth, but ready to.

Alphys’ expression was frozen for a moment, and then her face tried to smile, without her understanding why. It didn’t succeed. She bit her lip, hard enough for it to hurt.

“T-t-thanks. B-but, no. I can’t, I w-won’t let you dragged i-into all this h-human stuff.”

Undyne pulled her body up and straightened her back, her frills spreading out and her back fin lifting. “I will take all of them out or go down trying.” She looked like a predator, she looked like a dragon.

Alphys lifted a hand and carefully put it against Undyne’s shoulder.

“I-it’s r-really n-nice of you, U-Undyne. “ Alphys realized how weird it sounded right after saying it, but Undyne didn’t seem to think so. Alphys went on. “I-I, j-just don’t want to c-complicate things further. Mermaids, y-you, k-kind of live on your own. Humans … d-don’t. You can’t a-avoid other humans, you j-just … can’t.” She let out a weak laugh. “Trust me, I-I’ve tried. They’re … e-everywhere.”

Undyne let out a small, barking laugh. “Tell me about it! I mean, you’re horrible swimmers and even SO, you manage to somehow make it to the sea …” her words died out. Going by the look of her face, an idea was forming. “Of course! I know JUST the place to hide you!”

“Undyne, what- AACK!”

Before Alphys could finish asking, Undyne had grabbed her arms, pulled them around her shoulders and dragged herself and the human girl into the sea.

Alphys sputtered in surprise as Undyne’s strong tailbeats took them away from the shore. “Wh-what are you doing?!”

“Don’t worry, I got this. I have the perfect hideout.”

“B-but, I, I can’t hide forever! And, and, Mett-“ She stopped herself before mentioning the intended dinner. “M-my home, a-and my things, a-and, food! It’s gonna be winter!

“Nonono, it’s gonna be fine! People throw all sorts of trash into the ocean, and we can always snatch something from the shore if we really need it. I’ll catch fish for you!“

“Undyne-”

“If it doesn’t work out I’ll just swim you back!”

Alphys made a few sounds that definitely weren’t real words, looking over her shoulder at the beach.

“L-look,” she finally managed to say. “I-I’ll just get in even bigger trouble if I resist a-arrest, or w-whatever it’s c-called.”

“You’ll just tell them you got kidnapped by a vicious mermaid! Ngahh!”

Alphys couldn’t hide a snicker, no matter how much the situation scared her.

“T-they w-won’t buy that,” she said. Then she added, in a lower voice, “b-besides, that’ll get you in trouble t-too.”

“I ain’t afraid of them,” Undyne snorted. “They can send a whole army for all I care!”

“Undyne,” Alphys’ voice was low, but clear. “P-please, swim me back.”

Under her, she could feel Undyne’s muscles shifting, and her grip around Alphys’ wrists loosened. The beats of her tail slowed down until they merely kept the two afloat.

Undyne cast a glance towards the shore. They were far away, the tiny figures on the beach, hectically searching, skittering across the sands, and judging by their body language, having intense conversations.

“Nhhhg,” Undyne mumbled. “I don’t like you being with those people. You said it yourself, you’re small, and fragile, and, I won’t be there to protect you if they’re mean.” She was absentmindedly fingering Alphys’ hands, rubbing the wrist with small, nervous movements. Her next words were even less confident. “Besides, I … don’t want you to go somewhere where you can’t come visit me. I, uh, have kind of gotten used to having you around, you know?” She grinned, nervously. “Gets kinda lonely, on my own …”

Alphys blinked a few times, clenching her hands, her gaze moving and finding a wave to focus on. The cold water was making her toes numb.

“I-I’m just … s-scared,” she finally said. “A-about what will h-happen, if they f-find me A-and about how I-I’ll s-survive. I-I’m n-not … exactly a w-wildlife person. W-well, not, like, in a p-practical sense …” she trailed off.

Undyne turned her head to look at her. “Hey. I’ll protect you, I promise.” She looked into Alphys’ eyes, then broke out a grin. “You’re a small squishy meat-human after all, someone gotta look out for you.”

Alphys looked at Undyne, her bright yellow eye, her wry, sharp teeth shaped into a smile. Her gaze skittered over the sea. Then she closed her eyes, tightened her grip around Undyne’s shoulders, and gave a small, determined nod.

“O-okay, then. L-let’s … let’s try.”

Chapter Text

When they reached the cliffs, Undyne broke the silence.

“How long can humans hold their breath?”

Alphys gulped. “N-not very long.”

How long?”

“I … um, a minute, maybe? Probably less, though. For me.”

“A minute should be enough.” Undyne turned her head to look at Alphys. “Think you can do it?”

Alphys bit her lip, looking to the side. Undyne continued.

“I’ll count. If we reach 30 and we aren’t halfway I’ll turn around. I promise. You just gotta hold your breath and hold on tightly.”

Alphys hesitated. The she nodded, inhaled slowly, deeply, closed her eyes and held her breath. Undyne dived.

Water filled Alphys’ ears. She clung to Undyne, who had let go of Alphys’ wrists to use her hands for swimming. Two, three, four, Alphys could feel Undyne’s muscles working as she swam. The thought of Undyne slipping out of Alphys’ arms, leaving her to drown in the cold waters, forced its way into Alphys’ brain, and she pressed her face against the mermaid’s shoulders, holding on to her with cramp-like intensity. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen.

Sixteen.

Seventeen. Undyne was swimming forwards now, not down. Alphys could hear the rush of water in her ears, all other sounds gone. Twenty one, twenty two, twenty three. Undyne’s arms shifted, and her tail sloped downwards as she slowed down. Alphys’ face was a tight grimace. Twenty eight, twenty nine.

Thirty.

Thirty one.

Undyne sped up again, shooting forward, then stopping abruptly, her body vertical in the water. Alphys could feel her own pulse beat in her ears. Thirty six. Undyne made a sharp turn and swam forwards, then down. Thirty nine. Forty.

Alphys’ head scraped against something. She instinctively tried to duck. Under her, Undyne made a downwards movement, freeing space over Alphys’ head, and slowed down. Forty six. She kept swimming slowly. Alphys felt her lungs beginning to strain. Forty nine. Her body urged her to gasp. Alphys resisted. Fourty, no, fifty, fifty two? She’d lost count. Fifty three?

Undyne twisted under Alphys, whose knee scraped against something. She pulled her legs up. Undyne was swimming upwards now. Alphys’ chest was a knot, her body begging her to open her mouth. Fifty six, maybe? Was Undyne keeping count? Under Alphys, the back muscles were working in less rhythmical ways, no longer pushing Undyne forwards. It felt like she was fumbling for something. Alphys’ lungs stung. Her throat stung, and her mouth stung, and she felt dizzy and light-headed and scared and they broke the surface.

She gasped for breath, gulping air down, spitting as water dripped from her face and hair into her mouth.

Undyne freed herself from Alphys’ cramp-like grip and turned to face her.

“Whelp, that was, a bit tight. You all right?”

Alphys took two deep breaths before answering.

“K-k-kind of?”

Undyne looked concerned. Alphys tried her best to give a reassuring smile.

“I-I’ll be fine. J-just … I-I was a little scared,” she admitted, and shivered.

“Heh. Sorry. But! You did well!” Undyne looked around. “Let me just get some of this junk removed …”

Alphys looked up.

It was a cave, hidden away under the cliffs. A crack in the ceiling let daylight through, so everything was covered in a greyish blue, low light. To Alphys’ right was a wide, uneven, but otherwise more or less flat plateau. One third of it was just below water, and the rest, above water level, was more or less entirely covered in trash.

Undyne used her arms to pull herself onto the plateau and over to the junk piles. Alphys swam after her, shivering from the cold water.

Undyne gathered a bunch of trash in her arms – metal sheets, what might have been part of a boat once, some planks, half a bike – and threw it on top of a nearby pile, then pushed some stuff aside, clearing a space for Alphys, who climbed up.

“So,” Undyne said as she pushed some more junk aside, “if you get out of those soaked clothes, we’ll get you warmed up so you don’t get a cold again.”

Alphys turned beet red. It wasn’t that she didn’t know, but she had never really paid any mind to Undyne being naked before. She was a fish, after all, not a mammal, and her confidence made it seem natural enough for Alphys to never really think twice about it. Until now, where Undyne apparently expected Alphys to be just as comfortable without clothing.

Undyne turned her head to look at Alphys.

Don’t make this weird.

“R-right!” Alphys threw off her jacket, then removed her sneakers and socks. To her relief, Undyne went back to clearing space on the ledge, and Alphys took a deep breath and pulled her t-shirt over her head.

Pants. The pants. Alphys bit her lip, hard, then unbuckled her belt and slipped off her jeans, feeling incredibly exposed in her underwear.

Undyne turned around and took Alphys’ foot between her hands, rubbing it aggressively to get the warmth back. It almost hurt, though Alphys didn't complain. Instead, she took to rubbing her own upper arms.

Undyne moved to Alphys’ other foot, and then her shins. Alphys quickly took to handling her thighs, and she was grateful when Undyne moved to Alphys’ shoulders, warming up her arms with long, firm strokes.

Alphys pulled up her feet and held them in her hands. Undyne moved closer and turned around to rub Alphys’ back. Alphys went red in the face once again.

“Hey!” Undyne exclaimed, “I think I got something we can use! Lemme just see …”

She moved to another junk-pile, throwing stuff to the side. Then she came with a victorious ‘AHA!’, and pulled something out.

“It might not be the most comfortable thing, but, uh, maybe it’s a little warmer?”

It was half a sail in tatters. Undyne swam over with it, and Alphys took it and wrapped it around her shoulders. It was cold and scratchy, but better than nothing.

“I could get you the towel too, but, eh, it’s gonna get wet on the way here.” Undyne shrugged with an apologetic smile.

“M-m-maybe get it, t-to dry it off, f-for later?” Alphys’ shivering made her stutter even more obvious.

“Yeah, sure!” Undyne eyed Alphys, who was shaking under the piece of sail. “Damn, you’re really cold, huh?” she bit her lip. “I mostly save junk that can be used for spears, y’know?”

Alphys frowned. “M-maybe …” she pulled out a plank from one of the piles, “m-maybe we could s-start a fire?”

“That's the glowy, orange stuff you sometimes bring to the beach, right?”

“Um … yeah?” Alphys turned the plank around. “It’s a l-little large though …”

Undyne took it from her and split it in half without breaking a sweat. “Here you go! Anything else?”

“Uh. Oh. Wow. N-no, I don't think … w-wait, w-we probably need to clear s-some more s-space s-so we d-don't end up b-burning anything down.”

“Got it!” Undyne grabbed a few stray objects and threw them to another pile. “You need more boards than that one?”

“E-everything wooden is g-good,” Alphys said, placing the two halves of the plank on the ground before her.

Undyne began clearing space around her, tossing things to the piles further away.  Every time she found something made of wood, she gave it to Alphys, who was trying to make fire by rubbing two pieces of driftwood together.

“T-this usually w-works in my animes,” Alphys mumbled.

Undyne stopped her work of throwing stuff aside to look at Alphys’ project. “How do you usually start fires?”

“W-with matches. O-or a l-lighter. B-but I don’t h-have a-any of that.”

“Well, that sucks.” Undyne splashed with her tail. “Maybe we can ask that Gerson-guy.”

Alphys let go of the driftwood. “I-I d-don't want m-more people involved in this mess.” Then she looked down at her hands, thoughtfully.  “Or, w-well. M-maybe … if we need this to work, I-I think we’ll n-need help.”

“I’ll swim and talk to him. And, um, can I maybe try that?” she gestured towards the driftwood.

“S-sure! J-just r-rub them t-together, I-I think. A-and try not to break them?”

Undyne did break them.

She grinned sheepishly. “... whoops. Sorry.”

“N-nono, it’s fine! L-lets try another way.” Alphys gathered up a long, thick splinter from when Undyne broke the first board. “D-do you have a knife or s-something?”

“I got plenty spearpoints. Here lemme get some for you!”

Undyne was in the water with a splash. Alphys covered the wood as well as she could.

“P-please b-be careful. I-It won’t burn if it’s wet.”

“Oh. Sorry.” Undyne looked at the wood and frowned. “That’s really weird.”

“W-well, n-not really! Y-you s-see, w-water is cold, so it keeps the fire from reaching the temperature it needs in order to burn. A-also, there’s a chemical reason. Fire is a chain reaction that uses oxygen, b-but when applying water, t-the oxygen molecules are no longer available ... “

Undyne pulled something from a pile and swam over to Alphys, handing her two unused spear-points, and what Alphys recognized as the weapon she had broken first time they met.

“What’s oxygen?” Undyne asked as she crawled up and sat on the ledge, tail floating in the deeper waters, watching Alphys with interest as the human cut off the leather strips keeping the broken spear together, putting the handle aside, and collecting the leather in front of her.

And Alphys began explaining the basics of physics while carving a small hole in a plank. She placed the wooden splinter in it and got Undyne to roll it between her hands. And it actually caught fire.

Undyne watched the smoke with a huge grin as Alphys put the leather as close to the heat as she could without snuffing out the beginning fire. When small, orange flames appeared, she instructed Undyne to remove the splinter, and Alphys began feeding the fire with bigger pieces of wood, still talking about the chemical reactions of the process. Undyne was staring wide-eyed at the flames, still grinning from frill to frill over what they had created, soaking up every word Alphys said.

Alphys spread out her clothes beside the fire. The cold of the water had numbed her nose, but as the warmth returned to her body, the pain did as well.

Undyne removed her gaze from the flames. “Hey, should I get that towel too now we’re at it?”

“Y-yes! G-good idea.” Alphys put her socks as close to the fire as she dared.

“I’ll be right back!”

Undyne slipped back into the water. Alphys watched her as she turned under the surface, her fins granting her perfect, graceful movements in the water.

When she couldn't see Undyne anymore, she moved a little closer to the fire and touched her aching nose. She whimpered. She really didn’t want a warrior’s nose, no matter how cool Undyne made it sound. Alphys didn't usually mind not really being pretty, but there was no need making it worse.

She wondered what it looked like. The water wasn’t still enough for her to see her reflection. She sighed and moved her feet closer to the fire.


Undyne didn’t break the surface before she made it to the cave in which she kept her more important stuff. She took the pink mew mew kissy cutie towel and ran her webbed hand over it once, before tying it around her neck.

On her way back, she noticed Gerson’s boat. She waved. The fisherman turned to her, staring sharply, and put a hand over his mouth. Undyne frowned and ducked under water.

She appeared beside the old man. “What’s up?”

“Schh!” Gerson turned his back to her and mumbled out of the corner of his mouth. “I’m helping them look for you and Alphys. But I haven’t seen any of you.”

“Eh?” It took Undyne a moment before she got it. ”Oh! I see. Um, so, I should not tell you where we are?”

“Not now.” He cast a glance at her out of the corner of his eye. “Tonight. Midnight, if possible. They should have gone home by then. Now keep out of sight.” He cracked a grin. “So I don’t see you.”

Undyne grinned back. “Got it. And, just, so you know … Alphys is fine. I’m looking after her.”

Gerson nodded. “Good.”

When the old man turned around, there was no trace of the mermaid. He smiled a knowing smile.

“Take good care of her, Undyne,” he said to the empty sea.

 

 

Alphys was holding her knees, shivering with cold despite the fire, when Undyne returned. She had put on her still damp socks and was holding her feet close to the fire.

She forced a smile as Undyne appeared.

“T-thanks,” she said, taking the towel from Undyne’s hands and spreading it out beside the fire.

“It’s heating up quite a lot, huh?” Undyne reached for the flames.

“U-undyne, d-don't touch-”

“OUCH!” she pulled back her hand and held her burned fingertips. Then she grinned. “Whoops. It bites.”

Alphys’ smile was a little nervous, but genuine. “Y-yeah. D-don’t touch fire. Y-you might want to dip you hand in the water.”

Undyne did as Alphys told her, looking at her fingers under the surface. “It doesn’t bleed, though.”

“W-well, t-that’s because it burns, not … a-actually bites. I-it’s t-the heat doing it.”

“Ah.” Undyne looked up at the fire with even more excitement than before. “Awesome.” Then she looked at Alphys. “By the way, how’s your nose?”

Alphys looked down at her socks. She considered lying, but honestly, she was too exhausted to play it cool.

“I-it hurts,” she admitted.

Saying it out loud made it feel worse, somehow. It really did hurt, a low, thumping pain, and on top of that, Alphys was still cold, and scared, and she didn’t want to cry in front of Undyne again, so she hid her face behind her knees.

Undyne watched with concern, biting her lip. “Are you … all right?”

Alphys contained her sobs. “Yeah,” she lied in a gravelly voice.

For a few seconds, the only sound was the crackling fire, and the water’s light noises as Undyne’s tail moved back and forth, sending tiny waves against the cave walls. Then she cleared her throat.

“Look, I … usually don’t do this. It doesn't make for a fair fight!” she pounded the plateau under her with a fist. Then she gave Alphys an apologetic grin. “Not that I am going to fight you! Unless you want to wrestle? Like, not now, but.”

Alphys looked up from under her curls, a puzzled expression on her face.

“Anyway!” Undyne exclaimed. “Uh, tell me if this gets weird and I’ll stop, okay?”

She took a deep breath, closed her eye, and began to sing.

Alphys blinked a few times in surprise. It was a wordless song, notes shifting so smoothly that you almost couldn’t hear when they changed. Undyne's singing voice was deep and slightly rough, but also very beautiful as it echoed between the walls. The deep vibrations filled Alphys’ head, and she blinked again, slowly, almost drowsily.

Undyne let the note die out and looked at Alphys for a reaction. Alphys looked up at her.

“I didn't know you could sing?” she sounded slightly groggy.

“Eh, I … don’t do it that often.” Undyne's frills fell, and she looked down, struggling to keep her grin. “Most people find it kind of creepy, you know?”

“Why?” Alphys asked, and then, because her head felt heavy and made it hard to not say things she shouldn’t, she added: “it’s beautiful.”

Undyne blushed. “Uh. Uh. Um. Should I, uh, keep going?

“Yeah.” Alphys felt herself blushing a little too. “I-I m-mean, i-if you want to.”

Undyne nodded. She shifted to a slightly smoother, deeper passage, singing it like one long note, only letting it die out to breathe. Alphys closed her eyes and let the tones fill her head, soothing the numb, the cold, even the fear, until there was nothing but Undyne's voice.

Her head began to hang. She shuffled slightly. Undyne let the song fade.

“Still okay?”

“Mnnn. Just tired.”

“Uh, yeah. That was, kind of what I meant.” Undyne glanced at Alphys. “I feel weird doing that to people.”

Alphys sighed.

“I just … want to sleep.” Alphys opened her brown eyes to look at Undyne. “Please?”

Undyne was looking at the human girl with a concerned, almost guilty look. She pulled herself closer.

“Here.” she took the towel and replaced the sail around Alphys’ shoulders with it. It was still slightly damp, but warm from being close to the fire. Alphys mumbled something and moved a little, then slumped against Undyne.

The mermaid’s eye grew wide. “Uh …”

“Mnnn …” Alphys was too tired to know what she was doing. She didn't even blush.

Undyne hesitated, looking at the human girl resting against her shoulder, while her face turned the same hue as her fins.

She spoke. “Alphy? Are you … okay with this?”

Alphys made a satisfied humming noise. Undyne hesitated a little more. Then she slowly lifted her arms and wrapped them around Alphys, watching her face. Alphys’ only reaction was to smile in her sleep, a small dimple appearing in her cheek, her teeth resting on her plump lower lip. A smile crept over Undyne's face, and she tightened her grip around the sleeping woman. It was a wonder how the sound of Undyne’s racing heartbeat didn’t wake Alphys, but she just turned a little, snuggling closer.

Undyne's voice was shaky and gravelly when she spoke, but also tender.

“Sweet dreams, Alphys,” she whispered.

Chapter Text

Undyne knew the cliffs well enough to navigate through them by memory only. Gerson’s boat was a large, unmoving chunk where there usually was none, and Undyne found it with ease, even in the dark.

She appeared beside it. “Hey!”

Gerson turned and squinted into the dark. Undyne knocked on the side of the boat to guide him to the right place. He appeared above her.

“Wa ha ha, there you are. You got Alphys hidden away, I take?”

“Yeah, she’s in a cave right now. She’s sleeping.”

Undyne was grateful for the dark hiding her blush as she thought of when her internal clock had told her it was time to meet Gerson, and how Alphys has been clinging to her, mumbling in complaint, how warm she had been. Undyne was flat-out denying the other thoughts, those of wrapping her hands around Alphys’ round cheeks, lifting her head, pressing her mouth to those plump lips in a soft kiss … damn, now she was thinking them again!

Gerson pulled her from her thoughts with a question.

“Uh. What did you say?” Undyne wasn’t sure because of the dark hiding his face, but she had a nagging feeling that Gerson was smirking at her.

“I said: Ask Alphys if she needs help with anything, and I will do my best to handle it.”

“Ah! Great! Thanks! We might need that.” Undyne splashed in the water with her tail.

Gerson leaned over the railing. “But.”

Undyne groaned. “Oh no.”

“You have to tell me what made you fall for the little lady in the first place, with you claiming to hate humans and all.”

“Fall for?” Undyne sounded deeply offended.

She could almost hear Gerson’s smile. “You saved her, didn’t you?”

Undyne frowned, looking at Gerson with her eye narrowed, showing the points of her teeth. Finally, she sighed, turning around to lean against his boat.

“Fine, then. I guess … look, people always have excuses for sailing out here. This and that and they were TOOOTALLY not trying to steal my fish or anything.” Her tail sent up a powerful splash. “And, like, I thought she were the same, y’know? I just, wanted your kind to understand that they should keep away. These are my hunting grounds! Ngaaaah!”

Gerson waited in polite silence while Undyne cooled down.

She sighed. “Anyway. So. She was standing on this cliff, you know? Out of reach. And I had broken my spear so I just kinda waited for the tides to raise. But then she told me all this stuff about sardines and currents and why they needed samples of my water …” She was splashing absentmindedly in the water, grinning slightly, lost in thought . “You should’ve heard her. I don’t think anyone can lie that passionately!”

She trailed off. Gerson waited a little to see if there was more to the story. His patience was rewarded.

“She just …” Undyne's voice was almost stripped of the usual confidence. “She was so scared. And vulnerable. And, like, what if she did tell the truth? What if she was really just there to investigate algae or whatever. Then ... I would have killed someone … innocent. Someone trying to take care of the ocean. What kinda person would that make me?”

“Hmm.” Gerson’s smile was less teasing now (not that Undyne would have known in the dark). “You did the right thing, then. I’m glad I helped you, too. You’re not that bad, Undyne.”  Then he grinned. “When you’re not trying to drown me, that is.”

“Yeah?? Well??? I DIDN'T, now did I?” she trashed the water with her tail. Gerson laughed.

“Wah ha ha ha, well if you did then my memory’s really getting bad. Now, I can be back at dawn, telling them I went out searching early. Ask Alphys what she needs, and I’ll come back next night with it. All right?”

“Got it! And, uh, I think she is kind of cold? I mean, she only has her clothes and a towel, I’m afraid she’ll get sick again. And that’s gonna be like, the third time.”

“I will see what I can do. And, Undyne?” he leaned over the railing to look her in the eye. “Stay away from the surface tomorrow. From open water at all, if you can. They have sensors.” Undyne clenched her fists, but Gerson stopped her before she could tell him exactly how many damns she gave about their sensors. “Let them forget about you.” He played his trump card. “You need watch out for Alphys.”

Undyne paused, twitched a little, then shrugged as casually as she could. “Uh. Yeah, yeah I guess you’re right. Um. Dawn. We’ll see each other!”

“We will.” He stood up, straightening his back. “Take care of yourself, miss mermaid. Wah ha ha!”

“Mind your own business, punk,” she grinned before returning underwater with a splash.

 

 

 

Alphys was still asleep when Undyne returned. The mermaid tried not to look at her, only casting glances in her direction now and then. Her curls were messy, a few of them straying from the bun, and her soft features looked peaceful as she slept, head resting on the makeshift pillow Undyne had made out of the sail and Alphys’ jeans.  

Despite her efforts not to, Undyne caught herself staring. Especially at Alphys’ lips, round and well-shaped, so many soft curves, not at all like Undyne’s flat, thin lips. Undyne found herself thinking about reaching out a hand to touch them, imagining how soft they would feel against her fingertips …

She turned redder than the dying embers in the fire and disappeared under water to cool her burning face down.

Chapter Text

“Alphys?”

“Mmmm!” Alphys turned around and covered her face with her arm.

“Alphys!” Someone shook her shoulder.

She turned her head and looked into a beautiful, golden eye. The light was grey, and just strong enough to see by. Alphys hoped it was still dark enough to hide her blush.

“Oh. M-morning, Undyne.” She rolled over and pushed herself up on one elbow.

Undyne leaned back and grinned. “Well, not really. Gerson said we’d have to meet at dawn, so it’s still night, I guess. BEST TIME TO WAKE UP! GREET THE DAY! SHOW IT WHO’S BOSS! NGAAAAAH!!!”

Alphys giggled, covering her face with a hand.

Undyne grinned even wider. “God, you're so damn cute.”

Alphys’ eyes got wide, and she moved her hand to cover her whole lower face, hiding her blush.

“T-thanks?” she mumbled, voice muffled by her palm.

Undyne laughed, heartily, the sound echoing in the cave. Alphys lowered her hand just a little, her smile a little insecure, but genuine.

Undyne's laugher died out.

“Anyway,” she straightened herself a little. “I talked to Gerson yesterday, and he said if you needed anything, he’d be cool with helping. So, uh, I’m gonna go tell him now? If there is anything?”

Alphys poked the embers with the broken spearhandle, shivering. “Well, s-something w-warm would be nice?”

“Ah, I did ask for that.”

“Oh. Um. Uh. Well! Then, I guess …” Alphys frowned, looking thoughtful. Then her eyes widened. “Mettaton!”

“Mett-a-what?”

“M-Mettaton. U-Undyne, p-please, t-tell Gerson that, my bag should be s-somewhere on the beach, um, b-but there’s a-also an extra key in the s-slot u-under m-my mailbox, Metta’s on the shelf, i-in the tank, his food is j-just beside it, can you get Gerson to f-feed him?”

Undyne’s ey shifted. “Uhh. Um, yeah! I think I got it! Get Gerson to feed, something. Under the mailbox.”

Alphys hid a snicker. “T-the key is under the mailbox, Undyne.”

“Uh! Right! Anything else?”

Alphys hesitated for a second. “N-no. I-I’ve a-already asked for enough.”

“Pfffft,” Undyne made a sweep with her hand, “No you haven’t. I’ll get Gerson some stuff or something, it’s fine. Besides! He’s using my seas to fish in, he gotta do something now that he isn’t ferrying you around.”

“W-well.” Alphys took a few plank-pieces and stuffed them into the ashes, hoping there would still be embers. “S-something to sleep on, m-maybe?” She rubbed her back. “I-I t-think that's i-it.”

“Okay, cool! See you, then. And, heh,” Undyne grinned, “you can sleep on if you want to.”

Alphys smiled, meekly. “ I-It’s okay.”

“Well, all right then.” Undyne gave her a last, broad smile before swimming away.

Alphys got dressed and started up the fire again with embers she found nesting under a thick layer of ash. Sleeping on the cold, hard rock wasn’t something her body would forgive her right away. Perhaps she was getting immune to colds though, as she wasn't sneezing.

The sky visible through the crack was lightening. When Undyne returned, it was beginning to turn blue, but this time light and cheerful.

Alphys looked up from her project. Undyne smacked a black plastic bag onto the plateau, remembering the whole fire-and-water-doesn't-mix-well thing a little late. Luckily, the tides were low, and the plateau was almost completely dry, so the splash only caused the fire to sizzle a little.

“Here you go! Gerson packed some stuff in advance. He’ll go look after your pet in the evening when he’s done pretending to search for us.”

“H-he’s d-doing that?” Alphys took the black plastic bag and fiddled with the knot. It was tied tightly and more than once, which meant it was sealed airtight and the contents within presumably dry. But it made it hard to open.

“Yeah! He’s covering for us ‘cause he knows the waters here, so all the others think they don’t have to look around these parts.” Undyne made a gesture towards the bag. “Want me to do that?”

“Um.” Alphys’ fingers with the bit-down nails kept slipping on the plastic. “I-if I-I can, it, might be b-better, if we c-can j-just untie it, s-so we c-can use it again?”

“I can totally do it without breaking anything!” Undyne was making grabby hands.

Alphys hesitated, but then pushed the bag over to Undyne. The mermaid fumbled with it for approximately four seconds, then she let out a frustrated ‘NgaaAAAH!” and ripped open the bag.

Alphys looked at the bag. So did Undyne, staring at the torn opening for a few seconds before she realized what she had just done.

“Uh. Whoops!”

Alphys looked at Undyne's puzzled expression, and couldn’t hide a snicker. She covered her mouth with a hand, but Undyne just looked up and snorted, which caused Alphys to giggle, and then they were both laughing, their voices filling the cave. Alphys was still covering her face.

Their laughter died out.

“Remind me to listen to you next time.” Undyne passed Alphys the bag with a grin.

“I-I w-will.” Alphys pulled the first thing out of the ripped opening.

Undyne frowned. “Is that a sausage?”

Alphys giggled again. “N-no, it’s a sleeping bag.”

She pulled it from its cover.

“Humans sleep in bags?” Undyne was eyeing it, both suspicious and intrigued.

Alphys made sure the sleeping bag wasn’t wet, and then she slipped into it, embracing the warmth. “W-well, sometimes. When c-camping outside, or j-just in p-places where you d-don’t have a bed.” She shuffled to get comfier and freed her arms. “I-I n-never do m-much outdoor stuff, though. S-so I’m n-not that u-used to it.”

Undyne was looking at Alphys with a smile. Alphys felt herself beginning to sweat. “D-do I l-look s-s-silly?” she asked with a blush.

Undyne snickered. “Nah, you look cute. Like a seal.” She looked Alphys in the eyes, and her smile grew. “A little selkie.”

Alphys felt her cheeks going from warm to burning. “Uhm! L-let’s s-see what e-else is in the bag.”

Alphys reached out and pulled out the next item.

“O-oh! C-canned food!”

“Pffft!” Undyne snorted. “Like we’ll need that. I’ll catch you all the food you're gonna need!”

Alphys blinked a few times, her stomach feeling weird (which, she decided, was because of how hungry the sight of food made her realize she was). “W-well,” she said, “I-I’m s-sure he j-just wanted to give us, uh, s-something to g-get s-started on?” She gave a small, nervous smile. “O-or. Uh. H-he thought I-I might n-not … uh … I-I m-mean, t-that it would b-be nice with some variety ... ?”

Undyne snorted once again with a slightly offended grimace. Then she looked from the cans to the fire, grabbed a small piece of board, and threw it onto the flames.

“I’ll have breakfast ready before that’s burned down!” she promised with a huge grin.

Alphys looked at the licking flames, then back at Undyne. “Y-you d-don't have to h-hurry, or a-anything!” she reassured.

Undyne splashed with her tail. This time, she was mindful of the fire. “Nah, it’s no problem. You just keep tinkering with your science-thing and I’ll be right back!”

And then she dived under the surface and was gone in a ripple of blue and red.

Alphys turned to her project. She had tried to hide it behind some trash, but Undyne had noticed it anyway.

At least she didn't seem to mind Alphys using her stuff.

Alphys dug through the nearest pile and found a more or less intact soda can. She beat it against the plateau to get it back into shape.

She was looking at the water as she worked, and didn't even notice that she was getting distracted. She could see the dark opening to the caves and tunnels that led out to open sea, metres below the surface. Beside those was starfish in a dull orange colour. Sparkles danced on the water in a patch where daylight came through the cave roof.

Alphys looked at it all, and smiled.

 

The plank was dark and charred when Undyne returned, proudly holding a spear over her head. Three fish were pierced on it.

“W-wow!” Alphys put down the bike tire. “T-that was fast!”

All Undyne's teeth were visible in a broad smile. “Told you so!” She placed the spear beside Alphys. “I might have to hunt at night from now on though. Gerson’s a good cover, but it’s still a challenge to dodge those jerks.”

“G-Gerson is o-out there! N-now?” Alphys looked past Undyne, like she could see through the stone if she tried hard enough.

“Oh, yeah, but it’s fine! He says he knows the currents around here so they paid him to help them look. He gets work, doesn't have to eat my fish, and the other boats keep away.  It’s practically perfect!”

“O-oh.” Alphys relaxed. “S-sorry about having to turn you n-nocturnal, though.”

“Nah, it’s fine. Night hunting is fun. Though, I might have to take a nap here soon.” She crossed her arms, placed them on the edge of the ledge, and rested her chin on top. “Not before you tell me what that is, though.” She pointed with her tail at the construction beside Alphys.

“T-this? I-it’s a d-distillation apparatus.  H-humans can’t drink s-salt water, b-but if you heat it up, the w-water evaporates, leaving the salt behind.” She moved the things to show Undyne what she had assembled so far. “I-it's kind o-of primitive, b-but I think it will work. This s-seems to have been a filament bulb, s-so it should be s-safe with a bit of cleaning, t-to use. This t-tire here, i-it's a bit t-torn, b-but I’m sure there's a piece that can be used for connecting the b-bulb to something else, m-maybe a piece of that b-bike? If the frame is h-hollow.”

Wow,” Undyne exclaimed, staring at the objects between Alphys’ hands. “And you just whipped that up right here while I was gone?”

Alphys cursed her burning cheeks. “W-well! I-it's really b-basic, a-and you got plenty of s-spare parts in here, s-so-” Alphys stopped. “U-uh. I-I h-hope i-it's o-okay that I b-borrowed some stuff?”

“Yeah! Sure! Just take! It’s not like we can’t just break it apart again.” Undyne gave another broad smile. “I’ve been saving it in case it was needed, only good to put it to use.” She looked back at Alphys’ hands where a lightbulb was shifting between lightly trembling fingers. “Damn, you’re smart.”

Alphys’ blush returned.

“I-I-I, uh, b-better p-put this a-aside a-and, p-prepare the f-food instead, t-though.” Her stutter was even heavier than usual, and she couldn't look Undyne in the eye.

The mermaid yawned. “I think I’ll have that nap, if you don't mind.” She smiled again. “Poke me if you need anything, all right?”

She waited for Alphys to nod and then sank under the surface, coming to rest just beside the ledge, her tail moving back and forth with calm movements, the tip of her fin occasionally breaking the surface. Alphys watched out of the corner of her eye as Undyne closed hers, her breathing slowing down, gills working calmly, her hair and fins moving with the waters around her. As much as Alphys loved the ocean, she also had her respect, even fear, for its wild currents and vast endlessness. Undyne was part of the sea right now. She moved with it. She belonged. And goodness, she was beautiful. The movements of her tail were hypnotizing, and it was a struggle for Alphys to look away.

She cleared a bit more space around her, then pulled the fish from the spear and placed them on the ground. She hesitated. Was she supposed to remove the head and tail? Fins? She never cooked anything but instant noodles.

The guts had to go, anyway. She was supposed to be a marine biologist, she knew how to clean a fish. In theory.

She grabbed one of the spearpoints and cut open the stomach of the first fish. Red and brown guts greeted her. She clenched her teeth and looked around, but there was nothing but her bare hands to scoop them out. She wedged her hands inside the fish-belly and dug them under the inedible parts with a grimace. Then she pulled the guts out. Or most of them, anyway. The thought of digging out the last bits made her cringe. She threw the guts on the ground and leaned over the ledge to wash the blood off her fingers.

Her hand caused the surface to ripple.

Undyne opened her eye and pushed her head above water. “Wassup?”

“O-oh!” Alphys pulled her hand away. “D-did I wake you up?”

“Nah, I sleep lightly, it’s fine. How’s it going?”

“I-I’m j-just, c-cleaning the fish.” Alphys’ stomach complained at just the thought of handling the last two.

“So you’re not gonna eat that?” Undyne pointed at the small pile of fish-guts.

“N-no?” Alphys felt panicky. Had she offended Undyne?

Undyne reached out, scooped the small, bloody pile up and stuffed it in her mouth. Alphys’ eyes darted to one side, then the other.

“Uhh.” She poked another fish with the spearpoint. “D-do you, uh, w-want the ones from the o-other ones too?”

“Yeah!” Undyne grinned and licked the blood off of her teeth. “I mean, if you’re sure you don’t want them? I, uh, kinda snacked a bit when I was out hunting.”

“N-no, i-it’s fine!”                                                           

Alphys cut up the belly of another fish and handed it to Undyne, who gladly scooped out the guts.

“I-I d-don’t think I’ll n-need the heads either, i-if you want to eat those too …?”

“Mm-h! Sure!” Undyne grabbed the nearest fish and bit the head off at the gills, chewing contentedly. “As l-ng as rru’re srure you don’t wan-cht some.” She swallowed, and smiled. “The crunchy bits are the best!”

Alphys returned the smile, nervously. “T-thanks, b-but … Human teeth aren’t t-really made for handling the … b-bony parts.”

“Right,” Undyne made short work of another fish head. “They’re all flat ‘nd schtuff.”

Alphys pierced the first headless fish on the spear and held it over the fire, watching the flames and listening to Undyne’s content crunching.

Alphys looked out of the corner of her eye, and blushed once again, feeling sweaty. Undyne was staring at her. Alphys blinked a few times. Undyne didn't look away.

Alphys collected her courage and spoke. “U-uh. I-is a-a-anything w-wrong?”

Undyne perked up. “Oh, no! No, I was just, uh, looking, at your, hair?” She gave a sheepish grin. “It’s really poofy.”

Alphys’ cheeks went even redder. “Y-yeah.” She shifted the spear with the fish to her other hand and reached up to pull out her hairtie, fighting it for a moment before it let go. Undyne watched with fascination as Alphys freed her dark curls.

“I-I h-have a-always w-wanted straight hair.” Alphys pushed a few stray curls away from her face.

“Why?” Undyne was frowning.

Alphys pulled a bit at her shirt, feeling sweaty despite it being chilly

“W-well, u-uh ...” She bit her lip. “I j-just t-think i-it’s really p-pretty?” Then she looked down. “T-the g-girls in my school u-used to b-braid each o-other’s hair. B-but n-nobody could r-really figure out how to do anything with mine, a-and I c-couldn’t practice at h-home s-so I wasn’t very good at it, a-and … I-I j-just wanted to b-b able to j-join in, I-I g-guess? A-and be able to make some of all those n-neat hairstyles. They were all so p-pretty, and …” Alphys trailed off with a small shrug.

Undyne looked at Alphys for a few seconds before giving another insecure grin. “You can braid mine if you want to?”

Alphys was beginning to suspect it would be more energy sufficient if her cheeks just stayed permanently red from now on. “Y-yes! I-I m-mean, I-I’d like to. I just …” she looked from the fish on the spear to the surroundings.

Undyne reached past her and gently freed the spear from Alphys hands, the touch sending a shiver down Alphys’ spine.

“Here,” Undyne said, “let me hold that.”

It took Alphys a few moments to remember how to speak. “T-thanks! J-just, h-hold it above the flames, w-without it touching.”

Undyne rolled to her side, her back facing Alphys, who suddenly felt her courage falter. “I-I’m n-not, t-that g-good at it, t-though,” she warned.

“That’s okay! I need to untie it anyway as soon as I need to use it.”

Alphys gathered Undyne’s hair between her hands. “N-need to use what?” she asked. “Y-your … hair?”

“Uh, yeah?” Undyne moved her head just a little, to look at Alphys out of the corner of her eye. “You know, for, uh, sensing stuff, and such?”

Alphys stared at the hair between her hands, her brain processing the information and finally coming to a conclusion. “Y-you have n-nerves in your hair? I-I m-mean, you can feel stuff?”

Undyne blinked a few times. “… yeah?” She could feel Alphys’ hands shake, and slip, and added, “don’t stop! It’s nice!”

If Undyne hadn’t been holding a spear with one hand and supporting herself with the other arm, she would have clapped a hand over her mouth. Her blush could rival Alphys’.

Alphys hesitated. Then she parted Undyne’s hair into three bundles and began braiding, just to have something to do with her hands. Even though it had been ages, going through the rhythmic movements was relaxing. She just hoped Undyne couldn’t feel how sweaty her hands were.

Undyne sighed. Having to hold the fish was all that kept her from closing her eye. Alphys made sure to be as gentle as possible, as she didn’t know exactly how sensitive Undyne’s hair was. She braided slowly, taking as much care as possible, because she was doing the most beautiful hair on the most beautiful woman that had ever existed and she didn’t want to mess this up, no matter how unable she knew she was to do Undyne’s red, shining locks justice.

Her hair was thicker than that of a human, Alphys noted, thick as thread, and slightly rubbery to the touch, and – her blush flared up again – warm under Alphys’ hands. She wondered how the sensing worked, probably either catching movement in the water, or electrical impulses. Alphys wondered if that meant Undyne had finer hairs along the strands, like the inner ear.

Alphys split one strand from the rest of Undyne’s hair and ran her fingertips down along it, taken over by her inner scientist.

She was pulled back to reality with a jerk by Undyne squirming.

“Fuhuhuhu! That tickles!”

Alphys let go of Undyne’s hair like she’d been burned. “S-s-sorry, I-I’m s-so s-sorry, I-I-I d-didn’t m-mean t-to-”

“No no no, it’s fine, don’t stress it!” Undyne gave a reassuring grin over her shoulder.

Alphys did not look reassured. She looked terrified. Undyne bit her lip, and looked down at her back to the best of her ability.

“Do you, uh, want to finish? It’s fine if you don’t!” Undyne smiled again, still with her lip caught under a yellow tooth.

“N-no! I-I m-mean yes! I-I mean, I-I’m s-sorry, I-I d-didn’t meant to t-tickle you.” Alphys was pressed against the pile of junk behind her.

“It’s okay, Alphy, really, I, uh, just got surprised! You can tickle me if you want to.” Undyne’s smile froze up. “I MEAN! I MEAN it’s OKAY! I MEAN IT’S OKAY IF YOU END UP DOING IT! Not, that I, I MEAN. UH!”

Undyne slapped a hand over her mouth. To do this, she let go of the spear, and the fish ended up in the flames, and then both women threw themselves forwards and ended up bumping into each other. Alphys tried to grab the spear and Undyne went directly for the fish in the fire, but felt the heat and pulled back before she got burned, swearing loudly, and then she noticed that Alphys was halfway squeezed under her chest and rolled off of her. Alphys pulled the spear and fish from the flames, and fell backwards, and landed more or less on top of Undyne.

They stared at each other for a moment.

Then Undyne snickered. ”Fuh! Fuhuhu huh huh!”

Alphys blinked a few times, and then she responded with a shaky smile and a small ‘heh’. But Undyne was laughing it off, which meant Alphys wasn’t paralyzed by embarrassment, and could make an attempt at pushing herself away.

Before she made it more than a few inches away, strong arms wrapped around her and pulled her into a tight hug. Undyne was still laughing, her beautiful, dorky, adorable laugher, and Alphys felt like she was going to melt, or implode, or both. This wasn’t happening. It was a dream, and in a moment she would wake up and go to work and have another horrible day of sorting papers and avoiding Charles and oh god Undyne had put a hand on the back of Alphys’ head and it was touching her neck.

Undyne loosened her grip after a few moments and moved her hand from Alphys’ head to her shoulder. “Maybe we should just ban me from the fire,” she said with a smile.

“Y-yeah,” Alphys replied without really hearing Undyne through the internal, high-pitched screeching going on in her head. Oh god.

Undyne let go, and Alphys scrambled away, picked up the spear and stared at the fish, unable to look at Undyne at all.

“Sorry about the fish,” Undyne said.

Alphys blinked a few times and regained her ability to speak. “N-no, no, it’s f-fine! I-I d-don’t think anything h-happened to it.”

“Ah.” Undyne showed her teeth in a smile. “Good.”

Alphys managed to look up, and smile back, and then she blushed for what had to be the hundred time that day, and scuttled over to the fire to roast her fish.

“M-maybe it would be e-easier if we had something to p-put it on … A-a flat rock, o-or something. I-I d-don’t know if your stuff is safe to use for cooking.”

“Well, a flat rock shouldn’t be a problem to find! Bet I can be back before that fish is done!” She splashed in the water with her tail.

Alphys chuckled. “W-well, j-just, b-be careful, o-okay?”

Undyne grinned wide. “You worry too much, Alphy.”

And with a smooth movement and a small splash, Undyne was gone.

 

Alphys’ fish was done and cooling down, the next one on the spear, and Undyne still wasn’t back. Alphys constantly glanced towards the water, hoping for a burst of red and blue. She took a deep breath to untangle the knot in her stomach and poked the roasted fish. It was still hot. She shivered a little and put the spear down beside the fire to get the towel, draping it around her like a blanket. She stared at the fish.

“Please come back,” she whispered.

 

Maybe it was just because she was hungry by the time she could finally eat the first fish, but it tasted amazing. Alphys was used to live off of instant noodles, and the fish, as fresh as it could get, was the best meal she had gotten in months, never mind that it was a bit overcooked on one side and had quite a lot of stray bones that she had to spit out again. By the time she was done eating, Undyne still wasn’t back. Alphys pulled the towel closer around her shoulders and bit her lip.

There was movement under the surface. Alphys threw the spear aside and leaped forwards, almost getting her knees dipped in shallow water, and saw a well-known burst of colour. Relief made her chest feel twice as light as Undyne broke the surface.

“Undyne!”

Then Alphys’ smile died. Undyne’s brow was furrowed, her teeth bared, fins stiff. She was furious. And she had not brought a flat rock.

Undyne threw a pile of tangled cords and wire and rope onto the plateau and freed her arms.

Nets,” she hissed.

Alphys’s spirits sank. “O-oh no.”

“I am gonna choke them.” Undyne pulled a last piece of torn net from her arm. “Do they think they can catch me? With a NET??” She growled, and the frills around her head flared up. “I showed them otherwise, have fun replacing all these.”

Alphys looked down at her feet. “I-I’m sorry. …”

Undyne’s expression softened just a little.

“Pfft, it’s not your fault.” She slapped the pile, hard enough for it to fall over and the nets to scatter. She picked them up again. “I’m just …” she threw them on top of the junk pile. “I’m just ANGRY! NGAAAH!”

She fell backwards and landed on her back beside Alphys, throwing her arms to the side.

“I worked SO hard to get people to stay away. My siblings said I couldn’t have my territory so close to the beach, but I didn’t wanna find another place, and this was really nice with the cliffs and all, so I stayed, and I managed! Like, it took a while, and people weren’t happy with it, but they finally got the memo. I’ve been able to be out here in piece for YEARS!” Undyne rolled her eyes and sighed deeply. ”I guess having people close means my hunting grounds are kind of small, but …” She folded her arms behind her head. “The place totally makes it worth it.”

“I-it really is s-something special.” Alphys looked up at the grey daylight shining through the small crack in the ceiling, how light reflected off of the water and onto the cave walls, and then down at Undyne, who was all shining scales and toothy smile. “Undyne, I-I … I j-just, want to say t-thanks.”

“Hm?” She turned her head. “For what?”

Alphys picked at a loose thread in the towel. “J-just, for bringing me here. I-I know this place means, a-a l-lot to you, a-and, I’m just, r-really grateful, for all the things you do for me. I-I’ve always, kind of w-wished I could be a part of an adventure, s-somehow, n-nothing big, just … y-you know. B-but I can’t cook and I can’t drive and I d-don’t have a l-lot of friends and I tent to m-mess things up p-pretty bad, s-so I j-just … never thought I would m-make it much out of my apartment. L-like, ever. B-but … n-now I am. I-it just … i-it just m-means a lot to me.”

“Fuhuhu!” Undyne reached up and booped Alphys’ nose, gently. “You’re so goddamn cute.”

Alphys blinked rapidly. “U-uh! T-t-thanks?”

Undyne chuckled again. Alphys smiled, averting her gaze, picking up the fish on the spear.

Undyne sat up. ”Dammit! I forgot the rock!”

“I-it’s o-okay!” Alphys reassured, “I-I can j-just fry it on the spear, it’s fine!”

“Don't worry,” Undyne flashed her teeth and pushed herself back into the water. ”I won't stay away for long this time. I’ll hurry! No distractions!”

Alphys bit her lip. Then she realized Undyne was actually waiting for a response. “W-well … o-okay then.”

“GREAT, be right back!”

And then Alphys was alone again.

She took some random bits of trash and piled them up beside the fire, so she could rest the spear against it, letting the fish fry on its own while she finished her distillation apparatus. But Undyne really was much quicker this time. Alphys didn’t even manage to begin worrying before she reappeared with her arms filled with rocks.

“I took a few!” Undyne exclaimed with pride and let go of the collection. The rocks scrambled over the plateau.

“W-wow.” Alphys grabbed the nearest one. “T-thanks!”

“No problem!” Undyne picked up some of the escaped rocks and placed them in front of Alphys. “Just, take the ones you’ll need!”

Alphys lifted one up and looked. It was a bit uneven and thick, but could be used. Some of the rocks were flint, she discarded those, and finally found a nice, relatively thin and even slab of granite.

“I-I think this one will do n-nicely.”

“Great!! Do you need the rest or should I just throw them back?”

“U-uh, I … g-guess we won’t need more than one?” Alphys picked up both fish, freed the first one from the spear, and placed them both on the rock. “U-unless, of course, w-we want to-”

Undyne had already scooped two thirds of the rocks up and thrown them into the water.

“Whoops!” she grinned, a little sheepishly. “Want me to pick them up again?”

“N-no, it’s f-fine! W-we can a-always get them if we n-need them.”

Undyne nodded and scooped the rest of the spare rocks into the water, then jumped back on the ledge.

“You finished that doodad there?” she pointed towards the distiller.

“O-oh, yeah! I-I think. W-we can try it out? W-we just have to fill this with water a-and place it over the heat …”

***

“O-oh, s-sorry, i-is this b-boring?”

“It’s AWESOME! So whadda this one do?”

***

“Heh. S-survival in the wilderness, f-fire, n-nature … t-this is j-just like in m-my animes.”

“You talk about that all the time, it sounds AWESOME, what is it?”

“O-oh! W-well, it’s l-like, a cartoon, but with- it’s like, pictures, that appear to be moving, kinda, a-and it tells a story! A-and my FAVOURITE is about this girl called Mewmew who has cat ears. Which she’s insecure about ‘cause none of her friends have them but of course she realizes that her friends love her anyway, and, and, she has this power where she can control people if she kisses them! And- like people doesn't REMEMBER any of the stuff, after the kiss, but if she MISSES the kiss! Then! …”

***

“Undyne?”

“Yeah?”

“I … can’t sleep.”

“Aw, I’m sorry. Anything, uh, specific on your mind?”

Silence.

“I-I … g-guess I’m just worried. I d-don't know how long the wood will last, and how long I can do this, I-I just … this is r-really exciting, but also a bit scary.”

“... I see. Um, if there’s anything I can do, then ...”

She trailed off, and there was a silence where the only sounds were the water, the fire, and their breathing. Then,

“Undyne? I-if you, w-want to, c-could you maybe, uh, s-sing a bit? F-for me?”

A webbed hand stroked Alphys’ curls, and the cave filled up with gentle tunes, lulling her to sleep.

Chapter Text

“It’s weird,” Undyne said and leaned back into Alphys, who was giving braiding the mermaid’s hair a second go. “I mean, I guess we didn’t actually make a deal about him coming every day, I just kind of expected him to show up.”

“I-I g-guess?” Alphys placed the three bundles of hair between her fingers, freeing a hand so she could reach over and turn her to-be breakfast, a large fish resting on the rock in the fire. “I j-just hope he’s f-feeding Mettaton.”

“He BETTER be! Ya’ hear me, Gerson?!” Undyne yelled at the ceiling, shaking her fist. “You promised Alphys to feed her pet! You BETTER be doing it!”

Alphys giggled and went back to braiding. Undyne let a little more of her weight sink into the human behind her. The towel was draped around Undyne’s shoulders, saving Alphys’ clothing from getting too damp as Undyne leaned against her. She was heavy, but the pressure felt comfortable, safe. Alphys couldn’t deny that she would like to be even closer to her, but this was nice too. She folded one of the bundles of hair over the others, hesitated, and then let it run through her cupped hand, earning the expected sigh from Undyne.

Alphys felt all the small hairs on her back raise and decided she was being creepy. Even though Undyne leaned even closer, practically resting her entire weight against Alphys.

Alphys told herself that they were braiding hair, braiding hair was a friendship thing, and she had to stop being weird.

“You know …” Undyne said and turned her head to look up at Alphys. “I never really thought I’d actually want anyone to be around my territory. Let alone a human. But, uh, like, at some point, when all this is over, if you feel like you wanna come here again, for some days, then, um, I’m really enjoying your company, so …” she cracked a lopsided grin. “It doesn’t have to be in a hidden-away half-underwater cave or anything! Just, uh, you know, if …”

She made a gesture with her hand, and Alphys nodded rapidly. “Y-yes, I-I’d love to! A-at some point, if … a-all this ever blows over …”

Her expression must have shown her sudden concern. Undyne leaned back and nudged Alphys’ shoulder with her head, as well as she could from her position. “Hey. Things are gonna turn out just fine, I promise. And if they don’t! I’ll personally HUNT them down and KILL THE FUCK OUTTA THEM!”

Alphys couldn’t help but smile.

“L-let’s just hope Gerson isn’t in trouble.”

“I’ll swim out and look tonight. He was probably doing human junk, I’m sure he’ll be there.”

 

 

Undyne spent the day with Alphys in the cave, hearing more about humans, and about her. Alphys wasn't much for talking about herself, but there were things she would talk about at length, like the anime she loved, and all kinds of science, until she would suddenly go quiet, usually with a muffled apology. Undyne quickly figured out how to encourage her and make her keep talking. Undyne enjoyed seeing that spark of excitement in the human woman’s eyes.

She was sleeping now, with the help of Undyne’s song. The mermaid sang for a little longer than absolutely necessary, while she looked at Alphys. Or, looked at Alphys’ hair, as all she could see was her messy curls. Alphys had used her hair tie for Undyne’s braid, so her curls were free and covered part of her face, the rest hidden in the sleeping bag.

Undyne let the notes die out, but stayed for a few moments longer, looking at Alphys, who was fast asleep. Then she left.

Swimming was weird with her sensors tied up and twisted like this. Though, Undyne thought as she twisted her way out of the cave and out to open sea, it did look really nice. And Alphys had been the one to braid it.

She used her eyesight to navigate through the dark as well as she could. The way her hair was braided meant that what Undyne perceived as being on the right might as well be to her left, and she ended up brushing her tail against one of the nets. She turned, and with a few well-placed cuts of her spear, she ripped it apart.

She flashed her teeth in a menacing grin and swam through the tattered opening with elegance.

Per reflex, she tried to scan the surrounding waters for a large structure that wasn't usually there, the way she used to find Gerson’s boat. The image she got of her cliffs was warped and off. She sighed and grabbed the braid to untie it.

It really was a shame though. She felt along the pattern of it with her hands. Oh well. Maybe Alphys would redo it when she woke up.

Something moved in the water close to her. She made a sharp turn and scanned the surroundings, before remembering that she still got no useful information with her hair like this.

Something sharp dug into her dorsal fin.

 

Undyne cursed in mermaid and pulled away. She could feel her fin tear, and then whatever was injuring her caught one of her spines and got stuck, and instead of Undyne tearing free, her fin was yanked open, sending a stab of pain down along her spine.

Now she was angry.

She could feel the pull from behind her, and she threw herself in that direction. The pain lessened, but whatever was caught in her fin was still there. She had a pretty good idea of what it might be. She had once caught one in her eye, after all.

She turned, and cut with her spear, and the line snapped. With a triumphant snarl, she turned around and swam directly into something that she had been unable to sense. Because she had forgotten the braid. Again.

It was a net. She tore the hair tie from her hair and shook her head, violently, to get her full senses back. The braid came half undone, and then the net wrapped around her and pulled her out of the water.

She sputtered, swore, thrashed, stabbing wildly with her spear.

“NGAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!”

 

The yell was loud enough that Alphys woke with a start. She sat up.

“Undyne?”

She could hear voices. Maybe? Or maybe it was just the sea, and she was being paranoid, and it had just been a dream. Hesitantly, she lay back down.

And then she heard it again.

 

“We got her!”

“Well done, team!”

Finally …”

Undyne roared and cut through the air with her spear, aiming for the side of the boat. She managed to scratch the paint and make a long mark along the side before she was pulled over the railing and onto the deck, where a bunch of humans immediately threw themselves over her, trying to pin her down.

“NGAAAAAAAAAAH!” Her lips were pulled so far back that you could see every single tooth, face twisted into a grimace that made two of the humans not trying to keep her down stagger a few steps backwards. “I WILL FREAKING KILL YOU! ALL OF YOU! NGAAAAAH!!”

She thrashed again, wildly, trying to get her arm free to attack with her spear. Someone grabbed her wrist, and she snarled, snapping in the air with her teeth, forcing her arm up. The human had to shift both hands onto her lower arm to keep it down.

She jerked her tail and smiled grimly at the resulting thump and swearing. Then the weight of two humans pinned it down. She managed to force up the middle section, her tail fin still immobile. She smashed what she could of her tail back against the deck, then jerked it to the side, feeling her tailfin slip a little.

“Get the spear away from her!”

The net tightened around her chest, and more weight got added to her tail. She lunged after the nearest human, teeth snapping sharply in the air, and the weight on her back shifted, two hands grabbed her head and held it down.

Her fin was tied against her back, but she could still buck in an attempt to throw the human off.

The net tightened even more. She trashed, squirmed, growling loudly, occasionally yelling threats.

A white hand wrapped around the spear, then a boot was placed on top, and with a sharp crack, the tip was broken off and tossed away, out of Undyne’s field of vision.

She tried to grab the leg near her broken weapon, but it moved away, and then the human planted their boot firmly on top of her wrist.

She could feel the net getting tied tighter around her body, pinning her other arm to her side, and there had to be at least five humans holding her down now. Perhaps it was a losing battle, but damn if she was going to make it easy for them.

She jerked to the left. Someone swore. Good. The pressure on her wrist increased.

Uneven footsteps approached.

“I don't think you should-”

Whoever spoke was cut off. The human on Undyne's back lessened the pressure keeping her head against the ground, and she lifted her head with a yell. “NGAAAAAH!”

Something metallic hit her across the face, once, twice, the first blow hard enough to send her ears ringing, the second too quick for her to dodge through the haze of pain.

“Stop it, mermaid.”

The way Charles said it made it sound like an insult. Undyne jerked her head so hard her neck made an uncomfortable sound, staring at him with murderous wishes written on every part of her face.

“We aren’t interested in you.” Charles hit her with his crutch a final time, this time just a light tap, before bringing it to the ground to rest on it. “Sadly, our legal system can't do much concerning your kind. But Alphys has something to answer for.” he narrowed his eyes. “Where,” he made clear pauses between every word, “is. She.”

Undyne’s struggling decreased, her attention shifted to Charles, even though she could feel more knots being made, tying up her body.

“What do you want with her?” Undyne growled, the frills around her head flaring.

“That is none of your concern. Just tell us where she is. That's all we’re able to demand from someone like you.”

Undyne spat after him.

Charles sidestepped, anger clearly visible on his face. Undyne could see him take a deep breath, and then his calm mask was back again.

“Well, then,” he lifted his chin, “in that case, we have no choice but to keep you restrained until she shows up.”

Undyne threw her body to the side, causing the people keeping her down to yelp and scramble to get a better grip on her. Charles rolled his eyes and instructed some of his crew to sail them back.

Undyne’s hand brushed against something. She looked down along her side as well as she could.

It was Alphys’ hairtie. Undyne was hit with sudden realization.

“WAIT!”

Charles made a point of not looking at her. “What?”

“She’s not gonna come.” Undyne bared her teeth, but held back the worst of her anger, wrapping her fingers around the hairtie. “She can’t. Because I trapped her. So she couldn’t tell you how to catch me, though looks like that didn’t work out. You gotta go and fetch her.“

Charles scoffed.

“I’m certain she will come to the rescue of her precious mermaid.

Undyne couldn’t hide a growl. “She CAN’T! She’s trapped! Can’t you understand ANYTHING, you BIG BAG OF PINK FLESH?!”

Charles clenched his fists. “Don’t you think I know what you’re planning, mermaid? You’re lying to make us let you go.”

The person sitting on Undyne’s back spoke up. “Um, Charles? What if she’s telling the truth? Trapping people sounds like a pretty … mermaid-ish thing to do.”

“Alphys has been down sabotaging boats the last three days!” Charles snapped.

Another crew member spoke up. “I thought the mermaid did that?”

Charles took another deep breath, but didn’t manage to keep his anger bottled up this time. “I tell you. Tomorrow, everything will be the same, and this is our ONLY chance to get Alphys out of hiding.”

“I just FREAKING TOLD YOU! SHE CAN’T! SHE’S TRAPPED!!”

“If she got IN, she can get OUT.”

“Not without ME!”

Undyne began thrashing again, violently, snarling and snapping and jerking.

“SEE?” Charles barked. “Frustrated that we aren’t buying her lie. Don’t listen to her. Just keep her pinned down and we’ll get her to the shore, Alphys will follow sooner or later.”

“NGAAAAH! She’s going to STARVE TO DEATH in there!” Undyne’s struggles to get free were more desperate than fueled by anger now, her chest feeling tight with panic. “AND YOU’RE GOING TO LET IT HAPPEN? You’re going to be the one to cause her DEATH! Don’t humans care about each other at ALL??”

This time, she managed to pull her head to the side before the crutch hit her.

“If you expect us to fall for your poorly thought-out trap, then you’re WRONG!”

“JUST LISTEN TO ME, YOU PIECE OF-”

“I WILL NEVER LISTEN TO YOUR KIND, YOU-”

“Okay, that’s enough.”

“WHAT?” Undyne and Charles yelled in unison at the person speaking, a third human, the scientist that had told Alphys about Undyne's presence the first time.

“I said,” she continued, voice trembling, but firm, “that's enough. We’re taking you back to the coast and getting in touch with the coast guard. They will know how to take it from here.”

Charles towered over here as well as he could when still dependent on the crutch. “Now you LISTEN HERE, young lady-”

She cut him off again, voice breaking. “Charles Johnson. This is my boat, and if you do not want to follow my rules then you are welcome to leave.” She made a gesture to the waves.

Charles seemed like he was about to yell again, but after a few moments of silence, he decided against it and stayed quiet.

Undyne had also gone silent, awestruck by the sudden fierceness of this tiny human being. The scientist took the opportunity to turn around and leave. A few moments later, the boat began moving.

Undyne regained her thoughts again, thick, wild panic rising in her chest, making her lungs tighten up and her mouth go sour. She tightened her grip around the hairtie, twisted her head around and called towards the cliffs. “ALPHYS!” Desperation made her otherwise so confident voice tremble and snap. “ALPHYS!”

And inside the cave, a human woman cried back the mermaid’s name, as loudly as she could through the cold tears and grip of fear, but the cave took her words and threw them back to her in a hollow echo, and Undyne never heard her.

Chapter Text

Undyne didn’t make it easy for the humans, not by any means.

She had been close to chomping off a few fingers more than once when the humans had fastened a thick metal lattice over the tank. It had taken five marine biologists and a member of the coast guard, all with thick gloves, and several boxes of heavy equipment to keep the mermaid from pushing the lattice off while they were trying to fasten it.

When the strong screws had been secured, the humans left to discuss things, something their kind seemed to be very fond of doing. As soon as they were gone, Undyne’s fighting spirit died out. She let her frills fall and sank to the bottom of the tank, which had half-heartedly been covered with a few inches of sand and some seaweed.

She looked down at the hair tie - Alphys’ hair tie - in her hand. The water meant that nobody would be able to tell that tears were leaking from her eye, which was the only reason Undyne didn’t force them back, but just pressed her face against the fabric of the tie. She thought of Alphys, and felt a thick hopelessness fill her chest. There was nothing she could do.

 

Alphys was frozen in place. Hundreds of kilograms of solid rock separated her from the rest of the world. The opening in the ceiling was only a few inches wide, and the only way out was under water. And Undyne was gone. Alphys had heard her screams grow more and more distant, until they had disappeared and left nothing but the crashing of waves. Maybe they had hurt her, maybe she was in pain, and it would be Alphys’ fault. All of it.

Alphys whimpered, sobbed, slouched down to sit with her knees pulled to her head, face hidden, and cried.

It hurt. She had screamed Undyne’s name until she was hoarse and the boats were long gone, and then some more. Her throat felt like it was filled with sharp pebbles.

“Undyne …” she whispered.

She sat like that until she could no longer ignore the cold creeping up under her clothing, and then she crawled into the sleeping bag and cried on. She didn’t allow herself to sleep before light returned to the sky. Then she finally gave in to exhaustion, with a nagging wish in the back of her head that she would never wake up again. She hadn’t felt that in a long time now, but it was still all too familiar.

 

 

The coast guard came first thing in the morning. That was, one tall man, dressed professionally, who asked a lot of questions, and a companion in an oversized hoodie who hadn’t tied his shoelaces and generally did not seem to belong at all. Though, every time anyone asked the taller man a question, it only took a few words from the companion, and people lost interest.

There was a knock on the door. Charles and the two scientists stopped in the middle of what sounded like an argument. The person closest to the door got up and opened it.

“GREETINGS!” the tall man stepped inside. ”I, the GREAT Papyrus, have been told to INVESTIAGE THE SITUATION around these parts! My brother and I have already been shown the local boats, and would VERY MUCH LIKE if we could get to meet this mermaid of yours!”

The two scientists exchanged glances.

Charles just growled. “You won’t get ANYTHING out of that. All she does is hiss and yell, trying to sell us the same poorly constructed LIE, while CLEARLY-”                             

One of the scientists stood up, almost knocking over her chair. “This way, sir Papyrus.”

 

Undyne whirled around when they opened the door. It took one beat with her tail to take her to the surface. The space between the water and the metal above her was big enough for her head and neck, the rest of her body still submerged.

She hissed at the humans.

The scientist let the two brothers in, and then discreetly slipped out of the room and closed the door.

Papyrus made a small bow. “GREETINGS, miss mermaid! I am the GREAT Papyrus!” His face beamed with pride for a moment, and then he looked as if he remembered something slightly inconvenient. “And this is my brother, Sans.”

“‘sup,” the shorter man lifted a hand in a lazy gesture. Undyne unfolded all her fins and frills with a hiss, appearing twice as large.

Papyrus continued, unaffected. “WE are here to GAIN INFORMATION about the case involving you and a lady named …”

Papyrus frowned.

“Alphys,” Sans helped.

“Right! Alphys.”

Undyne's frills fell down just a little, her expression both threatening and pleading as she grasped the metal above her. “Are you going to help her? She NEEDS help! I don't give a damn about what you're going to do to me but you HAVE to help her out of there!”

Papyrus made a low humming noise, tapping his chin. “Yes, this is EXACTLY the thing.”

“What is?” Undyne snapped.

“See, this is what we heard as well. And we had plans for investigation RIGHT AWAY, as it was a SOLID POSSIBILITY that you were telling the truth! That is, until you were captured, and the problem PERSISTED.”

What problem?” Undyne asked again.

“Y’know,” Sans was leaning against the wall, hands in his pockets, “your little grudge against the local boats?” He grinned, bright white teeth standing out against his brown face.

Undyne just stared, fins fully flared once again.

Papyrus cleared his throat. “We understand that you are INDEED very PASSIONATE about this issue, though, I have concluded that, since lady Alphys is apparently exiting her prison every night, she can EITHER be TWO PLACES AT ONCE - or something does NOT add up.”

“Kinda why we’re here,” Sans added. “Something’s,” he turned his head to look in Papyrus’ direction, “fishy.

Papyrus rolled eyes with a deep sigh and ignored his brother. “CAN Miss Alphys be in more than one place at a time?”

“What? No!” Undyne huffed. “Look, just, please go and help her, I-” Undyne made a grimace and a small growl, and then she said, through clenched teeth, “I beg of you.”

Sans’s smile pulled down a little at the edges, and something in his eyes softened. “Geesh, bro, she seems really desperate.”

“Hm, yes.” Papyrus jutted something down on a notepad. “We will bring your information to our bosses, and the coast guard will take care of it. They would NEVER leave a damsel in distress! Do NOT WORRY about your friend, miss mermaid!”

Undyne’s jaw fell. She didn’t even yell. She was in too much disbelief, they weren’t going to do anything, they were just going to leave Alphys to rot. And the humans left before she regained her words, and all she could do was pound the glass with her fists.

“NGAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!”

But the tank’s glass was inches thick, and all it did was shake.

 

 

Alphys poked out her head from the depths of the sleeping bag. The sky was light. It was cold. Her common sense told her to light up the fire already, but the rest of her was still caught up in it doesn’t matter, you’re gonna die, they took Undyne, maybe she’s hurt, and you’re gonna die.

She looked at the pool in front of her. The thought of just letting herself sink to the bottom and get it over with presented itself, but she knew she couldn’t. She had to help Undyne. Somehow.

She pushed away the thoughts of how a small, weak, nearsighted nerd would be able to help the strong, proud warrior of the sea, and pulled off her shirt and jeans.

The water was freezing and left her gasping for breath. She clung to the edge of the plateau until her body got used to the cold and let her take a deep breath.

Just like when Undyne had carried her, she counted. On three, she was at the tunnel’s opening; five had her in almost complete darkness as she fumbled along the cave wall, trying to remember what way they had taken. Down, she decided. She half swam, half crawled down, until she reached fifteen seconds and solid rock.

She swam down and moved forwards, now unable to see anything. Her knees occasionally scraped against rock, but she didn’t mind it, just counted, slowly.

Then there was open space. She moved her hand around, fumbled, and found two passages. She could keep swimming forwards, or she could go down. Twenty. She swam on, feeling the rock around her. After a while, she felt the space around her widen once again. She found the wall, fumbling along it as she reached thirty.

She searched for an additional five seconds. Then she turned back. A straight line for fifteen seconds, up took ten, and getting to the surface was the last five.

She gasped and panted, her hair sticking to her forehead. Alphys fought her way back to the plateau without much elegance and grabbed the ledge. Her teeth clattered. She looked at the sleeping bag and the burnt-down fire and wished she could crawl back up into the warmth as if nothing had happened. But she stayed in the water until her breathing was back to normal.

Now she knew the way.

She inhaled, slowly, and then threw herself back into the water, counting the seconds. It took her seventeen seconds to get to the place where the tunnels parted. She used her hands to crawl down, then swam on.

The tunnel was narrow, and her progress was slow, but there were no splitting pathways or additional tunnels. At least, she didn’t feel any.

She met another rock wall. Her hands brushed over it, finding nothing. Her heart began to beat faster. The tunnel was too narrow for her to turn around. She reached thirty seconds and clawed at the wall.

There was space above her head.

She swam up. She had to fumble along the walls to make sense of her surroundings, wasting two precious seconds on finding out that the tunnel had a bend that she had to swim along.

More space cleared around Alphys, but her surroundings were still pitch black. She could feel her lungs begin to strain. She swam on, ignoring her body’s wishes for warmth and air.

Alphys found stone again, and fumbled along the cliffs, trying to find an opening. There didn’t seem to be any. Her lungs clenched tighter, and she grabbed the stone with one hand and patted along it with the other.

Then she realized that her toes felt like ice for a reason. There was a current around her feet. She pushed herself downwards, and the cold water grabbed her and pulled her along with it. The surroundings began to lighten.

The current wanted to pull her down, and she couldn’t hold her breath for much longer. She made a feeble attempt at swimming away, but the current did not want to let her go.

Her knee scraped against rock. She threw herself towards the source of the pain and ripped her hands on the jagged cliff, but clung to it. Then, she began to climb towards the light above her.

She felt dizzy and lightheaded as she crawled. Her sense of depth wouldn’t give her a clear answer to how far away the surface was, her limbs were halfway numb, and to avoid slipping, she had to grasp the rock so tightly that it cut her palms. The glittering sparks of the surface came closer, growing brighter, but also smaller as black spots crowded around Alphys’ field of vision. She threw her hand forwards with as much strength as she could muster, and gasped, got water in her mouth, and fought the urge to try and spit it out. Her body didn’t want to listen to her. With the last of her strength, she put her feet against a rock and pushed herself upwards.

Air.

She coughed and spat and tumbled onto a rock, clinging to it, gasping. Her head felt empty, light, and her vision was still odd. She moved forwards on hands and feet, her body on autopilot, until she found herself on a somewhat even, not too jagged rock.

She leaned against the cliff and closed her eyes. The waves sounded like calm voices, and she let the dizzying world slip away.

Chapter Text

The woman pushed the door open with her shoulder, as her hands were occupied holding a bucket. She sighed when she saw the bits of squid and flounder littering the floor.

The mermaid snarled at her from behind the glass.

“Please eat something,” the human said as Undyne broke the surface

“I will never accept food from you, dirty humans,” she hissed and hooked her fingers around the lattice above her head.

The human put the bucket down and rubbed her forehead. “This is a waste of perfectly good shark food,” she said and nudged the squid arm closest to her with her shoe.

“Then stop throwing it to me, you dirty little piece of meat.”

We don't want you starving to death.” The human bent down and picked up a flounders tail, throwing it in the bucket.

So? You pretend to care about me, but Alphys is rotting away in a cave, and YOU DON'T CARE A BIT??” Undyne hit the glass as hard as she could, causing an echoing Clang! that made the woman flinch and look up.

“I’m not even in charge of that.” The human turned her back to Undyne. “Charles and the coast guard, they are in on the whole situation, they know what to do.”

“They know NOTHING!! And they don’t care either, and YOU are just a pathetic little wimp who follows them without thought!”

The human pulled over a step-ladder and climbed up to above Undyne’s tank. The mermaid looked up at her with a terrifying grimace, showing all her teeth.

“I hope you’ll be the one to fish my starved corpse out of this tank,” Undyne hissed. “You let Alphys starve to death, I GO TOO.”

“I’m gonna dump it on your head,” the human warned before tilting the bucket. Undyne growled, but moved aside, and the bucket was emptied into the tank.

Undyne caught a bit of squid, wiggled it through the metal lattice and aimed at the human. The piece hit the human’s shoulder as she crawled down the stepladder.

She looked up with a sigh. “Please stop doing that.”

Undyne responded by grabbing another piece of fish and pressing it through the lattice and pushing it over the edge. It hit the floor with a splat.

The human opened the door. “At least I’m not the one who has to be near this mess when it begins to stink,” she remarked, and left the room.

Undyne just growled and scooped up some more food to discard. Maybe it was useless. It probably wouldn’t change a thing. But doing it was a little better than lying on the bottom of the tank and thinking about Alphys, scared, and alone, and cold, and hungry, in the cave, without any exits.

Undyne felt wrath and desperation turn and tumble in her stomach. She threw the food in her hands against the lattice without aiming, and most of it hit it and fell into the tank again, save for a few pieces of flounder, that now hung like distasteful decorations from the metal keeping Undyne trapped.

 

 

“Tra la la. This is not a good place to rest.”

Alphys didn’t want to react. She didn’t want to return to a body that shivered and hurt, a head that was spinning and a heart that ached. But she forced herself to open her eyes anyway.

The figure was sitting in a rowboat, completely obscured by a dark blue raincoat, their face black under the giant hood. Really, this attire should be menacing, or at the very least slightly suspicious, but there was warmth around them, and even though their voice seemed otherworldly, it felt too cheerful for someone who meant harm.

Alphys forced her voice to work. “Who … a-are you?” she managed to croak.

“I am but a fisherman.” The person tilted their head. “Or perhaps a fisherwoman? Well, that doesn’t really matter. As long as I can sail my boat. Care for a ride?”

“Uh …” Alphys sat up. “I-If it is not t-too much t-trouble?”

“Not at all.”

Alphys crawled into the rowboat with stiff movements and sat on the plank behind the stranger.

“Tra la la,” the person said. “I do not assume you dislike dogs?”

Alphys looked up, her thoughts still slow and clumsy. “N-no?” she said.

“Tra la la. That is good. Here. Borrow these.”

Alphys stared at the rainboots, woolen socks and the sweater that were handed to her, as if she didn’t remember what they were for. Then she realized she was in her underwear and turned beet red.

“T-t-thank you.” She grabbed the sweater and crawled into it as swiftly as she could. It was warm, and oversized. She rubbed her hands together and put on the socks and boots while wondering how there was space for all that in such a small boat. It did seem to be stuffed with things though, a cooler, a large, fuzzy pelt, life vests, sweaters, fishing tackle, a small pot …

The fisherperson reached down to the bottom of the boat and withdrew a blanket that they handed to Alphys, before grabbing the oars again. “Tra la la. If you wish to continue your nap, my dog is a wonderful pillow.”

Alphys frowned and looked around. After a moment or two, she realized that the pelt lying in the boat had ears and a tail, and under a mane of brown, shaggy fur, two black, beady eyes looked at her.

“A-are you s-sure it’s okay?”

In response, the dog lifted its tail and slapped it against the wood three times.

“Tra la la. He loves company.”

A bit careful, Alphys crawled down to the dog, who immediately scooted closer, leaning against her.

“G-good dog,” she said and petted its head, her voice trembling slightly.

She crawled into the fur and wrapped the woolen blanket around her, welcoming the warmth. Her head rested against the huge dog’s shoulder, and in a nest of comfort, she drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

“Tra la la. Prison isn’t made for mermaids. Perhaps they count as fish?”

Alphys forced her head up and looked at the person, who was now a silhouette in the dark.

“Do you know where she is?” she croaked.

The fisherperson shook their head. “I tell you all I know.”

Alphys sat up. The dog licked her hand, and she stoked its fur and felt a knot in her stomach. Then she looked back at the person. “W-What t-time is it?”

“Tra la la. The time after they leave.” They made a throw with their head, and Alphys turned around. They were near the beach. Twilight had settled over the sea, and the research institute was a dark block against the sky, no lights in the windows.

She rubbed her eyes. “Did I sleep that long?” she mumbled. Then she turned back to the fisherperson. “C-can you sail me t-to the pier, a-at the boat club, n-nearby?”

“Tra la la. It would be a joy.”

The person began to row, and the small boat shot through the water with remarkable speed. Alphys absent-mindedly pet the dog at her side while she kept her eyes on her workplace. Or, former workplace, probably.

Hopefully they hadn’t deactivated her access card.

The fisherperson sailed the boat to the pier and stretched out a hand to help Alphys up. “Tra la la. It is better if you keep the sweater and the boots.”

Alphys looked down at herself and remembering the clothes were borrowed. “U-uh, a-are you s-sure?”

“A great excuse to knit another.” Alphys took their hand and stepped onto the pier. The person waved at her. “Tra la la. Best of luck.”

The dog gave a gentle bark.

And then they took the oars and rowed back into the shadows.

 

 

Alphys pulled open the cabin door to the small, closed space in Gerson’s boat. Her bag was in a corner, and she sighed with relief.

Her keys weren’t there, which was another thing off of her list to worry about. He was feeding Mettaton. She hoped he had found her address somewhere. Probably in her purse.

She found her access card, her stomach a hard knot. Then she sneaked out of the cabin as quickly as she could, closed the door, and crawled out of the boat and ran down the pier, to the beach, and along it.

Maybe Undyne wasn’t even there, maybe they’d closed down her access card, maybe they had upped the security after everything that had happened recently. But she had to risk it.

She trotted down the beach and up the stairs leading to the buildings, and then slowed down, trying to avoid making noise. The night was quiet save for the waves, the wind, and her pounding heart. She huffed as she climbed the stairs, but didn’t slow down.

Every single window of the institute was dark. Alphys wondered which day it was. Her sense of time had more or less disappeared in the cave. She bit her lip and fumbled with the card, pulling it through the slit on the lock and pressed in the code.

A few seconds passed. Her stomach turned and twisted.

The lock beeped.

Green.

“Oh thank god,” she whispered and pulled the door open.

It shut behind her, and she fumbled in the darkness towards a small, pulsating, red light. With trembling fingers, she felt the buttons, identified them, pressed the code to shut down the alarm system, and waited with baited breath.

The red light disappeared, and she let out another sigh of relief.

With the access card in her hand, she found the door to the first hallway, fumbling for the handle. It wasn’t locked. She thanked whatever higher powers might be looking out for her and skittered down the hallway, where automatic lights turned on around her, both a blessing and a curse. She prayed nobody was looking at the windows, or at least nobody who would find the sudden light suspicious. She hoped the rooms and offices between her and the large windows would conceal most of the light, even though the research facility’s walls and doors were mostly glass.

She pressed her face against every window, fear turning in her stomach. Paperwork in piles in the first one. Nothing but microscopes and drawers in the next. The third one was too dark to see anything, and she opened the door. Still nothing. She bit her lip and fumbled for a lightswitch.

The sharp light illuminated the rooms and made her painfully visible through the window. It was a small office, coats, cupboards and nothing else. She turned off the lights and fled from the room.

She checked the main hallway and turned a corner, looking down the next. If Undyne was here, she’d be in one of these rooms for sure. They had their tanks, samples, various marine fauna (up to recently including crayfish) and artificially created biomes here.

The first room Alphys looked into made her heart pound twice as hard. The tank was large enough to house a medium-size catfish, or a small shark, but something very large was lying on the bottom. It could be an artificial coral reef, or just a lot of seaweed, but …

Alphys pushed open the door. It was definitely not seaweed, because it moved, and the light from the hallway reflected itself back in a bright, yellow eye.

Alphys ran forwards and pressed her face to the tank. “Undyne!”

The eye blinked rapidly a few times, and then Alphys took half a step back as the huge body raised to the top of the tank, breaking the surface with a splash.

Alphys!

It was one word, and it was trembling, something Alphys had never expected to hear from Undyne. The mermaid’s voice was filled with both hope and desperation.

“W-wait a moment, I-I’m gonna get you out of there.”

Alphys placed her hand on the tank for a fraction of a second, then ran over and gathered an office chair from where tables and equipment had been pushed to make space for the tank.

She pushed the chair to the side of the tank and kept one hand on the glass as she climbed onto it and stood up, curling her fingers around the tank’s edge.

Webbed, damp hands grabbed her fingers and held them in a hard grip.

“How did you get here, how did you get out? I thought-” Undyne’s voice broke, which sent a cold jab of guilt and fear through Alphys, “I thought I’d just, left you to, to die.

Alphys felt tears in the corner of her eyes. “D-don’t worry! I-I’m okay. J-just, l-let’s get you out of here b-before someone comes.”

Undyne hesitated. She squeezed Alphys’ fingers, and then let go.

Alphys ran her hands over the edge of the lattice. A screw for each corner, only one, going through the top of the glass. She pressed her finger against it. Star-shaped.

“We’re gonna need a screwdriver.” Alphys frowned, deep in thoughts for a second. Then she nodded to herself.  “S-stay there. I-I m-mean-!” she slapped a hand over her mouth. “God dammit, I-” she made an exasperated gesture.

“Alphys, it’s-”

“I’ll be right back!”

She skipped from the chair and out of the room before Undyne could finish.

 

Alphys came back with a power drill.

“T-this is g-going to make a l-lot of noise, b-but, it’s a-also f-faster.”

“Good, get me out so I can bite whoever might try to stop us.”

Alphys nodded and grabbed the back of the chair with her free hand. It scooted a little bit to the side as she stepped onto it, and she used a moment to regain her balance before standing up.

Her nose was on level with the top of the tank. She swore, placed the drill on the lattice and climbed down again.

She found two binders, smack-filled with papers, and placed them on the office chair’s seat. She felt slightly bothered by the fact that she was stepping onto hours of valuable research with a pair of borrowed, old, dirty rainboots, but at the same time weirdly gleeful about it.

Undyne watched Alphys intently from under the lattice as the human woman placed one elbow on top of the metal.

“I-it’s gonna make noise,” Alphys warned, put the drill in reverse, and pressed the button.

The screw resisted a little at first, but then it let go and twirled around until it was free of the lattice. Undyne eyed the noisy drill with suspicion, but didn't say anything.

Alphys put the drill down and pulled herself to the next corner with her arms, using her feet to drag chair and binders with her. The next screw was freed. Undyne experimentally pressed against the lattice.

“J-just a m-moment, I-I’ll get the rest.” Alphys moved the drill, and then herself, including chair and research papers, to the third corner.

This screw was better fastened, and the drillbit slipped out of the star-shaped dent the first time Alphys tried. She fit it back in, put more weight behind, and pressed the button all the way down.

The screw complained, and then it twirled up, and the sudden lack of resistance threw Alphys off balance. She managed to let go of the drill before falling to the floor herself with a scrambling sound and two binders full of science tumbling from the chair and on top of her.

“Alphys!”

She looked up to see Undyne clawing at the lattice with worry on her face.

“I-I’m okay.” Alphys sat up and rubbed her knee.

Undyne put her upper back against the metal above her and pushed with her hands. “Ngaaah!”

Alphys got to her feet. “I-I’ll t-take care of the l-last one.”

Undyne turned her head to look at Alphys. “Don't get hurt.”

“I-I w-won’t.”

She piled up the binders and pushed the chair to the last corner. Had the edges of the lattice not been wrapped around the tank, they could have pushed it aside already, though Alphys noticed, almost with awe, that Undyne had managed to bend it upwards almost an inch.

Climbing onto the stack of binders, on a chair with wheels, with a drill in one hand and an aching knee, proved difficult. Undyne bit her lip as she watched the human stand up and edge her hand to the top of the tank, to have something to hold onto.

Alphys wrapped her fingers around the edge of the lattice and pulled herself to stand upright. Undyne’s fingers brushed against Alphys’ for a moment before Alphys put the power drill to the last screw, and freed it.

“T-there we go,” she said and threw the drill to the floor, without any of the care she usually showed for useful tools.

Undyne pushed off the lattice with another loud ‘Ngaaaah!!’. It made a sharp sound as it hit the floor.

Alphys crawled off of the chair just as Undyne threw her tail over the tank’s edge and lowered herself. Alphys ran to her and wrapped her arms around the mermaid’s waist as she hung from the tank’s edge. Undyne let go.

Alphys wasn't ready for the weight and was pulled to her knees. The left one complained loudly over this outrageous treatment.

“You alright?” Undyne turned her head and looked down at the top of Alphys’ curls.

“I-I’m f-fine. L-let’s just g-get you out of here.”

---

Undyne hung on Alphys’ back, like Alphys had hung on Undyne’s so many times before. If anyone had been there, they would have seen an interesting sight as Alphys ran, as well as she could, down the hallway, dragging a mermaid, whose tail was draped over an office chair, behind her, like some backwards crossbreed between a train, a wagon, and a fish.

Alphys opened the first door, made sure that the whole of Undyne was through before she let it shut closed, and then unlocked the front door and opened their way into the dark autumn night.

“I still don't get how you got out,” Undyne said while trying to maneuver the office chair under her tail through the door.

Alphys turned to face the doorway and helped push the chair. “I-I, uhm, I-I swam,” she confessed, her voice very low.

“Wait, what?” Undyne craned her neck to get a look at Alphys’ face, but the human woman avoided her gaze.

“I-I d-didn't know what else to do,” Alphys mumbled.

The door clicked closed behind them, and Alphys trotted around the buildings, to the wooden stairs leading down to the sea. Behind them, the automatic lights in the research institute blinked out, leaving them in faint moonlight. First then did Undyne speak.

“That was … so brave. You're hardcore!”

“W-we b-better b-be q-quiet, uh, i-if possible.” If Undyne could have seen Alphys’ face, she might have noticed that the smaller woman looked almost guilty.

But she couldn’t, so instead, she answered “Ah, right. Sure, Alphy.” And then she leaned forwards a little and nudged the human’s cheek with her face.

The gesture caught Alphys off guard, and she almost stumbled down the first step. Undyne blushed. “Sorry!” she whispered.

“I-it’s f-fine,” Alphys mumbled and took a step down the stairs to distract herself from the gesture, that hadn’t meant anything, at all, and she needed to stop thinking of the beautiful woman currently hanging on her back and start concentrating on getting down to the beach.

As Alphys took her fifth step, the office chair fell over. She turned her head and bit her lip. The stairs were too narrow for her to turn around with Undyne on her back.

“Just keep going,” Undyne urged.

“B-but, y-your t-tail? W-won’t you g-get hurt?”

“I’ll be fine. The sooner we get down, the better.”

The office chair bumped with them down for three steps before Undyne’s tailfin slipped from it.

“I’m fine,” she assured Alphys.

Alphys stopped anyway. “I-I don't want you b-bumping down sixteen steps. H-here, g-get your tail to the side, t-the hillside’s m-mostly sand and grass.”

It took them a few moments to collaboratively get Undyne’s tail moved from the stairs to the ground beside it. The mermaid dragged behind her, reassuring Alphys that she was fine, just get me down from here, it’s all okay, I’m tough, and they descended the stairs and made it to the beach.

Alphys dragged Undyne across the sand, and after some convincing from the mermaid, over the stones and pebbles just before the waves. She waded out to where the water went to the middle of her calves, and Undyne let go and greeted the ocean with a sigh of relief.

Then she turned to Alphys. “All right, come on.”

Alphys took a small step backwards. “N-no.” She could see Undyne’s baffled expression even in the low light of the moon, and continued. ”I-I’m r-really sorry, b-but, I-I’m done running away from them. I-I’m g-going to t-turn myself in, a-and then y-you can be left in peace, a-and-”

“Alphys.” Undyne stretched out a hand towards her, but Alphys stepped away.

“I’I’m r-really sorry, b-but I c-can't d-do this anymore. B-besides, I-I probably w-won’t get more than a few months a-and-”

“Alphys,” Undyne repeated, this time with more feeling, and as Alphys took another step backwards, back to the dry, while shaking her head, Undyne lashed forwards and grabbed the bottom of her shirt. “Alphys, wait.”

Alphys wrapped a hand around Undyne to free her from the sweater. “I-I’m really s-sorry, Undyne, b-but I-”

The mermaid pushed herself up with her tail, grabbed Alphys’ shirt by the collar with her free hand, and Alphys stumbled one step backwards before she was pulled to her knees. It hurt a little when their teeth clanked together, the rim of Alphys’ sweater got wet, and it was awkward, clumsy, and perhaps more teeth than lips, but it was a kiss, and it was passionate, and heartfelt, as Undyne clutched the sweater and pressed herself closer to the human woman, and Alphys’ hands found their way to Undyne’s shoulders without even consulting her brain first, brushing down the smooth scales of Undyne’s back, causing the mermaid to pull even closer, both of them breathing heavily with blushes burning on their cheeks.

Then Undyne stiffened and pulled away with a jerk, but before Alphys could register what had happened, Undyne tackled her and pressed her to the damp sand, hissing a “Schhhh!”

“A-a?” Was all Alphys could say as the confusion piled up and her brain tried to figure out whether that had just happened or not, and-

“Look,” Undyne whisper-hissed.

Alphys turned her head to follow Undyne's gaze, and choked a gasp.

Someone was on their way down the stairs.

Chapter Text

Alphys held her breath. The figure walked stiffly down the stairs, leaning against something, or holding something, it was hard to see, especially as they descended the stairs and the faint traces of light from faraway houses and lamp posts couldn't reach them anymore.

The person made it to the beach and looked around. Undyne pressed her body down even more, but the figure was more focused on the sands than the ocean, and in the darkness, they moved on without noticing the two at the water’s edge.

They moved with a limp, leaning against some sort of support. Undyne stayed quiet, but Alphys could feel the growl rumbling in the belly above her, not getting further than Undyne’s chest.

They stared at the person limping down the beach. Alphys could feel her heart pound, and Undyne’s too, as the figure turned and walked onto the pier for the research boat, not more than five or six metres away from the two. If they had a flashlight, or started the lights on the boats …

The two women waited. They heard shoes against the pier, and the cold crept into Alphys’ shoes and nibbled at her legs. She shivered. An arm wrapped around her shoulders and squeezed her gently.

Time felt slow while they waited. It was as if the two surprises had cancelled each other out, Alphys’ brain was way more collected than she would have expected, the thoughts of ‘we’re doomed’ and ‘did Undyne just kiss me?’ standing patiently in line, ready for whenever might be a good time to freak out.

They waited.

The figure stepped off the pier and onto the beach. Alphys held her breath. The person turned and walked away from Undyne and Alphys.

“Was that …?” Alphys whispered.

“What is he doing?” Undyne hissed.

They waited a few more moments, and then Undyne wiggled off of Alphys. The mermaid made a throw with her head. “Come on.”

Alphys hesitated. Then she crawled to deeper waters on hands and knees, and Undyne scooped her up. The water was freezing, and Alphys pressed herself against Undyne’s body.

Undyne shot through the water, and Alphys on her back was the only thing keeping her from making barrel rolls. Finally back in the ocean, finally home.

They slowed down as the figure came into sight again. Charles had gone to the small harbor. Undyne swam in an arch around where he stood, keeping as low as possible, and hid under the pier closest to Gerson’s boat.

Then they waited in silence.

Footsteps somewhere to their left. Loud breathing. Charles stomped down the pier, now close to their heads. The two women looked at each other. Alphys moved a bit closer to Undyne, who wrapped her arm around the human’s shoulders.

Alphys couldn’t see more than shapes of grey and black, but Undyne’s yellow eye was fixated on the planks above them, and Alphys could feel her growling without sound.

Judging by the sound, Charles was just above them. Undyne ducked her head and made a gesture with her frill. Alphys looked. She wasn’t sure, everything was shadows and night, but it seemed like Charles wasn’t just close to Gerson’s boat, he was leaning across the water, apparently with a hand on the railing.

Alphys looked at Undyne, who shook her head and shrugged.

Small waves formed and splashed around them. Charles was pulling the boat closer. Alphys clenched her teeth to prevent them from clattering. Her body was going to hate her for what she had dragged it through in the  past twenty-four hours.

She turned to look at Undyne, who was still concentrating on Charles. The mermaid shot her a glance, and Alphys put a hand on her shoulder, gaining her attention.

She stared into Undyne’s eye for a few moments before nodding once. Undyne tilted her head with a frown. Alphys lifted her other hand and held it in front of Undyne’s chest.

Undyne watched Alphys as she lifted a hand and pulled her nails against the underside of the pier, carefully, enough to make a small sound.

Above them, Charles paused, but only for a few moments.

Alphys bit her lip and gave the planks a small knock. Judging by the splash, Charles had let go of the boat. Shoes moved against wood above her head.

This time, Undyne grabbed Alphys, nodded twice, placed a hand on her collarbone to indicate her to stay, and then disappeared under the surface. Moments after, a light noise came from the boat.

Something scrambled above Alphys. She held her breath

Undyne knocked again. Finally, Charles let go of the boat, and quick, uneven footsteps told Alphys that he was retreating.

Undyne appeared to her left, half of her face submerged. Alphys waited for what felt like forever, and then Undyne finally swam over to her.

“He’s gone.” Undyne added something deeply offensive under her breath. Then she shifted her attention to Alphys. “We need to tell Gerson this, come on, let’s get you out of the water.”

Undyne helped Alphys onto the pier, and jumped onto it herself.

“Look.” She held the rope from Gerson’s boat keeping it tied to the pier. “Look what he was doing.”

Alphys had to lean close to see anything, and Undyne took her hand and put it on the rope.

It was halfway cut. Alphys looked up at Undyne.

“I-is that b-because of u-us?” she whispered.

“Come on. We gotta tell him. And you gotta get somewhere warm, get on the boat.”

Alphys bit her lip. “I-I, I … n-not, not without you. I-I d-don't know what’s going on, a-and-”

“F’course I’m coming, just get in the boat. I’ll make sure it doesn't drift away.”

Alphys climbed up and pulled open the cabin. It was too small to stand up in, with long storage boxes along both sides whose lids doubled as benches, or maybe even beds, judging by the blanket at the far end of one. They were definitely too small for Undyne, though.

Alphys pulled the lids off and placed them on the cabin floor. There were sweaters and extra blankets in the containers, and Alphys pulled off her wet clothes and boots and crawled into one of Gerson’s sweaters. After a bit of hesitation, she decided that the socks weren’t smelly and thus had to be clean, and put them on.

Undyne flopped over the railing and onto the deck. Alphys cringed.

“W-we need to be quiet,” Alphys whispered.

“I know, I know,” Undyne mumbled. “Though then I’m gonna need some help …”

Alphys climbed out and rushed to her side, and after a bit of struggling and putting hands in each others’ faces, they got Undyne into the cabin, and Alphys pulled the door shut.

Undyne laid down on the bench-lids on the floor with a sigh. “Mnnnn I miss swimming,” she mumbled.

“I-I’m s-sorry,” Alphys said and hugged herself.

A blanket was put around her shoulders. “C’mon,” Undyne wrapped her arms around Alphys and pulled her down. “Let’s get you warmed up.”

Alphys blushed, but let Undyne rub her back and arms until she stopped shivering. Then she curled up in the blanket and closed her eyes.

“So it was him all along.” Undyne slapped her tail against the cushioned boards.

Alphys shrugged. “W-well, who e-else?”

“They thought it was us!”

Alphys turned her head to look at Undyne. Or rather, in Undyne’s direction, as it was too dark for Alphys to see where she was. “W-what d-do you mean?”

“The boats!” Undyne slapped a hand over her face and continued a little quieter. “He made it look like we destroyed all these boats, but it was him , he has been doing it with ALL the local boats. Even Gerson’s! No wonder he didn't come.”

Alphys blinked a few times. Then she felt coldness in her guts. She had been the reason Gerson's boat had been destroyed, and other boats too.

“Oh.”

Oh?” Undyne repeated, her words hisses to keep herself from yelling. “Do you know what that means? It means he KNEW that you were trapped in there, he knew I told the truth, and he KEPT destroying boats. Don’t you see?”

Alphys didn't answer.

“He left you to die, Alphys,” Undyne whispered, “and you're not even angry?”

Alphys blinked a few times.

“W-well, I…” she made a face. “It’s not l-like I’m much good,” she mumbled.

What?” Undyne barely managed to keep her volume down. “Oh my god, Alphys, is this about those crayfish? You’re worth more than every single crayfish in the ocean! And I’m not just saying that because they keep snipping at my tail when I’m asleep!”

“N-no, it’s not that. O-or, well, it’s n-not, not o-only that. I-I k-keep messing up a-and I’ve done a l-lot of m-messed up things a-and, and-”

“And NONE of that means you deserve to be left in a CAVE!”

“U-Undyne, please-”

“No!”

“Undyne, your volume,” Alphys said with a thin voice.

“Oh. Right.” She took a deep breath. “But Alphys, you’re worth more than this.”

“Y-you don't know what I’ve done at all.” Alphys curled up around her feet.

“What on earth happened to you that make you feel like this, Al?” Undyne placed a hand on Alphys’ shoulder. “Who said this stuff about you, I’m gonna punch them in the face.”

“N-no-one said it it’s true! I-I used to be a vet, okay, o-or, I-I didn’t, b-because I was t-too soft for the education a-and couldn't take the surgeries a-and w-would never be able to euthanize a-any animal e-e-even if it w-was in p-pain, a-and then the h-head of the school h-had this d-dog, a-and it was s-sick a-and we d-didn't think it would survive b-but he loved this dog s-so much a-and he a-asked me a-about this experimental c-cure I had s-speculated about a-a-and I tried to make it, a-and it l-looked like it worked and I-I l-looked after the d-dog for a few days b-because I w-wanted to make s-sure, to not disappoint Mr. Dreemurr, b-but …” Alphys took a deep breath, but went on before Undyne could say anything. “B-but it d-didn't work! T-the d-dog got better b-but then it began acting r-really w-weird and scramble a-around and w-walk into things a-and had a hard time h-hearing a-and I m-must have messed something up n-n-neurologically, a-and I , h-he’d p-put so much f-faith in me, a-and I had told him his dog was okay, and then I just failed again.”  Alphys’ voice was thick and gravelly as she forced herself not to cry.

“Aw, come on! Look, so you messed up a bit, but his dog survived, right?”

“... I couldn't a-admit it. S-so I just didn’t tell anyone.”

“Right, okay, but-”

“A-and then I left.”

“Yes, but-”

“Without telling anyone.”

“Look-”

“With the dog.”

Only then did Undyne stop trying to interrupt.

“Oh,” she said.

“A-and!” Alphys hiccupped in an exasperated tone, “T-then I c-couldn't e-even take proper c-care of this p-poor dog a-and I had to g-give it to o-one of my friends a-and then I l-left the c-city a-and I have NO idea whether a-a-any of them are still alive, a-and, I k-keep running f-from my p-problems and I never f-face consequences and I just hide like a coward!”

Alphys finished her monologue with a deep inhale, and then she hid her face in the blanket. She could hear Undyne behind her, hear her breathing, and clearly imagined her disgusted expression as she pulled away from Alphys now that she knew what a cowardly liar she really was, and-

“Look. Alphys. That wasn't the best move, okay, that’s true I guess. But … this doesn’t make you a bad person. This can be fixed. And you didn't mean to, you just tried to help! None of it means you deserve to die in some cave, you’re so much more than your mistakes, you’re smart, and kind, and passionate, and brave, and, and I love you.”

Alphys froze mid-sob.

Undyne slapped her hand over her mouth. “I mean! I mean that I, I ...” she paused to bite her lip. Then she removed her hand from her face with a frown. When she spoke, she sounded a little less confident.

“No, you know what. That, is exactly what I mean.”

Alphys felt the knot in her chest grow and split up. “I-I love you too, Undyne, I-I l-love you so much, I-I j-just-” Her voice broke, and the tears spilled out. “I-I’ve d-done so m-many b-bad things a-and you’re s-so brave a-and I d-don't d-deserve someone l-like you, I-I …” her sobs drowned her words.

Undyne put an arm around Alphys and pulled close. “Schh,” she whispered.

Alphys tried to hold back her tears, which just caused her to cry harder. “S-sorry,” she sniffled.

“You don’t have to apologize, Al.”

Alphys turned around so she could curl up against Undyne’s chest, and the mermaid held her while she cried. Alphys felt lips and the flat side of teeth against her forehead. Undyne's fingers caressed the back of her neck, her other arm closed safely around Alphys’ body. Alphys probably couldn't have escaped the embrace even if she had wanted to, and she had never felt safer. She pressed her face against Undyne’s shoulder, and Undyne tucked the blanket closer around Alphys, stroked her back, and let her hand brush over Alphys’ curls.

“He really loved that dog,” Alphys mumbled.

“You just gotta tell him the whole thing. He can even get to see his dog again!”

“He’s gonna get really mad at me.” Alphys’ voice almost disappeared in the blanket.

“Then I’ll punch him in the face,” Undyne said, so matter-of-factly that Alphys couldn’t help but snicker. “Hey! I mean it!”

“D-don't punch him, h-he’s r-really nice.” Alphys felt her eyes get wet again and pressed even closer to Undyne, but the tears still escaped. “H-he b-believed s-so m-m-much in me a-and a-always s-supported me a-and, and, a-and,” her words turned into sobs.

Undyne patted her back. “There, there. Just, let it all out! I’m … I’m right here for you!” She frowned. “That was pretty sappy …”

Alphys smiled through her tears. “Thanks, Undyne.”

After a while, having her hands on Undyne’s damp skin became too cold, and Alphys reluctantly pulled her arms back under the blanket.

Undyne loosened her grip and pulled back a little.

“U-uh, I-I was just c-cold,” Alphys said.

“Oh! Right! Heh.” Alphys could hear Undyne shift.  “Is it bad? Aren’t there any more blankets in here, one should expect that old man to have fallen in the water some time in his life, where has he hidden them …”

“U-Undyne, i-it’s fine, I-I’m fine, r-really.”

“You sure?”

“Y-yeah. I’m fine. I’m …” First now did Alphys dare to think about how she actually felt. “I’m good.”

A moment passed. Then Alphys heard Undyne lie down. “That’s good, then.” Alphys could sense that she was close. “I still can’t believe you freaking swam out of that cave on your own, that’s incredible. You’re …” she stopped, and you could almost hear her thinking. “Uh, Al? Can I, like, um, if you don’t mind, can I … can I kiss you?”

Alphys felt her whole face go red. “Yes,” she croaked.

“Great! Cool! Where’s your face?”

The snicker escaped before Alphys could stop herself. She slapped a hand over her mouth.

“S-sorry, I-I d-didn’t mean to l-laugh, I-”

“Geesh, I’m bad at this, aren’t I?”

Alphys couldn’t see it in the dark, but she could almost hear Undyne’s smile.

“N-no, y-you’re not! I-I m-mean, I am terrible! I am ALSO terrible! O-or, t-that w-would make sense, I d-don’t actually know since I haven’t r-really tried, uh, this, before, I mean with, having, b-being, uh, uh.

Did Undyne scoff? No, Alphys realized, she was chuckling, and Alphys felt panic move in her chest, but then Undyne reached out and pulled her into an embrace, and the anxiety melted away. Alphys blinked a few times. Then a smile tugged at her mouth.

“We really are terrible at this.” Undyne touched Alphys’ face and let her fingers trail down her cheek. “Aha. Found it.”

Alphys opened her mouth to ask what Undyne meant. Undyne closed it with a kiss.

Alphys stiffened up for a fragment of a moment before she closed her eyes and let the world melt.

Chapter Text

Alphys opened her mouth to ask what Undyne meant. Undyne closed it with a kiss.

Alphys stiffened up for a fragment of a moment before she closed her eyes and let the world melt.

 

 

The night was made of patches of wanting it to be over and never wanting anything to end. They couldn't talk much, and Undyne's restlessness became clear after not too long. She did relatively well at staying quiet though, a skill Alphys had mastered a long time ago, and so nobody found them. Alphys still felt herself tense up at every unexpected sounds and movements, even at an irregular breath from Undyne or a wave that rocked the boat just a little more than the others. She watched the darkness at the door closely, waiting for it to lighten. Sometimes, she dozed off. Sometimes, Undyne brushed a webbed hand over her cheek, and Alphys turned her attention from the door and let herself be kissed, or put one arm around Undyne and stroked her hair with her other hand, feeling Undyne relax at her touch. As the hours passed, Undyne's scales went from wet to slimy, and patches on her body became dry enough for Alphys to feel the hard edges on her small scales. As Undyne’s scales got drier, she grew more and more restless.

“A-are you g-gonna b-be okay?”

“Ugh. Yeah. It’s just itchy.” Undyne squirmed.

“O-oh. G-good. N-not that y-you're itchy, I-I meant, t-that, uh, t-that it isn't d-dangerous or s-something I, a-am s-sorry that y-you're uncomfortable, I-”

“Fuhuhuhu. I’m fine, Alph. C’mere.”

And then there were Undyne’s hands and an embrace and a kiss, and Undyne’s dry fingertips caressed Alphys’ cheeks with an uncharacteristic tenderness, making Alphys feel like she was going to cry. She reached up and touched Undyne’s hair, feeling her shift closer and relax in the dark.

They lay like that when the first sounds of activity started. Alphys felt her heart beat faster, breath in her throat, and Undyne held her a little tighter, which didn’t choke Alphys’ fear, but it did make it easier to deal with.

After the noises came the beginning daylight, grey and dull, showing itself around the cabin door without making its way in. Alphys was grateful for that, it felt better to hide like this, in the dark, even though nobody could see them through the wooden walls. And if someone opened the door, the daylight would reveal them anyway. Still, it felt better to be wrapped in darkness.

It took a while before anyone approached their hiding place, long enough for Alphys’ head to create several scenarios of Gerson never coming and them being trapped at the bottom of a boat for the rest of their natural lives, but then the boat moved in a way  that wasn’t caused by a wave. Something heavy was leaning on the railing.

They tensed up and listened.

The first voice was just a mumbling through the wood, and words didn’t reach the two, but then Gerson’s sounded nearby.

“Well, that’s too bad. I just repaired the old lady.”

There was a pause, then some more voices from far away before they heard Gerson again.

“Gonna check her out, if no damage’s been done so far-”  they heard something hit the side of the boat,  “I’ll move her to another harbor.”

There was scrambling and no words around the boat for way too long, and then another voice. This time, it was harder to make out Gerson’s response.

“… not much life left anyway. I’ll take my chances.”

Judging by the way the boat rocked, Gerson had climbed on board. Alphys pressed a little closer, and Undyne clenched the back of her shirt.

Then the sound of boots on enthusiastic feet pounded nearby. The voice was loud enough that every word could be heard in the cabin.

“GREETINGS, MY GOOD MEN! AND WOMEN! AND … YOU.”

Undyne reacted to the voice. Was she baring her teeth?

“I, the GREAT PAPYRUS, has come to ask if any of you KNOW what HAPPENED YESTERDAY, assuming that you ALL KNOW what happened yesterday! So! Did any of you GOOD PEOPLE see anything related to the ESCAPE of the mermaid?”

They heard Gerson answer from just outside of their hiding place. “I was taking care of my niece’s fish while she’s out of town. Haven’t been here since noon yesterday.”

Papyrus thanked him loudly for his time and asked the same question to the next person.

They heard Gerson pace back and forth on the deck, some grunting and low complaints about old bones, and then the sound of something heavy being moved across the cabin’s roof. Something fell with a loud thump.

The cabin’s handle moved. Alphys’ stomach did a barrel roll, and she pressed her eyes closed, feeling Undyne’s nails dig into her back.

Gerson opened the hatch.

He looked into the cabin.

His eyebrows shot up so far it seemed like they wanted to flee from his face.

Then his eyes darted to the side, he gave a slow nod, and closed the hatch again.

A few moments later, the boat was set into motion.

“A-are we dead?” Alphys whispered, still without moving or opening her eyes.

Undyne snickered sharply and ruffled Alphys’ hair. “Ha! They wish.” She grinned. “But they have to try a little harder than this.”

Alphys finally opened her eyes. Even in the gloom of the cabin, she was pretty sure Undyne was smiling.

“W-well,” she said, “t-t-that’s … good?”

Undyne snickered and pressed a soft kiss to Alphys’ lips. Alphys felt her cheeks go dark.

“Don’t worry, we’ll be fine.”

Gerson knocked on the hatch.

“You two better have a really good explanation ready for me,” he mumbled, loudly enough that they were meant to hear it. Then, after a short pause, “but please stay in there for now.”

“D-do we have a good explanation?” Alphys whispered.

“Can’t think of one that would be better,” Undyne shrugged.

They looked at each other and reluctantly untangled their limbs. Alphys was visibly blushing, and even Undyne did seem a little bashful as well.

It took a while before Gerson opened the hatch again.

“Right, right. Should be safe now. Better get that excuse ready, ladies.”

“It was fucking CHARLES!” Undyne yelled, making Gerson start and Alphys flinch. “We saw him! We saw him he’s been framing Alphys ALL THIS TIME! Oh my GOD!”

“U-Undyne!” Alphys looked over her shoulder, as if she was afraid someone would see them through the cabin wall. “S-someone might h-hear you!”

Undyne made a face and an exasperated gesture. Gerson lifted his hands.

“Now, now. Alphys, maybe you can explain in a way that makes sense and won't alert the whole beach of your presence?” Gerson stepped aside, gesturing for Alphys to join him on the deck. “Don't worry, they won't see ya’.”

“Hey!! I wanna get outta here too!” Undyne complained.

Gerson lifted a brow. “Maybe I will allow it if you tone down your volume?”

“Yeah, yeah, fine, whatever.”

Gerson held open the hatch and Alphys helped Undyne out on the deck. There was just barely space for all three of them.

“So,” Gerson said. “Why’ve you been conquering my boat all of a sudden?” Undyne opened her mouth, and he shot her a sharp look and added, “Alphys?”

“I-I’m r-really sorry, w-we didn't know where else to go.” She lowered her head and looked down at her hands. “I-I w-wanted to j-just, t-turn myself in, b-but, t-then we saw Charles, a-at your boat, a-and it s-seems like he’s b-been damaging them? O-on purpose?”

Undyne nodded furiously and made aggressive gestures, almost hitting the side of the boat, but she miraculously managed to stay quiet.

Gerson took a few moments to process this information, his expression changing into a frown. Alphys picked up the courage to lift her gaze and got surprised by Gerson’s little, albeit slightly bitter smile.

“That does explain a few things,” the old fisherman mused. “Like how ‘the dangerous and unpredictable mermaid’ always kept away when the coast guard watched our boats for the night. ‘N honestly, I was puzzled good and hard of why you would target me, Undyne.” He gave her a wry smile. “Say, will ya’ promise me to tell me if I catch so many fish that I enrage you that much?”

Undyne snarled at him. “I have not touched your boat!”

Gerson lifted a fuzzy eyebrow and gently prodded the one of her hands that was currently resting on the deck with his shoe.

“You know what I MEAN, ya old, wrinkly, two-legged bag of FLESH!”

Gerson gave a heaty chuckle.

“Don't laugh at ME, you-”

“U-Undyne …” Alphys cut in, glancing at the beach. Granted, it was far away, but Undyne could yell very, very loudly.

To Alphys’ relief, Undyne took to scowling instead.

Alphys kept staring at the beach with a knot of despair in her stomach. “W-what are we g-gonna do, though? If we a-alert the coast guard, Charles j-just won't show up, a-and it’s our word against his.”

Gerson sighed and leaned against the railing. “It’s a tough one you’ve gotten into. An’ nobody’s gonna listen to an old man like me.”

Undyne perked up. “What about that tall, lanky dude? Can't he help?” Alphys and Gerson frowned, looking at Undyne and then each other. “You KNOW the guy, curly hair, tall. Loud! Calls himself the big papaya or something.”

“The man who asked about you on the pier today?” Gerson asked. “Papyrus?”

“Yes, that guy! He seems kinda, you know.” Undyne pondered for a moment before settling on, “Eager. To get a break in the case. Can't you convince him that he has to wait at the boats tonight without alerting his guard-place-whatevers?”

Gerson thought about this for a little.

“Well. I cannot guarantee it will work, but I guess it’s worth a try.” He looked down at Undyne. “It does mean you have to stay hidden in my cabin for another day, though. They're going to search the cliffs.”

Undyne groaned loudly. “Oh my GOD! My scales are drying out and I am STARVING and I haven’t swum for DAYS, I’m not even sure I can remember how to DO IT, and now I have to stay out of the water for ANOTHER DAY? Oh my god! My tail is gonna dry out and turn into two pathetic flesh sticks like yours!”

“R-really?”

Alphys looked at Undyne’s tail with concern. Undyne saw Alphys’ expression and pouted.

“... No. But that's was it feels like!”

“I will catch you something to eat,” Gerson said. “The rest though, I’m afraid I can't help you with.”

“M-maybe I can?”

Undyne looked up at Alphys with one brow raised.

“W-well, n-not with all of it, b-but …” Alphys lifted her gaze just a little. “Gerson, d-do you have a bucket?”

Chapter Text

 

“Ya know, usually that thing is used for getting the water out of the boat,” Gerson remarked from the roof of the cabin, where he had found refuge while Alphys carefully emptied another bucket of water over Undyne, splashing it across her tail and back.

“S-sorry,” Alphys said and poured the rest of the content of the bucket over Undyne's tail fin. “I-I’ll t-try a-and r-remove it l-later.”

“Wahaha! Don't worry about it.” Gerson moved a bit and rubbed his back, mumbling about old bones. “I’m used to a little water on board.”

Undyne rolled over on the soaked deck. “I don't get why you fleshbags even bother keeping dry.”  She wiggled a bit in the water to soak her scales, and Alphys blushed and suddenly got very busy filling the bucket again. She couldn't resist stealing one glance at Undyne's shining scales as she stretched, clearly much more comfortable now that her skin wasn’t dry.

“Ow!” the mermaid hissed and rolled to her stomach again, arching her back fin with a pained expression.

Alphys turned back to her with a full bucket in her arms. “A-are y-you okay-” She stopped herself when she saw the metallic glimpse in Undyne’s fin. “I-is that a fishing hook?”

She put down the bucket and kneeled down at Undyne's side.

“Alph, I’m fine- ow!”

“S-sorry!” Alphys made a face. “S-seriously though, h-how long has that b-been there? W-we need to get it out, I-I’m p-pretty sure that’s an inflammation.”

Undyne twitched. “I’m fine, Al! It’s a tiny hook. I’ve had worse.”

“You’re not g-going to be fine if we let it stay. G-Gerson, do you have a f-first aid kit?”

Gerson nodded and then groaned as he shuffled to the edge of the cabin roof. Alphys stood up.

“N-no,  I’ll find it, j-just tell me where it is! I-I m-mean, unless you, d-don’t want me scurrying thought your stuff, which! Is fine! A-and fair! I just, i-if it’s hard to, uh-”

“To the left, closest to the front,” he interrupted her frenzy of apologies. ”Thank you, Alphys.”

“Al, please, just drop it! It’s nothing!” Undyne yelled and tried to turn around. The deck was too small for her to succeed.

“No,” it sounded from the cabin.

“I’m a warrior! I can handle it!”

Gerson shot the mermaid a sly glance. “Seems to me you’re having a hard time handling the removal of that pity little thing from your fin.”

Undyne showed her teeth in a grimace. “WHAT did you just say, you PUNK??”

“Well, well, what do I know, I’m just an old man.” He shrugged, but couldn’t hide a smirk.

Undyne growled, still glaring at the fisherman when Alphys stepped over her tail with the first-aid kit under her arm. The human woman kneeled down beside her, and Undyne shot Gerson one last evil glance before sighing loudly and crossing her arms, resting her chin on them.

“Fine! Just do it quickly.”

“T-this is going to h-hurt a little.”

Alphys lifted Undyne’s fin with utmost care. Undyne just scoffed.

“Please, Alphys. I’ve been injured far more than this! Countless times! I- Ngggh!”

“S-sorry!”

“I got surprised,” Undyne said, not directed to anyone in particular.

Alphys gently took the hook between two fingers. Undyne didn't make a sound this time, but Alphys could see her tense up.

Carefully, she tilted the hook. Undyne’s fin twitched, causing the mermaid to flinch in pain, ripping fin and hook from Alphys’ grip.

Alphys hesitated for a moment with an uncertain expression. But the area around the hook was reddish and swollen, and her time as a vet student told her that something had to be done.

Alphys put a hand on Undyne's shoulder, rubbing her thumb across the scales until she felt the mermaid relax under her touch.

“H-hold still,” she said, and moved her hand from Undyne's shoulder.

She took the fin in one hand and gently opened it, brushing over the webbing, away from the inflamed spot. She gave one last comforting stroke before grabbing the little piece of metal with her other hand.

“T-there we go,” she mumbled, not even noticing how she had shifted to her calming voice, “N-now I just need to g-get it through where it pierced, s-so we avoid t-tearing your fin m-more than it already is …”

Undyne’s tail fin opened and closed, but she kept the one on her back perfectly still.

“T-there …”

Only the point of the hook was left in the fin. Undyne twitched when Alphys tugged.

“H-hold still, I a-almost got it.” With one last twist, the hook let go. “Here we go!”

“Oh thank goodness- ow!” Undyne flinched when she tried to fold her fin down.

Alphys’ hands were there immediately, holding the fin open and brushing comfortingly along the webbing. “Careful, t-the wound still needs to be d-disinfected.”

Undyne groaned loudly.  “Whyyyy …”

“T-to avoid the inflammation g-getting worse.”

“It was a rhetorical question,” Undyne muttered and let her head sink back on her crossed arms.

Alphys decided not to answer, instead gently applying alcohol to a piece of cotton. She was tender when she unfolded Undyne’s fin again, mumbling softly. Undyne hissed as it touched the wound.

“Are you sure this is necessary?” she asked through clenched teeth.

“D-don’t worry, we’re a-almost done.” Alphys’ voice was distant, like she was speaking automatically, and way more collected than usual.

Gerson had watched in silence, head slightly crooked, observing Alphys’ sudden professionalism. He was old enough to know that everyone had their hidden sides, so his reaction to seeing the nervous, insecure woman act with so much confidence all of a sudden was one of interest, not surprise. He couldn’t help but wonder about her other side though. If she had always been nervous and skittish, and if not, where it came from.

“T-there we go,” Alphys finally concluded and leaned back, only now noticing that sitting on her knees had made the brim of her borrowed sweater wet.

“Are you done with your silly human junk now?” Undyne muttered.

“J-just a second.” Alphys taped a small piece of cotton on each side of the wound. “N-now I’m done. And, um, t-thanks.”

Undyne grimaced again. “Eh, guess I’m the one who should be thanking or whatever.”

Alphys’ hand hovered over Undyne’s for a moment, but then she pulled it back with a jerk, suddenly very aware of Gerson’s presence. She blushed, and cursed herself for it. “U-Uhm! I g-guess! W-we better get back to hiding!” She turned around, walked one step and then stopped. ”A-after I fix a-all this water I mean, f-fix it out. G-get it out! O-of the boat!”

Gerson chuckled. “If you just help your fishy friend back inside, I’ll take care of that.”

Alphys dropped the bucket. “O-oh! O-okay then!”

Undyne held back her laugher until they came inside. Then she couldn’t hold it in anymore.

“W-what’s wrong, d-did I do something?” Alphys said, face burning.

“You are so cute,” Undyne said between giggles.

Alphys covered her face with her hands. To her horror, she heard Gerson laugh too.

“I’ll do my best to catch you a solid breakfast, miss mermaid. Gonna close the hatch, but it should be safe for you to talk in there.” Gerson gave Undyne a crooked smile. “If you can keep from yelling, of course. Wahahaha!”

Undyne bared her teeth at him, which didn’t seem to scare him the least. Then he closed the door. A moment after, strong, damp arms wrapped around Alphys.

“Thanks for the whole hook-thing, I guess,” Undyne mumbled into her hair.

“I-I’m s-sorry a-about the whole, u-uh, y-you know. T-that it, uh, h-hurt.”

“Pfft!” Undyne snorted. “As if I couldn’t take a bit of stinging.”  Then her voice settled into a less prideful tone. “But, uh, I really appreciate you being so patient with me. I guess I can be a bit, eh, unruly, when things annoy me.”

“T-that’s fair enough,” Alphys said and settled into the embrace, resting a hand on Undyne’s side. “I-I t-think you did v-very well with lying still. E-especially since the wound was s-so infected, a-and all.”

Damp fingers brushed against the back of her neck, and Undyne nuzzled Alphys’ hair with her claws. “You’re too sweet,” she mumbled.

“I-I’m r-really not-”

“Shush! You’re wonderful!”

Alphys blushed and hid her face at Undyne’s shoulder, mumbling something unintelligible.

“What was THAT? That won’t do! Say it with me, come on! You’re wonderful! You are a DELIGHT! Shout it!”

The heat in Alphys’ cheeks was so intense that she was afraid she’d dry out Undyne’s scales all over again. “N-n-not w-with G-Gerson j-just outside!”

“YES with Gerson just outside!!“

A sharp knocking on the hatch. “What did I say about yelling, ladies?”

“This is IMPORTANT! I’m TRYING to shove some self-esteem into this adorable little head.” Undyne tightened her grip around Alphys and ruffled her hair.

“W-we h-have to be quiet, Undyne,” Alphys complained as she tried to grab Undyne’s wrist to stop the ruffling, without her heart really being in it.

“No excuses!”

Alphys couldn’t help but laugh a little. “Undyne, r-really-“

“Say it!”

Gerson knocked again. “Ladies, please.”

“Not before she admits!” Undyne yelled back.

“F-fine! O-okay! I’m w-wonderful, c-can we now p-please go back to hiding?”

“Louder!”

Alphys sighed, pushed Undyne’s hands away and wrapped her arms around the mermaid’s head, pulling her into a kiss.

Suddenly, Undyne didn’t seem to find the yelling that important anymore.

Chapter Text

Alphys stroked Undyne’s hair, trying to calm the restless mermaid down. In all honesty, the clamped air and small space was making Alphys feel uncomfortable too. Gerson had bought food for her during the day (no seafood, which, though Alphys wouldn’t admit it with Undyne around, was a blessing), and caught Undyne a healthy dinner as well, but they had been in the small cabin for more than a day and it was getting unbearable.

Alphys took a damp cloth from the bucket and wetted Undyne’s skin around the tear in her fin. Undyne grumbled, but not more than that, to Alphys’ relief. Undyne had been surprisingly good at keeping quiet, especially after noticing Alphys’ discomfort when they were close to the dock. It was evening, and it was mostly quiet, but Alphys still didn’t like being on the boat when it was at the pier. But Gerson couldn’t pull strings at sea, as he said. “Except for fishing lines, and that won’t help us catch that man.”

There was little arguing with that. So now they were hiding in the bottom of the cabin while Gerson chatted with people at the dock.

A loud voice made Alphys squeak, and she slapped her hands over her mouth, dropping the cloth. Undyne immediately reached up and pulled her into a protective embrace.

“GOOD EVENING, SIR!”

Gerson’s response was muffled through the wood.

“YES, YES, VERY WELL! BUT! I WAS WONDERING, since you have been AT SEA today, if you have SEEN anything SUSPICIOUS?”

There was a pause, filled with Gerson’s old voice and Papyrus being a very engaging listener, filling in any gaps with ‘AHA’s and ‘OH’s, and even a ‘YES, YES, OF COURSE’. Their footsteps came closer.

“… must have some sort of spying going on. Contacts, friends, what do I know. But I know you’re a truthful man. If you and I stayed here tonight, with my boat as bait, we might catch them red-handed.”

“WOWIE!”

“But do not tell the rest of the coast guard, or they won’t come.”

“WELL! TRUTHFULLY, I am not QUITE YET part of the coast guard. BUT! When I, the GREAT PAPYRUS, catch these two and put AN END to the sabotaging of these boats, I SURELY WILL BE!”

Gerson lowered his voice, and even Papyrus’ exclamations of ‘WOWIE!’ and ‘ZOINKS!’ got a tad quieter.

Then he cleared his throat. “YES! This is an EXCELLENT PLAN! I shall BE THERE! And I shall tell NOBODY of our ingenious idea! THANK YOU, GOOD SIR!”

Alphys bit her lip and waited till the eager footsteps had left before she spoke.

“Y-you think that will work?” she whispered.

She could feel Undyne shrug. “Sure hope so. If I have to spend one more day in this tiny cramped box I’m gonna lose it.

Not knowing what to say as comfort, Alphys gave her a gentle kiss instead. Undyne kissed her back.

“Otherwise, I’ll swim us far away,” she whispered into Alphys’ ear. “Down south. Find some nice territory, a place with some humans not too close, so you can get there if you need anything.” She kissed Alphys’ cheek. “A nice lagoon, maybe. Just for us.”

“T-that sounds … n-nice,” Alphys mumbled, feeling her heart flutter at Undyne’s words. “H-hopefully it w-won’t be n-necessary, though. I-I mean,” she added in a hurry, “N-not b-because I w-wouldn’t l-like t-that, b-but, y-your cliffs a-are wonderful too a-and, y-you shouldn’t have to f-flee from them because of me.”

Undyne moved a bit, put a hand on the side of Alphys’ face and kissed her again.

“I’m not fleeing from anything.” Alphys felt Undyne’s breath against her lips as the mermaid whispered. The scientist side of her mind was pondering on how Undyne was able to survive both above and below water, the other half just wanted to interrupt her talking to kiss her again. “Just don’t want all these humans messing with my stuff. If I’m fleeing, it’s ‘cause I have better things to do. B’sides …” She caressed Alphys’ back. “I’d take on each and every one of them myself right this instant if I could. But. Y’know.” She gave Alphys another small kiss. “I need to look after you.”

Alphys felt tears prickling in the corner of her eyes. She tightened her grip on Undyne and hid her face at her shoulder. “T-thanks,” she whispered.

“My pleasure, sweetheart.”

 

 

Gerson watched the sun set through the clouds while waiting. Rubbing his chin, he did his best to seem at ease, but not even the sight of the sea could calm his nerves. It felt like eons ago that he had been this worried about something, to a degree where he could not simply shrug it off.

 

Well, it was to be expected. If there was one thing life had taught him, it was that things never turn out as you expect, and once you get used to something, it sure as hell will make sure to throw something else at you.

Something else, in this case, being two women who just so happened to be as connected to the sea as he was, in their own respective ways. Undyne was of the sea, and Gerson had always been protective of her, all the way back from when he saw her first time, years and years back, a necessary part of the food chain, a top predator. He knew better than to mess with nature like that, and would tell people around him to keep their distance. But the last month had made all of it personal.

A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. He did catch himself wishing he had a family now and then. The ocean and his boat had been his life. It was only fitting that he would find it there, he supposed. He looked up at the sky that was slowly taking a blueish-black hue.

“You always manage to surprise me,” he said, perhaps to the world, perhaps to the sea, perhaps to himself.

“Good EVENING, fisherman!”

The voice called Gerson back to reality. Papyrus was waving frantically as he jogged down the pier.

“What a PLEASANT SURPRISE TO MEET YOU HERE!” Papyrus continued with an exaggerated wink.

Gerson tried and failed to suppress a smile. “Ah, nice to, eh, stumble into you here, Papyrus. Look, why don’t we-” young hands grabbed him as he tried to stand up, and Papyrus helped him to his feet. “Thank you. Would you mind joining me for a little stroll?”

“That sounds like an EXCELLENT idea! It is not like I have any OTHER PLANS that I had PLANNED for tonight!!”

“That is good to hear,” Gerson said, and chuckled, thankful that the plan didn’t involve catching any actual mermaids. The overzealous yelling had to have alerted the whole ocean by now.

Leading Papyrus down the beach while talking casually, only dropping a few hints to their conversation earlier that day (that Papyrus loudly declared that he understood by saying he had NO IDEA what Gerson was talking about), Gerson hoped that Charles was confident enough to not mind the noise.

 

Papyrus was actually able to be quiet. After darkness had set in for real, making space for the stars, Gerson had shushed him, and to the fisherman’s surprise, it had worked. Papyrus still somehow gave the impression that he was yelling even when his voice was at a whisper, but at least it couldn’t be heard from miles away.

“SO,” he whisper-yelled. “We have now PRETENDED to WALK AWAY FROM THE BOATS. The next step is to TIPTOE BACK while being VERY QUIET AND SNEAKY, and CATCH the mermaid IN THE ACT, and then give her a STERN talking-to so she will STOP destroying property. A GOOD PLAN!”

“Indeed,” Gerson whispered back (in an actual whisper) and put his finger to his lips.

And they began making their way back to the boats.

Chapter Text

Alphys had her cheek resting on Undyne’s shoulder. For the seventy eighth time, she was blown away by that this was really happening. Undyne was holding her. They had kissed. More than Alphys could just brush off as a mistake or being caught in the moment, small, gentle kisses, real, deep kisses … she couldn’t believe this. Everything was so surreal. She’d met a mermaid, the most beautiful mermaid in the world, and she had kissed said mermaid, really kissed, and she had stood up against her boss and now the police was after her and –

Something tickled her cheek in an unpleasant manner. She shook her head a bit. It was still there.

“Hmm?” Undyne opened her golden eye to look at Alphys.

“S-something’s on my face,” Alphys explained and tried to shake it off without having to move away from Undyne. With her luck, she was afraid that if she ever left the embrace, she wouldn’t get it back again.

“Oh, yeah! Don’t you call those spiders? I’ve seen them around the cliffs a few times, guess they’re not really good with water… Is something wrong?”

Alphys was very, very tense, her breathing rapid.

“C-c-can y-you p-p-please g-get it off?”

“Oh, yeah, sure!” Undyne untangled her hand from Alphys’ hair and grabbed the tiny creature between two fingers. “Don’t like them?”

“N-n-no,” Alphys whimpered, still tense.

Undyne looked at the small creature, as well as she could in the low light.  “Sooo … what should I do with it?”

“J-j-just, p-please g-get it a-away from m-me.”

Undyne hesitated for a moment. The thing couldn’t get out, and Undyne didn’t kill things she didn’t intend to eat.

But Alphys was very scared. Undyne didn’t understand the logic behind that, but the feeling of the human lying against her, so tense, made her stomach curl up.

Well. One option left, then.

Undyne swiftly crushed the tiny creature between her fingers and shoved it in her mouth, her teeth piercing it once, and she made a face before swallowing. Ew.

“There you go!” She put her arm around Alphys again. “It’s gone.”

“Y-y-you s-sure?”

Undyne grimaced again. “Very sure.”

She felt a shudder coming from Alphys.

“T-thanks,” Alphys said, and sook closer to Undyne.  “A-and s-sorry. F-for b-being s-such a w-wimp.”

“Don’t say that,” Undyne said, making a clear effort to not shout. She grinned. “Okay, so, spiders aren’t dangerous, but …” she made a gesture with an arm. “Well, no matter what, you’re my wimp!”

Alphys blushed and hid her face at Undyne’s shoulder once again. Then she stiffened up, feeling Undyne do the same. Was that footsteps? It sounded like footsteps.

Maybe it was Gerson coming back. Maybe not.

Undyne tightened her grip around Alphys.

The silence was tense, the world quiet, no sounds except for gentle scraping now and then, that could just have been a seagull or the boat hitting the pier. Undyne growled silently, and Alphys bit her lip.

Undyne mumbled something under her breath and shuffled slightly. Alphys curled up like she was trying to make herself smaller. Her breathing and heartbeat seemed extremely loud; she was certain it could be heard all the way to the research center and further still.

Undyne’s growl died out. She gently rubbed Alphys’ back, shuffling a little closer.

That definitely sounded like hushed whispers. Or was it the wind? Alphys was not sure. Maybe her head was just making stuff up at this point. It would not surprise her. Her stomach curled up, and she felt like she was going to cry.

She almost jumped when she heard voices, but they were muffled and from far away. She tried to listen, her breath baited, and could feel Undyne leaning forwards, presumably doing the same. She couldn’t tell whether it was a voice she knew, though it did seem familiar. There was yelling, still too far away to be understood. Then a quieter voice. Overlapping speech.

It went on for a while, and then the voices grew even more distant. Finally, they disappeared completely.

Undyne sighed with frustration and muttered something.

“If they’re coming in here,” she mumbled, “I am going to punch their faces off of their … faces, or whatever. I’m going to wreck them! Ugh, I hate your human systems. Why can’t we just settle this with a bunch of spears and be done with it, I am sick of this boat!”

Alphys wrapped her arms around herself. “I-I’m s-sorry I got you into this.”

“Hey! No!” Alphys cringed, and Undyne swore under her breath and lowered her voice. “Ugh, sorry. But, this is not your fault! I mean, hah,” she gave a small, barking laugh. “I was the one to get you into this.”

“W-what? N-no! I-if I hadn’t b-been there that day, t-then you w-wouldn’t have had to d-deal with humans at all …”

“I threatened to kill you …” Undyne mumbled.

“… Oh. R-right.” Alphys chewed on her lip. “Seems like a lifetime ago.”

“Man,” Undyne said, sounding like she was speaking to herself, “I can be really forward.”

“W-well, that is … One w-way of saying it?”

“Good thing I didn’t eat you though!” Alphys was quiet for long enough to make Undyne twitch uncomfortably. “Uh … too soon?”

“N-no, I’m j-just thinking … I-if you had … A-all of this could have b-been avoided …”

“Alphys!”

“O-oh g-god, I, I’m s-sorry, I d-did it a-again, I’m sorry, I s-shouldn’t say thing like that, I-”

“Hush!” Undyne took Alphys’ face between her webbed hands, stroking her cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” Alphys whimpered, trying to hold back her tears.

Undyne kissed her, and Alphys choked a sob and pulled away.

“I-I’m s-so sorry, I just, I d-don’t know what you s-see in me, I think you’re really n-neat, a-and I’m just, in the way a-all the time …”

“Oh my god,” Undyne whisper-hissed, “don’t say that NOW, I can’t knock sense into your head in HERE, we have to be quiet and shit.”

Alphys pulled away and curled up around herself, trying to shield her head from the world, the thoughts chasing after each other, thought of, you can’t apologize, you apologize too much, you can’t say nothing, you never do, why did you say that stop saying things like that, she hates you now, stop assuming she hates you, she would never tell you if she hated you … She could hear Undyne move beside her.

“Alphy …”, she finally said. The frustration in her voice made Alphys cringe. “I … damn, I really wanna help you, and it’s,” Undyne slapped her tail against the floor, “it’s hard, in here, you know? I just wanna yell out to the world how great you are! But … it doesn’t help if you don’t believe me.”

Alphys had to grab her face and swallow several times to keep back the tears. “I-I’m s-sorry, Undyne. I-I p-promise I’ll t-try, I d-didn’t m-mean to say that, I …” Her body jerked at the repressed sob.

“You don’t have to be happy for my sake, you know.”

Despite the darkness and the tears, Alphys looked up from her hands and in Undyne’s direction.

The mermaid continued. “I mean, I want you to be happy! But it’s not like I can’t handle that you’re sad. That’s, you know, that’s okay too! As long as, heh, it’s not for too long, I guess.”

When Alphys shot forwards, it was with an unexpected strength. She lashed onto Undyne’s chest, clinging to her, unable to keep in the tears. And Undyne returned the hug with near spine-crushing strength.

It took Alphys some moments to hear the voices talking through her own sobs. With all her might, she choked the noises and listened, tears still running down her cheeks.

It seemed to be closer this time. One of the voices raised enough for Alphys to be able to make out the words.

“… ridiculous! What would I-” someone interrupted, too calm for Alphys to hear. “Well! Then why would she hide like that? She could have just-” another voice joined the conversation, granting the individual words impossible to pick up.

The voices travelled further away, and then they finally disappeared, leaving them in heavy silence once again.

 

 

Dawn seeped through under the cabin door. The air was cramped and felt heavy and damp in Alphys’ lungs. She swore to herself that she would never sleep in a closed space ever again.

Undyne had dozed off. Alphys could see her silhouette in the dark, arms sprawled across the floor. Her mouth was open, and the heavy sound of her breathing air was a comfort in the dark.

Alphys looked at the webbed hand on the floor beside her. even after all the affection they had shared in the past 24 hours, Alphys still couldn’t convince herself that it would be okay for her to take Undyne’s hand. Maybe the mermaid had just needed the comfort in the small, uncomfortable space.

Alphys moved her hand away, hiding it at her chest.

Footsteps made her heart jump to the throat, and she choked a startled sound, her fingernails digging into the floor under her.

A webbed hand found hers and wrapped around her fingers. Alphys could just make out Undyne’s golden eye in the low light. Them mermaid was still like an ambusher, her gaze locked on the door.

The boat wobbled, and they heard a ‘harrumpf’. Undyne visibly relaxed again.

“Finally,” she mumbled, voice thick with sleep.

Alphys took several deep breaths, heart still galloping. Undyne squeezed her hand.

A minute after Alphys had managed to calm herself down, her anxiety spiked again when Gerson knocked on the hatch.

"We caught him," he said, voice low and clear.

Undyne raised to her elbows, and Alphys scrambled into a sitting position, nearly hitting her head on the roof. "Y-you d-did?"

"He's mad. Denies everything. But Papyrus saw it and so did I, and his brother appeared out of nowhere, making three witnesses. He's well-liked, that Charles, so it won't be easy for you, but ... I do believe that with evidence, they can't touch Undyne anymore."

Alphys gave a delighted gasp. Undyne pounded the floor and hooted.

"I am NEVER leaving the ocean again!"

Alphys vaguely registered Gerson laughing outside as Undyne pulled her into a celebratory kiss.

“Finally,” the mermaid said, leaning her forehead against Alphys’.

Alphys looked down. “It’s probably n-not over y-yet. H-human laws. U-uh, rules. B-but you can return to the sea, a-and it’s gonna be all right.”

Undyne hugged her. Then she turned her head, slapping her tail against the floor.

“All right, old man, get me outta here!”

Gerson opened the hatch, and Alphys helped Undyne onto the deck. Alphys’ smile was a little shaky when she leaned onto the left railing so Undyne could climb over the right without toppling over the boat.

The mermaid disappeared into the water with a splash, and Alphys felt a sharp jab in her chest, but at the same time, a wave of relief to see Undyne back in her element again.

The mermaid’s head reappeared over the railing a moment later.

“So, do you need me to whoop anyone’s ass or …?”

“O-oh!” Alphys cursed her cheeks; she had been around Undyne for weeks now, and of course just looking at her face was all it took for Alphys to blush deeply now that Gerson was around. “Um, it’s, p-probably better if you d-don’t. But, eh, t-thanks for the offer?”

She gave a sheepish smile. Undyne grinned back.

“Well, tell me if you change your mind!”

The boat rocked as Undyne held onto it with one hand and extended her other. Alphys hesitated, then carefully moved closer, making sure the boat wouldn’t tip. She took Undyne’s outstretched hand, and the mermaid pulled her over. The railing tipped dangerously close to the waves when Undyne reached up and kissed her, one last time, quickly.

“Take care, all right?” Undyne’s grin was wide, but her look was tender, and Alphys nodded once, cheeks burning. Undyne squeezed her hand so tightly it almost hurt. “Well … see ya, then!”

And then she disappeared into the ocean, grey and green swallowing her vibrant scales.

Chapter Text

It was taken to court. Alphys rubbed her nose – a warrior’s nose, she reminded herself – and stood up for the truth, even when it left her trembling and her voice in pieces. Gerson spoke her case, and so did Papyrus, and a bunch of the employees at her old workplace had bits and pieces that all showed a bigger piece, with all evidence pointing to Charles.

He did not take it well. Alphys was grateful for the people surrounding her, keeping her safe, now that Undyne wasn’t there. She’d managed to take all the blame for the damage Undyne had caused with relative ease, keeping the mermaid in the clear.

In the end, Charles lost his job. Both he and Alphys got a fine to pay, though his was significantly larger than Alphys’.

He scowled at her when they left, but said nothing. Papyrus immediately walked to Alphys’ side and escorted her out, head held high with pride. His brother was there too, sending Alphys a lazy smile. All he had done in court was tell about the one time he had seen Undyne at the research center as well as backing up his brother (with several puns thrown into the tale, which had, in all honestly, been a relief. It made everything seem just a little less dangerous) but it was clear that he was on Alphys’ side.

It was weird, feeling terrified and safe at the same time.

Gerson joined them, exchanged a few words with Papyrus, gave a small laugh at one of Sans’ jokes, and Papyrus drove them to the beach where he dropped Alphys and Gerson off.

Without talking much, they walked to Gerson’s boat, and Alphys helped him set sail.

They didn’t get very far before Undyne joined them – which she did rather violently.

“ALPH!” she exclaimed, disappeared under the surface, and a moment after, she had propelled out of the sea in a graceful leap ending in a less graceful thump as she landed with arms and torso on the deck, her tail hanging over the railing, knocking over both humans in the process.

Gerson swore at her and gently whacked her with his hat. Undyne didn’t mind, she had more pressing matters at hand, and Alphys didn’t even manage to fully get to her feet before she had been hugtackled by a few hundred pounds of wet mermaid. Alphys hugged her back – she had given up on the idea of dry clothing long ago.

“Is everything all right? Did you fix it? Is that asshole out of the picture, can I whoop his ass??”

“P-please d-don’t.” Alphys felt like her smile was going to escape her face. She pressed her forehead against Undyne’s. “W-well, I-I’m in debt now. A-and got booted from a-another education. B-but, except for that, w-well …”

Gerson looked at the two with a smile. “You are, as Papyrus’ brother put it, both off the hook.”

Alphys snickered. Undyne groaned.

“So …” the mermaid pulled her tail down from over the railing. “I guess that means your life is back to normal?”

“I still can’t sleep in a bed,” Alphys mumbled. “But, I … I g-guess it is? There’s j-just one more thing I n-need to, clear up. Um … I’d l-like some moral support, t-though …”

“If you can do it at the ocean, you know I’m there,” Undyne said with a grin.

“Thank you. T-thank you s-so much, b-both of you, you’ve done s-so much for me a-and I’m just …” she felt tears pricking at the corner of her eyes again. “Thank you.”

“It’s been quite the adventure to be sure.” Gerson looked at the ocean and then at the two women. “I’m only glad I could help.”

Undyne kissed Alphys’ cheek. “Anytime, Alphy.”

 

“T-t-thank you s-so m-much for coming a-all this way.” Alphys tried to speak clearly, but her words felt thick and clumsy in her mouth. Just like the rest of me, she thought to herself, and her heart gave a little jump, stomach clenched with anxiety.

“Anytime, darling! It has been SO long since I heard from you – and you sounded even more anxious than you usually do over the phone, so I figured it must have been very important – no, darling, do not jump on Alphys.” Her old friend sent Alphys a shining smile as his driver helped him into his wheelchair. “Look how happy they are to see you! Did you miss Alphys, darling?”

The large, white dog leaned against Alphys, wagging its tail, almost falling over on its weirdly-bent knees. Alphys felt tears sting in her eyes.

“H-h-how are t-they?” she gently pet the dog’s ear, feeling guilt tumble in her stomach. “D-d-do they s-still have s-s-seizures?”

“Well, now and then – come here, sweetie - ” Mettaton took the bright pink leash in his bright pink metal hand, “but it has gotten MUCH better over the past year. It must have been at least a month, I believe? I was not there myself, you see, busy with work, one of my employees took care of them, he is very good with animals and handled the whole thing BRILLIANTLY. Now, where are we going?”

“I, uh, h-had p-planned to go to the b-beach, c-can your wheelchair d-drive in sand?”

“Darling, I can walk completely fine, you know.” Mettaton winked at Alphys – at least she assumed it was a wink, as his other eye was hidden behind a dark tuft of hair. “It just happens to be easier to get people to push me around, is all. I got new prosthetics long ago.”

Alphys looked away. “D-d-don’t remind me …”

Her college friend leaned his head back and laughed. “Darling, darling, don’t tell me you are still worked up over that. We were young! And if I remember correctly, I was the one who gave you my legs to improve.”

“And I was the one who melted them.” Alphys began pushing the wheelchair, and the dog happily trotted alongside it, occasionally stumbling and swaying, but with a great doggy smile on their face, drool dripping from their tongue.

“Come on, darling, you must admit it was quite amusing.”

“Maybe for the one who made an art project out of it and gladly told everyone whose fault it was,” Alphys mumbled, quietly enough for Mettaton to casually ignore. Which he did.

“You know, it is good that you told me now, darling,” he said instead. “The employee I told you about, he talked about adopting this dear creature a few times – I love them, who couldn’t, but showbiz is busy and you DO need to keep an eye on them at all times. That is why I had to turn his offer down as well, you see, he does not have as broad a circle to look after them as I.”

Alphys felt another stab of anxiety, this time by seeing her friend in a glittering suit, rich and famous and on more than one tv station, her friend who had slacked off in college and done nothing but copy her homework. She had worked hard and intensely on everything, and yet, she only barely managed to make it through. If Mettaton could get this far on nothing and her best had gotten her nowhere … that was all the proof she needed to know that she was useless.

It took them a while to get to the beach, as the stairs were out of the question. Alphys told Mettaton to wait and left him in the sand as she ascended the stairs (endlessly slowly, in her own opinion).

“Alphys!”

She almost didn’t see him as much more than a blur before she had been wrapped in an all-consuming hug.

“Oh dear! Alphys! I am so glad to see you alive and well! I have been so very, very worried.”

Asgore Dreemurr let go of her, putting his large hands on her shoulders, looking at her with tears glistening in the corners of his eyes. For a moment, even with a heavy cape of guilt around herself, Alphys felt like maybe, just maybe, everything would be all right.

The feeling was replaced with dread with a single word, coming from behind her old headmaster.

“Greetings.”

Alphys forced herself to meet Toriel’s gaze. The tall, elderly lady wore a calm smile, but she had always intimidated Alphys. And yes, she had invited Asgore’s ex to come as well, because the dog had been hers too once, but Alphys had secretly hoped that Toriel would say no. She swallowed a few times before answering.

“G-good day, T-t-toriel. I-I’m g-glad you both c-came, a-a-and, s-sorry for it being so f-far away.”

“It was no problem,” Asgore said with his warm smile.

His hand was still resting on Alphys’ shoulder, and while it should feel warm and secure, all it did was force Alphys’ spirits down. He only had it there because he didn’t know what she had done. Not yet.

Alphys collected all the courage she had. She was going to do this.

“I-I-I n-need t-to, um, t-tell you something. P-please, um, c-come a-along …”

Alphys kept her eyes on the ocean as they walked down the stairs, absentmindedly answering Asgore’s stream of questions about her life, how she was, what she was doing, did she like it here? It was hard for Alphys to focus and even harder to breathe.

The dog began barking when it saw Asgore, an odd, gurgling exclamation of joy. Asgore brought his hands to his face, tears welling up in his eyes. Alphys reached the end of the stairs and stepped aside, and Asgore immediately sped up. Mettaton let go of the leash, and the dog almost fell face-first into the sand in its eagerness to jump into Asgore’s arms.

“Dearest, oh my, I did not think I would see you again! Alphys, what, how, they are all right? I thought – Oh, my!”

Asgore hugged the dog to his chest. It drooled on him. Alphys swallowed and opened her mouth, then took a deep breath and began speaking.

“I, I-I am s-so sorry, I-I s-should have, I … I d-did s-something t-terrible. T-the vaccine d-didn’t work, b-b-back then, a-and, I-I s-should h-have told you, I j-just …” She swallowed again and cleared her throat. “T-they, um, h-have n-neurological p-problems a-and, um, I, I r-really s-shouldn’t h-have …” Tears began spilling. “I-I’m s-so sorry …”

She felt herself being wrapped in another bear hug. “Oh, dearest, I am so sorry I did not know! There, there … Oh, but I am so happy they are alive! Are they in any pain?”

Mettaton saved Alphys from having to talk through the tears.

“I see no sign of discomfort at all! The darling creature’s sense of coordination has been damaged, and we had problems with seizures in the beginning, but they are doing MUCH better now, and what a BUNDLE of joy this furball is.”

“Oh, that is wonderful! You saved them, Alphys!”

“N-n-not r-really …” she sniffled.

“I am certain that we can get your spot at the school back with ease as well!”

“We really cannot,” Toriel cut in, currently patting the dog’s head. “Aplogies.”

“Tori …” Asgore sounded like a kicked puppy.

“Do not ‘Tori’ me, Dreemurr.”

Alphys decided that being in the middle of an argument wouldn’t be ideal in her current state, especially not as she was still trapped in a hug.

“I-it’s okay, r-really, I u-understand.” Damn, did it still hurt. “I-I’m, q-quite comfortable a-around h-here, a-and, I h-honestly d-don’t think I am c-cut out for the v-vet job a-anyway.”

“Oh, right!” Asgore let go of her. “You have a job here now, don’t you?”

Alphys felt as if she grew even smaller. “N-not anymore,” she mumbled. She felt the tears well up again, and no matter how much she appreciated Asgore’s hugs, the thought of having another breakdown in front of people she hadn’t seen in months didn’t appeal much to her. “S-s-sorry, c-can I just, c-can I get a m-moment? I-I’ll be right back!”

Before anyone could respond, she had darted down the beach. Asgore called out to her with worry, and Mettaton freed himself from his wheelchair and took a few steps after her.

They looked at each other, trying to find out what to do.

“Do you believe she is all right?” Toriel asked. The dog wagged its tail hopefully, and Toriel gave it a pat.

 

Alphys ran until she felt like her lungs would burst, and then she walked to the water’s edge and dropped to her knees. Her chest felt too small, and she panted, sobs forcing through in between her gasps for air. She pulled up her knees and hid her face, trembling, panic racing through her veins. Her thoughts were running in loops, overlapping, telling her the same thing over and over and she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, was a failure, why had she even gotten this idea, why did she do this, why was she like this, why, why, why …

“Hey!”

Oh god now someone had found her and she had to explain and she couldn’t explain and she couldn’t breathe and she was terrible, she was a failure, she was the worst, she …

“Hey, Alph, are you okay? Ugh, lemme just … Aw, geesh, who are those people? I’m gonna throw rocks at ‘em if they come over here, I swear. Hey, Alph, you all right?”

Undyne pulled herself the last bit out of the ocean and to where Alphys sat, pushed herself into an upright position and wrapped her arms around the human.

“Heyyyy,” she whispered.

The cold, damp embrace and the familiar voice made a knot in Alphys’ chest loosen just a little, and she hid her face at Undyne’s shoulder and wailed. And Undyne held her, tightly enough that Alphys could hide her embarrassment in her arms and let every single tear fall.

She heard another voice call her name and curled up around herself even more.

“Hey!” Undyne’s shout cut through the ocean wind with ease. “If you’re here to harass my Alphys, you can go throw yourself in the ocean right now before I do it for you!”

“Why, I have never … ”

“Golly, we did not mean to …”

Alphys managed to hiccup a half-strangled ‘It’s okay’ before she had to hide again. She felt Undyne hum skeptically for a moment.

“All right, then!” she said. “But you BETTER not upset her!”

Toriel’s voice still made Alphys tense up.

“Alphys, dear, who is this rude lady?”

“OOOOOH MY, SAY IT ISN’T SO.”

Alphys knew that tone of voice. Mettaton had smelled something that would make for a good story, be it to his friends or the nearest news station.

“Alphys, Alphys, Alphys, do not tell me YOU have been the CENTER of the entire drama surrounding mermaids? Everyone has been absolutely DESPERATE to get the real tale, and THERE YOU ARE! Darling, you simply GOT to tell me- OW!”

Undyne had made good of her rock throwing promise.

“Back off, PUNK! Does she LOOK like she’s in the mood to talk to anyone right now?!”

Alphys wondered, not for the first time, what she had done to deserve someone as amazing as Undyne.

Toriel put a hand on Mettaton’s shoulder. ”You do look like you could use a moment. Let us retreat. Unless you want us here?”

Alphys took a deep breath and spoke. “I-I-I’m s-sorry. A-about everything. b-but, n-now you know, a-and … Y-yeah. I’m sorry.”

“All right, heartfelt confessions are out of the way, visiting time is over.” Undyne held Alphys a little tighter. “Now shoo!”

Shuffling and mumbling, slightly louder complaints from Mettaton, and Alphys felt her stomach twist and turn with guilt, she hadn’t seen any of them in ages and now she couldn’t even do anything but shake and cry …

Asgore’s deep, comforting voice sounded. “I am sorry as well, Alphys.”

And then they left.

“So,” Undyne said after a small pause, flashing her teeth in an uncertain grin. “You did it.”

“I feel terrible,” Alphys mumbled.

“Well, yeah! Fighting is hard. You get scrapes. It’s not always cool, you know. And some injuries never really go away. But, that’s how you become a warrior. If something’s hunting you, ignoring it is not gonna help unless it, like, dies from exhaustion. In most cases, it’ll just stress you out.”

Alphys took a deep breath. “Thank you, Undyne.”

“No problem. Hey, those guys seemed pretty cool. Except for the pink one. He was annoying.”

Alphys chuckled slightly. “H-he’s n-not so bad, o-once you get to know him. M-maybe I can invite them over, one day. W-when things are less m-messy.”

“Yeah! Sounds great! Whenever you’re ready.”

“M-might take a while,” Alphys mumbled.

“I’m not busy. As long as I have my cliffs.”

And in the cold autumn wind, with water seeping through her clothes and guilt reaching deeper than Alphys would ever have noticed if she had kept ignoring the pain, a tiny smile pulled at her lips.

Chapter Text

Alphys practically skipped down the beach, her polka-dot summer dress dancing in the spring breeze.

She trotted down the newly constructed pier, made specifically for people who wanted to jump in the water and not for boats. It had been constructed this spring, now that people were a little less scared of being stabbed by a mermaid. Not many had used it yet though. If it was because nobody but the tough jumped in the ocean this early, or because people weren’t sure they could trust Undyne to not eat them, Alphys didn’t know, but the beach was still relatively quiet.

The small, hidden-away beach had become livelier after Undyne’s enthusiasm for stabbing humans had died down. The other day, she had even taken a small, armless kid who normally couldn’t be in deeper waters for a ride on her back. She had toppled over one boat that came a little too close to her territory, but had picked up the sputtering sailors afterwards and deposited them in low water, very wet, but unharmed. She had even fetched their boat and shoved it into the sand near the beach. They hadn’t been happy about it, but Undyne had made no promises to stop being loud nor rude, so the conflict was solved fairly easily.

Alphys gathered her dress and sat down on the edge of the bridge, feet hanging an inch from the water. After a few moments, she caught a glimpse of bright red, and Undyne leaped from the water and landed on the planks with a loud THUD. Her smile revealed all her teeth.

“Hey, Alphy! Good to see you!”

“W-we talked yesterday.”

“Pffft,” Undyne made a dismissive gesture, “still good to see you, nerd.”

She put one arm around Alphys’ shoulder, pulled her closer and pressed a kiss to her cheek. Alphys blushed and sputtered, hiding her face behind her hands, and Undyne laughed loudly and ruffled her hair.

“Any special occasion or did you just stop by?” Undyne loosened her grip, her hand still resting around Alphys’ shoulders.

“U-uh, w-well, actually, Gerson a-and I, we just went over t-to see, there’s, there’s a l-little boat for sale close to here, n-not too expensive, that I’ve b-been thinking about buying. Y-you know, all those a-articles about mermaids a-and how our species interact, t-they’ve a-actually g-gotten a lot of attention a-and, it means I have some  s-spare money to use, and then I thought h-hey, t-the weather’s getting warmer, a-and maybe if I had m-my own boat it w-would be easier t-to come visit, a-and it has a small cabin s-so I could even s-sleep there once in a while, a-and …” Alphys stopped her stream of words and cleared her throat. “Um, y-yes. So, t-that’s what we’ve been, uh, l-looking at.”

Undyne was beaming. “That sounds AWESOME! Did you get it?”

“W-well, Gerson said it looked fine considering the price, e-even though he’s m-more a fan of w-wooden boats himself, s-so, I said I w-would t-text the seller once I decided. I, uh, w-wanted to make sure it w-wouldn’t be a problem, f-for you, or a-anything, first.”

Undyne elbowed her. “Send that text. Hey, it’s for easier access to your research spot, isn’t it?” She grinned.

“I-I g-guess it is?” Alphys’ smile was wide and only a little insecure.

She found her phone in her purse. Undyne was still a little suspicious of the device, squinting at it like she usually glared at the large billboard Mettaton had somehow gotten permission to set up at the touristy area above the beach.

Undyne sighed and looked up at the offending poster. “Ugh, how long is that thing gonna be there? I am so tired of staring at his face.”

“O-oh!” Alphys pressed send and looked up from her phone. “I-I d-don’t know? I can ask him. H-he’s a-actually stopping by today, I p-promised to tweak the b-balance in his heels t-to make it easier to walk on uneven surfaces.”

Undyne groaned.

Please tell me he’s not coming here.”

Alphys bit her lip. “W-well …”

A black car stopped somewhere around the research institute, door slamming loudly, stealing the parking stop just in front of a bright pink sports car, and Undyne facepalmed.

“H-he’s n-not, t-that bad, once you g-get to know him …”

“Look, Alphy. I generally like your friends. Asgore is nice. But this guy? He is so obnoxious.”

They could hear Mettaton’s voice, calling out of the car window to whoever had parked in his preferred spot, but the driver was already storming down the wooden stairs to the beach.

“Look,” Undyne continued, “he could just place his metal eyesore somewhere else, and his poster is ugly, and …”

“Oh no,” Alphys whispered, eyes fixed on the person walking down the beach towards them.

“Uh, what?” Undyne followed Alphys’ gaze, and her expression immediately turned into a snarl.

Charles was too close for Alphys to escape; she’d have to run from him. Undyne flared her fins and straightened her back, staring at him.

He walked to where the pier met the sand. There, he stopped and turned towards them.

“Do you think this is over?” He said, breathing heavily.

Alphys felt her stomach turn over with fear, her muscles tensing under Undyne’s hand.

“W-w-we b-both h-had our cases c-c-closed l-last y-year,” Alphys said, as clearly as she could with a voice that trembled like a sail wire in the wind.

“And now you think you can make money with some made-up nonsense about mermaid culture and be successful on that? Huh? Like you beasts even HAVE a culture,” he spat.

Undyne growled loudly, showing all her teeth. “You leave now, punk, before I make you.”

“What’s your next article about, Alphys? How to fuck a fish? I’m sure that is something you have a wide range of experiences with.”

Alphys felt her chest tense up, both with anxiety and an unfamiliar rage. She opened her mouth, but couldn’t get her words to work. Undyne lifted her body as far up as she could, her tail slipping from the water like a snake, growling even deeper now. Alphys grabbed her arm.

“D-don’t, h-he’s trying t-to make you a-attack him, p-please-”

“Getting protective over your little fucktoy, are you?”

Charles stepped back with a mocking sneer on his face, and Undyne threw herself forwards in a flurry of teeth, claws digging into the planks.

Charles opened his mouth again, but before he could speak, he was interrupted by a voice behind him.

“Oh my, oh my, Is that not the same man who had my darling Alphys as intern under the drama last year? Or was it a test period, I was never quite sure what the official title was.“

Mettaton stepped onto the pier, half in front of Charles, and stood in all his hot pink glory, pink suit, black hair styled flawlessly, bright pink boots with heels that made him just a tad taller than Charles, and when he put his perfectly manicured – and prosthetic - hand on his hip, he more or less managed to block the entire pier, partly with his body, partly by social conventions, as Charles would have to push past him to look at the two women.

“Who are you?” Charles made a disdainful face at Mettaton, his nose scrunching up as he looked at Mettaton’s very bright getup.

“Why, have you not heard of me? THAT is a catastrophe, no WONDER we have not gotten your side of the story yet. Of course, the tale is getting old, but a BRAND NEW PERSEPCTIVE is SURE to make it flare up again!”

Charles took a step backwards. He definitely did not seem to think of that as a positive thing.

“I don’t think I-”

Mettaton interrupted by grabbing his arm. “Why, you simply MUST come with me for an interview, you must have ALL sorts of wacky stories about when everyone’s ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE star-crossed lovers first met!”

Charles’ face clearly revealed that the reinforced grip Alphys had equipped Mettaton with was working quite well, and Mettaton dragged him off, completely ignoring Charles’ complaints. “See you later, darlings!” he said over his shoulder and blinked at them.

Undyne folded her fins back in a relaxed position again. “Well,” she said. “I guess he’s not that bad.”

“Heh. T-told you so.”

Alphys’ phone made a gentle beeping noise, and she pulled her phone from her pocket, hands still trembling.

And then she smiled, slightly shakily, but brightly. She turned the phone so Undyne could see the screen.

“L-look!” she said, pointing at a small, yellow boat and the text underneath. “They answered! I-it’s mine!”